Paramount owns all things Star Trek Voyager. I don't. Only borrowing them. Etc. Etc. Etc. Besides, I can't do any worse than you know who. An illiterate snail could do better than him.
R for occasional sexual references and the odd swear word.
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?
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


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.


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'd 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've 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 anymore and I won't ever fit in again. I'm supposed to be home but I feel more lost than ever. I've 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'd 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'd 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'd turned to look into his face and had smiled softly, but within a moment her expression clouded over and she turned away.

He'd seen her pain and at first assumed that she was remembering those who hadn't lived to see this day. He understood only later what had caused it. His relationship with Seven. Up to that time he'd believed she didn't know, couldn't have known. No one else knew either. They'd been careful about that. Later on, he'd 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'd 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'd hurt her badly, although she hid it well. He could not have known just how much she did love him and that he'd 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 couldn't 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 go they did, 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'd 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'd 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'd 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'd 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'd 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'd 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'd 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'd 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'd 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'd 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 and their families or some similar area.

"That's wonderful. It must be great to make a difference to people's 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've 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've 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'd 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 know 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 and 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…" She sniffed. "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'd 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…"

Jonathan 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 Duncan 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're 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're mixed race." He swallowed loudly as he held her eyes, attempting to gauge her reaction, trying to see if she understood. "They're 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 or 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 side of war. People either don't know it happens or they don't want to know. Perhaps they just deny it. Who wants to believe that their returning loved ones could be capable of something like that? 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… It 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 or 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'd 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 anymore. 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. "Not as far as we know but in a war situation, who knows. 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'd 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'd deserved it…that it was some kind of retribution because she'd 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'd 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's 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're 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'd 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 still sanding 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'd 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 and 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. I 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'd 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'll 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'll 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 almost from 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 at that. "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's who either." 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 dug 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 are the sheds then, and barns, where the animals are housed and our vet works. Over on the other side, we have our stores and 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. If I survived seven years in the Delta Quadrant, I can survive anything. 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'd 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'd opted for a hotel rather than take an apartment. Over the next few weeks, he'd 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'd 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. I 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. I tried to find the man I used to be."

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 this different man I am now. 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 very 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 accepted this time and nodded. "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 admiral'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'd 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'd 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…?"

Admiral Paris 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've nothing in my life and Kathryn left here because she'd 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 heart-breaking, she'd 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'd 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'd 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'd 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'd 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'd 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'd 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'd 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 and 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.

Kathryn nodded her acceptance. "You won't. I promise." They shared a smile for a moment.

Duncan stood and put 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 or 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, now playing happily with some old padds she'd 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.


Kathryn stopped working and leaned heavily on the spade she held. Using the sleeve of the tunic she wore, she wiped at her forehead. A small giggle beside her brought her attention to the little girl sitting cross-legged in the dirt, digging with a small trowel.

"And just what do you find so funny, may I ask?" Kathryn smiled fondly down at Julie, her constant companion. In place of an answer, the little girl pointed at her own face and then at the soil. Kathryn shook her head. "I've got a dirty face, is that it?" She got an eager nod in reply. Kathryn kneeled down beside her and using her gloved fingers, marked the little face. "Now we're a matched pair." Julie burst into peals of laughter, a sound Kathryn and the others were hearing more and more. She'd yet to speak properly but she was making the odd strange sound and Kathryn found she was getting to understand the child's meanings a lot of the time. She looked down at where the girl was digging. "What are you planting?" Julie shrugged and pointed to a bag beside her. Kathryn looked and smiled. "You're taking my potatoes and planting them too?" Julie nodded and looked uncertain for a minute. Kathryn just laughed. "That's fine, sweetheart. I need all the help I can get."

Kathryn sat in the dirt and watched as her small charge continued to dig, measuring the depth of each hole with a stick, before dropping in one of the seed potatoes. Kathryn smiled to herself as she watched, amazed as usual at the exactness the child brought to her task, just as she did with everything she undertook. Kathryn sighed deeply to herself. Julie was indeed a very special child and Kathryn felt tears come to her eyes as she remembered Jonathan telling her about the girl.

Julie had been one of the children brought to the refuge by a human women who claimed to be the child's aunt. She'd explained that the child's mother, her sister, had died in childbirth. Julie's conception had been the result of a rape, just like most of the children. The details the aunt gave were sketchy but as far as she knew, her sister had been raped when the ship she was travelling on had been boarded by Cardassian soldiers. Half the crew and passengers had been killed before a Federation ship had intervened and fought off the Cardassians. The woman's husband, who'd been fighting with the Maquis and been out of touch all the time, returned home to find his wife dead and a mixed race daughter of three years old who'd secretly been raised by the aunt, who'd kept the truth to herself. He'd vowed revenge and had threatened to murder the child, whom he saw as responsible for his wife's death. Doing her best to keep the promise she'd made to her dying sister, to protect and look after the girl, the aunt had run with the child and found out about the refuge. Unable to take care of a child herself while hiding from her brother-in-law, she'd felt it best to leave Julie with Jonathan and Duncan. That had been just over two years ago and Julie had never uttered a word since being left. Kathryn was the first person the girl had even responded to, despite numerous attempts by Jonathan and the other psychologist, Lorcha.

Julie looked to Kathryn now for approval and smiled at the nod she received. The child looked more human than Cardassian and Kathryn smiled at the dirt smudges on the small face. Her ridges were barely visible.

"Hey, Julie…" The girl looked up. "How about tomorrow we make a start on your cart?" The little face lit up. "It may take some time but at least you and the other girls will have a cart of your own and not have to keep annoying the boys for theirs." Julie seemed to think about that and nodded before breaking back into a wide smile. Kathryn shook her head. "OK, honey. You have a deal. Now, I better stop slacking and get back to work. These things won't plant themselves." She groaned and laughed at the same time, as she began to raise herself from the ground. "Oh Julie, I'm getting old…" She stopped suddenly as a shadow fell across her and she looked up into the face of a stranger.

Kathryn was aware of a few things happening over the next few moments. She instantly felt Julie freeze beside her, something telling her that this wasn't just fear of a stranger but something more. She also felt herself fall back in time, her Starfleet training flooding back to her as 'the captain' snapped into place. Kathryn stood quickly, her grip tightening on the spade she held and faced the large man before her. She reached down beside her with one hand, grabbing Julie by the shoulder, pulling her up and pushing the girl behind her.

"Can I help you? Who are you?" Kathryn kept her voice steady and held the man's eyes. He didn't speak for a moment, staring at Kathryn, before his gaze fell towards Julie. Kathryn immediately saw the look of hate on his face.

"I'd know it anywhere and of course the name…" He looked back at Kathryn and sneered.

Kathryn felt her heart pounding and gripped the spade with both hands now. "What would you know?" She felt such a threat from this man and knew she needed to keep him talking.

He laughed cynically and pointed behind her. "It. That thing."

Kathryn's face hardened. "Look, I don't know who you are but 'that' is a child…" She jumped as he threw his head back and laughed.

"That is the spawn of the devil. They all are. It's taken me a long time to find it but now that I have, I'm here to destroy it." The evil glint in his eyes sent chills down Kathryn's spine. She felt all her defensive instincts coming out in her.

"You won't touch her. How did you get here anyway?" Kathryn eased back from him, hoping Julie would move with her.

The man before her laughed again. "Oh, I've been here some time and I will touch it. I'm here to kill the thing that murdered my wife." Kathryn's fears were confirmed now. This was the husband of Julie's late mother. He moved his hand now from behind his back and Kathryn felt a fist of ice in her stomach as she saw the knife he held. She looked around her quickly and prayed that someone would be around to see what was happening but there was no one. They were in the fields well away from the main buildings.

She tried to keep her voice steady. "You won't lay a finger on her. Look, let's just talk…" He moved so quickly, Kathryn didn't have a chance to react. His hand shot out and wrenched the spade from her hands, sending her staggering back. Kathryn held her balance and reached behind her, holding Julie to her.

"No talk. I have a job to finish here so just get out of the way and let me get on with it."

Kathryn faced him bravely. "No one is harming this child."

The man before her laughed evilly. "What? Over your dead body? That can easily be arranged…"

Kathryn stepped back again, feeling Julie move with her. "She's just an innocent child and you're not thinking straight. You don't want to do this…"

He moved quickly again and made a grab for Julie, trying to push Kathryn out of the way. "Give it to me. It has to die. They all have to die." Julie screamed as Kathryn fought to keep her own body between the man with the knife and the small child. She grabbed at him, determined to pull him away from the girl. She screamed to Julie at the same time.

"Julie…run…get help…" She fought to keep a tight grip on the man's clothes, determined to hold him long enough for the small girl to get away. She vaguely saw the child racing across the field and struggled to keep the man from following her. She cried out as she felt the blade cut into her arm, her gloves helping to protect her hands in some way.

Kathryn was no match for this man, despite her months of strenuous work outdoors or her training. It flashed across her mind that he'd been Maquis once and would have had similar training to her own, but he was at least twice her size and much stronger. She felt herself being pushed down to the ground and fought to remain standing but lost the fight. His weight bore down on her as she struggled to keep the knife away from her body, but whereas her gloves had protected her hands from the knife, now they hindered her in trying to grapple with his hands and arms. She cried out again as she felt the knife slice at her face. She saw the madness in his eyes as he swiped at her face and neck again and again with the blade, before driving it down into her chest. As pain exploded in Kathryn, she vaguely heard shouts and saw the man above her look up, ripping the knife from her chest as he did. He was instantly on his feet and running, leaving Kathryn sprawled on the ground in agony with blood pouring from her wounds.

What followed was a blur to Kathryn. She was vaguely aware of Duncan's concerned face looking down into hers, his hands pressing down on the deep wound in her chest. She fought to breathe, desperately trying to draw air into her lungs as pain consumed her. She managed a strangled sound. "Julie…"

Duncan's soft voice reached her. "Lie still, Kathryn. Don't try to talk. Julie's fine. You'll be fine."

Kathryn's head rolled to the side as she saw more and more people coming. Her vision blurred as she continued to fight to breathe. Odd words drifted over her as she felt hands touching her.

"Stretcher…think her lung is collapsing…blood loss…get her to surgery now…" Everything spun around her as she felt herself lifted and then carried, a weak moan escaping her lips. Shouts still sounded around her but she couldn't focus on them. Pain rolled over her in waves as her breathing grew worse and she felt the edges of blackness closing in as a coldness seeped into her.

"Julie…" It was a bare whisper and then the kindly face of Cassa was smiling down softly at her.

"Just take it easy, Kathryn. Julie's fine. We'll take care of you."

Kathryn fought to focus. "Cold…"

Cassa stroked Kathryn's hair. "You'll be just fine. We'll take care of you…" Cassa looked into Duncan's eyes and saw her own fears reflected there. She looked back down at Kathryn and saw her eyes close. "You'll be fine, Kathryn…just hang on…" She knew the woman on the stretcher could no longer hear her. She looked up at Duncan again then turned to Roberto and Eugene who carried the stretcher. "Get her into the clinic as quickly as possible. Straight into surgery." They nodded and hurried away as fast as they could, careful with their precious load.

Cassa exchanged a worried look with Duncan. "We haven't much time. She's losing massive amounts of blood and her lung is collapsed…" He nodded and gripped her arm as they rushed inside. He called to the shocked people behind him, seeing Lorcha holding a terrified Julie.

"Get Miriam and Dressa here now…Galan and Greta too if you can find them. They were working in the far fields."

Olga ran off, calling behind her. "I'll get them. Miriam and Dressa are already inside." Duncan nodded his thanks and exchanged a weary look with Jonathan who'd just arrived. Few words were needed.

"Just see to Kathryn, Duncan. We'll take care of everything else…" Duncan managed a small smile and hurried into the clinic.

Duncan and Cassa worked frantically over the next two hours to stem the flow of blood from Kathryn's wounds and re-inflate her collapsed lung. Once again, Duncan wished for more up to date equipment but finally it began to turn their way. Cassa shouted to Galan for more blood as she began to close the deep chest wound.

"How are you going with that chest drain?" She glanced up briefly at Duncan.

"It's fine…working fine… She's breathing much better now although I'll leave her on the respirator for awhile." He drew in a deep steadying breath as he placed a last stitch. "How's that chest wound…?"

Cassa met his eyes briefly again and nodded. "Good. All blood loss stopped." She stood back, letting Dressa take over the final stitches. "God, Duncan…we barely had enough blood. That was too close…" They locked eyes and he nodded.

"I know." He looked down at their patient. "We'll ask the questions later. For now let's see what we can do about her facial and neck injuries."

Cassa nodded and gave Miriam some instructions for what they'd need. She turned to Duncan then.
"She's going to have scars from this, Duncan. You know that. We don't have the equipment…"

Duncan nodded sadly. "I know. Let's just do the best we can for her." He turned to Miriam who was bringing what they needed. "Miriam, you've sutured the wound on her arm?"

The young nurse nodded. "It's as neat as I can get it but there'll be a scar there too. We just don't have…" She didn't finish and Duncan nodded and sighed deeply.

"I know. There's so damned much we don't have."

Cassa leaned towards him. "Duncan, we have her life back. That's all that matters. We have Julie…"

Duncan smiled his apology. "I know and I don't mean… You know what I mean. She just has such a beautiful face…" He shook his head. "Oh shit…you know what I mean. Beautiful or not isn't the issue. I just hate to have her scarred from this because of some mad, evil bastard…"

Cassa smiled at him sadly. "Let's just do the very best we can. Scars or no scars, she'll always be beautiful."

Duncan smiled and nodded. "I know she will. I know." They set to work.

Jonathan and Lorcha spent the hours of Kathryn's surgery in the main meeting room trying desperately to calm the terrified children. Even though they hadn't witnessed the attack, they'd seen Kathryn as she was brought into the clinic and heard everything that was going on. Julie sat huddled against Lorcha the entire time, saying nothing. Jonathan shook his head. He looked around him and was filled with pride at the way the women were helping with the children, despite the fear he knew they had themselves. He saw them put aside their own terror in order to reassure the children as best they could and it was working. The kids drew from the calmness of the adults and slowly began to relax, although there was a lingering fear in all the small eyes. He smiled towards Roberto and Eugene who had also stayed with the children and received reassuring smiles from them also.

He looked up as the door opened and John, Peter and Trevor came in. They nodded gratefully to Seloma as she handed them towels and drinks. Jonathan stood up, motioning to Hista and Olga to take his place and walked towards the men, motioning them into a far corner. They followed him.

"Well…did you catch the bastard?" The three men looked at each other and then shook their heads.

John sighed. "Fucker took off in a shuttle. Had it over the other side of the woods. We were so close…" Jonathan nodded angrily.

Peter spoke now. "Do we know who he was?"

Jonathan shook his head. "Not yet. Maybe Kathryn can…" He didn't finish.

Trevor asked for them all. "Any word on her? How she is or…?"

Jonathan shook his head. "No word yet. They've been in there two hours. I'm trying to take that as a good sign. The 'no news is good news' kind of thing…" The men nodded.

John rubbed at his face. "How are they all? Julie must be terrified out of her mind."

Jonathan shook his head and looked towards the young girl who was still clinging to Lorcha. "She is. I'm amazed how close she's let Lorcha get to her. It just shows how bad she is. They're all terrified but the women have been great. Lou, Ria, Paula and Jule took them over immediately and began to calm them down…reassure them as best they could. They split up into small groups and worked with them. They've put aside their own terror in order to help us with the kids. They've been wonderful but they'll need some time with us later when we get the kids to bed. They've had no release for their own feelings on all this yet and they'll need it." They all looked up now as the door opened again and Duncan came in. He looked at all the faces turned towards him and smiled then nodded. He spoke loudly enough so they could all hear.

"She'll be fine. It all went very well. She's still asleep but she'll be just fine." He caught Jonathan's eye and nodded. Only his partner could see just how bad it had really been, but he saw that he spoke the truth. He let out the breath he found he'd been holding and nodded back. He then made his way over to Julie.

"Hear that, Julie? Mommy Kathryn's going to be just fine. She's all right. She just needs to sleep for a little while and get some rest. She'll be fine though." Two small, terrified eyes looked back at him as he took a small hand in his. "She'll be fine, Julie." She slowly looked up at Lorcha who nodded also.

"If Daddy Duncan said she'll be fine then she'll be fine."

Duncan watched and then came over, kneeling down by the small girl. "Hey, Julie, it's the truth. I can take you to see her before you go to bed if you like." Julie nodded quickly. Duncan smiled and reached for the little girl. She went to him immediately. "OK then. You can see her for a few minutes and tell her goodnight but then you have to go to bed. Mommy Kathryn needs her rest too but you can come back and see her first thing in the morning. Is that a deal?" He smiled gently and got a small nod. "Right then…let's go."

Several hours later, the staff sat huddled around the table in the kitchen, nursing lukewarm cups of tea. The only ones missing were Miriam and Greta, who were keeping a close eye on Kathryn, and Roberto and Eugene who were keeping watch at the dorms. The women had insisted on staying in the dorms also with their own children, believing that they were safer all together and that suited everyone. Things were a bit overcrowded, with bedding set up wherever there was space and many of the kids sharing beds, but no one minded.

The remainder of the staff were now meeting to try and work out what had happened. Duncan let out a long breath.

"Just how the hell did he get through?" Peter had an answer none of them wanted to think about.

"He got in because our security is crap. The sensor systems we have in place just aren't sophisticated enough. We've always known that." They all nodded in agreement, hating to admit the truth.

Hista added to their worries. "If he did this once, he can do it again. We're going to have to stay at high alert until…"

Trevor broke in. "Until when? He got away. We've no idea who he was or where he is now. We don't even know what knowledge he has of this place although it was obviously adequate for him to get here and do what he did. He had his getaway planned too. I'd say he knew we couldn't give chase once he took off. He probably also knew that we couldn't or wouldn't be able to call on any authorities to report this."

Hista joined in again. "He could be back in space or still on the planet somewhere. He could be back here and we wouldn't even know it…"

Jonathan laid a hand on her arm. "It's all we can do, Hista. We deal with one thing at a time and with what we can…"

Cassa joined in. "Look, Jonathan's right. Besides, he'll know we'll be on high alert for him. I can't see him coming back any time soon…if at all."

John shook his head and cleared his throat. "It's hard to know. I don't believe he'll be back tonight…then of course he may take advantage of the fact that we'll most likely think that and pick tonight. He might be scared off completely or be more determined. We just don't know…"

Jonathan sighed heavily. "We just need to stay on alert and do what we can. For now, we have the kids settled for the night. We've done what we can for the women and reassured them as best we can. Until we find out more…"

John nodded agreement. "That's all we can do tonight…but tomorrow…" He shook his head. "We need to know… What I mean is…" He swallowed. "We have to ask…" He looked at the others around the table. "Was it us or was it Kathryn he was after?" He saw several frowns and continued. "We all know Kathryn's past and it's possible… What I'm saying is…did he just go after her because she was alone with Julie…away from the main buildings and an easy target…or…was it deliberate? Did he seek her out…somehow know she was here?" He sighed. "I'm sorry…but we have to ask…"

Duncan nodded. "It's OK, John. You're right. We also have to ask if even Julie was the target...personally or simply as one of the children."

Peter placed his cup on the table before him. "I saw this guy. I saw the way he moved. To me it suggested he's had some training. He could have been here after anyone…just picked Kathryn and Julie randomly because they were alone…or it could be as John said…and he was after Kathryn. We just don't know…"

Duncan played with his cup. "All we can do for tonight is post a security detail. Then we wait until morning when Kathryn will be conscious to try and find out more. We'll just have to see what she can tell us…or even IF she can tell us something. She may not know anything." He looked to Jonathan. "Was Julie able to say anything?"

Jonathan shook his head. "She's too terrified. Not that she could tell us anything anyway. You saw her earlier. It was only the terror on her face and her pulling at us that got us out there. She couldn't get any words out to tell us what was happening."

Seloma leaned forward. "What about Kathryn, Duncan? Will she really be all right?" The others all looked to him.

Duncan smiled sadly. "She'll be fine. She's going to be in some pain for a while, which we can control, but she'll be fine in time." He closed his eyes a moment before looking around at the others. "She will be…she will be…scarred…her face…her neck and arm…her chest… We did our best but…" He leaned back, his face angry. "You all know how it is. The regenerators we have can only heal small cuts and wounds. They can only do so much on cuts that deep and the rest has to heal naturally with sutures." He sighed deeply. "The great medical advancements of the 24th century and we're condemned to work centuries behind the times because…"

Cassa, sitting beside him, gripped his arm. "Duncan, we've been through this. We saved her life and that's the most important." The others all voiced their agreement.

Duncan looked around at them and managed a small smile. "You're all right…I know that. I just feel so damned…impotent…at times…"

Jonathan laughed at that, trying to ease the sombre mood. "Oh, you're never that. I can testify to that." Duncan glared at him a moment and then smiled as the others all laughed.

John stood up now, scraping his chair back. "Right. That's it. Lower the tone of the evening. I don't need to hear about your sex life…especially when I haven't got one of my own."

Olga patted his backside as he moved away from the table. "Well, big boy…you only have to ask…"

John stopped and turned back to her. "Big boy? Who's been telling all my secrets…?" Everyone laughed, all of them needing the release from the tension. Duncan stood also, trying not to laugh.

"When you've all gotten your minds out of the gutter, I suggest we try and get some rest. We'll take two hour shifts for security and dorm duty…" He held up a hand then. "One other thing. We barely made it today with our blood supply. We need to organize a blood drive amongst all the adults to replenish our stocks and also because, to be safe, I'd like to increase what we hold." Everyone nodded agreement and set about working out a rota.

Kathryn regained consciousness just before noon the next day. Duncan was sitting in a chair beside her bed when she groggily opened her eyes. He watched as she fought to make sense of where she was and what had happened. He studied the transformation in her eyes as awareness slammed into her and was ready for her when she tried to sit up.

"Julie…" He gently pressed her back down onto the bed.

"Easy, Kathryn. Julie is fine. She's just fine. Don't try and move yet. Just take it easy." Kathryn groaned loudly in pain. Duncan nodded to Dressa to hand him a painkilling hypospray. "Just take it easy, honey. I have something here for the pain. It'll kick in almost immediately." Kathryn nodded slowly as he pressed the hypo to her neck. Within a minute, he saw it take effect. "Better?" Kathryn again nodded slowly.

Duncan sat again, handing the empty hypo back to Dressa and took Kathryn's hand in his. He sighed inwardly as he felt how rough the skin was on her hands, remembering how soft they'd been when she'd first come to work with them. He reached over now and brushed some hair back from her face.

"Kathryn, I hate to do this to you but… I need you to try and remember."

Kathryn squeezed his hand and nodded. Her voice was barely above a whisper. It's…OK…I…know…" She took a moment and then continued. "You need to…know about…him…what he…why…"

Duncan saw how the few words tired her. "I'm sorry, but yes. We badly need to know if he said anything…said why he was here…" Kathryn nodded again and closed her eyes a moment. She tried to draw in a deep breath and winced.

Duncan stroked her face. "It'll hurt for a while. I'm sorry."

Kathryn nodded slowly again. "It's OK…I've had…worse…" She tried a smile which didn't quite work. Duncan smiled sadly at her. Kathryn licked at her dry lips and then haltingly told him what she remembered. Duncan listened quietly, keeping his anger in check as best he could. When Kathryn finished speaking, he saw how exhausted she was.

"OK, honey. That's all I need to know. You try and rest now. We're all so proud of you." He went to remove his hand from hers but she held him back weakly.

"Duncan…how bad…?" He knew what she was asking and smiled softly. He also knew this was a woman who would accept nothing but his total honesty.

"You had a chest wound…which was the worst of your injuries. Your lung collapsed but we took care of that. You still have a chest drain in but I'll remove that later on today."

Kathryn nodded weakly. "Throat is sore…" Duncan smiled again. He reached for a cup of water and a straw, holding it for her as she sipped at the cool liquid. She nodded her thanks.

"We had you on a ventilator for a while…a tube down your throat…just to help you breathe for a little time. That's why your throat is sore. It's gone now." He touched an oxygen line which crossed her face. "This is just helping you for a little while. It's giving you some oxygen nasally. I'll take it off later too."

Kathryn looked him in the eye. "The rest…? My face…?"

Duncan squeezed her hand. "Your arm was cut, which wasn't too bad The rest…your face…and on your neck… We've treated them all." Kathryn moved her other hand, trying to touch her face but Duncan reached over to stop her.

"You'll only hurt yourself. It's still very tender there." Kathryn barely nodded as Duncan held her eyes. "We had to suture them…the cuts…"

Kathryn closed her eyes a moment and then opened them again. "I'll be scarred you mean…" Duncan barely nodded and Kathryn looked away. "How bad…?" He squeezed her hand until she looked at him again.

"I don't think it'll be too bad. We did our best." Kathryn fought the tears she felt threatening. Duncan stroked her hair again. "Hey, you're still beautiful."

She looked at him sadly. "I don't care about the scars for me. Will I scare the children? What about…?"

Duncan leaned over and kissed her forehead. "Oh, my dear friend…you always worry about others and never yourself." He looked deeply into her eyes, his face showing his sincerity. "You listen to me now. Those kids love you and will always love you. Everyone here loves you. Don't you ever forget that. You'll have a few scars for a little while which won't matter to anyone here. And I say a little while, because next time we're back on Earth, we'll get them taken care of." He wiped at the tears which fell from her eyes. "For now, there's a little girl out there who's alive because of you. She wants her Mommy Kathryn so you'd better get some rest and get back on your feet as soon as you can. No one here cares what anyone else looks like. You're beautiful now and you always will be…always have been. We all love you and miss you so don't you worry about a thing. Just rest now. Sleep and get better." Kathryn sniffed loudly and nodded, her eyes already closing. Duncan went to stand but saw her eyes snap open again suddenly.

"Duncan…what about…did you get him? Where…?"

Duncan shook his head. "He got away but not for long. Don't worry. It's all in hand. We've upped security. He won't be back." He saw her watch him closely and then finally nod, too tired to say any more. "We're all safe. I promise you. Now sleep, woman." She managed a watery smile as her eyes closed again. In seconds, she was asleep.

Duncan moved away from the bed and looked into Dressa's eyes. He ran a hand through his hair and sighed deeply. "Can you believe all that?"

The young woman nodded and smiled. "Yes, I can actually. The woman I've come to know…consider my friend…" She smiled. "Yes, I can believe it. She's one very special person. One of a kind. It doesn't surprise me in the least that she puts herself last."

Duncan looked back at the sleeping woman and shook his head. "I know what you mean. I guess it doesn't surprise me either."

Duncan sat with most of the other staff and several of the women as they discussed what Kathryn had told them. They knew now who their 'intruder' was and Duncan's anger was still clearly evident. He looked around and saw the others match his emotions.

"OK people, we now know who he was and why he came here. I've called you here for one main reason." He saw them all look back at him and tried a tired smile. "I want to say one thing and I don't want you to think I'm ordering this. I just believe strongly in it." They all frowned.

John leaned on the large table they all sat around. "Just say it, Duncan. What is it…?"

Duncan sighed. "I don't want Julie to know who he was. Maybe when she's older…" He ran a hand through his unruly hair. "She just doesn't need to know that her father came here and tried to kill her…"

Jonathan shook his head. "Duncan, he's not her father…"

Duncan shook his head in annoyance. "You know what I mean…" He looked back at his partner and shrugged. "Sorry…" Jonathan waved his apology away. "It's just the fact that anyone came here to try and hurt her. She doesn't need to know."

Jonathan leaned forward. "Duncan, she was there. She heard everything. She knows already."

Duncan shook his head. "Yes, but she doesn't need to know all the details. She doesn't understand it all and I want it kept that way. She knows that a bad man came here and tried to hurt us... She witnessed what happened to Kathryn and that's bad enough. He's gone now and I want to keep stressing that to her. She couldn't deal with the fact that it was her he came here for."

Lorcha spoke up now. "Duncan, from what I remember…" She scratched the side of her face. "Didn't he say that, about who he was and why he was here when he stabbed Kathryn?" Duncan saw them all looking to him for the answer to that. He nodded.

"Yes, he did, but Julie was too terrified to hear his words."

Lorcha shook her head. "Duncan, she knows. I've spoken with Kathryn too. As she remembers it, Julie stiffened beside her. That child knew who he was…remembered him from somewhere in her mind…"

Duncan splayed his hands on the table. "OK…so maybe she does. That being the case then, let me put it this way. I don't want her reminded. She seems to have pushed that from her mind and I want that encouraged. She'll see Kathryn getting better and life returning to normal. Let's just treat her as normal." He looked around at them all and saw them nod their agreement.

Within a week, Kathryn was shakily back on her feet, surprising everyone with her recovery and determination. She was still weak but insisted that she wanted and needed to be around the others. Duncan finally relented and allowed her to sit with the women in the day room, joining them as they sewed and created items which helped to improve all their lives. They even taught her how to cut the children's hair.

Kathryn had been worried about the first time she'd meet with the children again, afraid her scarred face and neck would frighten them. Instead she'd almost been swamped under a mass of small bodies as they'd all tried to hug her at the same time. It seemed as if not one of them even noticed the marks on her face.

The women had been more open with her. Most had simply looked at the scars and shrugged. 'Not that bad at all' or 'They'll fade in time…don't worry' were among the comments she received. All in all, they helped Kathryn put her injuries into perspective. The women silently taught her that who she was as a person was more important than how she looked. It simply made no difference to them. One of the women, Dara, had even laughed and said that Duncan could have at least tried to use the scars to make her look a little Cardassian, that then she would have been beautiful.

Within a further week, Kathryn had outwardly learned to ignore her appearance and concentrated instead on getting on with her life. In private though, she shed tears as she studied her reflection in the mirror. She'd sit and gently finger the red lines which marked her skin.

"You wouldn't think much of me now, Chakotay. You wouldn't want me now."

Life slowly returned to normal on Haven, at least as far as the kids were concerned. The women knew such a threat could visit again but did their best to play down their fears in front of the children. The staff knew differently though and kept a constant watch over everything and everyone. No night passed now without a security detail, but this fact was kept from the women and children.

Julie was the last of the kids to move past what had happened. She found it hard to leave Kathryn's side, and on the rare occasions when she played with the other children, she always had to keep Kathryn in sight. Jonathan and Lorcha worked hard with her and so by the end of a month, she began to very slowly relax, spending a little more time away from Kathryn and mixing a little better with the others.

As more time passed and there was no sign of any further threat, everyone else began to relax slightly, although security details were still kept in place. Duncan researched hard on finding a better system of protection for the small planet, but they all knew it would take time to get the funding together. In the meantime, all they could do was hope and pray.

Kathryn gradually learned to live with her scars, even in private. No one else made mention of them anymore, simply treating her as they always had and this helped her enormously. There was only the odd down moment for her when she'd sit somewhere on her own and softly finger the scars, allowing herself a few stray tears. On one of these occasions, Jonathan found her sitting out at the back of the kitchen area as darkness fell. Kathryn quickly tried to compose herself but she didn't fool her friend. He quietly sat down beside her and took her hand in his.

"You put on a good act most of the time, Kathryn. You can't fool me though. I'm all seeing and all hearing." He smiled softly at her.

Kathryn just shrugged. "I'm fine. I can live with a few scars. They'll add to my other ones." Her bravado was false and they both knew it.

Jonathan shook his head and smiled sadly. "Which ones, Kathryn…the physical or the emotional?"

She met his eyes and smiled. "Stop playing shrink, Jonathan. You're as bad as Duncan."

He raised her hand in his and brought it to his lips where he kissed her fingers gently. "We just care about you. You can't blame us for worrying." He smiled softly. "Which reminds me… Duncan thinks you're working too hard. He told you light duties only. Maybe some teaching, but no more. You need to build yourself back up first."

Kathryn rolled her eyes and laughed. "I hear that from the lot of you. I'm fine. I prefer to work."

Jonathan's smile faded a little. "Staying busy helps keep your mind off what happened?"

Kathryn sighed and smiled. "You don't give up, do you?" He shook his head. Kathryn laughed. "OK, if it makes you feel better…yes…it keeps my mind occupied. Of course I still think about it and I'd rather not. Working helps me with that. I've always been that way and I always will be."

Jonathan nodded his understanding. "I knew that. It's been that way since you first arrived here. You always work hard to stop yourself thinking." He squeezed her hand. "Does it work?" Kathryn frowned. "I mean does it help you forget about him and them…what was? And before you say it, I'm not prying or asking for details."

Kathryn looked away quickly and stared out over the fields. "I know you're not." She was quiet for a moment. "Not forget. It stops me thinking sometimes. That's better than…" She lowered her head. "Let it go, Jonathan. I try to." She looked towards him again and he smiled sadly at her.

"So we beat on…boats against the current…" Kathryn frowned at his words. He smiled. "Borne back ceaselessly into the night…" She shook her head as he supplied the answer. "Old Earth novel…the last lines. The Great Gatsby, if I remember correctly."

Kathryn just nodded. "I see. Yeah…something like that." She sighed. "Look, Jonathan, that's my past and it's gone. I can't go back and can never re-create it. Dwelling on what can never be or what never was… You have to agree that doing that is just a waste of time and life." He nodded slowly. "So then…I can't change it. I still have a right to feel sad about that from time to time though, haven't I?"

He nodded again. "You're right. And I should just let you do that. We all need to grieve in different ways for different losses. I'm sorry. It's just in my nature to try and make you feel better if I can."

Kathryn smiled at him and squeezed his hand now. "Look, Daddy Jonathan, I'm better than I was. Take the way I was when you met me first…" He smiled and nodded at that. "Well then, I'm improving. Give me credit for that. I should be quite normal in another hundred years or so…"

Jonathan reached over and playfully punched her arm. "All right, lady. I concede. I just want to see you happy. Last word on this. Just know that if you ever want to talk or just cry or whatever… Well, you know where I am. Is that a deal?"

Kathryn nodded and smiled, then reached over and hugged her friend. "Yeah…it's a deal."

Kathryn continued to work harder than she should have, despite constant lectures from Duncan and Cassa. Every other staff member gave her shorter versions of the same speech but she still pushed herself, hindering her recovery in many ways.

Duncan found her one day in the school, down on her hands and knees, scrubbing the floors.

"For God's sake, Kathryn. What are you doing?" His voice was raised and he didn't try to hide his anger. Kathryn just smiled as she looked up at him and wiped the back of her hand across her sweaty forehead. Her hair hung limply in damp strands around her face.

"I'm washing the floors down. What does it look like?"

Duncan leaned down and grabbed the scrubbing brush from her hands. "It looks as if you're pushing yourself far too hard again. You taught classes here yesterday and now you're back cleaning the place. Can't you stay away? This can wait. School is now out for the summer in case you hadn't noticed."

Kathryn sat back, her hands on her hips. "I had noticed…hence the clean-up. It's the perfect time…"

Duncan wasn't having it. "Cut it out, Kathryn. School only finished yesterday. We have all summer to do this. It'll only have to be done again before the kids start back anyway."

Kathryn continued to argue. "Yes, but we use this building for meetings in between so it has to be clean."

Duncan wasn't having any of it. "We had our meeting last night. We won't have another until the end of next week or middle of the week after. Nothing else is planned. Try again. That one won't work."

Kathryn smiled. "The summer classes we spoke of?"

Duncan shook his head. "Not planned for another month yet. You lose."

Kathryn tried to think and smiled at him. "Give me a minute. I'm thinking."

Duncan growled in frustration and reached down, then bodily lifted her to her feet. "Now you listen here to me, lady. I'm blue in the face talking to you about this. You're pushing yourself far too hard and you know I'm right. Had you listened to me at the start and done what I'd told you to do, you'd be fully recovered by now. You didn't, as usual of course, do that. Now you're behind with that recovery. You've pushed me into a corner now and I'm angry with you…"

Kathryn put on a childish pout and dropped her head to the side. "Ahh Daddy Duncan, be nice now."

Duncan sighed and shook his head. "The puppy dog eyes don't work on me." Kathryn tried harder and finally won herself a smile. "God damn it, Kathryn, you fight dirty. You can be worse than the kids…"

Kathryn smiled softly. "But you love me…"

Duncan gave her a gentle shake. "I must. If I didn't, I'd put you across my knees and give you the spanking of your life."

Kathryn just smiled coyly. "Jonathan would not approve. Besides, I'm not your type."

Duncan rolled his eyes. "What am I to do with you?" He reached down and picked up the bucket of water she had been using. "This goes down the drain. You go out that door and head back to your room for a nap."

Kathryn pretended shock. "Ohhh, you're so sexy when you're angry. Jonathan is lucky."

Duncan held his patience and smiled sweetly. "It's not working, Kathryn. Sweet talk me all you like. You're still going to have that lie down and you're on very light duties only for the next week, at least, during which time you rest each afternoon. At the end of that time, I'll check you out and if I'm happy with you, then I'll consider letting you take on a little more. That's my last word on this." His face was deadly serious and Kathryn knew she'd lost. She tried to out stare him for a moment and then gave up.

"Oh, all right. You win. For now. One week only though…" She reached over and picked up an empty glass from a nearby desk. "Can I at least get a refill of water before I leave? It's thirsty work."

Duncan allowed a small smile and nodded. "Go on. Straight to bed then and sleep for the rest of the afternoon." Kathryn made a face at him and headed over to the small sink against the wall. She filled her glass and then drained it, the cool water washing the dust from her throat. Duncan watched her with a smile on his face. "You've had your drink. Now straight to bed."

Kathryn made another face at him and placed her glass on a towel to drip dry. She mimicked a child's voice. "Yes, Daddy. Right away, Daddy." They locked eyes and both smiled.

When Kathryn entered the kitchen that evening, Greta was helping with dinner. She looked up and smiled as Kathryn reached over for a glass, then her face grew serious. "Kathryn? Are you feeling all right? You looked flushed." She looked her over carefully.

Kathryn nodded and filled her glass with lemonade. "I'm fine. I'm just still a bit warm from my nap. It's been hot today." She drained the glass and smiled. "You know how it is. You wake up all sweaty."

Greta nodded and smiled. "Yes, I know. Summer has come early here this year. It was hot today. That usually means a short season here…fall and winter coming in sooner." She smiled again at Kathryn. "Just you take it easy though. Duncan has given strict orders to everyone to watch you."

Kathryn nodded and rolled her eyes. "I thought he might. I got the full lecture earlier."

Greta shrugged as she placed some chopped vegetables into a pot. "We just all care about you. You can't blame us for that."

Kathryn smiled softly. "I know." She reached for a knife. "Come on. Let me help. Peeling a few things won't hurt me. I'll even sit down while I do it."

Greta shook her head and smiled. "Go on. You'll only pester me to death otherwise." The two women shared a smile.

After dinner, Kathryn helped Selona and Greta clear away, the other two women making sure they took on the bulk of the work. Kathryn looked down at the plates they were clearing away. "Some of the kids didn't eat much tonight…a few of the women too…"

Selona nodded agreement. "You didn't either, honey. I noticed that."

Kathryn smiled softly. "Too much lemonade before dinner. Besides, it was too hot to eat much. Maybe it was the same for the kids."

Selona shrugged. "Doesn't bother my appetite…"

Greta laughed at that. "Nothing ever bothers your appetite, Selona." Kathryn laughed with her as Selona pretended hurt.

"Are you two saying I eat too much?"

Greta put a shocked expression on her face. "Selona, would we say that? Why…that wasn't you the last time we were back on Earth who ate a second helping of steak and then finished off an entire apple pie…with cream…"

Kathryn's eyes widened. She whispered her words in disbelief. "Selona, you didn't…"

The other woman just smiled. "I was just extra hungry that day. Besides, everyone deserves a treat now and then…"

Greta groaned. "What gets me though, is that she never puts on a pound. Look at her. Skinny as hell. I just look at some candy and I gain five pounds. Life isn't fair at times."

Kathryn joined in their laughter as she helped with the dishes. "Oh, life has a way of catching you. You watch. Give her a few years and she'll suffer middle age spread. Then we'll get even…"

Kathryn woke early the next morning and sat up slowly. She looked down at herself and frowned. Her body was drenched in sweat and her head pounded. She groaned as she slid out of bed and made for the bathroom. She splashed cold water on her face and studied her appearance in the mirror. Her eyes were instantly drawn to her scars, which seemed to stand out more this morning. She then noticed how pale she was and understood why their redness was more pronounced. She looked down her body, noting how flushed her skin seemed and how her nightdress was plastered to her skin. She peeled it off and got into the shower, keeping the water as cool as possible. Conscious of wasting water, she didn't stay long and stepped out, towelling herself dry. A sudden wave of nausea sent her racing for the toilet, where she dry retched more than anything. She stood shakily and rinsed out her mouth. She splashed more water on her face and then dried herself. Feeling a little better, she dressed slowly, ignoring how tired she still felt and made her way down to the kitchen and dining area.

As she entered the kitchen, she found John and Peter working alongside Galan and Selona as they placed large pots on the stoves. "What's going on? Is everyone starving this morning?" Suddenly the thought of breakfast made Kathryn's stomach feel queasy.

Galan turned to her and shook his head. "Some of the kids are sick…a few of the women too. It seems to be just upset stomach but Duncan and Cassa asked for boiled water." Kathryn frowned as she looked towards several containers of hot water which were cooling. She looked up and saw Galan staring at her with a concerned look on his face. "Come to think of it, maybe you should go over to the clinic and join them. You don't look too good yourself." Kathryn watched as the others turned to look at her also.

Selona nodded. "You don't, Kathryn. You don't look well at all. You didn't eat much last night either and it's the same kids and women who weren't hungry last night who seem to be sick this morning. Galan's right. Go over to the clinic now."

Kathryn went to object when John nudged her with his shoulder. "Come on. Come over with me. I'm taking the first batch of boiled water over. You can help me carry some."

Kathryn sighed and shook her head, then smiled. "I'll help you but I don't feel that bad so you can all stop fussing."

When Kathryn got to the clinic with John, it seemed as if a riot had broken out. Several of the children were sitting on beds, with others on the floor. Some of the women sat in chairs, holding their heads. Duncan and Cassa ran around examining as many people as they could, while Miriam, Dressa and Greta handed round containers which were rapidly being filled as several of the kids were sick. Kathryn immediately put aside how she felt and began helping.

For the next several hours, Kathryn worked alongside the others as they dealt with the sick children and women. Duncan administered hypo after hypo, quelling the nausea of his patients. Cassa pressed a second hypo to each of her charges, in an attempt to lower the fevers that had come on. While no one was watching, Kathryn gave herself a similar dose of each drug, and feeling a little better, she worked on.

Before they knew it, it was mid-afternoon and most of the patients had been sent to the dorms where they were watched over by some of the women who were still well. Kathryn was helping to clear away when Duncan suddenly grabbed her arm.

"Don't think I haven't noticed you working here all day. Enough now. You look worn out. Head back and get something to eat and then rest." He studied her closely. "You don't look too well. Let me check you first."

Kathryn pulled her arm from his loose grip. "Duncan, stop fussing. I'm fine. I'll go and get something now and then have a lie down. I promise."

He didn't look convinced. "You don't look well. How are you feeling? Any nausea or fever?" He went to feel her forehead but she turned away, on the pretext of placing some blankets down on a bed.

"Duncan, I'm fine. Just hot and tired. If I felt sick, you'd know it. I'd have been throwing up just like everyone else." She gave him a quick smile and saw him ponder her answer for a moment. Before he could say anything, Cassa called him for something and he turned away. Taking her chance, Kathryn left the clinic and headed back to her room.

She was no sooner in the door when she felt her stomach rebel again and dove for the toilet. As before, she'd nothing to bring up and retched painfully for several minutes. She sat back and wiped at her face, feeling her skin hot and clammy. She stood slowly and made her way to the sink, washing her face. She then reached into her pocket and pulled out the hypos she'd taken from the clinic. Feeling guilty, she pressed two of them to her neck and made her way towards her bed. She lay down slowly as she felt the drugs begin to work and rolled onto her side. Within minutes, she'd fallen into a fitful sleep.

Duncan stood with his back to the wall in the large dayroom and looked at Jonathan. He shook his head and then turned to Cassa beside him. Even though there was no one else in the room, he still whispered. "You're sure about this?"

She nodded slowly, whispering back. "I'm sure. I can show you…"

He shook his head, a look of deep shock on his face and ran both hands through his hair. "Dear God…I don't believe this…" He locked eyes with Cassa and lowered his voice even more. "Poison…?"

She nodded. "I've checked and double checked. At first, I just assumed it was a harmless bug, mild flu or something, the kind of unknown thing kids get all the time and pass to each other. I then thought it had to be food poisoning, thinking what else could it be, but there was no common link between those affected in anything they ate so I dug a bit deeper. I ran samples of blood from everyone who's sick." She shrugged. "I can't identify it though. I don't have the equipment or the expertise…"

Duncan rubbed at his temples. "Same old story…" He looked to Jonathan again. "Why only some of them? If they didn't eat the same thing, how did they ingest it? How did it get into their systems?"

Jonathan shrugged. "We're working on that. The others are talking to the kids and the women affected. We're trying to find a common link. None of the staff are affected for some reason."

Duncan sighed and tried to sort his thoughts. "The medicines are only suppressing the symptoms. As soon as they wear off, we're back to square one."

He looked to Cassa who nodded, confirming his words. "They seem better for a little while and then they're sick again. The drugs are less effective each time though…and more symptoms are showing up."

Duncan nodded, acknowledging the information. He began pacing. "What the bloody hell is happening here? How did this happen so quickly? Where did it come from?" He looked at the other two, knowing they didn't have any answers. He thought for a moment and then made a quick decision. "Call a meeting. All the staff we can spare and as many of the women as possible. Normally I'd keep the women out of this until we know what we're dealing with, but this is too serious. They have to know. Until the meeting though, the fewer people who know about this the better. For now, we'll keep this on a need to know basis. We don't need wild speculation and guesswork before we get everyone together. I've already heard a few of the women use the word 'plague' in their fear of the unknown." He thought for a moment. "Talk quietly to Eugene and Roberto…maybe Peter too…and get them working on this in advance of the meeting. Kathryn's hopefully sleeping so leave her for the moment." He turned to Cassa. "Get Miriam to work with you. She has lab experience." Cassa nodded quietly. "Leave Galan and Greta at the dorm and a few of the women. Get everyone else here. Hopefully we can come up with something before the meeting. We need answers and we need to figure out where to go from here…" He looked at the two people before him, seeing his own worry reflected on their faces. They nodded quietly and left.

Kathryn awoke feeling worse than she could ever remember feeling. Once again her body was drenched in sweat and she seemed to ache all over. She raised a hand to her forehead and was alarmed at the heat she felt there, yet she shivered as a cold feeling seemed to surround her. Her headache had also returned, pounding behind her eyes. She forced herself from the bed and tried to stand up but a wave of dizziness forced her back down. She sat for several minutes gripping the side of the bed until it passed. Trying again, she managed to stand and moaned softly as every joint in her body seemed to protest at the movement. Feeling her earlier nausea return, she swallowed to hold it back as she slowly made her way to the bathroom. She gripped the side of the wash basin, not able to make it as far as the toilet bowl and leaned over, dry retching painfully into it.

When this stopped, she eased her way back towards her bedroom. Her head snapped up now as she heard a knock at her door, followed by Hista's voice. "Kathryn…are you awake?"

Kathryn drew in a few deep breaths and tried to steady her voice. "Hista? Yes…I'm awake."

There was a short silence. "Are you all right? You sound…"

Kathryn swallowed again and answered quickly. "I'm fine…just woken up…sorry…" She waited a few seconds before Hista answered.

"Listen, Duncan's called a meeting in about twenty minutes in the day room. As soon as we can all get there in fact. There've been some developments and the kids are worse. He needs everyone down there together to discuss this."

Kathryn dropped her head against the side of the door. "OK, Hista. I'll just get dressed and be there as quickly as I can." She listened as she heard the other woman walk away then made her way to the bed and sat down again. She reached over to the small locker beside her bed and picked up the two remaining hypos she'd taken from the clinic and quickly pressed them to her neck then began pulling off her clothes. Feeling better within a few minutes, she quickly washed and put on a fresh dress, the simple task exhausting her and leaving her breathless. Summoning all her strength, she left her room and made her way to the day room.

Kathryn tried to keep her face turned away from everyone and busied herself handing out cups of tea as the others found seats for themselves. It was evening now and the room was in semi darkness so she kept to the shadows. She listened as Duncan spoke.

"Right, there's no sense in being anything but honest and direct here. The sick are getting worse and we don't know what we're dealing with." He paused a moment. "Well, that's not true. At first we thought it was food poisoning but…"

Selona cut in. "Duncan, it can't be. I keep my kitchen spotless and I'm always so careful with storage and preparation…" She looked upset and Duncan smiled reassuringly at her.

"We all know that, Selona. Listerea or Salmonella can happen in the cleanest places though and we had to consider that. It can be the food itself and not the kitchen. As it is, that's not the cause of this."

Selona nodded but she still seemed uneasy. "You're sure?" She looked from Duncan to Cassa.

The Cardassian doctor nodded. "I first ruled out a common bug, viral infection, general stuff and the usual suspects. Food poisoning was the next most probable cause." She smiled kindly at Selona. "I know how clean and hygienic the kitchen always is but I had to check anyway just to be sure. The kids are in and out of the place so much that there was always the possibility that one of them had brought something in there that they shouldn't have." Selona nodded but said nothing. "I also checked the foodstuffs. The meat in particular and the dairy produce. I checked the cold stores and the refrigeration units to be sure they were working properly. A power or mechanical failure there could cause food to spoil without anyone noticing it. They were all fine though."

Selona nodded again and looked from Cassa to Duncan. "What has caused it then?"

Duncan hesitated a moment before he spoke. "I have to tell you this…and there isn't any easy way so I'll just say it." He hesitated a moment more and then spoke. "We know this is a poison."

Everyone outside of Duncan and those who already knew, gasped at that. Kathryn felt the blood drain from her face and gripped the side of the table where she stood. Duncan scratched at his neck. "Cassa has checked blood samples from everyone and has been working on cultures all day, but we're unable to identify exactly what it is, only that it's a poison and it's caused some kind of virus in those affected. We simply don't have the equipment for the kind of toxicology screening and testing needed to investigate further, no scanning equipment to identify it…" No one missed the barely controlled anger in his voice. He looked around at the others. "Now, we need to try and isolate this and find out where it came from, if it's naturally occurring and why only some are affected…"

Eugene coughed and leaned forward. "Roberto and I have a theory on that…the only thing we can think of actually…"

Duncan nodded for him to continue. "Anything…"

The vet nodded. "We've worked out that those affected have only one thing in common." He looked around at the others. "They were all at the school in the past few days…connected with there in some way…either at classes the day before yesterday when school broke up or at the meeting that evening. The only flaw in that theory is that some of the others who were there aren't sick. However, it's the only link with those who are sick that we can come up with."

Duncan leaned forward. "Go on…"

Roberto took over. "Look, all the kids who are sick were at the school the day before yesterday. Some of the others were out on that field trip with John and they're fine. So out of those who were there, the majority are sick. The women who are sick were there the night before last at the meeting. Not all of the women attended that and those who didn't aren't sick. Once again, the majority who were there are sick." He paused and seemed to weigh his next words.

"Look, to recap…" He sighed. "Only some are sick and they were all connected to the school. No one else is sick, as in those who weren't at the school. Eugene checked the animals, the livestock and the pets, and they're perfectly healthy. Nothing wrong with them at all. We also checked the crops, even the kids' flower gardens, and they're also fine. Nothing has ever been sprayed on them that could cause this. We've always grown organically. We also checked all the stores and the greenhouses and nothing is out of order there either. So…" He paused a moment. "It struck us… Peter, in fact, when we told him this earlier…that the water supply to the school is on a separate system to the rest of the place. You all know how it works. The river feeds the main treatment tank which runs to the shelters and dorms and then here. That tank is well covered…buried in fact. The water for the animals also comes from there as does the supply for the irrigation system feeding the fields to water the crops. The other tank which feeds to the school comes from the upper stream. The treatment tank there isn't buried. It's covered but it's loose. Anyway, we took samples from both tanks and the river and stream." He looked around at all the faces riveted on his. "Cassa's running tests now. She'll let us know as soon as she has anything…if she finds something…"

Duncan leaned back and rubbed his hands over his face. "So you think those who are sick drank the water there and the others didn't?" Roberto nodded. "If it is… Oh God…" He sighed deeply. "It could be something from up in the hills…some naturally occurring…"

Jonathan leaned forward. "Could a dead animal have gotten into the water or rotting vegetation? In the stream or maybe the tank? Something from that?"

Cassa looked from one to the other. "I don't think it's that. While I can't identify this…" She shook her head. "Everything in me tells me this isn't natural. Something about the structure and make up of what I'm seeing suggests otherwise."

Olga joined in for the first time. "Could it be…?" Everyone turned to look at her and she blushed. She looked from Duncan to the women. "I don't know if I should…"

One of the women spoke up. She looked Duncan squarely in the eye. "We'd prefer it if you just talked honestly and openly in front of us. We know you mean well but you have to stop trying to protect us. This is something we can't be protected from. It affects us all too much. We need to know the facts and we need to know the truth."

Duncan smiled at the woman a moment and then nodded. "You're right, Paula. I'm sorry." She smiled back and then looked to Olga.

"Please, Olga. What is it you think?"

Olga smiled nervously and then nodded. "OK, I'll just say it." She hesitated just a moment. "Could it be HIM again? If this is deliberate…so fast acting…in the water…" There wasn't a sound as everyone tried to digest that.

Duncan leaned forward, placing his elbows on the table and looked at them all. He took a moment to compose his thoughts and rein in his emotions. "We'll check the surveillance imagers, such as they are. Maybe they'll show up something. If it is him…and I say 'if'…" He paused and watched the women in particular. "If it is… We can't deal with this alone…can't cope as it is even…" He looked directly at the women now. "I know how scared you all are of outsiders, seeing or talking to anyone outside of here or letting anyone know…" He paused a moment. "However, over half the kids are sick and almost a third of the women. As I said, we can't deal with this alone. We haven't the medicines, the equipment, the expertise… Our supplies are almost gone. If someone is out there, if HE is still out there…" He sighed. "We need help." He looked closely at the women, seeing fearful eyes looking back at him. He leaned back and looked at Jonathan a moment then turned away.

"Kathryn, what do you think?" He looked towards her and saw her back to them all. Something stirred in him when she didn't answer. "Kathryn?" He watched as she turned slowly and moved towards a chair, also in the shadows. "Kathryn, what do you think?" He saw her look towards him and then stop, her hand reaching out, groping towards the table behind her. He scraped his chair back and was standing up, just as Kathryn went down, falling backwards against the table. He saw the lightweight table give way as she fell against it, several cups smashing to the floor as she collapsed. He was at her side in a second, Cassa beside him. He heard someone call for the lights as he gently turned her over.

"Kathryn?" His hand brushed her face and he drew it back, shocked at the heat he felt. They all heard her laboured breathing. He quickly turned to Cassa, his eyes saying everything. She nodded and looked to Jonathan who had knelt beside them.

"I'll take her…" Jonathan leaned over and scooped an unconscious Kathryn into his arms, then headed for the clinic. Duncan stood quickly and turned to address the others but no words came.

Eugene spoke for him. "See to Kathryn first. We'll report to you. Miriam was working with Cassa on the tests. We can get any results from her and talk it through…"

Duncan nodded. "We have to get outside help. We can't cope with this…"

Eugene nodded. "We'll talk here. You go on. Take care of her."

Duncan barely nodded and rushed off.

Duncan and Cassa were just finishing their examination of Kathryn when she began to regain consciousness. She moaned softly as she fought to open her eyes. Finally she won the battle and saw Duncan smiling down at her.

"Hey there. Welcome back." He saw her try to speak, then lick at her lips. He reached over and picked up a glass of water with a straw. Cassa eased her up and held her as she drank.

"This water is fine. It's been checked and filtered." When Kathryn pulled her head back, Cassa eased her back down, seeing how the small effort had exhausted her.

Duncan stroked her face, still feeling the heat radiating off her skin. "Kathryn, honey…how long have you felt like this? You were ill earlier, weren't you?" Kathryn barely nodded. "Why didn't you say something?"

Kathryn shook her head. "You had…enough…to cope with…the children…women…"

Duncan sighed deeply. "You should have told us, said something about how bad you felt…"

Kathryn tried a tired smile. "Don't…fuss…"

Duncan shook his head. "It's my job to fuss. Come on now, I need to know what you're feeling and how long. This is no time for bravado."

Kathryn managed a slight smile. "I feel…too bad…for that…" She drew in a ragged breath. "Nausea…was sick…vomited…headache…sweating…feel hot like burning…but chills… shivering…shaking…like flu… Can't stop shivering…" She took a moment to catch her breath. "Sorry…took some…hypos earlier…same as…you gave…the others… Didn't say…"

Duncan smiled softly. "I'll overlook that for the moment. Anything else?"

She nodded slowly. "Breathless…sore everywhere…aching…dizzy…cold…felt bad yesterday…worse today…"

Duncan nodded and briefly met Cassa'a eyes. "You were at the school. Taught the last day there. Then you worked there yesterday." Kathryn managed to nod slowly. "Did you drink the water…?" He suddenly closed his eyes and groaned. "You'd just finished a glass when I found you and you got another one…finished that too… I remember…"

Kathryn nodded again. "Was hot…thirsty…"

Duncan nodded. "And when you were working there and at the meeting? You drank it then too?"

Kathryn nodded slowly again. "Sorry…"

Duncan stroked her face again. "Kathryn, you have absolutely nothing to be sorry about. Don't worry now. We'll get you better."

Kathryn didn't seem to hear him. "How bad…the children…how sick are they…?"

Duncan shook his head. "No change. Look Kathryn, I want you to try and rest now." He saw how exhausted she seemed, fighting to keep her eyes open. "I need to talk with the others but I'll come back and see you soon. Just sleep for now." Kathryn nodded again slowly as her eyes closed. Duncan just sat watching her for a moment as Cassa took a blood sample then moved away. He looked at her when she spoke.

"I'll get working on this." She held up the sample of blood she'd just taken. "I'll give the other results to Miriam first for the meeting."

Duncan nodded and turned back to look at Kathryn. "This could explain why none of the staff outside of Kathryn are sick. She took the classes the last day and the meeting was just the women on their own. None of the rest of us were there."

Cassa sighed. "It's possible. It depends how long whatever this is was in the water. We could also just have a natural immunity to it or didn't drink as much. We might know more later. In the meantime, I'll pass on the results I have to Miriam for the meeting." Duncan stood but continued to look down at Kathryn.

"Thanks. I'll head over there in a few minutes." He heard Cassa leave but didn't take his eyes off his patient. Finally he looked up after a few minutes and smiled sadly at Dressa who came over to wipe Kathryn's forehead with a cool cloth.

"She never once asked how she herself was…how bad or what I thought. She was only concerned about the kids."

Dressa stopped and smiled sadly at him. "We've had this conversation before…you and I…"

Duncan sighed and nodded, looking back at the sleeping woman before him. "I know. I just pray the outcome is the same."

When Duncan returned to the day room, he found most of the staff and many of the women already there, quietly talking amongst themselves. They all went quiet as he entered and Jonathan stood slowly.

"Sit down, Duncan. You look exhausted. How's Kathryn?" Duncan sighed and made his way over to the large table where many of them sat, the others sitting around where they could. He sighed and took the tea Selona gave him, gratefully sipping at it.

"She's…not good…" He saw the pained looks around him and shrugged. "I don't know… She felt bad the last two days but said nothing. She worked at the school yesterday and the day before…drank the water…maybe more of it than anyone else… I found her there yesterday scrubbing the floors. She'd already had a glass before I came and I watched her drink another one." He groaned and shook his head. "She wasn't exactly in the best of health before this even…" He looked up and saw Miriam sitting across from him. "I take it you have the results of the toxicology tests?"

The young nurse looked down at the table a moment and then back at him. "There was something in the treatment tank which supplies the school…some contaminant. It matches what we found in the blood tests. The other tank is clear. The samples from the stream and the river are also clear. It was only in the school tank."

Duncan leaned back, trying to swallow the anger he felt rising within him. "Just that tank?" Miriam nodded. "In other words…whatever it is…didn't get there by accident?" She shook her head at that. Duncan put his cup down, afraid his grip would smash it. "It was put there deliberately?"

She again nodded. "It's the only explanation. Cassa and I checked the tank itself. Nothing had fallen into it or anything. We even checked the vegetation around there. There's nothing poisonous which could have gotten into it…no berries or anything. Peter was with us…and he agrees. We checked the cover too and…" She licked her lips and glanced at Peter who nodded and took over.

"We checked the cover again…more thoroughly this time. I told you it was loose and that bothered me. I was so certain it wasn't like that before. Anyway, it looks like it was tampered with…levered off or something. There are scratch marks. It's a heavy enough cover. Something would have been needed to push it aside. It can't be lifted by hand…not one person on their own anyway. I always had at least two of the men with me when I worked there and needed to check it."

Duncan lowered his head a moment and squeezed his eyes shut. "So we can say that this poison or whatever it is…was deliberately added to that tank?" He looked up and saw them all nod in agreement.

Peter added more. "I think we can also say we're damned sure who did this too." He didn't try to hide his anger. "Bastard knew what he was doing as well. He didn't add it to the stream or river, knowing that running or moving water would disperse it. Adding it to the tank…to still water…" His voice trailed off.

Duncan slammed his hands down on the table, making everyone jump. "We relaxed, let our guard down. We should have been more careful…watched more…"

Jonathan cut him off. "Stop that, Duncan. It's not going to help. We have to decide what to do now. This could be worse. That bastard obviously believed that was the only tank supplying water. If he'd known about the other one…or maybe he just didn't have time to look for it…" He didn't need to say anything else.

Duncan leaned forward. "Have the imagers shown up anything?"

Peter Walker cleared his throat. "We're still working on them. I'll look at what they picked up as soon as we finish here, if they picked up anything…" Silence followed for several minutes until one of the women spoke up. She cleared her throat and seemed almost shy.


Duncan looked towards her and smiled. "I'm sorry. Yes, Jaal…"

The woman smiled sadly and looked around her for a moment before continuing.

"It's just that…" She bit at her lip. "We've been talking, me and the other women." She looked at the others. "We're scared. You were right about that earlier. We're terrified of anyone coming here…strangers…outsiders…but…" She wiped at her face as her tears started. "Duncan, you haven't said it but…we can see." She swallowed loudly. "Duncan, our children are dying, our friends. So many of the kids are sick, the other women and now Kathryn. We saw her when she collapsed here…heard what you just said about her condition…" She shook her head and broke down. Another of the women took over for her as a third comforted Jaal.

"Jaal's right, Duncan. Unless we get help now, our kids and our friends will be dead. We're not stupid. We were all mature, intelligent adults before we let our fear take over." She looked straight at Duncan. "Once before a man tried to ruin my life and I let him. Oh, I couldn't stop the act but I could have stopped the rest. He made me afraid, made me feel worthless and vulnerable, dirty and used… He started that but I let it continue. I allowed him to make me feel like that. Afterwards, I ran from another man because I felt all those things, let him reinforce them in me. I let him make me feel the same. The only strength I had was fighting to keep my baby." She shook her head. "Now yet another man has come into my life and tried to do the same thing. Well, this time I fight back. I refuse to let my fear win this time. I'm not the only one either. I've spoken to the others. We've all spoken…and we've decided. We know we've no choice here. So, Duncan, you do whatever you have to. Call whoever. Just don't let our children…our friends…our dear Kathryn die." She stood almost panting at the end of her words as Duncan and the others stared at her. Jonathan just stood slowly and went over to the woman and took her in his arms.

"You're a wonderful woman, Kit. Don't ever let anyone tell you differently. You're not afraid. You're very brave." He pulled back and smiled at several of the other women. They smiled shakily back at him. One of them stood hesitantly.

Duncan nodded for her to speak. "Please Nann…" She nodded slowly.

"It's not so much bravery as necessity, Duncan. We're all very afraid but now we know we have to face that fear, just as Kit said." She drew in a deep breath, gaining confidence. "You can run from a situation but the fear follows you. Long after that situation is over, that fear is still there." She looked around her, speaking more to the other women now. "My husband is no longer my enemy and neither is the one who hurt me at the start of all this. Fear, however, is still my enemy but I see now that I can't run from it anymore. Oh, I could give into it and curl up in a corner and die…watch my friends and the kids die…or…I can stand, turn around and face it head on and fight it." She shook her head and turned back to look at Duncan.

"I can't speak for the others here although I think they feel as I do." There were several murmurs of agreement and she smiled at several of the women. "Thanks." She took a moment and licked at her lips then looked at Duncan again. "At this moment, I'm speaking mainly for myself." He nodded his understanding. "As I see it, you can run from a situation, as we all did, but the fear and the feelings follow you and stay with you, no matter where you go. You can't hide from them because they're always within you, always there, even sometimes in sleep. You can run but you take those feelings and that fear with you when you run." She shook her head, tears filling her eyes. Her face took on a look of determination though.

"Well…I've decided that I can't run anymore. I'm tired of running and hiding and being afraid, tired of being only half or a quarter of the woman and person I once was. I'm ashamed to let my kids see me like that at times. I'm not setting them a great example." She shrugged and held her hands out.

"So, I can give in to this and curl up and die, and being afraid is a form of death, or I can stand and fight. Fear is a disease which I was infected with but I've done nothing to treat it and I've probably infected others because of that." She drew in another deep breath.

"So I choose to fight. I know it won't be easy but then nothing worth fighting for is ever easy but it is always worth the fight. Either way, it can't be any worse than living in fear the way I have been." Several women voiced their agreement. Nann nodded, acknowledging them. She then jerked her finger towards the door, her voice rising slightly.

"That 'thing' who came here meant for us all to die. He wanted us to die here…unknown and hidden away…no one ever knowing of our existence or our fate. Well, now we have a chance to stop what he planned. It's only our fear which is stopping us from fighting this…fighting back. He's probably depending on that. Well, our courage can stop it…stop him achieving the evil he set out to perpetrate against us and our children. We need to see our fear as a separate enemy and fight it. We have to use our combating that fear as a weapon we can use against that bastard and not let him use it as a weapon against us or as an accomplice." She looked directly at Duncan, her breathing heavy.

"I wasn't able to fight back the last time I was threatened…by that soldier…or by my husband and family. I let my fear stop me." She leaned on a chair in front of her now, her voice low and determined. "Well…that stops right now. This time I too fight back." A silence followed for a moment, the only sound that of Nann's breathing. Duncan smiled and nodded at her, his pride in this woman clearly showing. They both looked around at the sound of a chair scraping back as one of the women stood.

"I fight too…"

Another woman beside her stood also. "As do I. My son is very sick…possibly dying. I'll do whatever I need to do in order to help him. My fear is nothing compared to getting him well. I fought for him before. I fought for him when I was pregnant with him. I fought to give birth to him and then to keep him safe afterwards. I fought just to keep him, in fact. Well…this is just another fight for him…just another battle for him."

A woman beside Jonathan stood shakily. "I'm not that brave…not yet anyway…but I'll try. It looks like I'll have plenty of support." Several hands reached for her and patted her reassuringly.

Duncan's was one of them. "Your fear is still important, Ria."

She nodded. "I know…but not compared to the lives here which need saving."

Duncan smiled tearfully at her and then around at all the women. "We'll all support each other…" They all smiled back at him. He shook his head. "We're very proud of you, of all of you. You're all very brave." He looked at the other staff and saw that many of them were also close to tears.

Jaal cleared her throat and moved towards Duncan. "They may sound like brave words now, Duncan. Let's just hope I can keep it up when help arrives. You might have quite a few women hiding out in the woods."

Duncan smiled reassuringly at her. "You'll be fine. We'll all be here with you." The women all nodded, some whispering to each other. Duncan watched them a moment and then held up a hand and waited for complete silence. "So are you all sure about this? I want you all to be in total agreement." He looked around at them all. The women looked at each other and whispered amongst themselves a moment.

Dara spoke for them. She looked at Duncan and nodded, managing a small smile. "We're sure." She nodded again and then turned to look at the other staff.

Jonathan smiled kindly at her. "So we get help?"

She nodded again, the other women voicing their agreement.

Duncan let out the breath he'd been holding and nodded. "Right…" His relief was evident in his voice and he suddenly felt very tired. He watched as Jonathan moved back to the table and sat again, smiling at him, his eyes conveying so much more than anyone present could see.

Miriam broke the silence and asked a question no one had so far addressed. "Just who can help though? It has to be someone we can trust but I wouldn't know who to even think of"

John Wilson had a suggestion. "Is Kathryn conscious?"

Duncan frowned. "She was earlier for a time. She's sleeping now. Why?"

John leaned his arms on the table. "We all know Kathryn was once Starfleet. We trust her." He looked around at the others who all nodded agreement. "Well then…if we asked her…if she's able… If there was someone she trusted and we trust her…" He leaned back. "Look, we all know that the Federation…Starfleet…the Cardassian Government…above a certain level…they know about us and always have. They don't bother us. If there was someone whom Kathryn trusted and as we trust her then we know we could also trust that person… Maybe civilians or someone she worked with… I don't know…" He stopped and shook his head. "Am I making any sense here or am I going in circles?"

Duncan smiled softly. "I'm not sure you ever make sense, John, but we know what you mean." The others laughed a little. "OK then…I agree but I need you all to agree." He looked around him. "Do we…? Hands?" Everyone present raised a hand and Duncan nodded and smiled, relief flooding through him.

"OK. I'll take care of it."

Duncan sat with several staff members after the meeting had broken up and the women had returned to their homes or to the dorms. He held a fresh cup of tea and stared down at it. He spoke to no one in particular.

"You know, I think in our minds, in my mind anyway…" He looked up and glanced around the others at the table. "I think we made them or saw them as helpless as we imagine we'd be in their situation. Do you know what I mean?" They all nodded.

Jonathan sighed. "Perhaps we underestimated them. Maybe we haven't given them the credit for the strength they still have within them. It's hidden or maybe we've refused to see it."

Olga joined in. "I know they're all victims of terrible crimes and experiences, but do we treat them as victims and perhaps keep them that way? They're grown women and not as helpless as we perhaps think they are."

Miriam leaned in. "Maybe we're so used to dealing with the kids that we tend to treat the women the same way. I mean, they need help too but it's a different kind of help…"

Duncan leaned back in his chair. "The way I saw it tonight, they have a strength I didn't know they had or would have credited them with. I now think it was there all along but it had been terrified into submission. A person can only take so much happening to them. We might have forgotten that their time here has healed some of that. We treat them the same now as we did when they arrived and that's wrong. This situation has shown us that. It's lit the fire within them again. They've had recovery time here but we haven't acknowledged that. Our way of being with them should have changed as time passed but it stayed the same. What's happening now has brought that strength back when it should have been us who helped it come back with their help." Everyone nodded their agreement.

Jonathan leaned forward, playing with the cup he held. He looked around the table. "Well, we can talk about all this some other time. For now, we have to deal with what's happening." Again they all nodded agreement.

Duncan sighed heavily. "You're right." He scraped his chair back. "OK people, let's get moving and fight this thing."

Duncan could see immediately that Kathryn's breathing was worse than it had been before. He exchanged a worried look with Cassa before looking back at Kathryn and gently stroking her face.

"Kathryn…Kathryn…" He watched as she groaned and tried to open her eyes before closing them again. Duncan understood immediately. "Cassa…can you lower the lights a bit?" The Cardassian woman smiled softly and did as asked.

"OK Kathryn, it's not so bright." He watched as she tried again and moved her head slightly, wincing in pain. Duncan pressed a hypo to her neck, having anticipated the need for it. "That's a painkiller. It'll work in a moment." Kathryn licked at her lips and nodded, opening her eyes again. It took her a minute to focus on the man before her and she tried a small smile.

"Duncan…" Her voice was a mere whisper.

He smiled down at her. "Any better?"

She nodded. "The others?"

He shook his head and smiled, not surprised that she'd think of the others first. He hesitated a moment, knowing he had to be honest.

"Not good." He saw the pain his words caused. "Kathryn, I need your help. We all do."

She frowned a little and nodded. "Whatever I can…"

Duncan pressed a finger to her lips. "Don't push yourself. Just listen to me." She managed a small nod. "Kathryn, we need to call for outside help." He saw her frown again and drew in a deep breath. "Kathryn, I'll be honest with you. You're very ill. We need help here." He saw tears in her eyes now.

"No…please…not for me… I know how afraid…they all are…"

Duncan shook his head. "Kathryn…listen…" He pressed down gently on her shoulders as she tried to sit up. He didn't miss how much she shivered and pulled her blanket up more, tucking it in around her neck. Cassa immediately reached for another blanket and covered her patient with it. Duncan smiled his thanks and turned back to Kathryn when she tried to sit up again. "Kathryn…don't…" He saw her grow agitated.

"Don't…not for me…not to save me…"

Duncan forced his emotions down. He knew he'd have to be totally straight with her. "Kathryn…please… You're not the only one who needs saving. The others are very ill too…worse now. We can't deal with this alone…can't cope…can't even hope to." He saw her tears fall now.

"The children…no…"

He brushed at her tears with gentle fingers. "Kathryn, we've all talked. We've spoken with the women and they agree. They're afraid but they know we have to get help. They're so worried about their kids…their friends…worried about you… We need help and we all know it." Her tears continued. "Kathryn, they trust you. Who can we call for help? Is there someone? Perhaps someone you know…trust… You spoke of an admiral once…spoke well of him…said he cared…"

Kathryn swallowed and sniffed, then nodded. "Admiral Paris…I trust him…"

Duncan nodded and smiled. "He's at Starfleet?"

She nodded again. "Headquarters…"

Duncan smiled and stroked her face. "OK Kathryn. Rest now. I'll call him." He pressed her down when she tried to sit up again. "Kathryn… please…"

She lay back. "Code name…Roman Emperor. He'll know…code blue five…" Duncan smiled and nodded, hiding his concern at how exhausted and breathless she was after just a few minutes of effort.

"Roman Emperor…code blue five. OK…I'll tell him. Thank you." He brushed back her hair, which was damp and sticking to her face. He knew without checking that her temperature was higher now. "You just rest now. You'll be fine."

Her hand reached for his weakly. "I'm dying…"

Duncan swallowed and shook his head. He tried to steady his voice. "No, Kathryn…because I won't let you."

She gripped his hand harder. "I heard…know…drank more…" Her hand fell away from his. "So sorry… mistakes…" Her tears continued to fall even as her eyes closed.

Duncan blinked back his own tears, hearing how laboured her breathing was now. He looked up at Cassa and shook his head, not trusting himself to speak. She reached across and gripped his shoulder.

"I know…but we won't let her go. We'll fight this. Now go on…you've a call to make…"

Admiral Paris stood looking out his window, watching as various Starfleet personnel and civilians crossed back and forth on the grounds below him. He sighed deeply and turned away. He shook his head and cleared his throat and then made his way to his desk, pressing on the intercom button.

"Denise, I'm finished with that last call. Can you come in here a moment?" He didn't wait for an answer but turned as his secretary knocked first and then entered his office.


He smiled sadly at her. "That last call… I don't need to tell you about confidentiality…" He smiled and nodded at her expression. "I know. I just had to say it." He moved a padd on his desk. "Any more calls from that same source…with those codes…you find me immediately…no matter where I am or what the time is…"

The woman nodded. "Of course, Sir…"

He walked around the side of his desk. "There's to be no record of it. No names noted anywhere." She nodded again. "Good. Now, I need you to make a call for me. Contact Commander Chakotay. He's lecturing in Henderson Block…Room 5 or 6. Have him come here as soon as he can. No details…just that I need to speak with him as soon as possible." Denise nodded and when no further instructions came, she left. Admiral Paris watched the closed door for a moment and then sat down wearily. He had some calls to make.

"Just hang on, Kathryn…just hang on…"

Admiral Paris smiled at the large man before him, a man he'd come to greatly respect and admire over the past months.

"Please, Chakotay, sit down. Thank you for coming so quickly. Let me get you some tea."

Chakotay smiled and nodded. "Thanks, Admiral. Tea would be very welcome. I've just survived a two hour lecture to a group of young women who seemed more interested in looking at me rather than listening to what I was saying."

The old man placed the tea on the desk in front of Chakotay and smiled. "Don't knock it. Take it as a compliment."

Chakotay laughed and reached for his cup. "Easier said than done. What happens at exam time when they can't complete the paper? It falls back on me then."

The Admiral shook his head and laughed also. "Oh, don't be so sure of that. I can still remember feeling the same way about one of my lecturers. She was a real stunner and my friends and I spent all our lectures just staring at her and well…you can imagine what our minds were doing…" Chakotay smiled and nodded. "In the end though, when the exams came, we were surprised just how much we remembered of what she'd said. Subconsciously it had sunk in. I think there was also the element of not wanting to let her down so we did study too. You wait and see. They'll surprise you yet."

Chakotay sighed and sipped at his tea. "I hope you're right."

They were quiet for a moment as they drank and then the Admiral placed his cup down on the desk but still held onto it. "How are you really getting on? Are you happy with what you're doing?"

Chakotay shrugged. "I'm…content…I guess you could say. It puts in the days."

Admiral Paris nodded slowly. "But you're not happy? Not fulfilled?"

Chakotay leaned back and shook his head. "To be honest… No I'm not. I didn't expect to be though. I never believed doing this would give me what I wanted or needed but life could be a lot worse. Oh, I know I'm passing something on to the next generation, but it's not going to change anyone's life or make a great difference to the world. Let's face it, I could just have recorded my lectures and the result would be the same. I don't need to be there. It gives me something to do but I still don't feel I'm making a difference…" He smiled sadly at the man before him.

The Admiral smiled his understanding. "I did think that was the case. I see the same thing with Tom and B'Elanna. They do some work here and there, but it's not very satisfying for them." He leaned back from his desk now and looked at Chakotay for a moment.

Chakotay felt a slight unease growing inside him and leaned forward. "Admiral, why exactly have you called me here?"

The old man held his eyes. "I have a mission for you…"

Chakotay raised an eyebrow, surprised at the direct answer. "I'm not officially Starfleet anymore. I know I kept my rank but we agreed it wasn't active…"

The Admiral leaned forward now and held up a hand. "I know that but this mission isn't exactly 'official' either." Chakotay barely nodded, deciding to keep quiet until he'd heard what the Admiral had to say. The old man leaned over the desk and laced his fingers together. "Besides, we occasionally 'hire' outside consultants or contractors…" He smiled slightly at Chakotay.

"Meaning me…?"

The old man nodded. "You for one but it could also include others. Anyway, you're not exactly an outsider." He cleared his throat. "As I said, it's not an official mission. There's nothing sinister here but it is important. I thought you might be interested."

Chakotay nodded slowly. "I might be. I need something."

The Admiral nodded and continued. "It's a humanitarian mission, in fact."

Chakotay nodded again. "Even better."

Admiral Paris smiled slightly. "It is a delicate situation though."

Chakotay dropped his head to the side. "Maybe you'd just better tell me the whole story…"

The old admiral nodded and stood. "Let me just get us a refill…"

Chakotay laughed and handed over his empty cup. "That sounds ominous…" He said no more as Admiral Paris placed two fresh cups of tea on the desk and then sat.

"OK…this is the story." He delayed a brief moment and then continued. "There's a place…a small planet on the edge of Federation Space. It was uninhabited for years…decades. The soil there isn't the best but it's OK. People could get by." He took a sip of his tea.

"For the past while, a group of people have lived there…self-sufficient for the most part. They never bothered anyone and no one bothered them either."

Chakotay had a slight frown on his face. "But now they need help…are in trouble? Am I right?"

The old man nodded. "You're not far wrong. Look Chakotay, what I'm about to tell you… Let's just say I don't want it going too far." Chakotay nodded his agreement as the admiral smiled his thanks. "Some of this will shock you…some of it probably won't surprise you at all." He played with his cup again.

"This place is a…refuge, I guess. It's for women and children who were badly affected by the war…the one between ourselves and the Cardassians." He saw Chakotay's head snap up. "As I said, some of this won't surprise you, especially the Cardassian end of it." Chakotay's face wore an unreadable expression as he sat forward now. Admiral Paris held up a hand before the man in front of him could speak. "I also have to say that Starfleet's hands aren't clean in all of this either."

Chakotay blew out a breath. "So you come to me because I know both sides?"

The old man saw the anger start and held up his hand again. "Just hear me out. There's a lot more to this."

Chakotay closed his eyes a moment and then nodded. "OK, I'm sorry. Tell me it all."

Admiral Paris smiled his thanks once more. "Look Chakotay, we both know war and we both know what it does to men. We've both probably seen things we'll never forget." He saw painful memories flit across Chakotay's eyes as they did across his own. "Like me, you can honestly say that not every man you served with was true to the cause or honourable. We both know only too well what some men are capable of…within a war situation and without." Chakotay nodded a reluctant agreement to that. The admiral hesitated a brief moment and then decided to plunge right in.

"Chakotay, the women at this refuge… They were all, and they're mixed, from Earth and Cardassia… They were all victims of…rape…by soldiers…on both sides…"

Chakotay's face took on a look of horror. "What are…?"

The raised hand stopped him again. "Let me finish. These are apparently women who became pregnant as a result of those rapes. They are women who refused to terminate those pregnancies. They had their children…and for various different reasons…had to run with those children. They had to escape husbands…families…shame…embarrassment…all kinds of things." Chakotay's face actually grew pale as he tried to take it all in. "They live there with their children, the ones from what happened…and in some cases, children they already had. There's a small staff there also…and they too are mixed…but that's all...no one else." Chakotay just sat shaking his head.

"They're not well known about, of course. More for their liking than ours. Oh, from a certain level up, we knew about them. The same goes for the Cardassian Government, but it suited both us and the people at the refuge to say nothing. Starfleet and the Cardassians for obvious reasons. We don't exactly like admitting what our rogue soldiers got up to."

Chakotay looked sadly at the man across from him. "And the people there…at the refuge…?"

The admiral sighed. "They preferred it because they felt safer." He shook his head and sighed again. "The other thing you have to understand is that, politically at present, they're not high on any agenda, not on any priority list for help after the war, particularly as a result of shutting themselves off, which suits them, as I said. They apparently work the land, breed their own animals and survive on private donations." Admiral Paris leaned back a little. "They also weren't on a priority list because basically no one really is. So many have been equally deserving after the war."

Chakotay sipped at his tea. "What else?"

The admiral smiled slightly. "As I said, they always preferred to do things on their own and be as self-sufficient as possible. As I also said…to our shame…ourselves and the Cardassians…we went along with that. Now though, they need help and I'll explain about that in a moment." Chakotay nodded. "The reason I'm asking you is…" He leaned forward again.

"You have to understand that with what these women and many of the children went through…" He sighed. "We can't just land there and start helping. This has to be done quietly, and that's mainly at the request of those who contacted us." He played with his untouched tea, dipping a finger into the cooling liquid.

"Look Chakotay, most of the people there have seen enough Starfleet and Cardassian uniforms to last them a lifetime. Many are still terrified of us both and with good reason. They can't tell one from the other, good from bad. To them we're all just soldiers and their only experience of soldiers was bad. They don't or won't, can't see, that the war is over and that we've all moved on and put the past behind us. To many of them that war will continue in their minds forever."

Chakotay smiled sadly and nodded. "I can understand that. Those feelings stay."

The admiral nodded. "But you've let a lot of the hate go…can see both sides in a sense. You've seen what hate can do and that's one of the reasons I'm talking to you now." Chakotay sipped at his tea again but said nothing. The old man took a moment before speaking again.

"Chakotay, these people can't see that we're on their side and just want to help now. They can't see that we understand. They wouldn't understand that we just want to help them and maybe, in some small way, try and make up for the past and what happened to them."

Chakotay sighed. "What about the Cardassians? Are they involved in this mission too?"

The admiral shook his head. "No, they're not. Oh, they know." He sighed. "Look, two staff members from the refuge contacted me for help. They didn't contact anyone else. I've spoken with certain people here and I also had to let my Cardassian counterpart know what was going on. He's in agreement on this and has also spoken with certain people at his end. They understand and feel as we do. They too have their guilt over what some of their soldiers did, believe it or not. We're the same. They're happy to let us take care of this ourselves, mainly because that's what the people at the refuge want."

Chakotay shook his head. "And the people who contacted you from the refuge… Do they know you contacted the Cardassians about all this?"

The admiral nodded. "Yes, they do and they understand. They know I had to tell them. I've explained it all to them and they understand our guilt and the guilt the Cardassians feel. Chakotay, the people in power on Cardassia now…those in power here… We're trying to let go of the hate and the past. None of us ever wanted war really. We certainly never would have condoned what some of our men did. Soldier against soldier was one thing…but not this. Atrocities were committed by both sides. We freely admit that and now we're just trying to let go of the hate and try in any way to repair the damage. That's going to take time. This situation is here now and we have to do something but we can't just rush in with our ships and uniforms. The only thing the people there would see are those uniforms." He sighed and ran a hand through his grey hair.

"For these people, it would only have taken one bad apple for the rot to set in and they'd see everyone the same…see us as one. In their minds, one bad individual came to represent the entire organization or government. They couldn't see the actions of the man…only the uniform he wore. That uniform came to represent to them…fear, terror, pain. When they see that now, they only see what happened to them and remember that."

Chakotay sighed deeply, idly playing with his own cup. "Couldn't one or two of you meet with them…out of uniform? You could tell them…help them understand…"

The old man shook his head. "We couldn't deny who we were. They wouldn't listen anyway. Chakotay, these people are terrified. They don't trust us. They're also terrified of their own families finding them. That's why the fewer people who know about this, the better. Oh, their leaders trust us…a few of us anyway…" He smiled and Chakotay thought he could see more in the smile than the sdmiral was telling but he didn't question it yet.

"Won't they be terrified if I arrive with some people? Wouldn't that seem the same to them? We'd still be strangers…"

The admiral nodded. "It will terrify them but not as much as we would. Besides, they know they've no choice with what's happening. The people themselves asked their leaders to get help. They know there's no other way."

Chakotay sat forward. "Maybe you'd better tell me exactly why they need help so badly. What the hell happened there?"

Admiral Paris signed deeply and took a sip of cold tea before speaking. "They're ill. Very ill." Chakotay looked shocked. "At first they thought it was some kind of bug or viral infection. They then thought it was food poisoning. They were the most obvious choices. None of the sick had eaten the same thing though so… I think they even considered a kind of plague." Chakotay's eyes widened. "From cultures and blood tests, they know now it was something in their water. Many of them are very sick. What it is…they still don't know. What they do know is that it's a poison which has caused some kind of virus and that it was placed there deliberately."

Chakotay's mouth fell open. "This was done deliberately? Who…?"

The admiral cut him off. "All I know is that someone broke through their security…such as that security was. I don't have all the details. All I can tell you is that they need medical supplies and medical expertise…all the help they can get." Admiral Paris leaned back in his chair again and gave the man before him a moment to digest everything. "So, Commander, can I count on your help?"

Chakotay leaned back also and thought for a moment. "Yes, yes, you can…" The old man smiled. "Get me a small ship, whatever medical personnel you think will be needed…" He shook his head. "I'll do what I can."

The admiral nodded. "You can take whoever you like…people you might perhaps feel comfortable with…those you'd be familiar working with…"

Chakotay looked wary. "I'll have to think about that. I'm not sure who… I'll go though." Admiral Paris smiled softly to himself. So far so good. He knew the next bit would be harder though.

"I was hoping you'd say that." He hesitated a moment and locked eyes with Chakotay, watching his face carefully. "You know, Voyager is finally finished her refit…" He got the reaction he expected. He saw the shocked look on Chakotay's face just before he shook his head.

"No. No. Get me another ship. Any other ship."

The admiral ignored him and spoke on quickly, waiting for the expected reaction. "I want you to take her and as many of your old crew as you can…"

Chakotay didn't disappoint as he jumped up and backed away from the desk. "No way. I can't." He ran a hand through his hair and shook his head sadly. "Anyway, it's not my crew. It was Kathryn's. I know even without asking that they'll all say the same. None of us would ever want to set foot on that ship again without her as captain." He calmed a little more and sighed deeply. "Look Admiral, it's a good cause and I'm more than willing to help but give me another ship. I'll agree to the crew part, if they're willing, and I can't speak for them but not Voyager…" The old man leaned forward, placing his elbows on the desk.

"Chakotay, just hear me out. Voyager is the best available to you." He held up his hand to silence Chakotay when he saw him about to object again. "Please just sit down and listen. That's all I ask." Chakotay eventually nodded agreement and sat.

Admiral Paris went on. "Look, Voyager was refitted…well…she was more repaired than anything. She's at her best but she's still no match to our current designs. Some even want to retire her as a museum. Our ships now are far more advanced. You were all away for seven years. Technology and design moved on in that time and there have been many changes and advances. The need for better ships during the war saw to that. The ships in our fleet now are far more advanced than Voyager, especially thanks to the technology you brought back with you. You and the crew would need to be retrained for them. This is the best way."

Chakotay just shook his head. "Admiral, I'm sorry. As I said, I'll go gladly, but not on Voyager. There really is nothing you can say to change my mind. I'm so sorry for the people at that refuge and how sick they are and I'll go as I agreed…the majority of the crew most likely too…but not this way. Just give us another ship. Otherwise I know you'll need to get another crew and I'm sure you could manage to get one together quite quickly. You don't even really need me." He suddenly frowned deeply. "Why me and why us anyway?" The old man leaned back and smiled sadly. He didn't answer immediately.

"You're the best for the job."

Chakotay narrowed his eyes. "Others are as good. Better even."

The admiral nodded at that. "It's also a delicate matter…"

Chakotay frowned a little, sensing something he couldn't name. "So you said." He watched the old man a moment and then shook his head, unable to read him. "Look, I'll still say the same thing to you. You won't change my mind on this. Really…I told you…"

Admiral Paris smiled a knowing smile. "You're wrong there, son." He looked deeply into Chakotay's eyes, his expression serious now.

"What if I were to tell you that Kathryn is part of this mission." He almost wanted to laugh at the shocked look before him and would have if he hadn't also seen the pain his words caused. There was a deadly silence for a few moments before Chakotay spoke.

"You said you didn't know where she was…" His voice was soft.

The admiral shook his head sadly. "I didn't…until now…"

Chakotay sucked in a few deep breaths. "She'd be coming with us?"

Admiral Paris shook his head sadly. "No. You don't understand." He cleared his throat. "She's already there."

Chakotay felt a fear start in him, unable to understand why. "What are you not telling me?"

He saw the old man look away a moment before meeting his eyes. "Kathryn has been working there. I'm sorry but… She's one of the people infected…"

Chakotay felt the blood drain from his face and almost fell back in his chair. "How bad…?" His voice sounded choked and he tried again. "How bad is she?"

The admiral shook his head. "I don't know. Not good…I think." Chakotay closed his eyes a moment, Kathryn's image filling his mind. He opened them again to escape the pain it caused, only to find it still there. Admiral Paris saw it and sighed sadly.

"All I know is that she's been working there for months. When she got ill… From what I can gather…she didn't want them to contact anyone even though it could help her. She insisted in fact, because she knew how afraid the people there were of outsiders. She put them before herself. She only agreed when the children began to get sicker. She gave them my name. They agreed…the women…to us helping because they knew if Kathryn trusted us then they could too." Chakotay just sat there, shaking his head, trying desperately to sort his thoughts. The Admiral spoke on, his words barely penetrating Chakotay's mind.

"Look Chakotay, this is kids…and now we know it's also Kathryn. They need you and your people…people without uniforms…people they know Kathryn trusts. They don't want or need uniforms and strangers in there. The more outside people involved in this, the greater the risk of their families finding them. To them…if Kathryn trusts you…they will." He hit hard with his next words.

"It's also a matter of time and they have little of that." He hesitated, hating to see the pain his words caused. "Look, I'll be totally honest with you here…completely straight." Chakotay stared at him. "This also…and I know how selfish this sounds…but this also helps Starfleet too. I'm asking you to take as many of Voyager's crew as possible because…although the people at the refuge didn't say it…I get the feeling they need all the help they can get…not just with the medical side of things. As I said…it sounds very hard but…we haven't known what to do with you all…the returning Voyager crew. No more than they've known what to do with themselves…"

Chakotay stood again, suddenly unsure if his legs would support him. He leaned against the desk to be safe. His face suddenly wore a determined look. "Yes, it does sound hard but at this moment, I couldn't care less. Just help me get in touch with the crew as soon as possible…within the next few minutes if you can. Get Voyager ready and all supplies on board while I get them together and talk to them."

The admiral nodded. "It would also be best if none of you wore uniforms while you're there. It would terrify the women and children…"

Chakotay nodded to that. "That's fine. I understand that. The crew will be OK with it too. I don't think any of them have worn a uniform since they left after the debriefings…"

The old man smiled but seemed to hesitate a moment before speaking. "There's one last thing… something I need to ask about…" He looked up into Chakotay's face. "At this point, I need to ask you how you feel about this from your own point of view. I need to ask how you feel about going there and working with these people. I know you've already agreed, said yes, but I need to be sure. As I said, many are Cardassian, many from Earth, most of the kids are mixed human and Cardassian. Kathryn obviously had no problem with it but you went through so much…lost so many…" He swallowed, seeing the man before him remember those he'd lost. "I need to ask how you feel about working there. I know you're going more for Kathryn now than anything else but you'll also be working with these people. I need to know how you really feel about that…and how you think the other ex-Maquis on your crew will feel about it." He watched as Chakotay took a moment, his thoughts his own. Finally he spoke, his voice steady.

"Admiral, let me say it this way. The war is over. It had been over for some time before we got back. It was over well before that for those of us on Voyager. Besides, from what you say, these people are also victims. I've hated long enough. So have the other ex-Maquis. It's enough. Has been enough for long enough." He smiled softly but there was a great sadness there. "Kathryn Janeway taught us that. She taught us the meaning of letting the past go. She taught us about loving instead of hating. She helped us find peace within ourselves." He smiled softly again as he looked at the old admiral. "Don't get me wrong. We're not about to go out there and embrace those we fought, but we know who the real enemy was and it wasn't those women and children. As I said, Kathryn Janeway taught us all that and we haven't forgotten it." He paused briefly until Admiral Paris nodded his understanding. He then turned and left the room.

As Duncan entered the dimly lit curtained off section where Kathryn was, Cassa's sad eyes gave him her report before she could utter any words.

"She's worse?"

She nodded gravely and signed deeply. "Much worse. Her condition has deteriorated badly in the last hour." Duncan drew in a deep breath and nodded before looking towards his friend in the bed. He'd spent the past two hours trying to treat his other patients, many of whom had also deteriorated. While some had improved and a few even verged on recovery, many continued to worsen, their temperatures rising as they fell into a delirium which brought unseen terrors to them. They cried out in pain as they scratched at themselves, screaming about something crawling under their skin, eating at them. Duncan and the others were at a loss as to how to ease their suffering and even though it heralded a worsening of their condition, felt relief when they fell unconscious. He sighed now as he took Kathryn's progress padd from Cassa and let his eyes skim it. Cassa spoke as he read it, almost as if she were reading it to him.

"Her temperature keeps rising and she's delirious now, just like the others. She's worse in fact. She's raving, mumbling words, many of which I can't fully understand. She keeps saying 'sorry' and 'forgive me'…crying out. She has periods of just staring at nothing and then she's crying, tears pouring down her face…and she calls to someone to help her. A name I think…sounds like 'Chackatae'. Something like that." Cassa shook her head sadly.

"She's started to claw and tear at herself now too. She cries out about them 'crawling inside her'…'eating at her'…" Duncan nodded, having heard it before. "It's also like she's seeing things and she cries out and tries to get away from them. I hate the idea but I think we're going to have to restrain her in some way. She's harming herself. I put IV lines in to try and get some fluids into her because she's becoming dehydrated. I'm afraid she'll try to pull them out…" Duncan met Cassa's eyes, her pain matching his own. He looked back down at the padd then back at her.

"When did this haemorrhaging start?" He pointed at an item on the padd.

Cassa signed. "I noticed it about half an hour ago. It seemed light at first and I thought it was just her monthly period starting but it increased so quickly. A nosebleed followed that." She shook her head. "I'm administering something to help slow the bleeding…a clotting agent…but… I'm worried too that there might be some internal…" She rubbed a hand across her face. "I wish I knew what we were dealing with here. I feel so damned useless, like I'm groping around in the dark. She's in so much pain yet the pain killers I've given her seem useless. Her breathing is worse, far worse, and her joints are swelling… The fever is worse too yet she's shivering with the cold and the light hurts her eyes even more now…" She stopped, unsure of what else to say. The sudden silence was broken by a piercing scream and both their eyes flew to the bed. Kathryn seemed to be staring at something across the room, trying to push herself from the bed in an attempt to escape some unseen horror. Duncan and Cassa reached for her immediately, trying to restrain her as she fought them. Within minutes she stopped struggling and they relaxed their grip. Suddenly her body arched and spasmed as her face contorted in pain. The convulsion stopped as quickly as it had started as she fell limp, her eyes barely open as she cried weakly now, her voice a hoarse whisper.

"Chakotay…help me…" Kathryn then shocked them as she began clawing at her arms and face, once more screaming and crying out about 'the things eating her'. Duncan made a quick decision and reached behind him for a strong sedative. He quickly injected the contents into a struggling Kathryn and watched as the drug slowly took effect. Finally she stilled but she continued to moan softly to herself as tears fell from her eyes. Duncan looked hopelessly at Cassa.

"I can't continue to sedate her." He fought an inner battle for a moment and then nodded. "Help me secure her. I hate…can't bear…but…" He couldn't continue and Cassa gripped his arm.

"It's for her own good, Duncan. She's doing too much harm to herself otherwise." His eyes reluctantly agreed as he looked at the raw and now bleeding scratches Kathryn had inflicted on herself only moments ago. Together they bound Kathryn's wrists and ankles to the bed, neither of them knowing what to say. As if understanding what they were doing, despite the sedative, she fought them at first but then stopped, as exhaustion overtook her. Duncan stood back a moment, tears in his eyes as he watched her, her breathing loud and rasping as she continued to moan and cry out at something no one else could see or understand.

Cassa saw Duncan's inner conflict. "We had to do this, Duncan. You know that."

He slowly met her eyes and nodded. "I know…but it doesn't make me feel better…doesn't make it any easier…"

Cassa tried a weak smile, hoping it displayed some semblance of comfort to her friend. "The treatment is often worse than the disease. We both know that."

Duncan nodded tiredly. "Are the antibiotics having any affect at all?"

Cassa shook her head. "They're barely making an inroad…" She hesitated a moment and played with a fingernail. "Duncan, I also ran further tests…function tests…heart…liver…kidneys…and…"

Duncan looked sadly at her. "And what? They're…?"

Cassa nodded and reached for the padd. She skimmed down it a moment and then stopped, pointing to her test results. "It's like the others, only much worse in her case. Every symptom the others show, Kathryn shows ten times greater. Some sooner…others later. Her kidneys aren't functioning the way I'd like and her liver…" She glanced towards the bed. "Her skin is beginning to show that telltale yellowish tinge." Duncan looked also and saw what he hadn't immediately noticed. He closed his eyes a moment and signed deeply.

"Her heart?" He finally looked at Cassa and saw her nod.

"Her heart rate is… It's not what I'm happy with. I'm managing to control it at present but it's a fight…and it's weakening. Her lungs are… There's fluid building up in them. You can hear her breathing…how bad it's getting. Her nervous system and brain…all the major organs are affected. Her immune system is even…" Cassa didn't finish and Duncan rubbed a hand over his tired face.

"Oh dear God…"

Cassa took the padd from his other hand before he dropped it. "How long before help arrives?"

Duncan stared at her and shook his head. "I don't know. I was promised as soon as possible but…" He looked down at Kathryn in the bed, almost seeing her slipping away from them. "I just pray to God that it'll be in time…"

Chakotay stood to one side of the large room which Admiral Paris had set aside for this meeting. He watched the crew members who'd beamed in almost within minutes of being called, asking no questions once they heard it was their former First Officer who'd summoned them. He watched them now, each seeming far happier than the last time he'd been with them. The fact that they were together lifted the gloom which had seemed to reside over them all the last time he'd seen them. He smiled to himself a moment, still not used to seeing them all out of uniform.

Knowing time was of the essence, he rapped on the table beside him and waited as silence descended over the room. He glanced over at Admiral Paris a moment and nodded, thinking back over everything the man had briefed him on…during their meeting and afterwards. He turned to the crew then and smiled warmly at all the faces which now turned towards him, scanning them all and nodding to several of them.

"People, please… Thank you for coming at such short notice. I know it can't have been easy to just drop everything and come when you were called…"

A voice from the back broke across his. "Yeah…I've such a busy life at the moment. Dropping everything was a real hardship." Several murmurs joined the voice in agreement.

Chakotay smiled sadly. "Look, I'll explain this briefly and keep the main details until afterwards…" He went on to outline the reason he'd called them all together, leaving out some details for security reasons. He simply told them about the refuge without saying where it was located. He told them of the women and children there but made no mention of Kathryn. He then went on to inform them about how ill the people were and how they were terrified of outsiders but now needed help badly. As he spoke, he saw many heads nodding and when he finished, he smiled at them all. Harry Kim caught Chakotay's eye.

"Sorry, Sir, but will the captain be joining us?"

Chakotay swallowed and shook his head. "It's just us…here in this room. Some medical and scientific personnel too. I know I'm asking a lot when you're just home and all…" That brought some cynical laughter.

A member of Tuvok's former Security Detail stepped forward. "Look, Commander, I think we're all the same here. We'd welcome something in our lives again. I know for myself… Hell, I've been lost since I got home. I think most of us here feel the same." He looked around and saw many of his friends nod in agreement. He looked back at Chakotay. "I told you this before. We all did." Chakotay smiled sadly.

Another voice, a woman, drew his attention. He looked over to see Ensign Morrison, a young women who'd worked in Engineering with B'Elanna. "Commander, it's like this. For seven years we were together. When we got home, it was like being wrenched away from our lives all over again."

Chell stood beside her and smiled sadly then turned to Chakotay. "You know, it's like a holovid…" He looked around him, appearing slightly embarrassed but pushed on. "You come in late and you know the characters, the ones playing the roles and you know the basic story or at least the background to it, but the main part of it is new to you and because you've come in late, you're missing so much of the story. You spend your time catching up or at least trying to but you can't really follow what's going on. It's like the story started without you and you can't follow it. You're lost…out of place…"

Another voice cut in. "People around me tell jokes with references to things I know nothing of…" More voices now joined in, adding their own sad experiences.

"We feel like outsiders in our own homes…"

"My kids call someone else 'Daddy' now…"

"I'm a complete stranger to mine. I think they're even afraid of me…"

"I left a home…but it wasn't there when I got back."

Chakotay looked around them all, feeling their sadness and loss.

Tom caught his eye and smiled sadly. "You know how B'Elanna and I feel. We feel utterly useless. The days just seem endless. If it wasn't for each other and Miral…" He shrugged, not needing to continue and smiled apologetically at his father who nodded his understanding. B'Elanna reached to him and squeezed his arm.

Chakotay nodded again. "I know. I know how you all feel…well, most of you anyway. I understand completely." He looked across at Seven and the Doctor, letting his words mean more to them and they both nodded gratefully. He drew in a deep breath and smiled towards Tuvok before continuing. He'd been surprised to learn that the Vulcan and his wife were actually on Earth but was delighted by the fact.

"There are two things I need to tell you. First off, we won't be wearing uniforms on this trip or while we're there. It would only cause fear." No one commented on that. "The other thing is..." He hesitated for just a moment. "We'll be taking Voyager on this mission…" Instantly there were whispers among them all.

Mike Ayala spoke up. "Look, Chakotay…no offence. I think I can pretty much speak for everyone here when I say we'd love to help these people. Let's face it…few of us have anything else going on in our lives." He looked around his fellow crew members and received several nods of encouragement. "It's just…well…being back on Voyager without the captain…" He shrugged. "It just wouldn't feel right." Many agreements sounded around him.

Another voice sounded. "Yeah, Commander…it just wouldn't be the same without her. It wouldn't feel right somehow. Can't they give us another ship?"

Chakotay sighed to himself, remembering his own objections. He gave a knowing look to Admiral Paris and then looked around a moment before he smiled at those before him. "There's one element to all this I haven't mentioned yet." He paused for just a moment. "The captain is already there…" He almost laughed as he saw that get everyone's attention.

B'Elanna stepped forward. "What do you mean? We've tried to find her for a long time and couldn't. Has she gone on ahead or what?"

Chakotay looked to Admiral Paris and received an approving nod. He nodded back then cleared his throat and turned back to everyone. "No…she was already there…is already…" He sighed. "Captain Janeway had left Starfleet…for those of you who don't know. We've only just discovered that this is where she went. She's been working at the refuge for months now." He hesitated a moment, meeting many of the eyes which were staring back at him, seeing he had their full attention as they hung on his every word. "There's one other thing I didn't mention. As I said, she's already there but… She's one of the… She needs our help…badly. She's one of those who are ill. She's very ill in fact. I don't know how bad exactly…"

B'Elanna jumped forward again. "Why the bloody hell didn't you just say that to start with? Let's go."

Mike Ayala stepped forward too. "Jeez, Chakotay…you're wasting time here."

Chakotay shook his head in amazement and smiled softly to himself. He held a hand up for silence and slowly got it. "People, please…let me finish. You have to understand all of this. This is strictly confidential. I've told you the situation there. You can't let your families know where you'll be going when you leave, when you come with me. We're not sure what we'll find there or what will happen, even how long we'll be gone…"

Tom laughed at that, cutting him off. "Sounds just like our last outing…"

Everyone laughed with him and Chakotay smiled as he shook his head. "What I mean is…you can't discuss this with anyone. This could be a short mission or a very long one but to be safe, expect to be in it for the long haul. We've no idea how much work will be needed when we get there or what their situation will be. If it's as bad as it sounds…I for one will stay as long as I'm needed…years if that's what it takes. I'm just trying to get you to understand that you're going into the unknown in a way. You won't be able to just come and go…or maybe even contact your families for some time. For the moment, I can't even tell you where this place is." He looked at Tom and smiled. "Not quite like the last time but still…" Tom shook his head.

Harry Kim stepped forward now. "Look, Commander…" He smiled at the look he received. "Sorry…Chakotay. What I mean is…" He took a moment to sort his thoughts. "For myself, I don't have that family. Many others here are the same. For those who do though…" He smiled shyly. "I guess I'm saying that it's not like we'll never see them again. Yes, it could be a long mission but it's still not exactly the Delta Quadrant…" He smiled at Tom. "We can come back and even if some of us stayed on… Well, we could still visit and…" He sighed. "You know what I mean…"

Chakotay smiled softly at the young man he'd watched mature over the years. "I know what you mean. I'm not saying otherwise. I just want you all to understand every aspect of this." The looks he received gave him his answer and he nodded. "All right. I want you all to take a few hours. Contact whoever you need to and make your arrangements without discussing any details. Sort what you need to sort. Report back here in say…four hours for a final briefing." He looked around him and smiled. Within a minute, everyone had left the room and Chakotay made his way towards Admiral Paris. The old man smiled at him softly.

"They're an amazing bunch of people, Chakotay."

The large man smiled and nodded. "I guess I didn't really expect anything less of them. I was right about how they'd feel about Kathryn though…"

The admiral nodded, conceding the point. "Yes, you were. I should have realized the loyalty that would still be there for her. She's an amazing woman."

Five hours later, all the crew who were going with Chakotay were back and ready to set off. They'd all been further briefed and were overseeing the loading of Voyager.

Admiral Paris drew Chakotay aside. "Most of them call you Chakotay rather than commander?" Chakotay smiled softly.

"Yeah. After we got back… Well, after I tracked them all down, I insisted on it. I prefer it. I don't really hold the title any longer and I also felt uncomfortable with it outside of a command structure. Chakotay is who I am now…not the Commander. My old Maquis crew found it easy to call me Chakotay because they had before, but many of the Starfleet and Equinox crews have still to get used to the idea…" He laughed. "I practically had to re-program Voyager's Doctor to use my given name…"

The admiral smiled at that for a moment and then brought his mind back to business. "How many are going with you?"

Chakotay scratched the side of his head and consulted a padd in his hand. "Almost everyone who was at the meeting." He shook his head in amazement. "Most of the Maquis crew…which I expected. Mike Ayala, Chell, Ken Dalby, Gerron, Mariah Henley, Jarvin, Jor, O'Donnell, Yosa, Tabor…" He scrolled down the padd. "Quite a number of the Starfleet lot. Ashmore, Walter Baxter, Pablo Baytart, Freddie Bristow, William Chapman…" He laughed and looked up into the puzzled face of Admiral Paris. "Sorry…it's just Chapman. He was Seven's first date in her attempts to embrace humanity. The poor man never really recovered. I don't think he's had much luck with women since…"

The old man smiled in an attempt to share a joke you had to have been there for, giving him a slight insight into what some of them had spoken of earlier. "Maybe his luck will change. Who else?"

Chakotay smiled also and looked back down at his padd. "So many. Tal Celes, Culhane, Jenny and Megan Delaney, Grimes, Hargrove, Mortimer Harren, Jenkins, Kaplan, Lewis, Mannus, McCormick…" He looked up sadly this time. "I hope things change for her…" Once again he saw a puzzled look on the face before him and explained.

"She was in a relationship with Bennet. He died on an away mission with Tuvok. No one even knew they were in love. She's never gotten over it, never even looked at another man since. She's been completely on her own since our return."

The old man just shook his head sadly. "They all have their story…"

Chakotay nodded in agreement. "They sure do." He stared off at nothing for a moment as he remembered and then shook himself. "Sorry…who else?" He activated the padd again and read from the list there. "William McKenzie, Mendez, Molina, Mulcahy, Sue Nicoletti, Robinson, Rollins, Ryson, Strickler, Swift, William Teffer, Trumari, White…" He stopped for a breath and smiled. "And that's not counting the senior staff… Tom, B'Elanna, Harry Kim, Tuvok and his wife, T'Pel, The Doctor, Seven and myself…"

The Admiral nodded slowly. "Anyone else?"

Chakotay nodded, a sad smile on his face. "The entire Equinox crew, believe it or not… Marla Gilmore, Noah Lessing, Angelo Tassoni, Brian Sofin and James Morrow… That surprised me…"

Admiral Paris also looked surprised but not shocked. "Is that it? There seemed to be more at the meeting."

Chakotay nodded. "A few who were here decided not to come but they won't discuss what we talked about. I trust them on that." The old man nodded his agreement. "Several who weren't here have finally settled back in on Earth…made a niche for themselves again. They hadn't when I last spoke with them but they seem more settled now. Others have kids they don't want to leave, even if marriages are over. I've spoken with them and I understand. People like Sam Wildman won't be coming either. She's settling well with her husband and doesn't want to separate Naomi from her father. A few others have also managed to settle back like that. So…" He scanned the padd. "I make it about…including myself and the ten medical personnel and scientists you included…" He took a moment. "Sixty three people…" He looked at the man before him. "That's unbelievable…" They shared a quiet look and smiled at each other.

Admiral Paris broke the silence. "You leave in two hours time?"

Chakotay nodded. "We're almost loaded now. All the supplies… You might want to warn the people there how many are coming. Might scare them too much otherwise. We'll ease them in anyway as best we can, rather than arrive all together…have only a few at a time on the surface and leave the rest to work on the ship until everyone is used to the situation."

The old man nodded. "I will. Sixty three strangers all together would be hard to take without warning. It would seem like an invasion." He frowned now. "I also get the impression that some of them might want to stay on there and work if that's possible…especially now they know Kathryn is there. I suppose like her, if they find a life or use there, they'll want to stay for as long as they can."

Chakotay nodded slowly. "I got that impression also…been thinking that way myself…" He hesitated, seeing that his words didn't surprise the old man. "You're thinking that Tom and B'Elanna will want to stay?"

Admiral Paris nodded. "Yes. It had crossed my mind. Actually, I'm expecting it…" Chakotay saw sadness in the old eyes but understanding also. He smiled softly. "I'll just seek out my son and daughter in law then…and that grand daughter of mine…"

Chakotay saw the sadness he tried to hide. "Admiral, I know that…how hard…"

The old man smiled and shook his head. "It's like your Harry Kim said. It's not as if I'll never see them again. I understand. I really do. And Miral will be on the ship until they know it's safe." He shook his head. "Chakotay, if you ever have children of your own someday…" He tried to ignore the flash of pain he saw in the other man's eyes. "Let's just say that you learn…when they're grown up…that the greatest gift you can give them is to let them go, to see them happy and fulfilled. I got Tom back when I thought I'd never see him again. We've formed a wonderful relationship since then, better than I could ever have hoped for. I gained a beautiful daughter and grandchild. I couldn't ever ask for more. 'My cup runneth over' as they say." He sighed and shook his head again. "I see how they are though, feeling useless and unfulfilled and I know what that can do to someone." He smiled sadly. "I saw that with Kathryn only too well. You too." Once again he tried to ignore the pain on the face before him. "Being here, back with his family isn't enough for Tom. It isn't enough for any man or woman. I see that and I understand it only too well." He gripped Chakotay's arm gently. "Let me put it this way. I love them enough to let them go. I'll see them again. This is just my gift to them, to repay them for all they've given me. If they decide to stay, which I feel they might well do, well I'll visit and they'll visit and come for holidays…. If they don't stay of course, they'll be back to me. Either way, I'll understand. Tom's mother even understands." He dropped his hand and smiled again.

Chakotay gripped his arm now and smiled. "I'll say it now. You're an amazing man, Admiral. I'm proud to know you. I wish all of Starfleet had been like you back when…" He didn't finish and the old man smiled. They left the rest unsaid.

Cassa smiled gently at Duncan who was sitting at Kathryn's bedside just watching the unconscious woman before him. He raised his head as he heard someone enter. He tried to return the smile and failed miserably.

Cassa spoke softly. "How's it going?"

He shook his head and rubbed his hands over his face, trying to rub away the weariness he felt. "Not good. She's still deteriorating. Our last efforts seem to have slowed it a bit but it's still…" He looked up at the IV bags as they slowly dripped blood and other fluids into the tubes which then ran into Kathryn's veins. "The blood is helping but… Her veins are even beginning to close down. I had a hell of a job getting that last line in…" He shook his head. "Her temperature is so high… Miriam has sponged her down several times in an effort to bring it down but it has no effect. The antibiotics are practically useless. She's suffered several more convulsions, almost choking each time. I had to use the suction tube because she vomited each time, although God knows with what. There's nothing left in her stomach. Her muscles lock into painful spasms and between the pain and whatever horrors she sees, she's screamed herself hoarse…" Cassa saw the tears of frustration and pain in his eyes as he spoke. "She thrashes and pulls at the bindings, fights them fiercely, and I'm terrified she'll break or dislocate her ankles or wrists…" He sighed deeply. "And then she cries, and calls out to whoever it is…her 'Chachotae'…pleading with him… Of course, to top it all off, it looks like she's beginning to develop pneumonia now and I can't do a damn thing about it…" He stared helplessly at the woman standing before him, his voice softer now. "She finally lost consciousness about twenty minutes ago…slipped into a coma. Probably a mercy…" He shook his head again, at a loss for what else to say.

Cassa nodded slowly and walked over to the side of the bed. "Is the oxygen helping at all?" She indicated the old fashioned oxygen tent, the plastic covering draped over the bed which they'd put in place earlier.

Duncan smiled bitterly. "Our up-to-the- minute technology, you mean…?" Cassa threw him a stern look and he shook his head. "I managed to draw some of the fluid from her lungs and that's made a little difference. The oxygen is helping her breathing in some way but…" He stood up, his face angry now. "God, Cassa, I'm right. This is madness…" He waved an arm towards the covering.

Cassa moved to him now. "Duncan, I'm not going to have this conversation with you again." She gripped his arm tightly. "Now you listen to me. We have this situation and we're dealing with it in the best way we can. There are places where our equipment would be considered a luxury and you know that. Stop this and put what energy you have into helping your patients. Better still, you need to get something to eat and have a rest. That will help them even more. An exhausted doctor will do no one any good."

Duncan smiled ruefully and nodded. "Guess I've been spending too much time with Kathryn. Her habits are rubbing off on me…" They smiled gently at each other, the tension broken for a moment.

Cassa patted his arm. "Go and get some rest. Selona has food on the go all the time. Get something to eat and drink and then rest. Help will be here soon."

Duncan tried to smile. "I hope so. I pray so. I just hope to God they can all hang on that long…especially Kathryn." They both fell silent as they looked at their friend in the bed as she fought for her life.

At her best speed and with the refit and improvements Starfleet had been able to make to Voyager, Chakotay and the crew made it to their destination in just under ten hours at high warp. He spent the best part of the journey with his mind filled with images of Kathryn and he constantly prayed that they wouldn't be too late. At the Doctor's insistence, he'd managed to sleep for a few hours, but even then Kathryn had continued to haunt his thoughts, filling his dreams with scenes from the life they'd once had together.

Chakotay finally briefed the crew fully on their mission and was proud of the determination and dedication he saw on each face. They silently showed him their support as he stood on the bridge when they came within hailing distance of the planet they'd been informed was known as Haven by the residents there. Tuvok made the hail and Chakotay found himself face to face with a pleasant looking man with sandy tousled hair and deep blue eyes. He saw immediately the tiredness and worry on the tanned face and nodded gently.

"This is the Starship Voyager. Admiral Paris of Starfleet spoke with you I believe."

The man nodded slowly, his expression guarded. "You're to tell me something. Sorry…we need to be sure."

Chakotay smiled softly in understanding. "I'm to tell you 'Roman Emperor…Code Blue Five'."

The man cut him off. "Thank you. I hoped…prayed it was you. Please, come down as soon as you can." He rubbed a hand over his face. "I can assure you that it's quite safe for your crew. This thing isn't airborne. I give you my word on that. We've isolated the source and secured it. You're not in any danger."

Chakotay smiled his thanks. "I'll beam down immediately. There'll be two others with me for now. I take it you know how many of us there are in all?"

The man nodded sadly. "We know…were told and we're prepared although it would be better if you eased yourselves in. I'm sending you the co-ordinates now…" Chakotay turned to Tuvok, who nodded receipt of the details.

Chakotay turned back to the screen. "We'll be there in a moment."

The man nodded again and turned away a moment. He then turned back. "Sorry. There's one other thing." He seemed embarrassed. "You don't seem to be wearing a uniform and I was wondering if the others…if you were…"

Chakotay nodded understandingly. "It's OK. We understand about that. No one is wearing a uniform of any kind." Duncan smiled his thanks and then nodded, before cutting the transmission.

Chakotay turned to Tom and then Tuvok. "You two come with me. We'll go on ahead and then call the others down." Tuvok nodded his approval at the precaution which protocol demanded then followed the former commander to the turbolift, nodding to Tom who followed also. Within two minutes, they materialized on the planet's surface.

Chakotay took a moment and glanced around him. They were standing in the centre of a small compound which was surrounded by several buildings, a small playground off to their right, the swings and slides deserted. He found himself surprised at how neat and tidy the place seemed. Several raised patches of earth sported flowering shrubs, and beyond the buildings he could see many trees growing. Somehow he hadn't imagined the surface to be this green.

He turned his attention now to the man who came towards them, the same one who'd answered their hail. He nodded at him and extended his hand to shake the one which was being offered to him.

"I'm from Starfleet, along with these two men. Admiral Paris sent us…" He paused. "Sorry. I said that already. Who else would we be?"

The man before him nodded slightly and smiled softly. "You'd be surprised but it's OK. It's nice to be reassured actually." He let his smile slip then. "Unfortunately, we've already had experience of an unwelcome visitor." He shook his head. "Sorry…later." Chakotay nodded, his eyes suddenly drawn to a small group of women outside one of the buildings. They huddled together and even from a distance, Chakotay could see and sense their fear. He turned back to the man before him, seeing that he'd followed his gaze.

"Admiral Paris filled us in, briefed us as much as he could. Don't worry. We understand the confidential and sensitive nature of all this." He looked to Tom and Tuvok. "We all do. Some of the others will be down shortly in small groups so as not to frighten anyone too much. Most will work from the ship for the moment." He turned back to the fair haired man, who just smiled sadly.

"Thank you again. You have to understand that they're terrified but they know this is the only way. We're desperate."

Chakotay sighed deeply. "It's all right. We understand." He drew in a deep breath. "Look, I know there's a lot we need to discuss and sort but…" His eyes searched those of the man before him. "Please…I need to know about Kathryn Janeway…" He saw the man study him a moment, then smile sadly.

"Of course. Please come with me." He looked behind Chakotay towards Tom and Tuvok and then turned to his right and pointed to another man who had joined them. "Gentlemen, this is Jonathan. He'll take you to meet the others and explain things to you." Tom and Tuvok looked to Chakotay a moment and when he nodded, they turned back to Jonathan.

"Please to meet you, Jonathan. I'm Tom and this is Tuvok. I'm sorry we're meeting in this way…"

Jonathan smiled gently as they all shook hands, then indicated the way towards the main building. "Thank you. If you'll just come with me, I'll tell you what we know…"

Chakotay nodded to his friends again and then turned back to the man beside him who pointed towards another building to their left.

"This way please." He began walking before speaking again. "Your admiral explained that you knew Kathryn from before…" Chakotay nodded slowly but said nothing as his guide spoke on. "He seems a good man…decent and honest…your admiral, that is…" He looked at Chakotay as they walked and received a small smile.

"Yes…yes…he is…"

Duncan nodded slowly at that. "Look, I know you said you'd been briefed but I'm not sure how much you actually know." He briefly met Chakotay's eyes. "We're not sure what we're dealing with here. We've used terms from sickness to bug to virus and food poisoning. Even the term 'plague' was uttered. What we know now is that it is a poison which was deliberately placed in the water supply to the school building and anyone who drank that water is now very sick." He stopped when he felt a hand on his arm.


He saw the pain and worry in the eyes which met his. He nodded slowly. "Kathryn has been badly affected by it." He turned away from the pain he saw his words inflict and began walking again. "She was already run down from hard work, emotionally and physically. Self-neglect in a way, despite us constantly being on her back about that. She was already weak but worked herself into the ground. She's not one to listen to good advice and certainly not the best at taking care of herself. I saw that when we first met her and tried to watch her when she came here. We all did but…" He finally looked at Chakotay again and saw that the large man already knew all this. "I see you know what I'm talking about…" Chakotay just nodded, memories filling his mind. The other man went on, adding to his pain without knowing it.

"As I say, she worked so hard." He shook his head now and slowed his pace. "Actually, it was more than that. It's like she was always trying to escape her demons or a deep pain, always running from something or…well…someone. Of course, she said nothing about being ill or about how she was feeling. She helped and tended the sick, worked so hard. She hid it for two days. We knew nothing until she collapsed…" He stopped walking now and seemed to regret how much he'd divulged. He looked at Chakotay and saw so much pain in the eyes before him. "I'm sorry. Perhaps I shouldn't have…"

Chakotay just shook his head. "It's OK. I need to know…to understand…" He swallowed loudly. "I know her and what she can be like…how she… She was always a hard worker." He swallowed again and shook his head, not trusting his voice anymore. He saw the sad look on the face of the other man then saw him smile and nod.

"I can see that. I only spoke as I did because you know her already and felt you should be aware..." He shook his head then smiled gently. "I'm sorry. My manners are terrible." He held out his hand again. "Forgive me. I'm Duncan. Duncan Staynes, although we never use surnames here. I'm one of the doctors."

Chakotay smiled softly, grateful for the change of direction in their discussion and took the man's hand again. "I'm as remiss. I'm Chakotay…Commander Chakotay but I prefer just Chakotay. I was Kathryn's First Officer on Voyager, her XO. I'm not sure if you know about that…" He frowned now at the strange look which crossed Duncan's face.

"Chakotay? Ahh, so you're the one." He smiled softly. "Yes. I know about Voyager." He licked at his lips. "So you're the 'Chachotae'…"

Chakotay frowned as he released Duncan's hand. "How do you know my name or who I am? How do you know about me? You said Kathryn never spoke about…" His voice trailed off.

Duncan just smiled again and began walking once more, indicating Chakotay should follow him. "From Kathryn." He shook his head, meeting Chakotay's eyes. "Don't get me wrong. She never spoke of you by name. Kathryn's heart is a deep well of secrets where her feelings are concerned." Chakotay nodded sadly at that. "I don't mean to speak out of turn but… Let's just say that I know she's been running from the memories of something and someone. I've seen the pain it causes her and yet…" He shook his head in memory. "I see her cling to those memories also." He smiled softly at Chakotay. "I knew it was someone she loved but I didn't know who of course. As I said, she never spoke of you directly or by name." He hesitated a moment, seemingly unsure of how much to say.

Chakotay nodded to him to continue. "Please…tell me."

Duncan nodded again. "It's just that…since she's been so sick…" He sighed deeply. "She's been calling out your name, calling to you constantly, crying out for you…" He shook his head again. "It was easy. I just put two and two together." Chakotay stopped and turned away a moment, needing to control his emotions. Duncan stopped and gave him the time. When he turned back, Duncan saw the fight there.

Chakotay blinked back the moisture in his eyes. He was afraid to ask his next question…even more afraid of the answer. "How…how ill is she…?" The silence that followed spoke volumes.

Duncan looked into the other man's eyes and saw them demand the truth. He shook his head.
"She's…very ill. I'm sorry…"

Chakotay drew in a ragged breath. "Is she…" He swallowed the lump in his throat. "Is she…dying…?" The word almost stuck in his throat but his eyes begged.

Duncan lowered his head a moment before finding the courage to meet Chakotay's eyes. "I think so…" Needing to offer some hope though, he pushed on. "Hopefully now though with you here, your team… Please God you'll be able to do something."

Chakotay squeezed his eyes closed a moment and then moved forward. "I need to see her…" He looked back at Duncan, suddenly realizing he didn't know the way. The other man nodded.

"I'll take you to her now. I'll explain what I can to you. As soon as your doctor comes, I'll fill him in on everything we know."

Chakotay nodded then stopped and slapped at his comm badge. "Chakotay to Voyager. Get the rest of the team down here now, especially the medical and scientific personnel. Beam down a few at a time." He didn't wait for a reply and began walking again, following Duncan.

Chakotay took a moment to let his eyes adjust to the dim interior of the building they'd just entered. He stopped and looked around him in shock, then began walking slowly. He looked from bed to bed, seeing children and women lying there, tended by other women. Some in the beds seemed unconscious or asleep, while others lay weakly against pillows. The typical smells of a hospital or clinic filled his nostrils.

He instantly sensed the fear his presence brought and tried to smile at the faces which looked to him. Most turned away quickly or looked to Duncan for reassurance. The other man touched Chakotay's arm gently.

"This way…" He pointed to people lying on mattresses on the floor as they made their way to the back of the building. "We haven't nearly enough beds…never believed we'd need so many…" He seemed to be talking as much to himself as to Chakotay. "We're doing what we can…"

They reached the end of the main room and Duncan turned to look at Chakotay. He saw the look of disbelief there and tried to defend everything.

"Please understand. Our equipment is so basic. So old and mostly donated. Some of it is 'throw aways'…too out of date for use by others." He waved his hand towards his patients. "It must seem so… I don't know…medieval to you." He stopped now and turned back to look into the main ward. "Oxygen tents in this day and age…"

Chakotay met his eyes and shook his head. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to…"

Duncan just smiled sadly. "It's OK. I'd be the same if I came across this outside of here. I'd be as shocked." He sighed. "Look, our equipment is basic. I know it's not the most hi-tech or modern but it works. Anything state-of-the-art here would be a pipe dream. This is the best we have. We've managed to keep everyone alive with it. In this place, we work with what we have. We're barely managing to keep on top of treating them all but…" He sighed. "Our lab equipment is pathetic. We have so little in that area…can't even hope to try and find a cure… It's a miracle we were even able to test the water. That's how we learned that this wasn't something naturally occurring." His voice trailed off, not knowing what else to say. He looked up and nodded when Chakotay placed a hand on his shoulder.

"You've done so well…"

Duncan shook his head. "No, we haven't." Chakotay heard the bitterness in his voice. "I feel so damned useless. We all do." He pulled himself back and smiled sadly, then pointed to a partitioned off section. "Kathryn's here." He watched as Chakotay hesitated a moment, steeling himself as his eyes went to the curtained off area. He eventually nodded slowly and drew in a deep breath then made his way forward. Duncan reached out and pulled back the curtain.

The first thing Chakotay saw was the back of a woman leaning over the bed. She turned when Duncan spoke.

"Cassa, this is Chakotay. From Starfleet." Chakotay smiled at the woman. He already knew from Admiral Paris that some of the staff at the refuge were Cardassian. "Chakotay, this is Cassa Ghal, our other doctor." Chakotay reached out and shook the woman's hand. He saw the look on her face change quickly, seeing that she recognized his name also. He smiled at her and received a warm smile in return.

Duncan spoke softly. "It's all right. I've already told him about Kathryn calling for him…" Chakotay glanced at the man a moment and nodded again. He then tore his eyes away and looked towards the bed, trying to prepare himself for what he would see.


Chakotay was vaguely aware of a small cry leaving his throat as he looked towards the woman lying in the bed. Time stood still as he looked at Kathryn for the first time in so long. The unconscious figure lying there was not anyone he recognized at first, but slowly he began to see pieces of the woman he'd known and loved for so long. His ears picked up the soft sounds of the oxygen being fed into the space around her under the plastic covering. He heard other sounds too, of machines keeping check of her vital signs and the rasping of her laboured breathing. His eyes scanned her and he noticed her hair, damp against her face and spread out around her head. He saw the beads of sweat on her face, the paleness of her skin. Her face seemed sunken to him and her arms lying out over the covers looked so thin. He looked at the intravenous lines snaking into her veins, supplying blood and other fluids. And then he noticed her wrists and looking downwards, her ankles, and he cried out, his eyes flying to Duncan.

"My God, you have her tied down like an animal… What is this…?"

Duncan moved towards him quickly, having anticipated the other man's reaction. "Please…I know what it looks like but you must understand." He saw that the large man didn't. "This is for her own good, for her own protection. At this stage, the virus makes them feel like things are crawling under their skin. She was clawing and tearing at herself…pulling out the IV lines. If you look, you'll see we've had to do the same with some of the others here." Chakotay just stood shaking his head.

Cassa's voice drew his attention to her. "She was hurting herself. We had to restrain her. We'd no choice. Call it the lesser of two evils…cruel to be kind." Her face showed her sadness. "It hurt to have to do this to her but she was thrashing around so much. We had to secure her…bind her ankles and wrists. It was the same with the others. She's in so much pain…delirious…" Chakotay just groaned and brought his hands up to cover his mouth. He nodded silently to show his understanding. He saw now the self-inflicted scratches on Kathryn's arms. It was only then that he saw the deep scars on her face and neck.

He turned to Duncan, his eyes filled with pain. "What happened to her…?"

Duncan frowned. "I told you…the virus…from the water…"

Chakotay shook his head and looked back at Kathryn. "No, I mean… Her face…her neck…the scars…" He looked back at the young doctor again.

Duncan nodded his head slowly, understanding now. He sighed deeply. "She was attacked here. They're from knife wounds." He saw the shocked look on Chakotay's face as he went on. "Our security, such as it was, failed. We're not sure how but… I guess he knew how to evade or control the sensors." He shook his head again. "A man came here. We believe the same one who poisoned the water…" He saw the shock and disbelief on Chakotay's face as he went on. "He knew one of the children here. His wife had been raped by a Cardassian soldier and she'd refused to terminate her pregnancy which was as a result of that rape. We have many similar stories here." Chakotay barely nodded. "She died in childbirth but her last request was that her child be saved. Her sister arranged to have the child brought here. This man obviously found all this out and came after the child. I guess he was mentally unstable but either way he blamed the child for his wife's death. He only saw the Cardassian in the girl and hated her…blamed her for his wife's death." He sighed deeply and folded his arms.

"He came here and tried to get to the little girl. Kathryn was with her at the time and defended her. She bore the brunt of the attack before we were able to reach her to help. He ran off, but as I said, we're certain he's the same one who planted this virus in the school water supply. Anyway…he cut Kathryn badly. He slashed at her face and neck, stabbed her in the chest, cut her arm… It was touch and go for some time and we almost lost her…blood loss…collapsed lung…" He sighed. "We healed her as best we could but…" He shrugged and Chakotay saw the barely controlled anger there. "As usual, our equipment wasn't good enough to heal the scars completely so they're still there." Chakotay closed his eyes a moment, his mind filling in the images. He nodded slowly.

"That would be her all right." He looked towards Kathryn in the bed. "Everyone before herself, especially a child." He turned back to Duncan, trying to think past his emotions. "You believe this was the same man?"

Duncan nodded. "We're sure. We now know someone came here to put poison in the water and that caused this virus, or whatever it is. We managed to install some security imagers after the attack on Kathryn. They're not very good but they picked up something. My Engineer reported back to me a short time ago and said something showed up. It's just on the one imager, one which was well hidden. It's a grainy image but it seems to be him."

Chakotay shook his head. "Give it to me later. One of my people is good with things like that. Harry Kim. He might be able to clean up the image." He looked to Duncan who smiled and nodded his thanks.

Their attention was now drawn to the curtain being pulled back. A young woman looked in and nodded to Duncan and Cassa and then finally at Chakotay. Duncan introduced her.

"This is one of our nurses. Miriam." Chakotay smiled at the dark haired young woman. She smiled back and then stood aside. Voyager's EMH entered alongside two other people who'd joined their crew. One was a doctor, the other a biologist. Chakotay nodded to the three men and introduced them to Duncan and Cassa. Duncan shook hands with each man in turn and then went on to tell them all he knew. Chakotay listened as he watched Kathryn closely.

"This virus or whatever… It's indiscriminate. It attacks all the major organs…the brain…the heart." Duncan looked down at Kathryn. "She's the worst…drank more of the water than the rest of us and yet was the last we knew was sick. She drank the water after the others but more of it." He sighed deeply. "She hid her symptoms from us. The last day before she collapsed, she worked here with us, worked herself into the ground tending to the others…the children. She sat with them and nursed them…got no rest or sleep…probably ate nothing either. It drained her." He was quiet for a moment as he remembered. "We thought at first it was contagious but then realized the sick had already been exposed. We've had no new cases since we discovered where this came from and isolated the water supply from the school." He rubbed at his face, trying to wipe away the weariness he felt and looked again at Voyager's Doctor.

The EMH held up a medical tricorder. "May I?" Duncan nodded and watched silently for a moment as the Doctor examined and scanned Kathryn. Chakotay looked on, trying to control his emotions. He looked at Kathryn's face carefully and suddenly noticed traces of dried blood around her nose.

Duncan spoke on. "She slipped into this coma early this morning. Before that she was in and out of consciousness. When she was conscious, she was delirious mostly…getting worse and worse. She was crying and calling out to…" He glanced quickly at Chakotay and then turned away. "She saw things, horrible things that weren't there. Screamed herself hoarse from that and her pain." He shivered visibly at the memories, his mind still hearing the screams.

"Now her liver and kidneys are failing. Her skin has the yellow tinge from that, which you can see. We're keeping the lights low because they hurt her eyes. We're giving her oxygen this way because her lungs can't now take in the air they need and fluid keeps building up in them no matter how often we treat her and try to drain it. It's even attacking her nervous system and pneumonia is starting to set in." Voyager's Doctor nodded gravely as he listened. "She suffers terrible pain…even in this state you can see that. We had to secure her because she was hurting herself, clawing at her skin and pulling at the tubes. She has muscle spasms and convulsions…fitting… She vomits during them although how I don't know because there's nothing in her stomach. We have to use the suction tube when that happens or else she'd choke on the bile. She suffers nosebleeds and has had some vaginal haemorrhaging because her blood isn't clotting the way it should. Her temperature is very high...fever… We think it's spiked but then it goes up again. We sponge her down to try and control it but it only helps for a short time, if at all. Her immune system is shutting down and all we have are basic antibiotics, which are practically useless. Even her joints are swelling and painful. Her breathing is very bad and getting worse. You can hear that for yourself. And now her heart and major organs are weakening…" He looked towards the bed sadly. "We're pumping fluids into her as fast as we can but she's still dehydrated. We're fighting a losing battle…" He looked at Chakotay again quickly, his eyes apologizing for his words. Chakotay just closed his eyes.

Duncan turned back to the Doctor. "We've managed to get some idea of what this is…although with our basic lab equipment it's not much." He sighed. "We understand this poison in how it works. Well, to some extent anyway. We know what it can do. We can treat the symptoms in some way but our treatment doesn't even touch the virus caused by the poison. As I said, we haven't the equipment or the lab facilities to search for a cure…nor the spare personnel. The people we do have don't have the expertise anyway."

The Doctor smiled gently. "We're here now and we'll do everything we can."

Cassa reached over and handed the EMH a padd. "This is Kathryn's medical history since she's been here, along with everything up to the present, her last observations and readings."

The Doctor nodded and took the padd. "I need to examine the others too. As to the 'virus'… If you can show us what you've got so far, we'll work from there." He made to move away and Chakotay stepped forward, desperation etched on his features.

"Doc, can't you…?" His hand reached out towards Kathryn.

The Doctor smiled sadly and shook his head. "Chakotay, bear with us here. We need to understand this a bit more before we try anything. I know it's very hard. I can't treat what I don't yet understand. I also can't treat the symptoms without hiding the virus and for now, I need to see the virus in order to deal with it and understand it."

Chakotay looked down at Kathryn again then back at the Doctor. "It's just…"

The EMH patted his arm, trying to comfort the large man. "Look, she's stable enough for the moment. This equipment is working well enough. It's doing its job." He indicated the oxygen tent and monitors.

Chakotay just shook his head. "Can't you move her to Voyager…to sickbay…?"

The Doctor looked at him and shook his head. "She's too ill to move and I wouldn't risk the transporter in her condition." He softened his voice. "Chakotay, I'll monitor her constantly. Any change and I'll be here immediately. First I need to study her readings and the history of this thing and assess her condition. I'll have a much clearer picture then. I know how difficult and frustrating this is but please just trust me. We really are doing the best we can for her." Chakotay nodded slowly, his eyes going back to the woman on the bed. The Doctor turned to Duncan and Cassa and smiled encouragingly at them. "You've done an amazing job here with what you have." They smiled their thanks although neither looked as if they believed the Doctor's words.

Duncan shrugged. "Thank you, Doctor. All of you." He looked at them all in turn as he spoke. "We're trying our best." He sighed. "I can't understand how some of us escaped this. It could be said we were lucky and yet… Maybe we were stronger or something. Some of us, the stronger as I say, were sick but fought it and recovered. Some were barely affected by it…very mild. Others not at all…no effect. Or maybe they had a natural immunity to it. I don't know."

Voyager's EMH nodded at that. "We'll test you all. There might actually be an answer in there somewhere. Now if you could just show us where to go…"

Duncan nodded as if only half hearing the Doctor. "Kathryn was already weak, not completely over the earlier attack…worked so hard…" He smiled sadly, explaining to the EMH about the knife wounds on Kathryn. "I nagged her so much. We all did. She just wouldn't take care of herself." He looked at Chakotay now, pain in his eyes. "She was such an easy victim for this. She worked at the school that last day before this all happened I found her there scrubbing the floors…and drinking the water… I didn't know. She was exposed then." He rubbed at his eyes. "The older ones used there…and the kids. They drank some of the water before that…the day before…the previous night, I think. Anyone already sick was worse…succumbed more easily…like Kathryn…" He looked around him desperately. "It was in the water…the tank leading to the school…the school…for the kids…but we all used it for meetings…all the adults…but it was a school…kids…how could he…?"

Cassa moved towards Duncan now. "Duncan, you're exhausted. You've got to get some sleep and eat something. Come on."

He pulled back from her. "She worked beside us all that last day…when they were all sick…and I didn't see…" He looked at Chakotay, a stricken look in his eyes. "I'm sorry…so sorry…I didn't see…"

Chakotay went to say something but Cassa beat him to it. "Duncan, she hid it from us all. You know she even took some hypos to treat herself. It's not anyone's fault…"

Duncan just kept shaking his head. "I should have seen it before she collapsed…I didn't…I should have…should have been able to prevent this from happening at all…didn't take security seriously enough…should have known he'd come back…"

Cassa suddenly slapped him across the face. "Stop this now, Duncan. You're babbling. You're no use to anyone, least of all Kathryn, in this state. Now go and eat something and then get some rest. If you want to help us, this is the way to do it."

Duncan seemed to come out of it now and stared at Cassa. He swallowed loudly and nodded. "I'm sorry. You're right. Yes…I'll…" Cassa nodded to Miriam to take their friend and watched as the other woman led him out.

She turned to Chakotay now and smiled sadly. "He's hardly stopped since all this began…"

Chakotay reached out and gripped her arm. "It's all right. I understand. We all do." He looked to the Doctor and the others who nodded. "We're here now and we'll do everything we can." She nodded slowly as the EMH stepped forward.

"Chakotay is right. Try not to worry so much. As he said, we'll do everything we can." He smiled warmly. He indicated one of the two Starfleet personnel who'd come with him. "One of these men will attach a kind of monitor to Kathryn and to the more serious of the other patients. We'll be able to keep track of their conditions as we work." Cassa nodded and tried to smile. The Doctor squeezed her arm. "Now, if you could just tell us where to go…"

She nodded and drew in a deep breath. "Of course. Sorry. We're all under stress here…" She moved away and looked out through the curtain. Chakotay saw her nod to someone and then a young Cardassian woman came in.

"This is one of our nurses…Dressa. She'll show you everything you need." The Doctor nodded to Chakotay then left with his two companions.

Silence followed for a few moments, save for the gentle noise of the machines and monitors surrounding Kathryn's bed. Finally Chakotay looked up at the young Cardassian Doctor. "I'm very grateful for all you've done for her…"

She nodded her understanding. "She's a good friend to me…to us all here. We love her very much." Chakotay nodded at that and swallowed. Cassa smiled softly. "I see that you do also."

Chakotay didn't even try and hide his emotions. "Yes, I do…but I let her down…gave up on us…and I'll live with that for the rest of my life."

Cassa pulled a chair over to the side of the bed. "You're here for her now and that's what matters. Please…" She pointed to the chair. "Stay with her a while. Talk to her. I'm a great believer in that. I truly believe that patients can hear what's being said to them. Talk to her…touch her…let her know you're here. Take your time and then we'll all talk and try to get to the bottom of this."

Chakotay smiled gratefully and sat down. "Thank you, Cassa. I'll stay a while. It's been a long time since…" He felt her hand grip his shoulder.

"I'll just be outside if you need me." When he looked up, she'd gone.

Chakotay wasn't sure how long he sat with Kathryn, just stroking her hand and arm under the plastic covering and whispering softly to her. He relished the closeness, knowing it would be impossible outside of that moment and then chided himself, feeling guilty for the thought but still he continued.

As he sat whispering to Kathryn and listening to the sounds of the machines, he slowly became aware of someone beside him and looked up into B'Elanna's face. She smiled softly at him. "Hey there, old man. How are you?"

Chakotay felt no embarrassment at his old friend finding him as she had and simply shook his head. "I don't know." He looked back down at Kathryn. "It's not me anyone should be worried about anyway."

B'Elanna knelt down beside him, her expression soft and caring. "How's she doing?"

He shook his head. "Not very good." He didn't trust himself to say more. B'Elanna gave him a few minutes as she looked at her former Captain, reaching under the edge of the oxygen tent to stroke her leg through the thin blanket which covered her. Finally, Chakotay spoke again. "How are things going? I'm supposed to be leading this…overseeing… I'm sorry. I'm not much help."

B'Elanna smiled softly at him when he looked at her. "You're where you need to be. Don't worry about the rest of us. We all understand. Besides, we're a team. The two of you trained us well."

Chakotay nodded gratefully and sighed. "Thanks. I had to see her. I couldn't have just…" He shrugged, at a loss for words and saw that B'Elanna understood him. He smiled softly at her. "How are things anyway?"

B'Elanna pursed her lips. "Better than expected actually. We have things fairly under control or rather I should say 'so far so good'." Chakotay nodded at that. "It was hard at first and still is, in fact The women were terrified with so many of us suddenly beaming down, even though we came in small groups and have kept the numbers to a minimum. They seem a little more used to us now or maybe just not as frightened as they were. They stand well back but they aren't running off the way they were. Well, only some of them." Chakotay nodded again slowly. "It's not too bad with the women amongst us. They stay back from us but they run from the men. The kids just cling to the adults and stay well back too…with the exception of a few who come forward a bit more. I think they're more curious than anything, and that curiosity is bypassing any fear they have." She licked at her lips. "Two of the staff here…Jonathan and… I think her name is…Lorcha…something like that… They're talking with the women and kids, counselling them, I guess. They're working hard to try and help them accept us and hopefully in time, integrate with us. I think they were working with them before we arrived actually which has also helped." She smiled to herself, thinking back over the past few hours.

Chakotay sat back and stretched his legs out. "What about work progress?"

B'Elanna scratched at her cheek. "We've a team up at the school taking samples and passing them to the Doctor who's in his element." Chakotay smiled slightly. "He's really getting on top of things. Between himself and the Starfleet lot, they've already set up a working lab here and beamed down piles of equipment…and he's flitting back and forth between here and the ship. He's ordering people around like I don't know what and no one is asking any questions of him. He says jump and they ask how high. Even the Starfleet people are letting him take the lead. If it was any other situation, I'd say he'd be on the power trip of his life."

Chakotay managed a small smile at that as he leaned back a little and stretched some more. "Any problems with the staff here and our lot?"

B'Elanna shook her head. "They're working together as if they always have been. That guy Duncan, one of the doctors here… He's actually been sedated to make him rest."

Chakotay nodded. "He was exhausted, heading for a breakdown in a way."

B'Elanna stood up and sat on the very edge of the bed, careful of the oxygen tent. "He's asleep anyway and the rest are working with us. Others on the staff here have some basic medical training and they're working with the Doctor in taking blood samples and running simple tests. They're then reporting back to the Doc. It's all running very smoothly. Another team is checking the other water supplies and the stream and river, even the supply into the dwellings and other buildings. We've a team checking the entire area for anything, part of Tuvok's lot actually…security. They're going over the surveillance equipment and sensors, checking what images they got. Apparently they have this bastard on one of the imagers. Harry's working on that. They're also mapping out what improvements can be made. Another medical lot are checking over the people who appear healthy, just to be sure. Others are just doing what they can, where they can. Basically just to feel useful. They're looking to see what can be done for this place once the crisis is over. It sounds like mayhem but it's all actually running very smoothly. A few of our women are helping with the nursing and the patients are slowly accepting their presence. They feel safer with women. We've made sure there are always women present with our groups, in fact. It also helps that some of the staff here stay with them. The women trust their own and when they see the staff trust our lot, they relax a little. Any time we're near the women or the kids, in fact, we make sure we have a staff member with us. We wouldn't approach them on our own. We also keep the numbers as small as possible when dealing with them or working near them. Seven has stayed on Voyager and is working from there. We were afraid she might be a bit much for them this early on. Anyway, she's more help there."

Chakotay shook his head in amazement. "It's like you read my mind with what to do."

B'Elanna laughed softly. "I suppose we just know your way. It comes from years of working together. We were also trained damned well thanks to seven years on Voyager and it's amazing how easily we've all slipped back into that. Kind of like we've never been apart."

Chakotay nodded his agreement at that. "I guess you don't need me then…" He smiled softly as B'Elanna slapped his arm.

"Very funny. We do actually. They need you in a few minutes. There's a meeting in the main room, an 'assess where we stand' kind of thing. We need you for that. Is that OK?"

Chakotay nodded slowly, looking towards Kathryn again. He leaned over and stroked her arm. "Yeah, I'll come." He stood stiffly then leaned down, brushing his lips to Kathryn's arm. He then pulled the plastic back in place as he whispered to her. "I'll be back later."

B'Elanna swallowed a lump in her throat at the tenderness of the large man. She looked at Kathryn more closely then and frowned. "What happened to her face?"

Chakotay straightened up and moved away from the bed. "She was attacked here. The same bastard, it seems. He was here before. They're knife wounds…the scars from them. She was defending one of the kids he came to harm." He looked at B'Elanna and saw that she was still stroking Kathryn's leg.

"She hasn't changed then…" She looked up and stood also.

Chakotay smiled and took her arm. "No, she hasn't." He looked back again and then made for the curtain. "Come on. Let's sort this out."

Those who weren't needed elsewhere were gathered in the large meeting room when Chakotay arrived with B'Elanna. He nodded to his own crew members, seeing the Doctor there also. He smiled towards a groggy looking Duncan who sat nursing a cup of tea. The young doctor smiled at him.

"Sorry about earlier. I guess I was more tired than I thought." Chakotay smiled his understanding as another man came up behind Duncan and tapped his shoulder. He recognized him from earlier and remembered that his name was Jonathan.

"And he's going straight back to bed as soon as this meeting is over."

Duncan sighed his surrender. "I promised, didn't I? Stop being such a nag."

Chakotay smiled at the two men. "B'Elanna, our Engineer, has filled me in a little. How's it going from your point of view?"

Jonathan shook his head and smiled. "It's amazing." He pointed across the room. "Look at the women. I can't believe how well they're taking all this. Oh, they're still frightened but we're working on that, talking about their fears and helping them overcome them. We also had time before you came to work with them." He smiled again at Chakotay. "A few of them are actually beginning to work with your lot when one of us is there. I'm still in shock. I think the fact that they know Kathryn knew you all before has helped. In their minds, if she trusted you then they can trust you too."

Chakotay shook his own head. "She certainly seems to be loved and respected here by everyone."

Jonathan smiled at that. "You've no idea. Look over there. That's 'Mommy Kathryn's Get Well Corner'." Chakotay looked where indicated and saw a corner of the room filled with flowers and small handmade toys. Childish drawings and homemade cards filled the wall. He turned back with a puzzled look on his face. Jonathan explained. "The kids…even the adults… They wanted to have them in her room at the clinic but we didn't want to take any risk with germs or anything. This was the compromise."

Chakotay smiled at Jonathan. "Mommy Kathryn?"

Jonathan nodded. "We're all Mommy or Daddy whoever. The kids like it." Chakotay looked at B'Elanna as he shook his head in amazement. Their attention was then drawn to another man who was calling for everyone's attention. Jonathan whispered to Chakotay and B'Elanna. "That's Peter Walker, our Engineer. He'll introduce everyone first and then we'll get moving." Chakotay nodded and took a chair, B'Elanna taking the one beside him.

Peter Walker got the meeting going as Jonathan had predicted by introducing everyone from the refuge staff and the women present. Chakotay stood and did the same with those from the crew who were in attendance. He saw many people nod to each other, seeing that introductions had already been made in many cases. Peter then waited a moment for silence before reporting to everyone.

"OK people, I won't take up much of your time because we all have a lot of work to do." He looked down at the table a moment before looking back at the people gathered around him. "The facts are… We know the poison which caused this virus was planted here deliberately, placed in the water supply to the school. We know that those who drank that water are now sick, although some seemed immune to it or weren't as badly affected. You've all been tested and the results of those tests will be available to us shortly. Our new friends here are working well with us so I think we can safely say we all trust each other." Many heads nodded at that and Peter smiled.

"OK. Our current situation is that security is at its highest now, thanks to Tuvok here and his team." He pointed to the Vulcan who nodded. "That's a big concern to you all so that will hopefully make us all feel better. They're also working on the images we got so we can try and identify this bastard." He paused. "Now, our main problem… Our staff and the Starfleet medical and scientific personnel are working hard on this, especially Voyager's Doctor here…" This time he pointed to the EMH who smiled gently. "He's already begun some treatments which have helped greatly. You've seen other members of the Starfleet team working in many other areas but I'll let them explain that to you all later. For now, we need to concentrate on the medical side of all this. I'll let the Doctor here explain in more detail…"

Voyager's EMH stood and smiled at everyone as Peter sat down. "Firstly, I must thank you all for being so helpful. I know how hard this is on you all and how frightened you all must be. I can assure you that you have nothing to fear from us and that we're only here to help in any way we can. Please know that we're doing everything we can to find a cure for this and we've already made some good progress. No one else is at any risk now. The cause of the virus, the poison in the water supply to the school, has been completely isolated. The stream which feeds the tank there has been checked and cleared. We'll empty and clean that tank later and safely dispose of the contaminated water, treat it first. We'll then re-fill it." He looked around at everyone. "We intend to deal with this in a two-pronged manner, attack it in two ways, fight it from two fronts if you will. First of all, we find a way to fight and kill the virus and secondly we need to repair the damage it has caused to those affected, strengthen their immune systems again." He looked around at the staff from the refuge and then at the women.

"I know there are still many questions and I don't have all the answers. I wish I had. It's impossible to know exactly how long this poison was in the water or how long it took to work, but we have some idea. It seems to have been for a short enough period from what I can tell and that actually helps. It means less time inside the person affected although the damage is still great. It will, however, make it a little easier to deal with in many of the cases. We're lucky also in that the one who did this had little or no knowledge of your water system. He didn't know that a separate system fed the school and probably believed that the one system fed the entire settlement."

One of the women spoke up, anger overriding her nervousness. "In other words, if he had known or if we'd had only one feed to all the buildings, we might all be dead by now and no one would have ever known." There was a deadly silence for a moment.

The Doctor tried to reassure them. "I know it's hard to believe this now but I really believe we will get on top of this. The children, from what I can gather, only drank a little of the water."

Another woman spoke, smiling shyly. "Most of them hate ordinary water. They prefer to come to the kitchen and try and sweet talk Selona into parting with her lemonade." Many of the other women smiled at that.

The Doctor smiled also. "Thank God kids are the same everywhere." He grew serious again. "Look, we will get through this."

A third woman stood now, her nervousness clearly evident. "I need to say something." The Doctor nodded and smiled. She looked at him and then at the others before speaking. "I need to say… I need to thank you. You've just said 'we will'…not 'you' or 'us'…and that means a great deal. I know we were terrified at the thought of anyone coming here and many of us are still frightened. I know I am." She smiled softly. "What I'm trying to say is 'thank you' to all of you." She looked at Chakotay and B'Elanna, then at the others. "I guess we knew that if Kathryn trusted you all, then we could. We knew Duncan and the others here did and that helped too. We've only known you a short time and yet, even in that time, see that we can trust you and that you're here to help us. I guess…" She sighed deeply. "I guess we let some bad people make us forget that there are so many good people still out there. We let ourselves forget that for too long. It's just a pity it took something like this to remind us. So, thank you for helping us and thank you for reminding us that good is still out there. Just be patient with us." She looked around again, seemingly shocked that she'd managed to say so much and sat down again, clearly embarrassed.

Chakotay shook his head and stood. He smiled gently at the woman who'd spoken. "I want you to know, all of you, that what the Doctor just said goes for us all. I'll be honest and tell you that I agreed to come here before I knew about Kathryn…and the others here did the same. However, once we did know that she was here… I have to tell you that that made us a million times more determined. Many of you won't know but she was our captain for many years and we all love and respect her more than anything. We'd have come anyway but once we knew it was Kathryn…" He shook his head. "I just want you all to know that we're here to help you anyway, regardless, and that we'll do everything within our power to find a cure for this and I believe we will. Afterwards, if you'll permit it, we'd like to stay on and help in any other way we can. But that's later on. For now…" He hesitated, not sure what to say.

The same woman who'd just spoken stood again. "Sir, we know what you mean and again we thank you. We also believe you'll save us and our children…our friends." She looked over towards the corner of the room where all the cards and small gifts were for Kathryn. "Can I ask…?" She licked at her lips. "Can I ask how Kathryn is?" She looked from Chakotay to the Doctor to Duncan.

Duncan smiled gently at her. "Ria, she's still very ill. We don't know…" Chakotay saw tears in the woman's eyes and lowered his head a moment. He looked up again and saw her nod silently. "We're hopeful though. We really are."

Peter Walker stood again, determined to break the sombre mood, knowing everyone would feel better if they had something to do. "OK people, I think that's about it." He looked to Voyager's Doctor who nodded his agreement. "I suggest we get some rest and something to eat. Selona has prepared a kind of buffet dinner, known around here as a 'grab what you can, while you can' dinner, so just go and help yourselves. We'll divide back into our earlier groups after that and get back to work. We can also relieve those still working. Hopefully by then, we'll have more positive news." At that, everyone began to slowly stand and move away.

Chakotay watched as people drifted off after the meeting. He smiled at several of the women but only received a polite nod in return from most. He saw their nervousness and understood. He sighed sadly to himself then turned suddenly to his right as he sensed someone standing beside him. He smiled at Mike Ayala, the man holding a cup of tea towards his former Captain.

"Thought you could use this…"

Chakotay smiled his thanks and took the offered cup. "Thanks, Mike. You're a mind reader."

The younger man shrugged. "Nah… You just looked as if you needed it."

Chakotay took a deep swallow and sighed gratefully. "You're not wrong there. Thanks again…"

Mike smiled as Chakotay drained his cup. "Another one?"

Chakotay shook his head. "No. Thanks anyway. I need to get back…" He shrugged and saw that his old friend understood.

Mike just nodded understandingly. "How is she really?" He saw the answer for himself in the pained look on the face before him. Chakotay shook his head and swallowed, looking out over the room. Mike understood and patted the older man on the arm. "She'll be fine. Our Doc is the best and the Starfleet lot are great too." Chakotay turned to look at him at the sound of a small laugh.

Mike shrugged. "Sorry. It's just… How times change." He smiled at the frown on Chakotay's face. "I just said something good about Starfleet. I must be getting old or soft or both."

Chakotay smiled also and reached over to squeeze the other man's shoulder. "You're neither soft nor old, Mike. The answer to that just takes us back to Kathryn Janeway. She's the one who changed us all and brought us peace." Mike's smile softened as he nodded and Chakotay returned it. They were both silent for a moment, quietly reflecting, until their attention was drawn to the door as two young girls burst into the room, one obviously chasing the other. They both stopped dead when they saw the two men, a look of fear in their eyes. They stood frozen to the spot until Selona went over to them. She leaned down to the children and whispered to them quietly then gently ushered the two frightened girls into the kitchen with a promise of large glasses of lemonade. She smiled apologetically at Chakotay and Mike who nodded their understanding to her. Chakotay sighed heavily as he watched them leave the room. He turned back to Mike, shaking his head and saw that the other man's expression matched his own.

Mike shrugged and shook his head sadly. "I'm actually getting used to the women and kids running from me although that doesn't make it any easier. Mind you, it's not as bad as it was when I beamed down first." He looked at Chakotay and shrugged helplessly. "They run from me…from the other men. They're scared of us. The women are…" He sighed. "You can see it in their eyes…see the fear. I've done nothing wrong, done nothing to hurt them and yet… I still feel guilty." He dropped his head to the side, his eyes still on Chakotay. "Does that make sense?"

Chakotay shook his head. "I don't know. Maybe we're just aware of being men or something." He sighed deeply and looked towards the closed kitchen door. "The fear in the eyes of those kids when they saw us… That's like a punch to the guts. We caused that." He looked towards Mike again and saw him shake his head.

"No. Other men caused it. We just remind them." He smiled slightly when he saw Chakotay frown. "Jonathan told me that. I already had a similar conversation with him about this. He's one of the psychologists here. I've told myself that he knows best."

Chakotay tried to draw comfort from that. "The staff here tried to prepare them before we arrived and I understand they're still counselling them…"

Mike nodded his agreement to that. "They are and it's helped a lot." He shoved some hair back from his face. "I mean, not all of them run when I come along. At this stage, some of them are, I guess, more curious than anything. At least, it seems that way. The kids in particular. Kids have less fear anyway." He forced a small laugh. "Some are still terrified, like those two. For others, it's like they've gone from terrified to scared to nervous to curious." He shrugged again. "I think the kids will find it easier to get over their fear than the women will." He looked around the room, his eyes not settling on anything in particular. "It's like the kids …" He stopped a moment to formulate his thoughts then waved a hand in the air. "It's… The kids seem able to get past their fear because maybe it's not as ingrained or they don't understand enough to be that afraid or… I see them about to move past that fear and then they see the women's fear, their mother's fear, and they hang onto it. It's almost as an act of loyalty, like they think they'll let their mother down if they don't act or feel the same." He looked back at Chakotay, who nodded slowly.

"Maybe. I think the women can get past their fear too though because they can understand better. The women's fear is added to by the trauma they suffered…the actual act…whereas the kids…" He sighed. "I don't know. I'm not sure what I'm trying to say. I guess the kids who witnessed what happened to their mothers will find it easier to fear than the ones who didn't witness anything. Then again, they have their own traumas." He looked down at his hands. "I probably don't know what I'm talking about. This is that guy Jonathan's area. We'll just have to hope that time will build trust."

Mike nodded at that. "I'm hoping the same thing. The few who are working with us seem to be gaining that trust more easily even though they still look to their own constantly for reassurance. Working together helps us all."

Chakotay smiled and nodded. He straightened up and put his empty cup down on a table beside him. "Then let's do some. I need to do something to…" He didn't need to finish.

Mike slapped him on the back gently. "It's a good therapy, that's for sure. Come on, I've plenty for you to do. It helps the mind to re-charge in one area while it's occupied in another."

Chakotay smiled at him. "You're spending too much time with that psychologist." He nodded. "OK…lead the way. Just don't expect miracles. My carpentry skills are a bit rusty…"

Chakotay worked with Mike and some of the others for a few hours, organizing things and overseeing all the work. He then made his way back to the clinic to check on Kathryn. He saw a young girl near the door as he approached and smiled at her. As soon as she saw him, she raced away. He shook his head sadly and entered, heading to where Kathryn was. He found Duncan and Miriam with her.

"I'm sorry…I'm…" The young doctor and nurse had Kathryn rolled onto her side, her hospital gown open from the back.

Duncan looked up and smiled softly. "It's all right, Chakotay. You can wait. I'll be finished in a moment." He reached over to Miriam for a small regenerator. "Kathryn has developed fairly bad bed sores. I'm just trying to treat them." He looked up at Miriam again. "Dressings?" She handed him some gauze pads. He looked up when Greta poked her head behind the curtain.

"Sorry. I need Miriam."

Duncan nodded at the woman beside him to leave and smiled at Chakotay. "Can you help me here please?" Chakotay nodded and moved towards the bed slowly. "If you can just hold her…" Chakotay nodded again and swallowed the lump in his throat, wanting to cry. He forced himself to control his emotions and just concentrate on helping the young doctor. As his hands made contact with Kathryn's skin, he felt the heat radiate off her body but also felt how thin she was. He saw for himself now how bad the bed sores were as Duncan covered them.

"Doesn't the regenerator heal them?" His voice sounded choked.

Duncan smiled sadly, his eyes apologizing for him. "Your Doctor is bringing some of yours down as soon as he can. Working on a cure is his priority at the moment. I'm sorry. We don't have regenerators which can fully heal deeper cuts or sores." He looked towards Kathryn's face. "You saw that from the scars on her face." He looked back at Chakotay and smiled sadly again. "I know that must still shock you."

Chakotay shook his head. "I do understand…"

Duncan sighed and continued his work. "I try to…understand, that is. I just can't accept it most of the time." He finished what he was doing and let Chakotay help him roll Kathryn back. He then covered her again with a light sheet and replaced the oxygen tent around her. The two men stared down at her for a moment before Duncan spoke again.

"Chakotay…" Chakotay met his eyes, tearing his gaze away from the woman lying before them. "To us the regenerators we have are a luxury, believe it or not. We heal the only way we can and that's the old-fashioned way. With our funds, food and medicines come first. They're more important."

Chakotay smiled his understanding. "I know that and I really do understand. Please, Duncan. I wasn't trying to…" He looked back down at Kathryn. "It's just…"

Duncan filled in the rest. "It's just that it's her…and that's hard. I understand that too." Chakotay nodded, still staring at Kathryn. He felt something stir inside him and wondered for the first time if perhaps there was something between Kathryn and this man, something outside of their working relationship. As soon as he had the thought, he pushed it away. Getting her well was all that mattered. He turned now when he heard someone enter behind him and saw Miriam return. Duncan moved towards the woman.

"Miriam, I've finished the dressings. Just run the usual checks. I'll be back a little later."

Miriam moved towards the bed. "I don't think so. Cassa is taking this shift. Jonathan is on the lookout for you, demanding that you get back to your bed and get some rest. He said you broke your promise to him."

Duncan shook his head and laughed slightly. "OK, OK. I'll go. He'll make my life a hell if I don't." He smiled at Chakotay. "Care to walk with me? I don't recall you eating anything earlier so I'll walk you as far as the kitchen." Chakotay hesitated and Duncan pushed. "You can come back and sit with her then. Miriam knows where you are if you're needed."

Chakotay smiled softly and nodded. "All right. Just something quick."

Chakotay smiled to himself as he looked around at all the activity as he and Duncan made their way towards the main building. He saw the young girl he'd seen earlier sitting on the ground near the door to the clinic and again smiled at her. This time she just stared at him but didn't run and he assumed it was because Duncan was with him. He turned to the young man now. "They're all working so well together. Well, some of them…"

Duncan smiled his agreement. "I'm amazed at that myself. I worried so much about the women accepting all this. I knew our staff would be fine but the women and the kids… Seems I needn't have worried so much after all. Jonathan and Lorcha worked with them before you came and continue to do so, which has helped. I guess confronting a fear often reveals that there was little or nothing to fear in the first place. Still though…look what led to all this."

Chakotay looked at the man. "You couldn't have foreseen…"

Duncan stopped walking and shook his head angrily. "Couldn't I?" He sighed deeply. "Sorry but you're wrong. I should have seen it. The very nature of this place, the reason for it, suggested the need to be more vigilant." He shook his head as he looked around him. "This could have happened at any time. In a way, it was waiting to happen. Then, of course, it happened…when Kathryn was attacked. If that wasn't the biggest warning to what could follow…"

Chakotay tried to offer some support. "You did what you could…"

Duncan laughed sarcastically. "You think so? Yeah, we did a great job." He smiled apologetically. "Sorry. Again." He sighed deeply once more. "I don't know. I sometimes think now that by cutting ourselves off and isolating ourselves in this way, we left ourselves open to something like this, had no protection. We looked so inward that we didn't see what was outside. Hiding like this…" He gestured around him. "Hiding like this is what left us so open and vulnerable. We were hidden from those who could harm us but by extension, when that harm came, we were hidden from those who could help. I wonder now if those outside should be aware of what happened to these people. When the truth is known, that truth can protect you." He shrugged and looked at Chakotay. "Of course, maybe I'm wrong. We always had to consider the women's fear but still… We could have met somewhere half way on it." He rubbed a hand across his forehead. "Maybe by cutting them off from everyone else, we just kept them as victims, kept them feeling different. They got used to the isolation and hid within it, saw no other way. It's so easy to get used to something like this way of life when you're isolated with it. They were offered no other choice. I see now that they need to mix, maybe not totally, but with non-victims they can trust. What I'm seeing now practically proves that." He sighed and began walking slowly.

Chakotay followed and gripped his arm, stopping him. "I don't have the answers for you, Duncan. I don't know about the future here. All I can see or think about right now is Kathryn…" Duncan nodded his understanding. "I can however tell you that we will get past this. I really believe that. When that time comes, soon I hope, we'll all get together and work something out." He smiled sadly to himself. "I'll tell you something personal." He shrugged and shook his head, meeting Duncan's eyes. "When I was on Voyager with Kathryn…when we were together… Well, I once told her something and I'll tell you now, tell you the same thing." Duncan frowned slightly but his face held a kindly understanding. "I told her once that she was not alone…" Chakotay looked out over the compound a moment, his mind wandering back to the moment. He shook himself and looked back at Duncan. He smiled now, a little embarrassed. "I told her that then and I meant it. I still mean it although…" He sighed. "I broke that promise for a time. I was stupid and I left her alone. I mean to make up for that now if I can." He looked Duncan straight in the eye, his face serious. "I'll tell you the same thing. You and these people here… You're not alone now any more either. If you'll just let us, we're all here for you." He was surprised for a moment as he saw tears fill the other man's eyes.

Duncan blinked quickly and nodded, then cleared his throat. He gripped Chakotay's arm tightly. "Thank you, my friend. That means a great deal." He hesitated a moment. "Kathryn is a very lucky woman to have you as a friend. I hope to God that…" He shrugged and smiled. "Well, you know."

Chakotay smiled and nodded. "I know." He moved off slowly. "Come on. Let's get something to eat. There's work to be done and sleep to be had for you."

Duncan rolled his eyes and laughed. "It's unbelievable. Has Jonathan recruited you or what?"

Chakotay laughed with him and tapped the side of his nose. "Ah…that would be telling."

Voyager's Doctor never stopped over the next twenty-four hours. He seemed quite irate when those working with him needed to take a break and then instantly apologised, admitting that his anger and frustrations weren't aimed at those around him but rather at his inability to find the cure he desperately sought. He worked alongside the Starfleet medical and scientific personnel and liaised with the staff from the refuge constantly. They all worked flat out to find a serum which could be administered to their patients and were getting quite close to their goal.

Chakotay stood silently and watched these people work for several minutes. Finally the Doctor's voice cut across his thoughts. "Chakotay, I'm sure there's something more useful for you to do than stand in that doorway all day."

Chakotay almost jumped to attention. "I wanted to get an update from you actually. I was just waiting for the right moment to ask. I didn't want to disturb your thinking."

The Doctor shook his head at that, not looking up from his work. "Very noble of you but until I find what I'm looking for, there won't be a right moment. Now…what can I do for you?"

Chakotay swallowed back a smart retort, knowing that they were all on edge. "As I said…an update…"

The Doctor turned and looked at him briefly. "We've cleaned and treated the tank…disposed of the contaminated water safely. The tank has also been re-filled. That's that problem solved."

Chakotay showed some anger. "Isn't finding a cure or treatment for this more important?"

The Doctor turned and glared at him before his face softened. "Chakotay, please trust me to know what I'm doing."

Chakotay held up his hands and nodded in apology. "I'm sorry. I'm just…"

The Doctor handed a phial to the man beside him and whispered an order. He then made his way over to Chakotay. "Look, Chakotay…just trust us here. We needed to treat the water and clean the tank first because the last thing we need here is any new outbreak. As long as that contaminated water remained there, that was a risk, especially with kids around." Chakotay nodded his understanding. "You must also understand that in treating the water, we gained valuable insights into this…into what we're dealing with." He played with a padd on the table beside him.

Chakotay cut in. "Couldn't the treatment you used on the water be used on the patients?"

The Doctor shook his head. "I'm afraid not. We could treat the water without fear of harming it. Water can't feel and can't be further damaged. Treating people? Well…the cure, any serum we develop, must be just right. If it isn't, we risk causing more harm. It might kill the virus but it could also destroy internal organs if it isn't right and maybe even kill the patient."

Chakotay lowered his head. "Sorry. I should have thought of that…" He looked up into a kinder expression on the holograms's face.

"It's all right, Chakotay. I do understand." He leaned against the table now. "I can tell you that since we treated the water, we've developed an inoculation against this. I know it doesn't help those already affected but at least it guarantees us that everyone else will be safe in case there is any possibility of another source of this virus or others getting re-infected. We're also extremely close to a cure for this. What we have so far will only help those least exposed or affected, but it's a step in the right direction and it's a big step at that." He watched to see if his words gave any comfort but saw that they offered little.

Chakotay nodded slowly. "That's good, Doctor. Keep at it. I'll leave you in peace…" He turned to go but felt a restraining hand on his arm. He turned to find the Doctor smiling gently and holding up a hypospray.

"Before you go and disappear on me…" The Medic answered the puzzled look he saw. "Your inoculation." Chakotay sighed and nodded, exposing his neck. He heard the small hiss and then felt a slight sting. "There you go."

Chakotay rubbed at his neck a moment and nodded. "Just let me know the minute you have something. I'll be over at the clinic." Without another word or waiting for an answer, he turned and left. The Doctor watched his departure and looked down at the hypo in his hand.

"I just hope I don't let you all down." He turned and went back to work.

Chakotay made his way towards the clinic, watching the work taking place around him in amazement. He was still stunned at how many of the women and children were mixing more and more with everyone, slowly at first by working nearby and then moving in alongside them. He stopped now as he heard his name called and turned to find Harry Kim running towards him. "Chakotay, that image…"

Chakotay smiled at the excited and eager face. "Let me guess. You've pulled off another miracle?"

Harry actually blushed. "It's pretty good if I may say so myself…"

Chakotay shook his head. "Well, let me see it."

Harry pointed towards the meeting room. "One of B'Elanna's lot from Engineering helped me. He's just putting the finishing touches, if you like, to the image. We're quite proud of the clarity we've achieved." Chakotay smiled and followed Harry, almost running to keep up.

Chakotay and Harry entered the dayroom to find Jonathan and a few other staff members studying the image. They then passed it to Duncan who sat groggily at the table nursing a hot mug of tea. Chakotay saw the doctor study the image and then nod.

"I'm sure it's the same bastard." He looked up at the others. "Are we all in agreement on that?" Chakotay saw all those present nod.

Jonathan nodded his head too. "Oh, it's him all right. I was pretty close…" He looked to John Wilson. "You agree, John? You got closest of all."

The farmer nodded his head angrily. "It's him, all right. I won't ever forget that fucker…" He looked up apologetically and glanced around quickly, making sure none of the kids were around. "Sorry. Excuse the language. It's just…"

Jonathan patted his arm. "No apologies necessary, John. We all feel the same way."

Suddenly B'Elanna stepped forward, her expression somewhat guarded. "You said something about this guy having been ex-Maquis?"

Jonathan nodded. "As far as we know. That's what we were told anyway."

B'Elanna nodded and reached her hand out. "May I see the image?" Jonathan frowned and handed over the padd he held. Despite the puzzled look on his face, he didn't ask any questions. B'Elanna took the padd and offered a small explanation. "I knew some Maquis. Maybe he might look familiar to me." Jonathan just nodded to that.

Chakotay watched B'Elanna as she studied the image for almost a full minute. When she looked up, her eyes immediately sought out his, and in that moment, Chakotay knew the man they sought had been identified. His eyes asked the question and hers gave the answer. She nodded slowly and held out the padd to her former captain.
"See what you think."

Chakotay held her eyes and nodded as he took the padd. He looked down slowly at the image and then closed his eyes. When he looked up again, every eye in the room was on him. He nodded. "Yeah. I know him. Knew him. We knew him." He held up a hand, expecting questions from all directions but none came. "I'll explain." He looked around and made his way towards a chair at the main table. He decided to fill in a little background.

"B'Elanna and I were members of the Maquis way back when…" He looked at the faces around him, expecting to see disapproval at the least and quite possibly hate. All he saw was mild curiosity. He realized that the only hateful emotions in the room were aimed at the man in the image who had tried to destroy their world. Chakotay shook his head in amazement.

Duncan saw his reaction and explained. "Kathryn mentioned that some of her crew were former Maquis. We didn't know who and it doesn't matter to us anyway. It's not important to us."

Chakotay smiled his thanks. "To make a long story short, we ended up in the Delta Quadrant with Voyager and Kathryn. All that was a long time ago and it's well in our past now." He looked down at the image he held again.

"I knew this man. I didn't know him well and didn't really want to. Our paths crossed a few times but…" He shook his head. "Let's just say that when I fought, I did it for what I believed was a just cause. I also had a code of honour I adhered to. B'Elanna was at my side and she followed that same code. Everyone with us did." He looked up at B'Elanna and smiled, receiving a kindly nod in return. He glanced at Tuvok also and saw the Vulcan nod his agreement. He nodded back and then continued. "There were others however. There were always others…those who had their own ideas about how to achieve an end and they didn't exactly care what they had to do to reach that end." Chakotay shook his head and smiled to himself as the words of Admiral Paris echoed in his mind and he found himself finally understanding what the old man had been trying to explain. At the end of the day, in a war situation, some members of the Maquis had been every bit as bad as the Starfleet and Cardassian soldiers he'd heard about. Every army had its rogue soldiers, its bad apples. People were people, good and bad alike, with the same loves and hates. In or out of uniform, in war or at peace, there would always be good and evil. He made a silent vow to himself never to forget that. He looked up into the faces of those around him and shrugged.

"Sorry. I drifted there a moment. It's hard when you suddenly realize that your own can be as capable of evil as your enemy…that people are people. Admiral Paris tried to explain that when he briefed me. I think I've just finally understood it."

Jonathan smiled and leaned forward. "Welcome to the wonderful world of people, Chakotay. I learned that during my training but most people have to find it out the hard way. Don't beat yourself up over it."

Chakotay smiled his gratitude but he didn't look convinced. "I have to tell you that several of those who came here to help are also ex-Maquis. Is that a problem for you?"

Jonathan looked around at the others a moment. They all shook their heads, appearing surprised to even be asked such a question. Jonathan looked back at Chakotay and frowned. "Not a problem to us. Why should it be?"

Chakotay shook his head and then shrugged. "OK, maybe not you and the others here but what about the women? How will they feel about us when they know that?"

Jonathan sighed and cut across him. "Listen, Chakotay. They won't feel any differently about you being ex-Maquis…no differently than if you were ex-Starfleet or ex-Cardassian forces." He shook his head. "A uniform is a uniform to these women." He raised an eyebrow. "It's the 'ex' part that will matter to them. If you were wearing a uniform, it would be a very different matter. They'll learn to judge you by what you are now. You'll eventually earn their trust or you won't. Good and evil in all, isn't that what you said? They too learned that before you did and they also learned it the hard way, probably the hardest way possible."

Chakotay sighed and smiled his thanks. "Admiral Paris used almost those exact same words. He said that to the women here, a uniform was a uniform and that any man was capable of evil, that it wasn't marked on him."

Jonathan nodded and smiled. "Wise man, this Admiral Paris." Chakotay nodded agreement.

John Wilson cut in. "Paris. I've been working here with a guy from your group. I think his name is Paris too. Tom, anyway…"

B'Elanna smiled softly. "They're father and son. Tom is also my husband."

John pursed his lips and gave a half smile. "Any kids of yours will have brains then."

B'Elanna laughed and nodded her head. "Her name's Miral and she's on Voyager. And yes…she's perfect in every way."

John laughed and stood, scraping back his chair. "I've always admired the modesty of parents. My own were no different when they saw the genius they'd created."

Jonathan rolled his eyes and smiled at Chakotay. "I constantly wonder how I put up with this lot."

Duncan rubbed at his head as he answered that. "Because you love us all and we love you too. God, we must be hard up."

Chakotay joined in the laughter, finding he liked these people more and more with each passing hour. He looked over to B'Elanna to share the moment and saw her deep in thought, chewing on her lower lip. He leaned forward.

"B'Elanna?" She ignored him, not seeming to hear him. "B'Elanna?" He tried a little louder now and she suddenly jumped and looked up.

"Sorry. I was lost in thought there." She studied her old friend for a moment, still sorting her thoughts and then spoke. "Chakotay, can you remember his name?" She watched to see if any memory came to her former captain and saw him think. When no answer was forthcoming after a minute, she supplied the answer. "Well, I do. John Lewis? Am I right?" She almost saw a light go on in Chakotay's mind.

"Lewis…John…" He nodded. "You're right. I remember that. I also seem to remember that he'd trained a little with Starfleet." He scratched his head. "Hang on…it's coming back."

B'Elanna was too impatient and filled in the rest. "I remember him more now. He did his initial training with Starfleet all right. He then left and became a mercenary for a while. Better rewards. I can't remember his reason for being with the Maquis but I seem to remember part of it was personal…something about a brother still in Starfleet who was killed by the Cardassians." Chakotay nodded as he listened and then looked up quickly and saw his own sudden thought reflected on B'Elanna's face.

They spoke together. "He was a chemist…"

Chakotay nodded and looked at the others. "I remember now. He'd trained as a chemist…was quite expert at it in fact."

Duncan seemed wide awake now. "That ties in perfectly. With his training, getting past our inadequate security was simple. With his scientific knowledge, contaminating the water here must have been easy for him. Creating the virus wasn't even a problem." He sighed deeply. "So what do we do now?"

Chakotay was already out of his chair and looked over at John who'd remained standing. "With your approval, I contact Admiral Paris with the information we have and a copy of the image and we let Starfleet hunt the bastard down. It's my guess he headed back to Earth to hide out somewhere he knows. He must know that we're here now and he wouldn't risk hanging around. I'll get Tuvok on this too and he can gather as much evidence as possible from here." Duncan looked at the others in turn and they all nodded their agreement.

"OK, Chakotay. We go along with that. I just want him caught."

By the time Chakotay contacted Admiral Paris and finished briefing Tuvok, two hours had passed. He checked in with the Doctor once more and saw that the Medic was bent over several blood specimens as he ran tests. Chakotay didn't dare disturb him and left quietly.

He slowly made his way over to the clinic, breathing in the fresh air deeply in an attempt to feel more alert. He smiled to himself now as he saw for the first time several children playing together near the swings. They eyed him nervously and quickly looked to their mothers for reassurance. Having received it, they looked back at Chakotay and watched him as he crossed the compound. He smiled gently at them but they just stared back, watching his every move. He noticed one little girl who stood alone near the clinic, watching the door and recognized her as the same child who'd been there earlier. As he approached, he smiled at her when she turned to look at him. She met his eyes briefly before she turned and ran.

Chakotay entered the clinic and was relieved to see fewer patients there now. Dressa was the nurse on duty and she smiled at him as she saw him scan the room. "A fair few have recovered, thanks to your Doctor. We've sent them over to the dorm to rest and recuperate there. Galan and Greta, our nursing aides, are taking care of them."

Chakotay smiled his thanks for the information. "I'm delighted, Dressa."

The young Cardassian woman seemed impressed that he remembered her name and smiled broadly. "You look exhausted. You really should get some rest."

Chakotay shook his head. "I just want to check on Kathryn…" His words were cut off as Duncan stuck his head out of the curtained off area where Kathryn was.

"Dressa…quickly…" He didn't seem to see Chakotay as he disappeared back behind the curtain. Chakotay raced after the nurse as she ran after Duncan.

Chakotay stopped dead on the other side of the curtain when he saw the scene before him. The oxygen tent had been pulled away and Cassa was leaning over the bed, trying to hold Kathryn down. Duncan spoke with Dressa quickly.

"She's convulsing. Get me a tube. I'll have to intubate her. Her airway is swelling and closing. She can't breathe…" Chakotay watched, feeling he'd turned to stone, as Duncan suctioned away some vomit first and then fought to get the tube down a struggling Kathryn's throat.

Suddenly Kathryn went limp in the bed and for the first time, Chakotay became aware of the sound of one of the monitors as it screamed an unbroken tone. Duncan shouted above it. "She's arrested…"

Cassa knelt on the bed and began heart compressions. Dressa moved to the bed and placed a mask over Kathryn's face, squeezing the attached bag and forcing air into her lungs. Chakotay just stood rooted to the spot, his lips moving in silent prayer as the people before him fought to save the life of their patient. He saw Duncan use equipment he'd thought was long obsolete as he ripped open Kathryn's gown and placed pads on her chest.

"Clear…" Chakotay jumped and let out a cry of pain as Kathryn's body went rigid for a moment and arched off the bed as a surge of electrical current went through it in an attempt to re-start her heart. He watched this three times, his eyes darting from Kathryn to the monitor beside her and the flat green line it showed. Finally he saw the line change and the tone became interrupted, small bleeps replacing the continuous wail. He took a small step forward and watched as Duncan and Cassa worked, attaching more monitors and tubes to their patient.

Eventually, Chakotay became aware of someone shaking his arm. He turned slowly and looked into Duncan's face. It was only then he realized that tears were streaming down his face. He wiped at them quickly and saw understanding on the doctor's face. He also saw deep worry.

"Chakotay, we have her back but it was close…"

Chakotay barely nodded. "What are…? The machines…tubes…?"

Duncan squeezed his arm. "It's old equipment but it works. It's keeping her alive until your Doctor gets here. Dressa is getting him now although the monitor he had on her has probably already alerted him." Chakotay swallowed the large lump in his throat. Duncan sighed and looked towards the bed. "She's on full life support now and the coma is deeper…" They both looked up as the curtain was pulled back and Voyager's Doctor rushed in. Chakotay stood back, barely hearing Duncan make a report to the EMH. He stood watching Kathryn as a machine did her breathing for her, her chest gently rising and falling. He saw Cassa attach monitors to small disks on her chest, before closing her gown over and covering her up. She checked the flow of the IV lines and then turned slowly, seeing Chakotay for the first time. Without a word, she pulled a chair over and eased the large man into it.

"Just sit back here a little until they're finished and then you can move closer. Talk to her then." Chakotay barely nodded and let himself be led. He sat and stared at Kathryn, tuning out the rest of the world.

Chakotay wasn't sure how much time had passed before Voyager's Doctor leaned down and laid a hand on his arm. He slowly turned to look at him, his eyes pleading for answers. The hologram smiled and pulled over another chair, then sat also.

"Chakotay, I'm leaving her on this equipment for the moment because it's working and also because I don't want to risk upsetting or moving her in any way and I still wouldn't take a chance with the transporter."

Chakotay squeezed his eyes closed a moment and then opened them again. "I'm going to lose her…"

The Doctor shook his arm. "Chakotay, listen to me. We're doing everything we can."

Chakotay looked away. "I need the truth…not false comfort…" He looked back at the Doctor and saw anger.

"Chakotay, I don't lie. We are doing everything we can. I can tell you that Kathryn is very ill, the worst case here. You know that already. This virus was… Her condition was more advanced than the others because she was exposed to more of the water…drank more of it. The others were also stronger and fitter to begin with. Her natural immune system was badly affected, also more than the others and they're fighting it better. We're almost there. I've administered some treatment to her just now which will hopefully act as a stopgap until we find a cure for this…and we're close to that…very close. I believe it's just a matter of hours now."

Chakotay shook his head. "Does she have hours?" His eyes searched the Doctor's face for the truth. He saw the Medic nod slowly.

"I believe so." He sighed, a habit at this stage. "We have to believe that. We're really fighting this, Chakotay. We're fighting very hard to find this cure. We just have to have faith." Chakotay nodded slowly, desperately trying to find comfort in the Doctor's words. He looked over at Kathryn in the bed.

"She can't breathe…" His voice was a plaintiff cry.

The Doctor nodded slowly. "I know. The virus has attacked all her internal organs…weakened them so much. That's why we have her on full life support. The machines will breathe for her and take care of all her bodily functions until she can do them for herself again." He shook his head. "Chakotay, try and have that faith. I know it's very hard but try. We're working flat out. We will find this cure for her. I really believe that." Chakotay tried a very weak smile for the Doctor and nodded.

"I'll try…" His voice choked up and he swallowed.

Cassa knelt down beside him now and smiled softly at him. "You can sit beside her now, Chakotay. Talk to her and tell her to hang on. She'll hear you. I really believe that." Chakotay nodded again and stood, letting Cassa move the chair for him and then ease him back down into it. After that, his world shrank to just Kathryn before him and the words he spoke to her. Nothing else existed or mattered.

It took Chakotay some moments before he realized that someone was shaking his arm. He looked up into the face of Tom Paris. "Chakotay…hey…"

Chakotay shook himself and nodded. "Sorry, Tom. I was…" He saw the young pilot nod and smile.

"It's OK. I understand. How is she? Any improvement?"

Chakotay shook his head sadly. "No. If it wasn't for these machines… They're doing everything for her."

Tom nodded his understanding. "Doc explained. He's very close. They're just testing the serum now. They've used a…I suppose…a weaker version if you like…on the less severe cases and the results seem positive. It looks very promising." Chakotay tried to grasp what comfort he could from that and nodded. Tom smiled softly. "Chakotay, we need to talk to you in the office. My dad is talking to Duncan and Tuvok at the moment and he wants to talk to you too." Chakotay looked reluctantly from Kathryn to Tom. He then suddenly realized that Cassa was also with them.

She smiled softly at him. "I'm here with her, Chakotay. You go on. I'm sure it won't take long. If there's even the slightest change, I'll call you immediately. She's holding her own at the moment."

Chakotay stood shakily and nodded. "All right. Just for a moment…but you call me immediately…"

Cassa smiled and nodded. "You know I will."

Chakotay knew his appearance must have shocked Admiral Paris and he saw the sympathetic look on the face of the other man. "Chakotay, you look exhausted."

Chakotay just shrugged. "What's wrong?"

The old man smiled sadly. "I wanted to let you know that we've caught him."

Chakotay looked shocked. "That quickly? How…?"

Admiral Paris smiled. "Let's just say it was a priority…Kathryn and all that. Also, the information you supplied helped enormously. You were right. He had returned to Earth, probably thinking that his plan had worked. He obviously believed that no one knew his identity. He felt safe in his day to day life, such as it was. He was actually at his registered address openly going about his life, as arrogantly as you like. Our security team spoke with neighbours and they confirmed that he'd just returned from being away. They also confirmed details of his background. We're still putting some things together for evidence but it's pretty damning as it is."

Chakotay sighed and looked at Tuvok beside him. "Was Tuvok's evidence any use?"

The Admiral smiled. "Very helpful. Damning, in fact. Coupled with what we found at the house…" He shook his head angrily. "We found samples of the virus even. He had a lab in the basement of his house…was working openly on everything. He was so sure of himself, so arrogant, that he left evidence all over the place. In fact, he openly admitted everything when we arrested him but we still need the evidence to back that up and of course, if he decides to change his mind and plead not guilty. There's always some Defender who'll try and talk him into believing that he can get away with this."

Duncan stared at the screen. "He admitted it?"

Admiral Paris nodded, his face angry. "He admitted wanting to kill them all…especially the kids. He called them the 'spawn of evil'…" He seemed to hesitate and Chakotay noticed.

"What else…?"

Owen Paris swallowed and drew in a deep breath. "He also said…" He shook his head. "He must have learned Kathryn's identity somehow…or recognized her. He said…'if I took that…that Starfleet…whore… with me…so much the better'…" Admiral Paris saw the anger and pain on Chakotay's face. "Chakotay, I'm sorry but we have him now. I have it on good authority that with the evidence we have and the confession, the bastard will spend the rest of his days locked away. We've already had him examined and he's been declared physically fit and mentally competent to stand trial. We didn't want him pulling that one on us…the diminished responsibility excuse…" He looked down at his desk for a moment and then back up. "Plenty of time later for this but just to put you on notice." He looked towards Duncan and Tuvok in particular. "Those directly involved will have to give evidence at the trial. Kathryn included." He looked at Chakotay now, who shook his head.

"You mean if she lives?" No one missed the pain and anger in his voice.

Duncan reached over and placed a hand on his shoulder. "She'll be there, Admiral. You have my word on that." Chakotay looked up at the doctor and smiled weakly. He nodded his thanks.

Admiral Paris cleared his throat. "I know she will…and the evidence can be given by sub space link so no one need face him directly." He smiled kindly. "Well, gentlemen, I have work to do here. I'll keep you informed. I just wanted to let you know that you can rest easy now. Thank God he failed."

Duncan thanked the old man and cut the transmission. He stared at the blank screen for a moment. "Until the next time…" He looked up at the others and shrugged. "Well, we didn't see this coming. No one can say for certain that this couldn't happen again. All it takes is for some other nut to come here and try and get his revenge."

Tom stepped forward and gripped his arm. "Duncan, it won't happen again. Just believe me when I tell you that. Whatever happens, we'll make sure of that. Don't ask me how just yet, but we'll work something out."

Duncan sighed and smiled. "OK. I'll take your word on that." He shrugged. "One step at a time. Let's just get over this first and get everyone well."

Tom nodded and smiled. "That's the spirit."

Duncan drew in a deep breath. "Come on, Chakotay. Let's get back to the clinic and get Kathryn well again." The two men shared a smile.

When Chakotay and Duncan entered the clinic, they saw Cassa attending to another patient. She looked up at them and nodded. "Kathryn's still the same. I'm keeping a close eye on her."

Duncan nodded his thanks and led the way back to the curtained off section. Chakotay almost bumped into him as he stopped dead just inside the curtain. He turned to Chakotay and placed a finger to his lips, indicating silence. Chakotay frowned until Duncan drew the curtain back a little more so he could see. As he looked towards the bed, he was vaguely aware of Cassa coming up beside him. He heard her gasp as she saw what they were witnessing.

A small girl stood hesitantly beside the bed and placed a hand on Kathryn's arm. Tears fell silently onto her cheeks as she looked at the woman lying there. Suddenly her little voice was heard.

"Mommy Kathryn? Mommy Kathryn?" She inched forward. "Mommy Kathryn, please wake up. You said you'd help to make my cart. You promised." She sniffed loudly. "Mommy Kathryn, please don't go away. I'm sorry. Don't leave. I'll be good." She wiped at her face as she stared down at Kathryn.

Duncan let out the breath he'd been holding and shook his head. He turned to the others and smiled tearfully. He saw the puzzled look on Chakotay's face and whispered an explanation. "That's Julie, Kathryn's little shadow. She's the one that bastard came here to kill." He shook his head. "This is the first time she's spoken…the first time since she came here." Chakotay shook his head too and looked back to the small girl. He suddenly remembered her as the child he'd seen several times by the clinic door. As if suddenly sensing them there or hearing them, she looked up in panic and began to back away. Chakotay found himself moving towards her slowly. He kept his voice low.

"Julie, is it? It's OK. I won't hurt you. I'm a good friend of your Mommy Kathryn…an old friend. It's OK. You talk to her again because I believe she can hear you and that will help her." It took some minutes as he watched the fear fade a little to be replaced by confusion. She looked towards Duncan and Cassa and saw them nod their reassurance. Seeming satisfied, she slowly moved closer to the bed, reaching for Kathryn's arm again. Chakotay smiled gently and pulled over a chair for her and one for himself, leaving a safe distance between them so the child wouldn't feel too threatened. Together they sat there for the next hour and talked to the woman they both loved.

Julie jumped as the curtain was suddenly pulled back and Voyager's Doctor entered with two other men. She backed away quickly into a corner until Chakotay moved towards her and spoke softly.

"Julie, it's OK. This man is also a friend of your Mommy Kathryn. He's a Doctor. He's here to make her better." The Medic, reading the situation, smiled at the small girl and nodded. She stayed where she was, her hands holding the curtain tightly. Chakotay looked away from her for a moment, his eyes asking the question of the Doctor.

The EMH looked to the girl and then the others. "Perhaps it would be better if…" Chakotay looked at Julie and saw her grip the curtains even tighter. He knew it wouldn't be easy to get her outside.

Miriam, having joined the group, took over. "Julie, why don't you come with me? We need to let the Doctor do his work." She smiled and held a hand out towards Julie. "Tell you what. We'll go over to the dayroom and make a nice card for Mommy Kathryn and we can hang it over her bed." She slowly approached the young child. "Just think. Your card will be the only one here and it would be lovely for her to see it when she wakes up. You'd like for her to be able to see that, wouldn't you?" They all watched the small girl bite her lip as she considered this. Finally she decided and nodded slowly, moving towards Miriam and then taking her hand. She whispered something and Miriam bent down to hear her. "What was that, honey? Flowers? I think flowers would be perfect on the card. I know how good you are at drawing them." Miriam turned back, a look of amazement on her face at Julie speaking. She then smiled and nodded at them all as she led the girl out.

Duncan nodded his thanks and called softly after them. "You can come back later, Julie. You make that card first and then come back." The child nodded at him and then left with the nurse.

As soon as Julie and Miriam left, all eyes turned to Voyager's EMH. No one spoke but their eyes said it all.

The Doctor stepped forward and held up a hypospray. "This is the serum, as small as it looks. We can't be one hundred percent sure but it's worked on all the others. Every test we ran before that was successful too. I'm going to administer it in stages in the form of a simple hypospray. We'll know within four hours if it's beginning to work. If the first dose shows promise, we'll administer the second and so on." He looked at the hypo in his hand. "You must understand that the virus in Kathryn's case is far more advanced so I've no way of knowing how long this will take. We can't even say with certainty that it will work. At the very least, it will alleviate and arrest the symptoms and buy us more time. However, I will say that I believe it'll work." He looked up at Chakotay in particular, hoping his words would offer hope and saw that they had. Chakotay nodded slowly. He watched as the Medic pressed the hypo to Kathryn's neck and heard the soft hiss as the serum was injected into her. He looked to her face then, a part of his mind expecting to see some sudden miracle but everything remained the same. The Doctor's voice broke through to him.

"Chakotay, I need you to understand that even if this works, we'll still be only half way there."

Chakotay looked up quickly. "You said… I mean…" He shook his head. "If the serum works then she'll be cured of the virus…"

The Doctor nodded slowly. "Yes, she'll be cured of the virus but…" He studied the empty hypo in his hand a moment and then looked back at the large man before him. "You have to understand that the damage caused to her body by this virus has been considerable. We have two battles to fight here before we win the war. It's the same with the others, although the damage there is far less."

Chakotay just groaned and rubbed a hand across his face. He felt the stubble there and realized how much he'd neglected himself since arriving at Haven. He shook his head slowly. "You're going to tell me 'one battle at a time'…" He looked at the Doctor and received a small encouraging smile. He saw the hologram nod.

"Yes, I am. We concentrate on this one and then worry about the next."

Chakotay refused to move from Kathryn's side over the next hours. Julie now sat in his lap, having developed a deep trust in him which shocked everyone. No one could understand it. Jonathan tried to explain that the child saw Chakotay as her only link to her 'Mommy Kathryn' now and was 'transferring' to him in the interim. Whatever the reason, no one objected. Julie's card, with its multicoloured flowers, hung proudly over Kathryn's bed.

Chakotay found he lost track of time as people came and went, administering more doses of the serum and checking Kathryn's readings. He spoke softly to Julie, telling her stories about the woman they loved and listened as Julie told some of her own. It seemed that once the child had found her voice again, there was no stopping her. She still displayed elements of fear and shyness but with Chakotay she seemed to push them aside.

Finally, after sixteen hours, time in which both man and child had fallen asleep together after the meal Cassa had brought them, Chakotay's eyes snapped open as he felt someone gently shake his arm. He looked into the eyes of Duncan and held his breath until he saw the man smile and nod. The doctor's voice was a whisper, to avoid waking Julie. "It's working. Your Doctor feels that one more dose will eradicate the virus completely." Chakotay dropped his head back and let out a long breath.

"Oh Spirits…thank you…" He suddenly turned worried eyes back to Duncan. "What about the rest…her condition?" The smile slipped a little from the young doctor's face. He hesitated a moment.

"It's not good but…" He tried a tired smile. "We're hopeful. The biggest fight is over with, or just about anyway." He looked down into Julie's sleeping face, making sure the child wasn't listening. "It's still going to be some fight but…" He shook his head, a trace of anger on his features. "If it was just us here, we'd lose her. With your Doctor… Well, he's able to regenerate those internal organs which have been all but destroyed by this thing. It'll take some time but he can do it. We'd have been dependent on transplants, even if we could have found suitable donors and in time and we'd never have been equipped for the surgery." He sighed. "In this day and age…" He smiled ruefully now. "I know. I know. I'm like a broken recording. It just makes me so damned angry."

Chakotay nodded his understanding. "You believe she'll come through this though?"

Duncan smiled softly but Chakotay saw the hidden trace of doubt there. "I think she will. It'll be a long struggle, and even afterwards she'll have a long period of recuperation, one in which I'll tie her down if I have to."

Chakotay saw the young man look towards Kathryn, deep emotion on his face. Chakotay felt something stir inside him again and found himself asking a question he didn't want to ask. "You really care about her, don't you?"

Duncan turned back and smiled, then nodded. "Yes, I do. I love her." Duncan saw the look on Chakotay's face and went to explain. "Chakotay, I should tell you…" His words were interrupted by Julie stretching in Chakotay's arms. The two men shared a look for a moment and then looked to Julie as she sat up.

"Mommy Kathryn?"

Chakotay tore his eyes away from the other man's and smiled down at the child. "She's much better. The sickness is nearly gone."

Julie craned her neck and looked at Kathryn, then back at Chakotay. "Why is she still asleep?"

Chakotay smiled. "Because the sickness is nearly gone but her body still needs to get better. She needs to sleep and get plenty of rest. It's like when you fall and cut yourself, the cut heals but it's still sore for a while?" Julie nodded her understanding, her large eyes watching Chakotay's face closely. "Well, Mommy Kathryn still needs to get over her soreness, even though the cut is healed. Do you understand, honey?"

Julie watched him quietly for a moment, thinking about that. Slowly she nodded. "I think so. The water sick thing made her sick and hurt her…and now it's gone and it's not hurting her anymore but she's still real sore from it?" Chakotay smiled and nodded.

Duncan took over. "Very good, Julie. Inside her is still sore and we need to make that better. She'll stay asleep until she's all well.

Chakotay came and went over the next three days. When he wasn't with Kathryn, he was overseeing the work Voyager's former crew had undertaken, apologizing to them all for not helping more. Everyone assured him that they understood only too well, joking that he'd only get in the way anyway, that they worked better without 'one of the bosses' watching them all the time.

The Starfleet scientific and medical personnel had almost reinvented the clinic, in between treating their patients. Technological advances could be seen everywhere, from the water supply to the power systems. Everywhere Chakotay looked, he saw his people working alongside the residents of Haven, toiling away to improve conditions. More of the women had gotten over their fear and were helping where they could, the kids joining in where they were allowed.

Feeling that their stay would now be extended, Chakotay met with his crew and discussed landing Voyager on the planet's surface. They all agreed it would make sense, saving energy on ship's systems and so on. Chakotay then spoke with Duncan and the other staff, asking their permission, which was given. They made sure all the women and children were well aware of what was happening so they wouldn't be terrified by the large ship landing nearby. Tom easily brought her down in a large clearing on the far side of the village and shut down all non-essential systems. He disembarked to a rousing cheer and mock saluted. He made his way over to Chakotay, laughing at the kids who now ran around the landing struts in total awe. "You think we've created a tourist attraction?"

Chakotay shook his head as he also laughed. "I think so. It might be a good idea to take small groups at a time on short tours, just to make sure there aren't any lingering fears. It would also help add a bond between us."

Tom nodded at that. "That's not a bad idea. Perhaps Tuvok or Vorik, maybe even T'Pel. They'd be perfect for the job of guides."

Chakotay shook his head, a smile on his face. "You want to bore the pants off them all?"

Tom smiled wisely. "No. I just don't want my baby overrun by a gang of kids who think everything in sight is a toy or a souvenir. Voyager will lose its appeal if the tour is boring for them."

As Chakotay made his way slowly back from the fields the next day, he met with B'Elanna, who looked badly in need of a bath. He smiled softly at his old friend. "B'Elanna, you look a mess. You also look very tired."

She pushed her hair back from her face, smearing more dirt across her cheek, adding to what was already there. She gave him a big grin. "I am tired. Actually, I'm exhausted. You know what though?" Chakotay smiled at the happiness he saw on her face. "It feels wonderful."

Chakotay laughed as he saw the sparkle in her eyes. "It does seem to suit you."

B'Elanna laughed with him. "It's what the Doctor ordered…or would anyway. Seriously Chakotay, for the first time in ages I feel really useful. I'm achieving something good here. Everyone else feels the same. OK, so I'm shattered when I get back to the ship at night and I'd love to have more time with Miral and Tom, especially Miral, but I feel alive for the first time in…" She laughed again and swiped at his arm. "You know what I mean. I have a use once more. We all feel the same. People are alive again."

Chakotay nodded his understanding and looked at those working around him. "I can see that. I keep seeing it everywhere I go." He sighed and turned back to his friend. "Tom is happy too?"

She nodded. "He is. Like me, he'd love more time with Miral and we miss each other but we're working together some of the time so it's not that bad. As to that daughter of ours, we can see her on and off during the day. She's now spending her days with the kids in the daycare they have here. She's mixing well. I'm not sure she even misses us half the time. She gets caught up in some game or other and doesn't notice us leaving. Nice to be missed, huh?"

Chakotay laughed and shook his head. "Guess she has her mother's independent nature."

B'Elanna laughed and then grew serious. "How's the captain doing?"

Chakotay shrugged and shook his head, letting his own smile slip. "Hard to say. The virus is out of her system but she still has a long way to go. She's still very weak and the virus caused a lot of damage…"

B'Elanna reached out and gripped his hand tightly. "She'll come through this. You know that. She was always a fighter. From what I've seen and heard, she hasn't changed."

Chakotay sighed and bit his lip. "I hope so. I keep telling myself the same thing but at times, it's hard. Doc's hopeful and so is Duncan and they're working on her constantly." Chakotay shook his head. "Duncan…" He caught himself and stopped speaking but B'Elanna knew him too well. She pushed at him.

"What about Duncan?" Chakotay just shook his head. "Chakotay, what about him? I know you too well. I can read you. I thought you liked and trusted him."

Chakotay shook his head quickly. "Oh, I do. That's not…" He shut up again but once more, B'Elanna pushed at him.

"Talk to me, old friend. What is it?"

Chakotay didn't speak for almost a minute and looked around him, making sure no one could overhear him. "I think there's something between him and Kathryn. Actually, I more than think it." He shook his head. "He told me he loved her and I've seen the way he is with her and the way he looks at her." He sighed deeply. "I guess I just thought… hoped…that there'd still be a chance or…" He rubbed at his face. "Who am I kidding? Of course, she'd have moved on. I screwed it all up."

B'Elanna took on a stern look. "Just listen to me now. You actually don't know anything. What you do is this. You get her better first and then talk to her. Wait and see what the situation really is. You could have this all wrong."

Chakotay shook his head. "The man admitted to me that he loved her."

B'Elanna blew out a breath. "So what? I can honestly say that I love you. That doesn't mean that we're involved in that way. You can grow to love someone in many different ways." She shook her head. "Chakotay, they've all been working very closely together here and they've been through a tough time. They're bound to be close to each other. I look at them all here, the staff, even the women. They all have a deep affection for each other, a bond." She reached over and stroked his face. "All I'm saying is…just wait and see."

Chakotay nodded slowly and tried a tired smile. "All right, oh wise one. I'll wait. And you're right. Getting her better is all that matters in the end."

B'Elanna took on a smug expression. "I'm always right. I thought you'd know that by now."

Chakotay swatted her arm. "Get on with your work before I remind you of all the times you've been wrong."

B'Elanna laughed as she moved off. "I'm not sure I could spare the one hundredth of a second it would take to list those times."

Chakotay felt a cold fist squeeze his chest as he stepped through the curtain and saw Voyager's Doctor leaning over Kathryn with Miriam assisting him.

"Doc? What's wrong?" He moved to the bed quickly only to see the Hologram look up and smile.

"Relax, Chakotay. Everything is fine. She's making very good progress. It looks as if I won't even need to regenerate any of her internal organs. Everything is healing on its own."

Chakotay let out the breath he found he'd been holding. "Sorry. I saw you and…"

The Doctor held up a dermal regenerator and smiled again. "A little something extra to my services…" When Chakotay frowned, the Doctor looked back down at Kathryn and pointed to her face. "What do you think of my cosmetic abilities?"

Chakotay moved closer and looked at the face of his former captain. He drew in a sharp breath. "Her scars? You've healed them?" He looked back at the Doctor only to find a self-satisfied expression there.

"Of course. Quite simple really with the right equipment." He let his smile slip and turned to Miriam. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean…"

Miriam smiled sadly. "That's perfectly all right, Doctor. You're right. Our equipment was hopeless for things like this. We existed on the basics." She leaned a little closer to the Doctor. "Just don't say that to Duncan. None of us need to hear his usual tirade about all this."

The Doctor nodded. "I won't…and I apologize again. I wasn't programmed with tact, I'm afraid. I'm still trying to learn that." They both smiled and then turned to Chakotay, seeing that he was still staring at Kathryn. The Doctor spoke softly to Miriam. "I think we're finished here."

She picked up his meaning as she smiled and nodded then moved away. Before she left, she guided Chakotay to a chair and sat him down. She whispered softly to him. "I'll be outside if you need me."

He barely nodded, still staring at the woman before him. He didn't even hear them leave.

The next week passed slowly with Kathryn improving all the time. Chakotay spent as much time as he could with her, Julie always tagging along with him. The only time the girl left his side was when he was needed for meetings with staff or crew. During those times, she reluctantly joined in with the other children. When he worked in the fields or helped in other areas, she trotted along beside him, helping where she could. When the work was considered too dangerous for her to be around it, she'd sit a short distance away and watch him. Roberto, Haven's dentist, remarked on her to Chakotay one day. "I see Julie's become your shadow now…"

Chakotay looked towards the young girl and smiled. "I think I'm just the stand-in until Kathryn's well again."

Roberto laughed and nodded. "Maybe. Still though, I think with that one, you have a pal for life. I think once she's formed a bond, she'll keep it. It strikes me that way anyway. Of course, none of them come too close to me."

Chakotay frowned at the young man. "Why not?"

Roberto shrugged then smiled. "OK, so it's not that bad. They're fine with me most of the time. They just know I'm the dentist and that's never far from their minds. It's kind of a standing joke around here. Kids and dentists don't mix."

Chakotay laughed as he helped fix some roofing slats in place on the new food store they were building. "You just need to bribe them better. You need a reward system after each visit. Candy may not be good for their teeth but they'll love you for it and a little of anything isn't too bad for you."

Roberto leaned back and thought about that. "Not a bad idea. Not a bad idea at all, Chakotay. I'll work on that one." He pulled some felt over the slats Chakotay had just placed. "So how are your lot settling in here? Anyone need their teeth fixed?" He roared with laughter.

Chakotay rolled his eyes. "Haven't you heard that adults feel the same way about dentists as kids do?" They both laughed. Chakotay stopped work for a moment and leaned against the edge of the roof they were working on. "Actually, they're all very happy here…or they will be when Kathryn's well again. We're all very worried about her."

Roberto leaned over and patted Chakotay's arm. "She'll be fine. Nothing can keep that one down. You'll see." Chakotay smiled his thanks. "But outside of that, they're all OK here?"

Chakotay nodded slowly. "They are. It's like they've all come back to life having been asleep for a long time. They've an energy about them that was missing. I'm the same. Having something useful and worthwhile to do every day makes all the difference. We have a purpose when we get up in the morning. And of course, we're all back together. Most of us anyway. A few stayed behind but the rest of the gang are here."

Roberto studied the man beside him. "It must have been very tough out there."

Chakotay shrugged. "It was at times and we suffered some terrible losses…good friends. That was the hardest." He looked off at nothing as he remembered, faces passing through his mind. He pulled himself back and smiled. "There were good times too though. We were a family and we were together. We made a good home for ourselves out there. When we got back, all that was pulled away from us and we were lost. Coming here is like finding it again."

Roberto smiled his understanding. "I know that feeling. I get it every day here." He looked out over the trees. "I was working day to day in a normal dental practice. It was a good living but there was nothing at home at the end of the day. It was a good life many would have wanted but it wasn't enough for me. I reached a stage where I felt I was just on autopilot and going through the motions."

Chakotay nodded and smiled. "How did you get here?"

The young man smiled. "My cousin, Eugene, the vet. He knew Jonathan from school, back when they were fourteen or fifteen. They met up one day when Jonathan was on Earth for some business. They'd been good buddies and got talking. Jonathan trusted him and told him about this place. Eugene trusted me and the rest as they say, is history. We're never regretted it for a moment. Most of the others have a similar story."

Chakotay played with some nails in his hand. "How did it all start?"

Roberto pulled a flask from his belt and took a long drink of lemonade then handed it to Chakotay, who also drank. "It was started by a Cardassian woman who couldn't keep her child but wanted her to be safe. She had the money to start this place off. She knew Cassa, who'd done some training with Duncan, and the idea took shape. Cassa brought the Cardassian staff in, just as Duncan and Jonathan brought in the ones from Earth. Every story is much the same, always with people they knew they could trust." He went on to tell him how the children had been found and how the women had come to the planet. "Most of their stories are much the same too and it helps them help each other although it always takes time when someone is new."

Chakotay shook his head sadly. "Do children and women still come here now?"

Roberto shook his head. "We haven't had anyone new in some time. Most came just after the war ended and for a time after that. The kids were still found and rescued for a year or so after that, but we haven't had anyone for… I guess over a year, year and a half now, maybe even two. Kathryn was the last. The most recent kids were the hardest to work with because they'd been living on the streets for a while in various places. We picked them up one at a time."

Chakotay sighed deeply as Roberto told him everything he could. "You wish for a perfect world, don't you?"

The other man placed his flask back in his belt. "That's only in fairy tales, Chakotay. Real life will never be like that. We can dream though. Nothing wrong in that."

They both turned as they heard Galan call to Julie that lunch was ready. He called up to Chakotay and Roberto also. "You two are allowed a lunch break as well." He held Julie by the hand and pointed up to Chakotay. "They have to work for their food."

The small child giggled at that as Galan led her away. She waved back at Chakotay. "See you later."

He smiled and waved back at her. "Bye, honey. I'll see you at lunch."

He turned quickly as a voice came from the other side of the roof and a head popped up. Trevor, the builder, was smiling at him. He looked from Chakotay to Roberto and shook his head. "Neither of you is getting anything until you get this roof finished. You've both been nattering there like a pair of old women for the past half hour."

Roberto made a face and smiled at Chakotay. "Remind me what I was saying about not regretting a thing about this place."

Chakotay and Roberto were just finishing their work when Greta came running towards the food store they were working on. She shielded her eyes and looked up towards the roof. "Hey, Chakotay, Duncan said to come get you."

Chakotay stopped immediately, a fear running through him. "What is it, Greta? Is it Kathryn?"

She smiled and nodded. "Yeah, it's Kathryn, but it's good. Duncan says it looks like she's starting to come around."

Chakotay sat quietly and watched Kathryn as she showed the first signs of regaining consciousness. He saw her battle to open her eyes and sat forward a little. Duncan stood beside him and whispered quietly. "Her eyes will still be very sensitive to light. That's why we have the lights so low." Chakotay nodded quietly as he glanced around the dimly lit space. "She also won't just wake up and be instantly alert. You do know that?" Chakotay looked up at him and nodded. "She'll be in and out of it for some time, pretty unfocused and confused. That's quite normal and to be expected."

Chakotay looked back at Kathryn and nodded again. "I know." He rubbed at his face and sighed. "I've sat with her like this more times than I care to remember." He looked up at Duncan again, half intending his words to carry a message to let the other man know how he felt. It was almost a warning off. He shook his head quickly and realized that now wasn't the time for that. He also knew that he had no claim on this woman and that it was all probably too late anyway. To see her recover and then be happy was all that mattered now.

Chakotay leaned forward again now as a moan escaped Kathryn's lips. He looked up a moment to see Voyager's Doctor and Cassa hovering close by also. He laid a hand gently on Kathryn's arm and squeezed.

"Kathryn? Can you hear me? Kathryn?" She turned her head slowly as if following the sound of his voice and groaned softly. Her lips moved and she uttered something. Chakotay leaned a little closer. "Kathryn?"

He saw her fight to open her eyes and finally succeed. They were unfocused for a moment as she looked around her and blinked several times. She licked at her lips and tried to speak.

"Where…?" The single word seemed to exhaust her but she tried again. "Where am…?" It was too much for her and she gave up. Her head rolled to the side and she struggled to focus on the figure she could make out there. Slowly her vision began to clear. Chakotay saw the confusion there and then a flash of pain as she finally made out his face.

"Kathryn, don't try to talk. Take your time." She didn't seem to hear his words, just his voice. He saw her eyes fill with tears.

"Chakotay?" She drew in a ragged breath. "How…?"

Chakotay stroked her cheek with one finger. "Don't try to talk…"

She tried to shake her head. "Dream…not here…"

Chakotay smiled softly. "I'm here."

She shook her head again, causing her tears to slip from her eyes. "Am I dreaming? How…don't understand…"

Chakotay saw her begin to grow a little agitated. "Kathryn, it's all right. Just try and relax…"

Duncan tapped Chakotay on the shoulder and whispered to him. "It's too much for her right now. Just give her time. Let me…"

Chakotay nodded, feeling tears of his own begin. He stood quickly and let Duncan take his place. He watched the young man calm his patient before exhaustion caused her eyes to slip closed again. Duncan looked over at Chakotay, who simply nodded and then left, needing to be alone for a while.

When Chakotay returned, Kathryn had again regained consciousness. He watched from across the room as Duncan whispered softly to her, calming her and reassuring her as he'd been unable to and he felt a stab of jealousy go through him. He heard Kathryn fight to speak, her voice weak and her words a little slurred, demanding answers to questions she was barely able to ask. Duncan seemed to know her well and gave her the answers even before she'd asked some of the questions.

"They're all recovering. You were the worst and you're on your way back now. And yes, Julie is fine." He reached up and took the card which the little girl had made. He held it for Kathryn to see and smiled as tears filled her eyes. He placed the card back over the bed and smiled down at Kathryn. "You need plenty of rest now, lady. This is one time when you're going to obey me. If you don't…"

Chakotay heard Kathryn's hoarse answer. "You'll spank me…"

Duncan nodded and laughed. "You better believe it, honey." His face grew serious then. "Kathryn, you've no idea… We almost lost you. Don't ever do that to me again."

Chakotay turned away a moment as he witnessed a deep look of tenderness pass between Kathryn and Duncan. He swallowed the lump in his throat. When he turned back, he saw Duncan look over at him. He nodded and then turned back to Kathryn.

"There's someone here to see you. I'll let him answer your other questions for you. Well, I'll let him tell you about it all. I want you to stay quiet and rest." He leaned down and kissed her forehead. "I'll see you later." He smiled and squeezed her hand in his. Chakotay saw Kathryn hold his eyes and nod also. Once again he turned away, not wanting to witness the closeness between them.

Chakotay looked up now as Duncan tapped his arm. He tried to read the man's eyes but couldn't. He forced his emotions down and drew in a deep breath. "How is she?"

Duncan glanced over at the bed a moment. "She's doing well. It'll take some time for her to regain her strength but she's getting there. She'll push to get there before she's really ready of course but I'm not going to let her." He shook his head slightly. "She needs plenty of rest for now. Even apart from this, she wasn't fully recovered from the stabbing. She's free of the virus now but there's still some lingering damage to her nervous system and she'll need physiotherapy later on. Aside from that, she's healing well. Her internal organs and so on? They're healing on their own and there doesn't seem to be any lasting damage, thank God, nothing like we'd feared anyway. It'll just take time. For the moment though, she needs to recover some strength first." He sighed deeply. "Just go easy with her. I didn't answer her questions about what's been happening with Starfleet. She remembers you being here but she seems to think she was dreaming. Just take it slowly. She's a little out of it. She's still very weak and she's in some pain. I've given her something for that but it's making her drowsy. Her speech will sound somewhat slurred and she'll tire very easily. Just don't let her push it."

Chakotay nodded and sighed also. "OK." He moved away from Duncan and made his way to the chair the young doctor had vacated. He sat down slowly and studied Kathryn's face. Her eyes were closed and for a moment he wondered if she'd fallen asleep again. He made a slight noise and saw her open her eyes. She looked around her before seeing him. Once again, he saw confusion.

"Chakotay…? How can…?"

Chakotay leaned forward. "Hello, Kathryn." He smiled gently. "And no, you're not dreaming, now or the last time. I'm really here." He saw her fight her building tears.

"How…how are you here? I don't understand…"

Chakotay heard how slurred her words were. He took her hand and was grateful she didn't pull away. She didn't seem to notice in fact. "I could say my captain needed me but mainly it's because my friend needed me. So did those kids."

Kathryn just shook her head slowly, not seeming to understand. "I don't…"

Chakotay saw her fight to make sense of everything. He leaned closer. "Sleep now, Kathryn. We'll talk later and I'll explain it all. Everything's fine. Just sleep for now." He saw her fight to stay awake but her body had other ideas. Finally it won and her eyes closed. Chakotay just stayed where he was, holding her hand, until her breathing evened out and he knew she was asleep.

The following morning, Chakotay spoke with Admiral Paris and recorded a statement for Starfleet, detailing everything he knew. He began with his initial meeting with the admiral and finished with a report on the present conditions on Haven. As instructed by Admiral Paris, he withheld locations and names, using a prearranged alias for each person and place. He then sat back and listened as the rest of the crew made similar statements, followed by the much longer and more detailed accounts from the Haven staff, even many of the women, who sat in semi-darkness while giving their evidence in order to protect their identities. Even Julie, disguised in the same semi-darkness, managed to haltingly tell her story, before breaking down in Lorcha's arms and being led away. The child's evidence however, was vital, as was Tuvok's, who submitted his precise and detailed report, along with the security tapes and other evidence he had.

"This will keep us going for the time being. I'll get a statement from Kathryn when she's better. There's a very slim outside chance that we'll require your presence at the trial but I'd personally doubt it. It's beginning to look as if Lewis's defence team are advising him to plead guilty and take his chance that way. If he does, it's unlikely you'd all be needed to appear to give evidence." Admiral Paris looked tired.

Chakotay leaned towards the monitor. "You said before that the evidence was overwhelming and that he'd already confessed…"

The admiral nodded. "That's true, but often in cases like this the Accused has second thoughts. He can always say that he was harassed or coerced into that confession. In that case, a trial is necessary and all the evidence needs to be presented. If that happens and he's then found guilty, his sentence would be harsher and I'd say he knows that. Certainly his lawyers will have advised him of that. If he pleads guilty now and saves the Federation the necessity of a trial, it might well go easier for him."

Chakotay felt his anger grow. "Are you saying he could get a lighter sentence? After what he did?"

Admiral Paris held up a hand to calm things down. "Chakotay, I understand how you feel. I think even his own lawyers feel that. I get the impression they wouldn't mind losing this case but they're bound by their oath to represent him and they'll do that as best they can. All I'm saying is that if he pleads guilty, he might get a year or two knocked off whatever sentence he would get if he was found guilty after a trial. I guess even a year can make a difference." Chakotay looked at the others and saw his own anger mirrored on their faces. He blew out a breath and shook his head.

Tom leaned towards the screen. "Dad, what about…? You said something before about that he may try to plead insanity."

Tom's father smiled slowly, a satisfied look on his face. "That won't wash and he knows that now. Our best people examined him and declared him fit and sane to stand trial. Oh, he tried to put on an act but they saw through it. At first, I thought he must have been insane to do this. Having seen him and listened to him, I see now that he's just evil. That's my opinion anyway. There's something about his eyes. You find you don't want to look into them. They're like dark, deep pools of evil…" His voice trailed off and he shivered suddenly. He looked back at the screen. "Sorry. It's just…the less time I have to be around that bastard…"

Tom laughed slightly. "Nice to see you're so unbiased, Dad."

Owen Paris smiled softly at his son. "Unbiased usually means there are two or more sides to consider or different ways of seeing something. This boils down to good and evil, right and wrong. There is only one way." He looked down at his desk and cleared his throat then looked back at the screen. "Right then…that's all for the moment. I'll keep you informed. Now, where's that grandchild of mine?" Chakotay laughed at that and stood, gesturing for them all to leave. On his way out, he called to B'Elanna, who'd been sitting outside with Miral once her statement had been given.

"Hey, there's someone inside there on subspace who wants to talk to someone special."

B'Elanna smiled and stood. She held out her hand to her daughter. "Come on. Let's go talk to granddad." The little girl squealed and was into the room ahead of her mother.

Chakotay stood in the centre of the dayroom savouring the glass of lemonade he'd helped himself to. His throat was dry from having given his statement and he felt physically and emotionally drained. The cool drink refreshed him.

He turned as he sensed someone standing beside him and smiled at Jonathan. He raised his glass a moment. "Just what the doctor ordered. I helped myself."

The younger man smiled softly. "It's there for everyone. Only the kids are limited on how much they drink. It's a real bone of contention with them."

Chakotay drained his glass and smiled, his eyes wandering the room. "I'm just glad I'm all grown up then." Suddenly his eyes settled on one corner of the room and he frowned. "Was that there before?" He looked to the other corner where Kathryn's pile of cards and gifts lay, then indicated the first corner. "Is it just me or was there only one 'Kathryn's corner'?"

Jonathan smiled and followed where Chakotay looked. "That's a new pile. The original one over there…" He pointed to one corner. "That's from the women and kids here." He then pointed to the other corner. "That one there is your lot. They started it a few days ago. They wanted to put something there but didn't want to intrude on the kids and women. It's also a smaller pile which I think is intentional. It's very considerate of them."

Chakotay stared at the new pile of cards and gifts and shook his head. He felt close to tears but controlled them. "I didn't know…" He swallowed and went to take a drink, then realized his glass was empty.

Jonathan just smiled and patted his arm. "They're an amazing bunch of people, as wonderful as the ones here. They can't visit Kathryn and this is the next best thing they can do. They also considered the women and kids though, and that makes them very special." Chakotay just continued to shake his head. Jonathan looked back towards the corner. "Very special." With that, he turned and left Chakotay to his reverie.

Chakotay spent the rest of the morning helping to build new shelters and renovate the existing ones, knowing that Duncan and Voyager's Doctor would be with Kathryn all morning. He enjoying the fresh air and the feel of wood in his hands again. He worked alone this time and the fresh smells and the work brought his mind back to New Earth many times. He found himself stopping occasionally and just staring off into the distance as he remembered.

Towards lunchtime, he headed back to Voyager and spent an hour taking care of reports and ship's business. He smiled to himself as he finished up, amazed that even on the ground, there was still work to be done on the ship.

He then made his way to the mess hall and replicated a light lunch for himself. He was grateful to find the place deserted, knowing that the crew preferred to eat with the others now at the main buildings. He sat quietly and let his thoughts and memories visit wherever they wished. Eventually, he shut them away and headed back to the village, needing to check on Kathryn again.

Chakotay stood just inside the curtains and watched Miriam settle Kathryn. She picked up a basin of water and a used towel and smiled down at her patient.

"That'll make you feel a lot more comfortable. Do you need anything for pain?" Chakotay heard Kathryn's weak voice.

"I'm fine…I…" She hesitated a moment. "Yes, please I do need…"

Miriam laughed. "There's hope for you yet, Kathryn. I'll get something now." She looked up and saw Chakotay. She raised a hand, indicating that he should wait a moment and he nodded. He stood back out of Kathryn's line of vision until Miriam had administered the pain relief and then moved over to the bed.

Chakotay sat for several minutes and just watched Kathryn, her eyes closed as she relaxed and let the pain medication kick in. He noticed the lights weren't as dim as before and surmised that her eyes were less sensitive now. As he studied her, she finally opened her eyes and focused on him. Her eyes were a little glazed but she seemed more lucid this time. Chakotay watched as she licked at her dry lips.

"You really are…are here?" He smiled softly and nodded. Suddenly he saw a look of panic cross her face and a deep pain filled her eyes. Her hand flew to her face and she turned her head away quickly.

Chakotay immediately understood. He reached for her hand and gently pulled at it. "Kathryn…"

She tried to weakly pull away from him, her other hand moving to her face now. "Don't…look…at me… I'm… Please…I'm…it's…ugly…scars…"

Chakotay stood now and looked down at her, gently pulling her hands away. "Kathryn, I saw them already." She fought harder to turn away from him but he took her face in his hands and turned her head towards him, careful not to hurt her. "Kathryn, they're not there anymore. Doc healed them while you were unconscious." Slowly his words made their way into her mind and he saw her use her fingers to feel where the scars had been.

Finally she seemed convinced. "They're…gone? Nothing…?"

Chakotay sat down again and smiled. He nodded his head. "They're gone. Not even any redness." He saw a faint doubt still linger in her eyes. "Kathryn, I promise you. There's nothing there to see anymore, and even if there was, so what? Kathryn, you've nothing to hide from me." He held her eyes and smiled, watching a mix of emotions cross her face. He decided to take a chance and took her hand in his.

"Kathryn, don't hide from me. We've hidden too much from each other for too long." He saw her frown as if she was trying to understand his meaning. He felt unsure of it himself and didn't even try and elaborate. He also knew that now was not the time for any discussion like this, that it was too soon anyway and so he dropped it. He smiled again and squeezed her hand, quickly changing the subject. "I suppose you're wondering how I got here?" She nodded slowly.

Chakotay shrugged. "We came to help."

Kathryn frowned. "We?"

Chakotay smiled softly and nodded his head. "We. I'm not here on my own. More than half the crew came with me, along with some Starfleet people. Tom and B'Elanna are here and even brought Miral with them. Tuvok and T'Pel and Harry Kim…Ayala…the Doc… I could go on and on. You'll see them all later on." She looked stunned and he watched as she tried to digest it all. "Some stayed behind. Sam Wildman and Naomi, several others, but most wanted to come and help." He saw her nod slowly.

"Seven?" He heard the pain in her voice even though she tried to hide it.

Chakotay's smile slipped a little. "Seven came too."

Kathryn looked away. "I see." Chakotay watched her silently until she turned back to him. "The women, the children… They weren't…scared of you all?"

Chakotay shook his head. "They were frightened of us at first, but once they saw Duncan and the others accept us, they slowly began to trust us too. Knowing you'd known us before helped as well. They also saw that they had no choice. They needed the help. As to Seven, she mostly works on Voyager. She's been out and about a few times but we let them know about her first. They accept her now."

Kathryn stared back at him. "Voyager? I don't…"

Chakotay laid his hands on the side of the bed and nodded. "We eventually landed her on the far side of the compound. It saves energy." He smiled gently. "I should start at the beginning…"

He went on to slowly and quietly tell her how Duncan and the others had contacted Starfleet and how Admiral Paris had called him in. He told her how the others had become involved but left out how lost they'd all been before that. He filled her in on everything, knowing the woman before him only too well. A lot of the captain still remained and nothing short of a full report would suffice. He even gave her details of the capture and arrest of Lewis. Kathryn remained quiet as he spoke and told her everything. When he finished, she waited almost a minute before she said anything.

"I remember Duncan asking me about contacting Admiral Paris and Starfleet. I didn't think it would be you and the others, even Voyager." Her voice trailed off a moment and Chakotay didn't miss the pain in her eyes.


She turned her head back slowly and swallowed. "Sorry. I just never thought…well…didn't think I'd ever see…not again…it…"

Chakotay nodded his understanding. "I could say the same. I didn't think I'd ever see you again either."

Kathryn looked sadly at him. "Until you knew I was here and agreed to come?"

Chakotay shook his head. "That came later. I agreed to come here and help before I knew about you being here."

Kathryn nodded and turned away again. "I see." She said nothing more and simply stared off into the distance.

Chakotay drew in a deep breath. He decided to change the subject a little. "You'll be amazed at the work that's been done, the building work, the improvements. The crew works flat out and they work so well with the women here now, even with the kids. I've even made a good friend here myself. I think you know her actually. Little thing by the name of Julie?"

At the mention of the child's name, Kathryn turned back to him quickly. A small smile graced her face. "You made friends with Julie?"

Chakotay smiled and nodded. "Oh, we're quite a team now. She sits on my lap and chats away to me…"

Kathryn gasped at that. "She…talks…?"

Chakotay nodded. "We found her here with you one day, crying and talking to you. You were in the coma. She was terrified when she saw us but nothing was taking her from your side. I'd seen her at the door a few times hanging around the place. I guess she was building up the courage to come in. Once she was in, she wasn't leaving again. We made friends and it seemed that once she'd talked, there was no stopping her after that. Jonathan said she was 'transferring' what she had with you onto me. I guess I was a substitute for you until you woke up for her. I think she also saw me as a link to you. Jonathan seems to think that anyway and I guess he's the expert. He thinks she trusted me because I shared her worry over you, that it was something we had in common, that we both cared about you."

Kathryn smiled softly to herself. "I knew she could do it. She's been through so much." She nodded to herself and looked towards the child's card, which now sat on the side locker. Chakotay saw her mind drift to things he knew nothing of. Suddenly she yawned.

Chakotay smiled and laid a hand on her arm. "You've been through a lot yourself, Kathryn, and I've exhausted you. Duncan and Cassa will have my head if I tire you out."

She frowned slightly. "It sounds so strange you talking about them. Duncan...Cassa…knowing them now. So much has happened. I missed…"

Chakotay smiled softly. "I didn't think about how strange it would be for you. I'm sorry."

Kathryn shook her head a little. "No, it's good. Just strange. And Julie talking…"

Chakotay bit at his lip. "I'm sorry she didn't talk for you first. I didn't…"

Kathryn smiled slightly. "I'm just happy that she talked. It doesn't matter for who." She yawned again and turned her head away a little.

Chakotay stood slowly. "You should rest now and try and get some sleep."

Kathryn smiled and turned back to him. She seemed almost shy. "I guess you're right. I am tired. It's hard trying to take all this in." She yawned again then suddenly looked at Chakotay as if only now noticing his appearance. "You're not wearing your uniform."

Chakotay looked down at his clothes and then back at her. He smiled softly. "No. None of us are. Admiral Paris told us how it would be for the women and children if we turned up in uniform. Besides, the crew have been dressing in their own clothes since they were let go from Starfleet."

Kathryn shook her head slightly. "Thank you. It would have terrified them…" She yawned again and Chakotay saw her eyes begin to drift shut. She opened them again and looked a little embarrassed.

He just smiled at her and nodded. "Let go, Kathryn. Everything and everyone will still be here when you wake. Sleep now."

She nodded again, a faint smile gracing her lips before her entire face relaxed and she drifted off.

Needing to keep himself occupied and busy, Chakotay joined the others again and worked on some extra animal shelters which were being erected. He looked around him at the others, each engrossed in their work and each other. He smiled then as he saw T'Pel leading a small group of children towards the dayroom, returning from some outing or other. He nodded to himself as he thought about how well the Vulcan woman worked with the children, especially at the gentle manner she used with them, with just the right amount of discipline and guidance.

He shook his head as he turned back to his work, concentrating for several minutes. He stopped for a moment to wipe at his forehead and glanced up to see Harry Kim and Seven arguing over something. He put his tools down and made his way over to them.

"I'm telling you it's a great idea…" Harry's voice was raised slightly.

Seven just stared back at him. "I fail to see the reason for this. It is unnecessary. It will require space and materials which could be used for something important."

Harry laughed and cut her off. "It is important, Seven. Fun is always important. It's vital to the mental and emotional health of the kids especially."

Seven wasn't being convinced. "The materials needed and the physical expenditure…"

Harry threw his hands up in the air. "Seven, listen to me. Stop talking and thinking like a Borg. Forget the 'materials needed'. What we need is all around us. As to the 'physical expenditure' as you put it… Hey, I'm more than willing and I bet you the others are too." Seven looked up now as she noticed Chakotay. Harry followed her line of vision. "Hey, Chakotay. Listen. What do you think of…"

Seven cut him off this time. "Chakotay, please explain to Harry that a swimming pool is totally unnecessary and a waste of…"

Chakotay's eyes lit up at the idea. "A swimming pool? Whose idea was that? That's great. I'm sorry I didn't think of that myself. It would be so much safer than the river. The kids would love it. Hell, I'd love it."

Harry's face set itself into a self-satisfied smirk as he looked at Seven. "What did I tell you?"

The ex-Borg just shook her head. "I will never understand the frivolous waste of…"

Harry interrupted her as he tapped her on the shoulder. "Seven, chill out. Tell you what. When the pool is finished, you can take a swim and let the water do it for you." Seven just shook her head and walked away, muttering to herself, the sound of Harry's and Chakotay's laughter following her.

Word spread quickly about the pool, and as Chakotay made his way towards the clinic to check on Kathryn, a number of crew members were already surveying and measuring for it under the watchful eye of Peter Walker, the resident expert. Several kids were buzzing around the place, too excited to stand still. Chakotay laughed to himself as he entered the clinic. He met with Miriam and asked about Kathryn and was told that she was still sleeping. Satisfied that she was all right, he told the nurse he'd be back later. He smiled as he left, seeing Julie helping Greta change the linen on a bed. He locked eyes with Miriam and nodded.

The nurse whispered to him. "Well, I can't shift her out of here. She sneaks in to see Kathryn every chance she gets." They both studied the girl for a moment. Miriam shook her head and smiled at Chakotay. "You should have seen her face when Kathryn thanked her for the card. She positively glowed. She loves the fact that it's on display and is the only one. Mind you, Kathryn's face when Julie talked to her took the prize. I feel honoured to have witnessed those two moments."

Chakotay smiled back. "Someone once said that we should enjoy the small moments in life, because the big ones are few and far between. Personally, I think it's the small ones that make life worth living."

Miriam nodded her agreement to that. "You're not wrong there, Chakotay. Seeing her here like this is amazing. She chats away to me all the time, even to herself when I'm busy. I can't get her out of the place. She can't be in with Kathryn all the time though so I might as well give her something to take her mind off things and keep her occupied. Besides, it saves me a job."

Chakotay grinned and patted Miriam's shoulder. "You're a total softie, Miriam." He waved over at Julie as she looked up, as if sensing the adults talking about her. "You're going a great job, honey. I'll be back in a little while." The smile he received almost melted his heart.

With Kathryn sleeping, Chakotay made his way back to the ship and took a much needed shower. Washed and shaved and donning fresh clothes, he felt a lot better. Preferring to eat with the others this time, he headed back to Haven. As he crossed the main compound, he spotted B'Elanna sitting quietly on a bench nursing a cool glass of lemonade. Miral played contentedly nearby with Tom and several other young children. Tom seemed to be failing miserably in keeping any kind of order and was being used as a human horse, two children clinging to his back while one of them whipped his backside with a twig. Chakotay moved towards B'Elanna and sat down beside her. They locked eyes and laughed together.

B'Elanna shook her head. "I never have a holoimager when I need one…"

Chakotay sat back. "I just never thought the Tom Paris I met all those years ago would end up like this…"

B'Elanna turned and smiled at him, growing a little more serious now. "I guess it took me some time also to see all that good in him." She looked back at her husband. "He's one damned good man, Chakotay. Outside of you, he's the only man I'd truly trust with my life and the life of my daughter." She turned back to Chakotay again and raised a hand to his face. "I know that what I have is just waiting there for you too, you know."

Chakotay felt his smile slip. "I'm not so sure about that. I'm even more convinced than ever that there's something special between Kathryn and Duncan." He held up a hand when B'Elanna went to speak. "B'Elanna, you haven't seen them together. There's something very special there between them. I see such a closeness there. A bond." He sighed deeply. "You forget too that I hurt her badly. I walked away and not just walked away but I did it with another woman. She's not going to forget the hurt that caused her." He looked towards Tom and the kids a moment, then back at his old friend. "She came here and found a new life for herself. He was there for her and I wasn't. They've lived and worked here all this time. They've shared so much together, things I can never share with her. They've shared all that and have that history now."

B'Elanna actually snorted. "And you two haven't? Chakotay, you shared seven years in the Delta Quadrant. Seven hard years. I call that a life and a history together. I doubt he can match that." She laughed. "Besides, if it comes to it, fight for her. We women love men to fight over us."

Chakotay shook his head and smiled despite not feeling like it. "Are you trying to turn me into a Klingon?"

B'Elanna laughed and shrugged. "I'm not that good a teacher…but I could give you some pointers…"

Chakotay playfully slapped her arm. "Very funny." He shook his head now and let the smile slip from his face completely. "I don't know. I guess I just wait and see. Even if they aren't involved, there's no saying that she'd even want me now. I told her Seven was with us and I saw her face, saw the look there and the pain. Oh, she tried to hide it but I saw it."

B'Elanna drained her glass. "Did you tell her that you and Seven are past tense, that she's with the Doctor now?"

Chakotay shook his head. "No, I didn't. She was tired and I didn't think it was the right time or place to talk about Seven other than to say that she was with us."

B'Elanna stared hard at him. "That should have been the first thing you said to her."

Chakotay sat forward. "No, it shouldn't have been. We talked about what's been happening. She wanted and needed to know what's been going on here. I kept it business. Anything else would have been personal and it's too soon for that. B'Elanna, she's still quite ill, weak and…"

B'Elanna took his hand and squeezed, cutting across him. "You're right. I'm sorry. You know her better." She leaned forward, lowering her voice a little. "Chakotay, just don't let this go. All of this and our coming here… It had to be for a reason. It's like you've been given a second chance. Don't blow it. You have to at least try or you'll never find peace."

Chakotay squeezed back on her hand. "I know that. My sister said much the same thing. I just need to go slowly. This is her life now and I have to respect that."

B'Elanna sighed. "Well, know that Tom and I are here for you if you need us. All of us are." Chakotay smiled his thanks. "Check with them too for me as to when we can visit the captain. I asked Duncan and Cassa before but they said it would be better to wait until she's stronger before she has too many visitors."

Chakotay smiled and stood. "I'll find out for you. I know she'd love to see you again. At the moment, she just tires very easily. As soon as she's able though, I'll let you know." He leaned down and kissed his old friend's forehead. "Thanks, B'Elanna. You're one hell of a friend."

The Klingon woman laughed. "Just don't tell anyone. You'll ruin my tough reputation."

Over the next week, Chakotay split his time between working with the crew and staff of Haven and visiting Kathryn in the clinic. He watched quietly as she slowly made progress, gaining a little more strength each day. When she was awake, they talked casually about the work and improvements which were well underway and about the people around them. Kathryn spoke briefly of how she'd come to Haven, about meeting Duncan and Jonathan after spending some time travelling. She made no mention of the relationship between the two men or how lost and lonely she'd been before meeting them. Chakotay, for his part, talked briefly of his work and told her more about the crew who'd come with him but still didn't speak of how lost they'd all been before he'd contacted them about the mission.

For the most part, they danced around each other in their conversations, except when they spoke of John Lewis. Kathryn had finally demanded all the details about the man who had tried to kill them all. She listened quietly now as Chakotay told her everything he knew, about Tuvok's investigation, the evidence they'd found, the images they had of the man and about how he and B'Elanna had recognized him. He went on to tell her about Starfleet's capture of him, the investigation and search of his home and the possible upcoming trial.

"Do you think there will be a full trial?"

Chakotay leaned back in his chair and shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. I don't think so, or more so hope not. Admiral Paris seems to believe that there will be something but that it'll be short. A hearing rather than a full trial. The man isn't stupid. He knows he won't get out from under all the evidence there is against him. He made his confession and was cleared as fit and sane to stand trial. I get the impression he almost wanted to be caught in the end but I don't really know. Maybe he was just arrogant enough to believe he'd get away with it."

Kathryn stared down at her hands as she spoke. She was sitting propped up in her bed, a pile of pillows behind her. "Even with all I've seen in my life, during the Cardassian war, in the Delta Quadrant…" She looked up at him, a deep look of sadness on her face. "Even with all that, I still can't believe someone can be so evil as to try and murder innocent children."

Chakotay shook his head and sighed. "History is filled with men and women like that, ones who were that evil. The Holocaust during Earth's Second World War stands out in the mind. Over a million children were murdered just in the gas chambers alone. No one knows how many others died in the war itself, in the fighting and bombings. Outside of that even, we've no idea how many children were abducted and murdered over the centuries by individuals or groups." He shook his head, as if trying to dispel the images his words brought with them. "You believe there's always good in people, Kathryn. With all you've seen, you always think it can never be any worse. For me, I guess it's different. With all I've seen, I've reached the stage where nothing shocks me anymore. I believe there can always be something worse, that it's just in the nature of man."

Kathryn shook her head, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. "I don't know. I'm just thankful it's all over. Well, almost over. I gave my statement to Duncan and he passed it to Admiral Paris. I hope it's enough and no one will need to give evidence." She looked directly at him. "Do you really feel he'll plead guilty and save the Federation a full trial?"

Chakotay shrugged again. "I think so. As I said, Starfleet and Admiral Paris think so also. Apparently his legal team advised him to do that. He might save himself a year or so in prison if he does. He knows he's going to prison one way or the other. It makes sense, hopefully to him anyway, that this way, even a year off his sentence will be worth it."

Kathryn twisted her hands together angrily. "I don't ever want to see him be released. This is a case where I wish I believed in the death penalty." She looked up at Chakotay and he smiled sadly at her.

"No, you don't. I know you, Kathryn. You've never believed that taking life is right, no matter what the reason. Self-defence goes without saying and you have to try and live with that, but I know you and you could never condone the taking of a life, even one as miserable and evil as that bastard's."

Kathryn nodded reluctantly, acknowledging how right he was. She smiled softly. "I know you're right. You can't deny me the fantasy of imagining him dying in agony though, can you?"

Chakotay smiled also. "No, I can't. I've had a few thoughts in that area myself." They held eye contact a moment longer and then Kathryn looked away, seemingly embarrassed.

"So everyone is getting on all right together?" She was changing the subject but keeping the conversation casual and they both knew it.

Chakotay went along with it. "They're all fine. They work well together now that the initial fear has been overcome." Kathryn nodded at that, staring down at her hands again. An awkward silence followed until Kathryn tried to make herself a little more comfortable.

Chakotay was on his feet immediately. "Here, let me help." He reached for the pillows but Kathryn held a hand up.

"I'm fine. Really. I can manage."

Chakotay paid no attention. "Just sit forward a little. Here. Lean on my arm."

Kathryn spoke a little more loudly now. "Chakotay, please. I can manage on my own."

Chakotay stood back quickly, feeling hurt. "All right. I'm sorry. I was just trying to help."

Kathryn nodded but didn't meet his eye. "I know but I can manage. I'm fine."

She said no more as Dressa came in from behind the curtain, a smile on her face. "Guess what, Kathryn? We have a nice room for you now."

Kathryn smiled at the other woman, forcing her voice to sound normal. "A room? Where?"

Dressa smiled at Chakotay then turned back to Kathryn. "Well, the good news is that we have all this space now because everyone is well enough to be discharged from the clinic. They still have to rest up in the dorms or in the shelters for a while longer but they don't need nursing anymore." She fixed the bed clothes as she talked. "The other good news is that we now have a room, a private room if you please, where we can put you. You know the one. That side room where we'd been housing the spare beds and supplies."

Kathryn nodded slowly. "I know the one you mean."

She was quiet then as Dressa began to fix her pillows. "God, honey, you must have been uncomfortable with these pillows the way they are." She leaned Kathryn forward against one arm and fixed the pillows with her other hand. Kathryn said nothing but she saw the hurt look on Chakotay's face. She knew the embarrassed look on her own face wasn't lost on him.

"I was fine."

Dressa didn't acknowledge that and chatted on. "Anyway, we can't house you behind this curtain forever. We also need to get cleaning this place before they begin the decorating, which our new friends have so generously offered to do for us. We've already cleaned your new room to a hospital standard. With you in there, we can do the same with the rest of the place."

Kathryn laughed at that, the sound a little forced. She was desperate to break the tension. "You just want me out of the way."

Dressa laid Kathryn back against the pillows and feigned a look of shock. "Whatever gave you that idea?" She laughed at her own joke. "OK. I'm just going to get your meal. I'll be back in a minute. You better eat it all too. Selona's orders and you don't want to cross her. After that, you take a nap. Duncan's orders."

Kathryn smiled and mock saluted. "Aye Aye, Ma'am." Her words brought back a flood of memories to her and Chakotay and they looked at each other for a brief second.

Chakotay quickly looked away and ended the moment. "I better head back to work and let you eat in peace. And get some rest." He met her eyes again and forced a smile. "I'll call in later this evening to see you. If that's all right?" His last words were almost an afterthought.

Kathryn nodded and smiled. "That's fine. Thank you."

He nodded and smiled also. Not knowing what else to say, he turned and left, leaving Kathryn cursing herself.

Chakotay called back to see Kathryn that evening, not sure if he was doing the right thing. The strain between them, which seemed to be growing, had not gone unnoticed by him and he knew Kathryn felt it too. Miriam showed him to the room where Kathryn had been moved and he thanked her. He knocked gently on the door and then pushed it open. He saw Kathryn lying back in the bed, fast asleep. He noticed for the first time that she had a little colour in her cheeks and smiled to himself. He stood watching her for almost ten minutes before backing out of the room and closing the door quietly. When he turned around he saw Miriam watching him, a mop in her hands as she leaned on it.

Chakotay shrugged. "She's asleep. I wouldn't wake her. She needs the rest."

Miriam smiled at him, her eyes indicating that she knew more than she was letting on. She nodded as if letting him know that he wasn't fooling her for a minute. "She's been through a lot, Chakotay. Sometimes patients, people who've been that ill… Well, they can snap at those around them. They're not always themselves for a while. She's still recovering and…"

Chakotay smiled and nodded. "I know. I do understand." He wanted out of there and moved towards the door. "Just tell her I called by. I'll see her tomorrow."

Miriam just nodded. "I will. Good night."

Chakotay was gone before the words were out of her mouth.

Chakotay visited Kathryn during the next few days but their conversations remained casual. He felt something beneath the surface between them and was sure she felt it too but it went unspoken. It was like they were both paddling in shallow water, neither willing to go in any deeper in case the water went over their heads.

Kathryn was now allowed a few visitors but the time limit for each was strictly monitored by Duncan and the medical staff. Kathryn tired easily and still had a way to go with her recovery. The staff usually had to pry or bribe Julie out each evening, and when she wasn't in her 'Mommy Kathryn's' room, she was helping clean out the rest of the clinic just to be near her. When she couldn't manage to get near the clinic, she could always be found with Chakotay, trotting along behind him or sitting watching him work, occasionally helping when she was allowed.

During the time Chakotay spent with Kathryn alone, he felt her almost standing back from him. They were fine when they stuck to safe subjects like the ongoing work and the people around them, but the past and anything connected to their own friendship was forbidden territory. Nothing was ever said directly to that effect and it was as if a tacit agreement existed between them not to speak of it.

As the days wore on, Chakotay felt her shutting him out more and more. He watched silently as Duncan tended to her and tried not to be hurt by the closeness and tenderness he saw demonstrated between them. He tried telling himself that this closeness existed between Kathryn and all the other staff at the refuge, but he never managed to convince himself. And so he accepted whatever she offered him, grateful for any part of her, but it still hurt like hell.

It actually made him sad to see the closeness she permitted with the people she worked with now when she'd been unable to allow that same closeness to have existed with the crew on Voyager. He knew that had been different though. Here Kathryn was an equal whereas in the Delta Quadrant she'd been the captain and had carried most of the command burden and responsibility alone, unable to be too close to anyone.

Next day when Chakotay entered Kathryn's room, Miriam was helping her put on a dressing gown. Kathryn sat on the edge of the bed, attempting to balance herself using one arm while trying to slip the other into the sleeve of the gown which the nurse held. She looked up now and acknowledged Chakotay. Before either could say anything, one of the boys knocked on the door and called to Miriam.

"Mommy Miriam, I fell down. My knee hurts." The small boy tried to keep his tears back but was failing. He pointed to his cut knee. "It hurts real bad."

The nurse smiled and nodded. "It looks very sore, Tam. I'll clean it now and make it better." She turned to Kathryn. "Can you manage on your own for a few minutes?"

Kathryn smiled and nodded. "Go on. I'm fine." She smiled at Tam. "This young man needs you more than I do."

The child smiled and waved at Kathryn. "We miss you, Mommy Kathryn. When are you coming home?"

Kathryn's face softened into a look Chakotay had rarely seen before. "Real soon, honey. I promise." Satisfied with this, the boy left with Miriam, his limp not as bad now.

The nurse poked her head back in the door. "Chakotay, make sure this patient of mine doesn't try and paint the walls while I'm gone. She's still very weak."

Chakotay exchanged a smile with the nurse and nodded. "I'll do that. I'll make sure she behaves herself." He smiled over at Kathryn and saw that she wasn't looking at him. She was trying to get her other arm into the robe. Chakotay moved to her and reached his hand out. "Here. Let me help you."

Kathryn pulled back. "I can manage."

Chakotay felt stung. "I'm just trying to help."

Kathryn looked up a moment. "I know. I'm sorry." She struggled on and finally managed to get the gown on. She then tried to ease herself off the bed and stand.

Chakotay saw how weak she still was as she sat back down again immediately. He moved back to her. "Kathryn, you're not ready to try that and especially on your own. Just let me help you."

Kathryn snapped at him now. "I can manage on my own." She instantly seemed to regret her words when she saw the hurt look on his face. "Chakotay, I'm sorry. It's just…"

He stepped back. "I just want to help you and be there for you."

Kathryn sat back and sighed deeply. "I know that. It's not that…it's…"

Chakotay moved towards her again and took her arm. "Just let me help you stand. You can lean on me and take a few steps, build your strength that way." He pulled gently on her arm.

She immediately pulled from his grasp. "Please don't…"

It was like a slap in the face to him. "I'm only trying to help you. Why do you shut me out like this?"

Kathryn heard the deep hurt in his voice and saw the pain in his eyes. She tried desperately to cover her words. She felt tears spring to her eyes and blinked quickly. "Chakotay, it's not that. It's just… I'm sorry. I'm just…"

Chakotay cut across her. "It's OK. You don't have to explain. I understand only too well. You have a new life here and new friends. You don't need me coming in here like this intruding on your life."

Kathryn shook her head, her face a mask of sadness. "It's not that." She sighed deeply. "Chakotay, I just need to…to try… I need to try and do this for myself."

Chakotay nodded, pretending he accepted her words. He tried to understand but it still hurt dreadfully. The words were out before he knew it, his honesty shocking him. "You don't want me here, do you? You'd rather I left."

Kathryn's eyes filled with tears, her words caught in her throat. "Chakotay, I…"

He shook his head, feeling a lump in his throat. "It's OK. I do understand. I really hurt you. I know that."

Kathryn shook her head. "It's not that. I promise you."

Chakotay felt his emotions take over. "Then why do you shun every bit of help I try to give you? I'm just trying to be a friend. I thought we always had a good friendship."

Kathryn looked up at him, her eyes sad. "We did…do…" She looked down into her lap. "It was just so long ago now and…" She finally looked up at him and he saw the sadness in her eyes.

He sighed sadly, finally venturing into the forbidden territory. "And it was before Seven." They just stared at each other a moment and when Kathryn didn't answer, Chakotay nodded. "As I said, I really hurt you." He turned away a moment and stared out the window. When he looked back, Kathryn had her head down again.

"Look, Kathryn, I can't change the past. Seven happened and I can't undo that. You've moved on now too and I've no wish to interfere with that. You've made a new life for yourself here and…" He swallowed. "If you're happy, that's all that matters. I just thought we could at least be friends."

Kathryn shook her head as she looked up and frowned. "Of course, I've moved on. What did you want me to do? I had to find some kind of life for myself, some use. Coming here has been… Well, it saved me."

Chakotay sighed heavily. "I don't just mean that. Are you happy? Personally, I mean."

Kathryn frowned more deeply. "I'm happy working here, as happy as I can be. I've made some very good friends and the women and kids have been great."

Chakotay shook his head. "That's not what I mean. I'm not saying this right. I shouldn't be asking at all, in fact. It's none of my business."

Kathryn shifted a little on the bed, trying to make herself comfortable. She was tiring now but she tried to hide it.
"Chakotay, I don't know what you're asking me. I don't even know why you're asking me. I do know you're right about one thing. We can't change the past."

Chakotay moved a little closer and smiled sadly at her. "I know that but we can still have regrets, can't we?" He looked sadly down at her and shook his head. "I wish…"

They both looked towards the door as they heard it open and Miriam came back in. She looked from one to the other and blushed. "I'm sorry. I'm interrupting."

Chakotay moved first and made towards the door. "Don't apologize, Miriam. It's all right." He glanced back at Kathryn a moment and then moved to the door. "I have to be going. I promised Tom and Harry I'd help them."

As he reached for the door, Kathryn's voice stopped him. "Chakotay, I wish too."

He nodded, not trusting himself to speak and left the room.

Miriam took one look at her patient and saw her drop the act. She saw how tired she was and knew she'd been hiding it from her visitor. As she helped her off with the dressing gown and eased her back on the bed, she smiled softly. "Let's leave that walk until tomorrow."

Kathryn nodded and sighed. "Good idea. I'm more tired that I care to admit."

Miriam smiled and began fixing the blankets. "I didn't mean to barge in like that. I get the feeling I was really interrupting something important between you both."

Kathryn shook her head and lay back wearily. "There's nothing, important or otherwise, between us. It was all a long time ago and even then… Well, there wasn't ever anything." She looked up at Miriam sadly. "Oh, there was a good friendship once but even that's lost now. There are perhaps a few embers of it but…" Her voice trailed off and she sighed deeply.

Miriam sat on the side of the bed. "If that man doesn't care deeply about you then I'm a horse's ass."

Kathryn smiled at that. "I guess that makes you one then." She smiled again. "Sorry, Miriam, but you're wrong."

The young nurse shook her head. "Do you think so? Tell me this then. Why did he come here?" Kathryn looked down at her hands and twisted her fingers together.

"He came here because of the kids and because Starfleet asked him to. He told me already that he'd agreed to come here even before he knew about me. So I'm afraid your argument doesn't hold water, my friend."

Miriam made a show of folding the dressing gown she held. "Maybe to start with but…" She looked down at Kathryn. "Honey, I know what I see with him and he cares very deeply about you."

Kathryn lay her head back. "Maybe once he did. It's probably just the ghost of that which you think you're seeing, an old habit that's hard to break. Besides, his girlfriend, or whatever. Maybe even his wife by now, is here with him. He also has a great teaching job back on Earth." She sighed wearily and closed her eyes. "Miriam, I'm tired. I can't do this. I'm sorry." She opened her eyes again and looked at her friend.

Miriam nodded understandingly and patted Kathryn's arm. "All right, honey. I understand. I'm sorry I asked. You try and rest now. You still have a way to go before you're well again. Duncan will just eat me alive if I don't take care of you."

Both women smiled at that.


Chakotay crossed the compound, cursing himself as he walked. He didn't even see Tom when he walked right up to him.

"Talking to yourself is the first sign of madness. Answering yourself, of course, is the second. You're a lost cause." Tom's smile lit up his face but slipped when he saw the look on Chakotay's face. "Sorry, Chak. Just call me the village idiot."

Chakotay shook his head. "Sorry Tom. It's not you."

Tom nodded as if he already knew that. "Care to share the load with an old friend who was once just a major pain in the ass to you?"

Chakotay smiled despite himself. He hesitated a moment and then nodded. "I think you already know."

Tom smiled slightly and nodded. "The captain."

Chakotay nodded and sighed. "What else…or rather who else?" He looked around him, the area almost deserted now, everyone in the dining room for their evening meal.

Tom pointed to a nearby bench. "Come on…sit down and tell me what happened."

Chakotay shrugged and nodded, making his way to the seat. The worn wood was warm against his legs and back as he sat, the late summer sun having blazed down on it all day. "Tell you what's happened? I'm not sure where to start. I'm not sure if it's 'what's happened' or 'what's not happened'." He smiled when he saw Tom frown. "It's just… Oh, I don't know." He leaned forward and rubbed at his face. "We talk. We talk about the work here and the people around us, the damned weather even. We talk about everything but what I want to talk about."

Tom leaned forward also. "Which is…?"

Chakotay turned and looked at him. "Which is us, I guess. I've mentioned Seven a few times and you could have cut the air with a knife. I hurt her badly with that and we both know it but we don't talk about it. Until now, that is." He leaned back. "Since she's regained consciousness, I've tried to help her with things. Simple stuff like fixing her pillows or handing her a glass of water. Anything really. She pushes me away every time, shuns every bit of help I try to offer. It's like a slap in the face and yet I know I deserve it. I really hurt her, Tom." He looked at his friend and shook his head.

Tom leaned back against the back of the bench. "Chakotay, you'd no choice. I know you never meant to hurt her but you'd no other option but to move on. We all see that. I think the captain does too but she finds it hard to admit to herself. We'd no way of knowing if we'd ever get home. What were you supposed to do? Stay alone for the rest of your life in the hope that we MIGHT get home? She kept you at arms' length for a lot of years. I'm sorry, Chakotay, but that was downright cruel on her part. She knew you loved her and she saw that her actions were hurting you. Did she ever say that things would be different if we got home? Did she even offer that?"

Chakotay sighed and shook his head. "No, she didn't…but still…"

Tom shook his head. "Still nothing. She'd no right to ask you to wait that long or to wait at all. She didn't even ask, in fact. She just assumed you'd know. That wasn't right."

Chakotay still tried to defend the woman he loved. "Tom, I know a lot of that is true but… It wasn't just anyone, was it? It was Seven. The closest to a daughter Kathryn had. I didn't just knock her down with that. I kicked her when she WAS down. It was adding insult to the injury…salt to the wound."

Tom reached over and patted Chakotay on the shoulder. "Maybe so but I still think it would have hurt no matter who it had been. However, the fact still remains that she brought a lot of that on herself."

Chakotay shook his head. "No, Tom. She was trapped. OK, so maybe she could have said something to me about 'if we got home' or whatever, but I know the kind of person she is and she could never have allowed herself to become involved with anyone out there. She would never have offered what could well have been false hope either."

Tom tried to argue with that. "Chakotay, that isn't…"

Chakotay cut him off. "Tom, it's who she is. You forget. It's part of the parcel of who she is and I fell in love with that entire package. I fell in love with the complete Kathryn Janeway. For anything to be different about her… Well, she wouldn't be the person I fell in love with." He sighed and smiled. "Does that make any sense?"

Tom laughed. "I guess. Maybe. Maybe not. You're in love though. You're not supposed to make any sense."

Chakotay rubbed his fingers across his eyes. They felt gritty. "So what do I do?" He posed it more as a comment rather than a question.

Tom shrugged. "I wish I had an answer for you, my friend." He sighed and thought a moment then frowned as a thought struck him. "What did you mean by 'until now'? You said you hadn't spoken about this and Seven 'until now'."

Chakotay sighed and shook his head. "I let my mouth run away with me. I was hurt when she refused my help with her dressing gown." He laughed derisively. "A dressing gown…of all things." He shook his head. "I tried to help her stand and she pulled back and said 'please don't'. It was like she didn't want me touching her even. Anyway, I lost it a bit and asked her why she shut me out so much. She tried to pass it off but I just said that I understood and how she had a new life here, new friends…" He looked sadly at Tom. "I'm sure B'Elanna has told you about my thoughts on that…" Tom frowned and Chakotay explained about how he felt there was a relationship between Kathryn and Duncan.

Tom shook his head. "Chakotay, I don't think so. You can't be sure…"

Chakotay smiled sadly. "I'm as sure as I can be. I told her that she'd moved on and she didn't deny that. Oh, her excuse about not wanting my help was that she needed to try on her own but it didn't ring true."

Tom leaned forward a little. "She's always been fiercely independent, Chakotay. You know that."

Chakotay shook his head again. "She practically recoiled when I touched her. Anyway, I lost it a bit and said something about how she didn't want me here and that she'd rather I left, about how I was intruding in her life. She didn't argue with me. I asked her why she shunned every bit of help I tried to give her, said that I thought we'd always had a good friendship." He closed his eyes. "Her answer to that was 'we did'…which she quickly tried to amend to 'we do'…but the words were already out. She then said that it had been a long time ago. I think that was pretty plain. I countered with 'and it was before Seven'." He opened his eyes and looked at Tom who was just sadly shaking his head.

Chakotay shrugged. "I went in deeper then and said something about not being able to change the past and about how Seven had happened and I couldn't change that…"

Tom groaned loudly. "Did you tell her it was all over with?" Chakotay shook his head. Tom sighed. "So you've probably left her believing that there's still a relationship between you and Seven. Chakotay, I thought you were smarter than that. Why didn't you tell her straight out?"

Chakotay shook his head angrily. "Tom, up until now we've deliberately avoided all personal talk. Besides, she's been so ill. Anyway, it never seemed a good time and I still think she's involved with Duncan. She said it to me herself, agreed that you can't change the past…"

Tom shook his head in amazement. "And you took that to mean that she didn't want anything to do with you?" Chakotay nodded and Tom groaned. "Chakotay, for such intelligent people, you can both be so stupid. Neither of you knows anything for certain. What you both need to do is talk straight and honestly. You need to put all your cards on the table and go from there. She's going to learn eventually that it's over with you and Seven. You need to know if she really is involved with this guy. You're just torturing yourself in the meantime." Chakotay stared at Tom and eventually nodded slowly, admitting that he was right.

Tom added his last piece of advice. "Just go over there and see her later. Talk to her. Tell her it's over with Seven and ask her if there's anyone in her life. You don't even have to mention Duncan's name." When Chakotay made no answer, Tom punched him on the arm. "Am I right or am I right?"

Chakotay laughed a little and nodded. "Oh, all right…you're right. I'm just a coward where this is concerned. I think I need something to eat first and then a walk to sort my thoughts before I venture back over there." He stood slowly and smiled down at Tom. "Thanks for the chat. You've been a good friend."

Tom just shrugged. "I'll just put it on your account."

It was a few hours later before Chakotay got up enough courage to go and see Kathryn. A part of him hoped she might even be asleep when he got there. He crossed the compound, listening to the sounds of chatter from various shelters. Lights were coming on here and there and the sky had darkened considerably off to his right.

He entered the dark clinic as quietly as possible and crossed the main area to Kathryn's private room, the smell of disinfectant and fresh paint filling the air around him. The door was ajar and it looked dim inside, with only a small lamp on. He eased the door open a little further and stopped.

Chakotay saw Kathryn lying on the floor and then saw Duncan beside her, reaching down to her. He was about to rush in to help when something stopped him and he stayed where he was. The young doctor's voice reached his ears.

"Kathryn Janeway… I swear. I will so make you pay for this…and after all your promises… Don't you realize how easily you could hurt yourself? You're not ready for this and especially on your own…" He eased her up into a sitting position.

Kathryn smiled ruefully at him. "You know I can never do as I'm told. I needed a walk. I'm going out of my mind in that bed."

Duncan's voice was stern. "Cut the jokes, Kathryn. I'm not in the mood. I come in here to check on you and find you collapsed in a heap on the floor. You could have really hurt yourself."

Kathryn sighed. "All right, I know I could have but…"

Duncan reached towards the bed and pulled her robe off the end of it, then pulled it around her shoulders. "But nothing, lady. No one needs a walk that much that they risk their health, and I don't care if you go completely insane in that bed. You'll at least be healthy insane." He helped her put the robe on. "You're also freezing. How long have you been lying here? And I want the truth."

Kathryn just sighed, knowing she'd lost. "I think about half an hour. I couldn't get back up…hadn't the strength…"

Duncan rolled his eyes. "Sweet Lord, give ME strength…" He wrapped his arms around her and went to pick her up.

Kathryn slipped her arms around his neck. "Duncan, please… Not just yet."

Duncan shot her a warning look. "Kathryn, you need to be back in bed and getting some sleep."

Kathryn didn't try and use any tactics on him. She simply stated the truth. "Duncan, can you just sit in the chair and let me sit in your lap, just for a little while? Please. Just talk to me…and…" She dropped her head down against her chest.

Duncan stood with her in his arms, debating with himself. "Kathryn, what's wrong? Of course we can talk. You'd be better off in bed though."

Kathryn lifted her head and he saw that there were tears in her eyes. He'd never seen her this vulnerable before and he instantly softened. Her voice was choked when she spoke. "I just need to sit out of the bed for a little while. Just to feel…" She sighed. "I just need to feel like, well… Not feel like a patient for a short time. Can you understand that? I need…" She shook her head. "Just sit with me for a while. Please." Duncan smiled softly and nodded. He tightened his grip on her and backed up towards a large chair in the room. He sat slowly, holding her against him and then helped her get comfortable on his lap.

Chakotay watched from the darkened doorway as Kathryn kept her arms around Duncan's neck and then dropped her head onto his shoulders. He swallowed the lump in his throat and tried to push down the pain he felt in his chest. He felt sick in his stomach and a part of him wanted to turn and run, not to have to witness his suspicions bear fruit but something held him in place. He watched the tenderness Duncan displayed to Kathryn and knew for certain now that the man loved her very much.

For several minutes, Duncan just held Kathryn to him, one hand stroking her arm. Finally he spoke. "This is more than your health, Kathryn. I know you've been very ill and that will have a bad effect on you, especially emotionally, but this is something else, isn't it?"

Kathryn lifted her head and nodded. "It is…but not just now. For now, please just hold me. I really need a cuddle." She suddenly broke and Duncan pulled her to him and rocked her back and forth while she cried. He made comforting noises and frequently kissed the side and top of her head. Slowly she quietened but still lay against him.

Duncan gave her the time she needed before he spoke. "Talk to me, honey. Tell me what's wrong."

Kathryn eased herself up a little and used one hand to wipe at her face, rubbing her tears away. She sniffled and nodded. She looked deeply into his eyes and then reached the same hand to his face and cupped his cheek. "What would I do without you? You've been such a wonderful friend to me. I love you very much for that."

Duncan leaned forward and kissed her cheek. "I love you too, Kathryn. You know that." Kathryn nodded and sniffled a little more.

Chakotay dropped his head back and closed his eyes. He didn't want to see the woman he loved show such emotion to another man and yet he felt compelled to watch them. There was even a part of him which wanted to dash into the room and tear Kathryn from the young doctor's arms, claiming her for his own and challenging the other man. Instead he did nothing. He opened his eyes and saw Kathryn resting her head against Duncan's shoulder again. The young Doctor spoke once more. "Talk to me, Kathryn. Come on."

Kathryn lifted her head and smiled at him. "Do you know how lucky you are to have the love you have in your life?"

Duncan frowned and then nodded. "I do know how lucky I am. I thank God every day for what I have, for what we have."

Kathryn smiled at that. Chakotay just felt the pain in his chest intensify. "You just know it will last for a lifetime, don't you? You know it'll last for eternity, in fact."

Duncan smiled and nodded. "I believe it will. I pray it will. I couldn't live without it. I do know that." Kathryn smiled sadly at that and stared ahead into nothingness. Duncan shook her gently. "What about you?" Kathryn turned back and looked at him. She said nothing and just shrugged.

Duncan dropped his head to the side and locked eyes with her. "The one who broke your heart… That's him, isn't it? Chakotay is that man?" Kathryn did nothing for a moment, her eyes filling with tears and then she nodded slowly. Duncan sighed deeply. "It must be very difficult for you having him here." Chakotay, watching from the doorway, bit down hard on his lip. Kathryn just nodded again. "Kathryn? Talk to me…"

She said nothing for a further minute and then spoke. She spoke words which shocked Chakotay to the core and gave him a surge of hope he had never hoped to feel again. "Oh Duncan, I loved him so much. It broke my heart into a million pieces when he left…when he fell in love with Seven. I'd always hoped and prayed that we could…" She looked at her friend tearfully. "You're so blessed. To have had even a quarter of what you and Jonathan have together…" She broke down in tears again, crying into Duncan's chest. It was what caused them both not to hear the loud gasp from the man standing just feet away from them.

Chakotay fell back against the doorframe. Duncan was in a relationship with Jonathan? Duncan was in love with Jonathan? Duncan was gay? He wasn't in love with Kathryn? Kathryn wasn't in love with him? He let his head fall back against the wood and closed his eyes. He could actually feel a weight lift off him. He stood still and listened as Kathryn cried for several minutes and then heard Duncan speak again. "Kathryn, what about now? He's here and…"

Chakotay turned his head and saw Kathryn sit up in Duncan's lap. His newfound hope began to fall away from him.

"It's over. Actually, it never started. It's the past, Duncan. That door closed a long time ago. All that lives in that house now is regret."

Duncan stroked up and down her arm again. "Do you still have feelings for him?"

Kathryn shook her head and sighed deeply. "The problem is the feelings he has for someone else. She's here with him, in fact. I'm sure you've met her. Seven? She was once Borg and once like a daughter to me even…" Her voice trailed off as she stared down at the floor.

Duncan nodded slowly. "I know her, met her, but Kathryn, I've rarely seen the two of them together. If there is something there between them…" He frowned. "They don't act like a couple. In fact, I got the feeling there was something there between her and Voyager's Doctor. They certainly work closely together."

Kathryn just shook her head. "She works with the Doctor because they felt it would be better for her to work from the ship in case she frightened anyone. That's why you haven't seen much of her. Besides, the two of them were always friends." She wiped at her face again. "I don't want to talk about this anymore. I think I'm ready for bed now."

She was closing the subject and Duncan went along with it, not pushing her. "OK and I want you to stay there this time." Chakotay heard a noise behind him and turned to see the clinic door opening. He quickly ducked behind a privacy screen which was next to the doorway and watched covertly as Dressa crossed the main clinic area and headed for Kathryn's room. He heard her speak when she entered. "What's all this? Are you trying to steal my patient?"

Duncan's voice sounded then. "Let's just say she's on her way back to bed now."

Dressa laughed. "You mean she was trying to escape on me? I wondered how long it would take before she tried that one."

Chakotay heard laughter from the room and used that moment to escape. He tiptoed his way to the main door and let himself out quietly. Once outside, he stood for several minutes just taking in the sounds and smells of the evening air. For the first time, he felt a real surge of hope pass through him. He nodded to himself and smiled softly.

The next day, Chakotay visited with Kathryn but kept it casual and informal. His thoughts were in a muddle despite his confidence of the night before. He didn't fail to notice how Kathryn still stood back from him and longed to just pull her to him and tell her that it was over between him and Seven and how he knew there was no one in her life either but something kept him silent.

In the afternoon, Duncan gave his permission for a few more visitors but instructed Dressa and Miriam to stay close by to ensure the visits were short, knowing how easily his patient tired. Chakotay for his part, stood back and allowed Kathryn the time with her former crew.

Over the next few days, Chakotay watched from the sidelines as Kathryn was visited by almost everyone who had come with him, mostly in small groups. The formality which had existed between them all on Voyager seemed less pronounced, with Kathryn insisting that all her former crew call her by her given name. Despite this gesture though, she still appeared nervous or almost shy with her visitors and the standing back Chakotay felt from her appeared evident in a similar way. It almost seemed as if she was battling internally with herself on how to act with everyone.

When several of the women and children from the refuge also visited, he saw a different Kathryn though. This one was open and friendly and totally at ease. He studied the two different women he saw and stored it all away in his mind.

Chakotay continued to stay in the background, believing that Kathryn badly needed this time with her visitors. He also needed the time to try and sort his own thoughts, which seemed to grow more confused by the hour. He debated trying to talk to Tom or B'Elanna again but in the end decided against it until he felt a little clearer in his own mind. He began to spend a little more time working in the fields with John Wilson and some of the crew, planting vegetables and grains for the following spring. The hard work and banter between them all helped keep his mind otherwise occupied, but a part of it constantly stayed with Kathryn.

Chakotay looked up at the sound of Tom's voice and smiled gratefully at the bottle of beer the young pilot held out to him.

"It's brewed here. Trevor, their builder, actually makes the stuff but keeps it a closely guarded secret. Of course, it didn't take me long to find that out. It's not bad actually." Tom took a long drink and then held the bottle out for his own inspection. "It's cold and wet. That's the main requirement in my mind."

Chakotay grinned and took the bottle, drinking long and deep. "It's not bad at all, not that I'm much of an expect. I don't usually drink alcohol."

Tom grinned and pointed to a rock where they could sit. "Look, there are times in a man's life when only a beer will do…or a bottle of suds, as it used to be called. A day like today and when you've worked so hard… Well, that's one of those times. Just enjoy and don't think beyond that."

Chakotay shook his head and laughed. "It's all right. You've convinced me." Both men were silent as they sat and drank their beer. The only clear sounds around them were from bird song. The sound of kids playing could be faintly heard in the distance. Chakotay drained his bottle and sighed. "Thanks, Tom. That really hit the spot."

Tom nodded his head. "You're welcome." He hesitated a moment and then spoke. "Actually, the beer wasn't only one reason I came out here to you." Chakotay gave him a puzzled look. Tom smiled a little. "I was also wondering how you were…how it's been with the captain." He sighed. "Kathryn. She told me to call her that but I still can't get used to it."

Chakotay played with his empty bottle. "How did she seem to you?" He looked up now and saw Tom shrug.

"She seemed fine. Tired, but fine. Pale and somewhat weak but that's to be expected. She seemed happy to see us all." Tom swirled the remains of his beer in the bottle. "If I think about it, she did seem a bit nervous or distracted." He shook his head. "No, not that. Maybe reserved or unsure or… I don't know. I only really knew the captain. She was less captain-like but not quite as Kathryn-like as I'd imagined she would be. Does that make sense?"

Chakotay nodded slowly. "I think so. I guess I'm asking if she seemed… Did she seem as if she was standing back from you?"

Tom thought about that. "It's hard to say. As I said, I've always known her to be a bit that way. To me she seemed less like that but I don't know 'Kathryn' to compare it."

Chakotay nodded and smiled a little. "Sorry, Tom. I'm not sure what I'm asking or even why."

Tom leaned forward and studied his friend a moment. "How's it going with you and her? Did you…?"

Chakotay stood quickly, stopping Tom in his tracks. He turned and faced the other man. "Let me fill you in on what's happened since I last spoke with you." He looked out over the fields a moment and then sat again. "The other night I had such hope." He told Tom all about overhearing Kathryn and Duncan talking. "I didn't see it and yet now that I know and think back, it was obvious. I remember how Jonathan fussed over Duncan when he was so exhausted. Other times too. I guess my mind was just elsewhere."

Tom looked surprised. "Duncan and Jonathan? I'd never have guessed. That'll disappoint a few of our ladies." At Chakotay's frown, Tom filled him in. "Let's just say that a few of them have quite a crush on the dashing Doctor Duncan. Megan and Jenny Delaney were ready to fight it out for him when we came here first."

Chakotay laughed. "Typical of that pair. Is any man safe around them?"

Tom took on a look of injured innocence. "I would never even look at them."

Chakotay shouldered him playfully. "Only because B'Elanna would make you suffer for the rest of your days. And what you mean is you'd never get caught looking at them."

Tom smirked and nodded. "Can't keep anything from you. Still, just because I'm on a diet, doesn't mean I can't look at the menu. I just can't be seen to look." He laughed at his own joke for a moment and then grew serious again. "So, let me get this straight. If I understand you correctly, this means that the cap…that Kathryn…is free…not involved. All you need to do is set her right about you and Seven then."

Chakotay smiled sadly and shook his head. "If it were only that simple." He rolled the bottle between his hands. "I've had a lot of time to think since the other night. From that first surge of hope, that moment of 'she's free…available', I've been round and round in circles in my mind. It finally struck me that I was being so damned arrogant." Tom frowned at that, not understanding. Chakotay shrugged.

"Look, Tom, just because she's not involved with anyone, I've no right to believe she's just waiting to jump into my arms. It's not that simple. I caused her a hell of a lot of pain." He held up a hand to stop his friend's protest. "I know. We've been through that. The fact remains, no matter who's the cause of it, that she was badly hurt. That isn't just going to go away. I can't just walk in there and tell her about Seven and then expect her to fall at my feet. It doesn't work that way. I kind of forgot that in my initial stage of hope and that was very arrogant of me. Just because she's not in a relationship, I assumed that she's free and open to something between us. I never stopped to consider that she just might not want me anymore."

Tom shook his head and then drained his beer. "I don't know, Chakotay. I do think you should at least test the waters by letting her know that you're no longer with Seven. See what happens from there."

Chakotay sighed and shook his head. "Most of what I heard the other night didn't sink in until later. I remember it all now. I heard her tell Duncan that she loved me…" Tom's face lit up and then the smile fell away when he saw that Chakotay still looked serious. "Loved, as in past tense? She said 'I LOVED him' not 'I love him'. She also said though that it was over and how it had never started anyway, that it was the past. Something about that door having closed a long time ago." He rubbed a hand across his face, feeling the coolness of it from having held the cold bottle. "Duncan asked her if she still had feelings for me but she didn't answer. Said something about the problem being my feelings for Seven. She closed the subject at that point and didn't want to talk about it."

Tom rolled his eyes. "So there you go. If she just knows that you don't have any feelings for Seven anymore…"

Chakotay shook his head. "It still doesn't mean that she still has feelings for me."

Tom sighed deeply. "I think you just have to go in there and tell her that you're no longer in a relationship with Seven." He smiled and turned his bottle upside down, watching for a moment as the last few drops fell to the ground. "Mind you…if I know my wife…" He looked up into the shocked expression on Chakotay's face.


The younger man shrugged. "What can I do? She's visiting Kathryn on her own this afternoon. If I know her, she's making sure the record is set straight." He held up his hands in mock surrender. "Hey, would you try and stop B'Elanna in anything? I happen to enjoy living, you know."

Chakotay smiled despite his annoyance and nodded. "All right. I agree. I wouldn't dare get in that woman's way either. I also value my life." He sighed and shook his head. "Maybe it's for the best."

When B'Elanna called by the clinic, Kathryn was dozing, an open book fallen into her lap. Voyager's former engineer smiled at the image and decided not to disturb the woman in the bed. She turned to leave and accidentally banged against a trolley of instruments. Kathryn immediately jerked awake.

"B'Elanna? Is that you?"

B'Elanna turned sheepishly and nodded. "Sorry. I didn't mean to wake you. That was me trying to be quiet. Not too good, huh?"

Kathryn smiled and sat up. B'Elanna noticed that she seemed to hesitate a moment before she patted the bed beside her. "Please stay. I've barely seen you. A few minutes the other day wasn't much."

B'Elanna smiled and walked over to the bed. "That's because you should be resting and not entertaining just yet."

Kathryn groaned at that and lifted her book. She earmarked a page and then closed it. "I'm so sick of 'resting'. If I hear the word one more time, I may have to commit murder."

B'Elanna made a face and held her hands up in surrender. "Never heard of the word."

Both women laughed and Kathryn handed the book to her old friend. "Can you put that on the locker for me, please?"

B'Elanna nodded and placed the book down. She then sat in a chair beside the bed. She smiled as she saw Kathryn looking at her strangely. "What is it? Have I left something open?" She looked down at herself a moment.

Kathryn shook her head and smiled. "No. You look fine. I just can't get used to seeing everyone in civvies. It feels like being on the holodeck."

B'Elanna smiled. "I'm only getting used to it myself. I mean we all wore civvies before coming here but it still takes time after seven years in a uniform."

Kathryn shook her head at that. "I found it strange too not to wear that uniform. It had been such a part of me." She smiled and then looked down at her hands. She looked up again when B'Elanna spoke.

"So how are you really? And I don't want the usual answer you reserve for everyone else."

Kathryn lay back against her pillows and sighed. "I honestly don't know. Physically, I feel so much better. I've little energy but I don't have pain anymore and I don't feel sick either. I guess I feel as if I've been through a couple of rounds with a few Klingons and lost. The soreness is wearing off but I still feel battered and bruised."

B'Elanna nodded at that. "That's hardly surprising. You've been through a very tough time." She smoothed down the sheet before her and then looked her former captain in the eye. "What about emotionally? How do you feel in that department?"

Kathryn looked embarrassed and turned away. She sighed loudly and took her time in making her answer, as if debating how open to be. "I wish I knew the answer to that one." She looked back at B'Elanna and shrugged.

The younger woman nodded. "Look, I'm sorry for asking. It's really none of my business."

Kathryn smiled, then reached out and patted the other woman's hand. B'Elanna almost saw the guard drop.
"You ask because you care and that feels good." She lifted her hand and then folded her arms over her chest. "B'Elanna, I honestly don't know how I feel. I guess those Klingons went a few rounds with my mind also. I feel all over the place, like life went on without me while I was away somewhere. I had a life here and then I got sick. I wake up and everyone is well and you're all here…" She bit on her bottom lip. "Oh, I know what happened and how you all got here but I…." Her eyes filled up with tears and she shook her head, unable to continue.

B'Elanna sat up on the side of the bed without thinking and pulled the older woman to her. "It's all right. Just let it all out."

Kathryn nodded and leaned into B'Elanna, letting her tears fall. Finally, she cried herself out. "Oh God, B'Elanna, I'm sorry for that. I'm so embarrassed. You shouldn't have to see me like that."

B'Elanna sat back and reached over to the locker, getting a tissue from a box there. She handed it to Kathryn. "Don't ever be embarrassed with me. Why shouldn't I see you like that? You don't have to be the captain anymore. It's all right to be Kathryn now, you know. Besides, everyone and I mean everyone, needs to let go every now and then. I know I do. You spent too long having to be in total control. Well, now it's time to let that go and be yourself again. You've well earned the right to a life of your own."

Kathryn sniffled and nodded, wiping at her face with the tissue. "It's just hard to let go of all that."

B'Elanna smiled softly and sat back in her chair. "Look, Captain…"

Kathryn shook her head. "Kathryn. Please, B'Elanna. I'm not her anymore."

B'Elanna nodded slowly. "Do you miss her? Would you still want to be her?"

Kathryn thought about that. "Yes and no." She shrugged. "I guess that sounds pretty vague. I just mean that…" She licked at her lips, still debating how honest and open to be. "It was sometimes easier to be her. There were set rules to follow, a map if you like. She had the emotions but she didn't have to act on them, at least not in public anyway. She could hide and not have to face them." She hesitated a moment. "She also had things. She had things out there, things she thought she could still have later on…so she had hope but…" She sighed. "Kathryn has to face reality and live it. It wasn't what she thought it would be."

B'Elanna smiled sadly. "We're talking about Chakotay, aren't we?" Kathryn looked embarrassed and turned away until she felt a soft hand on her arm. "Please, I told you. Don't be embarrassed with me. You can always talk to me, and trust me."

Kathryn turned back slowly and nodded tearfully. "It's not just him. After all that time out there, I forgot who I was. I had a life before I left and I fit into it. I knew who I was and where I was. Does that make sense?" B'Elanna just nodded. "I knew who Kathryn was and who the captain was and I slipped from one to the other easily. Suddenly I was just the captain and there was no place for Kathryn anymore. Even the captain had to be a different kind of captain and she was lost and to be honest, many times scared. So she became what she believed was needed out there and every other part fell away and got forgotten or lost. We got back and the captain I'd become was now useless and didn't fit into Starfleet's mould. She wasn't needed anymore and didn't belong to the organization. She was expected to instantly be the captain she'd been before she left but she'd forgotten how to be that. She didn't know the old way anymore. It was all so different and yet the same, only forgotten." She shrugged. "I don't know. We got back only there was no one there to meet me. I wasn't there to meet me, wasn't there for myself. Not anymore. My life back on Earth was gone. I'd nothing to go forward to and I couldn't go back. There was nothing to go back to. I couldn't stand still either. Can you make any sense of that?" She looked tearfully at the younger woman.

B'Elanna smiled sadly. "Oh Kathryn, I understand that far more than you'll ever know. If you were to say all this to any of the crew, they'd tell you the same." At Kathryn's puzzled expression, she began to tell her about how everyone had been once they got back home. She saw the sadness her words evoked but she knew her former captain needed to hear all this.

"Life moved on while we were gone. The people we left behind had changed and we had changed. They could never understand what we'd been through out there, no matter how hard they tried. Only those who shared it could understand. Someone who'd been practically a stranger on board Voyager could understand better than a husband or wife back home. That's just the way it was. It's like the old line 'you had to have been there'." Kathryn nodded and sniffed loudly. B'Elanna laughed. "You know what they say about a round peg in a round hole? That peg should always fit back into that hole because it keeps its shape and the hole doesn't change either. Well, in this case, I guess they both changed. I know I certainly changed shape out there and I know that all the others did too." She reached out and patted Kathryn's leg through the sheets. "We were all lost when we got back. We were far more lost back home than we ever were out there. We just didn't see it at the time."

Kathryn smiled at that and nodded. "And I thought I was the only one."

B'Elanna smiled and shook her head. "Guess we were all infected. It's just a pity we didn't all know that. It could have saved a lot of pain and loneliness." They were silent for a few minutes until B'Elanna spoke again.

"So?" Kathryn looked up and frowned. "Chakotay?" A flash of pain filled Kathryn's eyes at that. "Kathryn…" B'Elanna sighed. "Look, you should know that… Well, he's not with…not with Seven anymore."

Kathryn's eyes widened. "They broke up? When?"

B'Elanna smiled and shrugged. "Almost immediately from what I know. She's with the Doctor now. Somehow they suit each other."

Kathryn shook her head. "He never said anything." She was almost talking to herself.

B'Elanna shrugged. "I guess he felt it wasn't the right time or place and you were very ill. And also…" She stopped suddenly and Kathryn frowned.

"And also what?"

B'Elanna looked embarrassed now but she'd started so decided to finish. "I think he thought that…that you were involved…"

Kathryn shook her head. "What made him think that? I never said anything."

B'Elanna shrugged her shoulders. "You apparently seemed pretty close with Duncan and I guess he thought…"

Kathryn laughed out loud. "Oh B'Elanna, I do love Duncan. I love him as the good and dear friend he is. However, I'm not his type. He's heavily involved and truly in love with Jonathan. They make no secret of the fact. I'm surprised no one noticed. They certainly don't hide it and rightly so."

B'Elanna laughed at that. "Should I tell Chakotay this or let him find out for himself?"

Kathryn suddenly grew serious. "Why didn't he ask me if he thought that? Why didn't he tell me about him and Seven?" Once again she appeared to be talking to herself. She shook her head and stared off at nothing.

B'Elanna gave her a moment. "Kathryn…" Her former captain slowly looked back towards her and shook her head slightly, as if trying to dislodge whatever thoughts had been there. "Kathryn, I don't know why he didn't say anything except that maybe he was too afraid to. He knows he hurt you badly."

Kathryn gasped and turned away. "What makes you say that?" Her voice sounded unsteady.

B'Elanna shook her head and waited until Kathryn looked at her again. "He hurt you, Kathryn. We all know that. Do you really think we all didn't know what was between the two of you?"

Kathryn shook her head. "There wasn't ever anything between us."

B'Elanna sighed. "Let me rephrase that then. Do you really think we all didn't know what COULD have been between you both?" Kathryn blushed deeply. "Kathryn, we all know that he loved you very much. We also know that you loved him too. That was very plain to see, no matter how hard you tried to hide it." Kathryn dropped her head and B'Elanna placed a gentle hand on her leg. "Don't try to hide your feelings again, Kathryn. You've hidden all this for too long." She stopped a moment and Kathryn glanced up at her. "Unless…unless you don't feel anything for him anymore?" One look in the older woman's eyes told her that wasn't the case. B'Elanna leaned back in her chair and smiled kindly. "You still love him." It wasn't a question.

Kathryn looked down at her hands and played with the sheet, smoothing out non-existing creases. "That's all in the past, B'Elanna. It's a place I can't ever re-visit."

B'Elanna sat forward. "And why not? He made a mistake. Surely you can forgive…"

Kathryn cut her off. "B'Elanna, please. He did nothing wrong. I made the mistake." She sighed deeply. "It doesn't matter now. It's gone. Over." She shook her head suddenly as if trying to shake away her thoughts. She quickly changed the subject. "So, what have you been doing since you got home, you and Tom, the others?"

B'Elanna knew what she was trying to do and shook her head sadly. After a moment's silence, she went along with it.

"Not a lot really. Trying to re-build a life mostly." She went on to tell her former Captain more about how it had been for them all, deciding to be honest about everything. "I guess everyone felt a bit lost. Tom and Owen were a success story, at least. They healed a lot of rifts. Of the others… Some found their place eventually, of course. Icheb joined the Academy to continue his studies. Sam Wildman finally settled with her husband although I think having Naomi there had a big effect on that. She loves her father and to see them now, you'd swear they'd never been parted."

Kathryn smiled at that. "I'm happy for them. Naomi needed her father. I'm very happy for Tom and Owen too, and Icheb. I knew he had what it took." The smile slipped a little. "I'm just sorry it was so difficult for everyone else though, that you and they felt so lost." She shook her head slowly. "What…what about…?"

B'Elanna pre-empted her. "What about Chakotay?" Kathryn met her eyes and nodded. B'Elanna shrugged. "He lectures at Starfleet, believe it or not. I think he quite enjoys it. His students, the females amongst them, certainly enjoy his lectures."

Kathryn smiled sadly. "So you think he's happy there?"

B'Elanna tried to see where the question was going. "I don't know. He seems happy but… Kathryn, you'd have to ask him. He was on Dorvan for a time and then he returned to Earth. He teaches at the Academy now and seems happy enough but I can't say for sure. I think 'content' is a better word than 'happy'. I think he badly misses…" Not sure how much to say, she looked at Kathryn to gauge her reaction but the older women didn't seem to be listening. She spoke, almost to herself and B'Elanna had to strain to hear.

"I'm glad he's happy and that he found a life for himself. He always wanted to teach."

B'Elanna cut in. "I didn't say he WAS happy… Look, if you still have feelings…" They both turned towards the door as it burst open and Julie ran in.

"Hi Mommy Kathryn. I came to see you."

Kathryn smiled and held open her arms. "Hi, sweetie. It's so good to see you." The little girl ran to the bed and climbed up, eagerly accepting the offered hug.

B'Elanna watched them for a moment and shook her head, knowing the conversation was over. She stood and moved towards the door. "I'll head off. I have to pick up Miral from the day-care." Kathryn hugged the child in her arms and looked up. She nodded and smiled. B'Elanna sighed. "Kathryn, just talk to him."

Kathryn smoothed Julie's hair and swallowed the lump in her throat. She shook her head. "Let it go, B'Elanna. I've had to. Please? Don't say anything to him."

B'Elanna stood for several moments as Kathryn's eyes implored her. Finally she nodded. "OK. I'll keep this to myself, but please, Kathryn, think some more on it. Will you promise me that at least?"

Kathryn nodded slowly. "OK, I will, but it won't change anything." She smiled sadly and then turned her attention to Julie. B'Elanna watched them both for a further minute and then left.

Chakotay was practically waiting in ambush for B'Elanna when she left the clinic after visiting her former captain. He was beside her before she knew it. One look at his face told her exactly why he was waiting for her there.

"Well? How was she?"

B'Elanna looked around her and saw that there wasn't anyone else around. She kept walking. "She's fine, Chakotay. We talked. And no…nothing I would ever repeat."

Chakotay reached out a hand and stopped her. "B'Elanna, you know I'd never ask that of you. I just meant…" He sighed. "I just wondered how you found her." He looked around him for a moment. "I asked Tom the same question. I need to know if it's just me she's standing back from or everyone else too. She seemed reserved with everyone during their visits although maybe she was just overwhelmed with it all."

B'Elanna smiled sadly at him. "Chakotay, all I can say is that we talked. I think it did her good. I didn't find her standing back though. Not really. Although I agree she did seem a little that way the other day…" She shook her head. "It's probably the closest conversation we've ever had."

Chakotay smiled a little. "Considering how Kathryn shut herself away on Voyager and kept all her problems to herself, that's not saying a lot. She never allowed herself to be close to anyone, never opened up to anyone."

B'Elanna sighed and nodded. "I know…and I still find that so sad." She smiled at her old friend. "Let's just say we talked and I think she's better for it."

Chakotay frowned now. "Did any of that talk involve me? In other words, did you tell her about me and Seven?" B'Elanna looked embarrassed for a moment. "You did, didn't you?" Chakotay groaned. "I knew it. I was talking to Tom earlier and he said you were visiting on your own. I knew you'd tell her."

He moved away a little and B'Elanna grabbed his arm. "Not so fast. Yes, I told her. I told her because I think she has a right to know. You should have told her yourself. It's not something she should have heard from me or anyone else."

Chakotay stood with his hands on his hips, unconsciously mimicking Kathryn. "What did she say?"

B'Elanna gave him a look that spoke volumes. "I told you I consider our conversation private and confidential." She held her hand up, palm facing him, when he went to speak. "Chakotay, just accept that she now knows you and Seven are no longer together." She watched him closely as he paced now.

"You know… Well, I learned…that she and Duncan… They aren't…" B'Elanna smiled and nodded as Chakotay rolled his eyes. "You really did discuss all this, didn't you?"

B'Elanna smiled gently and moved to him. "Look, Chakotay, it's like this. You're both free, not involved with anyone…"

Chakotay shook his head angrily. "I was through this with your husband earlier and I'll tell you what I told him. It doesn't matter because it isn't that simple." It was Chakotay's turn to hold his hand up to silence B'Elanna. "Just listen. I'll tell you what I told him." He repeated his earlier conversation with Tom. "I can't just expect Kathryn to fall back into my arms." He laughed. "Fall back. That's funny. She was never there to start with." He became serious again. "It's pure arrogance on my part to assume that she was just waiting for me to be free again, to assume that she'd even want me now. She's given no indication of that…and before you say it…yes, I know she believed I was still with Seven, but this went beyond that. I'd have seen something, some spark, if she was still interested in me in any way. There's nothing there. She pulls back from me and shuns any help I offer. She can't even stand to have me touch her. Even the friendship we had is gone. We act like acquaintances or business colleagues, two people who once worked together. If she still felt anything for me, I'd have seen it."

B'Elanna was getting madder now. "What do you expect to see? Do you really think she should have acted all jealous and hurt with you?" Chakotay shook his head. "You and I both know that Kathryn Janeway is one of the best at hiding how she feels. That's what started all this in the first place. Do you think she's really changed that much? Believing you and Seven were still together would only have made her hide her feelings all the more and you know that."

Chakotay seized on her words. "Are you telling me that she said she HAS got feelings for me…?"

B'Elanna almost growled. "You don't give up, do you? All I said was that we talked and I won't discuss any of that. The only thing I'll tell you is that I told her you were a free agent. Nothing more is coming from me. Go and see her yourself."

Chakotay nodded his surrender. "All right. I won't push you. I'm just trying to decide if it's just me she's standing back from. I saw her doing it with the others when they visited but maybe it was just all too much for her."

B'Elanna closed her eyes a moment and then opened them again. "Chakotay, listen to me. She seemed fine with me today. We talked and talked well. It's the closest we've ever been. I can't speak for how she's been with the others. You'd have to ask them how they saw it. Understand though, that we've nothing to compare this with. Before, she was the captain to us. We never knew her on a personal level."

Chakotay nodded slowly. "I know. Tom said the same thing. I just know that she's standing back from me. I guess trying to see how she is with everyone else is my way of finding out if it's just me she has the problem with."

B'Elanna smiled sadly. "I can't answer that for you, my friend. Look, I'm going back to see her tomorrow afternoon. I'll see how she is with me then. I may or may not be able to discuss that with you, depending on how it goes."

Chakotay sighed and gripped B'Elanna's shoulder. "I know. Thanks anyway."

B'Elanna placed her hand over his. "Go and see her. Talk to her."

Chakotay nodded but looked uncertain. "I'll see. I need time to think."

When B'Elanna called to see Kathryn the next day, her conversation with Chakotay immediately sprang to her mind. The woman she sat beside now wasn't the same woman from the day before. B'Elanna knew that if she'd met with 'Kathryn' the previous day, she was now seeing 'the captain'. She recognized so much of her former captain in this woman and none of the Kathryn she'd spoken with just twenty four hours earlier.

"B'Elanna, I need to apologize to you for my behaviour yesterday. It was totally out of line. I'd no right to unload myself, unburden myself, on you like that. I'm so very sorry."

B'Elanna watched her closely. "Kathryn, you've absolutely nothing to apologize for. You spoke with a friend and I assure you that it was all in complete confidence."

Kathryn cut in. "Oh, I don't doubt that for a moment. That's not the issue. I shouldn't have put upon you like that. I don't know what came over me."

B'Elanna leaned forward in her chair a little. "Kathryn, we all need to talk to a friend now and then."

Kathryn continued as if not listening. "It was unforgivable. I shouldn't have done that. All I can say, my only excuse, is how ill I've been, the medications, just having woken up… I wasn't thinking straight. I allowed myself to be weak and vulnerable."

B'Elanna cut across her. "Kathryn, needing to talk to a friend is nothing of the sort. You weren't weak or vulnerable."

Kathryn shook her head. "I have to be able to do things myself, on my own. I have to cope on my own."

B'Elanna raised her voice above Kathryn's. "Kathryn Janeway, it strikes me that you coped on your own for seven years in the Delta Quadrant. Well, I have news for you. We're not out there anymore. We're all here for you. We were there for you out there too but I understand how you couldn't let us in. It's different now. We're home. You got us home."

Kathryn laughed and gave her a strange look. "Did I? Really? From what you said to me yesterday, they'd all have been better off if I'd failed in that. You said…your words…that they were more lost at home than they ever were out there."

B'Elanna sighed in exasperation. "I didn't mean…"

Kathryn just laughed cynically. "I got you all lost out there in the first place. That was some failure. Oh, I got you home, if you can call it that. I failed there too. I should have anticipated how you'd all feel when we returned and how it would be for everyone. I failed at that even."

B'Elanna stood angrily. "What is all this? Where's all this coming from?"

Kathryn folded her arms tightly across her chest. "Nowhere. I was just a bit down yesterday and feeling a little vulnerable. It made things appear out of focus for me. I'm fine. Everything is fine. The medications… I…" She swallowed and hardened her face. "I want to thank you all for everything you've done for the people here, all the help, for coming, taking the time out of your new lives…"

B'Elanna advanced on Kathryn now, the look on her face stopping the older woman's words. "I don't know where the hell all this is suddenly coming from. You're not the same woman I spoke with yesterday. You can't just take all that back or deny there was truth in it." She looked closely at Kathryn, seeing that her scrutiny was making her uncomfortable but she didn't care. "I talked with Chakotay, you know…" That got a shocked reaction. "He talked to me actually. He feels that you're standing back from him, distancing yourself from him. He needed to know if you were like that with the rest of us or if it was just him. I think I have the answer to that now. I just don't understand it."

Kathryn actually looked panicked. "You talked to him? You talked to him about what we…?"

B'Elanna snorted. "What do you think I am? I'd never repeat anything we talked about."

Kathryn looked sheepish at that. "I'm sorry. I know that. I just…"

B'Elanna walked to the end of the bed. "I'd no more discuss with you what he said to me than I'd tell him what you and I talked about. I will just say this. Chakotay talked to me and said that he felt you were standing back from him and shunning all his offers of help. It hurts him. I know that. He cares. Now you're trying to do the same with me and I don't know why. The difference here is that I've seen two sides of you and the contrast between them is startling. I don't understand it. Maybe you weren't yourself yesterday and today is who you really are or maybe…" She narrowed her eyes. "Maybe there's more to this. I'm not sure exactly but I see something here that reminds me of a certain Starfleet captain I once knew. She was always afraid to get close to those around her." She sighed deeply. "Whatever it is, today being the real you or you slipping back to your old ways and being afraid to get too close and suddenly getting cold feet when you've had time to think about it… Whatever the answer…just know that I'm around if you want to talk to me." Kathryn had actually gone pale. B'Elanna moved towards the door. "Sort this out for yourself, Kathryn. My friendship is still here if you want it. Today will change nothing as far as that's concerned. You know where I am. Just do something for me…or rather for yourself. Think about who you really are, really want to be, and be true to yourself. As to Chakotay… Talk to him. Sort things out with him or let it go, let him go. Either way, you need closure and so does he. We all do." She didn't wait for an answer or any response. She just turned and left.

Once again, Chakotay was waiting for B'Elanna when she left the clinic. She glared at him as she saw him and moved past him. "I'm not in the mood, Chakotay."

He grabbed her arm and stopped her. "I told myself that I was wasting my time being here so early, that you'd be with Kathryn for ages yet. Why so short a visit? What happened? Is she all right?"

B'Elanna's demeanour softened. "She's fine. Her recovery is going very well. This was personal…"

Chakotay smiled knowingly. "She talked openly with you yesterday. I know that. She let herself have a friend and she opened up to you. Today? Well…she's had the night to think about it and now she's panicking and withdrawing. She's standing back from you too now. Am I right?"

B'Elanna's eyes answered for her as she nodded. She laughed sarcastically then. "Standing back from me? Shutting down on me is more like it. Look, I promised her I wouldn't discuss with you anything she and I talked about. I promised you the same. I repeat to you what I said yesterday. Talk to her. You both know where I am if you need me." She pulled her arm from his grip and walked away.

Chakotay made a run after her, grabbing her arm again. "B'Elanna, help me out here. I'm lost with all this. I just want to shout out in frustration. I don't know what to think."

B'Elanna pulled her arm free again, trying to keep her anger in check. "Then go up to the top of the hills or the trees or wherever people go to shout. And don't think either. It can be dangerous." She softened now and sighed deeply. "I'm sorry. Look, Chakotay, I can't help you. You just have to talk with her and sort it out between you. I can't tell you what to do." She smiled sadly. "Talk to her. That's all I can say." With that she walked away.

Chakotay spent the rest of the day walking in the far fields and beyond, trying to put his thoughts into some kind of order. For the most part, he followed the river, noticing that it widened as it went inland, rather than narrowed. The beauty of the planet amazed him, especially how lush and green it was. Nature had a free hand outside of the settlement with the occasional natural clearing between the trees.

It was next to one of these clearings that Chakotay made his discovery. He stood for several minutes pondering the shape of several intertwining groups of creeping vines. He walked around them for a time before reaching his hand out and pulling the leaves aside. Pushing his fingers down into the vines, he touched something cold and solid. He felt a thrill of excitement pass through him, a feeling long forgotten and used both hands now to pull the stems away. He looked down between them and saw stone. Before he knew what he was doing, Chakotay found himself exposing first one ancient stone statue and then another and another.

Chakotay finally stood back and stared in astonishment at his discovery. Before him lay the ruins of some ancient town or settlement. He was sure of that. He'd only uncovered a small fraction of what he felt sure lay hidden here but it was enough. Trying to think back to his studies on such things, he re-covered his discoveries and made his way back to the settlement, a deep excitement filling him.

As he neared the town, he stopped dead as it suddenly occurred to him why he'd taken time away from everyone today. He'd needed to think about Kathryn. Instead he'd made his find and had become engrossed in that. Feeling guilty now, he sat down on a fallen tree and drew in several deep breaths.

"Pretty fickle." He scolded himself and shook his head. "She means the world to you and yet you forget her the minute you find an old piece of stone." He stood suddenly now, knowing he had made a decision. Instead of spending hours thinking of the right words to say to Kathryn when he finally confronted her, he'd just speak from his heart and pray for the right outcome. Thinking too much often made things worse. He smiled now as he remembered B'Elanna's words about how thinking could be dangerous.

He strode towards the clinic now and realized suddenly that his find of the afternoon and subsequent unveiling of the ancient stones had actually made his mind and thinking clearer. He took the three steps up to the clinic in a single stride and pushed open the door.

Inside the clinic was deserted, with only the smell of drying paint to greet him. He glanced out of a window and saw Hista and Olga hanging sheets on a line and smiled. It was so easy to depend on replicators for everything and yet they'd never recreate the scent of clothes dried in the fresh air. Sometimes the old ways were the best.

Pushing all this from his mind, he crossed the main area and knocked on Kathryn's door. Not getting any answer, he eased it open and looked in. Kathryn was lying in bed dozing so he walked quietly into the room and sat down, watching her for several minutes. As if she sensed someone there, she suddenly jerked awake. Her eyes scanned the room and then settled on the man in the chair beside her bed.

"Cha…Chakotay…" Her voice sounded hoarse from sleep. She tried to sit up and pull the sheets up to her chest. "How long…?"

He sat forward and smiled. "Only a few minutes. I didn't want to wake you." Kathryn nodded but said nothing, appearing a little flustered. She felt around under the thin blanket for her book and finally found it. Chakotay saw that she was embarrassed and shook his head. He knew she was wondering if B'Elanna had said anything to him. He reached over now and held his hand out. "Let me take that for you and put it on your locker."

Perhaps in an attempt to cover her emotions, Kathryn actually snapped. "I can reach…" She immediately seemed sorry for the harshness of her words but they were already out.

Chakotay lost the thread of his thoughts and intentions and snapped back. "Are we back to this again? I only offered to help." He snatched the book from her hand and slammed it down on the locker. "There. Did that hurt so much?"

Kathryn actually jumped and stared at him wide-eyed. "Thank…you…" She barely got the words out and didn't know what else to say.

Chakotay knew exactly what to say though. Words poured from his mouth as his brain struggled to catch up. "I can't hold this back any longer, Kathryn. I know you're deliberately standing back from me and I need to know why. I thought it was just me and maybe it is…more than anyone else anyway, although I've seen you standing back from everyone else too. As to me, I've tried to help you in so many ways and you constantly shun that help. We were friends once. I had hoped we were still that." He stood now. "I've run a million things through my mind. I know I hurt you badly with Seven…"

Kathryn tried to speak. "Chakotay…"

He rounded on her. "Just listen, damn it. I'm not asking much here. Just listen and if you want me to walk away then I'll do that but please just hear me out first." Kathryn looked shocked and just nodded. Chakotay ran a hand through his hair and paced.

"I hurt you with Seven and we both know that. I also know you're aware that she and I are no longer together." He looked at her and saw from her eyes that she knew all right. He nodded at that. "I know B'Elanna told you. I should have told you myself before but I didn't know what to say or if you'd even want to know. You were also so ill and…" He shook his head. "That's no excuse. I know that. I still should have been the one you heard it from." He paced more quickly now.

"You see, I thought that was the reason you were standing back from me. Now you know we're not together anymore, you're still standing back and refusing my help and I have to assume now that it's because I hurt you so much. Understand that I'm just assuming all this because I don't know and you won't tell me. I thought we could at least be friends still. Maybe you just don't feel anything for me anymore and I could understand that. I'd deserve it after what I did." He stopped pacing and looked down at her.

"Do you hate me for all that, Kathryn? Is that why you can't stand to be around me? Is that why you turn away from every little bit of help I try to give you? I touched you the other day and you recoiled like I'd burned you." He stopped now when he saw Kathryn's eyes fill with tears.

Her voice broke on her words. "It's…not… I don't hate you…could never…"

Chakotay moved to her quickly and sat down beside her. "Then why, Kathryn? Why pull away from me? I'm begging you to tell me."

Kathryn bit down hard on her lip, emotion making her speak without thinking. "I can't…can't…be near…depend…on you… I need to do it myself…" She couldn't get her words out.

Chakotay just groaned and fell back in his chair. "Oh God, Kathryn. You can't be near me? Can't depend on me? And you say you don't hate me? You certainly know where to hit to really hurt though…but I deserve that. I know how badly I hurt you." He looked at the shock and hurt on Kathryn's face and saw her tears spill over.

She shook her head. "No…no…I didn't mean… You don't understand… That's wrong…not what I mean…"

Chakotay sat forward and leaned on the edge of the bed. "Then talk to me and tell me what you do mean."

Kathryn looked away quickly. "I can't…I…" She turned back quickly when she felt him take her hand in his.

"Please, Kathryn, talk to me. Just take a chance and open up to me. I've seen you hurt too much, almost all of it my fault. I can't stand to see you hurt anymore. Please just talk to me." Kathryn stared at him tearfully and then looked down at her hand in his. "Don't stand back from me now. You've done that since I arrived…with the others too. Tell me why...please."

Kathryn looked up at him and then pulled her hand from his. A sudden surge of emotion raced through her.
"Because I can't let myself depend on you…you and the rest of them…" She was almost choking on her words.

Chakotay stared at her. "I don't understand. Why? I've let you down, I know that. The others haven't. Why can't you?"

Kathryn suddenly broke down, the words pouring from her mouth as the tears fell from her eyes. She lost the last of her control. "Because I'll learn to depend on you all…on you…again…and you'll be gone. You'll be leaving soon and I'll be alone again. I don't care that you're not with Seven anymore. Having you near was enough but you'll leave me and I can't face that again. I know you're teaching and how much you love it. You'll go back to your life and leave and I can't take that again. It hurts too much. It took too much to try and get over losing you before…which I didn't…but I can't go back there again. I barely survived it once. I couldn't do it again." She stopped dead, suddenly realizing what she'd said. Her hand flew to her mouth. "Oh God, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say all that."

Chakotay just stared at her in shock as he felt the blood drain from his face. He forced his words out, his voice shaking. "Kathryn, I don't care if you didn't mean to say that. I just need to know if you did mean it." Kathryn just stared at him, her head shaking from side to side. "Kathryn… Please. Tell me." Chakotay heard the desperation in his own voice. Suddenly Kathryn's tears were replaced with anger, neither of them knowing where it came from. She jumped out of the bed, glaring at him, barely keeping her balance as her foot caught in the sheet.

"Damn you, Chakotay. What do you want to hear from me? That I fell apart after you left with Seven? Is that what you want me to tell you? Well, I did. I might as well say it. I lost everything else when you left. I might as well lose my last shred of pride as well." The tears poured down her face, her skin flushed. She suddenly swayed unsteadily on her feet and reached out for anything which might hold her up. Chakotay saw her claw at empty air and was at her side in seconds, holding her up against him. His head snapped around when the door burst open.

"What the hell is going on in here?"

Chakotay locked eyes with Duncan. "She…"

The doctor didn't wait for an explanation. He shouted for Miriam and crossed the room, taking Kathryn from Chakotay's arms. "I think you should leave now. She's far too ill to be this upset." Miriam ran in and took in the situation in a second. Duncan lowered his patient down on the bed and spoke to the nurse. "Get me a sedative." She nodded and quickly grabbed a hypospray from a trolley in the room then handed it to Duncan, who immediately pressed it to a sobbing Kathryn's neck, before easing her back in the bed. He spoke softly to her.

"I turn my back for a minute and you're causing trouble again." His voice was almost hushed. He smiled lovingly at her and brushed at her tears. "I can see that working already. You rest now and don't think about anything."

Kathryn smiled sadly at her friend as her eyes began to close and she lost her battle with the drug. "Not his fault…mine…" Her eyes closed and her head fell back against the pillow.

Duncan settled her and pulled the sheet up over her. He straightened up and looked to Miriam. "Keep an eye on her." The nurse nodded. He then turned to Chakotay. "You and me. Outside now. We need to talk."

Duncan looked around to make sure no one was close by. He turned now when he heard Chakotay behind him.
"What the bloody hell was all that about? You know how ill she still is?"

Chakotay had the grace to look deeply embarrassed and ashamed. "I know very well and I apologize. It just got out of hand."

Duncan moved closer to him. "And just what got out of hand?"

Chakotay stepped back. "It's personal…private…between me and Kathryn."

Duncan balled his hands into fists. "If it concerns Kathryn and affects her health, then it concerns me."

Chakotay shook his head quickly. "Then you'd better ask her yourself. I'm not discussing this with you. I don't know you well enough."

Duncan shook his head also, his anger abating somewhat. "You do know that anything you tell me will be in confidence. Patient-Doctor confidentiality and all that."

Chakotay laughed sarcastically. "You forget. I'm not your patient…" Chakotay suddenly fell backwards and landed on his backside when something hard connected with his jaw, catching him completely off guard. He shook his head to clear his vision and looked up to see Duncan rubbing his hand. His voice sounded as plaintive as a child's. "You hit me…?" He could feel his jaw swelling already.

Duncan nodded. "Glad you noticed. I'll fix it for you so that makes you my patient. Now talk."

Chakotay just sat there in shock and stared at the young doctor. "You hit me…?"

Duncan nodded again and then held out his other hand to haul his new patient up. Chakotay eyed him warily for a moment.

Duncan blew out a breath. "I won't hit you again. Get up, you big baby."

Chakotay sighed and took the offered hand. "You know, in the old days, you'd be on your own backside. In fact, you'd never have gotten that shot in to start with. I'd have seen it coming. I'm getting old and soft." The two men stood and stared at each other and then smiled.

Chakotay shook his head. "I can't believe you caught me like that." He rubbed at his jaw and winced. "I think there was something personal there too."

Duncan nodded his head slightly and then shrugged. "Maybe a little. I care about Kathryn deeply. I see someone hurt her and I want to hurt them. Can you understand that?"

Chakotay nodded. "Yeah…I can. I've felt that way myself on more than one occasion." He suddenly decided to be honest. "You know, for a time… I was sure that you and she…"

Duncan frowned for a moment and then nodded knowingly. "Ahhh…I see. You thought that she and I… Sorry, Chakotay. I love her but not in that way." Chakotay smiled and nodded. Duncan shook his head. "I actually had a feeling that you might think that. I remember I was about to say something to you once in the clinic but someone came in and then it went out of my head. I guess I thought you'd see that Jonathan and I were a couple. We make no secret of it."

Chakotay smiled almost shyly, his embarrassment showing. "I know that now but you can understand why I thought…"

Duncan smiled. "I can." He looked closely at Chakotay's face. "Come on, you're swelling as we speak. Come back inside and let me take care of that. We can talk as I work."

Duncan ran a regenerator slowly over Chakotay's jaw and bit at his lip as he worked. He looked at Chakotay warily. "I didn't mean to hit you that hard. I'm really sorry. I certainly never meant to break your jaw. Good thing your Doctor left us these osteo regenerators. You're the first I've used it on." He examined his work and nodded. "There. As good as new."

Chakotay tested his jaw and ran a hand over it. "Feels fine. A bit tender but I'll live with it."

Duncan smiled sheepishly and put the medical instrument back on a nearby tray. "I really am sorry."

Chakotay smiled and nodded. "It's OK. Let it go."

Duncan shrugged. "Thank you. I can let THAT go but there's something else here…"

Chakotay sighed. "I was hoping you'd forget that." One look at Duncan's face and he smiled. "Stupid of me, I guess." The other man nodded. Chakotay stood suddenly and paced. "OK, you asked for this and it better be confidential." Duncan's expression told him he didn't need to question that. "Sorry. Had to make sure." He continued pacing. "OK. Let me tell you the tale of the good ship Voyager then…"

For the next twenty minutes, Chakotay found himself opening up to the other man, surprised at how easy he was to talk to. He told him about his involvement in the Maquis and why he'd joined, about the war, entering the Badlands, meeting with Kathryn for the first time and then their seven years in the Delta Quadrant. He found himself talking about his feelings for the woman he'd loved since the day he met her and how things had been between them. He told him about how he'd tried for a relationship with her and how long he'd waited. He then related how lonely he'd become and how the relationship with Seven had come about. He finally told then of their homecoming and how everything had fallen apart.

"That's my sorry tale. I lost her and yet I never really had her. Since I've been here…" He told Duncan how things had been since their arrival. The young doctor listened patiently and never said a word. There was a long minute's silence before he spoke.

"As I see it and know it…and I'm not going to repeat anything Kathryn has said to me but before you ask, that hasn't been very much." He sighed. "As I see it, she was very badly hurt by everything that happened. When we met her…" He looked up. "Do you know about that?"

Chakotay shrugged. "She mentioned meeting you both and then coming here to work. Not much else."

Duncan nodded and briefly told the story of their meeting. "Then and even now, she always seemed so sad. We both, myself and Jonathan… We saw how sad and lost she seemed. You just knew there was pain in her past somewhere. So many things would remind her and you'd see that pain. She never said much and we never pushed or asked." He played with some padds Voyager's Doctor had left, straightening them and then moving them again. "Even up to the day all this happened, I saw it. We all did but we didn't push her. I think coming here gave her a purpose again. It was like she'd lost everything and then found us. We weren't full compensation for her loss, but it was something." He looked up at Chakotay and saw deep sadness on the man's face.

Chakotay sighed and shook his head. "I blame myself. I blame bad timing. Anything I can blame." He sat down again. "When I learned that she was here, my first concern was just that we'd cure her but there was still that hope growing inside me. As she recovered, that hope grew but then… Now it's falling apart." He went on in more detail about how things had been between them and related their last conversation. "Right now I don't know what to do."

Duncan sighed. "In my vast experience of these matters…" He smiled and managed to get a half smile from Chakotay. "Look, Chakotay, you can either go in there…quietly and gently please…and talk to her. Lay your cards on the table and tell her how you feel. Tell her what you've just told me." Chakotay looked wary at that and Duncan nodded. "Or, I could talk to her for you and let her know it was on your behalf. As I see it, she's terrified of being hurt again. She needs to know that you're really there for her this time."

Chakotay stood again. "You really think that's all it is? What if she just doesn't want me after everything I did to her?"

Duncan stood now also. "I think you both have equal blame to take in all this, Chakotay. The sooner you both accept that, the sooner you can sort this out and move on. Neither of you can move forward if you keep dwelling on the past. You can't change that past but you can decide the future." He was silent for a moment. "So…what's it to be? Do you talk to her or do I?"

Chakotay licked at his lips and thought for a moment. "I think maybe… Would you mind…preparing the way, I guess? I'm not sure she'll want to see me again."

Duncan smiled and nodded. "I'll talk to her but what we discuss will be confidential unless she says otherwise. Is that acceptable?"

Chakotay nodded and smiled. "Thank you."

Duncan nodded and moved towards the door then hesitated a moment. "Chakotay, I know I've agreed to do this and maybe I should have asked this before I agreed but…" He licked at his lips and stared the older man straight in the eyes. "Can you give me your word of honour that you truly love her and won't ever hurt her, deliberately hurt her again? I care deeply about this woman. We all do. I need to ask you this first."

Chakotay held Duncan's eyes and the young doctor saw the complete honesty in them. "I love her, Duncan. I'd give my life for her. I let her down before. I know that. I also know that we have to put that behind us because while I was mostly to blame, we do both have to accept that Kathryn played a part in it too. Fate also had a role. However, with that in the past, I can swear to you now that I do love her. I never stopped, despite what else happened. I also promise I'll do everything in my power to make sure I never hurt her again." He smiled a little. "Besides, I get the feeling you'll be watching and you'd probably hit me harder next time."

Duncan smiled also and nodded. "I just might." He frowned then. "What do you mean by 'you get the feeling I'll be watching'? How…?"

Chakotay shrugged. "I don't know really. I could kind of see myself living here." He blew out a breath. "Sorry. That was extremely presumptuous on my part. I've no right. Of course, Kathryn may not want to leave or…" He sighed. "I don't know. I guess I haven't thought all this out very well. I know how I feel about Kathryn but I hadn't thought past that."

Duncan moved back into the room. "It had crossed my mind that if things worked out between you both, Kathryn would leave. We don't want to lose her but her happiness comes first. I hadn't thought that you'd ever consider staying, at least not permanently. I do remember you saying at one of the early meetings about staying on to help out after the crisis was over, but I just assumed that was temporary."

Chakotay shook his head. "It probably wouldn't be possible…even if things do work out between us. The women and kids accept us now but I'm sure that's just because they know it's short term."

Duncan shook his head in thought. "Oh, I'd say they'd easily accept you long term. Jonathan and Lorcha stopped counselling them some time ago about having you all here. There was no further need for it." He shrugged. "Of course, I'd have to discuss all this with them and the staff here but I really can't see any problems we couldn't overcome." He smiled. "Besides, you'd easily earn your keep. You've a lot to offer here." He suddenly had a thought and dropped his head to one side. "Chakotay, are you the only one who feels this way?"

Chakotay took a moment and then shook his head. "Actually, I don't think so. No one has spoken of it to me directly since we got here but I heard a few things said before we left. Some spoke of staying on but I assumed they meant temporarily, even if that meant a year or more, to see everything through." He sat down and smiled sadly at the other man. "Coming here has given them all a purpose and made them feel useful. It's given them a life again. Can you understand that?"

Duncan nodded. "I do understand. If they're anything like Kathryn was then I understand only too well. We could certainly use the expertise you all have. That's been proved already. We'd have to consider the security aspects though and…"

Chakotay smiled sadly, not really hearing the other man. "To think of Kathryn living like that." He shook himself, thinking out loud more than speaking to Duncan. "Sorry. It just hurts to think she was that alone. I'm so glad she found you." He shrugged again. "Sorry. I wandered there. I don't know, Duncan. I can't speak for the others and I do understand your concerns. I just…"

Duncan moved back towards the door. "Leave it for now. How about one step at a time? Sort this out with Kathryn first. I'll talk to her and if things work out, then we can think about the rest. You can talk to your lot and I'll talk to mine and see where it goes. Let's just try and get you two sorted first."

Chakotay smiled at that. "Thanks, Duncan. I'll owe you big time for this. Just try and skip over my bad points."

Duncan laughed at that. "I'll try. I have my own too, you know. Maybe I'll leave out the bit about how this conversation of ours started."

Chakotay sat on the ground under a tree, having just finished his lunch and watched the progress of the swimming pool. It amazed him how much work had been completed. The sun shone through the leaves across his face, and when a full shadow fell over him he looked up and saw B'Elanna standing there. She smiled and then sat down beside him. "Rumour has it Duncan slugged you. One of the kids saw it. Care to enlighten one very curious woman?"

Chakotay groaned and lowered his head. "This place is as bad as Voyager was. Nothing is secret." He looked back at his old friend and saw her battle to suppress her laughter.

"Sorry, Chak…but you have to admit…"

Chakotay finally gave in and smiled a little. "OK, so he got a lucky shot in." He smiled sheepishly now. "Hey, I'm not as young as I used to be."

B'Elanna put on a mock serious face. "Oh, I'm sure it was just luck." She bit her lip. "So, do I even need to ask what it was about?" She nodded to herself, seeing the answer in his face. "I thought so." She made a concerted effort to be serious and almost succeeded. "So, come on then. Tell Auntie B'Elanna all about the nasty man hitting you." She couldn't keep it up and leaned back, roaring with laughter.

Chakotay just watched her, shaking his head. "Very funny. Pass the broken bottle and we'll all be in stitches." Eventually her laughter was infectious and he joined in. Several minutes later, they both finally gained some control. Chakotay shook his head. "You're some help. I need support here, not ridicule."

B'Elanna wiped at her eyes. "Sorry, old friend, but you have to admit that it is funny. Besides, laughter is the food of the soul. I'm feeding you. Tell me you feel better after that."

Chakotay reluctantly agreed. "All right. You win. I do feel better. I guess a good laugh relieves the tension for a moment. It doesn't solve the problem though."

B'Elanna became serious now. "Joking aside. Tell me, Chak. What happened?"

Chakotay smiled sadly at her. "I may have just screwed up the rest of my life or maybe it's just starting…" He smiled again at B'Elanna's frown and went on to explain about everything that had happened. "Duncan is paving the way, I guess. It's better that he talks to her first. I'm not sure she'll want to even see me again."

B'Elanna shook her head. "That's rubbish and you know it. Do you really think she'd have said all that if she didn't mean it? Chakotay, anger or upset brings out the truth in us all. We all say more than we'd normally admit to when we're upset or mad. We may not mean to say it but we do mean it."

Chakotay laughed at that. "Those were almost my exact words to her."

B'Elanna gripped his arm. "Then just have faith that this will work out. Let Duncan prepare the way for you and then go and see her and talk to her the way you should have a long time ago. Let her talk to you the way she should have also."

Chakotay placed a hand on hers and smiled. "It's all I can do. I know that. Thanks for listening. You're one hell of a friend."

B'Elanna playfully punched his arm. "That's a two-way street. You've been there for me more times than I can count." They smiled at each other, both remembering some of those times.

Finally Chakotay broke the silence. "This is a change of subject but… Can I ask you something?" B'Elanna nodded. "I think I may have said something to Duncan… Actually I did say something. The thing is…" He licked at his lips.

B'Elanna smiled but she looked puzzled. "Chakotay, just ask. What is it?"

He stared out over the compound a moment and then looked back at her. "How do you feel about this place? I mean, how are you and Tom getting on here? I know before how you both felt…and I remember one day here you said to me about feeling useful again and achieving something. Something about being exhausted but that it felt wonderful."

B'Elanna nodded. "I remember." She smiled softly. "We both love it here. Miral fits in great too. As to myself and Tom, we feel we have some worth and can really achieve something. That was missing for a long time back on Earth." She frowned now. "Why are you asking this?"

Chakotay kept looking at her. "Would you consider staying here permanently? I know it was mentioned about staying on but maybe it was more a stray thought or something. I just got the impression before we left that some would want to stay but I assumed that meant until all the work was done, a temporary thing, a year or so."

B'Elanna sat back now. "I'd have to talk to Tom and consider Miral, but I'd say we'd love to stay if that was at all possible. The people here have to be considered first though." She dropped her head to the side. "What about you? I mean, if it works out between you and Kathryn."

Chakotay sighed. "This also came up with Duncan. That's why I'm asking you now. I hadn't thought past just working things out with her. I never considered the next step. Would I stay here? Would she want to leave? Would the women and kids want me here? So many questions and I hadn't considered one of them. Duncan seemed receptive when I mentioned it. Let's face it. The expertise and skills we have would make a big difference to these people and this place. We've already seen that." He shook his head now. "You're right though. They have to come first and as Duncan mentioned, security is a big issue which has to be looked at carefully." Chakotay brushed some dust from his trousers. "There's a lot to be considered first. Duncan suggested one step at a time and he's right." He looked up at B'Elanna and saw her smile. "Just for the record though, how many do you think would want to stay on here permanently if it was possible?"

B'Elanna laughed and shook her head. "How many did you come here with?"

Chakotay's eyes widened. "All of them want to stay?"

B'Elanna shrugged. "Most I've spoken to would love to stay. I haven't talked with everyone in detail but that seems to be the general consensus." She sighed loudly. "Come on, Chakotay. What did you expect? Why do you think they agreed to come in the first place? There isn't exactly anything they need to rush back for. Theree's nothing wonderful waiting for them back on Earth. They had nothing and they came here and found something great. A lot of them are dreading the end of all this because it means going back to that nothing again. Coming here has been the closest they've found to being back on Voyager. They feel alive again and they feel like a family once more. Do you really think they want to give that up?"

Chakotay leaned back and sighed. "I guess not. Of course not. I just hadn't thought about it. Why didn't I see this before?"

B'Elanna squeezed his hand and smiled. "You've had other things on your mind."

Chakotay returned her gentle smile. "Still though…"

B'Elanna leaned forward and then got up on her knees. "Duncan is right. Just sort things out with Kathryn first and then we'll talk about this. I'll chat with the others in the meantime and see how people feel. Maybe you could ask Duncan to just feel out the opinions of the women and kids, the other staff… That would give us some idea. Prepare the ground, if you like."

Chakotay looked up at her as she stood up, his hand shielding his eyes. "That sounds like the best way." He nodded slowly. "And in the meantime…"

B'Elanna laughed down at him. "In the meantime, I suggest you charge off on your white horse and rescue that damsel in distress. Don't forget the flowers and your armour now." The sound of her laughter followed her as she walked away.

When Kathryn groggily opened her eyes, it was evening and the room was dim, with just a small reading lamp on. She turned her head and blinked several times to clear her vision. She smiled a little when she saw Duncan in the chair beside her bed, trying to read by the dim light.

"You'll ruin your eyesight." Her voice sounded hoarse.

Duncan's head snapped up and then he smiled. "Actually, I was nodding off…" He put his book down and leaned forward. "How are you feeling…?"

Kathryn licked at dry lips. "A bit groggy and I could use some water…"

Duncan stood immediately and got a glass of water. He helped her sit up then held the glass as she drank slowly.
"Just sip it to start with. Don't gulp."

Kathryn did as she was told and then pulled her head back. "Thanks. That's enough. My mouth was very dry."

Duncan lay her back down and placed the glass on the side locker. "That's the sedative. Sorry about that. I really thought you needed it" He saw Kathryn remember now.

"Chakotay. We were arguing. I felt faint. You sedated me?"

Duncan leaned closer. "That's right. I refuse to have my patients upset so I sedated you and ordered him out."

Kathryn was quiet for a moment as she digested that and then turned her head back towards Duncan. "Where is he now?"

The young doctor smiled gently. "Around somewhere, feeling very sorry and embarrassed, guilty even."

Kathryn sighed and shook her head. "I can't face him ever again. I said so much. Oh God…" She groaned and turned away. "I can't believe I said all that. He must think I'm pathetic, pity me so much. I just want to die."

Duncan stood and placed a gentle hand on the side of her face. He turned her head back to face him. "Actually, you've got it all wrong." He sat down on the side of the bed. "Kathryn, he and I talked. We talked a lot." He watched the emotions in her eyes and smiled. "Can I ask you something?" Almost in shock, she just nodded. "Do you still love him?" When she didn't answer, Duncan repeated the question. "Do you love him, Kathryn?"

Finally she nodded as her eyes filled with tears. "I do, God help me. I can't stop. And now I've made the worst kind of fool of myself. You don't know the half of what I said to him."

Duncan took her hands in his and smiled. "Actually, I do know." Kathryn frowned. "Kathryn, Chakotay talked to me, really talked to me. He opened his heart to me, in fact. I know what happened between you both, at least his side of it."

Kathryn's mouth had fallen open. "He told you…you know…he said…he…?"

Duncan smiled and squeezed her hands tighter. "Listen to me, my dear Kathryn. He told me how you met, about your time out there in the Delta Quadrant, how he always felt about you, how he waited… He told me how things started with Seven. He said that he was lonely and it just happened." He watched her tears build. "He regrets it all, you know. I just don't think he could face the rest of his life alone, and it could have been that way if you hadn't gotten home. Anyway, it's long over and he's been on his own since." Kathryn's tears spilled over and Duncan wiped at them. "Kathryn, he loves you. Very much. He told me that and I believe him. I can see it with him. He asked me to speak with you because he was afraid you wouldn't want to talk to him. I said I would but I also told him that I'd only tell him what we discuss here if you give your permission."

Kathryn swallowed loudly. "He couldn't love me…not after… Duncan, I pushed him away for years. I hurt him badly. I drove him to Seven and now he has a new life. He teaches, loves it apparently. There's no place for me."

Duncan sighed and rolled up his eyes. "Look, lady, I know a man in love when I see him. I live with one, remember?" Kathryn managed a weak smile. "He loves you. I don't know about his teaching or his new life. I do know that he asked me about staying on here."

Kathryn's eyes grew wide at that and she interrupted Duncan. "He asked you…? He would…? He…?"

Duncan groaned. "What is it with you two and not being able to complete sentences? Look, he loves you and you love him. Now, where's the problem? Talk to each other. Talk about the past if you need to then sort it and let it go, or just let it go and don't talk about it. You then tell each other how you feel and move on. I think that sounds very simple." He sat back, looking pleased with himself.

Kathryn just shook her head. "It's not that simple, Duncan. We hurt each other."

Duncan smiled softly now. "Kathryn, listen to me. You say you love him. He tells me he loves you and I believe him. With that in place, I believe anything can be solved. Don't throw that away." He shook his head. "Kathryn, in my eyes, you've both been given a second chance. Not many people get that in this life. Don't waste it."

Kathryn just lay there as she tried to think and digest everything Duncan was saying to her. She looked into his eyes. "I don't know, Duncan. I'm so confused. I'm also mortified at how I behaved and at the things I said." She shook her head. "When I think about the way I treated him here even. I couldn't let myself get too close to him, to any of them, because I knew they'd be leaving soon. I knew how much that would hurt again and I couldn't face it. Even when Chakotay touched me or tried to help me, I pulled back. He was so hurt by that. I saw it. I just couldn't stand to have him touch me because it hurt so much, gave me a taste of what I'll never have…" Her tears were streaming down her face now.

Duncan reached for a tissue and wiped them away. "He understands all that, Kathryn. He loves you very much and I think you should give him a chance. That's my opinion, anyway. It's up to you but I think you'll regret it forever if you don't at least talk to him. I believe you two are made for each other. Jonathan and I are true soul mates. I think you two are also. Don't pass that by, honey. I know how hard it'll be but I really believe the small price is worth it for the far bigger prize that will await you at the end of it. If you don't at least give him a chance to talk to you, you'll regret it for the rest of your life. That's no way to live. You know that already."

Kathryn couldn't talk as she broke down completely. Duncan pulled her up into his arms and rocked her back and forth until her tears passed. When she seemed calmer, he eased her back down onto the pillows. He smiled softly down at her. "Kathryn, I know you're scared taking that step but I believe it's the right step for you."

Kathryn sniffed loudly and nodded. "I know you're right and yet…" She shook her head. "It's not easy to take that step. I am scared. You're right there. I remember the pain of losing him before, even though he was never mine to begin with. That pain still lives in my memory and in my heart, Duncan. I couldn't live through that again. It's hard to take this chance in case…" Her voice trailed off.

Duncan smiled understandingly and leaned back a little. "I understand that, honey. There's an old saying 'once bitten, twice shy'. I know it's not easy to take a chance when you're terrified of being hurt again." He sighed. "Kathryn, I can't tell you what to do but I can advise you. That advice is to take a chance because I believe he truly loves you and has for a long time. I also see that you love him very much too. I'd hate to see that love wasted." Kathryn still looked uncertain and Duncan smiled. "Let me suggest this then. Take some time and think about it all. Take a day or so and rest up, using that time to think through all this. When you're ready, and only then, see him and talk to him. I'll tell him you just need a little time. I know he'll understand that."

Kathryn nodded slowly and frowned. "Maybe it would be for the best to take some time." She smiled up at Duncan. "Can you tell him I need to think a little?"

Duncan nodded. "I'll tell him."

Kathryn continued to look worried. "Do you think he'll understand or will he be hurt?"

Duncan shook his head. "Kathryn, he loves you. He'll understand and he won't be hurt. I'll explain it all to him."

Kathryn relaxed a little and smiled softly. "Thank you, my friend."

Duncan sought out Chakotay and finally found him in the kitchen preparing vegetables. Chakotay smiled up at the young doctor. "Don't ask. I got roped into this. Selona apparently has a rota and I managed to miss my previous turns, which I didn't even know existed. Now I'm pulling a double shift."

Duncan smiled and sat down opposite the man he'd come to greatly admire. He took up a peeling knife and began to help.

"Everyone digs in around here. You'll find yourself sewing one of these days. The small barn at the end of the far tree line is a good place to hide." He smiled softly. "I've hidden there a few times. No one has found my hiding place yet. Just keep that to yourself."

They shared a smile and Chakotay nodded. "Your secret is safe." He grew serious now. "Have you…?" He sighed.

Duncan knew without him asking. "Yes, I talked with her. Just now, in fact." He saw the hope written all over Chakotay's face but when Duncan didn't smile, he saw it fall away. "Chakotay, she just needs a little time. She's scared. This is taking a big chance for her. You too. She needs some time to think about this, let it sink in and mull it over. Just give her a day or so."

Chakotay put his knife down and examined the potato he'd been peeling. "I was so afraid she'd say she never wanted to see me again." He looked up and shrugged.

Duncan smiled softly. "It's not that. She just needs a little time. She was afraid you wouldn't understand that or would be hurt by it."

Chakotay picked up the knife and began to pick at the potato he held. "I understand that. I really do. I never expected her to just fall into my arms and be eternally grateful. Actually, I feel better about her taking time to think about it. In a strange way, it gives me more hope and means she's taking me seriously." He looked up. "Does that make sense?"

Duncan nodded. "Yes, it does." He leaned forward. "Chakotay, too many people rush into relationships and they suffer afterwards as a result. Taking time to think about it means that you take the other person seriously and respect them. When they allow you that time, it means that they respect you right back." He studied the carrot he held. "Does that make sense to you?" He looked up and saw Chakotay smile and nod.

"It makes a lot of sense. Are you sure it's not you who's the psychologist?"

Duncan laughed at that. "Quite sure but I've lived with one for too long. I've picked up his habits and learned his ways. Don't tell him though. He'll demand a share of my profits."

Chakotay smiled and shook his head. "I didn't think there were any profits here." He saw Duncan's face grow serious.

"My dear friend, there are a million profits here every day, every hour. Seeing a child's smile, the gratitude for a helping hand, an understanding pat on the back, healing a cut knee, watching a meal eaten in enjoyment, hearing the simple word 'thanks', watching two people who love each other come together…" He raised his eyebrows at the last one and saw Chakotay smile and nod. "There are so many."

Chakotay threw his potato into a pot of cold water beside him. "I get your point. Riches beyond belief. Beyond latinum."

Duncan stood slowly, then looked towards the door as two women burst in, each shouting at the other. Duncan moved to them immediately. "Ladies, is there a problem?"

Chakotay smiled to himself at the calmness of the young doctor's question in the face of such hostility between the women. He stood also as both women began to speak together, each trying to get their point across. They glared at each other until Duncan leaned in and placed a hand on the shoulder of each woman.

"Look, I can't understand a word if you both speak together. Honestly, you're worse than the kids. Now, can one of you quietly and calmly tell me what this is about?"

Chakotay stood back and listened as Duncan received a report of how duty shifts had been mixed up. He tuned out as other issues came to a head involving some of the children. He sat again and worked on the vegetables, half listening as Duncan sorted out the problem in a calm and delicate way. Finally he looked up as he heard the door close and smiled at Duncan who stood there shaking his head.

He looked towards Chakotay now and smiled. "Sorry about that. Sometimes things get a little heated and it's usually over something trivial."

Chakotay smiled and nodded his understanding. "You certainly have a knack for sorting things out. Will they be all right?"

Duncan moved back to the table and smiled. "Oh, they'll be fine. We get occasional fights like that one but they always sort it out. They'll heal the rift. After all, that's what this place is all about, isn't it? Healing?"

Chakotay smiled and nodded. "I guess so. Does that go for me and Kathryn too?" His eyes begged an honest answer.

Duncan smiled softly and nodded then placed a hand on the older man's arm. "Just give her some time, Chakotay. I'll let you know when she's ready." He pushed his chair back in under the table. "Now, as much as I hate leaving you and as much as I'd love to stay and help you with this lot…"

Chakotay looked at the mound of vegetables still to be peeled and then looked up at Duncan and made a face. "I believe you. Thousands wouldn't." He laughed. "Anyway, I talked Eugene, your vet, into helping me. Promised him I'd help him later in return."

Duncan moved towards the door. "Rather you than me. That 'help' usually involves mucking out after the animals. You'll wish to be back amongst the vegetables again." His laughter floated out the door after him, leaving Chakotay wondering just what he'd gotten himself into.

That evening, Chakotay was making his way back from the barns where the animals were kept. He looked down at himself and groaned. He smelled badly and he knew it, apart from the mucky state he was in. He looked up to see Jonathan walking towards him. "I really wouldn't come too close if I were you. If you do, at least try and stand downwind of me."

Jonathan laughed. "I see Eugene roped you in." He stood a bit away. "The joys of the cooperative."

Chakotay looked down at himself again. "Nothing I wasn't used to before. My family kept animals and we all had to take our turn."

Jonathan instantly saw the pain the memory caused him. "Those memories can bring joy also, Chakotay. You just have to let them do that."

Chakotay smiled and nodded. "I know that and much of the time they do." He wiped his hands together.

Jonathan sighed. "Sorry, Chakotay. I never seem to be off duty. I shouldn't have…"

Chakotay cut him off. "Jonathan, you've done nothing wrong. Don't even think about saying sorry. We all have memories of those we've lost, good and bad, happy and sad. That's just life." He smiled gently. "I better go and shower. I'll need a ton of soap."

Jonathan stood back a little. "Actually, I'm off to help Hista and Olga. They're starting to prepare their Fall term lessons. I said I'd lend a hand." He dropped his head to the side. "I seem to remember hearing that you teach also?"

Chakotay nodded. "I lecture at Starfleet. Archaeology and related areas. My students are a lot older though."

Jonathan nodded. "Same basic principle though, keeping their attention and interest."

Chakotay laughed in agreement. "You're right." He frowned a little as a thought suddenly struck him. "Jonathan, can I ask you something?" The other man nodded. "I was walking the other day along the river and found some ruins…" He stopped when he saw Jonathan smile knowingly.

"Ah yes. I know what you mean, where you mean. That would interest you." He thought for a moment. "Tell you what. I can postpone my meeting with our ladies until later. There's no hurry with them. Why don't you take a shower and meet me back here. I love an audience and I know something about these ruins. I'll 'buy' you a lemonade and tell you about them."

Chakotay nodded eagerly. "Sounds great. I'll be back in fifteen."

Chakotay watched several children playing some game he'd never seen before as he waited for Jonathan. It seemed to involve tossing small pebbles into the air and trying to catch them on the back of their hands. Squeals of delight filled the air when someone succeeded. Chakotay continued to watch them with a smile on his face, thinking that children were the same anywhere. He found comfort in the thought.

He looked up now as Jonathan walked towards him carrying two large glasses of Selona's lemonade. The light was slowly beginning to fade from the sky and the younger children were being called in. Jonathan sat down and handed one of the glasses to Chakotay. "I managed to get the last of this. Selona can't keep up with the demand. I think she's recruiting people at this stage and passing on her recipe. She'll swear them to secrecy first though. She makes great claims that this is an old family recipe or something. I don't think anyone believes her but it's fun."

Chakotay took the glass and nodded his thanks, drinking deeply. "That's good. Anything to take away the taste in my mouth."

Jonathan nodded knowingly. "Animal… Oh, what the hell. The kids aren't within earshot. Animal shit is hard to get rid of."

Chakotay shook his head and laughed. "My thoughts exactly." The two men laughed and watched the older kids for a while. Chakotay leaned back. "So tell me about these ruins. There was something familiar about them but I can't remember, although many layouts are similar from world to world. I guess it's been a while since I studied some things."

Jonathan leaned back also. "I'll tell you what I know, which actually isn't that much because not a lot is known about them or the ones who lived here. What I know I got from an old and trusted college friend back on Earth. He'd studied history and archaeology. I mentioned the ruins to him once and he did some research on the quiet." He drained his glass. "The main story goes that these people travelled from Earth many, many centuries ago, although no one is sure how. The other story is that they came from another Quadrant altogether. Some think they were called Pakani…others believe they were called Molwalan. No one knows for sure and I don't know where those names came from. What I can tell you is that they left a wealth of stone work and most of that is here on Haven. I believe there are other examples dotted here and there on nearby planets but it's not very much, only one or two pieces scattered around. Whether these people settled on those worlds or just visited and left the stones there is anyone's guess. I just don't know." He sighed and shrugged. "I've been up there a few times because I've always been interested but I've never touched them much. I care enough to know that my knowledge of uncovering them is so little that I wouldn't even attempt it."

Chakotay smiled. "I wish more people felt that way. The amount of history which has been lost down through the ages because of man's ignorance and lack of respect is sickening."

Jonathan nodded his agreement. "I feel that way too." He played with his empty glass. "Very few people know the ruins are here and those who do somehow don't bother about them. Their existence worried us at first because we thought it might put us on someone's map if you like. No one has ever shown any interest though. They were a small race from what I know so I guess there are just bigger fish to fry elsewhere. No glory in the small find."

Chakotay nodded his head knowingly. "That's always the case." He was quiet for a moment as he thought and then nodded his head slowly. "I remember now coming across a similar style of stone work during my training but it was closer to Earth. I guess that's why it looked so familiar. As you said, they must have been to other planets but nothing like the ruins here. How far do they stretch?"

Jonathan shrugged. "The site isn't that big really. About a quarter of a mile long and an eighth of a mile wide, although most of the stones are near the centre and that's also the best-preserved part. It seems to be some kind of altar, some place of worship. It's possible they didn't live here at all and simply came to worship or sacrifice, although with the river so close, it would have made sense to live here. As far as I know, the ruins on the other planets are more scattered and weren't erected with much care. The ruins here, however, were carefully put up."

Chakotay drained his own glass. "I'd love to spend some time up there and work the site. I've plenty of training in that area. From what you've said and from what I've already seen though, it sounds as if they resided on other planets and came here to sacrifice and pray. That was common with many early peoples. The worship or sacrifice site was often well separated from where they lived and worked. A lot of the time, it was also far more carefully laid out and erected. They cared more about their places of worship than where they lived." Jonathan listened, totally engrossed now and Chakotay smiled at him. "What did you see of the altar?"

Jonathan shook himself. "Not much really. Large, flat surface with some kind of statue in the centre…well…more to the back of it. It looked as if it represented some kind of strange animal but I couldn't tell without exposing more. I only pulled back a small bit of the vines and then covered it up again."

Chakotay stared out over the compound as his mind conjured up images to fit Jonathan's description. "That sounds about right." He nodded to himself.

Jonathan leaned forward, drawing Chakotay's attention to him. The young psychologist had a look of deep concentration on his face. "Something that's always puzzled me…" He looked at Chakotay, who nodded for him to continue. Jonathan shook his head. "I mean, we know they travelled here and travelled between planets, or that's the general belief." He shrugged. "I mean, if they had the knowledge of space travel, how or why did they work in stone? It looks hand carved. And why sacrifices or whatever?" He shook his head again. "I guess I just can't connect the two in my mind. One seems advanced…the space travel. The other seems so… I mean, to carve by hand or work with stone at all and to make offerings…" His voice trailed off and he shrugged at Chakotay. "Can you see what I mean?"

Chakotay smiled and nodded. "I understand what you're saying. What you have to accept is that they don't have to connect. Religious beliefs have never really moved with the times. The belief in a supreme deity has existed from the dawn of time. Some forms of worship haven't changed since man lived in caves and discovered fire. Tradition and history are what enhance belief in a religion. Look at books like the Bible, the Talmud, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Koran… These writings are centuries old and people still follow their teachings. Technology may advance but religious beliefs stay the same and there's often a great comfort in that. While everything else is changing, this stays the same. It's a connection to your ancestors, doing and believing as they did." Chakotay smiled, more to himself than at Jonathan. "My own people adhered to the old ways, despite using replicators and modern medicine when they needed them. The world advanced and a lot of them used those advances but the old ways came first. For example, my people have what they called vision quests." He saw how rapt the other man was and smiled gently. "The vision quest is like a journey in the mind to talk with our animal guides." He explained a little more, Jonathan hanging on his every word. "Most of us now use a device called the Akoonah, which was developed by scientists to facilitate the vision quest. In ancient times, psychoactive herbs were used instead, and you'll still find some of my people who prefer the old way. To them the Akoonah is a mockery. These same people will still travel in space and use modern technology but where their religious beliefs are concerned, the old ways are sacred. Look at some Christians…Catholics, for example. Their Mass has moved with the times to be celebrated in their own individual tongue, and yet some still prefer to use the old Latin."

Jonathan nodded thoughtfully. "I guess I hadn't thought about that, or thought about it in that way." They both nodded silently, each man lost in his own thoughts.

Chakotay sat back suddenly and smiled apologetically. "Sorry, my mind wandered there for a moment." He looked around and noticed that all the children had left and that the sky was much darker now. Lights were coming on. "The time sure runs away with you when you get into something like this."

Jonathan stretched. "Nothing like good, stimulating conversation though. One of the best things in life."

Chakotay sat forward and nodded. "I agree. I've missed that a lot."

Jonathan nodded kindly. "You have it again now though. I understand you were all separated for a time. It must be great to be back together again."

Chakotay turned to look at him and smiled. "The family was split for a time." He nodded. "Yes. It's great being back together. The saying about not missing something until it's gone is very true."

They were silent for a time and then Jonathan sat forward before standing. "Well, I'm going to head in. I've an early start." He looked down at Chakotay. "Are you going up to the ruins tomorrow? Now that I've whetted your appetite…"

Chakotay bit his lip. "I'll see. I'm sure you know I'm waiting to see if Kathryn will…"

Jonathan smiled gently. "If you're asking what I know… Duncan barely mentioned that you two were trying to work out some problem. That's all. No details."

Chakotay sighed. "Something like that. I let her go once before. I'm praying for a second chance."

Jonathan nodded understandingly. "I hope you get it. I'm sure you will, in fact. It doesn't take a fool to see that she loves you and that you love her."

Chakotay shook his head. "There was a lot of hurt in there as well though."

Jonathan took a step forward. "Another saying for you and one I believe in totally. Love conquers all. Have faith, Chakotay. It'll work out. You'll see."

Chakotay just nodded. "I hope you're right."

When Chakotay met Duncan the next morning, he learned that Kathryn was still not ready to see him. He accepted that, drawing hope from the fact that she was still thinking. Having the day to himself, he told Duncan that we wanted to visit the ruins.

"Call over and see Selona. She'll make you a packed lunch and…" He broke off smiling and stared off to the right. Chakotay followed where he looked and smiled also. Julie sat on a large stone staring at them both.

Chakotay waved to her. "How are you this morning, young lady?"

The girl smiled shyly. "I'm bored."

Duncan smiled and whispered quietly to Chakotay. "That's kid speak for 'I know you're going somewhere and I want to come too'."

Chakotay bit his lip to avoid laughing and whispered back. "Would it be all right if she came with me?"

Duncan nodded. "No problem. Selona can just as easily make two lunches. I'll let the others know she's with you so no one panics and thinks she's missing." They looked towards Julie again and saw her smile broadly. Jonathan smiled and shook his head. "Little jugs have big ears. Kids hear everything."

Kathryn spent her morning reading and dozing. At least she gave that appearance. Duncan knew differently though. He watched her quietly as he came and went, knowing that his friend was, in fact, deep in thought, fighting with her demons and desires.

When Galan, one of the nursing aides, brought her lunch, Duncan took the tray from the young man and took it in himself. He smiled at Kathryn as he placed the tray on her locker. "Lunch is served."

Kathryn smiled at him and pushed herself up into a sitting position. "To what do I owe this honour? Service by the big boss?"

Duncan laughed and helped her get comfortable. "Don't question such privileges. Just accept them." He placed the tray on her lap and sat down beside her. "You eat while I finish writing up these notes." He went straight to work, leaving Kathryn shaking her head, knowing full well that he was just waiting to talk to her.

When Kathryn finished eating, she lay back a little and studied her friend. He kept on reading but she knew he wasn't taking it in. "You can stop pretending now and say what's on your mind. I'm finished."

Duncan looked up and smiled. "Never can get anything past you."

Kathryn shook her head and handed him the tray. "Go on. Speak now or forever hold your peace."

Duncan stood and took the tray then placed it on the locker. He sat down again. "OK. You can't blame me for being a friend and wondering how you are."

Kathryn smiled. "You're the doctor."

Duncan stuck his tongue out at her. "Very funny. I see your sense of honour is returning. You know what I mean."

Kathryn grew serious and leaned back against her pillows. "I know what you mean. You're asking how my thinking is going." She looked over at him and saw him nod. She sighed. "Where's Chakotay?"

Duncan leaned forward. "Actually, he's gone off with Julie for the day. He discovered the ruins and Jonathan filled him in on them. Julie, of course, overheard him planning to go and made sure she was taken along."

Kathryn smiled at that. "I should have known he'd find them. I'm glad Julie went with him too. She needs the company."

Duncan smiled and touched her leg. "She's not as much the loner she used to be. Since the others came, she's being forced out of her shell. If any good came out of all this mess and you being so ill, it's that Julie has been forced to mix more, especially with the other kids. She's developed a sense of independence she never had before." He smiled. "Well, less of a dependence on you and the other staff. She had to. For a while, she transferred that to Chakotay but now she's mixing more with the other kids and even some of your lot. We're encouraging it all we can." He dropped his head to the side and pretended to look stern. "Anyway, stop changing the subject."

Kathryn now stuck her tongue out at him. "How does Jonathan live with such a nag?"

Duncan feigned hurt. "I do not nag and anyway, he loves me."

Kathryn rolled her eyes up and laughed. "All right. I'll get no peace…" She grew serious again and shook her head. "I don't know, Duncan. I've done nothing but think. My mind is going around in circles. I love him. I'm scared. I need him. I'm afraid to be with him. I'm afraid to be without him." She looked at him, suddenly tearfully.

Duncan reached over and took her hand. "Answer me this. Which would cause you the greater pain in the future? To be with him or to be without him."

Kathryn smiled a little. "You're too wise for your own good." She shook her head. "To be without him."

Before she said anything else, Duncan squeezed her hand. "That's your answer then." Kathryn looked doubtful. "Kathryn, sometimes in this life, you just have to take a leap of faith."

Kathryn dropped her head to the side, allowing a tear to escape. "What if I get hurt again? What if it doesn't work and I have to face that pain again? I couldn't do that, Duncan."

The young doctor squeezed her hand tighter. "Kathryn, from the first moment I met you, you've been in pain. I know you and I see how much you love this man. I know too that you'll go on in this life and continue to feel that pain. You'll never stop loving him. So you can either continue like this and waste the rest of your life…or…you can take a chance and find a life for yourself and him, find the love you both deserve and the happiness. Yes, you're taking a risk but we all do that every day of our lives. Loving anyone opens you up to the risk of that pain. It makes us vulnerable like nothing else can. It's only when it is true love that we feel that way." He watched as Kathryn's tears spilled over. "The way I see it, I'd rather have a brief happiness than the rest of my life feeling empty and in pain. What is it they say? 'It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all'? I know it's a bit clichéd but it's true. Kathryn, I love you. We all do. I want nothing more than to see you happy. You deserve it so much. Don't waste this chance."

Kathryn sighed and wiped at her eyes. "I know you're right, that you make perfect sense but it's just…"

Duncan sighed deeply. "I know it's hard, Kathryn. I can talk all day and maybe it does make perfect sense but it's only your head which will take that in. It's the heart you're having the trouble with. Or maybe it's the other way around. Maybe it's your heart that has the answer and it's your head which is warning you to be cautious."

Kathryn smiled slightly. "You're confusing me more and more."

Duncan shook his head. "Sorry. I think I'm confusing myself now." He leaned back in his chair, letting go of her hand. "Kathryn, just ask yourself this one thing, which you've already answered. Do you love him? Two things actually. Does he love you? We know the answer to those two questions is 'yes'. That's part one of the problem, which in my mind is out of the way and dealt with." Kathryn nodded but remained silent. "The second part is down to fear, fear of you being hurt again. You're both carrying a lot of baggage, emotional baggage, in all this. I think you both have to let the past go and take a chance, because not to take that chance will just condemn you both to a very painful rest of your days. A very sad existence. And that, my dear Kathryn, is no way to live." He smiled softly. "Just grasp the nettle, Kathryn." When she frowned, he smiled and leaned forward. "Welcome to Duncan's poetry corner. 'Tender handed stroke a nettle and it stings you for your pain. Grasp it like a man of mettle and it soft as silk remains.'" He laughed. "It works too. I tried it once. Had a sore hand for almost a day but the other one was fine."

Kathryn threw her head back and laughed with him. "God, Duncan, you practice the strangest brand of medicine. Is this your idea of homeopathic? Don't prescribe the nettles. Just talk about them?" They both laughed.

Finally Kathryn wiped at her face and sighed as she grew serious once more. "I guess you're right." Her face softened and she smiled gently. "I do love him very much and the thought of spending the rest of my life without him, or even a short time, is unthinkable. I'm trying to tell myself that I'd rather have a few days with him than nothing and that if there ever was any more pain to face from losing him, in any way, that it would be a small price to pay for what I know we could have together." Tears filled her eyes and a few spilled over. "I've loved before…twice… and lost twice…although I didn't love them with the same intensity as I do Chakotay." She dropped her head to the side. "The pain of losing someone can be crippling, Duncan. I don't think I can face that again, especially not Chakotay, and yet to be without him is just as painful." Duncan pulled a tissue from the box on the locker and handed it to her but she didn't take it, too caught up in what she was saying. "I'm terrified of taking a chance again. Terrified of something going wrong. It's like I'm just waiting for something to happen which will rip us apart." She swallowed and shook her head. "I guess it's pain and loss or pain and loss with some gain." Duncan frowned. "Even if something happens and I do lose him…" She sighed. "I can have him for a while and risk losing him or not have him and face that loss." She shrugged and tried a small smile. "I'm confusing myself now."

Duncan smiled gently at her but his expression was sad. "I wish you weren't so sure that something will go wrong. I know you feel…"

Kathryn sighed and cut him off. "There's plenty of precedent there for me, Duncan. I'm not too lucky in love."

Duncan waved his hand, dismissing that. He thought for a moment. "Tell me, Kathryn. Those others, the other two. Do you regret the time you had with them?"

Kathryn frowned and shook her head. "No, I don't. I have wonderful memories…." She stopped as she understood Duncan's meaning and then smiled. "Your 'loved and lost' theory?" He nodded gently.

Kathryn sighed deeply and played with a finger nail. "I know you're right and I know I need to just take a chance. Yes, I could be hurt again but I could also be missing out on a life of happiness."

Duncan smiled and nodded approvingly at her words. "You'd also spend the rest of your life wondering 'if'. 'Could it have been'? That can eat away at you."

Kathryn looked directly at her friend. "I need to take that leap of faith, huh?" He nodded again. "And if it goes wrong?"

He shook his head. "You can't think like that. You love him. He loves you. That's all there is to it. If we thought about all that could go wrong in this life, we wouldn't live it, would we?"

Kathryn studied him a moment. "I know you're right." She thought for a further moment. She then raised her head and drew in a deep breath and nodded. "OK. I'll take the chance."

Duncan smiled and nodded, his happiness for his friend showing clearly. "I know you've made the right decision." He gave a satisfied nod. "So…what do I tell him? Will you see him? Can I tell him you love him too or will you do that yourself?"

Kathryn sniffed loudly and finally took the tissue from his hand. She nodded as she wiped at her face. "Tell him… Tell him…I'll see him…I think…" She looked straight at Duncan. "You really think it's the right thing?"

He smiled and nodded. "I'd never tell you to do something I thought was wrong for you. I really think this is the right thing to do."

Kathryn drew in a deep breath and nodded. "All right then. I'll talk to him. Tell him for me…" She smiled sadly. "You really believe he loves me still?"

Duncan nodded. "I know he does. I don't believe he'll ever hurt you again either."

Kathryn swallowed and nodded. "I do love him. I never stopped. I guess I can take hurt if I know he loves me too."

Duncan stood slowly. "I'll tell him then but he won't hurt you again. I promise you that."

Kathryn frowned slightly. "You can't know that."

Duncan smiled sheepishly now. "Actually, I do. He'd be afraid to." He sighed and shook his head at the puzzled look on Kathryn's face. "I…kind of…well…hit him…and…"

Kathryn sat up in the bed quickly. "You what? You hit him?"

Duncan held up a hand in defence. "Hang on. It's not like it sounds." He sat down again and told her the full story. Kathryn stared at him the entire time.

Finally she smiled. "He could have killed you, you know. He's a trained fighter."

Duncan smirked and nodded. "I know that. I just didn't think of it at the time. Anyway, he forgave me…once I fixed his broken jaw…"

Kathryn slumped back in the bed. "I don't want to know this. You broke his jaw and lived to tell about it?" She looked up at him now. "I think I better see him soon…before one of you kills the other."

Duncan stood again and smiled. "I'll let him know." He moved towards the door.

Kathryn's voice called him back. "Duncan, you're sure this is the right thing? How will I know what to say?"

Duncan stopped and turned back to her. "Stop this now. You've decided. You know it's the right thing. As to the words…they'll come to you because they're already in your heart." He turned back to the door again and opened it. "Relax for the rest of the day, have your dinner and I'll send him in when he gets back. Give yourself a little time to sort your thoughts but you'll know what to say and so will he." He looked back to see her smile.

"Thanks, Duncan. I owe you."

He laughed as he left. "That's what he said too. I'm going to enjoy this. I love being owed."

Julie trotted alongside Chakotay as they followed the river towards the ruins. Chakotay watched her carefully and tried to make sure he stayed between the young girl and the river. He noticed how much higher the volume of water was now, compared to his last visit and looked up towards the mountains.

Julie saw him and stopped. "Is it all the way up there?" She sounded worried.

Chakotay smiled down at her. "No, honey. It's not that far now. I was just looking up at the mountains to see if there were any clouds there."

Julie stopped and frowned. "Why? Clouds are safe, aren't they?"

Chakotay stopped also and smiled down at her. "Oh, they are. I was just wondering if it was raining up there." He smiled at the confusion on the child's face and reached for her hand. "I'll explain it to you." He pointed at the river. "Does the river look different to you today?"

Julie studied the flowing water and nodded. "There's more of it…and it's faster…I think…" She looked up for approval and smiled when Chakotay nodded.

"That's right. And why did you have to bring your jacket with you?"

Julie laughed. "Because Mommy Cassa made me."

Chakotay bit his lip. "But why did she make you?"

Julie rolled her eyes up and Chakotay tried not to laugh as she mimicked the cook. "Because summer is just over and it's starting to get cold again." She shook her head. "I know that but I wasn't cold."

Chakotay smiled and tugged her hand to begin walking again. "Maybe not now but it will be chilly later on. As to the river…" He pointed up to the mountains. "See the clouds up there?" Julie nodded as she looked where he indicated. "Those clouds are making rain up there. It's raining up in the mountains and the rain falls into the rivers and streams. They then flow down the mountains to us here and that's why the river is higher and flowing faster than usual. The stream is probably the same."

Julie nodded, taking it all in. "Is it dangerous?"

She looked closely at Chakotay as he shook his head. "Only if you decide to try swimming in it. The current is stronger and it would be very hard to swim against that, even for someone like me. It would be dangerous. I'll talk to Daddy Duncan when we get back and tell him to make sure no one goes swimming. It's safer if we all stay away from the edge of the river and stream."

Julie looked at the water and nodded. "I'll be careful."

Chakotay squeezed her hand and smiled down at her. "Make sure you are, young lady." He swung their hands as they walked.

Within five minutes, they came to the site of the ruins and Chakotay felt his excitement build as they approached. Julie stared in awe around her and then gazed up at Chakotay. "What are they all? They look like funny, leafy people."

Chakotay laughed and knelt down beside her. "We're not sure what this place was but we think the people who made it came here to pray. It was all built with stone and now the plants here have grown over those stones. That's why they look the way they do."

Julie just stared around her. "There are stones under the leaves? Can I touch them?" She looked up at Chakotay again and he nodded.

"Here." He led her to one of the stones and pushed the vines aside. "Reach in between the leaves and you'll feel the stone."

Julie looked scared. "What if something is in there?"

Chakotay smiled gently at her. "Honey, there's no one here anymore."

Julie still looked scared. "Maybe some crawlies.?"

Chakotay smiled again and reached in, rustling the leaves first to make sure any 'crawlies' fell away. "See? Nothing to be afraid of."

Julie slowly raised her hand and reached in beside him. Her face lit up when she felt the stone. "I feel it. It's cold."

Chakotay nodded. "No sun gets under the leaves and stone is often cold anyway."

Julie was excited now. "Can we find more?"

Chakotay smiled as he saw himself at Julie's age and felt her excitement. "Come on then. Let's find the altar."

Julie trotted along with him. "What's an altar?"

Chakotay smiled as he thought how best to answer the child. He wasn't going to tell her about animal or human sacrifices. "It's a kind of table, stone or wood, which is the most important part of a place of worship. When people pray, they often place things on the altar, like fruit or grains, as an offering to their Gods. Kind of like a present to them. There's usually an image or statue of their God or Gods on or near the altar. Other people might have bread or wine on their altar and share that between them in memory of their God. It's different with different people. Everyone believes something different but the basics are usually the same. Do you understand that?"

Julie was thoughtful. "I think so." She pointed now to what looked like a large hedge. "Is that it?"

Chakotay looked and smiled, then nodded. "Very well done, Julie. I believe it is. You're very clever." Julie looked thrilled with herself. "Come on. Let's explore."

For the next two hours, Chakotay and Julie explored the ruins, the girl hanging on every word Chakotay spoke. He marvelled at her interest and the intelligence of her questions and how quickly she took it all in. They exposed part of the altar and Chakotay stood and stared in wonder at the statue of the strange looking animal erected on a plinth at the back of the altar.

"Is that their God?"

Chakotay nodded to Julie. "I believe so." He watched her staring at it.

"Is he an animal?"

Chakotay shrugged. "I think so although it's hard to say. We know very little about the people who came here. We've no idea what they looked like although it's possible they were something like us."

Julie continued to stare at the statue. "The people came here to ask for things?"

Chakotay squatted down beside her. "That's right. They would probably make an offering, fruit or flowers, something like that, and then they'd pray, ask their God for whatever they wanted. Maybe someone was sick and they'd pray for them to get better or they'd want good weather for their crops. Anything really."

He smiled as he watched Julie take it all in. He stood now and looked around him. "Come on, honey. Let's cover it back up and then we have to head back. It's starting to get cold and I'm getting hungry. It's ages since we ate those sandwiches. Are you hungry too?"

Julie nodded and smiled. "Selona is making burgers tonight."

Chakotay ruffled her hair. "I can't let you miss that now, can I?"

Julie shook her head. "She said she was making special ones for you with no meat."

Chakotay smiled and shook his head. "I marvel at that woman. I don't know how she caters for everyone." They worked quickly and covered the altar and statue. Chakotay stood back and inspected their work. He nodded his head. "That's great, Julie." He reached for her hand now and looked at it closely. "You're mucky." He looked at his own hands. "I'm as bad. We'd better get back and wash up before dinner. Burger and woodland dirt doesn't make a great meal."

Julie squealed with laughter. "You're funny."

Chakotay suddenly swung her up in the air. "Oh, you think so?" Julie squealed even louder. Chakotay laughed along with her. He lowered her back down and placed her beside him. "Right, Madam Julie, let's head back. Put on your jacket first. It's only about a 20-minute walk but if you're tired, tell me."

Julie dropped her head to the side as she pulled her jacket on. "Will you carry me on your shoulders if I'm tired?"

Chakotay knew he'd walked into the trap and smiled. "Come on. Up you get then. I can take a hint." He knelt down and lifted the girl onto his shoulders and then stood slowly. "Hang on tight now. I don't want to drop you."

Kathryn spent her afternoon holding an open book in her lap but she didn't read one word. Instead she stared ahead at the far wall as she tried to compose what she would say to Chakotay. No sooner would she think of something then she'd dismiss it. She sighed deeply now and shook her head.

"You're like a giddy teenager, Janeway. Just tell him." She looked up and felt her face redden as she saw Tuvok standing in the doorway. He nodded to his former captain and moved towards her.

"I have to say that I believe that would be the logical thing to do."

Kathryn stared at her former Security Officer. "You do?" He nodded as he indicated to a chair, seeking her permission to sit. Kathryn nodded. As he sat, he placed a small plant pot on the locker, containing a beautiful orchid. "A small gift for you from myself and T'Pel."

Kathryn gasped. "Tuvok, it's beautiful. Thank you so much. And tell T'Pel also for me. I barely got to speak to her when she visited me. Thank you also, my friend."

Tuvok settled himself. "You are most welcome."

Kathryn stared at the flower for a moment and then turned to the Vulcan. "Is everything working well for you here? What about T'Pel?"

Tuvok nodded as he brushed a piece of lint off his pants. "All is well. I have my wife and my other 'family'. Vorik is also here. It is good to be able to guide him still in the Vulcan ways. I also have my work and I find that extremely satisfying. It is good to be able to use my mind so well again and to have those around me benefit from my work. I had missed that greatly since Voyager. I am also thankful that I have my mind to use, thanks to you getting us home in time."

Kathryn just smiled and shook her head. "I had much help, Tuvok. It wasn't just me. Hardly at all, in fact."

The Vulcan shook his head. "I disagree. We returned because of a great captain."

Kathryn shook her head again. "I still stand by what I just said. However, I thank you for the compliment." She smiled softly at her old friend. "How is T'Pel coping here?"

Tuvok folded his hands in his lap. "She is well. She would like to see more of our children and grandchildren but knows that we can still visit with them. Besides, there are many children here who benefit from her counsel. She is happy here. She has much knowledge which she has gained in her life and she enjoys passing that on to the people here. She also has many skills learned from within the home and outside of it. These also are in demand."

Kathryn smiled and nodded. "I'm happy that you're both happy." She looked over at the orchid a moment as the scent of it filled the air. Looking at it reminded her of Voyager, remembering the man beside her growing the flowers on board. That made her think of Chakotay and then to her visitor's opening words. She turned back to him now.

"So Tuvok, you think telling Chakotay of my feelings would be the logical thing to do?"

Tuvok nodded solemnly. "I believe so. Many times I wish I had spoken out to you on Voyager but that was not my way and I did not believe it was my place either. Now that we are no longer in a command structure, I can speak as your friend."

Kathryn smiled softly at the Vulcan. "Tuvok, you've always been my friend, and as such it is always your place to speak out to me. I would never take any offence." She shrugged and smiled. "I may not always have taken your advice but I would never have taken offence."

Tuvok nodded his head. "I will remember that." He laced his fingers together now. "You intend to tell Chakotay of your feelings now?"

Kathryn nodded. "I have it on good authority that he also feels the same way towards me."

Tuvok came close to a smile at that remark. "I would concur with that. I have observed him closely. He provides a good example of the human expression 'wearing your heart on your sleeve'. It is plain to see how he feels about you. It has been so for many years."

Kathryn lay back a little. "I refused to see that for myself while on Voyager. I just hope we get that second chance now." She looked at Tuvok and smiled sadly.

Tuvok merely raised his eyebrow as she had seen him do a million times. "I have no doubt you will."

At his own pace, despite Julie on his shoulders, Chakotay made it back to the village in just under fifteen minutes. He knew walking on his own would only have taken about ten minutes but he was careful of his charge sitting on his shoulders. He reached up now and lifted her down, placing her gently on her feet. "Back safe and sound, Madam Julie. All in one piece."

Julie giggled as she took his hand. "I had the best time, Daddy Chakotay. Thank you."

Chakotay swallowed and felt tears come to his eyes at the child's words. It was the first time she'd addressed him as such and it felt good. "You're very welcome, honey. I had a wonderful time too." He leaned down to her. "You'd better run off now and get cleaned up. If you're late for dinner, the burgers might be all gone." Julie nodded excitedly and ran off, calling to some other children now to tell them of her day.

Chakotay watched her for a minute and then headed towards the far side of the compound so he could return to Voyager and take a shower. As he passed one of the shelters, he did a double take. Leaning against the wall at the back of the shelter stood Mike Ayala and one of the women from Haven. They were embracing tenderly. As Chakotay watched, Mike suddenly looked up. Shock and something akin to guilt flooded his features until Chakotay smiled and nodded. Relief then quickly passed over the faces of the young couple. Chakotay gave them a thumbs up sign which Mike returned. He smiled softly as he moved away, whispering to himself as he went.

"That's two…" He looked up as he sensed someone approach and smiled at Duncan, who was frowning.

"Two what?"

Chakotay laughed. "Two good things in a row. Things generally happen in threes." He told him about Julie calling him Daddy Chakotay and then seeing Mike Ayala. "You're OK with that? I mean, relationships."

Duncan laughed. "Oh, I don't interfere with nature. I help here. I'm not anyone's keeper or father. Besides, they're not the first I've seen."

Chakotay's mouth dropped open. "They're not? Who else?"

Duncan laughed. "Chakotay, you don't always see what's under your nose, do you?" He smiled in apology. "Sorry. I know. Your mind has been elsewhere." He scratched at the side of his nose. "I heard it well described once. 'Those who work together, play together and those who play together…well, copulate'." He laughed at that. "Let's see now, those that I know of, and there are probably a few more." He thought for a moment. "Olga, our teacher, is seeing one of your guys, Gerron or something." Chakotay looked shocked. "Our dentist, Roberto and his cousin Eugene, our vet, have frequently been seen in the company of two sisters on your crew, the Delaneys. A real family affair that one." Chakotay just shook his head in disbelief. "Others have dated but I'm not sure how serious it is. I think they all just enjoy each other's company. You'd be surprised at how much socializing goes on between everyone outside of work. A lot of good and strong friendships have developed."

Chakotay rubbed at his chin. "I had no idea. How did I miss all that?"

Duncan laughed and shook his head. "As I said, you weren't looking. Anyway, so what? As to your Mike Ayala and Jaal… That seems the most serious of them all. More power to them. If he hurts her though, I'll have to kill him."

Chakotay laughed at that. "Break his jaw, perhaps?"

Duncan gave a mock laugh. "Ha Ha. So funny. You'll never let me forget that, will you?" He shrugged. "Guess you don't want to hear good thing number three then." He turned and pretended to walk away.

Chakotay grabbed his arm before he'd moved more than a few inches. "Don't do this to me. Has she said something?"

Duncan pretended to study the scenery around him. "Maybe…" He laughed now when he looked at Chakotay's face. "God, you're so easy to tease. OK. I'm sorry. Yes, she has. She wants to see you. I told her to have her dinner first and then talk to you. I think she was having trouble deciding what to say to you."

Chakotay looked panicked now. "She agreed? Oh God…what do I say to her? What if…? Will she…?"

Duncan grabbed his arm. "What is it with you lot? Is this something you all caught out there in the Delta Quadrant?" He sighed. "Look Chakotay, just go over there to her after dinner. Go in and see her. Just walk in and say 'Kathryn, I love you'. And she'll say 'Chakotay, I love you too' or the other way around. It's very simple. You then fall into each other's arms and live happily ever after. Walk off into the sunset…la la la la…" He rolled his eyes up. "I can't do it for you. She's not my type and although you are, I don't fancy you. No offence."

Chakotay stared at Duncan in shock and then broke into laughter. "You're unbelievable. You certainly shoot straight from the hip. God love the kids here with you around."

Duncan turned and moved away. "I rule with a fist of iron."

Chakotay laughed after him. "Padded in cotton wool."

Duncan laughed and shrugged. "Don't tell anyone." He waved his hand in the air. "I'll find you after dinner and let you know when she's ready. I'll then disappear and leave you love birds to it. Just remember though, she's still recovering so nothing too over the top." His laughter followed him as he entered the kitchen.


Julie wolfed her dinner down in minutes, to the amusement of Selona and the others. She quickly asked to be excused and then ran.

Dressa laughed with Selona as the child bolted out the door. "That one will be over to me later on for some peppermint. She'll have one hell of a case of indigestion. I can guess where she's off to now."

Selona laughed too as she picked up the almost empty plate left by Julie. "Mommy Kathryn has to hear about her day. She was bursting to tell her. I'm surprised she came for dinner first. She must have been starving."

Dressa began helping her friend clear the tables. "When you think about the way she was before."

The two women smiled at each other.

Julie burst into Kathryn's room and then stopped dead. "Sorry, Mommy Kathryn, I forgot to knock first."

Kathryn had jumped in the bed at the sudden crash of the door. She smiled now. "Julie, you gave me a fright. It's all right though. I was nodding off and I'd have missed my dinner."

Julie smiled widely and skipped over to the bed. "Can I stay until you get your dinner? I have to tell you everything…"

Kathryn patted the bed and smiled. "You may indeed. Hop up here and tell me about your day. Did you see the ruins?"

Julie couldn't keep still. "Daddy Chakotay showed me everything. It was great. We saw the leafy people…the stones…and we saw the river all full…and the clouds in the mountains. And the big table…the al…tar…or something…and the stone God. And you can go there and give him a present and ask him things and he can give them to you…but I think you have to ask nicely. And we pulled the leaves away and Daddy Chakotay made sure no crawlies got me…and we covered them again…and we had the food Mommy Selona made us…and Daddy Chakotay carried me home on his shoulders…and he told me stories…and…"

Kathryn stared at the child as she seemed to speak more words in one go than she had since Kathryn had arrived at Haven. The child's name for Chakotay didn't escape her either and she bit her lip to control her emotions. Julie continued on, telling Kathryn everything that had happened. Finally Kathryn couldn't take in any more. She laughed now. "Honey, slow down. I can't keep up with you." Julie stopped mid sentence, almost breathless. "I can take it you had a good day though?"

Julie nodded eagerly. "It was so great. The old people…the ones who used to live there…they could talk to the God…tell him things…make wishes…say what they wanted…ask for anything… They only had to give him some flowers or food…"

Kathryn stroked the girl's arm. "Honey, that's wonderful. I'm so happy you had such a great time."

Julie nodded eagerly. "We stayed a long time and saw everything." She paused now. "Mommy Kathryn, do you think the God listens to everyone? Can anyone ask him for things?"

Kathryn frowned a little. "I don't know, honey. Different people have different Gods…different ways of believing in things. Most people though, believe in a God, a supreme being they can't see who watches over them and listens to their prayers." Julie nodded, looking very serious. Kathryn had to fight not to laugh. Before either of them said anything more, Greta came in with Kathryn's dinner.

"Well, hello Julie. I had a feeling you'd be here. I heard from certain people that you gobbled your dinner down. How's that tummy?"

Julie smiled and then giggled. "I'm fine…" She stopped a moment as if to think about how she felt and then looked up at Greta. "A little sore…I think…"

Greta smiled knowingly as she looked at the child. "I thought so. Off the bed now and let Mommy Kathryn have her dinner in peace. You can come with me and I'll get you something for that tummy ache. You can come back tomorrow and tell her anything else. You must be exhausted and I'm sure you've tired my patient out too."

Kathryn reached for Julie and Greta stood back as the pair hugged. "I loved hearing about your day. You can tell me the rest tomorrow."

Julie nodded and hugged back. "I will." She slipped down off the bed and moved to the door where she waited until Greta had placed Kathryn's tray on her lap.

"You eat all that and I'll be back later when I've taken care of Miss Gobble It Up here."

Julie giggled loudly.

"I am not." She opened the door. "See you in the morning, Mommy Kathryn." She was gone as quickly as she'd entered.

Greta smiled at Kathryn. "Between you and Chakotay, you've pulled off a miracle with that child."

Kathryn settled her tray and smiled back at Greta. "Somehow I think Chakotay had more to do with that than I had. I started the ball rolling maybe but he finished the course."

Greta moved to the door also. "One hell of a joint effort then. Share the plaudit." Kathryn smiled and nodded. "Now eat while it's still hot. I'll see you later."

Kathryn nodded goodbye and watched the door close. She looked around the room for a moment, thinking back over Julie's progress and then to Chakotay's presence. She shook her head slowly, then ordered her mind to rest as she began her dinner.

There was only a tinge of darkness beginning to creep into the sky as evening began and Chakotay slowly made his way towards the clinic. His thoughts were all over the place and he'd been in a mild panic ever since Duncan had sought him out and told him that Kathryn was ready to see him.

"She's ready for you…dinner all digested and so on. I think she's even had Miriam help her with her hair and a little perfume and so on, but you didn't hear that from me." Chakotay smiled to himself as he remembered Duncan's words. The image had given him great hope.

He stood outside the door to Kathryn's room now and drew in several deep breaths, trying out several conversation openers in his mind before dismissing them. When he finally knocked and heard Kathryn call him in, he still had no idea what he was going to say.

Kathryn looked up as Chakotay entered the room and smiled softly at him, trying desperately to hide her nervousness and embarrassment. Both could see the other's uncertainty and just looked at each other for a moment. Chakotay cleared his throat, breaking the silence and jolted them both out of it. He smiled gently. "May I come in?"

Kathryn shook herself. "Of course. I'm sorry, please." She pointed to the chair at the side of her bed. "Please, sit down."

Chakotay nodded and made his way over to the chair. He sat slowly and smiled at Kathryn. "Duncan said… He told me…" He cleared his throat again as if the action would dislodge the words caught there.

Kathryn cut in before he could say anything else and before her courage failed her. "Chakotay, I'm so sorry about the other day and how it all came out. I didn't mean to… It just all rushed out and I'm sorry."

Chakotay drew in a deep breath. "Please don't apologize to me. I'm the one who needs to apologize to you. My outburst was unforgivable."

Kathryn shook her head. "It was my outburst that…" She bit at her lip. "I'm sorry, Chakotay." She shook her head and looked away, her eyes sweeping the room. "Oh God, I had all this in my head, knew exactly what I was going to say and now…" She looked back to him when she felt his hand on her arm.

His eyes were gentle as he looked at her. "I rehearsed quite a bit myself but the minute I walked in here, it just left my head." They stared at each other and smiled shyly.

Kathryn licked at her lips. "So how do we go about this?"

Chakotay smiled softly and squeezed her arm a little. "Kathryn, we've been friends above all else for a lot of years. How about we start there? Since I've been here, up to now, we've spoken but we haven't talked. We haven't REALLY talked. And we used to be able to do that. I can remember us sitting up late many a night discussing everything and anything." He smiled as he saw the memories of those times reflected on Kathryn's face. "So how about we just ease into this?"

Kathryn nodded and smiled, instantly looking relieved. "That sounds good." She bit at her lip a little. "I think I feel like a teenager again."

Chakotay shook his head as he smiled, trying to conjure an image in his head. "I'd like to have seen you in those years. You must have been quite something. All those rebellious genes and hormones."

Kathryn pretended offence. "I never rebelled and I had my hormones well under control, I'll have you know."

Chakotay laughed, infecting Kathryn with it. "That's better. I love to see you laugh. It breaks the ice and eases the tension too." He sighed then. "So how about we just talk about… I don't know. This place…the others…work our way in from the outside?"

Kathryn smiled and nodded, easing back against her pillows. "That would make it easier." She shook her head. "I have to admit I felt very nervous about this. I know I shouldn't have but… I mean, a part of me was dreading it and yet I want it…need it. I think we both do. I've been so nervous about it and I still am. Nervous and embarrassed even." She smiled shyly. "I know you and yet…"

Chakotay shook his head. "Kathryn, I've felt the same way. No matter how well you know someone, you can still feel that way. We all do where our emotions are concerned. We lay ourselves bare when we expose ourselves to someone, no matter how close we are to them. Those emotions make us feel vulnerable like nothing else can." He stopped at the strange smile on Kathryn's face. "What?"

Kathryn shrugged. "It's just that Duncan said something like that to me…about how feelings and love make us vulnerable like nothing else can."

Chakotay nodded. "He's a wise man." He sighed and reached for her hand. "I'm so glad you have friends like him."

Kathryn looked down at her hand in his and nodded. "They've been wonderful. After everything that happened when we got back…" Chakotay smiled at her and leaned forward, seeing the opening he felt they needed.

"Let's start there then. Tell me about that."

Kathryn turned her hand in his and squeezed. "Can we start with the others? Can you tell me about them first?"

Chakotay frowned. "Kathryn, what you went through is important too. You always put others before yourself."

Kathryn just shook her head. "I know but this isn't…" She sighed and managed a small smile. "I'm just trying to ease into all this. Is that OK?"

Chakotay nodded understandingly and squeezed her hand reassuringly. "OK. I understand. Where do you want to start?"

Kathryn looked across the room a moment and studied the door. Finally she looked back at Chakotay and smiled sadly. "I guess with what happened to everyone. I know you told me some of this already and the others spoke with me too when they visited, but not in any great detail."

Chakotay nodded. "What do you want to know?"

Kathryn sighed heavily. "I know they all left when the decision came down about no charges against the former Maquis." She shook her head, not looking at anything in particular. "I followed up with some of them but…" Her voice trailed off and Chakotay waited to see if she'd say anything else. When she didn't, he sat forward and studied her a moment, feeling there was something she wasn't ready to say. She looked at him quickly. "It was hard for them, wasn't it?"

Knowing she needed the truth and would know if he tried to soften that truth, he decided to be honest with her. He nodded slowly. "It was hard. No sense in denying that."

Kathryn nodded sadly. "I know so few of them settled." She looked at Chakotay. "Did anyone?"

Chakotay smiled softly. "Some did. Icheb was accepted at the Academy…and there were others like Samantha Wildman and Naomi. It's like that little girl was never away from her father…and she was so nervous about meeting him. If you remember, she and Seven were the most reluctant to reach Earth."

Kathryn smiled sadly as she remembered. "Most didn't settle though, did they? Their lives had changed so much. The lives they left behind, I mean."

Chakotay sighed. "They had, but that's just a fact of life. We could never have expected things to be as we left them. I'm sure none of us were as they remembered either. We'd changed too. We weren't lying in a time capsule somewhere, no more than they were. We'd had seven years of life experience as had they. Everything moves on."

Kathryn shook her head. "I know that. It's just…" She looked directly at Chakotay. "How bad was it really for them?" Her eyes demanded the truth and Chakotay hesitated a moment and then nodded.

"As I said, it was hard. People had moved on, gone on with their lives. Some had re-married after they'd given up on us. Kids didn't know parents or had forgotten them. I remember one guy saying that his kids called someone else 'Daddy' now." Kathryn shook her head sadly as she listened. "We'd changed too, as I said. We weren't the people our families remembered. Some of us had even begun new relationships, not thinking we'd get home and see our old families again." He shook his head. "Others had died or died after we returned. Harry Kim's parents died shortly after we got back, passed within a short time of each other. His fiancée had married someone else and had kids even."

Kathryn blinked back her tears. "I didn't realize how hard it had been."

Chakotay leaned forward. "Kathryn, are you sure you want to hear this? It's in the past and we're happy now."

Kathryn nodded. "I still see them as my people, Chakotay. I want to understand what they went through. I need to know." Chakotay nodded and reluctantly went on, although a part of him now felt that their feet were on the road to all that needed to be said between them both.

"Most had some problem, greater or lesser. They all found it hard to adjust and for some it was impossible. Their families were often unrecognizable to them. They even had problems with strangers. Anyone who envisioned a hero's welcome was disappointed. I mean Starfleet welcomed us, but there was still the situation with charges pending against some." He looked at Kathryn and dropped his head to the side. "You had your own pain over that."

Kathryn waved a hand as if dismissing her own experiences. "Go on."

Chakotay sighed and continued. "The former Maquis, even when they'd been pardoned… They were still…" He shrugged. "I guess people have long memories. It was 'once a Maquis, always a Maquis' and no matter where they went, people showed their feelings once they knew who they were. Some just didn't know how to act and others were openly hostile. Maybe they were just still afraid or had suffered a loss. I don't know." He sighed heavily. "Even the Starfleet crew had problems. Once people knew who they were, they were either accused of having had it easy by deliberately missing the war or they were hounded for details." He rubbed at his face and managed a small smile. "If only they knew what we'd really been through out there." He gazed across the room as he remembered.

Kathryn's voice brought him back. "A lot of people are ignorant and their ignorance always causes hurt to others."

Chakotay looked back at her and nodded. "I suppose so." He was quiet for a moment.

Kathryn then asked a question he knew was coming. She sounded hesitant. "What about…Seven? Did she have it as bad?"

Chakotay looked up at her, trying to read her eyes. All he saw was concern. He sighed and then nodded. "You know she and the Doctor are together now." It wasn't a question and Kathryn just nodded and smiled. Chakotay nodded also and went on.

"Well, they had it bad too." Kathryn looked shocked but didn't say anything. "There was a lot of prejudice against them. People were afraid of Seven, and even if they often tried to hide it, she still felt it. She was more accepted when she tried living on Vulcan but she couldn't take it. Who she once was would have been able to adapt to the situation, but not the person she is now. On Earth she found prejudice, suspicion and distrust. She was mostly seen as an oddity. She told me she felt as if she'd swapped her Voyager collective for one too big on Earth. Having spent most of her life as a drone, used to such large numbers, now she felt afraid." He smiled sadly.

"The Doctor felt totally useless also. His knowledge and expertise were as good as any, but because he looked like the Mark One, all he found was mistrust and discrimination. People didn't see his knowledge, just his appearance."

Kathryn sniffed and swallowed the lump she felt forming in her throat. She shook her head. "I wish I'd known."

Chakotay stroked her arm. "You're not responsible for other people, Kathryn. Their ignorance is their problem."

Kathryn shook her head. "It was also Seven's problem and the Doctor's and all the others. That should have made it mine. I should have been there for them." When Chakotay went to speak, she stopped him. "Just tell me the rest. Please."

He nodded. "Tom and B'Elanna, I think you know about." She nodded. "They couldn't settle either. Oh, they were delighted that Tom was able to sort things out with his father but aside from that, they just felt useless. Their days seemed endless. Like the rest of us, they'd had a routine and a purpose on Voyager and now that was gone." Kathryn nodded her understanding but said nothing. Chakotay looked at her carefully then went on.

"Tuvok and T'Pel. Their family was grown. Like the rest of us, I think Tuvok felt he had no purpose. For a man who'd almost lost his mind, he needed to use it and not settle down into retirement. He needed to be active."

Kathryn sighed. "He told me some of that." She smiled. "He came to see me just the other day. He brought me that orchid…" She pointed to the flower on the locker. "He seems so happy and settled here. He said T'Pel was happy also."

Chakotay smiled at that. "She is. She does some teaching, to the women as well as the kids. Everyone is happy here." He leaned back a little and shook his head, not letting go of Kathryn's hand. "Only those who were out there with us can understand what we went through. No one else can understand the bond that was formed between us all. We're outsiders as a result because people can't relate to what we went through. We were lost in our own home… Strangers in our own land. We were also scattered, no longer together as a group." He smiled at Kathryn. "We were leaderless. Our linchpin, the one who held us all together wasn't there. Since we've been here with you though… We feel we have our captain back."

Kathryn shook her head at that. "You assign me an importance I never deserved."

Chakotay leaned forward. "Oh Kathryn, you're so wrong there. I saw them back on Earth and I see them here. Yes, they enjoy the work, and the purpose is very important to them, but being back with their 'family' and having the head of that family with them again… That's the difference." Kathryn shook her head again, none of this sitting comfortably with her. "Kathryn, you know how we were out there. I know it was only seven years out of all the other years we've had in life, but they were seven very intense years. Many of us formed stronger bonds in that time, than during any other time in our lives."

Kathryn scratched the side of her face and nodded as she absorbed all she was being told. She took a moment as she studied her nails. Chakotay waited patiently for her. She looked up then and smiled sadly. "Onto the next circle then…" Chakotay frowned and Kathryn shrugged. "I kind of feel that all this is like a series of circles, each getting smaller and closer to the core."

Chakotay nodded his understanding at that. "I guess it is in a way." He smiled warmly. "What's the next circle then?"

Kathryn licked at her lips. "You, I suppose." She held his eyes and saw the sadness there. She also saw uncertainty and pain. She reached for his hand. "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to. I don't have to know. I just get the feeling that you need to tell me."

Chakotay gripped her hand and nodded, his head down. He looked up and managed a smile. "Me or me and Seven?"

Kathryn looked embarrassed. "I'm sorry. I've no right to ask."

Chakotay squeezed her hand to get her attention. "Yes, you have. You've every right." He held his other hand up, stopping the objection he saw coming. He smiled softly. "You have every right and I want to tell you." Kathryn finally nodded but remained quiet. Chakotay took a moment to organize his thoughts while looking around the room and then looked back at Kathryn.

"I don't know if some of these are reasons or excuses or whatever." He sighed. "I'm not sure of a lot of this now." He shook his head and looked directly at the woman in the bed.

"All that time out there…" He sighed heavily. "I always held out hope for us, for you and me, that there could be something." He saw Kathryn's eyes fill with tears but went on. "I think I even knew how you felt and that you couldn't say anything to me or allow yourself to get too close. I wasn't blind but I wasn't really sure either. I often thought I was just seeing what I wanted to see and that maybe it was just my own imagination or hope. I think most of the crew saw the same but they never said anything to me." He shrugged. "I knew it wouldn't happen though." Kathryn bit down heavily on her lip and sniffed but let him speak. Chakotay looked at her sadly, his voice soft when he spoke.

"Mainly, I was just lonely and feeling my age." He sighed again heavily. "I looked to the future and saw it slipping away. I wondered if we'd be out there for the rest of our lives. I couldn't really see us getting home. I had hope but when I decided to be honest with myself, I didn't see it." He shook his head slowly. "I looked ahead and saw the same day repeating itself over and over, all aboard Voyager, and nothing different to look forward to. Every time we'd come across what might have been a way home, it turned into nothing. I watched Tom and B'Elanna marry, saw them have their child and it got to me. I saw others forming relationships and it added to my loneliness." He looked up at Kathryn. "It wasn't really being on Voyager that was the problem. I was just lonely and with the years passing me by." Kathryn squeezed his hand and nodded. Chakotay was silent for a moment and then seemed to sit up straighter, drawing in a deep breath. He studied Kathryn sadly for a moment.

"I saw how lonely you were too though. My mistake was giving into the loneliness and letting myself get involved with Seven." He stopped and watched for a reaction to the name and saw her blink away a few tears. "Kathryn, it was loneliness that drove me into a relationship but it was pure stupidity and ego that drove me to Seven." He ran a hand through his hair. "Oh, she flattered me and I needed that. I was at a low ebb and she was there, showing an interest. No one else was and I reacted to her. I was feeling my age."

He suddenly pulled his hand away from Kathryn's, angry with himself now. "Of course, instead of looking towards someone else, I let myself get carried along with her. She was there, asking for my help and I was flattered." He stopped and sighed, reeling in his brief anger. He smiled sadly.

"It doesn't make me proud to say it, but men are flattered to think that they might be a woman's first and while that never mattered to me, I have to admit that I think it came into all this somewhere. Probably without me even thinking about it. I know also that it felt good to be needed and wanted." He leaned forward a little, playing with his hands now, knowing Kathryn would be hurt by his words and not wanting to see that hurt, not ready for it yet. He needed to say everything first.

"All along, in the back of my mind, I knew it was wrong, in general and for me personally. I knew it would hurt you too, this woman who was like a daughter to you, but somehow I still let it happen and I can't completely explain that. It was like standing back and watching myself doing these things I felt I'd no control over. If I'm honest, there was even a time when I felt I had a right to it, that it was a way to show you that I could manage without you." He looked up slowly, his eyes sad, ready to face her now. "I gave up, Kathryn. I gave up on us because I didn't see any hope there anymore. I gave up and I'll always regret that. That it was with Seven… I don't think I'll ever forgive myself for that." He swallowed loudly and jumped a little when Kathryn placed her hand on his.

"Chakotay, you didn't have to explain this to me. I think you needed to and you've done that now. As I see it, you were very lonely. She was there and I wasn't. That's down to me/ My fault. It wasn't any other woman on the ship because I don't think you were looking, no matter what you say about giving up on us or feeling the years slip by. It was Seven because she was there and presenting herself to you. That you went into it isn't weakness or stupidity. It was just human." She stroked the back of his hand.

Chakotay shook his head. "It wasn't just human. It was human weakness. It was the biggest mistake of my life, relationship wise." He looked at Kathryn and smiled tearfully.

She smiled back at him. "How long did it last?"

Chakotay laughed bitterly. "No time at all. It was over before we even got back." Kathryn looked shocked at that but remained quiet and let him speak. "Suddenly though, we were home and the prospect of that and the uncertainty surrounding it… I guess we used each other for support against the unknown. I could have been facing prison with the other Maquis. Seven believed she might end up in a laboratory somewhere. She even wondered if she might go to prison for the crimes of the Borg." He shook his head. "We didn't know what the future held and somehow staying together added a semblance of support against the unknown. Once we knew it was safe…"

He sighed and leaned back again. "It was safe. No prison and no labs, but there was nothing else there either. Neither of us had anything. Seven's aunt had died just before we got home…"

Kathryn gasped. "I didn't know that…"

Chakotay just shook his head. "She was lost and alone, Kathryn. She had no one. There was just nothing there for her. I felt the same way. I had my sister and her family on Dorvan but nothing on Earth. I felt I'd no right to come to you at that stage. Not after everything with Seven. I'd hurt you and felt I'd be the last person you'd want to see. I also felt I couldn't just walk away from her. She needed a friend and I was all she had. Oh, we both knew it would never be more. We'd tried it and knew it wouldn't work. Other than being on Voyager, we had absolutely nothing in common." He rubbed a hand across his face. "I asked her to come to Dorvan with me, meet my sister and her husband, their kids. She had nowhere else to go so she came. Somehow being there made us feel we had to try one more time. Put a last effort into it. It didn't happen though and it never would have. We knew that almost immediately. Everyone else saw it too. We tried out of obligation and loyalty, or something, but it wasn't right. She couldn't settle there anyway, even as just a friend. She left and I think…know…we were both relieved. She tried settling on Vulcan but that didn't work either. She came back to Earth and met up with the Doctor again. I think she finally found what had been there for her all along. She…they…just hadn't seen it. Well, maybe the Doctor had but Seven hadn't." He smiled at Kathryn. "They're very happy together and I'm happy for them. We're friends with each other, letting the past stay there in the past."

Kathryn lay back and nodded. "I'm happy for them too. I'm just sorry you went though all that when you got home."

She shook her head and changed the direction a little. "What about you, Chakotay? What did you do after Seven left?"

Chakotay smiled sadly. "I stayed on Dorvan for a time but I couldn't settle. Everyone saw that. Oh, it was great to see my family, see my sister again and meet her husband and kids…"

Kathryn smiled at that. "You're an uncle."

He nodded. "Yeah…two boys and a girl…great kids. It was wonderful to get to know them but I felt out of place. They never made me feel anything but welcome, but it was still their home and not mine. As much as I'd wanted to see my homeland again, 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. Talia, my sister, saw how I was and in the end, she kicked me out."

Kathryn laughed at that. "She kicked you out?"

Chakotay nodded and laughed also. "Not literally but she told me I needed to settle things and find peace so she booked my passage back to Earth for me."

Kathryn nodded and smiled. "Was she right?"

He nodded. "She was and she knew it. I knew it too but I just needed the kick in the backside to do it."

Kathryn licked at her lips. "So you came back to Earth."

He nodded again. "I came back and tried to trace everyone. Succeeded in most cases, except for a certain captain." Kathryn just smiled. "I traced most of them, almost all in fact, and saw that they weren't completely happy. After that, I just sat back and didn't know what to do. I was out of it and had no reason to get out of bed each day. I finally went to see Admiral Paris and ended up teaching at the Academy. I lecture there most days."

Kathryn suddenly looked guarded. "You're happy there?"

Chakotay heard the hesitancy in her voice. "I'm content there, Kathryn. Only just. It puts the days in. I'm like the others. There is no real life there for me. I go through the motions." He watched her carefully. "When I was summonsed by the Admiral who told me about this, I agreed immediately, especially when I knew it was you. The others jumped at the chance too. The rest you know." Kathryn was quiet as she nodded.

Chakotay gave her a minute then took her hand in both of his. "Kathryn, I'm not happy there. If I want to be completely honest, I'm close to miserable. Teaching and lecturing isn't what I thought it would be at all. They're more interested in seeing the Delta Quadrant oddity than in listening to my lectures."

He squeezed her hand and hesitated a moment, hoping the time was right to ask. "What about you? What happened to you?" Kathryn sighed and tried to turn in the bed. Chakotay stood up and smiled playfully. "Can I help you this time?"

She smiled shyly and nodded. "Please. And I'm sorry for all that."

Chakotay helped her get comfortable. "Something else for the 'past' pile." When he was sure she was all right, he sat again and waited for her to speak.

Kathryn shrugged at first, taking a moment to think. She then spoke quietly, her voice sad. "I was also one of the lost. My family… They weren't there. Nothing was there. It was like going into a room you once knew, only someone has changed all the décor and the furniture and you don't recognize any of it." She wiped at a stray tear which suddenly fell. "I got back too late to see my mother. She died just before we got home…"

Chakotay leaned forward quickly and took her hand. "Kathryn, I'm so sorry…"

Kathryn smiled her thanks but spoke on quickly and Chakotay sensed she needed to tell him everything in one go. "Phoebe cleared out as soon as she could. She didn't even welcome me home and didn't want contact with me either. I think she blamed me for having to care for Mom while I'd been away."

Chakotay squeezed her hand. "What did you do?"

Kathryn shrugged. "Oh, I stayed with Starfleet for a while…"

Chakotay cut in. "Kathryn, I know about you facing charges and being held for so long after we'd all left."

Kathryn simply shook her head. "It doesn't matter now."

Chakotay looked down at their joined hands. "It does matter. We should have been there for you the way you were for us. I know how hard you fought. We should have fought for you too. We should have known."

Kathryn shrugged that off. "I just did what I had to and in the end, they asked me to stay on. I had nothing else so I stayed." She looked down into her lap. "I tried to explain this to Admiral Paris when I left. I'm not sure he understood. I'm not sure if I did…"

She sighed heavily. "I'd spent so long out there, I didn't know who to be when we got back. I forgot who I'd been. The person I was before didn't exist anymore. I'd had a life I fitted into. I knew who I was back then. I knew where I stood. I was Kathryn and I was a captain and I could go from one to the other easily. Then we got lost in the Delta Quadrant and I had to be just a captain. There wasn't room for anyone else. Of course, the captain I had to be out there was completely different from the one I'd had to be before. I felt so lost and scared at times but I couldn't show it. And there was no escape from it either, no time or place to escape to where I could be just Kathryn again." Chakotay squeezed her hand, hearing the sadness in her voice. He let her continue.

"I saw how lost and scared they all were and I had to be strong for them. I had to become the captain they needed, but as a result of that, every other part of who I'd been fell away." She shook her head.

"And then we got back…and this new captain was no longer wanted or needed. I think she was even frowned upon. And so I was expected to instantly go back to the captain I'd been before I left. Trouble was, I didn't remember how to be her anymore. Everything was different for me and yet it was the same." She smiled sadly. "That sounds muddled but I don't know if I'd changed and things had stayed the same or they'd changed and I couldn't fit in anymore. I don't know. It was different and yet the same. I was this different person and I'd forgotten how to be the old Kathryn." She shrugged. "When we got back, I felt so alone. There was no one there to meet me..." She looked up now, tears in her eyes. "Not even me. I wasn't there. It was almost as if I'd expected myself to turn back into this other person the moment my foot touched Earth, but it didn't happen. I half expected to see my old self standing there, waiting to meet the new one…" She sighed and looked down into her lap again.

"The life I'd once known on Earth was gone. There was nothing to go forward to and I couldn't go back. Standing still wouldn't work either." She looked up again, glancing around the room. "The only thing there for me was Starfleet. Nothing else was familiar, not that Starfleet was, but it was the established versus the unknown." She sighed. "I had nothing and I felt nothing so I stayed on because it seemed easier. It didn't work though. It was just too painful. I didn't fit in anymore." She looked at Chakotay, knowing she'd see understanding on his face. He didn't disappoint.

"You know what I mean." He nodded but remained quiet. "I got so used to the way of life out there. After seven years, it became all I knew. I had no one to really answer to, no one above me. Suddenly I'm back and there were orders everywhere, the rules of others to obey. Their way. Ask no questions. I couldn't settle back and take orders again, play the game, go along with the politics, live an ordinary life again. I couldn't take not even being asked for my opinion. They expected the old Janeway again, thought I'd just slip back into being her, but I couldn't. Too much had happened out there, too much had changed. It had changed me. I tried to fit in and be that old Kathryn for a time, and in the end, I realized I couldn't do it. I also realized I didn't want to do it. All I had was this pile of regrets and they weighed down on me. I'd made a decision that robbed all these people out of seven years of their lives. Others died out there because of that decision. And then there was the suffering of their families left behind." She shook her head sadly. "Like you said, there are children who don't know their parents or will never know them and that was my fault. That was down to me. They all lost those years." She exchanged a sad smile with Chakotay.

"So I left. I'd had enough of trying to be what I wasn't and I couldn't take the pitying looks anymore either. Starfleet didn't even want or need me to help with the data we'd collected. They just wanted me in an office, hidden away…except when they needed to wheel me out for some dinner. They didn't want me back in space either. Maybe they didn't trust me or knew I couldn't follow orders anymore and if I'm honest, I wouldn't have wanted any other ship anyway." She licked at her lips.

"So all I had was this shoe box office, with work a junior clerk could have done. Of course, I also had to endure the sad looks of everyone around me, whispering to themselves about how they wouldn't end up like the sad, old woman who haunted the corridors. My crew was gone, my family… Voyager was gone and I'd nothing to even try and replace all that with." She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear.

"I had no use and no purpose. Every day was the same. Whereas I'd once found the structure of Starfleet offered great security, now it was restrictive. It was squeezing out the little life that was left in me. I knew I had to leave before I died there and I somehow knew that if I had died there, no one would have noticed." She smiled when she felt Chakotay squeeze her hand again. She sighed heavily.

"I knew if I didn't leave, I'd just fade away in there." She smiled sadly. "What's that old saying? 'Old captains never die…they just fade away…'. I think it referred to old sea captains but it applied to me." She sniffed and let the smile slip from her face. "The only way things could change for me was if I forced them to change, and to do that, I had to leave and make myself find something else."

Chakotay shook his head sadly. "I hate to think of you like that. So alone."

Kathryn squeezed his hand now. "Neither of us could have known what the other was going through."

Chakotay reluctantly nodded agreement to that. "What did you do when you left?"

Kathryn shrugged. "I wandered for a long time, at least it felt a long time." She smiled sadly. "I went to all the places I told myself I'd always wanted to see but with no one to share them…" She sighed. "I was trying to find something, anything, to fill the gaping hole I felt inside me, the one left behind when I lost you, the crew, Voyager… I wanted to find some peace, somewhere I felt I belonged or could at least fit in." Tears slipped down her face now and Chakotay gently held her hand but remained silent, knowing she needed to finish this.

"I left Starfleet because I couldn't stand to see people's pity for me and I thought leaving would force me to find something for myself, a 'the only way is up' kind of thing. Instead, their pity for me was replaced with my own pity for myself." She swallowed. "Anyway, I finished my travelling and found a cabin near the shore. I spent my days just reading and walking. Then I met Duncan and Jonathan and they kind of took me under their wing. They told me about their work and this place and in the end asked me to join them. I agreed at once but they made me think about it and check them out." Chakotay smiled at her as she spoke.

"Coming here was the closest I came to filling that gap. I felt useful again, but it wasn't quite enough." She gently pulled her hand from Chakotay's and sought a more comfortable position slightly on her side. She propped one arm under her head and leaned against it. "At least it helped though." She smiled tearfully at him. "Helping them helped me forget for a little while…" She bit at her lip. "Well, not forget but ignore…or rather try to ignore the pain I felt inside but I was fooling myself because it was always there."

Chakotay stroked her arm, which lay across her hip. "I'm so sorry, Kathryn…"

She shrugged again. "My own doing." She cleared her throat. "I've made good friends here though, wonderful people. Not just the staff but the women too, and the kids are wonderful." She smiled softly at him. "By putting them first, it made me forget my own problems. I got so down before, depressed I suppose, dwelling on my own problems. When I came here, I'd still get down now and again but then I'd see their problems and it would put mine into perspective." She sniffed loudly.

Chakotay let go of her arm. He reached over and pulled a tissue from the box on the locker and handed it to her. She nodded her thanks and wiped at her face. "You still had your own problems, Kathryn. You still mattered."

She studied the tissue in her hand. "I know but they didn't seem as important compared to theirs. Seeing their problems didn't take my own away but it hid them. I mean, hasn't all this eclipsed the unhappiness you all had?"

Chakotay nodded slowly. "Yes, it has. I know what you mean." He stroked a finger along the side of the bed. "Have you been happy here for the most part?"

Kathryn nodded and smiled. "Mostly. It feels so good to have something useful to do every day when you get up. To know you're achieving something and making a difference in someone's life."

Chakotay reached for her hand. "You're a very special person, Kathryn. You've always made a difference.

You made a difference to all the lives on Voyager."

Kathryn sighed sadly. "Oh, I made a difference to their lives all right. I ruined them, lost some of them even."

Chakotay shook his head and sighed heavily. "You know that's not true. And you saved lives. You are special."

Kathryn shrugged and shook her head sadly. "I'm not special, Chakotay. I got you all lost out there and yet…"

Chakotay closed his eyes a moment. "Kathryn, what happened was outside of our control. It wasn't your fault or anyone else's. And before you say it, destroying the array was the right thing to do. You saved countless lives with that so drop this because we've been through it. Let it go." Kathryn sighed and seemed to reluctantly accept that. She looked across the room at something Chakotay couldn't see.

"All the loyalty from you and from them. I never deserved that. Their understanding, the families…and yet I wasn't there for them when we got home."

Chakotay squeezed her hand but she didn't seem to notice. He leaned forward now as something came back to him. "Kathryn, you said earlier about having followed up with some of them. What did you mean?"

Kathryn eventually turned back to look at him. She smiled sadly. "When we got back…" She bit at her upper lip a moment, then turned back to stare off into the distance. "The ones I lost out there, the ones I didn't bring home…" Her eyes filled with tears. "I met with their families, you know. They were so forgiving…"

Chakotay leaned forward, shocked at this news. "Kathryn…"

She interrupted him. "I… They were so comforting, so forgiving." She drew in a shallow breath, her voice rising slightly. "They were almost comforting me." She suddenly turned to look at Chakotay, disbelief in her eyes. "I think I wanted them to scream at me, hit me or something." Chakotay squeezed her hand as she looked at him almost desperately. "Joe Carey's widow. God, she was so understanding. I'd lost her husband, the father of her children, lost him just short of home and she sat there smiling at me, telling me she 'understood'. She said that she understood." Her voice rose more. "She understood but I don't. How can she?"

Chakotay shook his head. "Kathryn…please…"

Kathryn pushed on. "And then she thanked me." She shook her head, a look of total disbelief on her face. "The woman thanked me for being there for her husband." More tears came now and she looked directly at Chakotay, her eyes imploring him for an answer.

Chakotay took her other hand now. "Would you have felt better had she slapped you in the face?"

Kathryn swallowed and nodded. "Yes, I think I would have."

Chakotay shook his head. "You felt you deserved to be punished? Kathryn, that's madness. Look at what's happened to you in your life, especially since we've been home. You've had your own fair share of pain in your life, like before with Justin and your father, being separated from Mark, then your mother. You've had too much pain, emotional and physical." He shook his head and looked hard at her. "You don't deserve any punishment for crimes you imagine you've committed. A madman killed Joe, not you. You got us home. I don't know of any other captain who could have done that. Yes, we lost some people but that wasn't your fault. It was just fate, or bad luck, or the work of evil men. Whatever. Getting us home was a miracle, especially the number of us you got home. You merged two crews. I don't think anyone else could have joined two such diverse sets of people. You made us a family and we've stayed that way. You did more than anyone else could have. You just can't see that. And you've suffered. You've suffered more than most. You've had more pain than most." He sighed heavily as Kathryn shook her head.

"Maybe I deserved it."

Chakotay cut her off, shocked at her words. "No, you didn't. You never deserved that and you know it. What you did deserve was our loyalty and you've always had that."

Kathryn shook her head quickly. "I never deserved your loyalty."

Chakotay shook his head again and sighed heavily. "You always deserved our loyalty, Kathryn. Please don't ever doubt that. The risks you took for us. The life you gave up."

Kathryn just shook her head and spoke softly, as if not hearing Chakotay's words. "I caused their pain."

Chakotay squeezed her hand tightly now to get her attention. "God, Kathryn. I can't believe you've been carrying this inside you but I should have seen it."

Kathryn just shook her head sadly. "It's always there. They're always there. Don't you ever see them?"

Chakotay shook his head again. "I see them when I remember them. But I know that I have to let them go and let them rest in peace. You have to do the same because you deserve your peace also. You always have to blame and punish yourself." His voice became firmer now and he saw he had her attention. "What you have to do is take that pain and see it for what you will, see it as whatever you need to. Ultimately though, you take it and bury it along with the dead. Let it go and balance the books. You've paid the price you believe you owed many times over, paid more than enough for sins you never committed. Now you bury it and move on and live. Live for yourself and if it helps, live for them too. Either way, let the past go and live the life you've been given. Take it as the beautiful gift it is and cherish it. You let the dead go. It's better to forget them and smile then remember them and be sad. And Kathryn, that's what they'd want too. They have another existence now and they don't need your guilt or grief or pain holding them back."

Kathryn had been staring at him as he spoke and now choked on a sob as it tore from her throat. Knowing he'd spoken enough words, Chakotay sat up on the bed and pulled a sobbing Kathryn into his arms. He held her tightly to him as she cried, making comforting noises to her as he repeatedly nuzzled his lips to her hair. He rocked her for a time and as she began to calm, he eased her back to look down into her tear stained face.

"Feeling better?" He smiled softly as she nodded and he saw that she now looked embarrassed as well as upset. He gave her a warning look. "Don't you dare." He dropped his head to the side as she gave him a look of puzzled innocence. "You're embarrassed and you're about to apologize to me for showing some emotion." Her expression told him he was right on the mark. "Well, don't. Don't dare. You have nothing to be embarrassed about. It's the most natural thing in the world to show emotion and it's also healthy. Bottling up feelings is bad and can manifest itself in no end of harmful ways. You've hidden yourself away for far too many years and it's about time you let your true self show. That you can be yourself in front of me makes me feel honoured. Your trust in me is humbling." Kathryn swallowed loudly in an attempt to stem more sobs but lost the fight. She broke down again and leaned into his chest, welcoming his strong embrace. He again held her until she quietened. This time she pulled back, one hand wiping at her face. She sniffed and swallowed again.

"Oh God, Chakotay. I'm sorry for that. I don't know where it all came from." She managed a smile as she saw his expression, daring her to go down that road. "OK. Can I say 'thanks' then?"

He smiled and nodded. "You can and you're more than welcome. Anytime in fact. I'm always here for you." A look of sadness crossed his face and now it was Kathryn who gave him a warning look.

"The same goes for you, Chakotay. You've punished yourself enough for your own imagined sins."

He sighed and nodded slowly. "OK then. Let's both agree to let all our 'imagined sins' reside in the past."

Kathryn smiled through her tears and lifted a hand to his face. She stroked his cheek softly. "I'd really like that." They looked at each other for several seconds until Chakotay leaned forward and kissed her forehead. Kathryn smiled at him and leaned forward also, brushing her lips to his, kissing the corner of his mouth.

Chakotay took her hands in his and nodded. "It's a deal then." He smiled and slid from the bed, sitting back into his chair, still holding onto her hands. He smiled at her for a moment. "Everything will work out, Kathryn. I believe that."

Kathryn gave a small sigh and smiled. "Maybe I'll make a better difference to the people here."

Chakotay grew serious. "You made a wonderful difference to us all, Kathryn. You can see the way the crew feels about you. You were the main reason they came here and you know that. And from what I've seen and heard, I know you've made a tremendous difference to the people here." He dropped his head to the side. "Even saving a child's life and almost losing your own? Kathryn, you could have been killed."

Kathryn gently pulled her hands away from his and shifted in the bed. "Are you saying you wouldn't have done the same?" She looked at him closely.

He nodded. "Yes, I would have. I think most people would to protect a child. It just scares the hell out of me to think how close you came to…" He didn't finish. He sighed deeply. "And then this, that same bastard…" He stood suddenly. "God, Kathryn. I keep losing you or almost losing you."

Kathryn watched him as he paced back and forth across the room, growing a little agitated. "Chakotay…"

He wasn't listening. "Why can't I learn? Why can't I just act and say what I think and feel?"

Kathryn sat up in the bed. "Chakotay…I…"

He stopped pacing and stared straight at her. "Why can't I ever find the right words?" He threw his hands up in the air.

Kathryn pointed to his chair. "Chakotay, sit down." He looked at her and saw that she was serious. Her words broke the tension of the moment though.

Chakotay mock saluted. "Aye, Captain…" Smiles slowly spread on each of their faces. Chakotay shook his head and sat. "We're some pair. We're supposed to be adults."

Kathryn shook her head also. "It's hard to believe we're the same people who brought a ship home from the Delta Quadrant. How did we manage it?"

Chakotay let his smile slip a little. "You're a strong woman, Kathryn. I think you deserve the credit for that. Not me."

Kathryn let her own smile slip and looked at him sadly. "I couldn't have done it without you, no matter how it appeared. I tried to look strong but…" She looked away again and felt Chakotay squeeze her arm. She looked back at him.

"No, Kathryn. You did it. I helped but not in the way I should have. I let you down many times, too many times and the final time was…" He saw the pain that still caused and lowered his head. "Oh God, Kathryn. I'm so sorry. I made such a mess and I hurt you so badly." He looked up again and saw her eyes fill with tears.

She shook her head, dislodging them. "No, Chakotay. I hurt you many times. I pushed you away all the time. I drove you away, in fact. I understand. I really do. You were lonely. I understand that only too well."

Chakotay sighed deeply and closed his eyes. "It's no excuse for what I did to you. You were far more lonely than I was and you didn't…"

Kathryn laughed cynically. "Oh, come on, Chakotay. We both know I wasn't any angel out there." They stared sadly at each other.

Chakotay licked at his dry lips. "I can lay claim to that title far more." He stopped and shook his head. "Kathryn, all that is the past. We could go around in circles forever with it. I guess we both found comfort where we could, can say it just happened." He laughed nervously. "For a few of them, neither of us was even in our right mind."

Kathryn gave a half smile. "As you said, we're some pair." She saw Chakotay nod and then watched his face fill with sadness.

"They were never…" He shrugged. "I brought it home though, didn't I? There were excuses for the others, reasons or whatever. This was different. The others hurt but this destroyed."

Kathryn reached for his hand and gripped it tightly. "Chakotay, listen to me. Please just listen." He swallowed and nodded slowly. "I can't lie to you and say it didn't hurt because it did. It hurt beyond description." She squeezed his hand more tightly as she saw the pain on his face increase. "It hurt because of what it was but mostly it hurt because I knew it was my own doing." She held her other hand up when he went to argue. "Just hear me out." He nodded. She sighed deeply, taking a moment to organize her thoughts.

"Chakotay, we were both lonely out there and we both badly needed someone. I knew how you felt about me and although I could never say it, I felt the same way about you."

Chakotay leaned forward, determined to speak. "No matter what, deep down I knew how you felt and that you couldn't tell me. That's what makes this worse."

Kathryn shook her head. "I should have told you though, so it is my fault. I never even offered you any hope so I have to take full responsibility for all this. I never asked you to wait or even offered the remotest hope that things could be different. I regret all that so much. I let Starfleet and getting the ship home take over my life and I suffered for it, but I also made you suffer for it. I had no right to do that. What I inflicted on myself was one thing. I've only myself to blame for that. What I inflicted on you was unforgivable. And then when you couldn't take it anymore, I couldn't even let you have peace in that. I tried to pretend that I was happy for you and cover how I felt but I couldn't do it." Tears slipped from her eyes but she didn't seem to notice.

"All I had to do was put you first, put you before some damn protocols that never applied out there. I let all those principles and beliefs stop me from allowing myself to live and love. And maybe it was partly fear too. I was so terrified of anything happening to you, of losing you, history repeating itself even, that I never stopped to think. I thought if I didn't let myself get too close to you, it wouldn't hurt so much if something did happen. And as time went on, it became ingrained in me to stand back. All I did was cause myself even more pain in the end." She sniffed loudly.

"All those arguments, the fights, all the disagreements we had. Did you ever stop and think about the timing of some of those?" Chakotay shook his head. "I'd feel myself getting weak, coming close to giving in and telling you how I felt and I'd be terrified. So something would come up and I'd fight with you, blow it out of all proportion. It was a kind of defence thing, a way to stand back and to push you away again." She watched him think back. "I'm so sorry for everything, Chakotay. I hurt you so badly and yet you blame yourself."

Chakotay suddenly sat back, a look on his face as if he'd just discovered something. "You kept pushing me away to avoid being hurt." Kathryn bit down heavily on her lip and sniffed again but let him speak. "I think you've been doing the same thing here. You were even doing it with the crew."

Kathryn nodded tearfully. "I was stupidly standing back from them. I couldn't let myself be open to them. I was afraid of getting close and feeling the hurt and pain when they left."

Chakotay nodded his understanding. "And now?"

Kathryn rubbed at her eyes. "Now I see what I was pushing away, mostly from fear. I could let them leave here, having stayed away from them, feeling all I felt before. That pain and loneliness, missing them all. It would still be there, would continue. Or…I could let them in and enjoy their friendship for the short time I had it. It took our, what did you call it, our 'outburst' the other night for me to see that." She twisted a little in the bed. Her eyes filled with tears. "I even tried to push B'Elanna away. I let her in and then panicked and shut her out again. Did she tell you that?"

Chakotay nodded slightly. "She mentioned a little of that but she didn't say much. She let me know that what you two had talked about was between you both and was none of my business."

Kathryn smiled softly. "She's a very loyal friend. I wish I'd allowed her to be my friend before. I missed so much for so long."

Chakotay smiled. "She can be your friend now."

Kathryn sniffed. "They all can. I want to be there for them now, try and make up for lost time, and be for them now what I should have been for them out there and when we got home."

Chakotay shook his head. "Kathryn, you were there for them and they know that. You were what they needed out there. You know better than anyone that you can't be acCaptain and a friend. Out there they needed a good captain more, and they got the best. You got them home and now you can be their friend."

Kathryn nodded but sighed deeply. "I fought so hard to get them home, only it wasn't home anymore."

Chakotay reached for her hand and held it tightly. "That wasn't your fault, Kathryn. They wanted to get home as much as you wanted to get them there. Well, maybe not quite as much." They both smiled at that. "The thing is, you kept your promise to them. No matter how different it was at home for many, they still wanted to see their families again. The fact that they may not have fitted into their old lives didn't mean they weren't happy seeing their loved ones again, even those who'd moved on. It was a form of closure they all needed."

Kathryn sighed and nodded slowly. "Maybe." She shrugged and looked at Chakotay. "And you. I hurt you so much here, pushing you away and throwing all your attempts at help back at you."

Chakotay shook his head. "Kathryn, I understand all that now. I know why you were standing back, to avoid the pain and the hurt. We've resolved that now and can move past it, can't we?"

Kathryn nodded tearfully and smiled. "I hope so. It's what I want. I…" She swallowed, lost for words. "Sorry…I just…the right words…"

Chakotay sighed. "It's not easy finding the exact words. We're afraid it'll come out wrong."

Kathryn nodded. "I hurt you before with what I said."

Chakotay shook his head. "Kathryn, we've moved beyond that. Let it go. We just deal with the present and the future now." Kathryn nodded slowly, her eyes settling on her lap.

Chakotay pulled her hand towards him. "Kathryn…" He cleared his throat. "I guess I have two questions. " He met her eyes when she looked up at him. "The first is…" He drew in a deep breath. "Do you still feel the same way about me?"

Kathryn held his eyes and nodded, her eyes filling with tears. She swallowed loudly and whispered her answer. "Yes, I do."

Chakotay closed his eyes a moment and squeezed her hand. He smiled softly at her. "Good." He smiled again. "It's just finding the right words…" He stood quickly, surprising Kathryn. He paced a little and then turned back to Kathryn. Suddenly he found the words he'd been looking for, not knowing where they came from. He crossed backed to the bed and sat down, feeling everything come to a head after so long.

"Kathryn, I'm going to say this in a rush because I don't know what else to say or what to say at all or how so I'll just say this, because I mean it and I've waited a long time to say it and I'm afraid you won't want to hear it despite what you've just said but I have to say it anyway." He was a little breathless as Kathryn stared at him wide eyed. He spoke the words quickly.

"Kathryn, I love you." He stopped then, suddenly looking terrified that lightening would strike or worse. Kathryn stared at him in shock, making Chakotay more and more uncomfortable. "Please say something. I understand if you don't feel completely the same after everything, and if you…" Kathryn reached over and laid a hand on his, shocking him now. Her eyes filled with tears.

"I love you too, Chakotay." They stared at each other as if time was standing still.

Chakotay realized he was holding his breath and was now forced to let it out. "You do? You still…?"

Kathryn smiled gently at him. "I've loved you a long time, Chakotay, but I just couldn't say it before. I still do."

Chakotay leaned forward and grasped her hand tightly. "Oh Kathryn, I was so afraid that you wouldn't or couldn't feel anything for me. I always believed that you did before but there was always a doubt and even if you had, I was sure you couldn't still feel that way." He shook his head. "I loved you from the start and I…" He lowered his head, unable to meet her eyes now. "I was such a fool and I hurt you so much." He looked up when he felt Kathryn grip his hand tightly.

"We hurt each other but we've let that go, haven't we?"

Chakotay nodded. "Yes, we have."

Kathryn smiled softly. "What was your second question?"

Chakotay bit at his lip a moment. He swallowed quickly. "We love each other." He looked up at Kathryn as if needing her to confirm that. She nodded and smiled. "I guess I'm asking, even with that, can we have a future, a relationship? How we feel is one thing but…"

Kathryn nodded her understanding. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't afraid, really scared." Chakotay nodded, his face deadly serious. "I know how I feel about you." She squeezed his hand. "I can't lie and say I'm not still terrified of something happening to ruin it all or of something going wrong." She licked at her lips and smiled sadly. "I have a pretty bad track record. I'm afraid of something happening to you, of not being good enough for you, of being too weak…"

Chakotay shook his head. "Kathryn, you're a strong woman…"

Kathryn interrupted his words. "No, Chakotay, not where this is concerned."

Chakotay tried again. "Kathryn, it's not…"

She shook her head quickly. "Chakotay, you still see the captain who was out there. I'm not her anymore." She sighed heavily. "Look, before Voyager… Yes, I was strong. As a captain I was a strong woman. As Kathryn, I had many flaws and fears but I could handle them and appear strong, despite my past. I'd been battered emotionally but I was recovering. As a Starfleet Officer, I was strong. Out in the Delta Quadrant, I was strong too…but only as a captain. I had to be. I had no other choice." She shook her head.

"Being strong as Kathryn? I don't know." She frowned. "I don't know about her because I couldn't think about her out there. There was never time or room. Oh, she existed to some extent off duty but it was on some base level. The real Kathryn, the full woman… I couldn't allow her to come forward. It would have been too dangerous. I think she only really came out again after I left Starfleet. If I'd acknowledged Kathryn out there… Well, I was afraid she'd make me weak. I couldn't afford to be weak, to be human or even a woman. People depended on me to right a wrong I'd committed. I had to be strong to get them home again." She smiled sadly.

"You've no idea of the number of times I just wanted to steal a shuttle and run or hide in my quarters and cry like a little girl."

Chakotay stroked the back of her hand. "You should have come to me at those times, Kathryn. I was always there for you."

Kathryn nodded tearfully. "I know, but Chakotay, if I'd fallen into your arms just once… Don't you see? I'd never have had the strength to leave them again."

Chakotay shook his head sadly. "And what about now, Kathryn? Can't you just be you again? For once, just put yourself first and allow yourself the happiness you deserve?"

Kathryn sighed sadly. "I want to. I've just been afraid for so long to be me, afraid of something happening and afraid to break free of that."

Chakotay shook his head quickly. "Kathryn, I love you." She smiled her answer to that. "Take a chance with me. I know I let you down before…"

Kathryn interrupted him. "Only because I wasn't there for you."

He leaned in a little more. "Then be there for me now. Be there for us."

Kathryn looked at him sadly. "I'm afraid you won't like me or be disappointed with me."

Chakotay looked shocked at that. "Kathryn, I love you."

She shook her head. "No. I mean…" She sighed. "Chakotay, when we were on Voyager, you let me see you and get to know you. I came to know the man. I could never really let myself be Kathryn, the real me. You never really got to know me. What if you don't like me? You don't really know me, if I even know myself. In fact, I think I've only come to know myself since coming here. What if you don't like who I am?"

Chakotay took both her hands in his now and leaned forward again. He smiled very softly. "Oh Kathryn.

You've no idea how much of you I saw." He smiled again. "And I don't mean in that tub I built you." Kathryn managed a smile too. Chakotay squeezed her hands softly and shook his head, his face serious now. "Kathryn, I do know you. I know the woman you tried to hide. I saw her many times when she wasn't looking because she was there. I could tell you so much about her. I know all her little habits and ways. I know the way she holds her head when she's concentrating. I know the look in her eyes when she's listening to a favourite piece of music or deep into a book. I know her hand movements and the way she sits. I know the way she leans on her hand against the side of her face as she looks off into the distance. I know the woman who loves her bath and I know the look of pure bliss on her face as she savours her coffee." His eyes took on a faraway look as he spoke on, describing a woman Kathryn hadn't known existed on board Voyager. She recognized herself in his words and the love she heard in his voice brought tears to her eyes. As she stared at him, he suddenly came back to the present. He smiled lovingly at her and shook his head.

"I know you, Kathryn Janeway. I know the woman you are and the child who still resides within you, just like the child lives in us all. Of course, there will still be things to learn about you, just as there are things you'll learn about me. But Kathryn, that's the journey. We'll need to get to know each other as people free to enter a loving relationship. That's the wonderful part. We've been on one journey. Now it's time to embark on another with the most beautiful destination." He raised his hands, taking hers with them.

"Kathryn, too much time has passed and we've wasted so much of it. We don't dwell on the before, the who or why or how we didn't. We've covered all that. We just think of now and the future. We just know that we love each other and agree to take a chance at happiness because we damn well deserve it." As he smiled at Kathryn, her eyes filled with tears once more. She swallowed loudly and sniffed. She barely managed to nod. They continued to stare at each other for some time, neither speaking. Chakotay finally broke the silence.

"You know, Duncan told me that we should put the past behind us and just admit how we feel and move on from there. I think we had to talk about all this and cleanse ourselves, if that's the right way to see it." He played with her hands in his, tracing his fingers over her skin. "Well, we've done that and now we know how we feel. So that's the past dealt with. We know we love each other. So we move forward and fill in any gaps as we go. Don't think I don't know you though. As to the rest, we learn that day to day, about each other and ourselves. We have love and that's the most important thing. The rest just adds to that."

Kathryn bit hard at her lower lip and nodded. She sniffed and cleared her throat. "Duncan said much the same to me."

Chakotay smiled and drew her hands to his mouth. He kissed her fingers. "So we move forward. We go wherever life takes us. I'm not sure where that will be, but as long as we're together, it doesn't matter.

Personally, I'd be happy to stay here forever just where we are."

Kathryn smiled tearfully, her own fingers tracing over his hands now. "I'd vote for that but I think Duncan might want his bed back and his room." Chakotay laughed and nodded and Kathryn smiled lovingly at him.

Chakotay blew out a breath. "Let's just enjoy this feeling for now. We can sort anything else out later." He left a brief silence before he spoke his next words.

"Are you with me?" Kathryn understood his meaning immediately. She mimicked his earlier movement and drew his hands to her mouth now, her eyes never leaving his. She gently kissed his fingers.

"Always." She saw him share the memory with her. The rest was unspoken, no more words needed.

When Duncan came in later on to check on his patient, he found her peacefully asleep, Chakotay lying down beside her. Their arms were wrapped around each other. He backed away from the door and bumped into Cassa. They shared a knowing smile. Duncan whispered quietly to his fellow medic.

"I think she'll be fine until the morning. I wouldn't get any clear readings either way."

Cassa smiled back. "None you'd enter on her chart anyway."

They closed the door quietly behind them.

As in any small community, word spread quickly about Kathryn and Chakotay. One of the crew had gone to the clinic early to visit Kathryn and had found his former captain and commander still asleep in each other's arms. He wasted no time in passing on the good news. Within half an hour, the entire village was buzzing.

Several crew members, having finished their breakfast, were now sitting as a group in a corner of the large meeting room, the weather having turned suddenly, making it too cold to work outside. They were half-heartedly repairing some tools.

Mike Ayala shook his head. "About time those two got it together. They've been dancing around each other for years." He adjusted the small tricorder he was working on. "I mean, it's three little words. 'I love you'. It isn't that hard."

One of the women from the crew laughed at him. "Took you long enough to tell Jaal how you feel."

Mike stopped working and made a face at her. "Elaine, it took me a lot less than seven years." He frowned now. "How do you know I told her that anyway?"

Elaine shrugged. "Never say anything when there are kids around. They hear everything."

Mike rolled his eyes up. "Should have known." He smiled broadly. "I don't care. I love the woman and I don't care who knows."

Tuvok, who was working with them, coughed gently. "May I remind you all that we really should not be speculating about the relationship between…"

Jenny Delaney cut in. "Chill out, Tuvok. I thought you were starting to mellow being here."

The Vulcan shook his head, his expression serious. "I have mellowed, as you put it. I no longer use rank when referring…"

A young former Ensign from Engineering laughed. "You have to do better than that, Tuvok. We won't rest until you laugh…at the very least smile." Tuvok just shook his head and went on with his work.

Mike laughed at him. "We might well grow old waiting for that." He put his tricorder down and picked up another one. "Any bets though? Wonder what odds Tommy boy is giving on this."

Jenny shook her head. "No one had a bet on this."

Mike shook his head. "I don't mean them getting together here. Do you think they'll go back to Earth when Voyager leaves? I can't see Chakotay staying on here. He has a teaching post on Earth and if he's leaving, the captain will most certainly go with him. They love each other, always have, and now that they've admitted it to each other, which I'm sure they have or they wouldn't have been found the way they were this morning… Well, they'll stay together." He softened suddenly and smiled, speaking in an almost reverend tone. "I can't see those two being parted again in this life or beyond."

Jenny suddenly burst into tears. "Oh God, Mike, that's so lovely." They all stared at her as she wiped her tears away. "Well, it is. It's so romantic. Oh, I can't wait for the wedding. Maybe somewhere in San Francisco or on a South Sea island somewhere. Oh God, here I go again."

They all watched as Jenny wiped at her face, trying to regain her composure. They were enjoying teasing her so much, they never noticed Julie standing behind one of the pillars listening to them. They didn't see her slip away either.

As Chakotay returned to Voyager to shower and change his clothes, Kathryn sat on the side of her bed, brushing her hair. She turned when she heard a knock on the door.

"Come in." She turned and saw Duncan enter, a big grin plastered on his face. He stood and studied her for almost a full minute. Kathryn allowed his inspection but then shook her head and turned away, continuing to brush her hair. "Are you just going to stand there all day and silently gloat?"

Duncan laughed and moved into the room. "God, I love being proved right." He ducked the pillow which sailed towards him. "Violence now. None of that. And here I was going to allow you a treat…"

Kathryn made a face at him. "You deserve it for your smugness…" She put her brush down and frowned as if his words were only now getting through to her. "What treat? Are you going to let me out of here? I've been fit to go home for days now. Those token walks around the clinic don't compensate."

Duncan smiled knowingly. "Behave yourself and let me check you over and I'll tell you." He took out one of the new tricorders from Voyager and began scanning his patient. "The joy of working with modern equipment. I still think I'll wake up and find it a dream."

Kathryn smiled. "Voyager's Doctor still working with you all?"

Duncan nodded as he studied the readings. "He is…and he's teaching us so much too. Being cut off here prevented us from keeping up with the latest medical developments. Oh, I tried to catch up on our visits to Earth but it wasn't the same. It's great having him here and this equipment is amazing. Still, when I think what had to happen for us to get it…" He let his voice trail off, not wanting to dwell on that. He changed the subject a little. "Your Doctor is working well with the women too, teaching hygiene and related subjects, basic first aid, you name it. If he knows it, he's passing it on. He's even started music lessons for the kids…singing…and your Harry Kim is teaching the clarinet to some of them. He replicated a few instruments."

Kathryn smiled and shook her head in amazement. "No wonder I haven't seen much of the Doctor. I thought he was simply standing back and letting you treat me because I'd been your patient first when this all started."

Duncan shook his head. "He told me he was leaving you in my capable hands. Quite a compliment coming from him. I guess he felt he was more useful elsewhere now that the crisis is over. Some of the others are teaching with him. Whatever knowledge they have to pass on. Your Engineer, B'Elanna, spends hours with our Peter. I think your Tom has even given a few flying lessons in one of your shuttles. The educational exchanges are amazing. I think your lot are learning from our lot too though and it's great to see. I guess everyone has something to offer." He smiled down at her and saw her face grow serious. "Kathryn, what is it?"

She looked up at him. "You said 'your lot' and 'our lot'. I'm not sure I know where I belong anymore."

Duncan closed his tricorder and sat down on the bed beside her. "From what I've seen, I'd say you belong at Chakotay's side."

Kathryn smiled and patted his hand. "I know that and I don't ever want to be anywhere else again. It took too long to get there. I just mean where as in geography. I don't want to leave here but his work is on Earth…"

Duncan gave her a sad smile. "We'd hate to lose you too, Kathryn, but your happiness comes first. I'm so happy for you both. It's plain to see how much you love each other. You two belong together. As to where that will be…"

Kathryn sighed. "We didn't really talk about it."

Duncan smiled and shook his head. "Too busy making up for lost time?" Kathryn laughed. "Look honey, you've both got plenty of time to talk about all this. Just enjoy what you have for the moment. Now, get dressed and I'll allow that man of yours to take you for a short walk outside, and I do mean short."

Kathryn's face lit up. "You mean freedom? I can leave these four walls?"

Duncan laughed sarcastically at her. "You're so funny. Should be on the stage. Yes, I mean outside but only if you wrap up warm. It's chilly out there. You can really feel the change in the weather today. I just think the fresh air will be good for you. Might put a little colour in those cheeks of yours." He playfully pinched her cheeks. "I took the liberty of asking Cassa to get some clothes from your room. I hope that's all right."

Kathryn looked like an excited kid. "That's fine. When can I go?"

Duncan stood slowly. "You're like one of the kids. You can go as soon as you're dressed and as soon as Chakotay gets here. Now, I'll love you and leave you, as the old expression goes. Some of us have work to do." He moved to the door and opened it. He turned slowly and smiled back at her. "Kathryn, it's so good to see you well again and wonderful to see you this happy. In fact, I've never seen you smile like this before. It suits you well. I hope it's there to stay."

Kathryn smiled back at him. "I've never had the reason to smile like this before."

Duncan smiled and nodded as he left the room. He didn't see Julie hiding behind one of the privacy screens, a very frightened look on her face.

It took Chakotay almost twenty minutes to walk Kathryn as far as the benches surrounding the compound. They were constantly stopped by people wishing their former captain and friend well. Even when they sat down, women and kids kept stopping by to chat and tell Kathryn how well she was looking and how great it was to see her up and about again. Several of her former crew also came over with the same sentiments. Finally though, they were left alone. Kathryn leaned back against the bench and sighed, a smile on her face.

"That was exhausting…"

Chakotay looked at her with concern. "Do you want to go back? I know they meant well but it was probably too much too soon."

Kathryn shook her head quickly. "Oh God, no. It was great to see them all. It's so much better to speak to people in normal surroundings instead of from a hospital bed. It feels more real somehow."

Chakotay nodded his understanding. "As long as you're sure. I know you for pushing yourself. Are you warm enough? It's cold today."

Kathryn took hold of his hand. "Chakotay, I'm fine. Stop fussing. I'm warm and being outside is the best medicine I could have." They smiled at each other and held hands. Kathryn looked away a moment and out over the compound. Only now did she see the work that had taken place in her absence. She gasped. "Chakotay…the changes…" She shook her head in amazement. "The amount of work they've all done…"

Chakotay smiled and looked around also. "You're only looking at a portion of it. You should see the rest. They've even started a swimming pool. It's almost finished in fact, although it'll be next year before anyone can try it out. Fall is really settling in with a vengeance." He pointed out various other work. "They've added shelters and renovated the existing ones. B'Elanna and Peter have re-worked every electrical and mechanical system there is. In fact, every building has been completely overhauled. Selona has a wonderful kitchen now. We can't get her out of it. The school has been expanded and the playground added to. We've planted two more fields and added more storage space including two more barns. In addition to that, they've built greenhouses where fruit and vegetables can be grown under heated glass out of season. There's also a new flower section there. The animal shelters have been re-built and they even built little houses for the domestic animals, all with heating no less. Each pet has its own place. Sorry, his or her own place. One of the kids corrected me about that."

Kathryn stared around her in amazement. "I knew a lot of work had been done but seeing it makes it real. Everything has been painted or re-covered. There are more flower beds. And there's paving here now." She shook her head. "I didn't see all this when I first came out."

Chakotay laughed. "You were kind of busy with all the greetings you were getting."

Kathryn turned to him now with tears in her eyes. "It's so wonderful. Thank you. All of you."

She broke down and Chakotay pulled her to him. "Honey, what is it? What's wrong?" He barely heard her answer muffled against his chest.

"I'm so happy."

He smiled to himself and held her tighter. "You're happy?" He felt her nod against him. He smiled. "So you're crying?" She nodded against him again and cried harder. Chakotay shook his head. "I'll never understand women."

As Kathryn rested up that evening, B'Elanna and Chakotay sat quietly on one of the benches which were dotted around the compound. They were both quiet as they watched the children play together, age and gender not a barrier to any game.

B'Elanna shivered slightly and pulled her shawl a little more snugly around her shoulders. Chakotay looked towards her. "Cold?"

She turned and smiled at him. "A little chilly. It's gotten cooler these past few evenings, especially when the sun goes down. You feel a chill in the air now."

Chakotay reached over and rubbed his hand up and down her back. He looked towards the kids again and shook his head. "They can really teach us something." He glanced at B'Elanna and saw her nod. "Look at them all. Age, boy or girl, human or Cardassian. It doesn't matter to them at all. They're just kids and they have no prejudices towards each other. I guess we, as the older ones, teach them those prejudices."

B'Elanna sighed and then shrugged. "I guess in some ways we do, but it's often life that does it. It's their innocence of the horrors which can exist in the world that has them as they are. Some of the future prejudices they'll have will be taught by their elders but a lot will come naturally to them when they get hurt by someone. It's a big, bad world out there and no one manages to go through it without being hurt somewhere along the line. A lot of the hate we feel can't be helped." She looked towards Chakotay. "Besides, they play together here because they feel safe and know each other but I bet there are a lot of buried memories and feelings there. They've all seen a lot of bad stuff. That stays with you. I could guarantee that any Federation or Cardassian soldier who walked in here right now would immediately be on the receiving end of prejudice and hatred." She watched Chakotay's face as he admitted to himself the truth of her words.

"You're right. I know that." He shook his head sadly. "It's just nice to think that some can escape what the rest of us learn." He sighed and smiled at B'Elanna. "My parents never taught me to hate the Cardassians. For a lot of my childhood, I'd never even heard of them. My mind was simply filled with my friends and the adventures we had. Even when I joined Starfleet, I didn't think about them. My hate came later when they invaded my home and murdered my people. The Federation? Well, I felt they'd betrayed us…"

B'Elanna nodded and spoke when he didn't continue. "That's what I mean. People will always hurt others and you were hurt as a complete innocent. You naturally felt hate towards those who'd harmed you and your family. It happens to us all, well the vast majority anyway. It's just the way of life for most of us."

Chakotay nodded sadly. "It's just very hard to accept that those kids will probably one day harbour hate and prejudice against others."

B'Elanna patted his arm. "No one can shelter them from it completely. What we CAN do is educate them as much as possible and hope that they'll be able to see the difference between the one who hurts and the one who simply shares the hurter's race or sex. Being of the same sex or race doesn't make anyone guilty of the crime of another of that race or sex." She frowned. "Did that come out right?"

Chakotay smiled softly and nodded. "I know what you mean and yes, it came out just fine. And you're right. Education is the answer to it all. Of course people will hate those who directly harm them. It has to be taught though not to hate others who are only guilty of sharing the same blood, colour or race…"

B'Elanna dropped her head to the side. "You managed it though and figured it all out. I mean, you're fine with all the people here despite your past pain and hurt. Did you reach there yourself or did someone teach you that?"

Chakotay licked at his lips. "There are several answers to that and one in particular." He shrugged. "My parents never let us hate. We were encouraged to accept others and their ways but to also hold fast to our own." He laughed a little. "I wasn't too good at embracing the old ways…" He looked off into memory for a moment and then sighed. "I wasn't raised to hate anyone but once I saw what had happened to my loved ones and my home, it came naturally. I couldn't help it."

He played with a fingernail. "That hate remained for a long time and it bled out into hating and distrusting all Cardassians. My feelings were fed on a daily basis. You know all that. You were there."

B'Elanna nodded in agreement. "I know. I felt the same. It's different now though and I can't quite figure out how I got from there to here. I love these people, don't even see their race now. I remember how I felt then though, and see how I am now. When you said about coming here, I didn't think about it, just wanted to help and be useful again. So…from there to here? It's that transition which confuses me." She looked to Chakotay and saw him smile. "What?"

Her old friend simply reached for her hand and squeezed it gently. "Well, it's just that…" He smiled again, shaking his head gently. "You changed for the same reasons I changed, or rather the same reason. There's only one reason and that reason has a name." He watched B'Elanna's face and saw that she suddenly understood. She nodded knowingly.

"Kathryn Janeway."

Chakotay nodded and smiled, confirming her answer. "Exactly. I know for myself that I was one man when I came aboard Voyager and another one when I stepped off when we returned to Earth. I found peace from my past in those seven years. It was like my heart and soul were a turbulent sea of fire back then. Kathryn Janeway poured water on that fire and doused the flames. She brought me peace and calmed my troubled soul and taught me the importance of love over hate. The thing is, I can't remember the time when she did that. It happened gradually over time and snuck up on me. There wasn't one act on her part that did it, just her presence in my life."

B'Elanna smiled also. "I know what you mean. She had the same effect on me. I had so much anger, at myself as well as the Cardassians. Her faith in me changed all that." She shook her head slowly. "It's strange, you know. I always remember Harry proposing a toast to 'the journey'." Chakotay nodded with her as he remembered also. "I think back now and I realize that there wasn't just one journey. Oh, the one everyone thinks of was from the Delta Quadrant to the Alpha Quadrant. What they don't see or know about is the personal journey we all made while Voyager carried us home. I know I certainly travelled a long way from the woman I was then."

Chakotay smiled softly and squeezed her hand again. "To the journeys then."

She smiled back and nodded. "Yeah. To the journeys." They raised hands and clinked imaginary glasses. They then sat in silence for a few minutes just watching the kids, each revisiting memories of their own.

Chakotay looked up as he heard someone approach and saw Eugene Paletti, the resident vet. He saw that the man was also looking towards the kids before he glanced down at the two people relaxing on the bench. "Good evening to you both." He mock saluted Chakotay and B'Elanna, a wide smile on his face. "Watching the noisy little darlings?"

Chakotay laughed and nodded. "They're like kids everywhere. They're actually fascinating to watch."

Eugene raised an eyebrow at that. "They can be. And then again, they can drive you to want to strangle the lot of them." He held a hand up. "OK, maybe just maim them." He laughed heartily, infecting the other two with it. They all looked towards the kids when they heard several of the women call them in.

Chakotay shook his head as he watched. He looked up towards Eugene, his voice low. "Don't the kids with no mother feel…? I mean, when the mothers call their kids in for bed or dinner…"

Eugene tore his eyes away from the scene before him and smiled kindly down at Chakotay. He shook his head. "We thought of that from the word go. We time it very well. The mothers call their kids at the same time as the staff call the others in. We do all we can to make sure no kid ever feels left out. Of course, it can't always be possible but the kids are well aware of the situation. They know the way things are and they accept it. They know it's the way it is and that it can't be changed."

Chakotay sighed. "It just seems to…"

The vet shook his head. "Let me explain. Mind if I join you?" He pointed to the bench. B'Elanna and Chakotay both shook their heads.

Chakotay leaned forward and slid to the side, making a space between himself and B'Elanna. "Of course not. Are you sure we're not interrupting you? If you were going somewhere…"

Eugene shook his head and sat down between them. "You're not. I was just heading off on my usual evening constitutional." He indicated some field glasses which were hanging around his neck. "I usually head out into the wilds beyond the far tree line. I have a great interest in ornithology and there are some wonderful and amazing birds native to this planet alone. It's a hobby of mine and my way to wind down at the end of the day. It's not always easy to slip away on my own though."

Chakotay looked surprised. "I'd never have put you down as a bird watcher."

The man smiled and tapped the side of his head. "Ahh…one of my little side-lines." He smiled as he looked at the two people watching him. "It's just a nice change from farm animals and the usual pets I deal with every day. I dealt with a wide range of animals and birds in my practice on Earth. This can be limiting so I like to try and add some variety."

B'Elanna nodded. "I can understand that." She dropped her head to the side. "Did you have a large practice back on Earth? Do you miss it?"

Eugene became serious and looked towards the last of the kids being led in. "Not really. Work wise, in a veterinary sense, I miss elements of the work. Then again, I never treated farm animals in the city. I occasionally did some volunteer work at a wildlife sanctuary outside San Francisco but that was rare. My practice was medium sized for a city and I mainly treated pets, dogs and cats, birds, rodents and whatever else people kept." He laughed. "Let me tell you, I was always surprised at the kind of pet some people kept. One guy actually brought in his collection of cockroaches."

B'Elanna made a face and shivered. "That's sick. I hate those things."

Eugene laughed. "I'm not too fond of them myself but a patient is a patient and to each their own."

Chakotay laughed along with him. "It's fair to say you don't miss ALL of it then."

Eugene smiled and then grew serious. "I don't miss too much at all. Besides, being a vet is only a part of who I am. I felt satisfied in a work sense, but outside of that there wasn't much in my life. Being here addresses my every need as a person. Working with the women and kids satisfies me in ways I can't even begin to describe and I've learned skills I'd never have thought about before." He smiled now. "Don't get me wrong. It's damned hard work and there are times I barely have the energy to drag myself to bed, much less for my evening walk, but I wouldn't change a thing."

B'Elanna smiled and nodded in agreement. "I know that feeling and there's nothing like it. I'm usually so tired but it's a good tired, a happy tired. I also have the satisfying knowledge that I've a good day's work behind me and I feel that I've made a difference and done something useful." Eugene and Chakotay both nodded their understanding at that. B'Elanna laughed a little and looked towards Chakotay. "I know I keep using the words 'use' and 'purpose' but they're important to me. To us all."

Eugene nodded. "I know exactly what you mean. In fact, there isn't one person working here who wouldn't understand that. It's why we're all here. None of us would change our place for anything. Mind you, it's still nice to get away on your own for a time and recharge the batteries, so to speak."

Chakotay scratched at the back of his hand and smiled apologetically. "And we've kept you from that."

Eugene waved that away. "Nonsense. Good conversation is just as good for the soul. Maybe even better. Anyway, I rarely get away on my own. I have a lot of the kids as interested in this as I am and one or two of them usually follow me. I even take them on field trips from the school. They love it. They also love to tag along with any of the staff, so sneaking away isn't always possible."

Chakotay scratched at his chin now. Everything he learned about the way of life on this planet was fascinating to him, especially as it gave him an insight into some of the life Kathryn had lived since Voyager's return. "Do you take them on many field trips?"

Eugene suddenly laughed at that. "Sorry. It's just that you've yet to experience what taking a gang of kids away can be like, either for a day or a weekend."

B'Elanna looked amazed at that. "You take them away for weekends? Where do you go?"

Eugene waved a hand in the air. "Oh, you'd be surprised. There's an entire planet beyond this settlement, although we don't venture too far. Duncan feels that showing them too much would only encourage them to explore where they shouldn't and that doesn't bear thinking about. The last thing we need is an adventurous youngster wandering too far and getting into God knows what trouble." Chakotay and B'Elanna nodded their understanding.

Chakotay leaned forward. "Exactly how many kids are there here? I haven't actually counted."

Eugene nodded. "We have 109 kids, 67 of whom have no parent with them."

B'Elanna shook her head sadly. "That's terrible." She sighed heavily. "They must feel so left out and alone."

Eugene shook his head quickly. "No. We make sure they're included in everything."

B'Elanna wasn't convinced. "Oh, come on, Eugene. I spent a lot of my childhood with just one parent. I felt that very badly. This must be so much harder." She shook her head. "I mean, they see the other kids living with their mothers and they're in the dorms with no one. Why can't each mother 'adopt' one or two to make it fairer?"

Eugene sat forward and leaned his elbows on his knees. "B'Elanna, listen to me. I know it must seem easy to you to just see it that way, and believe me we looked at that possibility. We even talked about it with the women. They brought the idea to us, in fact, although the staff had already discussed it."

He licked at his lips to moisten them and rubbed a hand over his face. "Look, B'Elanna, think about it. You can't just draw lots and farm the kids out to the mothers. 'You take this one and that one'…'you take her'…'you take him'… It just wouldn't work. Do you pull names out of a hat? Who would be picked and what of those who weren't? If one of them went somewhere and they'd rather go someplace else. If it didn't work, they'd feel rejected twice. All it would cause is hurt. They'd see it work for some and maybe not for them. What about those it didn't work for? Do you just keep swapping them around until it works?"

B'Elanna nodded slowly. "I didn't think about it like that."

Eugene patted her hand. "You mean well. It's just a lot more complicated than it seems at first. This way, it's what they know. It's been this way from the start and they know it. It started that way and to change it would only upset them all. They came here without a parent and they'd accepted that. They get the same love as the other kids. We make sure of that. They don't feel left out. They know the situation and are fine with it. They accept it as a fact of life. They're all loved the same and that's what's most important. Besides, they have frequent sleepovers with each other, just like any kids. The orphaned kids stay with a mother and her kids in the shelters or one of her kids stays over in the dorms." He laughed. "It can be hard to keep track of them all at times. Then they have their away trips, camping and so on."

Chakotay's eyes widened. "You take them camping? How many? Surely not all of them together."

Eugene's face showed mock horror. "Are you crazy? 109 kids on a camping trip? No way. That would be suicide." He laughed at the thought. "God, that doesn't bear thinking about." He shook his head. "No. We take about twenty at a go and that can be hard enough. Those trips are…" He rolled his eyes up. "Oh, they're such fun. You need a holiday after them…or at least a dose of lithium." He smiled and looked towards Chakotay. "You know, Kathryn took one once. She told me that looking after her crew in the Delta Quadrant had been a piece of cake in comparison." He laughed and saw Chakotay smile along with him but he had a pained look on his face.

"She told you about her life before here?"

Eugene grew serious and nodded. "A few things. We all have a pretty good idea of each other's past. Well, the basic details anyway. I know Kathryn was with Starfleet and that she was lost in the Delta Quadrant for seven years." He leaned towards Chakotay. "Look, Chakotay, we work closely together here. The very nature of that work brings us close to each other. You sit up through the night with a sick kid and they finally fall asleep but they have a fever and you stay sitting up just watching them or they fall and have a concussion and you need to wake them every half hour to make sure they're just sleeping and not unconscious. During those long night hours, you talk to each other. You share things of yourself that the night hours tend to bring out. Other times you just chat away as you work together. However, we're also fiercely loyal to each other. We have great trust in each other, not to mention love and respect. What one shares with another is never repeated. I know details of every staff member here, most of the women too and they know a lot about me also. None of that has ever been repeated. Not by me and I know not by them. That's the way it is here."

He smiled kindly. "You'll learn that more and more in this place. We're all one big family. So you see, the kids who don't have a parent in your eyes, well, they actually have 45 parents and that doesn't include you lot who can be counted as foster parents at this stage."

B'Elanna leaned back and blew out a breath. She looked from Chakotay to Eugene. "I hadn't thought about it that way. In fact, I realize I haven't thought about a lot of things here. I guess we still have a lot to learn."

Eugene smiled at her and patted her shoulder. "Well, wanting to know and learn is the most important thing. You care and that's just as important. Besides, from what I've seen, the kids like you, and once they take to you, there's no escape." He cocked his head to the side. "Can I put your names down for the next camping trip?" They all laughed, Chakotay and B'Elanna looking a little nervous despite their laughter. They all looked up suddenly as a woman's voice interrupted them.

"And they say women can talk." They looked up into the kindly face of Selona, who carried a small tray with three steaming mugs on it. She looked down at the three of them. "Have you lot even noticed that it's now dark? You've been here for well over an hour." They all looked around them, each showing their surprise.

Chakotay shook his head. "Sorry, Selona. Time just got away from us. We got talking and…"

The cook gave him a knowing look. "Well, the next time you have a go about women talking so much, remember this. Here…" She lowered the tray. "I made some hot chocolate. The kids have had theirs and have already gone to bed. I kept this aside for you but when you made no move to come in, I decided to be good to you and bring it out. Just don't go expecting a delivery service in future though." She laughed kindly as all three reached for the drinks, their eyes lighting up as the aroma reached them. Selona stood back and watched as they inhaled and then drank, a look of bliss on their faces at the taste. She beamed and pulled her shoulders back, a proud look on her face. "I think that answers my question about how the hot chocolate is." She laughed to herself as she walked away, swinging the tray at her side. She called back to the three people still savouring their drinks. "Bring those mugs back to the kitchen and rinse them out when you're finished."

Chakotay and B'Elanna eventually said goodnight to Eugene, thanking the man and again saying sorry for disturbing his evening. Once more, he waved away their apologies, saying how much he'd enjoyed their conversation.

Chakotay now strolled towards the kitchen with his old friend, holding his own mug and Eugene's, B'Elanna swinging hers in her hand. She smiled up at the large man beside her. She looked playfully worried.

"You don't think he'll really put us down for a camping trip, do you? I'm not sure I'd survive that."

Chakotay laughed and shook his head. "All that mothering experience you've had? Tut tut. I thought you'd jump at the chance." He stopped and pretended fear at the glare he received. "OK. Just joking. We can hide out together somewhere if it comes up. I don't fancy a trip like that myself. My survival instinct is too strong." They both laughed and began walking again, moving in silence for a few minutes, each listening to the sounds of night. Chakotay looked towards B'Elanna when he heard her draw a breath as if she was about to say something. He saw her hesitate a moment as she looked back at him. He smiled at her.

"You want to say something. I know you too well. Just say it."

She nodded and smiled softly. "It's just that…" She shook her head. "I guess I have a hard time imagining the captain, Kathryn, so carefree. To take twenty kids camping…" She stopped and shook her head, suddenly serious. "Chakotay, that's so sad. She could never be like that on Voyager, could never be Kathryn, be herself, her real self." She swallowed. "Sorry. I don't mean to hurt you or cause you pain by saying that."

Chakotay moved the two mugs he held to one hand and reached for B'Elanna's shoulder, squeezing gently. "It's a fact, B'Elanna. It's the way it was. It's easier to think about it now that everything is right between us but it's still sad. You're right about that." He thought for a moment, his eyes looking off into the distance. "You know, I only ever saw glimpses of that Kathryn myself in all those years, like on New Earth." He seemed lost in memory for a moment until B'Elanna's voice brought him back.

"New Earth?"

He pulled himself back and looked at her, seeing her puzzlement. He smiled softly. "Sorry. It was that planet we were stranded on. We kind of gave it a name." He shrugged, a little embarrassed but B'Elanna just smiled kindly.

She nodded to herself and looked down at her hands. "You know, we…the crew… We often wondered what happened between you both there." She looked up at Chakotay and smiled, her expression soft. "We only ever wondered. We never speculated. We all respected you both far too much to do that. There was never any gossip." Chakotay nodded his understanding. B'Elanna smiled sadly. "I think we all hoped that you'd come back a couple. As happy as we were to see you both back, it was tinged with a sadness to see that little had changed between you, outwardly anyway. It was comforting to think that perhaps in private, something had changed and that you were together. We never saw any sign of it though."

Chakotay nodded sadly. "There were moments, if you like, that gave me hope, but it didn't happen. Maybe in time it would have." He sighed. "We'll never know. Voyager came back and…" He shrugged.

B'Elanna dropped her head to the side, her face sad. "Do you ever wish we hadn't? Come back, I mean."

Chakotay thought a moment. "For some time, I thought like that. I mourned for what I felt we'd lost there. From this point in time though…" He looked down at the mugs he held. "No. I see it now as… I guess things happened the way they did for a reason. I kind of believe in a grand plan for all our lives. We wouldn't be here now if things had happened differently then."

B'Elanna nodded slowly. "That's quite profound but I see what you mean. I often wonder where we'd all be if we hadn't ended up in the Delta Quadrant. I wonder if this had happened and that hadn't and vice versa." She shrugged her shoulders.

Chakotay smiled kindly. "That way can lie madness, my dear. I believe it's better to just accept the hand dealt to us and make the most of it. You can drive yourself crazy thinking about what might have been because there'll never be answers to those questions. We can imagine what might have been but we'll never know for sure. It's better to live for the moment and not waste time imagining what will never be."

B'Elanna nodded again and lifted her mug, turning it upside down. She watched as a few drips of chocolate fell to the ground. "You're right. We shouldn't waste the present dwelling on the past." She looked back up at Chakotay and smiled. "How did you ever get so wise?"

Chakotay threw his head back, a self-satisfied look on his face. "What can I say? I'm not just handsome."

B'Elanna slapped his arm. "You're certainly not modest anyway." They laughed together and resumed walking towards the kitchen. B'Elanna suddenly gripped Chakotay's arm but kept moving with him. "Oh, I have a bit of gossip for you."

Chakotay laughed at the gleeful look on her face, like a child with a new toy. He rolled his eyes. "Go on. Tell me. You'll burst if you don't."

She smirked. "Well, you already know that you and Kathryn aren't the only couple here." Chakotay nodded, his expression proud. "Well, I found out about another pair and you'll never believe who. Go on. Guess." When Chakotay glared at her, she gave in. "You're no fun. All right. It's Chapman. William Chapman."

Chakotay looked stunned. "You're kidding me. Is it serious?"

B'Elanna nodded eagerly. "Apparently so. He and Dara are quite an item."

Chakotay smiled broadly. "That's great. I was beginning to think he was cursed."

B'Elanna laughed. "Seven certainly left her mark on the poor guy for some time. I really thought he'd been put off women for life. Just goes to show, huh? There's hope for us all."

Chakotay smiled and nodded to himself. "I'm really happy for him. Dara too. The women here deserve some personal happiness. It must take a lot for them to trust any man again."

B'Elanna sighed and nodded also. "I know. I find it amazing myself. I guess they got to know us first and learned to trust us. Love just followed on from that although it's slow. Most of the couples I've seen, between our lot and the women… Well, they're all taking their time. I suppose it's the same for anyone though, if you've been hurt before." She looked up at Chakotay suddenly. "Chakotay, I didn't mean…"

He smiled reassuringly at her. "It's OK. I know what you mean. It's true though. Any hurt in the past stays with you and makes you far more careful in the future. It's no different between me and Kathryn. That's why we're taking it one day at a time and enjoying it. It'll take time for us to feel totally secure. As I see it though, we have the rest of our lives."

B'Elanna smiled widely. "The rest of your lives. That sounds great." They both stopped as they reached the kitchen door.

Chakotay reached for B'Elanna's mug. "You go on home. I'll wash these. I'm sure Tom must think you've run off with me."

B'Elanna handed over her mug and made a face. "I may be married but I still have my freedom. Tom makes jokes about the 'old ball and chain' as he calls it." She laughed. "Well, he used to joke about that. He stopped when I described in detail what I'd do to him if he ever mentioned it again." She laughed as she moved off.

Chakotay shook his head. "Just don't pass those details on to Kathryn. I prefer a peaceful life and I like my bones where nature intended them to be."

B'Elanna laughed again and called back to him. "Just behave yourself then and I won't need to." She waved over her shoulder. "Night, Chakotay. See you in the morning." Chakotay watched her go and shook his head again but a proud and loving smile graced his face. He knew he was very lucky to have such a good friend.

Over the next few days, Duncan allowed Kathryn out more and more, wanting to build her strength up slowly. Her walks were very short however, as the weather continued to deteriorate. Seeing how beneficial her time away from the clinic was, he eventually allowed her to walk as far as the meeting room, knowing that she'd be warm there and that the company of the women and kids would be good for her, as well as the change of scenery.

As soon as Chakotay led Kathryn into the dayroom, she was surrounded by kids, the women close behind them. Many of the crew were there also. Kathryn's face lit up as she greeted them all.

Chakotay stood back for several minutes until he saw her begin to tire and then stepped in. "OK, you lot. Let's give the lady some breathing space. You can have her back in a while."

Kathryn smiled her thanks to him as he led her across the room, the women and kids reluctantly going back to their chores and games. Kathryn whispered quietly to Chakotay. "Thanks. It's great to see them but all at once is a bit too much."

Chakotay gripped her arm gently. "They're just so happy to see you but you need to take it slowly." He smiled lovingly at her. "Come on. I want to show you something." He led her to the far side of the room, looking behind him to check that no one was following. He saw many faces turned in their direction and smiled at them, seeing that they understood where he was taking the woman they all loved. He smiled his thanks to them for the space they were giving him. He turned his attention to Kathryn then.

"I want you to see this." He stopped her and pointed to one corner. "That's 'Mommy Kathryn's Get Well Corner'." He heard Kathryn gasp as she followed where he indicated. "The women and kids put it together. It's cards, small gifts and flowers, although I think some of them are past their best and are a bit dried out." Kathryn pressed her lips tightly together as she looked over the large pile. She sniffed and shook her head. Chakotay turned her slightly and pointed to the other corner.

"Our crew, not wanting to be left out, decided to start a corner of their own. They didn't want to intrude on the women and kids and asked if they minded this. No one did." Kathryn just continued to shake her head. Chakotay watched her as she took it all in, seeing her tears build. "Duncan wasn't allowing anything over in the clinic, hygiene reasons and all that, so it had to be here. The 'corner' from the women and kids was already here when we arrived so it seemed a good idea that our 'corner' would be an extension of that without infringing on it. For that reason, they also deliberately made it smaller."

Kathryn nodded and swallowed again, her tears falling now. "It's beautiful. It's so thoughtful. I don't…" Finally she turned to look at Chakotay, her voice choking. "I don't know what to say. I…" She turned to look behind her, seeing everyone watching her. She smiled tearfully and nodded at them all.

"Thank you, all of you. It's so beautiful. It's perfect and means so much." She felt Chakotay slip his arm around her shoulders and leaned into him. "I don't know what to say, how to thank you all…"

One of the women stepped forward a little. "You've just said it. This was just our way to let you know how much you mean to us." Several voices murmured in agreement.

Tom stood forward also. "Yeah. And as we couldn't form an original idea between us, we just copied them." Everyone laughed at that.

Kathryn shook her head. "It's beautiful. All of it. Thank you all."

Tom waved a hand in the air. "Just enjoy it. You deserve it." He smiled at his former captain for a moment and then turned away. "Well, I've work to do." Everyone took the hint and nodded, turning away also, leaving Kathryn to enjoy her 'gifts'.

For the next twenty minutes or so, Chakotay watched Kathryn closely as she read most of the cards and studied the many small gifts which were stacked in each corner. She raised several of the flowers to her nose, inhaling deeply, a small smile on her face.

Chakotay smiled to himself, enjoying the moment. Finally, he leaned down and took her arm, supporting her as she stood. "You're looking a little tired, honey. Why don't you sit down and I'll get you a cup of tea."

Kathryn smiled at him. "No coffee?"

Chakotay's eyes widened. "And risk the wrath of Duncan? No way. Tea or juice or milk even. Name your poison…" A look of horror crossed his face as he realized what he'd said. "Oh God, Kathryn. Sorry." He looked around quickly to see if anyone else had heard him and was relieved when he saw that no one was near. He looked back to see Kathryn smile at him.

"Chakotay, you can't delete words from your vocabulary just because of what happens in life. If we did that, we'd all be reduced to sign language and grunts." She took one of his hands in both of hers. "Tea would be lovely."

Chakotay smiled sheepishly and nodded. "I think I need to see Eugene."

Kathryn frowned. "Why?"

Chakotay grinned. "I need a vet." Kathryn continued to frown. "You've heard of foot and mouth disease?" Kathryn nodded. "Well, I've got foot IN mouth disease. Think Eugene can help?"

Kathryn laughed and slapped his arm. "Very funny. Now, I'm going to sit over there and you run off and get my tea like a good little servant."

Chakotay stuck his nose in the air. "Cheek. Is that all I am?"

Kathryn made her way to a nearby chair and sat back in it. "You're a man. You have to have some use."

Over the next few days Kathryn continued to spend her 'outings' from the clinic in the dayroom. She spent most of her time there chatting with the residents and her former crew as she re-established old friendships and created new ones. She even created new friendships from old acquaintances as she'd been unable to do before.

Chakotay gave her space and watched as she bridged the gap between her past and her present with an ease he hadn't expected.

As she worked at some sewing with the women one afternoon, Chakotay stood watching them all in amazement. He'd never thought to see the day when Kathryn Janeway would be content to sit quietly and darn blankets.

He turned to see Jonathan standing beside him, also watching Kathryn. He nodded and smiled at the man. "It's so good to see her like this. Strange too though. I'm seeing a Kathryn I've never known before." He shook his head slightly. "When we talked recently, she was worried that I didn't really know her because she'd always had to be a captain on board the ship. I told her I did and I meant it. I can't get my head around this Kathryn though. I mean, I knew one Kathryn on board Voyager. I met another one when I came here first, and she was different in some ways, but still clearly related to the one I knew before and yet distant from her in other ways. The one I see here and the one you all speak of… In some ways she's alien to me and I can't imagine her completely."

Jonathan nodded slowly as he thought about that. "You know, I understand that…just the other way around. This is the Kathryn I know and the one you speak of is as alien to me as this one is to you. I also saw a connecting, related Kathryn though when we met her first so I can understand some of what you speak of." He dropped his head to the side. "We're all comprised of many different people, Chakotay. You just have to accept them all and tie them together in your mind. You then accept the entire person. When you love someone, it's as easy to accept one part as it is to accept another."

Chakotay smiled and nodded, his eyes returning to Kathryn. "You don't have to convince me of that. I accept every part of her. I just need to get to know them."

Jonathan smiled and nodded. "Well, you have the rest of your lives for that and it's a lifetime of learning. That's the wonderful part."

As Jonathan wandered off, Chakotay sat down and continued to study Kathryn. He smiled to himself and then looked around the room at the various groups, some of the kids in one corner playing a board game. Suddenly Julie caught his eye as she sat alone with a book. He studied the girl for some moments and realized that she wasn't actually reading at all but watching Kathryn closely. He looked towards Kathryn to see if she'd noticed but she hadn't. He looked back to Julie and watched her more closely. Something nagged at the back of his mind but the thought wouldn't settle.

He jumped when a hand came down gently on his shoulder. He looked up into the smiling face of Selona and saw her offer him a glass of her famous lemonade. "You looked miles away there, Chakotay. Are you all right?" She sat down beside him and smiled as he took the glass from her hand.

"Sorry, Selona. I was watching Julie. I'm a little worried about her. She seems a bit quiet or withdrawn. She's been very quiet the last few days now that I think about it. Normally she's like a shadow with Kathryn or myself but she hasn't been around us much. Something just bothers me about it."

Selona studied the child for a moment and shrugged. "Maybe she just feels you both need some time together. She's actually quite mature for one so young. Now that she's talking again, it's like she's added three or four years to her age. She's also mixing with the other kids much better now."

Chakotay shook his head. "Maybe, but I don't…" He looked at Selona with a worried look on his face. "We're both extremely fond of her. I'd hate for her to feel left out."

Selona sighed. "She has plenty of others here for her too. She has to understand that everyone is here for everyone else. This can't work here if there's preferential treatment from one to another. Julie knows that and understands it. There can't be favourites."

Chakotay nodded. "I know that but she had a special relationship with Kathryn for a long time and she took to me very easily too. We're close. I'd hate for her to think that just because Kathryn and I are together now that she's no longer important. We're both guilty of ignoring her the past few days and that isn't fair. She won't understand."

Selona shook her head as she looked at the child. "She seems fine to me. She often sits on her own like that to read. She's very fond of her books. Kathryn introduced her to that joy."

Chakotay took a drink of his lemonade. "Still though…" He licked at his lips. "I think I'll have a little chat with her. Let her know she's still as important to us." He drained his glass and handed it back to the cook when she reached for it. He smiled his thanks and went to stand up when a sudden, loud clap of thunder split the air, followed a few seconds later by a flash of lightening. Several children screamed at the same time and ran to the adults. Chakotay's thoughts of a talk with Julie left his head immediately as a little boy ran to him and wrapped himself around his legs.

The thunder and lightning eased the next day but rain continued to lash down. Unable to work outside and with Kathryn able to move around far better now, Chakotay took her on a visit to Voyager to 'meet with her old friend' as she put it. He stood back and watched as she wandered her old home, touching everything and whispering quietly to her ship. He smiled to himself as she lovingly stroked consoles and bulkheads.

Kathryn turned and caught him watching her. "And you never talked with your ship?"

Chakotay laughed. "Of course, I did. It wasn't always polite but we understood each other and I always apologized afterwards. She always got me through and I think she would have approved of her honourable death." Kathryn smiled sadly as she remembered back to how Chakotay had used the Liberty to ram the Kazon before being beamed safely to Voyager and a new life…one which had taken them to this point.

"Any regrets?"

They locked eyes, and Chakotay shook his head. He spoke softly. "None. I was well compensated."

Kathryn nodded slowly and smiled before looking around her. They were standing on the bridge of Voyager now. "It seems smaller somehow."

Chakotay moved towards her. "Maybe you've just grown."

Kathryn rolled her eyes up. "I doubt that. It just seems different with the passing of time."

Chakotay stood beside her now. "Time passing often changes our memory of things. You've also been through a lot since the last time you stood here. Those things will have changed you. They'll have changed how you see things. You're not the same person who stood here before. None of us are really. We're different so it stands to reason that what we knew before will seem different also. I felt it too when I came onboard to come here. I think we all did."

Kathryn nodded as she continued to look around her. "I suppose. It just seems sad somehow that we didn't know what we had back then and how wonderful it was."

Chakotay slipped an arm around her shoulders. "That's the past, Kathryn. You take from it what was good, learn from the bad and then let it go. You remember the good times and forget the bad. They'll always be there somewhere, but you let them go. You live in the present and look to the future."

Kathryn nodded pensively. "And what about the future? Not just for you and me but for all of us."

Chakotay shook his head. "I don't know, Kathryn. It's something we need to talk about though." He smiled down at her. "I know I don't intend to ever lose you again. We need each other. I won't be parted from you anymore. If you'll have me, I'll never leave you again. I'll never let you down again either. Whatever the future holds, it's for us together. Are you OK with that?"

Kathryn nodded tearfully. "I'm still a little scared but I'm dealing with it. As to us… There's nothing I want more. I wasted too much time and I lost you because of it. I don't want to lose you again. Most people never get a second chance. I've been blessed with one and I don't intend to waste it."

Chakotay leaned forward and kissed her forehead. "So where do we make our home?"

Kathryn sighed and then shrugged. "I don't know. You have your work back on Earth. Your students. I know you said you were just content with that but…" She sighed. "I guess I assumed you'd want to return to that. I can't ask you to give it all up. I mean, you have a life back there."

Chakotay actually snorted and shook his head. He sighed deeply and placed his hands on her shoulders. "What life, Kathryn? Without you? Besides, you're not asking. I'm volunteering." He laughed softly. "Actually, I'm begging. The work bores me to tears." He grew serious again. "However, you're missing the point. This is about what 'we' want…not 'me'."

Kathryn wiped at one eye, brushing away a tear. "For me, home is with you, wherever you are and wherever that is."

Chakotay tightened his hold on her and nodded, his face still serious. "I feel the same. As long as I have you with me, I'd be happy and at home anywhere." He licked at his lips. "Ideally though, Kathryn, what would you like to do? Where would you be happiest? If this was your choice alone…"

Kathryn smiled sadly. "I'd say I was already home. It was the closest I could have hoped to find until you came back into my life."

Chakotay nodded. He dropped his head to the side a little and studied her for a brief moment, his face pensive. "Outside of what we have now, you found what you were looking for here, didn't you? You found the purpose and the use you so badly needed. You found a peace here, a place for yourself."

Kathryn nodded sadly. "It was everything I could have wanted on that level." She laughed slightly. "Don't get me wrong. It was and is damned hard work. You've learned that for yourself. It's often heart breaking too, although it's much better now. Jonathan and Lorcha have done wonders with the women and children. Your coming here has also helped so much. They're different people now. They're more open and trusting. I see it in them all. Well, most of them." She shook her head. "And the work you've all done. It would have taken us years to do even half of that. We're all healthier even."

Chakotay nodded slowly. "So you'd love to stay on here, love for us to stay on here?" Kathryn nodded tearfully. Chakotay closed his eyes a moment and sighed, then opened them again to stare lovingly at the woman before him. "I feel the same. I want to be here with you and I want to be here for this place also. I need it. We all do, everyone who came with me. For most of the same reasons too, the same reasons which brought you here. Mainly though, I want to be here for you."

Kathryn stared at him. "Would you consider that? Is it even possible? I mean, how…?"

Chakotay pressed a finger to her lips. "Can I take it that in an ideal world for you, we'd stay on here?"

Kathryn nodded, a shocked look on her face. "You'd be happy here?"

Chakotay nodded and smiled. "I'd be more than happy here, Kathryn. Having you with me and staying on here…" He laughed slightly. "That's more happiness than this man could take."

Kathryn just continued to stare at him. "I didn't think you'd seriously consider or would really want to, at least not permanently."

Chakotay loosened his hold on her. "Kathryn, you said you were lost out there. Well, I'm just as lost out there too. In fact…" He shook his head and grinned, watching her face closely. "Kathryn, it may surprise you to know that they all want to stay on here." Kathryn gasped, her words caught in her throat. Her eyes never left his and she found herself almost holding her breath. "Every crew member here feels the same way. You weren't the only one who was lost when we returned to Earth. Almost everyone felt that way. You know that now.

They've spoken to you about it and you and I talked about it." Kathryn managed to nod but Chakotay saw a deep sadness in her eyes, caused by his words.

"So you see, it's not just me. They all want to stay on here and be here for you but for themselves also. They're just like you, Kathryn. They had a life and a use for seven years out there. They had a purpose every day, something they were working for and towards. They lost that, we lost that, when we got home. I can speak for them because I felt the same way and they've told me all this. This is the closest they've also come to finding home since Voyager." He smiled gently, watching her face closely. "Say something, Kathryn. Breathe, in fact. You'll turn blue."

Kathryn shook her head. "What…? How…? Would…?"

Chakotay laughed and pressed his fingers against her mouth. "Kathryn, just let this sink in. Maybe I shouldn't have said too much before I know if it's possible. I have to speak to Duncan again about staying on permanently and he has to speak to the others…"

Kathryn pulled her head away from his hand. "Back up there. Speak to Duncan AGAIN? You've already run this past him? I know you spoke to him about staying on before but I just assumed that was temporary, until the work was finished. What did he say?"

Chakotay shook his head and smiled. "Kathryn, just listen to me. Calm down too. You're not fully well yet." He raised a warning finger at her when she went to protest. "Don't even consider objecting to that. Now stay quiet and I'll tell you." Kathryn just glared at him as he laughed. "That death glare doesn't have the same effect anymore." He laughed again as she tried to increase its volume. "Still no good." He sighed in mock exasperation now. "Woman, will you let me finish here?" Kathryn silently surrendered and nodded, holding her hands up. Chakotay rolled his eyes.

"Thank you. Now, all I can say is this. Most of them want to stay and I want to stay. I barely mentioned this to Duncan before. In fact, many of them, including myself, had expressed a wish to stay on here and work for some time even before we came here." He shook his head. "They're…we're…desperate for that purpose, Kathryn. You understand that." She nodded sadly. "Anyway, I mentioned this to Duncan, had touched on the idea early on at a meeting with them all, about staying on and helping to re-build but that was assumed temporary to finish the work we'd started. Anyway, it came up again as people settled and showed more of an interest in staying. They're achieving something here and it feels damned good. Everyone has grown very close. There's a deep trust and respect there now between us all. The counselling sessions Jonathan and Lorcha ran for the women and kids to get used to us? They ended ages ago. They just weren't needed anymore." He laughed. "Here's something else for you to think about. We're not the only couple now. A few other romances have started between your crew and the people here."

Kathryn stared at him in shock. "Why didn't I see all this?"

Chakotay laughed. "Losing your touch, Captain? I remember at one time how nothing got past you." Kathryn just stuck her tongue out at him. He tutted loudly. "Not very captainlike or ladylike. I'll have to work on you."

Kathryn made another face at him. "Very funny. Just tell me what Duncan said."

Chakotay rubbed at his forehead. "No patience. All right." He moved away a little. "I mentioned that I could see myself living here and how I wasn't sure you'd want to leave. Duncan said something about how he thought that if things worked out between us, how you might want to leave and how they'd hate to lose you but that your happiness came first. Anyway, he said he couldn't see any problems we couldn't overcome if I wanted to stay. He said I'd earn my keep and that I had a lot to offer." He ran a hand through his hair.

"He then asked if the others here had shown an interest in staying. I just told him that nothing had been said directly about staying on permanently, only the temporary stay to see the work through but that I knew most wanted to stay on." He smiled softly at Kathryn and then shrugged.

"You know, they're still your crew. They still see themselves that way. Besides, if you argue, they may just mutiny." They both smiled tearfully at the memory.

Kathryn sniffled a little and shrugged. "I don't deserve such loyalty. I never did."

Chakotay shook his head sadly. "You always did. You just never saw it for yourself. I told you that." He scratched at his cheek. "Look Kathryn, we can talk about all this later. We still have to talk things over with Duncan and the others. It's not really up to us. He is considering it though."

Kathryn folded her arms, every inch the old captain. "What exactly did he say?"

Chakotay saw a light starting in her eyes and smiled for a moment. He shrugged then. "His response was that they could certainly use the expertise we all had but that they'd have to consider the security aspects." He moved back towards Kathryn.

"I don't know, Kathryn. We have to talk to them and look at all the aspects of this, all the implications. It's not just up to us." He moved closer again. "We need to talk to Duncan first and then see exactly who wants to stay. We can then talk to the rest of the staff here and the women and kids. We need to do as Duncan said to me. Take it one step at a time."

Kathryn nodded eagerly, her mind racing ahead. "It would work. I know it would. Don't you see? The extra numbers and technology would actually add to the security here, not take away from it. Fifty or so people would add a lot more protection."

Chakotay smiled at the life and excitement in her eyes. "I think we'll let you make the case for us."

She slapped at his arms. "Don't tease." Her face lit up again. "Chakotay, this could work…"

He placed a hand on her shoulder as if to still her. "Kathryn, let's just see how it goes. I don't want to see you get your hopes so high if it doesn't work. You need to temper yourself and take it slowly."

Kathryn smiled and nodded, sobering a little. "You're right. I can't help but feel excited though." She grew serious now. "Are you sure you really want to stay here though? I mean for yourself? I don't want you doing something just for me."

He placed both hands on her shoulders now. "I'm sure. I considered it before I knew you were here. I told you that." She nodded. "I want what you sought and found here. I need that too, Kathryn. I need to feel like a man and a complete person again. Can you understand that?"

She smiled and nodded. "I do. Well, I understand about needing to be a complete person but not a man."

Chakotay took his turn to make a face at her now. She laughed a moment and then smiled gently. "Joking aside, I do understand, Chakotay. I've been there, remember?"

Chakotay nodded and swallowed loudly. "I know and I can't stand to think of you that unhappy." He swallowed again and reached a hand up to cup her cheek as he gazed lovingly at her. Kathryn held his eyes, enjoying the closeness of the moment. He smiled softly.

"Kathryn Janeway, there's something I've yet to say properly and officially to you." He slipped his arms around her and pulled her against him.

Kathryn slipped her arms around his waist. "And what's that?" She saw his smile slip but the love remained in his eyes.

"I love you, more than you'll ever know. I always have. I just got lost along the way. I'll always regret that. Know this now though. I love you with everything that I am and I will for all eternity."

Kathryn felt tears rush to her eyes and blinked quickly. "I love you too, Chakotay. I always have and always will. Nothing else matters." They stared lovingly at each other.

Chakotay pulled an arm free and lifted his hand to run a gentle finger down Kathryn's cheek. She shivered and knew he'd felt it. "Are you cold?" His question was a mix of concern and light amusement. Kathryn shook her head. Chakotay's smile widened. "Do I have such an effect on you?"

Kathryn pretended to think about that and then smiled. She reached her hand up to cover his. "I guess you do, but I'd have to investigate further to be sure."

Chakotay barely nodded. "I see. Ever the scientist." He slipped his arm back around her, feeling her do the same. He leaned in slowly and brushed his lips to hers and felt her tremble this time. He spoke softly against her lips. "Definitely me, I think." He pressed his lips to hers this time and felt hers soften under his own. He pressed more firmly and felt his gut tighten as she yielded to him and opened her mouth a little. Chakotay tightened his arms around her, deepening the kiss and heard her moan deeply in her throat. In his mind, he'd never heard a more sexy and sensuous sound from any woman and he felt himself harden as a result. Worried that she'd notice, he pulled back a little, afraid of moving too fast and frightening her.

Kathryn wasn't allowing that however and gripped his body tightly to her. She pulled her mouth from his for just a moment. "Don't hide from me, Chakotay. I'm happy I can have that effect on you."

Chakotay cupped her cheek again. "You've always had that effect on me, Kathryn. I spent seven years trying to hide it."

Kathryn smiled tearfully. "I'm so sorry I did that to you. I'm sorry that I made you have to hide."

Chakotay stroked across her lips with his thumb. "We've talked about this. It's past, Kathryn. We only deal with the present and the future from here on. I won't let the past taint what we have now. We love each other and we've just shared our first official kiss." He looked around him. "Seems fitting that it should be here somehow, the only link to the past we don't mind having around us."

Kathryn looked around also. "I always dreamed of kissing you here." She looked back at him and saw a twinkle in his eyes.

"And what other dreams did you have?"

Kathryn smiled mischievously. "Oh, they're not fit for your young and innocent ears."

Chakotay pulled her against him tightly. "Really? Well, Kathryn Janeway, I wrote the book on those dreams. I'd redden your cheeks if I told you half of what I've dreamed about you."

Kathryn pressed herself against him and heard him moan. "I don't embarrass easily, my love. I'll have to put you to the test on that."

Chakotay growled at her. "Let the games commence then." He leaned down to capture her mouth again.

Before he made contact, Tom's voice ruined the moment as it came over Voyager's comm system. "Kathryn? Chakotay?"

Chakotay glared at the control panel and moaned. "I'll kill him."

Kathryn swatted his arm. "He's not to know." She grinned and shook her head, then moved away to activate the comm. "What is it, Tom?"

Tom's voice came over clearly. "Sorry to interrupt but you need to get back here. The storm is getting worse. The rain is really coming down now and we think we're in for another bout of that thunder and lightning. We're in the process of battening everything down and getting everyone inside."

Kathryn nodded seriously. "OK, Tom. We're on our way back. See you in a few minutes." She cut the communication and smiled at Chakotay. "Did I not hear somewhere that it was your idea to have a working comm system on the planet to make keeping in touch with everyone easier?"

Chakotay shook his head. "Actually, I think it was Tuvok, the ever Vulcan that he is. Something about following proper procedure. We're all supposed to still wear our comm badges but everyone forgets. The kids work better anyway. They're a real communications network and can run faster with messages than we can."

Kathryn smiled widely at the thought. "It always worked well for us before you came." She dropped her head to the side now and smiled crookedly as she moved back to Chakotay. "I guess we'll have to continue this later."

She stroked his face. "Thank you."

He frowned. "For what?"

Kathryn shrugged. "For…" She sighed. "I guess I just thought or feared that our first passionate kiss, our first moment alone like this would be…" She shook her head now, frustrated at herself for not having the right words. "I was worried that we'd be awkward with each other or embarrassed or…whatever. Instead, it was wonderful. And to be able to talk the way we did, so free with each other…" She laughed softly. "Am I making any sense here?"

Chakotay took her face gently in his hands. "You're making perfect sense." He leaned forward and kissed the tip of her nose. "I was also worried and had those same fears but they were unfounded. To me that proves that we're right for each other, that this was meant to be."

Kathryn smiled lovingly at him. "I hate to leave here but I guess we better get back."

Chakotay stood back a little and reached for her hand. "You're right. Duty calls."

Together they left the bridge, both glancing back as they entered the turbolift.

B'Elanna held her hood in place for a moment and then gave up, the wind blowing it off constantly. Her hair was plastered to her head and she pushed it back from her eyes. "You're already soaked. Covering your head won't make any difference."

Tom laughed at her as he passed. "Talking to yourself now?"

She made a face at him. "Look in a mirror, helm boy. You're like a drowned rat yourself."

Tom rubbed at his face and laughed. "We won't melt." They laughed together. Tom moved closer to her to avoid shouting above the wind. "How's it going?"

B'Elanna turned her back against the lashing rain. "Not bad. Everything is locked down. It looks like it could be quite a storm. Duncan said they're not usually this bad. It's pretty rare, in fact, especially this early. It apparently means a mild and short winter and an early spring."

Tom also turned away from the rain. "Some of the others told me that too. They're keeping an eye on the river and stream. Peter is worried they might burst their banks and cause flooding."

B'Elanna frowned. "Is that a real possibility?"

Tom shrugged and put his hand on her back to move her forward. "I hope not, but it's best to be safe."

B'Elanna moved with him. "What about Voyager? Is she safe where she is? Would it be better to move her into orbit?"

Tom shook his head. "She's safer on the ground. Tuvok is heading over there now to check everything and make sure she's all right. Chakotay took Kathryn over earlier to look around. I just contacted them and told them to beam back. They're on their way."

B'Elanna smiled softly. "A trip down memory lane for those two, huh? It's great to see them so happy and together."

They reached the kitchen and Tom pushed open the door for B'Elanna to precede him inside. They shook themselves off and removed their rain coats. "Everyone is so happy for them. They were made for each other."

They laughed together as B'Elanna took Tom's coat and hung it beside the door with her own. "I'm going to make some tea. I'm freezing. You want some?"

Tom shook his head. "I'll get some later. I'll check on Miral and then see if Eugene needs any help with the animals."

B'Elanna nodded and watched him leave. She made her way to the stove and put some water on. As she waited for it to boil, she looked over towards the back door and saw Julie sitting on the floor. She immediately moved to the child. "What's wrong, honey. Is the storm scaring you?"

Julie looked up quickly, a very worried and unhappy look on her face. She shook her head. "I'm not afraid of the storm."

B'Elanna sat down beside her. "What's making you look so sad then?"

Julie bit her lip. "Where's Mommy Kathryn?"

B'Elanna frowned a little. "Are you worried about her? She's fine. She's gone on the ship with Chakotay…" Julie dropped her head. "Honey, what is it?"

The child looked up slowly. "Do you believe in wishing?"

B'Elanna was caught off guard by the question and frowned deeply. "I'm not sure what you mean, Julie. Do you mean making wishes for things to happen?" B'Elanna watched her think a moment.

When the little girl spoke, it was very softly. "I mean…like to wish for something…in a special place…like to a God…"

B'Elanna smiled as she thought she understood. "Do you mean to pray for something?"

Julie nodded. "Daddy Chakotay told me people believe in Gods and wish for stuff…"

B'Elanna smiled, more to herself than at Julie. "It's true. I have my beliefs and Chakotay has his. A lot of people believe in different things but it's the same in the end. It's about a God or Gods we can't see but believe in and we ask him or her or them for things we want. We also thank them when or if it happens." She dropped her head to the side and studied the child before her. "Why do you want to know about this, Julie? Do you need something?"

Julie immediately got up. "I didn't know if it was true, if they really answered wishes."

B'Elanna found herself grow a little worried. "Honey, what is it you need to wish or pray for?"

Julie moved over to the table and played with a bowl of fruit. "Mommy Kathryn and Daddy Chakotay love each other, don't they?"

B'Elanna thought she understood now. "Ah, I see." She smiled at Julie. "Yes, they do. They love each other very much. Is that what you want to wish for?" She stood and walked over to Julie. "Honey, that wish is already granted."

Just at that moment the door from the main room burst open and a young boy ran in. B'Elanna smiled at him as he looked around him. "Can I guess that you're on a food hunt?"

He grinned and nodded. "Cookies. I'm starving and dinner is hours away."

B'Elanna moved over to one of the presses and took down a large tin. "Well, at least an hour. Don't suppose you'll last that long." She pushed the tin across the large table. "Just two each and no more. You won't have room for your dinner otherwise." The boy practically dove into the tin while Julie gently took one biscuit and nibbled at it. B'Elanna smiled to herself before her attention was drawn to the water boiling. She made her tea as she watched the children.

"I'm just going into the main room. I'll trust you both to put the cookies back and not take anymore." She smiled at them both and left the kitchen.

The young boy eyed Julie as she barely ate her cookie.

"You not eating a second one?" Julie shook her head. "Can I have it then?" She nodded. He took a third biscuit and then closed the lid as promised and put the tin on one of the counters. He sat down at the table to eat.

"Julie, don't you like us anymore? You never play with us now. I mean, you didn't always, like when you didn't talk, but then you did talk and play with us and now you don't again. You used to play with Mommy Kathryn a lot but then she got sick, but she's well again now and you still don't play with us. Why don't you?"

Julie shook her head. "I don't play with her anymore. She doesn't need me. She plays with Daddy Chakotay now and they're going away."

The little boy sat forward in his chair. "Where are they going?"

Julie shrugged and tried not to cry. "They're going to Earth. I heard them talking."

The boy, Jack, gasped. "You listened to the grown-ups talking? We're not supposed to."

Julie pushed her hair back. "Well, I did. And they're going away and they're in love and they won't need us anymore. I want to wish for them to stay but I can't remember how to get there."

Jack looked puzzled. "You can make a wish anywhere. Where can you not remember?"

Julie bit at her lip. "Doesn't matter. I'm gonna wish to the funny animal and make them stay."

Jack still had questions but didn't get to ask them as Selona came into the kitchen. "Right, you two. Out of here. I need to start on dinner." Julie left immediately as Jack still sat at the table, looking after her. "Jack, if you want to stay you can help me." She knew that would get the boy moving.

He stood quickly. "I gotta help Mommy Megan. We're making a…a…scrap…book or something. We're getting lots of pictures and putting them in a book." He was gone before Selona could respond.

She laughed to herself. "Works every time."

Chakotay and Kathryn hurried across the main compound, pushing against the rain as they made for the main building. They entered the day room and quickly closed the door behind them.

Duncan came over to them immediately. "Glad you both made it back. It's getting worse out there. We think the river and the stream will hold though. It's looking good."

Chakotay shook the rain out of his hair and nodded. "Do you want me to go down there and check?"

Duncan smiled apologetically. "Would you? Peter and Trevor are down at the river."

Chakotay nodded and reached for a coat. "No problem. I'll check the stream." He smiled at Kathryn. "You stay here and get warm."

She smiled at him and nodded. "I'll help Selona with dinner." Chakotay leaned over and kissed her cheek.

Duncan groaned and laughed. "Oh, keep it for later, will you?" They both looked at him and laughed.

Kathryn smacked him on the arm. "And you and Jonathan don't feel the same way?"

He pretended to think a moment and then laughed. "All right, so I know how it feels. Great, isn't it?" They all smiled. Chakotay shook his head as he slipped the coat on.

Duncan smiled his thanks. He moved away and then suddenly turned back. "Oh, Kathryn… We're bunking everyone down in closer quarters for the night. Can you sleep in your own room or over in the dorms? The least number of places people are scattered around the better, just in case we do have some flooding. I'd prefer to have you at the clinic for another few days but you're basically well enough to leave."

Kathryn nodded. "That's fine. I'll take my own room. It'll be great to have my own bed again."

Duncan patted her arm and whispered to her. "It'll give you more privacy in case…" He didn't say anything else and just rolled his eyes up, putting on an innocent look.

Kathryn glared at him. "Duncan, you've a bad mind." She wasn't really embarrassed but pretended it. Chakotay on the other hand was and stared at Duncan in amazement. Kathryn smiled at him. "Chakotay, he's ribbing you."

Chakotay looked from one to the other and shook his head. "I'm out of here. Maybe you two should join me. The rain might cool you down." Still shaking his head, he turned and left, a gust of wind filling the room for a moment as the door was opened.

Kathryn spent the next fifteen minutes in the kitchen chopping vegetables. She smiled as Jack stuck his head around the door. His face lit up when he saw her.

"Young man, I hope you're not looking for more cookies. I happen to know you've already had two. I have my spies everywhere."

Seeing that his plan was foiled, Jack just grinned. He moved into the kitchen and sat on a stool beside Kathryn. He looked around and saw that Selona was nowhere to be seen. "Where's Mommy Selona?"

Kathryn finished the last of the vegetables and placed them in a pot of water beside her. "She's laying the tables. She's making the pies you like so she doesn't have to spend too much time here as they bake themselves. The vegetables won't take long. Why do you ask? Think you can sweet talk me into parting with more cookies?"

Jack shook his head and smiled. "Nah. Actually, I had three. Julie only wanted one so I had her second one."

Kathryn smiled at the mention of the young girl. "Julie only wanted one? Is she ill? And just where is that little minx now anyway?" She frowned when Jack did and felt something stir in her gut. "Jack?" He squirmed in his seat, telling Kathryn that something was wrong. "Jack, I know you and when you squirm it means you're hiding something."

The young boy shrugged and looked embarrassed. "I'm not hiding anything. It's just… Well…it's you…and…"

Kathryn sat down now beside him. "Jack, just tell me. If something is wrong, I need to know. I won't be angry or mad or embarrassed." She waited patiently until the boy spoke.

"It's just… Julie said you… She said you and Daddy Chakotay were…in love…"

Kathryn smiled at that. "We are, honey. That doesn't mean we don't love all of you though." She frowned again when Jack didn't smile.

"But she said…because of that… She said you were leaving and going to Earth…and that you didn't need us anymore." He was suddenly close to tears and Kathryn leaned over quickly and put her arm around him.

"Oh Jack, honey, that's not true. We love you and always will. We all want to stay here. We'll talk about it and see if that's possible and it looks like it is. Even if we can't, we'll visit you all the time."

Jack sniffed and nodded. "I don't want you to go away." Kathryn leaned over and kissed the side of his head and was grateful when he didn't pull away. "It's just… Julie said…" He sniffed again and wiped at his nose. "She said you'd leave us but she'd go and wish for you to stay."

Kathryn felt a nagging fear build in her and couldn't understand it. "Jack, where is Julie now? I didn't see her in the main room earlier." Jack looked frightened for a moment. Kathryn pushed now, feeling an urgency. "Jack, you won't get into any trouble but where is she?"

Jack looked up at Kathryn with fearful eyes. "I don't know. She said she wanted to make a wish to the funny animal but she couldn't remember the way. She didn't say anything else."

Alarm bells immediately rang in Kathryn's head as she remembered Julie coming to visit her at the clinic and telling her about her visit to the ruins with Chakotay. Suddenly it all fell into place. "Jack, did she go out? Try and remember. Please, honey. It's very important."

Jack nodded. "I saw her go out before you came. She took some of Mommy Selona's flowers with her."

Kathryn got up quickly. She stood still and thought for a brief moment. Without a word, she made for the door and grabbed a coat which was hanging there.

Jack looked after her, suddenly afraid. "Mommy Kathryn, where are you going?"

Kathryn put the coat on and fastened it. "I'm going to get Julie. I'll be back soon." She turned and left, leaving the young boy sitting at the table totally bewildered.

Kathryn fought her way through the rain and wind, instinctively knowing where Julie was headed. She'd quickly checked the other buildings first just to be sure but had found no sight of the girl. She slipped in the mud now and cursed as she fought to keep her balance. It wasn't easy to see against the driving rain but she forced herself on. As she neared the ruins, it suddenly occurred to her that she should have told someone where she was going and she silently berated herself. As she slipped again, she cried out as a branch or something tore at her leg. She looked to her left and saw how swollen the river was now as it roared its way past.

Kathryn picked herself up and moved on, estimating that she was almost at the ruins now. She tried to wipe at her face to clear her vision but it was a losing battle. Her hands were covered in mud and it smeared her face, stinging her eyes.

At last she made out the beginning of the ruins and pushed her hair back, grateful that this area was a little more sheltered from the storm. Able to see better, she moved quickly past the vine covered ruins and towards where she knew the altar to be. She'd been here many times on solitary walks and had always felt close to Chakotay then, knowing how much he would have loved the place.

She barely made out the larger shape of the altar now and made for it, then stopped suddenly and let out a sigh of relief. Julie sat at the base of the large stone with her hands against it. Kathryn quickly moved towards her and called to her.

"Julie? Julie?" The young girl looked up quickly and stood, backing away as Kathryn approached. "Julie, honey. Please. You're soaked. Come on back with me."

Julie just shook her head. "I'm not finished. I put the flowers there but they blew away. He won't listen to me now."

Kathryn moved forward more slowly. "Who won't listen?"

Julie pointed to the statue at the back of the altar. "The leafy animal…the God… I have to wish to him and give him a present. I did but it blew away and now he won't answer my wish…my pray…"

Kathryn felt close to tears. "Honey, you don't need to pray or wish for anything."

Julie shouted back at her. "I have to…to make you and Daddy Chakotay stay. You want to leave us. You went to the ship and I thought you were gone…or going. I couldn't find you and I don't see you anymore. You don't love me anymore and you'll leave me…leave us all…" The young girl was crying hysterically now, gulping between her words.

Kathryn moved towards her again crying also, but Julie kept backing away. "Honey, please listen to me. I love Chakotay but I don't love you any less. Any of you. We're not leaving you. I went to the ship because I wanted to see it again. I lived there for seven years. I just wanted to go back there for a little while. I don't want to leave here and neither does Daddy Chakotay. I don't think anyone who came with him wants to leave. We all love it here and we love you too. I'm sorry I haven't spent time with you lately. That's my fault but I still love you." Julie looked torn between believing Kathryn and her own doubts. Kathryn moved towards her again, breathless now from shouting over the wind. "Julie, come on, please honey. We have to go back. We're both soaked. You'll catch a bad cold. Come on, honey, please." Julie just kept shaking her head back and forth as she continued to back away.

Kathryn looked around her briefly and saw that they were on the other side of the ruins now. "Julie, come on please. Dinner is ready and I'm sure you're hungry. You only had a cookie…" Her words barely reached the young girl as the wind howled, carrying them away.

Kathryn inched her way forward, reaching a hand out to Julie now. The rain stung her face but she ignored it.
"Julie, please come back with me. Your wish is answered." Julie just shook her head and stepped back again.

What happened next would stay in Kathryn's memory for a long time. It seemed to play itself out in slow motion. Kathryn was reaching for Julie one minute and the next she saw the child fall backwards as her feet slipped in the thick mud. Kathryn watched in horror as the girl fought to keep her balance and then lost, toppling backwards into the raging river. Kathryn cried out and dashed forward, her eyes scanning the violent water. Her breath came in gasps as she tried to wipe the rain from her eyes.

She saw her then, a small figure, barely visible and trapped against a large fallen branch which was jammed against a large boulder in the river. Without any thought for her own safety, Kathryn kicked off her shoes and stripped off the heavy coat then dived in.

Duncan was sitting with one of the teachers, Olga, trying to work out some games which the children could play after dinner. He knew they'd need something to take their minds off the storm. He looked up as Hista and Jonathan approached them.

"If you two have any ideas for games, we'd be very grateful…" He broke off as he took in the concerned looks on their faces. "What's wrong?"

Jonathan sighed. "We've accounted for all the children. All except Julie, that is."

Olga looked around her. "She's around here somewhere. I heard B'Elanna say she and young Jack scrounged some cookies from her earlier."

Selona was passing by and overheard them talking. "They were together in the kitchen earlier. I sent the pair of them out. I thought they came in here." She looked around, her eyes scanning the room for the two in question.

Suddenly the door burst open and a wet and windblown Chakotay ran in. He quickly pulled his coat off and took a towel which was offered to him. He smiled his thanks to the woman who'd given it to him and began drying his face and hair. Seeing Duncan and the others he crossed over to them.

"The river and stream are holding just fine although they're both pretty high. Peter and Trevor will be over in a few minutes. They're just putting some equipment away." He smiled at them all. "Where's Kathryn?"

Selona nodded towards the kitchen. "She's in there. She was preparing the vegetables for me while I set the tables."

Chakotay didn't wait for anymore to be said and went in search of Kathryn. A minute later he was back. "She's not there." He looked around for a moment and then looked back at the small group. Only now did he see their worried faces. "What's up? Is it Kathryn? What's…?"

Duncan cut him off. "No, it's not Kathryn. We're missing Julie. No one can find her. She was in the kitchen earlier with young Jack but we can't find them now."

Chakotay threw his towel down on a nearby table. "Jack's in the kitchen. He's just sitting at the table. I said hello but he was miles away…"

Duncan stood up and shook his head. "What is this?" He made for the kitchen, the others following.

Jack actually jumped when the swing door to the kitchen opened. He looked around and saw six faces looking in his direction.

Duncan moved closer to the boy and knelt down. "Jack, don't look so frightened. What's the matter?"

The boy just shook his head and mumbled. "Nothing."

Duncan patted the boy's arm. "Jack, we're just wondering if you knew where Julie was? Have you seen her? Selona said she sent you both out of the kitchen earlier."

Jack stared at the young doctor with wide eyes. "Uh huh…"

Duncan smiled a little. "Is that uh huh you know where she is, uh huh you've seen her, or uh huh you were sent out of the kitchen?"

This got a small smile from the boy. "She was here and Selona sent us out. I came back. Mommy Kathryn was here."

Chakotay stepped forward. "Jack, do you know where Mommy Kathryn is now?"

Jack nodded, his hand going to his hair where he twisted his fingers in it. "She's gone to Julie."

Duncan heaved a sigh of relief. "They're together. That's all right."

Everyone nodded except Chakotay. He knelt down beside Duncan and spoke quietly to Jack. "Jack, do you know where they went? How long ago did they leave?"

The small boy thought about that. "I don't know. Julie went first. Mommy Kathryn went after that."

Duncan felt his brief relief leave him. "Jack, are you saying they didn't leave together?" The boy nodded. "Julie left first?" Again a nod.

"Mommy Kathryn said she was going to get her."

He began to look a little upset now and Duncan put an arm around the small shoulders. "Hey, big man, it's all right."

They all turned as the door opened again and B'Elanna walked in. She stopped immediately as she saw the group and instinctively knew something was wrong. "What's the matter?"

Jonathan sighed. "Julie's missing, and so it seems, is Kathryn. We think Kathryn went after her but we've no idea where at the moment."

B'Elanna looked around the faces before her, settling on Chakotay's. "I saw Julie earlier. I came in to make some tea and she was here alone. She was upset. She as sitting on the floor over at the back door." She scratched the side of her head.

Duncan looked up at B'Elanna. "Did she say why she was upset?"

B'Elanna shrugged and shook her head. "Not really. She asked me where Kathryn was and I told her she was on the ship with Chakotay. We had a strange conversation actually." She saw the others looking puzzled and went on. "She was asking me about…religion, I guess. She asked if I believed in wishing and praying in a special place…to a God. I asked if there was something she wanted to pray for. That's when she asked me if Kathryn and Chakotay were in love. I said yes and told her that if that's what her wish was, it was already true." She looked towards Jack. "Then this forever hungry young man came in and I gave them some cookies." She smiled gently at the young boy.

Chakotay stood now, a strange look on his face. He rubbed his fingers against his chin, shaking his head at the same time.

Duncan stood also and lifted Jack from his chair. He sat down and placed the boy in his lap. "Jack, did you and Julie talk?" Jack nodded. "Can you tell me what she said?"

Again he nodded, more slowly this time. "I asked her why she doesn't play with us anymore, how she used to play with Mommy Kathryn before she talked and then with us but now she doesn't."

Duncan smiled and nodded. "What else?"

Jack bit at his lip. "She said…she said…she didn't play with Mommy Kathryn anymore…that … that…"

Chakotay came over and knelt down again. "Jack, you can tell us. We need to know. Please."

Jack nodded and looked down at his hands, twisting his fingers together. "She said Mommy Kathryn didn't need us anymore, that she plays with Daddy Chakotay now and that they were going away…to…Earth…" When he looked up, he had tears in his eyes. He looked at Chakotay. "You're not going away, are you? You still love us, don't you?"

Chakotay sighed and reached for the boy, pulling him into his arms. "Jack, we're not leaving you, and of course we still love you." He looked worriedly at Duncan and saw the young man nod. He lowered Jack back onto Duncan's lap. "Jack, listen to me carefully. This is really important." Jack nodded, biting at his lip again. "Did Julie say where she was going?"

Jack shook his head slowly. "I don't know where she went but she said she wanted to wish for you to stay."

B'Elanna cut in. "That's the wishing she talked to me about…"

She stopped as Chakotay held up a hand. "What else, honey?"

Jack twisted his fingers again. "She said she couldn't remember how to get there. I don't know where. She was going to the funny animal…something like that…to wish you to stay."

Chakotay closed his eyes a moment and the others saw his worry. He spoke very slowly to Jack now. "Jack, think carefully now. Did you tell any of this to Mommy Kathryn?"

The child nodded. "Uh huh. And I told her Julie took some of Selona's flowers with her. She left when I said that. She was in a hurry. She said she was going to get Julie. She put her coat on and went."

Chakotay groaned and stood. He looked around at the others. They all saw what looked like fear on his face. Before he spoke, he smiled down at Jack. "Jack, you go play in the main room. We'll bring Julie and Mommy Kathryn back for dinner. Is that OK?" Jack nodded and slid down from Duncan's lap. He slowly walked to the door then looked back at them all. "Jack, everything's fine. You go play." He nodded slowly and left.

As soon as the boy was out of the room, Duncan turned to Chakotay, a worried look on his own face. "Can you tell me what that was all about? Do you know where they are?"

Chakotay sighed and nodded. "I think so but I pray I'm wrong." He shook his head and told them about taking Julie to the ruins and their conversation there. "I know she told Kathryn all about it. She would have picked up on the same clues as I have."

Jonathan ran his hands through his hair. "You're saying you think Julie went to the ruins to pray, or wish, or whatever, and Kathryn went after her?" Chakotay nodded. "Even in this storm?"

Chakotay nodded again. "I'm sure that's where she meant. It can't be anywhere else. I think she went there because she's afraid Kathryn and I will leave with Voyager and she wanted to wish for us to stay."

Duncan stood up. "She's a child. If it was that important to her she'd just go, regardless of the weather. Kathryn being Kathryn, she'd just go after her without any thought for her own safety." He moved towards the door. "We've looked everywhere within the village. They have to be there and we have to go after them. Get some of the others over here now." Selona and Olga nodded immediately and left the kitchen.

B'Elanna gripped Chakotay's arm. "They'll be fine. They'll be soaked but they'll be fine." She tried a smile and almost made it.

Chakotay patted her hand. "I hope so. That river is…and it runs all along the side of the ruins…" He groaned. "Come on. Let's get moving."

Duncan reached for his arm. "We have to get some equipment first. It'll only take a few minutes but could make all the difference out there."

Chakotay held up his hand, silently admitting that Duncan was right. He turned to B'Elanna. "What about communicators? Will they work in the storm?"

B'Elanna nodded. "I'll get them now. Transporters won't work though. There's an electrical element to these storms. It also means the Doctor can't go with you. His mobile emitter wouldn't work out there either, only inside."

Chakotay nodded as she left the kitchen. He paced now. "What was Kathryn thinking? To go off like that and not tell someone…" He sighed and squeezed his eyes closed a moment. He opened them again when he felt a hand on his arm.

Jonathan smiled softly at him. "We'll find them. We'll be ready to leave in a few minutes and it's not far."

Chakotay lowered his head. "Not far usually. You forget what it's like out there at the moment."

Nothing could have prepared Kathryn for the strength of the water. The power of it threatened to suck her under but she fought against it with a strength she didn't know she had. She gagged constantly as she swallowed mouthfuls of the foul-tasting river, washing so much silt along with it. She struggled harder and finally reached Julie, her arms gripping the child tightly to her. Holding the girl with one arm, she held onto the boulder to try and take in a few breaths before attempting to get back to the bank.

"Julie…hang on…I've got you…" She coughed heavily against the water she'd swallowed and tried to breathe deeply. Sharp pains filled her lungs and she gripped her precious package tighter. "Hang on…we'll get back… You have to help me…" She barely saw Julie nod but she didn't miss the look of terror on the child's face. "Ready? Hang on to me…" Julie nodded again and clung onto Kathryn for all she was worth.

The battle back was almost impossible. The force of the water sapped every ounce of strength Kathryn had. She swallowed more and more water, trying desperately to spit it out. Julie had a fierce hold around her neck, making breathing more and more difficult but still she forced herself on, barely making out the edge of the river in the driving rain. With Julie hanging on, Kathryn used both her arms to fight against the raging torrent. She cried out as something ripped against her face but didn't let it stop her struggle. Finally, her foot found some purchase as her ankle banged painfully off something. Kathryn tried to ignore the pain and struggled harder. She felt Julie's hold begin to weaken and wrapped one arm around the child. Fighting on, her hand eventually touched the river bank. Her fingers sank into the deep mud, leaving her little purchase to gain a grip. She tried again and again, her legs kicking against the power of the water. Finally her hand closed around a stone of some kind and she held on for dear life.

"Julie…help me…" The girl was in no state to do anything. Kathryn screamed at her above the howling wind and rain. "Julie…I can't do this…help me…" Suddenly she felt the child twist in her arm and turn to the river bank. She saw her reach for the edge and grab on, pulling her smaller weight easily from the water. Without Julie in her arms Kathryn was able to pull herself closer to the side. She felt small hands on her pulling at her, and kicked back against the water. Slowly, after what seemed an eternity, she felt her body slide against the mud, and out of the water.

Within ten minutes Chakotay and Duncan were on their way, along with John, Peter, Trevor and Tom, strong beams of light slicing through the night from the power packs they held. B'Elanna stayed behind to receive any communications from the group and to set up the emitters in the clinic in case the Doctor was needed and his mobile emitter failed. The rain had increased now and drove into their faces like needles. The wind was stronger also and they really had to push against it. Chakotay shouted to Duncan over the noise. "How long do you think to get there?"

Duncan strained to hear and shouted back. "Fifteen minutes maybe. It's hard to say against this."

Chakotay nodded, wiping at his face. He increased his pace, forcing the others to fight to keep up with him.

Kathryn lay panting on the ground for several minutes, fighting to draw air into her lungs. Each breath caused her pain but she ordered her mind to ignore it. Finally she pushed herself up and looked at the terrified and shivering young girl before her. She tried a smile but it didn't have any effect. She pushed against the ground again, her hands sinking in the thick mud and finally got her feet under her. She slipped several times but eventually managed to stand, a raw pain shooting through her ankle. Her sodden clothes felt like a dead weight on her body and she shivered violently against the cold. She reached her hand out to Julie as she forced the tremor from her voice and tried to sound calm and reassuring.

"Come on, honey. We have to get back. It's getting worse out here."

Julie nodded slowly, her tears indistinguishable from the rain. "I'm sorry."

Kathryn could see she was sobbing heavily. She shook her head. "It's all right. We just need to get back." They were shouting above the wind to be heard. The old trees around them groaned and creaked under the strength of the storm.

Julie looked up at them with a deep fear in her eyes. "I'm afraid."

Kathryn moved towards her. "It's all right, honey. We'll get back in no time. I'm here with you. There's no need to be afraid. It's only a storm." She smiled again. "Tell you what. We can sing on the way back. The noise of the storm will drown out my terrible voice." Julie stood there shivering and tried a small smile. "Come on then. Let's get moving. It'll help us get warm." Julie nodded again and turned, walking back towards the ruins, glancing nervously around her.

Kathryn watched her for a moment, feeling very sorry for the young child. She cursed herself for not seeing this coming, for not paying more attention to the girl.

"This is all your fault, Kathryn Janeway." She muttered to herself and wiped at her face again. She moved forward slowly, limping badly, her feet sinking and slipping in the mud. She looked down at her feet and shook her head. She was almost ankle deep in the mud and she was barefoot. She remembered her shoes and coat for a moment and looked back, unable to see them. She shrugged. "They wouldn't be much use to you anyway."

She shook her head and turned back, looking towards Julie who wasn't too far ahead of her.

Suddenly there was a deafening crash of thunder, followed almost immediately by a fork of lightning. Kathryn actually heard the air crackle followed by Julie's scream of fear. She looked up in fright and saw the lightning strike one of the large trees, biting into one of the thick limbs as it cut through it. In a surreal moment she watched as the large branch split from the tree, sparks exploding from it, and knew in that instant where it would fall. Julie stood rooted to the spot, sheer terror in her eyes. Kathryn launched herself forward, diving towards the young girl. She heard two words in her mind. "Please God…" She impacted with Julie sending the child sprawling forward, face down in the mud, a second before she felt the weight of the tree strike her back. It crushed her to the ground and then she felt the explosion of pain.

Chakotay hefted the large bag he carried further onto his shoulder and pushed himself forward, flashing his light to the right and left, checking as he went. He glanced at the others, seeing that they were having as much trouble moving as he was but saw them copy his search pattern.

Duncan's eyes met his for a moment. "We're almost there, I hope. I don't think it's much further. It's hard to tell in this weather. Nothing looks familiar."

Chakotay nodded then wiped his hand across his face. "As I remember it, it's about another five minutes."

Trevor moved up beside them. He held up his hand, all fingers spread. "Five minutes is about right, but in this it'll take maybe ten."

Chakotay sighed and nodded. "Let's move faster then." He gave a small smile of thanks as Tom slapped his back, trying to offer encouragement and comfort. He pushed himself forward, once more forcing the others to keep up with him.

Kathryn lay still, unable to move anyway and found she couldn't breathe for several moments. It felt as if all her air was trapped in her throat, coming out as a soft, gasping sound. She felt her fingers claw at the mud, the action sending surges of agony through her body. Then she became aware of the terrible weight on her back, pinning her and pushing her down into the mud.

"Julie…" The word whispered past her lips and she tried to twist her head to see if she could find the child. As soon as she moved, she gasped loudly as pain shot down her back. "Oh God…" She closed her eyes a moment and tried to breathe as slowly and shallowly as possible, desperate to ease the pain even a little. Suddenly she felt hands on her arm.

"Mommy Kathryn? Mommy Kathryn?" Kathryn forced her eyes open, blinking quickly to try and stop the stinging she felt from the mud which coated her face. She tried to speak again, the effort almost impossible.

Julie shook her now. "Mommy Kathryn, please wake up…"

Kathryn groaned loudly at the agony the movement caused her. She summonsed all her strength and managed to croak her words out. "Julie…get help…"

The girl just knelt in the mud and sobbed. "Please Mommy Kathryn…get up…please…" She shook Kathryn again, sending more pain through her body.

Kathryn forced her words out in gasps. "Hurt…don't shake…pain…" She tried to raise her head and managed an inch or so before giving up. She struggled to breathe evenly. "Can't move…hurt…get help…"

Julie pulled her hands from Kathryn's body but stayed kneeling in the mud, sobbing loudly. "I'm scared. It's dark."

Kathryn was almost panting now, each breath causing a stab of pain. "You have to…brave…can do it…" She had to stop for a moment. "Get help…"

Julie still sat there sobbing almost hysterically now. She looked around her frantically and then tried to stand. She moved from Kathryn's limited line of vision. "I'll help you…"

Kathryn squeezed her eyes shut and groaned. Her mind raced as she realized she couldn't get through to Julie and that no one even knew where they were. She tried again. "Julie…go back…get help…" She wasn't sure if the girl even heard her above the noise of the storm. She tried to move her head again and cried out at the stab of pain she felt. Forcing herself, she managed to move a little and barely made out Julie's form against the dim light.

Kathryn groaned as she saw the small girl trying to lift the bough which lay across her back. "Julie…no…" She cried out again as fresh pain ran down her legs now. She thought she felt the heavy weight move just a little and became terrified. "No…Julie…"

Suddenly Julie was back beside her, the child sobbing loudly. "I can't move it. It's too heavy. I can't… I'm scared…"

Kathryn clenched her fists against the pain, her nails digging into her palms. She tried to draw in a deep breath and ordered her mind to cooperate. "Julie…I need help. You have to go. You can do this. You're a big girl now…" The effort was too much and she cried out again. "Oh God please…" Her face dropped down into the thick mud and she felt it fill her nostrils. She blew through her nose to try to clear it and almost screamed in agony. "Please Julie…help…" She clawed at the mud, not even realizing the action and cried, her tears stinging her eyes along with the mud. When she opened her eyes again, she couldn't see Julie.

Chakotay felt as if his chest would explode from the exertion but he pushed on knowing that Kathryn and Julie were nearby, at least he prayed they were. Duncan and the others kept up with him but he could see the physical effect it was having on them also. He tried a tired smile in Duncan's direction and stopped as he saw the young man squinting through the heavy rain.

"I think I see something. There…moving towards us…"

Chakotay turned to look where Duncan pointed and nodded his head. "I see it too…"

They all heard it then, a small voice screaming out over the storm. "Help…help…" The men rushed forward and Chakotay felt a fist of fear grip his chest as he made out Julie, her hair and clothes caked with mud, rain and slime dripping from her hair and down her face and body. She finally reached them and slammed herself against Duncan. "Help…help Mommy Kathryn…" Chakotay was already running ahead and heard

Duncan shout at Julie. "Show us where…quickly…" Julie grabbed his hand and pulled at him, Chakotay slowing only a moment to let her take the lead. He called to the girl as they ran.

"Julie, where is she? What happened?"

The young girl was sobbing heavily. "I fell…in the water and she got me. And we were out of the water and then she pushed me after the fire hit the tree but it fell on her…" Her words were choked out as she continued to pull Duncan along behind her. Chakotay glanced at the young doctor and saw his own fears reflected there. "Here…near the big table…"

Kathryn lay in the cold mud praying that Julie had gone for help, but mostly she prayed that she'd make it back safely. Her breathing was getting worse and she struggled to take in shallow breaths through her mouth as the weight pinning her down continued to crush her. The smell of burning wood filled her nostrils.

It took a minute or two for her to realize that her pain was easing. She lay there feeling it slowly ebb away and now she grew really afraid, knowing that pain was often a good thing. Her hands scratched at the mud as she tried to assess her injuries, the coldness of it seeping into her fingers and chilling them. The pain continued to recede and with it came a numbness, beginning at her lower chest and working downwards. Her breathing continued to worsen as the pain lessened and she coughed, squeezing her eyes closed against the pain in her chest. She bit at her lip now as she felt a coppery taste in her mouth and knew it was blood.

"Oh God…Chakotay…" She suddenly needed desperately to say his name. She felt the cold seeping into her, adding to the numbness which was consuming her body. For a brief moment she felt a tingling sensation pass down her legs and into her feet, and then she grew terrified as she realized she could no longer feel the weight of the bough which had fallen across her back. As the pain receded, she was vaguely aware of all sensation leaving her body. When the darkness came for her, she didn't even notice it.

Chakotay and the others reached the ruins, Julie tugging desperately on Duncan's hand. "Hurry…"

Duncan looked towards Chakotay and pointed. "The altar?"

Chakotay nodded and pushed on ahead, the others at his heel. As they came to the altar the first thing they saw was the orange glow from the old tree which stood beside the large stone, a few stray flames still fighting to exist against the rain and wind which battled against them. They looked down then and saw the bough which had been sliced from the tree, one end barely glowing as the wind fanned it.

At first they didn't see Kathryn, the mud and her sodden and caked clothing hiding her in the dark. Julie knew where she was though and pulled away from Duncan, sliding down beside her friend.

"Mommy Kathryn, I got help. Daddy Chakotay and Daddy Duncan are here…and the others. Please Mommy Kathryn…say I did right." As they looked towards Julie, they all saw Kathryn pinned to the ground beneath the heavy weight, her face almost buried in the mud.

Chakotay cried out and sank down beside her, Tom at his side. Duncan was with them both in a second.

"Oh God, Kathryn…please…no…" Chakotay cried out again and then felt hands pulling him aside. He fought against them for a moment and then rational thought came back to him and he let himself be pulled away so Duncan and Tom could work. He shouted above the storm. "Tell me she's alive…"

Tom looked up a moment and nodded. "She is. Please Chakotay…let us work…" He turned back to Duncan and the two men worked frantically for a few minutes. Peter and John stepped forward and reached for the heavy bough.

Duncan looked up quickly. "No. Don't move it yet. That could cause more damage. Give us a moment to assess the damage and stabilize her. We need to get a chest drain in first. Her breathing is bad. Looks like her lung is collapsed." They nodded silently and waited. Chakotay looked around him and saw the worried looks on the faces of the others. He raked his fingers through his soaked hair, his nails scoring his scalp. He spoke to himself. "Please let her be all right…please God…don't take her from me now…" He felt an arm around his shoulders and looked up into Trevor's face.

The builder smiled gently at him. "Chakotay, she's in the best hands." Chakotay nodded and tried to draw strength from the man's words but they didn't help.

He heard Duncan shouting above the wind now. "I need that water we brought to try and clean the area. And try and find something flat. I think there were planks or boards brought up here at one stage."

Trevor moved forward. "We were going to fence off the area at one time but…" He moved towards the altar. "I think we left them behind here. Never got very far…" Chakotay, needing something to do, went with him and they pulled away rain drenched vines for a few minutes.

Trevor shouted to Chakotay. "Here. Over here." Chakotay moved to his side and saw where he indicated. They pulled several thin planks of wood free from the undergrowth.

Chakotay shook his head. "They're too short…starting to rot…"

Trevor lifted several pieces into his arms. "Maybe we can lash them together. John brought rope with him. It's all we have." Chakotay gathered several more and they hurried back to the others.

Duncan looked up briefly. "Find anything?"

Trevor dropped the planks on the ground. "This is all there is."

Duncan looked over at them and shook his head. "Not much good."

John was thinking ahead, answering before Trevor could. "There's rope in my bag. Tie them together."

Peter nodded and fetched the rope, pulling Julie with him. They could all see the building hysteria in the child. "Come on, honey. We need you to help us." He began placing the planks side by side and length to length, overlapping them. He handed the rope to Chakotay. "Let's get this sorted. We need more length than width."

Duncan shouted over to them. "Julie, work on with John and Trevor. Peter over here. Chakotay too."

Chakotay dropped a plank and rushed over, Peter at his side. He knelt down and looked at Kathryn, her head to the side and a tube of some kind between her lips.

Tom saw his worry. He gripped the large man's arm. "It's just to keep her airway clear…" Chakotay nodded and looked up at the two men.

Duncan nodded and then pointed to the bough. "We need to lift this now. Very slowly though. I don't want the weight to suddenly…" He stood slowly. "Two at each end. Lift very slowly." The others nodded and stood, trying to find some purchase on the large piece of wood, their hands slipping in the wet. "Make sure you have a secure grip first." They all nodded again and then one by one shouted that they were ready. Duncan drew in a deep breath and readied himself, seeing the others mimic him. "OK…lift slowly…on three. One. Two. Three."

They all lifted at the same moment, raising the heavy weight as slowly as they could. As it lifted clear of Kathryn's body, she groaned loudly, even in her unconscious state.

Duncan looked down at her. "Throw it clear…" They heaved the heavy weight away from the woman lying on the ground, a few stray sparks shooting up from it as it hit the ground. Chakotay immediately dropped to his knees, his hand stroking the air above Kathryn's back, knowing not to touch her.

Tom shouted to John and Trevor. "Is that ready?"

Instead of answering, they came over with their makeshift stretcher. "It's the best we can do. Some of the wood is rotted."

Duncan looked it over and nodded his approval. "It'll do. Just give us a minute and I'll tell you how to move her." He worked on with Tom, the others standing back and watching as they checked the chest drain and intravenous lines they'd inserted. Trevor pulled Julie to him and whispered to the girl.

"She'll be all right, Julie. You did good." His words had no effect on the child. She just stood and stared at Kathryn. Trevor simply tightened his hold on her.

After what seemed like an age to Chakotay, Duncan looked up and nodded to the others. They followed the doctor's instructions and placed the joined boards down on Kathryn's back. Tom then placed lengths of rope across this. At Duncan's nod, they slowly rolled her, making sure their stretcher stayed tight against her back. Duncan and Tom then secured their patient. Throughout the entire procedure, Tom had held Kathryn's head securely, having placed some rolled up clothing around her neck.

Chakotay looked at Tom and Duncan now. He saw the deep worry etched on their faces and when they looked at him, he saw them try to disguise it. His own eyes demanded the truth though. "How bad…?"

Duncan gripped his arm. "I don't know, Chakotay. There's… It's mainly her back but… We'll have to wait and see. Not life threatening…I don't think. I can't say. We just have to get her back quickly."

Chakotay held Duncan's eyes a moment longer and then looked away. He knew the man didn't have all the answers and would do everything he could. He barely nodded. "We can't transport…"

Duncan nodded. "I know. We need to move now. Tom's contacting the others to let them know the situation. They'll be ready for us."

Chakotay shook himself, knowing he was no use to Kathryn in this state. Getting her back to the clinic as quickly as possible was the best thing he could do for her now…the only thing.

"Let's go…"

It took almost twenty minutes for the men to carry Kathryn back to the clinic, their coats covering her to try and offer what warmth they could. John carried Julie in his arms, the child sobbing the entire way. She was shrouded in his coat, her hands well hidden. A few times, they almost slipped and fell in the mud but not once did they jar Kathryn.

When they finally reached Haven, Cassa, Miriam, Dressa and Galan were waiting at the clinic door. Voyager's Doctor also stood ready, B'Elanna having rigged up several emitters in the clinic as a backup which would work regardless of the storm. Greta waited also to take care of Julie, Jonathan beside her, knowing he'd be needed to help the girl through the trauma of the evening.

Chakotay followed the group into the clinic, his face telling them that anyone who tried to remove him would not live to tell about it.

B'Elanna ran up to him and followed him inside. She pushed several towels at him and a change of clothing. "You need to take care of yourself first. There's nothing you can do for her at the moment. Let them do their work. Shower and change and you can come right back." Chakotay turned on her, ready to shout her down and saw several of the women standing behind her, more towels and fresh clothing in their hands.

B'Elanna's face dared him to argue. She looked towards the others. "That goes for you all. Let Cassa and the others get started." Duncan and the men stopped and handed over their stretcher to the others.

Duncan looked down at himself first and then at the others. "She's right. We need to get clean now. The risk of infection…" They all took the towels and clothes offered to them. Peter Walker, the engineer, hung back.

"You all go. I want to re-check the generators and the back-up systems. The last thing we need is power failure."

Duncan smiled softly at the man. "Good thinking, Peter. I didn't think of that."

John Wilson tossed his towel and clothes aside. "I'll go with you. Two heads and all that…"

Chakotay just stood and watched them all, feeling a deep admiration for those around him. It gave him hope. If anyone could save Kathryn, it was these people.

Chakotay sat quietly in the empty clinic and nursed a cup of hot soup which B'Elanna had brought to him. He stared down into it, studying a piece of carrot floating on top and wondered how it could be so mesmerizing. He swirled the contents around, watching other pieces mix and float, almost like a dance, and shook his head.

B'Elanna sat quietly beside him. "Chakotay?" He stuck a finger into the soup, welcoming the burning it caused. B'Elanna reached for his hand and pulled it away.

He turned and looked at her. "They've been in there for hours."

B'Elanna held his hand and rubbed at his finger. "It hasn't been that long. It just seems that way. It's only been a little over an hour and a half…"

Chakotay sighed deeply. "Still though…"

B'Elanna smiled gently and brought his finger to her lips. She kissed it softly. "All better." She stopped and smiled, looking a little embarrassed. "Sorry. Mother habits." She saw Chakotay look confused for a moment until her action and meaning got through to him.

He nodded and managed a small smile. "She'll be all right, won't she?"

B'Elanna saw how close to tears he was. She took the cup from his hands and placed it on a table beside them. She then slipped an arm around his shoulders and pulled him to her. "She's in the very best of hands, Chakotay. They'll make sure she's all right."

He nodded slowly, desperate to believe the words his friend spoke. Suddenly he felt a rage build within him. He pulled from B'Elanna and jumped up. "What in the name of God was she thinking? How could she go out there alone? Why is she always taking such risks? Why…?"

B'Elanna was stunned for a moment and then jumped up too. She grabbed Chakotay by the shoulders. "Chakotay, stop this. It's not helping you or anyone else. Kathryn is the way she is. It's part of the reason you love her, part of why we all love her. It's done. We have to concentrate on now." Chakotay stared wildly at her for a few moments and then felt all his anger drain from him. He slumped against his old friend and gave in to the tears which had been threatening.

B'Elanna held the sobbing and broken man tightly against her. She made soothing noises to him and smiled to herself, thinking once again of her mothering habits. Finally she felt him relax and eased him back into his chair then sat beside him. She took his hands in hers and shook them gently.

"Chakotay, listen to me now. I understand how you feel but you have to put that aside for the moment. Kathryn will be fine. I'm so sure of that. She'll need you though to help her through this. There's also a little girl out there who'll need you. I'm sure she's feeling terrible at the moment. She'll blame herself for all this and we can't let that happen. She's just a child." She smiled at him. "You've two ladies who need you now. Time for all this later, OK?"

Chakotay sighed deeply and nodded slowly. "You're right. Of course, you're right. I'm not thinking straight. I hadn't even thought of Julie in all this. She must have been terrified out there." Fresh tears slid down his face. "Kathryn. What she must have been feeling. All alone and in pain. She must have been…"

B'Elanna pressed a hand to his mouth. "Chakotay, let it go. She's safe now. They both are. We deal with now." She wiped at his tears.

Chakotay drew in a ragged breath and nodded. "I'm all right. It's…"

The sound of a door opening at the far end of the clinic startled them both. They looked around to see Voyager's Doctor coming towards them, Tom with him. They both jumped to their feet. Chakotay tried to read their expressions and couldn't. As they came up to them, he managed to stammer his words out.

"How…how is she…?"

The EMH smiled slightly. "She'll be fine. She'll have some recovery time but…"

Chakotay sank back down into his chair. "She'll live…?"

The Doctor nodded and moved closer to Chakotay. "Of course. There wasn't too much danger to her life…unless you hadn't found her." He let the rest go unsaid. None of them needed to think about that.

B'Elanna looked from the Doctor to Tom and back again. "What about her injuries?" The Doctor didn't smile this time and indicated to a chair for B'Elanna to sit. Tom looked away for a moment.

Chakotay didn't miss their discomfort and seized on it. "What? What's wrong?"

The Doctor held up a hand. "Chakotay, I'll explain as best I can." He took a moment and then spoke on. "You have to understand the weight which fell on her." Chakotay groaned at the memories which filled his mind. "She was pinned for some time but mainly it was the weight and the way it fell on her across her back. It would also have been with some considerable force."

He licked at his lips out of habit and not necessity, knowing there was no easy way to say what he had to say. "She has some pretty severe spinal injuries."

Chakotay closed his eyes a moment. "Are you saying she won't walk again?" He opened his eyes and stared hard at the Doctor.

The medic shook his head. "I'm not saying that. It's a wait and see situation. She broke some ribs and one of them had punctured her lung. The same lung as before, in fact. That's taken care of. She also had a deep gash on one of her legs and another on her face which were also easy to treat. Her ankle was broken but I've mended the break, which wasn't a bad one anyway…hairline fracture. There was extensive internal and external bruising but the regenerator took care of that eventually. It was quite deep. There was also some internal bleeding which we brought under control quite quickly. Other than that, she was suffering some hypothermia but we're treating that at the moment. There's a risk of infection from the river water she swallowed and there was still some of that in her lungs. We're leaving her on a ventilator for a short time to help her breathing and we're also pumping antibiotics into her. They'll also take care of any infection from the conditions out there. The mud and so on."

B'Elanna sat forward a little. "You're saying that everything else is taken care of. It's the spinal injury?"

Tom smiled down at his wife and nodded. "That's the only real concern now."

Chakotay groaned. "How bad is it?"

The Doctor shook his head. "We won't know for some time. There's a lot of swelling there. Several vertebra were… There were fractures…which I've healed. There was also damage to her spinal cord. She has no sensation below the waist."

Chakotay groaned again and stood up. "You have the knowledge of 24th Century medicine. Can't you do more?"

Tom moved forward. "Chakotay, that's not fair. We've done everything we can for the moment. The rest is up to Kathryn and time."

Chakotay rounded on him. "Oh, so it's Kathryn's fault now?" He shook his head angrily. "Why not? I just blamed her a few minutes ago."

B'Elanna stood up and gripped his arm tightly. "Chakotay, listen to them. Listen to yourself. You're not thinking straight. It's all clouded with emotion and exhaustion. You need to stand back and get some rest."

Chakotay pulled his arm from her hold. "Rest? How can I?"

The EMH stepped forward and laid a hand on Chakotay's chest. "Listen to me, Chakotay. She's resting for now. She's unconscious still and she's on the ventilator. We're doing all that can be done. She needs plenty of rest and warmth. Her body is exhausted. In a day or so, we'll know more. Once the swelling begins to subside, we'll know what we're dealing with. After that, we can do more." Seeing the pain and desperation in the eyes of the man before him, the Doctor took a chance. "Chakotay, I'm hopeful. I really am. I don't like taking a chance and saying something like that but…" He sighed. "It's going to take time and a lot of rehabilitation...physiotherapy and so on. There may also be the need for further surgery. We'll just have to wait and see."

Chakotay stood staring at the hologram. It took a few minutes for everything to sink in. Finally he nodded and sat down again. "I'm sorry for my outburst…my…" He shook his head, unable to find the right words. He looked up at Tom and the Doctor, hoping his eyes would say it all for him. He saw from their expressions that it did.

Tom moved closer and slapped Chakotay on the shoulder. "We understand, Chakotay. It's been a bad night for us all. If it was B'Elanna, I'd be the same." He looked at his wife and smiled lovingly, then looked back at his friend. "You've nothing to apologize for." Chakotay smiled slightly, his own exhaustion showing.

The Doctor coughed gently. "I agree completely, Chakotay. We understand very well." He dropped down onto his hunkers and smiled at the large man. "We'll have her settled in a little while. Why don't you go in and see her then. Just for a few minutes though. Then you can go and get some rest for yourself. Come back in the morning and we'll know more."

Chakotay stared tiredly at the Doctor and eventually nodded. "You're right. I'm more emotionally drained than physically but I'm still exhausted. I do need to see her though."

The Medic nodded his understanding. "Of course you do. Wait here and I'll call you when they're ready." He stood now and smiled at B'Elanna, motioning with his head for her to stay with Chakotay. She nodded and smiled, showing she understood.

Tom glanced behind him as he and the Doctor made their way back to the surgical area. He looked sideways at the Medic. "Do you think it was wise to be so…optimistic? We don't exactly have a prognosis we can…"

The Doctor shrugged, cutting across him. "I guess I want to believe what I just said, despite what we've seen of her condition. I know this woman and I truly believe she'll fight this. As to Chakotay…" The Doctor looked back also. "What else could I tell him? In his present state, he wouldn't have been able to hear anything else."

Duncan stood and stared down at Kathryn lying in the bed, the ventilator's hissing sounds filling the room. He felt rather than saw Cassa beside him. "How can so much happen to one woman? She's had too much pain in her life. It's not fair." He looked to the side now and shook his head at his colleague.

She sighed. "I don't have an answer for that, Duncan. I agree it's not fair. Her emotional pain however… There's a lot of that around here. Many others have been through terrible times too."

Duncan sighed. "I know. It just seems that… God, Cassa, she's spent so much time in here. That bastard stabbed her. She almost died then. She was the worst case from the poison and again we almost lost her. Now this."

Cassa gripped his arm. "We're not going to lose her, Duncan."

He shook his head angrily. "I know but you saw how close we came to it. If we hadn't found her when we did…" He let his words trail off, not wanting to even think about it. "You saw how rough the surgery was on her. We almost lost her during that even. As it is, she may never walk again. If it wasn't for Voyager's Doctor and his expertise…"

Cassa grew angry now. "Oh, cut the crap, Duncan. You were the one out there. You inserted the chest drain and administered the treatment that got her back here alive. You, Duncan. No one else. Tom helped you but under your instructions. You know that."

Duncan turned angrily to her. He jerked his thumb towards the operating theatre. "What about in there? I was the one assisting and following instructions there. It wasn't me who performed that delicate surgery and pulled her back from the brink. I wouldn't have known where to start."

Cassa actually punched him in the chest. "So what? If you hadn't gotten her back here alive, there wouldn't have been anyone for him to perform the surgery on. You did all the right things. You kept her airway clear. You stabilized her and got her here without any further injury to her back. That took some doing." She rolled her eyes. "Duncan, get off this ride of self-pity and inadequacy you've been on since the others arrived. Before that even. It gets you nowhere. Accept what is. You got her back here alive and she'll recover. That's the most important thing. As to the rest, it's not your fault that you don't have the training he has. I don't have it either but I have to accept that. What I don't accept is that I stay that way. I can change it and learn from him and move on so that next time, and please God there won't be a next time, but if there is, then I'll be able to do better." She sighed heavily. "For God's sake, Duncan… Look, he's a hologram. I don't mean that in any bad way. I mean that he stores vast amounts of knowledge that you and I never can. In other words, we're only human. We have to learn to accept that and just do the best we can."

"There's something else you're forgetting…" They both turned quickly at the sound of the Doctor's voice.

Duncan shook his head in apology. "Doctor, I'm sorry. I just feel…"

The Doctor held a hand up and shook his head. "There's nothing for you to be sorry about. You should however, listen to Cassa. She's a wise woman." The woman smiled and blushed. The Doctor moved closer to them. "Duncan, listen to me. You're right. I'm a hologram. I've been programmed with all this knowledge. If you had the same capabilities, you'd have the same knowledge." Duncan went to protest but the Doctor hushed him again.

"Duncan, you have something that I can never have…never learn. No one can ever program me for it even." He waved his hand around. "Look at this place. Look at what you've achieved here. You've worked damned hard here. OK, anyone can work hard but having the heart and…" He shook his head. "I'm sure there have been many times when you wanted to give up but you didn't. You kept on. You're always there for these people. You work in conditions many would refuse to stay a day in. Your heart is in this and that's the difference. You feel for them all. You have a gut reaction to any given situation that I can never have. You feel and sense things. I can see a situation and respond accordingly but you feel it. You instinctively know what to do when a child needs you…physically or emotionally. A gut reaction. I read a situation as one thing or another but I don't always see the thousands of nuances in between because I don't feel them. It's instinct and I can't ever have that. I'm a hologram and you're a human. There's a very good reason that the expression is worded 'having the HUMAN touch'. I can never have that. Apart from that, you have a dedication beyond anything I've ever seen. You have a discipline most would envy. You also have a determination to succeed here." He shook his head again. "Don't you know how many would have given up on this place years ago? You and Cassa here…the others who work here with you… You're all very special people. The crew who came here with me…yes…they stay and work…but they weren't here for the real struggle and I'm not sure if they'd have been up to it. Maybe I judge them unfairly. I don't know. They're one hell of a special bunch of people though. As rare as you and your lot are so maybe they would have been up to it. I spent seven years with them and I saw many sacrifices for the good of others." He smiled slightly.

"I'm digressing here. What I mean is…" He paused and smiled again. "What I mean is that you're talking bullshit and if I ever hear you speak like that again, I'll punch your lights out." Duncan stared in shock at the Doctor, feeling his jaw drop at the unexpected words. He looked to the side and saw his expression mirrored on Cassa's face, with a hint of a smile also. He looked to Tom then, standing behind the Doctor, and who hadn't spoken a word. The Doctor himself simply shrugged and moved over to check his patient.

Duncan stared at Tom now. "Did he really just say that?"

Tom nodded and went to join the Hologram. "He did. He's picked up a lot from me and the others, although I guess mostly me. Too much at times. However, I'd heed his words if I were you because we all know he's right. OK?" He stopped a moment and stared hard at Duncan. "I said OK?"

Duncan held up both hands. "OK already. God, you lot sure can gang up on a guy."

Tom smiled sweetly. "Glad to see you get the idea. Now, let's check our patient. There's a very anxious man outside waiting to see her."

B'Elanna left Chakotay to sit with Kathryn for a while, knowing he needed the time alone with her. She saw the physical and emotional fatigue he tried to hide and told him she'd wait outside for him then see him back to the ship.

Chakotay sat with Kathryn now in the dimly lit room, thinking how she'd been in the clinic since his arrival. He studied her closely as he stroked her hand, careful of the small plastic tubes inserted there, carrying blood and other fluids. The ventilator's hissing sounds filled the space around them. He spoke softly to her, whispering his words.

"Kathryn, you keep doing this to me. If you were a cat, you'd probably be on your last life now." He shook his head and swallowed, feeling a lump in his throat. "You scare the hell out of me, you know that?" He felt a few tears slip down his face and wiped at them quickly. He looked up sharply as Miriam approached him.

"Chakotay, she'll be fine. You, however, badly need to get some rest. I'll call you immediately if there's any change but I know there won't be. She'll need you more tomorrow and you'll be better able to help her if you're well rested and fed." Her eyes were kind as she smiled at him.

He smiled back and nodded. "You're right, Miriam. Everyone is right tonight and I'm wrong. I'm not seeing too clearly."

Miriam patted his arm. "You've had a tough night, Chakotay. You've every excuse to feel as you do. Go on now. Get some sleep and come back in the morning." Chakotay smiled and nodded then stood slowly. He looked down at Kathryn, the tube which extended down her throat to breathe for her, taped in place. He bent down and kissed her softly on the cheek.

"You rest well, love. I'll see you in the morning. Don't think you'll escape the lecture though." He stood up straight and smiled once again at Miriam. "She gives me a hard time."

Miriam stood back to let him pass. "The best ones always do but they're worth it."

Chakotay looked back at Kathryn and smiled to himself. "Yeah…they are…"

Continued in Part 6