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

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

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

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

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

To Pat - 
For friendship and encouragement.



THERE’S A PLACE FOR US.


By KAT LADY.



PART FOUR.


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…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 had no choice.  I know you never meant to hurt her but you had 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 had 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 had 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 would 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…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…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 is 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 had 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 had always hoped…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…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 would 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…”  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…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.

“Tom…?”  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 had been before she left but she had 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 had nothing to go forward to and I couldn’t go back…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 had 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 had 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 was not 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 have 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 would 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…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 would 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 had taken time away from everyone today.  He had 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 would 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 would 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 shard 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 osteoregenerators…”  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 had 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 had 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 minutes 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…”  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 will 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 would 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 would 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...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…”  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…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…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…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…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…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?  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…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 had 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…mull it over…  Just give her a day or so…”  Chakotay put his knife down and examined the potato he had 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…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…respect them…and 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 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 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.”  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…”  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 round in circles.  I love him.  I’m scared.  I need him.  I’m afraid to be with him and 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…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…well…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 and 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…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 would 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 20 minutes 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 would 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 had 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.  “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.  “Other’s have dated but I’m not sure how serious it is.  I think they all just enjoy each others 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 performed 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 grabbing his arm before he had 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.

“Surrounded 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.


^^^^^^^^^^



ON TO PART FIVE.



RETURN TO STORY INDEX ONE.

RETURN TO STORY INDEX TWO.


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