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 FIVE.


Julie wolfed her dinner down in minutes, to the amusement of Selona and the others.  She quickly asked to be excused and then ran.  Dressa laughed with Selona as the child bolted out the door.

“That one will be over to me later on for some peppermint.  She’ll have one hell of a case of indigestion.  I can guess where she’s off to now.”  Selona laughed too as she picked up the almost empty plate left by Julie.

“Mommy Kathryn has to hear about her day.  She was bursting to tell her.  I’m surprised she came for dinner first.  She must have been starving.”  Dressa began helping her friend clear the tables. 

“When you think about the way she was before…”  The two women smiled at each other. 

^^^^^^^^^^

Julie burst into Kathryn's room and then stopped dead.

“Sorry Mommy Kathryn…I forgot to knock first.”  Kathryn had jumped in the bed at the sudden crash of the door.  She smiled now.

“Julie, you gave me a fright.  It’s all right though.  I was nodding off and I’d have missed my dinner.”  Julie smiled widely and skipped over to the bed.

“Can I stay until you get your dinner?  I have to tell you everything…”  Kathryn patted the bed and smiled.

“You may indeed.  Hop up here and tell me about your day.  Did you see the ruins?”  Julie couldn’t keep still.

“Daddy Chakotay showed me everything…it was great…we saw the leafy people…the stones…and we saw the river all full…and the clouds in the mountains…and the big table…the al…tar…or something…and the stone God…and you can go there and give him a present and ask him things and he can give them to you…but I think you have to ask nicely…and we pulled the leaves away and Daddy Chakotay made sure no crawlies got me…and we covered them again…and we had the food Mommy Selona made us…and Daddy Chakotay carried me home on his shoulders…and he told me stories…and…”  Kathryn stared at the child as she seemed to speak more words in one go than she had since Kathryn had arrived at Haven.  The child’s name for Chakotay didn’t escape her either and she bit her lip to control her emotions.  Julie continued on, telling Kathryn everything that had happened.  Finally Kathryn couldn’t take in any more.  She laughed now.

“Honey, slow down.  I can’t keep up with you.”  Julie stopped mid sentence, almost breathless.  “I can take it you had a good day though…?”  Julie nodded eagerly.

“It was so great.  The old people…the ones who used to live there…they could talk to the God…tell him things…make wishes…say what they wanted…ask for anything…  They only had to give him some flowers or food…”  Kathryn stroked the girl’s arm.

“Honey, that’s wonderful.  I’m so happy you had such a great time.”  Julie nodded eagerly.

“We stayed a long time and saw everything.”  She paused now.  “Mommy Kathryn, do you think the God listens to everyone?  Can anyone ask him for things?”  Kathryn frowned a little.

“I don’t know, honey.  Different people have different Gods…different ways of believing in things.  Most people though, believe in a God, a supreme being they can’t see who watches over them and listens to their prayers.”  Julie nodded, looking very serious.  Kathryn had to fight not to laugh.  Before either of them said anything more, Greta came in with Kathryn's dinner.

“Well, hello Julie.  I had a feeling you’d be here.  I heard from certain people that you gobbled your dinner down.  How’s that tummy?”  Julie smiled and then giggled. 

“I’m fine…”  She stopped a moment as if to think about how she felt and then looked up at Greta.  “A little sore…I think…”  Greta smiled knowingly as she looked at the child.

“I thought so.  Off the bed now and let Mommy Kathryn have her dinner in peace.  You can come with me and I’ll get you something for that tummy ache.  You can come back tomorrow and tell her anything else.  You must be exhausted and I’m sure you’ve tired my patient out too…”  Kathryn reached for Julie and Greta stood back as the pair hugged.

“I loved hearing about your day.  You can tell me the rest tomorrow.”  Julie nodded and hugged back.

“I will…”  She slipped down off the bed and moved to the door where she waited until Greta had placed Kathryn's tray on her lap.

“You eat all that and I’ll be back later when I’ve taken care of Miss Gobble It Up here…”  Julie giggled loudly.

“I am not…”  She opened the door.  “See you in the morning, Mommy Kathryn…”  She was gone as quickly as she’d entered.  Greta smiled at Kathryn.

“Between you and Chakotay…you’ve pulled off a miracle with that child…”  Kathryn settled her tray and smiled back at Greta.

“Somehow I think Chakotay had more to do with that than I had…  I started the ball rolling maybe…but he finished the course…”  Greta moved to the door also.

“One hell of a joint effort then.  Share the plaudit.”  Kathryn smiled and nodded.  “Now eat while it’s still hot.  I’ll see you later.”  Kathryn nodded goodbye and watched the door close.  She looked around the room for a moment, thinking back over Julie’s progress and then to Chakotay’s presence.  She shook her head slowly, then ordered her mind to rest as she began her dinner.

^^^^^^^^^^

There was only a tinge of darkness beginning to creep into the sky as evening began and Chakotay slowly made his way towards the clinic.  His thoughts were all over the place and he had been in a mild panic ever since Duncan had sought him out and told him that Kathryn was ready to see him.

“She’s ready for you…dinner all digested and so on.  I think she’s even had Miriam help her with her hair and a little perfume and so on…but you didn’t hear that from me…”  Chakotay smiled to himself as he remembered Duncan’s words.  The image had given him great hope.

He stood outside the door to Kathryn's room now and drew in several deep breaths, trying out several conversation openers in his mind before dismissing them.  When he finally knocked and heard Kathryn call him in, he still had no idea what he was going to say.

^^^^^^^^^^

Kathryn looked up as Chakotay entered the room and smiled softly at him, trying desperately to hide her nervousness and embarrassment.  Both could see the other’s uncertainty and just looked at each other for a moment.  Chakotay cleared his throat, breaking the silence and jolted them both out of it.  He smiled gently.

“May I come in…?”  Kathryn shook herself.

“Of course…I’m sorry…please…”  She pointed to the chair at the side of her bed.  “Please…sit down…”  Chakotay nodded and made his way over to the chair.  He sat slowly and smiled at Kathryn. 

“Duncan said…  He told me…”  He cleared his throat again as if the action would dislodge the words caught there.  Kathryn cut in before he could say anything else and before her courage failed her.

“Chakotay…I’m so sorry…about the other day…and how it all came out…  I didn’t mean to…  It just all rushed out and I’m sorry…”  Chakotay drew in a deep breath.

“Please don’t apologize to me.  I’m the one who needs to apologize to you.  My outburst was unforgivable.”  Kathryn shook her head.

“It was my outburst that…”  She bit at her lip.  “I’m sorry Chakotay.”  She shook her head and looked away, her eyes sweeping the room.  “Oh God…I had all this in my head…knew exactly what I was going to say and now…”  She looked back to him when she felt his hand on her arm.  His eyes were gentle as he looked at her.

“I rehearsed quite a bit myself but the minute I walked in here, it just left my head…”  They stared at each other and smiled shyly.  Kathryn licked at her lips.

“So…how do we go about this…?”  Chakotay smiled softly and squeezed her arm a little.

“Kathryn…we’ve been friends above all else for a lot of years.  How about we start there?  Since I’ve been here…up to now…we’ve spoken but we haven’t talked.  We haven’t REALLY talked.  And we used to be able to do that.  I can remember us sitting up late many a night…discussing everything and anything…”  He smiled as he saw the memories of those times reflected on Kathryn’s face.  “So…how about we just ease into this?”  Kathryn nodded and smiled, instantly looking relieved.

“That sounds good…”  She bit at her lip a little.  “I think I feel like a teenager again…”  Chakotay shook his head as he smiled, trying to conjure an image in his head.

“I’d like to have seen you in those years.  You must have been quite something.  All those rebellious genes and hormones…”  Kathryn pretended offence.

“I never rebelled and I had my hormones well under control, I’ll have you know…”  Chakotay laughed, infecting Kathryn with it. 

“That’s better.  I love to see you laugh.  It breaks the ice and eases the tension too.”  He sighed then.  “So how about we just talk about…I don’t know…this place…the others…work our way in from the outside…?”  Kathryn smiled and nodded, easing back against her pillows.

“That would make it easier.”  She shook her head.  “I have to admit I felt very nervous about this.  I know I shouldn’t have but…  I mean, a part of me was dreading it and yet I want it…need it…  I think we both do…  I’ve been so nervous about it…and I still am…nervous and embarrassed even…”  She smiled shyly.  “I know you and yet…”  Chakotay shook his head.

“Kathryn, I’ve felt the same way.  No matter how well you know someone, you can still feel that way.  We all do where our emotions are concerned.  We lay ourselves bare when we expose ourselves to someone…no matter how close we are to them.  Those emotions make us feel vulnerable like nothing else can…”  He stopped at the strange smile on Kathryn’s face.  “What…?”  Kathryn shrugged.

“It’s just that Duncan said something like that to me…about how feelings and love make us vulnerable like nothing else can…”  Chakotay nodded. 

“He’s a wise man…”  He sighed and reached for her hand.  “I’m so glad you have friends like him…”  Kathryn looked down at her hand in his and nodded.

“They’ve been wonderful…  After everything that happened when we got back…”  Chakotay smiled at her and leaned forward, seeing the opening he felt they needed.

“Let’s start there then.  Tell me about that…”  Kathryn turned her hand in his and squeezed.

“Can we start with the others?  Can you tell me about them first?”  Chakotay frowned.

“Kathryn, what you went through is important too.  You always put others before yourself…”  Kathryn just shook her head.

“I know but this isn’t…”  She sighed and managed a small smile.  “I’m just trying to ease into all this.  Is that OK?”  Chakotay nodded understandingly and squeezed her hand reassuringly.

“OK.  I understand.  Where do you want to start?”  Kathryn looked across the room a moment and studied the door.  Finally she looked back at Chakotay and smiled sadly.

“I guess with what happened to everyone.  I know you told me some of this already and the others spoke with me too when they visited, but not in any great detail.”  Chakotay nodded.

“What do you want to know?”  Kathryn sighed heavily.

“I know they all left when the decision came down about no charges against the former Maquis…”  She shook her head, not looking at anything in particular.  “I followed up with some of them but…”  Her voice trailed off and Chakotay waited to see if she would say anything else.  When she didn’t, he sat forward and studied her a moment, feeling there was something she wasn’t ready to say.  She looked at him quickly.

“It was hard for them, wasn’t it?”  Knowing she needed the truth and would know if he tried to soften that truth, he decided to be honest with her.  He nodded slowly.

“It was hard…no sense in denying that.”  Kathryn nodded sadly.

“I know so few of them settled…”  She looked at Chakotay.  “Did anyone…?”  Chakotay smiled softly.

“Some did.  Icheb was accepted at the Academy…and there were others like Samantha Wildman and Naomi.  It’s like that little girl was never away from her father…and she was so nervous about meeting him.  If you remember, she and Seven were the most reluctant to reach Earth…”  Kathryn smiled sadly as she remembered. 

“Most didn’t settle though, did they?  Their lives had changed so much…the lives they left behind I mean…”  Chakotay sighed.

“They had, but that’s just a fact of life.  We could never have expected things to be as we left them.  I’m sure none of us were as they remembered either.  We’d changed too.  Everything moves on…”  Kathryn shook her head.

“I know that.  It’s just…”  She looked directly at Chakotay.  “How bad was it really for them?”  Her eyes demanded the truth and Chakotay hesitated a moment and then nodded.

“As I said…it was hard.  People had moved on…gone on with their lives.  Some had re-married after they’d given up on us.  Kids didn’t know parents or had forgotten them.  I remember one guy saying that his kids called someone else ‘Daddy’ now…”  Kathryn shook her head sadly as she listened.  “We’d changed too, as I said.  We weren’t the people our families remembered.  Some of us had even begun new relationships…not thinking we’d get home and see our old families again.”  He shook his head.  “Others had died…or died after we returned.  Harry Kim’s parents died shortly after we got back…passed within a short time of each other.  His fiancée had married someone else…had kids even…”  Kathryn blinked back her tears.

“I didn’t realize how hard it had been…”  Chakotay leaned forward.

“Kathryn, are you sure you want to hear this?  It’s in the past and we’re happy now…”  Kathryn nodded.

“I still see them as my people, Chakotay.  I want to understand what they went through…  I need to know.”  Chakotay nodded and reluctantly went on, although a part of him now felt that their feet were on the road to all that needed to be said between them both.

“Most had some problem…greater or lesser.  They all found it hard to adjust and for some it was impossible.  Their families were often unrecognizable to them.  They even had problems with strangers.  Anyone who envisioned a hero’s welcome was disappointed.  I mean Starfleet welcomed us, but there was still the situation with charges pending against some.”  He looked at Kathryn and dropped his head to the side.  “You had your own pain over that…”  Kathryn waved a hand as if dismissing her own experiences.

“Go on…”  Chakotay sighed and continued.

“The former Maquis…even when they’d been pardoned…  They were still…”  He shrugged.  “I guess people have long memories.  It was ‘once a Maquis, always a Maquis’ and no matter where they went, people showed their feelings once they knew who they were.  Some just didn’t know how to act and others were openly hostile…  Maybe they were just still afraid or had suffered a loss…  I don’t know.”  He sighed heavily.  “Even the Starfleet crew had problems.  Once people knew who they were, they were either accused of having had it easy by deliberately missing the war or they were hounded for details.”  He rubbed at his face and managed a small smile.  “If only they knew what we’d really been through out there…”  He gazed across the room as he remembered.  Kathryn’s voice brought him back.

“A lot of people are ignorant and their ignorance always causes hurt to others…”  Chakotay looked back at her and nodded. 

“I suppose so.”  He was quiet for a moment.  Kathryn then asked a question he knew was coming.  She sounded hesitant.

“What about…Seven…?  Did she have it as bad…?”  Chakotay looked up at her, trying to read her eyes.  All he saw was concern.  He sighed and then nodded.

“You know she and the Doctor are together now…”  It wasn’t a question and Kathryn just nodded and smiled.  Chakotay nodded also and went on.

“Well, they had it bad too.”  Kathryn looked shocked but didn’t say anything.  “There was a lot of prejudice against them.  People were afraid of Seven, and even if they often tried to hide it, she still felt it.  She was more accepted when she tried living on Vulcan but she couldn’t take it.  Who she once was would have been able to adapt to the situation, but not the person she is now.  On Earth she found prejudice and suspicion…distrust…  She was mostly seen as an oddity.  She told me she felt as if she’d swapped her Voyager collective for one too big on Earth.  Having spent most of her life as a drone, used to such large numbers…now she felt afraid.”  He smiled sadly.

“The Doctor felt totally useless also.  His knowledge and expertise were as good as any, but because he looked like the Mark One, all he found was mistrust and discrimination.  People didn’t see his knowledge…just his appearance.”  Kathryn sniffed and swallowed the lump she felt forming in her throat.  She shook her head.

“I wish I’d known…”  Chakotay stroked her arm.

“You’re not responsible for other people, Kathryn.  Their ignorance is their problem.”  Kathryn shook her head.

“It was also Seven’s problem…and the Doctor’s…and all the others…and that should have made it mine.  I should have been there for them…”  When Chakotay went to speak, she stopped him.  “Just tell me the rest…please…”  He nodded.

“Tom and B'Elanna, I think you know about…”  She nodded.  “They couldn’t settle either.  Oh, they were delighted that Tom was able to sort things out with his father but aside from that, they just felt useless.  Their days seemed endless.  Like the rest of us, they’d had a routine and a purpose on Voyager and now that was gone.”  Kathryn nodded her understanding but said nothing.  Chakotay looked at her carefully then went on.

“Tuvok and T’Pel…  Their family was grown.  Like the rest of us, I think Tuvok felt he had no purpose.  For a man who had almost lost his mind, he needed to use it and not settle down into retirement.  He needed to be active.”  Kathryn sighed.

“He told me some of that.”  She smiled.  “He came to see me just the other day…brought me that orchid…”  She pointed to the flower on the locker.  “He seems so happy and settled here…said T’Pel was happy also…”  Chakotay smiled at that. 

“She is.  She does some teaching…to the women as well as the kids.  Everyone is happy here.”  He leaned back a little and shook his head, not letting go of Kathryn’s hand.  “Only those who were out there with us can understand what we went through.  No one else can understand the bond that was formed between us all.  We’re outsiders as a result because people can’t relate to what we went through.  We were lost in our own home...strangers in our own land.  We were also scattered…no longer together as a group.”  He smiled at Kathryn.  “We were leaderless.  Our linchpin…the one who held us all together wasn’t there…  Since we’ve been here with you though…  We feel we have our captain back…”  Kathryn shook her head at that.

“You assign me an importance I never deserved…”  Chakotay leaned forward.

“Oh Kathryn, you’re so wrong there.  I saw them back on Earth and I see them here.  Yes, they enjoy the work, and the purpose is very important to them, but being back with their ‘family’ and having the head of that family with them again…  That’s the difference…”  Kathryn shook her head again, none of this sitting comfortably with her.  “Kathryn, you know how we were out there.  I know it was only seven years out of all the other years we’ve had in life…but they were seven very intense years.  Many of us formed stronger bonds in that time, than during any other time in our lives.”  Kathryn scratched the side of her face and nodded as she absorbed all she was being told.  She took a moment as she studied her nails.  Chakotay waited patiently for her.  She looked up then and smiled sadly.

“Onto the next circle then…”  Chakotay frowned and Kathryn shrugged.  “I kind of feel that all this is like a series of circles, each getting smaller and closer to the core.”  Chakotay nodded his understanding at that.

“I guess it is in a way…”  He smiled warmly.  “What’s the next circle then…?”  Kathryn licked at her lips.

“You…I suppose…”  She held his eyes and saw the sadness there.  She also saw uncertainty and pain.  She reached for his hand.  “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.  I don’t have to know.  I just get the feeling that you need to tell me…”  Chakotay gripped her hand and nodded, his head down.  He looked up and managed a smile.

“Me or me and Seven…?”  Kathryn looked embarrassed.

“I’m sorry.  I’ve no right to ask…”  Chakotay squeezed her hand to get her attention.

“Yes, you have.  You have every right.”  He held his other hand up, stopping the objection he saw coming.  He smiled softly.  “You have every right and I want to tell you…”  Kathryn finally nodded but remained quiet.  Chakotay took a moment to organize his thoughts while looking around the room and then looked back at Kathryn.

“I don’t know if some of these are reasons or excuses or whatever…”  He sighed.  “I’m not sure of a lot of this now…”  He shook his head and looked directly at the woman in the bed.

“All that time out there…”  He sighed heavily.  “I always held out hope for us…for you and me…that there could be something….”  He saw Kathryn’s eyes fill with tears but went on.  “I think I even knew how you felt and that you couldn’t say anything to me or allow yourself to get too close.  I wasn’t blind but I wasn’t really sure either.  I often thought I was just seeing what I wanted to see…and that maybe it was just my own imagination or hope…  I think most of the crew saw the same but they never said anything to me.”  He shrugged.  “I knew it wouldn’t happen though…”  Kathryn bit down heavily on her lip and sniffed but let him speak.  Chakotay looked at her sadly, his voice soft when he spoke.

“Mainly, I was just lonely…and feeling my age…”  He sighed again heavily.  “I looked to the future…and saw it slipping away.  I wondered if we’d be out there for the rest of our lives…couldn’t really see us getting home…  I had hope but when I decided to be honest with myself…I didn’t see it.”  He shook his head slowly.  “I looked ahead and saw the same day repeating itself over and over…all aboard Voyager…and nothing different to look forward to.  Every time we’d come across what might have been a way home, it turned into nothing.  I watched Tom and B'Elanna marry…saw them have their child…and it got to me.  I saw others forming relationships and it added to my loneliness.”  He looked up at Kathryn.  “It wasn’t really being on Voyager that was the problem…  I was just lonely…the years passing me by…”  Kathryn squeezed his hand and nodded.  Chakotay was silent for a moment and then seemed to sit up straighter, drawing in a deep breath.  He studied Kathryn sadly for a moment. 

“I saw how lonely you were too though.  My mistake was giving into the loneliness and letting myself get involved with Seven…”  He stopped and watched for a reaction to the name and saw her blink away a few tears.  “Kathryn, it was loneliness that drove me into a relationship but it was pure stupidity and ego that drove me to Seven.”  He ran a hand through his hair.  “Oh, she flattered me and I needed that.  I was at a low ebb and she was there, showing an interest.  No one else was and I reacted to her.  I was feeling my age…”  He suddenly pulled his hand away from Kathryn’s, angry with himself now.

“Of course, instead of looking towards someone else, I let myself get carried along with her.  She was there, asking for my help and I was flattered.”  He stopped and sighed, reeling in his brief anger.  He smiled sadly.

“It doesn’t make me proud to say it, but men are flattered to think that they might be a woman’s first and while that never mattered to me, I have to admit that I think it came into all this somewhere.  Probably without me even thinking about it.  I know also that it felt good to be needed and wanted.”  He leaned forward a little, playing with his hands now, knowing Kathryn would be hurt by his words and not wanting to see that hurt…not ready for it yet.  He needed to say everything first.

“All along, in the back of my mind, I knew it was wrong…in general and for me personally.  I knew it would hurt you too…this woman who was like a daughter to you, but somehow I still let it happen and I can’t completely explain that.  It was like standing back and watching myself doing these things I felt I had no control over.  If I’m honest, there was even a time when I felt I had a right to it…that it was a way to show you that I could manage without you.”  He looked up slowly, his eyes sad, ready to face her now.  “I gave up, Kathryn.  I gave up on us because I didn’t see any hope there anymore.  I gave up and I’ll always regret that.  That it was with Seven…  I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself for that.”  He swallowed loudly and jumped a little when Kathryn placed her hand on his.

“Chakotay, you didn’t have to explain this to me.  I think you needed to and you’ve done that now.  As I see it, you were very lonely.  She was there and I wasn’t.  That’s down to me…my fault.  It wasn’t any other woman on the ship because I don’t think you were looking, no matter what you say about giving up on us or feeling the years slip by.  It was Seven because she was there…presenting herself to you.  That you went into it isn’t weakness or stupidity.  It was just human.”  She stroked the back of his hand.  Chakotay shook his head.

“It wasn’t just human.  It was human weakness.  It was the biggest mistake of my life, relationship wise.”  He looked at Kathryn and smiled tearfully.  She smiled back at him.

“How long did it last?”  Chakotay laughed bitterly.

“No time at all.  It was over before we even got back.”  Kathryn looked shocked at that but remained quiet and let him speak.  “Suddenly though, we were home and the prospect of that and the uncertainty surrounding it…  I guess we used each other for support against the unknown.  I could have been facing prison with the other Maquis.  Seven believed she might end up in a laboratory somewhere.  She even wondered if she might go to prison for the crimes of the Borg.”  He shook his head.  “We didn’t know what the future held and somehow staying together added a semblance of support against the unknown.  Once we knew it was safe…”  He sighed and leaned back again.

“It was safe…no prison…no labs…but there was nothing else there either.  Neither of us had anything.  Seven’s aunt had died just before we got home…”  Kathryn gasped.

“I didn’t know that…”  Chakotay just shook his head.

“She was lost and alone, Kathryn.  She had no one.  There was just nothing there for her.  I felt the same way.  I had my sister and her family on Dorvan but nothing on Earth.  I felt I’d no right to come to you at that stage…not after everything with Seven.  I’d hurt you and felt I’d be the last person you’d want to see.  I also felt I couldn’t just walk away from her.  She needed a friend and I was all she had.  Oh, we both knew it would never be more.  We’d tried it and knew it wouldn’t work.  Other than being on Voyager, we had absolutely nothing in common.”  He rubbed a hand across his face.  “I asked her to come to Dorvan with me…meet my sister and her husband…their kids.  She had nowhere else to go so she came.  Somehow being there made us feel we had to try one more time…put a last effort into it…  It didn’t happen though and it never would have.  We knew that almost immediately.  Everyone else saw it too.  We tried out of obligation and loyalty, or something, but it wasn’t right.  She couldn’t settle there anyway…even as just a friend.  She left and I think…know…we were both relieved.  She tried settling on Vulcan but that didn’t work either.  She came back to Earth and met up with the Doctor again.  I think she finally found what had been there for her all along.  She…they…just hadn’t seen it.  Well, maybe the Doctor had but Seven hadn’t.”  He smiled at Kathryn.  “They’re very happy together and I’m happy for them.  We’re friends with each other, letting the past stay there in the past.”  Kathryn lay back and nodded.

“I’m happy for them too.  I’m just sorry you went though all that when you got home.”  She shook her head and changed the direction a little.

“What about you, Chakotay?  What did you do after Seven left?”  Chakotay smiled sadly.

“I stayed on Dorvan for a time but I couldn’t settle.  Everyone saw that.  Oh, it was great to see my family…see my sister again and meet her husband and kids…” Kathryn smiled at that.

“You’re an uncle…”  He nodded.

“Yeah…two boys and a girl…great kids.  It was wonderful to get to know them but I felt out of place.  They never made me feel anything but welcome, but it was still their home and not mine. As much as I’d wanted to see my homeland again, it was like I didn’t recognize it and it didn’t recognize me any more either.  The man I was…he too had gone…wasn’t there anymore.  Talia, my sister, saw how I was and in the end, she kicked me out.”  Kathryn laughed at that. 

“She kicked you out…?”  Chakotay nodded and laughed also.

“Not literally but she told me I needed to settle things and find peace so she booked my passage back to Earth for me.”  Kathryn nodded and smiled.

“Was she right?”  He nodded.

“She was and she knew it.  I knew it too but I just needed the kick in the backside to do it.”  Kathryn licked at her lips.

“So you came back to Earth…”  He nodded again.

“I came back and tried to trace everyone…succeeded in most cases…except for a certain Captain.”  Kathryn just smiled.  “I traced most of them…almost all in fact…and saw that they weren’t completely happy.  After that, I just sat back and didn’t know what to do.  I was out of it…had no reason to get out of bed each day.  I finally went to see Admiral Paris and ended up teaching at the Academy.  I lecture there most days.”  Kathryn suddenly looked guarded.

“You’re happy there…?”  Chakotay heard the hesitancy in her voice.

“I’m content there, Kathryn.  Only just.  It puts the days in.  I’m like the others.  There is no real life there for me.  I go through the motions.”  He watched her carefully.  “When I was summonsed by the Admiral who told me about this, I agreed immediately, especially when I knew it was you.  The others jumped at the chance too.  The rest you know.”  Kathryn was quiet as she nodded.  Chakotay gave her a minute.  He then took her hand in both of his.

“Kathryn, I’m not happy there.  If I want to be completely honest, I’m close to miserable.  Teaching…lecturing…isn’t what I thought it would be at all.  They’re more interested in seeing the Delta Quadrant oddity than in listening to my lectures.”  He squeezed her hand and hesitated a moment, hoping the time was right to ask. 

“What about you?  What happened to you?”  Kathryn sighed and tried to turn in the bed.  Chakotay stood up and smiled playfully.  “Can I help you this time?”  She smiled shyly and nodded.

“Please.  And I’m sorry for all that…”  Chakotay helped her get comfortable.

“Something else for the ‘past’ pile…”  When he was sure she was all right, he sat again and waited for her to speak.  Kathryn shrugged at first, taking a moment to think.  She then spoke quietly, her voice sad.

“I was also one of the lost.  My family…they weren’t there…nothing was there.  It was like going into a room you once knew, only someone has changed all the décor and the furniture and you don’t recognize any of it.”  She wiped at a stray tear which suddenly fell.  “I got back too late to see my mother.  She died just before we got home…”  Chakotay leaned forward quickly and took her hand.

“Kathryn, I’m so sorry…”  Kathryn smiled her thanks but spoke on quickly and Chakotay sensed she needed to tell him everything in one go.  “Phoebe cleared out as soon as she could.  She didn’t even welcome me home and didn’t want contact with me either.  I think she blamed me for having to care for Mom while I’d been away.”  Chakotay squeezed her hand.

“What did you do?”  Kathryn shrugged.

“Oh, I stayed with Starfleet for a while…”  Chakotay cut in.

“Kathryn, I know about you facing charges…being held for so long after we’d all left…”  Kathryn simply shook her head.

“It doesn’t matter now.”  Chakotay looked down at their joined hands.

“It does matter.  We should have been there for you the way you were for us.  I know how hard you fought.  We should have fought for you too…should have known.”  Kathryn shrugged that off.

“I just did what I had to…and in the end…they asked me to stay on.  I had nothing else so I stayed…” She looked down into her lap.  “I tried to explain this to Admiral Paris when I left.  I’m not sure he understood.  I’m not sure if I did…”  She sighed heavily.

“I’d spent so long out there, I didn’t know who to be when we got back.  I forgot who I’d been.  The person I was before didn’t exist anymore.  I’d had a life I fitted into.  I knew who I was back then.  I knew where I stood.  I was Kathryn and I was a Captain and I could go from one to the other easily.  Then we got lost in the Delta Quadrant and I had to be just a Captain.  There wasn’t room for anyone else.  Of course, the Captain I had to be out there was completely different from the one I’d had to be before.  I felt so lost and scared at times but I couldn’t show it.  And there was no escape from it either…no time or place to escape to where I could be just Kathryn again.”  Chakotay squeezed her hand, hearing the sadness in her voice.  He let her continue.

“I saw how lost and scared they all were and I had to be strong for them.  I had to become the Captain they needed, but as a result of that, every other part of who I’d been fell away.”  She shook her head.

“And then we got back…and this new Captain was no longer wanted or needed.  I think she was even frowned upon.  And so…I was expected to instantly go back to the Captain I’d been before I left.  Trouble was…I didn’t remember how to be her anymore.  Everything was different for me and yet it was the same…”  She smiled sadly.  “That sounds muddled but I don’t know if I’d changed and things had stayed the same or they’d changed and I couldn’t fit in anymore…  I don’t know…  It was different and yet the same.  I was this different person and I’d forgotten how to be the old Kathryn.”  She shrugged.  “When we got back, I felt so alone.  There was no one there to meet me...”  She looked up now, tears in her eyes.  “Not even me…  I wasn’t there.  It was almost as if I’d expected myself to turn back into this other person the moment my foot touched Earth, but it didn’t happen.  I half expected to see my old self standing there, waiting to meet the new one…”  She sighed and looked down into her lap again.

“The life I’d once known on Earth was gone.  There was nothing to go forward to and I couldn’t go back.  Standing still wouldn’t work either.”  She looked up again, glancing around the room.

“The only thing there for me was Starfleet.  Nothing else was familiar…not that Starfleet was…but it was the established versus the unknown.”  She sighed.  “I had nothing and I felt nothing so I stayed on because it seemed easier.  It didn’t work though.  It was just too painful.  I didn’t fit in anymore.”  She looked at Chakotay, knowing she’d see understanding on his face.  He didn’t disappoint.

“You know what I mean…”  He nodded but remained quiet.  “I got so used to the way of life out there.  After seven years, it became all I knew.  I had no one to really answer to…no one above me.  Suddenly I’m back and there were orders everywhere, the rules of others to obey…their way…ask no questions.  I couldn’t settle back and take orders again…play the game…go along with the politics…live an ordinary life again.  I couldn’t take not even being asked for my opinion.  They expected the old Janeway again…thought I’d just slip back into being her, but I couldn’t.  Too much had happened out there…too much had changed…changed me.  I tried to fit in and be that old Kathryn for a time, and in the end, I realized I couldn’t do it.  I also realized I didn’t want to do it.  All I had was this pile of regrets and they weighed down on me.  I’d made a decision that robbed all these people out of seven years of their lives.  Others died out there because of that decision.  And then there was the suffering of their families left behind.”  She shook her head sadly.  “Like you said…there are children who don’t know their parents or will never know them…and that was my fault…that was down to me.  They all lost those years.”  She exchanged a sad smile with Chakotay.

“So I left.  I’d had enough of trying to be what I wasn’t and I couldn’t take the pitying looks anymore either.  Starfleet didn’t even want or need me to help with the data we’d collected.  They just wanted me in an office, hidden away…except when they needed to wheel me out for some dinner…  They didn’t want me back in space either.  Maybe they didn’t trust me or knew I couldn’t follow orders anymore…and if I’m honest, I wouldn’t have wanted any other ship anyway.”  She licked at her lips. 

“So all I had was this shoe box office, with work a junior clerk could have done.  Of course, I also had to endure the sad looks of everyone around me…whispering to themselves about how they wouldn’t end up like the sad, old woman who haunted the corridors.  My crew was gone…my family…  Voyager was gone…and I had nothing to even try and replace all that with.”  She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear.

“I had no use…no purpose…  Everyday was the same.  Whereas I’d once found the structure of Starfleet offered great security…now it was restrictive…squeezing out the little life that was left in me.  I knew I had to leave before I died there…and I somehow knew that if I had died there…no one would have noticed.”  She smiled when she felt Chakotay squeeze her hand again.  She sighed heavily.

“I knew if I didn’t leave, I’d just fade away in there.”  She smiled sadly.  “What’s that old saying?  ‘Old Captains never die…they just fade away…’  I think it referred to old sea captains but it applied to me…”  She sniffed and let the smile slip from her face.  “The only way things could change for me was if I forced them to change…and to do that, I had to leave and make myself find something else.”  Chakotay shook his head sadly.

“I hate to think of you like that…so alone…”  Kathryn squeezed his hand now.

“Neither of us could have known what the other was going through…”  Chakotay reluctantly nodded agreement to that.

“What did you do when you left…?”  Kathryn shrugged.

“I wandered for a long time…at least it felt a long time…”  She smiled sadly.  “I went to all the places I told myself I’d always wanted to see but with no one to share them…”  She sighed.  “I was trying to find something…anything…to fill the gaping hole I felt inside me…the one left behind when I lost you…the crew…Voyager…  I wanted to find some peace…somewhere I felt I belonged…”  Tears slipped down her face now and Chakotay gently held her hand but remained silent, knowing she needed to finish this.

“I left Starfleet because I couldn’t stand to see people’s pity for me and I thought leaving would force me to find something for myself.  Instead, their pity for me was replaced with my own pity for myself.”  She swallowed.  “Anyway, I finished my travelling and found a cabin…near the shore…spent my days just reading…walking…  Then I met Duncan and Jonathan and they kind of took me under their wing.  They told me about their work and this place and in the end asked me to join them.  I agreed at once but they made me think about it and check them out.”  Chakotay smiled at her as she spoke.

“Coming here was the closest I came to filling that gap.  I felt useful again, but it wasn’t quite enough.”  She gently pulled her hand from Chakotay’s and sought a more comfortable position slightly on her side.  She propped one arm under her head and leaned against it.  “At least it helped though.”  She smiled tearfully at him.  “Helping them helped me forget for a little while…”  She bit at her lip.  “Well…not forget…but ignore…or rather try to ignore the pain I felt inside…but I was fooling myself…because it was always there…”  Chakotay stroked her arm, which lay across her hip.

“I’m so sorry, Kathryn…”  She shrugged again.

“My own doing…”  She cleared her throat.  “I’ve made good friends here though…wonderful people.  Not just the staff but the women too…and the kids are wonderful.”  She smiled softly at him.  “By putting them first, it made me forget my own problems.  I got so down before…depressed I suppose…dwelling on my own problems…  When I came here…I would still get down…now and again…but then I’d see their problems and it would put mine into perspective.”  She sniffed loudly.  Chakotay let go of her arm.  He reached over and pulled a tissue from the box on the locker and handed it to her.  She nodded her thanks and wiped at her face.

“You still had your own problems, Kathryn.  You still mattered…”  She studied the tissue in her hand.

“I know…but they didn’t seem as important compared to theirs.  Seeing their problems didn’t take my own away but it hid them…  I mean, hasn’t all this eclipsed the unhappiness you all had…?”  Chakotay nodded slowly.

“Yes, it has.  I know what you mean.”  He stroked a finger along the side of the bed.  “Have you been happy here for the most part?”  Kathryn nodded and smiled.

“Mostly.  It feels so good to have something useful to do every day when you get up.  To know you’re achieving something and making a difference in someone’s life…”  Chakotay reached for her hand.

“You’re a very special person, Kathryn.  You’ve always made a difference.  You made a difference to all the lives on Voyager…”  Kathryn sighed sadly.

“Oh, I made a difference to their lives all right.  I ruined them…lost some of them even…”  Chakotay shook his head and sighed heavily.

“You know that’s not true.  And you saved lives.  You are special…”  Kathryn shrugged and shook her head sadly.
 
“I’m not special, Chakotay.  I got you all lost out there and yet…”  Chakotay closed his eyes a moment.

“Kathryn, what happened was outside of our control.  It wasn’t your fault or anyone else’s.  And before you say it, destroying the array was the right thing to do.  You saved countless lives with that so drop this because we’ve been through it.  Let it go.”  Kathryn sighed and seemed to reluctantly accept that.  She looked across the room at something Chakotay couldn’t see.

“All the loyalty…from you and from them…  I never deserved that.  Their understanding…the families…and yet I wasn’t there for them when we got home…”  Chakotay squeezed her hand but she didn’t seem to notice.  He leaned forward now as something came back to him.

“Kathryn…you said earlier about having followed up with some of them…  What did you mean…?”  Kathryn eventually turned back to look at him.  She smiled sadly.

“When we got back…”  She bit at her upper lip a moment, then turned back to stare off into the distance.  “The ones I lost out there…the ones I didn’t bring home…”  Her eyes filled with tears.  “I met with their families, you know…  They were so forgiving…”  Chakotay leaned forward, shocked at this news.

“Kathryn…”  She interrupted him.

“I…  They were so comforting…so forgiving…”  She drew in a shallow breath, her voice rising slightly.  “They were almost comforting me…”  She suddenly turned to look at Chakotay, disbelief in her eyes.  “I think I wanted them to scream at me…hit me or something…”  Chakotay squeezed her hand as she looked at him almost desperately.  “Joe Carey’s widow.  God…she was so understanding.  I’d lost her husband…the father of her children...lost him just short of home…and she sat there smiling at me…telling me she ‘understood’.  She said that she understood…”  Her voice rose more.  “She understood but I don’t.  How can she?”  Chakotay shook his head.

“Kathryn…please…”  Kathryn pushed on.

“And then she thanked me.”  She shook her head, a look of total disbelief on her face.  “The woman thanked me for being there for her husband.”  More tears came now and she looked directly at Chakotay, her eyes imploring him for an answer.  Chakotay took her other hand now.

“Would you have felt better had she slapped you in the face?”  Kathryn swallowed and nodded.

“Yes…I think I would have…”  Chakotay shook his head.

“You felt you deserved to be punished?  Kathryn, that’s madness…  Look at what’s happened to you in your life…especially since we’ve been home…  You’ve had your own fair share of pain in your life…like before with Justin and your father…being separated from Mark…then your mother…  You’ve had too much pain…emotional and physical.”  He shook his head and looked hard at her.  “You don’t deserve any punishment for crimes you imagine you’ve committed.  A madman killed Joe…not you.  You got us home.  I don’t know of any other Captain who could have done that.  Yes, we lost some people but that wasn’t your fault.  It was just fate, or bad luck, or the work of evil men…whatever…  Getting us home was a miracle…especially the number of us you got home.  You merged two crews.  I don’t think anyone else could have joined two such diverse sets of people.  You made us a family and we’ve stayed that way.  You did more than anyone else could have.  You just can’t see that.  And you’ve suffered.  You’ve suffered more than most. You’ve had more pain than most.”  He sighed heavily as Kathryn shook her head.

“Maybe I deserved it…”  Chakotay cut her off, shocked at her words. 

“No, you didn’t.  You never deserved that and you know it.  What you did deserve was our loyalty and you always had that…”  Kathryn shook her head quickly.

“I never deserved your loyalty…”  Chakotay shook his head again and sighed heavily.   

“You always deserved our loyalty, Kathryn.  Please don’t ever doubt that.  The risks you took for us.  The life you gave up.”  Kathryn just shook her head and spoke softly, as if not hearing Chakotay’s words.

“I caused their pain…”  Chakotay squeezed her hand tightly now to get her attention.

“God, Kathryn…I can’t believe you’ve been carrying this inside you but I should have seen it…”  Kathryn just shook her head sadly.

“It’s always there.  They’re always there…  Don’t you ever see them…?”  Chakotay shook his head again.

“I see them when I remember them.  But I know that I had to let them go and let them rest in peace.  You have to do the same because you deserve your peace also.  You always have to blame and punish yourself.”  His voice became firmer now and he saw he had her attention.  “What you have to do is take that pain and see it for what you will…see it as whatever you need to.  Ultimately though, you take it and bury it along with the dead.  Let it go and balance the books.  You’ve paid the price you believe you owed many times over…paid more than enough for sins you never committed.  Now you bury it and move on and live.  Live for yourself and if it helps…live for them too.  Either way…let the past go and live the life you’ve been given.  Take it as the beautiful gift it is and cherish it.  You let the dead go.  It’s better to forget them and smile then remember them and be sad.  And Kathryn, that’s what they’d want too.  They have another existence now and they don’t need your guilt or grief or pain holding them back.” 

Kathryn had been staring at him as he spoke and now choked on a sob as it tore from her throat.  Knowing he’d spoken enough words, Chakotay sat up on the bed and pulled a sobbing Kathryn into his arms.  He held her tightly to him as she cried, making comforting noises to her as he repeatedly nuzzled his lips to her hair.  He rocked her for a time and as she began to calm, he eased her back to look down into her tear stained face.

“Feeling better?”  He smiled softly as she nodded and he saw that she now looked embarrassed as well as upset.  He gave her a warning look.  “Don’t you dare.”  He dropped his head to the side as she gave him a look of puzzled innocence.  “You’re embarrassed and you’re about to apologize to me for showing some emotion…”  Her expression told him he was right on the mark.  “Well don’t.  Don’t dare.  You have nothing to be embarrassed about.  It’s the most natural thing in the world to show emotion and it’s also healthy.  Bottling up feelings is bad and can manifest itself in no end of harmful ways.  You’ve hidden yourself away for far too many years and it’s about time you let your true self show.  That you can be yourself in front of me makes me feel honoured.  Your trust in me is humbling.”  Kathryn swallowed loudly in an attempt to stem more sobs but lost the fight.  She broke down again and leaned into his chest, welcoming his strong embrace.  He again held her until she quietened.  This time she pulled back, one hand wiping at her face.  She sniffed and swallowed again.

“Oh God, Chakotay…  I’m sorry for that…  I don’t know where it all came from…”  She managed a smile as she saw his expression, daring her to go down that road.  “OK…  Can I say ‘thanks’ then…?”  He smiled and nodded.

“You can and you’re more than welcome.  Anytime in fact.  I’m always here for you.”  A look of sadness crossed his face and now it was Kathryn who gave him a warning look.

“The same goes for you, Chakotay.  You’ve punished yourself enough for your own imagined sins.”  He sighed and nodded slowly.

“OK then.  Let’s both agree to let all our ‘imagined sins’ reside in the past.”  Kathryn smiled through her tears and lifted a hand to his face.  She stroked his cheek softly.

“I’d really like that.”  They looked at each other for several seconds until Chakotay leaned forward and kissed her forehead.  Kathryn smiled at him and leaned forward also, brushing her lips to his, kissing the corner of his mouth.  Chakotay took her hands in his and nodded.

“It’s a deal then.”  He smiled and slid from the bed, sitting back into his chair, still holding onto her hands.  He smiled at her for a moment.  “Everything will work out, Kathryn.  I believe that.”  Kathryn gave a small sigh and smiled.

“Maybe I’ll make a better difference to the people here…”  Chakotay grew serious.

“You made a wonderful difference to us all, Kathryn.  You can see the way the crew feels about you.  You were the main reason they came here and you know that.  And from what I’ve seen and heard, I know you’ve made a tremendous difference to the people here…”  He dropped his head to the side.  “Even saving a child’s life and almost losing your own…?  Kathryn, you could have been killed…”  Kathryn gently pulled her hands away from his and shifted in the bed.

“Are you saying you wouldn’t have done the same…?”  She looked at him closely and he nodded.

“Yes, I would have.  I think most people would to protect a child.  It just scares the hell out of me to think how close you came to…”  He didn’t finish.  He sighed deeply.  “And then this…that same bastard…”  He stood suddenly.  “God, Kathryn…  I keep losing you or almost losing you…”  Kathryn watched him as he paced back and forth across the room, growing a little agitated.

“Chakotay…”  He wasn’t listening. 

“Why can’t I learn…?  Why can’t I just act and say what I think and feel…?”  Kathryn sat up in the bed.

“Chakotay…I…”  He stopped pacing and stared straight at her.

“Why can’t I ever find the right words…?”  He threw his hands up in the air.  Kathryn pointed to his chair.

“Chakotay, sit down.”  He looked at her and saw that she was serious.  Her words broke the tension of the moment though.  Chakotay mock saluted. 

“Aye Captain…”  Smiles slowly spread on each of their faces.  Chakotay shook his head and sat. 

“We’re some pair.  We’re supposed to be adults…”  Kathryn shook her head also.

“It’s hard to believe we’re the same people who brought a ship home from the Delta Quadrant.  How did we manage it…?”  Chakotay let his smile slip a little.

“You’re a strong woman, Kathryn.  I think you deserve the credit for that…not me…”  Kathryn let her own smile slip and looked at him sadly.

“I couldn’t have done it without you…no matter how it appeared…  I tried to look strong but…”  She looked away again and felt Chakotay squeeze her arm.  She looked back at him.

“No, Kathryn.  You did it.  I helped but not in the way I should have.  I let you down many times…too many times…and the final time was…”  He saw the pain that still caused and lowered his head.  “Oh God, Kathryn…I’m so sorry…  I made such a mess and I hurt you so badly…”  He looked up again and saw her eyes fill with tears.  She shook her head, dislodging them.

“No, Chakotay…  I hurt you many times.  I pushed you away all the time.  I drove you away, in fact.  I understand…I really do.  You were lonely.  I understand that only too well…”  Chakotay sighed deeply and closed his eyes.

“It’s no excuse for what I did to you.  You were far more lonely than I was and you didn’t…”  Kathryn laughed cynically.

“Oh, come on, Chakotay.  We both know I wasn’t any angel out there…”  They stared sadly at each other.  Chakotay licked at his dry lips.

“I can lay claim to that title far more…”  He stopped and shook his head.  “Kathryn, all that is the past.  We could go around in circles forever with it.  I guess we both found comfort where we could…can say it just happened…”  He laughed nervously.  “For a few of them…neither of us was even in our right mind …”  Kathryn gave a half smile.

“As you said…we’re some pair…”  She saw Chakotay nod and then watched his face fill with sadness.

“They were never…”  He shrugged.  “I brought it home though, didn’t I?  There were excuses for the others…reasons…whatever…  This was different.  The others hurt but this destroyed…”  Kathryn reached for his hand and gripped it tightly.

“Chakotay…listen to me…please just listen…”  He swallowed and nodded slowly.  “I can’t lie to you and say it didn’t hurt because it did.  It hurt beyond description…”  She squeezed his hand more tightly as she saw the pain on his face increase.  “It hurt because of what it was…but mostly it hurt because I knew it was my own doing…”  She held her other hand up when he went to argue.  “Just hear me out.”  He nodded.  She sighed deeply, taking a moment to organize her thoughts.

“Chakotay…we were both lonely out there and we both badly needed someone.  I knew how you felt about me and although I could never say it, I felt the same way about you…”  Chakotay leaned forward, determined to speak.

“No matter what…deep down I knew how you felt and that you couldn’t tell me.  That’s what makes this worse…”  Kathryn shook her head.

“I should have told you though…so it is my fault.  I never even offered you any hope so I have to take full responsibility for all this.  I never asked you to wait or even offered the remotest hope that things could be different.  I regret all that so much.  I let Starfleet and getting the ship home take over my life…and I suffered for it…but I also made you suffer for it.  I had no right to do that.  What I inflicted on myself was one thing.  I’ve only myself to blame for that.  What I inflicted on you was unforgivable.  And then when you couldn’t take it anymore…I couldn’t even let you have peace in that.  I tried to pretend that I was happy for you…cover how I felt…but I couldn’t do it.”  Tears slipped from her eyes but she didn’t seem to notice.

“All I had to do was put you first…put you before some damn protocols that never applied out there.  I let all those principles and beliefs stop me from allowing myself to live and love.  And maybe it was partly fear too.  I was so terrified of anything happening to you…of losing you…history repeating itself even…that I never stopped to think.  I thought if I didn’t let myself get too close to you, it wouldn’t hurt so much if something did happen.  And as time went on, it became ingrained in me to stand back.  All I did was cause myself even more pain in the end.”  She sniffed loudly.

“All those arguments…the fights…all the disagreements we had.  Did you ever stop and think about the timing of some of those?”  Chakotay shook his head.  “I would feel myself getting weak…coming close to giving in and telling you how I felt…and I’d be terrified…so something would come up and I’d fight with you…blow it out of all proportion.  It was a kind of defence thing…a way to stand back…to push you away again.”  She watched him think back.  “I’m so sorry for everything, Chakotay.  I hurt you so badly and yet you blame yourself…”  Chakotay suddenly sat back, a look on his face as if he’d just discovered something.

“You kept pushing me away to avoid being hurt.”  Kathryn bit down heavily on her lip and sniffed again but let him speak.  “I think you’ve been doing the same thing here.  You were even doing it with the crew…”  Kathryn nodded tearfully.

“I was stupidly standing back from them.  I couldn’t let myself be open to them.  I was afraid of getting close and feeling the hurt and pain when they left.”  Chakotay nodded his understanding.

“And now…?”  Kathryn rubbed at her eyes.

“Now I see what I was pushing away…mostly from fear.  I could let them leave here, having stayed away from them…feeling all I felt before.  That pain and loneliness…missing them all…would still be there…would continue.  Or…I could let them in and enjoy their friendship for the short time I had it…  It took our…what did you call it…our ‘outburst’ the other night for me to see that.”  She twisted a little in the bed.  Her eyes filled with tears.  “I even tried to push B'Elanna away.  I let her in and then panicked and shut her out again.  Did she tell you that?”  Chakotay nodded slightly.

“She mentioned a little of that but she didn’t say much.  She let me know that what you two had talked about was between you both and was none of my business…”  Kathryn smiled softly.

“She’s a very loyal friend.  I wish I’d allowed her to be my friend before.  I missed so much for so long…”  Chakotay smiled.

“She can be your friend now…”  Kathryn sniffed.

“They all can.  I want to be there for them now…try and make up for lost time, and be for them now what I should have been for them out there…and when we got home…”  Chakotay shook his head. 

“Kathryn, you were there for them and they know that.  You were what they needed out there.  You know better than anyone that you can’t be a Captain and a friend.  Out there they needed a good Captain more, and they got the best.  You got them home and now you can be their friend…”  Kathryn nodded but sighed deeply. 

“I fought so hard to get them home…only it wasn’t home anymore…”  Chakotay reached for her hand and held it tightly.

“That wasn’t your fault, Kathryn.  They wanted to get home as much as you wanted to get them there…well…maybe not quite as much…”  They both smiled at that.  “The thing is…you kept your promise to them.  No matter how…different…it was at home for many…they still wanted to see their families again.  The fact that they may not have fitted into their old lives didn’t mean they weren’t happy seeing their loved ones again…even those who’d moved on.  It was a form of closure they all needed.”  Kathryn sighed and nodded slowly.

“Maybe…”  She shrugged and looked at Chakotay.  “And you…  I hurt you so much here…pushing you away and throwing all your attempts at help back at you…”  Chakotay shook his head.

“Kathryn, I understand all that now.  I know why you were standing back…to avoid the pain…the hurt…  We’ve resolved that now and can move past it…can’t we…?”  Kathryn nodded tearfully and smiled.

“I hope so…  It’s what I want…  I…”  She swallowed, lost for words.  “Sorry…I just…the right words…”  Chakotay sighed.

“It’s not easy finding the exact words…  We’re afraid it’ll come out wrong…”  Kathryn nodded.

“I hurt you before with what I said…”  Chakotay shook his head.

“Kathryn, we’ve moved beyond that.  Let it go.  We just deal with the present and the future now…”  Kathryn nodded slowly, her eyes settling on her lap.  Chakotay pulled her hand towards him. 

“Kathryn…”  He cleared his throat.  “I guess I have two questions…”  He met her eyes when she looked up at him.  “The first is…”  He drew in a deep breath.  “Do you still feel the same way about me?”  Kathryn held his eyes and nodded, her eyes filling with tears.  She swallowed loudly and whispered her answer.

“Yes…I do…”  Chakotay closed his eyes a moment and squeezed her hand.  He smiled softly at her.

“Good…”  He smiled again.  “It’s just finding the right words…”  He stood quickly, surprising Kathryn.  He paced a little and then turned back to Kathryn.  Suddenly he found the words he’d been looking for, not knowing where they came from.  He crossed backed to the bed and sat down, feeling everything come to a head after so long.

“Kathryn…I’m going to say this in a rush because I don’t know what else to say…or what to say at all or how…so I’ll just say this…because I mean it and I’ve waited a long time to say it and I’m afraid you won’t want to hear it despite what you’ve just said but I have to say it anyway…”  He was a little breathless as Kathryn stared at him wide eyed.  He spoke the words quickly. 

“Kathryn…I love you…”  He stopped then, suddenly looking terrified that lightening would strike or worse.  Kathryn stared at him in shock, making Chakotay more and more uncomfortable.  “Please say something…  I understand if you don’t feel completely the same…after everything…and if you…”  Kathryn reached over and laid a hand on his, shocking him now.  Her eyes filled with tears.

“I love you too, Chakotay…”  They stared at each other as if time was standing still.  Chakotay realized he was holding his breath and was now forced to let it out. 

“You do?  You still…?”  Kathryn smiled gently at him.

“I’ve loved you a long time, Chakotay but I just couldn’t say it before…  I still do…”  Chakotay leaned forward and grasped her hand tightly.

“Oh Kathryn, I was so afraid that you wouldn’t or couldn’t feel anything for me…  I always believed that you did before but there was always a doubt…and even if you had…I was sure you couldn’t still feel that way…”  He shook his head.  “I loved you from the start and I…”  He lowered his head, unable to meet her eyes now.  “I was such a fool…and I hurt you so much…”  He looked up when he felt Kathryn grip his hand tightly.

“We hurt each other but we’ve let that go, haven’t we?”  Chakotay nodded.

“Yes…we have…”  Kathryn smiled softly.

“What was your second question?”  Chakotay bit at his lip a moment.  He swallowed quickly.

“We love each other…”  He looked up at Kathryn as if needing her to confirm that.  She nodded and smiled.  “I guess I’m asking…even with that…can we have a future…a relationship…?  How we feel is one thing but…”  Kathryn nodded her understanding.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid…really scared…”  Chakotay nodded, his face deadly serious.  “I know how I feel about you…”  She squeezed his hand.  “I can’t lie and say I’m not still terrified of something happening to ruin it all…of something going wrong…”  She licked at her lips and smiled sadly.  “I have a pretty bad track record.  I’m afraid of something happening to you…of not being good enough for you…of being too weak…”  Chakotay shook his head.

“Kathryn, you’re a strong woman…”  Kathryn interrupted his words.

“No, Chakotay…not where this is concerned.”  Chakotay tried again.

“Kathryn, it’s not…”  She shook her head quickly.

“Chakotay, you still see the captain who was out there.  I’m not her anymore.”  She sighed heavily.  “Look, before Voyager…  Yes, I was strong…  As a captain I was a strong woman…  As Kathryn…I had many flaws and fears but I could handle them and appear strong…despite my past.  I’d been battered emotionally but I was recovering.  As a Starfleet Officer, I was strong.  Out in the Delta Quadrant, I was strong too…but only as a captain.  I had to be.  I had no other choice.”  She shook her head.

“Being strong as Kathryn…?  I don’t know…”  She frowned.  “I don’t know about her because I couldn’t think about her out there.  There was never time or room.  Oh, she existed to some extent off duty but it was on some base level.  The real Kathryn…the full woman…  I couldn’t allow her to come forward.  It would have been too dangerous.  I think she only really came out again after I left Starfleet.  If I’d acknowledged Kathryn out there…well…I was afraid she’d make me weak.  I couldn’t afford to be weak…to be human…or even a woman.  People depended on me to right a wrong I’d committed.  I had to be strong to get them home again.”  She smiled sadly.

“You’ve no idea of the number of times I just wanted to steal a shuttle and run or hide in my quarters and cry like a little girl…”  Chakotay stroked the back of her hand.

“You should have come to me at those times, Kathryn.  I was always there for you…”  Kathryn nodded tearfully.

“I know…but Chakotay…if I’d fallen into your arms just once…  Don’t you see?  I’d never have had the strength to leave them again.”  Chakotay shook his head sadly.

“And what about now, Kathryn?  Can’t you just be you again?  For once, just put yourself first and allow yourself the happiness you deserve…?”  Kathryn sighed sadly.

“I want to.  I’ve just been afraid for so long to be me…afraid of something happening…and afraid to break free of that…”  Chakotay shook his head quickly.

“Kathryn, I love you…”  She smiled her answer to that.  “Take a chance with me.  I know I let you down before…”  Kathryn interrupted him.

“Only because I wasn’t there for you…”  Chakotay leaned in a little more.

“Then be there for me now…be there for us.”  Kathryn looked at him sadly.

“I’m afraid you won’t like me…or be disappointed with me…”  Chakotay looked shocked at that.

“Kathryn, I love you…”  Kathryn shook her head.

“No…I mean…”  She sighed.  “Chakotay, when we were on Voyager, you let me see you…get to know you.  I came to know the man.  I could never really let myself be Kathryn…the real me.  You never really got to know me.  What if you don’t like me?  You don’t really know me…if I even know myself…  In fact, I think I’ve only come to know myself since coming here.  What if you don’t like who I am?”  Chakotay took both her hands in his now and leaned forward again.  He smiled very softly.

“Oh Kathryn…  You’ve no idea how much of you I saw…”  He smiled again.  “And I don’t mean in that tub I built you…”  Kathryn managed a smile too.  Chakotay squeezed her hands softly and shook his head, his face serious now.  “Kathryn, I do know you.  I know the woman you tried to hide.  I saw her many times when she wasn’t looking because she was there.  I could tell you so much about her.  I know all her little habits and ways.  I know the way she holds her head when she’s concentrating.  I know the look in her eyes when she’s listening to a favourite piece of music…or deep into a book.  I know her hand movements and the way she sits.  I know the way she leans on her hand…against the side of her face…as she looks off into the distance.  I know the woman who loves her bath and I know the look of pure bliss on her face as she savours her coffee…”  His eyes took on a faraway look as he spoke on, describing a woman Kathryn hadn’t known existed on board Voyager.  She recognized herself in his words and the love she heard in his voice brought tears to her eyes.  As she stared at him, he suddenly came back to the present.  He smiled lovingly at her and shook his head.

“I know you, Kathryn Janeway.  I know the woman you are and the child who still resides within you…just like the child lives in us all.  Of course, there will still be things to learn about you…just as there are things you’ll learn about me.  But Kathryn, that’s the journey.  We’ll need to get to know each other as people free to enter a loving relationship.  That’s the wonderful part.  We’ve been on one journey.  Now it’s time to embark on another…with the most beautiful destination.”  He raised his hands, taking hers with them.

“Kathryn…too much time has passed and we’ve wasted so much of it.  We don’t dwell on the before…the who or why or how we didn’t…  We’ve covered all that.  We just think of now and the future.  We just know that we love each other and agree to take a chance at happiness because we damn well deserve it.”  As he smiled at Kathryn, her eyes filled with tears once more.  She swallowed loudly and sniffed.  She barely managed to nod.  They continued to stare at each other for some time, neither speaking.  Chakotay finally broke the silence.

“You know…Duncan told me that we should put the past behind us and just admit how we feel and move on from there…  I think we had to talk about all this and cleanse ourselves…if that’s the right way to see it.”  He played with her hands in his, tracing his fingers over her skin.  “Well…we’ve done that and now we know how we feel.  So that’s the past dealt with.  We know we love each other.  So we move forward and fill in any gaps as we go.  Don’t think I don’t know you though.  As to the rest…we learn that day to day…about each other and ourselves.  We have love and that’s the most important thing.  The rest just adds to that.”  Kathryn bit hard at her lower lip and nodded.  She sniffed and cleared her throat.

“Duncan said much the same to me…”  Chakotay smiled and drew her hands to his mouth.  He kissed her fingers.

“So we move forward.  We go wherever life takes us.  I’m not sure where that will be, but as long as we’re together…it doesn’t matter.  Personally I’d be happy to stay here forever…just where we are…”  Kathryn smiled tearfully, her own fingers tracing over his hands now.

“I’d vote for that but I think Duncan might want his bed back…and his room…”   Chakotay laughed and nodded.  Kathryn smiled lovingly at him.  Chakotay blew out a breath.

“Let’s just enjoy this feeling for now.  We can sort anything else out later…”  He left a brief silence before he spoke his next words.

“Are you with me…?”  Kathryn understood his meaning immediately.  She mimicked his earlier movement and drew his hands to her mouth now, her eyes never leaving his.  She gently kissed his fingers.

“Always…”  She saw him share the memory with her.  The rest was unspoken…no more words needed.

^^^^^^^^^^

When Duncan came in later on to check on his patient, he found her peacefully asleep, Chakotay lying down beside her.  Their arms were wrapped around each other.  He backed away from the door and bumped into Cassa.  They shared a knowing smile.  Duncan whispered quietly to his fellow medic.

“I think she’ll be fine until the morning.  I wouldn’t get any clear readings either way.”  Cassa smiled back.

“None you would enter on her chart anyway…”  They closed the door quietly behind them.

^^^^^^^^^^    

As in any small community, word spread quickly about Kathryn and Chakotay.  One of the crew had gone to the clinic early to visit Kathryn and had found his former Captain and Commander still asleep in each other’s arms.  He wasted no time in passing on the good news.  Within half an hour, the entire village was buzzing.

Several crew members, having finished their breakfast, were now sitting as a group in a corner of the large meeting room, the weather having turned suddenly, making it too cold to work outside.  They were half heartedly repairing some tools.  Mike Ayala shook his head.

“About time those two got it together.  They’ve been dancing around each other for years.”  He adjusted the small tricorder he was working on.  “I mean…it’s three little words… ‘I love you’…  It isn’t that hard…”  One of the women from the crew laughed at him.

“Took you long enough to tell Jaal how you feel…”  Mike stopped working and made a face at her.

“Elaine…it took me a lot less than seven years…”  He frowned now.  “How do you know I told her that anyway…?”  Elaine shrugged. 

“Never say anything when there are kids around…  They hear everything…”  Mike rolled his eyes up.

“Should have known…”  He smiled broadly.  “I don’t care.  I love the woman and I don’t care who knows…”  Tuvok, who was working with them, coughed gently.

“May I remind you all that we really should not be speculating about the relationship between…”  Jenny Delaney cut in.

“Chill out, Tuvok.  I thought you were starting to mellow being here…”  The Vulcan shook his head, his expression serious.

“I have mellowed, as you put it.  I no longer use rank when referring…”  A young former Ensign from Engineering laughed.

“You have to do better than that, Tuvok.  We won’t rest until you laugh…at the very least smile.”  Tuvok just shook his head and went on with his work.  Mike laughed at him

“We might well grow old waiting for that…”  He put his tricorder down and picked up another one.  “Any bets though…?  Wonder what odds Tommy boy is giving on this…”  Jenny shook her head.

“No one had a bet on this…”  Mike shook his head.

“I don’t mean them getting together here…  Do you think they’ll go back to Earth when Voyager leaves?  I can’t see Chakotay staying on here.  He has a teaching post on Earth and if he’s leaving…the Captain will most certainly go with him.  They love each other…always have…and now that they’ve admitted it to each other…which I’m sure they have or they wouldn’t have been found the way they were this morning…  Well…they’ll stay together.”  He softened suddenly and smiled, speaking in an almost reverend tone.  “I can’t see those two being parted again in this life…or beyond…”  Jenny suddenly burst into tears.

“Oh God Mike…that’s so lovely…”  They all stared at her as she wiped her tears away.  “Well, it is.  It’s so romantic.  Oh, I can’t wait for the wedding.  Maybe somewhere in San Francisco or on a South Sea island somewhere…oh God…here I go again…”

They all watched as Jenny wiped at her face, trying to regain her composure.  They were enjoying teasing her so much, they never noticed Julie standing behind one of the pillars listening to them.  They didn’t see her slip away either.

^^^^^^^^^^

As Chakotay returned to Voyager to shower and change his clothes, Kathryn sat on the side of her bed, brushing her hair.  She turned when she heard a knock on the door.

“Come in…”  She turned and saw Duncan enter, a big grin plastered on his face.  He stood and studied her for almost a full minute.  Kathryn allowed his inspection but then shook her head and turned away, continuing to brush her hair.

“Are you just going to stand there all day and silently gloat?”  Duncan laughed and moved into the room.

“God, I love being proved right.”  He ducked the pillow which sailed towards him.  “Violence now…  None of that.  And here I was going to allow you a treat…”  Kathryn made a face at him.

“You deserve it for your smugness…”  She put her brush down and frowned as if his words were only now getting through to her.  “What treat?  Are you going to let me out of here?  I’ve been fit to go home for days now.  Those token walks around the clinic don’t compensate…”  Duncan smiled knowingly.

“Behave yourself and let me check you over and I’ll tell you…”  He took out one of the new tricorders from Voyager and began scanning his patient.  “The joy of working with modern equipment…  I still think I’ll wake up and find it a dream…”  Kathryn smiled.

“Voyager’s Doctor still working with you all?”  Duncan nodded as he studied the readings.

“He is…and he’s teaching us so much too.  Being cut off here prevented us from keeping up with the latest medical developments.  Oh, I tried to catch up on our visits to Earth but it wasn’t the same.  It’s great having him here and this equipment…  Still, when I think what had to happen for us to get it….”  He let his voice trail off, not wanting to dwell on that.  He changed the subject a little.  “Your Doctor is working well with the women too…teaching hygiene and related subjects…basic first aid…you name it.  If he knows it, he’s passing it on.  He’s even started music lessons for the kids…singing…and your Harry Kim is teaching the clarinet to some of them…  He replicated a few instruments.”  Kathryn smiled and shook her head in amazement.

“No wonder I haven’t seen much of the Doctor.  I thought he was simply standing back and letting you treat me because I’d been your patient first when this all started.”  Duncan shook his head.

“He told me he was leaving you in my capable hands.  Quite a compliment coming from him.  I guess he felt he was more useful elsewhere now that the crisis is over.  Some of the others are teaching with him…whatever knowledge they have to pass on.  Your Engineer, B'Elanna, spends hours with our Peter.  I think your Tom has even given a few flying lessons in one of your shuttles.  The educational exchanges are amazing.  I think your lot are learning from our lot too though and it’s great to see.  I guess everyone has something to offer.”  He smiled down at her and saw her face grow serious.  “Kathryn…what is it?”  She looked up at him.

“You said ‘your lot’ and ‘our lot’…  I’m not sure I know where I belong anymore…”  Duncan closed his tricorder and sat down on the bed beside her.

“From what I’ve seen, I’d say you belong at Chakotay’s side…”  Kathryn smiled and patted his hand.

“I know that…and I don’t ever want to be anywhere else again.  It took too long to get there.  I just mean where as in geography…  I don’t want to leave here but his work is on Earth…”  Duncan gave her a sad smile.

“We’d hate to lose you too Kathryn…but your happiness comes first.  I’m so happy for you both.  It’s plain to see how much you love each other.  You two belong together.  As to where that will be…”  Kathryn sighed.

“We didn’t really talk about it…”  Duncan smiled and shook his head.

“Too busy making up for lost time?”  Kathryn laughed.  “Look honey, you’ve both got plenty of time to talk about all this.  Just enjoy what you have for the moment.  Now, get dressed and I’ll allow that man of yours to take you for a short walk outside…and I do mean short…”  Kathryn's face lit up.

“You mean…freedom…?  I can leave these four walls…?”  Duncan laughed sarcastically at her.

“You’re so funny.  Should be on the stage.  Yes, I mean outside but only if you wrap up warm.  It’s chilly out there.  You can really feel the change in the weather today.  I just think the fresh air will be good for you.  Might put a little colour in those cheeks of yours…”  He playfully pinched her cheeks.  “I took the liberty of asking Cassa to get some clothes from your room.  I hope that’s all right.”  Kathryn looked like an excited kid.

“That’s fine.  When can I go?”  Duncan stood slowly.

“You’re like one of the kids.  You can go as soon as you’re dressed and as soon as Chakotay gets here.  Now…I’ll love you and leave you…as the old expression goes.  Some of us have work to do…”  He moved to the door and opened it.  He turned slowly and smiled back at her.  “Kathryn…it’s so good to see you well again and wonderful to see you this happy.  In fact, I’ve never seen you smile like this before.  It suits you well.  I hope it’s there to stay.”  Kathryn smiled back at him.

“I’ve never had the reason to smile like this before…”  Duncan smiled and nodded as he left the room.  He didn’t see Julie hiding behind one of the privacy screens, a very frightened look on her face.

^^^^^^^^^^

It took Chakotay almost twenty minutes to walk Kathryn as far as the benches surrounding the compound.  They were constantly stopped by people wishing their former Captain and friend well.  Even when they sat down, women and kids kept stopping by to chat and tell Kathryn how well she was looking and how great it was to see her up and about again.  Several of her former crew also came over with the same sentiments.  Finally though, they were left alone.  Kathryn leaned back against the bench and sighed, a smile on her face.

“That was exhausting…”  Chakotay looked at her with concern.

“Do you want to go back?  I know they meant well but it was probably too much too soon…”  Kathryn shook her head quickly.

“Oh God no.  It was great to see them all.  It’s so much better to speak to people in normal surroundings instead of from a hospital bed.  It feels more real somehow.”  Chakotay nodded his understanding.

“As long as you’re sure.  I know you for pushing yourself.  Are you warm enough?  It’s cold today…”  Kathryn took hold of his hand.

“Chakotay, I’m fine.  Stop fussing.  I’m warm and being outside is the best medicine I could have.”  They smiled at each other and held hands.  Kathryn looked away a moment and out over the compound.  Only now did she see the work that had taken place in her absence.  She gasped.  “Chakotay…the changes…”  She shook her head in amazement.  “The amount of work they’ve all done…”  Chakotay smiled and looked around also.

“You’re only looking at a portion of it.  You should see the rest.  They’ve even started a swimming pool.  It’s almost finished in fact, although it’ll be next year before anyone can try it out.  Fall is really settling in with a vengeance.”  He pointed out various other work.  “They’ve added shelters and renovated the existing ones.  B'Elanna and Peter have re-worked every electrical and mechanical system there is.  In fact, every building has been completely overhauled.  Selona has a wonderful kitchen now.  We can’t get her out of it.  The school has been expanded and the playground added to.  We’ve planted two more fields and added more storage space…two more barns.  In addition to that, they’ve build greenhouses where fruit and vegetables can be grown under heated glass out of season.  There’s also a new flower section there.  The animal shelters have been re-built and they even built little houses for the domestic animals…all with heating no less.  Each pet has its own place…sorry…his or her own place.  One of the kids corrected me about that.”  Kathryn stared around her in amazement.

“I knew a lot of work had been done but seeing it makes it real.  Everything has been painted or re-covered.  There are more flower beds.  And there’s paving here now…”  She shook her head.  “I didn’t see all this when I first came out.”  Chakotay laughed.

“You were kind of busy with all the greetings you were getting…”  Kathryn turned to him now with tears in her eyes.

“It’s so wonderful…  Thank you…all of you…”  She broke down and Chakotay pulled her to him.

“Honey, what is it?  What’s wrong…?”  He barely heard her answer muffled against his chest.

“I’m so happy…”  He smiled to himself and held her tighter. 

“You’re happy?”  He felt her nod against him.  He smiled.  “So you’re crying?”  She nodded against him again and cried harder.  Chakotay shook his head.  “I’ll never understand women.”

^^^^^^^^^^

As Kathryn rested up that evening, B'Elanna and Chakotay sat quietly on one of the benches which were dotted around the compound.  They were both quiet as they watched the children play together, age and gender not a barrier to any game.

B'Elanna shivered slightly and pulled her shawl a little more snugly around her shoulders.  Chakotay looked towards her.

“Cold?”  She turned and smiled at him.

“A little chilly.  It’s gotten cooler these past few evenings…especially when the sun goes down.  You feel a chill in the air now.”  Chakotay reached over and rubbed his hand up and down her back.  He looked towards the kids again and shook his head.

“They can really teach us something…”  He glanced at B'Elanna and saw her nod.  “Look at them all.  Age…boy or girl…human or Cardassian…  It doesn’t matter to them at all.  They’re just kids and they have no prejudices towards each other.  I guess we…as the older ones…teach them those prejudices…”  B'Elanna sighed and then shrugged.

“I guess in some ways we do, but it’s often life that does it.  It’s their innocence of the horrors which can exist in the world that has them as they are.  Some of the future prejudices they’ll have will be taught by their elders but a lot will come naturally to them when they get hurt by someone.  It’s a big, bad world out there and no one manages to go through it without being hurt somewhere alone the line.  A lot of the hate we feel can’t be helped.”  She looked towards Chakotay.  “Besides, they play together here because they feel safe and know each other but I bet there are a lot of buried memories and feelings there.  They’ve all seen a lot of bad stuff.  That stays with you.  I could guarantee that any Federation or Cardassian soldier who walked in here right now would immediately be on the receiving end of prejudice and hatred.”  She watched Chakotay’s face as he admitted to himself the truth of her words.

“You’re right.  I know that.”  He shook his head sadly.  “It’s just nice to think that some can escape what the rest of us learn.”  He sighed and smiled at B'Elanna.  “My parents never taught me to hate the Cardassians.  For a lot of my childhood, I’d never even heard of them.  My mind was simply filled with my friends and the adventures we had.  Even when I joined Starfleet, I didn’t think about them.  My hate came later when they invaded my home and murdered my people.  The Federation…well…I felt they’d betrayed us and…”  B'Elanna nodded and spoke when he didn’t continue.

“That’s what I mean.  People will always hurt others and you were hurt as a complete innocent.  You naturally felt hate towards those who had harmed you and your family.  It happens to us all…well the vast majority anyway.  It’s just the way of life for most of us.”  Chakotay nodded sadly.

“It’s just very hard to accept that those kids will probably one day harbour hate and prejudice against others.”  B'Elanna patted his arm.

“No one can shelter them from it completely.  What we can do is educate them as much as possible and hope that they’ll be able to see the difference between the one who hurts and the one who simply shares the hurter’s race or sex.  Being of the same sex or race doesn’t make anyone guilty of the crime of another of that race or sex.”  She frowned.  “Did that come out right?”  Chakotay smiled softly and nodded.

“I know what you mean and yes…it came out just fine.  And you’re right.  Education is the answer to it all.  Of course people will hate those who directly harm them.  It has to be taught though, not to hate others who are only guilty of sharing the same blood or colour…”  B'Elanna dropped her head to the side.

“You managed it though…figured it all out.  I mean, you’re fine with all the people here despite your past pain and hurt.  Did you reach there yourself or did someone teach you that?”  Chakotay licked at his lips.

“There are several answers to that and one in particular.”  He shrugged.  “My parents never let us hate.  We were encouraged to accept others and their ways but to also hold fast to our own.”  He laughed a little.  “I wasn’t too good at embracing the old ways…”  He looked off into memory for a moment and then sighed.  “I wasn’t raised to hate anyone but once I saw what had happened to my loved ones and my home, it came naturally.  I couldn’t help it.”  He played with a fingernail.

“That hate remained for a long time and it bled out into hating and distrusting all Cardassians.  My feelings were fed on a daily basis.  You know all that.  You were there…”  B'Elanna nodded in agreement.

“I know.  I felt the same.  It’s different now though and I can’t quite figure out how I got from there to here.  I love these people…don’t even see their race now.  I remember how I felt then though, and see how I am now.  When you said about coming here…I didn’t think about it…just wanted to help and be useful again.  So…from there to here…  It’s that transition which confuses me…”  She looked to Chakotay and saw him smile.  “What?”  Her old friend simply reached for her hand and squeezed it gently.

“Well…it’s just that…”  He smiled again, shaking his head gently.  “You changed for the same reasons I changed…or rather…the same reason…  There is only one reason and that reason has a name…”  He watched B'Elanna’s face and saw that she suddenly understood.  She nodded knowingly.

“Kathryn Janeway…”  Chakotay nodded and smiled, confirming her answer.

“Exactly.  I know for myself that I was one man when I came aboard Voyager and another one when I stepped off her when we returned to Earth.  I found peace from my past in those seven years.  It was like my heart and soul were a turbulent sea of fire back then.  Kathryn Janeway poured water on that fire and doused the flames.  She brought me peace and calmed my troubled soul…taught me the importance of love over hate.  The thing is…I can’t remember the time when she did that.  It happened gradually over time…snuck up on me…  There wasn’t one act on her part that did it…just her presence in my life.”  B'Elanna smiled also.

“I know what you mean.  She had the same affect on me.  I had so much anger…at myself as well as the Cardassians.  Her faith in me changed all that.”  She shook her head slowly.  “It’s strange, you know.  I always remember Harry proposing a toast to ‘the journey’…”  Chakotay nodded with her as he remembered also.  “I think back now and I realize that there wasn’t just one journey.  Oh, the one everyone thinks of was from the Delta Quadrant to the Alpha Quadrant.  What they don’t see or know about is the personal journey we all made while Voyager carried us home.  I know I certainly travelled a long way from the woman I was then…”  Chakotay smiled softly and squeezed her hand again.

“To the journeys then…”  She smiled back and nodded.

“Yeah…to the journeys…”  They raised hands and clinked imaginary glasses.  They then sat in silence for a few minutes just watching the kids, each revisiting memories of their own.

Chakotay looked up as he heard someone approach and saw Eugene Paletti, the resident vet.  He saw that the man was also looking towards the kids before he glanced down at the two people relaxing on the bench.

“Good evening to you both…”  He mock saluted Chakotay and B'Elanna, a wide smile on his face.  “Watching the noisy little darlings…?”  Chakotay laughed and nodded.

“They’re like kids everywhere.  They’re actually fascinating to watch…”  Eugene raised an eyebrow at that.

“They can be…and then again…they can drive you to want to strangle the lot of them…”  He held a hand up.  “OK…maybe just maim them…”  He laughed heartily, infecting the other two with it.  They all looked towards the kids when they heard several of the women call them in.  Chakotay shook his head as he watched.  He looked up towards Eugene, his voice low.

“Don’t the kids with no mother feel…?  I mean…when the mothers call their kids in for bed or dinner…”  Eugene tore his eyes away from the scene before him and smiled kindly down at Chakotay.  He shook his head.

“We thought of that from the word go.  We time it very well.  The mothers call their kids at the same time as the staff call the others in.   We do all we can to make sure no kid ever feels left out.  Of course, it can’t always be possible but the kids are well aware of the situation.  They know the way things are and they accept it.  They know it’s the way it is and that it can’t be changed.”  Chakotay sighed.

“It just seems to…”  The vet shook his head

“Let me explain.  Mind if I join you?”  He pointed to the bench.  B'Elanna and Chakotay both shook their heads.  Chakotay leaned forward and slid to the side, making a space between himself and B'Elanna.

“Of course not.  Are you sure we’re not interrupting you?  If you were going somewhere…”  Eugene shook his head and sat down between them.

“You’re not.  I was just heading off on my usual evening constitutional.”  He indicated some field glasses which were hanging around his neck.  “I usually head out into the wilds beyond the far tree line.  I have a great interest in ornithology and there are some wonderful and amazing birds native to this planet alone.  It’s a hobby of mine and my way to wind down at the end of the day.  It’s not always easy to slip away on my own though…”  Chakotay looked surprised.

“I’d never have put you down as a bird watcher…”  The man smiled and tapped the side of his head.

“Ahh…one of my little sidelines…”  He smiled as he looked at the two people watching him.  “It’s just a nice change from farm animals and the usual pets I deal with every day.  I dealt with a wide range of animals and birds in my practice on Earth.  This can be limiting so I like to try and add some variety.”  B'Elanna nodded.

“I can understand that.”  She dropped her head to the side.  “Did you have a large practice back on Earth?  Do you miss it?”  Eugene became serious and looked towards the last of the kids being led in.

“Not really.  Work wise…in a veterinary sense…I miss elements of the work.  Then again, I never treated farm animals in the city.  I occasionally did some volunteer work at a wildlife sanctuary outside San Francisco but that was rare.  My practice was medium sized for a city and I mainly treated pets…dogs and cats… birds…rodents…and whatever else people kept.”  He laughed.  “Let me tell you…I was always surprised at the kind of pet some people kept.  One guy actually brought in his collection of cockroaches…”  B'Elanna made a face and shivered.

“That’s sick…  I hate those things…”  Eugene laughed.

“I’m not too fond of them myself, but a patient is a patient and to each their own…”  Chakotay laughed along with him.

“It’s fair to say you don’t miss ALL of it then…”  Eugene smiled and then grew serious.

“I don’t miss too much at all.  Besides, being a vet is only a part of who I am.  I felt satisfied in a work sense, but outside of that there wasn’t much in my life.  Being here addresses my every need as a person.  Working with the women and kids satisfies me in ways I can’t even begin to describe and I’ve learned skills I’d never have thought about before.”  He smiled now.  “Don’t get me wrong.  It’s damned hard work and there are times I barely have the energy to drag myself to bed…much less for my evening walk…but I wouldn’t change a thing…”  B'Elanna smiled and nodded in agreement.

“I know that feeling and there’s nothing like it.  I’m usually so tired but it’s a good tired…a happy tired.  I also have the satisfying knowledge that I’ve a good days work behind me and I feel that I’ve made a difference and done something useful…”  Eugene and Chakotay both nodded their understanding at that.  B'Elanna laughed a little and looked towards Chakotay.  “I know I keep using the words ‘use’ and ‘purpose’ but they’re important to me…to us all.”  Eugene nodded.

“I know exactly what you mean.  In fact, there isn’t one person working here who wouldn’t understand that.  It’s why we’re all here.  None of us would change our place for anything.  Mind you, it’s still nice to get away on your own for a time and recharge the batteries, so to speak.”  Chakotay scratched at the back of his hand and smiled apologetically.

“And we’ve kept you from that…”  Eugene waved that away.

“Nonsense.  Good conversation is just as good for the soul.  Maybe even better.  Anyway, I rarely get away on my own.  I have a lot of the kids as interested in this as I am and one or two of them usually follow me.  I even take them on field trips from the school.  They love it.  They also love to tag along with any of the staff, so sneaking away isn’t always possible.”  Chakotay scratched at his chin now.  Everything he learned about the way of life on this planet was fascinating to him, especially as it gave him an insight into the life Kathryn had lived since Voyager’s return.

“Do you take them on many field trips?”  Eugene suddenly laughed at that.

“Sorry…  It’s just that you’ve yet to experience what taking a gang of kids away can be like…either for a day or a weekend…”  B'Elanna looked amazed at that.

“You take them away for weekends…?  Where do you go…?”  Eugene waved a hand in the air.

“Oh, you’d be surprised.  There’s an entire planet beyond this settlement…although we don’t venture too far.  Duncan feels that showing them too much would only encourage them to explore where they shouldn’t and that doesn’t bear thinking about.  The last thing we need is an adventurous youngster wandering too far and getting into God knows what trouble.”  Chakotay and B'Elanna nodded their understanding.  Chakotay leaned forward.

“Exactly how many kids are there here?  I haven’t actually counted.”  Eugene nodded.

“We have 109 kids…67 of whom have no parent with them…”  B'Elanna shook her head sadly. 

“That’s terrible…”  She sighed heavily.  “They must feel so…left out…alone…”  Eugene shook his head quickly.

“No.  We make sure they’re included in everything…”  B'Elanna wasn’t convinced.

“Oh, come on Eugene…  I spent a lot of my childhood with just one parent.  I felt that very badly.  This must be so much harder…”  She shook her head.  “I mean, they see the other kids living with their mothers and they’re in the dorms with no one…  Why can’t each mother ‘adopt’ one or two…make it…fairer…?”  Eugene sat forward and leaned his elbows on his knees.

“B'Elanna…listen to me.  I know it must seem easy to you to just see it that way, and believe me we looked at that possibility.  We even talked about it with the women.  They brought the idea to us, in fact…although the staff had already discussed it.”  He licked at his lips to moisten them and rubbed a hand over his face.

“Look, B'Elanna…think about it.  You can’t just draw lots and farm the kids out to the mothers.  ‘You take this one and that one…you take her…you take him…’  It just wouldn’t work.  Do you pull names out of a hat?  Who would be picked and what of those who weren’t?  If one of them went somewhere and they’d rather go someplace else…  If it didn’t work…  They’d feel rejected twice.  All it would cause is hurt.  They’d see it work for some and maybe not for them…  What about those it didn’t work for?  Do you just keep swapping them around until it works?”  B'Elanna nodded slowly.

“I didn’t think about it like that…”  Eugene patted her hand.

“You mean well.  It’s just a lot more complicated than it seems at first.  This way…it’s what they know.  It’s been this way from the start and they know it.  It started that way and to change it would only upset them all.  They came here without a parent and they’d accepted that.  They get the same love as the other kids.  We make sure of that.  They don’t feel left out.  They know the situation and are fine with it.  They accept it as a fact of life.  They’re all loved the same and that’s what’s most important.  Besides, they have frequent sleepovers with each other.  The orphaned kids stay with a mother and her kids in the shelters or one of her kids stays over in the dorms...”  He laughed.  “It can be hard to keep track of them all at times.  Then they have their away trips…camping and so on…”  Chakotay’s eyes widened.

“You take them camping…?  How many…?  Surely not all of them together…”  Eugene’s face showed mock horror.

“Are you crazy?  109 kids on a camping trip?  No way.  That would be suicide.”  He laughed at the thought.  “God…that doesn’t bear thinking about…”  He shook his head.  “No…  We take about twenty at a go and that can be hard enough.  Those trips are…”  He rolled his eyes up.  “Oh, they’re such fun…  You need a holiday after them…or at least a dose of lithium…”  He smiled and looked towards Chakotay.  “You know, Kathryn took one once.  She told me that looking after her crew in the Delta Quadrant had been a piece of cake in comparison.”  He laughed and saw Chakotay smile along with him but he had a pained look on his face. 

“She told you about her life before here?”  Eugene grew serious and nodded.

“A few things.  We all have a pretty good idea of each other’s past…well…the basic details anyway.  I know Kathryn was with Starfleet and that she was lost in the Delta Quadrant for seven years.”  He leaned towards Chakotay.  “Look, Chakotay…  We work closely together here.  The very nature of that work brings us close to each other.  You sit up through the night with a sick kid and they finally fall asleep but they have a fever and you stay sitting up just watching them…or they fall and have a concussion and you need to wake them every half hour to make sure they’re just sleeping and not unconscious.  During those long night hours, you talk to each other.  You share things of yourself that the night hours tend to bring out.  Other times you just chat away as you work together.  However, we’re also fiercely loyal to each other.  We have great trust in each other, not to mention love and respect.  What one shares with another is never repeated.  I know details of every staff member here…most of the women too and they know a lot about me also.  None of that has ever been repeated.  Not by me and I know not by them.  That’s the way it is here.”  He smiled kindly.

“You’ll learn that more and more in this place.  We’re all one big family.  So you see…the kids who don’t have a parent in your eyes…well…they actually have 45 parents…and that doesn’t include you lot who can be counted as foster parents at this stage…”  B'Elanna leaned back and blew out a breath.  She looked from Chakotay to Eugene.

“I hadn’t thought about it that way.  In fact, I realize I haven’t thought about a lot of things here.  I guess we still have a lot to learn…”  Eugene smiled at her and patted her shoulder.

“Well, wanting to know and learn is the most important thing.  You care and that’s just as important.  Besides, from what I’ve seen the kids like you, and once they take to you, there’s no escape…”  He cocked his head to the side.  “Can I put your names down for the next camping trip…?”  They all laughed, Chakotay and B'Elanna looking a little nervous despite their laughter.  They all looked up suddenly as a woman’s voice interrupted them.

“And they say women can talk…”  They looked up into the kindly face of Selona, who carried a small tray with three steaming mugs on it.  She looked down at the three of them.  “Have you lot even noticed that it’s now dark?  You’ve been here for well over an hour.”  They all looked around them, each showing their surprise.  Chakotay shook his head.

“Sorry Selona.  Time just got away from us.  We got talking and…”  The cook gave him a knowing look. 

“Well, the next time you have a go about women talking so much, remember this.  Here…”  She lowered the tray.  “I made some hot chocolate.  The kids have had theirs and have already gone to bed.  I kept this aside for you but when you made no move to come in, I decided to be good to you and bring it out.  Just don’t go expecting a delivery service in future though…”  She laughed kindly as all three reached for the drinks, their eyes lighting up as the aroma reached them.  Selona stood back and watched as they inhaled and then drank, a look of bliss on their faces at the taste.  She beamed and pulled her shoulders back, a proud look on her face.  “I think that answers my question about how the hot chocolate is…”  She laughed to herself as she walked away, swinging the tray at her side.  She called back to the three people still savouring their drinks.  “Bring those mugs back to the kitchen and rinse them out when you’re finished.”

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay and B'Elanna eventually said goodnight to Eugene, thanking the man and again saying sorry for disturbing his evening.  Once more, he waved away their apologies, saying how much he had enjoyed their conversation.

Chakotay now strolled towards the kitchen with his old friend, holding his own mug and Eugene’s, B'Elanna swinging hers in her hand.  She smiled up at the large man beside her.  She looked playfully worried.

“You don’t think he’ll really put us down for a camping trip, do you?  I’m not sure I’d survive that…”  Chakotay laughed and shook his head.

“All that mothering experience you’ve had…  Tut…tut…  I thought you’d jump at the chance…”  He stopped and pretended fear at the glare he received.  “OK…just joking.  We can hide out together somewhere if it comes up.  I don’t fancy a trip like that myself.  My survival instinct is too strong.”  They both laughed and began walking again, moving in silence for a few minutes, each listening to the sounds of night.  Chakotay looked towards B'Elanna when he heard her draw a breath as if she was about to say something.  He saw her hesitate a moment as she looked back at him.  He smiled at her.

“You want to say something.  I know you too well.  Just say it.”  She nodded and smiled softly.

“It’s just that…”  She shook her head.  “I guess I have a hard time imagining the Captain…Kathryn…so carefree.  To take twenty kids camping…”  She stopped and shook her head, suddenly serious.  “Chakotay…that’s so sad…  She could never be like that on Voyager…could never be Kathryn…be herself…her real self…”  She swallowed.  “Sorry…I don’t mean to hurt you or cause you pain by saying that…”  Chakotay moved the two mugs he held to one hand and reached for B'Elanna’s shoulder, squeezing gently.

“It’s a fact, B'Elanna.  It’s the way it was.  It’s easier to think about it now that everything is right between us but it’s still sad…  You’re right about that.”  He thought for a moment, his eyes looking off into the distance.  “You know, I only ever saw glimpses of that Kathryn myself in all those years…like on New Earth…”  He seemed lost in memory for a moment until B'Elanna’s voice brought him back.

“New Earth…?”  He pulled himself back and looked at her, seeing her puzzlement.  He smiled softly.

“Sorry.  It was that planet we were stranded on…  We kind of gave it a name…”  He shrugged, a little embarrassed but B'Elanna just smiled kindly.  She nodded to herself and looked down at her hands.

“You know, we…the crew…we often wondered what happened between you both there…”  She looked up at Chakotay and smiled, her expression soft.  “We only ever wondered…never speculated…  We all respected you both far too much to do that.  There was never any gossip.”  Chakotay nodded his understanding.  B'Elanna smiled sadly.  “I think we all hoped that you’d come back a couple.  As happy as we were to see you both back, it was tinged with a sadness to see that little had changed between you…outwardly anyway.  It was comforting to think that perhaps in private, something had changed and that you were together.  We never saw any sign of it though…”  Chakotay nodded sadly.

“There were…moments…if you like…that gave me hope…but it didn’t happen.  Maybe in time it would have…”  He sighed.  “We’ll never know.  Voyager came back and…”  He shrugged.  B'Elanna dropped her head to the side, her face sad.

“Do you ever wish we hadn’t?  Come back, I mean…”  Chakotay thought a moment. 

“For some time, I thought like that.  I mourned for what I felt we’d lost there.  From this point in time though…”  He looked down at the mugs he held.  “No.  I see it now as…  I guess things happened the way they did for a reason.  I kind of believe in a grand plan for all our lives.  We wouldn’t be here now if things had happened differently then.”  B'Elanna nodded slowly.

“That’s quite profound but I see what you mean.  I often wonder where we’d all be if we hadn’t ended up in the Delta Quadrant.  I wonder if this had happened and that hadn’t…and vice versa…”  She shrugged her shoulders.  Chakotay smiled kindly.

“That way can lie madness, my dear.  I believe it’s better to just accept the hand dealt to us and make the most of it.  You can drive yourself crazy thinking about what might have been…because there will never be answers to those questions.  We can imagine what might have been but we’ll never know for sure.  It’s better to live for the moment and not waste time imagining what will never be…”  B'Elanna nodded again and lifted her mug, turning it upside down.  She watched as a few drips of chocolate fell to the ground.

“You’re right.  We shouldn’t waste the present dwelling on the past.”  She looked back up at Chakotay and smiled.  “How did you ever get so wise?”  Chakotay threw his head back, a self satisfied look on his face.

“What can I say?  I’m not just handsome…”  B'Elanna slapped his arm.

“You’re certainly not modest anyway…”  They laughed together and resumed walking towards the kitchen.  B'Elanna suddenly gripped Chakotay’s arm but kept moving with him.  “Oh…I have a bit of gossip for you…”  Chakotay laughed at the gleeful look on her face, like a child with a new toy.  He rolled his eyes.

“Go on…tell me.  You’ll burst if you don’t…”  She smirked.

“Well…you already know that you and Kathryn aren’t the only couple here…”  Chakotay nodded, his expression proud.  “Well, I found out about another pair and you’ll never believe who…  Go on…guess…”  When Chakotay glared at her, she gave in.  “You’re no fun.  All right.  It’s Chapman.  William Chapman.”  Chakotay looked stunned.

“You’re kidding me.  Is it serious?”  B'Elanna nodded eagerly.

“Apparently so.  He and Dara are quite an item…”  Chakotay smiled broadly.

“That’s great.  I was beginning to think he was cursed.”  B'Elanna laughed. 

“Seven certainly left her mark on the poor guy for some time.  I really thought he’d been put off women for life.  Just goes to show, huh…  There’s hope for us all…”  Chakotay smiled and nodded to himself.

“I’m really happy for him…Dara too.  The women here deserve some personal happiness.  It must take a lot for them to trust any man again.”  B'Elanna sighed and nodded also.

“I know.  I find it amazing myself.  I guess they got to know us first and learned to trust us.  Love just followed on from that although it’s slow.  Most of the couples I’ve seen…between our lot and the women…well, they’re all taking their time.  I suppose it’s the same for anyone though…if you’ve been hurt before…”  She looked up at Chakotay suddenly.  “Chakotay, I didn’t mean…”  He smiled reassuringly at her.

“It’s OK.  I know what you mean.  It’s true though.  Any hurt in the past stays with you and makes you far more careful in the future.  It’s no different between me and Kathryn.  That’s why we’re taking it one day at a time and enjoying it.  It’ll take time for us to feel totally secure.  As I see it though, we have the rest of our lives…”  B'Elanna smiled widely.

“The rest of your lives…  That sounds great.”  They both stopped as they reached the kitchen door.  Chakotay reached for B'Elanna’s mug.

“You go on home.  I’ll wash these.  I’m sure Tom must think you’ve run off with me.”  B'Elanna handed over her mug and made a face.

“I may be married but I still have my freedom.  Tom makes jokes about the ‘old ball and chain’ as he calls it.”  She laughed.  “Well, he used to joke about that.  He stopped when I described in detail what I’d do to him if he ever mentioned it again.”  She laughed as she moved off.  Chakotay shook his head.

“Just don’t pass those details on to Kathryn.  I prefer a peaceful life and I like my bones where nature intended them to be.”  B'Elanna laughed again and called back to him.

“Just behave yourself then and I won’t need to…”  She waved over her shoulder.  “Night, Chakotay…see you in the morning…”  Chakotay watched her go and shook his head again but a proud and loving smile graced his face.  He knew he was very lucky to have such a good friend.

^^^^^^^^^^       

Over the next few days, Duncan allowed Kathryn out more and more, wanting to build her strength up slowly.  Her walks were very short however, as the weather continued to deteriorate.  Seeing how beneficial her time away from the clinic was, he eventually allowed her to walk as far as the meeting room, knowing that she’d be warm there and that the company of the women and kids would be good for her, as well as the change of scenery.

As soon as Chakotay led Kathryn into the dayroom, she was surrounded by kids, the women close behind them.  Many of the crew were there also.  Kathryn’s face lit up as she greeted them all.  Chakotay stood back for several minutes until he saw her begin to tire and then stepped in.

“OK, you lot.  Let’s give the lady some breathing space.  You can have her back in a while.”  Kathryn smiled her thanks to him as he led her across the room, the women and kids reluctantly going back to their chores and games.  Kathryn whispered quietly to Chakotay.

“Thanks.  It’s great to see them but all at once is a bit too much…”  Chakotay gripped her arm gently.

“They’re just so happy to see you but you need to take it slowly…”  He smiled lovingly at her.  “Come on…I want to show you something…”  He led her to the far side of the room, looking behind him to check that no one was following.  He saw many faces turned in their direction and smiled at them, seeing that they understood where he was taking the woman they all loved.  He smiled his thanks to them for the space they were giving him.  He turned his attention to Kathryn then.

“I want you to see this…”  He stopped her and pointed to one corner.  “That’s ‘Mommy Kathryn’s Get Well Corner’…”  He heard Kathryn gasp as she followed where he indicated.  “The women and kids put it together.  It’s cards, small gifts and flowers…although I think some of them are past their best and are a bit dried out…”  Kathryn pressed her lips tightly together as she looked over the large pile.  She sniffed and shook her head.  Chakotay turned her slightly and pointed to the other corner.

“Our crew…not wanting to be left out…decided to start a corner of their own.  They didn’t want to intrude on the women and kids and asked if they minded this…  No one did…”  Kathryn just continued to shake her head.  Chakotay watched her as she took it all in, seeing her tears build.

“Duncan wasn’t allowing anything over in the clinic…hygiene reasons and all that…so it had to be here.  The ‘corner’ from the women and kids was already here when we arrived so it seemed a good idea that our ‘corner’ would be an extension of that without infringing on it.”  Kathryn nodded and swallowed again, her tears falling now.

“It’s…beautiful…so…thoughtful…I don’t…”  Finally she turned to look at Chakotay, her voice choking.  “I don’t know…what to say…I…”  She turned to look behind her, seeing everyone watching her.  She smiled tearfully and nodded at them all.

“Thank you…all of you…  It’s so beautiful…perfect…means so much…”  She felt Chakotay slip his arm around her shoulders and leaned into him.  “I don’t know what to say…  How to thank you all…”  One of the women stepped forward a little.

“You’ve just said it.  This was just our way to let you know how much you mean to us…”  Several voices murmured in agreement.  Tom stood forward also.

“Yeah…  And as we couldn’t form an original idea between us, we just copied them…”  Everyone laughed at that.  Kathryn shook her head.

“It’s beautiful…all of it…  Thank you all…”  Tom waved a hand in the air.

“Just enjoy it.  You deserve it.”  He smiled at his former captain for a moment and then turned away.  “Well…I’ve work to do…”  Everyone took the hint and nodded, turning away also, leaving Kathryn to enjoy her ‘gifts’.

For the next  twenty minutes or so, Chakotay watched Kathryn closely as she read most of the cards and studied the many small gifts which were stacked in each corner.  She raised several of the flowers to her nose, inhaling deeply, a small smile on her face. 

Chakotay smiled to himself, enjoying the moment.  Finally, he leaned down and took her arm, supporting her as she stood. 

“You’re looking a little tired, honey.  Why don’t you sit down and I’ll get you a cup of tea…”  Kathryn smiled at him.

“No coffee…?”  Chakotay’s eyes widened.

“And risk the wrath of Duncan?  No way.  Tea or juice or milk even…  Name your poison…”  A look of horror crossed his face as he realized what he’d said.  “Oh God…Kathryn…sorry…”  He looked around quickly to see if anyone else had heard him and was relieved when he saw that no one was near.  He looked back to see Kathryn smile at him.

“Chakotay, you can’t delete words from your vocabulary just because of what happens in life.  If we did that, we’d all be reduced to sign language and grunts…”  She took one of his hands in both of hers.  “Tea would be lovely…”  Chakotay smiled sheepishly and nodded. 

“I think I need to see Eugene…”  Kathryn frowned.

“Why?”  Chakotay grinned.

“I need a vet.”  Kathryn continued to frown.  “You’ve heard of foot and mouth disease?”  Kathryn nodded.  “Well…I’ve got foot IN mouth disease.  Think Eugene can help?”  Kathryn laughed and slapped his arm.

“Very funny.  Now, I’m going to sit over there and you run off and get my tea like a good little servant…”  Chakotay stuck his nose in the air.

“Cheek.  Is that all I am?”  Kathryn made her way to a nearby chair and sat back in it. 

“You’re a man.  You have to have some use.”

^^^^^^^^^^

Over the next few days Kathryn continued to spend her ‘outings’ from the clinic in the dayroom.  She spent most of her time there chatting with the residents and her former crew as she re-established old friendships and created new ones.  She even created new friendships from old acquaintances as she had been unable to do before.  Chakotay gave her space and watched as she bridged the gap between her past and her present with an ease he hadn’t expected.

As she worked at some sewing with the women one afternoon, Chakotay stood watching them all in amazement.  He had never thought to see the day when Kathryn Janeway would be content to sit quietly and darn blankets.

He turned to see Jonathan standing beside him, also watching Kathryn.  He nodded and smiled at the man.

“It’s so good to see her like this…strange too though.  I’m seeing a Kathryn I’ve never known before.”  He shook his head slightly.  “When we talked recently, she was worried that I didn’t really know her because she’d always had to be a captain on board the ship.  I told her I did and I meant it.  I can’t get my head around this Kathryn though.  I mean, I knew one Kathryn on board Voyager.  I met another one when I came here first, and she was different in some ways, but still clearly related to the one I knew before and yet distant from her in other ways.  The one I see here and the one you all speak of…  In some ways she’s alien to me and I can’t imagine her completely…”  Jonathan nodded slowly as he thought about that.

“You know, I understand that…just the other way around.  This is the Kathryn I know and the one you speak of is as alien to me as this one is to you.  I also saw a connecting, related Kathryn though when we met her first so I can understand some of what you speak of.”  He dropped his head to the side.  “We are all comprised of many different people, Chakotay.  You just have to accept them all and tie them together in your mind.  You then accept the entire person.  When you love someone, it’s as easy to accept one part as it is to accept another.”  Chakotay smiled and nodded, his eyes returning to Kathryn.

“You don’t have to convince me of that…  I accept every part of her.  I just need to get to know them…”  Jonathan smiled and nodded.

“Well, you have the rest of your lives for that and it’s a lifetime of learning.  That’s the wonderful part…” 

^^^^^^^^^^

As Jonathan wandered off, Chakotay sat down and continued to study Kathryn.  He smiled to himself and then looked around the room at the various groups, some of the kids in one corner playing a board game.  Suddenly Julie caught his eye as she sat alone with a book.  He studied the girl for some moments and realized that she wasn’t actually reading at all but watching Kathryn closely.  He looked towards Kathryn to see if she had noticed but she hadn’t.  He looked back to Julie and watched her more closely.  Something nagged at the back of his mind but the thought wouldn’t settle. 

He jumped when a hand came down gently on his shoulder.  He looked up into the smiling face of Selona and saw her offer him a glass of her famous lemonade.

“You looked miles away there, Chakotay.  Are you all right?”  She sat down beside him and smiled as he took the glass from her hand.

“Sorry Selona, I was watching Julie.  I’m a little worried about her.  She seems a bit quiet or withdrawn.  She’s been very quiet the last few days now that I think about it.  Normally she’s like a shadow with Kathryn or myself but she hasn’t been around us much.  Something just bothers me about it.”  Selona studied the child for a moment and shrugged.

“Maybe she just feels you both need some time together.  She’s actually quite mature for one so young.  Now that she’s talking again, it’s like she’s added three or four years to her age.  She’s also mixing with the other kids much better now.”  Chakotay shook his head.

“Maybe…but I don’t…”  He looked at Selona with a worried look on his face.  “We’re both extremely fond of her.  I’d hate for her to feel left out.”  Selona sighed.

“She has plenty of others here for her too.  She has to understand that everyone is here for everyone else.  This can’t work here if there is preferential treatment from one to another.  Julie knows that and understands it.  There can’t be favourites.”  Chakotay nodded.

“I know that but she had a special relationship with Kathryn for a long time and she took to me very easily too.  We’re close.  I’d hate for her to think that just because Kathryn and I are together now that she’s no longer important.  We’re both guilty of ignoring her the past few days and that isn’t fair.  She won’t understand.”  Selona shook her head as she looked at the child.

“She seems fine to me.  She often sits on her own like that to read.  She’s very fond of her books.  Kathryn introduced her to that joy.”  Chakotay took a drink of his lemonade.

“Still though…”  He licked at his lips.  “I think I’ll have a little chat with her.  Let her know she’s still as important to us.”  He drained his glass and handed it back to the cook when she reached for it.  He smiled his thanks and went to stand up when a sudden, loud clap of thunder split the air, followed a few seconds later by a flash of lightening.  Several children screamed at the same time and ran to the adults.  Chakotay’s thoughts of a talk with Julie left his head immediately as a little boy ran to him and wrapped himself around his legs.

^^^^^^^^^^ 

The thunder and lightening eased the next day but rain continued to lash down.  Unable to work outside and with Kathryn able to move around far better now, Chakotay took her on a visit to Voyager to ‘meet with her old friend’ as she put it.  He stood back and watched as she wandered her old home, touching everything and whispering quietly to her ship.  He smiled to himself as she lovingly stroked consoles and bulkheads.  Kathryn turned and caught him watching her.

“And you never talked with your ship?”  Chakotay laughed.

“Of course I did.  It wasn’t always polite but we understood each other and I always apologized afterwards.  She always got me through and I think she would have approved of her honourable death.”  Kathryn smiled sadly as she remembered back to how Chakotay had used the Liberty to ram the Kazon before being beamed safely to Voyager and a new life…one which had taken them to this point.

“Any regrets?”  They locked eyes, and Chakotay shook his head.  He spoke softly.

“None.  I was well compensated.”  Kathryn nodded slowly and smiled before looking around her.  They were standing on the bridge of Voyager now.  “It seems smaller somehow…”  Chakotay moved towards her.

“Maybe you’ve just grown…”  Kathryn rolled her eyes up.

“I doubt that.  It just seems different with the passing of time.”  Chakotay stood beside her now.

“Time passing often changes our memory of things.  You’ve also been through a lot since the last time you stood here.  Those things will have changed you.  They’ll have changed how you see things.  You’re not the same person who stood here before.  None of us are really.  We’re different so it stands to reason that what we knew before will seem different also.  I felt it too when I came onboard to come here.  I think we all did.”  Kathryn nodded as she continued to look around her.

“I suppose.  It just seems sad somehow that we didn’t know what we had back then and how wonderful it was.”  Chakotay slipped an arm around her shoulders.

“That’s the past, Kathryn.  You take from it what was good, learn from the bad and then let it go.  You remember the good times and forget the bad.  They’ll always be there somewhere, but you let them go.  You live in the present and look to the future.”  Kathryn nodded pensively.

“And what about the future…?  Not just for you and me but for all of us…”  Chakotay shook his head.

“I don’t know, Kathryn.  It’s something we need to talk about though.”  He smiled down at her.  “I know I don’t intend to ever lose you again.  We need each other.  I won’t be parted from you anymore.  If you’ll have me, I’ll never leave you again.  I’ll never let you down again either.  Whatever the future holds, it’s for us together.  Are you OK with that?”  Kathryn nodded tearfully.

“I’m still a little scared but I’m dealing with it.  As to us…  There’s nothing I want more.  I wasted too much time and I lost you because of it.  I don’t want to lose you again.  Most people never get a second chance.  I’ve been blessed with one and I don’t intend to waste it.”  Chakotay leaned forward and kissed her forehead.

“So where do we make our home?”  Kathryn sighed and then shrugged.

“I don’t know.  You have your work back on Earth…your students…  I know you said you were just content with that but…”  She sighed.  “I guess I assumed you’d want to return to that.  I can’t ask you to give it all up.  I mean…you have a life back there…”  Chakotay actually snorted and shook his head.  He sighed deeply and placed his hands on her shoulders.

“What life, Kathryn?  Without you?  Besides, you’re not asking.  I’m volunteering.”  He laughed softly.  “Actually, I’m begging.  The work bores me to tears.”  He grew serious again.  “However, you’re missing the point.  This is about what ‘we’ want…not ‘me’…”  Kathryn wiped at one eye, brushing away a tear.

“For me…home is with you…wherever you are…and wherever that is…”  Chakotay tightened his hold on her and nodded, his face still serious. 

“I feel the same.  As long as I have you with me, I’d be happy and at home anywhere.”  He licked at his lips.  “Ideally though Kathryn, what would you like to do?  Where would you be happiest?  If this was your choice alone…”  Kathryn smiled sadly.

“I’d say I was already home.  It was the closest I could have hoped to find until you came back into my life.”  Chakotay nodded.  He dropped his head to the side a little and studied her for a brief moment, his face pensive.

“Outside of what we have now, you found what you were looking for here, didn’t you?  You found the purpose and the use you so badly needed.  You found a peace here...a place for yourself.”  Kathryn nodded sadly.

“It was everything I could have wanted on that level.”  She laughed slightly.  “Don’t get me wrong.  It was and is damned hard work.  You’ve learned that for yourself.  It’s often heart breaking too…although it’s much better now.  Jonathan and Lorcha have done wonders with the women and children.  Your coming here has also helped so much.  They’re different people now.  They’re more open and trusting.  I see it in them all.  Well, most of them.”  She shook her head.  “And the work you’ve all done.  It would have taken us years to do even half of that.  We’re all healthier even.”  Chakotay nodded slowly.

“So you’d love to stay on here…love for us to stay on here…?”  Kathryn nodded tearfully.  Chakotay closed his eyes a moment and sighed, then opened them again to stare lovingly at the woman before him.

“I feel the same.  I want to be here with you and I want to be here for this place also.  I need it.  We all do…everyone who came with me.  For most of the same reasons too…the same reasons which brought you here.  Mainly though, I want to be here for you.”  Kathryn stared at him.

“Would you consider that?  Is it even possible?  I mean, how…?”  Chakotay pressed a finger to her lips.

“Can I take it that in an ideal world for you, we would stay on here?”  Kathryn nodded, a shocked look on her face.

“You’d be happy here?”  Chakotay nodded and smiled.

“I’d be more than happy here, Kathryn.  Having you with me and staying on here…”  He laughed slightly.  “That’s more happiness than this man could take…”  Kathryn just continued to stare at him.

“I didn’t think you would seriously consider…or would really want to…at least not permanently.”  Chakotay loosened his hold on her.

“Kathryn, you said you were lost out there.  Well, I’m just as lost out there too.  In fact…”  He shook his head and grinned, watching her face closely.  “Kathryn, it may surprise you to know that they all want to stay on here.”  Kathryn gasped, her words caught in her throat.  Her eyes never left his and she found herself almost holding her breath.  “Every crew member here feels the same way.  You weren’t the only one who was lost when we returned to Earth.  Almost everyone felt that way.  You know that now.  They’ve spoken to you about it and you and I talked about it.”  Kathryn managed to nod but Chakotay saw a deep sadness in her eyes, caused by his words.  

“So you see, it’s not just me.  They all want to stay on here and be here for you but for themselves also.  They’re just like you, Kathryn.  They had a life and a use for seven years out there.  They had a purpose every day…something they were working for and towards.  They lost that…we lost that…when we got home.  I can speak for them because I felt the same way and they’ve told me all this.  This is the closest they’ve also come to finding home since Voyager.”  He smiled gently, watching her face closely.  “Say something, Kathryn.  Breathe, in fact.  You’ll turn blue.”  Kathryn shook her head.

“What…?  How…?  Would…?”  Chakotay laughed and pressed his fingers against her mouth.

“Kathryn, just let this sink in.  Maybe I shouldn’t have said too much before I know if it’s possible.  I have to speak to Duncan again about staying on permanently and he has to speak to the others…”  Kathryn pulled her head away from his hand.

“Back up there.  Speak to Duncan AGAIN?  You’ve already run this past him?  I know you spoke to him about staying on before but I just assumed that was temporary…until the work was finished.  What did he say?”  Chakotay shook his head and smiled.

“Kathryn, just listen to me.  Calm down too.  You’re not fully well yet.”  He raised a warning finger at her when she went to protest.  “Don’t even consider objecting to that.  Now stay quiet and I’ll tell you.”  Kathryn just glared at him as he laughed.  “That death glare doesn’t have the same affect anymore.”  He laughed again as she tried to increase its volume.  “Still no good.”  He sighed in mock exasperation now.  “Woman, will you let me finish here?”  Kathryn silently surrendered and nodded, holding her hands up.  Chakotay rolled his eyes.

“Thank you.  Now, all I can say is this.  Most of them want to stay and I want to stay.  I barely mentioned this to Duncan before.  In fact, many of them, including myself, had expressed a wish to stay on here for some time and work even before we came here.”  He shook his head.  “They’re…we’re…desperate for that purpose, Kathryn.  You understand that.”  She nodded sadly.  “Anyway, I mentioned this to Duncan…had touched on the idea early on at a meeting with them all…about staying on and helping to re-build but that was assumed temporary to finish the work we’d started.  Anyway, it came up again as people settled and showed more of an interest in staying.  They’re achieving something here and it feels damned good.  Everyone has grown very close.  There’s a deep trust and respect there now between us all.  The counselling sessions Jonathan and Lorcha ran for the women and kids to get used to us…they ended ages ago.  They just weren’t needed anymore.”  He laughed.  “Here’s something else for you to think about.  We’re not the only couple now.  A few other romances have started between your crew and the people here.”  Kathryn stared at him in shock.

“Why didn’t I see all this?”  Chakotay laughed.

“Losing your touch, Captain?  I remember at one time how nothing got past you.”  Kathryn just stuck her tongue out at him.  He tutted loudly.  “Not very Captainlike or ladylike.  I’ll have to work on you.”  Kathryn made another face at him.

“Very funny.  Just tell me what Duncan said.”  Chakotay rubbed at his forehead.

“No patience.  All right.”  He moved away a little.  “I mentioned that I could see myself living here and how I wasn’t sure you’d want to leave.  Duncan said something about…how he thought that if things worked out between us…how you might want to leave and how they’d hate to lose you…but that your happiness came first.  Anyway, he said he couldn’t see any problems we couldn’t overcome…if I wanted to stay.  He said I’d earn my keep and that I had a lot to offer.”  He ran a hand through his hair.

“He then asked if the others here had shown an interest in staying.  I just told him that nothing had been said directly about staying on permanently…only the temporary stay to see the work through but that I knew most wanted to stay on.”  He smiled softly at Kathryn and then shrugged.

“You know, they’re still your crew.  They still see themselves that way.  Besides, if you argue, they may just mutiny.”  They both smiled tearfully at the memory.  Kathryn sniffled a little and shrugged.

“I don’t deserve such loyalty.  I never did…”  Chakotay shook his head sadly.

“You always did.  You just never saw it for yourself.  I told you that.”  He scratched at his cheek.  “Look Kathryn, we can talk about all this later.  We still have to talk things over with Duncan and the others.  It’s not really up to us.  He is considering it though.”  Kathryn folded her arms, every inch the old Captain.

“What exactly did he say…?”  Chakotay saw a light starting in her eyes and smiled for a moment.  He shrugged then. 

“His response was that they could certainly use the expertise we all had but that they’d have to consider the security aspects.”  He moved back towards Kathryn.

“I don’t know, Kathryn.  We have to talk to them and look at all the aspects of this…all the implications.  It’s not just up to us.”  He moved closer again.  “We need to talk to Duncan first and then see exactly who wants to stay.  We can then talk to the rest of the staff here and the women and kids.  We need to do as Duncan said to me…take it one step at a time.”  Kathryn nodded eagerly, her mind racing ahead.

“It would work.  I know it would.  Don’t you see?  The extra numbers and technology would actually add to the security here…not take away from it.  Fifty or so people would add a lot more protection.”  Chakotay smiled at the life and excitement in her eyes.

“I think we’ll let you make the case for us.”  She slapped at his arms. 

“Don’t tease.”  Her face lit up again.  “Chakotay, this could work…”  He placed a hand on her shoulder as if to still her.

“Kathryn, let’s just see how it goes.  I don’t want to see you get your hopes so high if it doesn’t work.  You need to temper yourself and take it slowly…”  Kathryn smiled and nodded, sobering a little.

“You’re right.  I can’t help but feel excited though.”  She grew serious now.  “Are you sure you really want to stay here though…?  I mean for yourself?  I don’t want you doing something just for me…”  He placed both hands on her shoulders now.

“I’m sure.  I considered it before I knew you were here.  I told you that.”  She nodded.  “I want what you sought and found here.  I need that too, Kathryn.  I need to feel like a man and a complete person again.  Can you understand that?”  She smiled and nodded.

“I do.  Well, I understand about needing to be a complete person but not a man.”  Chakotay took his turn to make a face at her now.  She laughed a moment and then smiled gently.  “Joking aside, I do understand, Chakotay.  I’ve been there…remember?”  Chakotay nodded and swallowed loudly.

“I know and I can’t stand to think of you that unhappy.”  He swallowed again and reached a hand up to cup her cheek as he gazed lovingly at her.  Kathryn held his eyes, enjoying the closeness of the moment.  He smiled softly.

“Kathryn Janeway…there’s something I’ve yet to say properly and officially to you.”  He slipped his arms around her and pulled her against him.  Kathryn slipped her arms around his waist.

“And what’s that?”  She saw his smile slip but the love remained in his eyes.

“I love you…more than you’ll ever know.  I always have.  I just got lost along the way.  I’ll always regret that.  Know this now though.  I love you with everything that I am and I will for all eternity.”  Kathryn felt tears rush to her eyes and blinked quickly.

“I love you too, Chakotay.  I always have and always will.  Nothing else matters.”       They stared lovingly at each other.  Chakotay pulled an arm free and lifted his hand to run a gentle finger down Kathryn's cheek.  She shivered and knew he had felt it. 

“Are you cold?”  His question was a mix of concern and light amusement.  Kathryn shook her head.  Chakotay’s smile widened.  “Do I have such an effect on you?”  Kathryn pretended to think about that and then smiled.  She reached her hand up to cover his.

“I guess you do, but I’d have to investigate further to be sure…”  Chakotay barely nodded. 

“I see.  Ever the scientist…”  He slipped his arm back around her, feeling her do the same.  He leaned in slowly and brushed his lips to hers and felt her tremble this time.  He spoke softly against her lips.  “Definitely me, I think…”  He pressed his lips to hers this time and felt hers soften under his own.  He pressed more firmly and felt his gut tighten as she yielded to him and opened her mouth a little.  Chakotay tightened his arms around her, deepening the kiss and heard her moan deeply in her throat.  In his mind, he had never heard a more sexy and sensuous sound from any woman and he felt himself harden as a result.  Worried that she would notice, he pulled back a little, afraid of moving too fast and frightening her.  Kathryn wasn’t allowing that however and gripped his body tightly to her.  She pulled her mouth from his for just a moment.

“Don’t hide from me, Chakotay.  I’m happy I can have that effect on you…”  Chakotay cupped her cheek again.

“You’ve always had that effect on me, Kathryn.  I spent seven years trying to hide it…”  Kathryn smiled tearfully.

“I’m so sorry I did that to you…made you have to hide…”  Chakotay stroked across her lips with his thumb.

“We’ve talked about this.  It’s past, Kathryn.  We only deal with the present and the future from here on.  I won’t let the past taint what we have now.  We love each other and we’ve just shared our first official kiss.”  He looked around him.  “Seems fitting that it should be here somehow…the only link to the past we don’t mind having around us.”  Kathryn looked around also.

“I always dreamed of kissing you here…”  She looked back at him and saw a twinkle in his eyes.

“And what other dreams did you have?”  Kathryn smiled mischievously.

“Oh, they’re not fit for your young and innocent ears…”  Chakotay pulled her against him tightly.

“Really…?  Well, Kathryn Janeway, I wrote the book on those dreams.  I’d redden your cheeks if I told you half of what I’ve dreamed about you.”  Kathryn pressed herself against him and heard him moan.

“I don’t embarrass easily, my love.  I’ll have to put you to the test on that.”  Chakotay growled at her.

“Let the games commence then…”  He leaned down to capture her mouth again.  Before he made contact, Tom’s voice ruined the moment as it came over Voyager’s comm system.

“Kathryn?  Chakotay?”  Chakotay glared at the control panel and moaned.

“I’ll kill him…”  Kathryn swatted his arm.

“He’s not to know…”  She grinned and shook her head, then moved away to activate the comm.  “What is it, Tom?”  Tom’s voice came over clearly.

“Sorry to interrupt but you need to get back here.  The storm is getting worse.  The rain is really coming down now and we think we’re in for another bout of that thunder and lightening.  We’re in the process of battening everything down and getting everyone inside.”  Kathryn nodded seriously.

“OK Tom.  We’re on our way back.  See you in a few minutes.”  She cut the communication and smiled at Chakotay.  “Did I not hear somewhere that it was your idea to have a working comm system on the planet to make keeping in touch with everyone easier?”  Chakotay shook his head.

“Actually, I think it was Tuvok, the ever Vulcan that he is.  Something about following proper procedure.  We’re all supposed to still wear our comm badges but everyone forgets…  The kids work better anyway.  They’re a real communications network and can run faster with messages than we can.”  Kathryn smiled widely at the thought.

“It always worked well for us before you came…”  She dropped her head to the side now and smiled crookedly as she moved back to Chakotay.

“I guess we’ll have to continue this later…”  She stroked his face.  “Thank you.”  He frowned.

“For what?”  Kathryn shrugged.

“For…”  She sighed.  “I guess I just thought…feared…that our first passionate kiss…first moment alone like this…would be…”  She shook her head now, frustrated at herself for not having the right words.  “I was worried that we’d be awkward with each other or embarrassed or…whatever.  Instead, it was wonderful.  And to be able to talk the way we did…so free with each other…”  She laughed softly.  “Am I making any sense here?”  Chakotay took her face gently in his hands.

“You’re making perfect sense.”  He leaned forward and kissed the tip of her nose.  “I was also worried…had those same fears…but they were unfounded.  To me that proves that we’re right for each other…that this was meant to be.”  Kathryn smiled lovingly at him.

“I hate to leave here but I guess we better get back.”  Chakotay stood back a little and reached for her hand.

“You’re right.  Duty calls.”  Together they left the bridge, both glancing back as they entered the turbolift.

^^^^^^^^^^

B'Elanna held her hood in place for a moment and then gave up, the wind blowing it off constantly.  Her hair was plastered to her head and she pushed it back from her eyes.

“You’re already soaked.  Covering your head won’t make any difference.”  Tom laughed at her as he passed. 

“Talking to yourself now?”  She made a face at him.

“Look in a mirror, helm boy.  You’re like a drowned rat yourself.”  Tom rubbed at his face and laughed.

“We won’t melt.”  They laughed together.  Tom moved closer to her to avoid shouting above the wind.  “How’s it going?”  B'Elanna turned her back against the lashing rain.

“Not bad.  Everything is locked down.  It looks like it could be quite a storm.  Duncan said they’re not usually this bad.  It’s pretty rare, in fact, especially this early.  It apparently means a mild and short winter and an early spring.”  Tom also turned away from the rain.

“Some of the others told me that too.  They’re keeping an eye on the river and stream.  Peter is worried they might burst their banks and cause flooding.”  B'Elanna frowned.

“Is that a real possibility?”  Tom shrugged and put his hand on her back to move her forward.

“I hope not, but it’s best to be safe.”  B'Elanna moved with him.

“What about Voyager?  Is she safe where she is?  Would it be better to move her into orbit?”  Tom shook his head.

“She’s safer on the ground.  Tuvok is heading over there now to check everything and make sure she’s all right.  Chakotay took Kathryn over earlier to look around.  I just contacted them and told them to beam back.  They’re on their way.”  B'Elanna smiled softly.

“A trip down memory lane for those two, huh?  It’s great to see them so happy and together.”  They reached the kitchen and Tom pushed open the door for B'Elanna to precede him inside.  They shook themselves off and removed their rain coats.

“Everyone is so happy for them.  They were made for each other.”  They laughed together as B'Elanna took Tom’s coat and hung it beside the door with her own. 

“I’m going to make some tea.  I’m freezing.  You want some?”  Tom shook his head.

“I’ll get some later.  I’ll check on Miral and then see if Eugene needs any help with the animals.”  B'Elanna nodded and watched him leave.  She made her way to the stove and put some water on.  As she waited for it to boil, she looked over towards the back door and saw Julie sitting on the floor.  She immediately moved to the child.

“What’s wrong, honey.  Is the storm scaring you?”  Julie looked up quickly, a very worried and unhappy look on her face.  She shook her head.

“I’m not afraid of the storm.”  B'Elanna sat down beside her.

“What’s making you look so sad then?”  Julie bit her lip.

“Where’s Mommy Kathryn?”  B'Elanna frowned a little.

“Are you worried about her?  She’s fine.  She’s gone on the ship with Chakotay…”  Julie dropped her head.  “Honey, what is it?”  The child looked up slowly.

“Do you believe in wishing?”  B'Elanna was caught off guard by the question and frowned deeply.

“I’m not sure what you mean, Julie.  Do you mean making wishes for things to happen?”  B'Elanna watched her think a moment.  When she spoke, it was very softly.

“I mean…like to wish for something…in a special place…like to a God…”  B'Elanna smiled as she thought she understood.

“Do you mean to pray for something?”  Julie nodded.

“Daddy Chakotay told me people believe in Gods and wish for stuff…”  B'Elanna smiled, more to herself than at Julie.

“It’s true.  I have my beliefs and Chakotay has his.  A lot of people believe in different things but it’s the same in the end.  It’s about a God or Gods we can’t see but believe in and we ask him or her or them…for things we want.  We also thank them when or if it happens.”  She dropped her head to the side and studied the child before her.  “Why do you want to know about this, Julie?  Do you need something?”  Julie immediately got up.

“I didn’t know if it was true…if they really answered wishes.”  B'Elanna found herself grow a little worried.

“Honey, what is it you need to wish or pray for?”  Julie moved over to the table and played with a bowl of fruit.

“Mommy Kathryn and Daddy Chakotay love each other, don’t they?”  B'Elanna thought she understood now.

“Ah, I see.”  She smiled at Julie.  “Yes, they do.  They love each other very much.  Is that what you want to wish for?”  She stood and walked over to Julie.  “Honey, that wish is already granted.”  Just at that moment the door from the main room burst open and a young boy ran in.  B'Elanna smiled at him as he looked around him.  “Can I guess that you’re on a food hunt?”  He grinned and nodded.

“Cookies…  I’m starving and dinner is hours away…”  B'Elanna moved over to one of the presses and took down a large tin.

“Well…at least an hour.  Don’t suppose you’ll last that long.”  She pushed the tin across the large table.  “Just two each and no more.  You won’t have room for your dinner otherwise.”  The boy practically dove into the tin while Julie gently took one biscuit and nibbled at it.  B'Elanna smiled to herself before her attention was drawn to the water boiling.  She made her tea as she watched the children.

“I’m just going into the main room.  I’ll trust you both to put the cookies back and not take anymore.”  She smiled at them both and left the kitchen.

^^^^^^^^^^

The young boy eyed Julie as she barely ate her cookie.

“You not eating a second one?”  Julie shook her head.  “Can I have it then?”  She nodded.  He took a third biscuit and then closed the lid as promised and put the tin on one of the counters.  He sat down at the table to eat. 

“Julie…don’t you like us anymore?  You never play with us now.  I mean…you didn’t always…like when you didn’t talk…but then you did talk and play with us and now you don’t again.  You used to play with Mommy Kathryn a lot but then she got sick, but she’s well again now and you still don’t play with us.  Why don’t you?”  Julie shook her head.

“I don’t play with her anymore.  She doesn’t need me.  She plays with Daddy Chakotay now and they’re going away…”  The little boy sat forward in his chair.

“Where are they going?”  Julie shrugged and tried not to cry.

“They’re going to Earth…  I heard them talking…”  The boy, Jack, gasped.

“You listened to the grown-ups talking?  We’re not supposed to…”  Julie pushed her hair back.

“Well, I did.  And they’re going away and they’re in love and they won’t need us anymore.  I want to wish for them to stay but I can’t remember how to get there…”  Jack looked puzzled.

“You can make a wish anywhere.  Where can you not remember?”  Julie bit at her lip.

“Doesn’t matter.  I’m gonna wish to the funny animal and make them stay…”  Jack still had questions but didn’t get to ask them as Selona came into the kitchen.

“Right you two.  Out of here.  I need to start on dinner.”  Julie left immediately as Jack still sat at the table, looking after her.  “Jack, if you want to stay you can help me…”  She knew that would get the boy moving.  He stood quickly.

“I gotta help Mommy Megan.  We’re making a…a…scrap…book or something.  We’re getting lots of pictures and putting them in a book…”  He was gone before Selona could respond.  She laughed to herself.

“Works every time…”

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay and Kathryn hurried across the main compound, pushing against the rain as they made for the main building.  They entered the day room and quickly closed the door behind them.  Duncan came over to them immediately.

“Glad you both made it back.  It’s getting worse out there.  We think the river and the stream will hold though.  It’s looking good.”  Chakotay shook the rain out of his hair and nodded.

“Do you want me to go down there and check?”  Duncan smiled apologetically.

“Would you?  Peter and Trevor are down at the river.”  Chakotay nodded and reached for a coat.

“No problem.”  He smiled at Kathryn.  “You stay here and get warm.”  She smiled at him and nodded.

“I’ll help Selona with dinner…”  Chakotay leaned over and kissed her cheek.  Duncan groaned and laughed.

“Oh, keep it for later, will you?”  They both looked at him and laughed.  Kathryn smacked him on the arm.

“And you and Jonathan don’t feel the same way?”  He pretended to think a moment and then laughed.

“All right…so I know how it feels.  Great, isn’t it?”  They all smiled.  Chakotay shook his head as he slipped the coat on.  Duncan smiled his thanks.  He moved away and then suddenly turned back.  “Oh, Kathryn…  We’re bunking everyone down in closer quarters for the night.  Can you sleep in your own room or over in the dorms.  The least number of places people are scattered around the better…just in case we do have some flooding.  I’d prefer to have you at the clinic for another few days but you’re basically well enough to leave.”  Kathryn nodded.

“That’s fine.  I’ll take my own room.  It’ll be great to have my own bed again.”  Duncan patted her arm and whispered to her.

“It’ll give you more privacy in case…”  He didn’t say anything else and just rolled his eyes up, putting on an innocent look.  Kathryn glared at him.

“Duncan…you’ve a bad mind.”  She wasn’t really embarrassed but pretended it.  Chakotay on the other hand was and stared at Duncan in amazement.  Kathryn smiled at him.  “Chakotay…he’s ribbing you.”  Chakotay looked from one to the other and shook his head.

“I’m out of here.  Maybe you two should join me.  The rain might cool you down.”  Still shaking his head, he turned and left, a gust of wind filling the room for a moment as the door was opened.

^^^^^^^^^^

Kathryn spent the next fifteen minutes in the kitchen chopping vegetables.  She smiled as Jack stuck his head around the door.  His face lit up when he saw her.

“Young man, I hope you’re not looking for more cookies.  I happen to know you’ve already had two.  I have my spies everywhere.”  Seeing that his plan was foiled, Jack just grinned.  He moved into the kitchen and sat on a stool beside Kathryn.  He looked around and saw that Selona was nowhere to be seen.

“Where’s Mommy Selona?”  Kathryn finished the last of the vegetables and placed them in a pot of water beside her.

“She’s laying the tables.  She’s making the pies you like so she doesn’t have to spend too much time here as they bake themselves.  The vegetables won’t take long.  Why do you ask?  Think you can sweet talk me into parting with more cookies?”  Jack shook his head and smiled.

“Nah…  Actually…I had three.  Julie only wanted one so I had her second one.”  Kathryn smiled at the mention of the young girl.

“Julie only wanted one?  Is she ill?  And just where is that little minx now anyway?”  She frowned when Jack did and felt something stir in her gut.  “Jack?”  He squirmed in his seat, telling Kathryn that something was wrong.  “Jack, I know you and when you squirm it means you’re hiding something.”  The young boy shrugged and looked embarrassed.

“I’m not hiding anything.  It’s just…well…it’s you…and…”  Kathryn sat down now beside him.

“Jack, just tell me.  If something is wrong, I need to know.  I won’t be angry or mad or embarrassed…”  She waited patiently until the boy spoke.

“It’s just…  Julie said you…  She said you and Daddy Chakotay were…in love…”  Kathryn smiled at that.

“We are, honey.  That doesn’t mean we don’t love all of you though…”  She frowned again when Jack didn’t smile.

“But she said…because of that…she said you were leaving…going to Earth…and that you didn’t need us anymore…”  He was suddenly close to tears and Kathryn leaned over quickly and put her arm around him.

“Oh Jack honey, that’s not true.  We love you and always will.  We all want to stay here.  We’ll talk about it and see if that’s possible and it looks like it is.  Even if we can’t, we’ll visit you all the time.”  Jack sniffed and nodded.

“I don’t want you to go away…”  Kathryn leaned over and kissed the side of his head and was grateful when he didn’t pull away.  “It’s just…Julie said…”  He sniffed again and wiped at his nose.  “She said you’d leave us but she’d go and wish for you to stay…”  Kathryn felt a nagging fear build in her and couldn’t understand it.

“Jack…where is Julie now?  I didn’t see her in the main room earlier…”  Jack looked frightened for a moment.  Kathryn pushed now, feeling an urgency.  “Jack, you won’t get into any trouble but where is she?”  Jack looked up at Kathryn with fearful eyes.

“I don’t know.  She said she wanted to make a wish to the funny animal but she couldn’t remember the way…  She didn’t say anything else…”  Alarm bells immediately rang in Kathryn’s head as she remembered Julie coming to visit her at the clinic and telling her about her visit to the ruins with Chakotay.  Suddenly it all fell into place.

“Jack, did she go out?  Try and remember…please honey…it’s very important…”  Jack nodded.

“I saw her go out before you came…  She took some of Selona’s flowers with her…”  Kathryn got up quickly.  She stood still and thought for a brief moment.  Without a word, she made for the door and grabbed a coat which was hanging there.  Jack looked after her, suddenly afraid.

“Mommy Kathryn…where are you going?”  Kathryn put the coat on and fastened it.

“I’m going to get Julie.  I’ll be back soon.”  She turned and left, leaving the young boy sitting at the table totally bewildered.

^^^^^^^^^^

Kathryn fought her way through the rain and wind, instinctively knowing where Julie was headed.  She had quickly checked the other buildings first just to be sure but had found no sight of the girl.  She slipped in the mud now and cursed as she fought to keep her balance.  It wasn’t easy to see against the driving rain but she forced herself on.  As she neared the ruins, it suddenly occurred to her that she should have told someone where she was going and she silently berated herself.  As she slipped again, she cried out as a branch or something tore at her leg.  She looked to her left and saw how swollen the river was now as it roared its way past.

Kathryn picked herself up and moved on, estimating that she was almost at the ruins now.  She tried to wipe at her face to clear her vision but it was a losing battle.  Her hands were covered in mud and it smeared her face, stinging her eyes. 

At last she made out the beginning of the ruins and pushed her hair back, grateful that this area was a little more sheltered from the storm.  Able to see better, she moved quickly past the vine covered ruins and towards where she knew the altar to be.  She had been here many times on solitary walks and had always felt close to Chakotay then, knowing how much he would have loved the place.

She barely made out the larger shape of the altar now and made for it, then stopped suddenly and let out a sigh of relief.  Julie sat at the base of the large stone with her hands against it.  Kathryn quickly moved towards her and called to her.

“Julie?  Julie?”  The young girl looked up quickly and stood, backing away as Kathryn approached.  “Julie honey…please…  You’re soaked.  Come on back with me…”  Julie just shook her head.

“I’m not finished.  I put the flowers there but they blew away.  He won’t listen to me now…”  Kathryn moved forward more slowly.

“Who won’t listen…?”  Julie pointed to the statue at the back of the altar.

“The leafy animal…the God…  I have to wish to him and give him a present.  I did but it blew away and now he won’t answer my wish…my pray…”  Kathryn felt close to tears.

“Honey, you don’t need to pray or wish for anything…”  Julie shouted back at her.

“I have to…to make you and Daddy Chakotay stay…  You want to leave us…  You went to the ship…and I thought you were gone…or were going…  I couldn’t find you…and I don’t see you anymore…  You don’t love me anymore and you’ll leave me…leave us all…”  The young girl was crying hysterically now, gulping between her words.  Kathryn moved towards her again crying also, but Julie kept backing away.

“Honey…please listen to me.  I love Chakotay but I don’t love you any less…any of you.  We’re not leaving you.  I went to the ship because I wanted to see it again.  I lived there for seven years.  I just wanted to go back there for a little while.  I don’t want to leave here and neither does Daddy Chakotay.  I don’t think anyone who came with him wants to leave.  We all love it here and we love you too.  I’m sorry I haven’t spent time with you lately.  That’s my fault but I still love you.”  Julie looked torn between believing Kathryn and her own doubts.  Kathryn moved towards her again, breathless now from shouting over the wind.  “Julie…come on…please honey…we have to go back.  We’re both soaked.  You’ll catch a bad cold.  Come on… honey…please…”  Julie just kept shaking her head back and forth as she continued to back away. 

Kathryn looked around her briefly and saw that they were on the other side of the ruins now.  “Julie…come on…please…  Dinner is ready and I’m sure you’re hungry.  You only had a cookie…”  Her words barely reached the young girl as the wind howled, carrying them away.

Kathryn inched her way forward, reaching a hand out to Julie now.  The rain stung her face but she ignored it. 

“Julie, honey…please come back with me.  Your wish is answered…”  Julie just shook her head and stepped back again.

What happened next would stay in Kathryn's memory for a long time.  It seemed to play itself out in slow motion.  Kathryn was reaching for Julie one minute and the next she saw the child fall backwards as her feet slipped in the thick mud.  Kathryn watched in horror as the girl fought to keep her balance and then lost, toppling backwards into the raging river.  Kathryn cried out and dashed forward, her eyes scanning the violent water.  Her breath came in gasps as she tried to wipe the rain from her eyes. 

She saw her then, a small figure, barely visible and trapped against a large fallen branch which was jammed against a large boulder in the river.  Without any thought for her own safety, Kathryn kicked off her shoes and stripped off the heavy coat then dived in.

^^^^^^^^^^

Duncan was sitting with one of the teachers, Olga, trying to work out some games which the children could play after dinner.  He knew they’d need something to take their minds off the storm.  He looked up as Hista and Jonathan approached them.

“If you two have any ideas for games, we’d be very grateful…”  He broke off as he took in the concerned looks on their faces.  “What’s wrong?”  Jonathan sighed.

“We’ve accounted for all the children…all except Julie that is…”  Olga looked around her.

“She’s around here somewhere.  I heard B'Elanna say she and young Jack scrounged some cookies from her earlier.”  Selona was passing by and overheard them talking.

“They were together in the kitchen earlier.  I sent the pair of them out.  I thought they came in here…”  She looked around, her eyes scanning the room for the two in question.

Suddenly the door burst open and a wet and windblown Chakotay ran in.  He quickly pulled his coat off and took a towel which was offered to him.  He smiled his thanks to the woman who had given it to him and began drying his face and hair.  Seeing Duncan and the others he crossed over to them.

“The river and stream are holding just fine although they’re both pretty high.  Peter and Trevor will be over in a few minutes.  They’re just putting some equipment away.”  He smiled at them all.  “Where’s Kathryn?”  Selona nodded towards the kitchen.

“She’s in there.  She was preparing the vegetables for me while I set the tables.”  Chakotay didn’t wait for anymore to be said and went in search of Kathryn.  A minute later he was back.

“She’s not there.”  He looked around for a moment and then looked back at the small group.  Only now did he see their worried faces.  “What’s up?  Is it Kathryn?  What’s…?”  Duncan cut him off.

“No, it’s not Kathryn.  We’re missing Julie.  No one can find her.  She was in the kitchen earlier with young Jack but we can’t find them now.”  Chakotay threw his towel down on a nearby table.

“Jack’s in the kitchen.  He’s just sitting at the table.  I said hello but he was miles away…”  Duncan stood up and shook his head.

“What is this…?”  He made for the kitchen, the others following.

^^^^^^^^^^

Jack actually jumped when the swing door to the kitchen opened.  He looked around and saw six faces looking in his direction.  Duncan moved closer to the boy and knelt down.

“Jack, don’t look so frightened.  What’s the matter?”  The boy just shook his head and mumbled.

“Nothing…”  Duncan patted the boy’s arm.

“Jack, we were just wondering if you knew where Julie was?  Have you seen her?  Selona said she sent you both out of the kitchen earlier…”  Jack stared at the young doctor with wide eyes.

“Uh huh…”  Duncan smiled a little.

“Is that uh huh you know where she is, uh huh you’ve seen her, or uh huh you were sent out of the kitchen?”  This got a small smile from the boy.

“She was here and Selona sent us out.  I came back.  Mommy Kathryn was here.”  Chakotay stepped forward.

“Jack, do you know where Mommy Kathryn is now?”  Jack nodded, his hand going to his hair where he twisted his fingers in it.

“She’s gone to Julie…”  Duncan heaved a sigh of relief.

“They’re together.  That’s all right.”  Everyone nodded except Chakotay.  He knelt down beside Duncan and spoke quietly to Jack.

“Jack, do you know where they went?  How long ago did they leave?”  The small boy thought about that.

“I don’t know.  Julie went first.  Mommy Kathryn went after that.”  Duncan felt his brief relief leave him. 

“Jack…are you saying they didn’t leave together?”  The boy nodded.  “Julie left first?”  Again a nod. 

“Mommy Kathryn said she was going to get her…”  He began to look a little upset now and Duncan put an arm around the small shoulders.

“Hey big man, it’s all right…”  They all turned as the door opened again and B'Elanna walked in.  She stopped immediately as she saw the group and instinctively knew something was wrong.

“What’s the matter…?”  Jonathan sighed.

“Julie’s missing, and so it seems, is Kathryn.  We think Kathryn went after her but we’ve no idea where at the moment.”  B'Elanna looked around the faces before her, settling on Chakotay’s.

“I saw Julie earlier.  I came in to make some tea and she was here alone.  She was upset…was sitting on the floor over at the back door…”  She scratched the side of her head.  Duncan looked up at B'Elanna.

“Did she say why she was upset?”  B'Elanna shrugged and shook her head.

“Not really.  She asked me where Kathryn was and I told her she was on the ship with Chakotay.  We had a strange conversation actually…”  She saw the others looking puzzled and went on.  “She was asking me about…religion…I guess…  She asked if I believed in wishing and praying…in a special place…to a God…  I asked if there was something she wanted to pray for…  That’s when she asked me if Kathryn and Chakotay were in love.  I said yes and told her that if that’s what her wish was, it was already true…”  She looked towards Jack.  “Then this forever hungry young man came in and I gave them some cookies…”  She smiled gently at the young boy.

Chakotay stood now, a strange look on his face.  He rubbed his fingers against his chin, shaking his head at the same time.  Duncan stood also and lifted Jack from his chair.  He sat down and placed the boy in his lap.

“Jack, did you and Julie talk?”  Jack nodded.  “Can you tell me what she said?”  Again he nodded, more slowly this time.

“I asked her why she doesn’t play with us anymore…how she used to play with Mommy Kathryn before she talked…then with us…but now she doesn’t…”  Duncan smiled and nodded.
 
“What else?”  Jack bit at his lip.

“She said…she said…she didn’t play with Mommy Kathryn anymore…that … that…”  Chakotay came over and knelt down again.

“Jack, you can tell us.  We need to know.  Please…”  Jack nodded and looked down at his hands, twisting his fingers together.

“She said Mommy Kathryn didn’t need us anymore…that she plays with Daddy Chakotay now and that they were going away…to…Earth…”  When he looked up, he had tears in his eyes.  He looked at Chakotay.  “You’re not going away, are you?  You still love us, don’t you?”  Chakotay sighed and reached for the boy, pulling him into his arms.

“Jack, we’re not leaving you, and of course we still love you.”  He looked worriedly at Duncan and saw the young man nod.  He lowered Jack back onto Duncan’s lap.  “Jack, listen to me carefully.  This is real important.”  Jack nodded, biting at his lip again.  “Did Julie say where she was going?”  Jack shook his head slowly.

“I don’t know where she went but she said she wanted to wish for you to stay.”  B'Elanna cut in.

“That’s the wishing she talked to me about…”  She stopped as Chakotay held up a hand.

“What else honey?”  Jack twisted his fingers again.

“She said she couldn’t remember how to get there…  I don’t know where…  She was going to the…funny animal…something like that…to wish you to stay…”  Chakotay closed his eyes a moment and the others saw his worry.  He spoke very slowly to Jack now.

“Jack, think carefully now.  Did you tell any of this to Mommy Kathryn?”  The child nodded.

“Uh huh.  And I told her Julie took some of Selona’s flowers with her.  She left when I said that.  She was in a hurry.  She said she was going to get Julie…  She put her coat on and went…”  Chakotay groaned and stood.  He looked around at the others.  They all saw what looked like fear on his face.  Before he spoke, he smiled down at Jack.

“Jack, you go play in the main room.  We’ll bring Julie and Mommy Kathryn back for dinner.  Is that OK?”  Jack nodded and slid down from Duncan’s lap.  He slowly walked to the door then looked back at them all.  “Jack, everything’s fine.  You go play.”  He nodded slowly and left.

As soon as the boy was out of the room, Duncan turned to Chakotay, a worried look on his own face.

“Can you tell me what that was all about?  Do you know where they are?”  Chakotay sighed and nodded.

“I think so but I pray I’m wrong.”  He shook his head and told them about taking Julie to the ruins and their conversation there.  “I know she told Kathryn all about it.  She would have picked up on the same clues as I have.”  Jonathan ran his hands through his hair.

“You’re saying you think Julie went to the ruins to pray, or wish, or whatever, and Kathryn went after her?”  Chakotay nodded.  “Even in this storm…?”  Chakotay nodded again. 

“I’m sure that’s where she meant.  It can’t be anywhere else.  I think she went there because she’s afraid Kathryn and I will leave with Voyager and she wanted to wish for us to stay.”  Duncan stood up.

“She’s a child.  If it was that important to her she would just go, regardless of the weather.  Kathryn being Kathryn, she would just go after her without any thought for her own safety.”  He moved towards the door.  “We’ve looked everywhere within the village.  They have to be there and we have to go after them.  Get some of the others over here now.”  Selona and Olga nodded immediately and left the kitchen.  B'Elanna gripped Chakotay’s arm.

“They’ll be fine.  They’ll be soaked but they’ll be fine.”  She tried a smile and almost made it.  Chakotay patted her hand.

“I hope so.  That river is…and it runs all along the side of the ruins…”  He groaned.  “Come on…let’s get moving…”  Duncan reached for his arm.

“We have to get some equipment first.  It’ll only take a few minutes but could make all the difference out there…”  Chakotay held up his hand, silently admitting that Duncan was right.  He turned to B'Elanna.

“What about communicators?  Will they work in the storm?”  B'Elanna nodded.

“I’ll get them now.  Transporters won’t work though.  There’s an electrical element to these storms…  It also means the Doctor can’t go with you.  His mobile emitter wouldn’t work out there either...only inside…”  Chakotay nodded as she left the kitchen.  He paced now.

“What was Kathryn thinking?  To go off like that and not tell someone…”  He sighed and squeezed his eyes closed a moment.  He opened them again when he felt a hand on his arm.  Jonathan smiled softly at him.

“We’ll find them.  We’ll be ready to leave in a few minutes and it’s not far…”  Chakotay lowered his head.

“Not far usually.  You forget what it’s like out there at the moment…”

^^^^^^^^^^

Nothing could have prepared Kathryn for the strength of the water.  The power of it threatened to suck her under but she fought against it with a strength she didn’t know she had.  She gagged constantly as she swallowed mouthfuls of the foul tasting river, washing so much silt along with it.  She struggled harder and finally reached Julie, her arms gripping the child tightly to her.  Holding the girl with one arm, she held onto the boulder to try and take in a few breaths before attempting to get back to the bank.

“Julie…hang on…I’ve got you…”  She coughed heavily against the water she had swallowed and tried to breathe deeply.  Sharp pains filled her lungs and she gripped her precious package tighter.  “Hang on…we’ll get back…  You have to help me…”  She barely saw Julie nod but she didn’t miss the look of terror on the child’s face.  “Ready?  Hang on to me…”  Julie nodded again and clung onto Kathryn for all she was worth.

The battle back was almost impossible.  The force of the water sapped every ounce of strength Kathryn had.  She swallowed more and more water, trying desperately to spit it out.  Julie had a fierce hold around her neck, making breathing more and more difficult but still she forced herself on, barely making out the edge of the river in the  driving rain.  With Julie hanging on, Kathryn used both her arms to fight against the raging torrent.  She cried out as something ripped against her face but didn’t let it stop her struggle.  Finally, her foot found some purchase as her ankle banged painfully off something.  Kathryn tried to ignore the pain and struggled harder.  She felt Julie’s hold begin to weaken and wrapped one arm around the child.  Fighting on, her hand eventually touched the river bank.  Her fingers sank into the deep mud, leaving her little purchase to gain a grip.  She tried again and again, her legs kicking against the power of the water.  Finally her hand closed around a stone of some kind and she held on for dear life. 

“Julie…help me…”  The girl was in no state to do anything.  Kathryn screamed at her above the howling wind and rain.  “Julie…I can’t do this…help me…”  Suddenly she felt the child twist in her arm and turn to the river bank.  She saw her reach for the edge and grab on, pulling her smaller weight easily from the water.  Without Julie in her arms Kathryn was able to pull herself closer to the side.  She felt small hands on her pulling at her, and kicked back against the water.  Slowly, after what seemed an eternity, she felt her body slide against the mud, and out of the water.

^^^^^^^^^^

Within ten minutes Chakotay and Duncan were on their way, along with John, Peter, Trevor and Tom, strong beams of light slicing through the night from the power packs they held.  B'Elanna stayed behind to receive any communications from the group and to set up the emitters in the clinic in case the Doctor was needed and his mobile emitter failed.  The rain had increased now and drove into their faces like needles.  The wind was stronger also and they really had to push against it.  Chakotay shouted to Duncan over the noise.

“How long do you think to get there…?”  Duncan strained to hear and shouted back.

“Fifteen minutes maybe…  It’s hard to say against this…”  Chakotay nodded, wiping at his face.  He increased his pace, forcing the others to fight to keep up with him.

^^^^^^^^^^

Kathryn lay panting on the ground for several minutes, fighting to draw air into her lungs.  Each breath caused her pain but she ordered her mind to ignore it.  Finally she pushed herself up and looked at the terrified and shivering young girl before her.  She tried a smile but it didn’t have any effect.  She pushed against the ground again, her hands sinking in the thick mud and finally got her feet under her.  She slipped several times but eventually managed to stand, a raw pain shooting through her ankle.  Her sodden clothes felt like a dead weight on her body and she shivered violently against the cold.  She reached her hand out to Julie as she forced the tremor from her voice and tried to sound calm and reassuring.

“Come on, honey.  We have to get back.  It’s getting worse out here…”  Julie nodded slowly, her tears indistinguishable from the rain. 

“I’m sorry…”  Kathryn could see she was sobbing heavily.  She shook her head.

“It’s all right.  We just need to get back…”  They were shouting above the wind to be heard.  The old trees around them groaned and creaked under the strength of the storm.  Julie looked up at them with a deep fear in her eyes.

“I’m afraid…”  Kathryn moved towards her.

“It’s all right, honey.  We’ll get back in no time.  I’m here with you.  There’s no need to be afraid.  It’s only a storm.”  She smiled again.  “Tell you what…we can sing on the way back.  The noise of the storm will drown out my terrible voice.”  Julie stood there shivering and tried a small smile.  “Come on then.  Let’s get moving.  It’ll help us get warm.”  Julie nodded again and turned, walking back towards the ruins, glancing nervously around her.

Kathryn watched her for a moment, feeling very sorry for the young child.  She cursed herself for not seeing this coming, for not paying more attention to the girl.

“This is all your fault, Kathryn Janeway…”  She muttered to herself and wiped at her face again.  She moved forward slowly, limping badly, her feet sinking and slipping in the mud.  She looked down at her feet and shook her head.  She was almost ankle deep in the mud and she was barefoot.  She remembered her shoes and coat for a moment and looked back, unable to see them.  She shrugged.  “They wouldn’t be much use to you anyway…”  She shook her head and turned back, looking towards Julie who wasn’t too far ahead of her.

Suddenly there was a deafening crash of thunder, followed almost immediately by a fork of lightening.  Kathryn actually heard the air crackle followed by Julie’s scream of fear.  She looked up in fright and saw the lightening strike one of the large trees, biting into one of the thick limbs as it cut through it.  In a surreal moment she watched as the large branch split from the tree, sparks exploding from it, and knew in that instant where it would fall.  Julie stood rooted to the spot, sheer terror in her eyes.  Kathryn launched herself forward, diving towards the young girl.  She heard two words in her mind.  “Please God…”  She impacted with Julie sending the child sprawling forward, face down in the mud, a second before she felt the weight of the tree strike her back.  It crushed her to the ground and then she felt the explosion of pain.

^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay hefted the large bag he carried further onto his shoulder and pushed himself forward, flashing his light to the right and left, checking as he went.  He glanced at the others, seeing that they were having as much trouble moving as he was but saw them copy his search pattern.  Duncan’s eyes met his for a moment.

“We’re almost there…I hope…  I don’t think it’s much further.  It’s hard to tell in this weather.  Nothing looks familiar.”  Chakotay nodded then wiped his hand across his face.

“As I remember it, it’s about another five minutes…”  Trevor moved up beside them.  He held up his hand, all fingers spread. 

“Five minutes is about right, but in this it’ll take maybe ten…”  Chakotay sighed and nodded.

“Let’s move faster then…”  He gave a small smile of thanks as Tom slapped his back, trying to offer encouragement and comfort.  He pushed himself forward, forcing the others to keep up with him.

^^^^^^^^^^

Kathryn lay still, unable to move anyway and found she couldn’t breathe for several moments.  It felt as if all her air was trapped in her throat, coming out as a soft, gasping sound.  She felt her fingers claw at the mud, the action sending surges of agony through her body.  Then she became aware of the terrible weight on her back, pinning her and pushing her down into the mud.

“Julie…”  The word whispered past her lips and she tried to twist her head to see if she could find the child.  As soon as she moved, she gasped loudly as pain shot down her back.  “Oh God…”  She closed her eyes a moment and tried to breathe as slowly and shallowly as possible, desperate to ease the pain even a little.  Suddenly she felt hands on her arm.

“Mommy Kathryn…?  Mommy Kathryn…?”  Kathryn forced her eyes open, blinking quickly to try and stop the stinging she felt from the mud which coated her face.  She tried to speak again, the effort almost impossible.  Julie shook her now.

“Mommy Kathryn…please…wake up…”  Kathryn groaned loudly at the agony the movement caused her.  She summonsed all her strength and managed to croak her words out.

“Julie…get help…”  The girl just knelt in the mud and sobbed.

“Please Mommy Kathryn…get up…please…”  She shook Kathryn again, sending more pain through her body.  Kathryn forced her words out in gasps.

“Hurt…don’t shake…pain…”  She tried to raise her head and managed an inch or so before giving up.  She struggled to breathe evenly.  “Can’t move…hurt…get help…”  Julie pulled her hands from Kathryn's body but stayed kneeling in the mud, sobbing loudly.

“I’m scared…it’s dark…”  Kathryn was almost panting now, each breath causing a stab of pain.

“You have to…brave…can do it…”  She had to stop for a moment.  “Get help…”  Julie still sat there sobbing almost hysterically now.  She looked around her frantically and then tried to stand.  She moved from Kathryn's limited line of vision.

“I’ll help you…”  Kathryn squeezed her eyes shut and groaned.  Her mind raced as she realized she couldn’t get through to Julie and that no one even knew where they were.  She tried again.

“Julie…go back…get help…”  She wasn’t sure if the girl even heard her above the noise of the storm.  She tried to move her head again and cried out at the stab of pain she felt.  Forcing herself, she managed to move a little and barely made out Julie’s form against the dim light.  Kathryn groaned as she saw the small girl trying to lift the bough which lay across her back.

“Julie…no…”  She cried out again as fresh pain ran down her legs now.  She thought she felt the heavy weight move just a little and became terrified.  “No…Julie…”  Suddenly Julie was back beside her, the child sobbing loudly.

“I can’t move it.  It’s too heavy.  I can’t…  I’m scared…”  Kathryn clenched her fists against the pain, her nails digging into her palms.  She tried to draw in a deep breath and ordered her mind to cooperate.

“Julie…I need help.  You have to go.  You can do this.  You’re a big girl now…”  The effort was too much and she cried out again.  “Oh God please…”  Her face dropped down into the thick mud and she felt it fill her nostrils.  She blew through her nose to try to clear it and almost screamed in agony.  “Please Julie…help…”  She clawed at the mud, not even realizing the action and cried, her tears stinging her eyes along with the mud.  When she opened her eyes again, she couldn’t see Julie.

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay felt as if his chest would explode from the exertion but he pushed on knowing that Kathryn and Julie were nearby, at least he prayed they were.  Duncan and the others kept up with him but he could see the physical effect it was having on them also.  He tried a tired smile in Duncan’s direction and stopped as he saw the young man squinting through the heavy rain. 

“I think I see something…  There…moving towards us…”  Chakotay turned to look where Duncan pointed and nodded his head.

“I see it too…”  They all heard it then, a small voice screaming out over the storm.

“Help…please…help…”  The men rushed forward and Chakotay felt a fist of fear grip his chest as he made out Julie, her hair and clothes caked with mud, rain and slime dripping from her hair and down her face and body.  She finally reached them and slammed herself against Duncan.  “Help her…help Mommy Kathryn…”  Chakotay was already running ahead and heard Duncan shout at Julie.

“Show us where…quickly…”  Julie grabbed his hand and pulled at him, Chakotay slowing only a moment to let her take the lead.  He called to the girl as they ran.

“Julie, where is she?  What happened?”  The young girl was sobbing heavily.

“I fell…in the water and she got me.  And we were out of the water and then she pushed me after the fire hit the tree but it fell on her…”  Her words were choked out as she continued to pull Duncan along behind her.  Chakotay glanced at the young doctor and saw his own fears reflected there.  “Here…near the big table…” 

^^^^^^^^^^

Kathryn lay in the cold mud praying that Julie had gone for help, but mostly she prayed that she’d make it back safely.  Her breathing was getting worse and she struggled to take in shallow breaths through her mouth as the weight pinning her down continued to crush her.  The smell of burning wood filled her nostrils.

It took a minute or two for her to realize that her pain was easing.  She lay there feeling it slowly ebb away and now she grew really afraid, knowing that pain was often a good thing.  Her hands scratched at the mud as she tried to assess her injuries, the coldness of it seeping into her fingers and chilling them.  The pain continued to recede and with it came a numbness, beginning at her lower chest and working downwards.  Her breathing continued to worsen as the pain lessened and she coughed, squeezing her eyes closed against the pain in her chest.  She bit at her lip now as she felt a coppery taste in her mouth and knew it was blood.

“Oh God…Chakotay…”  She suddenly needed desperately to say his name.  She felt the cold seeping into her, adding to the numbness which was consuming her body.  For a brief moment she felt a tingling sensation pass down her legs and into her feet, and then she grew terrified as she realized she could no longer feel the weight of the bough which had fallen across her back.  As the pain receded she was vaguely aware of all sensation leaving her body.  When the darkness came for her, she didn’t even notice it.

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay and the others reached the ruins, Julie tugging desperately on Duncan’s hand.

“Hurry…”  Duncan looked towards Chakotay and pointed.

“The altar?”  Chakotay nodded and pushed on ahead, the others at his heel.  As they came to the altar the first thing they saw was the orange glow from the old tree which stood beside the large stone, a few stray flames still fighting to exist against the rain and wind which battled against them.  They looked down then and saw the bough which had been sliced from the tree, one end barely glowing as the wind fanned it. 

At first they didn’t see Kathryn, the mud and her sodden and caked clothing hiding her in the dark.  Julie knew where she was though and pulled away from Duncan, sliding down beside her friend.

“Mommy Kathryn…I got help…  Daddy Chakotay and Daddy Duncan are here…and the others…  Please Mommy Kathryn…say I did right…?”  As they looked towards Julie, they all saw Kathryn pinned to the ground beneath the heavy weight, her face almost buried in the mud.

Chakotay cried out and sank down beside her, Tom at his side.  Duncan was with them both in a second. 

“Oh God…Kathryn…please…no…”  Chakotay cried out again and then felt hands pulling him aside.  He fought against them for a moment and then rational thought came back to him and he let himself be pulled away so Duncan and Tom could work.  He shouted above the storm.  “Tell me she’s alive…”  Tom looked up a moment and nodded.

“She is…  Please Chakotay…let us work…”  He turned back to Duncan and the two men worked frantically for a few minutes.  Peter and John stepped forward and reached for the heavy bough.  Duncan looked up quickly.

“No.  Don’t move it yet.  That could cause more damage.  Give us a moment to assess the damage and stabilize her.  We need to get a chest drain in first.  Her breathing is bad.  Looks like her lung is collapsed.”  They nodded silently and waited.  Chakotay looked around him and saw the worried looks on the faces of the others.  He raked his fingers through his soaked hair, his nails scoring his scalp.  He spoke to himself.  “Please let her be all right…please God…don’t take her from me now…”  He felt an arm around his shoulders and looked up into Trevor’s face.  The builder smiled gently at him.

“Chakotay, she’s in the best hands…”  Chakotay nodded and tried to draw strength from the man’s words but they didn’t help.  He heard Duncan shouting above the wind now.

“Try and find something flat.  I think there were planks or boards brought up here at one stage.”  Trevor moved forward.

“We were going to fence off the area at one time but…”  He moved towards the altar.  “I think we left them behind here.  Never got very far…”  Chakotay, needing something to do, went with him and they pulled away rain drenched vines for a few minutes.  Trevor shouted to Chakotay.

“Here.  Over here.”  Chakotay moved to his side and saw where he indicated.  They pulled several thin planks of wood free from the undergrowth.  Chakotay shook his head.

“They’re too short…starting to rot…”  Trevor lifted several pieces into his arms.

“Maybe we can lash them together.  John brought rope with him.  It’s all we have.”  Chakotay gathered several more and they hurried back to the others.  Duncan looked up briefly.

“Find anything?”  Trevor dropped the planks on the ground.

“This is all there is…”  Duncan looked over at them and shook his head.

“Not much good…”  John was thinking ahead, answering before Trevor could.

“There’s rope in my bag.  Tie them together…”  Peter nodded and fetched the rope, pulling Julie with him.  They could all see the building hysteria in the child.

“Come on, honey.  We need you to help us.”  He began placing the planks side by side and length to length, overlapping them.  He handed the rope to Chakotay.  “Let’s get this sorted.  We need more length than width.”  Duncan shouted over to them.

“Julie, work on with John and Trevor.  Peter over here…Chakotay too…”  Chakotay dropped a plank and rushed over, Peter at his side.  He knelt down and looked at Kathryn, her head to the side and a tube of some kind between her lips.  Tom saw his worry.  He gripped the large man’s arm.

“It’s just to keep her airway clear…”  Chakotay nodded and looked up at the two men.  Duncan nodded and then pointed to the bough.

“We need to lift this now.  Very slowly though.  I don’t want the weight to suddenly…”  He stood slowly.  “Two at each end.  Lift very slowly.”  The others nodded and stood, trying to find some purchase on the large piece of wood, their hands slipping in the wet.  “Make sure you have a secure grip first.”  They all nodded again and then one by one shouted that they were ready.  Duncan drew in a deep breath and readied himself, seeing the others mimic him.  “OK…lift slowly…on three.  One…two…three…”  They all lifted at the same moment, raising the heavy weight as slowly as they could.  As it lifted clear of Kathryn's body, she groaned loudly, even in her unconscious state.  Duncan looked down at her.

“Throw it clear…”  They heaved the heavy weight away from the woman lying on the ground, a few stray sparks shooting up from it as it hit the ground.  Chakotay immediately dropped to his knees, his hand stroking the air above Kathryn's back, knowing not to touch her.  Tom shouted to John and Trevor.

“Is that ready?”  Instead of answering, they came over with their makeshift stretcher.

“It’s the best we can do.  Some of the wood is rotted.”  Duncan looked it over and nodded his approval.

“It’ll do.  Just give us a minute and I’ll tell you how to move her…”  He worked on with Tom, the others standing back and watching as they checked the chest drain and intravenous lines they had inserted.  Trevor pulled Julie to him and whispered to the girl.

“She’ll be all right, Julie.  You did good.”  His words had no effect on the child.  She just stood and stared at Kathryn.  Trevor simply tightened his hold on her.

^^^^^^^^^^

After what seemed like an age to Chakotay, Duncan looked up and nodded to the others.  They followed the doctor’s instructions and placed the joined boards down on Kathryn's back.  Tom then placed lengths of rope across this.  At Duncan’s nod, they slowly rolled her, making sure their stretcher stayed tight against her back.  Duncan and Tom then secured their patient.  Throughout the entire procedure, Tom had held Kathryn's head securely, having placed his rolled up coat around her neck.

Chakotay looked at Tom and Duncan now.  He saw the deep worry etched on their faces and when they looked at him, he saw them try to disguise it.  His own eyes demanded the truth though.

“How bad…?”  Duncan gripped his arm.

“I don’t know, Chakotay.  There is…  It’s mainly her back but…  We’ll have to wait and see.  Not life threatening…I don’t think…  I can’t say…  We just have to get her back quickly…”  Chakotay held Duncan’s eyes a moment longer and then looked away.  He knew the man didn’t have all the answers and would do everything he could.  He barely nodded.

“We can’t transport…”  Duncan nodded.

“I know…  We need to move now…  Tom’s contacting the others to let them know the situation.  They’ll be ready for us.”  Chakotay shook himself, knowing he was no use to Kathryn in this state.  Getting her back to the clinic as quickly as possible was the best thing he could do for her now…the only thing.

“Let’s go…”

^^^^^^^^^^

It took almost twenty minutes for the men to carry Kathryn back to the clinic, their coats covering her to try and offer what warmth they could.  John carried Julie in his arms, the child sobbing the entire way.  She was shrouded in his coat, her hands well hidden.  A few times, they almost slipped and fell in the mud but not once did they jar Kathryn.

When they finally reached Haven, Cassa, Miriam, Dressa and Galan were waiting at the clinic door.  Voyager’s Doctor also stood ready, B'Elanna having rigged up several emitters in the clinic as a backup which would work regardless of the storm.  Greta waited also to take care of Julie, Jonathan beside her, knowing he would be needed to help the girl through the trauma of the evening.

Chakotay followed the group into the clinic, his face telling them that anyone who tried to remove him would not live to tell about it.  B'Elanna ran up to him and followed him inside.  She pushed several towels at him and a change of clothing.

“You need to take care of yourself first.  There’s nothing you can do for her at the moment.  Let them do their work.  Shower and change and you can come right back.”  Chakotay turned on her, ready to shout her down and saw several of the women standing behind her, more towels and fresh clothing in their hands.  B'Elanna’s face dared him to argue.  She looked towards the others.

“That goes for you all.  Let Cassa and the others get started.”  Duncan and the men stopped and handed over their stretcher to the others.  Duncan looked down at himself first and then at the others.

“She’s right.  We need to get clean now.  The risk of infection…”  They all took the towels and clothes offered to them.  Peter Walker, the engineer, hung back.

“You all go.  I want to re-check the generators and the back-up systems.  The last thing we need is power failure.”  Duncan smiled softly at the man.

“Good thinking, Peter.  I didn’t think of that.”  John Wilson tossed his towel and clothes aside.

“I’ll go with you.  Two heads and all that…”  Chakotay just stood and watched them all, feeling a deep admiration for those around him.  It gave him hope.  If anyone could save Kathryn, it was these people. 

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay sat quietly in the empty clinic and nursed a cup of hot soup which B'Elanna had brought to him.  He stared down into it, studying a piece of carrot floating on top and wondered how it could be so mesmerizing.  He swirled the contents around, watching other pieces mix and float, almost like a dance, and shook his head.  B'Elanna sat quietly beside him.

“Chakotay…?”  He stuck a finger into the soup, welcoming the burning it caused.  B'Elanna reached for his hand and pulled it away.  He turned and looked at her.

“They’ve been in there for hours…”  B'Elanna held his hand and rubbed at his finger.

“It hasn’t been that long.  It just seems that way.  It’s only been a little over an hour and a half…”  Chakotay sighed deeply.

“Still though…”  B'Elanna smiled gently and brought his finger to her lips.  She kissed it softly.

“All better…”  She stopped and smiled, looking a little embarrassed.  “Sorry.  Mother habits…”  She saw Chakotay look confused for a moment until her action and meaning got through to him.  He nodded and managed a small smile.

“She’ll be all right, won’t she?”  B'Elanna saw how close to tears he was.  She took the cup from his hands and placed it on a table beside them.  She then slipped an arm around his shoulders and pulled him to her.

“She’s in the very best of hands, Chakotay.  They’ll make sure she’s all right.”  He nodded slowly, desperate to believe the words his friend spoke.  Suddenly he felt a rage build within him.  He pulled from B'Elanna and jumped up.

“What in the name of God was she thinking?  How could she go out there alone?  Why is she always taking such risks?  Why…?”  B'Elanna was stunned for a moment and then jumped up too.  She grabbed Chakotay by the shoulders.

“Chakotay, stop this.  It’s not helping you or anyone else.  Kathryn is the way she is.  It’s part of the reason you love her…part of why we all love her.  It’s done.  We have to concentrate on now.”  Chakotay stared wildly at B'Elanna for a few moments and then felt all his anger drain from him.  He slumped against his old friend and gave in to the tears which had been threatening.

B'Elanna held the sobbing and broken man tightly against her.  She made soothing noises to him and smiled to herself, thinking once again of her mothering habits.  Finally she felt him relax and eased him back into his chair then sat beside him.  She took his hands in hers and shook them gently.

“Chakotay, listen to me now.  I understand how you feel but you have to put that aside for the moment.  Kathryn will be fine.  I’m so sure of that.  She will need you though to help her through this.  There’s also a little girl out there who will need you.  I’m sure she’s feeling terrible at the moment.  She’ll blame herself for all this and we can’t let that happen.  She’s just a child.”  She smiled at him.  “You’ve two ladies who need you now.  Time for all this later, OK?”  Chakotay sighed deeply and nodded slowly.

“You’re right.  Of course, you’re right.  I’m not thinking straight.  I hadn’t even thought of Julie in all this.  She must have been terrified out there.”  Fresh tears slid down his face.  “Kathryn…what she must have been feeling…  All alone and in pain…  She must have been…”  B'Elanna pressed a hand to his mouth.

“Chakotay…let it go.  She’s safe now.  They both are.  We deal with now.”  She wiped at his tears.  Chakotay drew in a ragged breath and nodded.

“I’m all right.  It’s…”  The sound of a door opening at the far end of the clinic startled them both.  They looked around to see Voyager’s Doctor coming towards them, Tom with him.  They both jumped to their feet.  Chakotay tried to read their expressions and couldn’t.  As they came up to them, he managed to stammer his words out.

“How…how is she…?”  The EMH smiled slightly.

“She’ll be fine.  She’ll have some recovery time but…”  Chakotay sank back down into his chair.

“She’ll live…?”  The Doctor nodded and moved closer to Chakotay.

“Of course.  There wasn’t too much danger to her life…unless you hadn’t found her…”  He let the rest go unsaid.  None of them needed to think about that.  B'Elanna looked from the Doctor to Tom and back again.

“What about her injuries…?”  The Doctor didn’t smile this time and indicated to a chair for B'Elanna to sit.  Tom looked away for a moment.  Chakotay didn’t miss their discomfort and seized on it.

“What?  What’s wrong?”  The Doctor held up a hand.

“Chakotay, I’ll explain as best I can.”  He took a moment and then spoke on.  “You have to understand the weight which fell on her.”  Chakotay groaned at the memories which filled his mind.  “She was pinned for some time but mainly it was the weight and the way it fell on her across her back.  It would also have been with some considerable force.”  He licked at his lips out of habit and not necessity, knowing there was no easy way to say what he had to say. 

“She has some pretty severe spinal injuries.”  Chakotay closed his eyes a moment.

“Are you saying she won’t walk again?”  He opened his eyes and stared hard at the Doctor.  The medic shook his head.

“I’m not saying that.  It’s a wait and see situation.  She broke some ribs and one of them had punctured her lung.  The same lung as before, in fact.  That’s taken care of.  She also had a deep gash on one of her legs and another on her face which were also easy to treat.  Her ankle was broken but I’ve mended the break, which wasn’t a bad one anyway…hairline fracture.  There was extensive internal and external bruising but the regenerator took care of that eventually.  It was quite deep.  There was also some internal bleeding which we brought under control quite quickly.  Other than that, she was suffering some hypothermia but we’re treating that at the moment.  There’s a risk of infection from the river water she swallowed and there was still some of that in her lungs.  We’re leaving her on a ventilator for a short time to help her breathing and we’re also pumping antibiotics into her.”  B'Elanna sat forward a little.

“You’re saying that everything else is taken care of.  It’s the spinal injury…”  Tom smiled down at his wife and nodded.

“That’s the only real concern now.”  Chakotay groaned.

“How bad is it?”  The Doctor shook his head.

“We won’t know for some time.  There’s a lot of swelling there.  Several vertebra were…  There were fractures…which I’ve healed.  There was also damage to her spinal cord…  She has no sensation below the waist…”  Chakotay groaned again and stood up.

“You have the knowledge of 24th Century medicine.  Can’t you do more…?”  Tom moved forward.

“Chakotay, that’s not fair.  We’ve done everything we can for the moment.  The rest is up to Kathryn and time.”  Chakotay rounded on him.

“Oh, so it’s Kathryn's fault now?”  He shook his head angrily.  “Why not?  I just blamed her a few minutes ago…”  B'Elanna stood up and gripped his arm tightly.

“Chakotay, listen to them.  Listen to yourself.  You’re not thinking straight.  It’s all clouded with emotion and exhaustion.  You need to stand back and get some rest…”  Chakotay pulled his arm from her hold.

“Rest?  How can I?”  The EMH stepped forward and laid a hand on Chakotay’s chest.

“Listen to me, Chakotay.  She’s resting for now.  She’s unconscious still and she’s on the ventilator.  We’re doing all that can be done.  She needs plenty of rest and warmth.  Her body is exhausted.  In a day or so, we’ll know more.  Once the swelling begins to subside, we’ll know what we’re dealing with.  After that, we can do more.”  Seeing the pain and desperation in the eyes of the man before him, the Doctor took a chance.  “Chakotay, I’m hopeful.  I really am.  I don’t like taking a chance and saying something like that but…”  He sighed.  “It’s going to take time and a lot of rehabilitation...physiotherapy and so on.  There may also be the need for further surgery.  We’ll just have to wait and see.”  Chakotay stood staring at the hologram.  It took a few minutes for everything to sink in.  Finally he nodded and sat down again.

“I’m sorry…for my outburst…my…”  He shook his head, unable to find the right words.  He looked up at Tom and the Doctor, hoping his eyes would say it all for him.  He saw from their expressions that it did.  Tom moved closer and slapped Chakotay on the shoulder.

“We understand, Chakotay.  It’s been a bad night for us all.  If it was B'Elanna, I’d be the same…”  He looked at his wife and smiled lovingly, then looked back at his friend.  “You’ve nothing to apologize for…”  Chakotay smiled slightly, his own exhaustion showing.  The Doctor coughed gently.

“I agree completely, Chakotay.  We understand very well.”  He dropped down onto his hunkers and smiled at the large man.  “We’ll have her settled in a little while.  Why don’t you go in and see her then.  Just for a few minutes though.  Then you can go and get some rest for yourself.  Come back in the morning and we’ll know more.”  Chakotay stared tiredly at the Doctor and eventually nodded.

“You’re right.  I’m more emotionally drained than physically but I’m still exhausted.  I do need to see her though.”  The Medic nodded his understanding.

“Of course you do.  Wait here and I’ll call you when they’re ready…”  He stood now and smiled at B'Elanna, motioning with his head for her to stay with Chakotay.  She nodded and smiled, showing she understood.

^^^^^^^^^^ 

Tom glanced behind him as he and the Doctor made their way back to the surgical area.  He looked sideways at the Medic.

“Do you think it was wise to be so…optimistic…?  We don’t exactly have a prognosis we can…”  The Doctor shrugged, cutting across him.

“I guess I want to believe what I just said, despite what we’ve seen of her condition.  I know this woman and I truly believe she’ll fight this.  As to Chakotay…”  The Doctor looked back also.  “What else could I tell him…?  In his present state, he wouldn’t have been able to hear anything else…” 

^^^^^^^^^^

Duncan stood and stared down at Kathryn lying in the bed, the ventilator’s hissing sounds filling the room.  He felt rather than saw Cassa beside him.

“How can so much happen to one woman?  She’s had too much pain in her life.  It’s not fair.”  He looked to the side now and shook his head at his colleague.  She sighed.

“I don’t have an answer for that, Duncan.  I agree it’s not fair.  Her emotional pain however…  There’s a lot of that around here.  Many others have been through terrible times too.”  Duncan sighed.

“I know.  It just seems that…  God, Cassa…she’s spent so much time in here.  That bastard stabbed her.  She almost died then.  She was the worst case from the poison and again we almost lost her.  Now this.”  Cassa gripped his arm.

“We’re not going to lose her, Duncan.”  He shook his head angrily.

“I know but you saw how close we came to it.  If we hadn’t found her when we did…”  He let his words trail off, not wanting to even think about it.  “You saw how rough the surgery was on her.  We almost lost her during that even.  As it is, she may never walk again.  If it wasn’t for Voyager’s Doctor and his expertise…”  Cassa grew angry now.

“Oh, cut the crap, Duncan.  You were the one out there.  You inserted the chest drain and administered the treatment that got her back here alive.  You, Duncan.  No one else.  Tom helped you but under your instructions.  You know that.”  Duncan turned angrily to her.  He jerked his thumb towards the operating theatre.

“What about in there?  I was the one assisting and following instructions there.  It wasn’t me who performed that delicate surgery and pulled her back from the brink.  I wouldn’t have known where to start.”  Cassa actually punched him in the chest.

“So what?  If you hadn’t gotten her back here alive, there wouldn’t have been anyone for him to perform the surgery on.  You did all the right things…kept her airway clear…stabilized her and got her here without any further injury to her back.  That took some doing.”  She rolled her eyes.  “Duncan, get off this ride of self-pity and inadequacy you’ve been on since the others arrived.  Before that even.  It gets you nowhere.  Accept what is.  You got her back here alive and she’ll recover.  That’s the most important thing.  As to the rest, it’s not your fault that you don’t have the training he has.  I don’t have it either but I have to accept that.  What I don’t accept is that I stay that way.  I can change it and learn from him and move on so that next time, and please God there won’t be a next time, but if there is, then I’ll be able to do better.”  She sighed heavily.  “For God’s sake, Duncan…  Look, he’s a hologram.  I don’t mean that in any bad way.  I mean that he stores vast amounts of knowledge that you and I never can.  In other words, we’re only human.  We have to learn to accept that and just do the best we can.” 

“There’s something else you’re forgetting…”  They both turned quickly at the sound of the Doctor’s voice.  Duncan shook his head in apology.

“Doctor, I’m sorry.  I just feel…”  The Doctor held a hand up and shook his head.

“There’s nothing for you to be sorry about.  You should however, listen to Cassa.  She’s a wise woman.”  The woman smiled and blushed.  The Doctor moved closer to them.  “Duncan, listen to me.  You’re right.  I’m a hologram.  I’ve been programmed with all this knowledge.  If you had the same capabilities, you’d have the same knowledge.”  Duncan went to protest but the Doctor hushed him again.

“Duncan, you have something that I can never have…never learn.  No one can ever program me for it even.”  He waved his hand around.  “Look at this place.  Look at what you’ve achieved here.  You’ve worked damned hard here.  OK, anyone can work hard but having the heart and…”  He shook his head.  “I’m sure there have been many times when you wanted to give up but you didn’t.  You kept on.  You’re always there for these people.  You work in conditions many would refuse to stay a day in.  Your heart is in this and that’s the difference.  You feel for them all.  You have a gut reaction to any given situation that I can never have.  You feel and sense things.  I can see a situation and respond accordingly but you feel it.  You instinctively know what to do when a child needs you…physically or emotionally.  A gut reaction.  I read a situation as one thing or another but I don’t always see the thousands of nuances in between because I don’t feel them.  It’s instinct and I can’t ever have that.  I’m a hologram and you’re a human.  There’s a very good reason that the expression is worded ‘having the HUMAN touch’.  I can never have that.  Apart from that, you have a dedication beyond anything I’ve ever seen.  You have a discipline most would envy.  You also have a determination to succeed here.”  He shook his head again.  “Don’t you know how many would have given up on this place years ago?  You and Cassa here…the others who work here with you…  You’re all very special people.  The crew who came here with me…yes…they stay and work…but they weren’t here for the real struggle and I’m not sure if they’d have been up to it.  Maybe I judge them unfairly.  I don’t know.  They are one hell of a special bunch of people though.  As rare as you and your lot are so maybe they would have been up to it.  I spent seven years with them and I saw many sacrifices for the good of others.”  He smiled slightly.

“I’m digressing here.  What I mean is…”  He paused and smiled again.  “What I mean is that you’re talking bullshit and if I ever hear you speak like that again, I’ll punch your lights out.”  Duncan stared in shock at the Doctor, feeling his jaw drop at the unexpected words.  He looked to the side and saw his expression mirrored on Cassa’s face, with a hint of a smile also.  He looked to Tom then, standing behind the Doctor, and who hadn’t spoken a word.  The Doctor himself simply shrugged and moved over to check his patient.  Duncan stared at Tom now.

“Did he really just say that?”  Tom nodded and went to join the Hologram.

“He did.  He’s picked up a lot from me and the others…although I guess mostly me.  Too much at times.  However…I’d heed his words if I were you because we all know he’s right.  OK?”  He stopped a moment and stared hard at Duncan.  “I said OK?”  Duncan held up both hands.

“OK already.  God, you lot sure can gang up on a guy.”  Tom smiled sweetly.

“Glad to see you get the idea.  Now, let’s check our patient.  There’s a very anxious man outside waiting to see her.” 

^^^^^^^^^^

B'Elanna left Chakotay to sit with Kathryn for a while, knowing he needed the time alone with her.  She saw the physical and emotional fatigue he tried to hide and told him she’d wait outside for him then see him back to the ship.

Chakotay sat with Kathryn now in the dimly lit room, thinking how she had been in the clinic since his arrival.  He studied her closely as he stroked her hand, careful of the small plastic tubes inserted there, carrying blood and other fluids.  The ventilator’s hissing sounds filled the space around them.  He spoke softly to her, whispering his words.

“Kathryn, you keep doing this to me.  If you were a cat, you’d probably be on your last life now.”  He shook his head and swallowed, feeling a lump in his throat.  “You scare the hell out of me, you know that?”  He felt a few tears slip down his face and wiped at them quickly.  He looked up sharply as Miriam approached him.

“Chakotay, she’ll be fine.  You, however, badly need to get some rest.  I’ll call you immediately if there’s any change but I know there won’t be.  She’ll need you more tomorrow and you’ll be better able to help her if you’re well rested and fed.”  Her eyes were kind as she smiled at him.  He smiled back and nodded.

“You’re right, Miriam.  Everyone is right tonight and I’m wrong.  I’m not seeing too clearly.”  Miriam patted his arm.

“You’ve had a tough night, Chakotay.  You’ve every excuse to feel as you do.  Go on now.  Get some sleep and come back in the morning.”  Chakotay smiled and nodded then stood slowly.  He looked down at Kathryn, the tube which extended down her throat to breathe for her, taped in place.  He bent down and kissed her softly on the cheek.

“You rest well, love.  I’ll see you in the morning.  Don’t think you’ll escape the lecture though.”  He stood up straight and smiled once again at Miriam.  “She gives me a hard time…”  Miriam stood back to let him pass.

“The best ones always do but they’re worth it.”  Chakotay looked back at Kathryn and smiled to himself.

“Yeah…they are…”

^^^^^^^^^^



ON TO PART SIX.



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