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 SIX.


Voyager’s Doctor was in the clinic early the next morning examining his patient when Duncan came in.  He immediately joined him.

“How’s she doing?  Cassa and Miriam said she had a good night.”  The EMH looked up from his tricorder and smiled.

“She did.  There’s a vast improvement.  I think we can take her off the ventilator later this morning.  There’s a slight chest infection developing but an increase in the antibiotics will take care of that.  Her lung is healing nicely but I’d recommend nasal oxygen for a few hours to help her breathing…at least until this evening.  Ribs are also healing well.  Other than that, I’m happy with her progress.”  Duncan sighed in relief and nodded.

“She’s out of the woods then?  Off the critical list, so to speak?”  The Doctor looked towards Kathryn and nodded.

“She is.  There was a time when I was worried we’d lose her but…”  He shook his head.  “She lost a lot of blood during the surgery and then with her heart stopping…”  He looked into the eyes of the other man and saw the horror of the memory there.  Duncan squeezed his eyes closed and shook his head.

“I was terrified we were going to lose her.  When we couldn’t resuscitate her…get her heart re-started…”  He opened his eyes when he felt a hand on his arm.  The Doctor smiled gently at him.

“Duncan, we got her back.  That’s all we need to think about now.  We’ve replaced the blood she lost.  She’s had a good night and is a lot stronger now.  She’ll be fine.”  Duncan sighed heavily. 

“You’re right.  I have to let go of that and concentrate on now.  I just find it so hard to shake the terror of those hours last night…”  The EMH nodded slowly.

“It’s not easy but they’re over now.  We move on and help her with the rest.”  Duncan managed a small smile.

“I’ll try.”  He looked down at his hands a moment and then back at the Doctor.  “It’s Kathryn we need to think about now…and Chakotay.  He’s been to hell and back.  He handled everything so well last night.  He must have been sick with worry when you told him…”  He stopped as he saw the hologram look away and cough slightly.  “Doc?”  The Doctor looked back and shrugged.

“Actually…I didn’t tell him.”  Duncan gasped.

“Didn’t tell him what?  How bad it was…?”  The Doctor nodded and spread his hands out.

“You saw the state he was in…how worried he was.  The last thing I could do was tell him that she almost died on the table…did die on the table in fact…for almost five minutes.  I couldn’t say ‘oh, her heart stopped and we couldn’t get it going again.  It was just your average cardiac arrest.  We got her back after five minutes or so.  She also lost almost half the blood in her body from internal bleeding and from the surgery.  We struggled to replace it fast enough.’”  He threw his hands up.  “Could you have told him that after everything else that happened?  He had enough to cope with.  I don’t think he needed to know all that…”  The clipped voice behind them caused them both to spin around. 

“I think I had every right to know.  You had no business keeping the truth from me…”  Chakotay stood glaring at the EMH but they both saw how the blood had drained from his face.  The Doctor shook his head slowly.

“Chakotay, I’m sorry but I stand by my decision.  You had enough to cope with.  She was out of danger at that stage…”  Chakotay snorted and made straight for the two men.

“That’s not what you said a few minutes ago.  You only seemed to decide that when she came through the night all right…”  He moved forward suddenly, his eyes seeking out Kathryn's bed.  “I take it she did come through the night all right?  You’re not lying about that, are you?”  Duncan laid a hand on Chakotay’s arm, drawing back the man’s attention.

“Chakotay, we’re not lying to you about that.  She’s a lot better this morning.  She’s completely out of danger.  The Doctor didn’t lie to you either way.  He just didn’t tell you…”  Chakotay pulled his arm away.

“That’s splitting hairs Duncan.  I had a right to know.”  He stared hard at the two men and saw them both stare at the ground.  Finally the Doctor looked up.

“Look Chakotay, I’m sorry.  I agree you should have been told but last night I had to make my decision and I made it based on what I saw.  You were very upset and worried sick.  I knew Kathryn was past the worst and I decided that you didn’t need anything else to add to what you already had to cope with.  Had I told you, you’d have insisted on staying here all night and you needed to rest.  Had her condition changed during the night, I’d have called you immediately.  As it is, she’s fine now and you’ve had a good night’s rest.  I still believe I did the right thing.”  Chakotay just stared at him for several minutes, running the Doctor’s words through his mind.  Eventually he nodded.

“All right.  Maybe you’re right but still…”  He shook his head.  “Please God, there won’t be a next time but if there ever is…”  He hardened his expression.  “You will never hide anything from me again…especially where Kathryn is concerned.  Is that clear?”  There was no menace in his voice but the message was there to be understood.  The Doctor nodded solemnly.

“You have my word.”  Chakotay nodded and sighed.  Duncan sighed also, glad the truth was out.  There was a moment’s silence before Chakotay spoke again.

“We’ll let it go then.  Now…tell me how she is this morning and I want the truth.  What about the swelling?”  The Doctor handed Duncan the tricorder he held and pointed to the readings.

“I was just about to discuss that with Duncan.  He’ll confirm my readings.  It’s down a little.  The surgery took care of a lot of the damage but the paralysis is still there.  I’m hoping it’ll just take time and that her own natural healing ability will take care of it.  She won’t have any feeling in her legs when she regains consciousness and that’ll scare her.”  Chakotay looked from one to the other.

“Is there a chance that the paralysis will remain…that she may not walk again?”  He stared evenly at the Doctor, demanding the truth.  The EMH held his eyes and nodded.

“There is a chance, but I believe…”  Chakotay looked to Duncan now.

“You agree that there’s also a chance she won’t walk again?”  Duncan studied the tricorder a moment and then looked up.  His discomfort was clearly evident.

“Chakotay, we can’t say.  You have to believe that.  For myself, I believe that once the swelling goes down, the feeling will return…”  Chakotay drew in a deep breath.

“Thank you for your honesty.”  He looked at them both.  “I need to know because I can only help Kathryn when I’m armed with the full facts.”  The Doctor placed a hand on Chakotay’s shoulder.

“I can understand that, Chakotay, and I know Kathryn.  She’ll demand that same truth and she’ll know when we’re lying to her.  However, I want her looking at the best possible picture…the positive in all this.  If she sees that you believe then she will also.”  He took his hand away.  “I’ll tell you what I really believe.  I believe she’ll have no feeling below the waist while the swelling is still there.  As it subsides, I believe the feeling will come back gradually.  It’ll just take time.  She’ll need plenty of physiotherapy and maybe…just maybe…further surgery, but I don’t think so.  She needs to take plenty of rest…of the body and the mind…and be patient.  Once the swelling goes down…and it will…we’ll know more then.  However, as I said, I believe the feeling will return.”  Chakotay watched the Doctor carefully, trying to gauge his words.  Finally he seemed satisfied.

“All right.  Once I know what’s happening…”  He nodded to himself and then closed his eyes.  When he opened them again he looked up, reminding Duncan of a little boy.  “I wanted to be here earlier.  No one woke me…”  Duncan smiled softly and accepted the change of subject as the end of the matter.  He looked at the Doctor and saw that the Medic also accepted the closure.  He handed the tricorder back to his colleague and then smiled softly at Chakotay. 

“That’s because you needed the rest and Kathryn was fine.”  Chakotay nodded and looked towards Kathryn again.  He looked back briefly at the two men. 

“You really believe she’ll walk again?  As before?”  It was as if he needed a final confirmation of their belief.  Both medics nodded.  Duncan placed a hand on Chakotay’s shoulder.

“We do.  It’ll just take time and…”  He feigned a groan, determined to ease any remaining tension and worry.  “Oh God…obedience and patience…and this is Kathryn we’re talking about…”  They all laughed, needing the release.  Chakotay licked at his lips.

“Oh, she’ll follow your orders.  I’ll make sure of that.  If I have to tie her down…”  Duncan leaned in and whispered to Chakotay.  He was on a roll now.

“Eh…Chakotay…  Maybe it would be better to wait until she makes a full recovery before you get into all that…  I’m as broad minded as the next guy but…”  The EMH snapped his tricorder shut and made for the door.

“Time I was out of here.  I’ve better things to think about…”  Duncan laughed and called after him.

“You don’t know what you’re missing Doc.”  The Doctor turned and smiled.

“Don’t I?  What makes you think I haven’t been programmed in that department as well…”  He turned and left, leaving a stunned Duncan behind.  He turned to Chakotay now.

“Is he?  Is he really…?”  Chakotay bit his lip to try and keep a straight face but failed miserably.  He nodded now.

“Actually, he is.  He can…perform…just like you and me…  He and Seven…”  Duncan just kept staring at Chakotay.

“You’re kidding me.  I don’t believe…”  He blew out a breath and laughed.  “Who’d have thought…  Can I tell Jonathan about this…?”  Chakotay laughed, delighting in the brief respite.

“He makes no secret of it.  He’s quite proud of it in fact.  From what I’ve heard, he can actually out perform us mere mortals.  Have you never tried the holo technology?”  Duncan was like a wide-eyed teenager now.

“I’ve heard about it but never had access to it.”  He looked around him a moment to make sure no one else was around.  He looked embarrassed.  “Have…have you ever…?  I mean…”  Chakotay decided to put the man out of his misery.

“Between you and me…yes I have.  Most of the crew have.  It’s pretty good, but for me nothing matches the real thing.  Physically it’s great because the computer senses everything and reacts accordingly.  I guess though it can be just too perfect.  Not like real life.  There’s also the most important thing missing…  Love…and a natural response…  On the holodeck, your partner is programmed to react to you so it’s not really you pleasing him or her…”  Duncan shook his head in amazement then looked towards Kathryn.  He caught himself and turned back.  Chakotay smiled and nodded.

“Yes, she has.  She’s not ashamed to admit it.  Remember, we were out there for seven years…”  Duncan groaned and smiled at the same time.

“God…that’s torture…  Still though…I mean…if you had the love as in a couple and joined that with the holo technology…you’d get the best of both worlds…”  He stopped then and looked embarrassed.  “Sorry…  I need to clean my mind after all this…”  Chakotay moved towards Kathryn.

“When all this is over…maybe you and Jonathan can visit Voyager’s holodecks
and…”  He saw the other man’s eyes widen and then a slow smile spread across his face.

“You wouldn’t mind…and you’d keep this to yourself…?”  Chakotay grew serious a moment.

“Duncan, all joking aside…I owe you so much.  I’ll never be able to repay you for what you’ve done for Kathryn.  If I could build you your own personal holodeck, I’d do it.”  Duncan backed away jokingly.

“Whoa…  then we’d never get any work done here…  A visit will be just fine.”  They both smiled at each other, the lightness of the moment having done them both good.  They nodded to each other now as real life came back to them.  Duncan smiled softly.

“She’ll be fine Chakotay.  We’ll take her off the ventilator later this morning and she should come round sometime this afternoon once we reduce the sedative in her system.  After that, we just take it a day at a time and work her back to full health.  Knowing Kathryn, she’ll push it and get frustrated but we’ll get her there.”  Chakotay sat down beside her and took her hand.

“I believe that now.  After this though, I’m wrapping her in cotton wool and carrying her everywhere.”  Duncan laughed as he left the room.

“I wish you luck friend.  She’s one strong willed woman.  Try that and I’ll be treating you on a regular basis…”

^^^^^^^^^^

As Chakotay spent the morning sitting with Kathryn, Jonathan and Lorcha spent theirs with Julie, trying to coax the child into accepting that she wasn’t at fault.  She had cried almost non-stop since getting back from the ruins.

“It’s all my fault…I nearly killed Mommy Kathryn…and she’ll hate me now and Daddy Chakotay will hate me…  And I didn’t get to put my flowers there because the wind blew them away and now the God won’t give me my wish and they’ll all leave…”  She looked up with tears streaming down her small face.  “Is the animal God angry?  Is that why he did all this?  Did I do it wrong?  Did he hurt Mommy Kathryn because I was bad?”  Lorcha pulled the child into her arms and wiped at her tears.

“You listen to me, honey.  No one…no one…is angry at you.  No one hates you.  We all love you very much.  Mommy Kathryn still loves you and doesn’t blame you and neither does Daddy Chakotay.  He’ll tell you that himself when he sees you later.  He just needs to help Mommy Kathryn at the moment.  Nothing that happened was your fault.  The animal God didn’t make anything happen because he’s not real.  The people who lived here all those years ago just believed in him.  It’s just a piece of stone now.  What happened to Mommy Kathryn was an accident and she’ll be fine…”  Julie squirmed in her arms.

“But she’s hurt and I did that…  She has lots of pain and I made that happen…”  Jonathan leaned over and stroked her cheek.

“Julie, it was an accident.  Everyone has accidents from time to time.  It was the storm that caused the tree to fall…not you.  And you know that Mommy Kathryn will be fine.  She won’t feel any pain because Daddy Duncan and Mommy Cassa will make sure of that.  What you will do though, is make her sad and you don’t want to do that…”  Julie looked at them both with fear in her eyes.

“I don’t want to make her sad…”  Jonathan smiled softly.

“But if you blame yourself for what happened, that will make her very sad.”  Julie thought about that.

“I can’t help it.  I went there and she came to find me.”  Lorcha cuddled the child to her.

“Julie, listen to me.  What happened is over and everyone will be all right.  I know you won’t ever go off again on your own without telling anyone…”  Julie shook her head.

“I won’t…I swear…”  Lorcha smiled.

“Mommy Kathryn did the same thing, you know.  She went after you and didn’t tell anyone either so…”  Julie’s small eyes widened.

“She was bold too?”  Jonathan and Lorcha both laughed.  Jonathan tweaked Julie’s nose.

“Well…it’s not that either of you was bold…but…you both shouldn’t have gone off without telling someone else.  I think some punishment is in order for you both.”  Julie bit at her lip as she waited to know what was waiting for her.  Jonathan pretended to think.  “Ice cream…and…lemonade…  I think it should be your job to bring Mommy Kathryn all the ice cream and lemonade she needs…kind of like a personal servant to her.  She has a sore throat and it will help her.  Of course if she can’t eat all that you bring…you’ll have to help her with it…”  Julie curled into Lorcha now and giggled.

“What’s Mommy Kathryn's punishment…?”  Jonathan smirked and shared a sly look with Lorcha.

“Oh, I think Daddy Chakotay will be taking care of that one…”  Lorcha turned away to try and stop herself laughing.  She knew if she looked at Jonathan she’d crack up.  Julie frowned and thought a moment.

“Will he spank her?”  Lorcha had just gotten herself under control and had turned back to look at Jonathan.  At Julie’s words, she lost it.  She bit down heavily on her lower lip and quickly handed the girl to Jonathan.

“Excuse me a moment…”  She raced for the kitchen.  Jonathan bit his own lip and handed a very confused Julie to one of the women.

“I’ll be back…”  He also raced for the kitchen.  When he entered, he found Lorcha bent over the table with a tea towel stuffed in her mouth and tears of laughter streaming down her face.  She took one look at Jonathan and picked up another towel, tossing it at him.  It was twenty minutes before they were ready to go back into the day room.

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay was sitting beside Kathryn holding her hand when she began to regain consciousness.  He had stood back earlier as Duncan had removed the tube from her throat, cringing as she had gagged on it, her hands involuntarily going to her face.  Cassa had gently restrained her as Duncan suctioned away a little vomit.  Within minutes she had relaxed.  They had then removed one of the intravenous lines which had been replacing the blood Kathryn had lost during her surgery, leaving her only on fluids.  They left the chest drain as well.

Chakotay watched her carefully now, the nasal oxygen tube still in place.  Once again her hand went to her face and he reached for it, holding it gently away.

“Kathryn…?”  She groaned again and moved her head, subconsciously following the sound of his voice.  “Kathryn… open your eyes, honey…”  She moaned softly and licked at her dry lips.

“Chakotay…”  Her voice was hoarse as she slowly opened her eyes and fought to focus on his face.  He saw her confusion and then watched as her memory began to fill in the blanks.  He was ready for her when she tried to sit up.  “Julie…”  He eased her back against the pillows as a fit of coughing took hold, pain etched across her face.

“Easy Kathryn.  Julie is just fine.  You both are.”  She tried to sit up again and suddenly fell against him, grabbing frantically for his arms.

“Dizzy…falling…”  He eased her back again.

“Don’t try to push yourself.  Just take it easy.”  He waited for her to get her coughing under control.

“Throat sore…”  He nodded and then eased her up a little, holding her firmly to let her sip at some water.

“Just sip at it.  Don’t gulp…”  She nodded and took small sips.  He eased her back down again and smiled softly at her.  Her hand went back to her face and he lowered it again.

“It’s just nasal oxygen.  To help you breathe a little easier.”  She nodded her understanding.  She then felt down her side under the covers, her eyes silently asking the question.  Chakotay smiled gently.

“It’s a chest drain.  I think they’ll take it out tomorrow or the next day.  It’s OK.  You broke a few ribs and punctured your lung again.  It’s healing very well.”  She nodded again and Chakotay saw her assessing herself and waited for the panic to set in.  Her eyes suddenly widened in fear.

“Chakotay…I can’t…what’s…my legs…I can’t feel…”  He leaned over and stroked her face, soothing her.

“It’s only for a little while.  You’ll be fine.  Trust me.  I’ve spoken to Duncan and the Doctor.  Just take it easy for a few minutes.  Breathe slowly.”  He was quiet for several minutes, letting her get her bearings.  He could almost see her mind working as she tried to sort everything out.  Finally she looked at him, her eyes filled with uncertainty and panic.  Chakotay took a deep breath.  “I know you’ve only just woken up but can you talk about this?”  Kathryn nodded.  Chakotay stroked her arm gently. 

“Do you remember what happened…?  Talk slowly now…  Take your time…”  He watched as she thought and then slowly nodded.  She spoke hesitantly and in a whisper.

“The storm…Julie out there…went after her…”  Chakotay nodded.

“That’s right and we’ll talk about that later.  What else?”  Kathryn eyed him warily.

“Knew where she was.  Jack said and I guessed.  She told me…there with you…the God…”  Chakotay still didn’t say anything and let her continue.  “Didn’t think…she was out there alone…I knew where…so I went…”  She bit her lip, knowing how wrong she had been.  “I’m sorry…I didn’t think…”  Chakotay nodded.

“We’ll talk about that later, as I said.  What else do you remember?”  Kathryn sighed.  She looked to her left as Duncan came into the room.  When he said nothing she went on, her voice a little stronger now, her eyes staring at nothing as she remembered.

“Got to the ruins…scraped my leg.  The storm was so bad.  I saw her there…kneeling against the altar…  She was so upset.  Said we didn’t love her anymore…were leaving her…”  Tears filled her eyes now.  “I ignored her…let her down…wasn’t there for her.  It’s my fault…”  Chakotay squeezed her hand.

“Mine too but we’ll sort that out later on as well.  What else…?”  Kathryn sighed and coughed slightly, drawing in the pure oxygen through her nose for a few moments.

“I don’t know.  I remember her backing away from me and then…”  She shook her head as she remembered.  “Oh God…she slipped…fell in the river and it was so wild…  I just jumped in after her…didn’t think the water would be so strong…”  Chakotay groaned inwardly as he thought how lucky he was to have her here with him now.  Kathryn saw his pain and squeezed his hand back.  “What else could I do?  Let her drown?”  He shook his head but said nothing.  “I got her back…but it was some struggle…something struck my face…my ankle…didn’t think I’d make it…  I swallowed a lot of water…fingers couldn’t grip in the mud…”  She looked towards Duncan now.

“Is that why…the cough…the oxygen…?”  Duncan moved a little closer and nodded.

“You have a mild chest infection from the dirty water you swallowed.  You’ll be fine.  We have you on antibiotics.  The oxygen will just help your breathing for a few hours yet…then we’ll take it off…”  Kathryn nodded and then turned back to Chakotay.

“Things are mixed up a little but…”  She was quiet a moment as she thought and then sighed.  “We were coming back…and there was lightening…a fork…hit the tree…”  Chakotay and Duncan saw the pain the memory brought back.  Kathryn's tears welled up again.  “I saw it fall…she was right there…under it…”  She shook her head.  “I ran at her…shoved her…and then…”  She looked at Chakotay.  “I felt it hit me…the tree…felt pain…and…”  She shook her head again.  “A lot of it is blurred in my mind.  I remember Julie…so terrified…shaking me…pain…telling her to go back…  She tried to lift the tree and I shouted at her not to…  I kept telling her to go back and I thought she wouldn’t and then she was gone and I was alone…”  She was breathless after the rush of words.  Chakotay reached over and wiped at some tears which had fallen down the side of her face.

“Take it more slowly, love…”  She barely nodded.

“I was scared then.  Would she get back…?  Would someone come…?”  She bit her lip and looked straight into Chakotay’s eyes.  “The pain went…it left…and then I was most scared…all feeling leaving me…and…I guess I passed out.  I don’t remember it.”  Chakotay bit down hard on his own lip to keep control of his emotions.  Duncan moved behind him and looked down at his patient. 

“Chakotay, give me a moment to check her over…”  Chakotay nodded and stood, hating having to let go of her hand.  He smiled down at her and then moved away.  Duncan scanned his patient and then nodded.

“You’re doing fine…”  Kathryn stared tearfully up at him.

“Except I can’t feel my legs…”  She swallowed hard.  “Tell me the truth.  Will I be paralysed?”  They both saw the deep fear in her eyes.  Duncan smiled gently and shook his head.  He knew she deserved his total honesty and would demand it anyway.  He drew in a steadying breath.

“No, Kathryn…I don’t believe so.  It’s looking very good.  There’s a lot of swelling in the area and you had surgery last night.  Thank God your own Doctor was here.  He pulled off some miracle.  Most amazing surgery I’ve ever seen…”  His eyes misted over a moment as he remembered.  He shook himself and smiled back down at Kathryn. 

“The swelling needs to go down and the injuries you received need to heal.  He practically had to regenerate parts of your spinal cord and there were several fractures.  The bruising…internal and external…was extensive but he healed that.  Your ankle was also broken but that was easy.  It was a hairline fracture.  Probably why you were able to walk on it for a while.”  He took her hand in his.  “He’ll explain it better to you.  Just know that it’ll take a few days…maybe a week at most…for the swelling to subside.  The feeling should come back in time after that.  You need to take it easy, do as you’re told and be patient…”  He looked back at Chakotay and laughed.  When he turned back to Kathryn, he was still laughing.

“We were joking earlier about how in your case taking orders and patience aren’t on good terms…”  Kathryn just stared at him.

“I was lying here unconscious and you were all joking about me…?”  Duncan shrugged.

“It wasn’t like you were dying or anything…”  His banter was good for her and both men saw it.  It took some of the fear and worry out of the situation for her.  She made a face at Duncan now.

“Go on then…  Tell me the rest…”  Duncan sighed, growing serious again.

“That’s basically it.”  He shook his head.  “Kathryn…you were very lucky.  The Gods were watching over you.  You had some pretty severe spinal injuries but thanks to your Doctor…”  Chakotay leaned forward.

“And Duncan’s fine work out at the ruins…”  Kathryn raised an eyebrow in question and Duncan shook his head.

“You had some broken ribs…one of which punctured the same lung you punctured before.  I put in a chest drain…kept your airway clear…nothing else…”  Chakotay wasn’t finished.

“Rigged up a spinal board.  Made sure your back was protected…and your neck…  Got you back here…”  Duncan turned and glared at Chakotay now.

“Do you mind?”  Chakotay shook his head and smiled.

“No.  I don’t mind at all.  Just telling it like it was.  Just making sure you take the credit you deserve.”  He smiled slyly.  “This wasn’t the holodeck, you know.”  The message went home and Duncan glared at him again.

“All right.  I take some of the credit.  OK?”  Chakotay smiled sweetly and nodded.  Kathryn watched the exchange.

“Am I missing something…?”  Duncan gave one last shooting glare at Chakotay and then turned back to Kathryn.

“Nothing at all.  Remind me to arrange a physical for Chakotay, won’t you?”  Kathryn looked from one man to the other and back.  She shook her head.

“I’ll ask later.  I wouldn’t be able for it just yet.”  She looked up at Duncan.  “What else…?”  Duncan gave Chakotay a sweet smile of satisfaction and then turned back to his patient.

“Once the feeling begins to come back, we’ll increase your physiotherapy.  I’ll start you on some straight away but we’ll increase it as the feeling returns.  You just have to take it easy and work with us on this.  Don’t worry, you’ll live.  We’re one hundred percent sure of that.”  Duncan meant his remarks as a joke, something to lighten the mood and make his patient feel better.  Kathryn wasn’t fooled though and her eyes widened, reading her friend better than he believed she could.

“There was a time when you weren’t sure of that, wasn’t there?”  Duncan looked shocked for a moment at the directness of her question but then nodded seriously.

“I’ll be honest Kathryn.  There was a time out there when I wasn’t sure we’d even get you back here alive.”  He looked away from her shocked expression for a moment.  When he turned back his face was deadly serious with some anger showing.  “Don’t you ever dare go off like that on your own again.  You tell someone and we go together.  You hear me?”  Kathryn was shocked at the harshness of his words but she knew he meant them with the best intentions.  It told her just how worried they had all been and how close to dying she had come…how close to losing the ability to walk again.  She nodded, her face as serious as his.

“I know.  And I’m sorry Duncan.  I just didn’t think.”  Duncan coughed a little and then nodded.

“Yes well…don’t do it again.  We’ll say no more.”  He was covering his emotion and they all knew it.  He put on a smile and let go of her hand.  “I’ll leave you two alone for a while.  I’ll be back to see you later.  Your Doctor will also come by.  I’ll make my report to him now.”  He nodded again and then turned to leave.  Kathryn's voice called him back.

“Duncan…?”  He turned and came back to the end of her bed.  Kathryn stared at him a moment.  “While we’re on this…”  She swallowed.  “I know you well and there’s something you’re not telling me.”  Duncan said nothing when Kathryn gave him a moment to reply.  She nodded thoughtfully.  “OK then…two questions and I’d like the truth.  No sugar coating.”  He nodded slowly.  “One…how close did I really come to…not making it…?”  Duncan sighed heavily as Kathryn pushed on.  “Two…  Is there any chance that I won’t walk again?  Is there the possibility that this paralysis could be permanent?  I want the truth, Duncan.  I deserve that.”  She kept her eyes on her friend, afraid to look at Chakotay.  She saw him peripherally move to her and felt him take her hand in his but he remained silent, knowing she needed to ask this.  Duncan looked down at his hands for a moment and then met her eyes.  He cleared his throat.

“OK Kathryn.  I’ll tell you.”  His voice was racked with emotion.  “Getting you back here was a nightmare.  I was terrified we’d jar you in some way and cause further injury to your back.  Maybe even kill you.  Working out there…putting in the chest drain in those conditions was hell…keeping your airway clear…  I could hear water in your lungs…was terrified of secondary drowning…”  He closed his eyes and shook his head.  “After we got you back…and into surgery…”  He looked up and met her eyes. 

“You died on the table.”  Kathryn felt the blood drain from her face and felt Chakotay squeeze her hand tightly.  She nodded slightly but said nothing.  Duncan drew in a deep breath.

“We lost you for a time.  Your heart stopped for about five minutes and we couldn’t re-start it.  It felt like five hours.  Eventually we got you back thanks to your Doctor.  He actually prevented any brain damage by placing icepacks around your head.  You also lost a massive amount of blood during the surgery…from internal bleeding and from the surgery itself.  We struggled to replace it but finally it turned our way.  He re-inflated your lung but left the chest drain in because he didn’t want to keep you on the table any longer than he had to.  It’s an old way but it’s working just fine.”  He stopped now and stared at his friend.  She seemed in shock but she held it together.

“Well…I asked…”  She breathed in the oxygen and took a moment.  “And my legs…?”  Duncan cleared his throat again.

“There’s a lot of swelling.  That has to go down before the feeling can come back.”  Kathryn nodded.

“You said.  What I need to know is…  What are the chances that it won’t…?”  She swallowed loudly.  “What are…?”  Duncan interrupted her.

“I know what you’re asking.  I can’t really say to the exact…”  He shook his head.  “What do you want, Kathryn?  Precise calculations?”  Kathryn fought to hold her emotions in check and nodded.

“I need to know.”  Duncan rolled his eyes.

“I can’t answer that.”  Kathryn continued to stare at him.

“Try.”  Duncan threw his hands up.

“For God’s sake Kathryn…that’s not fair.  I believe you’ll walk again.  Isn’t that enough?”  He watched her shake her head and gripped the end of the bed.  He also saw her fight to hold onto a tenuous control.  “All right.  I would have to say there’s a twenty to thirty percent chance you won’t walk again.”  He saw that hit her hard and instantly regretted his honesty, but knew the woman before him wouldn’t have let it go.  He glanced up at Chakotay and saw the pain on his face.  He looked back at Kathryn then.

“You’re the one who always beats the odds, Kathryn Janeway.  You’ll beat these odds too.  You know that.”  Kathryn looked away a moment, out across the room at nothing in particular.  Both men saw her fight her emotions.  Finally she won and looked back at Duncan.

“Thank you, my friend.  For your honesty and your belief in me.  I’ll try my best not to let you down.”  She looked down then at her hand, held tightly by Chakotay’s.  Duncan took this as his cue to leave.  He looked down at his own hands and saw that his knuckles were white where he gripped the end of the bed.  He released them and felt pain in his hands. 

“I’ll call in and see you in a while.”  Not knowing what else to say, he turned and left.

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay sat down again beside Kathryn as he heard the door close behind Duncan.  He still held her hand in his.  Suddenly he felt the weight of the entire situation press down on him.  He was silent for a moment and just looked at their joined hands, stroking his fingers over the back of her hand around the needle inserted there.  Finally he looked up at her, deep emotion written all over his face.

“Kathryn Janeway…you’ve got to stop running from me.  You can’t keep doing this to me.  I can’t take it.  You age me woman.”  His attempt at humour failed and Kathryn saw how upset he really was.

“Chakotay…”  He interrupted her.

“You heard Duncan.  The odds are in your favour and I know you.  I know nothing can beat you and this is no different.  It’ll just take time.  You’ll get back the use of your legs again.  In the meantime, I’m not leaving your side.”  His voice sounded choked.  Kathryn turned her hand and squeezed his.

“Chakotay, I’m fine.”  She forced a laugh.  “Apart from feeling I’m going to fall because I can’t feel my legs…  I thought I’d tumble right out of the bed earlier.  Probably would have if I hadn’t grabbed onto you…”  Her attempt to sugar coat the situation failed.  Chakotay appeared to ignore it and she saw how upset he still was.

“I’m not letting you out of my sight.  The pain of almost losing you…the thought of it…”  They stared at each other, both knowing they were talking about so much more than the present situation.  Kathryn swallowed the lump in her throat and nodded slowly. 

“Chakotay, I’m sorry…  I never meant to cause you this kind of pain…”  Chakotay shook his head, too caught up in his own emotions to really hear her.

“When I saw you out there…lying under…”  Kathryn gripped his arm tightly to get his attention, tears filling her eyes.

“Chakotay, I’m here.  I didn’t mean to put you through all that but I had to go after her.  It’s the way I am…who I am.  I can’t be otherwise.”  Chakotay stared deeply into her eyes, silent for a few minutes.  Finally he sighed and looked away for a moment.  He swallowed loudly and then looked back at her.

“I’m sorry too Kathryn.  I know it’s the way you are and if I’m honest, I wouldn’t change that because it’s part of who you are and I love you for it.  You just scare the hell out of me.”  Kathryn wiped at her tears as they smiled understandingly at each other.  Chakotay sighed and shook his head then rubbed a hand over his tired eyes.

“OK.  How about this?  When you’ve recovered, you can be yourself again.  You can take your risks, act without thinking about the danger to yourself, save the universe…”  Kathryn went to defend herself but one look from Chakotay warned her off.  He was in his ‘he man’ mode.  “For now, what I say goes and I’m backed up by Duncan and the Doctor.  We can talk and decide everything else later on.”  He sat back in his chair.  “For the moment, you need help.  We need to help you get back on your feet…in every way that means.”  Kathryn shook her head.

“Chakotay, I can’t ask…”  Chakotay tried to put on a stern expression and failed but Kathryn knew he was serious.

“Let me put it to you this way.  For seven years, you carried us…me and this crew…and now it’s our turn to carry you for a while.  You sacrificed so much for us.  You gave up your life and your happiness…”  Kathryn bit heavily on her lower lip.

“I gave you up…  I regret that so much…”  She broke down suddenly and Chakotay sat up on the side of the bed and leaned her against him gently, knowing now that any sudden movement would upset her feelings of balance.  He rocked her slowly for a while and then whispered softly to her.

“Let it all out, Kathryn.  You need to get this out.  You went through a terrible trauma last night.  Just let go.  Let it all out for everything…all that’s happened since we got home…even before that.  Cleanse yourself.  I’m here for you.”  Kathryn sobbed heavily against him, burrowing her face into his chest.

^^^^^^^^^^

Finally Kathryn had cried herself out and pulled back a little from Chakotay.  She rubbed at her red and swollen eyes.  She tried a weak smile and sniffed loudly.

“Oh God…I’m sorry for that.  I badly needed it but I’m sorry you had to see it…”  Chakotay took her face between his hands, this thumbs wiping away some tears.

“I’m just happy that I can be here for you and that you let me.  So many times, I wasn’t.  You said a moment ago about being sorry for the pain you caused me…well…you don’t hold that monopoly.  I’ve caused you a vast amount of pain too.  I’m sorry for all I put you through.  I made so many mistakes but I’m here now for the full trip if you’ll have me.”  Kathryn leaned into him again and clung to him.

“I’ve missed you so much.  I love you so much…have for so long.”  Kathryn eased herself back a little from him and looked deeply into his eyes.  “Chakotay, we both made mistakes but that’s past…  If this is to work, we need to leave that past behind us.  We’ve already discussed this and agreed on it.  We take the good memories but the pain stays back there.”  Chakotay cupped her cheek and used his thumb to tenderly stroke her lips.

“Kathryn Janeway, I love you with everything that I am.  Not even death will take me from your side again.”

When Miriam came in a while later to check her patient she found them lying together, Chakotay just holding Kathryn.  Without making a sound, she crept backwards out of the room, smiling to herself.

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay came in to see Kathryn the next morning after her first physiotherapy session.  He immediately noticed how flushed she looked.  He nodded to Voyager’s Doctor and smiled at Kathryn.

“Been working you hard, has he?”  Kathryn actually growled.

“Just because he doesn’t tire, he forgets the rest of us do.  He’s a sadist…”  The Doctor shook his head.

“No pain…no gain.  Your words, my dear woman.  You demanded that I work on when I considered you’d done enough for the day.”  Kathryn just folded her arms and put on a sulking expression.  The Doctor gathered his things together and looked at Chakotay.  “Stubborn too.  Simply cannot admit when she’s in the wrong.”  He lifted his bag.  “Same time tomorrow?”  Kathryn just glared at him.  “I’ll take that as a ‘yes’ then…  See you later, Chakotay.  Good luck.”  Smiling to himself, he left them alone.

Chakotay inched towards the bed and pulled a bunch of wild flowers from behind his back.

“I come in peace and bearing gifts.  Is it safe?”  Kathryn's expression immediately softened and she reached for the flowers.

“Oh Chakotay, they’re beautiful.  Where did you find them?  I thought everything had died off by this time.”  Chakotay blushed.

“Actually, they’re from Voyager.  Replicated, I’m afraid.  Needs must and all that…”  Kathryn had her nose amongst the petals and inhaled deeply.

“It doesn’t matter.  They’re still beautiful.  Can you get some water for them…?”  Chakotay nodded and took the flowers, crossing the room and hunting for a vase in one of the cupboards beside the small sink there.  He called back to her.

“Did Duncan take out your chest drain?”  Kathryn lay back. 

“Earlier on.  He deadened the area first so it didn’t hurt.  It’s a just little tender now.”  She used her arms to pull herself up a bit in the bed.  “God, I’m sore after that.  I can’t feel below the waist and I’m still sore.”  Chakotay found a vase and filled it, placing the flowers in it.

“It’ll be worth it in the end.  Just don’t push yourself too hard.”  He brought the vase back to the bed and placed it on the side locker.  “There.  Nice and bright.”  Kathryn gazed at the flowers for a minute and nodded.  She turned back to Chakotay then as he sat down and smiled at the grin on his face.

“What…?”  Chakotay shook his head.

“I was just thinking…something along the lines of ‘we’ll have to stop meeting like this’…”  The grin fell away from his face suddenly.  “Sorry…not a very good joke…not funny at all…”  Kathryn smiled and shook her head.

“You haven’t seen much of me outside of this place have you?”  When he saw that she wasn’t upset by his words, he smiled also.

“True.  You know, if you’d wanted to keep your bed here you could have just asked.”  Kathryn nodded at that.

“I guess I didn’t have to go to these lengths…”  They smiled at each other until the seriousness of the situation came back to them.  They were silent for a few moments.  Chakotay reached over and stroked her arm.

“It’ll be fine love.  You’ll see.”  Kathryn nodded and bit at her lip.  They were quiet for a moment more as Kathryn stared down at her legs.  She suddenly looked back at Chakotay as a thought struck her.

“Chakotay…have you spoken with Julie?  I thought she’d be in to see me but…”  Chakotay shook his head.

“I looked for her earlier but Lorcha was talking with her.  Jonathan said they’ve finally made her realize that all this wasn’t her fault.  She felt really bad for a time.  Accordingly to him, guilt was overwhelming her.  He and Lorcha both talked with her yesterday and…”  He laughed.  “I have to tell you what he told me…”  He related to Kathryn the story Jonathan had told him about their session with Julie the previous day.  Kathryn was wiping tears from her eyes by the time he finished.

“Oh God…what they must think of us.  Out of the mouths of babes though…”  Chakotay gasped for breath also.

“The pearls of wisdom…”  He finished the saying.  “I might have to see this through though…”  Kathryn's eyebrows shot up.

“I beg your pardon…?”  Chakotay shrugged and smiled evilly.

“You should be punished.  Julie suggested it.  Sounds fitting to me once you’re up and about again.”  Kathryn stared at him in shock.

“You wouldn’t dare…”  Chakotay shrugged again.

“I don’t know…  Julie got her punishment.  It’s only right that you get yours too.”  Kathryn shook her head.

“She gets my ice cream and lemonade.  I get…”  Chakotay leaned closer.

“You get…”  His lips curved into a slight smile.  “You get spanked and that leads to something far better than ice cream and lemonade.  If you catch my drift, that is…”  Kathryn saw the brief doubt in his eyes that maybe he was pushing things too far, that she might be offended or feel he was going too quickly for her.  She immediately put his mind at rest and smiled seductively.

“I guess I’d better hurry up and get the feeling back where I need it most then…”  Chakotay’s expression told her everything she needed to know.  She reached out and pulled him to her.  Within a second, they were kissing passionately.

^^^^^^^^^^

“Ahhh yuck….”  Kathryn and Chakotay broke apart guiltily from their kiss, their eyes flying towards the door.  One of the boys stood there, a half smile on his face.  Chakotay muttered under his breath to Kathryn.

“Give him a few years and he won’t think like that…”  Kathryn elbowed him.

“Jack…come in…”  The boy moved forward a little.

“I wanted to see you Mommy Kathryn and tell you to get well soon.  Julie wouldn’t come on her own because she’s a girl and she was scared.”  He stepped back into the doorway and his hand disappeared for a moment, only to reappear pulling a struggling Julie.  He looked at her.  “You owe me candy.  I came with you.”  He pushed her into the room and waved at Kathryn.  “Bye Mommy Kathryn.  Bye Daddy Chakotay.”  With that he was gone.

Kathryn bit the inside of her mouth to try and keep a straight face.  She saw Chakotay battle the same thing.  She looked towards Julie and all laughter left her.  All she saw was a very frightened girl, close to tears.  Kathryn didn’t bother with words.  She simply held out her arms.  The girl was flinging herself into them in under a second flat, crushing herself to Kathryn.

“I’m sorry…  I hurt you…  I’m sorry…”  Kathryn cradled the child to her as she whispered soothing noises to her.

“Hush, Julie.  I’m fine.  It wasn’t your fault.”  Julie continued to cry.

“It was.  I ran away and you had to come and find me and I fell and you got hurt because I fell and the tree fell and it hurt you and…”  Kathryn pulled the girl back from her a moment and took the small face in her hands.  Her own face was deadly serious.

“Julie, listen to me carefully now.  What happened was an accident.  It wasn’t anyone’s fault.  I’m to blame for not taking more time with you.  That was very wrong of me.  That hurt you and I know that.  I didn’t talk to you and explain what was going on and you got afraid.  That is my doing…not yours.”  She smiled softly.  “As to running off on your own…  I think we’ve both learned our lesson where that’s concerned.  We need to promise that we’ll never do that again.”  Julie nodded tearfully.

“I won’t.  I promise.”  Kathryn nodded.

“Good girl.  I promise too.  We also need to promise that we’ll always talk to each other in the future.  Don’t ever be afraid to come to me.  If anything is worrying you, we talk about it first.  Is that a deal?”  Julie nodded eagerly, her tears drying now.  She leaned back and looked nervously at Chakotay.

“You’re not mad at me…?”  Chakotay leaned across the bed and stroked the girl’s hair.

“No sweetheart, I’m not mad at you.  And what your Mommy Kathryn just said…that goes for me too.  We love you.  We’re sorry we weren’t around for you more.”  Julie leaned over and kissed the side of his face, leaving the big man close to tears.  She pulled back and then leaned in and hugged Kathryn tightly.  Kathryn hugged her back, rocking her back and forth as much as she could.

^^^^^^^^^^

As Kathryn cuddled Julie, Duncan came into the room and smiled at the scene before him.  He coughed slightly to get their attention.

“Sorry about this ladies…”  Kathryn looked up and Julie pulled back to look at Duncan.  The young doctor smiled at her.  “Julie…could you wait outside just for a few minutes?  I need to check Mommy Kathryn and give her some medicine…”  Julie nodded slowly and reluctantly climbed down off the bed.  “I’ll call you back in when she’s ready.  I promise.”  The girl nodded again and left, glancing back as she went.

Duncan smiled softly at Chakotay now.  He held up a tricorder and inclined his head towards the door.

“You too.  I need to check this lady over and lecture her if necessary.  It’s not always a pleasant sight…”  Chakotay smiled as he stood, almost laughing at the glare on Kathryn’s face.

“No problem.  I’ve no wish to witness this.  I’ve seen Kathryn reduce even a hologram to a state where he wanted to commit murder…”  He left quickly.  Kathryn continued to glare at Duncan.

“You’re giving me a terrible reputation as a patient…”  Duncan simply shrugged.

“My dear, I’m just reinforcing the reputation you already earned.  I’ve spoken with Voyager’s Doctor.  You’re a legend…”  He made a face at her.  “Now shut up and let me check you out…”  Kathryn rolled her eyes and leaned back, waiting patiently as Duncan did his scans and checked her over thoroughly.

“You’re doing fine…”  He straightened up.  “That wasn’t so bad now, was it?”  Kathryn’s expression conceded defeat on her behalf.  She leaned back and fixed her sheets.

“OK…so it wasn’t the worst.”  She folded her arms across her chest.  “So…what’s the verdict?  Will I live?”  Duncan rolled his eyes now.

“You’ll outlive us all.  You’re doing fine.”  Not wanting to discuss her condition in too much detail, he changed the subject.  “I see Julie finally came to see you…”  Kathryn’s expressed softened immediately and she smiled.

“It was great to see her.  I was worried about that little mite.”  She sighed heavily now.  “God, Duncan…I feel so bad about all that.  I wasn’t there for her…”  Duncan sat down on the side of her bed.

“Kathryn…”  She ignored him and continued speaking.

“I should have seen all that coming.  I mean, I hadn’t seen too much of her but I put that down to her mixing with the other kids more.  I missed her…and wondered how she was, but I thought…”  She sighed.  “I saw it as her gaining more independence…thought it was probably the only good thing to come out of everything that happened…that it was forcing her to mature and mix.  I missed her but I knew I wouldn’t have had it any other way…for her sake.  My missing her was a small price for that.”  She wiped at her eyes.

“I was so wrapped up in myself and with Chakotay…  I didn’t see it…that that’s what was keeping her away…that she was feeling left out and ignored…  She saw us together and thought we didn’t want or need her anymore…”  She wiped at a tear now.  “I should have seen all that…”  Duncan reached for her hand and stroked up and down her lower arm.

“Kathryn…how could you...?  We were all out there seeing her all the time and we didn’t notice anything with her…  We all just thought it was an extension of her newly found independence…”  He sighed and patted her hand.

“Kathryn…I’ve learned over the years that the only way to deal with something like this is to let it go.  Going back over and over what happened is useless.  We can’t go back and change things so it’s better to just leave them in the past.  What’s the expression?  You can’t un-ring a bell.  So let it go and move forward.  Beating yourself up over it and feeling guilty about it won’t get you anywhere.  It’s sorted now from what I saw when I came in here.  Just move forward from there.”  Kathryn nodded and wiped at a few more tears.  She sighed deeply.

“As usual, you’re right.”  Duncan stood up and closed his tricorder.

“I’m always right.  I just get tired of always having you remind everyone of that fact.”  He smiled softly.  “Shall I send your visitors back in?”  Kathryn wiped at her face again and nodded.

“Please.”  Duncan walked to the door and opened it.  “Lady and Gentleman…?”  Before the words were out of his mouth, Julie was pushing past him into the room.  She wasted no time in taking her earlier place on the bed, Kathryn’s arms going around her.

Chakotay stood in the doorway and watched them both.  He turned and smiled at Duncan then whispered softly to the man.

“I guess all is right is the world of Julie and Kathryn again…”  Duncan smiled and nodded as he left.

“And it sure warms the heart…”  Chakotay smiled at that and nodded also.  As Duncan left, he made his way over to the bed and sat down on the edge of it.  He nodded to himself at the tender scene before him and swallowed.  He reached over and rubbed his hand up and down Julie’s back.  He felt happy and sad at the same time.  He was delighted that Kathryn and Julie were back where they belonged, but a sadness filled him too.  He prayed that he and Kathryn still had enough time to perhaps have a child of their own.  He smiled across at Kathryn now as she looked at him and sighed.  She had so much love to give and so many qualities that would make her a perfect mother.  For that to be wasted would be the greatest loss of all.

^^^^^^^^^^

Over the next week Kathryn battled daily to regain the use of her legs.  Under Duncan’s instructions, Peter rigged up a bar over her bed.   It was comprised of a triangular metal piece, attached to a chain which connected to a metal bar which was then fitted to the wall behind her bed.  With this in place, Kathryn could use it to pull herself up and make herself more comfortable.  It also gave her some control as well as providing exercise for her arms. 

Chakotay stayed with her sometimes, but mostly he let the Doctor and Duncan work alone with her, knowing how uncomfortable and embarrassed she was with anyone seeing her in pain.  He also found it too difficult to watch. 

Instead he worked with some of the crew members as they continued their building work.  The weather had improved a little to become what Duncan described as their normal fall and resembled late summer on Earth.  They were able to work outdoors with only a light jacket or sweater.

Chakotay walked along with Tom one morning, carrying several tools and pieces of equipment.  Tom had a bruise on the side of his face and Chakotay remarked on it.  Tom simply blushed.

“Didn’t have time to get it treated this morning.  Jaal took Miral last night and we had the place to ourselves and…”  Chakotay groaned and laughed.

“Forget it.  I don’t want to know.”  Tom smirked.

“Oh, and you’re not into the rough stuff?  What about Kathryn's spanking…?”  Chakotay stopped and stared at his friend.

“How did you know about that?”  Tom stopped a few paces ahead of Chakotay and looked back, a grin on his face.

“Chakotay old friend, old man, you forget where it was said.  This place is no different than Voyager was as far as keeping secrets is concerned.  It was half way around the village within five minutes.  Fifteen I think for the entire place to know.  People are still laughing.”  Chakotay shook his head.

“I just hope no one says anything to Kathryn.”  He began walking again, reaching Tom in a few strides.  Tom moved with him.

“Ah now Chakotay, you wouldn’t deny the woman, would you?  She’s waited a long time for you.  Might as well make it worth while.”  Chakotay stopped again.

“Tom Paris, I’d quit while I was ahead if I were you.  I can always pass on some tips to B'Elanna…give her some ideas.”  Tom pretended to look nervous.

“OK Sir, message received and understood.”  Tom moved on ahead of Chakotay.  “These few cabins we’re building at the moment.  They’ll be nice and secluded…”  He let his meaning hang on the air.  Chakotay caught up with him.

“Very funny.  Now let it drop.”  They exchanged a grin and kept walking.  After several minutes’ silence Chakotay spoke again.

“Whose idea was this anyway?  I mean we’re building cabins out in the middle of nowhere…”  Tom shrugged.

“I’m not sure.  It’s like that with most ideas we work on.  Someone says one thing and someone else adds their ten cents’ worth and before you know it, we’re working on something and no one knows who thought of it first.  It was the same with this.  We just thought it would be a good idea to have somewhere away from the village.  If people…couples or family units…want to get away on their own for a while…well…this is the answer for them.  No matter how well we all get on, it’s nice to get away from everyone now and then.  Besides, quite a few couples have formed…not to mention those already in existence like Duncan and Jonathan…and they need somewhere away from prying eyes…”  Tom grinned at Chakotay, letting his real meaning be read.  Chakotay caught it and rolled his eyes.  Tom shifted the bag on his shoulder and freed a hand.  He patted Chakotay on the arm.  “Don’t be so sensitive, old man.  There’s a waiting list.  You and Kathryn aren’t the only ones who would benefit from this place.”  Chakotay made a face at Tom.

“Oh ha ha…glad to hear it.”  He adjusted the tools in his hands.  “What about communications?  There’d have to be some way for anyone staying here to get in touch with the others.”  Tom became serious again and nodded.

“The cabins…four of them…are well spaced apart but close enough at the same time.  They face onto the lake.  Each is equipped with a working replicator, a comm system and every other modern convenience you could want.  Just like the shelters in the village are.  It was so funny at the start, getting the women used to modern life again.  The kids were lost.  They’d never seen anything like it.  A few had but it was gone from their memory.”  Chakotay smiled sadly.

“They left a lot behind for safety.”  Tom nodded as they walked on.

“Safety wins any day.  Still though, it must have been difficult for some of them.  Many of those women came from wealthy families, and to leave that lifestyle and come to this…”  Chakotay looked around him at the woodland they were walking through.

“They’re brave women, I’ll say that.”  He looked up at the sound of a strange bird call then back at Tom.  He frowned slightly.  “It’s just registering in my brain now.  Did you say the cabins looked onto a lake?”  Tom nodded.

“That’s right.  Mike and Tuvok discovered it when they were doing a security sweep of the area.  None of us knew it was there.  It’s small but beautiful.  The water is quite pure…feeds from one of the mountain streams.  It’s perfect for swimming and boating…as long as you just use a row boat.  Wouldn’t fancy water skiing on it.”  Tom pointed through the trees.  “There it is now.  You can see it from here…and over there are the cabins.”  Chakotay drew in a breath at the beauty of the place.

“It’s beautiful.”  They both stopped and admired the view before them.  Chakotay looked sideways at Tom a moment.  “I don’t know if I’ve said it before but…”  He stopped a moment to gather his thoughts.  “What I mean is…  I don’t think I’ve said how proud I am of you all.  Kathryn is too.  The work you’ve all done here is…  I mean you all left behind…”  He stopped again and Tom nudged him.

“Don’t go all sloppy on me now Chakotay.”  They smiled at each other and Chakotay nodded his thanks, knowing Tom’s comment was a way to help him cover his embarrassment.  Tom moved forward slowly.

“I know what you mean without you saying it.  We all do.  Think about it though.  We’re actually the ones who gained.  As I see it, we came here to help these people but they’ve ended up helping us instead, or more or…”  He smiled gently.  “You know what I mean.”  Chakotay walked on slowly.

“I know.  I think coming here was truly a case of one hand washing the other.  We kind of saved each other…just in different ways.”  They entered the clearing now where the newly erected cabins stood.  Chakotay stood and stared at them.

“When did you get all this done?  I thought you meant we had to start building them or…”  Tom laughed as he came up beside him.

“No.  We’re just here to add the finishing touches.  The bad weather recently held us up.”  Chakotay shook his head in amazement.

“How did I not know about this…?”  Tom looked at the four cabins.

“You were kind of busy with other things.  We didn’t always want to bother you.  Besides, you always encouraged us to work on our own initiative.  This is the result.”  Chakotay dropped the tools and equipment he carried and stretched his tired arms.

“I feel as if I’ve done so little to help.  You’ve all worked so hard and…”  Tom dropped his load also.

“Chakotay, you always did your bit.  I saw you many times working damned hard so don’t even think that.  Besides, the rest of the time you were doing very important work.  The most important.  You were bringing our captain back to us.”  Chakotay locked eyes with Tom and nodded, not trusting himself to speak.  He looked out over the small lake.  Finally he managed one word but it spoke volumes.

“Thanks…”

^^^^^^^^^^     

Kathryn fell back in the bed, totally exhausted and in considerable pain.  Voyager’s Doctor looked down at her with concern.

“Kathryn, I insist you make use of some painkiller.”  Kathryn looked up at him, breathless and with sweat rolling down her face and neck.  She nodded slowly.

“OK.”  The Doctor stared at her in shock and she managed a small smile.  “Don’t gloat.  I can admit to some things on occasion…”  The medic nodded and reached for a hypo.  He administered it quickly and watched as it took effect, Kathryn relaxing a little.

“You must have really needed that.  For you to ask or admit…”  Kathryn had closed her eyes and opened them now.

“Just don’t tell anyone.  You’ll ruin my tough guy image.”  She managed a tired smile.  The Doctor sat on the edge of the bed.

“You really are pushing yourself too hard…”  Kathryn shook her head.

“I need to.  It’s the way I am.  I hate being this way…”  The Doctor laid a gentle hand on her leg and pinched slightly.  He got no reaction.  Kathryn raised her head and saw what he was doing.  “I should be feeling something by now, shouldn’t I?”  She turned deeply worried eyes to the Doctor.  He just smiled reassuringly.

“Kathryn, this is what I meant by pushing yourself too hard.  You can actually achieve more if you go slowly.  Punishing yourself like this could hinder your recovery.  I know you try some of the exercises when you’re alone also.”  Kathryn actually blushed as the Doctor nodded slowly.  “I thought so.  Kathryn, please trust my superior knowledge on this.  I wouldn’t tell you how to captain a ship.  Grant me the same courtesy…and I mean that in the nicest and most respectful way.”  Kathryn stared at him a moment, her face serious and then nodded.

“OK Doc.  I’ll obey your orders.  It’s just so frustrating…  Frightening too…”  He smiled kindly.

“I know but it will happen.  It’ll just take time.”  He stood now and began to gather his things.  Kathryn stared at him and he looked up and caught her, seeing a strange look on her face.  He frowned.  “What is it…?”  Kathryn jumped slightly as if she had been caught doing something she shouldn’t have been doing.  She blushed a little.

“Sorry.  I didn’t mean to stare.  That was rude.”  The medic smiled and shook his head.  He put his things down and moved back to the bed where he sat once more.

“Kathryn, what is it?  You can always talk to me…”  Kathryn looked away a moment, gnawing at her lip.  Finally she looked back.

“It’s just…  I meant to ask you…”  The Doctor nodded and smiled.

“Go on…”  Kathryn smiled shyly.

“It’s just…”  She took a deep breath.  “I’ll just say this.  Best way.”  She scratched at her chin.  “It’s just…everyone has been to see me at one time or another…or I saw them when I was up and about…and I…”  The Doctor sat back a little, a knowing look on his face.

“You were wondering about Seven?”  Kathryn nodded and shrugged.

“I know she’s busy…stayed on the ship a lot at first…  I guess it’s me.  I doubt she wants to see me and…”  The Doctor leaned forward and patted her hand.

“We’ve talked about this actually.”  He looked at Kathryn carefully.  “You do know that she and I…”  Kathryn smiled and nodded.

“I do and I’m very happy for you both.”  The medic smiled his thanks.

“That will mean a great deal to her.  It means a lot to me also.”  Kathryn frowned this time.

“Did she think I wouldn’t be?”  The Doctor shook his head.

“I’ll be honest and tell you that she’s been afraid to come and see you…avoided you even when you were over at the day room…”  He saw the hurt cross Kathryn's face at that.  “Kathryn, please understand.  She was with Chakotay.  She wondered if perhaps you might have held that against her…  She even thought you might have hated her for it.”  Kathryn dropped her head to the side, tears coming to her eyes.  She was really hurt by the comment and the Doctor saw that.

“How could she think that I’d…?  Oh Doctor…”  She brought a hand to her mouth for a moment, letting it slip down a little.  “How could she…?  Was I that bad?  Did I come across as so terrible…?”  She looked away, unable to meet his eyes.  She only looked back when she felt his hand on her arm.

“Kathryn, you have to understand Seven and I think you do.  Better than most people.”  He sighed.  “She hasn’t the same social skills or understanding that you and the others have.  She tends to see things in black and white.  I’ve even learned more in that area than she has.  I guess that’s why we get on so well together.  We both feel kind of non-human.  She’s learning but…”  He shook his head.  “She knew how Chakotay felt about you.  We all did.  She even knew or guessed how you felt about him.  He never spoke of it to her though and so she only had what she saw to go on, which was the fact that you two weren’t pursuing a relationship.  When it began to happen with them, she assumed that he was over you or that you weren’t interested.”  He dropped his head.  “What else could she think?”  He looked back at Kathryn and saw she was crying now.  “Oh Kathryn…”  She waved his hand away.

“Go on…”  His eyes showed his concern but he went on.

“It was never meant to be between them.  I think it was the only way she saw to further explore her humanity…not that she deliberately used him.  Anyway, it was over before we even got home.  I guess though that neither of them knew what to expect back on Earth.  All they felt they had was each other.  Each other against the unknown.  Seven even thought at one time that she’d end up as a lab rat or in prison.  I think Chakotay feared prison also.  So they supported each other in their fears, but that’s no basis for a relationship and they knew it…”  Kathryn wiped at her face and nodded.

“Chakotay said much the same thing.”  She shook her head and sniffed.  “Doctor, would you ask her to please come and see me if she can.  I know it’ll be difficult for her but she really has nothing to be worried about.  I care deeply for her and I never had any bad feelings against her.  Even when they were together and it seemed to be working, I never felt that.  I was sad for what I’d lost but I was happy for them if they were happy.  Can you understand that?”  The Doctor smiled and nodded.

“I do understand.  Knowing you as I do…it’s not even a surprise that you felt that way.  I tried telling Seven that but…”  Kathryn smiled tearfully.

“I’d probably feel the same if I was her.  Tell her though that if she doesn’t want to see me, I’ll understand that too.  I don’t want her to feel any pressure.  Just tell her that I care about her and miss her.”  The Doctor nodded and squeezed her hand.

“You’re one very special lady, Kathryn Janeway.  If I wasn’t in love with Seven and you and Chakotay weren’t together, I’d pursue you myself…”  He laughed and saw his comment bring a smile to Kathryn's face.  “That’s better.”  He stood slowly.  “Kathryn, I’ll talk to her.  I’ll tell her what you said.”  Kathryn nodded as she watched him gather his things once again.

“Thank you Doctor.  For this and for seven years of…”  She waved a hand at him.  “For everything.  You know what I mean.”  He nodded and moved towards the door.

“My dear lady, it has been my pleasure.”  He smiled again.  “Well, most of the time.  Getting you to sickbay…especially for your annual physical wasn’t a bag of fun but still…”  They shared a smile and a million memories before the Doctor turned and left.

^^^^^^^^^^

Early the next morning Chakotay cornered B'Elanna as she came out of the day room, having left Miral with the women who were manning the day care for that particular day.  They took it in turns but the children felt at home with all the women, dealing with them in all other aspects of their young lives.  Miral was now no exception.  Chakotay smiled at his old friend as she skipped down the steps, humming to herself.

“Hey there, Maquis.  I need to pick your brain and ask you to do something for me.”  B'Elanna pursed her lips and threw her head up in the air.

“I’ll have to think about that one.  I’m in great demand these days.”  Chakotay playfully punched her on the arm.

“Watch it.  You’re getting above your station.  Just because I can’t pull rank on you anymore…”  B'Elanna grinned at him and punched him back.

“You’re no fun.”  She walked slowly, allowing him to catch up with her.  “So what is it?”  Chakotay pointed to one of the benches.

“Is it too cold to sit and talk?”  B'Elanna studied him, a serious look on her face now.  His wanting to sit told her that this was something important.  She shook her head.

“It’s fine.  Come on.  Tell me what’s on your mind.”  They sat and Chakotay looked around him for a moment.  Finally he turned back to her and smiled softly, getting straight to the point.

“Would you and Tom still consider staying on here?  With Miral and all?”  B'Elanna didn’t even need to think.

“I can answer that straight off for you.  The answer is yes.  We’ve talked about this since you last spoke to me.  We’ve considered it all very carefully.  I know Tom will miss his Mom and Dad and Miral will miss having her grandparents close by, but we can still visit.  Perhaps in time, they could also visit here.”  Chakotay nodded slowly.

“So all-in-all it’s what you’d both want?”  B'Elanna nodded seriously.

“You know that.  My feelings haven’t changed.  Neither have Tom’s.  Everything we lost when we got home…everything we felt we’d left behind when we left Voyager, is here.  You know what I mean.”  Chakotay nodded thoughtfully.

“So you feel you’d all fit in?”  B'Elanna laughed at that.

“What do you think we’ve been doing?”  Chakotay shrugged.

“It’s easier though when you know it’s not forever.  If it were permanent, that could make a difference to how you saw things.”  B'Elanna shook her head, appearing upset now.

“Look Chakotay.  The way we felt when we came here hasn’t changed.  We’d all hate to leave here now.  It’s become home.”  She waved a hand wildly, her temper beginning to show.  “Hell, we’re a bunch of misfits and genetically mixed.  Not much different from these people.  We fit right in with them.”  She mellowed a moment.  “OK.  None of us have gone through what they have…have suffered as they have…but we understand them in other ways.  This is like home to us and by that I mean the way we were on Voyager.  We’re as lost as they are.”  Her anger grew again and she stared directly at Chakotay.

“You know, it strikes me that we were far more lost when we got back home than we ever were in the Delta Quadrant.  Only now…since coming here…are we truly home.”  She sighed deeply and pointed to several children who were entering the day centre.  “These kids…”  She sniffed a little.  “They remind me of myself at their age…of my own childhood.  They’re all mixed too.  Mixed genetically and mixed up emotionally.  I understand these kids so well.  I feel so at home here with them.  I feel I have something to offer them.”  She was close to tears and blinked them away quickly, clearly embarrassed.  Chakotay reached over and squeezed her shoulder but said nothing.  He gave her a minute to gather herself together.  She nodded her thanks and smiled.  They shared a further moment of silence and then B'Elanna frowned, her thoughts catching up with her.

“Why are you asking this now?  Has Duncan said something?  I thought…”  Chakotay leaned against the back of the bench, bending one arm over it.

“I talked with Kathryn.  We both want to stay on here and make a life for ourselves.  I’d spoken with Duncan before and…let’s say…paved the way a little.”  B'Elanna nodded slowly.

“I see.  And…?”  He smiled hopefully.

“What I need now is some research and I thought of you.”  B'Elanna scratched at her face.

“What exactly do you need?”  Chakotay looked down at his hands and began to play with his fingers.

“I need you to talk to everyone and find out exactly how they feel.  I’ll ask Duncan to talk to his lot and sound them out.  This can only be done with the complete co-operation of all concerned and that means the kids too.  This is their home and I want to be sure that every last person here is in agreement.  Otherwise I wouldn’t do it.”  B'Elanna pushed a strand of hair off her face.

“I agree.  We want to stay but we’d only feel right if it’s what they want too.”  She looked out over the compound.  “There will be other considerations too, you know.  Security and so on.”  Chakotay followed her gaze and nodded.

“I’ve thought of that.  Duncan brought it up, in fact.  Kathryn feels that the extra numbers would add to the security, especially with Tuvok’s knowledge.  Duncan is desperate for our expertise.  Most that I know of are desperate to stay.  It’s up to the women and kids mostly because they’re the most important.”  B'Elanna sighed.

“We all get on so well together now.  I can’t see them objecting.”  She turned to look at Chakotay as she spoke.  He shrugged at her.

“That’s true, but as far as they’re concerned this is temporary.  They may feel differently when they’re asked to accept us permanently.  They have their safety to think of, and most importantly the safety of their kids.”  B'Elanna looked towards the day care and nodded her understanding.

“You don’t need to explain that to me.”  She turned back to Chakotay and nodded.  “OK.  I’ll start asking them all.  I’m sure everyone from Voyager will want to stay though.  They’ve all settled in here so well.  Tuvok and T’Pel have even mellowed here.  I mean, I know Tuvok has and so has Vorik.  I didn’t know T’Pel before but she must have.”  She laughed.  “She’s too relaxed for a Vulcan.”  Chakotay laughed also.  B'Elanna shook her head and then grew serious as she thought for a moment.

“I do know that the Starfleet lot…the medical and scientific personnel who came with us…they’ll want to return.”  She suddenly laughed cynically and shook her head.  “They have a life waiting for them back on Earth.”  She smiled sadly now and Chakotay reached for her hand.  He squeezed it gently.

“I’m sure it’ll all work out for us.  If not, we can always just start a commune back on Earth.”  He grinned.  “Failing that…we can place an advertisement.  ‘Wanted.  Good Home For Lost Crew.  Housetrained.  Will Work For Food And Shelter And The Odd Treat.’”  B'Elanna laughed at him as she stood, pushing at his head.

“Very funny.  Housetrained indeed.  Speak for yourself.”  She stood and looked down at him.  “I’ll talk to them all today…or as many as I can.  I’ll take a vote of sorts and get back to you.”  Chakotay smiled up at her.

“And I’ll talk to Duncan.  I’ll catch you at dinner and see where we stand.”  B'Elanna smiled and mock saluted.

“Aye, Sir.  Requesting permission to leave, Sir.”  Chakotay pretended to hit at her.

“Get out of here.  Go earn your keep.”  He sat for several minutes more, still hearing B'Elanna’s laughter as it drifted further away.

^^^^^^^^^^

Duncan looked up from his desk when Chakotay entered.  He sat back in his chair and laughed then waved a hand over his desk, which was piled high with paper and padds.

“I need a secretary.  Know of anyone?”  Chakotay sat down in a chair facing the desk and smiled slightly.

“Several actually.”  Duncan caught his meaning and leaned forward again.

“Ahh.  I think I know what this is about.”  He nodded.  “You’re right.  It’s about time we talked.”  He stood now.  “Can I get you some tea?  You’ve addicted me to it.  Jonathan is calling me a traitor to the coffee cause.”  Chakotay smiled and nodded.

“Thanks.  I’d love some.”  Duncan prepared two cups and handed one to Chakotay.  He sat again slowly and sipped at the hot beverage.

“So.”  He licked at his lips and placed the cup on his desk, having taken a moment to find a free space.  “I know what you want to ask me and…”  He leaned back and smiled at Chakotay then nodded.

“I did as I said I would.  I’ve spoken to the others…the staff here.  They’re all for it.  They saw the wisdom of it immediately, although like me they do have some concerns about security but none we feel can’t be overcome.  The other concern we have is how the women and kids would take it and that’s very important.”  Chakotay nodded his understanding.

“I can understand that only too well.  As much as we’d love to stay here, it’s up to them.  I asked B'Elanna to talk to our lot and feel them out.  The Starfleeters would be returning to Earth, but they’ve all sworn an Oath.  They won’t divulge anything about this place.  Kind of an Official Secrets Oath.  They’re bound by it.  I knew that already or I wouldn’t have brought them with me…although I dread to think how we’d have managed without them.”  Duncan reached for his cup and drank again.

“I knew that and I appreciate it.  Admiral Paris explained that to me at the start of all this.”  He sighed heavily.  “Look Chakotay, I can tell you that I also broached this with one or two of the women.  Needless to say, Jaal is all for it.”  They smiled at each other.  “So are one or two of the others, from what she says.  Roberto and Eugene go without saying too.”  Chakotay bit at his lip and smiled.

“The Delaney sisters.  I think wedding cake is on the menu…”  Duncan nodded his head.

“I guessed that.  They’re inseparable most of the time.  I just hope the newness of it wears off soon.  They gaze at each other over their work and forget the work…”  He laughed.  “OK…it’s not that bad.  Maybe I just forget what it’s like when it’s all new.”  He pointed to Chakotay and laughed.  “As if you couldn’t tell me…”  Chakotay grinned from ear to ear.

“It’s wonderful.  And I don’t believe you’ve forgotten.  You and Jonathan have your moments.  Don’t think we don’t see.”  Duncan nodded, admitting defeat.

“OK…so I know…”  He drained his cup and sat back.  “Look Chakotay, I know how the staff are.  Let me talk to the women and have them talk to the kids.  We’ll organize a meeting then, when we know the general mood.  Any worries or fears can be thrashed out at that.  Do you concur with that?”  Chakotay nodded slowly.

“How do you think it’ll go?  I mean, they seem to accept us here now…trust us even…but I don’t…”  He shrugged, not sure what else to say.  Duncan smiled broadly.

“I can’t say how it’ll go.  There’s a lot to be considered.  So far though…”  He blew out a breath.  “I still can’t believe how well they’re working with you all…accepting you.”  He sighed and smiled softly.  “You know, I think we underestimated the inner strength and resolve these women have…the kids too.  I think they underestimated themselves also.”  He leaned forward shaking his head.  “When all this happened…they made a conscious decision to fight their fear and they did it.  For the most part, they overcame it.  That was no mean feat.”  He smiled slightly.  “Mind you, it helped that you were in their world.  It would have been a different story and far harder had they been in yours…outside their own…”  Chakotay frowned at that.

“Perhaps.  It could also have been the other way around and been harder.  Their safe haven was ‘invaded’ by us coming here.  Had this been elsewhere, they’d still have had somewhere safe to come back to…”  Duncan sighed heavily.

“I guess I hadn’t thought about it that way…”  He played with some padds on his desk.  “They still showed amazing bravery and courage in agreeing to have you come here to begin with…not to mention what they went through before that…what happened to them and coming to Haven at first.  Having you here amongst them was the same…another act of bravery on their part.  Of course, they also saw they had no choice.”  He scratched at his ear.  “Still though…it’s a miracle how well things have gone.  It’s a miracle also that we didn’t lose anyone to that bastard and his virus…  Thanks to your people…”  Chakotay laced his fingers together.

“Oh, come on Duncan.  You and the other staff had a lot to do with that.  You saw yourselves as backward yet you kept them all alive…saved Kathryn even before that.”  Duncan shook his head quickly.

“It could have been different…would have been without the help you brought…”  Chakotay rolled his eyes up.

“You’re as bad as Kathryn.  She can’t take the credit for anything either.  You made the call to get us here.  You helped the women overcome their fears.  You kept them all alive until we got here.  In other words…you did what you had to do.  These people put their trust in you to save them and that’s what you did.  How you did that is irrelevant…”  He laughed.  “I sound like Seven.  ‘It is irrelevant’…”  Duncan laughed also.

“I’ve heard her use that term a lot.  I’ve even heard a few of the kids use it.  They picked it up from her…”  Both men shared a smile.  Chakotay nodded.

“It’s true though.  You did it and that’s all that matters.  What is it they say?  The end justifies the means…  It’s the end result that counts.”   Duncan eventually nodded his acceptance.

“I suppose.  It wasn’t just me though.  We have a team here and a damned good one at that.  They share the credit.”  Chakotay rolled his eyes once again.

“OK, so you all deserve the credit but you most of all…”  He held a hand up in case the other man tried to object.  “That’s the way we see it and you won’t change that.  So just accept it.”  Duncan made a face at his new friend.

“All right.  You won’t give me any peace otherwise…”  Chakotay smiled with satisfaction.  Duncan smiled also and then grew serious.  “So…we proceed as planned…?”  Chakotay became serious also and thought for a brief moment.  He then nodded.

“Sounds like the best way to me.  Let me know when you know something and I’ll get back to you when B'Elanna tells me what she’s found out.”  Duncan nodded at that.

“Sounds great.  Let’s just hope and pray for a happy ending to all this.  God, we deserve it.”  Chakotay stood and smiled.

“And Amen to that.”

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay crossed the compound the next morning heading for the clinic.  He turned and followed the sound of children screaming and shrieking.  He smiled to himself as he saw several crew members playing a ball game with about two dozen kids, mixed with boys and girls.  He grimaced as two boys dived on Mike Ayala at the same time, sending the man crashing to the ground, whoops of joy following the tackle.  He shook his head and turned to see Trevor watching the sport also.  The builder shook his head and smiled at Chakotay.

“That’s going to hurt in the morning…”  Chakotay laughed.

“Rather him than me…  I’m too old for all that…”  Trevor smiled and shook his head.

“You’ve got it wrong, my friend.  That’s the kind of thing that keeps you young…”  Chakotay didn’t look convinced.

“Well, no one’s stopping you…”  Trevor shook his head at that.

“Hey…talking about it and doing it are two very different things.  Here’s one guy who never practices what he preaches…”  He sighed then.  “Isn’t it great to see so much interaction between them all though?  There’s much more socializing outside of work now.”  Chakotay smiled at that and sighed also.

“It’s fantastic…”  Trevor smiled and then held up some tools he held.

“Well…I’ve work to do.  One of the horses kicked down a door in the stables.  Don’t ask me how.”  Chakotay smiled and began to move off.

“I’m just off to see Kathryn…”  Trevor moved away also and called back over his shoulder.

“Give her my best regards…”  Chakotay waved.

“Will do…”

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay continued towards the clinic, glancing once more at the ball game, seeing that Mike was back on his feet, even if he was rubbing his sore bits.  He smiled to himself and then saw Duncan coming towards him.  The man had his head down as he studied a padd he held.  As if having heard or sensed someone come towards him, he looked up.  When he saw Chakotay he smiled slightly, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes.  Chakotay picked up on his mood.

“Duncan, is everything all right with Kathryn?  I’m just heading over there now.”  The young doctor nodded slowly.

“She’s the same.  Actually…now that I’ve found you…could we…?”  He hesitated a moment.  “Could we have a quiet word?”  Chakotay barely nodded, a worried look on his face.

“Of course we can.  I just came from a late breakfast and there’s no one in the kitchen at the moment.  Would that be all right?”  Duncan thought a moment.

“That would be fine.  I need to get something to eat anyway…”  They walked slowly towards the kitchen and Chakotay studied the man beside him.

“You’re sure Kathryn is all right?”  Duncan didn’t look up as he studied his feet.

“She’s fine.  The same as yesterday…”  Chakotay nodded, getting the impression Duncan didn’t see that as good news.  They entered the empty kitchen and Duncan went to one of the high shelves where Selona always left coffee brewing.  He poured two cups.

“Hista always complains she can never reach the coffee on that high shelf but it has to be there.  Too many little people running around the place and accidents will always happen no matter how many precautions you take.”  Chakotay looked towards the shelf and nodded.

“None of them has ever tried getting up there…using a chair or something?”  Duncan shook his head.

“Not since one of the lads tried it and got scalded.  His blisters were the best warning to the rest.  They all know not to go near it now.  It’s still best kept there just in case though…”  Chakotay hissed through his teeth.

“Sounds awful.  Was it bad?”  Duncan shook his head.

“A hypo and an hour or so with our old regenerators…lots of ice water too…and he was fine…although it stung for hours after.  A lesson learned the hard way…”  He handed Chakotay one of the steaming cups and sat down.  “There’s milk and sugar on the table…”  He smiled.  “Sorry…you know that…”  He added some milk to his own cup and took a tentative sip then nodded to himself.  He then placed the cup down and looked at Chakotay.  He smiled as if to find an easy opening to what he had to say.  Chakotay said it for him.

“Duncan, I know you said she’s fine…well…the same…but there is something and you’re scaring me here.  Just tell me…”  Duncan nodded and played with his cup.

“I don’t mean to scare you.  She is fine but I just wanted to talk to you about something.”  Chakotay said nothing.  “This may be nothing but in my experience it is…or could be…”  He sighed.  “I just felt it was right to warn you…”  He sighed again.  “Warn is the wrong word…too strong…”  He tried a smile.  “Let’s say… give you a word to the wise…or make you aware of …”  Chakotay narrowed his eyes.

“Make me aware of what?”  Duncan shook his head.

“It’s just that you might see a little…perhaps…depression…”  He saw Chakotay sit up straighter.  “It can happen to patients after an illness and I watched for it with her before…when she was ill for so long…but I never saw it.  Oh, she was fed-up being in bed so much and all that, but nothing serious…”  Chakotay just nodded, determined to let the other man finish.  Duncan sighed and then went on.

“It’s just that I thought I saw something like that with her this morning when I examined her.  She was trying to be cheerful with me…positive about things but…”  He rubbed at his chin.  “I thought I saw the same thing with her last night and earlier yesterday but I wasn’t sure.  It was just a hint then…but this morning…”  Chakotay leaned forward now.

“Duncan, are you sure?  She seems fine to me.  She’s frustrated with this I agree, and maybe even a bit frightened…worried even…but depressed…?  I take it you mean medically depressed more than depressed…if I’m making sense here…”  Duncan nodded slowly.

“I mean somewhere in the middle.  Of course she’s going to get…down if you like, about all this but I think she’s bordering on depression…kind of seriously down if that makes it easier to understand.  I actually expected it.  I had thought I’d see it before as I said, but she was fine.  This is different though.  Last time her recovery almost followed a plan.  Each day she improved and she could see it and feel it.  This time…well…her recovery is a lot slower than we anticipated.”  He sighed and leaned back, seeing the worry he was causing his new friend.

“Look Chakotay…  I may be way off base here and I hope I am.  I’d just like you to be aware of this and look out for it.  She hides her emotions well and maybe I’m seeing things that aren’t there.  It’s more a gut feeling, and knowing her as I do…”  He shook his head.  “Kathryn isn’t one to accept something like this.  She gets annoyed easily and bites at the bit to push herself.  The last day or so, there seems to be almost an acceptance of all this with her and that isn’t the Kathryn I know.  She puts on a good act but…  She seems too deep in thought or something…  I don’t know.  I’m just worried.  As I said, I may be imagining this and she is only fed-up.  I just wanted to say it to you so I could get another opinion or perspective…”  Chakotay nodded slowly, his face in a deep frown.

“She’s been fine with me.  I mean, we’ve even been talking about the future.”  He smiled shyly.  “We even joked about me spanking her and she was fine with that.  She joked right back at me.  OK, that was last week, but even since then she’s seemed fine.  As I said, she’s frustrated and worried by this but that’s normal, isn’t it?”  Duncan nodded slowly as he gazed down into his coffee.

“It is and I’d expect that but I think I see something else there and…”  He looked up.  “I hope I’m wrong and that I’m just imagining this…”  He sighed and Chakotay nodded.

“I hope so too.”  He leaned back.  “It won’t do any harm to keep an eye on her though.  If I see something like that, I’ll let you know but I really think she’s just…”  He leaned back.  “Look, she’s worried about not being able to walk again…  I know that.  She’s afraid of that.  Kathryn is someone who feels she has to be able to give a hundred and ten percent or she’s no good.  That’s her way.  I think she’s positive about it though.  Maybe not completely but she has faith that she’ll walk again.”  He licked at his lips and took a sip of his coffee.  He wiped at his mouth then.  “OK.  I’ll keep my eyes open.  I won’t say anything to her but I’ll watch her more carefully.”  Duncan nodded his head.

“That’s the best way.  I hope I’m wrong but I felt you needed to be aware of this so that if there is something, we’ll catch it early and can address it.  And if there’s nothing, then there’s no harm done.”  Chakotay nodded and held his cup with both hands, enjoying the heat from the coffee.

“OK…  That sounds best.  I’ll watch and let you know…”

^^^^^^^^^^

Duncan was more right than he could have known.  As he and Chakotay talked in the kitchen, Kathryn was lying in bed staring at the chair beside her.  She reached her hand out to touch it, longing to just be able to sit up and get out of bed.  She looked away from the chair then and sighed deeply.  She closed her eyes and tried to flex her toes or move some muscle.  She tried to feel anything.  She sighed again and opened her eyes, staring up at the ceiling now.  Earlier she thought she’d felt something, an awareness of her own limbs perhaps, but now she put it down to her imagination.

“Imagination nothing.  More like desperation…”  She whispered to herself and felt a tear slip from her eye.  She wiped angrily at it and turned her head back to look at the chair once more.  “To just be able to sit out in you…”  She laughed at herself in an attempt to stop crying.  “God Kathryn, you’re talking to a chair…  How desperate is that…?”  She shook herself and ordered her mind to change direction.    “You have Chakotay.  What more could you ask?”  The sound of his name brought a smile to her face and she lifted her fingers to her lips, gently tracing them over the sensitive area, remembering the feel of his lips on her own.  She became lost in her reverie and didn’t hear the faint knock on her door.  The second knock was louder and she jumped a little, almost feeling as if she had been caught at something.

“Come in…”  She lifted her head and looked towards the door.  It remained closed for a moment longer and then opened slowly.  Suddenly Kathryn found herself staring at Seven, her own face showing surprise at Seven’s extreme nervousness.

“May…May I enter…?”  Seven’s voice sounded hesitant and was barely a whisper.  Kathryn smiled warmly and nodded.

“Please Seven.  It’s good to see you.  I was hoping you’d come.”  The young woman moved forward slowly as if she didn’t know what to do.  “Please.  Come and sit down.”  Kathryn pointed towards the chair beside her bed.  Seven nodded and moved to the chair before sitting stiffly.

“The Doctor…he…he relayed…your message to me…”  The former drone looked all around the room before finally meeting Kathryn's eyes.  She tried to smile and then looked away quickly.  Kathryn shook her head slightly.

“Seven, please don’t be embarrassed with me…or whatever it is you feel.  I really wanted to see you and speak with you.”  Seven briefly looked at Kathryn.  She seemed very uneasy.  Kathryn sighed, groping for an opening.

“Seven…I understand that your Aunt passed away…I wanted to say how sorry I am about that…”  The young woman nodded slowly.

“Thank…you…  I also wish to pass you…my condolences… about… your…mother…”  Kathryn smiled her thanks.

“Thank you.  It wasn’t easy but time is healing the wounds…”  She looked towards the nervous young woman sitting beside her.  “It must have been difficult for you…”  Seven seemed to relax slightly and swallowed then licked her lips.

“I believe I felt…grief…but I’m unsure.  I had barely spoken with her…exchanged some letters…but I do not remember her…from when I was a child.  I felt closer to my family on Voyager…”  Kathryn nodded and smiled gently.  She could see Seven relaxing a little.

“Seven, there’s an old saying on Earth…about blood being thicker than water…  I think I told you that before.”  Seven nodded in confirmation.  “She was your Aunt and your only link to your past…your family…  It’s all right to grieve for her.  It’s very natural.”  The former Borg nodded again as she digested that.

“I understand that and I’m stilling trying to work out my feelings about her death…”  She seemed easier in her chair now and smiled slightly as she looked at her former captain.  Kathryn smiled also.

“See?  I don’t bite.  This isn’t so bad, is it?”  Seven blushed a little.

“I had feared you would be angry with me.  Perhaps hate me.”  Kathryn shook her head sadly.

“Oh Seven.  Why would I hate you?  I thought you knew me better than that.”  Seven lowered her head, speaking to her hands more.

“I did…do…but…  It’s…  I began…a relationship with…”  She hesitated as if the words were caught in her throat.  Kathryn sighed.

“You can say his name.  Chakotay.”  The young woman bit at her lip, something Kathryn had never seen her do before.

“Yes.  With…Chakotay.”  She whispered the name.  “I cannot explain and…”  She bit at her lip again.  Kathryn smiled at her although Seven didn’t see it. 

“Seven, let me say it for you and then we can get all this out of the way.  You and Chakotay began a relationship.”  Seven looked up at Kathryn, a deep blush on her face and nodded.

“I should not have…  I knew how he felt about you and…I tried to ignore it and…”  Kathryn shook her head.

“Seven, listen to me.  Chakotay and I have already talked about this and I understand things from his point of view.  He tried to explain your view also although that wasn’t really his place.”  She stretched a hand out towards her visitor although she wasn’t able to reach to touch her.  “Look, I knew how Chakotay felt about me.  Apparently everyone else did too although I didn’t always acknowledge that.  However, I knew how he felt and I constantly pushed him away for…”  She shook her head again and looked off into the distance.  “I don’t really know why now.  At the time, I felt I did know.  I cited protocols…so many rules and regulations…getting the crew home…the fear I would lose another man…afraid I would be hurt again…  I was even worried that a relationship with him would make me unfit to command…to see straight enough to get through the day…  I believed that being involved with him…or anyone for that matter…would cloud my judgement…and make me unfit to function in the way I needed to.”  She sniffed as she remembered.  “I pushed him away, and in the end he gave up hope.  He wasn’t to blame for that.  Neither were you.  That blame rests squarely on my own shoulders.”  She looked towards Seven now and realized that the other woman had been staring at her the entire time she had been speaking.  Kathryn smiled and shrugged.

“It was my own doing Seven.  I saw how lonely he was.  I knew how that felt only too well and I didn’t want that for him.  When you and he began…”  She looked down at her hand and began to make patterns on the sheet.  “I’ll be honest and say that it hurt a lot, but so much of that pain was because I knew I could have done something about it a long time before and I hadn’t…or couldn’t…”  She picked at a piece of lint.  “It just hurt a lot to see you have what I couldn’t, but not once did I ever resent you for that or even hate you.  I truly wanted you both to be happy.”  She looked into Seven’s eyes now.  “You must believe that.  Any hate I had was directed inwards.  I had so many regrets but I had to live with them.  I cared too deeply about him and you to deny you that happiness.”  She smiled softly at Seven and saw that the younger woman was close to tears.

“I betrayed your trust in me, Captain.  I think back and I believe I must have known how much you loved him.  I knew you had loved him before but I told myself that it was in the past.  When I ponder it now, I realize that I must have known but denied it to myself…refused to see it.  I knew how Chakotay felt about you.  I knew that throughout our entire relationship.  I knew I would always be second in his heart but I could accept that.”  She twisted her fingers together.

“I cannot even say why I pursued a relationship with him.  I knew the time was right for me to explore my humanity further but I misunderstood so many things.”  She looked at her former Captain and licked at her lips.  Kathryn nodded for her to continue.  “My first choice was the Doctor but somehow I felt too close to him and therefore felt embarrassed.  I also believed he would be embarrassed.  I understand now that our friendship was a perfect grounding for a relationship, but at the time…”  She twisted her fingers still.  “Then I didn’t understand that the two could co-exist and enhance each other.  I believe I saw the friendship which had existed between you and Chakotay and how a relationship hadn’t grown from that.  I think I believed that people could either have one or the other but not both.”  She sighed.

“I did look at the others on board but most were involved or had someone on Earth and I didn’t know them very well.  My one attempt at a date before all this was not exactly a success.”  Kathryn nodded and tried to hide a smile as she remembered reading the Doctor’s report.  Seven looked towards the window.  “I had only worked closely with the senior staff, and Tom Paris was married as was Tuvok.  I had a friendship with Harry so in my mind…like the Doctor…that was ruled out.  That left Chakotay.”  She looked back towards Kathryn and saw the older woman smile.

“You left out Neelix…”  Seven stared at Kathryn a moment and then found the humour.

“I understand.  You are jesting.”  Kathryn nodded and smiled.

“Just trying to lighten the conversation.”  She shook her head.  “Seven, you don’t need to explain all this to me.  You didn’t betray me.”  She sighed and was silent for a moment.  Seven coughed slightly to clear her throat before speaking, still a little nervous.

“I believe I was just trying to find a place for myself…especially when we were returning to Earth.”  She looked down a moment at her hands.  “I think I was always trying to do that.”  She looked up again now.  “When we got back…Chakotay was also trying to do that.  I believe we all were.  Every one of us…”  Kathryn nodded and managed a smile.

“Yes…we all were.  I believe we still are…”  She shook her head, determined to shake away those thoughts.  Her face brightened and she smiled warmly at the younger woman.

“Seven, just accept that there are no bad feelings here.  All this is in the past and if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that you can’t go back to that past.  It’s long gone and can’t be changed.  Trying to do that or even to think about it…dwell on it…is wasting the present…which all too soon becomes the past and when you’ve wasted it…that just adds more regrets to the ones you’ve just been wasting that present thinking about.  Can you understand that?”  Seven frowned for a moment and then nodded her head.

“I believe I follow the meaning of your example.”  Kathryn smiled and nodded.

“Good.  Then we let this go and just become the friends we should be.”  She dropped her head to the side a little.  “You love the Doctor, yes?  You’re happy with him?”  Seven nodded eagerly.

“Extremely so…”  Kathryn smiled warmly and nodded.

“Good.  So we’re both happy and we both love our men.  With that in place, we just live in the present with the good we have and forget the past.  We just need to be grateful that we found true love.  So many people don’t.”  Seven nodded her agreement but she still looked uncertain.  “Seven, I can’t order you to put this behind us because I’m not your captain anymore, but I can ask you as a friend.  And please…call me Kathryn…   I’ve asked everyone else to use my given name and I know Chakotay asked you all to do the same with him.”  The younger woman smiled this time and nodded.  She looked relaxed for the first time.

“Thank you…Kathryn.”  She looked unsure of what to do or say next.  Kathryn reached her hand out again and this time, Seven leaned closer and took her hand.  They held hands and smiled at each other.  Kathryn grew serious a moment.

“Seven, live the moment and enjoy every second of it.”  She squeezed the other woman’s hand.  “I remember part of a poem or some writing…about how we should suck the marrow out of life…”  She looked across the room now.  “What was it?  ‘And not when I came to die…discover that I had not lived’…  Something like that.”  She looked back at Seven.  “Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”  Seven nodded and smiled.

“I do.  I still need to say thank you for being like this with me.  I’ve been so afraid to come and see you.  When I saw you outside of here, I hid from you.  Too embarrassed and even ashamed.  You’ve been very gracious.”  Kathryn shook her head.

“We’re friends, Seven.  None of that comes into this.”  They smiled at each other for another moment, but Kathryn saw that Seven was still a little uncomfortable.  She knew it would take time before everything was back to normal or better between them.  She changed the subject.  “So…tell me what you’ve been working on…”  Seven saw the gesture for what it was and smiled her gratitude.

“At first it was about finding the cure…”

^^^^^^^^^^

Kathryn lay back in her bed, staring at the ceiling once again after Seven left.  She let her eyes drift over several faint patterns in the paintwork as her thoughts brought her back to the former Borg’s visit.  She sighed deeply and tore her eyes away from the ceiling and looked down at her hands as they tightly gripped the sheet.  She shook her head now.

The time with Seven had been necessary and she felt happy to have laid the ghost of the situation to rest.  Despite her demeanour with the young woman though, she now felt her earlier mood return.  She looked down the bed towards her legs and tried once more to move them.  She still had no sensation below the waist and tried to push down the fear she felt growing as the days passed.  Other emotions were beginning to stir in her and she tried to deny them.  The past couple of days now had brought periodic memories of her past which she tried to push away, not sure where they were coming from.  She whispered softly to herself, finally giving voice to her biggest fear.

“What if you never walk again?  What use will you be to Chakotay then?  What use will you be to anyone?  What made you think you could ever be happy?”  She bit down heavily on her lip as if to punish herself for the words but they were out.  The seeds were sown.  Her self doubts and fears were growing, adding water to the soil in which they had sown themselves.

Despite her best efforts, her mind drifted back as if it was determined to destroy the hopes and dreams she had.  She remembered Justin and her father…and then Mark…how she had lost all those she had cared about and loved…always torn away from them in some way.  She had lost Chakotay before.  What if she wasn’t meant to have him either and this was life’s way of telling her that?  Her thoughts swirled around until finally she couldn’t take it.  Determined to fight back, she shook her head and reached for her book in an effort to lose herself within its pages, in the only escape she could find.

^^^^^^^^^^ 

Chakotay called to see Kathryn later that afternoon.  He thought back to his conversation with Duncan for a moment, but then pushed it from his mind.  He had stopped to see her earlier but Galan had informed him that Seven was visiting and so he had left, happy that the former Borg had finally come to see Kathryn.  He hoped that the two women would resume their former relationship and perhaps form a new friendship. 

He smiled to himself as he entered Kathryn’s room and saw her lying asleep, half out of the bed, her book slipping from her fingers.  As he watched she lost her grip on the book and it slipped to the floor, the noise jerking her awake.  The sudden fright and her position caused her to lose her balance and she made a grab for the side of the bed, but her weight carried her over the edge.  She cried out as Chakotay ran forward to try and catch her.  He wasn’t quick enough and watched as she crashed to the floor, her head banging painfully off the side of the locker.  Chakotay slid down beside her and pulled her to him.

“Kathryn…are you all right…?”  He cradled her head and tried to see if she was cut, feeling around gently.  His hand came away clean.  “I don’t think you’re cut but…”  He looked down into her face and saw her tears.  “Where are you hurt…?”  He was really worried.  Kathryn shook her head quickly and tried to pull away from him.

“I’m not hurt.  I’m…”  Chakotay held on to her tightly and tried to stand so he could lift her back onto the bed.

“I’ll get Duncan.  He’ll check you over.”  He managed to stand and lifted his precious load.  He laid her down gently on the bed, watching her closely as she wiped angrily at her tears.

“I don’t need Duncan.  I need to be able to walk again.”  Chakotay sighed heavily.

“And you will.  For now though I need Duncan to check you over.  You banged your head pretty hard.”  Kathryn pulled away from him again and turned her head away.

“I’m fine.  I don’t need…”  Chakotay wasn’t taking any nonsense from her and let her know it.  He reached over and pulled her face back to him.

“Maybe you are fine but I still want Duncan to look at you and make sure.  Now be sensible, Kathryn.”  She just glared at him.

“I’m fine.  I just slipped.”  Chakotay glared back.

“I don’t care how well you feel.  You banged your head pretty hard.  I heard it from across the room.  Now Duncan checks you out whether you like it or not.”  Kathryn looked away from him.  Her voice was tight with emotion.

“Of course.  I can’t exactly stop you, can I?  I’m just a cripple with no control over my body or my life…”  Chakotay stared at her in disbelief, her words shocking him.

“Where the hell did that come from?”  He shook his head.  “I can’t believe I’m hearing this from you.  The Kathryn I know would never speak like that…never even use such a word.”  Kathryn looked up at him and shook her head.

“That Kathryn had control of her life.  She could walk and be useful.  This one…”  She pointed angrily at herself, jabbing herself in the chest.  “I’m useless to everyone around here.  I’m just taking up space and using up resources without earning my keep.  I’m useless to you.  Why don’t you just say it and leave me.  You don’t have any obligation to me…”  Duncan’s words suddenly filled Chakotay’s head but he ignored them as something snapped inside him.  He sat down on the side of the bed and grabbed her wrists in his large hands.

“Now you listen to me Kathryn Janeway.  Just shut up with that rubbish and listen to me.”  He stared hard at her, seeing a frightened look start to form in her eyes.  “I believe with all that I am that you will walk again.  It’ll just take whatever time nature feels is needed.  You just had a bad scare and it’s fright talking.”  He shook her slightly.  “More importantly though, if that doesn’t happen and you never walk again…”  He saw her eyes fill with fresh tears and softened his voice.  “If it comes to that…we’ll handle it.  It will not make one iota of difference to how I feel about you.  I’m hurt that you would think otherwise.”  He loosened his hold on her wrists and shook his head.

“Kathryn, I love you.  Whether you can walk or not…whether you still had those scars or not.”  He stared deeply into her eyes, letting what he knew was showing in his own eyes add weight to his words.  “I love you.  You.  Not any ability to walk or how you look or any other thing.  I love you for who you are…  Can’t you understand that?  As to ability…”  He released one wrist and pointed to her head first and then her heart.  His face softened and he smiled gently.  “In here and here…your mind…your heart…  These things, Kathryn.  They are who you are.  What’s on the outside is nothing.  I thought you’d know all that by now.”  Kathryn was crying full force now and he pulled her to him.  “Let it out, honey.”  He waited for her to cry herself out and then eased her back from him so he could see her face.  “Better?”  She nodded and sniffed, wiping at her face.  She nodded her thanks when he reached over for a tissue and then handed it to her.

“I’m sorry…  It’s just…”  Chakotay took the tissue from her hand and wiped her face for her.

“I know.  You don’t have to explain.  All this is just getting to you and making you feel down.”  He smiled when Kathryn frowned at that.  “I know you, Kathryn.  The more time that passes without any feeling coming back, the more frustrating it is and the more down you’ll feel.  That’s normal.  I mean it though when I say I truly believe you will get the use of your legs back.  Mother Nature just has her own agenda and timetable and we can’t question her.”  He sighed and leaned back a little.

“You know Kathryn, you really need to work on your own self image.  You never feel…”  He shook his head.  “You always question yourself…never feel adequate for the task…  You can’t believe you deserve to be loved.  You never feel good enough.”  Kathryn just stared at him sadly.

“My track record proves me right…”  Chakotay smiled sadly at her.

“You got your ship home, Kathryn.  Doesn’t that prove anything to you?  I don’t know of anyone else who could have done that, and if you’re honest, neither do you.”  Kathryn looked down at her hands.

“I almost failed so many times.  As to getting us home…I didn’t get them all home and those I did…well, I didn’t do it alone.  I couldn’t have done it alone.”  She looked back at Chakotay when he didn’t reply at first.  She saw him smile.

“Listen to yourself.  The mistakes were yours alone but the successes were a team effort.  Can you see what I mean?  You always have to take the blame for the bad on your own but you can’t accept the praise for the good.”  Kathryn shook her head.

“They were my decisions.  First in getting us stuck out there and then in taking us into battles that weren’t ours.  I made those decisions, no one else.”  Chakotay sighed heavily.

“We backed you up.  We could always have said no.”  Kathryn sniffed loudly.

“Maybe it would have been better if you had…”  Chakotay felt his anger returning.

“Kathryn, I’m not going to sit here and listen to all this.  We worked as a team out there.  We backed you as captain because we believed in you and trusted you.  You always had our full support.  Even when I questioned you, I still supported you.  This kind of talk will get us nowhere.  I thought we agreed to let the past go and take the good from it?”  He watched her closely and saw only sadness.  “Kathryn, we got home and that’s all that matters.  What we found when we got there is nobody’s fault.  We have all this now.  Hopefully a new life and a new beginning.  To dwell on anything else is just a waste of precious life.”  He saw his words grudgingly accepted and she nodded slowly.

“Maybe…but…”  Chakotay interrupted her, his voice firm.

“Maybe nothing.  I’m right and you know it.  Now I’m going to get Duncan to check you out and then we can talk some more if you want.  I’d prefer you just accept what I’m telling you because I’d never tell you a lie.  I’d never try to lead you wrong.  After that, I don’t think it would do any harm for you to talk with Jonathan or Lorcha.”  He took her hands in his again.  “Kathryn, a day at a time and some faith.  You will walk again.  Just let us be here for you until then.  Trust me.  I love you so much.”  She looked at him, his face blurred through her tears, and nodded.

“I’m sorry.  I know you’re right.  I just get so frustrated and feel so helpless.  Vulnerable too, I suppose.  I don’t do dependence well.”  Chakotay wiped at her tears with gentle fingers.

“When people love each other, it’s not dependence.  You’d do the same for me and you know it.  It’s called love, Kathryn.  Nothing else.  Helping someone and being there for them because you love them…”  His voice trailed off and he stared at her, then leaned forward and brushed his lips to hers.  “It’s called love.  Understood?”  Kathryn smiled tearfully and nodded. 

“OK.  Understood.”  In a gesture from their past she raised her hand and saw him mimic her, understanding and remembering immediately.  He pressed his hand to hers and laced his fingers through hers.  No more words were needed.

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay sat nursing a cup of cocoa in the day room as he waited for Jonathan or Duncan to come and see him.  He had called Duncan over to the clinic and given the young man a report of Kathryn's fall.  He’d also spoken to him about her mood.  The doctor had promised to have a quick talk with Jonathan after he’d examined Kathryn and perhaps get the psychologist to have a chat with her.  He assured Chakotay that one of them would come and see him when they’d finished.

Chakotay looked up now when a shadow fell across him and saw Jonathan looking down at him.  The man smiled and sat down beside him.  Chakotay smiled back.

“Did you talk to her?  Did Duncan tell you what he thought…?”  Jonathan nodded.

“I talked to him and as soon as he examined her and gave her the all clear, I spoke with her for a little while.  I didn’t want to make it too long and make her suspicious that we were worried.  I just ‘happened’ to call by for a friendly visit.”  Chakotay put his cup down and nodded his thanks.

“She’s all right medically then?”  Jonathan nodded and Chakotay let out a breath of relief.  And…otherwise…?  What do you think?”  Jonathan shrugged.

“I believe she is suffering from a sort of mild depression…mainly from her condition.  I can’t tell you what we discussed but I can say that the way she’s feeling is very common in a case like hers.  She’s frustrated at the slow pace of her recovery.  You have to remember that she’s a fiercely independent woman, and to have to depend on others…as she sees it…is hard.  She’s one of those people who feels that if they don’t pull their weight completely or even more than the rest, then she’s useless to them.  It probably stems from her childhood when so much was expected of her.  She followed her father…walked in his footsteps…and would have felt a great pressure to measure up to him…especially when he wasn’t there.  She probably felt Starfleet expected her to exceed him and so she’s spent her life trying to fit that expectation.  It’ll take time for her to accept that she can be herself now and that she can live her life as she wants to and be accepted for who she is.”  Chakotay nodded, his face serious.

“I know what you mean…”  He told the other man about their time in the Delta Quadrant, not betraying anything he shouldn’t.  “She always took the blame…felt responsible for anything that went wrong.  When things were good, it was because of us, never her.  On a personal level too…she sacrificed so much.  It was like she was always punishing herself and felt she had no right to any personal happiness.”  Jonathan nodded at that.

“Dishing out her own penance…”  Chakotay smiled at the phrase but nodded his agreement.

“You’re right.  When you put it like that…that’s exactly what she was doing.”  He smiled and shook his head.  “She told me something once…something her father said to her.  ‘If there was a rough road and a smooth road…you’d take the rough one every time’…”  He looked off into the distance as he remembered.  He shook himself and looked back at Jonathan.  The young man nodded.

“Sounds just right for our Kathryn.”  He sighed.  “Look Chakotay, I think what you saw with her today was…  It’s probably been building inside her…possibly without her even noticing it herself.  When she fell…”  He licked at his lips.  “When people get a fright, they often lash out.  Anger covers the scare.”  He smiled and glanced at a group of children playing in the corner then looked back at Chakotay.  “You ever notice when a child goes missing and the parents are frantic…sick with worry?  When the child is found they are so relieved, but instead of just hugging the child, they grab them and then the anger comes out and they scream at the kid for putting them through all that worry.  It’s a release for all that emotion which was building and it has to come out some way.”  He shrugged.  “This is the same.  Kathryn got a fright and it brought home her condition.  The frustration which has been building coupled with that fright made it come out as it did.”  Chakotay nodded slowly, trying to understand. 

“Duncan thought he saw depression though…?”  Jonathan picked some lint off his trouser leg.

“As I said…there is a mild depression there but I don’t think it’s too much to worry about.  Any one of us would feel that way in her situation.  She’s been through one hell of a lot recently.  It’s bound to catch up with her.  Just when it seemed that everything was over and going right, this happens.  That would affect anyone.”  Chakotay still looked worried.

“Do you think it will pass…?”  Jonathan just sighed.

“It’s wait and see.  The longer this goes on…  Well, it won’t help but I do feel that it will just disappear when she recovers and gets the feeling back in her legs…  She’s down or depressed because of a situation.  It’s the depression which occurs for no particular reason that’s worrying.  Kathryn is reacting to her present situation and her mood is a result of that.  When it goes, so will her present mood or state of mind…”  Chakotay still looked uncertain and Jonathan reached over and patted his arm.  “Look, she’ll be fine.  I talked to her and I think it helped.  At least I hope so.  I certainly think I’ve given her a more positive outlook.”  Chakotay reached over and gripped the other man’s arm.

“Thanks, Jonathan.  I really appreciate it.”  Jonathan smiled warmly.

“You’re welcome.  Besides, you don’t need to thank me.  We work as a team here.  Share the good and the bad.  We just need Kathryn to learn that now and we’ll be fine.”  Chakotay laughed.

“Oh, she learn it.  The Kathryn I see here has come a long way from the one I knew on Voyager.  I’ll push her the rest of the way if I have to.”  Jonathan put on a fake nervous look but he didn’t fool Chakotay.

“I wish you well my friend.  Kathryn is not someone I’d want to cross.  She’d hit me or something.”  They both laughed at that then looked up as the door opened and Duncan came in.  He walked over to the two men and sat down.

“Chakotay, that woman of yours will be the death of me.”  Chakotay frowned as Duncan smiled.  “Did Jonathan tell you that she was fine from her tumble?”  Chakotay nodded.  “Well, I just caught her trying her exercises again and read her the riot act.”  Chakotay groaned.

“She doesn’t give up, does she?  I know the Doctor warned her about that already.”  Duncan nodded in agreement.

“Oh she knows but that doesn’t get through her thick skull.  Anyway, I was just checking her latest readings and scans and gave her something to think about.”  Chakotay leaned forward now, a worried look on his face.

“Have you found something?”  Duncan smiled slightly.

“I showed her the readings.  Only just noticed this, actually.  It seems that when she was overdoing it, the swelling wasn’t going down as quickly.  When she was only doing what was prescribed for her it was going down at a faster rate.  The science was right there in front of her eyes and that got to her.  I gave her a perfect, knowing look of ‘I told you so’ and she glared at me.  Doesn’t like to be proved wrong, that one.”  Chakotay leaned back, the relief showing clearly on his face.

“That’s something I could tell you tales about.”  He blew out a breath.  “So you think she’ll do as she’s told from now on?”  Duncan gave a sly smile and nodded.

“She saw the proof.  She’ll do the right thing now.”  Chakotay smiled and nodded, looking from one man to the other.

“And the swelling is definitely going down?”  Duncan nodded with satisfaction.

“It is.  Not as fast as I had hoped, but it is going down and is continuing to go down.  That’s what’s important.  The speed doesn’t matter.  Actually, I stuck a pin in her foot and she thought she felt it.”  Chakotay’s face lit up but Jonathan was more practical.

“Did she know you were going to do that?”  Duncan shook his head.

“Give me some credit.  She hadn’t a clue what I was going to do.  Couldn’t even see me.  I stuck the pin in and she frowned immediately, said she thought she felt something.  I repeated it and got the same result.  Only then did I tell her what I’d done.  Her face was a picture.  She has more hope now and that’s what she needed.” 
Chakotay let out a sigh of relief but then frowned.

“Jonathan explained what he thought about her depression.  How was she with you?”  Duncan stroked the arm of the chair he sat in.

“I still saw it but I think talking with Jonathan has helped her.  We just need to keep her positive and occupy her mind with other things until the feeling returns.”  Chakotay smiled.

“I can’t thank you both enough.”  Duncan stood up and stretched.

“Oh, when we see her walk up the aisle to you…  That’ll be all the thanks we need.”  Chakotay’s eyes widened before he smiled.

“What’s the old saying?  From your lips to God’s ears…?  I want that more than anything.”  Jonathan leaned forward.

“You’ve asked her then?”  Chakotay shook his head.

“Just having her was all that mattered up to now.  Knowing that she still loved me.  As soon as she’s well again though…  Oh, I’ll ask her all right.  And she better say yes…”  Jonathan stood also.

“If she doesn’t, I’ll take her on as a patient.  She’ll need her head examined if she turns you down.”  Chakotay smiled up at him.

“Add that to the list for God’s ears.”

^^^^^^^^^^

Over the next week Kathryn followed the Doctor’s and Duncan’s instructions to the letter.  She worked hard but didn’t push herself more than they recommended.  Despite all this though, there was no further improvement in her condition.  Chakotay stood back and watched Kathryn as her frustration and depression grew.  The hope she’d had earlier began to leave her and he saw a fear growing in her now.  He also began to sense her pulling back a little from him as she had before and it scared him.  He tried talking to her to encourage her, to give her hope but she would simply nod and pretend to accept his words.  She wasn’t fooling him though.

“Kathryn, it’ll just take more time than we thought.  It’s working.  You’ve already had some feeling…”  Kathryn stared at the far wall, her voice low.

“Did I?  You forget that I only thought I felt something…”  Chakotay forced his impatience down.

“You know you did.  When Duncan stuck that pin in your foot, you didn’t know he was going to do it.  You felt it both times.”  Kathryn just sighed heavily.

“Just coincidence or…”  She finally looked at him, her expression flat.  “You know he’s tried it a few times since and I felt nothing…?  The swelling is going down and I still can’t feel a thing.  Duncan tries to say all the right things…the Doctor too…even you…but the lie is there on your faces…”  Chakotay closed his eyes and shook his head.  He drew in a deep breath and then opened them again.  He stood beside her bed and looked down at her.

“No one is lying to you.  You’re just feeling like this because it’s taking longer than we all thought.  It’ll happen though…”  Kathryn just shrugged.

“Maybe.”  She looked down at her hands.  Chakotay sat down beside her.

“It will happen.  I really believe that.  The Doctor…Duncan…the others…they all believe too…  The swelling is going down very well…”  Kathryn barely nodded.

“So they say but I still can’t feel anything…”  Chakotay rolled his eyes up.

“That’s because it’ll take time.  Once the swelling is gone, the feeling will start to come back then.  You’ve already had…”  Kathryn shrugged uncaringly.

“You earned that medical degree pretty quickly…”  Chakotay looked hurt.

“You know what I mean.  Several people here who have those degrees say it.  Why can’t you believe them?  They care about you so much and have worked damned hard…”  Kathryn nodded and looked apologetic.

“I know that and I thank them for all they’ve done…”  Her voice was sad.  She looked sharply at Chakotay now as he laughed.  He shook his head.

“Sorry…it’s just that Duncan and Jonathan said something about that…when I thanked them…”  When Kathryn just continued to stare at him, he grew serious and leaned over, taking her hand in his, his mind making a sudden decision for him.  “I said something about not being able to ever thank them enough and Duncan said that he’d get all the thanks he needed when he saw you walk up the aisle to me…”

Chakotay wasn’t sure what reaction he expected to his words but it wasn’t the one he got.  Kathryn stared at him a second longer, a look of complete shock on her face and then turned away, pulling her hand from his at the same time.  “Kathryn…?”  He reached for her again but she folded her arms, refusing to look at him.  Chakotay shook his head.  “What did I say wrong?”  He stood, then sat on the side of the bed.  He reached over and took her chin in his hand, forcing her to look at him.

“Kathryn…I’m asking you to marry me.”  He smiled and shrugged.  “It’s a tiny bit sooner than I intended and certainly this isn’t the setting I wanted but…”  Kathryn pulled her head back.

“Don’t be stupid, Chakotay.  In case you hadn’t noticed, I can’t even walk across the room, much less up the aisle.”  She looked up at him as he jumped up off the bed.

“God Kathryn, I mean when you’re better…not that it would matter to me either way…”  He looked down at her sadly.  “A bit of positive thinking would do you the world of good, you know.  Can’t you see the bright light in the future here?”  Kathryn laughed sarcastically.

“Your eyesight is obviously better than mine…”  Chakotay felt stung by her words.  He shook his head again.

“Kathryn, I love you and you love me.  We take this slowly and when you’re walking again, then we…”  Kathryn laughed again.

“Oh, come on, Chakotay.  That was before…”  Knowing one of her downward spirals when he saw one, Chakotay cut her off.

“Enough, Kathryn.  Don’t get onto that road.  I know you too well and I know where you let it take you.”  He moved closer to her now.  “Just you listen to me.  I love you…whatever way you are…and that includes this stubborn woman who dons the sackcloth and ashes when something like this happens.  I won’t listen to this.  You’ll get better and walk again if you just believe it.  It’ll take as long as it takes and in the meantime, I’m here.  When you’re ready, you will marry me.  For now, you just concentrate on yourself.  You need to think positively.  In between physiotherapy sessions, plan the wedding.  Think of your dress, the ceremony, the…”  He stopped when he saw tears pour down her face.  He reached out his hand to her but she turned away.

“Don’t do this to me, Chakotay.  Don’t give me hope for what can’t be…”  Chakotay sat down again.

“It will be, Kathryn.  I want this more than anything and I believe you do too…”  She turned to look at him, a deep sadness written on her face.  She shook her head.

“It can’t be.”  She sniffed loudly.  “Yes, I love you but this can’t be.  I’d only marry you if I could come to you whole.  I couldn’t walk down that aisle to you.  I couldn’t even consummate our marriage.”  She wiped at her face.  “I bring bad luck to everything.  Maybe it’s not meant to be…”  Chakotay felt an anger grow in him but he held it back.

“You insult me, Kathryn.  And I think you insult yourself too.”  He licked at his lips.  “I don’t care…”  He looked away a moment, gathering his thoughts.  Finally he looked back at her, seeing her emotions open on her face.  “I don’t know the right way to say this because no matter what way I say it, it’ll come out wrong but I’ll just say it.”  He tried a small smile.  “Kathryn, I don’t care if you can’t ever walk again.  By that I mean it would make no difference to me in how I feel about you.  I don’t even care about the sex.  Do you understand what I mean?”  She didn’t nod or shake her head, just continued looking at him.  “I mean that I’d marry you right here, right now.  I’d marry you lying here in this bed.  I’d marry you and will marry you because I love you.  There is no other reason and there shouldn’t ever be any other reason.  I just need you to accept that.  I think deep down you know it but for some reason, you won’t see it…”  He stared at her and saw her digest his words.  “Well…am I right?”  Kathryn looked away and stared over at the small sink in the room.  She watched the drips from the tap for a moment and then shrugged.

“It matters to me.  Loving you and…  That’s one thing.  It’s all different now.  Before it was…  Before all this I had something to offer you.  Now I have nothing.”  Chakotay stared at her in disbelief.

“You’ve just told me you love me and then dare to say you’ve nothing to offer me?”  He shook his head.  “I can’t believe the contradiction I’ve just heard from you.  Are you really that stupid?”  She didn’t answer and Chakotay watched her closely.  “Well, are you…?”  Kathryn just dropped her head and said nothing.  Chakotay pushed harder.  “Kathryn, I love you.  Isn’t that all that matters?”  She still didn’t answer and Chakotay shook his head angrily.  “Have you nothing to say…?”  Kathryn just looked up at him sadly and shrugged slightly.  Chakotay sighed heavily.

“I don’t know.  I never thought I’d see you lost for words…”  Kathryn suddenly found her voice.  She sniffed slightly and spoke softly.

“No…  I never was…but then I was always confident of what I was speaking about…sure of myself.”  Chakotay’s face softened as he looked at her.

“And you’re not now?  I thought we knew how we felt about each other…”  Kathryn shook her head and cut him off.

“Chakotay, I’m confident about how I feel about you.”  He saw tears fill her eyes.  “It’s just…  I guess I feel you deserve better.  I’m afraid of failing you…failing in general with us…  I’m afraid of disappointing you and not being good enough for you…letting you down.  I’m worried that I won’t be exciting enough…”  She blushed a little.  “You know…in and out of bed…”  Chakotay was shocked at her rush of words but forced himself to smile.  He shook his head.

“Oh Kathryn…you could never…”  Kathryn continued speaking over his words.

“Now that won’t be relevant anyway…”  Chakotay wanted to scream but decided to let her get all this out.  “I’m afraid of hurting you…hurting myself…others even…”  She sighed sadly.  “You fell in love with what and who I was out there…”  She jerked a hand towards the window then looked at him.  “What about now when you see me  as I am with this…?  What happens when you see I’m just an ordinary, dull and boring old woman…?”  Her tears slipped from her eyes now and fell down her cheeks.  Chakotay drew in a deep breath.

“Right, Kathryn…you’ve had your say and you’ve cleared all that out.”  He raised a hand in warning, telling her it was now his turn. 

“I thought we’d settled all this.  I didn’t know most of this was still inside you even.  I’d have expected it before from you when we came together first but then that was the real you back then…which wasn’t that long ago, in actual fact.  You were yourself then.  Yes, you were afraid but you had the sense to see things straight…”  He sighed.  “I’m not saying this right.”  He leaned forward a little.

“First off, you could never be ordinary, dull or boring.  You’re not old either.  Look at what you’ve been through here since I arrived…”  He laughed a little to try and ease things.  “Kathryn, I fell in love with YOU.  You know this.  I’ve already said it.  You were the captain, yes…but it was Kathryn first and Kathryn who was the captain.  She was there all the time under the uniform.  I fell in love with what’s inside of you…not what is or was on the outside.  That’s who you really are and that’s who I fell in love with.”  He leaned back a little now.  “I’ve said this and said it.  I don’t know how to get you to accept it.  I thought you had.  I believe you had, in fact.  Your doubts now are not about us but about yourself and this present situation…  What’s coming from you now is as a result of that.  You just need to…”  He heard the door open behind him.  Annoyed at the interruption, he turned and saw Duncan standing in the doorway.  He saw from the man’s face that he knew he was broken in on an important moment.

“I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to…”  Kathryn answered him.

“That’s fine, Duncan.  I’m tired now anyway.  I need to sleep.”  Chakotay turned back and looked at her sadly, knowing she was ending their conversation.  He nodded sadly.  Kathryn had seen a hiding place and was diving into it head first.  He allowed it.

“OK Kathryn, I’ll let this go for now but we’re not finished with this.  Don’t think for one moment that I’ll let this go.”  She nodded without meeting his eyes.  He stood and watched her a moment longer as she settled herself and closed her eyes.  Shaking his head sadly, he turned and left the room.

^^^^^^^^^^

Duncan caught up with Chakotay as he crossed the compound.  Chakotay glanced to his side and saw the worry and concern on the doctor’s face.  He slowed and then stopped.  Duncan tried to read his face and then gave up.

“I’m sorry to have interrupted that but…”  He shook his head.  “I’m always sticking my nose in and this is no exception.  When I care about someone….”  He sighed.  “What the hell was all that about?”  Chakotay shook his head.

“That was me proposing marriage to the woman I love and getting it slapped right back in my face because she feels she’s not whole or not worthy...  What you saw at the end was Kathryn Janeway in true running mode…running and hiding from anything emotional that comes her way…”  Duncan stared at the taller man.

“She said no to you?”  Chakotay nodded.

“Oh, she said no all right…because she can’t walk and she’s not…”  He threw his hands up.  “God, I don’t know why.  She said that she loves me but marrying me is apparently too much to ask…”  He stared off into the distance.  “She brought this up before about me being better off without her because of all this and about not knowing her, but I thought we’d dealt with that.  I mention marriage and it’s all back again with a vengeance.”  He thought a moment.  “Actually, I think it was back before I mentioned the marriage bit but when I said that, she really pulled back.”  He looked back at Duncan and shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I just don’t know.  Most of what was said in there is a swirling blur in my mind.  Maybe this depression is worse than you thought.  She was certainly deeply depressed today.  Fatalistic even.”  The other man nodded.

“Maybe it is that.  Maybe it’s something else.  I think being like this…pulling back…afraid to let something good happen…”  He sighed.  “I’m no expert but I think it’s become a life habit with Kathryn.”  Chakotay nodded at that.

“She seems to believe she has no right to personal happiness.  I was so happy when she told me she loved me.  I just couldn’t believe it…thought I’d wake up…but it was true.  After everything that happened before, I thought we’d finally found each other and that she was allowing herself what she deserves.  It was all coming together and there was a bright future there for us.  This happens and…”  Chakotay dragged his fingers through his hair and shook his head.  “I don’t know what to think anymore…”  He looked at Duncan, his eyes pleading for an answer.  The young doctor pointed to a nearby bench and nodded.

“Sit down with me…if it’s not too cold for you…?”  Chakotay shook his head.

“It’s fine…”  He followed Duncan and sat wearily.  Duncan sat beside him.

“I don’t have any answers for you at the moment but I think it’s time Jonathan had another talk with our Kathryn.  Perhaps in an official capacity this time.  I’ve observed her closely this past week and I’ve seen the change in her.  I saw it before and that’s why I spoke with you but then she seemed to be coping better.  The last few days in particular now, I’ve watched her grow frustrated again…angry even with herself.  I’ve tried to get her to see the positive but she has no patience for that.  Her hope has taken a nose dive and she’s become more depressed now.”  Chakotay nodded his agreement.

“I’ve seen all that too...now that I think about it.  Today was the worst though.  I thought asking her to marry me now would have…”  He dropped his head.  “I don’t know what I thought.  I didn’t think, in fact.  I was planning on asking her when she was better but it just came out today.  I wanted somewhere special to propose…when she was back on her feet…  Instead I just came out with it and now it’s worse than it was when I arrived first…well, almost anyway…”  He sighed deeply and shook his head, saying no more.  Duncan studied the ground for a moment and then shook his own head.

“I’m not Jonathan but I’ve learned a lot from him over the years…learned so much from watching patients…people in general.  I think I’ve learned a little about Kathryn too.”  He smiled softly as Chakotay looked at him.  “It seems to me that…from what I’ve seen here and what I’ve heard…from you and her…”  He rubbed a hand across his face.  “It’s like…whenever she allows herself some happiness…or something good happens…  It’s as if she’s waiting for it all to go wrong.  She finally finds you and it’s good and she’s happy and she takes another chance and then this happens.  I think in her mind, she sees it as a warning to her.  It’s ‘there you go again’… ‘try for happiness and something bad happens’…”  He shrugged.  “Maybe I’m way off base here but it’s the way I see her.  I do however think Jonathan or Lorcha should talk with her before this depression goes too deep.”  Chakotay nodded his agreement.

“I think you’re right.  It’s like I’ve seen what you’ve just said but didn’t think about it too deeply.  Perhaps a part of me just didn’t want to believe you or denied it.  Now that you say it like this and after today…”  He sighed wearily.  “I had given some thought to what you said before about depression but I thought if I did see something, it would be more gradual if it was there at all.  This seems sudden and yet…  Now I realize I have been seeing signs of it but I’d put it down as anger and frustration.  Today just made it evident to me…so clear that even I couldn’t miss it.”  He shrugged and looked sadly at Duncan.  “You’re right about the rest too.  It’s true.  Her first fiancé…”  He hesitated and then continued.  “I know I can trust you although I still feel I’m talking behind her back…”  Duncan shook his head.

“It’ll never be repeated, Chakotay.  I give you my word on that.  Whatever helps her though…”  Chakotay drew in a deep breath and nodded.

“Her first fiancé was killed…along with her father.  Kathryn witnessed it.  She was in the shuttle with them but was thrown clear.  She tried desperately to save them and couldn’t.  Her second fiancé…well…he was left behind on Earth when we were pulled into the Delta Quadrant but it was still a loss.  He later married someone else.  And then me…”  He looked away a moment.  “Well, you know about that.”  Duncan nodded.

“She spoke a little about all that to myself and Jonathan when we met her first but not in much detail.”  He nodded to himself.  “So every man she’s ever allowed herself to love has been taken from her in some way…or she’s been taken from them…”  Chakotay looked back at Duncan and nodded slowly.  The young doctor shook his head.  “No wonder she’s afraid to take a chance again…  This must seem like one hell of a warning to her.”  He sighed deeply.  “Oh boy…she takes a chance with you despite the past and it’s wonderful and now this happens…”  Chakotay looked out over the compound.

“Except that it’s still wonderful.  I’m still here and still love her but she can’t…or won’t…”  He rubbed at his eyes with both hands.  “I don’t know.”  Duncan smiled gently.

“Chakotay, let Jonathan talk to her.  You talk to him first and prepare him and then let him see her.  It seems the best way to me…”  Chakotay didn’t answer at first as he thought.  Finally he nodded.

“OK.  I’ll do that.  Maybe he can try and understand this better than I can.  Maybe he can talk some sense into her because I can’t…”  He turned when he felt the other man’s hand on his arm.

“Just hang in there, Chakotay.  Give her some time.”  He smiled warmly.  “It’ll be all right…you’ll see…”  Chakotay pursed his lips.

“I hope you’re right…”  He looked down at his feet as a silence followed.  Finally he looked back at Duncan.

“I’m sorry.  With all this…I meant to ask…”  He ran his fingers through his hair.  “Were you looking for me or Kathryn earlier…?”  Duncan blinked in surprise for a moment and then smiled.

“Both of you actually…”  He leaned forward.  “Our situation here…”  Chakotay sat forward now also. 

“You have news?  You’ve spoken to the women?”  Duncan nodded and smiled.

“They’re for it for the most part.  They have reservations…questions…  We expected that.  I had a brief meeting with the staff earlier and we agreed that it’s time to have that meeting.  We need to talk all together, thrash this all out and hear what everyone has to say.  We need to hear their questions and concerns and address those concerns...answer those questions…”  He hesitated a moment.  “Actually, I’ve taken this a step further…”  Chakotay frowned as Duncan smiled shyly.  “Would you believe I’ve actually sounded Admiral Paris out…?”  Chakotay looked shocked.

“You what…?”  Duncan held up a hand in his own defence.

“Just hear me out…”  Chakotay nodded.  “I trust the man and got his promise of total confidentiality before I said a word.  He even fixed up some sort of scrambling device on our comm link before we spoke.  I don’t know how it works but he assured me that no one could listen in on our conversation…”  Chakotay nodded.

“I know how it works.  It’s pretty secure…”  Duncan nodded and smiled.

“Anyway…I ran something past him.  I told him what we’d all been discussing and asked his advice.  He didn’t seem surprised.”  He shrugged.  “Anyway…it seems that we can…I guess…register…with the Federation…become a Protectorate…”  Duncan stopped when he saw the look on Chakotay’s face.  “You don’t approve…?”  Chakotay looked away.

“It’s not that…  I just…”  He bit on his lip.  “I’ve just had experience of what that can mean.”  His voice became bitter as he continued.  “My home…  That was supposed to be…”  He leaned back and studied Duncan for a moment.  He then told him about how his home had been destroyed.  Duncan stared at him as he spoke.

“My God, Chakotay…I’d no idea it was to that extent.  I’m so sorry.”  He looked down at his hands a moment and then back at the man sitting beside him.  “You don’t trust…?”  Chakotay sat forward and shook his head.

“I’m just saying…”  He sighed deeply.  “Things are different now…supposed to be anyway…  We’re at peace…”  He shook his head.  “All I’m saying is…  Check it all out very carefully and think long and hard about it all.”  Duncan listened and nodded.

“I will.  It was just an option he was giving me.  I just think we need someone behind us now.  You all staying would be one thing but I think we need more.  We’ve tried it alone and look where that got us.”  Chakotay nodded his understanding.

“I understand that but becoming a Federation colony may not be the answer either.  The Cardassians would have to be consulted because some of their citizens are involved and that may cause problems there…even if it is just hurt diplomatic feelings.  That can cause tensions though.  You also have to consider…”  He shrugged.  “You have to think of the future too.  God forbid…but what if another war came about and this planet was seen as Federation territory?”  He shook his head.  “All I’m saying is that you all need to think this out very carefully.  Weigh up all the options and possibilities.  Nothing is impossible in the future and you need to consider where you’d stand if something happened.”  He scratched at his leg.  “OK, so you’d have the Federation’s protection but that puts you on one side…their side…”  Duncan shook his head, trying to take everything in.

“I see what you’re saying but…”  He frowned now.  “It’s just that hiding away made us vulnerable.  We need protection…”  Chakotay nodded.

“I understand that but there has to be some way that you can have the best of both…  I just think a lot more thought has to go into this.  Talk to everyone and get their opinion.  Talk to Tuvok about security options and see what he thinks.  Have the meeting and you’ll get a better idea of how they all feel.  You never know but one of them may just have the answer…”  Duncan listened carefully as Chakotay spoke.  “Another thing…”  The young doctor frowned as Chakotay smiled slightly.  “You’re forgetting a great source of knowledge and information on all this…”  Duncan nodded as Chakotay’s smile widened.

“Kathryn…”  Duncan answered for himself as Chakotay nodded.

“Exactly.  She knows Starfleet so well and she’s known Admiral Paris for many years.  She also knows this place and the people here.  She’s in a unique position in all this by being able to see and understand both sides.”  Duncan shook his head and slapped the side of his face.

“I never thought of her…”  He looked at Chakotay apologetically.  “That’s terrible on my part…so remiss…  I guess with all that’s been happening and just concentrating on her medical condition…  Still, it’s no excuse.  I’m getting stupid in my old age…”  Chakotay just laughed.

“Your brain is fine.  It just often happens that…”  He smiled.  “What’s the saying…?  You sometimes can’t see the wood for the trees…”  Duncan rolled his eyes.

“Still though…”  Both men were quiet for several minutes before Chakotay spoke again.

“So…you talk to Kathryn and Tuvok and then arrange our meeting…?”  He turned and looked at Duncan as he gazed straight ahead.  The younger man nodded.

“That’s the best way.”  He turned and looked at Chakotay now.  “What about you?”  Chakotay bit at his lip.

“I’ll talk to my lot and I might even have a chat with Admiral Paris myself…if that’s OK with you…?”  Duncan nodded quickly.

“That’s fine with me…  I’d welcome it, in fact…”  Chakotay nodded.

“I’ll do that then…and…”  He hesitated a moment.  “The other matter…?”  Duncan smiled slightly.

“Kathryn?”  Chakotay nodded and saw Duncan do the same.  “I’ll talk to her about this.  Maybe it’ll take her mind off herself.  If I don’t see it helping, I’ll get Jonathan or Lorcha to talk with her.  Knowing me, I’ll probably talk to her about it myself…”  Chakotay smiled softly.

“You certainly have the knack for it.”  He laughed now.  “Does Jonathan know you do his job as well as he does?”  Duncan feigned horror.

“Shh…don’t tell him.  He’ll look for a cut…”  Chakotay shook his head as he laughed again.

“Duncan…you don’t charge…”  Duncan shook his head.

“You don’t know him the way I do.  He has his way of getting what he’s owed…”  Chakotay held up a hand.

“Whoa…I don’t want to know…”  Duncan slapped at his arm.

“You’ve a bad mind.”  He grew a little serious then as he looked towards two of the woman who were coming out of the day room.  He studied them a moment before he spoke.  “Seriously though…it’s about knowing people.  As I treat the body, I learn about the rest.  I’ve also learned a lot working alongside Jonathan.”  He looked back at Chakotay.  “Are you telling me that after seven years in the Delta Quadrant working alongside Kathryn you couldn’t captain a starship like Voyager?”  Chakotay also became serious now as his mind wandered back.  He nodded his head.

“I know what you mean.  I learned so much from her.”  He looked at the man beside him.  “In this way…you and I are very alike.  We’ve worked alongside these two people…learned so much from them…fell in love with them…”  Duncan smiled softly and nodded, a dreamlike look in his eyes.

“And it’s been a privilege...a true honour…”  They smiled at each other and Chakotay nodded too.

“Even if they can drive us nuts…”  Duncan signed.

“The rough with the smooth?  I wouldn’t change a moment though…”  Chakotay smiled slowly.

Neither would I.  Their love is worth it all.”

^^^^^^^^^^

Knowing Kathryn had a physical therapy session next morning, and wanting to give her some space after their talk of the previous evening, Chakotay used the time to speak with Tuvok and some of the others before setting up a meeting with Admiral Paris.  The old man listened carefully to Chakotay and noted all his concerns.  Finally he nodded.

“Chakotay, I can understand your worries only too well.”  His tired eyes betrayed his memories.  “I remember that time with a lot of shame on behalf of the Federation.  We carry one hell of a lot of dishonour and guilt over what happened.”  He sighed heavily.  Chakotay nodded slowly.

“No one can guarantee it won’t happen again though.  If Haven was to become a Federation Colony…”  The Admiral held up a hand.

“Chakotay, I didn’t suggest Haven become a Colony…”  Chakotay shook his head.

“I know it was more a suggestion of Duncan’s…”  The Admiral shook his head.

“No.  I mean that the word ‘Colony’ wasn’t used.  I suggested Haven could become a Protectorate of sorts.”  Chakotay smiled.

“Isn’t that basically the same thing?  We’d still be under Federation…”  Once again the old man interrupted.

“Just hear me out.”  Chakotay sighed and nodded.  “You’re thinking of these terms as they applied in the 18th, 19th and even the 20th centuries…into the 21st century, in fact.  Their application is very different these days so it’s not the same thing.  For a start, if you were a Federation Colony, you’d be bound by Federation laws and so on.  As a Protectorate, that wouldn’t apply.  You’d be self governing.”  Chakotay cut in.

“My worry is that if a similar situation ever arose again, we’d be seen as Federation…”  The old man shook his head.

“Let me finish and explain a little more.”  Chakotay held up a hand in apology.

“I’m sorry.  Please go on…”  Admiral Paris smiled gently.

“I’ve had a chance since I spoke with Duncan to check into this a little more…purely hypothetically, I must add…and strictly confidential also.”  Chakotay smiled his thanks.  “It was suggested by those in the know…that a ‘special arrangement’ could be reached.  It was put forward that you could become a Protectorate of the Federation and the Cardassian Government jointly…”  The Admiral got the expected reaction from Chakotay.

“What are you trying to say…?  That would be…”  Admiral Paris held both hands up this time.

“Let me finish.”  He licked at his lips.  “Think about this rationally, Chakotay.  Look at the position you’re already in.  Both the Federation and the Cardassians already know about you.  You know that.  The people of Haven have always known that.”  Chakotay bit his lip but remained quiet.  “The top brass, so to speak, have always known about the refuge and were happy to ignore the situation.  You know all this too.  I told you before.”  Chakotay nodded again.  “This way, they would just add some protection to the people there.  Nothing else would change.  The situation wouldn’t become public knowledge.  Whereas before, they knew about you and ignored you, now they would still know about you but would help out if needed…protect if necessary.  Funding could also be available.”  Chakotay sighed deeply.

“Appease the guilt of some people, you mean…?”  The old man let the bitterness in the comment pass over him.

“If that’s the way it’s seen…”  He sighed.  “Isn’t the welfare and security of the people there worth it?”  Chakotay looked away as he thought.  Finally he nodded and looked back.

“You’re right.  I’m sorry.  I’m letting my own feelings come into this and that’s wrong.”  The Admiral smiled his understanding.

“As hard as it might be for you to accept, Chakotay…things and people do change.  War changes people…even governments.  Even old men like me can learn.”  Chakotay smiled softly.

“If you’re asking me to trust your word on this…then I guess I do.”  Admiral Paris smiled and nodded.  “What about…  You said you sounded out some people there.  What about the Cardassians?”  Chakotay watched as the man on the screen poured a glass of water for himself.

“I actually spoke with one of them.”  He didn’t look up to see Chakotay’s reaction.  “Before you say it, it was also strictly confidential and off the record.  This is a man I know and trust and you’ll just have to trust me and take my word on that.”  He finally looked up and saw Chakotay nod.

“OK.  I’ll trust you on that.  What did he say?”  Owen Paris smiled.

“Inasmuch as he could say…without officially discussing it with his government, he believes it would be more than acceptable to those who would know.”  Chakotay digested that and nodded.

“So what would be next step be?  I have to talk to Duncan and the others here first of course…”  Admiral Paris nodded and took a deep drink.

“Of course.  As would I.”  He wiped at his mouth with a tissue.  “Look Chakotay, talk this over with the people there.  Let them know that nothing would really change in their day to day living.  How they live and run the place would still be down to them.  However, they would have protection if there was a threat and there would be funding for what they needed.  Medical equipment and security monitors and so on.  The same people who know about them now wouldn’t change.  It would only exist above a certain security clearance.”  Chakotay frowned.

“Wouldn’t the appropriation of that kind of funding be questioned?”  Owen Paris smiled coyly.

“Oh come on, Chakotay…you know how these things work.  A bit off here…a bit off there…  It’s been that way throughout history.  Governments have always been able to fund ‘special projects’ when they needed to and no one who didn’t need to know ever knew…”  Chakotay blew out a breath.

“I’m not sure if I find that comforting or scary as hell…”  The old man smiled.

“It’s the way it’s always been and always will be.  It’s the way of the world, as the saying goes.”  He sighed.  “You know, Chakotay, sometimes it’s not always good for the public to have a right to know.  They can’t always understand…can’t always handle the facts.”  He smiled gently.  “There’s another saying…and I’ve found it useful.  ‘A person is intelligent.  People are stupid.’”  Chakotay thought about that and then smiled.

“OK…so I see what you mean.”  He nodded and then frowned as a thought struck him.  He looked Admiral Paris straight in the eye.  “Can you answer something for me?”  The old man nodded.  “Why would you…they…do this for us?  Up to now I can understand how it suited the lot of you to ignore this place.  Why would you all go to these lengths for us now?  The protection and the funding…still keeping it quiet…?”  Admiral Paris sighed heavily.

“The same reasons apply, Chakotay.  They’ve just been…compounded…I guess…”  He smiled slightly when he saw Chakotay frown again.  “You know why it suited them to keep Haven’s existence quiet…just as it suited the people there…?”  Chakotay nodded slowly.  “Well…that still applies…only now…”  He took another drink.  “I’ll speak plainly.  If it came out about Haven now…it would look very bad for a lot of people.  Firstly they would have to explain about the crimes their soldiers committed and secondly…why they…we…kept quiet about the place for so long.  It still suits all parties to keep everything under wraps.  With developments as they have been…”  He shrugged.  “Let’s just say that the danger of everything being…exposed…has grown…and this way…offering funding and protection…added security and technology…would guarantee it all remained…”  He smiled.  “This way it can remain our little secret.”  Chakotay rolled his eyes.

“Can you see why I love government officials and politicians so much?  I just adore their honour…”  Admiral Paris caught his sarcasm and smiled.

“We’re not all bad, you know.  Some of us have our uses…”  Chakotay shook his head.

“I know…you’re necessary…”  He wiped a hand across his eyes.  “What about the trial?  Won’t some of that come out?”  Owen Paris sighed and shook his head.

“That was a worry but there have been some developments in the past few days.  I was going to contact you about it soon, in fact…”  Chakotay locked eyes with the old man.

“What’s happened…?”  Admiral Paris blew out a breath.

“The main thing is that we managed to keep the Media from learning of all this.”  He shook his head in disgust.  “Lewis was all for making the trial a media circus.  Our legal team persuaded the Judges appointed for hearing the case to hold it ‘in camera’…”  Chakotay frowned at the term.  “It means that it will take place behind closed doors…or should I say IS taking place behind closed doors…”  Before Chakotay could say anything, the Admiral continued.  “That’s right.  It’s underway.  Almost finished, I’d say.  Lewis objected strongly to the press being kept away…wanted the world to know what was happening.  It was actually his remaining family members…two brothers…who made him think again.  They apparently didn’t want anyone knowing about their dear brother and you can’t blame them.  They have families…children of their own.  You know how these things can be.  A black spot on one member of the family tends to blemish the entire family.  Mud sticks.  He agreed in the end to keeping it all quiet.  He’s also entered a guilty plea.  It should just be a matter of a day or so now…”  Chakotay heaved a sigh of relief.

“It can’t be soon enough.  The sooner that bastard is shut away from the world, the better.”  The Admiral nodded.

“I saw him yesterday.  I got the feeling he feels the same way.  I got the impression that he believed his family might support him but they’ve practically turned their backs on him.  I think they only met with him to make sure he kept them out of it.  That shook Lewis from what I saw.  It’s like he suddenly realizes he’s totally alone in all this.  Maybe he’s had time to reflect on his actions but I don’t know.  He doesn’t strike me as the kind to repent.  I just believe he’s had a look at his future and seen that he’ll most likely spend it in a cell and be alone.”  Chakotay’s face showed his contempt.

“I’m crying for him here…”  Owen Paris nodded his agreement.

“I feel the same.  I don’t think there’s a living soul who would feel differently.  At this stage, I feel it will suit all sides to see this ended and have Lewis quietly disappear.  It might well even suit Lewis himself.”  Chakotay snorted.

“I just hope he rots there…”  The old man nodded.

“He may well do that.  All previous talk of a slightly lighter sentence in return for a guilty plea has ceased to exist.  He just pleaded guilty and no more was said.  Even still though, with this plea, he’ll most likely get a life term.  I don’t foresee any appeal either.”  Chakotay rubbed at his face.

“So by tomorrow or the next day, we should know?”  The Admiral nodded.

“I believe so.  Perhaps even today but it would be quite late.  As soon as I know anything, I’ll contact you.”  Chakotay nodded and managed a small smile.  “In the meantime, let’s concentrate on the matter at hand and getting Haven sorted out.”  Chakotay nodded again.

“OK.  I’ll talk to them here…Duncan can get a meeting up and running and let everyone have their say…  He can run all this past them and see if they have any suggestions of their own.”  The Admiral nodded.

“And I’ll covertly run this past a few trusted people at my end.  I’ll get in touch with you when I have something…sooner if I hear any other news…”  Chakotay nodded his understanding.

“Sounds good.”  Owen Paris smiled and Chakotay saw his mood brighten. 

“That’s fine.  Now…is there someone else there for me?”  Chakotay laughed.

“I think the little imp is just outside with her dad…”  He went to move away when the old man’s voice stopped him.

“Chakotay?”  He turned back.  “Just something to think about…”  He smiled very softly.  “Do you really think I’d suggest something that wasn’t safe for the new home of my son and his wife…my adored grandchild…?”  Chakotay sighed deeply and closed his eyes a moment.

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t think…”  He smiled also.  “That just answered any lingering doubts I might have had…”

^^^^^^^^^^



ON TO PART SEVEN.



RETURN TO STORY INDEX ONE.

RETURN TO STORY INDEX TWO.



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