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 SEVEN.


Chakotay immediately sought out Duncan and reported to him on his conversation with Admiral Paris.  The young doctor listened carefully, nodding occasionally.  When Chakotay finished speaking, Duncan was quiet for several moments as he digested everything.  He finally nodded as he perched on his desk.

“I don’t know what to say.  It sounds perfect, doesn’t it…?”  He looked up at Chakotay with a question on his face.  Chakotay nodded.

“It sounds perfect…”  Duncan frowned.

“But you’re still not sure…?”  Chakotay sighed and sat down heavily.

“I am and I’m not…  I’m…”  He shook his head.  “I think I’m just letting my own past experience cloud my judgment on this.”  He looked at Duncan.  “Admiral Paris said all the right things and I believed him…”  Duncan smiled softly.

“But…there’s still that lingering doubt in your mind…?”  Chakotay shook his head.

“Not really…just memories…I guess.  He also said a lot that made me trust and believe him…like not doing anything that wasn’t safe for the new home of his son and grandchild…his daughter in law…  I also know how he feels about Kathryn.  She’s always been like a daughter to him…  Her father was his best friend and he kind of took her under his wing after he died.  I guess it’s just the idea of trusting the Federation and especially the Cardassian Authorities.  I spent so many years not trusting them.  It isn’t easy to break that habit…”  His voice drifted off and he smiled sadly to himself.  He finally looked back at Duncan and saw the young man smiling at him.

“Memories….?”  Chakotay shook his head.

“Not the kind you think…”  He smiled also.  “I was thinking about something that happened to me when we were in the Delta Quadrant.”  He shook his head again.  “I crashed on a planet…was taken care of by some soldiers…ended up fighting in with them…believing their cause…”  Duncan heard the pain in his voice.  “In the end it turned out that they were on the wrong side and had brainwashed me into fighting for them.  It was the way they recruited.  The enemy they made me hate wasn’t the real enemy after all.”  He rubbed his hand across his eyes.  “The hate had been placed there though…  I couldn’t seem to let it go.  I met one of ‘the good guys’ if you like, on Voyager later…after I’d been rescued.  All I felt for him was hate…no matter how differently I knew.  I just walked out of the room.  Kathryn followed me and I still remember my words to her.  I told her that I wished it was as easy to stop hating as it was to start…”  He looked sadly at Duncan and smiled when he saw the look of support and understanding on the man’s face.

“You know…you’re not alone in that here, Chakotay.  Many of the women here learned to hate all men because of the actions of one or two.  It took time for them to trust the men here…Jonathan and myself…Eugene…John…the others…  At the start, we always had to make sure one or two of the female staff were with us.  I still wouldn’t treat any of them without one of the nurses with me.  Oh they trust us now but it wouldn’t take much for that trust to be shattered.  It’s a delicate thing.  The vulnerability is always there and always will be.”  He shook his head.  “What I’m saying is…I understand.  You’re not going to forget the past but you have to try and get on with the present and the future without letting it taint them completely.”  Chakotay leaned back in his chair and smiled.

“That’s the theory, Duncan.  Practice is a lot harder.”  He scratched his chin.  “I trust Admiral Paris.  I just still have those feelings about the Federation and the Cardassians.  They betrayed my people.  They can just as easily betray one of their own…someone like the Admiral…if it suits their own ends.  I truly believe that he believes what he told me.  Maybe he doesn’t know it all though…”  Duncan sat back on his desk.

“He must be pretty high up though to know about us and the entire situation here…”  Chakotay nodded.  “Then it stands to reason that he’d be trusted in what was going on.  I mean…if only the top brass knows…and he knows…that makes him one of the top brass…”  Duncan stopped and laughed now.  “Am I making any sense here… or am I tying myself in knots…?”  Chakotay caught his mood and laughed also.

“That’s OK, Duncan.  I get your meaning and I understand what you’re trying to say.   It makes perfect sense too.  I just find it difficult to let go of what has filled me for so long…”  He sighed softly.  “Maybe in this place, I’ll learn to let it go to some extent.”  Duncan smiled gently.

“The war and fighting is over, my friend.  You’re home again.  Maybe it’s time to rest from all that and find your peace.  It’s time to look at the woman you have and the love you have together…look at your friends around you…old and new…  Maybe it’s just time to stop and rest and this is the place for you to do that…”  Chakotay smiled and nodded.

“Even the eagle knows when to rest…”  He sighed.  “It’s an old saying of my people…”  Duncan nodded.

“Wise people.  Sounds like good advice to me.  Maybe you should take it.”  Chakotay sat forward and prepared to stand.

“Maybe I will.  I just need some time to practice it.”  Duncan stood.

“Plenty of time here.  That’s what this place is for.  It’s Haven, remember?  A place to heal and rest.  That has to apply to us all.  No one escapes life without pain but there’s always a healing that can follow if we just allow it.”  Chakotay stood also.  He reached out and gripped Duncan’s shoulder.

“You’re a very good friend, Duncan.  I’m honoured to know you.  You’ve a head of sense.  I just can’t figure out how you got it being so young.  We sure could have used you in the Maquis.”  Duncan smiled his thanks and laughed.

“Thanks for the compliment.  I’m not sure I could agree with you though.  Most of the time I just muddle through.  As to the Maquis…I’d have been useless to you.  Total pacifist and I hate space travel.  Terrifies me and makes me sick.  I tend to need a sedative for any trip over an hour.”  Chakotay turned to leave, his own laughter joining Duncan’s.

“Remind me never to fly with you then.  Just stick to medicine.”  He stopped then and smiled.  “Seriously though…thanks.”  Duncan shook his head.

“No thanks needed.  Let’s just see how this works out.  It’s not just up to us.  We need to call that meeting and get this sorted out…hear what everyone has to say.”  Chakotay nodded.

“As soon as possible then.  I’m just going over to see Kathryn.  I’ll talk to some of the crew on the way and sound them out.”  Duncan bit his lip and nodded.

“I was thinking of tomorrow night…after the youngest ones have gone to bed.  No sense in them sitting in on it…wouldn’t be good for them…  The older ones have a right to know what’s happening…”  Chakotay nodded.

“Do you think Kathryn will be OK to attend…?”  Duncan thought a moment and then nodded.

“I don’t see why not.  We can bring her over.  There are a few old hover chairs in the clinic or you could just carry her over…whatever she prefers…”  Chakotay smiled and nodded.

“Fine.  I’ll get on it then.  Get the ball rolling…”  He turned for the door and then looked back.  “Do you think I should continue on from last night or let it drop?  I don’t want to upset her again…”  Duncan shrugged.

“It’s hard to say.  It might be better to follow her lead.  If she brings it up, then fine.  Talk about it.  It she doesn’t, leave it.  She’ll probably wait and see if you bring it up first.  If she seems uncomfortable, you could perhaps just say it would be better if you both waited to talk about it.  Lead onto the meeting then…give her something else to concentrate on…”  Chakotay digested that and nodded.

“Sounds good.”  He shook his head and then looked back at Duncan again.  “How was she today…?”  Duncan heard the change in his voice and grew serious.

“Not much change.  The swelling is almost gone but there’s still no feeling.  Maybe in the next few days…”  Chakotay turned back fully to face the younger man.

“She should be feeling something by now though, shouldn’t she?”  The tone of his voice and the look on his face demanded the truth.  Duncan held his eyes a moment and then nodded.

“I would have thought so.  There aren’t always set rules where medicine is concerned though.  Sometimes the body just takes its own time.”  Chakotay sighed.

“Still though…  I really thought by this stage…  It’s not helping her state of mind either…”  He didn’t continue and saw Duncan shrug.

“I don’t know what to tell you, Chakotay.  I really believed she would have quite a bit of sensation at this stage.  I can’t understand it.  I can’t see any medical reason why she hasn’t.  Neither can your Doctor.  She was beginning to and then…”  Chakotay moved back into the room.

“What are you saying?”  Duncan shrugged again.

“I don’t know.  All I know is that medically she should have feeling there now.  The swelling is almost gone.  As I say, I can’t understand it.  She goes through the physiotherapy but it’s like she’s just doing it to please us.  She hasn’t got that determination she had a few days ago…  It’s like…”  Chakotay moved back to his chair and sat.

“Duncan, you’re saying things here but I get the feeling there’s a lot more you’re not saying.  Is her depression worse?  What does Jonathan think about it?”  Duncan studied Chakotay for a moment and then nodded before moving to another chair and sitting also.

“OK.  Let’s talk about this…”  Chakotay nodded.  “I’ve spoken with Jonathan some more…”  Chakotay bit at his lip.

“What does he think?  Has he spoken with Kathryn again?  Have you?”  The young doctor shook his head.

“No.  We discussed it between us but we didn’t talk with Kathryn yet.  We felt it better to leave it for a day or so to see if there was any physical improvement.  We also felt that maybe all this going on would take her mind off her own problems…help her focus on something outside her own mind.”  Chakotay nodded slowly.

“Nothing has changed though.”  He shook his head slowly and then looked over at Duncan.  “I’m worried about her physical condition and her emotional state.  Can’t you at least treat her depression?”  Duncan hesitated a moment.

“Chakotay, this isn’t the kind of depression which is treatable.  She’s depressed because of her condition and the fact that there’s been no improvement in it.”  He scratched the side of his nose.  “Depression is actually a misunderstood word or term.  Kathryn is depressed, as in down, because of her situation.  Depression…in a medical sense…like clinical depression…has no root cause.”  Chakotay nodded as he leaned forward.

“I just wish I knew how to help her.”  He looked around the small space.  “Would some kind of counselling help her accept all this?”  Duncan shrugged.

“Maybe.  It could also cause her to think that we’ve given up and that she now needs to accept the fact that she’ll never walk again…which is something we don’t know.”  Chakotay leaned back and sighed heavily.

“So what do we do?  And why isn’t she getting the feeling back?”  Duncan didn’t meet Chakotay’s eyes for a moment, something Chakotay noticed.  “Duncan…?  What are you trying to say…or rather not say…?”  The doctor finally looked at him.

“It’s just that…I have a kind of theory…”  Chakotay just stared at Duncan with no set expression on his face.

“Go on…”  Duncan sighed heavily.

“All right.  Just hear me out on this.  I may be way off base but…”  He licked at his lips.  “I spoke with Jonathan about this…told him what you and I had spoken about.  I filled him in on every detail of Kathryn's progress or lack of…”  Chakotay remained quiet.  “I then told him how I couldn’t see any medical reason for the absence of feeling…all of that…what your own Doctor thought…”  He sighed and leaned back.  “I then told him my theory…one which I felt at first was crazy but…  I can’t think of anything else…”  Chakotay sat forward.

“What is this theory…?”  Duncan spread his hands out.

“That it’s…psychological…”  Chakotay let his shock show.

“You think it’s in her mind…?”  Duncan held a hand up.

“Don’t get me wrong here.  I don’t mean…  What I mean is that…at first it was physical and quite possibly still is.  While the swelling was still there, she wouldn’t have been able to feel anything.  She began to have some sensation just as her frustration and anger was coming in…  She was pushing herself and hindering herself.  That’s the same time she told you that you’d be better off without her and all that.  I saw a depression of sorts come into play then…saw her withdraw again…”  Chakotay nodded.

“I saw that too…told you about it…  We talked about it…”  Duncan nodded.

“That’s what I mean.  You’re there for her…then you ask her to marry you…  She tells you she will only marry you if she’s ‘whole’ as she put it.”  He sighed and shrugged.  “I think she’s scared.  Jonathan agrees with me on that.  I think she’s looking back at her past and seeing the losses there.  She took a chance with you and it was working.  She was happy and then this happened.  I think that she suddenly saw this as a warning.  ‘Look at your past…see what happens when you try and be happy’.  She tells you she’ll only be with you if she can walk again.  If she can’t walk…she has a way out.”  Chakotay stood suddenly.

“Are you saying that you think she’s deliberately not walking so she can get away from me?  That’s madness…”  Duncan shook his head slowly.

“I said it was just a theory.  I also said I don’t believe it’s deliberate.  This is purely psychological.  It’s her mind’s way of coping.  If she pushes you away now…maybe she can avoid more pain later on…  It’s possible she’s afraid and her subconscious kicks in and gives her an out…without her even realizing it…or as a way to help the thoughts she’s been having.  Her conscious mind begins to think this way and the subconscious takes over and supplies the answer…or the way out.”  He threw his hands up.  “I mean, what you told me about last night…  She’s seen every other relationship fail and then she comes to you.  It’s going well and then this happens.  She believes or hopes that she’ll recover and it can still be good…despite a warning, in her eyes.  Now it looks to her as if she’s not recovering so she’ll see it as another loss or something.  The fall made her realize just how it is with her legs and how limited she is.  You asking her to marry you made her realize the strength and reality of the relationship she has with you and how it can be jeopardized.  I mean, proposing is the ultimate, isn’t it?”  He sighed.  “I don’t know, Chakotay.  I’m guessing here but it’s the only thing I can come up with because I can’t see any other answer.”  Chakotay shook his head in disbelief.

“And Jonathan agrees with this theory of yours?”  Duncan shook his head.

“He’s not sure.  He said he has seen cases of it but he’d have to talk to Kathryn first before he could make any judgement.”  Chakotay pulled at his ear.

“What about Voyager’s Doctor?  Have you run this past him?”  Duncan nodded.

“He feels it’s a possibility.  He’s not sure either…said he hasn’t much expertise in that area.  I haven’t either and that’s why I talked to Jonathan.  I want him to talk to Lorcha…see what she thinks…”  Chakotay paced as he tried to get his mind around Duncan’s words.

“One part of me wants to tell you that all this is just in YOUR mind…”  He hesitated and turned to look at Duncan.  “The other part knows you’re right…”  A silence filled the room as both men gathered their thoughts.  Finally Chakotay broke it.

“I think it would be a good idea if Jonathan got Lorcha’s opinion on this.”  Duncan nodded his agreement.  “If she agrees with him, I think they should both talk to Kathryn…whatever way they think.  For me…I’m not sure if I should say anything to her or not…”  His eyes questioned the young Doctor.  Duncan shrugged.

“I’ll ask Jonathan, but for myself…I think it might be better to wait.  I personally feel that the more normal you are with her…”  He sighed.  “I guess I think that if you keep acting as you have been with her…”  His voice trailed off.  Chakotay half laughed.

“God, Duncan…has anything about our relationship been normal?  I wouldn’t know what normal was…”  Duncan smiled.

“Keeps the spice in the relationship…  At least it can’t get dull this way…”  Chakotay just groaned.

“What I wouldn’t give for dull…”  They were silent again until this time Duncan spoke.

“Let’s just let Jonathan and Lorcha handle this first.  I’ll ask them what they think but I feel they’ll agree with this way.  For your part, act as ‘normal’…”  He raised his eyebrows.  “I’ll talk to her about the situation here…the meeting and so on.  You talk to her about it too and tell her about your talk with Admiral Paris…anything that takes her mind off her situation.  For the rest of us…we need to have this meeting and get this sorted out…”  Chakotay nodded and moved towards the door when a thought stopped him.

“Sorry…with all this…”  He turned back.  “Admiral Paris spoke to me about our ‘bastard’…”  He went on to report all the Admiral had told him about the ongoing trial and the expected outcome.  Duncan leaned back and listened.

“So…  Maybe something will finally go our way.”  Chakotay laughed sarcastically. 

“Close to it.  That thing will still be alive.”  Duncan snorted.

“I’ll take this as the next best thing.  Whatever has him locked away from society will do me.  With any luck, he’ll never see the outside world again.”  Chakotay moved slowly towards the door again.

“I suppose it’s the best we can hope for.  It’ll at least be one problem solved…”  Duncan stood and moved towards him.

“One down…God knows how many to go…”  He shrugged.  “Trouble is…there could well be another John Lewis out there…maybe more…  We can’t ever let our guard down again.  We need our other problems solved now before someone else gets the same idea…”  Chakotay nodded solemnly.

“That’s the only way to look at this.  It might well do Kathryn good to be made to look at it this way too…give her mind a more healthy road to travel.”  Duncan nodded and smiled slightly.

“So…  I’ll go arrange this meeting.  I’ll also talk to Jonathan and Lorcha.  You talk to your lot and then go see Kathryn.  Fill her in on what’s been happening.  Play down her own condition.  Ask her advice and so on…see what she thinks.  Once we get this problem solved, we can work on Mommy Kathryn and sort her out then…”  Chakotay blew out a long breath.

“I’m not sure which is the tougher problem…”  Duncan smiled and patted Chakotay on the arm.

“I’m not sure either, but if we handle them one at a time, it’ll be easier.  Maybe one might even help with the other.  You never know.”  Chakotay nodded as he opened the door.

“Maybe some day I’ll complain about being bored here.  If you ever hear me say that, remind me of all this.”  Duncan laughed as he moved back to his desk.

“Can’t ever see that day arriving around here.  Not with this lot.  A man can live in hope though…  There’s always hope…”  Chakotay nodded as he left.

“I guess there is.  It’s what always keeps us going…”

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay spent the next hour talking with Tom, B'Elanna and Tuvok, along with several other crewmembers.  He brought them all up to speed on their current situation and asked everyone to make out a report or list of questions in preparation for the meeting the following night.  He also asked them to put their thinking caps on and come up with any ideas and suggestions which might be helpful. 

“We need to know what everyone thinks and feels.  We all have our opinions and ideas.  Everyone’s input is important but the opinion of the women and kids matters most.  We’ll probably have more suggestions for improving security and so on but their concerns and fears have to be addressed before anything.  We’re still the outsiders and this is their home.  If everything goes well, it will also be ours but that’s up to them.  We can’t forget that or lose sight of it.  They come first.”  B'Elanna nodded and looked to Tom to see him nod his agreement with her.

“We all understand that Chakotay.  Everyone wants to stay on here and make this place our home but we’re prepared for anything.  We know the situation and we all accept that this isn’t up to us.  Whatever the women and kids decide, we’ll accept.”  Tuvok joined in.

“I agree.  T’Pel and I wish to make our home here also but we understand that it is not up to us.  We will accept whatever they say.”  Chakotay nodded.

“What about the others?  Are you sure they all understand this?  Some have a stronger link to this place now than the rest of us.  Relationships have formed…”  Tom smirked.

“You can say that again.  I really think that if we leave, some from here will be coming with us…”  The others smiled with him.  Tom then let his smile slip.  “Seriously though…we all understand only too well.  I know I joke around but…”  Chakotay smiled and leaned over, patting Tom’s shoulder.

“I understand, Tom.  These people here have come to mean a hell of a lot to us all.  This place has become home and the people here are like family now.”  He smiled to himself.  “Kind of reminds me of the early days on Voyager…”  He looked up and saw the others smile at their memories.  B'Elanna shook her head as she smiled.

“I never thought I’d see myself working alongside Cardassians, much less caring about them so much.  I really believed I saw all Cardassians as one…all capable of the same things…”  She met Chakotay’s eyes and saw him nod sadly.

“I’ve had those same thoughts myself.  This place has taught me a lot and it’s all been good for me…”  Chakotay looked around at the others, many of them former Maquis.  He saw them all nod their agreement.  Mike Ayala in particular laughed.

“Look at me.  Talk about sleeping with the enemy…”  That earned a roar of laughter from all those gathered.  Eventually it died down and a silence settled over them.  B'Elanna’s voice made a few of them jump.

“I found that I was putting on an act when I first came down from Voyager.  I was acting all…”  She sighed.  “I was acting as if the Cardassians among them were no different…as if I felt no differently about them…”  She shrugged now, trying to hide her embarrassment.  “I did at first but I didn’t say anything…not even to Tom…”  She looked at her husband and saw him smile softly at her.  “I feel awful about that now…”  Tom reached for her hand and squeezed gently.  Chakotay looked over at her.

“B'Elanna, if I’m honest…if we’re all honest…I’d say many of us felt the same way.  Many of us here had reason to feel that way.  I see now that it wasn’t justified but it’s not easy to let go of the past.  None of us spoke of it because it’s not easy to admit that…not even to yourself.”  He looked around and saw many of those gathered nod their heads in agreement.  Embarrassment and shame were also evident on their faces.  “Duncan told me that many of the women here felt that way about men in general when they came here.  They saw the actions of one or two as applying to all men.  It’s different and yet it’s very much the same.  It’s just easy to let hate take over and poison all.”  Again everyone nodded their agreement as a silence followed as each one present reflected on their discovery.

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay made his way across the compound towards the clinic still thinking about his meeting with the crew, which had broken up only minutes before.  He felt a surge of pride and satisfaction pass through him now as he mulled over the hour he had spent with them all.  He felt they had achieved a newer closeness in a very short time.

Everyone had gone away to prepare for the meeting the following night.  What Chakotay had noticed most though, was a peace which seemed to pervade over the group.  It was almost visible and seemed to shroud each person as they moved away, some deep in personal thought, others whispering quietly to each other, heads bent together.

Chakotay pushed open the door to the clinic now and made his way towards Kathryn's room.  He almost knocked Miriam over as she came out of the room, a tray in her hands.

“Oh…sorry Chakotay…”  She smiled softly at him.  “Kathryn's just finished her evening meal.  Go right in…”  Chakotay smiled his thanks to the young woman and hesitated just a moment before entering the small room.  He looked over towards the bed and saw Kathryn sitting propped up against several large pillows.  She had her head down and was fixing her sheet.  Drawing in a deep breath and placing a large smile on his face, Chakotay moved towards her, the sound of his feet on the wooden floor making his arrival announcement for him.

Kathryn looked up at the sound of his feet and Chakotay saw her face clearly in the bedside light, the main light having been dimmed somewhat.  He saw sadness there, deep in her eyes and then saw her try to hide it.  She managed a small smile.

“Chakotay…”  He moved over to the bed and pulled a chair over to the side of it.  He sat down and then sprawled himself.

“Honey…I’m home…and boy…what a day…”  He smiled widely but watched her face closely, seeing a slight confusion there followed by a faint smile.

“What happened…?”  Chakotay laughed and leaned forward.

“What hasn’t…”  He began in a rush and went on to tell Kathryn all about his conversation with Admiral Paris and then Duncan, leaving out their discussion of Kathryn herself.  Finally he filled her in on his meeting with the crew.  He ended in a laugh and blew out a breath.  “That’s been my day so far.  I think I’ve finally convinced myself that I was letting my past cloud my judgment in all this.  I was letting the past affect how I was seeing the present…even the future…”  He shrugged now, a small smile on his face, looking as innocent as he could.  His last words had been meant for Kathryn alone, hoping she’d see a deeper meaning in them.  He saw her look away, her eyes down and knew she’d taken her own meaning from what he’d said.  She tried to hide it though.  Her voice was soft when she spoke.

“Perhaps…  You’d have good reason to feel that way…”  Chakotay played along.

“Not really.  I’m supposed to be a grown man.  Mature and more intelligent than that.  Judging all people or all situations the same isn’t actually the way to go.  Duncan said the women here did the same at first…  He said they saw the crimes of one or two men as the crimes of all men.”  Kathryn still didn’t look up.

“It’s not easy to let the past go…”  Chakotay carried on his act.

“I know that.  Boy, do I know that.  You have to though.  You can’t go through life trailing around all that baggage.  All it does in the end is drag you down with it.”  Kathryn looked up quickly at him and met his eyes.  He saw her trying to read him and just smiled.  “Just because I had bad experiences with Cardassians before, I shouldn’t let that turn me against them all.  Should I have turned against Lorcha and the others here because of their race…?  The women and the kids…?  Julie…?”  Kathryn studied him closely for a moment and then shook her head.

“No…of course not…  I just meant…”  She swallowed quietly.  “It’s just…  If you’ve had your hand in the fire enough times…the memory of the burn…”  Chakotay saw where her thoughts were taking her and cut her off at the pass.

“Sometimes you just have to let the past go and trust…”  Kathryn's head snapped up again.

“That isn’t always easy…”  Chakotay acted as if he didn’t know she wasn’t talking about herself.

“No, it’s not.  We all have to keep on trying though or life isn’t worth it.  Anyway…”  He leaned forward, thinking that he’d given her enough to think about later.  If she wanted to bring up the subject of last night on her own that was fine, but he wouldn’t broach the subject.   “So…  That was my day.”  Kathryn was still watching him.  She suddenly drew in a deep breath and went for it.

“Chakotay…about last night…and…”  Chakotay interrupted her.

“Kathryn, last night was last night.  My timing was way off.  I rushed things and it wasn’t the right time or place.  I went too far, too fast.  I shouldn’t have…”  Kathryn interrupted him.

“Chakotay…it’s not that…”  She sighed heavily.  “It’s like I need all my strength to just get through this.  I need to concentrate and deal with this before anything else...in whatever way it turns out.  I can’t see anything past it.  I can’t think beyond it and plan…  It’s like my body is stuck here in the present and I need my mind to stay with it.  I can’t let my mind race ahead of me.”  She smiled sadly and reached for his hand.  “Chakotay…it’s not you…please believe that…”  She watched as he nodded and smiled slightly.  “Chakotay…you’re in my ‘here and now’ but it’s the ‘next’ I can’t think of.  Can we just be as we are for now until I get past this?”  Chakotay squeezed her hand and nodded again.

“Of course we can and I’m sorry for jumping ahead like that.  You’re right.  We’ll just let it rest until you’re better and then let things take their natural course.”  He saw the relief on her face.

“You don’t mind…?”  Chakotay shook his head.

“We need to concentrate on others things at the moment.  We need to get you well and we need to sort things out for us all here.  For now you need a loving friend who’s just there for you.  How does that sound?”  Kathryn nodded tearfully and reached for his hand.

“That sounds…good…although you’re more than just a loving friend…”  She swallowed.  “Chakotay…I just need to take this slowly…  I need to get myself better and maybe still accept that I can have something good.  I love you and I need you…  My mind is all over the place and I just also need to…”  Chakotay squeezed her hand.

“You don’t have to explain anything to me, love.  I do understand.  I should have understood last night but this is today now.  Let’s just deal with what we need to and what we can…”  Kathryn smiled her thanks.

“This is why I love you…”  She drew in a deep breath.  “Right then…  What do we need to do?”  Chakotay straightened himself.

“Well…I need your input into all this.  We all do.  You’re the brains of the outfit and you know Starfleet better than any of us…even better than Tuvok.  You also know this place and the people here.  Duncan wants to get this meeting going tomorrow night and you need to be there…”  He rambled on for almost ten minutes and watched as Kathryn slowly became more and more interested.  By the end of his little speech, he saw shades of the captain again, a problem on the table before her, her ‘crew’ - old and new - needing her guidance and knowledge.  She tried to prop herself up a little more in the bed and didn’t even seem to notice when Chakotay stood and helped her.  Her mind was now engaged and was sorting though the material supplied to it.

“As I see it…”  Chakotay sat back and smiled to himself as Kathryn talked, outlining their situation and the possible solutions she saw.  She talked on and on, totally engrossed now, demanding a padd from the locker beside her as she worked out her ideas.  Chakotay sat and listened, watching her closely, as she left her own problems behind and worked on the needs of the many.  She was still outlining possibilities a half hour later when Duncan came in to check on her.  She hardly seemed to notice him, barely nodding in his direction as she spoke on, pointing out something to Chakotay on the padd she worked on.  Chakotay smiled up at Duncan and they shared a knowing look.  Chakotay nodded and saw the young doctor do the same.  Kathryn stopped talking a moment and pushed at Chakotay’s arm, demanding his attention.

“Chakotay…listen to me.  Try and concentrate.  These security details…”  Chakotay bit his lip to stop a laugh escaping and held Duncan’s eyes a moment longer.  He then turned back to the woman before him.

“Sorry, Kathryn…  What were you saying…?”  She rolled her eyes up.

“Can you please concentrate here…?” 

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay spent the next day meeting with all the crew, checking that everyone was well prepared for the meeting that night.  He came away satisfied with what he found.  He headed towards the kitchen now, suddenly realizing that he’d missed lunch.  As he crossed the compound, he looked towards the clinic and smiled to himself.  Kathryn had told him in no uncertain terms that she wouldn’t have time today for social visits.  She had meetings all day with former crew, staff and the women.  She even had a sub space meeting set up with Admiral Paris, which Tom was bringing her over to the office for. 

Chakotay looked around him now and shook his head.  The place was a hive of activity, the kids running around after the adults as if afraid they would miss something.  He entered the kitchen and was almost bowled over by Selona.

“Chakotay, if you want something to eat you can help yourself.  There’s some meat left over in the cooler.  Make a sandwich or something.  Tea and coffee are on the go…  I’m up to my eyeballs preparing for tonight and the refreshments which will be needed…”  She heaved a large tea urn onto a counter and wiped at her forehead.  Chakotay held his hands up in mock surrender.

“Don’t mind me.  I can help myself.  I’ll stay well out of your way.  I’m a big boy.”  Selona stopped and gave him a cheeky smile.

“Less talk about your personal attributes…if you please…  I’m too busy…”  She roared with laughter as Chakotay blushed.  They both turned as John came into the kitchen and reached over to help himself to two cookies from a tray on the other counter.

“Bet he’s not as good as me…”  Selona slapped his hand.

“Lay off my food…”  She made a face at the man beside her.  “As to the rest…  I’d have to personally put you both to the test but I wouldn’t dare cross Kathryn…  She’d cut me up in little pieces…”  Chakotay stared open mouthed at the two and shook his head.

“Do you lot EVER think of anything else around here…?”  Selona and John looked at each other and then shook their heads.  They both spoke together.

“Nahhh…”

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay grabbed some food and made a quick exit, settling himself into a large chair in a corner of the day room.  Several children played a board game in the centre of the room until Duncan came in and told them to move to the school with it.

“Come on you lot.  You know you’re not allowed to play in here today.  We need to put the chairs out for tonight…”  Several grumbling children reluctantly picked up their game and left the room.  Duncan laughed after them as they argued about who had been winning the game before the disturbance.  He then turned and moved towards Chakotay.

“I thought I’d find you here.  My spies told me you were headed towards the kitchen and that you’d skipped lunch.”  Chakotay swallowed the last of his milk and brushed some crumbs off his lap.

“Are there no secrets here…?”  Duncan laughed and sat down opposite him.

“Chakotay, there are kids here, in case you missed them.  Nothing happens without them knowing about it.  There are also a lot of women here.  The same thing applies.  I thought you’d have learned that by now.  This is better than the old bush telegraph.”  Chakotay laughed also.

“How could I ever forget…?”  He put his glass down on a small table beside his chair and smiled at Duncan.  “What did you want me for…?”  The young doctor grew serious now.

“Just to bring you up to speed.  I take it you’ve seen Kathryn…?”  Chakotay shook his head.

“I was banished…informed that I’d only be in the way today…”  Duncan laughed and nodded. 

“That’s what I mean…  I take it you’ve seen what she’s been doing…?”  Chakotay nodded.

“She’s in command again.”  Duncan smiled widely.

“It’s given me some idea of what she was like as a Starfleet Captain…”  Chakotay raised an eyebrow.

“This is nothing.  You should have seen her in the heat of a battle.  Everyone was terrified of her.  She’s small but it totally disguises what’s inside.  She’d see off any enemy…”  Duncan let his smile slip.

“And yet she’s so afraid of taking a chance at happiness for herself…”  He shook himself.  “Sorry.  Time for that later…”  He saw the hurt he’d caused the big man before him.  Chakotay nodded slowly.

“I know.  I’ll make her face that when all this is over.  I won’t let her go.  She’s finally met her match with me.”  He leaned forward again.  “OK.  What’s been happening?  I know Kathryn spoke with Admiral Paris and that you did too.  What’s the score…?”  Duncan leaned back in the large armchair and laced his fingers together.

“Here’s the deal.  We have two issues we need to put to the women.  One is the situation with Starfleet and the Cardassians…and the other is about the crew staying on.  I want the women to see these issues as separate.  I don’t want them thinking of one depending on the other and vice versa.”  Chakotay nodded agreement.

“I agree.  I just think that with everything having happened in a short space of time, they may have trouble separating them.  They’ll associate us with the Federation offer and so on…”  Duncan sighed.

“It’s up to us to make them see the difference then.  I think they will though…  I also think this will take more than one meeting to sort out and I’ll suggest that to them.  It’s possible the first meeting will raise questions and issues they haven’t thought of and they’ll need time to think about what’s said.  A second meeting will give them the opportunity to address any lingering issues.  There’s a lot to consider with all this…especially the offer.”  Chakotay laced his fingers together.

“I agree.  What did Admiral Paris say?”  Duncan blew out a breath and shook his head.

“Quite a lot.  Most of it was the same as he told you.  He said much the same to Kathryn.  The offer is the same.  We’d be a Protectorate in that they’d release funding for us and supply equipment…medical stuff and farming…that kind of thing…technology which would greatly improve the standard of life around here and improve the security.  What wouldn’t happen is that we’d ever have to take sides in any conflict which might arise between them in the future.  We wouldn’t have to adhere to their laws and in any military conflict either of them had with anyone else, we’d be left out of it.  We’d be a special case…a unique case…thank God.  I’d hate to think there was a need for other places like this one.  So…they’d have no power over us or any say in how we run the place.  They could monitor us from afar but not be involved…just add security…monitors and ‘panic buttons’…if you like.  The funding and so on is in the way of a compensation package, although it would more likely be termed an aid package.  It would be paid jointly by the Federation and the Cardassians.  Whether that’s just kindness or guilt or some other more sinister reason, I can’t say.  They’d pay a lump sum and then monthly payments.  Other payments or stipends would also be paid to the women.”  He sighed.  “They’re going to see that as blood money or something…”  Chakotay shook his head.

“Life here would be much the same as before then…with the exception of a more improved standard…?”  Duncan nodded.

“That’s right.  We’d still run the place the way we always have.  Nothing would change there…”  Chakotay nodded thoughtfully.

“How are the women with the meeting coming up…?  Any idea about how they feel?”  Duncan shrugged.

“It’s hard to say.  They’re thinking about it and talking with each other…taking it all very seriously.  They’re also working out questions they want to ask…concerns they want addressed.”  He held up some padds in his hand.  “I’ve put down everything on these.  I’ll pass them around so everyone is prepared.”  He handed one to Chakotay.  “Here’s yours…”  Chakotay nodded his thanks.  Duncan smiled and shrugged.

“I don’t know, Chakotay.  I think they feel OK about you all staying but the meeting could perhaps change things.  One might be fine until another brings up a concern they hadn’t thought of.  Of course, that can work the other way.  Private concerns could be closed off or addressed by someone else saying something.  They may also go with the majority or general mood of the meeting.”  He shrugged.  “It’s impossible to predict or say how things will go…”  Chakotay nodded his understanding but he looked worried.  Duncan tried to give him a reassuring smile.

“We’ll know soon enough.  All we can do is hope for the best and answer their questions and concerns as best we can…reassure them…  In the meantime, we put our energy into getting all the information together that we’ll need to do that…  Prepare ourselves for what they’ll ask.”  He indicated the padd Chakotay held.  “All the details of what we have so far from Starfleet are there.  Read over them and if you’ve any questions…”  He smiled.  Chakotay shook his head.

“Starfleet is just agreeing to all this?  They’re not asking for anything in return?”  Duncan shrugged.

“Not as far as I know.  You might ask Kathryn.  She talked with the Admiral longer than I did and some of it was in private.  I get the feeling she asked far more direct questions…”  Chakotay smiled.

“Yeah….she would…”  He scanned the padd, his smile still in place.  “I’ll do that.  If she’ll even grace me with her presence.  I’ll probably need an appointment…”

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay managed ten minutes alone with Kathryn before her evening meal was brought to her.  She finally put down the padd she had been reading.

“It’ll be so good to get out of this room for a few hours…even if it will be into a very crowded day room…”  She gave Chakotay a half smile and he saw how tired she looked.

“You’re overdoing it Kathryn.  You’re meant to be resting…”  Kathryn made a face.

“All I do is rest.  I need a change of scenery…”  Chakotay smiled and sat down beside her. 

“Well you’ll be over there soon enough, and probably after an hour you’ll be screaming to get back here for some peace and quiet…”  Kathryn studied his face and nodded slowly.

“Maybe…”  She sighed.  “That aside though…  I get the feeling you came here for a purpose.  What is it?”  Chakotay shook his head as he smiled.

“Never can get one past you…”  He rubbed at his chin and leaned forward.  “All right.  I do have one question.  Duncan also has it but he’s not asking it directly.”  Kathryn nodded, her face serious.  “It’s the whole reason for all this.”  He leaned back now.

“Kathryn…  Starfleet and the Cardassians are not just doing this for the good of their own health.  This isn’t a charity donation to make them look good to the voters.  It’s not a humanitarian gesture because of some natural disaster, which is the usual reason they give funding.  They’ve given their word that details of this place won’t get out.  The people who already know will remain the only people who know…with the exception of the crew here.  They promise we won’t come under their laws and can run the place as it’s always been run.  They also swear that we won’t ever be involved in any future ‘plans’ they might have…military and so on…”  He sighed heavily.  “So Kathryn…what’s their real reason for helping here…?  And before you claim ignorance…I know you spoke with Admiral Paris and I also know you.  You will have pressed him at the least and threatened him at most to get the real answer…”  Kathryn's face remained solemn as he spoke.  She kept looking at him when he finished and then slowly a small smile spread across her face.

“You do know me too well.”  She looked down and straightened her sheet, using the action to plan her words.  When she looked back at him, she saw him lean forward again waiting for her answer.

“OK Chakotay…  They do have another reason but it’s not really anything for us to worry about and I don’t think it would help the women to know the full extent of all this.  They’ll have the basic truth but not the full details or the depth of that truth.”  She lay back a little further but kept her eyes on him. 

“I think Owen Paris told you some of this.  It is about compensation and it is about guilt.  That’s the main reason.  The other reason is because they don’t want the general public…the electorate more so…to know about this place.  In particular, they don’t want them knowing what their soldiers did or were capable of…  That would not look good.  Elections are lost on such issues…  Heads roll and careers and reputations are destroyed…not to mention the possible war crimes trials which could result…  And then you have the fallout from the families of those soldiers knowing…the hurt and break-ups that could cause…”  Chakotay smiled with a satisfaction he didn’t really want to feel.

“In other words…pay them off to keep them quiet.  No one wants a scandal…”  Kathryn nodded.

“Keeping all this quiet also suits the women, Chakotay…”  He nodded, knowing she was right. 

“Am I right in thinking that this way will also save money…?  If the women did come forward, the compensation demanded would be a hell of a lot more than what they’re offering.  It would also have to be paid all at once.  This way it can be given in drips and drabs and can be covered up.”  Kathryn sighed.

“It’s politics, Chakotay.  You’re not that naïve.  You and I know how it works.  The women here wouldn’t understand that.”  Chakotay felt himself grow angry.

“It still doesn’t taste so good.  Of course, maybe you’re underestimating their intelligence.  I think they’d understand only too well…”  Kathryn turned a little to face him better.

“I’m not saying they couldn’t understand it.  I’m just saying they wouldn’t accept the reasoning behind it…”  She propped herself on one arm.  “Chakotay, they’ve developed a peace of mind here.  That’s been upset with all that’s happened.  They need a way back to that peace…  They deserve it after what they’ve been though.  I just think the smoother we can make the road to get them back there…the better it will be for them…”  She frowned.  “I didn’t word that right…”  She smiled slightly.  “I got a hypo before you came in.  It’s starting to work.”  Chakotay let some of his anger go and managed a faint smile.

“I’m not helping you…”  He sighed deeply.  “I know you’re right, Kathryn…and yes…I know the way it works.  It just sounds so underhand but I know we have to do what’s best for the women and kids.  This way they get compensation without being exposed.  I suppose we have gotten the best end of the deal.  It just means that those who committed the crimes get away with it…”  Kathryn's eyes were sad as she spoke.

“They often do, Chakotay.  We know that.  We learned that many times over the years.  I’ve come to believe though…or maybe I just need to…that justice is often served in other ways.  What’s the old saying…?  ‘What goes around…comes around’…?  I have to believe that, in fact…”  Chakotay shook his head.

“Not often enough…”  He rubbed his hands across his face, as if washing it without the use of water.  “Do I tell Duncan this…?”  Kathryn shrugged.

“It might be better if he doesn’t know…although he’s an intelligent man.  I’m sure he’s worked most if it out…or at least guessed… It could well be better if he takes the meeting thinking as he does…”  Chakotay shook his head.

“If he believes, it’ll be easier for him to convince the women.  He also can’t let slip what he doesn’t know…  I’m not sure I like that…”  Kathryn scratched at the side of her face. 

“It’s not the nicest way to do it but it might be best…  I’d say let it go as it is.  See how the meeting goes tonight.  If he or any of the others say anything…then we can see…”  Chakotay laughed and shook his head.

“Wait and see?  I know that he knows or I think he does…and he knows that I know…and I know that he knows that I know…and so on…?”  Kathryn smiled at him.

“Something like that…”  She dropped her head to the side.  “See, Chakotay…?  We all play the game…  It’s all politics…”  Chakotay was about to answer when the door opened and Galan brought in Kathryn's dinner.

“Lorcha said you’re to go as far as eating the pattern off the plate…”  Kathryn rolled back in the bed and let Chakotay help her sit up.

“I’ll need a serious diet when that lot have finished with me…”  She groaned as she looked at the tray the young nursing aide set down on her lap.  “Galan…I can’t eat all that…”  The young man backed away from the bed.

“Hey…don’t shoot the messenger.  I’ll see you later at the meeting…”  Kathryn stuck her tongue out at him and he laughed as he left the room.  Chakotay moved to follow him.

“I need to talk to a last few people before the meeting.  I’ll pick you up about a quarter to eight?”  Kathryn nodded.

“You really will have to ‘pick me up’…”  He saw a flash of pain cross her face before she made a valiant attempt at banishing it.  “Sorry.  Bad joke.  Yes…that’ll be fine.  I’ll see you then…”  He watched as she lifted her fork and studied the meal before her.  She spoke more to herself now and it made Chakotay smile as he left.

“She’s nuts.  I can’t eat all that…”

^^^^^^^^^^

The day room was packed almost to the rafters by five to eight the following evening.  People sat on every available space, whether table, chair or cupboard, and when there was no more room they scattered cushions and anything else soft on the floor and sprawled there, using the legs of others as a back rest.  The noise of excited conversation was almost deafening as people talked over each other. 

The younger children had been sent to the dorms already, some of the older kids taking babysitting duty, allowing all the adults to be present.  Chakotay looked around him watching people leaning in to each other in small groups, pointing excitedly to padds in their hands.  Some were arguing mildly but it was good natured.  He looked over now at Kathryn as she sat in one of the large armchairs, having refused to use a hover chair.  She had allowed Chakotay to carry her over to the main room earlier, reading a padd as he carried her.  She sat now and debated some point with Tuvok and John, her hands gesturing in the air as she fought to make her point.

Chakotay smiled to himself then looked up when he felt a presence at his shoulder.  He looked into the smiling eyes of Jonathan.  The young man leaned down and whispered into his ear.

“I’m not sure what you did with that woman, but it seems to be working for the moment.”  Chakotay smiled up at him.

“I just scratched at the surface and exposed the captain.  I gave her something else to think about.”  Jonathan nodded to himself.

“Well, it’s done the trick.  I haven’t seen her so excited by something in a long time.”  He laughed.  “Actually, I’ve never seen her this excited before.”  Chakotay nodded.

“I’ve seen her like this so many times…”  He sighed now.  “I truly believe we’ll work all this out.  I’m just worried about how she’ll be when she hasn’t got this situation to occupy her mind…”  Jonathan patted his arm.

“One step at a time, my friend.  Perhaps when she sees everything else slotting into place, her own problems will follow…”  Chakotay waited a moment before answering as Duncan called the meeting to order.  He smiled up at Jonathan and whispered softly.

“I just pray you’re right…”

^^^^^^^^^^

The meeting lasted almost five hours, with a twenty minute break for refreshments which no one really observed, talking on between each other as they ate and drank.  Everyone had their chance to speak, even the older children who were present.  Duncan chaired the meeting, although his only position was to try and bring a little order to the proceedings, to avoid people talking over each other.  Everyone who spoke had very valid points and concerns, each of which were taken very seriously and discussed.

The main concerns, as Duncan had predicted, concerned security.  Chakotay sat back and listened as Tuvok and then Kathryn, followed by many of the staff and crew, spoke about their findings and the solutions they felt could be applied to the problem.  Each worry and concern was taken and addressed to the satisfaction of the questioner.  As Chakotay listened, he suddenly realized something.  He looked around the room and smiled softly to himself.  People sat all over the place but they were totally mixed.  The few couples who existed in the large group sat beside each other, but outside of that everyone was mixed.  Crew members sat intermingled with staff and the women.  Some kids sat on their mother’s laps but many were lying against crew members or staff.  He looked over and saw Seven sitting beside T’Pel, the two women flanked by several of the women with their children.  All seemed perfectly at ease.   

Chakotay sat up now as he heard one of the women address his main concern.  He looked towards the young woman, seeing how nervous she seemed.  Duncan immediately put her at her ease and nodded for her to speak.

“As I see it…regarding the idea that we’d be protected by the Federation and the Cardassians…”  She swallowed loudly and cleared her throat.  “I know many of us here are worried about that.”  Several people nodded.  “It’s just that…”  She waved her hand.  “Look, they’ve known about us all along and it never mattered to them.  They never bothered us or came near us.  If we’d have been any use or threat to them, they’d have done something a long time before now.  They could have betrayed us…given our location…told about us…so many times before.  They didn’t do that.  Now…as I understand it…the same people who knew before will be the same ones who know now.  Nothing will change in who knows about us.  They’ve just agreed to offer us protection if we need it.  I think it still suits them and us to keep this place quiet.  It’s in their interest to protect us…as I see it…”  She was a little breathless as she finished.  “Does anyone else see that…?”  Several people murmured to each other.  Another woman stood now.

“She’s right.  I hadn’t actually thought of it like that…”  She was looking at Duncan and saw him nod. 

“Actually, I hadn’t either.  Not in quite that way…”  He smiled at both women.  He turned to look at Kathryn now.  “Kathryn…you know Starfleet better than anyone here.  You also, Tuvok…”  He looked at the Vulcan who sat beside Kathryn.  “What’s your honest opinion on this?  Can we really trust them?  I know I trust Admiral Paris…”  He turned and smiled at Tom then looked back to Kathryn.  “You know the structure there.  Can we take their word?”  Chakotay watched as Kathryn looked around the room.

“I’d trust Admiral Paris with my life.”  She smiled softly at Tom before looking around her again.  “Starfleet…”  She shrugged.  “I can only say that they’ve never let me down, but then I was a part of it all and I was playing by their rules.  My father was the same before me.”  She looked over at Chakotay and smiled sadly at him.  “There have been times though…when they let people down very badly…and it’s only fair that you know that…”  Chakotay smiled back at her and then looked out over the room to see everyone looking at him.  He nodded to them all and sat up a little straighter.

“I had a different experience but that was a long time ago…”  Chakotay faced a hushed room as he talked of his family, trying hard to keep the pain from his voice.  He saw love and sympathy in every eye in the room as he told of what had happened to his world and his loved ones.  “That was my experience and it was the same for others…”  He shrugged.  “I have to put that in the past though and move on.  Many of the leaders who made those decisions are gone now…either dead or retired.  For myself, I have to trust in the future or I’ll never have one.”  He looked over at Kathryn briefly and smiled at her.  “Mine is just one story…about one world…one group of people.  It’s a story that could be repeated by many through time…in this Quadrant and in so many other places.  As long as life exists…in any sentient form…and those life forms experience the same emotions as we do…then this will happen.  There will always be greed and dishonour…love and hate…always good and evil.  One will always find another who will want what they have or want to hurt them.  It’s the way of life.”  He sat back a little.  “When I heard about this idea at first, I only remembered the past…my past…and my experience…with the Federation.”  He looked kindly out at the women before him.  “I think many of you here know what I’m trying to say.”  Almost all the faces before him showed their memories.  Many heads nodded.  “I could say and I believe…that a war situation…any kind of war…changes people.  It changes them as individuals…”  He meant those who had so badly hurt these women and they knew it.  “It also means those who lead…  They see what they are elected to protect as threatened and they fight to protect that.  They make decisions that affect the lives of so many…and to some…that sometimes makes them almost as bad or worse than the enemy they are fighting, but I think they see it as sacrificing the few for the sake of the many.”  He laughed slightly.  “It’s not so good when you’re one of the few…”  He looked down at his hands and then back up when he felt several hands reach for him.  He looked around to see some of the women smiling at him.  One beside him spoke.

“We understand, Chakotay.  I have much the same story as most here.  I saw all men as…well…you know…”  She didn’t use the word as she looked at the children around her.  “I saw them as those who would hurt.  I saw all men like that for a time until I learned or rather remembered, that they’re not.”  She laughed now.  “They’ll still never be as intelligent as us women, but then we can’t all be perfect…”  Laughter broke out in the room, easing a tension that badly needed to be broken.  Tom Paris spoke out loudly.

“Cheek.  I’ll have you know that you’d be lost without our natural wit and charm, our brilliant minds, our…  Ohhhh…”  He doubled over when B'Elanna punched him in the guts.

“Just remember your place, Helmboy.  Remember where you are in the pecking order of this family.  Me…Miral…and then you…”  She smiled sweetly.  “Remember who owns the nice, friendly Klingon weaponry too…”  Tom pretended horror as the room erupted into howls of laughter, the Voyager crew louder than anyone from personal knowledge.  Chakotay looked over to see Kathryn laughing as loudly as the rest and delighted in seeing her so happy. 

Duncan eventually called for order as the laughter began to die down.  He shook his head, a smile still on his face.

“OK you lot.  Let’s try and get back to business or we’ll be here all night.”  He activated a padd in his hand.  “OK…let me just run this by you all again.  You’ve all been given the details as I was given them but I’ll go through them anyway.”  He cleared his throat.  “There are two issues and I believe it will take more than this meeting tonight to work all this out.  Just know that you can take all the time you need.  This is important and I don’t want anyone rushing this.  If it takes a hundred meetings, that’s fine.”  He nodded to himself and let that sink in.  “Right…  The first issue is about the crew staying on here and the second is about the offer from the Federation and Cardassian Authorities.  As regards the offer…this is the way it could be…”  He looked up and nodded to everyone.  “I spoke with Admiral Paris this afternoon and so did Kathryn here.  Chakotay spoke with him the other day.  This is it.  The Admiral put this to us and we said we’d put it to you and see what you think.”  He stopped a moment and took a drink of water from a glass on the table beside him.  He pressed his lips together to moisten them before speaking.  Lastly he coughed slightly to clear his throat.  He smiled then.

“OK.  I’m ready.”  He smiled again at the laughs he received.  “I’ll read it to you and if everyone could wait until the end to speak, I’d be grateful.”  He looked around as they all nodded.  “Thanks.  Right…  We’d be a kind of Protectorate under the Federation and Cardassian Authorities but they’d have no hold or power over us.  Their rules and laws wouldn’t apply to us.  We’d be a special case…a one off.  They’ve promised to offer us any protection we need, but in any future conflicts we wouldn’t be involved.  In other words, we don’t take sides.”  He took another drink.  “As has been stated, the same people who know about us now will remain the same.  No one new…barring those here…will know about us.  Nothing changes there.  We’d receive equipment and funding…technology and medical equipment…drugs and medicines…seed and veterinary supplies…building and farming equipment…that kind of thing.  It would be along the lines of an aid or compensation package.  Both sides would contribute to this.”  He didn’t look up as he spoke. 

“We’d also be able to contact them if we needed anything.  As it is now, all communications will be well masked and the contents scrambled so they will be safe.  Our security equipment would be upgraded and they’d install panic buttons or alerts we could use if anything, God forbid, happened.  They could also monitor us from a distance but they wouldn’t come here or interfere with us unless we asked them to or unless an alarm went off and we didn’t contact them with a code to cancel it or turn it off.  Life for us here would go on as before with the exception of the better funding and equipment… technology and so on…”  He finally looked up now and was met with a wall of silence.  He waited a few minutes as everyone digested his words.  He looked around one more time and finished. 

“You all need to think carefully about this because it’s your decision.  These are the issues.  Do we accept what the Federation and Cardassian Authorities are offering?”  He paused a moment and then continued.  “The other issue before you is about the Voyager crew staying on.  Two separate issues.  Take some time and talk about this amongst yourselves…  Ask any questions you need to…”  He listened to the silence for a moment longer and then heard a few murmurs here and there before the sound grew and people talked to each other.

^^^^^^^^^^

Over the next hour several questions were put, many simple which were answered quickly and honestly.  Others were harder to answer.  One woman near the back stood slowly and waited until everyone else stopped talking.  She looked nervously towards Duncan and then Kathryn.

“I may be the only one but I don’t think so and I hope I say this right.  I don’t want to cause hurt to anyone.”  Duncan smiled softly at her.

“Ria, this meeting is about you all speaking openly and honestly.  It’s your future we’re deciding on here.  Speak freely.  You won’t hurt anyone.”  Ria looked uncertain but nodded anyway.

“It’s just…  It’s about…  It’s Kathryn…”  She looked apologetically at Kathryn, her eyes pleading for understanding.  Kathryn just smiled kindly at her.

“Ria, you won’t hurt my feelings.  I promise.  I’d be hurt if you weren’t honest with me.  Say what you need to.  Please.”  The woman nodded again.

“OK…  It’s just that…  I do trust you.  Please know that…”  Kathryn nodded at her.  “I mean…  I don’t doubt your loyalty to us…although at first…like others who came before you…it took time…”  Kathryn nodded again, her face showing her understanding.  “I know I’ve no right to ask or expect…”  She broke off as she wrung her hands together.  Kathryn leaned forward in her chair.

“Ria, when I came here, you had every right to doubt me and not trust me.  That had to come with time.  You have every right to question anything here now.  Question me and question the others here…my former crew…  Question what’s being put to you now.  Question the security issues.  That is your right.”  The young woman sighed heavily.

“Thank you.  It’s just not easy to trust.”  Kathryn held her eyes and nodded.  “It’s that…  It’s just that…since the others came and…”  She seemed frustrated with herself.  “It was different with just you…trusting you…  It did take time but then it was fine…  Now with the others here…”  She sighed.  “I think maybe…  I eventually saw you…as…one of us…but now…”  She shook her head in her frustration as Kathryn smiled understandingly.

“Now you see me as one of them…?”  The woman nodded.

“I suppose…  I don’t know…”  Kathryn smiled again.

“Ria, I do understand what you’re saying.  I wish you’d said this to me before.  We could have talked about it.”  Kathryn leaned forward a little, smiling at the woman.  Ria nodded slowly.

“I know…I just didn’t know how…and…”  She brushed some hair off her face.  “I’m not sure if…  I’m not sure if I really feel what I’m saying…or…if this is all my doubts and worries…or…”  Kathryn smiled reassuringly.

“I understand, Ria.  It’s better you say what you feel.  As to me though…can’t I be one of you all…?  Why does it have to be them and us…?”  Ria shook her head and shrugged.

“I’m not questioning your loyalty…”  She went back to wringing her hands.  “I don’t know what I’m asking.  It’s confusing.  I know they were and are your friends and…  It’s just that you were with us and it felt like you understood some things about us and then the others come and I don’t think they can ever understand any of this…and I worry about other stuff…”  She began shaking her head, not knowing what else to say.  Kathryn just nodded at her slowly. 

“What else, Ria…?”  The woman shrugged.

“I worry about…  It’s the offer…and I don’t know about trusting it…and having the others here…so many…and if we can trust them…”  She licked at her dry lips.  “I don’t mean not trust them as such but I worry about the contact they’d have with others when they visit their homes and they’d say something and word would get out and…”  She shook her head.  “I don’t know.  I’m just afraid and worried…  You can’t understand…  They can’t…”  Kathryn smiled softly at her.

“Ria, I understand so well.”  She looked around the room.  “I’m sure quite a few of you feel the same way…feel like this.”  She shook her head slightly and looked at several of the women in turn as she spoke.  “You only have my word that you can trust me.”  She shook her head sadly.  “Not too long ago I wore the uniform you were so afraid of…”  She waved a hand around the room.  “All these people here also wore that uniform.  You’ve every reason to question us.”  She dropped her hands into her lap but continued to look at the women before her.

“I can say to you that you can trust me…can trust them…but it means nothing.  It’s only words.  I can’t prove anything to you.  I can only give you my word.  They can only give you theirs…although I will speak for them too.”  She looked straight at the young woman. 

“Ria, I understand your reservations about me and these people better than you might think…”  The young woman looked very doubtful and Kathryn smiled.  “These aren’t just words.”  She paused.  “Look, I know that it’s scary to be in a place you feel safe in and then to suddenly find yourself sharing that place…that home… with people you’ve come to feel you can’t trust or are afraid of…people you don’t know…people you felt or were told were your enemy.”  Kathryn smiled a little at the amazed look on the faces before her.  Ria spoke softly.

“How could you know that or see that?  How could you understand?”  Kathryn smiled again and shook her head.

“Oh, I do.  Many here do.”  She looked around the room at her former crew.  Finally she looked back at Ria and then at several of the women.  Another woman stood now.

“Kathryn, I don’t think you do understand.  You can’t understand.  You can’t know what it’s like.  With the greatest of respect you’ve no idea what’s it’s like to be wrenched from one life to another like that…to have your family betray you.  You find a place and feel safe and then you’re confronted with sharing where you felt safe with others…”  Her voice softened.

“Look, Kathryn…we all love and trust you.  You know that.”  Kathryn nodded her thanks.  “We’ve come to know you and trust you well…respect you greatly.  The same goes for the others, as far as most of us here are concerned.  Since they’ve been here, they’ve earned that the way you did.”  She ran a hand through her hair.  “Yes…we were terrified at first…with so many arriving at the same time…all strangers…although it did help that you knew and trusted them.  We also had no choice.  We were sick and some were dying.  More importantly, our kids were.  We learned to trust them all though, the way we did with you.  You and they showed us that we could.  You earned that trust.  You earned our trust and respect.”  She hesitated now and shrugged, an apology in her eyes.  “I think what Ria is saying…is that…  It’s just a little difficult to think of this…long term…as in permanent…  Thinking of it in the short term and out of necessity was a little easier.  We could cope with that.  For longer…permanently…”  Her voice trailed off, her eyes pleading for understanding.  Kathryn nodded gently.  She swallowed and licked her lips before she spoke.

“I can’t begin to understand or know what you went through before you came here.  I do understand though…what it’s like to be pulled away from your family.  I can also understand a little of what you’re all feeling about this…”  The second woman shook her head.

“How could you…?”  Kathryn smiled softly.

“Some time ago…and most of you know this…I was a Starfleet captain.  You also know that I was the captain of a ship named Voyager and that we were lost for seven years in the Delta Quadrant.  What you don’t know is this.”  She drew in a deep breath.  “I had another life.  I had a home and family…a man I was engaged to.  I also had my career.  I had my crew and my ship… and a way of life I knew.  I believed in it and I trusted it.  There were set rules and regulations…guidelines…which I could follow.  They were there for me and I had the entire Federation to fall back on.  It was a good safety net.”  She looked towards the back of the room then, looking at nothing in particular.  “I was sent on a mission.  I was sent to capture a man and those with him.”  She turned suddenly towards Chakotay and pointed towards him.  “Chakotay there…  He was that man.  The others…”  She pointed to people around the room.  “B'Elanna… Mike…several others here…”  She smiled quietly.  “Life makes our choices for us though.  Many times that happens…”  She seemed to drift off in memory for a moment and then shook herself, smiling apologetically.  “Our two ships were pulled into the Delta Quadrant, stranding us there with no way home…no way back to our families.  That’s another story though.”  She smiled again.  “Suffice to say that…Chakotay sacrificed his ship to save a race of people from being wiped out and to save our crews.”  She shrugged and then her face softened as she looked around her.

“You see…suddenly…I had to share my life and the place I felt safe in…with my ‘enemy’…a man I’d been told couldn’t be trusted.  I’d read the reports issued to me and I knew him only as a terrorist and a murderer.  My original crew felt the same way.”  She looked over at Chakotay a moment.

“For Chakotay and his crew…it was worse, I think.  They were ripped from their home…”  She looked over the women again.  “Much like you all were…”  She looked back at Chakotay again.  “They were ripped from their safe place and put in with their enemy who they believed would probably imprison them.  When that didn’t happen, they still had to live with us.  They then had to wear the uniform of ‘their enemy’ so in a way it was far worse for them.    They’d understand even better than I would.”  She held eyes with Chakotay a moment longer and then looked out over the room.

“We were all alone out there.  We’d all been pulled from our families…not knowing if we’d ever see them again…believing that we wouldn’t.  We only had each other.”  She paused a moment.  “What I’m saying is…  For the greater good of the entire group…and in order to survive…we had to band together…work together…so often fight together to defend ourselves…”  She swallowed loudly.  “For seven years, I trusted these people.  I trusted them day in and day out.  I trusted them with my life.  They even saved it a few times.”  She sighed.  “We even picked up another crew along the way…and we had to do the same with them.  They went through the same as we’d been through…pulled from what they knew as home and then, like Chakotay’s crew, were forced to live with strangers they weren’t sure they could trust.  We all had to do it though, in order to survive.”  She drew in a deep breath.  “We had to do that…  The others…Chakotay’s crew and the other one…they worked with us despite not knowing what their future held…not that any of us knew that.  They were helping us get back home though…even though that could mean imprisonment for them but they learned to trust us and worked with us…  So we all worked together out there…and by doing so…by doing that…we learned to live together.  We became a family.  We learned to depend and reply on each other…to trust each other…respect each other…be there for each other…help each other…to like each other…”  She smiled quietly towards Chakotay.  “In some cases…even love each other…”  A choked sob from Ria drew her attention back to the young woman.

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t know.  I didn’t mean to question you…”  Kathryn smiled reassuringly.

“I told you, Ria.  You’ve every right to question.  This is your home.  It’s your say…you and the other women here and the kids…  It’s completely up to you.  We’d love to stay on here.”  She laughed sadly.  “We’re a pretty lost bunch.  We haven’t really got a home…  We were lost…are still lost…have no real home…nowhere that feels like home anyway…so maybe we have more in common than you think…”  She smiled a little.  “I do understand though…just how hard it is to suddenly have to face a new set-up like this…”  Ria nodded and was just about to speak when someone across the room stood slowly.  All eyes turned to the new person. 

Chakotay craned his neck and was surprised to see Marla Gilmore standing up.  He saw how nervous she seemed as she twisted her hands together in imitation of Ria.  He saw Noah Lessing, who was seated beside her, suddenly reach up and grasp her hands, squeezing reassuringly.  Marla looked down at him and smiled lovingly at him and nodded, a silent thanks for his support.  Chakotay smiled to himself.  Here was another couple he hadn’t noticed.  Marla looked around the room a moment and then spoke, her voice shaky. 

“I’m Marla.  I only know some of you because I worked with some of you and I tend to be a bit shy and stay out of the way so…”  She shrugged and smiled down at Noah again, receiving a nod of approval from him.  Her voice gained strength as she gained confidence. “I wanted…needed to say something…”  She looked towards Duncan who smiled and nodded.

“Please Marla…everyone has the right to speak here…”  Marla smiled softly and cleared her throat.

“I was on Voyager.  I was a member of the crew which joined later on…the one Captain…sorry…the one Kathryn…spoke of…”  She smiled.  “I’m still not used to not calling her Captain…”  Several people laughed and that seemed to give her even more confidence.

“I was there…and I was one of the ones who came home to Earth and to…”  She stopped a moment and looked down at her hands.  Seeming to make a decision, she looked up again.  “I need to tell you…”  She spoke hesitantly about the Equinox and her time onboard.  She gave the basic details but didn’t hide the truth.  When she finished, she looked around her as if expecting condemnation but only saw understanding.  She shook her head now.

“I understand something that the others here can’t…understand something about you…”  She looked at several of the women.  “You see…the main crew of Voyager…they came home as heroes…  For me…and Noah here…the others who were on the Equinox…well…we came home as…perhaps disgraced…”  She sighed deeply.  “Oh, Starfleet played it all down…and didn’t say very much…and I know most of that was because our Captain spoke up for us…defended us I guess…supported us…”  She smiled over at her former captain and then looked away. 

“A lot of you may know their basic stories but you don’t know about how they came home to a world they didn’t know so well…because things had changed in seven years…and people had moved on and…  We just didn’t fit in anymore and were lost…  Maybe more lost when we got back than when we were out there…”  She shook her head sadly.  “The difference though…is that for most of them…their families were happy to see them.  Things were maybe a little strained, but for the most part…they were happy to see their family member again…”  She stopped now and looked down at Noah.

“For me…for Noah and the others of my crew…it wasn’t like that…”  She looked around her again.  “You see…my family were all Fleet…  My father…brothers… cousins even…and it was tolerated when I wanted to join.  It was expected that I would only stay long enough for…stay a year or so…”  She laughed sarcastically.  “I was the kind of woman expected to have just enough career so that I could understand my future husband’s.  He would, of course, also be Starfleet.  Had I just stayed at home and then married, that would also have been fine.”  She sighed now.  “You know the kind of woman who only becomes a nurse so that she can marry a doctor?”  Everyone looked at Miriam and Dressa and then over at Galan and Greta, who in turn held up their hands in mock defence.  A ripple of soft laughter passed over the room before silence returned.  The small respite seemed to have encouraged Marla a little more and she smiled now, showing much more confidence.

“My career…as it turned out…was unintentionally extended…”  Laughter greeted that comment also and Marla smiled back at those around her but then grew serious.

“We didn’t return as heroes…but in disgrace.  I certainly did anyway…to my family.”  She blinked quickly and lowered her head.  When she spoke again, her voice dropped a little.  “You said we didn’t understand about what you went through…before you came here.  I understand some of it.  So does Noah…and some of the others.”  She finally looked up, unshed tears in her eyes alongside a flash of anger.

“My family were ashamed of me.”  She sniffed.  “The others…  Their families were proud of them…proud of their returning husbands or wives…sons or daughters…brothers and sisters…whatever…”  She shook her head angrily.  “They were heroes.  We were…I certainly was…something to be hidden away.  I had dishonoured them in their eyes.  No one talked of me…  Too embarrassed you see…  My parents didn’t talk about me to their friends and their friends were far too polite to talk about me either…  Talk to my parents that is...”  She snorted.  “Oh, I’m sure they talked about me quite a lot behind their backs…”  She sighed deeply.

“I was the family disgrace…totally shunned…and the hurt of that will never leave me.  Starfleet treated me better than my own family.  You people here…strangers…treated me better in my first day here than my family did.”  A few tears spilled over now and her voice broke.  “My father actually told me once…in a drunken rage…”  She swallowed loudly.  “He said… ‘why didn’t you just get killed out there.  At least then we’d have had something to be proud of’…”  She broke down now and Noah jumped up, taking her in his arms.  Several of the women who were beside them reached over and patted her back.  For several minutes, the only sound in the room was Marla’s quiet sobs.   Finally Noah eased Marla down into her chair.  She pulled back a little from him and wiped at her eyes, accepting a tissue from the woman next to her and smiling her thanks.   

Chakotay sat rooted to his chair at what had just unfolded.  He felt totally shocked.  He silently cursed himself for not having seen how much worse it was for Marla and the other Equinox crew.  He then realized that in trying to help them all, he’d assumed they all had the same level of problem.  He looked over to see Kathryn sitting frozen in her seat also.  Tears ran down her face.  Duncan quickly took control of the situation and used a spoon to clink against his glass.  Slowly everyone turned to look at him.  He smiled softly as he looked at Marla.

“Marla, I’m so sorry you had to go through all that.  I can see that you understand a lot of what these women went through with their families and I’m sure they thank you for sharing that with us.  Your family…”  Marla wiped at her face and interrupted him.

“My family is here, Duncan.  That’s all.”  Duncan smiled and nodded.

“I can see that…and a very fine family you have…”  He waited a few moments and then spoke.

“Does anyone else want to speak or ask anything…?”  A woman near Duncan stood up.

“Yes.  I do.  It’s off the subject a little…”  Duncan smiled and gestured for her to go ahead.  “It’s just…  You spoke earlier…said something about all this being part of a compensation package…  Can you explain that more…?”  Several other voices sounded agreement with that.  Duncan nodded.

“That’s right.  That’s the way it was put to us.  It would be financial aid in the form of compensation.  They’d supply what we need and provide a monthly stipend for each person here.  Also compensation…”  The woman grew angry.

“Compensation?  Nothing can compensate for what happened to us.  I, for one, don’t want their blood money…whether it’s labelled aid or compensation…”  Her voice was angry.  Chakotay glanced quickly at Kathryn and briefly met her eyes.  He looked away when another voice called out from behind.

“Speak for yourself Paula.  I want it.  I’ll take what I can get from them.”  Yet another voice.

“Me too.  I’ll take it.  If not for me…then for my kids…”  The first woman turned and looked back to where the voices had come from.

“Why would you take it?  Have you no pride?”  A tall woman at the back stood up.

“Pride doesn’t put food into kids’ mouths…in case you hadn’t noticed.  This is something we’re owed.”  The first woman placed her hands on her hips and she spat her words out.

“Oh…you think you earned it…?  Maybe it wasn’t rape after all…”  The woman at the back made a run for the first and several others jumped up to get between them.  Chakotay jumped up also along with several staff and crew.  Some of the kids were getting upset and a few had started crying.  Duncan shouted over the raised voices and began to bang his glass on the table.  Finally he roared out, stopping everyone in their tracks.

“For God’s sake…look at yourselves…  You’ve upset the kids.  How dare you behave like that.  We’re supposed to be civilized.  This was meant to be a meeting to TALK about all this…decide what to do.  We did not come here to trade insults and fight like alley cats.  Sit down and shut up…the lot of you…”  He was panting now and seemed shocked at his own outburst.  That same shock was what got everyone back in their seats, picking up some chairs which had been knocked over.  None of the women had ever seen Duncan angry before.

Finally everyone calmed down, including the kids.  Duncan glared at Paula, the woman who had spoken first.  She shrank under his glare.  Without any prompting, she stood up and looked around the room.

“I apologize for what I said.”  She then looked directly at the woman she had insulted.  “Jule, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean that.  It’s just…  It’s like an insult after what happened…  It’s…”  Her eyes pleaded for her and Jule nodded slowly.

“Forget it, Paula.  We’re all on edge over this.  We’ll get over it.  Let’s just sort everything else out.”  There was still tension between the two women but everyone could see that time would sort it out.  Paula nodded her thanks and sat again.  Duncan sighed.

“Look, I know feelings are running high and that nerves are frayed.  Tempers can get hot.  We’ve all been through a lot of trauma recently and have had to accept a lot of change over a short period so it’s bound to affect us.  Still though, we need to work together and get along.  We’re all friends here and friends talk calmly to each other…”  Suddenly he rolled his eyes up and shook his head.  He smiled then and looked over at one of the women beside Chakotay.

“What was that you were saying earlier about men and women…?”  That broke the tension and almost everyone laughed.  Chakotay looked towards Kathryn again and saw his own relief mirrored in her eyes.  Duncan grew serious again.  “OK…let’s get this meeting back on track.  I know we’re all a little on edge but we need to get the issues out on the table and the basic questions answered.  You can work out the rest of it later for yourselves when you’re coming to your decision or at any later meetings.”  Everyone nodded their agreement to that. 

There was silence for a few moments and then a small woman seated beside Seven stood slowly.

“I have to say this while it’s still kind of on the subject.”  She looked at Duncan for permission and he eventually nodded.

“Let’s just try and keep this ordered…”  The woman nodded.

“I see the aid they’re offering as guilt money and I’m not sure I want that…”  Duncan cut in.

“Dara, it’s not guilt money…”  The woman cut back in.

“Yes, it is.”  Her voice rose a little.  “I’d rather have justice.  That would mean something.  I’d like for the two governments to admit what their soldiers did to us…”  The woman beside her looked up at her.

“That would mean everything coming out in the open…”  Dara nodded.

“So what?  I’ve nothing to be ashamed about…”  The second woman shook her head.

“Neither have I but it would also mean that everyone would know about this place.  Our families for example.  That’s the last thing we need.”  A woman beside T’Pel leaned forward.

“If everyone knew…if it was public…what about the kids…?  They’d all know…”  Dara turned to her.

“The kids already know…  Well…most of them do anyway…”  The third woman shook her head.

“I also meant their kids…the soldiers’ kids…”  Dara laughed.

“Am I hearing you right?  Who cares…?  They should know what their fathers did…”  The third woman stared hard at Dara.

“Their kids did nothing.  Their kids are as innocent as ours.  It would only hurt them.  What’s happened to you Dara?  An eye for an eye?  Hasn’t enough hurt gone around already?  I don’t know about you…but I already have my revenge.  I’m going on with my life.  I’m living it and raising my kids well.  We’re happy.  We’re living our lives to the full.  Wanting to cause harm to their kids just makes us as bad as they were.”  The two women stared at each other for a moment and then Dara nodded and sat down, mumbling to herself but admitting defeat.  One of the women sitting beside Marla now stood.

“This isn’t going to be a popular question either.”  Duncan nodded for her to go ahead.  “I’m worried about security if we have all these extra people here…”  The tall woman seated at the back who had spoken earlier stood up.

“Don’t be stupid, Lou…  Use your brain.  Look what happened before they came here.  It’s been great since they’ve been here.  Nothing bad has happened since.  I’ve never felt safer.”  Lou threw a hand up.

“We don’t know them.  I worry about my kids…”  The tall woman laughed.

“You don’t know them because you haven’t let yourself get to know them.  You didn’t know me either when you came here.  If I remember, you took a long time to let any of us in.  You were fine though.”  Lou wasn’t giving in.

“That was different.  You were all…”  The second woman cut her off with another laugh.

“We were all what?  Women?”  Lou nodded defiantly.  “Oh Lou…  Think honey.  There were men here too and you learned to trust them.  Besides, if it’s the kids you’re worried about, it isn’t just men who hurt kids or are a threat to them.”  She sighed.  “Come on Lou…  Where are you trying to go with this?  This has never been an issue here past the first few weeks and you know it.  You’re just looking for a reason…any reason…”  A silence followed before Lou nodded slowly and spoke.

“I know it’s not an issue.  I just…  I’m scared.  I’m afraid.  So many came at once and…”  The other woman smiled kindly at her.

“Lou, you faced far more strangers when you came here first and you know that.  We were all strangers and the place itself was unknown.  You’re at home now and surrounded by those you know.  You’re not facing any threat.”  Her voice softened.  “Lou…listen to me…”  She looked around her.  “This goes for anyone else who feels this way.”  She looked back at Lou.  “Honey, you’ve had two betrayals against you.  OK…one was a stranger but the other was your husband.  You told me before that your family’s betrayal hurt the worst.”  Lou nodded sadly.

“Yes…it did…”  The second woman smiled softly and pointed to Marla.

“There’s a new friend for you…someone you can talk to and who will understand…  There are many here like that for you…if you just let us…”  Lou wiped at some tears on her face and nodded.

“I know…I’m sorry…I’m just afraid….”  Duncan’s voice made them all turn in his direction.  He spoke softly.

“I know you’re all afraid.  You’re being asked to consider a lot here…a lot of changes too…  I know how afraid you are but I also know that you’re all very strong.  Look at what you’ve all faced these past months…”  He let them digest that.  He then activated a padd in his hand.

“I want to go back over the main points here because I feel they’ve been lost.  Please just bear with me here.”  Everyone nodded.

“OK.  I’ll read out the main concerns which you’ve all put to me and briefly go into a little detail on each.  Then you can think about it all.”  He went to take a drink of water and realized that his glass was empty, the small amount of liquid which had remained having spilled on the table when he had banged his glass earlier.  He smiled as Selona offered him another glass.  He drank deeply and then spoke.

“These are your main concerns and there are pros and cons for a lot of them.”  He cleared his throat.  “No one new would know about us.”  He looked up.  “That has two sides.  No one new within the Federation or the Cardassian Government would know about us.  The only new people would be the crew asking to stay on here.”  He sighed.  “I know it was asked earlier about their contact with their families so this is the way it would be.  They would be able to contact their families via sub space transmissions.  They would also be able to visit them.  I believe them when they say they will NEVER discuss with their families where they will be.  Remember these are people used to working with confidential matters…people with families used to their loved ones going on covert missions.  They would be able to contact their families as I said, but all transmissions would be well masked.  No one would be able to trace the transmissions.  This is the technology available to us.  Any contact from their families to them would not come through to here.  If a family needed to contact one of them, they could get in touch with a certain department at Starfleet who would then contact us.  The contact at Starfleet will be an existing official who already knows about us.  That system has always been in place for family members needing to contact their loved ones who are away on missions, so it wouldn’t arouse suspicion.”  He drank some more water.  “As to the Starfleet personnel who will be returning…  They have all sworn an Official Secrets Oath.  Chakotay made sure of that before he brought them with him.  I trust him and them and I hope you will too.”  He saw several heads nod at that.  “You have my word that we are not going to suddenly be on the star charts or become some tourist attraction.  The location of this planet will remain a secret.”  He sighed.

“Another point which has to be made is about the extra numbers.  First off, you have to decide if you think the extra numbers will mean added protection or a security risk.  You have to ask yourselves about your trust in these people.”  He tapped on the padd.  “Some even asked where they’d fit and what they’d do.  Well, there’s more than enough work here to keep them occupied.  More people means more work to be done.  We’d need more shelters for a start and they’d be helping to produce the extra food and so on that they’d need.  The extra numbers would also mean more technology.  These people have a lot of knowledge we don’t.  Someone suggested that the numbers would add to our security…not take away from it.  Safety in numbers kind of thing.”  He brushed his hair back.

“Other points raised.  The equipment we’ve been promised if we decide to go ahead with this.  We need it but we’ve managed up to now.  You have to decide on this also.  There’s also the funding which we could well do with but again, we’ve managed.”  He looked at several of the women.  “It’s worth thinking about the knowledge and technology…the expertise…this crew have brought with them.  I feel certain that many wouldn’t be here tonight without it…especially Voyager’s Doctor and Seven…and the medical staff and scientists who came with them…”  He let that point make itself.

“Someone asked what these people would do all day…”  Several of the women laughed at that.  A voice from the back sounded.

“I’ve plenty of work they can do…”  Duncan smiled and nodded.

“You just want someone to take your four kids off your hands, Kit…”  Everyone laughed at that.  Duncan looked at Kit to make sure she was sharing the joke and laughed with her when he saw she was.  He smiled.

“That’s been discussed already.  There’s plenty of work to do here…not to mention certain romances which have started.”  There was another round of laughter.  As it died down, a woman on the far side of the room stood.  She smiled warmly and looked at Duncan first and then at the crew.

“No one else has asked you this so I guess I will…”  She moistened her lips a moment.  She then looked at the crew, her eyes moving from face to face.  “How do you all feel about staying?  Are you happy to stay?  Is this really what you want?  You say you all want to stay but is it just because you feel you have nowhere else…?”  Silence followed the woman’s questions and all eyes in the room turned to the crew.  They looked at each other and several heads nodded approval as Noah Lessing stood slowly.  He coughed a little to clear his throat and smiled softly.

“I’m Noah…”  Most of the women nodded at that.  Noah looked around him at the women as he spoke.

“You ask why we want to stay?”  He shrugged his shoulders.  “We have nowhere else.  That’s true.  It’s also because we need to be together and have a purpose.”  He gave a small smile.  “It was for those reasons at first…but now…”  He sighed.  “Don’t get me wrong.  Those reasons still apply but since we’ve been here and gotten to know you all…”  He sighed heavily.  “If we left now…”  He looked down at the floor and shook his head.  He looked up again and shrugged.

“I’ve had three homes in my life.  The first was on Earth…my boyhood home with my parents…  I left that and joined the Academy.”  He smiled now.  “I don’t count the dorms there as a home…”  Several others around him laughed slightly at that as they remembered.  “I was back and forward between home and the dorms but home was basically Earth.”  He scratched at the back of his hand.  “I left that home…left Earth…thinking I’d be back in weeks…a couple of months at the most…”  He swallowed.  “I left that home…lost it…and I didn’t know I was losing it…”  He shook his head and took a deep breath.

“The second home was on the Equinox…the ship I was on…  That felt like going into the unknown…the ship and going into space…”  He laughed slightly.  “By the time I left that home, I was glad to leave it.”  He grew serious again.  “Voyager was hard at first.  It was like going into the unknown all over again, but after what we’d been through it was a welcome unknown.”  He smiled softly.  “It became home too though…just as it did for the others with me…and those already there…”  He looked down at the floor sadly now.

“When we got back…I lost another home.  We all did…”  He shook his head.  “I thought I was leaving this new home to return to a familiar earlier one.  I thought that would ease the pain of leaving my new family…that it would be a replacement…not a loss.”  He looked up now. 

“I was wrong…”  He shrugged and sighed.  A silence followed before he spoke again. 

“Now I feel I’ve found home again.”  He looked up.  “It’s not in the buildings around me…but in the people…  I came here with one family and I feel I’ve found another.  We all feel that way…”  The woman who had asked the question smiled kindly at Noah and nodded her understanding.

“What about your family on Earth?  Are they still there?”  Noah nodded.  The woman studied him a moment.  “Can you be cut off from them so much?”  Noah smiled sadly.

“I was cut off from them for many years.  We’re strangers to each other now.  My brothers and sisters are married…have kids I don’t know…kids who seem afraid of me…”  He laughed a little sarcastically.  “I’ve had less strained conversations with strangers waiting at a transporter station.”  He waved his arm, indicating the others around him.  “Most of us here won’t really be missed.  Besides, we could still visit Earth occasionally and see family members or friends again.”  He shook his head and sighed again, suddenly seeming lost for words now.  He shrugged again.  Suddenly Marla stood beside him and reached for his hand.  She squeezed it reassuringly.  She then looked out over the group of women.

“We know we can still visit Earth and that it’s not like we won’t ever see our families again…  We also know never to tell anyone where we are or anything about this place.  Besides…”  She laughed bitterly.  “In some cases…it’s not like we’ll even be missed…”  She held a hand up in apology.  “Sorry…”  She looked behind her, her eyes meeting those of Voyager’s Doctor.  He smiled kindly and then stood also.

“I guess I also have no one.  I’m a computer program likely to be decompiled…  Here I can do good…”  Marla reached for his hand.

“You’re far more than a program, Doctor.  I think everyone here will agree to that…”  The EMH nodded his thanks.  Tom suddenly spoke up, deciding to break the sombre mood and ease any tension.

“Yeah, Doc…we just need to work on your sense of humour…”  It did the trick and everyone laughed, enjoying and needing the break.  Duncan laughed along with everyone but then grew serious and called for order.

“I want to say something else here.  I want to tell you all something.  I’ll probably be strung up afterwards for saying this but you need to know.”  Everyone grew quiet.  “It’s regarding the funding.”  He drew in a deep breath.  “I think you all know that Kathryn donated her savings…her back pay from Starfleet…when she came here…”  Chakotay looked quickly at Kathryn but she had her head down.  He shook his own head, not really surprised.  Duncan went on.  “What you also need to know is that every single crew member who wishes to stay on here did the same…regardless of your decision.”  There were several gasps of surprise.  Duncan suddenly pretended fear, a mock tremble in his voice.  “They each came to me and swore me to secrecy.”  Many laughed and he returned his voice to normal now.  “Each felt they were the only one and asked that no one be told what they were doing.”  He looked at the crew who were looking at each other in surprise.  “That’s right.  They each came to me in turn over time and donated their pay.  Each told me not to tell the others.”  He shrugged.  “Well…I think you should know…”  The women all began to applaud.  Chakotay looked up and met Kathryn's eyes.  She didn’t seem shocked as she smiled at him and then nodded.

When silence had once again returned, Duncan put his padd down.  He surveyed the people before him.

“I’ll make a few comments and then I’ll leave it up to you.  This deal, if you want to call it that, can be accepted or rejected.  That is your decision.  If it’s rejected, life will go on as before.  We’ve gained a lot of knowledge from this crew while they’ve been here and that will be their legacy.  If they stay, that will continue.  If we accept the other offer, we’ll have their protection as well as the protection and aid from Starfleet and the Cardassians.  We’ve still a lot of work to do here and that will get done faster and better with the extra numbers, but it would get done anyway.  Our medical knowledge has increased no end, thanks to Voyager’s Doctor.  That will be his legacy but we could still use more.  Yes, there will be extra mouths to feed but there’ll also be extra funding and extra hands to grow that food.  They’ll earn their keep.”  He smiled and then grew serious once more. 

“Remember also, and this is the most important point, that the deal with the Federation and the Cardassians is SEPARATE from the question about the crew staying.  You can vote for both or only one or neither.  I want you to remember that.  It’s not all or nothing here.”  He leaned forward now, resting his weight on his arms against the table.

“I think now…that we should…the staff and crew…  We should now leave you and let you get on with talking about this between you.  There’s no rush in any decision here and we can arrange other meetings anytime.  Think about this and talk about it amongst yourselves.  Talk to your kids.  Take your time.  Sleep on it over several days or as long as you like.  Talk to any of us any time with any questions you have.  Talk some more then.  Only when you’ve all agreed and I mean ALL of you…then come back to us…”  Jaal suddenly stood up.

“Excuse me, Duncan…ALL of us…?  We ALL have to agree…?”  Duncan nodded.

Yes Jaal.  It wouldn’t be fair otherwise…”  Jaal shook her head.

“But if only a few disagree…that’s not fair on the majority who would agree…  It’s  not fair on those who would gain what we’d lose if say one person opposes this and it doesn’t happen because of them…”  She frowned.  “Did that come out right…?”  Duncan smiled softly.

“I know what you mean, Jaal.  Think about it this way though…  They’d lose more…”  Jaal let some anger show.

“We’d lose more…”  Duncan shook his head.

“Jaal, they would lose more.  They’d lose their peace of mind…”  He smiled at her.  “Isn’t that what this place is all about?”  Another woman stood.

“In case you haven’t noticed, Duncan…we lost that before the crew came or this deal was mentioned.  In my mind, they’ve helped us to get it back…”  No one said any more.  Duncan waited to see if everyone had finished.

“OK…that’s what’s before you all.  Has anyone anything else to say…?”  He turned as Kathryn called his name.  “Yes…Kathryn…?”  She smiled and nodded.

“I just wanted to say one thing.  I spoke earlier about having no choice when we were all out in the Delta Quadrant.  I said how we had to join together.  Well, that doesn’t apply to you all here now.”  She looked around at the women.  “You all HAVE a choice…to both questions before you.  It’s entirely up to you.  You have the choice.  Please don’t be afraid of hurting anyone’s feelings by saying no.  This affects your lives…you and your kids.  It’s your decision.  You must do what you feel is best for you.”  She smiled.  “That’s all I wanted to say…”  Duncan smiled his thanks to her.

“Anyone else…?”  He looked around when Chakotay stood now.

“I really want to second what Kathryn just said.  Please don’t feel under any pressure to let us stay on here.  Think only of yourselves and your kids.  We’ve come to be friends in the short time we’ve been here.  It would be an insult to that friendship to be anything other than honest in what you want now.  You won’t hurt our feelings if you say no.  If we leave, it will have been the greatest honour of our lives to have been able to meet you all and help you in the way we did.  Please though, make the decision that suits you best.  Think only of yourselves.  That’s all.”  Chakotay sat down again to the sound of clapping.  He looked over at Kathryn and saw her smile her approval at him.  He smiled back.  Duncan watched them a moment and then spoke for a last time.

“That’s it folks.  Go away now and think about this.  Actually, just finish off all this food and drink first.  Selona hates waste and she’ll have my head if any of this goes in the bins…”  One of the children shouted out.

“It doesn’t.  Eugene always takes it for the pigs.  Selona knows that.  She gives it to him.”  Laughter filled the room as Duncan rolled his eyes.

“Can I get away with anything around here?  Does anything go unnoticed?”  Peter laughed over at him.

“Good God, Duncan…you’ve been here long enough to know the answer to that…”  Duncan just shook his head and went to sit down.  Suddenly Lou called out to him.

“Duncan…”  He stopped mid way to his chair.

“Yes, Lou…?”  She smiled slightly.

“Can I ask…?  I mean…I understand about the crew not voting on this…but what about you and the other staff…?  You’re a part of all this.  What’s your opinion…?”  Duncan stood again.

“It’s not up to us, Lou.  We’ve talked about this and we all agree.  We’re not staff here anyway.  We just help you all run the place.  At the end of the day though…this is your decision because it affects you all the most.  This is your home and it’s about your security and peace of mind.  Nothing else.  Our opinion doesn’t come into this and we’re not discussing it.  You all make your own decision.  OK?”  Lou looked uncertain but she nodded.

“OK.  I still think your opinion matters.  It would help us to know what you thought…”  Duncan shook his head.

“No, Lou…it wouldn’t help.  What it might do is influence you and that’s not right.  You all need to make this decision yourselves…for yourselves.”  She seemed to accept that and nodded again before turning to the woman beside her to talk quietly to her.

^^^^^^^^^^

While the women and older kids remained in the day room, the staff and some of the crew wandered off into the large kitchen and made tea.  Tom had helped himself to two plates of Selona’s cookies and was passing them around. 

Chakotay had carried Kathryn into the kitchen at her request, rather than back to the clinic.  They had both seen the tender looks she received from the women and kids as he carried her.  He set a cup of tea before her now and sat down beside her.

“No coffee this late.  You won’t sleep.”  She was still a lot more like the old Kathryn at the moment but he could see the clouds beginning to gather once more.  “Tea is far better for you but you can have some of those cookies…or I can get you a sandwich if you’re hungry.”  Kathryn shook her head and took a small cookie.

“This is fine and I’ll forgive you for the coffee.”  She smiled at him and then looked down into the steaming cup.  She played with the handle for a moment.  “How do you think it went?”  She looked back at him and saw him shrug.

“I honestly don’t know.  I think very well for the most part but there were a few times…”  Kathryn sighed.

“God, Chakotay…I thought skin and hair would fly for a minute there…  When Paula…”  She sighed again.  “I didn’t think anything like that existed between them all…”  Chakotay sighed and stirred his tea.

“This kind of situation brings out the worst in people…especially when they’re faced with such a big change.  It makes for a lot of fear and fear can bring out all sorts of emotions which are thought long gone or hidden…buried deeply a long time ago…emotions you don’t even know existed…”  Kathryn nodded slowly.

“I guess…”  She shook her head.  She looked around her then, making sure no one was too close.  She whispered her words.  “And Marla…  God Chakotay…I had no idea it was so bad for her and the other Equinox crew when they got back…”  When Chakotay didn’t answer she looked at him and saw him with his head down, shaking it slowly.  “Chakotay…?”  He finally looked up at her.

“That was like a kick in the guts.  I felt so guilty for not seeing that…”  Kathryn frowned.

“You didn’t know…?”  Her question added to how bad he felt, although he knew she didn’t mean it that way.  He shook his head.

“They never said anything…but still…I should have seen…guessed even…asked…”  He looked up when he felt Kathryn's hand on his arm.  She squeezed gently.

“Chakotay…you’re not psychic.  How could you have known?  You did what I should have done.  You tracked them all down and asked how they were…  I just ran…”  She dropped her own head.  Now it was Chakotay’s turn to squeeze her arm.  She looked up at him and he saw tears in her eyes.

“Kathryn…neither of us was responsible for what happened when we got home.  That was just…  It affected us all.”  Kathryn bit at her lip.  Her words sounded angry.

“All the more reason for me to have guessed about them then.  If I felt that way...I should have known that you all would have too.  I abandoned my crew, Chakotay…”  He saw where this was leading and wasn’t having it.

“Enough Kathryn.  You’re just looking for something to beat yourself up over as usual.  I am not going to sit here and watch you load the ammunition.  What happened, happened.  We WERE there and now we’re HERE.  We deal with HERE.  We can’t change the past.  We learn from it and use it to better the present and the future.  I won’t let you walk on this road again.  You’re far too fond of it.”  Kathryn saw the anger in his eyes and realized just how serious he was.  She backed off.  Nodding slowly, she tried a smile and looked down at her tea.  She lifted the cup and tasted the liquid.

“Not bad, Chakotay.  I just MIGHT get used to this now and again.  Not a patch on coffee though…”  She looked at him to see if her ploy was working.  One look from him let her know it wasn’t but that he was letting her off this time.  He smiled and nodded.

“Finish it up and I’ll take you back to your bed.  You must be exhausted after all that.  Duncan told the women to sleep on it.  You need to do the same.  We’ve done all we can and now we just wait.  No harm in sleeping away some of that waiting time.”  He saw a brief pain cross her eyes before she pushed it away.  She smiled gently at him.

“OK.  I am tired.  Actually, I’m exhausted.  I could…”  She looked up suddenly as Duncan loomed over her.  She gave him a sweet smile which he ignored.

“I distinctly remember telling you to go straight back to the clinic after the meeting.  I did not give you permission to go gallivanting around the better known tea houses of Haven.”  He leaned over further and looked into her cup.  “And that had better not be coffee…”  Kathryn rolled her eyes up and then shook her head.

“You’re like a clucking, old, mother hen Duncan.  It’s tea.  Your loyal guard here made sure of that…”  She turned and made a face at Chakotay then smiled up at Duncan.  “And before you say anything else, we were just leaving.  This kind gentleman was just about to escort me back to the clinic…  Satisfied…?”  She tried a mock glare at the man leaning over her and saw him slowly lose his stern look.  Finally he nodded, trying desperately to hide the smile which threatened.

“Just see that you go straight back there.  You need your rest.  Tonight must have drained you.”  Kathryn's face softened and then took on a sad look.

“It did but it saddened me more …”  She looked at Duncan and saw her own emotions mirrored in his eyes.  He nodded slowly.

“I know.”  He sighed heavily.  “Look Kathryn, get a good night’s sleep.  We’ll talk tomorrow.  I need to absorb this evening before I even try and sort my thoughts.  My head is all over the place.”  He smiled gently and Kathryn nodded her head also.

“Yeah…I know how that feels…”  She pushed herself away from the table, still in her chair and reached towards Chakotay.  “OK…I’m ready.”  Duncan straightened and looked down at her.

“You’ve some strength in those arms, Kathryn.  Remind me never to try arm wrestling with you…”  Kathryn glanced up at him.

“I’d murder you…  Remember I played tennis for years and God knows how many other sports on Voyager.  I’m small but strong.”  Duncan blew out a breath. 

“Yes, Kathryn…whatever you say, Kathryn…get to bed, Kathryn…”  He laughed and wagged a finger at her.  “Your carriage awaits…”  He gestured towards Chakotay who stood now and reached down for her.  He smiled softly as she lifted her arms to him.

“Come on lady.  Let’s get you back…”  He lifted her easily and Kathryn slipped her arms around his neck.  She loosened one and slapped him on the shoulder.

“Come on then…  Home James…and don’t spare the horses…”  Chakotay delighted in her apparent happy mood but worried that it was just an act.  He laughed and hoisted her a little higher in his arms.

“Say ‘night night’ to the good people, Kathryn.  You’ll see them in the morning…”  Kathryn waved over Chakotay’s shoulder and Duncan made a face at her.  He then turned to Jonathan beside him and pretended to speak quietly.

“Thank God, they’ve finally gone.  Now we can dig out the coffee…”  He roared at the glare Kathryn managed before Chakotay backed them both out the door.  Her voice reached them though.

“Payback is so much fun, Duncan.  Remember that…”

^^^^^^^^^^

As Chakotay helped Kathryn settle into her bed, he watched her carefully.  Her expression was blank but he knew she was thinking deeply.  He folded her top sheet over her and then sat down in the chair beside her.

“Comfortable…?”  She looked up suddenly.

“Sorry?”  He smiled quietly.

“Are you comfortable?”  She nodded quickly.

“Yes, I’m fine.  Sorry…  I was miles away…”  She smiled apologetically and then reached for his hand when she saw the worried look on his face.  “I’m fine…really.  I was just thinking about the meeting.”  Chakotay nodded slowly.

“Put it out of your mind for the night, Kathryn.  You need to rest.”  She didn’t seem to hear him.

“I really thought we were past all that…  I really believed they all trusted me…”  She looked at Chakotay and he saw the threat of tears in her eyes.  He reached for her other hand and squeezed gently.

“They do Kathryn.  They just have a lot to deal with right now.  They’ve had so much to cope with these past months.  Besides everything with that bastard, they’ve had our lot dumped on them en masse.  That’s bound to have set them all back a fair bit.”  Kathryn shook her head sadly.

“They see me as part of all that now.  They did think of me as one of them but now…”  Chakotay sighed and leaned towards her.

“Kathryn, listen to me.  You have to see it through their eyes.  They do still trust you but things are just all over the place at the moment.  It’s like…”  He paused for a moment as he thought.  “It’s…  Your previous life was your outside life…if you like.  They only saw you here…in the present.  With all this…your past life was just suddenly visible to them and it’s scared them because they hadn’t thought about it…or allowed themselves to think about it.  They saw another side to you…an extension.  They’ve never seen that with the others.  They’ve only ever seen their lives here.  If they saw Duncan or Jonathan with their families or on Earth, it would open a door to another life for them and they’d feel the same about them.”  He drew in a deep breath.

“They’re cocooned here.  It’s become easy to forget or ignore anything outside of this place.  They’ve blocked out the past and the world outside of here.”  He leaned forward and smiled quietly, his fingers stroking over the back of Kathryn's hand.

“Look, you know the fans of those holovids…the ones where the story continues week after week…?”  Kathryn nodded.

“Tom said they were called ‘soaps’ at one time…”  Chakotay nodded.

“Those fans…  They follow an actor in a role on those vids and they only see that.  Suddenly they learn about the actor’s life…his real life…”  He shrugged.  “Say he plays a doctor but in real life he hates blood…can’t stand the sight of it.  He could be just an ordinary guy who would run a mile from any medical emergency.”  Kathryn frowned as she tried to follow his words.  “When his ‘fans’ find out about that…it changes their image of the actor.  In their minds, that person wasn’t who they thought he was.  They only see what’s before them and can’t accept that there’s another side to him…”  Kathryn nodded slowly, thinking she understood.

“Do they only see me as Starfleet now…?”  She looked crushed at the thought.  Chakotay squeezed her hand again.

“No…but suddenly there’s another dimension to you…reminding them of the world out there…a world they felt they could forget when they came here.  When the others visit Earth or Cardassia, they can ignore that…hide from the reality…if you like.  With you, the proof of your other life was presented to them in a way they couldn’t ignore…”  Kathryn sighed sadly and leaned back against her pillows. 

“Where does that leave me with them…?”  Chakotay shrugged.

“In time, they’ll learn to blend the two together and see that the character the actor plays and the actor himself are two sides of one person.  They’ll see that they can co-exist without ruining the ‘story’…”  Kathryn nodded and tried a weak smile at Chakotay.

“You’ve been taking lessons from Jonathan…”  Chakotay smiled also.

“No.  I’m just a wise old man…”  Kathryn shook her head.

“You’re not old…just wise…”  Chakotay leaned closer again.

“Maybe…”  He brought her hand to his lips and kissed it.  “You’d better get some sleep.  It’s been a long day.”  He stood slowly and leaned down to her.  He took her face gently between his hands.  “I’ll see you in the morning.”  He leaned down further and kissed her gently.  When he pulled back a little, he saw her smile up at him.  He studied her a moment.

“Kathryn…whatever way this turns out…”  He sought the right words.  “What I mean is…  It won’t make any difference to you and me.  Only the geography will change.  We won’t change…and how we feel about each other won’t.  I love you…and nothing else matters.  I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you…even beyond that.  That won’t change no matter how the vote goes…”  He stared deeply into her eyes, willing his words to etch themselves into her mind.  She frowned and went to speak but he pressed his fingers to her lips before she could say anything.

“I just need to make sure that you know all this.  I love you with all my heart and soul I’ll never leave you again or hurt you.  I’d die before I’d do that.  I love you, Kathryn…you do know that…”  Kathryn's eyes filled with tears and she swallowed the lump in her throat.  She nodded slowly.

“I do…”  Chakotay leaned down and kissed her again before any more words passed her lips.

“I just want to make sure you do.”  He sighed.  “Kathryn, people say ‘I love you’ all the time to each other.  Sometimes, it tends to lose its meaning with the repetition…and becomes a habit.  It’s like when people pray.  Some speak from their hearts and just say what they feel.  Others almost recite the set prayers they learned as a child and from that…the words lose their meaning.  They say the words but don’t think about what they mean.”  He smiled softly at her.  “It’s my night for launching off into grand examples.”  He stroked her cheek now.  “I just need you to know that it’s not just words for me…”  Kathryn reached her hand up and covered his.  She nodded tearfully.

“I know you love me and that you mean it with everything that you are.  I feel the same way.  I love you the same…”  Chakotay bit at his lip and nodded.  He coughed slightly to clear his throat.

“Sleep now.  Put the day to bed and let your mind rest.  I’ll be back in the morning.”  Kathryn nodded reluctantly and slid down in the bed a little.  She still looked a little confused but seemed to decide to let it go.

“OK.  I am tired.”  Chakotay leaned down again and gave her another kiss.

“Goodnight.  Sleep well.”  He reached over and lowered the lights, leaving just a dim glow in the room.  He watched as she closed her eyes and then turned and left.  At the door, he glanced back at her and saw her watching him.  He waved and blew her a kiss, smiling to himself at the gesture.  Without another word, he quietly opened the door and then closed it behind him.  Instead of moving forward, he stood for a moment and just closed his eyes. 

“Please let the message get through.  Let her walk again…for her sake.  Let things work out here so we can find a place to lay our heads too…”  He wasn’t sure who he was speaking to…praying to…but he hoped they were listening.

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay headed over to see Kathryn early next morning.  As he passed through the compound, he noticed several of the women talking in small groups with some of the crew.  He frowned to himself, wondering if this was a good sign or a bad one. 

When he entered Kathryn's room, he found her having breakfast.  Duncan was standing over at the small sink washing his hands.  They both looked up when he came in and smiled at him.

“Have I come at a bad time?”  Kathryn shook her head and pointed to her tray.

“I’m just finished.  Breakfast isn’t my idea of fun anyway and without coffee…”  She glared over at Duncan.  He just shook his head.

“I told you before.  When I feel you’re ready for it, you can dose yourself to the limit.  I’m not an ogre.  I know how it feels to go without.  I just feel your system could do without all that added caffeine at the moment.”  Kathryn made a face at him and turned back to Chakotay.

“He is an ogre really.  He just pretends he isn’t…”  Duncan snorted to himself as Chakotay moved closer to the bed.

“He’s only thinking of your best interest…”  He looked towards Duncan.  “You’re sure I’m not intruding…?”  The young doctor turned to Chakotay.

“Actually…I want her to finish that breakfast and then I really need to give her a full check over.  Perhaps…”  Chakotay nodded easily.

“It’s no problem.  I need to talk to a few of the others anyway.  I can do that and come back later.  Is an hour or so all right?”  Duncan nodded.

“That’s fine.  I’ll be finished with her by then…”  Kathryn mock coughing made them both look in her direction.  She was glaring at them both.

“Am I not in this room?  Can I not answer for myself?”  Chakotay backed off. 

“I know that look.  I’ll leave you to it, Duncan.  Rather you than me…”  Duncan rolled his eyes.

“Oh thanks.  Coward.  You run off and leave me with her.”  Chakotay opened the door and smiled back at Kathryn.

“I’ll see you later.  Take it easy with him.  We need him…” 

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay squinted for a moment as he came back out into the weak sunshine.  He walked slowly towards the nearest group, not meaning to intrude but just to let them know he was there if they wanted to talk to him.  He spotted B'Elanna in deep conversation with one of the women who had spoken at the meeting.  He remembered her name as Paula.  As he approached them B'Elanna looked up and gestured for him to join them.  He smiled and moved towards them then took a seat on the bench beside them.

“How are you both this morning…?”  He cringed inwardly at the comment but couldn’t think of what else to say.  B'Elanna smiled softly at him.

“Chakotay, you know Paula…?”  He nodded and smiled at the woman.  She laughed.

“Everyone knows me after my little performance last night…”  B'Elanna patted her arm.

“You had every right to speak your mind, Paula.  That’s what the meeting was about.”  Chakotay leaned back on the bench.

“She’s right, Paula.  No one would have wanted it any other way.  This is your decision…you and the other women.  You had every right to question every last detail of what was put to you.”  Paula nodded slowly.

“I feel that inside but it’s just hard to admit to it…”  B'Elanna smiled at her again and then turned to Chakotay.

“Paula and the other women have a lot of questions.  It’s helping them to talk to us.  No one has any objections.  Everyone wants to be completely honest and open.”  Chakotay nodded his agreement.  “Some of the talk is about our situation…some is about…this and that…who we are…what we went through…how we feel…”  Paula cut in.

“It’s just that…we’ve gotten to know you well enough since you’ve all been here but we didn’t always ask the questions we needed answered.  It didn’t feel right to ask before somehow…but now…”  Chakotay smiled again.

“Paula, I understand completely.  I’m more than happy to answer any questions you have.  That you’re asking at all…talking to us this way…  It means that you’re taking us seriously.”  Paula licked at her lips.

“It just helps us if we can understand about you all.”  She shrugged.  “I guess to know that you all have a ‘story’ makes it easier to accept you all…”  Chakotay shook his head.

“Paula, everyone has a story…”  The young woman nodded.

“I know but you’ve known pain and can understand us better.  You know how it feels to be lost…to not fit in.  In some cases…like Marla…you know how it feels to be rejected…”  Chakotay nodded his understanding and got a small smile from the woman.  She went to speak again and then bit down on her lip, hesitating.  She looked at B'Elanna, who understood and nodded.  B'Elanna turned to Chakotay and asked the question for her.

“Paula was wondering about the Maquis…about how we got involved and why we fought and so on…  I’ve given her my story but…”  Chakotay smiled his understand.

“You wanted to know about me…?”  Paula nodded.

“If it’s not asking too much or being too personal…or even painful…  I know you spoke a little last night but…”  She didn’t finish.  Chakotay smiled sadly but shook his head.

“There was a time I could have answered you straight off.  Now I’m not so sure.  Time makes emotions fade, I guess.  In some cases anyway.”  He sighed heavily.  “I joined because I lost my family.”  Paula stared at him as he nodded.  “I was with Starfleet, you see…”  Her eyes grew wider as he told her his background and how his family had been lost.

“I left and joined the Maquis…because I felt it was the only road open to me.  I wanted to avenge them in a way…and I blamed Starfleet…”  He looked out over the compound.  “I don’t know, Paula.”  He looked back at the young woman.  She reached out slowly and patted his hand.

“If this is too hard…”  Chakotay shook his head.

“I’m just not sure what I can say.”  He thought a moment.  “Starfleet trained us…trained me…B'Elanna too…many of the others who fought.  I guess for them it was like fighting themselves.”  He smiled a little.  “We always stayed one step ahead of them though because we had one advantage…”  Paula was rapt.

“What was that…?”  Her words were almost whispered.  Chakotay shook his head sadly.

“Desperation.”  He saw her confusion and leaned forward a little.  “Paula, never underestimate a desperate man or woman or the power that it gives them.  There’s nothing more dangerous than someone who has nothing left to lose.”  He saw from her face that she understood him very well.  She smiled knowingly.  Chakotay leaned back, his eyes wandering over the compound again.

“I reached a stage…”  His voice trailed off a moment before he looked back at Paula.  “Most people know why they’re fighting but they seldom know the strength of who they’re fighting.  They’re not always sure what they’re up against.  They know the why but not the what.”  He sighed heavily.  “The opposite was true for me…or at least it became that way.”  He looked down at his hand in his lap, his thumbnail picking at the nail on his index finger.

“Towards the end, I knew who I was fighting…but I began to lose the why.  It all began to lose its reason…  I knew the what.  I just wasn’t always sure why.”  He looked up to see B'Elanna looking at him sadly.

“You never told me that…  I never knew you felt that way…”  Chakotay shrugged.

“I don’t think I even told myself.  I guess I denied it.”  He smiled then.  “It took seven years on Voyager and knowing a certain lady named Kathryn before I knew it for sure…before I saw it.”  He smiled again and looked back down at his hand.  “Seven years of peace and seeing what could be and what I’d missed…”  He looked up.  “Oh, I still agree with the cause…with what I started fighting for…”  He licked at his lips.  “I just didn’t understand cause versus reason anymore or…”  He looked at both women in turn.  “I don’t know anymore.  I could sit here and ponder it all for a long time but I’d be wasting the present dissecting a past I can’t change and don’t want to bring back.”  He rubbed at his face.

“I do know this.  Hate never hurts your enemy…only yourself.  It’s the most destructive emotion, only it’s self destructive.  It eats away at you until there’s only a blackness inside where no light can infiltrate.”  Paula shook her head.

“You can’t help hating though.  When something so terrible is done against you…”  Chakotay nodded at her.

“I know that, Paula.  It’s natural to hate and it can’t be helped but in the end, it only hurts you.  All the time I fought, I had reason to hate…good reason.  Eventually though…I had to let go of that.  Those I hated were gone for the most part.  Nothing would have brought my family back.  I had to let it go because if I hadn’t, the past would have dragged me back into a mire of despair and misery and erosion.  I’d have sunk into it so deeply, I’d never have been able to climb out.”  He smiled now.

“So I let it all sink back into the past.  This is now, the present, and that present is Kathryn and our life together.  It’s the future too.  Had I let the hate win, I would have missed all this and then they would really have won.”  He reached over and patted Paula’s arm.  “It’s easy to let the hate remain long after the reason for it has faded.”  His face became very serious.  “Something else can happen too if the hate remains.  It can spread.  Had I let it continue…I would have gone from hating the Cardassians who murdered my family to hating all Cardassians…most of whom had never raised a finger against me or mine.  They didn’t even know I existed.  Hate is like a drop of dye you let fall into a basin of water.  It spreads out and discolours all.”  He reached over and let his hand rest on Paula’s shoulder. 

“Hate…in full force…would have you hating Selona and Lorcha…the others here…simply because of their race.  You saw what hate did when that man came.  He came here in his hatred to kill a child…”  Paula blinked back tears and nodded.

“I don’t hate all, Chakotay.  I just can’t ever see myself stopping the hate I feel for those who…”  She swallowed quickly, not needing to say more.  Chakotay looked at her tenderly.

“Let it go back into the past, Paula.  Let the pain go.  It’s only hurting you.  No one can undo what’s happened to them.  They can only move forward and look for the best that’s waiting for them.  Someone said that last night…about their revenge being about having a good life now.”  Paula nodded as she remembered.

“We all said things last night.  I wasn’t very proud of myself.”  She smiled a little.  “I made up with Jule though…”  Chakotay and B'Elanna smiled also.  Chakotay nodded his head.

“I never doubted for a moment that you wouldn’t.”  He sighed.  “Paula, emotions were running high last night and that was understandable.  Now in the cold light of day, you all need to think it all through.  Talk to any of us at any time.  Ask anything.  Whatever happens though, don’t feel pressured into making your decision one way over the other.  Duncan is right about that.  You all have to make this decision for yourselves and think only of yourselves and your kids.”  Paula smiled her thanks.

“Thanks, both of you.  You’ve really helped me.  And I will come back to you anytime I have a question…”  Chakotay smiled and stood up. 

“I know I said anytime…  Just don’t make it in the middle of the night when I’m snoring my brains out…”  Paula laughed and Chakotay saw that she looked more at ease now.  B'Elanna leaned towards her.

“And boy, does he snore.  There were times in the Maquis when I was afraid his snoring would give our position away to Starfleet…”  Chakotay feigned deep indignation.

“Cheek…  Besides, you register on the Richter scale yourself, Torres.  I pity Tom although I know he’s as bad.  Poor Miral though.”  He laughed as B'Elanna glared at him.

“And just how do you know my husband’s sleeping habits, may I ask?”  Chakotay shrugged.

“We’ve spent some time together on away missions.  I know.”  He turned to move away and B'Elanna called after him.

“Oh yes…I forgot.  All those ‘away missions’ which resulted from you crashing shuttle after shuttle.”  Chakotay called back to her as he walked away.

“Sticks and stones…”  He glanced back to see Paula laughing heartily.  He smiled to himself.  Laughter really was the food of the soul and a great healer.  He moved towards the clinic.  “See you later, ladies.  Make sure dinner is on the table on time.  Can’t keep us men waiting.”  He laughed again as several pebbles hit his back.

^^^^^^^^^^

Duncan had finished examining Kathryn when Chakotay came back into the clinic.  He waited outside her door when he saw that Miriam was helping her wash and change her clothes.  He smiled at Duncan who was putting away some equipment.

“How is she this morning?  Any change?”  Duncan stopped what he was doing and looked towards him.  He shrugged.

“I don’t think so.  The swelling has gone completely now but there’s still no feeling there.”  Chakotay bit at his lip and nodded slowly.

“And there should be…?”  Duncan shook his head.

“I would have thought so but…”  He sighed.  “Chakotay, we’ve been through this before.  I just don’t know.  I’ve been researching this non-stop and even the experts don’t have all the answers.  This could be all in her head as we discussed or it could be medical and the feeling will just come back when it’s ready to…”  Chakotay looked down at his hands as he twisted his fingers together.

“So what do we do…?”  He looked back up at the young doctor and saw a sad expression there.  Duncan shook his head slowly.

“We wait and see.  There really isn’t anything else we can do.  I have asked Jonathan to have a little chat with her so maybe he can find some kind of an answer…”  Chakotay sighed heavily.

“I was thinking last night that maybe…”  He smiled slightly.  “I was wondering if it would help her if she could leave the clinic.  I know there are a few spare cabins which the crew built and they’ve been furnished to some extent.  That or perhaps back to her room.  Maybe being in hospital surroundings is just making things worse…”  Duncan frowned as he thought a moment. 

“I don’t know.  I’ll have to think about that.”  He shrugged slightly.  “You could well be right.  Many patients improve more quickly in their own surroundings.  I’d have to talk it over with Cassa and your Doctor first and see what they think.”  Chakotay managed a smile.

“Could I run the idea past Kathryn…?”  Duncan thought again.

“I’d wait before I say anything.”  He turned more towards Chakotay.  “As I said, you may well be right.  However, it could also be the wrong move.”  Chakotay shifted his weight from one foot to the other and frowned.

“How so…?”  Duncan bit at his lip.

“There are a lot of elements you have to consider here.  For example, Kathryn could well see her discharge as…us having done all we can for her…or having given up on her.  She might see it as ‘oh, we’ve done all we can for you so you may as well leave and go home now as there’s nothing more we can do for you…’  Do you see what I mean?  In her present state of mind, there’s no telling how she’d take it.”  He scratched at his cheek.  “In the other sense, if she’s still here, we can keep a close eye on her…”  Chakotay closed his eyes a moment and blew out a long, slow breath.  He eventually opened his eyes again and looked at Duncan.

“As usual, I hadn’t thought deeply enough into all this.”  Duncan smiled softly and leaned over, patting Chakotay on the arm.

“You just care deeply about her, Chakotay.  Don’t put yourself down.  Remember, I trained for all this.  I learned how to see things that most people won’t and have spent years honing that skill.  I’ve been trained to step back and see the entire picture which isn’t always possible when you’re closely involved with the patient.  Just let me talk things over with the others.  In the meantime, go see her and keep things as normal.  Talk about the meeting…the decision…when you think it will come…  Anything to keep her mind otherwise occupied and away from her own troubles…”  Both men looked up as Miriam suddenly came through the door, carrying some clothes and towels.

“Chakotay, you can go in now.  She’s all ready for you…”  Chakotay smiled at the young woman.

“Thanks Miriam.”  He turned back to Duncan.  “OK.  I’ll go along with your way because you know better.”  He looked towards the door and then back at the other man. 

“Oh…I thought you’d like to know.  Paula and Jule have made up.  I was just speaking with Paula out there…”  Duncan smiled at the news but didn’t look surprised in the least.

“I knew they would.  The women always make up.  They fight and then they heal the rifts.  That’s what this place is about, after all.  It’s about healing.”  Chakotay smiled and nodded.

“Yeah…I guess so…”  He shook his head then.  “I’ll talk to you later…let you know how I find Kathryn…”  Duncan nodded and smiled as Chakotay entered the room.  He then turned to Miriam to hand her Kathryn's chart.

^^^^^^^^^^

Kathryn had a faraway look on her face as Chakotay crossed the room to her bed.  She didn’t seem to hear him and jumped slightly when he spoke.

“I see you managed to get through that breakfast then…  You’ll get so used to the idea, you’ll want one every morning.”  He watched her expression closely as she schooled it into a smile.

“I doubt that.  The minute I get near coffee again, I’ll be back to my old ways.”  Chakotay tutted as he sat down beside the bed.

“So all these good habits will fly out the door…?”  Kathryn nodded.

“At warp speed…”  They were quiet for a moment.  Chakotay sensed her low mood and was determined to stop it.

“I had an interesting conversation before I came in to see you…”  He told her about his chat with B'Elanna and Paula and how the women were talking to the crew and saw her grow more and more interested as he spoke on.  By the end, she was leaning towards him, hanging on his every word.

“That’s so amazing, Chakotay.  I can’t believe the way these women are opening up more and more.  The best I had hoped for was that they wouldn’t run away from you any more.”  She smiled.  “Actually, I was hoping that at least some conversation would start up…even if it was just about the weather…”  She sighed happily and leaned back, smiling to herself for a moment as she stared up at the ceiling.  She turned her head and looked at Chakotay again.  “What about Paula and Jule?  Is there still…?”  Chakotay smiled gently and shook his head.

“She said they’d made up…”  Kathryn sighed and smiled, nodding her head slowly.

“I’m so glad…although I had a feeling they would.”  She grew serious.  “These women need each other too much to have bad feelings between them.  Those feelings, if left, can fester and lead to deeper hurt and even hate.  They left enough of that behind them.  They don’t need it here.”  Chakotay nodded in agreement.

“They share too much between them to let it linger.  You’ll always have some problems among them though.  It’s natural for a large group to have little problems between them.  It’s impossible not to.”  He laughed slightly.  “I can remember sorting out quite a few squabbles on Voyager.”  Kathryn smiled at the memories also.

“I know.  They certainly presented some good ones to us.”  She shook her head again.  “It’s no different here really but those ‘problems’ need to be kept to a minimum…”  She smiled.  “Oh…the women here fight amongst each other…scraps really…but it’s always short lived and usually because one woman’s child has hit another’s.  They take their own kid’s side for a short while and then see sense.  The kids have usually made up and are playing together again within minutes…long before the adults.  The women see this and realize how ridiculous they were being.  Everyone laughs about it then and it’s forgotten.”  Chakotay scratched his head.

“Let’s hope they sort this situation out just as quickly then…”  Kathryn looked at him and nodded.

“Is there any indication of when they’ll reach their decisions?”  Chakotay shook his head.

“Not so far but it’s wonderful that they’re all taking their time and thinking seriously about it.  They’re talking to us all and asking questions.  That’s more than I had hoped for.”  He leaned back in his chair.  “The way I see things out there…I’d say a few days.  They’re doing this the right way.  They’re very big decisions and they’re checking it all out before they decide anything…thinking about it rather than letting their fears decide for them…which is as it should be.  These decisions will affect the rest of their lives and their kids’ lives…”  Kathryn sighed again.

“I know.  And they need to think of the future too…  I can see the women staying on here for the rest of their lives but I can’t see the kids doing that.  In time, they’ll want to leave and explore what’s out there.  It’s just the natural way of things.  I don’t think the women really think about that.”  Chakotay shook his head quickly.

“Actually, I hadn’t either.  It’s an important aspect in all this and perhaps something they should be made aware of.”  Kathryn shrugged.

“Perhaps…but they may have enough to think about for the moment…”  Chakotay leaned forward.

“It ties in though, Kathryn.  It affects their decisions.  This isn’t just about the future of their lives.  There will come a time when they and we aren’t here anymore but the kids’ lives will go on and they’ll want to pair off and have families of their own.  It’s something that has to be a part of this equation…”  Kathryn picked at a nail.

“How do you bring it up though?”  Chakotay smiled and then laughed.

“The way I do with anything.  I talk to B'Elanna and let her slip it in with some conversation.  She’s the perfect tool here.  She has a child and this will affect her too if we stay on…”  He leaned back again.  “I’m actually surprised that this didn’t come up at the meeting…”  Kathryn fixed her sheet.

“They had other issues to address and think about.  Besides, they knew they could bring anything else up at other meetings.  Last night, they concentrated on what was immediate.  The near future was considered but few of us tend to think that far ahead...or consider after our death.  Oh, we do at certain times…like when we make a will or something…but day to day…”  She shook her head.  “We always talk about the ‘future’ and make rough plans for it but few of us make concrete ones.  We tend to deal with the here and now and maybe the next few years.”  She smiled sadly.  “We always assume we have the time for everything else…  Sadly we don’t always have that time but we never know that.”  Chakotay swallowed and leaned forward, taking Kathryn's hand in his.

“I don’t like to think about that either…  The thought that we won’t all be here someday…”  Kathryn's face softened and she covered his hand with her own.

“It’s something we all have to face at some time, Chakotay.  It’s not pleasant but the future can be richer if we prepare…  It’s also about preparing the next generation for that future.  If we make things better now…it’ll be better for them…and so on…”  Chakotay nodded but kept his eyes down.

“I suppose.  If we didn’t do that, we’d still be living in caves and chasing wild deer or something…”  He looked up finally and met her eyes.  She smiled at him.

“Men still running around in loincloths?  That has a certain appeal…”  Chakotay rolled his eyes up.

“Trust a woman to see that side to it…”  He sobered then.  “So…do I ask B'Elanna to ‘slip’ this into conversation with the women?”  Kathryn thought for a moment and then nodded. 

“Yes.  I think it would be good for them.  Run it by Duncan and the others first but I think they’ll see the wisdom in it.”  She shook her head.  “It might do them good too.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard them talk about things that far ahead.  We should be planning for that.  Anything could happen to us.  God forbid, but some of the staff could be killed on a visit to Earth or Cardassia.  A shuttle accident or something.  There has to be some plan in place to cover something like that if it ever happened.  What if many of us had been wiped out by that virus?  There weren’t any contingency plans for that…not that anyone could have foreseen that.  Still though…there has to be something in place…if ever…”  She bit at her lip.  Chakotay sighed heavily and nodded.

“You’re right.  I guess that chalks up another reason for having Starfleet and Company involved here in some way.  They’d be a good backup…”  Kathryn dropped her head back.

“You’re right.”  She shook her head.  “God, Chakotay…this is important.  This is something that should have come out at the meeting.  Why didn’t we think about all this before…?”  She pulled her head up now.  “Talk to Duncan.  Tell him what we talked about here and get him to talk to the other staff.  If I know him, he’ll talk to the women himself about this.  It’s too important…”

^^^^^^^^^^

Duncan didn’t disappoint.  Chakotay watched the shocked expression on his face grow as he related what he and Kathryn had spoken about.  When he finished, he watched the doctor fall back in his chair.

“Oh Christ…why didn’t we think about this before?  We were so busy coping with the present and trying to heal the past…”  He visibly shivered.  “If that bastard had succeeded in any way…”  He shook himself now and leaned forward, resting his elbows on the desk and dropping his head into his hands.  “Oh God…it doesn’t bear thinking about.  If something happened to the adults…the kids would be alone and no one would know…”  Chakotay leaned forward too.

“Come on, Duncan.  The chances of only the adults…and all of them at that…”  Duncan looked up and met Chakotay’s eyes then nodded.

“OK…so you’re right.  The odds on that are…”  He shook his head.  “Still though…  There are so many more kids…  If this thing had wiped out half of us or more…we still could have had a situation where some kids were left alone.  Why didn’t I think ahead?”  Chakotay sighed softly.

“Because your main concern is for the present.  If you don’t take care of that present…there won’t be a future.”  Duncan didn’t look convinced.

“And if we don’t plan for the future and prepare…there still might not be one...  I should have been taking care of both.  Working in and for the present but planning for the future and I didn’t do that.”  Chakotay sighed again.

“You can do it now.”  The young doctor nodded slowly.  They were silent for several moments.  Finally Duncan stood.  “Leave it with me.  I’ll talk to the others now and then we’ll go around the women and talk to them.  I don’t want to call another meeting just for this and make them feel they’re being pressured into a decision in any way but this is too important a point.  It’s vital that they consider it in their decisions.”

^^^^^^^^^^

Duncan acted more quickly than Chakotay would have believed.  He knew the young doctor had been deeply worried by their conversation but he only now saw how much it had affected him.  Within two hours, all the women had been made aware of their concerns.

The women sought out the crew even more now, Tom and B'Elanna more than the others as the only Voyager crew who had a child with them.  They soon learned that other crewmembers were parents as well and had kids back on Earth, and in turn they were also spoken to.

As Chakotay watched all this, he felt a deep sense of loss…almost like an outsider.  As one of those without children, he realized he felt incomplete as a man and as a person.  Once again, he found himself hoping and wishing that there was still time for himself and Kathryn to start a family if everything worked out between them.  As things stood now though, he wondered if that was destined to happen at all.

^^^^^^^^^^



ON TO PART EIGHT.



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RETURN TO STORY INDEX TWO.


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