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 EIGHT.


The following evening Chakotay sat and watched Kathryn as she played with a half eaten apple in her hands, picking at the skin around the bite marks she had left in the fruit.  He sighed inwardly and closed his eyes briefly.  He turned as he heard a sound and caught sight of Duncan though the door, which was slightly ajar.  The men locked eyes for a moment, a silent understanding passing between them, and Chakotay nodded slightly.  He looked away as he remembered his earlier conversation with the young doctor.

^^^^^^^^^^

“She seems a little…down…today…this evening in particular…”  Chakotay bit at his lip as he listened to the other man’s words.  He knew he was trying to put a lighter touch on them but the message was the same.

“Could she just be tired or anxious waiting for the decisions?”  Duncan shrugged.

“Perhaps but...”  He shook his head, playing with a medical instrument in his hands.  Finally he looked up.  “I was hoping the meeting and its ramifications would still be occupying her mind, but I think it’s fading now or being eclipsed by her own condition.  It’s not that I thought all this would be a cure for her but I had hoped it would take her mind off her own problems for longer.  I guess the waiting is getting to her and she’s worried about the decisions…especially the one about you all staying on.  I mean, if the answer is no…”  He sighed.  “Well…you know.  Of course, if they say yes…that will still present her with problems…”  He shrugged.  “I don’t know.  We’re all in a limbo at the moment.  It just seems to be getting to Kathryn more than the rest of us…  Maybe she has more to lose…”  Chakotay nodded sadly.

“I know…”  Duncan gripped his arm.

“Just see how you find her.  Come and talk to me or Jonathan if you need to afterwards…”

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay shook himself and brought his mind back to the present.  He looked back towards Kathryn and watched her closely.  She smiled softly when she looked up at him, feeling his eyes on her.  He returned the smile and pointed to the apple she held.

“You’re supposed to eat that…not play with it.  Duncan says you need the vitamins…”  Kathryn rolled her eyes up. 

“Duncan doesn’t have to eat the amount of food he plies me with.  I’ll just be a big blob when he’s finished with me…”  Chakotay smiled and shook his head.

“He’s just making sure you put a little flesh on those bones.  He’s succeeding where I failed over the years…”  As he said the words, he wanted to kick himself.  Kathryn let her smile slip and looked at him sadly.

“You always looked after me.  You took care of me better than I ever deserved.  I never gave you the thanks you deserved either.  I’m so sorry for that…”  Chakotay smiled sadly.

“First off…you deserved to be looked after.  You sacrificed so much for us.  As to the thanks…  Knowing you and being allowed to share your life…”  He sighed.  “That is all the thanks I could ever want.  I feel I don’t deserve you…”  Kathryn shook her head, tears filling her eyes.  Her hand holding the apple fell into her lap.

“I told you before Chakotay, I’m not special or anything.  I’ve screwed up a lot in my life.  I also seem to have this habit of screwing up everyone else’s life too when I touch them…”  Chakotay glared at her and Kathryn nodded, smiling apologetically.  “OK…I know.  You don’t have to repeat the speech.  That’s the past and I’m too hard on myself and so on.  I know.”  She shrugged and dropped the smile.  “I just feel…kind of…”  She sighed.  “It’s just all this waiting and me being…”  She looked down towards her legs.  “It’s hard to keep up…be cheerful…when everything seems so…”  She shrugged again, at a loss for the right words.  Chakotay smiled lovingly at her and reached for her hand.

“Kathryn, I wish I knew the right words to say.  All I can tell you is that I truly believe everything will work out for us.  I know it’s hard for you.  So much has happened and all within a short time too.  Waiting for the decisions is hard…especially the one about us all staying on.  I do believe though, that it will go our way.  I also believe everything will work for you too.  It’s not easy having all this to cope with at once.  You just have to have faith and trust that everything will work out…  It’s just a lot to deal with at once, as I said, and that makes it harder…”  Kathryn blinked back some tears and nodded.

“I hope so.  And I know you’re right.  My emotions are all over the place.  Everything seems so…uncertain…at the moment.”  Chakotay let his smile slip a little.

“There’s nothing uncertain about us, love.”  She smiled lovingly and squeezed his hand.

“I know that.  I mean…”  She sniffed loudly but didn’t say anymore.  Chakotay debated pushing her to keep talking but decided against it.  She looked emotionally worn out.  He stood, then leaned over and eased her back against the pillows, smiling down at her as he took her half eaten apple and placed it on the locker.

“Rest now.  Get a good night’s sleep.”  She nodded tearfully at him and moved her head from side to side to get more comfortable.

“I am tired…”  Chakotay smiled lovingly at her.  He leaned down again and brushed his lips to hers.

“I’ll see you in the morning.  Just let the sandman come…”  She smiled at him as her eyes drifted closed.  She gave a heavy sigh and closed her eyes fully.  Within minutes, she was asleep.

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay sat in the silent compound and watched the first streaks of light sneak into the morning sky.  He gripped the half empty mug of tea in his hands and tore his eyes away from the faint light show to look down at it.  He swirled the contents and squinted in the low illumination to study the tiny bubbles which appeared as the liquid was disturbed.  He drew in a deep breath and looked towards the sky again, noticing that even in the few moments his gaze had been away, a little more light had been added to what had been there before.

He looked around him now, the cabins dark and quiet, no one else awake yet.  He found himself wondering if any of the women were dreaming about the decisions they had yet to make, if the weight of those same decisions were intruding on their sleep.

Chakotay breathed deeply again and looked back at the sky.  Like all the crew and even the staff, the waiting was the worst part.  It had been days now since Duncan had passed on their concerns to the women about the kids’ future, and yet still no decisions were forthcoming. 

He closed his eyes a moment and thought back to how Kathryn had been the previous evening.  Her mood worried him deeply.  As he saw it, they had faced the past and dealt with it, agreeing that the present and the future were what mattered.  And now this.  Her accident had undone a lot of what they’d achieved, poking holes in the wall they’d built against the past, allowing projections of that past to shine through, reminding Kathryn of her earlier losses.  He sighed heavily.  So much was unknown and unsure at this moment.  Kathryn needed the decisions more than any of them and she needed the right decisions.  Maybe then her mind could rest and order itself.  Maybe then her body would follow and right itself. 

He jumped slightly now when he heard a sound to his right.  He looked around and saw Jonathan coming towards him, two steaming mugs in his hands.

“I thought you might like a refill.  That must be empty or cold by now.”  Chakotay smiled warmly and nodded, emptying the cold contents of his mug on the flower bed beside his bench.  His action brought a fleeting memory of his sister and the night she’d sent him packing.

“You’re a Godsend.”  He looked back at the other man.  “I thought I was the only lark around here.”  Jonathan shook his head and sat down beside Chakotay.  He handed over one of the cups.

“I always thought the same thing of myself.  I’ve sat out here many a morning.  I love this time of the day.”  Chakotay took the offered tea and nodded his agreement.

“I know what you mean.  I’ve spent so many mornings like this.  I love the feeling of…”  He shook his head as he watched the sky lighten more.  “You feel you’re the only one in the world or that you’re seeing something no one else will.”  He looked towards the man beside him and saw him study the sky also.

“That’s how I feel.  I love the silence.”  He smiled at Chakotay now.  “It’s not just the silence of no noise…if that makes sense…  It’s the…specialness…of the time…a reverence…”  He sighed.  “Snow has that same silence and quality.  It’s like there’s a dampening of everything else in the world…a quality that separates you from reality for a special moment.  It’s like a breathing space before you resume life again…go back to the real world.”  He laughed.  “Now if I could just make a pill of that and bottle it, I’d be a very rich man.”  Chakotay laughed as well.

“Maybe… The other side though is the feeling that you’ve discovered it for yourself.  Having it handed to you in a pill would take that away…  Also…if you knew everyone else shared the same thing, it wouldn’t feel so special anymore…”  Jonathan smiled and then sighed.

“Very true.”  He looked towards the sky again.  “I guess seeing this and…as you say…feeling I’m the only one to have made this beautiful discovery…is what makes it as special as it feels.”  He nodded to himself.  “This makes me richer.  Having what can’t be bought is what makes a man rich.”  He frowned now when he looked at Chakotay.  “I can’t believe I just came out with that.  Without sounding vain, that sounds like something a good philosopher would come up with.  I’ll have to write that one in my book.”  Chakotay smiled again.

“It’s a pearl of wisdom all right.”  He dropped his head to the side.  “What book?”  Jonathan took a deep drink of his tea and leaned back.

“A strange hobby of mine.  I keep a book in which I write all the wisdom I come across.  It’s pieces of poetry…sayings…things I hear that are profound to me…”  He held his hand up and wriggled his fingers.  “I even use paper and an old fashioned writing implement…  Feels more real…”  Chakotay shook his head and smiled again.

“You amaze me more and more.  I think that’s wonderful.”  He shrugged.  “Actually, I keep something like that myself.  I guess it’s a kind of diary, but it’s what I learn about and from events in my life…that sort of thing.  My people refer to it as a spirit journal.”  He licked at his lips.  “I keep mine on a padd though.  Haven’t quite got the patience for writing.  I only kept part of it on paper once.”  He saw Jonathan’s curious expression and sighed.  “Here’s one for your book.  The worst ink survives the best memory.”  Jonathan nodded.

“I like that.  I’ll add it to my collection.”  He frowned as he studied the man beside him.  “Why did you feel writing it would survive in your memory more than putting it down on a padd?”  Chakotay looked down at his hands for a moment and Jonathan watched him, sensing that the man was wrestling with a decision.  Finally he seemed to reach one.

“I wrote it because I knew it would survive…that writing it would be the only way it would survive…”  He smiled at Jonathan and then went on to tell him about Kellin and that time on Voyager. The younger man listened quietly until his friend had finished speaking.

“That must be so strange…unnerving even…to have something like that which you know happened but can’t remember.”  Chakotay shrugged but said nothing.  Jonathan shook his head.  “Did you have any recollection or memory when you read the words?”  Chakotay shook his head.

“Nothing.  I read the words but no images came to me…no emotion.  There was emotion in the words but I felt nothing.  It was like reading a work of fiction and having an idea of what the characters are feeling…sometimes even touching the edges of what they’re feeling, but that was all.  It’s like when someone talks about the scent of something…a flower perhaps…and you understand what that scent is like but you’re not smelling it…”  He laughed slightly.  “I’m not making any sense here…am I?”  Jonathan laid a hand on his arm.

“No…I understand what you mean.”  He leaned forward a little.  “Did anyone else on the ship remember anything?”  Chakotay dropped his head back a moment.

“No one did.  Everything was wiped.  Our memories…all the sensor readings and records…”  He looked at Jonathan.  “I think you also mean ‘did Kathryn remember’?”  Jonathan nodded, looking a little apologetic.  Chakotay smiled softly and shook his head.

“She was like the rest of us.  She remembered nothing.  If you’re asking if she knows now…then yes.  I told her and we talked about it.”  He sighed heavily and looked away a moment.  “Let’s just say that it was one more hurt I caused her.”  Jonathan said nothing and just squeezed Chakotay’s arm.  They were silent as they watched the sky lighten.

^^^^^^^^^^

Both men came back to reality as faint sounds began to come from the cabins.  Jonathan shook his head.

“And so the day begins…”  Chakotay nodded slowly.

“Do you think they’ll have their decisions today?  I want them to take all the time they need but this waiting is killing me…”  Jonathan sighed.

“I know it must be so much harder on the crew but it’s affecting the staff too.  Even the kids can feel the tension.  The suspense is killing them and they’re badgering the adults.  All that makes it very hard on the women.  They want to make the right decisions but they’re aware of how it’s affecting everyone the longer they take.  It’s putting real pressure on them no matter how much we try and tell them there’s no hurry.”  Chakotay sighed.

“That’s the last thing we want.  We don’t want them to feel any pressure to decide one way or the other or to feel they have to make quick decisions.  We’d hate for them to feel rushed.”  He shook his head.  “It’s just not easy waiting.”  Jonathan leaned back and played with the now empty mug in his hands.

“They know that…how hard it is for you all, I mean.  They’re very aware of the time it’s taking them but they still have their usual daily chores to take care of…not to mention the kids’ needs, so getting together to talk isn’t easy.  Duncan felt they were rushing to make their decisions because of the crew and told them to take their time.  As hard as it is, he was right to do that.”  Chakotay nodded in agreement.

“I’m glad he did that.  He’s right.  This is something which will affect them all for the rest of their lives.  It has to be right for them and reaching those decisions takes time.  We’ll be fine.  We can be patient a bit longer.”  He smiled to himself and watched the sky again.  When he felt Jonathan watching him, he turned to the man and saw his face was serious.  Jonathan coughed slightly before speaking.

“Can I ask how you think Kathryn is taking the wait?”  Chakotay felt the peacefulness of the moment leave him and sighed heavily.

“I’ve seen a change in her the last day or so…from what was I mean…”  He saw Jonathan shake his head.

“I’ve noticed that change…or rather I’ve noticed a reverting…”  He shook his head.  “You know, I watched her ‘depression’ go into a remission of sorts during the lead-up to the meeting and through it all.  Even just after it, she seemed happier.  Now I see it resurfacing.”  Chakotay nodded slowly.

“I was hoping I was imagining it coming back.  It seemed to disappear again when we spoke of the kids and what their future would be.  The last day or so though, I’ve seen it coming back.  Duncan even tried to gently warn me yesterday…said she seemed down.”  He sighed heavily.  “The longer the decision takes to come, the deeper she seems to slip back into it.  I guess it also gives her the time again to dwell on her own situation.  There’s no distraction anymore.”  Jonathan nodded.

“You’ve said it just right.  It was still there but planning for the meeting pushed it to the back of her mind.  She had a purpose and a use for that time…was needed…and now that there’s nothing for her to work on, it’s come back to the fore.”  He ran his fingers through his hair, which Chakotay noticed hadn’t been combed.  “I even suggested she take some classes with the kids now that the school back up and running…but she didn’t seem keen on the idea.  There was no enthusiasm there at all and that worried me.”  Chakotay sighed heavily.

“She didn’t mention that to me.  She just seems to sleep and read and when she talks to me, it’s just chat…like she’s going through the motions to please me.  She barely even mentions her legs now.  It’s like she’s accepted that she won’t walk again and is trying not to think about it.”  Jonathan bit at his lip.

“I have a name for that…which seems like a contradiction in terms.  I call it an ‘accepted denial’.  She believes she won’t walk again and feels she has to accept that.  The next step is to put it from her mind and let herself sink into this base place where only the ordinary and mundane reside.  She deals with what she has to and leaves everything else outside.”  Chakotay stared up at the sky, almost all traces of darkness gone from it now.  He was vaguely aware of the sounds from the cabins increasing.

“So what can we do…?”  Jonathan shrugged.

“I’m supposed to be the expert but I don’t know for sure.  It’s a hard one to call.  I do feel that when the decisions come, it will help her.  At least I hope so.  Then of course, that depends on what the decision about you staying is.  If it goes against all of you, I don’t want to think how she’ll take that.”  He stopped suddenly and gripped Chakotay’s arm.  “Please Chakotay, I don’t mean…  I mean, she has you and that’s the most important…”  He didn’t know what else to say but saw that the older man understood.

“It’s OK, Jonathan.  I know what you mean.  I like to flatter myself that I’m enough for her…that I can make up for everything…or be enough for her if she never walks again or we have to leave here…but I know that’s not true.  I know she loves me, but it’s not enough.  Tom and B'Elanna are living proof of that…even with their daughter.  Kathryn needs more and now she also has to live with a disability everyday, and for a woman who was as active and involved in life as she was…”  His voice trailed off.  Jonathan just squeezed his arm.  Chakotay nodded his thanks.

“Just having to lie there now…  She reads but I know the words aren’t reaching her.  She thinks all the time because she can’t do anything else and I’m afraid she’ll start to relive the past…the losses of those she loved…how it went wrong or didn’t work…”  Jonathan nodded slowly.

“She feels she can’t think about the future so she thinks about the past…”  Chakotay nodded also.

“We talked about all that…all the baggage that was there between us and individually…and we dealt with it…put it away.  I sat with her yesterday evening and I could almost feel her slipping away from me.  All the ground we covered and it felt like it was slipping from beneath us…”  He shrugged.  “I’m terrified of losing her just as I’ve found her.”  He smiled slightly.  “I’m terrified that she’ll look back and see how she lost before.  She’s brave in so many ways…except when it comes to herself.  She loved before and something always happened to end it.  She lost them…either to death or separation.  I know she was afraid to take a chance with me and that it took a lot for her to take that step.  I’m afraid now that she’ll see this…her accident…as a warning…  She’ll see it as some kind of omen not to let herself love again.…  I’m just waiting for her to tell me it’s over and that I’d be better off without her.  That would be Kathryn’s way.  She’ll tell me she’s no use to me and all that other rubbish.  And I’m terrified that I won’t be able to stop her or hold onto her…”  Jonathan nodded as he listened.

“I agree that she’s probably pulling back because of her fears…  I’ve tried talking to her but she’s only telling me what I want to hear and reassuring me.  I’m only seeing the edges of what she’s feeling because that’s all she’s showing me.”  Chakotay rubbed at his face with one hand.

“I think she’s dealt with the past as regards our time in the Delta Quadrant.  She’ll always have her regrets but she’s accepted them now.  I feel she’s made peace with the past but there’s one remnant of it she can’t let go and that’s her fear of loss or something happening to jeopardize any happiness she has.  Of course she’s also going to be worried about the present and the future.  I mean, we’re all uncertain about what it holds but I think Kathryn is actually terrified of that uncertainty.”  Jonathan shook his head as he listened and looked towards one of the cabins as a woman came out.  She glanced towards the two men before crossing the compound towards the kitchen.  Jonathan smiled slightly.

“Guess Lara drew the short straw this morning…”  He shook his head again and grew serious.  “Look Chakotay, I want to talk to Kathryn again.  Hopefully we’ll have the decisions soon and they’ll be the ones we all want but we can’t depend on that.  As regards Kathryn…I think she needs those decisions before she can go forward in any way.  In the meantime, we just need to be there for her and show her all the love and support we can.  She’s still one very strong woman underneath it all and I think she forgets that.  I think she’s forgotten that for a while and we need to remind her again.”  Chakotay looked sceptical.

“I hope you’re right.  Having the right decisions from the women will be a great help though.  She needs a base she can build from and I really feel this is the place.  She loves it here and feels at home.  She has the use and purpose she needs and the people she loves are all here.”  Jonathan stretched and then leaned forward.

“Then let’s hope for some decisions soon and the right ones at that.  In the meantime, we just try and keep Kathryn’s spirits up as best we can.  We just take it a day at a time.  I’ll talk to her again and try and counsel her.  Hopefully I can help her see things in a more positive light.”  Chakotay nodded as he watched two more women leave their cabins and walk towards the kitchen.

“She always had such a positive outlook…an unwavering belief that anything was possible.  It hurts to see her so defeated by this.  She was never one to give in.  Mind you, she was always fighting for others more than herself.”  Jonathan made to stand, taking Chakotay’s mug from his hand.

“I don’t believe she’s given up, my friend.  I think this has just weighed her down heavily.  She’s had a lot to deal with over a short period of time.  Physically and emotionally.  Her defences are down and she needs to gain her strength back in order to fight it.  We just need to help her do that.”  Chakotay nodded slowly.

“Should I try and talk to her again or steer clear of it all…?  Is comforting her good or bad?”  Jonathan thought about that.

“I would have said to leave it and up to now I thought that was for the best but it hasn’t worked.  Maybe it’s time for a different approach.  Use your judgement on that.  You know her better than anyone else.  This will be harder though because it’s unknown and it’s also fear of the unknown.  See how you go.  If you see an opening or she presents you with one, ease into the subject.  Perhaps even a little push to open up about how she’s feeling might be good for her.  You’ll just know if it’s safe to talk along those lines…  As to comforting…I’d say encouragement rather than comfort would be better.  Comfort can come across as pity.  Just treat her as you always would and use your own judgement.”  Chakotay sighed.

“I’m going over later this morning.  I’ll see how she is then but I really believe she needs to talk about this.  If not now then later.  One thing is for sure.  I’m not letting go on this or on her…”  Jonathan smiled warmly and nodded.

“I never thought for a moment that you would…”  He stood now and Chakotay looked up at him.

“OK.  Then let the fight begin…”  Both men shared a warm smile.

^^^^^^^^^^

As Chakotay made his way over to the clinic later that morning, he stopped for a moment and studied everyone around him as they worked and went about the day’s business.  Some were working alone or just passing from place to place, others worked together, chatting as they went about their tasks.  Several others stood or sat and talked quietly together, occasionally calling to an errant child who was doing something they shouldn’t have been doing. 

Chakotay watched them all, hoping the decisions were the main topic of conversation.  He jumped suddenly when he heard Tom’s voice raised above the others.

“Stop.  Don’t move…”  Chakotay’s eyes flew towards the sound and his heart jumped at the urgency he heard in the voice.  He gasped when he saw two of the boys at the edge of the newly dug swimming pool, having climbed over the makeshift fence John and Trevor had erected. 

Chakotay ran towards the pool, joined by several of the women and a few staff members.  He was first to reach the pool with Tom and instantly saw the fear in the boys’ eyes, each knowing they were doing something they were going to be in trouble for.  Tom called to them more quietly now.

“Just back away from the edge then turn slowly and walk back to me the way you came.”  The boys looked at each other and immediately obeyed.  They looked more shamefaced now rather than afraid.  Chakotay saw one look towards a group of women and recognised the boy’s mother amongst the group, her arms folded and her face angry.  He stopped moving and began to cry, his eyes apologizing to his mother.  He stepped back as she moved towards him.

Chakotay was moving forward even before the boy cried out.  He saw the small feet slip in the soft ground around the edge of the pool and was jumping the fence just as the boy fell backwards. 

Chakotay didn’t think as he dived for the muddy water.  He was aware of shouts behind him but ignored them.  He knew the pool was deep enough for someone to drown in as it was half filled with rain water from the recent storms.  Other things had taken precedence over draining the water. 

As Chakotay’s head broke the water, he twisted around expecting to find the boy had surfaced but saw nothing.  Without hesitating, he dived back under the water, his hands frantically searching the murky depths for the young boy.  He broke the surface once more for air and was under again in a second.  In the brief moment he had been above the water, his mind had registered the screams of the boy’s mother. 

This time his hand brushed something and he grabbed again, his fingers feeling something solid.  He gripped fabric and flesh and held on for dear life, rising to the surface again, dragging what he held with him.  His head came out of the water and he pulled the boy with him.  He ignored the shouts above him and immediately rolled the young boy onto his back.  He pulled his head to him and began mouth to mouth, forcing air between the cold lips.  Using one hand beneath the boy’s back, he desperately pressed on his small chest before sealing his mouth over the boy’s once more and breathing air into his lungs. 

Chakotay was suddenly aware that he was no longer alone in the water.  Strong arms were pulling him and the child towards the edge of the pool where ropes had been lowered.  Within a minute, man and boy had been pulled clear of the water and Duncan and Cassa were working on the small body. 

Chakotay sat shivering as he watched the doctors working on their patient.  It seemed like hours as he listened to the mother’s cries and watched for any signs of life.  It was, in fact, only moments before he saw and heard the boy cough and splutter, spitting up the water he had swallowed.  Cries of relief were heard everywhere. 

Chakotay let out a long breath of relief and looked up into the smiling face of Galan as he draped a warm blanket around his shoulders.  He nodded his thanks and stood with a little help.  Galan walked him slowly towards the clinic, following Duncan who carried the child.  They were stopped several times by many of the women as they offered their tearful thanks. 

Once inside the clinic, Miriam took over and checked Chakotay despite his protests that he was all right.  Finally she satisfied herself and agreed to find out about the young boy for him, but not before pressing a hypospray of antibiotic to his neck.

“God alone knows what germs were living in that water and this will take care of them.  I’ll find out how young Car is for you but you stay here and rest…”  Chakotay nodded slowly and smiled slightly when the young nurse ordered Galan to stay and make sure her instructions were obeyed.  He smiled at the young man.

“She doesn’t trust me…”  The young Cardassian laughed.

“She’s been a nurse for a long time.  She knows patients.”  Chakotay shook his head and let his smile slip.

“Do you think he’ll be all right?”  Deep worry was etched on his face and Galan became serious also.  He moved to the chair beside Chakotay’s and sat down.

“He was breathing on his own.  He’ll be fine.  He’ll need some care for a few days but I’m sure he’ll be fine.  He still has to face his mother though and I can’t attest to what damage she’ll inflict.”  Both men smiled then looked up as they heard someone walk towards them.  Lorcha was smiling as she approached them.

“Car will be fine.  Duncan, Cassa and your Doctor have treated him and they’re very happy with his condition.  His mother is with him now and for the moment, she’s just relieved that he’s all right.  He’ll sleep for the rest of the day but he’s going to have to face her wrath in the morning.  I’m not sure I’d want to be him then.”  Chakotay sighed deeply and closed his eyes.

“Thank God.”  He felt Galan and Lorcha both squeeze his arms and opened his eyes again.  Lorcha smiled softly at him.

“You saved his life, Chakotay.  I’ve never seen anyone move faster in my life.  The fact that he spent so little time under the water is because of your quick action.  Everyone knows that.  We all owe you a lot.”  Chakotay shook his head in protest but Lorcha gave him a warning glare.  “Don’t sell yourself short.  You saved his life.”  Chakotay shrugged and managed a small smile.  He looked up as Miriam returned.

“Glad to see you obeyed my orders…”  Galan laughed. 

“He wouldn’t dare disobey…”  Miriam glared at him and then laughed. 

“Cheek.  Anyone would think I was a tyrant…”  She laughed again at the mock disbelief she saw before her.  “Hey, I’m really a pussycat…”  Galan pretended sincerity.

“Of course you are.  I wouldn’t think anything different…”  He made a show of winking at Chakotay and then whispered loudly to him.  “You have to humour these medical people.  They can make you pay otherwise…”  Miriam stood with her hands on her hips now and nodded, trying her best to look stern but a smile was tugging at her lips.

“Yes…yes…have your fun.  Very funny.”  She waited patiently as they all laughed and then held her hands up for silence.  She smiled gently at Chakotay.

“Right, my good man…listen to me now.”  Chakotay composed himself and nodded at the nurse.  He grew more serious as she pulled a chair over to him and sat down, nodding to the others to give them some privacy.  He frowned at her.

“Car will be all right, won’t he?”  Miriam waved a hand and nodded.

“He’ll be fine.  You got him out of the water quickly and he hadn’t swallowed too much anyway.”  She dropped her head to the side.  “The water was cold…”  It was almost a question and Chakotay nodded, smiling slightly as he shivered.  Miriam rubbed at his arm and smiled also.  “I can see that for myself.”  She shrugged now and dropped the smile a little.  “Well…between the coldness of the water and your quick action…he didn’t swallow very much.  You probably swallowed more than he did…”  She saw Chakotay didn’t understand and explained.

“I don’t fully understand it myself but when the water is that cold, it’s a shock to the body and the throat closes off.  That stopped Car from swallowing too much water.  Of course, he wasn’t breathing but you got to him very quickly and sorted that out.”  She smiled again.  “Duncan or Cassa will be able to explain it better to you but that’s the jist of it.  Either way, you still saved his life and there’s one extremely grateful mother inside who’ll want to see you later on.”  Chakotay waved that away.

“I didn’t do anything that the rest of you wouldn’t have done.  I just got there more quickly or was nearer…”  Miriam nodded knowingly.

“You and Kathryn have a lot in common…  Just can’t take credit for something.  You’re far too modest.”  Chakotay shook his head.

“I just acted as needed, Miriam.  You know you and the others…”  Miriam patted his arm.

“All right, Chakotay.  We all still owe you but we’ll leave it at that.”  She hesitated a moment as if choosing her words.  Finally she spoke.

“Chakotay, speaking of Kathryn…”  She smiled reassuringly when she saw his concern.  “Relax, she’s fine.  She did however, hear all about what happened.  Young Julie didn’t waste any time in running to tell her Mommy Kathryn all about the big rescue.”  She smiled along with Chakotay but then grew serious again.  “Look, Kathryn knows all about it and I now have one very worried patient on my hands, despite my reassurances that you were fine.  She demanded all the details and wants to see you.  She accepted my word on Car’s condition but she needs to see you for herself…”  Chakotay was already standing when Miriam laid a restraining hand on his arm.

“Chakotay, she knows you’re fine.  You’re cold and soaked.  Go and take a shower first and then come back and see her.  I suggest you have a long, hot shower and dump those clothes.  No offence but it’s Eau de Stinking Pool and not attractive…”  She wrinkled her nose, hoping to reassure him but Chakotay shook his head.

“Miriam, I just need to see her first and let her see for herself that I’m fine.  You don’t understand…”  A voice behind Miriam interrupted him.

“Well, I do understand but Miriam is still right.”  Chakotay looked towards the voice and saw Duncan smiling at him.

“Duncan, you know how she’ll…”  Duncan nodded then looked down at Miriam.

“I’ll take care of this, Miriam.  Check on Car and get Leah something to eat and drink.  That’s one anxious mother.  Slip a sedative in with it…”  They both laughed, Miriam knowing that the doctor was joking.  She nodded knowingly and stood up.

“I’ll take care of it.”  She smiled at Chakotay again.  “Thanks again, Chakotay.  You’re a real hero.”  She leaned over and kissed his cheek then made her way to the room where Car and his mother were.

^^^^^^^^^^

Duncan took the chair which Miriam had vacated.  He pointed to the one Chakotay had just left and nodded towards it.

“Sit, man.  I caught enough of that to know that this needs to be discussed before you go rushing in there.  Kathryn is fine.  I just saw her and reassured her myself.  She’s anxious and worried about you.  I sternly told her that you were fine and would be in to see her when you’d cleaned up.”  Chakotay nodded reluctantly and sat down.  He stared at Duncan for a moment and then sighed, leaning back in the chair.  Duncan leaned back also.

“OK.  I know your thinking on this.  I had the same thoughts myself.  We both know what’s going on in Kathryn’s head with this…”  Chakotay rubbed at his face.

“I should have gone to her immediately.  I didn’t think.  I suppose I thought that she wouldn’t have heard so quickly and I was more worried about Car, but I still should have…”  Duncan leaned forward.

“Chakotay…stop it.  She’s fine.  OK…so this place is like the bush telegraph and Julie in particular…”  He smiled as he pictured the young girl for a moment.  “Look, Kathryn knows and accepts that you’re fine.  What you need to worry about is how she deals with this.  Rushing straight in isn’t wise.  You need to plan out how to deal with this and with her reaction to it.”  Chakotay leaned forward also.

“Duncan, we both know how she’ll deal with this.  She’ll see it as almost losing me or something and pull back again.  She’ll see it as some enormous reminder that bad things can or will happen to her or someone she loves.”  Duncan merely shrugged.

“Perhaps she will see it that way and maybe she will need a lot of reassurance, but of course she might just need to know that you’re all right…”  He saw that Chakotay looked doubtful about that.  “Chakotay, she struck me as very worried about you and was anxious to see you.  If she was going to pull back, I think she’d have been worried all right but she’d have been less anxious to see you…”  Chakotay stood suddenly.

“Or she might just pull back when this has had time to sink in and she thinks about it…especially with her depression…”  Duncan stood also and gripped his friend’s arm.

“There is that possibility, of course.  I can only suggest this.  Go and get a hot shower and clean up.  Seeing you like this will only make it more real…”  He stood back and looked Chakotay up and down.  “You’re a mess, my friend.  You need to get clean and you need to smell better before visiting a lady.”  Chakotay looked down at himself and smiled a little.

“I do stink, don’t I?”  He looked at Duncan and smiled a little more.  Duncan nodded and stood back, wrinkling his nose jokingly.

“Just stay upwind of everyone and you’ll be fine.”  He sobered.  “Seriously though, just get cleaned up, get a hot drink and then go and see her.  I’ll tell her where you are and that you’ll be over to her in a while.  Less urgency will also make her see how all right you are.”  Chakotay thought about that and then nodded in agreement.

“You’re right.  As usual.  I’d have just barged in there looking like this and that would have upset her more.”  He shivered.  “And I’m cold.”  Duncan laughed.

“I’m always right.  Now go and clean up.  Take your time.  Kathryn will be fine.  I’ll take care of her.”  Chakotay nodded and pulled the blanket he still wore more tightly around his shoulders.

“Yes sir…right away sir…three bags full and all that…”  Duncan laughed as he moved away.

“God, I wish you’d all obey me that way…”

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay rehearsed what he would say to Kathryn as he stood under the hot shower and watched the dirty water drain away.  He leaned his hands against the wall of the cubicle as he enjoyed the shower.  He tilted his head back now under the spray and sighed, grateful for the plentiful supply of water on the planet.  A sonic shower was no substitute for this.

Shaking himself out of it, he reached for the soap and began lathering himself, thinking back over the events of the morning.  He closed his eyes now, not wanting to think about how things could have gone.  The boy was safe and that was what he needed to concentrate on.

As he rinsed the soap off, his mind turned to Kathryn again.  He turned under the water, welcoming the warmth as it sank into him.

“I know you, Kathryn.  You’re going to see this as a warning of what can happen when you allow yourself to love someone…”  He spit out as he swallowed some of the water.  “Just please don’t pull back from me again.”  He sighed heavily as he turned off the flow of water and reached for a towel.

^^^^^^^^^^

Unknown to Chakotay, Duncan had continued to think about Kathryn and the events of the day.  He was just as worried that she’d pull back into her shell from a fear of losing the man she loved.  With this in mind, he decided to call in to see her again before Chakotay finished his shower.

He walked into the quiet room and saw his patient sitting quietly in the bed, her head down as she twisted her fingers together.  She didn’t seem to have heard him and he shook his head.

“I thought I might find you in this pose.”  He smiled as her head snapped up.  “You didn’t listen to a word I said earlier, did you?”  Kathryn forced a smile onto her face.

“I thought you were Chakotay…”  Duncan crossed the room.

“I told you he’d be in to see you as soon as he’d taken a shower…”  Kathryn looked away and nodded.

“Yes…you did…”  Duncan sat down in a chair at the side of the bed.

“And you thought I was lying…?”  Kathryn looked at him quickly.

“No…no…  I mean…”  Duncan reached for her hand and took it.

“You just need to see him for yourself.”  He dropped his head to the side and studied the woman before him.  “I want you to stop this, Kathryn.  I can see where your mind is taking you…”  Kathryn pretended confusion.  “Oh come on, my dear.  I know exactly what you’re thinking.  You see this as a warning of something bad happening again.  You’re afraid you’re going to lose someone else you love.  Well it didn’t happen and it’s not going to…”  Kathryn pulled her hand from his.

“So you say…but it could so easily have happened.  And even you can’t speak for the future…”  Duncan rolled his eyes.

“Stop this, Kathryn.  It didn’t happen and you can’t live being afraid of what ‘might’ happen.  None of us knows what the future holds, but we can’t live in a cocoon of fear either.  I thought we’d settled all this.”  Kathryn sighed deeply.

“We had.  We have.”  She shook her head.  “It is settled.  What you’re seeing is just a last relapse of doubt.  I’ve been through all this in my mind before you came in and I’ve settled it.”  She smiled now and it didn’t look forced.  “Look, Duncan…I admit my first instinct was to pull back completely.  When Julie came in and told me what had happened, I froze inside.”  She made a fist and pressed it to her chest.  “It was like an icy fist had reached inside my chest and gripped my heart…squeezing it and freezing it…pushing all the blood from it…”  She sighed and relaxed her hand.  “I saw all those I’d lost before…images flashing before my eyes…”  She stared off into the distance, as if seeing them.  She closed her eyes a moment and then looked back at Duncan.

“Even when Miriam came in and told me he was fine…and then you came…that terror was still with me.  Outwardly I accepted your words and I believed you that he was fine…  Inside though…”  She sighed and shrugged. 

“When I was alone again…I just sat here…”  She smiled sadly.  “Couldn’t do much else…”  Duncan just shook his head sadly but said nothing.  Kathryn shook her head also.  “It was just me and my thoughts and the fear was winning…  As I said…I saw them all…the ones I’d lost…as if they were standing before me…”  She gazed towards the door for a moment and then turned back to her friend.

“Something happened then.”  She smiled.  “It was strange.  It just suddenly came to me how much I had missed them over the years…what my life had been like without them…”  She smiled again and shook her head.  “Of course, had Justin not died I’d never have been with Mark…or had I not been parted from him…I’d probably never have fallen in love with Chakotay…  Had my father lived…I might have chosen different paths and met none of them…”  She shrugged.  “I’m digressing here…”  She shook her head.  “What I mean is…their loss has been very hard to take…harder than fearing something happening to them…”  She smiled and shook her head.  “And that was the answer somehow.  It was like a blinding revelation.”  She smiled at Duncan.  “I know you and I had this conversation before…about which would be worse…but it didn’t get through to me like the way it did today.  It suddenly had real meaning… almost like a physical presence.  It’s like when we talked before it was just theory and today it was practice…  Does that make sense?”  Duncan smiled proudly and nodded.

“Yes, my dear.  It makes perfect sense.”  He reached for her hand again and squeezed it.  Kathryn turned her hand in his and squeezed back.

“I felt so vulnerable when I thought something might have happened to him…so alone…but knowing what we have together was like a bright light in the darkness of that…and it led me back to a sense of sanity I felt I was losing…”  She shrugged as she looked at Duncan.  “That’s something else you talked to me about before…that feeling of vulnerability when you love someone…”  Duncan smiled as he remembered.

“I seem to remember that, all right.  It’s true though.  Nothing makes us more vulnerable than truly loving someone.  Standing back from that person doesn’t diminish the love we feel for them though.  It only causes us pain or increases the pain we may already have.  The longer we stand back, the more that pain increases.”  He smiled gently.  “Having them and fearing losing them is natural.  You’re not alone in that.  That’s the vulnerability.  But loving them and not having them is far worse.  I think you just learned that today.”  Kathryn nodded, her eyes filling with tears now.  Duncan stood slightly and used his foot to pull his chair closer to the bed.  He didn’t let go of her hand.

“Kathryn, you have such a special love with Chakotay.  I feel Jonathan and I have the same.  I loved that man from the first moment I saw him but I stood back and waited because I was afraid of so many things…”  He sighed.  “I was afraid of losing him…losing him to someone else or losing him to an accident…just losing him.  I was afraid of not having him at all.  I was afraid even of my own sexuality for a time and what people who knew me would think…although that was lower on my list…”  He leaned forward a little more now and took Kathryn’s hand in both of his.  His eyes held hers.

“I’ve never regretted taking that step though…and even had it not worked out for me…I still wouldn’t have regretted it.”  He squeezed her hand now to get her full attention.  “Kathryn, regret should only be reserved for the chances we don’t take.  Never the ones we do…” 

Kathryn stared at her friend as his words took on meaning for her.  She took a shallow breath and then swallowed the lump she felt forming in her throat.  She blinked back her tears.

“Oh Duncan…”  Her voice sounded choked and she coughed slightly to clear her throat.  She managed a watery smile.  “I wish you’d said all this before.  You’d have made my decision back then a lot easier.”  Duncan smiled and then burst out laughing.

“I thought I had said much the same thing to you…”  Kathryn shook her head.

“Maybe the words were different or the setting wasn’t the same…perhaps even the time…”  She smiled and sniffed.  “Whatever it was…”  She sighed and shook her head.  “I don’t know.  It just speaks volumes now and makes the best sense.”  She shook her hand in his.  “I was so afraid of something happening and stood back from him for a time because of that fear.  I worked through it though.  I still believed that if something did happen, I would fall apart or pull away again.  Now that something has happened, it’s the opposite.  This has given me a punch in the face.  It’s made me want to hang on tighter rather than let go and that’s shocked me.  The decision just came to me as if I’d already decided and didn’t know it.  Your words now have just reinforced that decision.”  She smiled at her friend.  “I won’t pull back from him.  I love him too much.  Hearing what happened just knocked the wind out of me for a moment but I came to my senses.  You’ve just concreted that.”  Duncan smiled softly and then stood up, leaning over and kissing her forehead.

“Good.  I’m happy to be of help.  Look, he’s fine.  Just keeping remembering that you have one hell of a good man there.  Make sure you know that and hang onto him…”  Kathryn nodded and smiled widely.

“Oh, I know that and I will.  I’ll hang on with both hands.”  Duncan smiled his approval.

“Good for you.  Now…rest and wait for the man in question to make himself presentable for you.”  He stood back but Kathryn held onto his hands.

“Duncan…could you help me sit out?  I’d like to wait for him in the chair instead of this bed.”  Duncan smiled gently and nodded.

“Your wish is my command…”

^^^^^^^^^^

As Chakotay entered the clinic, he was almost knocked over by a woman, who threw herself into his arms.  Before he could recover, his face was grabbed by two hands and he found himself being kissed on both cheeks.

“Chakotay…I can’t ever thank you enough for what you did today.  My son is alive because of you…”  Chakotay gently pulled back a little and looked down into the beaming and tear-filled face of Car’s mother.  He smiled softly.

“Leah…I was just there first.  Anyone else would have…”  Leah shook her head and pressed a hand to his mouth.

“No Chakotay…I have my son because of you.  I won’t hear anything different.”  She sniffed loudly and swallowed.  “He’s asleep.  I’m just taking the chance to get some of his things for him for when he wakes up.”  She shook her head.  “I’ll redden his butt later but for now all I want to do is treasure him.  Thanks to you I can do that.  I owe you and I won’t forget what you did.”  With those words, she kissed him again and left the clinic, leaving Chakotay standing there staring at the space where she’d been.  He looked to his left as he heard a laugh and saw Miriam watching him.

“I told you…  You’re a hero…  Now don’t even try and argue with me.  Just head in to see that woman of yours.  She’s all ready.”  She laughed again and went back to her work.

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay hesitated for a moment outside Kathryn’s room.  He drew in a deep breath before opening the door.  He wasn’t sure what to expect, perhaps Kathryn sitting quietly in the bed, silent and withdrawn.  What he saw when he entered the room stopped him in his tracks.

Kathryn sat out of the bed, her eyes on the door showing that she had obviously been watching for his arrival.  He watched her face carefully and saw the worry leave it to be replaced by sheer joy.  If she could have run to him, she would have already been in his arms.  Instead she reached her arms out to him, tears filling her eyes, all her composure and good intentions gone.  Her emotional floodgates opened.

“Chakotay…thank God…I was so worried…”  Chakotay was across the room in a second and knelt down before her.  Her arms came around him and pulled him to her tightly.  She whispered softly to him but he heard the tears in her voice.

“I was so scared.  Julie told me what happened and I was so scared for you…then Miriam told me you were all right and then Duncan, but still…”  Chakotay pulled back and looked closely at her.  He smiled and raised a hand to her face, wiping at her tears.

“Honey, I’m fine.  Car was the one at risk…”  She sobbed a little now.

“I know but…you still…I mean…you could have…”  She began to cry now.  “I’m sorry…I was just so worried…”  Chakotay pulled her back to him and held her.  He whispered softly to her.

“I’m fine…I’m really fine…”  Kathryn hugged him tightly.

“I know…I believed but…  I just had to see for myself…  If I lost you…”  Chakotay felt something tighten inside him at her last words.  He pulled back again, a smile on his face.

“I’m fine.  Nothing is going to happen to me…”  Kathryn stared at him, studied him in fact.  Chakotay allowed her scrutiny without speaking.  Finally she nodded and leaned back.

“I know you are but…”  Chakotay squeezed her shoulders, emphasizing his words even more.

“Kathryn, I’m fine.  I’m here and I’m fine.  Nothing happened to me.  I wasn’t in danger…”  Kathryn sniffed loudly and nodded.

“I know you’re fine.  I was just so worried.  I was afraid that…”  Chakotay just squeezed a little more tightly, determined to repeat his words as many times as he needed to.

“Honey, I’m all right.  I really am.  Nothing is going to happen to me…”  Kathryn shook her head slightly, her eyes bright with tears.

“You can understand how I’d worry though…”  Her voice seemed to plead for his understanding and then she looked down into her lap.  “Besides, you can’t promise me that nothing is going to happen…”  Her voice broke slightly and she looked up into his eyes.  She saw the deep worry there and reached up to stroke his face.  “I’m sorry.  You don’t need this from me.  I promised myself I wouldn’t do this to you…”  Chakotay frowned now.

“Do what to me?  Kathryn, you’ve nothing to be sorry for.  Just talk to me.  What’s wrong…?  And don’t say nothing because we both know that’s not true.  I also have a feeling this is about more than just today…”  Kathryn swallowed loudly and nodded.  She studied him for several moments as if trying to find the right words.  Finally she drew in a deep breath and nodded again.

“You’re right.  And it’s about time I talked about this with you. I haven’t been very fair to you recently.”  Chakotay frowned slightly but said nothing, afraid to interrupt her now that she seemed to want to open up to him.  Kathryn tilted her head, her eyes still on him. 

“Chakotay, you’re worried that I’m going to pull back from you again, aren’t you?  You think that this will have scared me so much that I’ll think it’s a warning of something bad happening to someone I love again…”  She smiled sadly when she saw the shocked look on his face.  “I know you very well, my love.”  She sighed heavily and surprised him by leaning forward and hugging him.  He responded eagerly until she eased back.  She nodded to him.

“I forget how well you know me too…”  She smiled weakly and then nodded.  “OK…I think we should talk about this.  We or rather I should have talked about this some time ago.”  Chakotay simply took her hands in his and nodded.  He squeezed her hands gently to encourage her but said nothing.  Kathryn smiled her thanks and took a deep breath.

“There’s been a lot…I mean…a lot has happened…since Voyager landed back on Earth in fact…but especially here.”  She looked down at their joined hands.  “Julie’s ‘father’…the water poisoned…you all coming here…things between us…”  She shrugged.  “And then Julie and the storm and all that…and the situation with the women’s decisions…”  She looked up tearfully at him now.  “And then there’s me…my legs…”  Chakotay shook his head, needing to speak now.

“I know but…”  He leaned a little closer to her.  “Kathryn, we can’t control the women’s decisions but I’m hopeful.  I also believe you’ll regain the use of your legs.  What’s most important though is us and what we have.  I know you’ve been…”  He hesitated a moment, not sure how to say the words.  Suddenly, Kathryn said them for him, surprising him.  She sighed heavily and managed a small smile.

“I’ve been depressed.  You can say it and I admit it.”  She smiled again slightly at the half shocked, half embarrassed look on Chakotay’s face.  “Chakotay, give me some credit for intelligence.  I know Duncan and Jonathan have been concerned about my…what shall we call it…my ‘mental state’…”  She shrugged.  “They haven’t exactly been good at hiding their worries.”  She squeezed his hands.  “Neither have you although you’ve been trying so very hard to distract me.”  Chakotay had the good grace to look guilty and Kathryn nodded her understanding.  “Your heart was in the right place.  It’s OK…”  She grew more serious then.

“I have been feeling down.  I’ve been feeling a lot of things, but as usual I’ve tried to keep them hidden from everyone.  It’s just become a life habit…”  Chakotay nodded his understanding but remained quiet, letting her speak her mind.  She sighed wearily.

“I’ll try and explain this although I’m not sure I understand it myself…”  She looked towards the bed.  “I just felt…  I don’t know…  I felt angry and frustrated…cheated even.  I still do, I suppose.  I’d been so afraid to take a chance with us…afraid something would go wrong for us…like it always has for me…”  She looked towards him and saw his understanding.  “It took a lot for me to take a chance again…”  He nodded again and squeezed her hands more tightly.

“I know that, love.  Don’t think I don’t understand just what it took for you to take that step.  I know the courage it took…”  Kathryn smiled her thanks.

“It was hard but it would have been so much harder to be without you…”  Chakotay shook his head

“You’re stuck with me now.  Nothing is going to change that.”  Kathryn bit at her lip and blinked back a few tears.

“I do know that but my track record keeps reminding me otherwise.”  She held a hand up when he went to speak.  “Chakotay...you have to try and see what I’m talking about.  So many things have gone wrong for me…so many people have left or been taken…that I can’t help expecting the same thing to happen again.  I’ve been here before.  I take a chance and then…”  She shrugged.  “You know my story…”  He nodded sadly.  “So I just expect the worst…  I can’t help it.”  Chakotay lifted her hands in both of his, caressing them softly. 

“I’m not leaving you, Kathryn…  You know that…”  He looked up when she moved her hands in his.  Her eyes were sad.

“I know you won’t leave me in that way but there are others…  You can’t promise me that…no matter how much you mean it.  Look at today and what could have happened.  And look at what happened to me…”  She sighed sadly.  “Can you see how I would think the way I have been?  It’s like it just can’t ever be simple.  Something always has to go wrong for me when I find happiness.”  Chakotay shook his head, at a loss.  Kathryn looked across the room towards the door, studying it.

“When I learned that my back had been damaged the way it had been…that my legs weren’t…”  She didn’t finish that.  She shook her head and looked back at him.  “Chakotay…just hear me out on this…”  He nodded silently and she smiled her thanks. 

“I’m not sure if I can explain this in the right way but I’ll try.”  She licked at dry lips, her eyes holding his.  “I knew you’d always be there for me.  I knew you’d stand by me.  If I don’t ever walk again, I know you’ll be there for me.”  She saw him nod, his love and his promise showing in his eyes.  She shrugged before she spoke on. 

“It’s not you I doubt.  Can you understand that?  This is about how I feel.  I don’t do dependence well and we both know that.  My worst fear is about being a burden to you…”  She held her hand up to stop him when he went to object as she knew he would.  “I know I wouldn’t be a burden to you but I’d feel it.  Can you see the difference?”  Chakotay nodded reluctantly but remained quiet, letting her have her say.  Kathryn sighed.

“I know you’re there for me so I’m the one with the problem.  I’m the one who has to sort this out.  I have terrible insecurities but I’m the only one who can address them.  You’ve done everything you can to reassure me but only I can take that on board and accept it.  Can you see that?”  Again Chakotay said nothing and just nodded.  “You’ve assured me constantly that you’re there for me and it’s up to me to accept that and put my insecurities away.  Things will always happen to us in life.  They happen to everyone.”  She waved a hand towards the window.  “Look at these women here and what they’ve been through.  Look at the kids.”  She sighed heavily and dropped her hand, taking his again.  She shook her head.

“I’m not saying this the way I wanted to…”  She smiled up at him.  “I never do I guess.  I always get muddled when I try and say what I feel…”  They both smiled at that.  Kathryn bit at her lip and then became serious.

“When Julie told me what happened, I panicked.”  She shook her head.  “I hid it from her of course, but the minute she left I realized that I was lying here shaking.  All I could think was that I was losing you…that something terrible would happen and that you’d be taken away from me.”  She looked at Chakotay and saw the deep sadness in his eyes.  “Miriam came in then and told me what had happened…what had really happened.”  She smiled softly.  “Julie had made it all sound so much worse, you see.  Most kids have their own embroidered way with a story…”  She shook her head again.  “Anyway, Miriam told me exactly what had happened.  She told me again and again that you were all right and that Car would be fine.  I was so relieved to hear that the little rascal was fine but…”  She shook her head sadly.  “God forgive me…all I wanted to know was that you were all right.”  Chakotay smiled softly.

“That’s nothing to be ashamed about, love.  It’s only natural.”  Kathryn nodded.

“I know but I still felt guilty in a way…”  She looked down at the floor.  “Miriam reassured me and told me that she was sending you back to the ship for a hot shower.”  She looked towards him when he laughed slightly.

“You wouldn’t have wanted to see me the way I was…  Actually, Miriam described it as Eau de Stinking Pool.  I must have smelled pretty bad and looked even worse…”  The smile slipped from his face when he saw that Kathryn hadn’t smiled.  “Kathryn…?”  She met his eyes and shrugged.

“I was so worried and just wanted to see you to know that you were all right.  I needed to see for myself…”  Chakotay closed his eyes a moment.

“God, honey…I’m sorry.  I was going to come and see you before going back to Voyager but…”  Kathryn squeezed his hand and interrupted him.

“Chakotay…”  She took a moment as she looked around the room.  Chakotay allowed her the time, sensing the importance of what she wanted to say.  She looked back at him and smiled slightly.

“Would I be right in thinking that Duncan or Miriam talked you out of coming to me immediately?”  Chakotay looked surprised for a moment and then nodded.

“Duncan mostly…although Miriam had her say in it too…”   Kathryn nodded slowly.

“Wise man…and woman…  Wiser than I am anyway…”  She smiled as Chakotay frowned.  She took another moment and then spoke on.

“Chakotay, all I wanted was to see you but…”  She sighed.  “I needed to see that you were all right but something inside me…in those first minutes after I heard…”  She shook her head sadly.  “Everything I’ve been speaking about…all my insecurities…feelings that something would happen to you…that you’d be taken from me…”  She looked to him to see if he understood.  He just nodded slowly, letting his eyes speak for him.  Kathryn shook her head.

“I pulled back, Chakotay…  I knew I was doing it.  I felt myself doing it.  I could feel the pain of loss…familiar pain to me…  I could feel it filling me and I felt myself pull back.”  She held his eyes.  “Had you walked through that door in those minutes, I’d have let you go…”  Her words shocked Chakotay to the core.  He stared at her, unable to speak.  Kathryn stared back.

“But you didn’t come…”  Chakotay still couldn’t speak although he tried.  He felt his mouth opening and closing until Kathryn reached over and pressed two fingers to his lips.

“You didn’t come and thank God you didn’t…”  Chakotay was still in shock but it felt a different kind of shock now.  He still couldn’t form any words though.  Kathryn smiled her understanding.

“I’ll try and explain better.”  She removed her hand from his lips and sighed deeply.

“Had you come to me immediately, I know I’d have pulled back because I’d have been reacting to my own fears.  It would have been an impulse…perhaps a survival impulse but an impulse none-the-less.  I’d have pulled back from you and retreated into my shell.”  She smiled now.  “When you didn’t come…I had to wait…and that gave me time to think…  It gave me time to think about something I’ve been avoiding.  I was faced with this and I had to face it head on.  It was happening at that very moment and I couldn’t avoid it.  I couldn’t exactly get up and walk away from it…”  She shrugged and tried a small smile.

“What I’m trying to say is that with time to think, I saw things in a way I hadn’t allowed myself to before…had avoided before.”  She leaned back slightly.  “I asked myself a question, you see.  I set up this situation in my head and asked myself about it.”  Her voice trembled slightly.  “If I had lost you today…”  She swallowed loudly.  “If I’d lost you…I asked myself would I have regretted the time we’ve had together up to this day.  Oh, I’ve spoken of something like this with Duncan before…before I came to you to start with here…but this was the first real test of it.  Had I lost you, the pain would have been unbearable…but I know that pain would have been worse had I stayed away from you.  I already knew that, but it finally and really slammed home today.  I know now that what we’ve shared since you arrived here would have comforted me had I lost you.  The pain of losing you would still have destroyed me but I’d have had something to hold unto.  I finally and fully learned that today.  I think I already knew it, in fact.”  Chakotay was afraid to speak for a moment and swallowed the lump which had formed in his throat.

“Kathryn…”  He dropped his head.  “Oh God…I so very nearly came in first…”  He looked up when he felt Kathryn’s soft hand under his chin.  She was smiling     
tearfully at him.  He shook his head.  “I was afraid that you would pull back from me if you didn’t see that I was all right.  Duncan assured me that you were fine and pushed me to shower first…said that seeing me so wet and dirty would just make it more real for you.  I didn’t know what to do…”  Kathryn laughed slightly.

“Duncan’s wise, all right.  Actually, he came in to see me when you’d gone for your shower…”  Chakotay looked surprised for a moment and then smiled knowingly.

“I should have guessed.  It sounds like something he’d do…”  Kathryn nodded.

“He’d been in earlier…just after Miriam…”  Chakotay nodded.

“He told me that…”  Kathryn smiled.

“We had a long talk.  I guess he thought as you did about how I’d react…like he just knew how I was thinking.”  She smiled sadly.  “I was already, I suppose, on a downward slope of depression about something happening to you…or something spoiling what we have…but more so about my legs.  I’ve been depressed about that for some time…more and more as time was passing.  What happened today pushed to the front though and I think he saw that and figured I needed more reassurance.”  She shrugged.  “Today and what happened…  It was like a reality check and it made me see what I was allowing to happen.  It stopped me and showed me what’s really important.  Duncan came in and we talked but I’d already discovered all this for myself and I’m glad I did.  Coming to this realization, if you like, was something I needed to do for myself.  It was better that way.”  Chakotay shook his head.

“Either way…I still owe that man a big thank you…”  Kathryn leaned forward and kissed the tip of his nose. 

“Oh he deserves some credit but I also like to believe that someone was watching over us and guiding us to what was right.”  She laughed now, surprising Chakotay.  When he frowned she explained.

“I just remembered something my father used to say…about it being impossible to teach an old dog new tricks…”  She laughed again and dropped her head to the side.  “Guess he was wrong.”  Chakotay took her face between his hands.

“You are not old and you’re certainly not a dog…”  He kissed the tip of her nose now.  “Besides, there’s a big difference between being taught something and learning something for yourself or even realizing something you knew all along.”  Kathryn placed her hands over his, a playful glint in her eyes.

“I’m not exactly young either.  As to the dog bit though…”  She raised an eyebrow and said nothing more.  Chakotay’s eyes widened.

“Are you…?  Kathryn Janeway, tell me you’re not thinking along the lines I think you’re thinking along…”  He stopped a moment and frowned.  “Did that come out right…?”  Kathryn laughed but her cheeks flushed.

“Yes and yes…but time for that later…”  She blushed again.  “I can’t believe I said that…”  Chakotay tweaked her nose.

“You say whatever you want to with me.  Don’t ever be embarrassed.  If you can’t be yourself with me…”  Kathryn smiled her thanks and then blew out a long breath and leaned back, a calm look on her face. 

“Oh God, Chakotay…I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to break free of old habits.”  She shook her head.  “I still am terrified that something will happen to you but nothing can take away from what we’ve shared.  I feel the luckiest woman in the universe for having what I’ve had…  It feels strange but also wonderful to break free of the…shackles, I guess…which have held me in fear and even terror for so long.  I can’t control the future but I can decide on the present and hopefully influence the future.  The fears and insecurities which have held me for so long…”  She shook her head slightly.  “To finally break free of them…  It’s scary and I can’t believe I’ve done it…  I always thought I’d need years of counselling to get past them and in the end it happened in minutes.  All it took was a threat to my love for you…fear of losing you once I’d committed to you and the time to reflect on that fear as it built…”  The tears which had begun to well in her eyes now spilled over.  Chakotay wasn’t dry eyed either and immediately reached for her, pulling her to him tightly.  He whispered softly to her as he held her.

“Kathryn…I can’t tell you what it means to me to hear those words from you.  I’ve loved you for so long and when you came to me it was so wonderful, but I was constantly afraid of losing what we had.  When this happened today, that fear was…”  He sighed.  “I was so terrified you’d pull back…”  Kathryn hugged him more tightly. 

“I’m so sorry for what I’ve put you through…”  Chakotay nuzzled her hair.

“What we have now is all that’s important.”  He pulled back to look into her eyes.  “That’s something else to learn and accept.  We can’t change the past and worrying about what might have been or what might be is a precious waste of life…”  Kathryn nodded tearfully.

“I love you.  I don’t deserve you but I’m not going to question it.  I’m just going to take you for the wonderful gift you are to my life.”  She smiled lovingly at him and reached up to caress his cheek.  “I know now that having you for even a day is better than not having you for a lifetime.”  She looked off behind him a moment.  “A day of life with you or a lifetime without you…?”  She looked back at him, smiling softly.  “It’s no contest.  I could have lost you today but I didn’t so I’ll take this gift and treasure every moment.  I’ll take you for as long as I can have you…and whether that’s here or on Earth or wherever…it doesn’t matter.  As long as we’re together, nothing else matters.”  She smiled sadly now.  “We may not be able to go for moonlit walks on the beach but…”  Chakotay took her hand from his face and stroked his fingers over hers.

“I believe we will…”  Kathryn smiled and nodded.

“I’ll try and share your faith.”  She shrugged and tried to smile again but her voice began to break.  “Besides, if it doesn’t happen…you can push me or carry me but we’ll still have the beach and the moonlight.  Most of all, we’ll have each other.”  Her voice broke now as tears fell down her cheeks.  Chakotay leaned into her, his hands stroking her face.

“Kathryn…I truly believe that you will walk again.  That’s not just me trying to put a brave face on it or for your sake.  I really believe it in here…”  He pointed to his chest.  “In my heart…my gut…I know it and feel it.”  He placed his hand back on her face.  “If however, that doesn’t happen…it’s something we’ll overcome.  It won’t make any difference to us or what we have.  This is about you and me and being in love.  It’s about getting to that special place where people in love reside.  It’s the getting there that’s important…not how you get there.  Getting there…not the mode of transport.  So I’ll carry you or whatever…”  Kathryn sniffed and tried to smile through her tears.

“I think you’re trying to twist Harry Kim’s words.  For us it’s the destination that matters and not the journey.”  Chakotay smiled and nodded.

“Something like that but not quite.  The destination part…yes.  The journey is just as important though.  It’s how we make the journey that’s not important as long as we make it together.”  They just stared at each other for a moment until Chakotay pulled Kathryn into his arms.  They embraced for several moments just enjoying the closeness.

^^^^^^^^^^ 

Eventually Kathryn pulled back and wiped at her face.  She smiled and sniffed loudly then pushed her hair back from her face.

“God, I must look a mess.”  Chakotay shook his head.

“Kathryn…you’d look good in sackcloth and ashes…  You’d look good in anything or nothing…”  Kathryn made a face at him as she tucked her hair behind her ears.

“You’d prefer the ‘nothing’…right…?”  Chakotay looked around the room, an expression of pure innocence on his face.

“Whatever gave you that idea?”  He jumped when she smacked his arm.

“Oh, something about the lecherous look on your face…”  Chakotay gave in and nodded eagerly.

“Yeah…so shoot me.  I’m just a healthy, hungry man.”  Kathryn rolled her eyes up and shook her head.

“Stop before you explode.”  She pointed towards the locker.  “Expend some of that energy you have and get me my hair brush.  It’s on the locker.”  Chakotay stood and bowed.

“Yes ma’am.  Right away ma’am.”  He fetched the brush and handed it to her then sat on the bed and watched as she brushed her hair out, pulling it back and fixing it into a ponytail with a band which had been wrapped around the handle of the brush.  She looked up and saw him watching her.  Chakotay saw the serious look on her face now and leaned forward a little.  Kathryn spoke softly.

“Chakotay…I mean…”  She sighed.  “If I don’t get any better…I mean…”  She swallowed and bit at her lip.  “It’ll be hard for you, with the way my legs are and…”  Chakotay leaned forward again and quickly pressed his hand to her mouth.

“No, Kathryn…  That doesn’t come into this.  I love you and you love me.  Nothing else matters.  How we feel about each other is all that’s important.  Where we spend our life or what way we do that takes second place to that love.  We’re there for each other in everything and we face whatever life throws at us.  We’ll always get through those times once we have that love for each other.”  Kathryn tried to smile as she shook her head.  She reached for his hand.

“I know that but…”  She played a finger over the back of his hand.  “Chakotay…”  She looked up at him.  “There are practicalities we’ll have to face…  We can’t avoid them.”  She looked away a moment.  “I mean…where we live…hover chair access and…”  She stopped for a moment and swallowed.  “There’ll be a lot to decide…work and…”  She stopped when Chakotay pulled on her hands.

“Kathryn, listen to me…”  His expression was serious.  “I believe you’ll walk again but if…and I mean if…you don’t walk again…we’ll deal with that when we need to.”  He pressed on her hands and tilted his head to make sure she was looking at him.  “Kathryn, we deal with things as they happen.  We take this one day at a time.  For now, we need to wait for the women’s decision about us.  When that comes, we’ll then know where home will be.  Once that has been decided, we’ll work out the next step and then the next.”  He smiled.  “It’s like a jigsaw…”  He saw the frown he knew would come on Kathryn’s face.  “Thought that one might stump you…”  He leaned back a little, still holding onto her hands. 

“It’s another one of Tom’s discoveries.  They were popular in the 20th century…so he told me.”  Kathryn continued to frown but a smile played at her lips.

“So they were popular back then…  That still doesn’t tell me what they were…”  Chakotay laughed.

“Well, Tom and I once spent an entire night with one on Voyager.  We were so caught up in it that it was morning and time for duty before we knew it.”  Kathryn laughed also.

“That good, huh?”  Chakotay nodded.

“Addictive actually.”  He smiled and shook his head.  “OK…I’ll tell you.”  He leaned forward again.  “They’re a kind of puzzle…in picture form.  They were made on hard card…like stiff paper…and there was a picture on this card.  Usually a scenic view or small animals or children.  They were big enough and were always cut onto small pieces…five hundred or a thousand pieces usually.  I think you could get them bigger if you had the patience.”  He smiled to himself at the look on Kathryn’s face, seeing that she was totally confused.

“Anyway…these pieces were cut into shapes which fitted or slotted together and locked…but each piece only fit with one other.  The idea was to build up the picture by fitting all the pieces together in the right places…usually by looking and working from the picture on the box it all came in…”  Kathryn still stared at him, shaking her head now.

“And you and Tom sat up all night once working on one of these jig…jigs…”  Chakotay laughed and shook his head.

“Jigsaws…and yes…we did…but if you ever tell anyone…we’ll both deny it completely.  We’ve a past reputation to protect…”  Kathryn shook her head, her smile still in place.

“Your secret is safe.  No one would believe me anyway.  Besides, I’d never be able to explain all that…”  Chakotay squeezed her hands.

“I’ll show you sometime.  Anyway, the point I was trying to make is…”  He thought a moment.  “In order to complete the picture, you have to build it up one piece at a time.  Do you see what I’m trying to say…?”  Kathryn looked at him for a moment and then nodded.

“I understand.  One step at a time…one piece at a time.”  Chakotay nodded.  He lifted one hand and stroked her face.

“Yes.  And that’s the way we’ll do this.  Each piece that falls into place will give us a clearer view of where to go next…of what the next step or piece will be.  We just have to be patient.”  Kathryn reached up and covered his hand then drew it to her lips.  She kissed it softly.

“As long as we take those steps together…”  Chakotay smiled lovingly.

“We will…  Always together…”

^^^^^^^^^^

Duncan shook his head in amazement as he thought over all Chakotay had told him about his time with Kathryn.  He lifted another plate from the sink, watching as the suds dripped off it.  He then dipped it into an adjoining sink of clean water to rinse it off before handing it to Chakotay to dry.

“I can’t believe the change in Kathryn…  It’s a miracle…”  He shook his head again.  Chakotay took the plate and wiped it with the cloth he held then added it to the pile on the counter beside him.

“I’ve found it wise not to question miracles…”  Duncan looked up and nodded.

“Yeah…probably wise all right…”  He handed his friend another plate.  Chakotay took it and then glanced at the pile beside him.

“You know, the sooner we get replicators up and running in here the better.”  Duncan stopped and looked at Chakotay, his hands and arms in the suddy water.

“I concur with that.  This is not doing my hands any good.  It’s hell in the colder weather too.”  He looked puzzled when Chakotay burst into laughter.  “What…?”  Chakotay shook his head, doing his best to stop laughing.

“Sorry…  You just sound…  Well…it’s very…”  Duncan caught on.

“Oh thanks…  I sound like Selona, you mean…”  Chakotay smothered another laugh.

“Well…you do.  Your poor hands…”  Duncan splashed Chakotay.

“Cheek.  I’ll have you know these are the hands of a surgeon.  You try working with chapped hands…”  Chakotay jumped back from the spray of water.

“Oh yes dear…so sorry.”  He sobered then.  “Sorry…really.  I have a lot to thank those hands of yours for.  You saved Kathryn with them.”  Both men were serious now as they thought back.  Duncan sighed.

“It’s been some few months, huh?”  Chakotay smiled slightly as he placed the last plate on the counter.

“It sure has.  I just wish I knew what the next days will bring us…”  Duncan nodded solemnly as he dried his hands.

“I don’t think it will be long now.  I haven’t heard anything precise but the rumblings are that it will be soon.  Tomorrow perhaps.  They have the look of having reached a decision.”  Chakotay leaned back against the counter.

“The sooner the better.  Mind you, it doesn’t seem as urgent as it was.  Kathryn’s outlook is so much more positive now.  I mean, we’d both hate to leave.  Every crew member would hate that, in fact.  If we had to leave now though, it wouldn’t be quite as hard on her as it would have been before…”  He frowned.  “Can you make sense of that?”  Duncan patted his arm.

“Just about.  I think you’re trying to say that she’s more positive about facing whatever comes now…”  Chakotay smiled softly and nodded.

“Yeah…that’s about it.”  He shook his head.  “Like you…I can’t believe the change in her.  Car falling in the pool did what no one else could.”  Duncan reached into the sink and pulled the old fashioned plug to drain the dish water away.

“We’re all still beating ourselves up over that.  I can’t believe we didn’t think about the danger of the pool...or about making sure it was drained after the rain.  We should have known the fencing wouldn’t have been enough.  The lure of that big open hole was just too much for the kids to resist.”  Chakotay smiled softly, trying to show reassurance.

“I may not have kids of my own, Duncan.  However, even I know that you can’t think of everything with them.  For every hundred things you think of, they’ll find a hundred more.  There’ll always be some way they can get into trouble.”  Duncan shook his head.

“Together though, we should have foreseen that danger.  We’ve enough experience between the lot of us…”  Chakotay shrugged and smiled softly.

“Just see it this way.  No one was hurt and we’ve all learned a valuable lesson.  All you can do is put it down to experience.”  Duncan managed a smile.

“I know you’re right and I’m trying to do that.”  He blew out a breath.  “It’s amazing how a shock like that can change your entire outlook on life though.  Sometimes we can go through our whole lives and not see something or it takes years for it to come to us…and then an answer or a solution can reveal itself in seconds and often in the strangest places and at the strangest times.”  He shook his head.  “I keep an open mind now, and that way…very little shocks or surprises me any more...except what kids can get up to…”  Chakotay smiled then nodded.

“Good philosophy.”  He shook his head.  “It’ll still be damned hard on everyone if we have to leave…  Hardest on Kathryn no matter how positive she is now…”  Duncan stared into the empty sink as the last of the suds drained away.

“I know.  It would be very painful to lose her…”  He looked up now, seeming a little uncertain before he spoke. 

“I guess that’s why I believe the decision will go your way.  I really believe she’ll be the deciding factor in the women’s decision about you all staying.  They love her.  She’s a part of the family now and they know that they can trust the rest of you because she does.  They’ll see her and the rest of you as a package deal.  It also makes sense to have you all stay on and these women aren’t stupid.  Deciding whether you stay will be the easy part.  They’ll have a far tougher time deciding about the rest…”  Chakotay looked half shocked and half relieved.

“You really think they’ll let us stay?”  Duncan nodded.

“Call it knowing these people and also a gut instinct all mixed in together but…yes…I think it will go with you.  They know, love and trust you now.  You’ve became part of their lives in the short time you’ve been here.  It’s almost as if you’ve always been here in a way.  I mean, after the initial fear had passed, they accepted you very well.  You all fit right in so well too.  They know that.  And then of course the kids adore you all.  The women see that and I don’t think they’ll separate their children from you and cause them hurt.  A lot of those kids have already had enough separation in their lives.”  Chakotay nodded sadly at that.

“They’ve all had so much to cope with…”  Duncan picked up a cloth and dried his hands then just played with it.

“Too much.”  He smiled now and looked up at Chakotay.  “Don’t forget something else…”  Chakotay frowned and Duncan shook his head.  “You forget that both you and Kathryn have saved the lives of kids here…  That’s not something any of the women will ever forget…any of the staff either…”  Chakotay shook his head.

“Kathryn did but I just…”  Duncan rolled his eyes.

“You sound just like her.  You can’t take the credit for anything.  You both saved a child’s life so just accept how much that means to us all…”  Chakotay nodded reluctantly.

“OK…but for me…it’s still something anyone else would have…”  Duncan threw the cloth he held at Chakotay, shocking him.

“I give up.  One of you is as bad as the other.  God give me strength…”  He moved towards the large table in the kitchen then turned back.  “It’s the way the women see it that matters and I know they can’t ever thank you enough.  Even though Julie hasn’t a mother with her, she still counts as one of their kids.  They’re all everyone’s kids and you both saved two of their kids.  I don’t believe they’ll forget that when they decide.”  Chakotay picked up another cloth and wiped his own hands.

“I just hope you’re right.  I mean, we’ll survive if we have to leave but it’ll hurt like hell.  We’ve found a home here…in every way that means…and it’d break a lot of hearts to leave all this behind.”  Duncan crossed over to his friend and laid a hand on his arm.  He squeezed gently.

“I’m a great believer in belief.  Have faith, my friend.  I really believe you and I will stand here again some night in the years to come and we’ll think back on this night.  Of course, that means we’ll still be washing dishes…”  Chakotay slapped Duncan on the back.

“I hope you’re right.”  He smiled then.  “We’ll be drinking tea though as the dirty plates are being recycled.”  Duncan sighed in relief.

“Ahh yes…  I like the sound of that…”

^^^^^^^^^^

Duncan proved accurate in his prediction.  Early the next afternoon the women passed word to the staff that they had reached a decision on the crew staying on.  They let it be known however, that they had still to decide on the other matters before them and that they wanted another meeting.

Duncan immediately sought out Chakotay, calling him into his small office.  He offered the older man some tea and then sat behind his desk.  He smiled knowingly now.  Chakotay just shook his head.

“There’s an expression for the way you look…”  Duncan raised an eyebrow as Chakotay laughed.  “It’s ‘the cat that got the cream’ and it’s exactly how you look.  Go on…spill it.  The women have made their decision exactly as you predicted…”  Duncan sat forward.

“You already knew…  You’re no fun…”  Chakotay laughed.

“I guessed…well…actually I knew…  The kids overheard and have passed the word around faster than you could find me.  I think everyone knows by now…except maybe a few squirrels on the other side of the planet…”  Duncan rolled his eyes and then smiled.

“I should have guessed.  You can’t keep any secrets in this place with the kids around.  They’re all seeing, all hearing, all knowing…  Actually, the only way to make sure they don’t hear something is to tell them directly.  They ignore that.  Whisper something from ten miles away and they hear it immediately.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…little jugs have big ears…”  Chakotay sat forward.

“Ahh Daddy Duncan…you love the little darlings and you know it.”  The young doctor sighed then smiled.

“I must.”  He grew serious then.  “Does Kathryn know…?”  Chakotay nodded.

“She does and she’s pretty anxious about it.  I think ‘on tender hooks’ about sums it up.  I was with her when we heard.  Once again, it was our darling little Julie who burst in with the news.”  Duncan shook his head as he laughed.

“That child.  I think she’s set herself up as the local news service…a one girl bush telegraph.”  He played with his cup a moment and then looked up at Chakotay.  “God though…when you remember the way she was…  She mixes with everyone equally now.”  Chakotay grew serious also as he thought back.  He nodded slowly.

“I know.  She’s come on in leaps and bounds.  She’s recovered well from that night in the storm too.  You did well with her there.  She badly blamed herself for that.”  Duncan shook his head.

“That was more because of Jonathan and Lorcha…plus the good support network which exists here.”  Chakotay smiled gently.

“Team effort is more like it…  You’re as bad for not taking the credit when you deserve it…”  Both men smiled and then were quiet for several moments.  Chakotay was the first to speak.

“So Duncan…you still feel this will go our way…?”  Duncan looked up from his cup and nodded.

“I do.  I’ve heard snippets here and there which make me pretty sure.”  He leaned forward.  “Normally I’d say nothing until we knew for sure.  I’d hate to say yes and then be proved wrong.  I’m only saying this to you now because I feel that sure.  Still though…I’d rather this stayed between the two of us…just to be on the safe side…”  Chakotay smiled broadly and nodded.

“I agree…about your feeling on the decision and about not telling the others.”  He sighed and leaned back in his chair.  “I feel it because of the smiles I got from some of the women on the way over here.  If it was ‘no’ I don’t think they’d have been comfortable meeting my eyes.  I think some of the older kids know too but I could be wrong there.”  He played with his cup.  “Like you, I also feel it would be better not to talk about this with the others…although I believe they’ll pick up on things the way I did.  I’m not sure the women can keep this quiet until the meeting.”  He looked up then.  “When is that, by the way?”  Duncan drained his cup.

“Tonight.  Early this evening in fact.  I think they’d like to have it now but that isn’t feasible.  There’s still work to be done…animals to be fed and so on.  This evening is the earliest…”  Chakotay nodded.

“I’ll let Kathryn know…”  Duncan smiled at that.

“Don’t think she doesn’t know already.  That too will have made its way around.  Knowing her, she’ll also have a good idea of the decision and what way it’ll go.  She’s probably had a few visitors since you left her and picked up on the same clues you did.  Everyone probably knows…even your famous squirrels this time…”  Chakotay laughed.

“Think we should invite them to the meeting too…?”  Duncan took on an expression of mock horror.

“Dear God…no.  The kids would fall in love with them and want to keep them as pets.  We have enough animals to feed as it is.  If it wasn’t for Eugene’s neutering and spaying program, we’d be overrun.  Those pets can sure breed…”  Chakotay made a face.

“Spoilsport…”  Duncan stood up to get a refill of tea.

“Hey…we let them have some offspring but if it was a free for all…we’d be outnumbered in weeks…”  Chakotay smiled and nodded.

“I suppose…  Just keep Eugene away from me.”  Duncan smiled at that but then grew serious.

“You’d make a very good father.  You’d love kids of your own, wouldn’t you?”  Chakotay grew serious also.

“I would and I know Kathryn would make a great mother.  I just hope…”  He sighed.  “I guess we’ll just have to see if it’s in the great plan for us…”  Duncan sat down again.

“Physically Kathryn can have children.  I mean, nothing of her injuries affected her in that way.”  Chakotay frowned.

“What about her age?”  He rubbed at his face.  “God, I shouldn’t be talking about this without her permission…”  Duncan leaned forward, placing his elbows on the desk.

“Of course but…”  He shook his head.  “It’s just a fact that she’s not that old.  The days when a woman’s childbearing years ended in her early forties are long gone.”  He sat back in his chair now.  “Let’s leave it at that.  You both have plenty of time to think about this.”  Chakotay nodded but couldn’t quite get the smile off his face.

“I agree…”  He raised his cup.  “To tonight then…and to the future…”  Duncan smiled also and raised his own cup.  He clinked it against Chakotay’s.

“To tonight…and to the future…”

^^^^^^^^^^

That evening, the day room was once again filled in a good imitation of the earlier meeting.  This time though, a few more of the kids were in attendance, after demanding that they be allowed to tag along.  Duncan had laughed at that, telling them that they were just afraid of missing something.  He permitted their presence though, telling them that they could stay for the early part of the meeting if they agreed to leave when asked.  They reluctantly agreed to that.

Chakotay once again carried Kathryn over, noting how nervous she seemed despite the positive feelings they both had.  He didn’t pass comment on it though, knowing that all the crew were feeling much the same.  Their future would be decided this evening.

Duncan chaired the meeting as before and quickly got things underway.  He called for order, playfully glaring at two young boys sitting near the front who were arguing over a toy.  They giggled but then grew quiet when one of the women added a glare of her own.

“OK people…let’s get this started.  I know everyone is on tender hooks but I’ll just ask you all to be patient.”  He looked to Kathryn and then at the other crew.  “The women have informed me that they want to make a sort of statement and have elected Paula…of all people…”  He rolled his eyes up and then grinned.  The woman in question made a face at him when he looked in her direction. 

“Very funny, Duncan.  I’m not that bad.  It wasn’t that long ago when you wouldn’t have been able to get two words out of me…”  Duncan made a face of his own.

“Ahhh…the good old days…”  The room erupted in laughter for several moments.  Finally Duncan called for order again.

“OK…let’s get serious here.  We can make fun of Paula later on.”  Paula stuck her nose in the air.

“The cheek of some people.  You just can’t get the staff these days…”  More laughter followed before everyone settled down.  Duncan sighed.

“We’ll get this going yet…”  He played with a padd on the small table before him for a second and then looked up, his face serious now.  “OK.  The women…as I’m sure you all know…have made their decision regarding the crew staying on.  However, they have some things they’d like to say first…or alongside it…or whatever…  You’ll hear as it goes.  Paula has been elected to talk to you all…”  He waved a hand in the woman’s direction.  “My dear…the floor is all yours…”  Paula nodded and made a show of standing and then bowing.

“I thank you, Duncan.  I’ll get you back later but I still thank you for now.”  Everyone laughed again but settled quickly.  Paula cleared her throat.

“Very unaccustomed as I am to public speaking…”  Several people smiled at that.  Paula smiled also.  “Seriously though…  I ask your patience with me.  I’m not as shy as I used to be…nor as nervous…but this is all still new to me and while the words I’ll speak are from us all…I’m still the one having to say them.  Needless to say…I drew the short straw…”  Again some laughter.

“I’ll try not to keep you waiting too long for our decision but there are some things we all want to say and explain first and I hope you’ll bear with me…”  She looked around at the crew and finally settled her eyes on Kathryn, who smiled and nodded.

“You all know our story and the history of this place.  You knew what it was before you came so I don’t need to fill you in on that.  You even now know some of the individual stories of the people here.  You also know everything that has happened since you arrived so there’s no need to go back over all that.”  She kept looking from one crew member to the next.  She took a moment now and leaned on the back of the chair in front of her.

“What you don’t know so well…although you do know some…is what most of us have been feeling…especially since your arrival.”  She stroked her hands over the chair she held. 

“We were terrified when we knew you were coming…even though it had been our decision to have you come here.  We didn’t have any choice though and that often helps.  Sometimes you need to be forced into something.”  She smiled to herself.  “I remember as a child being terrified of the water…even though I was desperate to learn to swim.  In the end, my father literally pushed me into the deep end of our pool.”  She shook her head as she remembered.  “To some people that would seem cruel…but it was sink or swim and I damn well swam.”  Several people laughed softly.  Suddenly a small voice sounded from the back.

“Mommy Paula, I can’t swim.  You won’t push me in the new pool, will you?”  The entire room erupted as Paula turned, following the voice and saw a young girl standing at the back of the room with fear in her eyes.  Paula shook her head quickly as people gave her some quiet.

“Oh sweetheart, no…of course I won’t…  We’ll teach you to swim the nice way…”  The child didn’t look convinced but finally accepted the answer.  She sat down again, her eyes still on Paula.  Duncan joined in.

“Petra, I promise you.  No one will throw you in the pool.  No one will throw anyone in the pool…”  He smiled slyly at Paula.  “Although, I may throw Paula in before this evening is over…even though we drained it after Car’s little stunt…”  Paula stuck her tongue out at Duncan and then looked towards the crew again.

“Don’t blame me for taking so long.”  They all smiled but everyone present could see how anxious they were.  Paula shook her head.  “Now…where was I?  Yes.”  She licked at her lips.  “My point is that…  When you all arrived to help us, we were forced into opening up in a way…  We were terrified but we had no other choice.  We had come to know one way of life and it felt safe.  We lived in a kind of cocoon and suddenly it was all threatened.  Something we couldn’t see had come to harm us and there was no way to fight it alone.  We’d never considered anything bursting the bubble we’d hidden ourselves in…or maybe we just hadn’t allowed ourselves to think about it.  It happened though and we weren’t prepared for it and therefore couldn’t cope.  You came and it was like…  I felt like a child who has been raised out in the countryside and never met many people and then suddenly I was planted in the centre of a bustling city.  It was terrifying.  For some time, as you know, we ran from you.  We were as bad as the kids.”  She smiled softly as she remembered. 

“Slowly though, we saw you help us.  You cared for us and looked after us.  We got better…recovered from the virus…and still you stayed on and began to build this place up.  We slowly started to work with you…from the edges in…and we began to get to know you.  You went from being this group of strangers to become individual friends.”  She shrugged.

“That on its own wasn’t enough through.  We still had this threat hanging over us.  We had so many fears about what it would mean to us if you all did stay and you know what those fears were.”  She sighed.  “Security was the biggest worry.  We hadn’t even looked beyond the immediate future.”  She looked to Duncan.  “We’ve only just had our eyes opened to that.  None of us had thought about further down the road…about the kids in years to come or what they’d want.”  She smiled sadly.  “We thank you for making us see that and making us think about the future.  It’s something we should have been doing all along.”  She sighed.  “You see, we were only seeing our own small world and thinking about being safe.  It hurts to realize that we were only thinking about ourselves…the adults among us.  We were thinking of the kids too but only their present safety.  We hadn’t thought about their future…only a vague look at our own and that was wrong.  One thing we all agree on is that we don’t want what we went through to be our children’s legacy.  They have to build their own lives and their own futures…for themselves and not be influenced by us.”  She looked around her.  “It’s like our fears backed us into a corner and we stayed in that corner… cowering there and refusing to look up and out.  It became comfortable and began to feel safe.  By not looking up though, we didn’t see what was coming and couldn’t or wouldn’t see beyond our own little space.”  She swallowed and licked at her lips.  “You’ve made us see beyond our little corners…forced us to in a way…you and what happened…and it’s been good for us…even though we fought against it.”  She shrugged now.

“We saw you all adapt to the life here and it slowly made us realize that we could do the same thing.”  She looked around the room.  “It’s been subtle things, you see.”  She saw the puzzled faces of the crew.  “It was little things like Selona there…”  Everyone glanced at the cook.  “She said one day that she knew you were all beginning to feel at home because you all kept walking in and out of her kitchen, helping yourselves to whatever you needed.”  Selona smiled back at everyone.

“It’s true.  People feel at home in a kitchen and if they’re comfortable there, they’re comfortable with you also.  It’s the heart of any home.”  Paula smiled and nodded.

“That’s what I mean.  You began to show that you were comfortable here.  You weren’t judging us or standing back from us.  Once we let you in, you came in with open arms and didn’t hold our standing back against us.”  She brushed some hair back from her face.  “So while we were still afraid of you in some ways…and what your  presence here could mean for us…a subtle comfort began to grow within us.”  She smiled now.

“It began to get easier to accept you as time wore on.  We saw Duncan and the others working well with you and so it was easier to accept you with those we already trusted trusting you.  It was also here on our own ground.  Had we met you outside…it may well have been different but it wasn’t.  You worked here for us…building for us with no regard for yourselves.  Even without knowing if you could stay on…you still built for us without asking for anything in return.  You were here for us and you cared so much.  You even saved the lives of two of the kids without any regard for your own safety.”  She sighed as she looked at Kathryn first and then at Chakotay, smiling her gratitude.  She then looked at the rest of the crew.

“And don’t think we don’t know that the rest of you wouldn’t have done the same…”  She shook her head before looking at Tom and B'Elanna.  “You two even brought your own child here…and kept her here.  You trusted us enough to bring your own daughter here.  That tells us a lot.”  She smiled softly now and looked around at them all.

“And so…what began as us being afraid to have you here and to have others know about us…became…”  She drew in a deep breath.  “It became us being afraid of not having you here…of being afraid of you all leaving.  Now our biggest fear is being without you.”  She smiled kindly.

^^^^^^^^^^ 

Chakotay had been literally sitting on the edge of his chair without realizing it.  He had been hanging on every word Paula spoke, along with everyone else in the room.  He caught his breath now and quickly looked towards Kathryn.  The anticipation he saw on her face amazed him and he saw also that she was gripping the arms of her chair tightly, her knuckles white.  He tore his eyes away and looked back to Paula.  The woman smiled towards Duncan and then continued.

“I guess that tells you all.”  She smiled kindly at the crew and then looked to Kathryn.  “You see Kathryn, you became a part of our family here and these people…”  Her hand gestured towards the crew although she didn’t look towards them.  “These people are your family and so…if you are our family and they are yours…that makes them our family too.  We need you and we need them.  And it’s good to know that you need us too because that’s one of the main reasons we realized how much we needed you…  It’s just often hard to admit that you need someone…” 

The tension which had been almost corporeal in the room was instantly felt leaving as the crew as one gasped, releasing the breath they had all been holding.  Chakotay dropped his head a moment and then looked over at Kathryn.  Her face was one of shock as he looked at her and only then did he see a lone tear slip down her cheek.  He saw her throat move as she swallowed.  As if sensing his eyes on her, she turned in his direction, seeking him out and locked eyes with him.  Paula’s voice broke the moment as silence filled the room.

“We’re sorry we took so long to come to our decision, but it had to be the decision of us all and we had to be sure about how we felt.  We had to examine every detail and talk to each other.  We also had to talk to all of you and we thank you for being so open and honest with us.”  She shrugged again and a smile began to fill her face.  “So that’s it.  Our answer.  It’s yes.  We want you to stay.”  She waited for a response and when none came, she leaned forward.

“Ehh people…are you awake here?  That’s our decision.  We want you all to stay.  Where’s the rousing cheer?”  Kathryn swallowed loudly and spoke for them all, giving in to more tears now.

“I think we’re all in shock, Paula.  Very emotional too.  Give it a minute to sink in…”  She smiled at the woman before her and then turned to look at her former crew.  Tears flowed all around.  One of the small boys in the front stood up.

“Is that it?  Can we go and play now?”  Jaal, who was sitting beside them, shook her head.

“This is a big moment guys.  Aren’t you happy?”  The boy frowned.  “They’re all staying with us.”  He nodded slowly and then his face broke into a grin.

“Does that mean that Daddy Tom will show me how to fly a shuttle then?”  The boy’s mother stared over at Tom in shock as Tom held his hands up in defence, his face a picture of innocence.  The second boy stood up now.

“And Daddy Tuvok and Mommy T’Pel have cool rod games they said they’d teach me…”  More children jumped up now, all talking together.

“Daddy Mike said he’d show me how to swim…”

“Mommy B'Elanna can ride the horses…”

“Mommy Megan tells great stories…”

It went on for several minutes, each voice drowning out the other as the kids became more and more excited.  Duncan stood and watched them for a moment and then shouted for quiet.

“OK kids, we get the message.  You only want them for what you can get out of  them…”  The first boy shook his head.

“Nah…they’re all right too…  They don’t tell us when to go to bed and to finish all our vegetables…  They’re fun…”  The second boy chimed in.

“Yeah…you can get away with loads of things with them and they don’t tell…”  He shut up when the first boy elbowed him.  One woman looked on in mock horror.

“Is it too late to change our minds…?”

^^^^^^^^^^

The next half hour or more was spent with people embracing each other.  Smiles and tears fought for dominance on each face as the women’s decision began to sink in.  Chakotay finally managed to make his way over to Kathryn, who was swamped with women and kids.  He waited quietly next to her while they all hugged and cried.

As he waited, he cast his eyes over the room, watching people sharing the wonderful moment.  He looked towards one corner and smiled to himself.  McCormick stood quietly, a young man tenderly embracing her.  No one could have missed the fact that they were in love.  Chakotay craned his neck to see who the man in question was and smiled to himself as he saw that it was Molina.  He nodded to himself and looked down towards Kathryn, seeing that people were slowly moving away from her.  He looked towards the young couple again and then moved to Kathryn.  He sat down in the empty chair beside her, which Duncan had earlier vacated when he was called away by Miriam.  He sighed heavily and smiled at her.

“I can’t believe it.  I had hoped Duncan was right…wanted to believe so much…wanted to trust my own judgement…but still…”  Kathryn nodded tearfully.

I know.  I was afraid to hope too much myself or get those hopes up.  I wanted to believe.  I couldn’t believe the people I’ve come to know here would have said anything different.  I believed they would say yes and yet…”  She wiped at her face.  “It’s very brave of them.  We have to remember that…”  Chakotay nodded and reached for her hand.

“Like Paula said…  It’s just often hard to admit that you need someone…”  His words carried a double meaning and he saw that Kathryn understood that.  She studied him for a moment and then smiled softly.  Her voice, when she spoke, was a whisper.

“I know.  It takes courage…but it’s still very hard…  It’s easy to be afraid…  We’ve beaten that now though…”  Chakotay smiled lovingly at her.

“Well, here’s something else to add to the happy moment.”  He indicated towards the corner with his head.  “Don’t look now but I’ve just seen another happy couple…”  Kathryn immediately looked and Chakotay nudged her.  “I said don’t look now…”  She turned back to him with an amazed look on her face.

“Is that McCormick and Molina?”  Chakotay grinned as he nodded.

“Yep.  All that time on her own and a second chance of happiness was there in front of her all along…”  Kathryn half smiled.

“She loved Bennet very much though.  She had to grieve for him first.”  She sighed happily.  “I’m so glad she found love again.”  She looked lovingly at Chakotay.  “They say a mind is a terrible thing to waste.  Well…so is the heart…”  Chakotay reached for her hand and squeezed it tightly.

“Kathryn, you’re speaking to the converted here…”  The moment was interrupted then as crew members came over to them, each as excited as the next.  Chakotay whispered to Kathryn.  “Time to join the party…”  She squeezed his hand in return.

“Let’s party then…”

^^^^^^^^^^

It took an hour before people began to settle a little, the celebrations and excitement eventually getting to the younger kids who were still present.  A few of the older ones volunteered to take them over to the dorms and settle them for the night.

With most of the kids gone the place was much quieter, but an underlying excitement still hung in the air.  Selona passed out more drinks and food, urging people to clear their plates.

Chakotay finally got Kathryn to himself again and handed her a cup of tea.  He watched as she looked down into the cup and saw the disappointment on her face.  He was smiling when she looked up at him.

“You were expecting coffee?”  She made a face at him and took a drink.

“I can live in hope, can’t I?”  Chakotay sat down beside her and set a plate of food down on a small table beside her chair.

“Just eat that lot.  We’ve still a meeting to get through…”  Kathryn looked at him and shook her head.

“I know.  I’d almost forgotten that.  We’ve all been so excited about the decision to let us stay.  It’s easy to forget that they have another bigger decision to make…one that will affect their lives far more.”  Chakotay nodded seriously.

“They’re intelligent women, Kathryn.  They’ll do what’s right for them and their kids.  And with the decision about us out of the way, they’ll be able to concentrate on this one.  They can give it their full attention.”  Kathryn picked up a sandwich and studied it.  She nodded slowly.

“It’s a hard decision…”  She stopped mid sentence when her attention was drawn to the door opening.  She looked up and saw Duncan come back in. 

Even though the room was much quieter now, Duncan still called for silence.  It took a few moments for people to quieten, time in which the young doctor looked around at everyone assessing who was in the room.  As silence descended, he nodded to himself.

“The young ones have gone to bed…?”  Jule moved towards Duncan and nodded.

“Some of the older ones took them over…”  She frowned and studied the man before her.  “Is there something we need to hear that they shouldn’t?”  Duncan smiled slightly.

“Am I always so easy to read…?”  Jule smiled slightly and nodded.

“Sometimes…”  She dropped her head to the side.  “Come on, Duncan.  Out with it.  Something is on your mind outside of the decision and I can see that.  You’ve also been missing for a long time and I saw Miriam call you away.  And now you’re making sure that the younger kids are in bed…  So…spit it out…”  Duncan stood looking around at everyone, a comic look on his face.

“You can’t scratch yourself around here without someone noticing…”  He made a face at Jule.  “Patience my dear woman…”  He looked around at everyone again and smiled mischievously.  “God, I love having this power…”  He pretended to shrink under the glares he received.  “OK…OK…so I have news…”  He held up the padd he carried and then became serious.

“OK people…I know we still have a meeting to get going and some serious things to discuss but I think you need to know about this first…”  He blew out a long breath.  “It’s going to be one of those days…  What did they call them once?  A red letter day…?”  He smiled at Miriam beside him who had a knowing look on her face.  Trevor shook his head and frowned.

“What in the name of all that’s wonderful is a red letter day?  What have you been on Duncan…?”  Duncan shook his head.

“Well, my friend…let me enlighten you all.  When people actually wrote with pens to keep their diaries or journals, they would write in red ink on special days so that they would stand out.”  Trevor nudged Galan beside him.

“Well there you go.  You learn something every day.”  He looked down when one of the kids present tugged on his sleeve.

“Daddy Trevor, what’s ink?”  Trevor looked knowingly at Duncan.

“See?  I’m not the only one.  Who’s going to teach history next term?”  He laughed as he looked around him.  Duncan just stood, tapping the padd against his hand.

“Is anyone interested in this news?  Should I just go out and come in again?”  Trevor put on a mock look of pity.

“Ahh Daddy Duncan…of course we’re interested.  You’re just so easy to tease…”  He grew serious then.  “Sorry mate…please…”  Duncan shook his head but they all saw the smile he tried to hide.

“OK then.  Everyone here is old enough for this.”  He cleared his throat and activated the padd he held.  He read silently for a moment and then looked at all those gathered around him.

“I’ve just spoken with Admiral Paris.  It was his pleasure and it’s now mine…to tell you that a verdict has been reached in the trial of our…friend…”  He stopped and watched the faces around him.  Everyone seemed to be holding their breath.  “I’ll just say it straight out.  He was found guilty on all charges.”  Everyone let out a collective breath of relief but no one said anything, waiting to see if Duncan had finished speaking.

“He was found guilty of…”  He shook his head as he read.  “154 counts of attempted murder…one case of assault causing serious bodily harm…being in possession of illegal poisons…”  He sighed.  “I didn’t get the entire list down and the wording isn’t what it would be in legal terms but I was just too elated to concentrate on the exact terms.  I mainly heard ‘guilty’ and the fact that he will spend the rest of his days ‘behind bars’ so to speak.  Basically, he has no chance of parole and gave up his right to any appeal.”  Duncan just shook his head as he looked around him.  He looked towards Kathryn and tried to smile.  He saw her nod slowly.

“He’s not appealing?”  He shook his head.

“Apparently not.  I think he knew it would be a waste of time.  According to Admiral Paris, the defence counsel tried to get a lighter sentence by saying that his client had shown remorse.  The judge didn’t buy it.  In his words, the defendant hadn’t shown any remorse…just feigned it.”  He smiled softly.  “I believe they even threw in a charge of trespass.  Anything they could charge him with…they went for it.”  Kathryn nodded again and gripped the arms of the chair she sat in.  She looked up when she felt a hand squeeze her shoulder and smiled up at Chakotay, tears in her eyes.

“It’s over with Kathryn.”  She nodded, afraid to speak and swallowed the lump in her throat.  She drew in a deep breath and looked at those around her.  She saw them slowly take in the news and react to it.  Suddenly people were hugging each other again and crying, shaking hands, slapping each other on the backs.  Kathryn reached for Chakotay’s hand and held on tightly.  She nodded to herself and sniffed.

“It’s over…”  She looked to the side as she saw him kneel down beside her.  The look of tenderness on his face brought more tears to her eyes.  He smiled gently.

“It’s over Kathryn.  Let it go now.  This is a great day.  We’re all home…all together again…and we’ve a wonderful future ahead of us…”  He squeezed her hand tightly as he saw her battle to control her emotions.  “Are you up to this meeting or would you prefer to go back to bed?  Would you like a little time in private…?”  Kathryn bit at her lip and nodded.  Her voice was soft and hoarse when she spoke.

“You always know what I need…”  She sniffed slightly.  “I want to be here for the meeting but I’d like a few minutes…”  Chakotay smiled understandingly and leaned over to kiss her cheek.

“I thought so.  You just remember that I’ll always know what you need.”  He stood then leaned down, taking the cup from her hand.  “Do you want me to let Duncan know that you’ll be taking a break?”  Kathryn looked up at him and nodded, then looked behind him.

“I think he already knows…”  Chakotay turned to see Duncan watching them.  The younger man smiled softly.

“Actually, some of the women have asked to postpone the meeting until tomorrow night.  Too much has happened this evening and their minds are more occupied with that.  Everyone needs a break to absorb all this and this latest news could affect how they see things.  They need time to think about it all and discuss it.”  He frowned now as he studied Kathryn.  “Are you feeling all right?”  Kathryn smiled and nodded her head.

“I’m fine Duncan.  I just need to take all this in myself.”  The young doctor nodded understandingly.

“I think we all do.  You head back then but call me if you need anything…something to help you sleep or for pain…”  Kathryn smiled and nodded.

“I will…I promise…”  She smiled up at Chakotay.  He returned her smile and leaned down, lifting her into his arms.  Kathryn slipped her arms around his neck and whispered to him.

“It’s not rude of us to slip away?”  Chakotay kissed the side of her head.

“No, it’s not.”  As if to prove his point, people parted to let them through as Chakotay moved forward.  Duncan caught Chakotay’s eye and smiled his approval.  He called to Kathryn.

“You get some rest lady.  Save your strength for the celebration…because we’ll have to plan one.  It’ll be the biggest party ever…”  At the mention of the word ‘party’ the kids still in the room became even more excited.  Duncan just groaned.  “Why can’t I ever learn to keep my big mouth shut?”  He turned his attention to the kids, glancing from one to the other.  “Calm down you lot.  You can all help plan this IF you control yourselves.”  Galan, who was standing close to Kathryn and Chakotay, laughed at that.

“Who does he think he’s kidding?  He’s done it now.  There’ll be no calming them down tonight.”  He smiled at Kathryn.  “I’d make my escape now if I were you.  You may not get another chance.”  Kathryn smiled and reached for his hand.

“Thanks Galan.  We’ll do that.”  She looked up at Chakotay.  “You heard the man.  Move it.”  Chakotay feigned offence.

“What did your last servant die of?  Hard work?”

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay settled Kathryn, satisfying himself that she was comfortable, then pulled a chair over to the bed.  He sank down into it and sighed happily.  Kathryn smiled softly over at him.

“Some evening, huh?”  Chakotay returned her smile and nodded.

“You can say that again…”  He jokingly held up his hand when he saw her about to repeat her words.  “Very funny.  That’s an old one.”  Kathryn stuck her tongue out at him playfully.

“You did walk into it.  Besides, the old jokes are the best ones…”  They laughed a moment and then grew quiet, each reflecting on the evening’s events.  Chakotay shook his head now.

“I still can’t take it all in.  I mean, this is what we wanted so much…were dreaming about…hoped for so much.  Now that it’s happened…”  He blew out a breath.  “Somehow, I feel kind of scared…”  He looked to Kathryn and saw understanding on her face.  She nodded slowly.

“I know what you mean.  Sometimes when we get what we want, it can be scary…”  She smiled.  “Look at me with you…  I wanted nothing more than to be with you and when it finally happened, I think I was more scared than ever…”  She shrugged now.  “I guess it doesn’t make sense and yet…  Some of it is excitement and some of it is fear…  When you have something, you fear the loss of it.  If you don’t have it, you can’t lose it.”  She sighed and leaned back.  “So I suppose with this too, it’s best not to question and just enjoy…”  Chakotay reached for her hand and squeezed it gently.

“Let’s just enjoy then…”  Kathryn exhaled loudly.

“Oh yes.  I intend to.”  She shook her head slightly.  “And knowing that evil bastard has been put away for life…  God…I needed to hear that…”  Chakotay squeezed her hand again.

“He can’t ever hurt you again…”  Kathryn shook her head as she looked at him.

“He can’t ever hurt the kids.  That’s what’s important.  I’ve dealt with what he did to me and I’m not afraid of him.  My fear was what he would try to do against the kids and the women.”  She smiled slyly.  “Don’t get me wrong.  I want him to pay for what he did to me too but mostly I want him to rot for trying to kill Julie.  Anyone who even remotely threatens harm to a child should be locked away for ever.”  She sighed.  “We’ll all sleep better now knowing that he can’t ever harm anyone again.”  Chakotay smiled as he caressed her hand.

“I’m not sure his punishment actually fits the crime but…”  Kathryn interrupted him.

“It rarely does Chakotay, but that’s the victim in me speaking.”  She shook her head.  “I guess that’s always the difference.  What the victims usually want is revenge and not justice.  The court can stand back and see the whole picture.  That’s why we need them.”  Chakotay bit at his lip and nodded.

“I suppose so…”  He stopped as he heard a knock on the door and turned to see who was there.  The door opened as Kathryn called for whoever it was to come in.  Duncan stuck his head around the door and smiled sheepishly.

“I hope I’m not interrupting the love birds…”  Kathryn made a face at him.

“Well…we weren’t in the throes of passion but you can come in anyway…”  Duncan came in and moved to the end of the bed.  He smiled again and hesitated a moment before speaking.  Finally he cleared his throat and spoke.

“I just came over to check that you were all right…”  Kathryn smiled warmly.

“I’m fine.  Overwhelmed a bit but fine…”  She inclined her head and studied her friend.  “And the other reason?”  Duncan rolled his eyes.

“I guess I’m too predictable…”  He smiled.  “OK…I also came to apologize…”  Kathryn and Chakotay both frowned.  Chakotay shook his head.

“What do you need to apologize for…?”  Duncan sighed and then shook his head.

“The message from Admiral Paris…about Lewis…  I should have given you both the news first.  It wasn’t right to break it to the women before telling you.  Part of me just didn’t think and another part just wanted them all to know as soon as possible.”  Kathryn leaned forward a little, still holding Chakotay’s hand.

“Duncan, you’ve nothing to apologize for.  You should have been the first to know.  It was only right that you knew before the rest of us and it was also your right to decide how and when you shared that news.  I for one am glad I learned the outcome with all the others.  It made me feel a real part of them.”  Duncan shook his head again.

“Still though…  When Admiral Paris called…  I mean…I should have called you two over or Tom or…  I should at least have pulled you aside and let you know before I made my grand announcement…”  Kathryn shook her head quickly.

“Oh Duncan, stop this.  You’d think I had a monopoly on the man.  I have one relationship with him and you have another.  All of this was mainly between you and him as representatives.  I simply helped to broker the deal, if you like.”  Duncan placed his hands on the end of the bed and leaned forward.

“Kathryn, I’m not the head of this madhouse.  This is a team effort.  I wouldn’t even want to be in charge.  I’d hate to have all that responsibility without having the others share it.  They’re not even a backup team because that would denote that one was in front of the others.  We’re all equal here.  Apart from the fact that every man, woman and child has equal say, it would just be too much for one person to take on.”  Kathryn smiled sadly.

“I know about that only too well.  I had a wonderful senior staff and crew on Voyager but the buck still always stopped at me.  I’d never want that again.”  She sighed.  “Duncan…the fact is that you were the one who dealt with Admiral Paris…the one he dealt with.  Like it or not…every group has to have a leader of some sort and you’re it.  You’re the image for this place or the front for it…whatever way you want to look at it.  The decisions are for all but we need a spokesperson and that’s you.  You’re the one voice speaking on behalf of the entire group.”  Duncan nodded slowly.

“I guess so…but still…”  He licked at his lips.  “I still feel bad that I didn’t let you know the news first…”  Kathryn smiled at Chakotay first and then at Duncan.

“Well…I for one am glad you didn’t.  For the first time in ages it feels good not to have to be part of the ‘in charge’ brigade.  It feels great to just be one of the gang.  I’ll always help where I can but I never want to be ‘in command’ again.  Working within the group as part of an overall team…”  She nodded and smiled.  “That’s all I want  now…”  Duncan stood back and rubbed his hands together.

“OK then…  I just felt bad about…”  He pretended to shrink under Kathryn’s glare.  “All right…subject closed…matter dealt with…”  He shook his head.  “God woman…you could melt stone with that glare…”  Chakotay laughed.

“Now you know how we got through the Delta Quadrant…  Those aliens were no match for her…  You’ve just been on the receiving end of the famous ‘Janeway death glare’.  Think yourself lucky.  You lived to tell the tale.”  Duncan nodded his head and backed away from the bed.

“Then I think I’ll make my escape while I still can…”  He backed into the door and jumped a little.  “Night Kathryn…night Chakotay…”  Kathryn laughed as he opened the door.

“You’re just chicken Duncan.”  Chakotay laughed also.

“I’d say the man has wisdom.  He knows when he’s beaten.  Nothing is a match for that glare.  God knows I’ve tried…”  Kathryn glared at him now and he also pretended to shrink back.  “Hey…just telling it like it is.”  Duncan laughed along with them as be backed out the door.

“I’ll leave you to it Chakotay.  I’m a coward.  I’m gone from here…”  His laughter could still be heard as he closed the door and left the clinic.

^^^^^^^^^^

Haven was still buzzing with excitement the next morning as Chakotay crossed the compound.  He returned endless smiles from everyone he passed.  He drew in a deep breath and could almost taste the happiness in the air.  He smiled to himself at the sense of community he felt. 

He turned to his right as he felt a hand on his arm and smiled warmly at Miriam.  Her face was one big smile.

“Isn’t it wonderful?  If you could bottle this feeling…”  Her eyes scanned the people around her for a moment before she turned to look at Chakotay.  He nodded.

“It’s amazing.  I still can’t believe it all.  Some part of me thinks I’m dreaming and I’m terrified I’ll wake up.”  Miriam shook her head.

“Oh you’re awake all right.  It’s real.  It’s wonderful.  I’ve never seen the women so…”  She stopped to find the right word.  “They’re…optimistic…for the first time.  Looking forward has replaced getting through the present.  Can you understand that?”  Chakotay considered that a moment and then nodded slowly.

“Yes, I can.  I’ve known that feeling but I’ve never been able to put it into words the way you just have.  I understand exactly what you mean…”  They shared a gentle smile and then Miriam held a finger up.

“I almost forgot.  Duncan asked me to tell you…”  Chakotay grew serious now.

“Is it about the other meeting?”  Miriam shook her head.

“He’s organizing that.  No.  It’s about Admiral Paris.  Duncan spoke with him again this morning…getting more details for the meeting.  He said to tell you that the Admiral wanted to speak with you and Kathryn later on today if that’s all right…”  Chakotay nodded slowly.

“OK.  I’ll let Kathryn know.  Did he say what time?”  Miriam nodded.

“About noon.”  Chakotay nodded again. 

“OK Miriam.  Thanks.  I’ll head over and tell Kathryn now.”  Miriam moved away.

“I’ll come and get you both when the call comes through…”

^^^^^^^^^^

Kathryn sat smiling at her old mentor on the screen before her.  She held Chakotay’s hand as he sat beside her.

“Owen...Duncan apologized last night in the same way.  He said the exact same things you’ve just said.  There is no need…”  The old man interrupted her.

“Yes, there is.  I should have spoken to you before or at least at the same time.  I should have told you the outcome of the trial.  I just called as soon as I heard.  Miriam answered and ran off to get Duncan.  I was just excited about getting the news to you all and didn’t think.  That was very wrong of me…”  Kathryn interrupted him this time.

“I’ll tell you what I told him.  He should have been the first to know.  He’s been through everything with these women and kids…been through thick and thin with them.  It’s only right that he know first and be the one to tell them.”  She smiled softly.  “Owen, I’m not in command anymore and I don’t want to be ever again.  I’m just part of a team now and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I reminded Duncan that he’s the spokesperson or representative of us all here.  He’s the one you should have spoken to.  Now let this go.”  The Admiral smiled his thanks.

“OK…Kathryn.  I guess old habits just die hard.”  He sighed and leaned back in his chair.  “So…how are you with the news?  Lewis has been put away for life.”  Kathryn nodded slowly.

“Good riddance to the scum.”  Owen Paris smiled at that.

“And the other news…  You must be very happy about staying on…”  Kathryn smiled brightly.

“Oh we are…”  She let her smile slip then.  “Owen…I’m sorry.  I didn’t think.  You must find this very hard…with Tom and B'Elanna and Miral…”  Owen held up his hand and shook his head.

“I’ve had time to accept this.  I knew all along it was a distinct possibility that they’d stay on and I’d prepared myself for it.  I just want them to be happy and fulfilled.  Tom’s mother feels the same way.  We’ll miss them of course, but their happiness comes first.”  Kathryn smiled her understanding.

“You can all visit too…”  The old man smiled softly. 

“Of course.  We’d love that.”  He cleared his throat then, a little embarrassed.  “Now my dear, are there any more details you need for this meeting?  Is there anything else the women need?”  Kathryn smiled gently, seeing his change of subject for what it was.  She shook her head.

“I’m sure Duncan covered everything with you.  If there’s anything else, he can get back in touch with you…”  Owen Paris nodded then took a drink from a cup on his desk.

“Tell him to contact me at any time.  As soon as a decision has been reached, let me know.  The less time it takes to get everything sorted out, the better for the women.”  Kathryn nodded seriously.

“I agree.  They’ve come a long way but the sooner they get back to a normal life the better…or rather back to their routine.  The kids need that routine too.  Things have been all over the place and it’s not good for them…no matter how much they enjoy it.”  The Admiral nodded his agreement.

“I agree completely.  We all need some routine in our lives even though we complain about it most of the time.”  He nodded now.  “So…you have everything you need for the moment?”  Kathryn looked to Chakotay who nodded.  She then looked back at Owen and smiled.

“I think so.  Anything else and Duncan will call you.”  Owen laced his fingers together a moment.

“That’s fine.  I’ll talk to you tomorrow.  We’ll know everything then.”  As he reached to terminate the communication, he smiled warmly.  “Take care of yourself Kathryn.  You too Chakotay.”  He looked towards Voyager’s former First Officer.  “Take care of each other.  I’m so happy for the two of you.”  They both returned his smile.  Kathryn nodded.

“Thank you Owen.  That means a great deal.”

^^^^^^^^^^
   
The meeting that evening was unlike the earlier ones.  Although the women had already made an important decision in admitting Voyager’s crew to their family, this decision felt far more momentous.  The women had insisted that the former crew now have an equal say in decisions, yet Kathryn and the others felt differently about that, feeling that they had yet to earn the right to decide on the future of Haven.

Everyone sat around the large day room with only the older children in attendance.  Every chair and tabletop was taken along with most of the floor space.  Duncan once again chaired the meeting and now called for quiet.

“People…please…we’ve a lot to get through this evening.  The sooner we get started, the sooner we can come to a decision.  I want to make sure also that everyone gets a chance to speak…those who want to anyway…although I would like to hear from you all…even if you feel you haven’t much to contribute.  This is a very important decision…which I don’t need to tell you.  It’s probably the most important one you’ll be asked to make here so we need to hear and cover every concern.”  He looked out over the room at all the faces staring back at him.  He smiled to try and ease the tension he felt.

“I know we covered the main questions and concerns at the previous meeting but I think there are still some areas we need to cover.  You all know the issues and what’s involved.”  He cleared his throat.

“Before we get down to it, there’s something the women have asked me to say…”  He turned and looked at the former crew, then at Kathryn and Chakotay who sat side by side.  Finally he looked back over the sea of faces.  “The women have asked that…in their words… ‘all new members of the family’ …take part in this discussion.”  He smiled at Kathryn and the others.  “In other words…that means you lot.  I know you all feel you’ve no right to contribute, but we want you to.”  He pointed to one of the women who stood now.

“That’s right.  We’ve all heard your arguments about not feeling you have the right to take part in this decision.  In our minds, that’s rubbish.  We need your input.”  She shook her head as she looked at several of the former crew in turn.  “You forget something.  You’ve been out there far more recently than any of us…”  She jerked a thumb towards the door.  “You’ve all had dealing with the people involved…out there and here.  You have invaluable insights into this situation that we can’t ever have.  Therefore you have a lot to offer.  Now…try and argue with that.  It’s…”  She smiled towards Tuvok and T’Pel and then Vorik.  “To quote you…it’s logical…”  Several people laughed at that.  The woman then looked to Kathryn.

“You too Kathryn.  You know them and you know us better than anyone.  I don’t think anyone else here can boast the knowledge you have of both sides.  You have to agree.”  Kathryn nodded slowly.

“I agree with you.  What we’re saying though is…”  She sighed and then smiled softly.  “Look Ria…you’re right.  We do have insights into all this that you may not have and we’re more than happy to share them with you.  We’ll advise you all we can.  What we don’t want to do and don’t feel is right to do…is take part in the decision making.  We’ll help you all we can but the final decision has to be yours.”  Ria thought about that a moment as she looked at the other women around her.  Kathryn shook her head.  “Come on ladies.  That’s only right.  It has to be your decision.”  Ria nodded slowly then leaned down to converse with some of the women closest to her.  She nodded again.  Finally she straightened and looked back at Kathryn.

“OK Kathryn…we agree for the moment.  We’ll take all the advice we can get from all of you.  At the end, we’ll go off and discuss it.  If at that time we want you to take part in the decision, we’ll talk to you.  For the moment, we’ll just have the meeting and discuss what needs to be discussed.  Will you agree to that?”  Kathryn looked to Chakotay and several others, who all nodded their agreement.  Kathryn turned back to Ria.

“Agreed.”  She then turned to Duncan and waved a hand at him.  “You can continue, my good man…”  Duncan laughed out loud at that.

“Right then Madam…ladies…”  He rolled his eyes.  “I’m your humble servant…”  Ria laughed as she sat back down.

“Don’t forget it either…”  Everyone joined in the laughter as Duncan pretended hurt.  He shook his head and then grew serious.

“OK people…let’s get going.  We’re all family now and we all know each other much better than we did at the last meeting so let’s get started.  Please just say what you feel.  This is too important.”  He waved a hand indicating that the floor was open then leaned on the table.  There was a moment of silence before a woman in the centre of the room stood up.

“I’ll get right to my point.”  Duncan nodded and she nodded back.  “We’ve made an important decision already about the crew staying and that’s fine.  We’re all more than happy with the outcome of that.”  Several murmurs of agreement sounded around the room.  The woman nodded at several of her friends and then continued.

“The point is…that this decision will affect our lives far more.  So much more is at stake here and I think we all know that…”  She looked around and received more murmurs of agreement.

“Our main worry should be security and about those who will know about us, but I think we’ve talked about that between us enough.  We trust that only those who know now will remain the only ones.”  Duncan nodded to that.

“That’s right.  We’ve been assured of that.”  The woman accepted that. 

“That said then…my main concern is the change it will or would bring…”  She drew in a deep breath and looked at Duncan.

“Duncan…my question or questions…”  She sighed.  “I’ll just say this.”  Duncan smiled and nodded for her to continue.  She smiled her thanks.

“It’s like this…  Will all these advances which will come…scientific and so on…”  She shook her head.  “Will they change our life here…?”  Duncan nodded.

“Yes Bel…  They will bring change but…”  Bel interrupted him, a faint panic in her voice.

“Well…I’m not sure I like that…”  Duncan shook his head.

“Bel, it would improve life greatly…”  The woman shook her head in annoyance and gripped the chair in front of her.

“I happen to like life here as it is.  I’m used to this life now.  All the advances we’ve heard about…well…I’ve had all that before and I left it.”  She shrugged.  “OK…I didn’t exactly leave willingly but I still left it behind me…”  She sighed heavily.  “I’m happy here.  We work for what we have and feel achievement for it.  This technology would hand us things on a plate.  We’d lose a lot as a result.”  Another woman near her stood also.

“I agree.  I don’t mean to sound ungrateful but I like working for what we have and getting my hands dirty.  When I sit down to eat, I know that my food has been grown by my own hands and the hands of us all…”  She gestured towards the others.  “That feels damned good.  Having whatever I want issued to me by a replicator…”  She shrugged.  “Well…you know what I mean…  I prefer this way for my kids too.  It’s better for them.  I want them to have a work ethic…to know the joy of having something they earned…not to have whatever they want just handed to them.”  Duncan nodded his understanding and glanced towards Kathryn.  He saw her leaning forward, hanging on every word spoken.  A third woman stood now.

“Another point is that this has become home.  I don’t want it to change.  You talk about progress but that word means change to me and I don’t want that change.”  She looked at her friends around her.  “We work together to get what we have.  We achieve things together and share what we have.  It’s earned by hard work and it’s earned honestly.”  Paula stood quickly at that.

“Are we back to this?  We deserve what they’re offering.  It’s as honest as our own work…”  Duncan cut in quickly before things got out of hand.

“Ladies, let’s not go back to that again.”  He looked at Paula.  “You and Yule sorted this and so did the rest of you.”  Paula nodded and sat back down.

“You’re right.  I’m sorry.  This just makes me nervous.”  Duncan smiled at her.

“It makes us all nervous but that’s why we’re here to talk about this before you make any decision.”  Paula nodded again and Duncan smiled at the woman who had been speaking.  “Go on…”  She smiled her thanks.

“It’s just that…  We have a unique closeness and trust between us because of all that.  If we can just order up anything, we won’t need each other anymore.  We’d perhaps even see less of each other…won’t have to rely on our friends and neighbours…”  She looked towards the crew and shrugged then looked at Kathryn.  “Kathryn you know what I mean.  You had replicators on that ship of yours…surely you can understand…”  Kathryn sighed and smiled softly.

“Dara, I know what you mean but I’ve seen both sides.”  She spread her hands.  “I’ve seen both sides work together, in fact.”  She smiled over at Chakotay and then turned back to the woman.  “On Voyager, we had replicators but we still needed each other.”  She smiled warmly.  “OK…so we didn’t need to work for some things but people have many needs…like friendship…trust…love…companionship…a shoulder to cry on…an ear to listen…a comforting arm around your shoulders…encouragement when you don’t believe you can do something…help and advice with all kinds of problems…”  She glanced over at Chakotay and shared a private look with him.  He smiled back and nodded to her before she turned back to Dara.  “Sometimes you just need someone to sit with you and keep you company in silence.  Sometimes you’re afraid and just need someone to lean on to stop the trembling.  Then there’s the feeling of being part of a caring and loving family…”  She looked at her former crew and felt a wave of love fill her at what she saw in their eyes.  She nodded to them before turning back to the women.  She looked around them all.  “I guess what I’m trying to say is that…well…you can’t replicate those things.” 

There was silence for several minutes as Kathryn’s words sunk in, particularly her last ones.  Duncan looked at her with admiration before speaking.  He cleared his throat.

“Look people…I understand what you mean.  I don’t want things to change here either but I have to think of the medical advances this could bring.  You have to see the wisdom in that.”  He saw most of the women nod in agreement and pushed on.  “This way also…well…the replicators would be a great backup.  What if the crops failed?  It would also mean far better security and communications if we needed to call for help.  We’d have ‘panic buttons’…help only a quick call away.  Surely you can all see the wisdom in that one.”  They all nodded this time.  Duncan shook his head.  “Improvements could prevent something like what happened from ever happening again.  I don’t believe it will but we didn’t think it could happen at all and we were wrong.  We would have the latest security technology.  We could relax and enjoy the way of life we want.”  He looked around him.  “Remember, we don’t have to take all or nothing.  We can take what we want or need and reject what we don’t.  We can meet half way on this.”  They all nodded, murmuring to themselves.  Suddenly Jaal stood up.

“I guess I see it like this…”  They all looked at her.  “This technology could protect us so that we can continue the way of life we want.  It would work for us.  It would be a slave, if you like, to us…not us being slaves to it.  We’d be the master to it.”  Several women seemed to think about that and nodded slowly.  The woman beside her stood hesitantly.

“I guess having this technology could give us all more time with the kids.  It would allow us a little more time for pleasure instead of just work.  It’s like Duncan said…we can meet half way.”  Jaal nodded her head vigorously.

“Exactly.  We can do things our way.  We won’t be doing things out of necessity but just for the enjoyment of it…even just for the pure hell of it.”  Her face lit into a big smile.  One of the women from the back called out to her.

“We’ve created a monster here.  Is this the shy kid we all knew and loved?”  Jaal made a face at her friend.

“I haven’t changed that much…”  The other woman pretended shock.

“Oh really?  Doing things just for the hell of it?  You’ll be asking Chakotay for a tattoo like his before we know it…”  Many faces turned to the man in question who held his hands up in mock fear.

“Don’t look at me.  I’m innocent here.”  They all laughed.  Finally they quietened and Paula stood.  She was still looking at Chakotay.

“Chakotay…you told us a bit about your life…”  He nodded.  “Well…from what I remember…you’ve lived both ways.  What do you think?”  Silence fell on the room as all eyes turned in Chakotay’s direction.  He seemed shocked to be asked for his opinion.  He glanced at Kathryn and then at Duncan.  They both nodded for him to speak.  He coughed slightly.

“I have lived both lives but I don’t want to influence you all.  This has to be your decision alone…”  Paula shook her head.

“No way, big man.  We’ve been through this already.  You’re part of this family now.  What you think matters just the same…  We’re asking for your advice now.  The decision comes later.”  She turned and looked at the others who had come with Voyager.  “And that goes for the rest of you too.  You’ve all been too damned quiet for my liking.  As part of this family, you have to help with this…”  Kathryn cut in at that.

“Paula…we’ve covered this.  Advice only.  We don’t want to influence your decision.”  The young woman turned and mock glared at Kathryn.

“Well, we might need some influencing…  Right girls…?”  A cheer went up.  Paula glared at Kathryn.  “See?  You’re outnumbered.”  She softened.  “Look, you’ll all be living here…are living here…  We’re here together and this decision will affect your lives as much as ours…”  Kathryn smiled but shook her head.

“No, Paula.  In a few ways it affects us but…”  She sighed.  “There’s no easy way to say this but you’re here for your safety.  We’re not.  You’ve far more to lose.  The aid also affects only you.  Not us.  Your safety is what this is all about.  This is about that safety and what you’re owed.”  Paula shook her head as she looked at Kathryn.

“Kathryn, this is about all our safety.  Remember, the worst hurt was to you.”  Kathryn swallowed as the memory came back to her.

“That was one…”  She licked at her lips.  “You were so ill…after the…”  Paula wasn’t having that.

“I seem to remember you were also the worst case there too…  You have a short memory, my friend.”  Kathryn shook her head.

“This is about your fear…”  Paula cut her off.

“Can you honestly tell me you haven’t been afraid?  Can you tell me you’re not still afraid?”  Kathryn shook her head again.

“No, I can’t.  I have been afraid and I still worry about the future but I have Chakotay and all of you…”  She looked around the entire room, her eyes taking in her former crew, the staff and the women.  When she looked back at Paula, she saw a self satisfied look on the woman’s face.

“Yes, Kathryn.  You have us and we have you.  Family.  Right?”  Kathryn swallowed the lump which had suddenly come to her throat and nodded, not trusting herself to speak.  Tom’s voice suddenly broke the mood.

“One for all and all for one…”  Puzzled eyes all turned to look at him and he looked embarrassed.  “Sorry.  Just something from an old Earth story I once read.”  Paula scratched at her chin.

“I like the sound of that.  Maybe we should adopt it as the motto for this place.”  She looked at another woman.  “What do you think, Ria?  You’re the one with the needlecraft talent.  Can you get that on a flag?”  Everyone laughed, leaving Ria unsure if they were all being serious or not.  Duncan eventually called for order and they all settled down.  Chakotay suddenly realized no one had forgotten the question to him and were all looking at him now.  He looked embarrassed as he tried to answer as best he could.

“I can’t and wouldn’t want to suggest one way or the other.  I don’t mean to sit on the fence on this but it’s up to the individual…”  Paula wasn’t letting him off that easily.

“We’re not asking you to vote on this just yet.  We’re just interested in how you lived both ways…”  Chakotay shrugged.

“I was raised in the old ways.  My father…my family and tribe were traditionalists and shunned modern methods.  Being young at the time, I resented that.  I wanted to escape to the outside world and leave behind the ways of my elders.”  He smiled sadly.  “I left and joined Starfleet.  I also hurt my father many times by doing that and by rejecting his ideas and ways.  I regret that a lot but I also had to follow my own heart.  I hope and pray he understood that in the end.”  He looked up and saw all eyes on him, each showing their understanding and concern.  He smiled his thanks.

“I guess I feel now that the old ways brought us closer together and gave us a link to our past, but it also harmed us.  We had no defence when the time came.  Maybe now I feel that you need a marriage of the two ways.  Personally, I think you don’t need my input.  I think you’re already on the right path.  Take what you need from this deal but don’t give up the life you love.  You do this on your terms.  Take what benefits you but reject what threatens your way of life.”  He shrugged.  “That’s the best advice I can give you.”  A silence followed his words and he looked uncomfortable until Paula began clapping her hands.  Others followed, leaving Chakotay wanting to run.  The young woman saw this and called for quiet.

“Chakotay thank you.  We don’t mean to embarrass you but you’re the voice of wisdom.  It helps to hear what you and the others think.”  Chakotay nodded his understanding of that.

“I understand that but I agree with Kathryn that this is ultimately your decision.”  Paula dropped her head to the side and smiled at him.

“Chakotay we appreciate that but we see you as part of us now.  We welcome and want your opinion.”  She held up a hand.  “OK, I can see that you want the decision to ultimately be ours and we’ll consider that.  With the other decision, whether you stayed or not, it had to be ours.  This time it affects us all.  We want and need your full input.  Talk to us, advise us and tell us what you think.  I mean, we worry about people from outside knowing about us.  We come up with the answer, if you like, that no one new will know…that it will only be those who already know.  We need you to tell us if you agree with that or if you have other thoughts on it.  Can you see what I mean?  We need you all to help us.  We need your advice and your opinion because you know these people and we don’t.  You know the world out there but it’s been a long time since we’ve been out in it.  You know the technology they’re offering but a lot of it is new to us.  You understand the politics of it all far more than we do.”  She smiled softly.  “Can you see why we need your help with this?  We need our friends to help us.  Can you understand that?”  Chakotay closed his eyes a moment and then looked at the young woman.  He nodded and smiled warmly.

“I do understand that…”  He looked towards Kathryn and saw her nod at him.  He looked towards the other crew then and saw them nod also.  Finally he looked to Duncan and the other staff members who also nodded their approval.  He then turned back to Paula.

“Just as long as you have the final say.  I still think this has to be your decision.  We’ll offer you all the opinions and advice you want but please don’t let us influence you too much.”  Paula thought about that and looked to the others who nodded their agreement.  She turned back to Chakotay and smiled.

“That’s fine for now.  We’d still prefer you to be as involved in this as we are but we’ll accept that for the moment.  Thank you.”  Chakotay smiled back.

“OK woman…I guess you have us then.  Ask what you want…”  He almost regretted that as a barrage of questions came his way.  He held up his hands.  “Whoa ladies…one at a time.  There’s not just me either…”  Duncan stepped in and calmed things down.

“People…calm down.  No one can be heard if you all talk together.  How about we all take a break and you put down the questions you have.  That way they can be answered one at a time and each question can be discussed as it needs to be.  Is everyone in agreement with that…?”  He looked for a show of hands and nodded.  “That’s carried then…  OK…take a break and work out what you need to ask…”

^^^^^^^^^^

Half an hour passed before the women were ready to put their questions forward.  Many had already been asked earlier in the evening or at the previous meetings but others were new.  Duncan took each in turn and turned a lot of them over to Kathryn and the rest of the crew.  The women listened intently as they had their concerns addressed.  Sometimes a new question arose from an answer to another question, and this too was dealt with.

After an hour, many concerns had been addressed.  Several of the women spoke quietly together as they compared questions.  They nodded to each other and finally one of them stood.  Duncan nodded to her.

“Mistra…nice to see you joining in…”  The woman smiled nervously.

“I’m not usually one to speak up.”  Duncan smiled his understanding.

“Everyone has a right to speak here.  I want to hear from all of you…”  The young woman smiled again.

“Thanks…”  She swallowed nervously and then spoke hesitantly.  “I’m not sure if this is really a question or a suggestion or what…”  Duncan smiled encouragingly at her to continue.  “OK…”  She coughed slightly.  “It’s about the…compensation…”  She moved from one foot to the other. 

“I understand that they’re talking about compensation packages.  I don’t know if they mean compensation to each of us individually or what…”  Duncan nodded slowly.

“It would most likely be individual packages.  It probably wouldn’t vary from one to the other for the main amount.  What would vary is coverage for the kids…how many each of you had.”  Mistra nodded.

“I guess I’d like to suggest something then…”  She looked at those around her a moment before continuing.  “To be given different amounts…whether for what happened or depending on how many kids we each have…”  She sighed.  “We all suffered.  I don’t think it’s right to measure that.  Instead of compensation to each of us…it should be all clubbed together, used for the good of us all and the entire place.  If one of us ever wanted to leave here, they could take what they were due with them, but I don’t think any of us ever want to do that.  I personally don’t want to know what the others would get.  We all suffered in different ways…ways that can’t ever be measured.”  She shrugged now.  “I don’t know.  That’s just how I feel.”  The woman next to Mistra nodded her agreement as she stood also.

“I agree with that.  We’re all in this situation together.  Individual payments could cause divisions.  I’m not saying they would but still…”  Several others nodded at that.  Mistra spoke again.

“Duncan, I think you also said before that there would be a lump sum and then monthly payments…”  Duncan nodded.

“Yes…  The main payment would be considerable and the monthly payments would be guaranteed for the rest of your lives…”  Mistra thought about that. 

“That sounds OK…  And perhaps a part of it could be put aside…invested or whatever…for the kids’ future…education needs later on outside of here or to start lives for themselves…”   Everyone murmured their agreement to that suggestion.  A third woman stood now.

“I know we’ve still to decide on whether to take this, but I’d like to say that I think we should.”  Several murmurs were heard but no one spoke out.  “Look girls…the funds we have can’t last forever.  We also can’t depend on donations forever.  It’s not fair anyway.  Why should the innocent help support us while the guilty get off with no responsibility.”  She held up a hand even though no one was objecting.  “OK…so the compensation wouldn’t be coming directly from the guilty but it would be coming from those who should have been controlling them.”  She shook her head as she looked around her.

“We also have to think about our future needs.  As Mistra just said, the kids have education needs which will have to be covered and they’ll increase as they get older.  It’s not just our future but theirs…”  She looked at Duncan and Kathryn.  “You helped us see that…”  They both just smiled.  The woman shrugged slowly.  Ria stood now as the others sat down.

“I want to say something about this place.  It’s not a question.”  She pushed her hair back from her face.  “It’s just nice to know that our situation will still be kept quiet.  It suits both us and them to keep it a secret and remain anonymous.  We also know we can trust the families of our new family members.  We’ve discussed that already.  By the time the kids are grown and if they live here…  Well…if it’s known about then, we’ll be too old to worry about any threat or we won’t care anymore.  That or we’ll be long gone…”  Paula stared at her.

“God Ria…can you get any more cheerful?”  They all laughed.  Ria joined in.

“You know what I mean.  It’s true.  Those we fear will also probably be gone so…”  She waved at Paula.  “Oh shut up…you know what I mean…”  She sat down again, shaking her head.  Jule stood once the laughter had died down.

“I just think we have to go for this.  We have to let the past go and look to the future…our future and the kids’ future.  I say we take the compensation and whatever else they’re offering.  What we do with it will then be up to us but we’ll make that decision ourselves in our own way and in our own time.”  Most of the women nodded at that.  Duncan watched them all and actually saw a question appear on Paula’s face.  He was looking at her as she stood.

“Paula…what’s just come to you…?”  Her face held a look of concern.

“I just thought…”  She looked straight at Duncan.  “With all this…will any of them ever come here…?”  At her words, a deadly silence fell over the room.  Duncan nodded solemnly.

“If this hadn’t come up, I’d have brought it up anyway…”  He saw every eye in the room on him.  He drew in a deep breath.  “I’ll be honest with you.  Someone would need to oversee the transfer of funds and equipment.  There won’t ever be anyone checking on progress or what we do with that funding.  That’s purely up to us.  Nor will there ever be a large group of strangers suddenly descending on us.”  He laughed as he looked at Kathryn and the others.  “Apart from that one time…”  Everyone joined in with him at the joke.  He sobered when it grew quiet again.

“What you could do is elect representatives…perhaps one human and one Cardassian from here and they could do the same…or just one person from each…us and them…”  He shrugged and spread his hands out.  “There’s plenty of time to decide on that.  If you’d prefer…it might even be possible to do the transfer somewhere else…”  Paula looked deep in thought and Duncan tried to put her mind at rest.  “Just think about it…”  Paula nodded and sat down.  Duncan took a moment before continuing.  “Is there anything else…?”  Lou stood slowly now.

“I think we’ve covered everything…the most important points anyway.”  She smiled gently.  “I’d just like to add something about our new family members, even though it’s been covered already.”  She looked towards Kathryn and the others.  “It’s basically that they now have a vested interest in this place.  It’s their home now too…where their hearts are.  I see that with them all.  I’ve watched them all since the earlier decision and while they showed how much they cared before…”  She sighed.  “I see people who are at home.  Even when they thought it was a temporary arrangement, they put their hearts into this place.  Now they know it’s truly home…  I’m just saying thanks and I wish you’d take part in this decision.  Something for us all to think about anyway…”  She sat again.  Duncan smiled towards her and then his attention was drawn to Kathryn who had raised a hand.

“Go ahead Kathryn…”  She smiled her thanks.

“Firstly, I can’t tell you all how much it means to us to be welcomed like this.  We feel at home and I know all our hearts are here.  It is home.  As to the decision though…what I said before still has to stand.  We can advise you all you need but the end decision HAS to be yours and yours alone.  We can tell you that this or that aspect might not seem wise to us or that it sounds good.  What we can’t do is tell you to take this or reject it.  Terms like the compensation package to each of you…”  Kathryn shook her head sadly.  “Only you can decide on that.  We can’t.”  She looked towards Chakotay a moment then back to the women.

“We have a lot to offer but it’s in terms of building and teaching.  We can offer all the advice you want but we CAN’T tell you what to do.  You have to do that for yourselves and your kids.  Come to any of us at any time and ask anything.  We’re all here for you.  We’ll listen and help all we can, but we can’t and won’t tell you what to do in the end.  That can only come from you.”  Silence descended for several moments.  Duncan broke it.

“I think that’s fair.  The same goes for the staff here.  The same conditions which governed the earlier decision apply here too.  It’s your decision ladies.  I know I keep stressing that point but it’s vital.  You’ll see that when you discuss this further with each other.”  Another silence followed.  Duncan took a drink from his glass and then smiled.

“Has anyone else got a question or something they’d like raised?”  His eyes swept the room but no one spoke or raised a hand.  He nodded to himself.  “OK.  That seems to be all then.  May I suggest you take what we’ve discussed and go away to talk it over.  Like before, take your time and talk it all out.  If something else comes up that you want to ask about, we’re always around.  Come to us and ask.  If there’s something we don’t have an answer to, we’ll find an answer.”  He nodded again.  “OK…meeting over.  Go eat and drink and make merry…”  That was met with the sound of chairs being pushed back and a hum of conversation.  Duncan looked at Kathryn and saw her watch the meeting break up.  As if feeling his eyes on her, she looked up at him and smiled.  His eyes asked the question and she nodded, telling him that things had gone well.


^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay brought a mug of tea over to Kathryn and smiled down at her.

“I thought you might like this before you headed back…”  She smiled gratefully as she took the tea from his hand.

“Mmm…I could use this all right.”  She looked behind him.  “Grab a couple of those sandwiches too before the kids demolish the lot…”  Chakotay looked behind him and made for the food, rescuing some just before two boys emptied the plate.  He looked back at Kathryn to see her smother a laugh.

“I did warn you.  The hunter gatherer is alive and well and living on Haven.  It’s survival of the fittest where food is concerned.”  Chakotay shook his head.

“You weren’t kidding.”  He handed her some of the sandwiches and then sat down beside her.  “How do you really think it went?”  Kathryn crewed thoughtfully for a moment and then took a drink of her tea.

“I think it went really well.  At least there weren’t any fireworks at this one…”  She smiled at the memory.  Chakotay smiled along with her.

“I remember that.”  He sighed.  “It’s the right thing not to be part of their decision.  We can offer all the advice they need but it’s up to them in the end.  It can’t be any other way…”  Kathryn brushed some crumbs off her lap.

“They’ll see that in time.  I think a part of it is just that they’re scared to be making such a huge decision on their own.  They’re looking for backup or assurance.  They have to see that they already made a big decision on their own and they can do it again.”  She saw Chakotay smile softly at her.  “What…?”  He shook his head.

“You just amaze me constantly in how well you know and can read people.”  Kathryn waved away his compliment.

“Oh stop.  You’re the same.  Who was ship’s counsellor for seven years…?”  Chakotay reluctantly accepted the compliment.  He tossed the end of his sandwich into his mouth.  Kathryn watched him and smiled.

“And you tell me I can’t accept a compliment…”  She looked out over the room and watched two boys sitting on the floor, obviously piloting an imaginary shuttle.  She smiled to herself and nudged Chakotay.

“Look at those two.  Care to hazard a guess as to what they want to be when they grow up…?”  Chakotay laughed at the sight.

“Tom has his work cut out for him…”  Kathryn nodded at that.

“He sure does…”  She turned to Chakotay.  “Which reminds me…  Are the kids still into the ship?  Are those tours still going on?”  Chakotay smiled and shook his head.

“Nah…the novelty has worn off.  The pool took over their interest.  Tom’s delighted though.  He has his baby to protect.  He was getting very worried there for a time.  Even Tuvok and Vorik doing the tours didn’t dampen the kids’ enthusiasm.  They saw it as one big toy.  Once the pool came along…it took over.  I think they’ve switched to football now though until something else comes along…  Next week?  Who knows what it will be…”  Kathryn played with her cup and laughed.

“Kids just have the attention span of goldfish.”  Chakotay watched as her own attention was drawn to something across the room.  He nudged her.

“You were saying?”  She turned back to him.

“Very funny.  I’m just watching Lou and Marla.  They’ve become wonderful friends.”  Chakotay’s eyes swept the room until he saw the two women in question.  He nodded.

“I’d noticed that…”  As he spoke, the two friends looked up and caught themselves being watched.  They smiled and made their way over.  Marla handed over a plate of cookies which Kathryn took.

“They’re the last.  The others got a terrible death.  Enjoy.”  Kathryn smiled her thanks and took the plate.

“Thanks Marla.  Please sit down…both of you.”  The two women sat.  Kathryn smiled at them both.  “Are you happy with the way the meeting went?”  Lou spoke first.

“More than happy.  Everything I wanted to say was covered so I was able to sit back and say nothing.  It was great.”  Marla nodded eagerly.

“Same here.  I hate speaking in front of so many people but everything was said for me.”  The two friends shared a smile.  Kathryn leaned forward.

“I’m delighted but you know you’re with family here so you can say anything.”  Marla looked at her former captain and smiled.

“I know.  I’m getting over my shyness…”  She let her smile slip a little.  “I’m also getting over my bitterness.  It’s just taking time and I’m not the best student.  Lou here is teaching me well.  She’s a wonderful teacher and the best of friends…”  She reached for Lou’s hand and squeezed it.  Lou squeezed back.

“Hey…I’m patient.  We have plenty of time anyway…”  The friends’ eyes met and they shared an almost secret smile.  Kathryn shared one of her own with Chakotay then reached out and patted the women’s joined hands.

“I’m so happy for you.  Friendship is a wonderful gift.”  She looked up as Noah and another former crewman came over.

“Sorry ladies…gentleman…  We’re organizing a card game for later.  Are you in?”  His eyes swept the group.  Kathryn sat back.

“Not for me thanks.  I’m an old woman who’s more than ready for her bed.  The rest of you go right ahead.”  Chakotay leaned over and took her cup from her hands.

“I’m just an old man who’s ready for his own…once I’ve settled this lady into hers…”  Marla and Lou jumped up.

“We’re on.  We’re dying to whip your butts again…”  Kathryn laughed and looked at Noah.

“Beat you a lot, do they?”  Noah scoffed at that.

“No way.  We just let them win for now.  We’re lulling them into a false sense of security and then…”  He rubbed his hands together.  “The men will prevail.  We’ll be champions.”  Marla and Lou stood up, Lou nudging her friend.

“Exactly what we want them to think.  We have them right where we want them.”  Chakotay reached down for Kathryn.

“Well people.  Enjoy the rest of your evening.  We oldies are off to the land of nod.” 

^^^^^^^^^^

As Chakotay carried Kathryn towards the clinic, she slipped her arms around his neck.

“Were we ever that young and energetic?”  Chakotay made a face at her.

“Hey, speak for yourself.  I’m still as young, fit and handsome as I always was…”  He pretended to stagger under her weight.  Kathryn slapped his back.

“Drop me and you’ll pay for a long time.”  She smiled as she kissed the side of his face.  “Oh they’ll learn.  Life gets better as you get older.  You expend your energy in different ways…in more meaningful ways…”  Chakotay stopped as he reached the clinic door, an evil smile on his face.

“Yeah…but it still keeps you up all night…”

^^^^^^^^^^



ON TO PART NINE.



RETURN TO STORY INDEX ONE.

RETURN TO STORY INDEX TWO.


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