Series: Star Trek: Voyager
A terrible accident causes a rift between Chakotay and Kathryn. Will he have the strength to bridge the gap?
I receive no monetary benefit from writing this story. Paramount/Viacom own the characters and their universe, I just borrowed them so that they could be happy for a while.
"What are you doing here?" It was more of an accusation than a question. "I thought I'd made myself perfectly clear." Kathryn stood staring at him with her hands on her hips.
Her words stung as if she'd slapped him, but Chakotay steeled himself, showing no emotion. Leaning on the doorpost at the entrance of the small greenhouse, he said evenly, "It's good to see you, too, Kathryn."
The fact that there wasn't even a hint of sarcasm in his voice made her blush in shame. But the wall she'd built around her heart wouldn't allow her to acknowledge it. "Why are you here?"
Chakotay quietly appraised his former captain. She was pale and gaunt, with dark smudges under her eyes. His heart constricted. I should've come sooner, he thought. He pushed away from the door and slowly approached Kathryn, keeping his voice even. "I had a delivery of supplies to make here on Kylata II so I figured I'd look up an old friend."
"You aren't hauling freight on Voyager?" Kathryn asked.
"No, I resigned from Starfleet once again after you disappeared and no one would tell me where or why." Chakotay took a deep breath. "I'm a freighter captain now. I had no choice if I was to ever find you."
Suddenly aware of that her arms were exposed, Kathryn tugged the sleeves of her tunic down. She'd been planting some new seedlings when he came, and since no one ever came to the greenhouse, she'd felt safe from questioning eyes. She barely caught the look Chakotay gave her as he watched her covering the scars, but she turned before she could discover what it expressed.
"I'm not your friend anymore." Her voice was just above a whisper. "Not after what I did."
His eyes stung and his throat tightened. It was all he could do not to pull her into his arms and try to kiss away the pain she lived with. Why couldn't I have found her sooner? Her shell seemed harder than it'd been nearly two years ago, right after the accident.
Two and a half years before, Chakotay had received the news from Kathryn, the then Admiral Janeway. She had handed him his captain's pips. The light of her smile warmed him far more than the recognition from Starfleet. Her next words nearly bowled him over. He was to have Voyager. It was retrofitted, upgraded, and ready for him to command.
That night was the first time he'd kissed her. It wasn't the heady feeling of pride of being promoted or the feeling of awe from knowing that their ship would be his that compelled him to take her into his arms. It was love love unexpressed so long love suppressed so long that he'd almost forgotten she was its object and not Seven to whom he had briefly turned.
After the kiss that night and before Chakotay was given his first assignment, he began to court Kathryn. Love flourished between them. It colored the days and brightened the nights.
Finally, his orders came through. His heart was heavy. How could he leave her behind when they'd found each once again? Hadn't they wasted too much time already?
The evening before he was to head out, they had dinner at her place. Although Chakotay was sure the food was delicious, his thoughts weren't on eating. He had to tell Kathryn what was in his heart.
As they sat on the sofa, finishing their coffee, he pulled her close to his side. "I didn't know this would be so hard."
Kathryn stroked his cheek and murmured, "I didn't either."
Chakotay kissed her gently, holding back his longing. He didn't want to make a mistake tonight. After the kiss, he rested his forehead on hers. "I love you, Kathryn."
"I love you, too, Chakotay." Kathryn took his face in her small hands and brought his mouth to hers. She felt rather than heard him moan as he gathered her onto his lap. She planted tiny kisses just outside his lips, teasing him. Finally she kissed him full on the mouth again. That was where she wanted to be.
Chakotay lifted his head. His gaze was dark with desire. "Kathryn, I don't want to leave you tonight or tomorrow or ever. How can I go so soon?"
"Oh, Chakotay, I feel the same way. But I don't want you to pass up the opportunity to have your own command. We'll still see each other as often as possible." Kathryn traced his tattoo with the tip of her finger. "Besides, you don't have to leave tonight."
Chakotay forced the warm memories away. He was needed in the present. "I will always be your friend, Kathryn," he said gently.
Kathryn jumped at the sound of his voice so close behind her. She took two steps away before she turned around. His eyes told her the same. How is that possible that he could still want friendship after all I've said and done? "What do you want from me?"
Swallowing twice, he found his voice again. Chakotay said, "I've missed you." He moved forward and touched her shoulder.
Her reaction was swift. Kathryn slapped his hand away and made her way around a raised planting bed. "Don't touch me!" Her vehemence cut like a dagger.
"I'm sorry," Chakotay apologized as he turned to leave. "I can see it was a mistake for me to come."
The finality of Chakotay's words gripped her. Deep down, Kathryn knew if she let him leave now she'd never see him again. That's what I want, isn't it? I've told him so many times. But this time it'd be by Chakotay's choice. Hadn't she always thought that he'd always be there in case she changed her mind?
Chakotay was nearly to the door when he thought he heard her hoarse whisper. Without turning, he asked, "Did you say something?"
Her wall of self-induced exile began to suffocate her. Would it be so bad to spend time with Chakotay? What harm would it do? He isn't going to stay. The silence stretched out as she fought the inner battle.
Chakotay sighed. He must have heard wrong.
As he took another step, she called after him, "I said, don't go." Kathryn drew a deep breath. "In fact, have lunch with me. You can tell me about your ship and your crew."
He didn't move. He couldn't. Hope would be evident on his face if he looked at her now. Keeping his voice even, Chakotay said, "I'd like that. I have to check to see how the unloading of cargo is going, but I'll be back in 45 minutes." Looking over his shoulder as he continued through the door, his expression was impassive. "I'll bring lunch."
Chakotay's first mission lasted eight weeks. When he saw Kathryn again, he took her to Fisherman's Wharf for dinner. San Francisco's weather had decided to cooperate so that they could dine out on the deck overlooking the water. From the time he picked her up, he never let her be more than an arm's length away, and he continually stole kisses when he thought no one was looking.
Not that she cared who saw them. Of course she was an admiral and he a captain, but he no longer was directly under her command. Kathryn felt almost giddy as they sat across from each other at the small table. She would have reached for his hand, but Chakotay was quicker. He pulled her hand to his lips and kissed each of her fingers before he turned it over to give attention to her palm.
She made a small mewing sound of pleasure as he traced her lifeline with his tongue. As he looked up and met her glance, Chakotay smiled slowly. The love in his eyes made her blink back tears. He released her hand as the server came to take their order.
The respite gave her time to compose herself. Kathryn had been in charge of her emotions for so long that even the joy of her newly expressed love frightened her because of its intensity.
As the server left, Chakotay noticed the change in her. "What's wrong, Kathryn?"
She laughed self-depreciatingly. "I almost feel scared."
Knowing that she wasn't joking, Chakotay laid his hand on hers and tenderly asked, "What are you afraid of?"
"All of this." Kathryn motioned her other hand toward him and then back to her. "I have been in love before, or so I thought. But I've never felt this overwhelmed. I've always been able to be in control, but you sweep that away when you show me your love." She lowered her eyes, suddenly embarrassed by her confession.
"Kathryn, look at me." His words were soft but intense.
She did as he said, and she saw tears shimmering in his eyes.
"Kathryn, you humble me." Chakotay cleared his throat. "I love you more than I can ever explain. But your love has made me whole. I love you in control and out. I love you brave or afraid. I even love the parts that you still hide from me. There's nothing that will ever stop me from loving you."
Blinking back her own tears, Kathryn spoke softly. "Thank you."
"There's nothing that will ever stop me from loving you." Those words thundered through her mind as Kathryn stared out the door after Chakotay left. I've killed that love. He said he came to see an old friend. Without warning, tears spilled and ran down her face. How long had it been since she cried? Kathryn could hardly believe she had tears left to weep.
Several minutes later, as quickly as they came, the tears stopped. Kathryn felt a measure of peace for the first time in ages. The truth was that it was amazing that she could feel anything, but the bitter loss and shame that had been her only companion for nearly two years.
Kathryn looked down at her hands and noticed how the tears had mingled with the dirt that outlined the scars there. She wished that she had put on gloves before she started working in the morning. I don't want anyone to see them. Her mind whispered the accusation back at her, then why didn't you allow the doctors to heal them?
Trembling from the onslaught of emotion, she pushed the door closed on those thoughts and questions. Kathryn knew she wanted to be ready when Chakotay returned. She exited the greenhouse and ran across the small yard to the back of her cottage.
"I need a shower," Kathryn said out loud. She quickly threw her work tunic and pants into the hamper, unbraiding her hair as she entered the bathroom. I miss the bathtub on New Earth. Trying to rid herself of that memory, she walked into the tiny shower stall and turned on the water hot and at full force. The heat and velocity of the water was for better for her mood than a sonic shower would have been. It was another time when the lack of conveniences on the planet fit her perfectly.
Twenty minutes later she was dressed. Kathryn towel-dried her hair and combed it, but since it was still damp, she left her towel around her shoulders and left her hair to hang loose down her back. As she stood in front of the mirror, the image that looked back startled her. The floor length, plain blue dress she wore had long sleeves just like everything thing else she wore and hung loosely on her. She hadn't noticed before how much weight she had lost. What does it matter anyway? Leaving her room, she slammed the door.
Kathryn sat at her table and took up the PADD and stylus that lay there. She began to chronicle her morning activity, recording the number of seedlings she had transplanted. Talaxian tomatoes grew well on Kylata II, and once the nearly 300 seedlings were transferred to big pots, they would be well received by the small population who lived in this province. Tomorrow she also needed to see if her rose cuttings had taken root.
With a sigh, Kathryn looked out of her window. The cuttings' parent bush was in full bloom. Why had she brought that rose with her? It never failed to remind her of Chakotay. Once in the Delta Quadrant, he'd given her a similar rose which was the reason she bought the potted plant for her deck in San Francisco.
She stood up, dropped the towel on the back of the chair, and walked outside to the rose bush. Whenever it bloomed, Kathryn couldn't seem to stay away. The petals seemed to caress her fingers when she touched them rather than the other way around. She buried her face in the blooms.
When Chakotay arrived, he found her sitting on the ground holding one of the roses. He was unable to move. He wanted to drink in the sight. His heart expanded with love. He had missed her so much. It was a pleasure just to be close enough to watch her.
Kathryn felt his presence before she looked up. It was as if he had brought the sunlight with him. The shell she had wrapped around her to protect herself from the hurt seemed to be melting with the heat of it. Would she be able to manage without her protective wall about her? He might still love me. The urge to see his face was too strong to resist.
When her eyes met his, Kathryn saw unguarded, raw love before he could hide it. How can he still love me? I've hurt him unforgivably. Her heart challenged her, you still love him. There's still hope.
Chakotay had been surprised by what he saw when she looked up. First she had caught him unaware, without his impassive mask. Then Kathryn had seemed to accept that he loved her still. It was the first time since before the accident that he felt optimistic.
Chakotay waited until they were nearly finished with dessert before he took her hand again. "Kathryn, I've been thinking." Her expression of trust and love encouraged him to continue. He swallowed before he said, "The mission was interesting, but it gave me a great deal of time to think. I'm not sure I'm willing to be gone for weeks on end away from you. I'm considering resigning my command and taking a teaching post at the academy."
He held up his other hand when Kathryn began to speak. "Hear me out first, please. I want to marry you. I want to wake up every morning with you beside me. Please marry me, Kathryn."
Pulling her hand from his, she clasped her hands together tightly. Kathryn had known Chakotay would propose sometime. He'd already spoken of their future lives together, but this was more sudden than she had expected. Kathryn held her hands together tightly as she spoke in an unsure voice. "Chakotay, it's too soon. I can't say yes. Not yet."
Fighting to keep his anger under control, Chakotay asked coldly, "Over seven years is too soon? You've got to be kidding, Kathryn." His voice took on a sharp edge. "Of all the things to say. 'Too soon.' "
Kathryn reached toward him then dropped her hand. "I told you I was scared before of how I feel. But now I'm terrified." Her voice was choked with tears. She swiped impatiently at the moisture on her cheeks. "I've lost two fiancés one died because I couldn't save him. I know couldn't live if I lost you."
The rising anger vanished and a deep compassion filled him. Scooting his chair closer to hers, Chakotay wiped her tears. "I'm sorry. I'd forgotten about Justin. But Kathryn, you told me yourself that you'd been too badly injured to help either your father or Justin. Remember?"
Kathryn leaned her cheek against his hand. "Part of me knows that, but in my heart I don't. How can I risk it again?"
"Kathryn, my love, I can't promise you won't lose me someday, but haven't we waited long enough to leave the 'what ifs' behind us? I love you too much to let you go." Chakotay leaned forward and kissed her reverently.
"Please give me a little more time to get used to the idea," Kathryn begged.
Chakotay let out a breath, but he smiled. "It seems that I have no choice since I won't let you say no."
"You're early." She struggled to her feet. When Chakotay offered his hand, she ignored it. Would he ever get angry at her rejection and reject her in return? Would he finally have enough and leave her to the prison of her own making? What she saw on his face told her he wasn't ready to give up just yet. Why did that thought feel so good?
"I brought lunch and since it's so nice out, I brought along a blanket. I remember how much you liked picnics." He spoke evenly and pointed to a large reecoe nut tree. "Under that tree would be perfect."
Chakotay gently took her arm and guided her to the tree. He smiled inwardly because this time she hadn't pulled away from his touch. From inside a large basket, he removed a soft blanket and spread it in the shade. "Please sit down. I'll serve."
His ministrations gave Kathryn the chance to watch Chakotay without his noticing. The years showed on his face, and he'd lost some weight too. His hair was longer with some streaks of gray. She'd done this to him. He only wanted to love her and to share her hurting, but she'd afflicted him with additional pain instead.
Shame made her turn away, but her glance landed on the rose bush. Kathryn fought the need to run away. It's time I face what I've done. He'll never be able to forgive me, but this time I won't run away.
"I brought coffee, your favorite blend." He handed her a cup.
She stared at the steam rising from the hot liquid for several seconds before she took a sip. "It's delicious. Thank you, Chakotay. It's been a long time since I've had anything so wonderful."
The smile that graced Chakotay's face warmed her more than the coffee did. He was pleased with so little. And after all I've done.
As they ate, Chakotay told Kathryn about his cargo ship and some of his crew. The Ktarians had allowed him to name his vessel. The New Earth was a refitted Ktarian battle cruiser. He jokingly told her that he couldn't imagine how it survived any battles. It was a clumsy rig, but it could hold a great deal of cargo if need be. He didn't say much about his people. Most of them would be unknown to her anyway, but it didn't come as a surprise to her when he told her that Ayala was part of his crew and that his two boys had joined him on the ship.
However, Kathryn was astonished to find out that Tal Celes was also on board, and that she was engaged to Ayala. The unlikely pair had left Starfleet and gone to Bajor to help with the rebuilding and met again there. After working side by side on a new water reclamation project for a year, their friendship turned into love.
"I happened to meet Ayala on Deep Space Nine about six months ago. I knew right away something was up." Chakotay smiled at the memory. "Losing his wife to the Cardassians had been hard on him, but I could tell love had found him after so many years. A short time later, Ayala and Celes asked if they would become part of my crew."
He reclined on the blanket and put his hands under his head. The sunlight that found its way through the leaves played across his face.
I've missed him so. How could I have lived so long without seeing him? Her heart rebuked her. It took every ounce of strength not to lie down next to him.
"The timing was good too, since two Ferengi had left me at the previous port." Chakotay sensed a change but he composed himself before he spoke again. "That's enough about me. Tell me about your work. You seem to have a prosperous greenhouse, and the people in the village have told me how they love what you grow here."
Kathryn was a little disconcerted at the thought of saying anything about her work, but she thought it was only fair to answer him, especially since the question wasn't actually personal. "Talaxian tomatoes! I can hardly believe how well they do in this climate. The villagers are waiting for my seedlings. And I have several other vegetables and some fruiting plants growing that I'm waiting to transplant when they're big enough."
"You did like to 'muck around in the dirt' on New Earth," Chakotay teased lightly.
Wonderfully sweet old memories of that time when they were the only two people on the planet swept over her. Part of her wanted to remember, but she ignored him and changed the subject. "How long are you going to be on Kylata II?"
Chakotay allowed her to turn the conversation. He sat up slightly, leaning on one elbow. "It all depends. My crew's taking a few days of R and R. Ayala and Celes are taking his boys camping."
"R and R, here?" She was incredulous. "We barely have a village on this side of the continent. No bars, no holo-suites."
"My crew's rugged. They like natural settings rather than artificial. I chose them for that reason I'm less likely to lose a crew member to a bar fight. And since most have their families with them, they're content."
"I guess I shouldn't be surprised." Her voice seemed distant. "You always did wonders with our crew."
Several days after his proposal, Kathryn asked him to come to her office.
"Captain Chakotay to see Admiral Janeway." He stood in front of her aide's desk.
The young officer rose to his feet, his back ramrod straight. "Yes, sir, she is expecting you, sir."
Smiling inwardly, Chakotay made his way through the door to Kathryn's office. He saw her standing at her window, staring up at the sky. A feeling of déjà vu seized his mind. So many times when he'd come to her ready room on Voyage, she'd been at the portal watching the stars pass.
"At your service, Admiral." He kept his body at attention and his eyes forward.
Kathryn turned and smiled. "At ease before you sprain something."
Moving from the window, Kathryn came to a stop in front of him and put her arms around his neck and drew him into a kiss. Chakotay pulled her close in response.
"I've always wanted to do that." Kathryn lovingly touched his face.
Chakotay grinned, both dimples showing. "You have no idea how many times I dreamed of doing this in your ready room." He leaned forward and nibbled her earlobe and planted kisses along her jaw line to the other ear. "Hmm, this is far better than my imagining," he whispered against her skin. Chakotay felt her quiver and then calm herself as she pulled away slightly.
"Captain, your behavior isn't exactly according to protocols." Kathryn's slow teasing smile caused a pooling of desire in him.
His chuckle was deep and husky. "Neither is yours, Admiral."
Hugging him quickly, Kathryn walked behind her desk. She picked up a PADD and handed it to him. "Now to why I called you here. These are your next orders." She waited while he read them.
"The Noringi Asteroid Belt?" he exclaimed. "That was a Maquis hideout. Only small ships could get in there so we'd used it for rendezvous and to hide in. I don't know if the Cardassians ever found that particular place. Sensors were pretty useless long range there because of the gallicite in the asteroids. The belt was so far into the neutral zone, no one bothered to mine it."
"The Cardassians did find out that it was a Maquis hiding place." Kathryn paced behind her desk. "But by the time they discovered it, the Dominion War was in full swing. The Founders ordered the whole belt booby trapped with what they called ADW's." Seeing his look of confusion, she explained, "Area Denial Weapons,"
"Why does Starfleet want me to go there? Voyager's far too big to go mine sweeping."
She took a big breath. "Starfleet has agreed to send a ship along on this expedition. The gallicite-rich belt has drawn the attention of the Terellians. And since the field is now on the Terellian border with Bajor, they have agreed to share the mineral between them. But neither trust the other to clean the area of the explosives."
"If the Cardassians were true to form, these devices will be hard to find and hard to get rid of." Chakotay ran his hand through his hair as his mind started to work on the logistics of the mission.
"That's what we've been told."
Chakotay nodded once. "How long do I have to prepare?"
"I told them we'd be ready in three days. It'll give us time to bring aboard three more shuttles."
"Excuse me?" He blinked, astonished. "What do you mean we?"
"I've volunteered to go along. Admiral Montgomery was the first choice, but he made it clear he wasn't excited about leaving Earth right now. The Terellians and Bajorans insisted on working with someone of higher rank than a captain. They want someone who'll look after their interests while you do the grunt work." Kathryn moved to his side, touching his arm. "I thought you'd prefer me to Montgomery anyway."
When he didn't speak, Kathryn assured him. "I'm not going to be there to look over your shoulder. You'll be fully in charge."
Chakotay relaxed and drew her into his arms. "You sure that'll be possible? Voyager was yours for seven years."
"She's your ship now."
Chakotay watched the sun bring out the gold highlights in Kathryn's hair. His fingers ached to reach out and touch its softness. She was so close and at that moment, her face lacked the haunted look. Kathryn sat back, leaning on her arms, her eyes closed.
"Kiss me," he said barely above a whisper.
Kathryn stared at him her eyes wide with shock, but she didn't move.
"Kiss me, Kathryn." Chakotay moved to sit up next to her.
A jolt of longing shot through her. There was nothing she wanted to do more at the moment than to kiss him, to taste him once again. It'd be a mistake. I'll die when he leaves.
Chakotay tenderly touched her chin, turning her head to face him. "Let me kiss you."
As she looked at his mouth, Kathryn's lips parted and she unconsciously flicked them with her tongue.
The small gesture was his undoing. Chakotay closed the short distance between them and gently brushed her mouth with his. When she didn't stop him, he cupped her face in his hands and deepened the kiss. As his tongue teased her lips, Kathryn gasped. Almost of their own accord, her arms wrapped around his neck as she started to give as well as receive.
Chakotay enfolded Kathryn in his arms. His eyes stung and his throat was constricted. He was holding his love again. He rained kisses all over her face and neck in happy abandon. But he stopped when he felt her become rigid.
He lifted his head and looked into her eyes. Even though he saw fear in the blue-gray depths, Chakotay also saw warmth and desire. Soothingly, he rocked her, murmuring soft sounds and words to calm her fears. After several minutes, he laid them both back on the blanket, holding her lightly.
Kathryn listened to Chakotay's heartbeat as she rested her cheek on his chest. She felt almost whole. Lying there in his arms she could forget the guilt and the pain of her actions. They'll come back. I'll break again. As if on cue, a wave of self-loathing hit her, causing her to convulse in agony. Sobs wracked her body.
"Shush, my love. I'm here now," he crooned as he rubbed her back in slow circles.
Unable to move other than to grab onto his shirt, in his arms Kathryn weathered the storm. Her breath came in short gasps, as the tears slowed. "Why are you here?" she asked in a voice muffled against his chest. "I didn't want you to come."
Chakotay had asked her the same thing once they arrived at the Noringi asteroid belt. The first part of the trip had been carefree. The time it took them to reach Deep Space Nine was spent doing much the same thing they had done to pass the time on Voyager in the Delta Quadrant. They had agreed to be circumspect, but they spent every possible minute together, whether at dinner, the holodeck, or merely talking.
But once they had stopped outside the asteroid field, a subtle change came over Kathryn. She didn't actually take command, but she wanted to be involved in every part of the operation. It was as if she had left her admiral pips behind.
The morning that Chakotay had planned to start the search for the ADWs, he found her in his office behind his desk when he arrived. Several PADDs were scattered over the top.
"Why are you here?" His question was abrupt.
"Good morning, Chakotay" Kathryn didn't look up as she sipped from her coffee cup. "I thought I would get an early start."
"You thought you would get an early start!" he said sharply. "In case, you've forgotten, this is my mission and this is my office."
Kathryn started, surprise on her face. Her quick movement caused coffee to slosh out of her cup onto the desk. She opened her mouth to say something but reconsidered. Slowly a deep blush of embarrassment tinted her cheeks.
"I'm sorry, Chakotay." Her eyes pleaded with him for understanding. "I got an early transmission from the Terellians. They're eager to know what we're going to do about the mines. I just thought that I'd have a look at these different schematics."
Kathryn walked around the desk and stopped in front of him. She touched his arm lightly. "But I was wrong. I should've waited for you. You're right. This is your office and your mission. Let me clean the coffee off your desk, and I'll go back to my quarters." With eyes downcast, she turned away.
"Kathryn," Chakotay said contritely, taking her hand and kissing it. "I'm sorry I overreacted. You don't have to leave. I could use your help in sorting through all the data we were able to get from the Cardassians."
For the next several hours, they poured over the information and sorted it according to the reports they had from the Terellians who were the first to find the mines. They finally decided that they were one of three types of ADW's used during the by the Dominion and Cardassians, all three highly volatile and unstable.
On the bridge, the view screen showed the crescent shaped asteroid field. Chakotay sat in the command chair with Kathryn in the first officer's chair. He still wasn't comfortable with her there. She should be on one of the other ships or in the conference room with the alien representatives.
He pushed aside his unease as he took a deep breath. "Ensign Fuller, launch the first probe, heading 4.3 mark 7."
"Aye, sir." The young operations officer ran her fingers over the controls. "The probe is away, sir."
No one spoke while they watched the small object make its way toward the field.
"Magnify viewscreen," Chakotay ordered.
The probe was on course for an opening between two of the rocks. Two seconds later, its nose passed into the shadow of the larger one and it exploded in a blue-white flash.
Chakotay frowned. "Launch the second probe, heading 7.2 mark 3."
The second and a third probe met with the same blue-white end.
"Ensign Fuller," he ordered, "I want a report of the telemetry data sent from the probes before they exploded. We need to know as much as possible. Bring it to me in my ready room in 20 minutes."
"Admiral, please join me in my ready room." He left the bridge without waiting.
Chakotay was already pacing when Kathryn arrived, his face a brooding mask. Without looking at her, he said, "This is going to be harder than I hoped. It's obvious to me they used magladium as an explosive. An individual mine detonated by a probe is no danger, but I'd hoped to fire a wide spread phaser volley." He threw his hands up. "But that would cause such a reaction fueled by the gallicite in the asteroids that there'd nothing left to process. That's if we could get away in time."
"How long will it take to get rid of the mines one by one?"
"Let's sit down." He motioned to the sofa as he dropped into a near by chair. Chakotay drew in a deep breath as he leaned his head back and closed his eyes. "I'll need to read Fuller's report, but I think it'll take weeks, maybe months."
"I don't understand." Kathryn shook her head. "All of the intelligence we have on the Dominion's sabotage led Starfleet Command to believe we could have the area cleared in 10 days or less."
Chakotay made a sound of disgust. "Obviously Starfleet Command shouldn't place so much faith in their intel."
Soon the door chimed, and Ensign Fuller entered and handed over the PADD. "Here is the report, Captain. Based on the data from the probes and our sensors, these are magladium devices, proximity activated. And sir," she hesitated, "in all likelihood, there are thousands of them maybe tens of thousands."
"Thank you, Ensign, that will be all."
Reading through the report without any real expectation that he'd find anything that contradicted the science officer's analysis, Chakotay still felt uneasy.
"Here, you look this over." Chakotay handed the PADD to Kathryn. "I seriously doubt you'll disagree with Fuller. I know I don't."
After a brief time, Kathryn met his glance. "I'm going to have to contact Starfleet Command and let the Bajorans and the Terellians know what you've found."
Chakotay nodded and stood. "Use my comm unit. I'll be on the bridge."
"I had to come." Chakotay kissed the top of her head. "You took my heart when you left."
"How can you still love me?" Her voice was choked with tears. "After what I did?"
Inhaling the familiar rose scent of her hair, Chakotay didn't answer right away. He knew that he couldn't trivialize what had happened. Her actions had caused him and others great pain, but he'd forgiven her because he loved her and because her agony was far worse.
"I read this recently and I memorized it," he explained softly. " Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never fails."
Chakotay tightened his arms around her as he continued, "It wasn't easy. I was deeply hurt, especially when you left without saying goodbye, but I've loved you so long. My love isn't fragile. I'll always love you, Kathryn Janeway."
Kathryn had arranged a holo-conference with Starfleet brass and with the Bajorans and the Terellians. After a day of subspace transmissions flowing back and forth to Earth, Bajor, and Terellus, the order was given to complete the mission.
Chakotay was frustrated. He knew that it was pure greed that had been the deciding factor. Oh sure, there were kilotons of ore in the belt. Enough that all parties concerned would be well compensated. However, the nagging sense of disaster that had been with him since their arrival made him fear for his crew and most of all, for Kathryn.
Voyager's five shuttles were assigned a portion of a grid along the belt. Using the sensor detail from the probes, they were to locate and disarm or destroy the mines. The first week and a half all went well. The perimeter of the belt was systematically being swept of the explosive devices.
"Captain Chakotay, there's a hail from Admiral Janeway," the ops officer announced.
"Thank you, Ensign, I'll take it in the ready room."
"Yes, Admiral." He smiled as he sat at his desk. "What can I do for you?"
"I just left a meeting with Ambassador Tess and Ambassador Cifonii." She paused to weigh her words. "They're thrilled with the progress you have made in disarming the mines."
The hairs on the back of Chakotay's neck stood up. "But?"
"No buts, they're very happy."
"Then why do I get the idea I'm not going to like what you're going to tell me?"
Kathryn chewed on her lower lip before she answered, "Because you probably won't. Let me transport to Voyager. I'd rather tell you in person."
When she entered the room, she could feel the tension radiate from Chakotay. He stood waiting for her, leaning against the front of his desk, his arms folded across his chest. Kathryn tried to smile to ease the mood, but his expression remained hard.
"You don't plan to make this easy for me, do you?"
"Nope," he said simply.
Sighing softly, Kathryn began, "Since we've cleared a good section of the perimeter of the belt, the ambassadors want to begin surveying the asteroids."
"What? That's insane!" Chakotay pushed away from his desk and stomped his way to the portal. "We've made progress, but we still don't know how many mines there are farther inside."
"But I thought you said one of the shuttles was able to go several kilometers past the perimeter." Kathryn followed him to the upper level. She'd expected him to disagree when she was captain, she might have done so herself but she needed to try to convince him. There was a great demand for results on her from Starfleet Command and the ambassadors. They wanted the surveying and they wanted it immediately. If he would be more reasonable.
Chakotay turned quickly to face her. "Yes, Kathryn, one shuttle went into the belt a short distance," he ground out. "But that was an appropriately equipped shuttle." He raked his hands through his hair. "And if you'd read the full report, you'd know that another shuttle crew found mines right away when they tried to make their way in."
"I read the full report," she snapped back. "I'm sure that with the use of an 'appropriately equipped shuttle' a preliminary survey could be made quickly and safely."
"You're sure?" Chakotay lowered his voice as he slowly turned to face her. "Well I don't give a damn if you are sure. I'm the captain and I'm not going to send anyone into that kind of danger."
Kathryn set her jaw and lifted her shoulders. He was leaving her little choice. She had her orders. "Well, Captain Chakotay, you aren't going to have to send anyone anywhere. I'm ordering it. You will have one of the shuttles ready for launch at 0700 tomorrow."
Speechless from rage and hurt, Chakotay just stared back at her.
Watching his jaw tighten, Kathryn knew she'd gone too far. She'd told him she wouldn't try to run things, and here she was ordering him to go against his better judgment. Her pride rose to her defense. He didn't understand the pressure she was facing from the authorities and ambassadors. Why couldn't he be more understanding? Why didn't he trust her?" I will be handling this expedition myself. See to it that I have a pilot and an ops officer."
Chakotay had seen that look before, the one that meant she couldn't be swayed. A curt nod was his only response before he left for the bridge.
Kathryn rose up so she could look at Chakotay. Again his tender gaze chipped away at the hard barrier of protection she'd tried to put around her heart. She felt compelled to touch his face. The face of the man she still loved deeply.
His smile crinkled his face and flashed his dimples. Chakotay captured her hand and kissed her palm leisurely. Kathryn tensed when he turned her hand over, but he brought it to his lips and began to kiss every centimeter. Even though he seemed to know how she hated to have anyone see her scars, he put his mouth against her wrist as he nudged her sleeve away. Chakotay wouldn't let her go when she pulled.
"No, my love," he said firmly, "I love all of you, perfect or not."
On some parts of her arm, her skin had little feeling left, but that didn't stop pleasure from sliding up and down her arm.
Chakotay sat up slowly without taking his arm from her waist. He moved her so that she was resting on his lap. He wiped away the last of her tears and smoothed her hair away from her face. "I love your hair loose like this, not up like on Voyager. I never liked that bun."
Kathryn closed her eyes and surrendered to the simple delight of the moment. She felt Chakotay stroke her face as if he were trying to memorize every line and contour. Having him so near, holding her so lovingly was wonderful. She felt tension and care leave as she relaxed against him. Soon she was asleep.
Easing her onto the blanket, Chakotay sighed contentedly. He hoped that she would have a good rest. She definitely looked as if she needed it. When he lay down next to her, she turned toward him, pressing her cheek against his arm. He moved her so that she was lying against his shoulder, his arms around her.
Kathryn stirred for a moment, but when he kissed her forehead, she relaxed and slipped further into sleep.
The next morning Kathryn had gone directly to the shuttle bay, wanting to avoid seeing Chakotay. It was 0630 hours and she wanted to check the systems in the new shuttle. She was surprised to see the doors open. Maybe Chakotay had assigned some eager ensign to the survey.
Kathryn climbed the few steps into the small craft. As she turned to enter the forward cabin, her mouth dropped in astonishment. Chakotay sat at the conn, obviously doing the preflight check.
"What are you doing here?" she demanded.
"You told me you wanted a pilot." Chakotay smiled sardonically. "You got a pilot."
She considered ordering him to leave and find him another pilot, but Kathryn had lost much of the fight she'd felt the day before. Instead, she moved to the science console to begin her checklist.
Chakotay never looked back as he worked. Although he wasn't as angry as the day before, he still ached from her actions. His pride suffered when she countermanded him, but her lack of faith in his judgment hurt the most. Shaking his head to clear it of all but the tasks at hand, he turned his attention to the panel in front of him again.
Remembering other times where she'd disagreed with him and went against his advice, Kathryn had a sinking feeling. What had seemed like a perfectly logical plan the day before didn't seem so perfect or logical now. Maybe she should postpone the survey for a few days. What harm would it do?
However as she opened her mouth to suggest the postponement to Chakotay, Ensign Fuller entered.
"Oh Admiral Janeway." Her eyes showed surprise. And when she saw her captain, she was horrified. "I'm sorry, Captain, I didn't mean to be late."
"Relax Cara, the admiral and I were early." He smiled warmly at the young woman. "You'll have plenty of time to go over your checklist."
As she took her chair, she said, "Aye, sir."
Leaving Voyager behind, Chakotay ordered shields up and maneuvered the shuttle along the exact route that the only successful flight had taken past the outside edge of the asteroid field. The small craft fit easily between the large pieces of space debris. The first few kilometers were made in silence, with only the soft noise of engine and the equipment to fill the void.
Kathryn began to chart and survey the asteroids as they traveled. Happy for a job that required her full concentration, she was able to suppress the guilt that nagged her. So far they were doing well. Command would be pleased with what she was recording.
"Captain, sensors have picked up four mines ahead," Ensign Fuller reported.
"Show me on my console," Chakotay ordered. He looked to see one was 250 meters ahead of them, but the other three were 200 meters beyond that and thirty degrees to the starboard. Cold dread balled in his gut. The mines were too close to each other. How would they be able to deactivate them safely?
"Ensign, lock phasers on the closest one and fire." There was a blue flare and a slight tremor as the explosion's shock wave hit them.
"Admiral, how did that blast compare with the others?" It was the first time he'd addressed her directly since Ensign Fuller had arrived.
Glancing over the data on her console, she answered, "Five percent higher yield than the ones destroyed at this part of the perimeter, but within the average overall."
Warning klaxons sounded in his mind. He needed to think how to avoid what he was afraid would happen. "We have to find a different way. Those mines are too close together to detonate safely."
"What other way?" Kathryn demanded. "Haven't you noticed that going back is our only alternative to going toward those mines?"
It was true that on all sides but forward and aft, the space between asteroids was too small even for their small ship to squeeze through. Chakotay couldn't argue with that. Holding tight control of his temper, he said, "Then we go back until we figure out how to disarm those three mines. If we use our phaser on one, the blast wave will cause the others to explode. We'd be in danger from that explosion. The mines are designed to amplify each other when they go off in close proximity, not to mention that effect could be big enough to ignite some of the gallicite."
Kathryn looked at him, considering his words. She exhaled with an impatient sound. She wished she could pace so she could think but there wasn't room or time for that. A few seconds passed before she spoke. "We could tractor them away from each other before we detonate them." It seemed the best way to fulfill her orders.
He shook his head. "There's no way to test it first. The tractor beam might trigger an explosion."
"Ensign Fuller, lock a tractor beam on the nearest mine. Pull it a safe distance from the others, and fire on it." He was being too cautious. Kathryn ignored Chakotay as she gave the order.
"Captain?" Fuller asked nervously.
It was in that moment that Chakotay felt more helpless than ever before. Kathryn just didn't know when to back down, and she never had. Stark inevitability breathed down his neck. He knew at that moment he wouldn't fight her on this one and that it wouldn't end well. He only hoped that they lived though it.
"I'm sorry, Cara," he whispered, not knowing he spoke the words out loud.
The ensign leaned closer. "Sir?"
"Do as the admiral says, Ensign."
"Aye, sir." She turned back to her station and powered the tractor beam. "It's ready, sir."
"Tractor beam engaged."
"Bring it in slowly." Chakotay wanted to brace himself, but he didn't know if it would do any good.
The three of them watched as the blue stream of the beam slowly moved its captured prey away from the others. For the first few seconds, it seemed as if the plan would work, but suddenly a warning sounded at the operation's station.
"Captain, we're experiencing feedback from the ADW, it looks like the tractor beam activated something in the mine." Fuller's voice was shrill with anxiety. "I can't shut down the tractor bea..." Her speech was cut off by a blinding flash of light and a loud explosion.
Chakotay's ear rang as he shook off the effects of the blast. A quick self-inventory told him he had only minor injuries. He could smell smoke and feel the heat of fire close by. Why wasn't the fire suppression working?
It was just then that he heard the computer intone, "Warning, fire suppression offline. Warning, fire suppression offline."
Ensign Fuller was unconscious, sprawled half on and half off her chair. A huge piece of smoldering debris lay across her legs.
"Admiral, the fire extinguishers are behind you." Chakotay moved to help the fallen ensign when he glanced at Kathryn. He saw her staring, horrified, at the fire. "Kathryn, extinguishers, we need them now!"
His voice caused her to respond, but she didn't turn to the cabinet behind her. Kathryn jumped to the bottom level and grabbed the burning piece of metal, intent on removing it from the young woman's body. The fire was starting to spread, flicking its way to Fuller's clothes.
After he called Kathryn's name once more, Chakotay knew she didn't hear him. He'd have to retrieve the extinguishers himself if the fire was to be put out. He threw open three locker doors before he found what he was looking for.
Terror gripped Chakotay when he turned back. It seemed like the whole front of the cabin was in flame, and worst of all, Kathryn was trying to put out the fire with her bare hands. Her sleeves had caught fire, but she didn't seem to notice as she worked.
Chakotay lunged forward and sprayed the flames, beginning with those on the two women. The extinguisher did its job quickly. As soon as the blaze was quenched, he turned his efforts to the two women.
Kathryn had fallen unconscious on the floor; her hands and arms covered with angry blisters and charred flesh. Cara Fuller was barely breathing. There wasn't much time. He had to get them both back to Voyager.
"Chakotay to Voyager." No response. Either the com was out or the gallicite was interfering with the hail.
Chakotay dropped into the conn chair. "Computer, are the engines working?"
"Warp core is offline, but impulse engine are functional."
Weak with relief, Chakotay ordered the computer to chart an exact reverse course to the one they'd just traveled. He made sure that everything was functioning properly, and that they were on their way to the ship before he returned to the wounded.
Kathryn moaned softly but didn't awaken when he wrapped the thin thermal blanket around her.
Cara Fuller's face was pale and clammy. Chakotay was worried she wouldn't make it. He lifted the piece of metal completely off her legs. Her right foot was a bloody mass but the heat had stopped any bleeding. He used the med kit's tricorder to check for internal injuries and broken bones. Chakotay was surprised to see that although she was suffering from shock, her only serious injuries were the smashed foot and the burns on her legs.
As gently as he could manage, Chakotay lifted the ensign, taking her to the small cargo compartment in back. There was a cot, and he could make sure she was comfortable there. After he set her down, he secured the coverings over her.
Behind him he heard a groan and then a hoarse scream. Kathryn! Chakotay rushed through the door to find her staring at her hands and arms.
"It hurts . . . so hot . . . must save her." Kathryn frantically searched the area with her eyes. "So bright . . . too hot . . . where is she?"
Chakotay grabbed a hypo sprayer from the med kit and dropped in a cartridge of pain medication. When he reached her, he spoke her name softly.
She froze for a moment before her eyes focused on him. "I was wrong. Please help me to help her," Kathryn begged, her voice rough from inhaled smoke. But before she could speak again, she began a spasm of wrenching coughs.
"It'll be all right, my love, it'll be all right." Chakotay promised quietly. Setting the hypo spray against her neck, he pressed the button.
Within a couple of seconds Kathryn began to relax. Chakotay helped her to lie back before she lost consciousness.
He wished for two cots, but the shuttle hadn't been equipped for sleeping. After readjusting the blanket around her, Chakotay checked the shuttle's progress back to Voyager. What he saw loosened the coil of worry in his chest. They were almost at the perimeter.
"Computer, tell me as soon as contact with Voyager is possible."
For the next ten minutes, Chakotay divided his time between Kathryn and Cara. And despite her injuries, the ensign seemed to be faring the best, resting peacefully. On the other hand, Kathryn fought against the blanket covering her, moaning and crying out.
Chakotay had to fight the anxiety that threaten to overwhelm him. Kathryn would be fine, and they would go back to the way it was before this blasted assignment. If only he could have reasoned with her. If she hadn't been so bullheaded!
He bowed his head and started to rub his face with his hands when he felt pain. Chakotay took a good look at his hands. Blisters had formed, nothing like the ones the others had suffered, but he was burned as well, and had no idea how or when it had happened.
"Voyager to the shuttle Willamette." The crackling of the com startled him.
"This is the shuttle Willamette, we all need medical assistance right away."
"Aye Captain, lower your shields and we will beam you to sickbay"
A vaguely familiar sound and frantic movements woke Chakotay. It took him several seconds to remember where he was. Still lying cradled against him, Kathryn was still sleeping but her rest wasn't peaceful.
"No! It's hot. I need to save her." Kathryn squirmed and pushing at him feebly. "Too late. I've made another mistake. Let me die; it's too late."
"Kathryn, wake up," Chakotay crooned as he gently shook her shoulder. "It's just a bad dream."
At first he didn't think she heard him, but soon she quieted and opened her eyes.
"You didn't leave." Kathryn studied his face without moving from his shoulder. "I've always been alone when I wake up from that dream."
The sadness in her voice squeezed Chakotay's heart. He couldn't tell her that the exile was her own doing. Instead he hugged her close and kissed the top of her head. All he wanted to do was be with her and help her heal.
Unlike in the Delta Quadrant, Voyager had a fully staffed sickbay. The chief medical officer, Doctor Johansen had a nurse and two med techs for each shift. The tall older man reminded Chakotay of pictures he had seen of Father Christmas with his white beard and rosy cheeks. But there wasn't anything fairytale about his abilities; he was a compassionate and skilled physician.
Once they'd beamed back onto Voyager, the medical team began treatment. Chakotay watched the doctor working between two bio beds. Because Dr. Johansen had called in one of the off duty nurses, he had help when he needed it.
A med tech examined Chakotay and treated the burns on his hands. He was told that even his relatively minor injuries were difficult to treat, and also that he had also suffered two cracked ribs in the initial blast. After a few hours his wounds were taken care of, but he was told to wait 24 hours before returning to duty.
Instead of returning to his quarters, he stayed in the sickbay, out of the staff's way but never letting Kathryn out of his sight. She looked so small and helpless under the medical panel's arch, and she hadn't moved since they arrived.
"Captain, you should be resting." Johansen put his hand on Chakotay's shoulder.
Chakotay shook his head. "Luther, how can I until I know she'll be okay?"
The doctor searched his captain's face before he spoke with kindness. "Chakotay, I'm sure her condition won't change in a couple hours. How about I give you a sedative and you can sleep here? We have enough beds."
A heavy weariness wrapped itself around him like a blanket. Chakotay knew his friend was right; he would be of no good to the ship or to Kathryn if he collapsed. He sighed in resignation. "I'll sleep here, but I'm tired enough to do it without help."
Chakotay stood and faced Johansen. "You keep her safe, you hear?" Along with the tiredness, he felt desperation clawing at him.
"You know I'll do everything I can."
That was enough for Chakotay. He lay down on the empty biobed and slept.
The next few days were for hell for Chakotay. He hated wasting any time dealing with delegations from the other ships, but they wanted to show their concern with a trip to the sickbay. Fortunately, the visits were brief since both patients were unconscious.
Starfleet, the Bajorans, and the Terellians mutually agreed to postpone further work in the Belt until more study could be done on the data they had. No one was ready to lose people.
Dr. Johansen conferred with doctors at Deep Space Nine and at Starfleet. They all agreed that the conditions of both patients were too severe to risk treatment at any facility except the burn unit on Earth. Something in the feedback loop or the explosion or possibly a combination of the two made treatment of the burns more difficult. So they set a course for home at maximum warp.
Because he was captain, Chakotay couldn't shirk his duty. But little that happened affected him. His heart and mind were in sickbay.
On the third day of the trip, Dr. Johansen asked Chakotay to come to his office. On his way there, a thousand darts of worry struck him. Please Kathryn, get well.
The doctor smiled reassuringly when he saw Chakotay. After speaking briefly with the nurses, Johansen motioned toward his office.
"Please sit down, Captain." The doctor took his seat behind his desk.
Chakotay almost refused, but the worry made him feel entirely too feeble to stay standing any longer. "Has something happened to Kathryn?"
"No, her condition hasn't changed." He rubbed his beard. "That's what has me concerned." Johansen got up, walked around to the front of his desk, and leaned against it. "She should be conscious by now. The treatment of the burns is going slowly but her lungs are healing, but she's not responding. It's like she doesn't want to wake up."
"What if I try to talk to her? I've heard the people in comas can hear those around them. Maybe I can reach her." Chakotay could hear the anxiety in his own voice.
"Yes," the doctor answered reassuringly. "It's certainly worth a try."
Chakotay pulled a chair close to where Kathryn lay. She looked so pale and still. He couldn't even tell if she was breathing. He wanted to hold one of her hands, but he couldn't since bandages and the monitoring equipment hid them from him. Before he sat down, he placed a light kiss on her forehead.
"Hello, Kathryn," Chakotay said as he was seated. "Can you hear me, it's Chakotay? I love you. Please wake up." He stroked her hair and blinked back the moisture that threatened.
"Kathryn, I need you. Voyager needs you. Please come back to us." He frantically tried to think of something else to say when he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder.
It was the doctor. "Just talk to her. Remind her of things she enjoys. She needs your voice as an anchor."
Memories, he had plenty of memories. Chakotay let them flow as he spoke to her. He heard the privacy screen being activated. Good, he thought, Kathryn wouldn't want to be on display.
Chakotay didn't know how long he had been talking when he sensed a change in Kathryn. Then he saw a fleeting movement of her eyelids, and then her mouth.
"Kathryn, please open your eyes," Chakotay begged.
Soon Kathryn began to twitch, struggling against the arch over her. Her eyes opened and stared at Chakotay. She opened her mouth to speak, but sound was only a croak. Fear widened her gaze.
"It's okay, Kathryn, you've been asleep for days. Don't try to talk. You'll be okay." He tried to calm her.
"No, no, must get up. Must fight the fire." Kathryn forced the words out in short bursts of harsh whispers as she thrashed about on the bed. "I have to save her . . . my fault."
"Doctor, help!" Chakotay called out.
Alarms on the medical display began to sound, and lights flashed. The doctor deactivated the privacy screen as he made his way to her side. "Nurse, get me the neroxizine, 20 ccs. Her vital signs are erratic. We have to get her stabilized."
Chakotay stumbled back, taking the chair with him. He could hardly breathe as he watched them working on Kathryn. Was he going to lose her? Why was this happening? Was it his fault for talking to her?
Dr. Johansen and his both nurses labored feverishly to keep Kathryn alive. It seemed that all of her organs were to shut down. Her heart even stopped for several seconds before they revived her. After thirty minutes, she was stable again and heavily sedated.
After rubbing his eyes with the palms of his hands, the doctor turned to look at Chakotay. His captain's face was pale with fear, tiny beads of sweat stood out on his forehead. He wished that he didn't have to tell Chakotay what he did.
Johansen took his arm and guided the dazed man into his office. After he put him in a chair, the doctor ordered sweet, hot coffee with a shot of whiskey from the replicator.
"Drink this," Johansen ordered as he handed the cup to Chakotay.
Chakotay's hands trembled as he took the cup. He sipped and frowned at the fiery, bitter liquid. He looked for a place to put the mug down. This was no time for a drink. Why won't Luther tell me how Kathryn is? He shook his head, trying to stop the roaring he heard in his head.
"Drink it all, doctor's orders." Luther said sternly.
Startled and confused, Chakotay did as he was told. As he finished the coffee, the noise in his ears ceased and the trembling stopped. Color returned to his face.
The doctor heaved a sigh of relief. "Good, I didn't want you to pass out and have you for a patient again so soon."
Chakotay leaned forward in the chair. "How is she?"
Johansen shook his head. "I haven't seen this happen very often. Coming out of the coma should've been the best thing for her. But as soon as she was conscious, she had a severe traumatic reaction, and it took toll on her wounded body. She is stable for now, but I had to put her back into a chemically induced coma. If there isn't improvement in the next twelve hours, I'll be forced to put her in stasis. We're still too far from Earth."
"Why did she break down now?" He raked his fingers through his hair. "After all she faced in the Delta Quadrant? Hell, she stared down the Borg."
"Yes, Captain. I know you and Admiral Janeway shared some incredible trials in the Delta Quadrant," the doctor said understandingly. "She showed remarkable resolve as your leader, but you've got to understand whether she's shown it or not extreme stress for long periods does take a toll on an individual. However, history's proven that leaders like Admiral Janeway often don't show the effects of that stress until it's safe to do so."
"Safe to do so? This doesn't look to safe for Kathryn."
"The admiral knows that Voyager's safe now. Your crew's home and you're in command of Voyager. She's not consciously choosing to be weaker now, but in great leaders like Kathryn Janeway, the human psyche has a way of knowing when it's critical to hold together for the sake of others and when there's room for her own trauma."
"But you're saying this traumatic reaction is jeopardizing her life?"
The doctor took a deep breath. He tried not to say that. He was reluctant to give Chakotay too scientific an explanation. How could he tell him that the adrenalin produced by her fight or flight response was wreaking havoc with her internal organs? "Yes, Captain, I'm afraid it is."
Chakotay put his head into his hands. Panic threatened to overwhelm him. "You've got to save her life." His voice was thick with emotion.
"I'll do my best." The doctor helped Chakotay to his feet. "I want you to go back to your quarters. No arguments, I'll find someone to escort you there if you don't agree."
A sigh of resignation shuddered through him. Chakotay was bone weary and the thought of his bed was almost appealing. He moved slowly, turning for the door. "If there is any change, you will call me."
The doctor gave Chakotay's back a gentle pat. "Of course, Captain."
Kathryn moved slowly out of Chakotay's arms and sat up stretching her arms above her head. Her sleeves fell to her elbows, exposing more of her scars.
Chakotay smiled up at her as she yawned. Then he saw the marks of that fire had left on her skin and reached out his hand to touch her arm as she lowered it. This time Kathryn didn't react as violently as before, but she tried to move her arm out of his reach.
"Please don't, Kathryn," Chakotay said as he sat up. Gently he took her arm in his hand and pushed the sleeve higher. He reverently caressed the wrinkles and bumps from her wrist to her elbow. Lowering his head, he kissed her pulse point. Chakotay studied her reaction through his dark lashes. He straightened and moved her sleeve back to its proper place. "They don't repulse me, Kathryn," he told her earnestly.
A swell of emotion filled her chest as Kathryn heard his words. He somehow understood what she had thought, that she had wanted her scars her disfigurement to hold back or drive away those who might want to come close. It was part of her self-imposed punishment for her error in judgment. But he wasn't repelled; he didn't expect her to live in pain forever. If only she could be so lenient with herself.
After Chakotay had rested for several hours, he felt stronger, more able to face what happened next. He first checked in on the bridge. His first officer had everything under control, so he spent some time reviewing reports before he went back to the medical bay.
Dr. Johansen looked up as the doors swooshed open. "You certainly look better than when you left. How are you feeling now?" he asked.
"Better, thanks. How's Kathryn?" Chakotay looked at her, lying still on the bed.
The doctor sighed, "No change, I'm afraid. We are still having trouble keeping her vitals steady." He met Chakotay's worried gaze. "I recommend stasis. I think it's her only chance."
Chakotay swallowed hard. If it would keep her alive, then he'd agree. He walked to her side. Where was his Kathryn, the strong woman he loved? She couldn't be so close to death. He reached out to smooth her hair from her face. Bending down, he kissed her cheek.
He straightened, jerking his uniform jacket down. "Do it, Doctor."
As he turned to walk out of the door, Chakotay thought he heard someone say his name. Searching for the source, he spied Cara Fuller.
"Captain Chakotay, may I speak to you?" she asked barely above a whisper.
Chakotay made his way to her side. "What is it, Cara? Are you sure you should be talking?"
"The doctor said I could speak to you for a few minutes." Reaching for the glass of water next to her bed, Cara took a small sip. "I want to tell you I'm very sorry that Admiral Janeway's so ill."
Chakotay gave her a small smile. "We all are."
She nodded and hesitated as if she didn't know what to say next.
"How are you doing?" Chakotay inquired. "I've been so busy that I'd forgotten to see how you are. I apologize."
"God is good to me. I feel better everyday. The burns hurt less. The doctor says that something about the explosion made my body resistant to grafts of skin. And for the same reason, he hasn't been able to clone a new foot for me. I'll have to wait until we reach Earth." Her voice quavered a bit, and she sniffed back tears. "I-it's hard losing my foot, but I know I'm lucky to be alive. "
Guilt hit him like a punch to the stomach. He, the captain, had forgotten that a member of his crew had also been hurt badly in the accident. Chakotay gently patted her arm. "I am so sorry, Cara. I should've come to see you sooner."
Cara rested her hand lightly on his. "Oh no, Captain, please you mustn't feel bad about that. I haven't been conscious very long. You've a ship to run, and I know you've been so worried about the admiral." She squeezed his hand quickly before releasing it. "Mariah Henley and I've been praying for her," she whispered shyly.
Slightly embarrassed by her words, Chakotay nodded. "I'm sure the admiral would appreciate that." He saw that the young woman was fighting to keep her eyes open. "I'll look in on you again soon."
"Chakotay." Kathryn broke into his thoughts. "Why don't you hate me? I didn't listen to you. I made a huge mistake. My actions and bullheadedness nearly got us all killed, and that poor girl lost part of her leg."
He knew that what he said next would be crucial. Chakotay wanted to help her understand what he felt.
Kathryn searched his face as he thought about what he should say. The look of concentration that she saw there comforted her. She recognized that he was weighing what to tell her. Chakotay wasn't going to be glib or patronizing. Reaching for his hand, she smiled encouragingly.
The warmth of her small hand on his filled him with optimism. She'd listen this time. Kathryn was ready to understand.
"Forgiveness, Kathryn, forgiveness."
With Kathryn in stasis, Chakotay tried to fill his time. It was hard to keep his mind occupied. He visited Ensign Fuller at least once a day. Her gentle spirit was soothing. Several times he found Mariah Henley visiting. Once he found them both with their heads bowed. He realized they were praying. It brought him a sense of comfort that surprised him.
The day before their arrival back on Earth, he awoke at 0500. Chakotay tossed in his bed for thirty minutes before he threw off his blanket and got up. The worry about Kathryn was just too much for him to stay in his quarters. He decided to get some coffee and to take an informal inspection tour of his ship.
The officer's mess had replaced Neelix's kitchen. Chakotay missed the cheerful chaos that always surrounded the small Talaxian. There were few people in the dining hall that early but that was fine with him. After pouring himself a cup of coffee, he sat down next to the portal. Familiar stars flew past.
Chakotay stared out at the streaking lights as they streamed by on the black fabric of space. He slowly sipped from his cup. Would Earth bring healing and health to Kathryn? He must cling to hope because he could do nothing else.
"Good morning, Captain Chakotay." Lt. Mariah Henley stood smiling at him. "I'm glad to be getting back home again."
"Good morning, Lieutenant," Chakotay tried to return her smile. "You're up early."
"Actually I'm an early riser," she explained, lifting the mug in her hand. "My grandpa always said, 'Early risers get the freshest coffee.'"
When Chakotay laughed, she continued, "Actually, I don't like to waste my day. Fortunately, I can get by on six hours of sleep."
Her expression became serious. "May I join you, sir?"
"Please," he agreed as he pointed to the empty chair.
"Permission to speak freely, sir." She suddenly seemed nervous.
"How is Capt-," she caught herself. "I mean, Admiral Janeway really doing? Dr. Johansen won't tell us anything. I understand that, but I just wanted to see what you could tell us."
Chakotay saw the same concern on her face as he'd seen on the other crew members, especially those who'd served under Kathryn in the Delta Quadrant. "She's seriously ill, which is why she's in stasis. The doctor hopes that the Starfleet Burn Unit will have the treatments and doctors to help her."
Lt. Henley watched as her captain's eyes filled with worry and pain. "I believe she'll be okay, Captain, even if it takes a long time for her to fully recover. She'll need you more than ever."
"Thank you, Mariah, I fully intend to be there for her." Chakotay looked out the portal again. Mentally, he pulled away from the ache of worry and rose to his feet. "I must go. I have a ship to tend to."
She stood and lightly touched his arm. " You're both in my prayers. And remember that it wasn't your fault, Captain." With that she left the room.
Chakotay rejected her statement. It was his fault. He was the captain in charge of the operation. Sure, Kathryn had pulled rank, but he could've pulled back. Hadn't he allowed his Delta Quadrant experience as her XO to color his judgment? Now he was the only one uninjured, the only one who could go about his business. Enough! He needed to stop this pointless introspection. He had a ship to run.
As Chakotay strolled the corridors of the ship, he saw few people about. It was at least an hour before alpha shift started. He decided to visit sickbay.
The lights in the medical bay were dim, the nurse and the med techs were at their computer consoles, working on the shift logs. But when he looked toward Ensign Fuller's bed, it was empty. Chakotay moved toward the shift nurse to inquire about her when he heard the sound of the doors opening behind him.
Chakotay turned to see Cara in an anti-grav chair, a wide grin on her face.
"Good morning, Captain Chakotay," she greeted him cheerfully. "How do you like my ride?"
He couldn't help but smile. "Impressive. You sure you're up to it?"
"I'm sure, and so's the doctor. " Cara took a deep breath. "However, I think I've ridden enough for my first time out of this room." She maneuvered the chair to the side of her bed and carefully stood on her left leg.
Chakotay rushed to her side and took her right arm and assisted her onto the bed. "I don't think you're supposed to do that alone."
"I have to get my strength back," she snapped as pulled the cover over her legs, turning on her side so that her back was to him.
Stunned into silence, Chakotay wasn't sure what to do next. He stared at her back for a moment before he decided she must want to be alone. But as he turned to go, he heard a choked voice.
"No, Captain, don't leave yet." Cara turned, eyes tear-filled. "I'm sorry I barked at you. I know you only wanted to help." Wiping at her eyes with her sleeve, she continued. "I want to get better, and I've been working so hard to get enough strength back so that I could use crutches when I get to Earth. The doctor only allowed me to use the chair because I nagged him."
"Don't apologize, Cara," he said understandingly. "I probably would've done the same thing. I'm a very bad patient."
"Thank you, sir," she sighed, dropping her head back on the pillow. "My mother is so worried, I thought if I could leave here upright, she'd be less anxious."
"I'm sure as soon as she sees you doing as well as you are, she'll be overjoyed."
"I hope you're right. My mother worries so much."
"Is there anything you need, books, PADDs, something to drink?" Chakotay asked.
"No, Mariah's brought what I needed from my quarters." Cara shook her head. A peculiar look came across her face.
"Captain, I'd like to tell you something. I hope you won't mind if I'm very candid with you," she said nervously.
"Tell me what's on your mind," he encouraged.
"I've forgiven both you and the admiral for what happened," she stated quietly. "I hope you'll forgive yourself as well."
Chakotay searched her face for evidence of malice or blame. He knew that as captain the "buck stopped here." Also, he knew that she was the one person on that shuttle who shared no blame, and yet she chose to let go of any feelings of recrimination or hatred.
"How can you do that?" he asked her.
"Because it's easy to forgive a little if you've been forgiven a lot."
"Forgiveness?" Kathryn looked at him, the turmoil of her heart unmistakable in her eyes. She hungered for release from her guilt, but felt as helpless to receive it as a bound and gagged starving person at a banquet. "I don't deserve to be forgiven."
Chakotay reached out and touched her face. "I don't think anyone deserves forgiveness. You only have to accept it."
Kathryn knew he meant it, but how could she let go of the shame that had dogged her every step for nearly two years? She'd heaped pain upon pain on those she loved and cared for. She had allowed the greed of the ambassadors and Starfleet Command to push her and people were injured. Just as when she was in the Delta quadrant, she hadn't fought her arrogant nature and had caused harm. It wasn't her fault that this time no one was killed.
"Kathryn, forgiveness isn't about forgetting what someone has done. It's about letting go of the payback or the punishment. And in the case of the things you hold against yourself, forgiveness can free you from much pain and at the same time help you to learn from your past, so that hopefully you won't repeat the same mistakes."
She leaned against his hand, closing her eyes as she thought about what he had just told her. Could she possibly do that? Forgive herself and be forgiven? It was so appealing to think that she could step out of her prison a free woman.
"You've forgiven me, haven't you?" Opening her eyes, Kathryn looked for the answer in his eyes first. There it was, love and forgiveness in blinding strength.
Chakotay cradled her face in his hands. "I forgave you a long time ago. I just haven't had the chance to show it before now."
Kathryn dropped her eyes, feeling shame again.
He tilted her chin so that he could see her eyes. "Please look at me, Kathryn."
She lifted her gaze once more although it took courage she didn't know she still possessed.
"Will you forgive me, Kathryn?" His voice seemed eager, yet unsure.
Their arrival back on Earth and the two weeks that followed went by in an anxious blur. Chakotay and his crew were examined by Starfleet medical and debriefed by Starfleet brass. He could tell by the brass' response that much of what happened at the Noringi Asteroid Belt would be kept under wraps, although he was never told so in so many words. No one wanted to hear that the "Darling of the Delta Quadrant," Admiral Janeway had been badgered into making an error in judgment by a greedy Federation.
Chakotay kept close tabs on Kathryn's progress. A team of medical experts, both in Starfleet and out, toiled to heal her. After the first few days of uncertainty, her body started to respond positively to the treatment, although even after she was conscious, she rarely responded to anyone.
Chakotay's visits were short and the conversations one-sided. She might nod when he greeted her or look at him when he spoke, but Kathryn didn't say anything.
On the other hand, Ensign Fuller was well on her way to recovery. She had been fitted with an cybernetic ankle and foot since somehow the radiation from the feedback loop from the mine kept the doctors from being able to use her cells for a clone replacement and she was nearly scar-free. Chakotay visited her a few days before she was set to go home on medical leave.
"Hi, Captain Chakotay," she greeted him in her own patently cheerful way from a seat by the window. "Isn't it lovely outside? I was thinking about going for a walk. Would you like to join me?"
"Hello Cara, you are looking well. And I'd like it very much." Chakotay couldn't help but grin at the young woman's enthusiasm.
Reaching behind her, Fuller produced a cane, the likes of which Chakotay had never seen. The slender piece of wood was intricately carved. It depicted a cat stretched out catching a ball that made up the handle. She stood slowly but without signs of weakness or pain, steadying herself with the staff.
Cara waved her cane in the air. "Mariah's grandpa carves these, so she brought one to me. Isn't it fanciful? I'm going to keep it around as a souvenir once I don't need it."
Chakotay chuckled. "It's unique, all right. Grandpa Henley has many talents."
As they began their walk, Chakotay watched to see how the young woman fared. He barely noticed a limp as she made her way along.
"How am I doing, sir?" she asked in a straightforward way.
Slightly embarrassed, Chakotay turned his eyes forward. "You're doing incredibly well, Ensign. I only wish the admiral was doing half so well."
Neither spoke for a few minutes as they made their way around the hospital's lovely garden. Chakotay was worried because Kathryn was so remote. It was far worse than the depression she suffered in the "Void." He wished he could think of some way to reach her. Lost in his thoughts, he sighed.
"How's Admiral Janeway really doing? No one will answer my questions. All they'll tell me is that she's no longer in any physical danger." Cara broke the silence.
Chakotay didn't know what to say. And he wasn't sure he could keep his anxiety under control if he talked about it. He walked a few more steps before he felt he needed to sit down. There was a vacant bench under a large willow. "Let's have a seat for a bit."
Looking across the garden to the building on the other side, Chakotay thought about what he would tell her. "Admiral Janeway's doing better physically. She isn't in a coma anymore. Her burn treatments are taking time but they're progressing."
"But it isn't her physical wounds, you're worried about, is it?" she asked softly.
He couldn't help but smile at the young officer's insight. "No, it isn't." Chakotay rubbed his temples, trying to reduce the tension that was rapidly producing a headache.
"I hope I can rely on your secrecy." He lowered his voice. "I'm not sure how the admiral would feel about others knowing. She's a proud woman."
"Captain, what you tell me will stay between me and God," she promised.
Chakotay took a deep breath and let it out slowly before he began to explain what he could. His worry and frustration were evident. By the time he told Cara how Kathryn never said a word to him, his voice was thick with emotion.
Cara's eyes filled with tears. "I didn't know it was so bad. I'm so sorry that you're both going through this." She wiped the moisture from her face when an idea came to her. "May I visit her when you go the next time?"
"I could speak to the doctor. It'd probably be okay." Chakotay stood to his feet. "This is the time the doctor's usually making his rounds. Why don't we find out right now?" He looked her way. "That is if you're up to it."
"Oh yes, I'd love to," she eagerly agreed.
Soon after, the doctor had given cautious permission. They had to be careful not to stay too long.
Chakotay led the way to Kathryn's room. She'd been given a large, airy private room. They found her seated in a chair next to the window, although she didn't seem to notice the view.
"Hello, Kathryn, I brought you a visitor." Chakotay's voice was soft and even. "It's Ensign Fuller. She's been concerned about you."
He nodded to Cara and whispered, "Say hello."
"Hi, Admiral Janeway." Cara tried to sound cheerful, though her voice shook a little. "I wanted to show you how well I can walk now."
At the sound of Cara's greeting, Kathryn stiffened and blinked her eyes as if she just awakened from a trance. "You! It's you." Kathryn declared. "Why are you bothering me in the day time?"
"Kathryn, you don't understand." Chakotay tried to explain. "Cara hasn't been here before until just now."
"In my dreams, she's always there." Kathryn tore her gaze off Cara to stare at Chakotay. "You're okay?"
"Yes, of course, we are." He came and knelt in front of her. "You'll be okay soon as well."
"I saw her burning. I thought she was dead." Her eyes were wide with misery. "I made a mistake. I should never have ordered that survey."
"That's over now, Kathryn. We're home." He took her hands.
She then pulled free and tried to stand. Facing Cara, she asked hoarsely, "Weren't you hurt? I saw you covered with burning debris."
"Yes, Admiral, I was, but you and Captain Chakotay saved my life." Cara turned around. "See, I can walk fine now with my new foot. And the burns are all healed."
Kathryn's anguish wasn't alleviated by what the young woman told her. She dropped back into the chair and began to shake. "It was my fault. All my fault."
"Kathryn, no one's blaming you." Chakotay soothed.
"Don't you see?" Kathryn's voice was hard. "I blame me."
"Ensign, I think we should leave the admiral now." Chakotay motioned toward the door. Cara left quickly, tears running down her cheeks.
"Kathryn, is that anything I can do for you before I go."
"Yes." She raised her head to look at him. "Don't come back. I don't want to see you."
"But Kathryn, why? What have I done?" Bewilderment enveloped him.
"Don't you see? I've done it," Kathryn said forcefully. "I don't deserve you."
Chakotay tried to pull her into his arms. "Don't say that, Kathryn, I love you. I need you."
She began to slap at his hands, shouting, "Go away. Get out of here."
"Captain, I think you had better go." The nurse commanded from the doorway. "My patient has made it clear she doesn't want you here."
Chakotay struggled to his feet, embarrassment and devastation staining his features. He walked slowly to the door. Turning, he tried once more to reason with her. "Kathryn, please."
"Leave me alone." She threw the words as if they were darts and he was the target.
"Me forgive you?" She couldn't believe she heard correctly. "What've you done? I'm the one who needs forgiving."
Chakotay smoothed her hair back from her cheek. "I made several mistakes during that mission. My gut told me that something was going to happen especially when you ordered me to get the shuttle ready. As the one in charge of the mission, I could've stopped you. You were only there as an advisor to the ambassadors. And even inside the asteroid field, I should've turned back. Cara Fuller saw the danger, but she trusted my leadership and followed orders."
Unable to look in hers eyes, he dropped gaze. "I failed you, Kathryn."
Only the soft rustle of the leaves and the airy chirping of birds could be heard for several moments. How was it possible that he was here, without demands that she apologize, without recriminations, but with declarations of his love and a request for her forgiveness? Kathryn looked at Chakotay's bowed head. A sense of security enfolded her. He'd never been one to hold things against her when they'd had a disagreement. He took his own responsibility as well.
Kathryn reached out and stroked his hair. "Of course, I forgive you."
For the next several days, Chakotay tried to get in to see Kathryn. It seemed as if a nurse always stood guard at the door of Kathryn's room. Finally, he gave up trying directly and found the doctor.
"How is Kathryn?" Chakotay demanded as soon as he was admitted to the doctor's office.
"Come in and sit down, Captain." The doctor folded his hands on his desk. He waited until Chakotay was seated before he spoke again. " I won't be able to give you any details, nor will I be able to keep you informed after today. I'm sure you understand patient confidentiality. I'm only telling you this because of your former relationship with Admiral Janeway and because she gave me permission to tell you this much."
Former? The word caused him to cringe, and Chakotay didn't like the sound of what the doctor seemed to be saying, but he intended to find out what he could about Kathryn.
"Physically, Kathryn's doing better. Her scars still need to completely heal, but she's now under the care of an excellent counselor. Between her and the counselor, they have decided that she needs some time away from San Francisco. She'll be receiving counseling in another location and be gone for an extended period of time."
"Where is she going? May I talk to her before she leaves?" Chakotay couldn't believe that Kathryn would leave without seeing him.
"I'm sorry, but I can't tell you anymore than I already have," he said with sympathy.
"But, Doctor," Chakotay protested. "I'm very worried about Kathryn."
"Yes, Captain, and I share your concerns. However, I know that the admiral's counselor is one of the best in Starfleet. I trust that she will get the best care possible."
Shaking his head, Chakotay resigned himself to what he heard. He loved Kathryn and wouldn't ever give up on her.
The doctor lifted a PADD from his desk and handed it to Chakotay. "The admiral asked me to give this to you after we talked."
Chakotay wanted to read her message right there, but he said goodbye to the doctor after obtaining his promise to contact him as soon as the doctor could tell him something.
Making his way to a private corner of the lobby, he opened the file with his name on it. To his disappointment, the message was text only.
I don't take any pleasure in writing this, but I must tell you that I don't want you to try to contact me. I don't want to see you again. I've made too many mistakes and hurt you and others far too many times. Please stay away. Don't try to find me. Maybe someday I will be ready to face you again, but I doubt it.
Chakotay couldn't believe what he read. He angrily raised the PADD, ready to smash it against the wall, but instead he took a deep breath, calling upon every ounce of control he possessed, and lowered his hand and put the PADD in his pocket.
"No, Kathryn," he said in a low, quiet voice. "I will not stay away. I'll find you if it takes a lifetime."
During the next few weeks, Chakotay was at a loss to know what to do. At first he spent his time trying to find out more about Kathryn and where she was. But no one knew or would tell him her whereabouts.
Although he had a small suite of rooms provided by Starfleet during his medical leave, his base of operations, so to speak, was B'Elanna and Tom Paris' home. B'Elanna was livid that Kathryn had vanished the way she had. Tom showed his support in his own way, lending a listening ear or a word of advice as needed.
Chakotay especially enjoyed spending time with the baby, Miral. She was a happy baby with a ready smile like her father's, but she had a decidedly Klingon outlook when it came to her needs. If she was hungry, she ate with gusto. If she was tired, nothing would wake her, but if she was angry about something, she fairly roared with indignation.
One evening after he ate dinner with the Paris family, B'Elanna asked him a question. "What will you do when your medical leave is over, Chakotay?"
He heaved a sigh. "I don't know."
"Have you received your new orders from Starfleet?" It was Tom's turn to ask.
"No, I haven't heard. And I'm not sure I want to be at the mercy of Starfleet Command anymore." He hadn't known his own mind on the subject until that moment.
B'Elanna nodded as if she already knew what he decided. She pried a bit more. "So if not Starfleet, what? Teaching? Anthropology?"
"Right now, all I want to do is to find Kathryn and see if she is okay."
Tom listened to his wife and their friend talk. He had an idea, but he wasn't sure what Chakotay would say.
"Old man," Tom began, using his wife's nickname for Chakotay, "as you know, B'E and I work with Starfleet helping to design new ships and incorporate the innovations we made in the Delta Quadrant."
"Yes, you've done a great job if Voyager's retrofit is any indication." Chakotay knew that he wouldn't fit in an engineering design team. "But I'm not an engineer."
Tom grinned. "No, you aren't, but I think you'd like being a freighter captain."
"A freighter captain?"
"One of the things we do as a sideline of our work for Starfleet is to help others in the Federation to retrofit their technologies and fleets after the war. Ktara has had several of their old battle cruisers made ready for civilian use. There isn't much else those ugly elephants are good for anymore except for hauling freight. And from what I have heard from my contacts, they're been having a lot of trouble finding people who want the ships."
Chakotay stared at Voyager's former pilot. He had never thought of doing something like hauling freight. "Why would I 'like' being a freighter captain?"
"Besides being your own boss, you could look for Kathryn." Tom grinned with proud satisfaction at his suggestion.
The feeling of powerlessness that Chakotay had lived with ever since the accident lifted. Optimism flowed through him. "I think this might be what I've been looking for. Would you introduce me to the Ktarian in charge of these freighters?
"First thing in the morning, if you'd like."
It didn't take Chakotay long to make the arrangements to take command of his own freighter. He filed his resignation from Starfleet within the week. It was met with some resistance, but he left with the feeling that some in Command were happy to be rid of him as a reminder of both the Maquis and the Noringi embarrassments.
The Ktarians had most of the crew ready, although Chakotay found some of his former crew who were eager to join him in the new venture. After a month, Chakotay had his crew and three shipment assignments and the promise of more work to come.
It was rough at first for Chakotay to learn what it took to be a freighter captain. In some ways, it was like commanding the Maquis, more a matter of earning respect and even a little bit of intimidation than the structure of Starfleet protocols and procedures. After a few weeks, he began to feel comfortable and even satisfied in this new role. The only one thing would've made his life better at that moment knowing where Kathryn was and that she was okay.
When Chakotay lifted his head, Kathryn could see a difference in his eyes. Peace was back in his gaze. Her forgiveness had helped to put it there. Somewhere in the region of her heart, hope seemed to awaken. Could they go beyond all the pain? Was it possible?
"Thank you, Kathryn," he whispered as he pulled her into his arms again. "I've longed to hear you say that."
Kathryn snuggled against him for several minutes drinking in the serenity. The ever-present regrets were held at bay for the moment. She could almost believe in happiness again.
After several minutes of silence, Chakotay took a deep breath. "I really should get back to the ship. We are having a little engine trouble and my engineer refuses to take her R and R until it's fixed."
She moved out of his arms, disappointment washed over her. Of course, he had duties. Kathryn couldn't expect him to stay with her all day. "I've got seedlings to replant. I don't usually take such a long lunch time."
Chakotay stood and pulled Kathryn into his arms. "Oh, really? How surprising that Kathryn Janeway might skimp on her meal time."
The crooked half smile Kathryn gave him in response thrilled him. Chakotay kissed her lightly before he spoke. "I've got an idea. How about you come with me? I can give you a tour and check in with engineering. Then you and I can come back here and I'll help you replant."
Kathryn watched a hopeful yet insecure look cross his face. She couldn't resist his request, besides she wanted to see the ship that was part of his life now. "You have a deal. Let's see this ship of yours."
The road wasn't much more than a wide footpath though it was easy to travel on. They walked side by side, their hands clasped together between them. Chakotay stopped to point out a tiny bit of rapids in a stream that ran under the road. Seeing things though his eyes and just being with him, Kathryn felt more content than she had in ages. She even viewed her surroundings as if through a clean window. The trees that lined the path almost touched in the center creating a large canopy of green with golden spikes of sunlight poking their way through to ground in places.
Chakotay wished the moment could last forever. Kathryn was with him, and she had let part of her wall down. If only she wouldn't be tempted to try to build it up again to hide behind it.
For well over a year Chakotay searched for Kathryn and asked friends to search for him. No one remembered seeing her. If it hadn't been for his freighter and the work he had to do, he was sure he would've gone crazy with worry. His arrival at Deep Space Nine and being reunited with Ayala and Celes was a welcome diversion from his hunt. They would be joining his crew in the morning.
While his crew finished transferring the freight he brought to the station and loaded what was waiting for them there, he took a walk on the promenade. Chakotay felt strange being on an old Cardassian space station, but he pushed the disquiet aside, knowing it was merely a remnant of his past.
He leaned against the railing and watched the people on the lower level. They went about their business, in and out of shops unaware of his scrutiny. When he saw a red-haired woman tug on the hand of her child who pulled back because she wanted a jumja stick from a shop, Chakotay's heart beat faster even though he knew it wasn't Kathryn. He shook his head. He might as well give up on his dream for a family.
"Hey, Captain," someone called from behind him.
Turning, Chakotay saw that it was his navigator. "What's up, Aira?"
The small Bajoran beamed. "We are finished ahead of time. I came to ask if it would be okay for the crew to have a look around. I haven't been this close to home in way too long."
Chakotay smiled. "I don't see why not. Just remember that everyone will need to be ready to leave at 0800 hours in the morning."
"Oh, yes sir." Aira said quickly. In her eagerness, she could barely keep herself from running back to the ship. It seemed that the merry young woman was always in a hurry.
Chuckling to himself, Chakotay resumed his walk. Occasionally he would look up the large portals at the outer rings. Once he was able to see the wormhole open and close. He wondered when he would get an assignment in the Gamma Quadrant. Exploring didn't have the same attraction it once had. Sitting next to Kathryn on Voyager, with her taking side trips, had frustrated him at times, but it had always been exciting.
As he made his way around the station, he met a few acquaintances. Although he acknowledged them as he passed, Chakotay wasn't in a mood for conversation. Soon he wearied of walking and decided to return to his quarters.
Back in his room he didn't bother to call for the lights. Chakotay flopped down on his bunk and put his hands behind his head. He really didn't want to think any more. The thought of heading for the bar on the lower level of the promenade to drink himself into a stupor had been tempting, but he just couldn't allow himself that cowardly way out. He'd never been one to get drunk, and if he started drinking, he might not stop. Kathryn was out there and she needed him. She needed him sober.
Chakotay decided to have some chamomile tea to help him sleep. He sat up and noticed for the first time that the message light was flashing on his personal unit. Moving to the small desk, he ordered the computer to play the message.
A video image of Tom Paris appeared on the screen. "Hi Chakotay. I hope you get this soon. I've got news for you. You're going to come back to Earth soon, aren't you? I know you'll want to hear this in person. Get a hold of me as soon as you know your ETA. B'E will make up the couch for you. Talk to you later."
Chakotay raked his fingers through his hair while trying to tame the nervous energy that shot through him. It was obvious that the news was about Kathryn, but he didn't understand why Tom was being so secretive. He must've had a good reason.
Calling up his freight schedule, he scanned the list of dates and places. He had a trip to arrange. Chakotay was pleased to see that the next three deliveries took him in the general direction of Earth. He was sure he could put off the fourth one for at least a week. That would give him time to see Tom. Suddenly, he was filled with joyful anticipation instead of the despair of only a few minutes ago.
It took seven weeks to make it back to Earth. Chakotay was glad to see the big blue ball as it hung in the black velvet of space. Because his crew sensed his excitement, the atmosphere on board was electric.
Since there wasn't any cargo to unload or to pick up, Chakotay had given his crew two days off. The news was met with enthusiastic cheers. He could hardly until everyone had left and the ship was secure before he left for Tom and B'Elanna's place.
Chakotay knocked on the door, and when the door opened, he was grabbed, hugged, and punched by B'Elanna.
B'Elanna slapped him on the shoulder again. "If I weren't so glad to see you, I'd do some real damage. You stayed away too long."
Draping his arm around her shoulder, he grinned. "It's great to see you again too, B'E."
"Hey Chakotay," Tom stepped into the room, carrying Miral in his arms. She had grown a great deal since he had seen her last. "This young lady would like to say hello."
After shaking Chakotay's hand, Tom turned his daughter. "Miral, this is Chakotay. He's a good friend of Mommy and Daddy. He used to come and visit us when you were a baby. Say hello."
The tiny girl considered him steadily for several seconds before she reached out her arms toward him. "Hewwo, Totay. Hold you?"
When Chakotay took her from her father, Miral wrapped her little arms around his neck in a mini version of her mother's hug. Then she pulled back to look at him for a moment before she touched his tattoo. "Nice, piccer." Turning to her mom, she demanded, "Me want."
"Maybe someday, sweetheart," B'Elanna told her daughter. "But right now, Daddy and Chakotay need to talk. Let's go see if we can find something to fix for lunch."
The idea of food seemed to be more attractive to Miral than Chakotay's tattoo. She grinned and launched herself from Chakotay's arms into her mother's.
Tom laughed at Chakotay's expression of concern. "Welcome to my world. She's every bit her mother's daughter. I've learned to hold on tight. I think I'm in for a wild ride raising this little girl."
Tom turned as he started toward the kitchen. "Hey, sit down. I'll go get us some coffee. Okay?"
"Coffee will be fine."
A few minutes later, Tom was back carrying two mugs. After handing one to Chakotay, he sat down in a chair. He crossed his legs and leaned back, sipping his coffee.
"Tom," Chakotay urged.
Tom made a face. "Sorry, old man, it's just now that you're here, I'm at a loss as to how to start."
"The beginning is usually a good place."
Taking a deep breath and exhaling quickly, Tom started. "About two months ago, we invited my dad here for dinner. He was unusually distracted during the meal. Miral was the only one he responded to. After dinner when I helped B'E clear the table, I asked if she could leave him and me alone for a while."
"We had a couple beers while we talked about incidentals. I mentioned something about you and he started to pace. I have to tell you it was a little odd to see my dad so agitated."
"After a few minutes of pacing, he sat back down and asked for another beer, which he drank in one long swallow. Then he turned to me and said, 'Tom, I've made a big mistake.' "
"I waited for him to explain. And when he didn't, I asked him what he meant."
"That's when he told me why Kathryn left. He said that she'd asked him to come to see her in the hospital, probably a few days after you saw her last. She told him that she had talked to her counselor about going to a retreat in Switzerland. Kathryn had agreed, but she asked my dad to help her leave Earth once she transferred to the spa in Europe."
"My dad was reluctant, but Kathryn reminded him of how he had felt after their Cardassian imprisonment. He didn't go into details, but somehow that convinced Dad to help her."
"The facilities in Switzerland are Starfleet, so my dad had clout. Starfleet Command seemed eager to have her away from Earth for a while. He even convinced her counselor to sign off on the deal. He convinced the therapist that time on Vulcan studying Vulcan meditation techniques should certainly help."
"Kathryn stayed there for two weeks, and then Dad made the arrangements for her to travel incognito to Vulcan, which is why I couldn't tell you over subspace. I didn't want Dad to be in trouble."
"At the time, my dad didn't realize that she didn't have any intention of staying on Vulcan. She immediately caught a transport ship. Dad didn't hear from her until she reached DS9. He thinks that she contacted him so that he wouldn't sound the alarm when he found out she wasn't on Vulcan anymore. Kathryn also turned in her resignation."
Chakotay stared wide-eyed at Tom. "She's on DS9? Are you sure?"
"No, not anymore. Dad said that she left the station for a colony settlement planet, Kylata II, in the Gamma Quadrant. Kathryn raises plants for the colonists in a greenhouse. It's a pretty rustic place. Most of the villages have only one communication station, and the villagers seem to manage pretty well with what they have."
"Dad has finally realized that she was running away to avoid dealing with what happened. Starfleet Command has been more than happy to let her go. If she isn't around, they don't have to explain their actions at the Noringi Belt."
Cold satisfaction settled in Chakotay's mind. His resignation had been the right thing to do. This Starfleet wasn't Kathryn's anymore. They didn't deserve her.
Tom continued, "Dad's also concerned about her refusal to have her burn scars removed. As you know, her injuries were severe and because of the radiation problem, the healing process took longer than usual. The doctors were ready to take the final step, but Kathryn told them no. Her counselor told the medical staff that she first needed some time away to recuperate mentally. Under protest, her doctors released her."
"Do you know how she is doing?" Chakotay asked impatiently.
"Dad said that Kathryn is looking thinner and tired, but otherwise seems to be okay physically. I think she keeps to herself and her plants."
Chakotay was silent for several minutes, pondering what he should do next. Everything in him wanted to hurry back to his ship, and leave for the Gamma Quadrant as soon as he could, but he wasn't free to think only of himself now. He had a ship, a crew, and contracts to fulfill. It would take patience to work out the logistics. But he finally knew where she was, and nothing would stop him from getting to her.
Suddenly he was aware that Tom was waiting for him to speak. "I'm sorry, Tom. I'm a little overwhelmed now that I actually know where Kathryn is. Thank you for telling me. And I won't tell a soul how I found out."
Tom grinned and winked. "Yeah, well, I knew you wouldn't. And I know that she needs you as much as she ever has. Once you find her, don't let her out of your sight."
As the landing site came into view through the trees, Kathryn saw that Chakotay was right when he said his ship was ugly. But the vessel still stood proudly above the landscape.
"So this is the New Earth?" Kathryn asked as the ship came into full view.
"Yup, that's her!" Chakotay couldn't keep the hint of pride from his voice.
"She certainly is big." Kathryn craned her neck to look at its upper level.
Chakotay tugged on her arm. "Come, let's have a look around."
Inside, the ship was stark and utilitarian but efficiently designed for its purpose. Chakotay showed off his bridge and some of the crew quarters. They stopped at the mess hall for a cup of coffee.
The mess hall had a homey look to it. Tables were covered with brightly colored tablecloths with flowers in the center. When Kathryn commented, Chakotay smiled. "This isn't Starfleet, and it's our home most of the time. Our cook owned a restaurant in Minnesota of all places. It was called Mom's Place. Quinton thought New Earth could use 'Mom's' touch. My crew loves it."
As they found a free table, the cook brought them large mugs of hot coffee and a plate of gingerbread.
"Kathryn, this is Quinton, the genius behind this place." Chakotay made the introductions. "Quin, this is Kathryn Janeway."
"It's an honor to actually meet you. I feel like I already know you." The cook shook her hand warmly.
Kathryn felt uncomfortable with the attention the man was giving her. She was even a little upset that he seemed to know about her. Had Chakotay discussed her and their relationship and her mistakes with his crew?
As if he could hear her thoughts, Quinton explained, "We have several former Voyager crew members on board. The rest of us never tire of hearing about the famous Delta Quadrant adventures of Voyager and her captain."
Taking a calming breath, Kathryn smiled. She lifted her cup and sipped from it. "This is delicious."
Chakotay chuckled. "We have more than enough real coffee on board for even a Kathryn Janeway. Cook insists he won't serve the replicated stuff."
After they finished their coffee, they proceeded to the engine room. Kathryn was enjoying herself far more than she would have expected. Being with Chakotay again made things better. I'm so glad he found me.
Kathryn was surprised that the engineer room was so small for such a large ship. She saw three people were bent over their various stations. When one lifted her head and turned toward them, Kathryn froze.
Sensing the change in Kathryn and understanding the cause, Chakotay put his hand on her arm in support. He knew that this was a big moment.
At first, Cara Fuller only noticed Chakotay. "Captain, we've recalibrated all the relays and completed the computer diagnostics. We're good to go. We. . ."
Cara's eyes widened with surprise as she recognized Kathryn. Joy chased away the astonishment. "Admiral Janeway, it's so good to see you again."
Before Kathryn had time to respond, she found herself wrapped in a tight hug. She stood still for a moment, confused. Then everything was clear. Cara forgave her too. Freedom beckoned with a tempting gesture.
Kathryn closed her eyes and hugged the young woman back. And at that moment, her inner prison walls disintegrated into dust. She knew that she couldn't rebuild them even if she so desired.
The two women pulled back, tears glistening. No one said anything for several seconds. It was like a sacred moment. Forgiveness had triumphed once again.
Swallowing hard, Kathryn finally found her voice. "I'm glad to see you too, Cara. This is your engine room?"
"Oh yes, Admiral." Cara beamed as she indicated with a sweeping motion of her hand. "This is all mine."
"Would you show me around?" Kathryn wiped furtively at her eyes. "And call me Kathryn, I'm not an admiral anymore."
"I'm not sure I could do that, ma'am." Cara blushed. "You will always be Admiral Janeway to me, but I'll try and get used to it."
Cara cleared her throat. "But I would love to show you around."
Chakotay watched them as the two made a circuit of the room. Their animated conversation made him smile. Kathryn had cleared the final hurdle. His heart could hardly contain the joy of this moment. Forgiveness had brought the light back in the life of his beloved, which meant that it was back in his.
The early summer sun made greenhouse uncomfortably warm. Kathryn wiped the sweat from her brow with her forearm. It still seemed strange to wear short sleeves and to feel only smooth flesh instead of the bumps of her old scars. Over eight months ago, the doctors on Earth had completed the job of removing most of her disfigurements. She no longer felt the need to pay for her mistakes by keeping them as a reminder. Forgiveness had healed her inner scars.
She smiled as she straightened and kneaded the kinks of out the small of her back with her fists. Soon her greenhouse would be empty of all but a few seedlings that would be planted in the fall. Kathryn turned at the creaking of the door as it opened.
Chakotay entered with a tray in his hands. "Time for a break. You have been working way too long without one." He set the tray of iced lemonade on a small table near the door. He reached back and propped the door open. "I don't know how you manage without this open."
Kathryn grinned at her husband of almost a year. "It was cool when I started this morning. I guess I got lost in my work."
"Well, come and sit for while." Chakotay motioned to the chairs he had pulled out for her. When she was seated, he took his place next to her. "You got a lot done this morning."
"Yeah, I'm close to having the last of the summer seedlings ready go to the village." She took a long draught from her glass. "Oh, that was perfect. I didn't realize how thirsty I was. Although just before you came, I was feeling awfully warm. You take such good care of me. Thank you." She reached out her free hand and caressed his cheek.
"It's my pleasure and the joy of my life." Leaning back in his chair, he reached for his glass to take a drink. Changing the subject, Chakotay asked, "You sure you're doing okay? It seems like you should be napping or at least resting."
Kathryn smiled as she shook her head. "You know that the doctor on DS9 said I'm healthy and so's the baby. We still have two months and several visits left. He's sure that the midwife in our village has all the training I'll possibly need. Besides, the station is only a few hours flight from here if anything would go wrong, which it won't. So stop worrying, Papa, our son will be fine."
Chakotay face lit up with a huge dimpled grin. "Papa? I like that."
"How did your cargo run go?" Kathryn pretended to pout. "I sure was lonely last night."
"Not as lonely as I was." Chakotay lifted her hand and kissed it. "But it went well. And in a few weeks, Mariah will be taking over for me while I take family leave."
"It sure was a good idea to start working this part of the Gamma Quadrant. I was surprised at how many contracts you were able to get to haul freight between here and Deep Space Nine."
Draining her glass and setting it back on the tray, she stood. "Well, I've only got an hour or so left and then we can take the plants to the village. I'm so glad you brought that old anti-grav wagon back with you. Not so many exhausting, repeat trips to the village."
Standing, Chakotay pulled Kathryn into his arms. "I'm glad, too. Ooph! That young man has quite a kick."
She laughed. "You're telling me? I have to put up with this at night, too. He doesn't like to be crowded."
"That's just too bad, because I want to thoroughly kiss his mother, and he'll just get a little crowded while I do it." His voice was low and sultry. Chakotay drew her even closer and lowered his lips to hers. As desire swept through him, he couldn't help but be thankful for his wife, and how forgiveness had brought them together again.