More Than This NC17

A post Endgame saga. Homecoming for the command team is not what they expected. Through danger and disaster they have to find their way back to one another. Eleven chapters.

 

Rated NC17

Disclaimer: CBS/Paramount owns everything. No infringement intended.

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Chapter One.

 

“Admiral? There is a gentleman here to see you. Will you see him now or would you like him to make an appointment?”

Admiral Kathryn Janeway jumped as the light flashed on her intercom. She’d been deeply engrossed in her work and the sound of her secretary’s voice had startled her.

What the hell was the time? Glancing at the chronometer, she heaved a sigh. 1800. Home time.

Home. The word echoed forlornly in her mind.

She dreaded it almost more than work. Home had become a lonely place where memories and regrets crowded around her like hungry dogs.

She sighed. ‘A gentleman’? She hoped he would be more interesting than the reports that she’d been ploughing through for the last four hours.

“Send him in, Anna, and could you bring me a fresh pot of coffee when you get a chance. Thank you.”

“Certainly, Admiral. It’s on its way.”

There was a single knock on her door. “Come.”

She looked up to see who her late caller was. Her breath jagged, and she was caught in an uncomfortable place between despair and anger. It was a momentary lapse and she recovered well. With her mask in place, she stood up, and gracefully extended her hand as she walked around her desk to greet him.

“Chakotay! This is a surprise. How are you?”

He gave her hand a perfunctory shake. “Hello, Admiral. I’ve been better. You?”

“I’m fine. What’s the problem and how can I help?” The formality of this exchange was irking her already, but he seemed intent on maintaining this distance. As she walked back around her desk, he growled at her accusingly.

“Where is she? Where’s Annika?”

She turned and looked at him, confused. “What? Annika? I have no idea. Why would you think I’d know where she is?” Turning away again she muttered under her breath. “She’s your girlfriend.”

“I beg your pardon?” He moved towards her. His anger was a living thing. It had been his constant companion since they’d arrived back in the Alpha Quadrant, and just at the moment Kathryn Janeway seemed a worthy recipient of his wrath.

She regretted her petulant response almost immediately. “Nothing, nothing, just reminding myself of something.” Taking a deep breath, she searched for that elusive inner calm. All she found was fatigue and resignation.

“Chakotay, I don’t know where she is, but we should contact Security. How long has she been missing?” She was exhausted. Worn out. When would her responsibility to the crew end. God, she was so damned tired.

She’d seen Seven on Wednesday for their weekly luncheon but the young Borg hadn’t mentioned anything about going away, which in itself was worrying.

Chakotay was very agitated and was pacing back and forth in front of her desk. “She’s been gone since yesterday afternoon.” He gave a derisive snort. “And no, thank you. The last thing I need is Starfleet involved.”

Her hackles rose at his snide attitude and she crossed her arms and frowned, biting back an angry retort. Why in God’s name was he here if he didn’t want Starfleet involved?

He continued, unaware of her ire. “I’ve been away for the last few days and when I arrived back this evening she was gone. What did she say to you on Wednesday? She must have said something.” He looked a bit feverish. She realised he must be very worried about Seven, and admonished herself for being so unsympathetic. He loved Seven, and she could imagine how he felt. If someone she loved had disappeared from her life….. her arms dropped to her side and turning her head, she swallowed her anguish.

She blinked slowly. “Are you sure she’s not at her Aunt’s? We can contact Irene from here if you like?”

“No. That was the first place I tried. Irene hasn’t heard from her either. Damn it, where the hell is she?”

He swung around, slammed his hand down on Kathryn’s desk and demanded angrily. “What the hell did you say to her, Kathryn? She wouldn’t just leave like that. You must have said something?”

Kathryn straightened and glared at him. How dare he accuse her of something like that? Taking a deep breath she was about to tell him exactly what she thought of his accusation when the intercom beeped. She let the breath out slowly. “Yes, Anna.”

“Admiral, is everything alright?”

“Yes, Anna. Everything’s fine. Is that coffee ready yet?”

“Yes, Admiral. I’ve got it right here.” The door opened and Kathryn’s secretary, Anna Watkins, walked in warily, and placed the tray on the desk.

“Thank you. That will be all.”

“Yes, Admiral. If you’re sure you don’t need me for anything else?” Anna was extremely uncomfortable. The Admiral and the dark haired man with the tattoo were locked in a heated stare. The anger in the room was palpable and she wasn’t sure if she should leave them alone.

“No, that will be all, Anna. Have a nice weekend.” Anna backed slowly out of the room. Kathryn was aware of the young woman’s worried look as she turned and left.

Kathryn willed herself to relax and slid her eyes away from Chakotay’s challenging glare. “Why don’t you take a seat, Chakotay? We’ll think this through logically and I’m sure we’ll figure out where she is.” He sat on the couch under the window, while Kathryn moved to the desk and poured them both a cup of coffee. “Here, have this. It will make you feel better.” She handed him a cup and took a seat at the other end of the couch. She cradled her mug in both hands. It was the only way she could keep them steady.

“Did you check for a message or note? Did she leave anything that might give you an idea of where she’s gone?” She took a sip of her coffee and watched his face over the rim of her cup.

“No, there was nothing. She took all her clothes and belongings and just left the few things that I’d given her. I’m worried about her. She has never felt at home here on Earth and I don’t like the thought of her being out there alone.”

Kathryn sipped her drink slowly. So she wasn’t ‘missing’. She’d left him. This threw a whole new light on the situation.

Kathryn stood up and moved towards her desk. “Does she have any other friends or relatives that she could have gone to? Sev…Annika would have arranged something. I’m sure she wouldn’t have left without some sort of plan. She’s an organised person, and not prone to being impulsive.”

“That’s for sure.” Chakotay failed to keep the rancour from his voice, and Kathryn picked up on the bitter note. She sat down behind her desk and let it act as a buffer between herself and the agitated man in front of her.

“Perhaps you’d best tell me what has happened, Chakotay. Did you have a disagreement?” The relationship between her ex First Officer and the young drone had been fraught with problems right from the outset. Seven – she still couldn’t think of her as Annika – had kept in touch and they’d had a regular lunch date each week, and although Seven had never spoken openly of her relationship with Chakotay, Kathryn had been aware that all was not perfect in paradise. Seven had been discontented and restless ever since her arrival in the Alpha Quadrant. Kathryn had tried to help her in her transition, but it was difficult. Chakotay resented her involvement and she was torn.

Chakotay sighed loudly. “We had an argument, well not really an argument, more of a difference of opinion. It’s difficult to argue with someone who never gets angry or upset.” That bitter note was still evident in his voice.

“What did you disagree about?” She groaned inwardly. This was the last thing she needed. She hadn’t seen Chakotay in months, not since the end of the debriefings, and now she was sitting here being his agony aunt. He’d made a point of avoiding her in the months since Voyager’s return and she was surprised that he was here. So much so that she was having a hard time keeping the note of resentment from creeping into her voice, but she kept reminding herself that he was her friend, well, he had been, and she still cared. Deeply.

“We didn’t really disagree about anything. I asked her to come with me to a conference on Mars, and she didn’t want to go. I confronted her as to why, she said she just didn’t want to take time away from work and to go off planet at that time. That was it.”

“But you were disappointed that she didn’t want to go?” For someone who was supposedly so in tune with other people’s feelings, he seemed to be oblivious to Seven’s insecurities. Maybe it was true that love was blind. Blind to all sorts of things.

“Of course I was disappointed.” His voice became louder again. “I thought it would be an opportunity for us to get away and have some time to ourselves, away from the pressures of Earth, her job…. and other things.”

Kathryn was getting a bad feeling about this. “What other things, Chakotay?”

He looked at her with barely disguised animosity. “She didn’t want to leave Earth and be so far away from you. Alright? Your weekly lunch was the only thing that she looked forward to. She seemed to live from Wednesday to Wednesday. The rest of her life, including me, was ‘irrelevant’.” Jumping to his feet he began pacing again. He was angry, very angry. His chest was heaving and his hands were flailing.

She didn’t understand his anger. It wasn’t her fault that his and Seven’s relationship wasn’t working but she tried to reason with him. “Chakotay, Seven and I have always been close. To be honest I looked forward to our lunches as well. I hope you didn’t expect her to cut ties with me just because you were together? Besides, I see many of the crew. I enjoy catching up with them. I wouldn’t think you’d have a problem with it.”

He turned suddenly and glared at her. “Problem with it? No. Why would I have a problem with the fact that the only time my girlfriend was happy was when she was with you?” She was startled by his bitter sarcasm, but totally unprepared for the venomous barrage that followed.

Something seemed to snap within him and he planted his hands on her desk, his eyes were black with rage. He bellowed into her face

“Spirits, Kathryn, can’t you ever leave me alone? You’re damn well everywhere. Seven, B’Elanna, Tom, Harry, everyone… ‘Kathryn this’, ‘the Admiral that’. Will I ever be free of you? Will you ever leave me in peace? I just want you to get the hell out of my life!”

Kathryn was stricken.

He hated her.

She’d had no idea. His resentment was a living thing. His bitter words, a lethal weapon.

What was left of her withered heart shattered into a million tiny shards and they tumbled downward, piercing every part of her as they fell. The internal pain was intense, and she could barely breathe. But she was determined to retain her composure and not let him see what he’d done. He couldn’t know that with those words he’d finally killed what little was left of Kathryn. Something must have shown in her eyes though, because a look of horror passed over his face and with his hand extended he made a move towards her. She gritted her teeth, stood up abruptly and moved away.

Before the full impact of his words could take hold, she turned and spoke to him in a frigid voice completely devoid of emotion. She didn’t really think about what she was saying, but it was something along the lines of an apology for causing him so much trouble, and that she would be sure not to impose herself upon him anymore. If she heard from Seven she would inform B’Elanna, who in turn would inform him. She thanked him to not ever contact her again, then picking up her bag and jacket, she left the room.

He was left standing there, staring at her retreating back.

She made it to the transporter room and climbing up on the pad, nodded to the operator. In a shimmer she was home. She stood for a moment on the platform, took two steps and then her whole world came crashing down around her. Crumpling to the floor she let out an agonised groan and curled up on her side. She clutched her bag to her middle, pressing the leather satchel into her stomach in a vain attempt to stem the flow of her hopes and dreams as they haemorrhaged from her. How long she lay there, she had no idea, but slowly reality seeped into her tortured mind and dragging herself up from the floor she staggered to her desk and sat staring at the blank computer screen.

There was no feeling. Her mind and body were completely numb. She’d had no idea that he hated her so much. Once his affair with Seven had begun, he’d pulled away from her, slowly but surely extricating himself from her life. This she understood to an extent. Their relationship had been an intense and complex one and if he wanted his new relationship with Seven to flourish, he needed to devote his energies to her. Kathryn however had thought that they could at least remain friends, but it appeared that wasn’t to be.

This was the last straw in the horror that had been her homecoming. The debriefings had been a nightmare. Very few were aware of what had occurred. Starfleet had been determined to imprison the Maquis and Equinox crew, she’d pleaded, begged, cajoled, threatened and finally she’d had to offer herself as collateral to ensure their freedom. Starfleet now had her on unlimited tenure for as long as they saw fit or deemed necessary. She was obligated to do whatever she was bid and had absolutely no control over what assignments she was given. Under the direct orders of the malicious and antagonistic Admiral D’Aalesq, she was no more than a glorified slave. So far they’d been true to their word, and she’d been the recipient of every tedious, boring, and unpleasant task that they could find. This last week had been spent analysing gaseous anomalies, something a second year cadet could have done. But for appearances sake they had to have the ‘illustrious’ Kathryn Janeway in an Admiral’s chair, even if it was no more than a sham.

Tom and B’Elanna knew. They’d hovered close and had kept a careful eye on her since the end of the debriefings. Owen, she was sure, had told them. He’d been her staunch advocate and supporter during the debriefings, but he was only one Admiral amongst many, and most of the others had been baying for blood. D’Aalesq had been the leader of this pack of rabid pursuers of ‘justice’.

She heaved a shaky sigh. It was time to move on again, although she wasn’t sure she had the stamina this time. The years in the Delta Quadrant and her battles here at home had whittled away at her strength and she wasn’t sure if she had enough in reserve to overcome this. At this point she was almost beyond caring.

Gathering the remnants of her damaged soul around her, she picked up her things and took them to her bedroom. She hauled an overnight bag down from the shelf and threw some clothes together. On her way back through the living room she stopped at the comm. and contacted her mother. Gretchen Janeway’s smiling face appeared on the screen. She was delighted to see her daughter. “Kathryn, how are you, dear?”

“I’m fine, Mom, but I’m going out of town for the weekend.” Gretchen’s disappointment was obvious, but Kathryn just couldn’t face them at the moment. “I’m sorry, but it’s unavoidable. Give my love to Phoebe and the family and I’ll try to catch up with them soon.”

Kathryn’s mother was an astute reader of her daughter’s moods and immediately knew that something was very wrong. She frowned worriedly. “Kathryn, what’s the matter? What’s happened?” Kathryn’s eyes flashed with something like panic, but Gretchen persisted. “I think you should come home, dear. We can sort it out from here, whatever it is. Please come home, Kathryn. I’m worried about you.”

Kathryn gripped her fists tight, her nails digging into her palms until they drew blood. She couldn’t let her mother see how distraught she was. All the worry over the years and the continuing troubles since she’d arrived home had been hard on her family, and Gretchen had borne the brunt. There was nothing her mother could do for her. This was one problem she had to sort out for herself. Once she’d found some way to live with this loss and the gaping hole that had been her heart, she would talk to her, but she didn’t have the emotional wherewithal just at this moment. She needed to go hide and tend her wounds.

“I can’t, Mom. I can’t come home. I’ll be fine, I promise. I’ll call on Monday when I’m back at work. OK?” Gretchen watched her warily.

“Alright Kathryn, but you contact me if there’s anything. Do you hear me? Anything that you need to talk about, or if you just need someone. OK?”

“OK Mom, and thank you. I love you.” She broke the connection before she broke down.

It was only then that she noticed the message received light was flashing on her console. She prayed it wasn’t Chakotay. At the moment she had no desire to even see his face. She checked the time the message was sent. 14:09. That was early this afternoon, long before her confrontation with Chakotay. She pressed the play button. It was Seven. Her beautiful face was impassive as always but Kathryn noticed a small frown marred her perfect features.

“Admiral…. Kathryn….” She smiled slightly “By the time you receive this message I will already be on a deep space vessel travelling towards the Beta Quadrant. Starfleet has received telemetry from what they believe to be a Borg Transwarp Hub deep within that quadrant. They’ve requested my inclusion on this mission and I was pleased to comply.” She frowned again. “Although I have tried, I have found that I am not suited to life on Earth. I have been uncomfortable and ill at ease for the majority of my time here, and on this mission at least, my expertise will be of use. On Earth I am considered an oddity and in many cases treated as a pariah. I found living in the limited collective of Voyager difficult enough, but here, where I am surrounded by thousands, my life has become intolerable. I do not expect to be back in the Alpha Quadrant for some years.”

She took an unsteady breath. “I am asking you to please try and understand and perhaps explain to Chakotay my reasons for leaving.” She looked down for a moment and then back at the screen. “I don’t know how to adequately explain to him the need I have to do this. But I have to follow what I know to be the correct path for me. In many ways our relationship was doomed from the very beginning. It happened almost by accident and for all the wrong reasons. I know I should apologise but although he has tried, he has never really understood me.” She gave a gentle smile. “But you always have, and I will miss your friendship and guidance. You have been the greatest influence in my life and I will greatly miss your counsel. I have a deep affection for you. You are the mother I never had and I hope you will wish me well. Tell Chakotay that I appreciate the time we have spent together and I hope we may all meet again one day. Goodbye Kathryn, and thank you.” Seven moved to cut the connection and then changed her mind. She looked back up at the screen and directly into Kathryn’s eyes. The piercing cool blue eyes looked into her very soul. “He never loved me, Kathryn. Not as he loves you. I could never take your place in his heart, and I could never make him happy. Let him love you and live the life you both deserve.” Seven lifted her hand and gently touched the screen. Kathryn lifted her hand and touched….. the cold glass panel. She reeled back and without turning off the console, she stepped up to the transporter pad, quickly keying in the co-ordinates and beamed away from the heartache.

If only Seven knew.

Chapter Two

Chakotay strode away from Kathryn’s front door. He’d gone there directly from her office to try and apologise and make amends for what he’d said. She wasn’t there and now he didn’t know where to look. Anger was still dogging him but it was now directed inwards. He’d been in a constant state of stress and simmering rage ever since his arrival back on Earth. The serene life he’d envisaged with Annika had never eventuated. They were mismatched and had very little in common. He’d been determined to make it work, but the despondency had eaten away at him.

Now Annika was gone. The miserable life that they’d been leading had finally driven her away. It hurt deeply. He’d failed again. His life seemed to consist of one failure after another, but what had caused his anger to erupt had been the unpleasant realization that he wasn’t sorry she was gone. When he’d arrived back from his conference to find all her belongings gone, his initial reaction had been one of enormous relief. He wouldn’t have to pretend anymore. Then the anger had seized him. Anger at Annika for abandoning him. Anger at the world for not allowing him even the smallest amount of peace and contentment. And anger at Kathryn for all manner of things. He saw her as being at the centre of most of his troubles. Everywhere he turned there were constant reminders of her and she seemed to be foremost in everyone’s minds. His disquiet unsettled him, and he was at a loss to understand why thoughts of her upset him so, but she was the last person to have seen Annika at that Goddamned Wednesday luncheon, and in his mind she was responsible. So without much forethought, he’d marched up to her office to confront her, and find out what she’d said or done to drive Annika away from him.

There he’d found her sitting behind her big desk looking serene and in control. Her world had fallen into place as his had fallen apart, and he couldn’t contain his anger. He’d tried to, but the bitterness had burst forth and the damaging words had fallen from his lips before he could stop them. He was still filled with resentment, but added to that now, was the grinding fist of sorrow and dread that he had hurt Kathryn very deeply and maybe irreparably.

Spirits, what had he done, and where the hell were they? Now he had lost the two most important women in his life and he had no idea where to even look. He needed help.

B’Elanna and Tom!

They would know where to find Kathryn, he was sure. He found a transport station and beamed to their house. It was late evening when he knocked on their door. Tom answered.

“Chakotay. This is a surprise.” He pulled Chakotay into the house and called to B’Elanna. “Hey B’E, look who the cat dragged in.”

B’Elanna walked out of the living area with Miral on her hip, the picture of contented domesticity. Jealousy added itself to Chakotay’s emotional quagmire. “Chakotay, come in, come in. It’s so good to see you.” She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and looked over his shoulder. “Where’s Seven?”

The anger bubbled and foamed. “I don’t know.”

Tom and B’Elanna looked at one another. She handed the baby to Tom.

“Let’s go into the living room and have a cup of tea and you can tell me what happened.” She took his arm and led him into a room off the hall. She ordered two teas from the replicator and handed one to Chakotay. “Come and sit down and start at the beginning.”

He took a seat opposite her on an overstuffed sofa. The beginning? Around seven and a half years ago would be the beginning, but that was too complex. Even he didn’t understand it, let alone know how to explain it to someone else. “Annika has gone. She left me, but I don’t know where she’s gone.”

B’Elanna didn’t seem the least bit surprised. His anger spiked again. Was everyone aware of how unsatisfactory his relationship had been? Fuck!

B’Elanna reached out and took his hand. “She didn’t leave a note?” He shook his head. “Well, we should call Kathryn. She might know where she is. They’re very close, and I can’t imagine Seven would leave without telling her where she was going.” Chakotay snatched his hand away and put his tea on the table. Kathryn again. Was there no end to it?

“I’ve already been to headquarters to see her. She doesn’t know where Annika is.”

“Oh. Did she have any idea why she left?”

Chakotay got up and started pacing again. “No, she was no help. She saw her on Wednesday for their lunch, but apparently nothing was mentioned.”

“Apparently? Do you think she knows where she is and isn’t telling you? That doesn’t sound like Kathryn.” B’Elanna was getting worried. Chakotay was unnaturally agitated and wouldn’t quite meet her eyes. Something had happened and he wasn’t telling her everything.

“I don’t know what the hell Kathryn knows. Obviously more than me. She saw more of Annika than I did.”

“Hey, calm down. Let’s give Kathryn a call anyway. She might have heard something tonight.” B’Elanna went to get up.

“Don’t bother. She’s not home. I just came from there.”

B’Elanna gave him a puzzled frown. “But I thought you saw her at headquarters.”

“I did, but she left in a hurry and I went to find her.” He took a breath. “To apologise.”

“What! What the hell did you do, Chakotay? Please tell me you didn’t blame her for Seven leaving?” B’Elanna’s heart raced. Kathryn had been through so much over the last few months, not to mention the seven years before that. B’Elanna knew Kathryn had been upset about her estrangement from Chakotay, but she’d been willing to overlook it, if he was happy. But he wasn’t. Far from it, and neither was Seven by the look of things.

Chakotay was getting more and more agitated and the anger was bubbling to the surface again. Here they were worrying about Kathryn again.

B’Elanna was watching Chakotay. She shook her head and looked at him with worried eyes. Something bad had happened. She just knew it.

“Don’t look at me like that, B’Elanna. You have no idea what went on, so don’t you dare judge.”

B’Elanna was getting irked now. “Well, you tell me, and then we’ll decide, shall we?” Kahless, where did he get off being so angry with her? “Kathryn would do anything for you and Seven, you know that. She cares very deeply for you both. You’ve no idea what she’s been through since we got home.”

He snorted. “She’s an Admiral in Starfleet, doing exactly what she always wanted. Just as she always has.” B’Elanna had had just about enough.

“You have no idea, you…you…” She took a deep breath. “You’re only standing here a free man because of her. She fought like a demon for us when we got home, and in the end, she sacrificed herself, just so you, and I, and all the Maquis could go free. So don’t you dare tell me how good she’s got it? Kathryn is the only reason you’re here and not in some Federation prison. She’s the one in prison, and she will be for a long time to come. Kathryn gave her life for us….. again.”

That strange snapping thing happened again and he couldn’t control his outburst. “Kathryn, Kathryn, always fucking Kathryn. I’m so sick of hearing her name and I told her so tonight.”

B’Elanna looked at him aghast. “Tell me you didn’t. Please tell me you didn’t hurt her.”

“Hurt her? You can’t hurt Kathryn Janeway. She’s impervious.” His emotions were so intense he was shaking. Chaos reigned. He was caught in a maelstrom of confused guilt, anger, and yearning, and all these emotions were swirling around in a noxious mess in his heart. All he could think to do was lash out. He reared up in front of B’Elanna and bellowed in her face. “Do you really want to know what I said? Do you?” B’Elanna nodded slowly and held his gaze steadily as he roared at her. “I told her that I wanted her to leave me alone. To get out of my life. I just want some peace, for Spirits sake, and for her to get out of my heart and leave me the hell alone.”

B’Elanna was speechless and absolutely livid, and before she could stop herself she hauled her arm back and slapped him hard across the face.

They both stood in shocked silence, staring at one another. Tears formed in Chakotay’s eyes. His voice was barely a whisper. “I hurt her, B’Elanna. I hurt her terribly and I can’t find her. What am I going to do? I’ve lost them both. I don’t know what to do.” She stepped forward and pulled him into her arms. All the anger drained away. He was completely gutted and truly afraid that he had destroyed the most important relationship of his life. He had to find Kathryn and Annika and try and fix what he’d broken.

Tom had been listening from outside the room. He’d wanted to be on hand if things got out of control and he gauged that now was a good time to enter the fray.

B’Elanna pulled away from Chakotay. He wiped his eyes and sat back down on the couch. His life was a disaster and he was wreaking havoc wherever he went. He took some deep breaths to try and find some calm.

Then B’Elanna’s words hit home, and he looked up anxiously. “What did you mean about Kathryn and prison?” B’Elanna turned to Tom.

“You explain it to him, Tom. I’m going to try Kathryn’s house.” She walked out of the room. This was bad. This was very bad, and she was very worried about Kathryn. It was the last thing she needed. She was fragile enough as it was, and this spelled real trouble.

“You have no idea, do you?” Tom looked at the weary and troubled face of his former commander. Chakotay shook his head.

Tom let out a sigh and sitting back with Miral on his lap, proceeded to tell Chakotay of the nightmare that had been Kathryn’s life since their return.

“When we arrived back, most of the Admiralty were determined to imprison the ex Maquis and the Equinox crew. They were still stinging over the Dominion war, so they wanted to show a strong and controlling hand. Voyager’s arrival gave them the perfect distraction from the fallout of the war. Kathryn threw herself on the grenade for all of us.” Chakotay looked at Tom with a puzzled frown. Grenade?

“She took the fall for all of us, Chakotay, to save us all from prison. She’s an Admiral in name only, and has no control over her career. She handed over her commission and Starfleet have total discretion over what happens to her. Every trifling, tedious and dangerous task has been given to her since she took up her position. She has no autonomy at all and if she complains or doesn’t do as she is ordered, they have threatened to throw us all in jail. She did it again. Sacrificed herself for all of us and wouldn’t even let us tell anyone. Dad has been fighting for her behind the scenes, but it’s been difficult. Because of the war, many of the old guard are gone and the power base has changed. He fears for her and I wouldn’t put it past them to give her some kamikaze mission to rid themselves of her.” He watched Chakotay’s reaction. He didn’t look good.

Chakotay felt the blood drain from his face. God, what had he done? He felt sick. Leaning forward he ran his hands through his hair. He had to find her. He had to find her now!

B’Elanna came back into the room. She and Tom exchanged a meaningful look. “I can’t get through to her at home but it looks like her comm. is still active, so she might be there. We should go and check.” She looked worriedly at Tom. “I have her codes so we can get inside if we need to.”

Chakotay stood and headed for the door. Now fear stabbed at his heart.

Tom followed them to the landing. “Give me a call when you know something.”

Chakotay and B’Elanna arrived at Kathryn’s house, but after ringing the chime a few times it was obvious no-one was home. B’Elanna keyed in the code and they entered the darkened house. “Computer lights.”

Chakotay looked around quickly. “Kathryn!” He bounded up the stairs and checked all the rooms. They were empty. He met B’Elanna at the bottom of the stairs and followed her into the living room. Slowly he looked around the room. It was very Kathryn and he could even smell her scent. There was the grandfather clock from her quarters and several items from her ready room. What did surprise him was that one of his sand paintings was hanging pride of place over the fireplace, and his heart ached with the thought of what he’d done.

“Chakotay.” He turned to B’Elanna. “Come and take a look to this.” Seven’s face was frozen on the comm screen, her hand touching the screen.

They replayed her message. They now knew where Annika was but her final words were like a jagged knife to his heart. What she had said was so heart wrenchingly true. He did love Kathryn, he always had, but he’d ignored the feelings for so long that they had become lost and mired in duty and the burdens of their commitment to the crew and the mission. It had taken this to make him realise that the anger that had ruled his life since his arrival home, had more to do with his estrangement from Kathryn than from anything else. How could he have forgotten that it was Kathryn who brought him peace? She’d been mindful not to impinge upon his relationship with Seven, and he’d just abandoned her. She’d fought for them and sacrificed herself for them again – just as she had for all those years in the Delta Quadrant. His heart broke again. What he’d said…… A cold hand gripped his heart.

B’Elanna went upstairs to check the bedroom again, and to give Chakotay a few moments alone.

There were a few clothes thrown haphazardly on the bed and her cupboard was open. It looked like she had packed and left in a hurry. But where had she gone?

B’Elanna returned to the living room to hear the last few words of Seven’s message. Chakotay had replayed it and was sitting in front of the console looking very distressed.

His tearful eyes met B’Elanna’s.

There really wasn’t anything much either of them could say. He rubbed his hands over his face. There had to be some way to fix this. He couldn’t understand what had happened to him to make him behave as he had, but he knew he had to find her, repair the damage and tell her the truth. She deserved that at least. She probably wouldn’t want to have anything to do with him now, but he owed her that much. It was important for her to know that he did love her and had done so since those first few tumultuous months in the Delta Quadrant all those years ago.

“Where would she go, B’Elanna? Can you think of anywhere? I have to find her.” He felt terrible. His whole world had come crashing down around him. In one night, because of his own stupidity, he’d lost everything.

The comm. chimed. Chakotay answered it in hope that it would be Kathryn. It was Gretchen Janeway.

“Mr Chakotay, Tom said that you and B’Elanna were at Kathryn’s. Have you heard from her? I’m very worried about her. She contacted me about an hour ago saying she was going away for the weekend. She wasn’t herself, but she wouldn’t tell me what had happened. Do either of you know anything? There’s something very wrong. I just know it.” Her voice hitched a little. “I need to find her. B’Elanna?”

B’Elanna spoke over Chakotay’s shoulder. “Gretchen, we’re concerned too. That’s why we’re here. Do you have any idea where she may have gone?” Chakotay moved from the chair and let B’Elanna sit down. His guilt made it difficult to face Mrs Janeway, and B’Elanna obviously knew her well. He wandered over to the transporter platform and checked the log. The last time it had been used was a little under an hour before they’d arrived, but the location had been deleted. Perhaps B’Elanna would be able to retrieve the information. He moved behind her and placed his hand on her shoulder to get her attention. B’Elanna excused herself to Gretchen and turned to him.

“The transporter was used about 50 minutes ago, but the logs have been deleted. Do you think you might be able to retrieve the information?”

“I’ll give it a try.” B’Elanna turned back to the screen. “Gretchen, we’ll get back to you when we know something. If you can think of anywhere she might have gone, we’ll be here for a while, or you can contact Tom.”

“Thank you, dear. I’ll be in touch.” The worried face of Kathryn’s mother faded from the screen.

“Let’s have a look at those logs.” B’Elanna moved to the transporter console and began tapping buttons and muttering under her breath.

“Ghuy’cha’! She has the damned thing encrypted. This may take a while.” She looked up at Chakotay. He nodded and sat at the comm. console to check Kathryn’s communication logs to see if there were any clues amongst them.

B’Elanna wasn’t having much luck with the encrypted logs. So far she’d narrowed it down to somewhere on the east coast of the North American continent, but that was as close as she could get. She slammed her hand down on the console. Her patience worn very thin.

“That’s it. I can’t narrow it down anymore than that. Perhaps Gretchen will have some idea of where she might have gone in that part of the world. I’ll give her a call.”

She put through the call and Gretchen answered almost immediately. “Any luck, B’Elanna? I haven’t heard anything from this end. I contacted the transport station at Lake George, hoping she may have gone there, but they haven’t seen her.”

“I wish I had better news, Gretchen, but the closest we can get to her whereabouts is somewhere in the east of North America. Do you know of anywhere or anyone that she may have gone to in that part of the country?”

Gretchen shook her head and frowned. “No dear, I have no idea. I’m very worried. She’s been trying so hard to keep everything together, but I know my daughter and she’s vulnerable and fragile at the moment and something dreadful must have happened to scare her off like this.”

Chakotay moved into view of the screen. “It’s my fault, Mrs Janeway. I said some things to her this evening that were … harsh and uncalled for, and I’m afraid I hurt her very deeply. I’m entirely responsible. I’m so sorry. I promise I’ll do everything in my power to find her and bring her home to you.”

Gretchen’s eyes narrowed as she looked at the man who had hurt her child. The man Kathryn loved. Gretchen knew that much. Kathryn had been quite open with her about her feelings of loss and betrayal and her heartbreak at finding out that he was with Seven of Nine. Kathryn loved them both and truly wished them well, but her heart had been broken and would take time to heal.

Gretchen studied the handsome man before her. She could see the anguish in his eyes. He and Kathryn were a pair. Both of them were still trying to come to terms with the emotional impact of their seven year odyssey, and neither were coping very well. The means to their salvation was right in front of them. Each other. But foolishly they had been avoiding the one thing that would make them whole again. Their love for one another. “We always hurt worst those we love best, don’t we, Mr Chakotay?”

He looked into those wise eyes, so like Kathryn’s and could do nothing to stop the tears. He nodded his head. “Yes, I’m so sorry. I do love Kathryn. I always have, and I’ll find her, I promise.”

“Please. She needs to come home. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her again.” Gretchen pleaded.

“We won’t stop until we find her, Gretchen. I promise.” B’Elanna gave Gretchen an encouraging smile and signed off.

“Where to now, Chakotay? Was there anything in Kathryn’s comm. logs?”

He shook his head and wiped his eyes. “No, nothing. Nearly all were work related. Most of the personal ones were to you and Tom, or Annika. There were a couple from Mark Johnson, her ex-fiancé. I think I should give him a call. You never know, she may have contacted him. They’ve been good friends for most of their lives. He’s married now, but I’m sure he would want to help if he’s the kind of man Kathryn described him to be.”

“Fine. Have you got his address?” Chakotay nodded, taking one last look around. B’Elanna took his arm. “Then let’s go home. There’s nothing else we can do here.”

“Computer lights out.” They left Kathryn’s house with heavy hearts and troubled minds.

************************************************

Kathryn had materialised at an unmanned transport station not far from a remote cabin where she and Mark had holidayed many years before. It was in the Forillon National Park in Quebec, and as far away from civilization that she could think of at such short notice. She’d contacted the agents from the transport station and they’d been more than happy for her to stay the weekend, giving her the access codes without hesitation. No-one would find her here. The quiet and solitude would give her a chance to think about what she was going to do with her life. She was tied to Starfleet but perhaps they could give her a posting away from Earth and she could remove herself from the constant reminders of all she had lost. Once at the cabin she would contact D’Aalesq and put in a request for an off world posting, taking her chances with whatever they could find for her. Anything would have to be better than living her life in fear of running into Chakotay and being reminded of his resentment and loathing.

She picked up her bag and traipsed up the hill towards the cabin, some two kilometres distance. It was late evening but the moon was full and lit her way.

She arrived at the remote cabin and keyed in the access code. The door swung open and she entered the rustic cottage. It hadn’t changed much in the ten years since she’d been here last, but how her life had changed in those ten years. Everything had seemed so simple then. Living and loving and working. All had fallen into place for her. She’d been blessed, but it hadn’t lasted. Nothing ever seemed to last. The good and finer things in life seemed to be snatched away from her at alarmingly regular intervals. She knew she had herself to blame for many of her misfortunes, but fate had played a dirty hand as well, and she was so tired, so utterly exhausted from trying to keep her head above water in this nightmare that had become her life.

She thought back ten years to when she and Mark had come here. At the time she had been a Commander on the Al-Batani under the mentorship of Owen Paris. She’d been content. Mark was a good man and he loved her. She could see herself growing old with him, their family around them, their careers successful and their home lives equally so. She’d planned on having it all, but it had been snatched away again, just like her dreams of a life with Justin had been, ten years before that. Now it had happened again.

The Caretaker and the Delta Quadrant had been the thieves that had stolen her chance of happiness with Mark, and now the Alpha Quadrant had stolen her chance of a happy life away from her again. Her career was in a shambles and Chakotay was gone from her life, and many of her dreams had gone with him. She was on shaky ground and not entirely sure that she could recover from this blow. If she had her time over again, would she change the decisions she had made in the Delta Quadrant? Probably not. She knew herself well enough to know that to have had a relationship with Chakotay while in command went so against all she had been taught that she would have been torn. The idea of trying to balance command and a personal life would have been too difficult, especially in their situation. The crew and the job at hand had needed her total commitment. Chakotay was enough of a distraction as it was. If they had been lovers….. She didn’t even want to think about that. It was far too painful.

She dropped her bag on the bed and turned on the heating. Grabbing a quick cup of coffee from the replicator, she put in a call to Headquarters.

Admiral D’Aalesq’s harsh face appeared on the screen. “Admiral Janeway, this is a pleasant surprise. What can I do for you?” The Andorian woman’s face expressed anything but pleasure. Kathryn ignored the blatant animosity and spoke in measured tones.

“Admiral D’Aalesq, it is a pleasure to see you too. I intend to put in an application for an off-world appointment, if one can be found for me. I would like to leave Earth as soon as possible. I will send you written confirmation of my request but I decided the sooner you were aware of my plans the better. Are there any assignments available at the moment?”

D’Aalesq’s pale eyes seared into Kathryn’s as she assessed her. “Leave this with me, Janeway. I’ll see what I can do. This is a sudden change of heart. Any particular reason why you want to leave Earth so suddenly?”

Kathryn willed her face to remain impassive. “No, Admiral. Nothing in particular. I miss space, and I think I could be more useful doing something more proactive. I have sent the address where I can be contacted this weekend. Thank you for your time, Admiral.”

“I’ll be in touch, Janeway.” With that the link was closed.

Well, Kathryn thought, she’d done it. She wondered where she would finish up. Far enough away that she would be left in peace. Peace. It was something she hadn’t had for such a long time. The last time she’d felt truly peaceful was on that lush green planet thousands of lights years away. For six glorious weeks she had found peace. Peace with her angry warrior. Tears started to spill down her cheeks and she swiped at them angrily. If she was truly honest with herself, she only had herself to blame. She’d had her chance and frittered it away, letting it slip through her fingers like so many grains of sand. She willed herself to be calm and to try and accept what had happened. Besides, she didn’t want to think of these things now. There was no purpose to it. It was done with. Finished. She picked up her cooling coffee and moved out to the deck and looked up at the star filled sky. That was where she belonged. It beckoned and she would follow the call.

Chapter Three

Chakotay woke from a restless, dream filled sleep after having dozed off on B’Elanna’s couch late last night. He tried to straighten the kinks out of his neck, without much success. However, they were the least of his problems. They still hadn’t found Kathryn. It was now Tuesday and she’d vanished without a trace. He’d come close to panic yesterday when she hadn’t shown up for work, his mind taking him to places he didn’t want to go. Gretchen was just as frantic, and they’d been in constant contact since Friday night. He shook his head trying to clear the cobwebs.

His dreams had been filled with Kathryn. In some of them she’d been reaching out towards him, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get to her. The harder he tried to reach out and touch her, the further away she drifted. Then in others she was running away from him as fast as she could. She was crying and in pain and she wouldn’t let him go near her. Her eyes were wide with fear and despair and she kept asking ‘Why’. But he had no answer. He shuddered trying to rid himself of the feelings of dread. They were no help to anybody and he couldn’t afford to indulge in them just at the moment.

Chakotay thought back over the anguish of the last few days.

After they’d arrived back here late Friday night, they’d set about trying to narrow down the likely places she may have gone. After a sleepless night he’d risen early and gone over all the information they had. Frustrated with their lack of progress, he’d started pacing the length of the Paris’s living room and then he’d turned to B’Elanna. “I’m going to contact Mark Johnson. It’s the only thing I can think of. He just might have some idea of where she’s gone.” He grabbed the padd from the table and downloaded the number into the comm. After a few seconds the face of an attractive blonde woman appeared on the screen.

This must be Mark Johnson’s wife. Chakotay gave her a small smile. “Hello. Mrs Johnson?” She gave a nod. “My name is Chakotay. I was wondering if I could please speak to Mark Johnson if he’s there.”

She looked at him questioningly. “What was your name again?”

“Chakotay. I was Kathryn Janeway’s first officer on Voyager.” Her eyes opened wide with that information. “Is Mr Johnson home? It’s urgent that I speak with him. If he’s not there, perhaps you could tell me where I might find him?”

She shook her head. “No, he’s here. Just a moment, Mr Chakotay.” She stood up and left the room.

Less than a minute later a tall grey haired man appeared and sat down in front of the comm. He spent a moment sizing up Chakotay before he spoke.

“Mr Chakotay. It’s a pleasure to meet you. What can I do for you?”

“I’m sorry to disturb you, Mr Johnson, but we were wondering if you might be able to help us. Kathryn has disappeared and the only clue we have to her whereabouts is that she is somewhere on the east coast of North America. We were wondering if you might have an idea of where she may have gone.”

“She’s disappeared! What in God’s name happened? Shouldn’t Starfleet Security be handling this?” He looked worriedly at Chakotay.

Chakotay felt the now familiar stab of shame. “This wasn’t a Starfleet issue. We…… I had a disagreement with her and she was quite upset. We just don’t know where she’s gone and we’re very concerned.”

Mark studied the face of the man on his viewscreen. He was quite a striking looking fellow, with his tattoo and colouring. Kathryn had spoken of him many times in her communications. He was aware of their troubled and complicated relationship and this was one very worried man he was speaking to. “I see. Well, Mr Chakotay, off hand the only place that I can think of is New York. It was one of Kathryn’s favourite cities. We visited there quite often.” Chakotay’s shame was now tinged with jealousy. “I’ll think on it and if I remember anything else I’ll contact you immediately.” He looked candidly at Chakotay. “You know, you now belong to a very exclusive club.” Chakotay shot a look at the man on the screen. Mark Johnson gave Chakotay a cheerless smile. “The men who have loved Kathryn Janeway and broken her heart.” Chakotay reeled. It was a low blow, but a well deserved one. Mark didn’t expect an answer. “I hope you find her. She cares very deeply for you. She spoke of you often and with great affection.” He gave Chakotay a grim nod and closed the channel.

Chakotay sat for a moment as renewed senses of guilt and anguish washed over him.

New York. It would be impossible to find her there if she decided to lose herself amongst the population. Chakotay sat back and rubbed his hands over his face. His heart ached. Mark was right. She’d had her heart broken more times than was just and he felt a corresponding rupture in his own at the thought of her alone and unhappy because of his uncaring words.

The comm. chimed interrupting his thoughts. It was Mark Johnson again. “Mr Chakotay. I’ve just remembered something. We spent a long weekend at a cabin in the Forillon National Park. It must be over 10 years ago now. It’s in an isolated area on the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec. I have the name of the estate agent that leased us the cottage. That is the only other place I can think of, other than New York.”

Chakotay thanked him and then contacted the estate agent. Yes, Admiral Janeway had rented the cottage but had only stayed the night. According to the gentleman, she’d left already, but he was more than happy for them to come and have a look at the cottage.

Chakotay and Tom had beamed directly there and looked over the empty cabin. There was nothing there to indicate that Kathryn had even been there. It had been a dead end, and now two days later they were no closer to finding her.

He stood up and walked into the kitchen. B’Elanna had been up early and a pot of coffee was waiting on the stove. He poured himself a cup and grabbed a handful of cereal from the container on the bench. He lifted the cup to his mouth and a waft of coffee aroma hit him and with it came a wave of memories. It was a smell he would forever associate with her. Coffee and lilacs. He felt tears pricking at his eyes as he thought of her, alone somewhere, thinking that he hated her. It was almost too much to bear. He was tired, worn out and distraught. He stood at the window looking out at the backyard as tears tracked down his face. There was nothing he could do to atone for what he’d done. It had been beyond cruel and after all she’d been through… He hung his head.

On their return from the Delta Quadrant he’d been so caught up in his own little world, he’d barely spared a thought for Kathryn and her circumstances. Only seeing what he’d wanted to see. He should have known that the Maquis’ release and the sudden revocation of the charges had been too good to be true. He heaved a sigh and wiped his eyes. He couldn’t afford to indulge in ‘might have beens’. It was his own damn fault and he now had to put his energies towards finding her, apologising for his thoughtlessness and setting things to right. There was an edge of desperation creeping in to his thoughts and prayed to the spirits that she was alright.

The comm. chimed an incoming call. He and B’Elanna reached the console at the same time. She hit the receive button. It was Gretchen and she was obviously upset. Chakotay’s heart thudded in his chest. He could hardly breathe.

“Oh B’Elanna, Chakotay. She’s gone.” Chakotay felt the words like a gut punch. B’Elanna grabbed his arm. He was about to topple. B’Elanna’s face began to crumple, and Gretchen realised what she had said. “Oh God no. No. She’s not…. she’s gone. She’s left Earth. They’ve assigned her to Nolkana IV. It’s a three year posting and she won’t be back before then. She sent a subspace message this morning to have all her belongings transported to Deep Space 6. She didn’t even say goodbye.”

Chakotay was still reeling. The initial shock of thinking she was dead had almost killed him. Gretchen looked at him with steely eyes. “Chakotay, you have to go after her. Please. I have a very bad feeling about this. Do you know anything about Nolkana IV?” B’Elanna and Chakotay looked at each other and shook their heads.

Chakotay took a deep breath. “No, nothing, Gretchen, but we can find out. I’ll look into it straight away and see if I can book passage to follow her.”

He now had a purpose, thank the spirits. He could hear B’Elanna in the background reassuring Gretchen, while he quickly logged on to the computer and requested all information pertaining to Nolkana IV.

Nolkana IV was one in a system of nine planets in Sector 459. It was situated about two thirds of the way to the Romulan Neutral Zone. It was a planet of harsh extremes. Bitterly cold near the poles and excruciatingly hot closer to the Equator. What made it even more inhospitable was the ionised atmosphere that blanketed the planet. It shrouded the small world in a state of semi twilight and made extra-planetary communications almost impossible. The Federation was assisting the Nolkanans with the installation of an elaborate sensor grid around the planet with hopes of being able to amplify signals from the surface. This would allow for improved interplanetary communications and in turn allow their culture to become more open and diverse. Unfortunately the imposed isolation had nurtured a tendency for the Nolkanans to be xenophobic and intolerant. They were suspicious of outsiders and untrusting of non-Nolkanans. It would not be an easy assignment and once there it would be next to impossible to contact her.

Chakotay’s shoulders sagged. This was a lousy posting, probably one of the worst available. This was not good news. He downloaded the information and then walked back to where B’Elanna was sitting.

As he came into view of the screen, Gretchen spoke to him. “Chakotay, you bring her home safe to me, please. You go and get her, and when you find her, and I know you will, don’t let her slip through your fingers again. You tell her how you feel and don’t take no for an answer. She loves you. I know she does.” Gretchen was stoically holding back tears. She looked right into Chakotay’s eyes. “You bring my Kathryn home.” Chakotay nodded solemnly.

“I’ll bring her home to you. I promise.”

He gathered up the padds and said a quick good bye to B’Elanna and Tom and headed straight home. There was packing to be done and he had to organise transport to Deep Space Six. He hoped he could catch up to Kathryn before she left the Station.

Finding transport to Deep Space 6 hadn’t been as simple as he’d thought. Not being in Starfleet anymore meant he was limited to civilian transports and they were few and far between. He’d finally found passage on the Subytt freighter Ess’ash, which had left for the Station that following afternoon. It was basic but at least it had been heading in the right direction. There would be several stops, but he’d hoped to pick up a faster ride along the way. Tom and B’Elanna had promised to keep in contact with him and send through any updates they had on Kathryn’s progress. It was all they could really do. Admiral Paris was working hard to change the parameters of her appointment and from what Tom had said in his last communiqué there was a ground swell of support growing for Kathryn’s plight. Public opinion was the catalyst. Gretchen had broken with protocol and had begun a public campaign to highlight Kathryn’s poor treatment.

Voyager’s odyssey had captured the hearts and minds of the public and the thought that the brave and beautiful captain of the Starship Voyager was being treated unsympathetically by the Institution that she had fought so courageously to return to, was generating an enormous public outcry. Owen Paris was certain that it was only a matter of time before the Admiralty had to bow to pressure from the Federation Ruling Council and withdraw the provisos from Kathryn’s appointment. There would be no threat of imprisonment hanging over the heads of the Maquis or Equinox crew and she could be welcomed home in the manner she deserved. Chakotay cheered inwardly at Gretchen’s audacity to take on the big guns. He now knew where Kathryn had come by her strength of will and indomitable spirit. She was her mother’s daughter. He hoped by the time he caught up with Kathryn that he would have good news.

Chapter Four.

Kathryn had spent most of her two week trip to Deep Space 6 ensconced in her quarters on the USS Langton, a Sabre class vessel making its routine run to the Station. Her captain was Rufus Lorica, a newly minted commanding officer and someone who was a little in awe of the great Admiral Janeway. She’d seen very little of him or his crew on the journey. This suited her. She wasn’t much company anyway and certainly didn’t feel like making the effort to be sociable just at the moment. She was slowly becoming inured to the gaping wound that had been her heart and even though the numbness was still present, she could feel the hard mantle of acceptance settling around her.

Owen Paris had spoken to her but only briefly during her trip to Nolkana. She’d refused to speak of any personal matters and when he tried to broach the subject of Chakotay, she had tersely told him that she would only speak to him of things pertaining to Starfleet and her orders. There was very little else Owen could do. He could hardly order her to talk to him.

Chakotay had also tried to reach her, but she’d left instructions that all his communications were to be diverted. He’d been frustrated, but understood why she didn’t want to speak with him. He was having an equally difficult time living with what he’d done.

She’d kept herself busy reading all she could about her new home. The logs and reports from the current scientific team and the Starfleet records had given her an extensive overview of the culture and people of Nolkana IV. Their xenophobic and isolationist attitudes were well documented. They were also renowned for their insular and pedantic nature. She looked at images of the Nolkanan Ruling Council and cringed inwardly. The Nolkanans were not a particularly attractive species. They were short, stout and hirsute. The most flattering description of their nature that she’d found so far was that they were feisty. Elsewhere they were described as irascible, short-tempered, belligerent and cranky. She should fit right in, she thought to herself grimly.

The planet itself was less than hospitable, which probably accounted for their bad humour. Apart from the constant gloom from the shroud of ionised gases that surrounded the planet, the dry hot equatorial regions reached temperatures in excess of 50 degrees centigrade and the colder climes were completely uninhabitable. Although they had rudimentary warp capabilities, their civilization was still quite feudal in its makeup, and poverty was an intrinsic problem. There had been pockets of unrest and part of the Federation’s mandate had been to assist the Nolkanan’s transition from Feudalistic Monarchy to a limited Democracy. Her duties would fall under the auspices of the Nolkanan Science Institute where she would be overseeing the installation of the communication network, but she would also have other diplomatic duties that she would attend to as the need arose. It would be challenging work which would hopefully keep her well occupied and leave her little time to dwell on her own problems.

She tossed the padd aside and contemplated what she should have for lunch. Her appetite had not been terribly good lately and she’d lost weight. It was just another reminder that there was no-one around to admonish her for not looking after herself and she felt a renewed pain of abandonment and loss. She turned to her viewport and the cold comfort of the passing stars. A tear spilled down her cheek as she closed her eyes.

Her comm. chimed. It was Captain Lorica. “Admiral Janeway. We will be docking at Deep Space Six in about an hour’s time. If you wish to disembark, we will be spending 6 hours here at the Station. I can recommend several good restaurants if you wish.”

“Thank you, Captain. I think I will have a quick look around the Station and those recommendations would be appreciated. Thank you.”

“Anytime, Admiral. Anytime. I’ll send them to your terminal immediately.”

He sounded so enthusiastic and thrilled that she was taking his advice regarding the restaurants that she suddenly felt remiss that she hadn’t taken the time to get to know him a little better. “Captain Lorica, are you free for lunch? I would be most grateful if you would join me, should your schedule allow.”

“Oh, ah Admiral, I would love to. Commander Ictar will be overseeing the transfer of cargo, so I’ll be free. Thank you, Admiral.”

“Very good, Captain. I’ll meet you in the transporter room an hour after docking. Is that agreeable?”

“Yes, Admiral. Most definitely. I’ll see you there.”

“I’ll look forward to it. Janeway out.” She took a deep breath and tried to shake the shroud of gloom away. Lunch with the young captain would be a welcome diversion, and she needed one desperately.

 

Chakotay’s progress had been slow and he was becoming more and more frustrated. He’d forgotten how tedious civilian travel could be and the fact that it was a privately owned ship meant he was at the mercy of the whims of the commander/owner of the vessel. They’d had three unscheduled stops already and were bound to have more as the journey progressed.

According to the latest communication from Admiral Paris, the Langton had docked at Deep Space Six earlier today and was expected to leave this afternoon. There was no way he would be anywhere near Deep Space Six in the next few hours and at the rate they were going he would be lucky to get there in the next few weeks. As a pastime he’d taken up pacing and was wearing a very satisfactory bald patch in the carpet of his room. He’d been on this rat trap for two weeks now and was quietly going insane. The only thing keeping him going was the fact that Kathryn was out there and he needed to get to her. His intercom chimed.

It was Commander Liitiilk, the overly jocular Subytt captain. Ah, Mr Chakotay, I just thought I would inform you of our next stop-over. It will be on Klumynak. I apologise for the unscheduled delay but we are picking up some much needed supplies.”

Chakotay stifled a groan. “Thank you for informing me, Commander. How long will we be delayed?”

“It should only take a few hours if the transaction is straightforward. I’ll send word when we are closer to departure.”

“I would appreciate that, Commander. Chakotay out.”

“Fuck!” Chakotay thumped his hand on to the wall of his cabin. This was so exasperating. He took some deep calming breaths and began his pacing again. He had tried several vision quests but they had been unsuccessful. His inability to do anything constructive weighed heavily and his thoughts of Kathryn left him filled with anguish and shame. The look on her face at the moment he’d said those cruel words was haunting him in both his sleep and waking hours. He was still having trouble understanding exactly what had happened to him since their arrival in the Alpha Quadrant. He’d had plenty of time to think about it though.

His relationship with Annika had been an aberration. She was becoming an interesting and intriguing young woman and her interest in him had appealed to his vanity. The thought of how he must have looked to those around him made him cringe inwardly. His close friends had been supportive if a little puzzled. But the whole relationship had been doomed from the start. Annika was unfamiliar with the emotional energy required to maintain a relationship of the kind that he desired. What he needed was someone who was willing to love him for himself and be just as willing to accept all the love he had to give. He was at a time in his life where a commitment was crucial, and a shared ideal of what they wanted was something that Annika was unable to grasp. Annika had never needed him. In the end she’d barely tolerated him and he had become resentful and bitter. It was a relationship that never should have evolved and he should have realised this and called an end to it before it had wreaked such havoc.

“Kathryn.” He said the name out loud, his heart aching. He’d loved her for years but had lost himself somewhere along the way. They had a complex and intricate shared past, one that they should have been able to sustain. Their lives were so interwoven that it was difficult to imagine one of them without the other. That had been his problem. He needed her and he’d been unwilling to acknowledge that. She was an intrinsic part of his life. Only now could he readily admit that she was his life. “Kathryn”. He groaned her name again and that unseen hand squeezed his heart. He ran his hand through his hair and began his pacing again. His frustration and despair had become his constant companions.

 

Kathryn rounded the corner and made her way to the Transporter Room. She’d tidied herself up and donned a fresh uniform. It was rare occurrence that any brass made it this far out, and no doubt they would be met by the Station Commandant and an entourage of command staff. With not a hair out of place and her uniform spick and span, she was the epitome of Starfleet spit and polish as she entered the Transporter Room.

Captain Lorica snapped to attention. “Good afternoon, Admiral.”

She gave him a smile which didn’t quite meet her eyes. “Good afternoon, Captain. Are we ready? I’m very much looking forward to sampling one of those restaurants you suggested.” She stepped up onto the platform and took her place on one of the transporter pads.

“I’m very pleased to hear that Admiral. There is a particular Benzitee restaurant that gets consistently good reviews. Would that be to your liking, do you think?” He reminded her of Harry in so many ways. So eager to please.

“I’m in your hands, Captain Lorica. Lead the way.”

Lorica nodded to the transporter operator and they faded in a shimmer of blue, materialising seconds later in the main transporter room of Deep Space Six.

Sure enough there were half a dozen people there waiting to meet them. The station commander stepped forward. “Admiral Janeway, it is a pleasure to meet you. I am Captain Tomeg.” Kathryn extended her hand to the Acamarian Captain.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Captain Tomeg.” She gave him her best diplomatic smile, and turned and greeted his staff one by one as he introduced them. Kathryn was surprised to find a familiar face at the end of the line. “Lieutenant Jor, what a lovely surprise. How are you?” She was genuinely pleased to see one of her old crew. “How long have you been assigned here, Becca?”

“It’s good to see you too, Ca…Admiral.” She smiled happily at Kathryn. “I’ve been here for about 4 months now.” She cast a sideways glance at her commanding officer. “And I’m enjoying every minute of my time here. Aren’t I, Sir?” She grinned at the stout Captain and he laughed.

“Yes, Lieutenant, you certainly know how to enjoy yourself.”

It did Kathryn’s heart good to see her. Rebecca Jor had been one of the ex-Maquis and to see her here, settled and obviously doing well, was heartening. But it also sent a small pang of regret through her knowing that she wouldn’t be seeing any of these familiar faces for a long time. “Well, keep up the good work, Becca. I’m glad to see you doing so well. You’re lucky to have her Captain Tomeg.”

Tomeg nodded. “Yes, and she reminds me of that everyday.” He guffawed with laughter and Becca Jor rolled her eyes.

“It’s been wonderful to see you again, Admiral. I’d best get back and mind the store.”

Kathryn shook her hand heartily. “Good bye Becca. It was lovely to see too.” Jor and the other junior officers moved back down to the command centre and Kathryn, Captain Lorica and Captain Tomeg moved towards the utilities wing of the station.

“I thought I’d just come with you and see you settled at the restaurant.” The jovial station commandant led them around the next few corridors until they could smell the delicious aromas of cooked food wafting from close by.

“You’re most welcome to join us, Captain Tomeg. In fact it would be a pleasure to have your company.” Kathryn smiled at the captain.

“Thank you, Admiral, I would have loved to, but unfortunately I have a prior engagement.” They had arrived at an ornate doorway. Captain Tomeg held the door while Kathryn and Lorica entered. “Here we are. Mr Navemb will look after you.” He nodded to the tall slim Maitre de. “Have a pleasant lunch, Admiral, Captain, and if there’s anything I can help you with during your stay, please don’t hesitate to contact me.” He nodded to both of them and left as they were escorted to a table next to a view port. They had a delightful view of the passing stars as the station spun slowly on its axis.

“Well Captain, I’ll leave the ordering up to you. I’ll eat almost anything, as long as it doesn’t move.” Kathryn placed her menu on the table and smiled over at the young man sitting opposite.

He chuckled. “Fortunately no Benzitee food comes to the table still alive, so I think we’re fairly safe.” He called the waiter over and pointed to several items on the menu. He also ordered some native Benzitee ale. He assured Kathryn that it contained a negligible amount of alcohol, but complimented the food very nicely.

While they waited for their food, they chatted about Rufus’s home and family. He came from a long line of artists and philosophers, and was the first of his family to join Starfleet, and although they had accepted his choice, none of them had really understood his desire to join what they considered to be a rigid military institution. She admired his fortitude in going against his family’s traditions and forging a path for himself, and although he was on the surface the perfect Starfleet officer, under the façade she could see the influence of his free thinking and non-conformist background.

He would make an interesting, and most likely, a very successful Commanding officer. She made a note to herself to keep tabs on this very likeable young man’s career.

Their food arrived and they both tucked into a very delicious array of dishes. Some were quite spicy, some not so much, but all were very flavoursome and the company was good. Kathryn enjoyed herself and was so pleased that she had taken the time to get to know young Rufus Lorica.

As they made their way back to the transporter room at the Station, Rufus asked Kathryn if she would like to join him and the senior staff for dinner the following evening on the Langton. She readily agreed. It would be her last night on the ship, and it occurred to her that apart from a few fellow scientists and diplomats on Nolkana, these people were the last non-Nolkanans she would see for several years.

The thought stirred a small feeling of unease deep within her. She’d taken this assignment for all the wrong reasons. Running away had never been her style, but at the time she just hadn’t had the emotional fortitude to deal with what had happened. In hindsight, she was beginning to look at the whole incident in a different light. The physical and emotional distance allowing her to see what had happened through different eyes. In some ways she even understood Chakotay’s outburst. Their precipitous arrival home had turned their worlds upside down. The concept of living the rest of their lives in the Delta Quadrant had slowly but surely worked its way into their everyday reality. The dramatic adjustment their unanticipated arrival demanded had thrown everyone’s equilibrium. With Admiral Janeway’s appearance, their expected 30 year journey had been reduced to a matter of days and it had taken some getting used to. They were all traumatised and she and Chakotay’s reactions were just reflections of that emotional fragility.

Over the years they had found a comfortable middle ground for their relationship. The feelings and promises from all those years ago had been sublimated and repressed but with this climactic change in their circumstances those emotions had reared their ugly heads and confusion had reigned. With this understanding came a certain sense of peace in regard to her feelings towards Chakotay. As much as his words still hurt, she knew deep down that he hadn’t really meant them or intended for them to cause such hurt. Perhaps with time, they could find their way back to one another.

Her lunch with the young Captain had been a bright spot and a jumping off point for her return calm and normality.

She headed back to her cabin after lunch, her spirits higher than they had been in weeks. She knew now that she would overcome and with an enthusiasm that she hadn’t known she possessed, she decided she would throw herself into her new appointment and do the very best that she could. Kathryn Janeway was clawing her way back and would rise triumphant from the ashes of her losses. She felt a lightness of spirit that she hadn’t felt in a very long time, and on entering her quarters she asked the computer to play a selection of jazz tunes, humming along as she tidied her room and began her packing. They were less than 36 hours away from Nolkana and she would be shuttling down to the planet with Captain Lorica and a pilot of his choosing the day after tomorrow. So with the thought of enjoying her last day on board without the necessity packing hanging over her head, she organised her bags. Leaving out what clothes she might need, she packed everything else away.

While digging through her luggage, she found a holoimage of the crew that had been taken the night of the Ancestor’s Eve celebration. Holding it reverently she sat on the bed, and studied the familiar faces, each of them so dear to her heart. She traced their outlines, and memories flitted through her mind like butterfly wings. Happy, sad, funny, frightening. They had lived several lifetimes in those years in the Delta Quadrant.

She realised that she was saying goodbye to these dear ones at last. She was making the break, and severing the cord that had bound her to them for these last seven turbulent years. Kissing her fingers she held them over the faces of her senior officers, then hugging the picture close to her chest, she said her goodbyes. She didn’t cry. They deserved so much more than tears. She was so proud to have been their commanding officer, and no matter what life had dealt her since her return, she would always treasure those years. They would be the benchmark against which she would measure the rest of her life’s accomplishments and achievements.

She rested the picture in front of her again and ran a finger down the side of Chakotay’s face, then turning with a sigh, wrapped it in a sweater and placed it in her bag. That part of her life was over now and taking a deep breath she wandered over to the viewport.

Now it was time to look to the future. It wasn’t the future she had envisaged but it was a future here in the Alpha Quadrant. She’d achieved the almost impossible and brought her crew home. If she did nothing else with her life, that one achievement would be enough to sustain her. She was determined to be happy again.

Dinner with the senior staff of the Langton was a jolly affair. Their Chief Engineer was a rascal of an Irishman who had them all in stitches as he regaled them with stories of his time in the merchant fleets near the Klingon border. What was it about that Irish accent that just makes you want to smile? The wine flowed and the conversation was merry. She told a few stories of her time in the Delta Quadrant, but fortunately no-one pushed her for more. Although she did notice that if anyone did start to insist, Chief Kelly would steer the conversation away from her and fish another hilarious anecdote from his repertoire, saving her the embarrassment of having to decline. She had a sneaking suspicion that this delightful Irishman was well aware of her fragility regarding her experiences in the Delta Quadrant.

Only months away from his retirement he reminded her a little of her father. Under that jocular exterior, there was a depth and intelligence that she found reassuring and dependable. She thought it strange that she would feel such an affinity with this garrulous old engineer, but she did, and was so pleased to have met him. She also took time to observe the young Captain as he interacted with his crew.

He obviously had their respect and admiration, and showed himself to be a gentle leader, but an exacting one. His manner again reminded her so much of Harry. She smiled at the memory.

Chief Kelly insisted on escorting her to her quarters after dinner, his excuse was that his quarters were on the same deck, but he was a charming old rogue and had taken great delight all evening in trying to get the imperturbable Admiral Janeway to blush. He’d almost succeeded on several occasions and he wasn’t about to give up.

They stopped at her door and he bent low over her hand and kissed it. Capturing her gaze he spoke with eyes twinkling. “’May you never forget what’s worth remembering or remember what is best forgotten.’ Look after yourself, dear lady, and I hope happiness finds you. I’m sure he’s on his way.” He looked deep into her eyes and for a moment she felt that he could see into her very soul. A blush began to creep up her throat, and grinning wickedly, he stepped back, and marched up the corridor.

Deep in thought, she entered her room. If only it was true. But perhaps one day she would find true happiness again. It just wouldn’t be with the man she loved.

She got ready for bed and slid between the covers. Tomorrow she would start a new phase of her life, a new adventure. She would make the best of it and be a success. She knew she could do it.

Chapter Five

Chakotay was sitting staring out his small viewport at the frustratingly stationary stars. They had been sitting here orbiting Klumynak for two days now.

His communicator chimed. Hoping it was the Captain with word that they would be on their way again soon, he sat down at the desk and opened the channel. It was Owen Paris.

“Admiral. Any news?”

“Chakotay, as a matter of fact I have. Good news, you’ll be pleased to know. As Tom told you I’ve been working to get the terms of Kathryn’s appointment revised and amended. Well as of today, she is a fully fledged admiral with all the rights and privileges that are due such an appointment. Admiral D’Aalesq and several others have been censured for their harsh treatment of Kathryn, and she has been recalled from Nolkana IV. In the end, I and several other Admirals, with the backing of countless line officers, petitioned the Federation Council, and on the President’s recommendation, the Maquis and Equinox crew have been exonerated of all the charges laid against them and Kathryn is to be given the Starfleet Medal of Honour. We’re sending the orders through to the Langton as we speak. With any luck we’ll catch her before she shuttles down to Nolkana IV.”

Chakotay was hugely relieved. “That’s excellent news, Admiral. I might just be able to meet with her on the way back. We should, if we ever move again, dock at DS6 in the next couple of days. Is there any way to get word to her that I’m on my way?” Suddenly the joy left him as he realised he was probably the last person she wanted to see or hear from. Perhaps it was better that she didn’t know he was close by.

“We can send through word if you like, son, but I’ve dispatched Tom with the Delta Flyer and he should dock with the Ess’ash in the next four hours. We’ve asked Captain Liitiilk to remain at station keeping until the flyer arrives. At warp 8 you are only a matter of hours away from DS6. The Langton’s orders are to make their way back to DS6 and remain there until further orders.”

Chakotay nodded, very grateful for Owen Paris’s understanding. “I’ll just wait until Tom gets here and we’ll go from there. Thank you, Sir. I appreciate all you’ve done.”

“My pleasure, young man, but it has all been for Katie. Her happiness is most important to me, and my son and daughter in-law, amongst others, have convinced me that you are the key to that happiness, so I’m duty bound to do something about it. Just don’t let us down and more importantly, you do the right thing by Kathryn. If you don’t then I wouldn’t bother coming back here if I were you.”

Chakotay’s eyes widened at the blatant threat. Owen Paris looked on calmly, but Chakotay had no doubt that he meant every word that he’d said.

“Understood Sir, and I promise I won’t let her down again.”

“You make sure you don’t.” Owen looked over his shoulder at someone behind him. Chakotay heard him querying whoever it was and in an anxious voice, asked for details. He heard Kathryn’s name mentioned and a knot formed in Chakotay’s gut. A pervading sense of doom descended and he knew without even hearing it from Owen Paris that something terrible had happened to her. Owen turned back to Chakotay with a worried look on his face. “I have to go, Chakotay.”

“Admiral, please tell me what’s happened, I know its Kathryn. I can feel it. Just tell me. Please.”

Owen looked at the face of the man in front of him and relented. “Kathryn’s shuttle has gone down somewhere on Nolkana IV. For the moment that’s all I know. We’re dispatching the Enterprise, but it won’t be there for another twelve hours. The crew of the Langton are beginning a search but you know the restrictions the atmosphere imposes, and the other Langton shuttle is also vulnerable. I’ve sent word to Tom to get to you as quickly as possible and then best speed to Nolkana. There’s nothing you can do at the moment but sit tight. I’ll be in touch.”

Chakotay’s heart was pounding in his chest. He just nodded to the Admiral, not confident that he could speak.

“We’ll find her, Chakotay. Have no doubt. We will find her.”

“Yes Sir” It was all he could manage as a reply, before the screen went blank. He slumped back in his chair running his hands through his hair as he thought of Kathryn lost somewhere, possibly injured, or God forbid….. He didn’t even want to contemplate that.

Spirits, what had he done? “Kathryyynnnn!” He howled out his anguish into the four walls of his room.

Chapter Six.

Kathryn rolled over and gasped at the pain. Pain was good. She was still alive, which meant she’d fared a lot better than she’d expected. Taking slow steady breaths she tried to take stock of her situation. It was made difficult by the blanket of darkness that surrounded her, and the ringing in her ears from the knock she’d taken to her head as their shuttle had plummeted to the ground, wasn’t helping either. She’d been on some rough rides in her time, and in some spectacular shuttle accidents, most of them courtesy of a certain First Officer. The thought of him made her heart clench and she sighed. But this accident had been extreme even by her standards.

They’d lost their enhanced shields not long after entering the ionised gas cloud that shrouded the planet. There had been some sort of unforseen plasma feedback and the deflector had gone offline and they’d been unable to reinitialise the power grid. The Chief and Captain Lorica had done an excellent job of getting them through, but they’d had very little to work with. Once they’d cleared the gases, they’d managed to get thrusters on-line, but they’d still hit the ground with immense force.

She took a deep breath. Nothing much hurt to breathe, so at least her ribs weren’t broken. From that point she tried to take inventory of her limbs. Both legs were in working order, but her left arm was lying at a peculiar angle and her shoulder was dislocated. Her head was pounding incessantly and she was pretty sure she had a concussion. She felt around her. Neither of her companions was close by. And the only sound she could hear was that of gas hissing and the screech of metal on metal as the damaged vessel settled onto whatever it had landed.

“Rufus? Chief?” Her voice was raspy and not very loud. She swallowed and tried again. “Rufus? Chief? Can you hear me?”

She had to move, find some light and her companions. There was a groan in the dark. Struggling to her knees she shuffled in the direction of the noise. Her arm was a big problem and she would have to do something about it before she did much else. Feeling around with her good arm, she found a console and by hitting a few random buttons, the screen lit up casting an eerie glow through the cabin. She blinked a few times. Her vision was blurred which was just another unwelcome reminder of her head injury. Just to truly compound the problem her head began to throb and she was feeling nauseated. She swallowed and shuffled further. Another groan. She swung to her right and there was Chief Kelly, partially wedged under the engineering station.

“Chief, can you hear me?” Damn her arm.

He groaned louder and began to move.

“Chief, keep still for a moment.” Shit! She was useless like this. Looking about her she soon found what she needed. She tugged her sleeve down over her hand to protect the skin, and using her good arm, she lifted her damaged one and wedged her cloth covered wrist in between two collapsed panels. Taking a deep breath she leant back, and pulled hard. Sweat beaded on her brow and she growled through gritted teeth as she used her legs to lever herself further back. Just when she thought she might faint from the pain, it gave, and her shoulder joint popped back in place. The relief was intense. She took a couple of steadying breaths and then pulled her hand from its vice and flexed her fingers. Much better.

“Admiral. Is that you?”

“Aye, Chief. Just lay still for a minute. I’m going to find the med kit and see where Captain Lorica is.”

“I don’t think I’ll be going anywhere. My leg’s broken.”

“Sit tight. I won’t be long.” Kathryn got to her feet, and looked around the shattered remains of the shuttle. Orientating herself, she moved over to the bulkhead where the medical supplies were stored. She found the medkit, a wrist light, an isotropic splint and some water. Standing full height she ducked under pieces of conduit that swung from the fractured ceiling panels, and shone her light around the cabin. There! A flash of red. Rufus!

She shoved pieces of debris aside and knelt beside him. She opened the medkit and waved the medical tricorder over the young man. It didn’t look good. He had severe head injuries, his back was broken and he had internal injuries. She administered a drug to deal with the internal bleeding and reduce the cerebral swelling, but there was little else she could do for him at the moment. Thankfully, he was unconscious, and she hoped he stayed that way for the time being.

She made her way back to the chief’s side. “I’ve found the medkit, Chief. Let’s have a look at you.” She moved the scanner over him. “Well, you’re right about the leg. But apart from that and a few bumps and bruises you seem to be relatively unscathed.” After she administered a pain killer she sat back on her haunches. Dizziness and nausea were starting to get the better of her.

Chief Kelly dragged himself up into a sitting position. “Pass that over here, Admiral. You’re looking a little peaked.” Smiling grimly she handed him the scanner. He harrumphed as he looked at the readouts. “Moderate concussion, torn ligaments in your left shoulder, bruised liver, various scrapes and bumps. Hand me the medkit and we’ll get you fixed up.”

Kathryn gratefully accepted a hypo. The symptoms subsided almost immediately. “Thanks, Chief.”

“My pleasure, dear lady. How is our young captain?” She looked over her shoulder to where he lay.

“He’s not too good I’m afraid. He has severe head injuries and his back is broken, so we can’t move him. I’ve done what I can, but he needs proper medical care.”

He nodded grimly. “Well, first of all we need to get some more light on the subject and send a distress signal.”

“The automatic distress beacon would have been activated when we crashed. I’ll check it in a moment. Let’s get that leg taken care of first then if you can move over to the comm station, get started on that. We might be able to get word out. I don’t know to whom, but I’d feel better if we had some functioning communications.”

She scanned his leg again and downloaded the information into the data input on the splint. It would support the specific areas that were damaged and if it was working properly, he should be able to weight bear. “Here we go. Hold on. This is going to hurt.” Gingerly, she lifted the damaged leg and slid the splint underneath. She noticed him flinch. “Sorry, Chief.”

“Don’t you worry, Admiral. I’ve been in worse scrapes in my time.”

“I’ve no doubt about that.” She smiled up at him and fastened the splint around his leg, then activated the isotropic field. “How does that feel?”

“Much better, thank you.” He visibly relaxed. “Now if you could help me up, please Admiral, I’ll have a look at our communications.” She moved to his side and draped his arm over her shoulder. Once he was upright, he took a minute to steady himself and then using the consoles for leverage, he hobbled over to the broken comm station.

Kathryn moved to the tactical station and with some creative rewiring and rerouting was able to get some emergency lights working and also some short range scans of their surroundings.

They had crashed in the colder northern climes of the planet. It was still night outside and would be for many hours. If she had calculated their position accurately, there would only be a few brief hours of murky daylight before night would fall again. The outside temperatures were well below zero, and it wouldn’t be long before they found themselves in an extreme survival situation. She sighed to herself. They were already in an extreme survival situation, and the freezing conditions just meant it was going to get worse. A lot worse.

She moved to the back of the shuttle and dragged out the environmental suits. Pulling one on over her uniform she took one back to the Chief.

The Langton, she assumed, was aware of their fate. But with the limitations on communications, it would be several hours before Nolkanan authorities would be alerted to their situation and then by the time a rescue mission was launched, it would be at least several more hours before they could hope to see anyone. In essence it would be a waiting game, and they would just have to hope they survived long enough to be rescued. Time just might be against them. She mentally shrugged, rechecked the distress beacon and then moved over to Captain Lorica.

He was very pale. She sifted through the medical supplies and found several survival blankets, she tucked two around the injured man and draped the environmental suit over his legs. She couldn’t risk moving him to put it on. Running the scanner over him again, she gave him another hypo to reduce the cerebral swelling. His internal bleeding had stopped, but many of his internal organs had been badly damaged and they would soon start to collapse. His survival was dependant on an early rescue, and she just hoped their rescuers would get to them in time.

With one last check of the young man, she moved to the front of the shuttle. The environmental controls were still on line, but she couldn’t get a reading on the power status so there was no guarantee they would stay that way.

“Admiral, I have the comm station working.”

“Well done, Chief.” She moved over beside him and activated it. “This Admiral Kathryn Janeway. The shuttle craft Fresnel has crashed at the following co-ordinates.” She hit a button on the console, downloading the co-ordinates. “We have injured and request immediate assistance. Janeway out. Computer, repeat distress call on continuous cycle on all frequencies.” A wave of dizziness hit Kathryn and she grabbed the console.

“Admiral, I suggest you sit down for a while and give that head a rest.” Chief Kelly took her elbow and escorted her over to where Captain Lorica was lying. “If you sit here with our young captain, you can rest and watch over him at the same time.”

Her stomach was churning again and she was feeling decidedly unwell, but she gave him a knowing look. “A neatly executed manoeuvre, Chief. But very good advice.” She gave a small snort of laughter.

“Is there something amusing, Admiral?”

“No, not really. I’m just trying to imagine what my EMH and First Officer would think of my agreeing so readily to the suggestion that I rest. I had something of a reputation for being rather noncompliant… particularly where my health was concerned.” She slid down the wall, grateful just to be still for a moment.

He smiled. “Hmmm. It must be something that they teach at command school. I’ve never known a captain who didn’t push the boundaries and neglect themselves. That’s why they have first officers I suppose.” He noticed her start at his comment, but ignored her reaction as he scanned her quickly and administered another hypo. “There you go, Admiral. You’ll be feeling as right as rain in no time.”

He ran the scanner over Captain Lorica and frowned. “Our young fellow here isn’t in such good shape, but there’s not much we can do for now.”

The medication was having the desired affect. Kathryn’s nausea had subsided again and the incessant pounding had dulled. She closed her eyes briefly.

“Admiral, it would be best if you stayed awake. Sleeping with a concussion isn’t recommended.” He placed the med scanner in her hand with a pat. “While I tidy up around here and find us some comfortable seating, why don’t you tell me some amusing stories from your time in the Delta Quadrant?” He unfolded one of the blankets and draped it over her, then hobbled over to the rear of the cabin.

“Amusing? There wasn’t a lot of time for laughing out there. Life was a serious business most of the time.”

He turned and looked at her with a frown. Kathryn for some reason felt like she was being chastised. “Fine, I’ll think of something.”

As he pulled the cushioning off the benches and gathered anything they could use for warmth, Kathryn began to tell him about their first encounter with Neelix, and Tuvok’s barely disguised dismay at being pulled into an enthusiastic embrace by the ebullient Talaxian. She told him how Neelix had then used up most of the Vulcan’s replicator rations by ordering almost everything on the menu.

Her voice softened as she told him of gentle Kes and her nurturing interactions with the EMH, and smiled as she reminisced about the six glorious weeks she and Chakotay had spent on New Earth. She told him about the monkey, the swimming and exploring they’d done. Then there had been the time that they were stranded on the planet in the Hanon system where Chakotay had complained that they were stuck there with the only Indian in the universe who couldn’t start a fire with two sticks. She’d sacrificed a lock of hair in the name of survival. She chuckled at that. Then she told him about the embarrassing diplomatic disaster with the Tak Tak and her terrible gaff when she put her hands on her hips and insulted the planet’s ruling council. Chief Kelly laughed at that one. Warming to the subject she regaled him with anecdotes about their times on the holodeck, Sandrine’s, the Talent shows, even her and Chakotay’s visits to Lake George, and her not to be forgotten appearance as the evil Queen Arachnia. The chief had guffawed at the mental picture she painted of herself as Queen of the Spider People, but her smile faded slightly as she thought of all those wonderful times and people. It was lovely to reminisce but it left her with a feeling of longing and regret.

Chief Kelly moved over towards her with some of his booty, and she leant forward while he placed some of the seat padding behind her. Grateful to be distracted from her thoughts, she tucked the blanket more firmly around herself. It was starting to get colder in the shuttle and her head was pounding again. To take her mind off her own problems, she scanned Rufus. He was slipping, slowly but surely, and there was nothing she could do. Guilt began to fester. Her reminiscences of her life in the Delta Quadrant had reopened barely healed wounds.

She watched Rufus as he dragged shallow tortured breaths into his lungs and a menacing wave of guilt washed over her at the thought of this delightful and bright young man’s life being snuffed out because of her and her weakness.

The old feelings of responsibility and culpability reared their ugly heads. He wouldn’t have been here if she’d had the strength to deal with Chakotay’s anger. If she’d had the good sense to see it for what it was – a reaction to the turmoil of being back in the Alpha Quadrant and the stress and worry over Seven’s disappearance. Neither of them had been at their best. He wasn’t aware of her circumstances, so how was he supposed to know how vulnerable she had been. She’d kept everyone in the dark and tried to battle on, on her own. They’d always been better as a team. How many times had they proved that over the years? The alliance with the Borg and the Equinox were just two glaring examples of when she’d pulled away from their partnership and the results had been dire. Hindsight could be an onerous thing.

She’d never been one to run away from adversity, but she’d weakened, and look where it had gotten them. Through her own stubborn refusal to share her burdens, she’d managed to drag innocent bystanders into her circle of misery. She shook her head and regretted it instantly. Her vision was blurring again and the queasiness had returned.

Chief Kelly was at her side again, this time with some water and rations. She gratefully accepted the water, but declined the rations. Her stomach was delicate enough without subjecting it to Starfleet’s vile tasting dehydrated protein bars.

The Chief slid down the wall beside her. “Well, that’s about as much as we can do for now. I’ve collected all the blankets and anything else that can be used for bedding and warmth.” He turned to Kathryn. “You know, Admiral, it’s going to get very cold in here before too long.”

She gave him a grim smile. “Hmmm, yes I know.” The guilt washed over her again. She turned to the man at her side and gripped his hand. “Chief, I’m so sorry you’re in this mess.”

He looked at her with a puzzled frown. “You’re thinking that this is in some way your fault?” He saw the guilt written clearly on her face. He harrumphed. “I knew you were an admiral, but I didn’t know you had control over planetary atmospheres. I’m impressed.”

Her eyes widened at his sarcasm.

He patted her hand. “Admiral, I know you outrank me and I mean no disrespect, but I’ve been around a good many more years than you and in a survival situation such as this, sometimes wisdom outweighs rank. Just let me tell you this. You are not responsible for our circumstances. Even if you hadn’t been here, we would have been escorting the new Federation representative, whoever they may have been, down to the planet.” He looked deeply into her eyes, as he’d done the night of the staff dinner, and she felt same sense of exposure. “You like this guilt, don’t you? It’s been your constant companion for so many years that it’s comfortable. It’s allowed you to shut out everyone and everything. You, my dear Admiral, have got to let it go. It does not take the place of a friend or a lover. It’s a cold and bitter companion and will only bring you grief.”

In her vulnerable state his words struck right to the core of her anguish and she could do nothing to stop the tears. She turned her head away quickly, but he carried on undeterred. “I see that grief has already visited you. You’ve been through so very much, dear lady, and it’s time for you to forgive yourself and start to live your life for you.” He pulled another blanket over them both, and then looked at her again with his wise old eyes. “Why are you here? Why did you feel the need to take yourself off to this Godforsaken rock when you’ve only just arrived back from the isolation of the Delta Quadrant? Is this some sort of punishment?”

Kathryn took a deep breath and wiped her tears. “No. I have a job to do.”

He ignored her answer and ripped away the armour. “He hurt you deeply, didn’t he?”

She turned to him slowly. “Who?” She feigned ignorance, but she wasn’t terribly convincing.

“This man Chakotay. Your First Officer.”

She looked long and hard at the older man. The semi darkness and their plight lent an intimacy to the situation. This was a man she could trust and besides, she was so tired of maintaining appearances. Still looking at him, she nodded. “How did you know?”

He smiled gently. “Years of experience, and when you say his name your voice softens and it becomes almost a caress.”

She dropped her head and studied her fingers.

He patted her hand again. “I wouldn’t worry, my dear Admiral. I think you’ll find that he’s not as far away as you think and I have a feeling that he cares just as deeply for you, as you do for him. It will all be alright.”

She gave a slight smile. “Thank you, Chief, but I’m afraid it’s too late for us. It’s been too late for a long time. He doesn’t care for me anymore. He made that abundantly clear. But I can live with it. I really can. In some ways, this…” she waved her arm to indicate her surroundings, “…has led to something of an epiphany for me. I’m alive. I have my work. I have made a new friend.” She smiled at him and patted his hand. “And I can move on and do something worthwhile with my life. I lost myself there for a short time, but it’s not the end of the world. Well, not yet anyway.” She took a deep breath. “I really shouldn’t be speaking of this with you, but thank you for your support and insights. I’ll be fine.”

“I’m sure you will, Admiral. I’m sure you will.” She gave him a warm smile and nodded quietly. The subject was now closed.

He laid another blanket over Captain Lorica as Kathryn ran the scanner over the young man again. She looked worriedly at the Chief. “He’s not good. His temperature is dropping. We should warm him up.” She began to get up, but Chief Kelly put his hand on her arm to keep her seated.

“No, Admiral. Leave him. The cold with slow his metabolism and the rate of organ failure. It might just allow him to last the distance.” He took the scanner and ran it over her head. “I’m going to give you another hypo, and this time I think you should get some sleep. Your cerebral swelling has subsided and rest is what you need now. I’ll keep a watch over our captain. Are you warm enough?”

“Yes, thank you, Chief.” She tilted her head to the side as he administered the hypo. “More good advice that I’m going to take. Don’t you dare tell anyone that I’m such a push over? I have a reputation to maintain, you know.” He chuckled and she gave him a warm smile. “Wake me if you need to, won’t you?”

“Aye, Admiral, and don’t worry. Your secret’s safe with me. Pleasant dreams.”

She leant her head back and closed her eyes. Chakotay’s face hovered in her mind’s eye. She thought over what she’d said to the Chief and decided that yes, she was strong and resilient. In her life, she’d survived worse things and perhaps with a bit of time and distance between them, she and Chakotay could re-establish their bond. Her reminiscences had reminded her of the fine friendship they’d shared. It was a precious thing and although it was a little tarnished at the moment, she could forgive him. She needed to forgive him, for both their sakes, and then they could move on from there. In letting go of her anger and bitterness towards him she felt her heart open to new possibilities. With his dear face before her, she drifted off to sleep.

A little later she felt the Chief move close beside her and drape another blanket over them. She opened her eyes briefly. Her face was numb. The cold was seeping in around them like the mists over Lake George. The old engineer pulled her close against him. “They’ll be here soon, dear lady.”

She nodded and drifted back to sleep.

Chapter Seven

Kathryn tried to fight her way to consciousness. She could hear something. Chakotay? There were sounds, loud sounds. His voice was calling her, she was sure she’d heard him. There was something she had to tell him. It was important, but her mind wouldn’t comply. She felt warm all over, and she knew that wasn’t right. Hypothermia. The word flashed before her. Hypothermia and feeling warm. This wasn’t a good combination. She had to wake up.

She could barely move. Even with the environmental suits the cold had seeped into her bones and she was stiff and sore. Hours must have passed. She could have sworn she heard Chakotay call her name, but it must have been a dream. Taking a deep breath she turned to find herself tucked up against Chief Kelly. She nudged him. “Chief. Chief Kelly! Wake up.” He groaned. Only one thin blanket was over him. She had several and the rest were draped over Rufus. Now that she was moving, her head was slowly becoming less addled. She quickly checked the captain. He was still alive, but only barely. His body temperature was perilously low, but there was little she could do. Now she was worried about the Chief. He would freeze to death if she couldn’t wake him. She started to shove him, and shake his arms and tap his cheeks.

“Chief! Wake up.”

She dragged herself up in front of him and began rubbing her hands up and down his arms trying to get the blood to flow. Holding his icy hands in between her own, she blew her warm breath on them. He was starting to come around. Using her most severe Captain’s voice she barked in his ear. “Chief Kelly, wake up this instant.” She sagged a little with relief when he opened his eyes. “Stay with me, Chief. You need to move. I don’t want you freezing here and what is this business of only using one blanket? Survival means survival, for all of us.”

He groaned again and moved his head. Slowly he lifted his arms and rolled his shoulders as he tried to get the stiff muscles to work. He smiled at Kathryn. “Admiral, it’s good to see you.” He clenched and unclenched his hands trying to encourage the circulation back into his arms and fingers.

There was a thud from outside the shuttle. They both froze and waited to see if it happened again. There! Another thud. Someone or something was trying to get into the shuttle. That must have been what had woken her. Kathryn grabbed a tricorder and scanned. There were half a dozen life forms outside the shuttle.

“We’ve got visitors, but I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” She hauled the older man to his feet, and they moved cautiously to the rear of the shuttle. Tossing him a phaser, they stood on either side of the entrance, their bodies flat against the walls. Kathryn nodded at Chief Kelly to hit the door mechanism. The hatch opened and they were confronted with several fur clad humanoids, each wielding a menacing looking weapon pointed in their direction. Frigid wind blew through the open hatch. It was so cold that it burned Kathryn’s face and stole her breath away. In that moment of hesitation the band of would-be rescuers barrelled through the open hatch and knocked both Kathryn and the Chief to the floor. One of them slammed his rifle butt into the chief’s head knocking him unconscious. Kathryn was thrown back against the tactical station hitting her head hard. Her phaser was knocked from her hand and she lay dazed on the shuttle floor. The nausea and pain returned with a vengeance.

The next thing she knew, she was being dragged to her feet and pushed up against the bulkhead. Her attacker pushed his forearm hard against her throat. She gasped and clawed at his arm, trying to loosen his hold and drag air into her aching lungs.

Fetid breath blew in her face. “Weapons! Where are they?”

Kathryn made choking noises, and hoped that he would comprehend that she couldn’t talk if she couldn’t breathe.

He let her slide down the wall slightly and loosened his hold. She coughed a few times. He roared in her face again. “Weapons! I want your weapons and medical supplies.”

She rasped. “We have no weapons, and very few medical supplies. Most we have used to treat our own injuries.” She was having trouble focusing and her head was spinning. The Nolkanans were only short. Her attacker was no more than five feet tall, but they were sturdy and unnaturally strong.

Her captor grabbed her arm and twisted it up behind her, slamming her face into the wall. “I want weapons and medical supplies. I don’t want excuses.” Holding her arm behind her he marched her to the front of the shuttle. They passed the unconscious captain on their way. The Nolkanan turned to his underlings and indicated with a jerk of his head for one of them to check on Rufus.

Horrified she watched as a fur clad brute kick the unconscious man in the ribs. She screamed. “Don’t do that. You’ll kill him!” The native looked at her with cold hard eyes and kicked Rufus again, hard. Blood sprayed from Rufus’s mouth, as Kathryn struggled against her captor’s hold. “Don’t! Leave him alone. You bastards, leave him be!” Her face was slammed into the forward console and she fell to the ground again. She couldn’t stop the tears of pain and frustration from trailing down her cheeks. Her nose was bleeding and blood oozed from a gash in her forehead.

“Adkim!” The brute who had kicked Rufus was addressing her attacker. He turned to his henchman. “He’s almost dead. What do you want me to do with him?”

“Leave him, Yerend. He’ll freeze before long. Don’t waste the ammunition.” He grabbed Kathryn by her hair and hauling her up off the floor, sneered into her face. “We might need it later.”

She heard a groan and cough come from Chief Kelly. He was regaining consciousness. Adkim shoved Kathryn at the Nolkanan named Yerend who wrapped his arm around her throat and trapped her arms behind her. She was powerless to move.

Chief Kelly opened his eyes and looked blearily around at their captors. Adkim hovered over him and then pointed his weapon at his head. “Weapons and medical supplies. Now! Or I kill you.” Chief Kelly looked over at Kathryn.

“We have no weapons. We are on a diplomatic mission. What medical supplies we have left are over there.” He pointed to a small supply cupboard that held a field med pack.

Kathryn frowned at the Chief. He was looking at her pointedly, then she realised his intent. The small cabinet also contained engineering tools, laser cutters to be exact. If she could spirit one of those away, it might come in handy later. It was the closest thing to a weapon they were likely to lay their hands on at this point.

Adkim nodded towards her. “You! Get it. Just in case it’s a trap.” Yerend’s hold on her loosened, and she yanked herself away from him angrily.

Adkim admonished her while pressing the gun to the Chief’s head. “Don’t do anything stupid or he dies.” She glared at Adkim but held her arms up in acquiescence as she moved slowly towards the cabinet. Kneeling down she picked up the med pack, and at in the same movement deftly palmed a small laser. She turned and held the pack up so they could see that it was what she’d said. Yerend grabbed it from her and tossed it to Adkim as she slid the cutter up the sleeve of her suit

Adkim put the med kit in his pack and then ordered his men to take anything that they thought might be useful. Kathryn was shoved down next to the Chief with Yerend pointing a weapon at both of them. He looked like he was itching to use it. Leaning forward he snatched their comm. badges off the front of their suits. He turned them over and then bit down on one. He grinned at her as he put them in his pocket. To Yerend they were shiny trinkets. To her and the Chief they were their only way out of here. They would be virtually impossible to track without them. She would have to think of something else.

To begin with she needed to know who these people were and what they intended to do with them. The more information she could glean, the more likely she was to come up with a plan of escape. She looked her captor in the eye. “Yerend, what do you intend to do with us?” He rested the weapon on her temple and dragged it slowly down her cheek.

He grinned at her menacingly. “You are hostages. For now.” He moved away from her again, but kept the barrel of the weapon pointed at her. “Later, we will kill you.” He laughed at his ‘joke’ and several of the other men stopped their pillaging to laugh along with him.

“Who are you? Perhaps if we could talk and you told me what your grievances are, we might be able to come…….” He backhanded her across the face and she was flung back into the chief’s arms. He held her and put his other arm up to stop any further abuse.

Yerend shouted at them. “Shut up. We don’t talk. We want weapons and that’s what you are going to get us. Your precious Federation should pay handsomely for you.”

“I wouldn’t bet on it.” She mumbled into the chief’s chest. Chief Kelly looked at her. She shrugged slightly, but doubted very much if the Federation really cared one way or the other about her. Admiral D’Aalesq’s harsh face flashed through her mind, quickly followed by Chakotay’s dear face. Regret and sadness swamped her. She pulled away from Chief Kelly and looked over at Rufus. He was barely breathing. She hung her head. He was unlikely to survive and she felt entirely responsible. When would it end? For just a moment she thought of rushing towards her attackers. At least it would be quick, but she swiftly quashed that impulse. She had never been a quitter and she wasn’t about to start now. There had to be a way and she would find it, and see it through to the end.

Their captors were not well equipped, and obviously knew nothing of particle or phaser weapons. Her phaser was somewhere on the other side of the shuttle and the Chief’s had been knocked out of his hand to God knows where. The weapons the Nolkanans carried were projectile in nature which limited their accuracy, but at close range they were just as deadly as any phaser. She would just have to stay well away from them.

Kathryn shifted closer to the wall and as she put her hand down on the floor, she cut it on a piece of debris. They were sitting in amongst shards of shattered transparent aluminium from the consoles and broken pieces of bulkhead and conduit. She picked up a small piece and frowned. A thought jarred her. She picked up another and then began gathering the small pieces of debris and stowing them in the pocket of her suit. Scooping her hand behind her while keeping a wary eye on her guards, she filled her pockets with as much of the shattered remains as she could.

Adkim turned and levelled his weapon at them. His men had emptied all the storage compartments that they could find. The weapons cabinets were well camouflaged and could only be opened with a code, so they hadn’t got their hands on the phaser rifles. They’d found the med kit that was lying next to Rufus and they’d ripped power cells from their mountings and gathered anything else that looked like they could use or barter.

“Stand up.” She dragged herself to her feet and helped the chief to stand. She had a moment of dizziness, but willed herself to focus. “Now we walk.” Adkim pulled some furs from his pack. “Put these on. You’re not worth much to us dead, but don’t doubt that we will kill you if you try anything.” She draped the fur around herself and pulled the hood over her head. The Chief did the same. They looked at one another, and she gave the Chief a grim smile. She took one last look at young Rufus before they were shoved out the hatch and into the bitter snow and ice. The wind whipped around them and bit into any exposed skin. She tugged the stinking fur close around her and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. The frozen grey sludge came up to her knees and movement was difficult.

She turned to the Chief. He seemed to be coping relatively well. The isotropic splint was still doing its job and he only seemed to be troubled by the deeper drifts. She just hoped they didn’t have too far to walk.

As she trudged along she fingered the small pieces of debris in her pocket.

When they were about ten metres from the shuttle she picked a small piece of transparent aluminium from her pocket and dropped it behind her. It sank into the snow. Another five metres along, she dropped another piece and so began her trail of breadcrumbs. She just hoped whoever was looking for them would understand the significance. Gritting her teeth she set her mind to surviving the next few hours as she traipsed through the murky snow leaving her trail behind her.

Chapter Eight

“Paris, can’t this thing go any faster?” Chakotay was in the back of the flyer, pacing back and forth positively frantic with worry. He’d been so close, but not close enough to stop this disaster from happening. It had all been his fault, damn it. She wouldn’t have been here in the first place if he’d been able to control his anger. Spirits, he would never forgive himself if she was injured or worse…….. He tried to shake off the cold hand of fear that gripped his heart.

“Tom, how long now?”

Tom swung around and glared at his former first officer. “Chakotay, for heaven’s sake sit down before you wear a hole through the floor and cause a hull breach. I told you three minutes ago that we would be there in fifteen minutes. You do the math.”

Chakotay let his shoulders sag. “Sorry, Tom. I’m just worried.”

“We all are, Chakotay. We all are.” Tom turned back to his controls and studied the readouts of the Nolkanan atmosphere. Could the Admiral have chosen a more inhospitable planet to run away to? “Chakotay? Do you want to start scanning for any distress signals and see if you can pinpoint the Fresnel’s emergency beacon? We won’t be able to send or receive communications yet, but there might be an echo or something. Have a look, anyway. It will save the carpet if nothing else.”

Chakotay bit back an angry retort and sat down at the Ops console and began scanning. Frustratingly, there was nothing. He ran the scan again, tweaking and fiddling as he tried to get every last nanobyte of resolution out of the scanners.

“We’re two minutes away from the planet, Chakotay. I’m bringing the ablative shielding online.”

Chakotay nodded. “Good work, Tom.” He could hear the thunk, thunk, thunk as the layers of shielding slid into place. They would be impervious to the atmospheric eddies and ionised gases that played havoc with navigation and impulse drives of most shuttles.

Chakotay was glued to the sensors. They had entered the planet’s atmosphere at the Fresnel’s last known co-ordinates and he had the sensors on maximum trying to pick up the ionisation trail left by Kathryn’s shuttle. All he needed was a hint, just something to go on.

“Any luck there, Chakotay?”

“No, nothing yet. The Langton had no idea what vector they took once they entered the planets atmosphere?”

“No, I’m afraid not. They disappeared off sensors the instant they hit the outer gas cloud.”

“Here we are. This looks like it might be something. At co-ordinates 172 mark 4.”

Tom checked his readouts and nodded. “That certainly looks like something. I’ve got the trajectory mapped and I’m following at one quarter impulse. Any sign of the beacon yet?” Tom was flying blind. The thick gas cloud obscured any sort of visual navigation, and he was flying on instruments alone. “One minute until we’re out of the cloud.” The thick blanket of ionisation was starting to thin and Tom could see glimpses of the planet below.

Chakotay stabbed at his console. “There! The beacon. I’ve sent the co-ordinates through to the helm.” Suddenly the cabin was filled with the crackling of a comm signal, and as they broke through the final layers of cloud the signal cleared and Kathryn’s voice filled the cabin. “immediate assistance. Janeway out. This is Admiral Kathryn Janeway. The shuttle craft Fresnel has crashed at the following co-ordinates.” A set of numbers came up on the screen. “We have injured and request immediate assistance. Janeway out.”

Chakotay slumped in his seat. She was alive. A huge grin lit up his face. She was alive. The relief was almost overwhelming. “This is Admiral Kathryn Janeway. The shuttle craft Fresnel has crashed at the following co-ordinates. We have injured and request immediate assistance. Janeway out.”The message repeated. All he could think was that she was alive.

As they’d cleared the blanketing gases Tom had deactivated the ablative shielding so there would be no interference with their transporters. With any luck they could fly in, pick them up and be home in time for dinner. He cursed himself for even thinking such a thing. It would be a miracle if it was that simple. The trouble being that if it involved Kathryn Janeway there were bound to be complications.

“Hey, Chakotay.” Tom was trying to get his attention. “Hey, big guy. Hello!” Tom shook his head. Kathryn’s voice was repeating in the background and Chakotay was sitting there grinning like a loon. It was an enormous relief to hear her voice. It had crossed his mind that maybe this time her luck might have run out “Chakotay!”

“What? Oh, sorry, Tom. You’ve got the co-ordinates? I’ll try hailing them.”

Tom nodded. “We’re on our way. ETA two minutes.”

“Fresnel, this is the Delta Flyer, we are on approach. Please respond.”

Nothing.

‘Shuttle craft Fresnel. We are on approach to your co-ordinates. Please respond.”

Still nothing. Chakotay frowned. By his estimation they had been down on the planet for close on 10 hours. Looking at the sensors again, he noted that the outside temperature was 25 degrees Celsius below zero. If the environmental controls had been lost, they could very well have frozen to death by now. That distress call was hours old. After the euphoria of a few moments ago, his foreboding had an unsettling edge to it. “Tom, get us down there. Now!”

Chakotay pinpointed the shuttle. It was half buried in a drift of grey snow. He began scanning for life signs. There was one very faint signal, but the residual gases within the atmosphere limited the range of the scanners. “I’m only reading one faint life sign.” Fear and panic were waging a war within him. Spirits, please don’t let us be too late.

“You’d better get down there, Chakotay.” Tom’s heart was in his mouth. The crashed shuttle had been down there a long time, and it was damned cold…….

Tom swung the Flyer low over the damaged vessel and hovered as Chakotay raced to the aft compartment and donned an environmental suit. He grabbed a medkit and turned on his wrist light. “Tom, now.”

“Aye, energizing.”

Chakotay materialised amidst a scene of devastation and destruction, with a bitter cold wind blasting in through the open hatch. He tamped down his panic. There were things to be done. He swung his wrist light around the ruined shuttle, at the same time checking the readouts from his tricorder. Shoving broken bulkhead and shattered consoles out of the way, he found the Langton’s captain lying up against the bulkhead. The young man was badly injured and severely hypothermic. Chakotay placed a transponder on the injured man’s jacket and then scanned the rest of the shuttle. There were traces of blood throughout the cabin, and apart from the damage from the crash, vital pieces of equipment were missing. The shuttle had been ransacked.

“Tom, I’ve found Captain Lorica. He’s in a bad way. Kathryn and Chief Kelly aren’t here. It looks like the shuttle’s been ransacked. Scan for lifeforms in a ten kilometre radius.” He moved to the front of the shuttle. There were some more traces of blood, some of it Kathryn’s, but nothing to indicate where they had gone. Moving back to the rear he shone his wrist light out into the dark. The wind was howling and snow whipped around in frenzied frozen eddies. He couldn’t see a thing more than three feet from his face. Damn it, they wouldn’t last long out in this weather.

“Chakotay, I’ve got nothing on scanners. The atmosphere is interfering with sensors.”

“Ok, Tom. Keep trying.” Chakotay set his tricorder on wide scan. There was a blip. He trudged out into the grey frozen mess and homed in on the signal. It was a small piece of transparent aluminium. He picked it up. It had traces of Kathryn’s blood on it. “Kathryn!” He bellowed into the night. “Kathryn!” He increased the range of his tricorder. There! Another small piece of shuttle debris about 5 metres ahead. This time it was a tiny piece of broken conduit. He scanned further. Another. It was a trail. Like breadcrumbs. He almost laughed as hope surged.

Kathryn!

He ran back into the shuttle. “Tom, beam me back to the aft compartment.”

“Energizing.”

He materialised a few seconds later and activated the biobed. “Tom, lock on to the transponder and beam Captain Lorica to the biobed.”

“Aye, Chakotay.”

Rufus Lorica materialised on the bio bed and Chakotay activated a stasis field around the young captain maintaining his body temperature at several degrees below normal.

“Tom, I’ve found a trail of debris leading away from the shuttle.” As he spoke he raced to the equipment cage and dragged out a survival pack. He stuffed a couple of phasers in one side and a dozen plasma charges in the other side. He hauled a phaser rifle down from the rack and then tapped his comm. “Tom, I want you to beam me back down to the previous co-ordinates.”

“What? What the hell are you doing, Chakotay? You can’t track them alone. It’s freezing down there.”

“Listen, Tom. I want you to get Lorica back to the Enterprise then hightail it back here. I’ve attached a Viridium patch to my suit and I’ll drop a beacon when I find them. Kathryn has left a trail to follow and I’m going to find her.”

“Chakotay, I don’t think this is a good idea.”

“Tom, I can’t make this an order, but as a friend I’m asking you to let me do this. I have to do this, surely you understand. Just get back here as soon as you can.”

He could hear Tom heave out a breath on the other end of the comm. “Alright, alright. But you better survive. I don’t want to have to face B’Elanna if you do anything stupid like get yourself killed. This is my life on the line here as well, so just be careful.”

He chuckled. “Noted. Energize.”

He materialised just inside the shuttle and activated his tricorder. He picked up the trail and moved out into the frozen wasteland.

—————————————————————–

Tom wasted no time. The ablative shielding came on line and he powered the Flyer through the ionised atmosphere, bursting through the outer layer of gases at full impulse. He deactivated the shielding and immediately began hailing the Enterprise.

“Delta Flyer to Enterprise. Come in Enterprise.”

“This is Captain Picard of the Enterprise. What have you got for us, Delta Flyer?”

“Captain Picard, this is Tom Paris. I’ve got Captain Lorica here on board. His injuries are severe and we are holding him in stasis. I’m uploading his readouts now.”

“Thank you, Mr Paris. You will be within transporter range in one minute. We will beam Captain Lorica directly to sickbay. Dr Crusher is standing by and the shuttle bay doors are open.”

“Thank you, Captain, but once Captain Lorica has been transported to sickbay I have to return to the planet. Chakotay is tracking Admiral Janeway and Chief Kelly. They appear to have been kidnapped and we’re not sure what we’re dealing with.”

“Kidnapped! I’ll contact Starfleet immediately and start opening some diplomatic channels. You should have some back up within the hour……. You’re within transporter range. We’ve locked on to Captain Lorica. Energizing……. The patient is in sickbay. Best speed back to the planet, Mr Paris, and good luck.”

“Thank you, Captain. See you soon.” I hope, he added to himself. He swung the Flyer around and headed back to the planet.

—————————————————————

They had dragged themselves through the sludge and snow for over an hour now and Kathryn was tiring rapidly. Her head throbbed and the cold had seeped in through the layers. The Chief wasn’t in much better shape and she was worried about his leg. It was hard going and if one of them were to collapse she could guarantee that they would be left to perish. More importantly she was almost out of debris for her trail.

They were in different terrain now. Small hills and large rocks dotted the landscape. She presumed their attackers hideout would be somewhere within these rocky outcrops. Her presumption was soon proved correct.

Adkim held up his hand and called for them to stop. He turned up a sharp incline and Kathryn and Chief Kelly were pushed and dragged unceremoniously up the steep foothill. There was a small opening between two rocks. They squeezed in between and were led across an open area and then down a dimly lit passageway. The further they moved into the cave the warmer it became. But along with the welcome warmth came the rank smell of unwashed bodies and stale cooking. They rounded a corner and a large cavern opened up before them. There were about another fifteen men sitting around several small fires. They were drinking and laughing. A roar of welcome went up when their group rounded the bend and many rushed forward to see what loot they had returned with. Packs were thrown down and rummaged through. Several of the men approached Kathryn and leered at her. Chief Kelly stayed close by her side. He was almost twice the size of the smaller Nolkanan men and although she doubted that they were scared of him, his size was intimidating. One bold young Nolkanan moved forward and tugged her hood off and grabbing a handful of her hair, sniffed it and laughed uproariously. The Chief moved to push him away, but Kathryn put her hand on his arm. She stood her ground and the young man soon lost interest. He wandered back over to one of the fires and taking a bottle of something from a compatriot, took several swigs.

Adkim levelled his weapon at them. “Over there. Sit and don’t move.”

Kathryn sank down onto the floor with the Chief by her side. “I think we’ll be safe here for the time being. I’m assuming they’ll contact someone to let them know they have us and then post a ransom. We’ll just have to sit tight for the moment.”

Yerend moved over towards them and tossed a skin bladder at them and ordered. “Drink.”

Kathryn pulled the stopper from the bag and took a sip. It was water. Stale and metallic tasting, but quenching. She handed it to the Chief and he took a hearty swig. He re-corked the canteen and placed it beside him.

Yerend called a couple of the younger men over. “Tie them up.”

Their hands were pulled behind them and harsh ropes were wrapped tightly around their wrists. Their feet were bound as well. Once they were secured Yerend and his offsiders moved back towards the fires and the drink.

Kathryn turned to the Chief and whispered. “Once they’ve settled I’ll undo the bindings. I’ve got a laser cutter in my sleeve. If they’re drunk enough, we may be able to sneak back outside. What we do once we’re there, I have no idea. But first things first. We have to get away from here.”

The Chief nodded. “That’s for certain, but let’s rest for a time, while they’re occupied with their drinking.”

She nodded her agreement. Together they sat back and watched their captors, and gathered their strength for their escape.

————————————————————————

Chakotay trudged through the grey sludge and the blinding snow. He’d been walking for almost an hour and there was no sign of Kathryn or her kidnappers. The trail led to some small hills that he could see up ahead. He assumed Tom would return soon and hopefully back up would be on the way as well. He had no idea how many hostiles he would be up against.

The trail suddenly took a turn to the right and he pulled himself up the steep incline and through a narrow rock canyon to the mouth of a cave. There was a dimly lit corridor ahead of him. He checked his tricorder and scanned for lifeforms. This must be their hideout. There were faint signals from up ahead, but no life sign readings close by. He slid the pack off his back and pulled out several of the plasma charges and a beacon. He placed the beacon at the mouth of the cave and two charges high on the walls of the passageway. With his phaser rifle at the ready he moved further into the cave. Smoke from fires wafted up the passageway and he could hear the rumbling hubbub of voices in the distance. A couple of hundred metres down the tunnel he rounded a corner and found a large cavern. He kept well hidden behind some rocks, and counted about twenty or so Nolkanans gathered in small groups around fires. Scanning the room for human life signs, he looked to the left, and could finally see Kathryn and Chief Kelly sitting up against the wall of the cave. His heart leapt. She was alive and although she looked a little battered and bruised, it seemed she was in one piece. They were bound, hand and foot. Somehow he would have to release their bonds before he could to get them out of here. Their position in the cave was exposed and he could see no way to get close to them without being seen. Moving back to the narrow entrance of the cavern he placed two plasma charges on either side. If they did manage to make their escape, a well timed rock fall would hamper their pursuers.

He moved back to the position where he could see Kathryn. She was up to something. He looked closer. The Chief had shuffled around and was trying to shield her from the wary eyes of their captors. He saw the blue glint of what looked like a laser. He smiled to himself. Trust Kathryn. She’d obviously managed to secret a laser cutter somewhere and was affecting their escape. God, he loved that woman. She was unstoppable.

They needed some sort of diversion. He carefully worked his way around the cave to the opposite side and placed a plasma charge behind one of the larger rocks, then made his way back to the spot where he could see Kathryn and the Chief. She was free and the Chief was almost untied as well.

Chakotay watched and waited. He was reading her body language. She was poised, waiting for an opportunity to make a dash for the exit. He moved as close as he could to her and then hit the detonator.

All hell broke loose as the blast reverberated around the cavern. Kathryn and the Chief were just as startled as their kidnappers and looked around trying to work out what was happening. The Nolkanans leapt to their feet and were scrambling around amidst the dust and debris.

Kathryn jumped to her feet and hauled the Chief to his. They scrambled towards the exit. Someone let out a yell.

“The prisoners are escaping!”

Chakotay, from his rocky hiding place, began to pick off the pursuing Nolkanans one by one with his phaser rifle. Kathryn was moving towards him and as they moved past, he followed them, firing as he ran backwards. They made it past the narrow opening.

Kathryn stopped and looked back at this person who had saved them. He yelled. “Kathryn, keep going. I’ll cover you.”

“Chakotay!?”

“Go, Kathryn. Now!”

The Chief grabbed her arm and dragged her down the passageway. She could hear phaser fire and yelling and screaming. There was another loud explosion and dust and dirt clouds billowed up the tunnel from where Chakotay was.

She stopped. “I have to go back, Chief. He could be hurt.” Just as she turned back, a figure came running through the dust and smoke. She felt like crying. It was Chakotay.

He grabbed her arm and pushed her forward. “Don’t stop, Kathryn. Keep going. More of them are coming.”

She took off up the passageway with the Chief behind her as Chakotay brought up the rear. Shots started to ring out from behind them, ricocheting off the rock walls and spitting up small clods of dust and chips of rock. Kathryn could see the opening to the cave ahead and felt a cold blast of frigid air. She ran out into the wind and snow, and stopped about 20 metres from the exit. The chief came barrelling out behind her and then Chakotay emerged, firing his phaser rifle behind him as he ran.

The hideously familiar face of Adkim appeared through the dust and smoke and aimed his weapon at her. Her reaction was too slow, and he pulled the trigger. The chief yelled “Nooooo!” and threw himself in front of her. She saw his face as he went down, his eyes open in surprise as the projectile ploughed into his back.

She screamed. “No, no, no. Chief!”

Chakotay took out Adkim with a phaser shot and then hit the detonator and blew the entrance of the cave network.

Kathryn threw herself over the Chief to protect him from the flying rocks and dirt.

Blood was pouring from a wound high on the Chief’s chest. The bullet had gone straight through him and Kathryn held her hand over the exit wound trying to staunch the flow. Chakotay skidded to her side and pulled a medkit from his pack. He placed a pressure bandage over the wound. His comm chirped.

“Delta Flyer to Chakotay. Come in, old man. Where the hell are you?”

Kathryn reached over and tapped his badge. “Tom, get here now. We have wounded.”

“Aye. Admiral. I’m on my way.”

Chakotay rolled the chief over and applied another pressure bandage to the gaping wound in his back. The snow was awash with blood. Kathryn didn’t know how he could survive with such massive blood loss. She bent over him. “Chief, you listen to me now. Hang in there. We’ll have you out of here in a moment. Don’t you dare do anything stupid. Do you hear me? That’s an order.” Tears were pouring down her face.

The old engineer opened his eyes and looked at her. He smiled and whispered. “See, I told you he’d come. And don’t you worry, my dear lady. I’m not done for yet.” With that his eyes glazed and shut. Horrified, she looked up at Chakotay who was running the medical tricorder over him.

“He’s unconscious.”

She nodded her head, too shocked and emotional to speak.

They heard the Flyer arrive. It was hovering overhead.

Tom’s welcome voice came over Chakotay’s comm. “I’m energizing now, Chakotay.”

The three of them materialised in the aft bay. The Chief was on one of the bio beds. Chakotay placed a cortical stimulator on his neck, administered a hypo to slow the bleeding and then activated the stasis field around him.

Kathryn hit the comm panel. “Tom, we have to go back to the shuttle and get Captain Lorica. He’s still there.”

Chakotay turned to her. “It’s alright, Kathryn. He’s already on the Enterprise. We found him several hours ago. Tom, get us out of here now.”

“We’re already on our way, Chakotay. Ablative shielding coming online. We’re entering the ionised atmosphere now. I’ll let you know when we’re in open space.”

“Thanks, Tom.”

Kathryn stood vigil the Chief’s bed. She looked up at Chakotay to find him watching her intently.

They just stared at one another for a long moment. Then Chakotay blinked. “Here Kathryn, let me have a look at you.”

She tried to shrug him off. “I’m fine.”

“You don’t look it.” She frowned up at him. His shoulders sagged. “Please, just let me take care of those wounds quickly. It will only take a moment. Then I’ll leave you be.”

‘Leave you be’. His words struck a strident chord that made her gut clench. Unsure of his or her own feelings, she nodded her head and sat down on another of the bio beds. He ran the tricorder over her. “You’ve got a concussion, torn ligaments in your shoulder, a bruised liver, various cuts and bruises. Here, let me fix those at least.” He was pointing to the cuts on her face and hands. He ran the dermal regenerator over the cuts and she watched his face as he concentrated on his task. She hadn’t imagined being this close to him again, and she wasn’t quite sure what she was feeling just at the moment.

All that had happened over the last day or so had left her shattered. She needed some time to regroup. Once she knew that the Chief and Rufus were going to be alright, she would take some time to herself and deal with her feelings. Near death experiences certainly tended to put things into perspective. She couldn’t quite grasp what Chakotay was doing here. How did he know where to find her and why was he at Nolkana IV in the first place? There were so many questions that needed to be answered. Her head was still a bit addled and now that the adrenalin rush had subsided, it had started to pound again and the dizziness was back. She wobbled a bit on the edge of the bio bed. Chakotay held her arm to steady her, but she pushed his hand away. She was too confused at the moment and his touch was a torture. Both good and bad.

Chakotay let his hand drop to his side. His face remained impassive, although he was dying inside. “Kathryn, you should lie down. We’ll be twenty minutes or so getting back to the Enterprise. Why don’t you rest?”

She nodded and lay down on the bio bed. She watched him as he pulled a blanket over her and then turned and checked the Chief again. Closing her eyes she let exhaustion take her. It was easier to sleep than to try and sort out her jumbled feelings about what had happened.

A short time later she drifted towards wakefulness with the sound of Tom’s voice over the comm.

“Chakotay, we’ve cleared the atmosphere and are on our way to rendezvous with the Enterprise. I’ll patch you through to Dr Crusher and you can give her a run down on the injuries.”

“Thanks, Tom.” He checked the readouts on the chief’s bed and then his comm beeped. “Dr Crusher?”

“Crusher here, Mr Chakotay. What have you got for me?”

“It’s just Chakotay, Doctor, and I’ve got Chief Kelly and Admiral Janeway. Chief Kelly is unconscious. He took a shot from a projectile weapon. The entry wound is in the middle of his back and the exit wound is in his right upper chest. He’s lost a lot of blood. He also has a broken leg and contusions. He’s in stasis and stable. Admiral Janeway has a concussion, torn ligaments in her left shoulder, a bruised liver and various contusions. She’s drifting in and out of consciousness. I’m uploading their readouts to the Enterprise.”

“Thank you, Chakotay. You’ll be within transporter range in a matter of minutes. I’ll have you and the patients beamed directly here.”

“Thank you, Doctor. I’ll see you shortly.”

“Good. Crusher out.”

Chakotay heaved a huge sigh of relief. They would all be alright. Once Kathryn was safely ensconced in the Enterprise sickbay he would contact Gretchen and give her the good news. Their weeks of searching were at an end, and she was safe.

But now the real heartache began. Now he would have to make plans to extricate himself from Kathryn’s life. Gretchen expected him to stay, he knew that, but it was obvious what he’d done had destroyed any feelings Kathryn may have had for him. She couldn’t bear to have him near her, so it was best for all concerned if he just disappeared and left everyone to get on with their lives. Kathryn’s career was now safe and secure. Family and friends were close at hand. She would be fine, and he would find some worthwhile work to do somewhere. They were crying out for experienced workers on planets like Dorvan and other war affected worlds within the old DMZ.

He sighed quietly. His future was organised. Now he could concentrate on matters at hand. Getting Kathryn well and home safely.

“Paris to Chakotay.”

“Chakotay here, Tom.”

“We’re within transporter range of the Enterprise. They’re hailing.”

“Enterprise, this is Chakotay.”

“Chakotay, this is Captain Picard. Are you and your patients ready for transport?”

“Yes, thank you, Captain. We’re ready to go.”

Almost instantly he was caught by the transporter beam, materialising in the spacious Enterprise sickbay. Kathryn and the Chief were on biobeds and already being attended to by the medical staff. He stood back out of the way.

“Chakotay?” A cultured voice spoke from behind him. Turning he came face to face with Captain Jean Luc Picard.

“Captain Picard?”

Picard nodded and extended his hand. “A pleasure to meet you, Chakotay.” He looked behind Chakotay. “How are our patients doing, Doctor?”

An attractive red haired woman approached. “Chakotay. Captain.” Her hands were full of instruments so she simply nodded a greeting. “I’m about to take Chief Kelly in for surgery. He’s lost a lot of blood and is in a critical condition, but should be fine. Admiral Janeway is sedated but her injuries are not life threatening” She turned to Chakotay. “I have to say, Chakotay, you performed some excellent first aid. You did the right thing by putting Captain Lorica into stasis and maintaining his low body temp. Your actions quite likely saved his life. Well done.”

“So he’s going to be alright? I’m pleased.”

She looked over her shoulder as a console beeped. “If you’ll excuse me, gentlemen.”

Chakotay spoke up as she turned. “Doctor, would it be alright if I sat with Ka…Admiral Janeway for a short while?”

She smiled knowingly. “Certainly. Nurse Ogawa will call you when the Admiral is settled.” She nodded again and looked briefly but pointedly at Captain Picard then turned and left.

“We have the Delta Flyer docked in our shuttle bay and your pilot should be here shortly. The Potemkin has been dispatched and is on its way with a diplomatic team, and the Nolkanan authorities are dealing with the cleanup of the insurgents who kidnapped the Admiral and Chief Kelly. It’s not altogether clear what their motives were and whether or not they are affiliated with any particular political faction, but I’m sure we’ll learn more about it once the diplomats have had their turn.”

Chakotay tore his eyes away from Kathryn to look at Picard. “Thank you, Captain. We didn’t have time to discuss who the kidnappers were or what they wanted. I’m sure the Admiral will write a full report once she’s well enough. Did you say Tom Paris is on his way?”

“Your pilot? Yes. Would that be Admiral Owen Paris’s boy?”

Chakotay nodded absentmindedly. He realised that Picard was trying to put him at ease, but he was having trouble keeping his mind on anything while Kathryn lay there. “I’m sorry, Sir. I don’t mean to be rude. I’m just very worried about the Admiral.”

He nodded “I can understand your concern, but she’s in good hands. We’re making best speed back to Earth and should be there in just under three days.”

At that point, Nurse Ogawa approached Chakotay. “Excuse me, Sir, the Admiral is resting quietly. Her head injury is stable and her other injuries have been healed. She’s been sedated and won’t regain consciousness for a few hours, but she’s out of danger and you’re welcome to come and sit by her bed if you’d like.”

He gave a brief smile of gratitude. “Thank you.” He turned to Picard. “Thank you again, Captain. If you‘ll excuse me.”

“Certainly.” Picard turned to one of the other medics. “Can you ask Doctor Crusher to send a report through to me as soon as Chief Kelly is out of surgery?”

“Yes, Sir.”

Picard turned and left sickbay. He couldn’t help but smile at Chakotay’s ill disguised affection for Admiral Janeway. He’d read transcripts of some of their exploits in the Delta Quadrant. They made a formidable team and together had accomplished the near impossible in bringing Voyager home from the far reaches of the galaxy. He was also aware of the cloud of censure that Admiral Janeway had been living under since her return and had heartily joined with many other line officers to protest against her poor treatment. It had been a triumph. Support from the ranks, and the swell of public outrage had highlighted her poor treatment and turned the tables on her antagonists. Good sense had prevailed and it renewed his faith in Starfleet and the Federation when they were willing to admit their mistakes and make good by those who had been wronged. Even though the institution was a large and intimidating one, they could still be humble.

He hoped that Chakotay and the Admiral could be as forgiving. Owen Paris had spoken to him of their complicated relationship. He thought of his and Beverly’s convoluted and complex courtship. Thank heavens they’d finally seen the error of their ways and had married shortly after Will and Deanna. It had been a much quieter affair, but no less meaningful. He was a happy man and in the manner of happy men, he wanted those around him to be happy too. If he could, he would make it so.

Chakotay pulled a chair over to the side of Kathryn’s biobed, but stood for a moment looking down at her. His heart sang, but at the same time it was breaking. She was alive, safe, and would recover fully, but he knew these were the last few days he would be spending with her. He sat down and took her hand, cradling it between his own. He brought it to his lips he kissed it, then lay it down on the blankets again. Shuffling closer to the head of the bed, his face was close to hers, he began to talk to her in whispers. He told her how very sorry he was for all the things that he’d said and done. He told her that he loved her and only her, and apologised for his callousness and unkindness. Again and again he told her that he loved her and always would, and that he hoped one day she would find it in her heart to forgive him, but if she didn’t, he would understand.

Nurse Ogawa came and checked on her vitals at one point. He expected to be told to leave, but she smiled and moved on to the next patient. Tom stopped by to check on everyone and told Chakotay that he’d contacted Gretchen and B’Elanna with the good news and they had sent their love. Chief Kelly was brought back from surgery an hour or so after their arrival. He’d pulled through with flying colours and was lying sleeping in the bio bed next to Kathryn’s.

Chakotay spent several hours by her bedside, talking quietly to her about their years in the Delta Quadrant. He reminisced about all the good times they’d spent together on their own and with the crew. Holding her hand he occasionally stroked her cheek or ran his fingers through her hair.

He was watching her sleep, and revelling in these last few hours alone with her, when he felt eyes upon him and looked up at the next biobed. The Langton’s engineer was awake and looking at him intently. Chakotay nodded to the older man. Chief Kelly jerked his head to indicate that Chakotay move over to his side. Letting go of Kathryn’s hand he whispered in her ear that he would be back in a moment.

“Chief Kelly. It’s good to see you awake. How are you feeling?”

“Help me up here, young fella.” Chakotay braced the man’s forearm and helped pull him up into a reclining position while one of the med staff tilted the bed and put pillows behind him. “Ahh. That’s better. Chakotay, isn’t it?” The Chief held out his hand and Chakotay shook it. “I hear I owe you our thanks. I told the Admiral that you’d find us. She didn’t believe me, but I knew.” He looked over at Kathryn’s biobed. “How is the dear lady?”

Chakotay followed his gaze. “She’s still unconscious, but out of danger.” Chakotay frowned at the man. “How did you know I was coming?”

Chief Kelly chuckled. “It’s nothing otherworldly, let me assure you. Many years ago I was chief engineer on the USS Norfolk when a young upstart Commander by the name of Owen Paris came aboard as First Officer. We’ve remained firm friends ever since. Nigh on forty years. He contacted me on the Langton and asked me to keep an eye on the Admiral. He told me a little of what had happened and that you were on the way. She’s not aware that Owen Paris spoke to me, and I would prefer that she didn’t. I tried to reassure her that you would find us and I’m very grateful that you did.” Chakotay had a lot of people to thank. The gentleman in front of him for one, and the Paris family had been good and kind friends to Kathryn. He hoped he could repay them one day.

Chief Kelly looked over his other shoulder. “Have you heard how my captain is? He was in a bad way.”

“He’s out of surgery and in intensive care. From what I understand everything went well, but you’ll have to ask Dr Crusher for more details. I’m sorry I don’t have anymore information.”

Chief Kelly nodded. “He’s still alive. That’s all that’s important for the moment.” Something caught his eye and he motioned his head towards Kathryn’s biobed. “You’d best get over there, my friend. It looks like the Admiral is waking up.”

Chakotay turned to see Kathryn start to move. “Thank you, Chief. For everything.”

“You mind her, young man, and do the right thing by her. She’s a fighter that one.”

He nodded to the engineer and moved to the side of Kathryn’s bed. Nurse Ogawa was on the other side. “Admiral Janeway. Admiral.”

She looked up at Chakotay. “Perhaps you could try, Sir.”

He nodded. “Kathryn. Kathryn, it’s time to wake up.”

She frowned as she fought her way to the surface. “Chako….” She licked her dry lips and swallowed. “Chakotay?” Her eyes flickered open and she tried to sit up. “Chakotay!”

“Shhh. Kathryn, I’m here. Steady there. Just lie back. You’re fine, but you shouldn’t move so fast.”

She turned her bleary eyes towards him and smiled. “Chakotay. I thought I’d dreamed. Chakotay.” Smiling, she closed her eyes again and drifted back to sleep.

He looked up questioningly at the Nurse. “She’s fine. Sleep’s what she needs now. She’ll wake up again in a few hours. Perhaps you should go and get a meal and have a few hours rest. I’ll call you if there’s any change.”

He nodded and moved away from her quietly. Now it was time for him to begin pulling back. It broke his heart. She’d seemed so pleased that he was here but he knew it was a subconscious reaction. It was habit more than anything. He’d always been there when she woke in Voyager’s sickbay, and she’d just expected him to be by her side. He moved towards the doors, taking one more look at her before he moved out into the corridor and made his way to the turbo lift.

Chakotay had never been on a Sovereign class starship. They had been brought into service after the Liberty and Voyager had been lost in the Delta Quadrant. It was like a small city compared to Voyager. He stopped a young ensign and asked the way to the messhall. The young crewman directed him to the Ten Forward lounge.

Chakotay took the lift to deck ten and then found his way from there. He took a seat in a quiet corner and contemplated what life had in store for him now. Not much really, but he would find something worthwhile to do.

As he stared blindly out of the viewport a hand came down on his shoulder. “Hey, Chakotay. How are the patients?” It was Tom.

He gave him a grim smile. “Kathryn woke a few minutes ago, but she’s asleep again. The Chief is doing fine and Captain Lorica is out of danger, but still critical.”

Tom took a seat opposite and studied the sad man before him. He thought Chakotay would be elated that Kathryn had woken and they could now get on with their lives. Something wasn’t right and he had a bad feeling about it. He hated bad feelings, especially where Kathryn and Chakotay were concerned. Damn. It usually meant that more trouble ahead.

He was right.

Chapter Nine

Chakotay was by Kathryn’s side when she woke the second time. He stood well back and gave her a brief smile saying he was glad she was feeling better, and then took a seat in the far corner of sick bay. He wanted to be nearby, but didn’t want to cause her distress by being too close. The promise he made to Gretchen to bring her home safe and sound still had to be fulfilled and until his undertaking was accomplished he would stay close at hand.

Captain Picard informed Kathryn of Starfleet’s and the Federation Council’s decision to ratify her appointment and that she was now reinstated to the position of Admiral with full benefits and honours. He also filled her in on what was known of the insurgents who had kidnapped her. They were apparently non affiliated terrorists who had taken advantage of the shuttle occupants’ misfortune of having crashed in their territory. Adkim and his cohorts had since been apprehended and were being dealt with by the Nolkanan authorities. She was pleased that the ordeal was all behind her, but what troubled her most was Chakotay’s behaviour. He was being deliberately distant and uncommunicative and they needed to talk. She would have said something to him herself, but he was never in her company long enough for her to broach the subject of their estrangement and falling out.

On the second day she was released from sickbay and Chakotay had quietly escorted her to the VIP quarters and then left her once he was satisfied she was comfortable. His aloof behaviour was frustrating her and she was angry with both of them for missing yet another opportunity to clear the air.

The evening before they were due to dock, Chakotay visited her. Kathryn was relieved. She was aware that he’d been avoiding her and had been worried that they would never get a chance to discuss what had happened. His words had been callous and unkind, but over the last few weeks and through all her ordeals, she’d begun to understand his reasons for lashing out. His attitude since her rescue, and the fact that he’d risked his life to save her in the first place, was not that of someone who disliked her. His constant care and presence had been a comfort but it concerned her as well. It was so unlike him to be so reticent. She’d heard a lot of what he’d said to her while she was asleep. Initially she thought it was a dream, but Chief Kelly had told her that Chakotay had sat by her side all that first day in sickbay, whispering and talking quietly to her for hours on end. She knew that he still loved her, as she did him, and she dearly wanted to resolve this deadlock.

He walked hesitantly into her room.

She gave him a small smile. “Have a seat, Chakotay. I’m glad you’re here.”

His face remained dark and inscrutable. “I’ll stand if you don’t mind. I’ve just come to apologise, Kathryn. What I said to you that night was unforgivable. I know there’s nothing I can do to repair what I’ve destroyed, but I just wanted you to know that, from the bottom of my heart and the depths of my soul, I am sorry and I hope that one day you can find it in your heart to forgive me. I want you to know that you’ll always have my undying devotion. Thank you for seeing me.”

With that he turned and walked out of her quarters. She sat there stunned beyond belief. What the hell was that? Now she wasn’t sure what to do. He’d apologised. Well and good. But undying devotion? “Computer. Locate Tom Paris.”

“Tom Paris is in Ten Forward.”

She pulled on her jacket and strode out of her quarters.

Standing at the entrance of Ten Forward she noticed Tom sitting with a group of Lieutenants. They all stood on her approach and Tom smiled. “Admiral. It’s good to see you.”

She nodded her greeting to those around the table, and then looked at Tom. “Tom, could I speak to you for a moment?”

“Sure, Admiral.” He looked around the lounge for a moment then spotted a table over in the far corner away from the hubbub. Picking up his drink he indicated it with his hand. Once they were sitting he waited patiently for her to start talking.

She was having trouble meeting his eyes. This meant it was something to do with Chakotay for sure. “Tom?”

“Yes, Admiral.”

“Kathryn, Tom.”

“OK. Kathryn.” He decided he might as well get the conversation started. “It’s Chakotay, isn’t it?”

She heaved a sigh and nodded. “Yes. I don’t quite know what to make of his behaviour. He risked his life to find and save me and I know he spent many hours with me while I was unconscious, but since I’ve been awake he won’t come near me. However, he did come to my quarters a few minutes ago and recite a speech, apologising for what he’d said to me in my office a few weeks ago. He hoped that I could forgive him one day and that I have his undying devotion. Then he just walked out the door.” She shook her head. “What’s happened? Can you tell me?”

Tom sat back. “What happened? Well, lots. Let’s see if I can remember everything.” He started with Chakotay’s arrival on their doorstep that night. “He was in a terrible state. B’Elanna hit him, you know.” Kathryn looked at him in shocked silence. Tom nodded with a smirk. “Yeah, when he told her what he’d said to you, she slapped him so hard across the face that it made my ears ring. It certainly shocked him out of his snit. That was when they began their search. Chakotay was so desperate that he contacted everyone he could think of, even Mark Johnson. It was Mark who thought of the cabin. We even went to Quebec to check, but you’d already gone.

“He hardly slept and spent most of his time prowling around the house. He hasn’t forgiven himself you know. I’m assuming you’ve forgiven him.” She nodded, but kept her eyes straight ahead. “He doesn’t expect you to, in fact I think he’d be happier if you didn’t and just tore strips off him.” She turned and gave him a sad smile. Tom leant forward and patted her hand. “Kathryn? Can I ask you something?” She nodded. “Do you love him?”

She looked at him aghast. “I don’t think that is an appropriate question, Lieutenant.”

Tom rolled his eyes. “Hey! What happened to Kathryn? Where the hell did she go? I’m asking as a friend. Come on, Kathryn. We’ve been through too much together for you to pull that one on me now.”

Tom was right. She thought back to what Chief Kelly had said. He’d been right. She was so used to holding herself aloof from everyone that she’d forgotten that people really did just care. “I’m sorry, Tom. You’re right. Yes, I love him. I have for years, but you already know that. You just wanted me to say it out loud, didn’t you?” It had felt good actually. She said it over and over in her mind. I love Chakotay, I love Chakotay. Hmmm. It had a nice ring to it.

Tom watched her face as she came to accept the truth. “Maybe you should go and tell the big fella. I’m sure he’d be pleased to know.”

“I don’t think he’s much in the listening mood just at the moment.”

“I think you’ll find his strange behaviour since your recovery is mostly to do with being eaten up by guilt.”

Kathryn sighed. Intimately acquainted with that demon as she was, she knew how destructive it could be. “Yes, well he doesn’t have the premium on that emotion.” She gave a derisive laugh and shook her head. “What a pair.”

“Are you going to be alright, Kathryn?”

She gave him a sad smile. “Yes, thank you, Tom. I’ll be fine. You go and join your friends. I need to think for a while.”

He squeezed her hand as he rose from his seat. “Call if you need anything.”

She nodded. “I will. Thank you.”

A waiter approached her table and she ordered a whiskey. She needed something to warm her. There was a cold hand of foreboding hovering over her heart. She couldn’t bear to lose him again. There had to be some way to fix this. Even if they could be no more than friends, he was too important to her to just let him drift away. Life without him was too difficult to imagine. Oh she’d get by, but that would be it, getting by. She would never be truly happy and damn it, she deserved some happiness. Over the years she’d been dealt some low blows, and it was time she had her few moments of joy. Was it too much to ask?

“Admiral, do you mind if I join you?”

She turned and smiled. “Chief Kelly, you are most welcome to join me. How are you? You’re looking well.”

“I’m fine. Thank you, Admiral.”

“I’m very pleased to hear that. I owe you a great debt. That was a very brave, but foolish thing you did.”

“Hmmm, yes well, I hadn’t intended to get shot. The idea had been to knock you out of the way. I’m not as quick on my feet as I used to be. But I’m fine, my dear lady. And how might you be? You look like you’ve got the weight of the world on those fine shoulders.”

“Not the world, just a few of the people in it, but apart from that I’m well, thank you.” She lifted her hand calling a waiter to their table. “What will you have, Chief?”

“I’ll have a double of whatever you’re having, Admiral.”

“Two double whiskeys, thank you.” The waiter moved off to collect their drinks.

Chief Kelly studied the drawn face of the woman opposite him. Things were not going well by the look of things. “I had the opportunity of having a few words with your Chakotay. An interesting man. Quiet and brooding. Have you had a chance to speak to him?”

She pursed her lips. She wasn’t sure if speaking to the Chief about this now was at all appropriate. Lying beside one another, injured and freezing to death was one thing, but healthy and in the lounge of a starship was another thing entirely. She looked up and locked eyes with the wise old engineer.

He carried on undaunted. “He loves you, you know. I heard him while you were unconscious. Over and over again he said it. It was heartbreaking.”

Kathryn swung her head away. Not wanting him to see her tears.

He kept going. “He doesn’t think he deserves you, especially after what he did. He doesn’t expect you to forgive him and doesn’t want you to. His plans are to leave and go somewhere far away and lead a lonely miserable life as a form of punishment for hurting you.” He patted her hand. “He doesn’t realise that by leaving you again he’s hurting you more, does he?” To stifle a sob she held her fingers to her mouth and swiped briskly at her tears. He handed her a handkerchief. He’d come prepared. She just hoped no one else was aware of her distress. “It’s alright, Admiral. No one can see.” She swung around and stared at him. He was a perceptive old meddler.

“Chief, I can’t force him to talk to me. He seems to want to keep his distance. Perhaps with time he’ll become more receptive, but just at the moment I think I need time and maybe he does too. Thank you for your thoughts though.” She stood up. “I appreciate your concern Chief, but I think its time for me to go back to my quarters. A couple of whiskeys are more than enough for me. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Admiral.” He was grim faced as he watched her stride proudly from the room. Shaking his head, he sipped quietly on his drink.

Kathryn arrived back in her quarters and got ready for bed. They would be docking at McKinley Station tomorrow at around 10:00 and she would be beaming directly to Indiana and home. It had been an eventful few weeks and she knew she should be overjoyed at having survived her kidnapping, her change of status and the knowledge that her crew were all safe from prosecution.

It was not that she wasn’t pleased. It was just that it was a hollow victory. She was still alone and unhappy. The life she’d fought so hard to return to was still out of reach. She sighed and moved into the bathroom, and washed her face. She studied her face in the mirror. Tomorrow was another day and maybe, just maybe, she could do something about changing her circumstances. She nodded determinedly at her reflection then left the bathroom and slid between the sheets. She closed her eyes, whispered his name and drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

Chakotay sat and stared at the passing stars, unable to sleep again. This had become his routine over the last few weeks. He would doze, but invariably wake with a start.

The clammy remnants of nightmares clinging to his subconscious. Kathryn featured in all of them. Her body, cold and frozen. Her lips blue, her face covered in ice and anguished cries going unheard as she was shot and shattered into a million pieces. She was forever out of his reach. He would frantically try to grab for her, but would miss her outstretched hand or he would clasp it and then it would slip from his grasp. Each time, he would jolt awake with her name a mournful cry on his lips. He was not looking forward to the rest of his life if this was a taste of what it was to be.

It was early morning now. He got up and stood under the hot shower for a good half an hour. Dressed and ready well before debarkation, he took up his vigil by the viewport until it was time to go.

Kathryn had woken early as well. She’d showered and dressed and then made her way down to sick bay. Captain Lorica had regained consciousness during the night and she wanted to see him before she left. She entered sick bay and waited just inside the doorway. Doctor Crusher noticed her arrival. “Admiral Janeway. How are you feeling?”

“I’m very well, thank you. I’ve come to see Captain Lorica if that’s at all possible?”

“Certainly. We’ve moved him into the main ward from ICU. He’s awake.” They moved over to his bed. “Captain, there’s someone to see you.” She smiled at Kathryn and began to move away from the bed when her comm chimed.

“Picard to Crusher.”

“Beverly here, Jean Luc.”

“Are you coming home for breakfast, my dear? It’s getting cold.” She rolled her eyes at Kathryn. Kathryn smiled.

“I’m on my way. Crusher out. Well, my other duty calls. It was a pleasure to meet you, Admiral. Take care of yourself and I’m sure we’ll see you again.”

“Thank you, Doctor Crusher… for everything.”

Beverly Crusher-Picard gave a brief wave as she left sickbay for home.

Kathryn felt a brief pang of envy as she watched the happy woman leave sickbay. She admonished herself and then looked down at her friend, Rufus Lorica. “Rufus, it’s good to see you. How are you feeling?”

He smiled. “Admiral, good morning. Feeling? Well, pretty much like I’ve been shot out of a phaser canon, but then again I’m lucky I can feel anything at all. How are you?”

“Oh, I’m fine. Hardly a scratch and all better now anyway. You gave us quite a scare though. I’m glad to see you’re in such good spirits.”

“I’m just glad to be alive. I believe I have you, the Chief, and your former first officer and pilot to thank for that. Thank you, Admiral. I’m most grateful.” He smiled and she was filled with relief to see him so well. “I believe I’m being transferred down to Starfleet medical as soon as we’re docked. My family are already there apparently, clogging up the hallways and generally causing havoc. As they’re want to do.”

Kathryn smiled at the undisguised affection the young captain displayed for his family. “I’m pleased they’re there for you.”

“So am I, Admiral. I’ll be in hospital for several weeks. I have quite a bit of rehabilitation ahead of me. It would please me, time allowing of course, if you could come and visit sometime. Your first officer and pilot as well. I’d like to thank them.” He blushed slightly, not sure if it was acceptable to ask an admiral to do such a thing.

Kathryn was touched. “I’d love to come and visit you. I’d already planned to be kept informed of your progress.” She patted his hand. “Well, I’d best be going. I’m beaming down shortly. Take care of yourself, Rufus, and I’ll see you soon.”

“Thank you again, Admiral. You look after yourself too.”

She smiled and left sick bay and wandered back to her quarters. As she sat sipping a cup of coffee, her comm chimed, indicating an incoming call. She tapped the receive button. It was her mother. “Kathryn, good morning. How are you today, dear?”

“Hello, Mom. I’m fine. I’m all packed and ready to go. I’m looking forward to seeing you. Are Phoebe and the rest of the family there?”

Her mother shook her head. “No. They will be here on the weekend. I thought you might like a few days of quiet to recuperate. You look tired.”

“I’m fine, really, Mother.”

Gretchen knew immediately that things were far from fine. Kathryn only ever called her ‘mother’ when she was trying to hide something from her. She had a pretty good idea what, or rather, who the problem was. She was mightily tempted to knock their heads together. What a pair of stubborn fools. She shook her head in frustration. “Alright, dear. Well I’ll see you both soon. Chakotay’s coming too, isn’t he?”

“I’m not sure. I haven’t spoken to him today. If I see him I’ll ask. See you in an hour or so.” She hit the end button on the console and fought the tears. Her mother wasn’t going to back down until she knew every little detail about what had happened. Kathryn wasn’t sure if she had the wherewithal to go through it all again. With her cooling coffee in hand, she moved back to the couch and her silent vigil.

At 09:00 she received a message from Tom Paris. He was boarding the Flyer and would meet them back in San Francisco. There was also a dinner invitation from B’Elanna for the following Saturday night. She sent a quick message to the Flyer wishing him a safe flight and accepting his invitation.

It was about fifteen minutes before they were due to dock and her door chimed. “Come.” She looked up. “Chakotay!”

He gave her a brief nod and moved to her bags. “I’ve come to escort you home. We’ll be docking in a few minutes and you have clearance to beam directly to Indiana. Your mother is expecting you.”

“I know. I just spoke to her. She’s expecting you too, you know.”

He nodded. “Yes, I know.” He picked up her bags and left the room. She followed him out into the corridor and to the turbo lift. He stood in rigid silence in the lift, his eyes staring blankly at the closed doors. She itched to touch him, but was afraid he might recoil and then they would have to contend with the fallout from that. She wasn’t sure what to do. And people thought she was stubborn? Well, Chakotay would run a close second as far as she was concerned. She had forgiven him some time ago and desperately wanted her friend back, but he was implacable. As they approached the doors of the transporter room, she stood tall and let her face fall into the lines of an efficient and compassionate leader. Protocol dictated that Captain Picard would be here to see her off and it was important to maintain the façade.

“Have you no luggage, Chakotay?” He looked down at her. Her face was impassive, but there was a sadness in her eyes that tugged at his heart.

“Mine has already been transported. I brought it here earlier.” He turned and looked straight ahead again, but his heart bled. He dearly wanted to wrap her in his arms and take away all the hurt, but he’d forfeited that right when he uttered his wounding words.

The doors swished open and as Kathryn had suspected Captain Picard and Doctor Crusher were waiting to see them off the ship. An Ensign took her bags from Chakotay and they were transported while they said their goodbyes.

Captain Picard stepped forward and stood to attention. “Admiral Janeway, good bye and good luck.”

“Thank you, Captain, and my humblest thanks to you and your crew for your timely arrival and rescue. Doctor Crusher, thank you again for all your help.”

“Our pleasure, Admiral. Chakotay, look after her, won’t you? And we’ll look forward to catching up with you at Headquarters sometime.” Beverly shook both their hands. Chakotay gave her a grim nod and then stepped up on to the platform. Kathryn gave both their hands a quick shake and followed Chakotay on to the platform. She looked at the happy smiling faces of Picard and Crusher. The captain gave the order and they faded from view.

Kathryn and Chakotay materialised in the living room of her mother’s home. Gretchen was there waiting.

“Kathryn. Oh, Kathryn. Thank heavens you’re alright. It’s so good to have you home. You have to stop doing this to me. My poor heart can’t take it.” She enveloped Kathryn in a tight hug, pulled back and looked at her face, and embraced her again.

“Chakotay, dear. Thank you. How are you?” Gretchen let Kathryn go and gripped Chakotay’s shoulders and kissed his cheek.

“I’m fine, thank you, Gretchen.”

Kathryn watched the exchange. It seemed that Chakotay and her mother had formed a friendship of sorts while she was away. She felt an unwelcome stab of jealousy and chided herself. She was pathetic. But it seemed her mother had managed to acquire what she wanted so badly. What she wouldn’t give to reach up and kiss him. Her mother turned to her and raised her eyebrows at Kathryn’s expression.

Gretchen was very aware of the tension in the room. Things were obviously far from resolved.

Kathryn bent to get her bag, but Gretchen stayed her hand. “We’ll unpack later, dear. Come into the kitchen, both of you, and have a cup of coffee. I’ve got some caramel brownies here for you too.” Kathryn moved to follow her mother, but Chakotay stayed put.

The two women turned when he didn’t follow. He avoided Kathryn’s eyes and looked directly at Gretchen. “Thank you, Gretchen, but I have to go.”

Gretchen frowned. She’d been afraid of this.

Kathryn stared wide eyed. He was leaving again. They hadn’t even had a chance to talk about what had happened and he was going again. She couldn’t bear to see him go, so she turned and kept walking. Out through the kitchen. Through the back door and out to the fields. Gretchen watched her go and then turned to Chakotay. “Follow her, for goodness sake. I thought we had this all worked out. You love each other. What in God’s name is wrong with the pair of you?”

“I’ll only hurt her again. She deserves better than me, Gretchen. She has a life here. One I can’t be a part of. It’s better this way.”

“Says who? She certainly doesn’t think so. You’re breaking her heart again. You need each other. You’re looking none too sturdy yourself, young man. Please Chakotay, give it a few days and see how things work out.”

He shook his head. “My shuttle leaves for Dorvan this afternoon. I’ll keep in touch. Good bye, Gretchen.”

He strode out of the room and out the front door.

Gretchen stood in her empty living room looking first in one direction then the other. For the life of her she couldn’t figure out what had happened. Here were two people who loved each other more than life itself and they were walking away from one another, again. She couldn’t stop Chakotay but she could certainly have a word or two to her errant daughter. She turned and bellowed out the back door. “Kathryn! Kathryn Marie Janeway, you get yourself back here this instant. Kathryn!”

Kathryn was standing down by the back fence, looking out over the cornfields. He’d gone. She could feel it. That awful hollowness crept into her middle. A gaping emptiness that left her almost gasping. She took deep measured breaths as she tried to tamp down her panic. Then she heard her mother’s call. Gretchen was angry. She only ever used her full name when she was angry. It was something she remembered well from her childhood. Wiping away a stray tear she moved slowly up the hill towards her. Gretchen was standing on the top of the back steps with her hands on her hips and a ferocious scowl on her face.

Kathryn’s shoulders sagged. She felt twelve years old again, and steeled herself for the onslaught. “Kathryn Janeway, I can’t believe you’ve let him go again. Why do you make things so difficult? It’s simple. You love him, he loves you. It’s not quantum physics, you know.”

“Mother, he’s gone. He didn’t want to stay. I can’t make him.”

Gretchen heaved a sigh. “For a smart woman, Kathryn, you can be astonishingly dim sometimes. I know you. You’ve always been the one calling the shots, haven’t you? It was your idea not to pursue a relationship while you were out there. You’ve led him around by the nose for years, expecting him to be there for you when you wanted him and then casting him adrift when it suited you.”

Kathryn was standing there with her mouth gaping open, her anger rising. “Well, you two certainly got chummy while I was away.”

“Don’t you use that tone with me, young lady. Chakotay didn’t say a thing. I know you well, Kathryn. I’m your mother, and I’ve watched you for years. You did the same thing to poor old Mark. He was willing to take it, and so was Chakotay for the most part, but even he has his limits. You can’t change the rules in the middle of the game. You are going to have to be the one to fix it this time, Kathryn. It’s time for you to swallow your pride and go after him. If you don’t you’re going to lose him for good and I don’t think that would be advisable for either of you. This is false pride, Kathryn, and it will only bring you grief. Now go and wash your face and follow the man. He leaves this afternoon for Dorvan. Find out where he’s leaving from and go and bring him home.”

Kathryn stood there for a moment and stared angrily at her mother. She railed against this sort of treatment. She was a grown woman, for heaven’s sake. But …… she was behaving like an adolescent. He was going to Dorvan. She’d never see him again. Her mother was right. Why was it that mothers were always right? She’d pushed him away for years and the fling with Seven had been the result of that. What had she expected? He wasn’t a saint. Thank God. And he’d certainly proved his devotion to her. He’d risked his life to save hers, again. A bubble of hope swelled within her. She loved him. She always had and if she wanted him, she was just going to have to go and get him.

Gretchen watched as her daughter analysed the situation. She was just about to let fly with another tirade when she saw a smile hover at the corners of Kathryn’s mouth. Her stance softened and in a heartbeat, Kathryn ran up the steps and threw herself into her arms. “Thank you, Mom. You’re absolutely right. I’m going right now and I’ll bring him home.”

Gretchen was soundly kissed on the cheek and smiled as she watched her daughter run upstairs and ready herself to bring home the man she loved. She heaved a happy sigh and walked into the kitchen. That would mean three for dinner.

Chapter Ten

Kathryn materialised at the shuttle terminal. This was the transfer terminal for ships waiting in orbit at McKinley Station. Owen Paris had been more than happy to tell her which ship Chakotay was leaving on. Now she just had to find his departure gate. She’d sent word through that he wasn’t to be allowed through the gates. But she wanted to catch up with him before it came to that. She was walking fast through the terminal when she heard the boarding call for his shuttle connection. She started to jog, and then run. There he was in the distance, waiting in line to have his ticket verified. She slowed her pace and caught her breath.

She came up behind him and put her hands on her hips. It had worked for her for all those years out in the Delta Quadrant and it certainly worked for her mother. Who was she to mess with perfection?

She took a deep breath. This was it. “Where the hell do you think you’re going?”

He swung around, surprised and shaken to hear that familiar husky voice. She was standing about two metres away from him with her hands on her hips and an angry scowl on her face.

“Kathryn?” She was the last person he’d expected to see.

“Yes. Were you expecting someone else?” Her eyes were daggers.

“I… wasn’t expecting anybody. Certainly not you. I have to go. My shuttle is boarding.”

“You haven’t answered my question. Where the hell do you think you’re going? I never took you for a coward, Chakotay. You’ve decided to just run away?”

He frowned. She was angling for a fight. But he wasn’t going to bite. He’d done enough damage and wasn’t about to do more. “I’m not running away. I’m leaving. Plain and simple. You can get on with your life, while I get on with mine. I’ll drop you a line when I’m settled.”

She took a couple of strides towards him. “So that’s it? So long and I’ll drop you a line?” She dropped her head and stared at the ground for a moment. She took a deep breath and when she looked up the anger had gone. “Alright, if you won’t do it, I will.” She took another step forward.

She was standing so close now that he could smell her perfume and see the freckles on her nose. God, he loved those freckles.

She lifted her chin and looked him right in the eye. “I don’t want you to go. I love you, and I don’t want to live my life without you. If you can see your way past forgetting all that has gone on over the last few months, I think we have a very good chance of making this work. If that’s not what you want, then at the very least, I would like to part as friends.”

He stood there staring at her. He was completely flabbergasted. She’d just said it. She’d just said she loved him. He didn’t think, he didn’t question, he just stared and then bolted into action. Throwing his boarding chip on the floor, he grabbed her arm and began walking quickly away from the departure lounge. His face was a rigid mask.

She looked sideways at him as he strode along, almost having to jog to keep up. A small smile played around her mouth. This is what she wanted to see. This was the man of action that she knew and loved. She had no idea where he was taking, or rather dragging her, but she didn’t care.

He marched into the transport station and strode up onto the platform. He turned to the operator and barked at him. “Starfleet Headquarters.” The young man nodded and in the blink of an eye, the familiar surroundings of Starfleet Headquarters transporter room appeared around them.

Still gripping her arm, he marched her down the steps and out into the corridor. He still hadn’t spoken or even looked at her. For some reason she felt like laughing. They must have looked comical. An angry tattooed civilian dragging a Starfleet Admiral along through the vaunted halls of Starfleet Headquarters. Such was the look on his face that no one seemed willing to interfere. Mind you, Kathryn hardly looked like she was in distress.

The next thing she knew they were at Owen Paris’s door. Chakotay didn’t knock or announce himself. He just strode past the gaping secretary and in three strides was standing at Owen’s desk.

Admiral Paris looked up and did a double take at the sight before him. “Katie, Chakotay. To what do I owe this pleasure?”

Chakotay looked directly at Owen. “Marry us. I want you to marry us now. I’m not waiting a moment longer. We’re going to do this before anything else comes along and gets in our way.”

Owen just nodded his head sagely and then looked at Kathryn. “And what do you have to say about this, Katie? Is this what you want?”

She smiled and nodded. Chakotay shot a quick glance to his right and she could feel his whole body relax. She kept her eyes straight ahead, not daring to look at him. If she did she was sure she would either laugh or cry or most likely both.

Owen sat back in his chair and looked carefully at both of them. “Are you sure you two don’t want to wait a few days? Gretchen won’t be pleased, and I don’t even want to think what B’Elanna will say.” He noticed Kathryn’s worried frown, and Chakotay’s look of fear at the thought that he might refuse. They both looked pleadingly at him.“Fine, fine. You’re the ones who’ll have to deal with the fallout. Just don’t say that I didn’t warn you.” He tapped the button on his intercom. “Ensign Dynir, could you come in here please?”

“Aye, Sir.” The door opened almost immediately and the Admiral’s Andorian secretary entered the room.

Owen nodded to the young man. “I am about to marry Admiral Janeway and Chakotay and I need you to be a witness. Just stand over there, Ensign.”

The young man stepped back into the corner, his antenna doing a merry dance and he became a decidedly paler shade of blue. It wasn’t often that you were asked to witness the bonding ceremony of two of the Federations most famous citizens. He was honoured.

Owen stood up from his desk. “I imagine you just want the bare bones, so I’ll dispense with all the palaver. Chakotay, take Kathryn’s hand.”

Chakotay turned to Kathryn and she placed her hand in his. Their eyes met and time stood still. All the love, longing, and devotion were there in each others eyes for both to see. It had taken them years to get to this moment and it was a profoundly deep and moving thing to behold. Owen watched the two people before him and was touched deeply by their obvious love for one another. This was the very best of things and it gave him great joy to be able to do this for them.

They dragged their eyes away from one another and looked at Owen expectantly. So without preamble, he began. “Chakotay, will you take Kathryn to be your lawfully wedded wife, to love and cherish for as long as you both shall live?”

“I will.”

“Kathryn, will you take Chakotay to be your lawfully wedded husband, to love and cherish for as long as you both shall live?”

“I will.”

“Then by the powers vested in me by Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may……”

Kathryn waited a heart beat and then threw herself into Chakotay’s arms and slammed her lips on his.

“…kiss the bridegroom.” Owen chuckled.

Chakotay lifted her up off the floor and slowly spun her around. While they kissed, Owen nodded to Dynir and spoke quietly. “Ensign, could you please find the appropriate paper work. We have some signing to do.” The wide eyed ensign nodded, and without taking his eyes off the kissing couple, moved to the outer office.

Kathryn slid slowly to the ground in Chakotay’s arms and tucked her head into his shoulder. She stood on tip toes and whispered into his ear. “I love you.”

Chakotay was close to tears. He tugged her closer, and whispered in her ear. “I love you with all that I am.”

Kathryn’s heart was filled to bursting. All the anguish and pain that her homecoming had brought seemed of little consequence in this moment. She was married to the man she’d loved for more than seven years. No one could come between them anymore. No Delta Quadrant, no Voyager, no crew, no Seven of Nine, no Starfleet. They belonged to each other now as they had done for years. Kathryn clung to him, her relief heartfelt and deep. His strong arms held her to him. He was humming and she could feel the rumble of his voice through his chest. She was so happy.

Owen Paris cleared his throat. “Excuse me, Katie. Chakotay. We have a few things to sign before you go.”

She pulled back slightly and stroked down the side of he husband’s face. Tears shimmered in her eyes and she was grinning broadly.

Chakotay looked down at her and was almost overcome with love for this small wilful woman. She’d saved them again. His face broke into a wide dimpled smile, elation and hope taking the place of misery and despair. He tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear and grinning, they both turned towards Owen Paris. The mood was infectious and Owen Paris found himself grinning like a fool at two of the happiest people he’d seen in a long, long time. They put their thumb prints on the appropriate padds and waited a moment while Owen logged their marriage certificate with the Federation data base. He nodded to the pair. “All done. May I be the first to congratulate you both?” He moved around to the front of his desk and hauled Kathryn into his arms. “Well done, young lady. I’m so happy for you, my dear. You deserve this happiness.”

She hugged the old man to her. “Thank you, Owen, for everything.” He nodded and wiped a tear from his eye as he turned to Chakotay.

He shook Chakotay’s hand, and overcome with emotion, he pulled him into a hug as well. “Congratulations, Chakotay. May you be this happy forever?”

Chakotay smiled “I plan on it, Sir. And thank you. I apologise for barging in like I did, but I just wasn’t about to risk anything going wrong.”

Kathryn held tight to Chakotay’s arm and smiled.

Owen could tell that they were anxious to get away. They had a lot of catching up to do. He was feeling quite emotional, so to cover this, he spoke gruffly. “Well, off with you both now. I’ve got things to do. Kathryn, I’ll approve a month’s leave for you, starting today. Now get out of here before I call security.”

She stood to attention for a second and said “Aye, Sir.” Then grinned and wrapped her arm around Chakotay’s waist. He draped his over her shoulder as they walked out of Admiral Paris’s office. Young Ensign Dynir watched them as they walked away and turned to the Admiral with a huge grin on his face.

Owen scowled at the young man. “Well Ensign, hop to it. We can’t stand around here all day.”

Ensign Dynir literally jumped and ran to the outer office, closing the door behind him.

Owen sat down in his chair with a thud. He rested his hands over his stomach and grinning, heaved a very satisfied sigh.

He tapped his console and his wife’s face appeared on the screen. “Hello, Victoria. I just thought I’d call and tell you I love you.”

She smiled at him. “That’s very nice, dear. I love you too.” They sat there smiling at one another. All was right with the world.

Chapter Eleven.

Kathryn rolled over and snuggled into her husband’s side. Birds were singing outside their window and the sun was shining. It was a perfect morning. The first morning of the rest of their lives. She smiled and stroked her hand over his chest, tugging gently at the sparse hairs. She lifted her face to watch his. He opened one eye and smiled down at her. “Can you make them be quiet? I’d planned on sleeping in this morning.”

She slithered over the top of him. “Surely you don’t want to sleep when there are so many interesting things we could be doing.”

He quirked an eyebrow. “And what might these ‘interesting things’ be?”

She wriggled her naked body further up his and began dropping light kisses all over his face. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe this.” She kissed his forehead, taking time to kiss along every line of his tattoo. “Or this.” She then kissed his closed eyes, her fingers gently stroking over his cheeks and through his hair. She kissed the bump on the bridge of his nose, his cheeks and then his jaw line, his chin and the corners of his mouth. “Or this.” She nibbled along his top lip and then along the bottom one. He moaned, and lifting her head she studied his face. So familiar, and so beloved. She traced his bottom lip with her fingertip, something she had wanted to do for years. They’d spent much of last night going through a vast catalogue of things they’d wanted to do for years. She smiled as she remembered.

They’d transported back to Kathryn’s house to find a very anxious Gretchen Janeway waiting for them. They told her what they’d done and she’d been overjoyed. So much so that she’d burst into tears and hugged them both to her.

They’d had dinner together and then Gretchen had bundled them off to Lake George.

They’d materialised at the cabin and after Kathryn had keyed in the code, Chakotay had scooped her up and carried her over the threshold. She’d hung on to his neck and kissed him over and over again. They’d staggered around the living area, their lips locked together. Eventually, after bumping into and knocking over much of the furniture, they’d made it to the bedroom and collapsed on the bed and made love for most of the night.

Still smiling at the memory, she slithered down his body. He groaned as his erection was trapped between her legs and nestled against her warm, wet centre. Her head rested on his chest and she lay very still. Her hands stroked down the length of his arms and up again, and then down his sides as she scraped the backs of her fingernails over his hips and flanks. She rocked gently against him and they began their slow and sensuous climb towards fulfilment. Lifting her head she rested her chin on her folded hands and watched his face as she increased her rhythm. The flush of arousal crept up his neck and she watched enthralled as his dark eyes glazed with lust. He was running his hands over her buttocks, squeezing and kneading them as she ground herself down on him. Slowly she rose up over him, and holding his shaft in her hand, lowered herself on to him. A guttural moan escaped her lips as he filled her. The feeling was exquisite and she would never tire of the sensation.

He held her hips steady as his eyes locked with hers. They’d made love several times during the night, reaching unbelievable heights of ecstasy then dozing in one another’s arms, waking and making love again. They couldn’t get enough of one another. He watched her now as she abandoned herself to their lovemaking. His beautiful, passionate, headstrong wife. These thoughts sent a wave of lust careening through him. He wanted to crawl inside her, to wrap himself around her, to always be a part of her. He never wanted to let her go. He reared up underneath her, holding her hips as he slammed into her. She threw her head back and moaned with each thrust.

Her eyes were closed, her mouth was open and her arms were flung wide. She was like a beautiful wild bird, soaring towards the pinnacle of bliss and he was the wind that took her higher and higher. He thrust and thrust until she suddenly threw her head forward, opened her eyes and gazed into his. She teetered on the brink for a breathless moment then he felt her inner muscles gripping and jerking as she groaned. “Chakotayyyyy. I love you…..” and she was lost. He held her steady while her climax took her. He continued to thrust slowly as she shuddered and strained against him. As she came back into herself, he thrust harder and buried himself deep. He swelled within her and arched his back, and with a shudder and a groan, he emptied himself into her. Her inner muscles still clenching and gripping him.

Tears poured from his eyes. He was overwhelmed with love for this woman. He thought back to seven years ago when she’d stood toe to toe with him on the bridge of her ship. Fearless and brave, compassionate and caring. He’d known in that moment that their lives were somehow destined to be a part of one another’s. He’d seen his future in her steady blue gaze. She’d carried them for all those years. An extraordinary woman and his heart rejoiced that she was his. He wrapped his arms around her and held her to him, whispering words of love and devotion. He felt the warm wetness of her tears as they slid down his neck. He rolled to the side still holding her in his arms, and sweeping her hair from her face, he looked into her tear filled eyes, kissed the tears away and smiled. Wiping his tears away with gentle fingers she smiled at him.

“Would you really have gone?” She’d been thinking of yesterday.

He blinked slowly, and nodded. “I couldn’t see how you could possibly forgive me for what I’d done. I still don’t know how you can. Not just the anger, but Seven and not being by your side during the debriefings. I’d reneged on all my promises. Abandoned you. I’m still overcome with a terrible sense of self loathing when I think of it.”

She opened her mouth to protest, but he held his fingers over her lips. “But if you can forgive me, then I’ll just have to learn to forgive myself.”

Taking his hand she kissed his fingers then pulled them away from her mouth. “There are so many things that I’ve done over the years, Chakotay, that require forgiveness. In those few weeks while I travelled to Nolkana, I thought of all the times I’d tossed your concerns aside, abused your support and the many times I took you for granted. I have a lot to be sorry for as well. As far as forgiveness is concerned, shall we just decide that it is given and move on from there? We have many issues that need to be talked about and we have plenty of healing to do too, but we can do it together. We’ve always been stronger as a team and together we’ll only get stronger. I love you.”

He kissed her soundly. “You too, my love. With all my heart.” He heaved a contented sigh and cradled her in his arms.

The birds were still singing and so was his heart.

Several hours later found them walking hand in hand along the lakeshore. Gretchen had called earlier and they were expected back in Indiana for a reception in two days time. Kathryn was looking forward to seeing her crew and friends. She had a month’s leave ahead of her, but had yet to discuss with Chakotay her thoughts about her future. Leaving Starfleet was something she was giving very serious thought to. She’d had her fill, and more. This last near disaster had brought home to her how tenuous and capricious life can be. She had a lot to live for now and if time permitted, she would even like to start a family. Thinking back to her childhood, she knew from experience that the Admiralty and families were not a great mix. An absent parent like her father wasn’t something she intended to be. Life was too short and too precious.

Chakotay had been watching her face. Her thoughts were obviously troubling. “Are you alright, Kathryn?”

She beamed a happy smile at him. “Yes, I am actually.” She stroked the side of his face. “More than alright. I’m just coming to terms with some decisions that I’m going to make over the next few weeks. How do you feel about being married to a civilian?”

He raised his eyebrows and looked at her carefully. “As long as I’m married to you, Kathryn, I don’t care whether you’re a civilian or Queen of the Underworld, but think very seriously before you make any rash decisions. We’ve got some counselling sessions coming up and a month of down time to fill. How about we wait and make these decisions a little later, when we’ve had time to breathe.”

“Mmmm, you’re right. Of course.” She smiled at him. “But it has been something that has been dogging my conscience for a long time. I’ve given the best part of my life to Starfleet and perhaps it’s time to live my life for me.” She stopped and turned into his arms. “For us.” Smoothing her hand over his hair and down the side of his face she laid her head against his chest. His heart beat steadily and comfortingly against her ear. “We’ve been given another chance and I don’t want to waste it.”

“Kathryn, no time we spend together has ever been wasted.” He could feel her smile against his chest.

“There’s something else I’ve been thinking very seriously about.” She held him a little tighter. “How do you feel about a family, Chakotay? It’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last few days.”

His heart leapt. He and Kathryn and their children. It was a fantasy that he’d kept at bay for so many years. In the early part of their journey it was a thought that had hovered close to the surface. He could see them now. A little girl with dark hair and clear blue eyes like her mother’s, and a chubby boy, suckling at Kathryn’s breast.

Kathryn felt his heart beat quicken and she smiled. He’d thought of this too. It stirred her.

His voice rumbled through his chest. “There’s nothing I would want more than for you to be the mother of my children. Is this something you really want, Kathryn?”

She pulled back a little and looked at his dear face. “Oh, yes.” She snuggled into his side and they started walking again. “I used to imagine our children years ago. It was a fantasy that kept me going at times when I thought that I couldn’t take another step forward. Does that sound ridiculous?”

“No. I was the same. The years have dulled the picture, but it’s always been there. We’re not young though, are you prepared if it doesn’t happen?”

“Yes, although I have a funny feeling that there won’t be too many problems. I’m not on any contraceptives at the moment. Are you?”

He shook his head. “No.” He stopped and looked at her. “You don’t think … already?”

She shrugged her shoulders. “Stranger things have happened. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

He held her tight against him as they wandered along the beach in silence, his face set in a wondrous grin.

She tugged his hand. “Shall we head back now? We have enough time for a quick sail before lunch. It’s about time you sailed on the real Lake George. We can see how it compares to the holodeck one.”

They turned around and hand in hand, walked back to the jetty in silence.

The boat sliced through the water, gliding majestically over the lake. The stiff breeze filled the taut sails and from where he stood at the helm, Chakotay could see Kathryn standing at the prow of the boat with her hair whipping around her face and her dress billowing around her body. She looked beautiful, carefree and alive. His heart was filled to bursting and he thanked the Spirits that they had found their way back to one another.

She must have felt his eyes on her because she turned and gave him a warm and loving smile. He returned it. They stood like that for a long moment. No words were necessary, all their feelings so plainly written on their faces. Such a sense of contentment washed over him that it bought tears to his eyes. She made her way towards him.

He looked out over the slightly choppy water of the lake.

Sailing this real Lake George was much like their relationship. He had imagined many times what it would be like to be with Kathryn and in all his imaginings there was nothing that could compare to this reality. In some ways he felt that they, as a couple, were a little like this boat. He was the hull, strong and durable and willing to carry any load. Kathryn was the sails. She captured the wind and the means by which they would make their way through this life together. Moving to his side she wrapped her arm around his waist and he tugged her close and kissed the top of her head. They both had one hand on the wheel. Through calm and rough seas they would travel, but together they would steer a course.

Their lives were complete.

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