Carpet of Blossoms

By Jade East (
© May 1999 - April 2002
Rating: PG
Series: Star Trek: Voyager
Award: , ()

This story takes place some somewhere after Unimatrix Zero. The Federation starship Voyager does not make it home. Its crew must learn to make a home on a Delta Quadrant planet.

Paramount and Viacom owns Voyager. I make no money from this story. The story idea and its new characters are mine. I'm sure the Voyager crew will enjoy themselves.

Acknowledgements: This story has been a long time in process. Jemima: your beta and html talents are wonderful, thanks for all your help. To my all friends in the Klub: thanks for your help in turning this around and for your encouragement to finish as well.

Chakotay, former first officer of the starship Voyager, sat as far from the festivities as he could without leaving the atrium. He had found a quiet corner in which he was nearly hidden by large potted plants.

The invitation to the event had come personally from his former captain, Kathryn Janeway. "Consider it mandatory, Chakotay. We must not offend the Isarian. They've welcomed us graciously, giving us a place on their world and in their society. I know that you're still having trouble accepting what happened - we all have, but Voyager is gone. The Alpha Quadrant is no longer within our reach. Isaria is our home now. The Planetary Council of Nobles wants to grant us all full citizenship. First Noble Yxala asked all of Voyager's crew to attend both the citizenship ceremony and the celebration afterwards. He's asked that we come in uniform; we will be given ceremonial Isarian citizenship garments at the citizenship formalities to wear to the feast and the dance given in our honor."

Chakotay hadn't wanted to become a citizen, but he didn't want to cause problems for the rest of the crew who wanted that honor, so he had taken the citizenship classes over the past couple of months, learning the law as well as much of the elaborate social customs of Isaria. He hadn't wanted to wear the uniform again, either. He had taken to wearing clothing that came closest to resembling his clothes from his Maquis days. However, as he sat in the shadows, wearing the new citizenship robes, he felt even more miserable because after changing into the new robes, he, along with the rest of his former crewmates, had cast the uniforms into a ceremonial fire pit. The First Noble had said that it was an outward indication of the change of citizenship.

As Chakotay watched some of his former crewmembers, he wondered if any of them felt still felt the loss like he did. Tom and B' Elanna Paris were laughing with a native Isarian. Citizen and Only Wife Paris was what he should be calling them. A tight, ironic smile crossed his face. He would be called Citizen Chakotay and Kathryn would be addressed as Lady Janeway, the Isarian equivalent of miss.

B'Elanna was pregnant, expecting in a few months. The two were already contributing members of Isarian society. Tom was teaching at the flight academy. B'Elanna worked for an Isarian engineering firm with Harry Kim. Tuvok and Seven, although still as reserved at social functions as ever, stood conversing with Isarian natives. The Vulcan had found a vast culture of philosophy and religion. He had become "fascinated" enough to want to study it full time. The Isarian philosophers were so intrigued by Vulcan beliefs that they welcomed him into their academic circle. Seven found her niche in the field quality control. She worked for a firm that specialized in "efficiency". The company who hired her worked with other companies to increase productivity and overall effectiveness. The company truly benefited from her Borg "training."

It seemed to Chakotay that everyone who once was a part of the Voyager crew had accepted his or her new life on Isaria. The race of people who lived on the planet was a humanoid one, numbering under two million. It was only the slight temple ridge and different hair and eye color that set them apart from humans. Isarian society was a structured one, but the people had been patient to teach and train all of the newcomers about their culture. Their world was pre-warp and approximately equivalent to mid 21st century Earth.

The former senior staff had decided that even though the crew had already influenced the Isarian society by just being among them, they should be careful with what they shared with them. They did not want to cause undue changes. They wanted Voyager's crew to fit into niches, not make them.

Almost a year and a half before, events had transpired that would bring the crew to Isaria. Voyager had become extremely low on fuel for every one of its systems. Dilithium, deuterium, you name it; the amount dwindled to critical levels. The food reserves were low, also. The area of space in which they were traveling had little to offer, no planets, planetoids, or moons. Also, just before reaching that area of space they had been attacked. They had never found out who their attacker was. Probably a space pirate who thought Voyager would make a profitable target. Voyager had been able to fend them off but with heavy drain on the systems and reserves.

The captain had ordered conservation in every department. After two months of limping across the nearly barren space, the sensors detected an M-class planet with dilithium deposits.

Chakotay recalled the conversation on the bridge that morning.

"Captain," Ensign Kim's voice showed excitement, "sensors have picked up traces of dilithium on an M-class planet two million kilometers from us, heading 2.4 mark 5."

"Is it an inhabited planet?" the captain asked.

"Yes, Captain."

"Warp capable?"

"No, Ma'am."

"Maintain course."

"Captain?" Chakotay questioned.

The captain stood and said softly, "Join me in my ready room, Commander."

After handing off to Tuvok, the two commanding officers walked into the ready room.

"What is it, Chakotay?"

"Captain, we need supplies. This region of space is so sparse, I don't think it's wise to bypass this source of fuel even if the planet is pre-warp," Chakotay replied.

"Commander, you know the prime directive as well I. We'll continue our course. We have always found what we needed before."

"Couldn't we mine some dilithium by transporter? We wouldn't have to contact the people of the planet."

"Chakotay, the transporters are not working well enough to mine dilithium. No, we will not. Is that clear?" She gave him that look.

He nodded and left the room. He knew that no argument would succeed.

During the next three and a half weeks, systems began to fail, and not just due to a lack of energy, but also because proper maintenance could not be performed. Deck after deck was sealed off and crew moved to conserve power. Even rations were "rationed". Chakotay watched the crew begin to lose hope. Even Neelix could not boost moral any longer.

Finally the day came when the captain assembled the senior officers. The lights in the conference room were dimmed to save energy. She stood before them, dark circles under her eyes. She was extremely thin. Chakotay knew that she wasn't eating even half of her meager rations. She had been sharing them with the children on board. Actually, Chakotay and most of the crew gave some of their food to the children at different times.

Despite her appearance the captain's voice was still strong. "I must officially inform you what you must have already guessed. Voyager is nearly out of energy. The warp engines are offline. Life support is down 70%. We have used every method we could come up with to save power. We are too far from any source of energy, and it would take a stop in a spacedock to repair our downed systems. We have entered a star system. None of the eight planets have dilithium, but there is one M-class planet which is pre-warp."

Janeway turned her back to the staff to look out the portal. Within a few seconds she turned back, "In approximately three days at our current speed we will be close enough to launch the escape pods to reach the planet in a couple of days. Voyager resources will be nearly depleted. We will abandon ship after locking in a course that will take Voyager into the system's sun." She faltered for a moment then cleared her throat. "We wouldn't want Voyager to fall into the wrong hands someday, and since she doesn't have enough power for self-destruct, this action will insure that she is gone."

"Commander Chakotay and I will leave immediately in the one shuttle that still has fuel enough to reach the planet. We'll make first contact. We must hope that the planet is populated by a species that will welcome us. The commander and I will determine if the population of the planet might pose a danger to us. If any problems are encountered we will want the crew to keep dealings to the natives to a minimum and to remain armed. Inform the crew to begin to make necessary preparations. Dismissed." She turned her back again. The door hissed closed.

"What do you want to say, Chakotay?" she spoke sharply, knowing he would stay behind. "That I should've listened to you three and a half weeks ago? Well, you needn't because I've already said it to myself a hundred times."

Chakotay had never seen his captain so defeated, and he wanted to comfort her, but still he argued, "We can't give up. We should take the fuel from the pods and the shuttles. That would take us farther." His voice was heavy with anger and frustration.

"I've made too many 'by-the-book' decisions and too many of our people have died. I thought that we could make it back to Alpha Quadrant, but I was wrong. I can't risk the lives of the crew again on the mere possibility of finding more fuel. I did that before and look where it got us. No, my orders stand. You know your assignment, Commander. You are dismissed."

Janeway and Chakotay took the doctor along with them on the shuttle because of its computer access. It would be the means of safeguarding the doctor's program should something happen to his emitter, both right after landing and while on Isaria.

"First contact" came off flawlessly. The Isarian were fearless as well as a trusting and hospitable people. When they heard of the plight of Voyager, they organized a campaign to find the crew as they landed. They also arranged temporary housing for everyone. Considering the circumstances, the crew of Voyager fared very well. The Isarians even agreed to give them a secure place to keep the recovered escape pods and shuttle. The captain did not want Voyager's technology to complicate things on the planet, and the Isarian leaders seemed to understand and agree.

The senior staff had discussed what to do with the technology they had left. Seven was the most vocal about using the technology to try to contact Starfleet. Chakotay sided with Seven in this case. He wanted to try to get back to the Alpha Quadrant as well. However, the captain would only agree to activate a standard distress beacon, on the Pathfinder frequency. If it hadn't been standard operating procedure she wouldn't have even done that - her hopes of being rescued were that low.

Chakotay lived like a virtual hermit, unable to rid himself of the sorrow and anger, which had been his constant companions since leaving Voyager. He made his living through his art, and that sustained more than just his physical body. If not for his carving and painting, he was certain he would have gone mad during that first year. The Isarian people were fascinated by his representations of Alpha Quadrant birds and animals, and they sought him out.

His art had even provided him with a home. It was a small four-room house, in the countryside near the capital city. It belonged to his patron Etonl, who let Chakotay live there rent free, in exchange for allowing Etonl his choice of one painting and one carving each year. He had come to Etonl's attention when he saw Chakotay's large oil painting of an eagle in flight.

"Citizen Chakotay, how are you doing this fine evening?" The formal Isarian greeting startled him from his dark memories. However, the young woman lowered her eyes and began to back away when she saw the frown on his face. "I am sorry; I did not mean to intrude."

"No apologies necessary, I was merely lost in thought." He managed a brief smile and answered with the formal, "I am well."

"We have not met, although I have heard much about you. I am Refayia, First Daughter of First Noble Yxala. My father has asked me escort you to the feasting table. He is escorting your friend, Lady Janeway." She held her right hand out in front of her, palm down. She was waiting for him to stand and to place the back of his left hand under hers, as was the Isarian custom of the unmarried. He hesitated for a moment before rising and putting his hand under hers. They walked in silence to the feasting hall.

Refayia indicated his place at the table. She was seated to Chakotay's left and Etonl was at his right. Upon seeing Chakotay, Etonl immediately began to enthuse to Janeway, who was seated at his right, about Chakotay's many talents. Kathryn smiled as she heard about the newest painting in Etonl's collection. She was eager to hear about Chakotay since he had kept so much to himself since they arrived on the planet. He wouldn't accept her invitations to visit her although he heeded her "official" summons about the ceremonies.

As the tables began to fill, Chakotay glanced at his other dinner companions. To Kathryn Janeway's right sat the First Noble Yxala. The Isarian was a striking figure of a man. He bore himself with the same the dignity a king or premier on Earth would. Chakotay knew that Yxala was at least ten years older than he was, but age had not robbed the First Noble of his strength and authority. Between the First Noble and his daughter sat Yatar, the first and only son of Chakotay's patron. Chakotay had met the younger man on several occasions. Yatar, who reminded Chakotay of Harry Kim at the beginning of their voyage in the Delta Quadrant, was an eager young person about the same age as Refayia. Chakotay's patron and his son had a great deal of influence in Isarian society, which showed by their presence at the First Noble's table.

Chakotay saw the interest that Yatar showed in Refayia. Chakotay could not deny that the First Daughter of the First Noble was beautiful. In the greater light of the feasting hall he could see the blue-black of her eyes that was contrasted by her silvery white hair that she plaited into a complicated braid. Her dress was made of a fabric Chakotay had never seen before; the color was an uncanny match to her hair. The gown flowed softly about her body, flattering her figure without being immodest.

As if she felt his eyes on her, she met his gaze with a smile. "May I pour you some wine, Citizen Chakotay?" He was sure that he saw a look of teasing as she spoke formally and reached for the decanter in front of her.

"Thank you, First Daughter Refayia, I would love some." He put his glass where she could fill it.

After filling his glass and her own, she lowered her voice and said, "Our formalities are a bit much, aren't they?" She giggled softly when he nodded once, "You may call me, Refayia, if you'd like."

In an equally quiet voice he said, "Please call me, Chakotay." The small exchange lightened his mood.

As the food began to arrive, the escorts served their guests first. Refayia explained to Chakotay what each dish was. When a course was brought that contained meat, she discreetly declined it.

She explained upon seeing his look of surprise, "I know you are a vegetarian."

"How did you know?"

"My father is a stickler for detail. He insisted that everyone who would be an escort know as much as possible about their guest. For example, he found out how much Lady Janeway loves the beverage called coffee. With the help of Citizens Neelix and Paris, Father found an Isarian plant that is very similar. He has even planted a bush in her garden." She seemed a trifled embarrassed.

He grinned at the idea of a coffee substitute working for Kathryn. "Well a good host is always prepared to make his guests feel at home. Your father is a perfect host." Chakotay wanted to make Refayia comfortable as well.

"Thank you for understanding. I know you have guarded your privacy. I was uneasy asking others about your preferences," she lowered her eyes as she spoke.

Chakotay opened his mouth to speak when Etonl tapped his arm. "Citizen Chakotay, I wanted to talk to you about a project First Noble Yxala has in mind. He has asked me as your patron if you would be allowed to work on a civic enterprise. I was more than happy to tell him that not only would I be happy to release you to work on the project, but I will help to subsidize it and send Yatar to help in any way he can as well." Yatar nodded his head in agreement with what his father said. The Isarian stopped his speech long enough to take a bite of his food and a drink of wine. "It is to be a tribute to Voyager and her crew. Isaria is blessed by the fates to have you and your people."

Chakotay was at a loss for words. He took a couple of bites from his meal before he could speak. "What could I do?"

Etonl smiled as he motioned toward Refayia. "The First Daughter can explain the plan better than I."

"My father would like you to design a fitting monument to Voyager, and since I am a worker in metals, I will work on casting the sculpture from your design. The Council of Nobles has already appropriated the needed funds and chosen the site," she explained.

Many conflicting thoughts coursed through Chakotay's mind. *How can I work on something that would constantly remind me of the loss the Voyager? I just want to be left alone.* But as he looked at the fervent faces of the Isarians at the table with him, he could not bring himself to say no immediately. *I'll just wait until I can talk privately with Etonl.* I'll make him understand that I have other more important things to work on. Chakotay summoned a brief smile and resumed eating although he was no longer hungry.

A short while later, the First Noble stood and lifted his hand. The assembly was immediately quiet. "We are nearly ready for the next part our celebration. The dancing will begin in five minutes. So, will our new citizens and their escorts please assemble in the ballroom for the first dance?"

Refayia stood to her feet and held out her hand. Chakotay rose and put his hand under hers. The two of them followed the First Noble and Kathryn Janeway into the ballroom. It was an open room, large enough to hold the five hundred or so guests in attendance.

Before the music began Chakotay leaned close to Refayia and said. "The citizen classes didn't include lessons for any of your dances."

"I understand, but all you'll have to do is follow me. The steps are not complicated and the music is not fast."

Chakotay was doubtful but he merely nodded, hoping he get through one dance.

Refayia began by explaining the starting position of the dance. Because it was to be a dance of escorts and guests, it would be as if all were unmarried. The female would be in front with her arms outstretched to the sides. Her hands would be waist high, palms down. The male would stand behind her with his hands, palms down, under hers.

When the music started, the couples walked to the dance floor. The song was slow and melodic but slightly discordant to Chakotay's ear at first. However as the music continued, he began to understand the emotion of the composition. It was bittersweet, causing his throat to tighten as he listened to it. His response to the tune made it easier to follow the movement of his partner in the dance.

He was sorry when the music stopped. He had not expected to feel so involved in a song or a dance. The crowd began to tap their feet in Isaria version of applause. He joined in, smiling at Refayia.

"Thank you." His voice was husky.

"You are welcome, Chakotay."

"What's the name of that song?"

"Captera Blossoms. It is the First Song of Isaria," she replied.

The First Noble called for the assembly's attention once more. "We are now going to honor our new citizens by dancing one of their traditional dances. I have asked Lady Janeway to choose a dance and she has chosen the 'waltz'. I must for the sake of formality explain that this is a 'facing dance', which in Voyager's custom is not meant for marrieds only. The Council has determined that we may honor our newest citizens in this way. However, I will allow any Isarian to decline the dance if their own sensibilities demand it. Our new citizens will chose his or her partner for this dance. Please play the music." He swept his hand toward the orchestra.

As the orchestra began to play The Blue Danube, Chakotay turned to Refayia, "Would you join me?"

It was Refayia's turn to hesitate, but she only did so for a moment. "I'd love to."

Janeway, Yxala, and many others joined them although not as many as for the first dance. Chakotay turned to face Refayia. He placed his right hand at her waist while she put her left hand lightly on his shoulder. He watched as she reluctantly lifted her right hand for him to hold. Instantly he understood why she was reluctant. They were not married and the unmarried did not touch palms in public. It was a sign of commitment and more. He reached out his hand, but whispered, "Make a fist." When she did, he covered her fist with his hand and held it as they began the dance.

"Thank you," she spoke so softly he almost didn't hear her. "I've never 'palmed' with anyone."

"Yet you were willing to with me?" He saw the flush of embarrassment on her face.

She merely said, "I didn't want to make you feel uncomfortable."

As they danced, it took him several moments to realize that she was following his lead flawlessly. "You dance the waltz perfectly."

Again she blushed and explained, "Only Wife B'Elanna Paris taught several of the escorts to waltz. She was very patient with us. My sisters giggled outrageously and paid scant attention, but Only Wife B'Elanna Paris didn't seem to mind."

Chakotay smiled at the picture of B'Elanna teaching giggling girls to dance. "I'm glad I'm dancing with her star pupil, but I'm not one for dancing the night away."

"Chakotay," she spoke softly again, "I'm afraid it is expected that you dance with my younger sisters and the daughters of your patron before you leave the ballroom. I'll introduce you to them each in their turn, but I promise I will find a way for you to leave as soon as you are finished."

Just the very thing he had hoped to avoid. Blast the formalities! Resentment rose in his mind, but he kept his face blank as he answered. "I'd glad for any help you can give me. I'm feeling a bit trapped by the formalities." As another thought occurred to him, he asked, "Will there be another waltz? I'd like to dance with Lady Janeway."

"If you request it."

"I'd like to request it after I dance with the others."

When the music faded away, all of the escorts began to clap their hands to honor their guests. Chakotay and the rest of the former Voyager stood motionless for a second until they joined with their fellow citizens in the applause.

Chakotay followed Refayia as she walked toward a small group of three women. One of the women was older than the other two. All three smiled at him in welcome after only nodding to Refayia.

"Mother Sropa, I would like to introduce Citizen Chakotay. Citizen Chakotay, I would like to present First Noble Yxala's Second Wife, Sropa."

Chakotay clasped his hands together in front of him and bowed in the appropriate greeting to a married or elderly woman as he asked formally, "How are you doing this fine evening?"

"I am well." The older woman said as she placed her hand on his clasped ones. "Citizen Chakotay, I would like to welcome you into our fold." She smiled in a condescending way and stepped closer to Chakotay with her back to Refayia. "I would like to introduce my daughters, Amu and Sema."

Chakotay greeted them formally as well, placing the back of his hand under each young woman's hand in turn. "I would be honored to have a dance with each of your daughters, Second Wife Sropa."

"Of course, Citizen Chakotay." She gushed as she pulled Amu forward. Chakotay accompanied her onto the floor. Refayia's sister was not a good dancer. She tripped a few times and tried to make apologies, which was difficult to do because she faced away from him. Chakotay was glad when the music stopped so that he could lead her back to where her mother stood.

Sema proved to be only slightly better at dancing than Amu, but Chakotay was beginning to understand the steps. He helped her avoid stumbling. When the music was finished, he thanked the two again and excused himself to find Refayia. She was waiting a few yards away.

"I am sorry that my sisters are not better dancers. Father will not be happy that Amu tripped," she whispered,

"I managed although I'd prefer to dance with their older sister." He smiled.

"Thank you. I'll take you to your patron's two daughters before you meet my youngest sister."

Chakotay danced with Etonl's daughters whom he had met on a few occasions. They were no better dancers then Refayia's sisters. He did make it through the dances without mishap. After escorting the second daughter back to her mother, he rejoined Refayia.

When he reached her side, Refayia seemed annoyed. However, when she saw the puzzled look on his face, she apologized, "I'm so sorry that you had to put up with that kind of behavior. We are taught better than that."

"I don't understand."

"They were all flirting with you. The tripping and looking over the shoulder was quite brazen." She lowered her eyes as she blushed.

"I had no idea. I hope I didn't do anything to encourage them."

Refayia laughed out loud, "No, you were a perfect citizen, which frustrated each one of them. One last sister. Come."

She quickened her pace toward a far corner of the ballroom. There were many young girls aged thirteen or fourteen watching with wide-eyed interest what was going on. A group of older women sat close by. Refayia led him to where a woman and girl sat in the midst of the rest.

"Mother, I would like to introduce Citizen Chakotay. Citizen Chakotay, I would like to present First Noble Yxala's First Wife Yilya, my mother."

As the noble woman rose, she smiled lovingly at her daughter before turning to place her hand in greeting on his clasped hands. "It is a joy to meet you. I want to welcome you to our fold." The woman looked directly into his eyes as she smiled warmly. Chakotay actually felt the welcome that she expressed.

"Thank you, First Wife Yilya."

"I would like you to meet my younger daughter, Isogra. This is her first ball. She has just enjoyed her thirteenth carpet of blossoms."

The young girl was a slight, frail copy of Refayia with the same color eyes and hair. She bravely stretched out a hand to Chakotay, but could not seem to find her voice.

"May I have the honor of dancing with Isogra, First Wife Yilya?"

"Of course."

Chakotay led the young girl to the ballroom floor. As they began to dance, he had not expected to enjoy his dance with Isogra, but he was surprised to find that she danced almost as well Refayia. He wondered if Refayia was her teacher.

Walking Isogra back to her mother, he asked, "Did you learn to dance from your sister?"

"No, Tuunka Lia taught both of us," she said shyly.

Chakotay stayed to talk with Refayia's mother for a few minutes. She was an intelligent and articulate woman. Her confidence of manner reminded him of Kathryn Janeway. Finally, she politely excused herself and young daughter. "Isogra is not strong; it is time that she go home." Bowing to Chakotay and Refayia, Yilya and Isogra left.

"You may request another waltz now if you wish, Chakotay." Refayia pointed toward the orchestra.

Chakotay nodded as he began to scan the crowd for Kathryn Janeway. He found her talking to Tuvok and Neelix. She smiled and nodded at him. He made his way to the leader of the orchestra. His petition was eagerly granted.

He walked quickly to where Janeway was standing as the waltz began.

"Lady Janeway, may I have this waltz with you?" He grinned as he put his hand out to her.

"Yes, thank you, Citizen Chakotay," she said enthusiastically after giving him a look of surprise. Then she placed her hand on his. He guided her to floor.

As they began the dance, he held her hand in the same way he had Refayia's. He definitely wanted to protect over her reputation the same as he had for the native girl. Kathryn took notice but said nothing. She had not expected to dance with Chakotay and wanted to enjoy it. Although she wanted to relax into his arms and to rest her cheek against his chest, Kathryn understood full well that Chakotay and their friends, old and new, would not understand.

As they moved around the nearly empty floor, she spoke, "I thought I would never see that grin of yours again, Chakotay."

"I'm sorry, Kathryn. This year has been a hard one." He could not say more.

"I understand, it has been hard on us all, but maybe now we all will be able to heal."

The simple statement from his former captain gave him hope. He smiled at her again tightened his hold on her fist slightly as they turned around the room once more. Neither one said anything for the most of rest of the dance.

Kathryn tried to fight the emotions that the dance brought up. She missed her friend very much. The year had not been an easy one for her either.

Finally Chakotay told her, "Thank you for your last act as my captain, ordering me to attend. Tonight has been good for me."

Kathryn's eyes filled with tears, "I'm so glad to hear you say that. I have been worried about you, and I have missed you, my friend, lost in your darkness." She squeezed his shoulder and blinked at the tears.

"I hope I will be able find a way out of the darkness." His conscience smote him for causing her pain. He wanted to give her back a bit of hope.

As the music ended, Chakotay walked Kathryn back to where Tuvok and Neelix were standing. Neelix enthused about the party. It was, after all, even more elaborate than most of his on Voyager. Chakotay smiled at the Talaxian who looked quite plain in his Isarian robes. Chakotay had no doubt that Neelix would go back to his more colorful clothes the next day. Chakotay chatted with them for a few moments before to turning to his escort who was waiting near by. Bidding the three of them goodbye, he rejoined Refayia.

Making their way through the crowd of well-wishers took some time, but they finally reached a small stairway in the back. On the fourth step up stood a plainly dressed older woman. She smiled as she saw them coming. Her arms wrapped around Refayia before she turned to Chakotay.

"Tuunka Lia, I would like to introduce Citizen Chakotay. Lia has been my, I think you would say nanny, since my first 'carpet of blossoms'."

"Welcome to the fold, Citizen Chakotay." She put both of her hands on his clasped ones and stared deeply into his eyes. "You are a honorable man. I tried to talk my tuunkee out of the waltz. It was my duty as Guardian of the Virtue of an Unmarried, but she would not listen. I saw how you protected her. Thank you. You are a true citizen of Isaria in here." She placed her hand over his heart.

The tribute humbled Chakotay. He sensed the old woman's trust was also bestowed on him. "I will not betray your trust, Tuunka Lia," he promised.

Refayia indicated a doorway at the top of the stairs. "My father has given me the key to the Council's planning room. He would like me to show you the site map for the Voyager tribute. It is this way."

As they walked through the doorway and down a hallway to another staircase, Chakotay noticed the tuunka following them. Refayia smiled shyly, "Tuunka Lia will be our chaperone. Don't worry, she is discreet."

"I have no doubt of that. She loves you very much, doesn't she?"

"Yes, and I love her." Refayia was quiet for a moment as they walked down the narrow stair. They passed through the exit at the bottom onto a deserted but well-lit street.

Walking at a relaxed pace, Chakotay asked, "Do all the unmarried women have tuunkas?"

"Not all," she shook her head. "Some families cannot afford to support them. And some have only one wife so she takes on the role."

"How does one choose to be a tuunka?"

"There are not many who do. Lia knew she would be a never wife by her thirteenth carpet of blossoms."

"Never wife?" Chakotay repeated.

"A woman either chooses to be one or it is forced upon her by her age. If a woman is not married by forty, she is considered a never wife. Some, like my tuunka, want to pursue vocations that require that a woman not have a husband. Tuunkas, nuns of various types, and politicians must be never wives or widows." She came to a stop in front of a handsome, carved stone building. Using the key, she entered.

A lone guard stationed at a reception counter saluted them as they passed. A short distance later she opened another door with another key. The room they entered featured a long, dark wood table that faced a wall on which a diagram hung.

Refayia walked up to it and pointed to a section of the map. "This is the Grand Hall which we just left. We are here in the Council building. Three blocks to the north is an old building that is used to house the Council. The plan is to tear it down and annex the space into the park, which nearly surrounds it now. That will be the site for the Voyager project."

"Why did your father decide to ask me to work on this project?" Chakotay stared at the map in front of him.

"He could think of no other who knows Voyager and crew so well and who also had the talent for the task."

"When did he ask you to work on it?"

"He didn't. I had to make application. I am happy to say my work won me the honor." She blushed with pride. "When do you think you will want to begin?" she turned to question him.

It was Chakotay's turn to blush. He could not meet her gaze. Finally he told her softly, "I was going to try to get out of it. I have not been social. Actually, I've avoided everyone as much as possible since we arrived on Isaria. For seven years we tried to get back to the Alpha Quadrant. I've had trouble giving up on that. My art has been the only outlet, the only link with home. I kept my memories of home alive in the painting and carvings." He moved away from the wall and walked to the large window across the room. He had not admitted this even to himself before.

Chakotay sighed heavily as he leaned on the windowsill, "It seems that if I work on this monument, I will be opening up a wound that is just barely starting to heal."

Feeling a gentle hand on his arm, he turned to see Tuunka Lia standing next to him with tears in her eyes. "Sometimes you must open and clean out a wound for it to heal properly. You think the rest have forgotten what you remember, but they have not. Listen to your heart and build this farewell to your ship. Let the healing happen for all." Her dark purple eyes seemed to will him to believe what she was saying.

Chakotay straightened to his full height and said, "You've given me something to think about."

During the week following the citizenship festivities, Chakotay tried to work on his latest design. However, he found himself sketching various views of Voyager or the crew. When he would realize what he was doing, he would throw the paper into a drawer.

By the end of the week the painting of a fishing bear that he had been working on the week before was still waiting on his easel, untouched. Chakotay was glad that the man to whom he had promised the painting had not come to check its progress. The thought occurred to him that no one else had come to his studio the whole week, which was very unusual. It also occurred to him that he actually missed the company.

He mused to himself that he might be coming around, wanting to come out of the darkness. He decided to make a trip into town. Chakotay quickly changed from his painting overalls and cleaned up. At the last minute, he pulled the stack of sketches from the drawer and stuffed them into a folder.

Walking to the end of the long driveway, he hailed a small transport when it neared him. He had only been into town on rare occasions but had a vague idea where he wanted to go. The transport's last stop before it made its return trip was in front of the Council building. He went into the building and up to the reception counter.

"Would it be possible for me to see First Noble Yxala?" he inquired of the young man behind the desk.

"May I tell him who wants to see him?"

"Citizen Chakotay."

The young man brightened immediately and pushed a button to announce him. He smiled respectfully at Chakotay and said, "The First Noble will be right out. You may be seated if you'd like."

Chakotay nodded and turned toward the padded benches. He had just reached them when he heard a booming voice, "Citizen Chakotay, how are you this fine day?" He held out both hands, and when he reached Chakotay, he grasped Chakotay's wrists in greeting.

"I am well, First Noble. How are you this fine day?" he asked as he returned the grasp.

"I am better than well now that you are here. I didn't expect you see so soon. I see you have a folder. Dare I hope that you have drawings to show me?"

"You are welcome to see them, but I was hoping to discuss them with your daughter as well. I did not know how to reach her so I came here."

"Come with me. I'll give you her personal dispatch code. She would normally be here today, but my youngest daughter is ill again. Refayia stayed home to help nurse her." Yxala led him back to his office.

Once inside, the First Noble went to his desk and quickly wrote something on a piece of paper. "Here is the code. Feel free to communicate any time you want. You can use the dispatcher in the office next door. No one is using it right now."

The First Noble ushered Chakotay to the next office. He promised to check on him in a few minutes. Chakotay went to the desk and sat down. The dispatcher reminded him of the old telephones he had seen in museums and in Tom Paris' holodeck recreations of 20th century films, except it had Isarian alpha/numerals on the keypad. He entered the code he had been given and waited. Soon Refayia's voice said, "Greetings!"

"Greetings, Refayia, it is Chakotay."

"Chakotay, how are you this fine day?" the formal greeting rolled off her tongue.

"I am well, and you?"

"I am well, but my little sister is ill." Worry was evident in her tone.

"I'm sorry to hear it. I hope I'm not calling at a bad time."

"Oh no, she is sleeping now. Our family doctor was here and gave her some medicine. How can I help you, Chakotay?"

"I have some sketches," he replied simply.

Having received directions on what transport to take to her home, Chakotay informed the First Noble what he was planning. The First Noble was delighted and bid him farewell.

Chakotay went back to the reception desk. "May I ask you a question, Citizen?"

"My name is Pontoy. I would be happy to help you, Citizen Chakotay." The eager young man stood up.

"Is it proper formality to bring flowers to the sick?" he asked thinking about the young Isogra.

"Why, yes it is! There's a good flower vender to the right, two blocks down. I suggest Nito blooms. They are in season and beautiful this year."

"Thank you for your help, Citizen Pontoy," Chakotay said as he left the building.

Chakotay stepped off the transport with a large bouquet of the red Nito flowers in his hand. The lane to the Noble's house was wide and shaded. He could barely see the house from the road, but as he walked up the path, he saw that it was very large. He thought it was fitting of a planetary leader with two wives and several children. However, it was nowhere near the size of the palaces of kings and queens of Earth that he had seen in history books.

The door opened before he reached it. Refayia met him at the bottom of the steps. "I was hoping that you'd come before I left. Mother has asked me to go the market for her. She'd like you to join her while I am gone. I hope you don't mind."

"Of course, I don't mind."

Refayia led him into the house and into a small sitting room where her mother sat working on some kind of needlework. Refayia excused herself and left for her errand. Yilya smiled in greeting and put away the project. "Welcome, Chakotay."

"How are you this fine day, First Wife Yilya?" he said formally.

"I am well, but please call me, Yilya. There is no need for the tedious formal names with me. Besides, the second family is out of town for a few days, and Sropa is the one who revels in formalities." She then noticed the flowers. "Nito blooms!"

"I brought them for Isogra."

"How wonderful! She will be pleased. They're her favorite. Let me put them in water. Sit down there and I'll be right back."

Chakotay sat in the chair opposite the one Yilya had been sitting in. He glanced around the room. It was decorated in a simple manner. A few tasteful pieces of artwork hung on the walls. On what appeared to be a small writing desk, sat portraits of First Noble and Yilya, together with four children. Chakotay recognized Refayia and Isogra, but he did not know the two adolescent boys pictured.

Yilya spoke as she reentered the room with the flowers in a vase, "The portraits are quite good, or at least of our children. You haven't met my sons yet have you? They are away in school," she sighed. "I miss them so much. Yxala 2 has seen twenty carpets of blossoms and Bturwi, seventeen. A mother of sons has a mixed blessing. When they reach their thirteenth carpet, they must leave for elder school. But they will be home soon for the summer." She smiled in anticipation.

"May I ask a question? If it is inappropriate, tell me."

"Go ahead, Chakotay. I'll try to answer if I can." Yilya smiled warmly.

"I don't think I paid enough attention in the citizenship classes." Chakotay looked down at his hands. "I should know this. Could you explain the phrase 'carpet of blossoms'?"

"You have been on Isaria for a little over a year?" When he nodded, she continued, "You have no doubt seen the 'carpet of blossoms'. The Captera tree which is everywhere on Isaria, sheds it blossoms every spring. For as long as our history has been recorded, the carpet of Captera blossoms has been a sign of fortune and of passing time. I have heard that those of you from Voyager mark your anniversaries of life by the date on a calendar. We, Isarians, mark ours by how many 'carpets of blossoms' we see." She paused for a moment, and then she said, "May you find happiness and peace with every 'carpet of blossoms'."

"Thank you." Chakotay did remember the beauty of the Captera blossoms when they covered the ground several weeks ago, and the fragrance that filled the air as he trod upon them. He had gone to town for art supplies. On his way back to his house, the loveliness of the pale lavender blooms had lightened his mood so much that he slowed his normal pace.

Yilya went to a small cabinet that hung on the wall near a corner. Reaching inside, she brought out a small bronze. She handed it to Chakotay. It was only about six inches tall, but the visual impact was great. The figure was a small girl child walking through fallen blossoms. He could tell they were Captera blooms. The girl was holding a flower to her nose, her face showing joyous abandon. A tiny plaque on the side read Her Third Carpet.

"It's lovely," his voice was filled with awe. "The artist has a rare talent for capturing emotion."

"Yes, Refayia is talented," Yilya stated with obvious pride. "She did it over five carpets ago as her graduation project at the Artisan Academy. It is Isogra at a time when she was healthier." She took the bronze piece from Chakotay and put it back in its place. "Refayia is now a master worker in metals. And she's so eager to work on this project."

A shuffling sound came from the hall. It was Refayia, loaded down with parcels. "Mother, I just wanted you to know that I am home and to ask if you want me to bring tea when I come back."

Chakotay jumped up to take the bundles from her. Refayia allowed him to take most of them.

"Yes, bring tea and some of the cake Tuunka Lia made yesterday."

Refayia led the way to the kitchen. She put away most of the things before she began to make the tea. Pulling a small, round cake from a cupboard, she cut several slices before returning it to its place.

Chakotay was surprised to see that Refayia was so familiar in the kitchen. He had assumed that the noble's household would be filled with servants. "Do you have a cook?"

"Mother Sropa employs one. However, my mother gives her time off when the second family is away. She wants Isogra and me to be able to run a home. Her desire is that I will be prepared when I marry to be a proper wife regardless of the station or income of the man I might marry." Refayia grinned mischievously. "I tell her that I might become a never wife and would have to cook and run a house for myself anyway."

"I'm sure that you have many suitors."

"None have ever interested me," she replied as she lifted the tray on which she had placed the teapot, cups, and cake and began to leave the kitchen. Chakotay, however, took the tray from her, leaving her to follow him back to her mother's sitting room. He could not help but wonder if Yatar was one of those that didn't interest her.

After a pleasant visit with Yilya over tea and cake, Refayia took Chakotay to see her studio. It was a small building about fifty meters in back of the house. The first room held sketches and modeling medium, while in the rear was a metal foundry and casting area.

Chakotay suddenly realized that they were alone in the room. "Am I supposed to be here without Tuunka Lia?"

"She trusts you, and she insisted on watching over Isogra so that I could spend some time with you." Refayia changed the subject. "You said you had sketches. I was surprised to hear it after what you told me after the festivities."

"I didn't make a conscious decision to do them. They almost drew themselves. I neglected a commissioned painting all of this week. It was fortunate that he didn't come to check on it."

"I believe your patron, Etonl, let everyone know that you would be working on our civic project. You won't be bothered by anyone," she smiled.

Chakotay was a little upset by the news. "I don't know if I like Etonl doing that. He is my patron, but that doesn't give him the right to run my life. I promised that painting, and I will fulfill my commitments."

"He was only trying to be helpful."

"Yes, I'm sure that he was." Chakotay shook off the irritation

"May I see the sketches?" Refayia asked gently.

Chakotay brought the folder to the table and opened it. He placed the sketches where she could see them. He watched her face as she looked through the pile slowly. Her expression was intense. As she reached the last one, she took a quick breath. Chakotay looked down at the drawing. It was not one of his recent sketches. It was a sketch of two wolves, mates. One lay dead while other mourned, howling to the moon. Chakotay quickly picked it up and put it back in the folder. That drawing was too personal to share.

"I did that a year ago." The set of his face told her he would say no more about it.

Refayia started sorting through the rest of the artwork again. "These are good. If you keep this up, we will have a hard time deciding on the final design."

Refayia's simple compliment touched him deeper then any of the effusive praise he received from his patron. It was at that moment that he made a conscious decision to work on the project.

A tall, slender person in a plain, hooded Isarian robe left the transport platform as the early morning sun was just beginning to burn away the ground mist. The lone platform attendant only glanced in the direction the figure went, having seen her several times before.

When she was well out of sight down the rural roadway, Seven pushed back the hood. The mists of the morning swirled around the edge of her robe as the early morning sun was not yet high enough to reach the path. Walking at a determined pace, Seven's mind worked through her plans. If there had been an observer close by, they would have noticed that she didn't seem to see the beauty of her surroundings. She would have said, "Beauty is irrelevant."

After a brisk fifteen-minute walk, she arrived at her destination and let herself in. In the cavern she entered a small shuttlecraft stood before her. Seven quickly keyed in the access code to open the door. "Activate Emergency Medical Hologram."

"Please state the nat.. Seven! What a wonderful surprise!" The doctor hurried over to where she stood. "You look lovely in Isarian fashion."

She chose to ignore his compliment. "I have come to make adjustments to the beacon." She pulled a small object from her pocket before discarding her robe. She was wearing the same kind of body suit she had always worn on Voyager. When she saw the doctor's questioning look, she explained, "The robe is not efficient work attire."

The doctor smiled and nodded. He was happy that he had company and began to ply Seven with many questions, and although she would rather have worked in silence, she understood that the doctor was lonely and wanted to learn as much as he could about the former crew. Seven began to recount what had happened since she had last been there, while she continued making the necessary modifications to the beacon.

At one lull in the conversation the doctor asked a question, "Seven, how are you adjusting to life as an Isarian?"

Seven's first thought was to tell him that she was "adapting," but she wasn't really. Instead she said hesitantly, "I am not adjusting well."

"What's wrong, Seven?" he asked. "Everyone else seems quite content. Why just the other day, Ensign Tal, er Lady Tal was telling me how well the crew has been putting down roots."

Seven straightened up as she finished her task, and taking a deep breath, she said, "It is true that most are becoming accustomed and adapting well here on the planet. However some are not. I know that," she stumbled slightly as she used the correct Isarian term, "Citizen Chakotay is not adjusting to being here. I am certain that you have noticed that he is not on the maintenance rotation"

When the doctor nodded, she continued, "He has been keeping himself in seclusion, using his artistic talents as a source of revenue. He has been unable to conform emotionally to our current circumstances."

As she told the doctor about Chakotay's trouble, Seven fought to reign in the feelings of loneliness that tried to bubble up. She kept trying to tell herself that emotions such as this were irrelevant, but she knew that since Unimatrix Zero was destroyed, she had experienced an isolation that even being severed from the hive mind had not produced. Back on Voyager she had looked for someone she admired to fill that void, even to the point of making a holo-image of Commander Chakotay. However, aside from the emptiness of a programmed relationship compared to the real one she had shared with Axum, she knew that Chakotay was in love with Captain Janeway and that she was wasting her time. She realized that even if she never saw Axum again, she had to do everything possible to try to get back to into space where she had a purpose and a goal. Even though Earth and the Alpha Quadrant did not draw her, part of her new collective, the only true family she had, wanted to get there. This place was not home.

Once she was in control again, she changed the subject, "I would like to do a diagnostic on your program."

The doctor nodded and watched as the former drone keyed in the commands to begin. "You know, Seven, I was thinking. I miss my freedom. It's been hard, waiting for others to activate my program. I don't believe that Cap, I mean, Lady Janeway has considered the help I could be, or how lonely this place is for me." He tried to keep the bitterness from his voice. "I wonder if there's anyway for me to have more freedom and usefulness, since I seem doomed to a solitary life."

Seven's heart was gripped with compassion for her mentor and friend. "I believe that I could give you a bit more freedom without bothering the captain with the details." Her fingers flew over the panel in front of her. "I have adjusted your activation controls. Your program will initiate as soon as the doors are opened as an added shuttle security. I have also given you limited self-activation." When a questioning look crossed the doctor's face, she explained, "I have put in the maintenance schedule. You will not need to self-activate during those times."

She held up her hand to stop him from speaking. "You can take the opportunity to discuss your options when you see her the next time. You can be very persuasive." Seven tried to sound encouraging as she donned her robe once more. "I will keep my silence for the time being." She walked over to the shuttle's transporter pad, as she took her old communicator from a pocket and put it on under the robe. "Now if you will, please, initiate the transport to my quarters. I do not wish to give away the shuttle's location." The doctor knew that it was just an excuse, but he did as she asked after bidding her goodbye.

Beginning the next week Chakotay and Refayia began their collaboration in earnest. Yxala insisted that Chakotay have a dispatcher so that they would have an easier time communicating. Chakotay had to admit that he liked being able to call Refayia with a question about a concept rather than wait until he saw her next. They also spent a great deal of time together, always with Tuunka Lia in attendance. The project was demanding. Chakotay spend hours on drawings and concepts. Refayia gave him feedback and added a few sketches of her own.

Etonl sent Yatar to begin chronicling the Voyager's history. Yatar was still studying history in the university, in the master's division. It was his wish to join the staff at the university. He and his father thought that a historical record would be a good addition for the Voyager tribute, and Yatar could present it as his master's endeavor.

Chakotay began to talk about Voyager reluctantly but soon found that the talking did not bring more pain. He suggested crewmembers including who could give good perspectives as well as information.

Refayia seemed to be uneasy when Yatar first came to Chakotay's home, but as the time passed, she relaxed and recommended topics of interest for that part of the project. Chakotay liked Yatar's inquisitive outlook on life. He watched the deepening of the young man's interest in Refayia, wondering why she so flustered by Yatar's attention. At times his cheerful optimism was too much for Chakotay, so he was glad when Yatar began to interview others and when school took more of his time.

One summer morning after two months of work, Refayia and Lia arrived early. Chakotay opened his door for them and welcomed them. "You're early."

"We are," Refayia agreed. "We must leave early to prepare for our trip to the mountains."

"Trip to the mountains?" Chakotay repeated it as a question.

"Each summer, we of the first family go to the mountains for a month to escape the heat of the city. Father joins us for a week or so. I didn't mention it before because I'd hoped I could convince my parents to allow me to stay at home to continue our work, but they wouldn't hear of it."

Chakotay was surprised that the news of the summer trip stunned him so much. Although he tried to work on the project the rest of the time Refayia and Lia were there, he found it difficult to concentrate. Finally he put down his pencils and turned toward Refayia, who was sketching at another table.

"I need some fresh air. Would you mind going for a walk?" he included the tuunka in his invitation.

Refayia rolled her shoulders, working out the kinks, "I'd love to stretch my legs. Tuunka Lia, are you coming?"

The older woman smiled as she shook her head. "My old bones are aching today. I will sit on the porch if you two will walk on the lane and the front grounds."

"We will." Chakotay came over to help Lia rise from her chair and walk out to the porch. He brought her a glass of iced juice while Refayia brought her the stitchery she had been working on.

Lia thanked him for the juice and picked up her handwork as she watched the pair walk toward the lane.

Chakotay began to ask Refayia questions about the place she was going to visit in the mountains.

"I used to love to go to our mountain cabin. Yxala, Bturwi, and I spent many hours hiking the trails. We even found a cave and swore we would never reveal its location to anyone else." She sighed at the memory. "Then I got too old to hike trails with my little brothers. My father began to insist that I not go out without Lia."

With another sigh, she looked over her shoulder at Lia on the porch. "Don't get me wrong. I love Lia. I'm grateful that she is my tuunka and not Fedda or Geega. They are the tuunkas of Amu and Sema. Lia loves me and truly has my best interest at heart. Fedda and Geega are only looking out for themselves."

She put her hand over her mouth and blushed. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't speak so freely and critically. If the wrong ears heard me say such things, it would cause problems for my father. If Lia heard me, she'd scold me severely. Forgive me."

"You're forgiven. You can count on my confidence." Chakotay was curious about the situation she had just described, but he understood that she would speak no more about it.

"I know I can," she said simply.

They walked in silence for several minutes. The heat of the summer's day was not harsh under the Captera trees. Refayia stopped to lean against one of the trees. She glanced up into the branches and noticed a nest of birds. "Look, a family of Oloc robins."

Chakotay looked in the direction she was pointing. He saw two bright green birds feeding three fluffy, pale green chicks. The larger of the two adults had a long plumed tail and pink breast.

"Is the one with the long tail the male?" he asked.

"Yes. It has been a long time since I have seen a pair in this valley. It is a good sign." She pushed away from the trunk of the tree and began to walk back toward the house. "It is time for Lia and me to be going home." After promising to work on her sketches and send them to him to review, Refayia left with Lia.

Kathryn Janeway entered the university faculty building. The head of the university, First Proctor Nudar had asked her to come to his office as soon as possible. She was sure the invitation had something to do with the last lecture. The class had lasted over two hours longer than scheduled, when Yatar had asked her a question about Federation politics. She had to admit that she had been surprised by the interest of her students. The meeting place for the lectures had even been moved midway through the series from a classroom to a conference hall because more students attended each week.

First Proctor Nudar was waiting for her when she arrived. He ushered her into his office. She saw that several students were already in the office. She recognized many as having attended the series she just finished teaching.

Yatar stood and greeted her in the formal Isarian way. The other students followed suit. She took the smile on the First Proctor's face as a good sign.

Nudar cleared his throat, "Lady Janeway, young ladies and citizens, please be seated." He indicated he wanted her to sit in the chair next to his desk. "These pupils have come to me with an interesting proposal. As you know, they have taken your history series." He paused to smile. "I've never been so happy to have taken the advice of the honorable Patron and Alumnus Etonl in asking you, Lady Janeway to teach this series. The series has been the most popular in recent memory."

"Yatar, would you please tell Lady Janeway your proposal?"

The young man stood with no embarrassment at being called upon. "Lady Janeway, you must be aware of how popular your lectures were. I have proposed that the university hire you as Professor of History and Political Science of the Alpha Quadrant. As a master student of history and political science, I would be grateful to add more knowledge of your home quadrant, in particular about Earth, to my education before I leave." His eagerness was infectious as the other students enthusiastically voiced their agreement.

When the others were quiet, Yatar spoke up, "First Proctor has agreed to ask the council of Proctors and Alumni to add these courses to the university's if you agree to teach them."

After more discussion, Kathryn agreed to seriously consider the offer. Her first thought was to talk to Chakotay. He had always been a voice of reason. She didn't want to make a mistake. However, she didn't want to bother him if he was still working through his grief. During the last year she had greatly missed his companionship and had been forced her to turn to her old friend, Tuvok for advice. He was a good friend but he did not replace Chakotay. But Tuvok was currently on a trip to the southern continent to study Isarian comparative philosophy at the university there.

Finally after deliberation, Kathryn decided to talk to Chakotay, since the last time she had seen him, he had seemed to be finally coming out of his depression. She hoped that one day he would share with her some of what he went through. He had been such a good sounding board for her after she had been so despondent in the Void. Thanking the group of students and the First Proctor for the offer, she left and began to plan how she could approach her former first officer.

For the next few days he forced himself to complete the drawings of the monument that he had begun, but he could not go further than that. He was frustrated with himself. Chakotay knew that his lack of muse had to do with his being alone again.

Early one morning about four days after the first noble's family left the valley, Chakotay woke to a beautiful sound. It was a bird's signing. He quickly dressed and went out in his yard to investigate. He found his way to the tree in which the Oloc robin was nesting. The male was serenading his family. Chakotay watched the birds for several moments before he went back to his studio for his drawing pad, pencils, and a chair. Making himself comfortable, he began to sketch what he saw.

Several hours later, Chakotay became aware of his hunger, having not eaten all morning. He packed up his things and went in search of something to eat. However, because he had not gone to town for supplies for several days, he was nearly out of food and had to settle for a cheese sandwich made with stale bread.

Chakotay was just washing down the last of the sandwich with water when the dispatcher chimed.

"Greetings." Chakotay answered.

"Greetings, Chakotay, Tom Paris here. How are you this fine day?" There was laughter in Tom's voice as he gave the formal Isarian greeting.

Chakotay chuckled as he replied, "I am well and you?"

"I'm great! I've just become the father of a baby girl." His voice was filled with awe and joy.

"Wonderful, Tom! How's B'Elanna?"

"She's doing great, already up, ordering me around. She'd like to see you soon, today if you have the time." Tom's tone turned serious. "We both want you to come, Chakotay."

"Give me the directions, and I'll be there today."

Chakotay stepped off the transport on the south side of the capital city. He had never seen this part of the suburb where several of his former crewmates lived. The homes on either side of the wide Captera-lined macadam were larger than his but with smaller grounds. After walking straight down the street for three blocks, he turned to a light blue house on his right and trod up a short flight of stairs to the front door. The door opened before he had even reached it. B'Elanna launched herself into his arms, embracing him tightly. Chakotay returned the hug.

"Chakotay, it's so good to see you!" She pulled him into the room. "Come see our daughter, Kathryn Miral Paris."

Tom was seated in a large stuffed chair, holding the tiny infant. The baby had a shock of reddish blonde hair that fell over her slightly ridged forehead. Her bright blue eyes stared at her daddy as he talked gibberish to her.

Tom grinned at Chakotay and said, "And you thought I wouldn't accomplish anything with my life."

Chakotay laughed as he stood with his arm companionably around B'Elanna's shoulder. "I'd say that B'Elanna accomplished a lot too, by domesticating you, Paris."

B'Elanna joined in the laughter. She then bent to take the now fidgeting baby from Tom, "This one's hungry again. Tom, get Chakotay something to drink while I'll see to the baby."

As B'Elanna left the room with the baby, Tom gazed after them with a look of awe on his face.

Chakotay slapped Tom on the back. "I used to think that you couldn't possibly be right for her. But I was wrong. She's happier than I have ever seen her. She needed you."

"Thank you, Chakotay. That means a lot coming from you."

There was a knock at the door. Tom hurried to open it. As he stepped aside, Harry Kim, his wife Claireesa, and their son Jet walked in. The four-year old spied Chakotay and hid behind his father.

"Jet, you remember Citizen Chakotay. He used tell you stories about Earth animals. He drew the picture of the bear cubs that hangs over your bed." Harry lifted his boy up and walked closer to Chakotay.

Jet reached his hand out to touch Chakotay's cheek and turned Chakotay's face to the side. The child gazed at the tattoo on Chakotay's forehead. The little boy broke into a smile and said, "I 'member now. You told me about bears and woolfs. I miss those stories. Could you come tell 'em to me again some time?" As a quick after thought, he said, "Please?"

"Yes, I could do that." He smiled as he remembered the times he had spent with their family on Voyager. Harry had met Jet's mother on Meta'laria. Voyager had traded passage through a wormhole controlled by the Meta'larian in exchange for use of the ship to carry shipment a type of salt compound from their mines to the main planet on the other side of the wormhole. The trip through wormhole had been a minor shortcut toward Alpha quadrant.

Claireesa, called Clare by the crew, was nine months pregnant with twins, so Harry insisted that she sit down right away. Her gestation period was much longer than a human one. She had been pregnant for thirteen months with their son.

Jet stood next to his mother. He spoke in a stage whisper, "Mama, where's the baby? We came to see the baby."

"Auntie B'Elanna will bring her out soon."

Tom went to get refreshments from the kitchen. Chakotay talked with the others while everyone waited for B' Elanna to return with the infant. There was another knock on the front door. Since Tom was still in the kitchen, Chakotay answered it. Kathryn Janeway stood on the porch. Chakotay also saw Neelix and several other former crewmembers walking toward the front steps. Neelix was carrying a large basket of fruit and an even larger stuffed animal that looked like a teddy bear.

"Lady Janeway, it's good to see you." He flashed a smile at her and then included the rest of the people in his greeting. "Come on in, everybody, Tom and B'Elanna are busy right now, but they'll be right back."

The living area of the house was beginning to get crowded, but no one seemed to mind. There was general air of celebration and informality that was not possible in most Isarian company. Tom distributed the food and drinks to those gathered. Just as everyone had received the refreshments, B'Elanna returned to the room with the baby in her arms. She walked straight to where Janeway was sitting.

"Kathryn, meet Kathryn Miral Paris." She put the sleeping baby in her former captain's arms.

"Oh, she's beautiful! B'Elanna and Tom, I am honored by the namesake." Her voice was husky, and there were tears in her eyes as she gently rocked the tiny infant.

Chakotay thought he saw a hint of longing in her eyes as he caught her glance, but he wasn't sure because she quickly looked back down at the baby. He was surprised by the sudden stirring in his soul at the sight of the infant in her arms.

Jet left his mother's side and leaned over the arm of the chair, staring at the baby. He reached out his hand to touch the baby's forehead. At his mother's "ahem!" he looked up at B'Elanna for permission. She smiled and nodded. He softly traced the tiny ridges, and touched her hair and ears. When he lifted one of the baby's little hands, she opened her eyes. The two gazed into each other's eyes for several seconds.

Jet looked toward his mother and said, "She's pretty, Mama. Will our babies look like her?"

"No, they'll look more like you," she answered lovingly.

"But I like baby Kathryn's face. I want our babies to look like her." He stomped his little foot.

"Jet Thomas Kim," his father's soft voice held a warning.

"I'm sorry, Daddy." He hung his head for a moment; then he looked back to the baby and said to her, "I'll just have to be your always friend."

The adults in the room chuckled at the words of the little boy. They began to gather around the baby and exclaim over her. Neelix asked to hold her next. After Neelix held her, the baby traveled from person to person. Jet was never far away from her.

Chakotay hadn't been with his former crewmates since the citizenship ceremonies. It occurred to him that he was happy to be with them all and that he had missed them. A measure of serenity surrounded him that he had not felt in ages. He stood leaning against a wall, allowing others to be seated. It was a special joy watching the little boy's attachment to the baby.

"He's a bit young for such a big crush, don't you think?" Kathryn broke into his reflections, having joined him.

Chakotay grinned. "Well, he is Harry's son, after all."

"True," she smiled back at him and said, "I see you are 'back'. I heard you've been very busy with the Voyager project. It must be going well."

"It is." He was quiet for a moment. "I just realized that I was 'back,' as you put it. I don't want to hide any longer. It's so good to be with old friends."

"Then I am doubly happy today. A namesake and the return of my best friend," she sighed contentedly as she put her hand on his arm and squeezed it. "I'd like talk to you about something. If you have the time, could you come to my home for coffee later today?"

There was something in Kathryn's eyes, wariness and timidity, that surprised him. He had not seen that look often, but he was usually the cause. He felt ashamed. He patted her hand reassuringly. "I think it is about time I visited my former captain's home."

Kathryn and Chakotay were the last ones to leave. He received several invitations from his friends, including one from Neelix to visit his restaurant. Neelix's cooking was very popular in the capital city. It seemed that his style of spicing and presentation was much to Isarian taste. Chakotay's schedule was becoming busier than it had ever been before on Isaria. And as he left, he invited the Paris family and Kathryn to dinner the following week.

Since the weather wasn't too warm for walking, they decided to walk to Kathryn's home. It was located on the other side of the university district, so they walked through the campus. Kathryn gave him a quick tour of the grounds and ended up in front of the history building. She stopped under the shade of a Captera tree. Chakotay joined her.

"That is the history building." She pointed toward the stone building. "You knew I was invited to give a series of lectures on the history of earth and the Alpha Quadrant at the university?"

Chakotay stammered a bit, "No, I didn't know."

Kathryn saw his embarrassment and replied, "I thought you knew since Etonl told me that you suggested Yatar talk to me about Voyager. But I guess I should've told you before. I was trying to give you space. I'm sorry, Chakotay."

"No, Kathryn," he said gently, "You were doing what you thought best. Though I'm not surprised that the university proctors would ask you to speak." He paused to consider his next words. "I should be apologizing for avoiding everyone, especially you. Kathryn, I'm truly sorry. I used to try to help you when you were depressed. I'm not sure why I couldn't see how my mood this past year affected my friends."

"Nonsense, Chakotay," her voice was filled with compassion. "I know how hard it is to come out of a bout of depression. I merely chose to give you time. I knew that you would make it back to us." She smiled at him trying to make his burden lighter this time. "And, if you had taken too long, I would have come to bring you back myself."

"Thank you."

Kathryn touched his arm again and spoke, "I promised you some coffee." She chuckled aloud at the doubtful look on his face and answered his unspoken question, "The Isarian version of coffee is a perfect substitute. I was extremely hesitant to give it a try considering Neelix's history with coffee substitutes, but I am very happy with this one."

Chakotay smiled and walked with her through the rest of the campus. "How did the lecture series turn out? Was it well received?"

"It was well attended," she said understatedly. "I need your advice, but let's wait to discuss it until we get to my home."

They crossed the street into the residential area. Neither of them spoke as they walked the few blocks to her house. Chakotay enjoyed the quiet companionship with his friend and former captain. How could he have avoided her for so long? Peace of mind had always come to him when he was with her. How could he have forgotten?

"Here we are." Kathryn gestured widely with her hand to the small beige house to their left. Chakotay was not surprised to see a flourishing garden, complete with flowers and something that looked like tomatoes growing in abundance. She unlocked the door and walked inside.

Chakotay would've known that this was Kathryn's home even without being told. Although she had only brought a few things with her from Voyager, those items were displayed. Her favorite coffee cup and the picture of her dog, Molly, sat on a mantle piece. The medicine bundle that he had helped her assemble was sitting on a small table to the side. He was touched that she had chosen to bring the bundle.

It also occurred to him that he had not once thought to use his since his arrival. He had almost left his bundle behind. However, Kathryn had not allowed him to leave it. She had ordered him to take it. His medicine bundle and wheel were hidden away in a crude trunk he had made for them. He had sought his spirit guide's advice when Captain Janeway had refused to mine the dilithium on the first pre-warp planet they had come across. His guide had told him that he must continue to follow the path set before him. She said that home was within his grasp. He had believed that she meant that they would continue on to the Alpha Quadrant. After they were forced to come to Isaria, he had been disillusioned with his guide's advice. He now started to ponder another vision quest.

As Kathryn went to make the coffee, Chakotay made a quick tour around her living room. He realized that she had made herself completely at home on Isaria. He found small items from the planet's culture that had caught her interest. A painting of a Captera tree in full bloom, a mechanical object that looked very old and somewhat like a navigational compass, a Nito plant, and several other items that he did not recognize graced her front room. He had almost finished his walk around the room when he came to a doorway. As he glanced into that room, he was astounded to see that one of his sand paintings was hanging on the opposite wall. It was one that he had made back on New Earth. But he had decided to leave it behind. Those memories were too difficult for him to handle. He had no idea that she had taken it back with her to Voyager. He stood almost mesmerized, staring at the picture until he heard her cheerful voice call from the other room.

"Do you still use sugar in your coffee?"

Chakotay quickly sat down on the sofa and replied, "I think so; it's been a while!"

A few seconds later, Kathryn entered the room with a tray. "I love the coffee maker Neelix and Harry 'invented' for me. Isarian and former terrans alike have begun to order them. Neelix knew that I didn't like to make coffee 'camp-style', so he approached Harry with the idea of making me one like he had used on Voyager." As she talked, she poured them both full cups and sugared his, before handing it to him.

He thanked her and took a sip. "This is good!" He was surprised and it showed in his voice.

She laughingly replied, "I told you that finally, Neelix did good."

They sat for a few moments sipping coffee and enjoying each other's company. Finally Chakotay spoke up, "You had something you wanted to talk about?"

"I do." She took a breath and said, "After the lecture series, some students went to the First Proctor to ask that I be hired as Professor of History and Political Science of the Alpha Quadrant. The First Proctor is going to take the proposal to the Council of Proctors and Alumni."

Chakotay waited for her to continue, and when she didn't, he asked, "What do you think of the proposal?"

After several moments, she spoke, "I keep thinking that I'm a scientist, not a historian."

He chuckled and said, "You've been many things since I've known you; a captain, scientist, diplomat, engineer, gardener, and friend to name a few. It's obvious to me that you have also become a good teacher of history." He grinned mischievously. "And I'm sure that these students would respond well to the infamous Janeway glare."

Laughing heartily, she playfully hit his arm. "That glare's patented." Her voice became serious again. "So you think I could pull this off?"

"I have no doubt that you can." He reached out to pat her arm in the same comforting way she had done so many times with others. "What will you use for textbooks?"

"I've given that some thought. I have padds with some history books, but I wanted to get your opinion on using the historical database on the shuttle. I think that I could download information and then write my own textbook." She looked at him to gauge his reaction.

"It's hard to give up on the Prime Directive." He smiled understandingly. "History has not been that much of a Prime Directive issue in the past. And we are now Isarian. And our history is now part of Isaria's."

The realization of what he'd said broke upon them both at once. Chakotay knew that at that point he had stopped fighting some of their circumstances. It felt good. "I'd be careful teaching the politics. Although we are part of Isaria now, I don't think we would want to make the native Isarians discontent with their politics. We've changed the "landscape" enough by just being here."

Kathryn's heart leaped as she watched her closest friend take another step to acceptance of his life on Isaria. She felt that he had understood her misgivings but had given the right counterpoints to them. She had missed his insights and his company even more than she had allowed herself to comprehend during the last year.

"Would you come with me to the shuttle to retrieve the data I need?" she asked tentatively, knowing that he had not been back to the shuttle since they arrived. The rest of the crew had taken turns maintaining the craft and its shelter. "I'd like your help deciding what to include. We could leave in a few days and make a day of it with a famous Neelix picnic."

"How could I resist a Neelix picnic?" He gave her one of his big dimpled grins.

They decided on a time for their outing to the shuttle. Chakotay left Kathryn's home with a light heart, looking forward to spending more time with her. On the way home, he stopped to shop for groceries. After making arrangements to have them delivered, he searched for but didn't find a gift for the baby. The rest of the way home, Chakotay marveled at lightheartedness he felt after seeing all of his friends, particularly Kathryn.

He could hear the chime of his dispatcher as he opened his door. He answered it to hear the First Noble's booming greeting. "Greetings, Citizen Chakotay, I have been trying to reach you all afternoon."

"I was visiting the Parises and their baby daughter." He chose not to tell the First Noble who else he visited.

"I must send congratulations," Yxala said before he revealed the reason for calling. "I would like to invite you to join the Second Family and myself for dinner next week."

"I would honored, First Noble."

It took the two men a few minutes to find a day that would be acceptable for them both. They agreed upon the day after the dinner Chakotay was hosting.

Since he hadn't found a suitable gift for the baby, Chakotay labored for the next week on a chalk drawing of a small honey-colored bush bunny to give to Kathryn Paris. He smiled at the thought of a bunny in relationship to B'Elanna's daughter. If she were anything like her mother, it would probably be more appropriate to draw a lioness or tigress. In fact, after he finished the first drawing he sketched a lion cub. Little Katie's parents would choose the one they liked best. Or they could keep them both.

He also worked on a painting of the Oloc robin. This painting was the first piece he had ever done of Isarian wild life. He found it easiest to work on it in the early morning to the song of male bird.

The day he finished the painting, he received a package from Refayia. She had sent a couple sketches and a short note.

Greetings Chakotay, I hope this finds you well. The weather in the mountains has been unseasonably cold and wet. I received word that the city's weather has been mild. Please don't repeat this, but I'm bored with this respite.

I can't go for a walk and even go visiting either because of the rain or Lia's aching bones.

I'm sorry for my complaining, but I have no one else to confide in.

I hope you like the drawings I have enclosed. I am eager to continue work on the project. How are you doing with your work?

If you would like, you could send me a note to the address on the top of this paper.

Your friend, Refayia

Chakotay wrote a note to Refayia. He described his visit to the Parises. He was sure she would enjoy hearing about Jet's fascination with the baby. As an after thought he sent one of his preliminary drawings of the Oloc robin.

Chakotay prepared several dishes that he knew his friends would enjoy. He was excited and looked forward to seeing them again. By the time they were due to arrive he had everything ready, including the presents for the baby.

Everyone arrived on the same transport. B'Elanna carried the baby in a sling-pack in front of her. Tom brought a bottle of wine and Kathryn brought flowers. Chakotay took the wine and flowers to the kitchen and brought out glasses of iced coffee for them all.

Kathryn settled into a comfortable chair with the baby on her lap. "Chakotay, this coffee is wonderful."

"Thank you, Kathryn. Neelix gave me some from his reserve. When will your plants be ready for harvest?"

"I will be getting some beans this year, although not many. It will take a few years before I can have more than I can use." The other three chuckled at the thought of Kathryn Janeway ever having more coffee than she could use.

Changing the subject, Kathryn said, "This little one has grown a lot in just a week."

"She'll be as fat as a targ soon, the way she eats," B'Elanna shook her head, "I barely have time for anything else. I'm glad Tom took time off. He's a great help."

Tom blushed a little at his wife's praise. "I wouldn't have it any other way. It's going to be hard to go back to work after this. Although I can't say I'll miss cooking."

"Speaking of cooking, dinner's ready." Chakotay put the last dish on the table. "Please, come to the table."

After everyone had been served and had begun to eat, Tom asked, "Kathryn, I heard that you are teaching at the university. What subject?"

"Actually, I was asked to do a lecture series on Alpha Quadrant history three months ago. A few weeks ago during the last class the series, one of the students asked about the politics of the Federation. The class lasted two hours longer than it was scheduled to. It turns out there is a great deal of interest in history and politics here. I have been offered a position on the facility at the university as Professor of History and Political Science of the Alpha Quadrant."

"Impressive!" Tom said as Chakotay poured wine for everyone.

B'Elanna added. "I heard that the First Noble wants you to run for magistrate."

"I understand that only never wives and widows run for political offices," Chakotay said teasingly.

"Well, I've never been a wife," Kathryn smiled but did not look at Chakotay and then she chuckled, "and my age is right. But you never know what new political blood can do. Besides, First Noble Yxala didn't ask me. He merely mentioned it as one of the vocations suited to my experience and skill as captain."

"I guess the Prime Directive no longer applies, does it?" Tom quipped.

"I'll be careful to not break the directive too badly," she grinned. "I know that there are good reasons for its existence."

Later in the evening Chakotay served dessert to his guests in the living room. As he began to serve coffee, Kathryn asked, "When are you going to show us your work? I hear a great deal from Etonl and Yxala about your project."

"I'll show you some of the sketches, but first I have something for baby Kathryn." Chakotay brought the two pictures over to B'Elanna.

"These are wonderful, Chakotay. Thank you." B'Elanna exclaimed as she showed them both to Tom and Kathryn. "You chose two contrasting subjects. Is there a reason?" B'Elanna grinned.

"Well, I did the bunny first, but when I figured little Kathryn will probably take after her mother, I thought the lion club would be just about right. Maybe the bunny represents Tom," he added as an after thought and he winked at B'Elanna.

"Low blow, old man, low blow," Tom retorted using his wife's nickname for her former Maquis captain. Everyone burst into laughter, thoroughly enjoying the good-natured teasing.

Chakotay ushered the group into his studio and show them the small group of drawings he had set out. He stood back and watched the others as they slowly took in each sketch. He especially wanted to see Kathryn's reaction to the work.

Kathryn picked up one particular illustration. Chakotay knew without seeing it which one it was. It was a depiction of Captain Janeway standing on bridge with her hands on her hips. Kathryn put the paper back down on the table and moved to where he was standing.

"These pictures move me, Chakotay. You definitely have captured Voyager." She patted his shoulder. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears for a moment, and then her mouth turned up at one corner. With mischief in her voice, she said, "However, the captain seems a little stiff."

A brilliant smile spread across Chakotay's face as he expelled the breath he didn't know he had been holding. He realized he'd been waiting for her approval. Old habits die hard.

Chakotay awoke early the morning of the planned outing, eager to begin. He packed a rucksack with a few padds and some sketching materials. He ran quickly through his morning routine and was out his front door before the sun was completely up. He was glad that the day promised to be a fair one although he was sure that the weather wouldn't make a difference in his enjoyment of the day.

The agreement was to meet at the transport station, and from there, take the transport to the end of the line and hike into the hills to where the shuttle was sheltered. When Chakotay arrived at the appointed place, he found it was deserted at that hour. He was so eager to see Kathryn again that he looked around for her. He laughed softly to himself. On Isaria he had avoided her for so long, but now he paced to expend his impatience. Just as he had begun to examine the reasons for the change in his way of thinking, the next transport arrived and Kathryn stepped off.

"Greetings, Lady Janeway! How are you this fine day?" He extended his hand to her palm down.

Kathryn's voice was filled glee as she responded, "Greetings, Citizen Chakotay! I am well, thank you." She laid her small hand on his. She looked into his eyes, smiling brightly. They stood that way for several seconds as if trying to read the other's thoughts and to memorize what they read.

Chakotay was the first to break the silence as he noticed that she was carrying their lunch. He reached for the handle and slung the strap over his shoulder. "Our transport should arrive in about ten minutes. Let's go sit over there." He pointed to a bench near the transport stop.

After they sat down and arranged their bundles in front of them, he asked her if she would like something to drink. He produced two thermal containers and handed one to her. "I brought coffee."

"Thank you, Chakotay," she said as she opened the container and breathed in the aroma of the hot beverage. "I'm beginning to think that Isaria coffee is better than Terran." She sipped appreciatively at the liquid. "Ah! How'd you know that I only had time for one cup this morning?"

"I didn't, but I know you never refuse a cup this early in the morning no matter how many you've had."

Soon the transport arrived and they quickly got on. The journey took forty-five minutes but passed swiftly as the pair talked and caught up with each other. Kathryn occasionally drew his attention to scenes they passed. As she had taken this trip many times, she had interesting things to tell him about her journeys.

The transport pulled into the final station. It reminded him of a rural ancient Earth railway stop. There was very little surrounding the station but fields and a few small homes. For the rest of their journey, they walked down a rural roadway that was not much bigger than a sidewalk.

"I don't remember this area being so beautiful." His voice broke the pleasant silence of their walk.

"I think you were hardly in the frame of mind to enjoy the scenery back then."

He nodded, remembering his anger and sadness of that time.

They left the roadway and continued on a smaller path up a slight incline. After about a ten-minute walk, they came to a large pile of rocks that could have fallen from the stone outcropping above it on the hill. Kathryn went around to the backside of the rocks and Chakotay followed. She grasped what looked like a branch of a dead shrub sticking out from between two of the rocks. After quickly pulling down on it, she pushed against the rock immediately beneath the stick. An opening appeared in the rock wall. The opening was such a low one that even Kathryn had to duck down slightly to enter. She led him down a small corridor that continued to descend and finally turned to the right into a larger room. When they entered the cavern, several lights came on to reveal the shuttle.

Kathryn turned back to Chakotay when she heard his sharp intake of breath. She reached out her hand out to him. "You ready for this, Chakotay?"

He took her hand and gripped it tightly, thinking ironically how much the gesture meant to him but how shocked his fellow Isarians would be to see them "palming." "I am."

Kathryn entered the access codes on the keypad of the shuttle and the door raised to allow their entrance. As they entered, they saw a holographic shimmer before them as the doctor activated. "Greetings, to what do I owe pleasure of this visit?" Before they could even answer, he exclaimed with very apparent delight, "Captain, Commander, how wonderful to see you both! I hardly ever get to see anyone anymore."

"Doctor, what's going on? Why did you activate just now?" Janeway asked.

"Seven and I decided that I could provide added security for the shuttle," he emphasized his part in the decision. "So the last time she was here to make adjustments to the beacon, we made the changes to allow me to automatically activate when someone entered the shuttle."

"What adjustments to the beacon?"

"I'm not sure, Captain," he said as he turned to Chakotay. "Commander, it has been too long." He reached out to greet him in the formal Isarian way.

"Yes, Doctor, it has." Chakotay returned the greeting and said, "I see you have taken lessons in Isarian etiquette with the rest of us."

"I insisted that Seven and B'Elanna add Isarian customs to my database. I found that their customs were quite diverting, in fact,..." the doctor began a discourse in his usual verbose way as Kathryn and Chakotay worked at downloading the historical files that they wanted. For a time Chakotay felt as if he were transported back in time. His emotions were a jumble of pain and joy. How could he have cut out his best friend for so long? He began to feel shame as well.

"Kathryn," he spoke in a low tone, "I'm so sorry."

"Chakotay?" She looked up from her work.

"For everything." He noticed that the doctor was listening so he added in a whisper, "let's talk later."

A slight nod was her answer.

After the task was finished, they prepared to leave, and the doctor spoke, "Captain, Commander, it has been a pleasure seeing you both again." He sighed before continuing, "I'm very lonely here. Captain, I wish you would consider finding some way for me to get out of the shuttle for at least short trips. I am sure that there must be a way." The look of loneliness and pleading on his face smote Kathryn's heart.

"Doctor, I'll discuss it with some of the others. That's all I can promise." She took a deep breath, "Your technology is so much more advanced than Isarian. And your emitter so fragile that I'm not sure we will find a solution to either situation."

The doctor bowed his head slightly in recognition of her words. "That you will discuss it is all I ask, Captain, I mean Lady Janeway."

A few minutes later Kathryn and Chakotay were standing outside the rocks that sheltered the Delta flyer. They walked in silence for several minutes; Kathryn thinking about the doctor's request and Chakotay thinking of his own self imposed exile from friends and society.

It finally dawned on Chakotay that they were not heading in the direction in which they had come. He was going ask Kathryn about it when she pointed to a small grove of trees. "I thought that we could have our picnic over there."

When they arrived, Chakotay set a mat on the ground and Kathryn opened the parcel containing their lunch. Neelix had been generous and had included a bottle of Captera blossom wine to accompany with the food.

"This cheese goes well with the fruit. I must let Neelix know how I enjoyed his choices for our lunch." He bit into a piece of red fruit. "This is wonderful! It reminds me of a plum we had on Trebus."

Kathryn smiled as she watched Chakotay eat. His lips became stained with the fruit's juice. She chuckled as she reached out her hand to wipe some of the liquid that had run down his chin. "Did you make such a mess back then?" As her fingers touched him, she startled by the look she saw in his eyes and by the intensity of her own reaction.

The intimacy of the gesture caused his chest to constrict with desire. He wanted to pull her into his arms and to kiss her. It had been a long time since he had felt that way with such strength. In order to stay in control, he got up and walked to where he had dropped his rucksack, and pulled his sketching material from it.

His voice was soft as he spoke, "I'd like to draw your picture. This grove is a perfect background."

Kathryn nodded her agreement. She was a little confused by what had taken place, but she decided to follow Chakotay's lead. After several minutes of silent thought, she decided to tell him about her students.

As Chakotay worked on the sketch, he had to put aside the urge to leave. It had been his habit for so long to keep his feelings for Kathryn locked away. To have them surface with such intensity at such a simple touch had shocked him. He was grateful when she began to speak that she had chosen a safe, neutral topic.

"Have you noticed how much Yatar admires Refayia?" she asked after telling him about the young Isarian's passion for history and politics.

The comment made him smile. "As a matter of fact, I had noticed. Why do you ask?"

"I wondered if you had. He talks of her talent and beauty constantly when he isn't discussing his passion for history and political science. Does she seem interested in him?" Kathryn had a touch of the romantic within her scientific soul.

"At first I thought that she didn't like him, but lately she has been at least friendly toward him. Although I see no 'interest' returned."

"Poor Yatar," she sighed in sympathy. "I'd hoped that the two could get together."

"They are still young," he responded, "and if he cares enough for her, he won't give up."

"I hope he doesn't," her words seemed to hold a double meaning as she looked straight into his eyes. "It would be a great pity."

The afternoon sped away quickly as they talked while he sketched. Finally Chakotay put away his drawing things and helped Kathryn pack the picnic things. The journey back to the city was a pleasant one as well. When they arrived back at Kathryn's home, she invited him in for a light dinner, but he declined, claiming that he'd remembered something that needed his immediate attention. She tried hard not to show her disappointment, but she didn't completely succeed. He felt badly that he had let her down in this way but he knew he needed time to think through his feelings - to get things straight in his mind before he discussed his earlier mumbled apology with her. Saying his goodbyes, he left.

Chakotay arrived at the First Noble's home with a bottle of the Noble's favorite liqueur, and flowers for Second Wife Sropa. Yxala welcomed him in. The Noble was pleased with Chakotay's gift, as was Sropa. The couple led him to the dining room where their two daughters were waiting.

Chakotay was seated between the two young women at the large round table. The Noble and Second Wife Sropa took their places next to their daughters. As the dinner began, he saw that the Second Wife was indeed fond of formality. Each dish was served with flourish and ceremony. Her daughters vied for Chakotay's attention. Amu asked about his latest projects and whether he ever painted portraits.

"I'd love to come pose for you. I'm sure your work would be so much better than the last artist who painted our pictures." She smiled as she leaned closer and lowered her voice so as not to be overheard by her parents. "It would give us time to get better acquainted, too."

"I'm not a portrait painter and even I were, I'm too busy at the moment for any extra work."

Sema then touched his arm and said, "Of course, you can't mean you are too busy to spend time with us this summer season. We're planning a sailing party next week. Father said that we could invite you."

"Thank you, but I'm sorry. I couldn't possibly accept your kind invitation. I must continue to work on the Voyager memorial. I'm not much on sailing or parties."

From the look on Sema's face, Chakotay could tell that she wasn't pleased with his answer, but she quickly changed her expression. "Maybe we could spend some time alone getting to know each other better." She moved her hand on his arm with a caressing motion. "After all, you've spent a great deal of time with my oldest sister. Isn't it fair to get to know the rest of us?" She timed her movement and speech to when her father was busy helping himself to one of the items a server was offering to him. Her mother pretended to be preoccupied as well.

The innuendo in her voice made Chakotay angry. He pulled his arm away from her touch and quietly but firmly said, "If you're trying to imply that there has been something improper in the association between your sister and me, I would ask you to discuss it with Tuunka Lia and your honorable father."

He turned to face forward, responding only perfunctorily to any of the apologies from the young women. He began to ask the First Noble a great many questions about the political climate of the Isarian capital. Although the Noble's wife and daughters were not happy with the turn in the conversation, Yxala was eager to discuss the subject. Chakotay kept up the discourse until it was time that he could politely leave.

The First Noble walked him to the end of the lane and waited with Chakotay for the transport. The Noble said, "I just remembered something I meant to tell you earlier. My First family will be returning from the mountains in a week. The weather has been so wet there and so mild here, they decided to shorten their stay."

Chakotay was heartened by the news. The work on the project had suffered since Refayia left and he was ready to get it underway again. When he returned home, he toiled for several hours on his sketches, incorporating the ones Refayia had sent.

After Refayia and the rest of her family arrived back in the capital city, she contacted Chakotay. The work on the Voyager project went into an intense second stage. They first had to decide on the final design; secondly they had to begin the calculation of the metals and casting requirements. Yatar began to come more often as well. He had many last minute questions for Chakotay. After a few days he and Chakotay decided that the information should be shared by setting out small interactive terminals in various locations around the monument. Incorporating the terminals required some changes in the scheme of the design. Although Yatar was not an artist, his ideas and contributions became important to the final design.

They spent the remaining weeks of summer and the first week of the fall season getting ready for the casting.

The casting had to wait, however, for the Captera Harvest Festival. The seedpods of the Captera tree ripened the second week of first autumn month, Maunoc, the Isarian word meaning "end of harvest". The harvest festival was a planet-wide endeavor. Every citizen of the Isaria attended the ingathering. The uses of the seed kernel of the tree were even more numerous than those of the peanut or soybean on Earth. The festival lasted for a full week. The First Noble began the picking, filling the first basket from his own tree. After the first basket was inspected by a cleric and blessed, the rest of Isaria began to harvest. The first day was hard work, ending with a simple supper of Captera-meal bread made from last year's harvest and a glass of Captera blossom wine.

The rest of the harvest was actually finished by laborers, working in shifts so they would be part of the festivities. Chakotay had never seen such a celebration. The people were joyous and lively, but they never lost their sense of formality. There was a fair with the judging of Captera food and beverages. Entertainment of various kinds was available on many stages through the region. Refayia told Chakotay that these same types of festivities could be found all over the globe.

The day finally arrived for the casting of the bronze. Waiting for the harvest festivities to end had made him a bit impatient. Arriving early, the foundry attendant let him in. Chakotay made his way to the small office to wait for Refayia, but he found that she was already there.

He laughed, "I should've known you'd get here before me. Did you spend the night?"

"No, but I didn't sleep well because of my excitement." She smiled at him.

"Where is Lia today?"

"She said that she would come later today."

"I don't understand."

"Maybe because of the workers she felt she could wait to come." She shrugged. Then she reached for a small box in front of her. "While we wait for all the workers to arrive, I wanted to give this to you." She handed the box to him.

Chakotay lifted the lid and took out an object wrapped in a blue cloth. He removed the cloth to reveal a small bronze. It was a statue of the mourning wolf and his mate. Chakotay marveled at how she had captured the pain and despair he had tried to convey in his sketch - a sketch she had only seen that one time. The memory of the pain he had felt when he drew it, flooded over him. Tears began to sting his eyes.

Huskily he spoke, "I don't know how you could have done this. I drew that when," his voice broke.

"You drew it right after you came to Isaria. You were the wolf mourning the loss of Lady Janeway. For some reason you thought that you couldn't be with her on Voyager or Isaria. You thought that you had to wait until you reached the Alpha Quadrant to be with her. The loss of Voyager caused you to give up on ever being with her. You felt you couldn't do your mourning outwardly. So you tried to do it on paper." It was as if she could read his thoughts.

Refayia came closer to where he stood trying to reign in his emotions. She put her hand on his shoulder. He turned his head toward her. Looking into her dark eyes, he saw her tears. Without thinking, he put his arms around her. The two of them stood together, weeping. He felt free for the first time to let himself feel the grief and felt hope replace it. She was sad for the loss and pain he had endured, but happy he was finally releasing it.

Slowly the storm of tears quieted, and they stepped back from one another. Chakotay found his voice again and said, "Saying 'thank you' doesn't seem adequate."

"It is enough, Chakotay." Refayia answered.

He met her gaze with a large grin and said, "We will have to talk about just how you knew all of this, but later."

"Later," she agreed, "Voyager awaits."

It was nearly time for the dedication of the monument. The weather was turning cold, but it was still clear and bright. The casting and assembling of the project had taken several weeks. Chakotay spent every day supervising every part of the construction. Refayia and Lia were there nearly every day, too. Chakotay and Refayia hadn't yet talked about what had happened the first day of casting, but they were more comfortable and relaxed with each other.

One morning three days before the dedication, Chakotay was overseeing the final polishing. He had just finished giving instructions to the crew when he saw Refayia and Lia arrive. As he walked toward them, he could see that something was wrong.

"Refayia, what is it?" he asked with concern in his voice. "What's wrong?"

Tuunka Lia answered instead. "Could we go into the office?" She pointed toward the caretaker's office that Chakotay had been using for several weeks.

Chakotay lead them into the office. The room was divided into an inner and outer office. When she entered the office, Tuunka Lia quickly sat in the nearest chair. Chakotay and Refayia sat down, too. Lia spoke intently, "As Refayia's tuunka, I have many roles. This is one that I had hoped never to have to fill." She took a deep breath and continued. "I was informed by Amu's tuunka, that a young man named Nanza is going to ask to marry Amu. This man is a former suitor of Refayia's."

Chakotay was bewildered by the conversation so far. He could see that Refayia was upset. Maybe she is jealous. Maybe this person means something to her. He wondered what all of this had to do with him.

Lia watched the confusion cover his face. She spoke again, "I will try to explain the situation. If Refayia's sister marries this man, Refayia will be forced to be one of his waiting wives along with Sema or be forced to declare herself a never wife. It is the custom of families such as the First Noble's. Refayia refused his proposal over a year ago."

Chakotay saw Refayia shudder as Lia talked. He asked, "What can I do to help?"

"Refayia, will you go into the other room for a moment, please." Lia asked softly. Refayia nodded as she stood and went into the inner office. She avoided looking at Chakotay as she passed him.

"Chakotay, you are an honorable man. And I know you care for my tuunkee. I must ask you to consider marrying Refayia. If you ask her father before the other man does, the First Noble will most certainly accept you as his son-in-law."

As Chakotay opened his mouth to speak, she put up her hand to silence him, "I'm not finished. I must tell you that you will have to take her two sisters, Amu and Sema, as waiting wives if you marry Refayia."

"What is a waiting wife?" Chakotay asked.

"The custom of a waiting wife has some secrecy surrounding it, but I can tell you that in families of importance, the role of waiting wives is to help to insure that children are born to these families. If the first wife of a husband does not produce offspring, especially male, he can choose to try with one or both of the waiting wives. They will then be second and third wives. On rare occasions the husband will choose to keep only to the first wife for a full year. He may then choose to release the waiting wives back to their father. They are then free to marry someone else."

The complicated marriage custom was a surprise to Chakotay. He had known that the some Isarians took more than one wife, but he had never known why. He shook his head as he thought of Amu and Sema. He had trouble with the idea of them as anyone's wives, even as waiting wives.

"Lia, may I speak to Refayia alone?" Chakotay asked.

"Of course, Chakotay. I'll stay here and keep anyone else from disturbing you." she said trustingly.

As he entered the inner office, he saw Refayia sitting in a chair hunched over, her body shaking with sobs. Chakotay grabbed a chair and sat close to her. He touched her shoulder, but she did not respond, continuing to cry into her hands. Chakotay put his arm around her, pulling her close to him. Refayia stiffened for a moment, and then she put her head on his shoulder and continued to weep.

Finally Chakotay could feel her begin to control herself. She pushed away from him and reached in her pocket for a handkerchief. Wiping her eyes and blew her nose, she spoke quietly with her eyes focusing on her hands, "I am so ashamed and so embarrassed. I didn't want to come, but Lia. . ."

"I'm honored you two came to me," His voice was compassionate as he asked, "Do you know what Lia asked me to do?"

"Yes." Her voice was soft if he had not been so close, he would not have heard her answer. She raised her tearstained face and looked him in the eyes. "Chakotay, I know you still love Lady Janeway." She wiped at her eyes again. "But Lia insisted that this was the only way to keep me from being married to Nanza, aside from declaring myself a never wife."

"What you do you want to do?"

"I do not want to marry Nanza!" she spat out his name in disgust. "He is cruel and only looking for the power that would come from marrying the daughters of the First Noble."

"Is there someone that you do want to marry?" He smiled slightly as he said, "And don't say me, because although we are close friends, I know you don't love me."

She quickly lowered her glance and said simply, "I know that you are my friend, never a suitor. No one besides Nanza will have me."

Chakotay thought for a moment and spoke, "Have you and Lia considered Yatar?"

He heard a small gasp before she said, "He doesn't consider me a suitable wife. He told me that himself, once, and he hates my sisters."

He wanted to laugh as he remembered all of the times that he had seen Yatar's open admiration of Refayia, and Kathryn telling Chakotay of Yatar's obvious regard for the First Noble's first daughter. Instead he asked, "When did he say that?"

"The summer before my thirteenth carpet." The pain was of that regret was still in her voice as she continued, "We overheard our fathers talking about a possible marriage between us. Yatar frowned in disgust and told me he would never marry me."

"Refayia, that was a while ago. You were both children then."

"That may be but he has never given me any reason to think he changed his mind." Her dejected look told him she believed what she was saying.

Chakotay quickly stood to his feet. "Do you trust me?"

"Of course, I do," was her simple reply.

"I have an idea, but I think I need to be quick about it." He stopped with his hand on the door. "Please check the progress of the polishers while I'm gone. And I need to ask Lia a question. I'll be back as soon as I can."

"I'll do what I can." She walked over to the desk to look for the final assignment list.

He entered the outer office and closed the inner door behind him. Lia looked at him, expectantly. He sat down next to Lia, and put his hand on top of hers. "I need to ask you a question. Is there a formality that permits marriage without taking waiting wives?"

She gave him a shocked look. "In the case of a First Noble's family, it is unheard of."

"So there is one?"

"Yes," she spoke softly, "if the man is willing to give up all claims to the rights of legacy through the bride's family, and if there is a suitable match for the bride's adult sisters, it is permitted. However, it would be an embarrassment to his family, and I have only heard of it happening once in any recent history and that was not in a Noble family."

Chakotay nodded and left the room, almost running.

About thirty minutes later Chakotay walked into the office with Yatar in tow. Chakotay stood before the two women who were very surprised to see him again so soon. He bowed over his clasped hands and said in his most serious tone, "Tuunka Lia, Citizen Yatar, First and Only Son of my honorable Patron, Etonl, wishes your permission to formally petition First Noble Yxala for the privilege of marrying your tuunkee, First Noble Yxala's First Daughter Refayia. And it is Yatar's intention to denounce all claims to the rights of legacy from her family, and since there is another suitor, he intends to denounce claim to her adult sisters as well." He winked at Lia when he saw her eyes sparkle. "Does he have your permission, Tuunka Lia?"

Lia first placed her hands on Chakotay's for a moment and nodded. She turned and reached for Refayia's right hand and Yatar's left, placing them palm sides together. "It has been my sacred and joyful duty to be your Guardian of Virtue, Refayia, since your first carpet. It is with even greater joy that I give my permission to you, Yatar, to formally petition her honorable father. We three will go find your father right away."

"Wait!" Yatar spoke up, and turned to face Refayia, taking her right hand in both of his. "Refayia, I have to know if you are willing. I won't do any of this without your agreement. I'm willing for your sake to even take Sema and Amu as waiting wives if you don't want to lose your family rights of legacy."

"Oh, Yatar, none of that matters to me." Her face beamed with love. "I want to be your only wife. And I don't want to wait for a year."

Yatar looked as if he wanted to shout, but his Isarian heritage restrained him. "Let's go find the First Noble!" He took Lia's elbow while keeping his hold on Refayia's hand. Chakotay stood aside with a huge grin on his face. Refayia graced him with a brilliant smile, and as she paused in front of him, she spoke softly, "Thank you, my friend, Chakotay. And a bit of advice - wait no longer - tell her."

Chakotay received a jubilant dispatch from Yatar just before he left the project site for the evening. "First Noble Yxala was a bit surprised but seemed pleased with the proposal. He gave us his favor and blessing. It seems that he and my father had been trying to figure a way to get us together. He had even encouraged Nanza to court his other daughters, hoping that I would be jealous. He was so intrigued by your solution that he is thinking about revising the formalities to include that option without the loss of legacy." Yatar hesitated from a moment, and then said, "Refayia sends her thanks with mine. And I, too, admonish you to talk to Lady Janeway. I nearly lost my love for waiting."

The words of the two young people echoed back to him as he walked down the quiet street leading to Kathryn's house that same evening. Chakotay wasn't sure what he was going to say or do, but he knew he wasn't going to put it off. Enough time had been wasted and now, he could only hope it wasn't too late. He stopped in front of Kathryn's door. It hadn't been possible to see her for several days as the Voyager project had taken so much time. She too had been busy working on her textbook and coursework for her classes scheduled to begin in a couple months. Suddenly apprehensive, he wondered; what if he was too late? He shook off the anxiety and rang the doorbell.

As Kathryn peered around the edge of the open door, her look of curiosity was replaced with one of delight. "Chakotay! Come on in." She opened the door wide to let him inside. She was dressed in the Isarian equivalent of jeans and a sweatshirt and wearing slippers. He could tell that she had not been expecting company. Several dirty dishes were scattered on floor, mingled with various PADDs and sheets of paper. She chuckled, "I didn't expect to see you until the ceremonies. Please sit down." She removed the things she had dropped on her couch when she answered door. "I'll get you some coffee." She turned to go to the kitchen but stopped when she heard him speak.

"No, thank you, Kathryn," he said somberly, "I need to talk to you about some important things. Come sit with me."

As Kathryn sat down next to Chakotay, she looked apprehensive. Chakotay smiled to reassure her. He took a deep breath before he spoke, "I'm not quite sure how to begin." He rubbed his chin as he paused to ponder what to say. "I guess I will begin by telling you what happened this morning."

Kathryn nodded for him to continue.

"I received a marriage proposal."

To say that Kathryn looked shocked would have been an understatement. In a small choked voice, she asked, "Refayia?"

"Yes, she and Lia came to see me. There is a suitor who is ready to ask First Noble to marry one of her sisters, which would have obligated her to be a waiting wife or to declare herself a never wife."

Only a slight flinch and the loss of color in Kathryn's face showed the distress she was feeling. She opened her mouth to ask him what his answer had been, but she couldn't find her voice.

Although Chakotay felt guilty that she was troubled, his heart beat rapidly with hope at seeing her reaction. He reached out his hand and covered hers. "Kathryn, look at me." She reluctantly complied. "I said no. Refayia loves Yatar just as much as he loves her." Chakotay proceeded to tell Kathryn of the engagement of the two young Isarians, downplaying his role.

She relaxed against the back of the couch as she listened to him talk. Her eyes drawn to their hands entwined together. When he finished, she stated simply, "Although I could tell that Yatar cared for her, I never knew if she returned that affection. I thought that the two of you were becoming very close friends."

"Yes, Kathryn," he spoke with gentleness as he turned toward her and lifted her chin so as to make sure she saw his expression. "She's a very good friend, although not as good as my present company. And she knew why I would tell her no."

Blue-gray eyes searched coffee-brown ones. "Why did you say no?"

"Because despite what my actions of the past have shown, I love you." He lowered his eyes for a moment before continuing, "I have loved you for so long that it seems like I have always loved you. At first when we joined our two crews, I was strongly attracted to you, but my experience with Seska showed me that becoming involved with someone in one's command caused problems. I never wanted to cause you that kind of trouble. I determined to be the best first officer and best friend I could be. And at first I could tell that you were still holding out hope that we would return. You had Mark. I knew he gave you a safety zone."

"On New Earth I thought that we might have a chance. When I told you the legend of the angry warrior, I nearly told you outright that I loved you. I would have told you. I was planning to do just that on our boat trip."

Kathryn's eyes were misty as she remembered what happened to cancel the trip. "They came back for us."

"They came back for us," he repeated her words. "I was glad that I hadn't spoken those words. As hard as it was to go back to the structure on Voyager, to pretend that we hadn't gotten so close, at least I hadn't given away my secret. I even tried to fall in love with someone else. I never could."

"As we began to have regular communication with Starfleet, I couldn't help but begin to hope. I even planned how and where I would tell you when we got back." As he paused, he stared at the wall in front of him, not knowing how to proceed. Feeling Kathryn squeeze his hand, he looked at her.

Kathryn's face was wet with tears, but her smile was bright with happiness. She leaned closer and said in a voice that was husky with emotion, "I love you, Chakotay." And after making sure her words had registered with him, she closed the remaining space between them and kissed him. The kiss at first was almost feather light, but slowly they both deepened it. She wrapped her arms around his neck, both of her hands raking through his hair and she tried to pull him even closer.

Chakotay felt like he was dreaming until her arms wound around his neck. He moaned with pleasure as he pulled her against him and intensified his loving assault on her mouth. Slowly he pulled back from the kiss to look at her. "Kathryn," A dimple belied his serious tone, "we are Isarian citizens now. You and I will no doubt cause a bit of scandal, but without the benefit of tuunka or parents, I want to ask you to marry me."

Chakotay was rewarded with delighted laughter and another kiss before he heard her say, "How long do you think we have to wait?"

"Lady Janeway! I do think that your question is not in accordance with Isarian formality."

"My dear Citizen Chakotay, I do believe that you are correct." And just before she kissed him again, she said, "And right now I don't care."

Some time later, as the two sat sipping coffee, cuddling and planning, Chakotay spoke, "I think I will speak with Etonl about helping us arrange our wedding."

"I think that he's a good choice." She chuckled softly, "I'm quite sure that he will enjoy being a part of the uproar that a Starfleet/Terran/Isarian wedding will make. Or maybe we should just have the smallest wedding possible."

"Kathryn, I don't think we'll be able to get away with that."

"No, I 'm sure you're right, especially not if we ask Etonl to help us. I just don't want to wait any longer than absolutely necessary." She leaned her head back against his shoulder after she finished her coffee. "As soon as possible, after the dedication of the Voyager memorial."

He put his cup aside, tucked her head under his chin, and wrapped his arms tightly around her. "Yes, as soon as possible," was all that he said as he began to kiss her again.

Later that evening before he left Kathryn's, Chakotay contacted Etonl, asking if they could come to see him. Although Etonl was surprised at the request, he was hearty in his enthusiasm. They agreed on a time the next afternoon.

Chakotay and Kathryn caught many stares as they walked hand in hand to Etonl city home. It was nearby, but on the opposite side of the university campus from Kathryn's. The day was unseasonably warm so the pair enjoyed the outing. As they drew closer to their destination, they let go of one another's hand without thinking about it.

They arrived at the front gate of a large elegant home. Before either of them could really enjoy in the view, Etonl threw open the large, iron entry. "How are you this fine day, my fellow Isarians?" His voice boomed out as he motioned for them to come.

Kathryn and Chakotay followed Etonl as he hurried down the walk to his front door. As it was already open, he walked in and waited inside for them both to catch up.

"My wife is not home today," he told them as he led them to a small parlor and bade them to be seated. A small table was filled with assorted pastries and dried fruit. "I arranged to have something to eat. Would you like some coffee, Lady Janeway?" He began to pour her a cup almost before she nodded. Turning to Chakotay, he asked, "And you, my friend?"

After they all had received their full cups and plates, Etonl asked, his eyes twinkling with amusement and curiosity, "What brings the honor of your presence to my home?"

Chakotay looked over at Kathryn and saw her smile of encouragement. He reached over and took her hand in his as he opened his mouth to explain. However, before Chakotay could say a word, Etonl began to laugh, a loud, hearty, belly laugh. As he continued to guffaw, he put his cup on the table as he had begun to spill his drink.

Chakotay looked around him, waiting for his patron to finish. Kathryn grinned and put her other hand over her mouth as she tried not to join Etonl in his mirth. Etonl would seem to have control when he would look at their joined hands and begin to chuckle all over again. Finally he took a deep breath and picked up his cup, downing the contents in one big gulp.

"I don't think I have enjoyed news so much in ages." Reaching into his pocket, he brought out a handkerchief and blew his nose. "Please forgive my manners. My wife tells me that I must have been out of school when the basic formalities were taught. You see, I keep thinking of your very clever solution to Yatar and Refayia's dilemma, and here you are with another." He started to chortle again, only not as hard as before.

Clearing his throat, Etonl said, "I see that you have finally recognize what your crew saw for years. Oh, don't be so surprised. Citizen Neelix and I have had some long chats, late into the night at his restaurant."

Chakotay and Kathryn laughed at the thought of the native and naturalized Isarians gossiping together over tea.

Chakotay finally spoke, "Etonl, Kathryn and I want to be married as soon as possible after the dedication of the memorial. But we don't want to cause a conflict with your son's wedding."

Etonl beamed at them like a merry Santa, about to grant their favorite wish. "I know I speak for my good friend, First Noble Yxala and for the Council when I say that you and Lady Kathryn will have the best wedding that Isaria has to offer as quickly as I can make the arrangements. I'm thinking that one month after the memorial ceremonies will be just about right." He put up his hand to stop any protest. "The wedding between my son and Refayia requires many formalities be fulfilled before it takes place, what with her family's positions. However, you don't have to concern yourself with those."

The older man went over to a cabinet and brought a bottle of wine. "Let us drink Captera wine to your future." After he poured them each a glass, he raised his, "May you both have the happiness that eluded you for so long, and may formalities or, " he paused and winked, "protocols never hide it from you again."

The day of the dedication dawned brightly. The air was cold but not uncomfortably so. Chakotay arrived at the complex as the sun rose. There was nothing that actually required his attention, but he had wanted to see the memorial one more time before the ceremonies. Closing the gates behind him, Chakotay pushed the button that moved aside the curtain that shielded the memorial from view.

As the first beams of sunlight hit the gleaming bronze, he stood transfixed. He swallowed against the lump that formed in his throat. This work represented far more that a tribute to a fallen ship and lost comrades. His life would never be the same because of that Intrepid-class ship and more importantly, its captain and crew. His tour of the memorial took over an hour, and as he arrived back at the front gate, he saw a lone figure in a green, formal Isarian robe.

"Kathryn!" he exclaimed, "I'm glad you got here so early."

"I knew you would be here." She extended her hand as he approached. He enfolded her tiny hand in his and led her on a tour.

A while later as Chakotay pushed the button to close the curtain, the two heard noises coming from the other side of the gate. They hurried to the gate and found the Parises trying to open it for Harry and his family, Tuvok, and the rest of the crew who had anxiously gathered a full three hours before the formal ceremony was scheduled to begin. Tom closed the gate as the last one went through it. The former Voyager helmsman walked quickly to where Kathryn and Chakotay stood talking to with B'Elanna, Tuvok, and Harry.

"May I have your attention please?" The crowd quieted down immediately. "Most of you know why we came so early." He turned to Janeway and Chakotay. "We wanted to have a private observance before the formal one. All of the combined crews of the starships Voyager, Liberty, and Equinox want to let both of you how proud we are to have served with you on Voyager. You have accomplished more with this motley crew than anyone back in the Alpha Quadrant would've ever imagined. There's not a single one of us that hasn't been changed for the better because of you and being a part of the Voyager family."

The group broke into a cheer, "Voyager! Voyager!"

Kathryn turned to look at everyone who stood before her. Her eyes were filled with unshed tears. Chakotay stepped closer to her, assuming the position he had so many times on Voyager. He stood just behind her and slightly to her left with his right hand on the small of her back. "Thank you," she swallowed and then cleared her throat. "You all mean so much more to me than a mere crew under my command. You are my friends and family. I know I couldn't have made it this far without of all of you. We will miss those we have lost along the way and those we left back in the Alpha Quadrant, but I know that our new life here will be a successful, happy one, largely because of you." She reached behind her back and grasped Chakotay's hand, pulling him to her side. "Chakotay and I are glad that you came early this morning. We have something to share with you all." She glanced at Chakotay and he smiled his encouragement. "Chakotay and I are getting married next month."

A long moment of silence was broken when Tom Paris said, "It's about bloody time!" A great shout of laughter gave way to more cheers and applause.

As the noise of the ovation began to wane, Tuvok stepped forward and motioned to Neelix before he spoke, "It seems logical to me that we should toast to new beginnings." Kathryn could swear her old friend was smiling - it was a barely perceptible twinkle in his eyes.

Neelix, and some volunteers, began to pass through the crowd, distributing glasses of wine.. When everyone had a full one, Tuvok raised his. "To the end of one journey and the beginning of another."

After the toast, everyone crowded around Kathryn and Chakotay, congratulating them. There were many hugs, some laughter, and a few tears as many of their former crewmates told the couple how they had hoped for years that they would get together. Finally B'Elanna spoke, "Well old man, when do we get to see this thing you've been working on."

"Yeah, Chakotay," Tom piped in. "I think we should get a sneak preview."

"I think we have enough time for the quick tour." Chakotay grinned as he continued, "We wouldn't want our Isarian friends to feel slighted." He led the way slowly through the memorial. Several people commented as they walked past places in the memorial. Sam Wildman was moved to tears and Naomi grinned from ear to ear when they saw a depiction of Naomi's first day on Voyager.

Former Ensign Ashmore respectfully assured Chakotay that this memorial indeed displayed Voyager at its best and its worst - a complete picture of the ship he had grown to love - and as aside to Chakotay, that he was glad that it would not have the affect on people's emotions that the memorial at Tarakis did.

Neelix was unusually quiet as he approached Chakotay near the end of the tour. He drew near and spoke in a half whisper, "Thank you for including my sweeting, Kes."

"She is still part of our family, Neelix." Chakotay put his hand on Neelix's shoulder.

Neelix smiled. "And you included Leola root!" He slapped Chakotay on the back before moving on.

In the days after the ceremony honoring Voyager, Kathryn and Chakotay began their wedding preparations in earnest. The two of them were sitting in front of the fireplace in Kathryn's house, discussing how many to have in the bridal party and who would be included.

Chakotay got up to refresh their coffee when the dispatcher chimed. He picked up the pot and walked back into the room as Kathryn answered it.

He heard her surprise when she said, "Greetings, Seven, how are you this fine day?"

Chakotay smiled at the Isarian salutation and how easily it came to her lips. However his smile left as he heard what she said next.

"Why now, Seven? It's late. Couldn't you wait until tomorrow?" She paused to listen to the answer. Then she spoke, "Very well, Chakotay and I will be here. What? Five minutes? How will you get here that fast? Okay, we'll be here." She turned to Chakotay and said, "Seven has something to talk to us about. And she said she will be here in less than five minutes." She reached for her coffee cup and took a thoughtful sip. "I wonder where she is."

The answer came in the sparkly form of two transporter columns as Seven and vaguely familiar man appeared.

Kathryn was so startled that she almost dropped her cup. She stared for a second at the pair standing in front of them before recognition dawned on her. "Axum?"

Chakotay knew the name but hadn't seen him before. Axum had obviously tried to remove Borg systems from his body, but unlike Seven, he hadn't had a skillful and inventive doctor's help. His exposed skin did not have the grayish cast of a Borg's any longer, but he retained many more cybernetic parts and most of his body armor.

Janeway and Chakotay instinctively closed the distance between them. Although she knew that Axum was an ally, his Borg appearance was unsettling.

"Captain Janeway," Axum extended his hand to her. "I am pleased to see you again."

After living in Isarian society for nearly two years, she hesitated before she shook his hand. The simple touch of a hand had become a unique gesture, so full of simple promise. "This is a big surprise." She showed them places to that couch and when everyone had seated, Kathryn spoke again, "Seven had told me that your cube was in a remote sector of the Beta Quadrant."

Axum smiled at Seven before he answered Kathryn, "That is correct, Captain. However, those of us from Unimatrix Zero were able to take over the control of our cube. We freed the drones one by one. And with modifications made using our nanoprobes, we have been able to keep the collective and the queen from finding out about our liberty. We are able to move through the quadrants unhampered."

"How did you find us?" Chakotay asked incredulously.

"First, we located the Klingon leader, General Korok and his liberated cube in the Delta Quadrant. We shared our discoveries, and he gave me the last known coordinates he had for Voyager. We followed the most logical trajectory toward the Alpha Quadrant. It was your amplified distress beacon that facilitated the locating of your shuttle."

Chakotay glanced at Kathryn as she listened to the former Borg. Her face had taken on a different look, the one he had seen so often back on Voyager. Captain Janeway was back. She leaned forward and asked, "Why did you try to find us?"

"I had promised Annik..Seven that I would." Again Axum's gaze fell on Seven with fondness. Chakotay could see that this man, this former Borg was in love with Seven of Nine. A smile of adoration covered Seven's normally impassive face in response.

"My crew and I have a proposal for you and your crew." He paused to gauge whether he had Janeway and Chakotay's full attention. "You and the crew of Voyager saved us from the collective. We have our individuality back which is something that we thought impossible even in Unimatrix Zero. We would like to help you achieve a goal that you think impossible. We want to take you back to the Alpha Quadrant."

Chakotay felt as if a crushing weight had landed on his heart. Kathryn would accept Axum's offer. She would go back to Starfleet and their relationship would take second place to her duty. He was sure that she would give each former crew member a choice. And some would choose to stay. But he would lose either way. If he stayed behind, he would be alone for the rest of his life, and if he left he was sure he would lose her to Starfleet again. He tried to remember that he had previously connected hope with going home to the Alpha Quadrant. However, now it seemed that the spirits were intent upon ripping his happiness away.

Kathryn saw Chakotay's face turn pale and couldn't understand why. She had thought that he'd be happy that they had a chance to return home. They would return to the Alpha Quadrant as husband and wife. There was no way that she would do anything else. Starfleet be hanged! They would find a place in the Alpha Quadrant just as they had on Isaria. She smiled at him, trying to show him that they would work things out.

"Axum, we will meet with the senior staff and the other crew." Her voice was buoyant. "I'm sure some will choose to stay here. And we will need to find out how long this trip will be and what we will need to bring."

Seven had been quiet during the whole conversation. She could sense that Chakotay was having some kind of difficulty. His blood pressure was elevated and his breathing shallow and rapid. It was obvious that he was distressed about something. She had the same reactions when she had to say goodbye to Axum in Unimatrix Zero. Her heart was soaring with the knowledge that he had returned for her. She intended to be with Axum no matter what their future held, whether on a cube trying to liberate other drones or settling in the Alpha Quadrant pursuing their own lives. She hoped that whatever the problem Chakotay was having would be settled soon as well.

"Chakotay, would you please see to it that a meeting of the senior staff is set up?"

He replied in a formal voice, "Yes, Captain."

Kathryn was shocked at his response. Why did Chakotay call her that?

"Do you have any other questions, Captain?" Seven asked. She had never begun to call Kathryn anything but Captain or an occasional Lady Janeway in all their time on Isaria.

"Not for the moment," was her quiet answer.

Axum and Seven stood as if they were of one mind. "We will wait in the shuttle for information about the meeting." Seven spoke for them both. Axum nodded his agreement and took her hand as they transported out of Kathryn's house.

Kathryn turned to Chakotay. "What was that about? Captain?"

Chakotay sighed, "I'm sorry, Kathryn. That was uncalled for." He reached for her hand. "I just saw that look on your face. You were Captain Janeway again, not Lady Janeway. You slipped back into the role very quickly." Before she could answer, he continued, "I don't want to return to the Starfleet and Alpha Quadrant."

After a few moments of stunned silence, she stood up and walked over to the mantle where her small collection of Starfleet things sat including her commbadge and pips. She fingered them before walking to the painting that Chakotay had given her the day after the Voyager dedication. The painting depicted two eagles in flight with wings nearly touching. He had taken liberty with the colors of the feathers so that one was golden red and the other dark brown. As she looked at the painting, her eyes filled with tears. Turning to look at Chakotay, Kathryn observed him sitting straight and stiff, his eyes troubled. She walked back to the sofa and sat down again. Her hand reached out to touch his face and she spoke gently, "Chakotay, I still have a responsibility to take the crew home. I never thought that we'd get a chance to do it."

Chakotay sighed and covered her hand with his. "I know how you feel about your responsibility and the crew. There many who'll be very happy to take this opportunity to go back."

"But not you? I thought that you would want to be with me no matter what." She closed her eyes, tears stinging behind her lids.

"Kathryn, look at me." His voice was soft as he continued, "I'll never stop loving you, but I don't think I could take second place to Starfleet anymore. If we go back, we will be at the mercy of 'Fleet's whim. And especially now that you have brought the crew back against all odds, there will be no end to what will be expected of the famous Captain Kathryn Janeway. And even if Starfleet allows the former Maquis to go free, how would it look for you to be involved with the very one you came to bring in?"

Kathryn looked deeply into his eyes, as the full import of what he said dawned on her. She tried to assure him, "Things will be different. For one, we'll be married. I love you and I don't want things to be like that either. I don't care what Starfleet or anyone else thinks about our relationship."

Some of the weight lifted from his heart as he listened to her, but he still didn't think she understood how it would be. He pulled her into his arms and said, "I have also a hard time thinking about leaving our life here. Isaria is a wonderful place to work, live, and love. We're both allowed to be ourselves here in a way that we never would be on Earth or anywhere in the Alpha Quadrant. Kathryn, think of your work here. I don't think that I've seen you so content before. Won't you miss it at all?"

Cuddling close to his chest, she pondered what he said. She pushed back a bit and gave him a quick kiss, before she said, "I am content here because you are here with me. But I must say that I'm not sure that I want to go back to Earth or Starfleet either. I love it on Isaria. We have so many friends, old and new. I will miss them all. It would be very hard to leave it all behind." She took a deep breath and continued, "But I do know that there are those who will want to go back. I know that Harry, although very happy here, would want to take his family to see his mother and father. And I would like to see my mom and sister again."

"Chakotay, I can promise you this. I will never allow any person or organization to put you in second place. And I'm willing to come back here if we decide it is the best thing for us. But I can't and won't make that decision alone. No matter what, I want you with me."

Chakotay's heart began to soar like the eagles in the painting. "Okay, Kathryn, I will go with you after our wedding." He lifted her chin. His kiss was full of joy and promise.

She broke the kiss after a few moments and said, "No, my love, we leave after the honeymoon."

The beginning