Kathryn and Chakotay, A Long Journey Home

By Jade East (jadetrekeast@yahoo.com)
© August 2006
Rating: T
Series: Star Trek: Voyager

Kathryn is finally ready to tell their story. The task is difficult as it stirs happy and painful memories, but most of all it shows that, once again, love is worth it all.

Voyager and the characters belong to Paramount. I am just borrowing them for fun.

Acknowledgments: As I wrote this story, I reminded again of how blessed I am to have found the J/C fandom. I have friends and betas of diverse ages, countries, and backgrounds. I just want to let you all know how grateful I am to know you. I want to say special thanks for my newest and youngest beta, Aria. Wow girl, you are one splendid beta. Thanks for all the time you put into this.

Dedication: I'm dedicating this fic to SylviaK, thank you for your friendship both online and in RL. You're one of the reasons I'm still writing. You have always had a word of encouragement and bit of plot advice to perk up my story when it got stuck. Danke sehr meine Freundin.

Summary and explanation: This is an AU fic. Although I think every good J/C story is AU, I have taken liberties with the plots of some eps, tweaking them. So please don't tell me that I've done an event or a scene wrong — actually I'm setting them to rights.

Kathryn stared at the blank page in her PADD, then out the window, hoping for inspiration. The early morning sunlight tripped along the ripples on the waters of San Francisco bay. She sipped her coffee as she thought about the task at hand.

She wondered how she'd be able to put everything into words. For a long time now she had known that she wanted to write the story of Chakotay and Kathryn Janeway, but it was hard to know where to begin. She chuckled as she remembered her grandfather's words. "Start at the beginning, Katie, it's the best place to start."

The beginning? Kathryn sighed. Which beginning? How they first met? Everyone knew that story. Captain Janeway had been sent to capture a Maquis captain. No, that wasn't the beginning she wanted to write about.

How they made it home? That was the ending, although it was the beginning of their lives together, publicly. People knew that story also. They beat the odds, fought the Borg, and used a transwarp hub to get home. No, this story's beginning was definitely somewhere in between.

Being the captain of a starship isn't an easy job. And being one while trapped on the other side of the galaxy made it even tougher. At first, Kathryn Janeway thought she couldn't do the job, especially since she was so alone. They were stranded far away from home, and it was her decision to destroy the array that marooned them. She soon found out that she had would have help — help for her erstwhile enemy who turned out, in fact, to be the best friend she'd ever have.

Chakotay lost his ship and like her, part of a crew. The joining of the two wasn't easy. The Starfleet versus Maquis way of doing things clashed often, but during the seven years they were stranded, the crew and the command team were united like no other could've ever been in the Alpha Quadrant.

So many small seemingly insignificant things built toward that first real beginning. And that happened after they had left the little impromptu party in which they celebrated their return from the side trip to the 20th century — it began as Chakotay walked Kathryn back to her quarters.

Kathryn was feeling relaxed. Two glasses of champagne only deepened the tranquility of the moment. She noticed that Chakotay was quiet, but sometimes that was just the way he was, especially after being with others. A feeling of affection for her friend flowed over her as she looked at him.

Without thinking she slipped her hand into his. Later, Kathryn reflected that she probably would've simply squeezed his hand and let go if he hadn't turned at that very moment to look at her. His hand tightened over hers. She couldn't read the expression on his usually open face.

They continued to her quarters without speaking, hand in hand. They'd arrived at her door. However, before she had a chance to punch her code on her keypad, Chakotay asked, "May I come in for a minute, Kathryn?"

"Of course, I was going to invite you anyway." Kathryn smiled up at him and opened the door. "Please come in."

Kathryn let go of his hand. "Sit down and I'll get us some coffee."

"None for me thanks." Chakotay sat down, turning so that he could see out the portal.

After replicating herself a cup of coffee, Kathryn joined him on the sofa. Something was on his mind. She wondered if she should be concerned as she thought through the few days they had spent in Earth's past. They had done what they could to get back to the unpolluted timeline.

"What is it, Chakotay?" She wasn't feeling patient enough to wait for him to speak up.

"Damn it, Kathryn," he ground out without preamble. "Why do you have to put yourself in danger like that?"

For a moment, she didn't understand what he was referring too. Then she realized it was her choice to manually arm and fire the torpedo — the one that destroyed Starling's timeship.

"It was the only way to stop Starling," she defended herself.

"The plan was brilliant," he agreed. "But there was no reason that you had to be the one to carry it out."

She started to object.

He raised his hand to cut her off. "And don't try to tell me that you're the only one who could've done it. There're at least a half dozen members of our crew could've done it better. And you got hurt."

He stood and started to pace, raking his fingers through his hair. "You're the only captain we have. You're irreplaceable. Don't you understand I'd. . . I mean, the ship would be lost without you?"

Kathryn watched in shock as her XO moved back and forth in front of her. At first what he told her put her on the defensive. How dare he be so impudent as to say that others could have done better? But then she caught his slip, his fumbled statement. Staring at him from a distance, she could tell that this was more than a debate between the two commanding officers; it was personal. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, she knew he was right. She'd been foolish, and if he'd done the same thing, she would've been upset. And try as she might to give her feelings an impersonal label, the emotions that ran through her at the thought of his being hurt or of losing him were overwhelmingly private and painful ones.

Kathryn rose and trod softly to him, laying her hand on his arm. "Chakotay, I'm sorry." She swallowed back the tears that threatened.

Chakotay looked down at her hand and then he met her gaze. He seemed to search for something as he stared at her for several seconds. His eyes narrowed and darkened with an intensity that almost frightened her.

She stood frozen as she saw Chakotay lower his gaze to her mouth. As he slowly and deliberately pulled her into his arms, a sense of joyous inevitability passed through her. Kathryn wanted this as much as he did. She lifted her arms to his shoulders and waited for his kiss.

Pulling her closer, Chakotay lightly brushed her lips with his, but even the light caress made her lean against him. Slowly his kiss became more demanding until she moaned with pleasure. He hugged her tighter, and yet it didn't seem close enough for Kathryn. She fisted her hands in his hair while she parted her lips to allow him entry.

Chakotay moaned into her mouth before he plunged his tongue in to taste her. Kathryn relished the feelings of desire that coursed through her. She thrust her tongue past his lips, savoring the lingering tang of champagne and his own unique taste. Longing tugged at her resolve to keep him at a distance and a wonderful sense of rightness filled her heart.

"Kathryn," he whispered hoarsely as he took her arms from around his neck and moved her slightly away from him. "We've got to stop now."

She blinked as she fought to understand his sudden action. Kathryn only wanted to be in his arms. Making an impatient sound in the back of her throat, she wrenched her arms out of his grasp and wrapped them around his waist.

He enclosed her in another embrace and murmured against her hair, "I love you."

Kathryn heaved a sigh as she rested her cheek against his chest. He had said those words — the three words that had skimmed the edges of her consciousness for a long time. Somewhere in that back of her mind or maybe her heart she had always known that if the words were spoken, there would be no turning back. Of course, she could pull out of his arms, say that she agreed it would have to stop, and make him leave. The only problem was she didn't want it to end.

She loved him. How could she not tell him now? The protocols she had followed for years no longer held weight. Kathryn Janeway, captain of the starship Voyager, didn't want to be alone.

Kathryn leaned her head back to look up at him. What she saw there gave her courage. "I love you, too, Chakotay."

Pushing back from her desk, Kathryn stretched the kinks out of her back. Now that she had written the beginning, she was sorely tempted to skip to the end, but she knew that the readers of this story would never accept that. The hard part — the painful part — was in the middle.

Kathryn walked to the window and stared out with her hands clasped behind her. Again she wondered how to continue. She almost wished she hadn't decided to write the story. But her family had encouraged her, and deep down she agreed with them. She took a deep calming breath as she reviewed her notes, and as she exhaled, she knew what to write next.

Kathryn and Chakotay discussed keeping their relationship secret. It wasn't easy but she wasn't ready to openly flout protocols.

Chakotay said, "I want the universe to know that we are together." But he went along, and she thought that he would eventually understand the wisdom of the decision.

Things began to subtly change after Kathryn's nearly fatal shuttle crash. While Chakotay had been happy that she fought so hard to defeat the alien impersonating her father, the morning after their holographic moonlight sail, he became obsessed with her well-being. He questioned every decision that would put her in harm's way: almost a daily occurrence considering where they were.

At first, Kathryn tried to be understanding. She knew that he loved her and was worried about her. She kept her growing frustration in check until the staff meeting a few weeks later in which Neelix explained about the Nekrit Expanse. That region of space was famed to be rich in the minerals and supplies that Voyager needed, though he hadn't been able to find any detailed star charts of area.

After several suggestions from the staff, Kathryn decided to send a shuttle on a recon mission. There was no reason to take Voyager so far off course for rumors, but she didn't want to disregard them either and maybe they could find a quicker way home too. She ordered the commander to take one of the crew on the assignment. The meeting lasted a few more minutes before she dismissed everyone.

Chakotay remained in the room. A frown darkened his face. "I think this is a mistake."

Kathryn spun to face him, her eyes flashing. "You do, do you? What is it this time?"

"A gut instinct," he answered simply.

She moved closer to him and lowered her voice. "I have been putting up with your arguments about almost every order I've made lately. But you're out of line. I see no valid reason to keep from exploring this expanse, especially if we can restock as a result."

He stared at her several seconds. When he spoke, he sounded resigned. "I know I've been contrary lately, but I can't seem to help it. Hell, Kathryn, I almost lost you." He placed his hands on her shoulders.

"Chakotay, I can't stop being the captain of this ship." Kathryn turned away, refusing to step into his arms. "If you can't let me do my job, then maybe we can't make this work."

He was silent for so long, she'd have thought he was gone if both the exits weren't in full view. She exhaled and turned back to face him. The devastated look on his face made her eyes sting with unshed tears. Kathryn reached up to touch his face. "I don't want to lose you, Chakotay."

Chakotay wrapped his arms around her and kissed her with an intensity that surprised her. Kathryn returned his fervor, even as a niggling doubt about the mission crossed her mind. She rejected the misgiving. She couldn't start second guessing every decision she made. She'd end up paralyzed and useless to the ship and crew.

Kathryn gently slid out of his arms. "I'll see you at dinner. But now I've got a lot of work to do. And you have a mission to prepare for."

His grin as well as his words warmed her. "I'll have the meal ready at 1900 hours." Chakotay kissed her quickly and left for the bridge.

A couple weeks later, Voyager arrived on time at the rendezvous point, but the shuttle wasn't there. Kathryn didn't start to worry for the first six hours. However, after the seventh hour, she began to wonder if she should've listened to Chakotay and her brief nudge of caution. By the twelfth hour, she was pacing and demanding reports every few minutes. Finally, Tuvok insisted that she go to her quarters for some rest since gamma shift had arrived three hours before.

Reluctantly she did as he said. Kathryn knew that if they had to start searching for the shuttle, everyone would need to be in top form. That meant she needed some sleep. It didn't come easily though. Her thoughts raced with fear for Chakotay's safety and with guilt because she had disregarded her own intuition and his as well. Eventually she fell into a light sleep . . .

Kathryn woke with a start three hours later, apprehension clawing at her mind. She called for the lights to try to dispel the feeling that she was being watched. She jumped out of bed and threw on her robe. Leaving her bedroom, she replicated coffee. Her hands shook as she picked up the cup. The impression of scrutiny stayed with her while she drank her coffee and took a quick shower. She even went so far as to ask the computer if someone was in her quarters, but was told that she was the only one there.

Hoping to escape the uncomfortable sensation, she went back to the bridge.


"Still no sign of Commander Chakotay's shuttle," squeaked the nervous ensign at ops.

Tuvok had risen from his position in the command chair when Kathryn entered the bridge. "Captain, I believe it would be wise to begin a search for the shuttle."

"I agree." She remained standing as she stared at the blank view screen, still feeling like she was being observed. "Ensign, scan for anything that might indicate cloaked ships."

"Aye, Captain." The ops officer bent over his station, his fingers flying over his console. After a few minutes, he reported, "There is no sign of ships, cloaked or otherwise."

"Tuvok, my ready room." Kathryn left the bridge with Tuvok following.

"I feel like I'm being watched," she explained her last order on the bridge. Suddenly the sensation intensified. Kathryn closed her eyes as a vision of a fiery battle and a meadow of flowers flashed through her mind. She felt the heat of the phaser blasts. The sounds of screams and explosions rang in her ears. Her eyes stung from the intense light. However, at the same time she could smell the fragrance of tiny blooms. The soothing sound of cheery singing birds caressed her ears, and a gentle breeze cooled her skin. The whole spectacle was so powerful that her knees buckled. Kathryn kept from falling by grabbing her desk.

Tuvok took Kathryn's arm and assisted her to the sofa. "Captain, what happened? Are you feeling ill?"

Kathryn shook her head to clear it, and blinked several times. "I'm okay, but an image just flashed through my mind, one I've never seen before. And now it's gone and so's the feeling of being watched."

"What did you see?"

Kathryn rubbed her temples as she described the vision to Tuvok. The Vulcan's face did not change as he listened. The emotions that accompanied the image still echoed in her memory. Her voice hitched as she continued. "It was very intense. It reminded me of a mind meld."

"I have not sensed telepathic activity in this region of space. Maybe you should visit the Doctor."

"I will if it happens again." She got to her feet. "But we've got to find them." Kathryn tried to hide her worry.

"Captain, I am sure that we will," Tuvok reassured her. "The commander can be resourceful."

Kathryn smiled at him. "I agree."

For the next four hours, Voyager retraced the route that Chakotay had planned for the shuttle. Kathryn stayed in her ready room. She knew she wouldn't be able to just sit in her chair on the bridge. She wanted to pace and a pacing captain didn't instill confidence in the crew. She needed to keep it together for their sakes.

She couldn't seem to read the reports piled on her desk. Instead, when she wasn't pacing or drinking coffee, Kathryn tried to make sense of the vision she had seen. The exploding starship and the meadow of flowers just didn't fit together. Was her mind trying to tell her something? If it was, she couldn't understand what. She sighed in frustration.

"Captain Janeway, please come to the bridge."

Noticing that alpha shift was on duty, she addressed Harry, "What is it, Mr. Kim?"

"We've located a message buoy from Commander Chakotay's shuttle that gives us its last position. They had received a distress call and were going to investigate. There's an M-class planet in the nearby system and long-range scanners show signs of humanoid life. But Captain . . ." Harry hesitated. "There's a Borg cube near the planet, though long range scans don't show any activity aboard."

"Go to red alert," Kathryn ordered. As the lights started to flash, she asked, "Are we close enough to scan for the shuttle or tell if they're down there?"

"We will be in ten minutes."

"Keep scanning and tell me as soon as you know anything. Tuvok, keep an eye on that cube. I don't want to run into a trap." She sat in her chair and waited.

The silence on the bridge was palatable. Kathryn stared at the view screen as if she could will Chakotay's shuttle to appear by doing so. The time seemed to stretch out.

Finally Kim broke the stillness, "I've found a faint commbadge signal, but I can't tell whose it is."

"Open a channel. Commander Chakotay, this is Voyager. Do you read?" She tried to keep her voice even. "Are you alright?"

There was no response. Her heart twisted as the possibility that he might be hurt plagued her thoughts. Kathryn swallowed hard before she called out, "Ensign Kaplan, please respond." She was filled with guilt. Chakotay could be dead and she sent him. What was she to do next?

Tuvok brought her back to reality. "Captain, may I suggest that we send out a message on a wide-band frequency? If the commander or the ensign are injured, they may not be able to speak for themselves."

"Do it."

After a few minutes, Harry reported, "Captain, we found him. I'm in contact with someone on the planet. Commander Chakotay's okay. He's preparing to transport back to Voyager immediately."

"What about Ensign Kaplan?" she asked quickly.

"The person on the planet didn't say anything about the ensign." Harry paused. "Should I contact him again?"

"No, the commander is on his way, I'll ask him."

Kathryn was glad to be sitting down. The relief she felt left her feeling limp. He wasn't hurt and was coming back to her. Gathering her strength, she stood. "I'll be in the transporter room."

Joy and anticipation swirled through her mind as she made her way to meet Chakotay. This was one time when Kathryn wished that their relationship were public, so that she could throw her arms around him. When she reached the transporter room at last, her heart was racing.

The transport operator tapped the controls on his console, and the sparkly beams began to materialize in front of them. Kathryn watched as two people took solid form, but was shocked to see that the woman with Chakotay wasn't Ensign Kaplan.

"Commander?" Kathryn tried to make eye contact, but he wouldn't meet her gaze.

Gesturing to the woman next to him, Chakotay said, "This is Dr. Riley Frazier. When Kaplan and I were attacked by raiders, Dr. Frazier and her people rescued me and saved my life." He bit his lower lip before he continued, "Ensign Kaplan was killed, and the shuttle dismantled by our attackers." He cleared his throat. "Riley . . . Dr. Frazier has something she'd like to discuss with you."

Something was wrong. Chakotay wouldn't look at her, and something about this Frazier woman made Kathryn apprehensive. She decided the easiest way to get to the bottom of the situation was to hear what Dr. Frazier had to say.

"We'll go to the conference room." She ordered the guard who stood by the door. "You, come with us." Kathryn had no qualms about letting the woman know she wasn't trusted.

After they were seated at the table with a guard at the door, Chakotay and Frazier began to explain about the injuries he'd suffered and how a neural linking of minds had cured him. Riley told them that her people wanted to bring all of the former Borg on the planet into their new cooperative — that it would bring peace to the strife-ridden world.

The idea of something positive coming from the Borg was hard for Kathryn to take in. She was extremely happy that they had saved Chakotay. However, she was skeptical and wasn't ready to help them reactivate the neural electric generator on the cube.

After listening to Chakotay's eager endorsement of the plan, Kathryn was even more reluctant. Something wasn't right, more had happened down there. She didn't understand how she knew, but she knew nonetheless.

"Dr. Frazier, I'm afraid that I find this plan entirely too risky. Reactivating a Borg cube is fraught with dangers." Kathryn glanced at Chakotay. He met her gaze this time and nodded in agreement. "We will give you medical supplies and help you upgrade your security." Kathryn stood. "However, in all fairness and considering your aid to Commander Chakotay, I will give your proposal further thought."

Rising from his chair, Chakotay stepped closer to Kathryn but looked at Frazier in obvious indecision.

A look of resignation crossed Frazier 's face as she rose to her feet. When she reached the doors, she turned and said, "I'll wait to hear from you."

When the doors had swished closed behind Frazier, Kathryn laid her hand on his arm. "Chakotay, what is it?"

Refusing to look at her. Chakotay moved to the portal. "I know these people. I've shared their thoughts and feelings."

Since he'd ignored her question, she decided to humor him for the time being. She came to stand next to him, facing the glass. "In the time you were linked, you never felt anything negative — nothing to suggest that they can't be trusted?"


"Then are you saying that you think we should do what they're asking?"

"That's my personal inclination, but if I were in your place, I would have other things to consider."

"We have no idea what to expect if we activate the neural generator on that cube. For all we know, we'd be painting a bright red bull's eye on Voyager for the Borg to find." Kathryn moved to stand facing Chakotay, her back to the portal. "I won't risk our crew no matter how grateful I am." Kathryn slipped her arms around his waist. His answering embrace lacked enthusiasm. Something was amiss and she was suddenly afraid. Had she lost him to this cooperative? "Chakotay, I was so worried. I'm sorry I didn't listen to you."

Chakotay's arms tightened around her. "That's behind us now, Kathryn. I'm okay." He kissed the top of her head.

Relief washed over her. Maybe her worry had colored what she was seeing. She hugged him close and sighed, "I've missed you."

Kathryn felt his body stiffen. She leaned her head back to see his face. His expression was dark. Cold apprehension balled in her gut. "What's wrong, Chakotay? Please tell me."

Chakotay lowered his arms and moved out of her embrace, ignoring her plea. "I must let Riley know your decision." Before she could say another word, he left the room.

Her eyes stung as she leaned back against the sill. Kathryn worked hard to swallow the threatening tears. Had he fallen for the Frazier woman so quickly? At that thought, her heart seemed to stop beating. She fought to breathe, holding tight to the ledge of the portal. What would she do if it were true? How could she bear it after what they'd shared?

Kathryn sniffed and scrubbed at her eyes with her sleeve. She was still the captain, and that would have to be her reason to go on — for now. She pushed down the pain. Time enough for that later.

During the next twenty-four hours, the crew worked to prepare and load supplies and technology aboard two of the shuttles. Neelix was in charge of offloading the supplies from one ship. The other carried the security upgrades, which Chakotay and B'Elanna installed in the compound.

Kathryn was still nervous about their dealings with Frazier and her group. As she sat in the command chair waiting for the shuttles to return, her dread grew.

"Captain, Neelix just reported in," Harry Kim informed her. "The unloading went fine. He's about eight minutes out, and the commander's shuttle will be here in twelve."

Kathryn wanted to breathe a sigh of relief, but she couldn't relax and wouldn't until Chakotay was safely back on Voyager.

"Captain, Commander Chakotay has changed course," Tuvok alerted her. "He is headed for the Borg cube. Neither he or Lt. Torres acknowledge my hails."

"Follow him. Let Neelix know we'll pick him up later," Kathryn ordered. Her hands gripped her chair so hard her knuckles were white. What was happening? In her mind, she cried out, Chakotay, what are you doing? That was when she heard it — the muffled hum of voices. The harder she concentrated, the clearer and louder the sounds became. She finally understood what they were saying.

"Help us, Chakotay. We are under attack. You must activate the generator. We are under attack." The cadence of the chanting was hypnotic.

Suddenly, she could not only hear the voices, but she could see through Chakotay's eyes as he materialized on the cube. Kathryn watched with grim fascination as he followed the cooperative's instruction. As in a dream, the bridge seemed unreal. She had to give the order to prevent him from activating the cube. "Tom, get us into transporter range. Tuvok, stop him." To her own ears, her voice had sounded distant and feeble, but she knew her officers obeyed. She wanted to tell someone what was happening to her, but it was more than she could manage.

Kathryn found it increasingly difficult to concentrate on anything but what Chakotay was doing. She tried to call to him, to plead with him to stop, but the voices rose in volume as a response. She watched Chakotay as he found the control panel and followed the instructions. He ducked below the console when he spied the security team looking for him.

She felt his dismay when he realized the team had spotted him. The air sizzled around her as phasers were fired. She watched as he activated the generator and the cube lit up. It seemed to Kathryn as if she were the one lifting the weapon as Chakotay fired and shot Tuvok. A return blast hit Chakotay in the chest. Kathryn felt the spreading numbness of the phaser charge and collapsed to the floor.

As Kathryn slowly rose to consciousness, her first awareness was the silence. The voices were gone from her mind and so was her inner knowledge of Chakotay. She sat up with a start. He had been shot! It was then she saw that the Doctor working over Chakotay's prone body on the bed across from her.

Kes hurried to her side. "Captain, be careful. You've been unconscious for several minutes."

Kathryn looked confused for a moment before the memory of experiencing the same numbing phaser blast as Chakotay had experienced came back.

"The Doctor can't explain why you lost consciousness on the bridge, but he did find high levels of neural peptides in your brain and evidence of heightened brain activity. Other than that, you are fine physically," Kes explained simply.

Relieved that she had suffered no ill effects from her experience, Kathryn swung her legs over the side of the bed. As soon as her feet touched the floor, she moved to Chakotay's side.

"How is he, Doctor?" she asked with trepidation.

The Doctor looked at her in surprise. "Captain, you should be resting." He asked Kes for an instrument and turned back to treating Chakotay.

Kathryn drew closer and rested a hand on Chakotay's shoulder. His face looked pale and still. She willed the Doctor to hurry. When she looked up, she found Kes watching her with compassion-filled eyes.

Kes smiled encouragingly. "He will be fine, Captain."

The Doctor looked insulted. "Of course, he will be fine. He wounds are minor, and it seems that the effects of the link are wearing off."

As if on cue, Chakotay started to groan as he fought to regain consciousness. He struggled to sit up, his eyes wide with fear, but when he realized where he was, he relaxed.

Kathryn gripped his shoulder and Chakotay turned. His gaze meshed with hers. I'm sorry. I couldn't stop... His thoughts rang in her mind.

She answered mentally, I know. I heard them.

Surprise and chagrin echoed from his mind to hers. Kathryn tried to convey her love and understanding back to him, and he grabbed at it like a thirsty man grasps for a cup of life-giving water.

Kathryn could feel the link between them fade, but as it dissipated, she could see blue flowers bobbing in the wind. Blinking back tears, she realized that somehow she had shared in part of his first link with those people. She swallowed hard and lowered her eyes to look at Chakotay's hand covering her own on his shoulder

"Ah ha!" The Doctor's voice broke through her sadness. "Your neural peptide levels are back to normal." He lifted his head, pushed his shoulders back, and announced proudly, "Commander, you will be fine. All you'll need is a little rest." Turning to Kathryn, the Doctor raised his tri-corder and began scanning. "Hmm, very good. You seem to be in good health as well. I think you both will be fine after a good night's sleep."

"Captain," Tuvok called from the other side of the room. He was standing close to the door. He must not have been hurt badly. "The cube self-destructed as soon as we beamed away, and Ops has informed me that the cooperative apologized for involving the commander in this. They claim to have severed their link to him permanently."

Kathryn moved to where Tuvok stood. "Are you all right?" she whispered.

"I am fine, Captain. The Doctor took care of my injuries. However, I am concerned about you."

"I'm fine, now." Kathryn turned to find Chakotay watching at her. "I'm just worried about the commander."

"Indeed." Tuvok lowered his voice. "I have found that humans have an immense capacity for guilt and self-blame. Chakotay was not in control of his actions, but that will not alleviate his guilty conscience. He will need help to work through this."

"Yes, he will." Kathryn sighed as she returned to Chakotay's side.

The Doctor and Chakotay were arguing about the amount of rest the commander needed.

Kathryn decided to intervene. "Doctor, Kes, would you please excuse us?"

Once they were alone, Kathryn approached Chakotay.

Dejected, he hung his head. "I'm so sorry I put everyone in jeopardy. I told you Riley and the others could be trusted." Chakotay made a sound of disgust. "But they played me from the start."

Kathryn took his hands in hers. "You wanted to help them. That's a part of who you are. They controlled your mind. I heard them. I'm not sure how, but I could see everything you did on the cube." She saw surprise on his face. "And while we were looking for you and Kaplan, I had what I thought was a vision. I saw an intense space battle and a meadow filled with. . ." The word jumped to her mind. "Bluebonnets."

"You saw that?" His distress was obvious. "Kathryn, that was one of Riley's memories, from her childhood, or so she told me." He yanked his hands from her and turned around to lean on the biobed, his breathing labored. "I betrayed you and what we have together."

"Chakotay, you weren't responsible for that," Kathryn soothed.

"How can you say that?" His voice was hoarse with anguish. "I was there, I remember."

"I know it because I trust you." Kathryn wrapped her arms around his waist and pressed her cheek against his back. "You love me. Whatever happened between you and that Riley woman, I know wasn't your idea. Just as I'm certain that you wouldn't have gone to that cube on your own."

Chakotay gently removed her arms from his waist and turned around. He searched her face to see if she meant what she said. When she met his gaze without hesitation and with love shining from her eyes, he sighed deeply and gathered her in his arms. He lowered his head and captured her mouth with his.

The tears that welled up in Kathryn's eyes were blissful ones. Her love was back and she would see to it that he was okay.

Kathryn wiped moisture from her eyes as she looked up from her writing and noticed the time. Once again, she had missed a meal. A loud growl from her stomach punctuated that fact. Leaving her desk, she crossed the room to the replicator and ordered a sandwich and another coffee.

Back at her desk and impatient to get back to her writing, Kathryn glanced through her notes as she ate just enough of the sandwich to stop her stomach's rumbling. Draining her cup in one long swallow, she put both dishes in the recycler.

Drawing a deep breath, she held it for a moment before she exhaled. Kathryn hadn't expected the story to be so emotionally overwhelming. She wondered if she should take a walk to try to clear her mind, but the story wanted to be written. It was compelling her to finish so that others could understand what had happened between Chakotay and Kathryn Janeway. No, she would carry on.

As Voyager's journey continued, Chakotay had been able to deal with his guilt, although being controlled by the cooperative — even for that short time — had changed him. Kathryn observed that he wasn't as quick to trust strangers as he had once been. Their relationship, however, seemed to be strong. Chakotay was still the considerate friend and lover he had always been, but at times he was distant and even argumentative.

The biggest disagreement between them ended up centering on another liberated drone. After their encounter with the Borg and Species 8472, Kathryn was determined to help Seven of Nine recover her humanity. Chakotay was her most avid opponent. He told Kathryn many times that she would regret bringing "that Borg" on board.

Kathryn dismissed Chakotay's point of view. She was sure that in time Chakotay would see the wisdom of her actions and even come to accept Seven as part of the crew.

As the months passed, Kathryn felt that the situation between Chakotay and Seven had entered a new stage. Chakotay no longer opposed Kathryn every time she allowed the former drone to be involved in another new project. He even admitted the advantages of the new astrometrics lab Seven and Harry Kim built. Her Borg knowledge of the Delta Quadrant was more accurate and detailed than even what Neelix brought to them during the first part of their voyage.

It wasn't until the attempt by Arturis to fool them into believing that Starfleet had sent them a slipstream ship as a way home that Chakotay confessed begrudging gratitude toward Seven. She had helped to save Kathryn's life. He was thankful for that.

Because of that gratefulness and the passage of time, Chakotay did eventually accept Seven as part of the crew, although he maintained his distance. Kathryn was pleased at his attitude change. She felt vindicated but she held back from saying "I told you so."

Kathryn spent the next several months straining to reach home by the fastest route. She encouraged B'Elanna and Harry Kim to figure out a way to adapt Arturis' slipstream technology for use on Voyager.

Finally, B'Elanna and Harry told Kathryn they'd completed the ship's quantum slipstream drive. Kathryn could hardly contain her excitement during the celebration held in engineering. She smiled broadly as she listened to the applause and watched Torres break a bottle of champagne over the drive's railing.

As the rest of the crew milled around, enjoying both the sparkling wine and the prospect of going home soon, Kathryn turned to Chakotay. She wanted wrap him in a tight hug, but instead moved closer and said softly, "Quantum matrix, benamite crystals, Borg technology. Can you imagine what Starfleet is going to say?"

A grin lit Chakotay's face. "I don't think we'll hear any complaints — the Federation's first quantum slipstream drive. They'll probably nominate us for the Cochrane Medal of Honor."

The light banter warmed Kathryn's heart. Could they really be headed home? "I'll start working on my acceptance speech."

"You should start with, 'I'd like to thank the Borg Collective...'" Chakotay prompted and chuckled.

Kathryn joined in the laughter as she laid her hand on his arm. She lowered her voice to a whisper, "Do you have dinner plans?" They hadn't been seeing much of each other the past few weeks. The new drive had taken the whole crew's attention. She felt stab of guilt and desire to be with him.

Chakotay shrugged. "Nothing special. Date with a replicator."

"Well, cancel that. Captain's orders."

"Aye, aye."

Her hope for an early end to the day was shattered by Tom and Harry's request for a senior staff meeting in engineering. Tom explained that there had been a problem with the drive. He and Harry had run twenty-three simulations and had the same number of failures.

After discussion of the pros and cons of canceling the flight, Harry made a suggestion. He wanted to take the Delta Flyer into the slipstream ahead of Voyager, and seventeen seconds into the flight — the point where all the simulations failed — he would send back the phase corrections.

Kathryn decided to consider the idea since a considerable amount of time and resources had been put into the drive. She told Kim to have a flight plan on her desk in an hour. Once she received Kim's report, she read through it several times. Deciding to discuss it with Chakotay before dinner, she sent a copy to his terminal and left for her quarters to prepare dinner.

She took extra care in setting the table. Candles flickered in sparkly glass holders and cast gentle glow upon the vase of flowers. More lights were placed in various locations around her quarters. The meal she had programmed was waiting in stasis.

Kathryn was tempted to pace as she waited impatiently for Chakotay to arrive, but instead she checked to see if the wine was properly chilled. For the third time in ten minutes, she looked toward the door as if she could will him to come through it. She released a deep sigh as she realized how little time they had spent together lately. I'll try to make it up to him.

She jumped at the sound of the door chime, but called, "Come in."

The smile that brightened Chakotay's face as he took in the dimly lit room caused her breath to catch. Desire slowly curved its way through her as he moved closer, and when he took her into his arms and kissed her, Kathryn wanted to forget dinner and discussion of the flight tomorrow. The only reason she moved from his arms was that she needed to tell him her decision. Besides, tomorrow might bring the freedom she longed for in their relationship.

Kathryn kissed him again quickly before she said, "I replicated wine. Let's have some." She took his arm and led him to the table. "Sit down and I'll pour."

As the sparkling liquid filled their glasses, Kathryn said, "I hope you've got an appetite."

"Famished." Chakotay smiled as he caught her eye. "But I thought you wanted to discuss the slipstream drive." He lifted the PADD he brought with him.

She took her seat. "No reason to cancel our dinner plans. I programmed a dish my grandmother used to make back on Earth — vegetable biryani."

"Sounds delicious. I didn't know you could cook." Chakotay had always been the one to prepare the meals they shared.

"Normally I'd draw the line at a pot of coffee, but tonight is a special occasion." Kathryn lifted her glass and sipped the wine.


"Our last night in the Delta Quadrant. I'd say that's special enough." She stared dreamily over his shoulder. If they could get out of the command structure, they could stop hiding their relationship. She was tired of the secrecy.

"You've made your decision then."

Kathryn looked back at him, catching his gaze. "We launch tomorrow at 0800. You and Harry will take the Delta Flyer. Voyager will be right behind you."

"The crew will be pleased." Chakotay was noncommittal.

Reaching her hand towards his on the table, Kathryn said, "You can give them the news yourself, after dessert." Her tone changed to an unsure whisper. "What about you, Chakotay? What do you think about my decision?"

Before answering, Chakotay lifted the PADD and scrolled through the text to refresh the data in his mind. "I've analyzed Harry's flight plan. The theory's sound, but there are just too many variables. If something goes wrong in that slipstream-"

Kathryn interrupted him, intent on convincing Chakotay of the wisdom of the plan. "This could be our only chance to use the quantum drive."

"True, but if you showed this data to any Starfleet engineer, they'd think we were out of our minds. We can find another way home. We've waited this long-"

"Long enough, Chakotay. We've waited long enough. I know it's a risk, probably our biggest one yet, but I'm willing to take it. Are you with me?"

Chakotay put the PADD down, laid his hand over hers, and squeezed. "Always."

Love for Chakotay washed over Kathryn. This had to work. The burden of protocols was beginning to smother her. Optimism about tomorrow's flight made her face crinkle with her patented half smile. Rising, she moved around the table and ran her fingers through the hair on the back of his head. She leaned down close to him and said softly, "Speaking of risks, are you ready to try some home cooking?"

"I'll alert Sickbay," he teased, then grabbed her, pulling her into his lap. "Maybe we could start with dessert." Chakotay leaned down to nibble at her earlobe.

Kathryn gasped and tilted her head to give him better access. Maybe they wouldn't get to dinner after all, since at that moment another deeper hunger demanded to be fed. She moaned as they spiraled toward the fulfillment of that need.

The next day around 1600, Kathryn sat at her desk. Her sense of disappointment nearly overpowered her. There would be no quick way home this time, no revealing of secrets or leaving protocols behind. Forcing back the tears that threatened, she began her log.

"Captain's log, supplemental. Our slipstream flight may have been brief, but it took nearly ten years off our journey. I've given the order to dismantle the quantum drive until the technology can be perfected. Despite the setback, we have a renewed sense of momentum. It no longer seems a question of if we get home but when."

Kathryn sighed. She didn't feel any momentum or hope. That was for the official record. The crew had been a little disappointed, but the drive had sliced a good portion off their trip home. However, if that was true, why did she feel worse than she had when she first stranded them in this vile quadrant? All Kathryn wanted was for her relationship with Chakotay to be a public one. She wanted to be his wife and to have his children, which was impossible for her to consider in this place. Now that dream was broken or at least cracked seemingly beyond repair.

The afternoon shadows lengthened outside her window as Kathryn looked up from her work. She checked the time and realized that her mother would be expecting her home for dinner soon. She wished she could just contact her mom and postpone the overnight visit until a later date, but she knew better than to try.

Kathryn put her writing and note PADDs in their case and stood to go. She wanted to reach the transporter station before the evening rush.

The walk to the station and to her mom's house gave her time to think more about her writing. Kathryn knew that she wouldn't be getting a lot of sleep that night. Mom would scold, but she would also understand. In fact, she would probably offer some snack, after she delivered her lecture.

The dinner was delicious, as usual. Her mother asked her about the story. Although Kathryn was reluctant to go into detail, she gave her the outline of what she had accomplished.

After Kathryn helped her mother clear the table, she sat on the sofa and listened to the latest adventures of her niece and her two nephews. She smiled broadly at the latest mishap of the youngest involving an antigrav board and the local swimming pool. It seemed that Tom Paris had told him about surfing in Hawaii. Eddie thought that sounded like fun and tried to catch a nonexistent wave in the pool. He succeeded in getting wet and shorting out his board. He had failed to understand that the boards used on the waters of Waikiki weren't antigrav powered. Finally her mom suggested they go to bed, knowing full well Kathryn wanted to get back to her story.

Up in her old room, Kathryn pulled out her PADDs and scanned what was recorded. A knock startled her from her reading.

"Come in, Mom." Kathryn should've known she wouldn't miss the lecture.

Her mother entered the room carrying a tray holding a carafe of coffee and a plate of Bolian nachos.

Kathryn grinned. "Oh Mom, you didn't need to do this."

"Oh nonsense, I knew you'd keep writing until you couldn't keep your eyes open." She placed the tray on the desk. "I remember my mom would often work well into the night, and this was her favorite 'fuel.'" Pouring the coffee into a cup, she handed it to Kathryn. "It's decaf, so you'll be able to sleep sooner rather than later."

"Thanks, Mom."

Her mother leaned over to kiss Kathryn's forehead. "My pleasure. Consider it my contribution to writing the story."

Kathryn watched her leave, and then she sighed as she started to write again. She hated to relay the next part.

Kathryn sat bent over a report with two sorted stacks of PADDs in front of her. She forced herself to concentrate on what she was reading. However, the fact that Voyager was getting closer to an unknown area of space caused her to be anxious. The inhabitants of the planet they left two days ago would only tell them that the expanse was vast and was patrolled by the Devore Imperium, and they warned Kathryn that she should take Voyager around the area.

She didn't want another side trip; she wanted to get Voyager home. Kathryn laid the PADD aside and left her desk. The stars whizzed by the portal as she stared through the glass. Would it take her a long time to get used to seeing the stars of the Alpha Quadrant again? Giving herself a mental shake, she turned back to her desk just as the door chime rang.

"Come in," she called as she leaned against her desk.

Chakotay entered. "I hope I'm not interrupting, but we were hailed and I thought you would want to know right away."

Kathryn quickly examined his face. When she didn't see a look of concern, she relaxed and smiled. "What is it?"

"A Tekram freighter captain would like to speak to you in person. He says he has information about Devore space."

"That sounds promising. Invite him to join us in the conference room. Have Tuvok meet him at the transporter."

Within ten minutes, they were assembled. The alien captain was at least fifteen centimeters taller than Tuvok and rail thin. His features were almost birdlike — a narrow hooked nose, eyes on the side of his face, and hair that stood up on his head as feathers would.

"Captain Janeway, this is Captain Gnis of the Tekram freighter, Gnidal." Chakotay made the introductions.

"Welcome to Voyager, Captain Gnis." Kathryn smiled encouragingly.

Bowing slightly, the Tekram said, "I am pleased that you would agree to meet me. I have heard rumors that you are heading to Devore space. I have some information for you, and a favor to ask if you still decide to continue on your present course after what I tell you."

"Please, let's be seated." Kathryn gestured toward the chairs at the table and sat down. When the others found their places, she said, "Captain, do continue."

"As you might already know, the area of space you are headed for is claimed by the Devore Imperium, but you most likely haven't been told who they are and what they are like." Seeing Kathryn's acknowledgement, Gnis continued, "The Devore are an extremely xenophobic race. They especially fear telepathic species. They use their superior military power to patrol and control their sector of space. You will be subjected to constant inspections and will be made to follow strict course plans and their many rules. Any ship found to be harboring telepaths will be seized, and everyone aboard will be imprisoned. In any case, a trip through their space is a dangerous one."

Kathryn sat in stunned silence at the news. How could they make the estimated two month long trip? They had three telepaths on board, Tuvok being one. Taking a deep breath, she said softly, "You said there was something you wanted to ask that depended upon what we did with your information."

"Yes, Captain, I did, indeed." The alien nodded as he stood. "However, I believe that you will want to discuss what I have told you first." He reached in his cloak and pulled out a folded piece of paper. "I will leave you this map of the territory the Devore control. You will need it. I will retire to my vessel and will await your decision."

Kathryn and Chakotay looked over the map as they waited for Tuvok's return with the rest of the senior staff. She felt as if she had been poleaxed. The area was huge. She didn't want to spend a year going around when it would take less than two months to go through.

A heated discussion ensued after the others had a chance to see the map and hear what Gnis had said. Tom and B'Elanna argued that they would be better off to just go around.

"It's better than getting our butts kicked again." Tom said. The Doctor echoed the sentiment.

Seven and Neelix were less adamant, but still thought the long way was the best one.

Harry was strongly for plunging on through Devore space and taking the risks involved. Everyone was surprised to hear Tuvok state his opinion in favor of going the direct way.

Kathryn and Chakotay didn't speak during the debate, although she was a bit surprised that he didn't.

When the discussion quieted, Kathryn spoke, "If we do continue on a course through Devore space, we will have to figure out how we will keep our telepathic and empathic crew members safe and hidden during the inspection." She hesitated as she scanned the room. "I want you all to come up with a plan to accomplish this. You have an hour. In the mean time, Commander Chakotay and I will discuss the merits of going forward. We'll be in my ready room."

As the doors closed behind them, Kathryn turned to Chakotay. "You were awfully quiet in there." What was he thinking?

"I don't know how to explain myself." Chakotay raked his fingers through his hair, clearly trying to stay in control. Taking a deep breath, he plowed ahead. "I hate this quadrant!" he fairly roared.

Seeing the shock on Kathryn's face, Chakotay swallowed hard and changed his tone. "I know you hate it as much as I do, but right now, I feel like we're a part of some cosmic practical joke. Every time we get close to a breakthrough, one that looks like a way to get home, our hope is snatched away." He gestured toward the portal and the stars passing by. "Like now for instance, if we go around, it will take us five times as long, but if we go forward, we could all be stuck in some prison camp, or worse yet, killed."

Kathryn listened intently as Chakotay echoed every thought she had wrestled with recently. She felt afraid, not because of the decision they would make, but because of the sense of hopelessness and futility they both seemed to be mired in. There must be a way for them to find optimism again.

Closing the short distance between them, Kathryn touched his arm. "Together, we need to find a way make the best decision we're able to." Holding his gaze, she pulled his head down and pressed her mouth to his. She wrapped her arms tightly around him, despite the nagging voice that scolded the uncaptainlike conduct.

They stood still for several minutes, drawing encouragement and strength from each other's embrace. Chakotay was the first draw back slightly. "I think if the others come up with a plan that will keep our people safe, we can endure a few inspections. You and I haven't ever backed down from bullies. Let's not start now."

Kathryn's smile lit her face. "Oh, Chakotay, I'm so glad you said that. I was almost ready to give up." She caressed the side of his face. "I don't know what I would do without you." She hoped that she would never have to find out.

Before the hour she gave them was over, the rest of the staff had come up with the idea of using transporter suspension as a way of hiding their people. The Doctor had some reservations, but he told them he was sure he could handle any effects the people might suffer.

With the decision made, Kathryn invited Captain Gnis back to Voyager. She was filled with renewed positive expectation as she sat next to Chakotay. After the Tekram was seated, she began, "We have decided to go through Devore space."

Gnis nodded thoughtfully. "You have figured out a way to keep your telepaths safe?"

"I'm not sure what you mean, Captain." Kathryn was reluctant to reveal too much.

"Come now, Captain Janeway, I knew you had telepaths aboard before we met." Seeing the surprised expressions on both their faces, he explained, "The planet you visited last has many refugees from Devore space. While you were trying to find answers to your questions, some of the telepaths made their own investigation." He lifted his hand to keep them from interrupting. "They only wanted to judge your intent. I assure you they didn't delve into matters of a personal nature."

"What did they find out about our intent?" Kathryn interjected.

"I was told that they have rarely come across a group such as yours. So many diverse cultures and beings, and yet you are a cohesive unit with honorable standards that govern your dealings with others." He paused as if considering what to say next. "Some of my informants worried that you would not agree to our request because of the protocols you follow so strictly, but after a heated debate, I was given permission to ask you a favor after you were made aware the dangers of Devore space."

Chakotay leaned forward as he spoke. "You want us to transport telepaths."

Gnis smiled broadly. "I knew you were a clever race. But I need to ask you if you have a way to avoid detection during the inspections."

Kathryn nodded at Chakotay and let him answer. "We've found what we believe will keep our people safe."

"Would you be able to accommodate more than your three people?" This time the alien seemed nervous and unsure of himself.

"With certain enhancements, we could hide more than our small number. How many people are you talking about?"

"Eight adults and four children. They are Brenari, a peace-loving people who were forced from their homes as the Imperium expanded their territory. They only want a place to live their lives without fear. You would meet a freight transport vessel just before you enter Devore space. The transfer of passengers will be made, and you will continue on your way. Another ship will be waiting for you deeper in Imperium territory. They will in turn carry the telepaths to a wormhole that will lead them to safety."

Kathryn stood. "You will have our decision in one hour." She didn't think she needed the time, but she wanted to discuss it with Chakotay once more.

When they were alone again, Kathryn released the breath she didn't realize she was holding. "It seems that we are in for a rough time. And I admit that I can hear a loud cracking sound."

"What cracking sound?" Chakotay stared blankly at her.

A teasing glint flashed in her eyes as she smiled. "One caused by us breaking the Prime Directive."

Chakotay let out a short laugh. "Oh, that." He winked and said, "I got used to that noise a long time ago. I hear it a lot."

Kathryn sobered and her smile vanished. "So you agree that we should help these people and take on the added risk?"

"Yes, Kathryn." Chakotay's voice was calm and comforting. "It's the only real choice we have." He moved closer and touched her face. "Though I have a feeling this will be hard work."

She turned and kissed his hand. "We can do it, together."

The first inspection came less than two hours after they entered Devore space. Voyager and her crew were subjected to an obscenely thorough search. All computer data was copied; every person, corridor, and jefferies tube scanned.

The whole procedure ate at Kathryn like acid. She wanted to toss them all out the nearest airlock, especially the leader, Inspector Kashyk. The man made her skin crawl. His slimy pleasantness toward her as his men rummaged through her ship was almost too much to tolerate. She held her tongue only for the safety of her people and passengers.

The Devore finally left Voyager after what seemed like an eternity. Kathryn had to endure the inspector talk about the importance of not deviating from their planned course and the "glory" of the Imperium until Prax, Kashyk's second in command, reported that he found no telepaths aboard.

Even after the Devore transported away, Kathryn stood staring at her chair, now vacant. She wanted to have her whole office cleaned and was especially reluctant to sit down until the task was done.

"Captain, their ships are out of range."

"Bring our people back," Kathryn barked the order.

When she received the word that everyone was well and accounted for, Kathryn made her way to see for herself. She was greatly relieved that her people were ready to go back to their posts and that the Brenari were happily mingling with off duty crew members in the mess hall.

Ordering a sonic cleaning sweep of her ready room, she made her way back to the bridge.

"Report." She knew that there would be nothing new, but the ordinary command helped to steady her nerves.

"All systems are normal, Captain." Harry Kim seemed relieved.

Kathryn sat in her chair, staring at the viewscreen. She wondered how many more of these inspections they would have to endure in the weeks to come. Glancing at Chakotay, she found him smiling at her. She raised a questioning eyebrow.

"One down, Captain." Chakotay leaned toward her and lowered his voice. "We can do it again."

She straightened her shoulders. She wouldn't let those brutes defeat them. Kathryn gave him a quick smile before she said softly, "Let's go to your office. Mine's being fumigated."

Chakotay's responding snort of laugher warmed her.

"You know the way." He grinned as he followed her.

Kathryn dropped in the nearest chair after the office doors closed. "That was tense."

Chakotay faced her, leaning on the front of his desk. "I think we did an excellent job. No one panicked. We went strictly by their book." He pulled on his ear. "Well maybe not strictly."

Laughing, Kathryn stood and gave him a quick hug. "Let's do everything possible to get out of this oppressive place as soon as we can."

The next inspection about ten days later went pretty much the same as the first. Tensions were high, people were frustrated, but they passed and the Devore soldiers left again.

The next two weeks were uneventful until a third inspection. The sight of the Devore ships surrounding them and the knowledge that they would soon be boarded again chilled Kathryn's blood. Every part of her wanted to scream first and fire photon torpedoes next. Outwardly, though, her demeanor seemed calm, even relaxed.

As the team materialized on deck after deck, music played over the comm system. Kathryn waited for the inevitable order to report to her ready room. When it came, she could do nothing less than obey.

Kashyk had replicated coffee and offered her a cup, which Kathryn accepted so that she would have something hold to keep from balling her hands into fists. He complimented her on her extensive music library. His smooth but insincere flattery galled her.

Soon the inquiry and the accusations began. Kashyk had read their crew manifest and knew about Tuvok and the others. Kathryn lowered her eyes in sorrow and explained that they were all dead. He callously commented that she was fortunate they were gone.

The rest of boarding party didn't veer from their prescribed procedure. Again they inspected the ship from the proverbial "stem to stern" and questioned every deviation from the norm.

Prax wanted to arrest the crew because Voyager had diverted from the planned course twice since the last inspection, but Kashyk dismissed their offense with a mere warning after Kathryn explained they'd done so to avoid ion storms.

However, this time the conclusion of the inspection didn't bring the relief the previous ones had. The Doctor informed Kathryn that the lengthy stay in transporter suspension was causing acute cellular degradation, and although he had successfully treated most of the damage, it was cumulative. He warned that if continued, it might be fatal.

Kathryn was hailed from the bridge. They had received the newest coordinates for the rendezvous with the transport ship. She and Tuvok joined Chakotay in the astrometrics lab.

Seven had input the numbers. "The new coordinates are here, within a Mutara-class nebula 2.36 light years from our current position." A pinkish mist of space matter showed on the screen.

Since it would take two more days to reach the nebula, Kathryn gave the order to avoid as many Devore planets and installations as possible, hoping to evade more inspections. Inwardly she fought the anger and frustration of those violations. At least she was closer to the end of their journey through this inhospitable part of space.

Realizing that she had been forced to miss lunch, Kathryn headed for the mess hall. She found Neelix telling a story to the Brenari children. When Neelix saw her, he told the children to play by themselves for a while. Soon he set a light meal before her, and sat down for a visit.

She had barely taken three bites when a red alert klaxon sounded, and Chakotay contacted her from the bridge.

"More company, Commander?" she asked.

"Looks like it."

"Get our visitors to the Cargo Bay. Stand by for transporter suspension." When she heard Chakotay's "Aye, Captain," Kathryn turned to Neelix, nodding toward the children. She left the mess hall as Neelix gathered the children and took them to their parents.

As soon Kathryn reached the bridge, she walked to Chakotay's side and called out, "Report."

Chakotay turned to her and answered, "It's a scout ship, one pilot, no other crew."

The vessel didn't make any threatening moves. "This is a different way for the Devore to approach an inspection," Kathryn commented.

"We're being hailed, Captain," Kim reported.

"On screen."

Kathryn was surprised to see that Kashyk was the lone pilot and that he was out of uniform.

"Captain." Kashyk nodded slightly.


The demeanor of the Devore officer showed none of his normal brashness. Kashyk seemed almost fearful. "It's urgent that we speak."

"You know the way to my ready room." Her voice dripped with irony. She ordered the connection cut.

"Kathryn, are you sure you should be alone with him?" Chakotay whispered warily.

She patted his arm reassuringly. "Don't worry, I'll have a security escort."

After twenty minutes of listening to what Kashyk had to say, she left him under guard so that she could talk to Chakotay.

In Chakotay's office, Kathryn explained that Kashyk told her he was defecting. He was seeking asylum so he could leave Imperium space, and that he had information that would help them save all of the telepaths including the Brenari he knew they were hiding.

"Defecting?" Chakotay was incredulous. "This could be a trick."

"I'm sure it could well be, but if he is telling the truth about the trap in that nebula, Kashyk will have saved our lives and the lives of our guests. I think we should at least check out his information." Kathryn paced back and forth, thinking about what to do. "I don't trust him. But I think we need to wait and see what happens next."

Chakotay visibly relaxed. "I should have known that you wouldn't swallow his line."

Frowning, Kathryn paused to look at him, disturbed by his lack of trust. "Of course not, but I won't dismiss him without letting him prove himself. Let's take him to astrometrics. He just might know something that will be of use to us."

The data the inspector provided helped them to find a Devore warship hidden in the nebula using their long-range scanners, and according to Kashyk there were several more vessels, deeper inside the cloud. Kathryn ordered the ship's heading changed. She told Kashyk that she needed to talk to the Brenari about his request. In the meantime, he was to stay under guard.

Kir, the Brenari leader, told Kathryn that he had heard of Devore sympathizers, although it was an unusual occurrence.

"Can't you just read his mind?" Chakotay asked impatiently.

"Devore soldiers undergo years of mental training to prevent that," Kir replied.

Tuvok echoed Kathryn's own thoughts when he said, "He may be telling the truth, but he also might be using us to find the wormhole."

"What do we do, throw him in the brig?" Chakotay's tone suggested that was exactly what he wanted to do.

At that moment, Kathryn made her decision. "No, we take him up on his offer to help; see how it plays out. But I want round-the-clock security. We need to watch his every movement. That leaves us with our next question: how do we find the wormhole?"

Kir told them about a scientist named Torat from a nearby system, who was rumored to know more about the wormhole than anyone. However, he would probably only help for a price. "His species power their ships with a fluidic alloy that is difficult to find."

Pondering what Kir told her, Kathryn was quiet for a moment. "We might be able to replicate it."

"I have the data on its composition."

Kathryn was pleased to hear it. "Get me what information you can." She turned to Chakotay, who had been listening with a deep frown on his face. "Commander, in the meantime, we'll set a course for Torat's planet, try to track him down."

As the command team walked back to the bridge, Kathryn noted that Chakotay still sported a scowl. "What's wrong?"

She watched as Chakotay fought for control, and when his expression changed to a more impassive one, he said, "I'm just having trouble with the fact you are trusting this Devore enough to have him help us."

Kathryn stopped abruptly and gripped his arm tightly. "I told you I don't trust him. I plan to be on my guard the whole time. I want you to work with the rest of the senior staff to see what we can come up without Kashyk's knowledge."

Chakotay took a breath and exhaled sharply. "Yes, Captain."

Because of something in his voice and his use of her rank, Kathryn wasn't convinced he believed her, but she didn't have time to parse it out. She would have to wait until they were out of danger.

When they arrived on the bridge level, she stopped at the briefing room door. "You'll have bridge duty for the next few days. I'm going to be working with Kashyk if he cooperates."

"Yes, Captain," Chakotay responded stiffly, then left for the bridge.

Straightening her shoulders, Kathryn entered the briefing room and nodded at the guards to relax. She, then, noticed Kashyk pacing. "Nervous?" The thought of his unease was a pleasant one.

Kashyk stopped mid-stride. "Let's just say I'm not used to other people deciding my fate."

Kathryn wanted to make a scathing remark, but she held back. "You've spent your career hunting down and persecuting thousands of innocent people. Why the sudden change of heart?"

"There's nothing sudden about it. I've been waiting for years for a way to escape. Voyager is the perfect opportunity."

"What do you mean?" Kathryn stared at the man. Somehow she knew he was trying to deceive her. His arrogance would be his downfall.

"What did you expect me to do? Ask a Brenari vessel for help?" He waved his hand toward the blackness outside the portal. "I would've been floating space debris within seconds." Kashyk smiled slightly. "Besides I've read your database. Your species is a humanitarian one. You wouldn't have helped the telepaths if you weren't. Unless you have left your Starfleet ideals behind in the Alpha Quadrant."

Curbing her rising anger at Kashyk's manipulative tactics, she told him casually, "I don't grant asylum to everyone who asks, especially to one who has terrorized my crew and ransacked my ship. You're asking me to believe that you aren't that person anymore, and I'm afraid I can't make that leap of faith."

Kashyk's shoulders drooped. "So you are sending me away."

Inwardly she smiled. Kathryn knew she had succeeded in putting the man off balance. "No, no, you will have safe passage to the wormhole, in return for your help in getting us there, but I'm also imposing some restrictions. You'll have your own quarters but limited access to Voyager's systems, and your whereabouts will be monitored at all times." Her tone was benevolent but cautious.

He flashed a warm smile as he accepted the terms. "I'm used to being surrounded by armed men. It makes me feel secure."

Kathryn straightened her shoulders and glared at him in warning. "Just remember that I command the guards now. Consider them a reminder that Voyager is my ship."

Kashyk leaned toward her, a flirtatious look on his face. "No one would ever doubt that, Kathryn," he fairly purred her name.

"Captain Janeway to you!" Kathryn ordered. She abruptly left the room before she lost control and slapped his overconfident face. She knew what he was trying to do. Maybe that was what Chakotay had been seeing. Well, it didn't matter, because she wasn't buying what Kashyk was selling.

The meeting with the scientist, Torat, went well. Though at first, he was reluctant to even talk to them, Kashyk and Kathryn convinced him to tell them what he knew about the wormholes in the region. The " interspatial flexures" as he called them had unfixed openings and seemingly random and short appearances. All he could do was give them the locations of the last four occurrences in the hope they could figure out where the next one would appear.

For the next several hours, they worked over a portable computer in the mess hall. As time, passed the frustration mounted. Every formula and algorithm they could think of using brought them no closer to finding the next wormhole.

Besides the aggravation of not finding the right calculation, Kathryn was having trouble being civil to Kashyk. His superior attitude and obvious attempts to flirt with her were grinding her nerves raw. For a moment, she tried to lose herself in the soothing beauty of the music that was playing in the background, Tchaikovsky's Fantasy Overture, Romeo and Juliet. Suddenly, it came to her. "The counterpoint!" she exclaimed. "It's in all great music. Parallel melodies playing against one another. We've been looking at the obvious; frequency, location, timing, but each of those parameters could have a counterpoint in subspace."

Kashyk's head snapped up, as he understood what she meant. "If we could run an algorithm based on subspace harmonics, it might reveal our pattern."

Kathryn ordered the computer to run a subspatial transkinetic analysis on the wormhole data. While they waited for the information to process, she poured them both some coffee.

"I'll miss this coffee of yours," Kashyk said with a hint of wistfulness.

"You can have the recipe." Kathryn wondered what he was up to now. If this formula helped them locate the wormhole, he should be happy.

"Thank you," this time Kashyk sighed.

Kathryn raised an eyebrow. "You don't sound pleased about leaving."

Shaking his head slightly, he replied, "The Brenari aren't about to embrace a former inspector. I'll be feared and hated for what I represent."

"Anxiety doesn't become you, Inspector. Try to relax a little," Kathryn scoffed.

"I suppose you liked me better in uniform."

Indeed I did not! She wanted to shout, but Kathryn simply softened the truth, "I haven't decided whether I like you at all."

Standing at the portal, Kashyk wrapped melancholia around him like a cloak as he told her of how he had decided to defect after a small Brenari girl had thanked him for helping her out of a hellhole of a hiding place. He had sent her on her way to a "relocation center" and his guilt had grown each day.

"You are my deliverance, Captain," he said with intensity.

He should be on stage. His timing is perfect. Kathryn half expected a manly tear to appear in Kashyk's eye. But she wanted him to think she believed him so she kept her unsympathetic thoughts to herself.

When the computer announced its completion of the analysis, it showed that the wormhole would appear in about three days, less than eight light years from their current position.

"The Tehara system," Kashyk sighed again.

"Is that a problem?"

He told her that there was an automated sensor array between them and Tehara. Kashyk was certain they couldn't go around it in time to catch the opening of the wormhole. "We'd never make it in time. We'll have to find a way to avoid detection," he said, running his hands through his hair.

"It can wait until morning," Kathryn dismissed his apparent distress. She sent the information to the astrometrics lab and shut down the computer.

She escorted Kashyk to his quarters, all the while wishing it were Chakotay who was walking with her. Kathryn hoped that she could keep her reactions to the Devore under control so that she could pry as much information as possible from him about the sensor array.

Kathryn smiled coyly as she asked him how often the array emitted a scanning pulse. When he told her the timing was every forty seconds, she asked, "Range?"

"Ten light years." He paused before he volunteered, ”The pulse is designed to track warp fields and impulse signatures. If we lower our power output to beneath its discovery threshold, . ."

"We could drift past undetected," Kathryn finished the thought. She smiled in triumph.

"It might just work." Kashyk returned her smile.

When they reached the guest quarters, Kashyk invited her to come in. "I'm sure that we could replicate something appropriate for a toast to our evening's accomplishment."

"I'm afraid that won't be possible. I had your replicator taken offline." Kathryn feigned discomfiture.

Realization was written on his face. "In case I decided to replicate a weapon."

Kathryn tried to sound apologetic as she said, "Just a precaution, you understand."

Resigned, Kashyk answered, "More than anyone."

As his door slid closed, Kathryn breathed a sigh of relief. She glanced at the guard who was standing at attention close by. Although she wondered what the odd look on his face meant, she merely said, "As you were," and left.

By the time Kathryn reached her own quarters she was exhausted. She had hoped to spend a little time with Chakotay, filling him in on what they had discovered, but sleep was threatening to overcome her where she stood. After a quick face wash and an even faster change into her nightgown, she fell into bed and was asleep almost before her head hit the pillow.

For the next day and a half, Kathryn kept up with the work of being a captain, while making sure to spend time with their guest. She had never been in a play, but now she was an actress doing a role where the results wouldn't come as good or bad reviews, but as life or death for many.

She saw Chakotay only when she reported for duty, and once in a corridor on her way to the mess hall to meet Kashyk for lunch. Kathryn was stunned at the fury that flashed in Chakotay's eyes when she invited him to join them. His excuse had been that he had just eaten and had to settle a crew dispute before going back to the bridge.

Kathryn pressed down her uneasiness over Chakotay's actions. She needed to adjust herself for the next act of her self-written drama. Kashyk seemed to accept her flirting as if it were due him. His suggestive responses to her had turned her stomach so much so she barely finished half her meal.

When Voyager drew near to the array, the core and impulse engines were shut down, and every other system set at minimum usage. Kathryn sat in her chair, inwardly on edge, but outwardly calm. Kashyk stood behind her, monitoring the devise from one of the consoles. Next to her, Chakotay kept his eye on the instrument panels to make sure that their power output stayed low enough.

"Forty seconds until the next scanning pulse is activated," Tuvok reported as they came into range. The atmosphere on the bridge was tense as he counted down the time. "Ten seconds... five... four...three...two..."

The pulse lit up the bridge.

"We weren't detected," Kashyk informed them.

"Ten more minutes and we will be out of range," Tom Paris announced.

Just as Kathryn started to relax, she heard the comm signal and B'Elanna's voice, "Engineering to bridge, we've got a problem. That pulse triggered a variance in the antimatter stream. It's not much, but it'll light us up like a beacon when the next pulse hits."


"I can't correct it in time, so that leaves shutting down the core," B'Elanna replied.

"Do it," Kathryn ordered. She wanted to turn on Kashyk and accuse him of betraying them. He surely knew that this would happen; it was probably a backup measure to the pulse. Instead, she sat white-knuckled as Tuvok reported that another pulse had been released.

"Time?" she asked.

"Twenty-eight seconds."

"B'Elanna?" Anxious impatience sounded in Kathryn's voice.

"Almost there, Captain. I'm having a problem with the injectors."

Tuvok continued to call out the numbers as the seconds passed. "Four...three...two..."

The pulse hit them again.

"We've been detected. The array's transmitting an alert." Kashyk told her what she already suspected.

"Can we block it?" Kathryn turned toward Tuvok.


"Stand down gray mode," she ordered. "B'Elanna, fire up the core, we're getting out of here."

"Warships will be on their way, but maybe we can still reach the wormhole," Kashyk told them.

"If we can find it." Kathryn sounded pessimistic. "Tom, how long to the Tehara system?"

"Eleven hours at maximum warp."

"Captain, the engines are back online," Kim reported.

"Engage at maximum."

A few hours later, Kathryn ordered Chakotay, Tuvok, Seven, Kashyk, and Kir to the briefing room to discuss the wormhole. Seven and Kir had been working together, and said they had narrowed down the location to a two hundred thousand mile radius, and it would open for only two minutes in approximately six hours.

When Tuvok reported that he had devised a new shield modification that would protect them from the Devore weapons, Kashyk looked shocked and a little nervous. He expressed surprise that they were willing to fight their way to the wormhole.

Kathryn wanted to gloat over Kashyk's panic and to laugh at his worry, but she squelched the urge. She had a ship to save. The satisfaction of a bit of personal vengeance was a luxury she could do without.

Tom informed them from the bridge that two Devore warships were on an intercept course with an ETA of six hours. Kathryn stood and ordered everyone else back to the bridge as she headed for engineering with Kashyk. She wanted to keep an eye on him now that they were so close to the wormhole.

Kashyk stopped her. "I need to talk to you. Could we find someplace more private?"

"I'm sorry, but we don't have time for that." Kathryn didn't want to be alone with him anyway. "What is it?"

"I'm going back to meet the warships. I'm the ranking officer, and the only one who can prevent the refugees from being found."

"You told me that they were already suspicious. By going back, you risk being caught." Kathryn kept just enough worry in her voice to keep him duped.

"I can keep them distracted long enough for you to reach the wormhole." He didn't fool her with his martyr's tone.

"It's too risky. I could order you to stay." She waited for him to wheedle out of that.

"You may stand a chance against one of our warships, but not against two. If I stay, your best chance of escape will be lost."

Kathryn dropped her gaze as if she were fighting an inward battle. "Your ship will be ready to launch within the hour," she said in a resigned tone.

As soon as they received word that his vessel was standing by, Kathryn and Kashyk, followed by Tuvok, hurried to the shuttle bay. They discussed Kashyk's plan to rush the soldiers through a quick inspection.

Arriving at the shuttle bay, Tuvok took his post at the entrance. After Kashyk told him goodbye, he and Kathryn walked through the doors.

As doors swished closed, Kashyk ordered, "Begin pre-ignition sequence."

Kathryn lowered her voice, hoping to sound concerned. "I did make an adjustment to the plan. After the inspection, we're going to wait at the wormhole for as long as we can, until it begins to collapse."

"I may not be able to join you."

"Please try," she demurely insisted.

The gleam of satisfaction in Kashyk's eyes made Kathryn's stomach churn as he pulled her into his arms and kissed her. Never had she felt so revolted by a man's touch. I'm just playing a part, she reminded herself.

When he drew back, she met his gaze with what she hoped looked like sadness and desire. When she saw a flicker of doubt in his eyes, Kathryn knew the only way to convince him was for her to kiss him back. Drawing on every ounce of mental strength she possessed, she forced back the loathing and pulled him into another kiss.

This time when he pulled back, Kathryn knew she had persuaded him. She watched him as he boarded his ship and launched it through the bay forcefield.

Kathryn collapsed forward, her hands resting on her knees. She took several deep breaths before her stomach settled down. All she wanted to do was to take a long shower. Another wave of nausea swept over her. I have to stop thinking about it. Scrubbing her sleeve across her mouth, she left.

Several hours later, Kathryn sat slumped in her chair, staring out at the disappearing Devore warships. Exhaustion fought with elation, as the magnitude of what had just happened rolled over her. Not only had they found the wormhole and sent the Brenari through it to safety, but also, they had deceived the Devore, including Inspector Kashyk. She had anticipated his intentions and cheated him out of his goal. The final act of her little drama was the most gratifying of all. Deceiving the Deceiver would have been an apt title.

The embarrassment and the possible repercussions of such a failure caused Kashyk to order Prax and his men, who had filled the bridge positions after confining her crew, to never speak of the incident. "It never happened," he ordered them.

Kathryn quietly acknowledged her crew as they returned to their stations. She waited for Chakotay's arrival until she was informed that he was going to do a personal inspection of the ship's key systems for any Devore sabotage. Nodding her approval, she tapped her screen and ordered yet another sonic sweep of her ready room.

Rising from her chair, she handed the bridge over to Tuvok, wanting to join Chakotay. Inside the turbolift, she spoke, "Computer, locate Commander Chakotay."

"Commander Chakotay is in engineering, upper level."

When she arrived, Kathryn saw B'Elanna tinkering with the controls of the plasma injectors. "Is everything okay, Lieutenant?"

"Yes, Captain." She straightened up and faced Kathryn, a looked of frustration on her face. "I was just reconfiguring the injector coils. I found out that Devore pulse caused them to drop out of alignment. That's why I couldn't shut down the core in time. The inspector is a p'taQ."

"I agree, although I think that is a rather kind word for him." Kathryn smiled. "By the way, have you seen Commander Chakotay? The computer said he was here."

"He was, but you just missed him. I think he was going to astrometrics next." B'Elanna lowered her voice. "He was sure steamed. I haven't seen him this upset since Seska."

"Thanks, B'Elanna, for letting me know," Kathryn reached out and patted Torres on the shoulder.

Now Kathryn didn't know whether or not she should follow Chakotay. Maybe he wanted this time to readjust. She decided to go to the mess hall and have a cup of coffee.

As she sat and sipped from her cup, Kathryn observed the crew in the room. Although they seemed a bit subdued, they were in good spirits. She was glad that they had made it. After she finished the coffee, she felt refreshed, so she decided to return to the bridge. She would contact Chakotay and invite him to her quarters after hours.

Finding herself alone in the corridor, Kathryn tapped her commbadge. "Janeway to Chakotay."

"Yes, Captain?"

"How is your inspection going?"

"Everything's in order. B'Elanna has fixed the problem with the injectors. Kim is running a full diagnostic of the sensor array and the ship's computer, including the Doctor's program."

Kathryn smiled. "Good work, Commander."

"Thanks Captain."

"Chakotay? Are you alone?"


Kathryn lowered her voice. "Would you join me in my quarters at 1900? I've missed seeing you."

There was no response for several seconds. Kathryn wondered if something was wrong with the comm system. "Chakotay? Did you hear me?"

"I did." Another pause caused Kathryn to be concerned. "Uh, I'll be there. Chakotay out."

Kathryn knew that something was wrong, and she couldn't help but feel that he had been avoiding her since the Devore left Voyager. Straightening her shoulders, she continued on her way to the bridge. Worry begged to be considered, but she wouldn't take it up just yet. She would find out later what was wrong.

When Kathryn reached her quarters that evening, she threw off her uniform and headed for the shower. She longed for the force of real hot water to scrub away the feeling of griminess that seemed to cover her since Kashyk came on board, especially since that horrid kiss. She settled for turning the cleaning level up to just short of skin abrasion.

Her skin tingled as she exited the shower. Kathryn smiled at herself in the mirror. She did feel much cleaner, no longer contaminated. She hummed a tune as she brushed her hair and put on civilian clothes — jeans and a t-shirt — not bothering to put on her shoes.

As Kathryn waited for Chakotay to arrive, she tidied her quarters and replicated hot drinks for them both. She was excited to be with him off duty, just the two of them again.

Kathryn checked the time. The computer told her it was 1910 hours. Usually Chakotay arrived ahead of time, but it seemed that he was still suffering from his earlier reluctance. "Computer, locate Commander Chakotay."

"He is in corridor 3A, outside Captain Janeway's quarters."

She wondered how long he had been standing there. Hurrying across the room, she ordered the door opened.

Chakotay looked startled by the sudden movement of the doors. He, too, was out of uniform, dressed in black. Usually Kathryn enjoyed seeing him in his off duty clothes, but this time, a cold knot of apprehension gripped her heart. He seemed taller, larger, and somehow intimidating.

Kathryn smiled up at him, trying to lighten the mood. "Did you plan on staying out there all night?" Stepping aside, she waved him in. "Please come in, I replicated your favorite tea."

Chakotay entered the room, but he stood stiffly a few feet from the door, not meeting her eye.

"Chakotay, do sit down. I'll pour the tea."

He sat in the armchair but he didn't speak.

Her heart raced with concern as she poured the tea. Kathryn had to fight to keep her hands from trembling as she lifted the tray and brought it to the small table in front of the sofa.

Sitting down, she handed one cup to Chakotay.

He murmured his thanks and sipped the tea. Still, he hadn't looked at her.

Kathryn waited, trying to give him time to say what was so hard for him to say. The back of her throat ached and her eyes stung. Dozens of possible subjects raced through her mind, each one worse than the other, until finally she couldn't wait for him any longer. "What's wrong, Chakotay?" She rested her hand on his sleeve.

He pulled his arm away, slammed down his cup, splashing tea on the table. Chakotay drew in a breath as he erupted from the chair and glared down at her. "What's wrong? You have the nerve to ask me that?" His tone made Kathryn shiver.

She bit her lip to keep it from quivering. Kathryn was determined not to cry in front of her friend and lover turned stranger. Swallowing the lump in her throat, she said softly, "I asked because I've no idea why you're so upset."

Chakotay snorted in derision as he pushed his fingers through his hair. His eyes narrowed as he lowered his voice. "Then I'll explain it in a few, small words so that you can understand." His tone was fierce as he ground out, "Kashyk. You kissed him. You wanted him to stay on Voyager." He crossed his arms and waited for her response.

Kathryn stared up at Chakotay, her face pale with shock. How did he know about the kiss? And why was he so angry about it? She blinked several times, trying to decide what to say. Finally she asked, "How did you know about that?"

Chakotay's eyes were cold. "You told me to keep a close eye on him, so I activated the imager in the shuttle bay. I watched him kiss you and saw you kiss him back."

"I was trying to fool him. I thought you understood that we needed him to believe we trusted him." Kathryn tried to remain rational. Someone had to.

"And you thought you might as well have a little fun while you were at it."

Anger tinged her voice as she replied, "You don't know how revolting it was for me to just be in his presence. That kiss was the most disgusting thing I have had to do since I ate meal worms during survival training in the Academy."

"Then why did you collapse in tears after he left?"

Her anger boiled over and she bolted out of her chair. "Tears? I felt like vomiting!" She flung her arms in the air and glared at him. "You don't trust me."

Chakotay barked back, "I know what I saw."

Kathryn turned her back on him and stared out the window. She never thought for a moment that her acting would convince Chakotay, too. How could she make him believe her? The sting of his mistrust ripped at her heart. She faced him again, the anger in her eyes replaced by distress. "We were all working to get Voyager out of that vicious area of space. I wasn't the only one playing a part."

"Well, if that was acting, Kathryn," he said sarcastically, "you've missed your calling."

Kathryn scanned his face, trying to find the man she loved. This jealous, patronizing person frightened her. Could she have been wrong to think he really loved her? Where was the trust she had given him? "Why are you choosing not to believe me? I haven't lied to you about this or anything else." Her voice hitched as she fought back a sob. "I trusted you. Even after Frazier, I trusted our love for each other. Can't you do the same?" she pleaded.

There was no softening of Chakotay's expression. "No, I can't. Since you aren't willing to admit what you did, I don't trust you."

A chill slithered its way down her spine as Kathryn felt her world fall apart around her. "Then we have nothing to say to each other, Commander. I guess we are back to following protocols." Her voice was hard as steel and just as cold. "You are dismissed." She turned her back on him again.

His harsh, "Aye, Captain," was all she heard before the doors swished closed.

All of the anger drained out of her, as scalding sorrow took its place. Kathryn lost all strength in her limbs and she collapsed into a heap on the floor. Wrapping her arms around her bent legs, she began to sob. The pain was more bitter than any she had ever experienced. Rocking back and forth, tears flowed down her cheeks and onto her denim covered knees. All coherent thought vanished, as she began to fear that she would die from the overwhelming agony, when she wasn't wishing that she would.

Tears drenched Kathryn's cheeks as she lifted her gaze from her writing. This part of the story had been even harder to do than she had expected. At the moment, she was bone weary and drained. She heard four faint chimes from the old grandfather clock downstairs. She had to get some sleep. Her mom wouldn't wake her early, but Kathryn didn't want to stay in bed long. The story was closer to being finished. She wanted it done.

A few hours later, the aroma of fresh brewed coffee tickled Kathryn's nose and brought her out of sleep. Inhaling deeply, she stretched. Her mom had place a cup of coffee and a carafe on the table next to her bed. Pushing herself up against the headboard, she reached for the cup and sipped from it.

Her head still felt stuffy from crying. Kathryn hoped that the next part of the story wouldn't be as emotional as the last one. As she finished the coffee, she mentally reviewed the list of the next few scenes. After she set down her cup, she quickly showered and dressed.

The next few weeks passed in a haze of anguish. However, Kathryn forced herself to do her job. Voyager and her crew needed their captain. One thing had come out of her experience with the Devore inspector: she had refined her ability to perform a role despite how she felt. She stepped into the role of Captain Janeway every morning as she left her lonely quarters. The hardest part of her daily performance was when she had to sit next to Chakotay, acting as if he had not broken her heart with his untrusting accusations. It was even more difficult than after they had returned to Voyager from New Earth. At least then, she knew that he shared the pain of loss with her, but now she was truly alone.

One morning before she left her quarters, Tuvok contacted her, asking if he could have a word with her in private. Unable to muster any curiosity, she agreed without question to the 0900 appointment in her ready room.

Kathryn was reading the gamma shift reports when the door chimed. "Enter." She looked up as he walked in. "Good morning, Tuvok."

"Good morning, Captain." As usual, nothing in his Vulcan demeanor hinted at what he wanted to say.

She rose and pointed to the seating area. "Do sit down. Would you like a cup of tea?" Kathryn made her way to the replicator.

"I would, thank you."

"How are you today?" She handed Tuvok his cup and sat down, holding hers.

"I am well." He lifted his cup to his lips.

Kathryn watched her Vulcan security officer sip his tea. It had been a long time since he had visited with her like this. Guilt stabbed her as she thought of how she had kept all her friends at bay, but no matter how much she wanted to, she knew she couldn't let anyone else share her sorrow. Her grief was the price she paid for breaking protocols, after all.


Kathryn was shocked by Tuvok's use of her given name. Never once in all the time she had known him could she remember him doing so.

He noticed her surprise and apologized, "Pardon my breach of etiquette, Captain, but I wanted to express my condolences."

She stared at him in wide-eyed bewilderment, unable to speak.

"I am referring to the ending of your personal relationship with Commander Chakotay."

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean," Kathryn croaked out an unconvincing denial.

Tuvok set his empty cup aside and held her gaze. His look struck down her wall of defense. Kathryn slumped back against the sofa, tears stinging the back of her throat. "How long have you known?" she asked, resigned.

"I believe I noticed the subtle change in your behavior toward each other after we destroyed Starling's timeship."

"Why didn't you call me on it?" Kathryn was incredulous. Tuvok was such a stickler for regulations.

Tuvok seemed to weigh his words before he responded. "It was only logical that since Voyager had not found a quick way back to the Alpha Quadrant that we needed to become a generational ship. I saw no one on board as a more fitting match than you and the commander."

"So you ignored the rules?"

"As you have done many times to assure the safety and well-being of the crew," he stated.

Kathryn drank deeply from her cup as she processed what Tuvok had just told her. Maybe her acting ability wasn't as good as she thought. Setting aside her mug, she met Tuvok's gaze again. "So how many others know about this?"

"I am unsure since no one has seen fit to discuss it with me, but I did notice an increase in romantic involvements within the last year." Tuvok paused before speaking again, as if deciding whether to say more. "Since we left Devore space, I have received three requests for permission to marry."

"Why didn't I receive them myself?"

"I believe that the crew members involved felt that neither you or the commander were approachable at this time."

Kathryn dropped her face into her hands and groaned, "I thought I'd hidden my feelings."

"It is not so much that you have shown your emotions as the fact you no longer seem personally available." Seeing evidence of distress on her face, Tuvok added, "As captain, you have not been lacking, but the crew has been accustomed to your interaction with them on a more individual level."

"What I am to do?" Tears filled her eyes.

"I could offer to teach you some meditation techniques that might help, but I am afraid that passage of time is the best thing for healing the grief you are experiencing."

Kathryn swallowed hard and quickly swiped away the moisture from her eyes. "I'll do my best to be involved with the crew again. It's the least I can do."

Tuvok nodded his approval, and then he said, "I have observed that with humans, sharing what has hurt them helps to speed their emotional healing. Would you tell me what happened between you and Chakotay?"

She stared at her empty coffee mug for a long time. Kathryn knew she could trust Tuvok to keep her privacy, but she wasn't sure if she would be able to keep from falling apart again if she told him. However, the burden of Chakotay's accusations threatened to crush her. Drawing a shuddering breath, she began to relate the story.

Tuvok listened without interrupting as Kathryn purged herself of the misery and the rage over what had happened. He watched as she railed against the injustice of Chakotay's actions.

Finally her tears and her words were spent and she was somehow at peace. Kathryn blew her nose. When she finally spoke, her voice was thick. "Thank you for coming to me. I feel better now."

"You are welcome, Captain." Tuvok cleared his throat. "May I make a personal comment?"

"Of course."

"Although Chakotay's comments were egregious, unjust, and even cruel, I would like to remind you of his personal history. He has carried a burden of mistrust for a long time, and often that lack of faith was justified. Given the destruction of his family on his home world, my joining his Maquis crew under false pretences, and of course, Seska's betrayal, his reactions are understandable"

"But..." Kathryn sputtered.

He held up his hand and continued, "I am not telling you what to feel or how to deal with what happened. I am only suggesting that you look at this from a different point of view." Tuvok stood and turned to leave. "I will leave you to ponder these things. And again," he lowered his voice, "Kathryn, I am sorry for your pain."

The lump in Kathryn's throat seemed so large that she could only nod. Was Tuvok right? Had she neglected to look at things through Chakotay's perspective? Had she been at fault by keeping Chakotay in the dark about her plans to fool Kashyk the way she did? Somehow the subject was far too enormous to tackle at the moment. Blinking back any remaining tears and shutting the door on the pain, she went back to her desk and picked up a PADD.

From that day on however, Kathryn took steps to involve herself personally with her crew. She approached each of the three couples that wished to be married. After discussing the possible problems a marriage could have under the circumstances, she agreed to marry them.

Because of the lack of any planet suitable for a honeymoon, the weddings were scheduled a week apart. That way one of the holodecks could be used for one couple's time off, and the other would still be available for the rest of the crew. Kathryn gave permission for Neelix to plan a combined reception once all three couples were back on duty.

The night of the party arrived with a great deal of excitement. Since everyone on board wanted to attend, the roster was arranged so that even those on duty would have some time at the party.

Neelix was beside himself with delight at the privilege of catering the event. In the middle of the mess hall, he placed the huge wedding cake. The main layer was a large meter wide triangle with five smaller layers of graduating sizes on top of it. He said this way all of the couples would have a part of the cake to cut at the same time. The whole thing looked as though he had wrapped it with a rainbow, and a neon one at that.

Kathryn stood off to one side by herself, taking tiny sips from a champagne glass. She smiled as she watched Neelix try to arrange the three couples, so that the Doctor could take pictures. She was happy for them even if their joy brought her a tinge of jealous pain.

"I keep expecting the table to collapse under that cake."

The warmth in Chakotay's voice shocked Kathryn even more than the fact that he spoke to her. Fighting to keep her voice light, she answered, "I think that he's using an anti-grav table and a structural integrity field."

"I didn't think of that," Chakotay chuckled.

The sound of his laughter vibrated through her, leaving tremors of yearning so strong that she tightened her grip on her glass as she fought to stay standing.

Although she didn't look at Chakotay, she saw him move closer out of the corner of her eye.

"Tuvok paid me a visit about a month ago," he said softly, his breath caressing her ear.

Her mouth was dry. How much had Tuvok told Chakotay? Kathryn took a sip of her wine before she spoke. "Did he?" Her voice sounded strained.

"Yes, and he reminded me of some things."

Did she hear regret in his voice? "Things?"

"He reminded me of your integrity, compassion, and your willingness to sacrifice for the crew; that you have always put the well being of our people above your personal feelings." Chakotay paused and drew a deep breath. "It took me a while to come to my senses, but now I can see I owe you an apology. I was a complete ass. I was jealous and that colored my thinking. I was cruel, hell, I was malicious to you, and all you did was put Voyager and the refugees first. Because of my past, I didn't trust you. I'm sorry, Kathryn, I really am."

Kathryn opened her mouth to speak when she spied Neelix heading their way with plates of cake. Better discuss this later.

"Captain, Commander," the Talaxian beamed at them. "It's almost time for the toasting to begin. The brides and grooms want you at the main table. I have your cake." He turned to see if they were following him. "Right this way, please." Placing the two dishes in front of empty chairs, he waved his arm toward the places with a dramatic flare.

Kathryn forced her legs to move. One foot in front of the other, she ordered mentally.

Chakotay pulled her chair out for her, and when Kathryn sat down, she felt his fingers brush against her shoulders. Warmth radiated through her body from more than his touch. He had apologized. She held the thought close to her heart.

She smiled as she listened to Neelix explain about toasting. Knowing that she would be expected to participate, Kathryn had written a toast that would include them all. When she heard her name, she stood and raised her voice. "When we started this journey, no one knew that we would end up here. We have faced many enemies in this quadrant, but along the way, we have become a family as well as a crew. And today, I toast the love and devotion of these three couples. May you never let little things separate you, and may you fight the big things as one." She lifted her glass a little higher and then took a sip.

A chorus of "hear, hear" echo around the room as she sat down. Kathryn felt Chakotay give her arm a tiny squeeze before he rose to give his toast.

He cleared his throat. "As the captain said, we have become a family, which I believe is a miracle. We have learned to rely upon one another. Where once we were enemies, we are now friends. To our three couples, I give one piece of advice. Keep short accounts, and believe in one another. May your love grow each day." Raising his glass to his lips, he drank.

As he sat down, Chakotay glanced at Kathryn. This time she didn't look away. She wanted him to see that she had accepted his apology. Later she would say it out loud, but for now she made sure he knew the only way she could.

The smile of gratitude and relief on Chakotay's face told Kathryn he understood. She leaned back in her chair to enjoy the rest of the toasts. By the time everyone who wanted to honor the couples had done so, she was ready to leave. It had been her custom to leave parties on Voyager early. She thought that the crew would feel freer to enjoy themselves without worrying about the captain looking on.

Neelix and Chell were busy removing the tables from the middle of the room. Dancing was next on the schedule. Several of the others helped by stacking chairs. Soon the floor was clear, and all the newlyweds began to dance.

As Kathryn made her way to the door, B'Elanna greeted her. They chatted for several minutes.

Tom joined them just as the music changed. "Come on, Torres. They're playing our song. Excuse us, Captain." He tossed a cheeky grin at her as he grabbed B'Elanna's hand and led her to the dance floor.

Kathryn chuckled and shook her head. Determined to make her quiet exit, she moved again toward the door.

"I'd hoped you would dance with me before you left." Chakotay stopped her with a touch on her elbow.

She had decided that she wasn't going to dance at all, especially not with him, but when she turned and met his gaze, Kathryn couldn't decline. Nodding, she moved with him to the dance floor and slipped into his arms. Bliss and torment warred within her as Chakotay guided her to the music.

"Did you forgive me," he asked in a cautious tone, "or did I misunderstand the look you gave me?"

Her throat tightened. "I did," she said hoarsely.

Kathryn felt Chakotay tremble as he murmured, "Thank you, Kathryn," and he pulled her as close as protocol would allow. She wanted nothing more than to lean even deeper into his embrace, but she wouldn't allow herself to do it. Friendship — all she could afford was friendship. There were too many hazards ahead to risk a relationship again. She knew all too well what pain might lie in store for her, and for him for as well.

At that moment, nothing really mattered but the fact that they were close again; his arms warm and comforting, his unique masculine scent filling her with peace, and his gentle voice restoring balance to her being. Somehow, when the music stopped, Kathryn would find the strength to step out of his arms. She swallowed hard against the regret. Her decision was for the best.

The song finally ended. Kathryn managed to pull away from Chakotay without meeting his gaze. "Thank you, Chakotay." Her whisper was strained. "I'll see you on the bridge tomorrow," she promised as she moved toward the door.

She felt the heat from Chakotay's hand on the small of her back. "I'll go with you on your tour of the ship, and then back to your quarters." He knew that she liked to take a quick inspection of Voyager at times like this — checking on the bridge and engineering. Not that she ever found anything amiss, but it helped her to unwind.

Even though she knew it was a mistake to let him come with her, Kathryn didn't tell him no. She walked in silence through the door and into the corridor. She knew that she had to explain the new parameters of their relationship, but she didn't want to douse the tiny flame of hope she had seen in his eyes earlier.

They made their way first to the bridge and then to engineering. The skeleton crews in both places were doing their jobs well but looked like they wanted to be at the party. As they entered the turbolift on their way to her quarters, Chakotay finally spoke. "You have more to say to me, don't you?"

Kathryn laughed humorlessly, "I should have known you'd figure that out."

Suddenly Chakotay pulled her against him as he fell back onto the bulkhead. She opened her mouth to speak just as a crew member rushed by. He would have run into them if Chakotay hadn't moved so quickly. The young man apologized profusely before hurrying on his way to the party.

Desire swamped Kathryn as she allowed herself an extra moment of closeness before she pulled away. Straightening her uniform, she said in what she hoped was a normal voice, "Thank you, Chakotay. You saved us from a bit of embarrassment."

"I'll keep my eyes open for more low flying crewmen." He grinned at her.

They continued toward her quarters in a comfortable silence. Kathryn decided to invite him in, since the corridors were no place to have a private conversation.

When they arrived, she glanced up at him. "Would you please come in? We need to talk."

Chakotay met her gaze and nodded, following her inside as the door swished open.

"Let's sit down." Kathryn took one of the chairs.

After Chakotay was seated, too, she began, "I'm really glad you spoke to me tonight. I've missed your friendship so much." Kathryn saw him clench his jaw, but she continued, "What I'm going to say doesn't mean I haven't forgiven you. It only means that I fully understand why Starfleet made the rules they did."

Kathryn leaned forward, clasping her hands together as she rested her elbows on her knees. "I can't return to the way things were before we entered Devore space. I couldn't function well as captain after you..." She let her words drift because she wasn't able to talk about the pain yet. Clearing her throat, she persisted, "I want to be friends again. Lately I have felt like a tightrope walker without her pole. Chakotay, I need you to help me to stay balanced."

Blinking rapidly to keep back tears, she said, "I hope you can forgive me for doing this. I never should've allowed anything to happen between us."

Silence stretched out between them. Kathryn didn't have the courage to look at him, until she heard a choking sound. She glanced up and saw Chakotay's eyes glistening with unshed tears, and then she watched him accept what she had said.

Chakotay swallowed hard before he said softly, "I don't deserve your forgiveness or your friendship, let alone your love. I hate myself for the pain I caused you. You have my word that I'll be the best friend you have ever had, and will support you in every way I can. I hope that someday I'll be able to convince you that you would be safe loving me again." He stood and reached out a hand to help her up. "Good night, Kathryn, and thank you again."

As Kathryn rose, all of her senses seem to focus on the large, gentle hand that held hers. She had expected him to rail against everything she said. Instead, he had made it so easy for her that all the emotions of battle swept away, leaving only an empty place that his love once filled. Slowly she pulled her hand out of his. "Good night, Chakotay."

Without another word, he left.

The knock on the door was timely. Kathryn had just finished a section, and her stomach was protesting her coffee-only breakfast.

"Come in, Mom," Kathryn called from her desk. She watched her mom enter the room with a tray. "I could've come down for lunch. You really don't have to spoil me like this."

Setting the meal of chicken salad and fruit next to the PADD, her mom reached over and planted a kiss on the top of Kathryn's head. "I love doing it." She reached for Kathryn's cup, refilled it from a fresh carafe, and replaced the empty one with it. "How's the story coming, Sweetie?"

"Better now." She smiled lovingly up at her mom. "I think I will have it done ahead of the deadline."

"I'll let you get back to it, but do eat some lunch too," her mom chided as she patted Kathryn's shoulder. "I'll call you when it's dinner time."

Kathryn picked up the fork and took a bite. She loved her mom's special chicken salad, and didn't waste a bit. As she nibbled on the fruit, the next part of the story played in her mind. Although it wasn't as difficult a time, she would have liked to avoid it. However, it had to be told.

In the days, weeks, and months that followed, Kathryn and Chakotay settled back into their friendship. The pain of her loss began to fade into a dull ache, so that she was often able to pretend that it was gone entirely. There were times when she even thought that he had seen the wisdom of what she had said, but then she would catch him watching her with a look so full of longing and love that she would have to leave before she succumbed to the same feelings that echoed in her own heart.

The Delta Quadrant kept dealing Voyager the kind of cards that made it clear, at least in Kathryn's mind, she had decided correctly. First they drew aces and eights with the Equinox. If it hadn't been for Chakotay's intervention, she would've truly held the dead man's hand. She had no doubt that if they had been in a deeper relationship, he wouldn't have been able to stand up to her, and the game would have been completely lost.

When the crew had been kidnapped, and their memories replaced with false ones on Quarra, Chakotay wouldn't have been able to bluff the authorities and rescue them if Kathryn had been involved with him on Voyager. She was sure of it. In addition, when she thought about how he had reacted to her and Kashyk together, she didn't want to imagine what his response would have been, given she'd chosen to move in with Jaffen. All things considered, she thought the odds were in her favor that she'd made the right choice.

Gradually, Chakotay spent less time with Kathryn in private. He did accept some her invitations to dinner and even extended some of his own, but he didn't seem as available as before. She kept reminding herself that it was for best. He should have a life apart from hers, and if he needed someone who would give what she couldn't, she'd be selfish to want to keep him from it.

A beep from her communicator startled Kathryn from her writing. She glanced down to see who was calling. "Hi, Tom."

"Hey doll face, how's it going?" Tom grinned cheekily.

Kathryn laughed and shook her head. "I've told you not to call me that. It's disrespectful."

He shrugged. "Aw, I don't mean it in a bad way, you know that." Leaning toward the screen, he lowered his voice. "How's the story coming?"

"I'm almost finished. I still have to write about the admiral."

"Great!" Tom exclaimed. "I've contacted a old friend who's interested in publishing it once it's finished."

"Oh Tom, I wish you hadn't done that." Kathryn frowned at his image. "I want my family to read it first, then it will be decided if it should be made public."

"Don't worry, Kathryn, I understand." Tom flashed a blue-eyed smile as he held up one hand. "I won't do a thing without an okay. I promise."

"I need to get back to writing if I'm going to have this ready on time. Good bye, Tom." Kathryn cut the connection.

Satisfaction and excitement pushed their way into her mind. She was almost finished with the story of Kathryn and Chakotay. Kathryn grabbed her PADD and continued to write.

The morning didn't seem all that different from an ordinary one. Chakotay came to her ready room to give her a report on B'Elanna's latest bout of false labor. Kathryn asked him to place her guess in the pool for the birth date and time for the baby. When he told her about Crewman Chell's wish to take over running the ship's mess in Neelix' absence, he rattled off some of the names Chell had come up with.

"If his cooking is as bad as his puns, I wouldn't care to try any." Chakotay grinned down at Kathryn, who was sitting on her sofa.

Chuckling, she responded, "I don't know, 'red alert' chili sounds pretty good to me. Care to join me for lunch?"

"Sorry, I have plans. Rain check?"

Kathryn felt a jab of disappointment, but she said, in a cheery tone, "Of course."

Later that day, Seven found evidence on long-range scanners of what she thought might be a wormhole, or maybe even multiple ones. Kathryn ordered an investigation. What they found in the nebula was frightening — the Borg. Voyager retreated and put as much distance between themselves and nebula as possible.

The next few hours went by in a blur as a tachyon surge was detected to port, and a temporal fissure opened through which a small Federation ship flew. Kathryn and the whole bridge crew were shocked to see an older version of herself, now an admiral. After the elderly Janeway ordered them to fire on and close the aperture she had just exited, the captain insisted the admiral beam aboard to explain what she was doing there.

The admiral was adamant about being examined by the Doctor before she would say anything. "I want to prove to you who I am, so that there's no doubt I'm your future self."

On their way to sickbay, Kathryn tried not to stare at the woman who walked beside her. It was an eerie feeling to see the silver-white hair, the extra wrinkles and the slight thickening of the waist, but the oddest of all was that this older version of herself had knowledge she didn't, and that despite the temporal prime directive, she was going to share it. What had happened to her in the future that she would risk messing with the past? Somehow she knew that the admiral had come back to change their future.

Following a thorough examination, the Doctor declared unequivocally that Kathryn and the admiral were one and the same. He even showed her the tests results in great detail just to reassure her.

Admiral Janeway sat on a biobed with a smug look on her face. "Well, Captain, are you convinced yet?"

"As much as I can be, given the circumstances." Kathryn frowned. "I think you and I should have that talk, now."

Hopping off the bed, the admiral headed for the door, past the guards who stood on either side. Kathryn had to hurry to catch up.

Back inside the ready room, the admiral moved to the upper sitting area and stared out of the portal. She turned and commented, "On a clear day, you can see Alcatraz from this window." She turned to watch as Kathryn replicated a pot of coffee and offered her a cup, "No thanks, I gave that up years ago." Looking back at the stars, she recollected, "I told the museum curators that if they wanted authenticity, they should keep a fresh pot of coffee on the desk."

"Voyager is in a museum?" Kathryn asked in awe.

"Voyager is a museum in the middle of the Presidio."

Kathryn felt the sudden need for the brace of caffeine, so she poured a cup for herself. "I can't believe I would ever give this up," she said before she took a long swallow.

Turning away from the window, the admiral walked over to Kathryn and took the cup from her hand. "Yes, well circumstances change." She lifted it, inhaled the aroma, and took a sip before handing it back. "I'd forgotten how good coffee could taste."

Kathryn set the cup aside and asked, "Why did you come?"

"Why, Captain, I thought it was obvious." A faint smile crossed her face. "I've come to take you home."

"I don't understand. It's apparent that your Voyager makes it home. I become an admiral, Voyager has a place of honor; it all sounds pretty good to me."

"Not everyone is so lucky." Admiral Janeway began to pace. "We lose twenty-three of our crew before making it home years from now."

"I don't want to hear this. You've violated the temporal prime directive by coming. I refuse to listen to more."

The admiral came to where Kathryn was standing and glared at her. "Honestly, Captain, I don't care what you want. You will sit down, and shut up until I'm finished. That's an order!"

In that moment the fear-filled awe of a green ensign and the indignation of a seasoned captain wrestled inside Kathryn, but because she recognized something more in the admiral's voice — a cold desperation — she chose to do as she was told.

"First of all, there's Tuvok. He has a disease he hasn't told you about that has a cure in the Alpha Quadrant, but by the time we get home, it will have taken his brilliant mind and left a broken and fragmented one behind."

Ignoring Kathryn's pain filled gasp, the admiral continued, "As I told you, twenty-three people will be lost in the years ahead, including Seven. She will be injured on an away mission three years into your future and will die in the arms of her husband," she took a shuddering breath, "Chakotay, and he was never the same."

"Chakotay," Kathryn echoed softly. If she'd thought her world had crumbled when Chakotay made his jealous accusations, she now knew she was wrong. Shards of raw pain rammed into her heart. She fought to keep air into her lungs as sheer agony pressed in on her. He'd moved on just as she'd encouraged. There must be something she could do, someway to change things. But if that was what Chakotay wanted, how could she stand in his way? Now that I know this, I'm sure there'll be ways to keep at least some of the events from happening.

"I know what's going through your head, Kathryn. Despite your pain, you're planning to be so blasted noble and continue to follow those damned protocols, that in the end, no one will be truly happy. Just like I did when I found out about their relationship, and when I unselfishly plastered a smile on my face as I performed their wedding," the admiral ground out bitterly.

Kathryn knew that she was telling the truth. It was a way of life with her now, pushing down her feelings and her own wants for the sake of rules and what she thought was best for the ship. But if Chakotay ended up finding love with Seven, she couldn't stop that.

Admiral Janeway laughed mirthlessly as if she could read Kathryn's very thoughts. "Being a martyr won't help him, Kathryn."

"But if I can keep Seven out of danger, he'll be happy, won't he?"

Ignoring the question, the admiral was quiet for a few moments as if she were lost in her private thoughts.

Watching tears fill the older woman's eyes, Kathryn's heart responded with compassion. "Tell me the rest."

Meeting her gaze, the admiral didn't try to hide her tears. With a voice thick with sorrow, she said, "My Chakotay is dead. He died five months ago in my timeline." She swiped the back of her hand across her face, before she continued. "All of these years, he had kept to himself, so when finally he invited me to visit, I was surprised; no, I was shocked to find him living in a care facility. I could hardly recognize him. He was so thin and pale..." She swallowed several times. "He told me he was dying and that he had something to tell me."

Admiral Janeway began to walk back and forth across the small stretch of ready room floor. "He told me how, after I'd finally convinced him that I didn't want him in my life, and he was sure I'd stopped loving him because of his foolish accusations about Kashyk, he gave up on love altogether. So when Seven began to show him interest, he began to date her."

Noting the shocked look on Kathryn's face, the admiral nodded, "Yes, if only he'd known. Anyway, tomorrow your Chakotay will make the same decision that mine did. He'll settle for Seven's companionship and affection instead of waiting for a love from you that might never come again. At first, Seven will be happy, but she'll eventually figure out that he doesn't love her."

"They had an argument about it just before she went on that away mission. Chakotay always thought that the distraction of that confrontation was why she made the mistake in calibrating the setting of the mining charge that fatally injured her. He never forgave himself for what happened to her. Since he also thought he'd destroyed any possibility of me loving him, he avoided me as much as he could after we got home. I lost Seven, my best friend and his love that day."

Kathryn sat in stunned silence, tears streaming down her face. Every plan and decision she'd made in regard to Chakotay in the last two years lay before her, a pile of obvious foolishness. Could it be that her self-righteous ideas would ruin three lives? "What do you want me to do?" she choked out as she slumped against the back of the sofa.

"I told you I came to take you home, but I didn't just mean back to Earth. I've come to realize that home is where you make it; where you put your heart." The admiral sat next to Kathryn and put her hand on her shoulder. "I chose this exact time so that you could prevent this whole tragedy. This is the day my Chakotay told me that he looked at his life, taking stock. He thinks he doesn't deserve love, so he'll settle for a little fondness. Go to him now and tell him how you feel. Prove to him that you still love him like we both know you do." She tightened her hold. "Do it today before any more time is wasted."

"What if he rejects me? If it's too late?" Kathryn was suddenly frightened of the possibilities ahead.

"You have to find out for everyone's sake."

"Then what next?" She felt that the admiral hadn't told her everything yet.

Admiral Janeway forced out a frustrated breath before she reached into a hidden pocket in her uniform, brought out a data chip, and went to Kathryn's desk. Slipping the chip in the desk unit, she said, "Computer, download encrypted file Janeway kappa chi. Authorization lambda theta 47."

After a few seconds, the computer intoned, "Download complete."

Opening the file, she said, "Read this. It will tell you everything." As Kathryn bent to look at the screen, the admiral stopped her. "I was tempted to lie to you or hide certain details from you, but I realized that I won’t care if you make it home my way or yours. What's most important to me is that you not lose something that is irreplaceable."

Kathryn scanned the data file. It revealed that the nebula contained not only Borg, but also a transwarp hub. There were detailed plans for destroying the queen and the hub while getting Voyager home, all of them risky, but well thought out. Her captain's heart beat loudly at the possibilities outlined there. Rubbing her chin, she caught the admiral's eye. "This is ingenious, though filled with dangers."

The admiral shook her head quickly. "We'll talk about this later, but first you have to go see Chakotay."

For several moments, Kathryn was wracked with indecision. The habits of the past few years fought against her desire to make things right with him. Finally a surge of determination gripped her. Slapping her hands on her desk, she pushed herself up. "Computer, locate Commander Chakotay."

"Commander Chakotay is in his quarters. "

"Is he alone?"

"Affirmative." The computer answered.

Kathryn rushed toward the door to the corridor but she stopped. Turning to face her future self, she said, "You'll be okay while I'm gone?"

Smiling sadly, the admiral replied, "I think I'll be more than okay for the first time in years." She pointed to the thermos of coffee on the desk. "Besides, I might just have some coffee for old times' sake."

As she hurried to the turbolift, Kathryn's heart raced, and she had to force herself breath normally. Since she had made the decision, she wondered why she had been so stupid. She was amazed at her own arrogance. Arriving at Chakotay's door, she took several calming breaths before she touched the chime.

At Chakotay's word, the door swished open. When she didn't move in immediately, he looked concerned. "What is it, Kathryn?"

His use of her given name, spurred her to action. Kathryn quickly entered his quarters and the door closed behind her. She stood nearly paralyzed by the wary look in his eyes. Could she really do this?

"I...I have... er... I mean I want to ask you a question," she stammered for the right words.

"Shall we sit down first?" Chakotay waved his hand toward the chairs.

When they were seated, Kathryn leaned forward, unwilling to wait a moment more. "You're dating Seven?"

Chakotay sounded hesitant, but he answered simply, "Yes, we've had a few dates."

Kathryn whispered gently, "Do you love her, Chakotay?"

She saw his jaw clench as his body tensed. When he didn't answer, she asked again, this time pleadingly, "I need to know. If you do, I'll leave right now and wish you the very best."

"And if I don't?" His question was quiet and tentative.

Kathryn put her head in her hands and closed her eyes not wanting to see his possible look of derision. "If you don't love her, I have something else I need to know."

"What do you need to know, Kathryn?"

His continued use of her name and the indirect answer to her question about Seven, caused her heart to leap. Still, she didn't open her eyes when she said softly, "Do you still love me?"

"If I do, then what?"

Fear crowded in as Kathryn thought maybe he was trying to hurt her in some way, but she was willing to finish what she started and to let him call the shots this time. "If you do, I want you to know that I made a huge, foolish mistake when I said that protocols matter." Her voice broke. "I love you."

"Look at me, Kathryn," he insisted, suddenly sounding closer.

Kathryn opened her eyes to find that Chakotay had slipped onto his knees, his hands on the arms of her chair. His eyes were misty, but the tears didn't hide the devotion she saw there.

"I've never stopped loving you, Kathryn," he declared earnestly. "I don't know why you came at this very moment, but I'd just about given up. I was sure you didn't love me anymore because of my stupidity about that Devore. And after all is said and done, I didn't blame you. Tonight, I've been thinking about how lonely I am, and if Seven was interested in me, it might be safer for her if I didn't love her. Besides I could give her affection and commitment. But now you say you love me. It's almost too much to believe."

Reaching out, Kathryn touched his face. "Please believe it."

"I do," Chakotay sighed he closed the small gap between them and kissed her.

Wrapping her arms around his neck, Kathryn surrendered to the familiar yet always-new rush of desire that flowed through her. She moaned and opened her mouth as Chakotay gently ran his tongue over her lips. She tried to get closer to feel his body against hers, but their positions prevented it.

Finally her frustration reached the point where Kathryn pushed against Chakotay. "Can we please find some place more comfortable?" she explained her sudden movement.

Chakotay stood, pulled her up into his embrace, he murmured against her hair, "Is this better?"

"Much," Kathryn purred.

Raising his head, he chuckled. "I can think of an even more comfortable place though."

She looked up and followed his glance toward his bedroom. Before she pulled into another kiss, she said in a sultry voice, "I've one more question to ask before we think about getting that comfortable."

Kathryn felt more than heard his chuckle against her mouth, before he kissed his way to her neck. "What's your question?" he whispered as he nipped at her earlobe, sending shivers of delight to her toes.

"Will you marry me tonight?" Her breath came in tiny gasps as he continued toying with her ear with his tongue.

His head came up quickly as he took in what she'd asked. Chakotay searched her face, trying to be certain she wasn't somehow joking with him. "Marry you?" was all he could manage.

She lifted her hands to cup his face while meeting his gaze intently. "Yes, I want to marry you, and I can't wait any longer. Please, Chakotay," Kathryn pleaded.

The light from the smile that spread across his face rivaled a supernova. "Yes, Kathryn. Yes!" He grabbed her waist and spun her around before kissing her quickly again.

Kathryn grinned. "I'll contact Tuvok and the admiral, but we will need one more witness."

"Let's get Tom and B'Elanna. That way we won't have to make the announcement ourselves." Chakotay winked.

Within an hour, the small group gathered in the ready room. It was decided that the admiral would perform the ceremony, but Tuvok would sign the certificate so that there wouldn't be a problem with its legality back on Earth.

Admiral Janeway looked younger somehow as she led Kathryn and Chakotay through their vows. They exchanged rings that the admiral had replicated. As she pronounced them husband and wife and watched them kiss, her eyes filled with tears. "I'm so happy for you both, and thankful that you changed our future."

Kathryn embraced the admiral, thanking her for everything.

Chakotay hung back slightly, seemingly unsure of what to do.

The admiral reached up, kissed his cheek, and whispered, "You make her a happy old lady, instead of an old biddy like me." With that she turned to Tuvok, and asked, "Are you sure you have everything in order?"

"Yes, Admiral, the marriage is legal and binding."

Tom Paris produced glasses of champagne and toasted the couple although he only allowed B'Elanna a sip before he took her glass. "I wouldn't want my daughter to be born under the influence now, would I?" He laughed at her attempt to look miffed.

"I do have a question, Captain." When Tom had her attention, he asked, "How long do I have to keep this to myself? I'm ready to explode with the news!"

Kathryn kept her face impassive, "I'd hoped you could wait until tomorrow morning before you made the ship-wide announcement."

"Aye, Captain, tomorrow is soon enough." He beamed at everyone. "I think it's time to let the newlyweds have some privacy."

The admiral was the last to leave for her temporary quarters. As she stared from one to the other, it was obvious that she was struggling to keep back the tears. She reached out and took their entwined hands in hers. "I've talked to Seven. She will be okay. Seven told me that although she is willing to explore her humanity in more depth, she would never do so at the expense of others." There was a quick twinkle in her eyes when she added, "I told her that it was very likely that Harry would be interested in helping her investigate that part of her life."

Suddenly they were alone, husband and wife, no longer forced to live under the weight of regulations or behind the fence of some protocol parameter. She moved into Chakotay's arms. Kathryn's heart was home and so was she, no matter what events the next day held.

Kathryn slumped against the back of her chair. She'd finally finished the story. It wasn't necessary to mention that they had worked together to strike a crushing blow to the Borg by destroying their queen and the hub, and made it safely back to the Alpha Quadrant. The history books are already filled with that glorious tale.

Saving the file on her desk unit, she sent the story off to her family, and stood and stretched. Kathryn was excited and a little nervous about their response, but she knew she'd done her best.

Smiling at the freedom she felt, Kathryn twirled happily around her room like she'd done as a child. At that moment, she wished she hadn't packed her ballet shoes away. The desire to dance made her laugh.

The sound of her laughter brought her mother to her room. "You're finished." Her mom smiled. "Does that mean I get to read it now?"

"Yes, I sent you a copy." She threw her arms her mom. "Thanks for your support."

"I would have written it myself, if I had the talent you do." She hugged Kathryn tightly before she moved to the door. "I think we should go out to celebrate. Do you want to invite Tommy Paris?"

Kathryn's face was tinted with pink, but she tried to sound normal, "I'll think about it, Mom. Go read, please, I want your opinion."

The next two weeks went by quickly. Kathryn was surprised how little editing was needed. Her family was enthusiastic about her portrayal, and when she had fearfully allowed Tom Paris to read the story, his words of praise had made her blush. He told her advance copies would be ready to be given to the guests at the Voyager celebration that Friday night.

As she got ready for the party that night, the excitement of attending the reunion with her family and friends, especially those from Voyager made her breathless. After a long soak in the tub, Kathryn began to put on her clothes. The simple red dress she'd chosen fell softly to her ankles, molding to her curves in a provocative yet innocent way. Her hair was pulled back from her face on one side by a carved rose clip that her grandmother had given her.

A soft knock on her door startled her. "Come in."

"Oh, sweetheart, you look beautiful." Her mom blinked back tears. "I wanted to make sure you were ready. Our escorts just arrived."

Kathryn was amused that Starfleet insisted upon sending two ensigns to accompany them to the party. The young Bolian male seemed nervous and consequently rambled. The Janeway name had that effect. However, the other, a placid, calm Vulcan female was the exception.

As they traveled to the party, her own unease began to grow. What if they didn't really like the story? What if she had left out something important? What if she'd revealed too much? Kathryn found herself bunching a bit of her dress in her hands. She dropped the fabric, smoothing away the wrinkles. Drawing a deep steadying breath, she released the worries as she exhaled. It was a trick she had learned once from Tuvok. She would have to thank him for that, tonight.

The area around the large stone building was lit up almost as brightly as day. Kathryn's eyes widened with shock when she saw how many people were entering the wide open doors. Inwardly she hoped that there would be enough copies of the story to go around. It didn't escape her notice that the media lined the cordoned off edge of the courtyard. Imagers and holo-cameras buzzed as the reporters tried to get a good shot of one attendee or another.

Feeling generous, Kathryn stopped and waved at one of the groups closest to the door. Her mom nudged on her arm, reminding her that other people were waiting to get in.

Once inside the ballroom, she was astonished at how spacious it was and how beautifully decorated. As she watched her mom leave to find her sister, she felt an arm around her waist.

"You look gorgeous, doll face," a voice whispered close to her ear and placed a kiss just under it.

She couldn't keep her face from staining a bright pink. "Why do you keep calling me that?" Kathryn ground out though she kept her voice low as she pulled away from him.

Tom Paris grinned down at her. "Because it's fun to see you blush."

"I don't like it." She glared angrily and walked away, toward a punch table.

"I'm sorry, Kathryn," the young man said breathlessly as he hurried after her. "I promise I won't say it again."

Refusing to turn around, she ordered, "See that you don't." Kathryn took the glass the server offered her and sipped from it. She wasn't really angry with him, but she wasn't going to let him know yet. Make me blush and you suffer for a while.

Kathryn didn't know why she looked back toward the door at that moment, except that she felt drawn. There, just inside the entryway, they stood: Kathryn and Chakotay. Everyone and everything else seemed to slip to the side. Her heart beat happily as they turned and saw her. Suddenly all she could think about was going to them and having their arms around her. Kathryn somehow got rid of her punch glass and started toward her grandparents. Before she knew it, she was running toward their open arms.

Enveloped in their warmth embrace, she sighed contentedly before asking timidly, "What did you think of the story?"

Chakotay kissed the top of her head before he moved back. "My sweet Katie, You captured our story so well. Your grandmother and I cried when we first read it."

Tears sparkled in her eyes as she lifted her gaze to his. "Really, Grandfather, you both liked it?"

"I didn't cry." Katie heard a teasing denial from her grandmother. "I admit my eyes misted on occasion though."

Katie hugged her grandmother again. "I was so worried that I couldn't do it."

"I always knew you could, Katie dear. As I already told you in our emails to you, 'You succeeded in putting my heart into words.' Thank you for giving us this gift," her grandmother’s gentle reassurances soothed her.

"I guess I just needed to hear you say it," Katie replied before she moved out of her arms and grabbed both their hands. "What is wrong with me? Happy fiftieth wedding anniversary to you both! Happy fiftieth reunion, too." She kissed them both quickly. "I'll show you to your table. Mom will be upset if you aren't seated right away."

The elder Kathryn made a sound of disgust. "Your mom worries too much. We're old, not infirm."

As they slowly made their way to the head table, friends and family greeted them. Admiral Kim and his wife Annika were among the first to embrace the former command team. Katie watched in awe as the former Borg smiled lovingly at her husband. The years since Voyager had returned brought about a relationship almost as romantic as her grandparents'. The Kims had adopted three children; two boys from Earth and a Terran-Vulcan girl who were orphaned when their parents were killed during the Dominion War long ago. Currently, they had five grandchildren with another on the way.

Next to stop them on their slow trek to their seats was the Dean of Starfleet Academy, Tuvok. "I am gratified to see you both looking so well."

"Tuvok!" The admiral exclaimed in delight. "I didn't think you were going to be able to come."

"Indeed, I did not expect to attend. However, T'Pel insisted that she could manage to give her series of Vulcan Art History lectures on Bajor without my presence."

"We're glad you made it. It wouldn't seem right to celebrate these two milestones without you." Chakotay added warmly.

Coming up behind them, their pilot of long ago, Tom Paris slapped Chakotay on the shoulder as he addressed Katie's grandmother. "Are you sure you made the right choice all those years ago, Admiral?"

"Mr. Paris, I've never had a single doubt." Admiral Janeway faced her former pilot with a fond smile on her face. Chakotay pulled his wife closer in affirmation of what she said.

Katie was always amazed at how much alike the elderly Tom Paris and his namesake looked and sounded. They worked for the same publishing house, though the older Paris was semi-retired now. It was as if the younger Tom knew about whom she was thinking. She felt a hand on her waist. "So much love in a room gives me ideas," he whispered as he lightly caressed her back and leaned close to kiss her cheek.

A shiver of pleasure covered her with goose bumps, but she refused to lean closer to him. "Not now, Tom," she said quietly.

When she turned to look at him, Tommy was grinning down at her. "Sure thing," he paused in such a way that she could almost hear "doll face" and she blushed again.

He chuckled as he turned his attention to the group, and to his grandfather in particular, and asked, "Hey Pops, where's Grams?"

"Hey Tommy." His grandfather also shared the same cheeky grin, "I think I saw her talking to your Aunt Miral and your folks over by the punch table." When he realized Katie was there, he raised his voice. "Here's the author of the evening!" The senior Tom Paris took her hands and kissed them. "I've always wanted to write that story myself but couldn't seem to accomplish it. Of course, I didn't have the inside track you did. I can tell you that if your grandparents give the say so, I'm going to publish it in a special bond paper edition in honor of their love for old books."

Katie stood speechless. Except for her grandparent's approval, Paris's praise meant the most to her. Ever since she left the academy three years ago, so that she could pursue a writing career, she had felt the need to prove herself. He had given her a job as copy editor and part time story contributor of a popular literary magazine he published. However, when her grandmother asked her to write their love story, she had been frightened. A sense of pride and love for her family welled up in her. With such a wonderful family behind her, how could she go wrong?

Seeing her mother heading their way, Katie sprang into action. Taking her grandparents' arms, she said, "Mom's coming. Let's get you seated before your granddaughter gets in trouble."

Everyone laughed and hurried to the table where they were seated at the one reserved for Voyager's original senior staff. Katie and Tommy found their places at a lower table. She was happy that she could get off her feet. The accolades for her writing were heady like a strong wine and made her limbs weak.

The serving staff soon began to bring the food. Katie was sure it was delicious and Tommy seemed to enjoy it, but it could have been dry toast and water for all she knew. Her nerves seemed to be wound tight, and even deep breathing didn't seem to calm them. She was to make a speech tonight, and though she had memorized it, she couldn't relax.

"Kathryn, sweetheart," Tommy leaned close. He was only one who never called her Katie. His voice was low and intense. "Just keep your eyes on me. You aren't scared of me. Besides, you know that at least half this room loves you to distraction, so if anyone would dare say anything negative, their body wouldn't make it out of here in one piece."

When she looked at him in amused shock, Katie saw him wink. Laughter bubbled up that she couldn't hold it back. She'd known him all her life, but it was only after she'd gone to work for the Paris Publishing Company that Tommy became more than a childhood friend. He'd told her that he had always loved her, but was just waiting for her to grow up and discover him. And when she did notice him in that way, she had fallen hard.

Katie saw the love in the eyes of the cheeky prankster. It warmed her and chased away her anxiety. She reached out her hand and caressed his cheek. "Thanks, Tom."

"I'll always do what it takes to help you." A rare serious look crossed his face. "After all, that's what love does." Almost immediately, a mischievous grin lit his eyes as he asked, "Are you going to eat that dessert?" Tommy reached his fork over and snatched a bite.

As she laughingly moved the dish so that he would have easier access, she saw a group of uniformed attendants making their way through the room, each carrying a tall stack of thin boxes. Arriving in front of the head table, they turned to face the rest of the room, standing at attention.

Tommy's grandfather stood and walked to a podium in the middle of the head table. "These handsome young people will be handing out a special memento of this extraordinary occasion. In those boxes you will find a PADD, which contains an advance copy of a very special story, Kathryn and Chakotay- The Long Journey Home as told to Kathryn Janeway-Chakotay O'Neill by Admiral Kathryn Janeway." He signaled the attendants to begin handing out the boxes. "One more thing. Don't bother opening the box. The file is encrypted so it won't open tonight. We wouldn't want people to be distracted during the speeches, now would we?"

He waited until the laughter and applause had quieted before he said, "I've decided that you have probably heard all the jokes I've ever come up with about the two people we are celebrating and the journey we all shared. So I'll wait for another fifty years or so before I repeat them to a younger audience." Tom smiled at the crowd's response.

"Now I would like to introduce the person who wrote this story. The soon-to-be acclaimed author, Kathryn Janeway-Chakotay O'Neill, the daughter of the late Captain Holden O'Neill and his wife, Amelia Janeway-Chakotay. Come up here, sweetheart." He started to clap his hands and the rest of the room joined in.

As Katie went forward, the volume increased, although she could still hear the whistle that she knew came from her Tom. Several people reached out to shake her hand as she passed. By the time she reached the podium, her eyes were wet.

Trying to swallow the tears, she faced the audience. To her left sat her grandparents. As Katie fought to control her emotions, she felt someone press a soft cloth into her hands. Her grandmother had given her a handkerchief. A flood of love for her washed over her. She moved and touched her grandmother’s shoulder, then wrapped her in a hug.

Finally, Katie straightened and focused on the rest of the people there. Slightly to her right, Tommy caught her eye and gave her a thumbs up. Smiling broadly, she began, "Thank you, Grandmother and Grandfather, Voyager family and friends. I wrote a speech for tonight, but for the life of me, I just can't remember a single word, which might be a good thing." She glanced at her grandparents. "I have the good fortune to have these two wonderful people as my grandparents. They've always been so full of love for each other and their family. I can still remember how hard it was when my dad and his folks were killed in that awful shuttle accident ten years ago. Mom, Lizzy, and I would've been lost without my grandparents. They took us into their home since we had spent most of our lives traveling in space on Dad's ships and didn't have one of our own.

"I've always loved to write, and Grandfather encouraged me to journal my grief. He even bought me an old-fashioned paper book with blank pages for me to write in. I'll never be able to thank him enough for coming into my room when my loneliness got to be too much for me. He held me and rocked me to sleep many nights that year. I want to say thank you, Grandfather.

"Now about Grandmother Kathryn; she wasn't the best cook in the world," she paused for the knowing laughter to die down. "She didn't bake me cookies, or sew me doll clothes, but she showed me the universe. She had been to places that we're just now beginning to reach and her stories of the Delta Quadrant always captivated me. She grows the world's best tomatoes and showed me how. After she helped me study for the academy entrance exams and I made it in, she didn't make a fuss when I found out that though 'fleet is in my blood, it's not in my heart, and I left.

"One day about seven months ago, I asked her how she and Grandfather had fallen in love. She looked at me and said, 'Do you have a PADD handy? Because I'm going to tell you the story, and I'd like you to write it down for me.' I spent delightful long hours listening to her talk and going over her old logs. By the time she'd finished, I felt like I'd taken the journey of Voyager myself. Thank you, Grandmother, for your confidence in my abilities and for trusting me with your inspiring story."

Katie dabbed at her eyes as tears welled in them again. "I love you both so very much. Happy Anniversary to you both and many more to come."

Suddenly, her grandparents were at her side, drawing her into a three-way embrace. The crowd stood to their feet to give them an ovation. When the applause quieted, and the tears all dried, Kathryn made her way to her seat.

Tommy grabbed her hand and squeezed. Leaning close to her, he whispered, "You did good, babe."

This time, the heat that warmed her face wasn't from embarrassment, but from the assurance of his love. Contentment filled her until her heart overflowed. She was glad that she hadn’t had as many problems as her grandparents in finding love, but she knew that their hardship on the way was part of the reason it had lasted fifty years. For a second, she thought of the other Admiral Janeway with gratitude; the one who had lost her love, but who had sacrificed everything to bring an end to the long journey home.