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Threshold Revisited

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She hit the end call button on her communications console.

B’Elanna’s worried face faded from the screen and Kathryn dropped her head into her hands and groaned. “Oh God.”

She could picture his face and hear the echo of his voice even after all this time. Taking a deep breath, she lifted her head and stared blankly at the children’s drawings on the wall.

Then the panic set in.

She leapt out of her chair and began to pace. What to do? Shit! What to do?

Her heart pounded in her chest and her stomach churned. Bless B’Elanna for calling to warn her. She knew she’d have to face this moment some day, but even after all these years she really wasn’t prepared.

How in God’s name do you prepare for this sort of thing?

Damn!

Her life was settled and comfortable. She really didn’t need this.

Kathryn turned and checked the time. 1000. It would be another half an hour before he arrived, which at least gave her a little time to sort out just what to tell him. It would also be several hours until he was faced with the reality. The children weren’t due home from school until around 1500. She strode into the kitchen, ordered a coffee from the replicator and took it outside. She sat looking at the garden and tried to calm herself.

How to explain it all to him?

They knew of Chakotay, of course, and knew who he was. It had never been a secret. Kathryn had spoken of him often, as had B’Elanna and Tom and many of the other ex-crewmembers who were frequent visitors to the Janeway home. It would be no surprise to them.

But for Chakotay? She shuddered.

It really wasn’t her fault that he didn’t know. She hadn’t seen or heard from him for over three years. Not a word. No one had known where he and Seven had gone. They’d literally disappeared off the face of the …. universe. As soon as their debriefings were over, they’d left, and there hadn’t been a sign of them since.

Until today.

According to B’Elanna, he’d just turned up at her front door and asked for Kathryn’s address. He was on his own but had been very reticent and B’Elanna wasn’t able to get much out of him other than that he was fine. Apparently, he didn’t look fine, but he’d refused to stay or tell B’Elanna anything. Kathryn’s heart did another wild stampede in her chest. She wasn’t quite sure how she felt about seeing him. She loved him still, she always would, but life had moved on and she’d become used to the idea of him not being part of her life. She had no idea why he was here but she really didn’t want that wound reopened. It had taken years to heal, and the scars had been visible for a long time. She couldn’t refuse to see him. Above all else, he had been her dear friend and she cared deeply. She cast her mind back to the time of their arrival home and his disappearance.

Those first few months after their precipitous return to the Alpha Quadrant had been a nightmare for Kathryn. Not only had she lost her best friend and one time lover, Chakotay, but also Seven, the young woman who had become like a daughter to her. The trauma of the homecoming had almost been her undoing and she remembered vividly the afternoon that had changed her life. She smiled and shook her head.

She’d been sitting on the veranda of her mother’s home in Indiana, looking out over the endless cornfields. The gold of the waving corn blurred and shimmered as unshed tears had welled in her eyes. She’d been so desperately unhappy. The debriefings had been unrelenting. She’d been stripped of her rank and placed on indeterminate medical leave. Starfleet were forcing here to attend endless counselling sessions that were doing more to exacerbate her problems than they were helping. She shook her head. How in God’s name was anyone supposed to help her? There wasn’t a soul in the world who understood what she’d been through over the past seven years. One particularly tiresome and patronising counsellor had asked her to write a list of situations and experiences that she felt had impacted negatively on her during her time in the Delta Quadrant. Just to teach this bombastic, over inflated windbag a lesson, she’d made a list. And what a list it had been – over one hundred spirit shattering and soul destroying events that she and her crew had endured during their time in the Delta Quadrant.

The next day she’d plonked it on his desk and asked him how the hell he would go about dealing with these experiences, and when he’d figured it out, to give her a call. She never heard from him again. She still had the list though, and every now and then she’d pull it out and look at it. It had become her hallmark of survival, and her personal badge of honour. She’d survived and had come out the other end a whole person and with a little help, was happy and fulfilled. She still had her regrets, but on the whole, she was content. And what more could a person ask for?

On that fateful afternoon three years ago, she’d wandered into the office, sat down in her father’s desk and pulled out the list. Depression had been dogging her and she’d decided it was time for a little perspective. She scanned the list. There they were, all neatly numbered. From being thrown 70,000 lights years from Federation space and losing a third of her crew, to the final conflagration with her future self and the Borg Queen. Those experiences and all the other events in between awakened memories and emotions that she hoped, with time, would dull and not leave her breathless as they did that day.

There was one devastating item that wasn’t on the list. Losing Chakotay to Seven of Nine. She shook her head and reminded herself that she only had herself to blame. She was the one who had ended their affair all those years ago. It had been her choice to pull back from the most intense and loving relationship, she’d ever shared. She had no right to be upset.

Tell that to her heart.

It wasn’t something on which she liked to dwell. What was done was done and unlike her future self, there was nothing she was going to do to change it.

On that warm Indiana afternoon, she’d taken the list with her to the veranda and sat contemplating it. On there was another item that leapt out at her and stabbed at her heart. It was a situation that she perhaps could have done something about at the time, but, for the good of the ship and crew, she hadn’t, and it was something that she’d regretted ever since. Almost every day she’d wondered if they were still alive, and if they’d survived on that far away planet. Her offspring. Her children.

At the time of her rescue, she’d been in no condition to make a decision regarding their future. It had taken the Doctor twenty-four hours to reverse the evolutionary process that had been triggered by the warp ten experiment and another three days in sickbay before her DNA had stabilised. Once the reality of what had happened had sunk in, they were too far from the planet to do anything about it. She knew the crew would have returned for the three young creatures, had she ordered it, but she didn’t think she had the right to ask that of them. She’d borne the guilt and anguish alone and in silence.

It had rung the death knell on her love affair with Chakotay. They’d been lovers almost from the moment they’d joined their crews, but she’d realised after this, that she couldn’t allow herself to become that close to anyone under her command. He’d made the decision to leave her offspring behind and to this day Kathryn wasn’t sure whether he’d been angry with her because he assumed she’d mated with Tom Paris or if he just hadn’t thought of the consequences. She’d loved him with all her heart, she always would, but it had confused things and cast doubts on their ability to be impartial and unbiased where one another were concerned.

Emotions could not be allowed to colour command decisions. It was one of the first rules they’d learned in command school. Her heart was too vulnerable, and after this incident, the balance would have been too difficult to maintain. He’d argued with her, apologised over and over for leaving them behind, he’d offered to go back and retrieve them, he’d begged even, but she’d been resolute. No more close relationships with her subordinates. The distance between her and crew would be maintained and from that day forward she’d become ‘the Captain’. No more games of pool on the holodeck, and no more mixing socially with the crew. Kathryn slid slowly into the background and the competent and commanding leader took the forefront and she’d sustained this mantle of command for the rest of their journey. She loved Chakotay, but couldn’t be his lover. She didn’t have the strength. She’d lost too much already.

Over the years, the sadness over the loss of her offspring had become a part of her; sometimes it drifted into the background of her life, at other times it had weighed heavily on her mind and heart, often coinciding with her bouts of depression and listlessness. There was no one she could speak to of her pain, but the guilt of abandoning them and the empty place that this left inside her, had been her constant companion over the next five and a half years.

It had come to a head during the debriefings. It was one of several incidents, including the Equinox affair and the relinquishing of transporter technology to the Hirogen that the review board had used to indict her during her court martial. In accordance with Starfleet rules and regulations, it had been a clear violation of the Prime Directive and Federation Charter. By leaving the offspring on that planet, she had blatantly interfered with the evolutionary process of that planet, she’d allowed alien DNA to be introduced into a pristine ecosystem and three immature life forms had been abandoned and left to fend for themselves. All of these things were a contravention of Starfleet’s most basic tenets. She’d been summarily stripped of her rank and drummed out of Starfleet. At the time, her sadness and renewed grief had overwhelmed her anger and although there were many who felt she’d be dealt with harshly and unfairly, she’d been beyond caring.

Chakotay had gone, Seven was with him, her Odyssey was over and her goal achieved. All she’d wanted to do was to hide somewhere and try to find what was left of Kathryn. Not an easy task when all the better parts of herself were spread across 40,000 light years in another part of the galaxy.

She’d been sitting looking out over the cornfields wondering what life had in store for her when a voice spoke to her from the porch swing.

“Kathy, Kathy, Kathy. Sitting here looking miserable. Typical. If you’d only come with me when you had the chance, none of this would have happened. Sometimes Q does know best.” He clicked his fingers and appeared in the chair next to her, then leaned in close.

She pulled away from him. “Q! What are you doing here? Could you please go somewhere else? I’m really not up to dealing with you and your nonsense today.” She got up and walked into the house.

He appeared in front of her, leaning against the stairwell banister. “Nonsense? Nonsense? Kathy, I’m here to help.”

She turned to him and gave him a scathing look. “I don’t need any help, Q. The only way you can help me is if you leave and not come back.”

“I’ll leave, but you’re coming with me. We have somewhere to visit.” He clicked his fingers and her summer clothes were replaced by a Starfleet uniform.

“Q!”

“Oh Kathy, don’t whine so much. You’ll love this, I promise.” And with that he clicked his fingers again and instantly they were standing ankle deep in mud in the middle of a jungle.

Kathryn looked around her, and screwed her nose up at the smell of fetid swamp. She tried lifting her feet out of the mud, without much success. Q noticed her predicament. “Oops.” He clicked his fingers again and she found herself on dry land.

She turned to Q. “Well, what now? And where the hell are we, Q?” She didn’t recognise this place at all.

“Just be patient, Kathy. Ahh, here they come.” There was a rustle in the bushes behind her and three amphibious creatures slithered out into the small clearing where they stood. Kathryn shot a stunned look at her companion.

“Q?” He grinned widely and snickered. He was very pleased with himself.

“Well say hello to your little ones, Kathy. They’re waiting.”

She looked down at the three creatures that resembled giant salamanders. “Q, is this really them? They’re still alive. I was sure they couldn’t have survived.” She knelt down for a closer look and then turned back to Q, her face softening. “You did this, didn’t you? You made sure they were all right. I don’t know what to say.”

Q harrumphed and waved off her thanks. “It was the least I could do. Besides, they hardly needed much looking after.”

She reached out to touch one of the life forms, but it slithered away slightly. “Shhhh. It’s all right, I won’t hurt you.” She moved forward again and this time was able to stroke down its nose. She turned and grinned at Q. He crossed his arms and looked very self-satisfied.

Her face softened. “Can I take them home with me? I’m sure if I contacted Starfleet they would make the Doctor available to re-establish their human genome. The procedure would have to be the same as the one he used on Tom and me.” She gasped and looked at Q aghast. “Tom! Oh God, what will I do about Tom and B’Elanna?” She had forgotten that half their genetic material belonged to Tom Paris. He was now happily married to B’Elanna and over the moon with their own child, Miral. How could she arrive back on Earth with their three offspring? God, what a nightmare. She would have to take them somewhere else.

Q was looking at her as if she were mad. “Tom Paris?! What has that nonentity got to do with this? Of course, you can take your children home, and don’t worry about the Doctor. Have you forgotten? I’m omnipotent; I can change them into human children with a click of my fingers.” And with that pronouncement, he clicked. There was a flash and three naked human children appeared before them. Two boys and a girl. They stood there looking very confused and a little frightened.

“Q! Oh God Q, what have you done? And for heaven’s sake they need some blankets or something.” Kathryn couldn’t take her eyes off them. Three blankets appeared and she picked them up and moved towards the children. They huddled together and stared at her with wary eyes. The taller of the two boys was closest and she moved steadily towards him and draped the blanket around him. He hugged it to himself, but kept watching her with wide curious eyes. She then placed the blankets over the shoulders of the other two children.

She stayed kneeling close to them and spoke softly. “Hello, little ones. I’m your mother.”

With that, her tears began to flow.

They were beautiful. The little girl was a miniature of her, with large blue eyes and dark auburn hair. The two boys were very similar looking and the taller of the two had the same rich dark red hair as his sister. Her other son had pitch black hair. Both boys had the darkest brown eyes she’d ever seen. No… she had seen those eyes before. She sat back on her heels and spoke softly, unable to tear her eyes away from them.

“Q?” Tears were still sliding down her face.

He whispered in her ear as he peered over her shoulder. “Yes, Kathy.”

“They’re not Tom’s, are they?” She turned towards him.

“No, Kathy, they are definitely not Mr Annoying’s. You’d been very busy with that big oaf Chuckles for quite some time before your little jaunt to infinity. You’re the scientist. It’s pretty basic biology really.”

“Why didn’t you ever tell me that they were Chakotay’s?”

“What? And have you even more miserable than you were already. I don’t think so. I’m conniving but not cruel. You had enough to deal with. Besides I was babysitting and I knew that we’d come here to collect them one day.” He waved his arms about and grinned. “And here we are.”

She turned to the being that had wreaked so much havoc in her life but had now brought her such delight. He harrumphed, but was obviously very pleased with himself.

Kathryn looked towards her children again. They were still standing there staring at her in wonder. She shuffled forward on her knees and reached out to stroke her daughter’s hair. Her daughter. The tears flowed freely. The little girl leant forward and moved her hand to touch Kathryn’s face, tracing a tear as it rolled down her cheek. “Don’t cry, Mommy. It will be all right.” Kathryn gasped and then opened her arms and the three little ones stepped into her embrace and wrapped their little arms around her. She sobbed openly and kissed them repeatedly. “My babies, my babies.”

Kathryn quieted after a few moments and pulled back a little. “You can speak?” She stroked the boys’ faces and smiled as the smaller of the two, wriggled as her fingers tickled his neck.

Her little girl spoke up. “Of course, we can talk. We’re five and a half years old. We’re not babies.”

Kathryn grinned at the indignant look on her daughter’s face. “No, you’re right. You’re definitely not babies.” She tucked the blankets around them more firmly. “Would you like to go home now? Your Grandma is waiting. There are warm beds and food. What do you think?” The two smaller children looked to the tallest boy and they all nodded in unison.

Her smaller son sidled over towards her. “Yes, Mommy, we want to go home.” His little hand slid out from under the blanket and he slipped it into hers and stood by her side waiting. The other two moved closer and she draped her arms around the three of them. All looked to Q.

Kathryn gave him a sparkling smile. “My children and I would like to go home now please, Q.”

He grinned, and with a click of his fingers, Q whisked them away from the jungle planet.

Kathryn then began her life as the mother of three five and a half year olds.

They were perfect. Q had ensured that they were all highly intelligent and had reached all the milestones commensurate for their age. Gretchen Janeway was over the moon. Her wish to be a grandmother had been fulfilled, although explaining their existence had been a little complicated. Kathryn though was truly happy for the first time in years.

They had sat down at the first opportunity and chosen names. The tallest boy had decided on Lucas Edward, his brother chose Aaron as his first name and Kathryn gave him Kolopak as his middle name. She felt it was important that they had some connection with their father and his culture. Even though he wasn’t to be a part of their lives, he was still their father and would be honoured as such. Once Aaron Kolopak knew of his name’s origins, he decided that he wished to be called Kole. They happily agreed. Her daughter chose the name Gemma Kathryn.

After dinner, beds were organised in the spare room. They’d lined mattresses up on the floor and she’d sat with her three children, stroking them gently until they drifted off to sleep. She had her family at last and had sat for a long time just watching them sleep. Eventually, she’d curled up on the end of their bed and slept within arm’s reach of them. She needed to be close to them, as much for their reassurance as for her own. She’d woken the next morning, with three little bodies snuggled around her. Her heart had wanted to burst with joy.

The first few months had been a time of getting to know one another. Lukas was very like his father in nature. A quiet and deeply thoughtful boy, although, he had a wicked sense of humour that would surface at the most unusual times. He was the leader of the three, and their protector. Kole was the trickster and the troublemaker, but he was also the one who expressed his affections most freely. He would snuggle in for a cuddle whenever he could. Many mornings Kathryn would wake to find him curled up against her in her bed. He was impossible not to love. And her Gemma. She smiled as she thought of her. She and her daughter were so alike, it was uncanny. Gemma was smart and bold, with an endless curiosity. She and Kathryn could sit for hours talking about anything and everything. Her little mind was forever moving from one puzzle to the next. Her craving for knowledge was boundless.

There had been the odd bump in the road over the last three years, but on the whole, her life as their mother had been filled with wonders and joys that she’d never imagined she would experience. She’d introduced them to Harry, Tom and B’Elanna, and they’d been so happy for her. They very quickly became the chosen Aunt and Uncles to the three young Janeways.

The ties that bound her to her children had pulled tight and strong over a very short space of time. She loved them with all her heart and they returned that love unreservedly.

The rest of the crew and Kathryn’s family accepted the youngsters without question. All were aware of whom their father was and she’d told everyone to answer the children’s questions about Chakotay as honestly as they could. When they were older she would explain the circumstances of their birth, but for now, they knew that Chakotay was their father, but that he had married someone else and left earth. They had accepted this explanation with the wisdom of children and life had gone on. They had Uncle Tom and Uncle Harry to rough and tumble with, and a few months after their arrival, Kathryn had booked them into school and they hadn’t looked back. They led happy and contented lives, full of friends and fun.

She had tried many times over the years to contact Chakotay, but he was nowhere to be found. They’d scoured the De-Militarised Zone and contacted all the ex-Maquis in case he had contacted them, but there had been no word. Not even a sighting.

Until today.

She rubbed her hand across her forehead. She knew that it had been bound to happen one day, but she’d intended to be better prepared. She just hoped that Q didn’t have a hand in this and that he would have the good sense to keep his distance. He still popped in from time to time to check on his charges. She would be eternally grateful to him for what he’d done. As much as he tried to hide it, there was a streak of great goodness in that pesky omnipotent being, and as the years had gone by, they had become quite good friends.

Kathryn dropped her empty cup in the recycler as she made her way upstairs to her bedroom. She stood in front of her mirror and checked her hair. It was long again these days and she kept it in a loose chignon. She dabbed on a bit of makeup and some lipstick. She looked at herself detachedly. She wasn’t a young woman anymore. She was just shy of fifty, but she’d fared well over the last few years. Her time in the Delta Quadrant had taken its toll, but her life here with her family, away from the harsh realities of Starfleet and the stresses of command, had softened her and lent a gentleness to her demeanour that was extremely attractive. She had many potential suitors, but she wasn’t the least bit interested. She’d loved too many times in her life and each time that love had been snatched away from her so cruelly. She was unwilling to take the risk again. It may have seemed cowardly, but she had the responsibility of three young children and she really didn’t need the complication. If she was truly honest with herself, the overriding reason was that she still loved Chakotay, and would for the rest of her life. She’d accepted the reality of not having him as a part of her life, but he still held sway in her heart.

She was jolted out of her reverie by the doorbell. She took a deep cleansing breath and trotted down the stairs to the front door.

She closed her eyes for a few seconds, found her calm centre, then opened the door.

There he was. She was stunned. He looked gutted. His eyes were hollow and emotionless. He was like a dark thin shadow of the man he had been.

“Chakotay!” He just stood there looking at her with his dark mournful eyes. “Chakotay?”

He was still staring and she wasn’t sure what to do. He looked so sad. Her heart ached to see him like this. It was the last thing she’d expected. She had to break the stalemate, so she reached out and took his hand, tugging him gently towards her and into the house. She spoke softly. “Come on, my friend. Let’s get you inside. You look like you could do with a cup of tea. I think I still have some of your blends programmed.” She spoke to him in soothing tones as she led him through her house to the kitchen. “Here we are. If you sit down here, I’ll get our drinks.”

He remained standing and as Kathryn moved away, he reached out and grabbed her hand. “Kathryn!”

She turned back with a worried frown. This was not the man she knew three years ago. He seemed almost traumatised. She wondered what had happened to him to cause this change. “What is it, Chakotay?”

She watched him take a steadying breath. His eyes were a little fevered looking and she could see tears shimmering. “Thank you.”

“It’s only a cup of tea, Chakotay.” She tried to lighten the mood. He was so sombre.

“Thank you for seeing me. I would have understood if you didn’t want to.” He took a step back and sat down. It was as if his legs couldn’t hold him up a moment longer.

Kathryn bent over slightly, holding his hand between hers. “Of course, I want to see you, my friend. I’m just sorry that it has been so long. Where have you been?”

She placed his hand on his knee and gave it a pat, then moved over to the replicator. “Tea, Chakotay blend nine and coffee, black.” She looked over her shoulder at him as she waited for the cups to materialise. “It’s so good to see you. We looked for you everywhere, you know.”

He was still watching her. It was if he couldn’t believe she was real. She walked back to him and handed him his cup. “Where have you been, Chakotay?”

He closed his eyes briefly and put his untouched tea on the table. “We went to Agevar. It’s a planet in the Typhon Expanse. We were working with a Terraforming company. They weren’t too fussy about where their workers came from. They just wanted people with expertise, and Seven certainly had that.” He looked up at Kathryn with sad eyes. “She’s dead, Kathryn. I’m so sorry.”

Kathryn frowned, the words not registering for a moment and then they hit. Oh no! Not Seven. “Oh God, Chakotay, I’m so sorry.” She put her cup on the table and stood up, turning her back to him as she looked out the window. She was overcome with grief. Seven had been so dear to her for all those years in the Delta Quadrant. Memories of the beautiful woman/child flashed through her mind. Sadness welled up inside her and she could do nothing to stop the tears. She kept her head averted and choked out a quiet. “How?”

He recited the circumstances of her death with a hollow voice. “It was a mining accident. They were tunnelling the foundations for a new biosphere when there was a rock fall. She was one of six who perished.”

Kathryn wiped her eyes and turned back to her friend. “I’m so sorry, Chakotay. You must miss her dreadfully?”

He nodded his head slowly. “Yes, I miss her. We were close friends.”

Kathryn frowned at him. “Friends? She was more than that surely. You were married.”

His head shot up at that. “Where did you get that idea?”

“The Admiral…… I just assumed. She said you married and…. Well, you left together. We all just assumed…”

He shook his head sadly. “No, Kathryn. We were never together and we didn’t leave. We… escaped – for want of a better word. Starfleet were pursuing Seven. She initially was told that she would be joining a team investigating Borg nanotechnology. But it was a ruse. She was what was to be investigated. Starfleet had put together a team to analyse and investigate Seven of Nine. She would have been subjected to God knows what sorts of experiments. Because she was Borg, she was considered a traitor and would have been treated as such. That’s why we disappeared and stayed hidden for all these years.”

She stared at him in shock. “Why didn’t you tell me? I could have helped you.”

“There wasn’t time. You were still under house arrest and there was no way to get word to you. We thought the best way to protect ourselves and the rest of the crew was to not tell anyone where we were going. At the time, it seemed like the only option. They would have killed her, Kathryn, and I was the only one who could do anything about it.” He hung his head. “I did it for you. I knew you would want me to save her, but I failed. I’m so sorry.”

She shook her head, her heart heavy. “For me? Oh God, Chakotay, if only we’d known. You didn’t fail. You saved her. Please, you’re not to blame.” Kathryn felt a deep pang of guilt. “Maybe she would have been better off if I’d left her with the Collective.” She hung her head. “She died in the Admiral’s timeline, you know. Perhaps fate played a hand as well.”

But Kathryn knew who ultimately was to blame. Starfleet! The anguished feelings of betrayal and disillusionment washed over her again. She wanted to rail and scream. They had destroyed so much. She and her crew had fought so hard to return. And to what? A cruelly vindictive and duplicitous institution that had lost sight of the good and finer things that it had once represented. To defeat the Dominion they had sold their very souls and Kathryn felt that redemption was a long way away. They had won the war but had lost themselves in the process. It had been a hollow victory.

She felt such a searing sense of loss and anger. Poor, poor Seven. Lost between worlds. Neither human nor Borg, and after all Admiral Janeway had gone through to save her, she’d been doomed anyway. She’d died just as she had in the other time line. And dearest Chakotay, trying in vain to save the young woman who had meant so much to her. Her heart ached for him. Kathryn shook her head and sobbed openly. She felt him move to stand behind her just to her left. The comforting warmth of his presence radiated around her like a familiar and well-worn cloak. He filled that empty place that he had left all those years ago and gently rested his hand on her shoulder. They both stilled for a moment as the connection sent a long forgotten but familiar jolt of electricity through both of them. Neither drew a breath for several heartbeats. Then without turning, Kathryn laid her hand over his and held on tight. She closed her eyes as all the love she had held at bay for all these years came rushing to the surface.

“Kathryn.” Her name, like a caress.

She turned slowly and looked into his eyes. All his love and longing were reflected in those deep dark pools. They held each other’s gazes for a lingering moment. Tears shimmered in both their eyes. They breathed deep slow breaths in unison as the connection re established itself in their hearts and minds. Chakotay took a deep shuddering breath, and tears spilled down Kathryn’s face. He took a small step towards her and she sobbed and threw her arms around him. They wrapped themselves around each other in a warm and loving embrace. Kathryn cried into his chest. “Oh, Chakotay, my love, I’ve missed you so much. I’m so glad you’ve come home.”

She could feel the judder of his uneven breathing and the dampness of his tears as they fell into her hair. He whispered, “I’ve missed you too, my Kathryn. So very, very much.”

As she held him, she could feel the tension slowly ebb from his body. Then he staggered.

She pulled back and looked at him worriedly. “Chakotay, are you all right?” Reaching up she wiped the tears from his face. He looked shattered.

His voice came out in a dry rasp. “I’m so tired.” His body seemed to almost crumple in on itself.

She stroked his cheek and cupped the side of his face. “Come then. It’s time for you to rest.”

She took his hand and led him out of the kitchen and up the stairs. He followed like a child as she took him into her bedroom and pulled the covers down on her bed.

She stood in front of him and undressed him. He stood unmoving as she removed her own clothes and climbed into bed. She held her hand out to him. “Come and rest, my love. You need to sleep. It’s over. You’re safe now and you can rest.” He slid into the bed beside her. She pulled him close and cradled his head on her shoulder, kissed his forehead and stroked his brow.

He turned on his side and draped his arm over her, his hand cupping her breast. Their eyes held one another’s gaze. He whispered. “Thank you.”

Kathryn shook her head gently and stroked her finger down over his temple. “Sleep, my love.” In a matter of moments his body sagged, his eyes drifted shut and he slid into a restful slumber.

She lay there with him in her arms, watching him as he slept. Her heart ached for him and what he’d endured. She thought of Seven. Destined, it seemed, to live such a brief life. Had she been left in the Collective, death would have come at the hand of the Borg Queen in Unimatrix Zero. Kathryn shed more tears as she thought of the beautiful young woman who she’d loved as a daughter and whose life had been so cruelly cut short.

Her thoughts of Seven were interrupted when Chakotay moaned and tugged her closer in his sleep. She gazed down at him again. Her dear, dear Chakotay, who had tried so hard to save the young woman who had meant so much to her. Her heart broke for all the anguish he must have endured.

She kissed his forehead and watched as he slept. He was still an extraordinarily handsome man. He’d lost weight, and the physical labour had given him a wiry, lean look. His trials had honed a sharp and angular edge to his chiselled features. His hair was now streaked with grey and much longer than it had been on Voyager. His brow was still broad and graced with the delicate ebony lines of his tattoo, and the lashes of his beautiful dark eyes rested on his bronze cheeks as he slept. She studied his nose, noble and slightly crooked, and his chin, sturdy and obdurate. Her inventory brought her wandering eyes to his lips. Those beautiful lips, full and bowed, almost feminine in their outline, but so sensuous. She bent down and placed a delicate kiss on his warm soft mouth. He muttered something that sounded like her name, snuggled closer and then slid back into slumber.

She wrapped her arms more tightly around him. The joy of having him here with her settled warmly over her soul. She watched him sleep and before long her eyes drifted shut and she too slipped into a peaceful slumber.

She awoke with a start. It took her a moment to take stock of where she was. The jolt that had woken her had been from the warm body lying beside her. Chakotay. She smiled to herself and looked up. He was awake, his eyes wide with shock. She followed his gaze.

Oh, my! The children. They were sitting in a row at the end of the bed, quietly watching. Kathryn hadn’t had a chance to speak to him about the children. Sleeping hadn’t really been on the agenda but it was too late now.

Chakotay stared and stared, his eyes darting from one to the other and back again. He shuffled up a little higher in the bed and pulled his arms from around Kathryn. He gave them a small smile and uttered a husky, “Hello.”

They looked at one another and then Kole launched himself at Chakotay. “Daddy, you came back.” His arms wrapped around his father’s neck and he giggled as he kissed his father’s face. “It scratches.”

Chakotay was in total shock. Gemma had crawled up and was sitting on Kathryn’s lap, watching him with a steady inquisitive gaze. Lucas was still sitting on the end of the bed. He had a smile on his face, and his eyes darted back and forth between his father and mother. Kathryn noticed Chakotay’s almost panicked expression and hauled Kole off him.

“Kole, off now. Children, could you wait downstairs please. We’ll be down in a moment.” Kole jumped off the bed. Lucas slid off and stood with his brother. Both were grinning madly. Gemma was still staring intently at her father. She leant forward and ran her little fingers along his tattoo. Kathryn whispered in her ear. “Off you go, madam.” Gemma gave Chakotay a shy smile and joined her brothers as all three raced out of the room and down the stairs.

Chakotay turned to Kathryn, his eyes like saucers. “Kathryn?”

She sat up holding the sheet to cover herself and placed her hand on his chest. She could feel his heart galloping against her palm. “It’s a long story, but as you may have guessed they are yours.”

He coughed out a “How?”

“Are you all right?” He was very pale. He nodded, so she continued. “Do you remember the Warp 10 attempt, the jungle planet and the lizard babies?”

He nodded again.

“Well, you know how we thought that they were Tom’s and mine? Well they weren’t. They were yours.”

His eyes moved to the doorway. “Mine?” He shook himself, and turned to her, still wide eyed. “They’re my children?” He looked at the doorway again. “Our children? Are you sure?”

She laughed at him then. “You saw them, Chakotay. The boys are like miniatures of you. I doubt you could deny them, even if you wanted to. Would you like to meet them?”

He nodded and then looked at her. “I’m still not sure how this happened?”

She looked sad for a moment. “We were still together then. Do you remember?”

A cloud passed over his eyes. “I could never forget.”

She leant forward and kissed him gently. “Neither could I.” She took a shaky breath. “We’d made love that morning, just before Tom kidnapped me, and according to the Doctor my metamorphosis into the lizard creature must have rendered my contraceptive inactive. I was pregnant before I even got to the planet.”

He was still frowning. “How did they get here?”

“You can thank me for that, Chuckles. Q to the rescue, again.” Q was perched on the top of Kathryn’s cupboard and raised an eyebrow at the pair in bed. “Helloooo, Kathy. Quick work, my dear.”

“Q! Get out of here. Go and watch the children if you want to be helpful.”

“I’d much rather stay here and watch you two.”

Kathryn growled at him. “Q!”

He pouted. “You’re no fun. Don’t be long.” He clicked his fingers and disappeared. They could hear the squeals of excitement from the children upon his arrival.

Chakotay looked at her with a puzzled frown. She shrugged. “They adore him. He’s their crazy, magical Uncle.”

“So he comes here a lot, does he?” Kathryn watched him and she could see the flush of jealous heat rise up Chakotay’s neck.

She smiled. “I owe him everything, Chakotay. He watched over our children for five years and then took me back to the planet to retrieve them. That was three years ago now.”

Chakotay looked astounded. “He took care of them?” She nodded. “Then I owe him my gratitude as well.” He shook his head. In the last few days, his life had taken a completely different road to the one he’d imagined. His exile had ended with the tragic loss of his dear friend Seven of Nine and now he was back on Earth in the arms of the woman he’d loved for close on ten years, only to find he was the father of triplets.

Kathryn stroked her fingers down the side of his face. He turned to look at her. He’d been staring blindly as the thoughts tumbled through his mind. Her brow creased in concern. “How are you feeling? Are you all right, my love? I had meant to tell you quietly. I hadn’t intended for it to be such a shock.”

He took stock for a moment. He was still shaken but in a few short hours, his hollow empty life had been filled to overflowing with love and life. He listened to the children, his children, giggling downstairs at the antics of Q. He turned to Kathryn. All of a sudden, he felt the weight of sadness and bitterness lifted from his soul a lightness of spirit overtake him. Kathryn watched as the light of love and life spilled from his eyes. She smiled lovingly at him.

“Welcome home, my love. Shall we go and introduce you to your family?”

He stared at her as a smile broke over his face. He hauled her into his arms and kissed her soundly. “I love you, Kathryn. Thank you so much.”

She held his face between her hands and pulled him to her giving him a long and lingering kiss. “You’re most welcome and I love you too.”

Kole’s voice shattered the moment as he yelled from downstairs. “Mommy! Daddy! Q says to stop that and hurry up.”

Kathryn grinned at Chakotay as she climbed out of bed and began pulling on her clothes. “Are you ready for this?”

He laughed as he dressed. “No, not really, but I’m looking forward to it. Shall we go?” He held out his arm and she tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow.

Arm in arm they descended the stairs to become a family.

fin