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Lapses of Judgment

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She'd been on the mend for nearly two days now and the restlessness was beginning to take a toll. Visitors had been frequent, of all ranks and the Doctor had hovered so persistently that sleep seemed a luxury. Her strength had returned but the soreness and aching was worse - possibly from the removal of the Borg implants, though the captain had a sneaking suspicion that the lack of sleep was a large factor. It was to the Doctor's credit, however as he constantly stood watch over her dear old friend who lay on the bed across the room. Yes, she and B'Ellanna were recuperatingbut Tuvok still hadn't regained consciousness.

"Do you really think staying here on a bio bed is going to help me recover any faster, Doctor? You have plenty to do here, all hours of the night; I'm begging you. Please release me to my quarters - I just need some rest. No visitors, no medical emergencies. Hours of uninterrupted sleep," she pleaded. The close proximity to Tuvok and B'Ellanna was comforting, but distracting. She longed to lay back in her own bed with a book and fall asleep on her own time.

"Captain, I really don't think that's wise. Your body has gone through an amazing ordeal and it will take time and rest to adj-"

"I'm not getting any rest in here!" She interrupted. Regaining her composure she more calmly said, "You can keep tabs on me, send Tom in to monitor me and I promise you that I will not exert myself and I'll call if I'm having any trouble. Please, please just let me go."

The Doctor paused to consider her argument. There certainly was a lot going on in sickbay these days. Plenty of damage was done in the wake of the latest battle with the Borg. And he did have to admit everyone was more accessible to visitors there. The captain was stubborn though, he was confident she'd be back in in less than 48 hours. On the other hand, however, the captain was stubborn...she wasn't likely to give up this argument.

"A promise first." Hands behind his back, pacing as if a kidnapper making a list of demands he began, "One, daily visits by myself or Tom to administer medicine and give you a check-up. Possibly multiple times a day. Two, stay off your feet unless you have assistance. I don't need to come running hearing that you fell and broke a bone. Three, other than browsing through reports you are not to work under any circumstances. And four, other than someone to aid your movement and bring you meals, visitors are prohibited. I hold the right as Chief of Medicine to add or remove any of these restrictions at any time with or without your approval and to demand you return to sick bay if I believe your condition warrants it. If it comes to that, I will not take no for an answer. Is that perfectly clear, Captain?"

Breathing a huge sigh of relief she nodded and thanked him. She was certain that working would be her only struggle with his list of demands. Moving was painful enough and she already felt like she'd been visited by everyone on the ship since they'd returned; well, almost everyone.

Finally comfortable leaning back in her own bed Kathryn was able to relax - no noises, no talking...no singing! Just quiet. Her thoughts began to wander to her ship, her crew - the best crew she'd ever had on any starship. Funny to think of all they'd come through in the last six years and how they had all gelled together in spit of their differences and original agendas.

For the first time in days she allowed herself to question the methods and motives of her acting captain. The last time she'd seen him he was promising his support and offering heartfelt best wishes on their mission. Six years and this was the first time she had truly not understood Chakotay. She'd expected him bedside as soon as she awoke. If she was being completely honest with herself she'd imagined him there from the moment she'd boarded, waiting by her side and grasping her hands with relief when she finally had regained consciousness. But that wasn't fair, even if he had done it once before. Their lines had been clearly drawn four years ago when they rejoined the crew. They both had a duty to their crew and nothing could get in the way of that. So why did she get the feeling that things were about to change? His distance pained her, there was no denying it. His friendship was something she always knew she could count on. In spite of the underlying affection and respect, she'd never been so comfortable and in sync with anyone. Denying herself for so long was difficult, but she'd always thought the friendship made that easier somehow.

/\

Kathryn awoke with a start and a low groan. She wasn't sure when she'd drifted off to sleep, or whether a noise or her aches had awoken her.

"Computer, time." She commanded with sleep still evident in her voice.

"Three hundred twenty-one." The familiar voice responded.

"Ugh!" She moaned and settled back to let her drowsiness over come her. The sound of the door chime brought her back to reality. An odd time for the Doctor to do a house call but perhaps some pain medicine was in order she thought, painfully rubbing her eyes awake. "Come in."

The door opened and as if spying on her dreams, her first officer slowly peered through the door. Still in his uniform and looking as though he hadn't slept in days.

"Kathr-Captain?" He corrected, hardly above a whisper and just audibly. He took a few more steps in and allowed the doors to close behind him.

In a split second decision upon realizing her guest, she adjusted her position in bed and then grimaced in pain. It was so easy to forget her condition. He took a couple hurried steps closer, noticing her distress. "Are you okay?" He asked smoothly, moving into the light. She watched as his features became visible and felt comfort at the reassuring sincerity of his eyes. What in the world could he be doing there at that hour she wondered to herself as she moved slower this time.

"I'm fine. What's wrong?" There obviously was a pressing matter he had to discuss with her. Perhaps more Borg had tracked them down or maybe Tuvok...

He quietly allayed her fears, pulling a chair to her bedside and slowly taking a seat. He was able to see her move more clearly now. No one would believe some hours earlier she was a Borg drone, she looked just as beautiful as before the away mission. He took a second to catch his breath and settle himself.

"I know you're Captain now and all but I kind of expected to see you days ago," she playfully responded, allowing her own sarcasm to rebuild the wall between them.

A slight dimpled smile crept across his face...this was familiar. "You know you leave some pretty big shoes to fill. How are you feeling?"

"Like I got hit by an asteroid field. A couple of times." She smiled, it was so easy with him. There was a pause, she looked at him - studied his face while he nervously glanced around. "What are you doing here this late?" She hadn't meant to be so blunt, but she couldn't take it back. His nervousness seemed to elevate a little as he forced himself to meet her gaze.

"I had to see you-" his voice trailed off and Kathryn felt it coming. Something about this mission had changed something. He was different somehow. He seemed almost sad, but thoughtful. "I'm sorry I didn't come to see you sooner. I've-uh, this hasn't been easy." He reached up and rubbed his neck-a futile attempt to push away the stress and exhaustion the last couple days had brought on him. The captain had been on plenty of away missions, been in danger in many different ways in the past six years but something about being in command of her rescue attempt-literally snatching her from the throws of the Borg Queen at the last minute had taken it's toll. "It's not that I doubted you, but I really thought we were going to lose you. Maybe I doubted myself, wished I hadn't let you go." As soon as the word left his mouth he regretted it and her response reminded him why.

"Let me? You know as well as I do no force on this ship-no force in this quadrant could have changed my mind." She forced his eyes to pierce her own. "We did it, Chakotay. Don't you see? As we sit here thousands of drones are free, a resistance that no one ever would have thought possible is taking place in every quadrant of the galaxy. It was a calculated risk," she bowed her head. "And plenty of lives were lost but think of the lives that we have saved." He took some solace in her statement and instinctively left his chair to sit at her side. He laid a very cautious hand on her own.

"You were remarkable." The dimples began to return, threatening her sense of reason. At the sight of it, though she shouldn't have, she laid her other hand over his and squeezed gently. Their eyes met and he took both of her hands in his, a quiet sigh escaping his lips. "I don't know what I would have done without you."

Before she could protest he'd pulled her right hand to his face, breathing her in and kissing her palm. He couldn't seem to help himself. What man could stand such close proximity to and control for so long from the woman he loved? Her sense of duty and restraint was commendable, but he had willingly and purposefully left this woman in harms way to accomplish a mission. He wasn't sure he would ever be able to make her understand.

His warm lips on her hand released a barely noticeable sigh. She could feel the lines fading fast, but half of her didn't care. It was three in the morning, over half of the crew was fast asleep-who would ever know? The offering of this excuse began to bury her resolve as his hands clasped tighter and the soft kisses grew more frequent. 'I'm the captain,' something in the back of her mind betrayed her. Sure they could indulge today but how would that leave tomorrow? There was no doubt that she wanted him, needed to be close but it would only, could only be for a night. That was unacceptable to her and she was dragged back to the moment.

"Chakotay." Her voice was gentle but stern as she took her hands back to her lap. "You know we can't do this." He stood abruptly and began pacing the room.

"Four years, Kathryn. It's been four years since I've been able to even hold you. We could be stuck here for the rest of our lives! Is that how long I'll have to wait?"

"If you think you're the only one waiting then you're blind. You know this hasn't been easy on me either."

"Then what's the problem? Starfleet? I don't see any of them out here!"

"I am Starfleet. I don't have the luxury of throwing my integrity out the airlock to spite my crew. When I cave, so does my command and my example. You know how hard this has been on me-stuck out here. The unfailing leader for everyone on this ship-never faltering. It's exhausting, stressful and never ending, but it's my duty. I can't break protocol just because I want more than anything to abandon ship with you. We have a responsibility and I can't ignore that."

"I wish they would have just left us on that damn planet!" He was hurt, that was obvious. They shared one last indulgent glance and he heaved a sigh. "I shouldn't have come." He turned and headed for the door. "I'm sorry," he offered as he headed out the door.

There she sat, alone on her bed, miniscule tears beginning to form in the corners of her eyes. He had no idea how often she'd wished that herself. How many times she'd gone to sleep just so they could be back there. In their own little house, their own little world where the feelings that had been building could finally find an outlet. Free from the pressures of a command structure and being the steadfast examples for more than a hundred people who looked to the two of them to lead.

Some days she felt like they'd been cheated. It seemed as soon as she'd finally accepted her fate and begun to let her guard down-almost as soon as they'd found each other, they were whisked back to real life. That transition had been easier than she anticipated, there was so much to keep them both busy and they had only just begun the journey home. How could she blame him for being so impatient?

Six years in close quarters, six years using their friendship and titles as a buffer keeping them at a distance. How many more years would they have to wait? From somewhere deep inside reason began to return. 'As long as it takes,' she resolved as sleep began to overtake her.

/\

"Janeway to Chakotay." The unexpectant sound of her voice startled him. He had been lost in thought, in regret, mulling over the events of their previous conversation. What a fool he'd been-what had he been thinking last night? There was so much pressure on both of them, how had he faltered and made it worse? They couldn't afford his weakness.

After clearing his throat and finding his voice he tapped the comm badge. "Yes, Captain?"

"Can I see you in my quarters, please?" She sounded much better than she did the night before, strength returning to her voice. But her request had him baffled. How could there possibly be more to say? He almost felt he needed to crawl back on his hands and knees begging her to forgive him and forget he'd ever shown up at all. He'd do better today, felt a little more in control.

"On my way, Captain," he responded giving his badge a tap and rising from her seat on the bridge. "Paris, you have the bridge." He ignored the "Aye, sir" as he headed for the turbo lift and gave the computer his destination. Though curiosity filled his mind he was determined to maintain composure and follow her lead. Tension was most likely going to be a part of their interactions unless they found some common ground. Arriving at her door he took a deep breath and hit the pad.

"Come in."

He walked through the doors and was greeted by a smile across the room on the sofa. She was reclining on the arm, a book in hand and a blanket draped over her. For a second he wondered if she even had any memory of the night before-she was so calm and peaceful. All evidence of sleep and her discomfort was gone, if he hadn't known any better he'd have thought she was completely recovered. Her serene expression helped to put him at ease, "How are you feeling today?"

"Well rested, less sore and much more clear-headed." Before she could continue he took a few steps closer and began a speech she imagined he'd rehearsed on the way there.

"Captain, I wanted to apologize for my attitude last night. For overstepping my bounds and for visiting you at such an inappropriate time. I just wanted to ensure you that it won't happen again."

With a sly smile she responded, "At ease, Soldier." A familiar smile crept across her face and she gestured for him to sit. Cautiously, he took a seat at the opposite end of the couch.

"Do you really think tense civility is going to get us home? A captain and her first officer who can barely be in the same room together without making everyone else in the room uncomfortable? That would fracture all that we've built on this ship."

"What do you want from me, Kathryn?" He hadn't meant it to sound so helpless, but perhaps the truth was in the delivery. She sensed it and turned to face him, pulling her legs under her.

"We've been together on this ship for six years. Who's to say how much longer we have before we make it home. We both know how we feel-momentary lapses in judgment are bound to happen, Chakotay." She could faintly make out a dimple appearing on his cheek.

"A momentary lapse of judgment?" He asked with a chuckle. "Is that what that was?"

"Yes." She offered a kind smile. "I'd have to say so. We can't spend the rest of this journey unable to be anything more than civil to one another, but we also can't continue to give in to our feelings. I need you, Chakotay. You have been so much more than a first officer. You are my closest friend. You keep me grounded, you give me strength...you keep me sane! If we are ever going to make it home, I need my friend. Please tell me we haven't lost that." He let his head fall a little, she was right. All the love in the world wouldn't make this trip any easier for anyone but themselves and fighting about it wasn't a solution either. This time when he extended his hand to her he had no ulterior motive and she took it and gave it a squeeze.

"Never. You'll never lose me."

"Thank you," she replied quietly. She had faith in that moment they were going to make it. Maybe never in the way they both longed for - but enough to keep their hope strong. He began to pull his hand away but she held on tightly. He glanced up at her, puzzled and their eyes met. She shifted slowly in her seat, gently moving her face closer to his. The closer they got the more the anticipation built and they sat for what seemed an eternity-their lips only inches apart. She laid her other hand softly on his cheek and finally bridged the gap. Their lips met, tenderly, passionately but controlled. She dropped her hand to his chest giving him a tiny nudge as if needing his assistance to pull herself away. Their lips parted and they sat for a minute, or a lifetime, heads resting together. Three words echoing in each of their minds-waiting to escape, but it wasn't necessary. The silence, the chemistry, their touch-they both knew.

He dazzled a smile and asked, "A momentary lapse of judgment?"

She leaned back, lightly clearing her throat and gave him a half of a nod, "Absolutely." She had feared they'd return to tension and that she'd hurt him but one look at those comforting eyes and she was reassured, their future was in tact.

Chapter Text

The sadness at losing her older self stayed with Kathryn the rest of that day. In all the briefings and communiqués with Starfleet Headquarters. But they were home, or close to it. Admiral Paris had offered a stop at DS9 or another station to take some much needed rest but she'd assured him they weren't stopping until they hit Earth.

The cheers and celebration were no doubt carrying well into the night and for the first time she had a chance to sit back and take it all in. Earth, in less than two days; it still didn't seem real. She turned to look out the windows of her ready room. The Persephone flanking them off their starboard hull was the most welcome sights she'd seen in years. Their escort home.

"Captains personal log, star date 54973.4. In less than two days Voyager will set down at dry-dock. For the first time in seven years. I'm still having trouble wrapping my mind around that. I do need to share that although I don't approve of Admiral Janeway's methods, this crew owes the rest of their lives to her. It was an honor to meet her and serve with her.

"Thinking back on this journey I'm filled with pride at the family we've developed here. Family…" she chuckled. "We welcomed our final addition to the crew today. Miral Paris arrived only moments after we entered the Alpha Quadrant. She's beautiful and the perfect way to end our experience and I believe she's a reminder to all of us that we all have a future, a world of opportunities are open now, to all of us…" An unintentional pause, a random passing thought. An idea formulated in her mind and her heart began to race. "Computer end log." She nervously sat back in her chair. Her mind was racing. There were so many doors opened she hadn't stopped to realize the one she'd been suppressing for years. What would this mean? She didn't feel like waiting a couple days to find out. "Computer, locate Commander Chakotay." She felt a lump rise in her throat as she said his name.

"Commander Chakotay is in his quarters." That was all it took, and with a deep breath she headed for the turbo lift.

"Deck 3." She commanded. Somewhere deep inside she knew she was still in command for the next forty-eight hours, but they were so close. She exited the turbo lift and made her way to his quarters, pondering her reception.

"Come in," she heard from inside and she took one final deep breath and walked through the open doors.

Chakotay had been lying back on his couch letting his mind wander over the events of the day but as soon as she walked in his train of thought derailed. He quickly stood up, "Kathryn." She slowly made her way closer to him and she wondered if he could hear her heart pounding in her chest.

"Am I interrupting?" She stopped a couple feet away from him.

"Not at all. Just thinking—it was quite a day, huh?"

"It sure was. Does it seem real yet?"

"No, not yet," he smiled and the dimples only made her heart rate increase. With hands wringing behind her back she took another few small steps toward him, stopping once she was inches away.

"You and I have worked so long to stay just far enough away from each other," she began. She paused, studying his face—the deep tan of his skin, his stern and defined jaw, the tribute to his father—his people on his forehead. She could almost feel his breath on her cheek, the heat and chemistry between them threatening to overtake them both. "I know it hasn't been easy on either of us and this is exactly why. And I need you to know that you have made the last seven years worth every minute. So many times I doubted my decision to destroy that array but I would never dream of changing that. I have enjoyed every moment spent with you—even when we were at each others throats." They both broke into grins and Chakotay, barely able to contain himself began to question where she was headed. Meanwhile her mind was swimming. "Sometimes I felt awful for making you wait and I asked myself if we were stuck there for thirty more years if you would have continued to wait…" This was enough; he was done—couldn't stay silent any longer.

He moved an inch, hands on her face and stared intently into her eyes. "You never made me wait—I chose to wait and I'll continue for as long as it takes." He took a hand and brushed back her auburn hair. He knew they only had to hold off for two more days, so with that thought in mind he began to pull back. Sensing his retreat she lightly brought her hands to his, holding them firmly in place. His eyes widened for a second, he searched her expression for any sign of resistance, but her eyes were piercing right to his soul.

Before she could finish his name his lips had found hers. A hand still on her cheek, the other dropped down to her waist pulling her closer. He hadn't kissed her like that in five years, but it was as if it was only yesterday. When his kisses found their way to her neck, he paused.

"Kathryn, if you want to wait two days until we dock, you had better tell me now," he whispered breathing in her scent, his emotions running wild. As if an answer to his deepest prayers she kissed him again, reaching up for his uniform.

"I don't plan on waiting two minutes." As she dropped his jacket to the floor he crushed his lips against hers and lifted her into his arms, heading for the bed, like they'd never lost any time at all.

/\

She awoke the next morning with a girlish sigh and a radiant smile. She could feel his fingers tenderly caressing her back; she'd thought the whole thing was just another dream. Opening her eyes she wished to herself that she'd never have to wake up apart from him again.

"Good morning," apparently her smile was infectious—or maybe that was his. He leaned over, kissing her and pulling her up to rest her head on his shoulder.

"Mmm," was all she could muster as she began tracing her fingers over his bare chest. "What time is it?"

"Still early, don't worry."

"Good," she gave a laugh. "What quadrant are we in?" She knew the answer but just felt she needed to check. He hugged her tight.

"The Alpha Quadrant."

"Just making sure." She nuzzled her head into his chest as he placed a kiss on her forehead. She was having a hard time believing that she was actually lying there in his arms. Seven years of self-denial sure made surrendering easy—Kathryn wished she'd been able to give in sooner. "I really should get back to my quarters and get ready. We've got a long day ahead of us. Reports to file, briefings…" her voice began to trail off.

"And just how do you intend to get back to your quarters, the door?" He looked satisfied with himself at his facetiousness. "I can hear the rumors now: 'Captain seen scurrying from her first officers quarters early in the morning, clothes in disarray, hair disheveled.'" She playfully smacked his arm.

"Come now, Chakotay." She waived her hand with a flourish, "I'm the captain of a starship. You don't think I can manage a site-to-site transport?"

"Oh, I'm sure you can manage it. Just hope all eyes are busy on the bridge." She sat up, the sheets draping her figure and he bounded to his feet pulling on some clothes. "What's say you go and get dressed, we'll check-in on the bridge and then meet up in the mess hall at oh-nine hundred for some breakfast. I think I'm going to need some sustenance after last night." There was such a relaxation between them now. It was the same playful relationship as before but they both felt more free somehow. She reluctantly stood and gathered her clothes, running a hand through her hair.

"I'd say you've got yourself a date, Commander." How many times had she called him that as a reminder to herself, to them both. On this morning, it felt like their own personal inside joke. She hastily dressed and interfaced with the computer her directions for transport.

"Hey," he came toward her taking her by the waist and granting her a passionate farewell. Then with the utmost seriousness he stared into her eyes. "I love you, Kathryn." She ran a hand along his jaw.

"I know," she kissed him once more. "I love you, too." She wasn't sure anything could keep her from beaming. "Computer, energize," she said once he'd stepped away. One more day and there would be nothing to hide, from anyone.

/\

"Captain on the bridge." Harry announced as she made her way out of the turbo lift. He rose from the captain's chair to stand at attention.

"Thank you, Ensign. Quiet night I presume?"

"Yes ma'am. For a change."

"I'll be in my ready room." She crossed the bridge briskly, hoping no one could notice her beaming. Once inside she hadn't a minute to herself before someone was at the door. "Yes?" Harry entered, looking very professional and a bit anxious. "Harry?" He began to pace the room.

"Captain, this may not be my place but I feel I should tell you that forty-five minutes ago the sensors picked up an unauthorized site-to-site transport. I was the only one on the bridge to notice and I plan to keep it that way, unless you'd like me to delete it from the sensor logs." Noticing the hint of a blush filling his cheeks she couldn't help but stifle a laugh.

"Harry, have I ever asked you to falsify records?"

"Well no, Captain, but—"

"Then I'm not about to start now," she assured him, leaning over her desk attempting to suppress her mild embarrassment. Harry returned her smile and felt grateful for her candor. "Thank you, Harry. I'll relieve you in a minute." She gestured toward the door.

"Yes, Captain." He began his way back to his post but paused. "Captain, may I speak freely for a moment?" She was wary, but curious so she nodded. A sneaky expression filled his entire face, "With all due respect, it's about time," he joked slipping out of her office just in time to hear the Padd she'd playfully tossed at him hit the closing doors.

Chapter Text

Ten minutes later she sat in her seat on the bridge, tapping through a security update when the doors to the turbo lift glided open.

"Good morning, everyone" came the sound of her first officer making his way to his seat at her side. As he passed her he looked straight ahead and if knowing something no one else did said, "Good morning, Captain."

"You're late, Commander," she threw at him—a look of intrigue spreading.

Chakotay took his seat and leaned over toward her, his eyebrows arched. "Sorry, Captain. Long night." From somewhere behind them came a stifled almost snort and Kathryn rolled her eyes. "You okay, Harry?" Chakotay asked none the wiser.

Kathryn glared over at him, "You do seem tired Harry, perhaps you should go get some rest. After all, you are off duty." He nodded a little and headed out the side door with a "Yes, ma'am." Chakotay sent her a quizzical glance then began to shake his head.

"Transport?" He asked quietly.

Raising her eyebrows with a smirk she replied, "Nothing gets passed our Mr. Kim." Their eyes met for a moment and then smiled in spite of themselves, satisfied.

"Captain I'm receiving a priority transmission for you from Starfleet," Tuvok said as a beeping filled the bridge. Nodding, she stood up.

"In my ready room, Lieutenant," she replied excusing herself to her office and taking a seat behind her desk. A few taps of the monitor and Admiral Paris appeared on her screen. "Admiral?"

"Good morning, Captain. At approximately oh-three hundred this morning an unknown shuttlecraft emerged from the Gamma Quadrant near Deep Space 9. The craft was badly damaged—only one life sign aboard. After much precaution the badly injured passenger was transported to sick bay where Dr. Bashir stabilized him." The captain was very confused. Did he expect them to make a detour? Another mission—she certainly hoped not.

"I'm sorry, Admiral, what does this have to do with Voyager?"

"Once he transported to the station, before he lost consciousness he was able to speak one word and one word only." She felt like he was delaying on purpose, as though he was about to deliver some revelation. She'd never known Owen to be so melodramatic

"Yes?" She asked impatiently wishing he would just get to the point.

"He said, 'Annika'." All the pieces clicking together in her brain caused her to gasp and sit back in her seat, a hand over her mouth.

"Axum."

"While Julian is a highly capable physician I had our Borg friend put on a medical shuttle, they should intercept you in the next six hours. I trust your EMH will know how best to proceed in removal of his implants and his care. He's taken quite a beating, it's a wonder he made it this far, but he should make a full recovery." She'd been lost in thought but forced herself to nod in agreement. "We'll have a biobed waiting for him at Starfleet Medical once you've arrived. No doubt it'll be a little while before we're able to debrief him. I'll be transmitting agendas for the crew for your arrival within the next hour. We'll see you soon, Captain."

"Thank you, Admiral. I look forward to it." She ended the transmission and thought how best to inform Seven, certain she'd lost hope months ago. She left her office for the bridge, stopping to ensure her first officer that their breakfast would continue as planned and headed for the astrometrics lab.

/\

When she arrived, Seven was at her customary position at the computer panel while images flew by on the screen. The captain recognized some of the pictures on the imager to be sights from Earth and its history. Seven jumped a little when she heard someone approaching and with a skillful flick of her wrist the screen went blank.

"Captain?" She asked once she'd observed her visitor, her face almost flushing with a confused embarrassment.

"Brushing up on your new home?"

"Yes, Captain. I wish to learn more about the city my aunt lives in as I believe I will be staying with her for a while once Starfleet has released me." The former drone fidgeted a little, she was anything but comfortable with this topic of conversation. "Did you need something?"

Kathryn put her hands behind her back. She'd considered being blunt, but in an attempt to allow her friend the feeling of anticipation had opted for a different route. "Yes. Please run a scan of the space station Deep Space Nine. Early this morning a damaged shuttle with a single passenger emerged from its wormhole," she began as DS9 appeared localized on the screen. "The passenger aboard was injured, beamed to the station and stabilized. He'd had quite a journey—originating in the beta quadrant though a system of remaining transwarp conduits." When she paused, searching her friends face she was sure she'd sparked some intrigue.

"Captain—"

"Please scan all vessels on an intercept course from the space station to our current position and scan for life signs."

With a slow exhale Seven reported, "A medical transport will intercept at approximately 1300 hours. There are seven life signs aboard, all humanoid. Three human, two Vulcan, one Bajoran and—" her breath caught in the back of her throat and betraying her confidence, blood began rushing to her cheeks. "One Borg." Her head spun around, her eyes searching Kathryn's expression. A tender smile, an understanding nod. "He is damaged." She floundered for a second. "Will he be alright?"

"Admiral Paris is confident he will make a full recovery once the Doctor is able to remove his implants and treat his injuries." She took a few steps closer to Seven and laid a friendly hand on her arm. "Are you doing okay?" She'd never seen her looking quite so flustered, it was a nice change.

In a single, almost panting breath Seven responded, "I never thought I'd see him again." The sudden, brutally honest response warmed Kathryn's heart and reminded her just how far Seven had come. Deciding she'd let the news process, she patted her arm and turned to leave. "Captain, a Borg drone arriving alone in the Alpha Quadrant, although highly unlikely should warrant concern instead of compassion. How did they know to contact you? How had they known it was Axum?" Kathryn faced her and flashed a brilliant smile full of a misty-eyed tenderness and Seven felt her heart race in anticipation.

Their eyes level with each other the captain softly replied before she left, "Your name, Annika, was the only thing he was able to say." And with that she retreated, leaving the girl to experience all the emotions that were emanating from every facet of her being.

Chapter Text

Chakotay sat alone at a table in a corner of the mess hall waiting for Kathryn to arrive, but his mind was years away—back in the Delta Quadrant. Back on New Earth. Back to a promise he'd made himself almost five years ago.

He remembered the feel of her fingers intertwined with his and the gentle tears streaming down her face, finally allowing the barriers to fall.

"Is that really an ancient legend?" She'd asked him, that all-knowing smile on her face.

"No, but that made it easier to say." He would have said more, but that was the first time she'd ever allowed him to be open—he wasn't about to rush it.

He leaned over, softly wiping a tear from her face with his free hand, never wanting to let her go with the other. He brought her hand to his lips. "You can define parameters if you need to, but I don't really think that's necessary. Not anymore."

"Chakotay, you have to know that this is difficult for me." Her thoughts were scattered from her rank to Mark, to her hope of returning to Voyager but also to the energy that was coursing through her hand in his. Giving in to all she felt for him meant giving all that up.

"I know it is, Kathryn. But the way I look at it, we've got all the time in the world. It's just you and me now. Please be honest with yourself. With me."

"How can I let go of hope that we'll leave here someday? Hope of ever seeing Earth again."

"I don't see it that way." He readjusted his seat and took both of her hands in his. "I see it as looking forward to what we have—or could have. A life, quiet and peaceful. You know I'd do anything to make you happy."

"I know," she said gratefully. He did have a point, what if this was their life now. He'd already given her so much, even before they were stranded there. "But what makes you happy, Chakotay?" She was terrified of his answer, and rightly so.

"You." They stared at each other for a minute as he tried finding the right words and she fought a war inside her head. "I want to build a life with you, Kathryn. Here or anywhere. I always have. I want to build that log cabin for us. I want to explore this world with you. I want us to finally have the freedom to be together, unconstrained and start a family someday." He heard her gasp—one step too far, but he didn't regret it.

"Children?" Suddenly the war reached a deafening volume and she could hardly think. She'd resigned the idea of being a mother shortly after the destruction of the array, but that fire was one she'd never been able to extinguish. The idea that she would still have that option was threatening every ounce of hope for being saved that she clung to. She pulled her hands away and rubbed her head which was aching from her internal battle.

He wanted to press on but he knew if he was ever going to make this work she had to come to it on her own time. "I'm sorry. It's not my intention to push you." He assured her.

She stood and he mirrored the action. "I-I need to rest. To think." She stepped back and turned toward her bed as he slowly moved to intercept. He laid a very cautious hand on her face and smiled slightly when he saw the pleasant shiver it sent through her body.

"Ok. Just please promise me that you'll consider it." He stared into her eyes, he was fully aware of all the doubts and hopes and wishes she was clinging to. He brought his face closer to hers and she feared, yet longed for their lips finally meeting. Instead, he bent down and rested his forehead on hers, for just a moment. "Good night, Kathryn." She could feel the heat from his breath; it was twisting her stomach into knots, rendering her speechless. And before she'd been able to remind herself to exhale he was gone, safely behind the partition in his own bed and the house had gone dark. She all but stumbled back into her own bed, finally willing herself to blink in what had to be minutes.

Sleep wasn't coming easily. She couldn't ignore what she missed—her friends, her family, her career. She'd given so much up when they got stranded in this quadrant, she wasn't sure she'd ever lose hope of seeing it all again. But then a life lived without hope is hardly any life at all.

She'd always hoped to start a family, in spite of her choice of profession. If she hadn't left Earth she knew she and Mark would have one by now. But realistically, even if they did find some way off the planet and back to the Alpha Quadrant, by then it would likely be too late for them.

Back on Voyager she'd seldom allow herself to think of Chakotay in that way—let alone starting a life with him. She wasn't prone to idle fantasies, but that didn't mean the idea had never crossed her mind. She'd imagined that in another life—without Starfleet and the Maquis, even without Mark and Voyager they could have had a wonderful life.

'Kathryn, you're here. There is no Starfleet, no Maquis and there is no Mark. Not anymore,' a tiny part of her heart reminded her. Her eyes flew open at this revelation before her head began to betray itself too. 'How can you ever have a future when you spend your present living in the past?' She sat up in the bed slowly, a million ideas swirling around inside. He'd been right all along. Chakotay had been trying to help her see that, for weeks. She stood, resolutely and slowly walked the length of the shelter until she found herself sitting on his bed, facing away from him.

He felt her next to him and turned his head to look at her, though she couldn't seem to look at him. "Kathryn?" He slowly sat up and she brought herself to meet his gaze.

"Grace." She said softly and he swore he saw her entire face light up. He looked puzzled, so she took a deep breath and allowed herself to continue. "For a girl. I always liked the name Grace."

His heart leapt. Could this be? He'd been lying there searching for the best way to make a smooth recovery and keep their friendship intact and here she was—ready. His joy was written all over his face as he laid a firm hand against her cheek, bracing himself for the moment he'd been awaiting for nearly two years. He pulled her to him and met her lips with a spark of passion that could have stopped both their hearts. It took a second for him to notice that she was kissing him back, her arms finding their way around his neck. He deepened the kiss and his insides went wild as she, without parting, separated the covers and lay right next to him.

"Chakotay?" She asked when he suddenly stopped and propped himself up on his elbow, looking down at her. His hand brushing back her hair.

"Grace sounds perfect." She smiled at his approval and guided his lips right back to hers. His hand, which had started on her face, was now slowly, methodically making its way down her side toward the strings to her nightgown. As soon as his gentle warm hand was on her skin they both felt all the walls came crashing down.

"Chakotay." The Captains voice brought him back to reality at warp speed. He shook his head slightly, refocusing his eyes. She was sitting right across from him at the table.

"Captain." He didn't really feel the title was necessary at the time, but it was more a personal reminder to his surroundings. "I thought you were going to stand me up." Her face was glowing and he wasn't sure he could take all the credit.

"Axum. He'll be aboard in about four hours."

"Wow. Well, I'm sure that story is enough to make every man on this ship work a little harder." Only a few of the senior staff who knew Seven well knew the true nature of her relationship with their ally from Unimatrix Zero, let alone what he must have done to make his way to her. "Impressive."

"Agreed," she grinned. "Where were you just now?" When she'd first come into the mess hall he'd looked like he was in a trance.

A sly smile crept along his lips, "A long way from here. But I promised you breakfast."

"Yes, you did. What's on the menu today?"

"Well, since replicator rations are officially a thing of the past I can get you just about anything your heart desires. That is unless you'd like Chell's special of the day… Okaran Eggs Benedict—Arnold," he finished shaking his head and she let loose a hearty laugh.

"I think we can manage to tempt the culinary fates one last time while we're here," she said as he rose to go get their plates, grabbing his arm before he walked away she reminded, "Just so long as you remember the coffee."

"Oh, I wouldn't dream of it. I'd like to return to Earth in one piece," he admitted not willing to imagine a world that would deprive Captain Kathryn Janeway of her coffee.

He returned with a try and with wrinkled noses they began their breakfast.

"Mmm," Kathryn mumbled, chewing slowly. He looked at her, warily having not taken his first bite yet.

"Mmm good?" He asked and her response was a very rapid head shake as she reached for her coffee to help her swallow it down.

"Mmm interesting," she told him once she'd successfully downed her first bite. He now sat staring at the huge bite on his fork, trying to decide if he should go through with it or not. "It's not awful," she reassured him. "But it's nothing like my mother's Eggs Benedict. We'll have to make plans to go and redeem ourselves once we get home." At the same time they looked up at the other. This was the first time either of them had mentioned anything about future plans.

"You're going to take me home to meet your mother?" His expression mischievous, his dimpled grin unmistakable.

"The thought had crossed my mind," she replied coyly, braving another bite of her eggs.

He reached over and took her hand. "I'd be honored." Their air of flirtation was cut short by a sound at the next table. Ensign Kim had set his tray down with a clamor, breaking their gaze and concentration.

"You know," he started in a hushed voice. "If you're trying to be discreet you might not want to do that here." He informed them, beginning to devour his stack of replicated pancakes.

"Captain, I've been wondering. What exactly is Starfleet's punishment for eavesdropping and harassing members of the command team?" Chakotay asked in a light but serious tone.

"They take it very seriously, Commander." She shook her head gravely. "One week in the brig, at least." As she finished she turned to give Harry a menacing look. Though he knew they were kidding he still shifted nervously in his seat. "I thought you were headed to your quarters, Ensign?"

"Can't sleep on an empty stomach, Captain." And with that he turned his attention back to his plate as Seven approached with her own.

"May I join you, Ensign?" She asked and he nodded, unable to speak with a mouth full of food. She sat, a polite nod directed at the pair at the next table.

"How are you, Seven?" The captain wondered.

"I'm fine, Captain. Just experiencing a little apprehension. The removal of my fail-safe device has made this much more emotional than I would have expected." She seemed uneasy as she admitted this to her crewmates.

"But isn't that the point?" Harry interjected.

"Yes, I suppose it is. Though still it remains unsettling." Kathryn leaned over and rubbed her forearm.

"It'll get easier, you're doing wonderfully."

"You should bring him to the party tonight," said Harry. A statement that drew curious glances from captain and commander.

"Thank you, Harry. But I believe he will likely spend his time on Voyager in sick bay until we have arrived in San Francisco.

"Party?" Chakotay asked, looking at Kathryn. "Did you hear anything about a party?"

Shaking her head and then looking at Harry she replied, "I guess we weren't invited, Commander."

"No, no. Of course you're invited. Everyone is." Harry assured them. "Some of us just thought we'd like to have one last get together—just the crew before we get home and aren't able to see each other every day. It's a black-tie cocktail party at 20:00 hours here in the mess hall."

"I think that's a fantastic idea! Kathryn exclaimed.

"Absolutely," chimed in Chakotay. He glanced over at his captain. "Would you do me the honor of accompanying me this evening, Captain?" He tried to sound as formal and professional as he could—asking for a date.

Meanwhile Kathryn was working hard to keep her excitement in check. "I'd be delighted, Commander." Instead of losing herself in his eyes she broke their gaze and turned to Seven. "I know Axum won't be able to make it, but you really should attend. I think you'd enjoy yourself and I'm sure everyone else would appreciate seeing you."

"But Captain—"

"No buts. Don't make me order you because I will if it comes to that. Why don't you talk to the Doctor and work on an outfit for yourself, let your hair down." She gave the girl a reassuring smile. "It'll be a nice distraction."

"Yes, sir," she unwillingly complied.

Shortly thereafter, once they had forced down the last of their breakfast Chakotay gathered their plates and recycled them then refreshed the captain's coffee. They headed out into the corridor and stopped a few feet from the doors.

"So what's on your agenda today," he wondered, standing just an inch too close to her.

"Agendas, actually. Admiral Paris sent our orders for the next couple days. Events, debriefings, temporary quarters assignments—that sort of thing. What about you?"

"I have a couple reports of my own to collect. Right now I need to head to Engineering and get Vorik's update on the repairs down there." He glanced around making sure no one was near, then took her hand and quickly but intimately kissed her, right below her ear. "I'll see you on the bridge then," dimples returning as he turned the other direction and slowly let go of her hand.

"Yes you will," she replied, her face beginning to flush as her stomach did somersaults. She wandered toward the turbo lift oblivious of a crewman who had ducked quickly down a hallway, hoping to remain out of sight.

Tom let out a sigh of relief when she was no longer in view. His eyes were wide in disbelief as he high-tailed it into the mess hall and to where Harry and Seven were seated. Slightly out of breath he dropped down into an empty chair and placed both of his hands on the table.

"You are not going to believe what I just saw in the corridor," he exclaimed. Harry glanced at him suspiciously and then his eyebrows instinctively rose as he put the pieces together.

"Seven, would you excuse us for a moment?" He wondered as he started to his feet.

"Don't worry, Ensign. I must return to the astrometrics lab—you two may stay and I will see you both this evening." She dropped her tray at the replicator and was gone before Tom could figure out what was going on.

"Harry trust me, you wanna hear this," Tom promised. "I was headed in to get some food when I came around a corner and saw Chakotay—"

"Shh!" Harry scolded. "Keep it down-what do you want the whole ship to know their business?" Tom looked perplexed, did Harry know? But how?

He agreed, however and continued at a whisper. "He was kissing the Captain's neck and they were holding hands. Don't you see what this means?" Tom asked incredulously.

"Yeah, it means you're out of the betting pool," Harry retorted with a smirk, but Tom was still confused.

"How on Earth could you possibly have known?"

"I'm not at liberty to divulge that information, sorry," he said sheepishly.

"You know I am your superior, Ensign. I could order you to talk."

"Nice try, Lieutenant but you'd have to take that up with the Captain herself. But I'll tell you what I told her; it's about time." With that, they both nodded in agreement.

Chapter Text

Hours later they were both on the bridge as a young man appeared on the view screen. The captain stood to greet him, "Dr. Bashir I presume?" It's an honor."

"Believe me, Captain the pleasure is all mine," came the reply from the handsome Brit. "You've become quite a legend back home over the last couple years."

"Thank you, Doctor. How is our friend doing?"

"Much better, Captain. On our way here I was able to treat the remainder of his injuries and managed to remove some of his external mechanisms." Bashir glanced down pressing some buttons on his panel. "I'm transporting him to your sickbay now, Captain. He's quite a pleasant man, very grateful to you for your willingness to help them."

"Transport complete, Captain," said Tuvok.

"Thank you, Dr. Bashir. For your kind words and your treatment of Axum. Have a safe trip home. Janeway out." As much as she enjoyed pleasantries, there was a reunion that she didn't want to miss. As the good doctor's image vanished Kathryn walked over and laid her hand on Tom's shoulder. "I'll be in sick bay. Tom, you're with me."

"Aye, sir." They both walked into the turbo lift as the captain tapped her comm badge.

"Janeway to Seven. Meet us in sick bay."

"Already on my way, Captain."

The trio arrived at the sick bay doors at almost the exact moment. Kathryn reached out for Seven before she could enter.

"Do you want to take a minute before you go in?" She asked, though the resistance she felt in her arm clearly told her otherwise.

"Why would I wait?" She was completely baffled. She'd been waiting for this day since she was twenty years old.

"Because," Tom cut in. "You've never seen him outside of Unimatrix Zero. It's not going to be the same. Not at first. He's hurt, still a Borg and he still has his fail-safe device. Chances are though he'll be over-the-moon to see you he won't be able to show it."

"Tom's right. We all know how much he cares for you; just don't set your expectations too high. Not yet anyway." Kathryn reassured and then released her grasp.

"Thank you," she said after a minute of thought. "That had not occurred to me. I am ready now." And with that she walked straight through the doors with a slow exhale, pacing herself.

He was across the room sitting up on the surgical bed while the doctor scanned him. She could tell just by looking that the previous doctor had done more work than she'd expected. He looked more humanoid than Borg—from the waist up anyway. His ocular implant appeared to be the only one left above his neck and his hair was regrown to about half its original length. She could also notice a few regenerated patches where he was recently treated. As he turned his head to see his visitor, a small but noticeable smile grew along his lips. She met his eyes and found herself lost for a moment. She walked closer to him while he stood up and the Doctor, Captain and Tom retreated to the office.

As soon as she was close enough he placed a hand on her cheek. "Annika." A single tear threatened the corner of her eye.

"I was certain I would never see you again," she said. He leaned down and gently kissed her lips.

"You will never have to worry about that again," he promised, kissing her once more. "Now, your Doctor should proceed. I would like free of the implants as soon as possible."

Seeing them part and Axum nod in their direction the group left the office and approached them.

"It's wonderful to see you again, Axum," the captain began. "I won't stay but I wanted to say thank you for what you did all those months ago."

"The thanks are to you, Captain. Without your help we would likely have all died as drones. You saved us, and allowed me to board your vessel. I am forever in your debt," he replied as he took Seven's hand in his own.

Kathryn shook her head, raising her hands in objection, "I wouldn't go that far. Someday I think I would just appreciate hearing the rest of your story. But for now, why don't you let the Doctor and Tom get to work." She turned her attention to Seven. "I'll see you at 20:00 hours," she added before going back to the bridge.

"Yes, Captain," Seven called after her, resentment seething in her voice. The Doctor had brought Axum to lie on the surgical bed so she took a couple steps back to remain out of the way.

"What happens at 20:00 hours?" Axum wondered, looking over at Annika.

"A party the captain is encouraging me to attend." She mildly scowled, "forcing me is more like it."

"Relax, Seven. You never know, you might enjoy yourself," the Doctor challenged. Looking down at Axum he continued, "The crew are having one last formal get together before we dock in the morning. I've tried to ease her into social functions but she doesn't seem to take to them kindly." Seven was irritated at his tone and disliked him speaking as if she wasn't in the room.

"Perhaps she just needs the right escort," Axum answered sending her a kid and compassionate glance.

"I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I don't expect you will be up to the task this evening either. We're about to begin." The Doctor touched his panel bringing up Axum's vital signs and was prepared. His patient however was scheming. He knew once he'd arrived and seen her—he'd be at that party, one way or another. She'd never have to attend a social function alone again.

Chapter Text

With a smooth and controlled exhale Kathryn stood on the inside of her quarters as she allowed admittance to her first officer. At the sight of her, however, his breath was gone. She stood just inside the door in a long, elegant and form fitting deep blue dress. Her hair was half pinned up and what remained down was full of light waves.

"You look…dazzling," he stammered once he'd found his breath. He glanced in both directions and upon seeing he was clear, stepped in and kissed her intensely, his hands resting on her waist.

"We could just stay in tonight," she suggested when they parted, reaching up to adjust his bow tie. He must have been the most handsome man she'd ever laid eyes on in his classic tux—resisting him tonight would be next to impossible.

"And miss the chance to show off the most beautiful woman on this ship? Not a chance." He wrapped his arms around her and they hugged before joining arms and making their way to the mess hall.

The party was already in full swing by the time they'd arrived, but at the sight of their command team applause broke through the merriment. Kathryn threw both her hands up as if wishing them to stop. Tom, grabbing champagne from a passing holo-waiter raised his glass, "To Captain Janeway."

"Thank you, Tom but please, call me Kathryn tonight." She saw Chakotay grab a glass and raise his as well.

"Then to Kathryn," he offered, grinning from ear to ear as a hundred other members of their crew and family echoed his sentiment. The only thing that made the moment sweeter was the tiny tear he thought he spied in the corner of her eye.

"Thank you, all. But no speeches tonight, please. I'd really like us all to enjoy ourselves, one last time before we get home." And with that she gave a gracious nod and gradually made her way through the crowd. Chakotay had handed her a glass of champagne and they spent their first couple minutes mingling through the mess of people, all of whom wished a word with their fearless leaders.

Spying B'Elanna across the room, with the baby Chakotay redirected her, following close behind.

"Would you like to hold her, Cap-I mean, Kathryn?" B'Elanna asked when they approached.

"I would love to," she admitted as she gratefully extended her arms, accepting the child. She couldn't imagine a feeling more powerful than the desire for motherhood and on this occasion it didn't disappoint. She stood, slowly swaying to the music in the background. She held the child close to her heart, allowing the girls scent to remind her of a fateful night all those years ago.

Something warm and wet had roused her from her sleep but she wasn't coherent until she felt her stomach double over. Slowly becoming more conscious a hand flew to the substance. Bringing her now stained fingers into view she reached, desperate and confused for her comm badge.

"Janeway to the Doctor," she choked out, her confusion and exhaustion too great to allow her to jump to conclusions, something she'd later be grateful for.

"Yes Captain? Is everything okay?" His voice was full of concern—she very rarely called on him and never so late in the evening. Before she could respond she felt her abdomen contract again. 'What's happening to me?' she thought, unable to make audible anything other than, "Help."

The Doctor had beamed in not even two minutes later and ran to her side. Pulling the covers aside he saw the crimson-lined sheets and reached for his tricorder. When he saw her clench her abdomen he gave her a hypo spray for the pain and continued running scans.

"What's the matter with me?" She was finally able to ask once the medicine began to take effect. "I'm bleeding." She reached up her hand, her mind a jumble of questions. In the two months following hers and Chakotay's return to Voyagers crew they had made no notable discoveries, gone on no remarkable away missions—she'd been busy catching up, how had she fallen ill? Or was this ill?

"Captain," he said quietly, "I think we should get you to sick bay in case you lose anymore blood." Lose blood? She still didn't understand why she as bleeding in the first place.

"Not until you explain to me what's going on!" she demanded, she could tell her stomach was clenching again but the pain was successfully suppressed.

The Doctor paused for a moment, but realizing the imperative need to move her he closed the tricorder and pulled a chair next to her bedside. "Captain, I'm not quite sure how to say this but you're miscarrying." The subtle sadness of his gentle voice was a shock to even him, while she sat there confused still. Miscarrying. The word seemed to bounce around in her mind, she was sure she knew what it meant but somehow it didn't fit.

"What are you saying, Doctor?" Her demand was softer now, scared.

Realizing she must not have known, he reached out and took her hand. "My scans have revealed that you were approximately eight weeks pregnant, Captain." All her confusion finally found an understanding and it met her emotion in an uncontrollable gasp followed by tears flooding her cheeks. Her sadness mingled with embarrassment at what the Doctor must be realizing as he watched her. After he calculated he understood, but not wishing to further her embarrassment he began to put an arm around her.

"I had no idea," she cried a few minutes later, wiping her face... She grasped at every ounce of courage she could muster to retain her Captain mask and reached up for the doctor to help her stand. "Your discretion will be appreciated, Doctor." He nodded, helping her up and then beamed them both to sick bay to treat her. When she returned to her quarters two hours later by transporter she sat, knees pulled to her chest on the couch, staring out at the stars. The shock had worn off and she'd managed to bury all emotion so deep she was sure after the morning she would never have to feel it again.

One night—that was all it took. It was like their conversation that night on New Earth was speaking her life into existence, both of them completely unaware. And now all Kathryn could do was run through all the what if's that she couldn't quiet from her mind. Would this have happened if they'd stayed on New Earth? The Doctor had said it was an unavoidable complication but certainly she could have prevented it somehow. Taken better care of herself, worked less… How would Chakotay have reacted to the news that he would be a father? How would he react now to the loss? "He won't." The answer started as a thought but was vocalized before she even realized she'd spoken. She would never tell him, she wouldn't be able to hold her walls in place for even a second to see him in that kind of pain. No, she was strong enough for the both of them and she would deal with this loss the way she dealt with losing him—by never letting herself feel it again.

She reached up and wiped away a single tear as she touched her stomach. "Grace," she whispered and then the only emotions she could ever allow began to overtake her. She curled up on her fresh sheets and succumbed to the sobs for her lost love and their lost daughter.

A hand on her shoulder brought her back to the mess hall. She quickly wiped a stray tear, smiling down at the newborn in her arms. She took a deep, cleansing breath as she handed the baby back to B'Elanna. Chakotay had been observing a foot away, leaning on a bulkhead, taking in her beauty as she held the infant. Watching her, he could see the pain of longing in her eyes but he could swear there was something more. It looked as if she was remembering a dream and he jumped in to her rescue before the first tear could fall.

His hand on her shoulder, they excused themselves to find some distraction. "You okay?" He whispered in her ear as they weaved through the crowd. He saw her nod, not convinced; he reached for her hand and gave it a squeeze. "Let's dance," he offered, looking around them at the couples moving with the music. It wasn't a slow song, it would require a little work—the perfect distraction. She agreed and took his hand.

They kept a healthy distance, but she was able to cool herself down. He was of course completely oblivious to her dilemma but he seemed to know just what she needed. Somehow he always had.

A few of their onlookers had started speculating about their command team in a not so conspicuous manner and Kathryn was about to suggest they stop when almost every eye in the room was diverted to the door and the appearance of the most delicate drone they'd ever seen.

Her golden hair, filled with wistful curls was cascading around her shoulders just above the start of a soft white gown that reached a seam just below her bust and then proceeded to dance all the way down to her feet. As she became aware of the attention, gazes were diverted not wishing her to be uncomfortable. The girl breathed to alleviate the facial flushing and walked directly to the captain.

"Seven, you look stunning," Kathryn reassured her nervous friend who was darting glances all around the room. "Relax, have a good time. You deserve it."

"Thank you, Captain. But I will only stay a short while. I'd like to get back to—" Seven was cut short. She glanced over the Captains head as the doors opened and a shimmer caught her eye, almost like a reflection. Just as soon as she thought she recognized the flash, someone had blocked her line of sight. She stepped aside, bringing him into full view. He stood just inside the doors, the weight of his body resting on a silver cane. He was dressed in a simple black tuxedo and carrying a single red rose. She fought the urge to run right over to him, knowing he needed to be in sick bay but her heart raced at his concern for her. He began to slowly make his way to her and she met him halfway, not wishing him to be in anymore pain.

Before either of them could say a word the Doctor stepped up, "Mr. Axum you should be resting in sick bay."

"Oh, I won't stay too long, Doc. I promise. But a woman this beautiful ought to have a gentleman on her arm," he crooned, leaning over and kissing her cheek. "Just one dance, then we'll go," he guaranteed the Doctor who threw up his arms and walked away.

Kathryn, observing the slow and melodic dance felt grateful—there wasn't a pair of eyes in the room looking at anyone else, no one would be speaking of anything else all night, she was certain.

The party continued on, no one wanted to leave. They talked of plans, of hopes. They laughed together at memories from their journey; they cried together and remembered those lost. The event felt more like a family reunion than a farewell party.

"Look!" A soft high voice cried from a corner by the viewport. Naomi had her arms stretched out and she turned to share her discovery. "You can see Earth now!" A bustle of people and voices made their way toward the external wall—everyone anxious to catch their first glimpse of the planet.

Chakotay and Kathryn moved around the crowd to the back corner and snuck in right next to the wall. "Can you believe it?" Kathryn asked him, emotion filling her voice, but he couldn't respond.

Her first officer, a huge lump in his throat reached a hand into his pants pocket, fumbling around until he felt what he was after. And as he clasp his hand around the cool metal his thought were instantly transported back to New Earth.

He knew she was crying. He also knew there was nothing he could do to help. Less than twenty-four hours ago they'd finally allowed themselves to be together and in less than another twelve they'd be back aboard Voyager. None of it seemed real to him yet.

One minute they were planning for boats and tomatoes and the next they were packing in silence. Silence. The entire day had held silence. As if a single word from either of them was all it would take to send them both doubting everything. With every quiet hour they both watched the future they'd only just planned slip away. The deafening solitude, systematically restoring their command masks.

He stood in the doorway to the house watching her for just a moment. Through the trees he could see her hunched shoulders in the tub. He could see her shake ever so slightly, releasing sobs no one was allowed to hear. As he forced himself to back away from the door a wooden box caught his eye. A fresh pang of regret washed over him as he opened it and looked down at the project he'd undertaken in the last few weeks.

New Earth had been their hope for a different life, for freedom to be together unrestricted. That hope was gone now. He took a deep belabored breath and closed the box. He knew they'd never be free like this again until they actually reached Earth. And he knew all the silence between them, though unbearable was helping her accept their fate and become Captain again.

The next morning they stood, ready for transport, Captain and Commander once again. Her sad expression was tearing him apart inside. How much longer would it be until he could hold her again? Would they ever be able to have a family? Would they ever make it back home? He knew these thoughts were identical to her own and before she spoke the word 'energize' he swore to himself no matter how long it would be, no matter what sacrifices it would take that as soon as he saw Earth again he would make it right.

Chapter Text

As he stared out the viewport he knew what he had to do. He reached down and gently took her hand, leading her to the center of the room, the crew still huddled against the other side.

He tapped his champagne glass and cleared his throat and smiled at the woman next to him who eyed him with a quizzical brow. "I know Kathryn said no speeches tonight, but if you aren't 'Captain' tonight then you won't be able to relieve me of command for disobeying you," he grinned at her then looked at his audience. Seven years ago a routine trip into the Badlands altered all of our lives in a way none of us could have imagined. We became one crew, friends and eventually a family, united in support of the strongest and bravest captain I know all of us have ever known. Even during some of our toughest challenges she never lost sight of her goal to get us home. Five years ago I reaffirmed my faith in her determination by promising myself that once we were home I would do this..." He pulled the metal from his pocket and in one fluid motion he dropped to one knee, a smile appearing as Kathryn's gasp and tear was muffled by a hundred others. Taking a deep breath he continued, "Kathryn I have been in love with you from the first time you reprimanded me on the bridge. You are the best friend I've ever had, you are loyal, dedicated…the most stubborn and most beautiful woman I've ever met. After sitting by your side for the last seven years there isn't any way in the universe that I want to spend even a single day without you. Please do me the honor of becoming my bride." Tears were falling readily down her cheeks—she couldn't believe how fast it was all happening.

'Fast, Ha!' She thought, seven years dancing around feelings so deep they couldn't even speak of them. And now here he was kneeling before her—in front of their family asking her to be his wife. "Yes," she finally willed herself to answer—protocol and Starfleet were the furthest things from her mind as he slipped the ring on her finger and met her lips with a tame but passionate kiss. The room erupted with cheers, applause and a handful of 'I knew it's' but the couple in the center didn't hear any of it. "You've been planning this for five years?" He nodded, rubbing his thumbs along her jaw.

"Since the day we left New Earth. I didn't know how long it would take, but now we can finally have the life we planned, together." He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her in to kiss him again.

"To Chakotay & Kathryn." Tom toasted holding his glass up. The room echoed with "Here, here" and more cheering.

"So, who officially won the pool, Tom?" Harry asked loudly after a few minutes. This caught Kathryn's attention and she looked at Tom.

"Mr. Paris you were wagering about my personal life?" She joked with an exaggerated look of disdain.

"You bet I was," Tom admitted, a proud grin on his face. "You've been the most popular wager ever since you came aboard from that planet. We always knew there was something between the two of you. We just had no idea when you both would finally realize it, or admit to it."

"So who won?" B'Elanna chimed in. "I know it wasn't me, I lost four years ago."

"I lost the first day," Harry added. "I thought for sure they'd come back together."

"And I lost after we got the Captain back from the Borg…the second time," Tom noted while Kathryn and Chakotay, still in each other's arms exchanged secret glances. They all had no idea how right they were.

"So who did win?" Chakotay finally asked after another few speculations.

"That would be me, Commander." Tuvok said coming forward. Silence filled the room and every pair of eyes widened in shock. "It was a logical choice."

"Tuvok?" Kathryn had known the Vulcan for years and couldn't remember him ever wagering on anything.

"Yes, Captain. I was certain it was as humans often term, 'a safe bet.'" Tuvok explained and delved further into his reasoning. "I had observed in our first year on Voyager the feelings you and the Commander were developing. Under a different set of circumstances I had determined the two of you would have would have made a complimentary match. However you, Captain, dead-set and determined to get your crew home and being loyal to Starfleet—and you Commander, your willingness to support her in some of the gravest of situations led me to believe you would never act on your feelings until you both knew you had brought your crew home—which you now have done." He lifted a glass, "You have established a genuine friendship and a deep mutual respect which I am certain will carry you through many rewarding years together."

Kathryn reached out her hand to Tuvok, shaking her head. "You always manage to surprise me."

Chapter Text

Later that night she sat in Chakotay's quarters, lost in the beauty of the blue ball ahead of them, the sight of which never got old. Before they knew it they'd be setting foot on Earth. She rolled her neck with a sigh and a sparkle caught her eye. She looked down at the ring on her left hand and smiled. In all the excitement she hadn't been able to really look at the ring he'd given her. She took it from her finger, holding it up to the light and her jaw dropped. It had to be the most ornate piece of jewelry she'd ever seen. The band which was silver-like metal wasn't a single band but hundreds of single strands weaved and swirling and winding around each other along the sides. Each strand met the others at the bottom and at the top where they held a dark blue gem in place. The gem seemed familiar somehow but she couldn't place it.

Chakotay emerged from the bathroom, taking off his jacket and tie. He tossed them on the table and went to join her. Before he could sit he realized what she was doing.

"Chakotay, where on Earth did you get this?" She marveled, still turning it in the light.

"Not Earth," he smiled secretly. "New Earth." Her head snapped up so to meet his gaze.

"You—made this?" she uttered in disbelief. He walked away to a shelf and brought back the wooden box. Inside he pulled out a beautiful wooden carbon copy of her ring.

"I carved it after the first week we were down there. I found the metal and the stone on the planet too. Right before we packed up, when you were taking a bath—crying, I used the computer to transfer the design to make the ring. It's been in this box ever since. Just waiting for the right time—for us to be home." She slipped the ring back on her finger and rose to hug him.

"How were you so sure we'd make it?"

"I believed in you and you were determined." He kissed her lips softly and led her to the couch. He sat with his feet up on the table and she laid leaning into his shoulder.

"When do you think we'll get married?" She asked, a hint of excitement in her voice. He kissed her hair.

"How about as soon as possible?" He chuckled. "We aren't getting any younger. It'd be nice to at least attempt to hold to our plans." Her heart stopped; she knew exactly what he meant. She could hardly breathe, she had no response—he noticed. "Kathryn?"

She sat up, stoic, staring only at her hands. It was time; he had to know. "Chakotay. There's something I have to tell you," she began. She had no idea how he would react but regardless she had to tell him and knew she deserved whatever he could dish out. "I probably should—no. I should have said something sooner but I couldn't hurt you and I knew I wouldn't have the strength to watch you go through it alone and I couldn't let myself help you."

As she took a long breath a tear fell and he held her hands, nodding for her to continue. "Eight weeks after we were back aboard Voyager I awoke in the middle of the night, cramping and bleeding. The Doctor told me I had miscarried an eight week old baby girl." He let go of her hands and sat back, taking it all in. "I swore to myself that I was never going to tell you—I felt I could go through it for both of us and I was sure watching you hurt was going to make it that much harder for me to handle. I was so angry, Chakotay. At me, at you, at Starfleet, at Tuvok—this entire crew. I'd wanted a baby for so long and as soon as we make one she's just gone before I even knew about her. I felt like I could have done something different. If I'd taken better care of myself, been less overworked—like if we'd never left New Earth we wouldn't have lost her. And I couldn't face you. I couldn't tell you we lost Grace." As soon as she said the name Chakotay threw his strong arms around her, her tears soaking his vest and his dampening her hair.

He couldn't believe this woman—she'd carried and dealt with this secret on her own for five years. He wasn't sure what to say, so he held her while they both wept.

When Kathryn first opened her eyes she was unaware of her surroundings, but there was no mistaking firm embrace that held her tight. She glanced around, deducing she was still in Chakotay's quarters. They'd fallen asleep on the couch, still in each other's arms. Feeling the dried streaks on her face and the puffiness of her eyes she began to remember their conversation.

She knew he was angry, maybe more hurt than anything—and worried about how she'd allowed herself to deal with it. She had lost count of how many times she'd said she was sorry and asked him to forgive her. Though every time he would assure her that there was nothing to forgive she still couldn't truly believe him. She felt wretched for keeping it from him and was sore that she would never keep him in the dark about anything ever again.

To her amazement, once the topic had finally been exhausted he'd taken her hand in his and quietly asked, "will we be able to try again?" At first she hadn't known how to respond. In the years since she hadn't really allowed herself to think of such things. She hadn't had more than a day to dream of having a child of their own before it was dashed. Then she hadn't even known that she was carrying one until the dream was again taken from her. She'd been so intent on the Doctors discretion and returning to her captain mode that she had not thought to ask him if she could ever have another.

"Kathryn?" He'd interrupted her thought, waiting for her response.

"I-I don't know." It was the truth, but she wasn't sure if he was asking if she wanted or if she was able. This wasn't an issue she wanted misconstrued so she had turned and faced him, allowing him to clasp her hands. "I've never stopped wanting children, Chakotay. And I never want them with anyone else. If we can, I'll never give up trying." This promise rewarded her with a dimpled grin as the tears returned to their eyes.

Now she laid in his arms, calm and perhaps peaceful, a gentle hum of a snore breaking the silence. She slowly pulled herself from the couch and his grasp, careful not to wake him. The chronometer was reading 02:41 and she suddenly felt like she had to get some things in order, she'd let him sleep.

After finally changing out of her gown, splashing some cold water on her face and replicating some coffee she left for the direction of sick bay. She could hear the opera from a corridor away—she would miss that, although she would never be foolish enough to admit that to her holographic friend.

"Captain!" The Doctor exclaimed when he caught sight of her, uncertain of how long he'd had an audience. His legs, which had been extended on his desk swung to the floor in an instant and he was upright a nanosecond later. "What can I do for you?" Kathryn motioned for him to sit and she took the seat across the desk. There was a slight flush threatening her cheeks though she knew she had less to be embarrassed about now than she did five years prior.

With the exhale of a labored breath she confessed, "I told Chakotay tonight." The Doctor nodding, the woman's demeanor, the late hour now becoming understood.

"You know I don't understand why you never told him sooner—" seeing her impending objections he held up his hands to silence her and continued. "—but I'm glad you finally did and I'm sure he was as worried for you and supportive of you that I assured you five years ago that he would be. Am I right?"

"Yes, you were." She hated to admit it, his ego never needed stroking. "He was wonderful." She paused, trying to plan her next phrase. "I know you and I never discussed this back then, and I know I'm not as young as I used to be—" she was still having trouble collecting her thoughts as timidity set in.

In an uncharacteristic act of grace, the Doctor left his seat and knelt next to her. "Captain, let's go run some scans." She shot him a grateful look and followed him to the nearest biobed. She lay down and he opened his tricorder, running it along her midsection, his face expressionless—impossible to read.

After a minute or two he closed the tricorder and helped her sit up, taking a seat next to her. She waited, impatiently—hope dwindling with every prolonged second until he finally spoke. "Of course I can make no guarantees, and I would have to impress expedience since as you said, neither of you are getting any younger—" he paused to steal a glance over as her face exploded into a grin. "But I see no medical reason at this point for reservations."

Kathryn's joy was overwhelming her desire to speak so she reached for the Doctor's hand. "Thank you," she was able to say after a minute.

"If you haven't been successful there are still medicines and alternatives you can consider to assist—but you and the Commander seem to overcome every obstacle that dares to confront you. I have no doubt that the two of you will someday be wonderful parents." He stood, offering her his hand as she slid off the bed. She walked toward the door, but stopped short and turned to him once more.

"Doctor, I know there are a lot of uncertainties surrounding our arrival today and the plans the Federation has for everyone. I want you to know—I will always be in your corner and your first, albeit reluctant, patient—no matter where you end up."

"Thank you, Captain," he nodded graciously as she turned and left, noticing a slight spring in her step as she went.

Her heart was filled to the brim, but she tamed herself. She had one more thing on her to do list before returning to steal a couple more hours sleep. Not wanting to disrupt the bridge she took the side entrance to her ready room and sat behind her desk. After a minute she tapped her display then waited for a response, plotting her explanation of the nights events.

"Kathryn, it's oh-three hundred in the morning, what are you doing up at this hour?" Admiral Owen Paris scolded and she pushed away a sneaking smile, trying to decide if this conversation demanded formality or if it should be addressed to her friend and mentor.

"But it's nearly 09 hundred at headquarters—I knew you'd be in your office, Admiral." Formality it is then.

"Well then, Captain. What can I do for you?" She forced a deep breath, steadying her pulse. Starfleet would no doubt have plenty actions of hers to question from the seven year journey—she didn't want to give them one more.
"There's been a development that I feel I should address before rumors begin to fly and my command gets called into question—"

"Should I be worried, Kathryn?"

"Please just let me explain. Last night I accepted a marriage proposal—from Commander Chakotay." She searched his face for a response but the practiced tactician was motionless, so she continued. "My command has always been my priority—I've never betrayed Starfleet protocols, neither has Chakotay. I know this may seem sudden and unorthodox, spend seven years in a command structure and suddenly commit to a life together…"

"Kathryn," he tried.

"Owen, please understand. I have been in love with him since our first week in the Delta Quadrant, but he was my first officer. Up until twenty-four hours ago we'd never acted out of line, never let ourselves really admit how we feel about each other."

"Kathryn—" he tried again, to no avail.

"And I know I should have waited until we docked and I'll accept any punishment Starfleet can come up with, but we waited, patiently wondering if we'd ever actually make it home. But as soon as we made it back to the Alpha Quadrant…seven years is a long time, Admiral." She finally took a break, rubbing the bridge of her nose and preparing herself for the response.

"So, as soon as you arrived in the Alpha Quadrant? Not before—not once you knew you were headed home?" he wondered.

"Yes, once we got here—not before, not on this ship," she assured him, as if that would somehow make the reprimand less severe. Nothing could have prepared her for what she heard next, however.

"Damn!" The poised Admiral exclaimed and her head shot up. With a resigned sigh he shook his head and advised her, "Don't ever bet against Gretchen Janeway." Kathryn, confused wasn't sure if she should be relieved or livid.

"Has the entire Paris family been wagering about my love life?" She all but screamed. She heard the Admiral stifle a laugh.

"It's in the blood, Kathryn-no point fighting it." He cleared his throat, back to business. "I can't say we didn't expect this, Captain. And I'm sure there will be questions and speculations when you arrive but I know from your crew you've acted above reproach at every turn, as I have continuously noted in my reports."

"Are you telling me that you have all been speculating about our relationship for years—waiting for this to happen?" She was shocked, had it really been that obvious to everyone?

"As far as we knew, you'd live a lifetime out there—cut off from everyone. And once Mark...well you are a woman—we had to understand that you might want to start a family, meet someone at some point. And speaking in a completely personal sense—he really is perfect for you, Kathryn. For what it's worth, I think your father would have approved." She was completely taken aback—the hot sting of fresh tears threatening to fall. This man had been one of her families, her father's closest friends for years. She had respected his opinion for as long—hearing his approval, his assurance of her father's approval…she suddenly didn't need Starfleet's okay, no opinion mattered. Maybe her mother's…perhaps her sisters. This was really happening, she was finally going to be free to be with the man she'd hoped for—dreamed of for the longest time.

"Thank you, Owen," she said wiping away a tear that had escaped. "Please let me tell my mom and Phoebe."

"Of course. And if you feel like fudging the facts a little—I really was looking forward to the case of cabernet your mother has had stashed in your basement." He joked and she shook her head, breathing a sigh of relief.

"Thank you, sir. We'll see you in a couple hours." She started to stand, but he wasn't finished.

"I want you to know—we're all so proud of you, Katie. Congratulations—and tell the Commander, welcome to the family." There was a break—a crack in his voice as he called her the nickname reserved for only those closest to her. He was no longer the admiral sitting in front of her—there was no mistaking this. She had to will the wells in her eyes to remain closed.

She nodded and ended the transmission as the dam broke, these fresh tears releasing a new wave of emotions. She retreated to the bench by the window, allowing all her tears release.

The door to her ready room opened just a couple minutes later. He was still in remnants of his tuxedo, carrying a blanket. When he was next to her he draped the blanket around her shoulders, sat directly behind her and pulled her into his chest.

"I was sure I'd find you here," he said softly, evenly—like he wasn't' sure what to make of her tears which were now subsiding. He tightened his grasp on her, leaning down to lightly brush his lips to hers.

"I had a few things to do, I couldn't sleep." A sly smile broke free on her face; she still couldn't believe how perfect everything had turned out.

"Oh?" He wondered, thankful for her change in disposition.

"I was thinking that we could get married once we're done at Starfleet—before our crew all head their separate ways. What do you think?"

"That's soon." Seeing her reaction he quickly added, "the sooner the better." He kissed her hair and she nuzzled his neck. "So are you going to tell me what you've been up to?"

"I spoke with Admiral Paris. I told him about the engagement—I didn't' want there to be any surprises once we got home." She pulled herself up to sit, draping the blanket over her legs which she curled under her.

"How did he take it? You aren't going to be reprimanded, are you?" Suddenly he was worried—they hadn't discussed the ramifications of an early proposal-how would that look to Starfleet, or the rest of the world for that matter? He admitted to himself that it didn't much matter to him but her career was the epitome of who Kathryn was and he'd be damned if he'd ask her to choose. He loved every part of her, including her dedication to her Federation.

She could see his mind was racing with worry and she laid a hand on his cheek. "Relax. I'm pretty sure we could have pulled up married with a couple kids and it wouldn't have fazed them. Owen even made a bet with my mother as to when we'd finally get together." Chakotay chuckled.

"Who won?"

""My mother, of course!"

"So this is going to work?"

"Don't tell me you're getting cold feet already, Commander," she teased, leaning up to kiss him. In response he pulled her closer, deepening the kiss.

"Not a chance," he guaranteed her when they parted. "What else did you have to do?"

"Oh, I had to make a quick stop in sick bay for a checkup," she responded coolly and she watched his eyes dance with curiosity and intrigue.

"And?" Chakotay demanded and she laughed lightly, pulling him toward her.

"He said the sooner we start trying the better our chances," his lips drawn immediately to hers kept her from finishing. His hands were in her hair, then on her back, sealing the distance between them, their bodies pressed together. His kisses were passionate, if erotic and he laid her down on the bench. Once his lips allowed hers a break she commanded, "Computer, lock doors" and they melted together under the blanket by the light of Earth.

To be continued in the sequel Resolutions...