We Are Stronger Together...

by Dawn

Summary: Kathryn and Chakotay learn an important lesson about strength in unity. Set after Endgame.

Disclaimer: Voyager and its characters belong to Paramount.

Thanks to my Betas: Jadie, AnneRose, and Squirrelly

"So, what's going on with you and Seven?" Kathryn asked pointedly.

Chakotay looked up from the PADD to look at Kathryn reclining in her desk chair. "We have less than an hour to get through this list."

Now that Voyager was in orbit around Earth, they were working on recommendations for promotions and placement for the crew. She took a sip of her coffee, "I think it's just busy-work anyway. How can they ask us for something this extensive and only give us two hour's notice? Particularly when we have so much else going on."

"I'd still like to give well thought-out recommendations." Chakotay held up the PADD. "They may not ask us what we think again."

"You're evading the question." She studied him as he shifted in his chair. Admiral Janeway told her that Chakotay and Seven would some day marry, and Kathryn had noticed the way they had been looking at each other in the last week. She was determined to find out directly from Chakotay what was going on, because she wasn't sure that the admiral hadn't been exaggerating for shock value.

"I'm not evading, I'm trying to focus on work." Chakotay tapped the PADD. "We're only on the B's. Ensign Brooks. What do you want to recommend?"

"Brooks needs to be in the command track, and yes, you are evading. It's really very simple. Are you dating Seven?"

"Yes and no. Crewman Tal Celes?"

"Hmmm… the computer has Tal Celes in the C's again. She needs to be in Counseling or Administration, although she'll probably resign and go back to Bajor. What do you mean by 'yes and no'?"

"Yes, we're dating, but no, it's not serious and no, it's not going anywhere. Lt. Chapman?"

"He should stick with engineering. You realize, don't you, that you're her first love?"

"That would imply that she's in love with me, and I don't think she knows what love is. Ensign Culhane?"

"Needs to stick to piloting or stand-up comedy. Tom has rubbed off on him too much."

Chakotay looked up. "You want me to put that in?"

She smiled mischievously. "Sure, why not?" Leaning forward and clasping her hands under her chin, she asked, "Then why are you dating her? Besides the obvious reason."

"The obvious reason? I'm going to suggest that Dalby stick with security, although I really think he should get out of Starfleet and cause trouble somewhere else."

"Good idea. The obvious reason being Seven's more attractive 'attributes.'"

"What? You think this is some middle-aged crisis ego-building affair?" Chakotay was appalled. "I'm going to suggest that Gerron enter the Academy or go back to Bajor."

"Your words, not mine," she answered smugly. "I don't think he'll make it at the Academy, but it's as good a recommendation as any."

Chakotay made a note and then said, "Speaking of Bajor, I got some news from Colonel Kira at Deep Space Nine."


"Came in a couple days ago. She said that one of the Bajoran Vedics has discovered some people from one of the Native American tribes living on Bajor. She doesn't know which tribe, but wanted me to have the information."

"Wow. You have no idea who it could be?"

"Not a clue. As soon as I can, I'm going to find them."

"To do what?"

Chakotay sighed. "I'm not sure. Offer assistance if they need it. Let them know that my sister and I are still alive. Maybe Sekaya will go with me."

"Perhaps you could bring them back to Earth. I'll help you if I can."

"Thanks, I appreciate that. We'll just have to see what the situation is." Chakotay raised the PADD. "We should get back to this. Gilmore?"

"Top-notch engineer."

"I agree. And Harren should go study the cosmos and be with more deserving colleagues."

"I have a proposal for you, Chakotay."

He sighed and put the PADD down on the desk to give her his full attention. "I'm not sure I want to hear this."

"Let Seven go, and find someone else."

"And I suppose that you have someone in mind?"

"As a matter of fact, I do. You know her." Kathryn stood and walked over to the replicator. "Not as tall and voluptuous as your current interest, but just as stubborn."

"Look, Seven was just interested in gaining dating experience. Think of me as a lab rat."

"Well at least she didn't break your arm like she did Chapman's on their first date."

"She didn't know how to dance."

"So if you're just an experiment, then you'd be interested in dating someone else?"


Kathryn leaned against the desk in front of him, sipping her coffee. "It's someone who's had her eye on you for quite awhile."

Skeptically, he asked, "Then why hasn't this come up before now?"

"Duty. Fraternization rules. It's difficult getting into a relationship with a commanding officer, don't you think?"

"Oh come on. Those rules didn't apply to our situation. Everyone knows that."

Kathryn set her coffee down behind her and picked up a PADD. "Not everyone believes that."

"As far as I know, you're the only person who has ever brought it up."

She paused to see if his statement would make him realize what he was saying. When he didn't figure it out, she said, "That's probably true. Call me 'old school', but I really don't think a Captain should get involved with a member of her crew, regardless of the circumstances." She could almost see the wheels turning in his head.

He looked at her and then did a double take. "You? You're interested in me?"

"That surprises you?"

Chakotay slowly stood up. "Well, yes. Why didn't you tell me?"

In a very flat tone, she said, "I just did."

Chakotay moved closer and she sat up on the desk in front of him. He said, "I mean before now. You could have told me."

"I tried to, but I also tried to be very subtle. I wanted you to know, but I couldn't just come out and say that I'm in love with you, and that I want you to wait for the next seventy years. That would definitely cross the line, and it wouldn't be fair."

Looking rather pleased, he took her hand. "You're in love with me?"

She traced the line of his jacket zipper with her fingernail, enjoying a small sense of freedom in touching him. "I am, and now that we're home…"

Before she could finish her sentence, he had cupped her jaw with his hands and pulled her into a kiss. She felt a warmth rush through her so strongly that if she hadn't been holding onto his shoulders, she would have surely fallen over.

"Kathryn, next time you want me to know something, just tell me. You could have saved me many sleepless nights. And just so you know, I would have waited all seventy of those years for this moment."

Content and happy, Kathryn said, "So, should we finish these recommendations now?"

Chakotay shook his head. "You are something else." He stood back and let her slide off the desk. "Go back to your side of the desk, or I'm not going to be able to concentrate."

She chuckled and followed his instructions. "So where were we?"

He sat and picked up his PADD. "Ensign Harper."

Kathryn paced back and forth on the bridge as she waited for Starfleet to communicate with them. Voyager had been in orbit for over twelve hours, and to her, it appeared that Starfleet was stalling.

Chakotay said, "Captain, may I show you something?" He motioned for her to take her seat beside him.

She sat down and leaned over their shared console to see what he was pointing at. "You have something?"

He said quietly. "No, but I want you to stop pacing. You're making everyone nervous."

Sighing discreetly, she said, "I can't help it. Something isn't right and I'm starting to fear the worst."

"Well, stop. They're probably trying to figure out where to put Voyager. After all, she is loaded with technology from the future, and they don't want to put her down in the middle of The Presidio for everyone to see."

She muttered, "I was hoping for ticker tape and fireworks."

Chakotay leaned in closely and whispered very softly into her ear. "Even if the Federation doesn't give you fireworks, I certainly will."

Kathryn closed her eyes and shook her head in an attempt to prevent the blush that was threatening. Standing, she said, "I'll hold you to that, Commander." This was exactly why she hadn't told him how she felt while they were in the Delta Quadrant. She walked over to the helm. "Ensign Culhane? Are there any docks open at McKinley station?"

"Yes ma'am, but we've been instructed to not go anywhere near there. I've been adjusting our heading to avoid it."

"Very well."

Culhane turned and said, "Captain, I'm sure they're trying to figure out where to put us. We did give them quite a surprise and they had over forty ships waiting to greet us. Most of those ships are still here, and I'm sure with all of this technology, they don't want us to be seen by too many."

She patted the ensign on the shoulder. "You're most likely correct. I'm just eager to get down there and give my mother a long, overdue hug."

"I'm eager to hug mine, too."

As Kathryn turned back around to retake her seat, she gave Chakotay a wink. The ensign had the same assumption as Chakotay in regard to the reasoning behind the delay.

Ensign Kim said, "Incoming transmission from Headquarters, Captain."

She spun around, eager to take some action. "On screen."

Admiral Harris appeared. "Captain, sorry to keep you waiting, but as you know, we must keep a tight reign on security. We've cleared a dock at Utopia Planetia for you. Your orders are to leave orbit, proceed there at once, and then lock down the ship. All crew are to stand down from their posts and remain in their quarters until further notice."

"Understood, Admiral. However, our crew is in a celebratory mood and will want to congregate in the mess hall and common areas." She wasn't about to be confined to wait endless hours by herself while Starfleet bureaucrats decided how to handle Voyager's arrival.

"Captain, you have your orders, but if you can control your crew, I'll permit freedom to move about the ship. However, the communication block will continue until further notice."

"I assume then, that you'll be contacting our families to let them know we're home?"

"Don't worry about that, Captain. Everybody knows. Harris out."

Kathryn stood there staring at the screen for a moment before asking, "Ensign Kim?"

"Yes, Captain?"

She turned to look at him. "Care to take a bet on whose mother will get him to release the communication block first?"

The entire bridge crew chuckled, relieved to have the tension broken. Ensign Kim answered, "I don't know, but if our mothers team up, Harris doesn't stand a chance."

"Without a doubt." She moved back to her seat and said, "First things First. Janeway to Chell."

"Yes, Captain?"

"We're home and it's time to party. Can you handle it?"

Excitedly, he answered, "No problem. When do we start?"

"In an hour."

"I'm on it. Chell out."

Kathryn took her seat and said, "Ensign, take us in."

From across the console, Chakotay reached over and took her hand. She knew that he now shared her concern that something wasn't right, but at this point, there wasn't much that they could do about it. She did know one thing: Whatever they were facing, Chakotay was by her side and they would face it together.

After Voyager had docked at Utopia Planetia, the entire crew was free to leave their posts. Kathryn and Chakotay were the last two people on the bridge because they wanted to enter the last logs and clear out any pending reports. When they were completely finished, Chakotay asked, "Care to make one of my fantasies come true?"

Kathryn raised an eyebrow. "If you're thinking what I'm thinking as we stand here alone on the bridge, I don't believe it would be very prudent."

He laughed and stood in front of her. Resting his hands on each of her arms, he said, "Well, now I'm thinking that. And you're right, that would be a bit reckless. Fun, but reckless."

"So, then, what's your fantasy?" She wrapped her hands around his waist, enjoying the feel of him.

"More than a few times, I wondered what your reaction would have been if I had just kissed you out of the blue one day. Right here on the bridge, in front of the crew."

She stepped closer to him. "Maybe just after a particularly difficult alien encounter?"

"Could be. Or perhaps on a really boring day when absolutely nothing was going on."

"Hmmm… I must admit that I had the same thought once or twice."

He smiled knowingly. "Just once or twice?"

"Once or twice a week maybe." She laughed.

"Kathryn, I don't think I told you earlier. I love you, and I've been in love with you for a very long time." He gently pulled her against him.

She shook her head slightly, their lips only inches apart. "I don't think you did, but thank you for clearing that up."

Their lips met in a soft, warm kiss, slowly exploring, tasting, loving. This, their second kiss, wasn't rushed, wasn't timid. It carried a promise of greater intimacy with its growing heat and fervent connection. A deep warmth settled over Kathryn as they tentatively broke apart.

Chakotay said softly, "Now that was a kiss of fantasy."

Playfully, Kathryn traced her finger slowly down the zipper on his jacket. "Just wait."

He laughed. "I'm looking forward to it."

"What's next for us, Chakotay?"

"What do you mean?" He pulled back a little to listen.

"I mean, we've pledged our love. We're home. No more Voyager. Our lives are changing. How are we going to keep this going in a different environment?"

He smiled and tugged at his ear. "Well, I haven't really thought about it that much. We've just barely begun, so I guess we should just take it day by day."

"Sorry about all the questions. My thoughts are all over the place right now."

He nodded. "I know how you feel."

Kathryn walked to the front of the bridge and spun around slowly. "This has been our home for so long. It feels so surreal to be leaving it. And although you and I have just made a change in our relationship, we've been with each other in a closed environment for a long time. It seems strange to think about not living next to each other and not working together every day."

"So you want a plan?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. I want the uncertainty about our arrival resolved. I'm a woman who likes to have a plan, and right now, I feel a little like…"

"A captain without a ship?"

Laughing, she answered, "Yeah, a captain without a ship. Inspired simile, that one."

"I try." He sat down in the captain's chair and watched as she took a last look around her bridge. "How about this? I assume we're going to get a leave of absence of some kind. I'm not sure yet whether I want to stay in Starfleet, and you probably don't know yet where your career is going to take you. In the meantime, we can make plans to travel together, or not. I want to go to Bajor, but you may not be ready to go back in space so soon. Perhaps we'll go out on a few dates before I leave and when I get back."

She stopped looking around and raised an eyebrow in question. "A few dates?"

He smiled broadly. "A lot of dates?"

"Much better. I'm used to seeing you every day, after all." She looked at the view screen that was focused on Earth. "I wish I knew what was going on out there. Why are we here? Why the lack of communication?"

"I still think we took them by surprise and they don't know what to do with us and our future technology. Utopia Planetia is the best place to study it and dismantle it, if need be."

"Yes, but they could have just told us that. Starfleet isn't being open with me, and I don't like it."

"What do you think is going on?"

Apprehensively, she said, "I fear that if I give voice to my suspicions then they might come true." She sat in his chair and faced him.

"That sounds a little superstitious for you."

She sat back in the chair. "It does, doesn't it?" Looking over at him, she said, "Something just isn't right here, and I can't put my finger on it. Is it because I violated the temporal prime directive? Is it the Equinox crew? Are they going to call me on some other violation?"

"First of all, you didn't violate the temporal prime directive. The admiral did. And I don't think they would keep us up here just for the Equinox crew."

"So then, Starfleet wants me."

Chakotay rose and stood in front of her. He stretched out his hand for her to take, and then pulled her up into a hug. "I don't think so. You're a hero and they're going to want to celebrate you and what you've accomplished."

"What we've accomplished."

He kissed her softly. "Try not to worry until we know that we have something to worry about. Let's go."

She nodded and walked with him to the turbolift. "Whatever it is, we'll face it together, right?"


In the messhall the party was in full swing when Chakotay and Kathryn arrived. As she looked around the room, her heart was filled with pride at the site of her crew home and safe at last.

"You okay?" Chakotay asked.

Seeing his concern, she put her arm around his waist. "I'm fine. Happy to be home."

"Let's join the party." He laid his arm across her back and pulled her close to his side.

When the crew spotted them, everyone in the room began applauding. Chakotay squeezed her tightly and kissed the top of her head.

Tom held up his hands for everyone to quiet down. "Captain, Commander, we'd like to offer a toast to both of you. Thank you for never losing faith and for never giving up on us. We can hardly believe that we're actually here, but it's a dream come true and we have you to thank for it. Here's to you."

Everyone started applauding again, and Chakotay whispered in her ear. "May I kiss you? It's something they've wanted to see for years."

She whispered back, "That seems like an incredibly bad idea."

He either didn't hear her or didn't care because she suddenly found herself in his arms being kissed in front of everyone. The loud applause around her seemed to get louder, but she couldn't discern the shouts as her mind was whirling with arousal, and annoyance, for the man holding her.

After the kiss ended and the roar of applause dulled to a jovial party atmosphere, Kathryn turned to Chakotay. "Did you not hear me say that was a bad idea?"

He grinned. "I thought you said it was an incredible idea."

She sighed and started greeting all of the crewmembers that were surrounding them to offer congratulations and thanks. Kathryn noticed that Chakotay's hand never left her back for more than a moment. She was both pleased and disconcerted by his open affection, but despite her reticence about the public display, she was overjoyed that he wanted to be a part of her life.

About an hour into the celebration, Admiral Harris thwarted the party by arriving with two security personnel. The party grew very quiet as he made his way to where Kathryn and Chakotay were standing.

Kathryn stepped forward, an uncertain queasiness building inside her. "Admiral Harris. Welcome to Voyager, sir."

"Thank you Captain. I hate to break up the festivities, but we have a matter to attend to." He raised his voice to speak to everyone in the room. "You are all confined to quarters until further notice. It is a matter of security for this ship and crew. There will be time to celebrate at a later date."

Kathryn protested, "Admiral…"

"You have your orders, Captain." Harris directed his attention to Chakotay. "Captain Chakotay, you will come with me."

Alarmed at the use of his Maquis rank, Kathryn said, "What for?"

"Captain, you are aware of the warrant for his arrest. That was your mission to begin with, was it not?"

Anger was simmering inside as Kathryn felt Chakotay's reassuring hand on her shoulder. He said, "Captain, I was expecting this. It would have been naïve not to consider the possibility."

Harris nodded and said, "Very well then. If you'll come with us?"

As the security guards put restraints on Chakotay's wrists, Kathryn asked with resentment and alarm, "Is that really necessary?"

One of the security guards answered, "Standard procedure, sir."

"Admiral, I demand to know your intentions! Commander Chakotay has served Voyager faithfully for seven very long years and this treatment is reprehensible." She was not about to let Chakotay be taken without any explanation.

Harris answered, "Captain, it would be wise of you to lose the insubordinate tone. Your behavior is inappropriate, especially in front of your crew. You and your crew are to return to quarters until further notice. Don't make me send a security detail to enforce it. Good day." He left and the security guards followed with their detainee.

Chakotay forced them to pause as he turned to speak with Kathryn. "It will be okay. Trust me, please." The security guards forced him to move. As he walked out of the room he turned to a few members of the crew and said, "Take care of her and make sure she doesn't do anything extreme."

Outraged, Kathryn rubbed her forehead to fight off the threatening enraged outburst. She didn't want to make matters worse by verbally attacking Starfleet in front of her crew. Tom and Harry were in front of her instantly, blocking her from the eyes of the crew.

Tom asked, "Captain? Are you okay?"

She took a deep, shuddering breath. "Do I look like I'm okay? Damn them!" She was so angry that she was shaking. "I've got to calm down. We've been in worse situations, and we've had crew members taken into custody before."

Angry himself, Harry said, "But never when somebody else is giving the orders."

Tom added, "And not immediately after you've just kissed that crew member in front of everyone."

She shook her head as she looked at the two men who had changed so much during their voyage. "When did you two become so wise?" She took another deep breath to calm the anger.

Tom answered, "Years following your example, Captain."

Still hopping mad, but relieved that they were helping to keep her from losing her cool in front of the crew, she said, "Thank you. I don't know what I would do without you and this crew."

Harry said, "You'll never have to find out. Starfleet has over a hundred people to answer to about this."

"I appreciate that, Harry." Her composure regained, she quieted the room down with Tom's help. Speaking to everyone she said, "I wish I had some answers for you…"

The Doctor interrupted her by saying, "And we wish we had some answers for you."

After everyone chuckled, Kathryn continued, "But I'm afraid you know as much as I do. I think that we better avoid getting into any more trouble and follow through on the Admiral's orders. You know that intra-ship communication is not prohibited, but try not to work yourselves into a frenzy about Commander Chakotay and what's waiting for us when we leave this ship. It's a good sign that the rest of the Maquis weren't taken into custody. Don't hesitate to contact me if you need me. I'm sure that I could use a few distractions."

She paused before saying, "You can do the Commander and me both a favor. Keep our new relationship just between us. Don't put it in any personal logs and don't mention it to anyone until all of this is over. I don't think I'll have as much pull with Starfleet if they think I've become emotionally attached."

Tom said, "You can count on us, Captain. And we're here for you too. We know this isn't the homecoming you were expecting, but when this is all over and the Commander is free, we'll celebrate in true Voyager fashion."

Grateful by their support, she simply responded, "Thank you."

Tom called out, "Okay everyone, return to quarters. And that means your own quarters!"

Tuvok stepped forward and said, "Captain, I will ensure that our orders are carried out."

"Thank you." She squeezed his arm and let Harry guide her out of the mess hall and back to her quarters.

Once isolated from everyone else, she sat down on her bed and allowed tears of anger and frustration to fall. The emotional upheaval from the last two days was overwhelming, and the threat of losing Chakotay hours after she finally admitted her love to him was hitting her hard. She pulled a blanket around her and lay down, letting herself have the release that she had been putting off for years. With her ship safely ensconced at Utopia Planetia, she didn't have to worry about it for the first time in years. The crew, however, was another matter entirely.

Kathryn entered the Starfleet detention center and was greeted by Chakotay's defense attorney, Commander Jack Pruitt. He extended his hand, "Captain Janeway, it's good to see you again."

"Thank you again for arranging this. I can't tell you how much this means to us."

"You make a good team, and three heads are better than two. When you're finished talking, let me know if you have any suggestions or leads. I'll be at my office."

"Thank you, Commander." Kathryn left Pruitt and followed the security guard who was waiting to take her to see Chakotay. Voyager had been in the Alpha Quadrant for a little over a month, and this was the sixth time, she had been able to see Chakotay. She let the guard explain to her for the sixth time, the rules and procedures of the detention center. After she assured the guard that she understood, they proceeded through the many corridors and checkpoints that would eventually lead her to Chakotay.

As they walked, she thought about how positive he had been about all of this. He seemed to offer her more hope and encouragement than she was able to give him. He had not once seemed depressed about his situation, while she felt like a huge rain cloud was constantly shadowing and dampening her spirits.

Arriving at the meeting rooms, the guard opened a door for Kathryn and she stepped inside. The room was empty except for a utilitarian table surrounded by four chairs. Kathryn sat in one and took a deep breath to clear her mind while she waited for them to bring Chakotay in.

The door opened and Chakotay stepped through. "Kathryn."

She rose and moved quickly into his arms. "Chakotay." She hugged him tightly. While embracing, her lips touched his cheek and she tried to get her fill of his scent.

"I've missed you."

She smiled against his face. "I've missed you too. This isn't exactly what I had in mind for those dates you promised me."

"I'll make it up to you. I promise."

She pulled back and held his face between her hands. "I know you will. I love you so much."

"I love you too." He led her to a chair and then sat beside her. "Tell me about your weekend. You finally went to Indiana?"

"Yes. After I left here on Thursday, I had a meeting with Admiral Nechayev, and then I was home in time for dinner." She held his hands, needing to touch him as much as possible while she was there. "It was nice to be at home, and even though it rained all weekend, Mom and I had a chance to talk a lot."

"Are you going to move there?"

Kathryn sighed. He had asked her the previous week to get away from Starfleet and go home for a while. He was worried that the stress and constant publicity was getting to her. "Not until this is all over. I want to be near you."

"Kathryn, I'm still within transporter range. It will be good for you to get out of the city."

"The crew is here and nobody wants to leave until you're free."

Chakotay pulled a hand away and rubbed his neck. "I really wish that everyone would just get on with their lives."

"I know." She rested a hand on his leg. "But everyone is pretty upset about this, and they need time to come to terms with it. That may not happen until after a trial."

Chakotay asked, "Has B'Elanna had any luck with the research?"

"Some. I'm glad she thought to pull all of the Liberty's logs out of Voyager's systems before we left the ship. She's got everything in chronological order and at least she knows where the information gaps are. She's working with all of the other Maquis to see if they can remember what happened during those times."

"I wish I could help."

Kathryn squeezed his leg. "I know. You do have the best memory I've ever seen." She sighed.

"I'm not sure Starfleet will accept these recreated logs as evidence anyway."

"But at least we'll know where you were and when. It's helping Pruitt." She took his hands again.

"I wish I knew what specific evidence Starfleet has."

"That would help a lot, but we'll find a way to fight this."

"I don't know, Kathryn. I'm starting to believe that Starfleet is convinced that every single Maquis ship attacked Federation outposts and ships. They think we're all guilty without even bothering to look at the facts."

"Your ship never fired on a Federation vessel?"

"I didn't say that. I never personally ordered an attack on any Federation vessel or installation. However, I did defend my people and my ship when I needed to."

"I know. And you would have defended yourself against Voyager if we had met in the Alpha Quadrant."

"Thankfully, that didn't happen." He touched her cheek and drew his fingers down to her chin. "I'm glad you came after us though."

"Me too." She held his hand against her face, relishing his touch.

Chakotay leaned forward and kissed her softly. "So, what did you meet with Nechayev about? May I ask?"

Kathryn sighed deeply. "You may ask. I was trying to decide how to bring it up anyway."

"Is it something bad?"

"Well, that depends on how you look at it. She offered me the admiralty."

"Kathryn… that's wonderful."

"Is it?" She wasn't so sure. "I was considering leaving Starfleet."

"You were? Why didn't you tell me?"

Kathryn examined their hands. "I'm really unhappy with Starfleet right now."

"Because of me."

"Because of how they're treating you, and me. The war is over and I just don't understand this."

"You can't put your life on hold because of me."

"Chakotay, I want you to be a part of my life, and I don't know if I can ethically continue in Starfleet when I'm so angry with them."

He rubbed his hand over his face with exasperation. Taking a deep breath, he said, "You know, you'll probably feel even more alienated if you leave 'fleet. It's possible that if you take this promotion, you'll have access to more information."

"I don't think Harris is going to let me in on anything, regardless of my rank."

"I just don't want you to throw away your career because you're angry right now. Leaving isn't going to have an impact on this case. It's possible that my situation is a result of only a handful of people."

"Or just Harris."

Chakotay nodded. "Yes, or just Harris."

"All right. I'll accept it."

He pulled her into a hug. "Congratulations. Any idea what you'll be doing?"

"Not yet."

Looking at her, he said, "Just remember, that even though you have the rank, you can decide whether to accept a position. If it's not something that will make you happy, you can always leave Starfleet then."

"You're right." Talking to him made her feel more focused, and she realized that even if he were in prison, she would always be able to talk to him. It wouldn't be forever. She looked at the time and said, "We still have half an hour. Tell me what you've been doing."

He laughed. "Not much of anything, really. Reading a lot." They talked until a security guard came to take Chakotay away. Their conversation was pleasant, and Kathryn left feeling a lot better than when she arrived.

Commander Pruitt extended his hand. "Admiral Janeway, congratulations on your promotion."

"Thank you." Her new rank had been bestowed upon her only a few days earlier. The rank still surprised her, and she almost expected her father to come from behind and extend his hand to accept the greeting. "I got here as quickly as I could. Is everything okay?"

"Chakotay asked to speak to you as soon as possible. I'll let him explain."

She followed him through the center and couldn't help but wonder why Pruitt had called her to arrange an immediate meeting with Chakotay. His trial was to begin the following week, and she was concerned that his request to speak with her today meant that he was going to confess something that she would hear during the trial. Pruitt's tone of voice and body language tipped her off that something wasn't right. She entered the private conference room to find Chakotay already waiting for her.

Pruitt said, "You have as long as you need. I'll be outside if you need me."

She was in Chakotay's arms immediately. "I've missed you."

He held her tightly against his chest. "It's only been a few days."

Taking a deep, shuddering breath, she said, "My comfort is that this will be over soon."

"We need to talk."

She released him and said, "All right."

"You're going to be very angry with me."


"I'm not going to trial."

She stared at him blankly while she processed his statement. It was not at all what she was expecting. Brusquely, she asked, "Why not?"

"Let's sit." He motioned to the table.

Kathryn did not sit. "What happened?"

Chakotay sighed. "Starfleet accepted a plea bargain. I'll plead guilty to lesser charges, and they'll give me a reduced sentence."

"Reduced from what? You hadn't been sentenced yet! You haven't even been convicted!"

"Please sit, Kathryn." When she did, he took her hands and said, "Yesterday morning, Harris presented Pruitt with the proof he had to convict me of premeditated manslaughter. There is nothing that Pruitt can use to defend me except for my seven years of loyalty to you. We are all in agreement that it's going to take a lot more than that."

"Manslaughter?" Kathryn had a very unpleasant sinking sensation in her chest. "You killed someone?"

"I've had to kill a lot of people… mostly Cardassians. However, in this case I did not kill the victim, not in self-defense, and certainly not pre-meditated. However, the evidence that Harris presented makes it look as if I did."

Her heart heavy, she asked, "What happened?"

"It was on Omicron Pi, at a seedy backwater pub. We were picking up a defector who was ready to join the Maquis. It was supposed to be a very simple mission, but we weren't expecting to meet undercover Starfleet officers and it got ugly."

"How could you tell they were there?"

"Other than the fact that 'fleeters stand out like a sore thumb, I knew the leader of the group. Commander Frank Wendell. I served under him on my first assignment, and we didn't get along well. Mostly because I caught him doing something illegal."

"And who died?"

"Frank." Chakotay stood and found a painting on the wall to stare at. "He recognized me and picked a fight, basically confessing that he was part of the negotiation team that turned Trebus over to Cardassia."

"Was he?"

"I don't know, but I punched him anyway. Felt really good about it, too."

Kathryn stood and walked over to stand behind him. She put her hand on his back and massaged in large circles. "So, let me guess. A fight broke out?"

Chakotay nodded. "And he died. I don't know how, but I didn't cause it. The witness reports indicate that I sought him out to avenge my father's death and murdered him without provocation. I can't fight it."

"There were no other witnesses?"

"Sure there are. B'Elanna, Ayala, Darby. But their testimony won't stand because the judge and jury would think they were just trying to protect me. There were a lot of people in that bar, but figuring out who they were, and if they'd testify would be near impossible."

Distressed, she said, "There has to be something…"

Chakotay turned around and took both of her hands between his. "No, Kathryn. It's over. I need you to let it go. I don't want this to come to trial, especially a very public trial."

"How can you ask me that? I can't stop until you're a free man."

"Kathryn, as a Maquis, I did many things that I'm not proud of, but I had no choice. You know that I tried not to ever fire on Federation citizens, but sometimes I had to. I don't want any of that to become public knowledge. I don't want somebody's grandmother knowing that I killed her grandson. I don't want an angry and revengeful family member going after my family. It was war. It's in the past, and it needs to stay in the past."

Kathryn bit her lips to ward off the tears that were threatening. She shook her head. "But you don't deserve this."

He pulled her close and said, "I know, and neither do you. And I know everyone from Voyager is going to be very angry, but you've got to make them understand. I need this to go away in the public eye."

She let him hold her for several minutes while she got her emotions together. His warm and gentle strength was a balm to her emotional pain. With her head still on his chest, she said, "You haven't told me what the plea bargain was yet."

"Starfleet drops the manslaughter charges, and I do five years for crimes against the Federation."

Kathryn closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Five years. She had already waited seven to be with him. She would find a way to do it. "All right. Are they sending you to New Zealand?" She continued when he nodded. "We'll make the best of it. I'll come on every visitor's day, and we can write…"

"No, Kathryn."

She pulled back and looked at him. "No?"

His eyes were closed as he said, "I'm not going to let you waste your life waiting around for me."

"Excuse me?" She couldn't believe what she was hearing.

"Our relationship needs to end so that you can live your life."

She threw his arms away from her in anger. "You have got to be kidding me! You expect me to just walk away from you as if this didn't mean anything? Just go out and find someone else to take your place?"

"It's not like I haven't given this some thought. I'm the one who committed the crimes. I'm the one who is in prison, not you. If you plan to visit me every week then you'll have to stay on Earth, and I know you belong out there in space."

"In case you don't remember, I'm an Admiral now. My duty is here on Earth and my life is here. I love you and I'm not forsaking that just because you happen to be on the other side of the planet."

"Yes, I know you're an Admiral. That doesn't mean you'll be behind a desk. You could be out there negotiating peace treaties and making the universe a better place. And it wouldn't be good for your career to be involved with a convicted criminal."

"I don't give a damn about my career, Chakotay. They can have these damned pips before I'd ever choose Starfleet over you."

"You've chosen Starfleet over me for the last seven years. Why stop now?"

Seething with anger, she said, "That was low. You know I had no choice."

Chakotay turned around and went to the window. He put his hands on each side of the windowsill and looked down at the city. "I'm sorry, Kathryn. I know you accepted the promotion because I asked you to. I don't mean to hurt you. I've never wanted to hurt you, but I can't sit in prison knowing that you're out there waiting for me. If I'm going to do this, I need to know that you're happy, and you can't be happy if the highlight of your week is a trip to New Zealand."

Calmer now, she said, "Regardless of what I do with my career, where I decide to live, and who I call friend, the highlight of my life will always be seeing you. Your support and steadfast faith in me is what has kept me going for seven very long years. I could go to the bridge every day because I knew you would be there. I know I can make it through this if I know when we'll be together. Please don't shut me out of your life. I need you, even if it's just once a week."

"I can't, Kathryn. I really can't."

"Won't you be happier knowing that I'll be right by your side through all of this? …that at the end of your sentence, I'll be waiting and we can start our life together? I want to grow old with you, Chakotay. I want to marry you."

"Please, Kathryn. Don't make this harder."

She went to him at the window and forced him to look at her. "Marry me, Chakotay. Right now."

His eyes bright red with unshed tears, he shook his head. "I'm sorry."

"Don't you love me?" Tears were falling down her cheeks. She couldn't control them any longer. "How can you ask me to do this?"

"It's certainly not anything that I want. What I want is to take you away and live together on a deserted planet very far away from here. But our paradise is gone, Kathryn. And yes, I do love you, and I will always love you. I've loved you since the day I met you. I just can't keep you. I have to let you go."

"I don't want to go."

He choked out the words, "You have to." Hugging her very tightly one last time, he said, "I need you to forget about me. I need you to go find your happiness." He kissed her softly and then pulled out of her arms, leaving her standing by the window, crying. Before he left the room, he said, "I love you."

The full onslaught of tears overtook her and Kathryn dropped to her knees in anguish. She wasn't sure how he managed it, but Pruitt was able to get her transported directly to her mother's home in Indiana. He explained the situation to Gretchen Janeway and left Kathryn in her care. Kathryn felt her mother holding her as she eventually cried herself to sleep.

Kathryn woke the next morning when rays from the early summer sun settled warmly upon her face. She opened her stinging, swollen eyes and looked around her childhood bedroom. She had spent a few nights here since returning from the Delta Quadrant, but other than an appreciative glance for being home, she hadn't given it much thought.

The room was not decorated with children's toys, and her shelves were not filled with dolls or plush animals. Instead, there was a collection of antique microscopes, artifacts gathered from field trips during high school, and a gathering of unique rocks. The walls were decorated with star charts, a photograph of Orion's Horsehead Nebula, and a few of her early paintings - which were also pictures of stars, comets, and nebulas. Behind the pictures, the walls were gray. Gray like the bulkheads of a starship. "Hmph," she said to herself. "I lived on a starship before I ever left home." Kathryn looked toward the door when she heard her mother walking up the stairs.

Gretchen knocked and peaked in. "I made coffee. Would you like a cup?"

"Sure," she said, but she made no effort to reach for the mug that her mother was carrying.

"I'll just set it here on the nightstand." Gretchen sat on the bed and sipped from her own mug. "I called your new assistant and told her that you weren't feeling well and wouldn't be in today. Probably wouldn't be in for a few days."

Kathryn smiled weakly. "Thanks. I didn't even think about it. Although I don't really have any work yet since they haven't given me an assignment."

"That's what she said. She also mentioned that there was an article in the morning news report about Chakotay so she was sure that everyone would understand your absence."

"I guess that's why he was so adamant about seeing me yesterday."

Gretchen smoothed out the blankets. "Pruitt told me about the plea bargain and that Chakotay had given him instructions to get you back here because you would be upset, but he didn't explain much more."

Kathryn shrugged. "He accepted a five year sentence for 'Crimes against the Federation', so that Starfleet would drop charges of manslaughter and avoid a trial."

Exhaling quickly, Gretchen said, "Wow."

"He's not guilty, Mom."

After taking another sip, Gretchen said, "But he was a Maquis Captain."

Kathryn rolled to her side to look at her mother. "He's a good man. A very good man."

"Whom you love." Gretchen rubbed Kathryn's arm in sympathy.

"He ended our relationship last night. Told me to forget about him and move on with my life. I can't do it." She paused for a moment. "He wants me to explain to the rest of the crew why he made this decision. I'm never going to be able to explain that it was the right thing to do when I don't understand it myself."

Gretchen thought for a moment before saying, "Well, I'd suggest that you tell them how you feel. They'll appreciate knowing that you don't agree with it, because many of them probably won't either."

Kathryn nodded and thought about B'Elanna and the others who were witnesses. There was no doubt in her mind that they would be furious.

"May I suggest something?"

Kathryn sat up and picked up her coffee. "Of course."

"Move out of Starfleet housing and live with me here. You can commute to San Francisco just like I commute to the university in Iowa."

Taking her mother's hand, Kathryn said, "I had wanted to stay in San Francisco while Chakotay was there, but now… I would really like to be here with you. I've missed you so much."

Gretchen put their coffee cups on the table, and then took Kathryn in a warm hug. "We can build a life here and in five years when Chakotay is free, you'll have a home waiting for him."

Feeling a little insecure, she asked, "What if he doesn't want me?"

Pulling back from the hug, Gretchen laid her hand against the side of Kathryn's face. "He'd be crazy not to."

Kathryn smiled in thanks. "I know that he loves me, but he doesn't even want to see me. No letters or anything."

"He can't force you to let go, and it's not like he's going to be out dating other people."

"Maybe he'll let B'Elanna see him. Perhaps she can convince him to eventually come around."

Gretchen kissed Kathryn's forehead. "That's the spirit. You haven't completely lost him… he's not dead. He's just locked up somewhere safe for awhile."

Kathryn nodded and took a deep breath. Her mother was right. There was nothing Chakotay could do to make her move on. Now it was time to settle into life on Earth and find a way to make five years pass very quickly. She looked around the room. "Mom, can we redecorate so it doesn't look so… Starfleet?"

Laughing, Gretchen answered, "I think that's a wonderful idea. I've thought this room looked dreadful since the day we painted it gray."

"I'm thinking a bright, sunny yellow, and exchanging these pictures for something a little more floral."

"Less stellar?"

Kathryn nodded. "And the bed has got to go. It's too small and way too lumpy."

Gretchen stood and pulled back the covers so Kathryn could get up. "Then let's get started."

Kathryn and Gretchen stood side-by-side looking intently at the painting they just put up over the large king-size bed in Kathryn's newly painted bedroom. Gretchen asked, "You painted this?"

"Mmm hmmm… It looked better on Voyager."

"What is it supposed to be?"

"A monkey in a tree."

Gretchen squinted to try to make out the form. "I don't see it."

Sighing, Kathryn said, "Well, I don't think Chakotay would care for a picture of that particular monkey over the bed anyway."

Sitting down on the bed, Gretchen said, "There's a story there."

Kathryn laughed and sat down beside her mother. "Yeah. I told you about our six weeks on a deserted planet, right?"

"During which you say that you never consummated your relationship," Gretchen said, disbelieving.

Pointing to the picture, Kathryn said, "And Chakotay blames the monkey. He showed up at the worst times."

"You're right. He wouldn't like it." Gretchen looked at the wall again. "I still say that it needs a headboard, not a picture. What if it falls on your head while you're sleeping?"

Thoughtfully, Kathryn said, "I think you're right, but I don't want to buy any furniture for this room."

"Why not?"

"While were settling into life on that planet, New Earth we called it, Chakotay took to making furniture. He made me a bathtub, a headboard, and was planning on making a boat."

"And you want him to make furniture for this room."

Kathryn nodded. "I'm hoping that it will be therapeutic for him."

"Was painting this room therapeutic for you?"

Smiling, Kathryn said, "Very much so. I felt like I was creating something good. Making something beautiful out of something that was drab."

"I love the flowers that you painted on the wall."

"Daisies are very cheerful."

Gretchen chuckled. "Yes they are. You should have B'Elanna take some to Chakotay next time she goes."

"I wonder if he would keep them if he knew they were from me?" Kathryn had tried to visit twice, but she wasn't allowed past the security desk. Chakotay had left specific instructions that she was not welcome, and the civilian guard who worked the desk had been disrespectful about dismissing her. It had been over four months since she had seen him, but she stayed informed about his activities because he accepted visits from B'Elanna. Kathryn assumed it was mostly to see the new baby because B'Elanna was still very angry about his decision, and there was no doubt that B'Elanna shared her opinions with him as often as she could.

Gretchen gave her daughter a hug. "I'm sure that he's just as miserable without you as you are without him."

Kathryn returned the hug saying, "I'm sure that he's worse because he doesn't have you."

"Oh sweetie, you have no idea how much it means to hear you say that."

Pulling back from the hug, Kathryn held her mother's shoulders. "I think I do."

"You know what we need?"


Shaking her head in amusement, Gretchen said, "Well, always. But what we need is to go shopping."

"Why? We can replicate anything we need."

"Where's the fun in that?" She patted the bed. "This bed needs a cheery quilt, and I heard there are some beautiful Bajoran quilts showing at the Bloomington Market."

"Bajoran..." Kathryn got suddenly quiet as she began to recall Chakotay telling her that he planned to visit Bajor.

"What's wrong?"

Coming out of her daze, Kathryn said, "Mom, I think I may want to go shopping on Bajor for that quilt."


Kathryn clasped her mother's hand. "The day we returned, Chakotay told me that he had received news that members of his tribe had been discovered living on Bajor. He had planned to go there as soon as possible to see if they needed anything." She looked at Chakotay's blanket that was draped across the chair in the corner. "I need to go... for him. I didn't even recall the conversation until you mentioned Bajor." She couldn't believe that she had forgotten something that was so important to him.

"Take me with you."

"What? You can't go."

Gretchen responded emphatically, "If you can, then so can I."

"But it could be dangerous. I don't know what to expect."

Making a fist, Gretchen said, "I'm stronger than I look."

Kathryn laughed. "That's something I would say."

"I just got you back, and I'm not about to let you go again. Besides, two heads are better than one, and you might need help."

"And if something happens?"

"I'll be glad that we're together."

Kathryn stood and grabbed a PADD off of the desk. Making a list, she said, "I'll need to tell Starfleet that I'm extending my leave of absence." She had taken the summer off to clear her head and get some rest. A sudden thought occurred to her. "But Mom, the fall semester is starting. What about your classes?"

Gretchen waved away the concern. "I'll take a semester off. They shouldn't have a problem finding someone to teach the undergraduate classes, and my graduate students can postpone their logic course until spring. It'll be fine."

Sighing, Kathryn said, "You really want to go?"

"I have always wanted to see another quadrant of space." She stood up. "And I've talked about doing some traveling for quite a while."

Kathryn hugged her mother. "It'll be nice to have some company." After releasing her mother, she started entering information into the PADD again. "I'll need to get a shuttle craft. Oh, and I should contact Chakotay's sister again to see if she knows anything. And Ayala, he might like to go with us."


"One of the former Maquis who was second in command of security on Voyager. I think it would be wise to take some safety precautions."

"I'm sure Chakotay would approve. Are you going to let him know that we're going?"

Kathryn shook her head. "I don't think he would want me to. I'm sure that's not what he had in mind when he suggested that I find happiness without him."

"Probably not." Gretchen walked to the door of the room. "I'll go call the dean, and then start packing."

"Thanks, Mom."

Gretchen winked before leaving. She called back from the stairs, "Anything for you, and anything for that man you love."

Kathryn made a note to contact Colonel Kira en route. Chakotay was not going to be happy about this at all, but it was something she could do that might really mean something to him.

"Admiral Janeway, it's an honor to meet you." Kira extended her hand.

"The honor is mine, Colonel. I'd like to introduce Gretchen Janeway and Michael Ayala."

"Welcome to the station Mrs. Janeway, and Mr. Ayala, welcome back."

Ayala said, "It's good to be here and not sneaking through the under-deck passages."

With a smile, Kira said, "You'll find that it's much friendlier up here."

"I'm sure it is," Ayala said with a nod.

Motioning for the visitors to follow her, Kira said, "I'm glad that you called ahead, Admiral. I was planning on leaving tomorrow for an extended vacation. I haven't been off of the station in awhile."

Kathryn asked, "Are you going to Bajor?"

"Probably. Your message indicated that you're on your way there. Any special reason?"

"A few of my former crew members live there now. I thought I'd check to see how they're doing."

Kira motioned for them to enter her office. She pulled up an extra chair for Ayala, and then sat behind her desk. "I met a few of them when they stopped here on their way. They spoke very highly of you."

Ayala said, "We were a very close family on Voyager, and Admiral Janeway means a lot to all of us."

Kathryn smiled, "Thank you." Ayala nodded in response and Kathryn added, "Tal Celes is like a daughter to me. Did you meet her?"

Nodding, Kira said, "Oh yes. She's a delightful young woman. I helped her find employment and get settled. She's doing quite well."

"I look forward to seeing her."

Gretchen said, "We were also considering purchasing some Bajoran artwork - a few quilts to be exact. I hear they're incredibly beautiful."

Kira said, "Oh, they are. I'd be happy to give you a couple of tips on where to shop. There are some talented artists who don't show their work in the main marketplaces."

"Wonderful!" Gretchen responded.

Kira said to Gretchen, "Perhaps you would like to look at some of the shops here on the station?"

"I would love to."

Turning to Ayala, Kira said, "You know the way to the central concourse?" When he nodded she continued, "Would you accompany Mrs. Janeway there while I speak to the Admiral?"

"Of course." Ayala rose and invited Gretchen to take his arm.

After they left the room, Kira asked, "So what's the real reason that you're visiting?"

Kathryn smiled knowingly. She knew that Kira wouldn't believe that they had made the long journey just to buy a quilt. "Chakotay told me that you contacted him about a few members of his tribe living on Bajor. I'm here to follow up on that."

"I thought so." Kira said with understanding. "When Chakotay didn't contact me after Voyager arrived home, I began to worry until I saw the news reports. I'm glad he sent you."

Kathryn paused for a moment while she thought about how much to tell Colonel Kira. Kathryn's instincts told her that Kira could be trusted, and Chakotay did have a lot of respect for her. "May I be completely honest with you?" Kira nodded and Kathryn continued. "Chakotay didn't send me. He told me about your message before he was arrested."


"Chakotay and I were very close. However, he has asked me to move on without him. Which, of course, I can't do."

Tilting her head in empathy, Kira said, "I know exactly how you feel. I'm in a similar situation."

"Then you understand that this is something that I can do for him. He wanted to make sure that these people were okay, and he wanted them to know that he's alive and willing to help them in any way he can. I also spoke to Chakotay's sister, Sekaya, and she feels the same. She just couldn't join us right now."

"I do understand, and I'm pleased that you're here. I've looked into the situation more since I contacted Chakotay. There are two, and they aren't from his tribe. They're from Dorvan V, while Chakotay was from Trebus."

"But still, they're Native Americans, and Chakotay would want to offer assistance."

Kira nodded, "I think so too. Chakotay is a noble man." She paused for a moment. "But you should know… They are two young boys. By Earth's calendar, one is nine years old, and the other is seven."

Kathryn took a deep breath. "I see… Well, that does change things."

"Does it?"

Knowing that Kira was worried, Kathryn spoke again quickly. "Only because I can't just go see how they are. When I make contact, I should have a plan in mind."

Relief in her voice, Kira said, "You're right."

"Who were their parents?"

"I know who the mother was, but I'm not sure about the father. I think he died before she did. She was from Dorvan and worked at a clinic on one of the Maquis bases. She died in 2373 in a battle with the Jem'Hadar."

Kathryn took out a PADD to record this information. When she did the math, she asked, "They were two and four when they lost their mother?"

Kira nodded. "And they've been at an orphanage on Bajor since. I didn't know about them earlier because they were kept hidden until the war was over. Bajor was in such a state of disarray that it took a while for a census to be taken."

Kathryn's heart ached for the boys. "Chakotay must have known her if she was a Maquis."

"He probably did. Her name was Savannah Trowbridge." Kira moved around to sit next to Kathryn. "How do you think Chakotay would want to help them? Give money to the orphanage, find someone for them to live with, or adopt them?"

"I don't know. I wish I had known this before I came out here so that I could have spoken with Sekaya about it. What are their names?"

"The older one is Chumani, and if I'm saying it correctly, the younger is Kokopak, but they call him Kol."

"Are they happy?" Kathryn asked.

Kira sighed. "I only saw them once. They seem shy, but it's hard to tell. Their caregiver said that they don't speak much. She said they are learning Bajoran grammar, but they speak broken English to each other. Also, they have underdeveloped social skills. There are over a hundred children there, and all are well-fed and educated. However, it's hard to give them the attention that they probably need."

"Delayed language and social skills." Kathryn thought hard about this. They would be twelve and fourteen when Chakotay was released from prison. In five years, they could accomplish a lot with the right care and instruction. "I know what I want to do, but I want to speak to Chakotay's sister and my mother about this."

"And what do you want?"

"To adopt them and take them home with me. Give them the care they need until Chakotay is ready to be their father."

"A foster parent."

Kathryn shook her head. "A mother." She surprised herself when she said it, but she had always wanted to be a mother. "I'm hopeful that Chakotay will want to marry me in five years, but I can't be certain."

"Admiral, tell me about the charges made against Chakotay."

The change of subject took Kathryn aback. "He'd rather keep that information confidential."

Kira folded her hands as she thought for a moment. "What if I told you that I have some knowledge and proof of an illegal wartime activity that Admiral Harris was involved in?"

Kathryn sat up straighter. "You're suggesting blackmail."

"Hmmmm…" Kira thought. "No, of course not. Perhaps coercion. I've never had a reason to bring this particular issue forward because it doesn't concern Bajor. However, it would jeopardize Starfleet's relationship with the Klingons."

"I'm not sure that Harris has the power to free Chakotay without bringing new information to the case."

A secretive smile crossed Kira's features. "I've heard rumors about Chakotay's case, and I think I might be able to help if what I've heard is true."

"Go on." Kathryn nodded. She was very intrigued by where this was going.

"While involved in the Bajoran rebellion, I happened to be at a disgusting little bar when a fight broke out. There was an undercover Starfleet officer there. I could tell because he was dressed oddly to be in such a place. He picked a fight with a Maquis leader that was under surveillance by the Bajoran Military at the time."

Kathryn's heart began to beat heavily in her chest. This could be exactly the proof that they needed. "By any chance, was there a record of this surveillance?"

Kira reached over to her desk and picked up a data chip. She rubbed it between her fingers as she said, "I was thinking about taking a trip to the Terran system for my vacation. After we visit Bajor, would it be an inconvenience if I traveled with you?"

Kathryn held her fist against her lips to fight the emotions that were building. When she thought she had them under control, she croaked, "We would love the company."

"I am very glad you came to see me, Admiral."

"So am I." Kathryn stood with Kira and the two new friends shook hands.

After landing the shuttle in a sandy Bajoran town, Kathryn, Gretchen, Kira, and Ayala walked toward the orphanage. Kathryn was nervous about meeting the two boys, and was trying to figure out what to say to them. Because it was her first visit to Bajor, she tried to take in her surroundings too. The citizens didn't look like they were living in poverty, but everything was in a state of disrepair. Kathryn thought she sensed a feeling of optimism and congeniality in everyone as they went about their daily routines.

Ayala said to Kathryn, "Admiral, I'm considering staying here and not returning with you."


"I've been waiting for my boys to find me because I assumed that they must have heard about Voyager's return. I haven't found any recent records of them in any of the Federation's databases, and I'm not sure where to look. After my wife died, I left them with friends that were living in a colony inside Federation space, but they've all disappeared."

Kira asked, "How old are the boys?"

"They're about 18 and 22 now. I haven't seen them for almost nine years, so I really hope they're okay."

Putting her hand on Ayala's shoulder, Kira said, "We could check records here. There have been a lot of ex-Maquis and Federation citizens who have come here to help rebuild."

Ayala nodded. "That would be great. I was hoping that might be the case, and that's the reason I came out here with you, Admiral."

Kathryn asked, "Not because I asked you?"

"Well, that's what gave me the idea. I figured if there were other colonists found here, my family might be as well." Ayala continued, "That and Chakotay would have my hide if I let you go off on your own."

"And Chakotay would have mine if I did."

Gretchen asked, "So have you decided what you're going to do, Kathryn?"

Kathryn had been debating the pros and cons of adopting the boys without Chakotay knowing. Her options were to go ahead with it, or wait until Sekaya could speak with him about it on the next visitor's day. However, now that she knew Kira had proof of Chakotay's innocence, Kathryn wanted to get back to Earth as soon as possible to get the ball rolling. "I'm going to meet them first and then decide. If they don't want to go with me, I might have to wait for Chakotay. I'm not going to force them into anything, but I want to get back home as soon as possible."

Shaking her head, Gretchen said, "You can't rush children. They've been through a lot and we need to take our time. Chakotay is safe and will be just fine until we make it back."

"On the other hand," Ayala said as he moved some debris out of their path, "they might be ready to get away from here. Colonel, the more I see of this town, the more I know that I'm needed here."

Kira nodded, "The Cardassians did a lot of damage throughout the planet. We'll be glad to have you." Stopping to open a rusty gate, she said, "Here we are."

Kathryn looked up the path to a hillside full of small, brown buildings. Some were little cabins, and others looked like community or classroom areas. One thing was certain, they all needed a fresh coat of paint and a few more nails to hold them together. She took a deep breath to calm her nerves before she followed her mother through the gate. "Let's hope that I don't scare them away."

Gretchen put her arm around her daughter's shoulders. "Just don't glare at them, and they'll love you. Everybody does."

The group looked up when they noticed a young woman running down the path towards them. When she got closer, she called out, "Captain Janeway!"

Kathryn did a double take before she realized that it was Tal Celes. "Celes!"

The young Bajoran ran up and gave her former Captain a welcoming hug. "I'm so glad to see you!" Celes pulled away and looked at the rest of the group. "When Colonel Kira said you were coming, I just couldn't believe it!"

Ayala extended his hand. "Celes, it's good to see you."

Shyly, Celes embraced him and said, "You too, Michael."

Kathryn was a little surprised by the nervous sparks she saw between her former crewmembers. She wondered if there had been something going on between them that she didn't know about. Dismissing the thought until a later time, she introduced Celes to her mother and then asked, "Celes, do you work at the orphanage?"

"I do." She smiled brightly. "Colonel Kira helped me find a job here. I'm a resident counselor for fifteen girls, and I also help with Chumani and Kol, who you're here to see."

"Really?" When Celes nodded, she asked, "How do you help them?"

The group began to walk up the hill as Celes spoke. "Well, I'm one of two people here that knows English grammar and Federation standard. So, I've been helping them as much as I can. I also tell them stories about Voyager and Earth since that's where their ancestors lived."

Kira asked, "Do they know that we're coming?"

"I told them we're getting visitors from Earth, but not much more because I wasn't sure what to say." Celes looked at Kathryn sympathetically. "I had hoped that the Commander would be with you so Kol could meet him. He doesn't know yet that he has a father."

Confused by what Celes was saying, Kathryn asked, "Who has a father?"

Hesitantly, Celes answered, "Kol. Commander Chakotay's son?"

Surprised, Kathryn stopped walking and turned to look at Kira. "Kol is Chakotay's son?"

Kira sighed and gave a sideways reproving glance at Celes. "I wasn't sure if I should tell you since we're not sure. Obviously, Chakotay doesn't know about him because he was born eight months after Voyager and the Liberty disappeared."

Rubbing her neck, Kathryn asked, "So when were you going to tell me this little piece of information?" She wondered how they could find out for sure.

Celes said nervously, "I'm sorry. I didn't realize…"

Kathryn interrupted, not wanting her to get upset. "It's okay, Celes. I'm just surprised."

Kira said, "I was hoping that you would figure it out when you saw Kol."

Uncertainly, Celes added, "He looks just like the Commander. It's remarkable."

Kathryn looked at her mother who hadn't said anything yet. Gretchen shrugged and said, "If Chakotay was going to be surprised about you adopting two children, he's only going to more surprised, and hopefully very happy, that one of them is his."

Ayala said, "If you don't adopt them now, Chakotay will be back here the minute he gets out of prison."

Adding another thought, Gretchen said, "Even though I've never met the man, I'm sure this is what he'd want you to do. He's their father."

Kathryn said, "We'll see if they respond to me first. I'm still not going to force them to come with me if they don't want to."

Celes looped her arm through Kathryn's as they walked up the last few steps of the hill toward a larger building. "How could anyone not want you as a mother?"

Squeezing Celes's hand, Kathryn said, "Thank you." Celes was very sweet, but this latest news was a little disconcerting. Although pregnancy would be difficult because of her age, she had secretly hoped that if Chakotay ever had any children, she would be the mother.

When they entered the building, Celes asked everyone except Kathryn to wait in an empty classroom. Kathryn followed Celes farther into the building and came to another class filled with children.

Celes said, "Wait here and I'll get the boys out of class."

"Celes, I don't want to take them out of class. We can wait a little while." Kathryn figured that would also give her some time to relax. She found it hard to believe that she was about to meet someone who was probably Chakotay's son.

"It's all right, Captain." Celes paused. "I'm sorry. I keep calling you Captain, Admiral."

Kathryn smiled, "That's all right. You've called me that for years." She wanted to ask Celes to call her Kathryn, but thought that might make the young woman uncomfortable. "And Chakotay isn't a commander anymore. You can just call him by his name."

"That's right." Celes blushed. "I'm sorry. I'll just go get the boys."

Hoping she didn't make Celes ill at ease, Kathryn stood back and waited in the hallway. This was it… the moment she had been nervous about for days. She had faced many adversaries throughout her life, but none of them made her feel as uneasy as she felt about meeting these two children. She wished that her mother were with her to make sure this went well.

A young voice interrupted her reverie. "You really Captain Janeway from the Voyager starship?"

Kathryn smiled brightly at the question and looked down into a set of eyes that, although not as wise as she was used to seeing, were certainly as inquisitive and loving. "I am. You must be Kol."

"Wow! You tell me about the Kazon cruel and the Borgses evil?"

Kneeling down, she said, "I would love to tell you as many stories as you want to hear." Kira had mentioned that they didn't speak well, but it was still surprising.

"Come with me now to get Chumani. He want to nira!"

As the boy pulled Kathryn's hand to lead her down the hall, she asked Celes, "Nira?"

Smiling, Celes said, "It's Bajoran, and means 'hear.' I think the universal translator might have trouble keeping up with the way they switch between languages."

"He seems very happy."

"Because you're here. I've told him so many stories about you that you're a superhero to him." Celes quickly stopped Kol before he opened a door to another classroom. "Please wait here, Kol, and I will get Chumani."

Kol turned to Kathryn. "You…?" He looked frustrated.

Kneeling down, she asked, "I what?"

"Oh…" Kol looked upset and tapped his mouth. "Have the avit with us?"

She touched the side of his head, caressing the very familiar coarse black hair. "It's okay, Kol. Would you like me to eat lunch with you?"

"Eat!" He nodded. "That it. What the lunch?"

"Lunch is the meal in the middle of the day."

He smiled, "When the sun high?"

Chuckling, Kathryn nodded. "Yes, when the sun is high in the sky, we eat lunch."

Celes and Chumani came out of the classroom, and Kol jumped up and down, pulling on Kathryn's hand. "Chumani! It Captain Janeway!"

Chumani said, "Shhh Kol. They will hear you." He turned to Kathryn and said, "Thank you for…" He looked at Celes for help.


Chumani nodded. "Thank you for vising us. You eat with us and tell us the stories?"

Kathryn smiled at the young boy who was trying so hard to be hospitable. She stretched out her other hand and said, "Thank you, Chumani. I am happy to be here, and yes, I would love to have lunch with you and tell you many stories."

Kol quickly said, "Chumani, the lunch the avit when the sun high."

Kathryn and the boys followed Celes out of the building and into another, larger one that smelled like food. They went into what looked like a private dining area and Celes said, "The meal will be served soon, but you can talk here as long as you want. I'm going to check on the others."

Chumani looked nervous. "Nee Tal? Come back soon?"

She patted him gently on the back. "I'll be back very soon, but don't worry. Admiral Janeway will help you with words."

Kathryn said to Celes, "Please invite the others to join us." When Celes left, Kathryn looked at the boys. While Kol was studying her very closely, Chumani was nervously looking out the window. She assumed that he was nervous about speaking because of his vocabulary limitations. "Perhaps you two can teach me some Bajoran words?"

Chumani perked up and said, "We want to learn the words Earth for when we vising."

Not wanting to correct him, Kathryn said, "You would like to visit Earth?"

More excited now, Chumani said, "The tribes came from the Earth a time long ago."

"Do you know the names of your tribes?"

Kol shouted, "Mayan!"

Kathryn chuckled at his enthusiasm. Chumani said, "The Kol father Mayan, the Chumani father Shawnee, like the mother." He quickly added, "We the brothers because the mother the same."

Curious, Kathryn asked, "Do you know your fathers' names?"

Shaking his head, Chumani said, "We only called them the Fathers, but they with the prophets. All of the tribes with the prophets except Chakotay."

Kathryn thought she followed what he was saying, but their broken words were hard to decipher. "Do you know who Chakotay is?"

Kol jumped up and started running around the room. "He is the warrior mighty! Ruler of the fighters Maquis!"

"Shhh, Kol." Chumani rolled his eyes and looked at Kathryn. "Kol thinks Chakotay the hero mighty with the wings of eagles."

Smiling brightly, Kathryn said, "Chakotay is a hero, but he doesn't have any wings." She looked at Kol. "He is a mighty warrior, and…"

Kol interrupted, "and he from the tribe!" He was still running around the room. Kathryn figured this was what the teachers must have meant regarding underdeveloped social skills. A seven-year old should be able to sit still for at least a little while, but then again, he was very excited that she was here.

Chumani asked nervously, "Chakotay visit us? Nee Tal said he would be able to come after we finish the school basic, which a time long from now."

"School Basic?"

"After the school basic, in the school advanced, we learn the science, the stories long, and the lessons smarter."

Assuming he was explaining the difference between grammar school and high school, Kathryn nodded, "I understand. Chakotay is far away on Earth."

Kol stopped running and said, "You came from the Earth. He will come too. He will take us."

"You want Chakotay to take you from Bajor?"

Chumani shushed his brother. "It only the dream. Chakotay the chief and he does not want to care for us."

"Oh," Kathryn moved around the table and put her arm around Chumani. "That is not true. Chakotay would like to come here, but he can't. And he is a mighty warrior, but the war is over so he would love to care for you."

"Captain Janeway?" Chumani looked nervous.

"Yes?" She wasn't about to tell him to call her Admiral.

He took a deep breath before asking, "Nee Tal said you love Chakotay. Talk to him about us? He come protect us? We afraid to wait until the school advanced."

Kol said crossly, "You tell him to come!"

Worried about what they were saying, she asked, "You need Chakotay to protect you?"

"The boys mean!" Kol sat down angrily with his arms crossed in front of him.

"Why are they mean?"

Chumani said, "We have the nose smooth and we from the Federation evil, but we have never been to the Federation evil."

Kathryn realized this was just typical schoolyard bullying and unfortunately, they would run into it anywhere. "The Federation isn't evil, but sometimes people don't understand how others can be different. The Kazons didn't like Voyager because we were different."

"Did you fight Kazons cruel away?" Chumani asked.

"Only when they attacked first. We tried to stay away from them."

As if his situation must be worse than anything Voyager encountered, Kol asked, "Did they hit you and make the face purple?"

"Well, actually, yes. A Kazon hit me and it hurt a lot."

Chumani looked like he couldn't believe it. "What did you do?"

She tried to decide what to say that would be applicable to their situation. "I held Chakotay's hand really tight until it stopped hurting." It wasn't far from the truth. She did have to hold onto him to keep from falling over from dizziness, but she knew he was holding onto her just as tightly because Seska was taunting him with what he thought was his baby. Kathryn looked at Kol and realized that he had been a baby about the time Seska announced she was pregnant. Chakotay did have a child, just not the one he thought.

A knock on the door interrupted them, and Kathryn turned to see an older Bajoran woman bringing in four packages. Kol ran over and said, "The avit! The avit!"

Gretchen followed the Bajoran woman in and said, "I was waiting outside because I didn't want to interrupt your conversation."

Kathryn thanked the Bajoran woman and then spoke to the boys. "Chumani, Kol, This is my mother, Mrs. Janeway."

Gretchen sat down between them, pulling each one into her side. "It's so nice to meet you!"

Smiling at the way her mother jumped right in with lots of affection, Kathryn said, "She would like to eat lunch with us."

Kol looked at Gretchen suspiciously. "You the Naneemu?"

Gretchen looked at Kathryn for help, so Kathryn asked, "What is Naneemu?"

Chumani answered, "The mother of the mother."

"Oh, yes," Gretchen said, "Then that is exactly what I am. On Earth, we call it Grandmother or Grandma."

Chumani tried the word out. "Grandma."

Kathryn asked Gretchen, "Where are the others?"

Gretchen helped Kol open his lunch as she answered. "Nerys went back to town for some business, and Celes and Michael are having lunch by themselves. I think there is something going on between them."

"I sensed that too."

Raising her eyebrows, Gretchen said, "Yet another reason for him to stay here."

Changing the subject, Kathryn asked the boys about their lunch and had them teach her and Gretchen the names of the foods. Kathryn was surprised at how talkative the boys were since the teachers had reported that they didn't speak much. Celes came back towards the end of lunch and said the boys were excused from class for the rest of the day.

Kathryn, Gretchen, and the boys went for a walk to see where the boys slept and played. Their sleeping cabin was crowded, but surprisingly neat. Kathryn suspected that the reason was because they had few clothes and even fewer toys. Their next stop was to sit on the boys' favorite log and look out over the town. Kol took to Gretchen immediately, and was soon sitting on her lap as the group talked.

Kathryn asked the boys, "Since it will be awhile before Chakotay can come here, would you like to go to Earth with me?"

"Yes!" was Chumani's excited response, but then he tentatively asked, "How long can we vising?"

"Not visiting," Kathryn said, emphasizing the 't'. "We'll go to Earth to live."

Kol realized what they were talking about. "We live on the Earth? Not on the Bajor?"

Kathryn nodded, hoping they understood what she was asking. "That's right. You would leave Bajor, and not come back."

Chumani nervously asked, "But if we are not here, Chakotay will not find us."

"Chakotay will find you at my home."

Seemingly unsure, Chumani asked, "Chakotay does not want us to stay at the home of Chakotay?"

Kathryn tried to figure out how to explain, but she was worried about confusing them. She couldn't be sure that Chakotay would want to marry her, but she assumed that he would. And if he didn't, she couldn't be sure where the boys would live.

Gretchen had been quiet up until that point, but now asked the boys, "Have you ever gotten in trouble for something that you didn't do?"

Kol said, "Yes! The mean boy Kepa told Nee Raris we marked on the wall. We did not!"

Nodding, Gretchen said, "Were you punished?"

Chumani said, "We stayed alone after the school for a time long."

"Not fun!" Kol added.

Gretchen responded, "Chakotay got in trouble for something that he didn't do, and he is being punished right now."

"That why he not here?" Chumani asked.

Kathryn nodded, thankful for the way that her mother brought this topic up. "Yes. He has to stay by himself for a very long time." She watched the boys as they processed this new information.

"How long?" Kol asked.

Not sure what to say, Kathryn said, "Maybe until winter, or maybe for four more winters." She knew they wouldn't understand Earth's calendar.

"The four winters a time long," Kol said.

Kathryn said, "That's why Nee Tal told you he would come after basic school."

Trying to clear things up, Chumani said, "We go to the Earth now with you. Chakotay will come to the home after the punishment over. Then will Chakotay home with us or take us to the home different?"

Glad that he understood, Kathryn held her hands together with joy. "Chumani… you are doing very well with words! Yes, you understand what I'm asking. When Chakotay comes to our home, we will ask him if he wants to live with us."

Evidently pleased with her answer, Chumani said, "Then we go to the Earth!"

Kol jumped up happily and said, "We go away from here!" He ran over to Kathryn and bounced his hands on her knees. "Will you be the Neemu?"

Chumani said apprehensively, "Kol asked you to be the mother."

Kathryn pulled Kol onto her lap, and took Chumani's hand. "Would you like me to be your mother?"

Chumani shrugged and Kol said excitedly, "You be the Neemu!"

Gretchen asked, "Kol, why don't you show me again where you play ball?" She took the very excited younger boy away so that Kathryn and Chumani could talk.

Still holding Chumani's hand, Kathryn asked, "Do you miss your mother?"

He shrugged. "She with the prophets and with the Father."

"Kol was very young when she died and he doesn't remember, does he?"

Chumani shook his head. "He tries to remember. I tell him the stories, but I am forgetting them."

"Chakotay knew your mother. He could tell you stories."

Surprised, Chumani asked, "He knows?"

She nodded. "And if it makes you sad to call me mother, you can call me Kathryn."

"I do not remember the father. Will Chakotay be the father?"

"Yes. I'm sure he would like to be called father."

Chumani asked, "Chakotay nice?"

Wrapping her arm around his shoulders, she said, "Chakotay is very nice. He will take good care of you and Kol, and will teach you many things."

"I am sad Chakotay being punished and not here."

She squeezed him tightly. "I'm sad too."

Perking up, he asked, "We fly on the Voyager starship mighty?"

Chuckling, she answered, "Voyager has landed, but when we get back to Earth, we can go see her if you would like?"

He nodded quickly. "I would like to see the Voyager starship mighty." Chumani's attention jumped toward the buildings. "No! The mean boys are coming!"

Kathryn looked up and saw a group of five older teenage boys headed their way and looking very unhappy. She stood and brought Chumani with her. "It's okay. We'll go."

Walking along the fence toward the front entrance, Kathryn tried to circumvent the older boys, but they changed their path to follow her. It was only a minute before the five angry-looking teenagers cornered Kathryn and Chumani. She tapped her communicator for help, but couldn't get anyone to respond.

Chumani said, "I wish Chakotay were here."

Pushing the boy behind her, Kathryn said to the teenagers, "Is there something you need?"

"That boy. He ratted us out. He needs to learn the respect."

"I did not do it!" Chumani called out.

Kathryn reassured him quietly, "It's okay."

One of the teenagers said, "No, it is not okay. He is an evil Federation boy and so are you!"

"We're sorry if we caused you any trouble, but if you'll excuse us, we must be going. We won't bother you again."

As the teenagers moved in closer, another one said, "You are not going anywhere, whore. My parents were killed because of you."

This was not going well at all. Kathryn thought that if she could keep the teenagers talking, someone would come to their aid. She could handle one or two of these kids, but not five. Trying to be sympathetic, she asked, "How did your parents die?"

Now close enough to yell in her face, the boy spat, "You do not care, whore!"

Staying calm, she said, "I do care." She squeezed Chumani's hand behind her. "I lost my father too because of this war." The nearest boy swung fast and hard at her face, and caught her completely off guard. The force of the blow caused her to stumble back and trip over Chumani. Before she could regain her balance, Kathryn was yanked to her feet roughly. She pulled away and was able to take a defensive posture. The boys laughed at her as the largest one rushed at her. She heard Chumani scream as she surprised her attacker and threw him to the ground. As soon as he was down, two others grabbed her and held her by the arms as another punched her repeatedly in the gut and face. She kicked as hard as she could, but couldn't get any leverage against them. More worried about Chumani than herself, she tried to see if he was okay. The fifth boy was trying unsuccessfully to keep him from screaming.

"Let me at her!" The boy who she had taken down was now ready to fight back.

She tried to throw off the ones holding her, but they were too strong. The one on her right twisted her arm hard behind her back and she felt the sickening sound of her shoulder popping out of its socket. The white hot flash of pain, and the repeated blows to her face and gut were too much. She collapsed to the hard ground and fell into unconsciousness.

As she woke, she heard muffled voices around her, and then remembered what had happened. She called out, "Chumani?"

Her mother's voice was right next to her. "He's okay, sweetie. Chumani's okay. Just hang on, help is coming."

Kathryn opened her eyes slowly to see her mother's very worried face looking down at her. Through the mind-numbing pain, she felt her left hand being squeezed and looked over to see Chumani with tears streaming down his face.

He said, "I hold your hand until it does not hurt like Chakotay did."

Lifting her hand to wipe away his tears, Kathryn hoarsely whispered, "Thank you." She groaned in pain as she tried to move her right arm.

Gretchen asked worriedly, "Where does it hurt, Kathryn?"

"Mmmm…" Kathryn squinted her eyes. "Right shoulder… out."

"Oh, no," Gretchen said compassionately. She held a piece of cloth against Kathryn's cheeks and mouth to control bleeding. "Just close your eyes and try not to move. Celes and Michael are coming back with a medical team." With a tremble in her voice, Gretchen added, "You're going to be okay. Oh, goodness… you have to be."

Kathryn nodded slightly and closed her eyes to try to manage the pain. She'd been through worse, but that didn't make it any easier to deal with. Focused inward, the voices around her became muffled and she only picked up on bits of information. Chumani was crying and wishing that Chakotay were there. Her mother was trying to reassure him while tending to all of the bleeding. She wasn't sure where Kol was, but assumed Celes must have taken him. Not too much later, she heard Kira's voice calling for emergency medical transport and the familiar tingle of a transporter beam took away the pain momentarily.

When she re-materialized, she heard Chumani screaming and Gretchen trying to reassure him. He had evidently never been transported before. The familiar hiss of a hypospray was the only other thing she heard before she fell into peaceful oblivion.

Kathryn woke later feeling very weak and groggy. She moaned softly as she tried to move, but felt pain radiating from her right shoulder.

Gretchen said, "She's awake."

Trying to open her eyes and speak, Kathryn said, "Thirst…"

"I'll get a drink for you, sweetie. Chumani, you can hold her hand."

Kathryn felt two small hands holding her left hand, and she wished she had the strength to hold Chumani close and tell him that she was okay. She knew it must have been horrible to watch what had happened. She felt something touch her lips and her mother said, "I have water in a straw here, sweetie. Open your mouth and I'll put a few drops on your tongue."

The cool water felt wonderful in her dry mouth. When Gretchen stopped, Kathryn said, "Thank you." She opened her eyes and asked, "Where are we?"

"In a medical facility on Bajor. The doctor reset your shoulder and gave you a painkiller, but she wasn't able to do much more. They just don't have the equipment here. As soon as we can get everything together, we'll be going back to DS9 where the Starfleet doctor can tend to you."

Kathryn nodded gently. A pounding headache prevented her from doing much more. "Kol?"

"Asleep on the sofa. It's very late and he couldn't stay awake."

"Chumani?" Kathryn asked.

"Yes, Mommy?"

Surprised, Kathryn found the strength to look at him with a warm smile, "You called me Mommy?"

"Mother better?"

Gretchen said, "We've been discussing whether to use Mother, Mom, Mommy, Mama, or Kathryn."

Kathryn relaxed her head back and squeezed Chumani's hand. "Mommy is wonderful… or whatever you want. Are you okay?"

He nodded. "I scared because the mean boys hurt you."

Weakly, Kathryn said, "They were very mean, but don't worry. We won't see them again, and I'm going to be okay." She closed her eyes. The painkillers were making her woozy.

Kira came into the room and quietly asked, "How is she?"

Kathryn rubbed her thumb across the back of one of Chumani's hands as Gretchen spoke with Kira. "She's awake, but very weak. I'd feel better if we were on our way to DS9."

"We've got the documents for the adoption together, and a judge is looking everything over right now to give final approval. The boys' things are in the shuttle, and everyone else is ready to go."

Kathryn opened her eyes and asked, "Everyone else?"

Kira said, "Hello, Admiral. Tal, Gerron, Tabor, Dalby, Ayala, and his two boys are all traveling back to the Terran system with us."

Confused, Kathryn asked, "Why?"

Kira came closer and touched Kathryn's leg. "Apparently it has something to do with a Voyager welcome home party that can finally take place."

Kathryn smiled weakly, "They were waiting for Chakotay."

Squeezing Kathryn's calf gently, Kira said, "Then we'll have to make sure that I'm successful." She paused for a moment. "Admiral, you need to make a decision regarding the five teenagers that assaulted you."

"What kind of decision?"

"Since you're a Starfleet officer, this falls under the jurisdiction of Starfleet. Punishment for assaulting an admiral is severe."

"They didn't know."

"Still, you need to decide whether or not to let Starfleet handle this."

Kathryn moaned slightly in pain. "They're angry enough at Starfleet. Let Bajoran authorities handle it and get them away from that orphanage."

"Thank you, Admiral, and I can't express how sorry we are that this happened."

Kathryn tried to shake her head, but couldn't. "Not your fault. I don't think they would've hurt me so much if I hadn't fought back. Just get them help."

"We will. I'll go check with the judge to see if we can go." Kira left the room.

Kathryn squeezed Chumani's hand and asked Gretchen, "She said Ayala's boys?"

Gretchen came back into her line of sight and said, "Yes, she found them working outside of town. That's what she was doing while we had lunch. It was the three of them that got the older boys away from you."

Feeling extremely groggy, Kathryn tried to nod. "Sleep."

Gretchen pulled the blanket up and stroked Kathryn's hair back. "Rest now, Sweetie. I'll be right here."

Chumani said, "I hold your hand until it does not hurt, Mommy. It what Chakotay would do."

Kathryn smiled and squeezed his hand. Chumani was right. That's exactly what Chakotay would be doing if he were there. One of many things he'd be doing if he were here. She imagined that he would be hopping-mad about her attackers, and they'd probably have some bruises to show for it. And because of these two wonderful boys, he'd also be beside himself in joy. She drifted off to sleep imagining lying in Chakotay's protective embrace while listening to Chumani and her mother discuss his concerns regarding future use of the transporter.

The next time Kathryn woke, she looked around and saw the refreshing sight of Starfleet medical equipment, and knew that she must be at DS9. Her headache had lessened considerably, and there wasn't any pain in her abdomen. She lifted her right arm and, while sore, she was able to move it freely.

Her left arm was a different story, however, because she couldn't move it at all. She looked down and saw a small head with black hair lying on her left shoulder. It was connected to Kol who was snuggled up tightly against her side. She rubbed his back and kissed the top of his head, unable to avoid the longing she felt for Chakotay as she touched the dark hair that felt exactly like his.

Kathryn looked around the room and saw her mother and Chumani curled up together and sound asleep on another bed. She heard a noise in the other direction and followed it to see a Starfleet medical officer coming through the door.

Quietly, he said, "Hello, Admiral. I saw that you were awake. I'm Dr. Bashir and I'd like to welcome you back to DS9."

"Thanks," she croaked. She cleared her throat and tried again. "Thanks. What time is it?"

"Almost mid-day. You arrived at 03:00, and were in surgery for a bit. I think your family stayed awake the entire time, and now they're completely wiped out."

Kathryn asked, "That bad?"

Dr. Bashir looked at the PADD in his hand. "I've no doubt you've been through worse, but of course, your mother wasn't there to see it."

"True. Was she upset?"

"The boys kept her distracted enough that she didn't have time to get worked up about it, but yes, she was very worried. As we all were. When you came in, your body temperature was almost forty-one degrees. They had been doing everything they could to cool you down on the shuttle. Not to mention massive internal bleeding, broken bones, concussion…"

"I get the picture. I was in bad shape."

"You should have a doctor look at your shoulder when you get home. Your rotator-cuff will need a few follow-up treatments and some physical therapy before it regains its strength and flexibility."

Kathryn nodded, "Did you check the boys?"

Worried, Bashir scanned Kol. "Were they injured?"

"No, but they've been living on Bajor and Maquis colonies without adequate medical resources."

He closed his tri-corder. "I'll give them a full work-up when they're awake. Meanwhile, you should get some more rest. There is a shipload of people anxious to take you home as soon as I release you."

"Thank you, Doctor."

"My pleasure." Bashir left the room and Kathryn looked at her new family. She was amazed that they hadn't woken up until she heard her mother.

"You okay?"

Kathryn turned to look at Gretchen and said, "I'm fine. Sore and tired, but fine."

"I love you."

"Love you too, Mom." Kathryn kissed Kol's head again and then drifted back to sleep.

"Nerys, I wasn't expecting to see you tonight." Kathryn opened the front door of her mother's house and ushered Kira out of the damp autumn weather. They had all arrived on Earth earlier that day, and Kira had planned to get settled into a hotel room so she could prepare to see Admiral Harris the next day.

Kira said, "I have something for you." She handed Kathryn a large package.

"What's this?"

Gretchen came into the living room to see who their guest was. "Nerys! We weren't expecting to see you so soon!"

Kira said, "I needed to talk to you and I thought I'd see how the boys are. Also, I wanted to bring this gift."

"A gift? What for?" Gretchen motioned for everyone to take a seat.

Smiling, Kira said, "I meant to give it to you when we arrived, but in the rush of getting the boys situated, I completely forgot."

Kathryn opened the soft fabric wrapping to find a beautiful green and white Bajoran quilt. "Oh my!" She unfolded part of it and delicately touched the fine craftsmanship that went into sewing many small pieces of fabric together. There were dozens of different greens that created a beautiful tableau. "This is amazing!"

Kira said, "You told me on the way to Bajor that the room you were going to put this in was yellow and white, and I thought this might be just what you were looking for."

Surprised, Kathryn asked, "When did you have time to find this?"

"While you were recovering on DS9, I had one of the couriers that makes daily runs between the station and Bajor bring me a few to choose from. This one really struck me. When you open it all the way, you'll see that it's a tree. There isn't an exact translation, but the closest is 'A Tree of Life.' It seemed fitting."

"It's beautiful, Nerys. Thank you so much."

"You're welcome. So, how are the boys adjusting?"

Gretchen chuckled. "Oh, they're fine. They think we live in a mansion."

Kira smiled. "Compared to what they were living in, you do. This is a beautiful home."

"Thank you. It's been in the family for over a century," Gretchen replied.

Still caressing the quilt, Kathryn said, "When we arrived, they spent about an hour running from room to room. They weren't shy at all, and it took a while for us to get them settled down enough to have lunch."

"They became very comfortable with you on the shuttle and they are so happy to have a family," Kira noted.

Gretchen said, "We just got them put to bed before you arrived. Well, not to bed, exactly. They've decided to take the room on the third floor that used to be the attic. I've been using it for storage so it doesn't have any furniture yet. They're camping out in the middle of the floor."

Kathryn set the quilt to the side and said, "They should sleep well because they spent most of the afternoon running around outside. I got worn out just watching them."

Laughing, Kira said, "After spending a week in a shuttle, I'm sure they needed it."

"Tomorrow," Kathryn said, "We're going shopping for clothes, shoes, furniture, and toys."

Kira asked, "Anything to keep busy?"

Taking a deep breath, Kathryn said, "Exactly." The outcome of Kira's meeting with Admiral Harris the next day was weighing heavily on Kathryn's mind.

"I have a confession to make," Kira said a little nervously.

Kathryn squinted her eyes a little and asked, "What's that?"

"I couldn't wait. I'm so angry with Harris that I went to see him today."

"And?" Kathryn clenched her fists in preparation for the bad news.

"It was a good thing that I did, because he was packing up his office to leave on a long vacation."

Gretchen said, "Perhaps he heard that you were coming."

Shaking her head, Kira told them what had happened. "I called Chakotay's lawyer, Pruitt, and told him to meet me at Harris's office. He and I threatened Harris's assistant until she let us in. I presented the proof, and Harris said the case was closed."

Kathryn asked, "And?"

Continuing, Kira said, "I asked Pruitt to step outside for a moment, and then I told Harris in no uncertain terms what he was going to do."

Suspicious, Kathryn asked, "This quilt better not be my consolation gift."

"You have doubts that I didn't get my way?" Kira acted as if she were appalled.

Kathryn waved her hand in front of her. "Of course not. Please continue."

"I left Pruitt and Harris arguing about how they were going to phrase the terms of release."

"That's it?" Kathryn was dumbfounded.

Kira shrugged. "That's it. Pruitt asked me to tell you to expect a call from him in the morning so he could tell you what time to pick up Chakotay."

Kathryn was completely silent as she absorbed this turn of events. She sighed heavily a couple of times while the two other women stared at her, confused.

Gretchen asked, "Kathryn?"

Glancing at her mother, and then at Kira, Kathryn said, "I'm… I'm speechless. I don't know what to say." Her lower lip trembled as she stood up, motioning for Kira to do the same. Kathryn embraced Kira tightly, and said, "Thank you. You have no idea…" A few tears managed to escape before Kathryn could finish her sentence.

They all turned when they heard a young voice say, "Mommy?"

Kathryn released Kira and looked at the two boys standing at the foot of the stairs in their new pajamas. Wiping her eyes, Kathryn said, "I thought you two were asleep."

"You sad?" Kol asked.

"No, sweetie. I'm very happy."

Gretchen interrupted. "She's happy because Colonel Kira brought us a beautiful quilt."

Kathryn was surprised at her mother's interruption until she thought about it for a moment. She realized that her mother didn't think the boys should know about Chakotay's release before it was confirmed. Or perhaps, she just didn't want to get them excited at bedtime.

As Gretchen showed it to him, Chumani said, "The quilt pretty."

"The quilt *is* pretty." Gretchen corrected him. They had been working diligently during the previous week to encourage the boys using the is/are/am verbs.

Chumani repeated, "Is pretty. I *am* happy Mommy *is* happy."

"Very good!" Kira said.

Emotions under control, Kathryn asked, "Are you having trouble sleeping?"

Kol said, "Noisy home!"

Gretchen smiled, "It's the wind outside."

Kira squeezed Kathryn's arm. "Contact me tomorrow after Pruitt calls."

Giving her one more hug, Kathryn said, "I will, and thank you so much. This is the most wonderful news."

"Goodnight," Kira said, and let Gretchen walk her to the door.

Kathryn ushered the boys back upstairs. "A long time ago when I was your age, my Daddy told me a story about the wind. Would you like to hear it?"

An hour or so later, Kathryn opened her eyes to see her mother putting blankets over her and the boys. "I fell asleep."

"Shhhhh. Go back to sleep," Gretchen whispered. "I don't think you could get up without waking them."

Camped out on a pile of giant pillows in the middle of the floor, Kathryn and the boys were lying together in a big heap. Chumani was sound asleep on Kathryn's hip and leg, and Kol was snuggled into her other side. She looked down at them and said, "They're precious, aren't they?"

"All three of you." Gretchen smiled softly. "Do you need anything?"

"I'm fine, although… There's a hypo on my dresser."

"Your shoulder is bothering you?"

Whispering, Kathryn said, "Just a dull throbbing." Seeing her mother's disapproving glance, she added, "I know. I'll go see the Doctor soon."

With barely contained excitement, Gretchen said, "But it sounds like you may have something else to do tomorrow." She headed toward the door. "I'll be right back."

Kol stirred with the noises and Kathryn whispered, "Shhhh," and gently rubbed his back. Both boys seemed starved for physical connection and hadn't left her or Gretchen's side since they left Bajor. Kathryn had to admit that she craved touch too. Smiling, she thought about how that craving might be fulfilled in just a few days - by Chakotay.

Her mother returned with the hypo and soon the pain in Kathryn's shoulder dissipated. As she snuggled down into the pillows, she let herself dream about lying in Chakotay's arms while she drifted off to sleep.

Breakfast the next morning was a lesson in patience for the whole family. The boys were anxious to start shopping for toys, Kathryn was distracted and glanced frequently at the too-quiet communication terminal, and Gretchen tried to keep everyone calm without giving any information to the boys about Chakotay's pending release.

Kathryn didn't want to leave the house until Pruitt called, but the boys wouldn't be patient enough to wait all day without knowing why. They had talked the previous evening about getting an early start that morning and were very excited. Kathryn watched as Gretchen tried to keep the boys busy by allowing them to look at pictures of toys and instructing them to think carefully about which one they might want. Each could pick one that day, and Kathryn was sure that at least one of them would choose a soccer ball.

At 9:00, Kathryn took her mug of coffee into the study and tried to find something to read while she waited. Nothing seemed to attract her attention for long, as her mind kept drifting to Chakotay in New Zealand. Questions were running through her mind about whether he would be happy to see her and whether he would be happy with her decision to adopt the boys. He had cut her off so abruptly that she wasn't sure how he would feel. She assumed that his isolation was because he was in emotional pain, but she had an underlying concern that he simply didn't want to be with her. However, this concern was so small that Kathryn had ignored it by taking the liberty of unpacking all of his things from Voyager. His clothes were in her closet, and she had even chosen a yellow for the bedroom that coordinated with the colors in his Mayan blanket.

Ten minutes went by, and then another ten. The indifference of the clock seemed to taunt her eagerness for it to move more quickly. She knew that Pruitt was in San Francisco and it was still before 8:00 there. At 9:45, she began to walk around the room, pacing back and forth between the bookshelves and a wall covered with star charts. But there were neither stars nor novels that could hold her attention.

By 10:00, Kathryn was sitting at the desk again, rapidly tapping her heels, her fingers, her toes, anything that would freely agitate with her mood. At 10:15, she was standing by the window trying to think about anything except Chakotay, and she was failing miserably. For years, he had been the one to calm her in times like this. He had been the port in far too many storms. During the past six months, she found that her heart ached to speak to him, even just to tell him about her day or get his opinion on something insignificant.

When the call came, the tone signaling an incoming transmission startled her. She nearly jumped out of her skin as the sound pierced the too quiet atmosphere of the room. Her breath caught in her chest, and she found herself at the computer terminal before she realized that she had moved. Biting her lip as she keyed in her access code, Kathryn tried to calm her heavily beating heart.

"Admiral Janeway, I am very pleased to be contacting you," Pruitt said cheerfully.

Throwing aside the pleasantries, Kathryn asked, "You got Harris to agree to a different settlement?"

"I don't know about agree, but he acquiesced. Colonel Kira is certainly not someone I'd ever want to tangle with."

"Definitely not." Kathryn was anxious for Pruitt to tell her the decision. "So what's the good news?"

Pruitt cleared is throat slightly before holding up a PADD and reading, "Cleared of all charges of felony, treason, and crimes against the Federation, Chakotay of Trebus is to be released from the Federation Penal Settlement at Auckland, New Zealand, on Wednesday, October 5, 2374, at 08:00 hours."

"Tomorrow?" Kathryn was surprised it was so soon. She had hoped, but she had thought it would take longer than that.

Pruitt smiled. "Remember the time zones, Admiral. That is a little less than five hours from now."

Gasping, Kathryn asked, "Five hours?" Lists of things that needed to be done started racing through her mind.

"Admiral, I've already sent a shuttle to pick you up. It should be there in less than an hour."

Trying to think clearly, Kathryn said, "It's a three hour flight to Auckland, so that should give us plenty of time." She paused for a moment while she thought about her arrival. "Lieutenant, I would prefer to go to Auckland alone."

"Why don't you let Ensign Parker take you there? I imagine that you've got a lot on your mind and he needs to go check on someone anyway. You can leave him there and come back with Chakotay by yourself at your leisure."

Kathryn nodded in agreement. Not having to concentrate on piloting at the moment would be nice. "Does Chakotay know about this?"

"Not at all. The final agreement was made late last night, and he won't hear about his release until he wakes in a few hours. I'll let you fill him in on the details."

Taking a deep breath, Kathryn said, "All right. I'd better start getting ready to go."

Hesitantly, Pruitt said, "Admiral, I know that you and Chakotay parted on… hurtful terms."

"Don't worry about it," Kathryn said dismissively. "He was upset, and we'll be fine."

"I know. I wanted to tell you that I spoke to him two weeks ago, and although I shouldn't tell you this, I am positive that he'll be pleased to see you."

"Thank you, for everything."

"You're most welcome. Have him call me in a couple of days so we can close the case completely."

Kathryn nodded and closed the connection. While she took a moment to collect her thoughts, Gretchen tapped on the door. "Kathryn? Sweetie?"

Smiling brightly, Kathryn said, "Come on in."


"I'll be leaving in an hour to go to New Zealand." Kathryn's happiness was bubbling just under the surface of her calm facade.

"Now? Today?" Gretchen put her hand on her chest.

"His release is dated tomorrow, but because of the time zones, that's today." Doing the calculations in her head, Kathryn said, "So at 15:00 our time today, he'll be free!"

"That's wonderful!"

"I need to get ready. A shuttle is coming to pick me up in less than an hour."

Gretchen walked with Kathryn out of the room. "When do you expect to be back?"

"Well, it's a three hour shuttle ride, but I need to talk to him about the boys before we get back here."

Moving quickly, they were already at the top of the stairs. Gretchen placed a hand on Kathryn's shoulder to slow her down. "I think you should take plenty of time. Why don't you plan on staying away for a couple of days?"

"You don't think he'll want to get back here to meet the boys as soon as possible?"

"Kathryn, dear, he's been in prison for almost six months. And you've told me that you two never got a moment alone before all of this happened. I think you better take some time for yourselves, even if it's just a day."

When she realized that her mother was telling her to run away with a man, Kathryn felt a little warmth rush to her cheeks. "Perhaps I should pack an overnight bag for both of us."

Gretchen nodded. "Just in case."

"Okay, we're done talking about this now," Kathryn blushed. "What should we tell the boys?"

"I've been thinking about that. I think we should tell them that you have been called away on Starfleet business, and you may be gone for a few days. I want you to call me when you're on your way home, and then I'll tell them. That way, I'll only have a few hours of enthusiasm to manage."

"You'll be okay alone with them?" Kathryn asked.

"I'll be fine. Now, go. Get packed." Gretchen ushered Kathryn into the bedroom and went back downstairs to get the boys ready for a long day of distracting shopping.

Kathryn arrived at the Penal Settlement at 7:45 a.m., New Zealand time. The shuttle ride had been smooth, but the security checks and red tape they had to go through once they arrived were more than inconvenient. She was afraid that they wouldn't make it before 8:00, and Chakotay would be waiting for her. The situation made her edgy and irritable.

Her pilot, Ensign Parker, hadn't spoken much during the flight. She assumed that Pruitt had told the pilot to give her space, which was good. It gave her time to collect her thoughts and calm her emotions. When they arrived, Parker left her to attend to his business and had told her that the shuttle was hers to return to Indiana at her leisure.

Kathryn made her way to the visitor's room to wait for Chakotay. She had been there a few times before, and had been unceremoniously told to leave every time. The civilian guard had been discourteous, and Kathryn cringed when she saw the same guard currently on duty.

"Admiral Janeway," he said contemptuously. "Not only is it not a visitor's day, but I have to inform you that you are still listed as a 'not permitted'."

Kathryn clicked her tongue as she stood in front of the security desk. "You may not be a member of Starfleet, but you need to check that tone before speaking to an Admiral."

"I beg your pardon, but it is my job to control the visitors that enter this facility, and I follow the instructions from the prisoners regarding who they will and will not see. Prisoner Chakotay has made it very clear that he does not wish to see you."

"Do you always follow orders from the prisoners?"

"Of course not, but I will call security to escort you off the premises if needed."

"I see," Kathryn said. "I'll just wait here and when Chakotay arrives, we'll decide if he wants to see me or not."

"Admiral, as I've told you before, your celebrity and rank have no bearing here. Prisoners are not allowed in this room. You may wait here as long as you like, but you will not be allowed to go inside."

"I have no intentions of going inside."

He muttered, "Suit yourself."

Kathryn chose to let the insubordination slide because she was determined not to let the arrogant security guard ruin her day. She would, however, be contacting his superior as soon as she got home. She walked over to the large picture window and looked over the grounds outside of the penitentiary. It was a beautiful place and she remembered it being just as pleasant inside when she picked up Tom over seven years ago.

She glanced at the clock behind her and saw that it was 7:55. The disagreement with the guard had made the time go by quickly, albeit unpleasantly. It was odd that he didn't know Chakotay would be released, but Chakotay may have just found out himself. Perhaps the lack of communication was why their clearance had been so slow as she and Ensign Parker tried to land the shuttle. They weren't expecting a visitor or a prisoner to be released that day.

Taking a deep breath to calm her anxiety, Kathryn thought about what she would say to Chakotay when she saw him. She had rehearsed several options on the way there, but all of them seemed to be blending together. The last time she had seen him had been so upsetting that she wasn't entirely sure what his reaction would be. Pruitt had told her that Chakotay would be happy, but she was nervous nonetheless.

"I should've known you'd be the one behind this."

Still looking out the window when she heard Chakotay's voice, Kathryn forgot all about anything she had planned to say to him. She turned slowly with a half-smile on her lips to look at him standing in the doorway to the visitor's room. "Disappointed?"

The security guard had obviously just been given information regarding Chakotay's release. He looked up at Kathryn and then at Chakotay and said, "I know that you don't wish to see the Admiral. I tried to tell her, as I have every time she has attempted to gain access to you, but she won't leave without a security escort. I'll call right now."

Chakotay put out his hand to stop the uptight guard. "Relax, I'll take it from here."

Kathryn could tell that Chakotay was both amused and annoyed by the guard, although nothing in Chakotay's outward appearance would give that away to someone who didn't know him. Staying by the window, Kathryn put her hands on her waist, waiting for Chakotay to make the next move. Although she was eager to touch him, just having him in the same room was enough to make her skin tingle. She was very happy watching him walk toward her.

"This is quite a surprise, Kathryn."

She could tell that he was hesitant about how to interact with her. "It wasn't me. Colonel Kira had some very useful information that she shared with Admiral Harris yesterday."

"Must have been something extraordinary to move things along this quickly."

"Oh, it was." Kathryn couldn't avoid touching him any longer and stepped close so she could wrap her arms up around his neck. Smiling softly, Kathryn said, "I've missed you so much."

No longer uncertain, Chakotay quickly wrapped his hands around her waist and pulled her tightly against him as his lips descended upon hers. The world around her disappeared as she fell into the intoxication of his kiss. She hung on for dear life as the deep passion in his kiss made her knees weak and her heart beat wildly. When the kiss deepened and the warmth of his mouth became one with hers, she moaned softly and molded her body against his.

Somewhere in the back of her mind, she heard someone clearing their throat to get their attention, and then Chakotay pulled back from the kiss. When she opened her eyes, she saw Chakotay's moist eyes locked with hers. He whispered, "I love you, Kathryn, and I am so sorry…"

"Shhhh…" She kissed him softly to quiet his apology. Not able to contain her happiness, she smiled brightly and asked, "Now will you marry me?"

Chakotay hugged her so tightly that he almost lifted her feet off the floor. Touching foreheads, he said, "Nothing would make me happier… Yes, I'll marry you. Right now. As soon as possible."

Someone came through the door and called Chakotay's name. He turned to look and when he saw the man, he told Kathryn, "There's someone I'd like you to meet."

Chakotay took her hand. "Counselor Sims, I'd like to introduce you to Kathryn Janeway, my soon-to-be wife."

With delight in his eyes, Sims extended his hand to take Kathryn's. "It's an honor to meet you, Admiral. I know that you're going to make Chakotay a very happy man."

Realizing that Sims must be Chakotay's counselor, she said, "I certainly hope so. He deserves it."

"Yes, he does." Sims said to Chakotay, "I was expecting you in my office at 8:00 and was very surprised to hear that you wouldn't be joining me for our morning tea. I was hoping to catch you before you left."

Kathryn took her cue to let the two men speak alone for a moment. "I'll just go see about your things, Chakotay."

He squeezed her hand before letting go, and said to Sims, "Yes, this definitely took me by surprise."

Standing at the security counter to fill out the information needed to receive Chakotay's things, Kathryn could still hear their conversation quite clearly.

Sims said, "It's fantastic news. I just wanted to catch you before you left to tell you to call me anytime."

"Thank you, I will."

"Not necessarily for an appointment, although that would certainly be fine. I have an office in San Francisco, but during your time here, I've started thinking of you more as a friend than a patient. I'd love to meet you for tea any time, or perhaps you and the Admiral could join my family for dinner. I know my kids would enjoy meeting the famous command team from Voyager."

Chakotay chuckled, "The infamous command team, perhaps. Thank you for the offer, Steve. I will definitely call you soon."

Kathryn smiled as she watched the two men hug quickly and say goodbye. She was very glad that Chakotay had become close to the counselor and she looked forward to getting to know him, too.

Chakotay joined Kathryn at the counter and gave her a quick squeeze before he signed the receipt for his bag. He said to the security guard, "As you can see, I've got the Admiral taken care of, but thank you for your attention to detail. I hope that in the future, you could be more courteous to visitors, regardless of the situation."

Sheepishly, he replied, "Yes, Sir."

Kathryn nodded, "You're lucky that I don't want to deal with your attitude today."

"My apologies, Admiral."

"Accepted." Kathryn said. Done with their business, Kathryn happily took Chakotay's hand and walked out with him.

When they were alone in the corridor, Chakotay stopped once more to kiss her thoroughly. "I had no idea when I woke up this morning…"

"I had a hunch, but I certainly didn't think it would happen today."

As they walked to the shuttle, Chakotay asked, "So Kira had information?"

"She was on Omicron Pi. Since you were new to the Maquis, you were under surveillance by the Bajoran militia. The entire incident was recorded."

"And Harris accepted it and dismissed all the charges just like that?"

"Nooooo," Kathryn said. "Kira also had some dirt on Harris. That helped a lot, but I'll let her tell you all about it."

"How did Kira find out about the manslaughter charges? It wasn't public information."

"She heard rumors and asked me for the truth."

Chakotay was surprised. "And you told her?"

"Not exactly, but she figured it out. She's on Earth now."

As they left the building, Chakotay commented, "She came all the way to Earth to help me?"

Kathryn put her arm around Chakotay's waist as they walked. "Yes, she did. And she was happy to help."

Boarding the small shuttle, Chakotay asked, "So, where to now? B'Elanna mentioned that you were living in Indiana. Is that true?"

Nodding and getting the shuttle ready for take-off, Kathryn said, "Yes, I'm living with Mom. I've been on a leave since we returned and I've enjoyed reconnecting with home in Indiana. However, I'd like to go somewhere to talk for awhile before we go there."

"And we need to find out where my belongings are so that I have something besides this to wear." Chakotay was wearing the same thing he had been wearing when he was taken to prison - his uniform slacks and gray t-shirt, but without the jacket.

Kathryn nodded towards the back of the shuttle as she lifted the aircraft off of the ground. "Look in the green bag back there." As Chakotay went to the back, Kathryn called out, "I hope you don't mind, but I took all of your things to Mom's house."

He called back, "Of course I don't mind. I'm surprised, but I don't mind at all." He was silent for a minute before he said, "This is great. I'm going to change now, if that's okay?"

"Sure," Kathryn responded. Alone for a moment, Kathryn took a deep breath to clear her head. She was thrilled that she and Chakotay seemed to have picked up right where they had left off. "Well, without the tears and angst," she said quietly to herself. She looked out over the bright blue Pacific Ocean, enjoying it much more than she had earlier that day.

"It feels so good to be back in my own clothes, again," Chakotay said as he sat in the co-pilot's seat.

"Liberating, no doubt?"

"Very liberating." Chakotay took a deep cleansing breath. "It's really over, isn't it?"

Kathryn reached over and took Chakotay's hand. "Yes, it is. I hope you don't mind, but I'm taking us to Melbourne."

"I don't mind at all. Anywhere except New Zealand is fine with me. Something special in Melbourne?"

"My mom mentioned an Inn that has a wonderful restaurant. She and my father went to Melbourne on a vacation once."

Chakotay nodded. "Sounds nice." He was silent for a minute before asking, "What time is your Mom expecting us?"

"Not for awhile… tomorrow or the next day."

"I see." Chakotay took over the controls and set the shuttle on autopilot. Ignoring Kathryn's questioning look, he tugged on her hand until she got up.

Following his direction to sit on his lap, Kathryn said, "Chakotay, we'll be in Melbourne in less than five minutes."

"Mmm hmmmm…" He threaded his fingers into her hair and brought her face down to his, joining their lips for a long, passionate kiss. He broke the kiss and hugged her tightly. "I don't feel like I have the right to say this after what I did to you, but I have missed you so much. I was so afraid that I'd lost you forever."

Kathryn kissed the top of his head and stroked her fingers through his hair, thinking how much like Kol's it was. "I'd be very sad if you hadn't missed me, and I knew that you were in pain. I didn't believe that you never wanted to see me again."

"Would you believe me if I told you that I was planning on inviting you to come see me next week?"

She squeezed him. "Yes, I would. I've been waiting for the invitation." The shuttle's navigational sensor beeped, signaling that they were nearing Melbourne. Without getting up, Kathryn turned to take the shuttle off of autopilot and brought them down into Melbourne. She smiled as she said, "I don't think I've ever piloted a shuttle while sitting on someone's lap before."

Chakotay held her around her waist, his thumbs caressing the small of her back. "I imagine there are lots of things you haven't done while piloting a shuttle."

Laughing, Kathryn said, "Well, we have a three hour trip back to Indiana to see what we can come up with."

When they got checked into their hotel room, Chakotay asked, "Are you hungry?"

After Kathryn slipped off her shoes, she walked up to Chakotay and pulled his head down for a kiss. "I'm very hungry."

He wrapped his arms around her and chuckled under her kiss. "I meant for food."

"Mmmm hmmmm…" She kissed down his neck, inhaling his scent deeply. She had missed this, a lot. For years, she had tried to find ways to get close enough to him to enjoy the spiciness that was all Chakotay.

One of his hands cupped her bottom and pressed her against him. "It's got to be late in the day for you. I want to make sure you've eaten."

Kathryn started unbuttoning his shirt, slightly annoyed at the food discussion. She assumed it was because he was hungry. "I ate breakfast, and you can feed me after you've satisfied my… other hunger."

"Yes, ma'am." Chakotay followed orders immediately and tilted her face up to recapture her lips. He kissed her deeply and seemed to remember quickly what, exactly, could make her moan and collapse against him.

Kathryn melted into his touch as his soft, warm hands encircled her waist and slowly drew up underneath her shirt. Reaching her satin bra, Chakotay's hands moved around to her front and firmly cupped her breasts. She arched her back into it and lost contact with his lips, but exposed her throat for him to continue kissing.

Chakotay moved one hand around to her back to hold her firmly against him. His other hand remained on her breast, fondling the hardened nipple through the silky undergarment.

Having lost her concentration, Kathryn forgot about removing his shirt. She gripped his shoulder for balance with one hand, and used the other to edge into the waistband of his trousers along the front of his hip. He groaned under her touch as she found the clasp and the zipper.

Chakotay released his hold on her back to give him himself room to remove her shirt. He lifted the fabric up slowly, letting his hands run firmly across her breasts. After tossing the shirt to the floor, he removed her trousers as she held his face and kissed him deeply with a fiery passion.

Once Kathryn was left in only her undergarments, Chakotay pushed her away from him to look her over. Kathryn shivered under the heat in his gaze as he looked like he wanted to devour her. He moved quickly and pushed her back onto the bed, covering her with his body as she fell.

"Sssssssss…!" Kathryn hissed as her injured shoulder hit the bed forcefully. Unable to mask the pain, she arched her back and tensed up her right side.

Chakotay rolled away in alarm. "Did I hurt you?"

Kathryn's eyes were clamped shut as she let the pain subside. She shook her head. "No. I hurt my shoulder recently. It's okay. Just hit the bed wrong."

"Maybe we should slow down," Chakotay said as he started to get up.

Kathryn reached out for him with her left arm and clamped onto his shirt. She pulled him down and then rolled on top of him. "I don't think so."

"Or maybe not," Chakotay said as Kathryn moved down to kiss him again.

Chakotay's loving touch and tender words were a healing balm to her broken heart, each moment drawing them back into the loving relationship that had been torn away just as it was beginning. Their lovemaking continued with an intense and blazing passion that didn't hold a candle to anything she had dreamt of during her six long months of loneliness.

As the bright afternoon sun came through the windows, Kathryn woke to find Chakotay sitting in bed next to her reading a tourism guide. She stretched and cuddled up to him asking, "Why didn't you wake me?"

Chakotay put down the book and turned to face her. He stroked her hair back away from her face and said, "I like having nothing to do but stare at you."

Smiling contently, Kathryn asked, "How long have I been asleep?"

"About two hours. It's a little after noon."

"Hmmmm…. So it's early evening for me."

Leaning down to kiss her softly, Chakotay asked, "So why are you so sleepy?"

Kathryn yawned. "Didn't get much sleep last night, and I'm really, really satiated."

Smiling, Chakotay asked, "Couldn't sleep in anticipation of seeing me today?" He stroked her hair and caressed her cheek.

"I knew it would be soon, but I didn't know it would be today."

"Well, the day certainly isn't shaping up like I thought it might when I woke this morning either." His fingers started moving down her neck.

Kathryn caught his wandering hand and kissed it. "I hope it turned out for the better?"

With a chuckle, Chakotay said, "Oh, yes." He was silent for a moment before he asked, "So, what happened to your shoulder? You were in a lot of pain earlier."

Not wanting to explain how she was injured yet, she shrugged. "I dislocated it last week."

"What?" Chakotay asked with concern.

"A little over a week ago." Kathryn turned to lie on her back and held her right arm out. She figured if she gave him a lot of details, he wouldn't think she was leaving anything out. Pointing to the front of her shoulder joint, she said, "The rotator cuff tore."

"Oh, Kathryn!" Chakotay tenderly held her arm for her. "How did you do that?"

Evading the answer she said, "Well, I certainly didn't do it intentionally. I need to schedule another doctor visit because the pain has been getting worse." She hoped he would focus on getting her to a doctor rather than on how it happened.

"Worse than when you dislocated it?"

"No, not that bad, I can assure you." She left out the part about getting beaten and blacking out.

Starting to get out of bed, Chakotay said, "We should get you home and to a doctor as soon as possible."

Kathryn stopped him. "It can wait until tomorrow. Besides, it's getting late in North America and I'd like to spend more time alone with you. We need to talk."

Chakotay grimaced. "That sounds ominous. What haven't you told me?"

Smiling, Kathryn said, "It's not ominous, I promise. But let's get dressed, order some food, and I'll tell you about it."

Less than an hour later, Kathryn and Chakotay sat down to dinner in their hotel room. Kathryn was nervous about starting the conversation, but after watching Chakotay glance at her repeatedly, knew she couldn't put it off any longer. "I have a confession."

Chakotay looked at her suspiciously. "Okay."

"I went to Bajor for you."

Breathing a sigh of relief, Chakotay asked, "That's it? That's what you've been avoiding?"

Kathryn raised an eyebrow. "No, it's what I found on Bajor that I'm nervous about."

"Ah. Well, I assume you went to see about the members of my tribe that Kira thought were there?"

Nodding, Kathryn said, "Yes, and I found two. Do you remember a woman named Savannah Trowbridge?"

Chakotay's fork paused in mid-air before he put it back down with excitement. "Savannah? It's Savannah and her son? Savannah's alive?"

Hating to upset him, she shook her head. "I'm sorry. She died about five years ago in a Jem Hadar attack, but her children are alive."

Saddened by the news, Chakotay sighed. "She only had one child when I knew her. She must have had another."

"How did you know her?" Kathryn wanted him to tell her about Savannah before she told him the whole story. Not because she wanted to know about his prior relationships, but because she was afraid he would be reticent to talk about it later, once he knew the whole story.

Chakotay leaned back in his chair as he remembered. "It was right after Trebus and Dorvan were attacked. Savannah was from Dorvan where the North American tribes settled. She was working on a project in Arizona, and I was teaching at the Academy. Weeks before the attack, someone from the Native American Institute in New Mexico told me she was on Earth and thought we should meet since we were both from the colonies. So, after the attacks, I resigned, found her, and we left Earth together. She was pregnant and very upset about losing her husband and her family. I did what I could to help her, but I was in a lot of pain myself. We parted ways pretty quickly, but I ran across her again less than two years later when she was working at a clinic in a Maquis settlement." Smiling guiltily, Chakotay added, "She was actually one of the reasons that I ended my relationship with Seska. This wasn't too long before we ended up in the Delta Quadrant."

"Do you remember her son?"

"Only vaguely. He must have been about two years old."

Smiling, Kathryn said, "His name is Chumani, and he is a wonderful child. Almost ten years old. He and his little brother have been living in an orphanage on Bajor for about five years. They were hidden for a while until the war was over."

"Chumani… Dewdrop." Kathryn looked at him curiously and he explained. "I remember now. She named him Chumani, which means dewdrop in the Shawnee language. She was sad when he was born and a dewdrop reminded her of tears."

"The name suits him."

"The other boy… How old is he?"

Hiding her nervousness, Kathryn said, "Kol is about seven, they think, but he could be a little younger than that."

"Cole? That's not a Native American name."

"Kokopak. Kol is his nickname, spelled with a K."

Chakotay looked like he was deep in thought and processing the information. She ate a few bites of dinner, giving him time to think.

He said, "That name is odd. I wonder if the Bajorans have it right."

"I don't know."

"Seven years old. That would mean she must have gotten pregnant right after we were together…" Chakotay froze while looking at Kathryn.

She nodded slowly when she realized that he'd figured out that the age of the boy correlated with the last time he saw the mother. She asked, "Could it be that his name was supposed to be…"

"Kolopak," Chakotay finished for her. "My father's name."

Taking Chakotay's hand from across the table, Kathryn said, "This is the part I was nervous about telling you. Kol has an amazing resemblance to you. It's incredible."

His breathing shallow, Chakotay said, "I have a son."

Kathryn stood and came around the table to hug him from behind. "A son with his father's eyes, his father's smile, his father's hair…" Kathryn drew her fingers through Chakotay's dark, coarse hair.

"I need to go to Bajor. As soon as possible." Chakotay turned back to look at Kathryn and asked, "What are their living conditions like? Do you think they'd want to leave?" He took her hand, "I know that this is a lot to ask, but I'd like to bring them to Earth. Would you be willing to help me raise them?"

Relieved that he felt the same way that she did, she came around to his side, and lifted his chin with her fingers. "They aren't there anymore. They're in Indiana, with my Mother."

Chakotay's eyes widened. "They're here? Both of them?"

Worried that she had gone too far, she explained, "I couldn't leave them there. It wasn't safe, and they really needed a home. I had already talked to Nerys about her evidence."

"I'm not upset, Kathryn, just surprised. When did all of this happen?"

Smiling softly, she answered, "We got home yesterday. Kira went to Harris immediately while we got the boys settled in at home."

"They just arrived yesterday? And you left them with your Mother? Isn't all of this change confusing for them?"

Kathryn pulled up a chair to sit down next to him, so they could talk without a table between them. "They're not confused. They're thrilled. Mom had a whole day of shopping planned for them. When I left this morning, they were trying to decide whether they wanted to get a soccer ball or a remote control toy shuttlecraft, and whether they wanted bunk beds or twin beds. I couldn't sleep last night because I was camped out on the floor of their new room with them piled on top of me."

"Still, to leave them with someone they just met yesterday?"

"They love my mom, and they didn't just meet her yesterday. She went with me to Bajor. It's okay."

Not happy, he asked, "You took your Mother into an unknown situation?"

"I took Ayala too."

Accusingly, he said, "Your shoulder. You hurt that on the trip, didn't you?"

Sighing heavily, Kathryn nodded. "It happened on Bajor. The Doctor at DS9 mended it, but told me to see a Doctor as soon as I got home. I haven't had time yet."

"How did it happen?" Chakotay asked apprehensively.

Kathryn got up and went back to her side of the table to put some space between them. "You don't want to know."

A little annoyed, Chakotay leaned forward over the table. "I just asked, didn't I?"

She sighed again. "All right. I got in a fight."

"On Bajor? What about?"

Kathryn really did not want to have this conversation, but she knew that he would pull it out of her eventually. "That orphanage is not a safe place. They had teenagers running around on the same playground with toddlers."

"What did you do? Knock out a nun?"

Annoyed at his presumption, she took a few more bites of dinner before she told him. "There were five very large, very angry teenagers who were picking on Chumani. I stopped them. And then we got out of there as soon as possible."

"You got in a fight with some orphans and then left with two of their children?" Chakotay made it sound outrageous.

"Pretty much." Kathryn continued to eat.

"Kira approved of this?"

"Nerys helped. She got the adoptions processed that day and got all of us off the planet and safely back to DS9. We weren't even gone for twenty-four hours."

Chakotay reached over and stopped Kathryn from taking her next bite. "Adoptions?"

"I left that out before?" Chakotay nodded slowly, encouraging her to continue. "You and I adopted two children last week."

"I did?"

"Well, you only adopted Chumani. You didn't have to adopt Kol. I adopted both. Celes and Ayala were the witnesses."


"Celes works at the orphanage."

"Kathryn? How many people know that I have a son?"

She took a drink of water before answering. "Two sons. Everyone I've mentioned so far in addition to Gerron, Tabor, and Dalby. Oh, and Ayala's two sons."

"You had quite the reunion." Chakotay was not pleased.

"They all returned to Earth with us."


"Voyager's Welcome Home Party."

Chakotay asked, "That hasn't happened yet?"

Shaking her head, Kathryn said, "No. The crew was waiting for you."

"So, in addition to knowing this very personal information about me having a son, half the crew also knew that I was getting out of prison before I did. That's great." Chakotay got up and walked over to the window.

Kathryn put her fork down and took a deep breath. This was not going at all like she had hoped. "I'm sorry. I should have been more forthcoming with all of the details, but so much has happened. Ayala knew about your pending release because he was with me on the shuttle when I spoke with Nerys about it. He contacted the others living on Bajor so that they could all be here to celebrate with you."

Chakotay was silent for a long moment. "This is all just overwhelming, I guess."

Afraid that she'd made a very big mistake, she said, "I understand. Should I go to give you some time alone?"

Chakotay turned quickly. "No. The last thing I need is to be alone. I've been alone for months. I'm sorry if I upset you, Kathryn."

She smiled sadly. "I'm not upset, just concerned that I went too far. I only did what I thought you would do, and I assumed that if you didn't want me to help raise the boys, we would figure out something. I just wasn't sure how to tell you without upsetting you. It's a lot to take in."

Sitting back down at the table, Chakotay took a deep breath and said, "I'm just feeling like everything is out of my control. Why don't you start over? Tell me about the whole trip, from when you decided to go."

"I've pretty much told you everything."

Chakotay smiled softly. "I love hearing your voice, and I think I'll be able to absorb everything more the second time around."

"All right." Relieved, Kathryn picked up her fork again and started telling him the entire story. "The idea of going to Bajor came up when Mom and I were redecorating my bedroom…"

Chakotay nodded and encouraged Kathryn to continue. She described everything from her first conversation with Ayala to meeting the boys, and tried not miss any details. She even told him about the fight, how it happened, and how badly she was hurt. Her description was distressing for him, but he said that he was glad to know about it.

They talked for hours about her trip, about what the crew was doing, and about her life in Indiana. Chakotay told her about prison life and about developing his friendship with the counselor. Steve had helped him begin coping with not just being in prison, but also with his hatred for the Cardassians and his built-up stress from being Voyager's first officer.

Kathryn told Chakotay more about the boys, but her sentences were so broken up with yawns that it was too hard to keep the conversation going. He made her get into bed and then joined her a few minutes later. Spooning up behind her, Chakotay said, "I love you, Kathryn."

"Mmmmm…" Kathryn hummed with contentment. "Will you hold me like this every night for the rest of our lives?"

He kissed her neck. "If that will make you happy."

"That will make me very happy." After yawning, she asked, "Are you tired yet?"

"No, but I don't want to be anywhere but right here holding you."

Yawning again, she said, "But I can stay up and talk to you more."

"Shhhh…. Close your eyes. I'm quite content just holding you."

After another yawn, Kathryn said, "Me too." It wasn't long before she drifted off to sleep, very happy not to have to dream about being in Chakotay's arms.

When Kathryn woke about six hours later, the room that had been softly glowing with evening twilight was dark and all of the sounds of the inn were silent. When she felt chilly, she realized that she wasn't in Chakotay's arms anymore. She turned to see him lying on his back next to her, breathing deeply as he slept.

Quietly, she crawled out of bed and checked the time. It was just after midnight, which meant it was 7:00 am back in Indiana. As always, her internal clock woke her on schedule without fail. She ignored the clock and crawled back into bed, snuggling up to Chakotay's softly snoring warm body.

Kathryn checked her navigational calculations and then put the shuttlecraft on autopilot. She turned in her chair to see Chakotay reclined in the co-pilot seat with his legs stretched out in front of him. "Comfortable?" she asked.

"It's not the Delta Flyer, but it'll do."

"I miss that little ship too."

Chakotay sat up. "B'Elanna said the Flyer is part of the Voyager museum?"

"Yes," Kathryn nodded. "But there's a team of engineers incorporating some of the design elements into new shuttles."

"Hopefully not the manual joystick control."

Laughing, Kathryn said, "No, not that."

"What's our ETA?"

"It'll be 3:00 in the afternoon."

"I've got to get used to the civilian time. That's 15:00?"

Kathryn smiled. "Yes. I find myself counting hours often. And the time zone difference between Indiana and Auckland makes it more confusing." She looked out into the sunrise coming in over the ocean. "That's beautiful."

"Yes, it is. A very welcome sight."

She held his hand while they watched the sunrise together. "Are you ready for this?"

"The sunrise?"

Smiling, she said, "No… going home with me. Meeting the boys. Marrying me. It's a lot to take in all at once."

"All wonderful things."

"I just don't want you to feel pressured. The boys don't know you're coming, yet. So if you need some time?"

He stood and pulled her up with him. Holding her against him in a gentle embrace, he asked, "Are you uncertain because you're unsure how I feel about you?"

Nuzzling his cheek, she answered, "You were pretty clear yesterday, and again this morning."

He blushed slightly. "Well, yes, but you sound hesitant about taking me home. Are you worried that I'm going to ruin this for us again?"

She shook her head, smiling slyly. "I think you've learned your lesson."

"Yes. Yes, I have." Sorrow in his eyes, he tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear. "I am so sorry, Kathryn."

"Just tell me that you were in pain, or scared, or something that will make it not seem so cruel."

"I was in agony, Kathryn. And very scared… not about going to prison, but about what it meant for you, and for us."

"We were supposed to face it together. That's what we promised."

Trying to lift the mood, he said jokingly, "That's what I promised when you were worried that it was your butt on the line."

"Ah," she nodded and rolled her eyes. "I hadn't realized that it was a conditional partnership."

Serious again, he said, "I made a huge, colossal mistake, and hurt you terribly... something I promised I would never do."

"I couldn't believe you made that choice. It took me a long time before I could begin to understand why."

"I'm sorry." He asked, "Are we okay?"

She looked into his somber eyes. "Yes, my love, we're okay."

He held her tightly with his lips resting on her forehead. "Thank you."

The sun's ascent into the sky went unnoticed by the occupants of the shuttle.

About an hour into their flight, Chakotay fell asleep in the aft compartment. Kathryn watched him sleep for a while as she thought about how grateful she was that he was with her again. When she remembered that she was supposed to contact her mother to let her know when they'd be arriving, she left him and went up to the helm to place the call.

Gretchen asked, "You're coming home already?"

"We're about halfway there, and should arrive a little after 3:00."

"I had hoped you would stay away longer."

Smiling, Kathryn said, "Don't worry, Mom. We'll take some more time for ourselves soon. Right now, our sleeping schedules are seventeen hours off from each other which makes it somewhat difficult to enjoy ourselves."

"Was he thrilled?" Gretchen asked eagerly.

Kathryn hesitated. "His emotions were all over the board. Thrilled to see me, of course." She blushed slightly. "Excited about the boys. A bit upset that I took you to Bajor. Humbled by what Nerys did for him. In general, he was overwhelmed."

"I imagine he would've been." Gretchen's attention was pulled away for a minute to tell the boys to be careful with something. "Sorry about that, Kathryn. They're not used to being around breakables."

"We'd better pack a few of the more precious ones away."

"Don't worry. They're learning quickly… they're very eager to please." Gretchen leaned forward to whisper. "When I tell them Chakotay's coming, they're probably going to ask if he plans to live here or take them somewhere else."

"Unless you'd rather have the house to yourself again, you can expect all four of us for a while."

Gretchen clapped her hands together. "That's wonderful!"

Kathryn whispered happily, "He wants to marry me."

"Oh, Kathryn. That's wonderful. I can't wait to meet him."

"We'll be home soon."

"I'll go tell them now. Although maybe I should take them outside first so they don't break anything when they start jumping for joy."

"Good idea. Love you, Mom."

"Love you too. See you soon."

Kathryn woke Chakotay by kissing him softly. "We're almost home."

He mumbled, "Didn't I just fall asleep?"

"About two hours ago." She kissed him again. "I need to take us off of auto-pilot. Come up when you're ready."

"Mmmm… kay."

She returned to the pilot's seat and prepared for landing. Chakotay came up a few minutes later, kissed her, and took the co-pilot's seat. "Did you let your mom know we were coming?"

"Yes, a little more than an hour ago."

"I'm nervous."

Kathryn smiled. "About meeting the boys or about meeting my mom?"

"Yes. Both."

"You'll be fine. The boys think you're a super hero and will probably be anxious about meeting you too. And don't worry about Mom. She's very hospitable and welcoming… and thrilled that you're going to live with us."

"You're sure? I don't want to impose."

She held his hand. "I'm sure."

"So, they think I'm a hero?"

Laughing, Kathryn said, "Oh yes. With mighty wings. Celes told them a lot of stories about you."

"Does Kol know I'm his father?"

"No. They think their mother and both fathers are with the prophets."

"Bajoran prophets?"

Kathryn nodded. "And they're looking forward to hearing stories about their mother."

"That should be interesting. I met her twice."

"Just tell them about how beautiful she was… and how kind and loving. They'll want to hear about the great things she did."

He smiled. "You sound like you knew her."

"I just assumed that she'd be all those things, and that's what her sons will want to hear."

"I'll just have to watch myself or you won't ever measure up."

Kathryn laughed. "That's true. I may have been the Captain of the Voyager starship mighty, but I'll also be the one making them eat their vegetables and wash their faces."

"Starship mighty?"

"Their English is broken. Adjectives come after the nouns."

"Ah, yes, Bajoran grammar."

"Here we are." Kathryn took the shuttle down and landed it in the front yard. The boys ran out of the house and then froze when they saw the shuttle. Chakotay and Kathryn could see them, but the boys couldn't see inside the shuttle.

"Oh, Kathryn." Chakotay stared at the boys. "They're beautiful."

She squeezed his hand and tugged for him to follow. The hatch opened and they stepped outside. The boys were still frozen in place just beyond the front porch, and Gretchen was standing behind them. Kathryn and Chakotay walked hand in hand up to the house.

Kathryn said, "Chumani, Kol, I'd like you to meet Chakotay."

"Wow!" Kol said, making Chakotay smile.

"It's a… please to meet you." Chumani said carefully.

The adults smiled at his attempt to speak eloquently. Chakotay kneeled in front of them, taking a hand from each. "I'm happy to meet you. When I found out you were here, I couldn't wait to come home."

"Punishment over?" Chumani asked.

Chakotay nodded. "Yes, it's over. Do you know Colonel Kira?"

The boys nodded. "Told new Mommy Captain where to find us."

Chuckling at their description of Kathryn, Chakotay said, "That's right. Colonel Kira helped me, and now it's over."

Kol had been staring at Chakotay curiously. Kathryn asked, "Kol, do you have a question?"

The younger boy bit his lip and gathered up the courage to point to Chakotay's face and ask, "That tattoo Nee Celes told?"

Kathryn wanted to translate for Chakotay, but she didn't have to. Chakotay let Kol touch the tattoo. "Yes, that's my tattoo. Did Celes tell you about it?"

Chumani nodded. "From Kukeemu."

"Kukeemu?" Chakotay asked.

"Father of Father." Chumani turned to Gretchen. "Granka?"

Gretchen responded, "Grandpa or Grandfather."

Chakotay said, "That's right. My father and grandfather had a tattoo like this. And when my father died in the war, I decided to wear it to honor him."

"Are you going to be our new…?" Chumani looked at Gretchen.

"Father," she answered.

"Father?" Chumani looked at Chakotay nervously.

"Would you that?"

Kol interjected, "But you hero mighty. You can care for us?"

"I'd love to care for you and be your father."

Kol asked, "And you live in home here?"

Chakotay glanced up at Gretchen for affirmation and then answered, "Yes, I will. He took Kathryn's hand. "We can be a family together."

Chumani said, "You protect us?"

"Oh, yes," Chakotay answered.

Kol asked, "We get tattoo?"

Smiling, Chakotay replied, "You can decide when you're older."

Chumani nodded. "We want you to father."

Chakotay opened his arms and said, "May I hug you?"

The boys threw themselves into Chakotay's embrace, almost knocking him over. He closed his arms around them and kissed each head. "Thank you, Kol. Thank you, Chumani. You've made me very happy."

Later that evening, Kathryn went upstairs to read a book to the boys while Chakotay stepped into the study to contact his sister. Although the boys had new beds, they had decided that the pile of pillows on the floor was where they wanted to have story time. Kathryn was halfway through the first book when she realized that both boys had fallen asleep. They had wanted to wait until Chakotay came upstairs to move to their beds, so Kathryn closed the book and waited for him to help her. With the boys lying partially on top of her, she closed her eyes and tenderly caressed Kole's back and Chumani's head.

She must have fallen asleep, because the next thing she felt was a blanket being laid over her. Opening her eyes, she saw Chakotay settling down next to them, even though the nightlight was off. She whispered, "I didn't hear you come up the stairs."

"I was stealthy." She saw his smile in the moonlight. "Let's put them in their beds."

He snuggled up under Kole so that he could lie close to Kathryn and pull the blanket over himself. "Maybe in a little while, but I'd like to lie here with them."

"Okay." Her shoulder was hurting, but she didn't want to disturb the moment. "Was Sekaya surprised?"

"Very surprised. I said we'd come see them soon or have them over."

"I'd like that." Kathryn felt him kiss her forehead. "Are you happy, Chakotay?"

"Happier than I've ever dared to imagine."

"Me too." Kathryn lifted her lips to kiss him softly. She snuggled up against him and drifted off to sleep feeling content, relaxed, and loved.


Chakotay stood before the Voyager crew and their families with his bride at his side. "Before I offer a toast, I want to thank you for letting us turn this welcome home party into a wedding reception. Your unwavering support for Kathryn and me during the last six months has been remarkable. I believe that this Voyager family that we've knitted together… Starfleet, Maquis, friends picked up along the way…" Chakotay nodded to Seven and Icheb, "…and the loved ones waiting for us at home, is like a patchwork quilt made up of over two hundred individual pieces of the most beautiful colors. Each one is stronger together than it could ever be alone, and each one contributes to the beauty of the whole."

"I stand before you know as a man humbled by his experiences. Many of you first met me when I was infuriated about the loss of my tribe. I thought that I would never feel love or joy again. However, the moment I materialized on Voyager's bridge and looked into the eyes of this dynamic woman, I knew my life was forever changed. Kathryn brought peace to my heart, and each day that we served together gave me a chance to find joy again…" Chakotay paused, "Well, on most days."

The gathered crowd laughed and Kathryn shook her head in amusement.

"When we arrived in the Terran system, I was humbled once again. Starfleet afforded me the opportunity to rest for six months in beautiful New Zealand. Mr. Paris… you know what I mean."

Tom lifted his glass in acknowledgement, and Chakotay continued. "Again, I found myself angry about the loss of my family. But you didn't abandon me. Since my release three weeks ago, I've learned that dozens of you remained determined to find evidence to support my innocence, even when I thought all hope was lost. When I was feeling my most despondent, a beautiful woman arrived to rescue me, and told me that not only am I free to be with her forever, but that I also have two wonderful sons waiting for me in Indiana. Most of you have met them already tonight, but let me introduce them anyway… Chumani and Kol Trowbridge."

The crowd gave a welcoming applause, embarrassing the boys as they stood in front of Kathryn and Chakotay. "Our patchwork family continues to grow and gain strength every day." Chakotay raised his glass of champagne. "I invite each of you to join me in toasting this marriage, this family, and this even greater Voyager family."



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