bitter

Afternoon of the Bitter Rain

a story by

vanhunks

 

RATING: Parts 1 - 8 [PG-13]; Part 9 [NC-17]

SUMMARY: Voyager has returned to the Alpha Quadrant after five years. After the welcoming ceremonies, Chakotay asks Kathryn again to marry him, but she rejects his offer. He leaves, never to be seen again. Will they ever find happiness?

DISCLAIMER - Paramount is Chief.

 

Warning: This story is high in sap content, warm, comforting and uplifting (hopefully!). So, dear reader, you might want to have your stock of Kleenex ready.

 

AFTERNOON OF THE BITTER RAIN

PART ONE

He stood on the sidewalk watching the building, his eyes fixed on the second level - a wide arched window near the left corner. From time to time a figure moved into view, then vanished again. When it happened, his eyes narrowed, and a sudden gasp would escape him. The figure never paused to stare long enough out the window onto the street below.

He had been standing there for the last hour, heedless of the soft rain which dusted his hair with the finest silver drops that made him appear grey in the distance. His raised face glistened as the water kissed his skin and rolled in little rivulets down his cheeks, soaking the collar of his red turtleneck. Drops perched precariously on his long eyelashes, before they too, lost their hold and fell off. Very shortly he would be wet through, but right now, he cared little as he welcomed the mild discomfort that getting wet caused him.

It was late afternoon, and the grey clouds had been hanging low over the skies since the morning when they were at the Memorial Hall for the last rounds of welcoming. The expected series of debriefings had taken place in the two weeks since their return.

He had been at Kathryn's side in that time, supporting her, helping her set a hundred things straight. She welcomed his nearness then, always seeking him out, her eyes warm and happy. They were home, and the tension of fighting every known adversity in the Delta Quadrant was slowly seeping from her.

She had needed him then. He had given all of himself then. He wanted to do so into forever.

I should be glad. I should be in seventh heaven. We've been pardoned, boxed and dispensed with. No more Maquis, no more rebels. Freedom. Five years and four months was a long time to be lost. After five years and four months, home was just a blessed feel of the Earth beneath my feet.

He gave a bitter smile. This morning, she said 'no' again.

Now the bleak afternoon, with the rain sifting down in gentle cadence over the streets, mirrored the desolation he felt. There was an emptiness in him, a hollowness that over the years filled with more darkness as each year passed and each year brought no relief. Each year the distance between them grew even as their friendship remained the only beacon on their lonely journey home.

Kathryn would never be his.

I never had her...

He sighed. There had always been too many obstacles, too many walls erected by her so that she didn't have to commit herself to letting go.

Marry me, Kathryn...

He knew she'd reject his offer, like she had done twice in the last year. He wanted her final confirmation that she could never come to accept him as a permanent factor in her life. For a while, a very short while, there had been possibilities, but even that died in its infancy as Kathryn became more and more obsessed with getting them all home.

He recorded in his heart the many times she turned to him for comfort when a crewmember died, or when she had negotiated with particularly difficult alien races and negotiations failed. He recorded in his heart the nights she turned to him when she felt overcome by loneliness and guilt, when she cried wildly in his arms for long frenzied minutes.

She needed him then.

Now he felt a fool for having asked again, because with his request came his next admission: "I love you..."

He had watched her flinch. His heart became cold at the new if not unexpected prospect: forever lonely.

"There will never be anyone for me, Kathryn..."

Her own admission: What there was, was enough for me, Chakotay.

Why did he persist? Was there always a forlorn hope in him that he could one day, like a miracle, hear her say that she needed him? Did he always yearn for just one look in her eyes that would be different? Looking on him with tenderness, a look that would declare, nay, affirm her own hopeless dependence on him?

That was not his Kathryn. She never needed him. Not in the way he wanted.

The wet seeped through his uniform, his skin shivering lightly as the cold crept through his skin and settled in his bones. There she was again, standing at the window. Now she paused and looked at him. He could imagine how she must sigh in exasperation, or impatience.

I must see you again, my Kathryn.

Come to me...

*

He had been standing there for well over an hour, Kathryn thought. She crossed the area of the lounge in front of the window several times. Every time, he stood on the same spot, not moving from there, even though the rain...

Why didn't he just leave?

Leave me in peace, Chakotay. We've never been more than friends and colleagues. I can't give you what you want, Chakotay.

Liar.

You needed him only when it suited you, because you knew...

"I'm here, Kathryn. Always..."

You used him. For years he was your willing receptacle that received and absorbed all your heartaches, all your woes, all your loneliness.

She gave a sigh and sat down on her couch again. Reaching for her cup on the low coffee table, she warmed her hands around it, the aroma of the coffee tingling her nose. She breathed in deeply, then stared again into the distance, unseeing, uncaring.

I can't let you do it anymore...It's why I have to let you go...

Her mind spun to the hundreds of times in the last five years that she reached for him, her own hands clutching convulsively at him for the fear that she would drown in her own despair. Her responsibility rested so heavily on her then that there had been days when the weight of it brought her to her knees. He had been there to hold her hand; there to comfort, soothe the fever from her brow.

Always he smiled when she complained that she rested too heavily on him. Always he dismissed her plaintive objections that she used him. Always...always...

I can't let you do it anymore, Chakotay. I can't tie you to me forever and let you continue...

Kathryn wondered if he still stood on the sidewalk. It had been raining steadily all afternoon and he had to be soaked to the skin. What did he want? she wondered. Why did he still stand there like a love-sick boy waiting to see the girl of his dreams?

The last time she walked past the window and shot a glance at him, he looked bedraggled. He stood with his arms hanging limply at his side. Forlorn. Lonely. She could even see the rain water dripping from his fingers. It was as if he didn't care. His short cropped hair lay plastered against his scalp, part of it covering the tattoo that was so much a part of who Chakotay was.

Everything.

Warrior gentle.

She tried to push these thoughts away from her. Putting the cup down on the table, she only half registered that she hadn't drunk any, and that it had turned cold. Rising from her sofa, she walked to the window again. Her heart thumped wildly for a second. He was still standing there. He didn't bother to shield himself from the rain. It was cold, an unpleasant afternoon. The dreariness reflected her own spirits too.

Sighing, she walked to the door of her apartment. Even if she didn't want what he offered, he could at least come in and stay till the rain stopped and he had dried his clothes. It was the least she could do for her friend.

Friend?

Liar.

Why lie to yourself, Kathryn? Why deceive your own heart when you know you want him to be more? Why are you still afraid?

Tell him.

Tell him...

**

Chakotay froze in the cold as Kathryn stepped from the entrance on the opposite sidewalk. She remained there, just under the awning that hanged over the entrance of the apartment block.

She stared at him.

No movement from her as he started to cross the road. His own movements were cranky, stiff from the cold as he treaded his way towards her.

"Chakotay, you are wet through - "

"Kathryn."

His lips trembled.

Chakotay used his palm to wipe the water from his face. He stared at her for long moments, thirstily taking in her beauty, the almost sad way that her mouth curved into a smile. He wanted to savour these moments as his hunger for her flared again. She looked so...dear...so beloved, he almost lost his resolve.

"What is it, Chakotay?" she asked, then frowned, her eyes widening a little. Was she suddenly scared?

"I wanted to see you, Kathryn," he said, his voice shaking with emotion, his eyes red as he tried to check himself.

"Chakotay - "

"I'm leaving, Kathryn."

"Chakotay, what are you saying?"

There was alarm on her face. What did she expect? That he'd stick around and be her punching bag forever and nothing more?

"I'm leaving," he repeated, and his hand went out to touch her cheek so gently that tears sprang in her eyes.

"Chakotay, I - "

"I wanted to see you, touch you one last time before I go," he whispered hoarsely. "I will need this memory, Kathryn..."

"Don't - don't go..."

"Be happy for me, my love..."

"Chakotay - "

But Chakotay's hand left her cheek. Her face burned where his touch had been. He turned round and walked quickly across the road. His figure blurred as the rain formed a silver curtain around him. Within seconds he was gone.

"Don't go..." Kathryn whimpered softly as she stared in quiet despair at the spot on the other side of the road where Chakotay had slipped round a corner.

"I love you..." came her whisper as he vanished from view.

The rain fell.

******* 

END PART ONE

 

PART TWO

Kathryn Janeway stood a little away from the main crowd. She had spoken with Admiral Paris, and had done the obligatory rounds of socialising with Starfleet brass who were present at Voyagerís first anniversary after their return home.

She cast her eyes round, looking at the guests, saw Tom and BíElanna in heated discussion with Seven, and Neelix trying to get Tuvok to smile. The Delaney twins were happily chattering away with their new partners, and Susan and Mariah were holding hands.

Kathryn smiled a little bleakly. They all appeared so happy. All of them had come to greet her, and Tuvok had spent some time talking to her. He was back on Vulcan, at the Science Academy where he was teaching. Surprising that Seven had not elected to join him at the Academy. She had not, as she had feared, become the Federationís lab rat, as Harry had voiced to her a year ago.

Instead, she was in the midst of the Science Research Instituteís latest research into transwarp technology. She had been willing to release most of the information on alien life forms of the Delta Quadrant which Voyager did not encounter, but the Borg did.

ĎCaptain," Neelix said earlier, "Iím sorry that Commander Chakotay is not here."

"No, Neelix, he has not informed us of his decision not to accept the invitation."

She had lied to Neelix. She didnít know where Chakotay was, and had not been inclined to swallow her pride and trace him.

"Perhaps he will be here next year," Neelix offered. "The Commander was after all, the First Officer of Voyager..."

So much for stating the obvious...

"Neelix, yes, maybe next year the Commander will grace us with his presence."

"Well, Captain, I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening," Neelix smiled, giving a half salute as he left her to join Naomi and her mother, who had been reunited with her husband, Gresgrendtrek.

She had nodded to Neelix, been polite, smiled.

*

"Sheís looking for him, Tom," BíElanna said where she was standing with her husband of three months.

"And heís not coming, BíElanna."

"She looks so lost, you know. Like the other half of her is gone," BíElanna replied, looking for a moment sad. She had not seen Chakotay since their return. It was as if he vanished into thin air.

"I wish I could wring the Commanderís neck for causing her such unhappiness, BíElanna. She doesnít deserve it - "

"Tom! The Captain played cat and mouse with him for years! What do you expect? He was eating the crumbs from her table. Remember the times when we saw him smile, and weíd know that the Captain had allowed him to close the distance between them, albeit briefly?"

"Yeah, like kissing her, or holding her hand, or touching her hair," he said a little acidly.

"Come on, Helmboy. He loved her. There was not a crewmember on Voyager who didnít think so, or who knew that she felt the same."

"She misses him, thatís for sure," Tom said, a little chastised by BíElannaís tirade.

"But she wore him down, with her giving, then pulling and giving, only to take it away again. Imagine I did that to you..." BíElanna said reflectively.

"We werenít the commanding officers, BíElanna. There were fewer restraints on us when it came to having an onboard relationship. With Captain Janeway and Chakotay it was always different. There were too many obstacles... Duty, command, protocols that prevented them from exploring their friendship to deeper levels - "

"No one on board would have minded, Tom. You know that! Chakotay..." BíElanna sighed, "Chakotay suffered his pain in silence. I guess he couldnít take it anymore."

"And Captain Janeway probably rues it now that she let him go..." Tom said with clarity.

"She does. She misses him..."

*******

Kathryn sighed. What did she expect? That Chakotay would come and like magic say that they could start over?

She closed her eyes briefly as she remembered the last time she saw him. He had been standing for hours in the rain, waiting for her. He was soaked to the skin, he looked bedraggled and desperately unhappy.

Watching him from her window, seeing the lonely figure looking so forlorn, had ripped her heart open. She had made up her mind then that she would go down to him and tell him that she wanted very much to marry him. She wanted to accept his proposal of marriage. For once in her life, she was prepared to act on instinct, on an impulse that filled her with delirium. She had been crazy then to let him wait, to play with his feelings. She had been mad...mad! To let the only man she loved go away from her, was something she could box and label as 'the great Janeway folly'.

"Iím leaving Kathryn," he said that day. She had turned cold at the words, her heart stopped for one crazy moment and she couldnít breathe. She knew that even with the coldness, the rain, the dark clouds, she paled. What sick irony, what terrible trick did fate play on her that day?

Her heart had been dark that day. She could never look at another rainy day, and not feel the gloom settling in her. It reminded her forcibly of the day Chakotay touched her cheek and said:

"I need the memory..."

Yes, she thought. That afternoon was the afternoon of the bitter rain, always to be associated with her greatest heartache. There were too many regrets, too many times she thought of how she treated him, how she rejected him time and time again.

On rainy days she would remember, feel again his hand against her cheek. She could even feel the trembling fingers as they seemed to caress her soft skin.

She cast her eyes furtively to the entrances of the hall, hoping she'd see his beloved face. How many times in the past year alone hadn't she imagined that she'd seen him? A shock of short-cropped black hair, someone dressed in command red, who walked like him, and she'd feel her heart race like mad.

Once... Oh, God...

Once she called someone Chakotay. She had seen only his back, and when he turned to look in another direction, she saw the same tanned skin, dimples. But it was a stranger...

Foolish! Foolish! Like a stuttering simpleton she tried to apologise.

I must be getting mad... I'm seeing Chakotay in every man who has the same height, the same build, the same colouring... How strange... On Voyager it wasn't that much different. I was with my 'family', yet I felt the loneliness all the time. I was with so many, yet always lonely. And right here, with Voyager's first reunion - an event which seemed likely to be repeated every year - and I am lonely among so many people.

I am lonely. I have no one... No one...

Kathryn looked around her, saw Tom and B'Elanna stand close together. She saw Joe Carey with his wife, Magnus Rollins with his family, his teenage sons who were already at the Academy... There was Samantha with her husband, even Seven who couldn't seem to tear herself from Harry's side.

What do I have?

Years of regret.

*

"Kathryn, will you be visiting us at Palings?" Admiral Paris asked.

She looked up at the grey-haired man. Sighing, she said:

"Not this time, Admiral. Iíll be in deep space for six months and I have a lot of preparations to make."

"Are you running away, Kathryn?" the Admiral asked, a sharp, keen look in his eyes.

"I donít know what you mean," she said, gracing him with a tight smile.

"Kathryn, Kathryn, youíre in the Alpha Quadrant now. You donít have to sign up for these long missions - "

"I enjoy it, Admiral..."

"Yes, I can see youíre enjoying it. Your mouth has a perpetual droop to it, your eyes are always moving as if youíre looking for someone and, you havenít touched your drink all evening."

"Admiral, I donít think itís - "

"You hoped he would come, Kathryn," Admiral Paris said kindly.

Kathryn looked away, afraid that heíd see the tears forming in her eyes. She tried desperately to stem it. She felt embarrassed that he could read her like that. When she looked at him again, Owen Paris thought he had never seen so much pain in Kathrynís eyes.

"I - yes," she admitted softly, looking at a spot on the floor.

"I saw last year how close you were. What happened?"

She didnít want to tell him. Her heart felt heavy. Last year...so many regrets.

"He left."

"I know that, Kathryn. He was offered a ship, and he turned it down, even though he was promoted to Captain."

"He asked me to marry him," she said finally. "Admiral, please..." She wanted to go, escape to her home and pull the blankets over her head. She could feel the onset of another tension headache.

"Iím sorry, Kathryn. It must pain you. You had your reasons - "

"No - yes...no," she said in confusion. "I made up my mind to accept his offer..."

"Then he informed you he was leaving."

Kathryn stared at Owen Paris. He was right, of course.

"Such an irony," she said bitterly.

"Did you tell him how you felt?"

"It - it was...too late," Kathryn said sadly. "Too late..."

Admiral Paris looked long at her, and remembered his own pained relationship with Tom, how the anger and pain and heartache vanished when he saw his son again. Nothing else mattered. Nothing else. He took his son into his embrace and loved him all over again, unconditionally.

"Kathryn, I want you to promise me one thing."

"Whatís that, Admiral?" she said softly.

"Promise me that if the opportunity should ever arise, youíll not let it slip through your fingers. Forget then about conditions..."

She smiled this time, wishing that there would be an opportunity.

But Chakotay... He was somewhere in this quadrant. Somewhere. What was he doing? she wondered as she prepared to make her departure.

******

Later that night she lay in bed in her apartment. The emptiness that there had been a year ago, was still there.

I was a fool...

Chakotayís image came before her as she saw him on that last day. Kathryn closed her eyes.

"Give me peace, Chakotay. Leave me alone now. Itís over. You left, now let me be. You got what you want, didnít you? Youíre gone and Iím here, with the pain and the heartache that just wonít leave me.

Is that your Warriorís curse?

She turned on her side, to stare at the moon that threw its beams on the floor of her bedroom. She sniffed sadly.

Iím morbid...

The moon crept further. Or was it the clouds that moved in front of it to create the impression that it was? She turned restlessly, unable to sleep. She had no idea that the reunion would evoke so many memories. She wanted to see Chakotay again, hoping against hope that heíd be there, hoping that heíd know of the reunion and then come. He could be far away, or just round the corner...

And then what?

"Chakotay, Iím sorry that I played with your feelings and your heart for five years?"

Then what?

"I love you, Chakotay"?

Oh, sweet moon, stay... she prayed silently as the moon moved, and only a sliver remained visible.

When it was gone from her sight, she turned on her other side, her head resting on her hand. The tears came. They came like they did whenever she missed Chakotay too much.

 *******

END PART 2

 

PART THREE

Four years later...

"Doctor Eykin, will they make it?" Chakotay asked the harried physician, his own face sallow with the onset of the disease that had spread like wildfire through the city.

The Doctor looked up from the critically ill woman he was treating to the man who stood facing him. He sighed. So many had died already and they were fast reaching a shortage of critical medical supplies. Vaccines... This patient...

He cleared his throat. What to say to this man who had done so much already?

"Have you sent an emergency message to Federation Headquarters, Chakotay?" he asked.

"Doctor, you havenít answered my question," Chakotay said, his voice terse. The Doctor almost shrank back, so fierce this man looked. But, his family was dying...

"Your wife... Iím sorry, Commander."

Chakotay paled. What did he expect? He had wanted confirmation that Tirza was dying. Still, it came as a shock, the reality and finality clamping as two steel hands around his heart.

He felt dead inside. He looked at the other patient, then at the Doctor.

"And - and...?"

He dreaded the Doctorís answer. He was already numb from the pain. He heard Doctor Eykin's soft sigh. Chakotay turned away, his heart breaking. He didnít want to hear...

"Your daughter will survive, Commander Chakotay. She has not been as ravaged by the disease as other patients had. Her natural immune systems combated - "

"What did you say...? Chakotay asked as he turned to face the doctor again, not certain that he heard correctly.

"You daughter will recover from the virus, Commander..."

The Doctor closed his eyes at the way Chakotayís face lightened. In the great tragedy that surrounded them, at least the little girl had hope of surviving. Chakotay's daughter had a chance to grow into womanhood.

Chakotay bent down over small figure of the child. She was still unconscious and yes, her breathing wasnít as erratic as it was the past few days.

"Did you hear that, Annie? Youíre going to get better," he crooned softly, wiping her brown hair from her face. Her hair was wet from her constant perspiration. It was a battle to keep her temperature from rising to the impossible levels that it did two days ago.

Two days? What was day and what was night? He had no awareness that day had turned into night. It streamed along as a never-ending nightmare in which he had been fighting to help the constant stream of patients who were brought here. Tirza had helped too, before she fell prey to the virus.

They had been at the hospital, aiding the sick, comforting the dying. Tirza had been tireless, in spite of her own fragile health. She would lie next to him in bed, and deep in the night she'd get up.

"We must go, Chakotay. There are patients who need us..."

And always, he would get up and together they would go to the hospital. Mala would sleep in the house and look after Annie for them.

Tirza.

He had been bitter and lonely when he had arrived on Benara five years ago. Unwilling and unresponsive, he hadn't wanted to see another woman, let alone marry one. Tirza had been kind, had understood his loneliness and had seen his heartache. That first year...

He had been demented, missing Kathryn so much that the pain sat in his chest every single second that he breathed. She was in his thoughts constantly, and never a single moment that he didn't want to lie down and just wait for death to come. At some point he knew, with some clarity, that time would let a scab grow over his open wounds, that the wounds would heal, and the scars remain.

Gradually, he began to focus again. The thought that he would never see Kathryn again, the knowledge that she was lost to him for all time, gave him the courage to begin living again. Still, the scars remained. And that was how Tirza found him. He was a beaten man, but the loneliness that ate at him so constantly, was slowly beginning to ebb. Tirza gave him the courage to start again.

"I know that you don't feel the same, Chakotay," she said that time when he asked her to marry him, "but I love you with all my heart."

He felt a heel that he could not love her as she so obviously loved him.

"It is enough, my love, that you are with me. You are kind, generous and faithful. You have given me a reason to believe in each passing day, Chakotay. And now," she said gently as she caressed her belly, "we have this little miracle growing here."

Tirza had looked at him with her heart in her eyes then, and said:

"My life is complete..."

"Tirza, Tirza," he replied as he folded her in his arms, "I am at peace now. I thank you for it..."

Now Chakotay, pulled back to the present, looked at his dying wife who had given him so much of herself, and he remembered just over a week ago, when they had both been taking a short breather. Tirza had already begun to show the first symptoms of the disease. He had been so busy himself that he never noticed how much weaker she had become. Her eyes were sunken, her cheeks flushed and fool that he was, he thought that it was just the normal exhaustion of non-stop working here.

"Iím sorry, Chakotay, I canít..." she said softly before she collapsed in his arms.

She had drifted in and out of consciousness since then, the medication not enough to pull her through. She had never been strong, he thought, and her system was already run down by the time she succumbed. He had been at her side for four days, until another tragedy struck. Annie fell ill.

For the first time he cursed himself that he settled in the furthest outpost of Federation space. They were so far away from everything, and medical supplies were running low. Already two thousand had died. If they did not get help soon...

His message to Federation Headquarters had been short, simply stating that Benara needed help. The particular strain of the influenza virus was alien, never encountered before, which was why so many died without even reaching hospitals.

Now, there was faint hope. Help was on the way.

"Oh, Tirza..." he cried as he turned to her bed.

Tirza opened her eyes slowly, seeing first the blur of her husband, before the haze gradually moved away.

"Chakotay..." she murmured softly, "look after Annie for me..."

"Youíll get better, Tirza," he said heavily, knowing he was...

"You could never lie, Chakotay..."

She was wheezing, and her lips were dry. Chakotay soaked a sponge and held it to her mouth. She was burning, her eyes bloodshot from the raging fever.

"Shhh...donít talk, Tirza... Youíre tiring yourself..."

"Iím dying, my love."

"Tirza, donít..."

"I...always loved you..."

Chakotay leaned over to kiss her brow. Her hand that rested in his was limp, without strength. <Sheís going...> was his anguished thought.

"Donít leave me..." he pleaded in soft anguish. He brought her hand to his lips and held it there for long moments. He gave a sob.

"Thank you, my love, for the little time we had together..."

"I need you, Tirza..."

"Itís almost over..."

"I love you..." he pleaded again.

Tirza opened her eyes tiredly, and turned her face to him. There was a soft gurgling in her chest, and she heaved with every breath she took. Her hand that had been so limp, suddenly felt stronger as her fingers curled around his.

"I have always known...Chakotay...that you loved another woman..."

"Tirza..."

"I...never spoke about it..."

"Please..."

"It was...in your eyes... always there... that longing..."

Chakotay wept. His shoulders shook.

"Iím sorry," he said minutes later, "Iím sorry..."

His voice was hoarse, bleak in the knowledge that she knew...

"Please...do not be... For a short time, I was...privileged to have a caring husband who...gave me...a beautiful little girl..."

"You loved me, knowing that - that I..."

"Yes, my love... I am glad...that...I could...for a short while, drive away your loneliness..."

"You did that, Tirza. I found peace..."

"Sometimes, Chakotay...I wished that - that..." her voice trailed away and he sat up in alarm.

"Tirza!"

Her eyes opened again.

"There...is another who has the...key to your heart, Chakotay. Let her...unlock it..."

Tirza closed her eyes again, exhausted from the effort of talking. Her breathing was still erratic, her chest still with that alarming gurgle. Chakotay knew the end was near for his wife. He had seen hundreds of patients die in the last two weeks. He wanted to curse the gods for letting this happen. Off-world travelers who had stopped by on Benara and brought with them the virus. It struck the first victims within days.

"Chakotay..."

"What is it, Tirza?"

"Find her..."

"Tirza, I canít... There is nothing, only ashes. It was just a dream, Tirza. A dream, do you hear? You gave me happiness, you gave my life meaning..."

"Find her...tell her..."

"Itís too much to ask, Tirza..." he said brokenly

"There..was a...corner of your heart I could not touch, my love..."

"I was happy, Tirza," he said hoarsely.

"No..." her eyes rested on his, then they closed, "you were... just content..."

Chakotay leaned forward again, and pressed his lips against her forehead. A soft sigh escaped her. She opened her eyes again, and tried to turn her face to the other bed.

"Annie...?"

"She will recover, Tirza," he said, hardly able to smile, already tears forming in his eyes. "Sheíll get better, do you hear? Better..."

"That is good, my love. You will have her..."

"She needs you, Tirza...fight, please..."

"I know I cannot be with her..."

"Donít go..."

But Tirza looked at her husband for long moments, just stared at him. Chakotay was distraught, so distressed that he did not register that the soft gurgling had stopped. He wondered for a moment why it was so quiet. Tirzaís eyes remained on him, until they appeared to glaze, becoming still-staring.

"Tirza?"

Her hand became limp in his, and loosened from his grasp. Chakotay gave a deep, pained groan.

"Tirza..."

*********

END PART 3

 

PART FOUR

"Papa...?"

"Shhh...baby, lie still..."

Chakotay sat at his daughterís bed, and he half held her in his arms. She was so fragile from her illness, it was hard to believe that barely two weeks ago, Annie had been healthy, running and jumping, never able to be quiet for any length of time. Now her light brown eyes were watery and weak, her hair damp, and her skin sallow.

But, she was going to recover.

"Where is Mommy?"

"Sweetie, Mommy was very ill..."

"Like me, Papa?"

Worse, she was much worse. She's dead. How can I tell you, my child?

"Like you, honey," he comforted her.

Annie became agitated. She looked around her in the ward; she was looking for Tirza. Sweet, gentle Tirza who loved him so without condition, sweet Tirza who was dead.

"I want Mommy..."

He had cried holding his dead wife in his arms five hours ago. Large, wracking sobs that tore through him. He knew he was also coming down with the virus, and hadnít yet told the doctor. Little Annie needed him. She had opened her eyes a few minutes ago, expecting to see her mother. She was so small, and at only three years old, too young to lose a mother.

"Mommy...?"

"Shhh, sweetheart."

Annie started to cry, a weak, plaintive cry of one in pain. He rocked her gently, all the while stroking her hair.

"Annie, remember when you had the little bird?"

"Sugar died, Papa..."

"Yes, and wasnít Sugar very sick?"

"Like Mommy."

"And do you remember how Mommy told you that Sugar went to a special place?"

"Did Mommy go there, Papa?"

Chakotayís heart broke all over again. His sweet little Annie looked at him with incredible child-like wisdom. He knew that Annie, with the resilience of a child, would accept that her mother will not return.

"Yes," he whispered hoarsely. He hauled her from the bed, pulled the cover along and held her in his arms.

"Mommy wonít come back anymore," she said softly, then she gave a sob and cried. Chakotay rocked her until she calmed again. His own tears scalded his cheeks.

Oh, Tirza...Tirza...I am alone...

"Donít cry, Papa..."

He hugged her tighter to him.

"Chakotay..."

Chakotay looked up into the kindly eyes of the overworked doctor. Everyone had been sleeping only two or three hours out of twenty four.

"Yes..."

"Your little one is recovering, Iím glad to say. She can go home now..."

Home...? Where is that? What am I to do...? I can feel the fever in my bones...

"There is no one there," Chakotay said hoarsely, "no one..."

"Papa, are you also sick?" Annie asked.

"Iíll be alright, poppet," he comforted her, stroking her hair and kissing her still feverish cheeks.

"I love you, Papa..."

"Yes..." Chakotay managed to say before he felt Annie lifted from his arms. He slid to the floor, hazy with fever, yet still able to hear Annieís cries.

I am dying...

************

Most of the time Chakotay was incoherent with the raging fever. He had no idea where he was, no knowledge of the lone aide who had been appointed to be by his side. Sometimes he heard the faint cries of a child, then Tirzaís voice begging him to "find her".

And most of the time, he called a name they had never heard.

Who was this Kathryn whose name Chakotay cried as he lay in the throes of his fever, so close to death?

Young Mala, the aide, would voice her concern with the doctor. Most of the thousands of victimsí bodies had been disposed of. Chakotayís wife was one of them. Why was he not crying her name?

"We do not know much of Chakotay, Mala. His wife Tirza, a human like him, met him here."

Mala thought that they couldnít have had many friends, but they must have lived for their little daughter. Annie asked every day after her father. She no longer cried so much for her mother. She knew that her mother was never coming back. Poor little thing. So young to be an orphan.

"Mala," doctor Eykin, the physician said, "you are blessed that you and your brothers have survived, and your parents as well."

"We had been off-world, Doctor, and only returned when most of the fever had died out. Yes..." she said softly, looking at the unconscious Chakotay, "I am blessed..."

"His daughter needs to be taken care of, Mala. I know your parents are willing to take her when - when..." The doctor didnít finish his sentence.

Malaís eyes filled with tears. Her parents were caring for other patients as well as looking after Annie. But Annie kept crying for her Papa.

What are we to do when this man dies?

***********

Chakotay opened his eyes slowly. His body felt weak, he was still raging with the fever. It was painful just moving his eyeballs. The first person he saw was the doctor.

"Hello..." the doctor said tentatively.

Chakotayís mouth felt dry, he was burning.

"Water..." he croaked.

Mala stepped up and placed the soaked sponge to his lips. It was cool, a balm. He groaned as a wave of pain hit him again. The coolness was, however, a relief.

"Annie..."

"She is cared for, Chakotay," the doctor said. "Malaís parents are taking care of her..."

"Until," he wheezed painfully, "I get better..."

The doctor paused.

"Doctor...?"

"Chakotay, I donít know if I should - "

"What is it?" Chakotay asked, his voice a little stronger, and the hand that went out and grabbed the doctorís jacket front, suddenly firm.

"Please..." the doctor said, putting his hand over Chakotayís and releasing the sick manís grip.

"The truth..." Chakotay struggled again as sweat drenched his body, "only the truth..."

The doctor sighed resignedly. This man was dying. What could he say? The truth like Chakotay wanted?

"The...Benaran strain of the virus has mutated."

"Mutated..." Chakotay croaked hoarsely, "into what?"

"A new strain. Only you and about two hundred others have this strain, Chakotay."

"It means what, Doctor?" Chakotay croaked again as he tried to lift himself. He coughed, and Mala was instantly ready to wipe the blood that trickled from his mouth.

"You may have a little longer than most people here who died of the disease, Commander. The Ocron F17 strain kills slowly. Three have died already. There will be pain. I'm sorry..."

The Doctor's eyes were filled with compassion. In the first weeks of the epidemic, Chakotay and his wife worked round the clock with very little sleep, to help the afflicted. He didn't spare himself. Now he was dying. He had a little girl who would soon be an orphan.

"Annie..."

Mala stepped forward, and wiped the perspiration from the sick man's brow. Chakotay coughed again, a painful racking cough that expelled the blood from his mouth.

"My - my parents are caring for her, Commander Chakotay. They do not mind at all. Annie is very sweet," Mala said tenderly.

Chakotay's eyes were too fevered for the tears to form in them. He tried to raise himself again, but the doctor pressed him down gently.

He felt on fire, in a constant delirium, dreaming of Kathryn, seeing her as the sun kissed her face when they stood on New Earth; images of Annie running along the grassy paths towards him. Tirza, kind, gentle Tirza... Kathryn again. He closed his eyes. Kathryn is lost to me forever. I made my life here. I was happy...

"Annie..." he whimpered again.

"She is with my parents, Commander," came the gentle voice of Mala.

"Annie..." he cried again, "Annie..."

The doctor and Mala could see the agitation rising in the ill man. He wanted his little girl. Mala looked at the doctor, who nodded. They both saw how Chakotay's chest heaved with the strain of trying to breathe. A ragged breathing that was painful every time he drew in air.

It may be very soon for him.

"Your daughter will not be affected by the new strain, Chakotay," the doctor said kindly. "Unfortunately we are unable to develop a vaccine from her antibodies that could counter your condition. It will not be enough to work the miracle we are looking for. But yes, we'll bring her to see you..."

"Please, Commander, you must try and lie still. You are tiring yourself." Mala's wiped his brow with a cool cloth and it seemed to her that Chakotay breathed a little easier. Perhaps it was because of the knowledge that he would see Annie now.

*************

Mala and the doctor watched the tearful reunion between father and daughter. Annie's long brown hair fanned over her father's arm where he held her so close to him. For the first time, Chakotay wept.

They were heaving sobs, with tears that scalded his cheeks, tears than rolled down and soaked into his pillow. He stroked Annie's hair with desperate, quivering fingers.

He knows it's his final goodbye to her.

Mala looked and knew that Chakotay may never see his little girl again, never have the privilege of seeing her grow into a beautiful young girl. And, although the very sick man would rally and he may appear strong again, it will be the beginning of the end for Chakotay.

She sighed.

Some of us are indeed blessed not to have these blows dealt us. Others, like this poor man, is not so lucky. Life has been cruel to him...

The doctor beckoned to her that they leave father and daughter alone, that Chakotay could say his farewell. Together they left the ward, the doctor to tend to other critically ill patients, and Mala to wait patiently outside the door.

********

"I love you, Papa..." Annie cried in her father's arms. Her small frame shook as she sobbed.

"Shhh, my little baby," he soothed desperately as his tears trailed down his cheeks, "Mala's Mama will take good care of you..."

"No... I want to stay here with Papa," Annie insisted as she wormed herself deeper into the sick man's embrace.

"Oh, my darling, brave child," he cried, "Papa is too sick to look after you..."

"Are you going away like Mommy and Sugar did, Papa?" Annie asked tremulously.

Oh, dear great spirits, this child shouldn't have to go through this....

Chakotay's arms closed tighter around his daughter's small body.

"Mala's Mama and Papa are very kind people, sweetheart."

"Are you going away, Papa?"

Oh, spirits...help a dying man find the answers...

Chakotay mustered his strength, and held Annie so that he could look at her with his fevered eyes. His lips were dry, his throat parched. His voice when he spoke, was a soft, hoarse croak.

"Annie, sweetheart, will you promise me something?"

"Don't go away, Papa..."

"Whatever happens, sweetheart," Chakotay vowed, "whatever happens, I want you to remember that your Papa always loved you."

Annie lay still against her father, her eyes strangely dry. There were no tears. Her small hand reached out and touched the cheek of her father, wiping his tears away.

"Don't cry, Papa..."

"I'm not crying, poppet," he said, trying to smile.

"Remember, Annie?"

"Yes, Papa..."

"What must you remember, my sweet little girl?"

"Papa always loved me."

Exhausted, Chakotay closed his eyes, his arm that was so firm around the body of his child, slacking a little.

"Papa?"

But Chakotay had slipped into the blessed oblivion of unconsciousness.

"Papa!"

********

END PART FOUR

 

PART FIVE

How like the gods to send the rain on such a day, Kathryn Janeway thought. It was Voyager's fifth annual reunion, and held as always, in the Zephram Cochrane Hall at Starfleet Headquarters.

Kathryn stood in her office staring out the window. At 1600 hours the proceedings would start, and as in previous years, those former Voyager crew would line their little families before her and introduce to her a new fiancťe, or husband, wife, a new addition to the family.

She had come to dread Reunion Day.

Why they still persisted in having one, she couldn't fathom, but it was good to see so many of them together again. Some would break the rules just to be here, she thought idly.

I have no one..

She shivered slightly, and thought that her vacation that was long overdue, would be the ideal opportunity to take a rest.

The rain sifted down, covering the green lawns gently in a blanket of white spray.

Oh,, Chakotay... where are you now? Have you made a life for yourself? Have you found happiness, or are you as lonely as I am?

The rain fell.

Somewhere, the sun must be shining...

"I need the memory, Kathryn," she still remembered those words as if he had spoken it yesterday. "I need the memory," she remembered as his hand touched her cheek.

Kathryn's hand went to her cheek, and it stayed there. She did not feel the tears as they rolled over her fingers.

I still can't let your memory go, my love... There is a place in my heart that is forever yours...

She was alerted to the present again when her door chimed. Quickly she blinked, and wiped away the tears. She had gone into her little private bathroom and taken a wet cloth and dabbed her cheeks.

"Come."

Her visitors stopped just inside the door.

"Admiral, I thought you might want to say hello to this little squirt," Tom Paris said as the small child broke from his grasp and ran to her.

"Aunty Kathryn!"

"Ah, Miral!" Kathryn said as she bent down a little and opened her arms. It was not a moment too soon. The little whirlwind dived into her, and Kathryn felt a whoosh of air from her lungs as Miral knocked into her.

"I'm sorry, Admiral," Tom said, "but she refused to stay with Mom and Dad, and wanted to see her godmother first."

"That's okay, Tom. I don't mind, do I?" she asked Miral, giving her a big hug and kissing the child's rosy cheeks. She had B'Elanna's faint ridges and dark brown hair, but Tom's bright blue eyes.

"I love you," Aunty Kathryn," Miral said after planting some wet kisses against Kathryn's neck.

"I love you too, sweetheart," Kathryn said as she put Miral down.

"Now are you going to Grandma and Grampy?" Kathryn asked.

"Uh-huh," the child replied, running around Tom, who eventually caught her and made her stand still.

"Coming, Admiral?" he asked with a smile. Kathryn looked at Tom for long moments.

"You know, Tom, I'm getting a little frayed around the edges every year at these gatherings."

"Who can blame you, Admiral? Everyone wants to introduce their new offspring!"

"I daresay!"

Tom bent down, and spoke with Miral.

"Sweetheart, you know Grampy's office is just down the corridor. Go say hello to him."

"Grampy won't let me sit in his big chair, Daddy!"

Tom and Kathryn laughed. Miral had taken her crayons and drawn pictures on the leather!

"No crayons!" Tom said.

"Right! No crayons, Daddy."

They both smiled and watched Miral run down the corridor and bang with her little fists on her grandfather's door. Tom sighed and looked at Kathryn Janeway.

"You have something on your mind, Tom."

"Why have you never launched a search for him, Admiral?" Tom's question was forthright, without preamble.

Kathryn paled. She looked out the window at the softly falling rain. She kept her gaze there. She knew Tom was not going to leave. They had this conversation every year. Last year it was B'Elanna who confronted her.

What could she tell Tom? The truth? What was the truth? Why should she tell anyone what was in her heart? She could not confide her deepest despair even to her mother.

I only ever cried myself to sleep on nights when it rained...

"I don't think he would be interested anymore, Tom," she said with finality.

"I'm not so certain of that - "

"Have you thought that he might have made a life for himself?"

Tom sighed. He was a man. Some men found it unbearable to be lonely. They needed a woman in their lives. Chakotay might have done the same...

"Yes, I thought of that. I thought of that, Admiral. But at least, you would have had some closure - "

"There is, Tom."

"No, there isn't, Admiral, if you'll forgive me for being so presumptuous."

"I - "

"Again, forgive my presumption, Admiral, but I have never heard you laugh. You have become more aloof than you've ever been, and there is a great untouchability about you. You should have moved on."

"Tom, now you are being a little out of line..."

"I'm sorry. But Admiral, you are the unhappiest woman I know," Tom said as he turned to the door. He looked back at her and gave his parting shot: "For once in your life, Admiral, do the right thing, be impulsive, and obey your heart."

Kathryn stared at the door after Tom closed it quietly.

It's only because he cares, Kathryn. Remind yourself of that. He would never speak like that if he didn't care...

Sighing, she looked around her, and left her office to go to the Zephram Cochrane Hall. She was in dress uniform as she had been every year.

Once again, she was going to cast her eyes around to see if he didn't come...

********

She'd been standing a little away from the main groups after everyone had done their obligatory greetings, and she had met new husbands or wives or partners. She had seen young Naomi, now a strapping teen even though she was still only ten in Earth years. Everything had gone smoothly, and the ever ebullient Neelix had been to see her to regale her with new recipes he created in his restaurant in Louisiana.

Her heart felt numb today, and the smile she put on for everyone, beginning to hurt her face.

Perhaps Tom had been right. It was time she moved on. Such a decision was long overdue, and perhaps tonight she should give Emerson a call. He had been wanting to progress from their friendship to something deeper. A doctor at Starfleet Medical, she had met with him when she had her medical records updated on their return, and her first medical in the Alpha Quadrant in six years, had been conducted by him.

Dear, dear Emerson. Too kind, too generous, a good friend whom she didn't have the heart to hurt. She knew that she would never be able to give him the love she knew he deserved - in fact, what any man would deserve. It wouldn't be fair to him and so, in typical fashion like she did so long ago with Chakotay, she expressed only her great friendship for him.

He accompanied her sometimes to official functions, and when he brought her home, was the perfect gentleman. He would peck her cheek and leave.

He's too kind. I couldn't give him all of me...

Tonight he was on duty at the hospital. Last year B'Elanna had given her an odd look and said:

"Admiral, I think you had better make the right choice."

B'Elanna clearly meant she had to go out and find Chakotay and do the right thing by him. Sighing again, she turned to leave the party. It was almost finished anyway. All she felt like doing now was go home and read old letters - dig into her tiny trove of mementos and think of him.

"Perhaps I should find out where he is," she said to herself as she let herself in her apartment an hour later.

*********

"Admiral," Lieutenant-Commander James Atkins, her personal aide, said, "you have an appointment at 1400. The gentleman's been waiting to get an audience with you."

James smiled as he saw his boss's expression. It was a week after the reunion of the Voyager crew, and as usual the admiral was in no humour to address anyone. She would grudgingly allow him to confirm the appointment and be on her best behaviour during the interviews. It was always like this, and he sensed from the beginning, when she was promoted to admiral four years ago and he appointed as her aide, that his boss was lonely. She never married, or had a partner, and he heard that she had had a liaison with Voyager's first officer at the time. Whether it was an intimate relationship or just a close friendship, the fact that Commander Chakotay left the scene three weeks after their return, left many wondering.

He was no exception when he came to work for her. She was tough as nails, sometimes so hard and unbending that it gave even him a few shivers. He had not seen the soft, compassionate side that he heard she had. Unless of course it was to cuddle her goddaughter, the little Miral. Then he saw a smiling admiral, and her smile changed her whole face. He wished he could see that more often. Admiral Janeway was a beautiful woman. It was the first thing he told Anina, his wife. Only, Admiral Janeway was a little cheerless, and sometimes, when she thought he wasn't noticing, he could see the bleakness in her eyes.

Whatever happened between her and Commander Chakotay, it was something she had regrets about. That, to him, was as clear as daylight.

And then the rain. On those days her unhappiness was palpable. It pained him to see her like that and he wished sometimes she would just go out and find her man.

"James, confirm the appointment. I hope it isn't too long. Who is the caller?" she asked suddenly as she realised that she hadn't studied her diary for the day.

"It's a doctor. A medical doctor from the planet Benara - "

"Benara? But that home world is on the outer perimeter of Federation space," she said reflectively.

"Yes, Admiral. I believe that the planet was recently struck by an epidemic - a form of influenza - that killed thousands of people within weeks."

"James, who's your source?"

"Er... my cousin is aide to Admiral Gordon. Starfleet was asked to arrange for emergency medical supplies..."

Kathryn looked at James as he keyed in commands on a PADD, setting up her meeting for 1400. Strange that Emerson didn't know anything. Strange that she didn't know. But then Starfleet handled hundreds of requests on a daily basis, and Benara's specific problem was not in her field of work.

"Well, let the gentleman know it's confirmed for 1400."

"Admiral, it is 1400."

"What?"

James almost wanted to ask her whether she had been sleeping. She was never aware of the time! And whenever she was tired, which was often enough, she'd have her ubiquitous cup of coffee.

"Yes, admiral. Doctor Eykin is waiting outside. And he did travel a great distance to be here, Admiral."

"An important interview then. Is that what you're saying, James?"

"Aye, Admiral," James said, giving a little salute.

Kathryn smiled. She would just have to get this over, and head for home.

"Dismissed," she said softly. James left her office and went to the officer's mess to join his cousin.

 *********

"Come."

Doctor Eykin entered and stood just inside the door. He looked at Admiral Janeway, and thought she was a very beautiful woman. She also looked...sad, he thought. He stepped forward until he stood in front of her desk.

So this is the woman whose name Commander Chakotay cried in his delirium...

"Admiral, I'm Doctor Eykin, stationed on Benara."

Kathryn rose from her chair and leaned a little forward to shake his hand. It was a firm handshake.

"Please, do sit down," she invited him.

"Admiral, if you do not mind, I will not keep you long. I was asked to do someone a personal favour and deliver this message to you."

For the first time, she saw that he carried a briefcase, and he removed a PADD from it.

"I understand your planet has just been through a bad epidemic," she said conversationally.

"Yes... we were grateful for the help we received from other home worlds, Admiral," he said.

Kathryn looked at him, and he hesitated. It was as if he was wondering whether he was doing the right thing, she thought.

"Well, what is this message, Doctor Eykin?" she asked as her eyes went to the PADD he was still holding.

Doctor Eykin cleared his throat.

"Admiral," he said softly, "you are to read this message alone. I think it is better that I wait outside, if you please..."

Kathryn frowned. A very, very strange request, she thought. She looked at him and nodded. Eykin rose from his chair and left the room quietly.

Kathryn sat back in her chair and picked up the PADD. She switched it on, and started to read.

**

 

Dear Kathryn

If you are reading this, then Doctor Eykin has succeeded in getting hold of you.

I haven't seen you in five years, my friend. I don't even know if I could call you that. What has happened between us five years ago, has happened, and I guess you have gotten on with your life, as I have with mine. We have shared so many things while we were in the Delta Quadrant and I have never forgotten how my life has been enriched for having known you.

Perhaps you will think why I'm writing you this epistle when I could perhaps have come to see you in person. You may think why have I stayed away so long, and not made any effort to see you. But you know that the last time I saw you, I was filled with so much bitterness. Please do not feel bad that I'm saying this. You had your reasons for not wanting to share your life with me, and for a long time I did not respect your wishes, always hoping that one day you would say yes to me. That morning when I asked you to marry me, I had already decided what my path would be should you reject me again...

Kathryn paused for a few seconds, trying to breathe calmly. By the second sentence she had known this missive was from Chakotay. His first communication with her in five years. Her eyes were filled with tears as she continued:

I was selfish in thinking that I could hold you to me, and selfish and arrogant to imagine that you could reciprocate my feelings. I realise that you were right, that you had a bright future ahead of you, and one which couldn't, as on Voyager, have me in its equation. I have made my peace with that, and I have picked up the pieces of my life, such as it was.

I married a very kind and gentle young woman, Kathryn, who loved me without condition.

You were married... Oh, dear God, Chakotay... if only you knew how much I love you, and how much I regret everything...everything...

We have a beautiful daughter, whom we call Annie. A sweet, open child with light brown eyes and brown hair. She has my dimples!

But I digress.

Three months ago, our planet was struck by the Benaran flu epidemic. My wife died along with many thousands who succumbed to the disease. Annie was also very, very ill, but she recovered.

I don't wish to bore you with unnecessary detail, Kathryn, but there are things I need to say. We have been friends for a long time, and even though I have not seen you in five years, even though we parted with so much left unresolved between us, I would like to think that we are still friends.

You see, Kathryn, I am dying. I have not long to live, and I think that by the time you read this letter, I may already have joined my father and his father. I have a strain of the virus that is irreversible, and my coming death is slow and painful.

As my friend I want to make this last request to you, Kathryn. I ask that you take my daughter into your home and heart and raise her as your own. I have no family, and my late wife didn't have any family. There is no one I could ask, no better person that I could entrust the life and future of my only child to. She is a warm little girl, whose heart is big. She has accepted that her mother died, and has also accepted that I may no longer be with her.

She will enrich your life, Kathryn, as I hoped so long ago that I could do for you. I know that you will not reject my daughter. All I ask is that you love her.

Be her mother, Kathryn.

Your friend

Chakotay

Chakotay... dying? His little girl an orphan... A child with no mother, and, dear God, no father... I love you, Chakotay... how could you think that I didn't?...

Kathryn Janeway didn't know that the sound in the room was her sobs, that the wet on her hands were her tears that rolled down her cheeks. The PADD slipped from her hands. Two things hammered away in her mind: Chakotay was dying and he gave her his only child to raise as her own.

Didn't you know how I longed to have a child, Chakotay...?

She dried her tears, and when she felt composed enough, she opened the door of her office, expecting to see Doctor Eykin. He was indeed still standing there.

She looked for long moments at him.

"Where is she?" Kathryn whispered. "Where is Annie?"

"She is sitting on a bench outside, waiting for you, Admiral Janeway."

************

END PART FIVE

 

PART SIX

Kathryn stopped in her tracks as she approached the small bench in the grounds of her office complex. The child was sitting there, and sitting quite still. With a racing heart, she faced the child at last.

How like Chakotay she looks, Kathryn thought as she took in the little girl's features. The child had long brown hair that fell about her shoulders, her soft tan and dimples she undoubtedly got from her father. Her eyes were a very light brown, and probably inherited from her mother...She looked scared to death. This was a lonely, alien place for her. She had been uprooted from everything familiar in her life, including losing her parents. Look how her little hands were kneading the arms and legs of her soft toy....

"Hello..." Kathryn said softly as she bent down in front of the child. "My name is Kathryn..."

Annie did not look up at the face of the strange lady. Her Papa said she was a beautiful lady who would be her new mommy. Her lips trembled, and her eyes filled with tears.

"I want my Papa..." she started wailing plaintively.

"Your Papa said I could look after you, Annie," Kathryn said in a voice she hoped sounded comforting.

"My Papa is very sick..." Annie said without looking at Kathryn.

"I know, sweetheart. That is why he sent you to stay with me..."

Kathryn's hands reached out and touched the child's cheek. Annie looked up at last, her eyes first shy as she took in the features of the strange lady who would be her new mommy.

Oh, dear God, she is as lonely as I am...

"Are you going to be my mommy?" Annie asked shyly.

Kathryn Janeway, lonely Captain of Voyager, lonely Admiral at Starfleet Headquarters, with few things in her life that ever gave her joy, fell in love with Chakotay's motherless child. Her heart swelled and swelled, and in the moments that she looked with heart rending longing at Annie, she opened her arms to the child.

She should have been my daughter... She should have been mine...

Annie leaned forward and Kathryn picked her up. The child, who could be no more than three years old felt soft, warm, and smelled so much of baby still that Kathryn wanted to cry as she sat down on the bench and held Annie on her lap. She caressed Annie's hair, and instinctively kissed the child's forehead.

I could never reject her, Chakotay. You knew I could never reject her. It's why you sent her to me... It's why you entrusted her to my care, and had faith that I could be her mother, as you knew I could be...

"Yes, honey," Kathryn promised softly, "I am going to be your new mommy. And you know what?" Kathryn asked as she gave Annie a gentle hug and held her closer to her. Annie looked her in the eyes, and asked:

"What, Mommy?"

"You can call me Aunt Kathryn, Annie..."

"Papa said - Papa said I can call you Mommy. I don't have a Mommy anymore..."

Kathryn Janeway's heart broke into a thousand pieces. She didn't know how it could be possible that in the one breath she could experience the deepest sorrow, and at the same time, the most profound peace as she held her new daughter to her. B'Elanna, Tom and his father had been right. For once in her life she had to do something without thinking of consequences and ramifications. For once in her life, she just had to say yes.

Chakotay had known it all along.

Chakotay had known that she could one day be impulsive and do something over which she would have no regrets.

Holding Annie in her arms, Annie who looked at her with the same trust Chakotay had always had, Kathryn knew that giving this motherless child her whole heart, was the greatest thing she had done with her life.

"I love you already, Annie," Kathryn said softly and dropped a feather-light kiss on Annie's forehead.

Annie burrowed herself deeper into Kathryn's bosom, and Kathryn, new mother with a loving child, held the little girl close to her.

She closed her eyes, and allowed the tears to seep through and run down her cheeks unchecked.

Thank you, Chakotay, for letting me have a part of you...

When Kathryn opened her eyes, she saw Doctor Eykin standing about a metre away. He had a broad smile on his face, a look of approval in his eyes.

"I have her luggage with me in the hotel where we're staying, Admiral," he said gently as Kathryn rose, still holding Annie in her arms.

"Thank you, Doctor, for bringing her to me, and for not convincing Commander Chakotay to send her somewhere else. I am deeply indebted to you..."

"The pleasure is mine, Admiral. Even though I had my doubts, it was very clear just now, that Annie belonged with you. You are the best link she will have with her past, her father's history. I think Commander Chakotay had always known that she would be safe and happy with you."

Eykin drew in a deep breath, then smiled as he saw Annie twirling Kathryn's golden hair between her small fingers. Already the child had bonded. When he returned, and her father was still alive, he would have the pleasure of informing the Commander that his little girl was going to be a happy. If the Commander was still conscious, that is. Annie was going to be a well-adjusted child in the warm and loving care he could already see evident in the way Kathryn and Annie bonded.

"I accept your words as a compliment, Doctor Eykin," Kathryn responded.

"Admiral, if you do not mind, I would also like to give you the medical records of both Annie and her father, and discuss with you any questions you might have regarding the repercussions of the disease. Annie has recovered fully, but as you have read in the Commander's letter, his case is different."

"Doctor, thank you. I would like to study the medical files," Kathryn said to him. "Right now, I have to introduce my new daughter to her new family..."

"I shall be at the hotel for the next few days, Admiral. I will be sending Annie's luggage here, to you. It's not much, I must warn you. We traveled rather light."

"Annie, would you say good-bye to Doctor Eykin? We're going to see him tomorrow..."

Annie leaned forward and kissed the doctor, who gave her a gentle squeeze, then left the grounds with a smile on his face.

My mission is accomplished... he was still thinking as he boarded the transport to the hotel.

********

"Well, who is this little pudding face?" James asked as he returned from his extended lunch, and he looked at Annie sitting in Kathryn's chair. She sat cross-legged while Kathryn sat in the other chair usually occupied by visitors, or James.

"Her name is Annie."

"Well, Annie, welcome. My name is James. Are you visiting Aunt Kathryn?"

Annie looked shyly at James, then at Kathryn.

"You can tell him, Annie."

"She's my new mommy..."

"Indeed?" James asked as he looked at Admiral Janeway whom he saw for the first time since he entered the room, was smiling. Her eyes shone, and the strain that had been on her face for years, now gone.

"Yes..."

"Then Annie, you are a little miracle worker," James said to her.

Annie simply frowned then kept her eyes on Kathryn again.

"James," Kathryn said to him as she handed him a PADD, "these are the things I need to furnish Annie's new bedroom at my home. Could you arrange that it's ready in a few hours?" Kathryn asked.

"You bet, Admiral!" James crowed, then frowned heavily. "Admiral," he started again, "where did Annie come from?"

"She is the daughter of Commander Chakotay," Kathryn said. "Her mother died recently, and we have reason to believe that her father may also be dead." There was a sad, yet peaceful look in the Admiral's eyes, James noticed. "And James..."

"Yes, Admiral?"

"Let's keep this news to yourself, will you? I have yet to inform a few people, including my mother..."

"Naturally, Admiral," James vowed, then went out to get the things Admiral Janeway wanted.

**********

It was an exhausted Kathryn who finally managed to put Annie to bed in her new home. She had been bathed, her hair washed and dried, and smelled of baby when Kathryn eventually tucked Annie in.

"Aunt Kathryn...?"

Kathryn's heart thudded wildly.

"Yes, sweetheart?"

"Will Aunt Kathryn read for me every night?"

"Oh, yes..."

"Papa read me a lot of stories..."

"He did?" Kathryn could picture Chakotay sitting next to Annie and reading to her.

"He didn't read..."

"What did he do, poppet?" Kathryn asked, knowing instinctively what Annie was going to say.

"He told me stories, Aunt Kathryn."

"I know, my little angel. He used to tell me a lot of stories too, you know."

"About the Warrior?"

Kathryn smiled. This was Chakotay's daughter, all right.

"Yes, honey. Now close your eyes; I'll be right outside in the lounge. I'm not going away..."

Annie's eyes were already drooping, but she held out her hand and touched Kathryn's hand.

"Papa said you will love me..."

"Your Papa was right, Annie. Now go to sleep..."

Kathryn stayed with Annie until she was sleeping soundly, then left the room quietly. James had been simply amazing today. The second bedroom looked like a typical child's room. Annie's new single bed stood against the wall. Pretty soon the room would be completely revamped, but what was here now, was sufficient.

She sighed as she entered the lounge. There had been a number of PADDs she found in Annie's luggage, but right now she was going to study the medical records.

Oh, Chakotay, I miss you so much, so much... Now little Annie is here to fill a lonely woman's heart. But how much would I have loved it if you were here with me, with your little girl...

********

Kathryn held the PADD in hands that had gone suddenly limp. The PADD sailed to the floor and she bent down to pick it up. Her heart beat thunderously against her ribcage. She felt a little dizzy as she looked at the details again. When the dizziness passed, she shook her head then took a closer look.

She was no doctor, but she was a scientist. And what she saw here...

One word flared bright inside her, and flashed over an over as she studied the details. It was as if she could not believe what she was reading. It had to be true, and if it were, if there was a sliver of truth in what she was reading, then there was hope.

Hope.

It could change everything.

Chakotay...

If he is not dead yet, there may be a chance, however small, that he could beat his illness. His little girl may still have her Papa... And she? Oh, dear God... Kathryn paled as the ramifications rushed along on a roller coaster through her mind.

I could lose Annie... I love her already too much...

Yet the reality burst through and with it, instant action. She went to her study and switched on her vid-com. She placed a message to Doctor Eykin, and one to Starfleet Medical, to Voyagerís former EMH.

In the morning she would consult with both of them while Annie would go the playcentre. She had to be registered...

It was something Kathryn remembered when she stacked away Annieís clothes. There were the few PADDs Chakotay sent with her. She opened the desk drawer and picked up the first one, containing Annieís birth details.

I would have to wait now before I can adopt her officially.

Then her eyes locked on something which made her heart turn cold, then warm, and the next moment caused her to burst into tears again.

My darling Chakotay... How could I not love you back?

*

Later, lying in bed, she thought of the events of the day. What started as a rainy, gloomy day, turned to sunshine in the late afternoon. She had been deeply sad and gloomy, then lifted to experience great peace and happiness.

She sighed. Even if she were to lose Annie again, at least sheíd would have seen Chakotay and returned her to the one parent whom she loved above all.

She fell into a peaceful slumber, dreaming of Chakotay, seeing Annie happily jumping between them while they held the childís hands.

Sometime in the night she shifted a little lazily, her arms going round the dream figure, crooning in comforting tones even though she was still in a slumber.

*********

Kathryn awoke the next morning early feeling a warmth she hadnít felt in years. She stretched lazily in bed, and only when her arm knocked against something, did she realise she wasnít alone.

"Annie...?"

"I was scared, Aunt Kathryn..."

Kathryn pulled the little girl closer, hugging her, and gave her a kiss.

"And so you walked through the dark to my room?"

"Uh-huh..."

"That means you werenít so scared, poppet."

The child responded by worming deeper into Kathrynís arms. She felt soft and warm and smelled of baby powder. Kathryn sighed with contentment as she kissed Annieís forehead, and caressed her hair. Like that they lay until they slept again.

********

Kathryn looked at the EMH and then at Doctor Eykin. Her heart was pounding, and in Eykinís eyes she could see the tears. She knew that what the EMH proposed was radical, and that it could be done, not only with Chakotay, but the two hundred odd patients all afflicted with the new strain of the virus. It was something which they on Benara had no cure for, nor the medical expertise to effect one. Here, right in the midst of the upgraded EMH, there was the very great possibility of a cure.

"Admiral," the EMH said, "I need just a few hours to develop the new vaccine. As I said, Commander Chakotayís particular strain of the virus is about 99% similar to what the planet Koltar experienced in the Delta Quadrant."

"I understand, Doctor. Doctor Eykin here is very keen to observe your work for the next few hours, since he will have to be administering the new vaccine on his home planet."

"Doctor Eykin will benefit from this new technology, Admiral," and Kathryn had to laugh as she saw his old smugness on his face.

"I am indeed always willing to learn, Doctor, and the next few hours here will be an eye-opener for me," Eykin said.

"Well, Iíll leave you two alone. I have urgent business to attend to, including telling a three year old child she would see her father again soon," Kathryn said.

"Admiral, since I am quite certain that what weíll have by tomorrow, will be the miracle cure, you may tell the little girl that," the EMH said.

*********

Kathryn sat in her office and almost jumped away from the computer as her mother said:

"You what?"

"Chakotayís daughter is in my care, mother," Kathryn said patiently.

"You said that, Kathryn."

"And?"

"You want to go out there and bring him home?"

"Mother..." Kathryn sighed, her eyes suddenly sad, "he believes that he is dying, and - and..."

"I know, Kathryn. You love him. Iíve always known. There isnít a person in Starfleet who doesnít know."

"Thanks, Mom. It means a lot to me that you approve, you know."

"Go get your man, Kathryn. It would be the second most impulsive thing you will have done."

"And the first?"

"You fell in love with his child. Donít bother to deny it, sweetheart. I can hear it in your voice when you speak of her. Iím hoping naturally that Iíll get to see my granddaughter soon."

"I love you, Mom."

"I know, Kathryn. Go well."

***********

"Is my Papa going to get better?" Annie asked where they were sitting on the lawn of Headquarters, near the childrenís playcentre.

"Yes, sweetie. Heíll not be sick anymore."

"Then I will see him again, Aunt Kathryn?"

Kathryn sighed. Annie had, according to the teacher, been rather retiring, being strange and still feeling displaced. She had been crying when Kathryn had come to collect her, running into Kathrynís arms the minute she had seen her mother of only one day. Kathryn had ignored the curious glances, kept herself aloof, since having seen the EMH earlier, changed things. She might not have Annie for long. Chakotay would change his mind when he learned that he could recover from his terminal illness. Once he knew that there was chance for him...

In a matter of days it would be all over the Starfleet grapevine. Admiral Kathryn Janeway with a little girl whom all could see, loved her... Right now, while there was a blanket of uncertainty over Annieís future, it mattered somewhat. Later, who knew?

"Yes, you will see him again," Kathryn said gently.

And I might never see you again, my child. Chakotay might never want me back in his life. Then what do I do...?

Kathryn felt a tightness around her heart. She loved Annie so much already, it was going to be difficult to give her up again. Perhaps if - if she could convince Chakotay to come back, be nearer Starfleet, then the pain would be less.

Annieís arms went round her neck, and she could feel the childís face nuzzling her neck.

"Will Aunt Kathryn come with too?" Annie asked.

Kathryn sighed again. What could she expect? What was Chakotayís condition now? They had established earlier this morning that he was still alive, but how would he react when he saw her? Would she have the courage to tell him of her regrets?

"Do you want me to come, Annie?" she asked eventually.

"Then Papa can see my new mommy."

"Annie..."

Annie moved so that she could look in Kathrynís face. She knew they dared not disappoint the child.

"Weíll ask your Papa if he still wants me to be your mommy, okay?"

"- kay..."

Kathryn hugged Annie, her hand on her daughterís hair.

I donít want to lose you, Annie. Iíve just had my life turned round for the better because of you. I canít lose you...

"Are you crying, Aunt Kathryn?" Annie asked.

"A little, Annie."

"Donít worry. Papa loves you."

"Really?" Kathryn asked, smiling through her tears.

"He said so, Aunt Kathryn."

********

END PART SIX

 

PART SEVEN

Kathryn and Annie were housed in the special suite of the USS Orinoco which was reserved for high ranking officials. It was spacious and even though there was a separate bedroom where Annie could sleep, the child was still too disoriented to be away from Kathryn for long. In the middle of the night Annie would cry, missing her Daddy, and, Kathryn realised with some heartache, crying sometimes for her natural mother.

"Her name was Tirza..." Annie offered one night. They were on their way to Benara, a three week journey to the outer reaches of the Federation.

"It's a beautiful name, Annie."

"That's what Papa always said, Aunt Kathryn..." the child would sigh sleepily while she lay in Kathryn's arms, and before long she'd be fast asleep again.

Kathryn would carry her to her bedroom and tuck her in again. She felt apprehensive. She had no idea what Chakotay would be like, how he would feel at seeing her. The dread became more intense as each day passed and they neared the Benaran planet. Chakotay had really hidden himself well. He left very little trace when he left Starfleet and everything known to him.

The regret ate away again at her. He wanted to be as far away from her as possible. He severed his ties so completely as to have vanished into thin air. She knew that it was possible, if she wanted to, that she could have traced him. But what would that have achieved?

He had made his feelings clear that rainy day, so long ago now. He didn't want to have anything to do with her. He wanted no association with his past, with those things which, with hindsight, she realised, brought him too much pain.

In short, he didn't want to be hurt again and she had hurt him unbearably time and time again... What was command and duty and protocol if it meant that she'd be forever a lonely woman? What did it matter eventually? She lost him, she lost him irrevocably.

He had given her another chance, by giving her his little girl. If she could not have Chakotay, she could still have a part of him. She held no envy, no grudge for the woman who was his wife. How could she? She had her chances, and threw it away until only ashes remained.

Tirza had given him his life again. She had given him this beautiful child who was sleeping so peacefully in her bed.

Kathryn couldn't resist the urge to bend down and kiss Annie's cheek. The child stirred, and murmured something. Kathryn thought it was "love you, Mommy..."

********

"Admiral," Captain Bream said as he hailed her, "we'll be in orbit of Benara in the next hour."

"Thank you, Captain," she said as she proceeded to make her way to the schoolroom to get Annie. She had just been to the vessel's sickbay where she had been in consultation with the ship's Chief Medical Officer, Voyager's EMH, and the Benaran, Dr. Eykin with whom Annie traveled to Starfleet Headquarters in the first place.

They carried enough of the new vaccine Voyager's EMH developed to last Benara for the next few years.

How serious Chakotay's condition was, she didn't know, except that he was still breathing, according to the latest updates she received. He's still alive, she would whisper to herself over and over. He's still alive.

Would he consider coming home?

Her heart contracted painfully as she entered the schoolroom and saw Annie sitting with two children of her own age at a low table. She had been drawing, and picked up the paper quickly to show her.

"I drew this for you, Aunt Kathryn," she said excitedly.

"Why, thank you, Annie," Kathryn said and was about to speak again when her words stalled in her throat.

Annie had drawn a bird, and as close to an eagle as she had ever seen a child draw. Her heart stopped for a moment as she realised the enormity of what she was seeing.

"Aunt Kathryn?"

"It's - it's beautiful, Annie!" she exclaimed as she looked at the child.

"Papa showed me how..."

Question answered.

Kathryn rolled the drawing carefully and took Annie's hand.

"She's been very good today, Admiral," Treena, a Bolian teacher said. "She has remarkable ability. Today is the first day that she has attempted to do a drawing."

Kathryn had been aware that Annie had interacted very little with other children, and was slowly learning to get along, even talk and play with them. She had been concerned in the beginning when Annie had been too shy. Now, she was happily joining in the fun.

"Thank you, Treena. I understand the Orinoco will return in a few weeks to collect returning passengers. I'll be joining the passengers then," Kathryn offered.

It was all she could say. She was hoping naturally to have Annie and Chakotay with her, but those were pleasant dreams. Right now, she had to be realistic, and intimating she'd be returning alone, cut through the possible disappointment and embarrassment of explaining why they weren't with her. That was some gossip she could live without.

She and Annie made their exit and walked to the nearest turbolift. Soon they were in their quarters again. Kathryn prepared a light snack for Annie, and for herself she replicated a cup of coffee.

Soon they would be in orbit, and then on the planet's first city, where Chakotay was lying in hospital.

"Aunt Kathryn...? Annie looked at her, and she had a milk ring around her mouth. It was so endearing the Kathryn had to smile. Reaching forward, she used a napkin and wiped Annie's face.

"Hmmm...?

"Are we almost there?"

"Yes, sweetheart." Kathryn thought that Annie didn't talk about her home planet as 'home', but home being with Kathryn.

"And will we come home again?" she asked as if she read Kathryn's mind.

"Your Papa will know, sweetheart. We're going to see him soon."

"And then we'll come home?"

"I don't know, Annie."

Annie was quiet again, and Kathryn was glad. The child was asking pointed questions she couldn't answer. Until she had spoken with Chakotay, would she know where she stood with both of them. She felt again the painful tug at her heart at the thought that she would really come home without Annie. Or Chakotay...

The door to her quarters chimed and when the caller entered, it was one of the Security staff who had come to escort them to the transporter pads. Kathryn smiled. Annie returned with more luggage, and the soft toys Kathryn got for her, also had to come along.

Mother and daughter walked to the first turbolift, and after the young officer entered the lift, they proceeded to the deck where the transporter room was situated.

"We hope to see you again, Admiral, when you return," Captain Bream said as he shook her hand.

"Thank you, Captain. It has been a pleasure traveling on this vessel," she said.

"Admiral, I hope your mission is successful," he said just before the group was engulfed in the shimmer of the transporter beam.

************

Kathryn Janeway thought that if she lived to be a hundred, she would remember the appearance of Chakotay where he lay unconscious on the high hospital bed. It had shattered all possible misconceptions she might have had about a person who was sick in hospital, on the point of death. Why was it that people had these images of a sick person in a detached sort of manner? You went to see that person, saw the illness, saw how weak the patient was, and when the patient was released, it would be a matter of days even, that that patient would be healed. The colour would be back, there would again be the strength one remembered the patient had before he or she fell ill.

Perhaps, back in a time when medicine was not as advanced as it was in the twenty fourth century, the greatest pain was to see a patient wither before one's very eyes. Even then, the bereaved, or the family had become accustomed to seeing the shriveled and beaten remains of what had been a strong man. Those who had seen the sick or dying last when that man was still healthy and strong, would be filled with alarm and shock.

Was this the same man I knew? That would be the anguished thoughts of those who had last seen the healthy and strong version of what they saw presently.

Kathryn Janeway looked at Chakotay and almost, almost did not recognise him, were it not for his tattoo that, strangely, showed as faint lines on his brow. The thin coverlet did nothing to hide what had once been a magnificent physique.

Chakotay the healthy. Chakotay the strong. Chakotay her angry warrior against whose incredible strength she leaned a hundred times.

Kathryn wept.

Was this Chakotay? This emaciated man, made up of bone covered by thin skin? Was this Chakotay, whose dimples became gaping, sunken holes, whose lips were pulled away from his teeth so that he looked dead? Was this Chakotay whose large hands could encircle her waist, and who could pick her up like she weighed nothing? Was this Chakotay whose eyes were half open, although he was unconscious, and who appeared to stare at her as if he begged her to let him die?

His collarbones jutted angrily, as if they tried to break through his skin. And his skin! Once so tanned, it looked unhealthy, so thin and papery that a touch would rend it. There was a constant gurgling in his chest as he tried to breathe.

His hand lay over the thin cover. Kathryn, who for the last ten minutes just stared and stared and stared in disbelief at the man she once knew as Commander Chakotay, first officer of the USS Voyager, Intrepid Class, sat down and wanted to weep.

She put her hand in his, and half expected that he close his fingers around hers. His hand lay open and lifeless, his damp hair, once so crisp and short, was long and plastered against his skin.

Was this what Annie saw before she was sent from here? It couldn't be. It couldn't be. Chakotay would never have wanted her to witness his decline. Chakotay must have been in that period of grace, when he had been able to give Annie her instructions...

Her tears did not stop for a long time. Her hand went out to touch his cheek. His skin felt cold and clammy, not the heat that she expected from a patient with an abnormal fever.

"Chakotay..."

There was no response as she whispered his name, and with her one hand on his hair, the other holding his lifeless hand, she lay her head against his thin body and sobbed.

"Admiral, I'm sorry that you have to see him like this. Please, you must rest now," Doctor Eykin said. He was followed into the room by Voyager's EMH, who was ready with the first of a series of injections Chakotay would receive.

They had been too compassionate, she thought, when they allowed her to be with him first before they started treatment. They agreed that Annie could see him when he looked better, and recovered to a degree.

Kathryn reluctantly stood aside to let the two doctors work on Chakotay. The EMH assured her that after the first two treatments they would see results. She felt afraid.

"Admiral," the EMH said, "by this time tomorrow, Commander Chakotay will be awake. You should go and rest."

"Doctor, I don't see how I can - "

"Please, Admiral. I don't think the Commander would appreciate it if he knew you were running yourself down."

"Fine," she agreed reluctantly, feeling tired and out of sorts. She had seen Chakotay for the first time in five years, and she was still in shock.

She left the room quietly, still looking back at the bed, her gaze lingering on him as long as she could.

"Admiral..."

It was the young girl Mala who was to take her to their home.

**************

It was late the following evening that Kathryn received the news that she should come to the hospital. She had just put Annie to bed and was busy reading a story to her when her commbadge beeped.

"I'm going to the hospital, sweetie," she whispered to Annie after the EMH had communicated with her.

"Is Papa better now?" she asked sleepily.

"We all hope so, Annie," she sighed. "We hope so..."

It was Malaís father who accompanied her to the hospital, and who insisted he wanted to wait until she was finished.

"Iím not certain how long it will be, Manu."

"Please, do not worry, Admiral. Chakotay is worth the wait," he said, giving her a friendly smile. "I am just sorry that weíll be losing him," he added.

"Iím not certain about that, Manu. Many things happened..."

"I do not think that Chakotay will hold that against you, Admiral. After all, he entrusted his only child to you. He must have a lot of faith in you."

Kathryn felt immensely bolstered by Manuís words as she entered the hospital. Still, her heart was pounding. The EMH had only said that Chakotay was responding to the treatment, and that he has had a series of injections in the last twenty four hours.

"I must warn you Captain, he may not recognise you."

"I understand, Doctor," she said to him.

Now she made her way to Chakotayís room, feeling her entire life and future depending on his reaction. She didnít even know whether heíd be awake.

She approached the door, suddenly afraid to enter. She was spared that as the EMH opened the door and saw her. His voice was grave when he spoke:

"Be strong, Admiral."

The EMH walked out and proceeded to the hospital laboratory.

*******

Kathryn stepped into the room. Her eyes went immediately to the bed and the figure lying so still. There was minimal illumination, but enough for her that she could see him clearly.

Chakotayís face was turned towards her, and Kathryn could never be certain whether it was his own movement or whether the doctor turned his head in that direction.

His eyes were open.

He stared at her. She held her breath. He is too weak, she thought. Too weak to move or speak. She wanted to rush forward and hold him against her, but there was no reaction from him, except that he stared.

She never took her eyes off him as she sat down in the chair. His breathing was less raspy, and the gurgling in his chest less pronounced.

Kathryn took his hand in hers, and started, in soft, soothing tones:

"Once, there was a warrior..."

***********

She was here. She had the face of an angel. There were tears in her eyes. He didnít want her to cry. He wanted to tell her that. The words wouldnít come. So he listened to her voice, soft it was, and it comforted him. He tried to open his mouth again, to tell her something. When he tried to move, it exhausted him, but he tried again. He could feel her hand in his. It was warm.

"Shhh...donít move..." the voice said. "Itís alright, take it easy..."

So he closed his eyes and slept again.

****

"Chakotay..."

Kathrynís voice was soft. It drifted over him like...

"Rain..."

"What did you say, Chakotay?" Kathryn whispered, not certain that she heard correctly. It was the first time since she had been on Benara that he spoke.

"It...rained...that day..." he said in a hoarse voice.

"Yes, it rained that day," she answered, her voice tender.

"I saw...your...tears..."

He closed his eyes again after that, and slept fitfully. His breathing was even, and the gurgling sound in his chest almost gone. Kathrynís heart sang. He was getting better. He recognised her, even though he associated her with that afternoon when it rained and she stood there with tears in her eyes.

She went back to the home of Malaís parents and told them that Chakotay was recovering, that he opened his eyes and spoke for the first time.

****

"Admiral, should Commander Chakotay want to return with us, I would suggest that he be kept in sickbay where his condition can be monitored closely," the EMH said to her when she arrived the next morning.

Chakotay was still sleeping, but she wanted to sit with him. She wanted to be with him when he opened his eyes again.

"I understand, Doctor. His recuperation will probably take long."

"In which case I should leave him in your capable hands, Admiral," he replied knowingly.

After administering yet another series of injections and medication, the doctor left the room, leaving Kathryn with the patient. She sat down in the chair and it wasnít long before he moved his head. He was waking up. His face looked haunted, emaciated, but in his eyes there was a new spark which made her heart soar. The knowledge that he was still alive and would recover from his illness, more than anything the reason for the new fire in him. Chakotay was getting better.

"Hello," Kathryn said as he looked at her.

"You...are still here?" he asked quietly.

"Yes, Iím not going anywhere..."

She put her hand in his and for the first time and his fingers curled around hers. Her eyes welled suddenly with tears at the sensation of feeling his grip.

"Donít cry..."

"Iím not," she denied.

"Annie...?"

She had known he was going to ask, and her eyes clouded a little. Her heart started pounding.

"She is fine, Chakotay. She misses you," Kathryn answered truthfully.

"I - Iím dying, Kathryn," he whispered.

"Oh, Chakotay! You are not dying. Voyager's doctor is treating you. A new vaccine he developed is the reason for your recovery."

Chakotay's fingers squeezed tighter around hers. At least, it felt like it to her.

"Then - I didnít dream?"

"No, Chakotay. You didn't dream." Kathryn leaned forward and kissed his forehead. She wanted to cry again. He looked so terribly thin and sick. But he was recovering. That was the shining light.

"Annie..."

Kathryn felt a lump in her throat.

"I brought her back to you, Chakotay..."

"She needs...a mother, Kathryn," he whispered.

"I hurt you... I donít deserve - "

"She needs a mother," he said again.

"She needs you, Chakotay."

Chakotay stared for long moments at her before he spoke again. This time he was able to raise his hand and touch her cheek.

"And you, Kathryn?" he whispered so softly that she could barely hear him, "what do you need?"

"I need to share my life with you," she said at last the words she should have said so many years ago. How easy it was to say it now. With what blessed peace the words came out. "I need to have you in my life, Chakotay..." she continued.

"Annie?"

"I loved her the moment I saw her. How could I not? I loved her father for as long as I can remember..."

Chakotay became so agitated at her words, that he tried to move; he wanted to sit up, she realised as she watched him raise his head from the pillow. She pushed him very gently back, careful not to press too hard.

"You...love...me...?"

"Always..."

She leaned over, and this time she kissed him on the lips. It was a gentle caress, tender and warm. When he opened his eyes, there were tears in them.

"Letís go home, my Kathryn."

*******

END PART SEVEN

 

PART EIGHT

Kathryn Janeway tried to contain a bubbling Annie as they entered the sickbay of the Orinoco. They've been on the ship two weeks and were almost home.

"Papa!" she cried as she ran towards the bed.

Chakotay was still too weak to be up, but the last few days the EMH threatened to chain him to the bed if he tried to move around too much.

Kathryn smiled as she saw how Annie tried to reach him. She lifted Annie and held her so that she could kiss her father. Chakotay's eyes lit up as Annie rained wet kisses on his face. Kathryn held the child on her hip and then she too, leaned over to kiss him. It was a kiss that lingered. Her heart ached at the sight of him.

He was still so alarmingly thin.

"I drew a picture of Papa and Aunty Kathryn and me!" Annie squealed happily.

"You did?"

"Oh yes, and Mommy - "The child paused, her expressive eyes widening. Kathryn's eyes filled with tears. She felt Chakotay's hand squeeze hers. His other hand reached out to caress Annie's cheek.

"It's alright, honey. You can call Aunt Kathryn Mommy..."

His voice, though still weak, was reassuring. Annie buried her face against Kathryn's bosom shyly, then she whispered shyly: "Mommy wants to put it on her desk..."

"That's sweet of Mommy," he said to the child, but he looked at Kathryn. Her eyes were swimming with tears, tears through which the happiness shone.

"She made me promise, Chakotay..."

"She loves you already, Kathryn."

She hugged the child closer to her.

"We have to talk," he said quietly.

"I know..." Her eyes held tenderness, yet there was some apprehension too. She had no idea what he wanted of her, except that he wanted them to be together. He still wanted her to be a mother to Annie; he still wanted her.

How can I expect more? He had been hurt once. Would just being together be enough?

"Tomorrow," he said as his hand reached for her. She felt the burn of tears behind her eyelids.

You've done a few gloriously impulsive things these last weeks, Kathryn. You can do a few more, she told herself.

"Tomorrow," she whispered as she rose and kissed him again.

"Are we going to play with Flotter and Treevis, Mommy?" Annie asked as they left sickbay.

"Yes, but don't flood the holodeck, honey," she warned as they proceeded down the corridor.

********

Chakotay lay on the bed, frustrated at still feeling so incredibly weak that he couldn't lift himself. He was impatient, he wanted to get up and walk around, even if it took him an hour to get to Kathryn's suite. He wanted to be with her and Annie. He wanted to feel Kathryn in his arms. But he sensed she was afraid of something. She looked scared. Annie loved her already so much. The child's memory of her own mother was slowly fading. Now it was Kathryn who featured in her young life, Kathryn whom he could see loved his little girl.

I was right in sending Annie to her...

There were too many questions that needed to be answered. She hadn't asked him yet about his future plans. He had been out of Starfleet for five years. The reasons he left were no longer there, and he wanted to be back, to be on a starship again. He sighed. It was the one thing he missed most when he was living on Benara and married to Tirza. Still, with Kathryn part of his life now, it needed to be discussed, even though he knew she would tell him it's his own decision.

He didn't think he could ever be happy again.

You were right, Tirza. I needed to find her. I did find her, and it was your greatness of spirit, your compassion and unconditional love for a man who didn't deserve to be loved so totally by you, that gave me reason again. And even if I didn't live to see Kathryn again, a part of me would have remained with her...

He tried to lift himself again. Propping his elbow under him, he raised himself on his side. Damn! Did he have to feel so weak? Good... There, he could see better now...

"Now do you see, Commander?" the Doctor cautioned as the movement left him out of breath and tired again.

"The...only...thing...I see," Chakotay bit out, "is that each day it gets easier when I try. I need to tone my atrophied muscles again. As a doctor, you should understand that."

"Fine, Commander. Then next time, you'll do it under strict supervision, and not when you're lying on the floor!"

After which Chakotay felt suitably chastised and allowed the nurse to supervise his therapy.

He lay back again and within minutes he was sleeping again. The next few days it did get better, as Kathryn also assisted in his therapy. On the fifth day, the day before they were in Earth's orbit, Chakotay was allowed for the first time to get up. He was like a child learning to walk again. He was angry and embarrassed when he stumbled, trying too hard too soon, then gave in to the nurse's gentle ministrations, and held Kathryn's arm while he took his first steps in sickbay.

Somehow, the talk he had to have with Kathryn was pushed back, as if both were afraid to broach the subject.

He was lying in bed that evening, when she entered sickbay.

"We need to talk, Chakotay..."

"I know."

"I know that I can't make any demands on you, that I have no - "

"What do you mean?" he asked.

He saw her eyes glisten with tears. What was wrong? Didn't she want him?

"Our...living arrangements..." she whispered, again embarrassed.

"I thought you wanted me and Annie in your life, Kathryn," he said quietly.

She looked at him. There was suddenly a fearlessness in her eyes, as if she had come to a decision, or decided on going ahead with something she thought about a long time before.

"Chakotay," she started, then paused. He frowned.

"What...?"

"Five years ago, you wanted me to share your life. I - I rejected your offer of marriage." There was an even longer pause, but this time he waited for her to continue. "I - I was...a...fool," she whispered.

Chakotay managed to raise himself to a sitting position, his legs hanging from the side of the bed. He drew her to him, so that she stood in his embrace. He ached for her, and could feel his heart racing in a new and exciting way, with fire and passion, and no longer with the hopeless longing for her even throughout his marriage to Tirza.

"No, my love..." he crooned softly, "you were not a fool. You were not a fool, Kathryn. You were only afraid. Afraid to trust your feelings..."

She pulled a little away from him so that she could look in his eyes.

"It's very human to be afraid, my love," he comforted.

"I hurt you, Chakotay, wasted so many years. Annie...Annie - "

"Annie is yours, Kathryn."

"Is that why you registered her as Kathryn Anne, Chakotay?"

"I wanted to remember you..."

"Tirza?"

"Tirza loved me, Kathryn, I cannot deny or begrudge what she felt, or what I had with her. She...helped me find myself, and then she told me to find you..."

"She knew?"

"Always, although she never breathed a word. She always sensed there was someone. She never knew of you. I... "

"Shhh..."

"Forgive me, my love."

"It's yours I need, Chakotay, more than anything."

"It's over. We have a new chance at happiness."

"Chakotay."

She looked at him first, then buried her face against his chest. At least he was slowly beginning to lose that emaciated look.

"Hmmm?"

She stood a little away from him, and he knew she was going to say what was on her heart. There was a light in her eyes that made him think she was determined and set on her course of action.

"Chakotay, will you marry me?"

He froze. His eyes went wide.

Kathryn froze as she saw his expression.

"Please?"

"Kathryn, I - "

"Please..."

"I...can't accept your offer, Kathryn. I don't think - "

But Kathryn had a stricken look on her face, she turned out of his embrace and stood away from him.

"I'm sorry... I shouldn't have asked...assumed... Forgive me," she said with so much anguish in her voice that he wanted to cry. She turned towards the door of the sickbay and when she reached it, he cried her name.

She turned, and even from where he was sitting and trying to get off the bed, he could see the tears.

"Come here, Kathryn," he commanded her.

When she reached him again, he pulled her to him and hugged her as tightly as he could manage without wincing in pain. His hands caressed her hair and he continued the stroking until she stopped shivering.

He held her away from him.

"I wouldn't like to tell our grandchildren their grandma begged me to marry her. Thank you, Kathryn, that you did offer, but I really can't accept your offer. However, I would like to repeat mine of five years ago."

He was gratified to see her smile through her tears.

"Kathryn Janeway, will you marry me, share my life with me and be Annie's mother?"

"I love you, Chakotay."

"Good. Now, will you kiss me?"

********

Today the sun was shining as two adorable little girls returned from the front to sit with Tom and BíElanna. Miral and Annie, dressed in peach coloured dresses, with a halo of flowers on their heads, scrambled unceremoniously on the two chairs. They started chattering as the proceedings in front continued.

The lawns of Starfleet Headquarters looked greener than it had been for years; it seemed that it sensed the atmosphere of celebration that was about.

Kathryn Janeway stood next to Chakotay, who was in dress uniform. His hair was cropped short again. His colour was back, most of the ravages of his illness had left him. Kathryn's hand was held in his as he slipped the ring on her finger. In a simple dress that enhanced her petite form, the bride looked radiant as she stared up in his face.

The children had just brought the rings, carried on tiny satin cushions.

"You may kiss the bride," Admiral Paris commanded as Kathryn slipped Chakotayís ring on.

"Thatís my Mommy," Annie exclaimed loudly as she saw her parents kiss.

The audience smiled indulgently at the childís words.

"Sheís my godmother," Miral said.

"No, she's not, sheís mine."

"Sheís mine too!" said Miral.

"Hey, put a lid on it, kids," Tom said, which had both girls looking at him before they settled into a quiet murmur, just after Tom added, "or youíll not get the ice-cream I promised."

"Not good enough, Helmboy. Very soon you canít bribe them anymore," BíElanna answered.

"Why does your Mommy call your Daddy ĎHelmboyí?"

*******

Most of the Voyager crew who could manage it, were at the wedding of Admiral Janeway and Captain Chakotay. It was three months after he returned home from Benara, at last ready to accept his promotion he had been given five years previously.

Tom noticed that Chakotay still looked too thin after his long recuperation. He had, like most of the old guys, been pleasantly surprised that Admiral Janeway returned from Benara with her man.

No one questioned him about his little daughter, accepting that he had gone on with his life when he left Earth and settled elsewhere. It was clear to everyone that little Annie loved her new mother, never letting Kathryn out of her sight. And the Admiral loved her daughter. That much they could see in the way she interacted with the child, the way her eyes lit up when she spoke with Annie, her body language, everything. She was, everyone thought, a mother.

It was Gretchen Janeway who told Elizabeth Paris how proud she was to have a granddaughter at last. There was no doubt about it. Although Annie was not tied to her or Kathryn by blood, she was theirs in heart and mind and soul.

Gretchen had a tender aspect in her eyes as she looked at her daughter and son-in-law. Kathryn had done at last the things she always knew her daughter could do if her very life and future depended on it. She acted on and trusted her feelings.

*********

END PART EIGHT

 

PART NINE

Chakotay raised himself on his elbow and looked at his sleeping wife. His heart swelled with pride and love for her. She was his Ďfor all the timeí, as he told Annie three months ago, when they returned to Earth and he had to go immediately into Starfleet Medical facility.

He brushed a few hairs from Kathryn's face and smiled as she snuggled deeper into his embrace. It was a glorious morning, after a night of the sweetest lovemaking.

He sighed. They had both been apprehensive, tentative in the way they started their honeymoon last night. So many things had happened in the last three months. He was still on medication, and would probably be for the rest of his life. But last night, he had burned to make Kathryn his.

Last night...

*

"Whatís the matter, Kathryn?" he asked after they returned to their hotel room. She stood near the window, looking out at the ocean. There was a pensive look in her eyes, and when she turned to him, he thought that she was embarrassed about something.

"I - "

"Sweetheart, I know that I was the one who suggested we wait to consummate our union on this night," he whispered, trying to remain calm when he was feeling anything but calm. She had wanted them to be together a month ago, when he was discharged from the hospital. "I want our first night to be special," he had told he when he slept in Annieís room.

He stroked her hair, and his fingers trailed a path down her cheek, and rested against her lips. She looked away from him.

"Hey..."

"Chakotay..."

"What is it?" he asked, his voiced laced with concern.

"There hasnít been... I havenít been intimate..."

"And you think it is a shame, my love?" he asked, feeling suddenly inordinately happy that it wasnít something worse.

"You might laugh..."

"Why, Kathryn? That you denied yourself?"

"How - how could I be with another man? I - I dreamed of you for five years...five long years..."

Chakotay pulled her back in his arms as she started crying, a heartbroken weeping.

"T-That day when you l-left," she stammered, "that day when I came down to you, I wanted to - to t-tell you..."

"That you wanted to be my wife...?" he asked, incredulous at the sudden realisation that he let her go then. "Oh, dear heaven..." he groaned suddenly, "and I wouldnít listen to you..."

"And I... I was too - "

"Proud to come after me?"

She sighed.

"Yes..."

"Itís behind us, Kathryn. Letís go forward, please..."

"I love you."

"Then, Kathryn Janeway, you must let me worship your body. Iíve been hungering for this for too long..."

"Five years?"

"Much, much longer," he swore as he picked her up and carried her to the wide bed.

*

He wanted to taste her, and savour the texture of soft skin and smell. She lay naked, as he was, and closed her eyes as his mouth moved in breathtaking feather-light caress over her lips. Her lips opened under his, and his tongue sought for uncharted little treasures as he licked over teeth, felt her own lips closing over his tongue. Soft hissing sounds escaped her as she arched her neck so that he searched and found tiny spots that pained and pleasured. Her earlobe, and the soft ditch just beneath her lobes caused her to gasp as his tongue found and gave enjoyment of licking and darting.

"I love you..." she breathed as he paused to look at her, briefly taking in her tears that flowed down and soaked into the bedding.

"Yes..." came his whisper as his fingers trembled over collarbone, to roam down and rest on her peaks. "Beautiful..." another whisper as his mouth latched hotly on waiting nipples that had sprung erect long before he touched them. He sucked gently, became bolder as Kathryn arched against him so that he started to nip, nip and suck.

"I want you..." she whispered raggedly as his tongue darted into her navel. She lay open before him, his hands braced at her side as he licked. His tongue scoured her flat planes, oh, so flat and firm that he drowned in the ecstasy of her own little gasps and cries.

He lay next to her, and his hand stroked her long thighs that felt smooth and soft to the touch. She twitched as his thumb grazed her inner thigh, pushing herself against his hand.

"Shhh... soon...soon..." he promised as she shifted so that his fingers moved over her soft centre. It breathed to him, listening to his feather touches, complying...complying as she spilled against his fingers, becoming softer...softer...

He groaned his pleasure as he bent low over her and his mouth moved...moved... until it found her core. He heard her gasp, then soft mewls as he lapped at her. She arched into him, wanting more...

"Please..." she begged.

"Yes..." he replied then let his tongue move her soft folds away. He gave a cry of ecstasy as he dipped into her, tasting her wetness, feeling how her sheath closed around his tongue. Wave upon wave of pleasure swirled in him as she moved against him and found his rhythm. She had moved her legs so that they settled over his shoulders. She was ready as she bucked, crying, crying...

A single scream of his name as she spilled, contracted painfully and sank into a strange realm where she floated...floated... Her body was covered with perspiration as she breathed hard for a few minutes while she drifted gently down...down...

He released her, and she felt momentarily bereft.

"Donít leave me..." was her cry as he settled himself over her, his hands cupping the sides of her head. With her juices on his mouth, she moaned as he kissed her gently, then cried...cried while he lapped her tears from her face.

"I love you, my Kathryn," came his ragged cry as he let her feel how ready he was: erect and hard and swollen and hot. He cried her name out loud as her fingers encircled him, and her thumb caressed his tip. "Take me in, Kathryn," he begged against her open mouth.

He waited as she positioned him at her opening. They cried as he started his journey into her, slowly...slowly. The cries became sobs as he filled her at last, uneven, stammering words of love and movement that wanted to complete...

His hands were in her hair, his mouth on hers as they rode their waves, very high they moved, then dipped, then escalating to the heights, and all the time...all the time, the tears that would not stop.

They traveled together and raced towards the pinnacles of pleasure, hovered for glorious, blinding and dizzying moments before the world exploded around them. They floated down on soft clouds that put them gently back in their own realm.

Breathing...

Murmuring...

He wanted to move out of her, but she clasped his body tight to hers.

"Stay in me..." she pleaded as she looked into his eyes.

He smiled.

"Once, long ago," he whispered as he saw her unending tears, "I held you in my arms, and I thought you had died. I cried my anguish to the heavens... Even then, I loved you, my Kathryn..."

"I know... I saw your tears then," she whispered softly against his mouth.

"You...could not have..."

"I never spoke about it... I loved you, my warrior, that you shed tears for me..."

"Kathryn..."

"Hmmm...?"

"I want you..."

"Iím ready..."

"Good, Iím a very hungry man..."

*

"Are you dreaming with your eyes open, Chakotay?"

"You are looking at a very satisfied man, Kathryn."

"I did that?" she asked as she twirled his chest hair. He was still very thin, but at least he wasnít the skin and bone of months ago.

"Yes."

His eyes became serious as be bent down to kiss her. Last night, with Kathryn, he knew at last what complete and heartrending fulfillment meant. He experienced a sublime peace which, he finally acknowledged, he never had with Tirza. Kathryn was wildly passionate, free and generous.

She loved him and she was his wife at last. They had a beautiful daughter, and who knows, there may be more.

"Then I am happy..."

******

END

Prologue

Kathryn was sitting in a deck chair under a shady palm, watching Chakotay with the children. It was one of their rare vacations when he was back from a mission, and she could get away for a few days.

They were frolicking in the sand near the waterís edge. Annie - Kathryn was still amazed to this day that he had named his daughter Kathryn Anne - was trying to show little Elizabeth how to make the turrets for the sandcastle. Kathryn smiled. Annie was the perfect older sister, instructing, guiding, protecting. Somewhat different from what she and Phoebe had as children. They were always fighting. Not that Elizabeth didnít throw tantrums when she wanted to. Then it was Annie at the receiving end of her younger sisterís tiny fists. And poor Annie in typical fashion, wouldnít hit back, afraid she could deck Elizabeth, who was all of two years old.

Chakotay played the referee at the moment. He was so good at it, always managing to get them to settle again. Right now, he was watching that Elizabeth didnít eat the sand. They laughed the first time they saw her do it.

"You must know they have their individual cravings," he told her as he wiped his youngestís mouth. "She must be taking after her mother," he added, then ducked as Kathryn pelted him with a cushion. She had been crazy about pints and pints of milk during her pregnancy.

"And I hate milk!" she complained as she gulped down the second pint of the morning. He just laughed and kissed her on the nose, and then Annie wanted to do the same.

Annie.

Six years old and bright as a button. She loved Kathryn as her own mother, the memories of her natural mother who died when she was three, having faded. Strange how both girls had dark brown hair and Chakotayís dimples. Only, Elizabeth had blue eyes like her motherís whereas Annieís were light brown.

She saw Chakotay wave at her and she waved back, the book on her lap long forgotten as she watched her family with pride. After three years of marriage she was even more in love with her husband than before.

Lately he commanded one of the largest vessels in the fleet, the USS Benguela, with a crew complement of seven hundred. He was very happy, but indicated he wanted to be home with his family on a permanent basis.

He declined a promotion to the Admiralty, and wanted to teach at the Academy, like she was doing.

"Perhaps later, Kathryn, not right now," he said last night when they were enjoying some quiet time while the children were sleeping. "One admiral is enough for now..."

She had accepted his explanation, too happy that he wanted to be based in San Francisco anyway.

"I love you," she mouthed the words as she saw him look at her.

*

Chakotay looked at Kathryn and thought his life had changed for the better. He was completely recovered, and regained most of his weight within the first year of their marriage. Strangely, his sickness changed his metabolic rate, so that he could retain his weight with only light training. Which he did, keeping fit in the shipís gym, or at home at Headquarters.

He looked at his children, Annie and Elizabeth. So different in temperament, yet so alike. No one would say they were half sisters. He and Kathryn played down the stepmother role and half-sister labels. Their children were siblings, and she was their mother. That was that. When the time was right, Elizabeth would be informed.

Elizabeth. He hadnít thought he could experience the joy of Elizabeth's birth. Kathryn had a difficult pregnancy, and the last month she had enforced bed-rest. Kathryn hadnít like it one bit, and gave him hell in her last month.

He sighed.

I am at last a deeply happy man...

"Annie..."

"Yes, Daddy?"

He smiled. Miral calling Tom ĎDaddyí rubbed off quickly on her, a matter endorsed the minute Elizabeth opened her mouth and said ĎDadaí.

"Keep an eye on Elizabeth, will you? I want to speak with Mommy quickly."

"Sure, Daddy."

He walked to where his wife was lounging and sank down on the sand.

"Kathryn, do you remember the afternoon of the rain?"

"Yes..." and she frowned, not wanting to think unhappy thoughts.

"Whenever it rained, I always thought that somewhere in the world, the sun must be shining..."

"I used to think that too..."

******

END: really!

Star Trek: Voyager, Captain Janeway, Chakotay, Paris, Torres, the EMH, and other characters of the series, etc. are the property of Paramount Pictures. Other characters created by the author, will remain the author's property. All photos/images are copyright of Paramount Pictures, 1998, 1999, No infringement upon their trademarks or copyrights were intended. All stories are my own property, that Paramount or anyone else doesn't own. The stories and displaying of pics are intended for entertaining purposes only and not for any financial gain.

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