Disclaimer:
Paramount owns all things Star Trek Voyager. I don't. Only borrowing them. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Rating:
NC 17. Kids go play elsewhere. Contains adult material.
Summary:
When Chakotay and his away team are convicted without trial, Kathryn makes the ultimate sacrifice and takes their punishment for them. Can she survive?

Anything For Her Crew

by Kat Lady

PART ONE.

The music had been a mistake. Instead of soothing her, all it did was mock her and remind her of emotions she knew she'd never experience again.

Kathryn shut the music off and continued to sit in the darkness of her quarters, now silent, but still lonely. She gazed out at the stars and wondered how she could feel so closed in, when right outside was the vastness of space and the Delta Quadrant.

She'd slipped away from the party early, hoping no one had noticed her covert exit. Even Chakotay had been engrossed in conversation with a young Ensign and had failed to notice her leave. The party had been a double celebration – a marriage and a birth, all in the same week. While Kathryn was happy for the crewmembers involved, it still only served to remind her of what she herself would never have. There might someday be the possibility of a marriage or a relationship, if they ever got back, but she knew nature was against her where a child was concerned, and the pain of that knowledge only seemed to grow deeper as each day passed. She felt that pain constantly and was always amazed how emotional pain could actually manifest itself as physical pain but she felt it, her heart constricting and the pain running across her chest and shoulders, even down her arms. She felt it now and hugged herself in an effort to rid herself of it.

She stood up, still hugging herself and headed for her bed, hoping to sleep away the pain and feelings but deep inside she knew that wouldn't happen. She knew her own body too well, knew that sleep, sometimes even at the best of times, tended to elude her and suspected that tonight would probably be no different. She debated calling the Doctor for a sedative but instantly dismissed that notion, knowing it would only raise questions and earn her a lecture for her trouble. She even considered replicating something alcoholic to send her off, but quickly tossed away that idea, knowing that if she started to travel that road, she'd eventually have trouble getting off it again. God, she had enough personal problems to deal with, without adding addiction to the list.

Two hours later, she'd eventually cried herself to sleep but tossed fitfully for the remainder of the night, so that in the morning when her alarm woke her, she felt no benefit from the few hours of unconscious oblivion.

When she reported for duty on the bridge, she knew her tossing and turning wouldn't be noticed. The rest of the bridge crew, with, of course, the exception of Tuvok, all looked in roughly the same condition, only their appearance had been earned by partying and they'd assume that their captain was no exception.

Chakotay sat beside her, looking the worse for wear but he was still being the consummate professional. He glanced up at her and gave her a quick smile, before returning to the report he'd been trying to read.

Kathryn quickly turned the bridge over to him and escaped to her ready room. She badly needed several strong cups of coffee to snap her out of her present mood and immediately replicated the first of many she knew she'd consume that day.

Work. She needed to do some work and immerse herself deeply in it. Running the ship and getting the crew home was all that mattered now and these tasks had to remain foremost in her mind. Everything else had to be pushed aside.

After several hours of successfully losing herself in reports and other ship's business, and after more cups of coffee, she was suddenly interrupted by a hail to the bridge from her First Officer.

"Report."

She was at Chakotay's side in seconds. "We've picked up an M-Class Planet on sensors and it appears to be rich in a lot of the minerals we badly need. It's only a day or so out of our way, and since we don't know when we might come across the next opportunity to stock up, well…" He let the rest of his explanation trail off, knowing Kathryn as he did and knowing instinctively what her orders would be.

She read him well and smiled at him as she turned away from the viewscreen. "Alter course, Commander."

The rest of Kathryn's shift dragged but at least there was something to take her mind off her own problems. She concentrated on the reports and scans they'd so far been able to obtain from this planet and pushed all personal thoughts to the back of her mind.

Her door chimed and she called "come". It was Chakotay with yet more readings and she sighed deeply. Her sigh didn't go unnoticed by her First Officer and a concerned look crossed his face. While she'd made it clear that there couldn't be a relationship of the kind he wanted between them, he still cared deeply about her. Who was he kidding? He still loved her and knew he would until the end of time.

"Permission to speak freely, Captain?"

She looked up at him finally, tiredness etched on her face and something else he couldn't put his finger on. "Go ahead, Chakotay. What's on your mind?"

He sat down in the chair facing her desk and looked her straight in the eyes, making sure he had her full attention. "Well actually, you are, Kathryn." His use of her name got her attention and she put the padd she had been holding down on her desk.

'Oh, so this is personal. Please, not this again' she thought. 'Not today. I'm not able for this today.' He almost seemed to read her thoughts but he wasn't about to let it go.

"Kathryn, I know this is probably the last thing you want to hear from me, and I accept where we stand, but this comes from your friend and First Officer, no one else. I'm not bringing THAT up again, even though I know that's what you're afraid I'm going to say. You forget, Kathryn, I know you better than you think." He leaned back in his chair, regarding the woman in front of him with concern.

"Something is different about you lately. I've noticed it for a while now. You seem more withdrawn, you avoid people, shut yourself away. You turn in early at night, saying you're tired but never show any evidence of having gained from any extra sleep. I don't believe you're eating properly, as if you ever did, but lately it seems worse. And yes, I did notice how early you left the party last night, trying to sneak away when you thought nobody was watching you. The only reason I didn't go after you was, well, you looked as if you wanted to be alone and no matter what you think, I won't force myself where I'm not wanted. I've told you so many times that you're not alone, that I'm always there for you, but Kathryn, I can't always chase after you. You know you can always come to me. You just won't do it. And now to save you the trouble of answering, I don't believe you're fine, I don't believe that nothing is wrong and if you're tired, it's because you're not sleeping, which just shows that I'm right and there is something wrong."

Kathryn's mouth had dropped open throughout all this. 'How can this man know me so well?' was all she could think.

What she said was "Chakotay, I won't insult you by giving you my stock answers. You know them too well already for them to work anymore. You're right. I am tired and yes, it's because I'm not sleeping. Look, I just have some stuff on my mind. I'll get through it. I'm not shoving you away but… Chakotay, this is just something I have to deal with on my own. It's nothing against you personally…"

Chakotay just stared at her then got up and walked around her desk to her. He pulled her up out of her chair and despite her protests, pushed her towards the sofa and gently eased her down on it, then sat beside her.

"Kathryn, oh Kathryn. I can see what's going on with you. Do you think I'm blind? I can tell you exactly what the problem is, or rather what the problems are. They've been there for a long time but with recent events, well now they're coming out more. Did you really think I wouldn't notice? Maybe no one else would, but I do. I know you too well and I care too much, love you too much, not to see what's going on." When she went to speak, deny what he was saying, he placed his finger across her lips and continued.

"No, Kathryn, hear me out. I can tell you exactly what's wrong. You're very lonely, despite not having to be. This recent marriage brought that to the fore. The worst thing for you though, has been the recent birth on board. That has cut you deeply and I can see that. I saw the look and the longing in your eyes, oh very well disguised to everyone else, but not to me. You long for marriage and a child for yourself but you'll never let yourself have them. Your biggest problem, my love, is yourself. You honestly believe that you can't have these things and you're so wrong, so very, very wrong. This crew would love nothing more than to see you have those things. I'd love nothing more than to see you have them and would love it even more again if you'd just let me give them to you, but you'll never let that happen and that's what the biggest problem is, Kathryn. You, yourself, the captain, Kathryn, all of those, and only you can solve it."

Kathryn's tears came and she didn't try to stop them, couldn't have stopped them. Chakotay just held her, trying to give whatever comfort he could, no matter how small and also knowing that all his words would go unheeded.

When eventually she managed to gain back some modicum of control, she gently pulled back a little from his embrace. "You really know me too well, Chakotay," she told him between sniffles. "You're right. There's no sense in denying it. Yes, I want all those things but I also can't have them, despite what you say. I know the crew would accept me just as well if I were married, if I had a child, if we had that together, but that's not the problem for me. My problem is I can't be both the captain and Kathryn. I can't serve two masters. I accept everything you say and I know it's all down to me, that all this is self-inflicted, but it's who I am and I can't change that, Chakotay, no matter how much I want to. This crew must come first and this ship. I can't allow anything else to distract me."

Chakotay took her face between his hands and forced her to look at him. "Kathryn, that's bull and you know it. You're just afraid to try. You might surprise yourself."

She placed her hand over his. "And tell me, Chakotay, what if I try and it doesn't work? What do I do then? How do I go back to the way it was? I'm actually not that strong." She removed her hand and looked away but he made her look at him again.

"Kathryn, listen to me. You are that strong. All you have to do is take a chance, just like you do every day out here. Look at how many chances you've taken out here, and whatever the outcome, you always felt that it was worth at least trying. Where's the scientist in you? Please Kathryn, for yourself, for once, take a chance and trust me to be there for you. If it didn't work, I'd still catch you, still be there for you, still be your friend. You know that." Chakotay took his hands away from her face.

"Something else to think about, Kathryn. You say you want to be there for the crew first and foremost. You say you always have to put them first. All right, think about this. Are you at your best for the crew with this hanging over you? Don't you know that they can see how unhappy you are? Kathryn, this affects them too. They care deeply about you and want you to be happy. When you're unhappy, it affects them too. They want a human being for a captain, not a robot, and I'm sorry if that hurts but I care too much not to be honest with you. That's what you're becoming. No one's saying you have to put the crew in second place to yourself, but you and they can share first place. And here's something else. Can you really spend the rest of your life alone? You have to face the fact that we might never get home. That's not thinking in a defeatist manner but rather a realistic manner. I want to believe we'll get home in a few years at most, but we have to face the fact that it might be forty or fifty years, maybe never during our lifetimes. Do you really want to waste your life away like that? You have one chance, one shot at this life. It's just too precious to waste and too short."

Kathryn stood up and walked a few paces away from him, then stopped and looked back at him, her eyes awash with unshed tears. "Chakotay, what you say makes sense in the grand scheme of things but this is me we're talking about. I don't believe I can handle that…"

Chakotay stood up too and walked over to her. "Kathryn, you can. You just have to trust yourself. Look, try this. Promise me you'll at least think about what I've said here today. With any luck, this planet will provide the opportunity for some shore leave. Take a day or so there to yourself. We can handle ship's business for that short a time. Get First Contact out of the way, the negotiations and so on, then leave the rest up to us. You have a good crew, a competent crew, who can mind the shop for a while. Take time for Kathryn. Promise me you'll do that, OK?"

Kathryn placed a hand gently on Chakotay's arm. "All right, I promise you that. I will think about it. Shore leave might be a different matter. I can't promise I'll take any but, and before you say anything, I will think about that too, OK?" She smiled tearfully at him.

"Fine, Kathryn. I'll take what I can get but don't for a second think I won't follow up on all this. I'm not finished with this by a long way. I don't let go that easily."


The planet, when they arrived the next day, was everything they could have hoped for. First Contact went very well, the Kronan Representatives they dealt with seeming very impressed with Voyager and her command structure. Kathryn understood why they were so impressed, once she visited the planet for herself. Kronus was a beautiful place, reminding her very much of earth and it had a flourishing society which was well ordered. When she thought about it, it seemed a little too well ordered, in fact the entire society struck her as ultra conservative, but she noted that everyone she met appeared more than happy with the social and political structure which was in place.

Negotiations were concluded within a day and by the following evening, all supplies had been beamed back to the ship and all formal business was wound up. The Kronan Representatives who carried the title of Official, were only too happy to allow Voyager's crew their shore leave but did apprise Kathryn of the fact that there were no 'stimulants' allowed on their world. Kathryn took this to mean alcohol or the like and once she'd given the crew a short pep talk on behaviour etc, was happy to allow the leave rota to get underway.

When she'd seen the first group off on their leave, she turned to leave the transporter room, only to find her way blocked by Chakotay, holding a padd. "There's a name missing off this list for shore leave" was all he said. "I warned you I wouldn't let this go."

Kathryn tried to get around his large frame but he sidestepped and blocked her way again. She looked up at him and saw the serious look in his eyes, knowing this had to be dealt with. "My ready room, please. Not here."

Once inside the privacy of her ready room, she turned to him. "Chakotay, all I said was I'd think about it. I never promised to take any leave…"

He interrupted her. "You haven't even thought about any of it, have you? Kathryn, you promised to think about what I said. Shore leave is the perfect opportunity to do that, or are you afraid to think about this, afraid that what I said might just actually start to make sense to you?" He was starting to lose patience now; his anger just under the surface and Kathryn noticed this.

"Kathryn, you're one of the bravest women, no, one of the bravest people I've ever known. What are you so bloody afraid of with this? You'd face any danger, any pain, even risk your life for this crew, but for yourself, you're filled with fear. What are you so terrified of? You've faced the Hirogen and even the Borg but you're afraid to face yourself. I can't understand this." He didn't know what else to say.

Kathryn looked at him, meeting his eyes with a sad look in her own. "You're right, Chakotay. I can face physical pain but this is different. Emotional pain… I don't understand it myself. I guess I just know how to deal with everything else. I've been trained how to deal with all that, how to face it, even how to deal with the losses. I know the ground rules in a battle situation, know I have the backup of a good crew and a good ship. I know all the rules of the game and I know how to play it. When it comes to me, to the emotional, well I'm lost. There are no set rules. If I get hurt, there isn't any regenerator to fix the damage."

Chakotay walked over to her and put his hands on her arms, mainly to keep her in place. "Listen to yourself. You've just answered your own questions. This is no different. This is also a battle that has to be fought. There are actually ground rules in the right situations. There are ground rules between you and me. Trust, love, respect. Generally speaking, there aren't always rules, but even in your training, there was never an answer for everything. That's something we've learned out here. Every race we've come across plays by a different rulebook and we've adapted. Some had even thrown the rulebook away. Personally, this is no different. You talk about having the backup of a good crew and a good ship. That still applies in this case. Everyone on this ship is there for you, personally and professionally. Facing the losses? No, you were given training but that hurt will always be there when you lose a crewmember and you know that. All the training in the world won't take that away."

He took her face between his hands. "You take a chance every time you send someone on an away mission but you accept the risks, for them and for yourself, when you go. Kathryn, send your heart on an away mission. Take the chance and trust yourself. You have all the backup you need. Yes, there can be hurt that the Doctor can't fix but to shut yourself away like you do is denying life, and that in itself is causing you pain. Pain, just like joy, is a part of life. If we never knew pain, we'd never understand joy. Kathryn, please, trust me. I'll never deliberately hurt you. I can't promise you won't ever feel pain because of me. I know I could be killed at any time and that would cause you pain but think about the pain this present situation is causing. You're in pain because of it and you're causing me pain also. Don't you know how much pain it causes me to see you like this and how much it hurts me every time you push me away? Another thing, and I hate to even think of this, but I want you to think about it. What if you were killed? Kathryn, it's just as easy for you or I to be killed as it is for any member of this crew. If you were killed, think of the waste of life. Gods, Kathryn, there's nothing sadder anywhere, than life wasted, squandered, thrown away or misused. It's an insult to your parents who gave you that life and to your Creator who gave them the power to create you." Kathryn had tears flowing freely down her face at this stage.

"Kathryn, don't say anything. Just go on shore leave and think about all this. Then when you come back, I'll be here for you and we can talk then. OK?" She just nodded at him. Her throat was too closed up to form words, even had she had access to the right ones in her mind.

And so she went on shore leave, needing to rest physically and emotionally. She knew Chakotay was right. She had to deal with this now and taking some leave was the best way to do it, away from any distractions on the ship.


The Kronan Officials had given her the use of a small cabin in a lovely woodland setting and the only intrusion she had was the sound of bird like creatures singing and running water from a nearby stream. For two days, Kathryn secluded herself with her thoughts and her personal demons, but by the end of that time, she'd laid a lot of her ghosts to rest. She'd faced up to her fears and loneliness and came to realize that they were her greatest enemies, that they were capable of inflicting more harm to her than the Borg or any other so-called real enemy ever could. She faced these personal enemies head on and the battle was often times fierce but she won each one and so by the morning of the third day, she awoke a different person. She'd actually slept well for the first time in her recent memory and suddenly felt as if she'd lost twenty years of cares and worries, pain and fears.

She still had half a day left before returning to the ship and she planned to take a long walk, to stop and smell the flowers, so to speak, and just generally celebrate this discovery of life. She actually couldn't wait on one hand to get back and see Chakotay but there was a small part of her that was nervous about it too. She likened it to nervous anticipation, like that felt before a great adventure and when she thought about it, that was how she now viewed the rest of her life, as a great adventure, a strange, uncharted country just waiting to be explored and discovered.

Suddenly she was afraid that everything she'd learned and discovered might never make its way to him or that words might fail her when she was face to face with him, or even that they'd come out wrong, and so while she walked, she recorded a personal log to him, knowing that the bird song and the other sounds of nature would make a wonderful backdrop to her recording. She spoke from the heart to him for the first time and left nothing unsaid. She ended by telling him, for the first time, how much she loved him and how she'd continue to love him for all eternity and she told him how sorry she was for all the wasted time and how all she wanted now was to make it up to him. She finished by thanking him for saving her life and once more told him she loved him.

She hurried back to the cabin and began packing away her few belongings, making sure the recording for Chakotay was well protected in her bag. She was just checking around for anything she might have forgotten, when she was alerted by her comm. badge. She heard Tuvok's voice and suddenly found her memory taking her back to New Earth. A chill ran through her and a sudden feeling of foreboding accompanied it. She instinctively felt that her newfound peace was about to be shattered in some way. There was an urgency in Tuvok's hail and she quickly answered him.

"Janeway here, Tuvok. What's wrong?"

His voice was calm as usual, but she could still detect that urgency in it. "Can you return to the ship immediately, Captain? There has been a problem with some of the crew on shore leave. There have not been any injuries but there has been a situation and the Kronan Officials wish to speak with you." He didn't elaborate further.

"Beam me back now, Tuvok." She grabbed her bag just as she felt the familiar tingle of the transporter beam.

Kathryn was off the transporter pad and running immediately. She threw her bag to the young Ensign on duty and told him to send the bag to her quarters. She headed for the bridge, calling Tuvok and telling him to meet her in her ready room.

Tuvok was waiting for her when she hurriedly entered her ready room.

"Report" she snapped, more harshly than she intended.

Tuvok proceeded to tell her that a small group on shore leave had been arrested for violation of the Kronan Laws.

"What law did they break?" Kathryn asked.

Tuvok took his time answering. "They apparently were 'acting inappropriately in a public place'. They were 'laughing and joking with each other' and apparently 'one crewmember put his arm around another'."

Kathryn sat down heavily behind her desk. "And that's breaking the law?" Tuvok said nothing. "Where are they now?" she asked him.

"At present, they are being held in custody, awaiting their 'punishment'. The Officials wished to speak with you before sentence was carried out." Tuvok didn't look directly at her but awaited the reaction he knew would come.

Kathryn was out of her chair in a second. "Are you telling me they've already been found guilty, without any trial or anything?" She couldn't believe this was happening. She'd realized that this society was conservative, but this was going too far.

"Two Officials witnessed the 'crime' as they call it and judgement was passed immediately." Tuvok waited for her response to that.

"We'll see about that." Kathryn was already headed for the door when she suddenly stopped. "Tuvok, how many crewmembers are involved?"

"Four" he stated simply.

"And those four are…?" She suddenly knew who one of them was without needing to hear the answer. He would have met her on her return otherwise.

"Commander Chakotay, Lieutenant Torres, Ensign Paris and Ensign Wildman."

Kathryn was almost afraid to ask her next question. "What is the 'punishment' they want to inflict?"

Tuvok didn't look at her. "Punishment for this kind of crime is public flogging, a public whipping."

Kathryn closed her eyes and sat down on her sofa for a minute, before she fell down. She recovered quickly. She had to be strong now. "Let's go. Let's get this mess sorted out." She was out the door so quickly, Tuvok almost had to run to keep up with her.


When Kathryn and Tuvok arrived on the planet surface, they were met by two very dour looking Officials. The previous smiles were long gone, their manners apparently having left with them. Kathryn and Tuvok were shown into an office, which was furnished with very plain chairs and just one desk, the walls unadorned and plain coloured in an off white. The 'décor', if you could call it that, reminded Kathryn of a style used by the traditionalists back on earth, almost Puritan. One of the Officials motioned for Kathryn and Tuvok to be seated and then sat behind his desk, leaving his companion standing to one side.

Kathryn waited a moment to see if the Official would speak first and he appeared to be playing the same game. She decided to start and opened her mouth to speak but the Official beat her to it.

"Captain, I can imagine what you are going to say, but let me save you the trouble. This is a straightforward matter. Your crewmembers broke our law and regardless of whether this was done in all innocence, that law was still broken. Ignorance of our law is not taken as an excuse for breaking it. There were numerous witnesses to this breach of the law, two of these witnesses being elected Officials whose word is taken without question. The crime was committed and the punishment must be executed. There really is nothing further to speak of." He leaned back in his chair and placed his hands flat on the desk in front of him.

Kathryn leaned forward. It was her turn now and she would have her say. She knew the line between stating her point and insulting this Official and tried to be careful not to cross it. "We understand your position but surely you must be able to make some allowance for visitors who come here and trade in good faith and then visit your city, at your invitation…"

The Official cut her off. "Captain, this matter is out of my hands. There is nothing I can do. Our laws are written and cannot be changed. Punishment for these crimes must be executed and those responsible must pay the price."

Kathryn's mind raced and she knew she was thinking on the run but she had to act, so she persisted.
"Let me get this straight. As long as the lawbreaker is punished and a sentence is carried out against that lawbreaker, then the Officials and the Government here will be satisfied, is that correct?"

The Official gave her a suspicious look, wondering where she was going with this. "Yes, Captain, that is correct. We will be 'satisfied' as you put it, when the lawbreaker is punished according to our law."

Kathryn glanced at Tuvok and could see he was curious as to her next move. Kathryn gave her attention back to the Official. "Let's speak plainly here. Is that all right with you?" The Official still looked suspicious but gestured for her to continue. "I understand the 'punishment' is public flogging, whipping, yes?"

"The lawbreaker will receive twenty lashes, sentence to be carried out in the public square." The Official was getting impatient with this.

Kathryn pushed on. "So, our only concern now is the lawbreaker."

The Official stood up. "Captain, this is getting tiresome. We already have the lawbreakers in custody. As I've told you, punishment will be carried out and it will be carried out this afternoon. There is nothing more to be said on this matter."

Kathryn stood also. "I think there is. You have the wrong people in custody."

PART TWO.

The silence in the room was profound but Kathryn didn't flinch.

"Captain, we have the right people. You forget the witnesses…"

Kathryn interrupted the Official. "The people you have in custody were simply under my orders. I am ultimately responsible for my crew. Surely you have the same practices here. You said yourself, as an Official, you are bound by your laws. Well, Voyager works the same way. On my ship, I am the law and my people are bound to me. Everything comes back to me. What they do, I am responsible for. If you want your lawbreaker, she's standing in front of you."

Tuvok broke in immediately. "Captain, you…"

Kathryn didn't look at him but kept her eyes on the Official. "Tuvok, quiet."

"Captain…"

Kathryn faced him briefly. "Tuvok, I am your captain. You will obey my orders." She looked back at the Official. "Is this acceptable to you?"

The Official stood up. "This will need to be discussed. Would you please wait outside?"

Kathryn stood her ground. "I would also like to request something. I would like to see my people."

The Official nodded. "That can be arranged while you wait. They are still awaiting processing. Nothing was done until your arrival." He motioned for Kathryn and Tuvok to leave the room. "Someone will show you the way."

Once outside the room, Tuvok could hold himself back no longer. "Captain Janeway, you can not do this. The commander and the others would never forgive me for letting you… Captain, please think about this. We'll find another way around this."

Kathryn looked at him. "Tuvok, what I said in there stands. I am your captain, their captain and in the end THE captain. What I say goes and this is my decision. Chakotay and the others broke no law but these Officials must have their pound of flesh. I will give them what they want and then we can be on our way. This is my final word on this, and Tuvok, you will follow these orders, no questions asked. This can't be a democracy. I have the final say."

Tuvok could see he wouldn't budge her on this matter. Before he could say anything more, a guard appeared before them and announced that he was there to show them the way to the cells. As they followed him, Kathryn warned Tuvok not to speak of this matter to the others until they had to know. He knew better than to disobey her.

They were shown into a small cell where the 'prisoners' were being held. The minute Kathryn laid eyes on Chakotay, her heart skipped a beat. She knew she loved him with all her heart and this gave her the courage she now needed, if the Officials agreed with her request. She quickly ascertained that all four of her crew were all right.

"We've been treated well," Chakotay informed her. "Captain, I'm sorry, we're sorry for all this. We'd no idea that we were breaking a law. We were just laughing, having a good time. We did nothing."

Kathryn came over to him, determined to keep things on a professional footing. She had to be strong for them. "Commander, I know you did nothing wrong. You, none of you, have anything to be sorry for. Please, don't worry. We'll have this mess sorted out quickly."

Samantha Wildman came over to Kathryn. "Captain, it was down to me. I was feeling homesick. The Commander just put his arm around me and told a joke to try and cheer me up. We were just laughing at his joke. There was nothing more to it than that."

"Ensign, no one is to blame. Now please, I told you all, we'll have you out of here in no time."

Kathryn looked around at them all. Tom and B'Elanna were sitting in the far corner of the cell. B'Elanna looked ready to kill someone and Tom just looked resigned. He'd been in this position before, in a cell.

Tuvok had not spoken during all this time and Chakotay noticed this. He also noticed the way he almost appeared to be standing to attention. He knew suddenly in his gut that something had gone on between him and Kathryn but couldn't put his finger on it. Tuvok looked as if he'd received a dressing down for something but Chakotay couldn't imagine what could have brought about anything like that at a time like this.

A noise behind them caught everyone's attention and Kathryn turned to see the Official she'd spoken with in the office. He looked directly at her. "Captain, your request has been accepted. You'll need to come with me now. Please also bring your personal witness."

Kathryn walked up to him. "What personal witness? I don't understand. Surely my crew can return to the ship now."

The Official motioned to a guard nearby, who came up behind Kathryn and took her arm. "Captain, as the originally accused, your crewmembers must witness the punishment. During your holding time and your processing, you must have a personal witness with you at all times. This is the law where there is a single lawbreaker. In the case of your crew, they would have been witnesses for each other. Please, come with me now and bring your witness." The Official pulled Kathryn's comm. badge off her uniform and slipped it into a pouch, which hung at this waist.

Chakotay was getting a very bad feeling about all this and it started to dawn on him just what had transpired between Kathryn and Tuvok. He pushed forward. "What's going on here? Kathryn, tell me, what's happening?"

Kathryn turned to look at him. "Chakotay, there's nothing to worry about…"

The Official broke across her. "Your captain is taking your punishment for you, as is her right. As she pointed out, you are all under her direct orders and she has the final responsibility. This is acceptable to us. She will receive the punishment. Now Captain, please, who is your witness? We really can't stand here all day."

Chakotay shouted out. "No, Kathryn, you can't do this. I won't let you." He pushed towards the Official.
"Look, I'm guilty as charged. I'm the one you should punish. I told the joke and put my arm around that woman there. It's all down to me. Leave her out of this."

The Official started to walk away from him. "Your captain has the final say. It has been decided and accepted. There is nothing further to say on the matter."

At this stage, the others pushed forward with their objections but Kathryn shouted above them. "I am your captain and you will obey my orders. That is final and nothing more is going to be said about it. Tuvok, see them outside and any more objections or disobeying of orders and you see that that person spends time in the brig."

She turned away from them before her failing courage could show on her face. Chakotay knew his hands were tied in this matter, that there was no changing Kathryn's mind so he quickly stepped forward. He knew he couldn't stop her when her mind was made up but he'd be damned if he'd let her go through this alone.

He jumped in front of the Official. "I'm her witness." Kathryn started to object but he stopped her with a glare. "Kathryn, don't even think of it." He then looked down at the floor.

He couldn't look at her or his own courage would fail him. He needed to be strong for her now. He turned to Tuvok and whispered to him as Kathryn was led away. "I know you tried but when her mind is made up, we'll always fail. Get the others outside now and try to alert the Doctor. Tell him to be ready for her, and Tuvok, pray to whoever you pray to…" He heard the Official call him and gripped Tuvok's arm. No further words were necessary and the Vulcan nodded in silent empathy.

Chakotay followed as Kathryn was led to a small cell on the other side of the building from the one where they had been held. The guard, now joined by a second, was being rough enough with her as they both dragged her along. Chakotay started to object to the Official but was cut off.

"Your captain is no longer an honoured visitor. She is a criminal and will be treated accordingly. You are here merely as a witness but if you wish to join her…"

Kathryn spoke now and pleaded with him. "Chakotay, please, for me, just let's get this over and done with. Please don't make this harder. I don't need to be worrying about you as well." Chakotay just nodded at her, his throat refusing to cooperate with him when he tried to speak.

They entered a small, dark and damp cell with only a table in the centre and a pile of what resembled straw in the corner. Kathryn was shoved into the centre of the room as the Official followed with Chakotay. She caught her balance quickly, refusing to show her growing fear and waning courage, as much for Chakotay's sake as for the Official and the guards. She thought sadly of the way this day had started out, the hopes she'd had for the future but quickly pushed these thoughts aside. She needed all her concentration and energy to get through the next few hours.

"Everything is now in order. The witness is present and therefore processing can begin." The Official walked slowly up to Kathryn and looked down at her. "You are Captain Kathryn Janeway – Federation Starship Voyager. You have pleaded guilty to the aforementioned crimes and accept your punishment. You have your witness and are satisfied with that choice. Is this correct?" Kathryn nodded her head and spoke one word, without looking at the Official.

"Yes."

Chakotay was determined to make Kathryn look at him, hoping he could give her a focus to get her through this but she kept her eyes to the floor. She knew if she looked at him, it could break her and she was determined to get through this with as much dignity as she could. She didn't want him to see her like this, to see her go through this, but she knew it was unavoidable, certainly with the lashing. She knew they'd all witness that and she silently prayed for courage to get through it. As much as she hated to admit it to herself, his presence was helping her and she knew he was, to all intents and purposes, going through this with her in every way he could. She needed to let him know in some way that he was helping her and so she finally raised her eyes to his and gave him a faint smile. There was silent understanding and love in the gaze they shared and she felt a little more at peace with what was about to happen.

Chakotay was grateful she'd finally met his eyes. He needed to feel he was doing something for her, helping in some way, easing the terrible burden to some extent. He wished beyond all hope that he could take her place. "Focus on me, love. I'm here." It was all he could say and she nodded her understanding.

Kathryn suddenly felt her fear come back full force as the guards approached her and one went to each arm. She suddenly remembered the message she'd recorded for Chakotay. She had a bad feeling about all of this and needed to let him know about the message. "Chakotay, I gave my overnight bag to Ensign Goldman to put in my quarters. There's a message for you…I recorded for you. If… Find it, OK?" She scared him with this.

"Kathryn, it's going to be all right. Later you can tell me yourself, once the Doctor has you healed and…"

"Enough talk. Processing must begin. The witness will stand in the corner." The Official showed his impatience. A third guard had entered the cell and kept his weapon trained on Chakotay.

The Official walked up to Kathryn and pulled a knife from his belt. "Processing will begin now." Kathryn was terrified now and it showed.

Chakotay shouted to her. "Kathryn, look at me, keep looking at me." She locked eyes with him and tried to lose herself in the dark pools.

The Official proceeded to slice through her uniform while the two guards held her firmly. His face was bland, almost as if he was filling in a report. He sliced through her jumpsuit, shredding it and threw the remains towards the far corner. He continued to slice through her polo neck and tank. He then leaned down and removed her boots and socks. When he had this achieved, he moved back up her body and cut through her bra and finally her panties. Kathryn tried her best to control her fears but her tears still showed. She kept her eyes locked with Chakotay and he held her tightly with his own eyes.

Suddenly Kathryn was pushed forward and forced towards the table, causing her to lose her contact with Chakotay. Her arms were pulled out to the sides and the Official ran his hands roughly over her, around her breasts, checked inside her mouth, even going through her hair. There was still that bland look in his eyes, almost boredom, and Kathryn suddenly realized that there was nothing sexual about what he was doing to her from his point of view and in a small way this helped. She could see from him that as far as he was concerned, he was simply doing his job. She saw from his expression that searching her was just another part of his day.

She was then pushed forward across the table and forced down over it. She felt the Official run his hands down her back, presumably feeling for anything which might have been hidden under her skin and she knew what would follow next.

With her face down she was unable to see Chakotay but she felt his presence and his reassurance none the less. She managed to turn her head to the side, away from him, not wanting him to see her face for this ultimate humiliation and hoped he understood.

Chakotay also knew what was coming next for Kathryn and felt as helpless as he ever had. Involuntarily he jumped forward but the guard stopped him, pointing a weapon into his face. He prayed for her to get through this and when he saw her turn her head away, he understood. He knew the shame and humiliation she must be feeling but he wished she'd let him help her in the only way he could. He could say more with his eyes than with his words. He refused to look at her naked body. He'd only ever do that with her permission.

The Official stood to the side of Kathryn and snapped gloves onto his hands. He ignored her and didn't even look at her. She knew somewhere in her mind that if he'd wanted to, he could have made a display for her of putting on the gloves, letting her know what he planned, but he appeared as unconcerned with her as ever.

He passed out of her line of vision and she felt him behind her. She closed her eyes and tried to shut out what was to follow. She felt one of his hands on her buttocks and felt his foot urging her legs apart.

"Please spread your legs" was all he said.

Kathryn felt tears build behind her closed eyes but she obeyed and tried her best to move her legs, despite the edge of the table cutting into her abdomen. The guards had her arms pulled up over her head keeping her tightly against the table. She felt the Official use one hand to spread her and then suddenly she felt his fingers roughly enter her. She tried not to cry out but it was useless. She was tight and dry and it hurt. The Official took his time as he prodded and felt around inside her and he wasn't being too gentle either. Kathryn felt her tears escape through her tightly closed eyelids and then suddenly heard Chakotay's voice calling softly to her.

"You're with me, Kathryn. Nothing can harm you ever. I'm here, love. Just stay with me."

She tried to focus on his voice and ignore the violation she was suffering. The Official seemed satisfied that she was hiding nothing there and she felt him withdraw his hand. A dull ache remained and she knew with certainty that it would soon be joined by another. She felt the Official use one hand to spread her buttocks and then insert a finger, then two onto her tight rectum. This time she screamed out as pain shot up through her and he again felt around inside her. Again, it was Chakotay's voice she tried to focus on and she could hear the tears and pain in his voice, as he tried to control what he was feeling, to be there for her. The Official withdraw his hand and snapped off the gloves. "She's clean" was all he said.

The guards pulled her up from the table and Kathryn sagged against them as pain shot up through her, her tears streaming down her face. She tried to stop them, not wanting the guards and the Official to see how they'd hurt her, but it was a losing battle. They let her slip to the floor and she just lay there. She could cope with the pain but not the humiliation. She couldn't meet Chakotay's eyes despite him calling to her to look at him. She didn't want him to see this, her humiliation and shame but the love and concern in his voice eventually carried through to her and she raised her head and looked directly at him. He took away all the pain and shame with three words and one look.

"I love you," he said simply and his look spoke volumes.

The Official approached her and handed her what appeared to be a dress of some sort with a tie belt attached.

"Put this on now" he told her and she grabbed it gratefully and quickly slipped it on over her head.

The guards pulled her up again and the Official pulled the garment down the rest of the way and tied the belt in place. He then unclipped a phial from his belt and removed the stopper. While the guards held her firmly, the Official grabbed her face and forced the top of the phial between her lips and poured the contents down her throat, holding her head back to ensure she swallowed the bitter liquid. "Swallow this."

Kathryn heard the order but was so unprepared for this new assault that the liquid had already slipped down her throat. She coughed and gagged and heard Chakotay shout at the Official, demanding to know what they'd given her. He received no answer. The guards still held her tightly and Kathryn could feel the drug starting to have an effect on her, making her dizzy. She'd no idea what they'd given her and prayed it was some form of painkiller.

"Processing is complete. Take her outside." The Official walked off, motioning to Chakotay to follow but he hung back. "There can be no physical contact at this time" was all he was told.

Chakotay still hung back until the guards started to pull Kathryn from the cell and down the corridor. He knew the main square where the lashing would take place was just outside and he quickly looked at Kathryn to try and gauge her condition. She suddenly appeared more alert but seemed unaware of this fact and Chakotay suddenly felt a cold fist grip at him. There was something about her eyes that reminded him of something and suddenly his brain snapped to attention as he remembered seeing that look before. He remembered the Cardassians giving their prisoners drugs to keep them conscious longer, to prolong their pain and suffering. The drugs heightened awareness and stimulated the pain centres and he knew that what Kathryn had been forced to swallow was a similar drug. He watched helpless as she was pulled outside, managing to walk almost on her own now and he knew for certain that the drug was working.

He followed them out, calling to Kathryn all the time, telling her he was there for her and that it would soon be over and suddenly realized he was trying to convince himself as much as her. His eyes took a minute to adjust to the light and then he saw Tuvok and the others over to the side of a wooden wall. He locked eyes with Tuvok and knew the Vulcan understood. A guard came up behind Chakotay and ushered him towards the other crew and Tuvok. As he approached them, he saw the pain in all their eyes, alongside pity and he knew Kathryn would never want anyone's pity. He stood beside Tuvok and spoke softly to him. "Tuvok, did you contact the Doctor?"

"I'm afraid not, Commander. They took our comm badges after you and the captain were taken and told us we would get them all after…later." Chakotay barely nodded.

Tuvok spoke again, almost hesitating. "It was bad?"

Chakotay looked away for a second then back at him. This was Kathryn's oldest friend on board Voyager.
"Yeah, Tuvok, it was bad. What I'm most worried about is the drug they gave her. I think it was similar to something the Cardassians used. It heightens awareness, increases pain…"

Tuvok sighed. "I am aware of this kind of drug. If I'm correct, it's effects last for several hours and there is nothing that can be given to counteract its effects."

Chakotay looked away. "That's what I thought…" His anger and fear permitted him to say no more and then he heard the Official reading the notification of the crime and the punishment to the crowd. Guards approached Chakotay and the others, making sure they watched the spectacle about to occur.

They watched helpless as Kathryn was dragged towards the wooden wall and pushed into it face first. The guards then grabbed her arms, pushing them above her head and forced her wrists into rope type bindings already attached to the wall. One of the guards walked around to the back of the wall to tighten the ropes, while the others held her in place. Chakotay noticed the ropes tightening around her wrists, cutting into her skin and he saw her inner fight not to cry out.

The Official came up to Kathryn and tore the material of the garment down her back, exposing the pale skin there and Chakotay sickeningly realised that this garment had actually been designed for this very purpose, to expose the back but not anything else. He could see Kathryn's panic and fear and watched amazed as he realized that she was trying to mentally prepare herself for what was to come but he knew that she'd fail. He prayed for her to pass out quickly but also knew that this prayer would be futile because of the drug. At this moment in time, he wanted to murder every last one of these bastards but he forced himself to concentrate on the woman before him and on being there for her.

The Official stepped back and nodded to a guard who had just come out of a side door, leather type whip in hand. Chakotay groaned when he saw it. It had several straps tied together to the effect that each lash would be like several whips landing together.

He called to Kathryn again, trying in a vain attempt to help her in some way. She met his eyes and for a moment only the two of them existed. The guard raised the whip and Chakotay was aware of B'Elanna and Sam Wildman crying. Almost in slow motion he saw the whip come down on Kathryn's back and then her scream pierced the air, tearing through him almost as if the whip had struck him. At that moment, his contact with her was broken as her face contorted in agony. He heard a strange sound and realized it was his own scream and then Tuvok was gripping his arm.

"Stay strong, Commander. That's all you can do for her now and she's going to need that."

Chakotay felt other hands grip him and realized that Tom, B'Elanna and Sam were all holding him, needing comfort almost as much as he did. He wanted to look away as the whip came down on her back a second time and again her scream came but the guards were prodding them, making sure that every last lash would be witnessed by them and suddenly Chakotay wondered who was being punished the most.

Kathryn had held Chakotay's eyes for as long as she could, not sure if she was drawing comfort for herself or trying to pass some semblance of comfort on to him. She tried to tell herself she wouldn't cry out but as she felt the whip strike across her back, raw agony shot through every part of her and she heard her own scream come. She felt as if she'd fallen backwards into a fire.

She used her last ounce of strength and her last rational thought to turn her face into the wall. She couldn't let him see her face for this and didn't want to see his either. She knew she had enough pain to deal with without seeing his. She felt the whip come down on her back a second time and again, against her will, her scream came. It registered with her that she was biting through her lower lip and she tasted her own blood but there was no room in her mind for the pain from this, only the agony of the torture being inflicted on her back.

Chakotay tried to keep count of the number of times the whip came down but all he could hear was Kathryn's agonised scream, almost continuous. He then noticed that her scream wasn't as loud as it had been and quickly surmised that this was because her voice was failing her. He felt Tuvok grip his arm and tell him that there was only one more to go and he was thankful for the Vulcan's painful detachment from what was happening, knowing that he was more useful in this situation than any of them. He also knew that Tuvok, despite his apparent lack of emotion, had in fact felt every cry of pain from Kathryn as much as they all had.

He watched with tears streaming down his face as the whip came down on Kathryn's back for the last time and saw that the only thing holding her up was the tight rope binding her wrists to the wall and he saw the blood there, running down her arms, where the rope had eaten into her slim wrists with her struggle against it. Finally, he forced himself to look at her back and the sight of it almost caused him to collapse. Blood poured down her body, soaking the remains of the garment and ran freely down the back of her legs, pooling on the ground beneath her. He realized that the Official was standing in front of them, telling them they could take her now and not to come back. His panic to get to Kathryn was probably the only thing that stopped him killing the bastard. He was at her side in seconds, screaming at the guards to release her wrists, the others with him.

As carefully as he could, he put his arms around her chest and stomach, trying his best to avoid her back, Tuvok gently taking hold of her hips as they lowered her to the ground. Tuvok stood up and demanded the return of their five comm badges and then ordered an immediate beam out to sickbay.

PART THREE.

Chakotay was still cradling Kathryn's head when they re-materialized in front of the Doctor but he could see that nothing else existed for Kathryn outside of the pain. He now saw the blood on her face and realized that she'd badly bitten her lip and that her face was rubbed almost raw from grinding against the wall. He looked again at just how bad her back was, in some places the ribs almost showing through the deep cuts. There wasn't an area of her back where uncut skin remained.

Kathryn screamed out with her failing voice when they lifted her onto the biobed and Chakotay took her hands, trying to comfort her in any way as he heard Tuvok inform the Doctor of the situation and of the drug which had been administered. His own tears refused to stop and the pain he felt was almost unbearable when he thought about what the next few hours would bring.

The Doctor was at her side now and for once he didn't order Chakotay out of the way. He made alterations to the biobed so that a smaller section jutted out of the top, where Kathryn could rest her neck and head. This allowed her arms to hang down, avoiding further movement to her back. The Doctor looked at Chakotay and beckoned him to the side of sickbay.

"Commander, I won't be able to administer any painkillers or antibiotic for at least another two hours. I can't even sedate her. She's going to be in considerable pain. I'm going to have to inflict more because these injuries have to be cleaned now. They can't be left unattended for the next two hours and the bleeding will have to be stopped or at least slowed down, and with this drug, I can't even use the dermal regenerator. From the scans I've taken, it will be two hours before this drug works its way through her system, but I promise you, the minute I deem it safe to administer a painkiller, I will do so. Can you stay with her?"

Chakotay looked at the Doctor as if this was the most idiotic question he'd ever asked. "Just try getting me away from her."

"I didn't expect anything less," the Doctor told him. "Just keep talking to her, anything to take her mind off this, although that will, I know, be almost impossible but please just do your best. Commander, I have to tell you that this is going to place a great amount of strain on her heart. If we can get her through this until I can administer a painkiller, then she should make it, if not, her chances are not good."

The Doctor moved back to Kathryn and tried to explain to her what he was going to do but he could see his words weren't getting through to her, the pain so great that Kathryn was almost catatonic.

Chakotay sat beside her and held her hands. He carefully avoided touching her wrists, which he knew were raw from the ropes and which the Doctor had temporarily bandaged. He did the only thing he could think to do and so he spent the next two hours talking to her non-stop, stroking her hair, telling her anything he could think of, old stories, tales he'd heard as a boy, details about family and old friends, things they'd all gotten up to, and then he switched tack and spoke about the two of them, what they'd do after she recovered, trips to the holodeck they'd take, on and on until he was almost losing his own voice.

Throughout all this, Kathryn continued to moan and cry out in pain, at times screaming out, and her tears came constantly. She was aware of Chakotay there as she gripped his hands the whole time. His voice broke through her pain and she tried her best to focus on the rich sound of it but she was growing weaker. The pain was relentless as it poured over her in wave after wave. She felt as if her body was swimming in a sea of fire and her mind swam with it. She knew the Doctor was working on her but the pain felt no different. It was already all consuming and so nothing the Doctor did could make it any worse.

Kathryn thought at times she'd lose her mind but always there was Chakotay's voice, a centre in the storm that was raging through her. She realized that his words meant nothing to her and that she was unable to concentrate enough to make sense of them but the soothing sound of his voice was like a balm to her and so she continued to fight to focus on him. She could feel her strength giving out and knew she'd soon give in, to what she didn't know and it suddenly entered her mind somewhere that she might well die so she tried to fight more but knew she was losing this fight.

'I have to tell him…what is it? There was something, the message, the recording. Did I tell him? He has to know.' She realized now that she was starting to lose control of her mind.

"Chakotay," she rasped, "have to tell you…message...must know how I feel…"

His voice came through to her. "Shhh, Kathryn, it's all right. You told me about the message. Just focus on my voice. It won't be long now and then the Doc can give you something for the pain. Please love, just hold on a little longer. You're nearly there. Stay with me now, love. Come on. You can do this. Just fight a little longer." He gripped her hands tighter, willing her to stay with him, to fight, to hang on for that last hurdle.

He was starting to lose control himself. Seeing her like this was tearing him apart. He couldn't believe how she'd hung on this long and looked up at the Doctor for reassurance.

"Five more minutes, Commander. The drug is almost out of her system. Just get her to hang on another five minutes." Chakotay nodded to the Doctor and focused all his attention and energy back to her.

"Come on, honey, five more minutes, that's all. Just fight a little longer. Stay with me now, listen to me. Kathryn, you can do this." She heard him through the mist in her mind and tried to find a last surge to get her through.

'I have to tell him…have to tell him' was all that was in her mind, fighting with the pain for control.
"Chakotay, have to know…" She could feel herself losing it and struggled harder. "You…tell you… I…love you…have to let you know…log…my bag…"

She felt her grip on his hands loosen and knew she'd lost. She sensed herself slipping away somewhere, unsure of where and suddenly uncaring. She could hear him calling to her but his voice was getting fainter.

"Love…you…" something cold pressing against her neck, dark, getting dark, his voice leaving, getting further away, still calling her and then finally nothing.

Chakotay saw her final struggle and heard her words, felt her grip slacken. Fear ripped through him as he screamed for her to hang on. He was unaware of the Doctor beside them for a minute and then it hit him. The Doctor had pressed a hypospray to her neck and her letting go was the painkiller finally administered. He looked to the Doctor for desperately needed reassurance and got it with a slight smile and a nod from him.

"The drug is finally out of her system. That was a painkiller I administered just now mixed with a sedative. The antibiotic I'll administer intravenously. She's not through it yet and this has put a terrible strain on her heart. It will take her quite a time to get through this but I'm more hopeful now. Commander, may I recommend you try and get some rest. The captain is going to require surgery now and will be unconscious for some time. And yes, I'll call you immediately if there is any change."

Chakotay held onto her hands a little longer and leaned forward and kissed her. "Rest now, my love."

He could hear her laboured breathing and realized how pale and clammy her skin was. He saw the Doctor prepare a blood transfusion and with a final kiss, he stood up and let her hands go.

"It's going to be all right now, Kathryn. You made it. I'll be back later." He turned to the Doctor.
"The minute she's out of surgery, you call me."

The Doctor nodded his agreement and went on with his preparations. As Chakotay exited sickbay, he looked back at her and noticed that the cuts on her back were cleaner but he wondered if the marvels of modern medicine could ever return her back to how it was before but he also knew that the emotional injuries of all this would take even longer to heal.

As the doors to sickbay closed behind him, he just stood in the corridor and closed his eyes. When he opened them a minute later, he noticed that Tom, B'Elanna and Sam were all standing in the corridor.

"Tuvok would be here too but someone had to run the ship and we know what the captain would say if there was no one on the bridge." Tom tried but his humour failed him.

They'd all waited in the corridor outside sickbay since they'd beamed back to the ship and had tried to draw comfort from each other. They'd heard every scream from Kathryn and each one had bitten into them deeply. Chakotay looked at them and instantly knew why Kathryn had done it, why she cared so much about these people and he knew he'd have done the same thing if he'd been able to. He told them what they wanted to hear.

"She should be fine. The Doctor's taking her into surgery now."

B'Elanna jumped in. "Chakotay, just what the hell has he been doing for the last two hours? Why didn't he just sedate her or give her stronger painkillers. We heard her screams…" She was angry and upset and didn't care who knew it.

Chakotay decided to tell them. "He couldn't sedate her, couldn't even give her any painkillers."

Their reaction was as he would have predicted and he saw the pain they shared with him and so he told them of the drug and its effects, how Kathryn had had to suffer the last two hours. He felt they'd a right to know, despite the guilt they'd feel knowing all the facts, guilt that matched his own. When he finished, all he could do was surrender to them and let them hold him and he finally gave way to his tears, only his tears had plenty of company. He let them lead him back to his quarters and told them he'd call them the minute he knew anything. They were reluctant to leave him alone but accepted his assurances that he needed some time to himself. They knew what he was going through and shared every bit of it

Once alone inside his quarters, he sank down on his knees and let his body slide on to the floor. He stayed this way for some time and then he remembered Kathryn's plea about her log. He stood up stiffly and went to her quarters, entering his override code. When he walked in, he was instantly assaulted by the scent of her all around him. It surrounded him and yet he felt it also caressed him and he drew comfort from it. He immediately spotted her bag, just inside the door, and reached down and opened it. He found what he was looking for and made to go back to his quarters to read her message but instead found his legs moving towards her bedroom. He lay down on her bed and played back her recording to him, letting her voice wash over him as he inhaled her scent from her nightgown, which he held tightly in his hand, and he cried again as her words of love floated over him and through him. He heard the birds and the sounds of nature almost as if they were there with him and in his mind he allowed himself the fantasy that he was walking there with her, as she told him of her love for him and her hopes and dreams. He felt at peace for a time and it was the sound of her voice, replaying for the fourth time, that finally lulled him to sleep.

Chakotay awoke to the sound of the Doctor's hail and was up and running towards sickbay before the Medic had even finished speaking. As he entered, the first thing he saw was Kathryn lying on the biobed, still lying on her stomach, but her back was covered and she appeared to be sleeping soundly. There was a little more colour in her cheeks but he also noticed the intravenous lines supplying her with blood and fluids. He turned to face the Doctor and didn't even need to speak.

"She came through the surgery fine and her heart appears to be strong. This will be the last transfusion she'll need, and she will, Commander, make a full recovery. Also, there should be no scarring, at least physically." He seemed to hesitate slightly, then went on.

"Commander, I have to ask you…well, if…anything else occurred…that you know of? It's just that during my examination of the captain, well I...I found...."

Chakotay instantly knew what he was getting at. "She was strip searched, Doctor. They weren't exactly gentle. Was there much…damage?"

The Doctor met his eyes. "No, just some tearing and a little bleeding. That was how I noticed…but nothing too serious and I healed it quite quickly. I just needed to know…"

"I understand, Doctor. Look, you take care of the physical. I'll be there for her for the rest. I'll take care of that."

The Doctor nodded and then surprisingly patted Chakotay on the arm. "She'll sleep for at least another four hours. You can stay or I'll call you just before she wakes, but either way, I feel it would be better if you were there when she does wake up." Chakotay was already moving towards her and the Doctor didn't need any further answer.

Chakotay's world shrank to the area around Kathryn. She was all that existed for him over the next few hours. He sat with her, whispering to her and gently stroking her face and hands. It pained him each time he looked at her wrists, where the newly regenerated skin was still a little red. Her face was turned towards him and he brushed his finger over her lower lip, now almost healed, and cried inwardly as he remembered how badly she'd bitten it in her torture. Kathryn moaned and he thought for a minute that she was coming around and then realized painfully that she was having a nightmare. He knew she was reliving everything and called gently to her, his mouth to her ear and continued brushing his hand over her face and hair. He knew she heard him in some corner of her mind as she suddenly quietened and resumed a peaceful sleep once more. A little later, when she started moving again, he prepared himself for another nightmare but this time, she was indeed coming back to him.

Kathryn slowly opened her eyes and for a few moments couldn't figure out where she was. For a brief minute there was confusion and then it was replaced with the horror of what had happened. The memory of the pain returned full force and it took her a further minute to realize that the pain was no longer there. She felt the soreness and stiffness in her back but the agony of earlier was absent, even if the memory of it remained. She looked into Chakotay's eyes and knew that she'd be safe there. His gentle smile met her and she felt his hand caress her hair. She tried to speak and her voice sounded alien to her but she eventually managed to croak "How long?"

He took her hand in his and held it tightly. "Fourteen hours. You had surgery but you're fine now and you're with me." He tried his best to give her his biggest smile but he couldn't hide the pain and worry that had been there for the last day and he knew she'd seen them as her own eyes were suddenly swimming in tears. "Oh Gods, Kathryn…"

This wasn't what she needed from him but he couldn't help himself. She reached her hand up to him and suddenly winced, her back protesting at the movement. Chakotay gripped her hand and lowered it back down. "It's all right, sweetheart, I know. Please, don't try to move. You're going to be sore for the next few days…"

She looked deeply at him, her face serious. "Chakotay, will I be…scarred? I'd understand if I was…if you didn't want…" Her tears came but he gently brushed them away.

He gripped her hand tighter. "No, love, you won't. I promise. The Doctor told me himself. You'll be fine and I'm here now. Between us all, we'll take it all away, everything, all the hurt and pain but know one thing please. I wouldn't care what you looked like or how badly scarred you were, so please love, don't ever think that that would make a difference to me."

She smiled at him but he could see what the memory of it all was doing to her by her eyes. He saw the pain, physical and emotional, the shame and humiliation, everything she'd endured for them and knew in that second that the eyes were indeed the mirror of the soul. He also knew that he wouldn't rest until he'd rid her eyes of all that and had purged her memory of all that had happened. Now was as good a starting point as any.

"Kathryn, I love you and I got your message. Thank you, love, for everything you said…"

"Chakotay, I love you. I was afraid for a time that I wouldn't get a chance to say that to your face. That's why it was so important to me that you hear the message, that you know." She was crying openly now. "Chakotay, I'm so sorry for…well, everything. For holding you back for so long and…"

He leaned over and silenced her with a gentle kiss. "I know it, love, I know it, but now we have our lives in front of us and we're together. We love each other and we have each other. That's all that matters."

As they stared into each other's eyes, their souls silently communicated what words could never say.


The Doctor refused to allow Kathryn out of sickbay for a further four days and for once she didn't object. It was this, along with the lingering pain and horror in her eyes that told Chakotay that it would be quite a while before she was anyway near being back to herself. He noticed that time wasn't having the healing effect on her mind that it should have been having but decided not to push anything, telling himself that there was plenty of time later for them to talk. He prayed she wasn't having second thoughts about him but he couldn't ignore the fact that her manner had changed. When she came out of the anaesthetic first, she'd seemed more sure of their relationship than she had ever been but now she seemed withdrawn with him.

He spent as much time as he could in sickbay with her and when he was unable to be there, he knew an unofficial rota had been set up with the others, so that there would always be someone with her, either to sit quietly by or be there to talk. Chakotay knew she wouldn't let her guard down in front of the others, and even with him she still tried to make out she was better than she was, either from old habits or to spare him.

On the fifth day, he came by to walk her back to her quarters and she was quiet during the short walk, having refused to transport there. He knew she badly needed to feel her legs under her and to make contact with the ship again. When they reached her door, he unconsciously placed his hand on her back. He heard her draw in a painful breath and felt her flinch and instantly cursed himself.

"Oh Gods, Kathryn, I'm so sorry, love. I just didn't think. Are you all right?"

She saw his panic and smiled at him. "Chakotay, I'm fine really, just a little tender, that's all." He didn't look convinced and she reached her hand up to him and stroked his face. "Honestly, Chakotay, it's all right. I'll just be a bit sore and tender for another day or so. You didn't hurt me." He seemed to accept this and smiled down at her but she could still see other emotions in his eyes.

"Chakotay, please come in. I want to talk to you." She opened her door and he followed her inside.

She allowed him to get the coffee and he couldn't help but smile as he watched her face as she took her first sip.

"You've been having withdrawal symptoms for that, I'll bet." He tried to keep his voice light but everything reminded him of what had happened and she didn't miss the catch in his voice. Kathryn set her cup down and turned to him.

"Chakotay, I told you recently that you know me too well and I realize that the same goes for me. I know you too well also and I can see what you're going through over all this and if I guess right, it's mainly guilt." Her face was serious now and he found he couldn't look at her, knowing that she was right on the mark.

"Kathryn, you've no idea what all this did to me, seeing you…what happened…and I felt so helpless and useless. I always told you I'd be there for you and I failed in that…" Suddenly he felt her hand on his and finally looked at her. He was shocked to see tears rolling down her cheeks.

"Chakotay, I made the call. It was my choice to do what I did, but don't for one minute think that you weren't there for me. You were there every step of the way and that's what got me through it. I don't mean to add to your burden but I have to tell you that I truly believe that I'd have died at some stage throughout all that, especially after in sickbay, if you hadn't been there, reaching out to me, even when at times I didn't reach back. That was wrong of me but I felt…I guess I wanted to spare you in any way I could, just as you tried to for me. I'm sorry for turning away from you…" She stopped speaking and gave in to her tears.

Chakotay quickly gathered her in his arms, careful to avoid pressing into her back, hating to see her like this. "Kathryn, love, we settled all that. I got your message."

She pulled back and looked at him. "No, for turning away when…when…they…" Her tears came back harder than before.

Suddenly he understood. "Oh Kathryn, please, no. I understand about that, I really do." Her small body shuddered against him and he tried to pull her tighter and yet still avoid touching her back.

"Chakotay, I was just…I thought after…once you saw that…that you wouldn't want me...that it would..."

He pulled back this time. "What? Please don't say you thought it would make any difference to how I felt about you. Oh Kathryn..." There was some anger coming through from him now. "Is that what all this has been about, your withdrawing? You don't know me, do you? How could you? My love, you do me a great injustice if you could ever think that scarring or seeing what they did to you and yes, I'll say it, the strip search..." He felt her cringe against him. "Yes, Kathryn, the forced strip search, against your will, because that's what it was…but if you think for one second that I would feel any differently about you because of that, then no, you don't know me at all."

As she looked at him, she realized now for the first time just how badly all of it had hurt him too. "I'm sorry, please forgive me. I just felt so dirty and humiliated and yes, violated and I'm sorry but I guess I feared that that would pass to you, that if I felt that way about myself, that it would follow that you would… I'm sorry Chakotay, I was wrong, I know that and the more I think about it, I should have known that all along. I heard your voice and it did get me through, and again, I'm sorry I didn't look at you and let you be there even more for me…"

She felt his hands hold her head to his chest and felt him lower one to rub the top of her arm. His tenderness swept through her like a tidal wave and she cried even harder. He said nothing further but just held her, letting her cry it all out.

When she eventually managed to regain come control, she felt his hands take her face and raise it up to look at him. "Kathryn, it's you I love. Who you are. What happens to our bodies during this life will never change that, whether it's this or old age or physical mutilation from an accident, none of it matters, and I'll tell you honestly, and I'm not trying to score points, but not once did I look at your body during it all. I'd only ever do that with your permission. All I saw was you, the woman I love. Can you understand that? I only saw you, the soul and spirit of you, through your eyes into you. Kathryn, as much as I love your body and want in time to worship at it, make love to you, that will be only physical. I want more to make love to you, eye to eye, spiritually. I can't say it enough to you. I love who you are, not what you look like. The body is just window dressing but our spirits, our souls, that is who and what we really are."

Before he knew what was happening, she was crushing him to her and her tears had returned but this time they were tears of happiness and they were cleansing tears, tears of renewal. They held each other, no more words needed, for the next hour or so and then Chakotay realized that she'd actually fallen asleep, feeling safe and secure. In no time at all, he felt himself drift off, joining her.


Within a week, Kathryn was ready to return to duty and the night after her first shift back, Neelix arranged a party for her. B'Elanna, Tom and Sam, even Tuvok had all thought of the idea together and approached Neelix about it, only to discover that he was ahead of them, arrangements already underway.

Chakotay knew about it all and decided to keep quiet. He persuaded Kathryn to join him on the holodeck to 'check out a program he'd discovered'. He knew the look on her face when she realized what was happening, would stay with him for the rest of his life. When the surprise or rather shock wore off, he saw tears in her eyes and moved in front of her, blocking the crew's view of her for a minute or two, giving her time to compose herself and she nodded her thanks to him, not trusting herself to speak.

The entire evening was a complete success and Kathryn was exhausted by the end of it. As Chakotay walked her back to her quarters, he slipped his arm around her waist and delighted in the fact that she didn't object, despite the fact that several crew members witnessed his display of affection. A part of him wondered if she was just too tired to notice but she quickly changed his mind on that, having read his thoughts. Smiling up at him, she told him what he needed to know.

"I'm not ashamed of you, Chakotay. I love you and don't care who knows."

He tightened his hold on her. "I'm glad to hear it. By the way, another surprise for you. You're off duty tomorrow and you're spending the day with me on the holodeck, and before you say anything, it's all arranged. It's a present from the entire crew so you can't disappoint them."

"What am I going to do with you, Commander?" They had reached her quarters and she turned into him, putting her arms around his neck.

"I'm sure you'll think of something, Captain." He could see how tired she was and so he gently lowered his mouth to her forehead and kissed her softly. "Get some sleep, Kathryn. I'll call you early in the morning. 08.00 hours. Wear something casual and bring a swimsuit, OK?"

She pouted and then smiled. "Not even a little hint?"

He entered her code and gently pushed her inside her door. "Goodnight, my love. See you in the morning."

He smiled at her, a million 'I love you's' showing in the smile and walked backwards, wanting to get every last image of her in his mind before he lay down to dream of her.


Kathryn gasped and was close to tears again next morning when she entered the holodeck with Chakotay. He had programmed in a woodland setting, with a crystal clear lake glittering in the sun. A small cabin sat back in the woods and loons called out to them over the lake. It was typically Earth and reminded Kathryn of her own home.

"I haven't upset you too much with this, have I? Is it too much of a reminder of home?"

She saw his concern and smiled at him. "Oh Chakotay, no, it's just perfect."

They spent a wonderful day together, leaving the past two weeks firmly outside the doors of their minds. They strolled around the lake, gently holding hands and occasionally kissing softly, the sun watching over them. They returned to the cabin and then decided to take a swim before lunch, playing in a totally carefree way in the water almost like children again. As the sun dried them off afterwards, they ate the lunch Chakotay had lovingly prepared and Kathryn ate more than she usually would, enjoying her food for the first time in her recent memory, having suddenly gained an appetite after their swim.

After eating, they spent the rest of the afternoon on the porch of the cabin, cuddled together and talking lazily about everything and anything. Often, they were just silent, but even during their silences, they were still communicating.

As evening fell, Kathryn realized that she'd never felt happier or more at peace than she did at that moment and shared this with the man beside her. He had one arm around her shoulders and turned to stroke her face with his other hand.

"Kathryn, you've no idea how happy it makes me to hear you say that."

Their eyes met and held, and in that moment, everything fell into place and it was as if the rest of their lives were decided for them. Chakotay leaned in towards her and gently brushed his lips to hers, waiting for her response, not sure if she was ready for this. He got his answer quickly as he felt her hand come up and caress his face, then go around the back of his head, pulling him closer to her. He kissed her softly at first and then more deeply as he felt her answering response in the pressure of her mouth on his. He felt her open her mouth to him, and he entered gladly, his tongue dancing with hers for their first tentative exploration of this new journey.

Chakotay's arms went around her and he pulled her closer to him, knowing that all tenderness had left her back now and felt her respond in kind, pulling him into her embrace also. He delighted in the soft moans coming from her and felt his passion mount. He knew his arousal would be very obvious to her if she were to look down and he shifted his body to try and hide it but Kathryn was already aware of the effect their kiss was having on him and was even more aware of the effect it was having on herself, feeling a growing heat build in her stomach and between her legs.

Chakotay was fighting a losing battle with his body, unaware of the fierce battle raging in Kathryn's own loins, a battle she'd already decided not to fight. She sensed his struggle and immediately choose to put him out of his misery. Stirred with a boldness she didn't know she had, she felt herself reach down and stroke the straining bulge, which was becoming more and more evident. A passionate cry erupted from Chakotay as he felt her hand tenderly stroke him and he pulled back to look at her. As she met his eyes, her hand stopped its caress and he saw a fear there for a second, as if she thought he might think her too forward, but he swiftly put that idea to rest for her.

"Kathryn, are you sure about this? I'll be honest with you and tell you I want this more than I can say but I need to know that you're sure, that you want this too..." He trailed a finger down her face. "There can be no going back from this, you understand that. There's no way, if we make love now, that I can ever go back to the way things were before. Know that once I taste you, I'll be hungry for you for the rest of my days..."

Kathryn resumed her caress of his groin and smiled at him, before leaning in once more to claim his mouth. He heard her breathless whisper close to his ear.

"Chakotay, I never want to go back. I've discovered life and I'm not giving it up now. I love you more than life itself and I want you, all of you."

He knew in that moment that the true reason for his life had just been revealed to him and he pulled her to him, fearful of ever letting her go.

"Make love to me, Chakotay."

Something took him over and he found himself standing and sweeping her up into his arms. Next thing he knew they were inside the cabin and he was laying her down on the large bed there. For several minutes, all he was capable of was kneeling back, looking at her, worshipping at the altar of his life's meaning. She lay there, allowing him this precious time, practicing her own form of worship.

They reached for each other at the same moment and this time the kiss was passionate beyond words, both of them clinging to each other as if they were drowning. They both instinctively knew that this first joining would not be slow and gentle, the desperate hunger each had for the other denying them any chance of that.

"Kathryn, I don't think I can slow down…" Chakotay's hands moved over her body with a mind of their own and he realized quickly that Kathryn's hands were matching his in their urgency.

"Oh God, Chakotay, just take me, please…I have to have you now…"

He didn't need a second invitation and suddenly clothes were ripped from bodies and hands fought to touch every inch of flesh available to them. Nothing existed except the feel of skin on skin and the frantic desire to almost crawl inside the other. Kathryn was almost insensate as she felt his mouth devour her breasts and she reached for his now rock hard shaft. He groaned as her hand encircled him and knew he wouldn't last very long at this rate. He pulled away from her grasp and grabbed her thighs, spreading her legs quickly. Kathryn screamed out as his mouth came down on her, his tongue and lips assaulting her burning hot centre. Raw lust permeated the air all around them and Kathryn came hard against his face, her entire body writhing beneath him. Giving her no time to recover, she suddenly felt him push two fingers into her and she screamed out again as his thumb rubbed frantically back and forward on her clitoris and within seconds she came again, tears pouring down her face.

Kathryn reached desperately for Chakotay's shoulders, pulling him up to her, needing him inside her as much as she needed her next breath. Her urgency was equal to his and she felt his throbbing member press against her entrance and felt him hesitate a moment.

"Chakotay, please…now…" She felt shameless in her begging but was beyond caring.

"Kathryn, I'm afraid of hurting you…"

She dragged at him. "You won't...please… Chakotay...I need you..."

Anything else she might have said was lost forever as his fever took over and he surged inside her, filling her beyond what she thought possible. She screamed out again and he stopped immediately, terrified he had indeed hurt her but one look at her face and he knew that her scream had been one of passion. He gave her a further minute to adjust and then started moving, slowly at first. Kathryn met his eyes and whispered to him.

"Chakotay…come inside me…please…"

With her words all his control was gone and as he realized that Kathryn had started another ascent, his pace became frantic and his body took over his mind. Her hips met his thrusts and then she was screaming again, her world exploding around her a third time. Seeing her face in the throes of her orgasm pushed him over the edge and now it was his turn to scream out, his life fluid filling Kathryn and sending her on another, smaller trip of pleasure.

For a full half hour after, neither could move. They'd rolled onto their sides immediately afterwards and had stayed that way, Chakotay still inside her. As the world around them slowly started to return to their senses, they began stroking each other and whispering words of love.

"Kathryn, love, I'm sorry. Our first time should have been slow and gentle…"

She kissed him to silence. "Chakotay, I wanted that…needed that...as much as you did. Please don't ever apologise for showing me what you feel. There's plenty of time, the rest of our lives, for slow and gentle."

He pulled out of her reluctantly but not before she felt him start to harden again. She raised an eyebrow at him and he answered her unasked question with a deep, passionate kiss, which left her fighting for breath.

He pulled back a little from her. "Kathryn, would you indulge me something?" He smiled at the playful look on her face. "Seriously, love. Trust me with something. Something I need to do."

She reached her hand up to trace his tattoo. "I trust you with my life, you know that..."

He kissed her again and she surrendered to him. "Close your eyes and just trust me, Kathryn."

She obeyed without question and then felt him roll her over onto her stomach. He pushed her arms up over her head and then proceeded to stroke and kiss up and down her back and she understood now what his need was. She lay still and allowed him this, knowing that he needed this to reassure himself and to lay his ghosts to rest. She felt him gently massage her muscles, then kiss and stroke every square inch of her back and shoulders. His hands felt wonderful and she couldn't help the sighs that came unbidden from her. She felt his touch change in answer to her sighs and then his fingers drop lower, now stroking across her buttocks and down the backs of her thighs. She was then aware of his hands slowly parting her legs and the lightest of touches trailing up and down her inner thighs but avoiding where she wanted to be touched most.

Kathryn felt her body take over and her sighs became moans. Reading their newly learned language, Chakotay softly ran his fingers through her folds, spreading her wetness. Kathryn made no move to turn over and Chakotay instinctively read her. She felt him move between her legs, push a pillow under her hips and then his mouth was on her again, taking her on that blissful journey once more. He stopped before she reached her apex and gently pushed her knees up to raise her hips a little more then continued his ministrations on her. She quickly took up where she'd left off and within seconds her climax claimed her as she cried out. She felt him kneel behind her and quickly enter her from behind, his pace slower this time. His weight pushed her down onto the bed but he stayed inside her. She felt him lean back and then withdraw, his fingers taking over, spreading her wetness all around her and around her anus. He kept his fingers there for a minute, stroking around the puckered entrance and then stopped, suddenly realizing what this would remind her of. Her decision was reached quickly. She arched her back, pulling her knees up again and pushed herself onto his fingers, telling him it was all right with her movement and with her moans. Still he hesitated.

"Kathryn, I'm sorry…I wasn't thinking…"

She pushed back against his fingers again. "Chakotay please...I need this…my mind and body need this…"

He immediately understood, knowing that she needed to replace the association in her mind of this part of her body, with him instead of what had happened before.

Once again, she felt his weight shift on the bed and then he was kneeling behind her, his hands on her hips, holding her. She felt him prod at her and relaxed herself. 'Only for you, Chakotay…only for you' she thought to herself.

He slowly pushed his way inside her, allowing her plenty of time to adjust and she suddenly found herself more aroused than she thought she would have been. The pleasure sounds that came from her were genuine and she pushed back onto him, enjoying the new sensation. She felt his hand reach around her and his fingers dip into her folds and suddenly she was coming again, taken completely by surprise. What she had thought would have been about discomfort, sent her over the edge with another scream on her lips. The sensation of Chakotay pumping into her tight ass prolonged her climax and ignited every nerve ending in her body. She felt him pull out of her quickly and then ram himself into her vagina again. He plunged deeply again and again, almost withdrawing each time, the sensation driving Kathryn crazy with desire. She reached above her and grasped the bars on the headboard of the bed, needing to hold onto something. She could feel the onset of yet another orgasm and cried out as she felt Chakotay's fingers brush against her again.

"Chakotay…I...I...can't...not again…" She was almost out of her mind with pleasure at this stage.

"Yes, you can, love. Just let me guide you. Trust me to lead you. Give yourself over to me." He never faltered once in his stroking and now she felt his other hand go to her anus, his fingers probing her. "Kathryn, take one hand and play with your breasts. Please, for me."

She did as he asked, pinching and teasing her nipples and she heard him groan along with her. Chakotay was now pounding in and out of her, one hand rubbing her clit. She felt two fingers of his other hand push into her tight ass and thrust in and out. This was sensory overload and Kathryn had never known anything like it. It felt as if she was on the receiving end of four men. She was dimly aware of his pace getting faster, his fingers matching the speed of his hard shaft and then there was the explosion, every cell, every nerve ending, every atom of her being, all going super nova at the same time and she felt Chakotay spurt into her deeply, filling her and then she was falling into blackness.

She became aware of her name being called over and over and slowly came back to herself to see his concerned face close to hers. She was on her back and he was cradling her in his arms. He reached up and stroked her face.

"Kathryn, please, love. Say something."

She did. "Oh God, Chakotay…"

He'd never before seen a look of bliss like the one on her face at that moment in time. "You passed out…I was worried…"

She smiled at him. "If you can repeat that performance, you'd better get used to me passing out."

He hugged her closely. "Was I really that good?"

She sat up and propped herself on one elbow. "You'd better believe it, lover. I don't pass out for just anyone, you know. Seriously Chakotay, no one has ever made love to me like that before. Most women believe that that kind of making love only exists in holonovels."

He pulled her back down to him. "I guess I've done it now then. Setting such a high standard so soon, I've probably spoiled you but I guess with such good sex, now you'll have to stay with me." He was joking but saw the serious look that came to her face.

"Chakotay, know that I would stay with you even if you were paralysed and could never make love to me. Please don't ever think that this will make a difference to the way I feel about you, about how much I love you. Yes, the sex is great, no fantastic, but I fell in love with you first, this is a bonus only." He felt tears escape his eyes and pulled her to him again.

"Kathryn Janeway, will you marry me?" He saw her smile at first and then when she realized that he was serious, saw her own tears erupt.

"Yes, oh yes, my love."

He kissed her passionately. When they drew apart, she smiled up at him.

"Let's just celebrate with a cuddle though. I've no energy left for anything else. OK?"

They lay back on the bed, sated and feeling the happiest either of them had ever felt. As they drifted off to sleep in each other's arms, they were oblivious to the small spark of light that entered the holodeck and settled over Kathryn's abdomen briefly before entering her body. They were unaware that their two spirits had been joined by a third, that of their future child.

THE END.