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:
Back on Earth, Voyager's crew faces a Board Of Inquiry and Kathryn and Chakotay finally find each other as he helps her through a personal crisis. Someone is watching Kathryn though and decides that she has to die so that he can keep his terrible secret.

Swings And Roundabouts

by Kat Lady

Kathryn sat in the old, overstuffed armchair which had always been her father's, her fingers tightly gripping the papers she held and stared off into space, her mind revisiting a past she'd long ago inhabited but thought long since dead, the ghosts from that time surrounding her.

Her father's chair had always given her comfort, made her feel secure, its well-worn leather moulding itself to her body, tacitly reassuring. In the weeks and months following his death, she'd retreated here, seeking the calming and reassuring presence of the great man, allowing the chair to embrace her as he had in life. She had revisited this haven many times during her years in this house and had always found the answers she sought within its sturdy arms. Now however, it felt like a stranger and for the first time in her memory, the leather felt cold.

She tore her eyes away from nothingness and gazed down at the documents once more, trying to make sense of the words written within the yellowing sheaves, wanting with all that was in her not to believe what they told of. She wondered if she'd been meant to have them at all, they having been buried so deeply amongst her mother's papers but then realized that Gretchen Janeway would not have kept the writings had she not wanted their contents known at some stage.

Kathryn found herself wishing desperately for Chakotay's presence, his strong arms around her, soothing her and telling her it was all just a bad dream, that everything would be all right and that when she woke up, the past would be back where it belonged and none of the details of it would have changed, despite the pain they had caused. She knew Chakotay would know what to do but he wasn't here and so she faced this alone.

As the light outside faded, Kathryn let her mind wander back over the past two months, the highs and lows, the losses and gains and an old saying of her mother's came to mind, of how life was all swings and roundabouts. More seemed to have happened in the last eight weeks or so than in a year in the Delta Quadrant and Kathryn lay her head back against the leather upholstery, her hand holding the documents falling to her lap and let her thoughts drift.

TWO MONTHS PREVIOUSLY.

"Well, Kathryn, you did it. You kept your promise and got us all home." Chakotay's voice was a whisper, meant for her ears only. The rest of the bridge crew were too preoccupied to hear, staring at the viewscreen and the image of Earth it held. Kathryn herself found it impossible to tear her own eyes away and even Chakotay kept one eye on the screen as he spoke.

For the first time ever, Kathryn let her guard down on the bridge and a lone tear slipped down her cheek but she also knew she could forgive herself this one lapse, this one tiny slip of the command mask and she leaned against her First Officer, drawing strength from his solid frame. She nodded her head, not trusting herself to speak and she felt his hand squeeze her shoulder in understanding.

Within five hours they were docked, scanned and checked and the crew granted permission to disembark. Kathryn, Chakotay and the rest of the senior staff spent a further three hours handing over command and passing over logs and official data before getting permission to beam down to Earth.

All Voyager's crew, including the former Maquis had been 'asked' to stay within the precincts of Starfleet Headquarters until debriefing could be undertaken and were informed that their families had been notified of their sudden return and would arrive the next morning.

A small crew from Deep Space Nine now manned Voyager, checking over all systems and Kathryn and Chakotay were the last to leave what had been their home for six years. Kathryn stood on the bridge taking a last look around, Chakotay standing back and giving her the space she required to say what she needed to her old friend. He watched as she caressed the consoles and bulkheads, whispering quietly to them and smiled gently to himself. He's gone through a similar ritual not half an hour since.

They beamed down together and walked out into the sunshine of home, breathing in the scented air of Starfleet's grounds. Their eyes met and they smiled at each other, their look speaking volumes, each just knowing exactly what the other was feeling.

"Come on, Kathryn. There's something I just have to do."

She gave him a puzzled look. "Well, I know skinny dipping in the Bay of Mexico is high on your list but we're not supposed to leave here just yet." She laughed and he joined with her, relishing in the feeling of freedom the sound brought him.

"Cute, Captain, real cute. Seriously, this is something I want to do for you." He laughed again at the cheeky smile he received. "Kathryn Janeway, you're getting daring in your old age." He playfully jumped back and pouted when she slapped at him. "Coffee woman, just coffee." Her eyes lit up. "Would you do me the great honour of letting me get you your first coffee back on Earth?"

Kathryn was already pulling him along. "When they're offering out the posts, Chakotay, I'm going to recommend you for diplomatic service. You badly missed your calling in life."

They spent the next hour secluded in a small alcove in one of the many coffee shops dotted around the Campus, sipping at coffee that tasted the way it was meant to. They talked of everything and nothing and Chakotay found himself carefully avoiding the one topic he wanted to bring up most, knowing it was too soon to broach the subject. There was the odd silence but even during these short spells, there was still communication between them. Almost as if reading Chakotay's thoughts, Kathryn slowly looked up into his face and he saw her slight hesitation and something akin to embarrassment. Finally she spoke.

"Do you remember I once told you that I couldn't imagine a day without you?" Not daring to interrupt her, he just nodded slowly. "Well, I still can't, imagine that is, and now… What of tomorrow and the next day? You won't be next door. Chakotay, what's going to happen?"

Chakotay realized he'd been holding his breath. "Kathryn, I'm going to be straight here. For six years, all we've thought about is getting home and that's as it should have been. The reality however, will probably be different. Certainly it's going to be quite unlike what we imagined. None of us really know what the next days or even weeks will bring and I understand that leaves us in limbo to some extent but… Kathryn, I have to say this and I think you already know it. I love you. It's that simple. I've waited, hoping, praying, that when we got back, and it was always when…" He smiled gently at her. "I always thought and hoped that when we got back, maybe there'd be a chance for us, a relationship but… It's a case of the ball being in your court. What I will say is this. I want you to wait and see what happens with Starfleet, where we all stand and then when we all know our position…"

Kathryn cut across him. "Chakotay, I know how I feel."

He shook his head. "Hear me out. Six years out there and one day back home is difficult to balance. I want you to take the time to think on all this and when hopefully, it's all settled, then come to me and I'll be there. I want you to be sure on this. You've known how I feel for a long time but I don't ever want you thinking you owe me anything. You have to want to come to me, have to want this yourself." He reached across the small table and took her hand. Kathryn, he saw, had tears in her eyes.

"You're the most generous and loving man I've ever known." She looked up at him.

As if he knew she was going to say more, he reached up with his other hand and pressed it to her lips. "Until then, love. OK? I'm your best friend always, no matter what else. That will never change. Let's get our crew settled and then we'll have our time. Just know this. There's no pressure and no matter what happens in this crazy world, I'll always love you. When you're ready, if you're ready, give me the nod so to speak. You'll always know where I am." They lowered their heads towards each other, foreheads touching.

Kathryn's whisper broke the silence. "I lo…"

Both became aware of someone standing beside them at the same time. Kathryn looked up annoyed at the interruption, almost expecting to see Tuvok but instead found herself looking into the eyes of her old mentor, Admiral Paris. His smile at seeing her was spread across his face, but she sensed something guarded there, knowing him as well as she did. Chakotay was a bit suspicious but hid it well.

"Katie Janeway. It's so good to see you again, my dear." Kathryn stood immediately and they embraced. "I'm sorry, Katie. I know you only got here and I've only just heard myself. You didn't give us much warning." He motioned for her to sit again and Chakotay moved aside to let the old man sit.

"We hadn't actually planned this ourselves. That wormhole quite literally came out of the blue. Let's just say it was the best surprise we've ever had." Kathryn was smiling but she still had a feeling something more was going on. Chakotay read her well, sensing something more on the horizon just as she seemed to.

The admiral seemed hesitant, unsure of his next words but spoke anyway. "My dear, I know you badly need some time to yourself before the circus begins but…"

Kathryn knew whatever he wanted to say wasn't going to be good. "Owen, we've known each other long enough so just say it straight. If we're all going to prison…" She smiled, hoping her joke would remain one.

Owen Paris gave a half smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "Nothing like that. Katie, I do need to speak with you. Best in private though." He made to rise.

"Owen, I've no secrets from Chakotay. I'll tell you that now." She could feel Chakotay's eyes on her but she kept her own on the old admiral.

"Katie, I can see that. This is something else. Please, both of you come with me. This is not the place." He stood, leaving them no choice but to follow him.

They arrived at the admiral's office and he indicated that Kathryn should precede him inside. Once she'd entered, he stepped in front of Chakotay and spoke softly.

"Commander, please wait here. This isn't Starfleet business."

Chakotay immediately looked worried. "What's happened? Admiral, if this is something to do with Kathryn…" He made to push past but Owen Paris placed a hand on his chest.

"I do have some bad news for her. I'm asking you to please wait here. I'll call you in a few minutes. She'll need you then." Chakotay shut his eyes and nodded, then moved aside. He could already guess what Kathryn would hear in the next minute or two.

Kathryn had remained standing and sat now when Owen Paris indicated that she do so. He himself sat on the corner of his desk facing her. "I asked Commander Chakotay to wait outside."

Kathryn was getting more anxious. "Owen, what is this about? I know you said it wasn't business but if it's to do with the Maquis, he has a right…." She stopped speaking when Owen reached over and placed his hand on hers.

"Katie, my dear, that's not it." He drew a deep breath before continuing, as if the air around him would give him the courage to say what he had to. "I'll say this straight. Best way in the end." Kathryn's eyes were glued to his face and she just nodded. "I'm afraid I have very bad news for you, my dear."

Kathryn closed her eyes a moment then opened them slowly. "My mother?" She didn't trust herself to say more.

Owen Paris nodded. "About four months ago. It was peaceful. In her sleep." He saw her struggle with her tears and lose the fight. He remained silent, giving her some time.

Finally, Kathryn found her voice again. "Phoebe. oh God. She had all this on her own." She looked up at the man in front of her and something on his face made the blood almost freeze in her veins. "Owen? What? Where's my sister? What is this? Please…" She jumped up and backed off, tears pouring down her face now.

"Last year." He got nothing more out and Kathryn's hands flew to her face.

"No…no…please…" The old man went to her and just pulled his former student into his arms, words of comfort failing him. When Kathryn pulled back from him, a million questions were in her eyes alongside her tears. Owen just led her to the sofa against the far wall of his office.

"It was a boating accident. Apparently she'd gone sailing with some friends and there was a storm. Katie, all I know is that all six of them were lost. I'm so very sorry, my dear." He held her tightly to him while she cried, feeling guilty for thinking of his own good fortune, of now having all his own family together again, alive and well. When he heard her quieten, he leaned back.

"I'll get Chakotay for you." Kathryn just nodded her head.

Chakotay heard the door behind him open and when he turned, he searched the admiral's face for clues. He didn't like what he saw. The old man gestured for him to walk a little down the hall with him. Finally, he stopped and looked at Chakotay.

"I've just had to…the worst thing…" He drew n a deep breath. "I've just had to tell Kathryn that both her mother and sister are dead." Chakotay groaned and made to head to the office but the admiral grabbed his arm.

"Her mother died four months ago in her sleep, her sister last year, sailing in a storm with friends, a drowning, all of them. Com…Chakotay, just… Go to her and then get her out of here." He handed Voyager's First Officer a padd. "There are details here of a small house I own, just outside the city. Directions and key codes are all here. No one will disturb you out there. Call me tonight at home. That's on there too. I've already had a neighbour call by and leave some supplies."

Chakotay took the padd and nodded. "Thank you, Admiral."

The old man just smiled sadly. "It's nothing. I just wish…"

Chakotay closed his eyes a moment. "Yeah, me too."

When Chakotay entered the office, he found Kathryn looking out the window, her back to him. Her shoulders were hunched and he saw them shake. He was at her side immediately and just pulled her to him. He caught a brief glimpse of her face and the haunted look there tore at him. For the next ten minutes or so, he just held her as she cried her heart out.

A slight cough behind him got Chakotay's attention. Admiral Paris stood there. "I've managed to arrange a site to site from here. If you're ready…" Chakotay just nodded then took the small container that the other man handed him. "Just take good care of her. I see already that I can trust you." Chakotay saw the pain on the admiral's face. He faintly smiled his assurance just as he felt the familiar tingle of the transporter beam take them.

Kathryn was unaware of anything outside of her grief and still clung to Chakotay when they re-materialized in strange surroundings. When Chakotay got his bearings, he led her to a large couch and sat her down, lowering her into a lying position and lifting her legs up, before pulling a blanket over her, which had hung on the back of the couch. Kathryn continued to sob and Chakotay stroked her back, using his other hand to examine the container Admiral Paris had handed to him. Discovering it was several hyposprays of sedative, he quickly grabbed one and administered it to Kathryn's neck then just sat and watched as it took effect and her tears subsided and then silenced themselves.

When Kathryn woke up some hours later, she found herself lying on a sofa, a warm blanket covering her. There was soft lighting in the room and a fire burned in the hearth. She noticed the curtains drawn and realized that it was night. For several minutes she lay still and attempted to organize her thoughts, trying desperately to understand where she was. Just as she was growing alarmed, her memories returned full force and the horror of earlier crowded in on her again.

Kathryn sat up with a cry and Chakotay was at her side in seconds, pulling her into his arms, stroking her back and hair and murmuring soothing sounds to her. She pulled back suddenly from him.

"Oh God, it was real, wasn't it? It wasn't a nightmare. They're really gone." She broke down again and Chakotay did all he could and just held her.

Later as Kathryn again slept with the aid of a further sedative, Chakotay called Owen Paris and reported to him. The admiral just nodded slowly in understanding as he listened.

"Chakotay… I'm sorry, may I call you that?" Voyager's First Officer nodded. "I've explained to the Starfleet Board about all this. Debriefings were scheduled for tomorrow but under the circumstances, they agreed to leave them off. They'll start with the most junior crew and work up. I know it sounds cruel but I can only buy you a day or two. They do understand but I'm afraid these things… Well, you know. They want this all settled as quickly as possible. I hope you can understand." Chakotay didn't but kept quiet. He knew the admiral would have tried his best to put things off as long as he could. It wasn't his fault.

"It's all right. I'll take the time anyway." Hearing Kathryn stir, he cut the transmission short and returned to her side. When Kathryn woke this time, she was quieter as if she'd no more tears to shed. She was silent for a time and Chakotay just sat beside her, holding her hand. Finally, he suggested she should try and eat something and she silently nodded agreement.

Once Chakotay was satisfied that Kathryn had eaten at least something, he returned to his place beside her on the large sofa and just pulled her to him, wrapping the blanket around them both. Within minutes, Kathryn opened up to him and they spent the rest of the night in each other's arms, Kathryn talking about the mother and sister she'd lost and Chakotay just listening. Throughout the stories she told him, laughter and tears journeyed together within her words and by morning Chakotay saw that Kathryn had gained an acceptance of their deaths. He knew her pain would stay with her a long time but at least the grieving process could now begin. It was a journey he knew only too well and he saw that his understanding and personal experience actually helped the woman beside him.

Over the next two days, Chakotay was a rock for Kathryn in her grief. He listened when she needed to talk, spoke when she needed to hear, shared her silences when her mind took her places he had no knowledge of and throughout it all, constantly held her to him, whether in sleep or wakefulness. He soaked up her tears and gave the comfort and understanding she so badly needed.

When it was time to report back to Headquarters, he accepted it when she explained that work and seeing to their crew would probably be a form of therapy for her and would help occupy her thoughts. He reluctantly agreed also when she informed him that she thought it best if this was kept from the others for the time being, at least until they all knew what they were dealing with.

During the following two weeks, Kathryn lost herself in the debriefings and business of Starfleet, allowing it all to smother her feelings. She could never keep the appearance up for long though and it was at night when she was with Chakotay that the barriers came down and the dam would break, her grief crashing over her and consuming her. Chakotay was the only one who witnessed her nightly breakdown and he'd hold her through the long dark hours, trying his best to absorb the fallout and give whatever support and comfort he could. Next day the entire process would begin again but with each passing night, it got just a little easier. Chakotay listened to stories of childhood and shared treasured memories which pained her yet gave her a sense of peace and it was Chakotay who reminded Kathryn that as long she kept these things in her heart, she would always carry her mother and sister with her, that no one ever died as long as someone remembered them.

It was during this time that they grew closer than they'd ever been with each other. During the day, their professional appearance changed little from what it had been on board Voyager and both were careful in the other's presence when anyone else was around, especially anyone from Headquarters. While the crew quietly speculated as to whether a relationship would now develop between their commanding officers now that they were all home, only B'Elanna had to courage to actually ask outright.

"So Chakotay, spill the beans." They were sharing a quick lunch in the grounds outside the building where all debriefings were taking place. They sat on a bench beside a small fountain, enjoying the sunshine which no crewmember could seem to get enough of.

"What beans would they be?" Chakotay decided to tease his old friend.

"Cut the crap, old man. You know damn well what I'm talking about." All she got in reply was a slight smile. "You and the captain, what else? Come on, we're home now. No more protocol, no more Delta Quadrant. Besides, do you think no one noticed how the two of you sneaked off for those couple of days, or that you seem to disappear at the same time each evening?" She suddenly grew more serious and placed her hand on his.

"Chakotay, this is me you're talking to. I've known you too well for a long time and I've also known how much you love her and have loved her for years. There's nothing holding either of you back now."

Chakotay searched her face for signs of anything other than the genuine friendship he saw there but there was nothing else in play. "B'Elanna…"

She smiled softly at him. "This is between us. Chakotay, you can talk to me and it won't go any further, I promise. Not even helm boy will hear a word from me."

Chakotay nodded. "I know that. It's just… Well, there are other things…and the crew…"

B'Elanna broke in. "We can take care of ourselves, you know. Those are just excuses and you know it. You love her and I truly believe she feels the same way so just go for it." Her face was serious, mixed with concern as she tried to read him.

Chakotay sighed. "Look B'El, between us… We have spoken. Well, I talked and she listened. She knows I'm there when all this is sorted. I won't say much but there are other issues involved here too. When this is over and… Look, Kathryn knows I'm there for her if and when she's ready and I told her that. She has to come to me of her own accord and she has to be ready for this and want it. We had a good talk about it…"

B'Elanna cut in again. "I don't believe I'm hearing this right. Chakotay, are you telling me you gave her an out in all this?" She watched him trace patterns with his finger along the back of the bench where they sat. "You know there's an old saying, something about faint heart never winning fair lady, or in this case red haired lady."

Chakotay met her soft smile. "It's not like that. She knows how I feel about her and you're right, I believe she feels the same. We have the most wonderful friendship in the world and basically I care too much about her to push her on all this, especially now. This crew means as much to me as it does to her. Getting back to the Alpha Quadrant wasn't the end of it. When our job is finished and we get you all home and that means settled, then we have our time. Getting home isn't just about location, it's a state of mind and heart also. When that's done and when Kathryn is ready and has gotten over… When she's ready, then we'll see."

B'Elanna gave him a small smile of understanding. "OK, I'll drop it. Just tell me one thing though…" Her laugh bubbled to the surface and Chakotay rolled his eyes at her. She slapped him playfully then leaned in close. "When are you going to meet the in-laws or was that what those couple of days were about?" Chakotay's face froze and B'Elanna saw it at once.

"What…what did I say? Chakotay?" He'd dropped his head quickly, his expression hidden from her but B'Elanna never let anything drop. "What? Chakotay, you're scaring me."

He just looked out over the grounds and she could see his mind working, trying to decide how best to deal with her questions. Finally he looked around as if checking for anyone near by who might overhear their conversation. "This stays… B'Elanna, I swear to you, if anyone else hears of this…"

"You have to ask that?" She saw him shake his head, apology written on his face.

"No, I don't. It's just… Kathryn would prefer to keep this from… She doesn't want your happiness touched and she has enough to cope with." Chakotay rubbed his hands over his face and began talking. He told B'Elanna how Tom's father had arrived and taken them to his office and how Kathryn had been informed about the deaths in her family. He explained about their days away and how he'd just tried his best to be there for her. When he finished, he saw that the tough Klingon had tears pouring down her face.

"Oh Chakotay…" She lowered her head a moment then looked back at him. "I'm so sorry, so very sorry. After all we went through, all she went through out there and to come home to this." She rubbed at her face and Chakotay saw a flash of anger there. "When will she ever learn though?" Chakotay's faced creased into a frown.

"Chakotay, all this crew, all any of us ever want is to be there for her the way she always is for us. Oh, I know she thinks that she's protecting us in some way but in the end it… Well, it hurts that she won't let us be there for her too. We'd want nothing more than to be able to help her through this." Chakotay looked up when B'Elanna suddenly stopped speaking and saw that she was looking over his shoulder. When he looked around, he saw Admiral Paris standing there and a feeling of Déjà vu filled him.

"I'm sorry to interrupt but the Board Of Inquiry has finished deliberating. Captain Janeway has just finished her final testimony." He looked pointedly at Chakotay and then at his new daughter in law. "Can I take it that what you've been speaking of involves…"

Chakotay nodded. "I trust B'Elanna completely. I know Kathryn preferred that no one know but…"

Owen Paris finished for him. "You need a shoulder yourself, son. You've carried a lot these past weeks. I can't say I agree with Katie in not telling her crew. From what I've seen of them, all fine people, they'd be a great source of comfort to her at this time." B'Elanna nodded and smiled at the man she'd come to love dearly since their return home. Seeing Tom and his father build a close relationship after years of strife was a constant source of joy for her.

Admiral Paris broke the silence that followed. "We'd better get back inside. Katie's been in there all morning and wasn't allowed to speak with anyone. They finished with her an hour or so ago but she was kept behind closed doors while they made their decision."

Chakotay stood slowly, B'Elanna joining him. "I didn't say anything but I've been getting a bad feeling. Something on their faces. I know Kathryn sensed it too but she said nothing. They've grilled her for the past week almost nonstop but left the rest of us alone for the most part." Chakotay's worry sounded in his voice and the old man just nodded.

"I'm afraid I was too close to the situation for their liking so I wasn't permitted to be any part of it all, wasn't privy to any information. We'd best go in." Slowly they made their way back inside the coolness of the building and walked towards the hall where the hearings had been taking place.

When they entered, Chakotay noticed that most crewmembers were already seated near the back of the hall and that the rest of the Senior Staff with the exception of Kathryn, was seated about ten rows from the front. A small section of media personnel was clustered around a large table off to their right and Chakotay searched the hall for Kathryn. Finally he spotted her small frame in a chair right at the front and felt a stab of fear go through him. She seemed hunched over in her chair, her fatigue evident even from a distance and he saw that her head was down. He desperately wished he could make eye contact with her but if she felt his eyes on her, she gave no indication.

As he looked around, he spotted another man watching Kathryn. He saw by the uniform that this man was an admiral but Chakotay didn't know his name. As he watched the unknown admiral watching Kathryn, something stirred in his mind and he suddenly remembered seeing him before, quite a few times now, but only when he'd been with Kathryn, never on his own. He made a mental note to ask Tom's father about the identity of the man and then put it out of his mind.

Chakotay took his seat with B'Elanna beside him just as the Board re-entered the hall and took their places at the large wooden table at the head of the crowd. Chakotay felt his worry grow and as he looked at the faces of the others around him, saw that worry reflected there also.

The Head of the Board rapped on the table for attention and silence fell over the hall. He started speaking firstly about how Voyager had been lost and about the amazing journey to return home. He peppered his speech with praise for the crew of the starship, even mentioning 'those picked up during the journey'.

He then asked for a minute's silence in remembrance of those who wouldn't return home, those lost along the way. Everyone stood and bowed their heads, each lost in their own memories of friends and colleagues who would never be forgotten. Chakotay lifted his head slightly and watched Kathryn, her head well down and knew the torture her own memories were bringing her.

The Chairman cleared his throat and moved on. He spoke at length of the many different species which had been encountered and the invaluable knowledge gained on the travels of Voyager and her crew. Mention was even made of the Doctor and his wonderful work.

Finally he slowed in his speech and then stopped. He looked around the hall at the many faces before him and almost seemed to relish the feeling of power he held as they each waited desperately for his next words. He moved on now to the 'situation' with the Maquis crewmembers and for the first time, Chakotay saw a reaction from Kathryn as her head came up. He was still unable to see her face and it took everything he had in him to stay in his seat and not go to her.

The Chairman spoke now of how the past belonged in the past and of the bravery of the Maquis and their contribution to the Starfleet crew and how they were to be praised for their integration into that said crew in what had been very difficult circumstances. Chakotay heard his own name mentioned and sat stunned as praise was lavished on him on behalf of Starfleet. He briefly looked to his right and saw B'Elanna's shocked expression, the engineer seeming at a loss for words for probably the first time in her life.

Finally, the words they'd waited for and the Chairman announced for the entire audience before him and in particular for the waiting media, that no charges would be brought against the former Maquis, that all previous convictions would now be quashed and that full back pay would be forthcoming within the next week or so. He informed them all that many commendations were to be handed out to these people for their bravery and dedication to duty and that commissions were waiting for those who wished to take them up. This also applied to the Starfleet crew regarding back pay, medals and commissions. These were all to be announced at a later date.

Chakotay felt himself let out the breath he'd been holding and his eyes snapped in Kathryn's direction. He saw her drop her head again and knew by the way she held herself that relief was flooding through her. At this stage the entire hall had erupted in shouts and cheers, people standing and shaking hands, hugging and slapping backs. Only Chakotay and Kathryn, outside of the Board, remained in their seats. Chakotay felt several hands slap his back and then B'Elanna's face was in front of him, her smile giving way to concern. "Chakotay? What's wrong? It's everything we could have wished for."

Chakotay just shook his head. "They're not finished yet, B'Elanna. I just know it. Look at her. Oh God, I just know she's made some deal or other, another bloody sacrifice for us." His eyes were glued to Kathryn's back and B'Elanna followed his look. Within minutes the room had quietened and every crewmember seemed to have picked up on Chakotay's thoughts. The media's interest was back on the admirals seated at the long table and the entire audience sat again. The Chairman waited a moment and gazed around at the faces all staring back at him and cleared his throat.

"Finally, the last matter of concern." Chakotay felt B'Elanna grip his hand and he squeezed back. He almost felt his heart stop in his chest.

"We come finally to the matter of the captain of Voyager, one Captain Kathryn Janeway." Chakotay looked to her and saw her sit a little straighter in her chair. The Head of the Board addressed his remarks to Kathryn herself now and nodded to her to stand.

PART TWO.

"Captain Janeway, firstly this board would like to thank you for your cooperation in our inquiries during what has obviously been a very trying time for you personally." Chakotay saw Kathryn's head shoot up.

"The board and Starfleet wish to take this opportunity to extend to you our deepest sympathy on the deaths of your mother and sister, hearing of them as you did upon your return." Everyone in the room gasped at the same time and Chakotay swore under his breath. Kathryn just nodded at the Chairman. He in turn barely nodded back and then picked up his padd, getting back to the business at hand.

"Captain Janeway, you have given full sworn testimony of your years in the Delta Quadrant and all decisions made by you. We accept your statement to waive the right to counsel for this hearing. Can you state for the record and for this Hearing if that is still your contention?" Chakotay felt fear fill him and only B'Elanna's strong grip on him held him in his seat.

"I waive the right to counsel. That is still my contention." Kathryn's voice lacked its usual strength.

Chakotay twisted in his seat. "She said nothing. I should have known." B'Elanna held his hand tighter.

"Very well. Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager, you spoke in front of this Hearing this morning and accepted full responsibility for all decisions made on board Voyager during its time in the Delta Quadrant. You admitted openly to breaching regulations and protocol many times and to being in direct violation of the Prime Directive on numerous occasions. You accepted full liability for these decisions, stating that all final decisions rested with you and that no other crewmember on board was at any time responsible for any breaking of these rules or regulations. You also stated that in return for the aforementioned rulings, namely the full pardon of all former Maquis and all the conditions attached thereto, that you would accept the full findings of this Board and also accept all the judgements made against you in regard to these charges, charges which you have accepted sole responsibility for. Can you now confirm this for the Board?"

Kathryn spoke more softly now. "Yes. I confirm this. I accept full responsibility and accept the judgement of this Hearing. I admit all charges." Chakotay jumped up and was joined by almost every crewmember, all shouting out. The Chairman banged on the table in front of him with a gavel, demanding silence and order. Kathryn showed no emotion and this fact worried Chakotay even more. Finally, order was restored.

"Captain Kathryn Janeway, this board has no other choice but to accept your guilty plea." Chakotay groaned out loud and felt hands on him, offering support.

"However, it must be stated that the facts of this case are the most 'unusual' this Board will ever hear and that the 'normal' rules regarding matters such as this can hardly apply. There isn't exactly a precedent for matters like this." Chakotay sat up straighter now and felt the faint stirrings of hope.

"This Board accepts that the conditions under which you and your crew found themselves were extraordinary. You had no backup, which would normally have been available to you. You faced situations and circumstances unimaginable to most of us, in fact, all of us gathered here. I personally will state for the record that I believe it is a miracle that you made it home at all. This Board contends that the rules and regulations under which you served, including the Prime Directive, could never have been written with your situation in mind and that it is extremely commendable that you managed to adhere to any of those laws at all." Murmurings were slowly building around the hall now.

"Captain Janeway, it is the finding of this Board Of Inquiry that while you indeed broke the rules and laws you swore to uphold, the safety of your crew, which you were also bound to uphold, was paramount. It is noted by the Board that no major Federation Law was broken and that most of the others were, shall we say, more bent than broken. As these 'transgressions' were committed outside of this jurisdiction, no Court or Hearing within this jurisdiction can try you for those crimes." The voices around the large hall rose more and more and the Chairman again called for order.

"Captain, this Board commends you and your crew for upholding the basic principles of the Federation and for managing to keep your humanity intact." He smiled then caught himself. "It is the final finding of this Board and this Hearing, that it cannot in all conscience accept your plea of guilty. It is however, the decision of this Board and this Hearing that all charges against you be dropped and that you be commended for your extraordinary feat of getting your crew and ship home. In this matter also, you keep your full Captaincy and all privileges attached thereto. Full back pay also relates here. You are to be highly commended, Captain Janeway. You are free to leave this Hearing. In God We Trust."

The shouts and roars in the hall were deafening and as Chakotay stood slowly, he actually felt light headed with relief. He kept his eyes on Kathryn and saw her slump into her chair, her hands covering her face. Within seconds he was at her side, clambering over chairs and people to get there. Just as he reached her, she slipped from the chair towards the floor and he caught her just in time. Not taking time to think, he picked her up in his arms and made for the door as Kathryn clung to him, her face buried in his neck. The crew parted for them, many hands reaching out to touch their Captain and Chakotay felt tears fill his eyes. He saw many crewmembers stand in front of the press people who were all screaming questions, trying to keep their prying eyes from their Commander and his charge. Once again, it was Owen Paris who was there for them and he quickly directed Chakotay towards a small office off the corridor outside the hall.

The room was cool and dim and Chakotay took a minute for his eyes to adjust. He made out a sofa against one wall and made for it, sitting with Kathryn in his lap, then just held her tightly and stroked her back. When she seemed to settle, he stood and lay her down then fetched a glass of water and a cool towel. As he helped her sip the cool liquid and wiped at her face with the damp towel, he whispered softly that everything was all right now, that it was all over and he saw his words act as a balm to her.

"Oh Kathryn, what will we do with you?" He knelt down to her and smiled softly but there was still an underlying annoyance with him. "Why did you do that? Gods, Kathryn, how could you even consider making a deal like that? Why didn't you talk to me? Why?"

Her hand came up and pressed down on his lips and she sat up slowly. "I had to. I swore to see them all home, not to prison. I couldn't take that chance." Chakotay took her hand and pressed it to his lips. "Besides, I knew you'd try and talk me out of it."

He pulled her hand away and stood up, turning away from her. "You're damned right I'd have tried to talk you out of it. For God's sake, woman." He was lost for words.

"Chakotay?" He turned at the sound of her voice and the softness in it. He could never stay angry with her for long. "They all know now."

He nodded, kneeling down beside her again. "You should have told them. They only ever want to be there for you."

She lowered her head and nodded. "I know. I forget sometimes how to let them in, let you in." She felt his hand stroking her hair and met his eyes.

"We're all home now, Kathryn. It's over."

She smiled back at him. "Yes."

There was a faint knock on the door and Chakotay moved away to open it. Tom and B'Elanna stood there, Tuvok, Harry and Seven behind them. They said nothing but their concern was evident. Chakotay just smiled and looked back into the room towards Kathryn. "Hey, Mom, it's the kids. Will I let them in?"

Kathryn swung her legs to the floor, shaking her head and laughing at the same time. "Sure, Dad, let them in. No peace to be had at all."

The next minutes were spent with many hugs, kisses and tears. Kathryn bonded with her people in a way she never had before and apologized many times for not telling them about her mother and sister. Tuvok allowed an embrace and actually returned it much to Kathryn's grateful surprise.

B'Elanna broke in, sensing that they'd stayed long enough. "OK, you lot, let's give the oldies some peace. They need their nap before tonight." Kathryn looked puzzled and B'Elanna threw her eyes up. "See what old age does for the mind? The Ball tonight, big celebration, party, that kind of thing?" She moved to the door and opened it, ushering the others out. "See ya there, Mom and Dad." Her laughter was heard down the corridor.

Kathryn threw her own eyes skyward. "Don't blame me, mister. She was yours to start with. You trained her."

Chakotay moved to Kathryn and hugged her. "But you knocked all the edges off. Who else can I blame?"

They both looked at each other and spoke together. "Tom."

They fell back on the sofa laughing for the first time in a month and Kathryn realized how good it felt. She pushed down the guilt she felt at feeling happy again and knew her mother and sister would want that for her more than anything.

Eventually they left the small office and made their way outside, where the media people were still gathered at the main door. In the lobby, many of Voyager's crew had waited and each hugged their captain, all offering their sympathy and love. Kathryn was almost in tears again but Chakotay's strong arm around her gave her the strength she needed. When they headed to the exit, their crew pushed out before them and once again held off the waiting press members, allowing their command team to leave in peace. As they headed away, Chakotay's eyes once more picked out the uniformed admiral of earlier and he again reminded himself to ask about his identity.

The Ball to celebrate the safe homecoming of Voyager was the most elaborate Starfleet had ever laid on. The press members were penned in outside the banqueting hall and kept at a safe distance from the guests. Chakotay had arrived with Tom and B'Elanna, having seen Kathryn back to her quarters at HQ and giving her some time to herself. He waited inside the main door for her arrival and was delighted to see that she arrived on the arm of her old mentor, the admiral's wife with them, not minding in the least that her husband was escorting another woman. Tom and B'Elanna stood with Chakotay and Tom had to have his say. "Trust Dad to arrive with TWO women."

B'Elanna nudged him. "Don't get any ideas of taking THAT trait from your father. There's only so far I'll allow the gene pool to spread." Tom put on a puppy dog face and received a harder nudge.

Chakotay's eyes were glued to Kathryn as she made her way towards him. She wore a deep blue satin dress which flowed to her ankles, clinging to her gently. The neckline was just low enough and suggested what lay beneath rather than telling. As she turned, he saw that the back of the dress was scooped down, revealing her creamy back and he found he had to concentrate on the others around him to keep his mind from going in the direction it wanted to go. He saw that she'd pulled her hair back slightly at the sides, attaching tiny gold clips in place and her eyes sparkled with a light he hadn't seen in them for some weeks. When she passed through the doors, Admiral Paris handed her to Chakotay.

"You can have this one, son. I brought a spare with me." They all laughed and made their way inside.

The large banqueting hall was festooned with flowers and garlands and music played softly in the background allowing conversation to flow without the need for anyone to shout to be heard. People milled around and their happiness was infectious.

The evening was a wonderful success and once the meal was over and the few speeches made, the tables were pushed back for dancing. Chakotay watched as Kathryn made her way around her crew, taking the time to speak with them all, touching them constantly and sharing many embraces.

He found himself standing back, watching her move and taking in every detail of her appearance, branding it on his memory. His eyes followed her around the room as she worked it and suddenly he found himself looking at the admiral who seemed to be everywhere he looked lately. He saw that the stranger was once more watching Kathryn and found himself wondering briefly if this was some form of security which Starfleet had insisted on. Admiral Paris was walking close by at that moment and Chakotay called him over, pointing out the other admiral. "Admiral Paris, can you tell…?"

The older man laughed. "I think Owen would be more appropriate at this stage, don't you think?"

Chakotay turned and looked at him and smiled. "Thank you. Owen, it is. Look, can you tell me who that other admiral is over…" As he looked to where the uniformed man had stood, he saw only a space now. His eyes searched the room but the man was nowhere to be seen.

"Chakotay? Who are you talking about?"

Chakotay looked back at Owen Paris. "I can't see him now. He's in an admiral's uniform. I've seen him a lot lately, although only when Kathryn's been with me. Tall, grey man, looks past retirement. Never mind…" He turned back to the admiral beside him and thought he saw worry there for a minute but it passed quickly.

"Voyager's return is bringing them out of the woodwork, I'm afraid. They all want to get in on the act, share some of the glory." He smiled and Chakotay nodded, passing it off.

"You're probably right. I'm being too protective of Kathryn."

The old man patted his arm. "Best to stay at her side then. I'm sure she'd love to dance."

Chakotay smiled again and then laughed. "Aye Aye, Sir." He looked across the room and saw Kathryn talking to B'Elanna. As he watched her, she seemed to sense his eyes and turned slowly, seeking him out. Their eyes met and Chakotay found himself thinking of their conversation in the coffee shop on their first day back on Earth. In a profound moment, Kathryn seemed to almost read his thoughts and she turned fully to him. Their eyes locked and slowly Kathryn nodded her head, telling him what he wanted to know more than anything else in the world.

To Chakotay, the rest of the room blended out of his perception and he found himself moving towards the woman he knew he'd give his life for. He saw her move towards him at the same moment and was unaware that almost everyone else in the room had witnessed the magical moment between them. The crew parted as they made their way to each other to meet in the centre of the dance floor and at someone's quick thinking, the lights in the hall lowered and a slow song floated out around the room.

Kathryn walked slowly into Chakotay's arms, the soft stains of the song filling her head and slowly they began to move to the music, oblivious of the crowd gathered around them delighting in their happiness. As they slowly danced, Kathryn pressed her lips to Chakotay's ear and whispered one word to him. "Yes."

He hugged her closer to him, never wanting the moment to end. "I love you, Kathryn. That will never change, not even with death." He felt her arms tighten around him.

"I love you, Chakotay. I'm sorry it took so long to tell you that. I've known it for such a long time and I'm sorry I never said it." He pulled her even tighter, making breathing almost impossible for them.

"We have now. That's all that matters." He pulled back a little and brought his hands to her face, gazing into her eyes and saw her tears of happiness there. Slowly he looked to her lips and then brought his own down to hers. He felt her arms around his waist as they deepened the kiss and slowly the cheers of their crew filtered into his mind and he found himself smiling in the kiss. They reluctantly pulled back and looked around them at the happy faces surrounding them and laughed, Kathryn burying her face in his chest. Shouts of 'about bloody time' and 'what took you so long' echoed around the room.

"I suggest we leave these good people to their celebrating and get out of here."

Kathryn nodded into his chest. "Good idea. I don't think they need a floor show." They laughed and with their arms around each other, made their way to the exit.

It took them almost half an hour to make their way out of the hall, so many people wanting to congratulate them. Admiral Paris came up and hugged Kathryn then shook Chakotay's hand.

"Steal my woman, would you? These young men. I come with a beautiful woman and she leaves with someone else. Must be losing my touch." Everyone around laughed and Owen Paris leaned into Chakotay, whispering quietly to him. "She's very special. You take good care of her."

Their eyes met and Chakotay nodded. "You can bet on that."

The old man smiled and moved back. "Well, go on. Get out of here."

Another cheer rang out and Tom shouted out. "Yeah, go on. Get a room."

Kathryn turned to him with a laugh. "Watch it, Lieutenant. I'm still your captain."

Tom took on a look of mock horror. "Yes, Sir. Sorry, Sir." A dig in the ribs from B'Elanna stopped him with a loud groan. "Hey, Chakotay. Just be glad she's not half Klingon." The laughter could still be heard as they left.

Neither Kathryn nor Chakotay spotted the elderly admiral watching from the shadows, they were so wrapped up in each other. As Voyager's crew made their way back inside, he stepped out into the light and slowly moved off into the darkness. Admiral Paris stood for a good five minutes, watching as the man he knew only too well, disappeared into the night, a very worried look on his face.

Kathryn and Chakotay strolled slowly through the grounds outside the banqueting hall in no particular hurry, both being exactly where they wanted to be. The scents of stock and honeysuckle filled the warm evening air and they walked in silence, their arms around each other.

Chakotay pulled Kathryn a little closer to him. "Happy?" She looked up into his smiling face and he saw a faint tinge of sadness there. "Kathryn? What is it?"

She lowered her head a moment then looked back at him. "I'm very happy. It's just… God, Chakotay, they were all so happy for us and it's made me realize…"

She looked down again and Chakotay stopped, halting her also. "Kathryn?"

She looked out at the gardens surrounding them and he could hear her tears in her voice when she spoke. "I've wasted so much time. Not telling you and not…"

He silenced her by pulling her face to him and brushing his lips to hers. "Listen to me. We're together now and that's all that matters. Kathryn, take the good from the past and leave the rest there. Don't spoil what we have now with 'what ifs' and 'if onlys'. We love each other and we're together. That's all there is to it."

He felt her sigh against his chest. "I felt you, you know, felt you looking at me and… Well, you did say to give you the nod." She pulled back and looked into his face, smiling at him.

He gently cupped her face. "I did, didn't I?"

Kathryn nodded at him and they kissed, the rest of the world fading away and nothing else existing. They didn't notice the figure which lurked in the shadows watching their every move and listening to every word.

Chakotay was stroking her hair, taking in every detail of her face. "What do you want to do now?"

She smiled up at him. "Well, I don't want to waste any more time. I've done enough of that and losing mom and Phoebe taught me that too. I'd like most to, and you'll think I'm very forward, but…" She smiled more widely at his puzzled expression. "What I want more than anything is to make love with you."

Chakotay just pulled her to him. "Kathryn Janeway, you always amaze me. If you're sure you're ready…" She just nodded at him and he saw the love and desire in her eyes. It almost took his breath away. "Where?" His throat felt closed off with emotion.

"Not here. I mean, not our quarters. Maybe… Could we go to a hotel? Somewhere nice."

Chakotay just leaned in and missed her forehead. "Come on. Let's go to the Fairmont." They moved off slowly, heading to a future they saw filled with happiness only. The figure in the shadows watched, letting them move off, his mind working on what the next days would bring.

Kathryn sat on the bed and looked around the suite they'd booked. She examined the small parcel in her lap which she'd picked up downstairs, while Chakotay had dealt with the clerk. She heard him in the bathroom now and smiled to herself. This night had been a long time coming for them and she was determined that they'd remember it for the rest of their lives.

She looked up as she heard him open the bathroom door and smiled gently at him then rose and made her way to him. She felt shy and saw that he appeared nervous himself. "I won't be a minute."

He looked at the bag she carried and smiled. "What secrets does my lady carry?"

She laughed. "My lord will just have to wait and see." She slipped into the bathroom and closed the door behind her.

When she emerged, she noticed that the lights had been dimmed and saw Chakotay standing beside the bed, arranging flowers and glasses on the night stand and then saw that a bottle of champagne was chilling in a bucket nearby.

"How did you manage that so quietly?" He turned at the sound of her voice and stopped dead, his mouth falling open. Kathryn studied him as he studied her. He wore only black boxer shorts, the light casting shadows over the muscles on his upper body. She saw him stare at her, open desire and love in his eyes as he looked at her. She wore an almost see through black lace negligee which came to her mid thighs and had brushed out her hair so that it fell softly over her shoulders. Chakotay finally came out of his state of shock and moved to her.

"Oh God, love, you're so beautiful." She felt her eyes fill up at the love in his voice and moved to him. He cupped her face in his hands and looked deep into her eyes. "Kathryn, I love you. I give you my solemn vow at this moment that I will always love you and that I'll always be there for you. I'll never do anything to hurt you or make you regret this night. I promise you that." Kathryn lifted her hands to his face.

"Chakotay, I swear to you the same. I love you with everything that I am. You're the other half of me." She saw tears in his eyes also and slowly they leaned closer and then kissed.

Almost reverently, Chakotay slowly lowered the black lace from Kathryn's shoulders and drank in the image before him. Kathryn's hands moved slowly down from his waist and her fingers slipped inside the elastic of his shorts, moving them down past his hips. As the final barriers fell from their bodies, Chakotay gently lowered Kathryn down onto the bed, placing small kisses around her face and down her neck as her hands explored his back and shoulders. She gasped loudly as his mouth lowered to her breast, his lips and tongue teasing her nipple, his fingers working the other one. She lay in raptures as his hands and mouth explored her body, turning her onto her stomach and giving her back the same treatment. She gripped tightly at the bedspread as his hands caressed her thighs and buttocks, his mouth kissing a path down her back.

Kathryn felt her thighs being slowly parted and made to sit up, determined to worship Chakotay's body as he was hers but a firm yet gentle hand on her shoulder held her in place. She felt his fingers move between her legs, exploring her folds and as he uncovered the tiny bundle of nerves there, she gasped out loud at the sensation that washed over her. Now she felt herself turned again and his face was before hers, his mouth coming down over her lips. As his tongue entered her mouth and she followed suit, tasting him, she felt his finger enter her below and a surge of passion shot through her, her moans swallowed by him. As she felt his thumb press gently against her clitoris, she had to break the kiss as her back arched off the bed.

"Oh dear God, Chakotay…" She opened her eyes a second only to see his head move down over her. Her entire body shook with the sensations he was producing in her and she groaned deeply as she felt his mouth cover her, his tongue parting her feminine lips and laving across her pearl of pleasure. Her head thrashed back and forth and she felt her hips involuntarily lift off the bed as he now inserted two fingers inside her. She felt herself spiralling out of control as he sucked at her, his fingers thrusting in and out and then came the explosion as every nerve ending in her body ignited at the same moment.

When Kathryn again opened her eyes, Chakotay's smiling face was there as he lay over her. She felt him hot and hard between her legs and spread herself open wider for him. She lifted her hands to his face, each one feeling as if it weighed heavy and gently caressed him, locking eyes with him for this journey. As she felt him enter her, she raised her hips slightly, drowning in the feel of his weight on her and the wonderful sensation of him filling her. They both moaned out loud as Chakotay's thick shaft slowly entered her and stretched her, finding its way home. When he felt she'd adjusted to him, he started a slow rocking movement before sliding slowly in and out of her. As their passion grew in intensity, he quickened his thrusting, grinding himself against her and stimulating her into a second orgasm. Kathryn's hands gripped tightly against his buttocks, as if trying to pull him even further into her and her hips thrust up against his, matching his rhythm. She felt him lose control just as her own body exploded and heard herself scream his name, her own bursting forth from his lips at the same moment. She was dimly aware of his weight coming down over her fully as she felt his seed fill her and then felt herself pulled onto her side with him. They held each other tightly as their breathing slowed and each knew in that moment that nothing in the universe would ever be the same again.

They spent the next hours sipping champagne and making love again and again and then somewhere in the small hours, holding tightly to each other, they drifted off to sleep, more content than either had ever been.

Kathryn awoke to sunlight streaming into the room and the feel of Chakotay's fingers tracing lazy circles on her shoulder. She raised her head slowly and met his eyes.

"Morning, sleepyhead. I love you."

Kathryn smiled sleepily at him. "I love you too. Thank you for last night."

Chakotay moved his other hand and brushed the hair from her face. "That's supposed to me my line. Thank you too, love. You've completed me." He pulled her tighter to her. "Fancy some breakfast?"

Kathryn kissed him and her hands started exploring. "Soon." The rest of her words were lost as her mouth explored him.

They sat eating breakfast in bed an hour later, feeding each other and drinking from the same cup, making it a loving cup.

"This I could learn to live with."

Chakotay barely made out her words as her mouth was filled with toast and he laughed. "What? Me or the coffee?"

Kathryn pursed her lips. "Oh, definitely the coffee." She laughed when he put on a sad face. "Oh, all right. You as well."

They finished breakfast and just lay back on the bed together, cuddling each other.

"What do you want to do today? Personally, I could stay here forever." He felt her smile against his chest.

"Me too. You here in bed with me and room service with coffee. What more could a woman ask for?" She leaned up on one elbow and he saw her face get serious. "As much as I'd love to do just that, I have to sort out mom's affairs and probably Phoebe's too. I really can't put it off any longer. I'll have to go out to the house."

He saw her mind drift off there, her thoughts taking her around her childhood home. "Want me to come with you?" His hand stroked up and down her arm and she turned her eyes back to him, an almost pleading look on her face.

"Would you? I know it's silly but I really don't want to do this alone or be alone there for the first time."

Chakotay leaned up now and stroked her cheek. "Kathryn, you know what I told you about that. You're never alone. Of course, I'll come with you. I want to be there for you always, in everything." He kissed her softly and held her to him. "I'll always be here for you, you know that."

PART THREE.

Three hours later, they stood in the bright sunlight outside what had been the family home of the Janeways. Despite the heat of the sun, Kathryn felt herself shiver and Chakotay slipped his arm around her. "Kathryn, if you're not ready for this…"

She smiled sadly at him. "I have to do this. Putting it off will only make it harder."

He tightened his arm around her. "Do you want me to wait here or come in with you? I don't want you to feel I'm butting in or anything."

Kathryn twisted in his arm and brought a hand to his face. "Chakotay, you are not 'butting in'. You're a part of my life now and… No, let me re-phrase that and say it properly. You ARE my life now. I always want you with me. OK?"

He nodded and smiled. "Come on. Let's do this." He kept his arm around her shoulders and they walked slowly up to the main door of the house.

On closer inspection, they could see the last months of neglect showing in the dust and dirt on the paintwork and windows and it saddened Kathryn, knowing her mother would have hated to see her home not looking its best.

The hallway was dusty and smelled of disuse and Kathryn found herself trailing a finger over the hall table, leaving her mark in the dust there. As she walked around the downstairs rooms, Chakotay stood back a little and watched as her memories assaulted her, memories of happier times now clouded with sadness. He knew in time these memories would bring comfort and a time would come when their re-surfacing would bring a smile and not tears.

Kathryn slowly moved from item to item, touching nearly everything, as if almost expecting things to speak to her, telling of their own life in this house, sharing her thoughts and memories. Chakotay followed her silently as she moved upstairs, again moving from room to room and stood watching as she stopped in the doorway of what had been her parents' room at one time and then solely her mother's.

As Kathryn entered the last room, she moved into it and crossed to the bed there, sitting down and gazing around her. Chakotay stood just inside the door and let his own eyes wander over the items in the room. He knew without asking that this had been Kathryn's own room, that these were the same walls which had witnessed the hopes and dreams of the woman he now loved. He looked at the wallpaper, the curtains, the books lining the shelves beside the bed and thought to himself that these items had known his Kathryn long before he had, that they'd seen the growth from child to girl to woman. His mind wandered as he imagined he saw the girl here, dreaming of her future, whispering her secrets to the walls, sighing over some boy, cramming her mind with all the knowledge she could lay her hands on and then suddenly he also thought of the grief this room had witnessed before as the young Kathryn had shut herself away within its walls, grieving for a father and fiancé who's deaths she'd witnessed, two loves who would never return.

His attention was brought back to the present and he looked at Kathryn as she remembered her life and the sadness of it all tore at him. Once more she'd come back to this room to mourn the deaths of two loved ones, two who had been there for her last time. This time, there was only him and he vowed silently to himself that he'd be there for her through all of this, that he'd never let her slip away like that again. He gazed around the room once more, seeing a part of the woman before him he'd never known before and he wished to himself that he could have known her then. His eyes returned to the figure sitting quietly on the bed and he crossed to her and reached out his hand.

"Come on love. They're not here now."

She looked up at him, tears spilling over her eyelids. "I know. I thought perhaps there might even be some of me here too but…"

Chakotay pulled her up into his arms. "You're here in my arms, Kathryn. They're all…" He leaned back a bit and placed his hand flat over her heart. "They're here in your heart and in here too." He moved his hand and touched the back of his fingers to her temple. "They'll always be inside you, a part of you forever."

Kathryn's sobs broke and she pulled Chakotay to her. "Thank God I have you. I couldn't manage without you."

His arms went around her. "You'll never have to.

They spent that night at Chakotay's quarters at Starfleet and if anyone there thought it strange, they made no mention of it. Most of the staff were used to seeing the returned command couple together now and always smiled to themselves at the closeness they witnessed between the pair, despite their efforts to hide it before.

Early next morning, Chakotay again returned with Kathryn to her former home and together they got stuck in, dusting off the furniture and many ornaments her family had collected over the years. As Chakotay helped, he saw Kathryn stop and frown.

"What is it love?" She didn't seem to hear him and he moved over to her.

"What? Oh nothing. It's just the dust…"

He smiled at her. "We'll clean that up in no time. Two pairs of hands are better than one."

She was still deep in thought. "No, not that. It's… Some things are dustier than others and there are marks in the dust in places. See here on the desk?" She moved closer to the desk and pointed to where some old books lay, the dust around them disturbed.

Chakotay looked closer. " Was there a caretaker or someone coming in?" He couldn't think of any other reason why anyone would have been in the house.

Kathryn nodded slowly. "Of course. The lawyers would probably have been in, needing to check the place. I didn't think of that." She shook herself and smiled at him.

He pressed a kiss to the side of her head. "Come on then. Let's get back to work. Enough slacking, woman." He got a swipe of the cloth she held and laughing together they went back to clearing away the layers of neglect.

Without Chakotay thinking ahead, Kathryn would have worked through the day, not thinking to stop for lunch or even a snack. Chakotay had noticed the previous day the lack of a replicator and had thought to bring a small portable one with him. He made her stop and sit, handing her the plate of food he'd prepared.

"My mother never believed in replicators. She always believed in fresh food, cooking everything herself." Kathryn looked pensive as she spoke.

"Obviously she didn't pass that on."

A smile broke on her face at his words. "Very funny, I'm sure. Actually, that was Phoebe's department. I could always be found with my father when he was here and when he was away, either in my room or up the top of my tree outside, a book or padd for company. I always found that far more satisfying than wasting time doing what a replicator could do faster and better."

Chakotay returned her smile. "Tuvok would be proud of that logic." They laughed together and the sound rang around the old rooms, which had been silent for far too long.

The following days found them working away together, Kathryn usually in the house and Chakotay clearing the garden, bringing back to life the small flowers and shrubs Gretchen Janeway had spent a great part of her life planting and tending. Before they knew it, three weeks had passed but the place was developing a feeling of a home again. Many nights now they slept at the house, always using the large guest room instead of any of the other rooms. This room felt new to them both and it was an almost unspoken decision between them to use it, as if they were starting fresh.

Mostly Kathryn felt at ease in the house, especially when Chakotay was around but there were a few times when she felt uncomfortable, especially when they returned from having spent the night in the city. At these times, she always felt something wasn't right with the place and on several occasions she'd stopped in her work and turned quickly, sure that someone was watching her. Other times she became almost convinced that items had been moved but eventually shrugged off these feelings, telling herself it was just the strangeness of being back in her old home and back on Earth.

Towards the end of the fourth week, the house was spotless and the garden was almost as Kathryn remembered. Chakotay came in from his weeding one day and found Kathryn sitting in the middle of the floor surrounded with old holoimages and letters, papers of all kind scattered on the floor around her. He leaned against the doorway watching her, her face a mask of concentration as she studied some old papers in her hand.

"Kathryn?" His voice was soft and she looked up slowly, her face showing puzzlement. "What have you got there?" He moved into the room and sat on the floor beside her.

"Old images, letters, documents. Most of it means nothing to me, names I've never heard. It's almost cryptic. Mom kept everything. She was a real hoarder." She smiled sadly and lifted some of the images up, showing them to him. She spent the next hour taking Chakotay on a tour of a family he'd never known, a life he'd only heard parts of, but because it was all a part of the woman he loved, he drank it all in greedily, digesting every single image and piece of information, wanting to know all there was to know about Kathryn Janeway. They both noticed at almost the same time that the light was slowly fading.

"Did you get finished what you were doing in the garden?" Kathryn yawned, passing the action on to Chakotay, who mimicked her.

"Just about. Not much more to be done out there. I think someone likes my work though." He saw her frown, failing to understand his meaning. "Probably a neighbour checking out my work. I found some footsteps in the soil. Can't blame them really. I've gotten quite good at this gardening, if I do say so and it's very satisfying. I can see why your mother enjoyed it so much." The mention of her mother replaced the thought of someone having been in the garden in Kathryn's mind. She yawned again and nodded. "How about we go back into the city tonight? We need a bit of a break and dinner at a nice restaurant would go down well. Maybe we could even stay the night?"

Kathryn nodded again in agreement at him, leaning back and stretching her arms above her head. "You're right. We both need a break away from here for a while. Just let me wash up. My hands are filthy from this."

Chakotay stood and reached his hand down to her, pulling her up. "I need a shower myself. It's hot work out there." He pulled her into his arms. "Fancy saving energy? We could share."

Kathryn leaned up and kissed him. "I thought you said you wanted dinner. If we share, we might be here all night."

He returned the kiss then moved to nuzzle her ear. "All night? You think I'm that good?"

Kathryn laughed and leaned her head back. "Actually, I do but if I tell you that, I'll only give you a swelled head."

Chakotay was moving down her neck now. "Oh honey, it's already swelled." He pushed his hips against her, proving his point and received a slap against the shoulder in reply.

"You…" She got no further as his lips covered hers and she felt her knees weaken.

Feeling her slip, he reached down and lifted her into his arms. "One shower coming up."

Kathryn threw her head back. "That's not all that's up. Oh, all right. Take me. Take me."

Within two minutes they were naked and in the shower, the hot water pouring down over them. Chakotay leaned back against the wall of the shower, Kathryn on her knees before him. He groaned out loud as she took him in her mouth and slid her lips up and down his rigid shaft, her teeth gently scraping him and her tongue working magic on him. He flattened his hands against the smooth tiles, fighting for the control which was rapidly leaving him. He leaned down and pulled her up, knowing he'd never last this way.

Chakotay pushed Kathryn back against the wall now, falling to his own knees and worked his mouth and tongue over her hot centre. It was now Kathryn's turn to squirm and moan as she felt her climax fast approaching. Within seconds it crashed down over her and she screamed out his name, her hips bucking against his face as he held her. Before she had time to recover, she felt herself turned, facing the tiles, Chakotay's stiff member prodding her backside. She felt his hand under her leg, raising it and cried out as he surged into her slick passage, filling her completely. He used one arm around her waist, pulling her back onto him as his other hand assaulted her still throbbing clitoris again. He pounded in and out of her, his fingers working her until they both came together, his fluid flooding her as she contracted around him. For several minutes they both leaned against the wall of the shower stall, their breath still coming in heaving pants. Finally, they found the energy to use the shower for its intended purpose and within half an hour they were dressed and on their way.

They spent the next morning strolling around the city, not intending to return to the house until late evening. They called into headquarters, confirming details of the three-month leave all the crew had received and finalizing details of back pay and future assignments. Chakotay had elected to take a teaching position at the Academy and Kathryn opted for a desk job, the call of space no longer what it had been. She knew she wanted a home life now with Chakotay, a base from which to build a life for them both and in time, maybe a child.

As they were leaving, they bumped into Harry Kim and spent several minutes chatting to him. Kathryn suddenly noticed Owen Paris leaving an office further down the hall and quickly excused herself and ran after him.

"Owen, can I have a minute please?" She caught up with him and he turned at the sound of her voice, a big smile spreading across his face.

"Katie, you can have as many as you like. What can I do for you? How are you getting on?" He took her arm and steered her to some chairs lining the hallway.

"I'm just fine, Owen. We're fine. Getting on great actually." Her eyes sought out Chakotay and she saw him and Harry laugh together.

"What is it you need, my dear?" The admiral's voice drew her attention back.

"Sorry, Owen. Actually it's… Well, I was going through some of mom's old letters and things, not the legal stuff. I've yet to collect that from the lawyer. A lot of it was just old letters to my father, old messages and cards from Phoebe and I when we were kids but there were some notes and things, almost to herself, like a kind of diary. A lot of the places mentioned meant nothing to me but there was one name, always linked to dad's that puzzled me."

Owen Paris kept his eyes on the woman before him. "What was the name?" His voice was soft.

"Actually I'm not sure if it was a name or maybe a place even. Janus. Have you ever heard of it?" Kathryn's attention was suddenly drawn back to Chakotay and Harry as they laughed out loud at some shared joke and Owen Paris took the opportunity while her attention was diverted to hide his reaction.

When Kathryn looked back at him, his face was neutral, his expression open. He kept his voice even. "No, I'm afraid that means nothing. Probably an old in-thing between your parents. We don't tell you kids everything, you know." He forced a smile and was proud of the act. "Had Chakotay ever heard of it?"

Kathryn laughed softly. "I didn't even ask him. I doubt it. It's not important anyway. Besides, he has his garden at the moment. I'm getting quite jealous of that dirt and those plants."

They laughed together and Owen quickly turned the direction of the conversation. "You two will have to come out to the house for dinner one of these evenings. Tom and B'Elanna would love to see you again. I'll get her to call you."

Kathryn smiled, thinking of the crazy pair she loved so much. "We'd love that. Thank you, Owen."

All thoughts of the strange name was gone from her mind and no one was happier to see it than Owen Paris himself. He said his goodbye and excused himself, claiming a meeting he had to attend. With his face turned from his former student, his worry showed clearly now and suddenly an urgency entered his step as he made his way back to his office. With his thoughts distracted as they were, he failed to notice the old admiral shadowing the corridors, watching him before turning his attention back to the one who interested him most. Kathryn Janeway.

It was late afternoon when they returned to the house but the light was still good and Chakotay stayed outside, wanting to water his new charges. Kathryn gave a mock sigh and teased him about his plants. Leaving him to his new toys, she made her way inside and within minutes, the familiar feeling that things were not right came to her. She walked around slowly, studying the rooms and in her mind several items seemed to have been moved but she couldn't be absolutely sure. The feeling that someone had been inside the house stayed with her as she moved from room to room. Suddenly a hand reached out and touched her arm. Kathryn jumped a mile in the air and screamed out.

"Kathryn, God love, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you like that." Chakotay's concerned face appeared before her.

Kathryn didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "Chakotay, I'm sorry. I'm just jumpy I guess." Her hand covered her heart and she could feel it pounding beneath her palm.

Chakotay frowned. "That's not like you. What's wrong?" His worry was growing and he slipped his arm around her shoulders.

Kathryn sighed. "Nothing really. I guess I just still feel a little strange being back here. I keep thinking someone's moved stuff or… It's nothing, just my imagination." She tried a smile and just about succeeded.

Chakotay wasn't fooled. "You think someone's been in the house? Is anything missing?"

Kathryn began to feel silly now for letting her imagination run away with her. "Nothing's missing and I really don't believe anyone's been here. It's just me. Really, Chakotay, I'm fine. I just need to settle back here a bit more. We were a long time away."

Chakotay smiled softly and rubbed his hand up and down her arm. "I still find it a bit strange myself, even after a few weeks. We'll adjust, don't you worry yourself." He pulled her to him and kissed her and all rational thoughts fled from her head.

By next morning, all thoughts of the previous afternoon were gone from Kathryn. She threw herself into clearing out the last of her mother's personal belongings, sorting out clothes and shoes for recycling and setting aside books and keepsakes for storage. She uncovered several more mentions of the name Janus and put these to one side. Chakotay had gone into the city alone to meet with his cousin who'd called the previous night and Kathryn lost herself in her work, half planning colour schemes in her head as she went from room to room. Out of the blue, a wave of dizziness passed over her and she quickly grabbed for the wall before slipping into a chair beside her. Within minutes it had passed and she felt fine again. She wrote it off to not having eaten any breakfast and went back to her clearing out but when a second bout hit her and she had to sit again, she made a mental note to see the Doctor about it. When Chakotay returned to the house at lunchtime, he found her in the kitchen making a sandwich and a coffee.

"Can I make you something too or have you already eaten?" She turned when she heard him enter the kitchen and immediately saw the worried look on his face. "Chakotay? What's wrong?" She sat at the table opposite him as he sank into a chair.

Chakotay sighed. "My cousin told me about my uncle on the home world. Apparently, he's very ill, dying actually."

Kathryn leaned across and covered his hand with her own. "Oh Chakotay, I'm so sorry. Is there anything I can do? Maybe our Doctor…"

Chakotay shook his head. "Thanks, love. It's just his time, I'm afraid. He's old." His thoughts strayed to times long ago.

Kathryn's soft words broke into his mental wanderings. "You should go see him."

He shook his head. "You need me here."

Kathryn smiled gently. "He needs you more. I'll be fine here. Chakotay, you have to go. You'll never forgive yourself if you don't. It's been too long."

Chakotay covered her hand with his own. "Maybe you could come with me. I'd love to show you my home." His eyes pleaded.

Kathryn sighed sadly. "Chakotay, I have to see the lawyer the day after tomorrow. Look, it should only take me a week at most to finish everything here. How about I join you then? I'd love to see your home, meet your family and the break would be good."

He nodded at her, grateful for her support. "If you're sure you'll be all right. I can always wait…"

Kathryn stood up and went to sit in his lap. "I'll be fine, I promise. Waiting a week may be too…" She stopped herself quickly but he knew what she meant.

He sighed sadly. "I know. That may be too late. If you're sure, Kathryn? I hate the thought of you here on your own."

She saw his worry and quickly moved to allay it. "It's only a week. I'll finish here as quickly as I can and then join you. Maybe I can even get things done faster." She caressed his face.

"Without me in the way?" He grabbed her and tickled her ribs till she screamed.

"Oh mercy. Chakotay…" She was breathless and sore from laughing. They suddenly grew serious again.

"I'll head off in the morning. Kathryn, are you sure?" One look at her face and he stopped. "All right. You'll be fine, I know. I'll stop fussing. You survived the Delta Quadrant." They hugged and then sat quietly, eating the lunch Kathryn had made, discussing details for the following week.

Early next morning, Kathryn went with Chakotay to the transport station to see him off. They kissed long and hard, drawing smiles and stares from people around them.

Kathryn was missing him already. "Promise you'll call me as soon as you get there?"

He smiled gently at her. "The very minute, I promise."

A voice calling all passengers got their attention and Kathryn tried to keep her tears in check as he pulled back from her. Just as he was about to board, he turned quickly to the official on duty and whispered something then ran back to Kathryn, grabbing her in his arms.

"Marry me, Kathryn Janeway. Make me the happiest man in the world?" Kathryn was shocked and words failed her for a minute.

Finally, she got her voice back. "Right here and now?" They both laughed.

He grew serious. "The minute you get to Trebus or when we get back here. Either way as soon as possible."

Kathryn gazed deeply into his eyes and saw the total love and devotion written there. "Yes."

Her voice was a whisper but her eyes told him everything else. They kissed passionately and reluctantly pulled apart. Kathryn stood watching the shuttle as it pulled away, feeling happier than she ever had. Her hand strayed to her lips, the feel of his kiss still there.

Suddenly a strange voice broke into her thoughts. "Goodbyes are always so hard, aren't they? It doesn't matter how long or short a time a person will be away. A friend?" Kathryn turned at the sound of the voice, and came face to face with an elderly man in an admiral's uniform.

She smiled kindly, blinking away her tears. "Yes, he is. He's had to return home. A family member is dying. I'll miss him." She felt embarrassed to have spoken like this to a stranger but he just smiled sympathetically at her.

"I understand well, my dear. I've just seen my son off. I won't see him again for at least a year. It's very difficult." Kathryn returned his smile, showing her understanding of his situation.

"It's Kathryn Janeway, isn't it?" Kathryn looked up surprised even though she knew strangers in the street now often recognized her. Her face was now well known and she was still learning to accept that. The fact that this man wore a Starfleet uniform made her realize that he, of all people, would know her.

"That's right. I'm sorry, I don't know your name."

The old man took her elbow and moved them slowly down the walkway towards the exit. "You wouldn't know me. I'm James Grant, Admiral Grant, but I know you. I don't just mean from this recent business but long before all this. I knew your father quite well actually." He smiled down at her. Kathryn thought back but still couldn't place him. Between the uniform and the fact that he'd known her father, Kathryn instantly trusted the old man.

"I'm sorry to say your name means nothing to me. I don't remember ever hearing of you." Kathryn tried to hide her embarrassment, feeling that she should know this man.

"Hardly surprising. It was a long time ago." He stopped walking and seemed to think about his next words. "I just want to say how sorry I am about your mother and sister. I always liked your mother and your sister I believe was a lovely woman, quite the artist."

Kathryn smiled sadly, thinking of the two women whom she would never see again. "Thank you. You're very kind. It's not easy."

He patted her arm in a fatherly manner. "I lost my wife about two years ago. I understand completely. Dealing with afterwards can be just as difficult. All the legal side of things, the papers and documents. There seems no end to them."

Kathryn bit her lip. "I know. I've yet to start on all that. I've to see the lawyers tomorrow and go through things with them. So far, I've just had personal papers to sort through, mainly my mother's, but it's still so hard. Seeing her handwriting makes it feel as if she's still here."

The admiral nodded, staying silent and taking everything in. Kathryn brought her thoughts back to the present. "Well, it was lovely to meet you. I'm afraid I have to go. I have an appointment."

He stood back and smiled. "Lovely to meet you again too, my dear. Take good care of yourself." He was gone as quickly as he had appeared.

Kathryn arrived at headquarters and made her way to see the Doctor. He was overjoyed to see her again and they chatted for several minutes. Finally, he asked what he could do for her.

Kathryn smiled quietly. "I was wondering if you could run a scan for me. I have a suspicion I'd like confirmed." The Doctor nodded knowingly. Even he knew his Captain and her First Officer were an official item now. As Kathryn lay on the biobed and the Doctor ran his scans and tests, they chatted on about other crewmembers and how well everything had gone with their return, despite the hearing.

Finally, the Doctor stood back, a big smile on his face. "It looks like you were right. I'm happy to tell you that you are indeed pregnant, five to six weeks if I'm not mistaken."

Kathryn's face lit up. "I didn't notice at first, with everything going on at the house and then I felt dizzy a couple of times and started to think." Her mind wandered, thinking of Chakotay and how happy this news would make him and her hand automatically went to her stomach, caressing the life that lay within her.

Kathryn drifted home in a haze of happiness, her mind planning the future. She was so preoccupied she didn't notice the young man standing on the porch and got quite a fright. He apologised and handed her a large folder, stating that they were documents pertaining to her mother's estate which the lawyers had forwarded to her for her perusal before their meeting the next day. Kathryn thanked him and went inside. Leaving the papers on the dining room table, she replicated tea for herself, catching herself just in time before ordering coffee.

"Have to change all those bad habits now, won't I?" She patted her stomach, talking to the tiny life there which already felt so real to her. She then replicated a pair of white baby booties and some writing paper and sat at the table.

Kathryn wore a large smile as she set about placing the booties in a paper folder, along with the image the Doctor had taken for her. It was still far too early to make out anything clearly but she'd still wanted the image. She took the piece of paper and wrote in large letters across it. "Hello, Daddy". She smiled again as she placed all this together and crossed to the sideboard and placed it there. Finishing her tea, she then headed upstairs deciding she needed a nap, the delivered papers forgotten.

As Kathryn slept late into the afternoon, the world ticked on around her. At that moment in time, two men met deep in some woodland well outside San Francisco, there to discuss one subject and one subject only – Kathryn Janeway.

"I can think of better ways to spend the afternoon than trailing around this place but you sounded worried." The younger of the two men looked around him, checking that they were alone.

"I wouldn't have called you here unless I deemed it vitally important and you know that." The older man rubbed at his face.

"Well, spill it. What's the problem?" The younger of the two gave his full attention now.

"The past has come to visit the present." The younger man instantly looked worried and the older man pushed on. "Our old friend is back on the scene and the timing is just… well it's more than coincidence. Besides I've already connected him with… Let's just say he's well on the scene."

The younger man rubbed at his face now. "Janus."

The older man nodded. "He's been following her. The minute she got back." He watched the younger man absorb all this as he thought a moment.

"Owen, this is… Oh God, this proves it. It was him, wasn't it? We were right. Grant was our man all along."

Owen Paris nodded slowly. "We know now for sure. Unfortunately, we still can't prove anything. He's careful. I've also had Katie watched and my man tells me Grant spoke with her this morning. She told him she'd be getting the papers from the lawyers tomorrow. She didn't know him so that's bought us some time. John, we have little time here. If we're to keep her safe…"

John Harris, also an admiral and lifelong friend of Owen Paris and Edward Janeway actually groaned in frustration. "You're right. He won't hesitate to kill her. He tried before…"

Owen Paris cut in. "I know, although it was mainly Edward and Justin he was after. Still, he probably believed Katie knew too. If he'd known about us, we wouldn't be having this conversation now, wouldn't be here."

John Harris nodded, thinking back to their old friend's death. "Bastard. Murder and betrayal, treason. All those lives lost because of him. God, I want him to die in agony for what he's done."

Owen Paris nodded agreement, his anger clearly written on his face. "He's good though. No matter where we hide her, he'll find her and get to her. I've thought about this. Katie has to die." The look of shock on the face of Harris almost made Owen Paris laugh. "I know how it sounds but there's no other way. I also have someone watching Grant and apparently he's been hanging around the offices of the firm of lawyers who are dealing with Gretchen's estate. I believe he'll try and get hold of the papers tonight and if what we believe is in there is actually there, he'll make a move on Katie tomorrow, maybe in the early hours. We have to get to her before then."

The younger man nodded, his face a mask of concentration. "I agree, but how?"

Owen Paris looked around the trees. "That's something we'll have to come up with between then and now. I'll call you later, on the secure line again." They nodded to each other and parted, thoughts of the past filling both their minds.

Kathryn awoke around six and stretched lazily on the bed. Once again she spoke softly to her unborn child, whispering secrets to the little one. She found herself hungry and made her way downstairs to replicate something, reminding herself that she had to eat more regularly now. When she finished her meal, she spotted the papers on the table and took them with her to read while sitting in her father's favourite chair. Most of the papers were dealing with wishes her mother had made and the details of her Will. The house had been left to Kathryn along with most of her mother's possessions. She'd left small stipends to various charities but the bulk of her property, which included the estates of her father from years ago and also Phoebe's from the previous year, went to Kathryn.

She flipped through the Deeds to the property and finally came to the last pieces of paper. It didn't surprise her that her mother had opted to keep her business on paper rather than padds. Gretchen Janeway had always hated technology. There was still just enough light to read by and Kathryn frowned as she read the last documents, placing the others on a small table beside her. The name 'Janus' instantly jumped out at her and she quickly read on, her mother's handwriting clear and concise.

"I debated with myself endlessly about speaking of all this but Phoebe's death last year decided it for me. I know Kathryn is alive now and while I don't know if or when she'll return home, I have to consider that if she does, I may well have passed on by that time. I swore at one stage that I'd never speak of all this, mainly through fear. I've never feared for myself but I always had to consider my girls, especially Kathryn. She's so much closer to it all and I worry constantly about her. I actually believed at one time that her disappearance was related to this. I almost lost her once because of it all and I worry that he'll try and finish what he started. When he took Edward, I thought that was the end of me. Poor Justin too. I saw what it all did to Kathryn.

That man shattered our lives, all to keep his cover. Thank God he didn't know that Edward had spoken to our two Starfleet friends, whose names I fear to write on these pages. Edward's name for this man was well suited. Janus – looking both ways. Edward told me the origin of the name, an ancient God, the month of January named after him, the God of doors and portals. This man is also two faced, trading secrets to the Cardassians and Starfleet, playing one off against the other, all for his own gain. I shudder to think of the good people who died because of him, my own Edward in particular.

A part of me never wanted Kathryn to know of all this but her safety depends on her knowledge of it. He'll never believe she knows nothing of him and knowledge now is her only defence against him. I never had the courage to speak to our 'friends' about this, although I know they have a full knowledge of it all. If only they'd had the proof. They'd worked so closely with Edward and Justin, all in secret, but they were always one step behind him. I thank God again that Janus never knew of this.

I pray that by the time Kathryn reads of this, it won't matter anymore. Perhaps that evil man will be dead by then but life doesn't always work out that way. I believe they'll do their best to keep Kathryn safe when she returns and I'll pray for her until my last day on this earth."

PART FOUR.

THE PRESENT.

Kathryn sat long into the evening in the old leather chair, her thoughts refusing to organize themselves. The fact that her father and Justin had been murdered had never entered her mind and she trembled to think how close she'd come to joining them, all because this Janus needed to keep his cover.

She felt her face wet with tears she hadn't realized she'd shed and saw that the light had long gone but she remained unmoving, leaving the lights off. She desperately wished again that Chakotay was here with her, helping her deal with this.

Eventually against her own will, her exhaustion won over, the emotional turmoil of the past few hours overwhelming her and she felt her eyes slip closed and despite fighting it, she fell asleep.

Owen Paris sat in his office and sorted his thoughts. The last hours for him had also been deeply emotional. Finally, he stirred himself and using his secure line, called John Harris. The younger man's face filled the vid screen immediately.

"Do we have a next move?"

Owen Paris nodded solemnly. "I've set some things in motion, called in favours without speaking of too much." He saw the puzzled look on the other man's face and explained. "I've discovered that copies of all the papers were delivered to her this afternoon." He saw the look of panic cross the features on the face of John Harris and rushed on. "I've managed to discover the contents of Gretchen's private papers. She spoke of it all right but only used his code name. Of course, she'd no way of knowing who he really was. I'm glad to say we were merely mentioned as 'friends' so our part in this is secure for the moment. John, we have to move tonight because he will, you can be sure of that. Once he gets into the offices there, he'll discover that the copies were sent. He'll make a move then. I know it. They're working late there so we have time."

John Harris broke in. "Can you get her out before then? Where can we put her that he won't suspect? He has powerful connections still and will find out."

Owen Paris interrupted this time. "She'll be 'dead' by then. Actually, an unfortunate accident but fortunate timing for us. God, I sound awful…" Owen Paris covered his eyes a moment with his hand. "There was a bad shuttle accident tonight, so far it looks like pilot error but… It was near her home, on the way here. She could well have… Let's just say she was on that transport. Easy to arrange." He saw John Harris thinking about all this.

"Coming to see you with the papers." John Harris was thinking clearly now.

Owen Paris nodded his head. "We need to get out there and arrange things. If you can get here… Use the secure beam in, then we'll get her out."

John Harris still had questions. "What about the 'accident'?"

Owen Paris had the answers.

"Already happened. Twenty or so people 'killed' on impact. Not much left. Actually, certain interested parties were happy to help. Seems others needed to 'die' also. The accident investigators will find exactly what they'd expect to find, remains and so on. Our covert branch leaves nothing to chance."

John Harris ran his hand through his greying hair. "So all bases are covered?"

Owen Paris smiled slightly and nodded. "A few loose ends later on. Can you get here now, to my office?" Harris nodded and cut the transmission. Owen Paris put matters in motion and within two minutes, the figure of John Harris appeared in the old Admiral's office. Five minutes later they both materialized in the hallway of the quiet and dark Janeway home.

Their scanners immediately located Kathryn, asleep in the chair, her hand still clutching the papers from her mother. Just as they reached her, she jerked awake but before she could react, John Harris's hand clamped down firmly over her mouth, his body weight easily holding her firmly in the chair. Kathryn struggled desperately for a minute, until the voice of Owen Paris reached her ears, reassuring her and then she fell still.

"Katie, John's going to remove his hand now. Please for God's sake trust me and stay quiet." He made out her form by the dim light of the moon breaking into the room as she nodded slowly, then just sat rigid when the hand was taken away, not knowing how to react. Owen Paris spoke quickly and explained what he felt she might not yet know.

"I can't risk turning the lights on so just listen carefully. This Janus will know soon that you have the papers and he'll find out that you know about him. We believe he'll come here to try and kill you. His name is James Grant, an admiral now. We always suspected him but were never sure until today." He made out her shocked expression.

"I spoke with him today, when I saw Chakotay off."

Owen Paris smiled sadly. "I know. I had someone watching you." He saw Kathryn open her mouth to ask more questions but cut her off. "Katie, I'll explain more when I can. Right now you have to die in a terrible shuttle accident." Kathryn was shocked to the core but finally got a word in.

"Owen…" She was cut off again.

"Katie, listen to me. You're in grave danger. He'll find a way to kill you, that is a certain fact, maybe even tonight. He'll know everything for sure tonight, about how much you know already. We're letting him break in to the lawyers offices and find what he needs, basically giving him the rope to hang himself with but we need more proof and so we have to play this out right. If he thinks you're dead, he might slip up and show his hand. We've always believed that someone else at Starfleet knew of all this and we want to get them both. You won't be safe until then. Now, take a small bag, just what you need as if you were going into the city for a night or two and take the papers with you also. He's at the offices so he wouldn't have seen you supposedly leave the house earlier. Hurry please, Katie. We don't have much time and leave the lights off in case someone is watching the house now." His old eyes locked with hers and she saw the worry and pain there. She nodded and moved to get up, her mind in turmoil.

A sudden thought came to her. "Oh God, Owen, what about Chakotay? What…"

John Harris broke in. "Later, OK? We have to leave now." The urgency in his voice made her move and within minutes, she had what she needed and all three had been transported out of the house which had only recently become a home again, leaving it once more silent, empty and dark.

The next hours were a blur for Kathryn. She sat in a strange house, having no idea of its location and watched the news reports totally stunned as word broke about the dreadful shuttle accident outside San Francisco which had claimed the lives of some twenty people, the returning Captain of Voyager, Kathryn Janeway, tragically amongst the dead.

Her hand went to her mouth to quieten her tears, as it struck her just how many people would see this report, her former crew amongst them, who would believe every word, believe that she had died. She looked behind her and saw Owen Paris and John Harris whispering to each other. When they caught her watching them, they came over to her and sat on the sofa across from her. Owen glanced at the monitor, seeing the news report and took in Kathryn's tears, reading her exact thoughts.

"My dear, it has to be this way. If they all truly believe you're dead, they'll act accordingly and give a convincing performance. Can you understand and accept this?" Kathryn just nodded her head, not trusting herself to speak. The last hours felt so unreal and her mind was having trouble accepting everything.

"Grant killed your father and Justin. He murdered them. He knew they were on to him. As I'm sure you can now guess, they were both a little more involved with Starfleet than you knew." Owen Paris wanted her to know it all. Enough time had passed and she deserved to know the truth. "You were meant to die with them." Kathryn looked down at her hands, memories of that terrible day coming back to her.

"I guess he was afraid to try again so soon and when nothing came out, no word from you or your mother about it all, he assumed he was safe and had taken care of his little problem." Kathryn looked up sharply at the choice of words but saw no malice in the old admiral's eyes. He was just being straight and they both knew she preferred that in the end.

"Grant was what was known in the old days as a 'double agent', working for the Cardassians and Starfleet. In later years, he sided more with the Cardassians but that ended in time. He stayed on with Starfleet, rising through the ranks. Oh, some suspected him, a small number of us only, but as nothing could ever be proved, there wasn't anything we could do, not without showing our hand. When you were lost, he probably believed he'd gotten away with it all. Your mother never spoke out so he carried on." Kathryn never took her eyes of her old mentor.

"I think he always suspected that your mother knew something, would speak out at some time. When your sister was killed, we watched Gretchen for quite a while but she seemed safe. Maybe he thought that with you missing and your sister now dead, she might speak out if she knew anything, would have nothing to lose. If you're wondering, I did check out the circumstances with your sister's death and it was an accident."

Kathryn smiled sadly but her gratitude was still there. "What about now, Owen? What do I do now?"

John Harris spoke to her for the first time since they had arrived at this strange house. "You stay here where you're safe. You keep the place locked and never go outside or contact anyone else. You speak to no one except the two of us. We'll bring you what you need and we'll be keeping a close eye on you. Look, I hate to sound so blunt but your life is at stake in all this. You stay here and we all attend your funeral. I'm sorry for how that sounds but there really is no other way."

Kathryn shook her head as if this would knock her thoughts into some order. "How long for?" Her eyes were awash with tears.

Harris was straight with her. "As long as it takes. Ms. Janeway, this could take a few weeks, I'm sorry."

Kathryn nodded her understand and then suddenly turned to Owen. "Owen, please, what about Chakotay? Is he in danger? Can you get him here too?" She tried to read his reaction to her questions but couldn't and she saw the two men exchange a look.

"Kathryn, we don't believe Chakotay's in any danger but we'll keep a close eye on him."

Kathryn leaned forward quickly. "What do you mean, keep an eye on him? Isn't he coming here too? When did you notify him of all this? Is…"

Harris cut her off. "He's not coming here but he will be notified."

Kathryn stood, praying her thoughts were wrong. "No, please don't say… Don't tell me he has to believe…" Her hands flew to her face.

Owen stood and went to her, taking hold of her upper arms. "Katie, listen to me now. You're a Starfleet Captain and once more you have to fall back on that. I know this is very difficult but Chakotay has to be seen to believe as everyone else does. His grief will convince Grant and whoever else that your death was real. He's not in danger. Grant knows that when you saw him off, you'd no idea about any of this. Think for a minute and you'll see I'm right. Besides, if he disappeared too, it would look suspicious."

Kathryn's training did kick in and the rational part of her brain told her the old admiral was right but her heart was screaming at her to fight this. She pulled away and sank into the chair behind her, her hand suddenly going to her stomach. "Oh God, what he'll go through." She looked up at the two men, tears pouring from her eyes. "Isn't there any other way?" Both men shook their heads. Kathryn turned her eyes to Owen now. "Owen, you should know that… I'm pregnant. I found out only this morning." She saw the shock on his face.

"Chakotay doesn't know yet?" She shook her head and saw him lower his eyes. "Katie, it's better he doesn't know about any of this. Think what could happen if he knew everything and let something slip and no matter how good an actor he is, there's no way he could keep up an act like that. Tom and B'Elanna would see through it for a start and so on down the line. That way you'd both be in danger. Working it this way keeps you safe here and him safer out there. I'm sorry for the way this has all turned out but we have to." He saw her nod her understanding, all three of them knowing there was no other way.

Owen Paris became a wonderful actor over the next few days. John Harris was able to stay in the background, no one knowing he had any involvement in the slightest. There was no escape from it for Admiral Paris though. When he went home, he faced no end of grief from his son and new daughter in law, even his wife could be found crying quietly on occasions. It tore at him when he heard B'Elanna cry at night in Tom's arms through the walls of the house but he learned to harden himself to it. At headquarters, he encountered a lot of Kathryn's former crew, each one looking as grief stricken as the other. The hardest task he'd had to perform though had been in informing Chakotay that his wife to be was dead.

He'd sat at his desk facing the vid screen and knew he'd never forget the look of pure agony on the face of Voyager's former First Officer. Chakotay had cut the transmission quickly and Owen Paris had understood. Within a day, the same man stood in front of Owen Paris demanding answers. In the end of course, there were none to be given and he saw Chakotay finally accept it.

"Chakotay, I know it's no help really, but it would have been quick." He saw the raw pain in the eyes before him and turned away, giving the grief stricken man a moment in private. Chakotay finally spoke, his voice racked with pain.

"Knowing that helps a bit, for her sake, not for mine. Oh God, I left her and… We'd only found each other." The big man broke down and Owen arranged to have him transported to his own home, knowing he'd be better with Tom and B'Elanna there for him. One thing he was glad of was the fact that Chakotay was too upset to ask too many questions.

As Admiral Paris was leaving his office that evening, he bumped into James Grant and his acting skills were tested to the limit.

"Owen, old man, I heard about Kathryn Janeway. I'm very sorry." He sounded so sincere.

"James, thank you. At least she got home. It's a comfort, I suppose." Owen watched as Grant looked at the floor, nodding his head.

"Do they know what caused the accident or why she was travelling on that shuttle?"

Owen Paris had his answers ready but hearing them, no one would have thought they were rehearsed. "I'm not sure. The accident was pure pilot error, nothing more. Katie herself, she'd contacted me earlier, said she'd found something, a letter of her mother's she wanted to ask me about." He watched as Grant did his best to hide his sudden interest.

"She was coming to see me, said something about showing it to me but would talk to me when she got here. Guess I'll never know now."

Admiral Grant folded his arms. "Can't have been that important or she'd have told you then." He was carefully gauging all answers.

"I agree. Anyway, it doesn't matter now. She's gone from us. I'll miss our chats, missed them for years. Thought I had them back. Sorry, getting too old for all this."

Grant just smiled and nodded. "There was a friend, boyfriend or something?"

Owen Paris nodded. "Yes, though it was a fairly new relationship. I had the terrible task of breaking the news of her death to him. Worst job in the world."

Grant just shrugged his shoulders. "Tell me about it. I've had to do that a few times with families. Never get used to it." They'd both started walking.

Owen just sighed. "No, you never do. Ah well, I'm off home. I've learned long ago to turn off the day at the end of it. Only way to get through." He smiled at the other man, showing no signs of grief, only relief to be leaving work for the day and going home. He saw that Grant was convinced, knew it from the way he acted. "I'll see you again some time, James. Take care". Admiral Grant bid him goodnight and strolled away, a spring in his step which didn't go unnoticed by Owen Paris.

Tom and B'Elanna were doing their best to comfort Chakotay but they knew nothing they could do or say would help. They battled with their own grief and watched helplessly as their friend fell apart in front of their eyes.

At Kathryn's funeral two days later, they physically had to hold him up. They all believed the reason they were given for the closed casket, that the severity of the impact had been too great and this only added to all their pain. Chakotay elected to have his love buried near her home and as her casket was lowered into the ground, he had collapsed. Later, despite the protests of the others to come back with them, he stayed on at the house where their life together would have been, desperate to find some part of the woman he'd lost, to feel her presence in some way. Tom and B'Elanna agreed to stay the night with him but gave him the space they knew he needed. In truth, they were too afraid to leave him alone, fearing he might try and follow her. As night fell, they sat on the porch, each of them silent, lost in their own memories of the woman they'd buried earlier that day. Chakotay had been wandering around the house, trying to feel something of Kathryn and they'd left him to his own memories, knowing he knew they were there for him if needed.

The silence of the house was broken by the most grief filled cry either of them had ever heard and they both ran inside, terrified of what they might find. The sight that met them broke their hearts further. Chakotay was on his knees on the floor, clutching something tightly to him, his tears pouring from him as he rocked himself back and forth. Eventually they managed to quieten him a little.

B'Elanna gently rubbed his back, her hand stroking his face. "Chakotay, she'll always be with you in your heart. She won't ever leave you completely."

He looked up at her, the pain on his face ripping into her. "B'Elanna… oh sweet Spirits… she…she…she was…"

Tom knelt down beside them. "Chakotay, what is it?"

Chakotay looked from one to the other, his tears flooding his face and slowly held out the small folder he held. "The date… the day she… I left her… our…" He broke down completely and B'Elanna pulled him to her. Tom took the folder and examined it, seeing the tiny booties and the scan image. He unfolded the paper and saw the words Kathryn had written on the day she died. Tom just closed his eyes and hung his head.

B'Elanna cried along with the man in her arms, his words coming out in gasps. "She was… pregnant… our…baby…". They did the only thing they could and held him to them, the three friends clinging to each other long into the night as they shared their grief and mourned for the woman they all loved so much.

Kathryn had spent the day crying also, trying her best to stay calm for the sake of the baby she carried. She'd watched the media footage of her 'funeral' and 'burial' and had broken down at the sight of Chakotay in his grief, seeing him collapse at the graveside. The only thing that kept her going was the knowledge that Tom, B'Elanna and the others were there for him but it still tore her heart out to know what he was going through. She lay on the bed whispering to the child within her, the only source of comfort she felt and then the thought came to her and she bolted up in the bed.

"Oh dear God, my letter…" She fell back down on the bed as the memory of the note she'd written to Chakotay with the booties came back to her, knowing that he'd find it and she cried for the further pain he would experience.

Kathryn had to force herself to eat over the next two weeks, the pain of everything with her all the time. She cried constantly thinking of the grief Chakotay was going through and Owen Paris, when he could come, tried unsuccessfully to console her to no avail. Kathryn spent a great part of her days and nights alone and the admiral could see that this wasn't helping her state of mind either. He debated briefly letting her hide somewhere and see Chakotay, but he knew the risk was too great. He tried assuring her that they were close to arresting James Grant and his partner in crime, that the treacherous admiral was making mistakes in his belief that he was safe. He informed her that meetings had been recorded between Grant and a high ranking General and that it was only a matter of days before they had the proof they needed. His words helped Kathryn a little but he knew only the end of all this and her reunion with the man she loved would bring her back to them all.

It tore at Owen Paris to see the grief in his own home. Tom and B'Elanna had insisted that Chakotay come back and stay with them for a few weeks and this time he'd agreed, the house far too painful for him now. Countless times Owen had wanted to confide in Chakotay but a recent visit from James Grant to his home had put the idea to rest. Grant had called one evening on the pretext of extending his condolences to Chakotay and Owen knew that the grief he witnessed from the broken man was what would finally pound the last nail into the coffin of James Grant, that he was totally convinced by what he saw simply because it was real. Owen Paris knew in that moment that he'd been right to do things as he had, that even the greatest actor in the world could not have acted as Chakotay did.

Within a further four days, everything came to a head and Owen Paris and John Harris finally had what they needed. Grant and his General had gotten extremely careless in their meetings and what they spoke of and every word had been recorded. Offices, homes and security boxes were raided and old private logs gone through and by the end of the fifth day, both traitors were arrested. Owen Paris was deliberately careless in directing the security staff in their searches of the two men when they were arrested and so it came as no surprise to him and Harris when word reached them the following morning that both men had been found hanging in their cells. While both admirals would have been happy to see the two serve out the rest of their lives in a cold prison, they both privately admitted that they preferred the matter closed. Not one authority at Starfleet questioned the lax searches on arrest, which led to the traitors having the means to end their miserable lives, and the matter was laid to rest. Most believed now that Edward Janeway, one of their own, could finally rest in peace.

By lunchtime, all matters pertaining to the case had been settled and a happy Admiral Paris headed for home. As he entered his house, he grew serious, hoping that Chakotay and the others would understand but knowing that having Kathryn back would be all that mattered in the end. He slipped quietly into his office and placed a call to Kathryn first, keeping the volume low so no one in the house would hear his call. When a logo appeared on the screen, he typed in a special security code, which allowed Kathryn to know it was him. When her face appeared, he was shocked. He saw what all this had done to her, her crying and lack of sleep, not eating right, the pain she was going through with everything and it worried him greatly.

"It's over." He didn't need to say any more and he saw the relief on her face and then her tears.

"I'm going to talk to him now, tell him slowly and then I'll come and get you. I can't bring him to you, can't compromise the location of the house, you understand?" She couldn't speak she was so choked up and he smiled gently at her.

"I'll be with you shortly my dear. Try and rest and get something to eat. You two want to look your best."

Kathryn finally managed a smile. "Please hurry, Owen. I badly need to see him again." Pain and desperation were written all over her face. Owen nodded and smiled again then cut the communication. He sat a minute or two gathering his thoughts then rose and went to find Chakotay and the others. Later he would get John Harris to release the news to the rest of the crew and then the public.

He found Chakotay sitting quietly, staring vacantly into thin air, his thoughts very private but also so obvious. He glanced across the room and saw his son sitting close to B'Elanna and he beckoned them over, just as his wife joined them, sensing something afoot. Chakotay looked up, his face still showing his pain and then a mild curiosity.

"Please could you all sit. What I have to say will take some explaining." He was met with four curious stares now and he sat also. He enfolded for them the story of the last weeks and years starting with the arrests and subsequent suicides of Grant and the General. He then told them of how Edward Janeway and Justin Tighe had been murdered and about the attempted murder of Kathryn herself at the time. As he moved towards the events of the last few weeks, he saw Chakotay sit up straighter on the sofa but he said nothing.

Owen Paris then told them how Kathryn's life had been in such danger and how Grant planned to kill her when he learned that she knew of him and what he had done from her mother's papers. He told them how Grant only showed his hand with the death of Kathryn and how everything of the last two weeks, her death and their grief were what had brought about the conclusion of the entire matter. He glanced over at Chakotay and saw stirrings of something in his eyes. He then looked at the others but saw that they weren't comprehending everything.

B'Elanna cut in, tears running down her face. "You're saying Kathryn was murdered." Tom's arm tightened around her.

Owen Paris shook his hand. "It was to… It appeared that way."

Chakotay's anger exploded. "Are you telling us Starfleet stood back and let it happen, let her die, let him kill her? Where were they?"

Owen Paris stayed calm. "I just said it appeared that way." He let his words sink in and saw Chakotay's mind racing.

"What are you saying? Don't do this unless you… Oh God tell me she's not…" Chakotay's hopes filled him when he saw Owen Paris actually smile. Tom and B'Elanna both sat up now, still failing to get what was happening around them.

Owen leaned over and placed his hand on Chakotay's arm. "She's not dead. I'm sorry we had to do all this but we had no choice. They had to believe…" His words were cut off as Chakotay burst into tears, not caring who saw him. B'Elanna cried out too and Tom ignored the tears he felt escape his own eyes. Owen's wife went and hugged her son and daughter in law as Chakotay stood shakily.

"She's alive…really alive…the baby…" He was turning in circles now, his mind in turmoil.

Owen Paris stood up also. "They're both fine, I promise you. Katie's been very upset, not eating or sleeping well especially after seeing…"

Chakotay turned and grabbed Owen's arm. "After seeing what? Are you telling me she saw her own funeral?" The admiral just looked at the floor. "Oh God, how could you have let her… She saw us all… and in her condition…" He suddenly grew angry. "How could you not have told us? How could you put us through all this?"

Owen literally pushed Chakotay back down on the chair. "Right, listen to me now, all of you. Her life was on the line and this was the only way to play this. He came here, that bastard, checking it all. What he saw here was what enabled us to get him and his partner in this."

Chakotay looked sharply at the admiral. "That night? That was him, here in this house?" Owen nodded and saw Chakotay working it all out. "He's the one who was watching her. I remember now. I wasn't sure…hadn't seen him up close before… So it was him and another…?" Chakotay fought to understand it all as Owen Paris went on.

"Those bastards worked for and against both us and the Cardassians. A lot of people died because of them, more probably would have in the future, despite Grant's retirement." He looked up at the man Kathryn loved. "It's also highly likely they were responsible for a lot of the Maquis losses too but we don't know for sure. He was involved though." He saw the hate and anger on Chakotay's face and also on the face of B'Elanna. He continued on, trying to help them understand.

"It had to be done this way and Katie even saw that, despite the pain we all knew it would cause." He finally saw understanding begin to show on the faces before him. "I know what we put you through was the worst kind of hell, but if we hadn't… Well then, maybe your grief would have been real and for ever. Katie would really have been dead. This was the only way to save her life. You have my word on that. They'd have found her, no matter where we hid her." Silence filled the room as Owen's words sank in and they all knew he was right.

Chakotay stood suddenly. "Where is she? I have to see her." He was crying again and didn't care.

"I'll go and get her now. I told her to rest and eat something. She knows it's over."

Chakotay was back on his feet and heading for the door. "I'm coming with you."

Owen's booming voice stopped him. "I'm afraid I can't let you. Chakotay, I'm sorry but the location of safe houses has to be kept top secret. I'll bring her here."

Chakotay was having none of it. "Look, you can knock me out, blindfold me or anything but I'm coming with you."

Owen thought quickly. "Look, let's try and compromise. I'll see if I can arrange to have her beamed directly here. I'll make a quick call." He rose and left the room while the rest of them just stood in shock. Within five minutes, Admiral Paris returned and nodded.

"This could be a shock for her. She's not answering my call." He saw the worried look on Chakotay's face and reassured him. "I've checked her life signs and she's fine. Probably taking my advice and getting some sleep." The whine of the transporter beam filled the room and suddenly the shape of Kathryn materialized on the floor in a lying position. Chakotay was at her side in seconds, touching her all over, confirming for his numb mind that she was really there.

Kathryn woke slowly and looked around her in a panic but then saw Chakotay and just threw herself into his arms. He felt her tears through the fabric of his shirt and let his own fall.

"Oh God, Kathryn…." All he could do was pull her tightly to him, never wanting to let her go again. It was only when she twisted her body a bit that he realized how tightly he was holding her and that she needed to breathe. "Are you all right? The baby?" He saw her smile through her tears and nod her head.

"I forgot about the letter. I'm sorry you had to go through that, find out that way." She lifted her hand and brushed at his tears.

"Shhh Kathryn, it's all right now. I just never want to go through anything like that again. Losing you, thinking you were dead…" The memories of the past weeks were too much for him and he dropped his head to her chest and cried, his large shoulders shaking. Kathryn held him to her and looked up at Tom and B'Elanna, seeing their tears also. She reached out her arm and they dropped to their knees, both of them taking her hand and clinging to her. Owen Paris and his wife smiled softly and left the room and within a minute, Tom and B'Elanna left also, knowing Kathryn and Chakotay needed this time to themselves.

Finally when they'd both gained a little control, they sat on the sofa and talked long into the evening, no one in the house coming near them except to drop in some food and tea. Chakotay couldn't let go of Kathryn and she understood. She knew he needed to keep a hold of her, to feel the warmth of her body against his, telling himself that she was real. They were silent at times and Kathryn became aware of Chakotay's hand stroking her abdomen.

"You're all right about the baby? I know we didn't plan…" She watched his eyes focus on her from the faraway place they'd been and saw the mix of emotions in their depths.

"I couldn't be happier. When I found your letter…" He couldn't go on and Kathryn realized at that moment that the trauma of the past weeks would stay with him for some time to come. She searched her mind and finally an idea came to her.

"Chakotay, will you do something for me, come somewhere with me?" She saw his face crease into a frown but he nodded.

"Kathryn, there's nothing I wouldn't do for you. You never have to ask that."

She reached her hand to his face and traced his tattoo. "Tonight, I want to go back to the Fairmont. Start over." She saw he understood immediately and he hugged her tightly to him. Tomorrow they'd return to the house and try and put everything behind them.

They managed to get the same suite where they'd spent that first night but this time they only made love once, then spent the rest of the night just holding each other, whispering softly and caressing gently. When the soft light of day filtered into the room, it banished the darkness of a night that for Chakotay had lasted weeks.

When they returned to the house later that day, Chakotay tried desperately to shut off the emotions which raged through him. He gazed sadly down the hill to where Kathryn's 'grave' was, under the shade of her favourite tree, and despite his best efforts, felt himself falling to his knees, the pain of it all washing over him. Kathryn lowered herself down beside him and pulled him into her embrace, murmuring what soothing words she could, as he clung to her desperately.

By that evening, Kathryn had arranged to have the 'grave' removed but she knew the memories would be a lot harder to get rid of. Over the next week, Chakotay awoke each night screaming for her, his tortured mind refusing to let him rest. Kathryn was always there for him, soothing and reassuring him, getting him back to sleep until the next nightmare came. The sleepless nights were not helping her either and finally Chakotay agreed to seek counselling. Within a month, she saw results and slowly they had less and less broken nights until finally a week passed without either of them waking.

As Kathryn's pregnancy progressed and she started really showing, they settled into the life they'd planned. Evenings always found them on the porch, watching the sun setting and swaying gently on the love seat which hung there. Chakotay loved to hold Kathryn to him as he gently stroked her growing abdomen and gradually he was able to look towards Kathryn's tree with a semblance of peace, accepting the horror of what had been without the pain of it eating at him. As the weeks passed, he relaxed more when she wasn't with him but he know the memories of the pain he'd endured during that time, would never leave him completely. At his counsellor's advice, he learned to use these feelings to strengthen the bond between Kathryn and himself and slowly he let the pain go.

Two months before the baby was due, they stood under the old tree and in front of their close friends, exchanged their vows for Admiral Paris, joining them together as husband and wife. This place now could only bring happiness to them and would forever be associated with joining together, not letting go.

When Chakotay gently carried their new son home seven weeks later, Kathryn at his side, they stood on the porch and gazed around them. When their eyes met over the sleeping infant, they both knew the meaning of true peace and love. They shared a smile which spoke of all that was between them and then slowly moved into their home, the door closing softly behind them.

THE END.