Disclaimer:
Paramount owns all things Star Trek Voyager. I don't. Only borrowing them. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Rating:
NC 17
Summary:
Voyager returns home and Chakotay hopes that at last he and Kathryn can have a life together but before he gets that chance, she disappears from his life, leaving without a trace. Chakotay finally discovers her terrible secret and searches desperately for her but can he find her before it's too late.

To Serve Them All My Days

by Kat Lady

Part One.

CHAKOTAY.

"I never believed in keeping a diary or log before, a written record of my innermost thoughts. I never felt the need and it was too personal. It was also too dangerous and indiscreet in my line of work and in those days, I think I felt that seeing my thoughts in written form would only make my demons more powerful and I'd enough to cope with and so what personal thoughts I had, I shared with my spirit guide.

I kept a personal log of sorts on board Voyager but it was always more like a report on my daily activities, a brief outline of certain events, rather than what I was feeling. Maybe now I regret that, afraid that there will be things I won't remember.

I don't know why I do it now or relate all this now, except perhaps to tell anyone who might someday read these words, that I once knew a woman named Kathryn Janeway and that I loved her. Still do and I suppose I always will. Maybe I just wanted to set this in stone, so to speak. Perhaps I thought seeing it written down would make it real, despite desperately wanting to deny her absence.

In the span if my life, she inhabited a very small part of it and yet while she was there, she filled it and completed me in ways no words can ever express and rendered everything else meaningless. That still stands true.

She's gone now and I can tell you nothing of her, except that she left, went away one day and never returned. What she left behind was an emptiness so profound, it engulfs me. She also left behind many questions.

There are times, late at night, when I waken and call out to her, always alone, when my tortured mind wonders if she ever existed or if I dreamed her, but then I make my way to the other room and study the holoimages I have of her, the only thing I have left, and I remember.

I remember her soft voice, her shining eyes and that smile, her laugh, the gentle weight of her hand on my arm, her scent, the feelings she could stir in me. I also remember her struggle, her pain and sadness, her fight to get us home, her loneliness. I remember it all and my mind takes me back and I relive it. The intensity of my feelings at these times only proves to me that she was there, a part of me, shared for such a brief time and so the only part of my life she inhabits now is my dreams.

Oh I searched but I guess she didn't want to be found and for a time, I respected that, despite the pain I felt, but my acceptance of her wishes only reached my mind, not my heart and now what's in my heart has infected my mind again and so I'll continue to search, unable to rest.

I sit here now, once more in the small hours of the morning, surrounded by images of her. I listen to the faint humming in my ears that comes only with silence and remember how she would often hum to herself when she believed no one was listening. My Kathryn wasn't blessed with a singing voice but when she spoke, it was music to me. It is 04:00 and I walk slowly to the window, stiff from sitting so long and bone weary from lack of sleep and despair, and stare out at the darkness but all I see is my own reflection staring back at me, mocking me, and I find I no longer recognize this man. The sun will be up shortly to begin another day for those faceless and nameless people out there and for a moment, I'm angry with them. They sleep on, knowing nothing of my pain, not caring that the woman I love has gone, leaving behind a hole in my life which cannot be filled, despite the best efforts of friends. She's nothing to them but everything to me. They'd probably know her name, vaguely remember it from somewhere, but in most cases it will have passed from their minds like yesterday's news, which of course it is, and continue on with their lives.

I watch as the first grey streaks of light invade the night and I turn away, unable to witness another dawn without her. I replicate some tea for myself, staring deeply into the cup as if the answers I seek are there, rising up to me with the steam. Once more I recount how it all came to this, my logs now filled with the same repeated words, as if repetition will erase the events. I feel my tears begin and let them fall, just as I do each night but they never bring the comfort I so desperately seek. Only Kathryn can do that.

I remember the 'there and here', the name the crew gave to the two days which changed our lives. One day we were in the Delta Quadrant with a long journey ahead of us, our lives fairly settled, the next we were back in the Alpha Quadrant, nothing to warn or prepare us for it and everything was turned upside down.

On the 'there' day, Kathryn and two Ensigns beamed down to a planet rich in Dilithium, a world uninhabited and whose name we never knew. They were back within four hours with what we needed and we moved on. I remember seeing Kathryn when they got back, covered from head to toe in red dust, her two crewmembers not quite so bad. She had laughed as she told me how she'd fallen down a small pit, the others having to pull her out, covered in dust and coughing. Her laugh had been infectious, an unseen portend for the mood of the coming day. I watched as the three of them made their way back to their quarters for a shower, before reporting to the Doctor for the regulation check-up following away missions and smiled to myself, knowing this image of Kathryn would stay with me for a long time.

The following day, the 'here' day, we found the wormhole that took us home, the crew ecstatic if somewhat shell shocked. I watched Kathryn closely that day, the anticipation and disbelief at first, and then the desperate struggle to hold back the hope that threatened to burst from her, and later the tension as we travelled through the wormhole and the relief when we emerged unscathed on the other side. I saw and shared her happiness when Tom confirmed our location and when she spoke with Starfleet Command and then afterwards, when we prepared to dock. All the emotions she passed through during it all mirrored my own and together we shared them. Her face that day, in its many different ways, stays with me, ingrained on my memory for all time. I occasionally draw comfort from the memories until the 'later' overshadows them.

We had two weeks of debriefings and medicals and on the occasional moment when I would see her, she always appeared happy, sending a smile my way, an openness on her face and a lightness in her step I hadn't witnessed before. This was Kathryn without the dreadful burden she'd lived under for so many years and I harboured the hope that she'd feel free enough now to finally come to me, to at last allow herself to live and let me love her the way she deserved.

And then on the last day, she was gone. I remember the day before that, when word had come to us that no former member of the Maquis would be charged and she had thrown herself into my arms, not caring who witnessed us and I gloried in her actions, holding her tightly to me, savouring every second. We were all offered posts with Starfleet, even back pay and promotions, medals and honours. Hope and happiness shone in her eyes that day and something passed between us, a connection not made before, a promise. I knew she still had more business with Starfleet, another day or so and I smiled at her as she pulled back, her own smile lighting her eyes. And then she grew serious, a tenderness on her face I'll never forget. "I'll see you later…." Her last words to me, speaking of so much more and she'd held my hand a little longer than she needed to, neither of us wanting to let go.

When she didn't show up after three days, I went looking for her but no one could give me any answers. Finally Tom's Dad, Admiral Paris, came to me and told me how Kathryn had simply left, no parting message from her. I didn't believe him at first but in the end, I accepted his word. It was the same everywhere I went and the rest of the crew got the same answers I did when they spoke with anyone. The returning Captain Kathryn Janeway had simply vanished into the night, having left no word as to her whereabouts.

At first the optimist in me simply believed that she'd needed to get away for a few days, overwhelmed by everything that had happened and needing the space after two weeks of debriefings. I was hurt that she hadn't spoken to me first but I accepted it. We had all been given three months leave, but as the days turned to weeks, I slowly gave up hope and accepted the fact that she had gone. Most of the crew were hurt by her actions, believing they at least deserved a 'goodbye' but I hurt the most, feeling I'd lost my reason for living, for coming back. I went from feelings of hurt to anger and betrayal to fear that something terrible had happened to her. In the end of course, I returned to hurt, no reports of any accidents coming in. I accepted that Kathryn had simply decided to leave, having had enough after seven years and hadn't been able to face us all. It still bothered me though, because I knew her and believed that she was afraid of nothing, that she could face anything or anyone.

Eventually I found out that she'd resigned and that shocked me to the core. Her face and her words to me that last time haunt me, so out of line with what followed and I know now something is very wrong and so I continue my search, all the crew keeping their eyes open for any glimpse of their captain. I still feel there has to be a serious reason for her sudden departure and when, not if, I find her, I hope I then get the answers to the questions which have kept me awake night after night and I pray I get the chance to again have her as part of my life."

KATHRYN.

"I should have known it was all too good to be true. I really thought something would work out for me, that I was long overdue for some peace and happiness, but if I'm totally honest, I guess deep down I suspected life would throw something else at me, would once more drag away someone I loved. I should have guessed that the Delta Quadrant wouldn't let me go that easily and that the Janeway, or rather the Kathryn Janeway curse, would visit my door one more time.

One day, twenty-four hours, one thousand, four hundred and forty minutes. If my mind wasn't so tired, I could probably work out the seconds. If we'd just found the wormhole that short time earlier, if we hadn't needed the Dilithium so badly, if we'd found it somewhere else, if…if…

We checked our sensors, went over our readings a dozen times, all the usual precautions. There was nothing to tell us that what lay waiting on the surface would have the repercussions it had. Oh, we got what we needed but we also brought back something else. I guess now I have the answer as to why the place was uninhabited.

I remember most details of the away mission, although now the odd detail is fuzzy. I guess I'd better get used to that. It's probably why I'm keeping this log. It's my legacy, all I can leave behind, thanks to the Delta Quadrant's last bequest to me.

Stop wandering, Kathryn, and get this down. I beamed down with Ensigns Stella Edmonds and Mark Crowe, two bright young people, eager for the challenge. We stood a moment and looked around us at the semi barren landscape. There were some trees and a scattering of scrub grass but the rest was rapidly turning into desert, a covering of red sand and dust over everything, probably blown up by the wind. It was thankfully still as we worked and we obtained the Dilithium in just over three hours. As we finished off, we noticed a slight breeze coming up and gathering up what we'd collected, made our way back to the shuttle and got ready to leave. As I climbed in, I looked back and saw some tools still on the ground where we'd been working. Telling the others to wait for me, I returned and retrieved the items and made my way back. I noticed the wind had picked up some more and looked behind me at the darkening sky. As I turned back, my foot caught on something. I felt myself fall and before I knew it, had fallen into a small pit. I rolled onto my back, spitting out the mouthful of sand I'd nearly consumed and struggled to my feet, by now covered in the red dust. As I looked up to try and find a foothold or something to pull myself up with, hands reached down for me, my two young charges who pulled me back up.

We thought no more of it. I certainly thought no more of it. I remember Chakotay's expression when we arrived back on Voyager and how he tried his best not to laugh. I guess we did look a sight. I know I sure did, half the desert floor covering me. We headed off for a shower before seeing the Doctor and got the all clear from him.

I couldn't have known then. Perhaps if we'd gone straight to the Doctor, he would have detected it from our clothes, perhaps not. By the time we reached sickbay, we were showered and clean, all dirty clothing disposed of.

Nothing showed up on my first physical at Starfleet the day we arrived home and I thought nothing of the fatigue I felt over the coming week. My second physical went much as the first, with me complaining and wanting out of there, to the annoyance of the poor Starfleet medic assigned to us. This time, he took more blood and fluid samples than he had the first time and I was growing impatient. Finally the ordeal was over and I was asked to return in a week's time for any results which might need to be discussed. I thought nothing of it, knowing that each crewmember had been told the same.

I walked out of there without a care in the world. I still had debriefings to face but they weren't the battle I'd feared. I saw from the crew that things appeared to be easy enough with them also and so I relaxed more. A weight had lifted off my shoulders and I felt a lightness about myself which I hadn't experienced since I was a young girl. The only shadow was the absence of my mother and sister but I'd done my grieving for them and let them go in peace. The data streams we received during the last part of our voyage often brought sadness along with happiness in news from home and hearing of the deaths of my mother and sister in a shuttle accident in this way didn't help, but I know I handled it better out there with Chakotay and my friends around me, than I would have back here with a stiff board of admirals informing me of the sad news.

I miss them all so much, my crew and friends, especially Chakotay. Who am I kidding? I miss Chakotay like I'd miss my limbs or my head. I ache inside with longing just to see him again or hold him, but I love him too much and so I must stay away. I'm digressing here, another symptom.

The day before it all fell apart… We received the news that the former Maquis wouldn't be charged, were offered promotions, back pay, honours and I actually threw myself into Chakotay's arms and didn't care who saw for once. I barely held myself back from throwing him on the floor and taking him there and then. God, me, Kathryn Janeway, Starfleet Captain, Miss Prim and Proper. I could just see the headlines now. 'Returning Voyager Captain Jumps First Officer In Public'.

I so want to laugh at images like this but all I do is cry. I remember telling him I'd see him later and I meant it. At that moment, I had the world before me, stretching out to the horizon, happiness and love beckoning to me. Life can sure kick you in the teeth at times. As quickly as the change from Delta Quadrant to Alpha Quadrant came, this came faster.

I walked into sickbay with a smile plastered on my face but it fell quickly when I saw the expression on the face of Dr. Wilson. I read people well and this man was an open book. I remember sitting and seeing his concerned face as he hesitated before speaking and I knew. Something deep inside me knew that he had just burst the balloon which housed all my dreams and I sat and watched in my mind as they shattered into a million pieces.

I barely remember his words at first but as the hours went by, they became imprinted in my memory. He explained calmly that the superior scanning equipment Starfleet boasted had detected something in one of the cultures from my tests and the deep level scans they'd taken backed it up. He believed I had picked something up within the last day or two in the Delta Quadrant and I instantly remembered the red dust but my mind immediately thought only of Stella and Mark. Dr. Wilson assured me that he'd also tested them.

I then got the full story, as far as he could tell it. There was something in that dust, something lethal to all life and I knew then why the planet had been uninhabited, devoid of any life as far as we had seen. It was poisoned and the three of us were its victims. The Doctor explained as kindly as he could that perhaps our own Doctor might have been able to pick it up from traces which had been on our clothing and I nearly laughed at his words as I remembered how I'd been covered with the damn stuff. I also know now though, that even if Voyager's EMH had detected anything, he would have been helpless. The damage had been done.

He explained that the dust must have contained some form of toxin, a chemical or kind of radiation, which attacked any life form it came into contact with. He also informed me carefully that he believed it could be passed on and I'd not just tested positive for this toxin but I also had reached a stage where I would most likely pass it on to anyone I came into contact with, though only through bodily fluids as far as he could see. He compared it to the Aids virus of the late 20th and early 21st centuries in how it might possibly be spread. There was, he informed me, the very slight possibility that in the later stages I could pass this on by touch and later again maybe simply by breathing near someone. I only now noticed that Dr. Wilson wore surgical gloves and a feeling of dread passed through me. I felt unclean and stood immediately, putting more distance between us and saw that he understood, could see how I'd noticed his precaution to protect himself. I guess it wasn't airborne yet. He was still in the same room as me.

I remember asking about the others, Chakotay, in particular, as I thought of myself throwing my body against his. The kindly medic informed me that it couldn't have been passed on by touch at this stage but he'd still checked everyone else under the pretext of having missed some scans and found no signs of the toxin. He then told me how Ensigns Edmonds and Crowe had both tested positive for the toxin but were at a far earlier stage than I was, having been less exposed. He asked me about my own exposure, how I'd gotten more of the dust on my body and I explained about falling into the pit and getting some of the sand in my mouth.

I do know I got the Doctor's reassurance that the matter would not be discussed outside of that room. I knew the top brass would be notified, would need to be, but I wanted no one else to know. I was told that I could still have contact with people for the moment, that I wasn't yet infectious, but to stay close to headquarters and sickbay for further tests and treatments. In the end though, I demanded and got the bottom line. This disease had no known cure, was unheard of here and so would kill me within months. Despite his assurances that I was safe at present from passing this on, I knew at that moment, that I had to just disappear from everyone's lives.

As I sit here now, the fact that I'm sparing them is all that sustains me and gets me through the days, days which seem endless and consume me with loneliness and torturous dreams of what could have been. I think back to New Earth and remember another time when I was infected but at least then, I wouldn't have passed it on and I also had Chakotay with me. I long for those days again and dream of them often. Come on, Kathryn, you're wandering again. I'm doing that a lot more now and I know why. I forget simple things too as the days blur together and I know my mind is drifting towards madness, the wonderful gift the red dust left me. I just hope I won't know too much at the end. My biggest worry is forgetting Chakotay but I feel I'll never do that. At least, I pray I won't.

Where was I? The doctor? Yes, that's it. He told me the 'disease', his word, had an incubation period of just over a week before the symptoms showed, at least in his estimation. Guess that's why I felt so tired all the time and nothing showed up at my first medical. I barely manage four hours now without needing to get some sleep. When I think of the all-nighters I used to manage, sometimes days on end… Come on, Kathryn, get out of the past.

I don't know if our own Doctor would have picked this up and I guess it doesn't matter now but if Starfleet didn't spot it at the first medical, I suppose he wouldn't have. I know it was the advanced equipment Starfleet have and maybe if we'd had that onboard Voyager… Then again, maybe it wouldn't have shown up until now. My mind can go in circles when I think like this and nothing I say seems to make sense. I think I went over this already. In the end, I find it doesn't matter anymore. The facts are as they are and I can't change them.

Anyway, I got the rundown on what to expect, as much as he could tell me. It's apparently similar to known diseases and he named them but nothing lasts long in my mind these days. I do know that I'll die from this but not before my body gives out and my mind goes. He described it as a mix of diseases. It can be passed like the Aids virus which I mentioned but mostly the disease itself is similar to something that was once prevalent here on Earth called Alzheimer's disease and I read a little on that. I stopped quickly, not wanting to know more. What this also does is attack the blood, almost like leukaemia, bringing dreadful pain with it. God, Kathryn, you do nothing by halves. If I'd simply gotten these diseases, they could at least be cured, but not this. All he can do is treat my symptoms with drugs and hope for the best.

I got his promise that he would say nothing. Did I mention that already? Maybe. I spoke with one Admiral and then the Vice-President, very aware of how they stood back from me, as both of them assured me that news of this would never come out and giving me their word on that. I suspected that deal was as much for them as it was for me but that matters not. It wouldn't do to see the returning heroine of Voyager go mad in public. They assured me that Stella and Mark would be well taken care of and I suppose I have to trust them on that. I also handed them my resignation which they falsely tried to refuse but we all knew there was no other way, knew I wouldn't be coming back from this.

And now I know I made the right decision. I lie here in the winter sun of California, not having the energy to go for a short walk even and record this log. I keep in touch with some news and that's how I heard. It made the headlines actually but then anything to do with Voyager will for a while yet. Stella Edmonds died last week, cause withheld. They didn't need to say any more, not to me. I know the cause because I'm it. The Voyager Captain who took two young Ensigns to their deaths. It seems so unfair that she died first and not me when I was exposed to a greater degree.

I sat a while longer and listened to that sympathetic doctor give me what to him was probably a well rehearsed speech, about how he'd work on a cure, that there were treatments he could try in the interim and so on but I knew better.

And so I ran. I procured a supply of painkillers from him and other drugs with the promise to keep in touch with him, a promise I won't keep. I also supplied myself with more drugs from other sources, old friends in the right places who didn't ask questions and needed no answers. Some of these I use now, others I'll keep for when I know I'll need them. For the moment, they just hold off what's coming and help what's already there but only a little. When it gets too bad, I hope I won't know I'm in pain and I'll probably wander down to the river and fall in, drown myself most likely. God, Kathryn, when did you get so cynical, so bitter? Anyway, Dr. Wilson made his speech about there always being a chance for a cure and as he went on, I tuned out. I guess I was already planning my escape at that stage.

That night, middle of the night actually, I packed what little I had and ran off into the darkness like a runaway teenager. I left no address, no message and I know I've hurt a lot of people, Chakotay, for sure, but I'd honestly rather he have emotional pain now than physical pain and death a little later. I've probably simply solved a problem for Starfleet.

I found this place easily, considering how out of the way it is and thankfully my memory was still good. My father's brother used to own it and it was boarded up for years. I don't have any prying neighbours to worry about and the water still runs. I got myself a small replicator and power cells so I guess I have all I need.

Anyway, I sit here now and record all this while I still can. I put off making this log for a long time and I honestly can't remember how long I've been here now. It's been weeks, I know that but one day is the same as the next and I don't worry about it. I guess most of this log is jumbled around all over the place but then so are my thoughts. I won't even go into my emotions.

I feel my eyes drooping again so I'll finish this later. I feel like an old woman and in a way I am. Seven years in the Delta Quadrant can do that to you. Until later."

CHAKOTAY.

"A lot of the crew are still around, sticking close to each other after Stella's funeral. Starfleet released the news of her death but withheld the cause and I know her family are grateful for that. None of us will ever speak about the real cause of her death, such is the loyalty of these people.

Poor Stella. I wish she'd just spoken to us but within a day of Kathryn's disappearance, she withdrew into herself and never spoke to anyone about what was troubling her. In the end, she took her own way out. When they found her in her hotel room, she had a phaser at her side, having directed it at her chest. Our Doctor assured us she would have died instantly but it's little comfort and we'll never have any answers as to why.

All the crew, with the exception of Mark Crowe, attended her funeral and I was puzzled by that because I know they were close. Maybe he just couldn't face it but now that I think about it, he's also seemed withdrawn and from about the same time.

Something nags at my mind but the thought won't clarify. I think of these two young people and suddenly something hits me. I see an image of them both, alongside Kathryn, all covered in red dust, laughing together when they returned from our last away mission and I freeze a moment, knowing there's something more going on here than I can think of, something more than coincidence that these same three people are now connected by one going missing, one now dead at her own hand and the other withdrawn and closed away at his home.

All at once, I know I need to speak with Mark Crowe and find some answers to this, instinctively knowing that whatever he can tell me will help me find Kathryn and explain what I badly need to understand."

KATHRYN.

"I had to re-read this log to remember what I'd written last and that frightens me. I think I caught a chill from having fallen asleep outside, which I do most days. I woke and it was getting dark but I'm used to finding my way around this place now as my sight starts to fail me, especially when the light is bad. That was something Dr. Wilson didn't mention, probably because he didn't know.

I feel guilty for not getting in touch with him as I promised but I'm afraid of bumping into Chakotay or some of the others. I just can't take the risk of harming them, causing their deaths and despite what Dr. Wilson says, I still believe it's too dangerous to be around anyone. It's a chance I won't take, the risk of harming any of them. I did enough of that in the Delta Quadrant, left enough of them behind.

I owe them too much and they served me well. Now it's my turn to serve them, in the only way I can, for the time I have left. This is the last thing I can do for them, the only way I can protect them."

CHAKOTAY.

"The young man who finally opens the door to me is not the Mark Crowe I know. This man is a mere shadow of what was and there's an emptiness in his eyes that shakes me. He doesn't seem surprised to see me and that puzzles me somewhat. Maybe he just expected someone from Voyager to check on him but as I watch him closely, I feel more and more that he was expecting me.

He calmly invites me in and goes through the motions of playing host, offering me coffee out of politeness but I decline and see him nod slowly, as if he understands that I have more urgent reasons for being here. He appears nervous and I notice he stands away from me and it registers with me now that he didn't offer to shake hands even.

"You want to ask about them, Stella and the captain. You need to know about the three of us." It's neither a statement nor a question and I nod slowly, a feeling of dread creeping through me. I've been right in connecting them all together but that knowledge brings with it a fear.

"I'll tell you what I know, even though I was ordered to keep this quiet." He watches me closely and shakes his head then sits. There's silence for a few minutes, time I know he needs in order to form his words before he speaks them. Finally, he looks up at me and smiles sadly.

"Stella gave up. She didn't believe that was a chance. That's what I think anyway." He draws in a deep breath, his eyes still on mine and I know he sees my worry and confusion.

"I'll tell you the story, Commander. You've always had my loyalty over the Federation, you and the captain. Being out there made that so, despite the fact that I swore to uphold their principles when I joined Starfleet all those years ago." He looks around the small room a moment, almost as if confirming it's still there.

"You remember that last away mission, when we returned with the red dust all over us?" I nod slowly, my fear and dread growing. "It was poisoned, something or other…" I feel my hands squeeze tightly into fists as he shakes his head, his eyes on his feet now. "They detected it at our second medical. I was infected with it, this nameless killer." I shudder at the use of the word and he looks up at me, smiling apologetically. "Sorry, Commander." I simply nod. "We were all infected, although I believe the Captain is probably the worst. There was more on her. I think she might even have swallowed some when she fell." Once more his eyes apologise for him. He stands now, uneasy with all this.

"They've promised to do everything they can to find a cure before… I guess Stella didn't have that much faith in them and this was her own pre-emptive strike against it." He slowly sits again and tells me everything the Starfleet doctor has told him, how this disease works and what it does to the body but his words seem unreal to me and I know that only later will they come back to me, haunt me for the rest of my life.

"That's what's waiting for me. Oh, I'm not bitter at anyone, just at life itself, how it can kick you …" He runs his hands over his face. "I get so tired these days…" His eyes meet mine again and I find myself seeing into his soul almost, a witness to the pain which fills him.

"I think only Dr. Wilson and one or two of the top brass know of this. I heard no mention of our own Doc being involved. I was politely 'requested' to remain quiet on the matter and it suits me, I suppose. I know people and I don't want them afraid of me, nor do I want to harm anyone. I couldn't take that, to hurt my family or friends or be responsible for their getting infected." I watch as he plays with his fingernails and it registers with me that he can't keep his hands still. "It works like a mix between Alzheimer's and Leukaemia, can be spread by body fluids and that kind of contact, later on by touch possibly. After that maybe it will be airborne but not yet." His eyes bore into mine, desperate to tell me that I'm safe enough with him and I nod my understanding but thoughts of Kathryn consume me and I know he sees that.

"We showered and changed before seeing our own Doc but it probably wouldn't have made a difference." I nod as I remember that day, watching them all head back to their quarters, Kathryn's laughter filling my mind. "We got rid of our clothes, got rid of the evidence if you like, though I think the damage was already done." He stands again and walks to the window, but nothing there holds his interest and he turns back to me. "I doubt Doc would have spotted it, nothing there to see at first anyway. It didn't show up here until our second medical anyway and that was with more advanced scanning equipment." Finally he sits once more and a million questions rush at me but I find myself speechless. He understands and leans back in his chair.

"They believe it might become airborne in time. Sorry, I said that already. I tend to repeat myself sometimes, my state of mind. I guess I shouldn't even have let you in. I certainly won't come too close." He smiles sadly again and I nod my thanks or whatever it is. "I actually have faith in them and I suppose, in a way, I understand why they want to keep it quiet. They don't need a panic on their hands." We're both silent now, minutes stretching out ahead of us as my thoughts scatter all over the place. Only Kathryn's face remains steady in my mind.

"Mark…" Finally I find my voice and I see that I've startled him, as if he's almost forgotten I'm here. "I don't want to get you into trouble but…"

He waves his hand and shakes his head. "You do what you have to do, Commander. I understand that the captain is your first concern and maybe it'll only help me too if you open this up. I've always had more faith in our own Doc. I wanted to speak with him before but I guess I chickened out." He pauses a moment and I see him fight for control of his emotions. "Commander, do what you need to, for the captain and… Well, in memory of Stella." I nod slowly and try a smile and almost succeed. As I stand to leave, his slight cough catches my attention.

"Commander, I hope you understand…" He seems to hesitate and then speaks. "I'll just say this. Being ill gives you a daring you wouldn't normally have and I've suddenly developed a desire to speak my mind, leave nothing unsaid in case I don't have the time later." He leans his head to the side and I see that his words are not about seeking sympathy but just getting his point across. "I know you love her and she loves you. We all saw that." I smile sadly and nod, giving him the confirmation he was seeking. "Find her and get her back, even if it's only a short time." I look away, not wanting to even consider my Kathryn dying or gone from me. "Commander, don't blame her. I suspect she was just doing what she's always done, protect us all, protect those she loves. You have to understand. She'd never want to hurt you." I turn back to him and see tears on his face and I close my eyes a moment to halt my own. I can't answer him but my nod and my eyes tell him everything. I leave, speaking no more, knowing that anything I say will just be a promise I may not be able to keep.

An hour later finds me at Headquarters in the presence of Owen Paris and our own Doctor. My story shocks them and I see that both are completely ignorant of everything I speak of. As I rise to leave the room, I get their reassurances that they'll be in contact with me within a few hours and I know now I've done the right thing, the only thing I can do. I also know that I've a long journey ahead of me, that we need to work together to find a cure for this, but most importantly, I need to find Kathryn. I don't care if it's even just for a short time and I know that should I lose her to this, at least I can bring some comfort to her for the time she has left."

KATHRYN.

"I sit back and let the hypo do its work and feel my body relax as the painkiller kicks in. I try and use them sparingly but sometimes it gets too much and there's no one here to pretend for. The days are longer and harder now and pain is a major part of my hours but the loneliness is worse than any physical pain. Memories assault me these days, the mistakes I made, the people I love and miss, Mark and Stella, and I fight my tears. I think back again to that planet and wish we'd known then, could have placed a warning buoy for others. All these thoughts come to me when my defences are down and always there's Chakotay, my love and guilt surrounding his image. I sleep a lot more and in a way, I welcome the oblivion and then I feel guilty. A longer sleep awaits me and a part of me feels I should be making the most of what time I have but being so alone here is too hard and I give in to the sleep instead."

CHAKOTAY.

"I can't believe the last few days. I guess I really opened a can of worms within Starfleet but I underestimated these people. I actually believed at first that they were keeping things quiet for their own selfish reasons but I know differently now. Some top admiral came to see me and spoke with me in an open and frank manner, sparing me no details. I understand now that keeping this quiet is to stop any panic the news might cause but mainly for the protection of those infected, to shelter Kathryn and Mark and still in a way, Stella. I learned that her family were told and understand now why their daughter took her own life and in a way, I guess it makes it easier for them. Unanswered questions are the worst and I know that now. I also know that they're the ones which torture us the most.

Our own Doctor is involved in the research now and that gives me more hope. Mark Crowe is working with them, allowing himself to be their live test subject. The poor man probably feels he's nothing to lose. For myself, the biggest problem remains. I still have to find Kathryn. Admiral Kramer tells me how she resigned and left, then just disappeared into the night. Our difference is that they let her go while I continue to search. With his permission, I've informed every crewmember and now they're helping me in my search and such is the loyalty of these people that even Starfleet are secure in the knowledge that none of this will reach the public.

My home becomes a headquarters in its own right as crew come and go, co-ordinating our search and sharing information. We've checked every hospital and hotel with no sign of Kathryn but not once have I seen anyone want to give in."

KATHRYN.

"My guardian angel is back. I see him watch me occasionally from the far side of the field. I assume it's a man. He's too far away to know for sure and my sight is not good, but when it's bright, I see him watch me using what I think are old-fashioned field glasses. I've watched him work the land day to day and it always brings thoughts of Chakotay.

My angel also watches the birds, either in the trees around here or as they soar high in the sky and I've found myself watching them also, envying them their freedom and carefree lives, even though I can't make them out too clearly. Lately my angel has started to leave gifts for me. I come out most mornings now to find a small basket of fresh fruit or vegetables sitting on my porch, sometimes a meat or apple pie and I actually smile, something I don't do much these days. He seems to respect my need for solitude and he never intrudes. I just wish I'd something to offer in return but as much as I want to thank him, I must keep a distance from him. I just hope someday he understands.

I've actually written a note to him, telling him the truth, which he'll find someday and I'll leave it outside when the time comes. I even wore gloves to write it, just in case. I have a feeling that he'll be the one who'll find me when this ends and I worry that touching me even then would be dangerous to him and so I had to warn him. It's all I can do. I've also asked him to contact Chakotay and pass on a letter to him for me. Maybe then I can give him the peace and rest he deserves."

CHAKOTAY.

"I can't believe what's happened. With every scientist at Starfleet and the best the science field has to offer working on this, they've actually done it. Mark came with our own Doctor to tell me and I couldn't say a word to them, just sat stunned in my chair for almost five minutes. Finally I looked Mark over and only then did I see the man I'd known on board Voyager, the one I thought for a time we'd lost.

For a brief moment, our eyes lock and I know we're both thinking the same thing. If only Stella had hung on and will we find Kathryn. We both nod together, no words needed.

"Mark…" I don't know what I was going to say, for suddenly my words are interrupted by a thought I can't pin down for a moment. "Mark… Mark…" He stares at me as if I'm a stuck recording. It clicks with me and I repeat it once more. "Mark…" I actually smile as I see the expressions on the faces of the two men before me and I shake my head and explain.

"Mark as in Johnston. Kathryn's fiancé before we left. I never thought… Maybe he might know of somewhere." I see they understand and I leave them in B'Elanna's capable hands as I search for a way to contact this man who was a part of Kathryn's life for such a long time.

An hour later, I'm sitting in his home with him and his wife as I explain the situation and I see their shock and concern. I see Mark think back, reliving a part of his life long gone now and watch the face of his wife as she smiles gently, no trace of jealousy on her face.

"There's her mother's house which I think is boarded up." I shake my head and tell him that was the first place I looked. "I know it's not the cabin as we were up there only last weekend." He looks to his wife as they remember a happy time together and for a moment I envy them, hoping I someday have this with Kathryn. He pulls himself back to the present and I almost see his mind working. "That only leaves… No, she wouldn't go there…too run down now…"

I lean forward quickly. "Where? Mark, anywhere she might be. It's worth checking at least."

He nods slowly. "There was a shack. I doubt there's even water up there. It was… Where was it?" He stands and goes to his desk, hunting around through drawers. "I think it belonged to Edward's brother at one time, her uncle. Ah yes, here…" He shows me an old map and points to a small town I've never heard of in the north of California. "It was about two miles north of here, down a small dirt road on the left as you head north, if I remember right. There was a large beech tree at the side of the road where the turnoff is." I thank him and his wife, eager now to try this new lead. As I leave, I feel a hand on my arm and turn to Mark's wife.

"Tell her we send our love and that we'd love to see her, see you both sometime. Perhaps dinner?"

I nod my thanks again and shake their hands. I'd often thought I'd hate this man, someone I felt was almost a rival, but I feel I've made a friend instead, two friends. I promise to keep in touch and let them know."

KATHRYN.

"My angel left me soup this morning and I feel better having had some. My energy levels have dropped through the floor and I know I'm getting more and more confused. I manage to remember to constantly check the padds I leave all over the place now, notes to myself to remind me when I've taken medication, when I've eaten, things I need to remember although sometimes I don't think to enter information I'll need later so it can be a useless exercise at times.

I don't need reminders to take painkillers. My body tells me when I need that, which is becoming more and more often now. My eyes are starting to fail me even in the daylight now and most of the time I just sit outside on the lounger and doze, enjoying the sound of the birds and the warm sun. That is when I let my mind wander and think back on half-forgotten times. Mostly though, I remember Chakotay and smile sadly, wondering where he is now and what he's doing and then I put the thoughts away because they become too painful. Finally, I give in and let myself sleep again, my only comfort now."

PART TWO.

CHAKOTAY.

"I truly believe the Gods are watching over us all. When I arrived back here, Tom was waiting anxiously.

"Chakotay, Peter Sanders is here. You remember him? He was on Tuvok's security team." I nod and hurry into the house. "He has news." I look at Voyager's pilot and tell him my own news. I watch the amazement on his face and then the big smile that replaces it. "Wait until you hear this then."

Peter Sanders stands quickly and I motion for him to sit, telling him I'm not his First Officer any more. He smiles shyly and at a nod from Tom, he tells me his story.

"My cousin… Anyway, I only just managed to get up to see him despite my promises." He realizes he's wandering a little and smiles again. "Sorry. Well, I got up to see him yesterday and we sat talking and catching up half the night and I showed him all the holoimages I had from Voyager, mostly myself and my friends, away missions." He stops and draws in a deep breath.

"I finally showed him one of us all, taken at Tom and B'Elanna's wedding and he stared at it for ages. Finally he pointed to someone and told me it was his 'sleeping beauty'" I frown at this and look at both men but Tom just holds up his hand, telling me to be patient.

"My cousin explained that he recognized the captain, or at least he thought it was her." Peter rubs a hand over his face. "It seems there's this woman on the property next to his who's been there some weeks. She's always on her own and never leaves. A recluse if you like. Anyway, he spotted her one day when he was bird watching, which he does a lot when he's working the land. He said she always looks sad, although he's only ever seen her from a distance though his field glasses and she sleeps a lot, hence the name. He's started to leave things for her, food and stuff like that, but he stays away. He said he knows she wants to be left alone but he was sure it was her."

Tom meets my eyes, his grin a mile wide. "Chakotay, it has to be…"

I smile and nod my head then take the map Mark has given me and spread it in front of Peter. "Does your cousin live here?"

Peter studies the map and his face takes on a shocked expression when he looks up. "How did you know?"

I just smile. "Mark Johnston told me about this place. It used to belong to her uncle."

Tom interrupts. "Chakotay, the Doc was here just before you got back. He not only has a cure now but a vaccination against this."

I stand quickly. "Get him here now." Tom is already moving.

The Doctor quietly explains to me as he presses a hypo to my neck about the cure he's found.

"Commander, I need you to understand about this because I don't want your hopes raised too much." He sees my worried look and quickly explains. "Mark Crowe recovered quickly because this disease wasn't as advanced with him. However, with the captain it will be at a far more advanced stage." I nod my understanding but at this moment in time, I can't think in that manner, only that I'll find her and get her back. Nothing else can occupy my mind at this moment.

Peter takes me to his cousin's place first and I watch from the far field where he points me, telling me where to look through the field glasses and my heart almost stops. I see her in front of the house, lying asleep on a reclining chair and I know immediately it's her, would know her anywhere. Even from this distance though, I can see the weight she's lost and suddenly an urgency comes over me and I quickly thank Peter and his cousin and set off across the field. We have our comm badges and Peter knows to organize the beam out as soon as he hears from me.

I slowly approach her and watch her sleeping form. As I sit down beside her, I gently press a finger to her throat and feel a weak pulse there, my relief washing over me. Up close now I see how thin and pale she is, how ill she looks and I want to cry.

She stirs slightly, feeling my touch or from some image disturbing her mind, invading a dream and I hear my name whispered past her lips, perhaps calling to my ghost in her dream and now I get an answer to one of my questions. I still inhabit her world just as she does mine. Slowly as if sensing my presence, she wakens and I see her eyes slowly open as she looks around lazily, traces of the images her mind held a moment ago still in the blue depths I love so much but then I see her face fall, as reality presents itself and the dream is exposed as the fraud.

I softly speak her name and for a moment she smiles sadly, perhaps believing my voice is a vestige of her dream or a stray memory, simply her imagination, perhaps even the wind. Her eyes fail to focus properly and her hand searches beside her for her wrap as she stares off at nothing and I feel a fear in me as I realize her sight is affected. Once more I speak her name and reach a hand out to touch her arm gently. This time she knows it's no dream and a sudden panic crosses her face as she jumps up, stumbling over her own feet before catching her balance. She looks towards me and squints slightly at where she sees my shape. I see a mix of fear and pain cross her delicate features and stand slowly.

"Kathryn, please, it's all right."

She backs off further, inching her way towards the small shack. "No…no…you can't. You have to leave me. Please, Chakotay." I see her hand outstretched, a feeble attempt to keep me back. Tears pour from her eyes and she steps back into the rail of the porch, nowhere left to go now. I shake my head as I watch her and think of all the many Kathryns I've known over the years and I line all these different women up in my head, none of them existing outside of the other, each with their strengths and weaknesses but this woman before me, I don't recognize at all.

"Kathryn, listen to me now. Please just listen. I know everything. Doc has a cure now, cured Mark even. I'm in no danger."

She slides along the rail, in a state of turmoil I'd never thought to see her in. "Stella?" Her voice is weak and I move closer as she tries to get away from me.

"Stella committed suicide." I hate telling her this but she needs to know. I see my words reach her but I know they mean little to her. "Kathryn, please, you have to come back with me. The Doc can…"

She's reached the end of the rail and tries to find something to lean against. "I'll harm you. Please go." I move to her again, determined to get her to understand. My hands come down on her shoulders and she struggles weakly against my hold.

"Kathryn, please. You can't harm me." Her struggle stops and she falls against me and I thank God that she's heard me and understood but then I feel her slide down me and realize that the end of her struggle wasn't her accepting my words but her body surrendering.

"Kathryn?" I'm now the one in the panic and I slap my comm badge and shout to Peter to get us transported now. I pick her limp form up in my arms, her low weight shocking me and feel the tingle of the beam take us."

KATHRYN.

"My dreams are the only place I want to be now, the only place where I can be happy. It's only there I can be with him, where I can hold him and tell him what I feel but always they fade and I have to leave him behind once more. They can be so real, these dreams, that I want to cry when I leave them.

I imagine I hear him whisper my name, a soft sound that comes to me on the wind of my imaginings and despite the deep sadness I feel, I smile. I'm cold now and reach to find my wrap, unable to see where I left it. These last few days, my sight has gotten far worse but my acceptance of this has amazed me as I realized that Chakotay's face is the only thing I'd want to see anymore and I can still see that in my mind and heart, kept safe there.

I hear my name again, his voice, and then a touch on my arm and I know immediately that he's found me. I should have known he wouldn't give up but I can't let him near me, can't bring this disease to him. I jump up but my feet are unsteady and I struggle to keep my balance. I hear him speak to me and I can barely make him out as he stands before me.

I have to get away from him but my body refuses any orders I give it. My thoughts jumble together but I'm aware enough to know that I can't let him close to me, that I'm dangerous to him. I think I tell him to leave but I'm uncertain. Suddenly I can't go any further and I realize I'm backed up against the rail.

I hear his words but they make little sense to me. Something about the Doc having a cure and Mark being all right. I can't think straight. I know Stella is dead, I saw it. Did I say her name? Suicide? No, that can't be right. I have to get away.

My hand suddenly connects with open space and I know I've nowhere to go now. I feel his hands on me and I know only one thing. I can't infect him, can't let him touch me. I hear him tell me I can't harm him. Doesn't he know I can kill him? I struggle to get away but I feel the little strength I have abandon me and then I'm falling and complete darkness comes down on me. I feel his arms around me, hear him speak my name and a comfort so strong washes over me just as I let go."

CHAKOTAY.

"'Sit with her. Talk to her. It's all you can do'. The Doctor's words ring in my head repeatedly. It's the only thing I can do and I feel so helpless because of that. I want to have the power that will make her wake and talk to me, bring her back to how she was before this disease took her in its grasp but instead I sit here useless and pray.

It's the second day here but I only know that because someone told me. Time has lost meaning for me. There are only the times I'm with her and the times when I'm not, which are rare.

Yesterday, Peter beamed us both here and had alerted the Doctor for us. I remember standing in a room as Kathryn was taken from my arms by strangers and placed on a biobed as they rushed around her, shouting orders to each other in recognized words which had no meaning for me. Finally of course, they pushed me outside and the agonizing wait started. The Doctor came to me after many hours, time in which the light had fled the sky and been replaced by the stars which she loves so much. I remember nodding at his words, hunting through them for the ones I wanted to hear most, that she'd come back to me, would recover from this enemy which held her in its clutches, but they weren't there. Instead he spoke of flooding her body with the serum they'd manufactured, with antibiotics and other drugs and he told me, I know for my benefit, of the hope he had that this treatment would be successful but I know a lie when I hear one, even a well-meaning one.

I sit here now and do the only thing I can, that which I've wanted to do so badly over the last months, that which I've rarely done. I hold her hand and whisper softly to her, tell her how much I love her and miss her, how she has to fight this and still I pray.

"Come on, Kathryn. You went through all that struggle to get home. Now you're here, you have to fight to stay. Fight for it, Kathryn." I squeeze her hand tighter. "You worked so hard for this, sacrificed so much. You deserve this, honey, but you have to take it. Fight for it and take it. Take what you've earned because you paid a very high price for this." My emotions change to anger, that which I've held in abeyance for so long.

"Damn it, Kathryn, fight this. You owe me and you owe yourself. You promised to get us home and that means getting you and me home too. I need you." I feel guilty immediately for speaking to her so harshly and I almost expect her to sit up and shout back at me but that doesn't happen. Instead she lies here, still and pale, a battle taking place inside her as the drugs fight against the disease which rages through her small body. I know the struggle is desperate and I stroke her face, talking to her continuously as I tell her to fight, and I feel the heat from her skin as fever consumes her now. I spend hours sponging her face and body with cool water, trying to bring down the dangerously high temperature she has. The Doctor is with her almost constantly, monitoring her and scanning her, and each time I search his face for any trace of hope, any sign that it's turning our way but each time his expression stays the same and my heart sinks a little further. I console myself with the knowledge that she's a fighter but it's little comfort to me as I see her condition worsen.

A small sound invades my restless dozing and I'm instantly awake. I feel Kathryn's small hand move in mine and for a moment, hope surges through me that she's coming back to me but as I look to her face, I see a new struggle there, as delirium takes hold and abuses her already battered body. The Doctor is with us in seconds and together over the next hour, we fight for the woman before us as she thrashes about and cries out, sweat pouring from her as her body arches and spasms. I know she's in desperate pain and I feel so useless and know our Doctor feels it too, believes he should have the skill to take all this away and there's actually room in me for a moment to pity him.

She hurts herself now as seizures and convulsions take over and I cry as I watch her claw at herself and throw herself around. It breaks my heart as I help the Doctor restrain her, binding her wrists and ankles to the bed but I know we've no choice. Finally, the medications take effect and she quietens, small moans escaping her lips, her eyes barely open, glazed and unseeing.

I hear the Doctor tell me that he hopes this is the breaking point, possibly a turning in her condition, that the next few hours will tell. Once more, all I can do is sit and speak to her, hoping my voice will guide her back along the dark corridors of pain she's travelling somewhere, that it will lead her back to the light and to me."

KATHRYN.

"It's so dark and all I know is pain. I'm somewhere I don't know and it's so confusing but one thing is constant. I hear Chakotay's voice but I can't find him and I turn in circles and search but each path is as dark as the other and I keep losing my way.

Pain surrounds me and I feel something crawl all over me and I can't stop it. I feel myself struggle against it and heat consumes me then cool and then the heat again, burning me, scalding my body.

I hear his voice again and suddenly I can't move and I struggle against what holds me but I can't get free and yet it anchors me where I am and his voice is a little clearer. I turn and try once more to find him, find a way out from this hell."

CHAKOTAY.

"I dare to hope now that we've turned a corner. She's quieter now, breathing a little easier and her temperature continues to fall, even though it's slow as her fever breaks. I still bathe her in cool water and somehow it calms her just as my voice seems to sooth her in some way. She occasionally murmurs something I can't understand and then I stroke her hair and face, praying my words will guide and comfort her and lead her home again.

Four days I've sat here now and tended her and I'm exhausted but never once do I consider stopping. I'll never abandon this woman and now I can see her fight her way back to me. Her temperature is almost back to normal, thank God, and her body is relaxed once again, free of the spasms and seizures which gripped her before. For the first time now, I see hope on the face of our Doctor as he sees himself start to win this battle and begins to lower the doses he administers. Finally, there's light at the end of the tunnel and we see it."

KATHRYN.

"I still hear his voice as I try and follow it and somehow I imagine I feel his hand holding mine. I don't know where I am but the pain I felt has left and my mind feels clearer. I imagine I see a faint light ahead of me and I fight my way towards it, almost as if I'm swimming against a current that yields before me. I feel myself almost float upwards and suddenly the light is brighter and the hand holding me tightens as I pull at it, a buoy in this sea of darkness as I fight my way to the surface."

CHAKOTAY.

"Did I imagine that or wish it? Her hand tightened on mine, I'm sure. I call to the Doc as I watch Kathryn's face closely, barely breathing as I look for any sign that she's coming back to me and there suddenly, I see her eyes move beneath her eyelids and again her hand grips at mine.

"Kathryn, follow my voice. Fight your way back. Kathryn, come on." A faint groan escapes her lips and I look up briefly to see the Doc scanning her, a slow smile spreading across his face. I continue calling to her, tightening my own grip on her hand, shaking it now, anything to stimulate her and pull her back. "Kathryn, come to me. Follow my voice. Come on, fight this, Kathryn." I watch, barely breathing at all, as her eyelids flutter open and I see the struggle she has with this small action. "Kathryn." I gently tap her face and slowly she wins and opens her eyes. I want to cry and in the end I do as I watch her eyes scan around her and finally settle on mine. I blink back my tears and see that her eyes are awash with unshed tears of her own. All of a sudden I see her remember and a deep fear takes over her features as she tries weakly to pull her hand from mine and I know where this fear stems from so I quickly speak to allay it.

"Kathryn, you're cured. You can't infect anyone." I speak slowly and strongly, determined that she understand what I say but unable to believe my words, her eyes search out the Doctor who simply nods and confirms what she needs to hear.

I stand back now and let the Doctor take over, giving her a full work over, making sure she's completely clear of the enemy which so nearly stole her from us all. I hear him quietly confirm what she obviously still finds impossible to believe and I lean back against the wall and feel a weight lift off me, the fear and pain which has surrounded me for so long but in its place, a dreadful fatigue covers me and an outpouring of such emotion which I never thought could possibly be housed inside one person. I sense rather than feel myself slide down the wall and then the Doctor's kindly face is before me.

"Commander, I'm going to have you for a patient if you don't get some rest." I look up at him and then towards Kathryn but he just smiles and touches my arm. "She's asleep, dropped off almost immediately. Normal sleep is what she needs now, plenty of good food and rest." I nod slowly and try to stand as his voice fades away."


KATHRYN.

"I've been awake for a while now and I'm watching Chakotay's sleeping face on the bed beside me. The Doctor explained how he collapsed from sheer exhaustion and I try once more to push back the guilt which keeps trying to take me over.

Doc's told me everything and I think I could have handled this very differently but in the end I know I'd do the same again, that protecting them was all that mattered. I know that it could so easily have gone the other way and a cure might not have been found, so in the end I made the right decision.

I watch him murmur something in his sleep, perhaps from part of the horror he's been through and I want to cry for the pain I know he endured as he searched for me, never giving up once. My mind has cleared completely, my thoughts again my own and under my control, something I always took for granted. I stretch slowly, still unable to believe completely that I'm free of the pain which filled me for so long. I blink back my tears, instantly clearing my vision, seeing what's around me in detail for the first time in weeks.

As if sensing my study of him, he slowly comes awake, back to this world after the eighteen hours he's been sleeping and suddenly he jumps up, his eyes frantically searching around him and I know I'm what he seeks.

"Chakotay…" His eyes fly in the direction of my voice and his face lights up and for the first time ever, he allows his feelings for me to be seen, completely undisguised, and I mirror them, allowing him to see that love reflected back to him. For a brief second there's confusion, disbelief at what he sees and I hold out my hand and slide down from the bed shakily and move to him, determined that he know the truth which I've held from him for too long.

I see my hands reach for his face and I hold him, my thumbs gently caressing his cheeks and wiping away the fallen moisture there. I hear a deep sob tear from his throat as the emotion of the moment engulfs him and slowly I lean in and brush my lips to his. He collapses against me and I struggle to hold his weight before his arms encircle me and crush me to him, the breath taken from my body as he rocks me to him.

"Oh Kathryn. Oh God. Please tell me this isn't a dream. Tell me this is real." His plea is heart rending and I whisper reassuringly to him, telling him that I'm here, that this is real, that I'm all right and then I pull back, needing to look into his eyes to say the rest, needing him to see into mine so he knows the truth of my words.

"Chakotay, I love you." Time stands still for us as we see into each other's souls and the moment is sealed on our hearts for all time.

"Oh God, Kathryn, I love you. I've waited so long to say, to hear you say…" He chokes up, his words cut off but we don't need them because everything is there between us, instinctively felt, a connection between us never to be broken."

CHAKOTAY.

"A part of me still believes this is some cruel dream and I'll wake to find my heart broken again. As if seeing all this, she leans in and brushes her lips to mine again, her hands softly squeezing mine in hers, their gentle weight an affirmation of her presence.

I become slowly aware of the Doctor standing off to our right and tear my eyes from hers to look to him and see a smile on his face which will stay with me for a long time. I see Kathryn look to him also and as if suddenly embarrassed, she drops her head and leans into my chest, burying herself there and I wrap my arms around her as I feel her smile against me. I kiss the top of her head and close my eyes, breathing in her scent. When I look up again, the Doctor has left us, retired quietly to his office, giving us the privacy he knows we need. Time remains still as we hold each other and I know in this moment, that my life has only just begun."

TWO WEEKS LATER.

CHAKOTAY.

"I feel so guilty as I look into her face and see her tears, the ones I've just put there but I owe her my honesty. It's our first fight and I know in the real world this had to come but I wish so much it didn't have to be. We're at my house where she's been staying since the Doctor released her and despite our declaration of love to each other, we've yet to make that final step.

It's been two weeks of building up and settling down. We returned and visited Mark and his wife and a friendship has established itself there between the four of us which will last a lifetime and I'm happy for Kathryn, that she can settle that part of her life. We also returned to see Peter Sanders and his cousin and Kathryn was finally able to thank her 'angel' for all his kindness. She came to stay with me until she recovered but we both know she'll never leave, that this is forever. Only one last piece of unfinished business stands in our way and we need to deal with that.

"Kathryn, you asked me to be honest with you and I'd never be anything less." She shakes her head and turns away from me but I follow her and grab her shoulders, turning her back to me.

"Kathryn, you asked about what I felt all the time you were missing and I have to tell you. If we don't talk about this, it'll always be there between us. I just want you to understand how I felt then."

She lowers her head. "I hurt you. I know that."

I place a finger under her chin and force her head back up. "I just can't understand why you didn't come to me, tell me what was happening to you. You've no idea how hurt I was when I found out why you'd left, apart from being sick with worry. Kathryn, the pain I felt before that even, not knowing why or where you were, even if you were dead or alive. I was so hurt, the pain I had and the betrayal and anger I felt."

She cries harder and pulls away from me. "What else could I have done?" I see her almost shake with emotion but I allow her this. "My world felt as if it had ended and I truly believed it had. I felt so guilty for taking Mark and Stella, and I know…" She holds up a hand. "I know you'll say I couldn't have known and I agree but that guilt was still there, just as it always has been with any crewmember I lost." She stops a moment to catch her breath.

"Chakotay, all of you… God, I know we all swore to serve and you all see yourselves as there to serve Starfleet and your captain but… Chakotay, I serve you all too and that continues to the day I die, for all my days, and I had to protect you in any way that means." She sits slowly and lets her tears fall, her hands wringing together.

"It almost destroyed me to leave the way I did. I kept remembering my last words to you, that I'd see you later and I was breaking my promise and I knew how hurt you'd be and that you wouldn't understand, but I knew too that…" She looks up at me. "I knew you'd try and stop me and then I'd have infected you and destroyed what I love most in this life, destroyed you."

I move and sit beside her, leaving her a little space. "Kathryn, I understand. I do. It's just… I just want you to know how I felt, how hurt and angry I was." Slowly I reach for her hand and she allows it. "Look, let's just put this behind us now, move forward and let it go."

She meets my eyes and nods slowly. "That's all I want. I'd dream of that, pretend so often…"

I grip her hand tightly. "Tell me about that, about that time."

She sniffs and looks around the room. "Oh God, it was… I mean, the physical side of it…" She slowly tells me everything about seeing Dr. Wilson and how she heard the news from him. "Later on, I felt bad for not going back to him but I was afraid I might see someone and… Well, you know." I nod slowly. "When I was there… Oh I had hypos for the pain but it just got worse and I tried keeping a log but I'd forget what I'd written and have to read it again, and then my eyes started to fail." She sits and tells me of her time alone and the fear, loneliness and pain she endured and I cry, feeling such a deep pain at what she went through.

Finally she tells me about her guardian angel and how he left food for her and how she felt when I found her. I tell her of Stella and how she gave up, of visiting Mark and discovering the whole story, of how my search ended and contacting Mark Johnston and finding Peter and his cousin. We both know the basic details of all this, having spoken of it already but now we speak deeply about it all, sparing each other nothing. By the end of the evening, we're both exhausted but the way before us is now clear.

"Kathryn, I want you to promise me that no matter what life throws at us in the future, you'll never do anything like this again." I see the hurt on her face, as if she hasn't explained herself well enough. "Kathryn, I understand why you did things the way you did, really I do, but for the future, for our future, please let me be there. I know you made the only decision you saw you could make and that's past now but in the end all it did was cause me a worse pain. I don't mean to keep this going but I just want your promise that you'll always let me be there for you from now on." I see that she understands now and she nods her head. "Kathryn, I don't mean to be angry at you and I guess I'm not really. It's just… It's the kind of anger that comes from relief. Can you understand? It's like when a child is missing and you find them and all you want to do is pull them into your arms but instead you scream at them for worrying you so much." She nods again, her understanding so clear now and tears spill from her eyes as she throws herself into my arms, knocking us both back on the sofa. We cling to each other for a long time, whispering together and planning our future, speaking of things I only ever dreamed we'd speak of and a peace settles over me unlike any I've ever known. I know now that we're truly home."

KATHRYN.

"I watch him sleep, something I could do endlessly but this time it's different. This time he's at peace with himself and the world around us. This time we have each other and the knowledge of that stays with him even in sleep.

I hate that we fought although a part of me doesn't think of it as a fight. We cleared the way before us and what we spoke of needed to be said, needed to be brought out into the open, dealt with and then put away for all time. I suppose I can liken it to cleaning out a wound and now our healing has begun.

I lean back slightly and trace his face with my eyes, each contour which I know so well. I could trace each line in my sleep, so often have I studied him but his body remains un-chartered territory and just the mere thought of exploring it starts a deep feeling inside of me, one I haven't felt in many years and yet it's different to any I've known before because this time it's coupled with the deepest, most intense love I've ever felt.

I guess we're tuned into each other in every way because suddenly he stirs and his eyes open and stare deeply into mine, and reading my mind he pulls me down to him and then his lips cover mine and I'm lost, drowning in a sea of emotion and pleasure that could never be surpassed. Oh we've kissed before but this is something different, perhaps the knowledge that our time has come without either of us saying anything to the other.

He rolls me to the side and breaks the kiss, his eyes searching mine for the permission he believes he needs and I silently thank him for asking. I nod slowly and reach for him again and utter one word.

"Please…" My voice is husky with desire, sounding alien to my ears and I see love and passion mounting in his eyes as he lowers his lips back to mine, possessing them with his warmth. I feel his hands gently holding and caressing me but a fire is building in me unlike anything I've ever known and suddenly I don't want gentle or safe. I've stared what I believed was my death in the face and I desperately need to reaffirm the life I now have. He senses my urgency and once more breaks the kiss as his hand strokes my face.

"Tell me, Kathryn. Tell me what you need." Oh, how I love him for asking. Once I'd have been too embarrassed to ever speak of such things, even when I knew my lover well, but what exists between us erases who I once was, recharges me into the woman I am in his arms.

"I need you. All of you. Everything you have to give. I need to feel the passion, the force of it and I need to give that to you too. I need to feel alive again." I know I'm not explaining myself well but I see that he understands and yet he hesitates.

"Kathryn, I'm so afraid of hurting you. You've been so ill and it's been a long time since you were last with anyone."

I kiss him deeply. "I'm fine and you won't hurt me. Please, Chakotay. I need to open the floodgates, let out what I'm feeling. I need to feel it all, reaffirm it all. We've waited so long." My chest is heaving, turning me on just talking like this and all I want is to feel him fill me to bursting, have him possess me body and soul. I see his eyes darken with his own desire and know in that instant that he needs this just as much as I do.

And then it takes us over and I can't even think as his mouth devours mine. Our hands tear at each other's clothes, desperate to reach and touch every inch of flesh. There's no organization to our coming together, no set order, just frantic need as his hands and mouth almost attack my body, sucking at my breasts in a way that would hurt were I not so aroused. I feel his hand slip under my skirt and then he's leaning back, ripping the fabric from my body, my panties tearing quickly to join it. I reach down, pulling at the fasteners of his trousers and rip them open, exposing him to my eyes and oh God, what a sight. I can almost feel myself climax just looking at him. A sound escapes my lips that almost resembles a growl and he smiles, an almost feral expression. He stands, kicking off his pants, and then lifts me, turning quickly and slamming me against the wall, the wind knocked out of me and I glory in his actions as his body pins me against the surface. I see his eyes on mine, checking constantly that I'm all right with this but I know that all he'll see there is my desire.

I wrap my legs around his waist and feel the hot, hard length of him against me and I squirm and twist myself, desperate to feel him inside me but this man has other ideas. He reaches down, his fingers slipping easily through my wet folds and inside me, caressing my inner walls as I cry out, my hips trying to buck but unable to. His mouth fastens on to my breast again and this time he growls.

"Not yet, my sweet. Only when I'm ready." His torture is agony and yet only pushes me higher. He brings me to the brink then stops, leaving me almost crying. Before I know what's happening, he's pulling me from the wall and slamming me down over the table, pinning my arms above my head as he continues to tease me, his length playing along my sensitive folds. He's enjoying this as I writhe beneath him, begging at this stage. He releases my hands and now they're pulling at him, my nails tearing at his back but he doesn't seem to feel the pain, even though I'm sure I'm drawing blood.

"Chakotay, please." He grins down at me before pulling back and I claw at empty air. His hands grab my legs, spreading my thighs quickly and he pulls me towards him then lowers his mouth to me and I scream out at the first contact he makes as he laves his tongue from my anus to my hair line and back then slowly circles my throbbing clit, blowing softly then nipping and sucking, driving me wild. He holds my hips in place, most likely afraid I'll do damage to myself as his wonderful assault continues, bringing me closer to the edge but stopping each time I near it. He knows what he's doing to me and I see how much he's enjoying it.

"Patience, my love. It'll be all the sweeter when it finally happens." My head is thrashing back for forth and my hands seek contact with anything they can grip. I'm so close, yet again he pulls back, instinctively knowing the moment and then he's gone and I cry out in frustration. He lifts me again and moves quickly to the bed where he places me on my feet, my legs barely able to hold me up. Before I register what he's doing, he spins me in his arms, my back pressed to his chest as his arm pulls me to him tightly. I see him reach for a pillow which he drops at the side of the bed at my feet and then he's pushing me down to my knees onto it and bending me over the bed, my arms above my head.

My breathing is barely controlled now and I'm almost panting with wanting him and I feel him kneel behind me, his hands gently forcing my legs apart and again I feel his rock hard shaft against me, prodding me as he seeks entrance to my body. One hand holds me down while the other reaches around me, stroking me back to where I was a moment ago. I can't believe the cries and moans coming from my own mouth and then I hear his voice.

"Tell me, Kathryn. Tell me how you want it." Oh God, this man. "Kathryn, tell me how. Tell me where. Let me hear you say it." His words and his fingers have me toppling right on the edge and I push back against him.

"Please, Chakotay." His fingers slow and I cry out.

"Tell me how. Tell me where." I feel his fingers at my entrance, the digits of his other hand now at my anus, giving me full choice and I know my answer.

"All of you. Everywhere. Both, please. Hard." I haven't the breath to speak and I feel as if every cell in my body is on fire. His fingers trace both my entrances and then about my clitoris.

"Hard, Kathryn?" I push back against him. "Tell me." I can't take much more.

"Oh God, yes. Hard. Long and hard. Please, Chakotay." He's killing me here.

"Where, Kathryn. Here?" I feel him at the entrance to my vagina and cry out.

"Oh yes. Please. Now." He presses against me and I again push back but he pulls away once more, determined to play this out to the last.

"Where else, Kathryn? Tell me. Say it." I feel as if I'm going to die here but I know I'll say what he wants to hear.

"There…in…up…the ass. Hard up the ass." My words shock me for a minute, their first time to have crossed my lips but with them comes a feeling of liberation I've never experienced before and an even greater excitement fills me and I know it's had the same effect on him.

"Yes?" He's pressing against me again, his fingers speeding up then slowing again.

"Oh God, yes, Chakotay. Please, God. Yes…yes." His fingers trace idly over me and I feel his other hand spread my wetness, which is positively dripping from me now, over my back entrance. He's gentle as his fingers press slowly into me, stretching me and I groan loudly as a feeling of dark desire washes over me. I've never done this before and somehow I sense he knows that.

"Trust me, love. Trust me. I won't ever hurt you." I can barely answer him as the feelings inside me invade every atom of my being as he replaces his fingers with his hard shaft and pushes deeply into me.

"Ohhh Godddd…ummm…" I've never known anything like this and as his fingers continue to stimulate me, rubbing slowly across my clit and inside me, I feel the start of something so deep, I'm almost afraid. He thrusts in and out of me slowly until I'm almost there again and then I'm empty and his hands leave me also. I cry out again, in a feeling of abandonment this time, but before the sound has left my mouth, I feel him again, pressing against my vagina this time and then in one forceful thrust, he's home and I scream out as I stretch to accommodate him. He stops immediately, giving me time to adjust as the sweet stinging turns to a pleasure so profound, I cry. Slowly, his fingers start to move again, picking up speed and his thrusts match them until he's pounding in and out of me and I'm seeing stars. I'm vaguely aware of sounds around me, skin slapping against skin, my cries and his moans and then sensations take over and I feel myself tightening inside and the tremors mount until what could only be described as a volcano of pleasure erupts within me, spilling over into every pore and I scream until I'm hoarse. I'm aware then of his shouts and the feel of his semen filling me so deeply, warming me inside, spreading and finding its own home.

He remains buried inside me for several minutes, his hand stroking up and down my back, as I slowly come down and gradually I'm aware of his hardening inside me again as he slowly begins to pump me once more, his fingers starting a fresh assault on my clit, his other hand at my anus.

"Chakotay, I..I can't…" I try my best to get air into my lungs.

"Yes, you can, Kathryn. Just go with it." I feel the second climax approach within a minute as he thrusts in and out of me, his fingers penetrating my rear entrance and rubbing at my clit and then I'm coming again, his name screaming from my lips. He continues to press in and out of me more slowly now and I'm aware that he hasn't come with me this time. He gently pulls himself from my depths and lifts me up onto the bed then rolls me onto my back.

He's facing me this time and locking eyes with me, waits at my entrance a moment. Staring deeply at me, he surges forward as I cry out. His hands grab hold of my wrists and he holds them above my head using one of his large hands. His other hand reaches down and lifts one of my legs, raising it, his fingers gripping my thigh tightly, making his penetration so deep, I feel him touch my cervix. I throw my head back but his voice reaches me again.

"Kathryn, look at me. I want to see you when you come. Show me everything." His words are almost a trigger, aiding the pounding he's subjecting me to and I feel it start again and my eyes widen. I've never climaxed this way, not without direct stimulation. I raise my other leg out of instinct and feel myself tighten again and then I can't hold his eyes any longer. I hear a keening wail fill the air and only then realize I'm making the sound. At the last minute, I force my eyes open, wanting to see him as I feel him lose himself again and fill me one more time and we go over the edge together.

Once more, I lie and watch him sleep, a slight smile on his face, so at peace with our world. He stirs slightly and his arm tightens around me. As I feel sleep claim me too, I snuggle against him, my body still humming to itself in the afterglow of our lovemaking. My mind has never known such peace and contentment and I'm almost afraid that this is not real but I know that the feelings inside me could never exist in any dream state, that they could only be brought about by this man, who has stood beside me through so much, who has given me so much and who loves me so much. As I finally let go, I break the habit of a lifetime. I don't question. I just accept."

THE END.