The Stubborn Hand Of Fate by D.A. Kent


E-mail:

D.A. Kent

Rated:

NC-17 (You must be over 18 to read this!)

Date:

October, 2000

Disclaimer:

Star Trek and all characters therein are owned by Paramount, and they, in turn, own too much of me.

Important Note:

This is a sequel to my earlier story, Slim Chance. Although it isn't absolutely necessary to read it first, it would be best to do so.

FOR Sylvia:

Happy Birthday, Sylvia!



Captain Kathryn Janeway was sitting in the chair behind her desk in her Ready Room. Her head was against the headrest and her eyes were closed. It was quiet. Blessedly quiet.

This was her favorite place to be when she just wanted some time to think, to be alone. Thankfully, most of her senior staff understood that she didn't like to be bothered when she was in her Ready Room unless it was something important.

Just then, the door chime sounded. Kathryn lifted her head and sighed. Well, most people left her alone.

"Come."

Commander Chakotay, the father of her unborn child, entered the room and stood before her desk, padd in hand. He looked so serious that Kathryn suppressed the urge to smile.

"Commander," she said in greeting. "What can I do for you?"

"I'm here with a couple of reminders, Captain. First, B'Elanna is expecting you to join her in Engineering for a system's check at 15:00 hours." He paused, as Kathryn groaned inwardly. "In fact, here is B'Elanna's preliminary report on the warp core situation," he said, offering her the padd. "She thought you might want to take a look at this prior to your meeting."

Kathryn took the padd from him, and perused it briefly. She knew he wasn't here for this reason alone. But now B'Elanna's report had her attention. "Chakotay, did you look at this report?" She paused, as Chakotay nodded, managing to hide the smile that kept threatening to appear. "Do you understand now what I've been telling you? This ‘preliminary report' is eight pages long. It will take me longer to plow my way through this than it did for B'Elanna to actually do whatever it is she did to the warp core." Her frustration with B'Elanna's reports always amused Chakotay, but he had gotten pretty good at concealing it.

"Kathryn, I'm sure it's your imagination. B'Elanna dislikes writing any report, and I don't think she would spend more time writing one than she felt was necessary."

"Unless she thought it would keep me out of her hair for awhile." Kathryn stood from her chair and leaned over her desk until she was only a short distance away from Chakotay. "And don't think I don't know you get great pleasure from this," she said in a low voice, before turning away and moving up to the replicator.

Well, he thought he had gotten good at concealing it. It was tough to pull one over on Kathryn Janeway, though. Especially since she knew him so well.

"Coffee? Tea?" she asked, changing the subject, much to Chakotay's relief.

"Tea please."

Chakotay watched Kathryn as she ordered two cups of hot tea from the replicator. She was 10 weeks pregnant now, and even he couldn't tell a difference in her physical appearance. Occasionally, she seemed to lack a bit of patience where she usually had a great deal, and she tired a bit earlier most evenings, but other than that, she seemed to be holding together just fine.

But Chakotay kept an even closer watch over her than usual. This pregnancy hadn't happened in the usual way, and neither of them had been prepared for it at all. He still awakened in the middle of the night, wondering if he'd dreamt it.

And he also knew that Kathryn was good at completely ignoring the fact that she was pregnant when it came to her duties as Captain, and keeping her promise to get this crew home. He, in turn, was completely comfortable hiding behind the guise of his own duties as First Officer, and keeping his eye out for the safety of the ship's Captain even more than was customary. He simply would not allow her the latitude to take certain risks that she seemed destined to take periodically. He knew this might be the topic of a future argument between them, but he would deal with it when the time came. Kathryn Janeway didn't like answering to anyone, and it had been a long time since she had needed to. Six plus years in the Delta Quadrant, with Starfleet protocols embedded into the ship's computer system, normally left her plenty of room in which to navigate. She wouldn't take kindly to her First Officer interfering now.

The Doctor was expecting her for her 10-week check-up first thing in the morning, and Chakotay knew that Kathryn always forgot about it. If she remembered, she would already be complaining about having to see the Doctor tomorrow. But he was here to remind her now. He had learned that the longer she had to mentally prepare herself for her check-ups with the Doctor, the better those visits went.

Kathryn returned to her desk with two steaming cups of tea. She nodded to her First Officer, motioning him to sit down and relax. Even now, they had to stick to protocol. They both understood the importance of running the ship in the usual manner, without interruption. She put his cup in front of him, then took her own seat.

Ten weeks ago, on an Away Mission, the Captain and the Commander both beamed back to Voyager during the same transport. They were the last two to return from the mission, and during the beam-out a nearly undetectable spatial distortion somehow caused the Commander's DNA to impregnate the Captain. As slim as the chances were of this occurring, it nonetheless did.

The Doctor confirmed this explanation as being the only viable one, and his repeated tests and experiments proved it to be true. The fetus inside the Captain's womb was indeed comprised of DNA from both the Captain and her First Officer, and they had never made love with each other. Not that the thought hadn't entered both their minds on hundreds of occasions over the past six years.

The Captain of Voyager and her First Officer had never even kissed each other, yet the Captain had become pregnant with his child.

Chakotay had always believed that if a thing was intended to happen, it somehow would, even if it seemed an impossibility. And now, here was proof of that in front of his very eyes.

After several days, the senior staff had been informed of the pregnancy by the Captain during a routine staff meeting. They were told that the baby was expected, but were given no details about how it had happened. And two weeks after that, the other crewmembers were told about the Captain's condition. There was now more speculation than ever before about the Captain and the Commander, and their surprise relationship that no one had known about before. And the Doctor simply smiled smugly throughout everything. He and Tuvok were the only other crew members to know the true nature of the pregnancy, and how it had come about.

However, Kathryn and Chakotay were definitely becoming closer. Chakotay understood that Kathryn had to move at her own speed where their relationship was concerned, even though he had long been ready to admit to his love for her and to make a commitment to her. He accepted her hesitancy, though. She was doing the best she could, and better than he'd ever imagined she would be doing at this point.

While Chakotay was one to quickly accept whatever fate dealt him, Kathryn had a difficult time accepting anything that was not her choosing. In this way they were very different, but this time it didn't seem to matter. Chakotay was thrilled about this unborn child that belonged to the both of them. He continued to awaken some nights with his heart beating frantically, thinking that this was all just a dream that was driving him crazy with desire.

But then he would see Kathryn in the morning, and breathe a sigh of relief when he saw the new sparkle in her eyes, and the new awareness when she looked at him.

Chakotay knew that Kathryn had always wanted a child of her own, someday. But it had seemed that her "someday" might not ever come. And now this. What she didn't know was that he often had the same sort of feeling – that of never being a father. But long ago, he had stopped wanting to be a father to just any child, and only had visions of becoming a father to Kathryn Janeway's child.

"What?" she asked, interrupting his thoughts.

"I beg your pardon?"

She smiled. "You were a million kilometers away just now. Maybe even back in the Alpha Quadrant."

He returned her smile. "I was just thinking about the baby." He sipped his tea. Maybe Kathryn was no cook, but she could sure replicate a good cup of tea.

"You seem to do that a lot. Think about the baby." Her voice was soft. Sometimes she caught herself thinking about this man at all times of the day lately. And night.

"I can't help myself, Kathryn. I want this baby. I can see her in my mind's eye now. I know exactly what she will look like."

Kathryn shook her head, and told herself again how lucky she was. If some Higher Power had deemed it necessary to make certain she had a child, even if she hadn't slept with a man to make one, she was certainly glad it was Chakotay's.

Chakotay had much more easily accepted the news about this baby than she had, as she had known he would. It was still too much for her to bear at times, and if it wasn't for Chakotay's comforting presence and additional assistance with ship's duties, she thought she might go mad.

And Chakotay spoke to her of the child more often now. She knew he did this intentionally, in order to make the situation more real for both of them. It still felt strange at times to be pregnant with this child, without ever having had a physical and spiritual closeness with the father. And she found that the more Chakotay spoke of the baby, the more real all of this did become. When they were alone together these days, they spoke about the baby as much as they did about crew reports. Lately, Chakotay's excitement about this child was making it easier for her to imagine what she might be like.

"Tell me, what will she look like, Chakotay?" she asked in a whisper.

Chakotay looked up at her and smiled. "You," he said simply. "She will look like her Mother."

Kathryn laughed. "Well," she said, "I've asked you that question three times in the past month, and you've answered it the same way each time. I'm beginning to believe you."

"Believe me, Kathryn," he answered softly. "She will have the most beautiful blue-grey eyes in the universe, next to her Mother's, and she will have lovely light brown hair with auburn highlights, like her Mother. Her hair will shine when the light hits it, and her eyes will sparkle with warmth and affection. She will command any room she walks into without even knowing it." He paused, and looked into Kathryn's eyes. "Perhaps she's even destined to be the Captain of a starship."

Kathryn was quiet, looking at this incredible man. Suddenly, her eyes began to fill with tears, and she quickly stood and moved away from the desk. "I hope not," she said softly. "I don't wish that responsibility upon her." Then she said in a quieter tone. "Perhaps a junior science officer. That's much safer."

She had her back to him, and was staring up and out of the viewport, and Chakotay stood and moved to her. "Kathryn."

She looked down, but did not turn toward him.

Chakotay stood behind her and gently put both his hands on her shoulders. "Kathryn. Look at me."

But the Captain didn't move. She didn't want him to see her face. Damnit, she was a Starfleet Captain, and Starfleet Captains didn't cry. It must be this damned pregnancy. Things seemed to affect her so much lately, and she absolutely hated being emotional.

"Kathryn."

Finally, she couldn't bear to hear the plea in Chakotay's voice any longer. Kathryn sighed, then turned toward him. Fine. Let Chakotay see that she was nearly crying. Maybe now he would leave her alone.

But instead, when she turned and looked into his face, he smiled at her in a way that made her heart leap. He looked at her with such open love and adoration, and she suddenly had no idea what she'd done to deserve a man like this as the father of her child.

And now, as they looked deeply into each other's eyes, Kathryn felt her heart soar. This man could do to her what no man had done before. He could make her forget everything when she looked at him. It might not be a good thing for a ship's captain to be feeling this way, but Kathryn Janeway needed this feeling desperately.

Chakotay gently pulled her into his arms and held her against his chest, hoping she wouldn't move away. He wrapped his arms around her back and rested his cheek against the top of her head. He sighed deeply, breathing her scent, and waited for Kathryn's response.

But, to Chakotay's surprise, Kathryn relaxed against his chest and slowly brought her arms up and around his waist. Then she snuggled in closer to him. It wasn't in any way an obvious snuggle, not from Kathryn Janeway. It was as subtle as a snuggle could be, but Chakotay felt it nonetheless. He smiled into her hair, as he heard a faint sigh escape her lips. And he knew that he was the luckiest man alive. He now had everything he'd ever dreamed of, Kathryn Janeway in his arms and a baby on the way. All those other things that they lacked now would come about in time. And time was the one thing he had to give in abundance.

Kathryn closed her eyes, allowing herself to be engulfed by this wonderful man. How she longed for this closeness at times. Sometimes she was so lonely at night, she would get up at 03:00 hours and read until it was time to get ready for her duty shift on the Bridge.

Kathryn sighed softly, and Chakotay grazed her hair with his lips. His eyes were closed, and he was breathing in the scent of her, this woman he had loved for so long.

After a short while, Kathryn forced herself to think about the present, and the fact that they were in her Ready Room, during alpha shift. This was not an after hours moment in either of their quarters. Things which took place in her Ready Room during alpha shift should involve ship's business, and she had to make sure she didn't mix the two distinct parts of her life. This was the only way she was going to remain sane at all in the months, and years, ahead. Maybe someday she would be able to reconcile these two parts of her life into one part, one complete part, but she wasn't able to do that just yet.

Gently, Kathryn pushed herself away from Chakotay, and she sensed, more than saw, his reluctance to let her go. She understood the feeling. It had felt so good to just enjoy the moment, and his embrace.

"Chakotay," she said softly, "we need to get back to work."

Chakotay nodded briefly. He understood her hesitance, but she had given him more than he could have hoped for just now. She had allowed him to hold her for a moment, for no reason at all.

Moving to a chair in front of the Captain's desk, Chakotay sat, then picked up his now cold cup of tea and took another sip. Nothing had ever tasted better.

Kathryn smiled to herself. He was so kind and good. Chakotay never pushed her, never forced her to make choices she wasn't prepared to make. He was content to take what came, and make the best of things. Yet this man wasn't one to sit back and let others speak for him, or make decisions for him. And, as the gods only knew, he most certainly wasn't afraid to let his Captain know when he thought she was wrong about something.

Moving back to her chair, Kathryn sat slowly. Chakotay's arms had felt so good around her, and she wasn't usually one to like the feeling of being protected, being cared for. But this man could certainly bring out things inside her she wasn't accustomed to feeling. And some things she thought she had forgotten how to feel.

". . . Kathryn?"

"I'm sorry, Chakotay. I was woolgathering. What did you say?"

Chakotay smiled, but didn't answer immediately.

"What?" she asked again.

"That is such an old-fashioned expression coming from a 24th century woman, that's all."

She returned his smile, and took a sip of her own tea. "Hmm. I must have picked it up some place." Then she changed the subject, and turned back to the work at hand. Kathryn knew how to be efficient; it was one of the reasons she had risen through Starfleet Academy so quickly. That and the fact that she was smarter and more determined than most people.

Sighing heavily, she picked up B'Elanna's engineering report and looked at Chakotay pointedly. "What shall I do with this?"

"I'll make a deal with you. I'll take care of that and deal with all the Engineering problems today, including meeting with B'Elanna at 15:00 hours. I'll also return to Bridge duty right now, if you promise to finish up the rest of the necessary reports by 17:00 hours and call it a day. If there is anything important left over, I'll help you to complete it first thing tomorrow morning."

"It's a deal," answered Kathryn quickly, as she immediately handed Chakotay the padd he had brought in to her earlier.

"I walked right into that one, didn't I?" asked Chakotay, taking the padd from her hand.

"Ran is more like it," she quipped, smiling.

Chakotay stood, and took a deep breath. "I'd better get busy then, Captain. It'll take me some time to get through this report."

"Understood, Commander," she said, then looked away from him in silent dismissal.

As Chakotay moved toward the doors, Kathryn turned toward him again. "Commander?"

Chakotay stopped and turned to her. "Captain?"

"If you don't have plans for this evening, I'd be willing to use some of my replicator rations for a nice meal for the two of us."

Chakotay grinned. "I'd like that."

"Good. 19:00 hours." She turned away once more. "I need to get to bed early tonight. My appointments with the Doctor go much better if I'm well rested."

"You actually remembered your appointment for tomorrow morning?" he asked, incredulously.

"Absolutely not," she replied, studying something on her computer screen. "The Doctor has already reminded me twice today." And, as Chakotay turned to leave once more, she added, "And you might want to let him know that it would be in his best interests not to mention it further."

She hadn't looked at him when she said it, but Chakotay knew she meant it. And she knew he would speak to the Doctor about it. Well, if that's all it took to keep peace between Kathryn and the Doctor, he was willing to do his part. "Aye, Captain," he said in his best Commander's voice, willing it to sound professional, with no trace of lightheartedness. He turned again to retreat to the Bridge.

"And, Commander?"

He turned. "Captain?"

"Was there something else?" Chakotay gave her a blank look, and she reminded him, "Earlier, you said you had a couple of reminders for me."

Suddenly it dawned on Chakotay. He had intended to remind her of her early morning appointment with the Doctor. "Uh, no, nothing that I can remember off-hand, Captain. I, uh, think we've covered everything."

"Good." She turned away again, as Chakotay hurried out the doors of her Ready Room. Kathryn smiled to herself. So he thought she didn't know he had come to remind her of her Doctor's appointment tomorrow! If she hadn't known it before, the guilty look on Chakotay's face just now would certainly have told her the truth of the matter.

The Captain leaned back in her chair and rested her head on the headrest just as she had been doing before her First Officer interrupted her earlier. She had another moment or two to spare.

And for the next several minutes, Kathryn Janeway relaxed with a smile on her face as she thought about a very special man who had recently become an even more important part of her life than ever before.



At 18:40 hours, Kathryn Janeway was in her quarters, setting the table for dinner. She had a replicated meal well under control, which she thought she was getting better at doing. She was wearing a dressing gown, which she rarely ever did, but she hadn't wanted to soil her clothing while she was preparing dinner.

Kathryn knew Chakotay would wear something casual this evening. They had both taken to wearing civilian attire when they spent time together in the evenings, except when they met to work on reports, or other ship's business. It had become a customary thing now, without either of them actually mentioning it. Perhaps they were trying, in their own ways, to discover the possibilities of setting new parameters for their personal relationship.

After setting the table, she moved quickly into her bedroom and opened her closet door. She pulled out the lightweight beige slacks and matching sweater that she had chosen earlier in the evening to wear, and slipped off her dressing gown. Laying the garments on her bed, she glanced at herself in the mirror against the far wall. She seemed to be doing this a lot lately. She wore only her bra and panties, and neither were standard Starfleet issue. Tonight she wanted to feel like a woman and not a Starfleet Captain.

Kathryn really dreaded gaining weight. She didn't think the Captain of a starship should waddle around the Bridge and crawl through the Jeffries tubes with a huge stomach in front of her. She sighed. Well, she wouldn't have to worry about that; she was quite certain her First Officer and the Doctor wouldn't allow her out of their sight by then, much less allow her to crawl through a Jeffries tube, or anywhere else, for that matter.

Pulling the slacks on, she was relieved to find that they still fit, even if she needed to suck in her breath to get the top button done, but they were still comfortable enough to wear.

After she slipped the sweater over her head, she stepped into a pair of low beige sandals, and was running a brush through her hair, when she heard the buzzer sound in the other room. Quickly, she added a bit of lipstick, and moved into the outer room.

"Come," she called, feeling ridiculously like a schoolgirl. This was crazy. This was Chakotay, her First Officer, for goodness' sake! This was someone she saw every single day.

But then Chakotay entered, wearing loose-fitting black slacks with a black and tan sweater, and her heart stopped for a moment. Gods, he was handsome. And he carried a small bouquet of wildflowers with him.

Chakotay walked directly up to Kathryn, handed her the bouquet and stooped to quickly kiss her cheek.

As she turned away from him, Chakotay grinned. He was certain he had seen her blush.

"What are these for?" she asked, moving away from him.

"For being the mother of my child."

She turned to him. "I didn't exactly have a choice in the matter, remember?"

"Vaguely. But that memory is growing dimmer all the time." Chakotay looked at her and thought how beautiful she looked tonight, and how nice the colourful wildflowers looked against her skin and the beige outfit she was wearing.

Kathryn smiled. "Hmm . . . you don't mean that one day you're going to actually think we planned for this to happen, do you?"

"I might."

"Really? Well, it'll be a bit more difficult for me to suspend belief, since we've never . . ." but then she stopped suddenly, realizing how easily the conversation was heading into nearly uncharted territory.

"Made love with each other?"

Kathryn looked into his eyes quickly, and a shiver ran through her body. My, how easily he'd said those words. She turned away just as quickly and busied herself with putting the flowers into a small vase she had found, and then putting it in the center of the table she had set earlier.

"Kathryn?" Chakotay said the words softly, gently, but she couldn't answer. It suddenly seemed that her throat was closing.

Chakotay sighed and moved to her easily. He put his hands on her shoulders and turned her to face him. "Kathryn, I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. I apologize."

Kathryn looked up into his eyes, knowing she wouldn't allow him to think something that wasn't true. "You didn't make me feel uncomfortable," she said softly. "I was just thinking of one particular evening a couple of weeks ago."

"And?" he asked, knowing precisely which evening she was referring to.

"I do believe we've made love," she whispered. "Or, you've made love to me, certainly."

"Kathryn . . ." Chakotay's voice was tight, and he looked down and closed his eyes. How well he remembered that evening!

Two weeks prior Chakotay had given Kathryn a backrub in her quarters and had suddenly found himself lying beside her on the bed. He had touched her body gently, had moved her bathrobe away from her breasts and then caressed them lovingly. He had been completely enthralled with this woman, once again. She had trusted him for years now, he knew that. But on this night she had trusted him in a way that she had never done before; she had allowed him to caress her to the point of climax.

And that night, he had fallen in love with her all over again.

"It was quite an incredible experience, actually," she was saying, in a low voice.

Chakotay looked back into her eyes and saw a twinkle there, and her mouth was turned up on one side with that silly little grin of hers that he loved so much.

"Yes it was," he said, swallowing the lump in his throat. "It certainly was."

Kathryn looked at this man in front of her. Her heart was beating so fast and so loudly, she knew he had to hear it. But he just looked into her eyes with that look of adoration he was allowing her to see more and more lately, when they were alone.

Taking a deep calming breath, and letting it out slowly, Kathryn took that one last step forward and into Chakotay's arms. She didn't know why she did it, yet she knew it was time. She tilted her head slightly and moved her mouth to within an inch of his. "Are you very hungry just now, Chakotay? Or is it all right if we eat dinner . . . later?" she whispered in the sexiest voice he'd ever heard.

"Later," Chakotay heard himself croak. "Later . . ." he repeated, as his mouth gently covered hers. And the last thing he remembered thinking was how tiny she felt in his arms. As Captain, she had the most commanding presence he had ever known, but in actuality, he could very easily engulf her into his arms.

Chakotay tried to prevent his body from touching Kathryn's directly, not wanting her to feel his erection press into her. But Kathryn moved against him, hesitantly, and then more firmly as she felt his hardness against her stomach. She groaned, slightly at first, and then suddenly with more passion. Her breath became more ragged as Chakotay parted her lips gently with his tongue. He caressed the inside of her mouth lovingly and when he finally found her tongue, he felt her shudder in his arms. She was absolutely incredible, and his body was responding to her every movement.

"Kathryn . . ." Finally, he placed his hands on her shoulders and forced himself to pull away from her. The last thing he needed to do was to misinterpret a sign, or to assume something from Kathryn without being absolutely certain.

But when he looked into her eyes he saw a certainty there that he'd never seen before – and a desire. There was no other way to describe it: There was desire in Kathryn's eyes. Her pupils were dilated and her lips were slightly swollen from his kiss, and he couldn't help but think this was the first time he'd ever seen her hair so mussed. And she had never looked so sexy. His heart leapt, and his own breath became laboured, just from looking at her.

"Kathryn," he tried again, willing his voice not to falter, "either serve me dinner now or throw me out of here."

But she looked at him calmly, and whispered, "Is there a third choice?"

Chakotay closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He held it for a moment, then let it out slowly, before opening his eyes again. And when he did open his eyes, he realized that she had watched him and knew exactly what he was doing. He was buying time, time to allow himself to slow down, to act and think rationally. But when Kathryn smiled at him, every moment of rationality he had bought in that instant evaporated entirely.

"Come with me," she said softly, as she stepped away from him and took his hand. She paused a moment to let him see the resolve in her eyes before turning to lead him to her bedroom.

Chakotay followed, though not blindly. He knew exactly what he was doing, and now he knew that Kathryn was ready to make love with him, too. This was something he had only dreamed about for longer than he could remember. Suddenly, he could remember no life before Voyager, before seeing this woman on the viewscreen of his Maquis vessel. He had looked for Kathryn his entire life, never dreaming he would actually find her, never really believing in his heart that she existed. And when he did find her, finally, his desire that they come together had been dashed repeatedly.

Then she had become pregnant with his child, through a nearly impossible Act of Fate. Or, perhaps the Spirits had finally decided to give him a break, after all.

When they reached her bed, Kathryn turned to him again and dropped his hand. He suddenly felt the absence of her touch, and looked into her eyes. What he saw there warmed him again, and brought him back to the present.

He took a step and closed the distance between them. Then he moved his hands to her face slowly, and touched her lips with his thumbs. "Kathryn . . ." he said, wanting to say so much more, yet knowing there were no words for what he felt in his heart.

"Do you want to make love with me, Chakotay?" Kathryn whispered to him.

"More than I want to live until tomorrow," he said, not realizing until too late that he had actually said the words aloud.

But Kathryn only smiled at him. "I didn't intend it to be a multiple choice question," she said to him with that sexy tone in her voice, and a smile on her lips. But then, after a moment, the smile faded, and she moved her hands to Chakotay's sweater. "I've cared for you longer than you know, Chakotay, much longer than you know." Then she deftly moved his sweater up over his chest, where he allowed her to pull it over his head, and drop it to the floor. Kathryn continued to look into his eyes, letting him know she wanted to do this. And that look was all it took.

Chakotay lowered his face to hers and kissed her fully on the mouth. He brought his hands to her sweater and removed it just as quickly, moving his mouth away from hers just long enough to pull her sweater over her head. She moaned softly into his mouth, savouring the feel of his tongue against hers, and the warmth of his hands against her body as he began removing the rest of her clothing, piece by piece.

Chakotay undid her pants quickly and pushed them down her hips, where they lay in a puddle at her feet. "Step out of your shoes," he managed to whisper into her mouth, and as she began to do so, he lifted her gently at the waist and moved her away from the pile of clothing that was forming on the floor.

Kathryn's arms were wrapped around his neck and, as they continued to kiss, she knew that tonight she was completely at the mercy of this wonderful man who made her glad to be a woman. And she was definitely a woman tonight, and not a Starfleet Captain.

Chakotay dropped his own pants to the floor and kicked his dark moccasins out of the way as he took Kathryn in his arms and lay her gently on the bed. He looked at her for a brief moment, and wondered again how he had managed to get so lucky, before lying next to her. They were both now wearing only their underwear. He knew that his erection was obvious, but he was going to savour every moment of this experience for the rest of his life.

"Nice underwear for a Starfleet Captain," he whispered in her ear.

With her eyes closed, and feeling Chakotay's breath on her neck, Kathryn smiled softly and replied, "Not tonight. I don't want to be Captain tonight."

"You'll always be Captain, Kathryn. That is who you are." Kathryn opened her eyes and looked into his, seeing more love there than she could ever have imagined. "But you are also much more than that. You're an incredible woman, Kathryn, and I love you very much."

Kathryn felt tears well up in her eyes, but they were soon forgotten as Chakotay began to slowly move his hands over her body, as she murmured her approval of his every touch. Gods, what this man did to her! She felt his breath on her neck and arms and knew that her nipples were taut and firm beneath the bra that he was just slipping away from her breasts. She heard him take a sharp intake of breath, and opened her eyes to look at his face once again.

"You're so beautiful, Kathryn," Chakotay whispered, realizing that she had heard him. "I tell myself that you can't become more beautiful tomorrow than you are today, but you've proved me wrong for a very long time. The woman before me now is even more beautiful than the woman who appeared on my viewscreen many years ago."

"Chakotay," she whispered, "you'd better be careful with those compliments, or I might start believing some of them."

Chakotay smiled. "Believe them. I would never lie to you."

Kathryn's smile disappeared and she lifted her right hand to caress his face. "I know. You're still my knight in shining armor."

"Still?"

"You have been since the day I saw YOU on MY viewscreen."

"You'll have to tell me about that someday."

"Never." She smiled again, and he kissed her hand.

Chakotay looked down at her breasts, so full and lovely, and her nipples were hard and straining toward him. He leaned his head slowly down toward her breast and Kathryn arched her back slightly, bringing her breast up closer to his mouth. And as he closed his mouth over her nipple, Kathryn shuddered slightly and moaned.

He flicked his tongue across her nipple and sucked gently, causing her to gasp and then moan again. Chakotay moved his hand to her other breast and softly teased that nipple with his fingertip, all the while loving the sounds of pleasure coming from Kathryn. He lifted his mouth from her breast then, but continued to lick it, around the nipple and down under it, then after a moment, he continued his journey downward, to her navel.

Kathryn moaned again, and moved against those wonderful hands and that incredible mouth that was making her body react in a way it hadn't done in years. In fact, she was feeling things she wasn't sure she had ever felt to this degree. As she felt Chakotay's tongue move inside her navel, she gasped loudly, and suddenly wondered how much more of this incredible pleasure she could take. And she suddenly wanted to feel him inside her in the worst way.

"Chakotay," she panted, "Please . . ."

But that's as far as she got, before Chakotay moved her panties down her legs and tossed them onto the floor. "Kathryn . . ." he whispered her name softly, as he parted her legs with his hands and moved his head lower to slip his tongue inside her.

She heard herself gasp his name as he moved his tongue deeper inside her, teasing her, tasting her. And as she reached her hands down between her legs and buried them in his hair, he moved up a bit further, up to her clitoris, and gently took it between his lips.

Chakotay felt her buck up against him, crying his name, wanting release, but he wasn't ready to give it to her, not yet. He teased her firm nub for only a moment, but then he moved back up her body the same way he had moved down it a few minutes before.

But now, Kathryn's body was completely in suspense, and her breath was coming out in small gasps. Her nipples were still erect, and she grabbed his shoulders as he neared her mouth, rising up to meet his mouth with hers. She forced his mouth open with her tongue, and Chakotay felt a shiver run up his back. She was tasting herself from his mouth, and as he kissed her back with all the passion he had saved for her through the years, he suddenly felt her hand grasp his penis.

Chakotay gasped, and moved his mouth to her ear, holding on to her as though his life depended upon it. "Kathryn, don't. I can't hold out much longer," he managed to say.

"Neither can I," she panted, as she gently moved his underwear down between them, over his bulging erection and down his legs, then straight to the floor with the rest of the clothing piled there.

Then she looked into his eyes with such incredible longing that Chakotay felt his heart skip a beat. How very long he had waited to see this look on her face when she gazed into his eyes. But now he knew the wait had been worth it.

Kathryn moved her hand to his penis again and felt its bulging hardness in her small hand, as she felt Chakotay hold his breath, willing himself to have the patience to satisfy Kathryn first. But Kathryn guided him down to her opening, moving her legs apart as much as possible. "Now, Chakotay," she gasped, "Please, don't make either of us wait any longer."

As he plunged deep inside her, she bucked up to take him firmly into her, and as he increased the pace of moving in and out of her, he closed his eyes and enjoyed each and every new feeling that being with this woman was awarding him.

Suddenly, he felt her strain upward one last time, and she wrapped her legs high up across his back, as her body began to convulse. "Chakotay," she cried aloud, and he placed his hands beneath her hips and hugged her to him, holding on to her body and to the sound of his name on her lips as she climaxed around him. Never before had he felt the love he knew at this moment.

Chakotay continued to move inside her, as he watched her face transform beneath him. Kathryn's eyes were closed, and she was panting wildly. But her face was flushed and small droplets of moisture had gathered just above her upper lip. Chakotay smiled as he watched all the strain of the last few weeks and months drain from her face.

As Kathryn's heartbeat slowed, and her breathing began to return to normal, she opened her eyes, he kissed her, and she wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him closer to her chest. She moved in time with his body, pushing hers against his as he continued to thrust inside her. And as he suddenly felt his body explode, he pressed hard into her, and she withdrew her lips from his and whispered, "I love you" into his ear.

Chakotay emptied himself into her, hearing those precious words, and knowing that Kathryn Janeway was the only woman who could satisfy his every need. As stubborn and damnable as she could sometimes be, she was the only woman who could move him.

As he relaxed his hold on her, he lowered his face to her neck and allowed himself to ease the bulk of his weight to Kathryn's left. Chakotay sensed both their breathing returning slowly to normal, and he started to move away, but Kathryn held him firmly against her.

"No," she said softly. "Don't go."

Chakotay smiled against her neck. "I'm not going anywhere, Kathryn. Now that you've captured me in your lair, I belong to you forever. Whatever your desire, I'll do my best to fulfill it." He felt her smile.

"Hmm. If only my enemies were so easy to convince."

They lay in comfortable silence for a time, both completely relaxed and free of the burdens of command, which was a rare thing indeed.

And as Kathryn began to fall asleep, she automatically rolled a bit to her right, and Chakotay wrapped his arms around her waist from behind her, after pulling the Starfleet issue sheets up over their bodies. He sighed, feeling fully sated for the first time in his life. He had never made love so fully, because he had never made love with someone he cared about as much as he cared for Kathryn Janeway. And as he, too, began to fall asleep, he automatically moved his hand to her stomach, knowing that their baby was safe and sound inside her mother's womb.



Sometime later, Chakotay began to awaken. He felt a wonderful sensation, and his heartbeat quickened. He gasped as his eyes flew open, and he found himself looking into Kathryn's beautiful blue-grey eyes, and then he remembered where he was. She had turned in his arms, and was now facing him. He also felt an incredible warmth spread throughout his body as he felt Kathryn's hands gently caressing his already stiff erection.

"Careful . . ." he moaned.

"Or what?" she whispered, fully awake. "Tell me what you'll do." Her voice was so sexy, so confident. This was one of the things he loved about this woman. She knew, without a shadow of a doubt, who she was.

Chakotay pushed himself deeper into her hands. "I'll . . ."

"Yes?"

"I can't think very well right now, Kathryn," he said, his breath coming out in small gasps.

"Hmm. Then perhaps I need to help out a bit. Do you mind?" But before Chakotay could answer her, she rolled him onto his back as she lifted herself up and onto his chest, then sat up, straddling him just below the waist.

"Kathryn," was all he could say. His mind couldn't think, he was so aroused that he only knew he was with Kathryn, finally with Kathryn. But he wrapped his hands around her hips and, as she lifted herself up, he moved his erection under her, then deep inside her, as she moved into place above him. They both gasped as he pushed himself as far as he could inside her.

Kathryn matched his thrusts as she rode him, already comfortable in the way their bodies fit together, and Chakotay watched her breasts move up and down with their rhythm. He raised his hands to her breasts and gently fondled her nipples until she was gasping and moaning his name. Her eyes were closed, and her head fell back as she pressed her breasts into his hands and began to respond to his thrusts with more urgency.

"Chakotay . . ." she gasped.

"Let go, Kathryn, come to me," he coaxed, feeling that his own time of release was very near. Just watching her like this was nearly enough to make him achieve orgasm in itself. He felt his erection press deep inside her body, and he released her breasts and grabbed her hips again as he pushed faster and harder inside her.

"Ohhhh . . . Chakotay . . ."

Chakotay felt Kathryn push forward one final time, then he felt her body spasm and jerk around him. He had never felt this way before. And, watching her, seeing her find her release, he found his. Chakotay pushed himself deep inside her again with one final thrust, and then he let himself go with abandon. He released his entire soul inside her.

"Kathryn," he shouted her name aloud.

Both their bodies shuddered, and their breathing was ragged, but they stayed that way until they could both catch their breath.

As their heartbeats and breathing began to return to normal, Kathryn leaned forward and lay flat on Chakotay's chest. She managed to keep his penis inside her, not willing to release it just yet.

"That was pretty incredible," he managed.

Kathryn smiled and laughed softly against his chest. "It's been a long time for me, you know. I have a lot to make up for."

"Oh, but I happen to know of a holodeck program or two . . ." he began, but Kathryn gently lay a hand over his mouth.

"No more," she whispered against his ear. "Nothing, and no one else, can compare to this." And then she kissed him softly, easily, and the kiss grew longer and more passionate, until Kathryn broke it off. "I nearly forgot," she said.

"About what?" His breath was coming in quick gasps; he was completely under the control of Kathryn Janeway.

"I haven't fed you dinner yet," she said sweetly.

Chakotay smiled. "Oh, but you have, Kathryn. Dinner and dessert."

"Good," she returned his smile. "I may be the only person in history who knows how to ruin a replicated meal."

"Ah, but your talents lie elsewhere."

"Really?"

"You're an incomparable Captain and an incredible lover. One could hardly expect you to be a fine cook, too."

"Hmm. I'll remember that, you know," she said. "I'm sure I'll need to remind you of those words someday."

"Doubtful. Highly doubtful."

"You think so?"

"I know so. I've known for years that you can't cook. Yet have I ever complained?

But she was quiet.

"Kathryn?" he asked and pulled back to look into her face.

"No, you've never complained," she answered softly.

"Because I've had nothing to complain about," he said. And he kissed her again, and pulled her body close against his.

Voyager's First Officer had seen many things, and felt many things, that few people had experienced before. He had seen some of the Spirits' finest works, gazed at some of the loveliest star systems and nebulas, and witnessed some of the most incredible phenomena that had ever existed. But nothing compared to the bliss, to the feeling of belonging, that he was experiencing tonight. Nothing was as good as the feel of Kathryn Janeway's body against his.



Not half an hour later, Kathryn awoke, silently rose from her bed and looked at the sleeping form still lying in her bed. She smiled. Her child's father, her lover, and her First Officer. How this was all going to come together she just didn't know. But she was slowly beginning to accept the fact that she didn't have to know everything. And this was something entirely new for Kathryn Janeway. She always had to feel in control, and just now she didn't. But she was learning to be more comfortable with that thought.

Whatever would happen, would happen. She would deal with problems as they arose, as she had done for so long now. No, they would deal with problems as they arose. She was no longer alone. She had met her soulmate so long ago, and right here on Voyager. Who could have known?

She smiled gently at the sleeping man in her bed, and sighed softly. She reached for her robe on the chair next to the bed, then moved into the living area of her quarters. As was her habit, she moved toward the viewport and looked out into the darkness, gazing at the unfamiliar star systems in the distance.

She couldn't remember the last time she'd seen a familiar star system. She was much more familiar with the unfamiliar ones nowadays. She put on her robe and pulled the belt tight around her.

Kathryn sighed. There was so much to do, always so much to do. She moved to the replicator and quietly ordered a hot tea blend, then noticed the small bouquet of flowers that Chakotay had brought her earlier in the evening. She smiled and shook her head. He had known how to make her blush, damn him! No one else had the power to do that to her.

Chuckling to herself, Kathryn took her cup of tea and walked over to the flowers that still sat in the middle of the unused table. She lifted them to her nose and sniffed, filling her senses with the sweet smells, and trying to capture them inside her head forever.

Then she lay them back down and looked at a padd that was lying next to the table. Tuvok's latest tactical analysis. She had intended to read this earlier, but time had gotten away from her.

Kathryn moved quietly up to the couch under the viewport, the padd in one hand and her cup of tea in the other. She had never felt so happy. All was right with the world.



"Kathryn?" Chakotay spoke her name softly, opened his eyes and sat up in bed. She wasn't there, but he was definitely in her bed. At least he knew he hadn't dreamed the entire evening.

"Kathryn." He spoke her name softly, then lay back on the bed. Would he ever tire of her name? No, he knew he wouldn't. And he smiled softly in the dark. Where was she? He moved quietly off the bed and searched through the pile of clothing on the floor, with a smile on his face. He found his underwear and slipped it on, then moved to the doorway without making a sound.

Then he saw her.

Kathryn was sitting on the couch with her feet up in front of her, backlit from the soft light coming in from the viewport. She was drinking something from a cup and reading from a padd. He smiled. This was a scene he had witnessed more times than he could ever begin to remember in the past few years – this woman at work, trying to get her crew back home. And she would; he knew she would. But now, just watching her, he felt his heart soar again. She was as intense in lovemaking as she was in everything else she did.

He stepped slowly into the room, not wanting to startle her. "Kathryn," he said softly. She looked up and smiled.

"Come," she smiled, and held her hand toward him.

He walked up to the couch, and he could feel her eyes watching him, checking his every move, looking at his body. When he sat at the other end of the couch, he reached out and took her feet and put them in his lap, rubbing them gently. She put her cup of tea on the table in front of her and took a deep breath. She lay back against the headrest of the couch and relaxed completely as Chakotay massaged her feet.

"Ohhh, that feels sooo good," she said.

Chakotay smiled. He was beginning to realize that Voyager's Captain really did like to be pampered. She just didn't want anyone to know it.

The padd she had been reading dropped from her lap to the floor and her robe slipped a bit and fell open from her knees.

"What's that?" Chakotay asked, gesturing to the padd.

"Tuvok's latest report," she stated, simply. "Oh, there. Yesss, that feels wonderful."

Chakotay continued to rub her feet, and Kathryn closed her eyes and simply enjoyed being catered to. Her robe fell open a bit more and Chakotay felt his heartbeat accelerate. How could this be, he asked himself. He wasn't as young as he used to be, yet this woman's very presence excited him. It always had, really. He had worked for years to push his attraction for her behind him. That's where she wanted it, and that's where it had been. The parameters had been set long ago.

But now things had changed. She was carrying his child. But that wasn't all, Chakotay knew. If Kathryn Janeway did not have feelings for him, she would not allow him into her life at all, much less allow him to touch her body. And she had told him she loved him. This made all the difference.

"Hmm . . ." Kathryn's pleasure made him smile. She began to writhe on the couch, slightly, not much, but Chakotay could tell that she was beginning to feel aroused. After the evening they had already shared, he couldn't believe what was happening before his very eyes.

Chakotay slowly began to move his hands up her legs as he stroked them, and he watched as Kathryn slowly began to spread her legs, giving him access to her fully. His heartbeat continued to increase as he watched her. Her head was still back against the headrest and her eyes were shut. She was moaning softly and his hands moved with purpose and care.

Chakotay gently loosened the belt on her robe and moved the folds away from her body. He saw her nipples harden under his gaze, in the chilled air, and he turned slowly on the couch and moved closer to her body, watching as she opened her legs even further, inviting him to come closer still.

As he moved his hands up the inside of her thighs slowly, her moans increased and her breathing became more ragged. He moved closer and closer to her most private parts, and as he did so, her sounds increased. Kathryn moved her legs even further apart, and Chakotay leaned forward and gently touched her clitoris with his tongue. Her body reacted to his touch as she cried out his name and reached for him.

But Chakotay lifted his head and gently moved her hands aside. He touched his fingers to where his lips had been and felt her move against him, urging him on. He slowly, easily, moved first one and then two fingers inside her and she moaned again and thrust against his hand. Then Chakotay inserted a third finger inside her and her breathing became even more laboured and she pushed harder, more furiously, against his hand.

Chakotay leaned over her and took her right nipple into his mouth and sucked it gently as he continued to move his fingers inside her. Kathryn moved against his hand faster and faster, and held his head to her breast with her hands, entangling them in his hair.

Finally, when Chakotay knew she was near climax, he moved back to watch her. She arched her back at the same time she slammed into his hand once more, and he felt her muscles begin to contract around his fingers, as her body began to shudder. He didn't want it to be like this, he had to be with her, had to share this with her, and he moved his hand away as he gently lowered himself and thrust his tongue inside her. He felt her spasms as they engulfed him, and he felt the walls of her vagina tighten around him. And finally, he tasted her juices as they rolled onto his waiting tongue. He had never tasted anything so wonderful, nor experienced anything so fully. And as he drank her liquid, she wound her hands in his hair and pulled him even more deeply in to her.

As her spasms began to subside, Kathryn released her hold on Chakotay. He moved his tongue out of her and flicked it against her still erect clitoris, making her shudder involuntarily. As she lay back and allowed her body to recover from his lovemaking, Chakotay lovingly kissed every inch of her body that was available to him, occasionally eliciting a sigh or a shiver from Kathryn's sated body.

Finally, he reached her mouth and kissed her deeply. She kissed him back without hesitation, experiencing the salty taste of her own juices mixed with their combined juices from earlier in the evening.

"I can't believe you did that," she whispered.

"What did I do?"

"You made my body respond in the most incredible way, even after everything we experienced earlier tonight. I didn't think I could do that."

"It was so beautiful, Kathryn. You are so beautiful, and the sexiest woman I've ever known." He smiled and lay beside her on the couch, as she laughed.

"Sexy? I'm a Starfleet Captain, and we are not supposed to be ‘sexy', I'll have you know."

"Well, the Admirals who made that rule certainly weren't thinking of you when they wrote it," he said, and grinned at her.

Kathryn turned on her side to face him, and Chakotay held her tightly against his chest so they could both fit on the couch. "I came in here to get some work done," she whispered.

"You were reading a padd when I walked in here, so at least you've made the effort," he said. "And, tonight, I don't care if you get any work done at all. Tonight, all my dreams have finally come true," he added softly.

Kathryn pulled back just enough so that she could look up at him through the dim lighting. "Have they?" she asked.

Chakotay nodded. "You and the baby are the most important things in my life." Kathryn suddenly looked very serious, and as she opened her mouth to speak, he put his finger over her lips to quiet her. "Kathryn, I know. You still have a crew to think about and a ship to get home. I understand that, and I will do everything within my power to help you. Nothing's changed in that regard, nothing at all. But I have a lot bigger personal reason to get home than I ever did before."

"Why is that?" she asked softly.

"Before, everything I ever wanted was right here on this ship, Kathryn. You were everything I ever wanted. But now we have a child on the way, and it's time we got home."

"I agree." She closed her eyes and sighed. "Chakotay, sometimes I don't know how or why I believe so deeply that we will get home. But I do. I know we'll get home."

"So do I," he said against her cheek.

"But I want you to promise me something."

"Oh oh."

"I'm very serious."

"All right," he said, knowing that she meant it.

"If something happens to me, just get our crew home."

"Kathryn, I promised you a long time ago that I would do just that. I haven't forgotten, and I don't need to renew that promise. I still believe in it. All right?"

She was quiet a moment, thinking. But then she answered so softly he wasn't sure at first that he'd heard her. "All right." Then she sighed again, and turned away from him. She pressed her back against him and took his hand from her waist and placed it against her breast. "Good night," she said softly.

And as Chakotay answered her, he couldn't help but smile to himself. There was a rather large Captain's bed in the adjoining room, yet here they were lying next to each other on the small, hard couch in the Captain's living room. Oh, well. Either way, he was still going to get a good night's sleep.



When Chakotay awakened the following morning, he started to roll over before opening his eyes, then suddenly found himself grabbing the edge of the couch before he fell onto the floor.

Chakotay opened his eyes, and blinked. He had sore muscles in places he didn't even realize he had muscles. And the muscles that weren't sore from sleeping on a too-small couch were sore from other things he and Kathryn had experienced the night before. He smiled to himself. What a night it had been!

"What are you grinning about?"

Chakotay opened his eyes to see Kathryn Janeway standing not a meter away from him, fully dressed and looking very refreshed. She had her arms crossed in front of her, and was trying to look stern. But she looked very beautiful. He smiled at her. "I was thinking about this dream I had last night."

"Oh?"

"I was holding the most beautiful woman I've ever seen in my arms."

"Oh." She smiled, then unfolded her arms and walked closer to him as he slowly stretched his legs over the side of the couch and gingerly pushed himself into a sitting position. "How are you feeling?"

"Why? Do I look as sore as I feel?"

Kathryn laughed, then picked up her empty coffee cup from the night before that still sat on the coffee table. "You'll feel better after you've had some fresh coffee and a sonic shower." She moved to the recycle bin and dropped the cup in, then ordered two cups of coffee from the replicator, one black and one with cream and sugar for Chakotay. She took them both back to the couch and handed one to Chakotay, then sat beside him.

"Do you always look this wonderful first thing in the morning?" he asked her as he took his first sip of coffee.

"Of course. Didn't you expect that I would?" she asked seriously. But when Chakotay looked back at her with an equally serious expression on his face, she laughed. "Chakotay," she said gently. "I think you should drink more of that coffee. I've been up for over an hour. I have the early shift today, you know. Someone I won't mention by name assigned me to the early shift three times this week."

"Did he?"

"He did. I've had a long shower and I feel wonderful." She took another sip of her coffee, then put the cup on the table in front of her and stood. "Enjoy your coffee. I'll see you on the Bridge. And I hope you feel better."

"Kathryn, I may be a little sore, but I have never felt better in my life." He grinned at her again and she smiled back, then leaned over and kissed him gently on the mouth.

"Thank you for last night," she whispered. "It was incredible, and I don't mind admitting to you that I needed it."

Chakotay put his cup on the table next to hers, then stood and took her in his arms. "You didn't need last night any more than I did, Kathryn," he said softly. "I've needed you for so long."

They stood that way a moment, holding onto each other, she smiling against his chest and he smiling against her hair. Finally, Kathryn pulled away from him slowly. "I have to go," she said.

"I know. You've got a ship to get home," he said, and kissed her. "I'll see you on the Bridge in an hour."

"You know something," she said, smiling. "I'm feeling so good today, I might even run a series of battle drills this morning."

"Poor Tom."

"Don't worry, I won't be too hard on him."

"He'll complain about it anyway," he said.

"Of course he will. I have to give him something to talk about, you know. Besides, I don't want it said that the Captain of Voyager has turned soft."

"I could comment on that one, but I won't."

"Good move," she said. "Now, I'm leaving and you need to get a shower." She started for the door.

"Kathryn?" She turned. "I just realized that another dream of mine is going to come true this morning."

"Oh? What's that?"

He grinned, showing her those incredible dimples that she loved so much. "I've wanted to use your sonic shower since I first noticed on the ship's schematics after becoming your First Officer. It's a lot larger than mine."

She smiled again, and there was a twinkle in her eye. "Just be sure to clean up after yourself and don't let anyone see you leave my quarters this early in the morning."

And they were both still smiling as Kathryn Janeway left her quarters for the Bridge, each knowing full well that, at any given moment, any member of the crew could ascertain their exact whereabouts.



The next few weeks passed rather quickly, and Voyager's Captain was slowly becoming more obviously pregnant. Although the additional weight was rather minimal in actual pounds, the Captain herself was aware of every single ounce she gained. And both Chakotay and the Doctor encouraged her to eat everything in sight. She asked them to leave her alone and let her eat, or not eat, whatever she wanted. But they insisted that she wouldn't take care of herself very well without their constant "assistance." Finally, she tried to tell herself that they were only looking out for her best interests. Sometimes she actually convinced herself of it, and was more accepting of their doting ways, but sometimes . . . well, sometimes she let them have it with both barrels. She just couldn't help herself. The Doctor firmly believed it was simply her unbalanced hormones that were causing her to behave in an upset or irrational manner, but Kathryn Janeway knew better. It was simply the way she was. And if either of them stopped to think, they'd realize it, too. She hated to be coddled, and always had. But right now, it seemed that everyone was willing to overlook any shortcoming she had, simply because she was going to have a baby. It was ridiculous, but it did give her an advantage from time to time. And Kathryn Janeway always took her advantages where she could find them.

Kathryn took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. She was lying on the couch in her Ready Room with a small blanket over her legs. She found that if she took fifteen minutes each afternoon just to lie back and relax, she was infinitely more cordial to those around her afterward. And right now, she felt better than she had all day.

It had been an awful day – long and troublesome. The warp core problems that B'Elanna thought she and her crew had taken care of weeks ago had resurfaced. Their troubles were by no means over. Kathryn had given B'Elanna nearly the full run of the ship for the past two days, just so she could try to find and repair the additional problems they had encountered. Every available crewmember was called upon to assist B'Elanna and her Engineering crew in any way possible, and Kathryn had been hoping beyond hope that the problems would soon be resolved.

Kathryn knew, however, that there was more to the story than just the small glitches that Engineering had detected in the past 48 hours. Voyager needed a complete overhaul, and the more Kathryn tried to push that thought into the back of her mind, the more she knew this was the real problem. And she knew that B'Elanna realized this was the problem, as well. B'Elanna had patched and repaired Voyager for as long as she could. Now they simply had to admit it, and find the appropriate place to set Voyager down. If they waited too long, there might not be a choice in the matter, and they might have to set her down in some unacceptable location.

A complete overhaul would cost Kathryn and her crew a month's time, or more, and time was measured dearly here in the Delta Quadrant. Each uneventful day was time wasted. After all these years, getting home was still the most important thing on Kathryn Janeway's mind when she awakened each morning. She had to get her crew home. But she also realized that a month spent getting Voyager in top condition was a month well spent.

Kathryn opened her eyes and sat up slowly, putting her head in her hands. Gods, sometimes she still had problems sleeping. She couldn't completely rid herself of the guilt from making that long-ago decision that had stranded all of them in the Delta Quadrant. It still plagued her, even after all this time. Sometimes, she'd snap awake in the middle of the night and remember it all again – the Caretaker's Array, the decision she made to save the Ocampa and strand her ship and crew in the Delta Quadrant indefinitely. Her decision, her choice. No one was to blame but her. And, at times, her only solace came when she thought of lovely Kes, and the other Ocampa like her who were saved from the Kazon threat by the destruction of the Caretaker's Array. This thought had been her only comfort for many months, and years, initially, and it still often served as a source of the strength she needed to move forward.

Kathryn remained still, but forced herself to take several deep breaths. Sometimes she was afraid Chakotay would notice her sleeplessness at night. He had always known she didn't sleep well occasionally, but now, when he sometimes stayed the night with her, she worried that her restlessness would make Chakotay worry even more about her than he did now. And she just couldn't take any more pampering.

In spite of herself, Kathryn smiled. This pregnancy certainly wasn't expected, but she often thought about how she would still be keeping Chakotay at arm's length if Fate itself hadn't intervened. In this case, the pregnancy came first, and then came the love affair. Well, maybe the term "love affair" wasn't right – they were still very careful about the word "love," and Chakotay was careful not to push her into any sort of commitment. Thankfully, he seemed happy just to be her lover, and the father of their child, for now.

Kathryn raised her head slowly, feeling a bit better. She glanced at the chronometer on the far wall. Good. She had another half an hour to herself. She stood slowly and moved toward the replicator. "Computer, one cup of coffee, black. And strong," she added. She had to snap to, had to be alert. There was a special senior staff meeting in thirty minutes, and she had to concentrate.

This morning, she and Chakotay had both spent considerable time in Engineering, trying to assist B'Elanna, trying to understand what the primary problems were. However, their presence seemed to make B'Elanna more nervous than they'd intended. It wasn't that B'Elanna was nervous about her superiors being in her Engineering Room; it was just that their very presence prevented her from doing the work she needed to be doing. And Kathryn also knew B'Elanna didn't like having to watch her fiery Klingon temper so closely. She would much rather have her trained Engineers around her than the two top-most commanding officers. It hadn't been long before she and Chakotay took the hint and left Engineering for an early lunch. Afterward, they reported to the Bridge, and then to the Captain's Ready Room to discuss the situation further.

And then, she had called a senior staff meeting for 19:00 hours. She couldn't remember what had gotten into her to plan a meeting for this awful hour, but she had. She was tiring more easily these days, and she liked to be back in her quarters by 19:00 hours, if it were possible.

Kathryn sat back on the couch with her cup of coffee and stretched her feet out in front of her. She suppressed a yawn, and took another sip of her coffee. Her uniform jacket was beginning to feel tight, and she couldn't stand the thought of having to replicate a maternity frock. Oh, Gods, she hated the very idea of it! And she refused to wear one of those awful garments until she could no longer fit into her regular uniform at all.

Suddenly, the Captain's door chime sounded, and she couldn't help but smile. Well, well. Wonder who that could be?

"Come."

Chakotay entered the room, and immediately noticed Kathryn sitting on the couch with her feet up in front of her. He smiled, as he moved up to her. "I'm surprised you didn't jump up and run down to your desk the moment the chime sounded. Relaxing on the couch like this is not very Captain-like, you know," he said sitting at the far end of the couch and putting her feet into his lap.

"No, but I knew it would be you at the door, and I wouldn't have to worry about whether I looked ‘Captain-like' or not."

"You knew it was me?"

"Of course."

Chakotay was quiet a moment. "Did you ask the computer who was outside the door?"

"No."

"But you knew it was me."

"Yes."

When Kathryn didn't expand, Chakotay asked "how?"

"Because it is fifteen minutes until the staff meeting, and precisely time for you to show up to make sure I feel all right, that I've had my vitamin hypospray, that I've eaten several meals . . ."

"Three."

"At least. And that I feel awake and able to preside over a staff meeting."

"Kathryn," Chakotay began slowly. He didn't want to agitate her, but he also didn't like thinking that she could read his intentions so well.

"Yes?"

Chakotay sighed, then looked at her with the most guilty look she'd ever seen. Kathryn grinned at him. "See," she purred softly, "I do know you well, Chakotay."

"I just want to be sure you're up to it, Kathryn."

"I know. That's why I'm not upset. But there is one thing you can do to make it up to me, all the same."

"Oh?" He grinned at her, and his eyes danced.

"Not that, Mister," she said. "But you can take off my boots and rub my feet," she said demurely. "We still have a few minutes."

Chakotay removed her boots, and began to rub her feet, just the way she liked it.

"Ohhhhh, that feels soooo gooooood," she moaned, as she leaned her head further back and onto the arm of the couch."

"Kathryn, if you keep making those sounds, I'll think you want me to do something more than just rub your feet." His voice nearly cracked. Just the sight of her lying back like that, and making those sexy sounds with her voice, was enough to make him wish they didn't have a staff meeting in a few minutes. He would love to lie beside her right now, hold her, whisper in her ear, make love to her . . .

Suddenly, Chakotay sat up straighter, and began to push Kathryn's boots back onto her feet gently. Kathryn raised her head, then pushed herself up so she could sit again. "Time for the meeting?"

"Nearly. I think we both need time to adjust to thinking about the meeting right now."

Kathryn smiled. "You mean, instead of other things?"

Chakotay looked at her pointedly. "Yes. Let's just get through the meeting, all right?"

"Then what?" She leaned forward a bit, and Chakotay could nearly feel her breath on his skin.

"Then we have dinner in the mess hall, go back to your quarters, and I'll tuck you in at a decent time so you can get a good night's rest. Then I'll go back to my own quarters for the night."

"Hmm. How about this instead?" Kathryn put her feet on the floor, then moved over to sit closer to Chakotay. "We finish the meeting, go to my quarters and replicate a nice dinner. Then we lie down and make mad, passionate love with each other. Then you can put your arm around me and stay with me tonight. I'll sleep much better after some lovely lovemaking, and with your arm around me for the entire night. How does that sound?" The Captain's voice was doing some incredible things to her First Officer.

Chakotay closed his eyes and silently took a deep breath. This woman could convince him of anything, and they both knew it.

"That sounds nice, too," he said softly, his voice catching in his throat. Did it ever.

"Good," she said, then leaned over to kiss him on the cheek. "I think that will make for a very nice evening." Then Kathryn Janeway stood and moved down to her desk and began to ready herself for the staff meeting.

Chakotay smiled tiredly to himself. Her attention was now turned completely toward the upcoming meeting. She was amazing. It had been a long day, and if he was feeling the strain of it, Kathryn must certainly be feeling it even more.

Rising to his feet, Chakotay sighed. Another hour at most and he would escort Kathryn to her quarters. They both needed a good night's rest more than anything right now.



"So those are our options, People?" asked the Captain.

There were a few nods around the table, and Kathryn saw that B'Elanna's eyes were downcast, into her lap. "I don't like any of them," she said.

All eyes rose to meet hers. Even Chakotay, who sat to her immediate right, and had done so for all these many years now, seemed surprised by her statement. Kathryn turned slightly to her left and looked at Tuvok. He was the only one at the table who didn't seem surprised by her statement. But then, Tuvok wasn't exactly surprised by much.

The Captain continued. "We've talked, and plotted, examined, corrected, and repaired, every possible alternative to our primary warp core problem." She paused, allowing her words to sink in fully. "The one option we haven't yet discussed is the one which will bring forth the most viable solution." All eyes remained on her, and Kathryn was certain for a moment they were all holding their breath. She definitely had their full attention.

"We need to find a place to set Voyager down for full scale maintenance."

"But Captain . . ." began B'Elanna quickly, then paused.

"What is it, B'Elanna?" the Captain asked gently. Sometimes it was easier to coax a Klingon out of hiding with honey than with a painstick.

"A full scale maintenance will take a month, Captain. At least. That's if we can find a planet rich in all the ores and minerals we need in order to do the maintenance properly and efficiently."

"Or if we are close enough to other planets with those requirements. We could then reach them by shuttlecraft, if necessary," said Seven.

Kathryn listened as Harry and Tuvok added their recommendations, and their support of her plan. She glanced over at Chakotay and saw him stifle a small smile. She sighed inwardly; good, at least he didn't disagree with her. These days, it was nearly more than she could deal with when he disagreed with her. It took so much energy to argue, even to explain her intentions. Maybe this pregnancy was taking more out of her than she realized, after all.

Finally, when the room quieted, and all eyes turned back to her, the Captain stood from her chair and addressed the senior staff. "Adding an extra month – or more – to our journey isn't something to be taken lightly. I realize that." She began to move slowly around the room, and stood for a moment behind Tuvok. "It places us all in a difficult situation. What if the maintenance takes longer than four weeks? Longer than six? What if we encounter more severe problems with the ship's primary systems than we're prepared to deal with? How do we deal with other crewmembers if they begin to feel disillusioned, or worse—angry, that we've stopped our journey for so long." She paused, but continued to move slowly around the room. "How do we keep our own spirits up in the face of adversity, or disillusionment?" Again, she paused to let the people in the room think about her words. Finally, she came to rest just behind Chakotay's chair, and put her hand on his shoulder. She turned to look at the other faces once more.

"We do the best we can, People. That's all we can do. We've all faced difficult situations in these past few years, and as much as I'd like to be wrong about this, I don't think our tough times are over for good." The senior staff seemed to understand her meaning. She moved back to her chair and crossed her arms over the headrest. She was suddenly struck with a vague feeling of déjà vu. This all seemed so familiar somehow. And then she remembered. The mood in this room, and the words she was saying now, were so very reminiscent of a little speech she had made to these same faces so long ago about holding steadfast to protocol, to the foundation and fundamental beliefs of the United Federation of Planets. Well, most of the faces were the same, anyway. Seven had joined their ranks since then, and of course, they had lost their dear, dear Kes. All other faces were the same, yet they were also different. There was more maturity, and change, in each of their faces, and she knew it was reflected just as much in her own. Each individual in this room carried his or her own private battle scars.

Kathryn was overcome with such a feeling of loss that she had to turn away momentarily. Theirs was the loss of an innocence that would never return, the belief that good would always overcome evil, that good little starships would best their enemies and return home safely. And, damnit, their story would have the appropriate ending, if she had to die making it happen. She sighed. Meanwhile, there was always the Captain Proton holo-program.

Returning from her reverie, Kathryn became aware of the silence in the room. They were waiting for her to continue. She turned back to face the staff, but no one seemed to notice that she'd been daydreaming. She decided not to look at Chakotay. "We're going to get home. I believe that more strongly today than I ever have before. But I think B'Elanna would be the first to agree that our ship needs a little care and attention first, just as we all do from time to time. And we owe Voyager that much. She's brought us this far, and she'll be the one to take us all the way home." She paused, suddenly exhausted. Sitting in her chair once more, the Captain took her place at the head of the table. "Are there any questions?" She paused, briefly. "Concerns?"

After waiting a moment to be sure there was no forthcoming commentary, she began to give orders to her crew. "Seven, begin to search for L-Class or M2-Class planets with as many of the necessary minerals and ores as possible. B'Elanna, have your crew put together a complete list of those materials immediately and distribute it to anyone on board ship you think might have a reason to use it." B'Elanna nodded, as did Seven. "Harry, assist B'Elanna in any way you can. Tuvok, assist Seven and ascertain our tactical strengths and weaknesses in relation to any planet that looks like a possible solution to our situation. Remember, the best scenario would be to find a planet with breathable air and vegetable and plant life, but no other living beings." She saw the question in everyone's eyes. "I understand that this might not be realistic, but I'd rather not be faced with Prime Directive issues if at all possible. Neelix, take extensive and careful inventory of all foodstuffs. Make sure you know exactly what we do have as well as what we don't have, but need to acquire, before we set Voyager down." Neelix nodded fiercely, glad to have a chore that he would be able to perform well, thus making his Captain very happy. The other crewmembers were just glad that Neelix had been assigned to his own duties, and would not be offering his services to them every time they turned around. Tuvok, especially, was glad he would not have Neelix badgering him at every turn about learning tactical skills.

"Doctor, while I realize that you already have a complete and accurate inventory of all medical supplies, you'll need to determine what sort of supplies we might need to stock up on in case the planet we choose doesn't offer much in the way of our medicinal requirements. I know it's difficult to project what you might need in the future, but do the best you can."

The Doctor nodded.

"We need to think ahead, People. Although this overhaul should theoretically take four weeks, it could take much longer. Plan on it taking longer. Six weeks, even eight. As we've learned, it's always best to expect more than what we bargain for." Many of the crew nodded slightly, each remembering a particular time on this journey that was significant to them.

"Uh, Captain, what do you want me to do?" asked Tom.

Kathryn was tempted to assign Tom the duty of assisting the Doctor, but she just couldn't do it to him. Poor Tom had to spend more than enough time in the company of the good Doctor as it was, when he served his duty shifts in Sickbay.

"Tom, work with Seven and Tuvok. We need to know everything we can about atmospheric conditions in each and every system we consider. You'll need to know everything possible about the surrounding atmospheric conditions. Our best pilot will need to be able to maneuver us about in a shuttlecraft, if necessary."

"Yes, Ma'am!"

"The Commander and I will be working on our own projects, but more than anything else, we will make ourselves available for any of you who need assistance. Don't hesitate to ask; that's what we're here for." Even though B'Elanna tried to look impassive, Kathryn saw a faint shadow pass across her face. If one could translate it, it might be said that when the Barge of the Dead begins to take its passengers to a cold destination, she would be happy to ask the Captain and Commander for assistance. Kathryn suppressed a smile. It was nice to know some things never changed.

"Is there anything more? Fine. We'll discuss this further in tomorrow's regular staff meeting. Any updates will be welcome at that time. Dismissed."

The senior staff began to file out of the room, already engrossed in their assignments. Only Chakotay remained seated with the Captain.

After everyone was gone, and the doors were shut behind them, Chakotay turned to Kathryn. "How long have you known you were going to do this?" he asked quietly.

"Not long. A few hours." They were both silent a moment, then Kathryn stood, walked over to the viewport, and looked at the star system outside. It was rather pretty, and if she had to stare at the same one for a few weeks, she hoped it was one like this.

"We have no choice, Chakotay. Voyager's been patched and repaired over and over again. I don't think she can take much more. Every time we engage a new enemy in battle, I silently ask her to hold up for us just one more time. Then one more, and yet again. I have no right to expect more from her than what she's already given. And yet I need more from her, much more, before we reach Federaton space. Voyager needs a pat on the back and a scratch behind the ear, and she needs it now." Chakotay smiled at her analogy. "And after that, I'll make demands of her again. But for now, I have to see that her needs are met."

There was a long silence, as Kathryn continued to look out the viewport and Chakotay remained seated at the conference table. He kept remembering those battles, those enemies she spoke of, and saw in his mind's eye the brave and beautiful woman warrior she'd always been to him. He prayed to the Spirits she would never have to fight battles as fiercely as she had in the past. Maybe the Spirits would look out for her, for a change, and let her rest. Kathryn needed peace in her heart, and although he knew it would never really be there for her until Voyager was home once more, he also knew that she needed some time to care for herself, and for their little baby. And, just perhaps, she could look upon him as more than just the father of her child, her First Officer, and now an occasional lover. He wanted her to accept that they were soulmates, that nothing could, or would, ever come between them again. Kathryn knew it in her heart, but she would refuse to believe it in her mind, to embrace it, until she was ready. He hoped that would be sooner rather than later, but he would wait however long it took.

Finally, Chakotay took a deep breath and stood. He moved up behind Kathryn and slipped his arms around her waist. When she leaned back against him, he closed his eyes. She brought him all the peace he needed, all that he had longed for his entire life.

After a few minutes, Kathryn turned in his arms to face him, and Chakotay opened his eyes and looked at her. "Chakotay," she whispered, "I don't want to stop our journey, but I had to. I had to do this."

"Yes, you did, Kathryn. It wasn't a choice; it was necessary."

She nodded silently, and he could tell she was forcing back tears. Kathryn lay her head against his chest, and Chakotay silently engulfed her in his arms. He knew her dilemma. For Kathryn Janeway, even the thought of sitting still for one day was enough to make her anxious. She had to get her people home, and she thought of each day as a step forward, a step toward that goal. And now, they were going to sit on the surface of some alien planet for an unknown number of days. Chakotay pulled her even closer. They would deal with things one step at a time, one day at a time. Right now, all he knew was that Kathryn Janeway was nearly six months pregnant, and he had to make sure she let others make the difficult repairs to Voyager, and not put herself into physical jeopardy. And while he knew she wouldn't do it intentionally, he also knew she was quite capable of forgetting all about little things like being pregnant when she wanted to crawl down a Jeffries Tube.

Chakotay took a long, deep breath. They were going to have some tough weeks ahead.

*****

Twelve days later, Seven of Nine, Tuvok and Tom Paris presented the rest of the senior staff with their analysis and recommendations for setting Voyager down for a month-long maintenance.

Long-range sensors detected a planet – third in a system of seven – that seemed to meet most of the Voyager crew's requirements for a ship-wide maintenance program. It would take approximately three days to get close enough for a better inspection, and Captain Janeway ordered Tom Paris to set a course for the planet immediately, Warp Six.

After three more days of close inspection, and staff meeting upon staff meeting, the senior staff satisfied Captain Janeway's questions and set her mind to rest about most of the underlying problems she was afraid they would encounter. The planet did, indeed, seem void of animal lifeforms of the variety any of Voyager's crewmembers had ever seen, although a couple of primate-type creatures had been detected. Seven ran further scans of the area, but the creatures seemed harmless, and in fact, kept to themselves.

Chakotay commented to the Captain that evening that this planet was looking more and more like New Earth, and she said she hoped that at least it was virus-free.



The ringing of her door chime made Kathryn Janeway sit up on her couch suddenly. She knew she had heard something, and then the chime rang again.

"Come," she called out in the best Captain's voice she could muster. She was still feeling a little groggy.

When Chakotay walked into her quarters, she looked up at him and smiled weakly.

"Hi," she said softly from across the room.

Chakotay walked up to where she sitting on the couch, and sat next to her. She leaned her head on his shoulder, glad for the comforting feeling he always gave her, and closed her eyes. He put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her more closely to him.

"How are you feeling?" he asked gently.

"Better," she said.

"You should be in bed," he whispered in her ear, and then kissed her forehead.

"Hmmm. I thought I would get a bit of rest on the couch, and I did."

"You'd sleep better in bed," he said.

"How do you know?" she asked, and turned to look at him.

Chakotay thought about that a moment, but decided he didn't have a good answer, so he just smiled and pulled her against him again. "Good point," he said. "I don't know. But it makes sense."

"Ahhh, Chakotay," she said in her sexiest voice, "If everything we did made sense, you and I would have made love on New Earth, and been lovers since then."

Chakotay pulled away from Kathryn, and looked at her in surprise. "You've thought about that?" he asked.

"Chakotay, if you only knew how many nights I lay awake thinking of you before I became pregnant. But I couldn't let you know. I couldn't risk the command structure . . ."

"Kathryn, shhhhh. Things are very different now."

"Yes."

"I love you," he said, not planning on saying the words. They had just slipped out, and they felt so comfortable, so right. "I've loved you since the moment I saw you on my viewscreen nearly seven years ago."

Kathryn laughed softly. "You couldn't have," she said. "We were both in desperate situations."

"I fell in love with you anyway. I hated myself for it, but I did."

"I can't believe that," she continued. "And even if it were true, shortly afterward, when I allowed you to destroy your ship for mine, you would surely have felt differently."

"But I didn't."

"When I beamed you aboard, the first thing you did was question everything I said and did," she continued.

"That's very true. I wasn't happy about our situation."

"And I was?"

"No," he smiled against her hair. "But you were better able to deal with your feelings than I was back then. Since that time, I've gotten much better at it."

"Oh? How so?" She turned to look at him.

"I've silently told you how much I love you for seven years. You didn't want to hear it in words, so I told you in many different little ways, every day."

Kathryn's smile slowly disappeared, and she continued to look deeply into his eyes. "Yes. You did."

"I love you," Chakotay whispered again, as he bent his head to her lips and kissed her gently.

"I love you, too, Chakotay," she said, then turned her head so he wouldn't see the tears she had to force away.

"What is it?"

"Sometimes . . . sometimes I wonder what I ever did to deserve not losing you," she said, barely above a whisper.

"Kathryn . . ."

"No, don't say it, Chakotay. I turned you away time and time again, and yet you're here with me today."

"I'll always be with you, Kathryn. I'll never leave you," he closed his eyes and held her closer.

Kathryn lifted her head to him and took his face in her hands. She looked him in the eyes and smiled. "I love you, Chakotay," she whispered.

And as the Captain and Commander kissed each other, the beta shift was finishing preparations for tomorrow morning's 07:00 landing on the planet that would become Voyager's new temporary home.



Three weeks later, Captain Janeway stood with her hands on her hips, and a streak of black grease-like material across her left cheek. She had spent the better half of the day in Engineering against Chakotay's wishes, and now B'Elanna was explaining why nearly everything she and the rest of the Engineering crew had accomplished so far today was for naught.

"What do you mean, we have to begin again?" asked the Captain.

"Captain," B'Elanna was clinching her fists at her side, trying to stay calm. "I've already explained it. We have to recalibrate the core and start again."

Even though Captain Janeway knew the reasons why, and the sense they made, she struggled against accepting it. This would mean yet another day wasted. And so far, they had run into several roadblocks with Voyager's maintenance schedule.

Suddenly, Chakotay came through the Engineering doors, and B'Elanna nearly sighed with relief. "Commander," she jumped in before Chakotay even reached the small group standing near the warp core.

Kathryn sighed. She had noticed the look of relief on B'Elanna's face the moment Chakotay walked into the room. "It's okay, B'Elanna," she said, moving to her Chief Engineer before Chakotay got nearer to them. "You continue here. You have things well under control. I think I need to get some fresh air." She looked B'Elanna in the eye, and saw the look of relief there. She smiled the best she could, then began to move toward the doors, and freedom. Chakotay immediately moved in behind her.

When they reached the corridor outside Engineering, Chakotay stopped her. "Kathryn? Is something the matter?"

"Not at all, Chakotay. I just need to take a break." She immediately saw the concern in his face. "Nothing's wrong, all right? It's just been a long morning, and it's unbearably hot in that engine room. I'm going to rest a bit." And she started off toward her quarters, willing Chakotay not to follow her. To her relief, he didn't. It was true; all she needed was a bit of rest. This pregnancy was trying to outdo her, and she was damned if it would keep her down. A bit of a nap, and then she would be back assisting in Engineering.



Chakotay entered Sickbay, and immediately spied the Doctor across the room. Their eyes met, and the Doctor put down his tricorder and headed for his office. Chakotay was nearest the office and entered the room first. He sat in a chair opposite the Doctor's desk.

When the Doctor entered the room, he closed the door and moved to the chair behind his desk. "What do you wish to know, Commander?"

"How is she?"

"Well. For the most part."

Chakotay looked up, concerned.

"Commander, the Captain is healthy and much heartier than she seems. However, she is working twelve and fourteen hours every day, with only a nap taken every few hours when she is forced to take one."

"That's true, Doctor. I know that, but she won't listen to me. The more I argue with her to rest, the more determined she seems to ignore me."

"I understand, Commander. I don't fare any better with her." They were both silent a moment. "Commander, the Captain still feels incredible guilt about stranding Voyager in the Delta Quadrant, and she is doing the only thing she knows how to do to make the ship ready to leave this space again, and that's to assist the maintenance crews in any way she can."

"I know that, Doctor." But Chakotay seemed overly tired himself. "I just don't want her to do anything to hurt the baby. One wrong move and . . ."

"I wouldn't be overly concerned about that, Commander. A pregnant woman's body is much more resilient than you think. It will become so overly tired that it will have to rest. The Captain is resting now, because she can't ignore those needs anymore. She is over seven months pregnant, Commander, and believe it or not, this pregnancy will be over soon."

Chakotay looked at the Doctor. "Not soon enough for me, Doctor," he said. "But thanks for reassuring me of Kathryn's health." He stood, and the Doctor followed suit.

The Doctor watched as Chakotay moved toward the door. "Commander," Chakotay turned. "It won't hurt to continue to remind her to rest. Maybe she'll even listen once or twice before her body actually refuses to function until she does."

Chakotay smiled tiredly. "Of course I'll keep trying, Doctor. I have to."

The Doctor nodded, knowing the odds the Commander faced. "Good luck, Commander," he said.

And as Chakotay started out the door, he turned again to the Doctor. "One more thing, Doctor."

"Yes?"

"This baby . . . it is a girl . . . ?"

"Of course, Commander, and a very healthy one, at that."

Chakotay smiled. "Thank you, Doctor." Then he continued out of Sickbay, down the corridor and into the turbolift. He had to check on Kathryn. She would more than likely not appreciate his checking up on her, but he didn't particularly care. He needed to see her, to make sure she and their daughter were all right, and resting well.

He smiled to himself as the turbolift doors opened and he continued down the corridor to Kathryn's quarters. Their daughter. Even though he had always known Kathryn was carrying their daughter, now that it had finally been confirmed by the Doctor, he suddenly felt the newness all over again.

Chakotay rang the chime to Kathryn's quarters and heard her voice faintly bid him enter. He did so, just as she walked out of her bedroom.

"Chakotay. There was no need to check up on me. I'm perfectly capable of taking care of . . ." but her words were quickly cut off, as Chakotay put his arms around her and covered her mouth with his own.

The Commander had a few tricks up his sleeve when it came to handling the Captain, and he kissed her now, gently, warmly.

When they finally moved apart, the Captain sighed. "I hate it when you do that," she whispered, leaning her forehead against his chin.

"I know," he whispered back, and smiled to himself.



"I don't have time today, Doctor," said the Captain. She was hurrying down the corridor, on her way to the Bridge. The Doctor had donned his holoemitter and was now following her into the turbolift.

"Doctor . . ."

"Captain, you have postponed your appointment for three days."

"Yes, but I'm fine, Doctor. And I have work to do."

"As do we all, Captain. But you can give me half an hour of your time."

"I'm sorry, Doctor . . ." the Captain stopped suddenly, and tried to calmly take hold of the hand rest behind her.

"What is it, Captain?"

"Nothing. I'm fine." But then she took a deep breath, and gasped.

"You're not fine, Captain," said the Doctor, grabbing her other arm, as her knees began to buckle.

The Doctor hit his combadge. "Doctor to Sickbay."

"Sickbay here, Doctor," came Tom Paris' voice through the Doctor's communicator.

"I have a medical emergency, Mr. Paris."

Tom met the Doctor at the turbolift with emergency transport equipment for the Captain. The Doctor didn't want to take the chance of beaming the Captain into Sickbay in her condition. Theoretically, it should be all right to do so, but he didn't want to take unnecessary chances.



As soon as the Doctor had Captain Janeway lying as comfortably as possible on a biobed, he began to scan her for signs of trauma or strain. She seemed to be in some pain, but was trying to be as brave as possible. This concerned him more than anything.

However, just as the Doctor was putting his scanning equipment away, Chakotay rushed into Sickbay. "Doctor, how is she?" he asked, before he even reached the biobed.

"I'm fine, Chakotay," said Kathryn, weakly, from the bed.

"She's fine, Commander," said the Doctor. "We just had a bit of a scare."

"Why?" asked Chakotay. "Something has to be wrong for Kathryn to faint like that."

"She did not faint, Commander. The Captain has been completely conscious the entire time. Please do not jump to conclusions based on idle gossip from other crewmembers."

Chakotay sighed heavily, and Kathryn turned to look at him. Even in her condition she could tell how tired he looked, and she suddenly felt guilty that he had been putting in so many additional hours elsewhere on the ship while she worked in Engineering.

"Commander," said the Doctor evenly, "please wait in my office and I'll join you in a few minutes."

Chakotay understood the meaning. The Doctor was telling him in no uncertain terms to leave Sickbay, and Kathryn, immediately. Just as he opened his mouth to argue, he shut it again. The Doctor was right. He was disrupting the Doctor's examination of Kathryn.

Chakotay nodded his understanding, took Kathryn's hand in his own and squeezed it while looking into her eyes. Then he lay her hand down gently and left her side to wait in the Doctor's office.

The Doctor sighed inwardly, then turned back to his patient.

"Doctor," said Kathryn, "I'm fine. Really. I'm just overtired. If you'll allow me to retire to my quarters, a good night's rest will make everything all right in the morning."

"Hmm. You're probably right, Captain. But I'm sure that a night's rest in Sickbay will be even better."

"What? Stay here? In Sickbay? Doctor, I'm not prepared to do that." Kathryn began to sit up on the bed, but the Doctor put his hand on her shoulder, preventing her from moving.

"Do not sit up, Captain. I'm not finished with my examination." Kathryn swallowed her anger at being restrained, and forced herself to remain calm. She knew how to deal with the Doctor, and she had to remain focused and in control.

"Doctor," Kathryn began in an even tone, "I'm perfectly fine now, and I promise . . ."

"Please, Captain, remain quiet for a few moments longer."

The Doctor was determined to have the upper hand, Kathryn knew. She took a deep breath and again forced herself to focus on remaining calm. Calm, and in control.

"Well, Captain, you do indeed seem fine. I believe you simply had a muscle spasm, which isn't unusual in the latter stages of human pregnancies." The Doctor assisted the Captain in sitting up on the biobed.

"Fine, Doctor. And since I'm feeling perfectly all right now, I'd like to be allowed to go to my quarters."

"Of course, Captain. You are to remain there for the next twenty-four hours."

"What?! Twenty-four hours? Doctor, I feel perfectly healthy. I'm a bit tired, so I'd like to go and rest. But after that, I fully intend to resume my duties and assist with Voyager's maintenance."

"I'm afraid that won't be possible, Captain. You have a choice; you can either retire to your quarters for the next twenty-four hours, or you can stay here in Sickbay for the next twenty-four hours. Your choice." The attitude in the Doctor's voice only served to make Kathryn Janeway even angrier, and this time she couldn't stop herself.

"Doctor," she began in a calm but firm voice, the same voice that Tom Paris had grown to dread over the years. "I am perfectly capable of determining what is best for me." She pushed herself off the biobed and onto the floor, and turned to look the Doctor in the eye. "And I will now go to my quarters and take a nap. After that, I will resume my duties on this ship until I feel I need to rest again. And when I am ready to have this baby, you will be the first to know. Do I make myself clear?"

"Of course, Captain," the Doctor answered in the same condescending tone as before. "However, since your opinion in medical matters is secondary on this ship, I suggest you take my two options to heart. You have only those two choices to consider. If you do not agree to remain either in Sickbay or in your quarters for the next twenty-four hours, I will be forced to have you restrained. For your own good, of course."

"Doctor . . ." the Captain's voice was beginning to grow a bit louder.

"Is something the matter?" asked Chakotay, coming into the room. He had peeked out of the Doctor's office when he couldn't force himself to wait any longer, and immediately sensed that the Doctor and Kathryn were in the midst of what was going to become a heated argument. Well, it would soon become heated on Kathryn's side of things, at any rate.

"Everything is fine, Chakotay. I'm handling this." Kathryn continued to look at the Doctor.

"Actually, Commander," said the Doctor, turning to look at Chakotay. "I am having a bit of difficulty getting the Captain to understand that she has two options to consider, and not three, as she seems to think."

Chakotay sighed. He immediately understood the situation he had just walked into. It was what was once called a "pissing contest," and Kathryn was very good at involving herself in these when someone disagreed with her, or questioned her orders. He'd been expecting this sort of confrontation between the Doctor and Kathryn well before now, so he supposed they'd been lucky it took this long for it to surface. "And just what are the options, Doctor?"

"Chakotay, I said I'm handling this," said Kathryn, firmly, but still not looking at him.

"She may either stay in Sickbay for the next twenty-four hours, or her own quarters, which she seems to prefer. She may not return to duty, which she seems to think is a third choice," said the Doctor smugly.

Chakotay closed his eyes briefly and tried to center himself. This was going to end badly, but it couldn't be helped. He opened his eyes and looked at Kathryn. "Kathryn," he said gently, "spending the next twenty-four hours in your quarters isn't so bad. I'll bring you constant reports of the repair schedule and keep you updated on anything else you might want to know."

Kathryn immediately turned her attention to Chakotay. "I am not spending the next twenty-four hours pacing my quarters, Chakotay. My services are needed elsewhere on this ship. As long as I am feeling well, I intend to uphold my responsibilities to this ship and this crew."

"Kathryn, no one is questioning your role, or your commitment. But you can't do everything alone." Chakotay sighed. He saw the fire burning in Kathryn's eyes, and knew that nothing he said to her under these conditions would get through to her. "Doctor, would you excuse us for a moment, please."

The Doctor nodded his head and escaped into his office. He was more than happy to let the Commander deal with the Captain just now.

After the Doctor had gone, Chakotay turned back to Kathryn. Her mood hadn't changed, and her eyes burned with defiance. "Kathryn, I'd appreciate it if you would do as the Doctor requested."

"Would you," she said simply. "Well, this is my ship, Commander, and my decision to make . . ."

"No, as the Doctor said, it isn't, Captain." Chakotay spoke gently, but firmly. He would make his meaning clear, too, and if she wanted to use command titles, then fine, he would use them as well. He looked her straight in the eye. "It is now the Doctor's decision. You are less than four weeks away from giving birth to our child, and I for one want to take no chances that both of you are cared for in the best, and most responsible, way possible. And if the Doctor wants you to rest in your quarters, then I'll do anything within my power to see that you do just that."

Chakotay immediately saw that Kathryn was surprised at his absolute conviction, but he had to make sure he didn't waiver, didn't show a weakness that would allow her to take control of the situation. He hated doing this, but he knew Kathryn Janeway, and he knew he had to be one step ahead of her until this baby was born. And it wasn't easy. But for the moment, at least, she had nothing to say.

"This is my child, too, Kathryn," he said in a gentler voice. "She hasn't been born yet, and I'm not able to hold her in my arms and look into her eyes. But I love her with all my heart, just the same. And I want to watch her being born, watch the woman I love bring this wonderful gift into the world. I can't imagine anything in life being more important than that moment, Kathryn." He swallowed hard. "And I want to love you both for the rest of my life." His eyes were moist, and Kathryn was very still, and very quiet. The anger in her eyes had died, but she was still stubborn enough not to say anything.

"I'm asking you to please take extra care, Kathryn," he said. "Listen to what the Doctor has to say. He is only looking out for everyone's best interest. Please. I don't ask you for many favors, Kathryn. But I'm asking for this one. If you won't do this for yourself, will you do this for me." They stood a meter apart, and stared into each other's eyes, until finally Kathryn's eyes began to tear, as well, and Chakotay knew he'd made a dent in her defenses. This time it had taken a photon torpedo to do it, but at least he had made his feelings known, and she had listened.

The Doctor came out of his office, cleared his throat noisily, and cautiously moved toward the Captain and Commander. "Well," he said, trying to sound casual, "how is everything out here?"

The Captain and Commander continued to stare at each other another moment, and then Kathryn pulled her eyes from Chakotay's and looked at the Doctor. "Everything is fine, Doctor. If you don't need me further, I'd like permission to retire to my quarters," she said. "For the next twenty-four hours," she added pointedly, and with complete distaste in her voice, as she looked back at Chakotay. But Chakotay grinned at her slowly, and in spite of herself, her mouth turned up at the corner in that little way that Chakotay loved.

"Certainly, Captain," said the Doctor, his usual demeanor returning immediately. "Please report to Sickbay this time tomorrow, and if I determine that you are fit for duty, I will officially release you."

The Captain pulled her eyes from Chakotay's again, nodded at the Doctor, and walked from the room. Both men watched as she exited Sickbay, then looked at each other. One more incident averted. For now.

Chakotay turned and silently left Sickbay for the Bridge. Kathryn's pregnancy was going to be his undoing yet. Thank the Spirits it was almost over.



Some weeks later, at nearly 22.00 hours, Commander Chakotay initiated a command override on the door to the Captain's private quarters and entered the room. The lights were dimmed to nearly 25% and the room was quiet. He moved quietly to her bedroom door and peered in. He couldn't see her face, but there was a lump on the far side of the bed, snuggled down beneath the bedcovers. He smiled to himself. For such a tiny woman, she sure could make her presence known when she wanted to. And, as often as he felt like complaining about her stubbornness, he also knew that he loved it about her as well. If it wasn't for her perseverance, Voyager wouldn't be so close to home, and he was convinced they would never have gotten close enough for contact with the Alpha Quadrant to be established at all.

Chakotay took a deep breath, and reentered the Captain's sitting room. He was exhausted. It had been a very long day, and they had run into some additional problems with Voyager's maintenance. The pre-fire chamber temperature was still erratic, but E'Elanna was certain she had finally figured out a way to correct it. When Chakotay left her in Engineering only minutes ago, she was still testing her theory, but the results looked promising.

After ordering a cup of hot tea from the replicator, Chakotay moved up to the couch and sat. It felt good to sit. He drank his tea, and tried to clear his mind. This was the first time in nearly eighteen hours that he had taken a few moments to relax. The projected schedule for Voyager's maintenance was already lagging behind several days, and although that was to be expected, he knew Kathryn was anxious to get some of the loose ends tied up. He knew that her main concern, and the one she hadn't mentioned, was that she would be giving birth to their child any day now and her attentions would need to be focused on something other than Voyager. And she was uncomfortable pulling herself away from the ship, and ship's issues, while they were still sitting dead in the water. She didn't want them to be vulnerable to an alien attack. Chakotay understood this, and he tried to allay her concerns as often as he could. For the most part, he was successful, but trying to stay one step ahead of Kathryn Janeway was exhausting, and downright impossible. The best he could do was to be there when she needed him.

Chakotay put his empty cup on the coffee table and lay his head on the back of the couch. He slowly raised his feet and put them on the coffee table, crossing them at the ankle. He couldn't remember ever being so tired.

"Hmm. So this is what you do when you're alone in my quarters. You put your feet up on my furniture, thinking you can get away with it when I'm not looking."

Chakotay opened his eyes and looked toward the bedroom where Kathryn stood in her robe, leaning against the doorframe. He smiled tiredly, and held his hand out toward her, inviting her to come to him. "You'd better get used to it. We're soon going to have a little girl who will test your patience even more than I do."

"Oh?" Kathryn smiled, as she moved up to sit beside Chakotay. "And how do you know she'll do that? Perhaps she'll be a good baby, then a demure, quiet, unassuming child who will obey her parents without question."

"Not likely," he replied, putting his arm around Kathryn, and his head against the back of the couch once more. He closed his eyes, feeling tired yet comfortable.

"And how do you know that?"

"Hmm?"

"How do you know our child will try our patience?"

"Because she is our child, Kathryn, and she will inherit 50% of your traits."

"And?"

"And, there is no part of you that is demure."

Kathryn laughed softly. "That must be what attracted you to me."

"That, and the fact that you are incredibly beautiful, smart and fearless."

"Ohhhhh? All of those things?"

"Yes." Chakotay was completely relaxed now, and he could feel himself beginning to drift away. He knew he should get up, take a quick sonic shower and get some sleep. He had been staying with Kathryn every night lately. It made him feel better to be near her in case she went into labor. Although she constantly reminded him that she might go into labor in the middle of the day, instead of in the middle of the night, and that she was also quite capable of contacting the Doctor by herself, it still made him feel better to be near her whenever possible.

Kathryn looked up at the kind and handsome man next to her. His eyes were closed, and she could tell he was nearly asleep. "Chakotay?" she whispered.

"Hmmmm . . ."

"Give me your hand." She took his hand, and placed it on her stomach so he could feel the baby kicking. She watched his face as it lit up with a big smile. "She's anxious to get out of there," she said.

"Of course she is. She's your daughter, and she'll never sit still for long," he said so softly that Kathryn could barely hear him.

"Chakotay, why don't you get a shower, and come to bed? I'll give you a backrub," she said gently.

Chakotay pulled himself awake, and turned to look at her. "That sounds good to me," he smiled, and stood. He took Kathryn's hand and helped her from the couch. Although she had actually gained only fourteen pounds, it felt like a great deal to her, and she wasn't accustomed to carrying the extra weight. Chakotay had been concerned that she hadn't gained more weight, and he'd said as much to the Doctor, much to Kathryn's dismay, but the Doctor had assured him that not all human females gained a large amount of weight. And the baby, and Kathryn, were doing just fine.

Chakotay managed to take a quick shower, wrap a towel around his waist and make his way to Kathryn's bed, where she encouraged him to turn onto his stomach so she could knead the tight muscles in his shoulders. In less than five minutes, he was sound asleep, and Kathryn removed her robe and curled up next to him the best she could.

It was becoming more and more difficult for Kathryn to get comfortable for more than a few minutes at a time, and tonight it was even worse than usual. As much as she was not anxious for the actual delivery of this child, she was very much looking forward to not being pregnant anymore. Her back ached constantly, and she could barely stand after sitting for more than half an hour at a time. She was often treated as though she were helpless by much of the senior staff and other crewmembers, as well. She tried to be patient with their doting, but her patience was tried constantly. She couldn't stand to be hampered by something outside her control, and she could barely remember what it was like to go near a Jeffries Tube without Chakotay and B'Elanna both running after her, warning her not to crawl inside it!

After several minutes of tossing and turning, Kathryn left the bed and walked into the outer room. She was even more restless than usual tonight. She ordered a cup of hot tea from the replicator, hoping it would calm her and allow her to get a decent night's rest for a change. Her actual due date was tomorrow, and she swore the Doctor already had Sickbay ready for her. He checked in with her constantly to see how she was feeling. Thankfully, it was late enough in the evening that even he wouldn't bother her now.

Kathryn sighed and walked to the viewport next to the couch. Oh, how she loved looking out at the stars. She had loved it since she was a small child. Her father had entertained her with his stories of far away planets and peoples as far back as she could remember. He had been so proud of her. How she wished he could be here with her now. He would have loved to see his granddaughter, and Kathryn was suddenly overcome with sadness that her daughter would never know her grandfather.

Her eyes began to fill with tears and she turned from the viewport and moved to the couch. She looked at it a moment, then decided not to sit. Getting up was just too much trouble, and maybe she could go back to bed in a few minutes, after she finished her tea, anyway. She smiled to herself. Tea. Maybe Chakotay was finally rubbing off on her after all these years.

Suddenly, she caught her breath. She felt a sudden sharp pain in her abdomen. Oh, no. She knew what this meant. But then again, it could just be indigestion or another muscle spasm. She'd had several of those lately. She walked around a bit and drank her tea. Maybe she'd even imagined it.

But then, a few minutes later, she felt another pain, and it was just as intense. She forced herself to hold onto the mug of tea, even though she felt a bit of it splash out onto her hand. After a moment, the pain passed and she took a deep breath. Breathe. She told herself to breathe. How much time had elapsed between the two pains? She had no idea. She glanced at the chronometer across the room. If it happened again, she would know it was the real thing. And she would also be able to tell the Doctor and Chakotay exactly how much time had passed between the contractions, if they asked her. And they would definitely ask.

Finally, when Kathryn had relaxed a bit and was convinced the pain wouldn't occur again, she carried the nearly empty mug of tea to the recycle bin and disposed of it. She turned to go into the bedroom, but had to grasp the doorjamb when another pain hit her. This one was worse than the others. She held her breath and closed her eyes. She concentrated on the pain and isolated it. Finally, she was able to get her breath again.

Kathryn glanced at the chronometer. Eight minutes. Her contractions were coming eight minutes apart. Whatever happened to the ones with fifteen-minute intervals she was supposed to experience first? She moved back into the outer room and walked around a bit longer. She had to think. No, she told herself, she had to get to Sickbay.

Deciding to go into the bedroom to change into her uniform, Kathryn started for the doorway, then gasped and grabbed the back of the nearest chair for support, nearly doubling over with the pain. Forget the uniform, she thought. The contractions would soon come closer together, and she had to get to Sickbay. She hit her commbadge.

"Janeway to the Doctor," she said, trying to breathe steadily.

"Yes, Captain," said the Doctor.

"It's time."

"Good. Can you come to Sickbay yourself, Captain, or shall I send someone for you?" The Doctor seemed thrilled that the moment had at last arrived, but Kathryn wasn't sharing that feeling at the moment.

"I'm fine, Doctor. I'll be right there."

She looked in at Chakotay, but knew he was exhausted. Kathryn decided to let him sleep. There was nothing he could do for her anyway. She could certainly get to Sickbay by herself. It would take her less than ten minutes to get there, and she could manage it alone. At least the contractions didn't seem to be getting worse in intensity. Yet.

Kathryn quietly took her robe from the foot of the bed, then stopped. Damnit, she was the Captain of this vessel, and she would not walk down the corridors of her ship in a gown and a robe. She dropped the robe back onto the bed, and as quickly and quietly as she could, she removed her gown, opened her closet and pulled out a fresh maternity uniform. She was still proud of the fact that she had only begun to wear these awful things five weeks ago.

Kathryn Janeway donned a fresh, crisp maternity uniform and walked into the outer room of her quarters. She was just in time for a fresh pain to catch her before she reached the door, but at least she hadn't awakened Chakotay. This time she was ready for the contraction, and waited for it to pass. They were now six minutes apart. She didn't have time to waste. They were getting closer together and were becoming more severe. If she were lucky, she would make it to Sickbay with only one more contraction slowing her down.

The moment she could bear it, she exited her quarters, held her head high, and pushed her shoulders back. She would not deliver her daughter in her quarters or in Voyager's corridor. She would make her way to Sickbay, and the Doctor could assist her from there.

Twelve minutes later, Captain Janeway walked into Sickbay. She had experienced two contractions along the way, but had managed not to run into other crewmembers. Thankfully, with Voyager being set down for repairs, crew shifts ran very differently, and there weren't many people wandering the corridors at this hour. The journey from her quarters to Sickbay hadn't been the easiest thing she'd ever done, but she had done it on her own, and Kathryn Janeway was nothing if not independent.

As soon as the Captain walked into Sickbay, the Doctor rushed her to a private area of Sickbay that he had prepared for just this event. "Captain," he said, looking about, "Where is the Commander?" Kathryn heard surprise, and even a small amount of concern, in his voice.

"He's sleeping," she said, allowing the Doctor to assist her in getting onto the biobed he had ready for her.

"Sleeping?" the Doctor asked incredulously. "You came here alone?"

"Doctor, if you'll remember, I am the Captain of this ship, and I am quite capable of doing many things without the assistance of others. I do have an identity other than the one that concerns my being pregnant."

"Captain, I don't question your independence, but there is a time to depend on others for assistance, as well."

Just then, Kathryn experienced the worst pain she'd had yet. She clinched her teeth and struggled to isolate the pain, the way she'd been taught at Starfleet Academy. This technique just wasn't working so well right now. The Doctor held her hand firmly, and then began to scan her with his free hand. Surely this pain was as bad as it would get. She couldn't imagine a more severe pain than this.

"Doctor," she began, trying to get her breath.

"Captain, how far apart are your contractions? Do you know? Have you timed them?"

"Of course I know, Doctor. They are now five minutes apart, judging by this last one."

"Five minutes? You're sure, about this Captain?"

"Five minutes, Doctor."

The Doctor began to move his instrument trays into place.

"What is it?" she asked.

"We're fortunate, Captain. It seems you're not going to have a lengthy labor. This baby will be here soon," he said.

It wouldn't be soon enough, as far as Kathryn was concerned, and then another contraction hit her. This one was as bad as the previous one, and she was beginning to get tired of this. She was getting tired, period.



"Hmm . . ." Chakotay stirred in his sleep, then slowly opened his eyes. He thought he heard something.

"Doctor to Commander Chakotay."

Chakotay snapped awake the best he could, and grabbed his commbadge on the table next to the bed, where he'd put it earlier. "Chakotay here," he managed to say.

"Commander, please report to Sickbay immediately. The Captain is in labor."

"What?" Chakotay sat up and looked about him. Kathryn was nowhere in sight. Damn her! She had gone to Sickbay alone! "On my way, Doctor," said Chakotay, already throwing his towel onto the bed and moving to Kathryn's closet, where he kept a fresh uniform.

As he began to dress, he forced himself to calm down. It wouldn't do to be upset when he saw Kathryn. Right now, he had to be there for her. And for their little girl. Chakotay stopped, and then smiled, as the realization dawned upon him. Finally, his little girl would be born.



Chakotay arrived in Sickbay with only minutes to spare. Exactly fourteen minutes after he walked through the doors, his and Kathryn's daughter made her first appearance in the world. She entered it screaming and fighting, just as Chakotay knew she would. In fact, Chakotay's hands were the ones to catch her as she struggled through, and he cleaned her and wrapped her in a blanket, as Kathryn managed to watch him.

As Chakotay stood holding their daughter in his arms, Kathryn saw him look down and smile proudly at her, and she saw the love for their baby reflected in his eyes. There was no doubt in her mind that Chakotay would be the very best father possible to her little girl, and she felt tears well up in her eyes. She had nearly missed all of this. If Fate Itself hadn't intervened, she would still be the Captain of Voyager, and her First Officer would still be her best friend, but they would be nothing more to each other than that. But now, she had everything she could ever want or need.

As stubborn as Kathryn Janeway was, it seemed that the Hand of Fate was even more stubborn. And for this, she would be eternally grateful.

Kathryn felt exhausted, but her daughter had been born and she could finally rest.

This delivery had taken a great deal out of her; she wasn't as young as she wished she was just now, but it really didn't matter in the long run. Perhaps she would be able to appreciate this baby more than she would have if she were younger, too.

Chakotay moved to Kathryn and gently placed the bundle into her arms. She turned and looked at the little girl lying there. She was the most magnificent little being Kathryn had ever seen. And she looked just like her father. She looked up at Chakotay and managed a small smile. "She's ours?" she whispered to him.

He nodded, not feeling able to say anything aloud. Kathryn looked tired, exhausted and pale, and her hair was mussed, but her eyes were bright, and when she looked at him, he knew in his heart that she truly loved him. Chakotay thought she had never looked more beautiful, more like a woman than a Captain, and he felt tears form in his eyes. And his new little daughter looked just like her mother.

Kathryn looked up at the man she had come to depend upon, and to love, these past years. She had no idea what she would ever do without him now, and she didn't want to know. The tears in her eyes were tears of joy and complete happiness – a happiness she had never known before. "I love you," she whispered to him, as she reached for him with her free hand.

"And I love you, Kathryn." Chakotay leaned closer to the mother and her child, and kissed Kathryn gently, as the tears rolled down both their cheeks. And the saltiness of their tears did nothing to compromise the sweetness of the kiss.



The Doctor had watched over everything the evening before, and made sure the Captain pushed when she was supposed to push, and breathed when she was supposed to breathe. Of course, it was never easy to convince the Captain to do something when she didn't want to do it, but the Commander had stepped in to talk to her when she was being unreasonable with the Doctor. In fact, the Doctor was quite pleased with the way everything had gone. Both the Captain and the baby were fine and healthy, and this morning he was going to give them both a complete physical examination.

This child was a special child, indeed. Everyone aboard Voyager knew that the Captain and Commander Chakotay had loved each other for years. But the Captain had been too stubborn to accept his love, and had been concerned with nothing but getting her crew home. But then the Hand of Fate had intervened, in the Doctor's opinion. The Captain had been impregnated with the Commander's DNA during a transport back to Voyager from the surface of an alien planet. Although there was such a slim chance of that sort of thing happening, it nonetheless did. And the baby was as healthy as she could be.

The Doctor had remained in the background last night, and watched the new family begin to bond. He felt quite proud, actually. No one realized how much a family Doctor had to do with the birthing process, but he didn't need the acknowledgement, no, not at all. He had been quite content to watch it all and assist when he was needed, and know that he had been a vital part of the moment when the Captain's child had entered the world.

In this case, the Doctor was doubly proud, for he deeply respected Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay. And though this child hadn't been conceived in the normal manner, they had both accepted their responsibilities and moved forward.

As the Doctor entered the private area of Sickbay where the new mother and baby were staying, he stopped inside the door and watched the scene before him. He thought he'd never see the day when the fearless Captain Janeway would appear so . . . motherly.

Kathryn looked at the tiny baby in her arms, and smiled at her. She was breast-feeding the infant and Chakotay was sitting a short distance away, watching them. Last night, it had taken every bit of the Doctor's power of persuasion to convince the Commander to go back to his own quarters and get some sleep. The Captain certainly needed to rest, and the baby had already been fed and had fallen fast asleep.

But Chakotay had gone straight to Kathryn's quarters, and her bed, to sleep last night. At least he felt closer to her there than in his own quarters. And, as exhausted as he was, he was awake for a very long time, thinking about Kathryn and the beautiful baby girl that was their daughter. The Spirits had truly intervened that day nine months ago, and had now given them both a healthy, perfect little girl. Finally, he had slept.

Now, the Doctor reminded them both that the Commander needed to leave soon. Both mother and daughter needed to rest, and the Doctor needed to conduct his examinations later this morning. The Commander assured him that he was leaving in a few minutes. He had to check on the ship's maintenance schedule so that he could update the Captain on the progress later this afternoon. He also had to tell everyone about his new daughter. The Doctor agreed that the Commander could stay a few minutes longer, then returned to his office.

"Chakotay," said Kathryn, after the Doctor had left them alone again. "As I was falling asleep last night it occurred to me that we haven't agreed on a name for her yet."

Chakotay smiled. "We talked about several names we both liked."

"Yes, but we never made a decision. And, Chakotay, I'm not sure I really like any of those now." She looked at the baby in her arms. "Somehow none of them fit her."

"I know one name that does."

"Oh?" She smiled. "And just which name have you grown fond of?"

"None that we've discussed so far."

"Oh, really. Tell me," she said softly, looking at the man she had grown to love, to need, more than she could ever have thought possible.

"Saloa."

"Saloa," she said softly, trying on the name for size, and looking down at her little girl. "Saloa. What does it mean?"

"What makes you think it means anything in particular?" he asked innocently.

"Because," she said looking at him tenderly, "everything you say, every story you tell, has a special meaning."

Chakotay smiled. "The word literally means fire. It is also a name given to female warriors, and it means ‘the fire in her soul.' My people believe that certain females were born to nurture and encourage, and others were born to protect, to fight for their beliefs, and their people." He paused, and turned away. "I believe our daughter will be like her mother. She will fight for her beliefs and defy anyone to challenge her. Yet, if they do, she will listen, and weigh the options, and ultimately make the right decision."

"Chakotay," Kathryn whispered to him, "I've not always made the right decisions, you know." Her voice broke, and she looked down at the baby in her arms.

"You've always done the best you could, and made the best decision you knew how to make. That's what's important, Kathryn." He stood and walked over to her, as she looked up at him. "And even though sometimes you make me angrier than anyone else has ever had the power to do, I love you more than I've loved anyone."

Kathryn smiled at him, and her eyes were moist. "Don't think you're out of the woods, Mister. I'm sure I'll make you angry plenty of times yet."

Chakotay grinned at her. "I have no doubt about that, Kathryn." He leaned over and kissed her. "I'd better go before the Doctor throws me out. Besides, I have some information to gather for the Captain."

"Good idea," she whispered. "Don't forget to stop back later."

"Not on your life," he said, then leaned over to kiss the baby, who was sleeping peacefully.

"Saloa and I will be waiting," she called after him softly.

Chakotay turned to look at her once more. "What have I done to deserve you?" he asked.

"Don't feel so lucky," Kathryn said, with a mischievous look in her eye. "The Spirits probably figured you're the only one who can put up with me."

Chakotay laughed, then turned and left Sickbay.



Later the same day, Commander Chakotay returned to Sickbay, where he visited with his daughter, and the woman he loved. After Kathryn fed Saloa and put her into the tiny bed, she sat beside Chakotay while he updated her on the ship's systems. She asked all the right questions, and he had most of the right answers. The ship was now only four days behind on the estimated maintenance schedule, and all in all, that wasn't bad.

Tom Paris and Seven had made two successful trips to a nearby planet for some of the resources that B'Elanna needed for the warp core overhaul. Chakotay had approved the excursions, and had been pleased with the results of their findings.

Kathryn asked when this overhaul would be complete, and Chakotay told her it would more than likely be another two weeks. She sighed wistfully. She could do nothing but wait. She didn't know when the Doctor would allow her to report back on duty, but she knew it wouldn't be for some time yet. And she wasn't feeling strong enough to crawl through a Jeffries Tube yet, anyway. But she was biding her time. It wouldn't be long now. Kathryn was anxious to get Voyager on her way, and moving toward home again.

"Kathryn, we're doing the best we can," he said gently.

"I know. I just wish I could go to sleep at night and see the stars rushing past my window again, Chakotay. I really hate this sitting around."

"I know. It won't be long now," Chakotay said, and pulled her closer to him. He understood how she felt.

"The Doctor might allow me to go back to my quarters tomorrow," she said softly.

"That's wonderful news, Kathryn."

"Yes, and since I don't want him to change his mind, all I have to do is smile and treat him nicely until he releases us."

Chakotay smiled against her hair. "That can't be too difficult."

"I'd rather fight three Kazon warships than to have to be extra nice to the Doctor," she said.

"I know, but think of this as a lesson in courage," he whispered.

"Courage?" she asked.

"And fortitude."

She smiled. "Well, at least my quarters is preferable to Sickbay. Besides, I miss your sleeping beside me."

"Oh?"

"Yes, I've become quite comfortable with you next to me."

"That's nice to know."

She turned to look at him. "That applies to more than just my bed, you know."

He took her chin in his hand and kissed her gently.



Several days later, the Captain was pacing her quarters, waiting for Chakotay to arrive. The Doctor had just left, after examining both her and the baby once more. He was satisfied that mother and daughter were doing just fine. Kathryn could have told him that, but had held her tongue and allowed him to conduct his examinations anyway.

She asked him when she could return to duty, and he had been dismissive. "Soon," was all he would say. And that hadn't made her very happy.

Finally, Chakotay arrived, and after much beating around the bush, she was able to ascertain that Voyager's maintenance schedule had fallen another day and a half behind schedule.

"I can't believe it, Chakotay," she said, pacing the room while Chakotay held the baby and rested on the couch. "Another day and a half?"

"B'Elanna expects to pick up some extra time tomorrow, Kathryn. I'll have better news for you tomorrow evening."

Kathryn sighed. "I feel so helpless, Chakotay. The Doctor won't release me from my quarters, and I can't even visit Engineering, or the Bridge, to see what's going on for myself."

"You don't need to, Kathryn. I'm giving you all the information I have."

And it was true. Kathryn knew in her heart that right now she couldn't make the repairs progress any faster by being there herself, but the stubborn streak in her didn't want to accept it. There had to be a way to move things along. "When is the next staff meeting, Chakotay?" she asked him.

"Kathryn," he began.

"When?"

He sighed. "Tomorrow at noon."

She nodded, and continued to pace the room. Somehow she had to convince the Doctor to allow her to attend.



The following morning, Kathryn spoke to the Doctor via her computer link. "Doctor, I will only be gone from my quarters for an hour, and the baby won't even have awakened. In fact, I thought that perhaps you could watch her for that hour; there's no one I trust to care for her more than you, of course."

The Doctor has positively beamed at the Captain's compliment. "Of course I would love to watch over her, Captain, but . . ."

"Good," said the Captain. "Shall I bring her to you, or do you want to watch her here?" she asked, already knowing the answer.

"Captain, I'll certainly come to your quarters and watch Saloa there. She shouldn't be moved about so much yet."

"Good idea, Doctor," said the Captain. "You'll be here then?" "Captain," the Doctor sighed. "I will watch Saloa while you attend the noon briefing. After the usual one-hour session, I fully expect you to return to your quarters. Do you understand?" She was recovering from her delivery nicely, but he wasn't prepared to allow her to return to duty yet, not even light duty. With Kathryn Janeway, if you gave her an inch, she would take a mile, and he didn't want to give her that opportunity.

"Understood, Doctor," she said. "And thank you," she added softly.

"You're welcome, Captain" the Doctor replied, disconnecting the link, and knowing that she truly needed this time away from her quarters to hear first-hand that her crew and her ship were doing just fine. He sighed. Well, he'd indulge her this time, for one hour.

Two hours later, the Doctor donned his holoemitter and headed for the Captain's quarters. He smiled the entire way; he loved babies, and felt especially close to the ones he had personally delivered. Well, both of the ones he had delivered.

Kathryn Janeway was ready and waiting when the Doctor arrived at her door. "Thank you, Doctor," she said the moment he entered her quarters, as she headed for the door herself. "Saloa is fed and is now sleeping."

"Captain?"

"Yes?" she replied, turning to him.

"One hour. No more."

"Understood, Doctor." She checked the chronometer just before exiting her quarters.



As Kathryn Janeway strode down the corridors of her ship, she felt wonderful. It had been nine days since she had given birth to a beautiful baby girl, and she was silently both grateful and proud of the fact that, although she was older than most human females who gave birth to their first child, she was doing remarkably well. Even the Doctor seemed pleased, although he didn't want to seem overly so just yet. She smiled to herself. The Doctor knew that the moment he told her how well she was doing, she'd immediately start badgering him to get back to work. Well, she was going to start badgering him anyway. It was time.

It felt good to be outside her quarters, and on her way to a senior staff meeting. She felt as though she'd been away from everything for weeks, not just days! The Captain entered the Bridge, much to the surprise of the Alpha shift, and greeted everyone warmly. As soon as they realized she was on deck, the crewmembers stood, in deference to their Captain, and she felt the tears gather behind her lids.

"Thank you, Everyone," she said in a gentle voice. "As you were." As the crewmembers returned to their seats, she turned to Chakotay and smiled. "Don't worry, the Doctor's watching Saloa," she said in a quiet voice.

Chakotay nodded and smiled back at her. "Welcome back, Captain," he said softly. "And congratulations."

"For what?" she asked innocently.

"Convincing the Doctor to let you out of your cage," he said, with a twinkle in his eye.

"You have the Bridge, Commander," she said aloud. "I'll be in my Ready Room."

"Of course, Captain. The senior staff meeting is scheduled for noon. Will you attend?" he asked formally.

"Wouldn't miss it," she said sweetly, and then left the Bridge for her Ready Room.



As the senior staff filtered through the door of the Briefing Room, they became unusually quiet when they saw their Captain looking out the viewport, and standing with her back to the room. They sat at their usual places, and when Kathryn Janeway heard the room settle down around her, she turned and looked at each one of the people gathered in the room. When her gaze turned to take in Chakotay, he smiled at her, and it was all she could do not to smile back. But that would have been un-Captain-like.

Finally, she walked down to her chair, and rested her arm on the back of it. "Good afternoon, People," she said, and they all nodded and greeted her in turn.

"Before we get started today, I want to thank each of you for your kind notes and the lovely gifts Chakotay and I have received for Saloa. We are very fortunate to have such support from each one of you." She paused for a moment, and swallowed hard. Now was not the time to lose control. "And we both consider each and every one of you a friend."

The room was quiet as each person reflected upon their Captain, and Commander Chakotay, who seemed infinitely happier these days. These two people certainly belonged together, and everyone in the room was glad they had finally found each other.

"Now," the Captain resumed the meeting in her more formal tone. "I would like an update regarding our current situation. We are still grounded, and Commander Chakotay tells me we are several days behind in our maintenance schedule." They were only two and a half days behind schedule at the moment, but Captain Janeway knew that by inferring that there was a longer delay, the room would practically ignite with conversation. And she wasn't wrong.

"Let's speak one at a time, if you don't mind," she admonished. "B'Elanna, please update us regarding our schedule of repairs," she finished easily, and sat in her chair at the head of the table.

While B'Elanna spoke, Chakotay watched Kathryn from afar. She looked rested and relaxed, if only slightly pale. He knew that the birth of their child had been particularly hard on her, but she had remarkable courage. She had gotten through it all as gracefully as possible, and had only gotten into a heated argument with the Doctor toward the end.

Kathryn Janeway was a remarkable person, indeed, and the more Chakotay discovered about her, the more he liked her, and the more he loved her.

Chakotay turned away from her. If he watched her too closely, he could easily lose touch with this meeting and become lost in thoughts of the woman he loved. And he knew she wouldn't take too kindly to that happening. Not in a staff meeting.

"Very good, B'Elanna. You've made remarkable progress, even considering the odds," Kathryn was saying. "Do you think we can make up any of our lost time?"

"Uh, well, Captain," began B'Elanna. She had actually been quite proud of the fact that Voyager's maintenance schedule was getting back on track, and considering all the problems they'd encountered, that was pretty good.

"I think we can make up at least half a day if we shut down all propulsion systems completely," said Harry Kim. "Then we could divert the power to the core and gain faster access to all vital systems."

"But Harry, if we do that, we'll truly be dead in the water if someone comes to call," said B'Elanna. "I'm trying to keep at least one option open to us."

"What if we man our shuttles and keep them ready?" asked the Captain. "We can post look-outs on all our perimeters. That way, if there is danger of attack, we can have a warning signal, which would give Engineering ample time to power up vital ship's systems."

"That could work," agreed B'Elanna. "But we'd have to be in constant contact and remain at alert."

"Agreed," said the Captain. "Any other opinions on the matter?" No one responded. "Good, then let's try this for a day or two and see if we can regain some momentum. Maybe we can get back on schedule. I'd like to see Voyager on course for home again as soon as possible." She paused. "Does anyone have anything to add?"

"I do, Captain," said Tom Paris.

"What is it, Lieutenant?" she asked.

"Just that it's good to see you back among us, Captain. No disrespect to Commander Chakotay, but we missed you."

Kathryn wasn't expecting a statement of this kind, but she shouldn't have been surprised. She had certainly found out in recent years that Tom Paris was one of her most avid supporters. She nodded in his direction, and struggled to keep her voice strong.

"Thank you, Mr. Paris. I have missed being here," she said simply, but everyone in the room could tell how very much she meant those words.

"Let's get to work, People. Dismissed."

As everyone filed out of the room, Harry and B'Elanna were discussing Harry's proposal, and Tom was already offering to man one of the shuttles.

After they'd all gone, Kathryn stood and turned to Chakotay. "Maybe you'd better make sure they don't kill each other while they're protecting Voyager," she said with a small smile.

Chakotay stood and moved to Kathryn, and took her in his arms. "I'll make sure," he whispered as he touched his lips to her hair.

Kathryn was suddenly tired. She'd forgotten how much these meetings took out of her. She was so used to them on a daily basis, and then working a full shift on top of that, that she didn't expect to be so exhausted now, after just one brief meeting. She sighed heavily, and leaned her head against Chakotay's chest. "What time is it?" she whispered.

"What?"

Kathryn lifted her head and looked at the chronometer across the room. "Damn," she said.

"What is it?"

"If I'm not back in my quarters in seven minutes, the Doctor will send out a posse for me."

Chakotay smiled. "So, you bribed the Doctor to let you come here? I should have known. What tactic did you use?"

"What makes you think I used a ‘tactic'," she asked.

"I know you," he replied.

"Well, I didn't. I merely asked him if he would watch the baby while I attended a staff briefing, that's all. And, in return, I promised him I wouldn't be gone more than an hour," she finished on a stronger note. "So now I need to go, in order to keep my promise," she said, as she moved toward the door. Then, just before she exited, she turned to him once more. "Will you join me for dinner this evening?" she asked, in a softer voice.

"I wouldn't miss it," he said, still smiling.

"Good. It's replicator rations."

"Wouldn't miss it," he said again, and they smiled at each other.

And, with that, the Captain left the Briefing Room for her quarters. She said good-day to the Alpha shift crewmembers, and exited via the turbolift. She was glad to walk back to her quarters alone. The short time away from her quarters, and her baby, had taken a lot out of her, but she didn't plan to let anyone know it.

As the Captain entered her quarters, she saw that the Doctor was holding little Saloa in his arms, and talking to her quietly. Kathryn smiled. "It looks as though no one missed me," she said.

Saloa was making soft sounds in the Doctor's arms. "Ah, Captain, I do believe Saloa's becoming a bit restless. She's also going to be hungry soon. It's a good thing you've returned." He handed Saloa to Kathryn. "And now that I've done my good deed for the day, and you have done your duty for the week, it's time I got back to Sickbay."

As the Doctor turned to leave, Kathryn called after him. "Thank you, Doctor." He turned and smiled, expecting more, but when nothing came, he nodded his head and left. Now was not the time to discuss her returning to her duties, but she would bring it up with the Doctor soon.

Kathryn held Saloa close to her. This was the first time she'd been away from her baby for more than a couple of minutes, and though she had been busy and preoccupied at the staff meeting, the past hour had served as a good dose of reality for her. Kathryn Janeway had some thinking to do.



Chakotay and the Doctor were waiting for her in the Doctor's office when she arrived. She could tell from the looks on their faces that they were expecting something drastic from her. She forced herself not to smile. She had to keep the upper hand.

"Please," she said gently, motioning both of them to sit. "This will only take a moment." She could tell immediately that this didn't help to make them feel any better.

"I want to return to work, Doctor," she said, and then held up her hand to silence both men when she saw them both open their mouths to respond. "Let me finish," she said. "I realize I'm not ready to serve a full shift, Doctor. You've only allowed me out of my quarters for three days now, and only for brief periods of time. And, believe me, I'm plenty tired when I return to my quarters, and my baby, after only being away for a few hours. I recognize that I can't do as much as I'd like to be able to do, and that I will still need to take precautions." She paused. "And I do have a baby to think about now," she added softly.

She stopped for a moment to allow her words to sink in. She had learned over the years that too much information given without allowing the recipient or recipients to comprehend it was a wasted effort. "I want to go back on light duty, Doctor, and for shortened shifts. I understand that I would be more in the way than helpful if I reported back for full duty shifts while unfit."

Both men seemed to sort through her words without a great deal of effort. They had been expecting this from her, she realized. Good.

"And I want to wean Saloa from breast feeding."

"What!" asked the Doctor. "Captain, she's less than a month old!"

"I've read the medical database on pregnancies, Doctor. Many women bottle fed their babies long ago, and those babies grew up to be just as healthy and well-adjusted as breast fed babies." Both men were quiet, and Kathryn sighed. "I may not always be available for Saloa every time she needs to be fed," she said gently. "And I need to know that she's being cared for in the best way possible when I'm not there."

She continued, before either of the men jumped in to speak. "Babies need a great deal of attention, and Chakotay and I are lucky to have so many wonderful people on this ship who are willing to help us look after our baby. But I need to be able to go back on active duty, full-time, as soon as I'm able. And I'm not going to be pulled off Bridge duty in the middle of a battle to go and breast feed my baby."

Chakotay had to smile. Leave it to Kathryn to paint the most vivid picture possible. And as much as he hated to admit it, she did have a point.

"So, Gentlemen, do I have your support, or do I take back my command by force?" She tried to keep her voice light, yet maintain enough strength in it to let them know she was very serious about what she was suggesting.

Chakotay looked at her. "You'll always have my support, Kathryn. Even if I disagreed with you now, you would still have my support." He sighed. "But you've made your point, and it's a good one. I understand that being a mother and a Captain are two roles that will not always work well together." He paused, but then continued. "I agree. Saloa needs to be weaned. Other crewmembers will need to feed her from time to time, and her most constant babysitters will need to be able to care for her on an ongoing basis. And, if for some reason you and I are not able to be with her for an extended period of time, she will need to be cared for by others as easily as by her own parents."

Kathryn and Chakotay shared a look; they knew that the reality of their situation might cause them both to be separated from Saloa, and from each other. Chakotay prayed to the Spirits each night to protect his baby, and Kathryn, from harm. He had already prayed to them for years to protect Kathryn.

The Doctor respected their position. He knew that they were tearing themselves away from the desire, and the natural instinct, to protect their child and their new feeling of family, and forcing themselves to put Voyager and her crew first. The Doctor knew that the Captain would always do her best to honor her promise to the crew, and the Commander recognized that promise for what it was, and would stand beside her.

"I understand, Captain," said the Doctor gently. "I will prepare a formulae for Saloa that will be as close as possible to your breast milk."

"Thank you, Doctor," said the Captain. She looked at Chakotay, and they held each other's eyes a moment longer. Then she turned and left the Doctor's office, and Sickbay, and retreated to her quarters, where she dismissed the young Ensign who had watched over Saloa in her absence.

Then the Captain picked up her baby and held her close. She whispered lots of apologies and a few sweet nothings to her, and moved over to the viewport to look at the stars, the stars that had been still for too long, as the tears fell down her cheeks.



The Captain sat back in her chair and thought about how wonderful it was to be back at work. Of course, she still wasn't back to the schedule she once had, and might have again at some point, but things were much better now than they'd been in awhile. And now she had a beautiful little baby girl to think about. She smiled. Saloa was a wonderful little baby. She slept a lot of the time, yet she could really bawl when she wanted someone to notice her!

Even as far back as a few weeks ago, Kathryn would never have believed her life could change so drastically the moment she actually gave birth to her child. Everything in her life seemed to change – the way she looked at everything was different now. And, although her first concern was still to get her ship and crew home, she had something else to live for now. Although she had always had Chakotay beside her, now she was acknowledging his presence in a way she had never done before. He was a kind man, a good friend, her lover and the father of her child. And he was also her soulmate. But while she acknowledged this latter part to herself, she couldn't make a commitment to him – not one that would allow him to enter her life in the way that she knew he wanted to. The Gods knew she had a ship to get home first. The ship was always first, it had to be. She had promised her crew that she would get them home, and she would do it, if it were the last thing she did.

Kathryn sighed and stood from her chair. She stretched her back, realizing that she had been sifting through crew reports for nearly two hours without having moved from her chair once. Chakotay had been right. By coming back to work, she was doing more paperwork than ever before. But, at the very least, it did free up Chakotay to help with the more active tasks involved with getting Voyager ready to resume her journey toward home.

They were still behind schedule, but Chakotay had informed her earlier today that with Harry, B'Elanna and Tom working on the plan that had been decided upon at last week's staff meeting, they were now less than a day behind schedule. Those had been wonderful words for Kathryn Janeway to hear. Voyager's maintenance had taken much longer than expected, and the schedule had been revised so many times Kathryn had lost count. In her mind, they were terribly behind schedule, yet to everyone else's mind, things were moving along at an acceptable pace.

She sighed. The Captain had been somewhat preoccupied through much of the overhaul, that much was true. But now they were less than a week away from leaving the surface of the planet they were set down upon, and that's what was most important.

Kathryn ordered a cup of coffee from the replicator. Finally, it was tasting the way it should taste, and she was enjoying her coffee again. Since several weeks into her pregnancy, the taste of all kinds of things, including coffee, had changed, much to her horror. Even Neelix had tried everything in his power to make a coffee that tasted good to her, but more often than not, it made her sick to her stomach even to smell it. The Doctor said it was not unusual for this sort of thing to happen, but it was far from usual for Kathryn Janeway not to like the taste of coffee, and she had told him so.

Thankfully, things were getting back to normal in many ways. Kathryn was even starting to feel like a woman again. She wanted Chakotay to make love with her, but instead of mentioning it to Chakotay, yesterday she had begrudgingly asked the Doctor when she could make love again. And he hadn't missed a beat when he told her that she could engage in sexual activities whenever she felt like it, as long as no penetration was involved. She sighed. She wanted to feel Chakotay inside her again, but it might be some time yet before she was healed enough for that. She did, however, have other plans for tonight.

And as the Captain sat back at her desk in her Ready Room to resume her reading, she smiled to herself. She had asked Chakotay to come over a bit early tonight. While Chakotay fed Saloa her dinner, Kathryn planned to replicate a nice meal of pasta and a salad, and even open a bottle of non-synthenol wine. Then, while Saloa slept, she planned to spend some time in Chakotay's arms. It had been awhile since they had taken some time for themselves, and she was a bit taken aback at how much she missed it.

Kathryn Janeway didn't need anyone. Or did she? She had been alone for so long, and suddenly all of that was over for good. One way or another, Chakotay was a permanent part of her life now. She had given birth to his child, and he would always be there. And somehow she didn't feel in the least bad about that.

The door chime sounded, and she automatically called "Come."

Kathryn looked up to see Chakotay walk into the room. She sighed. "How did I know it would be you?"

"Just a lucky guess." His grin was broad and happy, and Kathryn smiled back at him. She just couldn't help herself. "Are you ready to go?" he asked

"Go?"

"Yes, your duty shift was over ten minutes ago. If I don't escort you back to your quarters immediately, the Doctor will hunt me down."

Kathryn laughed. Even though the image that came to mind was slightly funny, she also knew it wasn't far from the truth.

"Let's go," she said. "I'm not going to get much more accomplished with that picture of the Doctor in my mind."

They left the Ready Room together, and started for the Captain's quarters. Chakotay had been crawling under circuit panels a good part of the afternoon, and elected to stop by his own quarters for a sonic shower. Kathryn went ahead to her own quarters alone, and greeted Ensign Wildman, who was caring for Saloa during the day while Voyager was undergoing maintenance. Samantha wouldn't be as available once they were on their way home again and she had her usual duties to attend to, but Kathryn appreciated all the time Sam could spare right now.

After Ensign Wildman left to tend to supper for her own daughter, Kathryn had a few moments of quiet time with Saloa. The baby was in good hands with Samantha Wildman, Kathryn knew. She knew that, in many ways, Sam enjoyed caring for Saloa because she was reminded of when Naomi was a baby. But now, Kathryn sat on the couch with Saloa in her arms, and told her little girl about her day, and about her father, who would be here shortly.

Kathryn put Saloa down in her bed and took a quick sonic shower. Although she still preferred a bath, she seldom had the time to take one anymore. Ah, but someday she would get back to that bathtub. It was still her favorite way to relax. Well . . . nearly her favorite way, she thought to herself, with a grin.

Half an hour later, Chakotay arrived and greeted Kathryn with a kiss on the cheek. She smiled. She understood well. He didn't want to push her, and didn't want to crowd her, either. And she appreciated it.

Kathryn prepared their dinner while Chakotay held Saloa and fed her with a bottle of the special milk the Doctor had formulated for her. And while he fed her, and Kathryn prepared dinner for the two of them, Chakotay entertained them both with stories from his childhood. Many of these were stories Kathryn had heard before, but some were new to her. Either way, she never grew tired of hearing Chakotay tell his stories.

Finally, Saloa fell asleep and she and Chakotay ate their own dinner. He smiled at the glass of wine she poured for him, and they sipped wine together and talked about events of the day. After they ate, Chakotay relaxed on the couch while Kathryn put the few dishes and utensils in the recycle bin. Then she joined him, with a cup of coffee for herself and a cup of tea for Chakotay.

"Chakotay, we're finally going to be able to leave this planet in just a few days' time."

"Uh huh," he murmured. Chakotay had his head back against the couch, and his eyes were closed. Kathryn placed Chakotay's tea on the low table in front of them, and sat on the other side of the couch. She leaned back against the arm and put her feet up in Chakotay's lap. Unconsciously, he began to rub her feet as they both relaxed.

"Oh, that feels good," she said.

"That's what you always say," he said softly.

"That's because you're so goooood at certain things," she said in a sexy voice.

Chakotay raised his head and looked at her. "Don't use that voice with me tonight, Kathryn," he said. "It drives me crazy."

But she just smiled and put down her cup of coffee. Then she inched toward him slowly, and kissed him gently. "Chakotay, let's you and I discuss this in the other room. Shall we?" She stood, and held her hand out to him.

"Kathryn . . . ?"

"Shhhh . . ." And she took his hand and led him to her bedroom, and her bed. Once there, she looked into his eyes and he knew without a doubt that she wanted him, she needed him.

"Kathryn, we can't . . ." he started to say.

"No, but we can still satisfy each other," she whispered softly. "The baby's asleep, and it's just the two of us."

Chakotay took her face in his hands and stared into Kathryn's eyes. He loved her more than life itself. Gently, slowly, Chakotay moved his lips over Kathryn's until he heard her moan softly. She knew how to move him more than any woman he had ever known.

Suddenly, Kathryn moved against his erection, and his breath caught in his throat. Spirits, how he wanted her! Kathryn began to unzip his jacket, and he let her slide it off his shoulders. Next, she pulled his tee-shirt from his pants and removed it quickly as he moved his arms above his head to make it easier for her. And before he knew it, she was pushing his pants off his hips, and they fell in a puddle at his feet.

"Kathryn . . ."

"Shhhh . . . let me be close to you, Chakotay. I've missed you so much," she said. She pushed his underwear off, as well, and then she gently wrapped her hands around his penis as she kissed his neck, and moved her lips down his chest. Chakotay shuddered at her touch. She moved a last step toward him, and he sat at the edge of the bed. She kneeled beside him and gently pushed him onto his back across the bed. His penis stood erect and she looked at it longingly. Her eyes shone brightly and she was breathing heavily.

Kathryn leaned over slowly, and as Chakotay watched her, knowing what she was about to do, he thought his heart would explode out of his chest.

As Kathryn gently took his penis into her mouth, Chakotay gasped. Her touch was everything to him, firm yet gentle, and as she held him in one hand, she ran her tongue up the length of his shaft, then flicked her tongue across the head of it. He lifted himself up from the bed and pushed himself further into her hand, and her mouth. Oh, how he had missed her!

After a few minutes of unbelievable sensations, Chakotay reached for Kathryn and lifted her away from his penis. As she sat up, he did the same, and moved to take her face in his hands.

"Chakotay, it's okay," she whispered to him. "I want to give you this pleasure."

"In a few minutes," he said. "But not until I feel your body against mine." He reached out and helped her to remove the uniform from her body. He admired her body for the hundredth time in as many days. Although she had only recently had their baby, she was already back in her usual uniform, and no longer wearing maternity clothing at all. She was watching her weight and he knew she was anxious for the Doctor to allow her to exercise again.

"What are you staring at?" she asked softly, smiling at him in the low lighting.

"How beautiful you are," he whispered in her ear as he kissed her lobe, and then the side of her neck, just the way she liked it. She leaned closer to him, and moved her head to one side to give him better access. As he kissed her, he breathed on her neck, and watched the way her nipples immediately became rigid. It always amazed him that she could be aroused so quickly.

Chakotay continued his caresses and lay her back on the bed. He gently ran his fingertips down the length of her, and listened to her moan, and whisper his name. He could think of nothing in the world he loved more than giving Kathryn pleasure. He slowly leaned over her and closed his mouth over one very erect nipple, flicking his tongue over it gently. Spirits, she was beautiful.

Kathryn moaned softly and writhed beneath Chakotay's caresses. She wound her fingers into his hair and pulled him to her, as she pushed her breast deeper into his mouth.

After a minute, Kathryn reached for him, and brought his face up to hers. "I love you," she whispered, as she touched his lips with her own. The kiss soon went from soft and soothing, gentle and warm, to a frantic need that had been stored up inside both of them. They hadn't made love for so long, and their desire for each other was stronger than either of them had realized until now.

Chakotay caressed Kathryn's tongue with his, and she moaned again, and pulled him even closer. He finally pulled away from her to catch his breath, and to look into her eyes. Every time they were together like this, he loved to look into her eyes. Her love for him was written there, and he knew that she belonged to him, with both her heart and her soul. But Kathryn only spoke of those things in her heart.

Chakotay knew that Kathryn loved him. She told him so, and she gave herself to him with abandon whenever they were together. And he didn't doubt her feelings for him whatsoever.

But there was a small part of Kathryn Janeway that didn't yet belong to Chakotay. It was the last part of her that would tell him she would belong to him forever. He wanted her to acknowledge that they were soulmates, that no matter what happened in this life, or any other life, they would be together through eternity. Chakotay needed to know that she would never leave him, that the wanderer insider her, the independent person she was and would always be, wasn't afraid to love him fully, and with her entire soul.

And he knew that, until she acknowledged this to herself, he would never own a part of her soul, for she would never allow him to get that close to her true spirit, to the part of her that wouldn't want to exist without him. And, in turn, she wasn't ready to accept his total commitment to her.

"I love you, Kathryn," Chakotay whispered to her, as he kissed his way down her throat and to her chest. She had incredibly beautiful breasts that were far more ample than the Starfleet uniform she wore suggested.

Chakotay remembered the first time he saw her in just her uniform tee-shirt. He could hardly concentrate on their conversation at the time. She had called him to her quarters to go over some important paperwork that had been put on hold for far too long, but they had been engaged in battles with the Kazon at the time, and everything else had to wait until they could sort things out. He had gone to her quarters at nearly 22:00 hours that evening. She had been very apologetic about the hour, and about keeping him from some much-needed rest. She had been up for as many hours as he had, even more, but she was only concerned about him. Kathryn Janeway was always more concerned about others than herself.

Chakotay had arrived in full uniform, only to find the Captain in her tee-shirt, with her jacket across the back of a nearby chair. And her hair had been down, out of the bun, but pulled back in a clip of some sort at the nape of her neck. He had stared at her. She pretended not to notice, although she asked if he minded that she had taken off her jacket. He shook his head, knowing that he wouldn't be able to talk. And he had tried his very best to work side by side with his Captain that night, but it was one of the most difficult things he had ever done.

He'd wondered many times how she would look with her hair out of the bun, and in civilian clothing, but he hadn't expected to be in her quarters so late at night with her sitting so near him, and looking so lovely. He couldn't help but notice how nicely her breasts filled out the tee-shirt, and how beautiful her golden brown hair with the auburn highlights looked, and smelled. He had tried to remain professional, and focused on the work at hand, but he knew that the Captain had sensed his unease. After only a few minutes, she had casually donned her uniform jacket, but he knew that she did it in order to avoid a situation neither of them wanted to find themselves in at the moment. And, if he hadn't been hooked on her before, he certainly was from that day forward. He had fallen asleep thinking about Kathryn Janeway that night, and nearly every night thereafter, for the last several years.

Now, he grazed her nipples, and she strained toward him. He traced the lines of her body with his mouth, his lips, and kissed his way down to the soft curls of her pubic hair.

Chakotay moved further down beside her body, and Kathryn opened her legs to him easily. She had missed his touches, his kisses, and the way he made her body feel.

Moving between her legs, Chakotay began to kiss the inside of her thighs, which only made Kathryn's moans of ecstasy become more pronounced. He nipped her flesh lovingly, then moved higher and slipped his tongue between the folds of her labia. He parted her pubic hair, and then took her clitoris inside his mouth, and sucked it gently. As her breath quickened, he began to make soft circular motions with his tongue.

Kathryn moved with his gentle rhythm and whispered his name over and over again. Chakotay was still incredulous when he actually heard her say his name like this, just the way he'd imagined it for years.

She was already close to climax, but then her breathing became more labored and she drew in quick, sharp breaths, and pulled Chakotay closer to her, as she gasped once, quickly, and then her body reached its peak and exploded.

As her body began to spasm, Chakotay moved his tongue inside her. He moaned his own pleasure as he tasted her, and knew he wasn't far from his own release.

But just as he thought this, Kathryn reached down and touched his face, and lifted it toward her. As he moved up her body, she rose to meet him and kissed him fully on the lips, tasting herself on him. As he opened his mouth to her and she moved her tongue inside him, she gently wrapped her hand around his erection, and he gasped into her mouth.

"Kathryn," he said, moving away from her and looking into her eyes, "I'm not going to last another . . ."

But then he cried out her name as she placed his penis deep into her pubic hair for his release. As he shuddered in her arms and released himself onto her, she kissed his chin, and his neck, and told him she loved him.

After Chakotay's heart began to still, he lay next to Kathryn, and she turned on her side to look into his eyes. She smiled at him and looked at his wonderful mouth, then kissed him gently. "Mmmm, you certainly know what to do with those lips," she whispered in a low, seductive voice. "And that tongue . . ." she continued, as her voice became even deeper, and she touched his bottom lip, as though to pry it open so she could look inside.

"Enough," he whispered, still trying to catch his breath.

"Never," she said, without a moment's hesitation. "I plan to keep you busy for a long, long time."

"Just give me a minute, then" he said, smiling at her, but inside his heart had leapt up in his chest. This was the first time Kathryn had made a reference, however slight, to their future together.

"You're lucky, you know," she said, not knowing how full his heart was at this moment.

"How so?" he managed to ask her.

"The Doctor said I still need to be careful for a few more days. I don't think he wants to take a chance that we will have such wild and crazy sex that I might sprain something." She grinned at him, but sensed that his mood had changed. "What is it?" she whispered, concerned. She knew him well.

"Nothing."

"Chakotay . . . ?"

"I love you, Kathryn. I will always love you. Never forget that," he said. He forced the tears away. He wanted her to remember this moment forever, and know that it was special to him.

"I won't," she whispered. "I promise."

"Good," he said, then wrapped his arm around her and pulled her closer to him. He closed his eyes and placed his lips against her forehead and kissed her there. And then the tears rolled down his cheeks and onto the pillow.

Chakotay closed his eyes and prayed silently to the Spirits that governed his people to protect Kathryn and his daughter.



Chakotay opened his eyes slowly and looked over at Kathryn. She was sound asleep. He grinned. It wasn't often she slept hard, and he loved the peaceful look on her face when she did. He raised himself up onto his elbow and looked into her face. At times like this, he became acutely aware of how fragile life really was.

This woman before him was a threat to her enemies, a friend to those who needed one, a lover who gave herself entirely to him during lovemaking, a mother who was devoted to her child, and a starship Captain who would give her own life in order to protect any member of her crew. Yet she was mortal, human. Kathryn Janeway seemed so much larger than life when she was awake, and he was often amazed at how calm her Spirit was when she slept. Her face relaxed, and she looked so young, not like a Captain with the lives of 150 people and a lost starship on her mind, and on her conscience.

Suddenly, Chakotay heard a sound from across the room. Saloa was stirring in her bed, and he heard her whimper softly. He rose quietly and took his robe from the foot of the bed. Putting it on as he moved across the room, Chakotay stopped at the foot of the crib and looked inside at his baby daughter. He smiled and gently removed her from the bed, taking her blanket with her.

Saloa looked up at her father and Chakotay saw her smile at him. There was no question in his mind that she knew who he was.

Chakotay took his daughter into the other room, so her mother could sleep. He held Saloa in his arms as he asked the replicator for warm milk. The Doctor had programmed it with the exact recipe for Saloa, and in the correct amounts.

Taking the milk with him, Chakotay moved to the couch with Saloa in his arms. He rarely took his eyes from her. Even now, and especially late at night, Chakotay experienced moments of complete disbelief that this baby girl was his. And Kathryn's. His and Kathryn's. He had wanted this dream to come true for years, wished for it, longed for it until he thought his heart would break, but even now he could hardly believe his good fortune. Seven years spent waiting was a small price to pay for the riches he now experienced.

As Saloa drank her milk, Chakotay watched her. He held her in his arms, and told her stories about her brave mother and her mother's starship called Voyager. Saloa kicked her feet against his hands as she drank, and Chakotay told her how she already reminded him of her mother.

He told Saloa that he held high regard for the man who would someday fall in love with his daughter, for this man would need to be strong of heart, completely fearless and hopelessly in love, even when it went against his better judgment. He would need to love Saloa more than life itself, and be willing to accept her for herself, even if she inherited some of her mother's more difficult traits.

And unbeknownst to Commander Chakotay, Captain Janeway moved quietly away from the doorway and made her way back to bed, with a smile on her face. She loved to listen to Chakotay tell Saloa stories, even when they were about her mother's stubbornness, but the Captain also needed her sleep. And since quiet nights like this one were few and far between, she wasn't about to do anything to jeopardize a good night's rest.

As Kathryn Janeway fell soundly asleep in her bed once more, Chakotay lulled their daughter to sleep with tales of his people, and told her how one day she would discover her Spirit Guide with the help of her medicine bundle that her father would help her to prepare.



Four days later, Chakotay entered the Captain's Ready Room. She turned from the viewport and faced him. She smiled. "We're ready?" she asked.

"Ready," he acknowledged. The Engineering crew had sped up their efforts, and the senior staff had worked alongside them. And now Voyager was ready to leave this planet and resume her journey toward home.

"Let's go then. I'll be out in a minute."

Chakotay nodded, then left her Ready Room for the Bridge. He knew she needed a moment alone before she became Captain again for the entire crew. He knew how much this moment meant to her. Voyager had been completely overhauled and was in perfect running condition. The warp core and all weapons systems had never been in finer shape.

After he was gone, Kathryn Janeway turned back to look out her viewport at this same star system she'd looked at for too long now. She looked at it for the last time. "Good-bye," she whispered to it. "Thanks for letting us visit for so long."

And then she closed her eyes and pushed the lump in her throat away. In three seconds' time she became the Captain again, and moved with purpose across her Ready Room, out the doors, and onto the Bridge.

As Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager entered the Bridge of her ship, her crew stood to greet her. Although the Captain had long ago told them they didn't need to continue this custom, they had done so anyway, on special occasions. She looked at Chakotay, and even though he strived to look impassive, she saw the smile in his eyes.

She swallowed hard. "At ease, Everyone," she said in her best Captain's voice. "And thank you," she said in a less formal tone, as she moved to take her chair beside Chakotay.

As the crew settled back into their respective positions, Captain Janeway took her chair and sat back comfortably. They were about to leave this planet behind and continue their journey for the Alpha Quadrant. She never thought this maintenance stop would seem like such a long, long time. But then, the Captain had also given birth to a child during this time, and had learned to nurture it, to care for it, to love it. And she had also faced the fact that she loved her baby's father so very much. It had been quite a complicated few weeks for Voyager's Captain. She forced herself not to look at Chakotay. She was the Captain now.

The Bridge and Engineering crews readied Voyager for lift-off and the Captain gave her command: "Engage." And Voyager once again began her journey homeward.



"Doctor," she said, "I know exactly what you're going to say, but I want you to listen to me."

The Doctor opened his mouth, but then closed it, and nodded.

"Saloa was born six weeks ago, Doctor. I have done everything you've asked me to do since that time. I've stayed in my cabin, then spent partial shifts in my Ready Room reading reports and I've slept, eaten, taken all my vitamins and nutrients, and everything else you've asked me to do. And now I feel all better, Doctor. I'm healed. I want to exercise properly again, and I want to have sex – with penetration – and I want to work full duty shifts, just like everyone else."

"All right, Captain."

The Captain was quiet, waiting for the "but" that never came.

"All right?" she finally managed to ask.

"Yes."

She waited again. "All right, then," she said, and then started for the door.

"But . . ."

She forced herself to stop and take a deep, calming breath. "But what, Doctor?" she asked in an even tone.

"No exercise that involves a Bat'leth, or any of Commander Tuvok's holodeck programs on security training."

This was everything she could have dreamed of. She could actually look Tuvok in the eye and tell him that the Doctor said she couldn't involve herself in any of his security training sessions, at least not yet. "Thank you, Doctor," she said graciously.

The Doctor nodded. And as the Captain left his office, he wondered what he had said that seemed to please her so much.



"Chakotay, I want to talk about us."

"Us?" he asked. He and Kathryn had just had dinner in the mess hall, after a long day on the Bridge. They had returned to her quarters and released Ensign Wildman to her own quarters for the evening, and now Kathryn wanted to have a serious conversation. All Chakotay had wanted to do was turn in early and hold Kathryn close to him as he fell asleep. It had been that kind of day.

"Okay," he said, and sighed. He knew Kathryn Janeway, and when she had something on her mind, it needed to be discussed right away, whether she was acting as Captain or as his lover. He ordered two cups of tea from the replicator, gave Kathryn one of them, and then sat on the couch, and waited.

"I want us to consider what would happen to Saloa if we weren't here to care for her," she said.

"What?" he asked. He wasn't prepared for the conversation to take this course so soon.

"Saloa. What if something happened to you and me? That's not out of the question, you know. As Captain and First Officer of this ship . . ."

"Yes, I know, Kathryn. I've thought about this before now."

They were both quiet, thinking. "What do you think?"

"I don't know," he said. "I haven't thought about it deeply. I knew we'd discuss it soon."

"And now we are," she said, softly.

"Yes."

"Well?"

"There are a lot of people on this ship I would entrust her to, Kathryn," he said. "What do you think? How do you feel about it?"

"I would like for Tuvok to care for her if anything happens to both of us," she said simply.

Chakotay nodded. He'd expected as much.

"You don't have objections?" she asked.

"No."

"You're sure? I want you to agree to this wholeheartedly, Chakotay. It's our decision, not mine alone."

Chakotay looked at her and smiled.

"What?" she asked.

"I'm not used to your telling me that something is ‘our' decision," he said.

She smiled. "This is regarding our daughter, Chakotay," she said gently.

"Yes, and it's nice to hear, that's all."

"So? Are you all right with this, Chakotay? I know you've never met Tuvok's wife, T'Pel, but she's wonderful. And no matter what happens, Tuvok will see to it that Saloa is not only cared for, but that she remembers us, that she knows her parents – who we were, what we stood for . . ."

"Kathryn," said Chakotay gently.

"Yes?"

"We're not dead yet."

Kathryn sighed. "Chakotay, we've been in the Delta Quadrant for nearly seven years now. And not a day goes by that I don't wonder if I'll be here tomorrow."

"Kathryn . . ."

"No. Let me finish."

He sighed. "All right." He leaned back against the couch and looked at the woman he loved, and had loved for as long as he could remember. "Go ahead."

"I think about this every day, Chakotay. And something could happen to you, as well as to me. Hopefully, our daughter will never be in a position where she loses both of us, at least not together, or close together. But we don't know the future. I just want to protect her, Chakotay."

"As do I, Kathryn."

"And I need to know that if something happens to both of us, she will be taken care of."

"Yes. I agree."

"And Tuvok . . ."

"You don't have to sell me on Tuvok, Kathryn. He has stood by you through everything we've encountered all these years now. That tells me everything I need to know about Tuvok. But, what if something were to happen to Tuvok, too? What about Saloa then?"

"Then we have a back up plan."

"Oh?"

"Yes. We always have a Plan B, Chakotay. You know that." She smiled gently at him.

"Who, then, is ‘Plan B'?"

"Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres."

"Tom and B'Elanna?"

"Yes."

"Kathryn, what if they don't stay with each other?" he asked. "They will."

He smiled. "You seem so sure of that."

"I believe they will always be together, Chakotay," she said gently. "I'm not sure why I think that, but I do."

"And what about us?" he asked, without thinking. He hadn't intended to say that.

"Us?"

"Yes." He had asked, and now he needed to know the answer.

She paused. "I don't know what to say to that."

"Kathryn, I'll always give you all the space you need, or want. And I don't want to pressure you. That wasn't my purpose for asking just now."

"I know," she said. "Chakotay, let's take care of first things first, all right?" She moved to the couch and sat next to him. "I don't want to be evasive. But I have a ship to get home, before I can consider my own future, or decide what I want it to be." She looked him in the eyes, willing him to understand.

Chakotay smiled softly. "I do understand, Kathryn," he said, taking her hand. "But I look at things differently. I believe we can make a commitment to each other, one that is real, and that will last through eternity, and still get Voyager and her crew home. Together."

"I'm the one who made the decision that stranded us here, Chakotay, and I'm the one responsible for getting us home. I can't change how I feel about that."

"I know," he sighed. "But my people have a saying." It was time to lighten the conversation.

Kathryn smiled. "Do they?"

"Home is where you want it to be." He paused, and looked at the beautiful woman he had fallen in love with so long ago. "And I've been home for a long time now." He also didn't believe in sacrificing today for a tomorrow that might never come, but now wasn't the time to discuss that philosophy. It was one that Kathryn Janeway never seemed to grasp anyway.

Kathryn felt tears well up in her eyes, as she leaned forward to kiss him. "Chakotay," she whispered, "what is it about you that can move me so easily?"

When he gave her a big grin that brought out his dimples and lit up his eyes, she shook her head. "Ahhh, never mind," she said, laughing as she stood. "I have some work to do. Do you mind?"

"Is there something I can help you with?"

She turned and smiled at him, and he could see the love for him reflected in her eyes. "No," she said gently. "You go on to bed. I know you're exhausted. I'll be there shortly."

Chakotay stood and moved to her. "I'll take you up on that one," he said, kissing her on the cheek, then touching her cheek with his hand. "Don't be long," he whispered.

"I won't. Goodnight."

"Goodnight," he said, as he left for the bedroom, knowing that these were just words they said to each other. He knew that Kathryn might be up for hours yet, working on crew reports. She would come to bed when she was so exhausted she couldn't comprehend the words on the padds anymore. But that was Kathryn. It was a part of her that could confound him, aggravate him, and annoy him. She took care of everyone, and everything else, above her own needs. But it was also something he admired about her.



"I am honored, Captain, Commander," said Tuvok. He was standing in front of the Captain's desk in her Ready Room. "And I accept your trust in me, in this matter. Should the both of you perish, I will see to it that Saloa is well cared for. She will accompany me to Vulcan, and she will reside there with my family, and be treated as one of my own. She will, however, also know her parents' legacy."

"I know that, Tuvok," said Captain Janeway, softly. "That's why Chakotay and I want you to be Saloa's . . ." she had trouble saying the word, ". . . Caretaker, should anything happen to us." She paused, and looked over at Chakotay. He nodded.

"There's one other thing, Tuvok."

"Yes, Captain?"

"You and the Doctor are the only two people on this ship, other than Chakotay and myself, of course, who know how Saloa was conceived." Tuvok nodded. "We don't feel there is ever a reason for her to know that she wasn't conceived in the . . . normal way." He nodded again. "Saloa never needs to question our love for her, Tuvok, and believing that Chakotay and I had already made a commitment to each other, prior to her being born, will certainly be easier for her, particularly if we're not there to assure her of our love for each other. It isn't necessary that she know the order of things as they truly occurred."

Tuvok nodded again. "Agreed, Captain. Some things are better left unsaid."

Kathryn nodded. "Thank you for understanding, Old Friend," she said, and quickly looked away, as her voice caught.

Chakotay stood and moved to Tuvok, then held his hand out to him. "Thank you, Tuvok," he said earnestly.

Tuvok turned to Chakotay, and the two men looked at each other, knowingly. Tuvok shook Commander Chakotay's hand, as was the human custom. Tuvok knew that the Commander was relieved to know that arrangements had been made regarding his daughter's life, should anything happen to both he and Captain Janeway. Tuvok had four children of his own, after all.

"Then that is all, Captain?"

"Yes, Tuvok, you're dismissed. And thank you again."

Tuvok nodded to the Captain, and then to the Commander, and left the Captain's Ready Room to return to his post on the Bridge. He felt quite pleased to be entrusted with the life of the Captain and the Commander's child, should they both perish. His regard for Captain Janeway had only grown over the years, even though he had not always agreed with her decisions as Captain. And he and Commander Chakotay had come to accept each other's opinions and beliefs some time ago. Tuvok was, in some ways, even more gratified that the Commander had agreed to place his child in Tuvok's care, should there be a need.

And, after Tuvok left the Captain's Ready Room, Captain Janeway and her First Officer decided that speaking with Tuvok was enough for the time being. They would speak with Tom Paris and B'Elanna at a future date. This one conversation with Tuvok had taken its toll on each of them. It had brought home the tenuousness of their own existence, and dealing with it once a day was enough for anyone.

After spending the afternoon reviewing crew reports, Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay stopped off in the mess hall to have a quiet meal before they retired for the evening.

Neelix made his usual fuss over the Captain, and as usual, she took it with good grace.

When Kathryn and Chakotay finally sat down to eat, they looked at their plates and then at each other, and smiled. Kathryn leaned over to speak in a low voice to Chakotay.

"What did Neelix say this is?" she asked.

"I don't remember," Chakotay replied, in a hushed tone. "But I do remember that this is something we shouldn't eat." He pointed to a lime green lump on the corner of both their plates.

Both of them leaned back in their chairs and studied their plates. "But this is all right?" Kathryn asked in a low voice, and pointed to a pink blob on the other side of her plate.

"I think so," said the Commander. "Neelix said it tastes a bit like fruit cocktail."

Kathryn nodded her head solemnly, and touched her fork to it hesitantly, after first glancing around to make sure no one else was watching her. She took a small bite, then looked at Chakotay. "It's all right," she whispered, and they both began to eat it.

After a minute, Kathryn looked over at Chakotay. "So what do you think?" she asked.

"About what?"

"The fact that we just gave our child away to Tuvok, if something should happen to us."

"I feel pretty good about it, actually," said Chakotay. The pink thing actually tasted pretty good.

"Really?" she asked.

Chakotay looked up and saw a serious look on Kathryn's face. He knew that she had a harder time dealing with the fact that they weren't going to live forever than he did.

"Kathryn," he said, putting down his fork, and reaching across the table to place his hand over hers. "What we did today was necessary. It should give us some relief, some peace of mind, rather than make us feel uneasy."

"Oh, I'm not ‘uneasy,' Chakotay. At least not about Tuvok taking charge of Saloa, if the need arises. I'm just . . ."

"What."

She sighed. "I'm not sure what I'm feeling right now."

"I know what you're feeling," he said gently.

"What?"

"Your humanity."

She looked at him, and smiled. "I guess you're right," she said, after a moment. "And you know I don't like to be reminded of that very often."

They smiled at each other, then Chakotay squeezed her hand and they both resumed eating.

Afterward, they placed their trays in the recycle bin, and the Captain made a point to compliment Neelix on his marvelous meal before she and Chakotay left the mess hall, and continued together to her quarters to spend some time with Saloa before her bedtime.



The Captain entered the Bridge. It was 22:00 hours and the ship was at yellow alert. She had been summoned from her bed only 15 minutes before, and had managed to rouse Neelix from his bed to come to her quarters to look after Saloa.

Voyager had been overhauled only a few weeks before, and they were a long way past the planet where they had been set down for several weeks. But now, Harry Kim had summoned both she and Chakotay to the Bridge. That in itself was a bad sign.

As she entered the Bridge and moved purposefully toward her chair, she yelled "Report!" for whoever wanted to answer her.

"We are surrounded by four alien vessels, Captain," said Harry.

"With two more on the way," added Tom Paris from the helm.

"All ships are heavily armed, Captain, and are standing at ‘weapons ready,'" added Tuvok, from his security post.

Kathryn Janeway took a quick glance around the Bridge. Harry Kim must have summoned the entire Alpha shift. As she moved to the center of the Bridge, Chakotay met her there. He had stayed in his own quarters this evening, but had been on the Bridge for nearly five minutes already, having looked the situation over from the console at his command chair.

"Captain," he said in a soft tone, "I believe we've been followed by these alien vessels for at least two light years now. However, their signature residue and bio-patterns are not in our database."

"So what else is new?" she asked in a low voice that was extremely high on sarcasm. Nothing seemed to be in their database. The Federation hadn't been aware of most of the species Voyager had encountered in the past seven years. "Any suggestions?" she asked, as she stared out the viewscreen in front of her.

"None yet," he said.

"Keep working on it," she said in dismissal, as she continued to stare out the viewscreen. Chakotay returned to his command chair.

"Open a channel, Harry," she said, trying to keep her voice firm and strong. How many times had they reprised this scenario? She had lost count long ago.

"Channel open, Captain."

"This is Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager," she began, but Harry interrupted her.

"Captain, they've ended our transmission."

"Have they now?" she asked of no one in particular. "Reopen the link, Harry, and make sure they can't terminate it until I'm finished."

"Channel open, Captain," Harry responded.

"We mean you no harm," she continued. "We are simply trying to get home."

"No response, Captain." Sometimes Harry was still a little wet behind the ears, the Captain thought to herself.

"Is there a way we can show you our intent?" she asked. "We are willing to negotiate our safe passage through your space."

There was still no response.

"How do you know we've traveled through their space, Captain?" asked Tom, from in front of her.

"Long experience, Mr. Paris," said the Captain, without taking her eyes from the viewscreen.

Tom nodded. Good point.

"Let's go to Red Alert, People," said the Captain. "Shields, Mr. Tuvok."

"The two additional ships have arrived, Captain. We are now surrounded by six alien vessels," said Tuvok, in his clear Vulcan voice, as the Red Alert klaxons sounded. "They are all standing at weapons ready."

"The lead ship is powering weapons, Captain!" said Harry, from his console.

"Battle stations!" said the Captain, as she headed for her chair.

Just then Voyager was hit with a profound force, and the ship was rocked. The Captain's computer console exploded in front of her just before she arrived to sit in her chair beside it. Chakotay jumped from his chair and grabbed her before she fell from the force of the explosion.

"Captain! Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, Chakotay," she said in a calm voice that belied what she was feeling. He released her arm, and she sat in her chair, moving the destroyed console to one side. She looked at him pointedly, and he sat in his own chair. There was a time and a place for everything.

"Captain, I believe that weapon was fired with the intent of destroying you," said Tuvok, in a calm voice.

"Yes, I believe you're right," she responded, thinking ahead.

"However, their ships have not moved from position, Captain," he continued. "I also believe they are waiting for their leader, or someone in a position of authority, to join them, or to give them further instructions."

"Harry," the Captain said suddenly, "Magnify the closest ship." The ship appeared on-screen at a much closer proximity. "Interesting," she said. "What is the crew complement of each ship?"

"There are two aliens on board each ship, Captain," replied Harry.

"Pilot and co-pilot," she said, softly. "And each ship is heavily armed, yet there's no need to bring that much firepower in to disable, or even destroy, Voyager."

"Maybe they're using everything they've got as a fear tactic," said Tom.

"My thoughts exactly, Mr. Paris," she said from behind him. "They want to frighten us, keep us unbalanced. Yet we haven't been fired upon for several seconds."

The Bridge was quiet for a moment, except for the background sound of the klaxons.

"Mr. Paris, allow Voyager to drift five kilometers to the port side," she said. And only moments later, she asked him to allow them to drift back into their original position.

"Captain?" asked Chakotay from her left. But the Captain held her hand up to silence him.

"Mr. Kim, display the lead ship's primary weapons systems." The rear underbelly of the ship appeared on-screen. "Just what I expected," said Janeway.

She leaned in to Chakotay, and he, in turn, leaned in toward her. "Every time Mr. Paris moves our position the slightest bit, those ships move position as well."

"They're protecting their weapons cache," he said.

"Exactly, and if they are so heavily armed and so intent upon making us afraid of them, why move their position at all?" she asked.

"Maybe their ships are weakly built, or their shields aren't strong enough to protect them if their weapons systems are attacked."

"Harry, what sort of components are those ships made of?" the Captain asked, as she stood and moved back to Harry's console. "And I'm particularly interested in the weapons' storage areas." As Harry moved his hands over the console, the Captain studied the readouts. "Titanium and aluminum alloys . . . nickel and steel?" She looked up at Chakotay, who was standing between their two command chairs, watching her. "Get a complete description, Harry," she said as he moved away, and back down to the center of the Bridge.

"Aye, Captain."

"Captain," said Tuvok, "Two additional ships are approaching from the port bow."

"How long before they arrive, Tuvok?" she asked.

"Eight point two minutes, Captain," came Tuvok's immediate response.

The Captain and Chakotay met in the center of the Bridge, just behind Tom Paris' station. "If they're sending in a full arsenal just to make us afraid, there has to be a reason why," said the Commander.

"Agreed. But what is it?" They both turned to look out at the formation of ships in front of them. They were all sitting, waiting. "What do they want from us? They refuse to respond to our hails, they haven't made demands . . ."

"Captain, the lead ship is powering weapons," came Tuvok's voice from behind them.

"All Hands, brace for impact!"

Just then a blast rocked Voyager. As the crew regained their footing, and responded to their duties, Kathryn moved toward Chakotay again.

"Shields at 92 percent," came Tuvok's smooth voice from his station.

"Chakotay," the Captain said softly, "Those ships are built with metals the Alpha quadrant species haven't used for warring vessels in centuries. Steel? Nickel? Nickel is rigid. It was never a notable component, even back when it was used. It has no flexibility whatsoever. It breaks easily under stress. And these ships barely have thruster power, and certainly nothing like warp capability. "

"Do you think these people want Voyager intact, in order to study it?"

"Maybe. Or maybe they just lack confidence."

"Captain?"

"They overwhelm us with as many vessels as they can, and continue to send more, but then for no reason, they fire on us."

"Yes, but they did no real damage."

"But we gave them no reason to fire in the first place." They looked at each other.

There was no way of knowing the rationale of every species they encountered. Sometimes they just had to do what it took to protect themselves and let the reasons why go unanswered.

"Two additional ships are approaching, Captain. They are approximately two light years from our location," said Tuvok.

"We have to do something. Before too much longer, the entire Cavalry will be here." She turned. "Harry, open a channel once more."

"Channel open, Captain."

"This is Captain Kathryn Janeway . . ." began the Captain, but her words were cut off by a series of blasts from three of the alien vessels. The Captain grabbed the railing in front of her, and the other Bridge crew held fast to their stations. One panel on a rear wall exploded.

Voyager rocked, hard, but then steadied. "Shields at 83 percent, Captain," said Tuvok.

"Damage report," she shouted above the din.

"Still coming in, Captain . . . 14 injured, no casualties . . . damage to Decks 14 and 17."

"Get repair crews on it," she said.

"Aye Captain."

"It looks like diplomacy isn't working very well," she said, to no one in particular. "Arm phasers. Target the lead ship's primary weapons system," she said.

"It is impossible to get a lock on it, Captain. The primary weapons system is located in the aft section of the ship, and the only way to damage it is to fire directly through the ship."

"In effect, destroying the entire ship," said Commander Chakotay, as he looked over at the Captain.

"That's what I was afraid of," she said. "They designed their ships that way. It's all or nothing. They either win their battles, or die trying. And based on their way of doing business, it looks like they force others to defend themselves against a threat they don't understand. These people gang up on others and force a battle, then see who survives when it's all over."

"And we're only one ship," said Chakotay quietly.

Kathryn glanced at him, then back toward the viewscreen. She didn't much care for the tone of his voice, nor the look on his face, just now.

"Tuvok, aim as close to the weapons array as possible, then fire a warning shot."

"Firing phasers," said Tuvok. They watched on the viewscreen as the smaller ship in front of them rocked from the phaser blast.

"The ship sustained some damage, Captain, but not enough," said Harry.

"Agreed, Mr. Kim," she said. ‘And none of the other ships are powering weapons,' she thought to herself. They knew this was a rouse.

The Captain stood. "Mr. Tuvok, what is the status of our deflector dish?"

"It is intact, Captain."

"Good." She hit her commbadge. "B'Elanna?"

"I'm here, Captain."

"Can we reprogram the deflector grid to relay our firepower to the aft sections of the alien ships?"

"I think so, Captain," said B'Elanna, catching on. "But we'll only have enough time to disable two or three of the ships before the others take advantage of the situation."

"That's good enough," replied Janeway. "We just need to buy a few seconds."

"If we enhance the deflector dish and add auxiliary power to the grid, we should be able to reprogram it without a problem," said B'Elanna, through the commbadge.

"Do it," said the Captain. She turned to Chakotay, who had moved up behind her. "We're going to plow our way through these ships. But first, I want to disable as many of them as we can. And I want to distract those we can't disable." Chakotay nodded.

"Captain," came B'Elanna's voice, a moment later.

"Go ahead."

"The deflector coil was damaged from the last hit we took. I think we can still reprogram the grid, but it won't do any good unless we can repair the coil."

The Captain closed her eyes oh, so briefly. Damn. That meant sending someone outside Voyager in a shuttlecraft to do it. And a shuttlecraft was sure to gain unwanted attention from those enemy ships. There wouldn't be much chance of surviving out there with all those enemy ships, and more of them on the way.

"What are our other options, People? And I'm mostly interested in ones which do not involve going down with the ship."

Chakotay stood and moved over to where the Captain stood. "Captain, I think your idea about using the deflector dish has the most merit. It could give us a tactical advantage."

The Captain looked him in the eye. "Commander, I am not prepared to send one of our crewmen outside Voyager to repair that coil."

"No, send me."

Kathryn Janeway stood rooted to the spot for five full seconds. But she recovered. She was the Captain of this vessel, and she would behave as such. "Commander, I will not consider your suggestion." Then she turned her back on him.

"Captain," he said softly. "I'm not going to just go away. Hear me out."

"No."

"Kathryn . . ." he began, but he was interrupted when enemy fire rocked Voyager again. This time three of the alien vessels fired upon Voyager at the same time. The Bridge crew scattered, and some fell, then they recovered the best they could and immediately took charge of their stations. Two of the rear wall panels erupted in flames and Tuvok and two other security personnel extinguished it quickly.

"We have to do something, Kathryn," Chakotay said softly.

"Shields at 59 percent, Captain," said Tuvok, immediately after returning to his console. "Damage reports are coming in."

"Send repair crews, and reinforce the shields," she called to Tuvok, as she righted herself from the railing she had grabbed onto.

Chakotay had grasped the same railing as the Captain. "Kathryn, it's the only way," he continued. "The deflector dish will ensure that each phaser we fire destroys the complete weapons system of one ship. They won't expect us to be able to do that, so we'll have surprise on our side. We can disable at least three of those ships quickly, thereby forcing an exit route so we can get the hell out of here. But, if we fire blindly from our current vantage point, we won't be able to hit the weapons array of even one ship, and that would only provoke the alien ships to attack us more frequently. And if we only provoke them, Kathryn, they will disable us in no time." The Captain was quiet. Chakotay knew that he was only verbalizing what she had been thinking all along.

Chakotay continued. "Right now, they seem content to keep us on our toes, Captain. They want us ready and waiting for whatever they have in store for us. And I'm not sure we want to know what that is. We won't last much longer in our current situation."

The Captain was silent, too silent for Chakotay's comfort level. Finally, she spoke quietly, though she wouldn't look at him. "I can't send you out there, Chakotay – we'll find another way. Or I'll send someone else."

"There's no other way, Kathryn. This is our only option."

"There are always other options."

"Then tell me one – name one!" He took her shoulders in his hands and turned her to him. "There is no other option. And you have to let me go, Kathryn. It has to be me."

"Why you?" she asked with fear in her eyes. But Chakotay pushed away his feelings for her.

"Because I am a Maquis, Kathryn. I know how to maneuver a ship and accomplish things that seem impossible to others. Because I know how to be patient, and wait for just the right moment of attack, and because I refuse to accept defeat. I can do this, Kathryn. I'm the best crewman for this job." They stared into each other's eyes. "And you know it," he added quietly.

"I need you on the Bridge," she whispered, one last ditch effort to keep him safe.

"You need me out there," he answered softly. And they both knew he was right.

And in that moment, Kathryn Janeway knew that everything she had feared was suddenly realized. That one moment in time that she had always dreaded, but somehow knew would occur, had finally arrived. He was right; she had no choice. Chakotay was the logical choice for this mission. She had to send him. She was the Captain, and it was her call.

Her entire life's losses passed before her eyes: Her father, Justin, even Mark and her mother and sister, those losses that she had felt, and still felt, even though they were of a different kind. In her mind's eye, she saw the shuttlecraft that had taken her father's life, and Justin's life, and she saw herself watching it sink into the water. And she was once again helpless to save them.

"Kathryn . . ."

She continued to stare into Chakotay's eyes, seeing him, but not seeing him, and in a split second, she experienced all that they meant to each other.

"Kathryn . . ." Chakotay saw the look in her eyes, and knew that the moment she had dreaded most was here. This was the moment she had pushed away so fiercely that she had held him at bay for over six years because of it, before she had become pregnant with his child, and had opened her heart, and her life, just enough to barely let him inside. But it had been enough to matter.

The look Chakotay saw in Kathryn's eyes told him she knew that the most difficult decision of her life faced her now. He also knew that she realized there was only one decision to make, and no matter the outcome, it would be the right one. Chakotay had a better chance of making this a successful mission than anyone else on board ship. And it was Kathryn's duty to send him, even if it meant sending him to his death. He had prayed to the Spirits to protect her from having to make this decision, but now here they were.

Kathryn stared back into Chakotay's eyes. She knew they would always love each other, would always be together, and even if they couldn't be together in the flesh, they would be together in spirit, always. He was her friend, confident, lover, the father of her daughter, her soulmate, her lifeline, her reason for existing. Without him, she had nothing, she was nothing, and she realized for the first time that she had truly known this for a very long time now. Somehow this realization brought her a newfound peace, and the persistent, constant ache in her heart was suddenly gone. Her soul belonged to this man. And he knew it.

The Hand of Fate was in front of them again.

"Kathryn," his voice was reaching for her, willing her to return to the present, to do what she had to do.

"Go." It hurt to say the word, but she forced herself to do it. She was still a ship's Captain, and her training ran deep. She had to be the Captain of this vessel, first and foremost, and always. At least until Voyager reached home. And then she could be a mate, and a mother, if Fate had it planned that way, and would allow it. But until then, no matter what she and Chakotay felt for each other, she had to do what was right, as Captain of a long-lost starship with nearly 150 other crewmembers on board. She had to put the needs of the many above the needs of the one, or of the few.

And if neither of them were alive when Voyager reached home, Saloa would always be loved and cared for, and when she was older she would have to understand how much her parents had loved her, even if it had only been for a short time. Sometimes a child was forced to grow up faster than others.

Kathryn forced away the tears that threatened the Captain's composure. She gave Chakotay a slight nod, then pulled her eyes away from his, and threw herself fully into her long-rehearsed Captain's mode.

She was the Captain of the USS Federation Starship Voyager, and she had a crew to get home.

Captain Janeway took a deep breath to steady herself, and walked purposefully toward her command chair, as Chakotay moved determinedly toward the turbolift. They both had jobs to do.

Commander Chakotay left the Bridge for Shuttlebay One and the Captain asked for a damage report from Commander Tuvok. She gave orders for repairs and backup plans in case of further attack, which she knew was imminent.

Two minutes later, Voyager was rocked with a blast from the two closest alien vessels. The Captain noted that the shields were holding and waited until she heard Commander Chakotay check in from the shuttlebay.

"Chakotay to Janeway," came the familiar voice.

"Go ahead, Commander."

"I'm prepared to launch."

The Captain hesitated for a mere split second. Only Tuvok would have noticed the slight hesitation, and he was also one who would never acknowledge it.

"Open Shuttlebay One launch doors," said the Captain, in a steady voice.

"I'll see you in a few minutes, Captain," said Chakotay, and Captain Janeway wondered if those were the last words she would hear him say.

"Cover him, Harry," said Janeway. "And Tom, do what you can to confuse the aliens. Move Voyager only slightly, and then again, but in different directions. Keep them guessing."

"Aye, Captain," said Tom, smiling. This was the kind of work he loved. It allowed his creative side to show through.

"Mr. Tuvok, monitor all movement of the alien vessels, and Harry, every twenty seconds, fire a proton burst into the middle of nowhere. Make sure you don't hit anything."

"Yes, Ma'am!" said Harry, beaming. This was the Captain at her best – she sure knew how to keep them all guessing!

Just then the ship rocked and they braced themselves for the impact. "Assist in covering Commander Chakotay's movements, Tuvok. Divert attention from him if you can."

"Aye, Captain," said Tuvok.

Another blast rocked Voyager. Suddenly, the alien ships seemed to come to life. They trained themselves in the same direction, and Janeway could only surmise that they were aware of a lone shuttlecraft outside Voyager's starboard section.

"Mr. Tuvok, emit a polaron flare directly in front of the lead ship. Maybe it'll blind them temporarily and buy us some time."

"Polaron flare fired, Captain," said Tuvok. The entire Bridge crew watched as the sky lit up in front of them.

‘That ought to buy us at least 5 seconds,' thought the Captain.

"Captain, Chakotay is repairing the deflector coil right now," said Tom Paris.

"Good. Continue to cover him," said the Captain.

Sudden fire from the two ships on Voyager's port side rocked the ship and two more consoles exploded on the Bridge. She knew that other portions of the ship had been hit hard this time, as well.

"Direct hit, Captain," Tuvok raised his voice over the noise that suddenly filled the air. "Shields at 49 percent and falling,' he said steadily.

"Send more power to the shields," said the Captain. "Shut down all non-essential systems."

"Aye, Captain."

"Chakotay's completed the repairs and is headed back to the shuttlebay," said Tom.

The Captain moved to her First Officer's chair and pulled up his console. She sat and worked the console quickly. "Tom, Chakotay is near our aft section. Turn Voyager just enough to shield him. The alien vessels will figure out what he's been up to soon enough."

"Moving us into position, Captain," said Tom confidently. Kathryn Janeway only wished she felt as confident as he sounded.

Another hit rocked Voyager. "Shields to 43 percent, Captain," said Tuvok.

Captain Janeway listened to the sound of her ship, the things it was trying to tell her. She knew her ship well, and she would not allow those aliens out there to take it from her.

"Chakotay's near the shuttlebay, Captain," said Tom Paris, but Kathryn was already watching his progress on the console.

"Keep steady, Mr. Paris. Don't lose him," she said.

But then one of the alien ships on their port side got in a lucky shot and Chakotay's shuttle was hit. It lurched to one side, and began to falter.

"B'Elanna," said the Captain, slapping her commbadge.

"Yes, Captain," came the immediate reply.

"Can you beam Chakotay out of that shuttle?"

"I can't get a lock on him, Captain. There's too much damage inside the ship. Something is preventing me from . . . wait, I'm trying a skeletal lock."

A skeletal lock might be a bit unorthodox, but if the Spirits helped B'Elanna out a bit with it this time, Kathryn Janeway might revisit her own ideas on the existence of a Higher Power, and one that wasn't scientifically based.

"B'Elanna?" asked the Captain. Damnit, B'Elanna, where the hell is he?

"I've got a lock on him, Captain!" came B'Elanna's voice over the commlink. And just then, the shuttlecraft caught fire, then exploded. "I've got him, Captain! He's in Sickbay!"

"Well done, B'Elanna," said the Captain, in a steady voice. But this was the first breath she had taken in over a minute. "Tuvok, line up those phasers and remodulate them to the deflector grid."

"Phasers ready," replied Tuvok.

The Captain's voice was in control, calm yet focused. "Target the three ships on our port bow. When I give the order, destroy their weapons arrays. Tom, as soon as those ships are disabled, get us the hell out of here."

"Aye, Captain!" said Tom.

"Fire," said Captain Janeway, evenly.

Captain Janeway watched on the viewscreen as three of the eleven alien vessels were disabled. It took 4.2 seconds, and the enemy ships had been taken completely by surprise. That was the way she liked it.

The moment the third ship was disabled, Tom Paris moved Voyager quickly through the debris, then jumped to warp speed shortly afterward.

The Captain took a deep breath, then stood from her First Officer's chair. "Take us to Warp Six, Mr. Paris. I want Voyager far away from this mess."

"Yes, Ma'am!"

Kathryn Janeway had tempted Fate all her life, and had walked away from the aftermath of the battles she had fought. This time, though, she couldn't figure out what had happened here. Why had these alien vessels fired on Voyager for no reason whatsoever? Why had these beings not responded to her hails, not made demands of their own?

It didn't matter. Voyager was on her way home once more. Fate had been on their side again.

"Mr. Tuvok, I'll be in Sickbay. You have the Bridge," she said in a strong voice, as she nodded to him slightly while on her way to the turbolift.

Tuvok returned her nod, then moved from his own work station toward the command chairs. He would get repair crews under way from there.

Captain Kathryn Janeway moved with purpose down the corridors of her ship toward Sickbay. The disasters she encountered on the way, the broken bowels of her ship, didn't deter her from her path. She barely saw them anyway. Tuvok would see that everything was repaired. And she had to see Chakotay. And then her daughter.

Ah, Gods, Spirits, Someone, please make him be all right. Please let my baby's father live. Protect my life, my lifeline. For perhaps the first time in her life, Kathryn Janeway appealed to someone, or something, else to help her. She had never needed help before. Each mistake she made, she had made it alone. And she had shouldered the burdens alone.

Chakotay had told her for years that he was with her, beside her. But she had ignored him, and struggled to do it all herself. She had turned him away. But then she had become pregnant with Saloa. She had been impregnated with Chakotay's child through a transporter accident, of all things. And she had stopped turning him away. She knew that she couldn't continue to do that and keep his child. But even then, she hadn't really let him in, had she? Not into her soul. She had allowed him into her heart, and she loved the feel of his body next to hers. She had become quite dependent on that, actually. And deep inside, she knew that they belonged together, and she had known it for a long time.

But Kathryn Janeway was as stubborn as she could be. She hadn't wanted to need anyone.

As Kathryn entered Sickbay, the crewmembers who were present, and who were being tended to by the Doctor's newly trained medics, looked up with pride to watch their Captain move past them toward the back room where the Doctor was working to save Commander Chakotay's life. They loved their Captain, and were proud to serve under her. And what other Captain would have had the courage to send her own lover out to battle the forces of evil on Voyager's behalf? And on their behalf? The Captain could have sent anyone out there, but she had sent Commander Chakotay. Now, they each hoped that his life would be spared, and that the gods, spirits, Fate, or whatever else might be out there, would show mercy. They needed their Captain, and she needed her First Officer, and in more ways than one.

Kathryn entered the smaller room where the Doctor was working diligently over Chakotay's body. She stood beside the door and watched. She couldn't move, really, and could hardly breathe, either. Chakotay was barely alive, she knew. And he didn't even look alive at all. He looked dead, gone, his Spirit faded.

No. She wouldn't allow that to happen. She needed him; Captain Janeway needed her First Officer, and Kathryn Janeway needed Chakotay as much as she needed each part of herself, in order to live.

Taking a deep breath, Kathryn walked further into the room, never taking her eyes from Chakotay. Perhaps she could will him to live. If there was a way, she would do it.

The Doctor looked up quickly, then continued with his scans. He didn't wait for the Captain to ask the inevitable question. "He isn't doing well, Captain. He sustained massive internal injuries when a conduit inside the shuttlecraft fell on him. And he received third degree burns on several extremities when the shuttlecraft caught fire."

They'd lost the shuttlecraft. It went up in blazes and Voyager left it behind them as it moved away from the disabled alien ships. Kathryn could still see the burning shuttle in her mind's eye. It wasn't something she would likely forget soon.

"The Commander also has four broken ribs, a punctured lung, a broken wrist and lots of other scrapes, bruises and fractures, which I'm less concerned about."

Kathryn continued to stare at Chakotay. The Doctor glanced up at her again, and stopped what he was doing. "Captain," he said kindly, "Please. Why don't you wait inside my office?"

"No," she said quickly, then looked at the Doctor when she realized how un-Captain-like that had sounded. And she was still the Captain. It was important that she be the Captain right now. Otherwise, her composure would certainly break. "If you don't mind, I'd like to stay here, Doctor. I promise to stay out of the way." Her eyes burned into the Doctor's, pleading. This was his call, but she needed to stay here.

The Doctor sighed heavily. "Very well, Captain, but sit in that chair over there, please." She nodded, grateful, and moved to the chair. The Doctor was glad she was near, after all, he realized. She didn't look so good herself, and at least if she stayed here, he could keep an eye on her, too.

Kathryn sat quietly in the lone chair in the corner. She sat erect and kept her eyes trained upon Chakotay. She was so afraid of losing him, and even more so after seeing him now. He didn't look like someone who would live. And if the Doctor weren't still working with him, she would be convinced he was already dead.

But she wasn't a quitter, and neither was Chakotay. They had beaten the odds many times before, and they would beat them again now.

And, as Kathryn sat quietly, the Doctor ran his scans, used his dermal reginerator, and scanned some more. He used several other instruments from his tray, and made two additional trips to his office for other items. And all the while, the Captain was still, and quiet. This fact alone slightly disturbed the Doctor; it wasn't like the Captain to acquiesce to him so quickly, nor was it like her to stay so still and so quiet. He glanced at her from time to time, and made a few mental notes about her appearance. He knew she wasn't in shock, but he was going to watch her closely anyway.

The Doctor was initially afraid that he wouldn't be able to save Commander Chakotay. Several of the injuries were severe, and most men would not have survived this incident at all. But the Doctor knew from experience that Commander Chakotay was more resilient than most. And now he had a lovely little daughter to live for, and finally, the woman of his heart was beginning to come to him of her own accord.

One thing that most people didn't realize was that the Doctor didn't miss much. That was one of the key ingredients in being a good doctor, and a wonderful surgeon. He noticed everything, but said little. And people thought he talked too much. Well, he was extremely careful about what he said, whether people actually gave him credit for it or not. And the Captain was relying on Commander Chakotay for much more than just friendship these days. He was becoming more and more integrated into not only their daughter's life, but the Captain's as well.

The Doctor looked over at Captain Janeway once more. Her eyes were closed this time, and tears were pouring down her cheeks. That was a good sign. The Doctor went back to repairing the Commander's damaged lung.

Finally, nearly four hours later, the Doctor put down the instrument he held in his hand, took a deep breath, sighed, and looked over at the Captain. She hadn't moved, and hadn't spoken, in four hours. She looked up at him automatically, expectantly, and for the first time, the Doctor saw the intense fear in her eyes.

"He has a chance of surviving this, Captain. I don't know if he will, that remains to be seen, but he is alive, and he is breathing on his own," the Doctor said gently. "We'll know a great deal more in another 24 hours."

The Captain nodded her head slightly to let the Doctor know that she understood, and fresh tears filled her eyes. She looked away quickly. She was still the Captain.

"Captain, let me take a look at you now."

She shook her head, and swallowed hard. "I'm fine, Doctor," she whispered. "Just watch over Chakotay."

"There's nothing more I can do for him, Captain. But I do know that if Commander Chakotay could open his eyes and speak right now, he would ask why I haven't repaired that cut on your right cheek."

Kathryn sighed. What the Doctor said was true. She nodded. He motioned to a second biobed and told her to sit on it. She walked over and lifted herself up to sit on the edge, and a sharp pain made her catch her breath. But she soon forgot it, and seldom took her eyes off Chaktoay.

The Doctor used the dermal regenerator on her cheek, and then scanned her for further damage. "Captain," he said suddenly, "You have a broken rib! Why didn't you say something? Surely you've been in pain!"

"Not until a moment ago, Doctor," she said.

The Doctor pulled his cart with medical equipment on it alongside the biobed. "Lie down on your back. Here, let me help you. You'll certainly feel the pain if you try to lie down by yourself." He moved around and assisted the Captain in lying back on the bed. Kathryn was actually beginning to feel the pain, now that she knew about it. Strange how that worked.

Half an hour later, the Doctor had finished examining and repairing the Captain.

"Captain, I suggest you go to your quarters and get some rest."

"No, I'd like to stay here, Doctor. With Chakotay."

"Captain," he said gently, "I'm sure Saloa would like to see you."

"And I'd like to see her, Doctor," said Kathryn. "But right now, her father is lying here alone, and maybe dying. She is fine, and I'll see her as soon as possible. But now, I'm needed here."

The Doctor nodded. He understood. This is how it would always be for this family.

"Of course, Captain. But please, lie down on this biobed and get some rest."

The Captain nodded, but the moment the Doctor left the room, she got up and walked to Chakotay's bed. "Finally, we're alone," she said quietly. "And I want you to know that I'll never forgive you for putting me in the position you did on the Bridge earlier today. And I fully expect you to argue with me about it soon. I look forward to it, in fact." She felt the tears threaten her composure, but she forced them away. "We're fine. Voyager is fine. And you had better be fine, too." She reached out and placed her hand over his.

"I am going to be right here when you awaken, Chakotay. So, unless you want me to remain standing next to this bed for eternity, you'd better come around." She paused, and her voice lost its humor. "In fact, I fully intend to be here one way or another, you know." She swallowed hard and closed her eyes for a moment. "I love you, Chakotay, with all my heart."

And then Kathryn leaned slowly toward Chakotay, and whispered in his ear. "And with all my Soul, too, Chakotay. I've loved you for a long, long time. I am right here with you, and I will always be here. Always. And don't you forget it."

And then Kathryn stood again. She was tired, and nearly dizzy from the emotional, as well as the physical, upset of the day. She pulled a chair up next to the biobed, sat in it, and lay her head next to Chakotay's arm, all the while holding on to his hand. "I love you," she whispered. "And so does Saloa. Come back to me, Chakotay." The tears fell down her face. "I need you," she whispered softly, as she closed her eyes and fell asleep peacefully next to him.

Four hours later, the Doctor checked on the Captain and the Commander. Both seemed better than they had the last time he took a reading on either of them, and both were sleeping soundly, although he was sure the Captain would have one heck of a neck ache when she awakened.



Kathryn felt her hand being squeezed. She opened her eyes and squinted. She felt awful. Her back hurt, her ribs were sore, and her neck . . . and then she remembered where she was. She sat up slowly, painfully. She looked into Chakotay's face and knew that he had squeezed her hand only moments ago. She didn't imagine it; she couldn't have.

"Chakotay," she whispered. "Chakotay, can you hear me?"

There was no answer, but she knew she hadn't been wrong. The Doctor entered the room, and walked immediately to Chakotay and began to scan him.

"He squeezed my hand, Doctor," she said softly, never taking her eyes from Chakotay.

"I'm sure he did," he said.

"What?" she asked, and looked at the Doctor.

"I've been watching his bio-rhythms from my office, and they've become stronger in the past several minutes."

Kathryn looked back at Chakotay. He was coming back to her, she knew it.

"Chakotay . . ." she whispered softly, and leaned over him. "I'm here, I'm right here beside you. Listen to my voice, Chakotay, and follow it. Come back to me. I'm here."

Suddenly, Chakotay took a deep breath, then slowly opened his eyes, as Kathryn watched. Tears began to fill her eyes, and she smiled at him.

Chakotay smiled tentatively. "Kathryn," he whispered.

"I'm here," she said softly. "I've always been here."

"I know," he managed to say softly.

"Well, this is quite interesting," said the Doctor. "Commander, your vital signs have improved significantly in the past nine hours. I'm going to need to run a complete scan," he said, as he moved to the far side of the room for his medical tray.

"I was having a strange dream," Chakotay said to Kathryn in such a soft voice she had to lean forward to hear all of it.

"What was it?" she asked.

"I dreamed you told me that you need me." He smiled at her weakly, and she smiled back, but her tears began to fall down her face and she lay her head on his chest. Chakotay smiled to himself and wrapped his hands in her hair, pulling her to him. She was truly his.



"But Doctor, I'm fine."

"You sound like her," said the Doctor, "And I'm in no mood to fight this battle twice."

Chakotay smiled. He could certainly imagine Kathryn arguing with the Doctor. He was glad he'd missed it.

"What's so funny?" came a familiar voice from the doorway.

"Funny? Nothing, really," came Chakoktay's response, as he looked at her and smiled. "I was just imagining you and the Doctor 'discussing' your returning to work." They both looked at the Doctor, who immediately put a smug look on his face.

"Hmm, I wonder who won?" asked the Captain.

"I did," said the Doctor. "I allowed you to go back to work so that I could have some peace and quiet, and room to attend to my real patient!" The Doctor put his chin up into the air and left the room.

Kathryn walked over and stood next to Chakotay, who was sitting on the edge of the biobed. She still had a small smile on her face. Taking his hand in hers, she whispered, "How are you today?"

"I'm fine, Kathryn," said Chakotay. "But I'd do a lot better in my own bed. Or even better than that, in your bed."

Kathryn smiled. "Hmm. In due time." And then she was quiet and looked at him with a familiar look in her eyes. "Chakotay?"

"What is it?"

"I've been thinking . . ."

"Uh oh."

"I'm serious."

"So am I," he smiled.

Kathryn ignored him. "I think it might be time to consider your moving in with Saloa and me."

"Hmm."

"What do you think about that?"

"Well . . ."

"Yes?" she asked.

"You're sure you want to do this?" he asked.

"Completely. Aren't you?" she asked cautiously.

"Kathryn, I've wanted to move in with you since the first time I saw you on my viewscreen, remember?"

Kathryn laughed. "So you've said, once or twice."

"It's true. I fell in love with you on the spot."

"No, you just recall it that way now. I remember that you looked at me with eyes that burned with anger and hatred for the uniform I wore, and all that it represented to you."

"That too," he admitted.

"See?"

"But did it occur to you that I was also angry because I was falling in love with one of Starfleet's finest?"

"No, that thought did not occur to me," she said, laughing again. It felt good to laugh.

"I have an important question to ask you, Kathryn."

"Oh oh."

"I'm serious."

"All right," she said, took a deep breath, and looked at him. "Ask away."

"Do you want me to move in with you because you feel bad that a piece of conduit fell on me in the shuttlecraft, and you were afraid I might not make it back to Voyager?" he asked, not entirely joking.

Kathryn grew serious. "Chakotay, I want you to move in with me because I want you to be a part of my life, and Saloa's life, forever. I don't know what the future holds in store for any of us, but I can't keep pretending that if I push you away I will love you less, or that if I lose you, it would hurt less. Because it's not true. I'll never love you less than I do right now, Chakotay, and frankly, I can't imagine loving you more."

Chakotay touched Kathryn's face gently, then leaned over to kiss her lips. "You can't know how long I've wanted to hear you say those words," he whispered to her.

"Oh, I think I have some idea," she said softly, and leaned her forehead against his for a moment. "So," she said, looking up into his eyes. "What do you think? If you give up your own quarters and I assign it to someone else, there'll be no going back, you know. You can't get angry with me and leave, because there will be no place to go. You'll be stuck with me. And that might be something worth considering."

"The Captain is more than welcome to give my quarters to anyone she deems fit."

"You're sure?"

"Positive."

"You don't want to think about it a bit longer?" she asked softly. "After all, you've had those quarters for seven years now."

"And I've been ready to leave them for yours the entire time." He took her chin in his hand. "Besides," he said gently, "The Captain's sonic shower is much nicer than the First Officer's."

She grinned at him. "Hmm. Now I know the real reason you want to move in with me."

"I love you, Kathryn," he said softly. "That's why. I want to be with you, and with Saloa."

"Whatever happens in my life from now on, you're a part of it, you know."

"I know," he said.

"And I'm a part of your life now, as well."

"Yes."

Kathryn felt a tear roll down her cheek, but it didn't matter. She wasn't the Captain right now.

"Seven years ago, I didn't even know your name," she said softly, repeating words she'd said to him once, so very long ago. "And now I can't imagine a day without you."

"Nor do I want you to," he said, and kissed her again. Chakotay smiled, and put his arms around Kathryn. She had been a part of his life for seven years. And it had been just as long since he'd been able to imagine a day without her.

Whatever Fate had in store for them, they would face together. They both knew that now, and they knew it without a doubt. Somehow it made everything so much better, and each victory of the past so much sweeter.

THE END


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