Disclaimer:  Now and always, Paramount’s

Rating:  PG-13

THE LONG WAY HOME

By Mary S.


           Chakotay led his Maquis crew once more, through a place he never would have expected – the halls of Starfleet headquarters.  They were free, all of them, pardoned by a Federation council grateful for their extraordinary service to Voyager over the last seven years, and also mindful of a populace fed up to the teeth with trials and turmoil.  Waiting in the main plaza were their Starfleet shipmates, drawn up in formal ranks, all there but one – the captain.  Kathryn Janeway was in custody awaiting her review board’s recommendation on whether or not to proceed with a court martial.

           Amid the pandemonium as Voyager’s crew were reunited, two women sought out the commander.

           “Commander Chakotay?” asked the elder.

           “Yes,” he answered as he turned at the vaguely familiar voice.  Then he smiled and held out his hands.  “You’re Kathryn’s mother.”

           “Good for you, Commander.  I’m Gretchen Janeway.  This is my other daughter, Phoebe,” indicating the younger woman who bore a striking resemblance to her sister.

           “Commander,” she smiled up at him in greeting.  “We wanted to meet you, to thank you for your unswerving support of Kathryn throughout your journey.  She has told us that, without you, she would not have been able to bring the ship home.”

           “It wasn’t just me.  Everyone here,” he indicated the happy throng behind him, “contributed to our return.”

           “She said that, too, Commander, don’t misunderstand,” Gretchen explained quickly.  “But she also stated how much you in particular, helped her through some of the more difficult periods.  And, since she can’t be here in person, we wanted you to know.”

           “Thank you,” he replied simply, not knowing what else to say.  “How is she getting along?”

           “Very frustrated right now,” replied Phoebe.  Chakotay could well imagine that.  “The review board is most thorough.”

           “Is she allowed visitors?”

           “Only immediate family under quite restrictive conditions,” answered Gretchen.  “But the hearings are open.  The crew has been most supportive.”

           “Then we will all be there for the remainder,” he responded.

           True to his word, the commander marched the entire crew of the ship into the conference hall where the review board had relocated once the hearings were opened to the general public.  Voyager’s much publicized return had generated enormous interest throughout the Federation.  Both Starfleet and the Council were anxious to capitalize on the excitement to repair their own images, somewhat tarnished by the war with the Dominion.  It was almost a foregone conclusion that Janeway would be exonerated, else Starfleet would never have agreed to open hearings.

           The captain was delighted to see her whole crew sitting en masse, smiling fondly at them all.  Their presence, with the attendant media, apparently motivated the board to speed up the process.  In less than a week, a recommendation for complete exculpation was made to Starfleet – there would be no court martial.

           In the first moments of celebration, she had only a few minutes to speak to Chakotay, before the media swept her away.

           “I gather you’ve met my family.  Once I’m finished with this circus, why don’t you come home for a visit.  Then we can talk properly.”

           “All right,” he answered, his eyes alight with hope.  “I’d like that.”

           “Good.  I’ll let you know.”  And she was gone.

           In the end, five days later, it was Gretchen who contacted him on Kathryn’s behalf.

           “She’s very busy right now, finishing up reports and….things,” she said vaguely.  “But she did suggest you might as well come now rather than sitting around there.”

           “Thank you.”  And he transported to Indiana later the same day.

           Chakotay quickly developed a real rapport with Kathryn’s mother.  Once she discovered how he had lost his entire family, she wasted no time in showering him with affection, to make up, she declared, for all that he’d missed.  By the time Kathryn returned home, they were on the best of terms.

           Her first evening was spent with just Gretchen and Chakotay, as Phoebe, married with two small children, had returned to her home several hundred miles away.

           “Mom, that was a wonderful dinner, thank you.”

           “Thank Chakotay, dear, he did most of it.”

           Kathryn grinned at him.  “Thank you, Commander.”

           “Now, Katie,” her mother interjected.  “No titles in this house.”

           Kathryn chuckled.  “Yes, Mom.”  And in an aside to Chakotay, “she keeps me in line, you see, even now.”

           “I’m glad to know I still can,” retorted Gretchen.  “Why don’t you sit on the porch?  It’s a lovely night.  I’ll tidy up.”

           “Gretchen,” he offered, but she shooed him out the door.

           “Go talk to Kathryn.”

           “Yes, ma’am,” he grinned at her, following Kathryn onto the porch.

           “Cheeky brat,” she threw back at him, before turning to clear the table.

           “You get along very well with my mom,” remarked Kathryn in some surprise.  “I don’t think I’ve ever seen her respond that way before, to someone I brought home.  Not even Mark.”

           “I like her very much,” answered Chakotay.  “I think she’s been lonely here since your sister moved away.”

           “Mmm.”  Kathryn seemed a bit uneasy.

           “On a different subject,” he continued, “are you officially on leave now?  How long do you have?”

           “Yes, I am.  And I only have a couple of weeks.”  She turned to him eagerly.  “They’re giving me a new ship, Chakotay, the Adventurer.  She was launched just six months ago.  The mission is exploration of the Gamma Quadrant.  I’m hoping some of our crew will join me – and you, of course.”

           “Me!”

           “Yes.”  Her voice was clearly puzzled.  “I can’t imagine having anyone else for my first officer.  Saves me having to break in a new one.”  Her joke fell flat.  “Chakotay, don’t you want to come?  I thought for sure….”

           “Kathryn!  Did it never occur to you to ask me first!  I’m resigning my commission as soon as I go back to San Francisco!”

           “Resigning!  But you can’t!” she protested furiously.  “I need you!”

           “Kathryn, I want a new life – with you!  If we go to another ship, our relationship will stay the same.  I don’t want just friendship – I want more, a lot more!  We can’t have that in a command structure, you know that!”  He paused for breath, clearly agitated.  “Don’t you want us to be together?  I thought that was the whole point of asking me here!”

           Crunch time.  And she didn’t know what to do.  For so long, she had been able to avoid having to deal with her feelings for him.  And he hadn’t called her on it – until now. The words were there, on the tip of her tongue, the words that would rearrange her life, that would tell him just how much he meant to her.  She couldn’t do it.  He was waiting, his face a question.  Attempting to stall, she pretended to misunderstand.

           “Yes, I want us to be together.  On the new ship!  Chakotay, I can’t stay in one place – I’d be bored in a week!  I want to explore, see new places.”   His heart sank into despair, to be replaced by anger.

           “That’s not what I mean and you know it!  For heaven’s sake, Kathryn, we just got home after seven years!  And now, you’re all set to go off again?!  I don’t understand and I certainly don’t want to go!  I want to build a home – here!”

           She stared at him, horrified. She had pushed him, she knew, but it hadn’t actually occurred to her that, this time, she had gone too far, that he wouldn’t follow her again.

           She tried once more to convince him.  “Chakotay, please!  Come with me!  You don’t have anyone here, or for that matter, anywhere in the whole quadrant.”

           He looked at her, despairing.  “You just can’t understand, can you.  For so long, I’ve put my life on hold.  I’ve had enough, Kathryn.  I want to do what I want, here, on Earth.”

           She masked her fear and insecurity with anger.  “I don’t understand how you can – just abandon me!  Well, fine!  Have it your own way!”  She rose and marched into the house, leaving him sitting forlornly on the porch.

           Gretchen came out, her expression very concerned.  She had overheard enough to understand most of what had happened.  Chakotay looked up at her sadly.

           “I better leave, Gretchen.  I….won’t be any good here.”

           She patted his shoulder.  “I’m sorry, Chakotay, more sorry than I can say.  What will you do now?”

           “I don’t know,” he shrugged, “maybe go back to Dorvan, see if there’s anything left.”

           “Keep in touch, please,” she pleaded, suddenly intense. 
I’ve grown very fond of you, and, well, I don’t want to lose you.”

           He stood, hugging her close.  “I will,” he promised.  Ten minutes later, he was gone.

           Three days later, Phoebe appeared on her mother’s doorstep, laden with baggage, children in tow.  Gretchen and Kathryn were appalled to hear that her husband had become very abusive, to the point where she feared for her safety as well as that of her children.  Both her mother and sister found it difficult to believe that, in this day and age, a man could still behave in such a violent fashion, but Phoebe assured them it was not only possible, but more common than they might think.  There was no question that she would find a refuge in her old home; indeed, Kathryn explained, she would be glad to know her mother would not be alone.   At Phoebe’s demand, she clarified her statement, describing her new ship and mission to the Gamma Quadrant.

           “What about Chakotay?  I understood he was resigning his commission. Kathryn, he loves you!”

           “Not enough to come with me,” she replied bitterly.

           “Kathryn!”  Phoebe was outraged.  “You can’t just toss him aside like – a pair of old shoes!”

           “No, Phoebe, I don’t want to hear it!  I’ve already had enough from Mom on the subject!”

           “Don’t you love him?  I thought….you did.”  Her voice dropped.

           “Not anymore.”  Kathryn was very brisk, trying to hide the hurt.

           “Yes, you do, I can see it,” proclaimed Phoebe, hugging her sister.  “He’s a good man, Kat, don’t throw it all away because of pride.  Please!”

           “I can’t stay, Phoebe.  I don’t belong here any more.”

           “What do you mean?  Of course you do!”

           “Here at home – yes.  But at headquarters? – I don’t fit in.  I’m the oddball.”  She sighed and tried to explain.  “The people I knew, they fought a war!  A lot of them died!  The ones who survived have changed so much that I – don’t really have anything in common with them beyond the superficial.  I’m more comfortable out there, well away from Command.”  Her voice was determined and Phoebe knew only too well how stubborn she could be.  She sighed dejectedly.

           “I wish I could change your mind.  Someone like Chakotay is rare, believe me.”

           “Well, my dear, if you like him so much, why don’t you take him?”

           Phoebe stared at her, startled.  “Are you sure?”

           “Yes.  If you want him,” in an off hand tone.

           “You’re a fool, Kathryn.  I might just do that.”





           Several months later, Gretchen was delighted to receive a message from Chakotay.  He had returned from Dorvan and wanted to see her; was tomorrow all right?

           He arrived to a warm welcome from Phoebe as well as her mother.  As she explained the changes in her life, her small son climbed onto his lap.  Phoebe was amazed.

           “I’ve never seen him do that before.  He’s been terrified of any stranger, particularly men.  Another legacy from his father, I guess,” she added bitterly.

           Chakotay looked down at the child.  “I’m honoured, then.  A child’s trust is very special and should be treasured, or so my mother taught me.”

           Phoebe felt her heart turn over.  “Did you come to find Kathryn?” she asked, out of loyalty to her sister.

           “No,” he sighed resignedly.  “I know she’s gone.  I came to see your mother.  And I’m very glad to find you here, too, even if it’s not by your choice.”

           Gretchen came out then with drinks and food.  “Now, Chakotay.  Tell me how you found Dorvan.  Did you get any news of your family?”

           His face turned grim.  “No, nothing.  They disappeared like everyone else.  The Cardassians forced a complete evacuation after the Maquis massacre – no one knows what happened to them.  The planet itself is a ruin – they rendered it uninhabitable.  There’s nothing left.”

           “Oh, Chakotay!  No!” both women exclaimed.  “I’m so sorry,” added Gretchen.  “I know you hoped….”

           “It was a very slim chance, but….I had to go, to find out.  I needed the closure.”

           “Yes, of course you did.”

           “What will you do now?” asked Phoebe.

           “I don’t know.”  His expression had lightened.  “I haven’t thought about the future at all.  Well, not for a while, anyway.”

           His oblique reference to Kathryn spurred Gretchen into asking if he had heard from her.  His negative reply confirmed to Phoebe that her sister really had put him behind her.

           “You could stay here for a while,” she said slowly.

           “Yes,” chimed in Gretchen.  “Would you like to?”

           “I don’t want to intrude…..” he began.

           “Chakotay!” protested Phoebe.  Her mother nodded at him, smiling hopefully.

           “Then….thank you.  I will. For a little while.”

           The following evening, shortly after Phoebe had disappeared upstairs to put the children to bed, Chakotay excused himself to Gretchen and went outside into the yard.  She watched, puzzled, as he meandered from one spot to another.  Finally, when her curiosity got the better of her, she followed him out.

           “Chakotay, what are you doing?”

           “I’m looking for a place to meditate.”

           “Oh,” she said, obviously still puzzled.  “Uh, how do you decide?”

           “I walk around until,” he moved farther away, “I find just,” farther still, “the right spot.”  By now, he was close to a big willow overhanging the creek.  He stopped and looked back at her.  “Here.  This is good.”

           She smiled nostalgically.  “Funny you should pick there.”

           “Why?”

           “That used to be Kathryn’s favourite spot, up in that tree.  She spent hours there – reading, imagining, doing – whatever children do.  As she grew older, she used to call it her ‘thinking spot’.”

           He shook his head ruefully.  “I guess I still know her too well.”

           “Chakotay,” Gretchen spoke sombrely.  “Don’t let your last disagreement colour your whole relationship with her.  You share….something special with her, a unique bond of experiences, that no one else does.  Try to make that what you remember about her.”  She looked down for a moment, then her eyes met his.  “I know how stubborn she can be, she’s a Janeway through and through, but underneath, she’s hurting – a lot.”

           “Then why did she leave me?!  She knew I wanted her, wanted to be with her, just not in a command structure!  I thought she wanted me, too.”

           “She did, she still does, but she’s afraid, you see.”

           “Afraid!”  He thought for a moment.  “Yes, you’re right, I can see that.”  He looked at her helplessly.  “But how long do I wait, Gretchen?  The rest of my life?!”

           “I don’t know.”  Her voice was sad.  “Just….remember the person you knew on Voyager, not the one you fought with here.”

           “I fought with her there, too, you know, lots of times.”  To himself, he added.  ‘Too many times’.

           She smiled gently.  “I suppose you would have.”  She stopped, head on one side, her face a question.

           “What’s the matter?” he asked.

           “I thought I heard….oh no!  Phoebe!”  She turned and started back to the house as quickly as she could.  Chakotay wasted no time, sprinting ahead of her, up the steps, through the door to find Phoebe in the grip of a strange man whose hands were wrapped tightly around her throat.  He seized him by the shoulder, spinning him around and delivered a crushing left hook to his jaw that sent the man sprawling to the floor.

           Phoebe collapsed against the wall, her harsh gasps for air the only sound.  Chakotay reached for her, half-carrying her to the nearest chair as Gretchen flew in the door.

           “Oh my god!  Phoebe!  Are you all right?!”

           Her daughter couldn’t speak but was able to nod her head.  The man groaned as he tried to sit up, drawing their attention.

           “Who is this?!” demanded Chakotay.  “Do you know him?”

           “Yes,” replied Gretchen.  “He is Phoebe’s husband, Jordan Delwan.”

           “Her husband!  Why is he trying to kill her?!”  Chakotay was clearly perplexed.

           “He’s mad that I left him,” whispered Phoebe in a rasping voice.  “He wants to control me, the children, all the time.  He…gets angry when I, we, don’t obey him.  That’s why we left.  I thought he was going to kill me, or them.”

           “But that’s barbaric!” protested Chakotay.

           “Yes,” answered Gretchen, “it is.  But a lot of men still behave that way.  A lot more than you would think.  This isn’t the first time….”she stopped, horrified, as Delwan leaped to his feet, a knife in hand, and charged Chakotay.  For a second, she thought for sure that he would be impaled on the wall, but in an instant, somehow, the scene changed as Chakotay flipped the man over his hip, then delivered a series of blows to his jaw and torso that knocked him out cold.  Both women stood motionless, in shock, staring at their tormentor.  Chakotay shook his head slightly, nudged the man with his foot, then spoke softly. “It’s all right.  He isn’t going to harm you, or anyone.  Gretchen, call the police.”

           An hour later, Jordan Delwan had been formally charged with assault and attempted murder, and was incarcerated in the town jail, with bail denied.  Chakotay heard the whole story of Phoebe’s last few years, how she had lived in almost constant terror despite a series of restraining orders against her husband.  He still found it hard to believe that such a situation could exist in the twenty-fourth century, but accepted that, technology notwithstanding, not all human beings had changed as much as everyone would like to believe.

           At his urging, Phoebe laid charges, which resulted in a five year prison sentence, including behavioural rehabilitation.  At the same time, she filed for divorce, which was granted almost at once.  Mother and daughter were both very grateful for Chakotay’s support.  He stayed on, at first just to help them through the trial process and divorce proceedings.  But weeks turned into months, and before they knew it, he had become one of the family.

           For his part, Chakotay found himself in something of a quandary.  Quite without meaning to, he was falling in love with Phoebe.  Or he thought he was.  Sometimes, he wasn’t sure what he felt.  He had loved Kathryn for so long that it had become a habit – he expected to be in love with her.  But Phoebe aroused feelings of protectiveness.   Chakotay was a man who needed to care for others.  And here were four people – a readymade family – who made no secret of how much they wanted him to do just that.

           He said nothing to her, knowing her emotional state was still fragile, and with no inkling of her feelings towards him.  They were friends, of course, very close friends, but beyond that?  He didn’t know, and was most reluctant to ask.  For the moment, he was content to keep their relationship as it was, and his feelings to himself.  Then, their world turned upside down again.




           Late one sultry, hot afternoon, as thunderheads piled up in the sky, Gretchen hurried outside to find her grandchildren.  Chakotay and Phoebe had gone into town several hours before, on various errands – she had stayed home with Katie and Teddy.  Quickly, she trotted down to the creek – no, not there.  Back to the barn – a glance inside revealed it was empty, and then she heard voices. Circling the outside, she found them playing in a long-forgotten woodpile, quite oblivious to anything else.

           “Katie!  Teddy!  Come quickly!  There’s a storm brewing!”

           Even as she spoke, the wind billowed around them, blowing leaves and bits of debris every which way.  Her heart was pounding as she reached for their hands.  The wind felt threatening, ominous, and those clouds!  “Come children!  We must hurry!”  They scrambled up at her urging, their game forgotten.

           As they rounded the barn, a strong gust nearly blew them over.  Katie tugged on her hand, pointing beyond the house.  Oh no!  Funnel cloud!  She clutched them both tightly and battled her way to the side of the house, to the old storm cellar.  Pulling up the cover, she pushed both children inside, then climbed down herself.

           “Grandma!”  Katie cried.  “What is it?!”

           “Tornado, darling!  Don’t worry!  We’ll be safe here.”

           Teddy began to cry as the voice of the wind increased.  “Ssh, sweetie.  Hang on to me,” she whispered, trying to soothe him.  With an arm wrapped around each child, she huddled over them, her body their protection.

           The noise from outside was now a full-throated roar, reverberating through them, blocking any other sound.  Their hearts were thumping, each breath a gasp as their pulses raced.

           Suddenly, one door flew open and the din increased tenfold.  They all cried out in terror as the blast of air actually lifted them slightly off the floor.  Frantically, Gretchen reached out for something, anything, to grab on to.  Her fingers brushed a wooden shelf support; she grabbed hold, praying her strength would be enough to keep them from being blown out the door.

           Minutes passed, and the noise began to fade.  The children still clutched their grandmother, her weight pressing them into the dirt floor.  Eventually, as they began to suffocate, Katie wiggled free, realizing that the wind had dropped.

           “Grandma!” she called.  “It’s gone!  Grandma!”  There was no response.  “Grandma!!”  Frightened anew, the child shook her shoulder, calling repeatedly.  But Gretchen Janeway would never move again.  At the peak of the storm, her over-stressed heart had stopped.

           Half an hour later, Chakotay and Phoebe tore into the yard in near panic, astonished to find the house still standing.  All around them was devastation. The barn was gone – only a few boards left, Kathryn’s tree had been flattened.  Leading away from them, they could see the swathe of destruction.

           “Mom!” shouted Phoebe, her heart in her mouth.  “Katie!  Teddy!”  She dashed to the house and up the steps.

           “Mama!” came a child’s voice from around the side.  Chakotay ran towards it, shouting.  “Phoebe!  Out here!”  He reached Katie and scooped her up, hugging her tightly to him.

           “Where’s Teddy and your grandma?!”

           “In there,” she pointed to the storm cellar.  He put her down, then climbed into it.  “Teddy?  Gretchen?  Are you all right?”

           Teddy wailed and worked his way out from underneath his grandmother.  Chakotay lifted him up and out before turning back to Gretchen.  He knelt beside her and turned her over gently, then felt her neck, searching for a pulse.  Nothing?!  There had to be!  He concentrated, running his fingers across her skin.

           “Chakotay?” he heard Phoebe call.

           “In here!  Come quickly!”

           She climbed down, then gasped when she saw her mother lying very still.

           “Phoebe….” he began, but got no further as she cried out.  “Mom!”

           “Phoebe!” he spoke more sharply.  “I can’t find a pulse!  Go see if the comm system is working!  In the house!” he added as she stared at him blankly.  She jumped up, scrambled out of the cellar and disappeared.

           Chakotay began CPR, although his instinct told him it was too late.  Still, he had to try.  Push, push on her chest, tilt back her head, breathe into her mouth.  And repeat.  He tried to maintain a steady rhythm for several minutes before stopping to check again for a pulse.  Still nothing.

           As he took up the rhythm, memories flashed into his mind, of an unnamed moon in the Delta Quadrant some five years before, when he had found himself desperately trying to keep Kathryn alive.  He forced himself to concentrate, not think about the possibility of failure, but as each minute passed with no sign of life, he knew, this time, his efforts were futile.  She was gone.  He sat back on his heels, panting, trying to catch his breath.  He heard a sound and looked up to see Phoebe standing above him.

           “Any luck?” he asked, although the answer was plain on her face.  She shook her head.  “There’s no power,” she whispered.  He stood and reached up a hand.  She jumped down beside him, then knelt beside her mother’s body, staring at her face.

           “Is she dead?”

           “Yes,” he answered gently.

           “She looks …..asleep.”

           “It must have been quick.  She didn’t have time to be afraid.”

           “I’m glad.”  Her face crumpled as tears ran down her cheeks.  He reached for her shoulders and pulled her tight against him, wrapping his arms around her.  She clutched his arms, her body trembling as delayed shock set in.  He held her as close as he could, trying to keep her warm.

           “I’m so cold,” she choked out through her sobs.  He turned her then, folding her tightly against his chest, tucking her face into his neck.  “Hold on, Phoebe.  Hold on to me.”  Her arms went around his back, hands clutching his shirt.  He knelt there, Phoebe clasped against him, and prayed silently, commending Gretchen’s soul to the Spirits.




           Several hours later, with power restored, the authorities notified, and Phoebe and the children put to bed, Chakotay sat down to the last task of this dreadful day.  Someone had to tell Kathryn that her mother was dead.  Drawing on what little strength he still had, he activated the terminal and sent a message via Starfleet Command, requesting it be forwarded, top priority, to the Adventurer, somewhere in the Gamma Quadrant.  That done, he collapsed exhausted on the sofa, and didn’t awake until the next morning.

           Over a week passed, and they had buried Gretchen before they heard from Kathryn, and then not directly.  It was Admiral Ross at headquarters who relayed a message from her ship, expressing her shock and dismay.  Phoebe was appalled at the brevity of the text – just three sentences. She accused her sister of callousness, but Chakotay understood.   With the tremendous distances involved, she had been unable to send anything longer.  He tried to explain how Kathryn was so far away that they were lucky to get any kind of message.  Phoebe said she understood but her expression indicated otherwise.  It was nearly impossible for anyone not accustomed to long periods of space travel, to comprehend the vast expanses involved and all the problems stemming from that. 

           Later that day, she disappeared after supper, saying she wanted to be alone for a little while. After half an hour, he went looking for her to tell her it was almost bedtime for the children.  He found her sitting on the grass beside Gretchen’s grave, crying.

           “Phoebe,” he put his arms around her, dropping his face into her hair.

           “I’m scared, Chakotay,” she gulped through her sobs.  “I don’t know what’s going to happen to us.”

           “It’ll be all right, you’ll see.”

           “But….what if you want to leave?”

           “Now, why would I do that?”

           “I don’t know.  I just thought that maybe, you’d want to.”  She cried harder as she voiced her fears.

           “Phoebe,” he lifted up her face, “do you want me to stay with you?”

           “Yes,” she whispered, “but I know that it’s not fair to ask you.  I mean, you have your own life, and probably, there are lots of things you want to do, and….” her voice trailed off.  “Aren’t there?”

           He looked deep into her eyes.  “All I want to do is be with you, in whatever way you need me.  I won’t leave you, Phoebe, until you tell me to.”

           “You mean that?!  You’ll stay here?!”  He nodded.  She burst into tears again as she threw her arms around his neck.  He held her very close, kissing her hair.  And silently bid Kathryn goodbye.

           “Come on.  The kids are getting ready for bed.  Let’s get them settled and then I think we need to talk.”

           He stood up, pulling her with him.  They stood still for a minute, gazing at each other, before he bent his head and very gently brushed her mouth with his. The kiss was so light that she could hardly feel it, yet it burned into her soul.  As they started to walk to the house, she glanced up at him several times, almost frowning, clearly seeing him in a new light.

           An hour later, Chakotay sat on the top step of the front porch, waiting for her.  She came out the door to sit down beside him, almost shy.  He smiled reassuringly, and took her hand, stroking the palm.

           “Phoebe, I, uh….do you know how I feel about you?”

           “No,” she replied honestly.  “You’ve never told me.”

           He took a deep breath and faced her.  “I’ve fallen in love with you.  I didn’t expect to, and I even thought about trying not to, but – it happened.”  He paused to gauge her reaction.  “Say something?” he pleaded.

           “I….Chakotay, I….” She stopped, then took a deep breath, straightening her shoulders.  “I love you.  I didn’t realize it for a long time, but I do.”  Her solemn expression dissolved into a huge smile of delight.  “What do you think we should do about it?”

           “I think,” he said slowly, feeling his way, “that we should get married, make a life together. What about you?”

           “Is that a proposal?”

           “I guess it is.”  He started to laugh.  “Yes, I guess it is.”

           “Well, I accept.”

           He sobered, staring intently at her face.  “Are you sure?”

           “Yes, love,” she grinned at him.  “I’m sure.”

           Three days later, Phoebe and Chakotay were quietly married by the local justice of the peace, with her children their only attendants.
        



           Two years passed, happy, hard-working years that saw Chakotay and Phoebe build a solid, loving relationship.  And if their marriage lacked the wild passions of first love, each found a more mature stability and completion in the other.

           They had seen Kathryn once during those two years, when the Adventurer returned to Earth for refit.  She had been very careful to appear absolutely delighted with their marriage.  Both Phoebe and Chakotay knew her very well indeed, and she had to be extra cautious not to let slip how devastated she had been when she got the news.  She kept her visit short, citing work commitments, which was mostly true.  In fact, she couldn’t bear to be around them for very long.  Their happiness was a constant reminder of what she had thrown away.  When the refit was complete, she immediately  accepted another long-term mission, this time to the unexplored parts of the Beta Quadrant.  With any luck, she reflected, she wouldn’t be back for years. Hopefully, by then, she would have cured herself of her unrequited love.  She was really getting quite tired of it.

           Not long after her departure, and unbeknownst to either Phoebe or Chakotay, Jordan Delwan was released from prison.  To the authorities in charge of rehabilitating convicts, he had been a model prisoner.  His demeanor was always pleasant and respectful, his words measured, and his manner open.  He had been quite willing to try every therapy suggested, and at the end of nearly three years, the army of psychologists and counsellors used by the corrections department, unanimously declared him completely rehabilitated and ready for parole.  They could not have been more wrong.

           Jordan Delwan was intent on one goal, and one goal only – to kill his ex-wife in revenge for all the humiliation he had suffered at her hands.  He was quite insane, but, because of his quick intelligence and well-developed sense of self-preservation, he was able to successfully hoodwink every official and counsellor he met.  His plan was simple – regain his freedom as quickly as possible by whatever means necessary, and then find Phoebe and destroy her.  He saw his deception as a challenge to his abilities and put all his efforts into giving as convincing a performance as possible.  He was successful beyond his wildest hopes.

           Through a bureaucratic error, Phoebe was not warned of her ex-husband’s release.  Later, after the furor had died down, there would be an exhaustive investigation into how such a mistake had occurred.  It was determined that a combination of several factors, each harmless in itself, had led to the misconception that notice had already been issued.  But in the meantime, two days after Jordan Delwan walked out of prison, Phoebe had no idea he was anywhere near.

           Chakotay had taken the children into town that morning for their biannual dental checkups.  He had promised a special lunch if they both behaved.  They had all headed off in high spirits, much to Phoebe’s relief.  She had been looking forward to a bit of quiet time to get out her paints.  With her easel set up on the rear porch, she settled in to try her hand at painting, from memory, the big willow by the creek, the one felled by the tornado, the one her mother  had called ‘Kathryn’s thinking tree’, where Chakotay had liked to meditate.  If the work went well, she hoped to have it done in time for his birthday.

           Concentrating hard on the scene before her, she was aware of nothing else until a creaking door drew her attention.  She turned around, expecting to see Chakotay but instead faced her ex-husband.  Raw hatred distorted his features.  She sat, frozen in shock, for nearly thirty seconds as he advanced on her, before instinct kicked in and she leaped up, trying to escape.  She made it off the porch and around the side of the house, but he caught up with her before she could sprint down the lane.

           He knocked her down, face first, then grabbed her by the hair and smashed his fist into her face.  Dazed, disoriented, her body went limp as he wrapped both hands around her throat and jerked hard, breaking her neck.  He stood up, dropping her, dying, into the dirt, before striding off towards the road.

           Two hours later, Chakotay and the children returned, anxious to tell Phoebe all about their day.  Katie was the first to notice the pile of clothing in the front yard and drew his attention to it.  Slamming on the brakes, he leaped out of the hovercar, yelling at the youngsters to stay put.  His heart was in his mouth as he raced to Phoebe’s side.

           No!  Please!  Don’t let her be dead, please!  But there was no heartbeat, her body was cold, the lips blue.  He gathered her up against him, horror-stricken, rocking her as heartbroken sobs burst out.  “Phoebe, Phoebe!  I should have been here!  I never should have left you!”  Katie and Teddy sat glued to their seats, too frightened to move.

           Eventually, he rose and carried her into the house, laying her on their bed.  Then he called the authorities to report the murder before going back outside to get the children, taking them into the kitchen.  With the first shock wearing off, his brain was starting to function and a terrible suspicion was creeping over him.  If he was right, Katie and Teddy could well be in danger, too.

           He called the police again, suggesting they check on the whereabouts of Jordan Delwan, and that someone should get to the farm quickly – he had nothing more than Gretchen’s old carving knife and his wits to protect them from a madman!  Very shortly after, two hovercars peeled into the front yard, and several officers, armed to the teeth, spilled out.

           “Chakotay!” called the sergeant in charge.  “You okay?”  He trotted up the steps.

           “Yes, Ben, we’re all right.  But Phoebe – she’s upstairs, in our room.”  His voice choked.  “She’s dead, Ben.”

           The sergeant shouted to the others to fan out and start searching the area while he set up a command centre in the house.  He made and received several calls; one of the latter confirmed Chakotay’s worst fear.  Delwan was out on parole – a man matching his description had been seen early that morning on the road leading past the farm.  Chakotay was appalled to think he must have gone by the man on his way into town.

           Nearly two hours passed, more officers and the county coroner arrived, Phoebe’s body was removed to the local morgue, before they got the news.  Delwan had been cornered twenty miles away in an old barn, and had hanged himself with a bit of rope he had found there.

           That evening, Chakotay sat on the front porch after putting the children to bed.  He knew they needed him, but for the moment, he had to just sit.   Try as he might, he found himself quite unable to take in the shattering events of the day.  Only that morning, they had been a happy, secure unit, a family, and now?  Here he was, left with two children whose father had killed first their mother, and then himself.  He heard Teddy cry out in his sleep and rose, to head up the stairs.  He couldn’t do this alone, he was going to have to get help.  An hour later, with the little ones sound asleep, he called Tom and B’Elanna Paris.

           B’Elanna wasted no time once she heard the horrifying news.  The senior Parises were notified –  Tom’s mother would look after her grandchildren; the admiral undertook to discover Kathryn’s whereabouts and get a message to her.  He then arranged top priority passage for Tom to the Beta Quadrant.  Even as these plans were set in motion, she was hurrying to Indiana – she would stay with Chakotay until Kathryn returned.

           In the end, Tom caught up with Kathryn before the message did.  The Adventurer had put into a well-stocked space station for repairs, supplies and shore leave for the crew.  No one had realized the urgency of the message when it was received in the middle of a battle, and it was placed in the captain’s personal file, to be read at her leisure.  Unfortunately, as the ship had been carrying on a series of skirmishes with several very hostile aliens, the captain had not had any time to read anything other than damage reports and repair estimates.  Tom found her buried in a Jeffries tube, yelling instructions to the hapless ensign who was assisting her.  He waited until she was finished and had climbed out before making his presence known.

           “Tom?!” she exclaimed.  “Tom Paris?!  What on earth are you doing here?!”  Her face paled as a shiver went through her.  “Tom, what’s happened?”

           He stared at her, astonished and then realization dawned.  “You haven’t gotten it, have you?”

           “Got what?!  What’s going on?!”

           He took her arm.  “Let’s go to your quarters.”  She allowed herself to be led to the turbolift.  “What deck?”

           “Four,” she replied.  “Tom….?”

           But he would say nothing more until they were safely ensconced in her rooms, away from the eyes of the crew.  Hands on her hips, she faced him then.  “Out with it, Tom.  What’s happened?”

           “Your sister, Phoebe, she….she’s dead, Captain.  I’m sorry, I….can’t find an easier way to tell you.  Dad sent you a message, but….” his voice trailed off at the shock on her face.

           “Phoebe?!  Dead?!”  Her hands covered her mouth.  He stood and led her to the couch, sitting down beside her, one arm around her shoulders.  Her face was white.

           “Her ex-husband was let out of prison.  He went to the farm and killed her.”

           She gave a little cry of protest, then slumped against him, body shaking.  He wrapped both arms tight around her, trying to ward off the effects of shock.  They sat quiet for several minutes before she lifted her head.

           “Chakotay?  The children?  Are they all right?”

           “Yes.  They were in town.  They found her when they got home.”

           “Oh, Tom!  How awful!”  Her eyes were full of tears, which spilled down her cheeks.  He tucked her head tightly into his shoulder, placing his chin on top, and let her cry.  Finally, she calmed somewhat and pulled back a little.

           “How are they?  Did you come to get me?  They’re not alone, are they?”  The questions tumbled out in no particular order.

           “B’Elanna’s gone to stay with them, until you can get there.  Chakotay was in pretty bad shape when I left.  I don’t know about the kids.  He was almost incoherent.  And yes, I’m here to take you home.  I have a class six long range shuttle – Dad arranged it.”

           “Let me find my first officer.  I guess,” she spoke slowly, thinking aloud, “they should wait here.  You didn’t have any trouble getting here, did you?”

           “No, not a bit.  Should I have?”

           “Probably – we sure have.”  She got up, tapping her commbadge.  “Janeway to Kim.  I need to see you in my quarters immediately.  And round up the senior staff for a meeting in the briefing room in half an hour.”

           ______________________________________________________


           Several weeks passed before Kathryn and Tom finally reached Earth.  There had been a number of problems, large and small, which delayed them, including loss of communications during a short, brutal run-in with a most aggressive species, one which rivalled the Hirogen.  They escaped – barely – thanks to Tom’s piloting skills. 
  
           On their arrival, Kathryn checked in with Command before requesting immediate transport to Indiana.  Tom contacted his parents and was very surprised to find B’Elanna.  He learned that she had come back for the day to see their children.  He hurried home at once.

           Kathryn materialized on the lawn, in front of her old home, had she but known it, almost on the exact spot where her sister had died.  Although the time was just after noon, there was no sound except for a few birds chirping in a nearby bush.  She started forward, looking about, wondering if anyone was there.   Without thinking, she wandered toward the family graveyard; as she got closer, she could see a figure crouched among the headstones.    Her heart quickened – Chakotay.  She would know that figure anywhere.      

           Quietly, she made her way to where he sat, his mind obviously a thousand miles away, quite unaware of her presence.  She reached down and touched his shoulder gently.  He jumped, startled, then stared in wonder.

           “Kathryn?!  Is it really you?!”

           “Yes, Chakotay.  I’ve come back.  I’m sorry I took so long.”

           She knelt down beside him, in order to see him more clearly.  “You look terrible!”  His face was gaunt, heavily-lined, eyes sunken.  He was very thin, his clothes hanging off his shoulders.   She reached a hand to his cheek, stroking it softly.  Her touch broke through his astonishment, and he turned away, covering his face.  She moved closer and put her arms around him, turning his head into her neck, and resting her cheek on his hair.  He made no sound but she could feel the dampness of his tears on her skin.  She cradled him tight to her, her own eyes full, whispering to him.

           “I’m sorry, Chakotay, I’m sorry I wasn’t here sooner.  I’m sorry your life has been ruined once more.   But I’m here now, and I won’t leave you again.  That’s a promise.  Whatever happens, I’m here for as long as you want me.”  She stroked his back and neck, feeling him shudder against her.  He wrapped his arms around her and held tight, as his grief and sorrow poured out.   They sat there, beside Phoebe’s grave, for nearly half an hour before he finally eased back from her.  

           His hand came up to dry her cheeks as she did the same for him.  She gave him a rather watery smile, but it was enough for him to respond.  He didn’t smile back, but she could see his face relax.  Gently, she kissed his forehead, then his eyes and cheeks before hugging him to her again.  She made no effort to hide her feelings now; there wasn’t any point anymore.

           “Kathryn,” he whispered, “do you really mean it?  You’ll stay?”

           “For as long as you want me,” she reiterated.

           “I think that might be forever.  Are you prepared….to do that?”

           “Yes.”

           “Here?”

           “Wherever you like.  I…..I’ve done enough wandering, Chakotay.  I think it’s time I came home – for good.” 

           He sighed, and looked at the grave.   As once he had silently bid this woman goodbye, now he did the same to Phoebe.  But his heart was no longer torn.  They belonged together, they always had.   He turned back to Kathryn, stretching fingers to brush her face, then pulling it down for a gentle kiss.   Her heart stood still – his touch went right through her, from the top of her head down to her toes.

           “I love you, Kathryn.  I don’t think I ever stopped; it just got – put aside for a while.  Don’t misunderstand.  I cared deeply for Phoebe, and we made a good life together, but way down, I never stopped loving you.  And I never will, whatever the future brings.”

           She shook her head ruefully.  “I know.  Only too well.  I have never been able to stop loving you, either.  And believe me, I’ve tried!  I guess, maybe that’s why I was so restless.  I was torn between staying here with you, letting go, and continuing on with my career in space, staying in control.”

           “Captain versus Kathryn,” he summarized.

           “Yes, I suppose so.”

           “I don’t think I’d be much use out there, now.  And….” he hesitated.

           “You don’t really want to.”

           “No, I don’t.”

           “I meant it.  I’m home for good.  We’ll go wherever you want, but we’ll go together.  I’ll resign my commission – it’s time I retired anyway.”

           “What about your ship?”

           “She’ll be in good hands.  Harry’s been my first officer since we left.  I’ll ‘encourage’ Starfleet to make him her captain.”

           Chakotay smiled at that.  He could well imagine the ‘encouragement’.  He got to his feet, pulling her up with him.  “Let’s go back to the house.  Katie and Teddy will soon be home from school.  They are going to be very surprised.”  He grinned at her, the years falling away as his dimples came out.  “Are you ready to be a mother?”

           Her hand went to her mouth in shock.  She hadn’t thought of that.  “Guess so.   I mean, how much harder can it be, than captaining a starship in the Delta or Beta Quadrant?”

           “Oh, Kathryn!  You have no idea!”


   THE END

  
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