Disclaimer: see Part One "Oasis"

by Claudia

Part Three
(postcards 20-29)

 One of the Voyagers' weeks later all of the Tian tribes had
met in Ima. The city was now buzzing with life, and not one day
passed without at least two or three feasts and receptions being
held. The atmosphere was relaxed and full of joy, but also packed
with busy dealings and gatherings of the chieftains.
 One of these gatherings was held by Asoio in one of the
conference rooms of the city's Tribes' Palace. Among them were
Kathryn, Chakotay and Tuvok of the Voyager Tribe, as well as
Siqok, Omson and several other chieftains who'd offered strangers
the protection of their tribes. They had gathered to discuss the
future of the Voyager Tribe. The meeting was opened by a speech
by Kathryn, in which she thanked the chieftains for their generosity
on behalf of her people. She still didn't have a grasp of the alien
language, so Chakotay did the interpreting for her.
 As it had turned out during this week, another thirty-seven
crewmembers had joined the tribes, and thus had met in Ima. That
meant that one third of the former crew had survived the disaster—
at least one third, because the Tian tribes did only roam the vast
desert of this planet. According to Tuvok and other crewmembers'
records was the planet inhabited by other peoples who lived in
more temperate climes and on other continents. So there was no
way telling how many of the crew had survived and lived in other
parts of the planet. Which, of course, Kathryn couldn't tell Asoio or
any of the others. It was enough for them to know that they weren't
Tians, but Owar—prairie-folk. Who knew how many of her people
had ended up with the Owar?
 "We have discussed your problem with our Eldest, Shali,"
Omson eventually said. He referred to their accommodation, since
they were living with different tribes, which made it nearly
impossible to work together. Fortunately, the chieftains could
understand that.
 Chakotay smiled to himself when Omson referred to
Kathryn as Shali. It was the Tian equivalent for chieftain, and since
there weren't any female chieftains, it was great honor for her to be
called like that. The Tians didn't have a problem with gender-
specific roles. As long as the tribe accepted and respected their
chieftain it didn't matter if they were male or female. Tom's role
wasn't that easily accepted, though, but this was a different story.
 "There is one palace that is unoccupied, and we would be
glad if your people made it their home," Omson told them.
 Kathryn was happy to accept the generous offer. "Thank
you so much, all of you."
 "So, have you found all of your people?" Asoio wanted to
 The three of them exchanged glances. Eventually, Tuvok
answered. "Yes, and we are afraid to tell you that one of them is no
longer with us." Seven was the only one of whose untimely death
they could be sure of. As for the rest of their people, they were
determined to find them, and they would work out a plan later.
 Asoio let his gaze wander from one shali to the next, and
stopped at Siqok. "You have to add something, Siqok?"
 "Yes, I have a request to make, on behalf of my people," he
announced formally. Asoio gestured for him to go ahead. "I know I
also speak for Kathryn's people when I ask for Tom's being trained
as a healer. He has proved more than worthy and able."
 "This has to be discussed with the Eldest, Siqok," Omson
decided. "But I think that all of us are going to back your request.
We've heard about Tom, after all."
 "Thank you," Kathryn breathed, deeply touched. Tom had
saved her life. And they needed a healer, all of the tribes had one of
their own. If the Eldest consented to this, then Tom would be
trained by the Healers of Ima who never traveled but stayed with
the Balionn. Other than the shali, the healers were without
exception female.

 As it turned out, their moving to a palace of their own
turned out not only a blessing.
 Kathryn's sleep was restless, and she found herself
wandering the nightly deserted halls of the Voyager Palace more
often than she cared to admit, and ended up in front of Tom and
B'Elanna's rooms. There was something that pulled her there as if
by magic, or as though a spell had been put on her that made her
flee Chakotay's arms and curl on the cold tiles of the hall. She
wasn't sleepwalking, though, for she knew exactly what she did,
and could recall this the morning after.
 When she found herself in front of Tom's door this night,
she heard the sounds of a couple making love. She blushed a deep
crimson, for it was obvious that Tom and B'Elanna were still
deeply in love with each other. But she didn't only blush because of
embarrassment, but also because of bottomless jealousy and the
feeling that there was something in there that belonged to her as
well. A part of her was in there, but she couldn't quite put her
finger on it.
 Kathryn suddenly felt the urge to leave this place, and
despite the palace's being a building that let a great deal of air in,
she felt as though she'd suffocate if she had to stay in here much
longer. So she turned on her bare heels and ran as fast as she could.
But the further she ran, the stronger the feeling of abandoning
someone became, the tighter the grip around her throat became.
 Kathryn felt her body start and jerk when a big warm hand
spread itself on her naked stomach, and another one cupped her
burning cheek. From a far distance she could hear a soft humming,
it was a chant, a melody that had become so familiar to her, and yet
never failed to soothe her. The sound was drawing closer, and it
became deeper, took on more body. It was a soft humming, a
gentle sound, and she recognized the voice. It was Chakotay's.
Gradually, she allowed her tense body and mind to relax.
 Slowly, she managed to open her eyes. Only inches above
her hovered Chakotay's face, his dark eyes were filled with concern
and grief. His thumb was caressing her cheekbone, while he held
his other hand still on her stomach. It was the technique Saleah had
taught him to ease the pain of her nightmares.
 "Kathryn, what is it?" he wanted to know anxiously. This
had been the eighth night in a row that he'd had to wake her like
 "I don't know, Chakotay. I'm so sorry," she whispered, her
voice hoarse from the cry she hadn't let out.
 "Don't be, Kathryn," he said despite himself, despite
everything. If only he could help her. It was probably Nora and the
repressed memory of her that caused the nightmares. But both
Saleah and Tuvok had advised him repeatedly not to confront her
with Nora. Kathryn had to find back to her daughter on her own.
What neither of them knew was that as long as Kathryn was on her
quest, Chakotay would have to share her with Tom—if not in a
physical, but in a psychical sense.
 "Please hold me tight, Chakotay," she asked in a small
voice, sitting up. Her nightgown slid back down her waist,
covering his hand that was now resting on the small of her back.
She wrapped her arms around him and put her head on his
 Chakotay sighed and tightened his grip around her. She
was still very thin, and afraid of holding her too tight Chakotay
didn't dare to hold her as strongly as he would have liked to. If only
he could get his former Kathryn back. She had changed so much,
not only her body. She was a mother now, and yet wasn't, and the
feeling tore him apart. Something in him let him know, though,
that Kathryn was experiencing the same, but in contrast to him she
wasn't even able to put her finger on it. Chakotay wanted his
Kathryn back. Subconsciously, he tightened the embrace.
 Kathryn sighed. "And then I thought you didn't love me
 Chakotay was shocked. Of course did he still love her, but
he had to get to know her again, or, rather, find Kathryn's former
self. "I do love you," he said emphatically. "What made you think I
 "You always seem so preoccupied around me. Like the
others. You treat me as though I were a stranger," she said. She had
put all her frustration into her tone. Her friends still treated her as
though she were a little child. But didn't they realize what she'd
gone through? Even she didn't feel like herself at times, there was
this feeling of loss, of abandoning someone important. But this
didn't mean they had to treat her as though she were psycho.
 It was all Chakotay could do not to tell her then and there.
She had to find out for herself, he knew that. "We're just very
worried about you. We don't know what has happened to you after
the earthquake," he lied. They knew very well what had happened.
Oh, how much did he want Tuvok to give her the padds Naomi had
found in the desert. How much did he want her to read them. But
Tuvok wouldn't listen to him, of course. He was of the opinion that
she had left the padds behind on purpose, just like she'd willed
herself to forget about Nora. If they gave her the padds, they might
as well tell her themselves.
 "I felt lost," she offered. "It felt as though I had abandoned
more than just Tom that day. There is something ... someone ..."
 Chakotay hoped she hadn't noticed the shiver that went
through his body when she said that. A smile brightened his face,
and he hugged her let a little bit closer. She was close, so close to
finding herself again. "You'll find out about it," Chakotay
encouraged her. Gently he made her look at him. He was
mesmerized by the hunted look in her deep blue eyes that looked
so much bigger these days. But he also found determination in
them, and bit by bit, he grew more convinced that he would get
*his* Kathryn back. "I love you, Kathryn."
 "I love you, too," she replied, smiling.
 And somewhere in the darkness of her memory she heard
herself shrieking his name in ecstasy, and she saw a face close to
hers, lacking the indigo lines—and mouthing an other woman's
 Chakotay and Kathryn kissed, passionately, forgetting
everything else around them. He made her arch into him with the
hand on the small of her back. Kathryn bent her head, exposing the
long line of her throat to him, wanting him to kiss her there. He did
so, and in between his kisses he breathed her name against her
 Suddenly, Kathryn petrified.
 She pushed herself away from him. Surprised, Chakotay let
go of her. "What is it, Kathryn?"
 "Don't, please don't do this to me," she whispered, reaching
for his hand under her nightgown, pulling it away from her skin.
She was trembling all over her body.
 Chakotay didn't know what he'd done wrong. He reached
for her hand, but she pulled it away. "What is it, Kathryn?" he
repeated worriedly.
 "We mustn't do this, it's a mistake," she blurted, almost
breathless with excitement.
 "Why?" Chakotay didn't get it. She loved him, didn't she?
Only then did it dawn on him. And he felt the heat rise in his
 This was about lovemaking. And the last time she'd made
love, she'd conceived Nora. From Tom.

 Chakotay willed himself to calm down. He was standing in
front of Tom's door, head bent. Although he was sure that Tom
would never hurt Kathryn, he had to know. He had to have Tom
tell him, so he could be absolutely sure. There had once been a
time when he didn't trust a single word from the young man's
mouth, but that had changed, thank goodness.
 He rapped his knuckles against the door, and a cheerful
voice invited him in.
 B'Elanna carefully watched Nora drink her juice. The
serious, concentrated expression on the girl's face made Chakotay
smile, despite everything. It wasn't Nora's fault, if anyone's. But he
still had to find out about that.
 "Good morning, Chakotay," B'Elanna said.
 "Hi," Chakotay murmured. "Where's Tom?"
 "Tom's here." His voice made Chakotay whirl around. Tom
was standing in the doorway to the bathroom, drying his face with
a towel. In order not to spoil it, he had left his shirt unbuttoned. He
smiled cheerfully at his guest. "What can I do for you, Chakotay?
How's Kathryn?"
 "That's why I need to talk to you." He looked at B'Elanna
and Nora. The little one looked at them curiously, then smiled.
B'Elanna nodded, she had understood. She lifted Nora up to sit on
her hip.
 "I think it's time for a walk. Give Chakotay a kiss, honey,"
B'Elanna said in an even tone, as though she didn't know what was
going on. However, she was well aware of the tension in the room.
Since Nora had proven sensitive to moods, she deemed it better to
leave the two of them alone.
 Chakotay smiled as B'Elanna approached him, and he bent
at the waist so Nora could give him a big kiss on the cheek.
Despite everything, the girl seemed to have doted on him.
Chakotay couldn't but admit that she was a very lovely girl, and
that he was falling into her. How couldn't he? She was Kathryn's
 "So," Tom made after the two ladies had left.
 "I don't want you to get the wrong impression, Tom,"
Chakotay carefully began. "But I need to know about Nora."
 Tom blinked. "Gee, Chakotay, you're not going to tell me
you don't know about where little children come from."
 Chakotay managed to stay calm. "Well, I think I have an
idea. Very vague, though."
 "What are you getting at?" Tom asked confusedly. He had
sobered immediately. A suspicion crept into his mind. If proven
right, he promised himself to react sensibly.
 "What—exactly—were the circumstances of Nora's
 Tom exhaled slowly. "We didn't have a candlelight dinner,
but I didn't force Kathryn to sleep with me, either—and we weren't
forced to by a third party. It just happened."
 "Look, Chakotay," Tom tried to explain. "I've already told
you. The two of us were very desperate. We didn't know if we
would ever see any of the crew again, B'Elanna and you included. I
admit that it wasn't the best idea, but Nora has given us so much."
 "Last night, Kathryn had one of her nightmares again,"
Chakotay began. "I tried to comfort her, and after she'd calmed
down, I kissed her, and ... well, I didn't mean to make love to her
then. I don't feel comfortable with that until she accepts Nora." He
drew a deep breath. This wasn't easy for him. A very private man,
he'd never discuss anything like this with someone else but his
Spirit Guide—let alone with Tom Paris. But it felt right. "Are you
in love with Kathryn, Tom?"
 Tom swallowed hard. "No, I'm not. I love her as a friend,
like you love B'Elanna."
 Chakotay smiled. "Thank you, Tom." He turned and
walked to the door.
 "Chakotay!" Tom stopped him. "Kathryn loves you.
Actually, it was your name she cried when she was with me."

 The streets of Ima were loud and crowded, buzzing with
life. Everybody was in a great mood, which rubbed off on the
whole city. There was a market in the streets every day, and there
was nothing imaginable which wasn't available. The air was
impregnated with the heavy aroma of fruit, vegetables, herbs and
spices, raw as well as cooked. Tanners were displaying their
products, which also had a rich, heavy scent. And of course there
were all the other things, from clothes to hardware to books,
animals and plants.
 It wasn't loud though, for the Tians preferred to go about
their business calmly. They didn't see the point in arguing loudly
with their customers. They did bargaining, of course, but for that,
they didn't have to shout at each other. So the streets were filled
with the incessant murmur of voices, and the atmosphere was
almost solemn.
 Kathryn was on her own, browsing through the stands,
looking for nothing in particular. She stopped at a silversmith's,
admiring the beautiful work displayed on indigo-colored fabric.
 "Shali," a friendly voice greeted her. She turned and found
a boy of maybe ten years looking at her. She smiled at the boy and
said hello, for lack of a better word. Too bad she didn't have
Chakotay around so he could interpret for her. She was curious as
to how came the boy knew who she was.
 "How are you?" he asked her in a strongly accented, but
otherwise fluent English.
 "I'm fine, thank you. Who are you? How come you speak
my language?" Kathryn wanted to know.
 "My name is Lio. My friend Amro is Naomi's friend," the
boy explained. He grinned at her, then he grabbed her hand. "Come
on in. My mother has something for you."
 Before Kathryn could realize what was going on, she was
being pulled into the cool dimness of the silversmith's shop. She
was still surprised that the boy spoke English. She would have to
talk with Naomi about this.
 Lio pulled her behind him, and found his mother immersed
in her work. She was sitting at her workbench in the backyard of
the building where she had enough light for her work. He called
out something to her in the Tian language. The woman turned, and
smiled at her guest in a welcoming manner.
 "We have something for you, Shali. It's from Omson," Lio
explained while his mother produced a small bundle from a drawer
of her workbench. She was a petite woman, with long slender
fingers that seemed made for her profession. Lio's mother smiled
with pride as she opened the bundle and presented a necklace to
her. It was a choker, in fact, and never before had Kathryn seen a
more beautiful piece of jewelry. There were five chains, two of
which were decorated with dark-blue pearls that shone like lapis
lazuli. But the most stunning part of the necklace was the
centerpiece: A silver circle, into which Lio's mother had worked
the lines of Chakotay's tattoo—in the same lapis lazuli-like
material of which she'd made the pearls. All in all, the jewelry
wasn't broader than two of her fingers.
 Kathryn was absolutely stunned by this beautifully crafted
necklace. She didn't know what to say.
 "Take it. It's a gift to the Shali of the Voyager Tribe," Lio
encouraged her.
 "I can't. It's too precious," Kathryn said.
 "No," Lio's mother shook her head. It was the first time
she'd said anything. She nudged her son to explain. "It'll only
become precious when it's worn by the person who it was made
for. Until then, it's useless."
 Before Kathryn could turn round, Lio's mother was behind
her, lifting her hair. Then the cold silver touched her skin, and
suddenly Kathryn felt that it was right. She didn't flinch, but let it
happen. When the catch clicked shut it was as though she'd always
worn the choker. She raised her hand and let her fingers trail over
the silver. Lio handed her a mirror, and the woman that looked
back at her was a totally different woman than she remembered
from the last time she'd looked in a mirror.
 She still looked pale and thin, but it was as though the
choker were a replacement of her uniform. For she found a mask of
dignity and determination looking at her, yet it wasn't void of
warmth or compassion. Looking back at her was Captain Kathryn
Janeway. But she wasn't a captain anymore. She was a shali. And it
was her task to reunite her tribe, and her clan. She had to face the
feeling of abandonment. And she had to go back to Chakotay—if
he was still willing to share a life with her.
 "Thank you so much," she whispered. She was frustrated,
she couldn't think of enough ways to express her gratitude for the
 "Bless you, child," Lio's mother said. She nodded to show
her she appreciated her simple words.

 The choker had always been the female shalis' privilege,
and when Kathryn was walking through the streets now, she was
recognized as a shali. She smiled with her new confidence, the
nightmares forgotten. Kathryn hadn't felt so much like her self in
ages, and it was an exhilarating feeling.
 "Mama!" she heard a high-pitched child's voice call out
from the incessant murmur of voices. But she didn't pay any
attention to it, because she was so determined getting back to the
palace. Kathryn was preoccupied, too. Why had Lio's mother
chosen the lines of Chakotay's tattoo to adorn the centerpiece of the
choker instead of the sleek arrowhead that had always been the
symbol of Starfleet?
 "Mama!" cried the child again, but still Kathryn didn't
listen. Only when she heard her own name did she turn around.
Kathryn searched the crowd for a familiar face, and once again it
was B'Elanna who'd spotted her in the markets. As usual, Nora was
sitting on her hip. "Mama!" the child cried out in delight.
 Kathryn smiled to herself. It must be wonderful for
B'Elanna to hear her daughter call out for her. She waved at them,
since they were on the other side of the street. The silversmith's
shop had been in a quieter side street, and Kathryn had emerged
from it only a few minutes ago. Now she was in the busy main
street, which was used by carriages and people riding on their
crudoi as well.
 Kathryn stepped into the middle of the street to join
B'Elanna and her daughter on the other side. She didn't pay any
attention to the warning cries, because she didn't feel she was on
the receiving end of the shouts that grew louder and more insistent.
She was halfway across the street when she saw a shocked
expression on B'Elanna's face. Kathryn turned in the direction
everybody was pointing at, but it was too late.
 She was petrified with shock when she saw the pair of
crudoi pulling a carriage galloping toward her at an incredible
speed. But Kathryn saw the fear in their eyes, and the foam on their
mouths. Something must have terrified them so much that they
were bolting. Nothing and no one could stop them.

 "Kathryn, watch out!" B'Elanna cried at her. But Kathryn
was petrified, and all she could see and hear were the bolting
animals. "Kathryn!" B'Elanna shouted again. When Kathryn still
didn't react, she stepped out into the street, clutching Nora tightly
to her. Responding easily to atmosphere and mood, Nora joined in
B'Elanna's warning shouts, only did she cry one of the few words
she knew.
 "Mama!" Nora shrieked.
 Kathryn turned her head at the toddler, and B'Elanna saw
recognition and realization dawn on her captain's face. She started
moving with what seemed infinitesimal slowness, and when she
was close enough, B'Elanna grabbed her roughly by the arm,
pulling her towards her. The younger woman had the greater
momentum, though, and thus she ended up in the street. Nora was
digging her chubby fingers into the material of her shirt. She was
too terrified all of a sudden as though she could scream.
 And then the inevitable happened. The whole scene had
passed in a matter of a few brief moments only, and by the time
B'Elanna found herself in the street, the crudoi had come close.
B'Elanna felt a thud in her back as the crudoi ran into her shoulder
first. She lost her balance, but thanks to her workouts on the
holodeck she managed to turn so Nora was as safe as possible.
Strangely enough she noticed that the crudoi had lost the carriage
earlier, and as relief washed over her she was impervious to the
pain that seared through her body as she crashed into the hard
street. Only when she hit her head hard on the kerb did she come
to. She hugged Nora tightly to her, she didn't want her to get
injured as well as she could vent some of the pain's energy with it.
 There were so many faces hovering above her, turning in
circles, getting blurred. Hands were reaching out for her, urging
her to let go of the child. But to B'Elanna this seemed as though
coming from miles away. For a brief instant she thought she'd
recognized Kathryn's face. She could let go of Nora then, couldn't
she? Oh well ... and for the first time in her life B'Elanna was glad
to let her body and mind fall into the warm comfort of
unconsciousness. There was no pain there.

 "She's saved my life!" Kathryn repeated for the umpteenth
time. She was shaking all over her body. It wasn't as though
B'Elanna had saved her life for the first time, but this time it had
been special. However, Kathryn couldn't put her finger on it. She
sought comfort in the warmth radiating from the child's body in her
arms. Nora looked confused, too confused to know whether she
should cry or smile, so she'd let herself fall into listlessness. Her
big blue eyes were open wide, and she'd curled her fists into the
material of Kathryn's dress.
 Kathryn was padding her back, turning slowly in the waist
to calm her down. She'd kiss her auburn curls every once in a
 Chakotay joined her, kissed Kathryn's cheek. He was
beside himself with worry about his best friend. They had brought
B'Elanna to the Palace of the Balionn, where she was being treated
by Litan and Enba. They wouldn't let Tom help them in the
beginning, but then they gave in to his stubbornness. As it turned
out, treating B'Elanna helped him more than waiting while the
others were doing the job.
 Kathryn looked at Chakotay. She knew that despite his
silence he listened to her. "I'll never forgive myself if ..."
 "Sh, don't say it, Kathryn," Chakotay whispered. He closed
his eyes, clenched his teeth. B'Elanna had made it through the
crash of their escape pod with a few bruises only whereas Seven
had died. It was impossible that she should have survived that in
order to be run down by a pair of furious crudoi. This didn't befit
her—or any of them, for that matter. She was Klingon, after all.
 "I'm so sorry."
 "No, don't, it wasn't your fault." Chakotay didn't sound
very convincing, and he knew it. The problem was that he was
right; it would have been just oh so comfortable to say: if it hadn't
been for your crossing the street—but then he might as well damn
the day.
 "'tay." Nora said in a small voice, and reached out for
Chakotay. She couldn't pronounce his name properly yet, but
everybody knew what she meant.
 Chakotay had to smile despite himself. Nora was a little
angel. He lifted her into his arms and let her snuggle up against
him. She fell asleep almost instantaneously. Her calm rubbed off
on Chakotay, and he managed to sit down at last. Kathryn turned
and watched him. And suddenly, something deep within her broke.
 *How can he accept Nora so easily? I've betrayed him, for
God's sake, with Tom of all people, and yet he loves her,* she
thought as a dagger was turned slowly in her stomach.
 Chakotay lifted his head and looked at her intently.
"Because I love you, Kathryn, and because ..." Chakotay's voice
trembled, broke. He drew a deep breath. " ... and because I love
 Kathryn looked at him with big eyes, her brows knitting,
her chin quivering. Had she really said that? "But she's my
daughter, after all. She'll always remind us of the things I did," she
blurted. Her voice was strangely calm, though, sounding very
matter-of-factly. It was her captain's voice.
 "Yes, she will. And I never ever do want to forget it. She's
the reason why I've got you back—if you still want to be with me."
 She had to give in to her feelings then. She tried to hide
them behind her hand pressed to her mouth, but the sob escaped
her nonetheless. Her body shook violently. How could she ever
have underestimated him in that way? He'd always loved her,
despite Nora. How had she dared try him so hard? In denying her
daughter, she found comfort for herself, but at the same time it had
been so painful for Chakotay. No, she didn't deserve him, not after
what she'd done to him. She had been so damn selfish and egotistic
she was repulsed by herself.
 Why couldn't he just shout at her, even hit her, show her
what he thought of her? Instead he kept saying he loved her. How
deep was this man's love that he could forgive her even that?
Kathryn doubted that she could forgive him if it had been the other
way round. Suddenly, she was afraid she couldn't love him enough,
that she couldn't give as much of herself as he did. She didn't want
this, she didn't want to take more than she was able to give.
 "I don't know," was the answer that came to her mind, but
Chakotay never heard it. Before Kathryn could say anything, the
door opened and out came Litan and Enba. They looked worried
and exhausted.
 "How is she?" Chakotay jumped and demanded to know.
He realized too late that he was still holding Nora, but to his relief
the girl didn't wake. She was fast asleep, the day's events had cost
her a lot of energy.
 "Well," Litan began, looking for the right words. "She has
fallen into what Tom calls a coma?"
 Chakotay closed his eyes, the muscles in his jaw working
hard. "Yes, a coma."
 "That's all we can do or say at the moment. I'm sorry,"
Enba said.
 "Thank you anyway," Kathryn whispered, but since she
didn't speak the Tian language, Chakotay had to translate for her.
He took it that Kathryn had gotten the gist of the short conversation
from this single simple word that meant both life and death.
 "Tom needs you now," Litan advised, before she followed
Enba down the corridor.
 "B'Elanna will make it. She's Klingon, after all," Chakotay
said softly, but he could fool neither himself nor Kathryn.

 Tom's eyes were brimming with tears, and he was so very
pale that Kathryn hardly recognized him. This wasn't the cheerful
man she knew. He would crack jokes to cover up his true feelings,
he would smile; that was how Kathryn knew him to be. But not
like this, a shivering bundle clutching B'Elanna's hand in his. Her
feeling of guilt overwhelmed her.
 "Tom," Chakotay said softly and touched the younger
man's shoulder in compassion. "Take a rest, I'll watch over her,
 Tom looked at the Dorvanian and nodded, letting go of
B'Elanna's hand. He got up and let Kathryn lead him to a far corner
of the room, he even pressed himself into her for comfort. "She
looks so peaceful, just as though she were sleeping," Tom managed
eventually. He wrapped his arms around Kathryn and held her
tight. Kathryn didn't quite know how to react, she felt so guilty; to
her it wasn't right to comfort him.
 "It's all my fault," she blamed herself again.
 "No, it's no one's fault. If it hadn't been for B'Elanna, it
would be you lying there, and Chakotay worried," Tom said. He
pulled away from her a little so he could look at her.
 "Yes," she whispered. "It would be me lying there. I'd
rather it was me. It should be me."
 Tom was shocked. He couldn't believe his own ears. Had
she really just said that? "Don't say something like that, Kay."
 Kathryn snorted, the sound mixing with the sob she'd
restrained for so long now. All of a sudden, her new feeling of
confidence had gone with the wind. "Ever since I've lost Voyager,
I've been but a nuisance to all of you, dammit, I have been since we
were stranded in this godforsaken quadrant. It *is* all my fault,"
she cried.
 Anger had been welling up in the pit of Tom's stomach. He
could barely control it, but when she said that, he was lost. He
grabbed her rudely by the shoulders and shook her for all he was
worth. Maybe she'd come to her senses that way. "Don't you ever
dare say something like this again, Kathryn Janeway!" he barked at
her. Then he noticed Chakotay looking at them, and he lowered his
voice. "Yes, you have made mistakes, we all have, every single one
of us. I've never known you to be a woman to wallow in self-pity."
 Kathryn's voice was very soft, but full of venom when she
spoke: "That's the problem, Tom. You just know Captain Janeway.
But I am Kathryn now, and she's different from the captain."
 This time it was Tom who snorted. "Oh c'mon, Kathryn.
Cut that crap. Starfleet doesn't let schizophrenics command their
 "But there is no more ship to command!" she maintained.
 "Oh yes, there is! We need you, Kathryn," Tom grabbed
her by the shoulders again and looked her straight in the eye. "You
are our leader, be it as our captain or as our shali. It doesn't matter
if there's a ship or a palace. We *need* you, Kathryn."
 "Besides, you are my most favorite mistake. You and

 "Here you go," the Balionn said, and made sure that the
device was fixed securely around the Doctor's arm, just a little
below his mobile emitter. Another Balionn did the same for Tom.
"The device renders you invisible for your surroundings, yet you
will be able to see yourselves and each other."
 Tom nodded in appreciation. "Thank you."
 The Balionn just nodded. He was tall yet petit, but at the
same time he appeared strong, maybe stronger than one would
think him. His long jet-black hair was pulled back behind his back
where it dangled in a single thick braid between his shoulder-
blades. He was dressed into a light-yellow colored coat, earthy-red
trousers and a white shirt. "Thank us by healing B'Elanna."
 "You bet we will, eh, Doc?" Tom said more cheerfully
than he felt.
 "That remains to be seen. Injuries like those suffered by
Lieutenant Torres need immediate attention to assure complete
recovery. The longer we wait the lesser her full recuperation," the
Doctor lectured, a stern furrow carving deep lines into his brow.
 "Of course," Sumrakù, the Balionn, answered. "Transport
when ready."
 Tom nodded at Lieutenant Cain, who was on duty in the
transporter-room and waiting for their mark. She slid her fingers up
the controls, and with the familiar whitish column of sparkles the
figures of Tom Paris and the Doctor dematerialized.
 Sumrakù smiled at her. "Your transporter technology is as
amazing as ever," he commented. "I'll be in my rooms on Tianess
 "I'll let the Captain know, sir," Cain informed him.


 "Captain, there's a space station in the orbit of the seventh
planet of this system, and I can read Federation technology in the
area, as well," Harry Kim reported excitedly from his station. He
sounded less excited than he used to sound, he'd learned a lot in the
past five years. But truth be told, the excitement rubbed off on the
other crew on the Bridge as well, even though they didn't let it
show. This time, however, Tuvok didn't reprimand him for his
 Kathryn turned in her seat to look at the Asian ensign. In
front of her, Tom Paris' back had tensed almost imperceptibly at
the news of the sensor readings, and next to her, a wave of relief
had washed over her First Officer's darkly handsome face. Yet it
had been replaced soon by an air of alertness. They had learned to
be careful when it came to Federation readings emanating from
places other than Voyager. Before Kathryn could order Harry to
open a com-channel, they were being hailed.
 On the screen, a dark alien face appeared. It was probably
a man. They couldn't be so sure with the long dark lashes that
framed his pitch-black eyes. His long jet-black hair was pulled
back behind his head. He wore simple but elegant looking
garments, and only little jewelry. His thin lips were bent into a
friendly smile. But one could never know. Maybe a smile was the
equivalent of a snarl here.
 "I am Sumrakù of the Balionn. Welcome to our world,
Voyager," he greeted them. Chakotay, who had been glancing
inconspicuously at the panel between Kathryn and his seat, was
amazed to find that Sumrakù's words weren't translated by the
 "Thank you," Kathryn said softly, utterly surprised. "How
come you know us, Sumrakù?"
 "That is a long story we would like to share with you,
Captain Janeway. Please give us the honor of accepting our
hospitality on Tianess Ayil."
 "It would be a pleasure," Kathryn answered, not a bit

 The answer to this strange encounter was utterly logical. It
was in fact so logical that they didn't doubt the Balionn's story for
one second. One term ago—which was two years' time according
to Terran time—the extended long range sensors of Tianess Ayil
had detected Voyager. But before they had had a chance to contact
them, a chain reaction in the enhanced warp core tore the ship
apart. The only thing the Balionn could do was making sure that
the escape pods landed on the planet their space station was
orbiting: Tianess Oyem. They contacted the shuttles and the Delta
Flyer, even the Talaxian trade ship and explained to their crew why
they should dock at the station.
 Although not a Class Y planet, Tianess Oyem provided a
special kind of radiation that provided protection from cellular
decay as experienced by Voyager. That was the reason why the
Balionn were, despite their warp-capability, unable to explore
space beyond the orbit of their planet. Until then, all of their
attempts of creating some kind of Tian radiation shielding to
provide for their ships had failed. As a consequence, all of the
Balionn's encounters with other peoples depended on the latters'
visiting Tianess Ayil.
 Another side effect of the Tian radiation was the most
fascinating phenomenon of a stationary parallel universe known.
Some kind of temporal shielding had had two different races
develop on the planet, including two different time zones. Thanks
to the radiation the Balionn and the Tians—and the Owar—
inhabited the same planet at the same time, but they weren't aware
of each other, because they lived in parallel universes. The
Balionn, who had developed differently and more quickly, had
discovered this phenomenon by chance.
 As it happened, part of Voyager's crew in the escape pods
had landed in the Balionn's universe, another part in the Tians'
 Naturally, the Balionn had an equivalent of the Prime
Directive which was to ascertain that the evolution of the Tians
wasn't influenced by the Balionn. However, some of the Balionn
lived among the Tians, but only after extensive training. They were
there to study their *neighbours*, but were submitted to a strict law
of non-interference. Practically, they lived like the Tians.
 But then the Voyagers, as they were called, had come, and
after the crew on Tianess Ayil had convinced the Balionn that their
people would live as inconspicuously as possible—because of the
Prime Directive—they had been left alone. The highest ranking
officer—thanks to his being part of the command crew—, Harry
and Sumrakù had decided to let them live among the Tians until
they would discover their special situation. Which, according to
Harry, would come rather sooner than later.
 Then, the accident had happened, and at the same time,
Voyager had arrived. By then, Harry and the others had found out
the reason why their enhanced warp core had failed: they were the
duplicates of Voyager which had been left behind on the Demon
planet. The Tian radiation counteracted the molecular decay so that
they were safe with the Tians and the Balionn. The newly arrived
Voyager was the *original* for a lack of a better word. And only
their Doctor could save B'Elanna's life. The Tian radiation had
rendered the mobile emitter useless.

"It's good to see me again," Harry said cheerfully when he
saw himself manning Ops of Voyager. He was still wearing the
uniform, but it was more of a reminder of who he had been than
representation of the United Federation of Planets.
His counterpart nodded, as he received the co-ordinates for
the transport site.

 B'Elanna's eyes flitted open at a hissing sensation against
her neck. It almost felt like a hypospray being administered to her.
At the same time she thought she could feel the Doctor's soft warm
hand on her cheek. "Doctor?" she asked tentatively.
 But there was no-one to be seen in the dimly lit room. The
faint light of dawn filtering in through the headlight didn't suffice
to take the dark out of the corners of the chamber. It had probably
only been a dream. Her lids still felt leaden, and her head was
ringing. A strange tingling sensation filled her body, it was as
though it had gone to sleep and now the blood was surging back
into it. She was so tired.
 The Doctor and Tom had been sitting on either side of her
bedding, the hologram taking readings with his tricorder, the man
watching her anxiously. It was bizarre, to say the least, to know
B'Elanna safe and sound on Tianess Oyem—in the universe next
door—and yet he had treated her for otherwise fatal injuries. She
looked different, too. Her hair was longer and curly. Her
complexion was in spite of the accident darker than *his*
 The Doctor nodded contentedly. He'd rather not have had
to wake her, but he had to make sure that their treatment had been
effective. With her asking for him, they could be sure that she
hadn't suffered permanent injuries. "Get well soon, B'Elanna," he
said, knowing full well that she couldn't hear him. The shielding
prevented any sound by them rouse suspicion among the Tians.
 "Are you all right, Ensign?" he asked as he noticed the
man's unusually pensive face.
 "Yes, it's just been so weird," he said, looking at the
 "Weird is part of the job, as the Captain would say, Mr.
Paris," the hologram quipped.
 "I wonder what their lives have been like in the past two
years. It's so hard to believe that they're us, however they're
completely different," Tom mused.
 "I see. Well, we'd better get back to the ship now," the
Doctor suggested. Tom nodded lost in thought.
 Part of him wanted to know what the lives of these people
had been like in the past two years, part of him mused that it
probably hadn't been any easier than theirs. For all he knew, they
were still struggling to rebuild their lives. He just hoped that they
weren't making things more difficult. A wistful smile graced his
tired features when he thought of Kathryn and Chakotay. When
thinking of their Demonic counterparts, he felt it right to refer to
them with their given names. Besides, they weren't really in a
command structure here, were they?
 Tom would have liked to talk to his Demonic counterpart,
but the Balionn and Captain Janeway had by mutual agreement
decided that it'd be better not to attract attention. Both knew,
however, that that was nearly impossible, it was just a matter of
time until the Voyagers found out. And as of yet, the Captain
hadn't scheduled their leave-taking.
 The Ensign smiled softly to himself as he heard the Doctor
contact Lieutenant Cain to have them beamed back to Voyager.

 "Hey there," Tom whispered softly as B'Elanna opened her
eyes and tried to adjust them to the bright daylight pouring in
through the opening in the ceiling. He stood to release the awning,
then he returned to his wife's side.
 "Hey," B'Elanna replied softly, her voice cracking and
 "Today's Special: breakfast in bed," Tom announced more
cheerfully than he felt as he swept his tricorder over her body. He
forgot his banter when his attention was drawn to some strange
readings on the display of his most valuable instrument. His brow
knitted in utter confusion.
 "What is it?" B'Elanna asked in alarm. She felt so good this
morning, surely her little accident hadn't been that bad. As the
memories slowly found their way back into her conscious, so did a
face. "Where's Nora? Is she all right?"
 Tom didn't answer her immediately. He couldn't believe
his eyes, and yet he was sure he was awake. The injuries B'Elanna
had suffered had been too severe as though he could have repaired
them. And yet they were gone now. Well, not entirely, it was going
to take B'Elanna a few more days to fully get back to her former
self, but other than that she was—
 "Oh my God!" he whispered under his breath.
 "What is it?" demanded B'Elanna in growing concern. She
propped herself up on her elbows. She was happy to find that the
tingling sensation was almost gone by now.
 "I—nothing, love," he managed. "You'll have to rest for a
few more days until you can get up." He even conjured up a smile
for her as he tried to remain calm. Hopefully, she wouldn't notice
the suspicious-looking sparkle in his eyes.
 "Fine," B'Elanna smiled. "So, what's for breakfast?"
 "I'll have you brought some," he assured her. When she
asked him why he wanted to go, he said: "Kathryn wants me to
keep her posted on every bit of progress you're making."
 B'Elanna nodded, but she had the impression as though
there was something more, something which he chose not to tell
her, for whatever reasons. But he could have told her about Nora at

 Kathryn sat down behind her desk. Since they had docked
at Tianess Ayil she hadn't used it much except for official
receptions. Mostly she'd met with Sumrakù, the representative of
the Balionn. The Commander of the station had come to see here
as well, but then only to discuss organizational issues with her,
such as supplies, shore-leave and the like.
 Now, Tom and the Doctor were occupying the two seats in
front of her desk. They'd reported to her immediately after their
return from Ima, which belonged to the Tian half of the universe. It
had been obvious that with their interference with B'Elanna's
treatment they would raise suspicion on part of the Voyagers. She
had informed Sumrakù beforehand, of course, but after a short
discussion with both the Balionn in Ima and Itiryionn—the Balionn
equivalent of Ima—had agreed to the Doctor's interference.
 The Voyagers would discover the *miracle* of B'Elanna's
healing, and they could be trusted to find the explanation for it: the
traces that were left behind by the treatment with Starfleet medical
instruments. They were but minor radiation, unharmful to most
species' health, but everpresent and detectable by tricorders. That
way, doctors could find out out about old injuries, even if they had
been attended to.
 "Well?" Kathryn demanded now.
 "Ensign Paris and I have successfully operated on
Lieutenant Torres. If we hadn't treated her she would have died,"
the Doctor reported.
 Kathryn nodded. On the one hand she was happy that they
were able to help her, on the other hand had this felt like a direct
violation of the Prime Directive and its Balionn equivalent, the Act
of Ayil. Which it hadn't been, since in a way the Voyagers of Ima
were still Starfleet, and it had been the Balionn of Ima who had
requested the Doctor's help. Not only had they found a very loyal
friend in B'Elanna, they had also feared that if B'Elanna had died,
neither Tom nor Kathryn nor Chakotay would have recovered from
it. They had established a precedent.
 *It's always good to hide behind rules and regulations
when it comes to yourself, doesn't it?* Kathryn scolded herself.
She was happy that the Demonic crew—as they'd come to call their
duplicates—had made it off this hell and to this very hospitable
world. She was curious as to how they'd fared, but she felt
uncomfortable meeting any of the Voyagers. Correction: she felt
uncomfortable at the prospect of having to meet herself—other
than Harry. But who said that she had to meet the Shali?
 "Thank you, Doctor," she nodded and smiled an
appreciative smile.
 "Captain?" Tom asked.
 "Yes?" Kathryn wasn't sure whether she wanted to hear
what he was going to tell her.
 "Don't you feel we owe the Voyagers an explanation?"
 Kathryn sighed. Oh yes, she did feel so. Lying awake the
previous nights she had asked herself again and again what it
would be like to be stranded on Oyem. She'd resolved that she
would feel a lot better knowing that part of her was going to make
it home after all. Even if it was duplicates. And the prospect of
exploring the Delta Quadrant by means of Tian shieding was
enticing as it was frustrating: they would never be able to return to
 Slowly, she nodded. "I have that on my agenda for
tonight's meeting," she said.
 Satisfied, Tom nodded. "Thank you."

 "Are you sure?"
 Instead of an answer Tom handed Chakotay his tricorder
so he could see for himself. Chakotay studied the readings
carefully. Eventually, he looked up from the device and handed it
back to Tom. "There's no doubt."
 "I told you," Tom muttered.
 Chakotay couldn't help a smile. "I didn't mean to
undermine your expertise, Tom."
 "Of course not," he quipped, and was angry at himself for
feeling differently.
 "What's wrong with you, Tom?" Chakotay wanted to
 "Maybe I was just expecting a more enthusiastic
 Chakotay exhaled slowly. Sure, the news were intriguing
to say the least, but in their situation it might be better not to cling
too tightly to each straw proffered. The disappointment would be
only greater if things turned out differently. "I can understand you,
Tom. I feel the same way. But it can't hurt to be careful."
 Just then Kathryn joined them in the garden where they
met every morning to have their breakfast. She looked very
surprised to find Tom here, and talking so *normally* regarding
the circumstances. How was B'Elanna?
 "She's as good as new," Tom answered. He handed her the
 When she looked up from the device a mixture of emotions
displayed themselves on her face. Utter relief and confusion were
the most prominent ones, but there was also something which they
hadn't seen in a while: the determination for which she'd been
known so well. And with it, part of the Captain came back—or
should they call it Shali?
 "How is this possible? Why would some of our crew have
cured B'Elanna and not made themselves noticeable? That's not
very much like the Doctor," she added with a wry smile quirking
her lips.
 Both men had to admit that she looked better every day.
She was finally putting back some flesh on her, and along with
that, parts of the former Kathryn returned. But she would never
become the old Kathryn again, just as every single one of them
wouldn't. Kathryn looked more beautiful than ever, more at peace
with herself, despite the events of the previous day.
 "Exactly," Chakotay nodded.
 "Is there any way to find out more about that?" Kathryn
was suddenly all business. Tom wasn't quite sure if he liked that.
But if it helped her overcome her trauma, who was he to ask for
 "We could ask B'Elanna if she'd noticed anything strange
last night," Tom suggested.
 "Is she up to visitors yet?"
 Tom smiled wryly. "She had secret visitors last night, after

 Kathryn was restless. She was pacing her quarters, empty
mug in hand, her uniform jacket carelessly dropped over the back
of a chair, her hair in disarray. The captain of Voyager had the
habit of drawing her hands through her cinnamon hair like a comb
when she was deep in her thoughts. And she was barefoot. Her
boots and socks lay in an unorderly heap next to the chair.
Eventually, the brooding woman stopped in front of one of the
viewports. She raised the mug to her lips, only to find it empty.
She'd drank the last drop of her beloved coffee long ago. With a
sigh she put the mug down onto the edge of the viewport.
Accidentally, her gaze fell on her bare feet. How long since she
had last walked on earth, grass or a paved street?
 Far too long for her liking. She curled her painted toenails
into the soft, thick carpet. How long since her counterpoint, the
Shali, had last curled her toes into the carpet like this?
 Two years. To her, this sounded like an incredibly long
time. Although she knew that she could make peace with her
situation. After all, they shared the experience of New Earth.
Kathryn was sure that it had taken the Shali quite some time until
she'd stopped missing her ship.
 Why did she refer to her as the Shali? It was her, after all.
It was her memories, her experience, her—well, everything that
shaped the character. But the physical shape wasn't made of flesh
and blood. Granted, it was a life form, that *silver blood*. A
mimetic life-form that would actually die in living conditions like
Voyager's. Kathryn found it still miraculous that the mimetic ship,
the Demon Voyager, had actually made it this far before her
systems had failed. But she had been saved by the Balionn. Well,
not Voyager herself, because Tianess Ayil couldn't extend their
shield far enough to actually provide the radiation essential to
mimetic life-forms. At least they had been able to make sure that
her crew made it to safety—most of it, anyway.
 The chirp of her communicator called her back to reality.
"Chakotay to Janeway."
 "Janeway here."
 "May I come in?"
 Instead of an answer, she heard the doors to her quarters
hiss open. When she turned around she saw Chakotay coming in.
He grinned, but it didn't reach his eyes. They spoke of his concern
for her. Trust Chakotay to know when she needed someone to talk.
 "I'm sorry, I didn't hear the chime," she said sheepishly,
and went to greet him with a shy kiss on his cheek. She had to
stand on tip-toe to do that, for without her boots she was a great
deal smaller than him.
 A shiver ran through Chakotay. He still wasn't used to
being welcomed with a kiss. But he certainly liked it. They'd
grown closer in the past weeks, until after the Second Night of
Prixin Kathryn had kissed him. Chakotay reached for her hand and
let it disappear in his. "I thought you might need somebody to talk
to. You seemed very distant during the meeting."
 Kathryn sighed. "I know, Chakotay. This isn't easy for
 "But why?" He lead her to the sofa and made her sit next to
him. He wasn't going to listen to her with her walking a hole into
the carpet. His gaze fell on her painted toe-nails. She'd chosen a
dark red color, so her nails stood in stark contrast to the paleness of
her skin. He hadn't known she painted her toe-nails. What did she
do it for? Why hadn't he recognized that on New Earth?
 "Because," Kathryn started, but interrupted herself mid-
sentence. That was a good question. Why did the lives of their
counterparts concern her so much? Shouldn't she be happy for
them because they had escaped the hell of the Demon planet? "I
don't really know," she amended.
 Chakotay nodded slowly. He wasn't quite sure what to
make of that answer. There had to be something bothering her,
otherwise she wouldn't be that restless. "I guess it's because there's
two of us in one universe. It's about coming home. Those to get
there first will be at home, the others ..." His voice trailed off. But
Kathryn knew what he was getting at. There wouldn't be a place
for the others to return to.
 She nodded. She wasn't amazed at his ability to read her
thoughts anymore. It had something to do with their being soul-
mates. That was something that had been gnawing at her for quite
some time now, but right now she was just grateful that they were.
It made things so much easier. Not always, of course, but most
times it did. Most importantly at what Kathryn referred to as
crunch times. Then the special bonding between the two of them
was simply priceless. Something to be grateful for.
 "It's strange, isn't it? The Balionn don't have the means or
the knowledge to transfer the Tian radiation shielding to their
ships, and yet I'm afraid of our home," she explained.
 Then: "Chakotay, I can't forbid the Shali—"
 "Kathryn. The Shali's name is Kathryn."
 Kathryn blushed. He'd got her. Again. "I can't forbid her to
go back home. It's what she's worked for during all these years. I
can't destroy her hopes."
 "Maybe you don't have to. Maybe they'll never find a way
to make the shielding work on ships. Maybe they wouldn't want to
go back knowing that there's us, the *original* Voyager,"
Chakotay pointed out.
 She gave him a skeptical look. "Chakotay, how could you
not want to go back? I mean, after all, they are us, in a way."
 "They aren't, Kathryn."
 Before she could say something, he continued: "They have
lived here for two years, knowing that they are stranded here. I
guess they have made peace with their situation. If we tell them
about us, they might actually find it consoling that there is
someone to go back to Earth."
 "If we don't, they'll sure as hell find a way to get off this
planet. They've done it before, Chakotay, what makes you so sure
they won't try again?"
 "That we will go back," was his simple reply. "Look,
they've made the decision to stay behind—"
 "Yes, but apparently, they weren't happy enough to stay on
that goddamn planet!" Kathryn interrupted him angrily.
 Chakotay sighed. "Maybe they're happy here. You can't
really compare the Demon planet with this lovely world. Besides,"
he added with a wry smile, "you can't tell me that Kathryn and
B'Elanna would leave this world with the phenomenon of the two
civilizations unexplored and unexplained."
 "You have a point there," Kathryn had to admit. So far, not
even the Balionn had been able to explain the phenomenon yet, and
they'd discovered it centuries ago. And maybe they'd never
accomplish interstellar travel.
 The bottom line was that she had to take the risk. And she
had to trust herself. Maybe the Shali-Kathryn wouldn't want to go
back knowing that there was someone—the *real* someone on top
of that—to get back. Kathryn knew that part of her wanted nothing
more than exploring the Delta Quadrant further; knowing that there
would be something like a homeworld or a base to return to could
make this idea more alluring.
 "Okay," she nodded. "But we'll only explain everything
when the Voyagers discover the truth."
 "That might take a while," Chakotay muttered under his
breath, but on the other hand the crew could need an extended
shore-leave quite well. And Tianess Itiryionn was a beautiful
planet—just like her sister, Tianess Oyem.
 "I wouldn't dare say that," Kathryn grinned.

 Kathryn was restless. She was pacing her living-room,
empty mug in hand, her translucent cloak of indigo moribaa
carelessly dropped over the back of a chair, her hair in disarray.
The Shali of the Voyagers had the habit of drawing her hands
through her cinnamon hair like a comb when she was deep in her
thoughts. And she was barefoot. Her mules lay next to the chair
where she'd shook them off carelessly earlier. Eventually, the
brooding woman stopped in front of big window. She raised the
mug to her lips, only to find it empty. She'd drank the last drop of
herbal tea long ago. With a sigh she put the mug down onto the
 She just couldn't stop thinking about the miraculous
healing of B'Elanna. It wasn't miraculous at all, at least not if
accomplished by a certain hologram and 24th century medical
equipment. But they had neither of these. Tuvok himself had told
her that there hadn't been time enough to download the Doctor's
program into a portable computer unit before Voyager exploded.
And they'd never seen to a possibility like that and made a back-up
copy. And Tom had been absolutely positive about the fact that
B'Elanna's injuries had been healed by said hologram together with
his accessories.
 B'Elanna herself wasn't quite sure whether she'd actually
felt the Doctor touching her during her treatment, or if she'd just
dreamed it. Some dreams could be fascinatingly real. However,
considering what had happened they could hardly categorize the
touch she'd felt as a dream. There was too much evidence that the
whole thing had really happened.
 "What has happened?" Kathryn murmured for the
umpteenth time. Why hadn't the Doctor made himself noticeable?
He'd never been the humble type. There was, of course, the
possibility that he wasn't able to do so, but he was quite an
inventive guy.
 Kathryn turned and watched Nora playing on her rug.
B'Elanna had bought a doll for her before the accident had
happened, and Nora was busy examining it now. Kathryn was
amazed at the gentleness with which Nora's pudgy hands
discovered the fact that the strings that tied the doll's cloak could
actually be drawn open.
 The little girl let out a squeal of delight after she'd
undressed the doll and let her mother know with a triumphant
smile. Kathryn smiled and knelt down on the rug next to her
 It was unbelievable, but this little girl was her daughter.
And she loved her with all she was worth. Kathryn was so ashamed
of herself at the thought of her having denied her. That was about
the worst thing a mother could do. And yet Nora loved her
 And she loved her father, too. That was the biggest
problem now, even more important than the Doctor. Basically,
Nora was an orphan by divorce, only that Kathryn and Tom had
never been married, or let alone in love. She needed both of her
parents. But her parents weren't in love with each other so they
couldn't provide the family she needed. Thank Goodness all of
them lived in the same house, so she didn't have to get used to
different homes, or feel pushed around.
 With which another question arose. What were Kathryn's
feelings for Nora's father? Would she be able to continue with
Chakotay where they'd left off before Voyager's death?
 Kathryn had until now pushed these questions into the very
back of her mind. But now that she had time to breathe, they
couldn't be stopped from flitting around in her head. And they
needed answering. If only that were as simple as that. She wasn't so
sure anymore if she could live up to Chakotay's unconditional love.
She'd betrayed him, after all. She didn't want to have an one-sided
relationship, with one of them giving more than receiving; that
wouldn't be fair, to neither of them.
 But she couldn't live with Tom either. He and B'Elanna
didn't seem to have any problems with that at all. Funny, but
Kathryn wouldn't have expected B'Elanna of all people to deal with
the betrayal so easily, especially because of Nora. If they could
make it work, why couldn't she?
 She knew. She hadn't forgiven herself for having let go of
control for once. It made her self-conscious, especially of her
ability to love. It had been so easy then to let go of Chakotay when
Tom had kissed her. And yet she had cried Chakotay's name.
 Kathryn looked at Nora. In a way, Chakotay had been part
of her creation, just as B'Elanna had. Wasn't that proof enough of
everyone's unconditional love for each other?

 "Kathryn, we have to go," Chakotay said out of the blue.
He sat the mug down on the low table, moved almost soundlessly
over to where Kathryn sat brushing her hair. He took the brush
from her and started doing the job of disentangling her hair.
Kathryn braced herself lazily on the edge of the bed, closed her
eyes and surrendered herself to Chakotay's caress. He had always
loved her hair, and combing it for her was as soothing and relaxing
for him as it was for her. This kind of ritual brought her closer to
home than he might think, since her grandmother used to brush her
hair like this when Kathryn had been little. So this simple gesture
conjured up the most precious and cherished memories for
Kathryn, and she could flee the present for a while.
 She had forgotten what he'd said. Chakotay had braided her
hair, and tugged playfully on the end of her thick braid when he
was finished. "We have to go," he repeated.
 "Go where?" Kathryn asked lazily.
 "Your skin is still naked," Chakotay observed. "Saleah
wanted this job done yesterday."
 Kathryn sighed and opened her eyes again. She turned
around to look at Chakotay. "Why is it so important that my body
be turned into some kind of canvas? I've survived pretty well
without this kind of talisman so far."
 This time it was him who exhaled audibly. "Because she
wants me to do it. I want to do it," he explained. After a while he
added: "We have to talk, Kathryn. About what has happened, and
about us."
 Kathryn nodded in agreement. They certainly had to talk.
"Fine, that's fine with me."
 Chakotay shook his head slowly. "Not here. That's why we
have to go. Just trust me."
 She got up, took the brush and kissed him quickly on his
tattooed temple. "Every day."

 Kathryn had felt right and she'd meant it when she'd said
that she trusted him every day. There hadn't been a single day in
their relationship on which she hadn't trusted him. And it had come
so easily over her lips. It had been as easy as she'd slowly started
letting him back into her life. Even although along with it came a
feeling of shame on her part, because it had been only a few days
ago that she had wanted to tell him that it was over between them.
Torn between her inability to forgive herself and her love for him
she had almost given into the nagging little voice in the back of her
head and succumbed to convincing herself that she wasn't worth
Chakotay's love.
 She looked back on that now in anger. In anger at herself,
because she had been so blind and had almost—for her own
convenience—destroyed the most precious thing in the world she
had left: Chakotay's love. If it hadn't been for him she would still
lie curled up into a ball and doze the days away, just like in the
days after her father and fiancé's death. Back then it had been very
similar to what it was now: if it hadn't been for her sister's love she
would have never recovered—or maybe not that well.
 The two of them were riding in silence, both of them with
wandering thoughts. After they had left Nora in the care of her
father and B'Elanna, Kathryn and Chakotay had changed into their
riding clothes and left for the desert. Kathryn had no idea where
Chakotay was taking her, but she trusted him and let him guide her
without further ado. Yes, her curiosity was killing her, but she
wouldn't let it get the better of her. Somehow she was sure that he
would take her to a most beautiful place where they wouldn't be
interrupted by anyone. But since Saleah knew about Chakotay's
plan Kathryn was pretty sure that they wouldn't have been
disturbed had they stayed in the palace.
 At first Kathryn had felt a little insecure on the back of the
huge mount called crudoi, but with every minute passing she felt
more comfortable and remembered the basic riding skills she'd
learned at the Meadows. Now she was enjoying herself, she felt a
freedom long longed for and never known. There was a difference
between this and commanding a starship, after all. This was pure
life with the smooth movements of her crudoi under her, the wind
and suns in her face and Chakotay next to her.
 She stole a sideward glance at him. Just like her he'd pulled
the hood of his light cloak into his face as a protection from the
suns. She couldn't see the tattoo on his left temple, but she knew it
was there, as it had always been there for her during the past few
years. It was unbelievable just how much she'd come to rely on it.
She knew it would always be there for her, and what did she give
its owner in return? She didn't know, but there must be something,
otherwise he wouldn't have supported her the way he did. It was
then that she made a decision.
 Kathryn looked at him. She hadn't done that in a long time,
at least not properly. His skin was tanner now than she
remembered it to be, and there was an occasional line in his face
where there hadn't been one before. But his eyes were sparkling as
he rode, and she admired the way his body moved in synch with
the crudoi's movements. Her gaze fixed on his hands, on the way
they held the reins, those big tan hands with the bizarre Tian and
Balionn ornaments on their palms. She caught herself wondering
what it would feel like when they moved over her skin. *Well, I
guess you'll learn about that sooner or later, Kathryn,* she told
 Eventually they stopped in front of the entry to a cave.
They'd been riding through the low mountain-range sheltering Ima
to what the Voyagers had come to call the west, the direction from
which the beast-wind came. Chakotay got from his crudoi in one
swift motion, and being the gentleman he was, he held Kathryn's
crudoi when she climbed out of her saddle.
 "A cave," she observed. She'd never liked caves very
 Chakotay gave a low chuckle. "You haven't seen it yet,
Kathryn. Give me a chance, will you?"
 Kathryn smiled and nodded. She let her hand glide into his
to let him know that she trusted him. He smiled at her, and after
making sure that the crudoi couldn't run away, he took the bag he'd
brought and lead Kathryn into the cave. To her big surprise he
didn't light a torch.
 She soon found out why. The cave-system they entered
lacked a roof. In fact, they sheltered cool, blooming oases, smaller
or bigger natural gardens that were connected by a brook. The
gardens weren't as lush as the ones back in Ima, but the bluish
grass growing there and the occasional bush were beautiful in
comparison to the harshness of the bare rocks outside. Kathryn
bent her head back and she gazed into the blue depths of the sky
above them. It was as though she were looking through a skylight,
which in fact the open roofs of the caves were. Long ago, the roofs
had collapsed from erosion, and had formed these oases on
basement-level. Oases sheltered from the desert like a child within
its mother.
 "My, this is beautiful, Chakotay," Kathryn whispered, rapt.
She squeezed his hand just a little bit.
 When she looked at him, she fell in love with him again.
She'd never seen this peaceful, contented side of him, and the smile
it conjured up on both his lips and in his eyes was priceless.
 "It's called the Caves of the Darench," Chakotay explained.
When he noticed Kathryn's bewildered gaze, he added: "The
Darench are Those Who Bring Dreams, the good spirits of these
 "What other place would be more suitable for—" Kathryn
interrupted herself. She wasn't quite sure what Chakotay had
planned for her. But whatever it was, she could rest assured that it
wouldn't be anything she wouldn't approve of.
 "For whatever is going to be. It will be under the good
spell and the blessing of the Darench," Chakotay completed her
 Kathryn looked at him, then nodded. She scrutinized her
surroundings some more, took her time to let her eyes only explore
the caves. There were paintings on the surface of the rock walls,
paintings that looked ancient; paintings depicting swimmers and
sea-creatures, praying people, married people, families—and
couples making love. The pictures were what appeared to
Kathryn's artist's eye rough sketches, but even as such they were
very detailed and of a stunning beauty. This place must really be
inhabited by dream-bringing spirits.
 The air was filled with the rich scent of the grass and the
bushes, both of which Kathryn knew from her life with Tom in the
oasis. It was strange, but this life seemed to be a lifetime away, and
yet it had been only months. *Only*. Kathryn snorted inwardly. So
much had changed. Yet time didn't matter in this open-air cave-
system. Kathryn inhaled deeply, closed her eyes and almost
immediately images from her life with Tom appeared in front of
her mind's eye. The sounds of their valley reverberated in her ears,
from the bubbling of the brook to the humming of the insects and
the howling of the wind to the outcry of Chakotay's name and the
echo of that of his best friend. The images were blurred, but
connected to Kathryn's memories, they were very clear, from the
first sight of the valley to watching herself making love to Tom to
the last look at him with Nora in his arms.
 Chakotay caught Kathryn when her legs gave way to the
weight of her memories. He lowered her gently into the grass, and
waited for her to get her bearings. When she looked at him, it
seemed to him that she'd found what she'd been looking for. Her
face suddenly had the radiance of the peace he'd seen back on New
Earth. Was that the remedial effect of the caves Saleah had spoken
so warmly about?
 "Now more than I've ever been."
 Chakotay looked at her in confusion. Kathryn smiled.
"You've always been there for me. Even when I was with Tom. I
was torn between him and you," she admitted.
 "Because he offered you something to hold onto when
everything seemed to fall apart, and so did you," Chakotay knew. It
was what he'd found after brooding over her during the endless
nights he'd watched over her. "You've kept each other going for—"
 Chakotay didn't dare voice this selfish thought. This time it
was her who completed the sentence for him. "B'Elanna and you,
Chakotay. But the reason I was torn is because I didn't want to lose
this new stability in my life again. And yet it did happen, and—
Chakotay, I am so grateful for all you've done for me. For that I do
love you, now more than ever."
 Chakotay looked at her as though he didn't understand
what she was talking about. He looked as though he wasn't sure
that this was actually happening and not a dream the Darench had
blessed him with. Kathryn cupped his cheek gently in her bare
palm, and locked his eyes on his. "Chakotay?"
 "Now more than I've ever been," he said, and covered her
hand with his palm. A smile carved deep dimples into his face. He
knew that it was contagious, and the dimples became even more
seductive when Kathryn's smile worked its' magic on him. "I love
you, too, Kathryn."

 She whirled around when she felt the weight of his hand
settle on her shoulder. A small gasp escaped her lips when she
finally noticed him standing to her left. A nervous smile answered
his apologizing one. "Yes, Chakotay?"
 "Saleah has just contacted me. It seems as though the
Voyagers are having their first suspicions about what's going on,"
Chakotay informed her. His hand remained where it was, and
pleasure and warmth floated through him when he felt her hand
cover his.
 "They will find out that the readings of our Tom's
molecular structure differ a great deal from their Tom's. They will
figure out who they really are. And they will talk to Saleah,"
Kathryn predicted.
 "And she will tell them, just as—"
 Chakotay was cut short by Kathryn throwing her arms
around his neck and gathering him in a tight bear hug. Startled at
first, Chakotay eventually gave in to the feeling of her small soft
body in his arms and offered her the luxury of his comforting arms.
He planted a light kiss on her part, then buried his nose in her
fragrant hair.
 "Everything is going to work out, Kathryn," he assured her.
 He felt him nod against his shoulder, then they just stood
and enjoyed their closeness.

 "What's that supposed to mean?" B'Elanna asked, not quite
trusting her ears. She looked at Tom who had had gone
considerably pale. He stared at one of the few padds left. The data
displayed on it was undoubtedly correct, although it sounded like
science fiction. B'Elanna claimed that the Doctor had treated her.
More to reassure her than see for himself he'd taken a scan of her
and her immediate surroundings. He hadn't only found the
signatures of Starfleet medical instruments he didn't have, but also
readings of cellular traces of himself, Tom Paris. Then again, more
for fun than sensible research, he'd swept the tricorder over
himself. The readings he'd taken of himself said that he was
primarily composed of deuterium, hydrogen sulphate, dichromates,
and protein molecules.
 "That means that we are not of human flesh and blood,
which is mainly composed of water and carbon," Tom told her in a
very low voice.
 "So?" B'Elanna looked at her husband anxiously.
 "Do you remember that Y-class planet, the demon planet?"
 "Why, yes," B'Elanna said, and then it dawned on her. And
she remembered their short stay in said planet's orbit. "We are the
duplicates that were left behind to keep the silver blood life-form
company, aren't we?" She slumped heavily into her cushions.
 Tom nodded, dumbfounded despite his reckoning. His
theories had gone in the same direction, yet he doubted them,
thought them too much science fiction. But then B'Elanna had
confirmed them, had come to the same conclusion. "At some point,
we must have forgotten about that, and resumed our journey back
 "But the environment outside the demon planet's
atmosphere was extremely unhealthy, only we didn't know that.
That's what caused the malfunctions in Engineering," B'Elanna
deducted. "Kahless, there wasn't anything I could have done to
save Voyager."

 Chakotay pulled the pins out of her hair. The pins were
made of the Tian equivalent of silver, and held indigo pearls at one
end. They looked lovely in Kathryn's auburn hair. It had grown in
the past two years, of course, and Chakotay loved every millimeter
of it. He always had. The day he discovered that Kathryn had had
her hair cut had been like—she knew that he loved it, since that
night back on New Earth, at the latest. It had been as if she'd told
him she didn't love him anymore. She had always loved him, of
that he was certain.
 Being heavy, her hair cascaded down her shoulders
immediately, covering the indigo lines that ran down her back. At
first the alien signs and tendrils followed her spine from her
hairline to the shoulders, but then they arced elegantly beneath her
left shoulder-blade and the edge of her ribcage until they reached
her navel. They ran around her navel once, just to disappear in its
depth. Painting this last bit had been quite difficult, because it
turned out that Kathryn was particularly ticklish in that area—or
was it better described as a particularly sensitive area?
 It wasn't the last bit. The last bit of unpainted skin was
hidden by the fastener of the Tian bra she was wearing. It was but a
narrow stripe, but if the good spell of the Darench was to work, he
would have to close the gap in the line. For that, Kathryn had to
take off the bra.
 Kathryn turned her head so she could look at him over her
shoulder. "So, I guess it's all about the last bit now, isn't it?" she
 Chakotay nodded, then Kathryn nodded at him so he could
go ahead. Chakotay raised his hands to the fastening that sat
between her shoulders, and fumbled. And fumbled. Kathryn
couldn't suppress a grin. Eventually, he gave up, sighing. "Seems
as though there's a conspiracy going on among all the ladies in this
 A low chuckle escaped her, then she reached behind her.
And fumbled. And fumbled. Chakotay couldn't help a dimpled grin
at her sheepish smile. She caught the twinkle in his eyes and
couldn't hold it any longer. Laughing, they doubled over. She
rolled to lie on her stomach, and, eventually, Chakotay managed to
fiddle the fastening open.
 Kathryn knew what was coming, nevertheless did she gasp
when the cool paint touched her skin. She cradled her forehead on
the backs of her hands. And closed her eyes. She inhaled the scent
of the bluish grass deeply, and abandoned herself to feeling of the
paint and brush on her skin, to the gentle strokes with which
Chakotay cast the blessing on her. He was balancing his right hand
on the edge of his little finger on her back, his left hand rested—
holding the bowl with the color—on the small of her back.
 "Done," Chakotay said eventually.
 "Mhm," Kathryn acknowledged drowsily. Now the paint
had to dry. Chakotay put the bowl and brush away after he had
rinsed them. He sat still, watching Kathryn breathe, watching the
wet paint glisten on her skin, slowly drying. He brushed the dry
rests of the surplus color away, and, following a sudden impulse,
bent to blow the tiny crumbs of the color crust off her skin. His
idea was rewarded with a shudder and a sigh. But Kathryn didn't
 Encouraged by that, he carefully brushed her hair to one
side so the painted line of her spine was exposed, and he softly
breathed over the place where the blue lines disappeared into her
hair. Kathryn shuddered again, then sighed. As he kissed the spot,
she murmured something, turned her head. The line twisted a little
bit, but now he could kiss her forehead, her temple, her cheeks, the
line of her jaw, the corner of her mouth, and, finally, the spot under
her ear.
 "That's so good," Kathryn whispered. But she didn't move.
Chakotay brushed her hair back, traced her hairline with his fingers
and just looked at her. She looked so peaceful, yet so mysterious as
 "I know, Kathryn," Chakotay agreed; a smile made his
gratefulness and his wonder visible. He was kneeling next to her,
and for a while all he did was caressing her hair.
 "Why did you stop?" Kathryn squinted against the light.
 "I wasn't sure whether it's the right thing to do," he
 Kathryn knew immediately what his concern was. The last
time he had wanted to make love to her she'd withdrawn, backed
away, because of her inner conflict and her memories. He didn't
want to spoil the beauty of the moment now. "Are you now?"
 He answered her question with a kiss. "I think so."
 "Good," she smiled and closed her eyes again. Once again,
she abandoned herself to him.
 Chakotay traced the line of alien patterns he had painted on
her skin with kisses, then with his tongue. But he always stopped
when he reached the point at which he couldn't go any further. He
traced the line with his fingertips, with the tip of his tongue and his
breath. His hands were in her hair, caressed her arms, the rest of
her back. He spoiled her face with feathery touches of his
fingertips. And all the time he had her sighing and murmuring how
good this was.
 When he reached the point at which he couldn't go any
further yet again, she slowly turned around, so he could continue
the trail of his kisses. Chakotay didn't hesitate long, for she put her
hand on the back of his head to encourage him, to tell him it was
all right. When he reached her navel and treated the sensitive skin
there with his mouth, Kathryn trembled violently and let out a
lingering sigh. Chakotay raised his head to find her lying on her
back now, her chest bare.
 "Kathryn," he whispered. "Are you sure you want this?"
He bent over her.
 Kathryn looked deeply into his eyes, then she cupped his
cheek with her hand. "Only if you want it, too. I love you,
 They kissed. "Don't ask anymore, will you?" Kathryn
asked him in between kisses.
 "I can't promise you that," Chakotay evaded. He stretched
himself out next to her, but when he wanted to continue his
caresses, Kathryn pushed him back. Now it was her who explored
skin. Somehow she fiddled the buttons of his shirt open, and
together they managed to tear it off over his head. She kissed his
nipples, dark and proud in their velvet halos. She marveled at the
softness of his skin, a smooth, dark caramel color, immaculate save
a small birthmark at the base of his throat. She smiled as she
dipped her fingers into the soft indentation. His skin was even
softer there. She could feel the hardness of his collarbones, and
wondered just how perfectly three of her fingers fitted in between
 They kissed again, exploring each other's mouth while
their hands roamed their bodies. When his hands slid underneath
the fabric of her pants, Kathryn worked the fly of his pants open
and wriggled free of his hands. "Let me do this for you," she told
him, then slid her hand into his pants. She was rewarded almost
immediately by a sharp intake of breath when her fingers brushed
the wiry yet soft curls. Smiling, she kissed her way down there,
maybe a little faster than she intended, but she wanted to do this so
much now. And she knew he wanted this, too.
 "Gods," Chakotay hissed when he finally felt her on and
around him. He buried his fingers in the mass of his hair, the
sensation of her lips heightened by her strands brushing his loins. It
wasn't long until he felt he couldn't keep his hips still any longer,
and he wanted this to last. With what gentle force he could muster,
he pulled her away, kissed her and tasted himself on her lips. He
groaned deeply.
 "Come on, Kathryn, we've waited so long," he murmured
into her ear.
 "Yes," Kathryn managed, something between a stifled
laugh and a moan. Faster than they could turn round, they had
freed each other of the rest of their clothes. Kathryn straddled him,
taking him deeply inside her as she lowered herself. Then she bent
so she could kiss him, but the sensation of this movement alone
was enough to numb them. Chakotay wrapped his arms around her
back. "Stay," he whispered.
 And stay she did, but only as long as she could bear it. The
muscles seemed to contract of their own accord, and Chakotay
realized he had to let go of her. He held her by the hips, and when
he forced his eyes open to look at her, he realized how awfully thin
she still was, and was suddenly afraid he would split her in two if
he moved any faster in her. Kathryn's face was hidden by the veil
of her hair, and as he brushed it back and cupped her cheek he held
his breath because she looked so beautiful. From that moment on
he could understand why some men claimed that women were
most beautiful and erotic when they made love to you. Until then
he'd never noticed that, never felt the need to.
 But it was different with Kathryn. "Look at me, love," he
rasped. For the eternity of an heartbeat she did, and that was his
undoing. With a last few answers to her movements he finally
spilled himself into her. An instant later she slumped against him,
with a groan bearing his name on her lips. He locked his arms
around her trembling body again, held her tight against him as
though she could calm his own shuddering. Her breath came
quickly, by fits and starts, brushing his damp skin.
 "I love you, I love you," he murmured over and over again
after he had regained his own breath.
He didn't know how long they remained like this. But
when they woke again, Kathryn was lying only half on top of him,
not joined anymore. She was still dozing, smiling in her sleep.
Chakotay lazily followed the line of indigo ornaments where he
knew them to be, and turned his head to watch her in her slumber,
not wanting to miss a single thing about her ever again.

 Kathryn looked at the combadge in her palm. Tom had
kept it for her, and had only now returned it to her, along with the
news. She had completely forgotten about the small device, since it
didn't work with Voyager and her communications system gone.
And she had thought it lost out in the desert. Tom, however, had
kept it for her the day she had left the oasis.
 "You've let me go without my combadge?" she asked in
mock surprise.
 Tom shrugged. "Nora loved playing with it. How was I
supposed to keep her calm with both her mother and her favorite
toy gone?" He said it in a joking way, without any reproach.
 Kathryn smiled. "Have I ever thanked you for what you've
done for me, and for Nora?"
 He smiled and pretended to be thinking hard.
 "I haven't," Kathryn answered her own question, and was
utterly ashamed about it. "I'm so sorry for that, Tom. I owe you my
life and I haven't even thanked you for it. And you were there for
me when I needed you. Thank you so much. I love you."
 Tom was lost for words for a few instants. "Why, I wanted
someone to keep me company." But then he gathered Kathryn in
his arms and wrapped her in a tight hug. It was the only way to
hide the conspicuous shining in his eyes. "I love you, too."
 When they separated again, Kathryn kissed him briefly on
the lips. She found it right, and she knew that Chakotay would
understand, after all that had happened in the Caves of the Darench
that day. "And we've got Nora."
 He nodded. "We still have to talk about her, you know,
who will get her during the holidays and so."
 Kathryn didn't find that very funny, but she knew it was the
same with Tom. The question about where their daughter should
grow up was still unresolved. "I'm sure we'll find a way. Come on,
I think it's high time we went to the meeting." She touched his arm
in a reassuring manner, and pulled him into the direction of the

 "Janeway to Voyager?"
 Kathryn closed her eyes. She took a deep breath, then
slapped the combadge on her chest to answer the hail. It was so
strange to hear her own voice. But it wasn't only strange to her, it
seemed as though the whole crew on the bridge held their breath—
or at least raised an eyebrow.
 "Voyager here."
 Silence. Both parties were silent. Well, what do you ask
your twin in a situation like this? Eventually, the silence was
broken by a door banging, then the voice of a small child.
 "Nora, you're not supposed to—I'm so sorry, Shali, she
wouldn't listen to me." That was Naomi's voice. She sounded stern
first, then very sheepish. Tuvok's eyebrow rose ever higher, and
Kathryn looked at Chakotay askance.
 "Never mind," said the other Kathryn in a very gentle
voice. It almost seemed as though she were happy about the
interruption. "Come here, honey."
 Kathryn's confusion was priceless when Chakotay looked
at her. He couldn't help a big dimpled grin. It reminded Kathryn
that she was having a conversation of sorts. "Ima, are you still in?"
 "Yes, we are," replied Kathryn. "Why don't you just come
down? If you beam directly to our coordinates there shouldn't be
any problems."
 Before Kathryn could say anything in turn, Chakotay cut
in. "We'll be there in a couple of minutes. Voyager out."

 They materialized in a big, airy and sun-spoilt room. To
their surprise it was comfortably cool in here, thanks to an indoor
irrigation system, including a small fountain, and the soft breeze
that was blowing in from the lush gardens through four large twin
doors. Kathryn and Chakotay found themselves facing the garden,
and when they were welcomed, the voice came from behind them.
When Kathryn turned around, she was facing Chakotay, Tom and
 Or rather their demonic twins.
 For none of them looked like *her* people. They had all
developed a rich, healthy tan, their hair was longer, and they were
radiating a pride and confidence quite different from that of a
Starfleet officer. And of course they were wearing the local
 "Welcome to Ima, and the Palace of the Voyagers,"
Chakotay said smilingly, proffering her a bowl of something
steaming. Something that definitely smelled like coffee. When
Kathryn took the bowl and took a sip, she felt his eyes resting on
her. She didn't know what to make of this. What did that mean?
Was *his* Kathryn so different from herself? Where was she,
 "Thank you, Chakotay," she said, and handed her Chakotay
the bowl. "It's nice to see you again."
 In that moment Kathryn returned. She'd taken the girls
back outside. She didn't want them to meet their parents'
counterparts, it would have caused them unnecessary confusion
and pain. At first she hesitated before entering the room. The
Kathryn and the Chakotay she saw were so much like the ones they
used to be that they made her feel self-conscious. "Yes, it definitely
is. Welcome," she said, and joined the group in the center of the
 Kathryn jumped a little when she heard her own voice
address her. How different this Kathryn looked. She was wearing
an ankle-long indigo skirt with a sand-colored bodice. Her
shoulders were covered by a whisper of a veil. Kathryn jumped at
the scars she discovered in her face, scars that must stem from the
crash landing. They were tiny, and well healed, but they were
there. And yet this Kathryn was beautiful with the tourmaline eyes
sparkling in a tanned face, and her cinnamon mane. But the most
remarkable thing was the choker she was wearing around her neck.
The center-piece was definitely a replica of Chakotay's tattoo.
 "I'm sorry I'm late, but I had to take the girls back to the
garden," she smiled.
 Kathryn recovered from her surprise. "Of course," was all
she managed, although her curiosity was almost eating her alive.
What children was she talking about?
 "It's Naomi and Nora," Chakotay offered as though he
could read her mind. Kathryn looked at him in surprise. Her
Chakotay took her hand. "I guess we'll never forget how to read
you, Kathryn," he explained, winking with a dimpled smile at both
the demonic Kathryn and Chakotay. Kathryn nodded smilingly.
 "After all, we're still very much the same," Kathryn offered
her uniformed counterpart. "Well, with the exception that I'm a
mother now, as you will undoubtedly have heard."
 Kathryn nodded. "It was quite obvious, yes."
 "Why don't we all have a seat and a drink before we start
talking?" B'Elanna suggested. She still had a hard time suppressing
a smile at the couple in front of her. It seemed as though they still
had to steal a private moment, and frankly, they looked very much
like *her* people when they had first started dating each other.
B'Elanna wondered about what Tom and her counterparts were like
now. Were they married, too, or had they split up?

 "Why didn't you tell them?" Chakotay wanted to know
after they had returned to their ship. They were in her quarters,
with him kneading her shoulders.
 It was quiet for a while. Chakotay kept massaging her
tense muscles. "It didn't feel right," Kathryn offered eventually.
 "Even though your counterpart could make peace with
herself, knowing that the rest of her crew is alive?" mused
 "The Balionn wouldn't approve of it," she answered.
 Suddenly Chakotay stopped working wonders on her
shoulders. "Oh Kathryn, after all you've faced I didn't think you
had it in you to chicken out at relaying such a happy message." He
knelt down next to her chair. "I don't know whether you've noticed
the look in Kathryn's eyes."
 She closed her eyes and bent her head back. Oh yes, she
had noticed that look, and no one but herself could imagine better
what her counterpart must have been through. And yet she couldn't
do it. But why she couldn't say. "I've seen it, Chakotay, and I
 "So why didn't you tell her, Kathryn?" Chakotay said
calmly, but firmly. "You know that the Balionn have approved of
it. Already, the Voyagers have contributed a lot to their society."
 At that, Kathryn jumped to her feet. "But that's it! Don't
you see, Chakotay, telling her means violating the Prime Directive
on at least two sides. I can't do that."
 "So you'd rather leave her in agony than help her heal?
You know, Kathryn, that the Voyager have already had too much
an influence on the Balionn and Tian cultures as though that
 "She can live with it," Kathryn said nonchalantly.
 "I'm not so sure about that," Chakotay murmured under his
 "What do you mean?"
 "I've seen broken people's eyes before, Kathryn," Chakotay
said softly. With that, he left her quarters. He knew Kathryn. It was
no good reasoning with her now. He'd given her something to think
about. She'd come to him when she was finished, he knew that.
And by then, she would have changed her mind.

 For the first time in a little more than two years Kathryn
was standing on the bridge of Voyager. Everything was so familiar,
the sounds, the smell, and yet it was strange. Being here didn't feel
right, and for the first time since the Caretaker Incident Kathryn
didn't hear the urgent call to get her crew home. Her crew was at
home now, had been home longer than her. Of course they still
thought of their homes in the Alpha Quadrant, but their home was
here. Most of the survivors of Voyager's explosion had come to
peace with their situation and had accepted the warm welcome of
the nomadic Tians. They had learned to make the desert or Ima
their home. It was something Kathryn had only slowly learned to
accept. The fact that they were *Silverbloods*, that the original
Voyager and her crew were still on their way home had helped her
more than anyone might have hoped.
 Kathryn looked at the bridge for the last time, making her
good-byes. Voyager was going to leave this same night. She turned
around to look at this fine ship's captain. "Thank you."
 Kathryn the captain shifted uneasily. It was time now. Now
or never. "I'd like to show you one more thing."
 The Shali nodded, curios. Kathryn knew that she knew the
ship like the back of their hand, so what could it be that she wanted
to show her? She followed the captain to the Mess Hall, where
Neelix welcomed them with two mugs of freshly replicated coffee.
For the last time she took in the scent and taste of her favorite
beverage. She was so delighted by it that it took her some time to
notice the vista that offered itself beyond the viewports.
 Voyager was currently docked at a space station. Kathryn
had never mentioned that. The Shali looked at her in puzzlement.
 "Please, have a seat," Kathryn the captain offered. "I think
I have to explain something to you."
 Biting back a remark, the Shali sat, hands wrapped around
the high-grade steel mug. She listened patiently without
interrupting the captain once. When Kathryn had finished, the
Shali asked the question that had become louder and louder inside
her mind ever since she'd heard about the Balionn rescuing
Voyager. "Were the Balionn able to save anyone else apart from
those living in Ima?" There were only one third of her crew in Ima.
Kathryn couldn't accept that they were all that was left of her
 "Eighty-five crewmembers live on Tianess Itiryionn, the
warp-capable timeline of this planet, and the station Tianess Ayil."
 Kathryn felt numb. In the end there had been only a
handful of casualties, Seven among them. Her crew were alive and
looked after, had been these past two agonizing years. And it was
only now that Captain Janeway told her. She had known that all
along. Why had she waited so long to tell her? She knew about the
Shali. And vice versa. The Shali knew that the captain had had her
reasons for waiting so long. They couldn't possibly have become
that different from each other. Although the Shali couldn't imagine
why the captain had waited so long, she just nodded now. And yet
the Shali ached to see into her counterpart's mind.
 "Why didn't you want to tell me, Kathryn?"
 The captain had the strangest feeling of having a soliloquy,
only that her partner had her own mind and lacked the mercy of not
boring into her. Kathryn could hardly withhold anything from her,
because ultimately she had the right to know. Not to mention that it
would keep nagging at her. "The Prime Directive."
 "Is the lamest excuse we've ever used," dismissed the
 Kathryn sighed. "You haven't changed so much after all,"
she smiled. "I was afraid of your taking my place, our place, of
making it home before us."
 The Shali nodded in understanding, although her first
impulse had been to rebuff Kathryn for that absurd a thought. She
was right, though, she had to give her as much credit. The Shali
would have tried that, but only because out of conviction that they
were *real*. They had forgotten, after all, that they were
silverbloods. Now that she knew, she couldn't claim her place
anymore. The captain seemed to have resolved that much as well.
"Well, in a way we have reached home before you. The two Tian
planets are our home now," she eventually said. "And you're not
far from finding it now."
 For the first time, the Shali touched the Captain. She laid
her hand on the left side of her chest. Kathryn hesitated only
briefly before she covered it in acknowledgement. "Chakotay will
make you happy. He's the best thing that has happened to us in our
lives. Don't let the rules of your profession get in the way of your
personal happiness."
 Kathryn nodded, having known that she was right for ages.
"Janeway to Sumrakù."
 "Yes, Captain?"
 "The Shali is ready to meet you," Kathryn informed the
 Obviously Sumrakù had waited for Kathryn to hail him. It
took him no longer than a minute to join them in the Mess Hall. He
wasn't alone, though. Walking a few steps behind him was Harry
Kim, dressed immaculately as ever, in his golden uniform, a single
rank pip shining at his collar.
 At first Kathryn thought that it was the original—or rather
the first duplicate—Kim. But when she saw the smile in his face,
his joy at seeing her again, she realized that he was *her* Harry
Kim. Kathryn covered her mouth with one hand to stifle an outcry,
getting to her feet. And before she could turn round she found
herself in the crushing embrace of the youngest member of her
former command crew.
 "Oh my God, it's you, it's really you," she said eventually,
returning the hug. She had finally found her surrogate son.

 "So," Chakotay looked up from his padd. They were in his
office, Kathryn sitting in the chair in front of his desk. This time
they had literally reversed tables. "You've finally told her."
 Kathryn couldn't help smiling. She nodded. "You were
right all along."
 The padd clattered on the tabletop. Chakotay would never
have expected her to admit that, not when it was something crucial
like that. "How do you feel?"
 She sighed. "Better than ever. You should have seen the
two of them. It was—it was the right thing to do. Thank you."
 Chakotay nodded. "What are they going to do, now that
they know?"
 "They'll stay on the planet, research into the silverblood
problem and the mystery of the planet."
 "What about Nora?"
 Kathryn laughed out loud. "I guess she'll be as much a
child of the Voyagers as Naomi is to us. She'll have a surrogate
mother in B'Elanna and a surrogate father in Chakotay. I can't think
of anything better."
 The dimples went off in his face. "Are you flirting with
me, Captain?"
 "Maybe," Kathryn quipped. She stood, bent over the desk
and kissed the dimples in one cheek. "Dinner at my place tonight?"


 Kathryn sat by the side of her daughter's bed, watching
over her sleep. The book she had been reading to her from was
lying closed in her lap. It was one of the many presents from
Voyager. The whole crew had replicated things for their
silverblood counterparts, or had even given them treasured
keepsakes. Naomi had given away half her toys to the two girls,
and Sam Wildman had insisted that they have Naomi's whole
layette for future siblings. Of course the things had to be
inconspicuous if given to the crew living in Ima or Tianess Oyem.
 Some of the Voyagers had agreed to spend the end of term
in Ima and the time in between either exploring Tianess Oyem or
on either Tianess Itiryionn or the space station. In that way they
could keep in touch with the desert tribes without missing out on
the exploring of their new homes.
 Voyager had left the day before, and the Voyagers would
leave in a couple of days, too, to live on Itiryionn for the two years
to come.
Kathryn was stroking Nora's auburn head absentmindedly,
so she didn't notice Tom coming into the nursery. She would have
loved for Kathryn the captain to meet Nora from more than a
distance, but they had agreed that that would probably be too much
for the girl. It had been hard enough to explain to Naomi the origin
of her things.
 "She looks so peaceful," Tom whispered as he sat down
across from Kathryn. He made sure his shadow blocked out the
soft glow of light pouring into the nursery from his and B'Elanna's
rooms. They had arranged for Nora's room to divide the big
apartments of her parents and their respective wife or lover. It
seemed the ideal solution in this case. In that way, she was always
with her parents and didn't have to get used to changing rooms and
surroundings, and yet granting her parents the privacy of their lives
from the others.
 "She does," Kathryn murmured.
 They sat in silence for a while.
 "I talked to Tuvok today. He said he's glad to know that
there is someone to return to T'Pel and his children after all."
 Tom nodded. He felt the same. At first he had been
appalled by the knowledge that they were mere copies of
themselves, but he couldn't deny that in that way he had found
peace. It was true that someone could return home after all, and at
the same time they were here. That was one of the strange wonders
of the Delta Quadrant. Maybe the admiral and Tom would be able
to get on after all. "I wonder whether we've helped our originals as
well," he mused, thinking of his and B'Elanna's counterpart, and
remembering the tentative bond that was developing between
Kathryn and Chakotay.
 "I'm certain of that."
 "We've been in love with each other before all this
happened, we just needed a catalyst, as did they," Chakotay
commented softly. He'd suddenly joined Nora's parents and was
putting his arms around Kathryn now. He planted a tender kiss in
the nape of her neck where the indigo lines curled themselves on
her tanned skin.
 "Speaking of which," Tom grinned, keeping his voice
down nevertheless, "I got a bottle of champagne from Voyager."
 "You better use that on your own, Paris," Chakotay
dimpled at him. "We've got our own plans to make tonight."