By TíPam

Disclaimer: Voyager and all her crew belong to Paramount/Viacom. No copyright infringement is intended. No profit will be made, as this story is just for fun.

Rated PG-15

Part Eleven

Kathryn watched as the guardian asked Seven all sorts of questions regarding her time with the Borg. She could barely answer one question before he fired another one at her. Tom stood protectively at her shoulder, scowling the whole time.

The guardian shook his head. "This is not working. You have so much knowledge inside of you that I am unable to reach. You could be the key to defeating the Borg. Your connection was severed. If I could find some way of severing the connection between all the Borg at the same time ---." His voice broke off as he stared at Seven thoughtfully.

Kathryn could see how uncomfortable Seven was under his scrutiny. She stepped over to them. "Guardian, you must know that we are willing to help you in any way that we can, but Seven has told you all that she can for now."

The guardian shook his head. "There is much, much more to tell. I need to know everything that happened to her whilst she was joined to the collective."

"She was part of the collective for nineteen years," Kathryn told him. "Itís just not possible to find out everything."

"You are wrong. I have ways of retrieving information."

"What do you mean by that?" Tom asked angrily, taking a step towards the guardian. Tuvok stepped up to stand next to Tom.

"Do not worry. It will not hurt. It may take some time however. This ex-drone may have all the answers I am seeking."

Kathryn flinched at the way the guardian spoke of Seven. Before she or Tom, who looked about to protest, could say anything the guardian continued. "She must come with me. I will trade you for her."

"Trade?" Kathryn had never seen Tom so angry. Tuvok must have also been worried, as he placed a restraining hand on Tomís arm. "Sevenís not a thing, to be haggled over," Tom ground out bitterly. "Sheís not going anywhere with you."

The guardian turned back to Kathryn. "Captain, in exchange for the ex-Borg, I will give your crew the one thing that they all want most of all."

"No," Tom shouted.

The guardian ignored him and waited for her reply. "I do not trade my people," she said coldly. "I think you should leave."

"Not even for the co-ordinates of a wormhole less than three days from here? It leads to your gamma quadrant, only weeks away from the wormhole leading to your alpha quadrant."

"Weíll have to find this wormhole for ourselves," Kathryn replied, her voice steely with determination.

"You will never be able to," the guardian almost crowed. "It is too well hidden. That is why I told you that this is a very strategic area of space. Let me give you the co-ordinates and you will be home in weeks. Not to mention the added bonus of helping to defeat the Borg; the worst enemy this galaxy has ever seen. All I want in return is this former drone."

"Never," Tom spat out. "You can go to hell."

"I believe I have made my position quite clear," Kathryn added. "I do not trade people for information."

"Think about it. Look at what you are giving up."

"No," both she and Tom said at the same time.

Seven, who had been quiet throughout this whole exchange, stepped forward. "How long will it take to retrieve from me all the knowledge that you seek?"

"There is no way of telling. It could be days or weeks."

"Seven, what are you doing?" Tom asked hoarsely.

Seven ignored him. "Will you return me to Voyager when you have finished?"

"If I am able to, yes."

"Seven." Tom grabbed her arm. "You have no idea what heís going to do to you. I wonít let you go."

"You cannot stop me," Seven answered softly. "I believe the benefits far outweigh the risks."

Kathryn cleared her throat. "Can you guarantee sheíll come to no harm?" Tomís eyes flashed as he glared at her. She focused her eyes on the guardian instead.

He shook his head, regretfully. "No. I do not know what effect my treatments will have on her."

"Then, Iím sorry, but sheís not going."

"Captain, you cannot stop me, either. I am not a member of Starfleet. I can do as I wish."

"Have you gone completely crazy?" Tom held Seven by both shoulders and swung her around to look at him, as Kathryn struggled to keep calm. "I canít let you take this sort of risk. You heard him. He doesnít know what his treatments, as he calls them, will do to you."

"I believe I will come to no harm."

"I disagree. He doesnít care what happens to you. He calls you the ex-Borg and former drone. Please donít do this."

"You will all be home soon. It is more than worth the risk."

"No Seven. It isnít," Kathryn put in. "I order you not to go."

Seven turned around to face her. "Then I will have to disobey your orders Captain. I will expect to be placed in the brig, on my return."

"And what if you donít return?" Tom asked hotly, turning her around to face him once more. "Or come back with your brains fried, as some type of vegetable? What about me? What about Izzy?"

"Isabelle will be fine. She has you." Seven stroked his face gently. "You will be fine too."

"Donít go," Tom pleaded. "I have a really bad feeling about this."

Seven kissed him softly. "Give Isabelle a hug from me and tell her that I am sorry I did not have time to say goodbye. I love you. I will always love you."

"Then stay."

"Seven," Kathryn said grimly. She would have Tuvok haul her away to the brig right now, if she had to. Seven turned to the guardian. "I accept."

"No," Tom cried out.

Kathryn gasped in horror, as there was a brief flash and the guardian and Seven were gone.

Tom clutched at thin air as he looked at her desperately. "We have to get her back."

She nodded as a console behind her beeped. Hurrying over she cursed as she saw the co-ordinates flashing there. "Weíre not going anywhere," she said flatly. "Weíll wait right here for Seven to return. No matter how long it takes." She pressed her lips together firmly to stop herself from voicing her other, larger concern. What condition would Seven be in, when she was returned?

One Week Later:

Kathryn rubbed her temples as she attempted to ease the tension headache she had had almost constantly over the past week. There had still been no word from Seven or the guardian and she had begun to despair. Despite their best efforts, they could find no trace of the guardian, or where he had taken Seven. And she was worried about Tom, too. He was like a tightly coiled spring that the slightest jar might set off.

The beeping of her door chime refocused her thoughts. "Come," she called out, her eyes opening wide as her visitor scurried through the doorway. "Isabelle! What are doing here? Is somebody with you?"

Isabelle shook her head, her curls bouncing around her face. "Daddy falled asleep. Heís so tired and I know Iím not aspost to go around the ship on my own, but I hafta see you. I standed on tiptoes and jumpted to press the chime. Please donít be mad Aunt Kat."

"Iím not mad honey, but you should have commed me. I could have come down to see you."

"But that woulda wakted up Daddy and I hafta have a consersation with you."

"I see. Well if your Daddy wakes up while youíre gone, heís going to be upset if he canít find you."

"He wonít wakted up. Heís too tired. But I lefted a message, just in case."

"Well, Iím glad to hear that." Kathryn pushed her chair back from the desk and patted her knee. "Come and sit down and tell me what you want to talk about and then Iíll take you back to your Daddy."

Isabelle scrambled over to her and she lifted the child up to sit in her lap. The little girl hugged her tightly for a few seconds before looking up into her face. "Whenís Mummy coming back?"

"I donít know darling, but sheíll be back as soon as she can." They had told Isabelle that Seven had had to go on an away mission and they werenít sure how long she would be gone. The little girl was used to both Tom and Seven going away sometimes, but never for this long.

"Iím scared," Isabelle said suddenly, her eyes huge in her small face. "Kolo said that Mummy is dead. Is Mummy dead, Aunt Kat?"

Kathryn sucked in her breath sharply. "We donít know," she finally answered, not wanting to lie to the child. "I donít believe she is. She had to help a man with some very important work."

"Thatís what Daddy said, but he looks so sad all the time. If Mummyís not dead, then why doesnít she call us?"

"I donít think she can, Isabelle. I think sheís just trying to get everything finished as soon as she can, so that she can come home."

Isabelle nodded, as if satisfied with the answer. "I wanna go back to Daddy now."

"Of course." Kathryn lifted the little girl off of her knee and stood up. "Letís go," she said holding out her hand.

Isabelle slid her small hand into it. "I love you Aunt Kat."

Kathryn had to fight to keep her voice steady. "I love you too honey."

Tom awoke with a start and quickly sat up. Heíd fallen asleep on the couch and as a result his neck hurt. He rubbed it tiredly, trying to work out what was wrong. It was too quiet, he suddenly realized as he looked around the room. Where was Isabelle? Sheíd been playing on the floor right in front of him, before heíd fallen asleep.

Jumping up he went into her bedroom, calling out, "Izzy? Are you in here?" Silence was his only answer.

He raced into his own bedroom, calling once more, "Izzy? Where are you?" Silence.

He was starting to panic now. "Izzy?" he called out once more, going back into the main room. "Computer, please state the location of Isabelle Paris."

ĎIsabelle Paris is in corridor 3b, section 4, deck 5,í the computer chirped in response.

Tom swore under his breath and rushed out into the corridor, never noticing the message light flashing on his computer terminal. ĎHow many times has she been told not to wander around by herself?í he fumed as he ran.

Barreling around the corner, he almost collided with the Captain as she walked towards him.

He frowned darkly as he saw that she was leading Isabelle by the hand. "Captain, I see youíve picked up something along the way."

Janeway smiled. "Iím just making sure she gets home safely."

Tom gave Isabelle a stern look. "I hope you realize youíre in big trouble young lady."

Isabelleís eyes widened. "Aunt Katís not mad at me."

"Well Aunt Kat doesnít have to be. But I am, young lady. Very, very angry, as a matter of fact."

Isabelleís eyes widened even more as Tom scooped her up and hurried back to their quarters. He noticed that the Captain had followed them.

"Well, what do you have to say for yourself?" he asked the little girl as he put her back down on the floor. "Why did you run off?"

"Iím sorry," Isabelle said, her voice wobbling. "I know Iím not aspost to wander around the ship by myself. I promise I wonít do it again."

"You promised me that last time," he answered angrily. "No dessert for you tonight and no bedtime story."

"Yes, Daddy." Tears pooled in the little girlís eyes.

The Captain put her hand on his arm. "Tom, Isabelle came to see me. She was worried."

"Worried? Do you have any idea how worried I was, when I woke up and found she was gone?" He was practically shouting now, but couldnít seem to get back under control. "As if I havenít got enough on my mind as it is. I donít need this as well. She might have got lost. Anything could have happened to her. Anything."

"Tom, youíre blowing this all out of proportion," Janeway said softly. "Take a deep breath and calm down. She was never in any danger."

"I lefted a message," Isabelle said tearfully.

Tomís hands shook as he ran them through his hair. He took two deep breaths to try and gain some control. Looking down at his daughter he was dismayed to see the tears streaming down her face. He knelt down in front of her. "Iím sorry Izzy. I didnít mean to scare you. When I woke up and couldnít find you, I panicked. I was scared that something had happened to you. I shouldnít have shouted like that. Will you forgive me?"

Isabelle nodded up and down. "You shoulda checked the messages," she said with a sniff.

"Youíre right. I should have," Tom answered gravely. "Have you forgiven me enough to give me a hug?"

Isabelle launched herself into his arms, hugging him fiercely. "I love you Izzy," he told her softly.

"I love you too Daddy." She was beaming as she stood back from him. "Aunt Kat?" the little girl looked over at the Captain, still standing there. "Do you wanna see the pictures I drawed for Mummy?"

"I would love to see them," Janeway answered following the little girl into her room.

Tom stood up slowly and went to the computer terminal. Sure enough the message light was blinking at him.

He pressed the key to play back the message and smiled as his small daughterís face filled the screen.

She waved. "Hi Daddy. This is Isabelle, your little girl. I hafta whisker so that you donít wakted up. I hafta go and see Aunt Kat to have a consersation. I fink that Mummy is dead, but I canít tell you cause youíll be too sad. I know Iím not aspost to wander by myself, so Iíll go straight there. Kay? Love and lots an lots of kisses from me, Isabelle Kafryn Paris." She blew a kiss and waved once more before the message ended.

Tom stood watching the blank screen, numbly. A hand on his shoulder made him jump. "Tom, are you all right?"

He turned around to see the Captain staring up at him in concern. "Izzy thinks that Seven is dead," he said hoarsely.

Janeway nodded. "I tried to reassure her as best I could. She seemed satisfied for the moment."

Tom shook his head and went and sat on the couch. "Iíll have to have a talk to her. I donít want to lie to her but sheís too little to have to deal with this."

"Sheís a smart girl," the Captain said, sitting down next to him. "I think youíll find that she knows as much as we do. I think what she needs now is to be able to talk about her fears."

"She doesnít want to talk to me in case she makes me sad." He found he had to swallow. "She really is special, isnít she?"

The Captain nodded. "I think so. Sheís a wonderful little girl, who right now is missing her mother and is frightened that she may not come back. In fact, she feels exactly the way you do. It might help to tell her that."

Tom nodded. "Youíre right. Seven is all right, isnít she? I mean, you donít think that sheís dead do you?" He desperately wanted the Captain to reassure him as well.

She sighed instead. "I wish I knew, Tom. I really wish I knew. Weíre keeping up the hails, hoping the guardian will answer them. I donít know what else to do."

"Thanks Captain. I know youíve done your best. I just canít stand this waiting."

"I understand. But you have to look after yourself a little better. Youíre obviously not sleeping. Youíre bags have bags under them. I know itís hard but you must get some rest. And when is the last time you ate? I know youíre making sure that Isabelle eats and sleeps. How about treating yourself the same way?"

Tom felt himself smile a little. "Yes Mother."

She flicked him lightly on the arm. "I am speaking as your Captain here, Lieutenant."

"Yes Maíam," he replied, his smile widening.

She patted his arm. "Iím sure weíll hear something soon."

Tom nodded, hoping it was true.

One Week Later:

The EMH turned around in surprise at the strange zapping noise behind him. Dropping the bacterial samples he was studying, he hurried over to the biobed that Seven had suddenly appeared on. Ignoring the guardian, who was standing next to her, he quickly grabbed a tricorder and started scanning her.

"She is sleeping now. My studies are complete," the guardian told him.

The Doctor gave him a dirty look before slapping his commbadge. "Sickbay to Janeway."

"Janeway here. What is it Doctor?"

"Youíd better come down here. Seven has been returned. And we have a visitor." He gave the guardian a suspicious look as he waited for the Captain to acknowledge his message.

He heard her give a sharp intake of breath. "Thank you Doctor. How is she?"

"She appears to be sleeping, but seems to be fit and healthy."

"Iíll be right there."

The Doctor continued to scan Seven, keeping one eye on the guardian the whole time. It wasnít long before the sickbay doors opened and Tom and the Captain came rushing through. Tuvok and Ayalla followed behind them.

The EMH looked at them curiously. He couldnít help wondering what the Captain thought the two security men could do, as this guardian seemed to be able to appear and disappear in the blink of an eye.

"Is she all right?" Tom asked him breathlessly.

"I believe so. These readings show her to be in perfect health. Sheís exhausted however."

"She refused to rest, determined to finish as quickly as possible," the guardian told them.

Tom pushed past him so that he could stand next to Seven. He gently brushed the hair from her face and took her hand in his. "Is she really just asleep?"

"As far as I can tell," the Doctor tried to reassure him.

"I looked after her the best that I could," the guardian said. "She came to no harm. And the knowledge I have gained is invaluable. I believe with some help from my fellow guardians, I may have found a way to eventually defeat the Borg."

"We are very pleased to hear that," Janeway told him. "But at the moment all we are concerned with is Seven."

"I can assure you she will be all right. She is merely exhausted, as your Doctor said. She will need to sleep for many hours, but will awaken none the worse for her experience. You have my word."

"We are all very relieved to hear that," Janeway said with a smile.

The guardian nodded and with a flash was gone.

Seven woke up slowly, aware that there were soft voices to one side of her.

She opened her eyes to see Tom, sitting next to her bed with Isabelle on his knee. They were talking amongst themselves and were not aware that she was awake. She watched them both in silence, thankful that she was able to be with the two of them again.

She must have made a small sound as Tomís eyes flew to hers and he smiled in delight. "Hi!" he said softly.

Isabelle squealed in excitement. "Mummy! You wakted up."

She sat up slowly and the Doctor hurried over. "Ah, Seven. Itís good to see you awake. How do you feel?"

Seven thought about it for a few moments. "Refreshed and hungry," she finally said.

"Iím pleased to hear it."

"I also need some company on this bed."

"Oh well, if thatís what you want."

She gave the Doctor a glare. "I am referring to Isabelle."

Tom scrambled up from his chair, placing Isabelle on the bed with her. She hugged the little girl tightly. Isabelle began to cry. "I missted you so much Mummy. I finked that you might be dead."

"I am sorry that I caused you so much worry." She looked at Tom as she spoke, rocking Isabelle and rubbing her back until she quietened.

Tomís eyes never left her face. "Weíre just glad that youíre back. How about I get you something to eat?" He headed over to the replicator. "What would you like?"

"A peanut butter and jelly sandwich," she said decisively.

Tom gave a small laugh. "The lady has taste. One peanut butter and jelly sandwich coming right up."

"How long have I been back on board?"

"Thirty six hours," the Doctor answered her as Tom hurried back. "Youíve been asleep the whole time."

"And the guardian is gone?" she asked.

"Yep," Tom said handing her the sandwich and taking Isabelle from her so that she could eat. "He says that your help was invaluable. Who knows? One day he may just find a way to defeat the Borg. In the meantime, weíre going home. We should be at the wormhole in two days."

"I am gratified to hear that." She hesitated, dreading to ask the next question. "Is the Captain very displeased with me for disobeying her orders?"

"No, I wouldnít say that. She was worried, just like the rest of us. I donít like your chances of getting into Starfleet Academy though."

She gave a small smile. "I will have to rethink my future career path, it seems."

"The Captain said sheíll talk to you tomorrow."

"I wouldnít worry about it," the Doctor put in. "It seems youíre something of a hero. Aboard this ship anyway."

She noticed that Tom frowned. "A hero?" she repeated.

"Why yes. The noble way you sacrificed yourself for the good of the ship. If they were Klingon, theyíd be writing a song about you."

She watched Tomís face the whole time the Doctor was talking. He was upset and trying to hide it. "When may I leave sickbay?" she asked.

"I donít see any reason why you canít leave now," the Doctor answered. "You appear to be suffering from no ill effects from your adventure."

Seven climbed off the bed carefully and Tom put Isabelle down so that he could steady her. They made their way through the ship to their quarters, Isabelle skipping happily ahead. Every crewmember they met on the way, had to stop them and ask how she was, and comment on how excited they were to be finally going home. It was a long, slow trip.

She felt happy for the crew, but could not share in their excitement. For her, home was here on Voyager with Tom and Isabelle.

They spent a quiet afternoon and evening together, Isabelle so excited that she couldnít stay still for more than a moment. It was a relief when the little girl was finally tucked up in bed, fast asleep.

Tom came back from checking on Isabelle one last time, and sank down on the couch next to her. "Youíre probably tired," he told her. "Your regeneration schedule is all out of synch now. Do you want to go to bed?"

"I believe we should talk first. It was strange. I did not need to regenerate whilst with the guardian, but now that I am back, I feel the need to, once more."

"What was it like while you were with him? He didnít hurt you, did he?"

"No. It was almost as if I were in a giant regeneration chamber the whole time I was there. I felt no pain, or hunger, or thirst."

"Thatís something anyway."

Seven watched him quietly for some moments before suddenly saying, "You are upset with me and have been trying to hide it."

"No Iím not," Tom quickly denied. "Iím just so glad youíre back. What makes you say that?"

"I am able to understand your body language better than you think. You are angry that I took such a risk."

"Iím not angry. Iím not real happy about it, though. Youíre right about that. I canít say too much, considering some of the stupid things Iíve done in the past. Some of the risks Iíve taken. But that was before you and Izzy. You just went without a thought for either of us. Weíve been through hell the past two weeks. Weíve been worried sick."

"I regret causing you so much concern, but I did think of you both. I hope you will believe that."

Tom sighed. "I missed you more than youíll ever believe."

"I missed you too."

Tom pulled her towards him and kissed her gently. "Promise me that you wonít do anything like that again."

The love shone from his eyes and Seven felt so happy, she found it hard to breathe. Taking a deep breath, she promised she wouldnít take a risk like that again and then snuggled deeply into his arms.

"All right Tom, take us in." Kathryn held her breath as they slowly entered the wormhole. They had sent three probes through before them, and each oneís readings revealed they had exited in the gamma quadrant. However, she wouldnít really believe it for herself until they were there.

Tomís hands flew over the controls as he adjusted for their new surroundings. "Weíll be on the other side in twenty seconds Captain," he reported. She nodded, standing behind him, her hand resting on his right shoulder as it had so many times over the past ten years. She could hear Ensign Anderson in the background counting down till their exit.

The ride was a little bumpy, but nothing that Tom couldnít handle.

"Five - four - three - two -." They exploded out into space once more, the stars bright and welcome. Kathryn turned around to look at Anderson as she studiously studied her console. "Weíre in the gamma quadrant, Captain."

There was a collective gasp from all around the bridge. She turned back to Tom, who was busy plotting in a course. "We should be at the Bajoran wormhole co-ordinates in approximately, two weeks, five days and thirteen hours if we keep at a steady speed of warp seven."

Somebody gave a small cheer and it was echoed by a few more.

"Letís wait until weíre through that wormhole before we celebrate," she cautioned, although she knew she couldnít keep the smile off of her own face.

She patted Tomís shoulder. "Well, what are you waiting for Lieutenant? Make it so."

"Yes Maíam," Tom said with a small laugh.

She went back to her seat and sat down, grinning at Chakotay as she did so. "Iíll let you have the pleasure of making a ship wide announcement, informing the crew of our new location."

"Are you sure? You should have that honor."

"Iíll make the announcement when we exit the next wormhole."

Chakotay laughed. "Will do."

Tom yawned loudly as he made his way out of the turbolift and headed towards his quarters. It had been a long day. An exciting day though, he decided. He had been surprised at how much he was looking forward to being home again.

Ten years ago he had been one of the few on board to actually relish the fact that they were stranded in the delta quadrant. He had thought he had nothing to go back to and over the years had thought of Voyager as his true home.

Now, he was as excited as everyone else on board. The excitement was mixed with a little bit of anxiousness, however. He knew everyone else felt the same. The ship was full of uncertainty as well as happiness.

Everyone had questions that would have to wait for answers. How much had changed in the past ten years? Were loved oneís still alive? Had partners waited, or moved on with their lives? How decimated was the alpha quadrant, due to the dominion war?

He had his own questions as well. He wondered how his mother and sisters and their families were. He couldnít wait to see all of them again. And his father? He cherished the brief message his father had got through to them over four years ago. He was proud of him, he had said, and there had been no mistaking the pride in the old manís voice.

He wanted desperately to see him once more. Tell him how sorry he was that he had caused him so much pain. And he wanted more than anything to tell him that he loved him.

He also wondered what his position would be when they returned. Would Starfleet recognize his field commission and honor it, or would they say, Ďthanks for all youíve done,í and set him adrift once more? He found that that didnít concern him all that much. He and Seven would find something else.

And that brought him to Seven. Would she even want to stay with him; once they were no longer on Voyager? He had hurt her terribly in the past. She may decide to go it alone. He certainly couldnít blame her, if she did.

As he entered their quarters he could hear soft murmurs coming from Isabelleís room. It was late and he realized that Seven must be putting their daughter to bed. He went over to the door, smiling, glad that he had got home in time to give her a kiss goodnight.

"You must not be frightened," Seven was saying. "I have never been to Earth before either. Life will be very different, I know, but Daddy will look after us."

"And weíll meet Daddyís family?" Isabelle asked.

"Yes. You will meet your grandfather and grandmother."

"Do you have family too, Mummy?"

"No, I do not think so, but you and Daddy are all the family I need."

Tom felt a tremendous relief at her words. She wasnít thinking of leaving him and going out on her own. He cleared his throat, causing Seven to turn around sharply and Isabelle to smile at him in delight. "Hello Daddy. Mummyís been telling me all about Earf."

"So I heard." He went over and knelt down next to the bed. "Mummyís right. You mustnít worry about being on Earth. Youíll love it, I know. Now how about you go to sleep and tomorrow, Iíll tell you everything you want to know about it."

Isabelle nodded sleepily and snuggled down under the blanket.

After they had kissed the little girl goodnight, Tom followed Seven into their bedroom, perching on the end of the bed as he watched her brush her hair. Her eyes were thoughtful and far away as she absently undressed and put on the pajamas he had given her.

"Penny for them?" he finally said.

She looked at him, a little startled. "Pardon?"

"Itís just an expression. I simply meant that you seem awfully thoughtful. Do you want to tell me whatís on your mind?"

"I was merely thinking of when we reach Earth. Your family. What are they like?"

"What do you mean? Theyíre fairly normal, I suppose. I havenít seen them for so long, itís hard to say. My sisters are serious and hardworking. Mum is gentle and kind. I know youíll love her. My Dad comes across as a little stern and forbidding, but heís a good man." Tom stopped for a moment, wondering if this was what she wanted to know.

"I see," she said. "Are they open-minded?"

"Open-minded?" He looked at her puzzled as she climbed into bed.

"I am wondering how they will react to me."

"Theyíll love you. Why wouldnít they?"

"I am not so sure. They may not like to have a Borg for a daughter-in-law."

"Youíre not a Borg."

"But I was."

"So what? That wasnít your fault. I used to be a general screw up and that was my fault. I hurt them all terribly. They may not even want to speak to me."

"They will, I am sure. You are their son. I am concerned that they may not approve of your choice of a wife."

"Itís not up to them to approve or disapprove. Iím a big boy now. I make my own choices. If they have a problem with that, then theyíre the ones who are missing out. Besides, youíre worrying over nothing. Theyíll see how much I love you and welcome you with open arms. Theyíll be ----." He stopped suddenly, unsure of what he had just said.

Seven was watching him with a strange look on her face. "Please continue," she said simply.

Tom found he couldnít, he could only stare at her instead. "I - um," he finally stuttered.

"You were stating how much you loved me," Seven told him helpfully.

He felt himself flush. "I do you know," he said softly.

She nodded. "I know."

"No, you donít understand. I love you, and I donít mean as a friend. I have for a long time, I was just too stupid to realize it."

Seven nodded once more. "I know."

"You do?"

"Yes. BíElanna told me."


"She said that you were a fool. That you were afraid of being hurt again and so pretended even to yourself that you did not love me. She knows you very well."

Tom shook his head in disbelief. "When did she tell you this?"

"Two days before I left with the guardian. I did not believe her at first, but I saw the truth in your eyes. That is what kept me going when I was with the guardian. Knowing that you loved me made me more determined to return to you."

Tom slowly made his way over to her. "BíElannaís right. I am a fool," he said huskily.

"I concur," Seven answered, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him to her. "But you are my fool."

Three Weeks later:

Kathryn sat back in her chair gratefully. Her eyes had dark circles under them, and she looked as if she hadnít slept for days.

"Just think Chakotay. This time tomorrow, weíll be on Earth. After ten years, weíre finally home."

He nodded with a smile. "You did it Kathryn. You brought us home."

Kathrynís eyes filled with tears. "I didnít bring us all home Chakotay. Talking to the families of the ones who died along the way; was the hardest thing Iíve ever done."

Chakotay patted her hand in sympathy. He had had to speak to a few families himself. Hard, didnít even begin to describe it.

When they had emerged from the wormhole and contacted Deep Space Nine they had been received warmly.

The station had broadcast the news of their return and Starfleet had ordered their immediate departure for Earth. Chakotay knew they would be given an official heroís welcome, just from the news telecasts they had received.

There had been constant communications with friends and loved ones. He had spoken to his mother, brother and sisters and their spouses and children. He was returning to a huge family. They had already told him that they would be on Earth to greet them.

BíElannaís mother had also contacted her, and had told her daughter how much she had missed her. She would not be on Earth to greet them but insisted they come to visit her on the Klingon homeworld as soon as possible.

Not everyone had had such good news however. Many crewmembers had found that their loved ones had died during the war, or their partners had moved into another relationship. But all of them would have somebody there to greet him or her.

Chakotay knew that Kathryn was feeling especially low at the moment, as she had just finished speaking with Harryís parents. They had taken the news of their sonís death very hard and Kathryn had felt it necessary to contact them again.

"How are the Kimís?" he asked her.

"They were better actually. Apparently Tom contacted them and told them all about his and Harryís friendship. Heís told them heís going to see them as soon as he can. It seemed to ease their grief a little."

Chakotay smiled. That was just like Tom. "Iíll be going to see them too," she added. "I thought Iíd deliver his personal effects myself. Iím going to try and do that for all the people we lost. I owe it to them."

"Iíll come with you, if you like. I feel I owe it to them as well."

Kathryn patted his hand in return. "Thank you Chakotay. Itís going to feel strange not having you at my side."

"That goes for me too. But BíElanna and I talked about it."

"You donít have to explain Chakotay. I understand perfectly. You have to do whatís right for you."

Although Starfleet had already assured them all that they would honor all commissions given over the course of their journey, Chakotay had told her that he and BíElanna would not be remaining in Starfleet. Many of the crew felt the same way. Most of the others had opted for a leave of absence before deciding. Only about a dozen crewmembers had already decided to remain in Starfleet. Kathryn was one of them, of course, and Tuvok, and he had been pleased to discover that Tom would also be staying. His future was secure and bright.

Chakotay sighed as he realized how much he would miss this family that they had all become and hoped desperately that most of them would stay in touch.

End Part Eleven