Dear readers

This is the last chapter of the story. It is also the longest chapter because the events should all be absorbed in one reading.

My most gracious thanks to all who read, enjoyed, commented on this story.

CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT

The light in sick bay was at 100% illumination. Chakotay's uniform was wet; his hair plastered to his scalp. He was wheezing painfully, his eyes wide with fear as he lay Kathryn down on the biobed and the EMH immediately stood ready with a scanner.

"What happened, Commander?"

"I think she slipped, Doc. In the bathroom. She slipped, for God's sake!"

"Take it easy, Commander. We'll have her and the baby safe in no time," the EMH said tersely as he prepared Kathryn Janeway for delivery.

"Kathryn, Kathryn, wake up, please, honey..." Chakotay pleaded.

"Commander, she'll come to in a second. Be calm, will you?"

Chakotay grabbed the Doctor's wrist and hissed like an angry snake.

"I found her unconscious in the bathroom, Doctor. My wife has gone into labour - a month early, and you tell me I must be calm?"

"Let go of me!"

"Fine. Take care of her, Doc, she's all I have..."

Chakotay bent over Kathryn again and when she opened her eyes slowly, saw Chakotay bending over her.

"Chakotay?"

His palm cupped her cheek. Kathryn looked ashen, yet she tried to smile. She moaned instead as she clutched her belly.

"God, Kathryn! You fell in the bathroom!"

"You're in labour, Captain. It's time for those breathing exercises I've recommended - "

"Hear that, Kathryn? Next contraction, breathe...please…" Chakotay coaxed. He clutched her hand tightly as she arched, crying out.

"Please, honey..."

"I - I can't, Chakotay. Chakotay, I - must tell you - must tell you - " Kathryn gasped.

"What, Kathryn? What must you tell me? Doctor?" Chakotay turned to face the doctor.

"I take it she hasn't told you, Commander," the doctor said as he monitored the baby's heartbeat.

"What's going on?"

"I'm too old for this sort of thing, Chakotay..." Kathryn said, her face contorting with pain.

"What she means, Commander, is that - "

"Shut up, Doctor. Just get my baby out safely," Kathryn commanded with sudden fire as she half lifted herself from the bed and grabbed the doctor's wrist like Chakotay had done minutes before.

"Kathryn is healthy, right, Doctor?"

"She has had hypertension, Commander, a grave, but treatable condition during pregnancy."

"Kathryn?"

"I'll be okay," she breathed heavily just before another contraction hit her.

"Spirits, Kathryn, I have a few hundred more grey hairs than I had yesterday! "

"My - My baby, Doctor, she'll be okay?" Kathryn asked.

The doctor nodded and continued monitoring the baby's progress.

Then Kathryn cried out in pain again and the next few minutes Chakotay wanted to cry with her as she wept. He shouted at the doctor to sedate Kathryn, to which Kathryn recovered a second, looked balefully at him and hissed.

"I want the pain, Chakotay. Don't deny me!"

"But, Kathryn, you're not well, and - and - "

"Shut up and hold my hand."

Over the next few hours Chakotay tried his best not to kill the EMH. Kathryn appeared to weaken even as the contractions increased in intensity. He held her hand and wiped the perspiration from her face. She looked very, very pale, he thought. His heart lurched suddenly at the thought that something was going wrong. Kathryn really looked ill. He felt like bursting into a wild bout of tears because she looked so brave despite his concerned that she looked close to collapse.

He had been working late and arrived from Gamma shift only at 2400. She was nowhere to be seen. He called her name as his anxiety grew. Then his heart stopped for a few moments when he saw Kathryn lying on the floor in the bathroom. Her water had broken. How long she had been lying there unconscious before she eventually opened her eyes and seeing him gave him violent shudders even as he held her hand and guided her to breathe. She must have slipped and knocked her herself unconscious against the side of the tub. The trauma of falling... Spirits! Her water had broken and she had gone into labour. She couldn't have known it would happen. He thanked the spirits that he had arrived in time because he wanted to see how she was doing.

"Almost there, Captain," the doctor said quietly. Then he stared at the readout on the monitor, longer than Chakotay thought was necessary. A shiver gripped him, turned him cold with fear as the EMH's eyes widened.

"Doctor, what's happening?"

The EMH said nothing. Chakotay sensed he didn't want to distress Kathryn.

"Something wrong, Doc?" Chakotay asked again. The doctor looked at him, waved with a hand that he should walk round to the monitor.

"There is no fetal heartbeat, Commander," he said softly as Chakotay reached him. "Something is blocking the baby's air passage. She's suffocating. The umbilicus - "

"Christ, Doctor," Chakotay whispered, turning quickly to look at Kathryn, whose face already registered distress.

"M-My baby," she gasped.

"I'll have to do a fetal transport, Commander," the doctor said as he set up the incubator on an adjacent table. "It's the only option. She'll die - "

"Do it! Now!"

"M-my baby," Kathryn whimpered again. Tears were forming in her eyes. "I want my baby, Chakotay..."

"She's going to be alright, Kathryn. Just you see."

"Ready, Commander?"

Chakotay nodded and a minute later the baby lay outside the womb. They stared in shock at the umbilical cord that was wound tightly round her neck. She was already blue.

"Oh, God..."

"Help me this side, Commander."

Chakotay looked at Kathryn, who had breathed quietly then closed her eyes when the baby was transported from her. Kathryn's hair was wet, and she lay limp as if the baby had just slipped from her belly.

"Commander!"

The next few minutes, Chakotay wished he were dead. He wished he had three pairs of hands. In a haze, a dimming of the sounds around him that was really a deep buzzing in his ears, he heard the EMH hail Tom Paris. Chakotay held the incubator ready while the EMH unwound the cord from Tara's neck. The next few minutes the EMH worked on Tara. The cord had been tied off and he was resuscitating the baby with great care.

"There, Kathryn, see - ?" Chakotay started, looking at Kathryn, laughing and crying at the same time, "Doc's saving Tara for us - "

Then Chakotay drew in his breath sharply.

"Kathryn? Kathryn!"

Kathryn tried to open her eyes, but she had turned blue, her lips dark.

"Oh, God, Kathryn... Doctor! What the hell's happening?"

The doctor looked up from the baby, his eyes widening as he saw how still Kathryn lay. He looked down at the baby who was still blue and who had not made a sound yet, then at Kathryn again. He grabbed the scanner and ran it over Kathryn's head.

"Commander, cardiac arrest. I'm sorry. The infant is not making it - "

"Kathryn? Wake up, Kathryn..." Chakotay pleaded as the EMH ran between the incubator and Kathryn's bed. He administered shock treatment, and Kathryn's body arched high from the bed, then sagged down again. He repeated the procedure twice and Kathryn arched again.

"Come on, Kathryn, wake up."

When the EMH tried again, Chakotay pushed him away with such force that he stumbled, almost fell over the incubator.

"Save the baby."

Chakotay pressed his palms flat on Kathryn's chest, pressed hard five times, then breathed into her mouth. She lay with her head turned to him, staring at him with dead eyes as he thumped into her chest, then breathed. He was crying wildly.

"Come on, Kathryn! Don't go dying on me. Don't - go- dying - on -me!" he shouted in a demented voice. Then he lifted her to him, held her for a few moments and shouted, screamed, cried, as she failed to respond. He rocked her for a few maddening seconds before he started the procedure again.

"I -can't - lose - you - now -!"

And again,

"Don't go dying on me, Kathryn. Kathryn!"

"Commander, I'm afraid it's over - "

Chakotay gripped the Doctor's jacket and shook him.

"So help me God, Doc, this woman came to me late. I've lost her a hundred times before. I - will - not- lose- her - again. I'll not lose her again," he repeated, each word emphasized by shaking the doctor. Then he let the EMH go abruptly, before trying again with Kathryn. The EMH studied the readings, his eyes lighting up suddenly. He prepared a stimulant and administered the hypospray to Kathryn's neck..

"Now, Commander. Try again!"

Chakotay, bolstered by the renewed hope in the doctor's voice, started, his vision blurred by tears as he breathed into Kathryn, then counted again as he pressed into her chest, simulating her heartbeat.

"Please, sweetheart, do it for me. Don't go dying..."

"Doc, baby's breathing," Tom's voice sounded up in the sickbay.

"There, Kathryn. Tara is fine, you - hear - me - Kathryn? Tara - is - fine - "

"Commander, there's a heartbeat! It's faint, but it's there," the doctor cried out, his voice filled with relief as he read the scans.

"Doctor...?"

The Doctor reached him and rested his hand on Chakotay's shoulder.

"Yes, Commander. She will live. I'll do the rest now.. You saved her life."

The doctor administered another hypospray. Chakotay looked drunk, his eyes swimming in tears as he watched how the colour returned to Kathryn's face and her eyes moved. Then she gave a small sob, like she suddenly started breathing again as she sucked in her breath. Her hair lay in wet tendrils against her skin. Chakotay trembled violently as he brushed the wet hair from Kathryn's face, not realising how his tears fell on her.

"Chakotay?"

"Oh, God, Kathryn, you made it, sweetheart," he cried brokenly. "You made it..." He buried his face against her for a minute and sobbed. When he recovered, her hand came up and touched his face.

"Tara?"

"She's fine, Kathryn. She's just fine..."

"Commander, could you step back please?" the Doctor asked quietly. "We need to make mother and baby comfortable. It's 0900 hours and I'm expecting the first crewmen for medicals."

"I'm not leaving her, Doc," Chakotay said.

"I'm not asking you to leave. But you need to rest, too. The Captain and the infant will be fine now that they're both out of danger. "

Chakotay, marginally composed after their ordeal, pulled the doctor roughly by his arm and strode with him to the small office of sickbay. He nodded to Tom who had already started cleaning up, and who acknowledged his command. The sickbay doors had opened and Sam Wildman entered. Tom looked at her with relief and he nodded again to Chakotay.

In the office, Chakotay pushed the doctor so hard that the EMH fell into his chair.

"Now, Doctor, my wife must never know of the part I played today. Do you hear me?"

"Commander, I don't think you realise that you've done something that all my medical knowledge couldn't correct." The EMH looked for a moment almost sad.

"She must never know, do you hear? Once before, I lost her, just like that. You have no idea, Doctor, no idea at all what it does to man to lose the very breath of his existence. It's happened to me, not once, but twice."

"You don't understand, Commander Chakotay, that I have to enter into the medical - "

Chakotay pulled the doctor up and hissed into his face.

"Seems you haven't heard a word I said, Doc. Not a word to Kathryn Janeway, do you understand? Not a word. Tell Tom Paris not to breathe anything. I swear by God I'll programme a new EMH for this vessel if you do. My wife needs to know she had a normal delivery, that she was fine during labour. Get that?"

The doctor nodded, agreeing reluctantly.

"Good, now that we understand each other, I'll sit with my wife and keep a vigil under she gets better."

"So, you want to marry me? Get up, Kathryn. You don't have to go on your knees for me."

But Chakotay had been filled with a breathless joy and a secret thrill that her feelings had not changed. She had made the first move, to ask him to marry her. Imagine that. Imagine her courage! He had despaired, had lost hope that he would ever fill all the corners of Kathryn Janeway's heart. She asked him and he had seen the fear in her eyes - fear that he would reject her offer, as she had rejected his. She was afraid! Kathryn Janeway who rarely exposed herself like that! He knew with blinding insight the power he had over her; he could crush her in an instant. He was human enough to allow such a feeling to invade his mind even for a fleeting instant. He was a man who had been reduced to nothing by her, and now she asked him. She had done so with the knowledge that he could humiliate her, reduce her to a whimpering woman begging for mercy. But, he was a man, proud Native American who took the mark of his people, who saw a brave and great woman do something that had taken amazing courage and for that he had never admired Kathryn Janeway more, or loved her more deeply than he had at any time in his life.

Yet, he had to set a record in perspective. It would not look good on his résumé should his only daughter - yes, he knew that should he ever make a baby with Kathryn Janeway, it would be a girl and she would be Tara - ask one day how her father proposed to her mother.

How could he tell his daughter-to-come that it was her mother who proposed?

Some things of alpha male behaviour settled in Eden and carried on through the centuries, never lost its tradition - the man should ask the woman.

"I'm afraid I can't accept your proposal."

Maybe he shouldn't have said it, but at the cost of hurting her only for a moment longer - he would ensure her everlasting joy after that - he knew it had to be done. "I can't accept your proposal." Kathryn's eyes broke up, filled with tears. She turned and wanted to run. He caught her hand, pulled her roughly into his embrace.

"Will you marry me, Kathryn Janeway and be the love of my life?"

"I had Chell make this ring for you, Chakotay," Kathryn said as they lay in their bed and he studied his ring.

"Chell, huh. Chell, the jeweller. Good choice, Kathryn."

"Chakotay, darling, have you looked inside the ring?"

"Oh?" He sounded surprised. "And you never breathed a word?"

"I thought I didn't have to say anything, Chakotay. Just goes to show where your primary interest lies."

"Ah, yes, my primary interest lies next to me, in our bed, in my heart, mind and body?"

"Read it, Chakotay, darling."

Chakotay took off the ring, ordered 100 percent illumination and sucked in his breath. He didn't look at the ring, but at Kathryn lying naked on top of the covers, looking loved... Her eyes were smoky, her lips red from too many kisses, parted just enough to arouse him again. He coughed, turned his attention to read the inscription.

For Chakotay - love of my life

"You always called me that, on New Earth," she said quietly.

"I love you, Kathryn Janeway."

He slipped the ring back, then bent down to kiss her, feeling suddenly how the tears burned behind his closed eyelids.

He had been simmering all afternoon, ever since Kathryn appeared on the bridge with her new hairstyle. He had allowed his anger to show, a fleeting flash in his eyes, then the disappointment. He had run his fingers through that luxuriant hair night after night...there... He didn't want to think of that place as having a name, let alone memories of it. Deleting it from his personal logs had been kind. He had closed his heart and his mind to that place. It held his greatest joy and his greatest sorrow.

Especially his greatest sorrow.

In his quarters he had gone into the shower and allowed the sonic heat to burn his body so fiercely that he screamed her name.

He always cried out her name.

Even in his sleep.

How many times had he woken in the night, drenched in sweat, dreaming of Kathryn, of the warm nights when they'd lain naked, sated after their lovemaking? How many nights had they lain when it was storming and he held Kathryn so tightly in his embrace? She had been afraid, like she had been that night of the first storm.

How many times had she murmured, "I love you, Chakotay"?

"Kathryn! Damn you, Kathryn Janeway!"

The Orinoco was under fire. Where had those rogue vessels suddenly sprung from? Despite hails to Voyager, they had to ride out the storm.

"Neelix, how's it going?"

"Commander, they're firing again!" Neelix shouted.

"I know! Trust Kathryn to give us a type six shuttle. The Orinoco is slow today. Sayenne, evasive maneuver! Can we evade them?" Chakotay was firing, trying to hold off one vessel on the port side.

"I'm on it, sir," Sayenne replied, but Chakotay didn't miss the fleeting glimpse of fear in the Ensign's eyes.

"We'll make it, Sayenne! Voyager! Come in, we're under attack!" Chakotay shouted as another burst of phaser fire strafed them portside. The Orinoco veered violently.

"Evasive maneuver Coral Beta 2! Let's see you put your skills into practice. Now!"

"Voyager to Chakotay."

"Kathryn! We need back-up. We're heading for the third moon - "

"We're on it, Commander," he heard Tom's voice.

Then the Orinoco was hit full on. The shuttle careened out of control, hurtling towards the third moon.

"Sayenne!"

"I'm making a crash landing, sir. Brace for impact!"

Minutes later the shuttle hit the surface, skidding helplessly for almost five hundred metres before crashing to a halt against a large boulder. Neelix was flung from the shuttle while Sayenne took the burnt of the crash. Chakotay was flung against the opposite bulkhead. He heard a sound, his skull cracked and the pain when it came, was ten thousand blinding stabs of pure agony.

Then the shuttle burst into flames.

Chakotay's final recollection was an image of Kathryn with Tara on her lap as she rocked the baby.

He reached for her as his body burned and cried out one last time before he lost consciousness:

"Kathryn... Kathryn..."

"Come on, Chakotay, sweetheart, wake up now."

He tried to move. What was that voice?

"Easy, take it easy..."

From the depths of darkness he swam to the surface. The darkness that had been his jailer finally released him. Slowly Chakotay opened his eyes. He tried to focus. The figures were bobbing blurs that refused to remain still.

If he kept still, the blurring might stop. Several seconds later, they came into focus.

He saw Kathryn's face. She was smiling, but there were tears in her eyes. He frowned. She was here, the thought ran through him. She was here, in sickbay with him, and not lying dead in a market on Melvech. His eyes were sunken, tired, but there was heat in them. His throat constricted and his lips felt dry.

"You are here, Kathryn?"

He tried to touch her, make certain that she was not a hallucination.

"What did you see, Chakotay?" she asked softly. In the background he could just see the doctor moving about. The sickbay doors had also opened and someone walked in. Chakotay wanted to sit up, moaned a little and Kathryn pressed him gently back against the headrest.

"They attacked you," he stammered. "You - you and - and Tara and B'Elanna... The sun was in my eyes and I - I had a splitting headache. I couldn't see. The light was blinding. They took Tara from you. There were flashes of silver, like daggers... Then you fell..."

His hand reached for her and she laced her fingers with his gratefully. She smiled gently, wiped his damp brow. He couldn't take his eyes off her, slaking his thirst as he looked hungrily at her.

"They were tall hats, Chakotay. In three days' time, the Melvechians will celebrate the Festival of the Moons, and the hats are part of the celebration rituals. B'Elanna and I were trying them on. The Melvechian you saw take Tara from me, was Melvech's First Ambassador, Bren Hadar. He was there with his wife and daughter..."

Relief filled him, washed through his body.

Hats...the spirits be praised...

"It was that simple?"

"It was that simple, Chakotay."

He kept her hand in his. His eyes glowed as he gazed at her, long and unwavering. This time Kathryn frowned. Her lips quivered.

"Chakotay?" his name issued as a soft prayer from her.

"The Orinoco crashed..."

Kathryn Janeway closed her eyes briefly. Chakotay knew...

"We know, Chakotay," Kathryn gave a sob. "We know, honey..." Then her tears fell. She bent over to press her lips to his. When she straightened up again, he gripped her hand tightly.

"I remember, my Kathryn. I remember...everything."

Chakotay tried to sit up, and this time Kathryn helped him to a sitting position. He swung his legs off the bed and pulled Kathryn to him.

"I remember everything," he said again, "love of my life..."

"Chakotay!"

Kathryn threw herself in his embrace. It was Chakotay whose body shuddered as the sobs overtook him in the next few minutes. Dry, wracking sobs that wouldn't abate as he buried his face against Kathryn's bosom. All the time she held him, stroked his back, consoling him. When at last the sobbing subsided, he held her away from him. His face was somber, but the tension, the old grief was no longer there. His eyes were clear, unwavering as they remained fixed on her.

He had a sudden vision of those last seconds on the Orinoco. Neelix trying to brace himself. The landing, the skidding. Sayenne turning to look at him, then pushing Chakotay to the rear of the shuttle. His last waking moment was of Sayenne's body engulfed in flames.

"I know Ensign Sayenne died, Kathryn. He saved my life."

Kathryn nodded.

Over her shoulders he looked at the officer standing a little away from them.

"Tom."

"Welcome back, Commander."

"I gave you some grief, didn't I?" Chakotay said. Tom gave a chuckle. He stepped forward and Chakotay shook his hand.

"Want to go one round with me some time? Just a friendly bout," Tom asked.

"Sure thing, Paris. You're on."

Tom moved away again. The EMH approached them. "Well, Commander, you've been out for the count for a few hours. I thought it better you sleep it off. Now, be off with you. Captain," the EMH turned to Kathryn, "I recommend bed rest for the Commander, and resuming duty only in two days.

"Thanks, Doc. I'd be glad to get out of here." Chakotay slid off the bed, kissed the back of Kathryn's hand and said, "Let's go home, love of my life..."

It was evening and they were sitting down to a light meal. Tara was mercifully sleeping after playing with her mother all morning down on Melvech. Back in their cabin the baby insisted Kathryn put her on Chakotay's chest to play there. She had a hard time getting Tara to rest and after her bath and feed for the evening, she had been more calm. Chakotay had woken up once in the late afternoon. Although still heavy with sleep he played with Tara. Kathryn's heart warmed when Chakotay, out of sheer exhaustion fell asleep again, not moving when Tara clambered all over him on the bed. Since their daughter could walk, and being almost a year old, she slid easily off the bed, and with her mother's help, was lifted on it. They were no longer so afraid that she'd fall off.

Chakotay had only murmured in his sleep while Tara pulled his hair, or kissed him, at one time even biting him. Kathryn had watched with indulgent motherly pride how Chakotay welcomed his child, as if he hadn't seen her in months. In reality he hadn't seen her in months and was only mildly surprised to see the new teeth, Tara's proclivity to bite him whenever she could. It was wonderful to watch him, even when he rested. It seemed he needed to have Tara all over him, even when he was sleeping, to know in his subconscious they were there, with him.

There was an aching familiarity about his movements in the quarters, or the way he looked at her with his old recognition. When she insisted he rest just after they had returned to their quarters - her heart burned when he called it "home' - he didn't demur, and she knew how tired he was. She guessed that the headache that started the morning and which led to his hallucination, must have exploded to the extent that his perceived fear of his family being threatened was the only trigger he needed to bring back all his memories that rushed at once into his head.

Now, watching her husband as he sipped his wine, she could see how clear his eyes were, freed of the headaches, hopefully permanently. She had woken him gently earlier, and after freshening up he had been quiet, just looking at her, or touching her hand, her cheek, needing to regain and re-establish all his old terrains. She let him be. He would talk, she knew, when he was ready. They had time, and time was what Chakotay needed. He needed to assimilate all his memories, needed to think about his life and absorb all the familiar aspects of it that had eluded him for almost four months. Most of the evening she had read while Tara was sleeping, occasionally looking up when Chakotay moved her way. He had been once at his computer, studied it for a short while, then ambled about the quarters. Once he took the book she was reading, then nodded approvingly. The page had been open at Keats's Sonnet 19.

Chakotay looked at her, smiled, then took another sip of his wine. It was the look in his eyes, she thought, that had been nothing short of a miracle. There were no shadows, no dark mists that had always been there in the last months, even though he had been unaware that it was there. His eyes looked clear. Chakotay looked at her not with the recognition of the past months, but with his old regard, that deep sense of knowing the depth in her, the glorious knowledge that he could remember any scene, any conversation, remember the joy, the pain. He put his glass down, studied her for a moment.

"You know, Kathryn..."

There was a sudden apprehension as her fork stilled mid-air. She put it down and looked at him.

"What is it?"

"I missed the nuances..."

Her eyes filled with a deep, intuitive understanding. He didn't have to say more. He reached over the table to touch her hand. Her fingers trembled slightly under his. She knew what he meant. She could tell him in the finest detail about his life that he had forgotten, but he missed the body language, the change of colour in the eyes that indicated a change of emotion, the tenor of her voice, timbre, everything that was a gauge of feelings.

"You were someone I came to know and fall in love with - again..." He smiled when he said that. His eyes were sober, though. "But always, in my subconscious, I wondered about the other Kathryn, the Kathryn I married. Always, even though you filled me in on so many things, including the traumatic ones, I wondered about her..."

"And I saw the man," she whispered with painful honesty, "who was searching, even when he didn't know how the questions lay in his eyes, how his eyes would give him away in quiet moments..."

"We didn't speak about so many things. While I was lying in sickbay, I experienced again the night you gave birth, and Kathryn, you - you died that night, did you know? I despaired of - " His eyes shifted, averted her gaze. Chakotay struggled to compose himself. He wiped furiously at his brow.

"Shhh... all in its time, my love," she comforted as she again covered his hand.

"I never spoke about it," he said painfully. "I lost you, that night, Kathryn. I - "

"Don't, please..."

"Yes, I have to, sweetheart. When I met you, I fell in love with you. After that, it always seemed to me I was losing you."

"I'm - I'm so sorry, Chakotay."

"No, don't be, Kathryn. Don't ever be. I just need to tell you why I became obsessed, I think."

Kathryn nodded heavily, knowing how painful it was for Chakotay to relive those events, and for her to hear them again.

"Every time," he continued, "I was losing you. You left me; I despaired of ever finding you again. And when you agreed to marry me, I thought my life was finally complete. All the leaving would be over. I was desperate to protect you and Tara. I lost much, Kathryn, and I didn't want to lose you again. When you died giving birth, I think I became demented for a while. I resuscitated you, you know."

"I know, Chakotay," she answered softly, warily.

"You knew? All the time?"

"We never did speak of our traumas, did we? I left my body and saw how you battled to save my life. You did once before..."

He became quiet for a while, finishing his meal. Kathryn excused herself from the table, returned a minute later and sat down again. She put a little box on the table, and pushed it towards him.

"Kathryn?"

"Open it..."

He opened the box slowly and when he held the ring in his hand, he frowned.

"Down there, on Melvech, in the market, I asked Noah about whether I had worn a wedding band - "

Kathryn's eyes clouded.

"The crash, the way your body burned... The ring burned off your finger, Chakotay."

He nodded, studied the ring.

"I asked Chell a month ago to make me another one," she said.

Chakotay looked at her and frowned.

"I was always going to give it to you on a day like today, when - when there were no grey mists, Chakotay."

He read the inscription.

For Chakotay - love of my life

He slipped the ring on his finger and rose from the table.

"Come here, Kathryn Janeway..."

He took her hand and walked with her to the lounge.

"Dance with me?"

She floated into his arms.

"Computer, play twentieth century song, "As time goes by..."

"Instrumental or voice?" the computer asked.

"Voice. Lena Horn."

"A kiss is just a kiss..."

They swayed gently to the music that filled the cabin. Kathryn's head rested against his chest. He pressed his lips into her hair.

"I am doubly blessed, Kathryn," he whispered.

She looked up at him.

"So am I, Chakotay. So am I."

He bent down to kiss her - the woman he fell in love with the first time he saw her and the woman he fell in love with the second time he saw her. His lips touched hers in a benediction.

"I have gathered all my dreams now, Kathryn - love of my life."

THE END

Author's Note: The title came from line in a song I learnt s a child :

Chorus:

"We can think of roses in the winter time

And gather dreams that never fade away

Our school days and our holidays

The day we fell in love

Are lovely moments that will always stay".

[Author unknown].