A/n: Anyone who recognises this story is right. It was originally written by xXBrightsideBumbleBeeXx but due to constraints on her time I'm taking this story over with her permission so that she can focus on her other multi-chapter fic C/7 fic "Shreds and Shards" and one-shots. This chapter is very much her work, except for some minor changes by me. She'll beta the chapters, so hopefully I'll be able to keep to the spirit of the original story. :) Please review and tell me what you think. :)

Her crystalline blue eyes shone brightly as she stepped into the room, though not from happiness or joy; her unshed tears had given them an unnatural, glassy gleam. Only when she was safe in the privacy of her tiny home would she allow the remains of her carefully sculpted mask to slip slowly away, as if it had never been there at all; finally allowing the grief trapped behind it to reveal itself in her every expression. She sat down and surveyed her living quarters intently, as if it was the first time she'd ever been inside them. The items that were so well engrained into her memory held no meaning anymore; and she had no idea why.

She'd always tried to be independent, which is why when she first fell for him, she'd insisted that they not move forward too quickly; it was a rule she'd broken herself in abundance, but it'd still been there. He made her forget that she was different, if only for even a few seconds at a time. After they'd reached Earth they'd set up home together, separate rooms of course. It made things easier, and not so. With the step came many progressions, and yet many setbacks. Whilst before, on Voyager, they'd been able to stay out of the other's hair during one of their rare, but intense, arguments; here one or the other would be forced to leave the house they shared for something even minutely resembling privacy.

Earth had been something of a culture shock for her. All the books she'd read, research she'd conducted, and simulations she'd run could never have prepared her for how utterly different Earth would be for someone like her. After all, even if she'd had the luck of retaining any memories from her six-year-old self, they'd no doubt have been the fragmented shards of what a child usually remembers. He'd been there, through thick and thin, helping her no matter what the cost was, no matter how much he'd be endangering himself in the process. None of her frequent doubt-ridden tantrums had shaken his confidence in her, or lessened the calm with which he consoled her when they ended. The old friends who'd shown incredulity or frustration at his relationship with her had been unceremoniously cut off without a flicker of regret from him. "If they can't accept us, then they won't have me." He'd said simply, when she'd asked for an explanation. No, not even when he'd been put under house arrest for 'assaulting' somebody who'd dared to criticise the relationship, had he blamed her for the black mark on his record and the fractured arm he kept for months.

He was strong like that, always had been, and she'd never doubted her love for him; though she was always a little hesitant to show it. Privately, she'd have given anything to proclaim to the entire universe that she, of all people, was now madly in love with someone who'd hated her at first glance.

And to tell them that he felt the same.

They'd muddled along together, each helping each other to 'adapt'. The Voyager crew had, for the most part, gone their separate ways and only met up at the reunions. It was sad, in a way, to see her makeshift family, her 'collective', drift apart so; but with change came promise, and as the weeks slipped away, she'd gradually grown accustomed to life on Earth. Their relationship had followed that same pattern, they'd stayed in their first, pocket-sized, home, although the second bedroom had along since been transformed into a shared study, and even their wedding, conducted four years in, had been understated and private. They'd taken a cue from Tom and B'Elanna and eloped during one of Chakotay's more isolated Central American anthropological digs. Standing alone in a rainforest clearing with just the local Justice of the Peace and the birds as witnesses, they'd cemented their relationship as they had everything else, together with no interference. Of course Tom Paris had insisted throwing them a small reception on their return, a necessity since Miral was already put out at not having been a flower-girl and wouldn't be denied at least a party dress. They could have gone further, had children and perhaps pursued more high-profile, illustrious careers, but they'd been content to watch those friends they had kept in contact with blossom and to feel their own love grow deeper roots with each passing day. Inevitably, each of them had their "what if" moments, but how could they really ask for more, when they'd already surpassed their wildest dreams just by finding each other? Admittedly, most days, she dreamed of setting out amongst the stars again, to explore the vast emptiness of what used to be her home. One look in her husband's eyes, however, and she berated herself for thinking that home could ever be anyplace that set her apart from the man she adored.

It had all been so perfect.

But, as had always seemed to be the case, their happiness would not last for long. Just five short years after returning to Earth, Chakotay had been called upon to guide the U.S.S. Skyline on her maiden voyage through the Beta Quadrant. He'd tried to refuse the mission at first, with jokes such as 'Do you have any idea how bad I am with big missions?', 'I'm at a pivotal point in my research', (said with a sly wink at the people he worked with; there was no such project), and 'The missus needs me here, guys'. After his light, subtle way of trying to avoid the mission failed, he tried to convince Seven that it maybe wasn't such a bad idea to go; she could explore the stars once again, and he could fulfil his dreams of being a respected, noble Captain, one who led by means of reward, rather then punishment. As the months nearing up to the launch passed, he became less angry with Starfleet for their sudden change of heart regarding his status; he felt as though he owed them for forgiving his Maquis past. He began to feel more accepting of the idea, despite his anger at Starfleet not extending the same courtesy to the idea of Seven joining him. Of course, as his wife she had a legal right to go with him, but as Seven once commented, "What is legal and what is feasible can be very different." Starfleet had clearly spelled out the rule that a Captain's spouse cannot have a post on said Captain's vessel, no exceptions. Fears of favouritism outdid love in this instance. Now, both Seven and Chakotay were well aware of the fact that Seven wouldn't be able to cope with a year of enforced leisure, but Chakotay still argued its benefits at first. Part of Seven, the part afraid of a year of separation, was inclined to agree, but she knew that bringing his ex-Borg bride along on his first commission as a Captain would not endear him to his crew by any means. Just the fear of the guilt that would stem from being the reason for Chakotay's failure made her resist stepping foot onto the Skyline. There was also the issue of Starfleet's pressure on her to remain working, as an unranked consultant, on the Borg enhanced systems that they insisted needed to be developed and launched under her supervision. Eventually, after months of soul-searching, punctuated by a few of their famously passionate arguments, they came to the joint conclusion that twelve months wasn't long to be apart in body when they were going to spend the rest of their lives together.

And so he'd gone, leaving a gaping hole in her life that would take a long time, if not forever to fill. Talking just wasn't the same when they were on a time limit and somebody was monitoring them. The banter was strained, forced even. They both wanted to say so much more than what words could ever narrate, and it was impossible to do that with a universe separating them. Once, about three months into the mission, Chakotay had managed to get rid of the person who monitored the calls back home; being the Captain did have its advantages after all, and he'd set up a red chequered picnic blanket. Back home, Seven had done the same thing. Together, on that night, despite being galaxies apart, they managed to eradicate the stars between them and come together like they had done just over five years before, a few peaceful days before Voyager's course, and the course of their lives, had been changed forever. The one and only thing that could have made it perfect would to have been able to hold each other again.

About a month later, the calls and messages stopped. No word of warning; it was a bolt from the blue. There was a big uproar about it in the newspapers the next day: 'U.S.S Skyline Bites The Dust'. Crude, and unfeeling, but it got the job done. Panic was rife throughout the friends and relatives of those travelling aboard the ship. Weeks and weeks of research had been conducted before an official report stating that the Skyline had turned off its tracking devices, therefore cutting itself off from Earth too, was released. The long wait had not soothed the concerns of those whose families had been torn apart from the ship's departure. Rescue ships were deployed into all known parameters, but they all drew blanks. Big, empty blanks. Most people, after that, lost their respect for Starfleet; as they'd let 'Voyager happen again'.

And thus the downward spiral began.

A low beeping noise jolted Seven from her train of thought, with a quick glance at the clock she realized that she'd been curled up for over three hours. Her aching joints groaned as she rose from her foetal position and made her way into the tiny, red, chrome kitchen. Ever since he'd left, Seven had found the room to be cold; it was no longer warmed by his laughter. This feeling did not soften any as she bit into the warm strawberry tart, noting that its sharp stinging tang provided a slight distraction from her thoughts of loneliness and anger. The anger was not solely aimed at Starfleet; he could've done more to get out of leaving their home, not to mention leaving her. Though she was trying, as per Starfleet's recommendation, to go on with normal life, she couldn't help but speculate over how many times her life had been altered during the past ten years. Waking up from her maturation chamber, being set to work, meeting the Voyager crew, becoming one of the Voyager crew... She'd been through so much, and it was only when she took the time to evaluate her life that she realised how fragmented her existence had become.

It was in that moment that she realized that something had to be done...

He would come back to her, and they would be a family.