NOTE: Takes place in the "Time On My Hands" universe. Honestly, I don't know where this came from.


"Let's put it right here."

My daughter's voice, as imperious as it is high-pitched and childish, drifts through the open kitchen window.

"Too close to the oak tree," her mother answers. "We won't have a clear view." She pauses. "I should send your father up there to trim that old thing. One good wind and it'll take out the workshop."

"I'll do it!" I hear one of my sons take three running steps on the path to the shop. "I'll get the ladder and the saw and -"

"You'll do no such thing, Mister," my wife commands, and I smile. "Get back here and help us."

"I told you she wouldn't let you," my other son taunts. My wife hushes him and the sound of his brother's footsteps moves back toward the yard.

I haven't looked out the window, but I know they must be taking their latest creation from the shop out to the yard. They've been working on it for a couple of weeks, the four of them, bolting from the dinner table as soon as the dishes are cleared and spending the rest of the evening in the shop.

My children are all good with their hands – a legacy from both of us, I suppose. My projects tend toward the sturdy and practical: The table and chairs they just left, many bookshelves, the kids' desks and chairs. The headboard in the big bedroom upstairs – and the cribs the children slept in as newborns.

My wife's creations tend to be smaller, but more precise and delicate, and usually serving a purpose beyond working, eating, and sleeping. I assume this latest project is no exception and I'm anxious for the unveiling of their handiwork – especially since they've been keeping it a secret.

I replace the last of the antique china in the cupboard and glance out the window. In the waning light I enjoy a long look at my family. The gray streaks in my wife's auburn hair catch the last rays of the setting sun. The boys, both gangly and broad-shouldered, help Kathryn with a wooden tripod that must be part of their creation. And our petite and fine-boned little daughter stands by, hands on hips, chin raised. The sight almost makes me laugh out loud. Even at nine years old, she is so like her mother I have an urge to snap to attention every time she speaks.

As I watch them a faint memory tickles at the back of my mind, but before I can place it the dog, an unruly chocolate lab that outweighs my daughter, rushes in from the side yard and charges the tripod.

For a second, chaos descends on the yard. The dog barks, the children yelp, my wife grabs the dog – "Get down, Emmett! Bad dog!" – the tripod wobbles...and I am overcome by a memory so vivid it almost brings tears to my eyes. Given its significance to all of us, I can't believe I've forgotten it for so long. But now it comes back to me all at once, and so clearly it seems as though it just happened yesterday – not almost twenty years ago and half a universe away.

It was maybe a year into our journey, long before New Earth. We'd just experienced two straight weeks of cascading systems failures. Replicators and communicators were the first to go down, followed by propulsion, navigation...everything. The artificial gravity and life support systems hadn't wavered yet, thanks to multiple fail-safes, but we all felt it was just a matter of time before they went down, too. There were no hostile aliens to complicate matters, thank the spirits, but the failures were persistent and puzzling. The Captain was on the verge of sending out a shuttlecraft in search of a place to land the ship...when B'Elanna and Harry and their team finally isolated the cause deep in the ship's mainframe and began to root out the problems. Systems were finally coming back online one by one, thanks to thirty-six straight hours of hard work on little food and less sleep.

Life was just starting to return to what passed for normal when the Captain ordered Alpha Shift to stand down for a few hours, now that we had a repair protocol and vital systems were mostly back online. B'Elanna fought her on it, as usual, but relented when the Captain herself agreed to take the time off, too. I left B'Elanna in Engineering – "Just one more thing," she said, then promised to go back to her own quarters – and headed out in search of a beer, a shower, and eight hours of sleep.

I was debating whether to pop a hatch and start climbing through Jeffries tubes or take my chances on the lift when the Captain approached from the opposite direction. She looked like hell – dirty, sweaty and disheveled – and I'm sure I did, too. But there was a twinkle in her eyes that hadn't been there for at least a week, the one that over the years I would learn to associate with triumph over a particularly irritating challenge, whether it was a Kazon armada or simple cascading system failures.

"Commander," she said. "Headed back to quarters?"

"Yes, Captain. Finally. It's been quite a day."

She gave me a crooked smile. "Just another day in the Delta Quadrant, I'm afraid." She cocked an eyebrow at the lift doors. "What do you think? Do we trust these things yet?"

Several people had been trapped in lifts when the failures began, but things seemed to be improving. And I was too tired to face another climb. "B'Elanna says they're safe."

"Well, then. Who am I to question the finest Starfleet engineer in the quadrant? I'm game if you are."

I chuckled and summoned the lift. When the doors groaned open, we exchanged a wary glance. I shrugged. "At least they opened," I said. "Let's go." I motioned her ahead of me into the lift.

The ride was uneventful for all of thirty seconds. I was just about to extend an invitation to join me for dinner in the Mess Hall when the lift shuddered to a halt. The lights went off, plunging us into instant blackness...and the emergency lighting never kicked in. I reflexively reached for my comm badge, and so did she. Neither of them made a sound.

"Damn," I said.

"We're at all stop," she muttered.

In seven years on Voyager I would become almost as attuned to the ship as she was, but it was still early in our journey. It took me several additional seconds to come to the same conclusion. There was no engine vibration under my feet, no background electronic hum, no sigh of recycled air. All stop. Gravity was still working, but the ship was dead in space. "What the hell?"

We both waited for the lift to buck beneath us or an emergency klaxon to sound, sure signs that we were under attack. A full minute passed and nothing happened.

"System failure?" I speculated.

"Probably just a power-up glitch as the computer comes online." She made a sound of frustration in the back of her throat. "Do you have a beacon?"

Belatedly I remembered the pack over my shoulder. Since the systems failures began, uniform of the day had been anything relatively clean and undamaged, along with whatever else one might need if stranded in an isolated part of the ship. For most of us that meant a uniform and a small pack, or at least something with pockets full of hand tools, beacons, ration bars, and a PADD or two to pass the time. I pulled my pack around and dug out a beacon and a multi-tool. We both winced and blinked when I flicked the beacon on, even though I'd been using it all day and it wasn't at full power. I handed her the multi-tool and pointed my light at the lift's access panel.

She pried the cover off and poked at the innards for a couple of minutes, muttering to herself. I watched over her shoulder, but I couldn't follow what she was doing or what she was looking for. I'd spent every spare moment of the last months studying schematics and while I had a good working knowledge of the ship's systems in general, I was still at a loss with some of the finer details.

"Anything?" I asked.

She frowned and wiped the back of her hand across her forehead, leaving behind a greasy smudge. "There's nothing I can do without power."

"Guess we should have climbed up after all."

She closed the multi-tool and handed it back to me. "I suppose so."

Her comm badge crackled to life, startling us both. "Torres to Janeway."

"Janeway here. Report."

"Rolling outage with the power-up, Captain. Navigation and propulsion are still down. Life support and gravity are up. The rest of the systems are going to be balky for a while. Communications are only console to comm right now. Comm badges are receiving signals, not initiating."

"Main power?"

"Offline for at least two hours, maybe three. Where are you?"

We exchanged tight smiles. "In the turbolift about 15 meters above Engineering."

B'Elanna cursed under her breath, just loud enough for us both to hear. Kathryn shook her head. I rubbed my ear. "Okay," B'Elanna breathed. "I'll send a team."

"Belay that, Lieutenant. Main power is your priority. We're not in danger or under attack. The Commander and I can manage here for a while."

There was a pause on the other end of the line. "Commander Chakotay is with you?"

"Right here, Torres," I said. "We're fine for now."

"If you're sure, Captain."

"I'm sure. Get back to work. Send a team when you can, or we'll just wait until the system powers up on its own. Janeway out."

We stared at each other in the beacon's dim light. She looked exhausted but relieved to know repairs were underway. "At least we get to take our break," I said.

She gave me that crooked smile again. "I don't suppose you have dinner in that knapsack, Commander."

I sat down on the floor and rummaged in the pack again. "Of course, Captain. What are you hungry for?"

She cocked her head to one side and sank down opposite me. "Crisp green salad with caramelized peaches, dried cranberries, toasted pecans and fresh goat cheese. White balsamic dressing."

Just thinking about all those distinct flavors made my mouth water. It had been almost two weeks since we'd had replicators, and at least a month since we'd had fresh food. "And for your main course, ma'am?"

She waved a hand at me. "You decide."

"Hmmmm." I pulled a bottle of water out of the knapsack and handed it to her. "How about...Eggplant Parmesan? With steamed asparagus and roasted red potatoes on on side."

Her eyes widened. "From that little Italian restaurant off the academy grounds?"

I nodded. "Sciortino's. Best Eggplant Parmesan on Earth."

She gave a low chuckle. "I'll have a glass of their finest Merlot with mine."

"A cold beer for me." I continued to paw through the knapsack, certain there had to be at least one ration bar inside. "Dessert?"

She cocked an eyebrow at me and took a long swig of the water.

"Wait," I said. "Don't tell me. You'll have Tiramisu." Her love for coffee was already legendary among the crew, and Sciortino's Tiramisu was known for its strong coffee flavor.

Kathryn chuckled. "My second favorite dessert – behind my mother's caramel brownies, of course."

"Of course."

She handed me the water bottle. "How about you, Commander? What dessert do you choose?"

"Anything sweet will do. Actually, everything sweet will do," I said, and she laughed.

"Got a bit of a sweet tooth?"

"That might be an understatement, Captain." I finally found two ration bars in the bag and handed one over. "Your dinner, ma'am. Just pretend it's Eggplant Parmesan and Tiramisu. Maybe it won't taste so chalky."

"Sounds delightful," she said.

I put the beacon on the floor in between us, pointed up at the ceiling like a candle. We munched in silence, passing the water bottle back and forth, until both ration bars and the water were gone. I stuffed the empty bottle and the wrappers back into my pack.

She eyed the bag. "Please tell me you have a carafe of espresso in there."

I chuckled. "Afraid not. I have another bottle of water, but we should probably save it in case we're here for a while."

"Good thinking." She yawned and stretched her legs into the space between us. "Tell me, Commander. What other foods from home do you miss?"

I rubbed my ear. We'd had similar conversations on and off for the last few months – about our families, hobbies we missed, pets. It was a way to pass the time. Years later, I would realize how much we'd learned about each other during those conversations. "Fresh fruit," I said. "Oranges and bananas. Cherry pie warm from the oven. Fry bread."

"Fry bread?"

I nodded. "A traditional food. It's just a simple dough of flour and water and salt, fried in a pan."

"That's all?"

That wasn't all, obviously, but I didn't yet feel comfortable sharing all of my people's traditions with her. Hell, I didn't feel completely comfortable with them myself. "Some people fill them with meat and vegetables. Like a sandwich."

She smirked at me. "'Some people,' but not you?"

I smiled and shook my head. "I like mine with honey. Or cinnamon and sugar."

She laughed. "Fruit and whipped cream?"

I nodded. "Ice cream and chocolate sauce."

"That is quite the sweet tooth you've got there, Commander." She narrowed her eyes at me. "Maybe I should order the Doc to keep an eye on your replicator log to make sure you're getting some healthy food in between desserts."

"Please don't!" I said, giving her a look of mock horror. "I promise to eat my vegetables, Captain."

"See that you do." Her voice was hard and imperious, but her smile was unmistakable even in the dim light. She'd teased me before like this, and just like every other time it warmed my spirit. I set that thought aside for now.

"So what do you miss, Captain?"

"My Mom's cooking," she said, and her eyes took on the wistful glint they always did when she talked about home.

"You mentioned caramel brownies."

"Yes. She's a wonderful baker. Brownies, breads, cookies..." With a grin, she tapped her foot against my knee. "Pies to die for."


"Cherry, apple, peach, black raspberry..."

My mouth began to water again. "I've never had black raspberry pie."

"Someday you will," she said with conviction, her blue eyes fixed on mine.

For a second I couldn't breathe. There was so much promise in that statement, and not just that we would get home. We'd never talked about how she would handle my crew if we ever returned to the Alpha Quadrant, or whether we would remain a part of each others' lives there. "Someday I will," I echoed. We nodded at each other solemnly.

The charged moment passed as fast as it had come and Kathryn smiled again. "She bakes cakes, too. Rum cakes, spice cakes, lemon cakes..."

"Which is your favorite?"

"Chocolate with mocha buttercream frosting."

I laughed out loud. "Of course it is."

"She always made it for my birthday," she said, and stopped mid-thought, her smile gone.


She let out a long, slow breath. "Mocha buttercream," she repeated. "I'd eat it on birch bark if I had to." Even in the beacon's fading light I could see that her smile was forced and she was no longer focused on the conversation.

I let it go, unable to decipher why her mood had changed so suddenly.

A few minutes passed in silence while she stared at her hands. She reached up once to touch her comm badge, but nothing happened. I was surprised no one had tried to contact her from the Bridge yet, but B'Elanna did sound as if she had repairs well in hand.

I rummaged in my pack just for something to do. The Captain pulled her knees up and wrapped her arms around them, watching me. "Still no espresso," I joked and set the knapsack aside. "Sorry."

She put her chin on her knees. "Do you know what the date is, Commander?"

I thought about it for a second. "April...nineteenth."

She closed her eyes. "That's what I thought."

I frowned. "Is that significant?"

She shook her head and looked away. "It's nothing."

I didn't know her well yet, but I knew her well enough to see that something was on her mind. "Captain?" I asked. "Is something wrong?"

"Not wrong, exactly." She sighed and stretched her legs into the space between us. "I just realized today would have been my Dad's birthday."

"I see."

She shrugged. "Suddenly I can't stop thinking about him."

I never met Admiral Edward Janeway personally, but I was aware of him. Everyone in Starfleet knew the basic circumstances of his death, at least. I knew that the Captain had been there when he had died. It was years before she would reveal to me that she'd been engaged to the young man who had died with him, or that she felt responsible for both their deaths.

I nodded. "It's perfectly normal think about him. Especially under the circumstances."

She looked up sharply. "What do you mean?"

It was my turn to shrug. "You're already predisposed to think about the years you missed with him. Combine the date with the difficulty of our situation and our distance from home..." I leaned forward. "It's a natural reaction to stress."

She nodded. "I know it is. It's still...hard. It was years ago, but the memory of his passing is still very fresh." She rubbed her forehead and pinched the bridge of her nose. It was the first time I equated the gestures with an oncoming headache. "I don't have time to be maudlin."

That struck me as an odd concept, being too busy to experience one's own emotions. It would be a long time before I understood that it was guilt that kept her distanced from her feelings, not overwork. But we didn't know each other very well yet, and so the answers seemed easy to me. "So don't be," I said.

"Excuse me?"

"Instead of dwelling on the time you missed with him, think of something happy you did with him. Focus on a pleasant memory."

She stared at me, the beacon throwing odd shadows across her face. Under her steely gaze, my confidence began to ebb. "It was just a suggestion," I muttered, and looked away.

There was an awkward moment between us. I tried to find a more comfortable position against the wall. The space was really too small for me to stretch out in without encroaching on her space, too, so I only shifted enough to keep my feet from falling asleep. I fiddled with the clasps on the knapsack. I'm not normally a fidgety man, but something about her silence unnerved me.

Suddenly, she sighed. "He gave me a telescope for my ninth birthday," she said softly.

I gave her my full attention.

She shook her head with a crooked smile. Her eyes sparkled with amusement. "'Gave' is the wrong word, I suppose. He gave me the parts for a telescope. I built it myself."


She nodded. "He said he wanted me to learn about how it worked and how it was made, so that if I ever found myself in a situation where I was without automated navigation equipment, I could take care of myself."

I chuckled. "He was already training you to be an officer."

"Yes. He was always dropping little bits of practical knowledge, whether it was how to address a higher-ranking officer or how to build a telescope."

Thoughts of Kolopac crept into my head, and the arguments we used to have when I was a boy. "Actually, it sounds like something my Father would do, too."

She looked up. "Does it?"

I nodded. "Although he would have said it was to teach me to respect the methods and skills that went into the making of the instrument."

She gave me a speculative look. "Different justification, same lesson. You'll work for what you get and learn competence and appreciation along the way."

I nodded again. "How long did it take you to build it?"

"About a week. Maybe ten days. It was finished before June. My birthday is May 20th."

Subconsciously I must have filed that information away for future use. When her birthday rolled around in a few weeks, I was waiting at breakfast with a gift.

"Did it work?"

"Oh yes. It was just a simple refractor, longer than I was tall. The lenses were a little distorted, but I got a decent 20x magnification out of it. I used it all summer to track the phases of the moon, the movement of the planets... Daddy sent home little observation and navigation assignments for me when he wasn't there." She frowned. "He usually wasn't there."

"Such is the life of an Admiral."

"Right." She folded her hands in her lap.

I waited for her to elaborate, but she didn't. In the semidarkness I could see a frown gathering on her face. It was obvious that she missed him, and probably had long before he was gone. I had hoped that visiting a pleasant memory would take away some of her grief, but it looked like I had only made things worse for her.

It felt terrible.

Suddenly the only thing I wanted to do was make her smile.

"My Father never would have given me a telescope," I said.

She gave me a wide-eyed look. "Even though you were interested in the stars?"


"Why not?"

"He wanted my attention focused on more terrestrial concerns."

"Such as?"

I gave a long-suffering sigh. "Such as when to turn over the fields, when to plant the seeds and when to harvest the crops."

She stared at me, then laughed. The sound filled the whole turbolift and made me smile. "I'm sorry, Commander, but you're no farmer."

I laughed then, too. "No. I'm not a carpenter, either, but he made sure I know how to build a chair and a table and how to frame a house."

"You can build a house?"

"If I had to, and with enough willing hands to help."

"Impressive." She cocked her head to one side. "I'll remember that if we ever find ourselves stranded and in need of shelter."

"Kolopac would be proud to know that not all of his lessons were in vain."

"'All?' There were more?"

I gave a mirthless little chuckle. "Many. Every moment of my childhood was a teachable moment for Kolopac. I couldn't escape the man's voice. Sometimes I felt like he just followed me around the house and the forest, telling me to pay more attention to the spirits of ordinary things, lecturing me about the the sacredness of the everyday, ordering me to appreciate..." My words stammered to a halt.


I swallowed hard. "To appreciate every moment we're given in this life," I said. "Those were the lessons Kolopac wanted me to learn. I was so angry at him that I didn't see how valuable those lessons were until it was too late."

She cocked her head to one side. "Why were you angry at him?"

I hesitated. Not even B'Elanna knew this much about my relationship with Kolopac. But it seemed right, somehow, that the Captain should know. "For trying to make me into someone I wasn't. For not seeing who I was."

She raised her chin. "For not realizing how much you would have loved a telescope."

"I... Yes." I choked the word out around the sudden tightness in my throat. I wanted to say more but I couldn't. As much as I thought I had reconciled it, Kolopac's disapproval was almost as much a gaping wound in my spirit as his death. All I'd wanted to do was cheer Kathryn up, but I'd succeeded only in making us both more melancholy.

"It's ironic," she said quietly. "I was frustrated with my father because he wasn't there enough. And you were frustrated with yours because he was there too much."

I nodded. "And now they're gone."

She leaned forward and looked up at me. Her sparkling eyes captured mine. "But not forgotten, Commander. That's how we honor them. By never forgetting what they taught us. That every second is precious."

"That there is sacredness in the everyday."

She leaned back and tapped my knee with her foot again. "How to frame a house."

I smiled. "How to build a telescope and navigate by the stars."

"How to look after ourselves...and the people we care about."

I let out a long, slow breath. "Thank you, Captain."

"Thank you, Commander."

We smiled at each other in the low light. Even in the dimness, I felt as though I was seeing her clearly for the first time. I wondered if she could see me, too.

Before I could think too much about it, she yawned so widely I was surprised her jaw didn't crack. The charged air between us dispersed and I chuckled. "That about sums up how I feel, too, Captain."

She rubbed the back of her neck. "I can't remember the last time I slept."

"It'll be at least another hour before we're rescued. Why don't you take a nap?"

She gave me an incredulous look. "Here?"

"Why not?" I rummaged in my knapsack and pulled out a faded Starfleet sweatshirt. "You can use this as a pillow."

She held the sweatshirt up. "But what about you?"

I shrugged. "I've probably slept more recently than you have. And there's not enough room for me to stretch out anyway." I scooted to the corner of the lift. "Go ahead and lie down."


"Go ahead. I'll even turn off the beacon if you like."

She hesitated, staring at me, then folded the sweatshirt into a passable pillow shape. "No need. It's about to burn out anyway."

I glanced at the beacon and realized it was indeed much dimmer than before.

The Captain yawned again, then flopped down with her head on my sweatshirt. "Maybe I'll just rest my eyes for a minute," she mumbled.

I closed my eyes and listened to her breathing even out and slow down. Just when I thought she was asleep, she gave a heavy sigh.


"I was thinking of the telescope," she said softly. "I wish I still had it."

"What happened to it?"

"When I was a little older, my dog knocked it over and broke the lenses."

"I'm sorry, Captain."

She paused. "That was right before I turned fifteen."

I grinned even though she couldn't see it. "And your father?"

She chuckled. "Sent the parts for a reflector for my birthday."

I stuffed the knapsack behind my lower back and tried to get comfortable. "Good-night, Captain."

"Good-night, Commander."

As I watched her drift off to sleep in the gathering darkness, an unexpected thought wandered through my brain: Don't worry. I'll be an even better father to our children than we had.

It should have scared the hell out of me.

It didn't.

I'm man enough to admit that I found her intriguing from the moment we went toe-to-toe on the Bridge. At first I was able to rationalize the attraction away as a reaction to stress and isolation. She wasn't even really my type, after all. Too small, too fragile, too redheaded. But I've always been attracted to strong, intelligent women no matter what they look like, and it didn't take me long to figure out she was the strongest, most intelligent woman I'd ever known.

And now I was vowing to be a good father to our children. I hadn't even called her by name yet, much less anything else.

I tucked the thought away with the date of her birth and the promise of black raspberry pie.

It was early in our journey, and the slow slide to falling in love with her had just begun.

The memory comes back to me in an instant as I watch the scene unfold in the yard behind our house. Kathryn holds the dog by the collar and gives instructions while our children...

I swallow hard, almost overcome.

The boys wrestle a hand-made telescope onto a tripod. Once Kathryn decides it's secure, she motions our daughter forward and talks her through the placement of a spotting scope. They all stand back to admire their work. As one, the children turn to Kathryn for approval. She nods once and smiles. "Go get him," she says.

I draw back from the window in case they should look up. A moment later, the kids are laughing and dragging me out into the yard.

Kathryn gives me a soft, tender smile. She is beautiful in any light, but in the twilight her eyes sparkle and I catch my breath.

"We wanted to keep it a surprise," she says, "but the children couldn't wait."

I smirk at her. "Only the children?"

She swats me on the arm. "Happy Birthday, Chakotay. A week early."

The children can barely contain themselves. Their voices tumble over one another, telling me all about how she gave them the idea to build the telescope, the various little jobs she assigned to them while they worked on it, the mishaps in the shop when the dog got too nosy. She quiets them down.

"What would you like to look at first?" she asks. The children start to chatter again, but she raises a hand. "This is Dad's present, not yours." She looks at me. "Chakotay?"

I glance up at the night sky. There's not a lot of light pollution here, fortunately, so in an hour or so we should have a good view of the stars. For now, though, it's still too bright to see much of anything. "How about just the Moon?"

"The Moon it is," Kathryn says, and turns the scope in the right direction. I take the first look, and the image is clear and sharp. They've done a fine job with the scope.

The children each take a turn. When our daughter looks, she draws back and stares up at the sky, then at Kathryn, hands on hips. "How does it work?"

"The objective lens and eyepiece gather and focus more visible light than the naked eye can. They bend – or refract – the light. Parallel rays converge on a focal point. Nonparallel rays converge on a focal plane." Our daughter blinks twice and turns to me.

I smile and touch her soft cheek. "A telescope is a way to see things more clearly in the available light," I say. "And a perfect birthday present. Thank you."

The kids take turns focusing the scope on the Moon, Venus, and, when it's finally dark enough, the stars. Kathryn and I drag a pair of old wooden chairs from the deck to the yard and watch them play until they get distracted by the sound of frogs and clamber down to the creek. Kathryn calls after them to be mindful of the darkness. Our daughter promises to be "extra-careful." The boys just scoff.

We sit quietly, listening to their happy voices fade away.

After a moment, I reach out and run my fingers along the barrel of the scope.

"You remembered," I say.

She turns and smiles at me. "It was the first time you talked about your Father to me. I knew of him from your records, but your words... They made a difference that day."

"So did yours."

She gives me a curious look. "Did they? I don't even remember what I said."

I don't believe her for a second, but I indulge her anyway. "You said that the way we honor our Fathers is to never forget what they taught us." I nod at the scope. "How to build a telescope or frame a house. How to regard every moment as precious. How to look after the people we care about."

She takes my hand. "The people we love," she says softly. "That's what I wanted to say. But I couldn't. Not yet."

I squeeze her hand. "That's quite the confession, Kathryn. We'd only known each other for, what? A year?"

"At most."

I turn her hand over and kiss her palm. "I have a confession to make, too."

"What's that?" she asks warily.

"As you were falling asleep in the lift that night, I thought for the first time about being a father."

She draws back in surprise. "You're kidding."

I shake my head and smile. "I didn't even question it. Having children with you seemed right." I lean over and kiss her. "It still does."

"Well that's fortunate, Chakotay," she says dryly, "since we seem to have produced three offspring."

"Three remarkable and beautiful offspring," I say. She rolls her eyes at me and I laugh. "Three perfect offspring."

As if on cue, the kids troop back up from the creek toward the house. They are talking and laughing...and completely covered with mud, all of them.

Kathryn throws me a baleful look as she rises to meet them. "You were saying?"

I laugh and follow them into the house.

When the kids are clean and dry and in bed for the night, I go back outside and admire the telescope. I focus it on the Moon, the Pleiades, Venus. A bit of quick mental math tells me Dorvan's sun should be visible at this time of year, although I'm not sure exactly where it would be. Kathryn would know.

I turn to go find her, but all the lights in the house are off. She must be in bed already. I move the telescope back into the shop for the night and head inside. The house is dark, but I know my way around. And even in the darkness, when no light is available at all, I can always navigate my way back to her.