DISCLAIMER: Star Trek: Voyager and all its characters belong to Paramount Pictures; no infringement of copyright is intended. The story however belongs to me.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: I wrote this story in response to a challenge to pick a clearly non-J/C episode and somehow make it J/C by adding to it and/or rewriting it. Since I had just watched "Threshold" shortly before I became aware of this challenge and had had a follow-up idea for the episode anyway, things fell into place quite nicely.

Please keep in mind that this is pre-"Resolutions". Also, if some of what Janeway says sounds familiar, it's because I've taken the liberty of quoting (slightly altered) bits of dialogue from a later episode.

Many, many thanks to ghosteye99 for doing a terrific beta-reading of this story that changed many details for the better! Of course I couldn't resist messing with it again afterwards, so all remaining mistakes are my own.

Written March-June 2013.

Beyond the Threshold
By Hester (hester4418)

It was evening, dinnertime, but she wasn't hungry. She only knew it was evening because she'd asked the computer for the time. Out among the stars, mornings and evenings didn't mean much.

Kathryn Janeway had spent most of her day looking out at those stars, wondering how the skies would look above that nameless planet which Voyager was leaving farther and farther behind. She had been told that it was a lush, warm, jungle-like planet, with many tall trees and dense undergrowth. In most places, the sky would not even be visible from the surface.

Maybe there was a small clearing around the water hole she vaguely remembered – its calm surface had reflected the light from above, and that bright spot had been the focal point they kept returning to. But apart from that, her memories of the planetary environment were hazy, blurred and distorted; more of smells and sounds than any visual impressions.

She could not recall how they had got there. That must have been Paris' doing – some primeval instinct that told him exactly what kind of habitat would suit them best. She herself would have still been reeling from the transformation, unable to form a coherent thought and with no concept of the passage of time. She knew it had only been three days, but it seemed to her that it had been much longer.

It was their smell that she remembered most acutely. His as well, to an extent; but their three individual scents would be forever imprinted on her memory. That was how she had kept track of them, searched for them whenever they strayed too far. Now they would have to find their own way back to the water. She could only hope that they would be all right.

How fast would they grow up? Were they even capable yet of fending for themselves? How would they feel, being the only ones of their species on the whole planet?

Would they miss her?

A few tears rolled down Kathryn's face, and she wiped them away with the back of her hand. She desperately wished that the away team had taken a visual recording of their findings on the planet surface, but neither Tuvok nor Chakotay had thought of it.

If only she had a picture of their offspring – amphibians or not, they were still her children. All of a sudden she was a mother of three, but she had no clear recollection of what they looked like, and now she would never see them again.

She wondered how Tom Paris was taking all of this. She had never considered him a potential mate, and from their brief talk in sickbay it seemed that he was more concerned about having taken advantage of her than what the result of their brief union had been.

She had only mentioned it to him as a possibility, in order to avoid making him even more uncomfortable than he already was, but she knew for a fact that it had been her who had initiated the mating. She clearly remembered the feeling – a primal urge propelling her to him, too strong to be ignored. It was something beyond thought, and purely instinctual.

She couldn't begin to guess what Tom was feeling now. Maybe the full reality of it hadn't yet quite hit home with him, or perhaps he was too preoccupied with dealing with his own experience, and was already trying to put the 'technical' details of their encounter behind him.

Or maybe he was staring out at the stars all day, much like she had been doing.

Over the course of the day, she had considered calling him several times, but had ultimately decided against it. She felt there was nothing more they needed to say to each other about what had happened.

If their 'babies' had been taken with them back to Voyager, things would have been different. Very different. And also very complicated. Maybe she should be more grateful that hadn't even been an option. But then... why did she feel so empty?

The door chimed, interrupting her thoughts. She quickly wiped at her eyes again, and then called for her visitor to enter.

Chakotay cautiously stepped into her quarters, just far enough for the doors to close behind him. "I stopped by sickbay, but the Doctor said you'd left."

One corner of Kathryn's mouth turned up in her familiar half smile. "Is that what he said?"

"Well, 'demanded to be released' would be the more accurate term," he replied, also smiling. "I really can't blame you though. There's no privacy in that place."

"People are coming and going all the time there," she agreed, nodding. "I finally told him that my genetic codes had a much better chance at stabilizing if I could actually get some rest. He couldn't argue with that – and he even released Paris as well."

"So I've been told." Chakotay advanced another step into the room, unsure whether she minded this intrusion on her privacy. However, the Doctor had confined her to quarters for another two days, and had asked him to keep an eye on her. "And did you?"

"Did I what?"

"Get some rest."

She was silent for a long moment. "I didn't work, if that's what you mean."

That in itself was a small miracle, as he had expected her to be poring over reports and crew evaluations as soon as she had escaped the Doctor's clutches. "But?"

"I've been thinking." Her sigh was almost inaudible. "Probably a little too much."

Chakotay waited patiently for her to say more, but instead of elaborating, she turned her back on him, and looked back out at the stars. He decided to try a different approach. "Have you eaten?"

Kathryn shook her head. "I'm not hungry."

"That's just what the Doctor thought you might say. Captain, you've been through a lot, and you need to eat."

"Fine." She faced him again, a challenge in her eyes. "On one condition."

He chuckled. "Name it, although I'm not sure I will comply."

At that, she actually smiled. "Call me Kathryn."

Chakotay was too surprised to reply.

When the silence threatened to become uncomfortable, she crossed the room and laid a hand on his arm. "I could really use a friend right now, Chakotay."

He shook himself out of his momentary stupor, and cautiously phrased his reply. "I like to think that we are... friends."

"I'd like that." She lightly squeezed his arm. "But friends don't need ranks. Not in private."

"All right. Kathryn." Her name passed his lips more easily than he would have expected, and she smiled again in response. It occurred to him only now that it must have been a long while since anyone had called her by her given name.

Her hand still lingered on his arm. Unbidden, a memory surfaced in his mind, of when he had shown her his medicine bundle and introduced her to her animal guide. That had been the first time he'd shared something deeply personal with her, and despite the formality that persisted between them, he had considered her a friend ever since.

Over the past months, they'd had a few informal talks, even shared bits and pieces of personal history occasionally, but always there was a lingering sense of distance that precluded the forming of any real, closer friendship. Maybe it was time to move beyond that.

Chakotay covered her hand with his own and returned the squeeze. "Now, what'll you have to eat?"

At his insistence, she finally chose a salad. At her insistence, he joined her for dinner, and soon they were settled at her table, a bottle of wine between them. Their conversation flowed easily for a while when she asked about his day, and he brought her up to speed on what she had missed on the bridge.

Then Kathryn fell silent, and he noticed that she was picking at her food rather than eating it. After several minutes she looked up again, her expression far more serious than before. "I need to ask you something."

"Go ahead."

"I read your report."

It wasn't a question, so Chakotay kept his silence.

"It was your decision to leave the... offspring," her voice caught slightly on the word, and she breathed deeply before continuing. "To leave them on the planet. Why?"

"Without a DNA profile in our database, the Doctor would not have been able to reconfigure them to a human form," Chakotay patiently explained. "I figured that it would be best for them to remain as they were, in their natural habitat."

That had been in his report as well, so he knew she was still leading up to what she really wanted to ask. He spoke quietly, rationally, already anticipating her next words.

Kathryn drew in another breath, preparing herself to ask the question that had weighed on her all day, even though she dreaded his answer. "If there had been a way for the Doctor to make them human, would you still have left them behind?"

His gaze was warm and sympathetic when he replied, "In that scenario, it would not have been my call. It would have been up to you and Tom, as soon as you both would have been capable of making the choice."

She shook her head, not satisfied with the answer. "Suppose it had been your call."

Chakotay started to protest, trying to form yet another evasive reply, but Kathryn held up her hand to stop him. Unable to sit still any longer, she got up and went over to one of the viewports, and stood there with her back to him.

When her voice reached him again, he clearly heard the pleading note in her one softly spoken word. "Please."

Chakotay hesitated. He had actually been relieved when the Doctor had told him that he would only be able to treat Janeway and Paris, but not their offspring. Leaving them on the planet had been the sensible, logical choice; he had discussed it with Tuvok, and the Vulcan had agreed with his reasoning. And yet...

"My choice would have been to take them aboard Voyager."

"Why?"

"Because children have a right to be with their parents."

For a long time, she didn't move. Then her head inclined slowly, deliberately, acknowledging his words. When she finally turned around again, she didn't look at him; her eyes were unfocused, seeing far beyond the walls of her cabin.

"I don't remember much of what it was like on the planet, not in the way I would if I had seen it like this." She gestured at her once again human self. "But I remember... feelings. Sensations. Not coherent thoughts, but... impressions."

She unconsciously rubbed a hand over her belly. "I remember feeling them moving... inside of me." A tear slipped down her cheek, but she didn't bother to wipe it away.

"Of course I can't speak for Tom, but if the choice had been mine, I would have taken them back with me. How could I have possibly left them behind?"

Another tear followed the path of the first as her voice broke, and Chakotay suddenly realized what it was that she needed. Not an answer to a moot question, or a hollow statement about how things should have been different. No.

What she needed right now was a shoulder to cry on. Something only a friend could provide.

He crossed the room in quick strides and pulled her into his embrace. She didn't look up; but when he closed that last bit of space between them, she buried her face against his shoulder and just let the tears fall.

It felt good to be held. It had been more than a year since she'd had a real hug, and she missed the simple comfort. Leaning into Chakotay now, she felt soothed by his mere presence and the feel of his arms around her. For once, she held nothing back, and let herself be surrounded by his warmth, accepting the solace he offered.

She felt drawn to him in a way that should have made her uncomfortable for more reasons than she cared to acknowledge. And yet, he was the only one she could think of around whom she would even consider letting down her guard, and indulge in a moment of selfish grief over what could not be.

Tuvok was her closest friend and confident, and even though – or maybe because – he did not share her emotions, he had often been the perfect sounding board for her concerns and fears.

With Chakotay, it was different. His emotions could be as turbulent as her own, but she had quickly come to value his feedback, because when it mattered, he was able to take a step back and calmly consider all available options – much like herself. At the same time, he was not above following a hunch, and she had deferred to his suggestions a number of times, several of which with great success.

Day after day, she felt him taking Tuvok's place a little more.

In this particular case, it should have been natural to turn to Tom to help each other come to terms with the fallout of their unexpected encounter. But when they parted ways in sickbay, it had been with an unspoken understanding that the matter was closed and needed no further discussion. No blame would be cast, and no further apologies were necessary. They would just move on as if nothing had happened.

Only Kathryn wasn't sure that she could do that – or even wanted to.

She suddenly smiled through her tears. "Can you imagine what it would have been like – me and Tom, with triplets?"

He chuckled. "You could have turned your ready room into a nursery."

"At least I didn't have to give up coffee for the past nine months."

Chakotay laughed out loud.

The spell was broken and she gently extricated herself from his arms. They retrieved their glasses and settled on opposite ends of her couch, enjoying a few moments of companionable silence while they sipped their wine.

Kathryn once again marveled at how comfortable she felt in his presence. After she had just fallen apart in front of him, she would not have been surprised if the atmosphere had turned strained or awkward. But despite the tearstains still visible on his uniform jacket, it was as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred, and they were just two close friends sharing an after dinner drink.

It was this relaxed feeling which gave her the courage to ask her next question.

"Do you want children?" She belatedly realized the sensitivity of her query when Chakotay looked up sharply, and a deep frown passed over his face. "I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking –"

"It's all right," he said, interrupting her. It had been two months since Seska had announced that she was carrying his child, and her betrayal still affected him deeply. But his own predicament paled in comparison to what the captain had been through in the last few days, and he fully understood her need to talk.

He took another moment to compose himself and then looked up again. "Yes, I do want children. I've always wanted them. But life in the Maquis is not exactly conductive to family planning."

"What about before the Maquis?"

Chakotay shrugged. "I just hadn't yet found the right person to have them with."

Kathryn nodded silently, and took another sip of her wine. They again sat in silence for several minutes while Chakotay worked up the nerve to ask a question of his own.

"How about you?"

His words had been spoken softly, and when she replied, her voice was equally low.

"I've thought about it. But when I was younger, I was much too impatient. I felt that having a baby would have tied me down, when instead I wanted to explore and work on my career."

"You could have applied for assignment on one of the Galaxy-class starships. They're built for families."

She regarded him over the rim of her glass. "I did. The same day my application was approved, I also received an offer for a post as first officer, on a Miranda-class vessel." Her eyes clouded over. "I wish I could say that the decision was a difficult one, but at the time it really wasn't."

She fell silent, but he sensed that she wasn't finished. She breathed deeply, bracing herself for an admission that she had never voiced before. "Now I sometimes wonder if I made the right choice back then."

He twirled the wine around in his glass, contemplating how to respond. Finally he settled on sharing the first thought that had come to mind. "You wouldn't be here now."

There was a long pause before she replied. "No, I wouldn't."

Kathryn's face was unreadable as she said those words. Chakotay found that he wanted desperately to know if she now regretted taking command of Voyager, only to be flung halfway across the galaxy, away from family and loved ones – or whether there was some part of her that also saw something positive in their situation, however small.

Before he got a chance to ask, she continued. "I know we keep saying that we could find a way home tomorrow, and indeed it remains a possibility. We never know who might help us, or what kinds of technology we might acquire. But realistically, I think we're looking at twenty, maybe thirty years before we'll be anywhere close to the Alpha Quadrant. And by then, I'll be... old."

"Not old," Chakotay said with a smile, trying to lighten the mood. "Just older than now."

"Too old to have a baby," she drove home her point, and the smile slipped from his face. "I'm not getting any younger, Chakotay. Of course it's not like a couple hundred years ago, when a woman's fertility generally ended somewhere between forty and forty-five. But at sixty? I don't think that's feasible – or fair to the child."

The thought that he should probably feel uncomfortable discussing this very private topic with her fleetingly crossed his mind. Even after more than a year of serving together, they didn't really know each other all that well. But from the way Kathryn was looking at him now, he couldn't help but wonder if they were talking about more than just basic human biology.

Chakotay knew he had been attracted to her almost from the moment he first saw her. It hadn't been just her looks; it was the force of her personality which had overwhelmed him against his better judgment, and which had overruled his initial misgivings about putting his future and that of his Maquis crew in the hands of a Starfleet captain.

But until today, he never thought that she might be inclined to return his feelings. Sure, they had flirted occasionally, but it had always been in jest. And whenever his mind threatened to become too distracted, the picture of Mark she kept in her ready room served as a stop sign, a reminder that she wasn't free, and that it wasn't his place to pursue her.

Besides, she had told him herself that she didn't have the luxury of engaging in a personal relationship while Voyager was lost in the Delta Quadrant; although he wasn't sure whether those words had been prompted by the fact of her engagement to a man back on Earth, or her perceived need to maintain a certain distance from the crew.

His heart beat a little faster when he cautiously suggested, "Kathryn, maybe this isn't the best time to contemplate turning your whole life around. You're still confused after what's just happened, and –"

"I'm not as emotionally fragile as you may think, Chakotay," she retorted, bristling. "It's my genes that are still in flux, not my mind."

His expression was doubtful. "You're not thinking straight."

She shook her head. "On the contrary. For the first time in a long time, I'm really trying to put things into perspective. I've realized that I've deluded myself for long enough, and it's time that I faced up to reality."

She set her glass down on the low couch table, and angled her body toward the viewport. Placing her chin in one hand, she wistfully looked out at the passing stars.

"Sometimes I'm full of hope and optimism, and certain that we will return to Earth before our families give us up for dead. Other times I dream about being home, and it's so real. And when I wake up and realize it's just a dream, I'm terribly discouraged. So I'm thinking now that it is time to accept that we may be out here for a very long time to come, and that we should start thinking of Voyager as home, instead of just a means to get back to the Alpha Quadrant. It's impossible to deny just how far away the Federation really is. And even though we will continue to push forward and find our way back, it's not fair to ask everyone to put their lives on hold in the meantime."

She turned back to him. "If Kes had decided to get pregnant when she went through the elogium, we would already have an infant on the ship. And now it won't be much longer until Ensign Wildman's baby arrives. I wouldn't be surprised if that will get others thinking about the future – finding a partner, having children. Even those who already have family back home may decide to become involved, to make up for what they lost. And I can't say that I would blame them."

"Even you?" he asked quietly, echoing a question she had once answered in the negative.

This time, she nodded and replied just as quietly, "Even me."

Chakotay held his breath, waiting to see if she would say more. When she didn't, he slowly exhaled and smiled. "We may have to establish that nursery after all. And I'm sure Ensign Wildman would be thrilled if her baby didn't remain the only one aboard."

"I still find the idea of children on Voyager a little daunting though," Kathryn admitted. "With our limited resources, how can we be sure that we'll be able to provide everything a child needs?"

She leaned back against the cushions and looked across at him, worry darkening her eyes. "If any child here gets hurt, what then? Won't the parents resent our situation even more?"

"I think we're all fully aware of the dangers we're facing each and every day." He held her gaze, fighting hard not to let his heart get lost in those deep blue pools. "Of course Samantha's case is special, but anyone else on this ship who decides to have a child would do so with a full understanding and acceptance of the risks involved. Besides, nowhere can ever be completely safe."

Kathryn felt tears springing to her eyes again. He made it sound so easy, so natural. And she wanted to believe that it could be just that, despite the inherent dangers of their circumstances.

She was overwhelmed by a desire to reach out to him, but checked herself, drew in a deep breath and searched his face. "Can you imagine it? The patter of little feet, tripping down the corridors?"

Chakotay took his time to reply, but when he did, his voice sounded slightly hoarse. "Actually, I can imagine that rather well."

She passed a hand over her eyes, wiping away the moisture that had gathered there. Then she whispered, "So can I."

They sat in silence after that, still separated by the length of her couch, but feeling much closer than they had even just an hour ago.

Then, Kathryn tried unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn.

Chakotay chuckled. "I'll take that as my cue to leave. You should get some sleep, or the Doctor will come after me for keeping you up all night."

"I'm due for another appointment in sickbay first thing in the morning." She rolled her eyes, and added, "I just hope I'll be able to convince him to let me get back to work. Another day of brooding like this, and I'll go mad."

"I think you should listen to him and take the time off... and think things through," Chakotay gently suggested. "Maybe in a day or two you'll have a more positive outlook again."

She didn't comment on that; instead, she said softly, "Thank you for stopping by. And also... for the talk."

"Anytime."

They both rose, and she followed him to the door; but just as he was about to trigger the opening mechanism, he felt her hand on his arm again, and he turned back to look at her.

Instantly, Chakotay felt caught. Her eyes were boring into his with an intensity that left him breathless, and there was no denying the gentle pull of attraction between them. Deciding to take a chance, he very slowly leaned down, and touched his lips to hers.

The kiss was short, sweet and gentle. It was chaste enough to be taken as nothing more than a token of friendship, yet when he felt her fingertips brush along his jaw, a myriad of possibilities exploded in his mind.

Kathryn's hand dropped to his shoulder, and then slid down to Chakotay's chest when they moved apart. He reached up and covered it with his own, only to feel her shift and entwine her fingers with his. For a long moment they just gazed at each other, neither willing to break the contact, but when he leaned forward again, she cast her eyes down.

He pulled back, sensing that she wasn't ready for more yet; and in truth, neither was he. A door had been opened between them, but what lay beyond the threshold still remained to be discovered.

"Good night, Kathryn," he said softly, and when he stepped away this time, she did not stop him. Their hands were still linked, but when the door opened at his approach her fingers slipped from his grasp.

"Good night," Kathryn whispered, hugging herself, the hand that had just held his reaching up to touch her lips. And then she smiled; a brilliant, beautiful smile that went straight to his heart. "Sweet dreams, Chakotay."

His eyes found hers for one last, lingering look. "They will be," he replied, returning her smile – and stepped over the threshold.

-==/ The End (?) \==-