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"Commander Chakotay and I have not communicated in 17 days. I am honouring his request for privacy, though I am finding this difficult. He stated that he would assist me with my re-assimilation into Earth's culture and initially he was extremely helpful but his reluctance to respond to my messages has me questioning whether I have said or done something to jeopardize our understanding.

The Doctor has assured me that I have not done anything and that the Commander's silence is very likely based on his own need to successfully reintegrate.

I wish the Commander well in this endeavor, and am hopeful he will find the guidance and support he requires.

I continue to struggle each day with the puzzling array of social customs and cultural mores that appear essential to successful integration into Alpha quadrant society and eagerly await his further assistance.

It is time for me to regenerate. End of personal log."

==/==

"I don't know how to reach him, Tom. He's just ... gone! And it doesn't feel right."

"It's a big adjustment being home; you, of all people should know that, B'Elanna. He'll come around."

"I hope you're right. He wasn't himself that last time we talked and it's been too long. It's not like him. I just want him to be happy, you know."

"We all do. Now, come on, we've only got a few minutes left before our little monster wakes up..."

==/==

"Hello, Chakotay.

You said you wanted some privacy after the debriefings ended, and I've tried to respect your wishes. I apologize for sending this as a priority message, but I'm not sure that you are receiving regular communications and I've been approached by several of the crew, all of whom are concerned about your whereabouts and well-being. It's unlike you not to respond.

I wasn't worried until I realized that I wasn't the only one who hadn't heard from you. I'd hoped you were simply on a well-deserved holiday, possibly out of communication range. I still hope that is the case.

I admit though, that I thought you wanted to put some distance between us. Despite our seven-year journey, our trip home felt precipitous, at least it did to me, and I think it did for you, as well. It's been a challenge settling back into life here at home and many of us are feeling somewhat out of our element.

The Admiral's arrival on Voyager changed many things, not the least of which was the nature of our personal relationships and in particular, my relationship with you.

I would rather have spoken to you about this in person, but until I do, I apologize if her (or is it my?) interference has angered or upset you. I assure you that your happiness would have been a major consideration in dictating her actions.

I hope we can discuss this more thoroughly once you receive this message.

I'm used to seeing you every day and that familiarity suddenly feels very distant in both time and place, and I'll admit that I miss you. You hold a very important place in my life and it is my hope that you will continue to do so in the future.

Keep well, my friend.

Please, let me know that you are okay.

Kathryn"

==/==

"Looks like we'll have to send someone down - a lot of people are asking for help for the man...

==/==

A small star flies in, growing brighter as it nears its destination.

"Oh, the things I do for you, Aunt Kathy..."

==/==

"See anything interesting there, Chuckles?"

Chakotay didn't move, immersed as he was in his vision quest, his senses were solely attuned to the dismal tale that was unfolding inside his head, and he wasn't aware of the presence of the omnipotent being.

Q Junior sighed, dramatically.

"This might be a bit more challenging than I thought," he grumbled to himself, annoyed at the additional inconvenience.

==/==

Chakotay's memories were emerging from the darkest of places. He had undertaken this vision quest with the intention of finding a way to lighten his spirit. He feared that he was once again failing miserably and worse still, that his Spirit Guide had deserted him.

Breathing deeply, Chakotay concentrated on trying to relax. As expected, the more effort he exerted without success, the more stressed he became. He growled, angry with himself, knowing that he would need to take a much longer break before his next attempt.

==/==

Resigned to the fact that his mere presence wasn't enough to gain Chakotay's attention, Q wandered aimlessly through the landscape of Chakotay's vision quest, inserting himself into the various scenarios. Sometimes, he hid in the shadows, and simply observed; other times, he took on the persona of Chakotay's animal Spirit Guide - a snake.

Unknowingly, Q's interference was causing Chakotay to lose his focus, and his quest began to aimlessly meander from one scenario to the next.

As frustrating as it was for Chakotay, it didn't matter to Q how long it took; as far as he was concerned, they had all the time in the world.

A toddler, running amok through a village is being scolded for his contrariness. Q is particularly fond of this attribute of Chakotay's, and winks at the snake peeking out from beneath the nearby leaves.

Young Chakotay walks the familiar path along the bug infested, damp riverbank, glowering at the taller man leading him. He doesn't want to be there, nor does he want to learn anything or be enlightened by this experience. He shakes his head in defeat, knowing that he has no choice. But he misses his friends and their reckless fun; he knows that his behavior will drive another wedge between himself and his father, but he can't find it in himself to care. A long snake slowly slithers across the path in front of him, unperturbed by Chakotay's disdain and feeling a sense of camaraderie with the parental conflict.

An angry young man feels abandoned by Starfleet, and mourns the death of his father, now knowing with certainty that he has squandered his youth, and wasted so much valuable time. He joins the Maquis, and wreaks his own brand of chaos on the established forces.

During these dark times, Chakotay is unable to see his Spirit Guide, and knows it was lost to him when the Cardassians wiped out his family, his history, his past and possibly his future. It takes him many attempts, and a few so-called ‘successes' in his fight against those same Cardassians before his Spirit Guide reappears.

The pull into the Delta Quadrant and the loss of his ship and most of his crew weigh heavily on Chakotay. His subordinate role to Captain Janeway cannot begin to atone for the losses he's responsible for, but it was all he had to offer at the time.

==/==

Q is bored.

"'Blah, blah, blah, oh poor me.' Is that all you humans think about? Seriously, you have to learn that your pathetic lives truly mean so little in the grand scheme of things."

As he continued to observe the unfolding drama, Q's thoughts return to his present situation, grumbling only to himself.

"Then again, I suppose it does matter to you and your fellow humans. That's the only reason I'm here - because of Aunt Kathy. And for some reason, she's fond of you... though you really are showing me all kinds of ‘human' reasons why she shouldn't bother. Ugh."

==/==

He's always been adversarial, a fighter. On his worst days, he was convinced he'd never given his father or his mother a single reason to be proud. He wonders if leaving the Academy was the only logical choice. Or was he just too arrogant and short-sighted at the time to see the bigger picture. Maybe his ‘freedom fighting' was simply another excuse to feed his rebellious spirit.

Looking back, with the benefit of maturity gained from experience, Chakotay is convinced of his inability to ‘fit in' or ‘toe the line' in civilized society.

Was he happiest when he was Maquis, captaining his own ship and making all his own rules? He's had his moments, and if that position had been his final role in life, he'd likely be satisfied.

But it wasn't.

Kathryn Janeway came into his life because of the damned Caretaker - her and her damn ship - and damn crew, and their damn seven years together!

With time and distance to gain perspective, Chakotay can see that he held strong feelings for his captain almost from the beginning. At first he was angry and wary; she had been sent to capture him. Then he became suspicious of possible ulterior motives when it was clear that they would need to work together.

Chakotay's guilt in the role he played in bringing her ship into the Delta Quadrant, the loss of her crew members, and the realization that they were 70,000 light years from home almost crippled him. That onerous feeling of responsibility became his constant and unrelenting companion.

In an attempt to live with the guilt, his feelings morphed into protectiveness and support for Kathryn Janeway. He knew that he could never undo what was done, but he could stay by her side, work to lighten her load and minimize further upheaval.

By the time they were stranded on New Earth, he'd convinced himself that he had changed and become a better person because of her. He' wanted to protect her at all cost, and offered himself to her as a companion; he would give her the friendship and loving relationship that she couldn't have because of her position as captain of a ship stranded so far from home.

Chakotay's emotional journey after returning to the ship took many different paths. There were times when he despised his actions, when he put the ship at risk, when he felt like he was just extra baggage. He often felt wooden, barely able to maintain his duties.

His burden of guilt along with his support for Kathryn Janeway, even when they fought or vehemently disagreed, were the only things that kept him going.

As the journey through the Delta Quadrant dragged on, Chakotay's Spirit Guide became more prevalent in his Vision Quests. He found comfort and relief in her steady presence, and gradually he grew more optimistic. He felt he was finally getting to in a place where he had made up for the hurt and damage he had caused, and his own personal journey would be ending.

==/==

Unexpectedly, it seemed, Voyager was home. Chakotay felt that at last, he could release himself from his burden of guilt and his and responsibility to Janeway. Once his debriefings were over, he'd said his goodbyes to her and the crew; he was fairly certain, however, that no one thought he'd be gone permanently.

He hadn't travelled far, but he'd found a place that was quiet and secluded enough that he was confident that he would be left undisturbed to consider his situation with total freedom from external distractions. His Spirit Guide seemed to be mocking him by her absence or unhelpful presence. Chakotay had been hoping for clear indicators as to how he should proceed, to end this. His vision quests to date, however, had not provided the guidance and closure he'd been seeking, and gave him no framework within which to consider his future.

==/==

Determined, Chakotay continued to meditate, trying to balance his impatience and anger with his intellectual need to objectively interpret his existence. Hoping for objectivity and guidance, he was instead left feeling drained and discouraged.

The more he thought about it, the more Chakotay figured that his life had been a waste. His early years had been chaotic and destructive; his more recent activities had devolved into desperate attempts at retribution. Eventually, certain that his Animal Guide had abandoned him forever, Chakotay decided that he needed to make his own decision and began to accept what he thought was his fate.

Chakotay reviewed his life, thinking of the different people he'd known; his parents and sister; the inhabitants of his home world; his acquaintances at the Academy; his Maquis brethren; the Voyager crew. He considered his contributions to their well-being and happiness, and was left feeling even more discouraged. When no revelations came, he conceded with a heavy heart that his life had been close to meaningless.

"Yeah," he thought to himself, "if it hadn't been for me, everybody'd be a lot better off."

Chakotay's heart was heavy, as he considered this new possibility.

"I wish I'd never been born," he thought with resignation. "No guilt. No guilt, no worries, no obligations."

==/==

Q's attention was drifting, when it was suddenly snagged by a stray thought from Chakotay.

"Finally!" he thought. He snapped his fingers, and in the blink of an eye, Chakotay was on Dorvan V.

==/==

Kolopak comforts his grieving wife. Their tears fall on the lifeless body of Sekaya, who drowned while swimming at her secret swimming hole.

Chakotay shakes his head, denying his vision.

"What is this? I pulled her out that day. I was scolded for taking her there in the first place, but she was fine. We were all fine. "

Dorvan V is under attack. But Blue Water Dreamer's death doesn't leave Sekaya heartbroken, because she doesn't exist, and because she isn't there to incite them, the people aren't organized to rebel against the Cardassians and the carnage is almost all encompassing.

"No! Stop! Sekaya did lead the resistance. The Maquis mounted counterattacks before they even reached our planet. Neighbouring planets were spared. What is this?"

Bodies. Ships. Entire planetary ecosystems decimated. Utter destruction in the wake of the Dominion invasion. Lack of resistance means not enough time to ally with the other Alpha Quadrant species, and the Federation losses are horrific in the extreme.

"That's not how it happened! The Maquis warned the Federation. They were able to respond to prevent so many of these losses.

Why is this happening?"

==/==

Kes is dead. All the Ocampans are dead. The Kazon wreak havoc on the Delta Quadrant, warring and squandering resources.

"No! No, we rescued Kes from the Kazon, and she helped us rescue Harry and B'Elanna. I don't understand..."

==/==

Chakotay's anguished words break the silence, and he is suddenly transported back to the bug infested, damp riverbank.

Looking around, he sees the long snake from his previous vision. He rushes forward, grateful to see her, but apprehensive. The snake turns her head to look at him.

"Please," Chakotay whispers. "Please, tell me what's happening."

The snake Q doesn't respond, but merely tilts its head slightly.

Remembering that enlightenment is hard-won and much patience is required, Chakotay forces himself to breathe deeply and be calm. He eases himself down onto the path, and sits cross-legged. Taking in his surroundings, he looks around for any information that might help him.

Time passes, and Chakotay remains vigilant and hopeful, thankful to have an opportunity to be with his Spirit Guide.

At length, his wait is rewarded, when he feels a message delivered deep within his soul.

"You've been given a great gift, Chakotay - a chance to see what the world would be like without you."

He's sure he heard no sound, but the snake is still looking at him. Chakotay is completely befuddled, but determined to give credence to all possibilities.

"How is that possible? I do exist. I'm right here. I'm real, aren't I?"

After a moment, another message is conveyed to him. "You thought everyone would be better off without you, and wished you'd never been born. You have now seen the outcome of that scenario."

==/==

Chakotay was skeptical, and wary of the implications of what he was being told.

"Are you telling me this is how things are? Is this my new reality?"

"No," came the message.

Chakotay breathed a sigh of relief, only to be caught by surprise when the message continued.

"It's not your reality, because you don't exist. Come."

Chakotay started to protest, but in a flash of light, he found himself in a primitive, overcrowded camp of some kind. He looked around, desperately seeking a point of reference.

"B'Elanna?" he whispered, as he caught sight of a gaunt, bloodied half-Klingon woman. She didn't hear him, but continued to bully her way through the crowd, occasionally grabbing something from people's hands, ignoring their protests. He reached for her, but she didn't notice him.

Chakotay shook his head. "No. No, this is all wrong. What is this?"

"A refugee camp, on Earth. So many mouths to feed, and so little to go around. People are desperate. It brings out the worst in them."

Sighing deeply, Chakotay sought out the snake. "This can't be real. How did this happen? Where is everyone else?"

"You saw what happened, Chakotay. This is the result. And as for the others..."

Chakotay saw Tom, dead - the New Zealand prison in rubble around him.

Harry was also dead, his ship destroyed in a battle with the Breen.

Neelix was dissected for viable body parts in front of his eyes, as Vidiians scavenged his ship for supplies.

He watched Seven of Nine, a Borg drone, become one casualty among thousands as her cube was destroyed by Species 8472.

"No!" Chakotay cried, angry and confused.

Never before had his Spirit Guide tormented him in this way. There had to be another explanation "What kind of sick joke is this? Who are you? This can't be happening!"

"Oh, but it is, I assure you," came the smug-sounding reply. "Come."

==/==

Chakotay found himself in a country home that had seen better days. Doors were hanging crookedly on their hinges and household items were strewn across the floor. There were pictures smashed with broken frames, upturned furniture, and all manner of damaged technological equipment, with their components in pieces throughout the house. Through the broken windows, Chakotay could see uprooted trees and damaged outbuildings.

He'd never been to Indiana, but he knew this was Kathryn's mother's house.

"Where is she?" he asked the snake, his agitation getting the better of him. "Where's Kathryn? Is she here? What happened?"

Chakotay didn't wait for the snake to reply and began to walk through the house, calling for Kathryn. As he approached the rear of the house, he heard noises and ran forward. The sight before him brought him up short.

Kathryn Janeway was slumped on the floor, sobbing and clutching the body of an older woman who was obviously dead.

Chakotay's heart stuttered as he took in the tragic scene before him. He rushed forward to be by her side, calling out to her, and then reached for her, to lay a comforting hand across her back. Like B'Elanna, she seemed to not feel his presence, and she didn't respond.

He turned, searching for the snake. "What's happened?" he demanded. "Please! Please tell me so I can help!"

"You're not here, Chakotay," came a message from within himself. "As you requested, you don't exist. There's nothing you can do to help."

Chakotay looked stricken.

The message continued. "The Dominion war had far-reaching effects. Life is pretty bleak for the ones lucky enough to be alive. Food and medication is scarce. The destruction of the weather satellites has caused unstable growing seasons and all manner of inclement and unpredictable weather. Between food shortages, tornadoes, earthquakes, and flooding, much of the planet is uninhabitable. Populations are warring with other populations, warring over what limited resources remain. That's where the refugee camps come in.

Add to that the losses aboard the Federation ships - the loss of so many great minds - and you can see it's been difficult for the remaining inhabitants of Earth."

Chakotay swallowed down a lump in his throat. "And this?"

"This is the aftermath of the third windstorm to sweep through this area in the last 12 hours. Sadly, what's going to happen is that the next windstorm, which is actually much stronger, is going to blow the roof off, destroy the rear of the house, and Kathryn will die. We can stay to watch, if you like. Shouldn't be too much longer."

Chakotay couldn't believe that his Spirit Guide would act in this manner. "No! This isn't happening! This can't be happening! Oh, Kathryn, please help me. Something terrible has happened to me. I don't know what it is. Something's happened to everybody."

"You know she can't hear you," came the reply. "She's never even met you, in this reality."

"How can I make her hear me? I need to tell her to get out! I need to save her! What do I need to do?"

"Why would you want to do anything?" he heard the snake reply. "I thought you'd decided that everyone would be better off without you, and you wished you'd never been born."

==/==

Chakotay stood still, breathing heavily, considering his options. These horrible images didn't seem real, and he couldn't remember a time when his Spirit Guide had tormented him in this manner. His heart broke at the possibility of this kind of existence for the people he knew and loved, especially if he had somehow been the cause.

"There has to be a way to fix this," he thought, grasping at the notion like a lifeline.

He rounded on the snake. "Please tell me how to fix this. I'll do anything. This isn't how it's supposed to be. They should all be happy. And alive! Please!"

The snake slithered around an overturned chair and stopped in front of Chakotay.

After a moment, Chakotay felt another message being conveyed to him.

"Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives, and when he isn't around he leaves an awfully big hole, doesn't he?"

Chakotay began to pace, trying to make sense of his jumbled thoughts.

"It's very simple to fix, really. Everything happened this way because you weren't around to save Sekaya from drowning. As such, she didn't grow up to fall in love with someone who was tortured to death by the Cardassians, and she wasn't around to help organize the Maquis. Without the Maquis, Starfleet had no early warning system that the Cardassians were allied with the Dominion, and this mess is the outcome.

And because you didn't end up in the Delta Quadrant, neither did Janeway and Voyager. Kes and Neelix met unpleasant fates, as did many other species that fell victim to the Kazon. Most of the crew who would have been on Voyager were killed in the Dominion invasion. Janeway was on compassionate leave, caring for her mother; otherwise, she'd have died before this time.

And if nothing changes, she'll be dead very soon anyway.

Unless, of course, you decide to reconsider your options. It's up to you.

You see, Chakotay, you really had a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?"

==/==

Chakotay had stopped pacing to stare at his Spirit Guide. Could it be true? Could it be that simple? What would his existence be if he didn't ‘go back'? And if he didn't, how would he live with himself? How would he live with himself if he did? He had some serious soul-searching to do either way.

Deciding that the current situation was not an acceptable one, he resolved to change it. He breathed deeply to strengthen his resolve, and then spoke to the snake with as much sincerity and strength as he could muster.

"Spirit Guide! Help me, Spirit Guide. Get me back. Get me back. I don't care what happens to me. Only get me back to my captain and sister, and my crew. Help me, Spirit Guide, please! Please! I want to live again!"

Once he was back, Chakotay reasoned, he'd figure out a way to make this work.

==/==

Chakotay came back to himself, as if awakening from a dream.

He could hear someone muttering, "I want to live again. I want to live again. Please, Spirit Guide, let me live again." It took him awhile to realize that he was hearing himself.

Chakotay sat up with a start, realization crashing down on him. He had to check.

"Computer, display Earth media feeds from San Francisco, California and Bloomington, Indiana."

A split screen appeared across the media console, showing rotating live feeds from various terminals in both of the cities.

Chakotay breathed a sigh of relief as healthy, happy people strolled past, with beautiful weather overhead.

Chakotay's heart rate slowed as he appreciated the normalcy of the scenery. This was right. This was good. He knew it wasn't perfect, but this was something he could live with.

An overwhelming need to contact his Spirit Guide drove Chakotay back to his meditation area, and he once again began a vision quest.

==/==

Very quickly, Chakotay was surrounded by white. After several moments, his animal guide suddenly appeared.

They looked at each other for a long moment, until Chakotay broke the silence.

"Thank you. Thank you for showing me those painful images. I needed to see that, to know how things might have been."

The snake, Q, said nothing. As much as he enjoyed basking in glory, his ‘job' wasn't finished yet.

"Now, it's time for me to start living." Chakotay smiled, mostly to himself, as he added, "and that means I need to contact some people. I think you'll approve."

Centering himself with a last deep breath, Chakotay slowly opened his eyes. After a moment, he stood, and made his way towards the comm. terminal.

==/==

Chakotay activated his terminal, and found a long list of unanswered messages. He'd been so caught up in his own turmoil that he hadn't been aware of the passage of time, or considered that others might be trying to reach him. He smiled when he saw the numerous messages from Kathryn.

He was about to activate her high priority message when his eye caught an incoming message as it appeared on the top of the list. Curious, Chakotay opened it and found the following inscription:

"Dear Chuckles,

Remember no man is a failure who has friends.

Thanks for the ‘wings',

Q Junior"

Chakotay's eyes widened in shock. "No," he stuttered in disbelief, "Q wouldn't go to this much effort for me. He doesn't even like me..." He paused as he considered his next thought. "But he does adore Kathryn."

Stunned, he considered that he might be important enough to Kathryn to warrant Q's intervention, and was overwhelmed by the possibility. He swayed slightly, and as his arm hit the terminal interface, an odd sound, the sound of a little silver bell was heard.

A new message popped up on his screen, which opened automatically, and read, "Every time a bell rings a Q gets his ‘wings'."

He heard a message from deep within himself. "It means I'm considered an adult now, Chuckles. We did it!"

Chakotay smiled, and suddenly found himself at the front door of a beautiful, old, well-kept farmhouse in Indiana, with a beaming Kathryn Janeway opening the door to welcome him inside, arms held open wide to embrace him.

He knows he'll figure out a way to make this work.

FADE OUT

THE END

 

Chapter End Notes:

A HUGE thank you to:

elem for the beta. I adore you. And I am really glad that you were using red imaginary ink, instead of causing a world-wide shortage of the real stuff with this beta.

audabee. I adore you too. Thank you for the script read-through of "It's A Wonderful Life." There are a few lines from the movie imbedded, just for you. 



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