The dog's bark tore Kathryn's attention away from her roses and to the outline of a long-forgotten figure on the walk.
Another look and she dropped her trowel in the bushes....
He looked good, actually. Better than that ragged man she saw in the image. His hair was shorter, he'd put on some weight.
He stopped at the gate and looked at her, taking everything in.
"Hello, Kathryn," he finally whispered.
"Hello, Chakotay," she said, noting that his name no longer rolled off her tongue.
She'd known he'd show up eventually. Knew it even as she denied him when the security office called a year ago.
It hadn't taken long. Twenty-four hours after that conversation, Security called again. The man was Chakotay; DNA testing proved it. Not that the Pics cared, they kept him in jail under a sentence for a previous incident.
She'd told Bryan then about the call, and what she'd said. He held her for a long time, then finally whispered. "Does this make a difference between us?"
She'd cupped his face. "No, it doesn't. I love you," she assured him. "Unfortunately, you may be married to a bigamist."
He kissed her. "I don't care if you have a dozen husbands. We'll get though this."
Telling the boys wasn't any easier.
"Why didn't you tell us about the first call?" Zach demanded.
Bryan shielded her. "We needed to be sure," he replied. "He could have been an imposter."
"If you want to see him," she told her sons, "we'll go to Pictora Minor."
"Do you want to see him, Mom?" Edward asked.
She took a breath. "No, I don't. But you should."
In the end, it didn't matter. When the boys applied for a permit, the answer bounced back: Prisoner declines visit.
Fortunately, the other legalities went smoothly. Her attorney said that under the law, the marriage was dissolved when Chakotay was declared dead. So at least she wasn't an accidental bigamist.
Chakotay looked around the garden for a moment, then turned back to her. "I suppose you're wondering why I'm here."
She raised an eyebrow. "That, among other things."
"I just wanted to talk to you. May I come in?" he asked, his eyes drifting to the dog, who was standing guard at the gate.
Her first thought was to refuse. But maybe she had something to say, after all.
"Have a seat on the porch," she said. "I'll bring out some tea."
"Nice house," he said, as she brought out the drinks.
She smiled thinly. "Thank you. We enjoy it here."
"What do you think, honey?" Bryan said as he and Kathryn toured the house.
"It's lovely," she said. "Very comfortable."
"The garden could use some raised beds.. And there's room in the garage for a workshop."
"You mean space for more fishing gear, don't you?" she teased. "Really, isn't this a bit large for you?"
He grinned. "For me, yes. But not for four ... or five. There's plenty of room to build a suite for your mother."
"Bryan," she whispered. "You know I can't marry you."
"Not yet," he whispered back. "But we're a family now ... and I think it's time we live like one. We can take care of the legalities later."
Chakotay nodded absently and fiddled with his glass. "Sekaya sent Edward and Zachary's images."
She nodded. She had agreed that the first message should come from his sister. "We're very proud of them."
"Are they in Starfleet? Sekaya didn't say."
She smiled at a private joke. "Oddly enough, no. Edward just started work at an architectural firm. Zach is studying engineering ... he's staying with Edward while he does his internship. "
He smiled. "Are they in the city?"
She sat back. "You know, I'm not ready to tell you that ... certainly not until I get some answers."
He looked at the glass again. "I'm not sure where to start."
His hesitancy stoked her impatience. "Well," she said evenly. "How about you tell me why you didn't come back?"
She could see his internal struggle. "Kathryn, did you get a call about me last year?"
That wasn't the answer she was expecting. "Yes, I did," she finally said.
"Did you tell them who I was?"
She took a breath. "No. I didn't know the man in that image. I still don't."
He looked straight ahead. "I wondered if the guards were lying."
"So, why, after all these years, did you suddenly want my help?"
He was quiet for a moment. "I was scared. I'd been in prisons before. Some of them... well, they make Cardassians look tame. You were the only one left who could help me get free."
She looked at him closely, wondering what his life had been like. "Free from what? What happened to you, Chakotay?"
He tugged his ear in a familiar gesture. "Shortly after I arrived, we were in a battle. The people with me were all killed. I was hurt."
He leaned back in the chair and stared into the distance. "I fell in with another group. My mistake."
He snorted. "Their leader, Cholo ... he was a Svengali of sorts. Had a very simple way of controlling us." He closed his eyes and sighed.
"Go on," she urged.
"Drugs, Kathryn, very potent drugs. They called it firefly," he said ruefully. "He injected me on the pretense of treating my wounds." He shook his head. "I can't explain it. I felt euphoric. I felt invincible... like there was electric current running through me. By the time I realized what was going on, he'd taken my papers and my money. He threatened to kill me if I tried to leave. Hell, he didn't have to. All I wanted was more of the firefly."
She tried to imagine, but couldn't. "Where did he get this drug?" she asked.
He shrugged. "The plant was common ... chewing it produces a mild high. But add a couple of ingredients and cook it, and you have firefly. Cholo would make a weaker version and sell it; but we got the heavy-duty stuff."
"So you lived like this for 20 years?" she asked, uneasily.
He nodded. "We'd run from place to place. Fighting," he smiled ruefully again, "or whatever Cholo needed us to do. Basically just living through the day until we'd get a shot of firefly."
"And you never wanted to get away?" she asked, incredulously.
"I did ... some did try. One time, three of my friends tried to jump Cholo. The guards grabbed them." He hesitated for a moment. "They butchered them."
"But you'd been in jail ... several times," she pointed out. "You could have gotten word to us."
He shrugged. "Most of the time I was too sick. And all of the time I was too ashamed."
His narrative left her feeling sick. But something else was twisting in her gut, too.
"So is this what you want to tell our sons; that you spent the last 20 years in a drug-induced fog, doing who knows what with a group of butchers?"
He winced. "That's a little harsh, Kathryn. I'm trying to be honest."
She snorted. "Are you? If you want to be honest, why don't you tell me the real reason you got involved with these freedom fighters," she snapped. "I believe her name was Avette."
He blanched. "You know," he said flatly.
"Oh, yes," she said. "After you left, our friends told me of their suspicions. The first investigator I hired confirmed it, you bastard."
He looked down at his glass. "I'm sorry, Kathryn. I didn't intend ..."
"You didn't intend to diddle with a blonde while I was pregnant?" she asked bitterly. "Maybe you don't remember, but I asked if there was another woman. You lied to me."
The sound of breaking glass brought Gretchen into the den. Kathryn was standing, staring at the coffee dripping down the wall.
"Katie? What's happened?"
Kathryn's jaw was set, her eyes hard. "Investigator's report," she said, waving a PADD. "Tell Owen he was on the money."
"Oh no." Her son-in-law's disappearance hadn't made sense, but she had hoped Owen was wrong about that woman.
"Lots of calls, restaurant receipts .... Seems they were regulars at the Bajoran cafe."
"That doesn't mean anything."
"No," Kathryn agreed. "But renting hotel rooms does mean something. And he sent her flowers. Two days before Zach was born." She sat down heavily. "How could I have been so blind?"
"Oh, Katie," she said as wrapped her arms around her. "Sweetheart, don't beat yourself up."
He shook his head. "It all seems stupid now. I was restless, full of doubts. My classes weren't going well. You were tied up with some project. She offered me a way to escape for a while, I guess."
"So has Avette been part of your little band all these years?"
He shook his head. "She died in that battle. I barely remember what she looked like," he said quietly.
She managed to bite back her retort. "So, how were you able to get away from this Cholo?" she asked woodenly.
"He finally got killed," he said simply. "We were in a firefight with Pic troops. Cholo got hit by a sniper. His guards ran off. The rest of us surrendered."
She sat back in her chair and considered. "So, why wouldn't you see your sons?"
He looked at the floor again. "Too sick for a while ... withdrawal." He looked up at her. "And I guess I was afraid to face them."
They fell into silence. He fiddled with the glass as she studied him.
Was he telling the truth? She used to know. Now...
On the other hand, his lips had a blue tinge; the glass betrayed his shaking hand.
"So, what do you want, Chakotay?"
"I'm at a rehab center right now," he said. "I'm thinking about going to Dorvan. I just wanted to see the boys before I decided."
She sighed. "If you're expecting a happy reunion, you may be disappointed. They won't even talk about you."
"So you're not going to let me see them," he said, his voice suddenly hard.
"They're adults now. It's their decision." she retorted, her tone matching his."Actually," she continued, her voice softer. "I want them to see you. But you'll have to explain yourself to them. And you'll have to deal with the consequences."
"You told them," he said accusingly.
"About Avette? Not until you'd reappeared; they asked to see the investigators' reports. They didn't take it well."
That was an understatement. Zach refused to discuss it.Edward only said that Bryan was his real father. Back at his apartment, his girlfriend told her later, he put his fist through a wall.
"Give me your number at the rehab center. I can't promise anything, but I'll try to arrange for you to meet."
He was noticeably paler now."Never mind," he said, rising from the chair. "I shouldn't have come."
"I'll give you credit for doing that much," she said softly.
He looked back at her. "For what it's worth, I am sorry. I shouldn't have left. And I've told myself that every day."
"Chakotay!" she called.
He ignored her and kept walking, until he stumbled and fell hard to the sidewalk.
When she got to him, he was unconscious.
The doctor shook his head as he sat down with her and Bryan.
"His heart is badly damaged," he said quietly.
"Can you do anything?" Bryan asked.
The hologram shook his head. "All I can do is implant a heart-assist device. Normally, he'd get a mechanical heart, but frankly, he'd never survive the surgery." He looked at the PADD in his hand. "Drug abuse, malnutrition, no medical care to speak of ...." he looked at Kathryn. "This is unbelievable. This is certainly not the man I knew on Voyager. I don't understand."
"Neither do I, Doctor. And I'm not sure I ever will," she replied sadly.
"We've called his sister. She's on her way," Bryan said.
"The boys?" the Doctor asked.
"We're going to Vancouver to talk to them," Kathryn said.
The Doctor nodded. "I realize this is a delicate subject," he said gently. "But if the boys are going to see their ... biological father ... I'd suggest they do it soon."
"Mom, I don't see the point," Edward complained. "Neither do I," Zach agreed. "He ran out on us."
"You need to meet him," Bryan said gently. "You may regret it later if you don't."
Edward looked at Bryan. "You're my dad," he said as Zach nodded in agreement.
"Yes, he is," Kathryn agreed. "But Chakotay is your biological father. You carry his heritage."
"You mean he was a sperm donor," Zach snorted.
Kathryn slapped his face, knocking him back against the sofa. Edward and Brian sat frozen as Zach looked at her incredulously, his hand gently touching the stinging mark on his cheek.
"How dare you," she growled. "I didn't pick him up in a bar, Zachary. He was an important part of my life. I loved him. And you ... both of you ... were born out of that love, and within the bonds of a marriage."
She sat down and tried to hold back the tears. "I'm sorry, Zach," she whispered. "I shouldn't have done that."
"I'm sorry, Mom," Zach said, his voice cracking. "I didn't mean to hurt you."
Kathryn closed her eyes for a moment. "I should have talked to you about your father ... done a better job of explaining who he was ... tell you about the good in him." Her face softened as she looked at her sons. "I do see that good in both of you."
She sighed. "I was too busy trying to make up for his absence, trying to make sure you knew you had a family that loved you."
"You did good, Mom," Edward whispered. "You and Dad and Grandma all did."
Sekaya smiled broadly as her nephews walked into the waiting room. "Thank you," she whispered to Kathryn as she embraced her.
"It was their choice," Kathryn replied, "but I'm glad they decided to come."
"How is he?" Edward asked hesitantly.
"He's weak," his aunt replied. "But he's anxious to see you."
The boys looked at each other uncomfortably. "Mom? You are coming?" Zach asked.
"Just for a few minutes. This is your show," she said as Bryan squeezed the young man's shoulder.
As they walked in, Kathryn flashed back to another hospital room.
"Say hello to your son, Commander," the Doctor said, handing him the bundle. Edward's tiny fist poked out of the blanket; Chakotay took it in his large hand, and pulled it to his lips.
Chakotay was sitting in a chair, looking somewhat nervous. There was a lot of that going around today.
"Feeling better?" she asked.
He nodded, not taking his eyes from the two young men who looked so much like him.
She bit back the urge to make a sarcastic introduction. "This is Edward," she said simply, patting her elder son's shoulder. "And Zachary," she continued, nodding toward her youngest. "This is Chakotay."
Chakotay smiled and extended his hand; his sons each gave it a quick shake. "And this," she continued, "is my husband, Admiral Bryan West."
The two men merely regarded each other and nodded.
They all looked at each other expectantly, and Kathryn was seized by a sudden urge to climb out the window.
"I'll leave you to chat," she said as brightly as she could. Sekaya had volunteered to referee if needed. "Dad and I will be downstairs in the coffee shop," she added softly as she gave Edward's shoulder a quick squeeze.
"That didn't take long," Bryan murmured as Edward walked in. Kathryn glanced at a chronometer: 35 minutes.
She watched quietly as her eldest sat down and filled a cup from the carafe.
"You all right?" she finally asked.
Edward shrugged. "I can't say I feel much of anything right now. He said he was sorry; that he was glad you and Dad were there for us."
"Where is your brother?" Kathryn asked.
"Talking to Aunt Sekaya. I think she's a little pissed at him."
"Zach asked him if that woman was worth it."
"Oh," she said, as Bryan winced.
"By the way, he said no."
Zach's arrival interrupted any reply. "Aunt B'Elanna's upstairs, Mom," he said. "She wants to talk to you."
Kathryn nodded as she got up. "Be right back ... oh, and Zachary, leave my coffee alone."
Father and sons sat for a moment, each unsure what to say. Edward finally looked at his dad.
"How do you feel about him, really?" he asked.
"Chakotay?" Bryan asked, surprised. He took a sip of coffee as he considered. "I have mixed emotions," he finally answered. "He hurt your mother terribly ... I think you got an inkling of that," he said to Zach, who winced in response. "On the other hand, I feel somewhat sorry for him."
"Should we feel sorry for him?" Zach asked, absently taking a sip of his mother's coffee.
Bryan sat back. "Maybe. He made a hell of a mistake, and he's paying a hell of a price. He lost his family; 20 years of his life are gone ... from what the doctors say, he doesn't have a lot of time left."
"But he ran out on us," Edward pointed out.
"Yes, he left, but if his story is true ... and something obviously happened to the man ... he got himself into something he couldn't get out of. Not to preach, but try to remember that as you make your choices in life."
He pushed an empty cup toward Zach. "If you're going to drink that, you'd better pour your mom a fresh cup."
Kathryn pulled her jacket closer as she and Bryan took an evening walk along the marina.
"Chilly?" Bryan asked as he slipped an arm around her waist.
"A bit ... you'd think the weather grid would be more attuned to July," she said, making him chuckle.
They walked for a bit before Bryan broke the silence. "Edward called the office today. Wanted to talk about our fishing trip."
"That's what, next month?" she laughed. "He always did get excited about that trip. So, how is he?"
"Good. Says work is going well." He paused. "By the way, he said that he did call Chakotay on his birthday."
She smiled wryly. "My dutiful son. So, did he manage to drag Zach to the vid?"
"He didn't say. He did say he asked about Voyager, but Chakotay doesn't seem to remember details."
Kathryn raised an eyebrow. "Too bad ... or maybe not. There are some things I'd like to forget." She sighed. "He's been asking me questions, too. Poor kid is trying to put things into perspective."
"We're all trying to find our way though this," Bryan allowed. "It's certainly complicated."
"Complicated?" Kathryn laughed. "Honey, let's try surreal. People keep offering condolences." She shook her head. "What do you with an ex-husband who reappears after 20 years? Invite him to holiday dinners?"
"Better not. I can't guarantee his safety around your mother."
"Point taken," she murmured.
"You know," Bryan said softly, "while I'm glad you've encouraged the boys to have a relationship with Chakotay, I am curious as to why you haven't seen him again."
She sighed. "What should I do? Have lunch every week to catch up on old times? Tell him about how the boys grew up? I could tell him how you took them fishing, coached their sports teams, read bedtime stories ...."
She sobered. "Sorry," she said, squeezing his hand. "But you get my point."
"I get that you're still very angry."
She stopped and glared at him. Bryan crossed his arms and waited. "Oh, all right, yes," she finally said. "When Security called that day, I didn't feel anything. I thought I'd gotten past it all.
"Then Chakotay turns up at our door, and suddenly all that baggage returns ...like the nagging voice that tells me that if I'd been a better wife ...."
"Wait a minute," Bryan said, pulling her close. "Kathryn, you are a wonderful wife. I won't let you think otherwise."
She kissed his forehead. "Well, thank you for that."
He smiled and kissed her mouth. "I don't blame you for being angry. I just hate that you've been holding on to it all these years."
"So what do you suggest I do?"
"We've been telling the boys they need to hash things out with him. Maybe you should do the same."
Her chance came with a phone call from her housekeeper. "Admiral, your ex-husband is here. Says he has something for Edward. I told him he could leave it, but he insists on waiting for you."
He was in the living room when she came in, looking at the family images.
"You still come in through the back door," he said in wonderment.
"Well, that's where the garage is," she replied as she put down her briefcase. "Grace said you have something for Edward?"
If he noticed her annoyed tone, he didn't show it. "Sekaya had some images of our father. I thought Edward might like to have them," he said, motioning toward a package. "I was going to post them, but I can't find a Vancouver listing for Edward Janeway."
She looked at him strangely. "Did you ask Sekaya about this?"
He shook his head, "Why should I?"
"She would have told you that you had the wrong name," she said quietly. "His name is Edward West. Bryan adopted the boys."
Chakotay looked at the floor, saying nothing. Her uniform jacket suddenly felt too tight, and she loosened it. "I understand you and Edward talk occasionally," she offered, trying to change the subject.
He nodded. "He's very polite. He's also curious about Voyager."
She nodded in return. "It's natural, I suppose. Voyager is the reason he exists."
He smiled, and for a moment, she got a glimpse of the dimples she used to love.
We were good together back then, weren't we?"
"Yes, we were," she said wistfully.
"You know," he said softly, "I did think about you and the boys. It was the one thing that kept me sane."
"That's not a lot of comfort," she said flatly.
They stood silently for a few moments. "What do you want, Chakotay?" she finally asked.
He looked down at the floor, then back up at her. "What I tried to tell you before. I'm sorry. I did a terrible thing. I can never make up for it, but I'd like to try."
He picked up the package. "I'll ask Sekaya to send these," he said as he turned toward the door.
He turned. "What?"
"You are not just going to walk out on me again," she growled, surprised at herself. "I buried you. And I buried all those feelings... the anger ... the betrayal I felt because the man I trusted with my life, with my ship ... the man I waited seven years to openly love ... left with the first blond who flattered him. And I'm supposed to be a good sport and forgive you?"
She walked to the fireplace ... better to put some distance between them. "Maybe it's a good thing I had the boys when I got that investigator's report. Otherwise, I'd of tracked you down and shot you."
"I wish you had," he said simply, stunning her into silence. "You'd of done me a favor."
He sat down again. "Actually, Kathryn, you forget that I do know you... and I knew full well I'd feel your wrath when I came back. I just didn't think it would be this long."
"Oh, you were planning on coming back to us?" she said sarcastically. "What made you think I would have let you in the door?"
"I began having second thoughts pretty quickly. I was planning to leave the group when we got to a town with a spaceport. I didn't know if I could patch things up with you, but I wanted to try. I just never got the chance," he said miserably.
"As far as I knew, you were dead. So I moved on," she said.
"That's obvious," he said, nodding toward the family photos on the mantle. "You and your ... husband made a life for the boys ... one in which I didn't exist. I can't say I blame you. Hell, I deserve it."
"I don't need your absolution," she said. "You damn near killed me when you left. Bryan brought me back to life. I have a happy marriage and a good life. And I have no intention of letting you intrude on either."
"I doubt I'll be around long enough to intrude," he said quietly. "From what I've been told, I'm living on borrowed time. You're the one who's going to see the boys marry; see our grandchildren."
He stood up. "Look, I've wished that Q would show up and throw us back 20 years, or that there would be a sudden rift in the space-time continuum. But that's not going to happen."
"I guess not," she allowed.
"All I can ask for now, I suppose, is that I get to know my sons a little. And that the only woman I ever loved .... " He shook his head and looked at her. "That at least you'll have something good to say about me to our grandchildren."
She looked at him sadly. "After all we went through ... all those times we cheated death. I thought we were going to grow old together."
"I'm sorry." He held out his hand. "Is there any way we could salvage something from our friendship? At least bring us both a little peace?"
Without thinking, she took his hand. "Maybe," she said, her anger spent. "Maybe."
The dog's bark tore Kathryn's attention from her roses. The Doctor and B'Elanna stood at the gate; their demeanor signaled that this wasn't a social call.
Her heart jumped; Bryan and the boys were fishing in Manitoba... an accident?
"What's happened?" she asked, afraid of the answer.
"It's Chakotay," B'Elanna said quietly. "He's gone."
"Gone?" she asked, not quite comprehending.
"Sometime after noon," the Doctor explained. "Sekaya said he was taking a nap. He died in his sleep."
"I just talked to him yesterday," she said, shocked.
The Doctor nodded. "His heart was just too damaged. He survived far longer than I thought he might."
"She's at the apartment; we have a counselor with her. She asked us to tell you," he said.
"Are Bryan and the boys still in Canada?" B'Elanna asked.
She nodded. "They're in a remote region. One of the orbital patrols will have to contact them."
After they left, she made the call to her office. As she switched off the vid, the irony hit her.
"We need to talk to you about something important," Kathryn told her sons. "It's about your father."
Zach, age 7, looked at Bryan, confused.
"Not your dad, sweetheart," Gretchen said. "Chakotay."
"The guy in the picture," Edward, age 8, said helpfully.
"Right," Kathryn said, feeling a bit uncomfortable. "You know we've been looking for him for a long time."
"Did you find him?" Edward asked.
"No, hon. And I don't think we will. We think he died."
Later that evening, after she had talked to Sekaya and to Bryan, Kathryn walked to the marina, where she stood at the end of the pier and watched the beginnings of a late summer sunset. She took a gold band from her pocket... the one Chakotay had slipped on her finger when they took their vows so many years ago.
Kathryn leaned on the railing and let the memories wash through her as she looked at the ring.
Then she straightened, and in one quick move, tossed it into the bay.