A Thousand Miles

Disclaimer: Star Trek Voyager and all of its characters are the property of Paramount. No copyright infringement is intended.

Another entry in the "Glory Days" series, following "Rocketman" by Seema. It is suggested you read that story first.

Warning: this story contains graphic imagery which some viewers may find disturbing.

Many thanks to Seema for her excellent beta.

By Rocky

The eight row houses on the quiet street were identical--except for the bright red door adorning the third one from the left. Chakotay smiled despite himself. Tom had said he couldn't miss the house, and now Chakotay understood why.

The red provided a welcome counterpoint to the dreary fall day, its vibrant color undiminished by the steadily falling rain. After the warmth of Betazed's southern continent--where he'd spent the past six months--he wasn't used to the chill of San Francisco. Then again, he thought wryly, Boston would probably be even colder. Chakotay turned up his collar and quickened his pace.

A young blonde woman whom he did not know opened the door. "Can I help you?"

"I'm looking for the Paris residence--"

"Oh, you must be Chakotay!" she said, her gaze going immediately to his tattoo. "Tom mentioned you'd be coming by today. I'm Jenni, by the way." Ushering him in, she continued, "Tom isn't here, of course. He dropped Miral off at preschool on his way to work. But B'Elanna and Joey are in the family room."

A loud crash emanated from the room in question, just as Chakotay paused on the threshold and set down his bag in the hall.

Jenni stepped aside to let him enter. "Company's here!" she announced.

A small towheaded boy looked up from the mess of blocks on the floor. "Who's that?"

"Good question. How about I let him introduce himself to you?" Jenni said.

Chakotay smiled and knelt down beside him. "My name is Chakotay. And what's yours?"

"Joey," the boy said and stuck a thumb in his mouth while he contemplated the stranger.

"This is a friend of Mama's," B'Elanna said. Chakotay hadn't noticed her sitting on the couch in the corner of the room, half in the shadows. He rose to his feet at once and came over to her. To his surprise, she made no attempt to rise from her place.

"B'Elanna!" he said warmly, and leaning forward, kissed her cheek.

"Hello, stranger," she said. She was half sitting, half reclining, a colorful afghan draped over her legs. "Long time no see."

"That's what happens when you're off-world for half a year," Chakotay said. "You did hear that I went to Betazed for a new project."

"That's what you said in your taped message, the one you sent when you left last spring."

"I had a very tight connection between the flight from Boston and the transport to Betazed," Chakotay said apologetically, and then wondered what he was apologizing for. "I said I'd make sure to stop by on the return trip." He gave her a smile. "And here I am."

"Yes, here you are." There was no answering smile on her face. Chakotay studied her more closely, and was struck by how thin she looked. Her cheekbones and brow ridges stood out starkly from the pallor of her face; the cableknit green sweater she wore looked too big for her.

Jenni cleared her throat. "Can I get you anything to eat or drink, Chakotay? B'Elanna?"

"No, thanks, I'm fine," Chakotay said. B'Elanna merely shook her head.

"I'll be in the kitchen if you need anything," Jenni said and left.

Chakotay sat down in the rocking chair near the couch. "How are you doing, B'Elanna?" he asked quietly.

"Fine," she said and quickly changed the subject, almost as if she were annoyed at the question. "How is Seven?"

"She's fine, too," he said automatically, while thinking of Seven and her most recent message--the one asking him to come home, a most atypical request. Seven knew that the dig on Betazed was scheduled to take at least another year, that this was a crucial point in the project and that even a two week absence could be costly. "Of course, I haven't been back to Boston since April and have been out of the loop with what's happening." For some reason he found himself adding, "Before leaving for Betazed, I'd been in the city with her for several months."

B'Elanna nodded. "Tom told me he he'd met you at Utopia Planitia, when you were first on your way to Boston. It sounds like the two of you had a good conversation. I know Tom was pleased to see you."

An image rose in Chakotay's mind with sudden clarity, of himself and Tom Paris sitting at a bar on the station.

Tom smiled, the same insolent smile--almost a smirk--which never failed to rub Chakotay the wrong way. "Why am I doing all of the talking?"

Chakotay shrugged as he drained the last of his coffee. "You never talk enough. You just think you do."

"There you go again," Tom said irritably. "Making pronouncements from on high. I don't know why you think you know me so well."

"We served together for seven years."

"We weren't exactly friends, Chakotay."

Chakotay looked up sharply, but there was nothing snide in Tom's tone. Just a simple matter-of-fact statement--which made it sting all the more.

"That must have been about a year ago," Chakotay said after an awkward pause. "I was heading for Earth, but Tom was on his way to a conference, on some starbase, I believe."

 B'Elanna said, almost to herself, "That's where Tom last saw Harry." A shadow crossed her face.

Chakotay was about to ask about Harry Kim, what he was doing lately, what ship he was stationed on, but was momentarily distracted by another loud crash. Joey's block tower had collapsed.

"No!" Joey yelled. "Stupid!"

B'Elanna sighed. "Joey, honey, come here." Chakotay watched as the toddler, his lower lip quivering ominously, climbed into his mother's lap.

"It's OK, Joey, calm down," she said. "You can make another tower."

"Not the same!"

"No, it won't be the same, but you can make it better," Chakotay offered. "I'll help you, if you like." But Joey buried his face against his mother's shoulder and sobbed. Chakotay couldn't help but wonder why B'Elanna didn't get down on the floor to help rebuild the tower. He realized then that he hadn't seen her move very much at all since he'd arrived.

Raising her voice to be heard over Joey's howls, B'Elanna said, "Normally Joey would be in playgroup this morning, but he's been sick--double ear infection--and he has to be fever-free for a full day before going back." She rubbed Joey's back, trying to soothe him.

"So today's the convalescence day?" Chakotay asked with a smile.

Another odd look passed over B'Elanna's face, but she didn't answer him. Instead, she addressed Joey once more, "All better now?"

Joey gave one last sniffle but then was distracted by the discovery of a toy shuttle on the window sill nearby. He picked it up and began humming loudly to himself, obviously piloting his ship through outer space.

Chakotay smiled. "He looks a lot like Tom, doesn't he?"

B'Elanna nodded. "Yes, he does."

Chakotay glanced around the cluttered yet cheerful room and caught sight of some family holographs on the mantel. He went over to inspect them more closely. A large formal portrait of a little girl with dark curls, astride a pony, stood in front. "Miral, on the other hand, looks more like you. She always did, even when she was just a baby."

"Her forehead ridges are more pronounced than Joey's, and her hair is dark like mine," B'Elanna conceded. "Aside from that, it's hard to say."

"You could always compare with some of your baby pictures."

"If I had any, I suppose I could," B'Elanna said shortly.

Chakotay sighed inwardly. Even though B'Elanna's mother had died while Voyager was still in the Delta Quadrant--before a reconciliation could be effected--he'd been sure in the years since the return B'Elanna had at least made contact with her maternal family or her estranged father. But apparently this was not the case. Which was a pity, in his opinion; having endured the loss of his own world and family, Chakotay knew how precious these ties were.

Joey's shuttle was clearly involved in an imaginary space battle; the humming of the 'engines' had changed to sounds obviously meant to represent weapons fire. He jumped up and down on the couch cushions, waving his arms in ever-increasing arcs in the air.

B'Elanna shifted her position, wincing slightly as she did so, until she was facing her visitor more fully. "So tell me, Chakotay, how is your project coming along?"

The sound of the shuttle's 'weapons fire' grew louder.

"It's great," Chakotay said. "You know what we're working on, don't you?"

"Not really--"B'Elanna broke off as Joey, balanced precariously on the back of the couch, fell forward. His head struck her squarely in her side. She drew a quick intake of breath, a pained expression on her face. Joey burst into noisy tears. "How many times have I told you no jumping on the furniture!" she scolded sharply and thrust him away.

Jenni immediately rushed in from the other room. "I'll take him, B'Elanna."

Chakotay watched as the younger woman lifted the crying child and carried him to the kitchen. "You know what, Joey?" he heard Jenni say. "I think it's time for a snack. Would you like a cookie and some juice?" The closing door drowned out whatever reply Joey made.

Chakotay bent down to pick up the fallen shuttle, then turned back to B'Elanna, startled by how harsh she'd been with the boy. Joey was just a toddler, after all. Chakotay knew B'Elanna could often be impatient, but her relationship with her children was different. Or so he'd thought. He opened his mouth, but left the words unsaid as he noted again how exhausted she appeared to be, became aware of the huge circles under her eyes. There was something going on; he became more convinced of it with every passing minute he spent in her presence.

He cleared his throat. "I was surprised when Tom mentioned you'd be home this morning, I thought for sure you'd be at work." He paused. "And it's not just because of Joey, is it? Your housekeeper, Jenni, could take care of him."

"Jenni started out as the children's nanny," B'Elanna said, not looking at him. "It's only recently that Tom asked her if she'd mind doing some light housekeeping as well."

"You haven't answered my question," Chakotay reminded her. "B'Elanna, why are you home?"

B'Elanna grimaced. "I'm still on medical leave, Chakotay."

"Medical leave?" he asked. Suddenly the pieces clicked into place. "You've been ill, haven't you?"

"You could put it that way," B'Elanna said flatly.

"Do you mind--can I ask?"

"You haven't heard the news, Chakotay?" she said incredulously. "About the Romulan Neutral Zone and what happened there? About Harry?"

Chakotay got a strange feeling in his gut, almost like a premonition, when she said Harry's name. But it was most likely just his guilt speaking, guilt for not having kept up with had been going on in his friends' lives over the past few years.

"I'm not in Starfleet anymore, B'Elanna," he said, a bit more sharply than he intended. "You can scarcely expect me to keep track of everyone's assignments...a border skirmish here, an incident there. The Alpha Quadrant's a big place."

"Border skirmish? That's a hell of a way of putting it!" B'Elanna snapped. She began speaking rapidly, her voice a harsh rasp. "There was a battle, Chakotay--with the Romulans."

"But the treaty--"

"The treaty with the Federation stated the Romulans retained the right to self-defense, and to secure borders--and to act when those borders were threatened. Which is what they did." She made a peculiar sound, as if she was gasping for breath. "You can thank the Ponzi raiders for the breakdown in Federation-Romulan relations."

Chakotay shook his head impatiently. What she said sounded vaguely familiar, now that he thought of it, but he didn't know any specific details. "I've been on a dig in the middle of the Great Betazed Desert for the past six months, B'Elanna," he said.

"And you didn't have any access to news reports?"

"Yes, we did--every couple of weeks when we trekked into town to pick up supplies--but that doesn't mean I had the time to track down each and every mention--"

"You should have made it your business!" she said heatedly, jabbing her finger in the air for emphasis. "Did it occur to you that a number of your friends were still affiliated in some way with Starfleet, and would have been affected by or involved in any 'border skirmishes'?" She paused to struggle for breath. "But then again, you haven't had much time for any of us for a while, have you?"

Chakotay stirred in his seat. "That's not fair."

"Isn't it? Well, sorry if it makes you feel 'uncomfortable.'" Her eyes met his, tears of rage visible. "What the hell happened, Chakotay? It didn't use to be this way. We were a family once--all of us, you, me, Tom, Tuvok, the captain...but lately you seem to have opted out." A sob escaped her. "Even the little day-to-day stuff. Like the fact that this is the first time you've ever seen Joey, the first time you've ever come to visit even though you promised Tom last year that you would?"

"Maybe someone should have contacted me, to ensure I didn't miss the big things at least," Chakotay retorted. He hesitated, aware he was treading on shaky ground. "Be reasonable, B'Elanna--even if I have been spending the past few months on Betazed, I'm not a mind reader. Obviously you were in the thick of things--but if you personally were too busy to call me, someone else could have done it." B'Elanna stared at him blankly. He added, with a flash of anger of his own, "Like Admiral Janeway, for example."

B'Elanna's lips twisted. "Very funny, Chakotay. You always did have a warped sense of humor."

It was his turn to stare. Granted he and Janeway had drifted apart toward the end of Voyager's journey--even before the return and even before he became romantically involved with Seven--but surely the Admiral could have put aside any personal considerations long enough to contact him, especially if it concerned B'Elanna.

He thought back to B'Elanna's earlier words about the 'family'--he wasn't happy with what had happened between himself and Janeway, but truth be told, he was not the only one at fault. "Why is that such a strange suggestion? Or doesn't this work both ways, B'Elanna, that someone else could reach out to me instead of the other way around?"

"Damn it, Chakotay, this isn't about you!" Her voice rose precipitously. "Don't you understand? It's about the people you allegedly care for, or at least did once upon a time. People being hurt and killed--" She broke into a long drawn out cough, her shoulders heaving with the effort. Finally, she lay back against the cushions, utterly spent.

Chakotay took a step toward her, horrified to see the bright red froth on her lips. She waved him away, a handkerchief pressed against her mouth, unable to speak. He strode to the kitchen, nearly tripping over a toy on the floor on his way to the sink. Joey and Jenni were nowhere in sight. Chakotay hurried back to the other room and silently handed B'Elanna a glass of water.

She took it somewhat clumsily, a few drops spilling, and drank. "Thank you," she whispered hoarsely. He took the empty glass from her trembling fingers.

He waited until her breathing seemed to return to normal. "How are you, B'Elanna?" he asked again. "Really."

"I was badly hurt," she said at last, noticeably more weary than she'd been before. "Radiation, toxic gases--all the things you get with an unstable warp core. Even before the ship was destroyed. " She coughed again, bringing up more blood. "They told me later I would have died were it not for the redundant Klingon organs." She tried to smile. "I suppose I should be grateful." In a corner of his mind he remembered how it had taken a long time for her to come to terms with her mixed heritage--if indeed she ever truly had.

"But you're still experiencing some lingering health problems?" he probed gently.

She nodded. "Shortness of breath, prone to infections, scarred lungs, reduced stamina...among other things."

He felt like kicking himself for his earlier flip comments about a 'border skirmish.' "You're right. I suppose I should have been paying closer attention to what was going on in the Neutral Zone, just as a well-informed citizen of the Federation," he admitted ruefully. "And if I had, I would have caught the names, realized that you were involved."

She nodded grudgingly. "Or if you'd been in closer contact with any of us before this," she pointed out, "you'd have known that I was on board the Minuteman, that Harry and the Admiral were assigned to the Livingston--"

"The Admiral?" he interrupted. "Do you mean Kath--Admiral Janeway was there, too?"

"She's the one who negotiated the cease-fire, had been working for months to find a peaceful settlement with the Romulans," B'Elanna answered, giving him a searching look. "And she's the one who pulled us back from the brink of full-scale war between the Empire and the Federation, though it damn near cost her her life to do so--"

Kathryn in the midst of a battle, putting her life on the line for something she believed in, thinking that no sacrifice was too great--yes, he could believe it. "Is she--" his throat was suddenly very dry. "Is she all right?"

B'Elanna nodded quickly. "Yes, she is, or at least the Doctor predicts she will be. She was seriously wounded, burns over a major portion of her body, internal injuries, broken bones. She was a real mess when they finally beamed her away, but she refused to go until she was sure she had been successful."

He exhaled sharply, feeling the tightness in his chest ease slightly. "That's good to hear."

Then she told him about Harry.

A wave of nausea rose up in Chakotay. He could taste the bile in the back of his throat as he pictured Harry Kim, all shining enthusiasm and potential, gone forever. He hardly heard what B'Elanna was saying, until her final words penetrated the fog in his brain. "It should have been me, Chakotay, it should have been me."

He started to protest. "No, B'Elanna, you don't mean that--you've got young children, a family--"

"And Harry didn't have anything important to live for?" she shot back bitterly. After a moment she added, almost to herself, "Tom doesn't like to hear me say that, either, even though he went through something similar when Joe Carey was killed."

Chakotay nodded, remembering the incident as clearly as if it were yesterday. Ironically, Voyager's return was only a few months in the future, though none of them had known it at the time. An away mission gone wrong--and an innocent man who paid the price. Tom had blamed himself, though it hadn't been his fault.

Chakotay bit back a sigh. As if he needed further proof, pain and suffering--and survivor's guilt--were not confined to the Delta Quadrant. He glanced at B'Elanna, trying to gauge her emotional state, wondering how she was dealing with the aftermath of her experience. Not very well, he assumed, if the pain in her eyes was anything to go by.

"The counselor says it's important to acknowledge and air these feelings," B'Elanna said softly. "These angry impulses I sometimes get. It's all perfectly normal, as long as I recognize what they stem from. But it's hard on the kids, because they don't understand. And hard on Tom as well, though he doesn't complain. Sometimes I hate myself for what I'm doing to them, doing to him." She interpreted his look correctly. "Of course I'm getting some professional help, Chakotay. Kahless knows, all of us could probably use years of therapy to deal with all the crap we endured out there in the Delta Quadrant. And are still enduring..."

Chakotay moved closer to her and took her hand in his, gave it a comforting squeeze. She was silent for a long moment, her eyes fixed on the view outside the window. The rain had stopped for the time being, but it was still very gray and dim outside, the fog giving an indistinct, hazy look to the nearby houses, their sharp outlines blurred.

"It was just like old times," she said at last. "Those last few hours on the Minuteman with Harry. I wasn't even expecting to see him--he was supposed to be on the Livingston. But he'd come over with the Admiral. I was so glad to see him--I knew if he was working beside me, I'd be able to pull off what I needed to do. We were trying to stabilize the ship's systems, but the damage was too great." Chakotay made a soothing noise, but B'Elanna wasn't listening. "At the end, when the Livingston's transporter beam locked onto us, I thought I was dying. The walls were dissolving around us, but I could still feel Harry's hand in mine. And one of the last things I remember thinking was, if I'm going to die, at least I'm not alone. I've always hated being alone." Her breathing turned ragged, degenerating into another coughing spell. "And that's the last thing I remember. I was unconscious when we materialized in the Livingston's sickbay, didn't wake up till after surgery. And by then Harry was gone." She paused. "I never got the chance to say goodbye to him."

"B'Elanna, I--"

Her gaze fell on the floor, at the untidy pile of blocks littering the carpet. "The memorial service was two weeks later. Tom came out to the NZ to meet me; I think his father must have called in some favors to arrange transport so quickly. I didn't know it at the time, but he also packed up Harry's things. John Kim asked him to--and  to bring Harry home."

Chakotay did some swift calculations, working out the days in his mind. "It wasn't that long ago, then."

"No, just a few weeks ago."

It had to be painful for B'Elanna to recount this, Chakotay knew, but at the same time he believed it was good for her to get it all out, to talk about it as much as possible. Despite the fact she was undergoing professional counseling, it was also important for her to say these things to someone with whom she shared a personal connection. And Chakotay admitted that he himself needed to hear these details, as if by that act he could vicariously participate in the final farewell.

"The memorial service, it was probably very 'Starfleet' in nature?" he asked quietly.

"No, actually, it wasn't." B'Elanna took a deep breath. "Yes, there were lots of current and former officers there, people who'd served with Harry, or gone to the Academy with him. But there were also so many other people as well, friends he'd had growing up, who'd gone to school with him, former neighbors. It was amazing to see how many lives he'd touched."

"That was Harry," Chakotay said fondly. "Everybody's friend."

"That's what John Kim said. That no one who met Harry was left unaffected by his smile, by his charm. Not to mention his kindness and generosity." She exhaled slowly. "I can't even begin to imagine what it was like for Harry's parents."

Chakotay nodded. Having lost their only son once to the Delta Quadrant, then to have him miraculously returned to them only to lose him again, this time permanently...He crushed the thoughts with speech. "Who else spoke?"

"Just Admiral Janeway. I don't know how she was able to be there, let alone get up and speak. She and Tuvok had just arrived from the hospital complex on Vulcan the day before--the Doctor was hovering around her the whole time. It was obvious how difficult this was for her physically."

That had never stopped Janeway before. Chakotay recalled too many incidents--involving the Kazon or the Hirogen or the Borg--in which she'd ignored her own safety or well-being in order to carry out her duties as she interpreted them. Aloud, Chakotay said, "It was appropriate for her to give the eulogy, as she was his first commanding officer."

"And of all the captains he served under, she was definitely the one who knew him best," B'Elanna agreed, "but she didn't eulogize him, not exactly. She just spoke very briefly about how she was honored to have served with him, how she hoped she and everyone else there could continue to live up to the faith Harry placed in them." B'Elanna fell silent, and pulling her hand away, rubbed her eyes quickly, but not before he saw the tears glistening on her cheek.

Chakotay reflected on Janeway's words. He sighed heavily. "I'm sorry, B'Elanna."

"For what?"

"I should have been there."

"Yes, you should have," she said, but she forced a smile that took some of the sting from her words. "The only thing that got me through that day was having the 'family' around. Even though the only reason we were together was because we were saying goodbye to one of our own."

Chakotay knew what she meant, how much the feeling of belonging, of being accepted, was important to her. That was what Voyager had given to her, given to all of them, regardless of whether they had started out as Starfleet or Maquis.

It appeared that B'Elanna's thoughts were running along the same lines as his. "Harry was one of my first friends on Voyager, but you were my oldest friend--no, my best friend, the one whom I knew the longest, the one I always turned to when things got rough. I always looked up to you, Chakotay, ever since you rescued me all those years ago when the freighter I was serving on was taken over by the Cardassians."

"As I recall, you had the situation pretty well in hand yourself, even before we got there," Chakotay said with a small smile. "How many soldiers did you take down?"

The cargo bay of the freighter was deserted, except for the two Cardassian soldiers lying unconscious near a stack of tumbled crates. Chakotay was relieved to see the precious phaser rifles were still there, untouched.

He saw a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye and fired. The blast scored the opposite wall. "Show yourself!" he called.

There was no answer. Chakotay held his breath, and heard a faint scrabbling sound behind another row of containers. He carefully eased toward the source of the noise. He unfastened a clip from his belt and tossed it a few feet behind the spot where he thought his unseen quarry was waiting. His patience was rewarded when a figure leaped out of hiding, a smuggled rifle raised to use as a club. He instinctively ducked the blow and caught his assailant around the waist, crashing them both to the floor. He rolled to his side as the other went for his jugular, barely warding off the biting, snarling Fury--and then he caught sight of her face. To his surprise it was a young half-Klingon woman--with an air of vulnerability about her, despite her fierce demeanor.

She seemed equally astonished to see him. "You're not a Cardassian!"

"No, I'm not," he agreed. "Does that change your mind about wanting to rip my throat out?"

"I was awfully glad to see you anyway." B'Elanna pushed her tumbled hair out of her eyes. "You should know, I joined the Maquis not because I believed in your cause, but because I believed in you. When you offered to let me stay, to become a member of your cell, I thought, 'here's someone I can trust, someone I can follow to the ends of the galaxy."

Chakotay looked up, surprised. He'd always thought of B'Elanna as a younger sister but something in her tone made him think she had wanted something more from him, those many years ago. "The 'ends of the galaxy', eh? That's a strangely prescient turn of phrase," he began, trying to make a joke, and then stopped. "B'Elanna, what you just said, did you mean--"

"Yes," she said simply, not attempting to deny it or deliberately misunderstanding him. "Of course I fell for you. All of your wonderful qualities, your acceptance of me for who and what I was..." Her voice trailed off. "From the look on your face, I can't tell if you're flattered or insulted."

 He shook his head. "Neither, just a little surprised." He hesitated. "B'Elanna, why didn't you ever tell me how you felt?"

"Because you were always 'taken', never free," she answered right away. "There was Seska in the Maquis, then once we got on Voyager there was always Janeway." She paused. "And I gradually realized that my feelings for you were just a crush, an idealization."

"And you fell in love with Tom," Chakotay said and then added, "Despite yourself."

"Oh, yes," B'Elanna wryly agreed.

"The signs were there pretty early on," Chakotay said. "The way you always worked so well together. Like the time you were captured by the Vidiians or that incident with the Nyrians. In each case, the two of you managed to get out of an unpleasant situation." He smiled, despite himself. "I wasn't sure about Tom at first--"

"I know the history between the two of you," B'Elanna interrupted.

"--And I was ostensibly afraid Tom would let you down in some way, hurt you," Chakotay finished. "But I see now that Tom has been good for you, that he always has."

"He's one of the best things that ever happened to me," she said quietly. "You should see how patient he is with me these days, how loving. I don't know what my life would be like without him."

Chakotay gently lifted B'Elanna's chin so she was looking him in the eye. "It's good that Tom won't have to envision a life without you now, either."

She didn't flinch. "I know. And I do appreciate everything I've got."

Chakotay relaxed then, for the first time since B'Elanna had broken the news to him about the events in the Neutral Zone. She would be all right. And as her body healed, so would her spirit. All she needed was the love and comfort from those she cared about, and those who cared for her.

"And what about you, Chakotay?" B'Elanna asked. Once again, he had the sensation that her question meant more than what it appeared on the surface. Myriad thoughts rushed through his mind--of old dreams and ambitions, as well as crushing losses. He wondered how they'd gotten to this point, traveling so far from where it had all begun.

"What do you mean?" he asked cautiously.

"I was wondering how much longer you're going to stick around."

He hesitated. "I thought I'd catch a shuttle out to Boston this afternoon." He caught the disappointed look on her face.

"I suppose Seven is expecting you," she said wistfully.

He made a sudden decision. "Yes, she is, but I can stay a while longer, if you like."

"No, I don't want to keep you--"

"It's all right," Chakotay said firmly. "We still have a lot of catching up to do." He had a fleeting thought of Seven, wondered again at the reason for her summons. He forced a chuckle. "I don't know if Seven would even notice my being there, not right away at least. She's recently started a new project with one of her fellow faculty members--from her descriptions it sounds like she's practically living in the lab, staying there till all hours every night."

B'Elanna smiled. "Then why don't you stay for dinner? I know Tom would love to see you."

"Then it's settled," Chakotay said, and impulsively pulled her into a gentle hug.

Her arms went round him tightly, and he heard her say. "It's felt like you were a thousand miles away, Chakotay. I'm so very glad you're back."

"So am I, B'Elanna," he said. "So am I."


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