Written by: T'Kalara

Spring 1998 - 8th grade

Author's note: the characters belong to Paramount, but the story is of my creation

'True love never dies…' -The Princess Bride

* * * *

True Love


It wasn't the first time she'd thought about it. In fact, it had become something of a ritual. Kathryn Janeway ran her fingers through her honey-toned hair, and sighed in frustration. She sat on her bed, trying to seek her inner self. Trying to hear her father's voice, where it always was. Where it guided her, even though he was no longer on this plane of existence.

She closed her eyes, and remembered…

"Daddy, Daddy!" A young Kathryn burst through the door of their Indiana home. "Daddy, when are we leaving for Mars?" She had been waiting all day while at school, keeping down her excitement. Daddy was taking her on her first flight off of Earth!

Kathryn was ten years old, and going off-planet was like a sort of rite of passage. Almost everyone, by the time they were twelve or thirteen had gone to Mars or at least off Earth. She rushed through her homework, checked it, and finally put down her PADD. A knock on her door and her mother's soft voice informed her that they were leaving in half an hour.

Freshly replicated and lying on her bed were clothes of her choosing. Kathryn slipped on a turquoise jumpsuit and brushed out her long hair. Looking in the mirror, she tied a lavender scarf in her hair, for some semblance of style, and mainly to control the light wisps that tended to fall annoyingly across her eyes.

At last! Half an hour later, she was ready and waiting for Daddy by the door. They walked together to the groundport, and stepped on the transporter pad. Moments later, they were on an orbital station. Daddy wrapped an arm around her shoulders, as if sensing her excitement. "Well, my little Goldenbird, it's only a few more minutes. We'll wait here for the shuttle…

Kathryn's eyes snapped open and her head shot up. She looked around her quarters, and sighed. Sometimes those happy memories were all that she had to keep herself going. Standing up and stretching, the computer informed her that she went on duty in fifteen minutes. Time enough to have a cup of tea she thought to herself. Or maybe not…

* * * *

The Captain stepped onto the bridge, with the same manner as she might have approached a friend. "At ease, people," after the computer intoned Captain on the bridge. "Seven of Nine, may I see you in my ready room?"

She and the once-Borg young woman walked over the threshold to her ready room. Her sanctuary. "Seven, I understand that you wished to speak to me about a personal matter. Please, have a seat. Would you like anything?" she queried, indicating the replicator. Instead of voicing her reply, Seven, who appeared deep in thought, shook her head.

"Captain…I am unsure how to start. Ever since I was cut off from the Collective, I have endeavored to search out my individuality. To find myself, as one might say. Yet, something is missing. I do not feel like a separate being. Something is not quite right. I cannot recall ever feeling this way before. It is like I am part of this group, but yet alone. People regard me as an outcast. They make my appellation an insult."

Touched by this revelation, Kathryn took a breath, and gave her advice. "Seven…Annika. Perhaps were we to use your given name, it would help the crew to become more accepting. A name can mean a lot to some people." Seeing her shift uncomfortably in her seat, Kathryn hesitated before continuing, "What you need to know is that it is hard for some people to take you in as one of us. Try to become a little more personable. A little less stiff. I'm sure that if you aren't comfortable…remember, you can always come back and we can discuss it some more."

As the young woman stood and turned to walk out, she suddenly turned, and spoke as if with great difficulty, "Thank you Captain. You have helped me to see what I must do. Thank you."

"Oh, and, Annika?"

"Yes, Captain?"

"I think you have a lovely name."

With that, Annika walked out. Did I actually see her blush? Well, compliments never hurt thought Kathryn to herself. Satisfied that yet another problem had been reconciled, she smiled to herself and sat back.

* * * *

Kathryn's door chime pierced the quiet air. Looking up from the stack of personnel evaluations, she ran a hand across her eyes and acknowledged, "Enter." Her First Officer, Commander Chakotay took four steps into the room and stopped in front of her desk. Something was bothering him, because his fingers seemed to be clenching and unclenching behind his back.

"What can I do for you, Commander?"

"Captain, it seems B'Elanna and Tom are in for another reprimand. Or at least a get-well note."

Groaning, she asked, "What happened?"

"Well, Captain, it seems that they were in Jefferies Tube number 20, er…kissing. Carey went to look for the Chief Engineer and found the two. He startled them, and Tom accidentally hit his head on the edge of the hatch. B'Elanna slipped and bruised her shin on the ladder rungs. And Carey ended up leaving as fast as he could. Both are in Sickbay, and I would probably say they are now getting a good dressing-down from The Doctor. What would you like me to do?"

"Give them the usual lecture about being careful. Don't mention that they were kissing at the time."

With a wink and a nod, her First Officer pivoted and walked out. Kathryn smiled to herself. Tom and B'Elanna would be in for it sometime, but not now. Lucky for them, she wasn't short of patience. Scrubbing decks may be unconventional, but they may get to do so next time.

"Is this Mars, Daddy?"

"Yes, Goldenbird. We'll be there soon."

Kathryn silently reprimanded herself for trying to dwell on fond old memories each time her eyes closed. Sighing, she picked up a set of crew evaluations, and began to read.

* * * *

"Computer, what is the time?" It is now 2000 hours. Kathryn stood up, and rubbing sore neck muscles, proceeded to leave her ready room. The duty shift was just changing on the bridge, and she shared the turbolift with Chakotay.

"Tired, Captain?" came the worried question, when she swayed slightly.

"Actually, Commander, I was heading for the holodeck. There's a new program I've created, and I wanted to see it."

"May I join you?"

Surprised, but instantly awake, "Of course. You might want to change into something a little more appropriate for 100 degree Farenheit heat. Meet me there in, oh, half an hour. Holodeck 3" And with that, she swept out of the now-stationary lift, and into her quarters.

Kathryn went through her closet a little impatiently. Five minutes in the sonic shower had totally refreshed her mind, and now she looked for suitable clothes. Settling on a light cotton sundress, she carefully pulled the soft, femininely lavender dress out and stepped into it. Clad as such, and slipping on some shoes, she noted that it was ten minutes until she had to be at Holodeck 3. No matter. A few minutes gave her time for her hair. Leaving it down, but fastening half of it with a silver clip, Kathryn smiled to herself. She remembered her first dance…

Kathryn, unsure of herself, followed closely behind her friend Libby. Libby always knew what to do. "Wear something casual, but nice." was her only advice. She had settled on pants and a cream shirt. If only she could make it through the night without embarrassing herself! Slowly, joining her circle of friends, Kathryn looked around nervously. Sure enough, he stood there, looking a bit uncomfortable. If only Libby wouldn't tease her about him!

Losing herself in fun for a moment, and listening to gossip, she heard the music change to something slow. "Kathryn, you're going to dance with him, no matter what!" Libby had her arm, and was dragging her towards him. And Martha was obviously asking him to dance, but with Kathryn!

Breaking free, Kathryn ran into the bathroom, and looked in the mirror. She saw a scared, blushing teenager. A shy, unsure 13-year old, with a crush on the boy she couldn't admit to herself. Libby came in…

Shaking off the memory, Kathryn walked down the corridor to Holodeck 3. Chakotay wasn't yet there. She addressed the computer, "Computer, initiate program Ka'alena Falls j112." Program complete. Enter when ready. Stepping through the interlocking doors, which slid apart, she was immediately embraced with sun.

A breeze blew the scents of flowers, and the faint rush of waterfalls could be heard in the distance. Looking out, Kathryn found herself on slightly slippery rocks, breathing in large amounts of the humid air. It's just as I remember, all those years ago.

"Kathryn, isn't this beautiful? The perfect place to take someone as beautiful as you." Her fiancé, Justin, spoke softly as they watched the sun set over the falls. She turned and kissed his cheek. Two months until their wedding. Even Phoebe, her sister, was pleased…

It seemed only to have been a moment when Chakotay entered, wearing an open-necked tan shirt over off-white pants. He had the air of someone who didn't mind the heat and the moist air. "Captain, this is beautiful! But where is 'this'?" he asked with a mingled pleased and slightly puzzled air.

"It's Ka'alena Falls, on an island in Earth's Pacific Ocean." Even as she said this, Kathryn felt her voice falter, a tear threatening to break free and slip down her porcelain cheek.

Chakotay immediately moved over to put a tentative hand on her arm. "Kathryn, what's wrong?"

"Justin proposed to me here. This was where we were together by ourselves the last time…before he died with my father in the shuttle accident." With a wry smile, she spoke once again, "He also said that this was the perfect place for me."

Not knowing what to say next as the tears began to silently fall, Chakotay still managed to convey the air of comfort. Even though he knew it was mostly a futile gesture, he gently guided his quietly crying captain over to a shady rock, and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

A few minutes later, Kathryn looked up into his compassionate eyes, and wiped the last tears away with the back of her hand. "I'm sorry, Chakotay. I didn't mean to break down like that. I just haven't said his name or thought about him in so many years."

"It's perfectly all right, Captain…Kathryn. I understand what you have gone through. And Justin was right. This place is magnificent. It's serene, with a distinct sense of composure, just like the person who created this program."

"I'll take that as a compliment," replied Kathryn with a wry smile touching her lips, "Flattery won't get you everything, Chakotay. Only most of it."

They sat I a companionable silence for a few more moments. Then he looked up and across the falls, towards where seabirds winged their ways down to the spray-covered rocks. He sighed contentedly and then reached over to take Kathryn's hand. "Kathryn, I want you to know that you can talk to me whenever you need to. No matter what."

At that, she gazed into his face, her eyes flashing a brilliant sapphire. He had never seen her emotions so close to the surface, not even on New Earth. Giving her hand a slight squeeze, he released it and stood up. Her voice floated after him, "Chakotay, where are you going? Be careful, that cliff is slippery! I found out the hard way, with bruises to show."

Just as the words emerged from her mouth, Chakotay's foot slipped. Luckily, he caught himself just as he would have slipped over the edge. Peering down into the crystal pools below, he grimaced, "A long way down, and not much to break a fall. At least," a hint of humor showing, "you have a great view on the way down…not that I ever intend to find out," he finished with a grin.

Helping him up and continuing down a rocky trail, the two made their way to where the falls fell in a sheet of glass. Carefully, Kathryn led him behind the rushing water, onto a narrow ledge that protruded about a foot over the shallow water. Slipping off her sandals and placing them out of the water, she stepped in. The coolness of the water caused her to suck in a sharp breath. Recovering, she offered a hand to her exec.

"Care to join me?" At that, he smiled and kicked his shoes off on the ledge. He took one cautious step, the quickly submerged his feet up to the ankles. "Kathryn, this is cold!" She laughed delightedly, that is, until a splash of water accosted her in mid-laugh. Kathryn pushed wet hair out of her eyes, hiding the mirth in them. Chakotay could tell something was coming, but not sure exactly what it was. He soon found out, as she pushed him full force through the cascading water, and out into the pool beyond.

Picking her way daintily along the ledge, the still barefoot Kathryn walked around the falls, to where Chakotay sat in the water, sputtering and looking astonished. He offered his hand to her, and she thought she caught a glimpse of something before he lowr, t his eyes. Too late. With little dignity, the captain of Voyager went sprawling headlong into the water. Just as she broke the surface, the comm beeped: Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay, please report to the bridge. "Acknowledged, Tuvok, give me a moment to get up there.

A minute later, the dripping wet Captain and Commander emerged onto the bridge. Pointedly ignoring the crew's stares, Kathryn impeccably asked, "Status report, Tuvok?"

"Captain, Mr. Kim's sensor sweeps have picked up several alien ships up ahead. Seven, to be precise, of unknown origin and configuration. Each alone carries more than enough firepower to destroy Voyager. They are on a direct intercept course, and will reach us in ten point oh-two-three hours. What are your instructions?"

"Mr. Paris, plot a course around them and initiate, Warp 7. I want to avoid a conflict. Mr. Tuvok, you have the bridge." With that, she swept up and into the turbolift, accompanied by Chakotay.

The moment the lift doors slid together, Chakotay's deadpan expression dissolved into one of he who is holding back laughter threatening to burst. Kathryn allowed herself a small smile. "Well, I don't know who was more surprised; Harry or Tuvok! Surely, it's not the first time the captain and executive officer have arrived totally saturated!" with that, she stepped out of the lift, leaving behind a stunned Commander.

Before the doors closed once more, the Captain turned and shot a dazzling smile over her shoulder. At least, Chakotay was overcome with a wave of emotion he could not name. By the time he had finished puzzling it out, he had entered his own quarters. This could only mean one thing…

* * * *

…Kathryn lay on her bed, staring up at the stars. As a young woman, she had been completely mystified by the desire to learn, and the starry sky had swept her up. Rolling over, she sighed softly. He mind worked, deciphering every subtle gesture that Chakotay had made earlier that evening.

Somewhere inside, a small, nagging voice told her to be true to Mark. But the voice of reality cut in. She remembered reading his message. He had married another woman whom he loved. Even so, another part of her spoke the rules of conduct, undercut by the affection she felt for Chakotay.

She felt drowsy, and drifted off, waking as her door chimed. Acknowledging its signal, she discovered that the Commander stood there in the corridor. As she beckoned him in, he held out a single mauve rose. How did he know I loved roses? They sat in silence awhile, and she began to talk of everything that had transpired these past few months: the network home, the Hirogen attack…and Mark's letter.

Chakotay hesitantly reached out, and lightly grasped her hand, then gave it a tiny squeeze to reassure her. Then, ever the gentleman, he raised it and kissed the back of Kathryn's hand. Her eyes radiated shock…and joy…

Kathryn woke with a start. There were still traces of a smile on her lips. Darn. It had all been a dream. Yet another morning had arrived, and it wasn't the first time she had slept in uniform in her quarters. Yawning, and running long fingers through tangled hair, she whipped it back and fastened it in a clip.

Checking her chronometer, Kathryn verified that there were 50 minutes before she was scheduled to go on duty. Enough time for a trip to the mess hall to grab a bite of breakfast. Nodding perfunctorily to the crewmen she passed in the corridor, she made a short detour to quarters one deck below her.

Tapping the entrance plate, a woman's voice answered. "Enter," and Kathryn could hear small Naomi Wildman's voice as well.

"I stopped by this morning to see how you were doing. I hope everything is fine, Samantha. How's Naomi?"

"Naomi, tell Aunt Kathryn how you are this morning."

But the child shook her head and looked down. Then as unexpected as a supernova, Naomi slipped to the deck with the gracefulness of a child who has passed out. "Naomi, Naomi, emergency medical beam-out!" Three forms shimmered out of existence, and rematerialized in Sickbay.

The Doctor, who had been activated earlier, quickly ran some scans, while Kathryn tried to comfort a distraught Samantha Wildman. "She wasn't eating her breakfast, and hasn't been sleeping well. I should have known something was wrong!" Samantha paced restlessly, stopping every now and then to question the doctor.

* * * *

As it turned out, Naomi had been afflicted with a low-grade fever and stomach cramps, but something didn't add up for the Doctor. The child may have passed out from not eating breakfast, but there should have been no rational reason for her to be feverish. Were he human, the Doctor might have sighed in consternation, but since he was a hologram, he managed a look of annoyance.

And Naomi wasn't the only one to fall victim to the fever. A few hours later, at the end of her shift, Crewman Jayena Leigh collapsed shortly after she left her duty station in Engineering. She had felt a slight pain behind her right temple, and notifying the Doctor, he had ordered her to report to Sickbay. Leigh was two sections away from Sickbay when she turned a corner, and abruptly ran into a wall of nothingness. At that, she dimly realized the deck was getting closer as she fell in a heap to the floor.

That was where Ensign Kim found her, sprawled out on the deck, and had her beamed to sickbay. Ten minutes later, a very similar accident occurred, this time involving Lieutenant Carey, who was working on the warp core manifolds and EPS modulators. And leaving from a date with B'Elanna, Tom Paris slipped back into the arms of an alarmed B'Elanna Torres. All in all, three of the crew plus Naomi had come down with this strange illness. Hours later, all four were still unconscious.

* * * *

Kathryn fumed with the frustration of not being able to do anything about this problem, except pace. Finally, she headed for Sickbay. There she found B'the na at Tom's bedside, keeping an eye on his readings. Just as she entered, the half-Klingon turned away with a disgusted growl.

"Captain, what are you doing here? The Doctor's offline, and I'm supposed to reactivate him if anything changes." Her voice dropped lower, and Kathryn could sense the undertone in her manner. And when she spoke, she remembered hearing the plaintive note in someone's words only once before: hers, when she realized that Justin and her father were gone forever. Slowly, B'Elanna spilled out her anger and frustration that she could do nothing to protect or heal her Tom.

Before Kathryn could offer any words of comfort, the doors swooshed open, and Chakotay entered. His face had an expression of compassion and understanding. The Captain turned to face him totally, and the next thing she knew, the carpeted floor of Sickbay was rushing up to meet her.

* * * *

"Captain…Kathryn, can you hear me? Please wake up, Kathryn, you have to. This crew needs you. I need you."

"Commander, we're losing her, keep talking! Coax her back, do whatever you can to keep her at least semiconscious…"

These words penetrated the clouds of fog surrounding Kathryn's brain, and very slowly, she opened her eyes. Two concerned pairs of eyes peered down. A pounding headache started behind her forehead, and she tried to reach up with her hand. She found it clasped beneath the strong fingers of her first officer, who gave an embarrassed smile, then quickly released her hand.

Slowly sitting up, Kathryn surveyed the room. Only B'Elanna and Tom were still there, except for the two others clustered around her biobed, and of course, herself. The lieutenants were embracing, while summarily unobtrusively making their way towards a secluded area of the room.

As the Doctor moved off towards his office, muttering something about respecting privacy, Kathryn spoke softly, her voice still a little shaky, "Do you know what B'Elanna told me?" At Chakotay's perplexed look, she continued, "She said that Tom had to wake up, because, 'True love never dies. Even death can't conquer it.' And she was right; Tom came back. I can't help wondering if faith had anything to do with it."

Very courtly, Chakotay offered his hand to help her off the biobed, and asked her to join him for dinner. Kathryn thought she saw something in his brown eyes, but he quickly turned away. And she had no choice but to shake her head and smile.

* * * *

A half an hour later, this time clad in a cream dress, her hair down, Kathryn arrived at his quarters. As he answered the door, he proffered a single red rose, and she felt a blush creep across her cheeks. "Why, thank you, Chakotay, I had no idea you were a romantic," said she in an attempt at levity, which turned into an even deeper blush.

With a grandiose, all-encompassing gesture, he invited her in, where they sat with an awkward silence at the table. At long last, Kathryn's dulcet voice wavered as she spoke, "Chakotay, there's something I want to tell you…I already told you about what B'Elanna said. And she was right; true love never dies, so…" her voice trailed off, as she gazed down at her folded hands. He reached over and tentatively took her hand between his. Words ran through each one's mind, but neither could bring themselves to say anything.

Finally, Chakotay requested Selection Chakotay Alpha-two. Music began to play… 'I'm dreaming…but tomorrow, I'll be holding you tight, cause there's nowhere in the world I'd rather be, than here in my room, dreaming about you and me…' He drew Kathryn to her feet, and they began to dance, slowly swaying to the music.

Looking into her eyes, he saw them as cobalt blue nebulae, like a million stars in her eyes. Holding her close, he felt Kathryn's head fall to rest gently on his shoulder, and he closed his eyes, concentrating on his inner thoughts.

Kathryn felt herself in his arms, and in his eyes saw reflected the twinkling space outside the viewport. She too closed her eyes, extinguishing their blazing sapphire, relaxed and content. They stayed this way for another song, then carefully drew apart. "Chakotay, that was…I never had a better time…I don't know what to say…"

"Shhhh…Kathryn, you don't have to say anything. Your eyes speak volumes." And, tentatively, each reached out again, into a cautious embrace. Slowly, they lost some of that tension, becoming relaxed, and making their ways to his couch, sitting there together for a few silent moments.

They sat together there for the rest of the night, dinner forgotten, quietly discussing everything happened to them these past years. And then the subject of the past was breached; Kathryn spoke about Justin, and both of their fathers. Yet neither left, even though the night grew late, and they drifted off to sleep, the few emotional tears drying. At 6300 hours, the alarm beeped, and each woke to see the other.

* * * *

Kathryn didn't know what to say. She had never expected to talk to anyone about what she had spoken to Chakotay about. He had become one of her closest friends, and save for Tuvok, her only confidant. She felt comfortable talking to him about anything. Sighing, she meditated slightly for a moment, but found neither answers nor questions, only an aching void.

What void is this I am trying to fill? She did not allow herself to say even in her mind the words she now thought. Slowly, receding once again to look inside, in a deep place, Kathryn finally let herself thin what she had wanted to think for so long: I am attracted to him. But is it love? Will it ruin our friendship? Whenever we speak, we dissemble with alacrity. Yes, I love him. And true love never dies.

And she knew, as she thought these words, that nothing would be the same. That was when the bulkhead imploded on her, hurling her slight frame into the far wall.

* * * *

Once more, she surfaced halfway from oblivion. Yes, Chakotay was there, once again holding her hand tightly. If she should die before she spoke…"Chakotay, remember always, true love never dies. Not even death can stop it…" And a huge black wave crashed down over her consciousness once more.

* * * *

"Mr. Paris! Cardiac stimulator now! We're going to lose her, and no, I don't want to face this again today! Commander, come here. Bring her back, like you did before!" If the Doctor could have mentioned it, he would have noted that almost losing the Captain twice in one week was just too much for him.

* * * *

Chakotay paced, pondering the words his Kathryn had uttered moments earlier. I love her. If anything should happen…It is my fault; I should have checked the flow conduits more thoroughly…I love her, and, and, true love never dies. As he sank into the depths of meditation, Kathryn's eyes fluttered, and she raised a limp hand slightly. He rushed the few feet to her side.

"Kathryn, your heart almost failed for a few moments, I was afraid I would lose you…"

"Didn't I tell you true love never dies? I, I, I love you, and I knew it couldn't keep me from you."

Shocked as he was, even though a hidden part of him rejoiced, he said carefully, "Are you sure this is what you want? I will tell you now, I love you with all my heart." And then, Kathryn knew everything was all right for the moment. Siting up, she noted her vital signs were back up to par, and she swung her legs over the biobed, and stood up. Leaning on Chakotay's arm, she slipped out of Sickbay, to a pleasant two days off.

* * * *

Early in the morning, Kathryn's door chimed, and opened at her acknowledgement to reveal Chakotay. "Come in, I'm I here. Bring those crew evaluations with you," she called through her bedroom door. He stepped through, and immediately set down the stack of PADDs at her beside table, and moved to kneel at her side. He produced a small velvet covered box, and set it in her outstretched palm. In it, nestled between layers of milky satin was a delicate pendant in the shape of two interlocking hearts hanging on a gold chain. Smiling as radiantly as any sun, she fastened it at her throat, where it sparkled in the starlight.

She kissed her fingertips, and then ran them down the side of his face. Yet neither moved to an actual kiss. This seemed to be an unspoken agreement. "Well, Chakotay, pull up a chair, and let's begin on those performance evaluations, shall we?" With that, she indicated beside her bed, where he now knelt. Hastily, he complied, and they began, though ultimately, moments later, embracing and staying as such for a long time.

"Chakotay, are you sure we should be doing this? I know we're so far from 'Fleet command, but really…I know we both want this, or at least I do. I love you, yet, oh, regulations be darned!"

"Kathryn, I don't care where we are, I just want to be at your side forever." So saying this, he leaned over and cautiously brushed a kiss on her high cheekbone. Both shocked and pleased at the same time, Kathryn found herself returning the kiss, and knowing her heart and not her mind controlled each action then.

And both gazed at the other for a long moment, and simply sat in a comfortable silence until BEEP… "Captain, I apologize for interrupting your evening, but there would appear to be an interesting solution to the question of where the illness originated." Tuvok's voice sounded as apologetic as a Vulcan's could. As she sighed and released his hand, the door slid open to her command, where Tuvok walked the proper four steps in and stopped.

"At ease, my friend. The Commander and I were just starting evaluations." The Vulcan didn't mention that each was blushing quite a lot, and continued with his report.

"The unknown illness seems to have originated in the replicator system, where it appeared in an Earth dish. I believe that Naomi Wildman, Lieutenants Paris and Carey, and Crewman Leigh all ingested this dish." He paused a moment, then resumed, "This dish would be something called pizza. The toxin showed up in tests of a topping called pepperoni. Captain, you must also have eaten this." At her affirming nod and dismissal with thanks, he turned and strode out.

The doors slid shut, once again leaving the two in privacy. The two were about to kiss again, when Kathryn's door chime beeped. Again. Sighing, she gave the command, admitting B'Elanna and Tom. Too nervous-looking to notice what a private moment they had interrupted, they spoke in tandem.

"Uh, Captain, Commander…"

"Tom and I were wondering…"

"Captain, would you please…"

At last, with their commanding officers' perplexed looks, they began again, together, "Captain, would you marry us?"

Kathryn and Chakotay looked down as one, to B'Elanna's long-fingered hand, and the golden band that sparkled on her ring finger.

"B'Elanna, Tom, I would be honored to preside over the ceremonies. You tow are going to be very happy, and believe me, you were meant for each other. Congratulations!"

And before the speechless Chakotay could recover his tongue enough to form any words, the two swept out. Kathryn turned, and said, "Well, my love, it would seem we have a lot of planning to do. For others, and for ourselves.

* * * *

A week later, most of the crew appeared in Holodeck One. Noticeably absent were the Captain and Commander, preparing the bride and groom, respectively. Kathryn stood behind B'Elanna, helping her to adjust the delicate white lace on her silken dress. Apprehension mingled with joy shone in the eyes of the chief engineer of Voyager. The younger woman looked at her reflection in the mirror in Kathryn's quarters. The form-fitting satin bodice gave way to a snowy silk skirt that flowed about her hips, trailing in waves across the floor. Appliqued lace with tiny pearls adorned the bodice, which left her shoulders bare, lace straps supporting the weight on her upper arms.

A sparkle of gold shone at her throat, the slender rope shimmering in the dim light. Hanging freely from it was a minute t'kalara stone, its deep purple belying the red sun of its Vulcan origin. The gem was cut in the shape of a single heart, and the letters T and B.

Kathryn carefully lifted the veil from her bed, and gave it to B'Elanna. She slowly placed it on her head, fastening the combs in her soft hair. The slight weight of the feathery net veil created an odd sensation, its voluminous folds attached to the combs with small white silk flowers and more seed pearls. The front slipped over her face, masking her eyes, which shone with brilliance many stars lacked. Taking a deep breath, she allowed herself to be calmed by Kathryn's presence.

* * * *

Chakotay adjusted Tom's white suit collar. The crisp, starched silk shirt collar buttoned up to the groom's also apprehensive face. He shrugged his shoulders into the coat and fastened the mother-of-pearl buttons in front. Resplendent in all white with his hair neatly combed back, the helmsman of Voyager was the picture-perfect groom. And a nervous wreck.

* * * *

Kathryn slipped into a long lavender dress, B'Elanna aiding her with the zipper in back. Mother-of-the-bride and officiating person left her with no shortage of duties. The lavender silk slid smoothly down to her ankles, which in turn were in heeled shoes. B'Elanna helped her gather her hair back, fastening half of it with a flower-engraved mother-of-pearl clip. The reaming half of her hair floated about her face, creating quite a stunning effect.

A small cluster of flowers was pinned at her right shoulder. With that, she and B'Elanna swept out into the corridor.

* * * *

The Commander slid each arm in turn into the sleeves of his black tuxedo coat. Tom, however, was nowhere to be seen. Deep breathing from the darkened living area suggested that he was trying to calm himself. Flowers matching Kathryn's were pinned to his coat as well. Adjusting his bow tie, he pulled Tom to his feet from his couch, and they left, walking along the corridor to the turbolifts.

* * * *

Both bride and groom took a special route, since it was traditionally bad luck to see each other on the wedding day before the ceremony. On their way, Kathryn and B'Elanna met up with her bridesmaids: Samantha Wildman, Mariah Henley, and the flower girl, little Naomi Wildman, squirming slightly in her small dress.

Entering the Holodeck, the to-be-weds were cloistered off in separate rooms, with last minute preparations. The best man, Harry Kim breezed in with a bouquet of exotic flowers from Hydroponics, giving them with a shy glance to B'Elanna. He seemed about to say something, then abruptly turned and ran from the room. Only then, after seeing his teary eyes did B'Elanna lose some of her serene front, giving way to utter anxiety.

* * * *

It seemed an eternity to Tom until Kathryn called all to be seated. She began with the traditional human and Klingon opening words. At last, B'Elanna made her way down the aisle, as the Wedding March played.

"Do you, B'Elanna Torres, vow to cherish this man, Thomas Eugene Paris, in sickness and health…" The happy couple never even seemed to hear the next words, until each spoke their "I do's." All at once, their crewmates burst into applause and tears, as Kathryn spoke the last words, "By the power vested in me, as captain of the U.S.S Voyager, I now pronounce you man and wife." With a sly glance at the beaming face of Chakotay, she finished, "You may now kiss the bride!"

The kiss lasted a full five seconds, before each remembered where they were, and turned to accept congratulations. At long last, the women gathered for B'Elanna to throw the bouquet. As planned by all, the flowers sailed straight into the hands of a startled Kathryn. Moving to his wife's side, Tom removed the garter, and made as if to throw it haphazardly. It was, in fact, only a pretense, for it landed in Chakotay's lap!

The music started, with the new couple leading the first dance. Kathryn and Chakotay substituted the dances supposed to be headed by the parents of the bride and groom. Finally, everyone joined in, losing themselves to the rich melodies.

'True love is like a storybook story…'

And Kathryn and Chakotay were swept up in exhilaration…

As the last notes trailed off, B'Elanna and Tom left for Holodeck two, which had been reserved specially for their honeymoon program. And no one was to disturb them for at least a week, others covering their posts. The Doctor made a halfhearted attempt at humor, muttering under his breath that he expected the two to report to Sickbay at the end of their sojourn together, and would have the bone-knitters ready.

* * * *

Later that evening, still in their clothes from the joyous nuptials, the Captain and Commander met in his quarters. Late that night, after dinner and a glass each of champagne, both sat on his couch, near exhaustion. Suddenly Chakotay smiled and excused himself for a moment.

He returned, holding something behind his back. "Kathryn, close your eyes." She complied, and when she opened them a minute later, he was kneeling on one knee in front of her, proffering the box. As she wordlessly reached forward to open it, a flicker of anticipation stirred in her heart. Inside, shining against its white gold setting sat a single, true diamond. Written across the inside of the box lid was: Kathryn, my heart, let this be a symbol of our true, undying love.

"Chakotay, are you asking me to marry you?" At his nod, she silenced herself. Removing the ring, he took her hand, and placed the ring on her finger.

"Kathryn Janeway, will you marry me?" And the joy in her heart surged forth. A short single kiss they shared, but if the universe exploded, they would never have noticed.

* * * *

A monte bater, Tom and B'Elanna reversed the roles from their wedding, in turn helping to dress their Captain and her First Officer. B'Elanna buttoned up the front of Kathryn's soft brocaded silk gown, and laced the bodice with slim satin ribbons. Down the front, from her waist to where the dress flowed out to the floor, was a row of tiny pearl buttons. Overlaid on the short sleeves were intricate lace designs, and seed pearls adorned the waistline. The bottom of the skirt swirled into a puddle about Kathryn's feet, and she delicately placed the veil over her head. The flowered band secured back her honey-blonde hair, left free and hanging in waves over her shoulders.

B'Elanna scrambled into a snowy dress, while Kathryn deftly hooked together the back of her maid-of-honor's clothing. A small wreath of white flowers was placed on B'Elanna's brow, and she squeezed her feet into heeled shoes, complaining almost inaudibly. Luckily, the flowing skirt hid her shoes, or one would have been able to see the squirming of her painful toes!

* * * *

Chakotay felt his heart speed, then race like a puma. With shaking fingers, he fastened the mother-of-pearl buttons on his shirtfront. The white jacket sat perfectly over his shoulders, belying the white of his clenching knuckle, a silent reminder of anticipation.

Tom stepped out of the bathroom, pinning on a spray of matching flowers. He watched as Chakotay tucked the ring boxes into his pocket to give to Tuvok. Then, with a murmured "lay on, Macbeth!' and a wry smile, the groom and best man walked into the corridor. They met Harry Kim in the turbolift, and all three exchanged nervous smiles.

* * * *

As Tuvok spoke the words that would bind their two hearts together as one, Kathryn and Chakotay looked deeply into the other's eyes. And what they saw was love, truer than the first light that lit the horizon in the morning. Tuvok's words almost unheard, Chakotay took his cue, and kissed his bride.

After the ceremony, the whole crew gave their congratulations, and even Tuvok, in his reserved manner, managed to convey the idea of emotion. All night during the dancing and reception, the newlyweds spent in each other's arms or holding hands tightly. And later, they slipped quietly away to Holodeck 2, where a special program was running. The crew had arranged duty schedules to give them a week of relaxation. Kathryn's jesting words were 'Stop us for nothing less than a supernova!'

* * * *

Ka'alena Falls glistened with crystal brilliance on the last night of their honeymoon. Two champagne glasses and a picnic basket sat overlooking the waters. It was almost sunset when both appeared there, coming from their own special preparations. Dinner occurred with few words, and only after the meal was over did the two speak.

"My love, my heart, did you ever think this would be so? If this is all a dream, I never want to wake up."

"Kathryn, if we both are dreaming, let it continue forever!"

They spent the night under the stars and staring up, one soul, and one heart. True love never dies…

* * * *

"Red alert! Captain and Commander to the bridge! Hirogen attack fighters closing fast!" Tom Paris' frantic voice summoned them from the first vestiges of morning light. He sent more calls out, summoning Tuvok and Kim to their duty stations.

Struggling into uniforms. Kathryn and Chakotay ran full tilt to the turbolifts, and then to the bridge. She landed lightly in her seat, and was in the midst of asking for sensor readings from Kim, when the bridge rail and console behind her husband blew up in a shower of sparks. Luckily, he was just standing up when a large piece of the railing hit him in the back; if he had been sitting, he would surely have broken his neck. As it was, he fell to the deck. Kathryn leapt over, breaking his fall. "Emergency beam-out to Sickbay! Doctor, the Commander has been severely injured. Doctor…anyone?"

Just then, the ceiling of the bridge collapsed, and Kathryn threw herself over Chakotay's inert form, shielding him from the rubble. He was barely conscious, and managed to murmur, "True love never dies…" before a piece of paneling caused both of them to lose all vestiges of consciousness.

* * * *

It was a good deal of time later when Tom and B'Elanna managed to dig the two out, and have all four of them transported directly to Sickbay. Things could have turned out much worse, actually. Tom had been thrown back from his console in a rain of white-hot sparks, and B'Elanna had feared the worse. Luckily, from the Engineering station, she managed to set a course and engage, Warp 5, escaping the Hirogen attackers.

Tuvok and Harry attempted to and managed to leave by service crawlway, but the unstable supports had collapsed once they were safely out of the way, effectively blocking an escape route for the remaining bridge officers. At that, B'Elanna dug from the shards of metal an emergency medical kit, delivering a stimulant to her beloved, who awakened almost immediately.

Together, the commanding officers were discovered, and Kathryn regained consciousness fairly soon. The only things she suffered, were oxygen deprivation, heavy cuts, and bruising. It was a miracle she had no head injuries as a result of the falling panel.

Chakotay, however, had not yet come back to her, Imploring, injecting medicines, even prayer to spirit guides had not helped. Eventually, Tom and B'Elanna drifted off to sleep by the malfunctioning environmental controls panel, trying in vain to keep warm. Cuddled together in Kathryn's peripheral vision, she wondered what had ever possessed them to become married. Of course, she wondered about love.

Love is trusting, blind, strengthening, and weakening. And it had bound her soul to Chakotay's. For now and forever. If only he would come around…Chakotay gasped and weakly opened one eye a slit. "Kathryn…is that you…?"

"Yes, it is. Don't try to move; you have broken ribs and compressed vertebrae. I've stopped internal bleeding, but since all routes to and from the bridge are blocked, we can't get you to Sickbay. Not to mention, the communication systems are down as well. Hang on, oh, my heart, hold on just a little more."

"True love, love we have forever,. Always remember that…" At that moment, all four officers were beamed to Sickbay, where they looked up to see the Doctor operating the controls. There was a huge pile of collapsed ceiling panels in front of the door, which probably had melted to the metal, making removal impossible.

The Doctor treated Paris' fractured leg, then gave B'Elanna the bone-knitter to finish up, while he worked on Chakotay. His tattoo had been marred by a large cut, and his ribs had come perilously close to giving him a lung puncture. At last, only cosmetic repair was needed, scars erased but never forgotten.

* * * *

About a week later, all repairs completed, and course set back for the Alpha Quadrant, Kathryn sat in her quarters. She lunged comfortably on her bed, going over damage and repair reports. "Kathryn, come here, now. Don't spend all night without me!"

Rising and shaking her head grinning, she stepped into the living area, where Chakotay lay on her couch. Kathryn sat carefully down beside him, careful not to disturb his position. The Doctor had recommended a week's worth of rest, with little activity for his back. Too bad, oh well. Life isn't always fair thought he, for all he wanted to do was spend time curled up next to his Kathryn. And it looked like it would be a while before that happened. His eyes spoke for him, and she knew what to do next, even without spoken words.

She reached down, lifted his arm over her shoulders, and helped him walk to the bedroom, where he collapsed on her bed. Shoving repair reports out of the way, he gestured for her to sit. Gently, she placed a small kiss on his tattoo, and softly murmured into his ear to sleep. Lights were dimmed, and she stepped into the bathroom, returning moments later, hair down and in her nightgown.

Kathryn could hear his deep rhythmic breathing, as she slipped quietly down at his side. Rolling so her back was to him, his arms about her waist, and slept peacefully, knowing everything would be all right. She dreamed of a place far away, yet getting closer, always in her heart: the Alpha Quadrant.

* * * *

The next morning, she awoke to find him taking an early morning shower. Waiting for him to appear, she replicated breakfast, left a note on her PADD for him, then donned her uniform, brushed her hair, and left. It took her about fifteen minutes at a casual stroll to reach the bridge, stopping every so often to exchange a few words with her crew.

She stepped out of the lift onto the bridge, and suddenly a sense of nausea overtook her. Were it not for Tuvok's quick reflexes, she would have hit the floor rather hard. About ten minutes later, she opened her eyes again, to find her husband's gazing down at her worriedly.

The Doctor stepped into her line of view, then bent down to whisper in her ear. Seeing her eyes widen, Chakotay looked expectantly at her. And the six words she said brought him a sense of euphoria so deep he could not explain it. And her words were, "We're going to have a baby!"

The crew was overjoyed at their joint announcement. The Doctor informed her it would be a girl, and that he felt an odd surge of pride that he could not quite put onto words. At that, both simply smiled even more.

For the next few months, everyone was busy suggesting names. They finally settled on Kayla Laurel. At about the same time, Tom and B'Elanna admitted that they too would soon be the proud parents of a little girl, whose name was as yet undecided.

Everyone was getting used to seeing the Captain and Chief Engineer in maternity uniforms. All was well with both of them, as they went in weekly for scans and suggestions against morning sickness. Tom and Chakotay spent quite a lot of time talking together about their wives as moods flared, then subsided into apologies.

Annika often talked to the two, in an attempt to become more human by learning about anything and everything. Sometimes there were rare flashes of time when she seemed perfectly comfortable, but mostly there was a distracted look on her face. Harry thought B'Elanna and Kathryn most definitely. Perhaps becoming more human also meant experiencing those pangs of emotion that there was only one name for: attraction.

A small smirk fleeted across B'Elanna's mouth, and she quickly stifled it, lest Annika want to know just what was so funny. Too late. The swift eyes of Annika saw it, and her response was, "Lieutenant Torres-Paris, may I inquire as to the reason of your mirth?"

"Nothing, Annika, and it's B'Elanna. It's just…"

"I have found that people tend to avoid answers if they make them uncomfortable. If you would prefer, you do not have to answer."

"No, it's not that. It's only that, well, you seem to enjoy your time with Harry. You aren't as demanding and perfection-severe with him. It's really none of my business, but…" B'Elanna drifted off quickly.

Before a surprisingly blushing Annika could form an appropriate rejoinder, Tom Paris walked quietly up behind B'Elanna, and wrapped his arms around her. In the beginning, when he had done this, he often ended up ducking swiftly, lest she react and he receive a black eye or worse. As it was now, she only turned around and met his cheek with the kiss waiting on her lips. Annika stared a moment at this public display of affection, muttered something about finding Harry, then left.

"Well, Be', it would seem that our friend Annika has found her calling in Harry."

"Actually, Helmboy, I would have thought you already had a betting pool on the two."

"Those two? Well, let's just say it's the first time Thomas Eugene Paris has been surprised," his hand rested gently on her very pno hant abdomen, "except maybe for when you first told me you were pregnant."

At that, she made a playful swat at his face, then let him help her up and to their shared quarters. On the way, suddenly his wife doubled over in pain, and Tom rushed to gather her into his arms, and carry her the few meters to Sickbay.

* * * *

"Breathe, Be', breathe! You're gonna be okay! I promise, just breathe!" A flustered Tom Paris stood by the side of a laboring B'Elanna Torres-Paris. Each breath came with a barely suppressed scream of pain. Yet, she had thoroughly refused to be numbed below her waist, "It'll be bad for the baby, Tom," was her answer.

Finally, the Doctor had delivered their healthy, kicking baby daughter, and placed her in B'Elanna's arms. By that time, both Kathryn and Chakotay stood by the far wall, concern and anticipation showing openly. B'Elanna looked up, and beckoned them over, a wry smile on her face.

"Captain, Chakotay, meet our daughter." She glanced up at Tom, then stumbled on, "We're naming her in honor of a very special person; you, Captain. This is our daughter, Kathryn Zyala Paris."

Kathryn was struck speechless. When she recovered her voice, the only thing she could say was, "I'm honored, B'Elanna, Tom. This is the greatest compliment…" At that, both engineer and helmsman beamed with pride. It was just then that Kathryn noticed the contracting cramps in her abdomen and slipped back into Chakotay's grasp.

* * * *

"Why is it that life is so ironic?" gasped Kathryn. Chakotay had her hand encircled with his, and was wincing each time she squeezed it and her nails dug into his palm. Her hair had come unbound, and fell in limp straggles about her sweaty forehead. The Doctor, according to her wish like B'Elanna's, hadn't delivered any painkillers, although he had been secretly tempted to give some to Chakotay for his hand.

After two hours of agony, at last little Kayla screamed her first scream. Now she slumbered peacefully in Kathryn's arms, while the Doctor used a dermal regenerator on Chakotay's palms. It only took a scant few minutes for him to finish, save for one small score shaped like a crescent moon, which Chakotay kept as a reminder of that day.

* * * *

…And so it was that the spirits of Edward Janeway and Justin Tighe looked down from Heaven and smiled that all was well. Gretchen Janeway looked up from baking her daughter's favorite brownies and sighed when Phoebe walked in.

At the same time, Admiral Owen Paris paced in his study, wondering if Tom would ever read his letter of apology, or come home to hear it in person.

B'Elanna's parents, together once more, looked out over the horizon to the fiery setting sun, and tried unsuccessfully to turn their thoughts away from their daughter.

Chakotay's spirit guide felt a rising satisfaction, and communicated with those powers guiding his few remaining companions.

Harry's mother sat alone in the darkened room of her only child, and looked out at the stars. She reached out almost unconsciously and ran her fingers across Harry's clarinet case. At least he was alive, and there was always hope.

On Mars, Annika's cousin stood out in the light of a new dawn, sending up a prayer for her now human again cousin. And she wondered how her former playmate was doing, sending her memories back to a time about twenty years ago, when they had run and played together.

* * * *

Annika and Harry sat in Holodeck 3, sharing a candlelight dinner. A small part of Harry cried out that Libby was so far away, but his rational mind reiterated her letter, saying that she had been married. And he looked into the eyes of the woman across from him, saw her reflecting smile, and banished all dark and gloomy thoughts.

Kathryn, Chakotay, B'Elanna, and Tom all sat together in Sickbay, reveling in the euphoria of parenting. And a song was heard in the hearts of both couples…


True love is like a storybook story…


The End


 *'Dreaming of You' as sung by Selena

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