Something Different

Disclaimer: TPTB own Captain Kathryn Janeway and Commander Chakotay - good thing BeckyA owns KJ and C from uni#4 - at least she lets me play with them!

This is an A/U to BeckyA's story Reflections in the Mirror of Time and Space: the couple from uni#4 were so dear to me I almost couldn't stand the fact I knew she was going to separate them.

~ * ~ * ~

Serving on the Fleet's Flagship was becoming a less than invigorating experience. She'd been a science officer for 3 years now ever since her husband had died at Wolf 359. Lt Cdr Kathryn Janeway once had a promising career, wearing the command red with appropriate pride. According to her longtime mentor she would probably only have to serve once as a Second Officer before being promoted to full Commander. Then she'd be right on track as First Officer before finally accepting her own Command of a ship as its Captain.

Unfortunately Adm Paris hadn't counted on the Borg to quickly destroy her life - personal as well as professional. She was one of the senior officers on the USS Tolstoy when the epic battle with the Borg broke out. How she survived still remains a mystery. One of only two people to live from a crew of 250, her co-survivor was Lt j.g. Tuvok - a Vulcan. Half of the crew had been assimilated, the other half was dead before the Borg saw fit to take over the vessel. One of the casualties was her husband of 6months, Lt Cdr Justin Tighe. Starfleet and the Federation were in complete chaos after the war, and survivors were not counseled they way they should have been. The new motto was "forget and get on with your life." So it was not immediately noticed when Kathryn Janeway changed her career back to Science, her first love. Picking up where she left off at the Academy, she was once out amongst the stars again, this time as one of numerous science officers aboard the USS Enterprise-D. After 3 years she still experienced frequent nightmares, but with a less stressful position her life finally began to take shape again.

~ * ~ * ~

Two weeks ago she had accidentally seen a subspace message that was to change her life once more. A remote colony, fairly close to the Neutral Zone, was looking for a senior science officer to help set up a new, more modern science lab and research station. It seemed the planet's resident scientist was involved in so many projects, none of them too specific, that he needed a partner to organize projects and lead several new setups as well.

Having had too little time to work on things that really held her interest, Kathryn was fast becoming demotivated in performing her duties, not to mention the fact life aboard a starship had lost its appeal.

Ever since she was a young girl, she had imagined living amongst the stars, but they were now the source of her deep-rooted misery.

After requesting more information, she set up a meeting with the ship's personnel officer, Cdr William Riker.

After Wolf 359 he and Lt Tuvok were her closest friends. Will understood her reasons for wanting to leave and pursue this new path in her life. He made sure all was arranged accordingly and even managed to get the Enterprise to escort her to the planet, instead of forcing her to catch a number of transports aboard inferior vessels.

~ * ~ * ~

The hum of the transporter still took her breath away. She could almost feel each one of her molecules separate from another only to reappear as a complete human being a mere second later. The transport and communications office looked modern enough. Once her transfer was made official, Kathryn had read up on Trebus: a planet now inhabited by descendants of the Native Americans of Earth. These people tried to live according to their old ways, without giving up on the most basic of modern conveniences. Her mother had laughed at her plans. She and her sister Phoebe even set a bet on how long Kathryn would stay on the planet. According to them she didn't have it in her to "rough it." Kathryn thought she'd be alright, as long as there was a replicator nearby, preferably in her house.

The officials of Trebus, the planet's elders, had assured her she would get her own house - a lodge, but because the Enterprise had brought her to the colony sooner than expected, it wasn't quite ready yet. For the time being she would stay at Kolopak's house. In one of her communiques with one of the elders, she had gotten the impression that even though Kolopak was a widely respected member of the community, his unorthodox ideas were not always appreciated. She even understood that his son did not approve of his father's ways.

~ * ~ * ~

Kathryn was glad she would stay with Kolopak and his family for the time being. The idea of a new environment was scary enough without feeling as if you'd loose your way without even knowing you did so.

She stepped outside and saw a small village lit by only a few street lanterns and the light of a waning moon. The sky was clear enough for her to see the carpet of stars above her.

Originally she was to transport to the planet early in the morning, but the Enterprise had been called away for a diplomatic mission, so here she was, late in the evening all alone at a transport station in a strange village on a strange planet.

~ * ~ * ~

"Miss Janeway?"

She looked up at the voice, and only now did she see the tall stranger standing in front of her.

"Yes, I am Lt Cdr Janeway."

"Welcome to Trebus, Miss Janeway. I am Chakotay, son of Kolopak."

He escorted her to his parents' house in silence. Sneaking sideway glances, Kathryn realized her companion had a permanent frown on his forehead, as if he was contemplating a universal evil.

It took them only about 10 minutes to arrive at the lodge. When he opened the front door, a warm light spilled out followed by the sound of laughter.

"That would be my parents."

~ * ~ * ~

The layout of the house was simple but also very inviting, the ground floor was dominated by the large den in the middle, functioning as a central point in the house.

The laughter continued and Kathryn saw two figures huddled over what appeared to be a boardgame.

"Paka, you know you can't make that move!" The man only grinned at his companion. "Then why do you keep trying it every other game? You know I'm not going to let you!"

Chakotay walked over to the low settee his parents were sitting on, "Ama, Father, I'd like you to meet our guest."

The couple jumped up, surprised by the intrusion. "O my, we completely forgot. I'm so sorry. Miss Janeway, isn't it? We didn't mean to ignore you, but whenever Paka persuades me to join him for a game of Dysseia, we seem to loose track of time." The woman came up to her and gave her a warm hug before kissing both of her cheeks. "Welcome to our home. May it be yours in peace and love. I am Mikolani, wife of Kolopak and mother of Chakotay and Teresini. And this is my husband of too many Dysseia games, Kolopak." He too crushed her in a bear hug,

"Welcome to Trebus, Commander."

Kathryn was momentarily speechless, but recovered quickly, "Thank you for your warm and kind welcome. I apologize for the inconvenience of arriving earlier than announced."

"My dear child, it's no inconvenience at all. Besides we could do with some diversion." Mika put her arm through Kathryn's and guided her to one of the sofas. "Now let's make you more comfortable. Kotay will bring your luggage upstairs. Can I get you something to drink?"

"You wouldn't happen to have some coffee, I'm just dying for a cup." Stunned by her informality, Kathryn was about to excuse herself, when Mika just looked at her and smiled.

"Finally someone in this household who understands the importance of coffee."

Kolopak took a seat across from her, while in the background she could hear Mika mumble something at her son, who grudgingly took the luggage up the stairs.

~ * ~ * ~

"Well then, Commander, I can't begin to tell you how glad I am Starfleet send you here. It seems I've let myself run wild in the lab and it could use someone trained."

"Sir, I don't know how useful I will be to you, but it should be worth while. It will be very different from life aboard a starship, and that, I'm afraid, was my main reason for requesting this position."

"Please, Commander, call me Kolopak or Paka. Sir is too formal, especially since you'll be my partner in crime." He grinned at her, showing a distinctive pair of dimples.

"Only if you will stop calling me Commander. Kathryn is better suited to our partnership." He could see the beginning of a smile on the younger woman's face. "Besides, if we are indeed going to walk the path of illegal activities, I'd rather not be reminded of Starfleet." Her smile came out in full force this time, the right side catching up with the lopsided grin started earlier.

"I understand you read up on our situation here?"

"I did, at least as far as the Elders would let me. More often than not they gave me the impression you yourself would fill me in on the various projects."

Roaring laughter filled the room, when Mika came back again.

"Here you go, my dear, real coffee from the best beans this land has given us." She put two steaming mugs on the table nearby. The aroma filled the area in no time, and when Kathryn took her first sip she was once more reminded why this was her favorite beverage.

When she opened her eyes, two pairs of dark orbs were focused on her.

"Did I do something wrong?" She looked from one to the other.

"O no, Kathryn, sorry for our attention, but you just reminded me of my first meeting with Mika. You see, I came from what my mother used to call a coffee-free family. Meeting Mika, and her family, was quite an introduction to a whole new world: they are all addicted to coffee even though they claim they are not."

"Of course, we're not addicted, Paka. You can never be addicted to coffee, simply because you can never drink enough of it. Don't you agree, Kathryn?"

Before she could answer, a voice interrupted. "I wouldn't answer that if I were you. The subject is simply too dangerous." Chakotay walked down the last few steps of the stairs and joined them in the den. He sat down next to his mother, looking intensely at Kathryn, daring her to comment on his last words.

She straightened unconsciously and looked him straight in the eyes, "Speaking from my own experience, I must agree with your mother. You can never drink too much coffee. I'd even turn my starship around for it."

After about one hour, Chakotay excused himself and went upstairs. Mika looked at her son's retreating back and shook her head. If only he and Paka would realize they were more alike than they thought. Both were extremely passionate men, willing to do almost anything for those who were lucky enough to be loved by them. But they both felt the other was wasting his time with unnecessary rituals. Chakotay didn't want his father to embrace the modern science with so much gusto and Paka thought Chakotay should start living in the present time more. Neither of them realized it would only be a small step to understand the other's point of view.

~ * ~ * ~

Kolopak's research was highly unconventional and when he was younger the Elders had often requested his presence at their meetings, telling him once again to alter his methods of searching for answers.

Until his coming of age, Chakotay had always accompanied his father on his travels. The two of them would come home after a three-week journey, full of stories and more research materials. They were inseparable and Kolopak was proud of the son who would follow in his footsteps.

The day after his Age Ceremony, Chakotay stopped sharing his father's passion for science. Instead the young man fully embraced the ways of his tribe. Whereas his father was a "contrary" among their people, Chakotay became a zealous follower of his father's political rival, Qantuin.

For 15 years Chakotay lived with his leader's family, completely ignoring his father and only occasionally visiting his mother.

~ * ~ * ~

Just as sudden as he had left his parents' house, he came back. The rumors on the planet were unstoppable. Apparently Qantuin had used Chakotay only to get back at his father. When he found out, he immediately packed up all his belongings and moved them back into his family's home.

His mother welcomed him back with open arms, and his younger sister Teresini would not let him out of her sight for almost a week. His father was less exuberant in his greetings, but when Chakotay opened his medicine bundle that night he found a beautiful smooth black river stone carved with the mark of his family. Barely two weeks later he joined his father in their sweat lodge, and his father gave him his first tattoo, the same one he had received from his father: the stylized pattern of an eagle flying over the horizon.

When they came home again, Mika had prepared them a feast. During their time together father and son has each explained his point of view, and - for the sake of family harmony - had agreed to disagree.

~ * ~ * ~

Now they found themselves butting heads over certain issued only sporadically. However when Kolopak told his son he had requested help from Starfleet, Chakotay retreated to his own small lodge, refusing to help the other villagers with the construction of a new lodge for the new science officer.

It was a pure coincidence he had been at the Transport and Communications Office when the message for his father came in. The starship escorting the Starfleet Officer would be half a day early. He forwarded the message to his parents' terminal saying he would meet the officer and bring him to the house.

~ * ~ * ~

Waiting outside the T&C Office, Chakotay had been looking up at the stars, reminiscing about the days when he was a young and ignorant boy wishing to be up there amongst the stars. His father should have never encouraged him to try to make that wish come true. Instead he should have taught him the ways of their people, and not let him indulge his juvenile fantasies.

He noticed someone standing next to him and the soft rush of the wind carried over the subtle scent of someone's perfume. When he looked sideways he saw a petite and fragile looking woman standing next to him, she too was gazing at the stars, her eyes looking almost wistfully at the vastness out there.

Only then did he see the uniform she wore. Starfleet had sent a woman? The Elders would never accept her as his father's equal.

~ * ~ * ~

Her room was dominated by a large wooden bed. The headboard was decorated with ornate carvings of abstracte figurines. She wasn't sure what they meant and made a mental note to ask her hosts tomorrow. When she fell down on it she felt the softness of the mattras and the deliciously thick and downy feather duvet. She let herself sink even further into the coverings when she heard a knock on the door.

"Come in." Raising herself up on her elbows she watched the door, but it remained closed. A soft cough from behind her made her roll over. There in the doorway was Chakotay, looking at her if he had just seen a ghost. He recovered quickly but not before Kathryn had seen the look of surprise on his face.

"Uhm," he looked down and Kathryn saw a blush slowly creep on his face, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt you."

She smiled, "You weren't interrupting anything."

He smiled back, the first time she'd seen him smile since she arrived. "Well, I'll leave you to it then." He gave her one cheeky grin before he left and closed the door. She fell back down on the bed again.

It was a good thing he hadn't smiled at her when he picked her up from the transporter. She'd have fled back to the ship immediately: men shouldn't be allowed to look that handsome, especially not when smiling at poor innocent women!

And his last remark - she wasn't sure she wanted to know what he had been thinking about.

... then again, maybe she did want to know.

NO!

She didn't want to know. Really she didn't.

She let out a sigh she didn't know she'd been holding and closed her eyes, trying to imagine what Justin had looked like on their wedding day.

"Uhm Kathryn?"

Not having heard him knock, she veered up looking straight into Chakotay's face who apparently let himself back in. Grabbing her head, she let herself back down again, "What can I do for you, Chakotay?" She closed her eyes, trying to get her breathing under control again

He's doing this on purpose, he must be! What is he, telepathic? Did he know I couldn't get a clear picture of Justin, and only saw his grinning face?

I need to get out of here, the Enterprise should still be close by, and I could probably catch a transport and be back on board within a week.

Why is it that only 2½ hrs after meeting this man - a man who: a) wasn't there; b) was silent; and c) was making rude comments, mostly about Starfleet - why is it that he makes me want to spend all my time with him?

He carefully touched the hand she had flung over her eyes, "Kathryn, are you okay? I'm sorry for surprising you again."

Slowly she opened her eyes, looking into a pair of concerned dark orbs, "I'm okay, really I am. Just contemplating my life, and whether or not I'm where I should be at this stage of it. You know, just your basic metaphysical psychological babble." She grinned at him, wondering what made her speak to him this easily.

This time it was his laugh that pleasantly surprised her. "I think I know what you're referring to. Except I usually contact my spirit guide and she helps me put things into perspective, either that or she demands a belly rub from me."

Her puzzled look made him laugh even more, "You told my father you read up on the customs of our tribe, yet you don't know about a spirit guide?" He sat down on the edge of the bed.

"Spirit guides? I think the Elders were more concerned with supplying me with their logs and opinions about your father than anything else."

"Yes, Father does have a unique way of looking at things." His smile disappeared and was replaced by a frown, while he gazed at nothing in particular.

"And you don't agree with him?" Kathryn made herself comfortable and sat propped up against the headboard with her legs stretched out in front of her. Chakotay mirrored her position, leaning against the other end.

"No, I don't agree with him," and he gave her a sad smile, "there was a time when I did though. When I was about 14 I was even studying for the Starfleet Entry Exams."

"You would have liked it there. The Academy is a great place to meet people and to learn about thing you'd never even thought about."

"Probably only for those who belong there. I just wish that my father had spend as much time teaching me about our people as he had about the histories of other ancient and lost people."

He seemed lost in thought, and Kathryn didn't want to grill him more.

What would make a man give up all he has ever believed in, only to renounce those beliefs?

"I can remember my dad rewarding me when I had learned a new times table. He would take me to my favorite spot: the cornfields behind our house." The memory made her smile and it grew even bigger when she remembered some of the more mature things she had done in those fields.

"Cornfields? You mean, you didn't grow up in a big and crowded city?"

This time it was his surprised face that made her laugh. "No, why? Think that all people of Earth live in the city? I'm from Indiana a large state on the continent of America. I guess you could say my parents were traditionalists. We lived in a small town, and our house was adjacent to a farm and another property of Traditionalists."

"What was it like growing up there?"

They stayed up most of the night, telling each other about their childhood and about growing up in a sometimes too loving family.

~ * ~ * ~

"I wonder what is keeping him? Kotay is never late for breakfast. Do you think I should check on him?"

"Mika! Chakotay is a grown man; he doesn't need to be woken up by his mother anymore. Besides I think he's not even here, he probably went back to his lodge, where he should be, mind you."

"You're right, of course. Still it's not like him to sneak out like that."

"I'm more worried about Kathryn. I always thought Starfleet Officers never slept late. Do you think we should check on her?"

Mika just grinned at her husband, "Paka, she's a grown woman! She can make her own decisions."

Only then did he notice the tray she was preparing. When Mika saw him look at it, she shrugged, "I'm just going to bring her some coffee and toast. And explain her how to fill the bathtub upstairs."

"Of course, dear."

He followed her up the stairs, under guise of opening the door for her. After knocking three times, he looked at his wife as if to say 'What now?' She motioned him to open the door.

Mika went in first and was nearly knocked over by Paka who bumped into her from behind.

"What? Why aren't you?"

"Shhhh," she interrupted him. He moved away from her and looked into the room curiously.

He grinned at his wife, "Do you still not believe the powers at work on this bed?" he whispered.

Turning around she snuggled deeper into the comfortable warmth surrounding her. As she moved, the arm draped around her waist pulled her closer. A soft sound brought her back to the land of the living. Thinking she was lying next to Justin she willed herself back to sleep only to suddenly realize it couldn't be him, because he was dead. She didn't want to wake the man beside her, so she remained still. He must have sensed a difference in her, because he moved away and rolled over on his back. The sudden loss of warmth made her shiver, but when she opened her eyes she noticed the sunlight coming through the curtains. The rays seemed to beam their way into the room and came to rest on the sleeping figure beside her.

She slowly and carefully untangled herself from the quilt, which had somehow wrapped around them. Getting up she noticed how relaxed her body was. She clearly hadn't slept this well in ages. Turning around she looked at her companion. Even in his sleep he looked handsome, yet there was something different about him. His face lacked the frown he seemed to wear when he was awake, and now his features showed peacefulness that made him almost vulnerable.

She quietly moved around the room, unpacking the things from her luggage and she went into the bathroom to take a shower and get dressed.

~ * ~ * ~

As he rolled over he could see the grey timberwolf beckoning him. She was running away from him but at a speed where he could easily catch up. He didn't mind jogging behind her, because he was not running alone. There was someone moving with him, in complete tandem to his body. It had been a while since he last was able to contact his spirit guide, and now that he saw her again, he felt his mind and body loosing much of the stress he had experienced lately.

For days he had been trying to contact her, but every time he thought she was close by, a small movement at his feet broke his concentration. And as he tried to figure out what is was that made him look away, he would loose the connection with the other world and find himself sitting on the floor surrounded by the items from his medicine bundle his hand tightly gripping the akoonah.

As he saw the wolf running ahead of him and his companion, he decided not to question the experience. Suddenly the wolf stopped dead in her tracks; he caught up with her and when he stood still, the other person bumped into him. A small hand on his shoulder made him look around, but when he turned there was no one there. The wolf came up to him and nuzzled her nose into his hand. Even though he was alone again, he could still feel the touch on his shoulder and strangely enough it gave him a very peaceful feeling. He crouched down to be at the wolf's level and he was about to ask her what had happened when his eye caught sight of a small lizard resting on a rock warmed by the sun. By now he could feel the warmth surrounding him and it made him think back of his previous attempts to contact his guide. Whenever her tried to get in touch with her his environment had been cold. He would always see the rays of the sun, but they were missing their natural warmth. Moving his head to the sun, he closed his eyes and reveled in their comforting support.

~ * ~ * ~

When he opened his eyes again, he had to squint to keep the sun from blinding him. Slowly the sensations came back to him and he realized he had returned from his visit to the dream world. He was lying in a bed under the quilt his mother had made when pregnant with him. He sat up and looked around: something was missing. As soon as he became aware of the feeling, he noticed the opened and unpacked boxes of luggage in the room and he heard someone move around in the bathroom.

The memories of the previous night flooded back to him and he remembered staying up till late talking to his father's new science partner. He smiled when he thought of what they had discussed. Kathryn hadn't turned out to be the kind of Starfleet person he had expected to meet. Talking to her had been a revelation for him, and he found a new respect for people who dedicated their lives to the sciences. He even began to understand his father's passion for it, something he hadn't been able to do in far too many years. He had also been caught in the web of the movements of her body when she was talking. When she spoke she would use her whole body to explain a point. Enraptured by the expressions of her face, he had found himself opening up to her in a way he hadn't thought possible.

When he had first seen her flat out on the bed, he knew he was sold. She just looked too much at home amongst the soft covers. The only reason why he came into the room was to tell her she would be sharing the bathroom with him, but all logical thought disappeared from his brain upon seeing her. Back in his room he replayed his extremely short conversation with her. He really had acted as a young schoolboy, and he was determined to rectify that when he entered her room a second time. Instead of talking he gazed at her while she was lost in thought, one arm carelessly draped over her head.

How they had moved from their earlier hostility to spending a night in this bed he didn't know, but he was far from unhappy about it. Something about this woman, or actually everything about this woman, made him want to get to know her completely. His sudden revelation shocked him, but as soon as he had admitted his attraction for Kathryn to himself he felt the feelings of peace flow back into his heart.

~ * ~ * ~

He got up and was straightening the bed, when the door to the bathroom opened. He looked up and his eyes immediately met those of Kathryn. She smiled sheepishly at him and moved back into the room, dumping her things carelessly on the bed. He grinned back at her.

"Hi"

"Hi" They simultaneously said, causing them to laugh softly.

"Good morning, did you sleep well?"

She walked over to the window and, hiding her growing blush, she opened the curtains. The full light of the sun painted the room as soft yellow, and Kathryn was caught by the beautiful vista outside. Temporarily forgetting he was in the room with her, she opened the window and looked out over the vast space before her.

Chakotay was glad she didn't look his way, because now he could look at her unashamedly. The sun lit up her hair and made it glow like coppery fire. The amazed look on her face made her even more beautiful than he thought possible.

"Chakotay, you have to see this. It's like ... I simply cannot describe it. It's amazing." She turned towards him and the look on his face made her hold her breath. No one had ever looked at her this way and the expression on his face was priceless. It was a picture she immediately locked away in a safe place of her heart.

"Yes, I know, it's beautiful."

"Suttonay!"

"Yes Father?"

"Where are you off to this early?"

"Father, you know very well where I'm going. For the past week I have been building on the new lodge. Why do you keep asking me each morning, when the answer is already common knowledge?"

Not giving Qantuin the chance to reply, Suttonay walked outside slamming the door behind him.

~ * ~ * ~

For 14 years Qantuin had dominated Suttonay's life, ever since his real father Levinak passed away. Suttonay had just completed his Coming of Age Ceremony and had thought his mother would accept his attempts at taking responsibilities for his family. But Emoriki was concerned for the well being of her two younger children, Lorakish and Heminika. She had accepted Qantuin's marriage proposal almost immediately knowing he could support the family.

Most people in the village hadn't understood her decision and had tried to stop her from what they thought was a big mistake. Her marriage was stable, but not happy. From the first day he entered the house, Qantuin had set down the new family rules. The three children mostly ignored them in the same way their new father ignored his family. He continued living the way he lived before, except now he didn't have to worry about the daily care of maintaining a household. Or as in the immortal words of the youngest child, 16 year old Heminika: 'A guest should always be treated as a king for he won't be staying long.'

Of course she had never told anyone except her best friend, Teresini, daughter of Kolopak. The girls were inseparable even though their fathers were at odds. Teresini often coaxed her friend into bringing her to her house for dinner, never missing an opportunity to spend an evening gazing at Lorakish, Heminika's other brother. Not wanting to be outdone by her friend, Heminika used those exact same tactics only to try to be in the company of Teresini's brother Chakotay. The idea of her best friend fawning over her brother completely baffled Teresini. After all he was old (way to old in her opinion), moody and broody (especially when he had trouble contacting his spirit guide), and the he was practically like an older brother to Heminika: he had lived with her family for almost all her life. Still the two girls continued their routine on a daily basis.

~ * ~ * ~

"Suttonay, wait up!"

He slowed his pace but never stopped. The young man who came running after him could barely keep up. "What's your rush, brother? The lodge won't run away."

"I know it won't, although sometimes I wish it did. What had you out of bed this early, Lorakish? Not another young woman?"

"Well, no. Not really. You just missed Heminika's latest gossip, and I thought you'd want to know what she told me. Besides, I though I'd give you and the others a hand today."

"Why would you think I'd be interested in Heminika's latest 'did-you-know-what-Chakotay-did-yesterday'?"

The younger man had to laugh at Suttonay's apt description of their sister. "No it isn't that. She told me that Teresini had heard from her mother about the Starfleet Officer."

"Yeah, he's supposed to arrive this morning, isn't it?"

"Supposed to is the keyword. Because you see, your good buddy Chakotay picked her up late last night."

Suttonay stopped in the middle of the road. "A woman? Starfleet sent a woman? Wait till Qantuin hears about this, now he will finally have a reason to attack Kolopak in front of the Elders again! What does Kolopak have to say about all this?"

"Apparently he requested her. Says she is the best they could have send."

"I don't believe it."

"Isn't it amazing? And guess what? Teresini also told Heminika her mother had said she is extremely pretty." Lorakish looked up at the sky and smiled broadly, "and I will get to work with her daily. Isn't life great?"

The older brother didn't answer, lost in his own thoughts.

~ * ~ * ~

"I thought we'd see how much progress they have made on your lodge before going down to the lab. Is that alright with you?"

"Yes, of course. I kinda like the idea of getting to know my new environment before starting at the lab. When do you suppose they will be finished?"

"My dear Kathryn, I have no idea. You're not getting tired of us already?"

She grinned and looked at the older man, "No, it's not that, I just don't want to be a burden."

"Well, you're not a burden, but we can ask Suttonay, son of Levinak: he is overseeing the construction. He will be able to give us an estimate."

A door slammed open, and a young girl came running into the kitchen.

"Father? Is it true? Did Starfleet really send a...," she stopped the moment she saw Kathryn. "Oops sorry, I didn't know you were here. Well, of course I knew because Ama told me, but I didn't know you would be here - in the kitchen." She smiled self-consciously, sharing the by now familiar trademark dimples.

"Kathryn, I'd like to introduce you to this whirlwind of boundless energy and joy, my daughter Teresini. Sini, meet Lt Cdr Kathryn Janeway of the Federation."

The young girl stepped upto the woman almost hesitantly, ready to salute if it became necessary.

"Hello Teresini, it's so nice to meet you. Chakotay has told me a lot about his baby sister."

"I'm not a baby! That big oaf, I'll get him for that." The girl looked indignant at her, before she caught what Kathryn had just said, "Chakotay told you?" One look from her father was enough to calm her down. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be rude, but well, you see, Chakotay rarely talks to strangers, especially if they're off-planet and, uhm you know, 'Starfleet'."

"Teresini! Where are your manners?" Her father reminded her.

The look of total shock made Kathryn smile encouragingly at the girl.

"I'm sorry," Teresini giggled, "again. Welcome to our house, Commander."

"Please call me Kathryn. Your father has explained to me that I will soon be a wanted criminal on this planet, so it's best if I temporarily ignore my connection with he Federation and Starfleet."

"That is so cool," Teresini replied, "I mean you 'are' Starfleet, right? Don't you guys always have to do the right thing and stuff?"

Kolopak had gotten up and returned with some more coffee for Kathryn and tea for Sini and himself.

"Starfleet does uphold that principle, but I think my work here is not going to combine Starfleet's idea of what's good and proper with my own ideas on the subject."

"Wow, you are so awesome!" The girl exclaimed making Kathryn laugh.

Just then the kitchen door opened again.

"Look who's here! If it isn't my estranged little baby sis!" Chakotay walked over to Sini and crushed her in a bear hug. When he set her down, he took a seat next to his father, leaving his sister standing in the middle of the kitchen.

She couldn't believe it. Her constantly moping and almost always ill-humored brother had all of a sudden turned into a smiling and laughing man. He must have finally been able to contact his spirit guide, because Sini could not think of anything that would cause this change in attitudes in him.

"Father, is it okay if I join you and Kathryn when you're going to the lodge? I've been meaning to speak to Suttonay about something."

"Of course it's alright. Unless you disagree, Kathryn? But Chakotay, you don't need my permission to speak to Suttonay." Paka smiled at him, knowing full well why he had asked, but he couldn't stop the urge to tease his son a little bit.

"I know, I don't need your permission, but I wouldn't want to interrupt anything. After all, I wouldn't want to inadvertedly over hear any sensitive secrets you'd discuss."

"Chakotay, I don't think Kolopak will divulge any sensitive secrets to you he doesn't want to divulge in the first place, don't you think?"

Kathryn baited him, but he was too distracted to notice. When he came in, Chakotay had quickly moved to hug Teresini out of fear for walking up to Kathryn and pledging his eternal loyalty to her.

~ * ~ * ~

After they had overcome their initial awkwardness this morning, Kathryn went downstairs for breakfast, while he showered and changed and left the house in search of Suttonay. He didn't find him, but his mother told him her sons were at the new lodge. Figuring Paka would take Kathryn there, he had walked back to the house to see if he could join them.

~ * ~ * ~

"Father, is it alright if Heminika joins us for dinner tonight?" Teresini asked, ignoring her brother's groan.

"Sini, you're going to have to ask Mika. But when did you ever ask if she could come?" He looked at Kathryn, "Forgive my children, they were raised to be autonomously thinking humans, who could judge each situation themselves, but it seems that your arrival has changed them into permission seeking darlings."

Chakotay looked acutely embarrassed but he had to laugh nonetheless. "If that's how you feel, father?" Winking at Kolopak, he continued, "Of course that's not what he told us when we were growing up."

Kathryn leaned forward toward Teresini and Chakotay. "I know exactly what you're talking about, but don't tell my mother: she claims the exact same thing."

Looking at the three young people, Kolopak knew he was outnumbered and he gracefully accepted defeat. "Miss Janeway, I think you will fit in perfectly here. You have just shown you master the 'indulge-your-parents-but-don't-let-them-know-we-know' art to perfection." His expression had them all laughing, and when Paka noticed his wife looking at them from the doorway, his heart swelled when he saw her happiness.

The Spirits had been right.

Both Chakotay and Kolopak were eager to show her their village. Where Paka would point out significant readings, his son would show her where the tribe would meet for certain rituals. She enjoyed the attention they bestowed on her, and when they arrived at her lodge she felt her head swimming with varied details.

~ * ~ * ~

"Kotay! We're back here."

They walked to the other side of the lodge where they found Suttonay and Lorakish arguing over something. Kolopak stepped forward to introduce Kathryn to the two men and noticed Chakotay had stepped up closely behind her left shoulder to show the two equally handsome brothers his interest in Kathryn.

Oblivious to Chakotay's move, she held her hand out to the two men. "One of you must be Suttonay, son of Levinak. I am Kathryn Janeway." Suttonay shook her outstretched hand, "Welcome to Trebus Kathryn. I am Suttonay and this is my younger brother Lorakish."

"Great to finally meet you," Lorakish gently pushed his brother away, "I am Lorakish, but you can call me Lora. I'm looking forward to working with you."

She smiled at the younger man, "You also work at the lab? I guess Kolopak has more partners in crime, considering all the research he has done."

~ * ~ * ~

Looking at the lodge, Kolopak saw it would be finished fairly soon: too soon for his idea.

This morning after they had been upstairs, he and Mika had jointly contacted their spirit guides, asking them for guidance.

Ever since he had received Kathryn's application for the posting, they both had discovered - each on a separate occasion - that their guides had left them fairly obvious hints about the importance of her arrival. It seems that where they had thought their son had just been "picky" in choosing a mate, the Spirits saw a greater goal for him. Mika's raven and Paka's bear had explained that Chakotay's path in life was a universal constant, never changing and always persistent.

After telling the other about their spirit walk, they went to the Tribe Chief, Poketay, asking him for help. He told the he'd known of Chakotay's destiny since his birth, when the Spirits had told him to pay close attention to the young boy.

Now that Kathryn was on the planet, Mika and Paka had decided it would be easiest for them to have her stay at their house. After all, having her there meant Chakotay would stay more often too, and the more time they spend together the closer they would become.

Mika had instructed Paka to delay the completion of Kathryn's lodge for as long as he possibly could. Now if only he could come up with something, because it seemed Suttonay had thought of everything.

~ * ~ * ~

As Suttonay showed Kathryn around her future house, closely followed by Lorakish, Kolopak toured it on his own, desperately looking at something that would postpone the finish. Chakotay had decided not to follow them inside, he needed to talk to Suttonay alone, and found he was too distracted by Kathryn's presence.

~ * ~ * ~

The lodge was very simple, yet a lot of detail had been put into it. It basically was one large room with an adjoining kitchen, a separate bathroom and a sleeping alcove. Very suitable for one or two people. To her dismay Kathryn noticed the traditional looking kitchen. She'd have to ask Kolopak or Mika about the possibility of installing the small replicator she'd brought. Not wanting to offend a proud looking Suttonay, she decided to ask Paka when they were alone again. Besides she really did not want more people to know she could not cook. Even something as simple as boiling an egg was beyond her abilities. The replicator had been her mother's idea.

~ * ~ * ~

After they had seen the entire site Kolopak, Lorakish and Kathryn went on their way to the lab. Chakotay stayed behind. He did overhear Lorakish inviting Kathryn for dinner at his mother's house that evening. As she declined - and accepted a rain check - he saw Suttonay closely scrutinizing her. He did not like the feeling he got when he in turn noticed Kathryn's frank and open stare at Suttonay. She made it a point asking him if she could expect him at that dinner too. Suttonay's lady-killer smile and suave answer was enough to set off her delightful blush again. Kolopak looked at the four young people with barely concealed humor, thinking his son's jealousy might become a good incentive for him to pursue his interest in Kathryn.

~ * ~ * ~

"Suttonay could you help me with something?" Chakotay's positively panicked expression made the other man laugh.

"Judging by the look on your face, it's something of grave importance," and he adopted a serious look.

Chakotay had to smile at that, "It's not that important. It might turn out to be, though. I just need your help building something. And since you're the one who can construct almost anything, I'd thought I'd ask you."

"What do you want to build? Is your home missing something? I always thought it was fairly complete. Heck, I'd move in if you'd let me."

"You're right, it is complete and no - you can't have it. I feel very at home there, but they other day I still noticed something missing."

"Which is? A wife?" Suttonay laughed harder at his joke than Chakotay, not realizing it was the truth.

Still it made Chakotay smile, "Apart from that. What I need is help making a bathtub."

"A bathtub? Spirits, Kotay, isn't your shower enough? I thought you'd need help building some sort of contraption to move your marital bed out of your parents' house, but a bathtub? Of course, I'll help you. By the way, what happened to that bed anyway? Wasn't it in the guestroom, where you mother no doubt put the lovely Miss Janeway." Looking at his friend, the realization dawned on Suttonay, "Your mother let her sleep in that bed, didn't she?"

Chakotay nodded, "She did." He sat down on one of the logs behind the lodge, "It gets even worse."

"What do you mean? How could it be any worse? Your mother puts a single attractive woman in the room, which houses the bed you built for your future wife. As far as I'm concerned that's bad. What was Mika trying to do? Put a spell on Kathryn? I warned you when you built that bed, didn't I? And now look what happened!"

"I know you warned me, please don't rub it in. But how was I supposed to know something like this would happen? Last night when I realized where Ama had put Kathryn, I went to her room to tell her about the significance of that bed."

"What happened?"

Chakotay got up and paced around. "As I opened the door, she was there, lying on the bed."

"And? Don't make me wait."

Putting his head in his hands, he groaned, "Suttonay, I couldn't - I was frozen on the spot - I couldn't tell her." "Please tell me you're kidding? You let her sleep in that bed? Why?" But one look at his friend's face was enough, "O my! It's true then? Poketay was right?"

"What do you mean 'Poketay was right'?"

"I'm not supposed to tell you, but he once told your parents something like this would happen."

"And how do you know? Who told you?"

"Your parents did. They wanted me to look after you, since you wouldn't let anyone else near you."

"What did Poketay tell them?"

"He just told them not to expect you to follow the normal path of life. You would do things your own way."

"And how does this tie into Kathryn sleeping in my bed?"

"Well, you have to agree it's a very unusual way to secure the love of your mate."

"Right" Chakotay sat down again, still looking ill at ease.

"Hey, lighten up. As far as I'm concerned she's a great lady. You did well!"

"You mean, I did well falling in love with the one woman the Elders would never agree to be my equal."

"That's the negative point of view. Anyway you said things got worse after your mother put her in the guestroom. What did you do, argue with her? Because that would have been fairly stupid, even for you."

"No we didn't argue. In fact, it was quite the opposite. We talked."

Suttonay looked at him questioningly, "You talked? I still don't see how that is worse."

"It was wonderful. Yes we talked: about everything. I've never opened up to someone and I got the impression the feeling was mutual. We couldn't stop talking, but I guess at some point we must have dozed off."

"And where were you all this time? Standing in the doorway?"

Chakotay grinned self-consciously, "No I was not. Kathryn was reclining on the bed, and I sat opposite from her."

"Probably in an incredibly awkward position. You must have woken up with a stiff neck."

"Actually I didn't. I haven't slept this well in ages. Somewhere during our conversation we drifted closer together because when I woke up this morning she was right beside me."

"On the other side of the bed, right?"

Chakotay's answer was lost in the noise of two voices yelling his name, followed by two extremely worried girls.

"Chakotay! There you are. Ama is looking for you. And do you know where father is? The Elders want to see him and Ama is worried and she told me to find you because you need to help father. He's in trouble again with them. And you need to come home. Now!"

He grabbed his sister by the shoulders, "Calm down, Sini. Take a deep breath and then tell me what happened. Sit down and drink some water." Suttonay handed Teresini and his own sister Heminika a glass. Both girls were out of breath.

"Now tell me again what happened. Slowly this time."

"Qantuin has gone to the Elders to tell them about Kathryn. Now the Elders want to question father in front of an official village meeting. Ama thinks they will force Kathryn to leave again unless she can claim she is bonded." The girl was on the verge of tears and when he looked at her friend, he saw mirrored feelings there. "Chakotay, this time they have a reason to hurt father. You have got to help him. You will, won't you?"

He crouched down in front of his sister, "Sini, of course I will help father, and Kathryn. We might not agree on certain subjects, but I will help him - them - in any way I can." Taking her hands he continued, "After you have calmed down, the two of us will go to the lab and talk to them, alright?"

Teresini nodded and hugged her brother, "I just don't want Kathryn to leave." Chakotay smiled at her and whispered in her ear, "I don't want her to go either."

~ * ~ * ~

If they be two, they two are so As stiff twin compasses are two; Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show To move, but doth, if th'other do. John Donne - A Valediction: Forbidden Mourning

~ * ~ * ~

"What do you mean they object to my presence? What is there to object?"

"Kathryn, calm down. The Elders will not do anything to you. They called this official village meeting because they finally found something to use against me. You're just a convenient tool, and I am truly sorry you got pulled into this."

"But how does my presence here offend the Elders? They certainly didn't object when I send in my request."

"It's a complicated story. And one which doesn't automatically make sense. How much do you know of our society?"

"Not enough. Chakotay was even surprised I didn't know about Spirit Guides."

"He told you about his spirit guide?" Kolopak was momentarily put off track.

"Not really, we were talking about something, and it came up. He just said she sometimes likes ..."

He cut her off, "Kathryn, normally you're not allowed to speak about your spirit guide. Chakotay must have slipped."

"I don't think he slipped. He was just explaining something. Shouldn't he have told me?"

"One rarely speak about the spirit guide, unless it's under very special circumstances." He could see her curiosity was peaked, "But I digress. I'm sure Kotay can tell you all about spirit guides another time."

Kathryn nodded, "He will. He has already promised me to see if we can contact mine sometime."

"He has? That's good. My son is somewhat of an expert on the Spirits, even though he isn't allowed to be one yet."

"Why not? Hasn't he finished his training?"

"No, he is all finished with his training, if you could call it that. The reason why he isn't allowed to work somehow ties into the troubles the Elders want to cause you and me. Our society is based on ancient tribal rituals and rules. Most of them are not even based on the rituals our ancestors brought with them from Earth, but have evolved in the past two centuries. Like most societies ours is based on a unity between two opposing factions: water and fire, earth and air, man and woman, young and old. The unity between a man and a woman, or even broader the unity between partners, is what determines our place in society. When a man and a woman bond they become equals. For some as yet unknown reason, our ancestors decided that only equals were allowed to work, thus creating a unity between a group of people who couldn't decide between forming a patriarchy or matriarchy."

He sat back, looking intently at Kathryn, "According to our tribes rules, you are not an equal and are therefore not allowed to work here."

"Then why is Lorakish allowed to work? He doesn't seem bonded."

"Lora isn't bonded, and if it's up to Teresini he won't be until they day he bonds with her," Kolopak grinned, "she is just as persistent as her mother."

He got up and walked around the room looking for something. He returned to the table carrying a photo of a young family with three children. "When an Equal is broken by the death of one of its partners, the one who remains behind is no longer considered to be united. Their children however, as soon as they come of age, are considered to be equal enough to work. So after the death of Levinak, both Suttonay and Lorakish were allowed to work. Their mother would have had to stop working and our village would take over her duties. But in this case she remarried soon after Levinak's death, and she continued her job."

Amazed by what Kolopak had told her, Kathryn was quiet for a moment.

"I guess you are wondering why the Elders did not object to your initial application. Let me tell you, I am as puzzled as you are. They must not have tracked down your personnel file to read that you are single."

A look of sadness crossed her face, "They read it alright, I'm just not sure that's how they interpreted it."

"What do you mean?"

"My file shows I am married."

Kolopak was shocked by her statement, "You are married?"

She continued, "That is what my file says. I was married, but my husband died in the battle with the Borg 3 years ago. Starfleet files don't show these records, unless a request for more detailed information is approved. My guess is the Elders didn't look further into my personal life."

"I am sorry to hear about your husband."

"Thank you. I must confess had the Elders asked me upto a year ago, I would have automatically told them I was indeed married. I have just recently learned to let go. I'm not saying it doesn't hurt anymore, but life is getting easier. And not being on a starship will help me further."

Kolopak took Kathryn's hand and squeezed it gently, "I don't believe the hurt will ever leave you completely, but you are right in trying to let go of the most painful of memories. They should not become your constant companion."

"The Elders must have found out I am a widow." Her wry smile and sad eyes pierced right through to his heart, making him send a silent prayer to the Spirits not to hurt her again.

"I guess you never expected this to become an issue."

"No, even though I don't advertise it, loosing Justin was the catalyst for my return to science."

He looked at her, remembering what he read in her file. She had been well on her way to become one of Starfleet's youngest Captains - if not the youngest female Captain. When he read it he had wondered what would make a career officer on the right track with certainly the right credentials switch back to an old specialization. He'd never have guessed something as tragic as the loss of one's spouse could have been the reason behind it. Certainly not that the loss of her husband made her request a posting on a planet, far away from space travel amongst the stars.

~ * ~ * ~

"I think it's best if we return home now. Mika no doubt will await us with dinner, and I'm sure she will have managed to find out why and how the Elders suddenly know more about your background. Besides Sini will have driven her mother and Chakotay crazy with all her worries. She was really looking forward to your arrival, and I think she's afraid the Elders will want to kick you off our planet at their earliest convenience."

She grinned at Kolopak, "I for one will not let them; I think I'm at a point in my life where I'll do anything to keep someone from completely rearranging my life. And the Elders can most certainly forget about doing that!"

Kolopak had gotten up and was on his way out the door, followed by Kathryn, when he suddenly stopped. Kathryn was feeling more and more uncomfortable when she saw the gleam in his eyes, "You'd do anything? Are you serious about that?"

She hesitated, "Not when I see your expression. I think I'd do almost anything, except for the really absurd and illogical of course. But I find my assignment here too important to have a bunch of stuff old men ..."

"and women."

"to have a bunch of stuffy old men and women decide they don't want me here."

Grabbing her by the arm, Kolopak hurried her outside. "I'm glad you think that way, because I might have just found a solution. It will enable you to work here in the lab."

Kathryn was having a hard time keeping up with the older man, who was almost running towards his house.

"Not to mention the fact it will help someone else too!"

"You want me to do what? You've got to be kidding, Ama. She'd never agree!"

Mika regarded her son. He was pacing back and forth in his kitchen. She thought he took his father's idea fairly well and it was a good sign he was thinking of Kathryn's reaction.

"Kotay, please sit down. Your pacing is making me dizzy. It's just an idea, and you don't have to agree."

The look he gave his mother was bordering on insolence, "Ama, you are far too intelligent to think I would not agree to Father's crazy scheme. You know I'd love to become Kathryn's equal, but I don't want her to agree just so she can work here."

"I understand, but what will you do if she does agree?"

Apparently Chakotay hadn't thought of that possibility, because he sat down and slumped in his chair. To Mika he looked like her 5-year-old son again, whose dream came true when he was allowed to go on a Vision Quest with Poketay.

"Will you accept her as your equal?"

He sighed and a full-scale smile slowly crept up his face, "Spirits! Do you think she will?" But the next moment he was frowning again, "Ama, she won't accept. I mean, if she would I'd be the happiest man in this universe, and probably in the next one as well, but we hardly know each other. Just because we spent one night together talking doesn't mean we can spend the rest of our lives together, as equals."

Mika got up and ruffled her son's hair. "Whether you know someone from the days when you were both young, or whether you know someone barely one day, your heart will always recognize the one who is destined to be your equal. Think about that okay? I will see you tomorrow for breakfast. Now I have to go home and see if your father hasn't scared our guest away."

~ * ~ * ~

Seeing his mother leave, made Chakotay want to run after her. How could she leave him like this? He still had so many questions for her. Instead he searched around his house looking for his medicine bundle. He'd probably not be able to contact his spirit guide, because he was in more turmoil than he'd ever been, but he could at least give it a try.

~ * ~ * ~

Sitting in the middle of the house on the floor, he spread out the contents of his bundle. Ever since he was a young boy, his parents had given him treasured objects and he himself had collected a few too. He put his hand on the akoonah and closed his eyes.

"Akuchi moya, living on the land of my forefathers, I seek the guidance you can give me ..."

~ * ~ * ~

The scenery around him surprised Chakotay when he opened his eyes again. Instead of the familiar pine forest, a few birch trees, scattered in a valley now surrounded him. Green slopes of grass encircled the beginning of a large lake that stretched out into the distance. He looked around trying to find his guide and he saw her, lying near the edge of the lake, next to a large rock. As he got closer he could see her head moving as if she was speaking to someone, but he was still too far away to see who or what it was.

Sensing his approach, she lifted her head, "Well met, my friend."

Just as he crouched down, he saw a small gecko move to the space between the wolf's front paws. He stroked his guide's fur, making sure he scratched her behind the ears. It might make her more understanding of his situation.

~ * ~ * ~

All those years ago when he had first met her, he had discovered his guide was anything but meek and susceptible. She had her own thoughts and ideas, and she was quite happy sharing her opinion with him. He had thought his parents had somehow tapped into his guide's mind, making her say the things they would have said, but after each vision quest he had found she was often right. He had come to depend on her counsel, and he was quite anxious to hear her opinion on his father's harebrained plan.

~ * ~ * ~

"Sister, I need your guidance."

"Tsk, tsk, Chakotay. Where are your manners? Your parents did not raise you to ignore a new guest." And she pointedly looked down at the gecko. The small animal came forward again, away from the wolf's protection, and it climbed up the rock. Staring at Chakotay for some time, it turned its head towards the wolf, "So this is him."

The wolf nodded, and nudged Chakotay with her snout.

"I am honored to meet you."

The gecko looked at him again, "As you should be. Cha-ko-tay, you are a lucky man. This time you will receive both our guidance, simply because you will need it. Your equal is a stubborn one, but she is worth all the trouble you will ever have to go through for the rest of your life. Pay attention to what we're going to tell you, and you should be able to succeed. We only need to know one thing: do you love her?"

~ * ~ * ~

On the other side of the village, Mika was greeted by and icy silence as she entered her house. She found Paka sitting at the kitchen table looking dejected, Teresini was hanging upside down on one of the couches, and Kathryn was nowhere to be seen. Straightening her back, she went to make some coffee. She was going to need it just to survive the next couple of hours.

"She's upstairs, but when I listened earlier I couldn't tell if Kathryn was packing or not." Sini was now almost falling off the couch, looking at her mother. Kolopak was still silent.

"Thank you, Sini, but no more eavesdropping, understood?"

The girl nodded and joined her parents in the kitchen.

"How did Chakotay take the news?" Paka looked up at his wife.

"Considering the circumstances and the nature of the idea, he took it quite well."

"That's good. I'm afraid Kathryn wasn't as open to this bond as he is. She accused me of manipulating her feelings."

"Father, but you did! You told her you knew she was in love with Kotay. Spirits, she hadn't even realized herself!"

"Paka? Is it true what Sini says?"

He looked uncomfortably from one to the other. "I didn't exactly put it that way. I was very subtle about it."

Sini snorted, causing her mother to glare at her.

"Sorry Ama, Father. But you don't understand. Kathryn is scared. The last thing she expected to find here was her equal!"

Coming back with a cup of coffee and two teas, Paka sat down and looked at his wife with pleading eyes. Mika sighed, "I guess I will go check on her. Later. After I've had my coffee."

~ * ~ * ~

Kathryn felt bad sneaking out of the house, but she needed the fresh air. She also needed to talk to someone badly. She had tried to contact her mother and sister earlier, but they weren't at home.

She wandered around the village, noticing how some houses were pitch dark except for small oil lamps casting their glow and other houses were clearly lit by the energy network. She didn't have a specific goal, but unsurprisingly she found herself in front of the house of the one person she knew she could talk to. Problem was he was also the one person who was constantly in her thoughts. Knowing she'd never find the peace to sleep tonight if she didn't talk to him, she knocked on the door. She could see a small oil lamp lighting the central room, but it didn't give her enough light to look inside. After knocking on the door several times, she decided to let herself in. Inside, the lamp cast more light and she saw Chakotay sitting in the middle of the floor, deep in trance. Not knowing if she could disturb him, she took a seat on the couch across from him and indulged herself by studying him carefully.

~ * ~ * ~

When he slowly came back from his vision quest, he realized the smile which had adorned his face when he was in the other world, was also on his face here in the real world. He opened his eyes and he was struck by the sight in front of him. Kathryn Janeway was sitting on his couch, staring intently at him. He couldn't quite shake the feeling that maybe he had fallen asleep during his quest and that he was now dreaming she was here.

"We need to talk."

Her brusque comment immediately made him forget that idea. He got up stretching his muscles and walked into the kitchen area.

"I'm going to make tea. Would you care for some?"

She had gotten up too and walked over. "I guess you don't have any coffee here?" The hopefulness of her look made him smile. She realized how desperate she sounded and grinned too.

"If you want coffee you're going to have to ask Ama for some ground beans. But I bet I can make your tea extra strong you'll like it too."

Kathryn mulled it over, "Coffee or extra strong tea - going back to the house I secretly snuck out or staying here. Chakotay you drive a really hard bargain, you know. I guess one cup of tea isn't going to make me forget about coffee."

The smile he send her made her insides turn all mushy and her knees buckle.

"Why don't you make yourself comfortable, and I'll bring the tea once it's done."

She walked back to where his medicine bundle was still spread out on the floor. Sitting herself down next to it, she studied each item. Chakotay brought the tea over and joined her on the floor. He busied himself with plucking non-existent lint off his trousers, while Kathryn had found her nails to be extremely interesting.

Finally he gathered enough courage to continue what she had started earlier.

"I'm sorry my father placed you in the middle of his crazy idea."

She looked at him surprised, but understood his apology. "You know, the idea isn't all that crazy. I guess only the people involved are an unlucky choice."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Just that there's obviously something between us, and for your father to suggest this plan was an unlucky choice. You see, if he had suggested Suttonay as my equal for instance, it would have been completely different."

"Are you trying to say you'd rather bond with him?" Chakotay stiffened.

"No! That's not what I'm saying. I'm just trying to explain it might not be a good idea for us to rush into something. We've only known each other 24 hours."

"Don't remind me. But we also know much more about each other than anyone else. I've told you things I haven't told anyone else."

"Same here. But I still think it's going a little bit too fast."

He looked at her and grinned, "Just a little bit?"

She had to smile at that, "It surprises me too," and she took one of his hands in hers. "But it truly is only a little bit. It's strange but I feel we have know each other for years. And just look at how different we are!"

The look he gave her made her blush, because it was telling how much he appreciated their difference. She bent her head, "Stop that. You're making me uncomfortable."

He lifted her chin with a touch of his finger, "Are you really that uncomfortable in my presence?"

The insecurity reflected in his eyes warmed her heart. "No, I'm not." She leaned towards him "In fact I would have to say your presence makes me quite comfortable." He met her halfway and kissed her. "I will even go as far as saying I have finally come home."

She looked him straight in the eyes and smiled, opening up her soul for him to see her feelings.

He gently caressed the side of her face and she leaned into his touch, closing her eyes.

"Kathryn, will you do me the honor of becoming my equal."

"Well you could always declare them as Jaari!" Sini suggested.

Mika and Paka looked at their daughter. Declaring them as Jaari would be an option, but it would have to be the last resort. Besides a declaration of Jaari was an outdated ritual dating back to the early days of the colony.

The family members of the two in question would have to be heard at a village meeting where they would present the necessary information needed for a Jaari. Then the village's Spiritual Leader would go on a joint Vision Quest with the unwilling partners, testing if they were indeed Destined Equals. The only way for the Jaari to be valid, was if the three of them would only encounter the couples spirit guides, preferably seeing the two animals work together on something.

~ * ~ * ~

Last night Mika had gone upstairs to check on Kathryn, but because she didn't hear anything, Mika had not gone inside, afraid to disturb Kathryn if she was sleeping.

Even though it was still very early in the morning, Sini and her parents were ready for breakfast. Neither of them had slept very well and they were now sitting in the main room, anxiously waiting for Kathryn to come down stairs.

"Sini, declaring a Jaari is very drastic. I don't think either Chakotay or Kathryn would appreciate it very much. Besides, Kathryn hasn't even been introduced to her Spirit Guide."

"I thought Chakotay was going to help her?"

Mike looked at her daughter, "And when was he supposed to have done that? Honey, you're forgetting she's only been here for day."

An insistent beeping noise disturbed the uncomfortable silence in the room. Kolopak went over to a corner and activated the small viewscreen, which had produced the sound.

"Incoming message for Kolopak of Trebus and family."

Gretchen and Phoebe Janeway's faces appeared on the screen. It was a pre-recorded message thanking Kolopak and Mika for taking care of Kathryn. They also told them they were on their way to Trebus and would not be able to reach Kathryn before their arrival. It seems Phoebe had won a prize for one of her art projects and with the money had bought a trip to see her sister.

~ * ~ * ~

When the message was finished, Paka turned around and grinned widely at Sini and Mika. "You know I am a man of science, who doesn't believe in unexplainable phenomena, but I think I have just witnessed one. Mika, do you think this house is ready for more Janeway women?"

They burst out in laughter and consequently didn't hear the kitchen door opening. Two figures quietly walked in, making their way to the large pot of coffee on the counter. Sini was the first to notice them and she signaled her parents. Both stopped laughing and looked in the direction their daughter was looking. She got up slowly and silently walked up to the two in the kitchen.

"Chakotay, Kathryn, how nice of you to join us for breakfast."

They swiftly turned around to see three grinning faces staring at them.

"Ama, Father, sorry for sneaking in like this."

"It's all my fault," Kathryn continued, "I told Chakotay I needed my coffee fix and he didn't want to let me go over here alone."

Mika was stunned, "You mean to say you weren't here last night? But we never heard you leave."

Sensing Kathryn's discomfort at having to admit she sneaked out of the house, Chakotay put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her closer. "Can you honestly blame her for leaving? After the stunt you two pulled? Ama, Father, I am disappointed with your behavior." His serious face was enough to make Kathryn want to burst out in giggles, so she hid her face in his shoulder pretending to be emotionally upset.

They had planned their little scene this morning.

Mika and Paka were too shocked to say anything, but Sini was up and ready to verbally battle her brother.

"You know, Chakotay, we could just declare you Jaari at the village meeting this afternoon." She struck out her chin and looked at him defiantly.

Chakotay couldn't help but laugh at the scene before him. Having Kathryn suppress her laughter in his shoulder didn't help him either. He would never forget the looks on their faces as Kathryn raised her head and joined him in his laughter.

Knowing they'd been had, Kolopak Mika and Sini relaxed visibly.

"Sorry for scaring you like that, but we had to do something." Kathryn send out a mini-death glare to her soon-to-be family. "Just promise us you won't do something like this again." Grinning up at Chakotay she continued, "or we won't invite you to our bonding ceremony."

Phoebe Janeway looked around her while Gretchen hand was busy collecting their luggage.

"Mom, do you think we should have send another message? It doesn't seem they received the original one, there is no one to pick us up."

"Honey, we're early. And if they didn't receive it, we can always find them here. It doesn't seem a large colony, so we probably won't get lost. Let's just wait a few moments."

~ * ~ * ~

They were seated outside the T&C Office under an overhanging part of the roof. Gretchen squinted against the sun, but she could still see the two figures approaching. A tall man and a younger woman came walking up to the small building. The man was extremely handsome and obviously related to his companion.

"Mrs Gretchen Janeway? Welcome to Trebus. I am Chakotay, son of Kolopak and this is my sister Teresini."

"Pleased to meet you, Chakotay. This is my other daughter, Phoebe. She's the reason I am here."

Chakotay regarded the two women. He could clearly see Kathryn's resemblance to her mother, and her sister also showed the same facial characteristics.

"Mrs Janeway, sorry we're late, but it's actually Kathryn's fault. See, we didn't want her to know you were coming, so we had a hard time convincing her to join Father in his lab."

Gretchen looked at the young girl, puzzled by her comment. "Why would Kathryn not want to work at the lab? Isn't that why she's here in the first place?"

"Mom, see, it's what I always thought, Kathryn is just as lazy as I am." Phoebe laughed and winked at Chakotay, "Besides with someone as handsome as this one, I wouldn't want to go to work either." She linked her arm through his, "Lead the way, Mr. Handsome."

Sini was amazed, Phoebe was so different from her sister, and she was shamelessly flirting with her brother. And he let her.

Chakotay on the other hand carefully removed his arm from Phoebe's and picked up their luggage. Sini and Phoebe grabbed the two remaining bags.

"You will be staying with my parents, Mrs Janeway. They received your message this morning and our mother has been busy all day clearing one of the guestrooms."

"Chakotay, would you mind calling me Gretchen?" She smiled at him, showing a by now familiar lopsided grin, "To me Mrs Janeway is still my mother-in-law and I'd rather not be reminded of her."

Phoebe maneuvered herself between her mother and Chakotay, causing Sini to almost burst out in giggles. Gretchen looked over her shoulder and winked at the girl, telling her she was aware of her younger daughter's antics.

"I do hope your mother didn't have to go through too much trouble for us. I mean, first Kathryn comes barging in and now we are here."

"Phoebe, Ama only had a friend of the family take out Kathryn's things."

Gretchen looked at Chakotay, "That's right. She told us she'd get her own little house here, but I didn't think it would be finished already."

Silencing his sister with a look, which didn't go unnoticed by Phoebe and Gretchen, Chakotay replied, "Her house has been ready for quite some time now. I just secretly hope they will have moved the bed by the time we get to my parents' house."

"And why is that, Chakotay?" Phoebe latched on to him again, "Don't tell me you're the kind of man who doesn't like physical labor?"

This time Sini lost it. She came to a halt right before they reached the house and she couldn't stop laughing. Gretchen had an extremely hard time controlling hers too, and even Chakotay couldn't stop the grin forming on his face. Phoebe looked at her companions, not quite realizing what she had done to cause them this much laughter. Trying to get herself under control, Gretchen took deep breaths and closed her eyes. Finally she gained some semblance of tranquility and she took her daughter aside.

"Phoebe Elizabeth Janeway, how often do I have to tell you not to literally throw yourself at every man you meet? If Teresini hadn't thought the situation was so funny, I would have been even more embarrassed than I am now. What do you have to say for yourself?"

"I'm sorry, mom. It's just that he is so incredibly handsome. And he probably doesn't mind. I mean, with a face and a body like that he must be used to it by now."

Her mother's look was more than explanatory. "And how do you know he's used to your shameless flirting? Didn't you listen when I read you this society's rules and regulations? I'm still amazed Kathryn was allowed to work here."

"So you're saying Chakotay is probably bonded. I guess I should be afraid of a jealous wife then. I hadn't thought about that. Do you think I should apologize to him now, or later, or should I pretend I never did a thing?"

"My dear, you are old enough to make your own decisions. Just think before you act."

The two walked back to Chakotay and Sini, and they continued on their way.

~ * ~ * ~

As they approached the last house on the edge of the circle of dwellings, which made up the village, they could already hear a man's voice yelling at someone else.

"Lora, I told you not to turn it to the right, you should have lifted the left corner."

"Look Suttonay, how do you suppose I lift the left corner, when you and Paka are too busy pushing me and the thing outside?"

Gretchen looked questioningly at Chakotay's distressed expression. Before he could explain, three men and an enormous looking bed stumbled outside. Phoebe and Sini were fortunately quick enough to step out of the way, or they would have been trapped and crushed under an intricate looking contraption.

Suttonay was the first to notice the spectators. "Paka, it seems you have visitors!" He yelled to the man who was hidden from view by the headboard of the bed. Lorakish immediately walked upto Sini and Phoebe and took their luggage from them. Paka stepped forward and greeting Gretchen and Phoebe with the same warm hug he'd given to Kathryn barely two days ago. "Welcome to Trebus. Don't mind the mess. It seems my son wanted his bed back. Now, the three of us were only too glad to help him of course, but he forgot to mention he would be busy himself!"

From the back of the house, they heard a woman's voice, "Paka! Don't be rude, show our guests in. And tell that son of yours I expect the other bed to be returned. And Kathryn told me to tell him he should pick her up from the lab before the sun reaches the middle sky."

Paka ushered Gretchen and Phoebe inside, and Sini excused herself and went outside again to help Suttonay and Lorakish.

Mika came to the central room and greeted the two women. "I can't tell you how happy I am to already meet Kathryn's mother and sister. She will be so surprised when she sees you."

"The pleasure is all ours. I'm sorry for the short notice, and we are grateful we can stay here. A week ago I didn't even know I'd be sitting here, it all went so fast - it was a real spur of the moment decision."

Mika looked at her husband, "Could you get us something to drink please? Coffee?"

Phoebe's head perked up at the mention of the word coffee. Mike had to grin at the young woman's face and Gretchen laughed. "I can see you know about Kathryn's dedication to the beverage. I don't think I have ever seen two people so enthralled with anything. It's something they get from their father's side of the family. Even though I like it enough, it's not a religious experience for me."

Paka returned with the coffee, "Mika was extremely pleased when she discovered Kathryn shared her fondness for coffee. I'm afraid she was the only one in our family with a taste for it."

Nodding in agreement with Paka, Mika took a sip and continued, "Paka, I don't want to scare you away, but weren't you helping Chakotay move his bed?"

Mumbling something, he went outside.

~ * ~ * ~

"Okay, how do you propose we handle this, Suttonay?" Four men and a young woman looked from the bed to the doorway and back to the bed again.

Suttonay checked the construction again, "Chakotay when you made this labor of love, you never thought about making it detachable?"

Looking at anything but his companions, Chakotay shook his head, "Sorry it never occurred to me it would be too large to fit through a door."

Lorakish and Sini burst out in laughter. "You mean to say you always expected to build a house with a 7 foot doorframe? Man, you do think big."

It had taken them close to half an hour moving the bed from one house to another, and another half hour removing the old bed, which would be brought back to his parents' house. Now they were looking at the house and the bed, and had been for some time.

~ * ~ * ~

A sixth person joined them. "It looks like you have a problem, Chakotay."

He didn't need to turn to know who had just spoken. Reaching out his hand behind him, he grasped hers and pulled her out in front of him. "And what are you going to do about it? As much as I love the stars, I would rather sleep inside."

It took Lorakish and Suttonay close to five minutes to register what the newest mover had said. The older brother was the first to recover. "I beg your pardon? Kotay? Please explain."

Lorakish was still speechless with his mouth hanging open. Sini put her hand under his chin and closed it for him. Chakotay sheepishly grinned at his best friend, "Why else do you think I wanted to move this bed? Certainly not because we need the exercise."

Releasing her hand from Chakotay's grasp, Kathryn looked the chronometer on her wrist. "Back to my earlier statement: it looks like you have a problem. And we'll all have one if we don't hurry. The village meeting is starting soon."

The six of them regarded the bed and the door again.

"Well, maybe I could get used to sleeping outdoors. At least until you build an extra part to the house. We're going to need the space anyway."

Chakotay looked at Kathryn quizzically, "We are? What for?"

The look she gave him was clear enough, at least to Sini, but all four men were puzzled. "Where do you want me to leave all my things? I mean those two pieces of luggage are certainly not all my earthly possessions. Besides, we're also going to have to install a workstation, so you'll have to connect to the energy network soon. And we'll need to be hooked up to that power supply for the replicator to work."

Chakotay swallowed, "Energy network? Replicator?"

She looked up at him and smiled sweetly, "I guess I forgot to tell you I don't cook. I only replicate. I was even voted Replicator Queen in my first year at the Academy."

One look from his father made Chakotay hold back the comment he had wanted to make. Instead Paka took Kathryn by the arm and lead her in the house. "Why don't we look at the options from the inside and see if we can come up with a solution."

"Hey little one, what brings you here?" Suttonay greeted his sister.

But she walked past him, "Tonay, I am not little anymore!" and looked around, "Where's Kolopak?"

"He had to go to the lab to pick up something he'll need for the meeting."

"You mean, you haven't heard? There isn't going to be a meeting. Kathryn and Kolopak have been cleared."

Chakotay took Heminika aside, followed by Kathryn. "What do you mean? Who cleared it?"

Heminika shrugged, "I think Nonaka did, at least that's what mom heard Tigini say. Don't you believe me or something?"

Putting a hand on the girl's arm, Kathryn calmed her down. "Of course we believe you, and thank you for telling us. Chakotay is just curious for the reason behind our clearing."

He smiled at her, "Heminika, thank you. Do you think you and Sini can go up to the lab to tell Father about it?"

The girl nodded and returned to her best friend. Together they set out for the lab.

~ * ~ * ~

The frown was back on his face.

"Chakotay, talk to me. What is going on in that mind of yours?"

He took her hand and led her inside. "I'm just worried. The Elders simply don't hand out clearings like this one. I want to know who's behind all this and why."

"Are you worried about Qantuin? I thought you said he couldn't hurt Paka anymore."

"Technically he can't, but he could always have influenced the Elders to clear Father on the condition he will quit his work at the lab."

"But how would Qantuin get them to agree to that? Does he bribe them?"

"Not really. You see, we have four Elders, 2 men and 2 women. For some obscure reason two of them are dead-set against what Father does here, but the other two aren't. Most grievances against Father that came before the Elders weren't processed because all voting ended in an automatic draw. And only when it is something of real importance, they ask Poketay for advice. Luckily Poketay is wise enough to understand the importance of the lab and Father's research. But the Old Man has lived a long life, and we're not sure how long he will stay with us in this world."

"Who will follow in his footsteps?"

"Well, for some years it was fairly clear Qantuin would succeed Poketay. That was one of the reasons I studied with him. I had been planning to ask Poketay himself, but I was too afraid of being rejected by him. Qantuin would not reject me, simply because I am the son of his sworn enemy. But when it turned out he had deceived me and most of the village, Qantuin fell from grace. These last few years he has been trying to make up for it, but the village doesn't trust him anymore."

"So when Poketay dies, there is no one to continue his vision."

"It's complicated: rural politics at its peak. When I moved back to my parents after living with Qantuin's family, Poketay helped me find myself again. Or at least he made a start."

"I hadn't realized Qantuin has a family. I thought he lived alone like Poketay."

"Believe it or not, but he is married to Emoriki, mother of Suttonay, Lorakish and Heminika."

"But they are not his children right? Their father is Levinak."

"He tried to be a father, but all he managed was to set down some rules they ignored anyway."

"I'm glad you're not under his influence anymore. After what Mika told me, I think I'm going to have to thank Poketay for bringing you back."

"He only helped me to start. It was through his guidance I discovered to look for peace."

"And, did you find it?"

"I sure did."

"And? Come one, Kotay, you've told me this much, you might as well tell me all."

"Relax already, Red."

"Red?"

"Yes, Red. Alright I will tell you, even though you will probably find it extremely mushy and corny."

"I won't. Really. Scout's Honor."

"The day I found my peace was the most glorious day in my life. It hadn't started out that way. I mean, halfway through the afternoon it appeared to have become a lousy and rotten day. Especially after Father explained his decision on a topic we had argued fiercely over. But then I came across a message that was meant for him, and it changed my life."

"Don't tell me this riddle should give me an answer to my question."

"It doesn't. But the events after I read the message are now determining my life. In fact, the person mentioned in the message is the one who has brought me my peace. And I hope I can give some of that back to her some day."

Kathryn melted before his eyes. "You were right, it is mushy and corny. And I love it! And you have already given me so much peace, and love."

"That's good, because I don't plan stopping that any time soon."

"Even if you wanted to stop, I wouldn't let you."

"You wouldn't?"

"Nope."

"Nope?"

"Yup, you see, you're stuck with me."

"I'm glad it's you I'm stuck with. I kinda like you."

She snorted, "You kinda like me? Is that what you tell the woman who loves you?"

"What? You do?"

"I do what? Love you? Spirits, Chakotay, even though my brain still tells me on an hourly basis this is going to fast, my heart can't stop telling me this is right, because I love you: deeply and with all my heart, body and soul. You didn't doubt me, did you?"

He looked down at the floor. "Well, no, not really. It's just that I didn't think you'd feel the same way about me as I feel about you. I thought you were charmed by the physical attraction between us."

"My dear lovable, huggable and unquestionably handsome Chakotay, I would never have agreed to become your Equal, if I didn't feel this is the best thing I could ever do in my life. I'm certainly not doing this simply because I want to work here. I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you, both in this world and in the Other World."

"I love you too, you know."

She grinned, "I know you do, or you would never had let me take most the closet space."

"Now? You want us to go over there now? Doesn't he need to prepare or something? He's not expecting us, is he?"

"No, he isn't, but knowing him he will have known for quite some time. He probably knew before we'd even met."

Kathryn was still not sure. "Poketay won't mind, will he?"

"Red, he won't." Chakotay took her hands, "Unless it's too soon for you. We can always decide to ask him another time."

"Sweetheart, of course it's all too soon, but I don't care about that anymore."

She got up and looked outside. "Chakotay, how long have we been here?"

"I don't know, why?"

"Come here and tell me what you see."

Chakotay stood behind her and looked outside over her shoulders. A large dark brown cover was partly visible and seemed to continue around the corner of the house. They went outside and saw a cube shaped tent. On closer inspection they found a note attached to it.

Dear Kathryn and Chakotay,

You will still have to look for another way to get this bed inside, but for now this tent will give you at least some privacy for your first night as Equals.

All who had helped move the bed signed it. Kathryn found the entrance and entered. Inside, the tent was beautifully decorated with fresh flowers and candles, waiting to be lit. She was amazed by what she saw. The bed was a clear centerpiece, complete with the quilt they had slept under during their first night together.

"When did they do all this? I never noticed a thing." Chakotay had joined her in the tent and he was just as surprised. "It's amazing. I might just have to build the new room around all this."

"Kotay?"

"Yes, Red."

"How do they know we will be Equals later today? You didn't tell them."

He sat on the bed and pulled Kathryn closer next to him. Tugging her down, they reclined on the bed, her head cushioned on his shoulder.

"Let me tell you a story. Poketay will even tell you it's an ancient legend among our people.

A long time ago, in fact it was right before the Great Spirits created mankind, a small bear cub was born. He grew up in a loving family. And when the time came for him to look for a mate, he went out into the Great Woods to look for her.

For years he wandered around, occasionally meeting his parents, but he still had not found the bear he was looking for. It didn't exactly make him unhappy, but he did question himself. Was he too picky or were the she bears he had met really not the right mate for him?

One day as he walked around his favorite part of the forest, a Great Spirit sat on a log, right where the Bear could see him.

"My dear Bear," he said in a singsong voice, "what is the matter? Why do you look so glum?"

The Bear answered, because that was the polite thing to do when talking to the Great Spirits. "O Great One, I'm not unhappy, not really that is. I have been looking for a mate for long years now, but I haven't found the one who touches my soul yet."

The Great Spirit looked at the Bear, "Don't worry, my friend, you will not remain alone. Soon you will meet she who completes you."

Momentarily forgetting whom he was speaking to, the Bear jumped up and did a little happy dance. "Really? I will? Thank you, Great Spirit."

"You are quite welcome. There is one condition however."

"Anything, I will do anything for her."

"Good to hear, Bear. When you meet her and she has accepted your proposal to become Equals, you must declare your Bond before the Spirits that same sun-cycle."

"We will."

And as fast as he had appeared, the Great Spirit disappeared again. The Bear had never in his life felt this happy and relieved. The next couple of days he walked through the Woods in a daze, not noticing things were about to change.

As the Sun was shining using her Rays to set the flowers in bloom, the Bear went to the other part of the forest. He wandered around, looking at the amazingly beautiful life that surrounded him. Not seeing where he was going, he bumped into something furry and warm. When he jumped back he saw the prettiest and most beautiful bear he had ever seen.

She had been taking a nap, enjoying the warmth the Sun gave her, and she opened her eyes to see who was disturbing her.

The Bear was shocked: this is her!

Slowly the she bear got up, "Hello. I haven't met you before, have I? But you look so familiar."

The Bear nodded, "No, we haven't met. Someone did tell me I would meet you though."

"Really? That's funny, because only yesterday I spoke to someone myself, and he said the exact same thing to me."

"So, what do we do now? After all, we have been introduced to each other already."

"We have."

"Would you like to see where I usually spend my time?"

"I would love to."

Together they walked back to the edge of the Great Woods. When they arrived near the Bear's favorite log, they saw two funny looking animals.

These animals were standing on two legs, instead of four, and their bodies were not covered in a thick brown fur. As the Bears approached them, the two other animals came running their way. Because all four had such speed, they collided and fell to the ground.

~ * ~ * ~

That same day, right before the Sun would give the Moon the keys to the Eternal Light, they woke up again. Opening their eyes, they saw the two Great Spirits before them.

The oldest one spoke, "Today you have found your Equal. And today you must declare your Bond."

The other continued, "Please rise and hold hands. From this moment the Spirits and the Children of the Great Spirits will walk in different worlds. You will not be separated for there is an ever-present link between you. But let it be known that anyone, who wants to show the Great Spirits their Equal, will have to contact their Other Self in the Other World, in order for the Great Spirits to bless their Bond."

The Great Spirits took one last look around and disappeared, taking the two Bears with them.

Kathryn had been mesmerized by Chakotay's melodious voice as he took her with him into the world of this legend. Slowly she exhaled wiping the lone tear from her cheek.

"That was a beautiful legend." She turned over, so she could face him. "And I think I understand what you were trying to tell me." Resting her head on her folded arms on his chest, she continued. "It ties in with something you promised me, doesn't it?"

Chakotay nodded, "Yes, before we go over to Poketay, we first have to introduce you to your Spirit Guide."

"I can't wait to meet him. Or is it her?"

He smiled at her, "You will just have to find out. Let me get my Medicine Bundle. Is it alright with you if we contact them in here?"

"Of course it is. After all this bed seems to be a central point in our relationship." She waggled her eyebrows and winked at him, "What do you think that means?"

~ * ~ * ~

Contacting her Spirit Guide had been extremely easy. Because Chakotay explained all the steps carefully to her, she felt she already was partly in trance when he took her hand and put it on the akoonah. The first contact with her Spirit Guide was a surprise. He immediately jumped right to most of her doubts and problems, even explaining the role of Justin in her life.

After what seemed quite a long time, her Spirit Guide, a small lizard that made up for his size with his lengthy discussions, looked around. He told her someone wanted to join them.

Kathryn had already noticed a change in scenery.

The green valley with its clear lake and birch trees slowly merged into another landscape. Only this landscape could never exist in real life: two totally different areas of land had joined and each had taken some of the characteristics of the other. A clear border was no longer visible between the two. They had become one.

She sensed Chakotay coming up behind her, but he was not alone. His companion ran up to Kathryn, only to stop right in front of her. She was slightly surprised by the gray wolf's behavior, but something in the animal's eyes made her reach out and stroke its fur.

The door was open and they walked into the house. Kathryn was surprised to see a small view screen in the corner of the central room. When Chakotay saw what she was looking at, he smiled at her. "Poketay likes to keep in touch with all aspects of this world."

A deep voice from the other part of the house interrupted them. "Of course I do, Chakotay, and you will do the same."

A tall proud man stepped into the light. His hair was stark white and his face showed the lines of a long life. "Welcome to my house, Kathryn of Earth, I am glad to finally meet you." He took her hands in his and bent over to kiss her forehead.

"The pleasure is all mine, Poketay."

"Don't be polite with me, Kathryn. Say what you really mean."

She smiled, "Are you sure? You might not like what I have to say."

Poketay led them to the central part of the room, "Why don't we have a seat, while Kotay makes himself useful."

Looking around Kathryn saw an enormous diversity of artifacts. "My sister would love it here. All these different pieces of different civilizations. How did you collect all this?"

Pleasantly surprised by her honest observation, Poketay went over to one wall and took down a small painting. "Contrary to what some people here want to believe, I haven't spent all my time on Trebus. This is an icon from 19th century Russia. It was given to me by my roommate on Earth."

"You've been on Earth?" Chakotay joined them, "Why did you leave Trebus?"

Kathryn nudged him with her elbow. "Don't make it sound like a mortal sin please. I happen to like traveling around our quadrant. Poketay, did you go to a school or university there?"

Poketay leaned back into his seat, "Lets see, I left Trebus right after my Coming of Age, so I must have been 18 or 19. I left, Chakotay, because I wanted to explore the universe to discover my purpose in life. I went to Starfleet Academy to see if they would offer me what I wanted."

A short gasp followed by raspy coughing and spilled tea pulled Poketay from his memories. Kathryn was patting Chakotay on his back, while he tried to gain control of his breathing after he had choked on his tea. "You went to the Academy? Why did you never tell me?"

"My dear Chakotay, you never asked me. Remember what I told you when you came to me after your 10th Spring? The key to getting to know someone is to ask them the right questions."

Kathryn had to laugh at Chakotay's amazed expression. "I personally think it's wonderful. And I still believe you would have fit in too, Kotay. Did you retire from Starfleet, Poketay?"

"I never retired. That's one of the reasons I have that view screen and workstation. I still keep in touch with most of my friends from the Academy. That's why I knew you were given permission to come here even before you sent the final application to Kolopak."

"Amazing. How many people know this, Poketay?" Chakotay had recovered enough to join the conversation again. He was in a way reassured, because from the moment Kathryn came into his life his interest in science and in life away from Trebus had peaked again. Finding out the man whom he had always looked to for guidance and advice had been at Starfleet was a most welcome revelation.

Poketay grinned self-consciously, "I must confess not many know. Your father does, so I assume your mother knows too, but I think they are the only ones. You see, you try to keep things like this in your family, especially since the growth of more traditionally minded families. But you didn't come to talk about me. I bet Mika is preparing a feast as we speak, so we'd better hurry."

~ * ~ * ~

As he got up, Poketay could hear his muscles and bones protest. He walked over to a finely decorated cabinet near the front door. Opening it, he took out two packages. One was made of an old hide with many rough patches. The other was much smaller and flatter and made out of a black and red fabric. He came back and handed the small one to Kathryn.

"Recognize the fabric, Kathryn?"

She felt the course but pliable fabric. "It's Starfleet! How did you get this?"

"Remember my connections to Starfleet? Well one of my trainees still owed me a favor and he was able to get it for me. Why don't you tell us what it is?"

Kathryn hesitated, because as she let it slide through her hands, she found the tiny golden pip, which was all scratched. "It can't be! This is my father's first pip, which he gave to me when I was promoted to Lieutenant j.g. Poketay, this is mine, isn't it? Someone gave you my old uniform."

"Yes, it seems Admiral Paris and I both agree Command Red better than Science Blue."

Now it was Kathryn's turn to be shocked at Poketay's admission. "Admiral Paris?" She slumped back into the couch, "When did you do all this? And why? And before you say anything, contrary to Chakotay, I do not believe in destiny!" Chakotay patted her knee to calm her down, but it didn't help. Especially not when she looked at Poketay's smiling face. "I feel like people are manipulating me. Paka, Mika, Sini and now you! And I don't like it." She got up and paced the room.

Poketay got up as well and put his arm around her shoulders. "Kathryn, no one is trying to manipulate you into something you don't want. Let me tell you what happened. About three years ago, Owen told me about his star pupil who changed from Command to Science after a tragic accident that turned her life upside down. He contacted me for advice, and all I told him was to let that officer lead her chosen life. Now, three weeks ago, I received another message from him saying that same officer had requested a position at Kolopak's lab. When I told him I would probably meet her, I asked him for something that was hers and that might help her to find the inner peace she was looking for. He sent me the fabric, which is not from your uniform but a brand new one, and the lonely pip. It wasn't until Paka told me about your almost instant connection to Chakotay that I made the fabric into a Medicine Bundle for you."

Kathryn had visibly relaxed and she was once again seated next to Chakotay, who slowly rubbed her back. "Thank you for telling me, Poketay. It means a lot to me. See, I'm used to having full control over my life. When Justin died, I lost some of my control." The smile came back to her face as she turned to Chakotay, "And meeting you certainly messed up my careful control."

Relieved Kathryn was all right again, Chakotay laughed, "If you think you lost your control, what about mine? For the first time in years I'm actually anxious to go out into space again."

"Two control freaks: what did the Spirits think when they put you together? Lets get down to business. Kathryn, has Chakotay introduced you to your guide?"

~ * ~ * ~

After witnessing their joined quest, the actual Bonding Ceremony was a simple formality for Poketay. But as he asked Chakotay to repeat the Bonding Vows, the younger man surprised him when he said he wanted Poketay to read a poem instead.

"Kotay, you realize this is highly unusual?"

"I know, but I can remember you once told me the unusual isn't necessarily bad."

Poketay smiled at the couple before him and read out the poem Chakotay confessed having found on his father's workstation.

~ * ~ * ~

Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments; love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove. O no, it is an ever-fixed mark That looks on tempests and is never shaken; It is the star to every wand'ring bark, Whose worth's unknown, although his heighth be taken. Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks Within his bending sickle's compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

~ * ~ * ~

"I wonder what is keeping them?" Mika looked around at the gathered crowd in her house and garden.

As soon as Gretchen and Phoebe had unpacked and freshened up, they had discovered Mika in the kitchen preparing enough food to feed planets. The three of them even managed to come up with the right ingredients for making Kathryn's favorite caramel brownies.

Gretchen was standing next to Mika, "When did you expect them to come? Knowing my daughter, Chakotay probably is having a hard time prying her away from the lab."

"To be honest, their stomachs should be letting themselves heard by now. Chakotay knows we're expecting him for dinner."

"And Kathryn can't cook, so it's highly unlikely she'll have made him supper."

Just then the kitchen door opened and the couple entered behind Poketay, who was sporting a large smile.

"There you are we were beginning to wonder if you had decided to skip dinner."

Gretchen, who was partially hidden behind Mika, stepped away, but it took Kathryn some time to register her mother's presence.

"Mom? How? What?" and she ran into Gretchen's outstretched arms. "Mom, what are you doing here?"

~ * ~ * ~

Gretchen observed Kathryn as she greeted Phoebe. She felt as is she was missing something in Kathryn's behavior. Her daughter was positively sparkling.

Kathryn introduced Chakotay to her sister and Gretchen immediately noticed the way she held her hand on his arm. Almost as if her eldest daughter knew of the youngest daughter's interest in the handsome man. Kathryn's message was clear to her sister, because Phoebe unnoticeably stepped back from Chakotay a little. Still Kathryn didn't move her hand. She even tightened her hold on him when she slipped her arm around his waist unconsciously.

As Chakotay turned his face toward Kathryn, Gretchen was shocked by his expression. She figured out what forces were at work here. One look at her oldest daughter was enough to make Kathryn leave Phoebe and Chakotay alone, and she came to stand with her mother.

"He is certainly very handsome." Gretchen was pleased to see Kathryn look back at the man they were discussing. When she turned back to face her mother, she knew she was caught.

"Alright mom, do your worst."

"My worst? Why would I do that? There's no need to become all defensive with me, young lady. I am still your mother."

"You are, and I'm sorry. What do you want to know?"

"If I knew what to ask for, I would ask you. Honey, I just noticed how happy and peaceful you look. What happened? The last time we spoke you were close to a deep depression and now, well you look like a woman in love."

Kathryn heaved a big sigh and took her mother to a more secluded spot in the garden. "Mom, I know this might be hard to believe, but you're right. I am a woman in love. You know how I felt after Justin's death, and now, even though I will always miss him, I feel like I've been given a second chance. Or maybe even a first chance at finding complete happiness."

"Chakotay."

"You noticed? Why is it everyone notices except me?"

"Sweetheart, it was hard not to notice. If your connection to that man is as deep as I hope it is, please don't let anything stand in your way."

"I won't, but don't you think it's all happening too soon? I mean, we've barely known each other for two days."

"Whether you know someone your whole life or not, the moment you discover you're supposed to grow old together, these things are no longer important. It's not the time you spent together before you acknowledge your mutual love that counts, but it's the time you have after that declarations that matters."

"Mom, why didn't you tell me when I married Justin?"

"Kathryn, I don't want you to take this the wrong way. Your father and I knew that, although Justin at the time was who you needed and wanted, you are one of the few lucky ones destined to find their soul mate."

"You're kidding?"

"I'm not. I'm also not claiming your life's path has been carved out for you since your birth, but each person has a few universal stabilities in their lives. And yours appears to be Chakotay."

Kathryn was too amazed to speak. All the loose threads in her life were coming together here with this man. It was an unexplainable phenomenon, but the scientist in here for once didn't care about a solution.

~ * ~ * ~

Phoebe and Chakotay made their way over. Gretchen took Kathryn's hand and squeezed it once.

"Mom, Chakotay and I were talking about late Minoan art and he told me Poketay had some. Is it okay if I visit him tomorrow?"

"Of course it is, honey."

Kathryn seemed to have returned to this world and she was smiling almost shyly.

"Chakotay, could you give me your hand please." Both daughters looked at their mother wondering what she was going to do.

Taking Chakotay's left hand and Kathryn's right, she held them together in her hands. "Now, I don't know anything of this planet's customs, but I do believe it is customary for a couple to receive both parents' blessing for their wedding. Kathryn and Chakotay, may all the joys of living together guide you on your joined path." Gretchen kissed her daughter's cheek and turned to Chakotay, "Welcome to our family, Chakotay of Trebus." And she pressed a kiss on his forehead. "Of course, I want first dibs on my grandchildren and I will expect you to come to Indiana soon. The house is simply dying to host a large party again."

THE END

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