By Shayenne

Disclaimer: Paramount owns everything.

Rated PG-13


She had read the transmission through four times now, and each time it read the same. Kathryn ran a hand through her hair. This absolutely could not be happening. Defeated, she rested her head down on her arms on the desk in the ready room. She heard the swoosh of the doors, but only one person would enter without sounding the chime so she did not look up. She felt the big hand stroke her hair.

"Kathryn, are you all right?" Chakotay stroked her hair again.

She raised her head up from the desk. "Take a look at this. It came through in this month's transmissions from Starfleet. I nearly missed it, it was a tiny file, buried underneath the normal verbose, boring reports and it is triple-encrypted. Harry decoded it and it's addressed to me. For my eyes alone." She turned the console towards him so he could read the message.

He read it through once. She watched his eyes narrow slightly then he shook his head and returned to the beginning of the message.

"I don't believe this."

"Believe it. It's from Admiral Paris. Looks like he went to considerable trouble to get this through to me undetected. And the contents mean he must feel very strongly to warn us like this - he could lose his commission if this leaked out."

She met his eyes. "Chakotay, what are we going to do? This says that Starfleet intend arresting all the Maquis once we return and minimum sentences of twenty years imprisonment are assured. Life with no parole for you. And I'm doing more harm then good. Did you read the sentence that says because of my relationship with you they consider me to be unreliable and were not intending to tell me what they had decided?"

"I read it." He was quiet.

"There's no appeal, no recourse. Everything the Maquis crew have done on Voyager counts for nothing. They're going to lock them up like criminals to satisfy some noisy faction that wants justice. Justice my ass."

She was shaking and the profanity was out of character. "They are a bunch of ass-licking corporate bureaucrats who just want to take the popular easy route. They weren't going to tell us Chakotay." She turned to him, her eyes wild. "They would have let us return home thinking we were heroes, thinking we were welcome, and then they would have dragged half my crew off to jail like animals. Including you. Especially you."

She crossed to him and wrapped her arms tightly around his waist. "I won't let them do it. To you. To any of them."

He held her close. "You might have no choice, Kathryn." His lips caressed her hair.

"We all have a choice. I think this is one decision that everyone on board this ship needs to make. We'll call a meeting in the messhall at 18:00. Compulsory attendance. Let the damn computer run the ship."

* * *

The entire crew was there, although no-one knew why. There had never been a meeting that required the attendance of everyone all at once before.

Kathryn stood at the front, Chakotay rested against the table next to her. Quickly she explained the contents of the transmission and read it out to the assembled crew word for word.

"I'm not going to tell you who sent it," she said, "as if that information leaked back to Starfleet the person concerned could be in nearly as much trouble as we are. Sufficient to say it is a very high up source who I do trust to tell us the truth." Deliberately she didn't look at Tom as she said that. She would tell him later.

"We have some choices to make, choices that affect every single person on board this ship, Starfleet and Maquis, commissioned or not, adult and child."

The twenty or so children, born during the course of the fifteen year journey giggled and nudged each other.

"Firstly, I truly believe we have no chance of fighting this decision. I think our source would have told us if we had any chance of getting freedom for the Maquis based on their exemplary performance over the last fifteen years. So if we go home, all of the Maquis can expect twenty year jail terms, some of them, even more, up to life with no parole. The way I see it, our immediate choice is simple. Do we want to continue on into Federation space or do we remain out here. Obviously, to expect all of the ship to completely agree is unrealistic, so what I propose is two votes. The first is simple. Given the facts about the Maquis, do you want Voyager to continue on into Federation Space or remain out here? The second is each of your personal choices. Do you personally want to be returned to Federation Space if the majority want to stay here, or do you want to stay here if the majority want to return? I want you to take a few days to think about it. Try to make this your decision, don't be swayed by what you think other people want. We'll meet again in three days and each of us will vote. The voting will be anonymous, and will be counted by one representative from each department. When we know which way the majority wants to go, we'll work on accommodating the minority, the people who don't want to stay with the ship. And of course, then we'll have further decisions to make. But this one so deeply affects all of us that I feel we all should have a say in making it. We need to decide soon. At our present rate of progress, we'll be in Federation Space in six months."

She paused and continued, holding a hand out to Chakotay. "I think this will give all of us cause for some deep thinking. The Maquis are part of the lives of all of us, as friends, colleagues, lovers, husbands, wives and parents. We're not going to abandon any of them now. The discussion is open to all of you."

Questions and suggestions flowed thick and fast. Planets to settle on, how long Voyager could last as a space faring vessel, the possibility of getting pardons for the Maquis, even blackmail and extortion were mentioned.

One question inevitably cropped up.

"Captain, surely your word would carry enormous weight at Starfleet. Surely you could cite the fifteen years service, voluntarily performed by the Maquis. Surely they would listen to you?"

"I'm sorry, Ensign Lopez, but I'm the last person they are going to listen to. I have been open with them about my relationship with Commander Chakotay, and they now consider me practically a traitor, the words 'sleeping with the enemy' come to mind." Her eyes shadowed.

B'Elanna stood up. "Kathryn, Chakotay, no-one here blames you for not being able to protect us. Please don't start regretting your relationship - gods, it took you seven years to get together, don't start doubting it now."

There was a chorus of "hear, hear" from the assembled crew. A staccato sound started in one corner, and spread like a wave until the entire messhall was on their feet, applauding and whistling.

Chakotay hugged Kathryn to his side and dropped a kiss on her head. "To think we ever wondered if they would accept our living together," he whispered.

He held up his hand for quiet. "We want you all to make your own decision," he said, "but if there is anything you want to discuss with one or both of us, our door is open, night and day."

Gradually the meeting dispersed.

* * *

The command team was relaxing in their quarters after the meeting. The remains of their dinner was on the coffee table, and they were cuddled up on the couch with a glass of wine. Kathryn's head was on Chakotay's chest and they were discussing the meeting. He was stroking her arm, gradually working his way around to the side of her breast.

"I feel so disillusioned," sighed Kathryn. "All these years I've tried to stick to Starfleet principals, clung to the knowledge that Starfleet was looking out for us, trying to get us home. And now I find that they only want to get us home to make a spectacle of us. Throw half of the crew into jail, probably court martial me, separate families..."

"It surprises me too," said Chakotay. "They were never this unreasonable in the past." His hand stole onto her breast and he started caressing her nipple through the tunic.

She raised up to kiss him. "Can't you act your age? We made love this morning. Old men in their fifties aren't supposed to do this as often as you."

"Neither are old women in their fifties. And whose idea was it this morning?"

He grinned as she swatted him, and then stopped as she pulled his mouth down hard to hers.

The door chime rang and they both groaned and moved a respectable distance from each other.

"Well you did say anytime, day or night," sighed Kathryn, then called for the door to open.

Tom walked in. "Did I interrupt something?" he asked.

"Of course not," said Chakotay. "Don't you know that old people like us don't have sex?"

He ducked as Kathryn threw a cushion at him.

"That wasn't my impression when we had the room next door to you last shore leave," said Tom as he sat down on the chair opposite them. "Those walls were none too thick you know."

"We know," said Kathryn. "Sound travels in both directions! Good thing you left the kids on the ship."

"That's why we left the kids on the ship," said Tom.

"Glass of wine, Tom?" Chakotay proffered the bottle.

"Don't mind if I do." He watched as the wine was poured then settled back in the chair.

"Is this a social call or is there something on your mind?" asked Kathryn.

"Something I want to ask actually. But I understand if you don't want to answer. The person who sent that warning, by any chance was it my father?"

"I was going to tell you after the vote, but yes it was. I didn't want to confuse the issue by telling you beforehand. It was very courageous of him, he didn't have to do it."

"I thought it was." Tom's eyes were distant. "I wonder what he thinks I want to do? Not that it matters, I've already decided how I will vote, and so has B'E."

"Don't tell us." Chakotay held up a hand.

"I won't, but I think you can guess. Which reminds me, do the kids get a vote?"

"Hmmm... the older ones certainly. The younger ones... how about we leave it up to their parents to decide. If they feel their child can make their own decision they get their own vote. Otherwise no, it would be like giving their parents two votes."

"Richie wants to vote," said Tom. "He's told us he's already decided but he won't say what."

"It's his birthday in three days isn't it?" said Chakotay.

"Yup, he's eight. You guys never forget his birthday."

The command team exchanged glances and grinned.

"Well there is a good reason for that," smirked Kathryn. "It was the day that Richie was born that I let Chakotay seduce me for the first time."

"Kathryn!" Tom pretended to be shocked. "Too much detail!"

"Besides," said Chakotay, "you seduced me."

"Did not. You definitely refused to take no for an answer and kissed me."

"Only after you grabbed my a..." He tailed off, not wanting to embarrass her in front of Tom.

He was grinning. "Your what, Chakotay?"

"Arm," said Kathryn.

"I'll let you get away with it. I'm going now before B'E murders the kids. Thanks for the wine and the answer. You can get back to whatever you were doing now."

With a wink he was gone. "What were we doing, Kathryn?"

"I think you were seducing me, just like you did when Richie was born."

"You didn't take much seducing. If I'd known you were that easy I would have tried long before that, like my first week on board."

She stopped his words with a kiss, opening his mouth with her lips and pushing her tongue inside. He kissed her back just as eagerly, burrowing his hands under the loose tunic she wore, smoothing the soft skin at her waist.

She was opening his shirt when the door chime rang.


"Kathryn! You don't mean that."

She grinned. "I do, but I forgive them whoever they are. After all it only 21:00 and you did say..."

"Anytime, day or night," they chorused together.

The door opened to reveal Naomi Wildman.

"Come in Naomi. Tea, coffee, juice?"

"I'd rather have a glass of that wine." She eyed the bottle.

"Give it a couple more years." Kathryn poured her a juice. "Which one of us did you want to talk to?"

"Either, both. It doesn't matter who."

Naomi seemed a little agitated. Now thirteen years old, she had a wisdom beyond her years. It was easy to forget she was still a child in need of reassurance.

"What is it?" Chakotay was gentle.

"This vote thing...."

"Yes." Kathryn was encouraging.

"Is it really secret? You see, I know what I want, but I don't want Mum or Joe to know, as I don't think that they agree and I don't want to hurt them."

"It's totally secret, Naomi. No-one will ever know unless you want to tell them later."

"It's just that..." Naomi hesitated, then said in a rush, "I don't want to go home. If we go home, Mum and Joe will feel they have to go back to their other families, and I'll lose Joe, and what about the twins, what will happen to them? But I think Mum and Joe both want to go home."

"You don't know that for sure, Naomi, just as they don't know what you want. And I'm sure whatever happens you'll still see your half-brothers." Chakotay was striving to be neutral.

Naomi crossed to the couch and climbed up next to him and threw her arms around his waist.

"I don't want you to go to jail, Chakotay. Nor any of the others. It's not fair."

Chakotay stroked her hair. "Life isn't fair. Was it fair we got stuck in the Delta Quadrant in the first place?"

"I'm glad we did." Naomi was fervent. "If we hadn't I wouldn't have the twins, Mum wouldn't have Joe, I wouldn't have Neelix as a friend, you wouldn't have Kathryn, Tom and B'Elanna wouldn't know each other and Richie would never have been born. We wouldn't have rescued Seven either."

She hopped off the couch and made her way to the door. "Thanks." With a wave she was gone.

"Who else will disturb us?" Kathryn wondered aloud.

"No-one I hope. But I bet someone will. Come to bed and let me have my evil way with you." He nuzzled her ear and traced it with his tongue.

"Mmmm..... I think that's a good idea."

Dimming the lights they headed for the sleeping quarters.

* * *

They were undisturbed long enough to make love and fall asleep in their customary positions, wrapped in each others arms. The door chime woke both of them.

Kathryn extricated herself from Chakotay. "I'll get it. I'll call you if it's you they want."

She pulled on a robe and answered the door.

"Seven. Come in." Smothering a yawn she stood aside so that Seven could enter. "Who are you after, me or Chakotay?"

"You, Captain."

"Kathryn," she corrected her for the umpteenth time. "We're off duty"

"As you wish." Seven raised an eyebrow. "But the designation is irrelevant."

Kathryn didn't bother to comment. This was old ground. She went to close the door to the sleeping quarters.

"It's Seven for me," she said into the darkened room. "Go back to sleep."

There was no reply, just a soft snore.

"What can I do for you, Seven? Is it about the vote?"

"No, Captain, it is not. I merely wanted to bring you the Astrometrics projections that Icheb finished earlier. The commander said we could call on you day or night, so I surmised you would not mind."

"Seven, you didn't have to take it quite so literally." Kathryn ran a hand through her hair. Every time she thought Seven was becoming more sensitive something like this happened. "Tomorrow would have been fine."

"I see I have erred. I am sorry. I will leave you to sleep. Thank you for your time, Kathryn." And Seven departed.

She rolled her eyes and returned to the sleeping quarters. Chakotay was sleeping on his stomach, sprawled over most of the bed. The sheet was down low around his hips, exposing the dimple at the top of his buttocks and the start of their swell. Lovingly she traced him with her eyes. His hair was as thick as ever, although liberally sprinkled with gray. He was leaner then he used to be, but still firmly muscled. His skin was as soft as ever. His face was turned to one side, pressed into the pillows. In sleep he was relaxed and soft. Awake, his laughter lines and crows feet were more evident. She knew she was responsible for more than one of those worry lines. She shrugged off the robe and climbed naked into bed with him, pressing herself up against his shoulder and wrapping a leg over his.

"Sleep well, my love," she whispered.

One eye opened a crack. "Don't worry, I am."

* * *

They had agreed not to discuss between themselves which way they were voting. The morning of the vote, they were lying in bed with a cup of coffee, snatching a few stolen minutes before they had to get up.

"I know we agreed we wouldn't talk about how we intend to vote," began Kathryn. "But I don't want you to vote how you think I would want you to. Please, do this from your heart..."

She tailed off as he was holding her hand and looking at her with a smile.

"I was going to say the same to you. No. We'll both do this as we wish. If we find later we're wanting different things then we'll meet that problem if it arises."

"Yes, we'll work it out," she said to him. "We always do."

Leaning across him, she placed her hands on his chest and kissed him lightly.

* * *

Everyone on board was tense that day. Their futures hung in the balance and no-one could begin to guess which way the vote would go. Six adjudicators, chosen from most departments, oversaw the voting and collected the votes. Everybody was solemn. Even Tom, who could normally be counted upon to lighten even the most serious occasion, was very sober and reserved.

Once the votes were in, Kathryn and Chakotay retired to their quarters to await the result. Two hours passed and then the door chime rang. It was Harry, who was the adjudicator chosen from the bridge crew. He was grinning.

They exchanged uneasy glances. Surely no news was good news for this vote.

"I won't keep you in suspense," Harry announced. "The vote is in and counted three times. The first vote - does Voyager return to Earth or remain out here. Votes to remain out here - 163. Votes to return to Earth and let the Maquis face prosecution - nil."

They gasped. They had not expected such a united crew.

Harry continued. "People who wish to return to Federation Space and leave Voyager here, seventeen. We don't know who they are of course."

They exchanged glances.

She was the first to speak. "It looks like Voyager has a new home here, outside of Federation Space."

"Most of the crew are in the mess hall, waiting to hear the result. I think you should go and tell them, Captain."

"Yes, we should. Harry, summon the entire crew to the mess hall."

She held out her hand to Chakotay. "Come on, rebel."

Hand in hand they left for the mess hall.

* * *

When they were sure everyone was present, she made the announcement.

"We have a unanimous vote..." She got no further, everyone knew what that meant. The hall erupted with shouts, laughter, tears. People were hugging each other and slapping their Maquis colleagues on the back. Some of the most joyful were the many Maquis-Starfleet couples that had formed. The children danced on the tables and no-one thought to restrain them.

Kathryn allowed them a few minutes unrestrained emotion, then held up a hand. When there was quiet again, she continued. "Seventeen people wish to be returned to Federation Space. Whoever you are, we will find some way of accommodating your request, and if anyone wants to change their mind, either way, of course we will find a way of working this out. This isn't cut and dried yet. Our first priority is ensuring the people who wish to return have a way. Then we need to make sure that they won't face repercussions from Starfleet. We also need to decide what we do tell Starfleet, it isn't every day a rebel crew absconds with one of their ships. Longer term, there is even more to discuss. But one thing is certain, Voyager's crew will be free people. I am very, very proud of you all, making what has to have been a difficult decision."

She had tears in her eyes as she stepped back into Chakotay's waiting arms.

Neelix stepped forward.

"Kathryn, I took the liberty of arranging a small celebration... If a few people would like to lend a hand I have food and drink here waiting."

"Agreed," said Kathryn.

"Agreed," yelled a shrill voice from on top of one the tables. "Let's party! 'Cos I'm eight today!"

Kathryn looked at Chakotay with a glint in her eyes.

"We know, Richie, we hadn't forgotten."

Neelix was distributing glasses and champagne.

"A toast," he cried. "To life on Voyager, where ever she takes us, and to Richie Paris."

* * *

Later, back in their quarters, lying in bed, naked and sweaty after an energetic bout of love making, Chakotay ran a hand down her hip, curving over her bottom caressingly.

"Can I ask you now," he asked. "Was it a hard decision to make?" He sat up suddenly. "You aren't one of the seventeen who wants to go back are you?"

She smiled at him. "No, of course not. How could I ever leave you? And no, once I really thought about it, it was the easiest decision in the world. There is no way I would want any one of the Maquis to suffer. And I thought hard about the last fifteen years. They have been good, Chakotay. And I think it's true what they say, you can never truly return to a place you have left. I think better for us to build our home somewhere new, maybe a planet that's unspoiled, unpopulated..."

"Like New Earth."

"Yes, like New Earth, where I first fell in love with you."

"So long ago now." He kissed her softly.

"Or somewhere with a friendly population... or maybe we can keep Voyager space worthy for many, many years and just keep wandering on. The peripatetic lifestyle has its appeal. Who knows? The biggest decision has been made, I think the rest will fall into place."

"The biggest decision was made eight years ago," said Chakotay. "The day you let me into your life completely."

"What took me so long?" she mused. "When I loved you so much even then."

"As long as you love me now, that's all that matters."

"You know I do. More and more each day."

"And you know I love you." He kissed her warmly, pulling her towards him.

They were the last words either of them spoke for quite some time.

OK, so you all hate me for not sending them home. But speaking as a person whose lifestyle is nearly as peripatetic as Voyager's, it really IS hard, if not impossible, to go back and live in a place you have moved on from. I spent a total of six weeks last year in my IRS designated "home", and as I am lucky enough to have my own "Chakotay", I truly believe home is where you make it. Once a true wanderer, it is very hard to settle down. I don't think the crew would be happy back on Earth, once the thrill of home coming had waned. Email me and tell me why you disagree if you want. I'm listening.

Feedback? Please. Shayenne

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