UISCE BEATHA - Part 1

By Shayenne

Disclaimer: Paramount owns everything but they obviously don't drink whiskey. Pity.

Rated PG-13

Uisce Beatha is a Gaelic phrase meaning "Water of Life" and is the origin of the word "whiskey", long known as the original water of life. Sláinte!

Once again, grateful thanks to Brianna the Wonder Beta. I.O.U. chocolate.

"This one." Janeway caught Chakotay's hand and led him over to the gaily painted shop front. "Harry told me that they sell the closest thing to real coffee that he's tasted in the Delta Quadrant."

Chakotay smiled down at her and settled her hand more closely in his. "Then we can't pass up on that. The cultural artifacts, the early settlement museum, the Waterfalls of Rath... all the attractions of Cabra pale in the face of one good cup of coffee!"

"Who said anything about just one?"

Kathryn's face glowed in the bright light from Cabra's twin suns. Chakotay loved days like this; shore leave, just the two of them, the two of them as man and woman. Days when he could pretend a little, and wish a little more.

"Two then," he allowed. "But you promised, Kathryn. We have to allow time to visit the Shrine of Cluid. You'll have to drink fast if we're to get there in daylight."

"I will." Kathryn patted his hand. "A quiet hike in beautiful countryside with my best friend - I wouldn't miss it for anything."

Harry was right. The dark beverage they were served tasted like a rich espresso. Chakotay watched the pleasure on Kathryn's face, storing the moment in his memory. After two cups, he touched her hand.

"If we're to visit the shrine, we better go now."

She nodded, and they left, out into the bright daylight.

The trail to the Shrine of Cluid was a twisting footpath that ascended swiftly up a steep-sided valley away from the town. Although the path was well trodden, indicating the passage of many feet, they were the only walkers.

"Maybe it's too hot for them?" suggested Kathryn, as she paused to remove her jacket.

"Or simply not the traditional time of day to visit," said Chakotay. He took a draught from his water bottle, and offered it to Kathryn.

"Thanks." She took the bottle and drank deeply. "I have a feeling we should have brought more water. That 'coffee' is making me very thirsty."

The path widened sufficiently to allow them to walk side by side. Chakotay deliberately slowed his pace; day was glorious, even if it was a bit warm and he wanted to enjoy the relaxation. He missed this on Voyager, missed the freedom and solitude that hiking could bring. Kathryn was an ideal companion, not overly talkative, often wrapping herself in her own thoughts. And, far from the ship she was more relaxed, seemingly happy to be with him.

He took her hand once more, and tugged her to a stop. "Listen."

She halted, cocking her head. The trill of birdsong washed over them. "Beautiful," she breathed.

They stood for a few moments longer, listening to the solitary singer. Kathryn's fingers tightened in his. She stood with her eyes closed, lips slightly parted, lost in the moment. Chakotay watched her, the quiet happiness of the day expanding to fill his chest. The birdsong faded into the afternoon, and they resumed their hike.

"Tell me about the shrine," said Kathryn. "I didn't have time to read the PADD you gave me and I prefer for you to tell me anyway. Your words bring it to life."

"It's a shrine to one of their deities," he answered. "It's supposedly a beautiful work of sculpture, set in a forest glade, with areas for rest and reflection. There's an annual pilgrimage--we've missed it by a couple of months--when the entire town visits and leaves offerings for long life and happiness."

"What's the story behind the deity?" she asked.

"Lisser ruled the country nearly three thousand years ago. He was a long lived ruler--he reigned for over nine hundred years--and he was benign and just. Under his guidance, the country prospered, gaining peace and tolerance. They controlled their population so that the natural beauty and resources of their planet would last. People come to the shrine to pray for peace, long life, and the continued health of their planet. To them, the planet is living and must be protected."

"Worthy goals." She grasped his hand and let him pull her over a steep shelf. "But this is so beautiful, that I suspect many come along purely for the walk."

He chuckled gently, and they ambled the last level stretch to the shrine, arm in arm.

"It's incredible," she breathed reverently.

The shrine was deserted; a smooth marble-like statue, abstract in form, rose up over a towering base, under which ran a trickle of water. Large plinths sat on either side of the well, and there were drinking vessels scattered around its base. Chakotay paused for a moment soaking up the atmosphere. He closed his eyes, and let the sunlight soak into his skin. Peace. The peace of this place stole over him, as surely as if it were a blanket he was wrapped in. He could imagine the generations of Cabrans who had visited, almost hear their petitions to the statue.

When he opened his eyes, Kathryn was on hands and knees with a tricorder. "The energy readings are peculiar here," she said, "but the water appears safe to drink."

Dipping one of the cups, she raised it to her lips.

A faint prickle of unease ran down his spine. "I'm not sure you should do that," he said. "This is a sacred place to the Cabrans."

"There's cups here," she said reasonably. "Why else if not to drink? And I'm thirsty."

His answer was stifled in a blinding flash of light. A tall, slender Cabran appeared, dressed in the muted green robes that Chakotay knew signified a holy man.

"Stop!" The single word rang out around the glade.

The birdsong halted briefly, before resuming its silver trill. Kathryn paused, the cup at her lips. Moving with fluidic grace, the Cabran crossed to her, knocking away the cup. It fell from her hand and the water soaked into the grass.

Chakotay caught a flowing movement in his peripheral vision. Another Cabran, his mien one of entreaty.

"Please," he said, approaching Kathryn. "Tell me you didn't drink the water."

"We are too late, Adare." The first Cabran turned to his companion. "She has already drunk."

Adare bowed his head. "So be it," he said.

There was no flash of light, no sensation of being transported, merely a shimmering in the fabric of reality, but Chakotay abruptly found himself inside a large, white room. When he turned around, Kathryn was there too, tricorder already in her hand, scanning the walls.

"We're in a cell," she said, when she caught his eye. "Although it seems comfortable enough."

He looked around. The large room was furnished with a table, chairs, two beds, and what appeared to be a serving hatch in one corner. There were no doors, but a single skylight let the orange sunlight stream in.

"The walls are solid," reported Kathryn, still peering at her tricorder. "The only way in or out is via transporter." She hit her comm badge. "Janeway to Voyager."

There was no answer. She tried again. "Janeway to Voyager."

"The walls must block the signal, Captain." Chakotay investigated the hatch. He turned to her, two plates in his hands. "It appears they don't mean us any harm. Here's our dinner service."

Setting the plates down on the table, he scanned them with his tricorder. "They're fine."

Janeway whirled around. "Is that your answer to our abduction?" she demanded. "Eat your dinner?"

"No. The Cabrans have been friendly and open to trade so far. I'm guessing that somehow we've inadvertently offended them at the shrine. As peaceful people, it's doubtful they mean us harm. We should eat the food as a gesture of trust."

She approached, and sat down opposite him. "You're right. And I am hungry as well as thirsty."

"Yes. Your thirst may have been what got us into trouble in the first place."

He went back to the hatch, and returned with two large glasses of some sparkling beverage. "This should do the trick."

Kathryn sipped it pensively. "Tuvok will doubtless try to contact us in three hours, when we were due to return."

"Hopefully, we won't have to wait that long."

A gentle, almost apologetic clearing of a throat, startled him. As one, they turned. The Cabran, Adare, stood in a corner of the room.

"Captain, Commander. We of Cabra apologize for this, but it is necessary. We mean you no harm, and we will release you as soon as the council can reach an agreement."

"Agreement on what?" asked Kathryn. "Our chief of security will be searching for us. If we could contact our ship, it would save him unnecessary worry."

Adare inclined his head, his expression somber. "I will contact him, and assure him as to your safety. The council will hasten to its decision. In the meantime, please avail yourselves of our hospitality." He turned, as if to leave.

"Wait!" Kathryn moved forward, hands outstretched. "Adare, it is obvious we have in someway gone against the traditions of your sacred site. Please accept our sincere apologies - it was not our intent to cause offence."

The alien's face fell further into lines of sadness. "I understand, Captain, and if that was all, there would not be a problem. We are tolerant and understanding of those whose ways and beliefs differ from our own. Unfortunately, the repercussions of this are far reaching. Please, do not question me further."

His form shimmered for a brief moment, and then he was gone.

Kathryn arched an eyebrow in question. "What do you make of that?"

"I think we'll find out soon enough. Until then, it's just what the Doctor ordered: food, rest, and no coffee!"

***

Chakotay awoke to find the light was dim in the room. The sun had obviously just risen, and hazy purple morning light suffused the air. Kathryn was sleeping soundly, curled up on the other bed. Her face was toward him; she looked peaceful, as if her sleep was a restful one. He allowed himself the small pleasure of watching her, mentally tracing the curves and planes of her face with his fingertips. But even as he watched, her eyelids fluttered open. He averted his gaze; he didn't want to be caught staring, but he wasn't fast enough and their eyes met.

"Good morning," she said, in velvet sleep tones. She sat up, pushing her hair out of her eyes and smiled at him.

Her uniform was rumpled, her hair disarranged, and her eyes held a languorous, slumber look. Soft, as if they had just made love, he thought, and the idea twisted in his chest. One day. Surely, one day.

"No sign of our hosts?"

"Not yet. Let me see if they left us any breakfast." He padded over to the hatch, and found some fruit and a steaming beverage. "You're in luck. This looks like that coffee we had yesterday."

After breakfast, there was nothing to do except wait.

***

Adare, and two more Cabrans sat along one side of the table, Chakotay sat close to Kathryn along the other.

He shook his head in disbelief. Surely, what they had just been told was wrong, a mistake. It had to be. Next to him, Kathryn gripped the table edge with white knuckles.

"Do I understand you correctly?" She addressed the Cabrans in a level tone. "You're telling me that the one sip of water I had from your shrine has made me immortal?"

"In essence, Captain, yes, you are. The only reason you were not stopped before you tried to drink was that the holograms who normally guard the waters were malfunctioning at the time of your visit. "

"There were cups scattered about," Janeway said. "What were they for, if not to drink?"

"It's part of the ritual of adolescence," explained Adare. "Water is poured over the feet and hands of our young to give them strength, agility, and dexterity. Our people never consume the water. It would upset the balance of life."

Janeway was silent. In spite of her scientific training and open mind, Chakotay's counselor instincts told him that this concept might be too much for her to digest. Her forced calm, and straightforward questions were too practical.

When she said no more, Chakotay turned to the Cabrans. "Are any of your people immortal?" he asked.

Adare inclined his head. "I am nearly four thousand years old, Commander. It was Lesser, to whom the shrine is dedicated, and myself who discovered the spring. There have been a few others over the years, who have drunk - either accidentally, like your captain, or deliberately. The majority of our people do not know the true nature of the water, and it is our wish that its qualities remain secret. Otherwise, it could be calamitous."

"I understand. Should it fall into the wrong hands, it could create an invincible army."

Adare nodded. "Exactly, Commander. Although, we can be killed, but only in certain circumstances. Over the years, there are maybe three dozen who have drunk. Others found out about the nature of the water and petitioned to be allowed to drink. Most were refused. Occasionally, when one half of a pair bond has accidentally drunk, we permit their partner to also drink. And this brings me to your captain.

"No Human has ever drunk the waters. Now though, your captain is a single immortal of her race, destined to see the rise and fall of galaxies, the eventual extinction of her species, the changing of the universe." He bowed his head. "It can be a lonely life, and one that we would not wish anyone to endure alone. Captain Janeway would be a single Human, alone in her immortality."

Chakotay shot a glance at Janeway. She was still sitting, uncharacteristically quietly, staring at Adare.

"Can you tell us anything about the physiological changes?" He directed the question at Adare. It was imperative that they learn all they could about this, about what Kathryn had become. His own heart still pounded a double rhythm; he could only imagine how Kathryn felt. He closed down the emotional part of his mind, the part that wanted to take her hand and offer his support, and instead concentrated on the questions.

"The water affects the body at the cellular level. In essence, the deterioration of each individual cell is suspended at this instant. No cells will die, and no new cells will be formed. Your captain will not appear to age, her appearance will be forever as it is now. It is this suspension of the aging process at the cellular level that effectively renders the body immortal and impervious to harm."

"What about illness, injury and harm?"

"No illness will touch her. The cells are frozen in time, so they are impervious to normal harm. Injury is the same. The tissues are more resilient. Your captain can survive falls, she cannot drown, or be harmed by fire. Even weapons' fire will not harm her, as long as it is not a direct hit to the chest."

"Can you explain?" Kathryn's voice was rusty, hoarse.

"The soul rests in the heart of an organism. Destroy the heart, and the soul will be driven out. A direct phaser hit to the heart, or any injury that tears the depths of the chest will cause death. As happened to Lesser." Adare reached across, and gently took Kathryn's hand. "Captain, it is vitally important that you tell no one about what you have become. Although you are immortal, that knowledge can be used against you. One of us was once tortured constantly, well past levels that would cause the death of a normal person, until he revealed the source of the water. He was--"

"The crew." Kathryn pulled her hand free of Adare, and turned to Chakotay. Her eyes held an odd gleam. "The crew can drink. Then it won't matter how long we take to get home. We will all see Earth again, and it won't matter if--"

"No!" Chakotay and Adare both spoke at once.

The alien was silent, allowing Chakotay to continue. "Kathryn," he said gently, "it doesn't work like that. Immortality is for longer than a voyage through the Delta Quadrant. It needs more thought. And you heard Adare - most people who have petitioned to be allowed to drink have been refused."

Her eyes reflected a wistful longing. "We would all get home."

Adare touched her hand. "Would they thank you if they get home and find their loved ones are many years dead?" He said the words gently, compassionately. "I'm sorry, Captain, but it's the truth. You will do your grieving over and over..." For a moment, he bowed his head, remembering perhaps, those he had lost, over and over.

Janeway wasn't listening. Chakotay thought that her mind was focusing too tightly on the positive - how she could turn this to the advantage of her crew. Maybe it was shock that was driving her down these channels, but her behavior was irrational, unlike his normal clear thinking captain.

Her fingers strummed an urgent pattern on the tabletop. "We could take longer on the journey. Think of the scientific discoveries we could make! And the knowledge wouldn't be lost on death. There would be no need to transfer knowledge learned, future scientists wouldn't need to wade through the work of their predecessors. Scientific knowledge could be accrued for as long as it takes to solve--"

"Kathryn, listen to me." Chakotay touched her hand in mute appeal. "An immortal colony of humans. It sounds fine now, but think of a thousand, two thousand years into the future. Think of what it would mean. And, what will happen in even thirty years when it becomes obvious that we are not aging. Some people would want to gain it for themselves. Others would fear you, want to harm you." He had her attention now, she stared at him with single-minded concentration. Adare, he noticed, still wore his melancholy look, but he too was gazing intently at Kathryn.

"Even if Adare was willing to consider your request," he continued quietly, "you simply can't make this decision for the crew. You need all the facts first - the scientist in you must recognize that."

She turned glittering eyes on Adare. "Will you let my crew drink? Will you give them this gift?"

Her words fell into the silence, and Chakotay held his breath. Surely Adare would refuse.

"I'm sorry, Captain," said Adare, "but what you are asking is impossible."

For a moment, Chakotay thought that Kathryn would demand the water, that she would steel her gaze, move forward in determined fashion, and make a carefully worded offer. But although her face closed down, shuttered inward on itself, she merely nodded.

Adare twisted his hands in supplication. "Captain, we are more upset than we can say. This should never have happened, the balance is upset. A single human will forever be alone in the galaxy. Your species will wither, but you will continue on. That sort of loneliness we cannot imagine. In cases like this, it is our policy to allow a second, normally the mate of the first, to also drink. You may choose one person, Captain, to join you in your state of immortality."

Kathryn turned to Chakotay, animation in her look. "Chakotay," she said softly. "You take it."

He closed his eyes, so that she couldn't read his feelings, couldn't see the enormity of what she was asking. When he opened them again, she was gazing at him, and her unguarded, hopeful expression made him look away. "No," he said. "No, I can't."

"I see." But the small slump of her shoulders told him that really, she didn't understand at all.

Adare stepped forward. "Captain, Commander. We think you need more time to discuss this. Seldom has a mate refused the gift of the water."

"We are not mates," said Kathryn, steadily. "We are friends."

Adare studied them both. "Some time is still advisable. Will you be our guests this evening? We have a cabin, not far from here. It is safe, and you will be undisturbed. You can talk about this at your leisure."

"Thank you," said Janeway, and the blankness of her voice made Chakotay's heart freeze. "Is that acceptable to you, Commander?"

He nodded. Of course. He would be there for her, as he always was. He simply hoped that if she made him explain his reasons that it would not shatter his remaining, fragile hope.

"I will notify your ship."

Once again that faint shimmer of the alien transporter, then they rematerialized in a large room. Long windows ran the length of one wall. The cabin was high up, on one side of a steep valley. Chakotay saw the Shrine of Cluid far below them, on the opposite hillside. He walked over to the window, ostensibly for a closer look. His heart beat an uneven rhythm in his chest. How was he to explain to the woman he loved why he would not stand by her side until the end of time and ever after? How could he refuse the gift she offered him?

"Why not?" Kathryn's voice reached him from over his shoulder. "Why won't you drink the water?"

He turned, and she was too close, swaying slightly on the balls of her feet, her eyes still glittering with excitement.

He spread his hands helplessly. "Kathryn, I'll try and explain."

She nodded once, jerkily, and he could only hope the intense energy she radiated would allow her to listen to his explanation. Rather than sit and face her, he chose to pace.

"My people have certain beliefs," he began. "We have many gods, and many ways of honoring them. To us, our ancestors are also important, and we revere the dead in many ways. If we are lucky, they may even choose to communicate with us through the medium of the vision quest. Our beliefs are fluid in certain things, and have evolved over time, but the single unchanging thing is our belief in the cycle of birth and death. After death, we believe that we meet up with our loved ones, not in an afterlife as such, more an alternate plane of existence. I look forward to one day being reunited with my family and friends."

He paused, taking a deep breath to steady himself. Seldom had he explained his beliefs to anyone, preferring to keep them close to his heart. To voice such a part of him was an unsettling experience. "Kathryn, if I don't die, then the cycle is broken. I will never again see my family. The reason I won't drink the water is not one of fear. It's not that the idea of being invulnerable isn't appealing." He paced to the window, and his words were directed out across the valley, out to where the statue at the shrine gleamed in the late afternoon sunlight. "It's very tempting, and I'm honored that you asked me to share this gift with you. But I can't turn my back on generations of faith. You're asking me to throw away all that I believe in."

Her voice reached him from the far side of the room. "But immortality," she said. "Think of the possibilities. Think of what you can achieve. Think of what we can achieve - together."

Together. He tried not to read what he wanted to hear in her words. "Why me?" he said instead. "Why not your mother or sister? Why not Seven?"

Instead of the expected answer, Kathryn came up behind him on soundless feet. Taking his hand, she tugged until he faced her. Lightly, she touched his chest, a gesture she repeated many times every day. He closed his eyes so that he wouldn't be swayed by the entreaty in her face.

"You're my best friend. Why wouldn't I choose you?"

The hope that had flared briefly died, crushed to extinction like a falling star. "Then once again I decline." The words were thick in his throat, fighting to be spoken through the knot of disappointed dreams that threatened to swamp him. "It's hard enough only being your friend in this lifetime, but in perpetuity it would be hell."

The silence between them expanded. When he looked at Kathryn, he saw genuine shock in her eyes. Was she really so obtuse that she hadn't realized? Did she really know him so little?

Her hand on his chest clenched slowly into a fist. "I never knew," she said. "I never realized. I thought you had moved on. I thought..." The clenched fist trembled, and she looked up at him. "You still want more. You still want us to be lovers?"

"I want it all," he told her. "I always have."

Slowly, her hand flattened on his chest. Surely, she had to feel his heart pounding in uneven rhythm. Chakotay stood waiting, hesitating on the precipice he'd brought them to.

"I can't give you that," she said. "I wish I could. Living longer doesn't change that, it has no bearing on this."

"Then why did you ask me to drink the water? Because you want a friend in eternity?" His gut instinct told him to press forward, that there was more she wasn't saying. If she wouldn't admit it now, then he feared she never would. And "never" now stretched to the horizon and beyond the span of mortal years.

She gazed up at him, and for the first time, Chakotay saw softness, tenderness in her eyes, saw what she tried to suppress.

"No," she admitted, and the word seem drawn up from a hidden place. "It's because I care for you, and I had always thought that one day, when Voyager got home, that you and I could be together, as we want to be."

"As lovers?" he said, harshly. He wanted her to say the word, as if she voiced it, then maybe it would become real.

"As lovers, as partners, as bondmates." She spoke the words strongly, proudly, holding his gaze with her own.

He choked; finally the words he wanted to hear. "Kathryn..." He crushed her to him, his arms holding her tightly to his body, feeling her slenderness pressed against him. "Kathryn," he said brokenly, and bent his head to kiss her.

Her lips were soft, parting instinctively underneath his. For a minute the pounding in his head, the fierce rush of joy was everything. Kathryn's lips under his, her body in his arms where it belonged. Gradually, he became aware, through the red rush in his brain, that something wasn't right. She wasn't kissing him back. Her body was rigid in his embrace, her arms stiffly at her sides.

He lifted his head, and the expression on her face froze him to the core.

"Nothing has changed, Chakotay," she said. "We still can't have this. Not until Voyager gets home. But if you drink the water, then it doesn't matter. Voyager's journey is a mere blip in time."

The anger flared swiftly, coursing through his veins, scorching out the passion that was there. "So nothing has changed. And now you have the perfect reason to ignore my needs--our needs--for as long as you want. You know I'll wait forever. Sorry, Kathryn, but my forever will be a lot shorter than yours, and it may not be long enough."

"Chakotay, I--"

"You what? You hand me crumbs, say you care for me... Do you even love me, I wonder? And now I can't see an end to the waiting, not unless I compromise everything that I am." He pulled away from her, pacing to the other end of the room and running a shaking hand through his hair. Dimly he wished his words would subside, but they forced their way up and he couldn't suppress them. He was drowning in his fading dreams and the misery swamped him. Outside the window, he could see the shrine, the glorious shining shrine. What had seemed so beautiful yesterday now was a symbol of everything that was wrong between them.

Kathryn couldn't love him, he realized and the knowledge clawed at his gut. If she did, she would never ask him to do this.

Soft footsteps alerted him to her presence behind him.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, and he felt her hand touch him lightly, once, between his shoulder blades. "I didn't mean it like that. I was insensitive. I see that now. I was trying to tell you and I've upset you."

He tensed underneath her hand, but she didn't react, merely sighed softly and laid her cheek against his back, her arms sliding around his waist from behind. In spite of himself, he covered her hands with his own, encasing them in his larger ones.

"Trying to tell me what, Kathryn?"

"That I love you, and I didn't mean to hurt you." He felt the susurration of her voice through his uniform, the timbre of her words taking a direct route to his heart.

He had always thought that if the words were finally spoken, it would be a time for rejoicing, for affirmation, for promises. Not so, he thought. Not so

"What will you do about it? What am I supposed to do with your declaration?"

"I don't know," she sighed into his shoulder. "I can't change the protocols or my responsibility to the crew. I can't change those immutable things. I can give you a promise, but I don't know if you want it."

"I want it," he said. "But there may not be enough time."

Kathryn moved away from him, maybe sensing his reticence in the stiffness of his shoulders. "If the entire crew could drink the water there would be enough time for all of us."

He whirled, the sharp anger welling up again. "Accept it, Kathryn. The Cabrans refused - with good reason. It's bad enough that there is now one immortal human - a colony would be far worse. They've granted you enough water for a companion. Accept the way the dice have fallen."

"And you won't drink?"

"No, Kathryn."

"Then I'll choose no one."

The pain slammed in his chest once more. "That's emotional blackmail. You know I can't stand to think of you alone."

Her face was as somber as he'd ever seen it. "No, Chakotay. It's not blackmail. That's just the way it is."

***

They slept that night on opposite ends of the cabin, on a soft bed-like couches that were obviously designed for two people. Chakotay didn't sleep much - his head was still spinning with the ramifications of what had happened. He reviewed his decision in his head, over and over. What if he had been the one to accidentally drink? As far as he knew, it couldn't be undone. How would he cope, how would he reconcile his new lifespan with his beliefs? He would have managed, that he knew. So why couldn't he make the decision to knowingly drink?

But, his rational side argued, it was one thing doing something accidentally, and quite another to do it as a deliberate act. As far as he knew, Kathryn had no such dilemma. A scientist at heart, the afterlife was an unproven matter of faith, with no relevance to her. No wonder she was seeing it as a golden opportunity for the crew -- and maybe it was. Maybe she was doing the right thing in trying to secure it for everyone.

Chakotay finally fell into a light doze as the fingers of sunlight filtered into the room.

He was woken by the sound of Kathryn's voice. When he walked out onto the balcony, she was talking to Adare.

She favored him with a wide smile. "Chakotay, we can return to Voyager whenever we are ready."

Adare switched his serene gaze to Chakotay. "Commander, have you not reconsidered about the water?"

"I've thought," he replied, "but I cannot reconcile myself to the idea."

"Your captain will be alone..." Clearly, the thought troubled the alien. What had he seen, thought Chakotay, that made the idea so burdensome to him? Who had he lost, what atrocities had he witnessed, what civilizations had he seen fall?

"Adare, I too have been thinking." Kathryn stepped forward and placed a hand on Adare's arm. "If you would reconsider, and allow my crew to drink...?" She paused, but seemed resigned to the negative answer.

"No, Captain, the council indeed considered your request, but it is impossible."

"I understand," Kathryn replied so smoothly, that Chakotay wondered what else was coming. He didn't have to wait long.

"Commander Chakotay does not wish to drink the water. May I be permitted to take a vial of it away with me, so that if I meet someone I wish to spend eternity with, then I at least have that option?"

Instead of answering her, Adare focused on Chakotay. "I am surprised," he said. "Cabrans are empaths, and I can sense that the bond between the two of you is strong and enduring. Your feelings for each other are palpable. Should your captain choose to give the water to another, I sense that you would both mourn the loss."

"You're right," replied Chakotay. "But at present I can't see anyway around it. And I would prefer Kathryn be happy with another, than be alone."

"Maybe in the future." Kathryn's words fell softly into the room and he measured the silence that followed it by his heartbeats, as he wanted for Adare's response.

"That is acceptable. We will give you the vial, a few drops only, enough for a single person. Choose wisely, Captain."

***

As they left the transporter room, Chakotay caught at her hand, bringing her to a stop in the corridor.

"I'm sorry that I can't be what you want me to be," he said. "You're asking for more than you know. I'll be your lover for the span of my natural life, I'll bond with you in any way you like, and I'll carry those ties with me to the afterlife, but I can't give you any more than that."

Heedless of the passing crewmen, Kathryn brought their clasped hands to her heart. "I understand. I won't try and change your mind, but if you ever do, then the water is there for you."

He brought their joined hands to his lips, and kissed her fingers where they entwined with his. "Thank you."

She let her other hand drift softly down in a whisper of a caress on his cheek, then she traced the outline of his lips. "We will be lovers, Chakotay. One day. One day, spirits willing, when Voyager is home."

One day, if it came soon enough. Stepping away, he freed his hand and resumed the walk to the bridge.

In the turbolift, he turned to her again. "One more thing, Kathryn - I think you need a counselor. You're going to be seeing things, dealing with emotions and grief in a way that no human was ever meant to understand."

Kathryn was silent for a moment. "You're right," she said finally. "But who can help me with that sort of burden? Who could understand? I can't talk about it with anyone on Voyager."

"Maybe you should take a couple more days shore leave," he suggested. "Adare may have a few suggestions."

"You're right, as always." Her words were easily said, but her voice was tired. "I'll do that." She squeezed his hand briefly as the turbolift slowed to a stop at the bridge. "Chakotay, I'm sorry I can't be what you want."

The opening doors saved him from answering.

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