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A Missing Piece

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They walked down the corridor toward the next gelpack they needed to inject, and Kathryn was quiet beside him.

"There's one up here," Chakotay told her, and though she glanced at him and nodded, he could see that she was preoccupied. "Still worried about the future?" he asked lightly.

She glared at him briefly -- merely a glimpse of the intensity he'd learned to expect from her -- and said, "Despite what you've told me, I haven't seen anything to refute the idea that this voyage is nothing but tragedy."

He sighed. "Most of what you've seen has been fairly dire, I will admit. But the better parts were subtle compared to the death and disaster you've seen. I won't tell you it's been easy, but we are working our way home, and we've carved out as much happiness as we've been able to."

"How can anyone be happy with such an isolated existence, so far from home?"

He wanted to put his hand on his shoulder, to comfort her, to console her, and he had to keep reminding himself that she wasn't his Kathryn -- not that the Kathryn from his time was his Kathryn either. He chuckled quietly and mirthlessly.

"You find this situation funny?"

He realized it hadn't been quiet enough. He glanced back at her, trying to figure out how to phrase what he was thinking.

"Yes, sometimes our situation is hilariously funny, sometimes it's heartbreaking, and sometimes -- and these are rare -- it's boring as hell. It's our life, Ka -- aptain, and we've come to terms with it."

They reached the door they needed to enter to fix the gelpack, and it opened as they approached, cutting off her next protest. The sound of a crying infant drifted through the doors, bringing them both up short.

It was a nursery. An ensign in a sciences uniform sat at the back of the room, surrounded by several young children, holding a young baby. Another child, several months old, slept peacefully in a biocrib nearby. A young sciences crewman sat to the side of the room, helping the ensign watch over everything.

The ensign glanced up when they entered, and then she stood immediately.

"Captain, Commander! I tried to call the bridge, but something's happened. There was no allcall, so I figured we should stay here with the children."

She looked worried, and though Janeway was still in shock, Chakotay did his best to reassure the young woman.

"You did well, Ensign Baer. Staying with the children was definitely the best thing to do. We have things under control; we just need access to that panel back there," he said, pointing.

She smiled, rocking the baby in her arms, who was beginning to fuss. "Yes, Commander."

There were half a dozen children in the nursery, and they had waited, wide-eyed and wiggling, while the adults conferred. When the command team proceeded toward the necessary panel, the children's patience ran out. They ran toward Chakotay, mangling his name with youthful enthusiasm.

Surprised when one little girl tackled his legs, he dropped to one knee to avoid falling on the children. He found himself looking into big brown eyes and tiny forehead ridges, and he almost gasped in surprise and recognition. B'Elanna's daughter, he thought in shock. In contrast to her mother's forehead ridges and complexion, she had thick, curly, auburn hair, and her nose was pure Paris.

"Gonna tell us a story, Uncle C?" she asked, grinning.

He couldn't help but grin back. Uncle C?

Baer was trying to pull the children off of him. "Commander Chakotay is here on duty," she said sternly. The children all sobered immediately, except for the youngest girl, who was pulled away by one of the older boys.

"Sorry, sir," they all mumbled, and Chakotay felt himself fighting a grin as he tried to match their sudden seriousness. He glanced up to see Kathryn smiling at the sight, and the softness in her expression nearly took his breath away. He stood slowly, knowing that he was smiling back at her and unable to stop.

"I'll take care of it. You visit," she said with a nod to the children, and he realized she thought he knew these children. Her smile disappeared, but her eyes were still twinkling. "Captain's orders."

"Aye, Captain," he said solemnly. A small hand slipped into his, and he looked down, back into the eyes of Tom and B'Elanna's daughter. The other children began to protest as she started leading him away from them, and she turned and fired a glare at them that made Chakotay grin. He wasn't sure if she'd learned it from her mother or the captain, but either way, it was just as effective as theirs. His musing trailed off as he realized she'd led him to the biocrib.

"Lift me up?" she asked, trying to peek over the top at the infant within. With a smile, he lifted her, ignoring the faint protest from his back muscles. Together, they peered at the sleeping baby. He was small, only a few months old, with a shock of thick black hair and rich golden skin. Chakotay's heart dropped through his stomach and then rose into his throat.

"Hey, little K," the girl crooned from where Chakotay held her on his hip. "He sleeps through everything," she told him exasperatedly. Unable to speak, his instincts howling, he just nodded.

Baer's assistant stepped forward, glancing at the sensor readings on the display above the biocrib. "Kolopak's fine, sir," he said quietly. "We would have told you immediately if there was anything wrong."

Chakotay lifted his gaze to the readout. As far as he could tell, the readings were normal, and beneath them, clear, bold letters proclaimed: K. Janeway.

Kolopak Janeway. His son. His son with Kathryn.

His mind was racing. This was the future. How far in the future? Did this mean it was definite? How could he make sure that it happened? Was there something he might do that would make this not happen, and if so, how could he find out what it was so he could make sure he didn't do it?

So close. His dreams could be so close --

"He's adorable."

With considerable effort, Chakotay managed not to jump. He looked at Kathryn, making sure he didn't look at the display. He knew she might possibly have come to the conclusion that this child was his, but she had no idea that the child was hers -- it would have unnerved her immensely, and she was still calm. He had no intention of being the one to draw her attention to the reality of the situation.

He nodded perfunctorily. "He is. All set? No problems?"

Kathryn returned his nod, absently reaching down to stroke a finger along the baby's tiny back. The baby stirred at her touch but didn't wake, and Chakotay felt a fierce stab of joy at the sight.

He took a deep breath and brushed a swift kiss along B'Elanna's daughter's forehead ridges before grudgingly setting her on the ground. She hugged his leg, nodded at Kathryn with a grin, and ran to join her friends.

"We should go, Captain," he said quietly. "We have more gelpacks to take care of."

"Yes, of course," she said reluctantly.

He gestured for her to precede him, and when her back was turned, he quickly reached down to cup his son's tiny, downy head in one hand. Everything in him cried out in agony with each step away from the child's crib.

As they neared the door, they both turned to take one last look at the children. The bright little faces looked back at them, love and happiness shining in their eyes. They all waved and called goodbye, their voices overlapping, and the command team smiled and returned the wave.

The doors closed behind them, and Chakotay demanded, "Well?"

"Something on your mind?"

"You were wondering how people could be happy with this existence. That in there, that's happiness." He bit his lip to keep from adding, My happiness. Our happiness.

"I've already agreed to go along with your plan."

"Yes, I know. I know you've agreed, but I want you to understand. I want you to know that your people, they're strong. They're doing the best they can, and they're finding happiness and forging good lives -- those children in there are proof of that. Yes, our lives have roughness and occasional misery, but what life doesn't? Without everything that's happened, those children won't have a chance at life."

Kathryn studied him, silenced by his passion and his eloquence. She took a deep breath, marshalling her thoughts. "I think I understand. This is your home now."

"And yours."

She looked uneasy, but she nodded.

"Let's go," he urged quietly. "There's another gelpack down that corridor."

She threw him a mock salute and set off down the corridor a pace ahead of him. He shook his head ruefully and followed her, with a sense of optimism and hope in his heart that he hadn't felt in years. See you soon, my son.