Episode 9-23 - Terra Nova, Terra Firma
By: Barbara Watson (
samzmom@aol.com)

Disclaimer: Star Trek: Voyager, its characters and related properties are Registered Trademarks of Paramount Pictures. No infringement of Paramount's copyrights is intended. Voyager Virtual Season 9 (VS9) is a non-profit endeavor. The unique characters and milieu of VS9 are the property of the VS9 producers and individual authors. This story is the property of the author. Please do not repost without permission.

"I wish you'd tell me where we're going."

Chakotay smiled, but didn't turn to look at her. It was the fourth time she'd said it since they'd left Voyager; and so far he'd resisted answering. Instead, he made a slight adjustment in the AsteriŽ's course, then turned off the yacht's sensor array. He'd already given Kathryn the biggest hint he could think of without outright telling her. Of course, one glance at the sensor readout and she'd be onto his plan in an instant. "It wouldn't be much of a surprise then, would it?" He didn't need to see her face to picture the half-scowl/half-grin he knew would be there.

"I could order you to tell me," she threatened.

She almost sounded serious. "And if I disobeyed your command?" he asked. "Would you have me court-martialed? Or just confined to quarters?"

Her snicker gave her away, but he still refused to look at her as she answered him. "Confined to quarters, definitely," she answered. "Of course, I know you probably still have a few old Maquis tricks up your sleeve--so I'd have to be sure to choose your security guard carefully, just to make sure you didn't escape." Her voice had a playful quality, but he suspected some part of her was serious. "In fact, I might insist on doing the job myself. Captain's prerogative, you know..."

She'd been pacing a groove in the deck plating behind him, but now--upping the ante in her test of his resolve--Kathryn's hand slipped over his shoulder and down the front of his tunic. Chakotay realized she'd switched tactics--from intimidation to diversion--but he'd been expecting this little maneuver. In fact, he'd been a little surprised it had taken her so long. "Nice try," he said, gently removing her fingers from his chest, "but I'm flying manually. Can't risk you sneaking a peek at the navigational sensors now, can I?"

She growled under her breath--a reaction he wondered if she'd learned from B'Elanna--before stepping from behind him and plopping down into the copilot's chair. "You know that patience was never my long suit," she said honestly. "How long before this mystery ends and I can see where I'm being kidnapped *to*?"

He finally gave into the temptation and looked into her eyes--something he'd resisted doing for the first two hours of their trip for fear that she'd be able to read the answer in his expression. This was their first real vacation together as a couple and he wanted it to be special, especially considering the hell they'd just been through. "Can you stand another thirty minutes of suspense?" he asked mischievously. "Or should I get out the medkit and sedate you for the rest of the trip?"

She smiled. "You know, this little 'vacation' was supposed to relax me. Somehow I'm not feeling very relaxed."

Guilt. Of all the weapons in her arsenal, she'd resorted to the one he had the hardest time ignoring. Still, they were only a half-hour away from their destination. "I'm getting the medkit," he said with as much seriousness as he could muster before starting to stand up from the controls. "Maybe if you sleep for the rest of the trip..."

Kathryn rolled her eyes and pushed him back into his seat. "Oh, alright," she said dejectedly. "I can wait thirty minutes. But not a minute more!"

Chakotay grinned and shook his head. "You really do hate surprises, don't you?"

She sighed loudly and he could tell she was giving real thought to his question. "Let's just say I like knowing where I'm going and leave it at that."

He smiled to himself, remembering their first trip to the Delta Quadrant and her single-minded focus on reaching Earth--come Borg or high water. Then her insistence on knowing where *Admiral* Janeway was leading them before she'd enter the transwarp conduit that might finally get them back there. Even her anger at being cut out of the Vidiian negotiations reflected what her current agitation proved that Kathryn Janeway was a woman who liked to be in control of her own destiny. The still unresolved question: would she ultimately be willing to let go of that control, relinquish "command" as it were, in favor of a more equal partnership?

In a way, that was part of what their little vacation would prove. "Well," he finally said, knowing it wouldn't satisfy her, "I guess you'll just have to trust me."

A strange look flashed in her eyes but left before he could identify it. "Trust you," she said flatly--more of a statement than a question--and for a moment he wondered what she was thinking. Her expression turned again; this time the smile was forced. "Of course I trust you. For the next twenty-eight minutes. Then you're telling me where we're heading--before I'm forced to stage a mutiny on my own yacht." She grinned, but he could tell she was holding something back.

'Where we're heading.' An interesting choice of words. As he nudged up the AsteriŽ's throttle, Chakotay realized that he was just as interested in answering that question as the impatient woman at his side.

****

"It'll be fun, trust me!"

B'Elanna rolled her eyes, and sighed loudly. "That's what you said about Captain Proton," she teased her husband. "Yet somehow all you ever wanted me to do was scream like an idiot and wait to be rescued."

Tom looked up from under the hood of his vintage 1969 Mustang, a long smudge of grease streaking across his cheek where he'd scratched it. "You're never going to let that go, are you?" he said, grinning. "Besides, you would have made a terrific Constance Goodheart."

B'Elanna handed him a box wrench as she answered. "You just wanted to see me tied to a pole in that skimpy little outfit," she joked.

Tom stopped adjusting the carburetor for a minute and looked up at her. His mood had suddenly sobered a bit and an almost sad expression came into his eyes. B'Elanna wondered what she had said to trigger such a quick about-face. "Not exactly," he mumbled. "In those days I would have done just about anything to get a reaction from you, even if I had to make you mad to do it." Then he smiled and went back to work.

It had been over five years; B'Elanna hadn't thought much lately about those particularly difficult days in the Delta Quadrant. Days when she wondered if she'd ever feel anything again: friendship for Chakotay, pride in her work...love for Tom. Only it was more than days. For months after hearing that her Maquis family had been defeated and killed, she'd been trapped in a vortex of depression and apathy. She didn't care about anything. She didn't feel anything. And the first person she'd shut out was the man who had been the deepest in. If everyone she loved either left her or died, she just wouldn't let herself love anyone anymore. If all she could feel was pain, then she'd just stop feeling.

And considering how much he enjoyed 20th century American entertainment, it was probably no coincidence that Tom had spent much of that same time holed up in the original Voyager's hololab creating a fantasy alter ego. Captain Proton's battles were simple and easily won against a cartoon villain who was no match for 'our brave hero.' If Tom Paris had been powerless over his girlfriend's illness, Proton could always be counted upon to rescue the damsel in distress and save the day. At the time it had all seemed so ridiculous. Now, with a little reflection and distance, B'Elanna realized it made perfect sense.

As she stood there five years later in the garage of the beach house they'd rented along the Pacific coast, she looked at Tom and wondered for the millionth time why he'd stayed with her back then. Why he'd toughed it out, even when she did everything she could to push him away.

He seemed to sense her deflating mood and shot her a look out of the corner of his eye. "Though if you've changed your mind and want to put on that skimpy little outfit, I'd be happy to replicate one in your size."

She threw an oil-soaked rag at his head. "Not on your life," she deadpanned. "Besides, I think your 'secretary' has a thing for Buster Kincaid. And Seven probably fills out that 'skimpy little outfit' better than I would."

Tom tossed his wrench into the toolbox and wrapped his filthy hands around B'Elanna's waist. "To be honest with you, I never wanted you to play Constance. I actually wrote another part just for you...only I didn't think you'd agree to play it."

B'Elanna was intrigued now. "Oh, really?" she said, trying to imagine. "Let me guess: Medusia, the exotic snake charmer with a really bad hairdo. Or Tarzania, Princess of the Monkey People..."

Tom laughed and kissed her on the head. "Not exactly," he said before taking a moment to stare into her eyes and smile. "Even Harry doesn't know this, but Captain Proton actually had a girlfriend...Lanna L'Amour, the most beautiful space mechanic in the entire Patrol Fleet."

"A girlfriend, huh?" B'Elanna asked, smiling and wondering if Tom was just making this up to get her to forget about his once having asked Seven to take over the role of Proton's buxom secretary.

"Well, back then she was his girlfriend," he answered, a twinkle coming into his eyes. "Eventually, after they defeated Chaotica and were decorated by the President of Earth, Proton finally convinced Lanna to marry him. I hear they have a little Defender of the Galaxy now...who's cute as a button and looks just like her mother." He leaned down and gave B'Elanna another quick kiss--this time on her forehead.

"Let me guess: and they lived happily ever after?" she asked, smiling as she remembered another time she'd heard those words.

"That's what I hear," Tom teased, "but only after Lanna agreed to take a vacation with Proton in his vintage Mustang convertible."

B'Elanna smiled and shook her head. "How could a 1930s movie hero drive a 1960s era car?" she asked.

"Simple," Tom answered. "He lived in the future."

Pop culture logic. Typical of her overgrown adolescent husband. "Touchť. Still, I don't exactly think that's what Starfleet had in mind when they ordered us on this little sabbatical," she countered. "Although, I'm not sure exactly what they *did* have in mind..."

Tom snorted and let his hands slip down to grab hers. "I think they thought that it might be good for a woman who had once been tortured by the Vidiians--along with her loving, over-protective husband who watched it all happen--to be on the other side of the galaxy when we decided to make nice with them."

"I see your point," she said, shaking her head. And she knew Tom was right. If they were on Voyager, she'd be stewing--making her objections to a Federation treaty with those barbarians crystal clear to anyone who would listen. But here--a short dirt road away from the Pacific Ocean, watching the man she loved live out one of his many teenaged fantasies--here, she just couldn't work up much righteous indignation. Besides, she realized, what good would it do?

"Look," she said, "this is the first time we've ever had three weeks off together without anyone caring where we are or what we do. And you want to spend the last week of it..."

Suddenly he was totally animated, his eyes shining as he swept his arm out in front of them as if he were picturing it as he spoke. "Alone together with no one else around for miles, having a great old fashioned family adventure! Feeling the wind whip though our hair as we sail along with the top down, just the three of us out on the open road. Stopping at greasy diners for breakfast, sleeping in motels just off the freeway...maybe catching a drive-in movie along the way..."

"Whoa," she interrupted, "unless you're planning on a little time travel or a visit to the nearest holosuite..."

"Not exactly," he interjected, reaching into the back pocket of his coveralls and pulling out a tattered piece of paper--some kind of pamphlet or brochure. He hesitated for a second then handed it to her.

"'Get Your Kicks...'" she stopped and looked up at him before reading the rest of the sentence, "'On Route 66.' I don't get it."

"It was the first major American highway to connect Chicago with California. In the 1950s and 60s, it came to symbolize the feeling of freedom and possibility you could only get seeing the country by car. They even made a television show about it..."

"Oh, well, that explains it," B'Elanna muttered under her breath. "In case you've forgotten, Captain Proton, that was the past, not the future. It was over 400 years ago."

Tom grabbed the piece of paper from her hand and showed her the date: 2370. "Actually, it was ten years ago. I heard about it from one of the guards in Auckland. His parents are Terran history buffs and run one of the restored motels in Arizona. Apparently, they're part of a project called 'Old Earth.' They run reenactment sites at historic places all around the world. I told him about Sandrine, actually--thought maybe she could get in on it. Anyway, he gave me this brochure. Back then, I thought that when I got out of prison I'd check it out. Of course, that was before I ended up on Voyager, helping the Captain chase you and Chakotay into the Delta Quadrant..."

He was babbling now; the way he did when he was trying to convince her to do something she didn't want to. "So, you want us to take a car trip all the way to Chicago? That would take--"

"More time than we've got. No, I was thinking we could drive the two days from here to Arizona, then shoot across the desert to show Miral the Grand Canyon. It's one of the seven natural Wonders of the World, you know. We'd spend a day or two there sightseeing, then drive back."

"Tom, it's a big hole in the ground. What's there to see? Besides, Miral won't even remember it. She's not even two years old!"

"We'll remember it," he said earnestly. And we'll take pictures once we get there so we can show her when she grows up. Besides, who knows how long it will be before we get another chance like this: almost a whole week alone together as a family, with anyone who might want to interrupt us all the way on the other side of the galaxy!"

Why did he get so caught up in these ridiculous schemes, she wondered. He'd obviously planned this vacation for days, spending all his free time tuning up the car--just waiting for the right moment to spring the idea on her. And why did he almost always seem to enjoy things she found excruciatingly dull? Except that this time...well, the way Tom described it, the trip sounded almost...exciting.

"Alright," she acquiesced, sighing heavily and putting him out of his misery. Her decision to give in seemed to catch Tom off guard and he wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her toward him--the perfect chance for B'Elanna to add one tiny stipulation to her agreement. "But on one condition: you let me drive part of the way."

Tom didn't show fear easily, but she could see his Adam's apple twitch as he swallowed--hard. "I'm not sure that's a good idea," he said haltingly. "These roads are over 400 years old, and the terrain can be pretty treacherous."

"I've driven before," she reminded him.

"That was on the holodeck," he pointed out. "There won't be any safeties to stop us from getting hurt if you back us into a taco stand."

B'Elanna shoved Tom's chest just hard enough to push his arm from around her. "That was Harry, and you know it. But it's up to you: three days on Route 99..."

"66," he corrected her. "It's Route 66."

"Whatever," she said trying to bring him back to her point. "If I don't get to drive, I don't go."

"Okay," he finally relented, "but you take the desert straightaways. I'll handle the mountain curves."

"You're the pilot," she teased him. "I'll be your trusty sidekick, 'space mechanic,' and the mother of your little 'defender of the universe'."

"Galaxy. And don't let Harry hear that sidekick thing," he teased her. "I wouldn't want him to get jealous."

"It'll be our secret," she whispered. She could see the look of excitement slowly growing in Tom's eyes as he realized she'd finally agreed: their first real vacation together as a family--and they would spend it...

...cooped up in a tiny sportscar driving for days to and from a place they could just as easily transport to in ten seconds. Not that she really minded. Miral had loved their trips to the beach, tucked safely into her not-quite-vintage carseat, and B'Elanna was actually looking forward to proving to her occasionally-paternalistic husband that she could drive rings around Harry Kim--if he'd just give her the chance. Besides, the grin on Tom's face was worth the cramped legs and windblown hair.

"In that case," Tom said, knocking out the prop rod and slamming the hood with a bang, "we'd better start packing!"

As she watched him turn around to flip off the lights in the garage, B'Elanna let herself stop for a minute to think about how frighteningly normal their last week had been, playing in the sand with Miral, making love on the deck overlooking the ocean, watching the occasional old friend of Tom's drop by to reacquaint himself with the Paris family's prodigal son. It was peaceful and relaxing...and a little dull. Neither of them were used to life planetside--especially not as upstanding, respectable citizens and quasi-celebrities. And while their time on Earth had provided a nice break from their constant companions of almost nine years, B'Elanna knew they were both getting antsy. They needed to be in motion...

So, while their shipmates were off making a pact with the Vidiian devils, the Paris-Torres family would pack up the convertible and head to the Grand Canyon along one of North America's most famous historic roadways. B'Elanna realized just then that she was looking forward to it almost as much as Tom was. And while it wasn't quite a typical family vacation--for a family living in the late 24th century, anyway--it suited them. Both.

****

Her patience was wearing as thin as Neelix's vegetable bullion as Kathryn snuck a look at the yacht's chronometer. Twenty-six minutes and counting. She was just about to warn Chakotay that his time was almost up when she realized he was heading into a very familiar looking system. She looked out the viewport: a yellow dwarf star, just a tad to the starboard side of their shuttle. It was becoming brighter as they approached and she searched her mind for the connection she knew she was on the verge of making.

Chakotay had slowed the yacht to warp 2 and had snapped the navigational sensors back to automatic. She knew he would need them to plot an approach trajectory, and leaned back in her seat just enough to catch a glimpse of his display. A seven planet system. Seven planets and a yellow dwarf star. They'd come across a dozen like it in their initial years in the Delta Quadrant, but this one was distinctive--and had been the first time they'd encountered it.

'You're like a little kid, wheedling.' Even as she watched him plot a course to the system's third planet, Kathryn knew she no longer needed to ask where they were heading. She had put the critical pieces together and wondered why it had taken her so long to think of it. Of course this is where Chakotay would take her.

Not to Earth--exactly--but a planet they'd dubbed 'New Earth,' back in the days when they thought they'd be trapped there together forever, victims of an almost deadly illness even their walking database of a doctor couldn't treat. The planet's atmosphere was their only protection; contact with the Vidiians their only hope for a cure.

They'd barely known each other then--barely begun to trust each other as captain and first officer--when they'd made the mutual decision to maroon themselves on this poor excuse for home, both deciding that a life in exile was worth guaranteeing the safety of their crew. Neither would risk contacting such dangerous and unpredictable adversaries for their own personal gain--even if it meant being trapped forever on the other side of the galaxy, away from their lives and families.

How ironic, Kathryn thought--and how fitting--that they would ultimately come to consider tending a garden or building furniture for an emergency shelter an equally fulfilling life...or that they would come to see each other as family. Even more ironic: that she and Chakotay would return to this place even as Voyager led a diplomatic mission to woo the adversaries who had tried to kill them and then had given them back their lives.

She'd been lost in thought, but quickly felt Chakotay's stare. When she turned to look at him, he was smiling, but almost wistful. "Still want me to tell you where we're going?" he asked softly.

She answered with a smile, as she reflexively wiped the tear she realized was rolling down her cheek. "I never thought we'd see this place again," she answered. "Thank you."

He made a slight course correction as he lined the ship up with the planet's atmosphere and dropped into synchronous orbit. "Welcome home," he said quietly as he slipped his hand into hers.

She tightened her fingers around his and nodded. "Welcome home."

**

He landed the AsteriŽ on a grassy plain not far from their homestead. Voyager's captain's yacht was bigger than the tiny Type 4 shuttlecraft they'd once kept parked on the glade near their shelter. They'd have to hike over Sunset Hill and along the lake to get to there. Of course, they could have just beamed over by transporter, but that would have taken all the excitement out of it, the sense of anticipation as they walked hand in hand over land they'd once claimed as their own.

They'd changed out of uniform before starting out--into clothes Chakotay had replicated before leaving Voyager. He looked part-Maquis, part-gentleman farmer; her dress was a perfect replica of the blue cotton frock she'd loved to garden in. Hiking boots for him, treaded moccasins for her. It didn't occur to him until she was dressed and ready to go, though: her hair. The short bob she'd come to prefer the last few years seemed incongruous here, and for the first time since she'd cut it he realized he missed her long hair.

Kathryn had been quiet during their descent and landing, and Chakotay wondered for a moment if he'd made a mistake bringing her back to New Earth. As soon as they'd stepped off the ship, however, she'd started talking almost non-stop, pointing out the changes in the landscape: a favorite old reading tree that had been toppled--probably by a seasonal plasma storm--the changing course of a feeder stream that had been shifted south by erosion. She was invigorated and excited, a scientist and homesteader instead of a starship captain and diplomat. She was the woman he had first fallen in love with so many years earlier.

"We have to be prepared," she said to him as they crested the hill. "No one has been here to maintain our house. Who knows what we might find."

His laughter seemed to catch her by surprise and she smiled as she turned to face him. "What?"

He grinned back at her. "I remember how mad you used to get when I would call it that: our house. I think it was six weeks before you even unpacked your last crate of clothes."

She nodded but changed the subject. "Of course, it could be overrun with primates now," she joked, "if our little friend took our invitation to move in."

Chakotay smiled, then wondered for a moment if it could be true. He suddenly had visions of their tidy little homestead now looking like the simian center at a Federation animal habitat. And, for a man who prided himself on his tolerance of and appreciation for all living things, a phrase instinctively flashed through his head for the first time since the day they'd said goodbye to New Earth almost seven years earlier: damned monkey. It had always seemed to show up just in time to distract Kathryn from some serious conversation about their feelings for each other--or at a moment when he'd thought she might finally let him kiss her.

Personally, he wouldn't care if they never saw the little capuchin or its descendants again.

As they walked the final few meters across the clearing at the top of the hill, it quickly became apparent that their little shelter *had* been overrun. Not by primates, however...but by tomatoes. Thick vines of Talaxian tomatoes now covered the entire area, weaving a natural pergola up and over their house, into the nearby trees, and part way across the clearing. The vines were covered with sweet, ripe, red fruit.

"Well," he said, laughing, "you are a pretty good farmer!"

Kathryn was obviously stunned, and turned to look at him, her mouth agape. "I guess my little seedlings survived," she said. Then she took his hand, practically pulling him down the overgrown path to their front door. "But I don't understand how they got this out of control. I was worried they wouldn't even take root!"

He grabbed a tomato off the nearest vine and took a bite. They were sweeter than a Terran tomato and made a wonderful marinara sauce--when Neelix resisted the temptation to add a little leola root. The taste brought back a lot of wonderful memories. "Delicious," he said, handing the rest to her. "I guess, unlike us, they don't appeal to the native insects."

Kathryn nibbled the piece he'd given her and smiled. "Ummm...too bad for them. Neelix always hinted that Talaxian vegetables had aphrodisiacal properties..." She swallowed the last bite and licked the juice from her fingers. She was grinning in an unguarded way, and Chakotay let himself enjoy seeing her so free. When she wasn't forced to be the Federation's perfect role model, Kathryn Janeway could be a wickedly funny, earthy, charming flirt. And while he had long ago come to love both sides of her, this one--the woman as distinct from the captain--had been held captive in a Starfleet uniform for far too long.

He watched as she cavalierly wiped her hands on her dress and pushed apart the vines blocking the entrance to the shelter. Though they'd left the door open when they'd transported back to Voyager seven years earlier, it was closed now, and she waited for him to join her before pushing it open.

The translucent solar ceiling panels were now partially covered by tomato vines, causing the sun filtering in above them to cast strange shadows around the room. Still, the living area was bright--and amazingly intact. With only a thin layer of dust now covering their old furniture, it seemed as if the door must have blown closed not long after they'd gone. A few silken cobwebs were the only evidence of squatters in their abandoned home. Spiders, he could live with.

They'd taken everything of value when they'd gone; the only things remaining behind were the pieces of furniture and artwork Chakotay had crafted by hand: the roughhewn table and chairs he'd finished the day before they left, their beds--including the headboard he'd carved for Kathryn's--the base of what would have become a vegetable bin. It was so eerily like it had been the day they left, that for a moment he was struck by a rush of emotion, a strange dťjŗ vu that hinted that perhaps the intervening seven years might have all been a dream. He could see from the expression on Kathryn's face that she was feeling it, too, and he quietly wrapped his arms around her from behind and pulled her against him. As he let his chin fall against her neck, he said what he knew they both were thinking. "How different these past seven years might have been."

After a moment though, he turned her to face him and brushed a stray curl from her forehead. "Now, we have the best of both worlds, though--don't you think?"

She smiled wistfully, and her eyes misted up. "Yes," was all she said before leaning up to kiss him.

****

"Suitcases?"

"Check."

"Bottled water?"

"Check."

"Diapers?"

"Check."

"Bag of stuffed animals?"

"Monkey, targ, three puppies, and that thing that looks like a cow. Check."

"Maps?"

"Check. Although why you won't let me bring a tricorder and a communicator..."

Tom looked up from the trunk of the car--his mouth agape--as if his wife had suddenly suggested they walk to Arizona from California. Sometimes she just didn't get it. "That would completely defeat the purpose of trying to have an authentic historical experience. An old fashioned, cross-country adventure. The whole point is to pretend we're back in sixties, a young family seeing America out on the open road..."

She didn't look convinced. "I understand that, but I'd feel better knowing that if something happened we could just..."

"What could happen? This isn't an away mission, B'Elanna, it's a vacation. I think we can make it 750 miles without emergency rations and a hand phaser." His wife was the bravest woman Tom knew--she'd volunteered to be assimilated by the Borg, among other things--still, sometimes she could be an out-and-out worrywart. Of course, he also knew, after years of practice, that he'd get farther reassuring her than calling her a chicken. "Besides, there are stores and restaurants and rest stops along the route. If we have a problem, we can get help there."

She was squinting in that way that said she thought he was a complete idiot. Of course, that also meant she was on the verge of relenting. After a moment, as he knew she ultimately would, she just shrugged. "You're the pilot," she finally conceded, though the tone in her voice was more than a little snide. "Now where were we on the checklist?"

Tom looked down at the PADD in his hand and scanned the display. "Diapers, animals, maps...oh, I don't think we're gonna fit that portable crib in here. The trunk is too small."

B'Elanna looked annoyed again. "Then take out some of your clothes. I think you brought everything except your uniform!"

He considered pointing out that she had under-packed for a trip that would take them through a pretty wide range of climates, but realized that encouraging her to bring more clothes would only make their space problem worse. So maybe the Mustang wasn't the best choice. A '55 Nash Rambler would have given them more trunk room. But the Ford sports car handled like a dream and would corner better on those steep mountain passes--plus it was hands-down a sexier ride. Just because he was married now with a baby didn't mean he was dead, after all. This kind of trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If they were going to do it, might as well--

"Tom?"

He looked up and into the face of his very annoyed wife. "Hmm?"

"You didn't heard a word I said, did you?" Her ridges were furrowed, making her scowl all the more impressive. "I asked you to go in and grab the picnic basket and check to see if we forgot anything while I try repacking this storage unit. There has to be a way to get everything in there."

He resisted the urge to say 'It's called a trunk'--or to point out that the laws of physics weren't likely to be different for her than for him. There was no way they could take the damn portable crib. They'd just have to do without it. But B'Elanna was an engineer; it wouldn't take her long to figure that out for herself. "I heard you the first time," he lied. "I was just thinking."

"Then think faster," she barked. "Miral will wake up from her nap any minute now. I want to get on the road before she has time to get fussy."

"Yes, ma'am," he said over his shoulder as he bounded into the house, acknowledging what were clearly marching orders. Not that he minded. After all, this was B'Elanna's vacation, too, and she'd agreed pretty quickly to this car trip--even though he knew she got antsy (and leg cramps) after sitting still for too long. She was indulging one of his fantasies, he realized. Of course, he'd gladly return the favor at their first opportunity...thoughts of making love in the back seat of the Mustang as they sat under a starry desert sky began playing through his mind.

Maybe they should make room for Miral's portable crib after all...

He found the picnic basket on the kitchen counter and had a quick inspiration. Walking over to the replicator, he punched in the code for his favorite champagne--Moet et Chandon 1988--and slipped the bottle into the basket. Then he walked a circuit through the livingroom, den, and bedroom. Other than their still-sleeping daughter, he didn't see anything they'd left behind.

Grabbing the picnic basket on his way by, Tom headed back to the garage. "This is it," he said as he stepped through the door. "But I really think you should consider taking a warm jacket..."

He stopped suddenly at the sight of B'Elanna slamming the trunk closed--with no sign of the oversized baby crib he was sure wouldn't fit. She was trying not to gloat, but he could see the 'I told you so' in her eyes. "Were you saying something?" she asked.

Tom just shook his head. Maybe it did take an engineer. Maybe there was some 'conservation of matter' principle he'd missed in his courses at the Academy. Whatever. At least they were ready to go. "I was just going to suggest that you replicate yourself a decent coat. You know how you hate the cold and the night air can get pretty chilly even in the desert."

He could tell she was disappointed that he hadn't asked her how she'd done it--how she'd fit three cubic meters of luggage into a two cubic meter space. But there was no way he'd give her the satisfaction. "Fine, I'll grab a jacket and an extra blanket off the bed." She was almost in the house before she turned back around. "And don't open up that storage compartment to try and figure out how I did it. We'll never get everything back in before Miral wakes up."

As she turned around and headed through the door Tom allowed himself to say it softly under his breath. "It's called a trunk."

**

The trip down the coast was mostly uneventful, and B'Elanna had to admit she was almost enjoying it. Of course, it had taken all of ninety minutes to drive from the beach house to just north of the Route 66 turnoff down the deserted freeway. Apparently Tom wasn't the only car enthusiast left in 24th century California, a part of North America once known for its scenic highways, dependency on automobiles--and terrible air quality. With the skies now clear and cars just a quaint hobby, many of the remaining roads were converted into scenic walking and hiking trails, but a few--including the old "interstate" they now drove--were preserved for vehicular traffic. Emergency force fields and a failsafe sensor grid made having an accident virtually impossible, so Tom had used that to their advantage, driving 150 KPH the entire way.

While those speeds were perfectly safe on the protected roadway, B'Elanna knew from the things Tom had told her that Route 66 would be different. The "entire point" of the trip, as he had said over and over, was to have an authentic, historic experience. There would be no force fields, no shoulder guards, no one from Terran traffic control monitoring their trip. They'd be on their own...a thought that both excited and concerned her. If it were just the two of them, she wouldn't have given it a second thought, but having Miral along changed things.

She took a peek over her shoulder at their daughter, snuggled in the back seat in her secure toddler restraint--one of the few concessions to advanced technology Tom had allowed in the name of safety. Miral seemed to be having a very heated conversation with her monkey. Seemed was the operative word since, between the radio blaring and the noise of the wind whipping all around the car, B'Elanna could barely hear herself think. Of course, Tom would tell her that entire generations of children were raised without force fields and sensor grids, and they survived just fine. Some of them even rode in cars with no child restraints at all. Still...

"Maybe you should slow down a little," she said to him.

"What?" Tom asked, shouting at her over the radio--which was playing some up-tempo and vaguely annoying song about having "fun, fun, fun, 'til her daddy took"...something that sounded Vulcan--B'Elanna couldn't quite figure it out--away. She leaned over and turned the knob that reduced the volume of the music.

"I said maybe you should slow down. Don't we have to get off this road soon?"

Tom instantly turned the music back up, though not quite as loud as it had been. "We're fine. We should have five or ten miles before our exit."

"Miles?" she asked. "What is that in kilometers?"

She could see him doing the conversion in his head as he talked himself through it. "There are about 1.8 kilometers in a mile, so...somewhere between 10 and 20."

B'Elanna did the next calculation herself; if Tom was right, they'd be leaving the protected highway in another seven to fourteen minutes. They probably did have a little time. So why was it that she could suddenly see a large but faded sign up ahead that said, 'Route 66 Historic District--Exit 1000 Feet.'

"Um, Tom..."

"I figure after we get on 66, we should probably stop and take a break and check the fuel..." He was adjusting a different knob on the radio as he spoke to her, this one causing a series a scratching and groaning noises as he tuned in a different one of his preprogrammed 'stations,' each with a different kind of rock and roll music.

"Um, Tom, I think..." They were passing the sign and she could see the exit coming up on their right. They were still in the left lane.

"Then I can dig out the maps and show you how to read them..." He hadn't even started slowing down.

He wasn't listening, either. Or maybe he couldn't hear her over the music, which was now a blaring guitar and saxophone anthem that seemed to celebrate the joys of fast cars and fast women. The only lyric she could make out talked about 'suicide machines' on 'Highway 9'--a lovely image for their first real car trip. "Um, Tom, I think we just..." She could see they were about to zoom past the exit ramp.

"I know, I know: you're an engineer on one of Starfleet's most advanced starships, you're perfectly capable of figuring out how to read a roadmap without my help. It's just that everything on them is in Old Earth Standard--miles, yards, feet and there are all these conventions you've never had to learn before. And it's not like we have navigational sensors to point us in the right direction. We take a wrong turn in the middle of the desert and it could be days before we get ourselves back on course."

They were well past the exit now and B'Elanna wondered if Tom's lessons on 20th century map reading included a section on observing oversized road signs. She just sat there quietly for a moment, trying to decide when she'd tell him.

"Don't take it personally," he said after a few seconds of riding in silence. "I've just been studying these things my whole life. It will take you a while before you get used to thinking in late 20th century era terms."

B'Elanna knew she should probably be annoyed at his paternalistic attitude. And she probably would have been--if she weren't totally focused on imagining the moment when he'd realize what he'd done.

Three more songs--all of them about 'thunder roads,' or women named Mary, or going out drinking after a long workday--had come and gone before Tom seemed to notice something was amiss. "I would have expected to see one of the old exit signs by now," he finally said, turning down the radio volume. "The materials I read in the Old Earth archive said they'd preserved all of the historic markers."

B'Elanna just sat there, smiling. After a moment, she reached for the radio dial and tuned in a station playing songs by a group she recognized (from her years dating or being married to a walking jukebox) as The Supremes. A song called 'Stop in the Name of Love' was playing. She was tempted to start singing along. Instead, she leaned over and turned up the volume.

It only took Tom a second to turn it back down. "Do you mind?" he asked absentmindedly. "I have to pay attention; our exit should be coming up any time now."

She debated for a second whether or not to tell him. She could see he was starting to tense up, though, and didn't want their vacation to start out with one of them in a bad mood--a confession was definitely in order. "You already missed it," she said. "About ten minutes ago."

The car swerved almost imperceptibly as Tom's foot came off the accelerator. "Why didn't you tell me?" he asked, sounding more than a little annoyed.

"I tried to," she answered evenly. "But you were busy telling me how hard it is for someone with my limited experience to read a map."

She turned to look at him and was greeted by a furrowed brow and an embarrassed grin. "I guess I deserved that," he finally said after a heavy sigh. "Now help me find a place to turn around so we can get off this road and start our real vacation."

"I'll make you a deal," she said. "I'll get us onto Route 66 if you let me drive for a few hours once we're heading in the right direction."

She could almost feel the waves of hesitation coming from him. "How about this instead," he finally counter-offered, "I'll drive until we get over and through Buzzards Pass--which is just on the other side of the mountains. Then you can take the next leg through the dessert."

B'Elanna considered making a fuss, but really wasn't in the mood to have their first argument this early into their vacation. "Alright," she finally said. "But get used to it: I'm driving part of this trip. That was our deal."

Tom nodded. "I know, I know. I won't forget." He was pulling onto a small access road that would let them turn back the way they'd just come as he let the car drift to a stop. Then he reached down next to his seat and pulled out a large folded map. "Now..." he said, unfolding the paper over the steering wheel, "where the hell *are* we?"

****

"Where *are* we?"

Kathryn hated being blindfolded. But keeping her in the dark about their vacation seemed to be a recurring theme of Chakotay's carefully crafted plan. This time, however, knowing they were safely back on New Earth in ten square kilometers she had once considered their own, she no longer felt that strange sense of anxiety she'd experienced in the yacht at the start of their trip. Or, frankly, that she'd felt on Voyager for much of their first seven years in the Delta Quadrant.

For that matter, she'd never quite felt as calm or as peaceful *anywhere* as she'd felt here, in the quiet and solitude of their glade. Or as she did when she was alone there with Chakotay.

"Watch your step," he said as he slowed their pace.

"That's a little hard to do when I can't see anything," she reminded him. "Tell me that we're almost there."

"We're almost there," he mimicked back to her. "Now relax and trust me."

It was the second time in the last two days that he'd used that phrase. 'Trust me.' Each time, she'd felt a little knot clench and unclench in her stomach, even though she wasn't sure why. She trusted Chakotay with her life. Almost more importantly, she trusted him with her heart.

She decided to distract herself, to focus on those senses that were still fully functional, and took a deep breath of the sweet air around them. Pine needles and lilacs. Something else, though. The raw smell of leaves composting in the marsh grasses. She could hear the cicadas squeaking out their insect mating calls, but there were other sounds, too. Lapping water. The squawk of the brown gulls she'd once watched flying over...the lake. He was taking her to the lake.

Just as she realized where they were, Chakotay stopped walking and turned her slightly to the right. Then he let go of her arm and untied the scarf from her eyes.

As she'd guessed, they were standing on the shore of the large lake that marked the border of the south end of their 'property.' It had always reminded her of one of her favorite holodeck programs, a re-creation of Lake George in New York's Adirondack Mountains. Looking out across the water, she could see a new feature that hadn't been there the last time she'd visited: a small boat that appeared to have been hollowed and sculpted out of a large beech tree. She turned to look at Chakotay as she reached down to squeeze his hand.

"How did you...? You couldn't possibly have had the time to carve this." Since they'd landed on New Earth the previous morning, he hadn't spent more than a moment away from her side.

"No," he admitted, "I replicated it. I used the schematics I had shown you that day we heard from Tuvok that they were coming back for us with a cure. I downloaded them into my personal database when we were beamed back to Voyager. Actually, I don't know why I saved them. It's not as if I expected we'd ever get back here again."

Kathryn's eyes were misting up, and she blinked the wetness away. "After all this time," she said softly, "I had almost forgotten." And she had. That afternoon so many years ago--the last day she'd awoken contentedly expecting to live out the rest of her life on New Earth--had been so chaotic. To hear out of the blue that Voyager was returning for them... That the Doctor's Vidiian friend, Danara Pel, had provided their crew with a cure for the illness that had stranded them there... Most importantly, the realization that the sense of oneness with Chakotay, the way their lives had become so interwoven--and the love she was slowly starting to let herself feel for him--that all of it would have to be buried away as they prepared to become captain and first officer once again...it had been overwhelming. Overwhelming and incredibly painful.

So she had forgotten about Chakotay's plans to build her a boat, a way to explore the far shores of the lake and indulge her insatiable scientific curiosity. He knew her so well, even then. Yet, she'd almost given it all up--given him up--in the name of Starfleet. She'd done the right thing, she knew. They'd gotten their crew home, almost all of them, to their families and loved ones. They'd done serious damage to the Borg. And now, after finding and helping Kes, they'd played a huge role in defeating the Sernaix and unveiling the corruption of Section 31.

They *had* done the right thing, over and over again...but at an almost unimaginable personal cost. Kathryn's strict adherence to regulations--and Chakotay's short-lived relationship with Seven--had almost doomed any future they might have hoped for back in the days of gardening and log cabin planning and homesteading on New Earth. And while they'd found each other again, their lives were still in constant turmoil. Spending time planning a life they weren't sure they'd have would have seemed foolish just weeks earlier.

Yet here they stood again, on the banks of *their* lake, looking finally at a boat he had made just for her. A dream she'd forgotten she'd had was about to come true. If this impossible thing could happen, she let herself believe for a moment, maybe some other long-buried dreams weren't so impossible after all.

"What are you thinking?" Chakotay said after too many silent moments.

This time, Kathryn blinked away her introspection along with her tears. "I was remembering how much I wanted to see what was on the other side of that grove of trees just across from here. And how today would be the perfect day for a picnic on that glade on the far shore. There'd better be a basket in that boat!"

Chakotay laughed in a way that let her know she wouldn't be disappointed. She tugged his hand and took the last few steps down to the shoreline. As she held on tightly to the man she'd loved, and lost, and loved again, Kathryn decided that maybe Thomas Wolfe was wrong; maybe it *was* possible to 'go home again.' And for the first time in years, she began to openly ponder the possibilities.

**

Salmon salad on a baguette for her, assorted seasoned vegetables on a wheat roll for him. A bottle of Sancerre Domaine, aged to perfection and freshly uncorked. And tomatoes. Lots of fresh Talaxian tomatoes picked that morning off the vines just outside their front door. Chakotay was happy that Kathryn had seemed to enjoy his little surprise boat ride and impromptu picnic, and he lay back on the blanket and digested their situation along with his lunch.

They had spent the previous afternoon and evening pruning back the overgrown 'vegetable vineyard' enough to clear the entrance to the shelter, and then cleaned and restocked their reclaimed home. Using the AsteriŽ's replicator and transporter, they had filled the pantry--enough for their week's vacation--and had done something that once would have been an unbelievably huge step for their lives together on New Earth: they rearranged the living space and pushed their two twin beds into one, then covered them with a goosedown featherbed before crawling in together.

Of course, Kathryn had been so exhausted from their work clearing the garden and cleaning their old home that she'd fallen asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow. Still, he had held her as they slept, and knew that the moment would come soon enough. His dry spell on New Earth was about to end.

There were other things he wanted and needed from this vacation--and from Kathryn-- however, and he was glad to see her bounding over the hilltop and toward him when he opened his eyes.

"How was your nap?" she asked as she threw herself down next to him on the blanket.

"I wasn't sleeping," he corrected her, "I was meditating. Enjoying being surrounded by nature on this beautiful day."

She smiled wickedly, "Yes, well, I thought I heard you 'meditating' at one point when I brought back some plant fossils. Though perhaps it was your spirit guide who was snoring."

He laughed. "Okay, so I might have dozed off for a few minutes. I'm not used to all this peace and quiet and unreconstituted air. Speaking of which, how was your walk?"

Kathryn opened up her clenched fist and revealed four tiny glistening stones. "Fascinating, actually. There's a creek bed just over the next hill full of these--some kind of native pyrite."

"Fool's Gold," he said, recognizing her find. "Be careful; it's broken more than one heart."

Once again that expression--that fleeting look of fear--came and went from her face before she answered him. "Yes, well, I'll try to remember that." She closed her fist around the nuggets, and looked away for a moment.

He sat up and turned to face her, then took her hand, opening her fingers and removing the small stones before placing his own hand into hers. "Here," he said, closing her fingers once again. "Hold onto this instead. Your heart is safe with me."

She smiled a half-smile and searched his face as if she was looking for something she'd lost. He was about to ask her what she was thinking when she finally spoke. "Nine years ago when we were stranded in the Delta Quadrant by the Caretaker, I was desperate to get the crew back home. Soon, though, Voyager began to feel like home to me. And then there was a time when I would have done anything to be able to leave this planet," she said. "But after a while, living here--with you--was all I needed or wanted." She tightened her grip on his hand and looked off at the lake below them. "Each time, I thought I knew what my life was, what it needed to be. And just when I'd begun to embrace that life, something ripped it away."

Chakotay interlaced his fingers with hers and waited until she looked back at him. "Is that what's been bothering you? That we'll have to leave here again?"

Kathryn seemed to ponder the question, as if it hadn't occurred to her. After a moment, though, she shook her head. "No. This planet will always hold special meaning for me." She paused for a moment, then smiled. "I fell in love with you here, you know."

He smiled back at her. "I know." He lifted their joined fingers and kissed her hand.

"But we can't hide here from our lives and our responsibilities, as tempting as it might be to imagine. We have to go back, to finish what we've started, and to help the Federation recover from this nightmare. Still..." She seemed to be wrestling with something, and Chakotay waited to let her find the words. "I suppose it's inevitable that our journey on Voyager will come to an end--sooner rather than later now, I think. For seven years, we knew what we had to do: get the crew home. We finally made it, only to find ourselves trapped in another layer of space. Then there were the hearings, the threat from the Sernaix...and I know we're still not finished uncovering all of the layers of this war. But we have to face it--I have to face it. For the last ten years of my life--except for four months spent here on New Earth--I have defined myself as Voyager's captain. If I were to lose that..."

He squeezed her hand once again. "You'd be Kathryn Janeway with the world at her feet. Starfleet's newest Admiral. Or you could choose your own path, chart your own destiny. You could redefine yourself again and again if you wanted. Be a scientist for a while. Put those hard-won diplomatic skills to use as a Federation ambassador." He paused for a moment to stop himself from just blurting out what he was about to say. After a second, he decided that maybe the time was right to talk about it. "Or you could start a family. We could start a family."

Kathryn's eyes shot wide open, and for a moment he wondered if he'd made a mistake mentioning it. Then she grinned, and laughed, putting his fears to rest. "I can't remember the last time I let myself imagine becoming a parent. I'd always assumed that after Mark and I were married..." She let the thought trail off, thankfully. "After Voyager was lost, though, and it seemed as if we might spend the rest of our lives in the Delta Quadrant, I guess I just assumed that it was no longer an option."

Limitations she had placed on herself, he thought to himself. Chakotay had always believed the crew would have expected their captain to make a life for herself, just as surely as the rest of them had begun to. Especially after Tom and B'Elanna married and announced their pregnancy, he could sense a change in the mood on the ship. There no longer seemed to be a reason to wait to start living their lives. He'd half expected an epidemic of courtships and engagements--which might have happened if they hadn't found themselves home so soon afterward. Even he had started to wish for--

The thought brought him full-circle and he looked away for a moment before pulling back his hand. He wouldn't say anything. He didn't need to. But suddenly the reasons for Kathryn's hesitation seemed clear. Seven was long behind him. The damage his relationship with her had done to the trust between him and Kathryn, however... Chakotay decided to finish the conversation he had started.

"What about now?" he asked. "Could you see children in your life now?"

Kathryn seemed to really consider the question. "I don't know. Certainly not at the moment. But someday? I guess I have a hard time imagining what 'someday' will bring." She ran her hand up his arm. "What about you? Until recently, I've never heard you mention wanting children."

She was right. His own complicated relationship with his father had made Chakotay ambivalent about becoming a parent. "I'm not sure, either," he answered honestly. "Maybe I've just gotten used to having Miral underfoot. Voyager seems to be missing something without her."

Kathryn laughed. "Without her parents, too. I don't think I realized before this trip how much of the collective volume on the ship comes from the Paris-Torres family. It almost feels like my teenaged children have grown up and moved away. The house seems so quiet all of the sudden."

"Maybe that's why you haven't felt the need for children of your own," he offered. "You've had a ship full of them for so long."

She smiled. "Yes, but maybe we're all about ready to leave the nest. I mean, it's incredibly unusual for a Starfleet crew to stay together this long. If you're not on the flagship, people come and go from your life all the time. And maybe that's it--this feeling I've been having. Maybe I don't want to face splitting up the family."

He pulled her toward him and looked into her eyes. "Well, as long as we're together, I have all the family I need. And I doubt there's much of anything that could keep our crew from staying close, even if they do end up scattered throughout the Fleet." He kissed her quickly and tightened his grip on her hands. "So don't worry, 'Mother.' I'm sure the children will come home for holidays and birthdays. And your 'teenagers' and their daughter will be back aboard as soon as we finish with the Vidiians."

Kathryn rubbed his arm and laughed happily. "Not a moment too soon for me," she said. "Though I'm glad they're having these weeks together as a family. After everything they've been through, Tom and B'Elanna deserve a little quiet time alone."

****

There were two things that B'Elanna Torres knew without a single doubt: 1) She loved Tom Paris with her entire heart and soul; and 2) if he didn't stop changing the radio station every ten seconds, she might have to toss him out of the car without even slowing down. He didn't seem to care what song was playing--only what *other* song was playing. And he was driving her crazy in the process.

They'd been on Route 66 for the better part of six hours, stopping only once to have lunch at a restored authentic diner called the Garden of Eat'N, and B'Elanna was starting to get antsy. She hated sitting still, and had often wondered how Tom avoided losing his mind on a double shift on the bridge. The long hours never bothered her, but in engineering she was constantly in motion. The thought of sitting at the helm all that time... Even long shuttle missions would make her legs crampy and her nerves frayed--but at least in a shuttle she could walk around. Or distract herself with a scan or an engine diagnostic. Or go to the bathroom.

As soon as she thought it, she knew it was a mistake. They were in the middle of the mountains on a series of winding roads with no shoulder--or rest stops--trying to make up time after their little exit ramp mishap and unscheduled detour. She lived with Tom for the better part of five years for all intents and purposes and hadn't noticed how infrequently he seemed to need to hit the head--though she had never really had a reason to track such things before. Now, though, she was at the mercy of his cast-iron bladder. And she had to go. Again.

With all of her useless redundant organs, why couldn't this be one of them, she wondered? She tried to distract herself by looking at the scenery--only to have the greasy hamburger she'd had for lunch try to make a return engagement as Tom steered the car around a series of winding switchbacks in the road. The inertia made her nauseous, and she was suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling that she might swoon--or vomit.

"Stop the car!" she said through her clenched teeth.

"What did you say?" he asked, turning down the radio only slightly.

"Stop the damn car!" she said again, putting her hand over her mouth and grabbing her gut.

This time he looked as well as asked, and seemed to notice she was about to lose her lunch. The look on his face said it before she heard the words come out of his mouth. "Not on the leather upholstery!"

For a split second she considered puking in Tom's lap instead, but he was slowing down and pulling the car over and her sick feeling was abating. B'Elanna closed her eyes and rested her head on the seatback. She was still shaky and her head was swimming, but she could feel her stomach settle a little.

Tom turned off the radio. "Are you okay?" she heard him ask after a moment. "Should I get the medkit?"

She let her hand slip down from her mouth to her lap, and took a deep breath before she answered him. "I'm not sure," she said. "I haven't felt that nauseous in years. Not since..." The end of that thought stopped her dead in her tracks. "Get the medkit. And tell me your 'authentic 20th century vacation' includes a working 24th century medical tricorder."

Tom reached out and took her pulse. "Of course it does. I wouldn't bring Miral on a trip like this without one." He took a deep breath. "Your heart is racing. Let me get the kit out of the trunk."

B'Elanna scanned her memory, trying to recall if she'd seen it when she repacked their luggage. She was confused when Tom got back in the car and sat a white box with a red cross on the dashboard. Inside, though, were his standard medical supplies. He pulled out the tricorder's diagnostic wand and waved it over her abdomen. She held her breath as she waited for his report.

She couldn't be. Not this easily. Not this soon after Miral.

"Well," he said slowly. B'Elanna tried to read his face for any clue. "You're definitely...carsick."

She shook her head--and instantly regretted it when the mountains started to spin around her. "Carsick? What do you mean, carsick?"

Tom snickered. "Just like it sounds. You're not used to riding in a car and the motion is throwing off your equilibrium. I hate to be the one to tell you, but your inner ear and your lunch are conspiring against you. Nothing a good set of inertial dampers won't cure." He exhaled loudly. "Wish they'd been standard equipment on a '69 Mustang."

"So what are you saying?" she asked. "That I'm going to feel this sick for the rest of the trip?"

She could see him pulling a hypospray out of the white box and measuring out a dosage. "Nothing a little anoproveline won't cure. And I'd go easy on the burgers while your stomachs are this unsettled."

Just hearing the word 'burgers' made B'Elanna queasy. But in a moment, Tom was pressing the hypo into her neck and the feeling began to pass. Still, the thought of eating--anything--was almost more than she could stand.

"Better?" he asked after scanning her again.

"A little," she admitted. Her head had stopped swimming and she no longer felt the knot of pressure at the base of her esophagus.

Tom smiled. "Good. You were starting to turn greener than Vorik for a minute there."

B'Elanna slapped his arm, but grinned despite herself. She sat there quietly composing herself for a moment before she felt well enough to continue on. "Just take it easy around those curves for a while, okay? This isn't a race. We can take our time."

"Deal," he said, before kissing her softly. "Now let's get back on the road before your daughter wakes up from her nap and gets cranky." He nodded toward the backseat and their sleeping child, then packed up the medkit and climbed back behind the wheel.

As he started the engine and steered back onto the highway, Tom reached over and pulled B'Elanna next to him and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. Then he took the remaining curves so gently that she barely felt the change of direction. After they were once again on a straight stretch of road, he leaned over and kissed her on the top of her head and she wrapped her free arm around his waist. "Feeling better?" he asked.

"Yep," she said, checking herself for any signs of rumbling in her belly, "thanks." There were none. Tom's training as a medic had come in handy once again and B'Elanna was starting to feel like herself again. So maybe this car trip wasn't so terrible. Maybe being stuck in a cramped metal box on the open road with her husband and daughter wasn't a bad way to spend their vacation. After all, the sun was shining, the trees were fragrant, and a lone eagle circled the sky above them in a majestic arc. She took a deep breath and relaxed.

Just then, up ahead of them, she could see the road turn to parallel a beautiful mountain stream which began to swell into a wide, raging river the further they drove. It was a gorgeous sight, and the roar of the water rushing past them reminded B'Elanna of something she had almost forgotten: she had to go to the bathroom--badly.

She crossed her legs and pushed away from Tom. Four more days. Four more long days...

**

They'd stopped for the night at a mountain lodge just off the highway: an out of the way place called the Bates Motel. (Tom had laughed when he saw the name, but decided not to tell B'Elanna where he'd heard it before.) Unlike its counterpart cinematic fleabag, their Bates motel was a comfortable collection of individual log cabins, each with its own kitchenette, fireplace, and porch. It was outfitted with every modern convenience--circa 1975--and helped Tom maintain the fantasy that they were a 20th century family.

Their entire vacation was like a slightly off-kilter holodeck program--only better. He knew there were no safeties, no chances to halt the program, and no pre-determined parameters he'd had to carefully research and incorporate in. What the next few days would hold would be as much of a surprise to him as they would be to B'Elanna, and as he rocked in the wooden chair on their tiny porch, he was enjoying that sense of anticipation. The feeling that anything could happen.

Tom had put an exhausted Miral down for the night while B'Elanna took a shower. Their daughter had survived her first day like a real trouper, taking in the changing scenery with a wide-eyed sense of wonder, constructing elaborate fantasy conversations between her targ and her monkey, and being rocked to sleep off and on by the motion of the car. It was only after they were on the road that Tom had realized how strange it must have been for B'Elanna and Miral to experience the g-forces and atmospheric changes that came with a car ride through the mountains. They usually spent most of their time in a ship with gravity plating and inertial dampers. And while he did, too, he'd also driven racecars in the holodeck, and flown the Delta Flyer with Harry through dozens of super-g maneuvers just for fun. His body was used to being tossed around.

That thought reminded him of B'Elanna's bout of carsickness, and he was about to head inside to check on her when she appeared at the door in a warm wool sweater and blue jeans. He reached up his hand and pulled her into his lap when she took it. "How was your shower?" he asked, leaning over to smell her still-damp hair.

"Wet," she said, kissing his nose. "Authentic 20th century cabins don't seem to have a sonic setting, surprise, surprise."

He laughed at how foreign this entire experience must seem to a woman who lived and breathed 24th century engineering. "Well, you smell great," he said, tightening his arms around her. "Thank you."

She seemed surprised by his comment. "For what?"

Tom rubbed her back as he began rocking them both back and forth in his chair. "For agreeing to this. I know you'd probably rather be on a beach in Fiji than driving to the Grand Canyon."

"Tom..." she interjected.

"No, I know you don't really understand why I wanted to do this. You've never really liked my holodeck programs--"

"Tom..." she tried to cut him off once again, but it was important to him that she hear what he had to say.

"Let me finish, B'Elanna. To be honest with you, I'm not sure exactly what it is about this time in history that I connect to, or why something as silly as making a car trip with you and Miral means so much to me. But it does. And I'm just glad you were willing--"

"Tom! Stop!" she finally said, climbing off of his lap.

She looked upset and he stood up to see what he had said to make her that way. "What is it?"

B'Elanna, grabbed his wrist and her mouth simultaneously. "The rocking was making me queasy. I think my body has had more than enough motion today." After a second of standing still with her eyes closed, she let go of his wrist and leaned against him. "But you're welcome," she said. "For the trip."

He chuckled softly under his breath, and gave her another hug before pointing toward the steps. "How about if we sit here instead," he suggested. "As long as there's no earthquake tonight, I think you can count on being able to stay perfectly still."

She grimaced and grinned in the same expression, but let him lead her over to the porch steps. Once they had sat down side by side, he put his arm back around her and pulled her toward him. "You really were green this afternoon. I'll try to take it easy on the curves from now on."

"Please do," she said, squeezing his knee. "I hate that feeling. Even if it was just carsickness."

Her comment reminded Tom of the look of panic he'd seen in her eyes when they'd first pulled off the road. She'd seemed anxious for him to check her over with a tricorder and he wondered why a little bout of nausea had made her so...

The mental light went on, and he stopped to think about how he would have reacted if her fears had been confirmed. "You thought for a minute that you might be pregnant again," he said. "That's why you wanted me to scan you."

She was quiet for a moment. "Just for a second. The last time I felt that nauseous, Seven practically had to pull me up off the deck."

Tom remembered how Miral's sudden appearance in their lives had been such a surprise. A pleasant surprise--at least at first. But the news of B'Elanna's pregnancy had also brought with it some of the hardest moments of their relationship. Then, their daughter's birth--at the climax of an incredibly risky mission to both make it home and defeat the Borg--had been the start rather than the end of an entirely new set of challenges. Now, just as their lives showed some hint of leveling out...well, he could understand why the thought of a new baby might have sent B'Elanna into a minor meltdown.

"Well, I can say without any doubt that you're not, assuming the tricorder in my medkit is working right." He paused for a moment. "You know, if you're worried about it, we could always go back on the shots. If you're worried about it."

She turned to look at him. "Are you? Worried about it?"

He wasn't sure how to answer. "I don't know. Are you?"

They looked at each other for a second before Tom laughed and B'Elanna sighed. "It's probably not even an issue," she finally said. "Every other mixed Human/Klingon couple I've read about has needed help having *one* baby. The odds that we could have two, this quickly, with no..." She seemed to notice the look on his face. "What?"

There were times when his medical training was a serious impediment to a good rationalization. "B'Elanna, the fact that we did get pregnant that quickly... Well, basically it means we probably won't ever need 'help.' We're genetically compatible; we can't count on your Klingon half for birth control. So..." he brought her back to the question at hand, "unless we're ready to risk another baby..."

She nodded. "So you think we should take the shots."

Tom shook his head. "I didn't say that. Honestly...I sort of assumed we'd have a few more kids one day. Maybe a brother or sister or two for Miral... But I know how miserable you were those last few months of your pregnancy, and how crazy our lives are right now. If you don't think we're ready--"

"I didn't say that. Exactly." She sat there for a moment looking out into the darkness. Then she took his hand. "All of the things I ever planned for in my life--well, most of them didn't turn out exactly the way I expected. The surprises, though--getting stuck on Voyager, being made chief engineer--"

"Falling in love with a guy you thought you hated," he threw in for good measure.

She chuckled softly. "Getting married, getting pregnant... All of the best things in my life have happened when I wasn't expecting them. So, maybe we ought to just play it by ear. See what other surprises life sends our way."

"Tempt fate, you mean," he said evenly.

"I suppose so," she nodded. "If that's okay with you."

Tom smiled and hugged her tightly to him. "It's fine with me. In fact...I wouldn't mind tempting fate right now. Assuming your body can stand a little more motion today." He let his hand drift down her side and into the back pocket of her jeans.

B'Elanna smacked his arm. "Well, if I swoon, I know a good medic who knows what it takes to make me feel better." She leaned over and kissed him deeply. "Come on..."

She stood up--slowly--and pulled him toward the door. He was right behind her--before the memory of something he'd found while B'Elanna was showering stopped him dead in his tracks. "Better let me get the medkit," he said, feeling in his pocket for the car keys.

"Why?" she asked. "What's wrong?"

Tom leaned over to kiss her before jogging down the steps. "It's a waterbed. I don't want you getting seasick now, too!"

****

She woke up to the arcing of lightning streaking across the morning sky and the loud crash of thunder. Kathryn sat up in bed and waited to see if she could tell how serious the storm was before waking Chakotay. Using an old and mostly useless trick her father had taught her, she counted the seconds between the lightning and thunder to estimate their proximity to the center of the storm. One...two...three...*clap!* Which was followed almost immediately by first a spattering then a torrent of raindrops. She quickly realized that the violent plasma storm she'd feared was more likely a garden-variety summer downpour.

The weather their last four days had been nearly perfect, so she knew she shouldn't complain about a little rain. Still, she'd been looking forward to hiking her favorite mountain trail that afternoon, and hadn't counted on walking in mud. Maybe a change of plans--some indoor activity--might make more sense. But what a waste of their precious time there!

She swung her feet over the side of the bed and gingerly touched the floor with her toes. The morning air was still crisp and their shelter less than well-insulated, so she expected the bracing cold she felt beneath her. Even though the bed was warm and she had nowhere to be, now that she was awake, there was a greater imperative than crawling back under the covers: coffee.

Walking to the pantry, she activated the portable replicator and lifted the steaming cup after it materialized. Then she moved to the table Chakotay had made and sat down. Mornings on New Earth were so peaceful and calm, even with the storm raging above them, Kathryn felt a sense of equanimity that had often escaped her on Voyager, even during her best times.

She'd been thinking for the past few days about the way her life had played out, and how different the reality of her career was than the one she'd imagined as a young cadet at the Academy. Even as the daughter of a respected Starfleet admiral, she had always defined herself primarily as a scientist and explorer. And while she'd welcomed and embraced her own command, she'd never felt the single-minded hunger for it that most starship captains had. She was comfortable and confident leading her crew. Out of necessity, she'd become a skilled tactician and a formidable adversary. She'd proven herself in battle over and over again.

Yet some mornings, she barely recognized herself in the mirror. And more and more often recently, she didn't recognize the organization she had devoted her life to serving.

Starfleet--her Starfleet--was an honorable and just body devoted to the peaceful exploration of space and the defense of the Federation. Their laws and precepts had been carefully crafted over centuries and were more than just regulations and directives--they were deeply held philosophies and a strict moral code. So seeing first-hand the level of corruption and collusion that now existed in the Fleet was painful for her. She was rattled to her core by the depth of Section 31's infiltration of the ranks.

Coming as it did at the end of not one but two stressful missions, this revelation had made her question for the first time how she wanted to spend the rest of her life. Surely it was vital that officers such as herself--the women and men who believed in and were dedicated to restoring the Fleet's integrity--devote themselves to that cause no matter the personal cost. She owed it to herself and her father and the thousands of her peers who had died in service to the Federation to make sure they prevailed.

But she was tired. And she'd sacrificed so much already. Was it wrong to imagine a simpler, less complicated life for herself? A life as a researcher or explorer? A life where her first name was Kathryn instead of Captain?

She took a long drink of coffee and sighed. Just thinking about this was making her tense, and she reached her hand up to rub her tightening shoulders--only to feel another set of hands get there first.

"You're supposed to be relaxing," Chakotay said as he began massaging her neck. "What is it?"

His timing was perfect, as usual. "I was thinking about what we'll be facing when we get back home," she admitted. "I'm not sure how many more battles I have left in me."

The pressure from his hands increased as he worked his way down her shoulders and began circling his thumbs against her back. "Then stop fighting," he said. "Let someone else lead this charge. You've more than done your part."

There was an irony to his words she wasn't sure he realized. She reached up and took his hand, pulling him toward the chair across from her. When he sat down, she took his fingers in hers. "I want to tell you a story," she said, trying not to smile, "about an angry warrior..."

"Kathryn," he interjected, but she squeezed his hands and kept talking.

"Chakotay, when the Cardassians where raiding the colonies and you found out what they had done to your people--even after you knew you couldn't save your own family--you resigned your commission and joined the Maquis."

She could tell he wasn't following her. "Yes," he said softly.

"Why?" she asked. "You knew how overwhelming the odds were against you. You knew that you'd very likely have to sacrifice everything you'd worked for and perhaps even your life. Why did you decide to take up their fight?"

His expression changed to one of quiet understanding. "Because what the Cardassians and the Federation were doing was wrong. And I couldn't sit by and watch it happen when I knew I could play a part in making it right. I owed it to myself. And to my father." His hands tightened around hers as the parallels became perfectly clear. "He'd be proud of his daughter, you know--Admiral Janeway."

She smiled sadly. "As would Kolopak of his son."

They sat quietly for a moment just listening to the rain hit the roof. "You know, Kathryn, no matter what you decide to do, you won't face it alone. We're in this together."

She smiled sadly and nodded. "I know. And we don't have to figure this out now. We have three more days here and I plan to enjoy every moment of every last one." She tugged on his hand, "Now I think you missed a spot on my left shoulder."

Chakotay laughed and stood up to finish her massage. As she closed her eyes and forced herself to relax, Kathryn recommitted herself to keeping her promise: their time left on New Earth felt as if it were racing by, and she would do everything she could to make the final three days of their vacation last as long as possible.

****

B'Elanna was starting to wonder how a few days on the road could possibly feel like such an eternity. Not to mention the three *more* days before she could take a long sonic shower, close her eyes without feeling a constant sense of acceleration, or have a nice hot cup of raktajino. Not that she wanted a hot beverage at the moment. In fact, with the desert sun beating down on their convertible, she was craving a tall, cool Ktarian iced tea.

She enjoyed the heat, for the most part, unlike her husband and daughter. Miral--whose toddler restraint seat had a built-in awning of sorts--had the only shade in the car, but she was clearly getting bored by day after day of sitting still. Toddlers needed to, well, toddle, and being cooped up in the car for endless hours was starting to take its toll. She was getting fussy, and just after they'd crossed Buzzard's Pass that morning, she'd begun kicking the back of Tom's seat--and driving him to distraction. Kicking, and kicking, and kicking, and kicking. At the fueling station where they'd recharged the car's power cell, he'd gone so far as to take off her shoes--explaining to B'Elanna that Miral's little feet were probably getting hot as the weather got warmer. Of course, as soon as they got on the road again, the kicking continued. Tom hadn't complained, of course. He'd never admit that something so trivial was so unbelievably annoying. But B'Elanna could see him compulsively tapping his fingers on the door frame and steering wheel as they made their way down the road.

She could also see that he was turning a really vibrant shade of pink.

"Maybe we should put the top up," she thought to suggest. "You're going to get a nasty sunburn."

He looked at her incredulously. "What fun would that be? A convertible with the top up...might as well not be a convertible."

What a grasp of logic he had, she thought.

"I mean," he interjected, "unless *you* need it up for some reason. I mean, if you're too warm or something."

Oh, right. Mister Open Road couldn't admit his pale skin was baking like a roasted chicken. But if it was for *her* comfort or safety, well then that would be okay. "Actually," she said, deciding to protect both his epidermis and his pride, "I think I would like it up. If it won't spoil the entire trip for you."

He was trying not to look relieved, she knew. "Well...all right." He pulled over to the side of the road and popped the lever to release the canvas roof. "Give me a hand."

They got out of the car and lifted up the accordioned metal frame. Tom folded back the now-unnecessary shade on Miral's seat, and B'Elanna walked around to the driver's side to secure the remaining latches that held the roof in place.

A thought occurred to her then, and she quickly opened the driver's side door and climbed behind the wheel.

"What are you doing?" Tom asked when he heard the door slam. He was bending down, his arms crossed on the frame of what had been his door.

"It's my turn to drive," she said matter-of-factly. "Now get in the car."

"B'Elanna, I'm not sure that's such a good--"

"The only reason I agreed to come on this trip is because you said I could drive part of the way. Now we're out of the mountains and past Buzzard's Pass. Get in the car or I'm leaving without you."

She could feel him staring at her before he lumbered around to the passenger side, pushed in the door latch and climbed inside. "This whole thing about the roof was just a ploy, wasn't it? You just wanted me to stop the car so you could trick me into letting you drive."

"Whatever you say," she tossed back at him, wishing she'd actually been that clever. She was more of an opportunist than a conniver, in all honesty. "Now remind me again which one is the gas and which one's the brake."

The look of panic that crossed Tom's face made her wish she'd brought along the Doctor's camera. "I'm kidding," she said, turning the ignition and pulling back onto the road. "Unlike Harry Kim, I am an excellent driver."

**

In her defense, the jackrabbit had come darting out of nowhere. Of course, if she hadn't had the pedal to the floor, she might have been able to stop in time without swerving off the road and into a rocky gully.

Tom knew she was waiting for him to say something about the quality of her driving. He also knew that it was dangerous to even hint at an 'I told you so' to your embarrassed wife--half-Klingon or not. So he focused on the task at hand: pushing the Mustang back onto the road and getting ready to change the now-flat front tire. B'Elanna steered as he heaved, and in a minute they were back on the flat pavement.

"Set the parking brake," he yelled up to her, "and kill the engine." Then he unlocked the trunk and began undoing all of her precision packing. In a minute, their luggage, Miral's portable crib, the medkit, their emergency water supply, a bag full of books and toys, and a the emergency power cell were all stacked up in a heap on the side of the road. Tom reached into the now-empty trunk and grabbed the jack and the lug wrench. As he turned to walk away, a thought occurred to him and he looked from the trunk to the pile of their belongings and back again.

"B'Elanna!"

"You don't need to shout; I'm right here," she said, appearing at his side from the front of the car.

He was trying to stay calm. "Where's the spare?" he asked.

She was blinking rapidly, as if he'd asked her to convert the distance to the moon and back from kilometers to miles. "The spare?" she finally said.

"Tire," he blurted out. "The spare tire that was in here when we left California."

She instantly stopped blinking and instead looked like the jackrabbit she'd almost run over a few minutes earlier. "Well..."

It was then that he realized exactly how B'Elanna was able to fit a large portable crib into a space the size of a toaster. "You took out the tire. You took out the tire before we left the house." She was biting her lip, but didn't answer him. "This is just great..."

"Well," she said, getting angry, "if you had let me bring a communicator, we could just call someone to come and get us--or you could transport home and get the damn thing. Why I let you talk me into coming into the middle of the desert without any way to--"

"Oh, so now this is *my* fault?" he said incredulously.

"Well, this whole stupid trip was your idea," she threw back at him. "I was perfectly happy at the beach, but, no, *you* have to take us on an old fashioned family vacation!" She stomped away, kicking the stones along the side of the road as she headed back to the front of the car.

For the first time, Tom wondered if maybe she wasn't right. Their entire trip was turning out differently than he had imagined. In the holodeck, if a part of the story was boring or problematic, he could just jump ahead or reprogram it or turn it off and try something else. But after two days on the road with nothing to do but drive--and between Miral's kicking and B'Elanna's constantly having to find a bathroom--he was left wondering exactly why 20th century families had found driving cross-country so much fun.

"I'm sorry," he suddenly heard from behind him. "I didn't know the tires were that fragile. I should have asked you before I took the spare out of the trunk." B'Elanna had her hands in her pockets and looked genuinely apologetic.

"I'm sorry, too," he said, sighing. "You were right about the communicator. I should have brought one just for emergencies."

She nodded, then looked back toward the flat tire. "What do we do now?" she asked.

He thought about it for a second. "There's only one thing we can do," he said. "Load this stuff back into the trunk and drive on the rim until we can get it fixed."

"Won't that wreck the suspension?" she asked. "It might be a long way before the next service area."

Tom's reaction surprised him. "It's just a car," he said. "A replicated car at that." He could feel his sense of humor coming back. "Of course, if this were an authentic vintage '69 Mustang..." he said smiling.

"I'd be walking the rest of the way to the Grand Canyon?" she guessed.

"Now there's an idea," he agreed. Then he smiled and started lifting things back into the trunk.

When they were packed and ready to go, he and B'Elanna both started for the driver's seat.

"You're kidding, right?" he asked.

She sighed heavily and slowly walked to the passenger side. "Damn rabbit!" he heard her mumble under her breath.

And they were off: a starship pilot, his wife the gifted half-Klingon engineer, and their daughter--who until a few weeks earlier could have levitated them to the nearest gas station with her special powers, bouncing along at a breakneck five miles per hour. A typical 24th century family, on a once-typical family vacation, getting their kicks on Route 66...

****

There were less than twenty-four hours left of their vacation, and Chakotay hated the thought of leaving New Earth. He and Kathryn had spent an almost idyllic week rediscovering their old homestead--and each other--as he helped her grapple with what he knew would be major decisions about the course of her life. As for *his* life, there really were no decisions to make. By his own choice, he would follow her lead, as he'd done for so many years now.

As he walked along the banks of a large stream that fed their lake, he remembered a time when all he could think of was his career in Starfleet. Lying in his bed at night as a teenager on the Dorvan colony, he orchestrated his plan to leave his tribe, win a spot at Starfleet Academy, then work his way up through the ranks. He'd had a compulsion to see what was out there, to explore other worlds, and to prove to himself--and to his father--that there were more important things than tending the land and preserving their native culture.

Now, as he climbed the small trail that would lead him back to the shelter, he realized how short-sighted his big dreams had actually been. Now, with the wisdom and maturity that came with experience, he saw the incredible value in living a small, simple life. And his priorities had shifted. His exploration of the galaxy had led him to discover himself, to figure out the kind of man he wanted to be. And it had led him to a woman he knew without question he would follow wherever she went.

There was a time when he would have viewed that as weakness--letting someone else chart the course of his life. But that was before he'd fallen in love with a starship captain. Before he knew that having her beside him mattered infinitely more than where he called home or what he did with his time. It was the people in his life that mattered, he'd discovered after losing too many of them. The most important of whom he could now see climbing into her bathtub just alongside their house.

That could mean only one thing: she had some thinking of her own to do.

Deciding to leave her to her solitude for a while longer, Chakotay took the fork in the path and made his way up to the very crest of the hill. Then he climbed out onto the rock ledge and crossed his legs beneath him. From this vantage point, he could see almost the entire lake, as well as their glade, the shelter and their wild tomato vineyard. Beyond that, he caught a glimpse of the AsteriŽ, waiting patiently to take them back to Voyager.

Hopefully, by the time they returned, the negotiations with the Vidiians would be complete and they could start heading home once again. Home. It seemed a strange word to contemplate as he sat looking at an alien world he had come to think of once again as home. But the Delta Quadrant would soon be in their past now, he knew. The future lay 65,000 light years away, where their journey had begun so long ago. Finally, perhaps with this last mission completed, they could put an epilogue on their adventure and get back to living their lives.

At that moment, for the first time since landing the AsteriŽ five days earlier, he realized he was almost looking forward to it.

** A distinctive nip was in the air as she draped her robe across a branch and climbed into her tub. The summer was waning. It would be fall soon. For some reason, that thought made her sad. The warm water was giving off a soft steam as it evaporated around her, and Kathryn let herself sink back against the smooth wood and relax.

It occurred to her: they'd have to pack that night, recycle all their ancillary supplies and crate up the ones they'd take back. She remembered the last time they'd closed down this household--in silence--waiting for Voyager to arrive with their cure. As they did then, they'd have to be sure to scan their belongings for biohazards, she thought absentmindedly. While she and Chakotay now had a natural immunity to the disease that had once caused their exile--and though the Doctor would know immediately how to treat the illness in others--there was no use in risking exposing anyone else on the crew.

That reminded her: she'd want a full debriefing from her chief medical officer and from Tuvok and Ayala as soon as she got back. Starfleet could exclude her from the Vidiian negotiations, but they couldn't keep her from finding out exactly what--

She stopped herself mid-thought and shook her head. Here she sat in a warm bath on the last night of her vacation, and she yet her mind had already wandered back to Voyager, to her duties, and to the problems she had deferred but not escaped. No doubt her subconscious was trying to prepare her for the reality she was about to face.

So she opened her eyes and tried to stay in the moment. She'd have the entire shuttle ride back to prepare herself to be Voyager's captain again. For now, she was just Kathryn. She'd hang onto that as long as she could.

Scanning the treetops with her eyes, she decided to look for the small primate she'd first spotted from this tub. When she heard a rustling in the hedgerow behind her, she turned to see if he'd finally decided to make an appearance. Instead, she saw Chakotay coming toward her down the hillside.

"You look disappointed," he said. "Were you expecting someone else?"

She smiled. "I suppose not." She held out her hand and invited him to sit on the edge of the tub. "I was just hoping we'd see our little simian friend before we had to go."

Chakotay laughed. "I have no doubt that if we'd stayed here another six months, you would have domesticated him and invited him into the shelter to live. I have to tell you, I was getting a little jealous of the other man in your life."

She flicked her wet fingers at him, but laughed. "Never fear a little competition," she teased. "Besides, I'm pretty sure you could take him in a fight."

He smiled and took her hand. "Just as long as you know I won't give you up without one."

She sighed and felt that tickle of tension run though her one more time. Chakotay seemed to notice and looked puzzled. "Kathryn, is there something wrong?"

She shook her head. "Not a thing. Why do you ask?"

He was studying her face in a way that made her feel uncomfortable. "You believe me, don't you? That I would fight for you--for us. You can trust that. You can trust me."

"I know," she reassured him, squeezing his hand.

"Then tell me why you seem to shut down every time I mention it."

She searched herself for the answer. "I'm not sure. I think it's just that...well, the last time we left here, I thought that I needed to--"

"Define some parameters," he interjected. "I know. And I hated it. But I respected it."

"I walled off a piece of myself that day. And even after we found each other again, I'm not sure I ever really took down the wall. But I can't do that anymore. Not after being here like this again. I can't protect myself anymore. I pride myself on my strength...but when I'm with you like this, I feel utterly..."

"Vulnerable?" he asked.

She closed her eyes and nodded. That was it. She didn't fear him. She feared her own vulnerability. She feared letting someone so far in that she was defenseless against them. Even someone she totally and completely trusted.

Without her saying it, he seemed to understand. "That's the risk we take, Kathryn. When we love someone. When we let someone love us."

She looked up at him and knew in that instant that she had already gone too far to turn back. Even though it had taken her years to finally admit it to herself, he was already a part of her. And there was surely a difference between being vulnerable and being weak.

Somehow the realization seemed to bring with it a quiet sense of contentment. Like so many fears, naming it had cured it. She smiled and soaked in her new sense of peace and of security. And instead of making her feel vulnerable, it gave her strength.

So much so that she acted on an impulse she'd had the first time he'd come across her taking a bath. She tightened her grip on his hand, and with one hard yank, pulled him into the tub with her. "I do love you, you know," she said as she kissed his shocked face.

After he regained his senses, he began laughing at her impulsiveness. "It's a good thing," he said, leaning over to kiss her back. "Because you're stuck with me for the rest of your life."

****

B'Elanna was starting to think they'd be stuck there for the rest of their lives--in a tiny, musty garage in nearly-deserted Williams, Arizona. She would have thought that a town famous only for the road that ran though it would have more than one decent auto mechanic living there. Worse still, like everything on this historic highway to hell, they insisted on authenticity. No replicators. No transporter stations. Nothing but old fashioned telephone lines connecting them to other backward, useless outposts without the common sense to live in the modern world.

Their last six hours on the road had been spent going at excruciatingly slow speeds and praying that the metal wheel rim wouldn't disintegrate into dust before they could roll into a populated area. Finally, they'd limped into this poor excuse for a city--the last stop on Route 66 before the Grand Canyon turn-off--and spotted the tiny filling station.

By that time, of course, they had more than just a flat tire. The rim had been eaten away to nothing, and the sharp metal shards it had thrown off had pierced several hoses under the hood. The ball joint was also stripped and the universal something or other had a long, hairline crack. The suspension was shot, the radiator had cracked from a lack of water, and--and this was the only merciful thing--the radio had died. For the last two of their six hours, B'Elanna was forced to listen only to her husband's heavy breathing and her daughter's occasional tantrums.

And without their highway speeds, there was barely enough air moving to keep them conscious. She was hot and would have been sweating buckets if the dry, warm air hadn't evaporated the very perspiration from them.

In other words, the Mustang was toast--and so were her nerves.

Worse yet, B'Elanna was just tired and dehydrated enough to start wondering if maybe they'd slipped through some kind of time portal and actually *were* in 1969. Maybe the conveniences she'd gotten so accustomed to were just figments of her imagination. Occasionally, just for a reality check, she'd find a reflective surface and make sure she still had cranial ridges. Or was she really a delusional human woman who had only imagined living in the 24th century?

Tom was no help. He just kept pacing back and forth, touching the hood of the car as if he were saying goodbye to a dying friend. He kept a vigil at the Mustang's sickbed, hoping, she imagined, that some miracle would restore his six-cylinder friend to health. She couldn't take him anymore, and had carried a sleepy Miral out to sit in the shade as she watched the sun sink slowly toward the horizon.

Just at the moment when both her sanity and her marriage felt their most tenuous, she'd seen a car pull off the highway and up to the station. No, not a car; it looked more like a shuttlecraft--a large, green vehicle with tinted windows. When it stopped in front of her and the door opened, she felt a whoosh of cold air escape from inside--this vehicle had it's own atmospheric controls! It was everything she could do not to crawl inside.

Instead, she waited as two small children--who appeared to be no older than six--ran past her and into the store next to the garage. Right behind them, a man opened the passenger door and stepped out.

"Hello," he said as he passed her. Then he waited for the driver--a woman about her age--to catch up with him. As they headed toward the store, she saw them peek into the garage, then turn back to face her.

"Is that your car?" the woman asked.

"It was," B'Elanna answered. "My husband is having a memorial service for it, if you'd like to join him."

The woman looked genuinely upset, and walked inside to talk to Tom. The man--B'Elanna assumed it was her husband--walked over to her and Miral instead. "Car nut or American history buff?" he asked.

She snickered. "Both. What was your first clue?"

He smiled. "Kimberly is the same way. We get two weeks on Earth every year, and she insists on spending one of them having a--"

"Don't tell me," B'Elanna interrupted. "Having an 'old-fashioned family vacation,' taking a car trip to the Grand Canyon." It suddenly occurred to her the implications of what he had said. "You mean you've done this before?"

He nodded. "This is the third time. The first year, before the kids were born, we did it by motorcycle. I couldn't walk for a week afterward. Then it was something called an 'MG.' We sat so low to the ground, I could feel every rock in the road. I told her this time that the only way I'd do it again is if we did it right." He pointed to the green vehicle in front of them.

B'Elanna looked it over more carefully. "What is it?" she asked.

"It's called a minivan," he said. "Fully air conditioned, with an automatic transmission, cruise control, a little entertainment system for the kids, and enough room for me to catch a nap in the back if I get tired of watching the sand go by. Here, take a look."

She leaned into the open door--feeling the still-cold air inside--and realized she'd practically started to drool. "Nice," she finally said.

"Hey," he offered, "if you and your family need a lift, we're only about two hours from the Canyon. Kim and I would be happy to take you the rest of the way."

B'Elanna could feel her heart starting to race, though she tried to stay calm. If this poor man knew how close she was to a breakdown, he might not let her near his children. "We wouldn't want to impose," she answered evenly.

"No imposition whatsoever," he said. "Incidentally, my name is Harry."

That clinched it. "B'Elanna," she said, smiling and extending her hand. "And the next-of-kin in there is my husband Tom."

"Nice to meet you," he said. "Now let's see if we can pull our two mourners away from the corpse."

**

It was well after sunset when they slipped into the parking lot of the Grand Canyon Motor Lodge. Their taxi drivers, Kim and Harry, had helped them pack their belongings into the back of the van, and Tom and B'Elanna sat together on the bench seat in the back. The couple's two children, six-year-old twins named Kenny and Colin, had spent the last two hours watching Bugs Bunny cartoons--which had been fun for the first hour at least. But Tom was exhausted and drained and fighting off a growing sense of defeat. His dream vacation had turned into a nightmare, and he was wondering how it had gone so wrong. When their hosts' children ran scampering out of the parked van, he nudged the woman sleeping on his shoulder.

"B'Elanna. B'Elanna, wake up. We're here."

Her eyes fluttered open, but he could tell she was barely conscious. "Huh?" she said, mumbling. "What?"

He shifted Miral's deadweight to his other shoulder and tried to shake his arm awake. "We're here," he said, "at the hotel."

She barely registered his words. "I'm sleeping," she said. "Go away."

After a moment, Harry appeared at the open door. "Why don't you give me the baby? I think your wife might need a hand getting inside."

Tom grinned and slid around far enough that Miral could slip onto the man's shoulder. Then he grabbed B'Elanna by the wrists and sat her up. "Ugggh!" she groaned. "What?!" "Come on, sleepyhead," he said as he slid her across the bench seat, then dragged her behind him out of the van and onto her feet. She was almost awake now, and when he was sure she could stand on her own, Tom took Miral from Harry. "You guys have been great," he said to the man. "I'm not sure what we would have done without you tonight."

"No sweat," the man said before stopping himself. "Sorry. I'm afraid Kimmy's slang has polluted my vocabulary."

B'Elanna snorted, though Tom couldn't quite figure out why. "Well, if there's anything we can ever do for you," he said, turning back to their rescuer, "don't hesitate to ask."

It was a silly offer--the man was a geologist working on a Martian soil farm. They weren't likely to run into each other again. Still, the sentiment was real.

B'Elanna was slowly coming around, and Tom handed their sleeping daughter to her while he unloaded their gear. Piling what had once been the contents of their car onto a luggage trolley, he slammed the rear liftgate--and noticed the emblem on the van. 'Voyager,' it said in a once-futuristic script. Tom just shook his head and sighed.

Slowly, the exhausted Paris-Torres family made their way into to motel lobby and rented a room. Fifteen minutes later, B'Elanna and Miral were sound asleep in its one tiny bed.

As he sat there watching them breathe, a thought slowly crawled into Tom's tired mind. So what if their vacation hadn't exactly gone as he'd planned? So what if his month-old Mustang was now just a pile of spare parts in an Arizona junk heap. He'd gotten to drive like the wind down the most storied road in the country. He'd sung a dozen choruses of '99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall,' eaten a half-dozen greasy cheeseburgers, and made love to his wife on a vintage waterbed in a mountain cabin under a starry sky. Back in the days of battling the Borg, the last three days would have seemed like a dream. So, if this was as bad as life got, he thought, bring it on.

He looked out the window at the illuminated billboard for the Grand Canyon, and realized that the only 'Wonders of the World' he would ever need to see were asleep in the bed next to him. Then he smiled, tucked the covers up around them, and headed out the door.

**

B'Elanna stretched and yawned and waited for her body to catch up with her brain. She was awake--mostly--and slowly becoming aware of her surroundings. Yet her eyes refused to open. So she'd stay in bed for a while and wait until Miral cried or Tom called her.

She wasn't sure she could face another day of vacation, she thought. At least they were finally at the damn Grand Canyon. She wondered how long Tom would insist on staying--and if she could talk him into transporting home when he was through having his 'family adventure.' She wasn't sure she could take two minutes much less two days in another car.

Her eyes still weren't cooperating--but her ears were slowly coming to life, and she thought for a moment that she heard a seagull squawking. Not likely in the desert. Vultures, maybe, but not seagulls. Then her nose caught the distinctive whiff of salt air blowing in the window. Something didn't make sense.

She forced her eyes open--and found herself lying in a rattan canopy bed, with a huge down mattress and a billowing white insect screen. "Tom?" she called out tentatively.

Somehow she knew she wasn't in Arizona any more.

She looked down and realized that the dusty blue jeans she'd fallen asleep in had been replaced by a silky cream chemise, and the ratty Americana furniture of their hotel room was now what could only be described as island chic. She climbed out of bed and headed for the open French doors along the far wall of the tastefully decorated room.

When she stepped outside, she could see crystal white sand that went on for miles, abutting the most gorgeous sapphire blue water she had ever seen. Tom and Miral were splashing in the waves at the shoreline, and he looked up when he saw her walk toward them.

"Good morning," he said as if nothing were strange at all. "Did you sleep well?"

B'Elanna brought her hands to her face and rubbed her still-tired eyes. "Where are we?" she asked, ignoring his question.

"Fiji," he answered matter-of-factly.

"Fiji," she mimicked back to him. "How did we get to Fiji?"

Tom laughed. "I realized last night that I'd had my fill of life on the road. So I hiked over to the Federation tourist center and had you and our stuff transported here. Harry and Kimmy watched Miral while I got you settled in, then I picked her up and--voila. Fiji."

"Just like that," she said. "We didn't even get to see the Grand Canyon!"

Tom scratched his head for a second. "Do you want to go back?"

Before B'Elanna could answer, Miral was tugging on her nightgown. "'Wimming, Momma, 'wimming!"

She reached down and scooped their little girl into her arms, then turned back to Tom. He repeated his offer. "We still have four days before we have to report back for duty. We can go back to the Grand Canyon if you really want to see it."

B'Elanna started laughing almost uncontrollably. "Not on your life, Paris," she said, handing Miral to him and running back up the sand. "Just tell me where you packed my bathing suit. My daughter and I are going swimming!"

"Yes, ma'am!" she heard him laughing from behind her. "Whatever you say!"

****

It was always strange to see her ship from the outside, she thought. And even though part of her still missed the old, familiar hull configuration, Kathryn felt almost the same sense of pride and ownership of her new and improved Voyager. A feeling she might have to learn to get over depending on how the next few months played themselves out. This ship--like its predecessor--belonged not to her, but to Starfleet. One day she'd have to let it go. One day. But not today.

They'd be docked in a little over twenty minutes, and while they were well within com range, she'd hesitated to do more than confirm their approach vectors. There was plenty of time to find out about the Vidiian negotiations when they got back.

Saying goodbye to New Earth the second time had been bittersweet, but not the least bit painful. They'd gotten a second chance to rediscover their lives there. A second chance to remember how they'd first transcended being captain and first officer to become Kathryn and Chakotay. And she'd finally found a way to unlock the door to her heart she'd so deliberately closed the last time she'd left. She was relaxed and content--and happy.

Chakotay was taking a deliberately wide angle on their approach, she realized, and she wondered if he had any regrets about leaving their lives on New Earth yet again. Just as she considered asking, he looked over at her from the helm. "Welcome home, Captain," he said quietly, as he slipped his hand into hers.

"Thanks," she said, getting all the answer she needed, and preparing herself to step back into her own life once more. "Welcome home, Commander."

Then she opened a channel. "AsteriŽ to Voyager. Prepare to bring us aboard."

------

Written by: Barbara Watson
NotBeta: SaRa
Producers: SaRa, MaquisKat and Coral

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