Paramount owns the show and the characters, who in turn own too much of me...
Tonight was Christmas Eve.
It was a holiday that many races in the Alpha Quadrant celebrated, although many didn't. It was also a good excuse to have a party. And the crewmembers of Voyager needed excuses around this time of year since so many of them became sentimental and depressed without their families near.
Neelix had prepared a "Holiday Party" and the Captain had encouraged everyone aboard Voyager to join the party, if only for a while. During the morning senior staff briefing, she had reinforced the idea that the senior staff should set an example for the other crewmen by attending the function. Neelix had positively beamed.
The Captain herself had thought of every possible reason in the universe why she couldn't attend, however. She had reports to complete, and important duties to perform.
Commander Tuvok had also found interesting things to do; he determined that his time could best be utilized by recalibrating the sensors array, in case the next 24 hours proved to be as uncertain as long-range scans currently suggested.
Commander Chakotay, however, had visited the Captain in her Ready Room at precisely 16:50 hours, inquiring about her plans for the evening, and reinforcing her words at the earlier senior staff briefing. She sighed.
"Chakotay, I really have a great deal of work to do. Why don't you attend for both of us, hmm? Give the crew my regards and tell them I simply cannot attend." Chakotay had remained silent for a moment, something the Captain always disliked. "Well, what is it?" she'd asked finally.
"I think your presence will be important tonight, Captain," he'd said calmly, in that voice of his that drove her crazy in more ways than one.
"Chakotay . . ." she began, already having chosen her words carefully, planning for this moment.
"No, you don't have to explain, Captain," he had said. "I'm sure the crew will understand. You have a lot on your plate right now, and the holidays are not important. These are Alpha Quadrant holidays we are celebrating tonight, and we are here in the Delta Quadrant, after all. Something we don't want to forget."
He had waited patiently then, while Kathryn had seethed, sighed, took deep breaths, then finally agreed to attend, if only for appearances sake. He had smiled at her, and left her Ready Room.
Kathryn Janeway once again had to admit to herself that her First Officer knew her well.
Oh, well, she would go for a few minutes. That was all. She just couldn't take these holiday parties anymore. They did nothing but make her even more depressed about the fact that it was her fault that this crew was celebrating their holidays in the Delta Quadrant.
And as she left the Bridge only moments later, heading for the turbolift, she paused by Tuvok's station as she passed him.
"19:00 hours, Commander. If I have to go, you have to go," she said to him in a low voice.
And Tuvok had nodded his acknowledgement of her words. If Kathryn hadn't known him better, she would've bet her next month's replicator rations that he had just given her a look of defeat.
At precisely 19:30 hours, Captain Kathryn Janeway had entered Holodeck 1. She walked directly to Neelix, asked how the party was progressing, thanked him for his efforts and took a glass of punch from his tray.
She walked to an empty chair at a small vacant table in the corner and sat alone. Chakotay smiled to himself as he watched her from across the room. She had been here exactly 10 minutes and she was already waiting for the first moment of escape.
Arriving at her table, Chakotay asked politely, "May I join you? Or are you waiting for someone in particular?"
She looked at him with that "look" he'd come to appreciate. It said 'you are the reason I'm here, Mister, so watch yourself.'
Kathryn took a sip of her punch and looked out over the room.
"Please," she said, gesturing at the empty chair on her left. "I'm having a wonderful time, but I'm sure it will improve even more now."
Chakotay laughed aloud as he pulled out the chair and sat; he couldn't help it, but she wouldn't just give in and try to enjoy herself.
Kathryn looked at him; she was surprised he'd laughed at her, even though she knew he had intentionally come to her Ready Room with that speech to make her feel guilty so that she would make an appearance tonight.
"What's so funny?" she asked wryly.
"Nothing, Captain," he responded. "I apologize. I was out of line." But his smile did not completely disappear, and he could see that she was watching him.
"Commander, I'll have you know that I hate these things. I always have. And I will be out of here the moment a good excuse arises."
"I realize that, Captain. But thanks for coming anyway." His smile was still slightly visible.
Just then, Tom Paris walked up to the table.
"Well, what is this?" he asked. "The Captain and Commander sitting here in the corner, in the dark?" His voice held that slick drawl he used whenever he was away from the Bridge, and Kathryn looked him in the eye.
"Watch it, Ensign," she said. Standing, she stepped up to him and continued, "I'd be very careful if I were you, Tom. It seems that someone spiked the punch tonight," and at this she carefully put her half empty cup on the table. "And I wouldn't want you to be called in and questioned about it." Then she moved away from the table, and into the room full of people.
Tom sighed, and turned toward Chakotay.
"Looks like it's one of those nights, huh, Commander?"
Chakotay stood and put his own cup of punch on the table.
"I don't know what you're talking about, Ensign," he said, then moved away.
And Tom shook his head, standing alone at the table, but turning to watch the two topmost commanding officers move about the room. He sighed. When would they realize what everyone else already knew? He shook his head and looked about the room for B'Elanna.
Twenty minutes later, just as the Captain was moving slowing, but surely, toward the door, Tom Paris stopped the party with a banging on his glass. Everyone stopped where they were, including the Captain, who wondered briefly just what it was that commanded everyone's attention with the clinging sound of a glass being tapped?
Tom stepped up into the center of the room then, and in his most sincere voice said, "I want to propose a toast."
Everyone readied their glass for the toast, and Neelix suddenly appeared by his Captain's side and handed her a glass of some indescribable liquid. She nodded at him and he grinned back at her.
Every eye turned toward Tom Paris.
"I just want to acknowledge everyone here tonight," he said. The room was quiet. "We are celebrating our sixth holiday season together, here in the Delta Quadrant . . ."
'. . . because of me . . .' thought their Captain, to herself. She looked at her glass.
"And it's not always been easy, but no one said it was going to be easy. We all chose careers that weren't easy." He paused. "Especially our Captain."
Kathryn looked up suddenly and saw that all eyes were upon her. And Tom was holding his glass out toward her.
"To our Captain," he said. "Who has the most difficult job of all - knowing when to congratulate us for a job well done, and when to throw us in the Brig." He paused then, and looked directly at her. This part of the message was personal. "And some of us haven't made it very easy for her."
The room was silent for a moment, and then someone decided that the toast was complete. Cheering and applause broke out, and sips were taken from their glasses.
Kathryn Janeway looked across the room at Tom Paris, the Lieutenant she had demoted to the rank of Ensign. He still respected her. She nodded in his direction slightly, and he raised his glass to her.
Commander Chakotay watched the exchange from across the room, while everyone else had moved about and begun to dance. He was glad Tom had made the declaration publicly. Kathryn would not be able to deny it then. And she wouldn't be able to berate herself any longer about the punishment she had given Tom.
Tom smiled at her, then turned away as B'Elanna put her hand on his shoulder. He smiled at her and they moved easily onto the dance floor.
Captain Janeway sat her glass on the table in front of her and escaped, finally, through the doors of Holodeck 1, and into the serenity of the corridor outside. The party was in full swing now, and she was free to be alone.
Five minutes after Captain Janeway's exit from the Holodeck, Neelix watched as Commander Chakotay followed. He sighed. He really wished he could plan a party that the Captain would enjoy. But several people had told him she really didn't enjoy parties at all. He would keep trying, though. His mission in life was to please his Captain, and he was bound and determined to find some party that she would appreciate.
A moment later, Neelix moved back into the crowded room, refilling the empty glasses, and thinking about the future parties he would plan.
Less than half an hour later, Commander Chakotay entered the mess hall. There was no one here, except the Captain, but he had known that to be the case when he entered the room. She was alone at one of the viewports, with a cup of coffee in her hand.
"Party too much for you?" he asked from across the room.
"Sentimental gatherings are too much for me these days, I'm afraid. Maybe I'm getting cynical in my old age." Kathryn turned her head to look at him, with a wistful grin on her face.
"Somehow I doubt that." He paused, smiling slightly. "Do you mind some company, or would you rather be alone?"
She turned to him.
"Oh, I don't know. What's your reason for leaving the party? And I warn you, if you've come to cheer me up or try to convince me to go back there, then you can leave now."
"Neither I'm afraid. I've just had enough party for the evening myself."
"In that case, you're welcome to join me. My treat," she said, pointing to her steaming mug of coffee.
"No thanks. If I drank that at this hour I wouldn't sleep until time for duty shift tomorrow morning. And somehow I don't think sleeping on the job would go over very well with the Captain, even if she were the one responsible for it."
"I'll make yours decaffeinated then."
"All right, I'll try it," Chakotay agreed, taking a seat at the table closest to where Kathryn stood looking out the viewport.
Kathryn crossed to the replicator.
"Computer, one cup of Janeway recipe Omega 6, hot, decaffeinated." She reached into the slot, took out the steaming cup, and carried it to Chakotay. As she sat it in front of him, she took a seat at the opposite side of the table and put her feet up on the seat of the chair across from her. Chakotay imitated her, putting his feet up on the opposite chair, then taking the coffee cup in his hand.
"Smells good," he said, and she grinned at him.
Chakotay tasted the coffee, then gulped and coughed, sitting up. Kathryn chuckled again.
"Don't tell me you don't like it," she said.
"No, it tastes quite good; I just didn't expect Voyager's Captain to spike the coffee with . . . whiskey, is it?"
"Good old Tennessee Whiskey," she said, nodding. "And since it's Christmas Eve, I thought I'd allow myself a treat."
"It's about time," said Chakotay, returning to his reclining position, and watching the stars streak by.
The Captain and Commander sat companionably with their backs to the kitchen and their feet up on the chair in front of them, looking out the viewport at the Delta Quadrant stars as they streaked by at Warp 4.
"Don't tell anyone we have our feet up on the chairs," she whispered, leaning in to the table conspiratorially. "I'm sure Neelix would hear about it and reprimand us for knowing better. And, obviously, I do not know better. But the fewer people who know that, the better."
Now it was Chakotay's turn to laugh.
"I'll bet as a child you used this trick so many times you got away with everything you wanted to."
"Suffice it to say I learned early how to get my way. I was too stubborn to accept 'no' for an answer. My Father used to tell me my stubbornness would only serve to get me into trouble if I wanted to be a Starfleet science officer. I would have to learn how to take orders"
"And did your stubbornness get you into trouble?"
"Oh, more times than not, at first. But eventually I learned to take orders, after some hard lessons."
"I can well imagine," said Chakotay.
"And then I decided to go into command. I was convinced that this was the answer to all my problems: Be the one to give the orders, not follow someone else's."
Chakotay smiled and turned to look at her.
"And did it work out for the best?"
"Are you asking me if I'm happy I gave up my science station for the Big Chair?" she asked, looking him in the eye.
She sighed, and lay her head against the headrest of her chair.
"I'm still trying to decide the answer to that one," she replied quietly.
"Really?" asked Chakotay.
"You seem surprised," she said, turning to look at him from her same position.
"I guess I am. I wouldn't have thought you would question that decision."
"I'm not sure; I've never really thought about it. You just seem to be a perfect candidate for Captain. In fact, it's not easy for me to imagine you in a secondary position at all."
"You see, even you think I am too stubborn, hard-headed and determined to take orders from anyone else."
Chakotay smiled her way.
"I didn't say that. I prefer to think of it as your being good at taking charge."
They laughed easily together, but then grew quiet, staring at the stars once again.
"Sometimes I do think about the freedoms I could enjoy if I were just a science officer and not in command of the entire vessel."
"Do you think about it a lot?" Chakotay asked quietly. He certainly did. He wanted to see her laugh and smile more.
Spirits, be honest, he thought to himself. He wanted her to feel free enough to let herself love him, as he loved her.
"Once, yes. But not so much anymore." She was quiet, reflective.
"What happened?" he asked gently.
But she was quiet for a long time. And just as he thought she wasn't going to answer him at all, she said softly, "I stranded us all in the Delta Quadrant."
"That couldn't be helped, Kathryn. You made the right decision."
"Did I?" she asked.
She sighed, once again leaning her head against the headrest, and closing her eyes.
"I still wonder about that, you know," she whispered.
"Yes, I know," he said softly.
They were quiet then, alone together.
"Do you ever think about . . . New Earth?"
Kathryn's head snapped up. She took a deep breath, then sat up in her chair and took a drink of her cold coffee. Minutes passed, it seemed. New Earth. Her breath caught in her throat. How did she answer this question?
"That was nearly five years ago, Chakotay," she said finally, staring into her coffee.
"Yes." He paused, and Kathryn thought she was off the hook. She'd just managed to breathe almost normally again when he added, "But do you ever think about it?"
She closed her eyes tightly, warning the tears not to form beneath her lids. The Truth. She opened her eyes slowly. They had never lied to each other. And he would expect the Truth. She owed him that much.
She did not look at him, but she had given him his answer.
Chakotay didn't press her. 'Yes' was enough. It gave him something he hadn't had in months, years. Peace. Her answer gave him a peace in his heart, and mind. So she thought of New Earth, too, of them alone there, together. That was all he needed to know. His soul would rest easy tonight. And if he passed into the spirit world while he slept, his soul would be at rest. He closed his eyes warily and lay his head back against the headrest as Kathryn had done earlier.
"And you?" Her voice was soft, gentle, almost afraid. It came later, much later, from a place inside his mind, he thought. But when he raised his head to look at her, he saw that she was looking at him.
"Every day," he said, looking into her eyes.
They looked away from each other then, needing space and time. Time to think.
After a few minutes, Chakotay spoke.
"Two weeks," he said gently.
"What?" she asked, turning to look at him, taken from her thoughts.
He didn't look at her.
"If we hadn't been rescued by Voyager, I believe it would have taken us two more weeks to become lovers."
He had to say this to her; he had kept himself in check for nearly five years now. But he had always known he would say this to her some day.
Kathryn was silent; she didn't seem upset, angry or even shocked by his declaration. She merely sat back in her chair, as though he had told her nothing more than the time on the chronometer.
It's been five years, he thought to himself. Things change and people change. And their feelings change.
But why couldn't his feelings have changed as well? Why did he still love her so?
Suddenly Chakotay sat up in his chair. It was time to leave her. He knew it; he felt it. She had told him something tonight that he had dearly needed to know; she had swallowed her pride and told him the truth. She still thought about New Earth, too. That was enough. He needed nothing more from her; she had given him a special gift tonight.
Finally, Chakotay forced himself to stand. He sat his nearly empty cup of cold coffee on the table in front of him, then looked Kathryn in the eye.
"Thank you," he said simply, and they both knew he meant for much more than the coffee.
She met his eyes and nodded slightly, so slightly that most people wouldn't have noticed it at all. But Chakotay did. She was acknowledging his appreciation of her gift to him.
He turned and walked toward the doors to the mess hall, then turned back one last time, noticing that Kathryn had risen and once again moved to the furthermost position, next to the viewport.
He turned to go again.
He turned once more. Had she spoken his name?
After a moment, she spoke without looking at him.
"Three days," she said.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Two weeks, you said," she replied softly, still looking out the viewport. "I say three days."
She squeezed her eyes shut quickly, struggling with the depth of emotion those memories evoked inside her. The memories which suddenly threatened to overwhelm her.
But Chakotay knew what she was telling him. It wouldn't have taken two weeks for them to have made love with each other. She would have taken him into her bed in three days' time.
Chakotay's eyes filled with tears, but he forced them away.
"Kathryn . . . thank you," he finished softly. There was nothing more to be said.
She nodded, but remained with her back to him.
After a moment, Chakotay took a deep breath.
"Goodnight, Kathryn, sleep well," he whispered gently.
"You too," she replied automatically, already lost in thought.
And as Chakotay turned to the doors once more, neither realized how easily they had slipped back into their nightly words of the past.
He left her then. The doors slid closed behind him gently, as Voyager's Captain continued to watch the stars streak by, feeling the old hurt surface once more. Would it ever end?
Would she ever be able to leave the hurt behind and forget that the last time she had truly laughed was when she and Chakotay had been together in her garden of Talaxian tomato vines?
Tears came to her eyes. She still loved him. After all this time . . . who had she been kidding?
Kathryn sighed. When all else failed, watch the stars. The Delta Quadrant star systems were infinitely different from any of those she had studied at Starfleet Academy. And they continued to amaze her. They kept her in check and refused to allow her any delusions of being in the Alpha Quadrant with nightmares of being stuck in the Delta Quadrant, so very many light years away from the home she and her crew all knew.
Kathryn looked away from the viewport, and back into the interior of the mess hall of her beloved starship.
She closed her eyes. The time with Chakotay tonight had been real and honest. They had been comfortable with each other in a way that had long been missing in their relationship since . . . the Borg? Maybe.
Tonight had been sweet. Strange how very quickly melancholy can seize one's heart, though.
Suddenly wary, Kathryn picked up the two coffee mugs, put them into the recycle bins and left the mess hall, heading toward her quarters, and a very long night ahead.
Suddenly, her comm badge chirped.
"Chakotay to Janeway." She stopped, and her heart leapt.
"Janeway here," she replied automatically.
"I thought since you've had all that coffee, you're sure to be awake most of the night. And I wondered if you might like to join me on Holodeck 2 for some fun."
Kathryn smiled to herself.
"Oh? What sort of fun, Commander?" she asked, trying to keep her voice light.
There was a slight pause, and only one that she would notice.
"I thought we might take this opportunity to explore the river together . . ." came his reply.
"Explore the river . . ." her voice was suddenly tight with emotion.
"If you recall correctly, Commander," she tried to keep her voice calm and Captain-like, "we never had a chance to build the boat."
"No, but I drew up the plans, Kathryn. And I remember them well. In fact, that boat may just be ready for us to take her out for a ride right now . . . What do you say? Join me?" His voice was melodious; she had listened to it, loved it, for years.
And suddenly, Kathryn Janeway knew that she was being given a second chance, not just by Chakotay, the man she had loved for so long, but by Fate itself.
She could seize this moment, or she could once again walk away from the only man she had ever truly loved.
There was only this moment; there may not be another.
Chakotay was waiting for her answer, knowing that she was considering her options. Knowing, too, that she was aware of what was truly being decided here, now, this moment. This moment, but for all time.
And suddenly, Kathryn Janeway experienced a moment of such intense clarity she actually felt lightheaded. A burden was being lifted from her shoulders, and she felt it in such a physical way.
Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath, reveling in the freedom this feeling gave her.
"Captain . . ." There was concern in his voice.
"Chakotay?" she asked quickly.
"Do you think we could fit the bathtub in the boat with us?" she asked him softly, standing alone in the middle of the corridor of Deck 27, and knowing what his answer would be.
And Chakotay had heard the smile in her voice, and he knew immediately that she had made a new decision about their relationship.
After a moment, she heard the reply she had expected.
"You won't need it. You can use the river, remember?"
"Yes, I remember . . ." she replied softly to his voice. She smiled to herself, glad that she knew him so well. Remember? Oh, yes. She remembered every damned moment of New Earth as though it were only yesterday and not five years ago.
They both remembered. And the past five years suddenly fell away from them both.
"Kathryn . . . Holodeck 2." He stated it simply, but his voice betrayed the emotions he had struggled with for so long.
"I'm on my way." Her voice was stronger now.
And for the very first time, Voyager's Captain ran through the bowels of her ship, heading for the turbolift, without the reason being a ship's emergency.
Upon reaching Holodeck 2, the doors opened for the Captain automatically. She stopped, took a deep breath and walked inside the doors. They shut closed behind her, but she didn't notice.
She was completely surrounded by the most vivid recreation of New Earth she could ever imagine. Her eyes became moist as she looked around her.
It was a perfect reproduction of her favorite spot by the river . . . the clear sparkling water, the bend ahead, the large rock where she had sunned herself on those days she had actually put aside her research long enough to take a dip.
And there it was. The boat. She smiled. It looked exactly as it should.
"Kathryn," he whispered her name softly, from just behind her. She turned to greet him as he walked up to her. They stared into each other's eyes for a long moment, neither of them saying a word.
They smiled at each other tentatively.
"You were already here when you contacted me," she whispered.
"I wanted all this to be ready when you arrived, just in case you agreed to meet me here," he said.
"Did you think I wouldn't?" she asked softly.
"Yes," he said simply.
She nodded slightly and turned away from him before he could see the tears in her eyes.
Yes, she understood. Until tonight, she had still been in denial.
"It's lovely," she whispered, with her back to him, looking out over the river. "And so perfect. How long have you had this program?"
"Nearly five years," he said softly, still behind her. "This was intended to be a gift for you, but . . . there never came a time to give it to you."
The tears still threatened her, and she merely nodded. Chakotay kept his distance, knowing she needed a moment to herself.
"This was my favorite place," she whispered.
"I know," he replied.
"But how could you know?" She turned to him then. "I came here alone."
"You did an awful lot of research in this area."
"Yes." She smiled, remembering. She turned to look out over the river again, and wiped the tears from her eyes. "I would often take an afternoon swim right at this spot. Then I would lie on that rock to dry myself and nap before dressing again."
"I know," he whispered softly, suddenly standing next to her.
She turned to him quickly, then immediately turned away, blushing furiously.
"Then it wasn't the monkey who watched me, after all?" she asked so softly that he barely heard her.
"You were beautiful," he stated softly.
"And you spied on me," she said, but her voice was light.
"Not on purpose." She turned to him, having regained her composure. She had a questioning look on her face, and he felt obligated to respond. "At first," he admitted, with a grin.
She turned away from him again before he could catch her smile.
"I often wondered which one of you it was."
Chakotay detected the huskiness in her tone.
"You never asked me," he prompted.
"I wasn't sure I really wanted to know," she admitted, a bit sheepishly.
Chakotay moved to Kathryn, as she turned to face him again.
"You were beautiful five years ago, and you're even more beautiful now." He took her face in his hands.
Kathryn closed her eyes, enjoying the feel of his nearness, his touch. She remembered their evenings together on New Earth and how their love for each other had truly begun there. Oh, how much she had wanted him to touch her then . . .
Three days . . . it would only have been three more days. She was sure of it . . .
She opened her eyes to see him watching the emotions play across her face.
"What were you thinking about just now?" he whispered, his voice betraying his desire for her.
"You and me. New Earth." She paused. "And how much I wanted you to touch me then as you're doing now."
"It would only have taken a word from you, Kathryn. Or just a look."
"Three days." She smiled at him with a spark in her eye. "You would have gotten that word in three days' time."
"You are so sure of that, aren't you?" he asked softly, with a smile on his lips. That smile. The one that made her heart leap.
"Yes, I am. I had wanted you to make love with me for weeks," she whispered, her voice strained. "But you know how stubborn I can be . . ."
He smiled back at her.
"Yes, but now you know how persistent I can be."
They smiled at each other, then Chakotay brushed her lips gently with his.
"Commander," she purred softly, "I think you're going to have to do better than that. We have a lot of time to make up for."
"Oh?" he whispered into her ear. "Do you really think we can make up for five years in just one night?"
"Absolutely," she replied, her voice still husky.
He pulled back to look at her. He hadn't expected that answer.
"Or die trying," she smiled, seductively.
He smiled back. This was the Kathryn he knew, and loved, so deeply. Everything or nothing. If it was worth doing at all, it was worth doing passionately.
All right. He would be happy to die trying, he thought to himself, as he kissed her again.
And as the Holiday Party continued in Holodeck 1, the Captain and Commander enjoyed their own pleasures that evening in Holodeck 2 . . .