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"Cognac & Firelight"

SETTING:Late season six
RATING: PG13 for now
NOTES: If you're expecting a strictly canon Janeway and Chakotay, utter a four-letter technobabble incantation and turn back now. These people are at the very least, intimate friends with a romantic history and perhaps, high hopes for the future.
SUMMARY: For the purposes of this story, J/C fell in love and became lovers on New Earth, but Mr. Tuvok, Mr. Kim and the crew busted that up when they rescued the winsome twosome. Back on Voyager, four years after the events of "Resolutions", J/C are good friends, but protocol and some recent bitter Command arguments have taken their toll. There are no easy answers, but there's always the magic of Christmas and the liberating effects of snow, cognac and firelight.
Disclaimer: Paramount owns the character names, but the story is mine. I'm not making any money out of this story, just having some fun and sharing it with other J/Cers. Please contact me for permission if you'd like to archive or reproduce this story.


Chakotay stepped from Voyager's warm, brightly-lit corridor into a stunningly beautiful winter landscape. Through a veil of falling snowflakes he could see rolling hills and wooded valleys laid out before him ; a silent, snowy vista framed by the silhouettes of nearby trees.

The style of programming, the finesse and the attention to detail could only be Kathryn's, he realised. Even Tom would be hard pressed to write something so real and so wonderful. As he stood on the threshold between coldness and warmth, simulation and reality, he shivered - more from feelings of deja-vu and anticipation than anything else, but looking out over the frozen landscape lit by a pale, wintery sun, he was certainly glad of his warm clothes and heavy overcoat.

Eager to be on his way he reached into his coat-pocket, pulled out a dark red ski-hat and gloves and put them on. As he moved out of the holodeck doors sensor range they clanged shut behind him and a sudden blast of icy, razor-sharp wind whipped over the snow to hurl flakes into his eyes and snatch his breath away. Chilled, blinded and breathless he fought the wind for his overcoat, winning it back just before the wind sheered away to do battle with a huge, snow-covered fir tree. As he rubbed at his eyes and gulped for air some innate sense told him to move - quickly. Instinct took over and he leapt sideways just as another freezing blast dislodged most of the snow from the fir tree, sending it crashing down onto his boot-prints. Breathing heavily - more from shock than exertion - he pushed his ski-hat out of his eyes and turned to stare at the place he'd been standing seconds before. As welcomes went, this one had 'Kathryn' written all over it. Glancing up at the lowering holographic sky he muttered a slow, sarcastic, "And a very Merry Christmas to you, too." Grinning in spite of himself, he buttoned his overcoat and looked around. The obvious path meandered along beside a frozen stream for a little way before turning aside and disappearing into a nearby wood, so he followed it - deliberately going wide of any heavily-laden trees.

As he crunched over hard-packed snow, frozen twigs and leaves, a familiar exuberance bubbled-up inside him. Truth be told, when his duty-shift had ended earlier, all he'd really wanted to do was take a hot shower, pull on a bathrobe and stretch out on the couch with a drink and a good book. As soon as he'd stepped through the door to his quarters though, the computer had delivered Kathryn's last minute supper invitation and suddenly he hadn't felt quite so tired. By the time he'd showered and dressed again, the anticipation of being alone with her, of talking with her, of just being able to sit and watch her without worrying about who might be watching him, had completely worked it's magic, pulling at him like an old addiction.

Few people would understand his enjoyment of such a simple, transient pleasure, but he'd seen nothing of 'off-duty' Kathryn lately, and for all his resolute, well-practiced defences, he'd missed her. Much too much. After the rescue of the Equinox crew, their friendship had been strained almost to breaking point. They'd muddled along, doing their best to gloss over the rift, but never really getting past it, until one day, Kathryn had come to him and suggested they spend some time apart ; no more quiet candle-lit dinners or near-silent walks on the holodeck, no more awkward evenings in her quarters or his, trying to make conversation about anything and everything except the Equinox incident. A time-out. Weary of the awkward tension between them and hoping it would help, he'd readily agreed and suggested that she try Tom's most recent holodeck program, while he kept to Sandrines. From that day on, Kathryn had spent all of her off-duty hours in Fair Haven getting to know a holographic character named Michael Sullivan. They saw each other every day of course ; in briefings, on the Bridge, and sometimes in Astrometrics or Engineering, but they never seemed to be alone long enough to get past the barriers of rank and uniform.

He smiled as he remembered the look on her face as she introduced him to Sullivan ... the hot blush that had flashed from her neck to her hair-line at his gentle teasing, the way her eyes wouldn't quite meet his.... He'd wanted to hold her to him, laugh into her hair and tell her that it was all right ; that he understood, that she had absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about. He hadn't, of course, not with crewmembers and holograms milling around nearby. He'd figured it was a conversation for another, more private time, but days had passed so quickly into weeks and weeks into months, and the chance to tell her those things had passed with them. Maybe he'd finally get the chance to tell her tonight....

A sharp bend and a steep rise in the path later, he found himself before a single-story cabin nestled in the lee of a hill and flanked on either side by dense stands of tall, protective fir trees. Snow had drifted against the dark log-walls at the front of the cabin, stopping just shy of a large leaded window, while the roof looked as if it had just been decorated with thickly-rolled, white icing ; the perfect place to spend a quiet Christmas evening together and forget about the Delta Quadrant for a while.

He knew that he was expected, but he knocked at the door and waited until he heard a welcoming, "It's open, Chakotay... come-on in," before stamping the snow from his boots, lifting the latch and going inside.


Kathryn was nowhere to be seen but a faint smell of burning and her slightly frazzled voice calling, "I'll be right there... make yourself at home," came from an open door off to his right. Grinning to himself as he remembered the mayhem she could cause in a kitchen, he decided to stay put and give her time to sort things out without an audience.

As he took off his coat, hat and gloves he looked around the main room of the cabin. It was rectangular, about thirty feet long by twenty feet wide and there was wood everywhere - from polished floorboards to planed log walls and the open, rough-cut beams of a vaulted ceiling, all aged to a warm, mellow brown.

There wasn't much in the way of furniture in the room, but what there was radiated a comfortable, lived-in warmth that was extraordinary for a holodeck program. A large, squashy sofa carelessly covered by a plaid blue and green throw and piled high with matching cushions stood in the centre of the long wall to his right, while the long wall to his left housed a large stone fire-place laid with fresh logs and kindling, all ready to light. Above the fire, at each end of a wide stone mantel, two old-fashioned oil-lamps hissed softly as they bathed all but the farthest corners of the room in diffused, golden light.

Between the sofa and the fire-place, a faded, but still beautiful blue and yellow rug covered the floorboards under a large wooden chest. On top of the chest stood a teetering stack of books, a blue and white china vase filled to overflowing with tiny flowers that reminded him of blue-bonnets, some delicate unfinished patchwork, and a dark-green woollen hat. An old-fashioned pine dresser stood against the wall at the far end of the sofa, its shelves lined with willow-pattern saucers, and matching cups hung from small hooks. Just beyond that, the short wall at the end of the room was partially covered by a dark-blue velvet curtain, but he could just see the edges of a bay-window and a cushioned window-seat behind it.

Laying his things on the sofa, he went to the window, pulled back the curtain and looked out. The sun was already dropping behind the trees, causing dark pockets of shadow to creep across the meadow just in front of the cabin, but it was still snowing ; large, delicate flakes drifting lazily from the sky. Chakotay had always loved the eerie hush that accompanied snow. As a child, he'd been fascinated by the structure of snowflakes, too - by their uniqueness and by the way a single flake seemed so delicate and innocuous, but bound together with others it became a powerful, sometimes deadly force of nature.

Hearing footsteps, he turned to watch Kathryn cross the room towards him ; a very different Kathryn to the one he'd left on the Bridge a short while ago. Dressed simply in a dark-blue cable sweater, grey pants and low-heeled, grey pumps she was all soft, touchable curves. Light from the oil-lamps glinted on her hair making it seem redder than it actually was, while the blue of her sweater tinted her eyes that familiar, but impossible navy. She even moved differently out of uniform, he noticed ... more slowly, and with the most adorable sway of her hips. As she came to stand in front of him, she grinned the quirky, lop-sided grin that he loved so much and a warm, dull ache rolled from his chest to his groin. No doubt about it. This was the woman he hadn't seen for months - the one who'd strolled into a town called Fair Haven and seemingly disappeared from his life. The sudden urge to welcome her back with a hug seemed ridiculous, inspired and right all at the same time, but before he could do anything, she gazed pointedly at his hair and asked,

"May I...?"

Confused, thrown by the feeling that she was carrying on a previous, long-forgotten conversation, he could only reply, "May you what...?"

Her eyes crinkled at the edges as she smiled and reached up to smooth her fingers through his hair. "The black sweater and pants is very Maquis, Chakotay... very you, but I'm afraid this hat-hair will have to go."

"Oh, right," he chuckled. It was so like her to try and banish any initial awkwardness with some flirtacious teasing. In their early years together - before he came to know her properly - he'd decided that she was simply a natural flirt. Now of course, he realised that small touches and badinage were always her first line of defence in awkward personal situations. Dipping his head, but watching her intently, he continued, "Maybe, if 'someone' hadn't rigged the holodeck to treat me like a kite before dumping a ton of snow on top of me, I'd be presentable."

Her face was a picture of wide-eyed innocence. "Really? Who'd go and do a thing like that?"

"Your guess is as good as mine, but we could always ask the computer?"

"You had it coming," she confessed with a sly grin as she lowered her hand. "Payback for something, I'm sure. You always do." Her voice trailed away and her brow creased in bemused concentration as she tried to remember just what that 'something' was."

"Probably for the time I rigged the pool-table," he offered.

Her eyes glinted. "Ah, yes. After tricking me into wagering my precious coffee-fund on our final game."

"Righteous payback for the time you rigged the dart-board to bounce my darts."

They laughed briefly, then stood in awkward silence until Kathryn lightly cleared her throat and glanced around the room.

"So, what do you think of the old place?"

"It's beautiful, Kathryn... all of it. The cabin, the woods, the valleys and mountains... everything is perfect. You've outdone yourself."

She tilted her head to one side and nodded in thanks. "Did you recognise any of the scenery?"

He hadn't because of the snow, but something in her voice and her smile made him realise where they might be. "The foot-hills above Lake George?"

"The very same. I'm afraid the landscape is mostly from memory, but this is a pretty accurate recreation of my father's fishing lodge. You can just see the lake from up here, but only if you know which path to take through the woods. The sunset holo-views I've added are breathtaking.... If you like, I'll show them to you sometime?"

"I'd like that very much."

They quieted again and Chakotay wondered if he was the only one remembering another evening at Lake George... the rocking of a small boat on moonlit dark water, tear stains on the front of his shirt and a comforting kiss that had spiralled out of control....

"It's been quite a while, hasn't it, Chakotay?"

"Our night on the lake, or the last few months?" he asked, a little distracted.

Blushing slightly, unable to look directly at him, she glanced away down at the floor for a moment. "Both, but I meant the last few months."

"Yes, it has."

"I don't know where the time's gone," she continued with a tight smile and a slight shake of her head, "It's flown by so quickly."

"Time does that when you're having fun," he winked.

"I know, and I'm not sorry that I took time for myself, but I never meant to leave it so long...." her voice dropped to a sigh as she laid a hand on his arm, the way she'd done so many times before. "I never meant to leave 'us' for so long. I'm sorry."

"No harm done," he murmured, covering her hand with one of his own. "We're here now and I want to hear all about what you've been upto in Fair Haven. Well, maybe not everything, " he leered for affect, "Just the edited high-lights will do. I don't get out much and I'm easily impressed."

"Forget it." she chuckled, taking his arm and drawing him to the window-seat where they sat down side by side. "You're far too unworldly, even for the edited version."

His eyebrows almost lifted into his hairline. "That good, eh?"

When she merely tapped her nose with one long index finger he knew she wouldn't be drawn, so feigning disappointment he turned to take a look out of the window. It was too dark now to see past their ghostly mirror-images and the glow of the oil-lamps reflected in the glass, so his eyes strayed to her reflection ; all fiery reds, golds and oranges, muted blues and soft greys, and just for an instant she seemed unreal... otherworldly and remote, again. Quickly turning to look at the real her, he found her watching him intently - a curious expression on her face.

Realising that she'd been caught, she smiled warmly and linked her arm through his. "How about a walk in the snow before supper? We could collect a tree, bring it back here and do the whole tinsel and baubles bit?"

"We could," he agreed, glancing out of the window again, "But it's pretty dark, now - too dark to keep from wandering off the path into deep drifts. Did you program-in a couple of simms beacons by any chance?"

She rolled her eyes and tutted, "No, but there's a bright full-moon on standby. It's hiding behind a cloud somewhere until we need it, and there's an axe and snowboots in the mud-room next to the kitchen." As her eyes slipped from his to the window, she coughed lightly and grimmaced in embarrassment, "I was going to suggest a moonlit expedition followed by a warming glass of my homemade egg-nog."

"Ah," he tugged at his ear, pursing his lips to control his smile, "the faint aroma of burnt intentions I could smell when I came in?"

"I was just leafing through a book and before I knew it, I had a pan of creamy, tipsy scrambled eggs." She folded her hands in her lap and hung her head in disgust. "I left it alone for a moment - and kablooey! "

His smile got away from him completely. "You just can't get quality ingredients these days."

"Or the staff," she added, darkly. "My mother's recipes are supposed to be idiot proof, but I know when I'm beaten. The brownies turned-out all right, though... sort of. We'll just have to ask the computer for egg-nog when we get back with the tree." Swivelling up onto her knees on the seat and pulling him up beside her, she peered through the window. With her nose pressed against the glass, she pointed with her free hand, "Look... up on the hill. See that little one ... the one with the slightly crooked top?"

Chakotay wiped condensation from his part of the window and pressed close, hooding his eyes with his hands to block the glow from the lamps. "Oh, I see it," he replied, drily. "Slightly crooked...? Kathryn, that isn't a tree... it's a hook with branches."

"It's the one I want."

"As soon as we put anything on it - anything at all - it's going to topple over."

"It's still the one I want."

"What about that one over there... two trees to the right? It's bigger, but not by much, and's as straight as a wand."

"It's lovely, but__"

"__But, it isn't the one you want," he sighed, turning away from the window.

She sat down again and shrugged her shoulders apologetically, but her face was determined "Nope."

"Any particular reason?"

"Maybe because I know I made a really stupid mistake in its holo-matrix. But, I actually like the way it turned out. I like that that one little fir tree isn't perfect. It's refreshing and more real, somehow....." she paused to look around the room, ".... amongst all this unreal 'perfection'."

He nodded in understanding, but studied her thoughtfully until she noticed, shot him a puzzled look and asked,


"I'm not sure, maybe nothing... but your mother's recipes? Feeling sentimental about a crooked little excuse for a tree? This beautiful program you've obviously spent a great deal of time and effort adapting just for us, just for tonight, when there's a perfectly good party going-on in Fair Haven?" He paused for a moment to think his way through what he wanted to say. "Don't take this the wrong way... I love what you've done and I wouldn't be anywhere else, with anyone else right now, but this isn't like you, Kathryn. You hate to cook and you love noisy parties at Christmas, late into the night, every night, and the rowdier the better."

She leaned forward with a bemused, questioning frown. "You think I'm homesick?"

" 'Tis the season' and all that. Being Captain doesn't make you immune to it and we all go through it at some point. The holodecks are a marvelous diversion, but sometimes, all this, 'unreal perfection' just postpones the inevitable... at least, that's been my experience. Well?"

Her eyes looked directly into his and her smile was broad and open. She seemed genuinely touched at his insight. "I'm fine, Chakotay, really... maybe a little homesick, but no more than you'd expect for the time of year. I've been working on this program off and on for quite a while now. I started to add to the original just after we met the Kinbori... do you remember? The day my Ready-room looked like Christmas morning?" At his quick nod, she continued, "Well, surrounded by all those presents and gifts of greenery I got to thinking. We were both still pretty sore at each other after the Equinox... at least our egos were, and I wondered if another evening at Lake George might help, but rather than another sail on the Lake, I thought we'd try a cabin in the snow. Of course, in-between then and now all hell broke loose... B'Elanna and her barge of the dead ; waking the Vaadwaur ; the memorial that forced us to live through a war ; reclaiming Lindsay only to loose her to the Kobali again ; adopting the Borg children... you get the picture. So, I had to keep setting it aside. Not just because time was scarce, but also because we seemed to be trusting less and arguing more as time went on. Seven's conspiracy theories proved that, if nothing else," she added archly.

They shared an embarrassed grin as they remembered the ease with which Seven had been able to manipulate their paranoia.

"I made egg-nog because I know how much you like it, and brownies because... well, because they're one of the few things I can make." She sighed softly and covered his left hand with her right, "It's just you and me, because I've missed you. We see each other every day, but we've lost touch. I'm not even sure what's going on in your life anymore. I know it was for the best, and I know we both needed to see what was important, but it's past time we caught up with one another now, don't you think?" She tilted her head to one side as her smile became more quirky, "We can do that more easily... more peacefully here, without Paris leering at us, Neelix fussing over us, and Seven asking non-stop questions in between bickering sessions with B'Elanna. Agreed?"

Now it was his turn to be touched. He returned her smile and managed, "I've missed you, too." But, needing to offer her more than just the words, he draped his arm around her shoulder, dropped a kiss onto her hair and said, "I'll tell you what... if it means so much to you, after we've hacked down that crooked little twig__"

"__Slightly crooked little tree," she corrected.

"__Whatever. After we've hacked it down, dragged it back here and set it up, I'll make egg-nog while you conjure up some tinsel and ornaments... maybe some popcorn and cranberries for garlands, too? We could ask the computer for everything we need, but string them ourselves... plain strands of each, or we could mix and match? I won't pretend to be an expert on Christmas, but I always got into the spirit of things at the Academy, and Neelix is a good teacher."

Her eyes lit up at the mention of popcorn and cranberry garlands. "Oh, yes! Phoebe and I often made those on Christmas Eve. We'd sit on cushions in front of a roaring fire, with big bowls of each between us, talking about anything and everything. We usually ate more corn than we strung," she laughed fondly, "but we always made far too much, anyway."

He grinned broadly at her enthusiasm, pleased that such a simple idea could help make this Christmas more real for her. Getting up, he took her hand and pulled her to her feet. "Come on, then. That tree isn't going to walk in here by itself and the sooner we bring it back, the sooner we can get started on decorations."


A few minutes later they stood in the mud-room, booted-up and dressed for the weather, but Kathryn had mislaid her gloves.

"I put them on the wooden-chest, next to my hat... I'm sure I did."

"Well, they aren't there now, I just looked. Did you check your pockets?"

She shoved her hands deep into the pockets of her black Starfleet-issue coat and muttered, "No, because I never, ever put them in my___" she paused abruptly and drew out first one dark-green glove, and then the other. "Well, will you look at that?"

Chakotay snorted softly, flashed her a mischievious grin, and reached out with both hands to straighten and fold the brim of her woollen hat a little deeper. "That's one of the first signs of ageing, you know. Your memory starts to go on the little things, then before you know it, you're staring at the business-end of a Borg cube, trying to remember where you keep your high-yield torpedos."

Her half-serious glare found its target, but her sarcastic reply was snatched away as she opened the back-door and stepped outside, straight into a thick flurry of snowflakes dislodged from the sill. Smothering a grin, Chakotay collected the axe from it's peg and followed her out, pulling the door shut behind him. As he watched her stride off down the snowy path, he knew he walked a fine line in teasing her about her age, but she often gave as good as she got. Besides, when it came, he had no doubt that pay-back would be swift, round and ice-cold.


Towards the end of the path, Kathryn slowed her steps to pull on her gloves and wait for Chakotay to catch up.

For a little while the air was still thick with snowflakes silently drifting around her, clinging to her out-stretched hands and tickling her face, but then the program moved-on just as she knew it would. The falling flakes dissipated right before her eyes, the gravid clouds swiftly moved off into the distance, and a full-moon appeared. Wherever it's silver light touched the ground unimpeded it spangled prettily on the ice crystals ; where it met resistance from the trees and deeper drifts, it made complex patterns of light and shadow on the snow, some pale grey, some blue-black. She knew exactly what was going to happen next, but held her breath as everything became still and preternaturally quiet... waiting....

Right on cue, millions of stars studded the night sky like diamond-chips carelessly scattered over blue-black velvet.

An awed gasp told her that Chakotay was standing just behind her and that he'd witnessed the moment. Turning her head she grinned up at him, her low chuckle misting in the air between them. "Can I cook, or can't I?"

"Like no one else," he breathed, unable to take his eyes off the sky.

Knowing him as well as she did, Kathryn realised that such a remark could - and probably should - be taken two ways, but the glow of pleasure on his face told her that he'd meant it as a compliment to her artistry, not a sly dig at her culinary skills. She waited quietly, giving him time to enjoy the familiar constellations ; to reflect and fully absorb the illusion of being on Earth - just as she had taken the time when she'd tested the program earlier. It was a strange feeling... to suddenly find yourself under an achingly familiar sky when you were actually thousands and thousands of light years away, charting a course through stars you'd never seen before, but she'd found this simple reminder of home exhilirating and inspiring. Life affirming.

The unexpected weight of Chakotay's hand on her right shoulder interrupted her thoughts and when he spoke his voice was soft and low, full of a longing he rarely revealed, or dwelt upon.

"And all the lonelier stars that have their place,
Calm lamps within the distant southern sky,
And planet-dust upon the edge of space,
Looks down upon the fretful world, and I
Look up to outer vastness unafraid
And see the stars which sang when Earth was made."

Her smile was pure delight as she turned to face him properly. "Oh, that's perfect! Tennyson?"

"Pickthall," he smiled back. "There's more, but that verse suddenly seems apt." He paused and his smile faded a little. "We'll make it, Kathryn. I don't know how, and I don't know when... but we'll make it."

So, he'd felt it too. Gods, she loved this man... so much, it hurt when she thought of the lost time and lost opportunities of the last few months. The temptation to throw her arms around his neck and show him how much she still cared was over-whelming, especially after their recent disagreements. But she mustn't presume. Anything could happen in a few months and she had no right to assume anything. "Of course we will," she agreed as brightly as the tightness in her throat would allow. "We have to, because as beautiful as this is... as clever as I am, it's a child's drawing compared to the real thing."

"Is that an invitation?"

"If you'd like it to be," she nodded, taking his right hand with her left and drawing him off the path, towards the hill where the little tree stood. "The debriefings are bound to drag on, but if everything goes according to plan, I hope to be at Lake George before Starfleet finish saying, 'Dismissed.' They owe us an awful lot of leave, you know."

He gave her hand a squeeze. "You're still banking on a full pardon for me and my crew, then?"


"But, what if___"

"No 'What ifs', Chakotay," she interrupted softly - so softly that he almost didn't hear above the crunching sounds their feet made in the snow - "Not tonight," she went on more firmly. "It's Christmas, so let's just enjoy it and worry about the future in the cold light of ship's day, shall we?"

He glanced away concealing his thoughts from her for a moment, but when he looked at her again he seemed resigned - although his eyes and smile were now mildly accusing. "That's my line, you little thief."

"And you've used it on me once too often. Isn't turn-about fair play?"

"Alright," he sighed, adjusting his grip on the axe-handle, "No 'what if's'. We'll leave them for another time."

In response, Kathryn simply nodded and linked her arm through his, moving closer to him as they passed the overhanging branches of a large fir tree.

When she didn't move away as they cleared the tree, but nestled closer and rested her head against his shoulder, Chakotay slowly let go of a breath he didn't realise he'd been holding. They were finally moving past the last of their awkwardness. Teasing banter, friendly hand-holding, and an invitation to something that might not happen for thirty years were one thing ; Kathryn's head resting on his shoulder was something else entirely. Slanting a surprised glance at her, he caught her eye.

"Are you flirting with me?"

There was a slight pause before she lifted her head and replied, "I might be... just for old times sake, you understand."

"Of course," he agreed, drily.

"You can flirt back, if you like."

"I'm out of practice, but I'll keep it in mind."

She stopped walking and because their arms were still linked, he pulled-up short, too.

"Out of practice...? What have you been doing all this time?"

He reclaimed his arm and turned to face her. "You mean, socially?" At her nod, he grinned, "I don't hide-out in my quarters at the end of every shift, if that's what you're thinking."

"Good. So?"


"Details, Chakotay. Details!"

"We could collect the tree and have this conversation back at the cabin, you know. The nice, warm cabin...."

"Quit stalling."

He sighed, sending a plume of warm breath roiling into the air above her head. Parts of her face were darkened by tree-shadow, but he could see well enough to recognise the same intensely curious expression she'd worn earlier. So, that was it. In order to allay her typically mis-placed feelings of guilt, she needed to know that he'd been having as much fun as she had. To allay her insecurities, she needed to know who he'd been having fun with - and that it was just 'fun'. Watching her now, seeing her expression become a mixture of curiosity and impatience edged with worry, he suddenly knew that many years from now when he was old and grey, the memory of this moment would always make him smile. Kathryn Janeway was jealous. Not an all-consuming, violent jealousy triggered by a 'someone' - because he hadn't told her anything yet - but jealousy of his time and his experiences... experiences she hadn't shared in. He knew that feeling well. Michael the hologram wasn't really a 'someone' either, but he got to spend time with her, he made her laugh... dammit, he even 'made love' with her! There was no way he could be insanely jealous of a trick of light, photons and forcefields, but now that he thought about it, he didn't mind acknowledging a few insecurities of his own. While some might find her jealousy a bit rich, he understood it.

Smiling into her eyes, he leaned in close to ask a sarcastic question, but at the last second the devilish streak in him decided a little reality check might be in order after all. Casually dropping the axe onto the snow, he nudged her left shoulder with his right, pushing her off balance so that she had to step back. Before she had time to recover he stepped forward and did it again - and then again, until he had her backed against the branches of a moon-lit fir tree. One more step and he felt the soft needles in his hair ; a slightly firmer push and the branches parted, sprinkling them both with snow and filling the air with the pungent scent of pine. Her eyes were wide and a little wild, but she was laughing up at him. Judging the distance to the trunk of the tree he gave one more light push. As her back made contact with the trunk a twig snapped and snagged her hat, pulling it from her head. She only laughed harder, pressing both hands to his chest to hold him off.

"Whoa, whoa!" she exclaimed between breathless giggles. "I'm not going anywhere.... What the hell are you doing?!"

"I'm not sure, now" he snorted, brushing her hair from her eyes. "One second I was going to ask if you wanted the list in alpha or chrono order, the next, I was pushing you in here."

"List?" A beat. "Oh..." She sobered a little, staring down at her hands so pale against the black of his coat and the almost black dark-green of her hat. "... I see."

"No, you don't." His gloved fingers briefly caressed her face. "It's a very short list, made up of a few close friends that I've always tried to spend time with, and one drop-dead gorgeous hologram who can't say, 'No' - in any language."

She grimaced and swallowed a chuckle, glancing at him from beneath lowered lashes. "Male, or female?"

"Excuse me?"

Arching her back, she settled herself more comfortably against the tree and looked up at him. "Your hologram... you never talk about it. Is it male, or female?"

"Female," he replied firmly.

"A temperamental redhead?"

"A cool blonde."


"Actually, she's tall and rather... voluptuous. Designed for comfort and stamina, not speed."

Her eyes widened at that, but she let it pass. "So, she's nothing like me?"

"I think her eyes are blue, " he shrugged, "But apart from that, no, she's nothing like you. Why would she be?"

"You 'think' her eyes are blue?"

"We aren't lovers, Kathryn... not in that sense. I don't have to gaze into her eyes and woo her with hearts and flowers, or dinner and poetry. I just go to the holodeck when I need to."

She wrinkled her nose. "Without affection?"

"I didn't say that. There's affection, but I'm not going to fall for a trick of light."

"Does she make you happy?"

He pulled a face and tugged at his right ear. "She's a pleasure hologram. When I'm with her she makes me very happy."

"And afterwards?" she persisted, catching his eye, "When you're not with her... what then?"

He took a breath and glanced down at his feet, stamping them a couple of times to ward-off the cold. "Kayaking, skiing, or velocity with Torres, but more usually pool and a few drinks at Sandrines with Paris, Kim, Neelix and a few others... maybe darts, or a ping-pong tournament. If it's a quiet night, Tuvok often invites me to join him for supper and a game of Kal-to...." he paused to shoot her a can you believe it? look. ".... Apparently, he appreciates my 'unorthodox and challenging Maquis strategy'. Other than that, there are always reports to catch up on, or a good book." He regarded her for a long moment before taking both her hands in his. "I'm fine, Kathryn. It's not ideal... it's not what I'd choose for myself, or for us, but I'll manage if I have to."

"For how long? What if___?"

"Uh-uh," he interrupted, "No 'what if's'... not tonight, remember?" A scowl briefly clouded her features and she was a little slow in returning his smile so he added, "Besides, it seems to be working. We haven't argued in a long time."

"No surprises there," she shrugged. "Our Command decisions have been pretty clear-cut lately, and it's difficult to make things personal when we only ever see each other on duty."

His smile faded as he heard what she wasn't saying. "You're having second thoughts?"

"Yes. Maybe."

Letting her go and leaning back on his heels, he stared into the upper branches of the tree and exhaled heavily. " 'Yes. Maybe'? Which is it. And, more to the point, why now?" His eyes locked with hers. "I thought Michael made you happy? I thought___"

"He does," she answered quickly, "But even the most sophisticated programing skills can't make him real. Even if I had full access to his program, my skills can't put a light in his eyes when he's with me - that glow that comes from within - because there is no 'within'. And no level of skill could give him intuitive senses and emotional spontaneity." She paused to draw breath, folded her arms and shook her head in dismay. "Oh, I don't know... maybe it's me. Maybe it's different for men with female holograms, but I like to be wooed, Chakotay... seduced. I love being surprised by flowers and love-tokens, by stolen moments and spontaneous kisses... the toe-curling kind from a man who obviously can't get enough of me... the kind that come out of nowhere and make me forget my own name."

"I remember," he murmured, drily.

She grinned and gave him a pointed, side-ways look "I'll bet you do. In fact, this is all your fault."

"It was bound to be at some point," he sniffed. "Care to elaborate?"

"Alright. The very first time you kissed me... where were we?"

Before she'd even finished asking the question, his mind filled with the memory of lying side-by-side on a sunny day ; a balmy breeze trailing the fragrance of a hundred different flowers over their faces as they lay in tall grass, listening to birdsong and the sounds of the river, pretending to watch a fantastic cloud-show instead of each other.

"We were in the small flower-meadow... the one nearest the river."

She nodded, "And a more romantic setting you couldn't hope to find, right?"

"It worked for me... so to speak."

She nodded firmly. "Me, too. It doesn't work for Michael though. I've taken him to that flower-meadow countless times, but do you know what he does?"

He wanted to ask if she meant an exact recreation of 'their' flower-meadow and river, but some part of him balked at the odds of hearing the wrong answer, so he played along. "No, what?"

"He reads poetry to me ; Spenser, Keats, Wordsworth, Longfellow or Coleridge - you name a poet, Michael has one of his poems - and then we discuss the merits of one over another, or compare and contrast styles, but there's no real understanding there, no emotional resonance... nothing like what you were feeling when you recited that Pickthall verse." Realising that he was trying not to grin, she tutted and rolled her eyes. "I suppose I have to take some of the blame. If I hadn't fiddled with his program, he'd be all over me like a healthy rash."

"You're saying he never initiates anything... he never kisses you?"

"We've kissed lots of times, and made love... once he got over the shock of realising Katey O'Clare is the sort of girl his mother warned him about. On second thoughts," she grimaced, "I still don't think he's over that one. But, I always have to tell him that I'd like to be kissed, or touched. There's no spontaneity. All that does is remind me that he isn't real and make me wonder if he'd be with me if he were sentient."

"I can see how that would throw cold water over the mood."

"Exactly," she sighed. "It would be simple to have more varied and sophisticated characteristics added to his matrix, but that's where I came in." She gave him a rueful grin. "Besides, it's too late for that now. I'd still be aware that it wasn't spontaneous behaviour on his part, but programming. Do you see?"

He nodded in understanding. "Starting again wouldn't help... I mean, completely re-writing his program?"

She grinned and shook her head. "I don't think so. I've even thought about creating a completely different character, but suddenly that doesn't appeal... not for the next five, ten, or fifteen years. No, I gave it my best shot, but I think I've decided that the holodeck and nothing but the holodeck isn't for me."

They were quiet for a time ; very aware of one another, but momentarily lost in their own thoughts until Chakotay said, "I don't know what you want me to say, Kathryn."

Her smile faltered and she took a deep breath. "Just tell me what you're thinking."

"A little emotional spontaneity?"

That made her smile again. "Yes, please."



Gill Hoyle, Dec 2000/July 2001