Setting: post Year of Hell - which never really happened :)
Pure Christmas shmaltz alert! NB: Not at all a canon Janeway or Chakotay. Also, this was written before I knew anything about Seven of Nine's rigid behaviour/personality and 'perfection' fixation. She was a complete mystery to me, so I wrote her based on rumour - a child inside a woman's body. Big thanks to Jeri Taylor for "Mosaic". I've gleaned some info. and names from her story to weave mine.
Disclaimer: Paramount and the ViaBorg own all the characters taking part, but the story is mine - all mine! I'm not making any money off this, just having some fun.
Her fingers trembled as she carefully slipped the silver bow off the small, beautifully wrapped package. Looking up to see if he'd noticed her nervousness, she saw that he had, but he was smiling at her reassuringly. She smiled back and returned her attention to the package.
Finding a tiny gap in the emerald green paper she slipped her finger-nail into it and broke the seam that held everything together. Pushing the paper back she found a small box fashioned from silver card. Looking up at him quizzically this time, she saw him shake his head and point to the box. He wasn't giving anything away. No hints, no warning so that she could prepare herself - prepare her reaction to whatever it was. She hated surprises, damn him! And bless him, too.
She lifted the lid off the box to find brilliant white crepe-paper. Teasing it aside she caught a flash of silver. Again she glanced up at him and again he just smiled that smile and stayed silent.
Dipping the fingers of both hands into the box, she lifted out her gift. Holding it up to the light, she saw that it was a silver locket - simple in design, but so beautiful. On a fine silver chain, it was oval in shape, about five centimeters long and three centimeters wide at it's widest point. The front surface was delicately engraved with a single Peace rose, surrounded by a wreath of shamrocks. Slowly turning it over, she saw that the reverse surface was simply and delicately engraved with his tattoo design and with the words,
The Angry Warrior swore to himself that he would
stay by her side, doing whatever he could to
make her burden lighter."
She still remembered the words. How could she ever forget them? She found that she couldn't see to read them properly because her eyes were suddenly useless. Looking down at the blurred shape of the locket in the palm of her hand, she tried desperately to slip on her Captain's mask before she looked up to thank him.
While she struggled to get her emotions under control he murmured,
"Do you like it?"
"I love it... it's so beautiful. Thank you, Chakotay." She still couldn't look at him.
"Would you like me to help you put it on?"
"Yes... yes, please." Gratefully, she turned to her right and passed him the locket over her shoulder.
His hands appeared in front of her - each hand holding one end of the chain then just as quickly, they disappeared again as he brought the two ends together behind her head. Her right hand caressed the locket as she felt him lift her hair clear and resettle it over the chain. Before she knew it, his hands were on her shoulders and he was turning her towards him, asking if he could see. She took a deep, steadying breath and turned to face him again.
His smile was wonderful. Part relief, part joy and with just a touch of shyness. "There's a tiny catch on the side. Why don't you open it."
Of course. She'd forgotten that lockets usually opened. Smiling back at him, she picked up the locket and ran her right thumb along the outer edge. Feeling a tiny nub, she pressed it and the front of the locket flew open. There, smiling up at her was a wonderful, soft- pencil drawing of Kes.
The tears threatened again as she gazed at the drawing, and this time she couldn't keep one from escaping and rolling down her cheek.
"Oh, Chakotay... it's her. It's everything she was... you've captured her perfectly, much better than any of the holo-graphs I have. Thank you, so much." In a moment of joy mingled with sadness she leaned over and threw her arms around his neck, hugging him, tightly. She felt his arms slip up around her shoulders as he hugged her back. It felt good to be held, again. It really had been too long.
"Merry Christmas, Kathryn."
Her reply was muffled against his shoulder. "Thank you. Merry Christmas, Chakotay."
Somehow she fought the impulse to kiss him and found the resolve to pull away. Sitting back, she wiped at her eyes and face as she gave him a watery smile.
"You're a bad man. We agreed, no presents."
"I had my fingers crossed, so it doesn't count."
"Typical! It's a good thing I did too, isn't it?" She got up from the couch and moved towards her bedroom.
He called after her, in surprise. "You mean you've got a present for me, too?"
Her voice drifted out from her bedroom. "Of course I have, you idiot. It's Christmas!"
"I knew it, I just knew it." He turned at the sound of something heavy being dragged across the floor and watched as she pulled a large, thin rectangular shape towards him. It must have been four feet by three feet and was completely covered in navy blue and gold wrapping paper and tied with shiney, golden ribbon. On one side there was a huge, golden bow.
"Don't just sit there looking strong and handsome, Commander. Give me a hand."
"Yes, Ma'am!" He jumped up off the couch and went over to help her. Easily lifting the parcel he said, "Where do you want it?"
"Um...on the couch I think? Yes, on the couch. Prop it up against the back, but turn it the other way so that the bow faces outwards - that's the front. Now, where did I put those scissors? Ah, yes."
He did as she asked and stood back just as she appeared at his elbow and handed him the scissors. He just grinned down at her.
"Well, go on then... it won't unwrap itself."
With a chuckle, he knelt down in front of the couch and set to work, carefully snipping off the ribbon and the bow. Putting the scissors down on the coffee table, he began tearing off the wrapping paper. He could see that it was a painting of something metallic... silvery-white, and set against the reds, oranges and yellows of an explosion... an inferno in space. It was part of a ship... a fast, tough, proud little ship that was holding it's own right in the middle of a violent space battle, its powerful phasers firing repeatedly on an enormous Kazon vessel.
He forgot to breathe.
Could it really be...? Uncovering the left hand side he found a majestic array and the elegant Starship Voyager. Feeling the hairs on the back of his neck stand on-end, he pulled at the remaining paper impatiently. Uncovering the right hand side he found more Kazon vessels closing fast on the little ship's position. As the last, central piece of wrapping paper fell away to reveal the little ship in full, his mouth went dry and he sat back heavily on his heels.
When he spoke, his voice was a hoarse whisper. "Liberty."
Kathryn knelt down beside him. "Yes. The battle where you sacrificed her to save Voyager and the Ocampa. Do you like it, Chakotay? I only had the recorded battle footage to work from. Did I capture her heart and her courage... is she as you remember her?"
He ran his hand over the canvas, gently caressing the sleek outline of his ship - the ship he'd thought he'd never see again. "It's beautiful... breathtaking. I just don't have the words, Kathryn. You've caught her spirit, perfectly." He had to clear his throat before he could go on. "You don't know what this means to me." He turned to look at her with at her with watery eyes, and grinned. "On second thoughts, you of all people know exactly what this means to me." Standing up and pulling her up with him, he crushed her to him in a huge hug, squashing the air from her lungs. Lifting her feet off the floor, he swung her around in a circle before setting her down.
"Merry Christmas, Chakotay." She managed, breathlessly.
Grinning like a madman, his hands came up to briefly caress her face as he smiled at her. "You must have been working on this for months... the colours, the detail - it's perfect! I'll treasure it, always." Leaning forward he kissed her cheek. "Thank you."
The sheer pleasure of giving, coupled with his obvious delight and his kiss caused her to flush to a deep red. To cover her confusion she asked, "Where will you hang it?"
Turning to gaze at the painting again, he looked thoughtful. "In my quarters, I think. If I hang it in my office I won't get to see it often enough. Yes, in my quarters - on the wall facing my desk. I'll be able to look up from those boring reports you force me to write and daydream about flying her again."
Kathryn laughed. "As long as the reports get done, Commander, you can daydream as much as you like."
He grinned back at her. "It's a deal, Captain. I think I'd better get this to my quarters and get ready for the snow party. You'd better hustle too, or we're going to be late." As he spoke, he bent down to gather up the torn wrapping paper, ribbons and the bow.
"Don't worry about that, Chakotay. I'll get it after you've gone."
"Alright. I'll take the bow if I may? I'd like it as a keepsake."
She smiled, softly. This side of him always surprised her. She knew that he was a gentle man, but she also knew that he could be extremely ruthless when he needed to be. His Starfleet files portrayed him as a man who was happiest killing Cardassians and blowing up key installations ... and yet, here he was, claiming a simple golden bow as a keepsake. She'd realised long ago that a lot of the Maquis were just like him - sentimental over the smallest things. Many had joined Voyager with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They had no possessions and no tangible links to their past lives. She could fully understand them gathering new mementos at every opportunity.
"Of course, take it - it's your's. I'll meet you back here in... shall we say thirty minutes?"
"Okay. That should give us both plenty of time to shower and change. And I mean 'Shower,' Kathryn," he added beadily. "I'd like to be there on time, so stay out of the bath-tub. Remember to dress in warm clothes ; padded, waterproof jacket, gloves, a hat and boots. Paris promised snow in five foot drifts."
Kathryn walked him to the door and keyed it open. "Nag, nag, nag." She held up her hands in mock surrender. "I promise, no bath-tub and plenty of warm clothes. I'll see you later, Chakotay... be careful with that painting!"
He winked at her. "I will. Bye for now."
As the door swished shut behind him, Kathryn moved back to the couch and gathered up the wrapping paper and ribbons. Scrunching everything into a ball, she dropped it into the recycler.
Reaching to remove her Captain's pips, her hand brushed against the chain of her new necklace. She immediately glanced down at it, picked it up and smiled softly as she traced her fingers over the design on the front. It was so beautiful... it must have taken him ages to laser-engrave the rose and the shamrocks - not to mention his tattoo design. On top of all that, there was the engraving of the words, too.
Her thumb found the little nub at the side again and she pressed it, gazing in wonder at the image of Kes; her lovely head tilted to one side as she laughed in that familiar, carefree way. The eyes were breathtaking... huge, expressive and almost luminous. Her mouth, smiling that beautiful, striking smile... everything brought together in an elfin face, under long, wavey hair. It was stunning.
She marvelled that he'd used nothing but a soft pencil and that he'd drawn her purely from memory. He must have, because she'd seen every available picture of her - and none of them showed her in quite this way. She knew because she'd searched the ship for one that captured her friend's special inner beauty as well as the beauty of her face. She and Neelix had spent nearly a day tracking down every picture of Kes - and there were lot's of them. Everyone had loved her. There were snapshots of her laughing with her friends at parties, playing in games on the holodeck, at work in the hydroponics bay and sickbay, helping Neelix in the kitchen - even one or two formal, posed shots of her looking straight at the camera. Sadly, none of them had managed to capture that certain ethereal something... the something that Kathryn never wanted to forget.
But now, with a few deft strokes of a pencil, Chakotay had captured Kes' essence then placed it in a locket and sealed it behind glass for her to keep forever ; to touch whenever she needed to. She gently touched it now. "I miss you, Kes."
After a few moments, she closed the locket. Wiping her eyes, she made herself smile. "Come on, woman. Hustle! He'll be here soon and if he sees you've been crying..." Lifting the locket and chain over her head she carefully placed it in a small glass dish on a side table. Removing her pips and her communicator she placed them in the dish too and headed for the shower. If she was very quick, she just had time to wash and dry her hair before she got dressed.
Chakotay left Kathryn's quarters and entered his own. As his door swished shut behind him, he was already half way across the main room. Carefully leaning his gift from Kathryn against a side table, he moved to his desk and dropped the golden bow into one drawer, opened another, and took out a small bag of adhesive magnets.
Standing back from the wall, he quickly decided where he wanted the painting to hang. It would fit perfectly between two of the sand paintings he'd completed on New Earth. Selecting the correct size and strength of positive magnet, he positioned six on the wall - laying them out in two horizontal, parallel rows of three approximately three feet apart. When he'd done that, he attached the negative magnets to the back of the painting in roughly the same position. Lofting the painting over his head, he carefully aligned the magnets and eased the painting back against the wall. There were several audible clicks as the magnets fused and after a few minor tilts, he stepped back to his desk to admire the painting once more.
It was even more stunning from a distance. Kathryn had brought The Liberty alive for him with only canvas, paint and brushstrokes and the little ship shone in the foreground as the battle raged, almost real enough to touch. A lump came to his throat as he stood there - memories of flying the little ship on Maquis missions so fresh and clear in his mind... as if they'd happened yesterday. The things he'd made her do to get them out of sticky situations... vertical climbs, loops, hiding in corrosive nebulae....barrel rolls to strafe the soft under-side of enemy fighters, bouncing her off planet atmospheres at the last second to escape enemy ships, playing dead until the last possible moment and then jumping to warp from a cold start... the list was endless. No matter what he'd put her through, she'd always brought him home ; until that fateful day when they'd found themselves between a rock and a hard place and home was just too far away, even for her.
Turning away quickly he headed for the shower, stripping off his clothes as he went.
Kathryn's door-chime rang out just as she was attaching her communicator to her padded jacket.
The door swished open and he walked in. Kathryn glanced up...and did a double-take. Oh, my! Casual black pants tucked snuggly into three quarter length black boots, black turtle-neck, a bottle-green snow-jacket, hat and gloves. She didn't realise she was staring until he coughed self-consciously and said,
"Would you like me to turn around slowly, Kathryn? There's a worthwhile view in-back too?" With that he grinned, held his arms out to his sides and turned around.
She was blushing to a deep scarlet - she just knew it! Flustered, she tried to laugh it off and look apologetic. "I'm sorry. I guess I'm just too used to seeing you in uniform. The change of style and colour is just eye-catching, and very distracting."
"Oh, that's what it is? Come on then - fair's fair. Let's have a twirl. I'd like to try a little distraction myself."
Kathryn gulped. He couldn't mean it, he must be teasing? But his eyes told her she was wrong. No, this was more than innocent teasing - this was outright flirting! Still, she could give as good as she got. She laughed and slowly turned around in front of him, knowing she looked good in her outfit. Like him, she'd chosen black pants tucked into black boots, but she'd topped them off with light-blue turtleneck sweater, snow-jacket and matching hat and gloves.
"Very smart. That colour and style definitely suits you. And, it's extremely distracting."
"Oh, You!" Grabbing up a cushion from the couch, she threw it at him and he avoided it easily.
Chakotay considered pushing a little more, but something told him that they'd gone as far as they could. To flirt further was tempting, but dangerous. He picked up the cushion and threw it back onto the couch. "Come on, let's go. They'll be wondering where we are."
Kathryn breathed a quiet sigh of relief. For a moment there, she'd thought he was in the mood to continue - way too dangerous in her present mood. This Christmas Spirit was definitely infectious! "Alright... oh, wait! My locket... I can't go without that." Moving over to the side table, she lifted it out of the little dish.
"Here, let me do that for you." He took the locket from her and placed it around her neck. activating the little safety clasp. As his fingers lifted her hair over the chain, he couldn't help wishing again that she'd left it long. Shorter hair was more practical for her and the colour still drove him crazy, but he'd adored her hair when it was long and thick. He had a sudden vision of them careering down a snowy hill with her long, copper-coloured hair whipping about in the wind. 'Distracting'? I could tell you a thing or two about distracting! he thought. Outloud he asked, "Ready, now?"
"Yes, thank you."
"Good, then let's go!" He took her hand firmly in his and pulled her towards the door.
"Captain, Commander! Over here."
Paris' voice reached them as they entered the holodeck to find a Winter woodland. Snow covered hills and frosted trees stretched before them, as far as the eye could see. In the distance they could see a beautiful log cabin, perched on the edge of a large clearing. Their friends were grouped together on the cabin verandah and everyone looked very cheerful in brightly coloured jackets, scarves and woolly hats. As usual though, Neelix outshone them all. He looked like an exploding rainbow as he stood in the sunlight, waving his arms and beckoning them on with child-like whoops of delight.
Kathryn slipped her arm through Chakotay's and grinned up at him as they crunched their way across the crisp, glittering snow. "Oh, bless him... do you think this is the first time he's seen snow?"
"I guess so," Chakotay laughed. "He's never mentioned snow on Talax and the beach resort program is more his thing when he wants to relax."
They were still chuckling as they neared the cabin, but ever the Captain, Kathryn looked around and did a quick head-count. Yes, they were all here - even Tuvok, The Doctor and Seven. But wait... where was Harry? He must have been delayed because he'd never miss a Christmas party. She caught Tuvok's eye and smiled warmly at him, briefly wondering why everyone had their hands behind their backs. Her smile suddenly slipped. At exactly the same time, she and Chakotay turned to each other and yelled, "DUCK!"
He ducked. She ducked. But it didn't do them any good. A volley of snowballs knocked them right off their feet! Paris barked an order and Harry suddenly appeared around the corner of the cabin, wheeling a barrow full of ready-made snowballs. B'Elanna, Tom, The Doctor, Neelix, Seven and even Tuvok dived in and grabbed up handfuls - throwing them faster than Kathryn and Chakotay could avoid them.
Chakotay tried to help Kathryn up, but the ground was suddenly very slippery and the incoming snowballs made it impossible. The more they tried to get up, the more they slipped and fell. Chakotay realised that the ground hadn't been this slippery when they'd arrived. Between mild curses and fits of laughter he managed, "Paris set this up. He's mine, Kathryn!" He was laughing so hard his sides ached, but he finally managed to stand, his feet sliding every which way. When he felt centered, he turned to watch Kathryn try to get up, too - holding his breath and biting his lip each time she crashed down again. She looked enchanting... like a wide-eyed, leggy fawn trying to stand for the first time. Suddenly, her legs went right out from under her and she grabbed onto him to save herself. With loud shrieks of laughter, they fell again in a tangle of arms and legs. The snowballs were still coming thick and fast, so at that point, Kathryn decided to delegate.
"You're always telling me that you're responsible for my safety... so get me the HELL outta here!"
Getting up on his knees and grabbing the back of her jacket, he dragged her backwards through the snow, doing his best to stay upright. Spotting an area of banked snow off to their right, he decided to try and get to it. The ground wasn't quite so slippery away from the cabin and he soon managed to stand. Still unable to speak for laughing, he pulled Kathryn to her feet and pointed to the snow bank. She understood immediately and joining hands, they made a run for it.
Gaining cover, they flopped down out of the line of fire - both struggling to catch their breath between snorts and giggles.
Kathryn was breathless, but she managed to speak first. "Chakotay... that was a brave and unorthodox tactic, but next time... could you drag me along on my front?! I'm sitting in a bucketload of ice-cold snow!"
Chakotay almost had himself under control, but the thought of Kathryn with a load of snow banked-up in her pants set him off again. Between coughs and giggles he managed, "At least holo-snow doesn't melt. You'll just look like a hamster from behind for a while."
That earned him a hand-full of snow in the face.
He spluttered indignantly. "Hey, I'm on your side! Who just saved your little hamster-butt?!"
"You say 'hamster' once more and I'm defecting to the enemy. Now, shut up and start making ammo."
"And stop calling me Ma'am!"
They worked furiously and quickly built up an impressive pile of snowballs. Kathryn peeked over the bank and watched the enemy re-stocking their pile. She was so intent on watching the group over by the cabin that she didn't notice Paris - until it was too late. With a blood-curdling war cry he came out of nowhere and caught her smack in the face with a massive snowball! Spitting snow and curses, she fell backwards and landed in a heap beside Chakotay with murder in her eyes.
"Paris is mine! You don't touch him, understand?!"
"You're pulling rank?"
"Fine! That traitor Tuvok is mine, though. Here, make a cradle out of your left arm...." He loaded her up with ammo and then loaded up himself. "You go right, I'll go left. Ready, Captain?"
"Ready, Commander. Death, or Glory. One, two, three...GO!"
One green blur and one blue blur erupted from behind their snowbank and all hell broke loose as the air was filled with snowballs, shrieks of laughter, curses and mock-threats. Things went rapidly down-hill from there and it soon turned into a free-for-all.
Seven, looking very festive in cherry red and dark green was enjoying herself enormously.
Creeping-up behind Chakotay as he concentrated on pelting Tuvok, she shoved a snowball down the back of his neck. Unfortunately, she didn't know yet that she was supposed to run away. He whirled around in shock to find her just standing there, laughing her head off. Not for long though. She stopped laughing when he shovelled a huge handfull of snow into her open mouth.
Still gasping from the ice-cold snow sliding down his warm back, Chakotay turned and continued his fierce battle with Tuvok - until B'Elanna came out of nowhere and shoved a handful of snow down his back too! That was it - the last straw. Giving up on Tuvok, he swore and chased after a giggling B'Elanna. Seeing that she was going to out-run him, he launched himself at her legs and tackled her - face first into a snowdrift.
Meanwhile, Seven was watching the encounter with great interest. Turning away, she noticed that Harry was nearly out of ammo in his battle with The Doctor, and that he was standing not far from a smooth, deep snowdrift. "Run Harry!" Harry whirled around looking for whoever had shouted - and came face to face with a stampeding Seven hurtling towards him from across the clearing. Harry didn't need telling twice. Dropping his snowballs, he took off at warp across the snowy ground - but he just wasn't fast enough. He suddenly found himself face down in a deep snowdrift, gasping for air and chewing snow.
"That was invigorating, Ensign Kim. Come, we will do it again! Ensign?"
The Doctor came over and ran a professional eye over Harry. "Mr Kim is winded, Seven. Give him a moment to recover. Oh, by the way... catch!"
Seven was too fast for him. She caught his first snowball and lobbed it straight back. It caught him square in the face. Taking advantage of his temporary blindness, she gleefully tackled his legs and he too found himself chewing snow.
On the other side of the clearing, Kathryn was doing well in her battle with Paris. She'd caught him a few good ones right in the face, but she wasn't done yet. He'd long since run out of snowballs, but she'd been thrifty with hers - only throwing when she was certain to find her target. As he bent down to gather a handfull of snow, Kathryn charged him and managed to get a snowball down his back. He was immediately hit by a fit of shocked whoops and giggles. Before he could stand fully upright, she dropped her snowballs, toppled him over onto his front and pinned him down. Straddling his back, she gleefully gathered up handfuls of snow and rammed them down his neck. She finished off by grabbing his ears and rubbing his face in the snow.
"I think that makes us even, Tom!"
"A'hem! Excuse me Captain?"
"Yes, Neelix?" She spoke before turning her head.
"I believe the term is, 'Incoming'. " And with that he hefted his armload of snowballs and pelted her silly. Still sitting on Paris, she coughed and spluttered as she tried to hold up her hands and shield her face. As Paris groaned and begged for mercy, Kathryn was saved by Tuvok.
"You are correct, Mr. Neelix... the term is indeed, 'incoming'" Tuvok didn't smile once as he targeted the little Talaxian with an unending supply of snowballs. But his eyes... his eyes actually twinkled.
Fifteen minutes later, they all stood in little groups on the steps of the verandha, drinking steaming mugs of hot-chocolate and munching on brandy-snaps as they caught their breath before the next round of fun.
Chakotay turned to Kathryn and whispered, "So, did you manage to get rid of that excess snow?"
She gave him a warning look, but spoilt it by chuckling. "Yes, it's all gone now, thank you."
"Good, because I wouldn't want any excess weight to slow down our sled."
"Our sled? Is that your way of asking me to be your relay partner, Chakotay?"
"I just assumed... Oh, I forgot the golden rule didn't I. 'Never presume you can assume anything with Kathryn Janeway'."
"Kathryn, would you be my partner in the relay-race?"
"Why thank-you, Chakotay. I'd love to." She winked at him and finished her drink.
Neelix appeared with a tray and began collecting up the empty cups just as Paris started walking backwards away from the cabin - calling out that it was time to head for the hills. There were a few moans and groans, but everyone moved down the steps, pulling on their hats and gloves and zipping up their jackets as they straggled along behind him.
"Where are our sleds, Tom?" Neelix asked.
"I've already programmed them - they're waiting for us at the top of the hill."
Chakotay chuckled and shook his head. "I suppose yours has 'go faster' flame graphics down the sides, Tom?"
"Of, Course. Gotta look good when I win."
Kathryn rolled her eyes and tutted. "What's the betting ours all have snow-plough graphics, Chakotay?"
"I can live with that," he laughed. "Our Chief-Engineer won't be happy when she sees her Paklid freighter design though."
B'Elanna whapped him lightly on the arm. "Watch it! Just remember to keep your mouth closed on the way down, Big Guy - or you'll be tasting my snow-dust."
"If that's a challenge, You're on, Shorty!"
"Size is irrelevant, Chakotay."
Seven immediately piped up from beside Kathryn. "That is incorrect, Lieutenant. Size is a relevant factor in determining the victor in such a contest. In this instance, a small, sleek, compact shape will cause the minimum disturbance in air flow."
Kathryn grinned up at Chakotay, "She's got you there, Big Guy."
He raised an eyebrow at her use of B'Elanna's nick-name for him, but didn't call her on it. "We'll see. I've got a pretty mean push-off speed, you know."
It was the last race ; the big relay. They were in relay teams of two - Chakotay/Kathryn, Tom/B'Elanna, Tuvok/The Doctor and Harry/Seven. Neelix had taken one look at the starting pistol and readily agreed to start the race and see fair play.
Chakotay, Tom, Tuvok and Harry were in the first row of sleds, raring to go. They had to race down the hill, pass the finish line then turn around and run back up - dragging their sleds behind them. As soon as they got back to the top and slapped hands with their partners, their partners could go. They too would have to race to the finish line, turn around and run back up the hill. Back at the top, they were to jump onto their partners sled and have a final race down to the bottom.
Neelix cleared his throat, stuck a finger in his ear and lifted the pistol. "Are you ready? On your marks, get set...."
The starting pistol cracked a 'GO!' and the first row surged forward. Chakotay went into the lead - with Tuvok a close second. Tom was catching up fast though and Harry wasn't more than a sled's length behind him. After a really close race, Chakotay crossed the finish line first - a split second before Tuvok. They both leapt off their sleds, turned them around and took off for the top again. As he picked up the pace, Chakotay could see Kathryn jumping up and down, rooting for him at the top of the hill. It was neck and neck all the way up, though. In almost the same instant he and Tuvok slapped hands with their partners then leapt out of the way. A few seconds after Kathryn and The Doctor pushed off and Harry and Tom arrived back to send off Seven and B'Elanna. It was a close race, but Kathryn just beat the Doctor over the finish line. Chakotay watched as she jumped off her sled, turned it around and ran up the hill - The Doctor right behind her.
"Come on, Captain! Run! Run those legs off!" Not to be outdone, Tom was rooting loudly for B'Elanna and Harry was calling "Move it!" to Seven. Neelix was rooting for everyone in turn and Tuvok stood off to one side, trying to look bemused.
When he saw that Kathryn was nearly to the top, Chakotay jumped onto their pairs sled and got himself ready. Kathryn crested the rise, shoved her sled out of the way and hurtled towards him. As she jumped onto the back of the sled and sat down, he glanced over his shoulder and shouted, "What kept you?!" She slapped him on the back and yelled breathlessly , "Go, Chakotay. Go!" He pushed them off and her arms slipped around his waist, hanging on for dear life as they hurtled down the hill. Chakotay gave a triumphant whoop as they passed the finishing line and Kathryn shouted, "We did it, Chakotay, we won!"
Arriving back at the cabin after the relay race, they all removed their boots and left them on the verandah. They trouped inside to find a roaring log fire waiting to welcome them. Old fashioned Christmas carols played softly in the background and colourful stockings hung from a
garlanded mantlepiece. Arranged around the main room were lots of big, comfortable, squashy sofas and chairs. Tom had also programed a huge Christmas tree infront of the main window. It was beautifully trimmed in gold, red and green with hundreds of fairy lights twinkling amongst its branches.
Kathryn sighed with admiration when she saw the room. "Tom, it's perfect... a perfect end to a perfect day. There's definitely something about a log cabin at Christmas time. I love it. Thank you, Tom... for everything."
The others called out, "Here, here" or "Thanks, Tom".
Tom actually blushed. "That's okay.... I'm just glad you've enjoyed yourselves. Merry Christmas, everyone! Now, whose for something to eat with hot cider or mulled wine? There's plenty - and Captain, I swear the drinks aren't spiked."
They all laughed and began taking off their jackets, hats and gloves. Tom ordered the computer to turn day into night as they all hung up their things. Suddenly, through the windows they could see thousands of tiny fairylights in the trees around the cabin.
As he turned away from hanging up his jacket, Chakotay saw Kathryn drop onto a sofa near the fire and went over to her. "What would you like to drink, Captain... cider or mulled wine?"
She stretched languidly in the firelight and tucked her stockinged feet up under her. "Oh, I'm not sure... why don't you surprise me, Chakotay."
"Alright," he smiled. As he turned and walked away he thought, Surprise you? What I'm thinking right now would shock you pink!
Kathryn watched him stroll over to the drinks table and say a few words to Tom, B'Elanna and Harry that had them laughing outloud. She couldn't help smiling. She was proud of the way he'd forged a link between the two crews. She had no illusions about that. Yes, she'd played a small part but he'd done most of the work. He'd set an example by going out of his way to get to know the Starfleet crew - and then he'd made sure that the Maquis crew did the same.
Sighing and easing herself deeper into the soft cushions, she stared into the flames of the fire and idly imagined curling up on the sofa with him. Just to lie in his arms, with only the rosy glow of the fire flickering over the room would be wonderful. She could hide in the half-light and tell him exactly how she felt, then... tell him how he made her feel. It would be easier if he couldn't see her face when she told him.... She didn't know why. Maybe it was fear of upsetting their friendship and their working relationship that was holding her back... causing her to lose confidence. She only knew that no man had ever made her feel this flustered and unsure of herself - not Cheb, not Justin, not even Mark. Well... maybe there was one other. Will Riker had certainly shaken her up something fierce on a blind date once. Like a fool, she'd panicked and run out on him though. She'd often wondered how things might have turned out if she'd stayed put.
Glancing up at Chakotay as he teased B'Elanna, she suddenly realised that he and Riker were very, very similar. Come to that, Chakotay, Riker, Cheb, Justin and Mark were all very similar - both physically and mentally. They were all well-above average height, dark (but Mark's hair was greying now), broad-shouldered, muscular .... They all shared a deep sense of honour and responsibility, a wicked sense of humour, a sharp intelligence and a very dangerous boyish charm. Oh, God, she thought, I'm attracted to a male stereotype!
"Something funny, Captain?"
She jumped slightly at the sound of Chakotay's voice. "No, not really..." She looked up, trying to stifle a ridiculous grin as she took her drink and a small plate of sandwiches from him. "... Just daydreaming. I was remembering a blind date I had with someone once... the Campus heart-throb. I ran out on him mid-date to work on a thesis proposal. I've always wondered, what if...?" She paused and stared into her drink. "He was special... he could have been special. You know?"
He smiled warmly and sat down beside her. "What made you think of him now? Was the date in a log cabin?"
"Nothing so grand. It was a small coffee-house, not far from the campus. No, I was just watching you tease B'Elanna and I realised that you remind me of him. You're very similar ...special people."
Chakotay suddenly felt very warm inside and he knew it wasn't because of the mulled wine. He gazed at her for a long moment. When he spoke his voice was soft and low. "Thank you, Kathryn." Shaking himself, he changed the subject. "So, did you have a good time today?"
"I had a wonderful time today. I even enjoyed falling about on Paris' 'ice-rink'. I must have looked like a stork with two left feet... I certainly felt like one."
"More like a fawn." The words were out of his mouth before he could pull them back.
"You reminded me of a wobbly baby fawn trying to stand for the first time, or a yearling trying to cross a frozen stream. I saw lots of them when I was growing up, in the woods around my home. My father and I had to rescue quite a few every winter."
She smiled, warmly. "Thanks... that makes me feel a bit more graceful. Tell me, did you ever see Bambi? It's one of my all-time favourite movies."
"No, I don't think so. What's it about?"
"It's an animated cartoon, but it's so much more... very beautiful. A fawn prince is born in the forest and the film follows his early life. We see him learn to walk, make friends...ice-skate. If you like, I have a data-chip copy... you could come and watch it with me one evening. It's nicer if you have company. Would you?"
"I'll look forward to it," he nodded. "I'll even see if Neelix has perfected Tom's popcorn substitute."
She pulled a face. "I think I'd rather bypass Neelix and go straight to the replicator."
"Alright, we'll pool our rations. Come-on, eat your sandwiches or you'll get no dessert. I got chicken-salad for you... hope that's okay?"
Kathryn picked one up, bit into it and suddenly realised how hungry she was. "Delicious.
"Me too. We haven't really stopped running around since we got here, you know."
They ate their sandwhiches, sipped their drinks and chatted to each other about the day - not realising that everyone in the room was surreptitiously watching them.
As they sat together on one of the other sofa's, Tom whispered in B'Elanna's ear. "That's three times now... ah, four! Wanna bet she'll do it again in the next minute?"
"Alright, you're on. One credit says that she touches him again in... two minutes or more."
They silently counted off the seconds and watched their Commanding Officers closely.
"Ha! Pay up, Fly-boy. I made that two minutes and thirty seconds."
"Of all the lucky....! Catch me later, okay. Say Bel, have you seen that locket she's wearing? I only noticed it when she took her jacket off. I don't think I've seen her wear that before... have you?
"No, never. It looks new to me... are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"Sure am, partner! I wonder what she got for him? Oh, no!"
"Look... it's the Tuvok Thought Police! Chief Tuvok is closing in on them."
B'Elanna swore softly. They watched as Tuvok went over to Chakotay and Kathryn. After a few words too quiet to hear, Kathryn got up from the Sofa and followed Tuvok over to the door. Chakotay watched them for a moment, then turned his attention to the fire. As Tom and B'Elanna watched with eyes like saucers, Tuvok and Kathryn spoke quietly for a few minutes before
Kathryn helped him on with his jacket, he called "Goodnight" to everyone and went outside to pull on his boots.
Kathryn turned back into the room and crossed to the drinks table where she collected two glasses of mulled wine. As she walked towards Chakotay, Tom and B'Elanna she smiled brightly and said to the room in general,
"Tuvok's going to check that all's well in the real world. He's going to relieve Davies on the Bridge for a few hours, too - so he'll see us all tomorrow."
She sat down beside Chakotay again and passed him his wine. They were soon deep in conversation again, still unaware that they were being closely watched.
Harry wandered over to Tom and B'Elanna and leant over the back of their sofa to whisper, "Enjoying the show?"
Tom and B'Elanna grinned up at him."Sure are," they replied in unison.
Harry grinned back. "Don't laugh, but the Doctor just wondered how subtle your programming skills really are. Do you think between the two of you, you could place a bunch of mistletoe on the ceiling above them.... I mean, without them noticing right off?"
B'Elanna giggled. "The Doc suggested mistletoe?!"
"He seems to think it would be a 'Healthy thing for our commanding officers to have around.' So... you up for it?"
Tom's eyes glittered with mischief as he turned to B'Elanna. Realising that he'd already made up his mind, she sighed and nodded.
"On two conditions though, Tom. They'll smell a rat if there's just one big bunch over their sofa. We have to carefully put several around the room. When that's done, we should gradually slip out the door in ones and twos. We'll go last, Tom. Just as we leave we'll put in the last bunch - over them. And Harry, don't say anything to Seven. She might not understand the subtleties of this and accidently blow everything. Suggest a stroll in the Arboretum, or maybe ask for her help with something in Engineering."
"Bel, you're a genius.... Either that or you've been hanging out with me too long!"
"Thank you, Tom. I think. Okay, let's do this. Remember - be subtle."
"It's my middle name."
Twenty minutes later, several bunches of mistletoe had been arranged around the room. Some hung from the ceiling, some hung from door-frames and there was even some draped over pictures on the walls. Winking at Tom and B'Elanna, Harry quietly guided Seven over to the coat hooks, helped her on with her coat and hat and hustled her through the door. Their Commanding Officers
didn't notice a thing.
Five minutes after that, Neelix removed The Doctor's holo-emitter and he was automatically downloaded back to sickbay. Neelix was next. He casually strolled over to the food table, helped himself to a sandwhich and keeping one eye on Janeway and Chakotay, collected his coat and slipped out.
That just left Tom and B'Elanna. They got up slowly and quietly moved over to the drinks table. Each taking a glass of wine, they stood and whispered to each other for a while. Sneaking a peak at the two people deep in converation over by the fire, they chose their moment, picked up their things and tiptoed out.
Once outside, B'Elanna let out the breath she'd been holding. Slipping on her coat and her boots, she moved to the big window and peeped into the cabin. She couldn't believe it had worked. They were still totally engrossed in one another, still deep in conversation.
They were actually sitting closer together than they had been, too.
Tom pushed in beside her at the window and chuckled. "This isn't even a challenge. Computer, no acknowledgement. Hang a standard size bunch of mistletoe on the internal ceiling of the log cabin in sector G675."
As they stood with their faces pressed up against the glass, a bunch of mistletoe appeared above and slightly behind the sofa nearest the fire. They stopped breathing for a moment as they watched Chakotay suddenly get up and walk towards the drinks table. He stopped mid-stride... looked around the room, then walked back over to stand near Kathryn. He said something to her, but they couldn't hear what it was. Kathryn immediately turned around and gazed up at the bunch of mistletoe hanging behind her.
B'Elanna stamped her foot in frustration. "Dammit! Computer, no acknowledgement. On my mark, hang a standard size bunch of mistletoe on the internal ceiling of the log cabin in sector A650."
Paris shot her an alarmed look. "What are you doing?!"
"Shush! Come on Big Guy...move... just a little to your right, please... Gotcha! Computer, mark!"
"What did you do, I can't see?"
"As soon as Chakotay moved to the right, he blocked her view of the drinks table. I've added some more mistletoe there. Call it a hunch... call it extra insurance. Look Tom, she's blushing, but she's laughing, too. Go with him, Kathryn... go with him to the drinks table!"
They watched with bated breath as Kathryn took Chakotay's outstretched hand and allowed him to pull her up from the sofa. Still holding hands, they moved over to the drinks table. B'Elanna and Tom laughed quietly and gave each other a quiet high five before sneaking across the verandha to the other window to get a better look.
Chakotay put down their empty glasses and re-filled them. Handing one to Kathryn and picking up his own he said, "To our hopelessly romantic crew."
Kathryn echoed him, "To our hopelessly romantic crew." She sipped her wine and started to say something else, but then laughed outloud instead.
Chakotay looked at her quizzically. "What?"
Still laughing, she pointed up at the ceiling just behind his head. He turned to look and saw yet another bunch of mistletoe.
He laughed, shook his head and grinned back at her. "You have to give it to them, they didn't leave us anywhere to go... the whole room is covered. When they do something, they do it thoroughly."
As they stood there smiling at one another an awkwardness slipped in between them. Kathryn looked down at the floor and Chakotay looked up at the ceiling. They both knew what they wanted, but neither of them wanted to be the one to make the first move. After a few moments, they both cleared their throats and started to speak at the same time.
"No, you first."
"Kathryn, this is ridiculous!" Putting down his glass, Chakotay took hers out of her hand and put it down, too. Taking her hands in his, he moved back a few steps - pulling her with him. When they were directly under the mistletoe he looked down at her and said simply, "Yes or no?"
She glanced away for a moment, then smiled. "Yes."
He smiled back, slipped his arms around her waist and pulled her into a hug. Her arms slipped up around his neck and they held each other tightly for a few moments until he murmured, "I love you" into her ear. When she pulled back a little to gaze up into his face, he shrugged, "I'm sorry, but I do."
She just managed to whisper, "I love you, too" before his lips covered hers in a kiss that was long, long overdue. Gently and shyly, their lips met for the first time. As his hands caressed the sides of her face, hers traced slow, lazy patterns over his back and shoulders.
Tom was stunned by the fact that their plan had actually worked and also by what he'd just seen. He was starting to feel very uncomfortable about staying. He turned to B'Elanna and whispered, "Come-on, let's go!"
She didn't answer him or even seem to have heard him. He tapped her on the shoulder and she jumped slightly, but she turned to look at him.
She had a silly, dopey grin on her face."What did I tell you...? I told you didn't I?
"Yes, I know, and yes it's wonderful, but I don't want to be stuck out here on 'Voyeur's Row' when things get heated. You saw them! I just know they're gonna seal the holodeck with level one Command codes. Come-on, let's go while we still can. I'll buy you a drink and we can talk about them to your heart's content... just not here!"
"Okay, just give me a moment..." She watched as Kathryn took Chakotay by the hand and led him back to the sofa by the fire. Suddenly, all the lights went out and there was only the rosy, flickering glow of the fire over the room.
With a happy sigh, B'Elanna took Tom's hand and allowed him to pull her towards the exit.