Kathryn had just set two long stemmed glasses down on the low table in the living area when her door chime sounded, clearly audible above the soft strains of music that filtered through her quarters.
"Come in, Chakotay," she called out.
She straightened and turned as he entered the room, a smile spreading unbidden across her face. He was standing in the doorway, leaning casually against the door frame.
"Well, are you coming in or are you going to stand in the corridor all night?" she asked in a playful tone.
Chakotay seemed to consider the options seriously. "Hmmmm..." he mused. "I quite like it he-"
Kathryn grabbed his hand and tugged him inside. Outside of the doors' sensor range, the doors slid closed with a soft hiss.
He chuckled. "Here is good too."
The atmosphere shifted from playful to suddenly serious as they both became aware of their proximity. Shared body heat, breath mingling.
Chakotay cursed the fact that he hadn't pinched some of the mistletoe from the Mess Hall before he had left. Tom had informed Neelix of that little tradition, and as a consequence the Mess Hall had been laden with the plant. Much to his dismay, he hadn't managed to arrange so that he and Kathryn were standing together under the little white berries together.
Kathryn had offered her cheek to Harry, Neelix and the Doctor, and later to Tom. Tom, however, had been much more forward and had made a big show of puckering up and then taking Kathryn in his arms and dipping her so low she was almost bent double. The kiss, when he finally got around to it, was swift and chaste. All the while Kathryn had laughed at Tom's crazy antics, a wide, genuine smile on her face.
Despite being more than a little jealous of the pilot, Chakotay had been pleased to see both Tom and Kathryn so relaxed and at ease around each other. Their relationship had been strained for a while, after Tom's confinement. Tom had been largely all right with the situation. He hadn't much enjoyed his sojourn in the brig, but he understood it. Whatever his reasons for doing what he did, it had been a violation of orders and he understood that Kathryn had had to punish him.
He didn't take it personally. But Kathryn did.
She had been somewhat reserved around him, expecting resentment. It had taken Kathryn longer to get over the incident than it had taken Tom. Finally though, Kathryn had realised that Tom was not angry with her, was not bitter about what had happened, and their rather indefinable relationship was back to normal.
That was Kathryn's special gift - indefinable relationships. None of her interactions with anyone else could ever be quantified, and he wondered, not for the first time, whether it was something that came with the rank or something that was solely Kathryn Janeway. Their own odd relationship was a prime example, so much more than friends, but that seemed the best word to use to describe it anyway.
The evening had been further proof of the return to the normal state of things, if such a normal state did exist. The kiss, the outrageous flirting and cheeky comments on Tom's part; and Kathryn, willing to play along, to laugh and joke and give as good as she got.
Chakotay was sometimes jealous of the ease with which Kathryn joked around with Tom; he supposed it was because they both knew that it was a light-hearted bit of fun, whereas around Chakotay, Kathryn tended to tread more carefully so as not to say something that might give him the wrong impression and lead him on.
He loved to see her playful side, and tonight she had been on top form. She had been relaxed and open - it was good for her, it was good for the crew. Even after they had left the void she had been more reclusive than was usual for her, an echo of her self-imposed isolation; but now it seemed she had moved on from that too. His assurances that the crew did indeed want her company and his entreaties for her to socialise had not fallen on deaf ears.
Her sense of fun, her mischievous streak, her vivacity and the sparkle in her eyes - all had been missing of late. There had been the incident in the void, Tom's confinement, another run-in with the Borg. And, of course, Kashyk. But the less said about that the better, as far as Chakotay was concerned.
He was reminded of that stupid holoprogram of Tom's, the one the aliens had mistaken for real. The last time he had truly seen Kathryn's sense of fun before tonight. The one that required Kathryn to wear that dress.
Oh, gods, that dress.
Gaudy and over the top it may have been, but there had been something about it, whether it was the low cut top or the split up the side that showed a lovely expanse of leg, Chakotay was still undecided.
He was broken from his musings by the soft touch of her lips against his cheek.
His eyes widened with shock, eyebrows raised in question, and his mouth curled up into a broad, dimpled smile.
Kathryn smiled, bowing her head as she took in his puzzled, questioning expression. She looked up again. "Happy Christmas." Her warm breath caressed his face. "Take a seat."
Chakotay watched as she stepped back and moved across the room to the replicator, his hand coming up unnoticed to touch his cheek. He tore his eyes away from her and walked to the sofa, dropping down onto the cushions. He heard the familiar hum of the replicator moments later, and he guessed, correctly, that is was a bottle of wine to fill the glasses that stood on the table.
Kathryn crossed the room to join him and filled the glasses, handing on to Chakotay and then taking the other for herself. She sank down into the welcoming embrace of one of the armchairs with a lazy sigh.
They sat in silence for a few moments, enjoying the wine and the company. The silence was comfortable and neither felt any need to fill it. Another indefinable relationship back to what passed for normal.
Kathryn looked at Chakotay as he sipped at the wine. She had been worried about him. Very worried. Still was, truth be told. She only hoped that he was talking to someone.
She had offered to talk to him about his grandfather, about his concerns and his fears, but he had been reluctant to open up to her. It had hurt at first, that he could be so willing to help her, so quick to offer support and comfort, or just an ear; and yet he wouldn't allow her to do the same for him. She wanted to help him, to reassure him, but he wouldn't let her in.
Quiet reflection in the darkness of her quarters on nights when sleep would not come had made her wonder if, in his own way, he was not shutting her out but trying to help her still. She had burdens enough of her own and he didn't want to add to them. What was it he had once said - that he would stand by her side and make her burdens lighter.
She hoped that he was talking to someone. She guessed that he was, he seemed happier within himself, more centred. Although she knew he was still dealing with it. She would offer again to help where she could, but she would not force a confidence. Just a gentle presence, an offer - as he so often did for her. But not tonight. Tonight was for Christmas and celebrating. She didn't want to ruin a wonderful evening by making him uncomfortable and bringing the subject up unnecessarily.
And it really had been a wonderful evening. Every year, it seemed, the crew out did themselves. Neelix had put on a marvellous spread of food, and he and Tom had done a wonderful job with the decorations. The mistletoe, she mused, had perhaps been a little over the top; but it had been fun nonetheless.
She had been careful to avoid Chakotay and mistletoe together, it wasn't that she didn't want to kiss him, oh no! She didn't trust herself. Didn't trust herself to be content with a simple kiss; to touch her lips in a platonic, purely friendly way. Didn't trust herself not to throw her arms around him and pull him close and kiss him until she simply had to breathe.
Tom, of course, had been expansive in his gesture of seasonal good will, Harry had looked nervous and Neelix just bubbly and Neelix-like as ever. The Doctor, of course, had done her a great service - imagine being kissed by such a medical genius.
She had noticed quite a few of the female crewmembers taking advantage of the situation to steal a kiss from her First Officer. She had longed to fight them off and stake her claim, and she's been secretly pleased when B'Elanna had taken her turn and given her friend a small peck on the cheek. B'Elanna hadn't moved away like the others, but stayed put and that had lessened the flow of eager young lips.
Kathryn toyed absently with the pendant on the chain around her neck. Her Christmas present from Chakotay. It was a simple silver star threaded into a delicate silver chain.
"Thank you again, Chakotay," Kathryn finally broke the silence.
Chakotay looked up to see her holding the pendant and he smiled. "And thank you for the program."
"Don't thank me yet," Kathryn replied quickly, "You might hate it."
"I don't think so, Kathryn. Anyway, I have some holodeck time booked for tomorrow afternoon, so I shall find out then." He paused and laughed at the look on her face. "Don't look so worried, Kathryn. I'm sure I'll love it."
Kathryn didn't look so sure. Friends of her parents had owned a house on Cerium IV and Kathryn had spent many a happy holiday there with her family. Nestled in the countryside, surrounded by woodland and with rivers and mountains close by, it was a place with many fond memories for Kathryn, and it struck her as the sort of place Chakotay might like. And so she had created a program of the area for him. She just hoped that he would like it.
Chakotay laughed again. "It was a good evening, wasn't it?"
Kathryn nodded firmly. "It was indeed. Although the Doctor looked a little unhappy."
"I caught him staring across at Seven quite a bit during the evening."
"He certainly has evolved from the mere program that we activated 5 years ago."
"Do you think I should talk to him?" Chakotay asked.
Kathryn shook her head. "Give it a while. He knows where your office is."
Silence fell again.
"It's a shame though," Chakotay said after a few minutes. "They seem strangely suited to one another."
"You mean you're not relieved that the Doctor didn't managed to capture the heart of resident Borg and remove her from the path of other..." Kathryn paused, searching for the right words. When she found them, they were loaded with meaning and she looked pointedly at him. "Would be suitors?"
Chakotay looked at her with raised eyebrows to show his opinion of that idea. "Hardly, Kathryn. I'd like to see them both happy. The Doc's looks crushed, even now, and it's been a month. Besides, she's not really my type." He looked over at her, trying to decide whether to risk continuing further. "I prefer redheads myself."
Kathryn smiled at him, a bittersweet quality to the otherwise happy expression. "So it's all physical with you then?" she asked, teasingly.
"I didn't say that, Kathryn. I value intelligence and wisdom, compassion, a caring nature, kindness, bravery, courage, a strong will-"
"Stubbornness," Kathryn interjected.
Chakotay chuckled. "And the sense to know when to ask for help; to know that the world need not rest solely upon the shoulders of one individual. And the understanding that asking for help is not a weakness."
"I'm getting better."
"Yes, you are."
"In fact, I think I could use a little help right now." She waggled her empty glass in front of him. "My glass is empty."
Chakotay laughed and leaned forward to refill both her glass and his. He raised his now full glass towards her. "Happy Christmas," he offered.
She smiled and raised her glass to his, a soft clink echoing in the room. "Happy Christmas."