Disclaimer: Paramount owns everything, and I'm sure have even trademarked the Paramount Drive that I see two streets up the hill.
Thanks, Brianna, for betaing.
Voyager's messhall was crowded with crew, all intent on celebrating the start of another New Year in the Delta Quadrant. Streamers hung from the ceiling, courtesy of Tom and his band of willing helpers, and Neelix had cooked up a storm in the kitchen. Trays of pastries and small, savory appetizers were scattered on every available surface. Tom and Neelix were circulating, bottles of replicated champagne in their hands, topping off every glass they could see.
Kathryn had timed her arrival carefully. Too early and the captain's presence tended to put a damper on the proceedings. Too late and the crew worried if they were a little under the weather or enjoying themselves too exuberantly. She wasn't unwelcome -- most of the crew was relaxed in her presence these days - five years in the Delta Quadrant had seen to that. Working side by side with their senior officer, seeing her disheveled and sweaty on an away mission, working tirelessly in Engineering when repairs once again took all available hands, or joking with Neelix in the messhall, had all contributed to defusing the captain's mystique. But Kathryn was aware that at times, they liked to enjoy themselves without worrying that she would think less of them for their behavior. In truth, she knew most of what transpired in her absence - Chakotay, Tom and Neelix reported the juiciest stories and the funny events, but she let the crew continue the fiction that she didn't know.
So at 2300 hours, in casual dress, she made her appearance for the New Year's party. Chakotay had gone ahead without her. Although he was often her escort for ship's functions, she made sure that it didn't happen all the time. Her first officer deserved the opportunity to socialize without her, a chance to build his own friendships, and, if he wanted, romantic relationships. Romance was a scarce thing in the Delta Quadrant. Not just for her, constrained by her rank, but also for the entire ship. There were more men than women on board, and while some of the male crew enjoyed homosexual relationships that option was not for everyone. And on a ship with only one hundred and forty-seven crew, the chances of finding a compatible partner were limited. She knew Chakotay had had a couple of short-lived relationships, but mostly he was alone. She didn't allow herself to speculate what he did on his shore leave. Really, it was none of her business. But he was such a physical person that she couldn't imagine that he would stay celibate during the remaining years of their journey. And of course, to consider becoming his lover herself was out of the question, however much she might wish for it.
He was the first person she saw as she entered the messhall. He wasn't the tallest person there, but her eyes were drawn to him, standing confidently and quietly in the center of the room, chatting with a gaggle of the lower decks crewmen. The lights in the messhall reflected off his thick, dark hair, shot through with a subtle weave of gray these days. There were other physical differences in his body too; tiny changes that she was sure were unnoticed by the rest of the crew. She cataloged them to herself, storing away the little variations in the picture of him in her head, but she told herself that she did it through concern for her first officer. Her friend. Nothing more.
"Captain!" Tom was at her side, pressing a glass of champagne into her hand. "We were wondering where you were." He knew of course. Tom Paris was a shrewd observer of human behavior, and he understood her reasons for arriving late.
"I had some reports to finish, and I let Joe leave early to come here." She knew that Joe Carey was forming a tentative relationship on board, and in her own subtle way she was encouraging him. It was hard enough for him as it was, without the added pressure of conflicting duty shifts.
Tom nodded over towards Joe, ensconced in a corner with Samantha Wildman. "I think your gesture was appreciated." They watched as Joe and Sam clinked glasses, and Joe leaned in to kiss Sam's cheek.
"It's difficult enough out here, as it is." In a rare moment of candor with her pilot she added, "I envy you and B'Elanna at times. You've beaten the odds and found love and a happy relationship in the Delta Quadrant."
"Not always so happy, Captain." Tom returned her honesty. "It's been an uphill struggle at times. But it's worth it."
"Captain!" Neelix materialized at her side, a plate of appetizers in his hand. "I'm so glad you're here. You must try some of my roasted gretelnuts. Commander Chakotay had me save some especially for you, he said that you would love them."
Kathryn took the proffered snack and tasted it cautiously. The woody flavor was surprisingly pleasant. "It's delicious, Neelix."
She felt herself being observed, and looked up in time to see Chakotay watching her over the heads of the knot of crewmen surrounding him. She caught his eye and he gave her a slow smile. She moved away from Tom and Neelix, knowing what he would do. Sure enough, she had taken only a few paces towards the center of the room before he appeared at her elbow.
"Enjoying the appetizer, Kathryn?" He was smiling down at her, his eyes warm on her face, his hand curled protectively around her elbow. The warm touch of his fingers sent heat coiling through her. He always had the power to do that to her with just a touch, but in uniform it was easy to ignore. Out of uniform, in a social situation, it was too easy to pretend that she was young and free and he was nothing more than an attractive man who desired her. She controlled her thoughts.
"Yes. Thank you for saving me some. You always know what I like."
"That's what first officers are for." He teased her lightly, then moved closer, bending slightly to put his mouth close to her ear. "Besides," he whispered, " the other snacks are awful."
His breath stirred her hair, warm frissons of moist heat caressed her cheek. She shivered slightly.
He noticed of course. "Cold?"
"No. Just a goose walking over my grave."
His eyes danced in appreciation of her quaint saying. "They say that feeling foreshadows a pleasant experience. Be careful tonight, Kathryn."
Her breath caught in the back of her throat as a sudden intense vision of the two of them, bodies locked together, moving to their own rhythms danced tantalizingly in front of her eyes. She shook her head to clear it. It had been many years since she had entertained those thoughts deliberately and many months since one had caught her unawares. "I thought the goose prophesied bad things?" she replied.
"Don't say that." His expression was suddenly melancholy, as if he was watching something dear to him slip silently away. "It's a new year. It's time for us to move forward and think positively. Forget the unpleasant things that have happened to all of us this past year and concentrate on the happy times. Our friends, our lives here on board. And other possibilities."
He looked directly at her and she shivered again. So much promise in his eyes, she must be imagining it. Unconsciously she moved closer to him, turning so that her face pressed against his bicep for a brief moment. She let herself breathe in the warm male scent of him before she moved away, putting some space between them.
"We always have the possibilities, Chakotay. We just don't always have the means to bring them to completion." Even to herself she sounded wistful. This would not do at all. As Chakotay said, it was new year, a time of celebration. Smiling brightly, she touched his arm and indicated Tal Celes, alone in a corner. "I'll go and talk to Celes. She misses her family more at this time of year. She looks like she could do with some cheering up."
She sensed his eyes following her as she moved across the room.
She was chatting to Celes when a fork tapping on a glass brought the room to silence. Tom had climbed up onto one of the mess hall tables.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said formally. "It's New Year. A time for celebration, and a time for reflection. A time to throw out the old and bring in the new…"
"Does that mean B'Elanna's single and available again?" The cheerful shout from one of the engineering crew brought chuckles from around the room.
"No." Tom grinned as B'Elanna shook a fist at him. "It does not, Carlos. You keep your dirty big hands on the plasma manifolds where they belong!" He paused to take a swallow of champagne. "But before we ring in the New Year, I wish to propose a game."
Someone groaned in the background, but Tom continued. "Strictly voluntary participation of course. My beautiful assistants here," and he indicated Neelix and Tuvok, who were making the rounds, handing out old fashioned slips of paper and pencils, "are wandering among you all. You will each get two pieces of paper, one red and one blue. On the red slip, I want you all to write down your happiest moment of the past year. And on the blue piece, I want you to write down what you most want to happen over the next year. As none of us write much, our handwriting is anonymous, so be honest and express your heart's desires. Then, drop the papers into Neelix's biggest cooking pot here. After midnight, we will read out some of people's happiest moments and wishes for the future."
"Totally anonymously, Tom?" Joe Carey's skeptical voice rose above the hubbub.
"Yeah, Joe." Tom looked affronted. "I said that, didn't I? It's not to embarrass anyone, just so that we can all share some happy times."
Kathryn and Celes both accepted the slips of paper from Tuvok.
"Are you going to do it, Captain?" Celes looked uncertain, as if the question was too forward a one.
Kathryn smiled at the younger woman, noticing how beautiful she was in her quiet way. Such dark, expressive eyes. A vision of equally dark eyes flashed before her. Chakotay's eyes were beautiful too. Without stopping to analyze if what she was doing was the right thing, she quickly wrote a short sentence on the blue slip of paper and folded it up tightly.
"In fact, I've done one," she said confidingly to Celes. "I'll never get it of course, but it's nice to dream once in a while."
Celes gave her a shy smile back. "It is, isn't it?" Swiftly she scribbled something on her own blue slip.
The red one was harder. There had been good times over the past year, shining out through the fabric of her memories as beacons of light. She briefly considered her time in the holodeck with Da Vinci, but rejected it as too personal. It wouldn't mean much to the rest of the crew, and if Tom intended on reading them out, then she wanted to put down something that had meaning for everyone. She refused to let herself dwell on the words she had written on the blue slip, and how she would feel when Tom read them out. She mulled over various options. Kashyk leaped into her head and the brief but intense kiss they had shared in the cargo bay, but she was not about to spill that to the rest of the crew. Suddenly it was obvious what she should put. Not her own personal happiest moment, but one that had meaning for many of the crew.
Receiving our letters from home and knowing that we are not forgotten, and that our loved ones still think of us.
Swiftly she folded it up, resisting the temptation to add a memory of a brief shore leave spent wandering around a quaint market town, arm in arm with her best friend. And the comforting feel of his arms around her, a platonic embrace as they waited out a brief rainstorm, huddled together in a doorway.
She smiled at Celes and went to drop their slips into Neelix's cooking pot.
Chakotay had worked his way to her side again, in time for the midnight chime on the ship's computer. She pressed a chaste kiss to his cheek and accepted the same from him at the stroke of midnight. All around her, crewmen were hugging exuberantly, and more than one couple was locked together in less platonic embraces. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Celes glancing wistfully at Harry Kim, as if she was trying to gather up the courage to go over. In another corner, she saw Joe Carey, Sam and Naomi Wildman hugging as they danced up and down, the adults encircling the child. It looked like things were working out for that relationship.
She linked arms with Chakotay, and dragged Tuvok in on her other side for Auld Lang Syne. Theirs was the quietest section of the circle. Tuvok refused to sing, although he bore the touch of linked hands stoically. She hummed the tune quietly, hearing Chakotay's soft tones as he sang along.
The singing and hugging continued for a few minutes, long enough for Kathryn to regret her wording on the blue paper. In spite of his assurance, she wasn't entirely sure that Tom would keep the identities of the writers secret. And, she also wouldn't put it past him to attempt some handwriting analysis via the computer later. She wondered if she could leave before Tom started to read the slips, although she had to admit his idea was a good one. It was good to share happy memories and dreams with friends.
Tom climbed back on top of the messhall table, helping Naomi up alongside him, Neelix's cooking pot clasped securely in her arms.
Tom called for quiet, and the singing petered out. The crew moved closer together, the better, it seemed to Kathryn, to share their experiences. There was a hushed air of anticipation in the room.
Tom drew the first slip, a red one. "My best memory last year," he read, "was shore leave on Schonchin. My friends and I hiked under the light of their three moons and saw the ice caves glittering like silver. I have never seen anything so beautiful, and that memory will stay with me forever."
A few smiles around the room, and a bashful grin from Ensign Shah provided the identity of that writer.
The next slip was also red. "I remember Mom taking me to see Flotter on the holodeck. We had a whole morning together and Joe came too. We had fun. I felt like I had a real family."
Naomi's ears were as red as the slip Tom held. Kathryn looked over to see Sam, tucking herself into Joe's embrace, tears in her eyes. Joe dropped his head and his lips caressed her hair.
The third slip was blue. "I wish for a week locked in the holodeck, just me and the men from the Hawaiian resort program." Good natured laughter followed that wish, and some ribbing comments thrown at Jenny and Megan Delaney, neither of whom was owning up to writing it.
Chakotay moved closer to Kathryn, close enough that they brushed at hip and shoulder. "This was a good idea of Tom's," he whispered. "People are enjoying themselves."
"They are," she agreed. Fingers of fire licked through her body, where his hip touched her. She resisted the impulse to slide her arm around his waist. He slid a friendly arm around her shoulders. It lay heavily around her, underneath her hair.
"What did you wish for, Kathryn?" He bent and whispered the words in her ear.
"That would be telling," she whispered back.
Tom was still reading out slips. "A blue one," he announced. "I wish that Voyager returns home next year."
Strangely that announcement was met by silence.
"Was that yours?" Chakotay brushed her hair away from her cheek, the better to see her face. "It will happen, Kathryn. There's no need to wish for that, because it's a given."
His faith in her moved her. "No," she whispered back. "That wasn't mine. I wished for something I can never have."
The hiss of his indrawn breath made her wish she could recall the words. Fervently she hoped that Tom wouldn't pick hers to read out. If Chakotay heard it read aloud, then maybe he would realize who wrote it.
"A red slip," said Tom. "The memory I treasure most from this past year was sheltering from the rain, under the eaves of a house. A woman I care about was in my arms, and in those moments I was totally happy."
Her turn to suck in a breath. She turned to the man at her side. He was watching her warily, as if he expected her to call him to task for sharing their memory.
"It's true, Kathryn," he said quietly. "That is my happiest memory from the past year."
Her eyes watered and she couldn't answer him. But the drumbeat of one word ran through her head. Care. He had used the present tense. He must still feel that way.
"A blue slip," said Tom. "I want Harry Kim to notice me."
Harry blushed to the tips of his ears, and people turned this way and that, trying to guess the author. Kathryn had her suspicions, and seeing Tal Celes sitting quietly, gazing at her feet as if they were the most interesting things in the room confirmed her guess. Harry and Celes. They could be good together. She resolved to have a quiet word with Tom at a later date. If anyone could push them together, Tom could.
"Another blue slip." Tom was silent for a moment, as he scanned the writing. Then slowly he read, "I hope that Kes, my sweeting, is happy, wherever and whatever she is." His voice cracked slightly at the end. "Neelix," he said. "We all wish for that. Every one of us."
He hesitated before pulling out another slip, and Kathryn hoped for a light-hearted wish or memory after the last poignant one.
"My happiest memory was seeing Tuvok slip and fall on his butt in the marshy caverns on Slerizon. I'm sorry Tuvok, but the picture of your affronted face made me giggle for days." Tom grinned. "We know who wrote that one," he said. "Jenny, you couldn't look at Tuvok for weeks without laughing."
Jenny was giggling again. "I'm sorry, Commander," she said. "But you have no idea how much you cheered me up."
Tuvok raised an eyebrow. "I am delighted to be of assistance, Ensign."
"Which means it's Megan who wants to be locked into the Hawaiian resort program," someone called out from the back of the room. Laughter and catcalls followed that revelation. Megan just grinned good naturedly.
"Here's another one," Tom called out over the hubbub. "This one is short. It says, 'I wish for Chakotay. In my bed.'"
All eyes swiveled towards Chakotay, who just smiled. "It's nice to be wanted," he said.
Kathryn concentrated on keeping her breathing even as she turned to him. "Looks like you've got a secret admirer, Chakotay."
"Or maybe not so secret," he said. And he pitched his words for her ears alone. "Maybe she just gave herself away." The hand that was wrapped around her shoulders, withdrew slowly, skating lightly over the back of her neck.
Kathryn shivered at the tantalizingly featherlight touch, and he noticed. Of course, he always noticed.
"That goose again?"
"Same goose," she agreed lightly, but her mind was in turmoil. He knew. He guessed. How? Anyone could have written the note.
The rest of the wishes and memories passed her by in a daze. Chakotay stayed by her side, dogging her footsteps as she circulated the room afterwards, chatting with various crewmen. She knew that soon, she would leave, and she knew, as surely as she knew her own name that he would follow her. And they would talk. She didn't dare think about what would happen after that.
Around 0100 she started to take her leave.
"Thanks, Tom," she said. "You did a wonderful job. The idea about the wishes and memories was inspired."
Tom was uncharacteristically serious as he looked at her. "I think it gave us all reasons to be happy, Captain," he said. "And for some, maybe it showed us that our wishes are not out of our reach."
She was thankful that she couldn't see Chakotay's face. But Tom wasn't joking. He had a funny, earnest look on his face, as if he was relating something of great importance to a rather stupid child. "Remember that, Captain," he repeated.
The feel of Chakotay's hand, lightly touching her on the small of her back burned through the fabric of her dress. The touch was entirely appropriate, he often escorted her like that, but this time she was aware of each separate fingerprint, light pressure on her flesh.
"You don't need to leave too, Commander." The comment was for Tom's benefit, a preservation of the way things were. She knew, and Chakotay knew, and Tom knew too probably, if his slight half smile was anything to go by, that Chakotay and she were leaving together. To talk.
"I'm tired. And I'm on alpha shift tomorrow. I think I'll turn in too." His words were a lie as well; she could feel the suppressed excitement in the slight tremble of his fingers on her back.
She didn't speak as they paced the corridors, nor in the turbolift. They reached his door first and she touched his hand lightly as he keyed in his code. "Good night, Chakotay. I'll see you on the bridge…"
It was a wasted effort and she knew it. His door slid open, and his hand curled around and grasped her fingers securely. With a gentle tug, he pulled her far enough inside that the door closed behind them.
"Don't pretend, Kathryn. You know we have to talk. And then maybe we have to make a few changes."
She didn't try to deny it, he was right. They couldn't pretend that the acknowledgement of attraction hadn't happened, but exactly what she should do was eluding her. For once, Captain Kathryn Janeway was at a loss.
He saw her hesitation, and tugged her forward again, close to his chest, wrapping her arms securely around her shoulders. She pressed her face into him and felt one hand stroke through her hair. He had said an embrace like this was his happiest memory. She relived that earlier hug, the comfort, the closeness, the warmth, and the love that it brought. Her own arms lifted to wrap around his waist.
"For what it's worth, we have Tom Paris's blessing." Chakotay's voice reverberated underneath his ear.
She chuckled. "We do." With a start she realized that she hadn't made any decision. They hadn't talked about it or rationalized anything, but somehow she just wasn't fighting any more.
"I don't know why I wrote that on my blue slip," she said. "But Tom said to put down whatever we wanted the most." She smiled, self-deprecatingly against his chest. "So I did. But you weren't supposed to know it was me."
"You gave yourself away," he said. "There's only one thing you want that you can't have. And when you said you didn't wish for Voyager to get home, then I knew what you had written, even before Tom read it out."
"Am I so obvious?" She settled herself more firmly into his body, allowing her hands to meander ever so slightly over his broad back.
"Only to me. Although at times I thought I was fooling myself." The pause stretched, taut with anticipation. "Tom didn't read out my wish," said Chakotay. "I wrote it down, then realized it could never be read out aloud." He moved away from her slightly, and handed her a crumpled blue slip from the pocket of his pants.
"I want to kiss my captain, the woman I love," she read. Her breath caught in her throat. He loved her. "Yes, Tom would have had a field day with that one."
His hand settled on the side of her face. She let herself lean into his palm, his fingers curling around her jaw.
"Can I, Kathryn?" His eyes were on her face, hopeful, but still hesitant. "Can I have my wish?"
She curled an arm around his neck and brought his face down to hers. "I'm counting on it."
His kiss was soft, but hinted of more. He moved his lips softly over hers, parting them gently to slip his tongue inside. A wash of feelings overwhelmed her. Gratitude, desire, arousal and love. She moved closer to him, pressing herself against him, into his arms and kissed him back. Firmer, taking the initiative, winding her hands into his hair to hold him to her when he would have eased away. When she finally broke the kiss she was shivering from the reaction.
"I wonder if I'll get my wish?" She said the words softly.
"I'm yours, you know," he said quietly. "You've always held my heart. If you want me in your bed, you only have to ask."
So she asked him.
Feedback? Please. Shayenne
© Shayenne, December 2001 Please email me to post/distribute elsewhere.