Disclaimer: Star Trek Voyager belongs to Paramount/CBS. No infringement intended.
Summary: A Christmas story written for the 2008 VAMB Secret Santa exchange. J/C
The Snow Fox and the Gecko
Kathryn Janeway laughed when she realized how ridiculous she must look. Dressed in a down parka, mittens, and a stocking cap, she sat in front of the hearth at her family’s Lake George cabin with a wool blanket around her shoulders and a steaming mug of fresh coffee cradled in her hands. She couldn’t remember a time when the cabin had seemed as cold and forbidding as it had when she’d arrived, but, then, her mother had always been with her and had taken charge of getting the cabin into proper order.
“Perhaps that’s it,” she thought to herself, pulling the blanket up and over her nose and mouth. “Maybe I’m cold because I’m here without adult supervision.” She heard heavy boots stomping on the porch floor and quickly rose to her feet, shedding the blanket as she shouted, “Pete! Come on in!”
“Miss Katie!” Pete Martin walked into the room with two large bags in his arms and a tool kit over his shoulder. He pushed the door closed behind him, but not before a frigid gust of wind chased away every shred of warmth that the fire had generated. “You’re a sight for sore eyes, I must say. Marie and I were thinking that none of the Janeway clan would be coming to stay with us this winter.”
“I had to come,” she replied, giving him a quick hug and taking one of the bags. She chuckled when she saw him staring at her clothing. “I forgot how cold it gets up here.”
“The stone fireplace eats the warmth first, you know,” he answered, nodding toward the hearth. “Once the stones are warm, they’ll release more heat into the room.”
“I hope I’m not frozen solid before then. What have you brought me?”
“Some ‘necessaries.’ And Marie sent a bit of food, since she knows you don’t cook much.”
“I don’t cook at all. Thank her for me.”
“Why don’t you just come back home with me until the cabin is warm?”
“Not on Christmas Eve, Pete. You have your own traditions, I’m sure, and I don’t want to interfere.”
“There’s always room for one more.”
“No, thanks. I don’t mind being alone, at least, not here at the cabin.”
“We were sorry to hear about your mother.” He stood awkwardly, as if trying to think of what he should say or do. “We hated that the funeral happened right at Thanksgiving when we’re so busy. We wanted to come and pay our respects.”
“The flowers you sent were beautiful, and we all know how hard it is for you to get away during any holiday.” Pete and Marie Morton were year-round Lake George residents who had taken care of the Janeway cabin and a dozen others for the last ten years.
“We didn’t even know Miss Gretchen was ailing.”
“She wasn’t really sick, Pete. She fell and bumped her head, that’s all. Who would think a bruise would lead to her death?”
He shook his head. “No time for a proper goodbye?”
“Not really.” Kathryn blinked back the tears that filled her eyes and moved past him toward the kitchen that was at the back of the great room. “I’ll put things away.”
“And I’ll get the furnace up and running. I’m sorry you found the cabin so dark and cold. The last few years, I always tried to have the place ready when your mother arrived.”
“It’s not your fault, Pete. I should have given you more notice, but, frankly, I came on a whim.” She shrugged her shoulders.
“Will Miss Phoebe and her family be joining you for the holidays?”
“Not this year. They were here just a few weeks ago for the funeral, and the trip from Rigel is too long for them to come back again so soon. I can’t blame her for wanting to stay at home when her boys are so little.”
“Well, I guess travel is hard for families.” He picked up his tool bag. “Lucky thing that your mom agreed to put in the solar panels last summer, or you wouldn’t have working plumbing or electricity. Now, if I can get the furnace going, you’ll be in good shape.”
Kathryn finished unloading the bags and returned to her chair by the hearth, pausing to add another log to the fire before she sat down and pulled the blanket around her shoulders. She could hear Pete cursing as he worked on the ancient furnace and decided that she would modernize the cabin’s equipment at the first opportunity. She looked up to find Pete standing at the door, his hat in his hand.
“I’m afraid the furnace won’t work until I replace the igniter, Miss Katie, but I need to go to town and get the part first. I’ll be back in a few hours.”
“Can we just replicate it?”
“Not with your mother’s replicator, we can’t. I’ll be back after supper to fix it.”
“On Christmas Eve?” Kathryn stood up and crossed her arms. “I won’t hear of it. The fireplace will keep the cabin warm enough.”
“There’s a Nor’Easter blowing in, which means the temperatures are going to drop.”
“I can last thirty-six hours, Pete. I have all kinds of cold-weather gear I can use.”
“It’ll be pretty uncomfortable, even so.”
She laughed. “I’m a fully-trained Starfleet officer, Pete. I won’t freeze to death.”
“All right, but if you need anything, anything at all, you know how to use the local communication system. It’ll work even if you’re out of power.”
“I remember. And, Pete, we’ll be replacing the furnace, the replicator, and everything else around here with modern equipment right after the first of the year.”
He gave her a huge smile. “Well, Miss Katie, you just gave me the best Christmas present ever.”
Pete left quickly, but not before another frigid blast came through the door and obliterated every ounce of warmth in the room. Kathryn huddled into the blanket, her eyes fixed on the dancing flames. Pete’s brief visit brought home the loneliness she felt, and her mind wandered back to the Indiana countryside four weeks earlier.
“It would have to rain today,” Phoebe sighed as she and Kathryn walked toward the family gravesite while sharing a large umbrella. “If the temperature drops much, we’ll have a dandy ice storm.”
“I don’t think Mother would approve,” Kathryn replied. “If she had realized what the weather would be like for her funeral, she might have had us wait and have the memorial service at a nicer time of year.”
“It all happened so fast. I have a dozen Christmas presents I bought for her. I didn’t even get to say goodbye.”
“I didn’t either, and I was within transporter range.”
They reached the canopy that covered the open grave and sat down in the chairs that faced their mother’s flower-covered casket. The rest of the family filed in behind them, with Phoebe’s husband and her two children taking up the rest of the front row and their friends and distant relatives facing them from the other side of the grave.
Kathryn took a moment to study their sad faces, noticing that the mourners barely fit under the canopy. All of their neighbors were there, including Mark Johnson and his family, as were many of her mother’s coworkers and a half dozen Starfleet officers who had known her family for years. To her dismay, only a few of Voyager’s crew were in attendance, including Tuvok, Tom Paris, B’Elanna Torres, the EMH, and Seven of Nine, but then she’d not posted the news of her mother’s death on the Voyager message board until the day before the funeral. She couldn’t be upset with them for not attending when they didn’t have time to make plans.
The sisters held hands as the last words were spoken over their mother’s body. They were both numb with cold and emotional shock, and the rest of the day was a blur of faces and words of condolence. The next few days were taken up with legal matters that she and Phoebe had settled quickly and amicably. Before she felt ready to be alone, Kathryn found herself bidding Phoebe and her family goodbye.
“Do you want us to come back for Christmas?” Phoebe asked as she put on her coat.
“It’s barely three weeks away, Phoebe. You’d meet yourself coming and going.”
“We’d come if you want us to, Kathryn. Or you could come see us.”
“I’ll be fine,” Kathryn insisted. “Voyager’s second reunion is December 22nd, and there will probably be some people hanging around for the winter holidays. I wouldn’t be surprised if I don’t have a houseful of people staying with me.”
“If you change your mind, just call.”
The sisters gave each other a tearful embrace, and then Kathryn hugged Phoebe’s husband and children as they walked out the door. She stood at the window, just as her mother had always done before, and waved at them as they walked down the lane toward town, the children racing ahead like puppies released from a kennel.
It wasn’t until her family disappeared around the corner that Kathryn began to feel the icy cold of loneliness closing in on her.
The logs shifted in the hearth, sending sparks up the flue and bringing Kathryn out of her reverie. She put more logs on the fire and took her ice-cold coffee to the kitchen where she replicated a fresh mug and then walked to the window to check the weather. Huge snowflakes were blowing in from the lake, and Kathryn remembered that Pete had warned her about an approaching Nor’Easter. She finished her coffee and headed for the outdoors to bring in the wood she would need to keep the fireplace going for the next few days.
The work of hauling logs to the front porch from where Pete had staged them warmed her up and took her mind off of her solitude for awhile. Once she had a stacked a good supply of firewood on the porch, she made several more trips to place more logs inside the great room on a rug near the hearth. She hoped she had enough to get her through the night without having to go onto the porch for more. In the meantime, the repeated opening and shutting of the front door took care of the warmth that had built up in the large room once again.
“I’ll just sleep by the fire,” she said to herself as she pushed the sofa closer to the hearth and then piled pillows and blankets onto it. She stacked PADDs and books on a coffee table and activated the communications unit so that soft piano music filled the room. Then, she returned to the kitchen, warmed up the food that Marie had sent her, and sat down on the sofa to eat. The aroma of the Irish stew reminded her of how long it had been since she’d eaten, and she ate greedily until the food was gone.
Tired from her chores and full of hearty food, she sat back and stared into the flames. She’d dreamed of quiet nights alone when she’d been on Voyager and would have gladly traded the constant burden of her life on the ship for a few days of solitude on Earth. Now that she was faced with the silence of the cabin, however, she discovered that her loneliness was almost more than she could bear. She missed being Voyager’s captain, and she missed her crew.
A chirp from the communications unit caught her attention, so she wrapped the blanket around her shoulders and sat down at the desk.
“I’ve been wondering where you were,” Phoebe said, looking a little worried. Her eyes moved past Kathryn to take in her surroundings. “You’re at the cabin?”
“Yeah. The house in Indiana was just too quiet.”
“I thought you were going to have company from the reunion.”
“I did, too, but the reunion was pretty much a bust. I guess the crew has moved on or are too busy with their lives to come all the way back to Earth for a single night.”
“Here I thought you were going to be surrounded by your surrogate family.”
“I should have known that it would be poorly attended.”
“Maybe it would be better to have the reunion every few years instead of annually.”
Phoebe frowned. “I feel bad that we didn’t come back to be with you for the holidays.”
“Don’t feel guilty about it. Christmas is just another day, and Tom and B’Elanna have invited me to a New Year’s Eve party.”
“Promise me that you’ll go. I know how you back out of parties like that.”
“I’ll probably go, unless I’m busy doing something else.”
“Like what? Shoveling snow? You need to have something to look forward to.”
“Okay, I promise that I’ll go.” She gave Phoebe a brave smile. “How are the kids doing?”
Phoebe regaled her with a couple of stories about her children and then signed off. “I have a hundred things to do before the kids get up in the morning.”
“Give everyone a hug from me. I hope their gifts arrived on time.”
“Are you kidding? They’ve practically shaken them to bits.”
“I’ll talk to you tomorrow sometime.”
“Okay, Katie. Goodnight.”
Once the connection was broken, Kathryn stared at the blank screen fighting back tears. The soft Christmas music she’d selected suddenly seemed mournful and gloomy, so she decided to change it to something more upbeat. She suspected that her exhaustion was fueling her melancholy mood, so she raced through her bedtime routine, carried her dishes to the kitchen, turned off the music, stoked then fire, and then stretched out on the sofa inside a Starfleet sleeping bag. Instead of the silence she expected, she was surrounded by the fierce wind of the Nor’Easter that was whistling around the cabin. In spite of herself, she thought back to the reunion two days earlier.
“Less than twenty crew members are in attendance,” Tuvok commented as he looked around Sandrine’s party room.
Kathryn sat down at a table and tried to put on a brave face as the Vulcan sat down across from her. “I was hoping this party would help take my mind off of the funeral.”
“It’s much wiser to face your melancholy than repress it.”
“Oh, I know that. It’s just that I’m so tired of being strong and brave when I want to rant and rave against all the unfair things that happen in life.”
Tuvok raised an eyebrow. “If you need to release your frustrations by throwing a tantrum, I suggest you do so in private.”
“Good idea. The admiralty might frown on a Starfleet admiral who stomps her foot and pouts.”
He sat quietly for a moment and then gave her a sympathetic look. “It’s unfortunate that Commander Chakotay is unable to be here tonight. He’s the best person to listen to your outbursts and help you come to terms with your feelings of disappointment.”
His words hit her hard, and she found herself blinking back tears. “Chakotay has moved on with his life, Tuvok. He left for Trebus two months ago, so it’s far too soon for him to turn around and come back. And, anyway, you are as good a friend to me as he is, maybe better.”
“Chakotay and I are not friends to you in the same way.” At her quizzical look, he continued, “I appeal to your logical side and help you refocus your emotions on the factual and scientific solutions to the problems you face. Chakotay helps you confront and work through your emotions, something you need to do after the events of the last few weeks. Perhaps you should contact him.”
“I wouldn’t think of burdening him with my personal problems. We’ve grown apart in the last two years, and he’s no longer part of my daily life.”
“An unfortunate turn of events, don’t you think?”
The memory of Tuvok’s comments still made her angry, but she reminded herself that he was simply expressing his opinion in his usual forthright manner, a trait that she treasured. She was angry because he was right. She missed Chakotay and thought of him almost every day. She wanted very much to talk to him about her mother’s death and about the way the crew had simply drifted away. She wanted to ask him what had happened to their friendship and why he’d moved so far away from Earth when she’d always believed they would stay close friends and spend time together.
Brushing tears from her eyes, she remembered a conversation she had with Chakotay during their exile on New Earth, a discussion of what they had to do in order to survive and prosper on their new world. He’d told her one of his many stories, this one about the small, delicate snow fox that lived and thrived in the harsh environment of Earth’s Arctic Circle. The beautiful foxes hunted small rodents and grew thick coats to protect them from the cold, making do with what they found and learning to prosper in an environment that others would find inhospitable. The lesson was that the two of them would have to do the same thing on New Earth, or in the Delta Quadrant, or wherever they found themselves. They would have to learn to live life to the fullest with whatever they found.
She huddled into the sleeping bag, hugging a pillow tightly as she let a few tears fall. Tuvok had been right about her needing Chakotay’s friendship at times like this, when her courage was flagging and her endurance waning. Survival had been much easier when she had Chakotay beside her to share the challenges she faced and to support her every way he could.
“Where are you?” she asked aloud, as if Chakotay could hear her. “I need you.”
She fell into a fitful sleep as the blizzard intensified, dumping over a foot of snow on the cabin in less than eight hours. When the weak morning light awakened her, she opened her eyes to blinding white cold and realized that she should have fed the fire through the night if she wanted to warm up the cabin. The fire had burned down to embers, and the room seemed colder than it had been when she’d arrived the day before.
“One step forward, two steps backward,” she muttered, burrowing into the sleeping bag in despair. She would have to get up soon to use the bathroom and find something to eat, but in the meantime, she simply surrendered to the cold.
* * * * *
Chakotay had learned of Gretchen Janeway’s accident through a message from Seven of Nine that arrived two weeks after her funeral. He was grieved to hear of her passing and regretted leaving Earth when he had, just six weeks before she died. He knew it was a bad sign that Kathryn hadn’t contacted him herself, and he suspected that she probably needed his friendship and support just now. He chastised himself for skipping Voyager’s second reunion. If he’d attended, he would have already been on his way to Earth when her mother passed away.
“The worst part about resigning from Starfleet is that I’m reduced to using public transportation,” he had told his sister, Liana, as he began the laborious task of making travel arrangements. “There isn’t a busier time in Sector 001 than the new year. Not only is it a major holiday for most Terrans, it’s also semester break for the Academy, and a favorite time for Starfleet officers to relocate to or from the planet. Most of the transports are not only full, they have long lists of passengers on standby.”
“You’ve already missed the funeral,” she’d replied, giving his shoulder a comforting squeeze. “Just get there as quickly as you can.”
“I have a feeling that the sooner I can get there, the better.”
“Have you thought about talking to Kathryn over subspace?”
He’d frowned and shook his head. “I’d have to stay put to wait for access to a subspace beacon, and, anyway, she’d just tell me that she was fine and that I don’t need to come all the way back on her account.”
“You know best, I guess. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”
The journey had turned out to be even more frustrating than he’d expected. Despite his willingness to take any transport that was headed in the right direction, he’d spent many long hours in waiting rooms, rethinking all the rash decisions he’d made during the last two years. Now, stuck on Jupiter Station just hours away from Earth, he was about to lose his patience once and for all.
The worst decision he’d made was when he became romantically involved with Seven of Nine. Not only had that blighted relationship driven a wedge between him and Kathryn Janeway, it had occurred at the worst possible time—a matter of days before Voyager finally returned to the Alpha Quadrant. Then, after he and Seven called things quits some six months later, he’d resigned from Starfleet without consulting with the captain or with Admiral Paris only to learn that he could have kept his provisional commission and eventually resume his former career. Several of the Maquis had done that and were still on active duty, including B’Elanna Torres, Mike Ayala, and Chell. If he had remained a Starfleet officer, he could have found a dozen ways to stay in contact with Kathryn and gradually restore their friendship to its previous intimacy.
After going through a series of unsatisfactory jobs, he had made the last poor decision the previous fall when he’d given up on his Voyager past and arranged the move to Trebus. He’d realized his mistake when he witnessed Kathryn’s reaction to the news. Tears had sprung into her eyes and she’d struggled to find her voice, yet she’d finally nodded her head in approval as if his presence in her life was insignificant. He knew better, but pressed on, leaving Earth with a feeling of foreboding that had grown deeper with each passing day. Even his sister had commented on his ambivalence, and he had decided to relocate to Earth as soon as he found a plausible reason to do so.
“Mr. Chakotay?” He looked into the smiling face of a transport aide. “I have good news. There’s a seat available on the next ship to Earth, if you want it.”
“I definitely want it.” He stood up and gathered his belongings. “Just show me where to go.”
He wasn’t surprised to learn that Kathryn had retreated to the Lake George cabin. It had always been her “safe place,” even when it was just a holodeck program on Voyager, and provided the privacy and comfort she needed when she was distressed or worried. The blizzard, however, was a troublesome complication.
“I’m afraid that it’s impossible to beam you directly to the cabin, Mr. Chakotay. The best we can do is to send you to the nearest transport station, which is about two kilometers from the house.”
“That’s not so far to walk, is it?”
“Under normal circumstances, it would probably be a pleasant stroll. But the region is experiencing a full-blown Nor’Easter, which means that you can quickly become disoriented. Also, it’s about four in the morning and extremely cold.”
“I forget about the weather and really miss the weathernet.”
“Thank the Breen and the Dominion War. Many of the traditionalists prefer this crazy winter weather, but the rest of us are anxious to rebuild it.”
“Just beam me to the transport station, then. I’ll be ready to start walking when the storm lets up, or I’ll find some kind soul who’s willing to take me to the cabin.”
“Good luck,” the transport chief relied. “I hope you have a warm coat.”
Chakotay had seen blizzards in his day, but this one’s ferocity took him by surprise. He was alone in the small station with the transport chief, stranded in the cold semi-darkness of the small underpowered building. He watched the snow blowing by at close to hurricane speed and listened to the wind as it howled around the corners of the building. Although the station was heated, he felt the cold slowly creeping up his legs from the concrete floor and wished that he’d worn heavier socks and a warmer coat. The transport operator offered him a blanket, and Chakotay worried that Kathryn was feeling cold, too. She didn’t tolerate cold temperatures well, remembering how often he’d lent her his jacket when Voyager’s environmental controls malfunctioned.
Kathryn loved the warmth of the sun. On New Earth, she’d often stretch out to rest on a warm rock, like a lithe gecko, and she invariable chose a sunny seat in a cafeteria or a waiting room. But she didn’t just love warmth, she was warm. She was a caring and involved leader, always asking him about the crew’s esprit de corps and doing whatever was needed to help them cope with the challenges of their exile. She was a thoughtful and considerate friend, as well as the best friend he’d ever had.
He’d been surprised and dismayed at the way their friendship had waned since their return to the Federation. Their connection had slowly cooled, as if the process of mothballing the ship and watching the crew scatter had in some way affected them in a personal, emotional way. Oh, she still had a scathing wit and an on-going concern for her crew, but she wasn’t as accessible as she once had been and seldom talked to him about her more personal thoughts and worries. She’d simply withdrawn, and he feared that the loss of her mother might be a serious blow to her well-being.
He wrapped the blanket around himself and put his feet on the coffee table, suddenly exhausted from his arduous two-week journey. Morning would soon arrive, and he wanted to be ready to go to the cabin when the first opportunity presented itself.
He looked up to see the transport chief offering him a hot beverage. “What’s this?”
“Hot chocolate. You looked like you were cold and could use a pick-me-up.”
“Thanks.” He took the mug and sniffed the beverage. “This is Christmas day?”
“December 25th, yeah.”
“Well, Merry Christmas to you, too, and thanks for the hot chocolate.” He wrapped his hands around the mug and wondered if he had made a mistake to come on this particular holiday. He realized that he might arrive at the cabin and find Kathryn surrounded by her extended family or, worse, shacked up with some new lover. The family wouldn’t be a problem; he’d met them several times and got along well with all of them. However, the prospect of finding Kathryn alone with another man was daunting, to say the least.
“Too late to turn back now, old man,” he told himself as he sat back and stared at the snow that looked to be drifting at least waist deep.
* * * * *
Once again wearing her parka and mittens, Kathryn stacked logs in the fireplace and used the automated starter to restart the fire. As the logs caught, she perched on the hearth until she thawed. Then she went to the kitchen to replicate hot oatmeal and a large mug of coffee, which she took back to the fireplace to enjoy.
Her back to the warmth, she peered out the windows at the blizzard. The snow was deeper than she’d seen it since Voyager’s return and possibly as deep as it had ever been during her many stays at the lake. She realized that she was going to be stuck here for a few days and wondered whether she should have accepted Pete’s offer to stay at his house until the furnace was repaired.
She computed the distance to Pete and Marie’s house and tried to imagine herself walking the ten kilometers in the deep snow and frigid cold–impossible. She was as stuck here as she’d ever been in the Delta Quadrant and would have to make the best of it, like the determined little snow fox in the far North. She set her mouth in a grim line and took her dishes to the kitchen where she did a quick inventory of her meager food supplies.
She told herself that her mother would never have come to the Lake on impulse like this, not without giving Pete enough notice to get the creaky old equipment serviced and certainly not without checking the weather forecast. Kathryn had become careless about such details in recent months, and she wondered why. Was it a by-product of the staff she’d been given on her promotion to admiral? Was it part of the post-traumatic stress syndrome that she’d been battling for the last year? She thought it might be the cumulative effect of all the losses she’d endured–the mothballing of her ship, the dispersal of her crew throughout the Federation, her mother’s death, her sister’s move to Rigel V, and the end of several friendships she thought would last forever, especially the one friendship that her Vulcan friend had recognized as being essential to her emotional health.
Why hadn’t she realized how much she needed Chakotay’s emotional support? Why had she let their friendship fade away? It had started, of course, when the future Admiral Janeway mentioned Seven’s marriage to Chakotay in her timeline. Once Kathryn was aware of their relationship, she had pulled away from both of them, and she hadn’t known how to resume their friendship once Chakotay and Seven broke up a few months later.
With a sigh, she realized that the problem had stemmed from her fear of appearing vulnerable. She would have had to admit that she cared for him if she wanted to resume their friendship, and she was afraid that he would reject her. The debriefings were over, and he was no longer in Starfleet, so contacting him would have to be for a personal reason. Even now, as much as she missed him, she couldn’t imagine herself calling him to say hello, much less begging him to come back and be her friend again.
She was walking to put her dished in the sink when she spotted a flash of color outside the kitchen window. She saw a bright red snow mobile in the yard and heard the familiar the sound of feet stomping on the wooden porch.
“Come in!” she hollered, turning toward the front door just as Pete walked in carrying a large box in his arms.
“I’m glad you haven’t frozen solid!” he said, smiling at her over the top of the box. “I had the part I needed in my shop, and Marie insisted that I come and fix it before you freeze to death.” He put the box on the kitchen table and pulled out a small mechanical piece. “The rest of this is the food I usually leave here for Miss Gretchen. Marie figured you might not get to the store, and, God knows that ancient replicator isn’t up to feeding you.”
“I’m really in your debt, Pete,” she answered as she started pulling food out of the box. “And if you’ll just leave that part, I’m sure I can fix the furnace. It can’t be any more challenging than a warp core.”
“Actually, it can,” Pete laughed as he tossed the piece in the air and caught it. “I can put this part in and have the furnace working before you could figure out which end is up.”
“But what about your Christmas morning with the children?”
“The kids were busy with what Santa brought them. When I get back, we’ll open the presents.” He gave her a wink and started down the hall, only to stop and turn to her. “Oh, I sort of brought you a present, too.”
“This food is enough, Pete. I don’t need a gift.”
“Maybe you should wait and see.” He nodded toward the door. “You can tell me later if I need to take it back with me.”
Kathryn turned toward the door and nearly fainted in surprise, putting a hand on the back of one of the kitchen chairs to help her keep her balance. Standing just inside the door was her former first officer.
“Chakotay,” she said, finally finding her voice. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to see you, obviously.” He grinned as he noticed in her down parka, scarf, hat, and mittens. “You look like you’re ready to go sledding.”
“The pitiful furnace in this cabin is seeing its last winter,” she replied, grinning back. “A fireplace is not a good method for heating a cabin this size.”
He took off his stocking cap and ruffled his hand through his hair. “I bet the high ceiling in the great room doesn’t help. It’s probably warmer up in the loft than it is down here.”
Kathryn stared at him with her mouth hanging open, and then she craned her neck to look toward the loft. “Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Let me help you put this stuff away.” Chakotay reached into the box and pulled out containers of flour and sugar. “Do you know how to use this stuff?”
“Not really, but I’m willing to try.”
“You know, you’re lucky to have people like Pete and Marie looking after you.”
“I know I am. I don’t know what my mom would have done without Pete’s help.”
At the mention of her mother, Chakotay stopped working and turned to her. “I was really sorry to hear about your mother. She was a wonderful person and always kind to me.”
Kathryn swallowed hard, struggling to reply without bursting into tears, when a series of bangs and a long string of curse words echoed down the hall from the equipment room.
Chakotay laughed. “Do all engineers swear like that?”
“I think so,” she answered, shaking her head. “At least the good ones do.”
Pete appeared in the door and announced that the furnace was repaired and working normally. “In an hour or so, the cabin should be much warmer.”
“Thanks, Pete. I appreciate your coming back on Christmas day.”
“Marie and I couldn’t really celebrate as long as we were worried about you.” He motioned toward the door. “Could I talk to you for a minute?”
Kathryn nodded and followed him onto the porch.
“Was it all right for me to bring this fellow out here? He was at the transport station and about to start walking when Fred, the transport operator, flagged me down.”
“It’s more than all right, Pete. Chakotay was my first officer on Voyager for seven years. I trust him with my life, and I’m very glad to see him.”
“He’s the one your mom thought you were involved with, right?”
Kathryn’s eyes widened. “She thought that?”
“She said you always mentioned him in your letters.”
“That’s because we worked together so closely. We’re just friends.”
“Marie and I are friends, too. Married people had better be friends if they want the marriage to last.” He put on his hat and began pulling on his mittens. “The furnace is also a power unit, you know. You’re in fine shape now, no matter how much worse the weather gets.”
“That’s good to know.” She gave him a fierce hug. “Thanks for your help.”
Kathryn returned to the kitchen to find Chakotay replicating a pot of coffee and arranging some of Marie’s homemade cookies on a plate.
“Let me guess,” he said, giving her a wink. “He wanted to make sure it was all right to leave me here with you.”
“More or less, but don’t take it personally. He doesn’t know you, and he’s pretty protective of us helpless Janeway women.” She grinned when he laughed at the notion of a helpless Kathryn Janeway, and then she gestured toward the fireplace. “Let’s have the coffee in there, okay? It’s much warmer by the fire.”
After they’d poured coffee and nibbled on a couple of cookies, Chakotay shivered with cold and reached for a blanket that he draped over their shoulders. “Let’s share until the furnace warms up the place.”
“Mmm,” Kathryn sighed. “Having you here is much warmer.”
“How did you keep from freezing to death in this place?”
“I wore six layers of clothes, tried to keep the fire going, and took inspiration from that little Arctic fox you told me about back on New Earth.”
Chakotay reacted with surprise. He seldom mentioned his animal guide to anyone, even in a casual way. While he remembered telling her about the snow fox, he was startled that she had taken it to heart. “You remember that story?”
“I remember all the stories you’ve told me over the years, Chakotay.” She sighed at the warmth that radiated from him and felt her body start to relax for the first time since she’d arrived. “I really was listening.”
“That’s good to know. I don’t usually tell people about the arctic fox.” They sat quietly for a few minutes before Chakotay looked around the room. “This isn’t exactly the way the cabin looked on the holodeck.”
“No, I modernized it a bit. My mother wouldn’t have approved, though.”
“I’m sorry I missed the funeral, Kathryn, but, of course, I couldn’t have gotten here in time.”
“I should have contacted you. I thought about it, but I just couldn’t think of what to say.”
“That’s understandable.” He put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer. “I’m here because I thought you might need a friend. I know how close you were to your mother, and I know how you try to be strong and independent, even when you need comfort and reassurance. Maybe I should say ‘especially’ at times like that.”
Much to Kathryn’s embarrassment, tears spilled down her cheeks. “It all happened so fast. One Sunday, I was at her house having dinner, and three days later, she was gone, just like that.”
“How did it happen?”
“She fell and hit her head. She didn’t think anything of it, because she only had bruise on her temple. She was sure she hadn’t been knocked unconscious, but I told her she should be checked out, to be sure. I wanted her to go to the emergency room right away, but she promised to go to the clinic the next morning. She went to bed that night and never woke up.”
“Oh,Kathryn, What a terrible shock.”
All she could do was nod in agreement. Chakotay put his arms around her as she cried, telling her to let the pain and sorrow out, promising that he’d stay with her until she felt better, declaring that she’d done all she could to make sure her mother was all right.
“Do you really think so?” She pulled away from him so she could look him in the eye. “I’ve felt so guilty because I should have insisted that she see a doctor right away.”
“You gave her good advice, but she was an adult who was more than capable of making her own decisions. She wouldn’t want you to blame yourself about what happened.”
His kindness was almost too much to bear. She leaned against him, emotionally drained and grateful for his warmth. He always warmed her, she realized, both physically and emotionally, the same way that sunshine lightened her mood and restored her sense of well-being.
“I wanted to talk to you about all of this,” she admitted. “I wanted so much to call you and beg you to come back.”
“I wish you had called me, Kathryn. After all the years we served together and everything that we’ve been through, I would hope that you’d feel comfortable telling me anything.”
“I thought that you were trying to get away from me, and I didn’t want to burden you with my troubles.”
“You’re not a burden to me.” He stared at her in disbelief. “I thought you didn’t care whether I went away or not.”
“You did?” She shook her head in amazement. “I’d really prefer to have you close by, where I could see you every day. I was broken-hearted when you decided to move to Trebus.”
“Every day? You want to see me every day?”
“I got used to having you around all the time, and I’ve missed you since we left Voyager.”
“I miss you, too. In fact, I decided that I’d made a mistake when I moved to Trebus. I was trying to think of a good reason to move back.”
“And I was trying to think of a good reason to ask you to move back,” she laughed, putting her head on her shoulder. “We are quite a pair.”
“Then it’s settled. You’re stuck with me.”
“I’m glad. You’re exactly what I wanted for Christmas.”
He chuckled. “You just want me because I can keep you warm.”
“I want you because I love you.” The words slipped out on their own volition, and Kathryn sat up wide-eyed with a hand over her mouth. “I can’t believe I said that.”
“Now it’s my turn to be glad. I hope you meant it,” he whispered, taking her hand.
“I don’t want to move too fast or force you into anything.”
“Move too fast? Kathryn, I’ve loved you for years, and I still love you.”
Too relieved to speak, she turned toward him and put her arms around his neck just as his stomach growled. “Why, Chakotay! You’re hungry.”
“Starved, actually,” he replied as his stomach growled again. “The transport station’s replicator was offline, so all they could offer me was hot chocolate and a couple of stale doughnuts. And I took the red-eye from Jupiter station.”
“Which doesn’t have a galley.” She stood up and offered him a hand. “Lucky for you I have a fully-stocked kitchen.”
He stood up and pulled her into his arms. “Just so you let me do the cooking.”
“Okay, as long as you’re quick about it.” She lifted her face to his for their first kiss, which left both of them dizzy with desire. She leaned back and absently unfastened the top buttons of his shirt. “I have a Christmas present I want to play with and enjoy.”
“In that case, all I really need is some toast,” he laughed as he pulled her toward the kitchen. “In fact, I can probably get by with a couple of slices of bread.”
Kathryn and Chakotay established several holiday traditions, but none was more precious than Christmas day. No matter where they were, on Earth, on some alien planet, or in deep space, they tried to be together on Christmas, and, when they were, their breakfast invariably included of two slices of plain white bread.
Whenever a curious observer asked them to explain why they wanted plain bread, Chakotay gave his wife a wink and replied, “It’s to remind us that man doesn’t live on sex alone.”