He nodded at the small gift she carried. "So who's the lucky one?"
"Me?" Chakotay stopped walking and turned to face her.
Kathryn smiled. "Yes. What's wrong with that?"
Chakotay shrugged. "Oh nothing. Its just that your name was on my invitation."
She raised her eyebrows again but didn't appear surprised. "Really? I sense duplicity."
"Do you think the 'random selections' weren't random at all?"
Kathryn lowered her voice conspiratorially. "Don't tell anyone, but I think Tom Paris is having a little fun tonight."
"He and Harry organised the invitations. But I happen to know of a few other 'coincidences' that seem awfully suspicious."
He grinned, "Like?"
"Like Tom choosing for B'Elanna. The doctor for Seven. Neelix for Naomi."
Chakotay nodded. "I see your point. So what about us?"
"I suspect Mr. Paris didn't want the potential pressure of ending up having to choose a gift for the captain. A potentially dangerous situation. If you want to stay on her good side." Her lips curved up provocatively.
"But no pressure on me, then."
She pursed her lips in mock seriousness. "Oh no, Chakotay. I know how to get back at you if you screw up. Now how about you get me some of that drink. It smells delicious."
It had been a wonderful night, Chakotay thought. Wonderful, but exhausting. He wasn't sure how much Prixin spirit he had left, after the speeches, the animated present exchanges, and several brisk dances. He looked around from his position on a stool near the bar and observed the rest of the crew enjoying themselves. The musicians were playing a slower tune now, and across the dance floor couples swayed closer together in the more intimate mood.
Without conscious thought his eyes sought out Kathryn. She was standing with Neelix in front of his 'family portrait' wall. They were talking quietly, pointing to different holographic stills, reminiscing about times the crew had shared together. At one of Neelix's remarks Kathryn chortled, then threw her head back and laughed loudly. He smiled involuntarily, unable to take his eyes of her face. She looked truly beautiful at that moment, he thought, and quite content. She was unaware that several crewmembers had turned around at the sound of her guffaw, smiled at the sight of their captain enjoying herself so freely, then went back to their conversations.
Chakotay looked down at the picture she had given him. It was a sketch of the landscape from one of his holographic programs. He had taken her there once, months ago, and thought she had forgotten about it. It was so typical of her gifts - surprisingly thoughtful and insightful. He ran his finger over the smooth surface.
"I had a few other ideas", she had said as he opened it. "But I thought you'd like this one the best. It's a little more distinctive. A Janeway original."
She was right, they did know each other well. He also knew that they had both become comfortable with their friendship. Both knew where the boundaries were. Oh, they flirted occasionally of course, and she still touched him often, but when it came down to the line they both knew where they stood.
It was an awfully depressing realization. For a long time he had he had hoped for something deeper between them. He had thought there was a mutual attraction that would eventually draw them closer together. In a way it had, but not in the way he had anticipated. They had become the best of friends.
And yet he still dreamt about her, still found himself distracted by stray memories, by the scent of her hair when she leaned close to him. He could still recall in detail the most intimate moments they had spent together, talking, or sitting quietly, sharing each other's company.
And sometimes the sight of her still made him catch his breath, still made his stomach churn the way it had earlier that evening when she walked through the holodeck doors. Sometimes he found himself watching her when she wasn't aware of his scrutiny, admiring the little things about her. Enjoying the way she smiled to herself when she was reading. The little tunes she hummed without realising it.
And sometimes when they sat together on her couch late at night, he thought about leaning over and kissing her. He didn't think that he would actually do it, but he thought about it all the same. He thought about how her eyes would at first widen with surprise, but then she would react - how? With pleasure, passionately returning his kiss as though she had been waiting for it to happen? Or perhaps shyly at first, then more ardently as they continued to kiss, to explore each others bodies . . .
A loud chuckle from Neelix caused him to break off the thought. He looked around him, suddenly aware of where he was, and what he had been thinking. How ridiculous the thought had been. Chakotay slapped his drink back down on the bar and slid of his stool, a little more swiftly than he had intended. He stalked towards the holographic gardens, hoping to find them empty of revelers. To his relief they were.
As he retreated through the open French doors he failed to see the concern on Kathryn's face as she noticed his rapid departure. She touched Neelix on the arm and murmured something, then followed her first officer into the gardens.
A first she couldn't see him, then the holographic moonlight glinted off his boots. He had crossed the open expanse of lawn and turned off into a smaller enclave of the garden, slightly hidden by a series of hedges and climbing vines.
She approached him slowly, coming to a stop in front of the bench on which he sat, staring disconsolately at his hands.
He looked up, seeming surprised to see her there. "Hi."
"Who are you hiding from out here?" She intended it as a joke, but noticed that his jaw muscle tensed at the remark.
"Do you mind if I join you then?"
Chakotay shook his head and moved along the seat to give her room. Kathryn lifted up her skirt a little then slid down beside him.
"It's a lovely program."
"When I first came in I wasn't sure that such a formal setting would suit one of Neelix's Prixin parties, but he was right again. It's been quite a night."
"Yes it has".
At the tone of his voice Kathryn turned and peered at his face more closely, concern etched on her face.
"You are hiding from someone. Chakotay, what's wrong?"
He shook his head. "It's nothing really, I - " he broke off, staring down at his lap before continuing.
"I guess to be honest I'm just homesick." He glanced up at her. "I suppose you think that's silly. This isn't my home." He gestured at the gardens around them. "Actually I've never even been to Sena before ."
Kathryn touched his shoulder briefly. "Its not silly Chakotay. And you know I've never say that. Actually I've been feeling a little that way myself."
"You have?" he said.
"Yes. I think it's because everyone has been talking about family all night. I do think of you all as my family. But tonight, all this talk has made me think of my 'other' family. My mother, my sister. I think it's something to do with the festive season."
She giggled. "I even miss my cousin Bradley tonight, and I really don't like him much."
Chakotay chucked at that. Kathryn reached over and slipped her right hand into his left, letting his fingers fold over hers.
"That's better." She bent back so she could peer over the hedge towards the archway, miming concern at being seen. "We can't have Neelix catch you moping during Prixin. He'll come after you with a guaranteed home made remedy."
He smiled briefly and squeezed her hand. They sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes.
"I've been thinking about family too", he said into the stillness, his face now serious. "But that's led me to think about what's going to happen when we get back."
Before Kathryn could say anything he drew a deep breath and revealed what he had really been thinking.
"Between us, I mean."
She blinked at him, then studiously gazed down at their entwined hands. Chakotay suspected she was surprised by his remark, and waited for her to change the topic.
"And have you concluded anything from all this musing?", she said quietly.
"I don't think its up to me to do all the concluding. 'Us' involves two people."
"So tell me your side of 'us'". Still not meeting his gaze.
He thought for a moment about how to respond, then asked instead, "Do you remember the last time we were dancing together?"
Her eyes flicked upwards at that. "On Rhoté. If I remember correctly that was quite a party."
Chakotay nodded. "I was thinking about that just before, when you came out."
"You were? "
"Uh-huh. I thought about asking you to join me again, tonight. But I thought you might say that it was", he hesitated, searching for the right phrase, "inappropriate behaviour here in front of all the crew," he settled on.
"I see." Kathryn regarded him silently, her expression unreadable.
He began to wonder if he had finally crossed that line she had drawn between them years ago. A small voice inside him noted the sensation was both rueful and relieved. He didn't want to make her too uncomfortable - he wouldn't push - but they did need to talk about this. His earlier daydreaming had made that clear.
After a while she said, "I don't want to argue with you about protocol, Chakotay. I think we both know how that discussion would sound."
He nodded disconsolately.
Now she'll leave. She'll put on her captain's face again, offer to join me for a drink, then walk away. Although he expected it, the idea was for some reason tonight incredibly depressing. Its that damned Prixin sprit, he thought.
"You're right." Kathryn slipped her hand out of his and stood up. She brushed her palms down her hips, smoothing down the soft material. "I probably would have said no."
Then she stretched out her hand again, inviting him to take it. Unthinkingly Chakotay clasped her hand and rose from the bench.
"How about a dance out here?"
He looked up quickly, startled. Kathryn caressed his palm with her thumb, watching him closely.
She led him away from the bench, around a bed of sweet smelling flowers, to a bare tract of grass. There she turned to face him, pressing her free hand against his waist. Chakotay slipped into her arms, then rested the side of his face against hers.
Slow music drifted languidly towards them from the now distant archway as they began to move together. Chakotay breathed deeply, inhaling the scent of the flowers mingled with Kathryn's hair. He could feel the warmth of her body beneath his hands, her breath against his skin. He filed the sensation away somewhere at the back of his mind, imagining how he would recall this moment in the future, after she pulled away again.
"I don't want to make you any promises, Chakotay", she said softly, interrupting his reverie. "Regardless of what I might want for the future. We still have a way ahead of us."
They swayed together for a few minutes more. Chakotay was beginning to wonder if she had forgotten where she was, when she added in a near whisper, "I can't ask you to wait for me."
Kathryn uttered the last sentence slowly, deliberately, into his shoulder. He heard the question within it, and pulled away slightly to search her eyes.
"Maybe not, but I can still wait anyway."
Her blues eyes bored into his fiercely, with an intensity that made his stomach tense. "You would?"
He thought about the smile that had lit up her features when she opened his Prixin gift. About the way her head tilted backwards as she laughed. He noticed with a start that sometime during the night she had tied on the necklace and was now wearing his locket nestled against the hollow of her neck. He stared at it for a moment, noting absently the way it moved across her skin to the rhythm of her breathing.
"I don't want to make promises either," he said softly. "but I can say this much -" he lifted his hands to either side of her neck and kissed her gently on the forehead " -someday, Kathryn. . . "
Kathryn's answering smile was joyful enough to dispel the last of his doubts. She pulled him into a quick hug, then loosened her grip. They continued to dance, alone in the starlit garden.
"Someday, Chakotay", she whispered.
"I'd like to tell you you're pretty and fine
your face will smile and your eyes will shine
someday, some morning, some time
I'll build you a house all covered in vines
I'll bring you a nickel, I'll bring you a dime
someday, some morning, some time
Five six seven and eight oh nine
I'll take you down where the birds fly by
someday, some morning, some time."
from "Someday, some morning, some time " by Woodie Guthrie
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