by Myu

Disclaimer: Star Trek: Voyager and everything associated with it is owned by CBS/Paramount.
Notes: Post-Endgame. Away from Voyager, Janeway struggles to identify exactly what she's missing...or whom.
Rating: Universal/G

The cargo bay thrummed with life and excited murmurs from the dozens of Voyager crewmembers crowded in, the room stuffy with heat from bodies packed together. Kathryn stood and waited for the transporter, Chakotay and Tuvok to her left.
"These had better not malfunction," She murmured, eyeing the transporter beacons. Chakotay snorted.
They were using beacons in the cargo bay to boost the signal, as the entire crew was being transported in large groups. It wasn't the first time it had happened, but it would be one of the last. The plan Chakotay had been doubtful would work had somehow been pulled off, and they had all of a few seconds left to come to terms with the fact that, after Voyager had been catapulted across the galaxy in a frenzy of explosions and chaos, their journey was over.

As they waited Kathryn felt the weight of experiencing something so crucial – a moment that had been on her mind for years and yet had always seemed so impossibly distant; figuratively and literally – and the passing of time seemed to move down a notch as she strained to capture every detail. The transport shimmer took seconds to pass, and then they appeared on a landing pad outside Starfleet Headquarters, brilliant floodlights beaming against a black sky.

Kathryn hadn't been expecting to feel anything except pure joy once they'd transported across. As it was, they rematerialised in San Francisco and her breath escaped in a gasped rush, the sharp intake too audible and carrying a ragged edge of shock that made Chakotay reach for her instinctively. It was both soundless and paralysing, as though she'd been dropped into a freezing lake and the moment before she started to struggle had been prolonged. And the cold – the night was still and probably near freezing; the sudden chill enough to stop her in her tracks. For a split-second she wondered when the last time was that she'd actually been outside, and felt uneasy that at the very moment she was thrust into the limelight and on show, she was exposed horribly to a San Franciscan winter. The assault converged in every imaginable way – the blinding flashes from holocameras; the cacophony of noise from all sides; the damp air; the scent of salt and rust from the bay and the sudden metallic taste in her mouth. She felt her head start to duck, as if she would begin to shy away behind her command team, but she then suddenly wrenched herself forward and went to meet the waiting crowd of Starfleet personnel, the thought that every footfall was a step towards it being over forcing her to keep walking.

The next day Kathryn found she could remember very little of the night they returned, her memory seeming to prefer to settle on feeling and a few snatched images. There was the packed conference hall, the cold draught blowing past her feet at the podium, the dry tingle of the champagne bubbles against the roof of her mouth, the dazed sensation of being passed from person to person and repeating greetings, questions, statements of fact, and a whisper of warmth when she faltered on an answer and Chakotay subtly prompted her in a way that allowed her to move to a different topic without attracting attention. And incredibly urgent sense of need, of wanting something that she couldn't quite stretch her mind to grasp. As she was trying to work her head around the events that had passed she learned that her family were hurrying back from a vacation, so in delaying her personal leave she was suddenly presented with a full agenda of Starfleet debriefings. Trying to rearrange the schedule seemed to make her more liable to confuse details more than clarify them. The important things were cleared up immediately – the Maquis crewmembers, though not officially pardoned, had had their sentences revoked in recognition of their service on Voyager through some hasty Starfleet decision. There was an informal meeting with some higher-ups, a medical assessment, a session about reintegration...she ran through them all on auto-pilot and didn't have a chance to engage properly with any of her former crew until a Starfleet-organised homecoming reception a few days after their return.

Kathryn was thankful that she hadn't had to prepare a speech, as she didn't pay attention to a single word of the opening address as she looked up and down the reception hall at everyone gathered there. The invitation had specified black tie – rare for a Starfleet event – but the consequence of that was that she had never seen most of the officials in attendance out of uniform, even in social contexts, and it all seemed slightly bizarre, like they were all paper dolls who had switched bodies for the day. While she was in the Delta Quadrant her memories and mental images of people had remained static, and she had to learn to stop being surprised that their appearances had inevitably changed with time – there were more than a few heads of hair streaked with grey; some spoke of children and grandchildren, their tired eyes framed with more pronounced smile lines. There was more to look at than she was used to, as well – after seven years very little on Voyager was new, but this building was old-fashioned and filled with features and details that she could have spent a week examining. Were the ornate fireplaces real, or reproductions? Did the carvings around the stone columns mean anything? She was about to ask for the temperature to be raised a few degrees, before realising that the computer probably wouldn't respond to her voice imprint and the Admiral mopping his brow next to her with a handkerchief wouldn't thank her for it.

The whole crew had been invited, but in surveying the hall Kathryn realised that comparatively few had actually shown up. She guessed that they were probably with their families or travelling, as they hadn't been able to give any notice of their homecoming. Although they had all spent time on Earth she had to remind herself that, for a lot of them, their 'real' home was somewhere quite different and their journey wasn't complete on the night they'd transported across to San Francisco. In a way, she supposed, hers wasn't quite finished, either. She hadn't seen her family. Her old apartment block had been demolished and most of her things were yet to be released from storage. She hadn't had a chance to really talk to anyone to process what had happened or where she’d be going next, and in the midst of all the upheaval she was left standing by herself at a reception to celebrate a collective achievement, watching her fingernails slowly turn blue at the ends of arms spread with a rash of rough goosepimples. The canapé she'd taken out of politeness had been chewed dryly for too long, and was coughed discreetly into a serviette and dropped into the nearest waste receptacle unnoticed.

Kathryn had already arranged with Chakotay to take the first few dances with him after the band started up, ostensibly to avoid any awkward requests or boring partners. When they met on the dancefloor she was relieved to see someone she knew well, and happy that she finally had a chance to speak with him for an extended period of time without interruption.
She was about to open her mouth when she was interrupted by a booming voice: 
"Katie Janeway!"
They both jumped and Kathryn was spirited away bodily by a large Admiral who whisked her into a bear hug. She caught Chakotay's eye over her shoulder and mouthed an apology to him, feeling out of breath and a little bewildered as she was propelled away from the one person she’d been looking forward to seeing that evening.

As an ex-Maquis, Chakotay had the feeling that most of the people in attendance at the reception didn't know who he was or didn't know what to say to him, so he gravitated towards the other Voyager crewmembers who were present. After some time had passed with idle chitchat he walked up and down the hall quickly, looking for Kathryn. Normally at social events they would break away by themselves for a little while, partly to catch up with each other and partly to give the younger crewmembers a respite from feeling like they had to be on their best behaviour around the command team. It had never been difficult to find her on Voyager, and she'd often be waiting by the corridor with the large viewports. With this in mind, he backtracked and saw a glass door to the side leading to a narrow corridor. He pushed it open and followed the corridor round to a small viewing platform. Kathryn was standing at the edge, looking at the sky. She didn't move as he approached, and nodded to him as he stood at her side.
"It's a clear night. Lots of stars, but I can't complain about it being hard to see them when there's...this," She said, gesturing to the millions of pinpricks of light across the city. There was a slight tremor to her breath and he noticed she was shivering. He took off his dinner jacket and placed it around her shoulders as she murmured her thanks.
"You might regret it in a minute," She warned, pulling the front of the jacket to and bouncing on her heels lightly.
"Maybe. I forgot how hot it can get in these things, though." He pulled at the starched collar of the shirt uncomfortably.
"I forgot how thin this dress would be," Kathryn offered ruefully.
"Thin or not, it's going to be in a lot of holophotos tomorrow. You look stunning."
Kathryn hid a smile.
"Thank you. You don't look so bad yourself."
"I came to find you to see if you would dance with me, as the band is setting up again. But I think I prefer this..."
"The view is spectacular," She agreed, "If only it weren't so..." She gritted her teeth to stop them chattering.

"I see the Academy," Chakotay said a minute later, looking across the bay.
"...where?" Kathryn squinted, "I can't."
"Past that silver building...then those green lights..." Chakotay pointed, stretching an arm across her shoulder so that she could follow his line of sight.
"I see it," She breathed, and he was suddenly aware of how close they were, her presence filling his head and her scent clouding his mind. He was vaguely aware of his breathing changing and the colour of the lights seemed to waver. She turned her head towards his slowly, tipping her chin upwards so that her lips might find his, and he felt something jolt lower –
"Mr Chakotay?"
Chakotay started and Kathryn turned, though for a split-second before she looked away he saw her eyes squeeze shut in...frustration? Silent gratitude? He couldn't tell. He looked back and saw a young ensign he half-recognised in the doorway.
"Yes?" He answered, his tone reflecting the strain he felt.
"You're needed inside. Admiral Clayton has requested that you join him."
"I'll be right there," Chakotay replied, barely able to conceal his annoyance.
"Are you coming?" He said to Kathryn in a low voice.
"– I'll come and find you," She replied faintly.
He left, glancing back before the door closed and seeing Kathryn standing alone, quivering in his jacket even though her jaw was now still.

Kathryn watched him retreat, clenching a hand over her heart as if that would make it stop thumping, throat aching with something akin to physical thirst as the previous few moments rushed through her mind. She looked across the water again, and burrowed her nose in the lapel of the jacket for a moment. The breath she exhaled released a puff of condensation into the night air and much more besides, and she retreated with slow steps back to the building.

Once she was inside she followed the corridor back round to the main hall, slipping out of Chakotay's jacket as she went and folding it neatly over her arm. The heels of the delicate sandals she wore clacked on the floor – deliberately chosen because they were about as far removed from her sturdy work boots as possible – and she knew her feet would probably be suffering by the end of the night. It was so long since she had worn something new for any celebration, let alone a black tie event, that she had been determined to do it all 'properly' even if it meant rediscovering lots of things that used to come as second nature to her. She wasn't used to having her hair up anymore, and she kept having to check periodically that the updo was still intact. The violet dress was comfortable enough, but it had been a while since she had worn such a formal garment and she realised too soon that it wasn't really going to be possible to eat a decent amount in a dress that was so figure-hugging, which wouldn't have been a great problem but for the number of drinks the other guests were determined to ply her with.

Remember to keep eating, the Federation counsellor had told her out of the blue at her appointment the previous day – one of the compulsory Starfleet programme debriefings scheduled in for her following their return.
"I always eat," Kathryn had said, frowning.
"I don't doubt it, but you'd be surprised," The counsellor remarked, "When something like this happens, the rush of adrenaline can feel like it's enough to sustain us. When facing a big adjustment like this you may find you have trouble sticking to a normal routine for a while – sleeping, eating's normal, but keep your physician apprised and let them know if it continues beyond a couple of weeks or so."
"I will," Kathryn said, almost dismissively, but on her way out she realised she hadn't actually eaten breakfast that morning – hadn't felt hungry, so hadn't noticed. On Voyager she would have made sure to have something mid-morning when she was reviewing reports or doing research, or she’d have some pre-scheduled break in her routine. She decided she would make up for it with an early lunch, before catching sight of the chronometer and discovering that it was after 1500. She glanced at the padd in her hand, found she had another meeting in a few minutes and rushed off, making a to-do list for the reception the following day and not conscious of all thoughts of lunch disappearing from her head. She didn't notice until she was dressing for the reception that there wasn't any of the soft fullness she'd normally expect around her mid-section at that time of day, and when she approached the replicator she didn't feel like having anything, couldn't stomach it despite the gaping emptiness in her abdomen. The crackers she had forced down while waiting for the transport made her tongue feel dry and chalky and there was still a sour taste in her mouth which wouldn't evaporate however many trays of enticing-looking canapés passed under her nose.

Kathryn bit her lip restlessly. She could see the sky through the window and, thinking back to the moment on the balcony, she found herself wanting; his presence the one craving that manifested itself in a body starved of human contact. Away from Voyager and the hierarchical command structure, the barriers she put up against that particular possibility had begun to dissolve silently. Without a formal reassignment she reminded herself that she wasn't entirely sure if they were even a crew anymore, but being at home afforded her a freedom she hadn't had in seven years which was both exciting and a little frightening. If she didn’t like the sound of an assignment, she could request a transfer. She could apply for a promotion. She could look into taking up a research post. She could probably retire from active duty and move to a consultancy the past there had always been a reason to deny herself her own desires, and now that that solid framework was disappearing it was noticeably harder to suppress them.

As she made her way through the hall she caught sight of Chakotay at the other end, and she suddenly wanted the picture-perfect ending: she wanted him to catch her eye and smile at her as the band started playing a favourite standard, and she wanted to make her way towards him while the sight of the rest of the crowd faded and dissolved into the background. She wanted to take his proffered hand and dance to the music of their homecoming as she lost herself in everything except the way he moved, wanted to feel what it was like to stir everything that had remained dormant for five years under a thick shroud of protocol and sense of duty.

The real ending, however, was somewhat different. Once she had recognised Chakotay's figure across the other side of the room she began to make her way there, but was pulled aside by a group of officials who were determined to congratulate her profusely in loud, braying voices. She answered their questions politely, made some perfunctory enquiries and managed not to cringe when their laughter at some lighthearted comment she made was too loud and too long. Once she had extracted herself from that particular group she was immediately waylaid by another set of colleagues with an equally tedious outpouring of praise and line of questioning, and she began to feel a little desperate. It seemed to be hours later after repeating the process several times, when exhaustion, boredom and complimentary champagne left her feeling uncomfortably lightheaded, that she found herself face-to-face with Chakotay. She opened her mouth, about to offer him his dinner jacket back, when she realised that she no longer had it – that she must have put it down somewhere in the whirlwind of people. She looked at him helplessly and with some horror felt her eyes grow hot. He did nothing but hold out his arms and step forward, and she assumed a dance hold with him. The crowd was too thick for them to do anything but shuffle back and forth, and Kathryn was grateful that all she had to do was hold on.

"How are you doing?" She asked once she could speak again, watching the other couples bobbing around the floor.
"Fine. Crazy.” He sighed, and elaborated, “I signed up for all the debriefings as well. My sister is coming to visit in a couple of weeks, so I have time to kill and I now regret it."
She laughed and related her own, similar, situation.
"I wish we could just go back and have our own debriefing," She said, resigned, "Turns out it's hard to keep track of 150 people when you're not on the same ship."
"It would be a tight squeeze in that poky briefing room."
"I'll mention that for the refit."

"I don't think I'm really the dancing type. Sorry." Chakotay confessed frankly after they had bumped into each other a few too many times.
She paused, and regarded him.
"You only need to loosen up more." She concluded.
"I'm relaxed," He protested, sounding surprised.
"No, that's not what I meant. You have to learn to move differently," Kathryn bit her lip to keep from smiling as she caught sight of Chakotay's eyebrows knitted together in concentration.
"Did you see Seven and the Doctor earlier?" She murmured.
"Mmh," He grunted, eyes fixed on the floor.  It wasn't until Kathryn squeezed his shoulder sharply that he looked at her.
"Seven knows all of the dances inside out, but there isn't much fluidity in her movement.  That's the only thing holding her back."
"Is this better?" Chakotay asked, looking down at the floor once more.  Kathryn smiled tightly as he narrowly missed treading on her foot.
"Second tip: your hold," She continued calmly, "As a man, you have to lead your partner.  You can't guide her if you're holding her at arm's length.  You have to come closer –"

Chakotay nudged her body to his with the hand he rested at her waist, the contact pushing out the breath she held. 
"Like that?" He asked, sounding slightly hoarse.
"Like that," Kathryn answered, swallowing hard.  She had intended to remind him that his hand should be placed between her shoulderblades, but remained silent.
"I think you're relaxed enough now," She managed.
"But you're not," Chakotay muttered in her ear, and she could feel a tremor slither down her spine and spark around the warmth underneath his hand.  It was true – she had tensed up instinctively as soon as he had brought her forwards to him.
"Do you want to stop?" He said softly, although the regret in his tone rang clearly.
Kathryn looked sideways to her arm, still stretched out to her right.  Her hand was curled into his loosely, fitting neatly around the contours of his palm.
"No," She whispered, finally allowing herself to relax and let him lead her, "Don't stop – don't..."

He suddenly steered her around a hundred and eighty degrees and she was almost thrown off-balance.
"Another Admiral," Chakotay murmured in her ear by way of explanation, "One of the worst. I thought you could do without him for one evening."
"...thanks," Kathryn breathed, and wasn't sure where she should look to avoid catching anyone’s eye, so she settled for inclining her head towards his and keeping her eyes fixed somewhere around the point where his neck and collar met. His presence brought her a measure of calm – he maintained a steady step, the arm circling her waist was pleasantly secure without feeling restrictive and she began to relax again, thinking vaguely that threading her fingers loosely through Chakotay's was a better substitute for the hours of handshaking and awkward air-kissing she'd had to endure. As time went on she could feel herself start to flag – fatigue was making her limbs feel heavy and she was finding it difficult to concentrate.
"Are you okay?" Chakotay asked after she missed her footing a second time.
"A little tired," She admitted, "I had a lot of champagne."
"Ready to go?"
She nodded, and they made their way over to the exit.
"They kept trying to refill my glass, too," Chakotay said, "If I stood with a half-full glass they left me alone."
"Why didn't I think of that?" Kathryn mumbled.

"Is this all you had in the cloakroom?" Chakotay handed her a dark coat a few moments later – new as well, and not nearly as thick as she'd been led to believe – and she was buttoning herself into it when she realised that he was shrugging into his own coat.
"Your jacket..."It was a struggle to manoeuvre the stiff buttonholes in the fabric, so she elected to leave half the coat unfastened.
"No problem – the bar staff said they'd look out for it when they clean up. Let's go." 
"I can make my own way back if you'd prefer to stay."
"I'm ready to go," He replied decisively, "If I'm not mistaken, my temporary quarters are on the floor above yours, so...."
The exit was blocked with more people, and Kathryn slipped her arm through Chakotay's to save losing him amongst the crowd and to keep her balance.

As they left the building they saw that the entrance hall was decked out with tiny lights and fir tree branches with assorted decorations lined the walls.
"What's all this?" Chakotay asked, half to himself.
"It's December 24th. Tomorrow is Christmas Day," Kathryn pronounced, thinking back to the date on the reception invitation.
"It is?" He answered, surprised. She nodded.
"I almost lost track as well. We’ve been relying on the stardate for so long."

Once they were back out in the crisp night air she didn't let go of him because she saw no reason to – they were off-duty, off Voyager...with him at her side she was more steady and her mind seemed quieter, as though in some odd way closing the space between them allowed her room to breathe for the first time. Having missed a transport and wanting to avoid the numerous groups of people looking for taxis, they decided to walk up the seafront to the building housing their quarters and fell into a comfortable silence, but the weather was growing stormy and Kathryn gradually found the journey more taxing as it went on. She hadn't brought walking shoes and her feet were freezing. The wind coming from the sea was biting, and things were starting to hurt – her fingers were numb, her jaw was beginning to ache from clenching it against the cold air, and her body juddered painfully.
"Kathryn is this all right?" Chakotay asked quietly, his expression grave, "Being here – with me?"
She looked at him and saw sad concern for what must have looked like a classic case of anxiety and doubt on her part – grey-faced, shaking and silent. She thought of all the times she had pushed him away or let tension get the better of her, had made herself cold and hungry in a way that couldn't be quelled with food or blankets, all up to this point where she was shivering before him with an empty stomach, unable to reach home while she stood on Terran soil.
"Chakotay, yes. I'm just...cold," She said, making a face at how pathetic it sounded. It was pathetic because the solution to everything that was sapping the warmth of their homecoming had been by her side or at her back the whole time and was now standing in front of her, asking her if he wasn't enough. 
"Oh. Do you want –?" He started, probably about to offer his scarf, but she suddenly shook her head, pulled him towards her and kissed him and kissed him. He responded, enveloping her in warm arms and surrounding her in a heat that rose as the temperature dropped around them.

Kathryn’s eyes fluttered open slowly. The room was flooded with the morning light; curiously pale for the early morning. She was warm – her fingertips found the edge of the soft, heavy blanket Chakotay had insisted on unearthing from a packing crate the previous evening, and then of course there was...
She shifted underneath his arm, draped across her body and weighed down with sleep, holding her close to his body and his love. She checked that he was still asleep and gently extricated herself from the tangle of limbs and bedsheets. As she padded through to the kitchen area she picked up his shirt and pulled it over her head, looking at everything carefully and filled with a kind of quiet wonder at this world which was both exactly the same and entirely different in equal measure – the sunrise was the same, but she had woken up in a different bed content and rested. The replicated coffee was the same, but she had to balance carrying two cups and the cafetière instead of one. Breakfast was nothing new, but she finally had an appetite she was looking forward to satisfying.
San Francisco...she did a double take and peered out of the windows. It was all the same buildings as yesterday, except that at some point in the night they had been blanketed in a thin scattering of snow and, with Chakotay lying so much closer to her than their physical proximity could ever allow, it was different and it was familiar and it was – wonderfully, finally – home.

She returned to the bedroom and slipped back under the covers, murmuring a soft 'Morning' as Chakotay surfaced and drew her close.
"Merry Christmas, Chakotay."
"Merry Christmas."
She rearranged the pillows around them and nestled into his side.
"I'm sorry, I didn't get you a present. I don't think I could have decided when all I wanted was...this." She regarded the scene before them with a slight blush – the puddles of discarded clothing, the whirling snowflakes outside and the bed full of a sweet softness. "It feels like Christmas, even if we forgot the tree."
He grinned, and pulled the blankets further up around them.
"I'll order a poinsettia from the florist for your quarters – I know, it's a cliché. But it flowers at Christmas, so it seems pretty apt for us."
"You win," She touched her palm to his cheek for a moment, "Have some coffee."
"If there's anything you'd leave a warm bed for..." He commented, accepting the cup she offered him and sitting up to drink it.
"But this was worth coming back to," She replied, nudging him gently, and suddenly the coffee and breakfast was unimportant, left to grow cold as he pulled her beneath the blankets to that warmth which nourished and fulfilled her more than anything material could match.

- End -

Additional notes: This was written as part of the VAMB 2014 Secret Santa exchange for CallHerVictor, who wanted A story that is J/C in nature set at Voyager's first "Christmas" home. Does not have to be J/C to start, but it should get there. A very straightforward request in theory, but in practice ended up being quite difficult to 'get there'! Thank you for reading!


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