The slow measured footsteps were bringing her inexorably closer to her destination. Her dress whispered around her ankles, words of comfort and reassurance she decided fancifully as she grazed a fingertip across the luxurious dark green fabric. It hadn't been a conscious decision, to choose something so formal, so old-fashioned. Yet now she relished the feel of the heavy velvet, its weight serving an additional purpose, lending her a dignity, a shroud of composure that she desperately needed to get through this evening.

Other crew members passed her, hurrying towards the holodeck. She nodded carefully to them, but did not increase her dawdling pace. Instead, she rather wondered why they did not share her sense of reluctance.

She understood of course. It was an event, something they looked forward to every year. A tradition. So far away from home she couldn't deny that the traditions they made for themselves helped hold them together, gave them a sense of community they might otherwise lack. She couldn't deny that they deserved the time to relax, to celebrate all they had achieved in the last year and to mourn everything that had gone wrong.

She just wished it wasn't necessary for her to participate.

Every year the Captain of Voyager dreaded this one evening. Every year she wished she could spend it safely ensconced in her quarters until it was over and yet every year she resolutely put on her finest clothes and strolled slowly towards the holodeck fighting off her feelings of guilt and anxiety. After all how could she enjoy celebrating something that was ostensibly her fault?

The holodeck doors loomed uncomfortably large now - she took slow, steadying breaths as she reminded herself she had survived this evening in all of its previous incarnations and she would survive this one as well.

He was waiting just inside the holodeck doors - of course. Stepping forward to greet her, offering security and a sense of comfort - all without speaking a word. Chakotay lifted a hand to her cheek, lightly stroking one of the ringlets she'd taken such pains over.

'You're breath-taking,' he murmured huskily and the pounding of her heart made her momentarily forget her anxiety.

She knew that she was blushing furiously as his gaze travelled slowly over her - perhaps as she'd been dressing she'd recognised that this dress, along with all its other virtues, also did wonderful things to her cleavage.

'If you keep looking at me like that we're going to have to leave,' she said softly.

'I'm just thinking it's a very good job I wasn't there when you were dressing, I'm not sure we'd have made it out of the cabin.'

There had been so many precious evenings spent curled up together, warm, sated, content even, reading reports together or simply enjoying being in physical contact. There had been so many mornings when she had woken, curled in his arms, to bless the decision she had made to allow him into her life.

'Kathryn, are you all right?' His eyes were suddenly serious, knowing how much of a trial she found this particular night.

'I will be.' His hand slid along her arm, she felt the heat of his touch through the long silken gloves that covered her arms and she had to push away the images of the same hands slowly exploring her naked body as she writhed beneath him, her body glowing with arousal.

'I recommend an early night,' he leant forward as he spoke, his breath caressing her ear, his lips brushing its tip tantalisingly. 'You know the Doctor would back me up on this one.'

She had no doubt about that – her CMO had been more than unusually forceful of late, bombarding her with warnings about her blood pressure and her diet. For once she had been persuaded to heed them, although she rather feared that in doing so she had given him a momentum that would be difficult to end.

Still an early night was an early night, it promised all kinds of things she wasn’t going to complain about.

‘I’ll see what I can do about that Commander,’ she said softly slipping out of his embrace, taking a glass of juice from a passing holographic waiter and beginning a tour of the room.

Another tradition, one she imposed upon herself this time, to speak to everyone in the room. She could remember doing this the first year, a group of almost strangers gathering to acknowledge the first anniversary of their arrival in the Delta Quadrant. Then her intentions had been varied, there were crew members she rarely spoke to and despite Tuvok’s security reports and Chakotay’s reassurances she had needed to see for herself that no one was planning a mutiny. On that first evening she had met with grief, unhappiness, increasingly desperate hope, but very little anger. That had made it more difficult somehow – personally she thought she was far better equipped to deal with anger and blame.

So much had changed in seven years, now she knew most of her crew personally, was acquainted with many of their hopes and fears. She still kept her distance from most of them, believing that as Captain she could not always be their friend – but they had proved adept at pulling her into their lives, sharing with her their sorrows and joys. There was Seven and her exploration of her humanity, Kathryn wasn’t sure she was the ideal choice for a mentor – but Seven clung stubbornly to her, despite, or perhaps because of, their many fallings out. She and Tom had always been close and her soft spot for Harry had been created in their first moment of acquaintance, when he had been so fresh from the Academy she couldn’t quite believe he really had graduated. But to discover the place she occupied in B’Elanna’s heart had been one of the most moving moments of their sojourn here. She wasn’t even going to think about the way Chakotay had snuck into her heart and then manoeuvred her into dealing with the issue. At least now she understood how he had blown up so many Cardassian storage facilities – cunning wasn’t the word.

There were so many memories in this room, she had supervised research projects, sat long into the night talking over problems – technical and personal with almost everyone here. She could remember D’Angelo asking her to supervise his Phd, Sam asking her to babysit Naomi for an evening, it went on and on. And then there were the memories of those who were no longer with them. She could almost see their ghosts, see Kes as the shining creature she had become, feel the shiver as she thought about those who had betrayed them.

Knowing that the moment had arrived she took a glass of champagne from Neelix who was standing by the podium, touching his shoulder briefly she lifted the corner of her dress enough to allow her to carefully walk up the steps and take her place centre stage.

‘My friends, we are here to mark the passing of another year together. I am sure you will agree with me that this is a bitter sweet occasion, marking as it does another year away from home. The first toast of the evening is there fore to Voyager and to the Alpha Quadrant.’ As those around her lifted their glasses in the toast she caught Chakotay’s eye and smiled reassuringly at him, as always she had caught the mood of the evening and it would be fine.

‘Secondly I want us to remember all those we have encountered in the last year who have been kind or generous and who we have considered as friends. Without the generosity of strangers, we would not be able to continue with our journey and I think we often forget them when we are in the midst of difficult and dangerous situations.’

‘I hardly to remind you that the Delta Quadrant is a dangerous place and that are alone here, our achievement is surviving so along, has not been without a cost and I would ask you all to take a moment to remember all those who are no longer with us.’

As the crew stood in respectful silence she remember as well, fighting off the feelings of guilt, recalling all the times Chakotay had told her she was not responsible for their deaths – a platitude they both knew she only half believed.

‘Finally, I do not think we could have survived for a single moment out here without hope. The hope that we will one day see Earth and the Alpha Quadrant, but also the hope for our futures, the hope that life will treat us well, bring us the things that matter most, love, a family, people who care about us, a future if you will. I’d like to toast the year to come and all that it will bring, the highs and lows and the hope that we will mark its passing together again.’

As the crew of Voyager raised their glasses to each other and to the next year, Kathryn Janeway felt the child she carried kick, a reminder that she too, would be with them the next time they met to mark a years passing.

The end