Summary: J/C - On the first day of Christmas...
Disclaimer: Voyager and its characters belong to Paramount. Although Voyager isn't in this story, a couple of her former passengers are.
Thanks to my betas: Mizvoy, Kim, and AnneRose.
"How nice to see you again!" Gretchen Janeway pulled Chakotay in out of the cold. Her warm home smelled like cinnamon and glowed from the crackling logs in the fireplace. "It's been too long since we've seen you. How were your travels? Did you see your sister? Are you on Earth for long? Where are you living now? Can you stay with us for a little while? It's Christmas after all!"
Chakotay chuckled at Gretchen's exuberant questioning. "It's good to see you too."
"Oh, we've got lots of time to talk. You're staying at least for dinner, I hope?"
"Of course. I would love to." Chakotay had met Gretchen Janeway seven months earlier when Voyager returned from the Delta Quadrant. He had enjoyed her jubilant spirit and had been looking forward to this visit ever since he had decided to return to Earth.
"Wonderful!" Gretchen pulled Chakotay through the house without giving him a chance to take off his coat. "Katie went out walking and we haven't seen her for hours. Go find her and we'll eat when you get back."
Chakotay scanned the darkening landscape and saw nothing but bare fields as far as the eye could see. "How do I know where to find her? Do you have any idea where she went?"
"Just head that way and you'll find her." Gretchen pointed east where Chakotay couldn't see anything at all. She patted him on the back and sent him on his way.
As Chakotay's eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could make out a trail extending beyond the gate at the end of the yard. He drew his coat around him to ward off the chilly night air that was setting in. He was glad that it was only twilight - he was sure the temperature would be close to freezing not too long after the sun set.
While walking, he thought about what he wanted to say to Kathryn. He had been thinking about her since he left for Bajor six months before and was both happy and nervous to be near her again. The fame that accompanied Voyager's return had made his life both difficult and very uncomfortable. It had adversely affected his relationship with Seven. He was surprised how well she had taken to the fame, surprised that she hadn't found it uncomfortable and irrelevant. But that wasn't the case at all. She had been worried about a cold reception on Earth and instead, she found that everyone wanted to know all about her. She embraced it all in a way that was very unlike her. He avoided the attention that she craved and they both decided that a relationship would not work.
The demise of his relationship, the glare of public attention, and desperate need for freedom finally made him realize how much he needed to get away. He went to visit his sister on Bajor where she had settled to help with the rebuilding efforts after the war. While there, he had time to think and contemplate his future. He came to the conclusion that he wanted his future to include a special someone from his past, so he planned this trip to Indiana to pursue that option.
The trail he was walking on appeared to end at a small grove of what looked like fruit trees. He slowed down to see if he could tell whether the trail changed direction or went into the trees. He stopped just in front of the trees to map out his search strategy when he heard a very familiar voice.
"Are you lost?"
Turning his head in the direction of the voice, he looked up into a tree. "Actually, I think you are. I've been sent to find you."
"I see." The acclaimed Admiral Kathryn Janeway sat on a branch about two and a half meters above the ground.
Chakotay regarded her in quiet amusement for a moment before saying, "This reminds me of a song." He moved under the tree, stumbling over a broken branch as he reached Kathryn's dangling legs.
Raising one eyebrow, she inquired, "Oh?"
He crossed his arms and leaned against the trunk of tree. "Yes, one I heard playing as background music on the transport from San Francisco." He paused a moment. "Actually, I thought it rather annoying when I heard it, but now it seems remarkably appropriate. Something about a bird in a fruit tree."
Kathryn sighed loudly. "Ah yes, the Twelve Days of Christmas. It does get rather maddening with all the birds, doesn't it?"
"Didn't your father nickname you after a bird?"
"So… a Goldenbird in a fruit tree."
"Perhaps we can rewrite the song?"
"Or perhaps not."
Pulling his coat around himself tighter, he asked, "So… care to tell me what the great Admiral Janeway is doing in an apple tree on a cold winter's night?"
"I thought you'd never ask." Kathryn looked up through the empty branches into the night sky. "I came out here… to my 'thinking tree'… to think."
"May I ask what about?"
"Oh… nothing really. Just thinking about all of the changes in the last year. It's one of my Christmas Eve traditions."
Chakotay scratched his cheek. "I would have thought that more of a New Year's Eve tradition."
She shook her head. "That's when I think about what I'd like to accomplish in the year ahead."
"I see. And what do you think about the last year. Any changes?"
She smiled. "Just a few."
Chakotay stepped away from the tree trunk. "Although I'm sure it was lovely out here earlier, don't you think it's about time to come inside? It's getting rather chilly."
"It has been a lovely afternoon, but I'm somewhat… stuck." She clicked her tongue and appeared somewhat irked.
She pursed her lips before saying, "I can't get down."
Chakotay's brow furrowed. "But you got up there."
Kathryn was quiet while she contemplated whether or not to tell him what she had done. She figured it wouldn't really be that bad because, after all, he did already know the end of the story… that she had gotten herself stuck in a tree. "A branch broke under my foot on the way up."
Chakotay looked down at the ground and then back up at her again. "Yes, but you're only a little more than two meters up. Couldn't you just jump down?"
"Hmmm. You would think so, wouldn't you?" She continued after seeing Chakotay nod. "After all, I'm the intrepid starship captain who fought her way back to the Alpha Quadrant and all that hullabaloo."
"Hulla ba what?"
"A word my mom uses a lot. Basically means a lot of racket."
He nodded. "So why can't you?"
"Well…," With her head down, she raised her eyes to him. "When that branch broke, I think my foot did too."
"Oh dear." Chakotay reached up and carefully unlaced the shoe of the foot she had stretched out to him. Hearing her sharp intake of breath when he removed the shoe, he said, "Sorry."
As he examined her foot, she said, "It probably feels worse than it is. Maybe it's just a sprain, but it's throbbing and hurts to move."
He felt along the bones in her foot and shook his head. "Well, I have no idea. We better call in Starfleet Medical."
"Or maybe just a local doctor will suffice. Whatever the case, I think I need help getting down. Think you might be willing?"
"Hmmmm. Let me think."
"You have to think about it?"
Chakotay grinned. "I have a condition."
"I see. And what might that be?"
Chakotay tucked her shoe in his jacket pocket. "I've been thinking about the last year a lot myself. And although it's not New Year's Eve yet, I've also been thinking about what I'd like to change in the coming year."
"And so my condition for getting you out of that tree is that when you've got your feet back on the ground here…." He looked down and then back up at her again. "I want you to marry me."
"Unless, of course, you think we should get to know each other better first?"
She chuckled a little. "No, I don't think that's necessary, but I do think it's customary to at least go out on a date first."
"Does that mean you'll marry me if I take you out on a date?"
Kathryn laughed. "Well… I will definitely agree to go out on a date. Will that get me a trip down to the ground?"
"Ever the bargaining diplomat?"
She waved her hand. "Always!"
"All right, deal. I help you down, and you go out on a date with me. Not exactly what I was hoping for, but it's time with you and that has potential." Chakotay reached up and let Kathryn slide down into his arms. She slid along his body until they were face to face. His strong arms held her against him without letting her feet touch the ground. "Your mother invited me to stay here for Christmas. Is that okay with you?"
A smile spread across her face. "I think that would be wonderful."
"Will you promise that there won't be anymore birds in trees?"
"Mom will be fixing a turkey… but it won't be anywhere near a tree and you certainly don't have to eat it."
"I appreciate that." They quietly looked deep into each other's eyes. "May I kiss you?"
"You know… that is one of my biggest regrets of the last year."
"Actually, it's a regret of the past 7 years. Every year I think I should have gone out on a limb and kissed you."
"The year isn't over."
"And I certainly found myself out on a limb tonight."
They both smiled and slowly let their lips meet. The long and tender touch of their mouths filled them both with promises of no more regrets for many Christmas Eves to come.
Kathryn slowly opened her eyes to find Chakotay's still closed. She laid her cheek against his and said, "I have really missed you."
If it was possible, he squeezed her tighter. "I'm here to stay if you'll have me."
She pulled her head back and stared hard at him. "You just try to get away."
Her glare intensified. "I'll have you know that I was out here thinking about how much time I was going to give you before I started planning a reconnaissance mission to bring you back. You have been away for entirely too long."
He swept her up into his arms and started walking back to the house. "I told you before I left that I'd be back."
She wrapped her arms tightly around his neck and settled into his arms. "Yes… it was all very dramatic. Tell a girl that you're in love with her and then run away to visit your sister. Would have been much more romantic if you'd taken me with you, I'll have you know."
"You should have said you wanted to go with me. I thought you'd have fun staying here and playing admiral with all your new Starfleet toys."
"They kept me on leave for 4 months - refused to let me do anything. Since then, I've done nothing except pose for a bunch of damn pictures. It's extremely annoying."
"What? You're not enjoying all the hullababoo?"
"No, I'm not. But if you'll do it with me… we could have fun with it."
Chakotay kicked the gate open with his foot and carried Kathryn through it. "Can you promise no interviews, no press conferences?"
"But inquiring minds want to know what's become of the dashing dimpled desperado of the delta quadrant."
"Hmmm. Is that what they're calling me now?"
She leaned in and kissed his neck. "I just made it up. Do you like it? I could use it in my next public appearance?"
Looking down at her, he said, "So you're saying that if I don't come and play with you, you're going to call me that in public?"
"The longer you avoid it, the more time I have to think up creative alliterations."
Before he got a chance to respond, Gretchen came out onto the back porch. "What do we have here?"
Chakotay said, "I found a damsel in distress with a broken foot. Any ideas for what I can do with her?"
"I have many. But come on inside and we'll see what we can do."
Looking up at Chakotay, Kathryn said, "Damsel in distress?"
Shrugging, he said, "I thought we were still playing the alliteration game." He took her inside and set her down on the couch, carefully laying her foot on the ottoman. He gently took her sock off and examined the large purple bruise that was forming. "You're right. This is more than a sprain. But I must say that your toenails are lovely."
She examined her bright red toes. "One thing about being home for the holidays and back on Earth - I now have time to paint my toenails."
Gretchen returned with a med kit and pulled out a medical tricorder. One look at Kathryn's foot and she also pulled out the bone knitter and dermal regenerator.
Kathryn's sister Phoebe came in to see what the fuss was about. "What were you doing out there, Katie?"
"Oh, nothing much. Just creating some holiday excitement, I guess." Kathryn winced as her mother touched her foot.
Gretchen pulled out a hypospray and injected an analgesic into her ankle. "That should numb your foot up."
Chakotay said, "I didn't know you were a medic."
"This isn't exactly brain surgery. I'm not great, but it will do until we get her to a doctor after Christmas. I'm not bothering anyone about this tonight. We'll just have to keep her off her feet until then."
Phoebe piped up. "Chakotay can do that. He'd knock any girl off their feet."
Shaking her head, Kathryn said, "How do you know that's not what happened?"
"What did happen?" Phoebe asked.
"I encountered a broken tree branch." Kathryn left out the part about the tree branch still being connected to the tree at the time.
Gretchen interrupted and pointed to an area on the top of the foot. "Chakotay, the bone is actually out of place here. You push down and I'll hold it for counter pressure."
"Mom!" Kathryn exclaimed. "It's not that numb!"
"Stop whining Katie - It won't be that bad."
Kathryn tensed and closed her eyes while Chakotay and her mother tortured her foot. When the bone popped back into place, she let out a yelp. "Ow! Damn, that hurt!"
Chakotay leaned over and kissed her softly. "Does that make it better?"
"It's a start."
Chakotay winked at her and then helped Gretchen finish tending to Kathryn's injury. When they were done, he carried her into the kitchen and set her down in a chair while Phoebe and Gretchen put dinner on the table.
After the blessing and as they started passing the dishes, Gretchen asked Kathryn and Chakotay, "So are you two engaged yet?"
Without looking at Chakotay, Kathryn said, "Yes."
Chakotay turned slowly to look at Kathryn. "Yes?"
Kathryn glanced at him and smiled. "Yes."
"Excuse me just a moment." Chakotay got up from the table and returned a moment later. He handed Kathryn a small package. "I'm glad to hear that because otherwise, I wouldn't have an appropriate gift for you."
With humor in her words, Gretchen interrupted. "But we don't open our presents until tomorrow."
Phoebe shushed her mother. "I have a feeling this is much more than a Christmas present."
Kathryn took the wrapping off and opened the small box. Inside was a ring with a beautifully cut purple stone. "It's beautiful."
Chakotay smiled. "It's a stone that I found on a beautiful little planet where I fell in love with a very special lady."
She looked over at him. "New Earth?"
Chakotay nodded. "Near the waterfall."
She leaned close and wrapped her arms around him. "This so much better than a partridge in a pear tree."
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