Written for VAMB's Secret Santa gift exchange, 2005

Disclaimer: Paramount owns all things Voyager, including Kathryn Janeway and Chakotay. I just want to help them find happiness.

Summary: One year after Voyager's return, Chakotay helps Kathryn Janeway find constancy in the midst of change. J/C

Newgrange: A Winter Solstice Story

by mizvoy

The usual December fog filled the streets of San Francisco as Chakotay made his way toward Kathryn Janeway's apartment. It was a trip he'd made countless times during the nine months of Voyager's debriefing, sometimes in the middle of the night when Kathryn's inability to sleep had resulted in a need to go over, once again, their testimony on a particularly ticklish incident. Sometimes, he suspected that she summoned him simply because she was lonely, missing the close proximity of the crew, the steady thrum of the engines, and the constant worry over hostile aliens.

Because of his frequent visits, he had memorized the security codes necessary to enter the foyer of her building and to activate the elevator to reach her floor. It wasn't until he had rung her doorbell that it occurred to him that she had no idea he was on his way over and might not be alone. He steeled himself for the sight of Kathryn with another man the way he might face a firing squad, gritting his teeth and struggling to keep the fear from his eyes.

"Chakotay!" She opened the door wearing a peach silk nightgown and robe that did little to hide her figure. When she saw the look of anxiety in his eyes, she asked, "Is something wrong?"

"You're mother's worried about you." The words tumbled out when he heard the tone of her voice. "She's been trying to contact you for hours."

"My mother called you?" She frowned for a moment, and then said, "Oh, that must be because I had the computer compile incoming messages for later viewing. I was being inundated by first anniversary congratulations."

"You didn't make allowanced for messages from higher headquarters?" He gave her a dimpled grin.

"Well, I made provisions for orders from Starfleet, but I forgot about my mother. You might as well come in, since you're here." She stepped back, gesturing for him to follow. "Make yourself at home while I call Gretchen."

Kathryn disappeared into the study, and Chakotay took a moment to look around. It was nearly ten o'clock, yet her barely-touched dinner sat ice-cold on the kitchen table. He spent the next few minutes cleaning up, recycling the food, and then replicating a cup of tea for himself and a fresh cup of coffee for her before settling on the sofa to await her return. A quick glance at the PADD she'd left on the table told him that she'd been reading a report on Voyager's refitting.

"She wanted to remind me of Aunt Martha's buffet on Christmas Eve," Janeway reported as she breezed into the room a few minutes later. "You cleaned up the kitchen!"

"I hope you don't mind."

"Not at all. In fact, I appreciate the help."

"You're welcome. Is this the same Aunt Martha who told you the overblown stories about Shannon O'Donnell?"

"The very same. And, no, I haven't had the courage to tell her the truth about our ancestor."

He chuckled. "And for all these years, I thought you were fearless."

"You obviously haven't met Aunt Martha." She laughed and collapsed beside him on the sofa, retrieving the fresh coffee with a sigh of approval. "Yum. Just what I needed."

"As always." He held up the PADD. "So how was the trip to Utopia Planetia?"

"Awful." She wrinkled her nose. "Voyager wasn't the same. Every dent and crease has been smoothed out and polished. Every one of our enhancements has been removed 'for further study,' as if the fact that we used them successfully for years wasn't enough proof that it worked just fine. They got rid of the unique smell and feel and character of the ship." She propped her elbow on the back of the sofa and rubbed her temple with her fingers. "Voyager had character, Chakotay. She was unique. Now she's just another Intrepid class starship."

"But you fought for this. You were the one who refused to let them turn her into a museum. You said she was too good of a ship to mothball after just seven years of service."

"I'm not sure I thought it through. I didn't realize that I would lose her in the process, and it hurts as much as losing the crew has."

Chakotay sipped his tea and thought about how to answer her. She'd done well during the first weeks of the debriefings and had sailed through every official line of questioning without a moment's hesitation. However, she'd faltered when the crew had begun to leave for new assignments or a life away from Starfleet. Her emotional anguish, while touching, also alarmed him because they revealed cracks in her otherwise cool composure, hinted at the fierce attachment she still felt for her crew.

"Your goal was for all of us to rejoin the real world, Kathryn. You've struggled seven years for that, and while it's hard to let go, I think it's for the best."

"It is hard to let go." She looked away, but not before he caught the glint of tears in her eyes. "I had no idea how hard it would be."

For Kathryn, it was early in the evening to be tired or stressed, yet she was more emotional than he'd seen in her in quite some time, perhaps since Seven of Nine had departed to help the ragtag group of liberated Borg establish a colony in the Beta Quadrant. "What's troubling you?"

"I should've listened to you, Chakotay."

He laughed at that comment. "If you go first, Kathryn, I'm going to have that put on your tombstone."

"No, really," she grinned, punching him lightly on his shoulder. "You were right when you said that we should've had some small acknowledgement of this first year anniversary, even if most of the crew is too busy resuming their lives and careers to attend. It seems wrong, somehow, to just let the day pass without doing something to commemorate it."

He nodded, putting his arm on the sofa back and gently massaging her shoulder. "We could still do something, you know. This is only the twentieth."

"Like what?" She leaned her head on his arm and closed her eyes. "Share a few minutes reminiscing on my sofa?"

"That's a start. Wouldn't it help to talk about it?"

"Yes, it would help. Too much is changing, Chakotay. Most of the crew is already gone, working on new ships or starting new careers. The rest has gone to pick up their interrupted lives from one end of the Federation to the other." She sighed. "I never realized that we'd never be together again, and I'm grieving over that. Really grieving. Seeing Voyager today just made me face up to the permanence of our separation."

"Change is always hard, but part of life is dealing with change. I had the same feeling of loss when I left my family for Starfleet, when I graduated from the Academy, and almost every time when I had to change ships."

"I know what you mean, but this is worse. We were together seven years, Chakotay. We were so much more than a crew--we were almost a family."

"And that, Kathryn, won't change."

"Everything changes," she insisted. "You just said that."

He grew thoughtful, a plan forming in his head. "It's just two days until Voyager's first anniversary, right? Do you have plans for tomorrow night?"

"You know I don't."

"Don't make any. I have an idea for commemorating our first anniversary, just for the two of us." When she seemed to hesitate, he took her hand. "It'll be worthwhile. Trust me."

"All right. It's a date."

Ireland in December is very much like San Francisco, Chakotay thought when they beamed into County Meath. They had left California during a midday rainstorm only to find themselves in a slow drizzle in Ireland just after eight in the evening. Such were the challenges of crossing eight time zones in a flash--they were in Ireland in time for a late dinner when they hadn't even had lunch.

"Is it raining everywhere today?" Kathryn moaned. "Couldn't we have gone to a beach somewhere sunny and warm for this celebration?"

"Nope," he replied, picking up their bags. "Only Newgrange will do."

"Newgrange?" she repeated, following him. "What does that mean? Doesn't grange mean a farm or something?"

"I'm not sure where the name comes from, to tell the truth." They arrived at a nearby inn, stowed their gear, and enjoyed a delicious "evening" meal with the other guests. Midnight arrived, and they took glasses of mulled wine to their suite where the two of them spent their "afternoon" looking at pictures of Voyager's escapades borrowed from the EMH and laughing at special memories of the crew. They had a happy evening, filled with laughter and tears and a reaffirmation of their long-standing friendship, while the other guests slept through the night.

It was still dark when Chakotay insisted that they head for Newgrange. "We have to be there at first light," he explained as he helped her into her raincoat. "And there will be lots of other people there, too."

"Will you tell me a little bit about what I'm going to see?"

"Well, this is the winter solstice, and Newgrange is an ancient mound, older than Egypt's pyramids, dedicated to the sun's return."

"Like Stonehenge."

"A lot like that."

They stepped into the drizzle, and Kathryn studied the dark skies. "What are the chances that it will be too cloudy for us to know when the sun comes up?" she challenged him.

"You have to have faith, Kathryn." He took her hand and led her toward the site. "Would the sun have the nerve to disappoint the great Captain Janeway?"

She snorted. "I have more faith in you than I do in the weather net."

They huddled together as they hurried toward the huge mound of earth, and Kathryn was surprised to see other tourists gathering there, as well, lining up outside the gleaming white rock of the entrance. "There are more of you anthropologist nuts in the universe than I realized," she whispered, but Chakotay just laughed, anxious to share the experience with her.

They made their way inside the mound and found a place to stand together with the others who waited in reverential silence. An aura of anticipation filled the cavern as the minutes passed.

"What are we waiting for?" Kathryn whispered.

"You'll know it when you see it. Have faith."

As if by a miracle, the clouds thinned just as the sun appeared over the horizon. A shaft of golden sunlight entered the chamber through a slit above the entrance and filled the room with a pure radiance that seemed to make the interior glow with a magical light. There was an audible gasp, as if everyone in the room had been filled with an amazing and universal power, and Chakotay instinctively put his arm around her shoulders.

"Oh, my!" Kathryn exclaimed. "What an awe-inspiring sight!"

"It is, isn't it? And it's happened every year, Kathryn, for thousands of years."

She nodded, taking in the experience with wide eyes, appreciating the elemental nature of the moment and the importance the winter solstice had carried to the ancient peoples of her race. "Sad to think that it will change someday. The earth will shift its orientation. Or the sun will go out in a few billion years."

"A few billion years?" He shook his head. "Ever the scientist, hm?"

Once the beam of light disappeared, the crowd filed out of the dome, but the two friends remained behind to study the ancient etchings in the stones and speculate about the reason for the site. "The real purpose has been lost to history," Chakotay said, "but most ancient people studied the movements of the sun and stars and believed that their sacred sites and ceremonies influenced their seasons."

"Oh, I get your point, Chakotay." She paused when they left the cavern and looked up at the sky. "The original builders of Newgrange are long gone, as is the purpose in their worship of the sun, yet Newgrange still exists. Some things change, while others stay the same."

"In hundreds of generations, the earth's wobbling hasn't changed, and the sun's movements won't perceptibly change in our lifetimes." He took her hand again as they slowly walked toward the transport station. "The sun still shines through that crack for the days surrounding the winter solstice."

"But the sun will change, eventually, you know. It won't last forever."

"How long does forever have to be?" He shook his head in dismay. "I remember a joke I heard about the early years of modern astronomy. A ruler was told by his chief astronomer that the sun would burn out in a few billion years. The ruler was upset and asked again how long it would be. The astronomer replied more clearly that it would be a few billion years, and the ruler sighed in relief. 'I was afraid you said a few million,' he answered."

"As if it matters to us whether the sun lasts for another million years or for a billion years. I get it." The rain started to fall in fat cold drops, and they paused to pull up the hoods of their jackets.

"This has been an interesting experience, Chakotay, but I don't get the relevance between Newgrange and my despair over losing Voyager."

"The point is that some things never change. Some things will continue to happen whether we ask them to or not."

Their arrival at the transport station made it impossible to continue the conversation while surrounded by strangers, but Kathryn considered his words as they made their way back to San Francisco and started the short walk to her apartment.

She hooked her arm through his, amazed, as always, to relive part of the same day she'd just experienced on another part of the world. It was the middle of the night in San Francisco, and the dawn they'd just witnessed in Ireland was still several hours away. "You say that some things never change? To me, the only thing that doesn't change is change itself."

"I agree, but some change is so gradual that we don't really perceive it." He covered her hand with his. "Like the sun rising over Newgrange, those things will seem the same during the relatively short period of our lives."

She nodded, walking quietly for awhile. "Voyager's crew changed over the years, from adversaries to a close family, and yet it happened so gradually that I can't pick the moment that they became a single crew."

"And, no matter where they go, Kathryn, they'll always be your crew deep inside. They'll always think of you as their 'real' captain, always remember the connection between us."

"Faithful, like the sun rising over Newgrange for centuries after its makers are gone."

"Predictable, like the earth's wobble that brings the Spring."

She caught her lip in her teeth. "Dependable, like a first officer."

"Constant, like a friend."

She stopped in her tracks, looking at him as if she'd just figured out a mystery that had puzzled her for the last few weeks. "You're still with me."

He turned to face her. "That surprises you?"

"The debriefings ended weeks ago, and you're still here." She thought back to Admiral Janeway's telling her of a different future in which he had married Seven of Nine, a future that obviously wasn't going to happen. "You're not my first officer any more. Yet, here you are—like the sun bringing warmth and light into the cold dark cavern of my heart."

"Do you think I have a choice?" He smiled at her indulgently, his eyes twinkling. "The sun can no more avoid brightening the cavern at Newgrange than I can avoid staying by your side."

"And most people don't even notice the sun's faithfulness." She was lost in thought, oblivious to his words of devotion. "I know I don't. And I think I've taken you for granted for far too long, Chakotay."

"Well, don't feel bad about that. I wanted you to take me for granted, to know that I'm always here when you need me. I'm happiest when I'm with you, Kathryn, in whatever capacity you need. First officer or friend. Whatever." She stared at him for so long that he began to feel uncomfortable. "Kathryn, are you all right?"

"I'm not sure." She shivered in the damp breeze, so he put his arm around her and started walking again, pulling her close to his side in order to keep her warm. She heard him talking about winter solstice ceremonies, how they symbolized a marriage between the Father Sky and the Mother Earth and brought about the fertility of the plants and animals in the rebirth of Spring, but she wasn't really listening to his words, just hearing his familiar voice.

"It's getting late, and you're tired," he decided, glancing down at her. "What you need is to get inside, have a hot cup of tea, and go to bed."

She nodded and let him lead her into her apartment building as if she didn't know the way. She was too busy contemplating the epiphany she'd just experienced as she leaned against him for balance. He was always there when she needed him, always ready to help her face whatever problems arose, always providing new insight and a fresh perspective to the issues that faced her, whether they were official or personal in nature.

The trip to Newgrange was a perfect example of the way he understood her current emotional turmoil. He knew she needed to find some semblance of permanence in the midst of change, and he helped her experience it without hope for any reward in return. He'd done it because he was so well-attuned to her, so devoted to her well-being. No, it wasn't devotion, she realized, coming to a stop just after he'd opened the door to her apartment. He did it because he loved her.

"After all these years," she whispered, pushing the door shut behind them and then leaning against it as her heart skipped a beat.

"Come on," he smiled at her, taking her by the arm and depositing her on the living room sofa. "Get comfortable while I fix us some tea."

She unzipped her boots, stretched out on the sofa, and listened to him as he set up a tray for their drinks, probably replicating a few cookies in the process. He knew her kitchen better than she did, she thought to herself, since he'd almost always organized their working dinners or snacks when they'd worked into the night on the debriefings. Their close partnership was one thing she hadn't had to let go of as their lives returned to normal, and the thought of telling him goodbye scared her to death.

"What now?" she asked out loud. The realization that their eight-year collaboration had truly come to an end brought with it a terror that she could no longer avoid. She struggled to imagine a future without her best friend by her side, only to realize that doing so nearly made her cry. It was a change that would break her heart.

"'What now' is hot spiced tea and molasses cookies." Chakotay set the tray on the coffee table and settled into the easy chair across from her. It wasn't until he'd picked up his mug that he noticed the look of panic on her face. "What's wrong?"

"It's silly, really." Kathryn shook her head in denial. When her hand trembled as she reached for a cookie, she glanced up to see Chakotay watching her intently and tried to cover up her distress. "I was just wondering how much change people can endure before they . . . well, before they just can't take any more?"

"I imagine that depends on the person, don't you?"

"Probably so." She picked up a cookie and nibbled it, closing her eyes as she took a deep calming breath. It was her nature to face problems directly, and she decided to confront reality rather than try to hide from it. Their partnership was ending, but perhaps they could salvage something of the closeness they'd enjoyed as a command team. She reopened her eyes, calm once again, her emotions back under her strict control, and asked, "So, Chakotay, what about your future? Where are you going from here?"

He hadn't stopped watching her, and suddenly he realized that her previous question about what was next had been directed toward their future, not the snack he'd prepared for them. "Are you asking me about my next assignment? I thought you knew that I'd be teaching tactics at the Academy."

"I didn't know it was a permanent assignment," she replied, relief flooding through her. "So you'll be stationed in San Francisco?"

"Except for a few field trips and exercises during the semester, I'll be right here. And those trips will never last longer than a week or ten days."

She leaned back against the sofa cushions, so emotionally drained that her body felt limp. "I'm so glad to know that. I couldn't have . . . well, I think I need some continuity to keep my sanity, and that continuity seems to be our friendship. If that makes sense."

"It makes perfect sense to me." He could feel his heart pounding, hoping that she was finally ready to let their friendship deepen into something more precious. "I'm not ready to give you up, either."

As she studied his face, her heart swelled up and fill her chest, making it impossible to breath and depriving her brain of much-needed oxygen. She struggled to find the words that expressed her feelings without making her sound like an idiot. "I hope I never have to give you up, Chakotay. As much as I hate to admit it, you're the one person from Voyager that I can't seem to do without."

He moved from his chair to sit beside her, lifting her chin so he could look into her eyes. "Why do you hate to admit something like that? Do you think it's a sign of weakness to need someone else in your life?"

"It's just that I need you so much. You give me balance and sanity and the ability to laugh at myself." She leaned her head on his shoulder, tears filling her eyes. "And it's just such a cliché for a captain to fall in love with her first officer."

He experienced an electric shock at her admission and barely resisted the urge to shout for joy. In spite of his growing exhilaration, he said, "It's a cliché for a first officer to fall for his captain, too, but I'm not sorry it happened." He pulled her closer, slipping an arm around her shoulders. "Today, when I took you to Newgrange, I wanted you to know that there are some things in life that don't change over the passage of time. Your family and Starfleet are two of those things, of course, but I am, too. I have no intention of giving you up, Kathryn Janeway. Not now. Not ever."

"I'm so relieved to hear that." Her face was buried in his shoulder, but he could tell from her voice that she needed to blow her nose.

"Here," he laughed, reaching for a napkin and handing it to her. "Use this instead of my shirt?"

She smiled and blew her nose before settling against him again with a contented sigh. "You know, the sun will be coming up here in just a few hours."

"Shall we watch this sunrise, too?"

She chuckled softly and raised her head to look at him, their faces so close she could feel his breath on her mouth and nose. It took just a slight adjustment to bring their lips together for a gentle kiss, and as they drew apart, her voice was husky with barely restrained passion. "Might there be a physical element to this father sky, mother earth legend?"

He gave her a wicked, dimpled smile. "Actually, those particular activities are more appropriate for Beltaine, the festival celebrated on the first of May."

Her eyes widened with make believe shock. "But, Chakotay, that's four months away!"

"Not to worry." He settled her head against his shoulder and put his cheek on her hair. "I have a feeling we'll have had plenty of practice by the time Beltaine arrives."

Kathryn closed her eyes in anticipation as a feeling of peace washed over her. "I can handle anything as long as I know you're with me."

"We've always been a great team." Chakotay grew thoughtful. "We tell ourselves that we're more evolved than our ancestors. But the truth is that we're more like them than we're willing to admit. We still want to control the world around us and to believe something that gives our life purpose and meaning."

"Yes, and when we find that 'something,' Chakotay, we have to have sense enough to hang onto it. That's been my challenge."

"I'm not so sure. You hung onto Starfleet ideals pretty tightly in the Delta Quadrant."

She smiled. "Oh, I have my ducks in a row professionally. My challenge has been finding something just as reliable to hang onto in my personal life."

"Something that doesn't change."

"Something . . . or someone. I've finally realized that I can tolerate the crew's dispersal, I can let Voyager have another captain, I think I can even endure 'flying a desk' in the admiralty, as long as you're beside me--both professionally and privately."

He sighed with gratification. "We've waited a long time for this, Kathryn."

"Then you agree to a permanent partnership?"

"As long as the sun shines into Newgrange on Winter Solstice." The smile he gave her was filled with the most beautiful light she'd ever seen.

She snuggled against him, happily settling into his embrace. "A few billion years? I think I can live with that."

The end