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Christmas on Raven's Island

Chapter Text

The first tentative snow had begun to fall an hour ago and now it was coming down in large snowflakes, like huge white mittens falling from the dark evening sky.

Annika Hansen, known to her friends as Seven, rose from the couch and walked up to the large panoramic window carrying a mug of tea in her hands.

She loved the winter season. She had ever since she was a child. There was something magical, breathtaking even, with the white untouched snow covering the field behind the house she grew up in.

She sighed.

They had talked several times about going out to Raven’s Island during the fall, Kathryn and herself, but they had been so busy with their jobs. Kathryn had travelled to all corners of the world to meet with stockholders while Seven had worked mostly out of the company’s headquarters’ at home.

Seven had joined her twice in her capacity as head translator. They had worked around the clock and when Kathryn had asked her to come along on another business trip just for company, the blonde had declined. Kathryn’s work consumed her when she was on the road. She hardly took the time to eat or sleep and Seven had known that they would not have any time together. Then there was the fact that Seven’s own work did not allow her to just take off like that.

She had instead focused on making the CEO’s homecoming as pleasant as possible. She had fetched Kathryn at the airport and catered to her every need when they returned home to the penthouse.

Kathryn had appreciated the ‘royal treatment’, as she called it, so much that it had become a pattern for how Seven greeted her after the following three business trips as well.

With this brutal schedule, no matter how challenging and rewarding in a professional sense, there had been no time to visit her island. She had brought the subject up twice but when Kathryn had to cancel their plans both times, Seven began to form plans for the holidays instead.

She walked closer to the window, her own reflection blurring as she regarded the masses of snow coming down.

They had thrown a large Thanksgiving party for the staff. When Seven had asked Kathryn if they also should invite the CEO’s mother and sister, whom Seven had never met as they lived out in the mid west, the older woman had declined.

"Mom has her busiest season right now and so does Phoebe," she had said casually and resumed her reading.

Kathryn’s mother owned a successful catering business and her sister was an artist with a growing reputation.

Kathryn owned three paintings by Phoebe Janeway, the largest one hanging over the fireplace. The motif was a large chessboard surrounded by flames and floating glass orbs. Its suggestive mood was evident even to someone who did not know much about fine art.

"But do you not miss them, Kathryn?" she had asked her partner. "You have not seen them since last spring when you were in your hometown at that conference."

"We don’t socialise much, darling, we never have. Phoebe was a terrible tease when we were little girls and then we spent our adolescence moving in very different circles. Nowadays ... Well, she’s a brilliant artist and thinks that my chosen profession is the perfect example of how you dedicate your life to Mammon."

"I understand that she is very successful and has earned a lot of money and prestige from her work. Why is it different how you do it?"

"She just thinks it is. This is the way it’s always been between us and I guess we’re both to old to change now."

Putting her free hand against the cold window, Seven sighed again. Kathryn could be so stubborn and when it came to things that had to do with feelings, she could clam up and dig her heels in. If Phoebe was anything like her sister, no wonder these two did not communicate well about emotional issues.

Seven had spent too many holidays alone while her parents were travelling. She was not about to let this opportunity of getting to know Kathryn’s mother and sister slip away. In her opinion, the holidays were all about being with your family and your loved ones.

This was the reason Seven had decided to take matters into her own hands. She just hoped that Kathryn would forgive her.

*****

The phone rang, making the dark haired woman in the bed stir and fumble for it.

"McDunn. This better be important."

"Oh, did I wake you, Marion? I’m so sorry. I know it’s late but I had no way of calling you until now."

Marion McDunn sat up, a drowsy smile gracing her lips.

"Julia!"

"Yes, who else would dare to call you like this?"

The soft voice of the woman she loved made Marion’s heart skip a beat. They spent long hours on the phone as their respective life kept them apart most of the time. The two women had assembled more frequent flyer miles this last autumn than in their entire adult life.

"What’s up, honey?" Marion asked.

Even if they spoke on the phone almost every day, it was not often that Julia would call her this late.

"Seven called me yesterday."

"She did? That’s funny. I met her for lunch today and she didn’t mention it."

Marion headed the sales department at the Stellar Corporation, the jewel in Janeway’s crown among her empire of companies. The elegant businesswoman had met Julia Williams on a cruise last summer and the attraction between them had been tentative but immediate.

Julia was an enticing mix between a free spirit and a women moulded by her upbringing by rigid parents. She had a voice as soft as her touch and her dark brown short-cropped hair framed a triangular face with almond shaped blue eyes. Her work as an interior designer reflected her persona. The talented young woman worked at a famous award winning architectural firm.

"No, I know. She told me she wanted me to talk to you."

Marion grinned.

"Ah, I see. She’s up to something. What has Janeway done now?"

Both Julia and Marion were fiercely protective of the young woman whom they amicably considered way too good for Janeway. Kathryn Janeway was of course painfully aware of their views on the matter and usually took their teasing in stride.

Marion owed Janeway a lot since her boss had not only given her a second chance professionally but also because the charismatic woman had intervened when it looked like the sales manager’s personal life would become the talk of the town.

Marion had quickly realised that Seven had been most instrumental in the way Janeway had rescued her twice.

"Oh, the usual. She is working too much, being too stubborn and, according to Seven, she doesn’t realise what’s best for her."

Marion snorted with laughter and snuggled down in her bed, pressing the phone tight against her ear. She loved the soft tone of Julia’s voice, could never get enough of it.

"This sounds like a ticking time bomb to me. What does Seven want us to do?"

"Actually so far her suggestion sounds terrific. She wants us to spend Christmas together."

She delivered the last piece of information in a hesitant tone of voice. The sales manager smiled tenderly.

"How do you feel about that?"

Julia’s voice deepened.

"Oh, dearest Marion, I would love to spend Christmas with you."

Marion’s heart overflowed with emotions, all of them for the precious woman at the other end.

"I’d like that too," she replied quietly and then considered what Julia had said earlier. "Wait. Do you mean that Seven wants the two of us to spend Christmas with her and Janeway?"

"Yes."

Marion groaned.

"Janeway is of course in the dark regarding this whole thing?"

"Yes."

"Still, it doesn’t sound so bad … there has to be a catch. What else?"

Julia cleared her throat.

"She wants us to all to go to Raven’s Island."

"Still sounds pretty okay but there’s more, right?"

"She has invited a couple of other people."

Marion knew this was the reason Seven needed reinforcement.

"Who?" she asked.

"Oh, Marion, this can become really awkward. It’s Janeway’s mother and sister. Seven has never met them."

Twisting the cord around her finger, Marion began to figure out how many ways there was for this kind of scenario to backfire.

"Does Janeway’s family know that she and Seven are living together? I mean, as a couple?"

"Seven wasn’t entirely clear on that point. I doubt it and I don’t think even Seven knows for sure. Janeway’s not the explaining kind. She has that larger-than-life-and-to-hell-with-the-rest way, you know."

Marion agreed. Janeway had an extraordinary commanding presence that allowed the petite woman to head the conglomerate with a unique sense for business. She was a strange mix between a corporate shark and a true professional. Marion who had seen her warm, private side understood the toll having to become such a chameleon took on the CEO. She herself faced the same dilemma on a daily basis.

She began to laugh.

"What’s so funny?" Julia asked.

"Just that it’s so typical of Seven to think that two same gender couples would make things easier for Janeway’s mother and sister than one."

"Oh, you’re so bad," Julia scolded her but Marion could detect the smile in the other woman’s voice. "You know that she’s inviting us because we’re their friends. Perhaps it’s Janeway she’s thinking of. Having us there will take some of the focus away from them. I got the feeling that there are a lot of unresolved issues between Janeway and her family."

"Oh, they have issues," Marion nodded. "Well, I’m sure after the holidays, all their issues will have either been solved or … become bigger."

"Marion!"

"I’m sorry, Julia. The cynicism in me is alive and kicking, I’m afraid. Tell you what … this whole idea is liable to blow up in Seven’s face but one thing about it is brilliant."

"What’s that?"

"You coming here. You are coming, aren’t you?"

Julia’s voice softened.

"Yes. Yes, of course I am."

"You sure? You know the situation is bound to become interesting, to say the least."

"I’m sure, Marion. I can’t wait."

Marion pulled the blankets up around her and cradled the phone even closer to her ear with both hands.

"Me either. I’ve missed you so much these last weeks. Work has been crazy."

"Yes, I know. Same here. One good thing about working like a dog is that I can take almost two weeks off."

The sales manager smiled broadly.

"That sounds wonderful, Julia. I will enjoy spending the holidays with you, regardless of what the other four will be up to. We can always hide."

Julia laughed softly.

"On that tiny island? I don’t think so."

"How about in our room, preferably in our bed, under the sheets? Surely nobody will be rude enough to look for us there."

"Marion …" Julia said weakly.

"I would love to hide with you and keep you all to myself," Marion insisted, a smile forming on her lips as she heard Julia inhale her breath.

Julia was a bright, vibrant, and independent woman but Marion knew that, even a thousand miles away, she could seduce her with just her voice.

The two had met six months earlier and had become lovers. They had slept together, making passionate love. Marion had taken Julia to highs that had both startled and surprised the other woman. Yet, no one was more surprised than she when Julia returned the caresses that first night. Julia had touched her, both physically and emotionally, in a way no one had ever touched her before.

Marion had ended up crying in Julia’s arms, sobbing her heart out as Julia had pushed her over the edge again and again.

Now Marion felt herself starting to squirm beneath the blankets. Julia’s voice, the little telltale breathless sounds she made, caused the older woman to tremble.

"I know just how you look right now," the sales manager whispered into the phone. "I know how your eyes become narrow little slits and how you blush."

"Marion …"

"I know how it feels when you slowly, slowly wrap your arms around my neck and pull me closer, looking so incredibly shy but also very determined to close the distance between us."

"Oh, Marion … what are you doing to me?" Julia whimpered at the other end. "How can you make me feel like this and not even be here?"

Marion smiled.

"Because I love you. You bring out the best in me, Julia. You are more than I ever could have hoped for."

"Darling, I love you too."

Julia’s voice was softer than Marion had ever heard it. There was a special timbre to it that made her toes curl. She crossed her legs under the blankets and could not prevent a soft moan from escaping her lips.

"Marion?"

"Oh, god, Julia," the older woman sighed. "You drive me crazy."

There was a brief silence.

"Stay with me, Marion," Julia murmured. "Talk to me."

"Your voice drives me insane."

"I can picture you when I close my eyes."

"I’m burning. Oh, god, your touch …"

"I can taste you …"

They kept exchanging the tantalising words, made love verbally as they rushed towards the pleasure together. Marion was breathless, flushed and so turned on; it did not take her long to surrender to the magical feeling. She hugged the phone close to her ear, panting as she came alone in her bed, but not feeling the least bit lonely.

Julia seemed to stop breathing for a long time and then she followed her lover over the edge.

"That’s it, honey," Marion cooed, trying to catch her breath. "Good girl."

They snuggled down together, although so many miles apart, their voices growing sleepy as the night descended upon them.

"When will you arrive?" Marion asked sleepily.

"Two days before Christmas if that’s okay with you?" Julia suggested. "Seven said that she would arrange for a friend of hers to take us to Raven’s Island on his boat on the evening of the twenty-second. Apparently Janeway will be joining us. Knowing Kathryn, she’s working right up to the last minute."

"Does Janeway know anything about these arrangements?"

"My guess? No."

Marion snickered.

"Hm. This will be a Christmas to write home about."

"Seven’s counting on us. She’ll be crushed if this backfires," Julia sighed. "I’m just getting bad vibes about this whole thing. Perhaps I’m overreacting because of the situation with my parents."

Julia’s parents, the Williams’, had more or less disowned their daughter since Julia had settled the score with them after meeting Marion last summer. She had told her parents that it was her life, they could either accept her choices and her way of life, or not. Her mother had hardly spoken to her since then and her father only talked to her after making sure that his wife would not find out.

Marion had consoled her lover on several occasions when the Williams’ actions had become too much for her to cope with.

"We’ll be there for her," Marion assured her. "We owe her that. We owe Janeway too."

"I hope Janeway’s relatives are not like mine," Julia sighed.

"If they are, we’ll still be there for them."

Julia’s smile was almost audible.

"Yes, we will. Perhaps if Mrs Janeway and her daughter realise that Kathryn and Seven are an established couple, they’ll be more understanding."

"Perhaps."

Their voices sank into the softest of murmurs as they exchanged terms of endearment just before sleep claimed them both.

*****

Kathryn Janeway drove her little red sports car through the curves at a neck breaking speed. Entering the small village by the coast, she slammed the breaks and skidded into the small parking lot next to the marina.

"Damn it, I’m so late," she muttered and grabbed her briefcase from the passenger seat, slamming the car door she quickly walked to the trunk, opened it and pulled out the overnight bag. Jacob would have her head.

Jacob, the same man that had taken her to Raven’s island almost a year ago when Seven had run away. He was extremely fond of Seven, and was very protective of her. The CEO and the huge fisherman had come to an understanding - they were great friends so long as Janeway made Seven happy.

Closing the trunk shut, she locked the car. Grimacing at the cold wind she began to walk briskly towards where Jacob moored his boat.

She could see him standing on the pier, talking to a couple of people. The CEO squinted. There was something familiar about them, even at this distance.

Jacob raised his head and saw her approaching. He waved and Janeway felt ridiculously relieved that he seemed to be in a good mood.

When she came closer, she could make out the face of the dark haired woman standing to his left. She was stunned to see her sales manager, Marion McDunn. A sudden gust of wind blew the hood of the other woman’s jacket off her head. Taken aback, Janeway recognised Julia Williams whom she, Seven and Marion had got to know last summer.

 

"Marion! Julia! What a surprise," she said when she reached them and put down her bags. "Are you the Christmas surprise that Seven has tried so hard to keep from me?"

Marion glanced at Julia.

"I think we’re part of it," she said casually and smiled. "You just made it. Jacob here said that if you weren’t here five minutes … you ‘d have to swim."

Janeway rolled her eyes at the man who did not lower his gaze. He looked right at her and then at her briefcase, a frown appearing on his forehead.

"It’s lovely to see you again, Kathryn," Julia said and extended a hand. "I look forward to finally visiting Raven’s Island. I’ve heard so much about it."

"It is a wonderful place," Janeway said and shook hands with Julia. "Very serene."

"Don’t let her fool you," Marion smirked. "I think it can get a little too serene for my boss."

Janeway glared at the taller woman. Marion had a point but she would be damned if she was going to admit to it.

Seven’s island was a great refuge but after a couple of days Janeway’s skin began to crawl and she wanted to return to civilisation and her corporation. She felt a pang of guilt over this as usual. She knew Seven was aware of how she felt. This was not something she was proud over, she wanted more than anything to make Seven happy and accepting her heritage was a big part in doing so.

They all boarded the boat and took their seats around the table behind Jacob as he took the wheel. One of his sons unmoored the boat and they were on their way, out of the marina.

"When did you get here?" Janeway asked Julia.

"This morning," the slender woman replied, glancing at the CEO’s minimal packing. "I flew in early to do some last minute shopping. Has Seven brought your presents out with her?"

Janeway shook her head.

"No, I have hers with me," she said, feeling pleased and nervous about her choice of gifts at the same time. "It doesn’t fill much."

"Don’t tell me. A calculator," Marion teased, causing Janeway to glare at her. "Or a pocket translator? Or a pager? I know, a Palm Pilot!"

"Funny. Don’t bother, I won’t tell."

Marion gave Julia a ‘what did I tell you’ look and then grinned when her lover kicked her under the table.

Janeway sighed inwardly. She was in a way delighted that they would have company over the holidays but she also wondered why Seven had invited their friends. She had thought that Seven wanted her to herself and now she was puzzled. Seven was not the secretive type otherwise, on the contrary. The young woman was painfully honest most of the time. Perhaps she read too much into this. Her partner probably just wanted to surprise her.

"What have you been up to lately?" Marion asked Kathryn. "I’ve noticed that you’ve been putting in a lot of overtime. Anything exciting going on?"

Janeway could not resist a smug grin but could not share any details. They had just entered the final planning phase of the operation. The project’s successful execution depended on the element of surprise.

"Perhaps," she said mysteriously.

"Oh-oh, she’s on the warpath," Marion winked at Julia who shook her head.

"I am not," Janeway objected but there was more truth to that than she was comfortable admitting.

Marion knew better than to push her boss. It was obvious that Janeway didn’t want to discuss the matter further. Instead, she focused her attention on Julia and all three fell into a comfortable silence only interrupted by a humming Jacob who steered the boat through the archipelago.

Janeway leaned against the backrest, briefly closing her eyes. The muscles in her neck were tense. She had worked long hours to put together this latest business venture. She didn’t believe in leaving anything to chance. She wanted all bases covered before going in for the kill. The auburn haired woman was now paying the price for neglecting her body. She was sleep deprived and had just realised that she had forgotten to eat lunch.

Glancing at her watch she frowned. It would be a while yet.

Seven had simply announced to her partner that they would be celebrating Christmas on Raven’s Island and that she had arranged everything. The blonde had left two days earlier to make final preparations. All the CEO had to do was to show up on the pier the day before Christmas Eve.

Janeway wondered how much of the pain in her stomach was hunger and how much was because she was missing Seven.

*****

Seven lit the three large candles on the dining room table.

She had a fire going in the fireplace in the next room where Gretchen Janeway and her daughter Phoebe just enjoyed a glass of warm cider. They had arrived the same morning and Seven had met them down on the small pier.

"So, you’re the mysterious friend my daughter talks about," Mrs Janeway had greeted her warmly.

Phoebe Janeway, a tall woman who looked very little like her older sister, had let her eyes wander over the scenic view of the small island.

"I’m not sure if it’s such a good idea to surprise Kathryn like this," she had blurted out without even saying hello first. "But just to see this wonderful place makes it all worth while even if coming here ends us in the doghouse with Kathryn."

"Phoebe," Gretchen Janeway had sighed. "You really should think before you speak sometimes. I apologise for my daughter, Annika."

Seven had shaken her head.

"Call me Seven, Mrs Janeway," she had managed and grabbed Gretchen’s large suitcase, feeling a strange lump in her throat. She had lost her parents not long ago and to finally meet Kathryn’s mother and sister made her feel vulnerable.

Mrs Janeway looked mildly surprised.

"Only if you call me Gretchen," she smiled.

"You’re nothing like I expected," Phoebe had stated as they walked the path to the house. "First you’re much younger and then …"

"That’s enough, Phoebe," Gretchen said, not even raising her voice. "You’re scaring the girl."

"You can ask me anything you want, Phoebe," Seven had offered. "I have no secrets from Kathryn’s family."

The blunt comment made an obvious impact on the other two. They regarded her curiously but Phoebe refrained from any more questions for the time being.

Seven had shown the two women to the largest guest room. It boasted two beds, an antique dresser and desk as well as a large walk in closet. Phoebe had smiled approvingly, commenting on the light flowing from the window.

"I hope you do not mind sharing? I have also invited two of our best friends," Seven explained, "and they will need the other guest room. There is my old room but it is very small and cluttered with …"

"This is perfect," Phoebe interrupted. "I don’t mind sharing a room with Mom."

"It’s a beautiful room, Seven," Gretchen agreed. "Thank you for inviting us. I have missed Kathryn these last Christmases."

"So have I," Phoebe stated casually while putting her suitcase on the bed. "Now you have to turn around, Seven, I haven’t wrapped your Christmas present yet. No peeking."

Seven began to feel as if everything might turn out all right after all.

The moment she had hung up the phone after introducing herself to Mrs Janeway and inviting her and her youngest daughter to Raven’s Island, she had regretted her initiative. All she wanted was for them all to get to know each other, to be a family.

She hoped Kathryn would see it her way.

She now hurried to finish the table. She put red napkins next to each plate, using her mother’s ivory napkin holders. She lovingly caressed them and did not notice that Gretchen had joined her until the woman spoke softly.

"You miss your parents very much, don’t you?"

"I do," the blonde agreed. She glanced over her shoulder. "I was used to being alone when they were alive and travelling all the time. Now when they are gone … well, Kathryn is my family now."

"I guess she is," Gretchen said, leaning against the doorframe. She was a tall woman, much taller than Kathryn and almost as tall as Phoebe. Her hair was still mostly chestnut brown with a few elegant grey streaks but without the auburn highlights that adorned both Kathryn’s and Phoebe’s rich hair. "How did you two become friends?"

"Stellar Ltd needed an interpreter and Kathryn took a chance and hired me."

"Why wouldn’t she hire you?"

"I have very little formal schooling. My parents provided me with a wonderful education here on this island but until their death I never wandered far from this place. It was always my home, and I loved it, very much. After they died … after they died I was alone and I decided that I needed something more, that I needed to work. Stellar Limited is where I ended up. At the time I had no references, not even a social security number.

Gretchen shook her head.

"And Kathryn hired you anyway? Amazing."

Seven smiled.

"She overwhelmed me. She showed me that I still had much to learn but also that I had great potential."

"She can be quite overwhelming, my oldest daughter, in her own special way. As you probably have noticed, Phoebe is overpowering up front. Kathryn’s way is more indirect."

Seven remembered how the CEO had accidentally kissed her in the elevator that second day. They had both become startled but the apparent attraction and the passion it had evoked had overcome any trepidation.

"She can also be very direct."

"True," Kathryn’s mother agreed. "Now tell me more about Marion McDunn and this Ms Williams that are joining us. I understand that Marion works at Stellar Ltd as well?"

Seven walked slowly around the table, checking that she had everything in place.

"Yes. Marion is the head of the sales department. She travelled with Kathryn and I on the QE2 last summer. She met Julia on that cruise and they became friends. Julia lives in the mid-west and I knew they would love to spend Christmas together. I also thought that if they were here …"

Afraid that Gretchen would take offence at her candour, Seven’s voice trailed off.

"That they would take the focus off the fact that Kathryn might be upset, embarrassed or even annoyed that Phoebe and I are here?" Gretchen completed her sentence.

The blonde blushed.

"Yes," she murmured.

"I know my daughter, Seven," the older woman said softly. "I know her better than she thinks. Don’t worry. I won’t confront Kathryn about anything she isn’t ready to talk about. I just want to spend the holidays with her for once. So does Phoebe even if she pretends otherwise."

"Did I hear someone say my name?" Phoebe showed up, holding the now empty glass in her hands, looking a little sleepy. "I dozed off in front of the fire."

"I was just telling Seven how wonderful it is to get the opportunity to spend the holidays with Kathryn."

"Yes, she’s been dodging us for the last three," Phoebe agreed.

Seven regarded Kathryn’s younger sister, trying to see beyond the sarcastic words. She was not sure if Gretchen was right about Phoebe. The tall artist had a way about her, a sort of cynical wit that Seven did not understand.

The sound of steps on the porch interrupted her musings.

"They are here," the blonde announced with a calm she did not feel.

She walked into the hallway and opened the door. To her surprise it had begun to snow. Small snowflakes glittered in Kathryn’s hair as she stepped over the threshold stomping the snow off her boots.

"You little brat," she smiled at Seven. "Your secret sure threw me for a loop."

"It did?" Seven asked.

"I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw Julia and Marion on the pier. What a wonderful surprise!"

She hugged Seven and buried her face against the blonde’s neck, inhaling her scent. Seven wrapped her arms around her partner, hugging her back. Over the smaller woman’s shoulder she saw Marion and Julia enter the hallway with their luggage.

"Welcome home," she murmured against the auburn hair.

"Thank you, darling. You know, I’m actually starting to look forward to Christmas," the CEO said and took a step back.

Then something caught her eyes and the smile began to fade on the older woman’s narrow lips. Seven could see the muscles tensing around her jaws.

"Merry Christmas, Kathryn. It’s wonderful to see you," she heard Gretchen Janeway say.

"Mother." The CEO’s voice was devoid of feelings. "Another surprise I see. You’ve certainly been quite busy, haven’t you, Seven?"

Seven swallowed hard.

This was not how she had pictured it at all.

****

Janeway concentrated on her food, avoiding looking at any of the others around the dining room table. She hoped they would think the attention she paid her dinner was due to mere hunger. Chastising herself she smirked inwardly; it was pretty apparent how ill at ease she was.

Despite her better judgement, she was still furious with Seven. The CEO realised that her partner had wanted this to be a happy surprise for her. All the blonde had managed to accomplish was turning the holidays into a fiasco.

The fact that Marion and Julia were present to witness it all did nothing to improve the situation.

Janeway devoured the food, not really noticing if it was tasty or not, just methodically gulping it down as if it would take away the pain in her stomach.

She knew that her mother was observing her discreetly.

Gretchen was a true lady, very well mannered and elegant as well as intelligent and perceptive. Janeway shuddered. It was quite a lot to live up to. She admired her mother very much, always had. When she was growing up she frequently voiced her wish to walk in her father’s footsteps. She secretly desired to become as accomplished and gracious as her mother but knowing deep down that it was an impossible task. She had never told her mother how her amazing persona had deterred her oldest daughter from expressing her appreciation.

Phoebe also focused on the food. Her younger sister seemed as detached from the world as usual. She always withdrew whenever it became awkward or embarrassing. Gretchen was polite and talked with Marion and Julia.

Janeway lifted her gaze to Seven at the other end of the table. Her partner had hardly touched her food. She was sipping her water but that was it. The older woman felt a pang of guilt but then the outrage over the unwanted surprise overshadowed her sense of remorse.

Seven knew better than to override her decisions. They had had the same discussion at Thanksgiving and the blonde should have realised that family gatherings were not Janeway’s forte.

Suddenly she was four years back in time; another Christmas, another dining room but with her mother and sister present. They had also entertained some close friends to the family and everyone had been set on enjoying the holidays.

Janeway bit down hard around the warm garlic bread that Seven had prepared. She had not thought about that day in years.

They had spent Christmas at her mother’s house and Phoebe had just received wonderful reviews on her last exhibition. Janeway had congratulated her, feeling both proud and touched that her younger sister’s talent received such appreciation. Phoebe had sold six paintings on opening night.

To her amazement, Phoebe had just shrugged at her praise and made an acerbic comment about money not being relevant. It was the artistic side, the creativity itself that was important. Janeway had felt taken aback, not sure how to interpret Phoebe’s indifferent tone of voice. She had also been stunned to recognise the embarrassment that her own sister told her off in front of friends of the family.

This alone did not disturb her all that much. She was used to her sister’s needling and counted it as sibling rivalry although thinking it was pretty silly for women of their age.

It was the events unfolding later that evening that threw her for a loop and made her avoid family and friends the following three years.

Janeway paused and looked up. She hated when someone cornered like this.

She caught Seven’s eyes. The younger woman looked like a deer caught in the headlights. If it had not been for her own almost panicky reaction, Janeway would have submitted to the remorse that flowed through her.

Now she just lowered her head and kept eating.

*****

Seven could hardly swallow the casserole she had prepared with such care. The mashed potatoes seemed to get stuck in the back of her throat and she grabbed her glass of water and sipped it again.

Marion and Julia had come to her rescue by filling the void of silence with polite conversation. They had engaged Gretchen in discussions about her home and her work. Gretchen seemed to do her best not to let the strange atmosphere affect her. She talked with Marion and Julia but her gaze kept wandering back to Kathryn.

Phoebe ate in silence, her eyes darting between their faces. She looked intrigued but oddly untouched, by the drama slowly unfolding.

Like her sister, Kathryn ate in silence. Seven knew the CEO was in pain, she could see the tension in her shoulders and the wrinkle between her eyebrows that always deepened when she was in agony or distress.

Seven wished she had not meddled with family affairs she knew nothing about. She did not know why Kathryn had not spent more time with her mother and sister. This had been a huge mistake and she was not sure if Kathryn would ever forgive her for it.

She glanced at the woman she loved more than anything. The CEO looked up just then and caught her gaze. Kathryn’s eyes were a dull grey. Seven’s heart sank.

This was more than she could bear. She had invested such hope in this; their first Christmas together, and now she had ruined it, perhaps beyond repair.

Kathryn had politely greeted her mother and sister, even embraced Gretchen. Then, she had excused herself after only exchanging a few words and carried her bags upstairs. Seven had not followed her; she had stood in the hallway, feeling utterly devastated and numb at the same time, not knowing what to say.

Marion had glared at Janeway’s back as she disappeared up the stairs. Julia in turn had taken a step closer to Seven, giving her a quick hug, wordlessly showing her support.

Now, sitting on Seven’s left, Julia sent Marion a somewhat desperate look across the table. The other woman nodded and they began to rise from their chairs.

"We’ll take care of the dishes, Seven," Marion said, "since you went through such trouble to make dinner for us all. It truly was delicious."

"Yes, thank you so much, Seven," Julia filled in. "You just relax, sweetie, you must be exhausted after decorating the house, trimming the tree and then preparing all this food."

The two women began to clear the table and looked pleasantly surprised when Phoebe rose to assist them.

When the three women had removed all the used plates and gone into the kitchen, Seven rose from her chair.

"I …" she began but her voice betrayed her. "I should let you two …"

"Sit down, Seven," Gretchen said softly. "You shouldn’t let my daughter’s bad manners upset you so much."

This made Kathryn flinch and look at her mother.

Gretchen turned and met her daughter’s gaze head on.

"Seven went through a great deal of trouble to make this a special holiday for you, Kathryn. She called Phoebe and I, invited us to join you, since she assumed you had forfeited spending Christmas with us to be with her, and made us feel welcomed," she stated softly

"Mother, I …"

"And how do you show your appreciation? You give her the silent treatment all evening. I don’t know how or why she tolerates your sulking, Kathryn. It’s obvious that you would have preferred not having Phoebe and myself here for the holidays, but none of this is Seven’s fault. She’s a very special young woman who did all of this to please you. You owe her an apology."

The CEO bit her lower lip and then cleared her throat.

"Please," Seven interrupted, "It is not necessary."

Kathryn winced at the pain in Seven’s voice. Pressing her lips together the auburn haired woman rose, walked over to Seven and knelt beside the chair.

"No, Seven," she murmured, "My mother is right. I’m acting like an insolent child and none of this is your fault. You are never anything but good to me."

Seven exhaled, realising that she had been holding her breath for quite a while when this made her slightly dizzy. Kathryn’s eyes were a whirlpool of stormy grey.

"I must be insane," the older woman said. "You’ve worked so hard to make this Christmas something special. Everything’s so beautiful, the tree, the dinner … you. But have I taken the time to tell you that? No. I just sat at the other end of this table sulking, eating the wonderful meal you prepared without so much as a word. I’m sorry, darling. I really am."

Seven looked into Kathryn’s dark eyes.

"Do not cry, Kathryn," she whispered when she noticed the tears forming there. With that, Seven leaned forward and hugged her partner.

Gretchen Janeway had sat quietly watching all of this unfold. It was obvious that Seven loved her daughter very much and that Kathryn had found someone that could break through those invisible barriers she loved to isolate herself behind.

"You are obviously very good for my daughter," Gretchen said, sounding pleased as she rose from her chair. "Well, I said my peace. I’ll leave you two alone."

"No, Mom," Kathryn said and cleared her throat again. "Seven and I will talk this through but not now. Take it from me; we’ve been through worse and survived. I need to talk to you if we’re to get through this holiday together in peace without me making a fool of myself.

"Yes," Seven said, a small warm flame appearing in the pit of her stomach as she realised that Kathryn had begun to accept the fact that her mother and sister were there. She could tell that the CEO was still upset, but she was not as angry with Seven anymore. "Excuse me, I …"

"No, you misunderstand, Seven. I don’t want you to leave either. Anything I say to Mom I can say in front of you," Janeway stated firmly and briefly touched Seven’s cheek. "Please stay."

She turned to her mother with a crooked smile.

"I owe you an apology too, Mom," she confessed as she stood to face her mother.

"Then can I get a real hug now?" Gretchen asked a slow, radiant smile, so similar to Kathryn’s own, forming on her lips.

"Yes, of course." The CEO rounded the table and embraced her mother, this time with her arms around her neck and holding on much longer. "I’m really glad to see you, Mom," she continued. "It’s just …"

"It’s just that you didn’t expect this and you don’t like surprises?"

Kathryn flinched and took a step back but Gretchen still held on to her daughter.

"I didn’t realise that you know me so well, Mom. I do dislike not knowing what’s going on. I have missed you. I’ve even missed that bratty sister of mine. I know I call too seldom. I have thought of spending the holidays with you but I wasn’t sure you’d want to … and I was too proud and I guess too ambivalent, to ask." Kathryn’s voice was calm but her stormy eyes betrayed her emotions.

"You never have to think twice before asking anything of me, darling," the older woman stated. "I know how busy you are, how hard you have to work for your success. I have missed spending time with you but I understand that your duties are very demanding."

"This is different, Mom. It’s not just work. I would like to explain it to you. I have put it off way too long. Still, I’m too tired tonight. My head is spinning and I guess I’m still upset, mostly at myself for being so rotten to Seven." Kathryn gazed at her partner. "All I want to do is go to bed."

"You know, I have to take some responsibility here as well. I knew better than Seven how you feel about surprises. I should have warned her but I was so thrilled at the prospect of being with you all for Christmas. This situation is just as much my fault," Gretchen said thoughtfully.

Kathryn took a step back but kept her mother’s hand in hers.

"I owe Seven so much," she said, motioning towards the young woman still sitting in her chair at the end of the table. "She may not know all the little quirks about me yet, but she’s always trying to make me feel good and look out for me."

Seven’s eyes grew wide. The sincerity in Kathryn’s voice was completely without challenge or defiance; the older woman was simply making her feelings clear.

"I can understand that. She’s a wonderful girl," Gretchen answered. "You must have some redeeming qualities that she finds equally charming since she’s still around."

A hesitant smiled began to play at the corners of Kathryn’s mouth.

"She tolerates my moods."

"Brave too!"

"She even inspired me to get a tattoo."

"What?"

"Only a temporary one," Seven quickly informed the older Janeway. "It wore off in three months."

Kathryn laughed and hugged her mother again.

"I bet you’re quite relieved to hear that, aren’t you, Mom?"

Gretchen shook her head and returned the hug.

Seven watched the two women and hope stirred within her. Kathryn was still apprehensive, she could tell but the laughter had relaxed the other woman. To witness the embrace made her relax some and she could not help yawning. She was so tired.

*****

Gretchen met Seven’s gaze over Kathryn’s shoulder.

"The poor girl," the older woman smiled. "She looks like she’s ready to fall asleep standing up."

Janeway turned her head and regarded her partner tenderly.

"You look exhausted," she said and took a step towards Seven. "Bedtime?"

"I guess so," Seven nodded. "I have a lot to do tomorrow."

"Now, now," Gretchen smiled. "Don’t forget that there’s five other people here you can put to work. We don’t expect you to wait on us. It ‘s your Christmas too."

Seven smiled shyly, almost breaking Janeway’s heart. She had come so close to damaging this young woman’s tender soul again. When would she learn to trust the purity of Seven’s love? She never had a hidden agenda, not even when she was being secretive. She did everything with the best of intentions, never as a demonstration of power or in malice.

"I’ll go up and run a bath for you, darling," she said softly. "You go undress in the meantime."

"That sounds wonderful, Kathryn," Seven agreed. She turned to the others. "I am so pleased that you are all here. Thank you for coming. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow morning."

"I just can’t believe how much you’ve managed to decorate on your own in just two days," Janeway said.

Seven had decorated the large tree in the corner with old-fashioned ornaments and white shimmering lights. The tree rendered the room an indisputable ambience. The CEO had regarded the small stack of presents already piled under the tree with surprise. She wondered what Seven would think of the one she brought.

Janeway said goodnight to her mother and poked her head through the kitchen door. To her amazement Phoebe, Marion and Julia were amicably chatting while taking care of the dishes. Janeway kept her voice light and bid them goodnight.

She walked up the stairs and into the bathroom. She began running the bath for Seven while glancing into the mirror. There was softness in her eyes that she had not seen in quite a while.

The water produced steam that soon blurred her image and she opened the wooden cabinet and pulled out some sandalwood bath bubbles. She poured a few drops into the hot water. Kneeling next to the tub she eagerly inhaled the scent.

A sound from the door behind her made her turn around, expecting to see Seven. It was Marion.

"Seven’s on her way. She just walked into your room to change," the other woman said calmly. "You all right?"

"I’m fine."

"I’m just asking because I … well, I feel a little guilty. Julia and I knew about this whole deal. Seven called Julia and asked if we’d help."

Janeway bit back an irritated retort.

"Really?"

"Look, I’m sorry. We didn’t quite know how to handle it. We wanted to help Seven but I suspected that we were putting you on the spot. Are we forgiven?"

Janeway could not stay annoyed with such an honest declaration. She felt a lopsided grin form on her lips.

"Only because you had Seven’s best interest at heart. She loves the two of you, you know."

"She’s the kid sister I never had, Kathryn. I don’t know what it is about her that evokes such protective feelings in me. I feel protective about Julia too, but it is different with Seven."

Janeway nodded.

"I know. She is extremely intelligent, self-sufficient and yet so … vulnerable. She knows hardly anything about deception. What she does know about it, she’s learned since she hooked up with me." Janeway grimaced. "I’m not always sure I’m good for her. In fact I frequently doubt it."

"She adores you. You don’t have to be perfect; you just have to be you. She loves you the way you are, Kathryn."

The seriousness in the other woman’s voice made Janeway’s heart skip a beat. She recognised the truth in Marion’s statement. That was one of the magical things about Seven’s love. The younger woman never tried to change her. She sometimes questioned Janeway’s way of thinking and acting, but never set ultimatums or demanded anything. Still, the CEO knew she had changed a lot since falling in love with the blonde. The change had come from within, from learning things about herself that made her re-evaluate her life, her priorities.

"You’re a good friend, Marion," Janeway now said. "You’re a pain in the ass sometimes, but I admire the person you turned out to be once I got to know you. I just wanted to tell you that."

Marion looked stunned.

"Thank you, that means a lot to me," she managed. "I owe you a lot. If there ever is anything I can do for you or Seven … well, you know …"

Janeway rose and touched the other woman’s cheek briefly.

"I know."

Marion turned to leave and practically ran into Seven as the blonde entered the bathroom. The young woman looked mildly surprised.

"Have a nice bath, Seven," Marion grinned. "You’ve earned it."

When they were alone, Janeway locked the door and smiled towards Seven.

"At last," she said. "You look lovely in that robe, sweetheart, but it has to go."

She proceeded to tug at the belt, opening the peach bathrobe with eager fingers. Seven did nothing to help, just watched Janeway’s every move through her eyelashes.

"Will you take the bath with me?" she asked.

"No, darling," Janeway said. "You’re exhausted and the bath is meant to relax you. I will take a quick shower when you’re done and then I’ll take you to bed. To sleep."

The blonde looked slightly disappointed but Janeway knew that Seven was way too tired for any amorous suggestions. She did however have quite an elaborate plan for the next morning.

Seven got into the tub and lowered her slender body with a sigh of pure pleasure. Janeway sat down next to the tub and regarded the woman she loved as she closed her eyes and leaned back in the old bathtub.

"There, you see?" Janeway said with a tender smile. "Doesn’t that feel good? Soon you’ll be relaxed. You’ll sleep like a baby tonight."

"Only because you are here," the blonde murmured. "I have missed you."

"I’ve missed you as well," Janeway said, realising that this was only true in part, a pang of guilt struck again. She had been so busy with her plans for the company that she had not realised until this moment just how empty it all was without Seven.

She failed to understand herself sometimes. As long as she was in the midst of the business deals, one following another in an endless circle, work kept her so occupied that she hardly thought of the young woman. Then, when everything quieted around her, the CEO would almost double over with pain for missing her partner.

The guilt of it was always with her. She did not know how to deal with it.

"I want you to listen to me, darling," Janeway said quietly. "I have no excuses for my behaviour tonight. I do however have an explanation."

"You do not have to …"

"Oh, I do. I owe you that and more, Seven. You acted out of love. Your intentions were good and the only blame should fall on me for not explaining the circumstances to you beforehand. I know you’ve been curious about my mother and Phoebe."

"I did not understand why you did not spend more time with them. I thought perhaps you were ashamed of me, of our relationship but when you were so open about after our vacation and even suggested I would function as your hostess at the Thanksgiving party …"

"I am not ashamed of you or our relationship, not in front of our employees or anyone else. However, my relationship with my mother and sister is more complicated than that." Janeway sighed and brushed over her face with a trembling hand. "One thing that your little Christmas surprise has done is forced me to talk to my mother. There has been so much tension these last few years; it can’t go on any longer. I miss her. I even miss my bratty sister."

"Phoebe is not easy to fathom," Seven stated in a mild tone of voice. "You two are very different."

"Yes, darling. As different as two members from the same gene pool can become."

"Will you talk to your mother tomorrow?"

"Yes. I promise. Have you forgiven me, darling?"

"There is nothing to forgive. I only want your happiness, Kathryn," the blonde said, her blue eyes huge in the misty bathroom. "I still feel I was presumptuous to think I knew better than you what was in your best interest."

Janeway gave Seven a tender look. The young woman was sitting slumped back in the old fashioned tub, her hair damp and tousled around her narrow features. She looked so young and innocent, almost fragile; still she was one of the strongest and bravest people Janeway had ever encountered.

"I think it’s entirely possible that you do know what’s best for me, darling," Janeway smiled.

Silence fell and the CEO pulled a knee up, embraced it and leaned her cheek against it, studying the beautiful tableau before her.

The minutes went by and then Seven yawned and stretched.

"I think I better go to bed before I fall asleep in here," she said and rose.

Water ran down her full breasts and followed the curves of her slender body. Janeway stared at the sheer beauty before her and then grabbed a large towel.

"Here, let me dry you off," she said throatily. "You’ll get cold."

She towelled her partner, willing herself not to caress the tempting body between her hands.

"There, all done. Here’s your robe."

Seven insisted on waiting for Janeway as she took a quick shower and then they walked to the room that had once belonged to Seven’s parents. Janeway loved the old antique four-poster bed. She had once asked Seven if she minded sleeping in her parent’s bed but the younger woman had not even understood the reason for the question. She seemed very comfortable in this bed with Janeway.

Seven put on an old cotton shirt and crawled into bed. Janeway knew that Seven was a veritable furnace in bed and opted for sleeping in the nude.

The CEO climbed into bed and Seven promptly hauled her into a soft embrace. The young woman tucked herself in behind her partner, pulling Janeway close under her chin.

"Goodnight, Kathryn," she murmured against the auburn hair.

"Goodnight darling," Janeway replied, basking in the warmth of the embrace. "Thank you."

There was no reply.

Seven was already asleep.

*****

Julia pulled the long sleeveless nightgown over her head, enjoying the sensual feeling it stirred as it fell in silky waves along her body.

She sighed and folded Marion’s clothes, putting them on a chair next to the window. Outside the snow kept falling in large flakes, rending the island a virginal look as it covered the cliffs.

The evening had not turned out quite as disastrous as it had begun.

Julia had understood from Gretchen that Janeway had made an effort to communicate with her mother. When the CEO had poked her head through the kitchen door to say goodnight, the interior designer had noticed that some of the tension that had permeated Janeway had disappeared.

Even Phoebe Janeway had amicably said goodnight and then looked a little more accessible.

Julia knew she should not feel guilty for participating in Seven’s little scheme but she did. She had sensed from the beginning that the blonde’s plan would backfire.

She also wondered about Phoebe Janeway. The talented artist and Julia had a lot in common; they had both chosen creative professions. Julia had tried to discuss Phoebe’s work and the other woman had answered politely but her eyes had wandered constantly back to Janeway and Seven.

She did not hear the door open and when Marion placed a soft kiss at the back of her neck she gasped softly in surprise.

"Hi, beautiful," her lover whispered, raising her hands to Julia’s waist. "Is this pretty thing for me?"

"What?" Julia managed.

"The nightgown. Is it for me?"

"Oh. Yes, I guess so. It’s new. Do you like it?"

Marion came closer; Julia could feel the sales manager’s robe brush against her back.

"Very much. I think you look amazing in that blue colour. There’s only one thing that you look even better in."

Julia blushed and tried to turn around. Marion’s warm hands stopped her.

"What would that be?" Julia asked.

"Nothing. You look best wearing absolutely … nothing."

Marion did not move, forcing Julia to remain at the window with her back towards the room. The older woman held the narrow shoulders in front of her, slowly caressing them and fiddling with the spaghetti straps holding the nightgown up.

"You smell divine," she murmured.

"So do you," Julia said, swallowing hard.

She grew weak at the knees when Marion pressed her lips to the base of her neck and kissed her way along her shoulder.

"Mm," Marion purred. "So soft. So … tasty."

She nibbled the skin and let her tongue caress the little bites.

Julia tipped her head back.

"Oh, Marion," she sighed. "Let me turn around. Let me hold you."

"No, sweetheart. You’re fine just where you are. I can see your reflection in the window while I’m touching you. Stay as you are."

Julia trembled.

"If I can," she murmured. "My knees are giving in."

"Don’t worry. I’ve got you."

Marion slid her hands down Julia’s arms, causing goose bumps to appear and the younger woman to gasp out loud. Not missing a beat Marion pulled at Julia’s wrists, making it clear that she wanted her to use them for support against the window frame.

"There, hold on," she said huskily.

Julia nodded and held on to the frame on both sides of the small window. She saw her own reflection in the window. Her eyes were wide and her ragged breath produced a steamy little circle on the glass just in front of her.

"Now where was I," she heard Marion say quietly behind her.

Determined hands pulled at the soft fabric and began to slide the nightgown up her legs.

"Oh yes, you know how I like you," Marion conversed. "Naked, especially this part of you."

Julia could only nod weakly. She knew that Marion liked to watch her, observe her in the most intimate of ways.

The older woman pulled the silky garment up over Julia’s hips and held it there with one hand and put the other one on the younger woman’s hip.

"Mm, you feel so soft. I have wanted to do this ever since you came, you know. I’ve been such a model of restraint."

"Yes, you have," Julia had to agree. "But please let me turn around. I’m half naked in front of a window, for heaven’s sake."

"Nobody’s out there. Janeway and Seven have retired to their room. Mrs Janeway has also turned in for the night. Phoebe is reading by the fire and I have waited long enough."

She put her arm around Julia’s waist and pulled her closer, holding the nightgown in place. She let her hand slide down and began to caress the other woman’s hot centre. Julia shivered, not able to take her eyes off the alluring image reflecting in the mirror.

Marion ruffled the soft strands of hair between Julia’s legs.

"That’s it. Spread your legs, sweetheart."

Julia inhaled audibly at the no-nonsense tone of voice and complied. When Marion talked to her like this, she knew she had no choice but to surrender. The sales manager seemed to have a sixth sense regarding when to take command. It had scared Julia the first time and she felt a little apprehensive even now, her breath coming in excited gushes.

Slowly she spread her legs, giving Marion access to the swollen heat between her legs.

"Good girl," Marion cooed. "You know just what I want."

She plunged her fingertips into the wetness between Julia’s folds, spreading the moisture all over. This immediate assault on the sensitive area made Julia groan and cling harder to the window frame. She could see it all in the reflection in the glass and it added to her internal fire.

"Oh, Marion," she moaned. "What are you doing to me?"

"Taking you," the other woman stated breathlessly. "Making you mine. Making you never doubt that you’re mine."

Marion’s fingers did a tantalising drum roll on the ridge of nerves between Julia’s folds. This sent shivers through the younger woman, made her gasp out loud and throw her head back.

"You’re mine, aren’t you?" Marion asked with a growl. "You’re all mine."

"Yes, yes," Julia sobbed quietly. "All yours."

It was as if tiny scorching flames licked her from inside.

"You see all of this in your reflection, don’t you?" Marion urged her on. "You see my hand and what it does to you?"

"Yes. I see everything … oh, god, I do …"

"It’s driving you crazy but you can’t stop looking, can you, darling?"

"No, no …"

The probing fingers found her entrance and soon the eager tips began to enter her.

Julia let her hands slide down the window frame. Her upper body leaned forward and she ended up bent at the hips in an almost ninety-degree angle, supporting herself on her elbows against the window ledge.

Marion removed her hand.

Julia was dizzy and knew that she needed the support, not realising how her position would affect her lover. She suddenly felt the strong grip of an arm around her waist as the eager hand returned to her folds, this time from behind.

"Ah!" Julia groaned.

"So this is what you want?" Marion hissed in her ear, placing and endless line of open mouth kisses on her lover’s neck. "You want me to ravage you from behind like this, hm?"

Julia had not known that this was what she wanted but the thought of Marion pushing her insistent hand against her in this manner made her head spin.

"I … I … yes!"

Not the least bit apprehensive, Marion plunged two fingers into Julia’s shivering body. Inside she picked up a slow but forceful rhythm, pressing her fingers down against a spot that drove the younger woman crazy.

"Mine!" Marion murmured as she pressed her body against Julia’s, the older woman’s robe now open, allowing her naked skin to slide against her lover’s.

"Yes … oh, yes," Julia replied with a sob.

She shivered against the shattering feelings inside. The erotic sensations succeeded each other and built up the desire for release. Just when she thought she could not take any more, Marion added a finger, filling her, stretching her beyond what she thought possible. The relentless hand and the husky, whispering voice in her ear finally became too much.

With a whimper, Julia gripped the window ledge and began to convulse. She felt light-headed and was glad that Marion held her in such a firm grip. The orgasm swept through her, flooded her and delivered her into a spectacular state of pleasure that was over only too soon.

Feeling her knees give in she began to slump back against Marion. The older woman removed her hand and pulled Julia into a soft embrace.

"Hi, you," she murmured. "Are you okay, sweetheart?"

"Mm," Julia managed. "Very … okay."

"Let me help you to bed."

Marion guided her trembling lover to the bed. It was a little smaller than queen size but Julia knew she would enjoy the closeness with Marion. She lay down and Marion joined her, pulling the covers up around them both.

Pulling Julia onto her shoulder she sighed and stroked the younger woman’s back.

"Oh, Marion," Julia sighed. "That was incredible."

"I know," Marion replied, sounding somewhat smug.

Julia smiled indulgently. After catching her breath she got up on an elbow, regarding her lover. Marion’s eyes gleamed in the softly lit room. Julia knew the other woman was very turned on but also prepared to wait until she had caught her breath.

Stealthily she pushed the sheet back a little.

"What are you up to?" Marion asked as Julia began to scoot down.

"Oh, nothing much," Julia replied, disappearing down underneath the covers.

"Really? Oh!"

The younger woman bit back a giggle when Marion’s body jerked at the sensation of a kiss right at the apex of her thighs.

"Mm," Julia purred. "You like this, hm?"

"Julia …" Marion said, her voice suddenly just as weak and submissive as Julia’s had been earlier.

"You like this too?" Julia asked casually from under the covers as she nudged the older woman’s legs apart and moved in between them. She did not give Marion any chance to respond before parting the slick folds of her lover and pressing her eager mouth there.

The husky murmur when Marion experienced a hot, dancing tongue playing against her most sensitive spot was just the beginning. Julia’s hungry mouth feasted endlessly on her lover. Her tongue caressed the delicate inner lips and the aching nubbin between them without mercy until the elegant woman began to tremble.

Julia took the little ridge of nerves between her lips and let her tongue flutter over it, feeling the copious amount of wetness emerging from her lover. She greedily tasted it and revelled in the effect her insatiability had on the woman she loved.

Marion arched almost violently beneath her.

"Julia!"

Engulfed in what she was doing to her lover, Julia found it amazing that a single name could express so much love and wonder.

*****
Continued in part 2 of Christmas on Raven's Island

Chapter Text

The three inches of snow that had fallen during the night made Raven’s Island look pure and untouched.

The island was small. On the south end steep cliffs provided a grand view over the ocean. A narrow path followed the sandy shores on its north side. Snow covered the trail but Janeway knew it well enough to lead the way.

Arm in arm she walked with her mother.

In the past she never used to do this, not even as a young girl but times had changed. She was concerned for her mother’s safety and wanted to make sure that Gretchen did not slip on the uneven ground and hurt herself.

"It’s beautiful out here," her mother said, inhaling the salty ocean air. "I can see why Seven loves it so much."

"She adores this place but she’s also quite taken with the city life. She loves going to the theatre, the movies … restaurants. I know she finds her work fulfilling and enjoys the company of her colleagues."

"She must think it very different from her upbringing out here."

"She has adjusted well but to tell the truth, Mom, I think she was shell-shocked in the beginning. So many people around her and she was also desperately trying to please me … to prove I didn’t make a mistake by hiring her. She wanted very much to fit in."

"She told me some of her unconventional background. I’m surprised you decided to hire her. You are usually such a stickler when it comes to rules and regulations."

Janeway felt herself blush.

"I was in a jam. I needed a translator immediately," she confessed. "However that’s not the whole truth. The fact is … she dazzled me, intrigued me no end. I have never met anyone like her, so open and honest. Her lack of diplomas and degrees were disturbing but I soon found out that she was the most brilliant translator I have ever worked with. Her dedication to duty and the way she perceives the concept of loyalty surpasses everything I have ever come across."

Gretchen squeezed her daughter’s arm.

"In other words, you fell head over heels?" she murmured.

Janeway winced.

"I guess that’s one way of putting it," the CEO said in a guarded tone of voice.

Gretchen stopped walking. They had reached the water and the icy blue sea stretched as far as the eye could see. Raven’s Island was located in the periphery of the archipelago.

"You never were very open, Kathryn," the older woman said with trepidation. "Even when you were young, you were always very private and quite proud. I remember how you used to lock yourself up in the bathroom to cry alone when you were little, not about to let anyone see your tears."

Janeway remembered it too.

"When Phoebe became old enough, she would bang on the door and demand that I’d come out. I was of course mortified."

"She was concerned for you. She didn’t want you to be sad all alone.

"Really?" Janeway doubted it. Her feisty little sister had never expressed very tender feelings towards her but then again, the CEO had never encouraged her to do so either. Her own efforts of being the protective big sister had prompted up front disapproval by the youngest Janeway early on.

"You also were very direct when you wanted to communicate with me or your father. I remember one time when you came home for the holidays," Gretchen continued. "You were studying at Harvard at the time. You asked me to take a walk with you, just like you did after breakfast today."

"I remember," Janeway replied, tight-lipped.

"You said that you had news for me. You then proceeded to tell me in a very matter of fact tone of voice that you had discovered you were a lesbian and that I would have to accept it. You said you knew that I wouldn’t understand the implications of this and was probably disappointed but it couldn’t be helped."

"I was very young."

"Yes, you were. I also understood that you were both apprehensive and nervous about telling me. Now, tell me Katie, in retrospect - did I not understand? Did I seem disappointed?"

Janeway shuddered and they resumed their walk.

"You were very understanding; I underestimated you and your reaction. You never showed signs of disappointment or disapproval. To be frank, you reaction shocked me," she confessed. "I was quite cynical, even back then, and for a long time I wondered what the catch was. Over time I came to the realisation that you just loved me, no catch, no hidden agenda, just unconditional love."

"Have I changed, Kathryn?"

"What do you mean?"

"I don’t know what’s wrong, darling, why you have kept to yourself so much these last few years … but I want to understand."

Janeway knew she had reached a cross road of sorts. She had withdrawn from her own family, creating a distance that became more and more painful as time went by.

"Mom, I don’t know if I can explain," she began.

The muscles in Gretchen’s arm tensed and then relaxed as if the older woman willed herself to not put pressure on her daughter.

"Take your time," she said quietly.

The CEO cleared her throat. Squinting into the light of the rising sun she continued.

"Three years ago, when I was home for Christmas, something happened that made me anxious. I found it wise to withdraw, both to pull myself together and also because …"

Janeway cleared her throat again, chastising herself for not being able to keep the tremors out of her voice.

This seemed to take the other woman by surprise.

"Tell me about it, darling."

Janeway involuntarily held on harder to Gretchen’s arm. She did not know quite how to explain but dug deep inside for courage.

She, who had stared down countless business opponents, hosted enormous stockholder meetings and broken new territory as one of the few women leaders in her field, now suffered from a dry mouth and sweaty palms inside the gloves.

"Do you remember that Jack Cambridge was there?" she asked.

"Yes. That was the year when several of your father’s old friends came by with a huge fruit basket. They stayed for eggnog and warm cider on Christmas Eve."

"I overheard your conversation with Cambridge, Mom. I was just about to enter Dad’s study, looking for my purse, when I heard you two talking in there. I meant to turn around but heard you mention my name. I know it’s no excuse, but I got curious."

The older woman frowned.

"I have a feeling that I know what you’re going to say but I want to hear it from you, darling."

Janeway swallowed.

"This was a month after the tenth anniversary of Dad’s death. Cambridge and you were sharing some old memories and he mentioned the fact that neither Phoebe nor I had got married or provided you with any grandchildren."

Gretchen nodded.

"I remember."

"You replied that both Phoebe and I were busy with our careers. He then put his arm around you and expressed … his concern. He said that there was still hope for Phoebe. You asked him what he meant by that. Cambridge then said that Dad had talked to him … about me. He said that my ‘way of life’ had become one of the greatest disappointments in Dad’s life." Janeway inhaled sharply. "I could hardly believe my ears. I couldn’t believe that Dad had confided in this man. I was stunned. I had never known that Dad felt that way. I always thought he accepted and supported both my chosen profession and … me."

She stopped walking and angrily brushed the threatening tears from her eyelashes.

"What did you do then?" Gretchen asked softly.

"I left the room and walked into the garden. I must have been in a vulnerable mood, because I took it really hard. I had just closed a major business deal and opened a new franchise in Germany. I was exhausted but content. To be honest; I was pretty proud of myself for accomplishing that." Janeway’s voice deepened. "Dad had been on my mind a lot that fall. I had thought about his accident and indulged in fantasies about how proud he would’ve been of my achievements had he lived, I guess as a sort of comfort. Now all that seemed so empty."

"I don’t blame you. I remember that talk with Jack very well. If you had stayed you would have heard me set him straight, Kathryn," Gretchen said firmly. "The man may have been an old friend of your father’s but he is also a complete moron. He was not expressing any other opinion than his own."

"What did you say to him?"

"I told him to mind his own business and that he had completely misunderstood anything your father might have said on that matter. Personally I find it hard to believe that Edward ever discussed anything so private with this man." Gretchen’s eyes softened and a smiled played at the corners of her mouth. "Edward never regarded you as a disappointment. He worshipped and was proud of both you and your sister till the day he died. He wasn’t very open with his feelings and you know that receiving praise from him was rare to say the least."

"But it mattered all the more when he did praise you," Janeway murmured.

Gretchen nodded and turned to cup Janeway’s chin.

"I also felt vulnerable that fall since it was the ten year anniversary of his death. I know that you always sought your father’s approval, darling. I’m the person who knew your father best; believe me, you had it."

"I did? I have asked myself over and over if the understanding I received from Dad was all an act. It hurt me so much to think it might have been."

"It wasn’t. You hold on to your memories of Edward. They are real. Jack Cambridge’s opinion bears no merit whatsoever."

Janeway closed her eyes briefly. She knew the next part would be harder to explain.

"That was not the only reason for my absence, Mom," she managed.

"No?" Gretchen sounded puzzled.

"As much as Dad was my hero whom I tried to please in every way I could when I was younger, there was another person that I idolised even more. So much that I knew how futile it would be to try and live up to her standards."

Gretchen looked dumbfounded.

"Are you talking about me, Katie?" she asked incredulously.

Janeway let go of her mother’s arm and shoved her hands down her jacket pockets.

"You’re everything I would like to become as a person," she murmured. "You are accomplished, together, and elegant. What’s more, you also possess grace and a heart that I will never be able to resemble. You touch people’s lives and they become better people for knowing you. It’s easy for me to take on the role as the forceful, commanding leader. It’s like a second nature. To be like you, the wonderful, strong and compassionate person that everyone loves and adores - I don’t stand a chance."

"I don’t understand, Kathryn," her mother said, taking her hands and pulling her oldest daughter close into an embrace. "Are you saying that you’ve put me on such a tall pedestal that I’m out of reach?"

Janeway was not sure. Had she?

"I may have," she confessed into her mother’s shoulder. "All I know is that when I heard Cambridge talk to you about me in such a demeaning way … I knew that if I had let Dad down - the one parent I had a chance of measuring up to … If I had failed that and by doing so, disappointed you - I had lost all my chances."

The CEO could hear the anguish in her own voice and stopped. She hated when her emotions took over, disliked the sense of vulnerability that overwhelmed her at moments like these.

"Go on, sweetheart," her mother urged her softly.

"Oh, I know it’s silly but up till then I had nourished some hope that some of the qualities you possess would rub off on me. To hear Cambridge express what he meant was Dad’s perception of me so long after his death was devastating. I was mortified that he told you. I was certain that it was terribly humiliating for you. All I could think of was to run away. I guess my pride was hurt too."

Gretchen held on to her daughter, not letting Janeway pull away.

"And there is a lot of pride there to be hurt, isn’t there? You’re a good daughter, Kathryn. You are strong, capable and resourceful. If you had been the dependent, clingy type that never accomplished anything on your own, for your own sense of achievement, I would have said - get a grip and shape up," the older woman smiled. "I would have considered you immature. That is not what you are, darling. I understand that there must be a lot of hurt and self doubt behind this. I know you better than you think, Kathryn and why do you think that is?"

"I don’t know," Janeway said.

"Because you and I are quite alike, darling. During your adolescence you reminded me constantly of myself at that age. Hotheaded, idealistic and goal oriented, stubborn and always with a book in your hand. In fact, I saw both your father and I in you. Your sister is the exception to the rule in a way - she is the first one to display an artistic side in our family."

Janeway stared at her mother.

"I remind you of you? But I’m just like Dad."

"You are. He was a strong, capable man that dominated the room when he entered it. People respected him, even feared him sometimes. I’m pretty sure that you have the same image among your employees. I have seen them stand at attention around you but I also suspect that they would do anything for you and not just out of respect or fear. I don’t think you realise the impact you have on people, Kathryn. If you don’t believe me, just ask Seven. Do you really think you could have won her heart so completely if you didn’t have any of those characteristics you used to describe me?"

Janeway pondered this. Seven always insisted that her partner was kind, sweet and loving. Janeway had shrugged that off as Seven being partial. Perhaps that was selling the young woman’s ability to judge character short?

"Listen to me, Kathryn," her mother continued. "The only way you could disappoint me was if you let yourself down, or by living a lie. Do you think it’s possible that you may have unsolved issues about yourself even if everything in your professional life is going so well?"

Janeway sighed.

"If you had asked me that before I met Seven, I would’ve denied it," she admitted. "I would’ve said that my single status was by choice and not confessed how lonely I found life outside of the office. I didn’t lack opportunities; people interested in pursuing a relationship approached me recurrently. I turned them down for two reasons, I dreamed of love and I was afraid."

"Afraid of what?"

"It’s a narrow-minded world and I hated the idea of becoming the favourite choice of discussion at social gatherings. I guess you can say I was half in the closet, half out." She smirked. "When Seven came into my life, all that changed. I couldn’t have cared less what people thought. As it turned out, most people are so charmed by Seven, they don’t even look at me and if they do … it’s because they’re jealous."

"It warms my heart to see the love between you and Seven; it’s quite tangible, you know. Don’t let that girl go. I’ll be blunt; your best hope of becoming this warm-hearted, together woman who embraces life is by loving that girl and making her your top priority."

Janeway knew her mother was right.

"I can become so wrapped up in what I’m doing at the moment," she confessed and hooked her arm around her mother’s again. They resumed their walk. "I sometimes work all night and don’t realise it until the sun rises."

"I’m sure she understands but don’t let it become the rule," Gretchen warned. "Do things with her, talk to her about everything and let her into all aspects of your life. I think she shares your passion for the company and loves working there almost as much as you do, but don’t push it."

Janeway’s stomach twitched.

"I know, Mom, I know."

"I know we won’t solve everything today, darling. I just want you to know how glad I am that you decided to talk to me. I know it wasn’t easy for you. You are not the explaining kind, another trait we share, dear daughter." Gretchen stopped walking again and looked pointedly at her oldest daughter. "Just for now, hold on to two simple truths. Your father and I accepted every aspect of you, personal and professional, a long time ago. Neither your father nor I were ever disappointed in you in any way. I know there are more issues than this but for now I thought hearing me say it in no uncertain terms would make you feel a little more at ease."

It was when she heard her mother’s candid and clear statement that Janeway noticed something for the first time.

In that moment, it was like hearing herself talk. Perhaps she was a bit like her mother after all.

*****

The large dining room table looked like something out of Santa’s workshop.

Seven was helping Phoebe wrap some last minute Christmas presents for her mother and sister.

"I think Gretchen will enjoy the CD with classical music," the blonde offered. She attached a red ribbon to it and handed it over to Phoebe.

Janeway’s sister took it and began to write her mother’s name on the little card that went with the gift.

"I hope so," she said. "It’s hard to pick out gifts for Mom, she seems to have everything. Still, she loves music so that’s usually a safe bet."

"I find shopping for Kathryn quite difficult as well."

"I find everything about Katie difficult," Phoebe said dryly and put the CD away and reached for some more gift-wrapping paper.

"Really? Why?" Seven asked, not able to keep the reserve out of her voice. She disliked any negative comment about her partner, no matter who expressed it.

"Oh, you know, she always has to do things the hard way. She's always so intense."

Seven began to wrap a small box that Phoebe was giving to her sister. She did not know what it contained and had not asked. She studied the younger Janeway cautiously.

"I do not know you, Phoebe," Seven said slowly, "but you also strike me as intense."

Phoebe’s head snapped up.

"At least I don’t attack her way of life."

Seven considered this.

"Does Kathryn criticise you?" she asked.

"Oh, she always has an opinion. She and I lead such different lives that we have little in common, if we ever did." As if sensing that too much criticism would not go well with Seven, Phoebe looked up with a crooked smile. "I know you think the world of her and that’s good. She needs someone to love."

That was the first caring comment about Kathryn that Seven had heard Phoebe express.

"We all need love," the blonde agreed. "I think the love between family member forms how we perceive our relationships later in life."

Phoebe shot the blonde a look.

"Are you saying that you and Kathryn are having problems?" she asked.

"Kathryn and I constantly have to adjust and compromise in order to understand each other. We come from such different backgrounds. I am never uncertain regarding her feelings but I do sometimes experience apprehension."

This seemed to intrigue the other woman.

"Why is that?"

"I want to make her proud of me. I do not want to let her down. There is still so much I do not know - about life outside Raven’s Island - and about Kathryn."

"Surely even Kathryn must realise this?" Phoebe said, frowning.

"She does. She constantly amazes me with her insights and her patience. I never knew there could be such a person, with such a complex nature and so much to give."

The artist shook her head, looking utterly bewildered.

"We’re talking about my sister, right?" she asked. "All she cares about is making money and adding to that empire of hers. She has not been very giving the last couple of years."

"Have you asked her why?"

"Why should I? It would be a waste of time and besides, I already know the answer. She’s too wrapped up with what’s going on with Stellar Ltd. It’s amazing that she found time for a relationship."

Seven regarded the other woman calmly. Her first response was to resent Kathryn’s sister for talking about the woman she loved like this but she sensed the hurt beneath Phoebe’s words.

"You have known Kathryn much longer than I. You know sides of her that I do not," Seven said, putting the scissors down and looking pointedly at Phoebe. "In the time I have known her I have discovered that she can be driven by her desire to succeed and often she tries to hide her feelings but Kathryn has an enormous heart and the ability to love deeply."

Phoebe raised her eyebrows but let Seven speak.

"She knows how you feel about her work and that you do not appreciate what she has accomplished. This is a constant source of disappointment for her."

"Like my opinion matters." Phoebe bit her lower lip. "She doesn’t give me much credit for my profession either," she added defiantly.

"That is not correct. She is proud of you. Your large painting hangs over her fireplace and every time we entertain company, she points it out and talks about her sister, the artist."

This appeared to take the younger Janeway by surprise.

"I remember when she bought it. I wanted to give it to her but she insisted on paying the market value. I had no idea that she hung it in her home; I thought she wanted it for the office."

Seven reached for the roll of red ribbons.

"I never had any siblings," she said. "I was an only child. When I was little I spent most of my time fantasising about what it would be like to have a sister to share this house with, to be my friend."

"Funny," said Phoebe with a smile, "I used to fantasise what it would be like to have a little sister."

Seven hesitated briefly. "I would like the opportunity to get to know you, Phoebe. It would be like having a sister."

Phoebe slowly lowered her hands and leaned back in the chair.

"You really mean that, don’t you?" she asked, sounding amazed. The cynical tone was gone from her voice and the smirk that constantly seemed to play on her lips was exchanged for an almost bashful smile.

"I do."

"You’re a sweet girl, Seven. I think my sister should count herself very lucky."

"She does."

A voice from the door answered for her and Seven realised that they were not alone.

She glanced over her shoulder. Kathryn was standing behind her, having returned from the walk with her mother. She looked a little pale but with a new sparkle in her eyes.

"I know I’m very lucky, Phoebe," Kathryn said. "Seven is the best thing that has ever happened to me."

"I agree," her younger sister said. "She’s pretty special."

"She is. Are you two getting to know each other? Oh, goodness, are you wrapping even more gifts? We won’t be able to see the tree, Seven!"

"These are Phoebe’s gifts. I am just assisting her."

Phoebe Janeway winked at Seven.

"Have I told you how extremely curious Katie used to be just before Christmas?" she asked. "She used to snoop around the house trying to discover where Mom and Dad hid the presents before wrapping them."

"Oh, please," Kathryn sighed in mock annoyance. "I remember you happily tagging along."

"Only to make sure that you didn’t get caught."

"Ha! Only to make sure I didn’t find out anything that I didn’t tell you."

Phoebe grinned.

"Do you remember when Mom caught us red-handed?"

Kathryn moved behind Seven’s chair and combed through the blonde’s hair with her fingers.

"I do. I also remember you scurrying off in flash, leaving me there to explain."

Phoebe looked incredibly smug.

"There, you see, Seven," she said casually. "I was not only the fastest; I was the smartest one too."

*****

Janeway put in the last of the dishes from dinner into the dishwasher.

Her mother and Marion had made dinner for all of them and apparently had a great time in the kitchen, no doubt swapping Janeway-stories, she mused. Marion would be impossible to deal with for a while but Janeway was prepared to overlook such things since the ambience was improving constantly in the little house on Raven’s Island.

She looked out the window. It was getting dark already. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day and she was actually beginning to look forward to it.

"Kathryn?" she heard a soft alto voice behind her.

A smile spread over her face and Janeway pivoted.

"Hello, darling," she said, extending her arms and inviting the younger woman into a tight embrace.

Seven wrapped her arms around her partner and held her close.

"The other’s are sitting around the table exchanging favourite Christmas memories," she informed Janeway. "I find it sad that Julia does not have many happy memories."

"She will from now on, don’t you think?" Janeway said softly. "She will have her first Christmas with Marion here on Raven’s Island and let’s hope there will be many more."

Seven nuzzled the older woman’s neck.

"I am so glad that you talked with your mother. You both looked much more at ease when you returned from your walk."

"I know. I feel better."

Janeway leaned back against the counter and pulled Seven with her.

"Kiss me," she suggested.

Without hesitation the blonde leaned down and pressed her full lips to Janeway’s, parting them and kissed her thoroughly.

Janeway who had had a soft peck in mind found herself in a delirious frame of mind and could only cling to her partner and kiss her back.

Seven raised her head and regarded the woman she loved happily.

"Mm," the CEO purred. "That was nice."

She lifted her hands and put one around the Seven’s neck and the other one on her waist, just underneath her sweater. Moving it in soft little circles she watched the young woman close her eyes and lean into the caress.

"You like that, darling?" Janeway asked redundantly.

"Yes," Seven whispered.

"Yes??" the older woman asked and moved her hand up a little, just touching the curve of Seven’s left breast. "What about this?"

She cupped the breast, weighed it in her hand and enjoying the fact that Seven was not wearing a bra. In a slow, maddening movement, she allowed her hand to cover the hardening nipple.

"Mm."

"Yes, I think you like this," Janeway said and smiled. "I think my Seven enjoys this feeling."

"I do …" Seven breathed unsteadily.

Janeway relented and pulled the younger woman closer again. Pressing her mouth to Seven’s, she deepened the kiss and let her tongue explore the enticing, sweetness of her partner.

A discreet cough interrupted them.

"Sorry, Katie, but we were wondering if you two needed any help out here," Phoebe grinned when the couple flinched.

Janeway rolled her eyes.

"Hmm, no, not really," she answered, feeling herself blush.

"Fine, then. I’ll let the others know. That you don’t need any help that is."

"Wait," Seven interrupted. "I have saved a bottle of that red wine we like so much, Kathryn. Why not share it with our family and friends?"

Janeway smiled.

"Why not indeed?" she asked rhetorically. "How about it, sis? Care for a glass of wine?"

"Don’t mind if I do."

"Then get the bottle, darling, so we can let it breathe a little. Might as well do it the right way."

"You always do, don’t you?" Phoebe said.

At first Janeway thought her sister was needling her as usual but Phoebe looked and sounded sincere.

"I try but I screw up sometimes," the CEO said quietly.

"Don’t we all," Phoebe smiled.

Janeway returned the smile.

"Amen to that!"

*****

Janeway regarded her sister over the rim of the glass.

She had poured six glasses of red wine and handed one to her sister who had stood behind her. Phoebe had tasted it carefully and then nodded in approval.

"Not bad, Katie."

"Join us in the living room," Janeway had said to Julia and Marion while putting the other five glasses on Seven’s mother’s silver tray. She carried them past the three women in the dining room, motioning with her head towards the living room where a roaring fire had mellowed down to a soft glow.

Now she was sitting close to Seven on the couch, one arm resting behind the blonde, curiously watching her little sister.

"You bought a gallery?" she asked. "Why? I never thought you’d want the hassle that comes with owning a business.

"Why not? I think it’s a great way to keep the profits from my paintings to myself now that I’m getting recognition. Don’t you think I can pull it off?" Phoebe challenged her.

"That is not what I meant," Janeway sighed. "You’ve always made it clear that you thought I sold my soul to Mammon and I …"

"If I did, I was just teasing you!" her sister interrupted. "I don’t remember ever putting it like that. You on the other hand have always considered my painting a hobby and art not a ‘real job’. You used to say that I needed something genuine to fall back on."

"I didn’t mean it that way! I just thought it wise to have a broad education so you that you didn’t limit yourself; that you could branch out."

"And that is why I am buying into this gallery! That and I want to be able to help out young artists, to discover new talents."

Janeway had to admit it sounded like a good idea.

"Do you need help?" she asked casually, rolling the hem of Seven’s dress around her finger.

"No …" Phoebe hesitated. "Well, I guess I’d like someone who knows more about these things to take a final look at the contract. I have a lawyer but …"

Janeway smiled tentatively.

"I’d be happy to do it for you, kid," she said. "Do you have it with you?"

"Stop it now," Gretchen said sternly with a smile that countered her tone of voice. "No working over Christmas. You’ll have time for that after the holidays. Right, Seven?"

The blonde nodded.

"Kathryn, I think that can wait until we go home," she said.

Janeway put her arms around Seven’s shoulders.

"Of course it can," she grinned. "I just can’t help it, you know. Whenever I hear about a good business deal my nose start to twitch."

She could see in the corner of her eye that Phoebe smiled broadly.

"Good business deal?" her sister smirked. "High praise coming from you, my sister the business tycoon."

"Business tycoon? Nah, try Corporate Shark," Janeway said in mock reserve.

"Why not Company Bitch?"

"No, that would be me." Marion offered blithely. "You can’t give her all the nifty titles, Phoebe."

Julia laughed.

"This is getting weirder by the minute," she said. "What’s Seven’s reputation at Stellar then?"

"Office Angel," Janeway replied quickly.

"Janeway’s Saviour," Marion said.

"None of this is correct. You are making this up," Seven said calmly. "I have a formal title …"

"That doesn’t count," Marion objected amicably. "We’re talking about unofficial titles here."

"I was getting to that," Seven smiled. "I have heard from several independent sources at Stellar Ltd that they call me Janeway’s Most Wanted."

Janeway stared at the younger woman. The laughter started out as tiny bubbles in her stomach and erupted into an explosive mirth that pulled the others in.

"Oh, that you are, darling," Janeway said, wiping tears of laughter from her cheek. "That you are."

*****

Julia stretched and opened her eyes.

The unfamiliar surroundings made her frown but then a broad smile graced her lips.

"Finally," she heard a husky voice next to her.

She turned her head and regarded the elegant face of the dark haired woman next to her. Marion’s hair was tousled but she looked almost as stylish as when she moved like an agile predator through the corridors of Stellar Ltd.

"Merry Christmas, Marion," Julia said softly. "Have you been awake for long?"

"No, just for ten minutes or so but you looked so adorable that it felt like hours."

"Oh, please. You really have no patience, do you realise that?" Julia groaned.

"It’s just that I want to go down to the tree and begin unwrapping presents, you know."

"Ah, is that it? Well, let’s get dressed then. I guess that the special gift I have for you will just have to wait until you’ve unwrapped the ones downstairs."

Marion halted halfway out of the bed and quickly turned around.

"What special gift?" she asked, surprised.

Julia smiled, trying not to show that her nerves were about to give in.

"Oh, I’m sure it can wait until you have …"

"Quit teasing me, Julia," Marion said sternly. "What present? Where is it?"

"It’s not the type of present that you wrap …" Julia began.

"Then just give it to me, you said it yourself - I have no patience!"

That was an understatement the younger woman thought nervously. Marion had her robe half on and was hovering above her with sparkling eyes.

"It’s not what you think," Julia tried to caution her lover. "It may not even be what you want. I …"

She choked on her words and to her humiliation tears began to well up.

Of course Marion detected her change in mood immediately. She sank down next to Julia and pulled her close.

"Hey there, honey," she said, sounding worried. "Now what’s wrong? You know I will adore anything you give me because it’s from you. It can be oven mittens for all I care!"

Half laughing, half crying, Julia mustered her courage.

"You know I have been working very hard for the last month, especially these last two weeks, right?" she asked Marion.

"Yes. Go on."

"I did that to finish two special projects that I really cared about. I wanted to have them out of the way before Christmas."

"Yes? You mean so you could take time off to come to me?" Marion smiled.

"That too. I also wanted to complete my assignments because I’ve been offered another job."

"You have? Is it a promotion? You’re getting great recognition where you are, I mean, is it a step up?" the older woman asked.

"Yes," Julia said nervously. "It means more money, great benefits, a chance to travel some but …" She got up on her knees and regarded Marion seriously. "I wanted it to be a surprise. You know that I love you more than anything."

"Yes, I do." Marion said as she kissed her gently. "I love you too."

"The job is with the mother company."

She waited for the information to sink in. Marion looked as if she was waiting for an explanation, then the truth began to absorb. Her mouth opened and she looked at Julia with wide eyes.

"Their offices are here in town," she whispered.

"Yes," Julia said, searching Marion’s shocked appearance for any positive signs.

"You’ll have to move."

"Yes."

Marion regarded Julia for another endless moment and then she threw her arms around the other woman’s neck, hugging her fiercely.

"Oh, honey," she said huskily, "you’re not just here for the holidays, are you? You’ve come to stay?"

"Yes. Are you happy?" Julia asked, starting to relax since Marion was hugging her so close.

"Are you kidding? I’m ecstatic! I can hardly believe it. Why didn’t you tell me?" Marion pulled back a little, her eyes shining of happiness. Then she halted a little and looked worriedly at Julia. "What about your parents? What did they say?"

"I’ve only told my father so far," Julia confessed. "He actually wished me the best of luck with my new job. He wondered where I would be staying. I guess it was his way of asking …"

The sales manager propped herself up against the pillows.

"You know what I want, don’t you?" she asked quietly.

"I don’t take anything for granted," Julia said, gazing down at her hands fiddling with the sheet. "I know what I’d like, though."

"Then tell me. I bet I want the same thing."

Julia looked up. The love shining from Marion’s eyes gave her the courage to take the leap of faith.

"I want to live with you."

Marion leaned towards Julia and placed a tender kiss on her trembling lips.

"Right on your first attempt," she smiled. "That’s exactly what I want."

"Are you sure?"

"Absolutely. My place is small but it’s a start. If we want something bigger later on we can buy a condo or even a house."

Julia’s eyes welled up again and she threw herself into Marion’s arms. The older woman held her close, nuzzling her hair and whispering how much she loved her, how happy her surprise had made her.

They kissed over and over; soft tender kisses that made their hearts beat faster.

Julia could not remember ever being so happy.

"What a perfect Christmas," Marion murmured.

"I know what would make it even more perfect," Julia said brightly.

"What?"

"Let’s go down to the tree. I think I hear someone else stirring. You know you’re dying to see what I got you."

Marion smiled.

"What ever it is, it can’t be better than what you just gave me, though," she said slowly.

Julia smiled and kissed Marion again.

"I know. However, I’m glad that you said that part about not minding if it was oven mittens!"

*****

Seven stretched lazily.

The bed was warm and soft, the warmth radiating from the smaller body to her left. She turned her head and regarded Kathryn’s face. The older woman features looked so soft and relaxed when she was asleep.

Seven rolled over on her side and pulled Kathryn closer. The CEO murmured something inaudible and buried her face against the blonde’s neck.

Seven let her hand slide down her partner’s naked body. Kathryn’s skin was like velvet. The younger woman knew how it felt to kiss every inch of the beloved body; still she never tired of it. She adored the fair skin dusted with freckles.

She carefully pushed Kathryn onto her back and stroked errant strands of auburn hair from her face. She leaned down and kissed the narrow lips tenderly.

Seven let her mouth proceed down the soft skin of Kathryn’s neck.

As if she sensed in her sleep what the blonde wanted, the CEO tipped her head back a little. Seven used the tip of her tongue to trace the enticing jaw line from Kathryn’s ear to her stubborn chin. Placing open mouth kisses down the older woman’s neck and across to her fragile collarbone, she noticed Kathryn begin to stir.

"Mm," the other woman sighed and slowly opened her eyes. "Hello there," she said huskily.

"Kathryn," Seven whispered against the lips beneath hers. "Good morning."

"Good morning, darling … what time is it?"

"I do not know."

Seven slid a hand down under the covers and cupped a small breast, making Kathryn’s eyes widen.

"What are you up to?" the older woman asked breathlessly.

"Only this," Seven replied and pushed the blankets down, revealing the naked flesh of her partner. "I want to look at you."

"Oh … hm … you do?"

The blonde lowered her head as her hand raised the soft orb to meet her hungry mouth. Devouring the pink nipple she let her tongue work at it relentlessly. The nipple hardened in her mouth, making her moan softly around it.

Kathryn arched beneath her, gasping and fumbling for her lover with both hands. She laced her fingers through Seven’s hair as she pulled the younger woman closer.

"Oh, god, Seven," she groaned. "What a way to wake me up!"

Seven did not reply but let her other hand slide down and pull one of Kathryn’s legs up and over her hip. The CEO immediately hooked it around Seven and by doing so she opened up to more intimate caresses.

"Yes," Kathryn whimpered and pressed against Seven’s hip.

Seven only wanted to please her partner. She pressed the auburn haired woman onto her back and with a firm grip of her wrists she put Kathryn’s arms above her head. The CEO looked up at her wonderingly but obeyed.

"Do not move your hands, Kathryn," Seven whispered insistently. "I mean it."

"All right," Kathryn answered, trembling all over. "I won’t."

The position left the older woman exposed and vulnerable and Seven knew this was almost more than Kathryn could bear. She was so used to being in charge, especially at work, that she found it incredibly suggestive to lose command.

Seven got up on her knees and by nudging Kathryn’s knees further apart she could get between them.

"I can see all of you, Kathryn, do you realise that?" she asked in a low tone of voice.

"Oh, god, yes … I do …"

The younger woman pressed the shivering thighs further apart and pushed Kathryn’s knees up. She looked down at the hot centre she loved to caress. She knew that her partner was on the brink of release already and wanted the moment to last for as long as possible. She put a finger in her mouth and licked it, even though she realised that she would not need any additional moisture.

Kathryn’s eyes widened and followed her every move.

Slowly she lowered her finger and found the aching little ridge of nerves between Kathryn’s folds. She barely touched it and still Kathryn inhaled sharply and arched her back again. Over and over in little circles the blonde caressed her lover. She could see Kathryn’s hands restlessly moving above her head, gripping at the pillows for support but the older woman kept her promise to not lower them.

"Now, do as I say," Seven commanded. "Roll over."

Kathryn whimpered of frustration but obeyed. The blonde helped her roll over on her stomach, making her pull her knees up and spread her legs wide.

"Oh, Seven, what are you going to do to me?" the CEO whispered throatily.

"You will find out."

Seven got behind her partner again. Leaning over her, she lowered her slender body and let her full breasts caress Kathryn’s back. Her nipples became hardened instantly and Seven knew this would make her come too unless she slowed down. This was for Kathryn.

She reached between them and let her hand slide in between Kathryn’s legs. She traced the slick folds and found the source for all the wetness gathering there. She gently probed the area and when she found the little nubbin again, Kathryn whimpered and could not lie still.

"Oh, please Seven," she begged.

"Not yet," Seven replied with a calm she did not experience. "Not quite yet."

She spread the wetness with soft fingers and then let two digits enter her partner slowly. She pushed all the way inside Kathryn, making herself a part of the woman she loved more than anything. Not realising what she was about to do she let her thumb caress the area between Kathryn cheeks for the very first time.

The CEO stiffened and then began to push against Seven’s hand, whimpering into the pillow, lost in the pleasure.

Seven did not double penetrate Kathryn, not sure if the older woman wanted her to, but kept up the intimate caress with her thumb as she began to make love to her partner with her fingers burying deeply within her.

Kathryn moved faster against her, pressing her hip against Seven’s own hot centre. Feeling the older woman approach her orgasm with lightning speed was all it took for Seven’s own pleasure to take over. Blindly she leaned down and found the soft spot just behind Kathryn’s jaw, locked her lips onto it and at the same time pressed her fingers deep inside her.

Kathryn pushed back against the blonde with the same passion, shivering all over as she came hard, moaning the name that meant everything.

"Seven, oh, Seven …"

Seven removed her fingers slowly and pulled Kathryn into her arms. Panting for air they laid together in a happy mess of arms and legs.

"Seven," Kathryn said eventually and got up on her elbow to kiss her beloved. "Merry Christmas, darling. Was this my present?"

"One of them, Kathryn," Seven admitted with a smile.

"You have more like this one stashed away somewhere? The way you touched me … You’ll be the death of me!" Kathryn laughed.

"Not just now, maybe later," Seven joked. "You seem quite taken."

"Oh, I’m taken all right." The CEO looked hesitant. "I have a Christmas present for you, well for us, that I wanted you to have before we go downstairs."

"Yes? Where is it?" Seven asked curiously.

"In my bag. I don’t want you to think that … I mean … Oh, hell … wait here."

Kathryn rose from the bed and padded naked to her overnight bag and rummaged for something. She returned with something hidden in her left hand.

"I wanted to give you this in private so you could honestly say if you want it or not," Kathryn said, sounding uncharacteristically nervous.

"Why would I not want it?" Seven felt incredulous.

"Just open it, darling." Kathryn handed over a small red box.

Seven propped herself up against the pillows and unwrapped the little gift. Inside the red box was a black velvet casing. She regarded it and glanced at Kathryn who licked her lips and smiled weakly.

The blonde flipped open the lid and stared wide-eyed at the two gold rings there. The design was simple but elegant and both of them boasted a diamond surrounded by blue sapphires.

Seven looked up at Kathryn. She could not believe what her eyes and heart told her.

"Is this what I think it is?" she asked in a low voice, almost afraid of the answer.

"Do you like the rings?" Kathryn asked in return, avoiding the question.

"They are beautiful. Are they engagement rings?"

Kathryn inhaled deeply.

"Yes. Seven, I want to spend the rest of my life with you. You’re my heart. Without you my life is empty with little meaning. We belong together, darling. I want you to be my fiancé. Is this what you want to? Will you have me Seven? Will you share my life?"

Seven’s heart overflowed. She had never in her wildest dreams anticipated anything like this.

"I would love to," she simply said and watched Kathryn detach the first ring and put it on her finger and gently kiss her hand.

"Your turn," the older woman said.

Seven carefully took the other ring and holding it, warming it, she then let it slide down Kathryn’s finger.

"I’m yours now, forever," the CEO said tenderly. "I love you, Seven. I have never loved anyone like I love you."

"You belong with me, and I with you." Seven replied as she leaned back and kissed the CEO ever so gently. "You are the only one I have ever loved. I cannot imagine my life without you. Thank you for this gift, Kathryn."

Seven rested against her partner, now her fiancé, feeling tears burn behind her eyelids. Refusing to let them fall she buried her face against Kathryn’s chest.

"That’s all right, Seven," the older woman sniffled, soothing her, stroking the long, tousled blonde hair. "I’m crying like a baby myself."

Seven raised her eyes and it was true. A steady stream of tears ran down Kathryn’s cheeks.

Through her own tears Seven determined that she had never seen such a radiant smile on Kathryn’s face before.

Little did she realise that it only reflected her own.

*****

Torn wrapping paper and bright strings filled the floor.

The six women sat in lazy, comfortable positions, sipping tea or coffee and munching on warm cinnamon rolls.

"What a wonderful morning," Phoebe sighed contentedly. "I haven’t felt this good in months."

"I know just what you mean," Kathryn said and stretched out next to Seven on the couch.

Not more than ten minutes had passed before her hawk-eyed sister had detected the rings and nudged their mother. Gretchen had looked at their hands in surprise but then smilingly asked if congratulations were in order.

Marion and Julia had smiled broadly at both of them and then shared their good news. Janeway had noticed the aura of happiness around the other couple. It felt so good to share this experience with someone who truly understood.

Marion was more like herself than anyone else in the room could understand. They had the same ability to pull on the professional mask and just do the job and not look back. They both also knew the price they paid for their ambition. To think that both of them also had lucked out by finding such wonderful partners to share their lives with was pretty amazing.

Janeway now glanced at Marion where the elegant woman sat on the floor, leaning against Julia’s legs. She wondered how Julia managed to keep up with the dynamic sales manager.

Marion was like a runaway train when she focused on something and there were times she did not even stop to think. This had almost got her fired earlier in the year when she had gone after Seven. Only the fact that Seven had pleaded her case and made Kathryn take pity on her employee had saved her position at Stellar Ltd.

Now she was a valued friend who had proved her loyalty more than once. She was not as sarcastic or cynical as she used to be and Janeway was prepared to put money on that it was because of Julia.

Julia was something of a puzzle. Janeway knew there was more to her than met the eye but knew that given time Julia would become as good a friend to her and Seven as Marion had.

Her eyes wondered over to her mother. Gretchen was sipping her second mug of steaming, hot coffee, looking very relaxed. She had been very busy up till Christmas with her catering business and now she truly deserved to just kick back and just rest.

Janeway was pleased that she and Phoebe had begun a tentative attempt to reach out. Perhaps most of their differences had come about because of preconceptions and misunderstanding? She had seen that happen before, why should that not be the case with her and her fiery sister?

Phoebe was browsing through a book about famous paintings that Seven had given her from both her and Janeway. Of course Phoebe had guessed that Seven was the one behind since Janeway did not know they were coming.

The CEO looked down on her lap where she still held the small portrait of her mother that Phoebe had painted and given her. In the painting Gretchen Janeway was sitting on her porch and watching something of apparent interest behind the painter.

Janeway loved it already and knew she would keep it on the mantle just beneath the big painting by Phoebe that hung there.

She absentmindedly rubbed her cheek against Seven’s shoulder. The blonde had given her several Christmas gifts but the ones she appreciated the most were two antique combs for her hair that had belonged to Seven’s mother.

Then there was of course the delicious way Seven had woken her up this morning and how the younger woman had glowed at the sight of the rings.

Kathryn Janeway determined that she simply did not remember ever feeling this happy.

*****