In the Shadow of Mistletoe and Holly

By Seema

Author's note: Written for the Holiday Ficlet ficathon. This one is for Lori, a kind of combined Christmas and late birthday gift. She requested P/J, mistletoe, and an unhappy Klingon in a Santa hat.

Disclaimer: So not mine.


Through the crowd of guests, I see Kathryn standing by the bookshelf, wine glass in hand, and from a distance, she doesn't appear unhappy.

I turn my attention back to Admiral Necheyev.

"You were saying?" I ask as I take another sip of wine.

"It was kind of you and Admiral Janeway to host a Christmas party." What she means, I think, is she is surprised we invited her. Of course, there was little choice: Kathryn reports directly to Necheyev and it would have been impolitic to leave one of the high ranking Starfleet officials off the guest list.

"It is our pleasure," I say genially.

"Of course, I had no idea you and Kathryn were such *Traditionalists*." Necheyev gestures towards the Christmas tree in the corner of the room. "Who was responsible for the decorations? You? The silver and blue motif for the tree is *very* nice and the mistletoe in the doorways is extremely fresh. Surely it's not replicated, but hand-grown. And the holly must be too as well, am I right?" Necheyev nods approvingly. "I am very impressed, Jean-Luc." The edge in her voice reminds me Necheyev doesn't like me very much. "How did you manage such a level of detail?"

"We hired a company specializing in Earth holidays," I tell her. "It has been a long time since either Kathryn or I've celebrated Christmas even though we were both raised Traditionalist--"

"Of course." She dismisses Kathryn and my upbringing with a wave of her hand. "With so many species and religions these days, it's hard to keep track of who is celebrating what and how. Traditions, naturally, no matter how old, eventually fall to the wayside. I congratulate you, Jean-Luc, on reviving *this* one."

I glance again in Kathryn's direction. She's talking animatedly to Worf and I assume it's in relation to her upcoming trip to Qo'noS to renegotiate the shipping lanes agreement. She leaves in three days and I know she dreads the trip.

"Jean-Luc? Am I boring you?" Necheyev asks sharply.

I shake my head. "No, indeed not, Admiral. I was momentarily distracted--" I point to a spot just behind her "-- as I realized Admiral Ross is trying to get your attention and I've been monopolizing your time. I apologize."

Necheyev appears mollified and she turns to face Ross, who looks less than thrilled at this new development. I take the opportunity to make my way to Kathryn's side.

"Jean-Luc," Kathryn says. "I thought about rescuing you, but you seem to have extricated yourself nicely." She nods towards Worf. "The Ambassador just shared some of his some of his insight on new Klingon minister of commerce with me."

"He is a difficult individual," Worf says, with no trace of irony in his gruff voice. "He does not care for the Federation and will do all he can to avoid further solidifying ties between the Empire and the Federation."

"Amazing," Kathryn says. "All these years since the Khitomer Accords, and we still can't find a way to get along." She shakes her head. "I'll be honest, Ambassador, I'm not looking forward to this trip, but having you along should help the negotiations."

I look at Worf in surprise. "You didn't tell me you were going."

"The Chancellor requires my presence on the homeworld--" Worf pauses as one of the waiters offers him another glass of bloodwine "-- and Admiral Janeway was kind enough to offer me passage on her ship."

"It will certainly be more comfortable than a Klingon freighter," Kathryn says with a smile. She lays her hand gently on my forearm. Her touch is light, but reassuring. "Without the new agreement in place, the Federation will have to pay steep tariffs to trade with Klingons and vice-versa. It's in the Klingons' best interests to re-sign the agreement."

"You will get no argument from me, Admiral," Worf says. He sips of his bloodwine and nods in satisfaction. "But Tarik is obstinate, and believes the Klingons can and should be free of all Federation interference--"

"This is not interference, this is a *trade* agreement, one that will benefit both parties." The volume of Kathryn's voice rises and a few of our guests, Necheyev included, turn to look at her.

I clear my throat. "Kathryn."

"Sorry, sorry." She holds up her hand in a gesture of apology. "I know it's not your fault, Worf. The fact this treaty has been dragging on for so long and Tarik *refuses* to sign despite repeated concessions on *our* part--"

"Perhaps we should move on to other *less* controversial topics," I tell her.

"You're right. I'm sorry." Kathryn shakes her head. "I did promise not to talk about work tonight, but with the Ambassador here--"

"How about a toast?" I ask. Without waiting for a response, I signal to a waiter, who brings me another glass of wine.

"That's a good idea. Very traditional," Kathryn says. She smiles, and winds her arm through mine. The gesture is unexpected but very welcome.

I smile at her, and barely notice Worf drifting away through the crowd. "I'm sorry," she says again, and there's a soft quality to her tone that takes me by surprise.

"I understand," I tell her. I lean towards her. "You saw the opportunity to improve your position at the bargaining table and you took it."

"But not at the expense of being a hostess."

"I'm sure Worf appreciated the conversation." I nod towards the buffet table where Worf is helping himself to a heaping platter of gagh. Ross, a glass of eggnog in hand, is right behind Worf. "He isn't that fond of social gatherings, as a rule."

"Still." Kathryn shakes her head ruefully. "I guess you can take the officer out of the uniform--" she gestures at her red dress.

"It's in your blood," I tell her gently. I take her by the arm. "Have you said hello to Necheyev?"

"Must I?" Kathryn makes a face. Our mutual dislike of Necheyev is just one of many things we have in common, but some things are easier to share than others.

"It would be the polite thing to do. She is, after all, both your commanding officer and guest."

"Or--" she tips her head towards me, so close her hair brushes against my shoulder "-- you could make that toast you were just talking about and distract everyone from what a terrible hostess I am." She tips her wine glass coyly against mine. "

"To preserve your honor, a toast it is," I say with mock gallantry.

"Thank you," Kathryn says. She leans over and kisses my cheek very lightly. The touch is barely more than a whisper, and in the warmth of the room and the brush of bodies, I may have even missed it if I was not -- as always -- so aware of Kathryn's presence. "What are you going to say?"

"I haven't decided yet. Give me a minute to think about it." I stare across the room where Ross is leaning towards Worf, who does not look pleased. "I wonder what that's all about, and no, that's not a hint for you to go and find out," I say.

Kathryn follows my gaze. "You could rescue him."

"Which one?"

She laughs. "You really should make the announcement about the toast."

I consider for a moment and then tap my spoon against my wine glass. "Ladies and gentlemen, if I could have your attention please--" my voice sounds loud even to me "-- Kathryn and I would like to thank you all for coming. We know you are all very busy and it means a lot to have you here with us, celebrating an ancient holiday in the Traditionalist fashion. We would like to wish all of you a safe and happy holiday season, wherever it may find you, and for those of you celebrating the Terran New Year, we wish you all the best."

Our guests clap with some enthusiasm. Kathryn, however, smiles.

"Nicely done," she says. "Very much in the spirit of the holiday."

"Thank you." I stop short of telling her that she looks beautiful, and perhaps if she let herself, she could enjoy the holiday.

In the background, we hear a slight commotion and we both turn in the direction of the sound. Kathryn puts her hand to her mouth as I stare in surprise as we watch Necheyev snap a holo-picture of Ross and Worf by the Christmas tree, both of them wearing the traditional Santa Claus hats Kathryn had hung from the fireplace as decoration. The moment the holo is taken, Worf gives Ross a push into the nearby armchair, whips off the hat and stalks toward the bar.

"Excuse me," I say. I make my way towards my former security officer. He is still frowning as he helps himself to another glass of bloodwine. "Worf? Is something the matter?"

He sips his bloodwine. "Very young, very sweet, just as I like it."

"I know." I eye him. "What just happened now with you and Ross?"

"The Admiral wished to take a traditional holo."

"With you." I don't bother to hide the note of incredulity in my voice. I don't understand why Ross would ask Worf to be in a holo one, but more to the point, why *Worf* -- notoriously holo-shy -- would agree, especially if he had to pose in such a ridiculous fashion. There are moments when even people you know well surprise you.

"We did serve together during the Dominion War," Worf says, interrupting my thoughts.

"In a loose sense of the word, yes," I say. "I didn't realize you were friends."

"We are not, but he has had too much to drink and he was finding it difficult to maintain his balance."

"Ah. I understand."

"He is an important man. I did not wish him to be embarrassed." Worf glances over his shoulder; Ross is still in the armchair where Worf deposited him. "Captain, I wish to thank you for inviting me this evening."

"You're welcome."

"I did not realize you were not inviting the entire crew of the Enterprise."

"We chose to keep it to the diplomatic corps only," I say. The truth is, I suggested to Kathryn we invite our respective senior staffs to the Christmas party, but she'd seemed oddly reluctant.

"It won't work," is all she had said, and we'd left it at that. I had never found it quite plausible she would prefer the likes of Necheyev and Ross to Chakotay and Tuvok. I know I certainly would prefer Riker and Worf to those two, but Kathryn has her reasons, and truth be told, so do I.

"I understand," Worf says now, breaking into my thoughts. "People change, they move on, form different attachments--" his eyes take on a faraway look "-- I know better than most how painful that can be."

"We were trying to keep the guest list manageable," I tell him. "The crew of Voyager, of Enterprise, it would have been too much."

"Of course." Worf gulps down the remainder of his bloodwine and puts the glass on the counter with a resounding thud; I'm surprised the glass doesn't shatter from the force.

"Captain, I must leave," he says, "I have an early morning meeting to prepare for."

"Ah, the exciting life of the diplomat."

"Yes. It is a long way from the battlefield, but the work is no less important." His lips turn up slightly and I remember Worf was not always this stiff and solemn. "Admiral Janeway and I have a lot of work to do."

"I don't envy either of you." I reach out and grasp Worf's large hands between mine. "Thank you for coming. It was nice to see you again, Ambassador." I put special emphasis on the title, as even after all these years, it sounds foreign to me. I'll never get used to Worf being anything other than Enterprise's chief of security.

As the hour grows later, the guests dissipate and soon, it's just Kathryn and I.

She slumps on the sofa, kicking off her shoes, and closes her eyes. I glance down at her.

"Tired?" I ask. I reach for the plate of cookies on the side table and nibble on one cut in the shape of a reindeer and decorated with colored sugar crystals.

"Exhausted." Kathryn opens her eyes and turns her head towards the Christmas tree. For once, I share Necheyev's opinion: it is beautiful, with the silver tinsel draped around its branches, the blue and white lights twinkling, and reflecting off the crystal icicles dangling off the branches.

"This party was a good idea," I tell her. "An interesting experience."

"That sounds like something Seven of Nine would say."

"You could have invited her, and the others."

"No. Too many admirals and dignitaries. They would have been bored."

"Or perhaps that's simply an excuse." I don't mean to sound harsh, but it's too late; the words are out there.

Kathryn presses her lips together in a straight line. "It's late, Jean-Luc." She gets to her feet. "We can leave the mess for the morning." She's halfway to the bedroom before she turns to look at me. "It *was* a lovely toast, Jean-Luc."

"Merry Christmas, Kathryn," I say, but she's already disappeared into the bedroom. After a second, I follow her. As I pass under the doorway, I reach up and remove the sprig of mistletoe hanging there. For the second time in this evening I agree with Necheyev: the mistletoe is indeed fresh.

~ the end

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