Cold Water

Disclaimer: Star Trek: Voyager and everything associated with it is owned by CBS/Paramount.
Notes:
Written for VAMB's 2011 Secret Santa exchange. The specification was: I would like to read a "we are home" family piece with Janeway and Gretchen or Phoebe or all three of them. Chakotay can make an appearance, but it's not mandatory. Just don't make it too fluffy though. In my mind Janeway doesn't break down crying in front of people etc. (not even family). This story is based on events detailed in Jeri Taylor's Mosaic, though it isn't necessary to have read the book.
Rating: G

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Cold Water

“There were times when I didn’t think we’d make it, either,” Kathryn Janeway said with some pride. She smiled widely at her mother and sister.
“But I’m home now.”
She popped the last piece of caramel brownie into her mouth and chewed happily before hopping down from the high kitchen stool and sauntering out with a spring in her step.

Gretchen Janeway watched her eldest daughter leave the room. The corners of her mouth dropped as she heard the outside door click and she swallowed thickly. There was an uncomfortable silence.
“What do you think?” She murmured to her younger daughter Phoebe, who hadn’t troubled to keep up a facade in front of Kathryn and had looked distinctly unimpressed throughout their lunch together.
“She’s going to do it again.” Phoebe said, staring moodily out of the window at Kathryn’s retreating back.
“What? What are you talking about?” Gretchen gave her a sideways glance.
“She’s too…normal,” Phoebe ignored the question, clacking the crockery together as she stacked the plates, “All that talk about what great friends they all were on that ship; I don’t believe her for a second. Any bunch of people thrown together like that is going to run into problems, let alone groups from two different sides. That hardly translates to ‘one big happy family’ in my mind, even by Starfleet standards.”

Gretchen tried not to wince. Phoebe clattered the water jug on the kitchen worktop and began packing the dishes into the recycler in her usual haphazard style.
“Maybe she just…doesn’t want to talk about it.”
“I’m not going to put up with it. Not again. She can spout all that nonsense to those stuffy old Admirals, but she can’t fool me. I don’t care what it takes, or what I have to do.”
“Phoebe, what –?”

Phoebe pretended she hadn’t heard her mother as she poured the water from the large ceramic jug over the wilting plant by the kitchen windowsill. She raised her arm and the stream of liquid lengthened, flowing in a graceful arc and soaking everything in the plant pot. She hoped the sudden barrage of moisture would do the trick and shock the drooping leaves back to life…

Out in the garden Kathryn kept walking, posture ramrod-straight in the knowledge that she could be seen from the window. She angled her shoulders precisely to keep her back square to the house and spat the mouthful of brownie into a tissue she had stuffed in her pocket on her way out. She knew the sweet, spongy texture of the traybake was the same taste she was accustomed to – had even tried to recreate a few times in the Delta Quadrant, to little success – but for now she might as well have been swilling a mouthful of sand and crushed ice around her teeth. It still came as a complete surprise that the homecoming had been nothing as she had expected, and escaping to her old family house in Indiana to spend some time with her mother and sister wasn’t helping in the way she had hoped it would. The familiar sights, sounds, smells…the old tastes and textures were overbearing and nothing was quite the way she remembered it. The rocky cliff-face she used to scale as a youngster was nothing more than a low wall, the fields rolled on for miles with hills in the distance and made the welcoming farmhouse in her memory seem like an imposing fortress, and the people she had known longest were difficult to approach after such a long absence, and whispered in the night about their concerns when they thought she couldn’t possibly be listening…

The next morning Kathryn was combing her hair mechanically in front of the mirror. When she had cut her hair at first it was a while until she stopped taking brushstrokes that were so long – longer than her new hair length – and her arm would jerk through the air as it connected with nothing far sooner than she was expecting. She had to get used to not reaching up to pull the ends out of the neck of her uniform when she dressed and not to jump every time her hair fell across her face as she leaned over. She no longer kept spare hairgrips in her pockets and desk drawers and it was odd and a little touching to find that her mother still kept a tiny container of them in the bathroom after all the time that had passed.

“I like your hair that way,” Phoebe appeared by the door, startling Kathryn out of her reverie.
“Mm? Thanks,” Kathryn answered absently, studying her reflection.
“Was it because Mark liked it long?” Phoebe asked nonchalantly, though her eyes were fixed on Kathryn’s in the mirror.
“No,” Kathryn replied, but knew her sister had a point. Mark was always wrapping locks of her hair around his finger or drawing his hands through it, which was one habit she hadn't always had the patience for. It was partly why she had taken to tying it up elaborately rather than just pulling it back from her face as she used to do – it was a way to keep him from pawing at it when she didn’t want him to.

Maybe Mark had had something to do with her decision to cut it short, in one sense – she was sick of the weight of it, just as she was tired of the ghost of Mark hanging over her shoulders when her thoughts began to wander. They began to wander so much, and in one particular direction, that one night she wet her hair and hacked a great length of it off herself before she went to find someone to finish the ends off for her. She didn’t know how long she stood there in her quarters with the scissors dropped on the floor, blades straight and silver against the fallen curls of auburn hair, but the water that dripped onto her bare shoulders was freezing and her breath was staggered with shock and cold when she was able to move again.

Back in the bathroom Kathryn’s hand had stopped mid-stroke, and Phoebe snapped to attention as though a bolt of electricity had passed through her. Kathryn flipped the water on full blast, snatched up the soap and rubbed her hands under the stream vigorously. She turned her head and, finding Phoebe was gone, splashed some of the water on her face even though she had already done her make-up. Her fingers quivered as she dried them on a towel; she decided quickly it was the water temperature.

Down the hall Gretchen held her breath and stood very still inside her bedroom, the door partially open as she imagined extending feelers from the edge of her fingertips to snake through the rooms and get a handle on the atmosphere. Intuition was telling her that there was something wrong in the household, and she couldn’t work out why this uneasiness was present while she was supposed to be happy that Kathryn had finally come home.
Every emotion was such a double-edged sword where children were concerned, she had come to conclude. For all the joy they had brought to her, there was an underlying thread of worry that ran in tandem with the events of their lives: the worry that they were happy, that they were being brought up correctly, that she and Edward were doing the best where the girls were concerned. The change in her priorities had been automatic and constant since the day they got engaged:

“What will your parents say?” Gretchen had said as they walked up to Edward’s house, the new ring on her finger suddenly feeling very heavy.
“It’s not about them. It’s about you and me,” He had answered simply.
You and me. You, then me. Then it was Kathryn, and you and me. Then Phoebe and Kathryn, and you and me. The girls, then us. Then you were gone, and it was the girls and me. Me and my girls. Your girls.

She had always referred to them as ‘the girls’, even though they were so different. It wasn’t in a way she could readily explain to other people, even if they had known her daughters well. It was difficult to keep her mouth shut when relatives or friends implied that Kathryn was ‘the serious one’ when Phoebe was so intensely grave when she had to be. Or when they assumed that Phoebe was more submissive and docile it was all she could do not to point out peevishly that, away from Starfleet and her command role, Kathryn was the demure one who quietly became engaged to a man she had known since childhood, whereas Phoebe frequently moved house and wasn’t prepared to answer to anybody. They weren’t different enough to complement each other, either – there were so many similar traits in them that were manifested in different ways and they often clashed because their sentiments were at odds. They had teased each other endlessly, argued incessantly and fought on occasion while they were children, but remained friends somehow.

Once they were grown and starting to go their own ways Gretchen feared their drastically different choices in life would push them apart but, if anything, it seemed to forge a closer bond between them and the distance in their professions allowed them the space they needed to maintain a real friendship. They still had some terrific disagreements, but there was a great rapport between them and they obviously cared a great deal for each other. They may not have been inclined to shower each other with hugs and kisses like some sisters she knew, but on the night that Kathryn returned they stayed up in the night talking and Gretchen found them asleep at opposite ends of the old loveseat, mirror images as they both slumped over the armrests with their hair spilling over their faces.

When Voyager disappeared Gretchen had no idea how to react or even how to refer to the predicament. 'Kathryn’s missing' sounded absurd, like it was twenty years too late and she had become separated from them while playing on the land. Even that idea was extraordinary – as if her daughter, who from an early age had pored over maps and worked out the exact distance of the strangest locations around their property to ensure she wouldn’t go out of bounds or arrive home late, could go missing anywhere even if she wanted to. When the ship and crew were declared officially lost it was more difficult to accept. The image of a young girl wandering in a desert land was present in her dreams night after night and when she woke her arms ached with tension, as though she had been trying to reach across time and space. Kathryn may not have been a child, but she was her child and they were separated to some terrible extent.

“She must be fine – you’d feel something,” A well-meaning friend told her once, dramatically. Gretchen had felt uneasy, because she wanted to believe it was true but was afraid that it wasn’t. She had learned to value her ability to feel things deeply, though she hadn’t always trusted it, but was aware that it was a trait passed on to her daughters that frequently caused conflict in the way they approached problems regarding themselves and each other.

Phoebe swept past Gretchen’s room and stifled a laugh as she caught sight of her mother’s shadow through the doorway. Her steps were swift and light as she moved, listening for the telltale creak of the floorboards in the hall if Kathryn should choose to make a getaway when she thought no-one else was around. Phoebe had taken to creeping around the house of late looking for clues to Kathryn’s wellbeing. It wasn’t a pastime she felt especially guilty about – she’d never dream of looking through anyone’s personal effects to find anything out, but in Kathryn’s case she could be so tight-lipped about the truth that it was difficult to know exactly what was going on in her life without paying careful attention. So Phoebe had to be sharp in her observations if she was to show any interest at all in her sister’s life, let alone know of any cause for concern. Kathryn could be one for alluding to events or making subtle remarks that hinted at her true feelings, and Phoebe found those times maddening. The only one she had the patience to carry this out with was Kathryn; she would have thrown in the towel after a day with anyone else.

Phoebe knew, for instance, that Kathryn had referred to practically no-one in her former crew by name except the first officer Chakotay, but she had a strong suspicion that there was more to that story than Kathryn would let on if the subtle changes in her expression were anything to go by. Mark seemed to be well and truly out of the picture. Kathryn had gone to her old house to collect her dog and returned with Molly in tow about an hour earlier than expected. After that she had gone for a very long walk, returned damp and shivery and went to bed without having any supper. Phoebe had been prepared to broach the subject from a number of angles – whether it be with a jokey comment or a serious heart-to-heart – but there was no hint at an opening from Kathryn where she could see how to construct her approach. Just as she feared, it appeared as though Kathryn was quietly battening down the hatches in order to shut herself off from the world, again. Phoebe bit her lip. Last time she had watched her sister’s decline helplessly and felt like a spectator to a macabre display of suffering that was as infuriating as it was heartbreaking. Every day she had to struggle through the hours, while Kathryn chose simply to put up a barrier and flop down behind it, and while she truly felt for her sister’s loss, she hated that it was so hard on their mother. Her resentment towards her sister swelled until it burst over just as the water slopped over the rim of the bucket when she tipped it, and she feared that as time went on she would need to do the same thing again – shake Kathryn out of her bleakness with a sharp shock and a harsh reminder that her sister would, in her own strange way, support her.

* * *

On that day years ago Kathryn had been barely aware of a dim scraping on the stairs and the squeak of the old-fashioned hinged door to her bedroom as someone opened it. There was something about the bang of the door against the stopper that held a sluggish trace of the familiar, but she couldn’t quite motivate herself to…

Never mind, she thought vaguely, and considered turning over to lie on her side. The very thought of it seemed like far too much bother and her arms felt much too heavy to move anyway. They lay crossed over her torso and she could feel her ribs press against her forearms when she inhaled – every warm breath stinging a punishing reminder that she was still alive while a few weeks ago her father and fiancé had perished while gasping for oxygen in icy water.

Then all of a sudden there was no heat or air, and her breath was taken away as the blankets were whisked from her and there was a laboured, lazy slap of a quantity of water splashing over her comatose body. She gasped and cried out, the rush of coldness sucking away her foggy awareness.

After weeks of silence interrupted by sporadic mumbling, Kathryn screeched loudly and then once more, louder still. The shape came into focus: her sister, looking sour and holding an empty bucket.
Kathryn shrieked the first thing that came into her head – a word she would have been punished dearly for if uttered in the presence of her parents or teachers, even though the Academy was like a distant memory now. She screamed the word again, and dragged her fist across her streaming eyes furiously.

“Phoebe!! You –”
At her choice of choked insults her younger sister flicked the last dregs of water from the bucket straight in her face.
“Get out! GET OUT!! You crazy –”
You get out,” Phoebe spat back, with a hint of a sneer. Kathryn launched herself forward with all the strength she could muster. Phoebe stepped aside as her sister toppled sideways and landed awkwardly on the floor. Kathryn sat up tentatively, looking stunned, and Phoebe bent down beside her.
“I’m sorry. I am,” She said to Kathryn, speaking quickly and without emotion, “But you’re not the only one in mourning, and you are punishing everyone in this house who is trying to deal with their own grief. I’m going to give you twenty minutes to make yourself presentable and if you stay out of bed I promise I will be there and try to help you. But if I come up and find you back under the covers again, that’s it – if you won’t help yourself, don’t count on me lifting a finger for you either.”

Phoebe stalked off and Kathryn sat on the carpet twisting her fingers together. She looked up at the bed and touched the edge of the sheet. It looked greyish and she couldn’t remember the last time it had been washed. Her thoughts seemed to come slowly and as she clucked her tongue against the roof of her dry mouth she realised that she couldn’t recall the last time she had brushed her teeth, either.

Kathryn got to her feet and shuffled gingerly to the bathroom. Her muscles were sore and putting one foot in front of the other took more effort than she could ever remember. The floorboards creaked under her feet and she had to hold one arm out to find supports on the doors and walls on occasion. Once in the bathroom she avoided the mirror and stepped out of her sodden pyjamas clumsily, peeling the fabric away from her skin. She eyed the bath for a moment and then skirted her way round to the controls for the sonic shower instead. Turning the heat up in the confined space, she rested against the wall and waited as the machine did its work. It did help in its own way, she considered as she stepped out of the cubicle and reached for the pile of fresh clothes someone – presumably Phoebe – had left out on a shelf for her. They felt slightly odd, which Kathryn attributed to the fact that they weren’t the comfortable, worn pyjamas she had been wearing for heaven knew how long.

The towels hanging on the rail were the same old ones – soft and scented lightly with rosewater; as she was burrowing her nose in one she caught sight of movement across the room and happened to look in the mirror. Staring back at her was a sight foreign to her. The woman in the mirror looked as though she was fading into the background, about to disappear into thin air. Her skin was deathly pale and shadowed with grey and it was clear that the feel of the clothes wasn’t the problem; they were hanging awkwardly on her frame and puckering in places where they used to fit perfectly. It wasn’t really a woman at all reflected in the glass – it was a little girl who had been hiding away under the blankets, who still hid her face in a towel to avoid taking the plunge long after she had stopped being afraid of water.

Kathryn turned away and wandered out of the bathroom, picking up a small basket of hair ties and products on the way. She knew her hair would look dull and lank after it had been brushed, but that would prove to be a job in itself – parts of it were practically matted together. She drifted past her own door – couldn’t quite face the musty smell of a room that hadn’t been aired for the best part of a month – and felt her muscles protest as she lowered herself carefully in front of Phoebe’s desk. Kathryn began to draw the comb through the tangled locks of hair and immediately winced as she caught knot after knot. Her head began to throb. She was looking for a clip to hold the top section out of the way when she saw it. It was only the edge poking out from behind the mirror, but the sight of the colours were enough for her to distinguish what it was: a copy of a holophoto of the three of them, taken at some point the previous year. Phoebe, her, and…

She stood with her hand poised in mid-air behind her head and began to close her fist around the comb. The teeth sank into the palm of her hand and her arm went limp as though the tendons had turned to liquid. The object was prised from her hand gently and she knew who it was without looking to the mirror. Phoebe sat behind Kathryn and silently worked out the tangles with care, her cool fingers pressing against the scalp to relieve the pain as she worked over the clumps of wiry hair. She used the same approach afterwards to help Kathryn through that period of her life: standing by, unforgiving, unsympathetic – but always there.

* * *

Kathryn stole down the stairs, went out of the front door and down the path carefully, her plan to raise as little suspicion as possible meticulously calculated down to the time between her footfalls. She could avoid meeting old Starfleet colleagues by staying in Indiana for a while; she could dodge the reporters waiting by the edge of their property through ducking down one of the footpaths to the fields lined with tall bushes; she could skip reading the daily reports and news bulletins…as long as it was visual, she could focus on maintaining tunnel vision or close her eyes completely. It was the things she heard that were the problem because, try as she might, she could rarely concentrate on blocking out unwanted sound so much that absolutely nothing filtered through. There were hushed whispers, muttered comments she wasn’t supposed to be privy to, shrieking alarms, loud broadcasts…

Even when she couldn’t directly hear what was being said in regard to her situation, it was far too easy to imagine and she had an uncanny sense that she was absolutely right about everything that came into her head during those periods of reflection that were so frequent these days. Living on such a small ship, worrying about the state of morale and the instances where the risk of their having been infiltrated was high, her ears had been trained to pick up the slightest tone of discontent and she had learnt to judge the tension of a situation through a heightened sense of observation.

And yet she had somehow missed something crucial: Chakotay had apparently fallen for someone else.

She couldn’t really criticise him – they had somehow managed to remain discreet about it when it was well-known that keeping relationships secret on board was a difficult thing to do. There were always whispers about one person being seen with another, ghosts of rumours floating around in the air that couldn’t be tuned out. “You shouldn’t have been listening,” her mother would scold her if she happened to repeat something she had heard in conversation – to which she had always, always wanted to protest that it was impossible for her to switch her ears off, and something she still had trouble with. She had actually been surprised when Chakotay had come to her looking troubled, and she had to strain to hear him mumble that he was going to tell Seven he didn’t want to continue dating her. She wished she hadn’t heard him, wished she could stop listening to every exchange between the two following that conversation and analysing the tone to detect any tension. For some reason the situation had thrown her a little – like Voyager had been ticking along in a symphony and suddenly the percussion had fallen out of beat. Kathryn had intended to approach him about it, but then Admiral Janeway showed up and hers was a new part to interfere and it disrupted the harmony on board from that moment onwards. The beat of a drum, the pulse of a heart…Kathryn perhaps hadn’t recovered from the accidental slip, and she wasn’t quite sure why.

Phoebe thought she heard a slight squeak and jumped to her feet noiselessly. She moved towards the entrance to the hall, saw the empty peg on the old-fashioned hatstand where Kathryn’s coat usually hung and ran for her boots, snatching her own coat down and almost upsetting the old wooden frame. It wasn’t unusual for Phoebe to take a walk at this time in the morning – she would usually start down by the edge of the property to make some flippant remark to the reporters hovering there.

“Where are you going?” Phoebe called to Kathryn from the front step once she was outside.
“‘Taking the dog for a walk,” Kathryn answered without thinking.
“I’ll come with you,” Phoebe offered shortly.
“I think I’d rather go alone, if it’s all right with you.”
Phoebe’s expression turned sour.
“The dog’s inside,” She said coolly, and pulled Molly’s lead out of her pocket, “You forgot this, too,” She waved the coiled fabric with some irony and took some heavy steps towards Kathryn.
“Right,” Kathryn acknowledged quietly.
“What’s wrong with you?” Phoebe asked bluntly.
“I – forgot –” Kathryn began, faltering.
“Dammit, Kathryn, you know what I’m talking about.”
“Don’t talk to me like that.”
“Like what? I’m not one of your subordinates, and I never have been,” Phoebe shot back.
“No, you just don’t have any respect for anyone, and this might come as a surprise, but it comes off as a little insulting.”
“Maybe it seems that way, but you just assume that I won’t understand or that I can’t see that something’s wrong. You don’t respect me enough right now to tell me what’s wrong, or even admit that I’m right. You act like I don’t care about you at all.” Phoebe’s voice remained deathly quiet.
“Phoebe, I never said –”
“You don’t have to! Why won’t you answer the question?”
“I don’t know.”
Phoebe looked like she was trying very hard not to roll her eyes, which only added flame to Kathryn’s temper.
“That’s my answer! I don’t know! I don’t know why I’m acting strangely. I don’t know why I can’t be as overjoyed as I want to be. I can’t begin to think with everything happening at once, I can’t –”
“Maybe you didn’t leave things the way you wanted to. You can’t pick up where you left off seven years ago. You need to bridge the gap.”
Only the unwavering tone of Phoebe’s voice made the situation bearable. Kathryn looked like she was about to be sick.
“You’re different when you talk about them. About him,” Phoebe continued patiently, looking away so that Kathryn didn't have to meet her eye. Kathryn flinched, “That’s what I can see, but that’s all I can base my judgement on. You’re the one who knows how it feels, how it tastes…in that way you can see the whole picture, even if you haven’t chosen to so far. Think about it.”

With that, Phoebe stamped down the path and covered a good range of ground quickly, keeping her head down. She barged past a reporter standing about a foot over the boundary of their property and didn't trouble to look at him.
“Excuse me –” The man began, but she didn’t stop.
“Go and pester that first officer of hers. He’ll have the scoop you want,” She called irritably over her shoulder.
“– I’m Chakotay.”
Phoebe stopped suddenly and turned back, but her expression was blank.
“I’m glad to meet you. Phoebe, is it? I saw a picture of you once.”
Phoebe shook his outstretched hand and gave him nothing more than a brisk nod in response.
“I’ve left a lot of messages for Kathryn. I don’t suppose she –?” Chakotay looked a little hopeful.
She paused for a moment and her eyes flickered over him, though nothing in her manner betrayed any hint of interest.
“She’ll be in the back garden. If she’s erected any of the security fields the access code is Janeway-457. No voice imprint.”
She turned with a swish of hair and marched away down the track, whistling for the dog as she went.
“Thanks,” Chakotay called after her, trying to suppress a confused frown.
“Looks like I won’t need that water bucket after all, with any luck,” Phoebe murmured to herself, and had to hold herself back from gleefully kicking the pail over as she passed the edge of the garden.

Once she was sure Chakotay was far enough behind her, Phoebe ducked down low and circled round back towards the house. She stole inside the side door and ran up the stairs swiftly to the spare bedroom, where there was a large window overlooking the back of the property. A chair was almost overturned as she dragged the duvet from the bed and bunched it underneath herself as she lay down beneath the window seat.

“Kathryn?” Gretchen entered the room, looking expectant, “Phoebe? What are you doing?”
“Watching. Chakotay just arrived to visit Kathryn.”
“Did he? Why are you on the floor?”
“This is the only room in the house where you can see people down there without them seeing you.” Phoebe peered through the latticed woodwork underneath the window seat, which allowed her to see out while casting enough shadow to render it impossible for onlookers to distinguish anyone sitting there. She and Kathryn had sat there separately or together even when there was nothing outside to look at.

Gretchen held back for a moment, then left the room quietly.
“He’s coming round the corner…” Phoebe announced loudly.
Gretchen scurried back in with the bowl of toffees that usually sat on the table in the hall and sank down to sit next to Phoebe with surprising agility. Phoebe took two of the gold-wrapped toffees, looking impressed.
“I thought you were taking the moral high ground.”
“And miss this? No, I have a feeling about this one.”
“That’s him,” Phoebe pointed out, somewhat unnecessarily. Gretchen looked closely and began to unwrap a toffee slowly.
“The pictures in the news bulletin didn’t do him justice,” The older woman remarked with a smile.

They watched him approach the small gazebo at the back of the garden, where Kathryn was leaning against one side, motionless. It was where she had often gone to think when she was younger, which Phoebe had counted on when she directed Chakotay there. He must have said something in greeting to her – she jumped visibly and turned to her left. They took quick steps towards each other, but seemed to hold back at the last minute and they stood apart awkwardly.
Phoebe mumbled something under her breath, but continued to watch them intently. To only observe from afar was excruciating, but her vantage point afforded her a measure of distance in more ways than one.
“She’s not listening to him…” Phoebe muttered angrily. Kathryn was fidgeting with her shirt cuff, and Phoebe knew without being able to hear that the responses Kathryn gave would be vague and non-committal.
“She’ll be fine,” Gretchen urged, though even she was starting to sound uncertain.

Kathryn was standing trying to concentrate on the situation at hand, but suddenly found it all so overwhelming. In truth, it had been a long time since she had actually been outside – any outdoor environment on the Holodeck had had the environmental parameters altered shamelessly to meet her liking that particular day – and to have Chakotay show up at her childhood home was like different worlds colliding, or different spheres of time and memory overlapping and appearing distorted. Chakotay standing, discussing Starfleet business with her out of uniform, walking up the path she used to race up and down several times a day as a young girl, the soft chirping of some birds as opposed to the ever-present murmur of the engines that had been the accompaniment to the vast majority of their discussions up to now, the sight of the house she thought she’d never see again…

The house.

Kathryn straightened up abruptly and Chakotay stopped speaking.
“What is it?” He asked, giving her a look.
“Turn to your right. Trust me,” She touched him lightly on the arm and he let her guide him a few steps to the side to a sheltered corner of the gazebo with raised edges to allow for creeper plants, though none were in flower at that time of year.
“Er…” Not quite squashed into the corner, Kathryn had led him to a place that left barely a foot of space between them.
“My sister was watching us from the house, I know it,” She muttered darkly.
“Why move here?” He hissed.
“She can’t hear you,” Kathryn pointed out mildly, “There’s a flat field for about two square kilometres. This spot is blocked from view.”
“Kathryn, what is going on? Don’t tell me you’re fine; I know you too well for that.”
“I –” She began, about to protest, but realised it was futile. She leaned against the side of the gazebo, feeling deflated, “I don’t know. Being back…”
Now they seemed much more at ease and felt freer to speak frankly.
“You’ve kept a low profile,” He said, leaning back against the side of the structure, “But surely you could have done that where you lived before. Why here?”

Kathryn paused and looked away towards the fields for a moment.
“Being back sometimes feels like we’ve travelled backward through time, so I keep expecting things to be the same. Then I’m surprised when they’re different. Or…I’m different – “Her eyes shifted quickly, “Here it’s not the same as in San Francisco. It’s more like a home, with roots that stretch back for decades. That’s something I rejected when I was younger, then could appreciate once I was older and was thinking about my own house. It’s what I need just now.”
I didn’t really have much of a permanent abode before we left,” Chakotay said, lowering his head, “I’ve got some quarters near Starfleet just now, but…”
Kathryn waited to see if he’d continue before she began to speak again:
“How have you found it?”
His lip twisted slightly and he took a moment to answer.
“Hard,” He admitted finally, and there was a wave of quiet feeling she could almost touch. Her fingertips itched with the presence of it.
“I thought once I broke it off with Seven it would be difficult socially on Voyager for a while,” Chakotay began.
Kathryn wrinkled her nose.
“What was that about?” She asked before she could stop herself. Chakotay sighed and rubbed his chin ruefully.
“I don’t know. She was persistent, and I was feeling a little low. You were off in Fair Haven all the time. I forgot how old I was – how young she was. It was just a lapse.”
Kathryn said nothing.
“Anyway, I was going to say that the aftermath of that was nothing compared to how I’ve been feeling here.”
“What’s wrong?” Kathryn asked quietly.
“It’s not home.”

It was such a simple answer, yet its meaning for Kathryn was profound and it hit her like the sting of cold water.
“That’s it,” She murmured faintly, and the yellow in the field was too bright; the rush of the wind was too loud; the smell of the earth scorched her nostrils; the fading sourness of caramel in her mouth was rancid and her skin felt hot and gritty to the touch.
“And it’s too much to deal with all at once,” She dared to voice the thought that had been plaguing her that she hadn’t been able to identify up until that moment.
“We’re here, there’s a war on, you might be promoted, the Maquis might be prosecuted,” Kathryn’s speech began to get breathless and sarcastic emphasis began to creep in, “Here’s your family, here’s your ex, here’s a debriefing, here’s a list of transgressions we want to discuss, here’s a new apartment because yours is full…”
Her voice was tremulous with anger. Chakotay shook his head and held out his hands.
“It’s a complete reversal of the situation we had on Voyager. The Delta Quadrant was out there and there was a tiny community on board – a small representation of where we came from. Now home seems a lot bigger and there’s none of that open space beyond the viewports.”

He was right, Kathryn reflected – her personal space had been limited aboard the ship and now back on Earth there had been a great effect on the balance of her life. It felt like when Voyager crossed the threshold of that portal back to the Alpha Quadrant it had also burst through the system Kathryn had helped to build in the Delta Quadrant. That way of living she had become accustomed to had been wrenched open and she was stretched too far; spread so thinly that it hurt to be back and she wasn’t sure what ‘home’ meant anymore. Maybe she had to take a step back, like Phoebe had suggested – go back to basics. Seven years ago that might have meant returning home, but now it was something different.

“It was nothing like this on New Earth, was it?” Chakotay said in a low voice. She stared up at him and found him looking a little guilty for having broached the subject, but his meaning was as clear as the bathwater she had drawn that first night after he made the tub. He was thinking of the words they had spoken to each other the night before they returned to Voyager, when they discussed the growing attraction between them and how it would affect their working relationship. He’d told her they needed to develop a closeness before they could take things further, and she added that the command structure on Voyager might mean it could only grow to a certain point. That context was gone now, but up until that morning that knowledge had provoked a feeling of fear whereas it could be a positive step for a new beginning. It had taken a surprise visit from Chakotay to make her realise what was right; although a pleasant surprise, it was the shock she needed to make her rub her eyes and start seeing things clearly again.

“You’re right. You’re absolutely right,” Kathryn said, looking out over the vast expanse of the fields beyond the house. She shivered and moved in closer to Chakotay, calmed by the tight enclosure of the walls of the gazebo next to them and comforted by his singular presence – one figure shielding her from the breeze, a familiar scent, warm hands…
“I think we needed something more intimate,” He murmured, slipping his arms about her waist and closing the last bit of space between them. She pressed herself towards him as she reached up, not caring that her movement was slightly restricted as she kissed him while trying to stay as close as possible.

A few minutes later she laced her fingers through his and drew him out into the garden. She looked up towards the window on the first floor and smiled as a light rain began to fall. It hadn’t taken a great splash or a waterfall, but it looked like Phoebe’s approach had finally brought her the clarity she needed.
“Let’s go home,” Kathryn murmured to Chakotay, pulling him towards the house.

End

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Additional notes: I haven't tried previously to write anything that included more than a vague mention of Gretchen and Phoebe, so it was nice to try something different. Many thanks to those who organised the exchange, and thank you for reading!