by Myu

Disclaimer: Star Trek: Voyager and everything associated with it is owned by CBS/Paramount.
Notes: Sometimes the answer is right in front of your nose, or lying next to you. Written for VAMB's Secret Drabble 2012, for which the first line (/prompt) came from CF.
Rating: G



She shook her head, and wondered at her own stupidity. The feeling of being utterly ignorant didn't suit Kathryn Janeway, and she abhorred it even as that emotion took an age to register. The fog clouding her vision and her better judgement was only slowly starting to clear and the air seemed thick with questions and unfinished thoughts. There were snippets of sound, echoes in her head and it took a while for them to manifest as anything recognisable. Her breath came in short bursts that were audible, and the first thing she was able to distinguish was the soft puffs of air that sounded like 'who, who, who' in a repeated hush.

'Who' didn't take long to work out at first. She was Kathryn Janeway, and she was...
She stopped. As she tried to take in her surroundings a light mist seemed to retreat and she was standing on a barren woodland path, the ground littered with twigs thrown from the branches that stretched their pointed tips towards her, and a single acorn at her feet. They looked like fleshless arms and hands, eager to tangle themselves in her hair and scratch colour into her cold cheeks. In the Delta Quadrant she had grown too used to her uniform - without it her bare arms looked slight and pale, and without the structured cut of the Starfleet jacket she knew her shoulders looked narrow and her collarbones protruded. There was too much of a chill in the air for the thin dress she wore and the shiver in her movements prodded her to keep going, but she wasn't sure where she felt disoriented and wasn't sure how to proceed.
Her progress down the path - little more than a metre-wide trail hastily scraped from the undergrowth was slow and meandered around every tiny spot of interest. Here there was some brightly-coloured fungus that had already been prodded, there was a tall tree with branches budding while the dry skeletons of fallen leaves lay neatly gathered in a pile. Whoever had trekked this path was an explorer, and they hadn't been alone.

An explorer...
Kathryn looked at her hands and saw dirt under her fingernails, a few scratches hardened with dried blood, smudges of some unknown substance on her skin and a ring with a single stone on one of her fingers. She had the inkling that she was almost touching the truth, but couldn't quite be sure of what she was sensing.
A shadow passed over her arm and she looked up sharply. There was something familiar about the situation. It wasn't just the surroundings, but something similar had happened before. Standing cold, dizzy, touched by something in darkness...

Kathryn's memory took her back to a dingy, cramped shelter with sleeping quarters that seemed to alternate between freezing cold and uncomfortably hot. She was unable to sleep and dragged herself out of the claustrophobic fishbox that passed for a bed. Standing in the gloom was little better, but she knew a glass of cold water would probably cool her enough for her to be able to drift off for an hour or two before sunrise. The one upside was that she had found the pink silk nightdress she occasionally used to wear, albeit scrunched up at the bottom of a packing crate. It was something that she hadn't planned on bringing to New Earth, but it was so light and folded up so small that it was easily lost amongst her other clothes. Now she was thankful it had turned up, as the lightweight fabric was something she could wear at night without waking up feeling like her skin was suffocating.

She padded out into the hallway to make her way to the living area. There was a shadow and a loud creak, and she turned around quickly, wide-eyed with shock. Her hands clutched at her sides, fingers only skimming slippery fabric and the bump of a hipbone instead of a uniform jacket and weapon pouch.
"Easy, Kathryn. It's me."
"Chakotay," She breathed, feeling the air rush from her.
Her housemate was standing tall at the other end of the corridor, barefoot and in shorts and T-shirt. She was a little envious of the way he could look more or less like the same officer of Commander rank thousands of miles away from the Bridge in pyjamas whereas she felt she needed the boots, the uniform and a tight bun with hairpins nipping the back of her head to take herself seriously. Now, standing before him in pink with waves of hair halfway down her back, she felt small and a little ridiculous even though she knew he wouldn't stare.
"Can't sleep?" He stifled a yawn.
She shook her head.
"Me neither. Come on," Chakotay gestured to her and she followed him down and round the corner. If she had had more energy she might have tried to brace her spine and stand as straight as possible, but as it was she was too dazed to draw herself up to her full height.

"Do we have purified water?" Kathryn asked as they approached the kitchen area of their living space.
"Yes, but it hasn't been in the cooling unit," Chakotay pronounced a moment later, brandishing a container of liquid.
" oh," Kathryn uttered, her thirst easing somewhat at the prospect of drinking the lukewarm water.
"Hang on, it might help if I add..." Chakotay reached for the jars of herbs he had been keeping on the worktop. He'd spent time scanning the plants and carefully collecting the edible varieties to try out as seasonings when it was his turn to cook.
"This one is the closest thing I have to mint, so just maybe...and this one..."
Kathryn watched him with interest and tried to discreetly sniff the contents of the glass he offered her before she drank. After the first swallow she wondered if it was a good thing or a bad thing that it tasted exactly as she had expected like leaves mashed up and swilled in some water.
"It's..." She began unconvincingly, and broke into laughter when she saw Chakotay's shoulders shaking after gulping down a mouthful.
"Not one of my better experiments. Sorry." He murmured once they had stopped laughing. She smiled across at him, tracing the outline of her glass with a finger.
"Don't be. I haven't laughed like that for some time."
"I know. I know it's taken some getting used to, being here. You're different, though."
"Obviously," Kathryn made a half-hearted gesture towards her apparel and hair.
"No, it's not that," He glanced at her, and she felt he was taking in the sight of her.
"You act differently as well," He continued, studying her face, "I mean, you're a Captain through and through, but now I feel like I've gotten to know Kathryn as well."
It didn't take her long to realise that she didn't mind him seeing her like this, and even shorter to know that she felt the same.
"You're so kind," She said suddenly, "And resourceful and thoughtful and considerate. I didn't notice that so much before, and now that's what I like about you the most."
Chakotay took her hand gently.
"Come on let's go to the river."

It was a memory that seemed miles removed from her current situation, shuddering lightly while thinking of underwater kisses and silk clinging to wet skin. After that night she had worn the nightdress often as Chakotay's body was always warm, the material felt slightly cooler to the touch, and the whispering silk was about as much as he could bear to lie between them after that night. With so much wear and washing it grew thinner still, but she continued to wear it after the return to the ship and a more comfortable shared room.

Back in the forest Kathryn grasped the end of a broken branch and expected pain to flash across her palm, but instead she felt nothing. She looked wildly towards where the shadow had passed over, but couldn't see anything but empty woods.
Who...she thought desperately, trying to bring the image of Chakotay to her mind, but he remained a blurry silhouette in her imagination. Who was Chakotay? Who was he to her? By this tree there was a pink rose and a ghost of a smile, further up the path there was a stone with a strange, spiral marking...everything to suggest a presence, but no voice, no face, no body...
Kathryn could feel something begin to stir and she started running down the path, knowing they had once tread it together, and she was dodging across the forks and bends and slipping past figures with crinkled foreheads, blistered skin, mechanical components decorating stiff postures, blurred yet familiar faces huddled around a growing oak tree... And yet there was nothing that could stay in her head, for there wasn't anything of interest or anything to connect in the absence of this person who who who without whom...

Kathryn's eyes flew open and she was staring at a dark ceiling. Her throat felt and choked and she struggled to be free of the bedsheet. Once she was able to sit up she took a sip from the glass of water at her elbow, placed just within reach exactly where she could remember putting it before going to bed in the same way as she remembered what was at her other elbow.
She turned to her other side and Chakotay sat up wearily, forehead lined with grogginess and concern.
"Did you have another dream?" He whispered, drawing an arm around her waist. She pressed herself towards his body, grateful for his calming presence and warmth after the chilling solitude of her dream. As usual, she tried to explain what had happened and couldn't make sense of it, garbling images of silk and sycamore trees.
"Well, whatever it might be, maybe sometime you'll realise that I'm always here for you at the end," He murmured sleepily, planting soft kisses in her hair and settling down with a sigh.
Kathryn felt her eyes spring open once again. It was such a simple observation, uttered by her partner while half-asleep when she had spent many waking moments trying to puzzle out the situation by herself.
She shook her head, and wondered at her own stupidity.


Additional notes: Many thanks to CF for the first (and last) sentence, and to Ria and Sira at VAMB for organising another exchange. This was written a few months after I moved to a new city and occupation and was thinking wistfully of spring and symbolism...and I have a fierce fondness for the scene in Eye of the Needle where Janeway is all hair and pink silk and wanted to write something with that image. Thank you for reading!