Disclaimer: I still don’t own them - and any wish I might have had to own them has gradually disappeared. TPTB can do whatever they want - we will do the same.

For Sylvia, Katie, Caffey, Jadie and Mr Jadie - once more around the block?

Written for the 2002 Christmas Contest hosted by SylviaK.

Thanks to Ris for the quick beta :o)

Song: Seven Years - Lee Alexander, sung by Norah Jones (last verse slightly adapted)

Spinning, laughing, dancing to her favorite song A little girl with nothing wrong Is all alone

~ * ~ * ~

Snow was falling all around them, but Gretchen didn’t notice it. As the cold outside had quickly set in, she could feel the frost permeate the house too. Just last week an engineer had come in to check on the environmental systems. Finding nothing wrong with it, he had expressed his surprise at the low temperatures inside. After suggesting the place needed some festive decorations, he quickly left, because the owner’s chilly glare frightened him.

Growing slowly colder, Gretchen moved around trying to dispel the thought that maybe she couldn’t help bring the warmth back in.

~ * ~ * ~

Since Voyager’s return and the arrival of her eldest daughter, she had imagined celebrating this feast of joy with her family - her entire extended family. Gretchen had faithfully read all her daughter’s reports, clearly feeling the unusual bond between her and her crew, and at their homecoming she had embraced all of them like long lost relatives. The joy hadn’t lasted long, because only weeks after moving back into her childhood home, Kathryn Janeway had bought a small cottage, away from civilisation. Gretchen had ever so carefully suggested small changes to be made to the house, but the advice had fallen on deaf ears. Her daughter clearly didn’t want to celebrate Christmas and she projected her cold demeanor on everything, including her own home.

~ * ~ * ~

Eyes wide open Always hoping for the sun And she’ll sing her song to anyone that comes along

Knocking on the door for the third time, Tom became as restless as his wife who was standing behind him. Carefully tucked against her mother’s body for warmth, little Miral had already picked up on the tension of her parents. Her strong wail was echoing through the emptiness that surrounded them. After checking with Gretchen, the young couple had decided to visit their Captain. Everyone was worried about her and no one had, as of yet, been able to talk to her, not even her mother or her sister. Sure, they had exchanged empty pleasantries, but the firm captain’s mask was fully in place whenever Kathryn met anyone. Hoping that maybe, in the comfort of her own home, she would open up to the people she considered to be her close family, Tom and B’Elanna had set out to her house.

~ * ~ * ~

B’Elanna turned around to look at the garden surrounding them. All the plants were safely tucked away for winter, and as she walked up the path around the house, she could see the glow of an old-fashioned green house. Miral had grown more and more restless, but her mother’s movements had temporarily silenced her. She saw shadowy movements inside the small structure. Calling out to her husband, B’Elanna walked over. As she peered inside, she saw the small form of her captain, carefully cradling a tiny looking plant. She knocked on the door before moving inside.

~ * ~ * ~

Fragile as a leaf in autumn Just fallin' to the ground Without a sound

One morning a surprise had been transported into her living room. About a dozen boxes, all wrapped in brightly colored paper, each with a more elaborate bow than the first. Their sizes varied and one was even so small, it was quickly dwarfed by the rest. Kathryn looked at them with a disdainful look. She hadn’t found a return address, and the printing on the card was cryptic enough to make her uneasy. Deep down she had a feeling she knew who had sent her the gifts, but she wasn’t ready to acknowledge the emotions that would accompany them. Carefully shaking the smallest box, she heard the rattle of a chain and the low thump of the object attached to it. Who was she kidding, she could probably tell what was in each of the presents without even making an effort.

After she had read the card for the fifth time, she decided to call her mother. Even though she had talked to Gretchen just that morning, she needed to connect with her for real. It was time.

~ * ~ * ~

After the third ring, Gretchen opened the viewscreen.

“Mom, it’s me. Can we talk?”

“Hello Kathryn, I’ve been waiting for you.”

“He sent me presents, mom, with a card. What do I do now?”

“What does the card say, honey?”

“It’s a quote. Crooked little smile on her face, tells a tale of grace, that’s all her own. Mom, I want to hold a party here. Will you help me?”

~ * ~ * ~

Crooked little smile on her face Tells a tale of grace That’s all her own

This time Miral was tucked away inside her father’s coat, as he waited with his wife for the door to the small cottage to open. The gaping holes that were left by the plants had been filled up with colorful red, orange and yellow leaves. The path to the door was lit by two rows of oil lamps. A large wreath decorated with bows and stars was the focus of Miral’s attention. The whole house portrayed the feelings of its mistress, there was a warmth to it no one could ignore.

~ * ~ * ~

As the door opened, they were let in by Harry Kim who had arrived only minutes earlier. Inside, the noise they had heard outside was amplified by the loud giggling of Icheb and Naomi who were teasing each other mercilessly. Encouraged by a daring Kathryn, the trio was about to turn their attention to Gretchen when the doorbell rang again. Tom and B’Elanna stepped out of the way as they watched Kathryn rush to get to the door first.

~ * ~ * ~

Spinning, laughing, dancing to her favorite song A little girl with nothing wrong And she’s not alone

Seated in a comfortable chair, Gretchen surveyed the people around her. Some of them were sitting on chairs and the sofa, other were standing near the table or the doors. Tom was in the middle of a group of kids, regaling them with fantastical stories about the Starship Voyager and her brave Captain. Said captain kept a close eye on her helmsman, because when needed she would deliberately interrupt Tom’s stories forcing him to get his facts right.

~ * ~ * ~

Gretchen couldn’t help but laugh at Kathryn’s attempts to correct Tom, even though everyone gathered knew it wouldn’t help. After each interruption, Tom’s tales would become even more exaggerated, eliciting laughs from the people involved. Sitting down near her mother’s chair, Kathryn smiled when she was joined by someone else. The tall man gracefully sank down on his knees and handed Gretchen a package. Opening the gift, Gretchen stole a glance at her daughter. It was hard to believe this was the same woman who only a week ago had been too depressed to enjoy life. Now she was glowing with happiness, basking in the love from the people surrounding her, and secure in her love for the man sitting next to her. Her Kathryn wasn’t alone anymore.