Author's note: Again with the general lack of violence for me. Again with the Harry thing. Have an excuse though...this one was written for the recent VAMB Spring Fling exchange. This one was for Tanya, who requested a post-Endgame story where Harry and Seven were the main characters. Though they feature as the two narrators, I did everything I thought I could possibly get away with to make it strongly J/C too, however.

Cheshire is of course the one who suffered through the last minute beta of this, and her help was instrumental to my finishing it on time. She had to feed me some lines to keep the muse going, and one scene in particular, the last scene between Chakotay and Seven, the backbone of it was hers. She can yell if she wants to, but the core of it is hers. Thanks, hon ;)

Interesting Times

** H **

I should be finishing my latest concerto. I'd planned on it, had the clarinet out and tried my hardest to find those elusive last notes for the better part of two hours. I have to say I'm not surprised that even after playing around with various combinations for a while, I've still got nothing. I expected it; I've been stalled out on this piece for a good year now. And no matter how hard I try, those last few measures just won't come to me. If I get anything at all lately, it's hollow or discordant. Disjointed. Or plain wrong for the rest of the piece. I gave up about thirty minutes ago.

Now I stare out at the lush, late summer foliage just past the window. I do that a lot now – stare at the scenery outside. I think it's because the grass is the perfect shade: green, not blue or red. The trees are deciduous, appropriate for this latitude, and producing exactly the kind of flowers they should be making. Not one too many. Not one too few. Not colors slightly off or out of season. And not bursting with fruits so bizarre you need a tricorder just to be able to identify their purpose and composition. The chestnut trees that grow here are full of fruit now, and ready to drop. Ready for animal, wind, or whatever else to scatter them over the flat gardens and beyond, hoping for eventual rooting and sprouting. And I know, because I've done it on more than one occasion, that if I was to walk outside right now and pick up one of those fruits, was to crack open the hard shell and pick out the sweet white meat inside, it would taste exactly like a chestnut should…

I jump at the sudden warmth of a small, strong hand on my shoulder.

Startled, I'm already feeling bad for the startled look on her face at my reaction. I smile down at her, what I hope is reassuringly, as I take her hand in mine.

It's not her fault I still assume that any hand that small on my shoulder…with that slight pressure of maternal pride and concern…must be someone else's. It's not her fault that I just turned and looked at her with a hint of disappointment on my face before I could catch it and realized who she was. None of it was ever her fault.

"Harry?" She's already scolding. "Drink your tea. It'll be cold soon!"

"Thanks, Mom," I tell her as I gently release her hand. "I'll drink it now." Not that I want to. I'll probably toss it into the recycler later when she's not looking, but it's better to oblige her in the little things and keep the peace than to argue, as I learned long ago.

She knows me a little better than that, unfortunately. Folds her arms in that bulldog-stubborn stance of hers. Stands and watches me, waiting for me to move towards the beverage in question, and I sigh inwardly. Force myself to cross away from the window and take the drink she'd brought me – without asking if I wanted any – about twenty minutes ago. Only when I lift the lukewarm cup in my hands and make a show of taking a long sip do the lines around her eyes and mouth relax. Only when I've actually consumed about half the orange tea that used to be my favorite does she smile again: thoroughly pleased with herself.

I only realize I've overdone it with the fake enthusiasm when a sunbeam smile crinkles lines I'd never remembered being on her face when I was on Voyager and staring at her framed holo-image by my bed. "I'll bring you more," she declares and turns to run right to the kitchen.

"Mom! No!" She halts, blinking, and I soften my tone immediately. "No, thank you. I'm fine."

She's hurt now. "It's cold," she declares. "You hate cold tea." I do, but that's not why I don't want it. Not that that's stopping her in a million years from deciding that that's why I'm not enthusiastic about drinking it. "I told you it would get cold–"

I sigh heavily in interruption. "It's fine, Mom. It's good. Thank you. I'm just not thirsty enough to drink any more right now, okay?"

She looks dubious. Like she doesn't believe me. Like she's looked at me for a while now. And I can see the second she opts for another method. "Okay," she gives in. Drops her arms to her side and is obviously racking her brain for something else to talk about.

It only takes about three seconds.

"The music's not going well?"

I let out a beaten huff devoid of emphasis, following her eyes to the discarded clarinet resting on its stand. "No better than it has been for the last year."

"It'll come to you."

"Mmm." The sound I make is noncommittal, because I'm not so sure if it ever will anymore. I've written and rewritten the thing so many times by now that it's starting to feel hopeless.

The silence that falls is comfortable enough as we both gaze out of the same window.

"We're having your favorite for dinner," she breaks in eventually.

The second sigh I repress completely, proud of myself for doing it. Because we're always having my favorite. Every leave I have and manage to come home lately, we're having my favorites. Every. Single. Night. And while I appreciated being spoiled rotten the first few months of being back, it's gotten a little tiresome by now. Because it's weird. Just once, lately, I wish we could do something more normal. Have something I hate for dinner. Just so I can crinkle up my nose and complain the way I used to. Have her smack me playfully on the arm and tell me to eat my vegetables because they're good for me, the way she used to. Have her tell me to practice the clarinet and to call her more often when I'm off on one of the advanced tactical training courses I've been taking lately.

Back when things were normal, and I had to be prompted to remember something like that. Back when I wasn't the son they'd thought was dead and now have been given a second chance with…to undo whatever imaginary mistakes they thought they'd made to lead me to my supposed demise.

And I remember the words of the Starfleet counselor I saw all last year, the first year of our return. Give them time, Harry. It's an adjustment for them, too. They'll come around. Just be patient with them.

I'm trying – Gods, am I trying!

I only smile instead of screaming the way I really want to. Hoping it completely reaches my eyes. "Thanks, Mom."

It seems to satisfy her. She looks happy enough with my appreciation, and I'm glad I bit back on my annoyance now as she squeezes my arm. "Dinner will be ready in about an hour. Don't spoil your appetite!"

I do have to suppress the urge to roll my eyes. She's the one who just brought me an entire cup full of tea and then stood here and watched me drink it. But I'm not supposed to spoil my appetite.

It's a little more normal, though. The smile I give her is a lot more natural this time. A lot more easy. "I won't," I promise as she finally leaves me to myself again.

I set the tea back down on the table. Turn back to the window.

It's funny, in a sad sort of way. I never really thought it could be so bittersweet to be home. To be back in Starfleet, and surrounded by family, and still feel a little…empty.

Maybe I wouldn't normally, but it's been a while since I've heard from any of the Voyager crew. They had become my family, for seven years were all I had. The adjustment to seeing less and less of them as we've all scattered across the sector has been a hard one. I guess I could start contacting people myself. But somehow, I don't really want to bother any of them. Tom and B'Elanna, I've keep up close communication with. We've managed to get together just about every other leave. The Delaney sisters, too, and a few others. But Megan and Jenny just got transferred out to a new post on Salernis V. Tom and B'Elanna are off on a vacation with Miral. It's the first one they've been able to take with just the three of them, and I can't see myself bothering them just for the sake of my having a case of the doldrums. I could seriously go for a grueling game of kal-toh, just to clear my head, but Tuvok's on Vulcan and isn't scheduled to be back on Earth for another eight weeks. The doctor's out on a three month sabbatical at a multi-cultural medical conference, and Seven, last I heard, is over visiting with her aunt. Everyone else is either visiting with family or on active duty at the moment. As for the captain and Chakotay…well, I think the last time anyone heard from Chakotay was about three months after we landed and he resigned his commission.

That one hurt the captain. I think we all saw that. Although publicly she never did anything but support his decision, was even standing by his side when he made the announcement for the press – and floored the rest of us. I like to think the rest of us know the captain…admiral…enough to know how affected she was by his decision. By his leaving for that remote colony on the outskirts of Federation space and then with his lack of communication afterwards.

I like to think I'm not the only one who knows how much that's kept the spring from coming back into her step and the light from creeping back into her eyes ever since. I like to think I'm not the only one who's been bothered by that unfulfilled and sad, worried undertone she thinks she's been hiding from us ever since.

Come to think of it, the admiral has all but disappeared lately, too. I haven't talked to anyone who's really heard from her in the last three months or so. And it's getting to be a little concerning. I can't recall a time before now that I haven't heard from her at least once a month. The one thing that hasn't changed from our days on Voyager is her unfailing insistence on checking up on every member of her crew. At least until recently.

I feel the frown deepening. This is really unlike her at this point. One month missed, I could understand. Two possibly…if Starfleet had actually found work of any significance for her besides making her a perpetual sideshow for the Federation media. But three? Three months? It could even have been longer, I'm realizing, the more I think about it. Does that mean something's wrong? Or just that, maybe, she's managed to move on with her life? Finally? And that that life might not have as much room in it for the rest of us as it used to?

"Harry." I jump again, ready to curse. Grinding my teeth at the way she just startled me again. And if she has another cup of tea in her hands, I'm not sure how much self control it's going to take not to snap at her this time…

I turn, freezing at the sight that greets me in the doorway. At the sight of someone else standing there, beside my mom.

"There's someone here to see you," Mom tells me with a bright smile.

And I guess I shouldn't be as surprised, as shocked to see my visitor as I am. I should've known she wouldn't just give up on us.

I should've known she would never give up on me.

"Admiral!" I exclaim, feeling stupid that that's all I can come up with at the spur of the moment. And then I remember that she's only ever accepted me for who and what I am. Relax under the warm smile she flashes me from the doorway as her crisp, familiar blue eyes pass over me.

"You look good, Lieutenant," she pronounces in that husky voice of hers I've missed so much it almost hurt. "I'd say Earth living still agrees with you."

All the tactical training I've been signing up for, she means. I know my muscles have been steadily building and developing since I've been back, but there's one area that isn't exactly as fit as it could be. "More like my mom's cooking agrees with me," I can't help correcting her with a rueful rub of my midsection – which I have to admit is a bit fuller than it used to be. And I'm grinning sheepishly back at her.

She winks almost too quickly to catch it. "Well," she straightens almost imperceptibly. "Then I'm glad I'll get the chance to experience her talent first-hand." At my questioning look, she exchanges a covert glance with my mom before settling those intense eyes back on me. Her eyebrow rises. "I've been invited for dinner," she explains wryly. "And I was informed that my refusal would be…unpardonably rude." Her eyes sparkle, letting me know she's amused more than anything, but I can't help the wince.

"Mom," I protest in irritation, feeling color come into my face. "The admiral might have to get back to work soon. She probably doesn't have the time to stay…"

"Nonsense. If she can come all the way over here just to see us, then she has time to stay an hour and eat," Mom huffs. Waving her hand in dismissal and feeling entirely too comfortable in putting her arm around the admiral's shoulders, even though she has to lean up a little to do it. I feel my face flushing a deeper red as she continues without even a hint of social awareness, "This one is too thin, too. Just like you. All you Starfleeters are alike. Too much work, not enough taking care of yourselves. And I'm not hearing of the woman who brought my Harry back to me leaving this house until I know she's had at least one decent meal."

The flicker in the admiral's eyes my mom misses, but I catch it before she covers and smiles over it. To my mom, she's the woman who brought me back safely. To the admiral, she's the woman who stranded me in the first place. But she smiles gamely. Puts her arm around my mom as if the two of them are best friends in a blatant camaraderie that should really have me worried as hell if I had time to think about it.

"Well." The admiral locks eyes with me, shrugs, and drawls, "There you have it. It looks like I'm staying."

I can only shake my head at the too-pleased look on my mom's face.