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Lost on the Way to Raven's Island

Chapter Text

He had gone over the plan in detail once again.

Pressing his hands against the cold surface of the window, he watched the rain pour down onto the busy street five storeys below.

It had taken him more than a year to get back on his feet and make the necessary changes. He had only returned to the city after making sure that it was safe to do so.

Grinning he turned around, reaching for the brandy he had just put down on the desk. He inhaled its aroma before sipping it.

The alcohol warmed his belly and spread throughout his veins.

It had been a rough year that had taken its toll on him.

It was worth every sacrifice and now was the perfect time.

He would get his revenge on Kathryn Janeway.

*****

When the phone suddenly rang it was a welcome interruption.

"Hello," Janeway answered in her trademark husky voice.

"Hello, darling," her mother said, sounding happy. "I know it’s late but I have some news that just couldn’t wait."

The Stellar Corporation CEO straightened in her chair behind the desk and rubbed her eyes.

"No problem, Mother. I’m up as you can tell, working late as usual."

"You’re in the office? I’m sure I dialled …"

"No, I’m in the pent house study. Seven is asleep though. She was tired after the trip back from Russia."

"Is she all right?" Gretchen sounded concerned.

"Yes, she’s fine, just tired that’s all. Now, tell me the news. The suspense is killing me."

There was a slight pause.

"Phoebe is moving to your neck of the woods."

Janeway got up from her chair.

"She’s leaving Indiana?" she blurted out. "But she’s always claimed that she rather die than live in a big city!"

"I know and it’s not permanent. Your city hall has commissioned her to do three large murals and it would not be practical for her to commute."

"Does she need a place to stay? She can have the spare room," Janeway offered, cringing a bit when it came to her feisty younger sister.

Phoebe was an artist and only lately had the two women begun to get along. A series of misunderstandings and preconceived ideas had kept the sisters apart for a long time. Now, Janeway and Phoebe were approaching each other with trepidation. Janeway knew she had Seven to thank for this since her fiancée had arranged a family get together for Christmas without informing her. Several issues had been brought out into the light and a much needed healing had begun between Janeway and her closest relatives.

"No, she’ll have a flat close to city hall, I think," her mother now said. "I just wanted to let you know because I’m sure that once Phoebe gets going she won’t remember to eat and certainly not remember to communicate with any of us."

Janeway knew this was true.

"Thanks for telling me, Mother. I think this is great. She deserves this break. Seven will be thrilled; she’s very fond of Phoebe."

The tall blonde had corresponded frequently with the dynamic artist. The two of them were very different but shared a mutual respect for each other that had turned into a warm friendship. Janeway knew that her fiancée had more in common with her sister than she did herself.

"I’m glad you interrupted me," the CEO added and yawned discreetly. "It’s time for me to call it quits. I sat down to go over some contracts and …"

"Lost track of time," her mother filled in.

Janeway laughed.

"You know me too well."

"You’re your father’s daughter, dear."

The CEO knew her mother was right. Edward Janeway had worked endless hours sometimes, completely losing track of time and arriving home in the middle of the night, surprised that it was dark out and everyone was asleep.

She bid her mother goodnight and the rose from the chair. Turning off the light she left her laptop on to download the large presentation she left the study.

Janeway entered the bedroom she shared with Seven and walked over to the bed. Her fiancée was asleep, blonde hair cascading over the pillow and her naked shoulders visible above the bedcovers.

The soft light from the lamp cast a golden glow over her perfect alabaster skin, rendering it satiny smooth glow that made Janeway reach out her hand. Changing her mind, not wanting to wake up the beautiful woman in the bed, the CEO pivoted and went into the bathroom.

Undressing, she put her slacks and silk shirt in the hamper. Divesting herself of her expensive lingerie she stepped into the shower. She would have preferred a bath but it would have taken too long and been too noisy to fill up the large Jacuzzi.

Drying off she glanced into the mirror. She looked tired, she judged. Seven had given her inquisitive looks when Janeway had picked her up at the airport but not said anything. The auburn haired woman regretted not joining Seven when the young woman had decided on an early night.

Perhaps she was long overdue with for break. The Christmas break had been wonderful but the effect of the restful vacation out on Raven’s Island would not last forever. She had made a vow to her fiancée that they would go out there more often and now was a good a time as any to make good on that promise.

She closed the door and started the hairdryer. Quickly drying the rich auburn tresses she then snuck into bed without bothering to put a nightgown on. She snuggled up to Seven, inhaling the younger woman’s enticing scent as the blonde moved in her sleep, wrapping a slender arm around the CEO.

Janeway closed her eyes, feeling that she was where she belonged.

*****

Julia Williams looked at the older woman across the table from her.

"I can’t believe you just said that," she managed.

Beatrice Williams pressed her lips tighter together.

"You had to hear it from someone," she huffed. "You’re about to make the biggest mistake in your life and everyone else is acting like it’s nothing."

Julia frowned.

"By that, I take it you mean my father."

"Yes, he most of all. At least you sisters see it from my point of view."

Of course. Her sisters were carbon copies of their mother. They shared her views, priorities and values in life, even their husbands all fit into the moulds as.

"If this is the only reason for your trip here, you’re wasting your time," Julia hissed, trying to fight the unexpected tears forming behind her eyelids. "I’m in love with Marion; we live together and are creating a very nice home for ourselves."

"You’re career will come to a screeching halt when the firm finds out."

Julia was a well renowned interior designer, working for Bennett & La Cour for several years. She had recently moved to the mother company in the large city where Marion lived. Marion McDunn held the position of sales director at Stellar Ltd. The tall brunette was the love of her life and the reason for this conversation with her mother.

"I’m successful and very happy at the head office, Mother," Julia replied, feeling that she was running out of patience. "Ever since I moved here, things have been going very well. I’m up for a raise soon and …"

"What if they find out?" her mother hissed. "Then you will only dream of raises and promotions."

"Funny you should say that," the interior designer stated. Mrs Williams was a strong advocate for the more conventional stay-at-home-moms that she had been. Julia’s sisters had both followed in their mother’s footsteps. Julia respected their decision and choices. Why could they not do the same for her? "I would think that any setback in my career would please you."

"Not when it entails a scandal!"

Julia got up, her body restless as her mother’s voice pierced her eardrums.

"What scandal are we talking about? Does the fact that I’m happy, in an established relationship provide a little too much gossip for your bridge ladies at the club?"

The older woman leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms in front of her, her lips pressed together in an ugly way.

"You’re breaking your father’s heart and you care to make smart remarks about it. You’re showing such callousness towards your own family, it’s staggering. When I think of all the years I sacrificed being home taking care of you girls …"

"I happen to speak to Daddy every week," Julia lashed out, "and he’s fine with how I choose to live my life. The only reason he hasn’t told you is that he’d never hear the end of it. As for your sacrifice, Mother, I wouldn’t brag about it too much. My sisters and I spent most of our time with Nanny Burns."

"Don’t you dare talk to me that way …"

"I think this is a complete waste of time, Mother. I’m sorry you came all this way for nothing."

Mrs Williams had gotten up from her chair while Julia spoke and now glanced around the almost empty restaurant.

"I’m not about to let you throw your life away because you’re in some phase," she spat.

"Stop it," Julia said, her voice tired. "I won’t even dignify that with an answer."

The smaller woman picked up her bag and swept by her daughter, not uttering another word.

Julia watched her mother storm out of the restaurant.

Her mother would never change. She knew that the possibility of Deborah Williams accepting her daughter’s choices in life was not very likely.

Of course, true to form, her mother had not even bothered to offer to pick up her part of the check. Pulling out her wallet from the leather bag beside her, Julia sighed in mock exasperation and waved the waiter over.

Walking outside and looking around for a cab, Julia felt strange. She was not sure what prompted the disturbing emotion. Deborah’s vehement voice rang in her ears.

Somehow she had a hunch that she had not heard the last from her mother yet.

*****

Annika Hansen, known to her family and friends as Seven, stood in her office gazing out across the large city.

Her office was on the executive floor, seventy-nine storeys up. The penthouse on the eightieth floor belonged to her and Kathryn.

She was too far up to be able to see the street but knew it was busy this time of day.

"A penny for them?" a throaty, beloved voice said from behind.

"Kathryn," the blonde said and glanced over her shoulder.

Her fiancée wore her hair up in a loose bun with small tresses falling around her cheekbones. Dressed in a navy blue trouser suit over an ivory sleeveless blouse and with discreet jewellery Kathryn Janeway looked every bit the part of a successful CEO for a multibillion conglomerate.

"You looked so far away, darling," the auburn haired woman said and walked up to Seven. "Are you homesick?"

Yes! Not wanting to let on just how much, Seven tried to shrug casually.

"Perhaps a little," she agreed. "Spring is almost here and I …"

She broke off when Kathryn gave a broad smile.

"And you’re dying to go out to Raven’s Island and get those alabaster hands dirty in the garden," the CEO claimed.

Seven blushed faintly.

"You know me," she allowed. "I miss it this time of year."

"I know you do. You miss it every summer, fall and winter too."

Not sure if Kathryn was being facetious, Seven clasped her hands behind her back, as was her way when she felt unsure or awkward.

"I’m only joking," the older woman smiled. "I think it’s long overdue for us to go out there to make sure everything is well with the house and the grounds."

Seven’s heart skipped a beat. She was not sure if it was the fact that she would see her childhood home soon or the fact that she would have Kathryn to herself for days that made her feel so happy.

Wrapping her arms around the other woman, she hugged her tight.

"Oh, Kathryn," she murmured. "I look forward to it. When can we go?"

"I thought this Friday, darling. We’ll have a few days to pack and finish up some projects and I thought we should clear our calendars so we can stay at least a week."

"A whole week? Are you sure you can take that much time off?" Seven asked, feeling incredulous.

"Now, don’t faint or anything, but I’ve missed the peace and quite there too."

The blonde’s eyes grew wide.

"You’ve missed Raven’s Island?" she asked, amazed.

"Well, perhaps I really missed the Seven I have all to myself when we’re out there. You become nature-girl and no matter how sexy and beautiful you are dressed like this," the CEO gestured towards Seven’s plum power suite, "I adore when you look like the first time I saw you."

The younger woman chuckled quietly. She had been a true nature-girl when she had first applied for a job at Stellar Ltd. Wearing simple clothes she had walked right onto Kathryn’s executive floor and into her bed. Losing her heart instantly to the charismatic leader it had taken some convincing before she realised that Kathryn reciprocated her feelings.

"You enjoy looking at me in torn jeans and tank tops?" she asked with humorous gleam in her blue eyes.

"Not only that," the CEO agreed readily. "I like divesting you of said items."

Leaning in for a kiss, Seven brushed her full lips over her fiancées narrow ones. Kathryn opened her mouth and deepened the kiss, demonstrating without a doubt just how much she desired her partner.

"Bad timing?" a matter of fact voice said from behind.

Seven let go of Kathryn.

"Marion," she greeted warmly. "You are back too."

"Yes, I am," the sales director said. "If I had known you were reminiscing or something I would have knocked. But seeing as the door was open, I didn’t think I was impolite to just let myself in."

"Funny," Kathryn remarked and put her arm around Seven’s waist. "I read the report you emailed me yesterday. ReyVa Inc is showing great potential."

"Yes, I agree. It will be interesting to see how this develops. They are relatively new on the market but their ideas are fresh and innovative," Marion agreed. "I met with most of their head honchos but I missed the opportunity to meet with one of the major owners. Rick Reymers was still in Europe drawing up guidelines for ReyVa’s new head office in London. I think they’ve showed good business sense not going public too soon. Doing it last year was apparently just right."

"I trust your judgement on this. Well, I’m glad you’re back," Kathryn smiled. "Seven and I are going to take next week off for some much needed R&R. We’re heading towards Raven’s Island."

"Ah, it’s that time again," Marion grinned. "Well, I’m about to head home and do some damage control."

"Damage control?" Seven asked, concerned even if it was obvious that her friend was exaggerating.

"Oh, I’m not the one in the doghouse right now," the dark haired woman assured the blonde. "Julia had a surprise visit from her mother while I was gone and apparently, but not surprisingly, it didn’t go so swell."

"Is Julia all right?" Kathryn sounded concerned.

"I think so; I just need to make sure with my own eyes. Julia can be stubborn about how she’s dealing with things. She feels she has to take on her entire family on her own – I mean, when she has me!"

The CEO laughed.

"Yes, you being the born diplomat and all, Marion." The older woman snorted. "I can see how you would rub Mrs Williams in absolutely the wrong way."

"I know," Marion agreed. "Nevertheless, I’ll be heading home now. Talk to you nice ladies tomorrow."

She waved to them and was out of Seven’s office before they had a chance to utter a word.

"Tomorrow’s Wednesday," Kathryn stated, hugging the blonde tight. "If we’re efficient tomorrow we can clear our schedule, pack most of our things the day after and make an early start before rush hour Friday afternoon. That way we can be out on the island and have a fire going before it’s too late."

Seven nodded eagerly, happy beyond words about Kathryn’s suggestion.

"I look forward to this very much," she murmured against the auburn hair in front of her.

"Me too," Kathryn murmured.

More than a whole week on Raven’s Island with nothing to disturb Kathryn and herself! That would be pure bliss, Seven thought.

That would give her enough time for what she wanted to discuss with her beloved.

*****

The man reached out and picked up the cell phone.

"Go ahead," he said in an abrupt voice after glancing at the caller ID display.

"A window of opportunity has presented itself unexpectedly," an indifferent voice stated. "I recommend that you give the go ahead for tomorrow."

He frowned, twisting the cord around his fingers.

"So soon?" he questioned. "Will everything be done according to plan if we do?"

"Yes, sir," the anonymous man assured him. "We’ve ironed out every possible scenario imaginable and a few others. We’ll be able to handle anything that comes up."

The man hesitated for a moment. He pictured the woman he hated more than anything, once his Nemesis, and the pain he would cause her and a broad smile formed on his lips. Roles would now be reversed.

Then there was the other one, the golden goddess that had almost been his …

"Do it. Report according to schedule."

He hung up.

Walking over to the open fireplace he stood motionless for a moment.

Apart from making sure that justice was served – this would be fun.

*****

Marion opened the door to the apartment. The only source of illumination was the flickering light from a large tray of candles on the coffee table.

The sales director stopped in the doorway to the living room and took in the sight of her partner sitting on the couch. Julia’s was sitting with her arms around her pulled up legs, pressing her cheek against her knees.

Marion let her coat fall onto a chair and walked over to the couch.

Her heart overflowed with love and sympathy. Sitting down next to the younger woman, she pulled her into a tight embrace, just holding the woman she loved close.

"You’re home," Julia murmured.

Marion was appalled to hear how empty the interior designer’s voice was. Usually Julia displayed an extrovert, electric personality combined with an endearing shyness that Marion found very appealing. Life with Julia was more than she ever could have hoped for.

"Has she gone home?" Marion now asked.

"I think so. She said some pretty ugly things before she left though."

Furious, but determined not to let it show, the dark haired woman held her partner tight.

"I guess it’ll take some effort on our part to convince her," she tried, keeping her voice light.

"We’re not going to," Julia said darkly. "My father has reluctantly accepted my chosen profession, the fact that I’m in love with another woman, and that I intend to stay in this city. I’m not going to waste time trying to convince my mother who’s firm belief is that I can’t do anything right."

Marion knew that even if she agreed with Julia, she couldn’t say so out loud. She did not want to badmouth the younger woman’s mother in case they did see eye to eye at one point in their life.

"Maybe she just needs more time," Marion suggested. "Just give her space and make sure you keep your distance so she can’t get to you, honey."

Julia pivoted in Marion’s arms and then hugged her close.

"She reduces me back to the powerless child I used to be, to the teenager who … I don’t know … who wanted so much, who tried to fit in but knew it was a lost cause."

Disturbed by Julia’s defeated tone of voice, Marion pulled back a little, frowning.

"You’re not that child anymore. You’re letting her get under your skin. You’re talented, strong, and you’re highly successful. You love me, don’t you?"

Julia’s eyes widened. Large tears dwelled on the young woman’s eyelashes, trembling as they clung there, refusing to fall.

"You know I do," she replied, her voice husky.

"Nothing can change that, right? You’ve stood up to your mother before and no matter what she says to you, it’s up to you if she drains you or not. Don’t let her."

"That’s why I don’t want to talk to her anymore. I don’t want to waste my time trying to change her because I can’t."

Marion’s heart bled for the torment in her partner’s voice. She knew how hard Julia had had to fight for her independence.

"Look, at least your father is warming up to the fact that you’ve found your way in life," she tried. "Focus on him. I don’t know him but from what you’ve told me, he seems somewhat more reasonable than your mother."

The obvious understatement brought a reluctant smile to Julia’s lips.

"Yes, he is," she sighed and relaxed against Marion. "He actually mentioned something about visiting us next time he’s here on business."

"Really? Well, there you go. Take that to heart instead of anything your mother says. Pretty predictable, isn’t she? She never acts out of character."

Julia laughed and one teardrop spilled over. Marion leaned in and kissed it away.

"There, honey, don’t cry."

She kissed the soft pink lips that trembled under hers. The kiss soon deepened and pressing Julia against the backrest of the couch, Marion slowly opened the younger woman’s terrycloth robe.

"Marion," Julia sighed into the kiss.

Tongues met and parted slowly, keeping the kiss light still, but with growing passion. Marion let her hands slip inside the robe, delighted to feel nothing but soft skin.

Julia had put on at least eight very becoming pounds since she moved in with her partner. The fullness of her breasts now filled Marion’s hands as she caressed them lovingly.

"Lean back, honey," Marion whispered and pulled the robe down Julia’s arms, making it impossible for her to move them.

Julia gave a soft gasp and arched her back, making the robe open up completely.

"God, you’re beautiful," the older woman breathed, letting her hands roam the pale skin. "You smell so good."

Leaning forward she captured an erect nipple into her mouth, nibbling it before flicking her tongue over it. Julia’s moans urged her on. She cupped the sensitive orbs and feasted on the nipples, switching back and forth between them, over and over.

"Marion, please …" Julia whimpered. "You’re driving me crazy."

"Am I now? Good."

Marion slid off the couch and knelt between the other woman’s thighs. Pulling Julia’s knees apart, she heard her partner inhale audibly.

"Trust me; beautiful," the sales director insisted.

Julia’s legs trembled as she complied. She locked her half closed eyes on Marion as the elegant woman let her hands slide up the inside of her thighs.

Marion smiled, guessing that she probably looked more feral than soothing now. She knew she sometimes made Julia nervous but in a way that further inflamed the younger woman’s senses.

Still dressed in her black trouser suite, Marion knew that this would make Julia feel all the more vulnerable and exposed. Nudging the slender thighs further apart she instructed her lover to hold on to her knees.

Julia looked like she wanted to object but then did as she was told, blushing profusely. She could hardly reach her knees, having her arms tangled inside the robe. She managed to pull her legs up far enough to grab her knees and by doing this, spreading herself wide open.

"That’s my girl," Marion said and leaned forward.

Breathing hotly across the apex between Julia’s thighs, she felt the younger woman tremble. She parted the slick folds, caressing them as she did. Strangled sounds came out of Julia’s mouth as she obviously fought to not close her legs.

Marion kissed her way up a silken thigh. Reaching the dark patch of hair, she parted the folds more and let her tongue grace the small nubbin of nerves she unveiled. Julia whimpered, trying to free her arms from the robe.

"No, Julia, I told you to hold on to your knees," Marion said, raising her head.

"Oh, God," Julia whispered. "Marion …"

The older woman lowered her head and opened her mouth over the small nodule again. Julia began to undulate beneath her, sobbing her name over and over as she struggled to get closer to the greedy mouth.

"That’s it … come on, honey …" Marion urged Julia on, her voice reverberating against her partner’s sensitive tissues. "Let go. Just let yourself go."

"Marion … Marion …" Julia sobbed.

Instinctively Marion got up and freed her partner from the robe. She sat down on the couch again and pulled the naked woman close. Pushing her fingers down between Julia’s soaked folds she rubbed her intently, not taking her eyes of the narrow face.

"There, I’ve got you," she murmured. "I love you, Julia. Come for me."

Julia clung to her, hiding her hot face at the base of Marion’s neck. Whimpering uncontrollably she gave in.

The young woman convulsed repeatedly, murmuring and moaning softly as the orgasm shook her slender frame. Marion held her tight, her hand buried between quivering thighs.

"That’s it," she cooed. "That’s it, sweetheart."

Julia slowly seemed to descend from whatever cloud of bliss she had visited. Pressing her lips onto Marion’s neck she planted little kisses there.

"Goodness, Marion, that was …"

"Great? Unbelievable? The most amazing sex you’ve ever had?"

Julia gave a muted giggle against the skin she just kissed.

"Sure. All of the above, sweetie," she conceded.

"Feel better? Did this relax you?"

Julia withdrew with a slight frown.

"Is that why you made love to me? To soothe my nerves or something?"

Marion smiled ruefully.

"No, nothing as altruistic as all that," she confessed. "When I realised that you were naked under the robe …"

She gave Julia a sheepish grin.

The younger woman looked inquisitively at Marion for a few moments and then smiled.

"I just don’t want it to ever be for any other reason than that you want me," she said and lowered her eyes.

"Look at me, honey." Marion said, placing a finger under Julia’s chin and tipping it up. "Don’t you know I’ll always want you? Even when I’m too tired and just crash into bed, I want you. Maybe not always for the sex, but certainly always to cuddle, to feel you close. I’m just glad that me wanting you this time also seemed to relax you. Call it a fortunate coincidence."

Julia nodded.

"I love you, Marion," she whispered. "Don’t ever let go."

Marion kissed her.

"I won’t."

*****

Seven walked through the underground garage, approaching her pride and joy.

She gave the silver metallic BMW Z4 a loving look. Having had her driver’s licence for only four months she had finally decided on the sports car. Kathryn who shared an equally affectionate relationship with her bright red MR2 Spyder had thought it a good choice.

Seven had bought the car using her own money which had felt good in an unexpected way.

She had mentioned it to Kathryn and the older woman had credited the sensation to being a sign of true independence, "Up to now, you’ve been working hard at finding your place in the world outside Raven’s Island, darling. This is a pretty tangible symbol that you can not only support yourself, but also decide to buy a car, transport yourself anywhere you want and without having to ask anyone else, including me."

Seven tossed her suitcase into the small trunk. Getting in behind the wheel, a faint smile of pure satisfaction graced her lips. She turned the key in the ignition and started the engine. It came to life with a roar that soon became a content purr as she backed the car out.

Kathryn had had to attend an impromptu meeting on the other side of town. She had called Seven and they had decided to drive separately to the harbour and meet up at the marina where Jacob kept his fishing boat. The fisherman was a lifelong friend of hers and now also of Kathryn’s.

She drove out of the garage and navigated through the busy streets, feeling the powerful car respond to her every command.

The drive was normally less than an hour but during rush hour it took longer.

The cell phone connected to a hands-free device rang. Pressing a button on the dashboard Seven answered.

"Hello?"

"Seven? It’s Phoebe!"

"Phoebe! So good to hear your voice. Kathryn told me the good news," the blonde smiled as she heard the energetic voice of her fiancée’s sister.

"Yes, it’s great, isn’t it? I’ve found a small apartment just a few blocks from Stellar Ltd so you can count on me showing up for free meals all the time."

Seven laughed. She liked Phoebe’s droll sense of humour and she knew that Kathryn regarded the mutual friendship with amused exasperation.

"When will you move in?"

"This weekend, actually, but it’s not really a move. I’m renting a fully furnished apartment that has everything so I just have to bring clothes and personal items. I’m planning on staying six months to begin with. I have an option to prolong the contract for another six months if I have to. Then I’m going back to Indiana."

"Will Gretchen be very lonely without you?"

"Mother? Lonely? I hardly get to see her as it is because she’s so busy. Besides, I think she’ll come and visit all of us in a few weeks."

"We would love to have her stay with us."

"Good, since the flat I’m renting is a tad on the small side."

They chatted for a few minutes longer about the work Phoebe was going to do for the city. The murals would be located in three major city-owned buildings and the theme, which had rendered Phoebe the commission, was "Children – History and Future". The artist described how she had sent in three samples that apparently had convinced the jury that she had what they wanted.

"I am happy for you, Phoebe," Seven said. "You deserve this. Your paintings are wonderful."

"I’m glad you think so, sweetie. That means a lot to me. You’ve done wonders for this family and I love you for it."

Seven blushed faintly at the praise that she found slightly exaggerated but gratifying none the less.

After exchanging niceties and planning to get together for dinner when Seven and Kathryn came back to the city, they hung up.

Seven had reached the interstate and was now making good speed. She looked forward to meeting her old friend; they always made good use of the long journeys on Jacob’s boat to Raven’s Island by catching up on what had happened since they last met.

She pushed a button on the radio and her favourite radio station began to play the soft jazz she liked so much. Smiling to herself she hummed with the music, daydreaming of the days and nights she would spend alone with her fiancée on her beloved island.

She pictured them sitting on the soft rug by the fireplace, sipping red wine and listening to nothing but the crackling fire and the wind against the windows. Seven loved how Kathryn’s auburn hair reflected the flickering light and how red highlights made it sparkle. She would bury her face in the shoulder long tresses and inhale the tantalising scent of Kathryn’s perfume.

She reached the exit to Brimmerton, the small fishing village where the marina was located. Driving down the local road, she watched the early signs of summer around her. It was still a bit cold and it was not possible to drive her sports car without the roof up for any longer distances. Still, all the trees were green and nature was preparing for the warmer season.

Seven drove through the village towards the marina. She spotted Jacob’s boat at the far end of the peer as she parked her car in the private parking lot used only by those who owned property in the archipelago.

Grabbing her suitcase and locking the car, she walked briskly towards the well kept fishing boat. She could not see Jacob around but knew he was expecting her and Kathryn.

Seven pulled her cell phone from her pocket as she walked up the gangway. She knew that her fiancée was famous for losing track of time and being late. Punching in the speed dial to Kathryn’s phone to ask if the other woman was on her way yet, she raised her gaze as a banging noise broke through the sound of screeching seagulls and the crashing of waves against the peer.

Goosebumps on the back of her neck told her something was wrong.

She stepped onboard the fishing boat, noticing that the door to the bridge was open, swinging back and forth in the wind.

Still pressing the cell phone to her ear, Seven walked quickly towards the door and looked inside. To her horror, she saw legs clad in large rubber boots sticking out at an odd angle behind the large wheel.

"Jacob!" she gasped, taking another step forward.

Something pulled at her waist while a cloth was pressed over her mouth. She tried not to inhale, realising that she should hold her breath. She struggled to free herself, the fumes from the cloth almost blinding her. She could still see what had to be Jacob behind the wheel.

The arm around her was like a band of steel, pressing what little air she had in her lungs out, forcing her to inhale. Her head began to spin. Nausea hit and bile rose in her throat. She tried in vain to kick the person restraining her but her limbs were weak, she could hardly move.

The last thing she heard was Kathryn’s voice disappearing in a daze as she dropped the cell phone.

*****

"Seven? Hello, Seven? Can you hear me?"

Janeway regarded the display on her cell phone with a frown. Seven had called but then been disconnected.

Pressing #1 she used the speed dial. It rang six times at the other end and then she heard Seven’s voice.

"I regret I am not available to take your call, but leave your name and number so I can get back to you. Thank you."

"Damn, must be lousy coverage on the boat," Janeway muttered.

She turned to the tall man that had walked her to the door.

"Sorry about that, Mr Gallagher. I guess I’m off then. I’ll be out of town for a week but my sales director, Marion McDunn will be able to answer any questions that you might have."

"Thank you, Ms Janeway. I’m sure we covered most of it. I can’t say how much I appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with me in person. Sorry it took so much longer than we anticipated today."

It had taken way too long, Janeway thought. Not until she had pointedly glanced at her watch for the third time had the man in front of her made the effort to wrap it all up.

"Don’t mention it," she replied diplomatically. "Have a nice weekend."

"You too."

Relieved to finally be on her way, Janeway hurried towards the parking lot.

She tried twice more with the same discouraging result. She left a short message that she was on her way, which was almost true. She had just left the office of a daughter company of ReyVa Inc and was heading for her car.

She got in behind the wheel and started the engine. Pulling out of the parking lot she was quickly engulfed by the rush hour traffic. She knew she would reach the interstate in a few minutes from where she was.

It disturbed her that Seven had called and that she had not been able to talk to her. Glancing at her phone she pressed the speed dial again. Still the same message. She found it strange since both she and Seven had used their cell phones there several times.

She could not shake the feeling that something was wrong. Annoyed with herself that she would overreact this way, she pushed the accelerator and passed two cars on her way to the exit ramp.

It took her longer than she thought to get to Brimmerton. When she arrived at the marina, she was relieved to see Seven’s car in the parking lot. She knew the blonde was a good driver but she did lack the routine that only years of experience could provide.

Grabbing her bag, she locked her car and started walking towards the peer. When she closed in on Jacob’s boat she noticed several people moving about the deck and on the quay. Frowning, she felt her heart start to pound and she lengthened her stride.

"What’s going on?" she called out when she reached the crowd. "Where’s Jacob?"

"He’s been attacked, ma’am," a tall burly man next to her said. "I’m Sergeant Cutter, Brimmerton police."

"I’m Kathryn Janeway. Jacob is a good friend. What do you mean, attacked?" Janeway exclaimed, a cold sensation starting in the pit of her stomach.

"One of his colleagues needed to borrow something and came onboard fifteen minutes ago. He found Jacob unconscious on the bridge."

"How do you know he’s been attacked? Was there a woman with him? Annika Hansen?"

The police officer seemed a bit taken aback as the woman rattled questions at him.

"We have no information about anyone else being found in there. We’re in the process of searching the boat for leads as we speak. The reason we know Jacob was attacked is because his hands were tied behind his back."

Where the hell was Seven?

"And there’s no sign of anyone else being here? My … friend was supposed to meet me here; Jacob was taking us both to her island. Her car is in the parking lot!"

A cold sweat broke out on her forehead and she thought her knees would give in any second.

"Sorry, ma’am, but …"

"Sir! Sir, we’ve found something!" a young police officer called from the boat.

Janeway felt herself go pale as she followed the sergeant onto the gangway.

"What is it, Perkins?" the senior officer asked.

"Here sir, I didn’t want to touch it, but if you lean down …"

They all followed suit and looked under the bench at the back of the bridge.

"Oh, God …" Janeway exhaled and fumbled for the wall to not fall over.

Sergeant Cutter reached for his baton and nudged the object closer to them.

It was a cell phone, flipped open and damaged.

"You recognise it, Ms Janeway?"

"Seven … I mean, Annika has one just like it. I’m sure it’s hers."

She was utterly amazed that her voice worked when the rest of her body seemed to be shutting down.

"Then I’m certain you realise that we have an even more serious case on our hands," Cutter said, his voice solemn. "I’m going to call for back up."

He stepped out.

The young police officer carefully picked up the mangled cell phone with gloved hands and put it in a plastic bag.

Not quite knowing why, Janeway pulled her own cell phone out of her pocket and pressed #1. The young man holding the plastic bag stopped in his tracks.

"It’s not ringing but the display is flickering," he said, sounding baffled.

Forcing back the tears, Janeway hung up before hearing Seven’s voice repeating the message again.

Right now that would have been too much.

*****

Continued in "Lost on the Way to Raven's Island" - part 2

Chapter Text

He had gone over the plan in detail once again.

Pressing his hands against the cold surface of the window, he watched the rain pour down onto the busy street five storeys below.

It had taken him more than a year to get back on his feet and make the necessary changes. He had only returned to the city after making sure that it was safe to do so.

Grinning he turned around, reaching for the brandy he had just put down on the desk. He inhaled its aroma before sipping it.

The alcohol warmed his belly and spread throughout his veins.

It had been a rough year that had taken its toll on him.

It was worth every sacrifice and now was the perfect time.

He would get his revenge on Kathryn Janeway.

*****

When the phone suddenly rang it was a welcome interruption.

"Hello," Janeway answered in her trademark husky voice.

"Hello, darling," her mother said, sounding happy. "I know it’s late but I have some news that just couldn’t wait."

The Stellar Corporation CEO straightened in her chair behind the desk and rubbed her eyes.

"No problem, Mother. I’m up as you can tell, working late as usual."

"You’re in the office? I’m sure I dialled …"

"No, I’m in the pent house study. Seven is asleep though. She was tired after the trip back from Russia."

"Is she all right?" Gretchen sounded concerned.

"Yes, she’s fine, just tired that’s all. Now, tell me the news. The suspense is killing me."

There was a slight pause.

"Phoebe is moving to your neck of the woods."

Janeway got up from her chair.

"She’s leaving Indiana?" she blurted out. "But she’s always claimed that she rather die than live in a big city!"

"I know and it’s not permanent. Your city hall has commissioned her to do three large murals and it would not be practical for her to commute."

"Does she need a place to stay? She can have the spare room," Janeway offered, cringing a bit when it came to her feisty younger sister.

Phoebe was an artist and only lately had the two women begun to get along. A series of misunderstandings and preconceived ideas had kept the sisters apart for a long time. Now, Janeway and Phoebe were approaching each other with trepidation. Janeway knew she had Seven to thank for this since her fiancée had arranged a family get together for Christmas without informing her. Several issues had been brought out into the light and a much needed healing had begun between Janeway and her closest relatives.

"No, she’ll have a flat close to city hall, I think," her mother now said. "I just wanted to let you know because I’m sure that once Phoebe gets going she won’t remember to eat and certainly not remember to communicate with any of us."

Janeway knew this was true.

"Thanks for telling me, Mother. I think this is great. She deserves this break. Seven will be thrilled; she’s very fond of Phoebe."

The tall blonde had corresponded frequently with the dynamic artist. The two of them were very different but shared a mutual respect for each other that had turned into a warm friendship. Janeway knew that her fiancée had more in common with her sister than she did herself.

"I’m glad you interrupted me," the CEO added and yawned discreetly. "It’s time for me to call it quits. I sat down to go over some contracts and …"

"Lost track of time," her mother filled in.

Janeway laughed.

"You know me too well."

"You’re your father’s daughter, dear."

The CEO knew her mother was right. Edward Janeway had worked endless hours sometimes, completely losing track of time and arriving home in the middle of the night, surprised that it was dark out and everyone was asleep.

She bid her mother goodnight and the rose from the chair. Turning off the light she left her laptop on to download the large presentation she left the study.

Janeway entered the bedroom she shared with Seven and walked over to the bed. Her fiancée was asleep, blonde hair cascading over the pillow and her naked shoulders visible above the bedcovers.

The soft light from the lamp cast a golden glow over her perfect alabaster skin, rendering it satiny smooth glow that made Janeway reach out her hand. Changing her mind, not wanting to wake up the beautiful woman in the bed, the CEO pivoted and went into the bathroom.

Undressing, she put her slacks and silk shirt in the hamper. Divesting herself of her expensive lingerie she stepped into the shower. She would have preferred a bath but it would have taken too long and been too noisy to fill up the large Jacuzzi.

Drying off she glanced into the mirror. She looked tired, she judged. Seven had given her inquisitive looks when Janeway had picked her up at the airport but not said anything. The auburn haired woman regretted not joining Seven when the young woman had decided on an early night.

Perhaps she was long overdue with for break. The Christmas break had been wonderful but the effect of the restful vacation out on Raven’s Island would not last forever. She had made a vow to her fiancée that they would go out there more often and now was a good a time as any to make good on that promise.

She closed the door and started the hairdryer. Quickly drying the rich auburn tresses she then snuck into bed without bothering to put a nightgown on. She snuggled up to Seven, inhaling the younger woman’s enticing scent as the blonde moved in her sleep, wrapping a slender arm around the CEO.

Janeway closed her eyes, feeling that she was where she belonged.

*****

Julia Williams looked at the older woman across the table from her.

"I can’t believe you just said that," she managed.

Beatrice Williams pressed her lips tighter together.

"You had to hear it from someone," she huffed. "You’re about to make the biggest mistake in your life and everyone else is acting like it’s nothing."

Julia frowned.

"By that, I take it you mean my father."

"Yes, he most of all. At least you sisters see it from my point of view."

Of course. Her sisters were carbon copies of their mother. They shared her views, priorities and values in life, even their husbands all fit into the moulds as.

"If this is the only reason for your trip here, you’re wasting your time," Julia hissed, trying to fight the unexpected tears forming behind her eyelids. "I’m in love with Marion; we live together and are creating a very nice home for ourselves."

"You’re career will come to a screeching halt when the firm finds out."

Julia was a well renowned interior designer, working for Bennett & La Cour for several years. She had recently moved to the mother company in the large city where Marion lived. Marion McDunn held the position of sales director at Stellar Ltd. The tall brunette was the love of her life and the reason for this conversation with her mother.

"I’m successful and very happy at the head office, Mother," Julia replied, feeling that she was running out of patience. "Ever since I moved here, things have been going very well. I’m up for a raise soon and …"

"What if they find out?" her mother hissed. "Then you will only dream of raises and promotions."

"Funny you should say that," the interior designer stated. Mrs Williams was a strong advocate for the more conventional stay-at-home-moms that she had been. Julia’s sisters had both followed in their mother’s footsteps. Julia respected their decision and choices. Why could they not do the same for her? "I would think that any setback in my career would please you."

"Not when it entails a scandal!"

Julia got up, her body restless as her mother’s voice pierced her eardrums.

"What scandal are we talking about? Does the fact that I’m happy, in an established relationship provide a little too much gossip for your bridge ladies at the club?"

The older woman leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms in front of her, her lips pressed together in an ugly way.

"You’re breaking your father’s heart and you care to make smart remarks about it. You’re showing such callousness towards your own family, it’s staggering. When I think of all the years I sacrificed being home taking care of you girls …"

"I happen to speak to Daddy every week," Julia lashed out, "and he’s fine with how I choose to live my life. The only reason he hasn’t told you is that he’d never hear the end of it. As for your sacrifice, Mother, I wouldn’t brag about it too much. My sisters and I spent most of our time with Nanny Burns."

"Don’t you dare talk to me that way …"

"I think this is a complete waste of time, Mother. I’m sorry you came all this way for nothing."

Mrs Williams had gotten up from her chair while Julia spoke and now glanced around the almost empty restaurant.

"I’m not about to let you throw your life away because you’re in some phase," she spat.

"Stop it," Julia said, her voice tired. "I won’t even dignify that with an answer."

The smaller woman picked up her bag and swept by her daughter, not uttering another word.

Julia watched her mother storm out of the restaurant.

Her mother would never change. She knew that the possibility of Deborah Williams accepting her daughter’s choices in life was not very likely.

Of course, true to form, her mother had not even bothered to offer to pick up her part of the check. Pulling out her wallet from the leather bag beside her, Julia sighed in mock exasperation and waved the waiter over.

Walking outside and looking around for a cab, Julia felt strange. She was not sure what prompted the disturbing emotion. Deborah’s vehement voice rang in her ears.

Somehow she had a hunch that she had not heard the last from her mother yet.

*****

Annika Hansen, known to her family and friends as Seven, stood in her office gazing out across the large city.

Her office was on the executive floor, seventy-nine storeys up. The penthouse on the eightieth floor belonged to her and Kathryn.

She was too far up to be able to see the street but knew it was busy this time of day.

"A penny for them?" a throaty, beloved voice said from behind.

"Kathryn," the blonde said and glanced over her shoulder.

Her fiancée wore her hair up in a loose bun with small tresses falling around her cheekbones. Dressed in a navy blue trouser suit over an ivory sleeveless blouse and with discreet jewellery Kathryn Janeway looked every bit the part of a successful CEO for a multibillion conglomerate.

"You looked so far away, darling," the auburn haired woman said and walked up to Seven. "Are you homesick?"

Yes! Not wanting to let on just how much, Seven tried to shrug casually.

"Perhaps a little," she agreed. "Spring is almost here and I …"

She broke off when Kathryn gave a broad smile.

"And you’re dying to go out to Raven’s Island and get those alabaster hands dirty in the garden," the CEO claimed.

Seven blushed faintly.

"You know me," she allowed. "I miss it this time of year."

"I know you do. You miss it every summer, fall and winter too."

Not sure if Kathryn was being facetious, Seven clasped her hands behind her back, as was her way when she felt unsure or awkward.

"I’m only joking," the older woman smiled. "I think it’s long overdue for us to go out there to make sure everything is well with the house and the grounds."

Seven’s heart skipped a beat. She was not sure if it was the fact that she would see her childhood home soon or the fact that she would have Kathryn to herself for days that made her feel so happy.

Wrapping her arms around the other woman, she hugged her tight.

"Oh, Kathryn," she murmured. "I look forward to it. When can we go?"

"I thought this Friday, darling. We’ll have a few days to pack and finish up some projects and I thought we should clear our calendars so we can stay at least a week."

"A whole week? Are you sure you can take that much time off?" Seven asked, feeling incredulous.

"Now, don’t faint or anything, but I’ve missed the peace and quite there too."

The blonde’s eyes grew wide.

"You’ve missed Raven’s Island?" she asked, amazed.

"Well, perhaps I really missed the Seven I have all to myself when we’re out there. You become nature-girl and no matter how sexy and beautiful you are dressed like this," the CEO gestured towards Seven’s plum power suite, "I adore when you look like the first time I saw you."

The younger woman chuckled quietly. She had been a true nature-girl when she had first applied for a job at Stellar Ltd. Wearing simple clothes she had walked right onto Kathryn’s executive floor and into her bed. Losing her heart instantly to the charismatic leader it had taken some convincing before she realised that Kathryn reciprocated her feelings.

"You enjoy looking at me in torn jeans and tank tops?" she asked with humorous gleam in her blue eyes.

"Not only that," the CEO agreed readily. "I like divesting you of said items."

Leaning in for a kiss, Seven brushed her full lips over her fiancées narrow ones. Kathryn opened her mouth and deepened the kiss, demonstrating without a doubt just how much she desired her partner.

"Bad timing?" a matter of fact voice said from behind.

Seven let go of Kathryn.

"Marion," she greeted warmly. "You are back too."

"Yes, I am," the sales director said. "If I had known you were reminiscing or something I would have knocked. But seeing as the door was open, I didn’t think I was impolite to just let myself in."

"Funny," Kathryn remarked and put her arm around Seven’s waist. "I read the report you emailed me yesterday. ReyVa Inc is showing great potential."

"Yes, I agree. It will be interesting to see how this develops. They are relatively new on the market but their ideas are fresh and innovative," Marion agreed. "I met with most of their head honchos but I missed the opportunity to meet with one of the major owners. Rick Reymers was still in Europe drawing up guidelines for ReyVa’s new head office in London. I think they’ve showed good business sense not going public too soon. Doing it last year was apparently just right."

"I trust your judgement on this. Well, I’m glad you’re back," Kathryn smiled. "Seven and I are going to take next week off for some much needed R&R. We’re heading towards Raven’s Island."

"Ah, it’s that time again," Marion grinned. "Well, I’m about to head home and do some damage control."

"Damage control?" Seven asked, concerned even if it was obvious that her friend was exaggerating.

"Oh, I’m not the one in the doghouse right now," the dark haired woman assured the blonde. "Julia had a surprise visit from her mother while I was gone and apparently, but not surprisingly, it didn’t go so swell."

"Is Julia all right?" Kathryn sounded concerned.

"I think so; I just need to make sure with my own eyes. Julia can be stubborn about how she’s dealing with things. She feels she has to take on her entire family on her own – I mean, when she has me!"

The CEO laughed.

"Yes, you being the born diplomat and all, Marion." The older woman snorted. "I can see how you would rub Mrs Williams in absolutely the wrong way."

"I know," Marion agreed. "Nevertheless, I’ll be heading home now. Talk to you nice ladies tomorrow."

She waved to them and was out of Seven’s office before they had a chance to utter a word.

"Tomorrow’s Wednesday," Kathryn stated, hugging the blonde tight. "If we’re efficient tomorrow we can clear our schedule, pack most of our things the day after and make an early start before rush hour Friday afternoon. That way we can be out on the island and have a fire going before it’s too late."

Seven nodded eagerly, happy beyond words about Kathryn’s suggestion.

"I look forward to this very much," she murmured against the auburn hair in front of her.

"Me too," Kathryn murmured.

More than a whole week on Raven’s Island with nothing to disturb Kathryn and herself! That would be pure bliss, Seven thought.

That would give her enough time for what she wanted to discuss with her beloved.

*****

The man reached out and picked up the cell phone.

"Go ahead," he said in an abrupt voice after glancing at the caller ID display.

"A window of opportunity has presented itself unexpectedly," an indifferent voice stated. "I recommend that you give the go ahead for tomorrow."

He frowned, twisting the cord around his fingers.

"So soon?" he questioned. "Will everything be done according to plan if we do?"

"Yes, sir," the anonymous man assured him. "We’ve ironed out every possible scenario imaginable and a few others. We’ll be able to handle anything that comes up."

The man hesitated for a moment. He pictured the woman he hated more than anything, once his Nemesis, and the pain he would cause her and a broad smile formed on his lips. Roles would now be reversed.

Then there was the other one, the golden goddess that had almost been his …

"Do it. Report according to schedule."

He hung up.

Walking over to the open fireplace he stood motionless for a moment.

Apart from making sure that justice was served – this would be fun.

*****

Marion opened the door to the apartment. The only source of illumination was the flickering light from a large tray of candles on the coffee table.

The sales director stopped in the doorway to the living room and took in the sight of her partner sitting on the couch. Julia’s was sitting with her arms around her pulled up legs, pressing her cheek against her knees.

Marion let her coat fall onto a chair and walked over to the couch.

Her heart overflowed with love and sympathy. Sitting down next to the younger woman, she pulled her into a tight embrace, just holding the woman she loved close.

"You’re home," Julia murmured.

Marion was appalled to hear how empty the interior designer’s voice was. Usually Julia displayed an extrovert, electric personality combined with an endearing shyness that Marion found very appealing. Life with Julia was more than she ever could have hoped for.

"Has she gone home?" Marion now asked.

"I think so. She said some pretty ugly things before she left though."

Furious, but determined not to let it show, the dark haired woman held her partner tight.

"I guess it’ll take some effort on our part to convince her," she tried, keeping her voice light.

"We’re not going to," Julia said darkly. "My father has reluctantly accepted my chosen profession, the fact that I’m in love with another woman, and that I intend to stay in this city. I’m not going to waste time trying to convince my mother who’s firm belief is that I can’t do anything right."

Marion knew that even if she agreed with Julia, she couldn’t say so out loud. She did not want to badmouth the younger woman’s mother in case they did see eye to eye at one point in their life.

"Maybe she just needs more time," Marion suggested. "Just give her space and make sure you keep your distance so she can’t get to you, honey."

Julia pivoted in Marion’s arms and then hugged her close.

"She reduces me back to the powerless child I used to be, to the teenager who … I don’t know … who wanted so much, who tried to fit in but knew it was a lost cause."

Disturbed by Julia’s defeated tone of voice, Marion pulled back a little, frowning.

"You’re not that child anymore. You’re letting her get under your skin. You’re talented, strong, and you’re highly successful. You love me, don’t you?"

Julia’s eyes widened. Large tears dwelled on the young woman’s eyelashes, trembling as they clung there, refusing to fall.

"You know I do," she replied, her voice husky.

"Nothing can change that, right? You’ve stood up to your mother before and no matter what she says to you, it’s up to you if she drains you or not. Don’t let her."

"That’s why I don’t want to talk to her anymore. I don’t want to waste my time trying to change her because I can’t."

Marion’s heart bled for the torment in her partner’s voice. She knew how hard Julia had had to fight for her independence.

"Look, at least your father is warming up to the fact that you’ve found your way in life," she tried. "Focus on him. I don’t know him but from what you’ve told me, he seems somewhat more reasonable than your mother."

The obvious understatement brought a reluctant smile to Julia’s lips.

"Yes, he is," she sighed and relaxed against Marion. "He actually mentioned something about visiting us next time he’s here on business."

"Really? Well, there you go. Take that to heart instead of anything your mother says. Pretty predictable, isn’t she? She never acts out of character."

Julia laughed and one teardrop spilled over. Marion leaned in and kissed it away.

"There, honey, don’t cry."

She kissed the soft pink lips that trembled under hers. The kiss soon deepened and pressing Julia against the backrest of the couch, Marion slowly opened the younger woman’s terrycloth robe.

"Marion," Julia sighed into the kiss.

Tongues met and parted slowly, keeping the kiss light still, but with growing passion. Marion let her hands slip inside the robe, delighted to feel nothing but soft skin.

Julia had put on at least eight very becoming pounds since she moved in with her partner. The fullness of her breasts now filled Marion’s hands as she caressed them lovingly.

"Lean back, honey," Marion whispered and pulled the robe down Julia’s arms, making it impossible for her to move them.

Julia gave a soft gasp and arched her back, making the robe open up completely.

"God, you’re beautiful," the older woman breathed, letting her hands roam the pale skin. "You smell so good."

Leaning forward she captured an erect nipple into her mouth, nibbling it before flicking her tongue over it. Julia’s moans urged her on. She cupped the sensitive orbs and feasted on the nipples, switching back and forth between them, over and over.

"Marion, please …" Julia whimpered. "You’re driving me crazy."

"Am I now? Good."

Marion slid off the couch and knelt between the other woman’s thighs. Pulling Julia’s knees apart, she heard her partner inhale audibly.

"Trust me; beautiful," the sales director insisted.

Julia’s legs trembled as she complied. She locked her half closed eyes on Marion as the elegant woman let her hands slide up the inside of her thighs.

Marion smiled, guessing that she probably looked more feral than soothing now. She knew she sometimes made Julia nervous but in a way that further inflamed the younger woman’s senses.

Still dressed in her black trouser suite, Marion knew that this would make Julia feel all the more vulnerable and exposed. Nudging the slender thighs further apart she instructed her lover to hold on to her knees.

Julia looked like she wanted to object but then did as she was told, blushing profusely. She could hardly reach her knees, having her arms tangled inside the robe. She managed to pull her legs up far enough to grab her knees and by doing this, spreading herself wide open.

"That’s my girl," Marion said and leaned forward.

Breathing hotly across the apex between Julia’s thighs, she felt the younger woman tremble. She parted the slick folds, caressing them as she did. Strangled sounds came out of Julia’s mouth as she obviously fought to not close her legs.

Marion kissed her way up a silken thigh. Reaching the dark patch of hair, she parted the folds more and let her tongue grace the small nubbin of nerves she unveiled. Julia whimpered, trying to free her arms from the robe.

"No, Julia, I told you to hold on to your knees," Marion said, raising her head.

"Oh, God," Julia whispered. "Marion …"

The older woman lowered her head and opened her mouth over the small nodule again. Julia began to undulate beneath her, sobbing her name over and over as she struggled to get closer to the greedy mouth.

"That’s it … come on, honey …" Marion urged Julia on, her voice reverberating against her partner’s sensitive tissues. "Let go. Just let yourself go."

"Marion … Marion …" Julia sobbed.

Instinctively Marion got up and freed her partner from the robe. She sat down on the couch again and pulled the naked woman close. Pushing her fingers down between Julia’s soaked folds she rubbed her intently, not taking her eyes of the narrow face.

"There, I’ve got you," she murmured. "I love you, Julia. Come for me."

Julia clung to her, hiding her hot face at the base of Marion’s neck. Whimpering uncontrollably she gave in.

The young woman convulsed repeatedly, murmuring and moaning softly as the orgasm shook her slender frame. Marion held her tight, her hand buried between quivering thighs.

"That’s it," she cooed. "That’s it, sweetheart."

Julia slowly seemed to descend from whatever cloud of bliss she had visited. Pressing her lips onto Marion’s neck she planted little kisses there.

"Goodness, Marion, that was …"

"Great? Unbelievable? The most amazing sex you’ve ever had?"

Julia gave a muted giggle against the skin she just kissed.

"Sure. All of the above, sweetie," she conceded.

"Feel better? Did this relax you?"

Julia withdrew with a slight frown.

"Is that why you made love to me? To soothe my nerves or something?"

Marion smiled ruefully.

"No, nothing as altruistic as all that," she confessed. "When I realised that you were naked under the robe …"

She gave Julia a sheepish grin.

The younger woman looked inquisitively at Marion for a few moments and then smiled.

"I just don’t want it to ever be for any other reason than that you want me," she said and lowered her eyes.

"Look at me, honey." Marion said, placing a finger under Julia’s chin and tipping it up. "Don’t you know I’ll always want you? Even when I’m too tired and just crash into bed, I want you. Maybe not always for the sex, but certainly always to cuddle, to feel you close. I’m just glad that me wanting you this time also seemed to relax you. Call it a fortunate coincidence."

Julia nodded.

"I love you, Marion," she whispered. "Don’t ever let go."

Marion kissed her.

"I won’t."

*****

Seven walked through the underground garage, approaching her pride and joy.

She gave the silver metallic BMW Z4 a loving look. Having had her driver’s licence for only four months she had finally decided on the sports car. Kathryn who shared an equally affectionate relationship with her bright red MR2 Spyder had thought it a good choice.

Seven had bought the car using her own money which had felt good in an unexpected way.

She had mentioned it to Kathryn and the older woman had credited the sensation to being a sign of true independence, "Up to now, you’ve been working hard at finding your place in the world outside Raven’s Island, darling. This is a pretty tangible symbol that you can not only support yourself, but also decide to buy a car, transport yourself anywhere you want and without having to ask anyone else, including me."

Seven tossed her suitcase into the small trunk. Getting in behind the wheel, a faint smile of pure satisfaction graced her lips. She turned the key in the ignition and started the engine. It came to life with a roar that soon became a content purr as she backed the car out.

Kathryn had had to attend an impromptu meeting on the other side of town. She had called Seven and they had decided to drive separately to the harbour and meet up at the marina where Jacob kept his fishing boat. The fisherman was a lifelong friend of hers and now also of Kathryn’s.

She drove out of the garage and navigated through the busy streets, feeling the powerful car respond to her every command.

The drive was normally less than an hour but during rush hour it took longer.

The cell phone connected to a hands-free device rang. Pressing a button on the dashboard Seven answered.

"Hello?"

"Seven? It’s Phoebe!"

"Phoebe! So good to hear your voice. Kathryn told me the good news," the blonde smiled as she heard the energetic voice of her fiancée’s sister.

"Yes, it’s great, isn’t it? I’ve found a small apartment just a few blocks from Stellar Ltd so you can count on me showing up for free meals all the time."

Seven laughed. She liked Phoebe’s droll sense of humour and she knew that Kathryn regarded the mutual friendship with amused exasperation.

"When will you move in?"

"This weekend, actually, but it’s not really a move. I’m renting a fully furnished apartment that has everything so I just have to bring clothes and personal items. I’m planning on staying six months to begin with. I have an option to prolong the contract for another six months if I have to. Then I’m going back to Indiana."

"Will Gretchen be very lonely without you?"

"Mother? Lonely? I hardly get to see her as it is because she’s so busy. Besides, I think she’ll come and visit all of us in a few weeks."

"We would love to have her stay with us."

"Good, since the flat I’m renting is a tad on the small side."

They chatted for a few minutes longer about the work Phoebe was going to do for the city. The murals would be located in three major city-owned buildings and the theme, which had rendered Phoebe the commission, was "Children – History and Future". The artist described how she had sent in three samples that apparently had convinced the jury that she had what they wanted.

"I am happy for you, Phoebe," Seven said. "You deserve this. Your paintings are wonderful."

"I’m glad you think so, sweetie. That means a lot to me. You’ve done wonders for this family and I love you for it."

Seven blushed faintly at the praise that she found slightly exaggerated but gratifying none the less.

After exchanging niceties and planning to get together for dinner when Seven and Kathryn came back to the city, they hung up.

Seven had reached the interstate and was now making good speed. She looked forward to meeting her old friend; they always made good use of the long journeys on Jacob’s boat to Raven’s Island by catching up on what had happened since they last met.

She pushed a button on the radio and her favourite radio station began to play the soft jazz she liked so much. Smiling to herself she hummed with the music, daydreaming of the days and nights she would spend alone with her fiancée on her beloved island.

She pictured them sitting on the soft rug by the fireplace, sipping red wine and listening to nothing but the crackling fire and the wind against the windows. Seven loved how Kathryn’s auburn hair reflected the flickering light and how red highlights made it sparkle. She would bury her face in the shoulder long tresses and inhale the tantalising scent of Kathryn’s perfume.

She reached the exit to Brimmerton, the small fishing village where the marina was located. Driving down the local road, she watched the early signs of summer around her. It was still a bit cold and it was not possible to drive her sports car without the roof up for any longer distances. Still, all the trees were green and nature was preparing for the warmer season.

Seven drove through the village towards the marina. She spotted Jacob’s boat at the far end of the peer as she parked her car in the private parking lot used only by those who owned property in the archipelago.

Grabbing her suitcase and locking the car, she walked briskly towards the well kept fishing boat. She could not see Jacob around but knew he was expecting her and Kathryn.

Seven pulled her cell phone from her pocket as she walked up the gangway. She knew that her fiancée was famous for losing track of time and being late. Punching in the speed dial to Kathryn’s phone to ask if the other woman was on her way yet, she raised her gaze as a banging noise broke through the sound of screeching seagulls and the crashing of waves against the peer.

Goosebumps on the back of her neck told her something was wrong.

She stepped onboard the fishing boat, noticing that the door to the bridge was open, swinging back and forth in the wind.

Still pressing the cell phone to her ear, Seven walked quickly towards the door and looked inside. To her horror, she saw legs clad in large rubber boots sticking out at an odd angle behind the large wheel.

"Jacob!" she gasped, taking another step forward.

Something pulled at her waist while a cloth was pressed over her mouth. She tried not to inhale, realising that she should hold her breath. She struggled to free herself, the fumes from the cloth almost blinding her. She could still see what had to be Jacob behind the wheel.

The arm around her was like a band of steel, pressing what little air she had in her lungs out, forcing her to inhale. Her head began to spin. Nausea hit and bile rose in her throat. She tried in vain to kick the person restraining her but her limbs were weak, she could hardly move.

The last thing she heard was Kathryn’s voice disappearing in a daze as she dropped the cell phone.

*****

"Seven? Hello, Seven? Can you hear me?"

Janeway regarded the display on her cell phone with a frown. Seven had called but then been disconnected.

Pressing #1 she used the speed dial. It rang six times at the other end and then she heard Seven’s voice.

"I regret I am not available to take your call, but leave your name and number so I can get back to you. Thank you."

"Damn, must be lousy coverage on the boat," Janeway muttered.

She turned to the tall man that had walked her to the door.

"Sorry about that, Mr Gallagher. I guess I’m off then. I’ll be out of town for a week but my sales director, Marion McDunn will be able to answer any questions that you might have."

"Thank you, Ms Janeway. I’m sure we covered most of it. I can’t say how much I appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with me in person. Sorry it took so much longer than we anticipated today."

It had taken way too long, Janeway thought. Not until she had pointedly glanced at her watch for the third time had the man in front of her made the effort to wrap it all up.

"Don’t mention it," she replied diplomatically. "Have a nice weekend."

"You too."

Relieved to finally be on her way, Janeway hurried towards the parking lot.

She tried twice more with the same discouraging result. She left a short message that she was on her way, which was almost true. She had just left the office of a daughter company of ReyVa Inc and was heading for her car.

She got in behind the wheel and started the engine. Pulling out of the parking lot she was quickly engulfed by the rush hour traffic. She knew she would reach the interstate in a few minutes from where she was.

It disturbed her that Seven had called and that she had not been able to talk to her. Glancing at her phone she pressed the speed dial again. Still the same message. She found it strange since both she and Seven had used their cell phones there several times.

She could not shake the feeling that something was wrong. Annoyed with herself that she would overreact this way, she pushed the accelerator and passed two cars on her way to the exit ramp.

It took her longer than she thought to get to Brimmerton. When she arrived at the marina, she was relieved to see Seven’s car in the parking lot. She knew the blonde was a good driver but she did lack the routine that only years of experience could provide.

Grabbing her bag, she locked her car and started walking towards the peer. When she closed in on Jacob’s boat she noticed several people moving about the deck and on the quay. Frowning, she felt her heart start to pound and she lengthened her stride.

"What’s going on?" she called out when she reached the crowd. "Where’s Jacob?"

"He’s been attacked, ma’am," a tall burly man next to her said. "I’m Sergeant Cutter, Brimmerton police."

"I’m Kathryn Janeway. Jacob is a good friend. What do you mean, attacked?" Janeway exclaimed, a cold sensation starting in the pit of her stomach.

"One of his colleagues needed to borrow something and came onboard fifteen minutes ago. He found Jacob unconscious on the bridge."

"How do you know he’s been attacked? Was there a woman with him? Annika Hansen?"

The police officer seemed a bit taken aback as the woman rattled questions at him.

"We have no information about anyone else being found in there. We’re in the process of searching the boat for leads as we speak. The reason we know Jacob was attacked is because his hands were tied behind his back."

Where the hell was Seven?

"And there’s no sign of anyone else being here? My … friend was supposed to meet me here; Jacob was taking us both to her island. Her car is in the parking lot!"

A cold sweat broke out on her forehead and she thought her knees would give in any second.

"Sorry, ma’am, but …"

"Sir! Sir, we’ve found something!" a young police officer called from the boat.

Janeway felt herself go pale as she followed the sergeant onto the gangway.

"What is it, Perkins?" the senior officer asked.

"Here sir, I didn’t want to touch it, but if you lean down …"

They all followed suit and looked under the bench at the back of the bridge.

"Oh, God …" Janeway exhaled and fumbled for the wall to not fall over.

Sergeant Cutter reached for his baton and nudged the object closer to them.

It was a cell phone, flipped open and damaged.

"You recognise it, Ms Janeway?"

"Seven … I mean, Annika has one just like it. I’m sure it’s hers."

She was utterly amazed that her voice worked when the rest of her body seemed to be shutting down.

"Then I’m certain you realise that we have an even more serious case on our hands," Cutter said, his voice solemn. "I’m going to call for back up."

He stepped out.

The young police officer carefully picked up the mangled cell phone with gloved hands and put it in a plastic bag.

Not quite knowing why, Janeway pulled her own cell phone out of her pocket and pressed #1. The young man holding the plastic bag stopped in his tracks.

"It’s not ringing but the display is flickering," he said, sounding baffled.

Forcing back the tears, Janeway hung up before hearing Seven’s voice repeating the message again.

Right now that would have been too much.

*****

Continued in "Lost on the Way to Raven's Island" - part 2

Chapter Text

Seven had not slept much during the night. She had tossed and turned in the luxurious bed, her thoughts chasing each other had made it impossible to wind down. Mostly it had been thoughts of Kathryn, how she missed her and how worried her fiancée must be. Then there was the ultimate fear … that she might not see Kathryn ever again.

Several other questions had spun in her head. She had asked herself over and over why Avery had done this, what motivated the man and what did he expect to gain? She guessed most kidnappers wanted money in return for their hostage but something told her that with Avery, it was more complicated than that.

She rose, gazing toward the tall, narrow window. She had already tried it several times; there was no way to open it. She had looked at the view and tried to gauge where she was. It had seemed to be a city area but it had been hard to tell, flickering lights from cars and streetlamps all looked the same in the darkness. Now she noticed a faint light and realised that dawn was breaking which would suggest that it was around five-thirty in the morning. She began to walk towards the window.

Someone turned a key in the door to the hallway and opened it. Cynthia walked in carrying a tray. Seven stopped in her tracks and turned around.

"I see you didn’t finish your supper." The woman was obviously displeased.

"I was not hungry."

The simple statement delivered in such a polite tone of voice seemed to puzzle Cynthia. Putting down the tray on the small table by the wall, she frowned.

"You better finish up the toast and coffee then. The boss won’t like it, if you starve yourself."

"If I choose to eat or not is not of Eric Avery’s concern. He does not worry about my wellbeing or he would not have kidnapped me in this manner. He has his own agenda and I trust it will not be entirely difficult to figure out."

Cynthia smirked.

"You cocky rich kids ...."

Seven blinked.

"I can not see how it concerns you, Cynthia, but I am not a ‘rich kid’. I work for a living and support myself. There will be no ransom to retrieve me. My fiancée will not pay."

"Of course he’ll pay. Who wouldn’t pay to get such a trophy back?"

Circling the bed, Seven shook her head.

"You don’t understand. Kathryn will not play this game the way Eric Avery desires. He may be out for revenge, perhaps he entertains the notion that I will succumb to his disputable charms, but Kathryn will outsmart him, just like she did the last time. You will not see any money or gain anything else from this illegal endeavour, Cynthia."

Looking both surprised and frustrated, the other woman walked closer to Seven. Poking the blonde shoulder painfully, she snarled at her, "So, your fiancée’s a she, huh? I’m sure she’ll pay up to have her little girl back. You have no way of knowing anything about the boss’ plan. There’s a lot at stake but he’ll come through for us. He has so far."

Seven wondered what the last remarks meant. What had Avery planned that depended on holding her here … holding her hostage?

She looked the other woman in the eyes. This was apparently a ruthless woman who stayed in power by different methods of intimidation but Seven was not afraid of her. She experienced apprehension about her situation but for some reason this former prison guard did not frighten her.

Squaring her shoulders she decided to turn the tables on the other woman.

"Do not underestimate me," she hissed, amazed at how menacing she could sound. "You may be assigned to guard me but I will not accept being treated like this."

"You’re nothing but a high society brat …" Cynthia grabbed her upper left arm.

"Take your hands off me. Now. You do not know anything about me."

After all the years working outdoors on Raven’s Island and the hard work of often being one of the crew onboard Jacob’s fishing boat, she knew she was strong. She kept it up by using the company gym almost every day together with Marion.

Seven moved quickly. She yanked her arm free and grabbed Cynthia’s right wrist. Pressing it down against the other woman’s leg, she used all her strength to keep it in place.

"Do not touch me again," she growled

Cynthia blushed furiously and took a step back. Seven let her go, carefully keeping an eye on the other woman as she made her way towards the door.

"Get dressed and eat," Cynthia growled. "The boss wants to see you in ten minutes."

She slammed the door shut after her and then Seven heard the turning of the key again. She walked up to the window. The sun was on its way up. Looking outside, she tried to find a familiar landmark. To her surprise, she knew exactly where she was.

The well known view brought tears to her eyes. She had to find a way to make Kathryn aware of her location.

 

*****

Julia walked back towards the motel. She had been standing out on the cliffs for the better part of an hour. After a sleepless night where she had been lying frozen in bed, in time, really, next to Marion, she had finally given up and gotten dressed.

She knew that Marion had not slept much either. After the scene last night where her world turned upside down she had withdrawn inside, numb from all the conflicting emotions.

She ached for Marion. Her partner's pain and guilt were tangible. The desperation in the sales director's voice as she had taken all the blame for what had taken place yesterday had broken Julia’s heart.

Janeway had tried to reason with Marion but to no avail. After the fruitless attempts to get the other woman to see reason, the CEO had turned to Julia and given her a comforting hug.

"She’ll come around when we have Seven back," she had whispered, echoing the younger woman’s word only minutes ago. "Give her time, Julia."

Janeway had gone back to her room, closing the adjoining door behind her. After an awkward silence the two remaining women had gotten ready for bed. Julia had tried reaching out for her partner but Marion’s quick gasp and rigid body had left her in tears, pulling as far out on her side of the bed as possible. The rejection hurt too much, more than she ever would have thought possible.

Now she returned and saw both Janeway and Marion in the breakfast room as she passed it.

"Julia, we’re here," Janeway called. "Come and I’ll fill you in on the latest."

The interior designer walked over to them and took a seat, making no attempt to get any breakfast for herself.

"Are you okay?" the CEO asked.

If the question only had come from Marion but the dark haired woman was stirring a sole coffee mug, not even looking at her partner.

"I’m fine," Julia said. "Now tell me the news."

"Last night I called Lt Archer and informed him about ReyVa Inc. He wasn’t as impressed as I would have liked at first but when I told him about the man who held the meeting and how he stalled the entire time, he began to see it my way."

Julia did not debate that. Janeway had a way to make most people look at things from her perspective.

"What is he going to do?"

"He immediately started an investigation of all the people there I could remember the names of. I called him back half an hour ago with more names that Marion gave me from her dealings with ReyVa Inc."

The sales director looked up.

"Something tells me that he won’t come up with much."

Marion’s voice was lifeless. Julia had to brace herself not to throw her arms around her partner … or was that ex-partner? She bit her lip and willed the threatening tears to withdraw.

"What do you mean?" Janeway asked.

"Just that Avery won’t have told anyone at the company what he’s up to, where he’s keeping Seven. I think we better to go through the vast information I collected about them. Perhaps something will turn up that will give us a clue."

"So do we go back to the office to do that?" Julia enquired.

"No need, I have all the information in my laptop. I can do it from the motel room. If I download it into Kathryn’s computer, you … can help me."

Julia bit back a hurt reply.

"Of course." Her voice was soft.

"If you two do that, I’ll deal with some things that will be hard but necessary," Janeway informed them as she rose from the chair. "I have to visit the hospital, I want to check on Jacob, and then I have a press conference to hold."

"Just call us if you need us there," Julia offered. "I have my cell phone and Marion has hers."

"All right. Now, you two, I know yesterday evening ended in heartache. God knows I’m fighting an overwhelming sense of panic every minute of the day right now … but don’t get into a fight or have words. If you can’t reach out to each other – fine, then leave it for later. One step at a time. Okay?"

The throaty voice made it clear that this was not a suggestion. The important thing was that Seven was saved and that Jacob would recover. Everything else would have to wait.

"Okay," Marion murmured.

Janeway nodded and left the breakfast room.

Julia looked down at her tightly laced fingers.

"I know she told us to leave things for later," she managed. "I just want to say something if that’s okay?"

Marion raised her eyes and locked them on Julia.

"Go on." The reply was non-committal.

"Everything you said yesterday, about what you intend to do … and I understand how you have come to the conclusion, I don’t agree, but I understand …" Julia stumbled on the words."

"Don’t …"

"Just hear me out, please. Marion, I won’t bring it up again – not until Seven is safe, but I want you to promise me something."

"I can’t."

Tears rose in Julia’s eyes.

"Yes, you can," she insisted, her voice suddenly stronger. "You can because you love me. I won’t say that you owe me, because you don’t owe me anything, but you can’t deny that you love me."

"What is it you want me to promise, then?" Marion did not acknowledge Julia’s statement but the interior designer was relieved that she did not contest it either.

"This will be hard enough on us but if we’re going to survive the time until we have Seven back, we have to know where we stand. I want you to promise that you won’t just walk away from what we have without talking to me first, really talking to me. If I have to live with the fear that you’ll just be gone one day, no goodbye, nothing, I won’t be able to focus on what matters right now."

Marion seemed to consider the statement.

"I guess that makes sense," she allowed. "I won’t change my mind. I want to be clear on that. However, I won’t leave without giving you … closure; I guess that’s what you mean."

The finality to Marion’s voice hurt Julia more than she could say. The words pierced her heart and it was as if the wound leaked blood into her chest cavity, making it hard to breathe.

"Fair enough," she husked. Taking a deep breath as she clenched her hands, she looked at Marion, greedy for the image of the other woman, etching itself onto her retina forever.

The sales director sipped the last of her coffee and pushed the chair back, and got to her feet.

"Let’s go back and start going through the material," she suggested.

Julia followed her out of the breakfast room, knowing that this might be the hardest thing she had ever done. Once they had Seven safely back in their midst, she would have to use all of her love and persuasion to convince Marion to stay. How could she loose her now?

 

*****

 

Jacob was drifting in and out of consciousness and still in the ICU.

Janeway had approached his wife and son who were by his side, with caution.

"Ms Janeway," Dorothy Henderson had exclaimed and simply taken the CEO into her arms and hugged her tight. "I’m so sorry about what’s happened to Seven. When Jacob’s comes too I know he’ll be devastated that he was not there to protect her. She’s always been our little girl, you know."

The auburn haired woman found it strangely natural to return the embrace. She then shook hands with Josh Henderson who looked quite pale.

"They told us at the front desk that you’re being most generous, Ms Janeway," he said.

"It’s Kathryn, and it’s the least I can do. As your mother says, Josh, you’re practically family."

"But to pay for all of Jacob’s medical bills …" Mrs Henderson said. "It’s more than we can ever repay, Kathryn."

"May I call you Dorothy?" Janeway asked.

The older woman nodded, tears running down her round cheeks.

"Then listen to me, Dorothy. Seven is in trouble but if she was here, she’d insist that we do it this way. I know that Jacob and Josh are self-employed and that can put a strain on the family budget. It may be a while before Jacob is back in his good old form and that won’t come cheap either. There is very little I can do other than make it easier for you financially. I want you to have the energy to be there for him when he needs you. If you worry about money, he’ll know it. It is not a loan. Look at it as a gift from me and Seven."

Dorothy nodded and leaned into her son who hugged his mother close.

"Thank you, Kathryn," he said. "Dad is strong, stronger than most people, even the ones younger than him. He’ll get through this, I know he will."

"I think so too," Janeway said.

"We just wish the police will find Seven quickly. She was my first crush when I was thirteen years old and then she became my best friend. I wish there was something I could do."

The CEO stepped closer and put a hand on the tall young man’s shoulder.

"I appreciate that, Josh. If I need you to do something for me, for Seven, I’ll let you know."

"Please, do that."

They stood around the hospital bed, looking down at the tall, burly man looking so misplaced on the crisp white sheets. Jacob Henderson was pale and had a large bandage around his head. Several IVs were hooked up around him and monitors recorded his vital signs.

"I have to go," Janeway said in a low voice and handed Josh her business card. "I’m on my cell phone so call me if there is any news."

"Thank you, we will," Dorothy replied, her voice husky. "Thank you, Kathryn."

Janeway shook hands with both of them, planting a soft kiss on the older woman’s cheek before she left.

It was time to face the press.

 

*****

 

Avery regarded the tall blonde with ill concealed triumph.

Annika Hansen had to be the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her blonde hair was longer than he remembered; it tumbled down around her shoulders all the way to her breasts. She was dressed in the clothes he had chosen for her, narrow jeans and a form fitted white tee shirt. Her voluptuous figure was everything a man could wish for, slender and curvaceous in all the right places.

"Dear Seven," Avery began, only to be interrupted by the cool alto voice of the young woman.

"I have not given you permission to call me Seven; do not presume to do so."

He gave her a sharp look.

"Okay, then, Annika," he continued, "I realise that you’ve figured out where we are. I thought you’d enjoy the view."

She only gave him a disdainful look without answering.

"Now, let’s get on with it," Avery continued. "Time to get down to business. I want you to sit in this chair and read this statement out loud. I’ll tape it and send it to Janeway." He motioned towards a narrow chair in front of a blue curtain.

"And if I refuse?"

"You won’t. You’ll read it and do it well, or I can’t guarantee your safety. You remember the nice fellows from yesterday? Don’t think I don’t know that one of them kicked you. This was completely against my orders but it also demonstrates how unhappy that guy will become if this is unsuccessful and he doesn’t get his share."

"You are going to blackmail Kathryn for money?" Seven could not leave the contempt out of her voice.

"Not the way you think, blondie," Avery grinned. "Ultimately the addition of money will be a bonus, but right now, the short term goal is more alluring. Here, read this."

He gave her a text, about half a page about half a page of text. Pressing a button on a small black box that looked like a remote of some sort, he then motioned for her to begin.

 

*****

Janeway had chosen to briefly touch base with Archer, and now she walked up to a cluster of microphones outside the police station. Digging deep for the routine she had acquired over the years in how to deal with the press, she inhaled discreetly before speaking.

"Thank you, ladies and gentlemen," she managed before they fired away the first questions.

"Can you confirm that your lover is missing?"

"How long have you and Ms Hansen been together?"

"Is it true that the police have no leads?"

"Who was the injured man found while conducting a search for Ms Hansen?"

Janeway held up her hands and when the reporters realised that she was not going to reply as long as they kept firing questions at her, they quieted down one by one.

"Thank you," Janeway said again. "My fiancée, Annika Hansen, was kidnapped yesterday from a boat belonging to a mutual friend, who was seriously injured and is in critical condition in the ICU. There are very few leads but the police are optimistic that they will soon track the perpetrators down."

"How long have you and Ms Hansen been together?" a female reporter in the front asked.

"A little more than two years; we became engaged last Christmas."

"Do you have a picture of Ms Hansen that we can use?"

Janeway had expected this question after discussing it with Archer.

"There is a picture available at the reception behind me. If you publish it, I ask you to also publish the phone number to the police hotline where people can call in and report any information." She paused and swallowed before continuing. "I have decided to offer a reward of 500,000 dollars to any individual who can offer crucial information that leads to Annika’s safe return."

The reporters looked stunned.

"Can you tell us more about her, Ms Janeway?" the female reporter at the front of the crowd asked.

Janeway hesitated. She and Seven had kept as low a profile as possible, neither of them interested in moving with the 'in' crowd of the city. Only when it was necessary to entertain business partners and clients had they showed up as a couple. The CEO, however, knew that they were still the talk of the town since they did not hide the fact that they were a couple. It had not closed any doors socially; Janeway knew she was simply to powerful for anyone to dare approach her with negative remarks about her private life. It was not so much a matter of tolerance but of power.

"Annika is a very kind, warm hearted person. She is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside. We don’t know the motives behind this abduction but she doesn’t scare easily; she’s used to taking care of herself."

"Do you have any personal ideas of who might be behind this?" a man in the back enquired.

"I can’t comment on that." The CEO’s voice was calm even if her hands trembled. "I know you all realise that a person in my position constantly has to deal with resentment, envy and greed from other people. I’m a woman in a man’s world being the CEO of a multibillion dollar conglomerate with Stellar Ltd as the foundation."

"So you think this is for money?" the female reporter asked. "If there is a request for a ransom – will you pay?"

"I’m not sure this is about money. It might be part of it. As for paying a ransom … I know one thing … I will get Annika back, safe and sound. That is not negotiable."

Janeway’s voice had a lethal tinge to it that caused the reporters to look quite stunned.

"So you’re saying that you would pay?" the female reporter prodded.

"I’m saying I will go to any length; take any measures to get Annika back." Janeway lifted her gaze and looked directly into the closest TV-camera from a nationwide network. "Do you understand? Anything."

 

*****

 

Marion looked up from her laptop when Julia gave an unexpected yelp.

"What’s up?"

"I’ve looked through ReyVa’s latest real estate report and it is really too much of a coincidence, Marion," the interior designer said and leaned in closer to Janeway’s computer screen. "Listen to this …"

Marion waited for half a minute but when Julia kept reading on the screen she impatiently moved over to the other side of the bed, leaning over the younger woman’s shoulder.

"What? Show me," she demanded.

"Sorry," Julia said absentmindedly. "Here, read this."

Marion skimmed through the report, at first not noticing anything unusual. Then a familiar address caught her eyes.

"That’s two blocks from Stellar Ltd," she gasped. "How the hell did I miss that one?"

"You weren’t really interested in their real estate purchases, were you?" Julia suggested. "Stellar Ltd was looking for the technology this company is developing, nothing else, right?"

"Right, but I still think this should have caught my eye. It is strange that such a new company, I mean by comparison it is new, owns not only one building on Adamson’s Road, but two. The prices in that neighbourhood have skyrocketed in the last few months. When did they acquire it?"

"Let me see. It looks like they bought it four months ago. Marion, my mind is screaming that we should check it out."

"I agree but we have to gather more information. We won’t be able to convince Janeway that it is worth investigating merely from this. There must be something else."

"I’ll pop on the Internet and do a web search on Rick Reymers. If this truly is Avery, something should be there, some inconsistency that will give him away."

"Do that, I’ll go over these documents again. Good call, Julia," Marion offered, knowing that her partner … former partner, she corrected herself, was throwing herself into the research as to not think about her broken heart.

While she browsed through the pages on the laptop, Marion’s thoughts were mostly focused on Julia and the situation that had developed during the last few days.

The sales director had had a feeling of doom ever since Mrs Williams visit at the beginning of the week. The venom lacing the older woman words had not affected her daughter as much as it had Marion.

She had not told Julia, nor did she intend to, that Deborah Williams had called her twice at the office. At first Julia’s mother had sounded reasonable, almost amicable, but Marion had not lowered her guard for a second.

True to character, Mrs Williams had eventually begun to hint at the real reason for calling.

"You seem like a woman who knows what you want," the older woman had suggested.

"What are you referring to?" Marion had asked, wanting Deborah to state her intentions out loud.

"You know as well as I do that Julia is not really ready for a relationship. You can’t possibly be happy about that."

Amazed, but not surprised, by this blatant attempt to drive a wedge between her and Julia, Marion had kept her fiery temper in check.

"I find that remark especially interesting since you did everything in your power to convince Julia to marry that guy who stalked her in London a year ago."

There had been a brief silence.

"That is a completely different matter. We wanted Julia to settle down, marry that nice young man and have children like any normal woman."

Marion had smirked joylessly while getting up from her chair and facing the view of the busy city below her office at Stellar Ltd.

"So now you’re getting down to it, Deborah," she had said in a matter of fact voice. "You think Julia is ready for a relationship with any man, but not with me."

"This unnatural affair you’re having with my daughter is destroying her future," the other woman had said. "When they hear about this at Bennett & La Cour …"

"Excuse me, but you’ve never supported her in making a career at any firm. She’s done this all on her own. Why this sudden concern now?"

"They will fire her when they hear that she’s living …"

"In sin, Deborah? Is that what you’re saying?" Marion had hissed. "So you think that as long as Julia gets involved with a man, everything is all right – hopefully she would quit her job and produce two point five grandchildren for you and not be such an embarrassment."

"How dare you …"

"Oh, I dare. When it comes to Julia and her happiness, I dare. Have you ever asked and really listened to your daughter when she talks about her hopes and dreams? Or had she given up on telling you about them long ago? I love her and we’re very happy together. I also have news for you; it is hardly a secret at Stellar Ltd or at Bennett & La Cour that she and I are living together. It has nothing to do with her job – and obviously her boss is more understanding and less prejudiced than her own mother!"

She had slammed down the phone, cursing under her breath, and not even considering ending the call on a polite note.

Debora Williams had called again the next morning just after Marion arrived at work. She had spoken shortly and to the point; making it clear that she had not given up on persuading Julia to return to Michigan.

Knowing it was futile to argue with the older woman, Marion had hung up the phone after an icy goodbye, instructing her assistant to not let any more calls from Mrs Williams through.

She had decided not to tell Julia about it, not wanting to add to the hurt Julia already was experiencing from dealing with her mother. She knew deep inside that she ought to have talked to her partner, and now it was too late. There was no way she could live with causing anyone any more pain.

*****

 

Janeway’s cell phone rang.

"Kathryn, you better come to the office," her assistant Martha said, not bothering with niceties.

"What’s up?"

"A package came to you by special delivery. The police officer assigned to your office says this could be what you’re all waiting for."

Her heart landed in the pit of her stomach with a muted thud

"All right," she managed. "I assume that the police are reporting everything to Lt Archer but make sure they do, just in case."

"Yes, Kathryn. Anything else?"

"Send the company helicopter to collect me. Direct them to the field behind the motel where I’m staying."

Janeway closed the cell phone and walked over to her car. She had left the press conference only an hour ago and again met up with Lt Archer, but there had been nothing new to report.

Driving off towards the motel, the CEO wondered if it would have been smarter to return to the city the previous evening. She sighed as the emotional scene that had taken place last night played out in her mind. Janeway knew she would have to deal with Marion’s guilt once Seven was safe. She could only hope that the sales director was holding up and able to work together with Julia.

Janeway parked the car outside her room at the motel and entered. The auburn haired woman could hear muted voices through the connecting doors as she got her suitcase out and tossed her toiletries on top of her clothes that were still unpacked.

She inhaled and then knocked on the door between the rooms.

Julia opened, looking pale but oddly excited.

"Kathryn, " she said, "we saw you on TV. The press conference seemed to go well."

"I survived it. I’m on my way back to Stellar Ltd," Janeway said, giving Julia’s shoulder a quick squeeze. "There … there’s a parcel waiting for me. The helicopter is on its way. I wanted to ask if you could drive my car back. Seven’s car is still being examined by crime scene investigators."

Marion rose from the bed and put the laptop down.

"No problem. Julia can take the SUV back and I’ll drive your car. We need to back to check on some details regarding ReyVa Inc."

Janeway stiffened.

"You found something?"

"Nothing conclusive, just something that seems to be a little more than a mere coincidence," Julia replied. "We’ll look into it when we get into town. If it turns out to be something substantial we’ll let you and Lt Archer know."

The CEO sighed and leaned against the door. She was emotionally exhausted.

"You know, I keep hoping that this had nothing to do with Seven to begin with," she said in a low voice. "I was thinking she might have stumbled in on someone trying to break into Jacob’s boat."

"Kathryn, that could have been an even worse scenario. If she had done that, they would not have anything to gain to keep by keeping her alive," Marion said darkly.

Julia shot the dark haired woman a look and took a step closer to Janeway.

"We will get her back, Kathryn. If Avery has her, he wants something and when we find out what that is, we’ll figure out a way."

Janeway closed her eyes briefly.

"I’m afraid what I will find at the office," she confessed. "I don’t know what to expect and it … Well, I think I hear the helicopter. I guess I better go."

Julia gave her a quick hug as if she sensed that Janeway was not receptive to any longer displays of affection.

"We’ll be joining you soon," the interior designer said.

Janeway nodded towards Marion.

"I’m grateful for everything that you do. I’ll see you in a little bit."

She walked out the door and rounded the motel carrying her suitcase. The helicopter was just setting down on the field behind the main building. Cameron, her pilot, jumped out and opened the passenger door.

"Here let me get that for you," he offered and reached for her bag.

The tall, African-American man helped her inside and then took the pilot seat again.

"Thank you, Cameron," Janeway said when she had put her headset on. "I appreciate that you could make it so quickly.

"Not a problem, ma’am," he answered. "I was already in the air, about to pick up … eh, a guest at the airport. Martha is sending a limo for her instead."

"Guest of the company? Who might that be? I don’t remember …"

"I believe it is your mother, ma’am."

Stunned, Janeway leaned forward.

"She is flying in?"

"Apparently Martha managed to get through to her only a couple of hours ago. She wasn’t sure she’d make her flight so that’s why she waited to tell you."

Relief flooded her temporarily when she realised that her mother would be joining her soon. During the last Christmas they had all gotten a new start together, dealing with old issues and misunderstandings, making it possible for them to communicate.

If only they could get a hold of Phoebe as well.

The helicopter ascended and Janeway looked out the window, not able to admire the dramatically beautiful coastline. It was as if parts of her were turned off.

She began to shiver inside her expensive coat.

As much as she prayed for any new development towards Seven’s safe return; she dreaded what might be awaiting her at the office.

 

*****

 

Seven had been locked up inside the room several hours without seeing anyone after having made the tape. She had stood by the window, watching the familiar outline of the skyscraper two blocks down the street.

She calculated that she must be on the fifteenth floor or more by aligning her position compared to the surrounding buildings. The Stellar Ltd building was beginning to look like a diamond in the night as the floors lit up when darkness began to fall.

She looked up towards the penthouse. It did not look any different than it had all day; the same lights were on that they usually kept burning. Seven could not make out if Janeway were home or not.

She wondered what her fiancée was going through, how Kathryn was holding up. She closed her eyes and tried to remember how it felt to have the other woman’s arms around her.

Kathryn loved when Seven snuggled up close behind her at night and Seven in turn felt oddly safe, as if she could hide there forever.

Glancing over her shoulder to make sure the door was still closed; she wrapped her arms around herself. Slowly rocking, she found that place inside her that only Kathryn could touch. This was their place, the place their love grew and blossomed, safe from the outside world.

The tall blonde hummed almost inaudibly as she kept her gaze locked on the majestic structure that made out Stellar Ltd offices and her home. It was so close and yet so far away. If only there was something she could do … Her thoughts came to a screeching halt.

Seven gave a muted gasp as a plan began to form. It was a long shot. It might not work at all but when daybreak came, she would try it. Pressing a hand against the cool surface of the glass, her heart ached for Kathryn. The blonde wondered if her fiancée had received the tape yet. Forcing back the threatening tears, Seven’s lips moved as she soundlessly said her beloved’s name over and over.

She would be home soon. She had to have faith in that.

 

*****

 

The CEO took her personal elevator down from the helicopter pad on the roof of the Stellar Ltd Building.

The tall, slightly bald police officer who met her at the executive offices level on the seventy-ninth floor introduced himself as Detective Graham. Janeway glanced at him.

"Is it a tape?" she asked, her voice short and to the point.

"Yes, ma’am, it is a VHS tape. We have it set up in one of your conference rooms. Your assistant is present. Is there anyone else you want to include?"

"No. My mother is on her way here but I want to scan the tape before she arrives. Do you have any ideas what … what it contains? Was there a note?"

"We awaited your arrival and no, Ms Janeway, there was no note," the detective replied as he opened the conference room door for her. "The tape was in a padded envelope delivered by a well known delivery service. The envelope has already been taken down to the forensic lab. The young girl from the delivery service is being questioned."

The CEO almost wished they had looked at the tape for her as well. She was afraid what she might see.

She walked into the conference room and found herself wrapped up in Martha’s warm embrace.

"Kathryn," the older woman said, kissing her cheek. "I’m here for you. Did Cameron tell you that your mother’s on her way?"

"Yes, he did," Janeway whispered. "Thank you, Martha, for arranging everything. I … I need her here."

Martha hugged her again and then they turned to the two other police officers present in the room. Detective Graham introduced them but their names passed Janeway by without leaving a trace in her memory. She was focusing on the VCR beneath the TV set in the built in mahogany shelf on the wall.

"Nice to meet you," she greeted them in a low tone of voice. "Can we please get this over and done with?"

"Certainly, ma’am," Graham said and pulled out a chair for her.

Janeway took a seat and Martha sank down on a chair next to her. Graham took the remote and pressed play.

The screen flickered and then Seven came into focus. Martha gasped, putting her hand over her mouth.

The CEO willed her trembling body to remain still. Seven looked unharmed. Her long blonde hair was curling in large waves around her narrow shoulders and she was dressed in unfamiliar clothes. Behind her was a black wall, nothing that would give her location away. Pinned to the wall was an issue of today’s paper.

The young woman looked down and began to talk, apparently reading from something.

"I am being held against my will by persons unknown to me, who have given me this list of demands. If these demands are not met, I will not be released. They have assured me of their intent of holding me hostage as long as it takes for the CEO of Stellar Ltd to complete the following list of demands."

Seven paused and shot the person behind the camera a look of resentment.

"This is futile."

"Go on," an electronically altered voice said.

Seven looked down and continued reading.

"This is the list. I suggest you follow it to the letter as my freedom depends on it. First, you will sell out all the companies in the Stellar Ltd conglomerate that have anything to do with computer software at fifty percent below market value. Secondly, you will donate all personal assets, money or property, to a charity of your choosing. Thirdly, you will give a press conference at 3PM tomorrow at the latest, stating the following; your engagement to Annika Hansen is … terminated …"

Seven hastily looked at her kidnapper, her eyes, narrow.

"Kathryn will never do this," she stated grimly. "She will not go along with any of it. You are wasting your time ..."

"Just keep reading," the electronic sounding voice said. "Don’t bother to ad lib again."

The blonde pressed her full lips together but relented.

"Your engagement to Annika Hansen is terminated and that you have fired Marion McDunn due to irresolvable collaboration difficulties."

Seven seemed to read ahead from her ‘script’ because her eyes widened and she looked up, tears forming in her pale blue eyes.

"You are evil," she said, her cool alto voice quivering.

"That may well be, but go on now."

"Then you will finish the press conference by announcing your resignation as CEO of Stellar Ltd. You will also take the opportunity to let the world know that the rumour of your ex-fiancée being kidnapped are untrue. You will let them know that Annika Hansen has chosen to go on an extended vacation after your break up and will not be available for comments for quite some time. Once you have fulfilled these demands you will get a report once a week assuring you of Ms Hansen’s good health but she will not be released for another six months. This is to make sure you don’t try to pull one over on us. These terms are non-negotiable."

Seven looked into the camera, tears streaming down her face.

"Kathryn," she said and then it was over.

Janeway sat frozen in her chair.

Martha put her arm around the CEO’s shoulders.

"God, who can be so evil?" the older woman murmured.

"Avery," Janeway whispered. "If I ever doubted it was him, I know for certain now. He’s been planning this a long time."

"We will give the tape to the forensic department," Detective Graham said. "I’m sorry you had to witness this, Ms Janeway but …"

Janeway raised her hand.

"I’m glad I did," she said.

The door to the conference room opened and quick steps approached. Before Janeway had a chance to turn around, the newcomer hugged her from behind.

"Mom!" Janeway breathed when the familiar perfume filled her senses.

"I’m here now, darling."

Everyone else left the room as Mrs Janeway pulled her daughter up from the chair and into a warm embrace.

"How are you holding up?" Gretchen asked.

"I just saw a video tape of Seven … she was so brave … oh, Mom …"

Finally giving in to the overwhelming fear, the auburn haired woman held on to her mother and cried. Gretchen held her oldest daughter close and let her rid herself of some of the stress that had been mounting for the last twenty-four hours.

"There, I’ve got you, sweetheart."

After a few minutes, Janeway straightened and quickly wiped her tears.

"I’m so glad you’re here, mom. I have so much to do and so little time to do it in. I have until 3PM tomorrow to find Seven and get her out of Avery’s claws."

Gretchen nodded, not asking for details yet.

"I’ll be right by your side. Just let me know what you need me to do."

The CEO’s expression softened.

"Thank you. I’m so glad you’re here."

She resisted the urge to hide in her mother’s arms any longer. Squaring her shoulders, Janeway walked over to the door and opened it.

"Detective Graham," she said to the man waiting outside with his subordinates, "you better get the tape sent off. We've got work to do."

*****

Continued in "Lost on the Way to Raven's Island" - part 4

Chapter Text

Marion drove with the car radio set to an ear splitting volume. Screaming electric guitars against a massive wall of bass did not drown out her inner turbulence, but it matched it well. She would have to remember to change the channel and lower it before handing over the Spyder to Janeway. The sales director was fairly sure that the elegant CEO would not go for her temporary taste in music.

Swallowing hard she gripped the steering wheel tightly. So much had gone down the last few days; her stomach was tied up in knots. Willing herself to concentrate on the task at hand she focused on the traffic around her.

Marion finally gave in and checked the rear view mirror. Julia was driving behind her in their large SUV. She could see the outline of the interior designer where she sat behind the wheel. A searing pain pierced her heart and made her breathless. She had hurt the younger woman beyond words.

Clenching her teeth she shook her head. It was better it happened now than a few years down the line when Julia would have burned all her bridges with her family. This way there was still time for her to mend fences with her mother. As for herself … Marion sighed. She had burned her bridges when she had teamed up with Avery several years ago.

The charismatic blonde man had felt like a kindred spirit at the time. They had shared the same ambitious attitude and worked hard at Stellar Ltd. They had both been on Janeway’s good side until Seven had arrived.

Marion cringed when she remembered how she had passionately hated the young woman when she first started working at Stellar Ltd as an interpreter. The blonde had swept the cool and distant Janeway off her feet, moved in with her and …

A sob broke through Marion’s clenched throat.

She had felt her position threatened and so had Eric Avery. They had dreamed up a plan to discredit Seven, Marion had convinced herself that it was all meant to just open Janeway’s eyes; to make her see that the island girl was not up for the task and that the CEO had made a mistake by hiring her,

Avery had made the mistake of adding sexual harassment to the plan which had made Marion furious. She had wanted no part of that. In fact it had made her increasingly uncomfortable as she had watched the blonde’s confusion at the man’s advances towards her. Marion had talked to Avery, but had not been able to stop him.

It had not taken Janeway long to figure out the whole plot. If it had not been for Seven’s intervention, Marion would have been fired along with Eric Avery. For some unfathomable reason the blonde had spoken on her behalf, pleaded her case to Janeway and asked that Marion would be given a second chance. Eventually, the sales director had realised that Seven really admired her both professionally and privately.

Marion took a deep breath. No matter what it took, what consequences there would be to herself; she would not let Seven down this time.

*****

The blonde woman listened for sounds outside the locked door to her luxurious prison. She could not hear anything.

Seven rose from the bed and walked into the bathroom and opened the small cabinet to the left of the sink.

Browsing through the items in there, she picked up the gel toothpaste but put it back. It would not do the job. She needed something pastier, something white. Her pale blue eyes lit up when she spotted a tube of hand cream that had escaped her earlier attention.

She reached for the tube and then automatically checked her empty wrist. Frowning, the blonde sat down on the bed. She did not like not knowing what time it was.

She had thought of different ways to escape but had abandoned one idea after another. Only when she realised that Avery intended to hold her prisoner for months, possibly longer than that, had she understood that she would have to risk everything to get back to Kathryn. If there was any way she could stop her fiancée from selling her corporation, she would.

When Cynthia had taken her to Avery, she had moved her quickly through the almost empty apartment out into what looked like an equally empty office building. There had been little time to remember the layout of the rooms, but she had tried to memorise as much as possible.

At first she had thought of waiting until the next morning to put her plan in motion, but as time was of the essence she had thought better of it. She pulled out the cream and moved towards the window. She pushed the small curtain to the side and looked at the thirty-five by forty-five inch window. It was not the kind that you could open; it had a narrow ventilation window to the left that you would normally be able to open but this one was locked.

She opened the tube of paste and started smearing it thickly over the window. It did not take her long to complete her mission. Looking over at the bed, a sudden inspiration made her walk over to it and unplug the lamp sitting on the nightstand. She placed it on the window ledge and then pulled the curtain close around it. Seven realised that Cynthia would notice it right away. She would just have to surprise the woman when she came in with her breakfast tomorrow morning. The longer it took before her captors noticed what she had done, the greater the chance of anyone on the outside spotting it.

Seven sighed as she put the hand cream under her pillow. She knew the whole idea was a long shot since they were at least fifteen floors up but she had to do something.

Padding back to her bed, the blonde knew she would not be able to sleep much during the night. She had to be awake and ready when Cynthia came.

*****

Janeway was in her office going over the tape that Avery had made of Seven reading the demands out loud. She was filled with a cold fury that permeated every vein in her body.

The look in Seven’s eyes when she said ‘Kathryn’ towards the end of the tape haunted her. Had he hurt her? If he had so much as laid a finger on Seven she would …

A soft hand on her shoulder made her jump and pivot on her chair, glaring at the one who dared intrude.

"I made you some coffee, darling," her mother said in a calming voice. "I personally think you should rest, but since I know you won’t, I thought nothing other than your favourite beverage would do."

Janeway relaxed marginally.

"Thank you, Mother, I was …" Her voice betrayed her and the CEO reached for the coffee mug to cover up her emotions.

"You were thinking about Seven," Gretchen filled in. "I have thought of little else since Martha called. I can only imagine what you’re going through. But remember that Seven is strong and resourceful."

"I know she is, Mom. That is what’s keeping me sane right now. The thought of never seeing her again is just so ... difficult."

"That’s an understatement, if I ever heard one," a familiar voice said from the door.

Janeway almost dropped the mug when she got to her feet.

"Phoebe!" she exclaimed. Not thinking, she put down the coffee, rounded the desk in one fluid movement and met her sister halfway, embracing the younger woman. "Oh, thank God, you’re here."

Strong arms hugged her close. Phoebe smelled of her favourite perfume and oil paint and the familiar mix of scents brought tears to Janeway’s eyes.

"Oh, sis, I only just found out about Seven," the artist murmured. "I happened to switch on the TV and there it was … I’m sorry I haven’t had my cell phone switched on, Kath."

Janeway let go of her sister but kept her right arm firmly around Phoebe’s narrow waist.

"You’re here now, that’s all that matters."

"Hi, Mom," Phoebe leaned over to kiss their mother on the cheek as the older woman approached them.

"I’m glad you’re here too," Gretchen said. "I only came a few hours ago myself."

"What’s the latest news?" Phoebe asked.

"I guess I should show you a copy of the video tape that arrived this afternoon," Janeway grimaced. "We’re pretty sure it’s Eric Avery carrying out his petty revenge on me. He’s no fool – Seven is the best way to get to me."

"Avery? I think Seven told me about him at one point. Wasn’t he the bastard who …"

"… plotted against Seven and then sexually harassed her – with my help," a monotonous voice interrupted for the second time this evening. "Sorry we took so long to get here – we had to go by the apartment."

Phoebe and Janeway turned around. Marion and Julia had just entered the office.

"Marion, don’t," Julia said and put her hand on the sales director’s shoulder as if to physically keep her from uttering any more words of self-deprecation.

Gretchen and Phoebe both had a look of bewilderment on their faces at Marion’s words and tone of voice. Janeway sighed inwardly over all the repercussions Avery’s actions had caused. She had hoped that Marion would come around, but as far as she could tell her employee seemed even worse off as far as guilt was concerned.

"Why not," Marion huffed and shook off Julia’s arm. Janeway could almost not bear to look at the younger woman’s hurt expression. "I think everyone’s entitled to the truth here."

Janeway walked up to the dark haired woman. She raised her hands and took a firm hold of Marion’s shoulders. She had meant to more or less shake some sense into the other woman but then she felt Marion tremble.

The CEO gazed into dark brown eyes that were filled with pain so deep that it matched her own. Janeway realised that this went further into the core of her friend than she had realised. Had Marion lived with this hidden guilt ever since they thought they had taken care of Eric Avery?

"Marion," Janeway began, "I want you to listen to me. You are not responsible for Avery’s actions. You weren’t back then and you're not now. You made some mistakes years ago that made you vulnerable to his evil nature. Don’t you know that you’ve more than made up for it by being such a good friend to Seven and me? Do you think Julia would love you the way she does, if she didn’t see that in you?"

Marion swallowed hard.

"But if it wasn’t for me …"

"We’d be far worse off without you. We need you to help us solve this, to get through it. We all love Seven in different ways. We need your analytical mind and your strength."

Janeway pulled the rigid woman closer, almost forcing the embrace on Marion. At first the other woman tried to pull back but then she relented, giving in to her boss’ determined hug.

"I hate myself for what I did," the sales director husked. "I wish I could change it."

"You have changed it," Julia said and walked closer. "You have changed your outlook on other people, on life – and some of that is because you got to know Seven, but most of it is because of your own strength."

Marion raised her head and Janeway witnessed the hurt slowly disappearing from her features as the dark haired woman looked at her partner.

"Julia." Marion’s voice was almost inaudible.

"I’m here. I never went anywhere."

"We have to talk … but not now," the older woman said.

Julia hooked her arm under Marion’s and gave Janeway a soft smile.

"I think we will be able to solve this later," she said with a confidence that made Janeway raise an eyebrow. She had to admire Julia’s quiet strength.

Phoebe and Gretchen joined them.

"Should we look at the tape now?" Phoebe asked. "I’m nervous about watching it so I’m glad we’re together here." Gretchen put an arm around the youngest of her daughters.

Janeway nodded. This would be the third time she watched it. She did not look forward to it.

"Yes, let’s get it over with."

They moved to the sitting area of the CEO’s office where Janeway put the copy the police had made for her on her request into the VCR. Walking back, she leaned against her desk where she could watch the others while the tape ran.

At the first sight of Seven reading the demands, she noticed tears running down both Julia’s and Phoebe’s cheeks. Marion clenched her fingers around the armrests on her chair.

The resonant voice of her fiancée, together with her tears towards the end, gave Janeway shivers down her spine. She half expected Seven to join them in the conference room, telling them that it was all a misunderstanding.

When the tape was over, Janeway turned the VCR and the TV off with the remote.

"Any thoughts?" she asked, her voice harsh.

"She’s furious," Phoebe surprisingly said.

Julia turned and looked at Janeway’s sister.

"I think you’re right," she agreed. "I first thought it was merely distress, but those tears were of fury, not only fear. If I had ever doubted that it is Avery, I’m convinced now. She looked with such contempt in her eyes. If it was somebody she didn’t know, she’d be more confused, more afraid."

"Yes, she looked at the person in the room as if this was what she’d expect him to do," Marion offered, her voice showing more self-confidence than it had in the last two days. "You’re right, it was contempt and anger in her eyes."

Janeway was stunned. She, who knew Seven better than anyone, why had she not seen the feeling behind the tears? Had she portrayed her own feelings on her fiancée instead?

"I’m grateful that you wanted to watch this," Janeway said. "We have to start pulling our various pieces of information together."

Gretchen rose from her chair.

"Why don’t we go up to the penthouse and do that? I can make us something to eat while you go over what we know so far."

"Good idea, Mom," Janeway agreed. "Let’s go upstairs. It will be more comfortable there and we can plug in our laptops in the living room."

They walked to the private elevator and rode it up to the large apartment that Janeway shared with Seven. The curtains were open and they had a breathtaking view over the city.

Gretchen excused herself and went into the kitchen while the other women went into the living room where they quickly hooked up three laptops.

"First of all we need to tell you about something that Julia found while going over some of ReyVa’s documents. They have recently bought a piece of real estate not far from here. I never paid much attention to those things when I went over their background. ReyVa is not an entirely new company, but from what we could find via the Internet at the motel, they have never bought any real estate before – they’ve always leased any building where they have conducted business."

"So, what kind of building is this?" Janeway asked as she waited for her laptop to boot.

"It is a large building," Julia read from the document on Marion’s laptop. "It contains twenty floors, the first ten hold offices and the next five are mixed and the last five residential only. There is some construction going on as it was built in 1963 and in some need of renovation."

Phoebe sat down on the armrest next to Janeway and looked over her shoulder as the CEO pulled out a cord from underneath the couch and hooked it up to her laptop, thus getting access to the Internet.

"Where is this building?"

"Two blocks down on Adamson’s," Marion replied. "I think you can see it from here, actually."

"No, I don’t think so," Janeway objected, "isn’t the Carerra Tower in between?"

"No, you’re thinking the other direction," Marion said and handed her laptop over to Julia. Look, here I’ll show you."

She walked over to the panorama window facing north and Janeway followed suit after setting her computer down on the coffee table.

"There, you see? That must be it," Marion pointed.

Janeway looked down at the, compared to the Stellar Building, small structure. You could make out the top seven or eight floors and she could see lit up windows at the top.

"So, ReyVa bought this? How long ago?"

"Four months ago, Kathryn. That in itself can be completely legit but I think it’s worth investigating."

The two women returned to the sitting area and picked up their laptops again.

Phoebe, still sitting on the armrest to the couch, leaned down towards her sister.

"Do you still have your telescope, Kathryn?"

"My telescope? Why would you … yes, of course I do. It’s mounted on the patio as usual."

She had kept the telescope her father had given her on her eighteenth birthday and it had provided the CEO great pleasure to show it to Seven. The two women had spent hours out on the large patio looking at the constellations during cloud free evenings.

Phoebe got up.

"I’ll just be a moment."

Janeway’s eyes followed her sister as the tall woman walked lithely towards the patio door next to the panoramic window. She watched Phoebe walk up to the telescope that was mounted at the narrow end of the patio. Feeling both amazed and grateful that she and her sister were finding their way back to each other, she smiled sorrowfully.

Julia asked her a new question that demanded her attention. She directed her focus on her friends and they began to go over ReyVa’s affairs in detail.

She had no idea how long it had been when suddenly Phoebe was at her side again.

"Kath, you better come and take a look at this!" Her sister was out of breath, her face pale.

"What is it?" Janeway said and rose. "What’s wrong?"

"Not wrong, exactly … but … come on! You have to see this!"

Her sister impatiently pulled at her arm and Janeway found herself being dragged towards the patio.

"Phoebe, I’m coming, calm down."

Julia and Marion followed the two sisters out on the balcony. Phoebe hurried over to the telescope and looked into it as if to make sure it was set right.

"Now, look and tell me what you see," the younger of the Janeway sisters ordered.

Janeway, suddenly feeling nervous, walked over and looked into the telescope that she realised was quite illegally directed towards the building recently purchased by ReyVa Inc.

She could see a set of four windows as clear as if they were on the other side of the patio. She scanned them to see what had gotten Phoebe so excited.

The first two were unlit and she could not detect anything out of the ordinary. The third one had muted light coming from behind a curtain. There was something strange about that window. It was as if there was …

Her heart temporarily stopped.

She took several unsteady steps backwards and was caught by Julia’s strong arms. The younger woman held on to her as Janeway had to put a hand over her own mouth to not cry out as her heart resumed its painfully fast beating.

"What the hell is going on?" Marion asked and stepped over to the telescope and looked into it. She only took a few seconds before she rose and turned towards Phoebe.

"You’re something else, Phoebe." Her voice was tinged with admiration. "How the hell did you find that?"

"I thought I’d take a chance," the artist replied, her voice still weak from nerves. "I couldn’t believe my eyes. As far as I can tell from here, it’s on the fifteenth floor."

"Can someone tell me why you’re all out here screaming?"

Gretchen was now joining them, looking worried as she found her oldest daughter trembling in Julia’s arms.

"Mom, it’s Seven," Janeway managed. "Phoebe … Phoebe found it; she saw it."

"What on earth are you talking about?" Gretchen sounded dumbfounded.

"Avery’s building is that one over there, Mom," Phoebe motioned towards the structure. "I pointed the telescope at it."

Gretchen made no attempt at looking into the large telescope.

"And?" she asked, encouraging any of the women to explain further.

"There is a large number, a 7, on one of the windows," Janeway said throatily. "Mom, she has to have written it somehow, there can’t be any mistake."

"Oh, God, Katie," her mother whispered and put her hand over her heart as if to keep it in its place."

"Let me look again," Janeway said and walked over to the telescope. She bent down and looked at the window. A large digit was drawn and it was clearly visible since it was lit from behind by a small lamp.

"Clever girl," the CEO murmured to herself. "You hoped we would figure it out, didn’t you?"

"We have to get a hold of Lieutenant Archer and Detective Graham," Gretchen said. "Come on now, ladies. I have food ready for us. Something tells me that we’re going to need our strength tonight."

Janeway walked back into the living room last of all. Sending a glance towards ReyVa’s building she breathed deeply to find her bearings. I saw it, darling. I saw your sign.

*****

The unexpected sound of a key in the door startled Seven out of a half sleep.

Quickly getting on her feet she moved to stand next to the door. She inhaled deeply just before it opened.

Cynthia stepped in through the door and began closing it behind her. Seven saw the glimmer of a key chain in the other woman’s right hand and before the guard had the chance to see that she was not in her bed, she managed to get a firm grip of the large collection of keys and yank it free.

"What the hell …" Cynthia gushed as she was knocked over on the floor.

A strong hand around Seven’s ankle pulled hard, knocking her off balance. Falling face down, she felt the keys fly out of her grip and heard them slide across the floor.

The blonde rolled out of the guard’s reach, feeling under the bed for the keys in the faint light from behind the curtains.

"Oh, no, you don’t!" Cynthia growled and latched on to Seven’s legs, pulling herself up along the blonde’s body. Tugging hard, she attempted to get a grip around the younger woman’s waist.

Clawing for them, Seven managed to hook a finger around the chain, pull the keys closer and hold them tight. Several of them stuck out between her fingers.

Seven dreaded what she had to do but did not hesitate. She knew she would not get this chance again.

Twisting her body out from under the bed, she pressed her clenched fist against Cynthia’s upper arm, just beneath the short sleeved shirt. The other woman gave a short cry when the sharp keys dug into her flesh.

The older woman loosened her grip around Seven and the blonde scrambled to her feet and bolted for the door. Pulling it shut behind her she frantically pulled at the door handle to keep it closed as she tried to gauge which key were the right one.

There was a sharp cry of frustration and rage from behind the door as Cynthia yanked at the door handle. Seven tried three keys, one after another, without success. Lactic acid made her right arm burn as she hung on to the door handle. She spotted a fourth key that seemed to match the lock on the door. With trembling fingers she pushed it into the lock and twisted the key.

There was a distinct snapping sound when the cylinder moved and locked the door.

Shaking all over, Seven let go of the door handle, painfully stretching her aching fingers.

Cynthia was now banging on the door even harder, cursing out loud as she realised that the blonde had managed to lock her inside. Then there was a brief silence. When Seven heard the other woman start to talk in a low tone of voice she realised that Cynthia had a cell phone. Not wasting any more time she began moving cautiously down the hallway. All their commotion had not attracted any attention so she figured that they were alone in the apartment. No doubt Cynthia was calling for backup and the thought of meeting the men who had kidnapped her did not appeal to Seven at all.

She did not turn on the lights. Relying on the light from the city she manoeuvred between boxes and scattered pieces of furniture. It looked to her as if Avery was moving either in or out of this place.

Seven reached the front door and hesitated briefly as she listened for sounds on the other side. All she could hear was the quiet humming of the air conditioning.

Trying the door handle she found the door was unlocked. Cautiously she looked out into the hallway. Two elevators were located in the middle and beyond them a grey steel door.

As she exited the apartment, Seven noticed the digits on the display over the right elevator begin to count downward, starting from eighteen.

Not about to stay and find out who was approaching, she ran towards the steel door. Opening it, she found it led to a staircase. She took a few seconds to listen for footsteps. When there was nothing to be heard, she began her descent.

*****

Right before Janeway left with Phoebe, Marion and Julia in tow, her mother had pulled her aside.

"I know it’s not practical for me to go with you," her mother had said, "but I know of some other way I can make myself useful. I will take a blanket and a thermos with coffee with me out on the patio and keep an eye on that window through the telescope. Have your cell phone on, darling. I’ll call you, if I spot anything."

"You’re brilliant, Mom," Janeway had replied and kissed the older woman’s cheek. "I’ll call you as soon as there is anything new."

"Go take care of your girl, Katie." Gretchen smiled softly.

They had taken the private express elevator down to the garage where the four women had gotten into Marion’s SUV.

It only took them ten minutes to reach the building. Marion pulled over and simply parked on the sidewalk; blatantly disregarding the risk of getting a ticket or being towed. Janeway gazed up at the tall structure as she got out of the car. The thought that Seven might be in there, that this was the location Avery had chosen, right under her nose, made her equally angry and frightened.

Janeway peered through the large windows next to the door. A doorman was on duty by a large desk in the old luxurious building.

She flinched when her cell phone rang. Pulling it out of her pocket she flipped it open and answered.

"Janeway."

"Darling, it’s me," her mother replied. "Someone pulled the curtain aside in the window where the ‘7’ was painted. I could see that it wasn’t Seven; it was some woman. She smeared what ever Seven used in order to write the number on all over the glass. She then yanked the lamp down and now it’s dark."

Janeway’s mind reeled.

"Thanks, Mom. Are there any lights on in any of the other windows on that floor?"

"No, not what I can see. I scanned the building a minute ago and there are no lights on the office level. The residential floors are lit up though."

"Thanks, Mom. Please keep checking the building from your end and keep us posted."

"No problem, honey. Be careful now."

They hung up and the CEO turned to her friends and sister.

"I think Seven has managed to do something to infuriate them," she said after repeating what her mother just told her. "Someone was in that room, wiping away the ‘7’ and Mom could see that it wasn’t Seven. Either they are moving her or …"

"… or she’s on the move on her own," Julia said, her eyes huge. "We have to find a way to get into the building."

Phoebe looked over her shoulder at the guard.

"I think I can get us inside. What name is Avery using these days?"

"Rick Reymers, but what are you going to …"

"Just play along, sis."

The artist pulled a lipstick and a small mirror from her purse and applied a generous layer of red on her full lips. With rapid hands she pulled the ribbon from her waist long auburn curls and shook them free. She took off her leather jacket and flung it casually over her left shoulder.

She gave the other three women a glance, leaned over to ruffle Janeway’s neat hairdo and then did the same to Marion. Julia’s naturally unruly hair got an approving look.

"Look sultry," the artist commanded. "Follow me."

Janeway watched in amazement as her little sister opened the door to the building and stepped inside, giving the CEO a pointed look.

The other three women followed behind the flamboyant Janeway sister who approached the guard with a broad smile on her face.

Phoebe leaned over the counter and tapped the surprised man on the shoulder.

"Hi … Gary," she greeted him, "how are you doing?"

The man looked bewildered at the beautiful woman.

"Eh … Good evening, miss …" He quieted, not sure how to handle the situation.

"Rick’s expecting us," Phoebe stated, "and you know he doesn’t like to be kept waiting."

The guard looked at the computer screen.

"I don’t have any notation of that, miss …"

"Aw, Gary, it’s me, Candy," the younger Janeway lied without effort. "I’ve been visiting Rick several times and you know very well that he doesn’t want that in the log, darlin’. Now he’s expecting company from Japan … and you know …"

She winked at the indecisive man.

Gary looked dumbfounded and before he had the opportunity to object, Phoebe leaned over the counter and kissed the middle age man on the forehead.

"Thanks, you’re a sweetheart," she proclaimed and began walking towards the elevators. "I’m sure Rick will remember you when it’s time for the Christmas bonus!"

The four women quickly entered the elevator that was standing by in the foyer.

"Good lord, Phoebe," Julia breathed, her eyes huge. "I had no idea you could act so convincingly."

"It was just a spur of the moment kind of thing," the artist replied, failing miserably to sound humble. "I thought he would be too embarrassed to check with Avery if he figured we were call girls or something."

"Or something," Janeway exhaled and briefly closed her eyes. She had pressed the button taking them to the fourteenth floor. "Guess we better not walk directly into the lion’s den."

The elevator ascended quickly and stopped with a ping before automatically opening the door. The women cautiously stepped out into a dark hallway. Janeway heard a humming sound. She turned around and looked at the display over the elevator doors.

"Look, the other elevator is on its way down. Can he have called Avery after all?" Her voice was just barely more than a whisper.

They watched as the other elevator descended towards them. The display stopped counting at fifteen.

"Something’s going on, I knew it," Janeway muttered through clenched teeth. She looked around and her eyes fell on the door with the symbol saying it was leading to the stairwell.

"Kathryn, wait," Marion grabbed her by the arm, "you need to be careful."

"What I need is to get to Seven," the CEO growled.

Marion strengthened her grip. Reaching into the pocket of her jacket she pulled out a gun.

"Let me go first."

*****

Eric Avery stepped inside the half empty apartment, moving cautiously among scattered boxes and furniture.

He could hear the distant banging on the door and knew it came from Cynthia, locked inside Seven’s room. He did not know if the tall blonde was still in the apartment but he would not chance being taken off guard.

Avery approached the door, key in hand and opened it.

Cynthia stood just inside, her hand clutching her shoulder where blood had soaked her shirt.

"God, did she do that?" Avery exclaimed, thoroughly surprised that the girl he thought he had pegged as being innocent and quite harmless, could take such violent action.

"Have you got her?" Cynthia hissed.

He gave her an irritated look.

"No, I just got here. How long have you been in here?"

"I called you right away. She can’t be far away."

"Search the apartment. I’ll take a look outside. I better alert the front desk," Avery stated.

He moved back through the apartment and went out to the elevators again. None of them were moving. The one he had used were still on the fifteenth floor and the other one … He looked at the number. Fourteen. Could Seven have taken the elevator one floor down and then gotten off?

He opened the door to the stairwell and listened. He thought he could hear footsteps further down, much further down than the fourteenth floor. Quickly he walked back and pressed the button to open the elevator door. Thinking, he pressed the button of floor ten, taking a chance that Seven had not had time to reach any floors lower down than that.

Avery pulled out his cell phone and began to dial. He would need assistance.

*****

Seven ran down the stairs as fast as she dared on naked feet. She was afraid of slipping as the cold concrete did not provide good foothold.

The blonde passed the twelfth floor and kept going. She wanted to put as great a distance between her and the people on floor fifteen as she possibly could. No doubt someone had let Cynthia out by now and they were chasing her.

Suddenly her right foot slipped, sliding painfully over the edge of three steps before she got a firm grip on the railing with both hands. She could not help moaning out loud.

Feeling the sole of her foot burn, she had to slow down considerably.

Just as she turned to descend the next flight of stairs, the door was flung open and the person she least wanted to see came barging in.

Avery.

Seven turned and began running upwards again. Her right foot was in agony, but she tried to ignore the pain.

A strong hand caught the injured foot and pulled hard. The blonde fell, automatically trying to protect herself by holding on to the railing.

Grunting as she kicked at him, Avery kept his grip around her foot, yanking her towards him.

"You thought you could escape, huh?" he hissed. "You should’ve known better. You’re not going anywhere."

He managed to pull her down several steps. Seven hit her hip on the stairs as she slid towards him. She gave a muted groan as her sweaty hands lost their hold of the railing. She slid down further and soon she was lying on the landing with Avery hovering above her. He was a tall man and had showed unsuspected strength.

Seven was not about to surrender. She crawled backwards towards the wall and began to get up only to have her legs swept away by a quick manoeuvre by Avery’s leg. He did not actually kick her but it hurt when she hit the floor again.

Avery bent over her, grabbing her by her long blonde hair.

"Don’t move," he snarled. "We’re going to wait here for my men. You’ve already met them, remember?"

Seven paled. She realised that if she was outnumbered, she would not stand a chance.

Looking at the railing, she quickly assessed her options. The stairwell was built with the inner railing going around in a circle, leaving an approximately four feet wide circle in the middle that went all the way through the twenty floors.

"Please," Seven whispered, "let me stand up."

Avery regarded her cautiously.

"All right," he agreed after a moment, "but I warn you. Don’t do anything to make me have to hurt you."

"I just need to stand up."

He helped her to her feet and as she was holding on to his arm, she braced herself and then pushed him from her with all of her might.

Avery staggered back against the opposite wall. Seven did not delay any further. She grabbed the railing with both hands and quickly flipped both her legs over it. Finding her foothold she began to slide along the small ledge outside the railing, desperately holding on.

"Are you crazy?" Avery yelled and tried to grab for her.

"Do not touch me!" Seven hissed back letting go of one hand and grabbing the railing on the opposite side. "I would rather fall than let you take me back to that room!" She jumped across the four feet wide gap. There was a stab of pain in her injured foot but she kept going.

The man took a step back, looking at her with widening eyes.

"Get back here," he commanded, as he ran down the stairs to reach for her again. She repeated the manoeuvre, tossing herself across the empty space between the railings, keeping him at bay.

Seven kept descending along the inside of the stairs. She moved her hands rapidly, but only a few inches at a time, terrified of losing her grip. Her right foot was becoming numb and she knew that if she missed one step she could end up crushed at the bottom of the stairwell.

Seven could hear Avery talking somewhere above her and guessed that he was calling the men who had kidnapped her. She realised her actions were desperate and that she would probably not be able to keep going for very long.

There was a slamming of a door further down.

"You might as well climb back," Avery smirked as he approached the railing again. "We’re having company."

*****

Janeway looked at the small gun in Marion’s hand. The other woman looked calm and collected as if holding the weapon gave her a sense of being invulnerable.

"Was that why you went by the apartment?" the CEO asked, motioning towards the gun, as the two women left the elevator on the tenth floor. They had watched the other elevator descend to the tenth floor and agreed on being cautious. Julia and Phoebe would approach from the fourteenth floor where they had parted.

"Yes."

Janeway knew better than to keep questioning the other woman. Marion was holding up, but there was something frail about her.

The CEO had called Detective Graham before they parted from Julia and Phoebe before she and Marion took the elevator down. He had not sounded pleased that they had taken on this endeavour without notifying him but then admitted that Gretchen Janeway had been in contact with him since the four women had left the Stellar Building. The auburn haired woman had sighed in relief. The police would be there soon.

They moved towards the door to the stairwell. Opening it cautiously they immediately heard voices coming from above them.

Janeway let Marion walk in front of her as she was the one with the gun. On impulse, the CEO leaned against the inner railing and looked up. The sight that met her made her quickly clasp one hand over her mouth to silence the fearful gasp.

Almost two floors up, Seven was climbing downwards on the inside of the stairs just below the eleventh floor. Avery was reaching for her.

"You might as well climb back," Janeway heard Avery say. "We’re having company."

Apparently the man thought it was his cohorts in crime.

She tugged at Marion’s jacket.

"This is it," she mouthed soundlessly. "He thinks we’re his buddies. Go!"

The sales director pressed her lips together and took the stairs two at a time. Janeway followed her, eager to get to Seven.

Then everything seemed to happen at once.

They reached the landing where Seven clung to the railing from the outside. Avery pivoted and watched with his mouth open as Janeway and Marion approached from the floor beneath.

Janeway rushed over to Seven.

"What the hell?" Avery managed before the dark haired woman leaped towards him and pressed the gun to his temple. "Marion!"

"Oh, yeah, it’s me, Avery," the sales director hissed. "If you think I won’t pull the trigger on you after all you’ve done, that would be making a big mistake. I wouldn’t move an inch, if I were you."

Avery was clenching his fists.

"You bitch!" he spat. "I wouldn’t be so …"

"Shut up," the dark haired woman said with vehemence, pressing the gun harder against his temple, making the man slide down along the wall from the pain.

The door was yanked open next to them and three men entered.

"Stop right there," Marion shouted, "or I’ll shoot him!" Her voice was cold and there could be no mistake that she meant every word.

The three men stopped in their tracks, taking in the scene.

"Kathryn …" Seven lost her hold of the railing. Fumbling, the blonde tried to grasp for it with sweaty hands. Her feet were sliding against the ledge.

"Seven!"

The CEO threw herself forward and grabbed two fistfuls of Seven’s pyjama jacket. Holding on tight she pulled the younger woman up towards her. Seven hooked one arm around the railing and the other one around Janeway. Trembling so much that her teeth clattered, the young woman said her fiancée’s name over and over again as she struggled to get a foothold.

Julia and Phoebe came running down the stairs from above. Phoebe was on the cell phone, obviously directing the police towards their position in the stairs.

When the three men by the door heard Phoebe refer to Detective Graham they bolted back for the elevators.

"Some hoods are making a run for it but that’s okay, they won’t get far," Phoebe spoke into her cell phone.

Janeway held Seven tight and helped the blonde climb the railing back to safety.

"I’ve got you, darling," she husked. "There, easy now."

The blonde shivered and Janeway let go of her enough to take off her coat and drape it over Seven’s shoulders. She pulled her beloved close again, guiding her to sit down with her on the stairs.

"Kathryn, how can you be here?" the blonde whispered, her voice betraying her as she hid her face against the auburn haired woman’s neck.

"Phoebe saw your sign. We knew we had to act quickly."

Janeway kissed the blonde head resting on her shoulder. She turned towards Avery.

"I see you’ve tried another doomed endeavour." Janeway’s voice was emotionless. "This time we’re not going to cut you a deal. The police are on their way and you’re on your way to prison."

"Bitch," Avery spat and grimaced as Marion pressed the gun harder against his temple.

Julia had cautiously passed Avery and Marion and now opened the door to the tenth floor. There was no sign of the three men.

Phoebe quickly caressed Seven’s hair as she followed Julia to the door. The younger Janeway still had the cell phone against her ear.

"Tenth floor, hurry please," she said.

Janeway could not believe that she was holding Seven. The tall woman seemed smaller, more frail and in shock, having almost plummeted down the stairwell.

"Seven would you like to move and sit down somewhere else?" the CEO murmured.

"No, no … please, Kathryn, just hold me." Seven’s voice was slowly losing its frightened timbre. "I will be all right. Do not let go."

"I won’t. Ever."

"Here they are," Julia said, sounding relieved.

Detective Graham entered together with three other officers, their weapons drawn.

"I take it, this is Avery?" Graham motioned towards the captured man. There a joyless smirk on the detective’s face as he gave Marion a stern glance. He watched the armed brunette carefully move away from Avery, not lowering her gun until his subordinates moved in to apprehend the man sitting on the floor.

Marion walked over to Julia, putting the gun into her pocket. The younger woman tucked her arm under Marion’s and held on to her.

Graham turned to Janeway and Seven. "Are you all right, Ms Hansen?"

"Yes. I am now. Have you … have you apprehended the other men and Cynthia?"

"Who is Cynthia?" Graham asked.

"She is the guard who brought me food … I think I may have caused her injury when I tried to escape. I locked her in the room."

"The room is on the fifteenth floor," Janeway filled in. "Perhaps this woman is still there."

Detective Graham pulled out his radio and rattled a few orders. He then turned to two of the uniformed police officers.

"The paramedics are on their way up. When they take Ms Hansen down, I want you two there, keeping an eye on her."

"Yes, sir," they replied.

It did not take the paramedics long to arrive with a stretcher. They helped Seven onto it, folded the blanket around her and then strapped her securely before lifting it. Janeway took her hand.

"I’m going with you," she assured the blonde. "The police have Avery secured and now I just want to be with you."

They moved towards the elevators.

Seven looked up at Janeway.

"I knew you would not give up, that you would figure it out," Seven said. "I was just so afraid …"

"What were you afraid for?" Janeway asked when the blonde quieted and averted her eyes.

"I was afraid that you may follow the instructions on the video tape; that you would give it all up for me."

Janeway leaned down, her face close to the alabaster cheek.

"I was not ready to give up anything, least of all you, without a fight. But I want you to know that you are more important to me than any company, share or reputation can ever be. Everything else is empty without you. I can’t be without my Seven."

One large crystal tear disentangled from Seven’s long eyelashes.

"I was so angry," she confessed. "I was angry enough to assault the guard that was bringing me food."

"What did you do to her?"

"I pushed a set of keys that I had taken away from her into her arm. They perforated her skin. I never thought I could do such a thing, Kathryn."

The elevator reached the bottom floor. The police officers exited and made sure the ambulance was ready by the front door.

Janeway saw that another police officer was questioning Gary, the man at the front desk. He glanced at her, his eyes dark. She ignored his accusing glance and took Seven’s hand as she accompanied her fiancée to the ambulance.

The paramedics secured the stretcher inside the ambulance and the CEO climbed onboard. As one of the paramedics was ready to close the door behind them, a familiar face peered inside.

"Glad to see you in person, Ms Hansen," Lieutenant Archer said and introduced himself. "I’ll be accompanying Avery, or Rick Reymers as he insists his name is, downtown to the police station and then I’ll come by the hospital to take your statement."

"Can’t that wait until tomorrow?" Janeway asked. "She’s exhausted."

"I am all right, Kathryn. I will answer any questions that you might have, Lieutenant."

"Good. See you later, Ms Hansen. I really am pleased this ended well." He gave Janeway a look that spoke volumes. She was not sure he was all that pleased with her initiative, even if it had ended well.

When the ambulance rolled away down the street, Janeway leaned over her beloved and kissed her gently on the lips, not caring that the paramedic was there.

"You did what you had to do to get away from those people; to come home," the older woman whispered.

"I love you, Kathryn," Seven whispered back. "I have never been so afraid. I thought he was going to keep me there for months, maybe forever."

"I would not have allowed that. I was on my way to get you."

Janeway held on to her fiancée, knowing that physical contact would help Seven realise that she was free and safe quicker than any words. The ambulance drove rapidly through the city as it was in the middle of the night and the streets almost empty.

She could hardly believe what had taken place tonight.

Seven was free.

*****

The faint light from the lamp in the window rendered the room a soft glow.

Seven had reluctantly accepted the idea that she would not be able to go home just yet. X-ray had shown two hair line fractures in her right foot and she now boasted a large cast.

She looked down on her foot. The cast was pink. The blonde rolled her eyes and turned clumsily towards the woman sitting on her bed.

"Are you in pain, darling?" Kathryn asked. "I can get the nurse …"

"No, the pain is not bad. I only need you here."

The CEO leaned down and slowly brushed her lips against Seven’s. The younger woman eagerly kissed her back. She could not get enough of her fiancées touch. It still had not quite sunk in that she was free and that they were together again.

A sound from the door made Seven flinch and cling to the older woman. Turning her head she saw two men approach the bed.

"Is this necessary already?" Janeway frowned. "Seven is just out of x-ray and …"

"I’m sorry, Ms Janeway," the older of the two men, Seven remembered him as Lieutenant Archer. "We have to Ms Hansen’s statement. Rick Reymers already has a team of lawyers working towards getting him out on bail. If we can’t get the district attorney all the facts, we won’t be able to hold him after the arraignment."

Seven sat up in bed, her eyes wide.

"Can they do that? Can they let him out?" she asked, hating how her voice trembled.

"Not if you give us your statement, Ms Hansen," the lieutenant reassured her. "Kidnapping is a felony offence. We have to make it clear to the judge that he is a threat to you and your partner and also that he would flee the country, if released on bail."

Seven squeezed Janeway’s hand.

"If you will forgive me for being quite exhausted, I will do my best to tell you everything that happened," she stated, swallowing hard.

Archer’s stern face softened and he pulled up a chair.

"Take your time. We want to get this right. Detective Ramirez here will take your statement and that alone will keep Reymers behind bars until the trial."

"His name is not Rick Reymers," Seven began, "it is Eric Avery. He once worked for Kathryn at Stellar Ltd and … his first offence was when he sexually harassed not only me but several other women at the company. Kathryn has their affidavits and also his written confession to that stored in the safe."

Archer glanced at the CEO who nodded.

"Go on."

"I do not remember everything about the actual kidnapping," the blonde continued. "I was on my way to Jacob’s boat where I would meet up with him and Kathryn; we were going to Raven’s Island for a vacation … when …"

She swallowed unable to speak past the lump in her throat. Kathryn shifted so that she could put her arm around the younger woman. Seven leaned against her partner as she tried to sort the scattered memories out.

"I went onboard and when Jacob did not seem to hear me, I opened the door to the bridge. He was lying there. There was blood all around his head and his hands and feet were tied up. I had just begun to dial Kathryn … and then I can not remember very clearly … I remember a strange smell, a lot of commotion and the next thing I knew I woke up lying on the floor of a car."

She told the rest of the story in a low, monotonous voice. Kathryn’s soft hand stroking her hair helped her relay the rest of the terrifying experience.

Detective Ramirez had both taped Seven’s statement as well as scribbled down notes on several pages of his writing pad. He now stopped the small tape recorder and nodded towards the blonde.

"This will do it," he said with confidence. "You can relax now, Ms Hansen, Reymers, or Avery as it were, will not be out on bail when the judge is informed of this."

"Thank you. I have to ask, did you catch Cynthia?"

"No, not as of yet," Archer shook his head. "There is a warrant out for her arrest. We’ll get her."

The two men said goodnight and left.

"Did you check on Marion and Julia?" Seven asked and snuggled closer to Kathryn.

Strong arms immediately held her tight.

"I called them as well as Mom and Phoebe when you were being x-rayed. Julia and Marion are still at the police station giving their statements. Marion had to confirm that she had a permit for that gun of hers. Mom and Phoebe are at the penthouse, I think my sister is probably in the process of telling our mother ‘how it all went down’, to quote her."

Seven gave a faint smile. Satisfied that the others were safe, she could finally relax as the pain medication the nurse had given her made her sleepy.

"And Jacob? Did you call the hospital he’s in?"

"Yes, I did. He’s awake but still very weak. The doctors say he will be all right but it will take time since he’s not a young man anymore. I asked Dorothy to tell him you’re safe and she thought that might be the motivation he needs. We’ll go visit him when you’re up to it, darling. We’ll take care of them, I promised them that."

There was a small trickle of relief that the man who had been a father figure for years would recuperate. Seven sighed and nuzzled the soft fabric of Kathryn’s shirt.

"Are you staying?" she murmured.

"Of course, I am."

"I am afraid that I might wake up and be back in that room."

"You won’t. I won’t leave your side and tomorrow I’ll take you home. You’re safe, darling"

Seven shuddered.

"It might be a while before I can really feel it."

"Shhh, I’ve got you, sweetheart. I won’t let anyone hurt you." Kathryn’s voice broke. "Nobody will ever take you from me again. Nobody."

The two women curled up in the narrow hospital bed. Holding on, Seven placed her head close to Kathryn’s chest, listening to the comforting sound of the older woman’s steady heartbeat. She inhaled the familiar scent of the soft perfume.

"I love you, Kathryn."

"Oh, God, I love you too, darling. Now go to sleep, I’ll be here when you wake up; I won’t leave your side."

Willing herself to relax and believe in the reassuring words, Seven let her guard down and allowed sleep to overtake her senses.

*****

Marion stood in the middle of their living room, a vacant expression in her eyes as she watched Julia take her jacket off and toss it on a chair.

The sales director had stood her ground at the police station, not about to let anyone question her actions when she had threatened Avery with her gun, making him step away from Seven. She had given her statement in a matter of fact voice, every bit the elegant, cool sales director who would never allow anyone to stare her down. She had fought any sign that she might crumble, managing to keep that up until they stepped over the threshold to the apartment.

Images from the tumultuous night flashed before her eyes.

The thought of the blonde woman balancing on the outside of the railing, ten floors up made her nauseous. Cold shivers ran down her spine, making her tremble.

"I know it’s early morning but why don’t I make us some coffee?" Julia offered. "I could use some, I think."

"Not for me, thanks," Marion managed. She swallowed hard, trying to think of something else to say, something to remove the sight of Seven, injured and almost plummeting towards her death, from her retina.

"Marion?" Julia came up to her, touching her cheek with the back of her hand. "You’re so pale. Come sit on the couch. I can skip the coffee; it’s not all that important."

The older woman let Julia guide her to the couch where she sat down, her hands motionless in her lap.

"There we go. Now, put your feet up, sweetie. Come on."

With gentle hands Julia moved her listless body before she reached for the soft chenille afghan. She tucked it around Marion’s body and then sat down next to her.

"Do you want to talk, love?" she asked in a soft voice.

Marion struggled to focus on what her partner was saying. Julia’s eyes showed nothing but love and compassion.

"I came so close to pulling the trigger today," the sales manager husked, her voice hardly audible. "I had him at gunpoint and every cell in my body screamed at me to fire. I wanted him dead after everything he’d done. What he put Seven through … what he did to me … what I allowed him to do …" She shivered and pulled the soft afghan closer.

"Sweetie …"

"It’s true." Marion’s voice was stronger. "I allowed him to have power over me. He then saw an opportunity to blackmail me, which lead to the events that put Seven at risk and may have scarred her for life. I’m responsible for that, Julia. So, I thought, why not shoot him …" She clenched a fist and hit the backrest of the couch. "But you know the irony of it all? If I had shot him – the next person I would have had to turn the gun onto was … me. I hold myself accountable. Who am I kidding? I’m no killer. So I didn’t squeeze that trigger."

"Thank God, you didn’t," Julia whispered. She disregarded Marion’s apparent reluctance and hugged her close. "I think he thought you would though. He was scared witless of you, sweetie. He didn’t move an inch. If the police had not arrived when they did, he would have wet himself."

The exaggeration made Marion smirk against her will.

"Why do you love me, Julia?" she asked, suddenly desperate to know. "How can you find any redeeming qualities about someone like me?"

Not falling into the trap, Julia smiled softly and kept Marion close to her, softly stroking the older woman’s back.

"You know why," she insisted in a gentle manner. "I love you because you’re everything I ever dreamed of. You’re of course very beautiful, smart, tough, honest, caring, sexy … I could go on and on, but it is all the little pieces that make up your person that make me love you. I wake up every day counting myself very lucky that you love me back. No matter how hurt I was when you withdrew from me at the motel – I knew you loved me."

"I don’t deserve your loyalty!" The pain was almost too much to bear. It flooded her senses and she expected Julia to finally realise just how misplaced her loyalty was. "I don’t deserve you and you certainly don’t deserve being ostracised by your mother because of me. She hates me."

"I don’t care what my mother thinks. I gave up on that long before I met you. And you’re wrong – you do deserve love and loyalty! You have to face what really is the problem here, Marion. You have to look to the person who’s forgiveness and acceptance you need the most."

The dark haired woman stared at her partner, her eyes glazing over when she felt the soft, decisive voice caress her senses.

"What are you talking about, Julia? I let everybody down … I … " The pain made her curl up into a ball to keep her aching body together.

"I’m talking about you, sweetie," the interior designer replied in the softest of voices. "I’m talking about finally accepting that you made a serious mistake and that everyone has forgiven you a long time ago, even Kathryn. Everyone – but yourself. You are your own hardest judge, Marion. You don’t give yourself credit for anything good you’ve done up to the point when you teamed up with Avery, or after you discovered how bad he really was."

Julia pulled her partner closer, rocking her.

"I, and everyone that really knows you, sees a caring, beautiful woman who has every potential to become everything she wants to be – and I also see your own self-loathing, and it hurts me more than I can say. Forgive yourself and come back to us. Please, we need you. If I lose you, I’ll be devastated and If Kathryn loses you, not only does she lose a very loyal friend but also her right arm when it comes to business. And Seven … you know she loves you."

There was a slow trickle of warmth penetrating the cold shell around her soul. Slowly at first she felt it begin to make her feel warmer and then it was as if the dams burst. Julia’s love, the all surrounding, overwhelming sensation engulfed her and made her burst into tears. She held on to her lover, her best friend, and allowed the younger woman to comfort her.

"Forgive me," she sobbed. "I’m sorry, I’m so sorry."

"I forgive you if you forgive yourself," Julia vowed. "Just let us love you and keep you, sweetie. I love you so much and I can’t … I can’t be without you."

Clinging to Julia, Marion hugged her close.

"I don’t want you to go. I love you. I love you. Please, stay. Stay with me."

Julia kept murmuring terms of endearment as they sat on the couch, the sun rising over the tall buildings in the inner city. Marion knew that they had made it through a crossroad in their relationship, and she had taken a step towards her own self-respect.

The sales director closed her eyes and made room for Julia on the couch, not interested in moving into the bedroom. She felt safe and warm under the afghan with her lover.

They were where they belonged. They were together. They were home.

*****

Continued in "Lost on the Way to Raven's Island" - epilogue

Chapter Text

Gretchen Janeway and Phoebe had retired to the guestrooms on the other side of the large penthouse apartment. The two women had fussed over Seven until the young woman had sent Janeway a pleading look saying she was exhausted after returning home from the hospital the same afternoon. The CEO had taken her cue from Seven and simply announced that it was time for bed.

Now Janeway watched her fiancée hop on her crutches from the bathroom towards their bed.

"How are you managing?" she asked.

Seven was dressed in a large tee shirt and nothing else, looking delightfully tousled after just drying her hair with a towel. Janeway had assisted her fiancée in taking a bath with her foot over the rim of the bathtub. The CEO was dressed in a blue silk robe, having just stepped out of the shower.

"I am getting the hang of it," Seven gave a faint smile. "I guess it will take some getting used to."

"You’ll have time to practice in the next six weeks since that’s how long you’re going to be in that pretty cast."

The blonde sat down on the bed and Janeway helped her put the crutches away against the wall.

"There," the CEO offered, "in you go."

Carefully lifting the foot boasting the pink cast, Janeway took a pillow and put it underneath the hollow of Seven’s knee.

"Oh, much better," the younger woman sighed. "My leg aches a bit just here." She pointed to a spot above the cast that ended about four inches above her ankle.

Janeway let her hands slide along Seven’s slender calf, softly rubbing the soft skin. She glanced at the other woman and noted an expression of relief flicker over her narrow features. She kept up her ministrations, wanting to ease the pain.

"Does that feel good?"

"Yes, do not stop," Seven breathed. "I have missed your touch."

Janeway took another pillow and put it underneath her fiancée’s other leg, wanting to make Seven as comfortable as possible. This caused the blonde’s large tee shirt to ride up, creating an enticing image where the CEO could glimpse the soft blonde curls at the apex of her thighs.

The auburn haired woman moved between Seven’s legs, all the time massaging just below her right knee. The younger woman closed her eyes, obviously relaxing into the loving touch.

"I love you," Janeway whispered. "Just let yourself wind down and feel how much I adore you."

She moved one hand to Seven’s left leg and mirrored the massage. The other woman shifted slightly beneath her, involuntarily parting her legs more and settling against the pillows. Her breath had quickened and Janeway realised that her attempt at relaxing her beloved was having a completely different effect.

Smiling inwardly, the CEO let her hands softly slide up silken thighs. Seven lifted her hands and put them above her head, arching her back a little.

"I was so afraid," Janeway murmured, leaning down to place a soft kiss on the younger woman’s full lips. She allowed her hands to slip under the tee shirt and caress Seven’s slender hips. "I couldn’t bear not knowing if I ever would be able touch you like this again."

"Kathryn …" Seven’s voice was almost inaudible.

"I’m here, darling."

Janeway brought her hands further up under the tee shirt, caressing the flat stomach, making circles with the tip of her fingers, mapping the outline of Seven’s waist and bellybutton. Desire rising inside herself, she leaned even closer as she cupped the blonde’s full breasts. The plump nipples hardened instantly, pebbling under her palms as she gently squeezed the soft mounds.

"Mine."

"Yours."

With a slow, deliberate movement, Janeway pushed Seven’s tee shirt up, unveiling the valleys and hills that made up her beautiful body to her own eager gaze. Tracing the nipples with her fingertips, she leaned down to take the left one into her watering mouth. She flicked her tongue over the sensitive skin, causing the other woman to moan out loud and arch into the touch.

Seven whimpered and clutched at the pillows behind her as her slender frame began to shiver underneath her lover.

"That’s it," Janeway murmured throatily around the nipple. She licked it in lazy circles and nibbled it gently now and again. When the blonde did not seem to be able to take the stimulation much longer, she moved on to the right nipple, rendering it the same attention.

"You are burning me." The blonde sounded breathless. "Kathryn … ohhh …"

Janeway relented and let her hands slide down, follow the curve of Seven’s hips and down to cup her bottom. Leaning down, she pulled the blonde closer, nuzzling the soft curls that barely covered the vulnerable lips between Seven’s legs. Placing open mouth kisses to the centre of the younger woman’s pleasure, she made her beloved gasp for air.

"I’ve been dying to touch you, to taste you, darling," Janeway confessed. "You’re all mine and nobody will ever take you away from me …"

She parted the slick folds with her tongue, probed the fragile inner lips and then found the aching nubbin just above them. Flattening her tongue against it, she played with it until Seven began to sob, begging for release.

Janeway moved lithely in the bed, straddling Seven’s left thigh. Her robe fell open as she allowed her own drenched centre to rub against the blonde’s leg. Impatiently the CEO tugged at her robe and pulled it off, leaving her naked on top of Seven.

She slid her right arm under the other woman’s neck, and her left hand down between them, easily finding the engorged nubbin she just abandoned. Pressing her own modest breasts against Seven’s she began a gentle rocking motion.

Seven gasped and lowered her arms, wrapping them around the older woman. Holding Janeway tight, she pulled her harder against her thigh.

"Take me," Seven whispered huskily. "Claim me."

Understanding perfectly, Janeway gently probed with her fingers, positioned them and then entered her lover without hesitation. With two fingers buried inside Seven, she curled them slightly and began moving them back and forth.

The blonde gave an incoherent murmur. She pressed her slick thigh up against Janeway’s wet folds, parting them and leaving the sensitive nubbin naked to the touch. The CEO pressed against it, undulated in soft but firm waves, moving towards her release but determined not to come before Seven.

Her fingers had found that special spot within her fiancée that she knew her touch would inflamed further, making the pleasure border on pain. Letting her thumb press gently on Seven’s nubbin she knew it would not take the younger woman long.

When the blonde stopped breathing and went rigid, clinging with her arms tightly wrapped around the auburn haired woman, Janeway could not hold back anymore. She closed her eyes and hid her face against the damp neck of her beloved. Breathing hard, the orgasm hit her in powerful waves, one after another. As if their bodies made up for lost time, the women trembled together, their breath gushing, their vocal cords releasing groans of relief and pleasure.

Janeway collapsed on top of the younger woman, careful not to hurt her injured foot. She raised her head and looked down on the beautiful face of her fiancée; Seven had small beads of sweat on her forehead and upper lip. Leaning down with a slow, lopsided smile that made the blonde quickly draw her breath, the CEO licked the sweat from Seven’s lip before taking possession of those full lips in a mind-shattering kiss.

Seven parted her lips and allowed Janeway’s tongue to dance with hers, taste the sweetness that was purely her own. As they parted, the older woman placed tender kisses just beneath Seven’s jaw line.

"Oh, God, darling," she breathed, "you’re so beautiful."

"As are you, Kathryn."

They shifted in bed until they were comfortably snuggled up together. Janeway pulled the bed sheet up; it was all they needed to stay warm. She felt Seven’s lips on her temple.

"Mine." Passion tinged the young woman’s voice.

Janeway exhaled slowly, feeling her body relax into the familiarity of Seven’s embrace.

"Yours."

*****