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The Once and Future

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“Admiral.” The maître d’ greets her warmly. She is a valued patron, almost a friend. For a moment she wishes she had chosen a restaurant where she is not so well known; the encounter she is about to have is treacherous enough without the burden of knowing eyes on it. As soon as she thinks of it, though, she dismisses it. There are few places where she’s not known, and here at least she is on her own territory.

“Captain Hansen arrived a few minutes ago,” the maître d’ goes on. “I have seated her at the most private table we have, in the upstairs study.”

Janeway smiles with real warmth. “Thank you, Enrico,” she says. The quirky restaurant occupies a rambling Victorian that has been deliberately preserved as a warren of halls, stairs, and tiny unexpected rooms, each of which contains a table or two. It must be a logistical nightmare for wait staff but it is wonderful for privacy. For intimacy, her devil whispers, but Janeway quashes her sternly.

She regrets being only ten minutes early; she’d hoped to have a moment to establish and settle herself, but of course Hansen had been fifteen minutes early.

The upstairs study is perfect. She doesn’t even see where they’ll sit when she first enters, only floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and overstuffed chairs. To get to the table she has to walk into the room and look back, to an octagonal nook at the front of the house.

Seven—no, Hansen—is there, looking out the window at nothing much. The buttery light of the setting sun catches the gold of her hair and Janeway’s heart squeezes: exquisite, lovely, gorgeous goes the soundtrack in her head before she can stop it.

The other woman hears Janeway’s step and turns her head, a half smile touching her lips. “Admiral,” she says, with what sounds like real pleasure.

“Captain,” Janeway responds, hoping she sounds as assured.

Annika Hansen, late Seven of Nine, rises from her chair. For a moment Janeway has the terrified certainty that she is going to hug her, but Hansen merely leans in enough to touch her cheek with her own, a familiar yet formal greeting, and they both sit.

They move smoothly into how have you been, the latest missions, recent deaths and promotions. A waiter so professional as to be almost invisible takes their order and brings wine. The conversation is superficial enough that Janeway has plenty of attention left over to examine her former protégée. She’s surprised to see that Captain Hansen has allowed herself to age. She knows that the nanoprobes still active in Hansen’s body could have kept her looking much as she had fifteen years ago—after all, they are the source of the nanotechnology that keeps Janeway herself looking like a youthful fifty when she’s a hard-traveled sixty-one. But there are lines at the corners of Hansen’s eyes and white strands in her blonde hair. She looks, if anything, older than forty-four. Still beautiful, of course, and now elegant as well.

Part of Janeway marvels at what has become of her rescued drone. She is easy (easier, anyway) and more relaxed. Janeway can actually see her smile, rather than constantly having to read tiny clues in an impassive face. Someone who had never met her before might still characterize her as cold, might even speculate that perhaps autism had not been as thoroughly eliminated as neurogeneticists would like to believe, but to Janeway, it is miraculous.

“Annika—”

“Seven, please,” she says.

Janeway looks at her. “Really? But all your papers—” She stops, belatedly realizing that she has just essentially confessed to reading all Annika Hansen’s publications. (There is no actual shame in that. After all, Hansen captains a science vessel, the USS Fai-Tukh, and as such she is ultimately subject to the United Federation of Planets’ Division of Science Operations, Office of the Science Fleet, which is commanded by one Vice Admiral Kathryn Janeway. Still, Janeway does not read the scientific papers of any other captain in her fleet, and she suspects Hansen—Seven—would suspect that.)

“It’s valuable to be known by a typically human name in a professional context,” Seven says. “But my friends call me Seven.”

To Janeway’s surprise the traditionally terse Seven goes on, unprompted: “I have been Seven much longer than I was Annika. And Annika was a child. She did not act for herself; things were done to her. Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct to Unimatrix Zero-One, was a drone, and things were done to her. But as Seven, I became my own person.”

“Seven, then,” Janeway says, a little pleased that she has chosen the name with which Janeway herself will always think of her.

A tiny lift of the corner of Seven’s mouth, and she says, “Do you know, among people who claim to have a favorite number, a significant plurality say that it is seven?”

Janeway laughs. “I didn’t know that. But I’m not surprised.” At Seven’s inquiring look, Janeway says, “Seven is considered a lucky number in many cultures.”

Seven shakes her head, again with a smile. “Highly irrational, of course, to ascribe more agreeable characteristics to one number than to another.”

“We’re like that,” Janeway says.

“Irrational, or agreeable?” It is more obvious now when Seven is teasing.

“Both, I suppose,” Janeway answers, and wonders suddenly if they are flirting. She is dreadfully out of practice, and playful verbal nuance has never been a skill of Seven’s—but of course she doesn’t know Seven any more, not this Seven.

Their food arrives, and more wine, interrupting whatever feeble raillery they were having.

“I meant to ask,” Janeway says, shifting the conversation, “how you ended up in Starfleet. When we first returned, you were quite resistant to the idea. And I’d think you could write your own ticket just about anywhere. Three doctorates, right?”

“Most people only know about two of them,” Seven says, looking inscrutable again. “Xenobiology proved to be a controversial expertise for me to display, given how I came to most of my knowledge. But yes, I could have done any number of things, and I did for a few years. I discovered, though, that the”—she hesitates—“unregulated nature of civilian life was unsatisfactory.” Janeway has to hold her face very still at this. It’s not as if Seven had been particularly enthusiastic about regulations. “Additionally, the most interesting scientific projects are military or at least governmental in origin. Private ventures rarely afford scientists the luxury of exploration.”

“You’ve done well,” Janeway says. “You have your own ship. I’m impressed.”

Seven wrinkles her nose slightly. “Command has not been as enjoyable as I had thought it might be. It is good that I don’t have to ask for permission to pursue my interests”—not that you ever did, thinks Janeway—“but getting an entire crew to perform adequately is a monstrous task.” She looks over and perceives Janeway’s amusement. “I suppose I do not have to tell you that.”

They are on, then, to trading tales of wrangling subordinates and chain-of-command catastrophes. It is engaging but safely impersonal, and more of the evening spins away.

They have coffee, Irish coffee for Janeway and decaf for Seven, and Janeway thumbprints the bill over Seven’s not-very-strenuous objections.

“The speaking circuit has been good to me,” Janeway says.

“All right,” Seven says, “but you must let me take you for a drink, then. I have a favorite place I’d like to share with you.”

Janeway is intrigued, and the whiskey in her coffee has loosened her determination to be remote. “Let’s go, then.”

They walk out into the by-now cool evening, and Seven leads her to a squat, signless brick building only a few blocks away. A private club, with a velvet-smooth concierge who recognizes Seven immediately and hands over a key with a murmured pleasantry.

Seven takes her up a flight of stairs and down a silent thick-carpeted passageway. When she opens the door at the end, the suite they enter has a fire burning in the fireplace; Janeway doesn’t know whether to be impressed or annoyed that Seven has been able to predict when they would arrive—that they would arrive at all—accurately enough to have a fire lit.

“Quite a place,” Janeway says.

“My civilian ventures have been good to me,” Seven says, shrugging. Janeway knows it, of course. The anti-aging technology that senior Starfleet officers enjoy (not widely available due to its provenance, Starfleet believing—probably rightly—that most people would be deeply disturbed by having Borg-derived nanobots floating through their bodies) would alone command a lifetime’s worth of privilege, but Seven has also been involved, directly or indirectly, with myriad advances in propulsion, shielding, sensors, even transporter sensitivity. The Federation’s economy might no longer use tools as crude as money, but Annika Hansen was a rich woman nonetheless.

Seven crosses to a sideboard, opens a cabinet. “Dalmour?” she says. “I don’t remember your drinking it, but I find it pleasant. I think you’ll like it.”

Janeway accepts the heavy glass with its amber contents and takes a sip. It’s lovely, with a silken burn.

Seven turns, a glass in her own hand, and looks searchingly at Janeway. The room gets suddenly smaller; Janeway knows that the conversation she has dreaded is about to happen.

“We haven’t talked about the only thing that is really important,” Seven says at last.

“I hoped we wouldn’t,” Janeway mutters.

“Why?”

“There’s nothing for me to say except I’m sorry.”

“I think there is quite a bit to say. Beginning with why you think you need to be sorry.”

“I manipulated you into a sexual relationship,” Janeway bites out, “and then I broke it off.” Abruptly and unkindly. She suppresses a shudder of shame as she suppresses the memory.

“Manipulated,” Seven repeats, thoughtfully. “I think it was much more mutual than that.” She glances up, steely. “Though I’ll agree, the breaking off was unpleasant.”

Seven sobbing on her knees on the floor—the memory stings Janeway, unbidden and unwelcome, but it’s a lash that she has earned. “You had had less than two years of experience as a social human being,” Janeway says, loathing herself. “You were essentially a child, and I as good as raped you.”

Seven, disconcertingly, laughs. “Have you been beating yourself with that for fifteen years?” she asks. She becomes quickly serious. “Kathryn, I was not a child. I was awkward, but I was no innocent. Being part of the Borg took many things from me, but it gave me things, too. Lifetimes of experience.” She steps forward toward Janeway. “Did we ever do anything that I didn’t agree to, or even instigate? I kissed you first. I touched you first.”

Janeway is sure she has a response to this, but her mouth is too dry to speak and her body seems to be frozen.

Seven, unrelenting, steps nearer still. “Don’t you remember? I asked you—I begged you. I gave myself to you, Kathryn. Willingly. Happily. I knew what I wanted and I got it.”

Somehow she has gotten even closer, almost touching Janeway’s body with her own. She says, low and sad, “The only thing I didn’t know was that you were going to hate yourself for it.”

Janeway closes her eyes, wishing that she wouldn’t ever have to open them again. She realizes that she’s shaking her head, and she makes herself reopen her eyes and look at Seven. “I was in command of a starship that needed its leader to be superhuman. I wasn’t, but I had to make everyone on that ship believe I was. I couldn’t have needs.”

“Even though you did,” Seven murmurs. She takes Janeway by the hand and pulls her over to the armchairs in front of the fireplace.

“Even though I did.” Janeway sits where Seven has guided her, barely registering the lush suppleness of the chair’s leather.

“No one would have—”

“Of course not,” Janeway interrupts. “No one would have blamed me, or said anything other than ‘Thank God, the captain finally got laid.’ But everyone would have felt just a little less secure.” She takes a long sip of the whiskey and then reminds herself to drink slowly.

Seven clearly wants to object, but with a visible effort, she doesn’t. “I will never convince you otherwise,” she says, instead of whatever it was she wanted to say.

“You won’t,” Janeway says.

“But that is not why you ended our liaison,” Seven continues.

Janeway wants to insist that it was. It would have done irreparable damage to her untouchable authority, and by extension to the efficacy of Voyager’s crew, for her involvement with Seven to become public—she does believe that. But she isn’t capable of anything but complete honesty with the most brutally honest person she has ever known. “It was wrong,” she says quietly. “Wrong of me ever to touch you.”

“It felt wrong to you,” Seven says. “That’s different.” She looks suddenly tired and reluctant, and she leans back into the creaking embrace of her own chair. “With the years I have realized things, learned things, that made me appreciate how difficult it was for you to be with me, even in the limited way you were.”

“You’ve been in command of a crew,” Janeway says.

“Yes, that ...” There is a shift, a feel of something weighty about to happen. Seven takes a deep breath and says, “Other things, also.”

“Like?” Janeway frowns.

“I spent some time in a Traditionalist community in Colorado,” Seven says. She is looking into her glass, not at Janeway, and her voice is slow and careful. “I was surprised by some of the ancillary tenets they hold to.”

Janeway slides her eyes to her own glass. Damn, she thinks. Aloud she says, “They’ve preserved a number of wonderful and important human practices and customs, but they’ve also maintained, or resurrected, a few things that should have gone the way of the internal combustion engine.”

“In the community I visited,” Seven says, “I was particularly struck by what seemed to me to be rather antiquated notions of sexuality.”

Janeway does not look up. She swirls the glass, letting the ice eddy, and finally says, “Yes. It’s a peculiarity.”

“Specifically,” Seven continues—and now Janeway can feel Seven’s eyes on her—“with regard to same-sex relationships. I did not know there were still pockets of such prejudice.”

“Well,” Janeway says, hunting for something bland to say. “No community is without its blind spots.”

“It seems to me,” Seven says softly, “that you might have mentioned that you were raised in a culture that actively condemns the kind of relationship we were trying to have.”

“I hadn’t lived in a Traditionalist world for a long time,” Janeway says. “It wasn’t relevant.” She’s aware that she’s on the defensive, because hell, Seven’s right.

Relentlessly Seven asks, “It wasn’t relevant that you had heard, over and over, for as long as you could understand language, that physical passion between two people of the same biological sex was disgusting? That love between two women was a sin? That had no effect on you?”

“Of course it did,” Janeway whispers.

“Oh, Kathryn,” Seven says, leaning forward again, the hurt in her voice matched by the compassion. “What you said, about the impossibility of being in a relationship while you were in command—”

“That was true,” Janeway breaks in fiercely. “That was all true.”

“But it was only part. And I think not even the most important part.”

Janeway is unable to reply. She is ashamed of how ashamed she had been, and there is no way to make it right.

Seven is in no hurry to say anything either. She has never had the kind of social anxiety that forces most people to fill silences, so she is perfectly able to sit, watching, and wait for Janeway to break.

She does, of course. “I’m sorry, Seven. Yes. You had a right to know everything that was going on in my mind at that time.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t—” Janeway chokes. There are several answers to this question, and none of them are flattering to her. Finally she says, “I didn’t want to infect you. If I’d told you how I felt, how guilty, how ... wrong ... There was no reason for you to feel that way too.”

The eyebrow shoots up. “I believe I would not have felt anything of the sort. It is entirely illogical.”

Janeway laughs bitterly. “Of course. That doesn’t prevent it from being powerful.” She takes another swig of the whiskey, the ice clacking against her teeth, and she realizes that somehow or other she’s finished the whole thing.

She isn’t, unfortunately, drunk. She can still read Seven’s face (she would have thought that she’d be out of practice, but no, she’s still preternaturally alert to all the tiny shifts that signal Seven’s emotions, especially now that Seven is so much less guarded), and she can tell that Seven has slid from hurt to anger. Murderous anger, if the extra-deep grooves at the corners of her mouth are an accurate indication. And suddenly Janeway is sick of it, and angry herself. “I can’t apologize any more than I already have,” she growls.

“I’m not angry at you,” Seven says tightly.

That surprises Janeway. “Then what are you angry about?”

“Things that hurt you,” Seven says, “make me angry.”

And those words cause the pain to blossom anew. How can Seven go on being so good to her, in the face of what she has inflicted? “It hurt you too,” she finally says, quietly. “At least as much as it did me.”

“What makes you say that?”

“You never married,” Janeway says. “You never even had a long-term relationship.” She is past trying to pretend that she hasn’t kept tabs on everything Seven’s done.

“I did not,” Seven answers. “Neither did you.”

“There has to have been someone,” Janeway insists, ignoring the second part of Seven’s comment. Inside she pleads, Tell me you haven’t been alone for fifteen years.

“There does not have to have been anyone,” Seven says. “And there has not been.” Her eyes on Janeway’s, she says, “That isn’t your fault, Kathryn. That was a choice. It isn’t tragic. I have good friends, some family. I am not lonely unless I want to be.”

“But no one ...” She can’t bring herself to say it.

“No lovers,” Seven says evenly. “I decided that I would not become intimate with anyone unless they made me feel the way you did, and I have not found anyone who has.”

“Oh God,” Janeway blurts, all her fear and guilt in two syllables.

Seven surveys her and repeats, gently, “That isn’t your fault. I might have found someone, and I would not have hesitated if I had. I simply didn’t.” A smile shadows the corners of her mouth. “I have perfect memories. They are enough.”

Janeway closes her eyes. Seven’s meaning is double: Her memory is perfect, the gift of her enhanced intellect, and what she remembers is, to her, also perfect. The weight of it is overwhelming. Janeway has never wanted to mean this much to anyone. “But we had so little,” she whispers. “We were together a handful of times ...”

“Eight,” Seven says promptly. “We made love on eight occasions.” When Janeway’s eyes fly back open, Seven adds dryly, “I recall each occurrence clearly. Would you like me to describe them to you?”

Janeway is able to laugh at this, and shakes her head. She doesn’t need reminding. She might not have the photographic clarity of Borg memory but she remembers well enough. The willing softness of that beautiful body, the incredible, precious power of knowing that she was the first (and only, her contemporary knowledge reminds her, still the only) to see her, to touch her, to kiss and tongue and suck and thrust ... Seven had opened herself with total trust and without shame.

Janeway knows only a second or two has gone by, and that an ordinary companion would not even have noticed her distraction, but she knows just as clearly that Seven will not have missed her brief absence and will be keenly aware of where she has been. She flushes as she says, as evenly as she can, “It was important to me too. I hope you know that.”

Seven nods. “I do.”

“You deserved better,” Janeway says. She doesn’t want it to sound bitter, but it does.

Seven makes as if to reply, then shakes her head impatiently. “It does not matter anymore, Kathryn. It doesn’t,” she insists, raising a hand as Janeway starts to object. “I did not ask for this evening with you to rehash the past or complain about a time when you were not ready to be with me—for whatever reason.” She glares at Janeway, challenging her to interrupt, which she doesn’t. “I asked you to meet me to find out if you are ready now.”

Janeway is stunned into speechlessness.

Of all the things Seven could have said, this is one she had not even dared to imagine. She had expected to take a dressing-down, to be asked to explain herself, to have an apology demanded, any and all of which she feels she deserves. This, this unanticipated, unearned offer of grace—it shimmers in front of her, beautiful and delicate, and she scrambles for the right thing to say to it.

Seven, however, reads Janeway’s openmouthed, astonished silence in another way. For the first time all night, her characteristic self-assurance slips. Her eyes flick down and away as she says, “Of course it has been many years. I should not presume that you still feel as you did. Or”—the pain in her face is all the clearer for her obvious desire to hide it—“that you ever felt ...”

“Seven,” Janeway breaks in, her panic about where Seven’s thoughts are going overcoming her panic about saying something wrong. “Seven, no. It’s not that I don’t feel ...” She searches for the words for what she does feel, and they fail her. She goes on, “... exactly as you think I do. It’s just that—I didn’t expect this. I didn’t think you would ever be able to get past what I did on Voyager. God knows you probably shouldn’t.”

The eyebrow arches. “I shouldn’t?”

“I hurt you,” Janeway says, her own pain and regret filling her voice. “I hurt you on purpose, to make you stop caring for me.”

“It did not work,” Seven says calmly.

Janeway looks at Seven, feeling, knowing that the next thing she says will be perhaps the most important thing she has ever said in her life. The moment freezes and stretches, the only thing on her mind the person sitting next to her. She realizes that she has reached over and taken Seven’s hand in her own. Finally, hoarsely, she says, “I’m glad.”

The look on Seven’s face is, for a moment, pure joy; but she shutters it quickly, forcing herself into neutrality as she says, “So the question remains. Are you ready now?”

Everything in Janeway’s being wants to shout Yes! Yes! But she can’t give this unflinchingly truthful woman anything but the truth. “I think so,” she says, making herself look directly into the clear blue eyes. “I hope so. I’m going to do my damnedest.”

Seven absorbs this and nods, a slight, slow nod, its restraint belying the profound trust it conveys. “That is all you should promise, Kathryn,” she says. “That is all I can ask.”

Janeway tries but fails to prevent an undignified grin from spreading across her face; seconds later she sees a mirror of that huge, bright grin come to Seven’s face as well. (Has she ever seen a smile that big from Seven? She is sure she hasn’t.) Relief and gladness pour through her. Which of them laughs first, she isn’t sure, but they laugh together, dissipating the intense tension and filling the space between them with happiness.

When the laughter trails off, Janeway asks, “Now what?” It is a genuine question, and she is amazed at the freedom she feels in this loose, directionless moment. She can’t think of another time in her life that she has faced any future without a tightly scripted plan.

“This,” Seven says. Keeping Janeway’s hand in hers, she puts her glass down, freeing the other. Fluidly she slides out of her chair and kneels in front of Janeway, runs her hand from Janeway’s hip around and up her spine to the back of her neck, and with a firm but gentle pull brings her down to where their lips can meet. Janeway doesn’t have time to be startled; she relaxes instinctively into the kiss. It is an excellent kiss, bordering on the spectacular. It begins soft and lazy, moves into exploratory, and finishes with hunger. When they break apart, they are both breathing heavily, and Janeway does not even try to pull away but lets her cheek rest against Seven’s as they recover.

One thing prevents this moment from being perfect. “Seven,” Janeway breathes. “Come here.” She uses the hand that she’s wrapped around Seven’s back to urge her upward. When Seven hesitates, Janeway says, voice rough, “Don’t kneel to me. Come up here.” She feels Seven nod against her cheek and rise, joining Janeway on her armchair, knees on either side of Janeway’s thighs and hands grasping the chair’s back.

She settles onto Janeway’s lap, leans down from her new perspective, and murmurs, “Better?” Janeway nods, and then Seven’s mouth is on hers again. This time they skip gentle and begin immediately at ravenous: Seven’s first touch is with her tongue, teasing Janeway’s lips apart and entering her mouth urgently. This kiss is less kissing than it is sucking, nipping, claiming.

Janeway has no idea how long they explore each other. It’s just mouths for slow opening moments, but then they both begin to move their hands. Seven lets go of the chair back and slides her hands over Janeway’s shoulders, up her neck, to where she can hold Janeway’s face between her hands while she kisses her; Janeway strokes Seven’s back, her hips, runs her fingers between them up the front of Seven’s silky shirt to brush over her breasts. And still, they kiss. It’s wet and lazy and somehow beautifully coordinated, a dance of lip and tongue and a little bit of tooth.

Finally Seven pulls away to bury her face in Janeway’s neck. Janeway lets her head roll to the side, the better to give Seven room to burrow, and they rest.

“Are you staying here, at this club?” Janeway asks.

Seven pulls her head out of the warm crook of neck and shoulder far enough to be able to see Janeway’s face out of the corner of her eye. The smile that comes over Seven’s face is both sensuous and certain. “What you really want to know is, is there a bed close by,” she says. She unfolds herself from Janeway’s chair, takes her hand, and pulls her up. “The answer is yes.”

She takes them through a door into a simple but handsome room, also boasting a fire in its fireplace. The centerpiece, though, is a king-sized bed with a forest-green duvet and a heavy, dark-stained headboard. Janeway stares at it, already in her mind grasping that headboard with both hands while Seven, behind her, holds her around the hips with one long, strong arm. With the other hand … She can’t help but remember Seven’s power and patience, and the memory sends a liquid bolt of want piercing through her. Taking a deep breath, she shakes the fantasy away.

Next to her Seven, too, is looking at the bed with a distant but urgent energy. Is she feeling like the virgin she’d been fifteen years ago, offering herself to her captain, pleading for the relief of an ache she barely understood? Is the reel unspooling in her head of the moment she first took Kathryn Janeway into her body? Her memory is doubtless precise and clear, giving her the feel of the sheets against her shoulder blades, the warmth and weight of another woman lying half over her, the slick ecstasy of a hand stroking between her legs, finally the breathtaking sensation of fingers pushing deep into her with one slow, smooth stroke. Janeway remembers it almost as well.

And now they are standing alone in a private place, staring together at a bed. There is no question as to what they are both hungering to do, and yet they hesitate.

Seven is the one who turns, takes Janeway’s other hand, and faces her. “There is something that must be clear before we go on, Kathryn.”

Janeway nods, mute before Seven’s sudden seriousness.

“I am coming together with you, Kathryn, with the expectation that you will never arbitrarily push me away again.” Her voice is steady, her eyes intent. “I realize that neither of us can predict what might change between us in the future, but it must be between us. From this moment on, any decisions we make that might affect us both, we make together.”

Janeway has never been able to believe in the God that was so important to her mother, but she can recognize a sacred moment when she’s in one. “That I will promise,” she says quietly.

And with that, the world silently spins and tilts and comes to rest on a different axis. This is not simply an adventure in naked skin. Their lives will change. The fact is clear and concrete and enormous, as momentous as anything that has ever happened to either of them before. Still, Janeway’s only amazement is that she feels entirely peaceful about what she’s doing. As quickly as this has come upon her, and as thorough a revolution as it is likely to incite, she has not the smallest doubt.

Seven undresses them. Not just herself and not just Janeway, but both of them. When Janeway tries to assist, tries to unbutton a button or shrug off an arm, Seven touches her hands or shoulders, just enough to still her. She doesn’t say a word—neither of them do. She doesn’t hurry; this isn’t a frantic shedding of clothes before a frantic rut. Every piece of clothing is unfastened with steady fingers, then drawn off with a measured grace, and Janeway closes her eyes and lets herself fully experience the sensation of fabric slipping over her skin and falling away. It’s solemn and not exactly sexual, though it’s deeply tactile.

When they’re both naked, they look at each other for a long moment without touching.

Inexplicably Janeway is not feeling vulnerable. Her own nudity has always felt faintly ridiculous to her, and she has made up for the sensation by assuming a brisk efficiency—low light and no nonsense. Sex has generally been an athletic event for her. This is different: Some invisible armor has been peeled off along with her clothes, and nakedness feels light and complete, wholly natural, wholly herself. Her admiralty, her responsibility and gravity, is lying on the floor along with her severe (though expensive and flattering) suit, and she stands there as Kathryn. She is who she is. Seven has undressed but not exposed her, and she can’t think of why she feels that way except that there is nothing to reveal, nothing Seven doesn’t already have and know.

Seven reaches out at last and gently places her fingertips on Kathryn’s hips, and as she does Kathryn reaches up and puts her hands on Seven’s shoulders. They ghost each other forward until their bodies just touch, and they both revel for a moment in the faintest kiss of skin on skin where contact is made: soft underside of forearm to biceps, belly to belly. Prickle of pubic mound just below Kathryn’s navel; plane of sternum just under Seven’s breasts.

“You remember,” Kathryn says, her voice a bit hoarse after these long silent moments, “the first time we were together.” It isn’t a question, but Seven nods, and she uses the motion to smooth her cheek to Kathryn’s temple. “You gave yourself to me. You told me you were mine, you were all mine, and you laid yourself on my bed and you said—” There is a sudden catch in her voice.

Seven is nodding against her. “I said, anything. Anything you wanted. That you could have me on my back or my belly or my knees, that you could use your hands or your tongue or your teeth—” Kathryn groans and puts her fingers to Seven’s lips to stem her words, and feels her smile as she goes on nonetheless, “I meant it.” She nips Kathryn’s fingers gently with her lips and adds, in a low tone with a hint of growl, “And you did.”

“I did,” Kathryn agrees. She has to take a deep breath to keep from falling into the memory, but flutters her eyes back open. “Now I want to give myself to you,” she murmurs, her mouth at Seven’s jaw. “Now I’m yours. I want you to take me, any way you want me.”

Seven’s breath stops briefly. Clearly this is unexpected, and hot. Then she slides her cheek down, down over Kathryn’s to touch their lips together, and she whispers into Kathryn’s mouth, “I fully intend to.”

Kathryn knows that with her surrender she has asked for something important and possibly quite difficult. If Kathryn is going to give, Seven has to take, and that is something at which she has no experience. She has never been the one who set the pace and opened the doors. But Seven is nothing if not quick of mind, and after only the barest hesitation the set of her body shows that she has made a decision: She will simply forge forward and be what Kathryn wants her to be.

Seven’s fingers tighten, digging into Kathryn’s hips, and she pulls their bodies together. Kathryn is reminded of just how strong Seven is as her feet almost leave the floor, and she clutches Seven’s shoulders. In the next heartbeat Seven is kissing her with an urgency and desperation that has not shown itself before, and Kathryn tightens her arms, feeling the corded muscles moving under her lover’s skin as Seven slides her hands onto Kathryn’s back and presses their bodies together.

Then they’re stumbling toward the bed, Seven half carrying her, and they fall together onto the mattress. The bed stands high, and Kathryn hits the edge mid-thigh, splaying her legs as she lands on her back. Seven doesn’t waste her advantage. Hands on either side of Kathryn’s torso, she dips quickly down to nip and nuzzle at Kathryn’s neck, makes a pass at one nipple with her tongue, and just as quickly pushes herself back up. Then her hands are sure under Kathryn’s knees, lifting and spreading her legs. She pulls herself back and looks. Her gaze shows part wonder, part lust.

Again, somehow, Kathryn doesn’t feel exposed. She feels—what? Generous, and bountiful, and unbelievably eager. “Don’t tease,” she says. “Not now. We can be slow later.”

Seven flicks her eyes up to meet Kathryn’s and nods. She doesn’t speak; she wastes no motion; she simply lowers herself to her knees between Kathryn’s legs and leans forward.

Kathryn gasps at the touch of Seven’s mouth, a firm press of tongue that slides from her entrance slowly up to her clit. Kathryn lets her hips move against Seven, feeling the hungry movement against the nerve-rich flesh. Seven is using her lips now, even her teeth a little bit, trapping Kathryn’s clit and pulling, nibbling.

Then it’s the flat of her tongue, stroking powerfully; then a feather-touch at the sensitive opening, around and around, and finally inside, in and out—so much and not enough.

Kathryn has never wanted so much, so unabashedly, nor has she ever felt such trust. She has had a lifetime of neat, fierce sex in which she is always, always in control; she has neat, fierce orgasms that are usually her own doing. What is building in her body now might be fierce but it will not be neat. She doesn’t care. She’s not thinking about it—she’s not thinking at all. For the first time in her sexual life, she lets go.

Seven changes her rhythm again and begins using her bottom lip, teeth and chin solid behind it firming the touch, to stroke Kathryn’s clit, over and over and over. She pauses now and then for a brilliant, quick flick of her tongue and then resumes, the steady strength of her jaw working Kathryn ever closer to release. Kathryn has one hazy half-coherent thought—Oh, that’s why it’s called eating—and then works her fingers into Seven’s hair, gripping her head with both hands, more to hold herself to the bed than to offer guidance. The muscles in her abdomen tense involuntarily, and the pleasure of the sensations begins to build and transform into a pool of fluid fire deep in her cunt. She is close, so close, she can feel that she is on the edge, and suddenly the pool erupts and floods her.

She cries out (another thing she never does during sex), long and wordless, and when she recovers enough to be able to process sensory input again, Seven is simply resting her head at the junction of Kathryn’s thighs. She can feel Seven’s breath on her swollen flesh; it is both incredibly stimulating and comfortingly intimate. Kathryn forces her fingers to relax and strokes Seven’s hair. Touching the head between her legs is strangely like touching herself.

After a moment, Seven raises her head and meets her eyes. “Come up here,” Kathryn murmurs, and pushes herself back fully onto the bed as Seven rises and climbs up next to her. They lie together, facing each other, Seven with one hand on Kathryn’s hip while Kathryn explores Seven’s skin with her fingertips. It is a long time before either of them speaks.

Kathryn is the one who finally breaks into the quiet. “No one else?” she says. “That was entirely new, Seven. I find it hard to believe that you haven’t been practicing.”

Seven smiles. “I have been developing my imagination,” she replies.

Kathryn laughs. “I did tell you how important the imagination could be.”

After another long, comfortable stretch of silence, Seven props her head up on her hand, the better to look Kathryn in the face. “When we entered the room, you were struck by something as you looked at the bed. Tell me what it was.”

Kathryn hesitates. This, too, had not been part of their repertoire. They did; they didn’t talk. But Seven’s gaze is unyielding—there had been nothing rhetorical about the question. Kathryn says, after a moment’s awkward hesitation, “I was thinking about the headboard.”

Seven inquires, “The headboard?” She twists her head to look up at it. “It is not a very remarkable piece of furniture. Not, certainly, deserving of the effect it had on you.”

Kathryn swallows. “I was thinking about holding it. Kneeling. With you behind me. And ...” She trails off, but only after she sees Seven slowly begin to smile. It is a smile full of understanding and lust.

“That,” Seven says, “is inspired.” In a moment she is on all fours, looking predatory. “Do it,” she breathes, in a voice that she must have refined at command school. “Up on your knees.”

Kathryn, to her own surprise, feels liquid heat lick deep in her cunt at Seven’s tone. She obeys. Seven takes her by the hips and moves her, facing her to the head of the bed; then she seizes Kathryn’s wrists and puts her hands on the headboard. Sliding her hands over Kathryn’s, her grip firm, she says into Kathryn’s hair, “Hold this. Don’t let go.”

Kathryn can only nod.

And then Seven covers her, her front pressed to Kathryn’s back, her hands on her breasts, pulling their bodies close together even as she searches out Kathryn’s nipples with her fingers. Kathryn feels teeth in the muscle of her neck, and then tongue hot against her skin. She hears herself making tiny gasping noises as Seven bites and licks up the corded column of her throat, finally taking the lobe of her ear between her lips and sucking. All the while Seven is squeezing, rolling, torturing the painfully erect tissue of her nipples.

Abruptly Seven grabs the headboard next to Kathryn’s right hand to brace herself and slides her left hand down over Kathryn’s abdomen, through the crisp curls of her pubic hair, and directly between her labia, fingers pushing to either side of her clit. Kathryn can’t stop the guttural sound that punches from her core. Seven slides back and forth, back and forth, smearing Kathryn’s wetness everywhere, stroking the oh so sensitive flesh around her entrance, flicking and rubbing and pinching until Kathryn is almost sobbing, biting her own lower lip to keep herself from begging but feeling an ache inside that needs Seven’s touch—no, Seven’s thrust, Seven’s fuck.

Seven pulls back. The hand that had been frantic between Kathryn’s legs is grasping her hip; the hand that had clutched the headboard comes behind, between Kathryn’s legs, pressing flat against the need there. “Tell me,” she orders. “Tell me what you want.”

“Inside me,” Kathryn gasps. She pushes her hips back into Seven’s hand, needing, needing.

She hears a desperate exhale through Seven’s nose, and then her voice again, as her fingers merely pulse against Kathryn: “I want to hear more than that. Tell me.”

Kathryn is almost too frenzied to know what Seven means, but finally she is able to say, “Fuck me. Fuck me, please, please, fuck me—”

And Seven thrusts in. She shifts her hand from Kathryn’s hip to support her belly from beneath with a firm pressure, and with her other, unaugmented hand, she fucks her. She pulls out slowly, slowly, exquisitely slowly, and then she stabs back in as far as Kathryn’s cunt can take her. Again and again, a slow pull, a brutal push. And every time Seven’s fingers hit the depth of Kathryn’s body, Kathryn makes a sound—half groan, half scream—that neither of them has ever heard before.

A few moments of this is enough for both of them: it’s extraordinary, but it also quickly approaches too much. Seven shifts her weight back, getting comfortable, settling in. She clearly wants to make this last. She gentles the motion of her hand and finds a rhythm that gives Kathryn what she needs.

For a moment Kathryn imagines Seven’s sensations. The slick, ridged flesh under her fingers, the swelling wall that she strokes, the powerful muscles that squeeze her and then take her in. The sucking, squelching sounds of her fingers are almost as loud as Kathryn’s cries.

It goes on and on—Kathryn can’t tell how long it goes on. She doesn’t care. The universe has shrunk to the wood in her hands that she hangs from, the feel of Seven’s body behind her, one hand holding her up, the other hand pumping methodically into her over and over and over. She can’t tell whether it’s two fingers inside her or three, but the sweet stretch and burn would make her think three, if she could think. It hurts a little, it does, but the feeling is so much more than pain, and she has missed it so much; it has been so long since she was satisfied like this.

She relaxes and opens herself inside, allowing Seven’s fingertips to hit her very center, pressing into a knot of deep pleasure. After taking a dozen or so thrusts like this the sensation threatens to overwhelm her, and she tightens again, now focusing on the feeling of Seven’s fingers stroking the length of her cunt.

Seven is strong. And patient. Kathryn knows, trusts, that Seven will do this forever if she needs to, if Kathryn wants it. “Faster. Just a little,” Kathryn sobs out.

“Ask me.”

“Faster, please, fuck me faster, still deep, I need you hard and deep and fast—” And she gets what she asks for. Seven’s hand accelerates, though it is a slow build over a period of, what, a minute? two minutes? until she is pistoning in and out.

One moment Kathryn is suspended in sensation, unable to do more than spread and clutch, and then with startling quickness a new, tender tension begins to build where Seven touches deepest, and it spreads all through her abdomen, shortening her breath. In no more than a minute, she breaks. A fierce tingling sweeps over her skin as sweet, sharp pleasure surges through her.

When she is able to feel the world outside herself again, she has collapsed onto her arms and Seven is buried inside her, holding her, crouched over her body. She can sense that her cheeks are wet, and her breath is ragged. Her throat feels harsh. She is full of Seven, surrounded by Seven, and she doesn’t want it ever to end.

But eventually, she also feels hot and sore, and she pulls herself forward, off Seven’s fingers. She groans as Seven slides out of her, wanting nothing more than to take her back in and knowing that it wouldn’t actually feel good at all.

They collapse together, spooning. Kathryn lets herself be folded back into Seven’s embrace, content. For the first time in a long time, there is nowhere else she thinks she should be, nothing more she wants to do.

Except Seven, of course. As her heart rate finally slows, Kathryn reaches back, putting a possessive hand on Seven’s hip, and smiles into the crook of the arm she’s lying on.

“What amuses you?” Seven says low into her ear.

Kathryn smiles even more broadly. “That I’m here. That this just happened. That I’m starting a new life with you, and that you make me feel like that.”

Seven is silent for a moment, and then says, “That is quite a lot.”

“Oh,” Kathryn purrs, shifting her body so that she faces her lover, “that’s just the beginning. I seem to remember that I really, really loved watching you come.”

Seven’s lips quirk. “Perhaps you did. Certainly you never let me leave your bed until I had.”

“I’m not letting you leave your bed until you do, either,” Kathryn vows, sliding a hand to a perfect breast, taking a perfect nipple between thumb and finger.

“Are you sure you remember how?” Seven says, kissing Kathryn softly on the lips.

“Is that a reference to my advanced age?” Kathryn asked, pretending outrage.

Seven smiled. “If that were going to bother me, I would certainly have brought it up already.”

“Yes,” Kathryn says, “self-censorship is generally not your failing.” She rolls the hardening flesh in her fingers thoughtfully, then dips her head and replaces her fingers with her lips. Seven’s breath catches as Kathryn flicks her tongue gently over the nipple. “I think,” she says, muffled by her mouth’s being full, “it will come back to me.”

Amazingly, it does.

 

 

The early morning of a clear winter’s day in San Francisco is as close to perfect as life on this planet gets. That is especially true when the day dawns to strong hands stroking up one’s thighs, strong fingers parting, exploring, penetrating.

Now they are eating toast and drinking coffee, and Janeway, at least, is trying not to think about what happens next. Just what she has committed to is uneasily bumping at the edge of her brain. She doesn’t regret it, but it isn’t in her nature to be comfortable simply letting things happen.

“Now what?” she says aloud. She hadn’t fully intended to, but they might as well start their discussion now.

Seven looks up from buttering a slice of toast. “Sightseeing?”

Janeway is about to snap something acerbic before she notices the slight curve of Seven’s lips. “Very funny,” she growls. “I think I preferred it when I didn’t have to anticipate the possibility of humor from you.”

“I can certainly cease the effort,” Seven says, biting into her toast.

“I mean,” Janeway clarifies, “we have committed to a life-changing course of action. At least I have,” shooting Seven a glance. “So what is the course?”

“I did say that we would make future decisions together,” Seven remarks. “I would not be so presumptuous as to make them without consulting you.”

“I imagine, though,” Janeway counters, “that you have an idea.”

Seven sips her coffee. She has either acquired a taste for it, or she is pretending, to make Janeway feel comfortable. Janeway would bet on the former, given that Seven has never been one to dissemble for other people’s sake—or indeed to dissemble at all. “I do have a proposal,” she says finally. “A possibility.”

Janeway waits. “Well?” she prompts after a moment.

“I recently lost two of my science officers,” Seven says dispassionately.

Janeway blanches slightly. It seems like a cavalier attitude toward losing crew, even for Seven.

Seven, however, lifts an eyebrow at Janeway’s reaction and says, “Not like that, Kathryn. They married each other and took a joint posting at a deep space observatory.”

Janeway tries not to look too relieved.

Fai-Tukh is a science vessel, Kathryn. We do not engage in combat. I have never had a casualty among my crew.” Seven gestures with one hand, dismissing the subject. “In any case, I have been able to recruit one replacement already, but I still have a vacancy that I must fill.”

Janeway doesn’t quite see where this is going. It’s not as if she could take a posting on a science ship, even a senior posting; she’s an admiral, she would outrank the commander of the vessel. To say nothing of the fact that she has an assignment of her own within Starfleet Command.

“I could fill that position with a civilian contractor.”

So? Janeway thinks. I’m not a … But it takes her only a moment to catch up. She certainly could take a civilian post—if she left Starfleet. Even as she understands the suggestion, though, she is shaking her head. “Seven, I can’t do that. I can’t just resign my commission. I have responsibilities.”

Seven looks at her steadily. “You command and coordinate the science fleet. It is a great responsibility. And you hate it.”

“I don’t—” Janeway sputters.

“I listened to you describe your work life at great length last night, Kathryn. You did not have to tell me that you hate your job. Everything about the way you talk about it, from your tone of voice to the vocabulary you use, says you are bored and resentful.”

Janeway opens her mouth, closes it, and shifts her eyes off into the San Francisco sky. After a moment, she says stiffly, “It was a challenge I enjoyed. For about six months. But—you’re right, of course. I’m sitting at a desk, except when I’m riding herd on a bunch of squabbling scientists.” She sighs. “I’m either a paper pusher or a den mother, and I’m not very interested in being either one.”

“But you do not want to resign, because your position is prestigious.”

Janeway wants to object. I am not that shallow. But a moment of honest reflection, acknowledging her own doubts and thoughts of the past year, tells her that Seven is right. “It would be difficult,” she says reluctantly, “to leave the admiralty that commands the entire science fleet to take a subordinate position on a science vessel.”

Seven is silent for a moment. “It would,” she says at last, “or it will?” Then she holds up her hand. “Do not respond, Kathryn. I’m sorry. I do not require you to make this decision instantly. After all, we have discussed only one possibility.”

Janeway would sag with relief, if she ever let herself do something so undisciplined as sag. “It is,” she said, carefully. “I’d like to throw out some others.”

 

 

Eleven hours later, Janeway stands at the top of Twin Peaks, cold in the wind, legs and feet aching from an entire day spent walking the city. She looks out at the scattering of lights, and her heart lurches as it always does. So much of the city still dark; so much ever dark. San Francisco had always, it seemed, been the first to suffer in the many trials of the Federation and pre-Federation eras. First the rising seas had eaten beautiful buildings and much of the city’s value. Then, in the decades after, the remaining population had been hit terribly hard, isolated and fully developed as the city was, by the shortages of arable land and hence of food and water. When the superplagues of a century after that had descended, the infrastructure was barely functioning, certainly not well enough to cope with thousands of dying and dead or to manage the containment of mutating, virulent diseases.

San Francisco had been reclaimed and proudly restored in the middle days of the Federation, and its renaissance had felt so emblematic of what the Federation could accomplish that it had become the home of the headquarters of Starfleet. And that, in turn, had brought the apocalyptic attention of the Federation’s enemies. San Francisco had not quite been flattened in the Dominion War, but close.

Janeway sees the evidence of this in the swaths of the city where no light burns in the winter night, but she attends to it only on the inarticulate emotional level that she can’t escape. Her conscious thoughts are in a very specific elsewhere.

Serve under her on her ship. No one does such a thing. No one reaches the top of the most powerful organization in the known universe only to become a grunt on a starship. A drone, something whispers in her ear. Mayor to garbage collector: it’s shameful to think of it. But at the same time she’s ashamed of that shame. If she can do something exciting and valuable as a civilian scientist, why should she hang on to the stultifying rigidity of a Starfleet admiralty? She has never been so restricted in what she could accomplish, not even as a newly minted ensign on her first posting. But some of that, surely, is due to her own lack of inspiration, her acquired willingness to settle. With Seven in her life, could she be a better admiral?

Ask her to serve under me, at Starfleet. Happiness here relies on the assumption that Seven’s presence in her life would re-create her ability to act independently of the creaking bureaucracy she toils in. That, she has to admit, is a romantic but farfetched notion. And if she can’t find a more fulfilling way to work in Starfleet, why should they take this course? Because it would be better for both of them to be miserable, rather than just one of them? Seven had not been wrong about how Janeway regards her current assignment. It’s noble and important and boring. Seven needs to do real work, making real discoveries. And, to be honest, so does she, and she hasn’t done it for years. Working together at Starfleet Headquarters could easily be a mutual torture with no real goal.

Leave Starfleet altogether, both of us. And possibly, probably, be planetbound for the rest of their lives. Both of them lived most fully in three dimensions and unfathomable distances. They belonged in everpresent danger: implacable vacuum for lightyears on every side; unpredictable and lethal anomalies pinpricking the vastness and beckoning with their seductive mysteries. Theirs was the rhythm of starships, and starships belonged to Starfleet. Trading that to teach at the Academy, perhaps, or consult safely and remotely on engineering projects, would be death. Well-compensated, comfortable death, but death nonetheless.

Three unpalatable options, but the best they’d been able to come up with. And every single one seems humiliating.

Except—Janeway realizes suddenly, thunderously, that one of them is only humiliating from the perspective of someone else. Someone she doesn’t particularly like. “What do you want, Kathryn?” she asks herself aloud. “What do you want in your day?” She wants to be active, engaged, alive; she wants to move between the stars; she wants to again be the woman who does not give a damn what anyone else thinks. She wants Seven. And the choice is so painfully, ridiculously clear that she can’t even remember being unsure.

She turns to the twisting path back down to the valley, the city, and home, with a lighter heart than she’s had in years.

 

 

She comes into the suite to find Seven curled up on a couch, reading on a padd. She is, entertainingly, wearing a pair of half-glasses, which she looks over as Janeway enters.

“I’d have to take orders from you,” Janeway says to her with no preamble. “How well do you think that would work, exactly?”

This time no one, not even someone completely new to the expressions of the onetime Borg, could have missed the sardonic smile. “I imagine you will do about as well as I did taking orders from you.”

“Oh God,” Janeway groans. “And that doesn’t bother you? Do you have any idea of what that means?”

“It means,” Seven says, “that there will be at least one person on the ship who will know how she wants to do her job and will not require me to instruct her.”

Janeway hovers for a moment in the doorway, and then she rushes the three or four steps across the warm, bright room to throw herself next to Seven and put an arm across her. She brings in the sharp, spare scent of the winter cold, and the faint fumes of the Jameson’s she stopped for on the long way back from Twin Peaks, and her own smell, which Seven is acutely aware of and which Janeway herself can’t detect at all.

“All right,” she says.

“All right?” Seven queries, the inevitable eyebrow raising.

“I’ll do it,” Janeway says. “I’ll resign from Starfleet.”

Seven pushes her glasses to the top of her head and takes Janeway’s face between her hands. “You need to want to do this,” she says, her focus tight. “You cannot do this just for me.”

Janeway nods, but doesn’t speak.

“If you regret this,” Seven goes on, never dropping her eyes from Janeway’s, “it will destroy us both.”

Janeway takes a deep breath. “I regret,” she says, “that I haven’t left this solar system in eight years. I regret that I ever let Starfleet maneuver me into a promotion I didn’t want. I regret,” and she is careful to keep her gaze steady, “that I let the love of my life slip out of it.”

Seven’s expression remains calm, but the deep breath she draws and then releases tells Janeway how tense she had been. “I think we can change all of that,” she says.

“We can’t get back those years,” Janeway says regretfully. “I threw them away.”

Seven shifts slightly, drops the padd, puts her arms around Janeway. “They were years in which we were both living and growing. We wasted nothing.” She kisses Janeway softly and adds, “We might not be here without them. Don’t be sorry.”

Janeway tightens the grip of her own arms. She is full of things she could say, but she decides against all of them.

Seven leans back and picks up the discarded padd. With a few flicks of her fingers, she brings up a new file, one that Janeway is surprised to see has her own ID image at the top. “Here,” she says.

Janeway takes the padd. It is an assignment order for Dr. Kathryn Janeway, Admiral Starfleet (ret.), confirming her acceptance as a senior science officer on the USS Fai-Tukh, Captain Annika Hansen commanding. “Really?” she says, with some asperity. “I thought we were making decisions together. Were you so sure?”

“I like to be prepared,” Seven says. After a beat she adds, “And yes. I was sure.”

Janeway skims through the rest of the order. “What’s this?” she asks, indicating a line in the description of her duties. “ ‘Interspatial tactical consultant’ ? I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

“Remember how I said that the Fai-Tukh had never been in combat?” When Janeway nods, Seven goes on, “My limitation as a captain has always been my discomfort with combat command. I have never scored particularly well in simulations or showed any great promise in training. That in turn limits what Starfleet will assign me to do and where they will permit me to go.”

“I’ve been in combat with you,” objects Janeway. “I’d trust you as much as any officer I’ve ever served with.”

“I am exceptional at interpreting and carrying out tactical plans that I receive from others,” Seven says. “As an extemporaneous strategic planner in the heat of engagement, I am quite awful.”

Janeway cocks her head, acknowledging the possibility. “All right. So what do I do about it?”

“Theoretically,” Seven answers, “you will advise and teach me. In reality, should we face a live enemy in battle—” She hesitates.

“Yes?”

“You’re driving.”

Janeway laughs so hard she almost falls off the couch. It’s partly the archaism, partly Seven’s deadpan, partly her own relief. She had not looked forward to watching someone else give orders in a combat situation.

“Fine,” she says. “I’ll do the fighting, if there has to be fighting. Let’s hope there won’t be.” She pauses, looks out into nothing. “Where will we go?”

Seven puts her hand to Janeway’s cheek. “Starfleet has to approve our mission plan. But, with your experience and mine—I am fairly sure that the answer to that question is: Anywhere we like.”