"It was her, mom," Naomi Wildman said. "A large group of alien came through one of the gates and she was among them." She gestured down the busy corridor. The trading station was a popular place for star ship crews to go on shore leave, and to stock up supplies.
"Naomi, you know that's impossible." Samantha Wildman looked apologetically at Seven of Nine. "Captain Janeway died almost four years ago. You were very young when that happened."
"Not too young to ever forget her face!" Ten-year-old Naomi, tall for her age, placed her hands on her hips in such a trademark Janeway pose; it made Seven's chest ache. Four years. Four very long and empty years.
"Seven," Naomi continued. "We have to go and look for her. Voyager can't leave without her. She's our captain. I mean, our first, real captain."
"Your mother is correct. Kathryn Janeway died star date 54622.4. You were a very young child, and it is no wonder you cannot remember exactly what transpired."
"I know exactly what transpired." Naomi glared at Samantha and Seven. "Almost all of Voyager's crew, including you and Mom, were taken by an alien race and forced to work at a plant on the planet Quarra. When Captain Chakotay, who was a commander then, had us all beamed back aboard Voyager, Captain Janeway was killed when the transporter beam triggered a cloud of radiation. I know this. Honestly," Naomi continued and sighed, "do you think there's anyone among the crew that has forgotten?"
"No, you're right, sweetheart." Samantha circled Naomi's thin shoulders with one arm. "Nobody has, and nobody ever will. It was the most traumatic thing—"
"Captain Janeway was my hero, along with Seven and the Doctor. She made me her Captain's Assistant." Naomi's voice sank to a low murmur and Seven found this much more disconcerting than her loud insistence before. "And I just saw her with a group of aliens, heading upstairs."
Seven looked in the way Naomi pointed. A wide, metal staircase led up to the next level where all the food courts were located. This space station was the largest one they had come across in years. It consisted of twenty-two decks, could service up to a hundred vessels, depending on size. Voyager was only out-sized by a few other ships docked around the outer perimeter.
"Can we please go look for her now?" Naomi begged.
"There are approximately ten thousand individuals aboard this space station." Seven injected kindness into her voice, but in truth, the young girl's certainty was starting to unsettle her. "Finding the woman you saw would take too long."
"Not if we return to astrometrics and scan for the captain's bio signature." Clearly Naomi was serious and Seven began to understand that she was not going to give up.
"Very well, if that is what it requires to assure you that you are mistaken." Seven swallowed quickly, and tried to disregard the triumphant look on Naomi's face. "Go on with your plans to meet Captain Chakotay for dinner, Samantha. Naomi and I will perform the scans before we are off to have our dinner." Seven had promised to keep Naomi company so that her mother could have a moment of privacy with her husband to be. Two years ago, Samantha had filed for a divorce when she learned that her Kitarian husband had found someone else. Within yet another year, Chakotay had made his interest clear, and only a few days ago, Samantha had confided in Seven that Chakotay had asked her to marry him. She was going to give him her favorable answer today.
"Are you sure?" Samantha looked at the eager Naomi who literally bounced next to Seven.
"Yes. Go on. And…enjoy." Seven smiled and guided Naomi toward the gate leading to Voyager's docking station. Naomi hurried down the walkway, looking nervous and excited.
"Wait until the others find out," she beamed. "I—"
"We will not alert any of Voyager's crew until we perform a positive scan." Seven spoke in a low, stern voice. Naomi slowed down and her smile vanished.
"You still don't believe me, Seven, do you?"
"I believe that you saw someone resembling Captain Janeway." Seven knew Naomi was a truthful and serious girl, most of the time, but she was still a young girl with a vivid imagination. Many young people in Naomi's age could never even dream of possessing Naomi's knowledge and experience of deep space adventures, but even if her the days of playing Flotter on the holodeck were long gone, she was still merely an adolescent. "We will investigate."
"And that will prove me right." There was nothing adolescent in Naomi's voice as they boarded the USS Federation Star Ship Voyager.
Astrometrics had undergone many changes during the last few years, mainly because Seven had used it as a place to escape the ramifications of having what humans called "a broken heart."
"Computer, pull up Captain Kathryn Janeway's bio pattern," Naomi commanded, her voice trembling.
"Bio pattern established," the female voice of the computer replied.
"Scan the space station for this signature."
Seven found herself holding her breath as eighteen point three six two seconds went by.
"A human bio signature identical to Captain Kathryn Janeway is aboard the space station."
"Want another ale, Katie?" Norrian asked. A bulky man, boasting a large, brown beard, he was the gentlest soul, next to Neelix, that Janeway had ever met.
"No thanks, one's enough." Janeway tapped the side of her glass. "I have bridge duty. Graveyard shift."
"Again? Too bad. I thought I'd get the gang together for a game of sling-mix." Norrian shrugged. "Oh, well, this way I just might have decent chance to win a credit or two."
"Are you saying that I'm better than you when it comes to sling-mix?"
"You know you are," Norrian huffed and swallowed the last of his ale. "You're such a gambler."
Janeway laughed at her friend. Norrian had reminded her of Neelix, and in a way also of Tom Paris, the way he piloted the Lothar. He handled the ship as it was an extension of him, and Janeway had witnessed numerous daredevil stunts that would have impressed her former helmsman aboard Voyager.
The thought of her ship, of her old crew, made her heart slow down, and almost come to a halt. She had tracked them, traveled through space on her own, for four years. Every time she thought her journey had brought her closer, she'd been disappointed. Some days she didn't like the ruthless, goal-oriented person she'd become. Fanatic enough to catch up with Voyager, she'd taken any job, on any vessel, some days losing contact with her inner compass. Space pirates, prison transport, luxury cruisers, no ship were off limits when she signed up, as long as they were moving toward the Alpha Quadrant.
Janeway drank the last of her ale in one gulp. The mirror behind the bar described a compact wiry woman with auburn hair. A white tress grew from the left side of her forehead, and she was dressed in a black, leather uniform. The thought of wearing real animal skin had been quite repulsive in the beginning, but now she didn't care.
"Time to head back," Janeway said and patted Norrian's shoulder. "I'm going to go by the administrator's office and then I need to catch a few hours' sleep."
Norrian looked concerned. "Don't get your hopes up too high, Katie," he said.
"I won't. Don't worry."
"Oh, Katie." Norrian shook his head sadly. "I have picked up the pieces too many times not to worry."
Seven stared at the readings. She and Naomi had asked the computer to verify twice.
"Seven!" Naomi whispered, her voice trembling. "I was right!"
"So it would seem." Seven's heart pounded painfully in her chest and for a moment, she thought she was going to faint. Janeway's bio signature pattern had been stored in Voyager's computer for four years and there was no reason to think it might have been compromised.
Seven tapped her comm badge. "Seven of Nine to Captain Chakotay." She remembered how long it had taken her to get used to calling him captain. It had hurt every time, that first year.
"Chakotay here, Seven. Go ahead."
"Report to Astrometrics immediately, please."
"Sounds like it's important. I'll swing by, but it must be brief. I have plans." The warmth in his tone would normally have made Seven smile knowingly, thinking of his obvious feelings for Samantha. Now she merely acknowledged and added, "Don't delay, Captain. This is important."
"On my way. Chakotay out."
Seven ran a few quick diagnostics as she and Naomi waited. Her fingers on her human hand trembled despite the nano-probes' attempts to mitigate it.
A few minutes later, the door opened and Chakotay entered. He strode up to Seven and looked expectantly at her. "What's up?"
"Computer, scan the space station for Captain Kathryn Janeway's bio pattern."
"Seven, what…?" Chakotay frowned, looking startled.
"A human bio signature identical to Captain Kathryn Janeway is aboard the space station."
"Computer," Seven said, drowning out Chakotay's gasp. "Use this bio pattern for a precise location."
"Captain Kathryn Janeway is located at the seventh level, office area six; the administrator's office."
"Damn," Chakotay whispered. "Can it be true? Is she alive?"
"So it would appear," Seven managed. "I suggest I go over and investigate."
"I will come as well, and so should Tuvok and the Doctor. Tell the Doctor to download her latest scan into a medical tricorder. If this woman is an imposter, able to mimic Kathryn's bio signature…well, I don't want the crew to know anything about this until we're sure." He paused and looked questioningly at her. "What prompted this scan in the first place?"
"I saw her, Captain." Naomi said. "I convinced Seven to perform the scan."
"You saw her?" Chakotay looked shaken. "All right. Let's go. I'll page Samantha to
meet us there."
Janeway stood in line outside the administrator's office, impatiently tapping her foot. Checking the time, she knew she would probably not get the nap she had in mind before the graveyard shift on the bridge. Their captain, an aging Hovadarian named Poros, only made rare appearances on the bridge these days, and during the fourteen months Janeway had been part of his crew, Poros had given her progressively more bridge time.
There were nights when she would sit in the captain's chair onboard the alien vessel and vision Voyager's bridge with all the familiar, beloved faces. She had gone from deeply hurt and resentful for being left behind, to determined and fanatical about catching up.
"Hey, you! Your turn," a gruff female voice said. The administrator at this space station was an older woman, all dressed in grey and smoking something resembling an ancient water pipe.
"I would like to browse through the logs of arriving and departing vessels, please."
"And why would I let you do that?" the administrator huffed.
"I'm looking for a specific vessel that may have stopped here not long ago."
"I can't just let any drunken ship-rat peruse confidential documents."
"I'm not drunk, and those records are hardly confidential. Maybe you'd remember this vessel. Her name is Voyager, and she's a Federation ship from the Alpha Quadrant."
Something glimmered in the alien woman's eyes. "Voyager?" she asked. "How much would information regarding this ship be worth to you?" An unpleasant smile grazed her lips and she sucked eagerly at the pipe, huffing the smoke right at Janeway."
"Don't pay her anything, Kathryn," a voice said behind Janeway.
Janeway slowly pivoted, her shoulders hunched up as she braced herself for what she was about to see. She hadn't heard that voice in so long, and she may well be hallucinating. After all, there were times when she thought she'd go insane for all the missing and longing.
"Captain!" a young girl gushed and promptly burst into tears.
Janeway stared at the group of four people. The tall blond woman with a Borg optical implant, the tall dark haired man with a tribal tattoo on the right side of his forehead and temple, and another blond woman who was comforting the distraught child.
"Seven…" Janeway whispered. This was simply not happening. She had gone insane from one moment to the next, and her heart had longed so much for this woman in particular. she had finally lost it. Still, they looked so real, and suddenly the images of her imagination moved toward her.
"Oh, Gods, Kathryn," the image of Chakotay said and wrapped her up in a bear hug. "It's you. It's really you."
"Chakotay?" Janeway croaked. It sure sounded like him. The same kind, velvet voice.
"Yes. It's me. It's us. How did you find us?"
"I did?" Janeway was dizzy now, but she had to stay lucid and focused to make sure this was real. "I mean, I didn't know I did."
"Captain? It's me. Naomi." The girl tiptoed up to Janeway and Chakotay, looking shy, and still with tears in her eyes. "I saw you before. I made Seven scan for you, because even if you look really different, I knew."
"You knew?" Janeway looked into the eyes of the child she'd assigned as her Captain's Assistant several years ago. She was now ten years old and as beautiful as her mother. "I wonder how you knew."
"I know you have to leave my office. I don't have time for this and besides, people are waiting to pay their fees." The gruff administrator's voice made Janeway jerk back to reality and she fully expected the four from Voyager to melt away where they stood around her. To her bafflement, they didn't.
"Let's get out of here," Chakotay said. "We have a lot to talk about and this is hardly the place for it.
Janeway couldn't move at first, only when a gentle hand cupped her elbow did she manage to put one foot in front of another and start walking. She looked up at the beloved face of the woman she'd saved from the Borg. "Oh, Seven."
Seven had recognized Janeway even before she turned around. The smoke-filled administrator's office had created an ugly setting for their reunion, but nothing could take any of Kathryn Janeway's beauty away from her in Seven's opinion.
It was clear that Seven's nano probes were not functioning or they would have mitigated the fluttering sensation in her midsection, and the elevated frequency of her heart. Janeway seemed grateful to lean against her as Seven guided her out of the disgusting office area and toward the docking area.
Suddenly, Janeway stopped walking, tugging at Seven's hand. "I can't. I can't go back to Voyager just yet. I need to compose myself. I need to understand that this is real."
"Are you sure? Everybody will be so amazed and happy to see you," Chakotay said. "We've all missed you, grieved for you."
"The captain is right," Seven said, seeing something close to panic in Janeway's eyes. There was also the unusual feel of how Janeway clung to her hand. "I suggest I take the captain to one of the inns on the top deck of the station. Does that appeal to you?" she asked Janeway, hoping she'd accept.
"I have bridge duty in a few hours when my ship has stocked up their…" Janeway broke off. "Oh."
"You're not leaving with them, are you, Captain?" Naomi said, aghast.
"I…I don't know." Janeway looked stricken and at a loss for words. "I have looked for Voyager for so long, I never…I wasn't expecting to find you…just like this."
"Of course you're coming with us." Chakotay's face darkened. "You belong on Voyager."
"But you're their captain now," Janeway said slowly, her eyes on the four pip on the four pips on his collar.
Chakotay paused, glancing down at Samantha Wildman before continuing. "I am, for now," he allowed. "Go with Seven and I will prepare the crowd that we have a surprise for them." He turned to walk, but changed his mind and came over to Janeway, cupping her shoulders. "You're not leaving with whatever ship you arrived on. Your home is on Voyager."
Janeway nodded and Seven could feel her shake. "It isn't that easy, Chakotay."
Janeway could see that Chakotay just didn't understand. He frowned, marring the tattoo on his forehead, and if Samantha hadn't placed a calming hand on his arm, he might have simply dragged her back to Voyager.
Frustrated Janeway threw out the first challenge she could think of. "Tired of being in command already, Chakotay?"
"Not at all. I'm Voyager's captain, and we've done all right," he muttered.
"Then why in such a hurry? Or do you see me as yet another passenger? You used to criticize me for picking up strays in every corner of the Delta Quadrant."
Chakotay blinked. "What do you mean, passenger?"
"Captain Janeway is being facetious," Seven said. "I will escort you to the inn now, Captain, while Captain Chakotay informs the crew."
"I have to go by my…eh…the alien vessel I arrived on and let them know."
"Very well," Seven nodded. "I shall go with you."
It was clear that Seven was not going to let Janeway out of her sight. After hugging Naomi one more time, and receiving a heartfelt kiss on the cheek by Samantha, Janeway nodded politely at Chakotay and they parted ways.
"So, how are you doing, Seven?" Janeway asked when it was obvious that Seven wasn't going to say anything.
"I am functioning within normal parameters. Thank you." Seven glanced down at Janeway. "You are looking fit and in good health."
"I am. It's been a long four years."
"You have been lonely."
"Yes. More than I can say." Janeway didn't think she'd ever be able to describe how being left behind had affected her. She to this day didn't know how it could have happened.
"So have I."
Janeway wanted to ask about that, but they had reached the docks. She spotted Norrian talking to the crewman in charge of the gate. He saw her and raised his arm and waved, only to lower it slowly when he saw she wasn't alone.
Janeway walked up to Norrian with Seven by her side.
"You found them. Or they found you." Norrian knew her well enough not to have to ask.
"Yes. They found me. Norrian, this is Seven of Nine, she's my…was my, astrometrics officer."
"Seven of Nine, it's an honor." Norrian kissed Seven's human hand, which rendered him a curious glance under a raised implant. "I have heard a lot about you."
"All good, I assure you." Norrian turned his attention back to Janeway. "So, this means…you're leaving, right?"
"I…yes. You always knew that I was looking for my family." Janeway shrugged, still light-headed and more physically and emotionally affected by reaching her goal, than she ever thought she'd be.
"You look overwhelmed." Norrian shook his head. "And Poros is going to have a fit. He honestly never counted on you to find Voyager. In fact, I think he counted on you running the ship for his family after he passed away."
Shocked, Janeway stared at her friend. "Surely you're wrong about that!"
"No." He grimaced faintly. "I suppose you're here to say goodbye."
"No," Janeway said. "You won't leave until late tomorrow, so there will be time for that later. I'm going to get something to eat, and then go aboard Voyager and see my crew. If you could cover for me on the bridge, I'll see you tomorrow morning." She shifted her gaze to Seven. "And now it's time for you to take me to that inn. I've missed you, Seven, and there is something important I need to discuss with you."
Seven unlocked the room they had rented at the inn. It contained mainly a large bed, which made her blush, and she wasn't entirely sure why. Stopping by the foot of the bed, Seven clasped her hands behind her back and waited for Janeway to speak.
"You look exactly the same." Janeway's voice was low and husky. "Or perhaps not." She stepped closer. "Your eyes are more brilliant blue than I remember."
Seven could not stop looking at Janeway. Her auburn hair had grown, nearly down to her waist. Janeway kept it in a long braid and Seven tried to imagine it loose around her shoulders. She realized she was it imagining around Janeway's naked shoulders and felt her cheek warm. Seven had always remembered Janeway's eyes as warm and blue-gray whenever she looked at Seven. Unless she was furious, of course; that's when they turned slate gray. Right now, they were the darkest blue Seven had ever seen them, and she had no idea how to interpret that.
"I've thought about you a lot," Janeway said in a low voice. "Every night, or whenever I've gone to bed, the last thing I saw before I closed my eyes, were you. How you fought me that first year, and how you surpassed my expectations of you, on after another." She shrugged, looking sad. "And if you only knew how many times I regretted not being honest with you…"
"Honest? Elaborate," Seven said, swallowing hard.
Janeway regarded Seven hungrily and felt her heart thunder in her chest. She had promised herself, countless times during her long, lonely journey, that if she ever was given the opportunity, she'd not be a coward. Easy to say. She extended a hand and took Seven's cybernetic hand in hers. It was still the same, shiny, warm metal, able to crush Janeway's in the split of a second, but never had anything felt better.
"I lied to myself, and I was dishonest with you because of it." Janeway stepped closer, reaching up and cupping Seven's cheek with her free hand. "Toward the end of the first year of your life aboard Voyager, I knew I cared more for you than what was prudent. It wasn't the care of a mentor, or a mother figure. It was more."
"We were…are, friends," Seven said.
"Yes. Of course. But for me, it was also something else and I was so certain that this could never be, I pushed it out of my mind. Or tried. During the duty shifts, or when we played Velocity or shared a meal, I could convince myself that all I felt for you was friendship."
"And it was not?"
"No. Whenever I went to bed, and tried to will myself to sleep, all I could think about was how much I wanted you there. In bed with me." Janeway whispered the last few words. "I was so certain I was doing the right thing to never get involved with anyone on Voyager. When I was left behind, and finally regained my memory, I knew what a fool I'd been."
Seven was at a loss for words. She opened her mouth, hoping something intelligible would magically appear, only to have to shut it again. Opting not to attempt to speak, and fail, a second time, she merely clenched her hands harder behind her back, waiting for Janeway to continue.
"I can tell I've shocked you," Janeway said, sounding rueful. "That was never my intention." She took a step back. "It's just that there were times when I was sure you felt the same way, even if your limited experience of course made it impossible for you to either understand it, or act upon it."
Finally, Seven could speak again. "I see. What in my demeanor suggested that I reciprocated these feelings you claim you had?"
"Oh, little things." Janeway frowned. "And what do you mean, 'claimed I had?' You don't believe me?" Her voice sank half an octave. "You think I struggle for four years to catch up with Voyager, to stand here and lie to you?" Janeway's low growl sent shivers along Seven's spine, which turned into tremors in her legs that she was sure must be visible.
"I do not suggest anything of the sort. I merely think you may remember things differently. Perhaps your absence has distorted your memory of what really took place." Seven shrugged. She had to keep calm, but it seemed impossible as Janeway's words were tumbling in her head and causing havoc with her circulatory system.
"Once I regained my memory, I remembered everything with crystal clarity." Janeway sounded tired suddenly. "Every single crewman and officer…their…your faces are etched on my retina, forever imprinted on my heart. Those first months, once I knew who I was…I felt so betrayed, and it wasn't until a friend and I investigated what caused my accident that I realized that you all must have thought I was dead. Literally vaporized."
"We did." Seven swallowed hard at the memory. "It was…difficult."
"So, you've missed me, then?" There was nothing pleading in Janeway's voice, it seemed merely as a straight forward question.
"Yes." Seven loosened her grip of her own fingers and as of its own volition; her human hand extended and took one of Janeway's, holding it gently. "When we thought you died, I failed you. I reacted in a way you would not be proud of, Captain."
The forlorn and defeated tone in Seven's voice made Janeway ache inside. "What do you mean, Seven?" She squeezed Seven's hand and stepped closer again. She could tell that Seven was not comfortable with their close proximity and small twitches in her hand indicated that she'd rather let go. Janeway would have none of that. She held on to Seven's hand and waited.
"I ran 4,384 scans for your biological signature before we broke orbit. When I couldn't find you, and Captain Chakotay, together with Commander Tuvok, declared that you had died in a transporter malfunction, I…I became destructive."
"I destroyed the screen in astrometrics." Seven closed her eyes for a moment. "I was ready to continue taking my anger out on inanimate objects, heading for cargo bay two, when Tuvok caught up with me and placed me in the brig."
"You were incarcerated?" Janeway was shocked.
"Yes, but only until Lt. Torres had adjusted my alcove. They brought me to it after she had created a new cycle that allowed me to regenerate for two full weeks. Once I came out of regeneration, the rage was gone." Seven shrugged, a mere twitch of one shoulder. "Two days later, Captain Chakotay held a memorial service, and when I felt how the rest of the crew mourned you…it helped me in my own grief. I think I can speak both for myself and the rest of the crew when I say that we were never the same. We never recovered from losing you."
Tears burned the corners of Janeway's eyes. "And now that I'm back?" she whispered.
"I am struggling to merge the image of you standing here before me, with the four years of mourning and loss."
"So am I." Janeway drew a deep, trembling breath. "It is so surreal, Seven. I expect to wake up any minute, because I've dreamed of this day…and been disappointed so many times when I've woken up to reality aboard one alien ship after another. I think I need to feel your arms around me. Please?"
The request was so unexpected; Seven was sure she had misunderstood. "Captain?"
"Hold me?" Janeway asked, looking as if she was about to come undone.
Seven didn't answer; instead she tapped into the memory of how she sometimes held Naomi Wildman when the young girl was upset. She took a step closer to Janeway and slowly wrapped her arms around her. To her amazement, Janeway slid her arms up around her neck and clung to her.'
"Oh, Seven," Janeway breathed against Seven's neck, the hot gushes of air feeling most pleasurable. "Don't let go. I feel as if I can be yanked away from this, to find myself alone and…"
"You are here. This is reality." Seven felt Janeway stagger in her arms and pulled her toward the foot of the bed to sit down. Once seated, she found that Janeway was half on her lap. "Are you comfortable?" Seven asked.
"Yes." Janeway moved away enough to slide off Seven's lap, and to her surprise, Seven wanted to pull Janeway closer again. Unsure how such an action would be interpreted, Seven merely held on to Janeway to keep her from retreating further.
"I find I am reluctant to let go also," Seven confessed. "It is a curious feeling, which I have no reference to."
"I know what you mean." Janeway tipped her head back and gazed at Seven with narrowing eyes. "Holding on to you…it's the most wonderful thing that's happened to me in years. Four years, to be exact."
"Four years, 122 days, 10 hours, 44 minutes, and 32.89 seconds. To be exact." Seven smiled in relief when Janeway burst out laughing.
Janeway had forgotten how Seven could make her forget her serious side. She laughed just as much at how Seven's knack for accuracy, and at how relieved Seven seemed that Janeway had caught onto her facetious tone.
"Too long, anyway," Janeway said, wiping tears from laughter, and probably a few from being moved by the situation. "Too long to go without friends and family."
Janeway slid a thumb over Seven's lower lip, which trembled at the touch. "You are so beautiful," Janeway whispered. "How could I not want you? How did I ever manage to survive more than four years without you?"
"I do not know. I ask myself the same question…" Seven blushed profusely.
"So, you accept the fact that I desired you?" Janeway scrutinized Seven's expression.
"I harbored the hope that you would once see me as I saw you."
"What?" Janeway blinked. "What do you mean?"
"You ask if I accept that you desired me." Seven looked calm and collected, but Janeway could see the fluttering pulsations under the thin skin on her neck. "I always knew you found me aesthetically pleasing. However, that was not what I wanted, which made me wonder if you would ever regard me in the same light as I saw you."
"Which was?" Janeway asked, her mouth dry.
Seven hesitated. "You surely cannot expect me to divulge that without any proof, or even a hint that you care for me."
"Of course I care for you," Janeway whispered huskily, running her eyes up and down Seven's lithe form.
"You 'desire me.' Those are your own words." Seven let go of Janeway's hand and clasped hers behind her back again. "That is not sufficient."
Seven held her breath, wishing that she had not spoken so openly. Now she had given Janeway an advantage, if the other woman interpreted her words correctly, and that was unnerving.
"You think I've spent the last four years pining for your body?" Janeway exclaimed and raised her voice. "As lovely as it is, I can't believe you'd think that of me."
"You have never given me reason to think otherwise." Seven felt her human hand cling to the Borg implant on her left.
"I thought the friendship we shared, together with physical attraction would suggest something else than a mere desire to—"
"Stop this." Seven spoke quietly now, afraid that if she allowed her emotions to show in her voice, she would yell at the top of her lungs. "We cannot change what happened. We cannot change who we were and what we said back then." She took a deep breath. "But we can control our actions from now on."
"What do I have to do, to convince you?" Janeway asked. She stepped closer and held Seven by her shoulders. "Tell me, Seven. Please."
"You have to. Soon we must join the rest of the crew on Voyager and we won't have a private moment for quite a while. I have many decisions to make in the upcoming days. I see this chance to talk with you before I face anyone else, my most important one. If I fail this…well, all else hangs in the balance." Janeway shook her head slowly. "Please."
"I—" Seven broke off. Janeway watched her with four years of pain, and Seven felt that agony reflected within herself. "I am uncertain how to proceed."
"If my actions four years ago suggested that I regarded you as either just another crewmember, or as someone I was merely physically attracted to—that is not true. None of it." Janeway spoke softly and placed both her hands on Seven's hips. She didn't pull them closer together, but Seven's heart and respiration reacted as if she had.
"You always made me feel special," Seven said. "I never knew why."
"I dreamed of you," Janeway said hoarsely. "Every night when I closed my eyes, you were there with me, in my thoughts…in my heart."
Seven gasped. She had never known, never dared to hope. "Your heart?" she whispered.
Janeway melted at the hopeful way with which Seven looked at her. "Yes." She pulled Seven closer. Standing like this, bodies so close they nearly touched each other, Janeway found it hard to breathe. "Gods, Seven. Too many years." She leaned forward and kissed Seven's long neck just where her biosuit ended. Seven's skin was surprisingly hot to the touch, and she couldn't help but use her tongue to taste it. Amazed at the mix of something very clean, mixed with something slightly metallic, Janeway groaned in the back of her throat and kissed a trail of open-mouth kisses up toward Seven's cheek implant. Reaching it, she cautiously slid her tongue along it and was startled at the faint whimper coming from Seven at the contact.
"You all right?" Janeway murmured into Seven's ear and continued the caress as she waited for Seven's response.
"I am…functioning…" Seven slid her hands up Janeway's arms, continued around her shoulders and up into her hair.
"Good." Janeway moaned at how Seven's fingers massaged her scalp and pulled her closer. She painted a wet trail with her tongue around Seven's ear and then pulled back just enough to be able to look into Seven's eyes. Dark blue and enormous, Seven's irises glimmered in the muted light, even clearer than the iriina diamonds Janeway and Norrian had used as collateral when narrowly escaping from a mining planet a year ago.
"Kathryn." Janeway kissed Seven's chin gently. "Call me Kathryn, Seven."
"Kathryn." Seven breathed the name over Janeway's lips. "Kathryn."
"I like how you say it." In fact, Janeway more than liked it. Seven spoke her name like it was a caress against her soul, and the sweet scent of Seven's breath was intoxicating. Their lips were a mere whisper apart.
Seven had never come close to imagining anything like the torrent feelings that ravaged her like a plasma storm right now. Janeway…Kathryn, she corrected herself, was holding her so tightly, and Seven felt the shape of her body against her own. Kathryn's coveralls were nearly as revealing as her own biosuit, and the way Kathryn moved against her made Seven tremble.
"Kiss me, Seven." Kathryn could easily have made that sound like an order, but instead it was a plea, a gentle request, and Seven knew she was not going to be able to deny Kathryn anything while she sounded like that.
"I am uncertain of how to proceed." Seven licked her lips nervously.
"Do that again." Janeway slid her hands into Seven's hair.
"Lick your lips, Seven."
Seven's cheeks grew warm, but feeling hypnotized by Kathryn's throaty voice, she slid her tongue across her lower lip. Still, she wasn't prepared for how Kathryn moved forward and quickly seized her lips, meeting the tip of Seven's tongue with her own.
Seven whimpered as a series of sensations ignited in her lips and her tongue and carried the rampaging emotions that came from tasting Kathryn after all this time. Ten years, and now Kathryn's hands traveled all over Seven's back, holding her impossibly closer as her mouth devoured Seven's lips.
Lacing her fingers through Janeway's hair, Seven reveled in this new sensation of kissing another person. She had received pecks on the cheek, and even clumsily kissed Harry Kim, and the man she'd been in love with inside Unimatrix Zero.
A chirping sound echoed through the room. "Chakotay to Seven of Nine."
Janeway flinched and was sure she heard a pained moan from Seven. Putting some distance between them, Seven tapped her comm badge and tried to regain her breath as she answered. "Seven of Nine here. Go ahead, Captain."
"Is the cap…Is Kathryn Janeway there with you still, Seven?"
"Where else would I be, Chakotay?" Janeway asked, tempering her voice even if she fumed at the interruption.
"Well. Yes." Chakotay cleared his throat. "I have recalled the entire crew from shore leave and arranged for a meeting on shuttle deck one in two hours."
"The crew knows I'm…back?" Janeway was suddenly breathless for a completely different reason than Seven's kisses.
"No. And don't get me wrong. I'm not trying for shock value here, but…" His voice trailed off.
"But you weren't sure if I'd change my mind." Janeway knew she sounded acerbic, but she couldn't blame him for using caution. It's what I would've done.
"I want to initiate a site to site transport—"
"Not yet. Not until Seven I finish talking, and, you and I need to talk too, don't you think? There are details to iron out."
Chakotay was silent for a moment. "I suppose there are."
"Beam Seven and myself back in an hour, directly to sickbay. I want the Doctor to confirm my identity, once and for all, before we address the issues and I reveal myself to the crew."
"Very well, Kathryn, if that's what you want."
"It's the right thing to do."
"See you then. Chakotay out."
Janeway tapped Seven's comm badge to make sure the communications were off line. "Now, where were we?" she murmured and looked up at the stoic woman. "Oh, yes, right here." She touched Seven's lips with her fingertips.
"Kathryn." Seven didn't pull back, but Janeway sensed a hesitance in her that hadn't been there while they kissed.
"Now that we are not overtaken with desire, and thus able to think logically, are you still sure you want to engage in sexual intercourse with me?"
The clinical words should have made Janeway recoil, but Seven was so beautiful where she stood in her ice-blue bio suit, that all she could do was nod. She placed her hands softly around Seven's waist and leaned in to nuzzle the soft skin of her neck.
"Oh." Seven's hands returned to Janeway's head, tangled into her long hair, and pulled it back. "You are that certain." It wasn't a question.
Janeway devoured Seven with her eyes. "Yes, very certain. That said," she whispered and pulled back a little, "I'm not going to make you mine here, in a strange bed, with just an hour to do it in. I want to just hold you, and find out what you've done these last four years, and tell you about me. You may not think me worthy once you know about the things I've had to do to—"
"—survive." Seven kissed Janeway softly. "You did what you had to do, to survive, and to find your way back to Voyager. And me." Seven added and smiled shyly, a thoroughly delightful smile that released several knots in Janeway's belly.
Unable to resist, Janeway reached around Seven and undid the bio suit's clasp, watching it pool around Seven's waist. Seven wore nothing underneath and Janeway's gaze explored her torso, which was outlined with at least six Borg implants that ran in a streamlined pattern around her. Janeway's mouth watered. "Beautiful…"
"Yes, and beautiful." Janeway traced her fingers along the implant that circled Seven's left breast. Seven's nipple responded instantly, hardening to a dark pink pebble. Janeway flicked her thumb over it, repeatedly. Seven whimpered and she swayed visibly where she stood. Janeway wrapped her free arms around Seven's waist and held her close. She continued to caress Seven's breast, moving from the nipple, to the plump and full orb, and back again.
"Please," Seven gasped.
"Want me to stop, Seven?"
"No. No, don't stop!"
"Then what?" Janeway purred.
"The…the other nipple. Please."
Seven had never felt anything as wonderful as Kathryn's touch. The mere touch of her fingertips against Seven's skin, especially the puckered skin of her nipples, made her tremble and her legs were definitely malfunctioning. Willing herself to remain erect, Seven pulled Kathryn in for another deep kiss. Humming into Kathryn's mouth, Seven met her tongue with her own, caressing it over and over.
"I shouldn't have…undressed you," Kathryn murmured against Seven's mouth. "I acted on impulse and now…I don't know if I can stop."
"Do you wish to stop?"
"No!" Kathryn tugged Seven even closer, which flattened Seven's breasts against the course fabric of Kathryn's coverall. "I want to throw you on that bed and show you just how much I missed you." Kathryn bit into Seven's neck with a purr. "I want to rip the rest of the bio suit off you, and memorize every part of you with my lips."
Seven stiffened as moisture pooled between her legs at Kathryn's touch. Uncertain at her body's reaction, she pulled away. "Kathryn. Please." She felt shy, suddenly, and was uncertain what to say.
"Gods," Kathryn groaned. "I'm no better than any of the crude space jockeys that are ready to jump anything to scratch an itch." She pushed Seven away from her. Seven tugged at the bio suit, trying to cover herself.
"I do not understand," she began slowly, but suddenly anger hit her out of nowhere. "Why do you do this, Kathryn?" she blurted out, frowning. "You hold me, and kiss me, like nobody has ever done before, and then you compare your actions to those of inferior beings. Is that all you think of me? Is this how you have conducted yourself these last four years? Have you acted this way with many men and women, 'to scratch and itch'?"
Kathryn flinched as if Seven had hit her hard across the face. "No!" she said, this time her voice wasn't tinged by lust and desire. Instead, Kathryn sounded so mortified that Seven wished she could take the accusing words back.
"Never, Seven. Never." Janeway spoke past the pain in her throat. "I have bent many Starfleet rules to come this far and finally catch up with you, but I haven't sacrificed my principles. I haven't entered any form of physical or emotional liaison with anyone, except in platonic friendship."
"Neither have I." Seven's lips seemed to work around the words, struggling to pronounce them. "Captain Chakotay and Neelix have expressed concern for my 'aloofness' on several occasions. I make the effort, I try to participate in the crew celebrations of different holidays and birthdays, but Neelix says that my heart is not in it. He has also informed me that my heart parted way with me when you…died."
"Trust Neelix to put it like that." Kathryn ached to think how Seven, and many others, have mourned her, as a friend, and as a captain. And for Neelix to claim that Seven lost her heart…had he meant she'd lost her will to live? Janeway felt herself go pale, all her blood rushing to the pit of her stomach. "I'm sorry. I know I'm not to blame for what's happened, but trust me, Seven, I am so very sorry." She pushed the bio suit up along Seven's arms and covered her breasts. "This was a mistake."
"A mistake," Seven said, her voice hollow.
"Yes. This. Initiating lovemaking when we have hardly any time before Chakotay beams us to Voyager." Janeway closed her eyes. "Voyager. How I've missed her."
"You will be pleased. We have taken good care of Voyager." Seven adjusted her bio suit, tugging at the sleeves. She smiled courageously, and Janeway knew she had to be just as overwhelmed. "You will find her in even better shape than before when you resume your status as her captain."
"Captain?" Janeway flinched. Panic rose in her, like bitter bile, and she put up both her hands, palms against Seven. "I'm not even sure I want to be captain anymore. Chakotay is doing a splendid job, apparently."
"We better beam back. I need to talk to Chakotay," Janeway murmured, one hand on her hip, one clasping her forehead. "So much to straighten out. Too much." She looked up at Seven, her entire being burning with love and desire for her. Seven looked even more rigid than usual, her chin jutted out, and her blue eyes radiating as if tears were merely a nano second away. "We have to continue this later."
"There doesn't seem to be anything to continue." Seven spoke without feeling. "Should I page Captain Chakotay?"
Janeway blinked, missing a beat. "Why not?" She smoothed her coveralls down. "Go ahead."
"Seven of Nine to Captain Chakotay, beam Cap…Janeway to your ready room, and me to my quarters."
"Affirmative, Seven. Two to beam up."
"You have quarters now?" Janeway asked.
"Yes. Shortly after you left, Neelix insisted that I'd be given my own quarters. Chakotay moved into yours, and since everybody seemed content where they resided, he gave his quarters to me. I spend two hours regenerating in cargo bay two every week. The rest of my leisure time, I spend in my quarters." Seven shrugged, lowering her eyes briefly. Gazing up again, this time with opaque eyes that divulged no feelings. "I expect this arrangement will change now."
Janeway opened her mouth to answer, but was engulfed in a green ray. The last thing she was aware of before dematerializing was fear. A cold, stinging fear that she'd end up in an alien hospital again, not knowing who she was, where, or with whom she belonged.
Seven stood in her quarters, the slight tingle of rematerialization emphasizing the remnants of sexual arousal. Feeling her body cool rapidly, Seven walked into her en suite bathroom, placed her comm badge on the sink and shed her bio suit on the floor, which she distractedly noted was unlike her. She disliked tardiness as much as she did being what Naomi Wildman called a "slob."
Ordering a sonic shower, Seven regretted it instantly and switched to an aqua shower. She needed the hot water to rinse the feeling of Kathryn Janeway from her skin. She realized it was a futile endeavor, since Kathryn's fingerprints had left imprints not only on her skin, but on her heart, years ago.
"Ensign Wildman to Seven of Nine."
Seven groaned at her friend's request to communicate. She reached outside the shower stall and tapped her comm badge. "Seven here."
"I heard you were back. Are you all right?" Samantha sounded concerned and Seven regretted her exasperation earlier.
"I am all right," she said slowly. "Have you met Janeway yet?"
"No. She's still talking to Chakotay in the ready room. Nobody else knows anything. This is such great news, and I'm bursting to tell someone. I honestly thing I'm worse than Naomi."
"Nobody is worse than Naomi," Seven said and grabbed a towel off the rack.
"I heard that," a faint voice said over the comm badge.
Seven had to smile. She caught her reflection in the mirror as she did, and winced at the sparkling blue of her eyes. No matter how apprehensive she felt, her entire system was jittery with anticipation and hope.
"You there, Seven?" Samantha asked. "It's just us now. Naomi is doing homework and I closed the door to her bedroom. Tell me now, how did the first encounter go. Did you level with her?"
Seven cringed. Samantha qualified as her best friend, with B'Elanna not far behind. The three women had spent a lot of time together, especially after Samantha and B'Elanna's successful campaign in getting Seven to "open up." No doubt, Samantha was still on that quest, and Seven knew she would not take no for an answer.
"At first it appeared Kath—Janeway, had missed me as much as I missed her, and for a moment I allowed myself to believe her." Seven went back into the bedroom and tossed the comm badge and the towel on the bed. She replicated a new bio suit, this time a blue and grey one, and began to dress. "I should have known it was futile. She desired me, but that was all, and we eventually ended up lashing out against each other."
"Oh, Seven. It sounds hurtful, either way. Let's examine this, though. Janeway comes back to us after more than four years, and the first thing that happens is that she is thrown headlong into a rendezvous with you, the woman she's pined for all those years on Voyager."
"Pined for?" Seven stopped in the middle of dressing. "How can you possibly know anything on what Janeway felt or did not feel back then. Or now, for that matter."
"B'Elanna and I always knew. Once she severed you from the collective, and you began to regain your humanity, she was beyond rescuing." Samantha paused. "I'm not telling you what to do, or how to feel, honey, but please give her a little leeway. She's gone through hell, without a doubt, during these last four years. Can you imagine waking up and realizing that you're left behind?"
"No. I have tried, but it is too painful to consider. The thought of it happening to Kathryn, is tormenting." Seven softened inside at Samantha's advice. She had learned over the years that Samantha's intuition, if entirely illogical at times, rarely missed its mark. "I will try to talk to her again before she addresses the crew." Suddenly in a hurry, Seven fastened the back clasp of the bio suit and did her hair, wet as it was, in her usual twist. "Thank you, Samantha. Seven out."
She hurried toward the bridge, running every three, four steps toward the elevator. Stepping inside, she could hear her heart hammer in her chest, even feeling it race, thrashing against her ribs. Seven entered the bridge and headed for the ready room. She was about to buss the chime when Chakotay's voice was heard over the ship wide comm system.
"All hands, this is your captain. Your shore leaves have been revoked without explanation, other than it had to do with ship's business. No matter what you are doing or what your task at hand may be, I need everyone to go to shuttle bay one immediately."
Seven took a deep breath. She knew she didn't have much time. She pressed the sensor to the left of the door and the chime rang. There was a slight delay and Seven figured that Chakotay confirmed her identity before he unlocked the door.
"Seven," he greeted her, looking mildly surprised at her wet hair.
"Captain." Seven looked around, mystified, since he was alone. She opened her mouth to speak, but closed it hard around the words when Kathryn came out of the bathroom.
"Kathryn. I have to talk to you before you address the crew."
"I don't think I can stand another talk like the one we just had." Kathryn looked frazzled and she adjusted her long braid with unsteady hands.
"It would not be like it was at the inn. We are back on Voyager." Seven saw that Kathryn did not understand. "We are in our right element. Home. If the captain would give us but a moment's opportunity, I would make it brief and to the point. You would not regret it. Please." Seven knew she set herself up for heart ache, but she had no other alternative.
"Of course, Seven. We have to give the crew time to reach shuttle bay one anyway," Chakotay said and smiled. "I'll be on the bridge." Chakotay left the ready room and Seven locked the door. "According to Samantha Wildman, you are still "pining" for me after all these years. She claims you always did." Seven stepped closer, but didn't touch Kathryn. Kathryn looked like she might bolt any second and Seven knew she had to keep talking, convince her. "I was blinded by my own hurt, to really consider yours, and I couldn't let you make any decisions about your future based on erroneous information, professional or personal."
"Erroneous?" Kathryn looked confused.
"No matter whether you resume being captain of this vessel, Kathryn, I want you to know exactly how I feel about you." Seven trembled so hard now that she was certain it was visible to Kathryn. "I cannot imagine my life without you. When I thought you were dead, for all those years, I had to force myself to go on. I made friends, but part of me was always hollow. Only you can fill that void. Only you, my Kathryn."
Janeway stood motionless and regarded Seven with what she hoped was a calm and collected demeanor. She was stunned and felt off balance, hearing Seven speak with such certainty and innocence.
"Kathryn?" Seven whispered and her eyes shimmered with unshed tears. Janeway moved without thinking, closed the last distance between them and brushed the tears that clung to Seven's eyelashes.
"Hush, darling." Janeway spoke huskily. "I'm feeling very confused at the moment, but trust me, one thing I know for sure…no matter how long it would have taken me, I would have kept going to find you, to be with you."
"Kathryn…" Seven wrapped her arms around Janeway and pulled her in for a kiss. It was sweet and passionate at the same time. Janeway parted her lips and invited Seven to deepen the kiss. She needed this caress, she realized, before she faced Voyager's crew. Her crew. The thought of the upcoming commotion made Janeway cling to Seven who immediately held her closer.
"Seven," Janeway said, "please, don't think that I would ever lie deliberately to you. I think we're both overwhelmed with what's taking place today."
"I agree." Seven nuzzled Janeway's neck, making her shiver. "I also believe you when you say you would not deliberately keep anything from me, or speak the untruth."
"Good. I mean, thank you." Janeway's knees nearly gave in and she closed her eyes as she initiated another kiss. "Darling…I can't seem to stop doing this…or stop wanting to do it." She tugged gently at Seven's lower lip with her teeth, eliciting a deep moan from Seven.
"Kathryn, I don't want you to stop."
"Kathryn, we need to transport…Oh." Chakotay's voice broke through Janeway's feeling of utter bliss. She flinched, but refused to let go of Seven. She broke off the kiss, but kept her arms wrapped around Seven as she looked over her shoulder at Chakotay.
"It's time? All right." Janeway finally let go of Seven, almost. She kept a firm grip of Seven's right hand. "We're ready."
"You and Seven, huh?" Chakotay rubbed the back of his neck. "Makes sense."
"It does, does it?" Janeway gave Chakotay a sharp glance. "Shouldn't you soften the blow to the crew?"
"I thought I'd beam in and talk to them, and then merely beam you in once I've cautioned them to not think they're crazy."
"All right. Go ahead." Janeway swallowed. "I'm standing by."
"As am I," Seven said firmly.
"Computer, site to site transport to shuttle bay one." Chakotay disappeared in a rain of green sparks.
Janeway pivoted and pushed Seven back against the desk. "Before he summons me, us, I want to tell you something important. No matter what happens after I am reintroduced to the crew, I want you to know…I love you, Seven. I have loved you for more than nine years, and I don't imagine I will ever stop."
Seven blinked twice, and then a beautiful smile graced her lips. Not one of her faint smiles, which were a mere upturn of the corners of her mouth; instead it transformed her face into looking a decade younger and infinitely happy. Letting go of Seven, Janeway was content to just enjoy this breathtaking beauty as she waited for the transporter to beam them down to the shuttle bay.
Chakotay gazed out over his crew. They had given him their loyalty and trust for six years as their commander, and four years as their captain. Now they stood silent, watching him questioningly, but not looking overly concerned.
"Today our lives changed for the better," Chakotay began. "Because of Naomi Wildman's perceptiveness and keen mind, we are now better off than we were yesterday, or this morning. I know you are disappointed about the revoked shore leaves, but I assure you, you won't mind. You won't mind at all."
"What's this about, Captain?" Tom Paris asked, hugging B'Elanna in front of him. Pregnant with their second child, which was barely visible, the couple was two of the major role models aboard Voyager. They led by example and showed the younger crewmen, together with Samantha, that it was entirely possible to raise children and live a family life while you were still far away from home.
"I don't think there is anything I can say to prepare you for the shock, a joyous shock, but still. Just remain calm, and rest assured that we've taken every precaution and performed all possible verifications of identity. Here she is, accompanied by Seven of Nine. Welcome back the woman whose place I can never fully take. Computer, one at a time, site to site transport of the two individuals in the ready room to shuttle bay one." Chakotay paused as Seven first materialized and then the transporter began singing again. As the green light delivered Kathryn, he spoke again, this time with a voice thick with emotion. "Crew of Voyager, welcome back Captain Kathryn Janeway."
Seven beamed into place a few seconds before Kathryn. The crew was focusing on Chakotay and only briefly acknowledged her with quick glances.
"Crew of Voyager, welcome back Captain Kathryn Janeway," Chakotay said.
The transporter came to life again and Kathryn appeared center stage, between Seven and Chakotay.
Utter silence made everyone's united gasp sound ear-deafening. Someone whispered "Captain Janeway" and sounded almost frightened. The crew, all 145 of them, stared at their former captain and eventually someone to the far left began to push themselves forward.
"Captain? Captain!" Harry Kim called out and approached Kathryn. He was pale and his eyes huge and glazed over with tears. "Oh, Gods…"
"Harry." Kathryn didn't hesitate. She wrapped her arms around Harry and hugged him tight. Seven knew this was maternal feelings, just as sure as if she'd watched Samantha with Naomi. Harry buried his face into Kathryn's shoulder and sobbed. "You were dead. We all thought…how can this be?"
More people stepped closer. B'Elanna stood next to Harry and as soon as he let go of his grasp of Kathryn, she took over. Growling softly deep in her throat in a very Klingon way, B'Elanna rocked Kathryn back and forth. "Captain. I can't believe it. I have to. I feel you, damn it, but I can't wrap my head around it."
"Then try wrapping your heart around it instead. Surely you can feel that it's really me?" Kathryn spoke for the first time since she'd beamed into shuttle bay one, and a visible shudder went through the crew at the sound of her familiar, throaty voice.
"It's her. It really is. Nobody else has that voice." Susan Nicoletti said, standing close to Seven.
"Captain, what took you so long?" Tom Paris asked and hugged both his wife and Kathryn at the same time.
"Sorry for being tardy like this, Tom. I didn't have a pilot of your caliber at my disposal." Kathryn winked at him and smiled tremulously.
"You look well, if a bit fatigued, Captain." Tuvok had now joined them. "It is good to see you, Kathryn Janeway. I have prayed for you many, many times since we thought we lost you on Quarra."
"Tuvok!" Kathryn gently freed herself from B'Elanna and Tom, and threw herself at Tuvok who held her close. He placed two fingertips at her forehead, and whispered something inaudible. Seven regarded the ritual with interest, but when she saw a single, crystal clear tear running down Tuvok's cheek, she knew it was time to interrupt. She stepped forward to Kathryn's side and as Kathryn let go of Tuvok and wiped away his lonely teardrop, Seven gently took her elbow.
"Allow me to escort you among the crew and reintroduce you to the ones you may not remember as readily," she murmured and received a grateful squeeze of her arm in return. Seven guided Kathryn around the room, and eventually there was only one person left who stood trembling by the exit.
Neelix hadn't said anything, and his demeanor did not bode well. "How can we be certain?" he muttered under his breath as Seven and Kathryn approached him. "How can we be certain that this woman, this potential imposter, is Kathryn Janeway?"
"The Doctor scanned me thoroughly when I came aboard Voyager, Neelix," Kathryn said softly. "He performed every identification determination procedure he could think of, and I didn't flunk a single one. It's me, Neelix. Trust me. I'm older, and hopefully wiser, but it's still me."
Neelix swayed where he stood. "Captain?" he mouthed. "It's you, Captain?"
Neelix burst into tears and once again, Kathryn was embraced vigorously. Neelix cheered and Seven knew she hadn't seen him so filled with his trademark joyous delight since Kathryn "died."
After letting go of Neelix, Kathryn looked exhausted. She looked pleadingly at Seven and Chakotay. Both of them nodded, and Chakotay cleared his voice. "Kathryn Janeway is back on Voyager and all seems right with the universe, doesn't it?"
Everybody cheered and several crewmembers brought up new questions. "Are you going to captain this ship again, ma'am?" - "How does it feel to be back?" - "What have you done while you've been away, ma'am? - "What happened back on Quarra?"
Kathryn shook her head. "I want to answer all your questions, and I will, I promise. I have many questions also, regarding your adventures without me, and I'm sure we both have to come to terms with emotions like grief, anger, fear, and…I wouldn't blame you for having trust issues."
"But are you going to resume your duties, Captain?" Neelix asked. "You have to tell us that."
Seven held her breath as Kathryn tilted her head to the side, gazing affectionately at Neelix. "I was away for four years, and Chakotay performed his duties with valor, which the fact that you're all alive, in fact, you've grown in numbers, is a testimony to." Kathryn looked over at Seven. "I also have a few questions to both Seven and Chakotay, which I will ask in the next few days, and depending on those answers, I will make my decision."
"But, you'll stay with us, no matter what?" Naomi Wildman had left her mother's side and now stood next to Neelix.
"I would never willingly leave Voyager or any of you."
Seven frowned. The answer seemed reassuring at first glance, but was more obtuse when you examined it.
"I will have answers for you within forty-eight hours. It isn't good for a ship to not have a clear command structure, and I am not about to jeopardize that by being selfish."
"It sound most reasonable, Captain," Tuvok said. "Your crew will need to know as soon as possible."
"And now, all shore leaves are granted again. Check your duty roster for any changes, and then go enjoy the space station." Chakotay's words seemed to go unnoticed at first, but eventually the crew trickled out the large doors. "They're Janeway deprived and can't take their eyes off you."
"Perhaps they fear I will sprout two heads and a tail?" Kathryn shrugged, but dark circles under her eyes, together with faint tremors spoke of both emotional and physical fatigue.
"I know that you need to discuss matters soon with the captain," Seven said quietly, "but for now, you need to come back to my quarters and rest. You do not look well."
"Good idea," Chakotay said. "I'll see you in the ready room at 2000 hours?"
"I'll be there."
They parted ways and Seven and Kathryn began walking toward the closest turbo lift. "I could sleep for a week," Kathryn muttered.
"You can sleep until 1900 hours," Seven deadpanned.
"I just need you to hold me." Kathryn turned to gaze at her with eyes burning with such emotions that Seven merely blinked a few times.
Janeway stood in what was now Seven's bedroom. The bed was meticulously made and only when Seven pulled back the covers, did it look inviting.
"I will take a quick sonic shower," Janeway said, "and then I'll go straight to bed. Are you joining me?"
"In the shower?" Seven asked uncertainly, making Janeway laugh.
"No. I think it's a little too early for that. Not that it wouldn't thrill me…on the contrary, but as I said at the Inn…I want our first lovemaking to be done right. And with time to spare."
"We have five hours, twelve minutes, and sixteen seconds," Seven said.
Janeway laughed again, and she realized that she hadn't laughed very much in the last four years. "Sound like that'd be enough." She walked into the bathroom and took off her alien uniform. Her body was scarred in new places and where she'd been comfortably cushioned during her last year on Voyager; she was now wiry and strong. She let the hair remain in her thick braid as she stepped inside the shower stall. The sonic waves hit and she was the rejuvenated by the feeling of being utterly clean.
Reaching for a towel, Janeway wrapped it around her and walked out into the bedroom. Seven was already in bed, and from the looks of it, she was naked under the covers. Her hair was down, and Janeway saw that she wasn't the only one who'd grown her hair long. The gold mass spread across the pillows, and Janeway couldn't wait to touch it.
Suddenly shy, Janeway tossed the towel on a chair and climbed quickly into bed. "Computer illumination ten percent." She moved close to Seven and gasped as she felt Seven's long, curvaceous body against her own. "Seven!" Janeway slide her hands along Seven's back and soon found her engaged in a searing kiss that stole what little breath she had left.
"Mm. This is delicious." Seven raised her head. She had a look of enthrallment on her face as she gazed down at Janeway. "You taste…exquisitely." She kissed Janeway again, this time deeper. Janeway opened her mouth under Seven's and willingly let her explore, even when she ran out of oxygen. Just when she thought she might faint, Seven moved on down her neck, following a collar bone to her shoulder. Janeway arched as Seven approached her left breast. Her nipple ached and when Seven ran her soft tongue over it repeatedly, Janeway could feel how the wetness between her legs coated the inside of her thighs. She groaned, lost in a feeling of surrealism and bliss, and her heart ached for the proud woman in her arms. Seven, always so in control and stoic, was gasping in short breaths, praising Janeway's skin, her beauty, and interspersing such compliments with terms of endearment.
"I wish to do this right. I wish for this to be…perfect, Kathryn," Seven said, nuzzling Janeway's stomach. She kissed her belly button and then looked up at Janeway with pleading eyes. "I wish for you to feel that I touch you out of love."
Teary-eyed, Janeway blinked over and over to not lose sight of the look in Seven's eyes. Dark blue, they looked up at her with equal parts fear, love, and adoration. The part that was fear was not hard to figure out. Janeway shared the same feeling of semi-disbelief. Part of her fully expected to wake up and find herself back on the alien ship, sharing quarters with Norrian. When this never happened, she spread her legs eagerly to accommodate Seven. "I want you to touch me anyway you want. I will let you know how it feels." She knew Seven wouldn't settle for anything but complete honesty.
"Good." Seven placed herself between Janeway's legs and ran her eyes along her body, several times. "I can hardly believe that you are displayed like this, underneath me, and that I am allowed to touch you. So many nights I worked in cargo bay two, or astrometrics, and fantasized about you. After you died…was lost," she corrected herself, "I stopped daydreaming. There was no use. The person I loved was lost to me."
"To me too." Janeway hummed as Seven pushed her hands under her buttocks and massaged her gently. "I cursed myself, hated myself, really, for never telling you how much I loved you."
"I knew you cared for me." Seven smiled tremulously.
"But not how much I loved you in a romantic, sexual sense."
"No. Not that."
"I did. And I do. I love you with all my heart, Seven." Janeway closed her eyes briefly as Seven kissed the auburn tuft of hair at the apex of her thighs. She opened them quickly again, not wanting to miss anything about Seven's first time making love.
"I do as well. Love you." Seven spoke in chopped sentences, so unlike her. She focused on Janeway's sex, looked at it with keen interest and it apparently affected her physically as well, since she wriggled where she lay.
"I am…becoming wet, like you," Seven said in a low voice.
"Only natural. Can't wait to touch you and taste you, darling."
"Taste…" Seven obviously took that as a suggestion. Dipping her head, she parted Janeway's folds with her tongue. Janeway spread her legs further and pulled her knees up some. Seven pushed her open with her thumbs, cupping her bottom as she did. "Like this?" She flicked the tip of her tongue over Janeway's clitoris and the sensation made Janeway whimper.
"Perfect," Janeway hissed between clenched teeth.
Encouraged, Seven gently explored Janeway's sex, from the clitoris back to her anus, over and over. Janeway felt sparks engulf her, much like the transporter did, and she groaned as she moved toward the blinding light. "Yes, like that," she murmured. "So good. So good…" Then she was there. The orgasm seemed divided into two parts. One that hit like lightning, searing through her and scorching all her veins. The other part was like a soft cloud of multicolor droplets that prickled her skin, caressed her and kept her rocking against Seven for several minutes.
Seven kissed her way up along Janeway's body, snuggling tightly with her. "You are beautiful when you climax," she said reverently.
"Oh, Seven," Janeway gasped. "You were wonderful to me. You took such good care of me."
Seven kissed her and Janeway could taste her own arousal which rejuvenated her. "And since you did," she said playfully, "I think it's time for me to reciprocate."
Seven looked down at her lover. Kathryn looked so happy and the fact that Seven had something to do with it made her feel proud. "May I do something else first?" she asked.
Seven took the end of Kathryn's braid and removed the fastening. The heavy auburn hair unraveled and spread around Kathryn like an expensive cloak. Combing through it with her fingers, Seven enjoyed the silky feel of it and could not resist burying her face into the seductive tresses.
"You like it?" Kathryn asked. "It's been far between hair dressers."
"I do." Seven hugged Kathryn close and suddenly felt her lover roll them. Finding herself underneath Kathryn, Seven parted her lips and pulled her down further to enjoy more kisses. They shared leisurely caresses as Seven's arousal slowly escalated as Seven got to know her own body more intimately. Soon she was as wet between her legs as Kathryn had been, and Seven knew she couldn't wait for Kathryn to claim her any longer. "Please. Take me, Kathryn."
Kathryn's head snapped up. "You certain, darling?" she asked. "You can change your mind at any time, you know. I would never love you less, and I'd be willing to challenge my patience and wait until you were ready for this. I promise."
"I appreciate your thoughts, but what I want is for you to seal the fact that we're now lovers. I need to feel it, and I am very aroused."
Kathryn smiled. "Well, I can help you with that." She pushed a hand down between them and cupped Seven's sex. The touch was not intruding and still it made Seven press her legs together to draw Kathryn's hand closer. She trembled and found it difficult to breathe, and the strange whimpering sound turned out to originate from her own vocal chords. "Kathryn, I need more," Seven managed. She wasn't quite sure how to express exactly what she required, but surprisingly, Kathryn seemed to know. She pushed several fingers in between Seven's drenched folds, and briefly touched the engorged clitoris.
Seven's tremors escalated and she wrapped both arms around Kathryn's neck and moaned. Kathryn now held Seven's clitoris between two fingers and did something so wonderful to it, not letting go for a single moment. The feelings whirled inside Seven, created patterns in her mind and fire in the pit of her stomach.
Suddenly everything came to a crescendo and Seven arched convulsively, crying out loudly. Shaking she pressed Kathryn's hand closer with both of her own, afraid that Kathryn might break contact too early.
Kathryn wrapped her free arm around Seven and rolled them on their sides, her other hand still lodged between Seven's thighs. "I love you," she whispered. "You gorgeous, beautiful, amazing woman. Seven…"
Several deep, lazy kisses later, Kathryn carefully removed her hand and tugged the sheet over them. "Computer, illumination zero percent." Darkness settled in the room and the stars outside the view port was the only light source.
"Just relax," Kathryn whispered when Seven stirred. "Just relax."
Seven curled up next to Kathryn and did as suggested. She was tired now, but didn't want to go to sleep.
"I'll be here when you wake up," Kathryn said, her voice soft and serious.
"As will I."
"Then I suggest we sleep some."
Seven tried to stay awake, wanting to watch Kathryn sleep for a little while, but it turned out to be impossible. She closed her eyes, inhaled Kathryn's scent and fell asleep instantly.
Memo to all crewmembers of the USS Voyager of the Federation of Planets from Kathryn Janeway.
I promised you two days ago that I would let you know ASAP what my decision is regarding my future aboard Voyager. I have now sat down with Captain Chakotay, and we have reached a mutual understanding that we are both pleased with.
I am not comfortable assuming my duties as captain of Voyager until I have reacquainted myself with this fine vessel and its crew. I want to "find my stride" as our esteemed helmsman Tom Paris would put it, and have time to go through the logs of your past adventures without me. While I am doing this, I will have the provisional title of acting commander.
Once I am comfortable that I will be able to resume my duties with the abilities you have the right to demand of your captain intact, Captain Chakotay have amicably decided that he does not mind handing over the captaincy. By then, it will also be my pleasure to marry him and Samantha Wildman.
Lastly, thank you for your patience, and the way you've welcomed me back into the fold. You are my family, and I feel now that we are united again; nothing will stop us from reaching the Alpha Quadrant.
Janeway raised her gaze to Seven after sending off the memo. She had asked Seven to proofread it and it had been a relief that Seven also agreed with the decision Janeway and Chakotay had reached. "You know, we should take advantage of Chakotay before he is demoted back to commander," Janeway said.
"Kathryn?" Seven raised her right eyebrow.
Janeway rose and walked over to the couch where Seven sat perusing data PADDs with astrometrics readings. Removing the one Seven held and placing it on the coffee table, Janeway held on to Seven's hands. "What I'm asking is…will you marry me Seven?"
Seven pressed her full lips into a thin line. "You are serious?"
"Then that is my answer."
"What is?" Janeway asked, not sure what Seven meant.
"You're accepting?" Janeway's heart began to pound.
"Yes." Seven smiled brightly.
Janeway tossed her head back and laughed which rendered her a full body hug. "I love you, Seven of Nine. I can't wait to marry you."
"I suggest we do not postpone it considering we only have access to a captain very briefly."
"I like how your mind works."
"Thank you." Seven nodded. "We have waited for each other long enough."
And Janeway agreed whole-heartedly.