| Part 1 | Part 2 |
16 Hours (part 2)
Captain Janeway didn’t know what was more disturbing – walking into her bedroom to find Seven kissing another woman, or realizing that the woman she was kissing was…. her. She immediately pulled the phaser from her hip that she still carried from the away mission and pointed it at her doppelganger. She motioned to Seven, who was staring at her, open-mouthed. "Seven, move away. This woman is an imposter." Janeway tapped her comm badge reflexively. "Security – intruder alert. Get a team up to the Captain’s quarters immediately!"
The other woman laughed – actually laughed at Captain Janeway. "What the hell is so funny?" Janeway demanded, unnerved to hear her own voice laughing at her.
"You. Me. This whole situation." The Kathryn Janeway closest to Seven made an encompassing gesture that included herself, Seven and the bed. "You might want to consider letting us get dressed before the security team comes barging in here. Think how this would look to them. We wouldn’t want to cause you any undue embarrassment."
Janeway’s gaze was drawn to the bed, and she noticed for the first time the tangled sheets and the musky scent of sex that still clung to the air. "Oh God…" For a moment she thought she was going to be sick. Her eyes flew to Seven, who was looking shocked and confused, then back to the other woman. "What have you done?" It wasn’t clear which one of them the question was directed towards.
"Kathryn?" Seven asked, looking from one woman to the other. "I do not understand—"
"Shhh, Annika, all will be explained shortly. I promise."
The Captain was almost as unnerved to hear the familiar use of Seven’s human designation as she had been to find the two women kissing in her bedroom. She watched the other woman raise a comforting hand to touch Seven’s cheek, and automatically stepped forward, raising the phaser menacingly. "Back away from my crewman!" she growled.
The woman moved back obediently, smiling faintly at Seven. "Awfully possessive, isn’t she?"
"Be quiet and get dressed!" Janeway commanded. "Both of you!" Just then the door to her quarters swished open and her Vulcan security chief rushed in, followed by two ensigns with phasers drawn. She stopped them before they came any closer. "Tuvok, please tell your team to wait outside. I’ve got the situation under control for the moment."
Tuvok hesitated. He could see the Captain standing in her bedroom, apparently holding a phaser on someone, but the rest of the room was hidden from view. When he didn’t immediately leave, the glare the Captain leveled at him assured Tuvok that she could indeed handle the intruder with no problem whatsoever. "Understood," he said evenly, motioning the ensigns to follow him. "We will be outside if you need us."
"Thank you," she said, watching until the door closed behind them. When the Captain turned back towards her uninvited guests, she was startled by an image both unsettling and surreal as hands resembling her own helped to pull Seven’s bio-suit up over two creamy, voluptuous breasts. "Oh God," she croaked, and quickly averted her eyes. When she found her voice again, she looked back to see the other Kathryn Janeway assisting a bewildered Seven of Nine with the clasp of her suit. "I don’t know who in the hell you think you are," Janeway snarled, "but get your hands off of Seven! Right now!"
The woman obeyed, and turned to Janeway. "You want to know who I am?" she asked. "I am you. Kathryn Janeway. Only fourteen months older. I’m from your future – or at least a possible version of it. I’ve come to warn you that in less than six months you will make a command decision that results in getting every one of your crewman killed." She took a breath, and glanced over at Seven. "Every one of them," she repeated, her voice husky. "But I’ve come to tell you how to save them. And how to save yourself."
* * * * * *
"Well, Doctor?" The Emergency Medical Hologram looked from the Captain Janeway sitting before him on the examining bed to the Captain Janeway pacing the floor behind him. "Who the hell is she?"
"From every test that I’ve been able to run, it appears that she is telling the truth. She is Kathryn Janeway – 14 months and 12.6 days older than you are now. The only real physical difference seems to be the chip implanted behind her left ear that she claims allows her to ‘time travel.’ If I could remove it I could get a better idea of exactly how it works—"
"And I’d immediately disappear," the woman on the bed interrupted, with an irritated glare at the Doctor. "Don’t you understand? I told you – although the effect is much like a transporter, it actually works similarly to your mobile emitter. It projects me here, like a hologram. Remove it and I’ll be pulled back into my own timeframe."
Captain Janeway chose to ignore her counterpart. "Doctor, is it possible that this chip is somehow responsible for her appearance? That it’s making this woman look like me?"
"It would have to be able to fool my diagnostic instruments as well, and although I can’t actually be certain what the chip does do, I can tell you what it doesn’t. And it doesn’t seem to be having any effect on my instruments at all." He closed the tricorder he was using with a decided snap. "The DNA scan is positive. She is you."
"Now will you listen to me?" the woman asked from her position on the bed.
"I am still not convinced," Captain Janeway said. "For all I know you could be Q, trying to masquerade as me."
"If I were Q don’t you think I’d have revealed myself by now? Using his powers to ‘play God’ and throw our lives into chaos is one of his favorite sources of amusement. How could he resist taking credit for this?"
Captain Janeway didn’t answer, but stopped her pacing in front of her Security Chief, who was guarding the door with a watchful eye towards the woman on the bio-bed. "Tuvok, I could use a little Vulcan logic right about now. What are your thoughts on this?"
"An interesting situation, Captain," he replied in even tones. "If this woman is indeed an omnipotent being, there does not seem to be any logical reason for this charade. Yet Q is not known for acting logically. Then there is the possibility that she is telling the truth; although it is implausible, it is not entirely impossible. Positive proof of either scenario would seem to be lacking, however."
Janeway placed a hand on his shoulder. "Thank you, Tuvok. Your insights have been…enlightening," she said, the sarcasm in her tone drawing an amused chuckle from the bio-bed.
The Captain shot an annoyed glance to her counterpart before turning to Seven of Nine, who was observing the proceedings with a dazed look on her features. "Seven," Janeway said, taking her by the arm and pulling her off to the side, away from the others. "I know this must be difficult for you," she spoke in hushed tones, leaning in closely to the young woman, "but I need you to think – was there anything she said to you, anything at all, that may give us some indication as to her identity?"
"No, Captain. There was nothing. But I was not looking for any such evidence," Seven responded quietly. Then she added in a small, fragile voice, "I was certain that she was you."
Janeway nodded sympathetically. "It’s easy to see how you could be tricked by her. Anyone who looked at her would assume that she was me."
"But I am not ‘anyone.’ I am Borg. I should have been more vigilant." Seven took a breath and lowered her head. "I am… sorry for disappointing you."
"Listen to me – none of this is your fault." Janeway stepped closer, so close their bodies were almost touching – lowering her voice for Seven’s ears alone. "I want you to understand that you are not responsible for any of this. You shouldn’t feel as if you did anything wrong. You were obviously coerced…"
"But Captain, that is not—" Seven tried to interject, but Janeway’s attention had been diverted as her eyes focused on a reddened bruise beginning to form on the side of the young Borg’s neck.
"Doctor!" the Captain turned, barking at the holographic physician. "Get a dermal regenerator over here, now!"
Seven’s confused gaze sought out the occupant of the bio-bed, who was watching their interchange with concern. The older woman made an answering motion to her own neck, just above the four command pips on her collar. "I left a mark," she whispered faintly, knowing that the Borg’s enhanced hearing would pick up the words easily.
"Has Seven been injured?" the Doctor asked. He grabbed a dermal regenerator and stepped forward, causing a slight surge in the forcefield surrounding the bio-bed as he passed through its energy grid. The Captain stepped back so he could move in to examine Seven’s neck. "Why that looks like—" His eyebrows flew up over his forehead. "—A hickey!" he exclaimed, glancing from Seven to both Janeways and back again.
"Just remove it," Captain Janeway growled.
As the Doctor raised the instrument to her neck, Seven instinctively lifted a protective hand to cover the mark. "No…" she whispered. She looked towards the bio-bed, and her voice grew firmer. "No. I do not want it removed." Seven’s lover nodded slightly, giving the younger woman a soft, reassuring smile.
"Of course it’s your choice, Seven." The Doctor lowered the dermal regenerator. "Is that alright with you, Captain?" he asked, somewhat acidly.
"Yes," both women answered at once. One Captain Janeway made a disgusted sound, as the other laughed ruefully. "This is getting confusing, isn’t it? Let’s see if I can’t make it easier," the woman on the bed announced as she started to remove her coat and pips. "I’ll just be ‘Kathryn,’ alright? You’re the only Captain Janeway here."
Captain Janeway watched as her counterpart removed the vestiges of command without an apparent second thought, and shook her head. "Call yourself whatever you want to, but you are not me."
"I guess I’ll just have to convince you then," Kathryn said, as she removed the comm badge from the jacket and fastened it onto her shirt. She began to count off on the fingers of one hand the secrets of Kathryn Janeway. One. "When you were 8 years old you stole Phoebe’s teddy bear and hid it in the barn under some hay. She didn’t find it until 2 months later, and by then the rats had chewed half the stuffing out. You never told her you did it, and there are times even now that you still feel guilty." Two. "Father’s pet name for you was ‘Goldenbird.’" Three. "You think leola root stew tastes like warm sweat." Four. "You’re currently involved in a romantic relationship with a holodeck character, and considering the other options you have available on this ship—" she flashed a warm smile at Seven,"—I think the Doctor should probably declare you mentally unfit for duty."
Janeway tried to vaporize her with a glare, but apparently Kathryn was impervious to her own "looks" because she simply smirked and continued. Five. "And both you and Seven experienced this kind of time travel yourselves when dealing with the Timeship Relativity!" she finished triumphantly, referring to a classified incident in which the two women had traveled back and forth through time to stop a literal "time bomb" from destroying Voyager. "What more do I need to say?"
"I don’t care how much knowledge you have of me," the Captain bit off. "I simply cannot resolve the person I am now with the actions you’ve taken since you’ve boarded my ship!"
Kathryn glanced over at Seven again, then nodded slowly. "I think I understand. But a lot has happened to me over the past year. In many ways, I’ve become a different person. Maybe once I tell you my story, it will make more sense to you. If nothing else, you can learn from my mistakes. But for now, assemble any of your command staff you deem necessary and I will tell you what destroyed my crew. And how you can keep it from destroying yours."
* * * * * *
Kathryn, Seven and Tuvok beamed directly into the Captain’s ready room, while Captain Janeway took the more ambulatory route. They traveled the same as when they first left the Captain’s quarters, deciding that a casual walk through the halls of Voyager by two Captain Janeways would draw undue attention, and that a simultaneous beam-out by two people with the same exact bio-signature might cause a transporter incident of epic proportions.
Fearing that any further interaction with her counterpart would only traumatize Seven, the Captain had initially insisted that the young woman walk with her. But Seven had firmly requested that she be allowed to accompany Kathryn instead. The Captain consented, albeit reluctantly, having learned from past experience that some battles were not worth fighting with the Borg. She was somewhat mollified knowing that Tuvok was to provide security for them, aware that he would do everything in his power to at least guarantee Seven’s physical safety.
Tuvok was also the logical choice to act as lone security detail since as a Vulcan he was naturally discreet and quite unlikely to be affected by events that would send most humans to the verge of a nervous breakdown. Indeed, when he had finally been called back into the Captain’s quarters after the original discovery of her doppelganger, his only reaction to being introduced to the second Kathryn Janeway was to slightly raise one questioning eyebrow.
As the swirl of light and particles settled around them and the Captain’s ready room became visible, Tuvok took a moment to study this second manifestation of his friend of twenty years. She looked almost identical to the Captain, but the discerning observer could see the differences. The dark circles beneath her eyes were the obvious indicator, but there was something else – an emotionality that was present in this woman that he did not detect in his Captain. He realized that he had not fully appreciated the amount of restraint that Kathryn Janeway must exert to keep her emotions in check, if this woman were any indication.
"Annika, darling, are you alright?" Kathryn asked as soon as she materialized, moving to Seven and trying to embrace her. But Seven pulled away. "I know this is hard for you to comprehend," she said, trying another approach. "I wanted to say something sooner—"
"But you chose not to. I suppose it would have interfered with your plans to seduce me," Seven responded bitterly, giving in to her growing outrage at the situation. To finally realize what it meant to love someone, to have someone who loved her, only to have the evidence of that love rapidly disappearing right before her eyes – it simply was not fair. It made her feel hurt and helpless at the same time, and that only made her angry.
"Please, don’t think that way, Annika—"
"Do not call me by that name!" Seven exclaimed harshly. "I no longer wish for you to use my human designation!"
Kathryn paused to take a shaky breath, and Tuvok feared that she might actually begin to cry.
The Vulcan shifted, uncomfortably aware of the rising emotional tension around him. He had no desire to hear this exchange, but the two women seemed to have forgotten he had also beamed into the room. Hopefully the Captain would arrive soon, and put an end to this. A disturbing thought suddenly crossed his mind – "Or the Captain’s presence may actually exacerbate the problem and cause the level of emotions to rise between the women." That thought did not comfort him at all, and Tuvok found himself almost wishing that one of the ensigns had been chosen for this duty instead. But as both the Captain’s Chief of Security and her closest friend on the ship, he would be there to protect her interests against any unknown element, no matter what. Except that in this case, the element was well known to him. "Perhaps it would be best to wait until Captain Janeway arrives before continuing any discussion," he interjected, hoping that his comment would at least remind the women that someone else was in the room.
Both women glared at him, indignant at the interruption, and he was vividly reminded that this woman was indeed Kathryn Janeway as she leveled him with a Force Ten Janeway "look" – the kind that could make Hirogen quiver in their boots and Ferengi give up their latinum. He simply raised his eyebrow, however, and focused his attention on a potted plant that suddenly seemed quite fascinating.
Kathryn turned back to Seven, and tried again. "I understand why you feel this way. I wasn’t completely truthful—"
"You mean you lied to me," Seven interrupted.
"Did I? I told you no untruth."
"You misrepresented yourself to me. Allowed me to think that you were someone else so you… so you could copulate with me!"
Kathryn winced at the use of that word. If she’d been looking, she would have noticed the slight tightening of his eyebrows that indicated Tuvok did as well. Her initial desire to argue and point out to Seven that she had not exactly been an unwilling participant died on her lips, however, as Kathryn saw the pain in her young lover’s eyes. Feelings of protectiveness welled up inside her, and she gentled her voice. "If I misrepresented anything it was not who I am, but the time I come from. And in my time you are dead. I’ve missed you so much… you can’t possibly imagine. I only wanted to see you again, to talk with you, to be with you. What happened between us… that wasn’t planned. But I don’t regret it. If my actions end up hurting you then I’d like to say that I wish I’d never touched you. I’d like to say that – but I’d be lying. Because I love you too much to cheapen what we shared by wishing it had never happened. It was too precious to me."
Seven looked down at the floor, refusing to meet her eyes. "I’m so sorry you’re in pain," Kathryn continued tenderly. "I would give anything if I could make that go away. When your Captain gets here and I explain what happened, what brought me here, maybe that will at least give you a logical context for all that I’ve done. Maybe then you can begin to understand why I had to come back," Kathryn reached for Seven’s hand, and this time she didn’t pull away. "Why I had to come back to save you."
They both turned as the doors hissed open to allow Captain Janeway to enter, followed closely by her second in command, Commander Chakotay. One look at the disapproval in her eyes and Seven quickly stepped away from Kathryn, turning to stare out the viewport at the stars that now appeared as individual points of light from the stilled ship. She realized that the Captain must have taken the time to order an all-stop until the matter with her counterpart had been resolved.
The Captain had not, however, taken the time to debrief Commander Chakotay before asking him to join her in her ready room. He stopped short at the sight of the second Captain Janeway, who was ignoring everyone else in the room and focusing her attention on Seven, whose back was turned to them. But that was not so unusual. "What’s going on here, Kathryn?" he asked the woman at his side. He did notice that Seven of Nine turned around rather quickly at his question to shoot him a cold Borg glare, but that was not so unusual either.
"Obviously, we have a situation," the Captain said.
"Obviously," the second Kathryn Janeway echoed. He looked back and forth between the two until the more casually dressed Captain took pity on him. "I’m Kathryn Janeway, but I’m from a different time period. I’m from your future." She continued to explain to him that she had come back in time to save the ship, and that if they didn’t change course they would all be doomed, but he was only half listening as his eyes focused on Seven’s neck.
Was that a hickey?
"How long have you been on the ship?" he interrupted with sudden insight. Kathryn hesitated, and his heart sank as she shot a glance towards Seven of Nine, who actually appeared to be… blushing? He had long held hopes that he and the Captain had a future together, that they would one day embark on a romantic relationship when they returned to the Alpha Quadrant, but it now seemed apparent that she was destined to give her affection to another.
"That’s not important," the Captain Janeway at his side hastily intervened. "What is important is that we find out why we need to change course, and how Voyager will supposedly be destroyed if we don’t."
"Alright. I’ll give the expurgated version for now." Kathryn reached over to the Captain’s desk and picked up a data padd, and started keying in coordinates. "A little less than six months from now, following your present course, you will come upon a race called the Inyuuri."
"Species 7497," Seven automatically identified the race by their Borg designation, although her attention seemed to be focused on the viewport.
"Yes, Species 7497. When my Voyager encountered them," Kathryn continued, "the Inyuuri seemed friendly, open to negotiations. They invited us onto their planet where we were to discuss navigation through their space, but instead they ambushed us. Executed the members of the away team. Then irradiated the ship and killed every crewmember."
"Yet you survived," Captain Janeway pointed out.
"Only because I was a member of the away team, and they deliberately spared my life. Their goal was to humiliate me, not kill me. So they returned me to Voyager just so I could watch as my crew died." She finished keying in the information and handed the padd to Captain Janeway. "If you change your course to this heading, you should steer well away from Inyuuri space. It will add time to your journey, but better that than the alternative."
"So you decided to come back through time to change your future," Chakotay said, prompting Kathryn to finish the story.
"And yours," Kathryn responded. "It was the only way I could think to save my crew."
"How did you come up with a method of travelling through time?" the Captain asked as she glanced over the padd. "I—"
"—hate temporal mechanics," the two Janeways said in unison. Both women actually shared a small smile, for a brief moment. But their smiles faded as Kathryn answered. "I had to reconfigure the holodeck to provide a crew to help me run the ship. Although two people can run this ship for a brief time – as Seven and the Doctor proved when they took us through the Mutara nebula – it just is not feasible for anything more than a few weeks. So I put together a crew made up of the current holodeck characters, which include some of the greatest minds in science. It wasn’t that much of a leap to make those minds work for me to help find a way of going back in time to save Voyager." She shrugged at the Captain. "I can go into as much detail as you want on the method we devised – how the Time Displacement Emitter functions, how our two ships had to intersect at the exact same point in space for it to work – but all that will accomplish is to give us both a colossal headache," Kathryn said dryly, noting that the Captain had started to rub her temple as if her headache had already manifested itself. "In the end it’s not important how I got here – all that matters is that you listen to me and alter your course."
Captain Janeway handed the padd to Chakotay. "Take this information to be analyzed, and make sure that there is no way that following this heading can harm the ship."
"Captain?" he questioned.
"I want to make sure this isn’t going to lead us directly into danger," Janeway explained, "rather than divert us away from it."
"It’s what I would do," Kathryn agreed. "It’s better to err on the side of caution."
Chakotay frowned, but nodded at both women. "Captains," he said, and left the room.
As the doors slid shut behind him, Captain Janeway turned on her doppelganger. "Now I’d like to hear this story again. The unexpurgated version this time." She signaled to her Chief of Security. "Thank you for your help, Tuvok, but that will be all."
"Captain, I must protest—" Tuvok started, but she merely shot a Force Six look at him, and he acquiesced, although reluctantly. "Very well. I will be immediately outside the door," he said. Before leaving he turned to her counterpart and bowed his head slightly in her direction – a gesture of respect. "Kathryn."
"Goodbye, old friend," she responded quietly.
Janeway waited until he was gone to approach Seven, who was resolutely staring out at the starfield. "Seven," she said, lightly resting her hand on the young woman’s back, between her shoulder blades. "I can’t in good conscience ask you to go, when you’ve obviously been personally affected by this incident. I’ll leave the choice up to you. Do you want to stay and hear what she has to say?"
Seven faced the Captain, her jaw muscles working as she answered. "I do."
Kathryn watched the Captain nod sympathetically, rubbing her hand over Seven’s back as she spoke. "Then we may as well get comfortable."
* * * * * *
After replicating a whiskey and soda for each of the Captains, the women sat down on the upper level of the ready room. Captain Janeway sat in a chair, and Kathryn on the couch across from her. Seven of Nine hesitated, then sat down on the couch as well.
Kathryn took a sip of her drink and began, her voice devoid of emotion. "Seven warned us about the Inyuuri – Species 7497. She said that they were an aggressive, duplicitous race. But avoiding their space meant adding another 5 months to our journey. So I ignored her concerns and made the decision to press on. We contacted the Inyuuri, and at first they seemed friendly enough. They invited me down to the home-planet to negotiate safe passage through their space, and I went with an away team comprised of Tuvok, Seven, and Ensigns Hicks and Johnson. We had scanned thoroughly, and nothing appeared amiss. When we materialized on the planet, they led us into a room – we had no way of knowing the structure was built of a shielding material that could block our scanners and communicators," she said, shaking her head.
"They started firing on us. Ensign Hicks was killed first. Then Johnson. We couldn’t get away, we couldn’t escape. Tuvok was cut in half by a laser blast while trying to protect us. Seven and I were the only ones left – she pushed me behind her, blocking their fire with her body for as long as she could, until finally she too fell to the ground. I tried to catch her, but one of the Inyuuri knocked the phaser out of my hand. I was able to hold her in my arms for a moment, long enough to hear her final words…"
Kathryn looked over at Seven, who was staring at the table. "They tore her away from me and put a phaser to her head—" she reached up to touch her own forehead, "—here, just above her optical implant." She took another sip from her drink, ice clinking against the sides of the glass betraying the tremor in her hand. "Then they killed her. Executed her while I watched," she said tonelessly.
Kathryn stared down into her glass for a long moment before continuing.
"I thought they would kill me. I hoped they would. But they didn’t. In their society, it is a greater victory for the enemy to be humiliated, not killed. What greater humiliation for a Captain than to lose her entire crew? They let me return to the ship with the bodies of the away team, but only after they had bypassed our shields and shot a concentrated burst of Theta radiation into Voyager. Anyone who wasn’t killed immediately was left to die a slow, painful death. There was nothing the Doctor could do but try to ease their suffering. Within days everyone was gone – Tom, B’Elanna, Chakotay, even little Naomi Wildman – all dead. We couldn’t save even one. And it had all been my fault." She took a long pull on her whiskey and soda.
"The bodies… there were so many of them. Rooms full of nothing but bodies…" Kathryn ran a shaking hand through her hair, her voice breaking as she spoke. "I held memorial services for each and every member of my crew – they deserved nothing less than to be honored individually for their sacrifice. Then I jettisoned each one into space. It took days – days of nothing but me memorializing the dead. We were still in orbit around the Inyuuri planet, but they no longer saw me as a threat, so they left me to my torment. A fatal mistake. When the final person was gone, I jettisoned one more thing – a cluster of 10 photon torpedoes, each armed with a thermonuclear device and programmed to target key areas on the planet. I waited until they entered the planet’s atmosphere, and then I detonated every single one of them." Kathryn paused to allow the magnitude of her actions to sink in.
Captain Janeway and Seven both regarded her in shock. "Are you saying that you annihilated an entire planet’s population?" the Captain asked, her words rumbling low in her chest.
"They had destroyed my world," Kathryn said simply. She drained the contents of her glass, then set it down on the coffee table. "I thought about killing myself after that—"
"Maybe you should have," the Captain said, disgust evident on her face. She stood and finished the contents of her own glass as she moved to the replicator.
"I wanted to," Kathryn allowed. "But somehow, after all that had happened, it just seemed cowardly. Even though my crew was gone, I still had a responsibility to their families, to let them know what had happened to them."
"At least you still had some sense of duty," Janeway retorted sarcastically, while replicating another whiskey and soda for herself. She glanced back at Kathryn, who was watching her expectantly. She sighed and then replicated a second one for her as well. "So tell me," she said, plainly addressing the question that was preoccupying her mind, "how exactly did you end up in my bedroom?"
"I’m getting to that." Kathryn immediately drank from the glass her counterpart offered her, as the Captain returned to her seat. "I was the only human survivor on a ghost ship – one that usually operates with a crew of 141 people. Obviously I couldn’t run Voyager on my own. Because the ship’s systems hadn’t been affected by the radiation, all the holograms survived unscathed," she said with a touch of irony. "So the Doctor and I re-calibrated the ship, cutting all non-essential functions and channeling everything we possibly could to run from the holodeck. My new crew was recruited from all the current holoprograms."
Kathryn shot a pointed look to Janeway. "Of course, in some ways it was all so neat, so tidy. I was finally free of all emotional responsibility – no more repercussions, no more risk of personal entanglements," she said self-mockingly. "My new crew looked and acted like real people, and yet I didn’t have to take the same responsibility for them because if a crewmember ‘died’ I could simply recreate them. Or make a totally different one. It was like playing God. But being surrounded by holograms all the time, having to interact with them on a daily basis, I began to resent them. Hate them even, for surviving when my own crew had died. That’s when I began to see how much I had squandered my time interacting with holograms while my actual crew had been alive, and that the one possibility I could have had for a real, human relationship was gone.
"Gone, but still accessible to me, in a way," she said. She turned to look at Seven, who was listening silently. "There was one person whose body we hadn’t jettisoned. We’d placed Seven in a stasis tube in Sickbay, hoping that we could one day use her Borg technology to revive her. I’d repaired the burn marks on her skin, and as she lay there I could almost convince myself that she was simply regenerating. I spent hours watching her, talking to her as if she could understand me, having one-sided ‘philosophical discussions.’ And I kept hearing the last words she said to me over and over again in my mind." She raised her eyes challengingly to Captain Janeway. "Do you know what she said to me?"
The Captain took a long swallow of her drink before answering. "I have no idea."
"She said ‘I love you, Captain.’" Kathryn shook her head slowly. "She loved me. And I hadn’t even allowed her to call me by my first name…" She grew hoarse as tears finally began to stream unchecked down her face. "But you know what the worst part of it was? I finally discovered something that I had kept completely hidden from myself – that I loved her too, had been in love with her for quite some time. But I had waited until it was too late to realize it." Janeway’s eyes widened at this revelation, and she stole a glance at Seven. But the young woman was focused exclusively on the woman beside her.
Kathryn took a deep breath. "The Doctor worried that I was slipping into madness, spending all my time talking to a dead woman. But he didn’t know that she was the one thing keeping me sane. Seven became a symbol to me of all that I had lost, of all the things that might have been. I became obsessed with trying to revive her. We tried everything we could think of to resuscitate her – using her nanoprobes, stimulating her cortical implant – but her brain was just too badly damaged." She swallowed convulsively. "In the end I had failed her in every way – I wasn’t able to protect her when she needed me most, and there was nothing I could do to bring her back. But worst of all, I had let her die without ever knowing that she was loved. For that, I knew I was damned. That’s when I finally realized that the only way to save her, the only way I could save myself, would be if we had never met the Inyuuri. From then on I devoted every waking moment to devising a way that I could go back through time and prevent this disaster from ever happening. I thought that if I could come back and warn myself, I could make it as if it never occurred. And maybe while I was erasing my mistakes I could open my earlier self’s eyes to the possibilities that were right in front of me—"
"So you’ve warned us," Captain Janeway interrupted, uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was headed. "What do we do with you now?"
"Nothing." Kathryn wiped the remaining tears from her face and downed the rest of her drink, placing the empty glass on the table beside the first. "The emitter is set to allow me to stay in this time period for exactly 16 hours, no more, no less. When that time is up, I will be pulled back to my own timeframe."
"What will happen to you then?" Seven asked softly, speaking for the first time in several minutes.
"Honestly, I’m not sure." Kathryn shook her head. "Temporal incursions, paradoxes, causality loops – the very nature of time itself – I’ve thought of nothing else for the past few months," she said, rubbing her temple reflexively. "We don’t really know what happens to people who exist outside of the main timeline, when there isn’t a convenient timeship standing by to re-integrate you. When my 16 hours are up, will I simply cease to exist? Or will I return to a timeframe that has been altered by these actions? Or will my own timeframe remain unchanged, while yours alters and in essence continues as a parallel timeline to my own?" She shrugged her shoulders in a motion of defeat. "There is no way to know for certain. But I have taken the appropriate precautions, just in case."
"What kind of precautions?" Seven prodded.
Captain Janeway regarded her counterpart with dawning insight. "You’re going to blow up your ship," she stated. At Kathryn’s surprised look, she elaborated, "It’s what I would do."
The two Captains nodded at each other in understanding as Seven looked on in growing alarm. "I can’t let Federation technology fall into the wrong hands," Kathryn said. "And I can’t keep running the ship on my own, with just holograms. So my return will coincide with the exact moment that I have set Voyager to self-destruct."
"No!" Seven exclaimed. "You will die!"
Kathryn smiled sadly. "Only this manifestation of myself. The Kathryn Janeway you know will still be alive, still be with you. I only hope that my coming here has made it possible for you both to become closer – and not driven you further apart." She turned to the Captain, facing the underlying question head on. "Do you understand now? Can you try to see why I had to be with her? I make no excuses – I deliberately chose a time when you wouldn’t be here. I admit I wanted Seven to myself, at least for a little while. I wanted to spend my last hours with her, although I swear I didn’t consciously plan for us to make love—"
"Let me guess – ‘it just happened,’" Janeway interrupted tightly.
"Imagine losing everything," Kathryn tried to explain. "Watching the one you love die before you can even tell her your feelings, then you look up and she walks into the room. And you know that she loves you, and that if you don’t do something she may never know the love she deserves from a Captain who is too stubborn and afraid to face her own feelings. Knowing that you yourself will be dead in hours and that no matter what you do, you’re already damned. Don’t fool yourself, Katie. You wouldn’t be able to resist."
Janeway slammed her empty glass on the coffee table. "How dare you presume to tell me what I would or would not do!" she roared. "Did it never occur to you that you might be manipulating Seven into doing exactly what you wanted? That she was as innocent as a child, and had no defenses against your machinations?"
"She’s not as innocent as you think," Kathryn responded coolly. "She’s certainly not a child. And you forget – I also knew that she loved me."
"You knew what she said to you as she was dying. Didn’t you even consider that maybe she was telling you she loved you as her mentor? Her friend? That her declaration had nothing at all to do with romantic love?" She turned to Seven. "Tell me, had you ever considered yourself to be in love with your Captain – with me – before last night?"
Seven met her gaze squarely. "No, Captain. I had not."
"You see?" Captain Janeway’s words were triumphant, but her voice cracked as she spoke. "You took advantage of her innocence!"
Kathryn leaned forward, her jaw clenched. "I did not take advantage of her—"
"Stop talking about me as if I were not present!" Seven commanded. She was dismayed at the open animosity that had flared between the two women, especially since she was the subject of their ire. Seven glared at each woman until they both sat back, and waited for her to continue. "No one took advantage of me," she said, and reached for Kathryn’s hand, giving it a gentle squeeze before drawing it onto the cushion between them. "It is true that I had not considered myself to be in love with Kathryn Janeway before last night, but before last night I did not realize that was an option. When I first came on board this ship the Captain made herself available to me as a mentor, but as time passed she became my friend as well. We developed a bond that has become very important to me. Recently I have begun to have certain… feelings… resulting from that bond, but Captain Janeway has been less available to me lately. I have been left to research possible causes for my feelings on my own, when I would have preferred to explore them with her. I believe I now have enough information to make a successful identification – I know what it is that I feel."
Seven had spoken to both women, looking equally between the two, because what she felt for Kathryn Janeway was not limited to any specific timeframe. But she did sense that only one of these women was willing to accept her feelings, so she spoke these words to her alone: "What I feel is love," she said softly. "I love you, Kathryn." She smiled then, and lifted her lover’s hand to place a lingering kiss on the pulse point of her wrist.
Captain Janeway stood abruptly and strode down to the lower level of the ready room. "Seven, would you leave us alone for a moment," she requested, her voice gruff.
"I wish to stay," she protested.
"It’s alright, Seven. Give us a minute alone," Kathryn said. "Help Chakotay double check those course coordinates."
"As you wish. But I will return soon if you do not call for me," Seven said, and walked onto the bridge, avoiding Captain Janeway’s gaze.
Kathryn watched her leave, then stood and slowly approached the Captain. "How are you doing?" she asked.
"I’ve been better," the Captain answered. She folded her arms over her chest and turned to stare out at the stars, tension evident in the line of her shoulders. After a moment she turned back to face Kathryn. "Listen, I appreciate the effort you’ve made on behalf of my crew, but I’ve got to be honest with you. The actions you’ve just described to me make me seriously doubt your sanity."
Kathryn crossed her own arms over her chest, and raised her chin in defiance. "I take full responsibility for all the choices I’ve made."
Janeway’s bark of laughter was loud and humorless. "‘Choices?’ Your ‘choices’ resulted in the death of your crew and the destruction of an entire planet!" Her voice rose until she was almost shouting. "You have willfully betrayed all of your principles – everything that you’re supposed to believe in, everything that I believe in, everything this uniform represents – in order to further your own selfish ends! You have acted irresponsibly, maliciously, even criminally – and yet you show no apparent sense of remorse!" She took a step closer to Kathryn. "You may look like me, but I don’t know you at all," she growled.
"Then you don’t know yourself." Kathryn’s voice lowered to a velvety purr laced with steel. "Are we so very different? It’s easy enough for you to sit in judgement of me when you have a full crew behind you. But what if they weren’t there? What would you do if each and every member of your crew was murdered? Can you honestly tell me that you would sit back and let their killers go unpunished?"
"I would hope that I would still value life, no matter what happened."
Kathryn made a scoffing noise. "This from the same woman who was perfectly willing to destroy the entire crew of the Equinox in order to save her own."
"That was a different situation entirely." The Captain waved her hand dismissively.
"Was it? If you can’t be honest with me, at least be honest with yourself. You have already started down the path that I’m on. Anything I have done you are quite capable of doing yourself."
"You can’t convince me I’m capable of killing simply out of some insane desire for vengeance," Janeway snapped.
"In those circumstances, anyone could be capable of that. Any human being would be pushed to the edges of sanity by what I’ve seen, what I’ve been through," Kathryn argued. "And you’re still only human – no matter how hard you try not to be."
Janeway’s jaw muscles worked as she fumed. "So I’m simply supposed to accept that in only a few months’ time I could become everything that I detest in a leader – someone who would foolishly allow her crew to be destroyed, who would then commit genocide on a planetary scale. Someone who would go to incredible lengths to change the past and correct her mistakes, only to take a few hours out of her journey through time to stop and have sex with a crewmember!"
"If you learn from my mistakes, hopefully you shouldn’t have to face any of the choices I’ve had to make," Kathryn pointed out. "As for Seven, you should know by now that she is much more to you than just a ‘crewmember.’ Think about it – in the first year she was on Voyager, you were willing to risk a war with the B’omar to save her from the resonance signal sent by the Raven. A few months ago you tore after Ransom and the Equinox like some sort of avenging angel when he kidnapped her. And when Seven told you she wanted to rejoin the Collective last year you refused to let her go, because you couldn’t accept that she wanted to leave Voyager, that she wanted to leave you. So you chased her down and dragged her back from the Borg Queen herself! Time after time you’ve put yourself and your ship in danger – for her!"
"She’s a valuable member of my crew," the Captain rationalized. "She’s saved this ship on countless occasions. It would be detrimental to Voyager if she were not on board."
"You mean it would be detrimental to you." Kathryn’s voice softened perceptively. "You are capable of such intense love. Of sacrificing everything you are for the person you love. Why can’t you see that?"
"Because I am not in love with Seven of Nine!" Janeway exclaimed. "She’s a lovely young woman and I care for her a great deal, but I’m simply not in love with her."
"Who are you trying to convince? Me, or yourself?" Kathryn asked. "You’ve spent the past six years so intent on bottling up your emotions, how can you even know what you feel? I didn’t, until it was too late. Don’t let it be too late for you."
Janeway paced back over to the viewport. "No." She shook her head slowly at first, then more firmly. "No. I’m a Starfleet Captain. I don’t have the luxury of those kinds of feelings. I don’t deserve to have them. Not as long as we are stranded here in the Delta Quadrant. My ship has to come first."
Kathryn followed Janeway, grabbed her by the shoulder and forced the Captain to face her. "Listen to me! If you don’t let someone in, you may not have a ship left at all. There’s one more thing I haven’t told you. Looking back on how I was before we encountered the Inyuuri, I realize I had started to shut myself off from Seven. I didn’t know why at the time, but I felt I had to. I stopped spending time with her; I stopped listening to her. When she warned me about the Inyuuri, I ignored her. Now I wonder if that came from my determination not to let her have too much influence over me – to act as if she had no affect on me at all, when the opposite was true." She shook Janeway’s shoulder. "Don’t you see? The things I’ve done, the crimes I’ve committed – I may have been capable of them precisely because I denied my own humanity, my own need to love. How much of your humanity can you barter away before there’s nothing left?" she asked pointedly. Janeway lowered her gaze, obviously mulling over her words.
"Please don’t ignore her," Kathryn continued. "Let her in. Don’t say no before ever giving her a chance. You owe her that. But most of all you owe yourself that. You don’t have to make this journey alone. At least consider what she has to offer – she has so much love to give."
Janeway pulled away. "Oh, I think she’s made it perfectly clear which one of us she wants to ‘give her love to,’" she said sarcastically, raking a hand through her bobbed hair.
"You’re wrong," Kathryn corrected gently. "When we were together last night she had no idea that I wasn’t her Captain. When she was making love with me she was really making love to you."
"Funny, I didn’t feel a thing," Janeway retorted, her voice hard, tinged with resentment… and a hint of something else.
Kathryn was watching her closely. "Whatever happens, please promise me you’ll take care of her. That’s all I ask. Protect her, keep her safe. If you can’t find it in your heart to love her then at least be there for her – don’t pull away from her because of this. Continue to be her friend."
"I…" the Captain started, then took a breath. "I’ll do my best," she said finally.
"I understand," Kathryn said – and she did. She turned her head in the vague direction of the ceiling. "Computer, state the time." The computer promptly answered in its remote, feminine voice with the requested information as they both listened attentively.
"You don’t have very long now, do you?" the Captain asked.
"No." Kathryn bent her head in an uncharacteristically humble motion. "I’d like to see Seven again, if I may. There are things I need to say to her."
Janeway nodded. "I’ll ask her to come back in." She started to walk away, then paused, and surprised them both by turning to give Kathryn a brief hug. When she pulled away, both women’s eyes were shimmering with tears. "Kathryn, I… want to thank you."
"I should be the one thanking you," she responded, her voice husky. "For allowing me this chance to make things right."
The two women nodded formally to each other, then Janeway went to the door and called in Seven. The Borg immediately entered, brushing past Janeway to go directly to Kathryn. The Captain watched with some consternation as Seven enveloped the other woman in a loving embrace. "I guess I’ll give you two some privacy," Janeway said awkwardly. Kathryn shot her a grateful look over Seven’s shoulder as the Captain started onto the bridge. The doors hissed open, but Janeway paused to look back at the couple. She saw Seven whisper something into the other woman’s ear, then turn to slowly press her lips to Kathryn’s. The Captain stood for a moment longer, transfixed by the sight of her own body yielding to Seven’s gentle kiss, then she turned and left them alone.
* * * * * *
Kathryn pulled back slightly in Seven’s embrace to smile up at the taller woman. "Does this mean you forgive me?"
"For deceiving me – yes. For leaving me – no," she answered honestly.
"If you prefer," Seven broke in, "you may call me by my human designation. That would be acceptable." She brushed back a lock of hair from Kathryn’s forehead. "I would like it if you did," she added softly.
"I’d like that as well…" Kathryn replied with a warm, pleased smile, "…Annika." But her expression sobered almost immediately. "We need to talk," she said with a sigh, taking Seven by the hand and leading her to the couch.
"Whatever you wish." Seven sat and tried to pull Kathryn down with her, onto her lap. At first she hesitated, then Kathryn realized that her young lover was instinctively offering what she needed most at the moment – the feeling of comfort that could only come from being as physically close as possible to the one she loved. She acquiesced, and Seven hugged her tightly, waiting patiently for her to speak. Kathryn was silent as she allowed herself to be cradled, however, wanting desperately to preserve the illusion that these strong arms could protect her from the inevitable. Finally, Seven gave voice to what they both were thinking. "We do not have much time left before…" She hesitated, unable to complete the thought.
"Before I’m gone," Kathryn finished for her. "But Kathryn Janeway will still be here with you," she said, reaching up to caress Seven’s cheek. "As long as she is here, I am here. I am part of her. The part that isn’t Starfleet, that isn’t Captain of Voyager. I will continue to exist in her. Please try to look beyond her command mask and find me. Find the woman inside her – the woman who loves you."
"I do not know if that will be possible," Seven said, brutally direct as always.
"What?" Kathryn asked in surprise. "Why?"
"Since Captain Janeway first came upon us in your—her— quarters, she has looked at me differently."
"Of course she would. She hadn’t allowed herself to think of you like that before. To see you as a woman. A sexual being. To see you with me, after we’d made love, would have been a terrible shock to her. But I know she has feelings for you, even if she tries to deny it to herself. Watch her body language – it gives her away. She naturally gravitates towards you, touches you whenever she can. Believe me, no matter what she says, she does love you."
Seven lightly brushed her fingers over Kathryn’s eyebrows in an oddly intimate gesture. "When you say you love me, I look in your eyes and I see that it is true. I feel it. You also say that Captain Janeway loves me, but instead of love I see…." she paused, and took a breath.
"What is it, Annika? What do you see?"
"Disappointment…. Anger…. Betrayal."
Kathryn smiled wryly. "I’m sure she feels all of those things. But not towards you. She is disappointed in me. Angry with me – in essence with herself – for having these feelings for you. For putting you at risk of being hurt. She feels I’ve stolen your innocence. And she feels betrayed by me, for going against everything she believes in just so I could spend a few hours with you.
"But those are her emotions as Captain – and I am no longer a Starfleet Captain. I have no crew, no ship. I come to you not as an officer, but as Kathryn Janeway. I have no other responsibility than to love you as best I can. She is still Captain, responsible for 141 lives and for the safety of this ship. And that’s not going to change as long as Voyager and its crew are still journeying home. She is so incredibly protective of you, but she’s convinced herself it’s because you are her crewman. She feels such a responsibility to everyone on board that she doesn’t think she has the right to feel anything more for any one person."
Kathryn sighed and rested her head on Seven’s shoulder. "I know she thinks what I did was selfish, and maybe it was – but damn it, I had to know what it was like to love you! Is that so wrong? Just because I wanted one moment with you and I wanted it to be…"
"Perfect," Seven supplied.
"Yes. I wanted that to be my gift to you. Unfortunately, I’m also beginning to realize that it’s my curse to you as well. How do you live up to perfection? Day to day life isn’t perfect. Lord knows that woman out there on the bridge is far from perfect. She’s stubborn. Flawed. Too concerned with other people’s happiness to deal maturely with her own. She’s a difficult person to love because she has compassion for everyone but herself." Seven hugged her gently, sensing that Kathryn needed to say these things, although silently disagreeing with the harsh depiction she gave of herself.
"I had hoped that seeing us together," Kathryn continued, "would open her eyes to you. Maybe jar her into accepting her feelings, giving them free reign. I see now that I was wrong – it won’t be that easy. I’d forgotten how wracked with guilt I was about stranding the ship in the Delta Quadrant. She doesn’t feel worthy of happiness – she thinks she deserves to be alone, miserable. It’ll be up to you to convince her otherwise. You’ll have to keep after her. Don’t let her rest. Woo her, seduce her if you must. And don’t be put off if she resists. She doesn’t know what you can have together – but you do."
Kathryn placed her hand on Seven’s chest, over her heart. "And there’s one more thing that you need to understand. Part of her that she won’t acknowledge – that she would never admit to herself, much less anyone else – is jealous of me. She’s afraid that I’ve eclipsed the bond you share with her by becoming your first lover. One day she will look back on this and hate me, because I’ve taken that from her. From you. But you should let her know, because some day it will matter to her, that when we made love I was careful to leave one… avenue of your sexuality unexplored. I wanted there to be something that you could share with her, and only her." At Seven’s inquiring look, she took a breath and then explained quietly. "I was careful not to penetrate you."
There was a moment of silence before Seven answered. "I will try to find a way to work this information into conversation with the Captain," she said in even tones. "Perhaps during a staff meeting."
Janeway pulled back in horror. "Seven—!" she started, but stopped when she saw the twinkle in her eye. "You really are developing the most deliciously dry sense of humor," she laughed. "I hate to think what you’ll be like in a few years…" her voice trailed off, as she realized what she was saying. "You know you’ve got my heart, Annika. My soul. But the one thing I want most to give you is time," she said soberly. "And I don’t have much of that left."
"I am aware of exactly how much time remains of the 16 hours you have on this ship," Seven said. "And I no longer wish to spend that time talking." She brought her head down to Kathryn’s and kissed her deeply, passionately, for long moments. "I want to make love to you once more," she whispered against her lover’s lips as her hands tugged insistently at the Captain’s shirt.
Kathryn placed her hands on Seven’s, stilling their movements. "Oh darling, we can’t. We just don’t have enough—"
"I told you," Seven interrupted. "I know exactly how much time we have left together." She placed meaningful emphasis on the word "exactly," and Kathryn’s eyes widened in understanding.
"Darling, it’s enough for me to simply be with you. I can face this because I know I’m not alone. I don’t need anything else from you."
"But I want your last moments to be filled with something other than anticipation for the end," Seven replied evenly, as though she were explaining a spatial anomaly. But her gaze was intense, as if she could bend Kathryn to her will with her eyes alone. "Let me do this for you."
"If you’re offering what I think…. " she shook her head. "I… I just don’t think I can do that. Part of me is still a Starfleet Captain. And that requires a certain amount of dignity, even in the end. Especially at the end."
"But you yourself said that you are no longer Captain," Seven said, leaning forward to trail kisses up Kathryn’s neck. At the encouraging moan she took a gentle nibble at the tender flesh. "What would Kathryn Janeway like to do?" she whispered into a shell shaped ear, before flicking it with her tongue.
"You’re not playing fair," Kathryn protested, but felt herself involuntarily arch into Seven. "If we do this, what about you? The psychological ramifications?" She was very proud of herself for still being able to enunciate such multi-syllabic words under the onslaught of those full lips.
"Allow me to worry about any ‘psychological ramifications,’" Seven said. Then she pulled out the last weapon in her arsenal – a softly whispered "please." Kathryn had never been able to say no to that one word spoken by her Borg, so for a moment she considered it – leaving the universe as gloriously naked as the moment she entered it. But her Starfleet-trained mind rejected that as simply too undignified. But could she honestly say no to one final moment of pleasure with the woman she loved? Kathryn drew on all her diplomatic experience to quickly come up with a compromise. "Maybe if we leave my clothes on," she breathed, thrusting her hands in Seven’s hair and pulling her forward.
Seven smiled triumphantly and swooped down to claim Kathryn’s mouth with her own. With an impressive display of Borg efficiency, she managed to turn Janeway around in her lap so the Captain’s legs fell on either side of her thighs – effectively straddling her – without ever breaking contact with her lips. Seven’s hands freely roamed over the body before her, skittering under Kathryn’s shirt to caress her breasts, tease her nipples, while Borg-enhanced senses allowed her to recall with complete accuracy the most effective ways to please her lover. Long attentive moments were spent on each breast until Kathryn was whimpering with desire, then Seven deftly unzipped her pants with one hand. She slipped inside the waistband to gently probe between Janeway’s legs, spreading the moisture she found throughout the tender folds, then she commandingly thrust two fingers inside her.
Janeway gasped against her mouth, but Seven was relentless. Her cranial implant was counting down to the nanosecond exactly how much time they had left, and she was determined to give her lover this last gift. Her fingers moved expertly inside Kathryn, pushing her closer and closer to orgasm. When Seven knew it was almost time, she tore her mouth away from the Captain’s and held the smaller woman tightly with one arm, pressing her face into her neck and closing her eyes to the tears that threatened to fall. She began to swipe her thumb gently over Kathryn’s clitoris, until she felt the familiar trembling begin around her fingers. "I love you, Kathryn," she whispered.
"Oh Annika, I love you," Kathryn cried, her hands digging into Seven’s shoulders and clinging desperately. And as the tremors burst through her, she threw her head back and felt her whole being surge with ecstasy as her body seemed to erupt in a swirling beam of particles and light. "Annika—!"
The name echoed throughout the room as Seven opened her eyes to find that her arms were empty, and Kathryn was gone. She brought her hand to her mouth reflexively, trying to ingest every last particle that was left of her love, but even that had disappeared. The only thing that remained was the lingering scent, and Seven inhaled it deeply, committing it to memory even as it began to dissipate. "Goodbye Kathryn," she whispered, feeling the tears start to fall. "Kathryn…" she repeated, slipping off the couch and onto the floor as sobs began to wrack her chest.
Captain Janeway heard Seven’s wail, and immediately ran through the door to find her kneeling beside the couch, alone. She was sobbing, hugging her arms tightly to her chest. "Seven…"
The young woman looked up at Janeway, the devastation in her eyes achingly apparent. "Kathryn…?"
Janeway did the only thing she could do. She knelt and took Seven in her arms and held her tight, rocking her back and forth, caressing the back of her hair. "I’m so sorry," she whispered, feeling her heart become full with compassion for the young woman, and wishing fervently that there was some way she could take away her pain.
Seven clung to the Captain, crying for long minutes until her head hurt and her eyes stung. After a while she sniffed, trying to catch her breath. When she did she breathed in the scent of the woman she loved – the woman who was in her arms, holding her. The woman she had just made love to. And in her confusion it seemed like the most natural thing in the world for Seven to press her face into that woman’s hair, gently nuzzle her neck, and brush her lips across the tender flesh of her ear.
Captain Janeway stiffened in her arms, and Seven immediately pulled away, staring at her with eyes that were bewildered, confused and… angry, as she realized exactly who was holding her, or rather, who was not. "Don’t touch me," Seven said, rejecting what she saw in those blue gray eyes, assuming it was pity and knowing that it was not the love that she had seen only minutes before.
"No! Do not touch me!" she yelled, and struggled to her feet.
"Seven!" The distraught young woman ignored her and ran from the room, leaving the Captain kneeling on the floor. Janeway stared after her for long moments before realizing that her vision had become blurred. Then she sat back, dropped her head in her hands, and finally allowed herself to cry – to mourn the death of Kathryn Janeway, and the loss of a love she would apparently never know.
* * * * * *
Captain Kathryn Janeway slowly entered Cargo Bay 2 four days later, where she found Seven of Nine standing upright in her alcove, eyes closed as she regenerated. Her long hair was hanging uncharacteristically loose about her shoulders, because, Janeway surmised, Kathryn had requested she wear it that way. "She really is a remarkably beautiful woman," she thought to herself, and immediately tried to quash the thought out of habit, then just as quickly reversed herself. "She is a beautiful woman," she repeated aloud, and in saying it finally allowed herself to admit that she found Seven attractive. That she might even be attracted to her. And that maybe, just maybe, her feelings went even deeper than that.
"Computer, end regeneration cycle," she commanded.
"Regeneration cycle ended. Warning, regeneration cycle incomplete," the computer responded.
Seven’s eyes opened and the most wonderful, warm smile ghosted across her face when she saw the Captain – to be quickly chased away by a mask of cool Borg reserve as the events of the past few days replayed themselves in her mind. "Captain Janeway. Do you require my assistance?"
"Yes, I do. I require…" she hesitated, then seemed to gather her courage. "I require your presence in my quarters. At 1900 hours. I’d like to make you dinner, if you’ll let me."
"I do not know that I want you to do that, Captain," she said frostily, stepping down from her alcove.
"Please, Seven, hear me out." Janeway placed a tentative hand on the young woman’s forearm. "I’ve been worried about you. I know the past few days have been hard for you. They’ve been hard for me as well," she said with a sigh. "I thought it was best for me to give you some distance – time away from me so you could work through this on your own. But I’ve… rethought that. Maybe it would be better if we didn’t try to go through this alone…" she faltered, and dropped her hand. "I don’t know what I was thinking, Seven. I just know that I’ve missed talking to you." Her voice lowered to just above a whisper as she looked down at the floor. "And I hoped that we could spend some time together."
Seven thought a moment, studying the woman before her. She could sense her nervousness, her fear. And something else. She reached out with her Borg hand and softly ran the metallic fingertips across the Captain’s cheek, and blue-gray eyes flew to hers, startled. Ah, now this feeling she recognized in her Captain – desire. And desire was an acceptable emotion. Seven wanted to answer the Captain’s unspoken question and tell her that she would never be alone again, but she sensed that it was too soon for such declarations. With sudden clarity Seven understood that she was being given a second chance with Kathryn Janeway – but that in this instance, time would be her ally, not her enemy. So instead she simply said, "1900 hours would be acceptable," and she dropped her hand to clasp it tightly behind her back.
Captain Janeway stepped backwards, fighting the urge to rub her cheek where it still tingled from Seven’s touch. "Good. I’ll see you then."
"Until then, Captain."
Janeway turned and walked to the Cargo Bay entrance, allowing the doors to swish open before pausing on the threshold. "And Seven…" She glanced back at the younger woman. "When we’re alone together… please, call me Kathryn." Then the Captain departed, letting the doors close behind her.
Seven looked after her, a small smile lifting the corner of her mouth. "I will comply…" she whispered, and repeated her name reverently, in a tone that held both a promise and a benediction, "…Kathryn."