CHAPTER SIX

 

 

Some time later, Seven stood on the inadequately sized balcony of her hotel room, gazing out over the small city which was slowly changing character as daylight gave way to night and the city lights spluttered on.  She considered that the place could almost be termed pretty at this time of the evening, as the multitude of illuminated buildings twinkled brightly, a sparkling of so many different colours.  Who would guess that beneath such assortment of dazzling brightness, there existed an underworld of dirt, grime and a cruel, lawless society that survived on the wretchedness of a world of rejected, unwanted and broken people?

 

Her state of contemplation was broken by a sharp knock on the door.  At first, she chose to ignore it and continued to stare down into the street below but barely a few seconds later, the knocking returned and this time was more insistent and demanding.

 

Uncharacteristically fatigued, feeling listless and empty inside, she slowly crossed the room and opened the door to find Admiral Janeway stood, uneasily waiting, a rucksack flung over one shoulder.  The two women just looked at each other for what could only have been a few seconds, but to Seven, it felt like an eternity.

 

A flicker of nervous tension raced, almost unnoticed, across the smaller woman’s grey-blue eyes but was instantly replaced by the steel edge of quiet determination.  Janeway’s presence did not surprise Seven, she had expected the woman to put in an appearance before the evening disappeared. 

 

“What do you want?” 

 

The question wasn’t hostile but Seven was in no mood to spend any more time with this woman or suffer any further rejections which, no matter what Janeway might say, that is what it would amount to.  Seven couldn’t deal with any more abandonment, and certainly not from this particular person.   She had once believed that Janeway would never let her down, and even when her messages had gone unanswered, she had hoped there might have been some valid reason behind the lack of communication.

 

When Janeway had turned up as ‘Dawes’, Seven had been at once angry but also contradictorily, filled with a deep seated sense of relief that the woman she held in such high regard, had in the end not let her down.  Satisfyingly, the more tests that Seven flung at the woman, the more the latter had come back at Seven, never giving in or leaving, never letting her down, not once … until her behaviour at the ruins.  That incident, that rebuff, had broken what was left of Seven’s heart to break.

 

Still stood outside the door, Janeway seemed to stretch herself, standing as tall as she could before she then simply brushed past Seven and walked into the room uninvited. Seven stepped back rapidly, edging away from the smaller woman as if she were carrying some virulent and contagious disease, not wanting to touch her for fear of contamination.

 

If Janeway was disturbed by the action, she didn’t show it and Seven considered that she might even have felt relieved by it, the painful account of their embrace at the ruins was still etched into her memory and how Janeway had shunned her.

 

“It’s dark in here, Seven,” the auburn haired woman stated quietly.  Despite the receding light and the increasing proliferation of lengthening shadows playing across the room, she had a sense that Seven had been crying.  It seemed to make the reason for her now coming to Seven’s room all the more painful.

 

“I like it dark. Things do not look so bad in the dark.”  The younger woman’s voice sounded hollow, empty, yet Janeway heard the implied subtext and the words stung as she merely nodded and briefly looked around but she wasn’t really interested in the surroundings, only in the woman stood before her.

 

“I came to tell you that I’ve checked out of the hotel and I’m going back.”

 

Something deep inside Seven tightened and her sense of loss became overwhelming, as if she was losing the last fragile grasp on something vitally important, but she was running on empty and could say nothing.  This was, of course, what she had wanted to happen, what she thought she had wanted to happen.

 

The other woman had hesitated, as if waiting for a response but when none was forthcoming, she continued, her voice still quiet and matter-of-fact.

 

“Thought I ought to tell you so that you can stay on and not ruin your break too.  You need this time off, Seven, a chance to relax …you deserve it.  So, now you don’t have to leave tomorrow morning.  I’ll be gone.”

 

I’ll be gone.  The words agonizingly echoed in Seven’s head as her heart cried out a silent, ‘no’!  To be so torn between wanting someone gone from your life and yet longing with all your heart for them to stay.  Seven would never understand the conflicting emotions of being human.

 

Still the two of them just stared at each other, barely able to make out the other’s expression given the failing light, but occasionally Seven caught the look of sadness in the other’s eyes as a nearby, intermittent neon light flickered on and off, briefly bathing the smaller woman’s face in a soft, surreal hue of red.  And when the light went out, it just left the room seeming darker than before.

 

Seven of Nine could do nothing but continue to stand rigid and still.  She seemed powerless in both energy and ability to do or say anything that might change the situation.  She knew her body language was all Borg at this moment, stiff and uncompromising, and yet it wasn’t. She was simply frozen to the spot, and had never felt so human, so emotional torn, as she did now.  But Janeway would not know this.  Part of her wanted to ask .. no, beg the woman before her to stay but what use would that be? By her actions, Janeway had all but told her the reasons for her rejection of her. She had been uncomfortable and ashamed of being so physically close to Seven.  Maybe it was because of what she’d done on Risa IV?

 

“Is that all?” Seven dared to ask, in hope of something else, something that she couldn’t see and was missing in her analysis, something that might make a difference to everything.  There is nothing more? Then I am destroyed, and by the one who once saved me?     

 

Admiral Janeway had already turned to leave the room but she caught the strange cadence in the other’s voice, something fragile that made her stop dead in her tracks and which, after a moment’s pause, made her turn again to face the other woman.

 

“No.”   Not all.

 

The smaller woman moved once more, slowly towards the centre of the room and this time put her rucksack on the floor.  For a little while, it looked as though she was considering whether to do or say something, for the shadows of her body suggested hesitancy.  Seconds later, she straightened her stance, breathed in deeply and spoke in a low, husky voice but the tone demanded Seven’s attention.

 

“You were right, Seven.  I lied to you.” 

 

Janeway paused to give the other woman time to take a navigational fix on the words and make sense of them.  Then, with slow deliberation, “I told you that I never received any of your messages but I want you to know that I received them all and .. I knowingly chose not to answer any of them.” 

 

Against the sound of her own hammering heart, Janeway heard an almost infinitesimal intake of breath from Seven, but continued.

 

“At first, I used to get your messages telling me how happy you were with Chakotay and what the two of you were planning to do, how you both wanted me to come and meet you, come and have dinner, .. spend an evening somewhere or other with you.”

 

She paused.  “I chose to ignore them.”  She paused again, deliberately wanting Seven to take everything in.  “Later on, I’d get your messages and I would read just the top line or two, before deleting them.   Eventually, it got to the point where I’d see the messages were from you and, without even opening them, I’d delete those as well.  I never read them.”

 

Self-hatred flooded through Kathryn Janeway, who felt cold, devoid of emotion, as if she were some automaton sent to deliver harsh, callous words of destruction, to some gentle angel of light. 

 

She waited now to gage any response from the younger woman but none came.  Not even a barbed question.  Just the sound of silence, the type you could cut with a knife.  She noticed only that the woman’s shoulders were now slumped and the rigid stance gone.

 

“And why did I do this?”  Janeway unyieldingly continued, speaking more for her own benefit than Seven’s, moving for the first time and splaying her arms and hands out in front of her, the first sign that she was not an automaton after all.

 

Shaking her head, “I did it because somewhere along the line of finding and rescuing you from the Borg, being your mentor, your Captain, your colleague, your friend .. I fell in love with you.”

 

As if timed with a theatrical roll of drums, a distant rumble of thunder echoed faraway, the sign of a storm approaching.  But Janeway felt no excitement, no prelude of wondrous things to come.  She felt stripped of all vestiges of self respect and her heart was burdened with the weight of guilt, for she had done something so wrong back on Earth and in doing so, had hurt Seven beyond words and had not even given her the bare provision of support when it had most been needed.      

 

“I fell in love with you, Seven,” Janeway repeated, now softly.  “I’m not sure when it happened but it all started sometime on Voyager.  I think I knew what was happening to me that time you thought Chakotay and I were conspiring against you, when you’d been downloading information directly into your cortical implant during regeneration.  When I beamed onto the Delta Flyer, desperate to try and convince you that you were wrong, I suddenly realised that I felt something for you that went way beyond friendship.  At first, I suppose I tried to ignore my feelings but they wouldn’t go away and they just kept getting stronger and stronger until I couldn’t deny them any longer ..  that I was hopelessly in love with you.”

 

There was no ‘Admiral Janeway’ in the room now, only a woman admitting her love for another woman who stood before her.  There was no polished articulation, embellishment of words, subtle body movement, all crafts and skills learned over the course of one’s life.  This was simply the confessor delivering direct from the heart and stating the basic, bare truth.

 

“You were right, in part, about me and my adherence to duty and responsibility.  While I was the Captain of Voyager, I had a duty to get my crew home and that remained .. had to remain .. my soul objective whilst we were in the Delta Quadrant. I couldn’t afford to have anything rob me of my concentration with regard to my mission.” Janeway stopped to emphasise the following statement.  “And you would have made me do that.”  She smiled a little, “I would have lost all my focus in the loving of you.”

 

Seven’s eyes fixed on Janeway’s as if looking for the cracks, the lies, and Janeway knew what she was doing but continued anyway.

 

“And despite my desperately wanting to see if, maybe, you might have felt the same way about me,” the voice grew soft, “I sometimes thought you did .. I couldn’t do anything.  My hands were tied to a Captain’s responsibilities and duties, and Starfleet regulations and protocol that demanded I not fraternise with those under my command.  And you were under my command, Seven, whether we chose to accept it or not.”

 

Only now did Janeway’s voice betray the emotion within her, cracking in its delivery.

“But because I didn’t say anything, don’t think I gave up on you.  I so wanted to ask you out .. on a date.  I wanted to ‘wine and dine’ you and show you all the pleasant things in life that happen when two people start to fall in love, and I really wanted you to fall in love with me, Seven.  I wanted to give us a chance.”

 

She stopped to breathe.  “And I kept thinking that if we could just get home to Earth, I could hand over all the weight of my responsibilities and then I could start trying to win your heart, take you places, take you to Bloomington, Indiana,” she gave a deep throated half hearted laugh, “and show you where I grew up and let you meet my family.  I wanted to make you look at me differently, make you stop seeing me as the mentor, the friend, the Captain ..  maybe make you see me as someone you could love.”  Janeway nearly choked on the last word and had to stop before she could continue, “But I left it too late!”  

 

The words had taken on a mantle of bitterness, and despite the sultry heat, Janeway’s body trembled as if cold.  She felt cold .. dead .. in her heart.

 

“My future self told me that you were already seeing Chakotay and when we first got home, I hoped .. I prayed that the relationship between the two of you would crumble … but it didn’t.  It just kept getting stronger and stronger and there was nothing I could do.  You seemed so happy, so emotionally alive … and I couldn’t interfere with that. I couldn’t let my love stand in the way of your happiness.”

 

A quiet but cynical laugh now emanated from Janeway.  “It’s ridiculous really.  The future Janeway told me that you’d die if I didn’t get the ship home then and there, and that if that happened, I was destined to never get over your loss.  Well, here I am and you’re alive, but I’ve still lost you.  All a bit ironic, isn’t it?”

 

The question was one of rhetoric and Kathryn Janeway didn’t expect an answer, and Seven didn’t volunteer one.

 

“So, you were deliriously happy … but I wasn’t.  I couldn’t just stop loving you, and there I was, having lost the most important person in my life .. to my best friend!”

 

Janeway could feel the tears brimming in her eyes but she forced them away.  There would be time for tears later, when she was alone.  She needed to finish this.

“Do you know what it’s like to be in love with someone, to have them so close but know they don’t love you but love your friend?  No, of course you don’t.  But I can tell you it hurts like hell and rips you apart.  All I wanted to do was protect and distance myself from that hurt .. and so, I disconnected myself from the two of you.  I didn’t want to turn into my future self, a bitter and cynical woman.  She had lost you to death but I lost you to Chakotay!  I was damned if I was going to become a duplicate of her.  So I walked away.”

 

She bent to pick up the rucksack, ready to walk away again now.

 

“I foolishly thought that by distancing myself from you, I could protect myself but I was wrong.”

 

Seven now chose to pursue this point, her voice calm and controlled, “So why did you come, if all of this hurts so much?”

 

She doesn’t believe me.  “Because,” Kathryn Janeway focused her eyes fully on Seven’s, “love is unconditional, Seven.  You can’t stop caring for the person you love, not if it’s real.  Whilst I thought you were happy, I could stay away from you but when I eventually found out that things had gone wrong, I had to come and find you, try to bring you home, where you belong.  And you do belong there, Seven.  You just need to give it a chance.  A real chance.”

 

Janeway looked up at the ceiling and sighed.  “Did I let you down?  Yes, I did.  I foolishly ignored your messages in a stupid, selfish attempt to try and save myself from hurt.  Had I bothered to read any of those messages .. especially the later ones, well, I like to think we wouldn’t both be stuck here in this cesspit from hell!”

 

“And you think this confession changes everything?” Seven challenged, finding it impossible to believe that in those few short minutes, far from being disgusted with her, Janeway was actually in love with her?

 

The receipt and cost of those recriminating words hit Janeway hard and at first, she couldn’t reply but eventually words came.

 

“I’m not sure, but I wanted you to know the truth.  I didn’t use you because of your superiority and intellect, nor have I ever felt ashamed of you for being Borg.  It’s all of those things that have made me fall in love with you, and so much more!    It’s what you are that makes me love you, and I can promise you that some misguided belief in a sense of duty and responsibility is not why I’m here.”

 

Janeway moved again towards the door.  “So I let you down!  Did I ignore your messages? Yes! Did I lie to you? Yes! But I’m not lying now.  I fell in love with you on Voyager, and I’m still in love with you now, plain and simple.”  She turned the handle and opened the door, “Oh, and you’re wrong about my behaviour at the ruins this afternoon.  I withdrew from you, yes, but only because I could feel my heart getting broken again … re-opening a healing wound.”  She laughed an empty laugh.  “Does that make sense?  No .. probably not.” 

 

She looked at Seven, her eyes piercingly locked onto the face she could no longer see, because of the advancing darkness. “So, don’t think you’re the only one who’s had it rough.  It hasn’t exactly been a bed of roses for me, either.”

 

“You are treated as a hero. Accolades are bestowed on you and you are promoted to Admiral. Everything you touch turns to gold!”  Seven said incredulously.

 

Now the older woman reacted, her voice tinged with anger.

 

“Really?  Do you think any of that means anything to me?  Well, let’s just take a magnifying glass to all that ‘accolade’.  Yes, I’ve got more medals than I know what to do with.  You can’t look at a paper, a magazine, a media documentary without me being there on the page or screen, but guess what?  They mean nothing to me. Nothing!”

 

Lowering her head as if she no longer had the will to continue this conversation, “You’re not an easy woman to try and fall out of love with.”  Stepping through the threshold.   “You know what I think of time travel, but if I could go back in time and open those damn messages .. but I can’t and I’m sorry, Seven.  With all of my heart, I’m sorry.”

 

Admiral Janeway quietly closed the door behind her, leaving Seven alone in the room, who could only stand there shocked and unable to react.

 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

After a frenzied search of many locations, Seven eventually found the Admiral in ‘Area 4’, the transport sector which ran frequent shuttles back to main base or on to the docking facility for off-planet journeys.  The sector was fairly quiet which indicated that a shuttle destined for the docking facility had recently departed, clearing the platform of its passengers.

 

For a moment, Seven feared she had arrived too late and that the one person she sought would already have left.  But her heart heaved a sigh of relief when she spotted Janeway, sat on a stone bench, her head tipped back and resting against the wall behind her, her eyes closed.  She seemed completely oblivious to the fact that she was being covered by a gentle drizzle that had just started to fall. 

 

The slim woman slowed her pace, halted for a moment and took time to immerse herself in the appealing form that was Janeway.  Not from bodily exertion, Seven felt her heartbeat increase and body temperature rise.  She’d spent the last few hours frantically searching for the Admiral and now she’d found her, she wasn’t sure how she ought to approach her or what to say to her when she got there!  Regardless, she forced down her new feelings of inadequacy and moved forward but not without a good measure of trepidation.  Seven briefly wondered why it was that, of late, every time she approached this woman, she felt like this?

 

Eventually stopping and standing in front of her, Seven waited until Janeway sensed  a presence and her attention focused on her, their eyes meeting - piercing slate grey ones magnetically locking onto silver blue.

 

“I’m glad I’ve found you.”  The words were precise, clipped but there was no mistaking Seven’s genuine sincerity.

 

“I’m waiting for a connection,” Janeway said with the measured peace and calm of one who might just have been deep in prayer.  It rendered Seven with a difficulty in reading the woman’s emotional pitch.

 

“Then you’ll have a long wait,” she commented, sounding equally calm but anything but.  Her insides churning nervously, she placed her hands behind her back as if ‘standing at ease’, “The next shuttle doesn’t leave the planet until the day after tomorrow.” 

 

Had anyone been watching the discourse between the two women, they might have assumed that they were strangers, or at best, unfamiliar work colleagues simply indulging civil and courteous chat to pass the time.

 

The seated stranger replied, “I’m waiting for the next connection back to main base.”  

 

Main Base?  Nothing could hide the elation in the eyes of the younger woman who had assumed that Janeway was ‘going home’ to Earth, not back to base camp.  And though Seven tried to conceal her euphoria, the eyes never lied, and the older woman saw everything cut across Seven’s face in the passing of a few seconds, and couldn’t contain a half hidden smile as the ex drone continued as if nothing untoward had been said.

 

“Then you will still have a long wait.  Transport isn’t regular this time of night and you may be here for some hours ... in the rain.” Seven sat down next to Janeway leaving barely a few inches between them. The auburn haired woman smiled and nodded, then quietly acknowledged that she knew and was willing to wait, her attention once more fixed on the empty platform in front of her.

 

“You’re not returning home to Earth?”  Still clipped, concise and articulate words fell from Seven’s lips, all very clinical but behind them, beat a heart that wanted to make sure that this woman wasn’t leaving her behind.

 

Please do not leave me .. not now.

 

“No.”  Another measured response which brought the older woman’s attention back to the blonde.  “I came here with a mission and I’m not leaving without achieving the objective.”

 

I am the objective. She isn’t leaving me!  “Even though that mission brings you personal pain?”  Seven referred back to the woman’s recent disclosure.

 

“There’s a lot you still have to learn about Starfleet officers …”  Janeway began but was immediately interrupted by Seven.

 

“And Starfleet Captains.”  The characteristic eyebrow arched.  “They must always keep their shirt tails tucked in, go down with the ship, and never leave a shipmate in trouble.”   The apparent sage words of wisdom caused Janeway to look again at Seven, her body turning sideways towards her, mildly surprised.

 

“Advice you once tendered to Naomi Wildman, Admiral.”  Seven clarified, referring to the occasion when the young girl had been desperate to try and convince Captain Janeway not to give up a search for a missing Seven.  It had been clear to Janeway then how deep the friendship between the young Katarian child and Seven had gone.

 

“Important advice,” Janeway acknowledged, “and as true now as it was then.”

 

Thunder started to rattle in the air above the two of them, the storm which had taken so long to build, now drawing nearer and the light drizzle growing heavier.  Seven gazed up at it, apparently uncomfortable but she returned her attentions to Janeway.

 

“You’re getting wet.  Perhaps it’d be wise to wait elsewhere.  The night air is warm and humid but there’s always a chance of catching a chill in such conditions.”   The inflection in Seven’s voice indicated a level of apprehension and unease, but the Admiral didn’t seem to notice.

 

“Perhaps.”

 

Seven’s thoughts returned to their recent conversation in her hotel room, now wanting to continue it, to ask Janeway things she still didn’t understand.

 

“Your … disclosure.”  Not the right word but Seven couldn’t access a better one.  “Why didn’t you share this information with me before?”

 

Janeway looked away, her eyes focused on some faraway point, “You were with Chakotay and I thought the two of you were happy. If I had said anything, I would just have confused things, muddied the waters between you and Chakotay .. and I didn’t want to do that, you were so in love.”

 

Seven listened intensely to the woman, her face a picture of concentration. For a while after Janeway stopped talking, there was a silence between them which eventually Seven broke.  “You should have said something.”

 

“Would it have mattered?”  She didn’t really have the heart for any more conversation on this topic, she felt she’d said all that needed saying.

 

Eyes narrowing, Seven internalised the response.  Would it have mattered?’  “Yes,” she whispered. “It would have mattered .. to me.”  Seven hung her head.  Again, the implied sincerity threaded between the words, reached out and wrapped itself like a warm blanket around Janeway and touched her in a gentle way that made her heart ache for what had happened between them.

 

Seven continued softly, “This information .. it changes everything.” Clarifying, “Your revelation .. it changes what I feel, how I now see things. I thought you no longer valued me .. saw no significance or importance regarding me .. only my abilities, my experiences and usefulness in Starfleet.  I thought you no longer cared for me.”

 

The last few words brought Janeway’s head up with a jolt and her blue eyes fixed on Seven’s, her voice tinged with tones of desperation, “I care for you, Seven .. I care for so much .. I always have done .. I always will.” Almost as a throw away comment, “Just because I’ve been an idiot and not shown it lately, doesn’t mean I’ve ever stopped caring for you.”

 

Now Seven smiled coyly back at the Admiral, saturated in the joy of these golden words, understanding that the woman really loved her.  And neither moved for what seemed interminable time, the silence so tangible, with Janeway studying the shy and reserved woman Seven, in the last few minutes, had become, still sat at her side.  This vulnerability, the fragile persona that was essentially Seven, moved the older woman to reach out a hand and leave it momentarily hanging between the two of them, until Seven took hold of it and Janeway felt the grip tighten with each passing second.

 

Seven sighed, “Your actions .. I’m hurt that you chose such an extreme solution and one I consider to be foolish ..  but I understand.   My behaviour, my attraction to Chakotay ..  I was hurting you and I didn’t realise.  As your friend, I should have, and I regret that.”

 

“I never meant to hurt you, Seven.”

 

“Nor I you.”

 

Janeway gently squeezed back on the hand that was in hers.  “Do you think we can be friend’s again?”  Janeway studied the face before her and was blessed with a beautiful, radiant smile that was returned.  It filled her with hope.

 

“I would like that,” Seven replied almost diffidently.

 

“Me, too.”

 

As Janeway returned the smile, a flash of lightening streaked across the night sky and then seconds later, a louder roll of thunder rumbled overhead.  Seven flinched.

 

 “Seven, what is wrong?  It’s only a storm.”

 

“I do not like storms of this nature.” Seven’s discomfort was increasing.

 

Janeway leaned back a little, astonished, “I don’t believe it, a Borg frightened of a little thunder storm!”

 

“It isn’t the thunder that frightens me …”   Seven was incredulous at the lack of apparent understanding from the other woman.

 

“Really?” Janeway said in disbelief.

 

“No!  The lightening.”  By way of further explanation, “Because of my Borg technology, I am highly attractive to lightening.”

 

“Not just the lightening,” Janeway muttered under her breath, words that Seven was only just able to make out even with her enhanced auditory abilities.

 

“Admiral?” Seven eyed the smaller woman sharply.

 

“Nothing,” Janeway replied, suddenly uncharacteristically embarrassed and glancing away.  When she was able to look back at Seven, she found she was still being scrutinised by a pair of penetrating blue eyes and an arched eyebrow.

 

What?” Janeway challenged defensively.

 

“It seems you and the lightening have something in common.” Seven’s face remained deadpan and though the response was dry, the blue eyes twinkled and the slightest of smiles started to grace the blonde woman’s lips.

 

Seven found herself entirely mesmerised by the unusually embarrassed Admiral, and she felt those strange little feelings bubbling up again, the ones that drew her to Janeway like a moth to a light, which she’d been trying so hard to ignore. This time though, she didn’t want to ignore them, nor did their presence make her angry.

 

“Can we continue this conversation someplace else?  Away from the rain, the thunder and ..”

 

“The lightening?”  Janeway finished, then waited for Seven to nod in agreement before whispering, “Come on.”

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

The two returned to the busy hotel, both soaking wet but neither of them caring. As they stood in the lobby, taking time to regain their breath from the run both had freely engaged in when the rain had become torrential, Seven had declared that they should return to their rooms to dry off and change.  It was at that moment that Janeway turned sheepishly to her companion.

 

“Seven, I’m homeless.  I checked out of my room, remember?”

 

The ex drone looked down at the bedraggled woman before her, and with mock seriousness “It seems to me that, of late, you make a habit of being without abode.   You seem to lose your accommodation a lot.”

 

“Just careless I guess,” the other retorted with a half grin.

 

“Yes.”  The confirmatory tone was light.  “Fortunately for you, I’m able to offer you sanctuary yet again, as I still have a room here.  That is, unless you wish to find the local garbage area and spend what is left of the night there.”  The woman’s eyebrow twitched.

 

“You know, Seven, sarcasm doesn’t sit well with you.” Janeway frowned playfully, content to continue the set of the conversation.

 

“I am merely stating the facts. You can’t deny that you have a certain penchant for sleeping in strange places. ”

 

Janeway eyeballed Seven, “Now you’re being entirely personal.”

 

“Yes.  Do you accept my offer or not?”

 

“Offer?”

 

“For sanctuary.”

 

Janeway seemed to be about to say something a whole lot more convoluted but in the end, settled for a simple acknowledgement, “Yes. Thank you.”  And as they both turned to make their way towards Seven’s hotel room, the Admiral couldn’t help thinking this all had a sense of déjà vu about it. 

 

En route to the room, Admiral Janeway decided to run something by Seven.

 

“Guess who I saw here, earlier?”  

 

Seven tilted her head and frowned, “I’m not good at speculation.”

 

“Boras,” the Admiral stated calmly.

 

Seven still couldn’t follow the line of thought.  “Why would this interest you?  He is off-watch too, as we are.”

 

Ignoring Seven’s question, “He’s always with Powwaa, isn’t he?”

 

“I assume they’re good friends.” Seven replied moderately.

 

“Or good business partners,” Janeway responded, more to herself than Seven.  “Has it struck you as odd that Powwaa’s terrible foot injury, the one he got the day of Marshall’s death, has healed so quickly?”

 

Seven considered this. “It’s been a quick repair but perhaps the injury wasn’t as bad as first thought.”

 

“Hmm .. maybe the injury wasn’t that bad .. at all.”

 

“You are suggesting that Powwaa used the injury as a fabrication to leave the caves before the explosion.”

 

Janeway didn’t answer for she was still deep in thought.

 

Seven pursued, “Admiral?”

 

Janeway stopped in the middle of the corridor they were walking down. “Don’t call me ‘Admiral’, Seven.” She moved on again.

 

Seven moved with her.  Dawes,” she said with emphasis.

 

Janeway stopped again and smiled, “Kathryn.”  Again, the two moved on.

 

“Your point about Powwaa … Kathryn.”  Seven was beginning to find this interesting.

 

“I’m not sure …but my intuition is telling me that the two of them had something to do with that explosion.”

 

“From experience, your intuition is seldom wrong.”

 

Janeway turned and looked at Seven, concern etched on her face.  “All those other unexplained deaths, don’t they strike you as odd?”

 

“Yes, and although I’m suspicious, I’m unable to draw any correlation between them nor find substantial evidence that supports treachery.”

 

“Nor me.  Did you notice anything unusual about Marshall’s body the other day?”

 

Seven nodded. “The index finger on his left hand had been severed after his death.  A clean, surgical cut.  Unusual.”

 

“Yes.”  Janeway paused.  “Now why would anyone want to do that?”

 

“Probably for the same reason they removed the head of Galdor, a substantial amount of Gaarth’s blood, the same index finger of Zindor, Nimis, Chok’tar and numerous others I could draw similarities to.”

 

Seven and Janeway looked at each other, each trying to analyse what on Earth was going on.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Janeway had finished showering, and was towel drying her damp hair as she re-entered the hotel bedroom where Seven was already sat on the edge of the large double bed.  Again, the older woman found herself face to face with a familiar scene, except this time there were different emotions hanging between the two women.  In many ways, Kathryn Janeway actually felt more nervous now than she had on the previous occasion in Seven’s quarters, back at main base.

 

Seven glanced up at Janeway, her electric blue eyes focusing on the other and, as if sensing what the smaller woman was thinking, “You may have the other half of the bed.”  Her eyes fleetingly glanced across the bed.

 

For all of her maturity and experience,  the butterflies in Janeway’s stomach suddenly bred exponentially.  Fine, that Seven had no designs on her but the younger woman now knew the feelings that she had for her!  How uncomfortable could that be, and to then have to share the same bed?  As if this night wasn’t hot enough!  Hesitating momentarily, she found herself looking around the room for a suitable chair or something else she could spend the night on.

 

A calm, reassuring voice cut through the controlled panic Janeway was experiencing, “Although I could initiate sex with you, and my recent experience on Risa IV makes this possible without any investment of commitment or feeling, I will not.  Sex between us at this time would not be right and I value our re-established relationship too much, and do not want to tarnish it.  Is this acceptable?”

 

Sweet spirits, Seven!

 

Janeway’s mouth dropped and opened, as she could only stare in shock at the blunt declaration that had just fallen from Seven’s lips.  But how typical of the woman!  So like the old Seven onboard Voyager who always had the knack of getting straight to the point … and how the Admiral had missed that.  She found herself relaxing as nerves quickly dissipated, and ended up gently laughing, “Acceptable, Seven.”

 

Now pushing a final comb through her hair, she walked over to the other side of the bed with as much confidence as she could muster, and lay down, stretching herself out on the top of the covers.  Although completely exhausted and emotionally drained, Kathryn Janeway couldn’t stop some tiny part of her, way down and deep inside, feeling a little sad that Seven of Nine clearly felt no attraction towards her – without any investment of commitment or feeling - other than friendship.  Not that she had expected anything intimate to occur here in this room, and certainly not now given what had transpired between them since returning to the Alpha Quadrant.

 

She reasoned that at least she had clawed back the friendship between the two of them and was so enormously grateful, she could live with that.  However, as she lay there trying to will herself to sleep, she couldn’t stop Seven’s words from reverberating around her head.

 

“Although initiate sex with you .. I will not .. sex between us .. not right .. not tarnish .. existing relationship.”

 

Damn! 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Kathryn Janeway had tried so damned hard for the last hour and a half to fall asleep, but no matter how many Basta fruit flies she had tried to count in her mind, flying into some imaginary light source, she could not get to sleep.  And now the burden of having to remain so still so as not to waken Seven was beyond anything she could endure. She was so tense, sleep was no longer a possibility regardless of how many fruit flies she employed in her mind which frankly, there were so many of the bugs, she was in danger of having to call in ‘Pest Control’.  So, with very small movements and as quietly as she could, she sat up and put her feet over the side of the bed to the floor, and just sat there staring into the darkness, pondering what to do.

 

After only seconds, “You can not sleep.”

 

“Sweet Spirits, Seven!”  The Admiral startled as Seven’s voice cut through the stillness of the night.

 

“I apologise, I didn’t mean to shock you,” Seven continued to lie on the bed, “What’s wrong?” 

 

“Nothing, Seven.  Go back to sleep – I’m sorry I woke you.”

 

Janeway used her left hand to rub a knot in her right shoulder, then sighing, tilted her head back and reclined her body back on the two outstretched hands she now placed behind her.

 

What was wrong?  She was so tired but she couldn’t sleep.  So?

 

“Something is on your mind.” Seven waited patiently for an answer, she was good at that.

 

“No, I’m just having difficulty sleeping, that’s all.”

 

“Because something is on your mind.”  Not a question.

 

“No.”

 

“Yes.”

 

Drat. No getting out of this.  A voice low and husky, “I don’t know Seven, I guess I’m just sorry for everything that’s happened.  All this mess, I feel bad about it.”

 

Seven now sat up and snaked her way closer to the other woman until she was kneeling just behind her.  Janeway could feel her and yet they weren’t touching, and she felt her blood pressure rising again, along with her discomfort levels.  If you only knew what you do to me.

 

Seven sighed.  “You have already apologised and I have already forgiven you.  Do you intend to keep raising this issue at key moments, where I will have to keep accepting your apology?  I feel we shall both tire of this.”  There was a touching lightness and genuine affection in Seven’s intonation that made Janeway laugh softly.

 

“Fine,” she acquiesced, “but I’m also concerned that I might have changed things between us.”

”Changed things?”

 

“With my declaration of  .. affection,” she said with some awkwardness.  “I don’t want it to affect our friendship, make you feel uncomfortable. You see I don’t expect .. I know there isn’t any .. and you shouldn’t either  ..”  Again Janeway sighed and tilted her head forward towards her chest.  “Damn!  Complicated isn’t it!”

 

“Only because you choose to make it so.” Seven replied with a level of playful arrogance.  “Personally,” she continued, “I find that your declaration has both improved and clarified our relationship, and I needed that.”

 

“I just don’t want you to feel uncomfortable around me, Seven.  Sometimes knowing this sort of .. stuff, well it can .. dampen things .. make previous, clearly defined relationships a little .. awkward.  I don’t know if it helps but I want you to know that as far as I’m concerned, my feelings are in the bag now.”

 

In the bag?  “You refer to the boundaries of our friendship,” the other woman stated.

 

Janeway turned sideways and looked into Seven’s face, whispering. “Yes.”

 

“Then you have nothing to fear. Our friendship exists and .. has grown stronger through adversity.  However ..”

 

Uh-oh. Janeway internally cringed.

 

Seven continued, “There is one promise I require from you.”  Janeway raised her head questioningly.  “That you never resort again to such extremes, that you never rescind your friendship towards me, and that you always inform me if there is a problem with our future relationship.”  The woman paused before continuing.  “Is this acceptable?”

 

Janeway looked back at the shadowed form of Seven and contemplated how much the woman had emotionally matured since her return to Earth.  Captain Janeway could never have had a conversation like this with Seven on Voyager and despite its inherent maturity, a little bit of Janeway regretted that, for Seven to have reached this milestone, so much of her innocence had been sacrificed. 

 

“I promise, Seven.”

 

Seven moved back and lay down again.  “Good.  Then we are friends again and this matter is closed.  We should lie down and attempt to sleep.  The evening has been long and emotional, and we’re both tired.  Tomorrow, we can enjoy our last day of vacation .. and there’s something we must do.”

 

“What?” Janeway swivelled round.

 

“It’s a surprise.”

 

“I hate surprises,” the other bantered back.

 

“Then that is unfortunate because you must wait.”

 

Janeway grimaced as she settled back, enjoying the companionable silence that now prevailed – a good silence between two people who cared for each other, a lot.  Ten minutes passed as they lay close to each other, each listening to the gentle breathing of the other and finding simple comfort in it, but Seven was unable to give her mind over to the blanket of sleep she had eventually become accustomed to. Knowing that Janeway was still awake, Seven turned her head towards her.

 

“Kathryn ..”  Comfortingly familiar and thankful that she no longer had to refer to the woman at her side as ‘Admiral’ or ‘Dawes’, both of those names represented a person she no longer wanted to associate this woman with, she felt a glowing warmth when the other turned to her and smiled softly, familiarly but without crossing that certain line which Seven did not want and fortunately, Janeway was mindfully respectful of.

Their faces now but a few inches from each other, she could actually feel the breath of the other on her face, and it was an agreeable feeling, Seven thought to herself in surprise.

 

“I’m not sure I could continue to function satisfactorily if I thought I’d ever lose your friendship again.  My wellbeing is based upon the certainty of your proximity and friendship.  I wish you to understand this.”

 

Nothing moved in the room, save the occasional neon light that still flickered on and off with irregularity, and for a while, time seemed to stretch, as neither of the two women who lay side by side, on the bed, responded further.

 

Janeway studied the face of the other woman, searching the line of the jaw up to an ear, as the light illuminated the features. Seven had always had a softness to her lean face, something that to her had always hinted at the passion behind the Borg countenance.  Now Seven’s face was too thin and that jaw line was sharp, unforgiving – but far from making the young woman appear hard, to Janeway it made her seem more vulnerable and exposed.  This, together with Seven’s words, just made Janeway want to reach out and pull the woman into her arms, but of course she couldn’t.  So she simply satisfied her need to protect and nurture Seven by reaching out and slipping Seven’s hand into hers, holding it gently and casually moving her fingers in between the other’s fingers.

 

Seven did not reject the connection, she did not move her hand away but actually splayed her fingers so the other woman’s could link between them. No more words were spoken in what was left of that long night.

 

And that is how they fell asleep. 

 

Next day, Seven took Janeway to a side street, to a vendor who had illegal possession of a dermal regenerator and there she paid generously for the scar on Janeway’s face to be removed.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

That same day, after Seven had orchestrated the repair work on Janeway’s face, the two of them had casually ambled around some of the less dangerous places of the small city. There weren’t many and they had ended up at a fairly unimpressive street market that was aimed at the families of the business corporates who resided there.  The two  slowly walked up and down the rows of stalls, looking but never buying, and though neither chose to speak, both were limitlessly content to be in the other’s company.

 

It was on the way back to the hotel, their last night there before both their shifts began again tomorrow, that Seven, walking quietly by the smaller woman’s side, broke the companionable silence.

 

“I .. have missed you.”  It was a quiet voice which Janeway had to strain to hear.

 

The unexpected declaration brought the older woman to a complete stop and she now stood looking at Seven’s back, the blonde’s senses initially failing to pick up that the other’s instant paralysis.  But eventually she realised she walked alone and turned to see Janeway looking at her with a look of such strange incredulity and doubt, almost questioning the statement, not believing the words.

 

“Have you?” Janeway asked, desperately wanting to check she had heard and understood correctly.

 

Seven studied the enquirer, and considered how strangely defenceless and lost Kathryn Janeway looked at that moment, so contradictory of her notorious, infamous and bold reputation.

 

“Yes,” she clarified, thinking she should say more but unable to. And after all, what more was there to say, surely ‘yes’ said it all and she was not one for overly verbose conversation.

 

Nodding her head very slightly, the Admiral walked up to rejoin the ex drone and with the gentle push of a hand against an arm, encouraged Seven to walk along again but this time at a reduced pace.  It was that sort of pace that was utilised more for thought than the achievement of some destination.

 

And they moved along slowly on a day that was hot but not excessively, and indeed, there was a more temperate breeze here in the city which took the baking humidity out of the air and left a person able to breathe with only the mildest of discomfort.

 

“Seven, I want you to come back with me .. back home to Earth.”  Janeway kept walking, the reassuring measured pace that gave some satisfying rhythm to them both.

And although Seven didn’t slow and allowed the older woman’s hand to still rest on her arm, Janeway felt a tension suddenly invade the other’s slim frame.

 

“I .. can’t.  I do not fit in there. I do not belong.”  Desperation and sadness flooded the words.

 

Seizing on that frailest of perceived hesitation in the voice, Janeway worked on what she saw as a weakness in Seven’s decision -  she could yet be convinced?

 

“Yes, you do, Seven.” The response was emphatic. “But you need time, which you didn’t give yourself, other’s needed time to see the you behind the Borg paraphernalia, which you didn’t give them .. and more importantly, you should have had support which I failed to give.”  Janeway let the words sink in.  “I want you to try again, Seven .. this time with me at your side.”

 

Seven listened and tried to understand but her feelings and fear were so raw, so close to the surface. She wanted to believe but couldn’t.  “I’m not sure I can do  .. all that again.”  It wasn’t a refusal, more a statement of her uncertainties.  Janeway waited for more.  “I .. am not sure I am strong enough to go through .. the rejection again.  I want to .. for you, but what if I can’t?” 

 

The pain was so physical, so substantial, so tangible in Seven’s small voice that it ripped through Janeway, to the extent that she stopped walking and turned to face Seven, her warm sea-blue eyes locking onto nervous ice-blue ones.  She gently raised and placed her hands on the other’s shoulders.

 

Earnestly, “You are one of the strongest people I have ever known, and in truth, all my achievements pale into insignificance compared to yours.  But I ask you, Seven, to trust me one more time and come back with me.  I promise you everything will be different, but I just need you to trust once more so I can prove it to you.”

 

“And if I can’t?” 

 

“Then I will stay with you, here or wherever else you decide to go.”  The sea-blue eyes never left those of ice-blue.

 

“You would give up everything for me?”  Amazed.

 

“No.  How can I give up everything when everything is you?”

 

“Your career …”

 

“Is unimportant.”  Calm response.

 

“No, your career has always been important to you!”

 

“Yes it has but if you’re asking me to choose between you or Starfleet – there’s no competition.” 

 

Seven could say nothing, only stare into a face that seemed to both hypnotise and mesmerize her.  All the while Janeway stood perfectly still and waited for Seven to make sense of it. After a minute, that seemed to Janeway to stretch into infinity, Seven spoke again.

 

“Why would you do this?”  Confusion.

 

“Because I love you.”  Perfect clarity.  No hesitation.

 

“You would do all this for me even though I ..”

 

“Don’t love me,” Janeway quietly stated, with a half smile.  “I know that .. and yes, I would .. and will if I have to.”

 

Seven frowned.  That hadn’t been what she was going to say. She had been about to question Janeway’s support, despite her own wretched behaviour towards the woman.  She was shocked at what was being offered to her, at such personal cost to the other. How could a relationship be this strong?  Her efficient brain could not make sense of it.  Any of it.  And something else didn’t make sense to Seven, but knawed at the back of her mind. It involved telling Janeway of those feelings she had harboured when on Risa IV, how she’d preferred female company, how she had thought of Janeway and under what circumstances!  But she couldn’t tell her now, the woman would never believe her and would mistrust her intentions – view them as less than honourable.  Would she ever make sense of those thoughts and would she ever tell Kathryn? She hoped so. She breathed in deeply, her mind suddenly made up.

 

“I will return with you.  I will try again … but there is something I have to do first.”

 

Relief flooded through Janeway, who could only slip her hands from Seven’s shoulders and run them slowly down the tall woman’s arms to end up holding vulnerable shaking hands.  Unable to speak, the release of tension so strong, she looked quizzically at the other, questioning what it was the other had to do.

 

“I must go back. I have .. responsibilities and I can’t leave knowing that certain members of B2 team are being singled out and murdered.  There is a killer that must be tracked down.”

 

“Killers,” Janeway corrected. “There are two of them, Seven.”

 

“Who?”

 

“Powwaa and Boras.”

 

“How do you know this? Are you sure?”

 

“If you’re asking me if my suspicions are based on sound empirical evidence .. then, no.  But my gut instinct is shouting ‘yes’.  Ask yourself when these accidents started happening and when those two arrived, together.”

 

“Their arrival would time well with the beginning of the unaccountable deaths but it does not provide for a motive.”

 

“Think, Seven.  What is the common link between all of the deaths?”

 

“I have analysed the evidence but do not see a clear link, although several of the dead have been B2 leaders.  If you are right, I can only assume that I’m on their list.”

 

Janeway smiled grimly, “You’re in no danger, other than being a threat to exposing them.”

 

“I don’t understand.”

 

“Seven, you’re not what they’re after.”  Seeing the escalating confusion on Seven’s face, Janeway continued.  “They’re bounty hunters.  They work together finding out who has a price on their heads and then they kill them, removing something from the body that can be sent back as proof of .. disposal.”

 

“They kill for credit?” It was a possibility that Seven had not considered.  She found the concept deplorable.

 

“Yes. Think about the link, Seven.  All of those unexplained accidents, the deaths, the missing body parts .. all of them had a price on their heads, even Marshall. When I went to see Marshall’s body that day we bumped into each other, I was shocked that someone had removed his finger, so I did a little digging around.  Vit told me he had seen Boras coming out of the morgue earlier that day.  Strange don’t you think, given that Boras and Marsh weren’t exactly great friends?  I also saw Powwaa shortly after Gaarth and Galdor died, with a large package which he paid a lot of credit to have shuttled off the planet, not waiting for the routine transport the next week. That package was also in a stasis container, something worth preserving.  Clearly, there was something very important in that bundle!”

 

Janeway was thinking on her feet.  “I didn’t understand what was going on at the time, but things are beginning to piece together now.  Powwaa’s sudden recovery of what was supposed to be a very nasty foot injury, Vesila’s warning to me that she’d seen Boras going through my stuff, obviously checking out my suitability.”

 

Seven joined in. “I caught Powwaa leaving my room once, I called him a thief.”

 

“Had he got anything of yours?”

 

“No.  He said he’d drunk too much and had stupidly broken into my room to sleep off the alcohol.”

 

“Did you believe him?”

 

“No, I didn’t but he hadn’t stolen any of my belongings and I had little tangible reason to doubt his word.” 

 

Resurrecting a sore wound, Janeway asked Seven if Boras would have had the technical ability to sabotage the detonation device that had killed Marshall and nearly done the same to her.

 

Seven actually paled as she looked at one of Starfleet’s finest, “Yes.”

 

The Admiral just nodded.  

 

“If you’re correct Kathryn, then I must see they are brought to justice.  When I’ve done this, I will return to you here.”

 

Janeway shook her head, “Oh, no you don’t. I’m coming back with you, you’re not handling this one alone. Trust me, you’ll need help, these aren’t the type that surrender easily.”

 

Seven went to argue but then realised it was a pointless venture.  There was only one other person she knew who was more stubborn and obdurate than herself, and she was looking right at her. She sighed, “We go back tomorrow.”

 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Their remaining night in the city was spent in the confines of the featureless, dull hotel room where, for the first time in almost two years, they indulged in what had once been a passionate pastime for both of them, the ‘philosophical discussion’.

 

Gone now was the awkward communication between them and the ice-like atmosphere that had once existed.  Now there was only warmth and affection between the two women who were both so resolutely thankful that the unpleasantness of the recent past had been assuaged.  It was time to rekindle and nurture the seeds of friendship and let it blossom once more, to this time reach full maturity.  The early signs indicated a splendid growth rate.

 

They had just eaten and Janeway now cradled a cup of something that was posing as coffee in her hands. Despite being a pale imitation of the real thing, the heat passed through her body deliciously and she savoured its richness as she gazed at Seven, who was sat in the light of the window, the sun adorning the honey gold streaks in her hair.

 

Back home, before she’d known that Seven was having difficulties, Janeway had suffered from black depressive thoughts that hinged around her age and the fact that she wasn’t married or involved with anyone, neither was she getting any younger.  She couldn’t seem to disperse the thoughts that she was a woman who didn’t fall in love easily.  The last person she had truly loved had been Justin and of course, he had died in a tragic accident, along with her father.  Her relationship with Mark, though she’d thought deeply of him and he her, had not been borne of passion.  Fortunately neither of them had kidded themselves it was anything else.  Her attraction to Seven had, on Voyager, quietly and joyfully filled her with surprise that she might have another chance of real love and all the passionate trimmings that went with it.

 

Of course, on return to Earth, everything had turned sour and despite trying to move on, and put thoughts of Seven onto some ‘back-burner’, she’d made no headway at all.  She’d returned to Earth to find her friends all ‘partnered’ off and with young families of their own, including her sister.  Phoebe had once been such a radical, never wanting to become ‘tied down’ and ‘compartmentalised’, and yet when Kathryn had returned, she’d found her sister very happily married and yearning to start a family of her own.  Somehow, that fact had made things seem worse, and Janeway had felt as if her life was crumbling around her.

 

“What are you thinking?”  Seven’s clear voice cut through Janeway’s rambling thoughts.

 

“Nothing.” She glanced from her cup to Seven and smiled, “Just .. nothing.”

 

But Seven knew otherwise.  Years of observation and examination of this woman had left her with the ability to read far more about Janeway than the scrutinised subject would want.  Her current analysis of the woman told her that the ex Captain’s thoughts were far away, demanding and sombre, and Seven found her mind revisiting memories of a threadbare conversation they had had up at the ruins and how Janeway had alluded to having ‘problems’, which Starfleet had apparently acknowledged and encouraged her to take time off.  The woman had said those problems had nothing to do with Seven, so what were they?  What was bad enough to make her employers push for one of their prize officers to take leave? 

 

Pursuing her line of enquiry with delicacy, instinctively aware that the area she was moving into was fragile ground for the usually perspicacious, steely-spined woman, she probed.  “At the temples, you referred to having problems.”

 

The charismatic woman played dumb.  “I did?”

 

“Yes.”  Seven waited, hopeful that Janeway would continue in her own time, but she didn’t.  Obstinate.   Seven probed again. “Problems where Starfleet encouraged you to take leave.”  Just a little nudge.

 

Deep blue eyes locked onto Seven’s, the light from outside playing on them and not for the first time, Seven found herself noticing what a beautiful shade of blue they sometimes turned, so strong and yet, so gentle.  These eyes fascinated Seven, since they had the ability to alter colour, dependent on the woman’s mood.  Right now she  saw a fragility about them and understood that Janeway felt threatened, that she was being pushed somewhere she didn’t want to go.  Not surprisingly, the woman just shook her head, not quite ready to open up, but that wasn’t good enough for the single-minded determination of an ex drone.

 

Changing tack, “You dream a lot.”

 

“I do?”  An expression of surprise raced across Janeway’s face at the change of topic.

 

“Yes.” 

 

Shrugging her shoulders, “Humans dream, Seven.”

 

Evasive.  Unacceptable. 

 

Dogged determination settled over Seven.  This was one conversation Janeway was not going to avoid.  “You have nightmares.”  The voice held almost a resonance of the Borg, displaying little emotion but rather a clinical detachment that sought to probe and investigate.

 

Perceptive to what was occurring, the other woman showed mild irritation which was evident in her voice. “Humans dream and sometimes they have the odd nightmare. Nothing unusual about that.”

 

“Yours are not the odd nightmare.  Every time you have slept in my presence, you have had disturbing dreams, sometimes several times a night. On each occasion, you call out as if frightened.” 

 

I do?  “I’m sorry.”  Kathryn’s gaze dropped again to her empty drinking vessel, as if something in the cup held answers.

 

“Don’t be.  That’s not why I raise the topic.” Seven wanted to see the other’s face but it was held low as if trying to hide something.  Again, “Why did Starfleet think you’d benefit from leave?”   With innate moderation and gentleness,  “What happened, Kathryn?”

 

Kathryn reacted to the warmth of her name being spoken and looked again at Seven before shaking her head and staring up at the ceiling.  She closed her eyes.  “So stupid, really.  I’d gone an entire seven years on Voyager, and then a year home .. coping .. coming to terms with all those deaths .. those crewmen who never made it home.”  She paused, opened her eyes and brought them back to look at Seven.

“I suppose I was so busy with Starfleet and learning to be home, that I never got time to really think about what had occurred to us in the Delta Quadrant.”  She went quiet.

 

“Something happened.”  Seven spoke quietly.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Tell me.”

 

After an awkward silence, “It was at that first reunion at HQ.  You’d already left with Chakotay. After all the celebrations, the speeches, the fireworks … Lt Stadi’s mother came up to me … she just walked right up to me and accused me of her son’s death.”  Seven could see Janeway was lost in thought, reliving the events again.   “Stadi had been one of the security officers, he died when we were deliberately marooned on a primitive, hostile planet by the Kazon. He’d gone into caves to rescue a small survey team, was attacked and killed by the indigenous life there.  He never stood a chance.”

 

Seven said nothing, just listened.

 

“You had to see her eyes, Seven.  So much pain and grief, and all the time she was looking to me to say something, to explain, to make things better .. but I couldn’t.  What could I say?” Janeway swallowed hard. “That poor woman had gone through all of the ceremonies that evening, choosing to wait until the end to come up to me.  What she must have been going through?  What must have gone through her head?  Before her husband could stop her, she’d thrown her drink at me and then slapped me across the face .. not her fault .. she was in pain .. such pain. She’d kept all that hurt and anger inside of her .. and there was nowhere she could turn, she didn’t even have a body to grieve over.”

 

Janeway’s eyes watered and as the tears threatened to spill down onto cheeks, she quickly wiped them away with the back of a hand.  “What do you say to a mother whose son is dead, who died under your command, because of actions you took?”  She shook her head.  “I’ve been haunted by that woman’s face ever since.”

 

“That is your nightmare,” Seven stated, not a question but Janeway treated it as such.     

 

“Oh yes!” she said with great emphasis. “Every time I sleep, I see her face, so tired and lined .. a woman old before her time through grieving. So I have nightmares .. it’s a small price to pay for all those deaths .. all those other mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, partners .. all out there grieving for loved ones who’ll never come home, who they’ll never see again.”

 

Guilt was ripping the woman apart and although Seven wanted to reach out to her with resolute words that would act as a salve, she didn’t know what they were. She only knew that the guilt, though entirely understandable, was misplaced.

 

“Have you sought counselling?”

 

“No.”

 

Seven sighed, “Why does that not surprise me.” 

 

The light admonishment actually made Kathryn look up again and laugh as she tried to compose herself, still trying unsuccessfully to wipe the tears from her face.  Embarrassed by the show of her feelings, “Sorry, Seven, these emotions run very close to the surface.” 

 

Seven stood and moved towards the Admiral.  “Kathryn, please stand .. and prepare yourself.”

 

Confused, Janeway frowned but did as Seven asked, slowly standing and allowing the tall blonde to lend her a helping hand.  Now what? 

 

Sedately serene and moving as if empowered by something beyond her, Seven leaned into Janeway almost conspiratorially, whispering, “You will have to control the desires you harbour for me, Kathryn, because ..”  Seven paused, “.. I intend to hold you.”  As if in slow motion, Seven removed the cup that Janeway was still holding and placed it down on the table, “Neelix once told me that hugs are sometimes required when words are insufficient.” She then wrapped her arms around the smaller woman and gently pulled her in close, feeling the other’s initial tension but then fading and relaxing.  “Words have never been my strength and although I once didn’t appreciate the relevance of touch, I do now.”  Neelix had been correct.

 

Her head nestled against Seven’s neck, a cascade of silk hair about her, Janeway breathed in the scent that was Seven’s alone and felt its calming influence.  She whispered seriously, “How did you develop into this wonderful woman?”

 

With matched sincerity, “Because you gave me the chance to live again.”   She tugged the woman closer to her, “As you did so many others on Voyager and the Delta Quadrant.”

 

 

*****

 

Janeway and Seven arrived back at main base to be met by a scene of utter chaos and confusion.  Crowds of workers were stood outside the utility areas, their voices raised and clearly agitated.  On closer inspection, Seven realised that most of the gathering were members of B2 Division but with no time to ascertain what was going on or why none of the team were working, Velim cut lose from the group and ran across the short expanse of ground, to halt in front of Seven, shouting at her.

 

“I demand a transfer now!”

 

Seven looked down at him disdainfully and was about to make some disparaging remark to the odious, smelly little man when the Romulan, Vit, strode over and interrupted, ignoring Velim as if he didn’t even exist.

 

“Leader. I am pleased to see you back.”  So calm.  “And you Dawes.” With a slight frown now resting on his dark face, staring at the shorter woman, “You are well?”

 

Janeway thought his question odd and glanced at Seven before replying that she was.

 

Velim pushed forward again, almost shouting over Janeway’s response, “I said I want a transfer …now!”  But no one was listening to him, their attention solely on Vit who had started to explain. “There has been an explosion inside the filtration plant within Sub Unit 6.  As yet we don’t know of any casualties, although the given force of explosion suggests there will be deaths involved.”

 

A chill went down Seven’s spine.  “I don’t understand. Why would anyone be in Sub Unit 6?  That area has been closed since micro fractures were discovered in the base line crystals.” As Seven spoke, the tall Romulan looked at her as if she’d sprouted a second head. “We were carrying out your orders.  You left instructions for the plant to be re-opened and the crystals replaced, diagnostic boards to be repaired, recalibrated and brought on line again.”

 

“I gave no order.”  Seven glanced at Janeway, knowing both of them were intuitively tuned into the same thought, that the saboteurs had struck again.  “Who was in the plant at the time of explosion?”

 

“I am not sure, Leader.  I only know that Magnus was detailed as the Sub Crust engineering technician to work on the boards.”

 

Who is Magnus?” Janeway chirped in.  She’d been with B2 long enough to know that she’d never heard of him.  Apparently, neither had Seven who looked equally at a loss as Vit produced a work order, pointing to the alleged detailed man and all signed by Seven.

 

“Magnus was transferred here the day before yesterday.  It’s all in this work order.” Totally confused now, Vit glanced down again at the work order as if seeking answers there. “I was told by Vesila that he was to be treated very carefully, given his background.”

 

“Background?” The two women spoke in harmony.

 

“He’d been employed in some subversive organisation during the Cardassian War, and had been involved in several massacres.  Apparently, you …  Vesila said that you were worried that there might be a lot of aggrieved people after his blood .. vengeance issues.  He was to be kept separate from the other teams until you had time to access his value within the group.”

 

“Is anybody listening to me?” Velim was still bouncing up and down trying to attract attention, “I want out of this death team!”

 

Ignoring Velim, Janeway took the padd with the work order and scrutinised it.  Everything looked in order. The plot was thickening! She passed it to Seven who studied it.  “I know nothing about the re-activation of the plant, nor have I ever heard of this Magnus.” She focused on Vit again, “You say that Vesila gave you instructions regarding this man’s treatment?”   Was Vesila also part of the bounty hunting operation?

 

“About my transfer ..”  Velim screamed hysterically, his hands shoved tightly down the side of his body. In complete unison, the other three turned on him, “Shut up!”   The weasely little man stopped shouting immediately, just snorted, gave up and skulked away.

 

Vit watched Velim move off before turning back to Seven, “What are your orders?”

 

For a moment, Seven simply stood in contemplation, looking at the blackened plume of smoke that etched itself on the horizon, visible from the filtration plant.  Janeway watched her and felt inclined not to interfere with what was essentially Seven’s turf, but when the younger woman looked to her, Janeway couldn’t help herself as she mouthed silently ‘Vesila’.

 

“Where is Vesila?” Seven asked Vit.

 

“Resting outside, near the loading bays.” Vit delivered the information, waited a few seconds until he was sure no other action or information was needed of him before he bowed his head with respect and then departed.

 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Vesila sat and stretched out her tired bones, appreciating the mid-day sun and the heat that made her feel just a little younger than she really was.  She knew that they would seek her out soon but in the meantime, she would continue to enjoy the respite from the hardship of the work required on this planet.

 

It wasn’t much longer until she heard the footsteps on the gravel behind her but chose not to open her eyes.  Instinctively, she knew who it was.  “Ah, you’re here at last, I was beginning to think you’d both fled the planet.”

 

Janeway and Seven moved in front of her, blocking her sun light which, in turn, caused her to open her old eyes and appraise the two of them.

 

“Leader, Dawes, what a surprise to see you here.” The sarcasm wasn’t wasted on the other two. 

 

“I doubt it.” Janeway’s skin crawled.  Despite the fact that Vesila had never done her any harm, and in many ways had shown her only kindness, of a sort, Janeway found this woman disturbing, and faced now with her unnatural coolness, it all just heightened her awareness.  She glanced round, suddenly alert to the fact that she and Seven might have walked into a trap. Why hadn’t she considered that possibility until now, when it might be too late?

 

“Accurate assessment, Dawes.  It’s true that I have been expecting you both,” she studied them, “ and I must say, Leader, that you look more rested and at peace than I’ve ever seen you. It suits you .. brings out your inner beauty.”

 

Dismissive, Seven stated that her well being was none of the woman’s concern but Vesila ignored her and looked at Janeway.  “However, Dawes, I’m sorry to see you not so well.”

 

“I’m fine!”  Dawes said with exasperation.  What is it with these people? It was enough to make you paranoid. 

 

Seven drew breath ready to question the old woman who was sat, resting against an old, corner wall, but Vesila got in first.

 

“No doubt, you’ve come to see me about the disaster at the plant. Tragic circumstances and so unexpected.  But then, there have been so many unexplained deaths here of late.  One has to wonder what else is just around the corner.”  She rose and stood, her hands held in front of her like someone praying.

 

“Explain yourself.” Seven said abruptly. “Who is Magnus and what do you know about the re-opening of Sub Unit 6?” 

 

Vesila smiled patronisingly.  “Everything!  But all will be revealed in due course.  Just a little more time, please. I am waiting for someone who will be here shortly.  Please be patient.”

 

“My patience is running out.” Seven stepped forward, causing Janeway to step between the two women and demand, “I think it’s time for explanations, Vesila.”

 

“Yes, it is and I have every intention of explaining all to you in just a few minutes, so please, be patient for just a little longer.” She paused, “However, it is good to see the two of you back together as friends again.”

 

Janeway felt sweat trickling down her back.  Why do I always feel as if this woman’s a mind reader? Maybe she is telepathic?

 

Vesila smiled, “Good things in life should never go unappreciated or devalued.  Both of you must now nurture what you hold and not allow your bonding to go uncherished.”

 

A wave of nausea past over Janeway.  She’d always been a private person, keeping her business to herself. She hated this apparent ability of Vesila to read her affairs like a book.  She was about to say something when Oxos, the psychopathic academic came running up to them, his eyes bright with enthusiasm, addressing Vesila.

 

“It’s confirmed. They’re both dead and as planned, no other casualties.”

 

Vesila nodded with grace and elegance, “Thank you, Oxos. This day has been beneficially productive, and you have done well.”  Oxos smiled at the compliment.

 

Why did Janeway get a sense that Oxos was working more for Vesila than for Seven? Was there an even bigger band of bounty hunters than she’d first thought?

 

Vesila turned to Seven.  “A great shame, Leader, but I have to report that although only two casualties, they are both members of B2.”

 

“Who?” Seven demanded.

 

“Boras and Powwaa.  Very tragic. They both volunteered to go into the plant to help recalibrate the equipment.  Such experienced crew members who, for whatever reason, made some basic error which cost them their lives.  It only goes to show that even the most experienced can lose concentration, the results of which can have dire consequences … death!”

 

Seven sensed a set-up. “And Magnus’s.”

 

“Who?” Vesila asked innocently.

 

Seven handed Vesila the padd containing the work order.  Vesila grinned, “Oh yes, Magnus.”  Then, with a flamboyant fling of an arm, she cast the padd into the dust a few metres to her side, pulled a phaser from beneath the long black robe she always wore and blasted the item to fragments.  She calmly replaced the phaser under her robes and then turned back to Seven, “Who did you say?  Magnus?  I know of no one called Magnus.  Do you, Oxos?”

 

Oxos stood calmly in front of the party, “There is no one here of that name.”

 

“As for what Boras and Powwaa were doing in that disused power plant .. who can tell?  I know only that you yourself had declared it unproductive some time ago and closed it down.  Why they would want to be in there can only be a matter of speculation now.  It’s a mystery.”

 

“It’s murder,” Janeway said as the whole thing dawned on her.  Vesila had set the two up. She’d created a fictitious new member of the team, Magnus, and one with an apparent bounty on his head.  Then like bees to a honey pot, Boras and Powwaa had gone after the man, only to be caught in a spider’s web and be destroyed by this woman.

 

Vesila’s black hard eyes fell on Janeway, “Murder? Or Justice?  Irrelevant really but one couldn’t allow those two to continue to operate.  For the safety of the team, for us all, they had to be removed.  Leader, you would never have killed them since murder isn’t in your nature, but it is in mine.  You would have eventually worked out what was going on, and possibly even apprehended them both but what would you do with them then?  There’s no law here and the Company have no interest in such things .. only profit.  No, it was best sorted out in your absence and .. hers.”  She tipped her chin towards Janeway.  “Now, there is nothing keeping you here. I can see that you’ve both sorted out whatever problems you had and Seven, if I might suggest you leave this planet now before Dawes, or whatever she calls herself, becomes any sicker.”

 

Seven stared hard at Janeway and then turned on Vesila, “How can you expect to keep this quiet?  Vit and Velim know about the padd, about Magnus, they’ll ..”

 

“Do nothing.” Vesila ran her skinny, boney fingers through her thin hair, “My reputation alone will keep anyone from crossing me, and of course, now it is enhanced by the removal of Boras and Powwaa.  There will be rumours but no one will talk, I know them too well.  Even if they did, there’s no one here who is interested in their story even if they did want to take it further. You see, they are all safe again .. for awhile .. until the next hunters come.  Even the dregs of society need to feel safe and deserve just a modicum of security. I have provided that and will continue to do so.”

 

“And how will you explain my disappearance .. and Dawes?  A suspicious time for us to disappear don’t you think?”

 

“Hardly suspicious, given that the two of you resigned your positions over a week ago and then left for the township. You weren’t even here when the accident occurred.”

 

Janeway sighed aloud, “Why do I think someone forged our resignations!” 

 

Vesila just laughed.   

 

“You really have this all sewn up, don’t you?”  Janeway mused.

 

“Yes.  Now no more questions. I find this heat tiring and it tends to make me irritable.”  Vesila’s face turned serious. “You will both leave .. now.”

 

Seven stretched herself to her full height and stared down at Vesila. This was a lawless land and neither she nor Janeway were likely to change anything.  She glanced at the smaller woman at her side and immediately realised that there was nothing left that bound her to this place – she had other responsibilities now.  It was time to leave.

 

With a miniscule nod of acquiescence, she turned away from Vesila and pushed Admiral Janeway towards ‘home’.

 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

“I have procured two tickets for a freighter which leaves the planet later this evening. It will take us to Barsela 4 and from there we can catch a shuttle to Vector Sigma and onto Earth.”  Seven stood with Janeway outside the market place in the city they had left only a day before.  “However, there is a problem.”

 

“There is?”  Janeway was shifting her rucksack for the tenth time, trying to position it more comfortably on her back but without success. Though there was hardly anything of consequence in it, it felt very heavy.

 

Seven reached out, taking Janeway unawares, and ran her hand across the smaller woman’s forehead.  When she held it in front of the Starfleet officer, Janeway could see it was wet.

 

“Your fever is back,” Seven informed her.

 

“I feel fine!”  Janeway lied, hating this unacceptable level of attention. In truth though, although she’d never admit it, she’d sensed the fever’s return yesterday.  It seemed others had sensed it also.

 

“Irrelevant.  You look ill and no freighter, cruiser or shuttle will accept a passenger who is sick.”

 

“I’m not contagious, it’s just the water fever working its way out of my system.”

 

“With great inefficiency!”  Seven’s eyebrow rose.

 

Janeway finished fighting with the rucksack. It had won, so she let it fall to the ground.  Seven looked at her with calculating intensity, “I have a plan.”

 

“I’m open to suggestions.”  Deadpan response.

 

“Place your belongings in my bag and follow me.”

 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

 

“There are no private rooms, this is a cargo vessel, not a hotel,” the man spat, his voice angry and loaded with contempt but Seven just stepped forward and leaned provocatively close to him, her breath upon his.  “You are responsible for the behaviour of the passengers?”  He nodded.  “Then know this, that when she wakes, she will need more drink to fuel its hunger, and when she doesn’t get it, she becomes abusive, violent and is highly unpleasant, offensive and foul.  Oh, she also vomits a lot .. but you will already have noticed that.”  More conspiratorially, “Find me some small space away from the others, where I can control her and ..” her eyes taking in the other passengers, “I can make it worth your while in credits.”  She intimately tapped her breast pocket. The man’s hungry eyes rested there for too long. She wondered if it was for the credits or something else.

 

Possibly both, but the man chose to focus on what was available – credit!  Such a golden word, he liked the sound of that word, credit.  And directly into his pocket, not the captain’s.

 

Suddenly more agreeable, “There’s a small storage bunker on the lower level.  It’s not being used on this trip. It’s colder down there but it’s private. I can give you that plus a few blankets .. for good credit.”  He glanced down at the prostrate woman at Seven’s feet.  “You can be alone with your friend,” he snarled derisively.

 

“She is not my friend!” Seven almost shouted at him as she bent down and grasped the comatose woman and picked her up again, assuming the same position they had had before.  The air around the three of them instantly became intoxicated with the smell of stale alcohol and fresh vomit.

 

Almost with compassion, the man looked at Seven, his voice uncharacteristically softening, “Why don’t you leave her here?  She’s past caring, why should you?”

 

Seven stood still for a moment as if considering his proposal but then answered.  “Because she saved my life many years ago and I now return the debt.  I will return her to her family .. where she will undoubtedly continue to drink herself into an early grave.”  Seven sighed, “But that will be her problem, no longer mine. I can know no peace until this debt is repaid .. now is my opportunity to finally be rid of her.”

 

“As you wish.”

 

The crewman stood aside and allowed them to pass and board the freighter.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

The minute the freighter doors swished closed on the small storage room, Janeway immediately disentangled herself from Seven, stood resolutely on her own two feet and brushed herself down.  “Mission accomplished. Your plan worked, Seven, well done!”

 

Seven looked at the pale, dishevelled and tousle-haired officer, “I must compliment you on your acting abilities.  You do drunk very well, although I wasn’t aware you could be ‘sick to order’?”  There was a suggestion of concern in the young woman’s voice.

 

Janeway grinned weakly, “The drunk bit .. well, I’ve had a few experiences to draw on, plus the alcohol you threw down my clothing before we boarded .. it all helped to set the scene!  As for being sick?  Sorry, Seven, I don’t usually sink that low but I guess the ‘being thrown around’ bit in the script got to me.”  Seven had reached into her rucksack and removed some water which she now passed to the mildly trembling, sick-looking woman. 

 

“Thank you.”  Janeway swigged the drink, consuming it as if she’d been in the desert for a month.  The water fever dehydrated you so much, it was sometimes difficult keeping up the fluid intake.  “Better,” she said as she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.

 

Looking around them, they could see that the little space was indeed a storage area and had a few crates and empty containers stacked in it. Fortuitously, there was also a small basin area, presumably for the crew to clean up a little when they were loading.  Other than that, the area was spartan but fit for purpose.

 

Janeway breathed out and placing a hand on a hip, “Talking of acting, you ought to get an award, your time spent with the EMH wasn’t wasted!”  A bit nervously, as if testing Seven, “I particularly liked your description of me, the bit about ‘mindless idiot’ and ‘offensive and foul’.

 

“I lied.”  There was a twinkle in the ex drone’s eyes.

 

“That’s good to hear.  I was beginning to think of getting therapy!”  Then a little more seriously, Janeway took a good look at Seven. “You okay?”

 

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Seven sounded defensive.

 

Janeway smiled and spoke gently, “It’s been a while since you returned to Earth, I thought you might be feeling a little anxious.” Seven allowed her nervousness to show in front of this woman.  “It’ll be alright, Seven.  I promise you this time, it’ll be alright.”

 

Seven nodded unconvincingly.

 

“Give me a chance to clean up a little, then we can talk about it. Okay?” Without taking her eyes off the ex drone, “Just trust me, Seven.”

 

“I do, Kathryn,” Seven whispered. “I do.”

 

 

 

*****