The Journey Home

A Star Trek: Voyager Story (J/7)

By Enginerd


Chapter 12 Ė A Diagnostic

"So, now you want some advice from your EMH?" the Doctor said as Seven entered sickbay. "Or have you just come to deactivate me again?" he added, eyeing her pointedly.

"Doctor, the Captain thought you were an obstacle; to gain her trust, it was logical for me to deactivate you as she wished."

The Doctor frowned.  "Is she still angry enough to decompile me?"

"Not at the moment.  She has calmed since you have seen her," Seven answered.

"Thatís a relief," he said sarcastically.  "Itís fortunate she is receptive to your help," he added with frustration.

"Not as receptive as I would have hoped," Seven said with a frown.

"Why?"

"She is currently reading the logs about what happened.  However, she did not wish me there, even though I had assured her I could perform an Astrometrics sensors diagnostic from her console," Seven said with a frown.

"That is not surprising, Seven.  She will need time and space to deal with what has happened to her.  But she also still needs your love and support through this," he noted, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder.

"She has both but I am not sure that is helping her," Seven admitted worriedly.

"Why do you think that?" the Doctor asked with surprise.

"She was angry early this morning after one of her nightmares."

"Nightmares and anger are to be expected, Seven," he said soothingly.

"I am afraid I provoked her anger," Seven said with a slight wince.

"How so?"

"Her nightmare was . . . ." Seven said, then hesitated. ". . . after the Borg invasion.  She felt guilt, which she should not," she said with conviction. "I told her it never happened but made sure to clearly assure her that I was not dismissing her feelings," she said then looked at the Doctor to explain why.  "Several respected medical texts have highlighted the importance of validating the patientís emotions, however irrational.  Yet, she still became angry with my observation, accusing me of patronizing her," Seven said, disturbed by her ineffectiveness in helping Kathryn.

"Ah," the Doctor responded in a knowing tone.  "Well, Seven, you must have also read that anger is a known phase of recovery," he said, then noted the worried look still on her face.  "Having you by her side is helping," he stressed softly.

"But if being by her side helps her, why does she push me away?" Seven said with frustration.

"You canít expect her to want someone hovering around her every waking moment.  She will need some breathing space," he said gently.  "But not too much," he amended thoughtfully.

***

As she paced in her quarters with a PADD in hand, Captain Janeway read account after account telling her they found no worm hole, only a trap.  There was no ride home . . . only an eager Captain willing to accept the story she wanted to hear, she thought with disgust at her poor judgment.

Of course, the reports were never overtly critical of her gullibility or how she allowed her ego and pride to dictate her decisions.  The closest to criticism she could find was in one of Tuvokís official reports, where he logged his objection to the Captain not taking a security guard with her to her meetings on the planet surface. Kathryn shook her head with disgust at how obvious a decision that should have been. Yet her argument with Seven seemed to make her more insistent that she was right - and more blind to what was going on right in front of her.

Reading her own logs, it was now clear that the Uttuskan Ambassador had masterfully manipulated her and offered the very thing she wanted - a way home. Every decision made regarding the Uttuskans had been poor - or down right stupid, she concluded angrily. Not only had she been reckless with her own safety, she had been reckless with Sevenís feelings. And that was unforgivable, Kathryn thought guiltily as she walked to the replicator.

The lengths the crew, and even the Uttuskans not associated with the Ambassador, went to save her was very humbling. With all her questionable decisions, she wondered if she really deserved such loyalty. She knew she wasnít a perfect Captain. She knew she had made mistakes along the way; but she had no ideal how poor a Captain she could be . . . until now.

"Scotch, neat," she ordered and the drink appeared in the replicator. Moving to the couch with drink in hand, she picked up Chakotayís report, skimming through it again.  She sat and took a sip, wincing slightly as the liquid glided down her throat with a familiar burn.

Chakotay had attempted to warn her something was wrong at the celebration in the mess hall, she recalled. She knew something was off, yet she couldnít place her finger on it; there was just so much going on.  They were finally home and she was going to introduce Seven to her mother - the two things she had dreamed about - well before the Uttuskans.  An ache seized her heart as she realized her mother might never get to meet the most important person in her life.

After another sip, she placed Chakotayís report down and picked another PADD.  Seeing it was Harryís personal report, she put the drink down and held the precious gift in both hands.  She took some comfort in knowing that she was not the only one who had experienced the most wonderful day in her life...even if it wasnít real.  As she fought the tears that welled up, she vaguely wondered if Seven actually got Harryís permission to use his personal log, but that thought faded as she reread the report, amazed at how well dear, young Harry had captured that day.

"I suppose seeing Captain Janeway standing at the altar with an Admiral, both in their dress whites, waiting, should have clued me in; but until Seven came down the aisle on the Doctorís arm, I had no idea I was in the middle of a wedding.  The Captainís and Sevenís wedding of all things.

I never realized the Captain was among the many on our ship who were attracted to Seven.  Itís not surprising though, Seven is gorgeous, intelligent, and surprisingly funny - at times.  Although, her Borg strength and pursuit of perfection makes her intimidating as heck.

But thinking about it, they are a good match; Captain Janeway has never been intimidated by Seven of Nine.

Kathryn laughed weakly. "Appearances can be deceiving, Harry."

I think my heart broke a little when I saw Seven in that beautiful white gown with her hair down.  An amazing smile lit up her face like I had never seen before; a smile for no one but the Captain.  Sure, I knew I had no chance with her; but as long as she wasnít with anyone, I guess I held onto a bit of hope. Looking back at how Seven reacted when she learned the Captain was trapped in the device - I think Seven really loves the Captain.  Even if we knew what she had planned to do, I donít think anyone could have stopped her.  Iím just glad trying to assimilate that thing didnít kill her. . . or the Captain.

Kathryn frowned and picked up her drink and took a sip, finishing the glass.

I still canít get over how she looked in that traditional gown.  She was softer, more approachable, much more . . . human.  I wonder if that is how Captain Janeway usually sees Seven...."

ĎYes, Harry, it is,í Kathryn thought, placing the empty glass down to continue to skim through the report she almost had memorized.

"....the Admiral pronounced them married and joked that this was the moment she waited for - to kiss the bride.  Captain Janewayís sister Phoebe actually called out that she didnít think the Captain waited.  I couldnít help but laugh with everyone.  There was so much happiness and joy there.  I suppose youíd expect that at a wedding.  While I knew that the wedding was not real, the happiness and joy were.  The Captain was actually happy. Really happy.

It was good to see her so happy.

Kathryn sighed and grabbed her glass. She stood and headed to the replicator as she continued to read.

After the laughter settled down, I was stunned.  I realized that Seven must have been someone very special to the Captain for her to dream of marrying Seven, but I just didnít realize how much.  I had never seen such love from anyone, let alone the Captain, before.  The way she gently caressed Sevenís face before she even kissed her left me with no doubt.  The Captain was in love - truly in love.

It was good to see her in love.

After they were pronounced married, it was clear I would not get a chance to talk to...."

The door chime sounded.  Kathryn sighed and glanced at the chronometer on the wall.  Sevenís shift in Astrometrics was over, she noted with mixed emotions.  Placing the glass on the replicator and pushing the recycle button she said "Come."

Turning to the door, she was surprised to see the Doctor enter.

"Doctor?  Youíre making house calls now?" Kathryn asked with a polite smile.

"Iíve been known to get out of sickbay every once in a while.  So how are you, Captain?" he asked.

She looked at him a long, thoughtful moment. "How am I supposed to be, Doctor?"

"Well, uh . . . how do you think you should be?" He countered uncomfortably, knowing Captain Janeway was not inclined to make it easy on him.  He was aware of her lack of appreciation for the psychological sciences and in particular, counselors.

"I have a question for you," Janeway said instead.

"What would you like to know?" the Doctor asked, a bit relieved.  The Captain asking questions was a good thing.

"Sevenís attempt to assimilate the device was unsuccessful and I wanted to understand the extent of her injuries.  Why was I unable to access her medical record?" Kathryn said with frustration, unable to override the privacy encryption.

"Well, you do know they are private, Captain," he said.

"Before all of . . . this, I had the authority to override the privacy algorithms," she countered evenly as her eyes narrowed.  "But now I seem to be unable to."

"Yes, well, itís just a normal precaution, Captain.  Tuvok disabled your command protocols when you came under the influence of an unknown entity and Chakotay assumed command.  You will find you will be unable to access a number of . . . ."

Kathrynís teeth ground together. "I need to know if my wi . . . ," she interrupted in a rush of annoyance that stumbled awkwardly over Sevenís designation. ". . . Astrometrics officer suffered any long-term effects in her attempt to save me."

The Doctor smiled warmly. "No need to worry, Captain. The Deviceís high-frequency interspersion pulse has done no permanent damage thanks to Sevenís nanoprobes - and expert medical attention," he added, his smile turning smug.

"She almost died, didnít she?" Kathryn said evenly, causing the Doctorís smile to falter.

"What you need to focus on is that Seven has fully recovered and is perfectly healthy," the Doctor countered.

"Iíll take that as a yes," she said darkly.

"Captain, she knew there were risks with her actions.  While Ambassador Dre Gattaís warnings about the device turned out to be accurate, none of us, especially Seven, was inclined to believe her."

The Captain winced. "Iím not saying Seven didnít have a reason to be skeptical, itís just . . . ." Kathryn said with frustration, angry with herself for endangering Seven.

The door chimed causing the Doctor to frown at the interruption.

"Iíd better answer that," she said with relief; she did not want to continue the discussion. "Come."

The doors swished opened and Sevenís smile upon seeing Kathryn immediately disappeared when she saw the Doctor.

"Doctor? Is Kathryn all right?!?" She asked worriedly, stepping inside and glancing at him before inspecting the older woman for any signs to the contrary.

"I think the jury is still out on that one, Seven," Kathryn offered, looking at the Doctor, who glanced at her with mild surprise.  Although, he considered, Captain Janeway was, if anything, pragmatic.

"I just came by to see how the Captain was doing," he said with an easy smile for Seven.  Turning his attention to his patient, he eyed her pointedly "Iíll be by tomorrow and we can discuss counseling sessions."

"Oh joy," she said flatly.

***

After the Doctor left, Kathryn glanced at Seven. "I trust the Astrometrics sensors are all working within normal parameters."

"They are; however, I have improved their efficiency by eliminating a 0.002 % variance," Seven responded, eyeing Kathryn curiously.  She suspected Kathryn wasnít really that interested in the sensors; there were many more important things to discuss.  Although, before this happened, Kathryn had usually asked her about her day, opening the door on further conversation.  Perhaps Kathryn was creating an opportunity for more meaningful conversation, she considered with growing hope.

"Ah. Well, good," Kathryn said, sitting on the couch and gently placing the PADD with Harryís personal log down.

Or perhaps not, Seven reconsidered with a sigh as no more discussion was forthcoming.

"Do you desire anything in particular for dinner?" Seven asked as she went to the replicator.

"Iím not really hungry," Kathryn said absently, picking up another PADD.

"You should not skip meals, Kathryn," Seven said firmly.

"All right, fine," Kathryn relented immediately, surprising Seven, who was expecting more resistance. "Why donít you replicate some of Momís chicken soup?"  Kathryn suggested easily, shifting a pillow more comfortably behind her.  "She swears itís good for the soul," she added with a shrug, thinking if her stomach didnít need the food, her soul probably did.

Seven paused a moment, eyeing the replicator uneasily then glancing to Kathryn.  "I . . . do not know how to make your motherís chicken soup," she admitted reluctantly, noting Kathrynís startled look transform into frustration.  "Do you have her recipe? I will program . . . ." Seven quickly offered, determined to make what Kathryn wanted.

"No, no," Kathryn interrupted with forced nonchalance.  She stared at the coffee table a dark moment to bury the annoyance with her unreliable memory.  "Why donít you make one of your "good tasting" nutritional supplements?" Kathryn suggested with a weak smile, pretty certain she would receive a lecture if she just asked for another scotch.

"If you prefer your motherís soup, I only require her recipe . . ." Seven offered, eager to make what Kathryn had requested.

"I donít HAVE her recipe," Kathryn snapped, slapping a PADD onto the coffee table, missing the wince on Sevenís face. "I thought you knew it, but I was wrong, so letís just drop it, all right?!?" Kathryn explained tersely, rubbing the back of her neck.

"I will replicate nutritional supplement 26," Seven offered weakly.

Kathryn nodded, anger warring with guilt as she struggled to keep her hands from shaking.

When Seven returned with two mugs, she noticed the older womanís hands rigidly clasped together.  She sat down and waited apprehensively for another potential outburst.

Kathryn closed her eyes as the wave of guilt suffocated her anger.  Seven was only trying to help and only got hurt for her effort, Kathryn considered as her eyes opened, her anger reemerging.  Except this time, her anger was more appropriately directed at herself - for hurting Seven . . . again.

After a moment, Kathryn expelled a belabored sigh and silently accepted the offering, too ashamed to look Seven in the eye. She sipped the drink, sitting rigidly as she gazed across the room. It was warm chocolate, she noted, feeling unworthy of such caring. Even after how poorly she was treated, Seven was still willing to look after me, Kathryn thought, then hesitantly glanced over to Seven, seeing concern mar her beautiful face.

"You shouldnít skip meals either," Kathryn offered awkwardly, looking down at Sevenís still-full mug.

Seven nodded feebly and took a small, unwanted sip.  The silence between them was deafening.

"Iím sorry," Kathryn finally said with great unease.  She worried Seven was too easy a target for her frustration, knowing if she didnít get some control over her emotions, it would happen again and again.  And Seven certainly didnít deserve that.

Before Seven could respond, Kathryn continued. "Maybe . . . maybe I should try some meditation with Tuvok," she said hesitantly, surprising Seven. "He might help me with . . . this," Kathryn finished weakly.

"He has helped me," Seven encouraged, getting an uneasy nod from Kathryn. "I am certain he will make time for you, whenever you require it."

Kathryn nodded again. "I think I should talk to him tonight."

Seven gently squeezed Kathrynís shoulder in support, relieved the troubled woman recognized that help was needed and pleased that Kathryn was willing to get it. Seven smiled when Kathryn patted her hand and got up.  Her smiled faded slightly as she pondered why the Doctor was so skeptical that Kathryn would voluntarily seek help.

***

"Captain, please come in," Tuvok said, stepping back from the door as she entered and looked around the room full of candles that cast a warm glow.

"I appreciate you seeing me now," she said uncomfortably, noting two mats with a small wooden altar between them already set up on the floor.

"I am honored you have sought my help," Tuvok said.

"Iíve got to do something, Tuvok," Kathryn said with distress.

Tuvok said nothing, waiting for her to continue.  The Captain did not usually respond well to probing questions, especially if they were personal.  And unfortunately, he considered, this situation was entirely personal.

After a long moment, she looked up into his brown eyes. "I keep expecting her to be the same woman Iíve been married to for thirteen years; but she isnít. Iím . . . Iím not dealing with any of this very well.  And sheís taking the brunt of it," she said tightly, admitting with difficulty. "She wants to help but all I seem to do is get angry. She doesnít deserve that."

"I have found humans to be remarkably resilient . . . and forgiving."

"God, I hope so," Kathryn whispered.

***

Although grateful Kathryn sought help, Seven couldnít help shake the niggling feeling of inadequacy.  Granted, Tuvok was the logical choice; she had less experience with meditation techniques.  But that logic did not eliminate her desire to be the one Kathryn turned to.

In spite of her preoccupation with Kathryn, she spent three hours waiting as productively as she could.  Seated at the Captainís console, she reviewed all of the departmentís daily reports and sensor logs and sent BíElanna a suggestion for improving shield strength by 0.006%.  She also responded to messages from the senior staff, except for BíElannaís unnecessarily caustic response to her suggestion, and a few bold crew members who asked how the Captain was.

She found it interesting that the Captainís assistant asked the most practical question of all, which also happened to be the hardest to answer.  When is Captain Janeway returning to duty?  Seven stared at Naomiís question a long time, wondering herself.  She finally answered that she did not know but promised she would inform the young girl when the Captain was medically cleared for duty.

When the door swished open, Seven looked up, startled by how drained the older woman looked.

"Would you like a bath?" Seven asked gently as Kathryn approached, knowing Kathryn often found comfort in a warm soak.

Kathryn weakly shook her head no. "I might drown. Letís just go to bed," she said softly, heading towards the bedroom.  She suddenly stopped. "You donít need to regenerate, do you?" she asked, worried she was incorrectly assuming Seven could stay.  It wasnít like they were living together anymore. . . or ever, she thought with frustration.

"Sleep will be sufficient," Seven said, prompting a nod of relief.

Few words were spoken as each woman put on their night clothes and climbed into bed.  "I love you, Seven," Kathryn said uneasily, as if she needed to convince the woman.

"I love you, Kathryn," Seven answered with soft conviction and received a gentle kiss on the lips.

"Thatís the one thing I do know," Kathryn responded, placing her forehead against Sevenís with a sigh, drawing strength from their closeness.

"And the one thing you should not forget," Seven whispered, caressing Kathrynís cheek with a gentle hand.

With a squeeze to Sevenís hand, Kathryn pulled back and offered a small smile before settling beneath the covers for another night of fitful sleep.

***

In the distance, the sky was ablaze with vivid yellows and oranges as if it too was burning like the buildings and land below.  Kathryn could smell the acrid stench of charred flesh wafting through the black fields that only moments before were bursting with the autumn harvests and eager farmers toiling to gather the bounty. She had seen the extent of devastation on the Borg view screens.  But now to see it in person - her stomach could not bear the stench . . . .

Kathrynís eyes suddenly opened as her stomach churned violently.  She scrambled to her ensuite with her hand over her mouth, barely making it to the commode before she expelled the contents of her meager dinner.

For a third time that evening, Kathrynís nightmares had woken Seven.  Not having expected such a physical response from Kathrynís dreams, she realized with growing worry there was so much more to research. Quietly, she got up from the bed and went to help, hoping Kathryn would accept it.


Chapter 13 - Feelings

The next morning, as threatened, the Doctor came by the Captainís quarters to discuss therapy.  At his enthusiastic "no time like the present," Kathryn frowned and reluctantly motioned for the Doctor to sit in a chair.

"I will return for lunch," Seven said to Kathryn, who nodded as she walked with her to the door.  "Have . . . fun," Seven offered dryly, getting a glare which softened when she kissed Kathrynís cheek.

"Hmmm," Kathryn responded and watched Seven leave.

"So, Captain, why donít you tell me how you are feeling," the Doctor said warmly as she joined him.

She sat on the couch, assessing him as if he were an opponent, not a therapist.  Although, she didnít really see a difference.  At least she wasnít in sickbay being psychoanalyzed, she considered, shifting a pillow behind her to make herself more comfortable - if that was possible.

"You could lie down on the couch, if you wish," the Doctor suggested helpfully, earning a sharp glare from the Captain. "Yes, well, whatever makes you feel more comfortable," he quickly responded with a weak smile. "So how do you feel, Captain?"

"Confused. My memories of the past fourteen years on Earth are still very real to me," she offered honestly, though not compelled to amplify that her current dreams also seemed very real.

"Ah, yes. How does it make you feel to know the events you remember were not real?"

"Well, learning the Borg didnít actually invade Earth is a relief," Kathryn said flatly.

"I would imagine," he offered conversationally. "But other than that, how do you feel about knowing the happier events did not occur?"

"Confused."

"Yes, of course.  But what emotions are provoked?"

"Confusion."

"You already mentioned that one.  Are there any other emotions that you experience with your confusion?"

She really hated therapy, she concluded, eyeing the EMH. "Anger, frustration, disappointment, embarrassment, regret . . . ," Kathryn rattled off.

"Captain, I wasnít looking for a list.  I wanted you to discuss each one of your emotions and why you might be feeling them," the Doctor responded, earning a frown from his patient. "Why donít you start with the first one - anger?"

Kathryn blinked.  She had a dilemma.  To decompile him to avoid this aggravation, she needed her command protocols back, but to get her command protocols back, she had to go through this aggravation.

She really hated therapy.

***

Kathryn had established a routine over the past several days.  Normally, Seven appreciated the efficiency of routine; however, she did not appreciate the routine Kathryn had established.  This morning looked like it was going to be no different.

"Breakfast looks . . . nutritious," Kathryn said dryly as she emerged from the ensuite dressed in her usual civilian clothes.

"It is," Seven said as they sat down.  The table was set with one liquid nutritional supplement for Seven and a solid bar for Kathryn, who actually preferred the solid supplement when she had coffee, which she had just started drinking again.  Seven was not thrilled that Kathryn had returned to drinking the nutritionally barren and unpleasant tasting coffee again, but she did not object.  It was a step closer to a familiar and comfortable routine.  She had attempted to reintroduce more variety into Kathrynís diet, but that usually was met with some uncomfortable and unwanted memory that sparked an even more uncomfortable and unwanted encounter.  So Kathryn had made a seemingly benign request to just have supplements.  Seven glanced at the solid supplement, wondering just how benign a request that really was.

Kathryn took a sip, looking at Seven uneasily, once again feeling ashamed for the night before.  Glancing at her cup cradled in her hands, she took a breath to speak but Seven interrupted.

"Please do not," Seven said wearily.

"Do not . . . what?" Kathryn said with surprise.

"Apologize once again for something you have no reason to apologize for," Seven said with clear frustration.

"Waking up every hour canít be good for you either, Seven," Kathryn said guiltily. "And I hit you," Kathryn added, her eyes dropping in shame.

"You were asleep and blindly thrashing out, Kathryn," Seven responded with amazement. "You are not responsible for . . . ." she argued, causing Kathryn to exhale angrily as she set her coffee cup down on the saucer with a loud clink.

"I AM responsible," Kathryn spat. "Responsible for everything, Seven," she added vehemently.

"No, you are not!  You are the victim, Kathryn," Seven said bluntly, seeing Kathryn wince at the characterization. "You are not responsible for what happened.  You are not responsible for your nightmares," Seven said with equal passion.

Kathryn looked down with irritation, fully believing she was.  But there was no convincing the woman across from her.  Taking a deep breath, she looked up and asked "So, what do you have planned for today?"

Seven looked at her incredulously.  Once again, Kathryn had abruptly changed subjects. Seven desperately wanted to understand, but Kathryn closed herself off - again.  Her extensive research into therapy techniques had proven frustratingly unsuccessful in finding an effective method to facilitate discussion.  Every attempt at discussion so far was met with, at best, expert deflection, at worst, a heated argument that pushed Kathryn even further away.  Seven sighed in resignation that it was unlikely she would suddenly meet with success this morning.

"I am helping LT Torres with the shuttle modifications that will be needed for mining the dilithium crystals in the Balleto asteroid belt," Seven finally answered.

"Good," Kathryn said, sipping her coffee. "Iím sure the crew will be anxious for the conservation protocols to be lifted," she added absently.

"Indeed," Seven said absently, taking a sip of her nutritional supplement.

***

Later in the morning, the Doctor arrived for his counseling session with the Captain.  As usual, the Doctor was invited sit in the chair by the coffee table as Seven stood by the door with Kathryn to say good bye.

As the Doctor entered and sat, giving the women their privacy, Seven looked at Kathrynís neutral face uneasily before leaning in to kiss her cheek. "Have a good day," Seven said, not feeling comfortable teasing Kathryn anymore.  As she pulled back, she looked into the older womanís hazel eyes with alarm.  Whether it was a gentle, loving warmth or a fiery anger, there had always been something there.  Now, she didnít see . . . anything.

"Is something wrong?" Kathryn asked, noting Sevenís expression and squeezed the younger womanís forearm gently.

The genuine concern eased Sevenís fear, making her wonder if her worry was unfounded.

She smiled weakly and shook her head no. "I could come back for lunch," Seven offered hopefully, wanting to alter Kathrynís routine that offered them too little time together.  There was always some logical reason for not having lunch together, she considered with frustration.

Kathryn looked down an uncomfortable moment. "I have plans with Chakotay."

"What plans?" Seven asked with surprise.

"He is my Executive Officer, Seven.  At least, he was," Kathryn said, glancing back at the Doctor, who smiled patiently.

"You are discussing shipís business," Seven concluded.

"Not entirely," Kathryn said, causing Seven more alarm.  There were more things Kathryn was keeping from her, she thought with worry.

"Then why . . . ?" Seven asked, feeling an unwanted pang of jealousy.

"I . . . Iíll talk to you at dinner about it," Kathryn interrupted uncomfortably, glancing back at the Doctor, who continued to smile patiently.  She really didnít want to hear the Doctorís opinion on Spirit Guides.

"I will see you for dinner then," Seven said tersely and left, expecting to have to remind Kathryn of that promise.

***

In Astrometrics, Seven re-plotted the optimal course to the Balleto system with difficulty. The task, while not complex, proved to be difficult for the preoccupied Astrometrics officer. She had entered an incorrect gravitational constant in the fifth decimal place and threw off the course by 0.0014%, which was unacceptable.

With a heavy exhale of irritation for her error, she started over.  Hearing the doors to Astrometrics whoosh open, she winced with frustration, not needing more distraction.

"Hey, Seven," BíElanna said, joining her side. "Whatchya doing?" She asked, looking down at the rapid fingers entering data without a pause.

"Working," Seven said crisply. "Which is what I would have expected you to be doing," she added, without looking up.

"Get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?" BíElanna responded flatly.

"Was there something you required, lieutenant?" Seven asked coldly, still not looking up from her console.

"I just wanted to see how you were doing - and I have. So, I wonít bother you any more," BíElanna said, rolling her eyes as she started to leave.

Seven shook her head in frustration. "BíElanna wait . . . please."

BíElanna turned to look at the former Borg, who rarely said please.

"I am sorry for being . . . rude," Seven said and exhaled heavily.

"Wow, now Iím really beginning to worry. You actually apologized," BíElanna teased and rejoined her side. "Whatís going on, Seven?" She asked softly.

"I wish I knew," Seven said miserably.

BíElanna frowned. "I havenít had lunch yet, letís chat in the mess hall.  It shouldnít be too crowded now," BíElanna suggested, getting Seven to nod.

***

Seated at a corner table, Seven nursed her turquoise nutritional supplement while BíElanna stabbed at Nelixís pasta surprise with mild trepidation.

"She does not wish to spend time with me," Seven blurted, looking lost.

"Iím sure that is not the case, Seven," BíElanna said uncomfortably.

"It seems she can not wait until I leave in the morning, though I know she does not look forward to the morning counseling session with the Doctor," Seven said, getting BíElanna to cringe.  "She has asked that I not return for lunch because she wishes to review department reports and shipís logs without "an audience."  At night, after a quick dinner where nothing of importance is discussed, she rushes out to meditate with Tuvok.  She does not return until late and is always too tired for any conversation."

"Uh . . . Well, at least sheís getting counseling.  And the meditation has to help," BíElanna said, trying to look on the bright side; Kathryn Janeway was well-known for her dislike of the psychological sciences and she was not known to ever practice meditation.

"She also has not expressed any desire for physical intimacy," Seven offered quietly, staring at her drink dejectedly.

BíElanna winced.  She really did not like talking about the Captain that way.  She knew they did it but she really didnít want to think about it.  Ever.  "Itís going to take some time, Seven.  Itís only been, what? Eight days since she woke?" BíElanna said with a sympathetic shrug.

"She had initiated sex two days after her serious injury by the Renthren pirates!" Seven countered with frustration.

BíElannaís face contorted at that bit of unwanted information.  Why did she get herself into these types of conversations with Seven?

"She does not even wish to share her bed with me anymore.  She has recommended I regenerate - but I have refused.  I prefer to sleep beside her, even with her nightmares."

"Maybe sheís just worried her nightmares are ruining your rest?  And youíve told me that regeneration is more efficient..." BíElanna offered.

"I am being unreasonable," Seven suddenly concluded with worry.

"No, youíre not.  Youíre just being human," BíElanna said, getting an annoyed glare. "Well, you are.  And you are going through hell."

"Not like her," Seven said with a frown.

"No.  But you shouldnít feel guilty for your feelings."

"I feel inadequate," Seven offered with quiet misery.

"You are not inadequate, Seven."

"I am unable to help her get past this," Seven countered.

BíElanna eyed her with mild surprise.  "I know you love her and want to help her - but you are not her counselor or her doctor, Seven.  And you shouldnít be.  You are too close to be objective."

Seven looked at her a moment and digested her words.  Her optical implant rose.  "Perhaps you should talk with Kathryn.  The Doctorís progress is not apparent."

"Oh no, Iím an engineer, not a counselor," BíElanna said with a cringe, knowing she wouldnít be much better with her objectivity.

"You have provided me counsel," Seven said with soft gratitude.

"Beh," BíElanna said gruffly, feeling decidedly uncomfortable.

Seven sipped her nutritional supplement, then placed her cup down. "I still do not understand why she would put distance between us."

"Did you ask her?" BíElanna asked, poking her Nelixís pasta surprise, which she suddenly eyed with concern, almost sure it just moved - on its own.  Nah.....

Sevenís eyes dropped.  "Not directly.  She has a way of redirecting the conversation away from where I wish it to go," she admitted.

"Donít let her control the conversation.  Just ask her outright."

"Easier said than . . . ," Seven countered.

"Captain Janeway to Seven of Nine."

The voice made Seven look up at BíElanna with a hopeful smile that BíElanna returned.

Seven tapped her comm badge promptly and answered "Seven here, Captain."

"Is BíElanna with you?" The question made BíElanna feel extremely uncomfortable, especially since it wiped the hopeful smile completely off of Sevenís face.

"She is," Seven said crisply.

"I would like the two of you to come to my quarters . . . at your convenience.  Janeway out."

Both Seven and BíElanna understood from that tone that "at your convenience" meant now.

***

The door tweeped but Captain Janeway did not look up from the PADD in her hand. "Come," Captain Janeway called firmly, remaining seated on the couch.

When the door swished open, her requested visitors entered.  They stood before her, waiting for the Captain to acknowledge them. Her casual clothes in no way made this a casual meeting, BíElanna concluded, glancing over the ridged woman on the couch who had summoned them.  Getting a good look at Captain Janeway for the first time since she had woken from a coma, the Chief Engineer noticed the usual vibrance that crackled around the older woman like an electric field was gone.  Now, a disturbing weariness wrapped itself tightly around her, warning others from getting too close.

The Captainís eyes lifted from the PADD and now regarded her a moment.  BíElanna couldnít help but frown at the dark circles under the Captainís eyes, likely due to the nightmares Seven had told her about.

"If you think I look like hell now, lieutenant, you should have seen me the first few days after waking."

BíElannaís eyes widened.  "I didnít mean. . . I . . . uh, it is good to see you, Captain," she said awkwardly.

"Why did you send for us, Captain?" Seven asked.

Straight to the point, Kathryn considered.  Except when it doesnít suit her, Kathryn amended with mixed feelings, glancing down to the PADD.

"I wanted to talk to you two about your away team reports, which recently appeared in the database," Captain Janeway noted as she studied the two women.  She always thought Seven had the makings to be one hell of a poker player, noting the unaffected, cool gaze.  On the other hand, BíElanna would lose all her rations, Kathryn concluded, clearly seeing BíElannaís unease.

"In particular," Captain Janeway continued, "I am curious about the incomplete discussion regarding the observation room.  And specifically, what you observed just before I went into cardiac arrest."

Both women glanced at each other, uneasily.

Kathryn looked down at the PADD sadly; neither of them could bring themselves to document her horrific, shameful behavior.  "I suppose you two were trying to protect me," Kathryn said tiredly, looking up.

"Yes," Seven said unrepentantly.

"But the question is - from what?" Captain Janeway asked, searching the womenís faces for the truth.  She needed to know what they really thought.

"Starfleet?" BíElanna responded weakly.

"So you thought my actions were unbecoming of an officer?" Captain Janeway asked tightly, bracing herself to hear the admission. "Court-martial worthy offenses?"

"No!  Your actions were understandable and you were dreaming," BíElanna said, startled, looking to Seven for help.

"The situation was a contrivance, Kathryn," Seven added with frustration. "Your mental state was controlled by the device."

"I had thought the contrivance an amplification of my thoughts," Janeway countered, unwilling to ignore her clear guilt.  "Which I would have expected to give you of all people, pause, Seven."

Seven looked at Kathryn in amazement, unsure of where to begin.  "Your inaccurate interpretation of the events is exactly what we feared from Starfleet," Seven said with exasperation.

"Which is why we didnít include. . ." BíElanna quickly interjected, then added awkwardly. "That."

"Since when has it been acceptable to filter information in our official reports, lieutenant?" Janeway snapped.  "I want you two to write down exactly what you saw in the observation room.  No sanitizing for Starfleet," Captain Janeway said firmly and added tersely.  "Do I make myself clear?"

"Is it really necessary?" BíElanna asked with great unease.

"Did it occur to you that I have a report to write, lieutenant?" Captain Janeway said, causing Seven to frown. She should have anticipated that Kathryn would not temper any of the ugliness.

"You donít have to mention . . . everything," BíElanna suggested with a wince, hoping the Captain would reconsider.

"You sound like I should be ashamed of what I did.  Is that what you think?" Kathryn pushed, her eyes pinning the cringing Chief Engineer.

"No!  I think you showed great courage and love.  If anything, what you did was honorable," BíElanna argued emphatically.

"Well, then.  There should be no problem with you writing down those courageous, honorable acts of love, should there?" Captain Janeway said with tired sarcasm.

"No maíam," BíElanna relented begrudgingly.  Seven frowned.

"Good, dismissed," Janeway said, her eyes dropping to the PADD as BíElanna quickly left.

Seven stood her ground and eyed Kathryn, who should have anticipated Seven would not let this drop.  With a sigh, Kathryn looked up.  "Was there something else, Seven?"

"Why did you do that?" Seven asked tersely.

"Ask my senior officers to ensure their reports to Starfleet are complete?"

"We were trying to help you," Seven said.

"I donít need that kind of help, Seven.  I can not condone deliberate omission of information," Kathryn argued.

"Really?" Sevenís eyes flared.  "You made plans with Chakotay today and failed to mention that to me.  But I suppose your rule only applies to others," Seven countered.

"I do not report to YOU, Seven," Kathryn responded angrily.  "And although I may have my command protocols suspended at the moment, I am still the Captain of this vessel and can meet with a member of my own crew without first clearing it with you or the Doctor!"

"You are deliberately misinterpreting what I am saying," Seven said with frustration.

"Was there anything else?" Kathryn said in a suddenly chilly tone.  The change both annoyed and frightened Seven.

"Kathryn, you can not keep doing this.  We need to talk," Seven pleaded.

Kathryn considered her words and exhaled heavily.  She was right.  They did need to talk, but it was only going to hurt her, she considered regrettably; but she knew she was already hurting Seven right now by not talking.

"We end up arguing," Kathryn offered sadly. "And that is not good for either of us," she noted, placing the PADD down on the coffee table.  The coffee table she had received during much happier times.  Times that were long gone, she considered mournfully. "I want to stop the arguing, Seven."

There was a time when Kathryn Janeway actually looked forward to arguing with Seven. Never before had anyone so thoroughly challenged her, making her draw upon all her wits and intellect.  And oh how the sparks would fly!  But now, the arguments held no intellectual challenge.  There was no attempt to seek or gain understanding through debate.  There was only anger and frustration, on both sides.  And Kathryn knew it was her fault.

"I . . . agree," Seven said cautiously as Kathryn stood and started to pace.

"I know my anger is unfair and . . . disturbing.  You try to help and . . . ," Kathryn admitted uncomfortably.  "A gesture or conversation will remind me . . . remind me the past fourteen years never happened," Kathryn added with a sad wince, prompting a hopeful look on Sevenís face.  Any scientist, even in psychology, knows you can not solve a problem unless you can define it.

Seven nodded in understanding, recalling their interactions. "You get angry when I do not respond as you expect," Seven offered. "And you have sought to avoid these angry . . . interactions by avoiding me," she added with a new understanding of what should have been obvious.  BíElanna was correct - she was too close to see clearly, she considered with concern.

"I have.  Iím so sorry, Seven.  For everything," Kathryn said, her eyes dropping in shame.  It wasnít Sevenís fault, and yet she still got angry at her.

Hope flooded Seven.  "With time, I will learn the appropriate responses, Kathryn," she vowed.  "I will learn all your motherís recipes.  If there are other traits in which you find me deficient . . . ." Seven rattled off eagerly as if they had just discovered the solution.

Kathryn looked at her in horror.  "Seven!  This is not about you learning to be someone else to accommodate me," she interrupted, frightened by Sevenís willingness to change.

"I would not be someone else," Seven countered with confusion.

"You would try to be a version of you Iíve dreamt.  You should never change yourself to appease me," Kathryn said uneasily.

"But if it would help...." Seven freely offered, not understanding.

"No, it wouldnít.  I want you to be the remarkable individual that you are, not how you think I want you to be," Kathryn said emphatically.  "If anyone needs to change to make this work, itís me," she explained.  "And I donít know if I can," she admitted weakly, with great sorrow.

"Make this work?? Explain," Seven demanded as tendrils of fear wrapped around her pounding heart.

Kathryn looked clearly uncomfortably.  She knew what she had to do.  But it didnít make it any easier. "Iím never going to be the same person I was before the Uttuskans, Seven.  And because of me, our relationship has changed into something that neither of us is happy with. And Iím not sure it will get any better," Kathryn said miserably.  "I think...." she added and trailed off, unable to complete the painful thought.  However, Seven did it for her.

"You wish to terminate our relationship," Seven exhaled in a strangled whisper, blinking back tears.  Out of all the possible permutations to solving their problem, she had never considered terminating their relationship as remotely possible.  Obviously, she was too close to see objectively....

From the pain on Sevenís face, Kathryn almost took her in her arms and begged forgiveness.  But her aching heart was convinced this was the right thing.  "No, I donít wish it.  But neither of us is happy with the way things are," she repeated weakly.

"It has only been eight days since you woke and you have already concluded you will be happier without me?!?" Seven asked with pained anger.

Kathryn stood there, absorbing the deserved anger.  This wasnít Sevenís fault.  Seven had every right to be angry.  "Itís not a matter of being happy.  Itís a matter of sanity," Kathryn responded weakly with a heavy sigh as she ran her hand through her hair, hoping Seven might one day understand.  "Having you here all the time . . . you bring back too many memories that arenít real," Kathryn admitted and rattled off in frustration "Even with the Doctorís counseling, Tuvokís meditation, and Chakotayís spirit guides . . . ."

"You sought your spirit guide?" Seven softly interrupted with uneasy surprise.  Kathryn was just seeking help yet she let her human emotion get in the way of logic and reacted poorly. Again.  Alarm and guilt warred within her as she wondered if she would ever be capable of helping Kathryn.  Perhaps Kathryn was right....

"Donít you see? It didnít work, Seven.  None of it is working to give me peace with this.  I still get angry when I realize I am remembering things that havenít happened.  All I seem to feel anymore is anger and you donít deserve that," Kathryn said emphatically.

"So your solution is to terminate our relationship?" Seven said as tears finally traveled down her cheek.

Not too long ago, Seven would never have expressed so much, so passionately.  Kathryn had felt pride in helping Seven in her rediscovery and development of her human side.  Now, she didnít feel that pride, knowing that if it hadnít been for her, Seven would not be so emotionally vulnerable now.  If not for her, Seven would never be experiencing so much pain.

It had to stop, Kathryn thought miserably.

"Yes," Kathryn said firmly, though she felt a part of herself die when she saw the clear pain on Sevenís face.

Sevenís jaw clenched, never having suffered such a blow without even being touched.  She wanted to argue but her emotions drowned any rational thought.  Her greatest fear had been realized - Kathryn found her inadequate.  Unable to look Kathryn in the eye, not wanting to see the expected disappointment and rejection, she exhaled raggedly.  Without another word, she fled Kathrynís quarters.

Kathryn stared at the door a long moment, struggling not to just run after her.  But that would defeat the point, she considered.  She had to do something.  Their relationship risked destroying the young woman, who would stand by and accept far less than she deserved. And that was unacceptable.

She had to do something.  And she did.

With a heavy exhale, she migrated to the replicator. "Scotch, neat," she ordered, staring at the floor. When the glass of caramel liquid that appeared, she quickly grabbed it, finishing the contents in a swift gulp. Knowing she should have something a little more substantial than a Scotch, she absently ordered "Momís chicken soup." She grimaced at her stupid mistake.

When the familiar aroma wafted up, she immediately glanced down, amazed by the appearance of the requested bowl of soup. "Seven . . . ," she whispered as profound sadness welled up, knowing she didnít deserve that kind of devotion. "Recycle the soup," she said hoarsely, causing the replicator to bleep and the bowl to dematerialize. After staring at the empty replicator a moment, she sighed and reordered. "Scotch, neat."

She grabbed her second glass and headed to her bedroom. Alone.

***

Harry scanned the PADD in his hand as he entered Cargo Bay 2 to retrieve a new bi-polaric diode for the Ops control panel.  Looking up in the darkness, he cringed, realizing he was intruding on Sevenís regeneration time.  As he turned to quietly leave, he noticed an unusual shimmer of light on her cheeks.  He hesitantly stepped closer to see. Tears??

He looked around the cargo bay uncomfortably then tapped his comm badge. "Ensign Kim to Lieutenant Torres," he said softly.


Chapter 14 - Emotionally Fit

Early the next morning, Kathryn sat patiently on the biobed as the Doctor scanned her.  She wore civilian clothes, which she had chosen to wear during her period of medical leave.  When she first woke, civilian clothes were familiar, having worn them most during the fourteen years of her dream life.  She also could not bring herself to wear command red, not feeling worthy after learning of her horrendous judgment.  But she realized over the past few days, worthy or not, she still had a responsibility to the crew.  And the only way she could be worthy of the crew was to resume command and honor her commitment to get them home.  It was time.

"Youíre physical recovery is impressive, Captain," the Doctor said with a pleased smile, closing the medical tricorder with a brisk snap.  "Iím happy to report that besides your need for more sleep, which isnít a new issue for you," he said, eyeing her knowingly,  "there are no lingering physical side-effects from your . . . experience with the device."

"So thereís nothing keeping me from going back to duty," Janeway said as she hopped off the biobed.

"Well, there is," the Doctor countered with surprise; though he considered he should have anticipated the Captain would be anxious to get back to duty by now.  She had not approached the topic with him for nine whole days since she awoke, which he believed must have been a new record for patience for her.  Tuvokís meditation techniques must be doing some good, he thought.

"What?" Janeway asked, surprised.

"Well, you have been through a psychological trauma and have yet to discuss it with me," he said plainly, crossing his arms over his chest.

"What the hell do you mean I havenít discussed it with you?!?" Janeway snapped.  "Youíve poked and prodded for information for over a week and Iíve told you all about the goddamn dreams and nightmares!"

The Doctor stared at her a pointed moment, letting her realize that blowing up wasnít helping her case.

She exhaled and pinched the bridge of her nose.  "What do I have to do to get back on the bridge?" The pragmatic Captain asked with forced calm.

"You canít expect to resolve all your emotional issues with a few days of therapy," the Doctor said.

Kathryn stared at him, struggling with her most pressing "emotional issue" at the moment - her incredibly strong desire to deactivate the Doctor . . . permanently.  "I would think I was being efficient," she responded flippantly.  Her teeth grinded together as she smiled tightly.

"Sometimes therapy takes years," the EMH offered.

"Years?!?" Captain Janeway choked.  "You canít seriously be thinking Iím going to wait years!"

"Of course not," he quickly responded, trying to calm the clearly upset woman.  "Itís just that with the extent of trauma youíve experienced . . . ."

"Just tell me what I have to do to get back on the bridge, and Iíll do it," Kathryn interrupted, almost growling.

"I need to know how you feel," the EMH said simply.

"How I feel?" She asked incredulously; that was all they ever discussed!  She was certainly feeling a whole lot of things at the moment and not one of them was positive.

"And Iím not talking about your "confusion," which you have already discussed at great length in exhausting detail," he said with a thin smile, making her frown.  "While you have talked about the events in impressive detail, Captain, you have yet to tell me how you really feel about them.  I need to know that to determine if you are emotionally fit for duty."

"Emotionally fit? Emotionally fit??" Kathryn sputtered with amazement.  "Well, Doctor. How, exactly, would you truly know if I were "emotionally fit"?  You donít exactly have a lot of experience in this area," she challenged, refraining from strangling the hologram, suspecting that would not help her case either.

"You must have noticed from our sessions that Iíve augmented my programming to include a wide variety of psychotherapy subroutines, which, if I do say so myself, would make Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung jealous," the Doctor said with a smug smile.

"I hadnít noticed," she said flatly.  "Perhaps you were waiting for our next therapy session to dazzle me?" Janeway added bitingly, causing him to frown.  "All right, Doctor," she said, briefly raising her hands in a conciliatory gesture.  "You want to know how I feel?"

He nodded, relieved she was finally going to open up to him.

"Fine.  I am going to tell you how I feel," Captain Janeway said with dangerously narrow eyes and a sudden, unnerving calm that quickly caused the Doctor to reconsider his feeling of relief.

"I feel . . . you are an extortionist," she started simply, causing him to open his mouth in protest.  She quickly held up her hand to forestall his comments.  "Oh no, Doctor.  Donít you know?  The therapist is not supposed to interrupt their patient whoís finally opening up - it discourages communication," she offered helpfully.  "Or did you happen to miss that particular subroutine?" she asked with a thin smile, causing him to wince.

"I feel . . . great anger at your attempts to manipulate me, holding me hostage with your threat of not returning my command back to me.  As I am sure you can understand from my Uttuskan experience, I am very sensitive to any attempts to manipulate me these days," she noted, resuming her conversational tone.

The Doctorís mouth opened in shock, realizing he had woefully failed to develop the vital bond of trust between therapist and patient.  She was right, he considered worriedly.  He didnít have the experience to adequately handle her complex emotional problems.  He vaguely wondered if she still harbored resentment for him sedating her when she first woke....

"I feel . . . concerned that you are not fully aware of the importance of my work to my "emotional fitness."  I feel . . . frustration that in spite of my efforts to talk with you and meditate with Tuvok, you still have some conveniently undefined requirement necessary to achieve this "emotional fitness."  So, if you wish to help me, which I had been led to believe was the point of your counseling, I would strongly suggest you try to define this requirement.  What indicators are you using to determine that I am currently unfit to be Captain of this vessel and her crew?" she asked pointedly.

The Doctor blinked.  "There is nothing I can specifically point to that indicates you are unable to perform as Captain," he reluctantly admitted.

"Really," she said with cool interest and waited, watching him squirm an uncomfortably long moment.

He sighed in defeat, clearly having lost control of the situation "Effective alpha shift tomorrow, you are medically cleared to return to duty," he finally said begrudgingly, knowing he would not be making any progress with her as long as he kept her away from the bridge.

"Thank you," she said as common courtesy dictated and turned to leave.

"You will need to talk at some point, Captain," he warned her.

She paused and turned back to him.  Her intended comment died, becoming a silent, weary exhale.  With a brisk nod goodbye, she left.

He watched her, hoping he had done the right thing.

***

"Come," Tuvok said. "Captain, you are early," he stated, a single raised brow the only indication of surprise.  He had wondered if she would actually continue her meditation since she had cancelled the previous evening.

"I was hoping we could meditate now.  I wanted to get to sleep earlier tonight," she said hopefully.

"As you are returning to duty tomorrow?"

"The Doctor informed you."

"He did."

She nodded, vaguely wondering if she had her command protocols in place yet.  "Thank you for helping to make it possible," she said sincerely.

He nodded and motioned to the mat in the middle of the floor.  As she assumed her normal position across the small wooden altar from her mentor, he asked "How have you been sleeping?"

"Uh . . . better," Kathryn noted hesitantly as he lit the ceremonial candles.

Tuvokís pointed brow rose curiously.

"Well, last night I was able to sleep for almost two hours before a nightmare woke me," she said, not mentioning that it took longer to get back to sleep than when Seven had been there.  But at least Seven got uninterrupted regeneration last night, she thought in consolation.

"An improvement," Tuvok acknowledged. "There is one possibility we have not yet discussed. There are techniques that might be successful in eradicating your false memories. Perhaps. . . ."

She looked at him with alarm and firmly answered in a tone brooking no argument. "No."

Tuvok looked her in the eye, surprised by her illogical reaction.  After a moment he nodded and said "Let us begin."

***

Twenty minutes before the senior staff meeting was to begin, Kathryn looked at herself in the mirror one more time.  Not too bad, she considered critically, eyeing herself in uniform and hoping people didnít focus too closely on the dark circles under her eyes.  As she looked at her Captainís pips in the mirror, dangerous feelings of guilt and shame welled up.  But she quickly tamped them down, drawing upon a strength borne from dedication and sheer determination.

"I can do this," Kathryn said firmly, then vowed. "I will do this."

She looked down as she took a deep breath, her hand smoothing out a nonexistent wrinkle in her top which looked just fine.  She had worn civilian clothes for so long now, she worried she might have forgotten how to properly dress in command red.  Though, it was only really a few days, not fourteen years.  But during those fourteen years, she had a Starfleet desk job that she vaguely remembered.  She blinked in confusion.  Surely she must have worn a uniform for that, she considered with a frown.

Her fingers shot up to the bridge of her nose as another headache attacked.

***

Captain Janeway strode with great purpose as she left her quarters and headed to the bridge. Within five minutes she would be conducting her first staff meeting in . . . well, a while, she considered, not really sure how long it had been exactly.  It almost felt like her first day back to school, only she was the teacher to whom everyone looked to for guidance.

As she was greeted by a few friendly smiles along the short trip to the bridge, she knew she could not ignore the fact of her absence or the Uttuskans.  However, she would not dwell on her poor judgment.  What was done, was done, she reminded herself.  She had to move forward.

Arriving at the conference room door, she took a deep breath, not really knowing what sheíd say.  But then, it wasnít the first time sheíd have to fly by the seat of her pants - especially in the Delta Quadrant.

The doors opened and she entered, finding her senior staff standing. "Captain on deck!" Tom Paris called out with a big smile, causing her senior staff to snap to attention.  Although with Seven, who stared at the far wall, there was no noticeable difference in her normally rigid stance.

"At ease and sit - before you all sprain something," Captain Janeway said wryly, the familiar joke prompting a few chuckles as she took the chair at the head of the table.

Chakotay smiled warmly as she sat where she belonged.

"Welcome back, Captain," Mr. Nelix said enthusiastically.

"Itís good to be back, Mr. Nelix," she said politely, glancing a moment at the Doctor, who sighed.  "Well, weíve got a few busy days ahead of us with the mining of Dilithium from the Balleto system as well as exploring our trade opportunities.  Mr. Nelix, are there any territorial claims to the asteroid belt?"

"No Captain, that region is not part of any territorial claims."

"Thatís one less thing to worry about," she noted. "Have you finished your review of the cultures?"

"I have.  The people of Lataria and Balleto are of the same humanoid race, but over the centuries, two distinctly different cultures have emerged.  A group of Balletians migrated to Lataria and established the Latarian society, which is rooted in science and technology.  It appears the Latarians are far more technologically advanced than the Balletians, who have remained predominately rural, though they do have warp technology, but rarely use it.  Another distinct difference between the two cultures is that the Balletians have retained their strong belief in Rophayhe, a religious figure of peace and love."

"A deity?" Harry asked.

"As far as I can tell," Mr. Nelix said. "Quite a fascinating history of this Rophayhe, who is also called "The Shepherd."  Over the centuries, Rophayhe is reported to have accomplished amazing miracles for the people, yet has never been seen."

"Maybe we can ask real nice and get Rophayhe to send us home," Tom joked.

"With our luck, weíd be sent back to the Jurassic period," Harry commented.

"Do the Latarians have any religions or belief systems of note?" Captain Janeway asked Nelix.

"Oddly, the only notable reference to religion is their distinct rejection of Rophayhe."

"Fascinating," Tuvok said.

Kathryn could understand a people of science rejecting an intangible religious concept.  Belief in something you canít prove is a difficult leap for a logical being.

As another headache struck, Kathrynís hand shot up to pinch the bridge of her nose. Chakotay looked at the Doctor, who was about to say something but Janeway continued.  "I suppose, Mr. Nelix, you will want to explore the Latarian trade opportunities first?" Captain Janeway guessed.

"Yes, Captain.  Due to their technology, I expect we will find more of what we could use there.  But I donít want to miss out on visiting Balleto.  The Balletian culture sounds fascinating," Nelix offered with his usual enthusiasm. "I have a feeling weíll find unique trade opportunities there."

"Shore leave?" Tom suddenly and predictably questioned, innocently looking at Captain Janeway, who regarded him with amusement.

"Not a bad idea, Tom.  Mr. Tuvok, Iíd like your recommendations on shore leave sites for both planets after we finish with the mining operations."

"Yes, Captain."

"Excellent," Tom said enthusiastically.  BíElanna rolled her eyes causing Tomís big smile to fade.

Looking over to Seven, she took a fortifying breath.  "Seven, what is the status of the mining preparations?" Janeway asked, biting the bullet.

Surprising the senior staff, Seven just silently stared straight ahead.  Kathryn didnít know whether to be angry or relieved that Seven wasnít talking to her.  She opted for relieved. Anger took too much energy, she considered as BíElanna looked around uncomfortably and thankfully interjected.

"Uh, the modifications to the Delta Flyer will be completed by the end of the shift and we are about 55% complete on the backup shuttle.  We can start mining as soon as we reach the outermost asteroid belt, which will be in about 73 hours," BíElanna reported.

The Doctor curiously eyed the stoic Seven then the Captain, who could feel his gaze. She hated the constant scrutiny.

"Thank you.  Iím sure you are anxious to get going on that," Captain Janeway looked at BíElanna, who nodded uncomfortably.  "If there isnít anything else . . . ." Kathryn looked around the table at her staff, who looked at each other curiously, confused by Sevenís lack of response, except for Tom who had other things on his mind.

"When we get our dilithium stores replenished, weíll have a welcome back party at Sandrineís. My treat," Tom offered enthusiastically, eyeing the Captain, who blinked and fought the urge to cringe.

Considering her recent experience, Kathryn had absolutely no desire to participate in holographic fantasies.

"Thatís a nice thought, Tom," she said, forcing a smile.  "Letís see how our mining operations go first, shall we? All right, dismissed."

As she got up to go to the bridge, Kathryn glanced over at Seven, who mechanically got up and left for Astrometrics.

It was for the best, she reminded herself and headed to the bridge.

***

"Seven?" The Doctor said softly, trailing after the former Borg.  He looked around the corridor discreetly, not wanting others to hear.

She turned and looked at him blankly, waiting for him to speak.

"Are you concerned it is too soon for Captain Janeway to return to duty?" he asked gently, wondering if that was what was bothering her.

"I am not," Seven said with blunt honesty and started to leave.

"Seven," he called out, eyeing her curiously.  "You are obviously upset about some. . . ."

"Doctor, I do not want to be late for my shift," she interrupted tersely and left.

***

Kathryn had to admit, sitting in the Captainís chair and being in command again gave her a sense of comfort she hadnít felt in a while.  She turned to Chakotay.  "Iíll be in my ready room, catching up on the admin, which has interestingly piled up during my absence," Kathryn said, eyeing her Executive Officer.

Chakotay grinned and joked "Have I mentioned how nice it is to have you back?"

She eyed him and grumbled "hmmm," as she got up.

Chakotay curiously watched Kathryn, who glanced over to Sevenís empty bridge station before leaving for the ready room.

***

At the end of the shift, Chakotay entered Astrometrics and found BíElanna and Seven at consoles, quietly entering data in support of the mining mission.

BíElanna looked up at the executive officer, but Seven continued to work.

"So, would you mind telling me whatís going on?" He asked softly, looking between the two.

"Uh...." BíElanna responded, looking over to Seven, equally interested in the answer.

"It is none of your concern, Commander," Seven said evenly, not looking up as she continued to enter data.

"Well, it is my concern when a member of this crew refuses to respond to a direct question from her Captain."

Seven finally stopped her data entry and looked up at Chakotay.  "I understand.  I will not let it happen again," she said mechanically and returned her attention to the panel and her data.

Chakotay looked at her a surprised moment, then BíElanna, who shrugged and glanced away uncomfortably.

"Good," he said hesitantly, then left with no more information than what he arrived with. He already knew Seven was upset with Kathryn. He planned on trying to pump BíElanna for information later, but sensed she didnít know any more than he did. Maybe he could go to the source and just ask the very private Captain why Seven was upset with her. Right, he considered and sighed heavily as he left Astrometrics.

***

After the shift finished, Captain Janeway quickly headed back to her state room.  Upon entering, she immediately ordered the computer to establish a privacy lock for her door and communicator and headed to the replicator.  "Scotch, neat," she said and picked up the drink.

After a sip, she went into the bedroom, with glass in hand.

After an unsuccessful attempt at going to sleep, Kathryn just sat in her darkened stateroom with another drink in hand, staring out at the Delta Quadrant stars whizzing by as her heart quietly ached.

***

Early the next morning, Kathryn was in automatic.  She forced herself to eat a nutritional supplement as she read the previous shiftís reports.  Although she had no appetite, she knew she couldnít skip too many meals and remain functional.  She would do what she had to. Just like she always did.

Finished with the reports, she placed the PADD down and slowly sipped her coffee.  She had coffee more out of habit and need rather than enjoyment. Everything seemed so much duller now.  Even her sense of taste, she considered curiously then glanced at the empty seat across the table.  She paused and placed the nearly finished cup down, struggling with the feeling of self-pity that welled up.  Meals were not supposed to be eaten alone, she thought sadly, recognizing the irony of her self-imposed isolation.

She never appreciated why her mother would become so upset when last-minute plans caused her husband, then later her children, to miss family meals.  "Wait until you have a family of your own, Kathryn," was all that a disappointed Gretchen Janeway said to her uncomprehending daughter.

Now she understood her motherís lament much better.  It wasnít just the time lost making a delicious dinner from scratch.  It was the lost time together.  Family meals were a time to be treasured and savored, she considered, recalling much happier times when Emma would enthusiastically spout off between mouthfuls some drama which had unfolded in math class or something truly funny that would make Seven la . . . .

With a sharp breath, Kathrynís face hardened as she tried to push those persistent thoughts from her mind.  Damn it!  Enough of that, she considered angrily, briskly standing up and reminding herself there was work to do.

***

At the end of another shift, Seven left Astrometrics and headed to Cargo Bay 2.

"Hi, Seven," Jennifer Delaney said as she and her twin sister, Megan greeted her with twin smiles in the passageway.

Seven nodded but did not stop to engage in social pleasantries as she had in the past.  She had no desire to further develop her human side with trivial and inefficient exercises that the Doctor had recommended.  Why should she want to be more human?  Being human . . . hurt.

As she walked briskly away, the Delaney sistersí smiles faded as they looked at her then each other curiously.

"Brrrr," Jennifer said, making a displeased face.

"Guess sheís busy," Megan said with a shrug and started walking with her sister to the turbo lift.

"Think sheíll ever tell us what itís like to be with the Captain?" Jennifer asked with a smirk, wiggling her eyebrows.  "I wonder if the Captain can actually warm her up . . . ."

"Iím not going there," Megan said with a cringe.

"Youíre not interested in knowing what Captain Janeway is like in bed?  Not even a teeny little bit??" Jennifer challenged, entering the turbo lift.

"Not enough to lose my life," Megan said, shivering at the painful possibilities.

"I bet we can get Tom to ask Seven," Jennifer snickered.

"Oh come on, I donít think even he is THAT stupid," Megan countered.

"Weíre talking the same guy who finished his Captain Proton chapter instead of having dinner with BíElanna on the anniversary of their first date?"

"Some people donít celebrate dating anniversaries," Megan offered with a shrug.

"Well, he should have known Klingons are really into anniversaries," Jennifer countered.

"Youíve got a point," Megan allowed. "That was pretty stupid."

"Not as stupid as getting that rash on Jallai," Jennifer said with a grin and added with a snicker "He couldnít walk right for days."

Megan snorted.  "You shouldnít have told him that plant was made into an expensive sexual enhancement cream."

"Is it my fault he didnít read the Doctorís medical advisories for shore leave?" Jennifer asked with a laugh.

***

"Naomi Wildman," Seven said crisply as she entered Cargo Bay 2 and saw the young Ktarian standing by her console.

"Hi Seven," she said with a warm smile.  "Howís the Captain?" she asked.

"Perhaps you should ask the Captain," Seven said neutrally.

"Uh, I asked the Doctor," she offered with cringe. "He said she was healthy and I should not worry about her," she said, biting her lip.

Seven found the Doctorís comment interesting since he was obviously still worried himself. Saying one thing and meaning another was an annoying human trait the hologram had adopted, she concluded. "But he wouldnít tell me what I wanted to know," Naomi said with a frown, causing Sevenís optical implant to rise.

"What do you want to know?" Seven asked.

"Whether she needs her Captainís assistant yet," Naomi said, looking at Seven hopefully. "Perhaps you can talk to her for me?"

"Naomi, a Captainís assistant should be comfortable talking to the Captain," Seven said, not ready to converse with Kathryn herself.  She wondered if she would ever be able to talk with her without the painful emotions her presence evoked.

"Sheís been through a lot and I just donít want to bug her, you know?  And if I bug her, she might say she doesnít need me anymore.  And I couldnít stand it if that happened," Naomi said with worry.

Seven winced slightly, understanding perfectly.

"Seven? Are you all right?"

"I am functioning within normal parameters," she said and continued, ignoring the skeptical look on Naomiís face.  "Perhaps you should discuss your position with Commander Chakotay.  He would likely know if the Captain requires assistance," she said evenly, returning her gaze to the console.

Naomi frowned. "Youíre not going to speak to her for me, are you?"

"Initiative is an important part of assisting the Captain," Seven said, prompting a dejected sigh.

"I guess Iíll go see her then," Naomi said without enthusiasm and left Seven to her console.

***

About two hours later, Naomi bounced happily into Cargo Bay 2. "Seven!"

"I take it your meeting with the Captain went well," Seven said dryly, finding the young girlís unbridled enthusiasm able to buoy her own feelings.

"I did.  Thanks for the advice, Seven.  After her little speech, I am sure glad I took it," Naomi said with relief.

"Speech?" Seven asked curiously.  Even after everything, she was still compelled to hear about Kathryn.

"Yes - about how pleased she was I took the initiative.  She said that life rarely just gives you what you want and that if I want something badly enough, I should be willing to take the steps necessary to get it, even if it seems too hard or scary," Naomi said with an air of wisdom, before beaming happily and lunging towards Seven for a hug. "Thanks, Seven."

Seven awkwardly hugged her back. "You are welcome.  However, I only gave you an idea. You were the one who acted on it," she reminded the young girl.

"Yeah, but if you hadnít given me the idea, I might have continued to wait for who knows how long!  Thanks again, Seven," Naomi said and bounced happily out of the Cargo Bay.

After the doors whooshed shut, Seven stared at them thoughtfully.


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