The Journey Home

A Star Trek: Voyager Story (J/7)

By Enginerd


Chapter 21 - Acceptance

From feeling nothing to feeling everything, what a difference a couple of candles make, Kathryn considered absently as they walked back to the Shuttle.

Sevenís arm was protectively around her and her arm was wrapped around Sevenís waist as they silently walked together. Kathryn took another deep breath, unable to recall ever feeling so drained and raw. Yet her heart was not too tired to continue to ache with sorrow. She was surprised when her eyes started to water again, thinking there were no more tears left after her breakdown at the lake. She was wrong.

Seven kissed her temple and squeezed her shoulder. She instinctively leaned into Seven, drawing upon her amazing strength.

After a few more steps, a trouble look crossed Captain Janewayís face as she watched Tom and BíElanna, walking hand-in-hand and talking softly, then glanced back to Naomi, Sam, Tuvok, and Harry, who were following them. She had never lost control like that in front of subordinates before, she considered, worried what that might mean to her command.

"Today, they are not your crew. Today, they are your family, Kathryn," Seven offered earnestly, knowing the private Captain was uneasy with her emotional outburst.

Kathryn looked at her with surprise, wondering how she knew her fears so well.

A raised ocular implant challenged her to disagree.

She couldnít. They were her family. Kathryn wiped the newest tears away and nodded at that amazing truth.

***

Upon their return to the Captainís quarters, Seven guided Kathryn to the couch. "Would you like something to eat?"

"Iím . . . not hungry," Kathryn said weakly, her voice raw.

"You should re-hydrate," she said with conviction.

"All right," Kathryn said softly as tears started again. "I canít seem to stop crying," she noted with irritation, hating the feeling of being out-of-control, especially emotionally.

"It is long overdue, Kathryn. And the tears will eventually stop," she countered softly, tapping in a code, instead of using a voice command for the replicator. She returned to the couch, placing a bowl of chicken soup and spoon in front of Kathryn on the coffee table. "This is your motherís recipe," she said uneasily, sitting on the couch.

The familiar smell and Sevenís amazing attentiveness brought more tears.

"I am sorry . . . I should not have assumed you wanted this. Perhaps a nutritional supplement?" Seven said uncomfortably, reaching for the bowl.

"Donít you dare," Kathryn said hoarsely, gently placing a hand on Sevenís, stopping her. Kathryn picked up the spoon and squeezed her hand before releasing it. "My mother would make me this when I was sick or just feeling really down," she offered quietly. "It always seemed to help."

Seven nodded, having had several conversations with the Gretchen Janeway hologram regarding comfort foods.

At the first taste, Kathryn paused a moment and more tears filled her eyes.

"I must have made an error in the program," Seven said with worry.

"No. No," Kathryn said, shaking her head. "This is . . . perfect," she said with honest amazement, taking another spoonful, and another, relishing the flavors of home.

Seven smiled with relief. Seeing the bowl quickly empty, she asked "Would you like more?"

"Uh...no thank you. Iím good," Kathryn said self-consciously, looking down at her empty bowl.

"I am pleased you enjoyed it," she said, delighted.

"I would say it is just as good as Momís but . . . I am certain that would get back to her," Kathryn said with feigned concern.

A joyful light filled Sevenís eyes as she softly promised "It will be our secret."

"For now," Kathryn said, then looked into Sevenís eyes. "But at some point, Iím going to have to tell her."

Seven looked at Kathryn with mixed emotions. "When the time comes, we will do it together."

Kathryn took Sevenís hand, knowing that would be Sevenís answer for any difficulty she would face. More tears filled her eyes. "Everything seems to make me cry now," Kathryn complained softly, wiping the tears with her free hand.

"You are tired and need to . . . " Seven said, interrupted when Kathryn leaned in and kissed her tenderly. Kathryn pulled back and rested her forehead against Sevenís with a soft sigh. She felt Sevenís hand slip behind her neck, gently caressing it.

Seven initiated the next kiss. It was not a kiss of searing passion, but one of unhurried love and devotion, a balm to their injured hearts which both women needed far more at that moment.

"You need to sleep," Seven said softly as she pulled back and caressed Kathrynís face.

"Stay with me?" Kathryn asked uncomfortably, still uncertain if that was too much to ask. But she really did not want Seven to leave.

"I did not realize there was another option," Seven challenged dryly, raising her optical implant.

Kathryn smiled with relief and wiped more damn tears from her face.

Seven stood and held out her hand, which Kathryn took without hesitation.

***

After the second day of watching Seven leave for her shift in Astrometrics, Kathryn almost felt like she was playing hooky. But she acknowledged she needed a bit more time to regain some control over her still volatile emotions. The first day, she couldnít stop crying. Years of pent-up tears fell as she thought about her many mistakes, including those before the Uttuskans. The tears continued as she remembered each and every loss in her life, including Emma . . . especially Emma. And tears fell for the guilt of her latest failure, being unable to protect an exceptional woman of faith from the violence of haters. But finally, she was beginning to feel more in control and not like she would burst into tears for any random sad thought. She was starting to look at things a little more objectively, thanks to Seven.

Seven had been incredibly attentive, but thankfully did not push her to talk. When she would tear up in front of the younger woman, she would receive a hug, not a bunch of questions. After the disturbing nightmares which still plagued her, she would receive tender kisses and loving caresses until she fell asleep again. Just being near Seven helped heal her ache, she considered, then frowned. Kathryn wondered how she could have possibly thought she could deal with this alone.

"Coffee, black. Hot."

Picking up the mug, she blew on the surface before taking a sip. She hummed in appreciation for the pleasing flavor, making a mental note to thank Seven, again, for improving the coffee settings. That woman certainly had a way with the replicator....

As she glanced around her stateroom, her eyes fell upon the stack of PADDs outlining the Uttuskan events. Kathryn sipped her coffee again and walked to the console. Staring at the PADDs a long, thoughtful moment, she set her mug down and collected them. She glanced towards the replicator and headed towards it. After placing the pile into the machine, she ordered "Computer, recycle."

Retrieving her mug, she wandered around the stateroom. Her eyes kept drifting back to the last PADD that had always been separate from the rest, the one of Harryís personal log. She slowly approached the coffee table and picked up the PADD she had read countless times. As she caressed its edge, she remembered Sevenís radiant smile, which made her even more stunning in that gorgeous wedding gown.

Once again in front of the replicator, she paused before placing the last PADD in. "Thank you, Harry," she whispered softly. "Computer, recycle."

After staring at the empty replicator a moment, Kathryn took a deep, cleansing breath, and went to her ensuite to change into her uniform.

***

As she recalculated the most expedient path through the nebula ahead of them, Seven found herself woefully inefficient and error prone. Her mind kept drifting back to the morning kiss she shared with Kathryn before she left for Astrometrics. With each comforting hug and tender kiss, Seven was finding it increasingly difficult to keep their physical interactions chaste. But Seven was determined not to push for more as Kathrynís heart mended. She wanted Kathryn to be comfortable enough to initiate increased physical intimacies . . . even if her lips still tingled from that perfect, lingering kiss they shared before she left this morning - a kiss that had managed to spark an ember of desire that slowly burned all day, making her crave a relief that only Kathrynís knowing touch could offer - a touch she knew would take her to amazing heights, over and over and . . . .

"Seven?" BíElanna called to her a second time.

Seven looked at her with surprise; she had not heard her enter Astrometrics.

"Are you OK?" BíElanna asked, never having startled Seven before.

"I am . . . fine," Seven said hesitantly, swallowing hard.

"Riiiight," BíElanna said skeptically, eyeing the decidedly not fine woman. She grew worried that the Captain might not be recovering as they all had hoped after the funeral. "Is there something I can do to help?" She asked gently.

Seven sighed, looking down at her incomplete and error ridden calculations with clear disgust. "I need to copulate," she admitted with great frustration, surprising herself the moment she blurted it aloud.

Why, oh WHY did she find herself in conversations like this with Seven, BíElanna thought, rolling her eyes wearily. "Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of a nice chat over lunch."

"I did not mean with you," Seven said tersely.

"Thank Kahless," BíElanna said flatly. "You wanna do lunch or . . . do what you need to do?" She asked with a wince.

"Lunch," Seven said decisively and marched towards the door.

***

When Captain Janeway entered Sickbay, the EMH materialized. "Please state the nature of . . . oh. Captain," he added without enthusiasm, eyeing her uneasily.

Kathryn held up her hands. "I come in peace."

"What a relief," he said coolly. "What can I do for you?"

Captain Janeway looked at him uncomfortably. "I have two reasons for being here. The first is to apologize. I know you were trying to help me. But I wasnít ready for it. I am so very sorry about how I acted towards you. I was rude and . . . very wrong," she said sincerely with a wince.

The Doctor eyed her with surprise. "Apology accepted," he offered with relief, glad he didnít have to worry about being decompiled any time soon. "And your second reason?" He asked curiously.

"I think . . . I think you were right," she said with difficulty.

"About?"

"Talking, about what happened. I want to get a peaceful nightís sleep. I want . . . to enjoy what I have, without guilt and . . . ," Kathryn said awkwardly, with tears filling her eyes.

The Doctor was amazed at the words and tears, pleased by this surprising progress.

"And I really want to stop these damn tears," she added, wiping them away with irritation. "I need your help, Doctor," she finally admitted what he believed all along.

Any remaining injured feelings were immediately pushed aside; the Doctor had a greater calling. "I will do whatever I can, Captain," he vowed solemnly.

"Thank you, Doctor," Kathryn said sincerely, taking a fortifying breath.

"So . . . I guess I could say I told you so," the Doctor teased with a self-satisfied smile.

"Donít push it," Captain Janeway said, eyeing him pointedly.

His smile faded. "Wouldnít think of it," he responded uncomfortably.

 

***

BíElanna caught up to Seven in the corridor and complained. "Geeze, whereís the fire? Uh, never mind," she said, then snickered. "You know a cold shower might help," she offered with a smirk.

"You are not amusing," Seven said, though considered she might be driven to try BíElannaís suggestion.

"But Iím amused," BíElanna said with a chuckle. "If not a shower, perhaps some self-help?"

"I do believe Mr. Paris is a bad influence on you."

"I do believe you are right," BíElanna said with an easy smile as they entered the turbolift. "Mess Deck," she commanded, causing the lift to move.

The happy smile looked good on BíElanna, Seven considered. "I take it your relationship with him has improved," she asked curiously.

"It has. We finally started talking about things, important things. Heís never been in a serious relationship before, which is pretty obvious from some of the thoughtless things he has done - like missing our first dating anniversary for Captain Proton and leaving me high and dry on Jallai to party with the locals...." she said, still annoyed at that ruined shore leave.

"He did not party with the locals," Seven promptly corrected her.

"...asking me to marry him during Priestess Helliaís funeral," BíElanna continued her list, then stopped when Sevenís words caught up to her. "What did you say??"

"He actually asked you to marry him??" Seven asked with surprise.

"What the HELL do you mean by that?" she asked angrily.

"I was only expressing surprise that he had enough nerve," she offered, then sighed noting BíElanna appeared only slightly appeased. "Did you accept?" Seven asked with great curiosity.

"No. And what do you mean he did not party with the locals on Jallai??" BíElanna asked with irritation suspecting the worst - that Paris was partying with fellow crew members.

"Why not?" Seven asked with greater curiosity, having expected an agreement.

"It was at a funeral, for Kahlessí sake! Jallai?!?" BíElanna blurted.

"Does it truly matter where someone proposes?" Seven asked, prompting a few choice Klingon curses and a threat of disembowelment, which Seven knew BíElanna would be unable to accomplish, especially using one of Nelixís spatulas.

Seven sighed, realizing she would need to explain first before she obtained more information about this or any other proposal from BíElanna. "Mr. Paris failed to read the shore leave advisories for Jallai," Seven offered. "He was duped by Jennifer Delaney into believing the Rubera fern was made into an expensive topical cream for sexual enhancement," she said, causing a look of horror on BíElannaís face; she had read the advisory....

"If he followed the advisoryís guidance for treatment of the resulting rash, Mr. Paris spent his shore leave in a bath of Guplo fruit," Seven noted.

BíElanna cringed as she recalled the oddly sweet smell that hung around him for days after they left the planet. She just thought it was some new cologne he picked up on the planet and was glad when he ran out. Her cringing transformed into annoyance. "That idiot!" she snapped. "He knew I was furious with him for standing me up but he was incapacitated with a rash because he listened to Jennifer Delaney?" She spat.

"Indeed," Seven said as they exited the turbolift and headed to the mess hall.

"Why didnít you tell me??" BíElanna asked, wondering if she should be irritated with Seven.

"We expected Mr. Paris to ultimately overcome his embarrassment and explain to you what had happened to minimize your anger. We did not wish to add to his . . . discomfort."

"We??" BíElanna cringed.

"Kathryn and I."

"Great." BíElanna rolled her eyes. Shaking her head at the situation, she offered absently. "You know, Iíve noticed the Delaney sisters have been a bit jumpy around me...."

"Perhaps they fear your anger," Seven offered as they entered the Mess Hall.

They noticed the Delaney sisters were sitting at a table, unaware of their arrival. BíElanna looked at Seven with a devious glint in her eyes. "You want to have some fun?"

Seven looked at her curiously, then grew concerned when BíElanna marched to their table, not waiting for an answer.

"DaHjaj 'oH QaQ jaj Daq yIn! 'uQ'a' 'ej quv jaj!" The Chief Engineer shouted, startling both sisters, who jumped, one knocking over her cup and spilling her drink on the table. Both scrambled to their feet to put distance between the angry Klingon and them.

The other diners in the mess hall glanced to the odd scene with interest and a few chuckles.

"BíElanna, you should not do this," Seven said gravely as she came up behind BíElanna, serving to unnerve the sisters more.

"Iím Megan!" Megan blurted in panic, putting some more distance between the Klingon and herself as she backed towards the door. "Sheís the one you want!!" Megan pointed to her sister, whose mouth dropped.

"I canít believe you!" Jennifer said indignantly, glaring at her sister.

BíElanna growled at both of them. Jennifer stumbled back a few nervous steps just as Megan did an about face to escape through the nearby door, running directly into the bulkhead, managing to knock herself out cold.

"Kahless!" BíElanna gasped, staring at the fallen sister.

Seven sighed heavily and tapped her comm badge. "Doctor, please report to the Mess Hall...."

***

After Megan regained consciousness and was medically cleared by the Doctor, the Delaney sisters reported to the Ready Room with Seven and BíElanna. All stood at attention in front of the desk, waiting for the Captain, who stood on the second level, gazing out at the stars with her hands on her hips.

Seven had always thought Kathryn was an imposing figure. Although her mere physical appearance, while immensely attractive, would not strike many as intimidating, there was something about the smaller woman that made her seem larger than life . . . and completely captivating, Seven noted as her eyes drifted over the uniformed figure with great appreciation.

Captain Janeway made them wait, which Seven knew was part of manipulating the encounter to her advantage. Kathryn had once told her that the greatest leaders in Federation history had a bit of dramatic flair, joking that if Phoebe ever decided to give up painting, her sister, the drama queen of the Janeway family, would have made a better leader than either their father or her. Seven highly doubted that, certain history would include Kathryn Janeway among historyís greatest leaders. She could feel Kathrynís intensity radiating off of her - and a single word had yet to be spoken. Her intensity was . . . intoxicating, she thought, closely watching her, eager to learn how Kathryn would handle this situation.

When Captain Janeway finally turned around and looked at them, the word regal came to Sevenís mind as an unexpectedly strong wave of desire washed over her.

Kathryn silently looked over the women with a hard, appraising gaze.

The Delaneys had twin expressions of barely veiled terror in their eyes. Good.

BíElanna looked uneasy and guilty. Good.

As she descended to the lower level, she glanced at Seven and found piercing blue eyes looking directly at her, filled with a clear want she had not seen in a very long time. Good . . .God.

Captain Janeway hesitated in her gait, surprised by her bodyís response; though it had been a while. She cleared her throat and forced herself to focus on walking, and not the blush that she felt wash over her. Grateful she had successfully joined them on the lower level without falling on her face, knowing being sprawled out on the floor would have made it rather difficult to maintain an intimidating command image, she glanced at Megan and asked "How are you feeling?"

"Fine, Captain," Megan said uneasily.

"Iím glad to hear it. Seven, please recount what happened in the mess hall," Captain Janeway asked as she sat at her desk. Daring to look up at the young woman, she noted Seven now staring intently at the desk with a slight grimace on her face, not answering. "Seven?"

Seven blinked. "You wish me to recount what happened in the mess hall?" she asked, slightly flustered.

"Yes. Please," Captain Janeway said, eyeing her with some concern. Noting an amused look on BíElannaís face which she didnít like, Kathryn glared at the Chief Engineer, whose amusement immediately evaporated.

"At 1223, Shipís Standard Time, Lieutenant Torres and I entered the mess hall and noticed the Delaney sisters were dining. Lieutenant Torres asked if I wanted to have fun and immediately proceeded to the Delaneyís table. She shouted "DaHjaj 'oH QaQ jaj Daq yIn! 'uQ'a' 'ej quv jaj!"

 

Captain Janeway curiously watched Seven, who still seemed to find her desk remarkably fascinating as she recounted the events. She glanced at BíElanna, who wisely focused straight ahead without any discernable expression. With a sigh, Kathryn concluded she would have to solve this mystery later.

"The Delaneyís were startled and attempted to distance themselves from Lieutenant Torres. Megan Delaney identified herself and stated her sister was whom Lieutenant Torres was after. Lieutenant Torres growled at both, frightening them. Each Delaney sought to distance themselves further. Megan Delaney abruptly turned around and ran into the bulkhead, knocking herself unconscious. I summoned the Doctor for assistance."

"Ensigns, do you understand Klingon?" Captain Janeway asked.

"No . . . maíam," they said hesitantly.

"Seven, why donít you translate for them," Janeway said and sat back, eyeing the twins.

"DaHjaj 'oH QaQ jaj Daq yIn, means "Today is a good day to live," and 'uQ'a' 'ej quv jaj means "Feast and honor the day."

"Thank you, Seven. You are dismissed," Janeway said, causing the younger woman to briefly look up uneasily, with surprising disappointment, before she schooled her features, briskly nodded and left.

The Delaney sisters looked at BíElanna with surprise. "You werenít going to kill us?" Megan said with amazement, drawing Captain Janewayís attention back from the door.

"Of course not! Donít be an..." BíElanna started but stopped herself and forced herself to calm down, knowing it wouldnít be helpful to call them idiots in front of the Captain. "Look, I just thought it would be fun to scare you. I never meant for you to get hurt," BíElanna added with a guilty wince, looking at Megan.

"Ensigns, now why did you think Lieutenant Torres wanted to harm you?" Captain Janeway asked conversationally, tilting her head and looking at them curiously.

The twins looked at each other then at the Captain nervously, knowing she already knew the answer.

"I played a practical joke on Lieutenant Paris, who I knew did not read the Doctorís shore leave advisory. I told him . . . ." Jennifer offered reluctantly, knowing everyone in the room knew.

"Enough," Janeway interrupted, holding up her hand. "Spare me the gruesome details."

Exhaling heavily, Captain Janeway looked at the three. "I do not have the words to describe how disappointed I am in all three of you," she said, prompting three winces. "You are Starfleet Officers, yet you have behaved like first-year Midshipmen! Worse yet, your juvenile behavior in each case caused injury to another member of my crew!!" Captain Janeway growled possessively, her voice rumbling dangerously low.

The three women cringed.

"Megan, you knew your sister was lying to another crew member about the . . . medicinal values of the Jalliaian fern. While you did not instigate the lie, you helped perpetuate it. I did not think I would have to ask this of any of my officers, but do you understand the concepts of honor and integrity, Ensign?" Janeway asked sharply, staring at her pointedly.

Meganís lower lip started to quiver. "Yes, maíam."

"Do you also understand that your actions have given me great unease over your judgment?"

"Yes, maíam," Megan offered weakly, blinking back tears.

"You and your sister are almost through your bridge qualifications, yet I seriously wonder if I can trust the safety of this ship and her crew to your judgment," Captain Janeway said sharply, successfully driving her point home; the Delaneys looked like they had been punched in the gut.

"I will be watching both of you closely. And only after I am satisfied you have out grown your juvenile behavior, will I allow you to stand watch on my bridge."

The twins both exhaled with some relief that they hadnít destroyed their chance at qualifying as bridge crew.

"You will not discuss this "joke" you played on Jallai with anyone. That is an order," Captain Janeway said tersely, then asked conversationally "I am able to trust you two will follow my orders, arenít I?"

"Yes, maíam," Megan and Jennifer said, their voices cracking. The question had hurt.

"What a relief. Megan, you are dismissed," Janeway said coldly, watching Megan quickly about face and leave the ready room as she wiped her eyes.

Captain Janeway turned her hard gaze upon the remaining two officers, who swallowed hard.

***

"I wonder what that is all about," Harry said, glancing at the Ready Room doors after Megan Delaney left, then to Chakotay expectantly.

"The Captain wanted to take care of this personally," Chakotay said with a shrug. "Iím sure sheíll fill me in later."

Tom slouched in his chair.

The Ready Room doors opened again, this time a very unhappy looking Chief Engineer emerged and marched to the turbo-lift, not bothering to look anyone in the eye.

"Tom, do you know?" Harry asked after the turbo-lift doors shut, beside himself with curiosity.

"With BíElanna? I donít even want to guess," Tom joked with a forced smile, getting Harry to nod and chuckle.

"Tuvok? Any idea?" Harry asked, looking expectantly. As security chief, he was always well informed.

"Indeed I do have an "idea," Mr. Kim. My "idea" is that your time would be better spent in determining the source of the aft sensor drift and correcting it, rather than engaging in speculative gossip," Tuvok offered, causing Chakotay to chuckle and Tom to breathe a little easier.

Kim winced at the comment. But his curiosity skyrocketed when he saw Jennifer Delaney suddenly emerge from the Ready Room, looking . . . sick. She rushed to the turbolift, without looking anyone in the eye.

After a few minutes, Captain Janeway emerged, looking a little fatigued as she rubbed the bridge of her nose. "Commander Chakotay, I am going back on leave. You have the conn."

"Aye, aye, Captain," Chakotay said, glancing with amusement at Ensign Kim, who looked like he was going to explode with curiosity.


Chapter 22 - Holodeck One

Kathryn strolled the decks to ease her irritation with three normally excellent officers, whom she had thoroughly dressed down for their childish behavior. She was certain those individuals would not even consider pulling a practical joke for . . . well, possibly until they got to the Alpha Quadrant, which would be just fine with her.

She shook her head, wondering if they had managed to pass through a space phenomena that had somehow transformed her officers into immature idiots. She hadnít missed the look of terror cross Tomís face as she briefly glanced at him as she entered the turbolift. Hopefully, he had learned that, in addition to his lesson on reading shore leave advisories, if something sounded too good to be true, it probably was.

Well, there were always exceptions to the rule, she considered with a smile as she entered Astrometrics. Her eyes eagerly sought her Astrometrics Officer but found the room curiously empty. Tapping her comm badge, she said "Computer, locate Seven of Nine."

"Seven of Nine is in Holodeck 1," the pleasant voice said, surprising her. Perhaps she is running another slip stream simulation . . . or something, she considered. She really wanted to find out what was going on with Seven, who acted rather oddly in her Ready Room; but she really disliked the idea of holodecks ever since the Uttuskan Device.

Deciding to let Seven have her privacy, she returned to her quarters. After changing into casual clothes and reading the dayís reports, Kathryn started to pace, knowing she couldn't expect Seven to continue to forsake all other interests to spend all her time with a moody Captain. But she grew really curious as to what was occupying Sevenís time.

"Computer, what program is . . . ," Kathryn said, than grimaced. "Belay that," she added, feeling pathetic. Seven was either working or needed some well-deserved time away from her, she considered, recalling her mother having mentioned that all couples needed time apart occasionally. Although with her father, she suspected her mother got more time apart than she bargained for.

And it wasn't as if she couldnít have a pleasant evening alone, Kathryn considered, having always cherished her privacy. She recalled how with Mark and Justin, she found herself needing time away from them, just like her mother had mentioned. But she had to admit, the amount of private time she desired was a bit excessive for a happily engaged woman. Yet with Seven, the only thing she found herself desiring was to be near the young woman, even if they were just silently working together. And when Seven wasnít near, Kathryn felt as if a part of her was missing. Like now, she considered as she glanced around her empty stateroom with a frown.

***

In the guest bathroom, Seven of Nine dried herself off as efficiently as she could with a fluffy white towel. Even with her nanoprobes regulating her temperature, she still shivered. The cold shower had been a temporary solution; one she did not intend to repeat, she considered, shivering again. She looked around the bathroom, amazed by how primitive the room, as well as the rest of the farm house was. There were no individual room temperature controls, only amazingly inefficient hot-water radiators. She shook her head at the thought of only one communications terminal in the entire house. There was also the notable absence of replicators; Gretchen preferred to use a gas stove to cook and a refrigerator to store the perishables. It was truly amazing how anyone could function, let alone thrive, in an exceptionally inefficient environment like this, she considered. Yet the Janeways had.

Had someone asked her during her first few years on Voyager whether she would choose to live in an antiquated construct such as the Janeway farm house, she would have answered with a resounding no. Yet this place was much more than an antiquated construct. It was a home, with a large inviting fireplace to be shared with loved ones. The welcoming kitchen, perfect for conversation while preparing a meal, was arranged with surprisingly pleasing efficiency. The bedrooms were small and cozy, with handmade quilts lovingly covering each bed. She had never appreciated the distinction between a house and a home until she had met Kathryn and seen her program of home. Then she knew, any place, even an antiquated structure, could be a home if you were with the right person.

She donned her biosuit and emerged from the bathroom, greeted by the aroma of freshly baked brownies; Kathrynís favorite dessert. A small smile emerged as she entered the kitchen and saw Gretchen Janeway pour herself a cup of coffee and look up with a warm smile.

"Would you care for a cup, dear?"

"No, thank you," Seven answered as she sat on the stool at the kitchen counter.

"You sure?" she asked as she carefully pulled out a still warm brownie from the baking dish and placed it on a plate. "Kathryn believes a chocolate brownie and a cup of coffee are a perfect match," she noted with a smirk.

"You have already told me, but I actually prefer milk . . . or any other liquid," Seven added flatly, causing Gretchen to grin and shake her head with amusement. The older woman magically pulled out a glass of milk from the refrigerator, having anticipated the answer, and placed both the glass and plate in front of Seven.

Looking curiously down at the milk and the decadent chocolate treat, Seven said "I do not require nutritional supplements at this time."

"Nutrition is certainly not the point, dear. Or have you forgotten what I said about comfort foods?" Gretchen challenged.

"I have an eidetic . . . ," Seven responded automatically, then frowned. "You think I require comfort food?" Seven asked curiously, glancing between the baked treat and Gretchen.

Gretchen chuckled softly as she sat next to Seven with a coffee mug in hand. "Well, itís not every day my daughterís girlfriend stops by for a cold shower," she offered with a shrug, sipping her coffee.

Seven looked at her uncomfortably, then quickly reached for the milk and sipped.

"Eat the brownie before it gets cold," Gretchen offered as Seven placed the milk down. "Itís best when itís warm and gooey."

"I had not considered there was a optimal temperature and texture for this recipe," Seven said, picking up a fork. "I failed to include it in my programming of Kathrynís replicator," she said with a slight frown.

"Trial and error is how you learn, dear," Gretchen noted, sipping her coffee.

"Trial and error are inefficient," Seven noted with a dissatisfied frown.

"I suppose so," Gretchen said with a grin. "But if everything came out perfect the first time, weíd miss out on the fun of experimentation and discovery."

Seven eyed her thoughtfully and nodded, silently agreeing there was some satisfaction in experimentation. She took a taste of the brownie and washed it down with a sip of milk. "It is best paired with milk," Seven asserted with a superior look, causing Gretchen to chuckle.

"Good thing you have a replicator on the ship. Iíve heard that the Borg don't milk cows," Gretchen noted with an innocent look.

Seven eyed the hologram suspiciously, wondering if Kathryn had mentioned her previous, unsuccessful campaign to get her to milk a cow. "They do not and will not," she said defiantly and took another sip.

"I told her that," Gretchen said with a chuckle. "Any good gossip?" she asked, sipping her coffee.

Seven considered the question, then answered "Lieutenant Paris has proposed to BíElanna."

"How wonderful!" Gretchen responded with a delighted smile and asked eagerly "Whenís the wedding?"

"BíElanna has not accepted," Seven said with a perplexed look.

"Why on Earth not?"

"She did not believe it was the time or place to propose."

"Where did he propose to her?" Gretchen asked with a grimace.

"It was at a funeral for a good friend of Kathrynís."

"Oh dear," Gretchen said gravely, shaking her head. "Is Kathryn all right? I havenít seen her in many weeks. The only news I get about her is through you, and you hardly tell me a thing," Gretchen said with a bit of censure.

"Kathryn has had a difficult time; but I do believe she will be all right," Seven said, truly believing it. Kathryn had made great strides in the past few days.

"Difficult time?" Gretchen probed as any mother would.

"At some point she may wish to discuss it with you; however, it is not my place to discuss the details," Seven offered uncomfortably.

Gretchen sighed heavily, shaking her head. "I wish you would; but I do understand, dear. Starship Captains can be rather possessive of their privacy, even with their immediate family," Gretchen complained mildly and noted the thoughtful look on Sevenís face as she took another sip of milk.

"How about you? Are you all right?" Gretchen asked, placing a concerned hand on Sevenís.

Seven looked at her curiously. "I . . . was not the one who had experienced what she had. . . ."

"Oh, Seven," Gretchen said, shaking her head and squeezing the younger womanís hand. "Starship Captains may have it rough; but Iíll tell you, their loved ones have just as rough a time, and perhaps, sometimes, even a harder time. They are the ones who have to deal with the fallout and pick up the pieces . . . if they are even allowed to," Gretchen said with authority, squeezing Sevenís hand again with a small, knowing smile, before picking up her cup of coffee. "I was lucky, though. I had my family to lean on when things got difficult," she said and looked at Seven. "I hope you know, you can always come here, Seven."

Seven looked at the hologram with wonder, greatly moved by the offer. She wished she could actually meet the woman, whose hologram made her feel like she actually had a family. "You have helped me already, Gretchen. And I suspect, I will continue to rely on your advice," Seven said honestly.

"Good," Gretchen said with satisfaction and sipped her coffee.

After a few quiet moments, Seven offered "I am confused about BíElannaís rejection of Tom. I believe BíElanna wanted him to ask her to marry him, yet she was not happy when he actually did."

"Well, I am impressed Tom Paris finally got up enough nerve to do it. But, dear, he really could have chosen a better time and place," Gretchen said, shaking her head gently.

"Explain."

"Well, the best time and circumstance would actually depend on the couple. But some of the more common occasions are romantic dinners, or walks, hopefully someplace other than during a funeral," she added dryly. Seven frowned.

"A woman wants to feel special," Gretchen elaborated. "But Iím afraid his proposal during a funeral did not make BíElanna feel like he put much thought into it. She may have felt like he was asking for the wrong reasons."

"Such as?"

"Oh, one could hypothesize that the funeral made him worried about his mortality and that the proposal was just a knee-jerk response to that fear, not a true desire to get married."

Seven considered her words. "I do not think that is the case. I would actually expect his fear of morality to increase upon their marriage."

"Uh...good," Gretchen said hesitantly, then offered "Then Iíd expect him to ask her again . . . in a more personal setting."

Seven nodded, agreeing with her assessment. Glancing down to Gretchenís simple gold wedding band, she asked curiously "How did Admiral Janeway propose to you?"

Gretchen grinned with satisfaction. "What makes you think Edward proposed to me?"

"I thought you were a traditionalist," Seven answered uncertainly.

"I am. But that doesnít mean I was going to wait for him to ask. Good Lord, I think Iíd still be waiting," Gretchen joked.

"Why did he not ask you?" Seven asked, perplexed.

Gretchen smiled and sipped her coffee. "Edward tended to . . . overanalyze things. We had a wonderful romance and I knew he loved me. But he was worried he wouldnít be a good husband or father because he lived and breathed Starfleet, commanding a ship was a part of him. He could never give that up and be happy and Iíd never ask him to," Gretchen said firmly as Seven hung on every word. "I understood his duty. I understood the sacrifices weíd both make and that Iíd have to share him with Starfleet. He just didnít understand I understood."

"I believe Kathryn has similar doubts," Seven said thoughtfully, recalling their disturbing conversation during their long shuttle ride to Utopia Planitia in Kathrynís nightmare.

"Iím not surprised. Kathryn does take after her father in many respects," Gretchen offered casually, sipping her coffee with a small smile.

"How did you propose to him?" Seven asked with great curiosity.

***

Kathryn bit her lip, standing at the door to Holodeck 1, not exactly thrilled to be entering a false environment. She had enough difficulty recovering from her dream reality to give her pause in using the holodeck. A topic to discuss with the Doctor another day, she supposed and took a deep breath before pressing the console to request entrance. The computer tweeped oddly and did not connect her to the current user. She frowned and pressed it again, receiving the same unusual tweep.

"Computer, run a diagnostic on Holodeck 1 systems," Kathryn said with growing unease.

"Running. The current program, and primary and secondary optical interfaces are operating within normal parameters," the computer reported, easing Kathrynís concern a bit. "A defect has been located in the communications console module, four alpha; associated access functions are inoperative. Level 2 maintenance is required."

She sighed and stared at the door, not wanting to barge in, but really wanting to see Seven.

"Has a privacy lock been established for the current program?" She asked hesitantly.

"Negative."

"Does the defect in the communications console module affect the privacy locks?" She asked, just to make sure.

"Negative," the computer responded.

Taking a deep breath, Kathryn finally entered the holodeck. To her surprise, she found herself on a familiar farm, looking up the path to her Indiana home. Unless her mother was helping with some of the calculations, she suspected Seven wasnít working on the slipstream problem.

Her eyes scanned the area with curious unease. She knew this was just a program, yet found herself wandering the grounds to make sure nothing had actually changed. Her illogical anxiety faded, seeing no evidence of her nightmare. There were no black plumes of acrid smoke billowing up from angry fires. There was no frantic exodus of desperate ships being blasted out of the darkened sky. There was no frightening army of drones, including newly assimilated family members, surrounding her. No Queen tormenting her and her inferior humanity. . . .

It had been only a nightmare, she reminded herself, almost having come to terms with that fact. As her eyes fell upon the barn, she blinked, recalling her last stand . . . and her disturbing actions. Her heart still had some healing to do, she acknowledged, feeling the traces of utter devastation that still lingered in her soul.

A gentle breeze washed over her, bringing with it the welcoming scent of brownies.

***

"How dashing he looked in his dress uniform," Gretchen said wistfully, recalling the day with a small sigh as she walked over to the fireplace and picked up a picture of the bride and groom, proudly displayed on her mantle. "I felt like a princess when we waltzed at the reception," she admitted with a soft chuckle, showing Seven the picture.

"You looked like a princess," Seven offered, looking at the beautiful gown.

Kathryn cleared her throat, startling both women. "Hi," she offered uncomfortably.

"Kathryn! I should have known you would show up; I made brownies," Gretchen teased and placed the wedding picture back on the mantle.

"Sorry to intrude; I requested admittance but the console wasnít working," Kathryn said with a guilty cringe.

"Is something wrong?" Seven asked, seeing a brief glimpse of sadness in Kathrynís eyes. Kathryn shook her head and took a few steps to her. She took her hand and gently kissed Sevenís lips.

As she pulled back, Kathryn exhaled, feeling like a heavy weight had been lifted from her heart. She looked up at the still concerned blonde. "Uh, not any more," Kathryn finally answered with a sheepish smile, feeling a little foolish.

Seven looked curiously at the hologram of her mother, who smiled warmly. "Iíll leave you two alone," Gretchen said knowingly and started to leave.

"Uh, you mentioned brownies?" Kathryn blurted hopefully.

"Sometimes I really wonder about your priorities, Kathryn," Gretchen said bluntly.

"No brownies?"

"Fine, Iíll get you a brownie first," Gretchen blurted with a belabored sigh, causing Kathryn to smile and follow her into the kitchen. She hopped on a stool by the counter. After serving a plate, Gretchen eyed her daughter knowingly. "Coffee?"

"Perfect," Kathryn said happily, Gretchen rolled her eyes and poured her a cup.

"Anything else, my demanding daughter?"

"Nope. Thanks," Kathryn said, then remembered her manners. "Oh, Seven, would you like some?"

"I have already had a brownie and milk, thank you," Seven said, trying to be patient.

"Milk, huh?" Kathryn said with interest, eyeing Seven with a smirk.

"Well, Iíll leave you two alone now," Gretchen said and left the kitchen.

Kathryn took a large bite of the baked treat and hummed with satisfaction.

"Kathryn?" Seven said, her impatience finally seeping through as Kathryn took a sip of coffee.

"There really isnít anything wrong, Seven. Really," Kathryn offered, dabbing her lips with a napkin and added self-consciously "Well, except that you were gone a while and, well, I missed you," she said uncomfortably and cringed. "Pretty pathetic, arenít I?"

"No," Seven countered, taking Kathrynís hand in hers as a contented smile bloomed. "I am pleased you missed me."

"So you are not irritated that I barged into your holodeck time?"

"Why would I be irritated with you for wanting to see me?" Seven responded curiously.

"I know Iíve been monopolizing your time lately and, well, I donít want you to feel...suffocated by me," Kathryn responded honestly, surprising Seven. Then she laughed uneasily, adding uncomfortably "and yet, here I am, intruding...."

"Kathryn, you are not intruding. If I did not want your company, I would tell you," Seven said firmly.

Kathryn pulled Sevenís hand to her lips and kissed it. "Good," Kathryn said, but still looked a bit worried.

"What is it?"

Kathryn laughed self-consciously. "Iím not used to feeling so . . . needy. Iíve never felt that way about anyone. Itís a bit unnerving," she admitted, looking at Seven, receiving a gaze of understanding.

"I like being needed, Kathryn. Very much. And you are not the only one who feels . . . needy," Seven admitted.

Kathryn looked at Seven an intense moment, then stood. She slid one arm around Sevenís waist and gently cupped her cheek. She slowly pulled Seven in and kissed her soundly, wanting to demonstrate exactly how much she needed the younger woman. She pulled back and smiled, finding Sevenís eyes had shut. "I do need you. So very much," she whispered and caressed Sevenís cheek, watching crystal blue eyes blink open. "Come on, letís sit by the fire," Kathryn suggested, taking Sevenís hand and leading her into the living room.

"There is no fire," Seven pointed out hoarsely, then realized that was not entirely true.

"Not yet," Kathryn said, looking at her with a devilish glint in her eye before she kissed Seven again, letting her lips linger, tease, and caress Sevenís. Pulling back, Kathryn smiled and squeezed her hand before releasing it to go to the fireplace.

Seven blinked again as she took a deep, calming breath that did not help. She glanced back at the guest bathroom unhappily.

"Computer, delete holodeck characters," Kathryn said, crouching down to place some kindling into a small pile in the fireplace.

Seven felt a jolt of anticipation at the command and closely watched Kathryn, who placed a larger log on top of the pile of kindling.

"Would it not be more efficient to order the computer to do that?" Seven asked with amusement, a typical question for all the traditionalist acts Kathryn enjoyed.

"Completing a basic chore, like building a fire, or say, milking a cow, can be very satisfying," Kathryn offered, looking up at Seven innocently.

"You will not change my mind," Seven countered firmly as Kathryn stood and glanced at her with a grin.

Kathrynís eyes drifted to the mantle and the prominently displayed wedding picture. Her amusement faded.

Seven watched curiously as Kathryn picked up the picture and stared at it thoughtfully for a few moments.

During a rare night where Kathryn had her father to herself, the decorated Starfleet Admiral had admitted to her that marrying Gretchen was the most terrifying decision he had ever made - and the most rewarding. Her father knew she was feeling uneasy being engaged to Justin, refusing to commit to a wedding date. He wanted his daughter to find the same happiness he had found after overcoming his fear and self-doubt.

Looking up from the picture, she saw Seven patiently waiting, looking at her with love. No doubt ready to once again lend a shoulder to cry on or offer encouraging words and comforting touches.

Kathryn really did not understand the terrifying part her father spoke of until Seven of Nine.

To love someone so much as to actually feel incomplete without them, to commit to them for life and risk failing them, or they you, each having the power to shatter the otherís fragile heart was simply . . . terrifying. But she also believed what they had now, which was an amazing gift, could be even better . . . if she just had the courage.

"I donít know if I will ever be worthy of your hand in marriage, Seven," Kathryn said honestly, startling Seven, who exhaled with unease. Before she could argue, Kathryn continued. "But I want this," Kathryn blurted, holding up the wedding picture. "With you. I want everything with you. Marriage, children ...everything," Kathryn said fiercely. "A dream isnít enough, Seven. Not nearly enough."

The heart-felt declaration struck Seven speechless with raw emotion.

Kathryn seriously wished she had planned this proposal better. But she had started to say her piece and by GOD, she was damn well going to finish what she had to say.

"I know Starship Captains are not usually the best spouses and a lot of their marriages donít survive. I think youíve already experienced why," she blurted, glancing at the floor guiltily for a moment. When her eyes lifted, they were filled with renewed determination, a determination Seven had not seen in a long time. "But I love you. And I know, because you have shown me, so many times and in so many ways, that you love me. I finally understand - it is as simple as that. Marry me, Seven," Kathryn said earnestly, her confidence slightly wavering with each second of Sevenís silence.

Seven remained silent as she approached Kathryn. She lifted her hand up to Kathrynís mouth, gently touching her fingertips to the mouth that had given her the gift of words she had longed to hear.

Kathryn blinked with surprise. Her heart pounded, waiting for Seven to speak.

"There will be difficulties, Kathryn. For both of us," she said, causing Kathryn concern. "But I want what you want," Seven offered with a happiness in her eyes that made Kathrynís heart soar. "A life with you, and," she said, closing the distance between them. "Marriage," she continued, brushing her lips against Kathrynís. "Children," she said, parting Kathrynís lips with a delicate swipe of her tongue. "Everything," she finished in a warm whisper against her lips.

"Everything," Kathryn repeated reverently just before their mouths melded in a wet, needful kiss.

Their passion quickly escalated; their bodies pressed deliciously against each other as hands kneaded and caressed, their too-long dormant desire erupting in moans. The craved physical intimacy was like ambrosia to the starving women.

An indignant crew member, whose reserved time for an important training assignment was rudely being infringed upon, marched into the house ready to confront the holodeck poachers. She froze with a loud gasp, seeing her Captain and Department Head groping each other.

Kathryn and Seven abruptly broke their kiss, startled by the unexpected visitor. They turned to see the wide-eyed Ensign as they struggled to take calming breaths. Kathryn noticed the Ensignís gaze and glanced down to her hand. With a fierce blush, she quickly removed it from Sevenís breast.

Sevenís optical implant rose defiantly as she repossessed Kathrynís hand and returned it to her breast, firmly holding it in place. A surprised Kathryn blushed more as Sevenís defiant gaze returned to Jennifer Delaney, who looked very pale.

"The Captain is an exceptional lover," Seven was compelled to offer, recalling a previous conversation she had overheard between the impertinent twins, who dared question the Captainís ability to satisfy the cold Astrometrics officer. "And you are interrupting an intimate moment," she added bluntly,

"The...b...broken. And . . . training. . . my scheduled . . . Now," Jennifer rambled, looking like she might pass out. "I didnít see anything!" she suddenly blurted and fled the holodeck.

After a few moments of great satisfaction, Seven looked at Kathryn, who was still blushing. "I did not intend to make you uncomfortable," she said worriedly, slowly removing Kathrynís hand off her breast, but continued to hold onto it.

"Yes, well," Kathryn said, clearing her throat. "I do believe her curiosity about us has been satisfied," she offered thoughtfully with a faint smirk on her face.

Seven smiled with a mix of relief and amusement.

"So . . . ," Kathryn said with a pleased smile, slipping her arms around Sevenís waist possessively. "Exceptional, huh?"

Sevenís optical implant rose. "Indeed. However, I will acknowledge my assessment is based on dated information. Your skills have likely diminished," she said without apology.

"Diminished?!?" Kathryn sputtered indignantly.

"It is a logical conclusion. Skills not exercised . . . ."

"Gee, Seven. Are you trying to tell me something?" Kathryn interrupted wryly.

"I suppose I am," Seven answered, then looked down uncomfortably. "I have missed your touch," Seven offered self-consciously, surprising Kathryn with her uneasy admission.

"Oh, darling. You never should feel embarrassed about wanting intimacy with me. And I am sorry, I havenít exactly been...," Kathryn said with some guilt.

"I was not seeking an apology," Seven interrupted with concern.

"I know," Kathryn said warmly, caressing Sevenís cheek. "However, for some reason, I still feel compelled to make it up to you; if thatís all right with you?" she added dryly, her eyes sparkling.

Seven found it exceedingly difficult to not smile but somehow managed. "Acceptable."

"Excellent," Kathryn said with a broad smile, suddenly grabbing Sevenís hand. "My place," she announced, not wanting to risk another interruption, and led them back to her quarters.

Sevenís amusement with Kathrynís eagerness faded when she realized that, unlike previous times, the Captain had no intention of releasing her hand upon exiting the Holodeck or when they walked past several crew members, who could not help but notice their linked hands.

Kathryn knew the simple display of affection would draw scrutiny, but she didnít care. The woman she loved agreed to marry her and she was just too damn happy to be worried about possible negative reactions. But by the looks they were getting so far, it seemed that after getting over their initial surprise, people were either uncertain about what their joined hands meant, or pleased.

"Kathryn?" Seven asked, uneasy with the attention.

"Yes, darling?" Kathryn responded warmly as they entered the turbolift, joining two crew members, who, like Seven, were stunned by the unexpected endearment and hand holding.

The crewmen looked between the Captain and Seven with wide eyes, forgetting normal pleasantries. Seven also remained silent, uncertain how to react to Kathrynís uncharacteristically overt acknowledgment of their relationship.

Kathryn noticed Sevenís unease and felt old guilt resurface. She would never again be silent about what Seven meant to her. "Seven, we are not on duty and I should be able to hold my own fiancťeís hand, shouldnít I?" Captain Janeway asked with an easy smile, looking into Sevenís surprised eyes.

"Fiancťe?" The male crew member blurted, looking up from their hands.

"You two are the first to know - Seven has made me an incredibly happy woman today by agreeing to marry me," Kathryn said with a grin, enjoying the moment.

Seven saw the infectious joy in Kathrynís eyes which finally prompted a smile to emerge.

"Oh wow! Congratulations, Captain, Seven!" The female crew member blurted excitedly.

"Why thank you, Petty Officer Gray," Captain Janeway said graciously, squeezing Sevenís hand.

"Whenís the big day??" she asked eagerly, looking between the couple. Kathryn looked to her fiancťe curiously. Once again put on the spot, Seven concluded Kathryn seemed to take great pleasure in doing that.

"That has yet to be determined," Seven offered to Gray, glancing at Kathryn, who grinned.

"Well, if you need any help planning anything, Seven, let me know," Gray said with a big smile.

"I . . . thank you," Seven said, clearly surprised. "I will be sure to inform you if I require assistance," she said politely, gaining an affectionate look from Kathryn, who could tell Seven was touched by the sincere and unexpected offer.

"Great," Gray said happily as the turbo doors whooshed open. "This is our stop," she said, starting to exit the lift but paused. "Uh Captain? It is all right if we tell people about you two, isnít it?" she said tentatively.

"Be my guest, Miss Gray," Captain Janeway said with a warm smile, getting a grin in response.

"Come on, Eric!" she blurted eagerly, pulling the still speechless man with her. "Weíve got to tell everyone!"

When the doors whooshed shut and the turbo lift continued, Seven looked at Kathryn, arching her optical implant. "That was . . . unexpected."

"Good kid, that Gray," Kathryn noted.

"Indeed," Seven said flatly, knowing Kathryn knew that wasnít what she was talking about.

Kathryn chuckled and squeezed Sevenís hand.

***

Later that evening, Kathryn was sound asleep, having earned her rest; she had successfully demonstrated that her skill had not diminished in the least . . . several times.

Seven silently watched her sleeping lover - her fiancťe, she silently amended with amazement. Though she did not wish to disturb her, Seven could not help but reach out and trace her fingers over the proud womanís brow and cheek, the woman who had given her such joy, the woman who would be her wife.

Kathryn shifted slightly, her eyes blinking, struggling to open. "Another minute and . . . Iíll . . . be good to go," she said groggily, caught between the realms of slumber and consciousness.

"Go back to sleep, Kathryn," Seven whispered with an amused smile and placed a tender kiss on her cheek.

"Mmmmm," Kathryn responded with a contented sigh and mumbled "love you" before quickly succumbing to sleep.

A contented smile graced Sevenís face as she relaxed and shut her eyes. Peace, and finally sleep, settled over her.


Chapter 23 - Day of Reckoning

Kathrynís hands shook as she put the last pip on her dress uniform. Squeezing it too tight, it shot from her fingers and sailed through the air. "Gah!" she blurted with annoyance.

Tuvokís quick reflexes allowed him to intercept the pip in flight.

"Thanks," she grumbled and sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose.

"Do you wish me to call for the Doctor?" Tuvok asked, raising his eyebrow as he handed her the pip. "He could give you a mild sedative."

"Oh for Godís sake," Kathryn growled with frustration as she took the small metallic piece from his hand. "Iíve faced Cardassians, Hirogen, Species 8472, the Borg Queen ...," she muttered with irritation. "Why would I be more nervous facing someone who isnít actually trying to kill me??" She added with annoyance as she finally applied her last pip.

"Was that a rhetorical question?"

She glared at him sharply. "If I didnít know better, Iíd say you are finding this entirely too amusing."

"I am relieved you know better."

"Hmmm," she responded, her eyes narrowing skeptically before returning her gaze to the mirror to inspect her dress uniform one more time. "Well, itís as good as itís going to get," she said with a sigh.

"It is time," Tuvok noted in a grave tone that made it sound like she was marching to an executioner, not her wedding.

She eyed him, suspecting he was doing that deliberately. Shaking her head, she took a fortifying breath and left her stateroom for the last time as a single woman. Iíll be married, she though with wonder, taking another fortifying breath.

"Any last words of advice, old friend?" she asked Tuvok with an uneasy smile as they waited for the turbolift. They had been through a lot together over the years and it was only fitting he was her best man. As he looked at her a long, thoughtful moment, she concluded her long-married friendís counsel would indeed be sage.

The turbo lift arrived and the doors whooshed open when he finally responded. "No."

Kathryn glared at him as she joined him in the turbolift.

***

"Kahless!" BíElanna exhaled in awe as Seven emerged from BíElannaís ensuite.

"I hope Kathryn is pleased with this dress," Seven said, looking down at her gown self-consciously.

"If she isnít, somethingís wrong with her," BíElanna said, shaking her head in amazement.

"It would have been more efficient for both of us to agree on the dress to avoid disappointment," Seven said as BíElanna helped arrange the babyís breath in her hair.

"She wonít be disappointed, Seven," BíElanna said. "And if she picked the dress - youíd miss out on the look on her face when she sees you in it for the first time, coming down the aisle," she offered with a grin. Seven frowned, still uncertain. "You look perfect," BíElanna added, looking her over from head to toe.

Seven was relieved by the reassurance. When BíElanna went to the replicator, Seven looked at her with surprise. "BíElanna? We should leave now."

"We have time," she said, ordering a blood wine. "Do you want some?"

"No," she said tersely. "The wedding is in 12.93 minutes. It will take approximately . . . ."

"The bride is allowed to be late, Seven," BíElanna interrupted dismissively, sipping her wine.

"But why would I not attempt to be on time?" Seven said with confusion.

"Are you sure you donít want some?" BíElanna said, lifting up her glass. "Itíll calm your nerves about being late."

"I am not nervous about being late," Seven said tersely.

"Really," BíElanna responded with an annoying smirk.

"I merely believe in punctuality."

"Sheís not going to change her mind if youíre late, you know," BíElanna offered with amusement.

"It would be impolite as well as inefficient. There are many waiting to witness the event," Seven countered with irritation.

"They all know to expect the bride to be late," BíElanna argued, waving her hand dismissively.

"Not this bride," she blurted indignantly. "If you do not leave with me now, I will go alone," Seven said, picking up her train and bouquet, and left BíElannaís stateroom.

"All right, all right," BíElanna said, rolling her eyes.

***

Kathryn and Tuvok stood on the small altar with Chakotay, looking out at the guests in the holodeck chapel she and Seven had selected. It wasnít the Academy chapel that she had dreamt of marrying Seven in; it was her hometown chapel that her mother had made them attend growing up. For some reason, Seven really wanted this setting and Kathryn couldnít think of a good reason to disagree. But when Seven suggested they also include the Gretchen and Phoebe characters, she firmly refused. She did not want to pretend about something so important; even the pain of not having her family present did not make her want the holo-characters. Thankfully, Seven understood and quickly offered that when they got to Earth, they would have another wedding, one that Kathrynís family would attend.

Great. Another wedding, Kathryn considered, taking a deep breath and fingering her collar, hoping to get through this one.

"It will be over before you know it," Chakotay offered in quiet support.

Kathryn took another deep breath. "Promise?" she quipped, prompting a soft chuckle.

"For what itís worth, I think this might be the best decision youíve ever made," he said with a warm smile.

"I have to admit, I had a lot of help from Seven on this one," she said with a slight grin, prompting his smile to widen with amusement as he glanced to Tuvok for a moment.

"Resistance is futile," Tuvok and Chakotay sagely offered in stereo, delighting the Captain.

"You have no idea, gentlemen," Kathryn confirmed with a chuckle. "No idea," she repeated as the music started.

Oh God, it has begun, she thought nervously as her smile faded and eyes turned to the end of the aisle. The churn in her stomach made her glad she had a light breakfast.

A beaming Naomi appeared with a basket, tossing flower petals as she approached. Kathryn grew more relaxed and could not help but grin at her young assistant, delighted to include her in this happy occasion. If possible, Naomiís smile widened as she arrived at the altar and got a smile and a wink from the Captain.

Another of the bridal party appeared at the end of the aisle, drawing Kathrynís and the congregationís gaze. BíElanna wore her dress uniform and held an attractive, notably unique bouquet of tuberose and oleander. Tuberose and oleander, Kathryn thought curiously, trying to recall the meaning of those plants, certain Seven had selected them for a reason.

BíElanna started down the aisle with a genuine smile, making her more beautiful, Kathryn considered with a warm smile, glancing over to Tom, who also noticed, only having eyes for the volatile Klingon engineer. Her eyes widened when she finally remembered. Dangerous pleasure! Kathryn bit her lip trying to repress the laugh that threatened to bubble up when she also recalled that oleander meant "beware." She looked over to Tom, guessing he probably wasnít aware BíElanna was even holding a bouquet. Good for him, she thought fondly with an amused smile.

Her amusement faded when the incidental music shifted to the wedding march and the congregation rose from their seats. Kathryn also stood a little straighter and her heart pounded a little harder as she anxiously waited for Seven, who arrived on the arm of a very proud Doctor.

There were many surprised gasps when the bride appeared at the end of the aisle, including one from Kathryn, who drew in a sharp breath of wonder. Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero_One, was the epitome of feminine elegance. There had been no doubt Seven would be a beautiful bride, but, by God, the vision before her now was truly breathtaking.

Kathryn eagerly drank in every detail. Seven's golden hair was pinned up, but not in the normally exacting French twist; instead, two tendrils spilled out from the looser style, gently framing her smiling face. That rare display of pure happiness amazed the crew perhaps more than anything else about her perfect appearance. Kathryn was delighted they were witnessing it, and even more delighted to be part of the reason for it.

A pleasing touch of baby's breath added a natural accent to her softer coiffeur, making Kathryn consider the flowerís meaning. Pure heart. Of course, Kathryn thought warmly as her gaze drifted down her lovely neck, wrapped by the beautifully intricate collar of a bolero-style lace jacket. Her eyes drifted down over the delicate lace which embraced her proud shoulders and deceptively slender arms, allowing hints of flesh and implants to peek through.

In her right hand was a bouquet of red roses and euphorbia. Kathryn smiled. Passion and persistence, she noted with appreciation, immensely grateful to Seven for not giving up and overcoming every hurdle she faced, especially those created by a difficult Captain.

Her eyes lingered appreciatively upon another unexpected sight - a teasing expanse of flesh, bordered by lace and the unadorned, pearl-white, silk bodice. Remembering there were others in the room, Kathryn glanced at the congregation, noting with irritation just how many eyes were focused on Sevenís ample cleavage, no longer covered by the sturdy material of her biosuit. Returning her gaze to Seven, she found Sevenís optical implant rise as her joyful smile transformed into one of amused satisfaction.

Kathryn couldnít help but grin back and shake her head, knowing Seven was enjoying her effect on the crew...and her. Instead of feeling irritated by the ogling, she decided to just feel sorry for those who watched perfection pass them by, profoundly grateful she didnít have to.

As perfection approached her, Kathryn wondered if Seven had any help selecting the gown, which snugly fit her torso, then loosely flowed to the ground, the fabric ending in an elegant, yet inefficient train. The gown wasnít just white; it was subtly iridescent, revealing hints of color that changed depending on the angle of light. How fitting, Kathryn thought, recalling how many of the crew had considered the newly liberated Seven a sterile and uncaring individual, until over time, they saw her in a different light. The whole gown was perfectly contradictory to Seven's normal style, Kathryn thought, pleased Seven was revealing her softer side. A side that, until now, had only been appreciated by the fortunate Captain.

No. No one helped her select the gown, Kathryn concluded with great confidence.

Only a few steps away, Kathryn felt awash with pride for the young woman, who had endured an incredibly difficult journey. Victimized by the Borg at a very young age, she managed to overcome her fears of individuality and finally embraced it and humanity, becoming an amazing woman that both inspired and awed Kathryn. And by some chance of fate, this amazing woman chose her to love. Surprising moisture rimmed her eyes, prompting a steadying breath as she realized that while many may say she had saved Seven from the Borg, this womanís love had saved her.

The Doctor smiled at Kathryn. As he formally presented Sevenís hand to her, her heart swelled. She couldnít help but feel blessed as their fingers intertwined. Seeing the love in those sparkling blue eyes, she almost kissed Seven right there.

They turned slightly towards a smiling Chakotay, who stood tall and spoke to the congregation. "We have traveled a long way together. We have endured many hardships and thankfully, enjoyed many successes on this difficult journey, a journey that has forged us into a family. Today, the Voyager family is gathered to bear witness and celebrate the beginning of a personal journey for two exceptional women, who have found, with each other, the greatest gift in any Quadrant - love."

Kathryn glanced at Seven and smiled as she squeezed her hand. Sevenís eyes shone as she squeezed back.

BíElanna couldnít help but glance back to Tom, who smiled happily at her attention. He mouthed "marry me?" - a now common joke between them that he would find the most inopportune times to ask her. Like when she was in the ensuite, or cleaning plasma conduits, or . . . . His amused smile faded as he realized she was not looking at him with amusement but an intensity that caused a pleasantly uncomfortable warmth to wash over him, making him swallow hard. Then she smirked and mouthed "yes . . . you idiot," before returning her focus to the ceremony.

He grabbed Harryís forearm and blurted in a hushed tone "Oh. My. GOD!"

"Hey," Harry hissed with annoyance, swatting the unwanted hand off his arm.

"But she...!"

"Shhh!" blurted a few crew members around them.

Tom frowned and settled into reluctant silence as he watched the wedding.

"Normally, it falls to the Captain of the ship to perform the marriage ceremony. As she is a bit busy right now," Chakotay said with amusement, gaining a few chuckles in the congregation. "The duty and honor," he said, looking between the brides sincerely. "Falls to me, the Executive Officer."

"There are over 1 million marriage or joining ceremonies in Voyagerís database," Chakotay started and took a breath to continue his lecture on marriages.

"1, 101,345," Seven interrupted, causing an amused murmur in the congregation and Kathryn to grin. "To be exact..." she added.

"I stand corrected," Chakotay offered, looking around the amused congregation.

"You may proceed," Seven said, causing Chakotay to blink and look at Captain Janeway with surprise.

"Donít look at me. Iíd do as she says," Kathryn offered dryly with a shrug.

"The Captain will undoubtedly have a successful marriage," Tuvok offered unexpectedly, prompting hearty chuckles from the gathering and a grin from Kathryn and nod from Seven.

"Proceeding to the heart of the matter," Chakotay said with a sigh, wisely forgoing his small, likely vulnerable, speech on marriages. "Please face each other."

The women did and looked into each otherís eyes.

"Annika Hansen," he said, and added warmly "Seven. Do you take Kathryn Elizabeth Janeway to be your wife, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, to laugh and to cry with, from this day forward, until death do you part?"

"I do," Seven vowed, squeezing Kathrynís hand. Kathryn beamed.

"Kathryn Elizabeth Janeway, do you take Annika Hansen, Seven, to be your wife, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, to laugh and to cry with, from this day forward, until death do you part?"

"I most certainly do," Kathryn said with conviction, looking at Seven whose eyes and smile brightened with joy.

"It is a common Earth custom for a couple to exchange symbols of these promises. Captain Janeway and Seven have selected wedding rings, which represent eternity as a ring has no beginning or end. Seven?" Chakotay asked, looking to the blonde.

Seven turned to BíElanna, who handed her a gold band with a happy grin. She eyed the simple band with satisfaction, then took Kathrynís right hand, poising the ring over her ring finger.

"Repeat after me, with this ring, I thee wed," Chakotay said with a smile.

"With this ring," Seven said and looked deeply into Kathrynís eyes. "I thee wed," she said softly and slipped on the ring, gaining a big smile from Kathryn, who got lost in those amazing eyes.

She couldnít help but think she should thank God or whatever higher power that was out there for a second chance with this exceptional woman, who gave her love and support even when she had pushed her away. How else could she explain how she got so lucky to see in those blue eyes the amazing gift of love and . . . amusement??

"Kathryn?" Chakotay repeated a second time, finally getting her attention. "Your turn," he said with amusement.

"Oh . . . right," Captain Janeway said sheepishly, causing a few chuckles from the congregation. She turned to Tuvok, who held out the ring with a raised brow.

Carefully taking the gold band, she eyed Tuvok and held up the ring with a smirk. He nodded, acknowledging she seemed to be capable of handling it better than her pip. With a satisfied smile, she turned to Seven and reverently took her right hand, poising the band over her ring finger.

"Repeat after me. With this ring, I thee wed."

"With this ring, I thee wed," Kathryn said as she looked Seven in the eye and slipped on the wedding band.

"By the power vested in me by, well, Captain Janeway, and Starfleet, I now pronounce you married. You may kiss," Chakotay announced and grinned, looking at the couple expectantly.

They looked into each otherís eyes, savoring the moment of anticipation. They smiled at each other, delighting in the fact that they were now looking upon their spouse. Kathryn could barely remember feeling nervous as profound happiness settled over her.

Seven raised her meshed hand, reverently tracing her fingertips over Kathrynís brow and cheek, recalling how determined this stubborn Captain was to free her from the collective and reclaim her individuality. She recalled how hard she fought it and Kathryn. But now, she knew that the frightening affliction known as individuality was a blessing, enabling her to experience the joy and perfection of love.

Gently grasping Sevenís hand, Kathryn turned her head and tenderly kissed her palm. She slowly leaned in, planning to fully savor those full lips in their first kiss as a married couple. With great tenderness, Kathryn brushed her lips against Sevenís, once, then twice, before more firmly possessing them. And in that moment of possession, the congregation did not see their Captain and a former Borg, but simply two women in love.

Several dreamy sighs could be heard from those swept away by the romance, including Harry, who got elbowed in the ribs by a sniggering Tom, who earned an annoyed glare and slight shove.

Others in the congregation simply smiled warmly, buoyed by the fact their Captain had found love, believing that perhaps they too might find someone special - even in the Delta Quadrant.

Suddenly, the ship tossed violently, interrupting the newlywedís kiss and nearly knocking the wedding party over.

"Some kiss," BíElanna blurted sarcastically, struggling to steady herself as the ship shuddered again.

Seven and Kathryn blinked at each other in a moment of disbelief as the hometown chapel disappeared, revealing gray holodeck grids and flashing red lights as the klaxon sounded.

"Red Alert. All hands man condition red stations. Red Alert," the computer announced, just before another violent jolt which preceded a steady, rough shaking of the ship.

Kathryn and Seven responded, like the rest of the crew.

"I thought you said there was nothing we could run into for a couple of days," Kathryn said conversationally to Seven as they exited the holodeck and entered the turbolift, joining Tuvok, and Chakotay, all struggling to walk steadily with the rough ride.

"There was not," Seven said simply.

"Bridge," Chakotay ordered, glancing over to Tuvok, whose pointed brow rose.

"Well, they managed to find something," Kathryn said, shaking her head with a heavy exhale as the turbolift doors shut.


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