Idle Hands

by Taoduck

"Red Alert. All hands to battle stations."

Kathryn Janeway leaned forward in her command chair and sipped from a steaming cup of coffee. She casually tilted her head towards her computer display as she drank, noting her ship's progress towards full combat readiness.

This must be the most pleasant red alert I've ever called... at least for me, she mused. Indeed, although Janeway had been awake for almost forty-seven hours, she appeared completely unimpaired, while her crew was generally looking as grey as their Starfleet Academy uniforms.

Janeway... Admiral Janeway, former captain of the wayward USS Voyager... was commanding the Academy's Nova-class training starship, the USS Minerva, on its biannual month-long Tactical Training cruise. The Minerva had just spent four days working with the Klingon vessel IKS ghangwI' on evasion and escape tactics until its departure from Klingon space over three hours ago.

The Minerva's crew had been guests last night at what the Admiral's syllabus referred to as an "Intensive Seminar in Diplomatic Procedures and Cultural Exchange", but which had rapidly and predictably turned into a blowout. Her crew had behaved appropriately and had held their own with the Klingons, but more than a few of the cadets had needed assistance in returning to their ship and, until the klaxons sounded at 0330, most were sound asleep.

Perfect opportunity for a lesson.

She had programmed every terminal to record exactly when each battle station became operational and ready, and was timing each cadet on their response. Four minutes had gone by, and only 52 of her 80 cadets had signed in. Not good.

I warned them about the bloodwine, Janeway thought, as she tried to hide a wry smirk behind her coffee cup. She'd give them a few more minutes to get their act together, then deliver her best force-10 "Combat Preparedness" lecture over the comm system as she inspected the ship. That ought to drive the lesson home nicely.

Janeway leaned back in her chair and found herself with the first truly idle moments she'd allowed herself in weeks. In her fatigue, she let her mind wander... and, like a compass tracking north, her unchecked thoughts always returned to the events of the past six months....

Voyager had come back from its seven year detour to the Delta Quadrant to find a changed universe. The Dominion War had rocked the whole of the Federation, and Starfleet was no exception. War losses had left the organization seriously hurting for experienced officers and crew, so Voyager's return was seen as manna from heaven. Once debriefings were conducted and short leaves taken, Voyager's crew were quickly assigned throughout the Fleet.

Janeway had received her Admiralty, then, after a truncated leave at home, had tried to settle into a desk job. She had found herself as intensely restless after only a few weeks at Starfleet Command as she had been in Indiana. A heated confrontation with Admiral Nechayev had resulted in a part-time teaching position for her at Starfleet Academy, where her limitless energy and her experiences in the Delta Quadrant enabled her to challenge the Federation's best to become even better.

Tuvok had accepted an ambassadorial position on Vulcan and was working to strengthen the Federation in the aftermath of the war. Tom, B'Elanna and little Miral were stationed on Mars. Tom was busy teaching young pilots how to dogfight, while B'Elanna worked at the Utopia Planitia shipyards as Refit Supervisor on one of the many ships damaged in the war. Harry, Vorik and many others were scattered throughout the Quadrant. And Chak....

NO, damn it!! Janeway sat bolt upright as she snapped out of her reverie. This happens every damn time. If I think of Voyager, I think of them... then I think of him... then.... Damn it... NO!!! Janeway checked her terminal. Eight minutes into the Red Alert, and 78 cadets at their posts. Close enough, she thought as she stalked towards the turbolift. Time to give them a lecture they'll never forget... especially those two cadets.

"Whiskey, Irish... no ice. Double."

Janeway took the glass from the replicator tray and wandered over to her favorite chair by the window. She stifled a groan as she sat down, unzipped her tunic and stretched out. I can still outlast those kids, she thought as she took a sip.

She looked back on her day. She had been right to call that alert this morning... those cadets had acted like they were partying back at the Academy, with nothing worse facing them but disciplinary drills if they used poor judgement. They needed to understand... needed to believe... needed to know that when they were out on patrol, they were never safe. The enemy wouldn't give them a break if they caught them unaware... they'd kill them.

Janeway had inspected every single cadet that morning. She had kept her commlink open and delivered a scathing lecture throughout her tour that spared no one. It was 0600 by the time she finished, and she ran alpha shift that day as if nothing had ever happened. She had turned the bridge over to her assistant instructor at 1600 and stopped by the messhall on her way to her quarters. She smiled to see it was empty; most of the cadets had probably turned in right after their shift ended.

After a quick meal, Janeway had returned to her cabin. She found herself still oddly energized, despite being awake for almost 59 hours... hell, even though she was already three-quarters of the way through her drink. She wondered how well her cadets would be sleeping tonight, despite their exhaustion. Welcome to Starfleet, gang, she thought. I haven't had a full night's sleep in years.

Janeway looked around her cabin. Her chair had been the only thing she had kept with her from Voyager. She had stored everything else away... except this chair. It fit her. She had insisted on having it in her Admiral's office, even if it did look a bit worn. Who cared? She needed her chair. She had read many a book and pondered many a plan in this chair, shared many a philos....

Don't go there, Katie.

Janeway heaved a deep sigh, then threw the rest of her drink down her throat and launched herself out of her chair. In one fluid motion, she slung her glass into the replicator, zipped her tunic and was out the door.

Time to check on beta shift.


Janeway stood in front of the holosuite door, not completely sure how she got there, but finally admitting to herself the inevitability of the destination.

She had left her quarters and prowled the Minerva for hours. Her cadets had become accustomed to the Admiral making spot checks at any time, and Janeway loved testing her students and their skills. She would often burst into a department and pose a hypothetical problem, then listen as the cadets discussed how to respond. She would question and probe, more intent upon how they arrived at solutions rather than the solutions themselves.

That was her real job, she figured... teaching these kids the mental techniques necessary for them to come up with creative ideas. Good Starfleet officers needed to be able to interpret data, make decisions and give their commanders their best, doable options... fast. Sheer knowledge had its place, but if the Delta Quadrant had taught her anything, it was that the innovative application of information... twisting it, bending it, ripping it apart and making it work in new ways... had saved more lives and starships than any protocol she knew.

So... what are your options here, Katie?

Janeway checked the holosuite control panel, half-hoping to find it in use. No such luck. She keyed the door release and walked over to the internal console. Unzipping her tunic, she reached under her turtleneck and fished out a thin metal chain with two small objects on it. She unclipped the larger of the two, a mini data chip, and inserted it into the console. She stood for a while idly fingering the smaller object, lost in her thoughts of the past....

Six months earlier

Voyager had returned to the Alpha Quadrant six days previously, and the ship had been under full lockdown since then. Starfleet had insisted on the delay to allow all the major debriefings and interrogations to be conducted, and while some of the crew had complained, Janeway had fully agreed with the conditions. After seven long years in the Delta Quadrant, her crew had needed some time to adjust to their new reality before moving on with their lives.

Her ship had lain outside McKinley Station traffic patterns, keeping its distance until all security protocols allowed it to complete its journey. Voyager had been scheduled to land at the Presidio the next day for a triumphant welcome home celebration. A number of crewmembers had requested permission to depart the ship at the station instead of continuing on to Earth, so Janeway had seen to it that all who wanted to go could leave when their debriefings were complete. The first shuttle containing such departing personnel was about to leave for the station.

Chakotay and Seven of Nine were on that shuttle.

Janeway had been in a state of shock since her future self had informed her of the couple's relationship. Watching the elder Janeway ultimately sacrifice herself to save Seven had forced the Captain to confront and admit her own feelings for the young woman. Although she had been able to push those emotions aside during the frantic events leading up to their return, the joy she had felt at finally accomplishing her goal had been quickly replaced by an overwhelming pain.

Time. She had always believed there would be time enough to figure out her feelings for Seven, for she had always believed Seven would be there. How funny that it took the Admiral's complete reordering of time to show the Captain the truth... that her own time had run out, her fears had kept her from realizing her heart's desire... and she had lost the most precious thing she had ever known. Janeway chose to deal with her pain in her traditional manner.

She hid.

All the debriefings, all the loose ends, all the negotiations, all the paperwork... these had blended nicely to provide Janeway with the perfect excuse to refuse almost all individual meetings. She met with Tuvok, but deflected all topics that were not security-related; she had talked to The Doctor twice just to shut him up and had ignored every impertinent question.

Janeway had worked ceaselessly, doing everything humanly possible to keep her mind off her loss. She had only come out of seclusion long enough to address the full crew at a farewell ceremony two days ago in Shuttle Bay One, and she had regretted it immediately afterwards.

She had entered the shuttle bay to tumultuous cheers and had found herself lifted on many shoulders and carried to a makeshift platform where her senior staff waited. Chakotay had launched into a fine speech, full of affection and gratitude, but it had barely filtered through the invisible barriers she had put up.

When Chakotay had handed her a finely carved box containing over 140 small data chips... farewell messages from every member of her crew... Janeway had realized she was expected to say something appropriate. Just what that would be, however, she didn't know. She had bought some time by asking for a moment of silence to honor those crewmembers who had fallen along the way.

Then she had looked out over her crew... those precious few who had worked to keep body, soul and ship together for seven long years to reach this point... and had found her barriers melting, fueling a rush of words that flowed over them all. She had spoken eloquently of their journey; of loss and struggle, of laughter and fears, of tragic sorrow and unspeakable joys. Most of all, she had spoken of the utter pride she felt for each and every person present, for they were truly the most amazing crew she would ever have the privilege to know.

When Janeway had finished, the shuttle bay again echoed with noise. As she had acknowledged the cheers and moved to leave, she had been brought up short by a mesh-covered hand on her arm.

"Captain, I wish to speak with you."

Janeway had turned to find herself looking straight into Seven's eyes for the first time since they'd made it back. She had willingly fallen into their pale blue depths, and had suddenly remembered hearing stories about people who were able to make a moment seem like an eternity. She had always dismissed the notion, but now... locked in a gaze so intense it burned into her very soul... the skeptic had become a believer.

A millenium or two later, Janeway had surfaced from her reverie enough to realize that Seven had looked unusually concerned about something. She had tried to focus as Seven spoke again.

"Captain... please?

Janeway had never been able to refuse that gentle entreaty of Seven's before, and had been surprised to find herself about to maintain her perfect record. She had opened her mouth to answer when Chakotay had suddenly appeared at Seven's side. "Wonderful speech, Kathryn. It was just what we all needed." He had put his arm casually around Seven's shoulders and said, "Wouldn't you agree, Seven?"

Seeing the intimate gesture couldn't have hurt Janeway any more than if Chakotay had shot her with a phaser. She had uttered a semi-articulate, "Sorry. Gotta go. Much to do," before she bolted for the exit. She had held herself together until she had reached her ready room and tossed her gift on the desk. She had paced back and forth, agitated, all the while eyeing the box as if it would pounce at her. There's no way I want to look at any of those now, she had finally admitted. And I don't want to talk to anyone, either.

Janeway had initiated a site-to-site transport to her quarters, and had immediately slapped a level 10 privacy seal on every access point before she curled up in her favorite chair. Whoever said it was 'better to have loved and lost' should be blown out an airlock, she grumbled to herself. And there she had stayed, wrapped up in a comforter, alone with the stars, her pain... and her whiskey.

Janeway knew that Seven had tried to contact her many times throughout the next two days, but though she had desperately wanted to see the young woman, she had refused to read or respond to any of her messages. What good would come of it? she had decided. What could you offer Seven anyway... even assuming she cared for you at all? Why get hurt again? After all, neither of them even bothered to tell you they were involved! The Admiral had to tell you... and she also said they would marry.

You took good care of them both... you negotiated his Maquis pardon and her full Federation citizenship. Their records are full of commendations, and you've arranged many opportunities for them to choose from. They're home, they're safe, and they both deserve the best shot at happiness they can find. You don't have to watch... just leave them alone and let them build their new lives together. Stay out of it, Katie. You owe them that much.

Let her go.

When she saw both their names on the first shuttle manifest, she had known it was over. She had monitored the shuttle's launch sequence from her personal computer terminal and, as the small craft finished boarding, she had decided to go to her ready room to watch it depart. When she had entered, she saw the box of data chips sitting on her desk where she had left it... but another, smaller box had been placed on top of it. Curious, she had moved over to her couch under the window and opened it. Inside had been a small rectangular pendant on a thin metal chain... and a note:

Please play audio file Seven Omega 4-7.

As the shuttle left Voyager, Seven's voice had filled the room:


I do not understand why you have refused to speak with me, but I will allow that there may be reasons for this I do not know.
The data chip I included in the crew's gift to you will express much of what I feel for you, but I now believe it to have been insufficient.
I had wished to discuss this and other matters with you in person, but since I cannot meet with you, this was my only recourse.
Captain... I must thank you. You gave me back my life. Any words of gratitude I might offer could never begin to express my appreciation and awe at the magnitude of your many gifts.
It is difficult to accept that our journey together has ended, but always know that you will forever remain a part of me. I wish to leave something of me with you in the hopes you will always remember, not only the drone you severed, designated Seven of Nine, but also the human you saved, named...

Annika Hansen


Janeway had stood there and watched as the small craft headed off towards the station. She had thought, just for a moment, that she could see Seven through one of the shuttle windows... but later on, she had to admit she might have been wrong.

After all, she had been crying far too hard to be certain.

Present time

Janeway shook her head as if to throw off the memories and keyed in the necessary encryption codes. She closed her eyes and ordered, "Computer, seal holosuite doors, authorization Janeway alpha one, then activate encrypted data chip program Seven Delta -30-, voiceprint password: raven."

"Program activated."

Janeway took a deep breath, turned around, opened her eyes and found herself... in the Astrometrics Lab on Voyager.

This had been Seven's contribution to her gift. Where the rest of the crew had simply sat down and recorded their feelings and stories of their journey for her... except for Tom, who had recorded his as Captain Proton's ode to Queen Arachnia... Seven had created a holographic rendition of Astrometrics and somehow compressed the programming to fit on the chip. Even more amazing was the figure standing in front of the main workstation. Seven had managed to include... herself.

She knew if she came within five feet of Seven's image it would begin its programmed message, but for now Janeway was content to keep her distance and bask in the familiar surroundings. She thought of all the times she had restlessly walked Voyager's halls, keyed up for one reason or another, until she had inevitably wound up right here. While she always relished seeing Seven, it honestly had never always mattered whether the young woman had been present or not, for her spirit radiated from every corner of the lab she had designed and built. Real or holographic, this place always calmed her more than anything else did.

Janeway leaned against the bulkhead and looked around. I can't believe she thought this was insufficient. She shook her head in wonder, then dropped her eyes to the small pendant she still fingered. She had been stunned to discover the metal had come from Seven's old exoskeletal plates, which had been removed when she joined Voyager. One side was inscribed with the Borg alphanumeric for the number 7, while the other side framed a small silicon chip etched with Annika Hansen's human DNA coding.

She truly did leave something of herself with me, Janeway thought wistfully, as she felt the tension and stress begin to leave her body. She refused to let herself activate this program often, but when her unchecked memories built up, and the loneliness and insomnia became overwhelming, she could always find peace here. It brought back what seemed now to be simpler times, full of companionship and hope amidst the struggles.

She hugged the pendant tight against her chest. As if I'd ever forget her. Janeway was trying to decide whether or not to activate Seven's holographic message when the Minerva was suddenly and violently jolted by a loud blast.

"Janeway to the bridge... what's going on up there?"

"We don't know, Admiral. Sensors show no ships, asteroids or debris in the area, yet we just sustained damage to our port nacelle."

"I'm on my way," Janeway growled, as she shut down the program and retrieved her data chip. She tapped her combadge as she exited the holosuite and ordered, "Red Alert. All hands to battle stations. This is not a drill, people. Repeat, this is NOT a drill."

Janeway had just finished adjusting her uniform in the turbolift when the doors opened. She strode onto the bridge and barked, "Report!" Before anyone could respond, the Minerva was rocked by a second blast. Janeway was propelled sideways into the end of the upper railing, lost her footing on the stairs and crashed to the deck.

OK... that hurt, Janeway thought as she pulled herself to her feet and made her way to the command chair. "Status?" she ordered.

"Still no signs of ships or anomalies, Admiral," reported the cadet at Ops. "Engineering reports damage to both nacelles. Warp drive is offline, with possible warpcore damage. We have minimal impulse power, levels dropping fast." Not good, Katie. While the Minerva wasn't defenseless, it certainly wasn't full-on battleready.

"Helm, initiate evasive maneuvers as best you can, pattern Theta. Tactical?"

"Er... uh... stand by, Admiral...."

Janeway turned around gingerly... damn, looks like I broke a rib or two... and fixed the youngster at Tactical with a glare. "Remember your training, cadet. Focus. I need information and options... now. Report!"

"Shields at 42%. Weapons are online and charging. Uhh... off-axis subspace scans indicate a minor harmonic shift consistent with a cloaked vessel."

"Can we trac...." Janeway broke off as a third blast seemed to impact directly over the bridge. The concussion knocked the entire bridge crew to the deck as consoles exploded around them.

Now we're in trouble, Janeway admitted as she heaved herself back into her chair. Oh, wait... I forgot. We're not alone out here! "Ops, send distress call on all frequencies requesting aid from any Federation ships in the area. Helm, shift to evasive pattern Gamma. Tactical... can we track whatever you're seeing?"

"It's a lot like an old resonance cloak... they had to uncloak briefly to fire... the ghangwI' showed us how to spot it... I think we can triangulate it." The young man at Tactical was clearly scared, but showing signs of increasing confidence.

"Don't think, cadet... believe!" Janeway struggled to maintain her own focus; she was finding it hard to breathe and her vision was starting to tunnel. "Calculate a vector, orchestrate a full missile spread, coordinate with the Helm... and do it fast!"

Janeway pushed her hair out of her eyes and was startled when her hand came away bloody. Gotta finish this now.

"Full spread coordinated and locked on best target path, Admiral"


Janeway watched with pride as the missiles impacted with... something, triggering sensor readings as the unknown vessel's shields absorbed the barrage.

"Target that spot and fire phasers."

"Vessel dropping out of warp, Admiral." Ops couldn't keep the excitement out of her report. "It's the Enterprise! They're hailing us."

"Put the hail onscreen." Janeway tried to keep the pain from her voice as she looked upon the welcome face of Jean-Luc Picard.

"Admiral Janeway... can we be of assistance?"

"Excellent timing, Captain... we're sending you data on a cloaked ship to our starboard. He's making life a bit difficult for us at the moment." Janeway's dry tone belied the seriousness of the Minerva's condition... and both of them knew it.

"We're on it, Admiral. Stand by," Picard advised, and ten seconds later the Enterprise launched two photon torpedoes at the Minerva's tormentor. The weapons hit with a staggering burst of energy, and the cloaking fell to reveal a shabby vessel, seemingly made up of parts from every type of ship in the Quadrant.

Big, ugly, scavenging sonuvabi.... Janeway checked her thoughts. Don't sneer too fast, Katie... that pirate just kicked your ass! She looked at her Tactical cadet. "Nice work. Well done. Scan them...."

Ops broke in. "Admiral, another hail from the Enterprise."


Picard was urgent. "Admiral, our torpedoes have damaged the power plant on their ship... indications are it's going to explode in 15 seconds. We're transporting their crew to our brig and we suggest you back the Minerva off to a safe distance."

Janeway opened her mouth to speak, but her Ops cadet was ahead of her. "Admiral, warp engines are down, impulse engines are down, helm control is thrusters only, shields are at 22%."

Shit! "Engineering, divert all power to aft shields and thrusters. Helm, turn our stern towards the pirate ship and move as far away as you can. Enterprise, we're dead in the water. We're going to have to ride this out."

Picard looked grim. "Understood, Admiral. We'll be standing by."

"All hands... brace for impact."

Just before the shock wave hit the Minerva, Janeway glanced over at her computer display and noticed her combat readiness timing program was active. All her cadets had been at their battle stations well within four minutes. If we survive this, I'm gonna commend them all, she thought, as the deck quickly rose to meet her.

Soft... so soft.

A voice pulled Janeway from... somewhere. Where? Where was I? For that matter, where am I? She looked around in puzzlement; she seemed to be floating in a dark haze. She tried her voice. "Where am I?"

Where do you want to be?

One side of the haze grew lighter, and Janeway could see... her father, as he was when she was a child. His voice floated towards her.

Idle hands are the instruments of failure, Kathryn.

"I'm working hard, Daddy."

That's my Goldenbird....

Janeway tried to move towards the figure, but it reduced into an icy white point, which then disappeared into the haze. A voice sounded behind her.

You are small.

Janeway turned around. "Seven?"

Small... insignificant... weak... alone.

Janeway could barely make out a figure in the haze. She began moving towards it.

I am alone.

"Seven?" The figure grew nearer, and Janeway was certain.

I require you.

"Seven, I need you." Seven moved closer and took Janeway in her arms.

Soft. So soft.

"Oh... Seven." As Seven leaned down and pressed her lips to hers, Janeway closed her eyes and sank deep into the embrace. She felt herself being lifted upwards, and opened her eyes to focus on the smiling face of....

  Wil Riker??

"Glad to see you're still with us, Kathryn," Riker grinned.

What the hell?

Janeway stared blankly, first at Riker, then around at the sickbay and the biobed she was on, until the tumblers finally clicked into place. The Minerva... an explosion... right. I must be on the Enterprise. "My crew... my ship?" she croaked.

"Your crew is fine, Kathryn... in fact, better than fine. They did a fantastic job. A few of them got banged up in the explosion, but they're all back on duty." Riker continued in a softer tone. "How are you doing? You were pretty banged up yourself when we beamed you over."

Janeway grimaced, "I feel as if I got run over by a targ stampede, but I'll be fine. You say the cadets are all back on duty?" Riker's mouth twisted, "Yep... in fact, there's a bit of a problem about that."

"What problem?" Janeway's concern showed through her relief.

"Well, it seems they don't want to be towed back to spacedock. They're all pulling extra duty trying to get the Minerva up and running, and they're refusing most of our help. They want to repair the ship themselves and return home under her own power." Riker chuckled, "They say they need to bring the Admiral home with dignity."

Janeway's mouth gaped open. "You're kidding." She struggled to get up despite the pain, and almost threw off the sheet until she belatedly realized it was her only covering. "Woah, Kathryn." Riker placed a hand on her shoulder to keep her down and warned, "Don't move, or you'll lose some of that dignity."

"Glad to see you're awake, Admiral." Janeway settled back and looked over to see Dr. Beverly Crusher approaching her biobed. "Your cadets will be so pleased. They wanted to take care of you themselves, until they saw how hurt you were."

"Dr. Crusher... so good to finally meet you." Janeway felt as if she knew the Enterprise's CMO well, having extensively studied her files on the Borg after Seven was brought on board Voyager. "You know me?" Crusher gave a puzzled look as she began to scan Janeway.

Janeway nodded, "I've read a lot of what you've written." She decided to leave it at that; after that dream, anything associated with Seven felt a bit too edgy to touch. "How badly was I hurt?"

Crusher pressed a hypospray to Janeway's neck as she ran down the list of injuries. "You have three broken ribs, a punctured lung, a broken wrist and forearm, a twisted ankle, multiple bruises and abrasions, a nasty laceration on your scalp... all capped off by extreme exhaustion and far too much caffeine."

Blah, blah, blah, Janeway thought as she rolled her eyes. Damn doctors and their irrational prejudices. How else can I keep moving? Riker laughed and said, "Are you still guzzling that stuff? It seemed like every time I saw you at the Academy, you had a mug in your hand."

Janeway grinned. "You bet. 'That stuff' got me clear across the Delta Quadrant. Finest organic suspens... sushpenshun invenned." She blinked and shook her head. Why is everything so foggy? And when did Crusher's twin arrive? "Sooo... Doctor... when can I get... uhh... get back too... ooooo...." Janeway's eyelids fluttered closed and her head lolled back as she finally realized what was in the hypospray.

Damn doctors....

"You knocked her out?" Riker chuckled wryly. "I don't want to be around when she wakes up. She's not going to like that one bit." Crusher was unrepentant. "C'mon, Wil, you know better than that. Did you really think she was just going to lay there and let me finish treating her? Admirals, captains... none of them will sit still for doctors when there's work to be done."

"Especially this one. She's always been a force of nature." Riker looked pensive. "Do you have any idea what she was talking about before she woke up? She kept saying 'seven', over and over. Some lucky number?" Crusher reached into the pocket of her labcoat and pulled out the chain with the pendant and chip attached. "I don't know. I wonder if this might give us a clue. She was wearing it under her uniform." Crusher ran her finger over the face of the pendant. "If I'm not mistaken, this is Borg writing."

"Borg?" Riker's brow furrowed. "That's curious." He pondered for a minute, then his brow cleared. "Did you read any of the files about Voyager's return?" Crusher nodded slowly, "A few." Riker continued, "Wasn't 'Seven' the name of the woman Kathryn brought back with them?" The doctor agreed, "Ahhh, yes... Seven of Nine. They separated her from the Collective. That would explain how the Admiral knew me. She probably read my casefiles about Jean-Luc. She'd have had the security clearance necessary to see them, and I'm sure they would have been helpful."

Crusher fingered the other object. "I tried to play this data chip just before she woke up in case it had some medical information on it, but I couldn't get anywhere. There's heavy encryption all over it... Borg encryption. Algorithms, voiceprint... you name it." She indicated the pendant. "This is a remarkable piece of work, and really quite lovely. I rarely see officers wear jewelry at all, let alone a setup like this." She regarded him thoughtfully, "Do you think the two of them could be... close?"

Riker shook his head, "I don't know, but from the way she was talking in her sleep, I'd say it's a possibility. Her voice sounded almost... well, almost intimate." His voice grew soft, "I know Kathryn was engaged, but I heard he moved on after Voyager was lost. I have no idea whether she's involved with anyone now."

"Hmmm." Crusher said, now intrigued. She looked down upon the sleeping figure as a small mischievous smile crept onto her face. Lucky number, indeed. "Just between you and me, I think I'm going to look into this and see what I can find out."


Riker watched as Janeway's slim form materialized on the Enterprise's transporter pad. It had been three days since the Minerva had been attacked by what turned out to be a lone group of renegades desperate for supplies. Starfleet had decided to allow the cadets to restore their ship to full operating condition, deeming it an excellent training exercise in self-sufficiency.

The Enterprise had been assigned to stay with the Minerva during repairs, not only for protection but also to offer the cadets the unique opportunity to tour the flagship. Many section heads had conducted impromptu seminars on wideranging topics, and all aboard felt uplifted by the energy and enthusiasm of the cadets.

Once released from sickbay, Janeway had been a whirlwind; mostly overseeing the repairs, encouraging and challenging her students at every turn, but sometimes rolling up her sleeves and pitching in where needed. She found it hard to conceal her pride in her crew, for not only had they risen to the occasion beyond everyone's expectations, they had also shown her remarkable loyalty. She would be damned if she would let them down in any way.

Since the Minerva's warpcore had been extensively damaged, Starfleet had decided that self-sufficiency did have its limits; the shipyards at Utopia Planitia had quickly loaded a replacement core onto a high-speed freighter. That ship was currently on final approach to the Enterprise's main flight deck, and Janeway was there to supervise the offloading and transfer of the core to the Minerva.

"Thanks for meeting me, Wil." Janeway stepped off the pad and chuckled, "I haven't spent enough time on these big Sovereign-class ships to know my way around, and it wouldn't do anything for that dignity of mine for your crew to see me wandering around lost." Riker laughed as he escorted her into the hallway. "Remember, Kathryn, no admiral ever travels alone, even around the Enterprise. Besides, Captain Picard asked me to personally greet the civilian contractor overseeing the mission."

"Civilian?" Janeway looked puzzled. "Is Starfleet so shorthanded at the shipyards that civilians now command missions?" Riker shrugged, "This one's special, I guess... the Captain's been trying to arrange a meeting for a while, now. Some sort of big-shot technical expert assigned to both Utopia Planitia and the Theoretical Propulsion Group."

"Humph," she responded, and completely dismissed the civilian from her mind as Riker looked over with a twinkle in his eye. "So tell me, Kathryn... rumor has it you went toe to toe with Nechayev about working at the Academy." Janeway chuckled and shook her head. "Toe to toe, nose to nose, knock down, drag out, take no prisoners. The very definition of battle royale. I had an easier time of it with the Borg Queen than I had with her."

"But you obviously won, because you're here." Janeway just nodded, and Riker pressed on, "How did you do it? Nechayev always wins arguments like that. That's why Jean-Luc keeps turning down his promotion... he knows there's usually no way out from behind those Command desks and into space once you give up the pips. So...." The pair continued to make their way towards the shuttle bay as Riker waited for his answer.

He was beginning to wonder if he was ever going to get an answer when Janeway finally replied, "How did I do it?" She glanced over towards her old classmate and stopped, looking him in the eyes. "How did I do it? I'll tell you how... I resigned." Riker's eyebrows met his hairline. "Resigned? Whew!" He shook his head in disbelief and continued, "Damn, Kathryn... considering the kind of hardball Nechayev plays, that was a gutsy move. If you bluff that well, remind me never to invite you to our poker games."

Janeway touched his arm and said softly, "Wil... I'm not so sure I was bluffing."

Riker nodded slowly in acknowledgement of her admission. He had always wondered why she had accepted the promotion in the first place, and here she was telling him she had been prepared to do what she had to in order to get back into space, even in this limited capacity. He understood that all too well; he was nowhere near ready to fly a desk either. No wonder Nechayev had backed down. Starfleet couldn't afford to lose Janeway. Not now.

After a moment, he initiated a discussion about the Minerva's repairs and they continued strolling through the decks. The freighter had landed by the time the pair arrived, so they quickly made their way over to the ship and stood, engrossed in their dialogue, as the crew of the freighter shut down their systems and prepared to disembark. Janeway had her back to the hatch, and the two continued talking until Riker called out, "Greetings, Doctor. Welcome to the Enterprise." She swung around, all set to greet this civilian 'big-shot'... and froze in her tracks. Riker had to work to hide his amusement as he was treated to the sound of two jaws dropping.

There, standing in the hatch, was Seven of Nine.

Oh. My. God.... Janeway's brain was caught in a loop; her eyes were riveted on Seven, her mouth hung open, her fingertips were vibrating and her body was rooted to the spot. It's Seven! My god... it's Seven. Seven's here. I don't believe it. She's here. She's right here. How did she get here? Ohmygoddd....

Riker had seen Janeway completely lose her cool once before, a long, long time ago, and found he couldn't suppress a small snort of laughter at her current discomfiture. That snort seemed to snap Janeway out of her stupor, and she fixed Riker with a narrow-eyed glare of suspicion. He quickly addressed the newcomer, who seemed just as stupefied as Janeway was. "Dr. Hansen, I'm Wil Riker, First Officer of the Enterprise. Captain Picard asked me to greet you and escort you to your quarters. He's looking forward to meeting with you."

With heroic effort, Seven dragged her eyes from Janeway and focused them on Riker. She found she had to struggle to remember even the most basic of The Doctor's etiquette lessons. "Thank you, Commander," she finally uttered. "I require a few minutes to gather my possessions." Riker smiled indulgently, "Take your time. I'll wait for you here." After stealing another glance at the redhead, Seven disappeared back into the freighter. Janeway immediately turned on Riker and started peppering him with low-pitched questions, her intensity forcing the big man backwards a few paces.

"What the hell's going on, Wil? You know something... I know you do. Why is she here? How did she get here? How do you know who she is? And why are you calling her Doctor Hansen?" Riker held up his hands to try and deflect Janeway's verbal onslaught. "Easy, Kathryn, easy. Captain Picard has been wanting to meet with Dr. Hansen for a while now and, well... we just thought you two might enjoy seeing each other again."

Janeway sputtered, "We? WE? Who the hell is WE?" Her tirade was cut short as a duffel bag sailed out the hatch and landed on the deck. She pointed a finger in Riker's grinning face and ominously promised, "This is not over," as Seven exited the freighter with a small cargo container in her arms.

Riker, seeing his chance for escape, stepped around Janeway and strode towards Seven. "Let me help you with that, Doctor," he offered, and moved to take the container. "This is quite heavy, Commander," Seven advised, but Riker was insistent. Janeway didn't even try to hide the smile creeping across her face as she watched Riker struggle manfully with the container Seven had carried with apparent ease. Janeway looked questioningly at Seven, and the young woman replied simply, "Portable regeneration unit."

The two shared a smile, and Janeway finally was able to take a good look at her former officer. Gone was the tight biosuit and severe hairstyle; Seven wore a dark collarless shirt and trousers and had her hair down and pulled back into a loose ponytail. She looks more beautiful than ever, Janeway marvelled, and opened her mouth to tell Seven just that when a cadet rushed up to the pair and said, "Admiral, we're ready to transfer the core to the Minerva."

Janeway closed her eyes and pressed her lips together in a firm line. Sometimes, I really hate Starfleet, she admitted to herself, not for the first time, and opened her eyes to see what appeared to be the identical thought mirrored in Seven's soft expression. Janeway gave a small shake of her head and responded curtly, "I'll be right there."

Janeway stared again at the young woman and had to fight the urge to fall once more into those pale blue eyes. Need and love battled for control of her actions, but duty won. "I'm sorry..." she began, but was stopped by the sweetest smile she had ever seen. "No matter, Cap... Admiral," Seven firmly assured, "we will have time later." Time. Oh, Seven, Janeway thought, if I had only had enough time....

Riker chose that moment to come up to the two and said, rather breathlessly, "Dr. Hansen, I can escort you to your quarters whenever you're ready." Janeway grinned and poked Riker in the side. "Was that a little heavy for you, Wil?" she tweaked. He had the good grace to look a bit sheepish as he responded, "It just startled me, is all." Janeway's grin widened. "Uh-huh. Right."

Riker deftly changed the subject, "The Captain hopes to meet with you soon, Doctor, but in any case he wanted to know if you'd like to join us for dinner tonight. You too, Kathryn. Nothing fancy... just us, Dr. Crusher and Counselor Troi. 1900 hours?" Janeway regarded Seven out of the corner of her eye and thought the young woman seemed somewhat uncertain about the idea. Now that she was over her initial shock, Janeway realized she wanted nothing more than to spend time with Seven under any pretext. God, I've missed her....

Janeway threw out a challenge. "I will if you will, Seven... what do you say?"

Seven met Janeway's eyes, then lifted her head with her typical bravado. She slowly smiled her little half-smile and said softly, "I... will comply." Janeway chuckled at the familiar Borg-ism and told Riker, "All right then. Tell Jean-Luc I'll be there too." She touched Seven's arm and said, "It's so good to see you again. I have to go, but I'll see you later." Seven nodded, then picked up her duffel bag and allowed Riker to lead her away.

Janeway stood and watched the young woman begin talking with Riker. As noisy as the flight deck was, she couldn't hear what Seven said, but his reply floated back as the doors swished open: "Yes, indeed... I knew Kathryn before she had pips!" As she headed back to her cadets, Janeway shook her head and, with a wry grin, thought, No, my meddlesome friend, this is NOT over....

I will overload.

Seven uncharacteristically lay on the bed in the VIP quarters of the Enterprise, one arm thrown over her eyes. She wasn't tired, just far more emotionally agitated than she had ever been in her life. Considering her life so far, that was saying something.

She had expected this trip to be challenging, because she knew responding to Captain Picard's invitation would be difficult for them both. In fact, she had only agreed to lead this mission on such short notice so she could meet the one she knew as Locutus, an individual of almost mythic status to the Collective.

But she never expected Janeway.

Seeing the redhead standing there had stunned Seven to her core, but it was the expression in those blue-grey eyes that stayed with the young woman. It was the same expression Janeway wore the last time she had seen her former Captain; a haunted sadness that had captured the usually vibrant woman and held her hostage. She accessed the memories of her last days on Voyager....

Six months ago

Seven had been extremely disturbed when Janeway had withdrawn from her, both before and after Voyager's return. The personal information the Captain's future self had disclosed had deeply shaken her, and she had desperately wanted to discuss the implications of those issues with her Janeway, just as they had discussed so many topics over the years. The revelation of Seven's possible death had certainly bothered the young woman, and the ultimate reality of their return to the Alpha Quadrant had been definitely unsettling... however the idea that she had gone so far as to have married Commander Chakotay in any timeline was the one that had troubled her the most.

The Commander's hologram had been useful to Seven in exploring her emerging social and interpersonal relations because he was a known entity, safe and familiar. When the real Commander had appeared interested in her, she had considered dating him to be the next logical step in her self-designed emotional curriculum. Their initial dates had been successful, for he had been kind, attentive and caring... qualities she had not previously believed to be relevant in social situations.

Seven had decided to have her cortical failsafe removed so as to escalate her involvement with the Commander; she had hoped to again experience the types of emotional intimacies she had previously known in Unimatrix Zero. Surprisingly though, she had quickly realized her attraction to the Commander had not increased, as she had expected, but had curiously diminished. She had chosen to continue dating him in order to study the puzzling situation further.

Once she had heard what the future Janeway revealed, however, she had re-evaluated that choice. The Commander had indeed been novel, pleasant and entertaining company, and she had learned much about social and romantic interaction from him, but Seven had concluded her feelings for him would never be sufficient to make such a permanent union desirable. She had calculated that such a mild response on her part could not justify the possibility of his future pain.

Seven had sought to terminate their association, and when the Commander had argued with her... in truth, had thrown her Borg nature in her face... she had realized she didn't want to be completely honest with him about her feelings. He had treated her kindly, and the idea that she might cause him any sort of pain had upset her greatly. Ignorant of her thinking, he had erroneously concluded her emotionalism meant she was being noble, and had stubbornly overridden her wish to alter the parameters of their relationship.

The Commander's resistance had been most frustrating and, combined with the other events of that time... the Admiral's very odd manner towards her, the decidedly sensual encounter with the manipulative Borg Queen, and the Captain's unusually total focus on her goal to the exclusion of any contact... all that had left Seven feeling very, very confused and very, very alone.

Events had quickly transpired, and Voyager was suddenly back in the Alpha Quadrant, locked down off McKinley Station. The Commander had begun urging Seven to accompany him to his ancestral homeworld and had seemed eager to, as he had put it, "move our relationship forward." She had interpreted his words to mean he intended to initiate more intimate acts as a prelude to copulation, an agenda with which she had no desire to comply.

Unconsciously emulating Janeway, Seven avoided the Commander.

All of Voyager's crew had been undergoing a series of intense debriefings and interviews, so it had been a relatively easy matter for Seven to keep her distance from him. She had decided that an initiation of further intimacies would have required a candid discussion, which would presumably devolve into a heated confrontation. Since she had not known the most efficient manner in which to handle that eventuality, avoidance had been her primary course of action.

The rest of Seven's focus had been on Janeway. One part had been fixed on her efforts to meet with her Captain for some much needed counsel, and those attempts had met with unprecedented, unacceptable and upsetting resistance. Previously the Captain had always quickly responded to Seven's messages and hails; now the young woman had repeatedly encountered blocked communications and stony silences.

The other part had been busy creating her part of the crew's gift for Janeway. Before leaving the ship, Neelix had recorded a special message for the Captain and had asked that it be delivered upon Voyager's return to the Alpha Quadrant. The senior staff had decided that a collection of similar messages from every person would be a fitting tribute to their journey and their Captain, and the crew had passed the time during the lockdown sharing stories and preparing their presentations.

Seven had wanted her memorial to reflect the impact of her stay on Voyager, so she had created a holographic representation of what she believed was her most important contribution to the ship and crew... the Astrometrics lab. She had known there was a limited amount of memory on the data chip she was issued, so she had used a few Borg algorithms she had kept up her biometric sleeve for just an occasion and had compressed the programming into an amazingly small file.

Satisfied she would have enough room on her chip for the more dynamic elements, Seven had scanned herself and inserted her own holoimage into the project, then had begun sorting through her memories in order to create the outline of her message. It hadn't taken long before she had discovered a very intriguing phenomena: every recollection of Janeway had been accompanied by an emotional resonance far stronger than any she had ever encountered.

Seven had always held Janeway in the highest esteem, even when she had most violently disagreed with her, but these new feelings had dwarfed everything. The rage she had felt upon her severance from the Collective... the pride she had felt when her Captain repeatedly defeated the Borg Queen... the betrayal and fear she had felt when she had believed Voyager was conspiring against her... the trust she had felt when Janeway had allowed her to guide the ship through a nebula.... Every memory had possessed more depth and vibrancy than had the actual events.

Certainly more than anything she had experienced with the Commander.

Upon reflection, Seven had calculated the phenomena must have resulted from a combination of her removed emotional failsafe and the void Janeway's withdrawal had left in her existence. As she had finished her message, she had taken solace in the fact that she would see the Captain at the farewell ceremony. Seven had anticipated no difficulty in arranging a meeting then, but would not ever have believed that events would unfold the way they did.

Seven had entered the shuttle bay hoping to blend into the crowd; she had not seen the Commander approach until he had suddenly appeared beside her. She had endured a hug and a kiss on the cheek from him, then had neatly sidestepped his inquiries into her whereabouts. He had escorted her up to the dais, and had begun to press her about her future plans when Janeway arrived.

If Seven had thought her memories had inspired strong feelings in her, it had been nothing compared to her physical and emotional responses when her Captain had been gleefully picked up and carried to the dais. The young woman had been, all at once, flushed with pleasure at the crew's actions, overjoyed to see her Captain again, nervously excited at the prospect of meeting with her later, dismayed at Janeway's stressed appearance... and had felt almost overcome with a strange desire to wrap her arms around the smaller woman and never let her out of her sight.

As the Commander had presented the crew's gift, Seven's attention had been exclusively focused on Janeway. She has damaged herself, Seven had noted with concern. This is unacceptable. We have returned; she has accomplished her goal. To damage herself when she has succeeded is irrational.

Then Janeway spoke.

Seven had been hypnotized at the change in her Captain. As Janeway began her oration, Seven had lost herself in the husky, growly, smoky tones. Never before had any voice resonated so strongly within the young woman; never before had the sheer force of Janeway's presence affected Seven so powerfully. I must speak with her... I will speak with her, Seven had vowed, and as the cheers of the crew signaled the end of the Captain's speech, Seven had moved behind Janeway and touched her arm.

"Captain, I wish to speak with you."

Janeway had turned, and had stared directly into Seven's eyes with an intense look that the young woman was sure had knocked her cortical node offline. Seven had continued to hold Janeway's gaze, stunned and disconcerted at the emotions that had coursed through her. This is illogical. She merely looks at me, and it is difficult to breathe. My heart rate and respiration have increased... as have hers. I do not understand. I must speak with her. She can explain.

Seven had tried again. "Captain... please?


Back on the Enterprise

The door chime startled Seven out of her recollections. Rising from the bed, she released the door lock to find a trim figure wearing a Starfleet Captain's uniform. "Dr. Hansen? My name is Jean-Luc Picard. May I come in?"


Seven couldn't find her voice, so she nodded and stepped back to allow the Captain to enter. Picard met Seven's eyes. "I'm glad you could come on such short notice. I apologize for not meeting your ship. Are your quarters comfortable?" Seven forced herself to speak, "Yes, they are completely adequate for my needs. Thank you."

"And... are you comfortable meeting with me?" At Seven's startled look, Picard continued, "I admit to feeling more than a little apprehensive about inviting you here. My experiences with the Borg have left me... different... in ways I have only begun to confront." Seven took in the tightly compressed lips and the overall strain apparent on the Captain's face; it was clear his words only hinted at the depth of his pain.

"No individual has ever escaped completely unscathed from an encounter with the Borg," she softly stated as she intently studied the carpeted deck. The sheer force of Picard's presence on top of her already unsettled emotions had tempered her natural confidence into an uncharacteristic shyness.

"True... yet you have made a remarkable transition since being severed from the Collective, despite having to repeatedly encounter them on your journey." Picard smiled as Seven's head shot up in surprise. "Once communication was restored with Starfleet, I began reading the official logs of Voyager's many encounters with the Borg. I also had a long conversation with Admiral Janeway a few days ago, and she shared some of the less official details with me. As I'm sure you know, she thinks very highly of you and admires you greatly."

Seven stared at the Captain with incredulity. She admires me? Me? How is that possible? A question formed and was immediately voiced. "Did the Admiral know I was coming to meet you?" Picard shook his head. "No, Commander Riker asked me not to mention it to her. They've known each other for many years, and he thought your arrival would be a nice surprise for her." He chuckled to himself at the play of emotions clearly visible on Seven's face and felt his apprehensions disappear; he'd been afraid he would be confronting the Collective, but all he saw was a lovely young woman who had been victimized by the Borg much as he had been. More so, actually.

"Doctor, why don't we sit down and talk... if you're willing? I would very much like to hear about your experiences." Seven nodded her assent. "I will obtain refreshments." Picard watched in puzzlement as she moved to the replicator without asking him his preference... then wryly realized she already knew. Their thoughts had been one... once.

"Two teas. Earl Grey. Hot."

On the Minerva

"Whiskey, Irish... no ice. Double... no, belay that. Make it a single... no... coffee, black... no... cancel order."

Janeway dropped into her chair with a sigh and put her head in her hands. Get a grip, Katie... NOW!! Seven's here, you're going to see her soon, and you HAVE to get hold of yourself!!

She and her cadets had finished ferrying the new warp core over from the Enterprise a short while ago. Even though a couple of LaForge's Finest had been on hand to aid the cadets with the core installation, the Admiral had insisted upon overseeing the process, at one point even hopping into the core chamber to align a few critical circuits before the core was lowered into its housing.

Once that was done, however, she had wasted no time marking herself off-duty, heading straight for her cabin. Got a date... can't be late! Her cadets had been treated to the sight of their Admiral walking with a bounce to her step they had never seen before. Got a date... can't be late! She had entered the turbolift... got a date... then froze in place as she realized what she'd been humming to herself. Date?

"Please state your destination."

The sound of the computer had jolted Janeway from her reverie. "Deck 2." Once the lift doors closed, Janeway had leaned back against the wall and run a hand through her hair. A date? Get real, Katie. You haven't seen her for six months, and let's face it, you weren't very friendly to her before that. Aren't you being a bit presumptuous?

So what? You can't tell me you wouldn't give your left pip to date her.

Hah! I'd give them all up, and you know it. But there's that little tattooed detail you're not considering.

To hell with him! He wouldn't stand a chance if I really went after her.

She had continued her internal dialogue all the way to her cabin and her chair, consumed with finally pondering her most impenetrable of ponders... the private, innermost hidden desires of Kathryn Janeway.

She finally asked herself the question that a lifetime of training had taught her to suppress, if not avoid altogether. What do you WANT, Katie? Deep down, in your heart of hearts, if anything were possible, if nothing else mattered... what... do... YOU... want? As she sat in her chair with her head in her hands, time stood still as duty and need clashed in an epic battle for control of Kathryn Janeway's future.

Janeway didn't know how long she'd been sitting there when she finally raised her head, sat up and smiled. The battle was over, and love had finally won. Presumption be damned, Katie. You know what you want... you want her. You love her... and you have for a very, very long time. Whatever it takes, you have to tell her how you feel about her.

What if she says no?

Then you can let her go and be at peace, knowing you've tried. But... what if she says yes!

Decision made, Janeway leaned back in her chair and brought all her tactical training to bear on the situation. She started by reviewing the recent meeting for all the essential elements. HOW? was the first coherent thought to emerge, and the redhead didn't have to look too hard to place the blame... or the credit... at Wil Riker's feet. Somehow, someway, Riker was the Who behind the riddle of Seven's sudden appearance.

From there, the answers came quickly. The Who, How and When were settled; the young Borg was here now and within reach. The Why was also fairly easy... Riker had mentioned that Picard had wanted to meet Seven for some time now... although Janeway couldn't shake a suspicion that there was a bit more intention to the timing than mere happenstance could account for. So... that left the Where and the What.

Where has she been these six months, and what has she been doing?

A thought struck Janeway, and she was out of her chair in a flash. As she moved to her workstation, she called out, "Computer, show the academic history of Annika Hansen, born 24/06/2348, Tendara Colony." Riker called her Doctor. There must be a reason for that. Her rump hit her desk chair with a thump as she read the entry:

Hansen, Annika

Ph.D., Astrometrics, Daystrom Institute, 2378
Dissertation: Practical applications of astrometric theory

Ph.D., Mathematics, Daystrom Institute, 2378
Dissertation: Borg algorithms and encryption coding

Ph.D., Quantum Physics, Daystrom Institute, 2378
Dissertation: Quantum models in Delta Quadrant stellar phenomena

Ph.D., Temporal Mechanics, Daystrom Institute, 2378
Dissertation: Annorax and parallax: A case study of temporal tampering

Ph.D., Xenobiology, Daystrom Institute, 2378
Dissertation: The Hansen Logs: Field notes on the Borg

Ph.D., Xenobiology, Daystrom Institute, 2378
Dissertation: The Borg: Motivation in an assimilative framework

Ph.D., Xenobiology, Daystrom Institute, 2378
Dissertation: Native species of the Delta Quadrant

My god! I'll say he had a reason! Janeway let out a hearty laugh as she counted the degrees. Five, six... seven! Ahhh... that's amazing. How symmetrical. She smiled fondly. That's my girl. She glanced at the chronograph on the display and quickly made for the ensuite.

Got a date... can't be late!!

Captain's Dining Room, the Enterprise

"Admiral on deck!!"

Janeway stopped just inside the door and started laughing as the five grinning people seated around the table popped to attention. She put her hands on her hips and shook her head. "All right... at ease, before you all sprain something." As everyone sat, she moved to the end of the table and the only empty seat. "I apologize for my lateness. I just couldn't bring myself to leave the Minerva until the core was replaced." Picard, anchoring the other end of the table, gestured to Seven on his left and replied, "You're hardly late, Admiral. We arrived just before you did."

Seven and the Captain had indeed just arrived, having spent the better part of three hours conversing about everything from the Borg Queen to the Chateau Picard Winery. As they talked, the young woman had found herself relaxing in Picard's presence, detecting in him the same kind of focused charm and direct inquisitiveness she had been accustomed to from her discussions with Janeway. Similar... but not the same. She is unique.

Seven looked down the table and watched Janeway speak to Commander Riker, seated to her left. She drank in the sight of the petite yet powerful Admiral, a sight she had feared she would never see again. I have missed her, she admitted, and it is apparent time has not diminished her impact on me. Over the last six months, the Borg had repeatedly analyzed her unusual reactions to Janeway's last speech on Voyager. No result she calculated had been acceptable; she had concluded that at some point she would be required to speak with her former Captain to resolve her confusion.

Now I have my chance.

Dinner was served, and conversation flowed freely between all members of the group. Seven found every one of them easy to speak with, treating her with a kindness and graciousness she tried hard to emulate. Throughout the meal, Seven watched Janeway as often as she felt able. Occasionally, the two had locked eyes briefly and something had passed between them... then was gone as the tide of the event swept them elsewhere. Something is different about her, the young woman pondered. The Admiral rarely addressed her directly, however as the evening progressed, Seven sensed a connection flowing between Janeway and herself she had not felt since long before Voyager returned.

She seems... lighter, Seven decided. Not haunted. More like... her old self. As dessert was placed in front of her, the young woman not only felt more comfortable socially than ever before, but she felt decidedly optimistic about the immediate future. Finally, she vowed, I will get some answers.

Janeway sipped from a cup of coffee and regarded Seven thoughtfully as the young woman sampled her dessert. The Admiral had kept an eye on her all throughout dinner and was startled at the ease with which Seven conducted herself, chatting easily with the other officers and gently laughing at the stories they related. Laughing! I never saw her laugh before. She hid a smile behind her cup. Ahh... look at her. She's so beautiful.

She sure is, Katie. You better be prepared to step up and give this your best shot.

Janeway watched Seven listen as Riker and Troi finished a story about an academic seminar they had attended. She saw an opportunity to ask a question, but hesitated. Her little voice gamely prodded her. Go on. Talk to her. Ask about them. "So, Seven... I had wondered earlier why Wil called you 'Doctor Hansen', so I did a little research. How did Daystrom wind up awarding you seven doctorates?"

"You have seven doctorates?" Troi marveled.

Seven gently smiled, "Yes. My Aunt Irene advised me I would benefit greatly from acquiring conventional certifications, and she was correct. Merely stating 'I was Borg' would have been too concise a resumé for most in the Federation to comfortably accept." The others around the table laughed in agreement with that essential truth.

She continued, "My parents had attended Daystrom, so I contacted the school to learn about their course offerings. After an initial meeting, the administration arranged a series of faculty consultations. Once those were concluded, the various departments combined to offer me nine doctorates." Seven paused and looked down the table directly at Janeway, who surprised everyone except the Borg by beginning to chuckle.

Janeway chortled, "But you only accepted... seven... of nine?" Her laughter was joined immediately by that of the others. "Indeed," Seven smirked broadly. She was delighted to hear Janeway laugh and extremely pleased that the older woman got her joke. "I was disappointed. Not even the mathematicians understood why I declined the other two."

Crusher was enjoying the dry humor this young woman showed, and could see why the Admiral might be smitten; she was not the only one at the table to notice the warm look in Janeway's eyes. She asked, "Did you know your Aunt when you were younger?" Seven shook her head. "No, she contacted me shortly after Voyager returned and invited me to stay with her. She is an extremely vibrant and outspoken individual, and has quite a unique way of looking at the Universe. I am grateful for her presence in my life."

Janeway slowly put her coffee down as Seven's words sank in. Wait a minute... she's been with her Aunt? But... but... what about... where was.... Janeway's mind spun. Her curiosity was too great, she just couldn't hold back any longer. She had to ask... now. She took a deep breath and schooled her voice into a light and calm tone. "What was Chakotay doing while you were working with Daystrom?"

"I couldn't say," replied Seven. "I have not seen the Commander since I left the shuttle at McKinley Station."


Janeway's outburst froze everyone in place. Her eyes bored into Seven's as her mouth opened once... twice.... "The two of you were on the shuttle together. I saw the manifest."

"We were on the shuttle," Seven calmly replied, "But we were not together."

"You were dating," Janeway accused. They were together! They're NOT together? She was having a hard time keeping her composure and shook her head in puzzlement, "The Admiral said...."

Seven broke in, "I terminated our association two days before I left Voyager."

A thick silence fell over the group as the two women intently regarded each other. After a few awkward moments, Picard hastily stood up and said, "Well, Number One, I believe we have that... ummm...." A grinning Riker picked up his cue, "Ah yes, Captain, we have that priority communication from Starfleet Command coming in any minute now." Picard nodded as he moved around the table. "Right. We need to get on that. Admiral... Seven... it's been a lovely evening. Good night." Riker moved out on Picard's heels. "Seven... Kathryn."

Crusher was right behind the men. "Sorry to cut this short... I have some patients I need to check on. Good evening." Troi was torn; she didn't want to leave her chocolate mousse, but she also didn't want to witness the two women deal with the emotions she could sense streaming off them. She made her decision and stood, "Good night Admiral, Seven. I've enjoyed meeting you both." Troi was almost out the door, then stopped, turned and made a quick beeline back to her place. Swooping the half-full dish of mousse off the table, she headed out the door with a smile.

As the doors slid shut behind the counselor, the pair continued to regard each other. Janeway slowly pushed her chair back and strode around to the side, keeping the table between her and Seven until she regained her balance. The young woman sat calmly as she watched the Admiral pace; inside though, she was busy analyzing, calculating, closing in on what she believed might be a most acceptable conclusion.

Janeway was the first to speak. "Talk to me, Seven."

Seven's voice took on a slight edge as she replied, "I tried to do so six months ago."

Ouch! Janeway winced, "Okay... I deserved that." She ran a hand through her hair as she continued to pace. Seven saw the hurt in the older woman's eyes and realized she would have to tread carefully if she was to succeed in getting the answers she sought. She tempered her voice and asked, "Cap... Admiral--" Janeway turned and locked eyes with Seven as she cut in, "After all this time, you can call me Kathryn."

Seven nodded, holding her gaze steady. "All right. Kathryn, why wouldn't you speak with me?"

Direct and to the point. As always. Janeway sighed and broke eye contact as she turned slightly and wrapped her arms around herself. This is it, Katie. She was rattled; she had prepared herself for a different sort of confrontation. She took a deep breath and softly said, "I couldn't, Seven. I couldn't watch you while you... I couldn't bear to listen while you talked about... him."

Seven appeared calm and unmoved on the surface, but inside she was astounded. Janeway's words were unexpected indeed, and sent the young woman's analysis off onto a tangent she had only considered possible in her wildest dreams. She found her heart rate and respiration begin to increase, and noted how precisely her reactions meshed with those she experienced in the shuttle bay on Voyager. One question remained before Seven could make her conclusion; her results could still go either way. She knew she had to phrase this carefully.

"Kathryn?" Janeway did not look at Seven, so the young woman got up and moved around to stand behind the smaller woman. "Kathryn?" A gentle hand turned the Admiral around and lifted the firm chin. "Kathryn... which of us did you want?" Now's the time! Go for it! Do it! Janeway's breath huffed out in a rueful chuckle at herself as she boldly met Seven's eyes. "You," she said simply. "It's always been you."

Seven beamed as she reached out and gently caressed Janeway's cheek. As the Admiral leaned into the touch, the young woman marveled at the sensations rippling throughout her body. "So soft," Seven murmured, and when Janeway's head shot up at the words, the young woman moved closer, took the redhead into her arms and kissed her with all the pent-up emotion she possessed. Time passed unnoticed as the pair stood there, healing their souls with every touch and soft word, forging a deeper bond than before with every kiss and caress they shared.

Reality suddenly intruded as the doors opened and two messhall crewmen entered the room. Seven and Janeway broke apart as the crewmen stood there gawking at the unexpected sight. "Er... um... sorry, Admiral... we thought everyone was done... er... eating." Janeway tried to maintain her dignity even as she felt her face flush with embarrassment. "As you were, crewman... we were just leaving." She nodded at the two, then turned to Seven and, with a smile, gallantly swept her arm before her. "After you, darling."

The pair moved out into the corridor, each trying hard to contain their amusement. Resistance was, however, ultimately futile; after a few paces snickers turned to guffaws as the couple leaned against the bulkheads and laughed themselves silly. "My goodness," Janeway gasped, "I'm never going to have a command presence on this ship again after this!" Seven, looking adorably ruffled, asked, "Where shall we go now, Kathryn?" The Admiral grinned up at the young woman, grabbed her hand, tucked it in her arm and said, "Let's take a tour, shall we?"

Janeway took Seven all through the Minerva and watched with pride as the young woman interacted with the cadets. Most of her students had heard the stories about the Borg drone who had been rescued by Voyager, and it amused Janeway to no end to see the cadets put two and two together and figure out just who this "Dr. Hansen" was. Once they were done seeing everything else, she asked the blonde, "Would you like to see my quarters? I have a nice bottle of wine... it's light, and quite tasty." Seven nodded her assent, and Janeway led the way to her cabin.

As she followed Seven through the door, she gestured around and proclaimed, "They're not as nice as my quarters on Voyager were, but it's home." The young woman looked around and noted, "Yes. They are smaller... and they do not feel the same. They are not... you." The Admiral gave a wry smile, "Well, yes, that's true. They're temporary, after all." She moved to the counter and busied herself with the wine bottle, trying to hide her nervousness. As Janeway worked, Seven wandered around the room.

"This is from Voyager."

Janeway looked up to see Seven standing behind her chair. She stood transfixed as the young woman reached out her hand and caressed the back of the recliner. Ohhh.... The bottle of wine sat forgotten as the Admiral drew closer and husked, "Go ahead." Brow implant raised, Seven silently quizzed Janeway, who repeated, "Go ahead. Have a seat." Seven was nonplussed. "But this is your chair. I possess many memories of you in this chair...." The young woman broke off as Janeway moved closer. "I know, but I'd very much like to see you in it."

Seven's senses heightened as Kathryn neared. She could not refuse the request; she moved around to the front of the chair and slowly sank into the cushions. "It is comfortable..." she said appraisingly, trailing off as she looked up and caught sight of the intense expression in Janeway's eyes. Seven had to remember to breathe as she watched the smaller woman approach. Her slightest presence excites me beyond reason; the mere sound of her voice makes my senses spin.

Janeway stopped beside the chair and, without breaking eye contact, knelt down before Seven just as she did years before on a shuttle in the Delta Quadrant. She had the sense that everything she had ever done in her life had unequivocally led her to this one moment, this one perfect moment where everything was possible... everything she could or would ever want was to be found right there in those pale blue eyes.

"Darling," Janeway whispered, "I'm so sorry I didn't talk to you back on Voyager. If I had...." Seven leaned forward and stopped the words with a kiss. "Kathryn, things happen for a reason. You did what you needed to do." The couple kissed again, and Janeway found herself being pulled up and onto Seven's lap. Her knees settled on either side of the blonde's legs and she gasped as strong hands circled her waist and pulled their bodies into each other. Tongues swirled and hands explored, hips surged and implants were tasted, an Admiral's tunic hit the floor and insignia disappeared; time again took a holiday as the two women discovered each other.

Janeway was naked to the waist and practically incoherent with pleasure; the young woman was doing the most incredible things to her nipples. A thought finally surfaced: the chair was impeding their further progress. With all the command focus she could muster, she ran her fingers through soft tresses and panted, "Seven... Seven, darling." The young woman lifted passion-fogged eyes to hers but could not speak. "Seven, take me to bed." Janeway had to wrap her arms and legs tight around the blonde as direct action immediately followed the order.

Seven held her cargo tight and guided them both to a soft landing. She started to pick up where she had left off but was pushed back on the bed as Janeway quickly removed the rest of her uniform and stripped the young woman bare. Sensations followed upon sensations too numerous to analyze as the redhead sprawled her naked body over, around, under, inside Seven's, showing the blonde the ways of the flesh and of the heart.

Throughout the night, the teacher became the student, and the student the teacher... and together, both learned the infinite depth and breadth and height their love could reach.

Morning watch found the couple tangled together on the disheveled bed. Janeway looked over at her lover and brushed some strands of hair from her implant. "Good morning," she throatily whispered. Seven smiled as she gathered the redhead in her arms and pressed a kiss to her temple. "It is indeed a good morning," she softly agreed, "for it was a very good night." Janeway chuckled and pulled back to look into the young woman's eyes. "It was. Very good." She looked thoughtful. "What about today? Tonight? Tomorrow? Where do we go from here?"

Seven answered quickly and certainly. "We go wherever we want to go. But we do it together"

Janeway smiled widely and called out, "Computer, issue a shipwide memo: Effective immediately, Dr. Annika Hansen will be accompanying us as a guest lecturer for our return flight to Earth." As the computer acknowledged the command, she rolled over on top of Seven's soft form and added, "Log us both off duty today. Admiral's Priority."

"So recorded."