image of woman sitting in armchair writing

A Haven In Hell

Janeway hugged her oldest and dearest friend closer as if she could draw strength from his impeccable Vulcan self-control. For once he indulged her human sentimentality and returned the embrace. He, too, was vulnerable in his blindness and she allowed herself the thought that in some small way he was comforted too. Somehow, God knows how, she managed to prevent the tears in her eyes from spilling over. It was becoming more and more difficult over the years, in this inhospitable quadrant, so far from home, to assume and maintain that impassive mask of command. Most likely she would never see Tuvok or the rest of the people she had come to consider as family again, a family now scattered to the wind. She battled to keep her emotions in check. Ironic, really, that she now wished she was a little more like her Vulcan friend when she had always privately doubted the merits of repressing one's emotions. But now was not the time for blubbering on someone's shoulder. Giving one last squeeze, Janeway released him and leaned back on a convenient console for support. She needed something solid to anchor her to the desperation of their situation, the finality of these farewells.

She was acutely aware of Seven of Nine's eyes rooted upon her yet she couldn't bring herself to look at the former drone - a late but integral addition to the crew. Some delinquent thought ran through her mind. She wondered if she should hug Seven too. She could well imagine Seven's response to that: the slight widening of her eyes the only indication of her surprise at the unexpected gesture. Would Seven even allow it? The Borg was more than strong enough to push her away. But the idea seemed all too ridiculous and the strand of thought fragmented as quickly as it had sneaked into her head.

Janeway watched mutely as Tuvok took Seven's proffered arm and was led slowly towards the turbolift. It was surprising the bond that had developed between the Vulcan and the Borg. She supposed Seven felt an obligation; Tuvok had saved her life in that Jeffries tube explosion, forfeiting his own sight. Maybe Seven had finally heeded the Captain's lectures about compassion. She felt a surge of pride as she watched them, and sadness, infinitesimal sadness and regret. When the doors closed behind them Janeway took the few steps to the Captain's chair and sank wearily into it. And for once she didn't lounge, she sat neatly, her back straight as if the ship, in its decimated state, demanded final respect. It was the least she could do to honour the vessel that had been through so much, carried them so far but not far enough.

Lost in her maudlin thoughts, she almost didn't notice the hiss of the parting doors or the staccato click of heels on the deck. She inched her head to the right, towards the sounds, then remained perfectly still. She knew without looking who it was.

"Captain," an almost inflectionless yet resonant voice said.

"Seven," Janeway husked in reply, her voice betraying the exhaustion, emotional as well as physical, of the last months, the stress and despair of fighting a losing battle finally taking their toll. Keeping up the facade of command hardly seemed to matter anymore. Seven wasn't Starfleet anyway, an unofficial member of the crew who flouted protocol and questioned her authority. "What are you doing back here? I gave you your orders, now go."

But Seven willfully disregarded that and approached the Captain, stepping around in front of her. Janeway strained to look up at the six foot plus of Borg-human hybrid that filled her vision. She stared into depthless blue eyes, staring up at the child-like face so at odds with the almost ludicrously womanly figure. When Seven first arrived on this ship, Janeway had quickly discovered the physical dichotomy of the newcomer accurately mirrored the intellectual one: how could an individual brimming with the knowledge of thousands of species be so naive, so baffled by actual experience? It was only one of the many complexities that fascinated Kathryn Janeway about her blonde Astrometrics Officer. As for the others, well...she tried not to probe too deeply into those thoughts. All she could admit to herself with a guilt-free conscience was that she found Seven quite beautiful, a young woman with a remarkable intellect and a personality that was equal parts engaging and infuriating. And if she was honest, she had spent a lot more time contemplating the Borg's more admirable qualities of late. Especially since she had received that ‘Dear Jane' letter from Mark.

Now that she was freed from the engagement she wasn't sure how to use that liberty, whether she wanted to or even if she could. It was something of a taboo for Starfleet Captains to conduct romantic relationships with members of their crew, not least because of the kind of speculation it would generate. And on a ship stranded thousands of light years from home...that would be a lot of gossip. Back in the Alpha Quadrant it wouldn't have been an issue, one could simply transfer to another commission or find someone outwith the ship. She had no such luxury here. She wasn't willing to compromise the command structure so she actively discouraged the attentions of potential lovers. Of course she flirted with Chakotay from time to time but that was all it was, harmless flirtation and the First Officer was a friend first and foremost. She knew him too well, there was no mystery anymore and any feelings she had once had for him had faded away to a distant memory.

She searched Seven's eyes for an answer to the defiance of her orders. She wished just for once that Seven would do as she was told, she hadn't the heart any more for the battle of wills that punctuated her confrontations with Seven. Yet there was nothing defiant in her expression now. In fact, the Borg seemed perturbed. "I must...I would like to speak to you, Captain." The correction wasn't lost on Janeway, nor was the hesitation in Seven's voice.

Janeway swallowed with difficulty. "I'm listening." Her steely gaze turned cautious.

"The likelihood of a fatal outcome to this encounter is high and I may not have another opportunity to speak to you." Seven's brutally honest assessments never ceased to unsettle the Captain and that was certainly the case here. She shifted in her chair as Seven continued in a slightly softer tone. "I believe I have developed feelings towards you of a romantic nature."

There it was, the Borg's statement hung in the air between them. The steady hum of the warp core seemed to slow into a slur. The barely illuminated Bridge appeared to darken, shadows stretching out in all directions. Janeway's mouth parted in astonishment. "What?" she asked, her voice thin and rasping. She stared at the blonde, blinking once, twice. All the blood rushed to her ears and she could feel herself trembling violently. She was so cold all of a sudden, shivering with anticipation and, yes, fear. She had never been so terrified in all her life.

"I have developed romantic feelings for you," Seven reiterated, taking the Captain's words literally. "I find you aesthetically pleasing, our intellectual capabilities are compatible and we share a number of interests: quantum mechanics, sculpture, Velocity..."

Janeway rose abruptly from her chair, half-staggering away from it, and Seven ceased listing their common interests. Janeway's hand came to the bridge of her nose, pinching away the headache that was threatening to engulf her. She was trying and failing to get her head around this revelation. "Are you telling me that you're in love with me?" She glanced up at Seven through her eyelashes and witnessed the faint tint of pink that coloured the blonde's normally pale cheeks. It seemed so implausible and yet it made absolute sense. All the little pieces were slotting into place. Why had it not occurred to her before?

"Yes," Seven replied quietly but with complete conviction. Then she appeared to falter, the uncertainty clear to see. Her chin dipped as she spoke, "Do you reciprocate?"

The question stunned Janeway to silence again though she had expected it. She simply wasn't prepared to answer it. She didn't know the answer but, whatever she said, it would have serious repercussions. She had expected to have this discussion some day, just not regarding herself. Harry Kim, maybe. She had never really considered any kind of serious relationship with Seven, it had never occurred to her that the situation could arise. Except maybe in idle fantasy. And she had to admit that she had given considerable thought to those fantasies...When she thought of Seven she was bombarded with a mass of emotions, conflicting and confusing. Admiration, compassion, anger, ambivalence, desire, impossible to separate one from the others. And here was Seven looking at her expectantly, waiting for an answer, balancing precariously on that thin line between elation and despair.

Great timing, Janeway thought with morbid humour, just when I'm about to die I'm suddenly presented with this.

"Captain?" Seven prompted.

Janeway made a defeated gesture. "It's not that simple, Seven." She cast a withering look at the ceiling. "God, if only it were." Her eyes were dark, anguished.

Slowly Seven came closer and Janeway tensed. She felt like she was being swallowed whole by the blonde's wide-eyed stare. The Borg impassivity had fallen away as it always did when Seven became more agitated. Anxiety and apprehension coloured her face. She looked vulnerable, young and indescribably beautiful. "I have observed your behaviour around me and around others and I believe you share my feelings. Your pupils dilate when you look at me; you are tactile when we converse; you encroach beyond acceptable parameters of personal space." Seven's head canted slightly to one side. "You find me physically attractive, do you not?

Janeway couldn't help but smile at the Borg's complete disregard for modesty. "I do," she admitted ruefully," but..."

"Yet you do not wish to enter into a mutually exclusive partnership with me." There was a distinct inflection of pain in Seven's words and her eyes were glazed over with the beginnings of tears. "Why?" Her lips trembled slightly as she stared uncomprehendingly at the Captain.

"That's not it at all," Janeway said softly in her most gentle tone, shaking her head as she spoke. She wanted to reach out to the young woman, to reassure her, but she wasn't sure that she could. Her body decided before her mind could protest and she impulsively touched Seven's cheek. Soft, so incredibly soft. She had assumed, for some reason, that Seven would be hard and unyielding. She was surprised when the blonde leaned in to the touch.

After a moment, Janeway's hand came to rest on the Astrometrics Officer's upper arm. She gave a reassuring squeeze, aware of the ripple of muscle, the deceptive slightness of the young woman that belied her true strength. "You are very special to me. But I can't rush into anything. When my fiancé ended our engagement it was a very painful time for me. I'm still healing emotionally." Hell, Seven was talking about a ‘mutually exclusive partnership' (which sounded suspiciously like marriage) and they hadn't even been on a first date yet. A tiny part of her, probably her father's influence, was still repelled by the mere idea of becoming involved with a crewmember. The more insistent part of her insisted that she give it a shot. Never let it be said that Kathryn Janeway backed away from a challenge. And Seven was certainly that. "I'm still discovering my feelings for you, I'm still feeling my way around this. I've never had a relationship with another female before. I don't want either of us to get hurt." Her rational mind came back to the situation at hand. "If we survive this then maybe we can explore our feelings together. Agreed?"

Seven nodded and smiled so faintly that it was hardly noticeable. But Janeway noticed and the sight of it warmed her. "Agreed." The situation seemed less desolate now, there was a possible future beyond it. One that promised discovery, new experiences and maybe the happiness that had proved elusive in Janeway's life.

"Okay," Janeway said, taking a shaky breath, still petrified but managing to hide it rather well. "You'd better go, we have a mission to complete after all."

Seven turned to leave but paused before she took the first step. "Captain?"

Janeway hoisted an eyebrow. "Yes?"

The hesitancy returned. It was really quite endearing. "May I be permitted to kiss you?"

For a moment, Kathryn Janeway almost forgot to breathe. She stared at the tall Borg, looking something akin to a Terran rabbit trapped in the headlights of an oncoming vehicle. She found herself clutching the arm of Chakotay's chair for support. She exhaled sharply. "Well..." she managed to say in a voice pitched far higher than her normal gravely tones. At a loss, she glanced around herself, searching in vain for the Bridge crew before remembering they were long gone. It was just she and Seven, alone. It wasn't a question of whether she wanted to, she knew with every fibre of her being that she wanted to, she had secretly thought about it for months. That resistant strain of Starfleet protocol remained, screaming impropriety but she clamped down on it. She refused to die without having kissed the blonde. It was as simple as that. No more dithering, no more petty excuses, she told herself. Composing herself quickly, she nodded. "Under the circumstances, I don't see why not." She gave a rakish smile. "I'd like that very much."

She couldn't have said who closed the distance between them. The next thing she knew Seven's breath was on her face, the proximity startling and exciting all at once. All of a sudden she felt like a teenager experiencing her first kiss, not knowing what to expect. In a surreal moment, she wondered if Seven's Borg-enhanced aural implant could detect the thundering of her heart. She gazed up into eyes as blue and flawless as an Earth sky and tilted her chin upward in invitation. "Kiss me," she said in a throaty whisper and Seven complied.

As Seven's mouth clamped down over her own, she felt the Borg's arms pull her nearer, enclosing around her. She was pressed tightly against the hard ridges of the abdominal implant but she wasn't uncomfortable, it was an added sensation for her to savour. She was swooning slightly but Seven held her up. She was almost disappointed when the kiss softened; only for Seven to continue again, applying the slightest of pressure. Kathryn's hands came up to the blonde's shoulders, fingertips smoothing over the mesh-like fabric of Seven's outfit. Then the tip of Seven's tongue teased her lips and she parted her mouth in response, allowing entry. She was being tasted and explored diligently and she was loving every moment of it. Her hands came restlessly to the nape of Seven's neck and the clip that held the blonde's immaculate hair in place. She pulled the hair free, sending long silky hair tumbling down, combing it through ceaselessly with her fingers.

Finally, Kathryn pulled away, gently breaking off the kiss, drawing it out for as long as possible. Seven's metal encased left hand stroked the scar on the older woman's cheek almost with reverence. "I love you, Kathryn Janeway." She said in a breathless whisper with sincerity that only she seemed capable of.

The words were unnecessary but it was gratifying for Kathryn to hear them said aloud. The kiss had communicated all that and much more. She smiled broadly. "If that didn't convince me then nothing would." But she grew serious, covering the blonde's mesh covered hand with her own, utterly taken by the contrast. "If this mission fails or either one of us doesn't get out of this alive, I want you to know..." She stole a gentle kiss from full lips. "I never thought I would feel this way again after Mark. You've made me want to live, I'll never forget that or you."

The Borg's eyes were watery blue, brimming with unshed tears. "You are perfection," Seven whispered and Kathryn watched, amazed, as a solitary tear streaked down a pale cheek. Not since Seven had arrived on the ship had she seen the young woman cry. The former drone had sobbed in anger and fear, lashing out at being severed from the Collective. Ever since Seven had deliberately distanced herself from the crew, refusing to accept the humanity that was reasserting itself in her genes. But that rebellion was fading, how else could a Borg drone understand and feel love? In tender wonder, Kathryn caught the tear on her fingertip and gazed at the moisture on her skin. She brought her finger to her lips, tasting the salt water.

They kissed again, lips meshing softly, slow, lingering kisses that stretched over time and sensation, eating up the minutes. "Tuvok will be wondering where you are," she murmured as she continued to sample Seven's lips.

"I informed the Lieutenant beforehand. He was not surprised," the blonde answered between kisses, cradling the older woman's head in her hands. Her fingers stroked through auburn hair as Kathryn let out an encouraging sigh.

"I need to sit," Kathryn admitted and, before she could protest, Seven swept her off her feet and easily carried her to her chair. The strength of Seven, it thrilled her. The Borg sat down, placing the startled woman on her lap. "This can't be comfortable for you."

"My comfort is irrelevant, yours is of primary importance," Seven replied and resumed kissing Kathryn. Strangely, it was just about the most romantic thing anyone had ever said to her.

"Should I ask how you learned to kiss like this? You're doing very well," she murmured against Seven's lips. She couldn't get enough of Seven's lips, she had never imagined they would be so soft, so pliant and sweet.

"I practiced. In the holodeck," the blonde said between kisses. "With a holographic representation of you."

Kathryn pulled back to stare at Seven. She hardly knew whether to be surprised, flattered or outraged. She settled on a mixture of all three. As she opened her mouth to complain she became distracted by Seven's hand roaming over the back of her uniform, down to her buttocks which the blonde promptly squeezed. The older woman gasped, having not been fondled in this way since her days at the Academy. It was...fairly exciting. Evidently, it wasn't only kissing that Seven had been studying. The Borg used the element of surprise to her advantage and began kissing her way down Kathryn's throat, nuzzling the tender flesh. She loved having her throat kissed; it was one of the exquisite pleasures of life, one she had forgotten that she missed so much.

"Seven," she murmured softly and the blonde withdrew to gaze back at her with dark eyes. Only a tiny ring of blue circled the black pupil. She had never seen Seven look so alluring: hair tousled, lips bruised from kissing. She felt her pulse leap a notch higher. She cupped the blonde's cheek. "Much as I hate to say it, we have to stop."

That hurt look crossed Seven's beautifully disproportionate features again. "I understand."

"No, I don't think you do," Kathryn said delicately. "I want you. Right now. In this chair. I want to make love to you. But I can't. I have a duty to fulfill; this ship and the lives of its crew are my primary responsibilities right now. This isn't the right time for us." How could she expect Seven to understand, she who had so much difficulty comprehending a command structure? A Captain's burden was theirs alone, no one could fathom the responsibility it entailed, especially out here in the Delta Quadrant with no support from Starfleet.

Seven frowned in response, eyebrows furrowing delightfully. "We may never have another opportunity. It would be logical to ‘make love' now."

"I suppose Tuvok told you that?" Kathryn queried with a small laugh.

"He did," Seven replied truthfully.

Janeway raised both eyebrows. She wasn't sure she liked the idea of her Chief Security Officer advising her prospective lover on seduction tactics. She would certainly be having words with him if she survived this. But Seven's mouth came to her neck again, distracting her from all logical thought. "Maybe..." Kathryn sighed as her eyes rolled towards the ceiling; "we should continue my...Ready Room." The words had scarcely left her lips before Seven unceremoniously hoisted her up and into her arms once again. Kathryn gasped softly as she was carried across the threshold of the Bridge and deposited carefully onto the dusty couch. It was the only part of the room not covered in debris and she had slept here fitfully for countless days.

She barely had a chance to gather her scattered wits before Seven's mouth clamped down on her own, their lips bumping hungrily together. They were soon grappling with clothing, tugging restlessly at the apparel under their hands. Kathryn had a valiant struggle with the brown bodysuit that hugged Seven's generous curves until Seven took pity on her and intervened, releasing the clasp at the nape of her neck. The old Earth adage that practice makes perfect sprang mischievously to the older woman's mind... The Borg was typically less patient with Janeway's somewhat grubby and tattered uniform, simply shredding the Starfleet issue grey undershirt efficiently in half and doing similarly to the black trousers. Kathryn was left sitting in her underwear. She regretted that it was only rather matronly bra and briefs, not in the least bit sexy. She felt suddenly foolish and not a little exposed under Seven's precise and attentive gaze. This situation, it occurred to her, was playing out like one of her more puerile sexual fantasies. But the sight of the disheveled blonde expelled all thoughts of her discomfort from her mind.

The mesh-like bodysuit clung loosely to Seven's shoulders now, as if she was shedding her skin. Kathryn reached out and slowly peeled the material from the blonde's shoulders, marveling as each new centimetre of skin was revealed to her. The Borg lowered her eyes as Kathryn glimpsed the extent of the cybernetic implants, where they began on Seven's upper arm; an elegant starburst of metal, the mapwork of grey lines embedded in her skin that connected the implants, stark remnants of her former life as a drone. The blonde seemed ashamed of her appearance but none of it was the least bit repulsive. On the contrary, the metallic embellishments possessed a strange beauty in their symmetry and intricacy. Kathryn continued to peel back the garment, freeing Seven's arms and upper body from their constrictive sheath.

She could not prevent her eyes from falling to Seven's breasts, admiring the contrast of pale nipples against even paler skin. "You're beautiful," Kathryn murmured, a note of awe in her voice.

Seven shook her head. "No, I am imperfect." She spoke haltingly, as if she were about to sob. Her eyes swept over the older woman's wiry, lean form. "You are beautiful."

Kathryn blushed slightly at the compliment, unused to such bold appraisal of her body. However, she overcame her modesty and drew closer to the young woman. Her nerves rippled in response as Seven's heavy breasts brushed tantalisingly against her arm. She bit her lip. Eyes rooted upon the blonde's, she ran her hand down the valley between Seven's breasts. She traced fingertips over the ribbed abdominal implant, stroking warm flesh between the cool bands of metal. She wanted to show Seven that she wasn't afraid to touch her or the active Borg implants that punctuated her flesh. She wanted Seven to understand her desire.

Seven's enhanced left hand pressed the older woman gently back onto the sofa. She lowered herself with the utmost care, not wanting her greater body mass to squash the smaller woman, and their lips connected again. They kissed softly, exploring slowly with lips and tongues like velvet caresses. Kathryn's hands played over the blonde's shoulders, the smooth planes of her back, the defined ridge of shoulder blades flexing under her touch. She continued like this for long contented minutes before her hands finally fell to the bodysuit pooled at Seven's waist. The younger woman raised her hips in compliance, allowing Kathryn to push the material past perfectly rounded buttocks and down Seven's body until the Borg extracted her legs and kicked the garment away.

The intriguing mixture of warm skin and cool implants thrilled Kathryn, a mingling of sensations unlike anything she had ever experienced before. Every point where Seven made contact with her skin was tingling with feeling; warm, full lips, soft strands of blonde hair tickling her shoulders, breasts heavy against her own smaller ones, hard, unyielding metal against her belly; a supple thigh wedged between her own, rough thatch of hair grazing her hip. Delirious, unable to breathe, her lips wrestled free of Seven's, instead fastening on the blonde's shoulder, leaving wide, open-mouthed kisses on salty skin. Seven nuzzled her neck. This was her haven in a year of hell.

They surged against each other, limbs and curves slotting comfortably into place like a perfect fit. Kathryn felt the younger woman settle against her thigh, hot and mercurial against her skin. The blonde sighed into her ear, sending a shiver thrumming right through her, down to the very tips of her toes. She lifted her hips and Seven removed her underwear, discarding lingerie onto the floor along with the rest of their clothes. She murmured her pleasure into Seven's skin as the Borg began to kiss her neck again, trailing a thousand tiny kisses down the length of her throat to the base. Seven continued on that path, scattering kisses over the older woman's chest, her collarbone, tongue dipping momentarily into the hollow before resuming course. Kathryn held her breath as Seven kissed around the swell of her breast, the anticipation building, almost intoxicating. Moments later, her nipple pebbled instantly under the soft caress of Seven's lips. The Borg tested the fleshy protrudence with the tip of her tongue before taking the sensitive nub into her mouth. Kathryn moaned loudly. With each gentle pull, the she felt her chest expand. With each pull she pressed harder against Seven. She wanted to cling desperately to the blonde. She wrapped her arms tightly around Seven's shoulders, as if she could draw the young woman into her heart by sheer force.

Seven's mouth was eager against her breast, sucking harder now, tongue flicking relentlessly against the tender nipple. Kathryn gazed down at Seven's face - eyes shut in concentration, mouth working diligently - in a sensual haze. It seemed for a moment that she had stepped out of her own body and was observing herself from a distance. But Seven's abrupt change to lavish attention on the other nipple brought her sharply back to herself. The Borg's thigh moved against her, sending a bolt of fire straight to her groin, and she heard herself cry out softly.

Seven drew back, watching her expression intently. Pale blue eyes, glazed over with what could only be lust. Full lips, moist and parted. It was too much. Roughly, Kathryn pulled Seven up for a kiss, devouring that luscious mouth with a hunger that surprised even herself. She invaded Seven's mouth with her tongue, ravaging the sweetness she found there. The blonde was groaning into her mouth and she had never heard a sound so beautiful, so erotic. The younger woman was rocking urgently against her, slick and hot against her skin. Kathryn matched the pace, grinding, caressing every inch of skin within her reach. She could feel her own release imminent but just beyond reach, just a little further. Seven's body went rigid suddenly; a matter of seconds passed but it seemed like an eternity. Kathryn felt the sweet dampness flood her skin and that was enough to topple her, her own orgasm crashing down around her moments later.

Her mind was like mush; all thoughts were merely sensory. Seven panting softly into her mouth, their breath mingling, the sharp metallic scent that rose from their bodies, her own heartbeat hammering in her ears, white-blonde hair like a silky curtain over her eyes.

Hair obscured Seven's eyes and her cheeks were flushed pink. Kathryn had never seen the Borg hybrid look more human. This was Anneka Hansen, aged twenty-four, not Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of the Unimatrix 01. Whatever the hell that meant. It took Kathryn a moment to realise that the younger woman was crying. She pushed Seven's hair back from her face and watched the course of her tears. "Shh, I'm here, I've got you," Kathryn hushed, wiping away the tears. "I love you." That little admission had slipped out unintentionally but she realised that she believed it, utterly and without question. There was no doubt in her mind, in that moment, that she had never loved anyone more. But her words did nothing to stem the flow of Seven's tears.

"I do not understand this response. I do not know why I am crying," Seven said, clearly distressed.

"Crying isn't always a negative response," Kathryn replied gently, tightening her hold of the blonde. "It can be an expression of great joy." Lips quirked into a wry smile. "At least I hope so in this case."

Seven met her eyes quickly. "I have never been happier."

The older woman couldn't help but smile more broadly. "Good," she said and leaned in for a tender kiss, silently communicating her own happiness. The kiss soon turned playful; she teased Seven's lips with her tongue, darting out briefly before retreating. But Seven's reflexes were quicker than her own and the Borg trapped Kathryn's bottom lip between her teeth, nibbling gently on the sensitive lip then relenting.

Kathryn's head lolled back on the soft cushion of the couch and let out a long sigh. Her grey-blue eyes settled on the ceiling as she tried to deny that this luxurious moment was coming to an end. In a matter of weeks all this, Seven, might be cruelly taken from her. If there was some higher being, which her scientific mind had always been skeptical about, then surely it was mocking her with this brief happiness. Allowing her to experience for one day what she could have had sooner if she hadn't been such a coward, such a slave to protocol and regulations.

"We should get some rest," she said at last, bleakness tingeing her voice more than she realised. Best to get up and dressed before she ruined the moment, sacrificing the happiness she now held so dear with her suffocating mood.

Seven idly traced the scar on her lover's cheek with her metal-tipped thumb, even that simple touch enough to set Kathryn's stomach fluttering. "I do not require regeneration at this time. It will take approximately 31 days to reach the weapon ship, I wish to stay here on Voyager with you." Seven studied Kathryn's profile, the pale skin, the tiny lines around the older woman's eyes that betrayed her age, the set of her mouth as she took the breath to quash that suggestion. "I know," the blonde said, before Kathryn had a chance to object, covering the parted lips with her finger. "I find this situation unpleasant, I do not wish to be separated from you but I will comply. The ship is your priority." Seven spoke softly, blonde lashes fanning alabaster cheeks. "And I have my own duty to fulfill." There was a slight touch of ambivalence in her voice.

Kathryn sat up; arms still draped around Seven's shoulders. "I wish things were different, darling," she replied. She dipped her head to meet the blonde's almost baleful stare. "There's so much to be done." Not least of which was the mammoth task of equipping their allies with temporal shielding. "I need your co-operation now more than ever. If I had the choice..."

"You do not," Seven interrupted, blunt as ever. "It would be a frivolous exercise to speculate otherwise."

"Perhaps," Kathryn allowed dryly. She wondered how things had turned sour so quickly and how she could salvage this. She didn't want to alienate Seven, not now. "I'm your lover and your friend but I'm also the commanding officer of this ship. That's a twenty four-hour responsibility. And sometimes that might cause conflict between the various aspects of my life."

"Always the Captain," Seven muttered.

Kathryn's eyes darkened a shade as she turned her eyes on the Borg like lasers. "Yes, always the Captain." Her arms sagged on Seven's shoulders and fell to her side. She slipped from under their entangled limbs and pulled on her underwear. She reached absently for her trousers until she remembered they'd been torn from her body. The mere thought of that pricked something carnal in her, rekindling the fire in her belly, as did the scandalous nudity of the young woman reclining on her couch. Seven, so unlike herself, the cool exterior and mantle of Borg primness melted away, now all too wantonly exposed in her humanity. And her own conduct, completely unbecoming of a Starfleet officer. She suppressed a self-satisfied grin and stooped to retrieve the fob watch that Chakotay had given her on her last birthday. He'd kept it for her, despite her order to recycle it. She wondered if she'd ever see him alive again.

Seven's pained voice interrupted her reverie. "What about Kathryn Janeway? The woman who made love to me?" Seven demanded, disturbed by the unusual tightness in her throat that made it suddenly difficult to respire.

Kathryn leveled dark grey eyes at the younger woman, her mouth looking almost mean. Seven seemed on the verge of tears again. She stared hard at the blonde, struck by the most perverse thought that the Borg possessed the kind of beauty that made one either want to kiss her or smother her. Shaken by that thought, Kathryn forced herself to look away. Instead she stared at the starfield, the great expanse of stars, the sight that had so inspired her as a child in rural Indiana. Her inspiration lay elsewhere now, she found.

"Sometimes I have to be two different people," Kathryn explained matter-of-factly and stood, her back to Seven as she retrieved her bra. "I can only be Kathryn for a little while before I have to slip into Captain Janeway mode, as I am now." She slipped the straps over her shoulders and snapped the little hooks into place behind her back. Stalking over to the sole functioning replicator on the ship she keyed in the instructions for a fresh uniform. The voice recognition algorithm of the main computer had long since been damaged and no one had quite got around to fixing it. There had always been more pressing matters deserving attention. Then it'd been too late, after she'd ordered the crew to man the escape pods and shuttles. She certainly didn't have the time or inclination to tinker with the computer herself. Well, might as well look my best when I go down with the ship... The neatly folded and pressed uniform materialised soundlessly in the receptacle.

When she glanced back at Seven she noticed the young woman was now crying, staring up at the hole in the ceiling, still gloriously naked, having made no move to clothe herself. The vulnerability that Seven exuded was enough to knock the air out of Kathryn's lungs. Hurting Seven was the last thing she wanted to do. It wasn't easy for her either, but Seven had to know from the beginning that this was how things had to be. Being the lover of a Captain carried certain consequences, especially out here in the Delta Quadrant. Kathryn quickly pulled on the standard issue trousers, turtleneck and jacket, pausing to attach the watch to her waistband. Seven's tear-streaked face turned towards her, eyes large and forlorn.

"Why are you behaving in this manner?" Seven choked between sobs. "Why are you inflicting this pain upon me?"

Kathryn crossed the room in a matter of strides, kneeling down before the couch. "I'm sorry, Seven, please believe me. I never intended to upset you." She took the younger woman's left hand, tracing the metallic lines softly and the pale flesh between. "It isn't going to be easy for us. I won't pretend about that. If and when we reunite this crew, I won't always be able to be with you when you'd like. I can't always be Kathryn with you. When we're on duty you'll have to adhere to the command structure." She considered that for a moment then the corner of her mouth curled into a rueful half-smile. "Or at least try. Seven, we'll have to make compromises on a daily basis. We'll be under constant scrutiny - the crew will discuss intimate details of our relationship and sometimes their comments may be intrusive and uncomfortable, perhaps even hostile." She paused, fully aware that Seven was considered the most eligible woman aboard this ship. News of their relationship would break a fair number of hearts, both male and female, she was sure. She reached out to wipe away a stray tear before caressing Seven's cheek. "Are you sure you want to continue this? I'm not such a prime catch, after all."

"I love you," Seven responded simply, as if that was the answer to everything. She did not elaborate, merely staring directly into Kathryn's eyes. Her pale blue eyes glowed with warmth, shining with a luminosity that conveyed the depth of feeling that made words insufficient.

"That's all I needed to know," Kathryn said, aware that there was no going back now. At the end of the day, it all came down to their feelings for each other, nothing else mattered. Except duty. Well, they'd deal with that brick wall when it arose. There was no sense in speculating about the future when she had no idea if they'd even survive the confrontation with the weapon ship.

Smiling slightly, Kathryn pushed to her feet. She was still a little tender from her recent brush with a plasma fire. The scars on her hands and arms were testament to that - and the gymnastics on the couch hadn't helped matters, though it had been highly distracting. For a moment her eyes lingered over the tall Borg's lanky figure. All too inviting. "You should get dressed," she rasped, her throat gone dry. "We shouldn't keep Tuvok waiting."

Seven nodded without comment and sat up. Within moments her form-fitting brown suit was back on. The only indication of their liaison was the blonde's mussed hair, falling in soft waves around her face. Kathryn was staring but she couldn't help herself. She could never tire of looking at Seven. Seven, who used to insist that beauty, and everything else that pleased the senses, was irrelevant. She wondered what Seven thought about that now. "You should wear your hair down more often. It's lovely."

"Is that an order?" Seven queried as she pinned her hair back up again, not a hair out of place.

Kathryn was about to respond when she noticed the subtle curve of the blonde's mouth and the tiny creases around her eyes that meant that Seven was teasing her. She laughed, for what seemed like the first time in months. She watched Seven's lips slowly spread into a smile that seemed to transform her pale features. "I want you to regenerate regularly. I need all of you to perform at your best when we take on Annorax." She pointed a finger at the tall Borg. "And that is an order."

"Yes, Captain."

"Good. Now, come here. I want to hold you again." Kathryn smiled, holding out her open arms. Seven went immediately to her embrace, nuzzling auburn hair. Soon their lips found each other and they kissed leisurely, sensations rippling through them. As the kiss began to escalate, Kathryn pulled back reluctantly. "Go," she said, voice pitched low and smoky. "Be careful." She wanted to say more but thought the better of it. Seven merely nodded, unable to speak, to give voice to the emotions that churned within her, her grasp on composure tentative at best, and turned towards the door. She looked back only once at the threshold, eyes silently expressing her fears and her love, before continuing out onto the Bridge.

Kathryn did not follow but her gaze remained fixed on the doorway where Seven had lingered. After what must surely have been several minutes, she glanced at the couch, the rumpled blanket they'd laid on, the ruined uniform on the floor. She could smell Seven's scent on her clothes and hair, could still feel the warmth of the blonde. She could still taste Seven's lips. The younger woman's touch was branded on her skin, forever there like the scars of the burns inflicted upon her by the plasma fire. But the memory gave her strength. They would get through this, they would survive. She was determined to see Seven again, that she would feel that sustaining touch again. Failure wasn't an option for Kathryn Janeway, not as a starship captain and not in a relationship. She was too stubborn for that.

She moved toward the door then realised that something was missing. Her fingertips came to her turtleneck. She wandered over to her desk and found the four pips of command glinting back at her. She affixed them carefully, staring at her reflection in her shattered computer screen. Not too shabby, all things considered. And it was with renewed confidence that she strode out of the ready room, squaring her shoulders against the challenge ahead.

The End