In the cabin next door Voyager's first officer was trying to sleep in an attempt to make up for all of the restless nights of the previous month. But when the cries and moans from the adjacent quarters began to filter into his cabin he gave it up as a lost cause.
"Honestly," he grumbled crankily, "don't they ever stop?"
Rising and quickly throwing on an old pair of academy sweats Chakotay left his quarters.
Maybe I can get some sleep on the sofa in my office, he thought as he took the turbolift to deck one.
"I'm getting images from the other side," Harry Kim reported excitedly from his operations console on the bridge.
An image of static filled the view screen, causing a feeling of nervous anticipation and it was all Janeway could do not to run over and clean up the distortion herself.
"There's a lot of interference," the young man continued, "but I think I can clean it up."
Suddenly an unfocused display of a blue and green planet filled the viewport, shimmering momentarily before it solidified into the long-awaited sight of Earth.
"How long until we reach the wormhole?" Chakotay questioned breathlessly, leaning against the railing at the rear of the bridge. The man was too excited to sit, but couldn't look away from the sight before him.
Baytart had to forcibly tear his eyes away from the screen to scan his readouts before replying, "Fifty-three minutes, sir."
"Maintain course," Janeway ordered automatically.
"All hands, secure all systems," Chakotay continued with his eyes fastened forward.
Sitting with solemn dignity at her command chair Kathryn said softly to the helmsman, "When we reach Earth's orbit lay in a descent trajectory for the North American continent. Starfleet Headquarters."
The next hour passed agonizingly slowly as the crew waited. Anyone who had an excuse and the opportunity found their way to the bridge to watch their progress with eager anticipation, but Kathryn said nothing. She completely understood the need to see their home once again.
B'Elanna Torres was sitting at the auxiliary engineering station while Seven of Nine occupied the aft science console, ostensibly monitoring for any last minute difficulties. Kathryn had been secretly thrilled when her younger partner walked onto the bridge, wanting to share their triumphant return home with the other woman even if protocol dictated that she couldn't declare it openly at the moment.
Finally the intrepid ship and crew reached the outer rim of the wormhole.
"Take us in nice and easy, Mister Baytart," Janeway ordered quietly, casting a quick glance back, making eye contact with her fiancee in a look that spoke volumes before turning back to the sight before them.
Janeway forced herself to remain seated, setting an example of consummate pride and self-control in the face of this most heartening moment.
As soon as they cleared the end of the anomaly Kim reported, "I'm receiving a hail. It's Starfleet."
Cheers erupted all over the bridge, and it was a moment before Kathryn could clear the emotion from her throat to order, "On screen."
She was delighted to see the image of her friend and former mentor, Admiral Paris fill the forward viewport. Around him she could see a few other members of Starfleet Command, to include Admiral Necheyev who was still Kathryn's superior officer.
"Welcome home, Kathryn," Paris said warmly.
Standing at attention she replied in a gravelly voice, "It's good to be back, sir."
Necheyev was notably quiet while arrangements were made for the Voyager crew to dock at McKinley Station located on Earth's moon.
They were to stay there long enough for Starfleet medical personnel to ensure that they were free of any alien pathogens before finishing the trip to Earth. Kathryn didn't know what to think of the petite blonde's reticence, but found it disturbing how her eyes seemed fixed on Seven of Nine. Her husband and niece had been lost to the collective at Wolf 359 and her disdain of the Borg was no secret.
"You'll be docking at the San Francisco ship-yards as soon as you're cleared from McKinley Station. And Kathryn, don't worry. We'll contact everyone's families and let them know the good news," the older man finished jovially.
"Thank you, sir. I'm looking forward to it."
Then Kathryn remembered that there was some not so good news she still had to break to the man and she quickly continued before he had a chance to end the com-link. "Sir."
Admiral Paris turned to look at her curiously, and she continued with a heavy heart. "I'm afraid there's something I need to tell you."
The white haired gentleman glanced quickly down at Ensign Baytart, Voyager's current pilot, before gently interrupting the captain. "I already know, Kathryn. We began downloading your logs as soon as you entered the wormhole. But, we'll talk about it later."
Relieved at not having to actually say the words Janeway didn't question how they had downloaded the logs without the crew's knowledge in such a short amount of time and merely nodded in acknowledgement before the channel was closed.
There was a moment of dazed stillness before Kathryn rejuvenated the crew by saying, "Well you heard the man, Baytart. Lay in a course for McKinley Station."
The next few hours flew by as the ship docked with the spaceport and most of the crew began packing their belongings. Non-vital systems were taken off-line and only a skeleton crew remained to keep the primary systems functioning while the crew was checked over by a team of medical personnel.
Janeway was sitting in her ready room anticipating the conclusion of the exams when Ensign Kim hailed her over the com system.
"Captain, you have an incoming communique from Earth." Something in the eager young man's tone caught Kathryn's attention and her heart began thumping in anticipation at whom the call could be from.
"Put it through to my ready room, Mister Kim."
A moment later her display activated and Kathryn found herself staring into her mother's face. She was almost exactly as Kathryn remembered when she had last said good-bye to the older woman six years before with only a few more wrinkles of strain around her eyes. She had the same auburn mane as her daughter and the resemblance of facial features between the two was unmistakable.
Quickly raising her hands to cover her mouth and nose Kathryn had to stifle the sob at the stab of unexpected emotions that rushed through her at the sight of this person.
"Mommy?" she asked tremulously, no longer a Starfleet Captain, but merely a daughter that had missed her mother terribly.
"Hello, Kathryn," Gretchen said with a huge grin and suspiciously shiny eyes. "We've missed you so much, darling. Admiral Paris contacted us a few hours ago and told us the good news. I never doubted for an instant that you would make it home."
Reaching out a trembling hand to caress the image on the screen Kathryn said, "Oh, mom. I've missed you, too. I even missed Phoebe's teasing and there's so much I need to tell you."
Giving her oldest daughter a reassuring look Gretchen said, "We'll have plenty of time to catch up now that you're home. Phoebe and I will be leaving for San Francisco immediately. We'll be waiting for you at the shipyards when you finish bringing your crew back."
Kathryn took the words to heart, knowing how much she needed that time of catching up. But she also knew there was something she needed to tell her now instead of springing on the older woman unexpectedly when they were finally face to face.
"Mom, I need to tell you," she said nervously, effectively piquing the other woman's curiosity. "I'm engaged."
"Oh, Kathryn! That's wonderful news. I assume we'll be meeting him when you land?" her mother prompted excitedly.
Grinning wryly, Janeway shrugged . "Oh, yes, you'll be meeting. But my fiancee is not a man; she's an incredibly wonderful woman named Annika Hansen. She prefers to go by Seven of Nine though."
"I don't understand, Kathryn," the older woman admitted. "Why would she want to be called by something so cumbersome?"
Kathryn had known this question was coming and faced it head on with pride in the young woman who had struggled so valiantly to regain some of her individuality. "Because that was her designation when I liberated her from the Borg Collective. I guess she got used to it."
For a moment the older Janeway looked taken aback and Kathryn was afraid she had broken the news too indelicately. Then her mother burst into laughter, her whole body shaking with her mirth. "Oh, darling, trust you to never do anything half way. Well, whoever she is, I'm sure we'll adore her."
Just then Kathryn saw Gretchen looking back over her shoulder as though someone had entered the room with her. "That's Phoebe, dear. I guess I'll end this for now so we can get going. Oh, and Kathryn?" her mother said intently, "I love you, darling. I'm so glad you're home."
"Me too, mom," Kathryn assured the other woman gently.
The communications channel was cut a moment later, leaving Janeway feeling slightly disappointed that she hadn't gotten to talk to her sister, but even more excited to finally be home. But another incoming message from Starfleet Headquarters a few minutes later buoyed her spirits and made her feel like there was nothing she and her crew couldn't overcome. Starfleet had seen fit to pardon all crimes from the Maquis against the Federation. Everything seemed to be falling in place; it was like a dream come true.
After that she didn't have time to wonder or worry about anything as the Voyager crew began preparing the ship to leave the moon's orbit. Kathryn had only seen Seven for a few minutes, barely managing a quick kiss and making plans to meet near the main exit before rushing off to finish last minute chores. Seven was required to shut down the Astrometrics lab while Kathryn was required on the bridge, but when the final course was laid in for San Francisco the captain couldn't stand it anymore. She wanted Seven to be with her for this special occasion.
Just as Voyager began cutting through the clouds in Earth's atmosphere Janeway stood up and slapped her combadge. "Seven of Nine to the bridge," she ordered shortly.
Then she walked around to the aft railing, unable to sit in her excitement. A few moments later the turbolift doors opened and the former drone entered the bridge. She walked up next to Kathryn expecting to be given an order and was mildly surprised when the older woman merely slipped an arm around her waist and continued to stare at the unfolding scene.
"Atmospheric thrusters only, Pablo," Kathryn ordered as the ship descended near the Alameda shipyards.
"Aye, Captain," the young man responded smartly.
Then they were out of the clouds and Kathryn gasped at the sight below them. Throngs of people abounded, the streets had been decorated with banners, and pyrotechnics were going off all around the Intrepid class vessel. It seemed like the whole world had turned out to welcome the wayward ship and crew back to Earth.
"Condition Blue, Mister Tuvok," Chakotay ordered.
Millions of people watched from the streets and over video monitors as the ship and crew that had been lost for six years prepared to land on the docking port. Although the ship was a little the worse for wear there had never been a more wonderful sight as the intrepid craft flew to the head of the procession where it would set down before the assembled masses.
Inertial dampers were aligned to flight configuration for the few final kilometers of the journey and then Voyager was hovering over the ground and the landing struts were lowered into place with a slight thud. They hovered in stillness for a moment before the vessel was lowered majestically to the ground.
"We're down," Baytart reported unnecessarily from his post, but he doubted that anyone heard him as they all seemed to freeze in shock at finally returning.
Kathryn broke the stunned moment by turning to Seven, reaching up to gently cup the beautiful face between both hands and kissing the younger woman breathless. The presence of the bridge crew was completely forgotten as she concentrated on the feel and taste of thoroughly kissing her Annika for the first time on her home world.
When she finally pulled back Annika was swaying slightly and breathing deeply with a heavy-lidded gaze.
"Welcome home, darling," Kathryn said happily.
Voyager's crew was lined up to disembark at the main hatchway located on deck fifteen. As protocol dictated they were waiting for the captain and the senior staff to exit the vessel first. No longer the former drone's captain, Kathryn held tightly to her young fiancee's hand as they approached the exit, but released it just before walking down the ramp in the interests of protocol and maintaining appearances in front of her commanding officers.
Since they had landed at the head of the parade and the people respectfully stayed behind the barricades Voyager's compliment didn't have to fight through a mass of humanity to clear the ramp. Followed closely by her crew, the valiant captain was overwhelmed by cheers from the crowd. Then, through the milling throng, she watched in pleased anticipation as Admirals Paris and Necheyev approached them. Both were grinning widely and Kathryn suddenly found herself caught up in an uncharacteristic bear hug by the burley man. Just as suddenly, he was releasing her and chuckling abashedly at his enthusiasm while still maintaining a grip on her hand.
"Welcome home, Kathryn," the older man said with a happy grin. "I never doubted it."
The feisty woman was surprised to hear this because she had certainly long since began to have doubts of a successful return. Of course she would never have admitted that to her crew, but in her heart she knew she had long since given up hope.
"Thank you, sir. It's good to be home."
Janeway's smaller commanding officer stepped forward and offered a more reserved handshake, but her smile was just as brilliant as her former mentor's had been.
"Captain," Necheyev greeted while pumping Kathryn's hand fervently, "I'm so relieved you've all made it back."
Refusing to think about the fact that not everyone had made it back, Kathryn merely accepted the sentiment for how it was intended and thanked the woman. Curious how her superior would react to her companion she pulled Seven forward and introduced her to the pair.
A frown briefly crossed Necheyev's features as she studied Seven's implants, but Janeway felt it was more a frown of contemplation than disdain. Perhaps she had come to terms with the tragic loss in her life, or more likely, she realized that Seven had not had a choice in the actions she had taken while being a member of the collective.
"Seven," the older blonde said hesitantly, "Well, if Captain Janeway has become engaged to you, I think it's safe to say that you won't try to assimilate us."
Kathryn prevented herself from groaning at the poor humor only by the thinnest of margins, but Seven only raised her eyebrow in response. "Indeed. I can assure you that the Federation is safe. At least for now."
The quick, deadpan comeback seemed to strike a nerve with Necheyev and her head snapped back as though she had been slapped.
Then her eyes widened and a huge friendly grin spread over her face. The Nordic blonde liked intimidating people immediately upon meeting them, somehow using the tactic as a way to throw them off guard and firmly let them know their place. But when someone actually had the fortitude to stand up to her and call her on it she delighted in it, believing it showed strength of character that she had found desperately lacking in most people.
"I like her, Kathryn," the smaller blonde stated, forgetting decorum in her delight. "She's got spunk!"
Relieved that there apparently would be no animosity between the two women, Admiral Paris stepped in and said, "I think the crowd would like to hear a few words from you, Captain. If you'll come with me?"
Room For Doubt
The lights were lowered in the captain's quarters. It was late into the gamma shift, and Kathryn Janeway and Seven of Nine were slumbering peacefully in the middle of the large bed in the captain's quarters. They actually took up very little room with both of them snuggled so closely together. Seven was wrapped possessively around the smaller woman from behind, one long arm lay against the mattress with the captain's small auburn head resting on it, while the other encircled Kathryn's wiry torso with a hand gently cupping one of the small breasts.
Janeway, the captain of the Starship so far from home, slept more peacefully than she ever had before when she was wrapped in these loving arms and the relative calm of the last few weeks added to that contentment. Voyager had been traveling through a quiet and friendly sector of space, the crew even appearing to take the relationship between a former Borg and their intrepid leader in stride.
A sudden chirp from the captain's combadge disturbed the quiet and Janeway frowned as she tried to ignore the intrusive sound. The noise repeated a moment later and Kathryn heaved a sigh of resignation before answering.
"Janeway here, what is it?" she asked in a voice heavy with sleep.
"Sorry to disturb you captain, but sensors are reading a wormhole nearby. I thought you might want to take a look."
For a moment the auburn-haired commanding officer wondered what was so special about a spatial anomaly that her exec felt the need to disturb her sleep. For that matter, he shouldn't even be on the bridge at this time of the night.
"I'll join you in a few minutes, Commander. Just give me time for a quick shower," she said, giving in to the inevitable.
"Understood," he said simply before cutting the channel.
"Kathryn?" Seven muttered sleepily as the other woman began to move away from her.
"It's all right, darling," Kathryn said, patting the young woman gently on the leg. "Go back to sleep, I'm sure it's nothing."
Climbing into the sonic shower the older woman leaned weakly against the stall and commanded the computer to activate the setting. As much as the emitters gave her a headache the sonic shower verses the hydro setting she preferred was a necessity in the interests of time. Kathryn waited for the shower to eliminate the smells of the love making she had shared with her partner during the night while she rested with her weight on her hands and closed her eyes to rest for a few more moments.
Idly she wondered again why Chakotay would be on the bridge this late. The man had appeared haggard and exhausted for the last week and Kathryn worried that he wasn't getting enough rest. She would have expected this to be the case while he had been actively countermanding her orders, but now that they had reached a tentative truce he should be sleeping easily. Obviously there was something she didn't know. Oh well, she thought resignedly, he'll tell me what's wrong when he's ready.
The shower completed its cycle and Kathryn climbed wearily out, grabbing the uniform she had prepared for the morning shift. She added the pips to her collar as she walked back through the bedroom to get her boots. Spying the luscious blonde sleeping in her bed a lascivious grin curled one corner of her mouth and her eyes sparkled happily.
The poor girl was positively worn out, she thought. But who could blame her? Since Seven had moved in they seemed to be constantly making love and the young woman was having trouble keeping up. She wasn't exactly used to such an expenditure of energy and, feeling the exhaustion in her own bones, Kathryn had to admit she wasn't accustomed to it either. The only thing that put a damper on her joy was that B'Elanna hadn't been able to move Seven's alcove into their quarters. To do so would have required a major re-routing of the systems power conduits and as captain Kathryn couldn't justify the man-hours or the power drain for such an undertaking.
As a result Janeway and Seven were forced to spend a few nights a week apart. Then again, she thought good-naturedly, it was probably a good thing because it allowed them both some time to rest between bouts.
Kathryn reluctantly left the darkened quarters and made her way to the turbolift, passing no one in the corridor due to the lateness of the hour. She rested one hand beside the lift's door jam and one hand on her hip, allowing her thoughts to return to the evening's activities with Seven. Shivers of arousal thrilled down her spine as she remembered the woman's unique flavor. Kathryn had introduced the younger woman to the pleasures of oral sex and Seven couldn't seem to get enough.
Honestly, Kathryn thought, we're acting like a couple of over-sexed teenagers. Or like we're on our honeymoon, she admitted with a wry grin as the turbolift stopped at its destination.
As soon as the door opened she saw her chief of security working busily at his station while Commander Chakotay manned the aft science station.
"Wormhole?" she questioned, stepping off the lift with the grin still plastered to her face.
Tuvok responded smartly to her query. "Approximately four hundred million kilometers from our current location."
Chakotay was busily punching buttons at the science console and looking completely exhausted. "Take a look at its transkinetic vector," he suggested.
Kathryn slid in front of him after casting him a worried glance before fixing her eyes on the console. She was startled by what she saw.
"It leads to sector 001," she breathed.
"It looks like a wormhole, but we've detected massive bio-plasmic activity," Chakotay added, before turning away to verify readings on another workstation.
Casting a wry look at Tuvok Janeway said sarcastically, "A direct route to Earth's doorstep, out of the blue. What's wrong with this picture?"
"We should launch a probe," Chakotay advised, turning back around.
Kathryn walked down the steps to the command center sliding her hand along the railing while she thought quickly.
"Go to yellow alert," she ordered as she sat in her chair. "Prepare a class five probe. Lets see what's really out there."
A few hours later Janeway, Chakotay, Kim and Seven were busy in the Astrometrics lab. After launching the probe the four were verifying every piece of data that poured into the ship's data banks. So far nothing seemed amiss. There were no ships hiding near the wormhole in preparation of an ambush, all sensor readings were consistent with a class two wormhole and there was no reason to believe things weren't exactly what they looked like.
News of the discovery had spread rapidly throughout the ship and crewmembers were excited as they bustled around, going about their duties. Paths that seemed to lead directly home had disappointed them before, but hope seemed to spring ever eternal.
"This is almost too good to believe!" Harry Kim stated exuberantly as he studied the information coming across his board.
Kathryn patted him on the shoulder and quipped, "Never bet against the house."
Then she wandered over to find out what Seven was working on. As she stepped up behind the young woman she couldn't prevent herself from sliding in so closely that she could feel the heat radiating off the former drone's body. Her nostrils flared as she inhaled the fresh clean scent of her partner and she had to restrain herself from embracing the woman. The excitement in the air was contagious and she desperately wanted to share her happiness with this woman, but duty won out over her elation and she controlled her baser urges.
"What are you working on?" she asked in a gentle voice that was anything but commanding.
Seven quirked a brow in amusement at the tone before responding, "I have been checking for anomalous readings inside the wormhole, but there are none."
Just then Ensign Kim announced, "The probe is starting to receive telemetry. It might take a while to get back to us."
Kathryn refocused her attention on the young woman in front of her. "In that case, would you like to have some lunch with me?" she invited.
Seven acquiesced with a dip of her head and the two women left the lab. She was surprised a moment later when Kathryn interlinked an arm with her own. Being as conscientious as she was about protocol and professional behavior while on duty, Kathryn had never touched her so intimately before during their duty shifts and the young woman realized that part of it was an expression of the happiness she felt at being so close to home.
Inside the mess hall crewmembers were laughing and talking excitedly and Kathryn was gratified that they hardly even seemed to glance at the couple that entered the room, not realizing that the sight of the two women together had become somewhat commonplace.
Time passed quickly as the ship was prepared for the final part of their journey. Unused areas were powered down completely to reduce the threat of conduits overloading while traversing the anomaly and those of the crew fortunate enough to not be on duty at the moment packed personal belongings.
At the end of Alpha shift Janeway and Seven walked back to their quarters to spend their last night on the ship. It would be another twelve hours until they reached the perimeter of the wormhole and Kathryn had something very important to discuss with the other woman before then.
"Would you like to grab some dinner in the mess hall or just replicate something here?" Kathryn began as soon as they entered the quarters.
Considering briefly Seven answered, "Neither. Neelix has been teaching me to cook. I would like to prepare something for you myself."
"Really?" Kathryn asked in pleased surprise while throwing her jacket over the arm of the sofa "When did you start doing that?" she purred, slipping her arms around the young woman's tiny waist. Snuggling close to the tall blonde she began planting a string of kisses along Seven's collarbone.
Seven's respiration elevated as she embraced the smaller woman, absorbing the feel of the kisses.
"Maybe we should just skip dinner for now," Janeway suggested in that wonderful smoky voice that sent chills along Seven's spine.
"Did you have something specific in mind?" she questioned with feigned innocence.
Small, quick teeth bit teasingly at the long neck. Seven gasped in arousal and her eyes closed at the assault of sensations generated by the contact.
"You know perfectly well what I have in mind," Janeway admonished playfully as she grasped double handfuls of Seven's muscled backside.
Seven nuzzled the smaller woman briefly before responding. "You have been very amorous today, my Kathryn. The discovery of the anomaly has made you very happy."
Resting her cheek against the blonde's bountiful chest Kathryn heaved a contented sigh.
"Oh, my darling, you have no idea. I feel as if the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders."
"But perhaps there is something more?" the younger woman questioned feeling the tension in the small, lithe body.
Chuckling ruefully Kathryn pulled away and grasped the young woman's hands. "You know me so well."
Tugging gently she said, "Come, sit with me, there's something I would like to ask."
Curiously Seven followed her partner over to the sofa and settled comfortably against the cushions with Kathryn tucked against her side. She waited patiently for the woman she loved to organize her thoughts, brushing soft, fleeting kisses against the fiery auburn mane in the interim.
"Darling," Kathryn began carefully, "once we reach Starfleet there's going to be a lot going on in a very short amount of time. Besides what I expect will be a major celebration in Voyager's honor Starfleet will be going over our logs and looking into every encounter we've had while in the Delta Quadrant."
"Ah, you are speaking of the hearings Starfleet will conduct," Seven said wisely.
Looking askance at her lover, Janeway said, "Yes, how did you know about that?"
"B'Elanna informed me that it is standard procedure for a crew in our position. She said it was something called red tape and indicated that it was nothing to be concerned about."
The Borg and the engineer had once been extremely antagonistic toward each other, but had formed a fledgling friendship after the recent demise of Tom Paris, B'Elanna's fiance. Kathryn was of the opinion that the bond had been forged because of the Borg's compassion during that incident. Then their recent experience with a changeling that had infiltrated the ship and taken the lives of two crewmembers seemed to have something to do with the overall change of attitude from the crew as well. Seven of Nine had willingly placed herself in danger on two separate occasions while confronting that creature in defense of the crew and summarily blown the entity out of an airlock.
Kathryn believed that B'Elanna had found the young woman's actions noble, courageous, and honorable. That encounter combined with her reaction to the helmsman's death had gone a long way to abate the rancor between the two.
"Was she incorrect?" Seven questioned, breaking into Kathryn's musings.
"What? Oh no, that about sums it up," Kathryn said, not wanting to mention that some of her actions in the Delta Quadrant might mean a court-martial. "But you do realize that we wont be staying on Voyager once we reach Earth?"
Seven lowered her head briefly in thought. She knew the crew was looking forward to being with friends and loved ones and had assumed they would be leaving the ship, but she had given no thought to her own situation.
"But, Kathryn," the young woman said fearfully. "I have no where to go."
Kathryn scooted off the sofa to kneel between Seven's long legs, resting her hands comfortingly on the muscled thighs.
"I've been giving that some thought," she said gently. "Since we got engaged the one thing that has bothered me is that mother and Phoebe wouldn't be there when we were finally married. With the discovery of the wormhole that's no longer an issue."
Seven's heart was pounding so loudly she was having difficulty hearing. "What are you saying, Kathryn?" the Borg asked breathlessly.
Reaching into her pant's pocket Kathryn pulled out a small, square velvet box that she had replicated earlier in the day, held it up to the speechless woman and opened it. Inside lay a sparkling band of silver with a single, beautifully cut ruby. The gemstone was a deep, purplish red and shone like the nova of a sun. The silver of the ring reminded Kathryn of Seven, who was all silver and blue herself, while the ruby that was reminiscent of the red of Kathryn's hair fascinated Seven.
"I'm saying that as soon as all the red tape is over;" Kathryn began in a trembling voice, "Annika Hansen, love of my life and light of my soul, would you marry me?"
Seven felt tears sting her eyes and the crushing press of emotion constricting her chest at the sweetly spoken words. Looking away from the exquisite band with difficulty and into the eyes of her beloved Seven managed to choke out her one word reply on a happy sob.
Then the two fell into each others arms sealing the vow with a deep, all-encompassing kiss. A moment later Kathryn pulled away. With tears of joy reflected in her blue-gray eyes she asked almost shyly, "May I put it on for you?"
Seven responded with a brief nod and watched in fascination as Kathryn removed the ring and placed the box on the coffee table. Then with solemn formality the captain reached for Seven's right hand. Holding the warm flesh in her own smaller hand Kathryn searched out the gaze of her soul mate. Looking into the eyes of the person she loved more than life itself Kathryn gently slid the ring onto Seven's finger.
She felt her heart hitch in her chest when Seven's eyes closed, overwhelmed by emotion. Tears coursed freely and unashamedly down both women's cheeks as Kathryn bowed her head to place a tender kiss on the ring as it rested on the blonde's hand. Then Seven was standing, tugging gently to assist Kathryn to her feet.
"I wish to make love with you. Now," Seven said pulling the older woman against her own taller, more powerful frame.
Winding her arms around the long neck Kathryn responded in a low, sultry voice that sent shivers of anticipation through the blondes body.
"Then take me, lover."
Seven gently led Kathryn into the bedroom and their clothes disappeared as if by magic. Then the younger woman joined her partner on the sheets, making love to the precious woman with all of the tender love her soul possessed.
He walked away and Kathryn had no choice but to follow, knowing this had been coming and still not looking forward to it. All she wanted to do was find her mom and sister and go home with Seven of Nine. Somehow she got through the next twenty minutes although she would never remember what she had said and was finally free to go with the understanding that her crew would be back the following morning for debriefings.
"The debriefings should only take a few days," Necheyev assured her. "After that everyone will be given a few weeks off before they're expected to report to their next commands."
Refusing to dwell on how the news of breaking up Voyager's crew made her feel the captain merely replied, "Thank you, Admiral. I'm sure the crew will appreciate the time with their families."
She had known this was coming and even while feeling a little sad at saying good-bye to what had essentially become her family, she was elated to return them to the Alpha Quadrant. Maybe when she got her next ship she would be able to bring most of them onto her crew with little difficulty.
"I'll see you in the morning," the blonde returned just before Kathryn heard a shout and was wrapped in a long pair of arms belonging to her sister. Necheyev simply smiled at the family reunion and disappeared into the crowd.
Kathryn was being held in a three-way embrace by her family while Seven looked on with a timid little smile amid the copious tears of joy and relief from a long-carried burden. Phoebe finally pulled away, noticing the leggy blonde watching them all anxiously and let out a long low whistle.
"Way to go Kathryn!" she said appreciatively and with a definite leer in her stone-gray eyes. "You should get lost in the Delta Quadrant more often. What a knock-out!"
"Phoebe!" Gretchen admonished, elbowing her youngest into silence while Kathryn blushed a deep red, sure she was going to pass out from all of the blood suddenly residing in her head.
Fighting her embarrassment while sniffling against the tears she had shed, Kathryn proudly and gently said, "Mom, Phoebe, this is Annika, my fiancee."
"Hello, dear," Gretchen said softly while reaching for both of the young blonde's hands. "I'm very glad to meet you."
Kathryn knew how nervous Seven had been about meeting her family, and was pleased to see how welcoming they were to the young woman, gently easing her fears and making her feel comfortable. Even Phoebe seemed to have developed some charm, discounting her previous reaction that had surely been done in an effort to tease her sister. Now the younger Janeway was shaking Seven's hand and genuinely welcoming her into the family, even going so far as to take the bags from the shy blonde and lead her toward the waiting hovercraft.
"That went well," Kathryn joked, linking her arm with her mother's and following the duo to the waiting craft.
Gretchen chuckled for a moment before saying, "I know she can be a handful, Kathryn, what with the teasing and all, but she really loves you. When Voyager was first reported missing Phoebe became hysterical for a while. In a way, I think it was even worse for her than when Edward died. But she never gave up on you, somehow knowing you were still alive."
"When we received word yesterday from Starfleet, she cried for hours." Turning to Kathryn to hold her gaze intently her mother said, "Try to see past the bravado and see how much you mean to her."
Janeway's trademark half-smile curled her lips before she replied very seriously, "I know, Mom. As much as she always drives me crazy, I've always known. To be honest I've missed her teasing. Now, lets go home. I can't wait to see the farm."
The trip to the Indiana farm from Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco didn't take very long by transporter where they picked up the Janeway's hovercraft. Before she knew it Kathryn was watching cornfields waving gently in the breeze, and horses thundered across the plains, their beauty reflected by the sun as muscles and sinew stretched and flexed over the multi-colored hides. Inhaling deeply, she drew the scent of earth and growing things into her lungs and felt that she was finally home.
Seeing the look of nostalgia covering her beloved's face Seven leaned in gently against the older woman where she was looking out the transparent viewport and slipped long, loving arms around her. Wordlessly Kathryn leaned back into the embrace, resting her head on the blonde's strong shoulder to draw strength and comfort from the only person that could provide it. Gretchen and Phoebe were both deeply pleased at how obviously the two belonged together and shared in a secretly delighted look.
The craft finally set down near a modest two-story house in what Seven had been told was the traditionalist colony of Earth. She knew the traditionalists disdained the use of modern technology, believing work done the old-fashioned way to be more satisfying, good for the body and soul. Gretchen only maintained a small replicator out of necessity and allowed very little advanced technology into their home. Since Kathryn and Seven were going to be staying with the older woman they had discussed this because the younger woman would still be required to regenerate. That being the case Kathryn had suggested that perhaps Gretchen would allow them to install the Borg's alcove in the barn.
When they stepped down from the small transport vessel Kathryn had only time to raise her arms reflexively before sixty-eight pounds of long, red fur impacted with her chest knocking her on her butt.
Seven stepped quickly around Phoebe coming to her partner's defense, but stopped abruptly when Kathryn laughed in delight and said, "Molly!"
The Irish setter panted excitedly while bounding all over the redhead and managing to squash her into the grass. Kathryn rubbed her head and thumped her ribs before asking, "How did she come to be here? I thought Mark had her."
Beaming at the two Phoebe answered, "When Mark and Melissa got together I went to San Francisco and got her. I knew you'd want her to be here when you finally got back."
"Thank you," Kathryn said sincerely looking up at her sister. The mention of her former fiance' could not ruin this day for her, having long since acknowledged that her relationship with the man had been an error in judgment. Annika was the only person she could ever truly belong with.
Getting off the ground the women entered the home where Kathryn had spent most of her childhood.
The rest of the day passed quickly with Kathryn and Seven settling into the guestroom on the second floor of the old house. Things were put away in drawers and downstairs the sounds of Gretchen preparing dinner drifted up towards them, making the Starfleet captain feel content and relaxed. Phoebe had gone to her own cabin located on the property saying she had some work to complete on a new painting and would join them later for dinner.
Once things were settled Seven joined the older Janeway in the kitchen, wanting to expand her knowledge of cooking from scratch from someone she considered an expert on the subject. Kathryn's only requirement for the evening was to relax and tell her mother stories about their escapades in the Delta Quadrant.
The only serious discussion occurred quite unexpectedly during dinner. Kathryn became quiet for a moment placing her fork carefully on her plate, piquing Seven's curiosity, before turning the conversation to a serious path.
"Mom, as soon as the briefings are over I've asked Annika to marry me."
Gretchen's eyebrows rose expressively, but it was Phoebe who voiced what they were both wondering. "What's your hurry, Katie? You never married any of the others. To tell the truth, I don't think you ever planned on it."
Kathryn sputtered in embarrassed outrage while her mother intervened on her behalf with an admonishing "Phoebe!" before turning to her oldest.
"Seriously, Kathryn," her mother said, "nothing else would make me happier than to see the two of you married."
That came as a surprise to her daughter since Gretchen had never said anything against the men she had brought home. The elegant woman had always been the epitome of charm and grace around all of Kathryn's suitors, but she had never said she would be glad to see her married. In the face of such an admission she had to ask, "Why, mom?"
"I like her, Kathryn." she said simply. "Much better than any of the others you brought home. I can see that she makes you happy and that you really love her."
"I do, Mom. More than anything."
Later that night Kathryn and Seven retired to their room. Janeway had been thinking about how much she wanted to make love to this woman all night and had finally pleaded exhaustion as an excuse to go to bed. Finished with her ablutions she stretched out between the cool, crisp sheets and patiently waited for her lover.
But the events of the day combined with the long hours she had put in over the week overcame her defenses and when Seven emerged from the bathroom it was to find her lover snoring heavily in the center of the bed. As small as the woman was it amazed the former drone how much of the bed she could take up causing the younger woman to smile indulgently before turning off the lights. Carefully scooting in behind the redhead Seven wrapped her arms around the woman before kissing her gently on the neck and closing her eyes.
The sun shining into the room from the east window awakened her and Kathryn opened her eyes somewhat dazedly, for a moment wondering where she was. She remembered waiting for Annika so they could make love and then... nothing.
Their positions had shifted during the night and Kathryn found herself snuggled up against the blonde from behind. Her face was buried in a curtain of blonde locks and she inhaled the delicate scent of the young woman deeply feeling her desire stir even stronger than the night before. And although Kathryn usually preferred to be face to face for the event itself, she thought this unusual position might be interesting.
Very gently Kathryn trailed her fingers along Annika's profile from shoulder to thigh concentrating on the heat and softness of the lithe form. Smiling happily she snuggled closer and began planting a series of kisses along the blonde's shoulders, delighted when she felt her partner stirring against her. Slowly she began drawing her fingers teasingly over the full breasts and down over the sensitive metal enshrouded belly until she couldn't stand it any longer and concentrated on grasping a firm nipple through the cotton nightgown.
Seven began moaning and pressing back into Kathryn, enjoying the delicious sensations coursing through her body; moving a hand back to rest on the captain's smaller thigh to encourage her touch.
Kissing gently across the younger woman's back Kathryn moved up to capture an earlobe between her strong white teeth and gasped in pleasure at the shock of sensations when she felt Seven dig her nails softly into her leg. Kathryn had never made love to her like this before and Seven was awash in a sea of new sensations, the position she was in clearly surrendering any control she had to her partner.
Sliding her hand down the front of the warm body Kathryn slipped beneath the cotton gown that had ridden up during the night and found the waistband of the young woman's briefs, slipping easily inside and combing teasingly through the fine strands of hair. Easing her fingers gently into the crease she was surprised at the amount of moisture she discovered. Wanting to draw out the experience Kathryn gently circled a finger over the woman's small nub causing her to gasp, "Kathryn," and press back against her.
Annika bent her knee to place a foot against the mattress, raising her thigh to grant her partner better access, which Kathryn happily took advantage of. Moving her hand between the blonde's legs from behind she was able to explore the sweetly swollen flesh from the sensitive bundle of nerves to the puckered orifice behind.
"Oh please, Kathryn," Annika moaned desperately.
Only after the other woman asked did she grant the relief that she desired by sliding two slender fingers into her. Stroking slowly but firmly she thrust into the tight channel until Seven cried out and pushed up against her.
"Oh, Kathryn!" she moaned deeply, riding the crest of the sensations generated in her by the older woman until finally she relaxed against the tangled sheets.
Leaning over gently, Kathryn captured the full lips in a tender kiss, relishing the taste of her partner fully before pulling back to whisper, "I love you, my darling."
"I love you as well," Annika assured her seriously, rolling onto her back to look up at her partner. "How long have you been awake?"
"Only a few minutes before I woke you," Kathryn answered with a twinkle in her eye.
Rising up slightly Seven pushed the other woman down against the bed and lay partially on top of her. "It was a wonderful way to wake up," she responded delighted in seeing Kathryn's playful mood reflected in the mostly blue eyes.
"Perhaps I shall have to return the favor," the blonde continued.
"Too late," Kathryn bantered back easily while grasping lightly onto the other woman's biceps, enjoying the feeling of power under her fingertips. "I'm already awake."
Capturing the wine-shaded lips in a quick kiss Seven pulled away to reply, "Then I shall endeavor to make up for the lack of unconsciousness.
Having denied her own desire for so long, her reserve finally snapped and Kathryn rose up to lock her lips onto Seven's in a demanding kiss. Her arms locked around the long neck, pinning the young woman to her in her overwhelming passion, and a heart-felt moan escaped her throat surprising Seven with the volume her partner was using in expressing her need. It wasn't that Kathryn Janeway wasn't a passionate woman, she was just wasn't usually as vocal.
Pulling back to look into her partner's face she was startled by the glazed rapture in the heavy-lidded gaze. She felt Kathryn pulling her back down and ceased denying her lover the stronger touch she so obviously needed.
Seven pressed her lips strongly to Kathryn's, shocked again when the smaller woman thrust her tongue into Seven's sweet mouth before she had time to anticipate or respond to the move. Understanding that for whatever reason, her partner needed her to be more aggressive, Seven deepened the kiss, swallowing Kathryn's moan of approval. Small hands stroked languidly down the blonde's back to the firm buttocks and pulled the woman firmly against her aching mound, undulating against her forcefully.
Ripping her mouth away, Kathryn urged huskily, "Go inside me, Annika. Please, I need you."
Clothes disappeared hurriedly in the next few moments, dropping carelessly onto the floor as Seven assisted the out of control woman. She used a knee to urge Kathryn's legs apart, opening her up for the Borg's ministrations and shivered at the growl of arousal from her partner at the erotic movement.
Implants glittered in the morning sun and perspiration broke out over both writhing bodies, thoughts of their house companions not entering their minds as they absorbed the taste, feel and scent of each other.
"Now, Annika, please!" the older woman begged without restraint.
Rising up slightly Seven relented by sliding two fingers deeply into the copious moisture waiting for her. She entered deeply and easily, penetrating completely between the velvet walls. Kathryn cried out sharply, bucking before beginning a rhythmic thrusting against the talented fingers that could play her so expertly.
Kathryn's cries rose higher and higher until she urged gutturally, "Yes, darling, Oh…fuck me!"
Seven's eyebrows rose sharply at her partner's use of the profanity, but she never paused in her firm thrusting, driving Kathryn higher until suddenly she tensed and cried out against Seven's neck. The younger woman held her tightly, hanging on for all that she was worth until the convulsions finally subsided.
After a moment Seven shifted onto her side drawing Kathryn against her. Both women were content to snuggle quietly and simply enjoy the moment of lassitude in each others arms.
"That was…different," Seven observed a moment later. "You seemed almost desperate."
"What can I say? You bring out the animal in me," Kathryn quipped before reaching up to bite the other woman gently on her cleft chin.
"I have never brought out the animal in you before," she said softly, almost sadly.
Catching the tone Kathryn sat up quickly and grasped the other woman's hands. "Hey," she said sincerely, "you always bring out the animal in me. Its just that being with you here is different than being with you on Voyager."
"I do not understand," the young woman admitted, looking into Kathryn's intent blue eyes.
Taking a deep breath, Kathryn drew a hand over her face as she searched for the words to explain it to her inexperienced partner.
"Annika, on board Voyager I had to always be concerned about decorum, always in charge and worried about how the crew would perceive me. It wouldn't exactly be appropriate for the crew to witness their captain kissing her fiancee," she concluded wryly.
"Or hearing you have an orgasm?" Seven inquired.
"Especially not that!" Kathryn agreed with a chuckle.
Beginning to understand, Seven proposed, "But it is appropriate for your mother to hear us?"
The younger woman's question, asked in the sincerity of innocence, penetrated Kathryn's reason and abruptly she could hear the sounds of movement coming from the downstairs kitchen. In the span of two second she thought back over their morning sexual encounter and realized that they had not been quiet! Burying her face in her hands in mortification Kathryn reasoned to herself that at least her mother probably wouldn't mention it, but that didn't stop her from being horribly embarrassed.
"You are uncomfortable," Seven observed astutely. "I thought you were not concerned about appearances in front of your family."
Lifting her head, Kathryn returned, "That doesn't mean I want her to hear us making love!"
Immediately, Sevens face became crestfallen and Kathryn could have kicked herself for her instinctual response. "I'm sorry, darling," she said, stroking the woman's soft cheek. "It's just that most humans prefer to keep their …sex lives…private."
"Especially from their mothers," she added to herself.
Taking pity on Kathryn's distress, Seven gently interrupted. "I believe I understand. It is a matter of degree. But, Kathryn, your mother has two offspring. Obviously she has engaged in sexual intimacy, therefore I assume she would understand you taking part in such activities with me."
"Uh," Kathryn shuddered delicately. "Don't even mention sex and my mother in the same sentence!"
Seven restrained from rolling her eyes only by the thinnest of margins, completely confounded by the idiosyncrasies of human beings, but was rescued when Kathryn suggested they take showers and join Mrs. Janeway downstairs for breakfast.
"At least Phoebe isn't here," Kathryn observed as she collected her robe. "She'd live on that one forever!"
A short time later both women entered the kitchen where the heavenly aroma of freshly brewed coffee drew Kathryn like a moth to a flame. Hearing the sound of footsteps Phoebe turned toward them from where she sat polishing off a plate of eggs, bacon and home-fried potatoes.
"Good morning," she sang brightly, cocking an eyebrow suggestively at the couple. "Sleep well?
"Phoebe, leave them alone, dear," Gretchen said coming to their rescue before addressing the others. "Good morning. What would you like for breakfast?"
Fighting not to blush too fiercely under her sister's knowing gaze, Kathryn responded, "Just coffee for me, Mom."
Seven's brows abruptly drew together in a frown of disapproval, then both she and Gretchen came down on the smaller woman like a ton of bricks; pointing out to her how breakfast was the most important meal of the day and that she could hardly report to Starfleet Headquarters on an empty stomach.
"Besides," Phoebe interrupted, "after all the energy you've expended this morning don't you think you should refuel?" Sipping innocently at her coffee the younger woman acted as though she had casually reported the weather conditions for the day.
Desperate to derail the discussion from her sex life Kathryn responded, "Uh, eggs sound good, Mom. How about some bacon too? Oh, and Annika, isn't BE'lanna coming to help you install your alcove into the barn this morning?"
Gretchen and Phoebe burst out laughing while Seven merely smirked at her partners discomfort. Kathryn was blushing so hard, her eyes watered in sympathy and she was sure the temperature inside the house had risen ten degrees in a matter of seconds.
Finally taking pity on her lover's plight, Seven allowed the conversation to be steered by Kathryn's questions. Holding out a chair for her, she responded.
"Yes. B'Elanna's appointment with Starfleet is at 1400 hours. She has agreed to assist me until that time."
She settled into a chair and Gretchen summarily plopped two plates in front of the women. Seven was amazed at the amount of food piled on the china and looked quickly to Kathryn who acted as though nothing was out of the ordinary, tucking into her food with gusto.
"I must thank you, Mrs. Janeway for allowing us to install the alcove in the barn. Kathryn has told me that you do not approve of technology."
The older woman had learned that Seven needed the alcove to maintain her cybernetic implants and had actually suggested the idea herself the night before. As soon as the suggestion had been made, Kathryn had sent a communique to B'Elanna Torres asking for her assistance in the project.
"You're quite welcome, dear. And please, call me Gretchen. Mrs. Janeway just makes me feel too old!" she said good-humoredly.
Conversation was very relaxed around the table, and Kathryn happily finished her breakfast. Sitting back afterward, she patted her full tummy and lifted a cup of coffee to her lips.
"So, what are your plans for the day?" Kathryn inquired of her younger sister, noticing the woman had been strangely preoccupied after the initial teasing.
"Huh? Oh," Phoebe said finally, looking up. "Mom and I were going to see about the arrangements for your wedding. You said you wanted to have it as soon as the briefings were concluded, so we better get busy."
Frowning, Kathryn asked, "There's not that much to do is there? We just want something simple in the backyard, with a few close friends."
Eyeing her sister sardonically, Phoebe asked, "You never change do you? Kathryn, there's more to a wedding than asking the preacher to show up and pronounce you married."
"What more is there?" Seven asked innocently.
"Well," Gretchen said, joining the discussion, "there's the matter of inviting everyone, getting the flower arrangements, deciding who will be in the wedding party and what you'll wear."
Taking up the thread, Phoebe added, "Who's going to give you away, where you'll go for your honeymoon,"
"Oh, there are simply tons to do," Gretchen said excitedly, thoroughly enjoying the prospect of the upcoming nuptials.
Noticing that Seven had gone a decided shade of pale, Phoebe placed a comforting hand over her mesh-encased fingers and squeezed softly. "Don't worry. Mom and I will take care of most of it. We'll help you through it, and I'll even give you a crash course in everything."
Shooting an accusing look at Kathryn she added, "Since its obvious that no one else has,"
"Oh, look at the time," Kathryn said uncomfortably deciding that she definitely needed to get out of here. Some things never changed and Phoebe still had the knack of throwing her off guard when she least expected it. "I'd better get to the transporter or I'm going to be late."
Standing quickly she downed her coffee in a single gulp, kissed her mother on the cheek, kissed Seven quickly on the lips, and shot Phoebe a glare before hurrying out of the house.
Kathryn took the short trip into town by hovercar and used the small transporter for the quick trip to Starfleet Headquarters. Feeling relaxed and ready for anything command threw at her, she walked up the short flight of stairs and into the lobby. But things were far from relaxed inside.
People were running in a controlled pell-mell throughout the building and Kathryn stopped at the information desk with a frown on her classic features.
"What's the trouble?" she asked the young Ensign manning the post.
Quickly identifying one of the most decorated and famous captains in Starfleet history, the young man responded smartly.
"Operations has detected an small unidentified craft on a collision course with Earth."
"Yes, ma'am. Apparently the vessel doesn't match anything Starfleet has on record. It's at the outer rim of the same wormhole Voyager came through and not responding to hails. If it doesn't slow down or change course it's due to impact about twenty miles from here in approximately…" checking his wrist chronometer, "two hours."
Kathryn desperately wanted to find out what was happening, but knew she had debriefings to attend. Starfleet Command would hardly accept the excuse that she was just curious and she knew that the men and women that worked here had everything under control. Her quandary was solved a moment later when Admirals Hayes, Paris and Necheyev came walking across the massive marble floor.
"Captain," Necheyev said shortly, "we're on our way to the control room to find out what's going on. Why don't you join us?"
Happily the diminutive redhead joined the queue. When they walked into the operations center Paris commanded smartly, "On screen,"
An image of a small, sleek vessel surrounded by the backdrop of the wormhole abruptly filled the viewscreen. The tiny craft was beaten and battered with the port nacelle smoking plasma while small explosions erupted over the hull randomly. Bracing a hand against the bulkhead to maintain her balance Kathryn felt her head grow dizzy and blackness swam at the edges of her vision.
This couldn't be. The craft was still sitting in Voyager's shuttle bay, damaged beyond repair.
"One life sign on board, sir," a Bolian lieutenant reported from her station, "A human male."
Into the stunned silence, Kathryn croaked, "It's the Delta Flyer."
"Sir, it just crashed in the desert approximately twenty kilometers from here," the blue-skinned operations officer continued.
"Get a rescue team together," Admiral Paris ordered briskly.
Shaking off the disorientation Kathryn realized she needed to find out what was happening. A shuttle that had been designed by her crew while stranded in the Delta Quadrant had just crashed in the desert while simultaneously sitting in pieces in Voyager's shuttle bay. This was one mystery that she needed to see to the end.
"I'm going with them," she announced and seeing the stark resolve etched into her classic features no one saw fit to question her. Surprisingly, she even got a little support from an unexpected source.
"Considering that you're the only one that seems to know what's going on I think that's a good idea," Necheyev replied. "But as soon as you get back we will start your debriefing."
A rescue team was quickly assembled and an atmospheric shuttle dispatched for the mission. Kathryn squeezed into the rear of the small shuttle just as the hatch began closing and she had the feeling that if she'd been a little slower the pilot would have cheerfully left her standing on the tarmac.
Resisting the urge to chew on her fingernails she worried at what they would find at the crash site. Her logic prevented her from accepting the evidence that was right in front of her as much as her heart sincerely hoped it was true. After what was only a few minutes, but felt like a lifetime, Kathryn felt the shuttle decelerating and knew they had arrived. Being at the back of the craft she couldn't see out and had to wait less than patiently for the hatch to open and the crew to disembark.
Kathryn found herself stumbling to keep up with the half dozen men and women that were rushing to help the unknown man in the downed ship. But six years in space hadn't left her in the best physical condition and she lagged behind as they reached the wreckage.
From the information she had seen on the screen in the operational command center Kathryn knew it was the Delta Flyer, but she wasn't prepared for the reality of seeing the small vessel. Coming up to the wreckage now she gasped at the site of smoke pouring from the nacelles and the small electrical fires still burning where the hull had been ripped away from the structure and conduits were exposed. Ignoring the smell of acrid smoke she pushed into the Flyer as much as possible behind the crew.
"He's alive," she overheard from a medic up ahead, "but we'd better get back to Starfleet Medical."
Suddenly overwhelmed with the need to see for herself Kathryn began shoving her way forward.
"Let me by," she ordered roughly. The trauma unit seemed to collectively remember that they had a ranking officer with them and squeezed out of her way in the tiny cockpit.
Immediately she recognized the red and black of a Starfleet uniform on the officer lying unconscious in the pilot's seat. Sandy blonde hair swept back from the battered face and Kathryn knew that if those eyes were to suddenly open they would be a light blue.
Squatting shakily beside the man Kathryn raised a hand to gently brush over a bruised cheek.
"Tom," she said quaveringly.
A young brunette gently nudged the captain, "Ma'am, we have to get him stabilized."
She had to repeat herself before the officer finally seemed to hear and reluctantly moved back to allow the rescue unit to take over.
Lieutenant Paris was carefully strapped to a backboard and transferred to the shuttle. Kathryn was so overwhelmed with disbelief that she had somehow miraculously gotten her friend back that she refused to let him out of her sight and the medics were constantly having to go around her to perform their duties in stabilizing the patient.
But things changed when they reached Starfleet medical and the doctor on duty firmly, but compassionately informed her that she would not be allowed in the operating theatre. "You can see him after I've patched him up, Captain."
Briefly she considered ordering him to step aside, but realized such an action would be futile. If this man were anything like Voyager's holographic doctor she would only be humiliated, considering that both of them knew he outranked her when it came to medical affairs. Yielding to his authority reluctantly she turned away deciding she should probably inform Admiral Paris of their discovery before some ham-handed ensign did the job.
Janeway stalked with grim determination into the Admiral's antechamber garnering his secretary's attention who looked up with a frown at the smaller woman.
"Captain?" she asked worriedly. "Is something wrong?"
Sparing a half-smile at the friendly young lieutenant, she said, "Yes, Lieutenant Graves, I'm afraid so. Is the Admiral in?" she asked.
"Well, he's talking with Admiral Hayes, but I don't think its anything important."
That was all the feisty smaller woman needed to hear and she walked over and opened the door before Graves had a chance to respond or warn her commanding officer of his unexpected guest. Admirals Paris and Hayes looked up in synchronized astonishment as the simulated oak door was flung open and impacted soundly with the wall.
"I'm sorry, sir," she apologized, only belatedly realizing that she hadn't bothered to knock.
The older gentleman calmly stood and inquired in a carefully neutral voice, "Kathryn, I'm assuming this is important?"
Something in her demeanor must have soundlessly communicated to the man and Kathryn could see him pale even as she responded.
"It is." Squaring her shoulders she said gently, "I've just come from the crash site, Admiral. The individual on the shuttle was …it was Tom, sir."
Owen Paris swayed slightly on his feet and had to brace his hands against his desktop and for a moment she thought he might pass out. "Tom?" he said disbelievingly. "Are you sure? Is he…?"
Hastily Kathryn jumped in to reassure him from what he couldn't bear to ask, "He's alive, sir. He's in the infirmary now. I don't know the extent of his injuries."
Without another word the older Paris left them standing while he went to sickbay. Kathryn lowered her head and exhaled forcibly, trying to ease some of the tension in her shoulders. This day had been full of surprises and she wasn't sure exactly what was going on. The idea of Tom Paris being alive was one of joy yet at the same time she felt a sense of foreboding. The universe never seemed to give something without expecting a high price in exchange and she could only wonder what would be demanded for this miracle.
She started abruptly when a heavy hand landed on her shoulder and she whirled around to face Admiral Hayes. Embarrassed that she had forgotten he was there she could only nod when he said, "Necheyev's looking for you."
Leaving the older gentleman to his thoughts Kathryn slowly walked out to report to her commanding officer. She stopped only for a few moments to contact Seven and relay the events of the morning, knowing B'Elanna was with her and would want to see her former fiance. Kathryn could hear the thinly veiled surprise in the younger woman's voice, but didn't have time to go into details.
The helmsman's former captain needed time to process everything that had happened, but she wasn't going to get it now. Drawing on her command training Kathryn forced down her personal feelings to focus on doing her duty.
Concerned that he had suffered some kind of amnesia Janeway stared at him for a moment before remembering that even though this man was Tom Paris, he was from an alternate universe and as such was a different individual in many ways from the man she remembered. Not everything would be the same between the two and this was obviously one of the differences.
"Weren't you engaged to B'Elanna in your reality?" she asked carefully.
Tom let out a low whistle of comprehension before saying, "Well, I guess that explains why she was so upset earlier when I asked about Harry."
Realizing that the older woman had no clue what he was talking about he said, "Captain, in my reality B'Elanna and I were nothing more than friends. I was engaged to Harry."
"Oh," Kathryn said inanely, feeling the beginnings of a headache throbbing behind her eyes.
Not knowing how to respond to this information Kathryn tried to keep the rest of their conversation on a lighter note. She concentrated on giving Tom the information for contacting her at her mothers farm and extracted his promised for attending the upcoming nuptials when the details were finalized. Kathryn didn't even know everything that was happening having left the planning up to Seven, her mother and Phoebe.
Finally leaving Starfleet she realized she was going to have to speak with B'Elanna. She had gotten quite close to the younger woman over the years and considered her a dear friend. Undoubtedly she could use someone to talk to about these rather unexpected developments. The least she could do was give her a shoulder to cry on.
Assuming she needed one, Kathryn admitted to herself as she stepped onto the transporter pad. If she were lucky the volatile Klingon hybrid wouldn't be so upset that shed just rip it out of the socket instead as a way of blowing off a little steam.
Later that same evening Kathryn sat on the sofa with Seven accompanied by her mother and B'Elanna Torres. The only one missing among the usual suspects was Phoebe, the younger woman having a date with someone named Ray. Kathryn couldn't wait for her younger sibling to get home so she could tease her as unmercifully as Phoebe seemed to like doing to her. After the events of the morning Kathryn couldn't wait for the chance to get even.
She was leaning comfortably against her young fiancee while B'Elanna vented what was on her chest after having seen Tom Paris earlier in Starfleet's medical bay. Gretchen sat quietly in an overstuffed wing-backed chair by the fireplace content to listen and provide occasional emotional support to the volatile young hybrid.
"I don't know," B'Elanna admitted impatiently, "maybe it's just me, but it sure does seem convenient that he's suddenly back from the dead just as we miraculously find ourselves back home. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to see him alive and well, but something just doesn't feel right."
"Perhaps because he is not the same individual that you remember," Seven offered tentatively.
It was no secret that the helmsman's death had been hard on Seven of Nine, having established a friendship with him only to witness his death in a shuttle crash and having to subsequently bury him. But like many other things her time with the Borg collective seemed to have left her with the ability to accept many things with an equanimity that others simply lacked.
The scientist in her knew that it wasn't really their Tom Paris that had returned, but the human in her was simply delighted in his existence and readily accepted it. Still she could understand the Klingon's feeling of unease regarding this situation since Seven had felt equally discomforted by several minor occurrences that had happened since reaching Earth. Like B'Elanna there was nothing she could pinpoint accurately, it was just a feeling that things were not as they appeared.
"She's right," Janeway interjected. "Just like the Harry Kim and Naomi that were returned to us when Voyager was duplicated in that rift, we should just be happy that he's alive."
Nodding quietly B'Elanna glanced down at the disc she was holding. She had carried the image of herself and Tom since Seven had returned it to her after his demise.
"There's something more, isn't there?" Gretchen asked gently, but precisely. "Its not that he's back, but there's something about the difference in his personality that's bothering you. Do you want to talk about it?"
Shooting a look at her former commanding officer B'Elanna retorted, "Now I know where you get it from."
Then glancing at the older woman she admitted, "Yeah, I think that's it. As a different individual some of his experiences are completely different. According to this Tom we weren't even together in his universe. I spent the last two years with that flyboy and then he had the nerve to die on me. And now that he's suddenly come back to life," shrugging her shoulder she admitted as nonchalantly as she could, "it's like how I felt about him never really mattered."
Unable to bear the pain in her friend's eyes Kathryn sought to reassure her. "It does matter, B'Elanna. It matters because he is still your friend and right now he needs your support."
"Yeah," B'Elanna agreed half-heartedly, then, "Let's change the subject, okay?"
Slightly bemused at the feisty woman's ability to change conversations at random Seven accommodated her since there was really nothing further to discuss about the former pilot's return. He was simply back and that was the end of it.
Turning to her partner Seven said, "We were able to install the Borg alcove into the barn with little difficulty."
B'Elanna snorted at what she felt was a blatant lie and felt the need to correct her friend. "Yeah, right. We got it installed, but I would hardly call it with little difficulty. Honestly, Captain, you should have seen her. She kept re-routing power conduits and enhancing every little phase emitter to boost the energy matrix."
"I am efficient," Seven informed the smaller woman arrogantly, causing Kathryn to smother a grin behind her hand when she saw the flash of fire in the Klingon's eyes.
"Efficient, right. I think that alcove does more than regenerate you when you use it," the young woman speculated avidly, feeling like she was on to something. "Does it stimulate your sexual…?"
"B'Elanna Torres!" Seven interrupted almost forcefully, her cheeks flushing pink while the other women laughed at her embarrassed response.
Having inadvertently learned something intriguing about her future spouse, but realizing the current topic had the potential to become extremely uncomfortable Kathryn redirected the conversation.
"B'Elanna, you're coming to our wedding in a few days, aren't you?"
"Are you kidding?" she asked with a grin, showing slightly pointed teeth. "I wouldn't miss it! Besides, who do you think is going to be Seven's brides maid?"
Kathryn smiled, realizing that the friendship between the two women had grown stronger than she ever could have wished for. From the beginning the antagonism they shared had been disturbing and even caused disruptions during their duties while on board Voyager. It had only been because of Tom's death that B'Elanna had come to realize the younger woman wasn't quite the Ice Princess that she had thought.
"I'm so glad you two have become friends," she said happily. "I have to admit, I never thought it would happen."
"Me either," B'Elanna said before growling playfully at the lanky blonde, "but sometimes you're still so arrogant that I could wring your neck."
"Try it and I will deposit you on your Klingon backside," Seven returned, attempting to exercise some of the humor that the Doctor had so patiently tried to teach her.
"What?" B'Elanna asked incredulously, her eyebrows shooting to the top of her head while Kathryn and Gretchen's mouths hung open in disbelief. "Did you just say you're going to knock me on my ass?"
"I do not stutter, B'Elanna, and since I am unfamiliar with Klingon ears having the tendency to flap I assure you that you heard correctly."
Three women burst out laughing while Seven smirked that her joke had gone over so well. B'Elanna lay on her side and howled until the tears streamed down her face and Kathryn laughed so hard she was sure she was going to wet herself.
Gretchen was a little more restrained in her merriment, but then again she wasn't familiar enough with the younger woman to realize how momentous it was that she would be showing such a humorous side.
"Oh, that was good." B'Elanna chuckled, clutching her aching sides. "You got me there, Borg."
Kathryn continued snickering slightly as she gazed lovingly at her partner. "You're certainly becoming more human everyday, Darling," she said approvingly, patting the lean thigh beside her.
"Yeah, and I'll ignore that remark for now, but only because I want to ask the captain something," B'Elanna retorted.
Holding up a hand Kathryn ordered, "Belay that. B'Elanna, were not on Voyager anymore. Please, call me Kathryn." The younger woman looked extremely touched by the gesture and nodded her head slowly with a soft smile.
"Okay, Kathryn. Thank you."
"What is it you wanted to know?"
"Nothing much. I just wanted to know who was going to stand with you at the altar."
"Probably Tuvok," Kathryn said, not really having thought about it since she had put everything into Seven and Gretchen's capable hands. "He is my oldest and dearest friend."
Frowning slightly B'Elanna asked the question she wasn't sure she wanted answered. "What about Chakotay?" When Kathryn hesitated the Klingon rushed to add; "I know he was a jerk sometimes. Hell, I even wanted to box his ears a couple of times. But believe me when I say that's a thing of the past. He really does want to do right by you."
The Klingon and Chakotay had been members of the same rebel band of Maquis that Janeway had been ordered to capture in the Badlands before the Caretaker had pulled them into the Delta Quadrant and because of their shared experiences fighting the Cardassians Kathryn knew they shared a bond of loyalty that went beyond mere friendship. Still, she knew the other woman was right. "I know. It's just going to take a while to get the trust back that I used to have for him. I can't explain it, but every time he says something to me now I wonder what it is that he's not telling me."
"Indeed," Seven stated so emphatically that Kathryn had to chuckle again.
The hour was beginning to grow late and B'Elanna decided she should leave when Seven abruptly dropped a miniature land mine.
"B'Elanna, earlier you said you have been having the feeling that something is wrong." At the brunette's nod she asked, "Could you elaborate?"
"Not really," B'Elanna admitted with a small frown. "It's just the feeling that something seems a little off. Why do you ask?"
"Because I too have been having the feeling that something is amiss. Since returning to Earth, nothing is as I was lead to believe."
"What do you mean, Darling?" Kathryn asked worriedly. "I haven't noticed anything. Has someone said something to you?" she questioned, feeling her hackles rise at the thought that anyone might be mistreating her lover.
"No, Kathryn. It is just that nothing has happened in the manner that I felt it would. All of the Maquis have been pardoned without question. You yourself were exonerated of any wrongdoing while in the Delta Quadrant, almost as though it were a foregone conclusion.
The Doctor was granted full rights as a citizen of Earth. Admiral Necheyev does not appear to be the pariah that you have indicated and there is an artificiality to the surroundings that I find quite disturbing."
"Well, I have an explanation for that," Kathryn said in confidence. "They're only human. People often act in ways that unpredictable at best."
"As for the artificial feeling," the older Janeway interjected, "Earth is new to you. You're adjusting to how it feels to be planet side for an extended period of time after being in space for so long. That coupled with your upcoming joining could have most people feeling a little disoriented."
"I am not most people," Seven protested causing the others to chuckle again at the outrage in the young woman's voice.
"That, my love, is an understatement," Kathryn said with twinkling eyes. "But mom is right. You've just got pre-marital jitters."
"Is that condition dangerous?" the blonde asked with widened eyes, causing B'Elanna to snort with laughter.
"No, you stupid Borg," she said cheerfully. "She just means you're nervous about the wedding."
"Its perfectly normal, Annika," Kathryn said trying to reassure her. "I'm sure once things settle down you'll feel a lot better."
But she still wasn't completely convinced. Never being on Earth before notwithstanding Seven had been on countless M-class planets and none of them had left her with a feeling that things weren't real before. In fact the only time she could remember experiencing the synthetic feel of a planet had been while on the holodeck.
However without proof to the contrary she was willing to concede for the moment that they might be right. Seven merely replied in a soft voice, "Perhaps."
Seeing the unsettled look on the former drone's face Gretchen steered the discussion to the upcoming wedding. For hours the women discussed everything from floral arrangements and the guest list to what music they would have at the reception. But no amount of prompting would cause Kathryn's mother or Seven to reveal what the young woman would be wearing. The only thing Kathryn was required to contribute would be her vows to Seven and the two of them would decide what token of their love to they would exchange.
Gretchen informed Kathryn that she had taken care of most of the logistical problems such as the minister and arranging enough chairs for all of the guests while Seven and B'Elanna had been working on the alcove. If things continued to go smoothly they would be ready for the wedding in just a few days.
That announcement caused a slight frown to crease Seven's brow again as another thing that she thought should take considerable time and planning just seemed to fall easily into place.
Finally the lateness of the hour convinced everyone that it was time to sleep. Seven of Nine had her own briefings to attend the next day and she was looking forward to seeing her friend the EMH while she was at Starfleet.
Seven of Nine's meeting with the heads of Starfleet, and particularly Admiral Hayes, went quickly and smoothly. Her time with the collective was seen in a positive light in that it afforded the young woman advanced technological information and insight into countless species and civilizations. She was offered a place as the top scientist in Advanced Theoretical Technology Group. Her purpose would be in discovering all manner of Technology for Federation use from new and better weapons to lending a hand in theoretical propulsion and more efficient forms of energy.
Seven barely remembered to stop by and see the Doctor before leaving for the day. At first the EMH was delighted to see her, but became very pensive when she made her request of him.
"You're just nervous about the wedding, Seven. It's perfectly normal," he assured her.
Not to be put off so easily she asked, "Will you assist me or not?"
"Fine," the hologram acceded, heaving a very unnecessary sigh. "I'll take the scans as soon as I can. I really am quite busy. But Seven, I assure you there is nothing wrong. Everything is as it appears to be."
Dipping her head slightly in acknowledgement she felt that she was finally free to leave. If she was wrong in her suspicions the scans could hurt nothing. Feeling relieved of that task for the moment she finally allowed herself to dwell on the debriefing she had attended and the ramifications became staggering for her as she realized the magnitude of the offer made by Admiral Hayes. She felt slightly dazed by the time she returned to Indiana where she broke the good news to Kathryn and the smaller woman insisted they celebrate Seven's victorious embrace by the powers that be. A happenstance that lent another doubt to the concerns that were already beating at the younger woman's consciousness.
The next few days flew by as everyone prepared for the upcoming nuptials with Seven, Phoebe and Gretchen barricading themselves in the upstairs study for hours on end. No amount of prompting or pouting on Kathryn's part could get the trio to reveal their activities and she was left on her own to decide what to wear. The only thing she had to go on not to clash with her lover's attire was the colors they had chosen for the ceremony. Time seemed to drag for Kathryn since Necheyev had ordered her off duty until a week after the wedding, the extra time being a wedding gift of sorts from the older woman.
Necheyev's secretary saw her coming and had already contacted the blonde admiral before Kathryn could force her eyes from the nap of the carpet. She was so lost in thought it took a moment before the young Ensign's words sank in.
"She'll see you now."
Slightly bemused Janeway simply shook her head and opened the door.
The debriefing went quickly and Kathryn was surprised at how smoothly the entries in her captain's log were questioned and dismissed. Even the incident with the Equinox and Captain Ransom was disregarded. Apparently Starfleet considered Janeway's outrage at his actions justified and exposing Crewman Lessing to the alien attack as leverage for gathering information was seen as a reasonable tactic. They knew she would never have let him come to harm, after all.
Kathryn was surprised to feel a weight lift from her shoulders that she hadn't even known was there when she realized there would be no court martial. She knew that she had skirted the fine line on violating the Prime Directive many times in the name of saving her crew and an accounting for that behavior had been a very real possibility. At least she had thought so.
Necheyev summed things up quite nicely some time later by saying, "After going over your logs and considering that you were on your own, Starfleet feels your actions were justified. And, of course, if your actions were justified so were those of your crew as they were following orders."
Sitting back in her chair Kathryn smiled with relief at her superior. "I must say, Admiral, I didn't expect things to go so smoothly. Thank you."
"So," Necheyev said folding her hands on her desk top, "after six years in the Delta Quadrant you're in line for promotion. As an Admiral it's a purely administrative position. There won't be anymore gallivanting around the universe."
Again Kathryn was surprised at the good temper of the normally stoic smaller woman. When she had left on her mission into the Badlands to find her missing security officer she could barely stand being in the same room as her commanding officer for more than five minutes without seriously having to bite her tongue. Necheyev's scathing commentary was legendary and Kathryn couldn't imagine what could have happened to mellow the older woman.
This new disposition encouraged her to be abruptly honest. "If it's all the same to you, Admiral, I'd rather have a new ship."
A moment of silence ensued and for a moment Kathryn thought she had misjudged the blonde and that she was disappointed that Janeway had easily brushed aside the idea of a promotion. A sudden quirk at the corner of the small mouth relieved her apprehension. "Aren't you tired of traipsing around the galaxy after being lost for the last six years?"
"It's what I do best. I couldn't imagine sitting behind a desk all day," Kathryn answered honestly, then realized what she had just said and added a belated, "No offense."
"None taken," Necheyev answered easily with a shrug.
"We all have to do what we do best," the blonde continued. "And to be honest I never expected anything less from you."
Surprised by the woman's admission Kathryn said nothing as she went on. "There will be a Constellation class vessel ready to go in about a week, but somehow I suspect you wouldn't want to captain a ship full of families."
Kathryn easily responded to the intended jest, turning suddenly serious. "You know me too well. I've learned that space is unpredictable and tragic things happen. It's hard enough to write a letter to people I've never met and tell them that their loved one died in the line of duty. I don't think I could stand face to face with someone and explain to them why I couldn't protect their spouse, or mother, or daughter."
"I understand, Kathryn," Necheyev said holding up a hand. "There will be another Intrepid class vessel ready to go in approximately a month, The Griphon. I assume you'll want your old crew back?"
"At least as many as will agree to it," Kathryn acknowledged wryly, knowing many of them would want to stay on Earth after being in space for so long.
"As well as a Borg Astrometrics officer who really has no official position in Starfleet?"
"If that's all right," Kathryn responded unable to read the blonde's expression.
"Relax Kathryn," Necheyev ordered gently. "I'm just yanking your chain. Contrary to what you may think of me on a personal level, even I can't hold being a victim of the Borg against her. I know she's not a drone anymore."
After a moment she asked, "Do you think she'd like a commission? After reading Voyager's logs I'd say she's earned it. She's saved the crew on at least five separate occasions."
Touched by the older woman's generosity Kathryn replied, "I'll ask her, but somehow I don't think so. She's not much for protocol."
Chuckling understandingly the blonde offered, "Well, it wouldn't be the first time Starfleet had civilian contractors on a starship."
As the debriefing wound down Kathryn stood up preparing to leave. "Thank you, Admiral." She had said that many times to this woman, usually prompted by decorum or politeness. This was the first time she remembered meaning it. On an impulse she stopped at the door and turned back to face the smaller woman. "Annika and I are being married in a few days. I'd really like it if you could be there."
"I'd be honored, Kathryn," the blonde returned graciously.
Kathryn promised to let her know the details as soon as things were decided before leaving. With a much lighter heart she decided to stop by sickbay and see how Tom Paris was doing before heading back to Indiana. But after stopping by the medical bay the feeling of ease was replaced by one of being overwhelmed.
She had met Lieutenant Torres briefly as the younger woman was leaving sickbay on the way to her own meeting and hadn't understood the dazed look on her face. The hurried explanation of alternate universes hadn't made sense until she spoke with the doctors and Mr. Paris. Then she understood all too well, and she now feared that she wore the same expression on her own face.
The doctors explained that essentially this man was Tom Paris but that his physiology was slightly out of phase with their universe. Tom remembered everything leading up to the crash inside the nebula that had been precipitated by the Khepri, but after that devastating accident reality seemed to split. In Janeway's reality the young man had been killed and subsequently buried by Seven of Nine, but clearly that had not been the case with this man.
"It's weird, Captain," he said with a frown, sitting up gingerly on the biobed. His injuries had been healed, but he remained a little sore. "I remember entering the atmosphere of that planetoid and Forbes hitting me from behind. Then…nothing,"
"Later, I came to on the deck of the Flyer, and I was alone. I just assumed Voyager had gotten our distress signal and managed to beam everyone else out before the crash. I was pretty busted up and I tried to get the shuttle flying again, but I was too weak. Fortunately, a group of aliens called the Lortha had been mining ore from that planetoid and they found me. They patched me up as best they could and helped me get the shuttle space-borne again. When I left the nebula I found myself caught in the outer vortex of a wormhole and then the ground was rushing at me again."
He chuckled a little saying, "Two crashes back to back, great flying, huh?"
"At least you're here," Janeway said, grasping his arm reassuringly.
His intent gaze caught her as he asked, "Am I? Captain, you buried your Tom Paris. I don't belong here. And my sensors didn't even pick up this planet when I started into the wormhole. I don't know where I am or where I belong."
Tears glistened in the young mans eyes and Kathryn's heart went out to him as she sought to reassure him. "You belong here with us. Do you remember when Harry Kim was killed in the incident where Voyager was caught between dimensions?" At his nod she continued, "We got him back and although he may have been from a different reality he was still our Harry. This is exactly the same. You may be from a different dimension, but you are our Tom Paris. And," she said with shining eyes, "I am very happy to have gotten my friend back."
Feeling the need to lighten the mood Kathryn said, "Now, the doctors tell me that you'll be released soon so I expect you to show up for my wedding in a few days."
Thinking she was breaking the news to him, she was slightly disappointed when he replied with his boyish grin, "Yeah, B'Elanna told me. I always knew there was something between you two, but I never expected you to tie the knot."
Laughing she said, "Well, I have to admit if it weren't for Seven I probably never would have even acknowledged there was anything between us. She's very special. And speaking of special people how are you and B'Elanna?"
Even if the question was a little indelicate Kathryn was sincerely concerned for the couple. Having been engaged prior to the accident she could only imagine how traumatizing such a thing as coming back from the dead could be for the couple.
"B'Elanna?" he asked in surprise, raising his head to look at her questioningly. "Fine, I suppose. It was really nice of her to come see me."
"Well, of course she would come to see you," Kathryn said in confusion. "It's not every day that you get your fiance back."
"Fiance?" Tom sputtered. "Where did you get that?"
As soon as the hovercraft landed Seven grabbed Kathryn's hand and pulled her impatiently toward the magnificent homestead without any word of thanks to Phoebe. She paused only long enough to sweep Kathryn into her arms in keeping with the tradition of carrying the bride over the threshold, generating a fiery blush from her wife and an enormous belly-laugh from her new sister-in-law.
Closing the door with her foot Seven lowered the older woman to her feet and claimed her lips in a passionate kiss that threatened the other woman's consciousness due to a lack of air. She kissed her wife thoroughly, drinking in her unique flavor like sustenance until she had assuaged the ache in her soul at having been separated for an entire night and being unable to display her affection to her satisfaction during the day. Finally releasing her Seven kept her arms around the slender frame until Kathryn had regained her equilibrium before murmuring that she wanted to change into something more comfortable.
Kathryn could only blink as the tall blonde grabbed her suitcase that had been sitting by the front door and went into the bathroom. The young woman certainly never failed to keep her off balance, she realized chuckling before walking into the living room. Shucking her tuxedo jacket she tossed it negligently over the back of the sofa then walked over to light a fire in the hearth while she waited for Seven.
Walking around the large, over-stuffed piece of furniture, Kathryn smiled when she saw a champagne bottle sitting in an ice bucket on the coffee table. Two glasses and a platter of finger foods sat next to it. The food was sitting in a stasis container and Kathryn wondered how far in advance Phoebe had arranged this little surprise knowing the stasis container would keep the food fresh indefinitely.
Wanting everything to be perfectly romantic for her spouse Kathryn quickly lowered the lights and lit several candles that had been left conveniently lying around. Then walking across the thick, pile rug, she squatted next to the low fireplace and lit the prepared logs, careful not to get soot on the white tux. She had just finished blowing out the match when she heard the bathroom door open in the outer hallway. She stood up and turned to face her partner with a happy smile, her features freezing in astonishment when she saw the vision standing before her.
The golden mane had been brushed out to flow freely down Seven's slender shoulders and she wore only a white teddy that was trimmed in flowery lace. Her nipples were hardened and clearly visible beneath the thin cloth. Her feet were bare and the beautiful features had been scrubbed of any hint of make-up. The images combined to create a look of innocent virgin and seductive temptress had Kathryn swallowing hard against a suddenly dry throat.
Kathryn was quiet for so long that Seven began to grow uncomfortable. "It was a gift from B'Elanna. She said you would…like it."
A brief image of one of Tom Paris' cartoon characters flashed in her head and Kathryn felt she looked the epitome of a wolf whose tongue had unrolled onto the floor as she drooled over the delicious treat before her eyes, but the hint of uncertainty in her young wife's voice brought her back to her senses. Forcing herself to take a deep breath, she raked her eyes slowly back up the luscious form and locked onto the ice-blue eyes.
"She was right," Kathryn said huskily.
The expression in those eyes immediately changed to pleased arousal and a hint of pink touched the alabaster cheeks. Dipping her head coquettishly, but never losing eye contact the young woman suggested, "Perhaps you should change, as well."
Clearly reading the innuendo Kathryn smiled happily as she conceded, "I couldn't agree more," and quickly left the room. Her fingertips were tingling so hard she wasn't sure she would be able to hold onto the cloth much less change as she realized she was preparing to make love for the first time as a married woman.
Seven found some extra pillows in the linen closet while she waited and made herself comfortable on the rug. Piling the pillows against the front of the sofa so they would have something to lean against she pushed the coffee table to the side before opening the champagne and pouring it into the waiting flutes.
A few moments later she heard a light step behind her and turned to her wife. Kathryn was wearing a silky emerald colored negligee that barely reached the tops of her thighs. A few strands of auburn hair could be seen below the hemline, a testament that she was wearing nothing underneath. Finally raising her eyes to meet the other woman's gaze Seven held up a champagne glass in silent invitation.
"You look…incredible," the young blonde admitted when she could find her voice.
"You're not the only one to receive gifts," Kathryn said flirtatiously as she settled next to the other woman and took the offered glass.
She leaned back against the pillows holding her wife's gaze.
Gently clinking their glasses together as she had learned to do at the reception Seven said, "To receiving wonderful gifts," and somehow Kathryn didn't think she was referring strictly to the nightwear.
After sipping briefly from their glasses it occurred to Kathryn that her love might be hungry. She hadn't eaten much at the reception and it had been a long time since breakfast. She sat her champagne on the table asking, "Are you hungry, darling?"
When there was no response she turned back to find Seven watching her with a predatory expression on her face that sent chills up Kathryn's spine. Seven leaned across her stretching her arm out to place her own beverage on the low table. Never taking her eyes off the smaller woman she pressed close and finally replied. "Only for you,"
Closing the distance between them Seven captured Kathryn's lips in a passionate kiss filled with erotic intent. Seven's lips felt soft and buttery, her weight pressing down on the smaller woman and causing a flurry of butterflies in Kathryn's belly. Moisture gathered between her legs and painted the top of Seven's thigh where it was pressed between her legs. She couldn't prevent herself from pushing against the tight muscles, delighted when the blonde pressed down more firmly.
Seven slowly trailed down from Kathryn's mouth and down her throat, nibbling and licking intently as she journeyed ever southward.
She captured a nipple through the silky cloth and Kathryn pressed up sharply against her, begging wordlessly for a stronger touch that Seven was only to happy to accommodate as she tried to chew on the hard bud through the silk.
"Oh, Annika. I need to feel your skin," Kathryn finally managed, her chest heaving with arousal.
The blonde gently lowered the spaghetti straps of the negligee down Kathryn's arms, baring her breasts but leaving the rest of the small form covered since she liked the feel of silk against her own skin. Dipping her head she recaptured the tight bud and sucked as much as the breast into her mouth as she could. Kathryn groaned at the sweetness of the sensation and cupped her hands behind the golden head, pulling it tighter against her. The intense suction at her nipple caused an electric tingling that led a direct crackling path to her clit, causing the small bud to twitch in sharp excitement.
"Oh!" she gasped, feeling pre-orgasmic shudders radiating outward from the small organ. "Oh, darling, slow down! You're going to make me come!"
Seven surprised them both by the growl of arousal that the erotic words provoked from her. A sharp bolt of pleasure rippled in her own belly at the thought of hearing Kathryn climax, but she forced herself to slow down wanting this experience to last as long as possible. Even though she had asked for it, Kathryn couldn't prevent the groan of frustration when Seven removed her leg to lie beside her, but a moment later she forgot about the loss when Seven captured her mouth in another earth-shattering kiss.
Turning her left hand backward Seven drew the soft mesh across Kathryn's breasts, delighted when she felt the small woman buck in her arms and gasp at the rasping sensation against her sensitive flesh. Kathryn reached between Seven's legs and began massaging at her center, but the closure of the teddy got in her way and she deftly unbuttoned it. Her fingers swirled in the juices of the young woman's pleasure before prodding deeper. Kathryn languidly slipped her middle finger into the aching channel, feeling the velvet walls clasp onto her holding her tightly. Her hand was trapped against the rug and Seven's thrusting body as the blonde began riding firmly against her. The feel of fluid bathing her hand and wrist made Kathryn realize how much she suddenly wanted to taste the other woman.
Pulling away from the commanding mouth she whispered huskily, "Turn around, darling. I want to taste you."
Seven knelt beside Kathryn and helped the smaller woman slide down to a supine position away from the pillows. Then she surprised her partner by turning around and lowering her mound to Kathryn's mouth while fastening her full lips onto the smaller woman's own tenderly aching clit. Kathryn gasped again, caught off guard by the talented mouth on her intimate flesh. The blonde curls wiggled impatiently in front of her drawing Kathryn's attention away from what was being done to her and she forced herself to concentrate on her partner.
Seven felt the small hands clasp onto her backside and pull her down into the waiting mouth. She groaned into Kathryn's cleft as she felt the twin mounds separated and a skillful tongue swipe completely along her engorged folds. Trying to focus on her partner Seven raked her teeth gently along the swollen bundle of nerves and felt Kathryn shudder against her. Knowing the smaller woman was close to achieving orgasm she gentled her touch enough to keep her on the edge but not allow her to peak. She had read that this had the effect of intensifying the orgasm.
Kathryn drew breath raggedly as she struggled to contain the orgasm that she shuddering on the brink inside her, wanting desperately to come at the same time that Seven did. She licked around every fold, rasping her tongue over the hardened clit before stuffing it indelicately into the wet hole. Unable to get enough of the woman's sweetness she pushed her face into the flesh as far as possible, trying to drink up all of the nectar.
When Seven started rubbing forcefully against her face Kathryn caught the swollen bud between her teeth, rolling it gently before sucking it rhythmically. She felt the younger woman shudder above her and knew she was on the trembling edge of release. Giving in to the pleasure of her own body Kathryn's hips bucked hard and a scream was ripped from her throat even as she kept her lips fastened onto Seven's pearl. Belatedly, she heard Seven's own cry as the couple achieved mutual satisfaction in each other's arms.
They made love on the rug twice more, the fireplace and their activities generating enough heat to keep them comfortable, but when Seven felt Kathryn growing heavy in her arms after their third encounter she lifted her wife into her arms and carried her upstairs to the bed. Seven lay awake unable to sleep as she watched the woman that held her heart slumber peacefully next to her. Twice more during the night Kathryn awakened and they made love until finally somewhere around 3 a.m. Seven fell into an exhaustedly satisfying sleep.
In her dream Sahkmet walked stealthily into the old dilapidated building. The floor was of dirt and the air was heavy with the smells of hay and livestock excrement. The green glow of Borg technology could be seen in the far corner, but that was not what interested the creature. Padding quietly into a darkened corner the lynx began pawing intently at the ground until a two-foot hole revealed an ancient circular handle jutting out from the soil.
A feeling of dread came over the dreamer, her breath coming sharp and painful in her breast while sweat poured from the flesh bearing witness of the terror she was feeling since this individual did not normally sweat. Incapable of halting the events unfolding in her mind she watched as the beast captured the metal ring between her teeth and pulled up. The muscles in the taut form stood out in relief as she tensed against the weight of the trap door, the entrance refusing to budge under the weight of age-old earth. Finally, her perseverance won out and the floor gave way with a reluctant moan. Bright yellow light could be seen around the edges of the hatchway, but when Sahkmet raised the door far enough the light became blinding, disguising what the creature was trying to reveal.
Seven came awake with a start, her heart pounding fearfully in her chest and she took air in with great shuddering gulps trying to slow her hammering pulse. After a moment she realized she had been dreaming, but realization didn't lessen her fear. She had not dreamed of the lynx in quite some time, almost having put her existence from her mind. Yet she knew that she only dreamed of the feline when the animal guide was attempting to warn her of some impending disaster. She could not afford to discount the beasts warning, but was reluctant to awaken Kathryn to confide her fears in case she was wrong.
Climbing carefully out of bed Seven went downstairs and rummaged through her luggage until she found appropriate clothing.
Dressing in jeans, a dark blue button-down shirt, socks and ankle high shoes she prepared to leave the cabin. It was only a half our walk and with any luck she would be able to investigate the structure in her dreams and return before Kathryn discovered she was gone. Perhaps this dream was merely the culmination of the wedding jitters that Gretchen had spoken about and there was nothing to worry about, but until Seven checked for herself she would be unable to let it go.
Closing the door softly she struck off in the direction of the Janeway homestead by the light of a full moon. Even the shadows that existed were no match for her optical implant and she easily navigated the wooded trail until soon she was standing in front of the barn. She didn't really expect to find anything and walked with negligent care toward the rear of the barn. Everything looked just as she remembered from installing her alcove in the structure, but she hadn't been looking for hidden surprises at the time either.
Walking to the far corner of the barn Seven stared at the place on the floor where Sahkmet had been digging in her dreams. There was nothing discernable on the dirt floor to indicate anything of importance, but her cortical implant detected a faint energy signature that would only to be noticeable to the young woman if she were standing right on top of it like she was doing now. Finding an old shovel lined up on the wall with other barnyard tools she took it down and began digging. It only took a couple of minutes before she struck something hard. Getting down on her hands and knees Seven finished clearing the rectangular floorboards with her hands. A circular iron handle was revealed and she felt a shiver of foreboding skitter down her spine. Shrugging off the feeling she stood and grasped it.
Bracing herself with her feet wide apart she hauled back, knowing from her dream that it would be difficult to lift the portal. Muscles strained under the weight, but she finally felt it give way and wrestled it back until it hit the floor with a muted thump.
Bright, yellow light abruptly bathed the darkened interior of the barn lending a malevolent look to the looming shadows in the corners. The sound of alien technology thrummed gratingly on the young woman's ears as she gazed into the revealed chamber. Seven stepped haltingly down the worn stairs that led to the bottom of the hole and stood gazing around her in amazement. Just from a casual inspection she could tell that what she was looking at was the most extensive holographic projection set up that she had ever seen and wondered what possible purpose Gretchen Janeway would have for such a thing.
Tall columns of pulsing energy cores ran from floor to ceiling in the twelve-foot high room and an alien computer bank of epic proportions took up two entire walls. Seven walked over to the computer mainframe to interpret the purpose of the contraption. It took only a few moments to determine that her worst fears had been confirmed.
"Pre-marital jitters, indeed," she mumbled scathingly to herself.
Everything had been an elaborate deception from the beginning. Her feeling of something not quite right had been accurate as she realized that they were not on Earth at all. Checking the computer database information revealed that the wormhole had lead only to a rarely visited M-class world called Icarius with a race known as the Intari. The species had been severely abused by off-world visitors in the past and had adapted the holographic technology as a means of defense. Invaders would believe they were wherever they had been headed and would not attack the more benevolent species. Over time the Intari became so adept with the technology that they began to take pleasure from imitating differing races and bringing joy to less hostile individuals. Seven could see that Icarius had become as well known in this galaxy as Risa was to the Alpha Quadrant, earning the reputation as a pleasure planet. After a millennia of such activity it was assumed that anyone that came to Icarius was looking for something they had lost, which the Incari were only too happy to provide.
Phoebe had offered Kathryn and Seven the use of her cabin for a honeymoon spot, saying that she could stay with her mother for the week. Secretly Kathryn had been thrilled at that arrangement. The word cabin wasn't exactly an accurate description of the large two-story log structure that was located on the Janeway property and only a half hour walk from the main house.
The cabin was where the Janeway's had taken their children for family outings and was right next to a beautiful lake. Kathryn could remember herself as a young child swinging from a rope that had been tied to a tree and diving into the water. Of all the things she had seen in her life it was one of the most romantic places she had ever been. Gooseflesh erupted all over her when she pictured being intimate with Seven under a blanket of stars beside that body of water.
The night before the ceremony B'Elanna, Tuvok and all of Voyager's former crew showed up to unceremoniously informed Kathryn that it was time for their bachelor/bachelorette parties. Bearing trays of food, beverage and less than tasteful gifts they separated the couple to begin their celebrations. Seven was ushered upstairs by the Klingon while Kathryn was kept downstairs. Most of the male crewmen stayed downstairs with their former captain while the women segregated themselves to join Seven on the second floor.
Slightly disgruntled, Kathryn wondered how she had become the bachelor, but resigned herself to enjoying the well wishes of her friends.
Everyone enjoyed themselves immensely as crewmen drifted freely between the parties, enjoying the opportunity to celebrate the joining. Seven appreciated the gifts of what B'Elanna termed slutty nightwear that she informed her should have been part of a bridal shower. The former drone thought it was very efficient to combine the bachelorette party and bridal shower into the same event because she had never really enjoyed parties, even one that was held in her honor.
At the end of the evening Gretchen and Phoebe conspired to keep Kathryn and Seven apart saying that they shouldn't see each other the night before the wedding. The couple protested loudly at being separated, but to no avail and it was a very unhappy and slightly intoxicated Kathryn that bedded down that night in the guest quarters on the first floor. Seven found that she could not sleep without her partner beside her and decided to regenerate instead. She reasoned that if she regenerated now she wouldn't have to return to the main house during the honeymoon and would be able to spend the week concentrating on Kathryn.
The day of the wedding dawned warm and sunny. Seven stepped out of her alcove as the regeneration cycle ended to find an impatient Klingon tapping her foot with her arms folded across her chest.
"It's about time," the feisty woman groused. "I was beginning to think you were going to sleep all day."
Spinning on her heel she motioned for Seven to follow her into the house where Gretchen fed her a huge breakfast that Seven thought she might consume by the time she reached her ninetieth birthday. Kathryn had already had her breakfast and was taking a bath. The blonde's spirits lifted when she realized that she would see her intended before the ceremony, only to have those hopes dashed a few moments later when B'Elanna told her in no uncertain terms that she was not allowed to see her partner until she walked down the aisle.
After eating a modest portion of her meal B'Elanna grabbed her by the hand and dragged her upstairs. Gretchen and Phoebe joined them a few moments later and began laying out clothing while B'Elanna shoved the blonde toward the bathroom.
"Take the hottest bath you can manage and scrub," the Klingon ordered her tersely and then held up a hand as something suddenly occurred to her. "Wait, your implants won't…rust. Will they?"
Flabbergasted that her friend could even conceive of such a thing Seven replied almost angrily, "Borg do not rust!"
Nodding her head once B'Elanna replied, "Right. Go," and pointed toward the bathroom.
Honestly Seven couldn't think what all of the fuss was about, but went along with the others convinced that surely they knew more about these things than she did.
Downstairs Kathryn wasn't fairing much better. She was tired and grumpy from having missed Seven's body lying next to her during the night. On top of that Phoebe had dragged her out of bed as soon as the sun came up and drafted her into helping set up the chairs in the backyard for the ceremony. Since Seven was still regenerating she didn't have anything better to do until it was time to get ready and grudgingly lent a hand. Harry, Tom and Chakotay had already arrived and assisted in setting up the decorations.
Red and white carnations had been woven around the arch of the gazebo, gently perfuming the air while lending contrast and a delicate beauty to the darkened wood of the old structure.
Folding chairs were set up in rows with a wide aisle separating them for the bride to walk down while a temporary dance floor and buffet were set up on the side for the following reception. Gretchen had told Kathryn that the food was already arranged and in fact had been baking and cooking for days. Even with all her mothers hard work the former captain was aware that many of the guests were bringing food and drinks later. When they had finally finished setting everything up to Phoebe's satisfaction Kathryn was allowed to go wash the sweat and grime from her aching body.
After soaking in the hot water for an hour Kathryn sat up and began scrubbing her body with the sweetest smelling soap she had been able to find. A grin curled her lips as her thoughts turned to her future spouse and her strokes along her own body became more languid as she imagined the soft skin beneath her touch to be that of Seven's. She had missed the young woman desperately the night before, needing to make love to her with an intensity that caused a burning fire in her belly.
Her own warm fluids joined the water swirling around her body as she thought of making love to Seven for the first time as a married couple. As her nipples hardened in desire Kathryn leaned her head back against the edge of the porcelain and groaned as she dropped the sponge and let her fingers trail softly down her body. Stroking between her own legs she separated the warm folds and swirled her fingers over the aching bundle of nerves. Tingles shot from her groin to her nipples and Kathryn shivered as her arousal grew.
"Hey, hurry up in there! You're going to be late for your own wedding," Phoebe shouted as she pounded her fists on the closed door.
Starting guiltily Kathryn groaned in frustration and dragged herself out of the bath. Toweling off she resigned herself to a day of endless torture, the only light in the tunnel being the end of the day when she could finally being alone with her spouse. Just thinking of the word sent another surge of desire through her body, but she had to push the thoughts aside and begin dressing with her sister's help.
Dressing carefully Kathryn wore a very feminine cream-colored tuxedo. The tails were long and the cumber bund a white shimmering satin. Phoebe helped her with the satin bow tie and pinned a single, blood red carnation to her lapel. A pair of pearl stud earrings completed her wardrobe and Kathryn sat patiently as her sister insisted on brushing out her hair. For the first time since the sun had come up Kathryn felt a sense of peace and stillness settling into her heart, thinking that soon she would be a happily married woman. A gentle smile settled over the classic features when she was finally dressed and stood staring into her reflection in the mirror, pleased with her appearance.
"It's time," Phoebe said, interrupting her musings. The trembling in the normally sarcastic voice caught Janeway's attention and she turned to see tears shining in her sibling's eyes.
"Come here," Kathryn said huskily and embraced the younger woman tightly. "Why the waterworks?"
Sniffling, Phoebe pushed her away before she could soak the fabric of her tuxedo. Wiping her face with her hands she ordered, "Don't you dare tell mom what a softy I am."
"Your secret's safe with me," Kathryn said chuckling. "Now, let's go before I leave my bride standing at the altar."
A short time later she was standing at the altar with Tuvok by her side. The dusky man was an impressive picture in his dress-whites. Little Naomi Wildman was standing behind the two and was dressed in a shiny satin dress trimmed in delicate lace. Her strawberry blonde hair shone in the sunlight and she carried a pink satin pillow that bore the wedding rings.
Looking out among the seated guests Kathryn could readily identify most of the Voyager crew, and a lot of people that she didn't recognize. Admiral Necheyev sat in the front row wearing dress-whites trimmed in gold piping. The stark white uniform looked impressive against her tanned skin and she had the audacity to grin and wink when she caught Janeway's eye.
The bride's table had already been set up next to the reception area and the temporary dance floor. Tantalizing aromas from various dishes on the buffet wafted in the air, mingling with the sweet scent of flowers while another table held champagne glasses and flatware.
Then the traditional wedding music began and Kathryn had eyes for no one but her bride who suddenly appeared escorted by her friend, the Doctor.
Kathryn felt the breath still in her lungs as she beheld the beauty of the young woman she was about to marry. Seven wore a long, white, flowing gown. It shimmered in the sunlight and Kathryn recognized it as the one belonging to her mother. Her hair was brushed out to hang loosely around her shoulders, held in place by a narrow golden band. She held a thick bouquet of red and white carnations.
B'Elanna stood strong and proud behind her friend dressed similarly in a simple but elegant cream-colored gown that hugged her lean form and fell to her ankles. She held a smaller bouquet of red roses and babies breath.
The Doctor wore a traditional black tuxedo and the pair looked quite striking in contrast. Walking with measured precision they progressed up the aisle until the EMH gently placed Seven's hand in Kathryn's. Suddenly the inner calm that the commanding woman had been feeling left her and she swallowed against a dry throat. Her fingers trembled slightly and Seven raised her eyebrow in amusement as she gripped the elegant hand trying to relay a measure of reassurance.
"Dearly beloved," the minister began and Kathryn promptly lost track of what the white haired gentleman was saying as she gazed deeply into the warm blue eyes that reminded her of a summer day.
A few moments later she drifted back to reality in time to hear him prompt her by saying, "In lieu of the traditional wedding vows Annika and Kathryn have chosen to say a few words of their own to each other. Annika," he prompted gently.
Seven turned toward the woman that owned her soul and stared deeply into the blue-gray eyes. She easily discarded the attention of the crowd and focused on saying the most heart-felt words she knew to her beloved.
"When I met you I thought you were illogical and arrogant, but I was wrong. It was your great courage and compassion that saved me from being a Borg drone. Since you severed me from the collective you have become the center of my universe, the only reality. When I gaze into your eyes I am complete, my soul made whole. I love you, Kathryn Janeway with my entire being. I always have. And I shall continue to love you, even after death."
The sweetly spoken words caused tears of happiness to rise in Kathryn's eyes. Blinking furiously she took a deep breath to respond with the only words she knew to express her love.
"Two years ago you stepped out of a Borg alcove and I loved you. You were vulnerable and I worried that you would be hurt and I wanted with all my heart to protect you. You say that I saved you, but you gave me so much more. You gave me a reason to live beyond duty; you gave me back my life. I love you Annika Hansen, more than life itself. You are my soul."
"The rings please," the reverend requested in a gentle voice and Naomi dutifully stepped forward. Seven handed her bouquet to B'Elanna before she and Kathryn picked up their rings from the pillow.
"Annika Hansen, do you take Kathryn to be your lawfully wedded wife, to love and honor until death do you part?"
"I do," The young woman responded simply. Gazing into Kathryn's eyes she slipped the wedding ring onto the slender finger.
"And do you, Kathryn Elizabeth Janeway take Annika to be your lawfully wedded wife, to love and honor until death do you part?"
Kathryn lost the battle over her emotions and a single tear over-flowed to trail down her cheek. "I do," she affirmed huskily. She slid the silver band into place beside the ruby engagement right and then bent her head to place a reverent kiss on the finger.
Reverend Jamison waited until Kathryn looked up at her mate before intoning, "By the power vested in me by the Federation and the state of Indiana, I pronounce you married. You may kiss your brides."
This was the moment Seven had been looking forward to all day and she eagerly bent her head to capture Kathryn's lips in an intense and loving kiss. She hadn't kissed her partner since the previous evening and was not willing to settle for an abbreviated contact. Instead she wrapped her long arms around Kathryn's waist and parted the wine-shaded lips, immersing herself in the taste of her wife amidst the cheers and catcalls being shouted by their guests.
Kathryn was breathless and blushing by the time Seven finally released her.
"Wow," B'Elanna grumbled breathlessly. "I don't think Tom ever kissed me like that."
The Doctor gathered everyone's attention by grabbing a champagne glass from the buffet and tapping it with a spoon. When the crowd finally quieted he said, "Mrs. Janeway has asked me to invite everyone to join us in toasting the happy couple. We have plenty of food and drink and I'm sure most of you will agree with me when I say it beats Neelix's cooking any day."
The newlyweds sat at the bride's table joined by Kathryn's mother and a few of their closest friends. Champagne flowed freely as everyone attempted to make a toast in turn for the new couple's happiness. Seven and Kathryn were both extremely careful only to take a sip at each toast, otherwise they would be plastered before they could leave for the more interesting part of the evening. The first song began to play and Kathryn held out her hand to her beloved, inviting her to dance. The tune was a contribution from Tom Paris and was an old twentieth century song titled "I Love You," by Celine Dion.
The two strikingly beautiful women danced slowly on the otherwise deserted dance floor, wrapped lovingly close in each other's arms.
Losing herself in the feel of her wife Seven held the beloved form close with her cheek resting against the auburn mane. Inhaling deeply she drew the scent of Kathryn's shampoo into her lungs and felt the inevitable desire begin to burn slowly. Her reaction on Annika was not lost on Kathryn as she felt the nipples harden under the silky lace and prod against her chest.
"Soon, my love," she promised in a husky whisper into the delicate shell of Seven's ear.
As soon as the tender love song ended others joined them on the dance floor. Seven and Kathryn reluctantly released each other to dance with their friends. Even though Seven knew it was expected of her she did so regretfully already missing the feel of Kathryn in her arms. She found a moment to speak with the EMH and asked if he had conducted the scans she had requested.
"Not yet," he said carelessly. "Starfleet's been keeping me busy, but I'll run them as soon as I can. Just relax and enjoy your wedding," he advised her.
The night seemed to drag by for the couple, spent dancing with friends, toasting their new life and casting longing glances to each other. They were sitting at the table taking a well-earned break when Kathryn decided she couldn't take it any longer. Seven's body heat and scent were driving her wild and every time she looked at the young woman she wanted to ravish her on the spot. Leaning over she whispered in her smokiest tone, "Are you ready to get out of here?"
All thoughts of the conversation she was having with Phoebe disappeared as her head whipped back around to Kathryn. Her eyes had dilated immediately as she interpreted her wife's real meaning and only a thin sliver of blue could be seen around the pupils.
"Yes, now," Seven agreed breathlessly and began to surge to her feet.
With a restraining hand on her arm Kathryn chuckled and said, "Slowly. We don't want to seem over-eager."
"I am over-eager," Seven replied. "I have been ready to leave since the conclusion of the ceremony."
Bending her head down she captured Kathryn's lips in a searing kiss. She knew her love didn't like public displays of affection in front of her crew and was surprised but delighted when Kathryn allowed her to deepen the contact until she tasted her fully. It was only the need to draw breath that separated the two and Kathryn could only manage to say, "Now."
Smirking Seven stood and held her hand out to the smaller woman. Kathryn happily took the offered hand and stood. They made their way to the hovercar among the throng of well-wishers. Phoebe was going to take them to the cabin where all of their luggage was already awaiting them. She would pick them up at the end of the week and although the women had no transportation back should an emergency occur there was a communications device at the cabin and it was only a half hour walk in any event. Standing at the open hatchway of the vehicle Seven prepared herself for the tradition of throwing the brides bouquet. Gretchen had explained the tradition and the younger woman realized she had to temper her Borg-enhanced strength to toss the flowers or they would end up well past the crowd and halfway down the pasture.
Turning her back to the crowd she tossed the flowers into the air behind her. They sailed up high and Seven turned around before they began their descent. She watched as the female contingent competed with each other to catch them. With a howl of victory B'Elanna Torres proudly displayed her prize.
"Well, B'Elanna, it looks like you're next," Kathryn laughed before finally stepping into the transport.
Among the shouts of congratulations a few people also had suggestions for how to proceed for the night that left the young Borg blushing. But there was one piece of advice shouted by Chakotay that Seven heard and intended to adhere to once they reached their destination.
The small craft lifted off, turned to the west and sped away carrying Seven and Kathryn into the beginning of their new life as a married couple.
The uncharacteristic behavior of individuals such as Admirals Paris, Hayes, and Necheyev were now easily explained and her heart shattered as she realized the extent of the unintentional betrayal. The entire crew had wanted to be home so badly that they had ignored telltale signs of the deception, herself included. Looking at the wedding ring on her finger Seven realized how much more deeply the loss would be for her wife.
"Not my wife," she corrected herself brokenly, fisting her hand. "We were never really married."
Pushing away the debilitating thoughts and feelings of pain and rage Seven focused on the more important task of bringing this information to her captain. Since this had been nothing more than an elaborate deception Kathryn was still captain of Voyager and that was the only thing the young woman would allow herself to see at the moment.
The half-hour walk back to the cabin became a fifteen-minute jog as Seven hurried to her partner's side, convinced somehow that in her absence harm had come to the smaller woman.
She knelt on the mattress by Kathryn's side an attempted to rouse the woman by gently shaking a frail shoulder. Coming awake reluctantly the smaller woman assumed Seven was disturbing her slumber for erotic purposes. Stretching long and languorously she slid her arms around the blonde's slender neck before planting a kiss next to the starburst on the soft cheek. She growled playfully, "Umm, if you're going to keep this up, I'm not sure I'll survive." But something in the tone led the young woman to believe that Kathryn was not really complaining and as much as she appreciated the sentiment she didn't have the time to indulge in this. Kathryn failed to notice the tension in her partner's shoulders, kissing a line from Sevens ear to her full lips. She was confused when the young woman turned away.
"Annika?" she asked, frowning in confusion. "What's wrong, darling? What is it?"
Unable to meet the eyes of the woman she loved and see the extreme hurt and disappointment Seven glanced about the darkened room.
"Now you're scaring me," Kathryn announced sitting up and pushing her hair out of her face. "Tell me," she commanded in her best captain's tone.
Voice trembling Seven reluctantly said, "There is something I must show you. You will not like it."
Such simple words for something the young woman knew would break Kathryn's heart.
Sighing in exasperation Kathryn asked, "Couldn't it wait until later, Annika? We are on our honeymoon after all and there are other things I'd really like to see," she said suggestively.
The young drone stood up putting some distance between herself and Kathryn's distracting form. She turned her back to her partner and walked over to the window. Leaning on the sill and looking out at the shining stars she wondered if this building really existed or if it was a holo-projection. "I am sorry, Kathryn, but it is important and as much as I know how much this will hurt you it is my duty as a member of Voyager's crew that I bring this to your attention."
Voyager's crew? Kathryn inhaled deeply against her growing irritation. She had thought Sevens suspicions and feelings of inconsistency would fade after they were married. Obviously the doctor had been wrong in his diagnosis, but Voyager's former captain couldn't understand what her nervous apprehensions could possibly have to do with being a member of the former crew.
"Darling, you just had a bad dream," she began.
"No!" Seven asserted, whirling around to face her lover. "Can you not see that I am fully dressed? I have not been dreaming. I have been walking and what I have discovered will disturb you greatly."
Kathryn suddenly realized there were tears in the blue eyes and that Seven's voice was trembling, something that she had seen rarely with the normally contained young woman. Whatever the problem was it was serious. Pushing back the covers she padded across the room in her bare feet to stand directly in front of the younger woman. Searching her face intently for a moment she seemed to reach a decision when she suddenly folded her arms over her chest and ordered, "Tell me,"
She was surprised when Seven glanced down at the floor and responded, "I must show you."
"Okay," she drawled indulgently, "show me."
"You must dress. It is a long walk."
Her curiosity piqued in spite of ire she asked, "Where are we going, exactly?"
"To the barn."
"The barn? What's at the barn? And why do we have to go now?" When no answer was forthcoming she continued in an aggravated tone. "Well, if this is so important to you why don't I just call Phoebe? She can come and pick us up," Kathryn suggested reasonably.
"No!" Softening her tone at the shocked look on Kathryn's face, Seven amended, "No, it is late, and once you see what I have to show you, you will be grateful that we did not…disturb her."
"Fine," Kathryn replied beginning to lose patience. "I'll just get dressed and we'll walk for a half hour through the darkened woods so you can show me what is so important that it couldn't wait until morning."
The sarcasm was not lost on the blonde, but she knew she was making the right decision. "I will wait for you downstairs," she replied simply before leaving the room and easing the door closed behind her.
Kathryn's anger and confusion had been growing steadily throughout the strange conversation, but when the door closed to allow her privacy in dressing she became worried. Seven had never left the room for her to dress before and after the night they had just shared it certainly made no sense. The fact that she had convinced Janeway that she needed to find out what was happening.
Dressing quickly Kathryn met Seven by the front door a few minutes later. Just then the computer chimed with an incoming transmission. "Who could be calling at this time of night?" Janeway inquired rhetorically before walking over to activate the device in the living quarters.
The doctors image stared back at her, and Kathryn blinked at him in surprise before his question penetrated her consciousness. "Good evening, Captain. I'm sorry to disturb you, especially tonight, but is Seven there?"
The stoic woman settled next to Kathryn on the sofa, "I'm here, Doctor. Were you able to perform the scans?"
Kathryn glanced back and forth between the two, having no concept what was transpiring. "Yes," he responded while scowling intently.
"I'm afraid I owe you an apology. You were right. They're not human."
"Who's not human?" Janeway asked, not following the conversation.
"I understand," Seven returned shortly. "I have also discovered something that I must show the captain. It confirms my suspicions."
"Can you tell me what's going on?" the physician questioned gently.
"Yes, can you?" Kathryn interjected.
Shaking her head slightly Seven replied, "Not yet. I must show the captain first."
"Can everyone quit acting like I'm not in the room?" Kathryn asked in a huff. "I am still the captain."
The doctor and Seven both glanced at Kathryn, but neither chose to reply to her question. "I am sorry, Doctor. We must go now if we are to return before daylight."
Seven quickly closed the comm channel and walked to the front door before a flabbergasted Janeway joined her. She frowned when the young woman refused to meet her gaze and stepped off the front porch into the night. Janeway snapped on the wrist beacon she wore and began following the familiar path toward home. As they traipsed through the night Kathryn fumed over the information she had picked up from the brief communique with the doctor. Obviously the two knew something and had refused to share that information with her, which only served to make her even angrier over having her wedding night disturbed.
When they finally reached the barn Kathryn made no effort to be quiet as she yanked open the door and stalked inside. Seven thought she was making entirely too much noise and cast a worried glance toward the main house. No lights came on and there were no sounds from inside the house and she quietly followed Kathryn inside.
Everything seemed perfectly normal to the smaller woman. Smells of earth and animals filled the air and nothing unusual struck her. "Well, Annika, what was so important that you had to get me out of a warm bed in the middle of the night?"
Quietly Seven led her to the rear corner of the barn. She had closed to the door to the lower chamber, but the light shown clearly around the edges. A pensive look came over Janeway's face when she saw the light, but she didn't say anything when Seven lifted the entranceway and walked down the steps. Walking slowly around the room Kathryn ran her hands over the computer interface. There was no dust on anything and the room was obviously well used.
Finally putting her hands on her hips she said, "I guess I was wrong. Mother does have some advanced technology here. But I can't imagine what she could be doing with it."
Seven was astonished at how stubborn the older woman could be and reached out to grasp her by the shoulders. "Kathryn, surely you can see that this is alien technology."
"Don't be ridiculous!" Janeway snapped, pulling away. "How could my mother have alien technology?"
Gentling her voice Seven attempted to reach her partner with her love instead of pure logic. "My Kathryn, I understand that you do not want to accept this, but these people are not your family. According to the doctors scans they are not even human. I am sorry."
Janeway's jaw worked back and forth as she fought to keep back the tears, but the need to lash out at something overcame her. Taking that need out on the closest available target she asked, "You just had to prove something was wrong, didn't you? You couldn't just let us be happy here."
The words cut deeply, but Seven bit back her own emotional response knowing how hurt Kathryn was and that she was just reacting to that pain. "I am sorry, Kathryn. Truly I am. I wanted this reality also, but Voyager's crew is in trouble and they need their captain."
Kathryn's head snapped back as though she had been struck. "How dare you lecture me on my duty? I have spent six years focused on nothing but fulfilling my duty to the crew."
Challenging gazes met, clashing briefly before Seven glanced away to ask softly, "Would you have preferred that I say nothing? That we live out our lives knowing that we were not on Earth simply because it was a reasonable facsimile?"
Asked so plainly Kathryn was forced to evaluate the question honestly. As much as she wanted to be home and her crew to be healthy she knew she couldn't live with a lie. Being responsible for one hundred and fifty men and women day in and day out over the years had weighed heavily on her shoulders and she had longed to lay that burden down. It would almost be easy to embrace this world as her own, but her people deserved to know the truth. That knowledge did little to ease the ache in her heart or the tearing sensation that she thought must surely be her soul rending in two at the magnitude of this betrayal.
But that didn't answer the big questions. Why? Why would a species go to such lengths to deceive them so completely? Were they dangerous or was it all some kind of hoax, a cosmic practical joke? Was Tom Paris really back or was he one of the perpetrators? There were far too many questions and not enough answers and Kathryn could only draw on her command training to keep herself from falling apart.
Not answering Seven's question she walked back up the stairs into the barn with her command mask firmly in place. When she reached the dirt floor above she ordered, "Lower that hatch. We can't afford to let them know we're on to them."
They headed back to the cabin in the darkness, each lost in their own thoughts. Seven was feeling the distance that had sprung up between them and knew that she was dealing strictly with her captain, not the woman that held her heart. She would have to brief her on everything she knew about these people, but was not looking forward to it and decided to save the discussion for when they reached the cabin.
Captain Janeway was immersed in planning their next move. Daylight was almost upon them and there was very little time to act. First she would contact her senior officers and inform them of the duplicity, having them in turn contact the crewmen under their departments. The Intari had made a grievous error in duplicating Earth so exactly as the communications devices would ensure she could contact her crew with a minimum of fuss. It wasn't until they reached the log home and Seven filled her in on the Intari culture that she realized they weren't the victims of a plot to incapacitate and incarcerate them, but the victims of a grave misunderstanding.
In the end the only blame lay in the fact that the Voyager crew had wanted so badly for their journey to end that they had completely ignored the evidence before them. Seven left Kathryn to herself in the room they had shared so recently, knowing that the other woman needed time to herself. Kathryn sat down on the edge of the bed and buried her face in her hands. All of the implications of everything that had transpired since arriving on this planet entered her mind slowly overwhelming her.
She was going to have to call her crew back together to let them know what Seven had discovered and her heart twisted as she contemplated that. Even though the Intari couldn't be held culpable for the deceit Kathryn couldn't help but be angry with them. The Intari should have told them the truth from the beginning instead of assuming the Voyager crew would want a fantasy fulfilled and Janeway was definitely going to let them know that. She also realized the same thing Seven had upon immediately discovering the Intari computers; that they weren't really married.
Glancing down at her left hand she gazed at the silver band for a while before she removed it and slipped it into her jeans pocket. In a way she felt relieved that the marriage hadn't been real, convincing herself that she had impulsively proposed to Seven in her excitement at having reached home. The relief was short-lived, followed immediately by the overwhelming guilt of denying the love the two women shared. Feeling the familiar downward spiral into depression Kathryn fell onto the bed, burying her face in the pillow and sobbing out the hurt and betrayal until the tears just wouldn't come anymore.
Captain Kathryn Janeway sat firmly ensconced in command chair on Voyager's helm. The Intrepid class vessel streaked majestically through the depths of space. The Intari had been duly remorseful and were very surprised that the Voyager crew didn't know of their planet's recreational purpose. Honestly confused as to what all the fuss was about they promised to make other visitors aware whenever their space was entered. Of course that didn't help the Alpha Quadrant natives feel any better. At least Tom Paris had been real, from an alternate universe just as the doctor had said.
He manned his station at the helm just as he had for the last six years and for a moment Kathryn could allow herself to believe that things were returning to normal.
The journey was only for another fifty years, she thought. The crew had been tremendously disappointed when they had discovered the truth and many tears had been shed, but Kathryn knew that they would bounce back with the same stalwart flexibility they had always shown. She just wasn't sure if she could.
The hiss of the turbolift opening drew her attention and she cast a glance back over her shoulder to see an immaculate Seven of Nine enter the bridge. The young woman barely glanced her way as she took up position at the aft science station. She still wore her wedding band and even though they weren't really married Janeway didn't have the heart to ask her not to.
Fixing her gaze on the forward viewscreen she forced herself not to react to the young woman's proximity. She knew she had hurt her terribly by the distance that she had erected between them, but what choice did she have? Right now she had to focus on her crew and set an example for them in this difficult time. They didn't know how bad it had been for their captain and if Kathryn had her way they never would.
She realized she was using the crew as an excuse to ignore the problems with Seven, but found herself unable to deal with it. Standing, she handed over the con to Chakotay and went into the ready room, failing to notice the worried glance that he cast her way.
This place was becoming more familiar to her than her own quarters, having spent the week since returning to the ship almost exclusively in this room. Telling herself that she was giving Seven time to deal with everything that had happened she had been working, eating and even sleeping here when she could. Not that she had slept much and the dark circles under her eyes were a testament to that as was her ragged temper. Soon she would have to assign the other woman quarters of her own, but she couldn't face that daunting task right now.
She tried very hard to concentrate on her work, steadfastly staying away from thoughts of her younger lover. In a way she felt like a part of her had died, but she just refused to care anymore, afraid that if she did she would fall apart utterly. Chakotay and Tuvok had attempted to talk to her several times since returning to Voyager, urging her to reconcile with the young woman since it was apparent that they were both miserable, but Janeway had rebuffed any discussions that did not pertain to their duties. After a few days they had given up.
In those few days Kathryn had managed to convince herself that falling in love with Seven had blinded her to the Incari deception. Had she not been so embroiled in a passionate romance with the younger woman surely she would have seen what had been right before her and that was not something she could allow again. As much as this was killing her and hurting Seven it was for the best that they not rekindle their affair. In time Seven would understand that it had to be this way.
TBC in the conclusion: Never Before