DISCLAIMER: Star Trek Voyager and all of its crewmembers belong to Paramount, except when they hop into my universe, and get involved in all sorts of reprehensible and definitely non-canon behavior.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Before the Beginning
By Omega13


Chapter 1

"Thank you, Tuvok," Janeway said wearily sinking into a deep sofa nestled in a darkened alcove. "You're a good friend."

"You are welcome, Kathryn."

Janeway watched her ex-crew member cast an alert eye around the bar he'd accompanied her into moments earlier. She smiled faintly, aware that the Vulcan, given a choice, would never frequent this type of place - the bar was too dark with too many unknowns. In a place like this, Tuvok's professional vigilance would not allow him to relax, even though he was now no longer a security officer.

Slowly, Tuvok took a seat on the sofa opposite Janeway then focused on her. "I understand that this time is difficult for you, Kathryn," he said positioning himself in his usual straight-backed manner.

Although she heard concern in Tuvok's voice, Janeway focused on the elegant blonde waiter who placed her whiskey and ice on the low table in front of her. Janeway smiled up gratefully at the young woman when she straightened and made eye contact.

"Thank you," Janeway said her voice deeper than usual from all the talking she had done throughout the day.

The younger woman smiled at her warmly then nodded. "You're welcome," she replied her eyes lingering on Janeway's face.

Janeway recognized the look; a mix of curiosity and desire to get to know her better. The waiter, she knew, was wondering if she was available.

Since Voyager's return to the Alpha Quadrant, some months ago, the crew's anonymity, and in particular hers had been completely removed in one fell swoop. Nowadays, obscurity was almost impossible for her. But here, in this bar, in the downtown quadrant of San Francisco, the staff seemed to respect her need to be left alone. While the waiter served her often, she had never once engaged in conversation, respecting Janeway's boundary. It was that distance, Janeway had convinced herself, which made her return to this place whenever she was home, and not the fact that the young blonde was strikingly similar to a former Borg drone.

Janeway picked up the drink that she'd promised herself as a reward for enduring the torturous ceremony she had been required to attend today. Taking a long drink, she felt herself relax just slightly. Leaning back, she looked at her ex security officer. "Meaning exactly what, Tuvok?" she asked curiously, her eyes appraising him.

"Meaning, Kathryn," Tuvok replied, his eyes lingering on the blonde before returning to her, "that since our return to the Alpha Quadrant, you have been under intense media scrutiny not helped by a substantial schedule of tours organized by Starfleet." He raised an eyebrow. "In short, Kathryn, unlike the rest of the crew, you have not received or, it appears, sought vacation time."

Janeway smiled indulgently at the Vulcan then sipped from her glass. She was relieved that he had not hit upon the actual reason for her detachment today. "I promise, old friend, that after this tour, I'll reduce my workload and book some vacation time."

Tuvok looked at her. "The news comms have not abated as I thought they would." He tilted his head. "I received a request only yesterday to appear on Terran International News. Two days before the request, a Terran journalist interrupted my lunch break at the Academy. He took an uninvited seat at my table then proceeded to launch into a narrative. Would you like to hear it?"

Delighted that her friend was trying to lighten her mood, Janeway chuckled. "Please, continue."

Tuvok nodded then repeated verbatim, "Voyager has finally returned home from the Delta Quadrant. The indomitable Voyager captain and her crew have brought back a bounty of information amassed from seven years traveling in a virtually unknown area of space. By returning to the Alpha Quadrant, Captain Janeway has ensured that your debilitating condition was treated, and that the Doctor was not only able to put the record straight about his holonovel, but finally claim his sentient status." Tuvok raised an eyebrow when Janeway chuckled. "Needless to say," he added, "his discourse lasted for an additional ten minutes regarding the merits of Voyager and her crew."

Janeway smiled. "Like you Tuvok, the continued attention surprises me." She ran a hand through her shoulder length red hair. She sipped her whiskey then sighed inwardly. Since Voyager's return, Starfleet had maximized the media frenzy around the starship's time in the Delta Quadrant. In particular, she had been paraded as the returning hero. She swirled the whiskey in her glass. Even after all these months, she and her former crew were constantly in some media headline, somewhere. 'The Diminutive Captain Janeway's Herculean Effort to Return her Crew and Ship Home' was a caption she had read only this morning on the front screen of a daily media portal serializing Voyager's return. The attention was unrelenting and, unfortunately, Tuvok's experience with the journalist was not unusual. Janeway hated it. Still, she knew that many of the crew seemed to revel in the publicity. In some instances, the media hype had gone straight to some of their heads; Tom Paris and Harry Kim in particular. And much to Janeway's regret, B'Elanna and Tom, even though they had a child, were no longer together. It seemed he enjoyed his playboy image a little too much.

"I'm tired of talking about how lively the Delta Quadrant is," Janeway said her husky voice registering the strain. "I'm all talked out about the many star empires, alliances and species the Delta Quadrant holds."

Since her return, Starfleet had scheduled Janeway on every Alpha A List available. The only reason she had agreed was to keep her mind off a specific individual. The redhead frowned. Until today, it had almost worked. Her heart clenched when her inner voice whispered, I told you keeping yourself busy wouldn't work.

Wanting to focus on something else, Janeway forced a smile. "It was lovely seeing your son, Sek, and your granddaughter T'Meni, today," she said warmth crossing her eyes. "T'Meni is beautiful, Tuvok. You must be proud that your son named her after your mother."

Tuvok bowed his head. "Yes."

Janeway studied the Vulcan. Although there was no change in his facial features, she could read that he was delighted and deeply honored that his son had been so considerate.

"Kathryn," Tuvok said, the warmth disappearing from his eyes. "What is the update regarding the investigation?"

Conscious that Tuvok was deeply disturbed by Starfleet's tactics of selling her as the hero returned, while at the same time carrying out an investigation regarding her behavior on many fronts during Voyager's tenure in the Delta Quadrant, she replied carefully, "No court martial."

The honeymoon period of their return had quickly ended for Janeway. The last few months had been difficult for her. They were both well aware that if it had not been for the recent Dominion War, there was a good chance that some within Starfleet's senior command would have hung her out to dry, even if she was one of their own. Wanting to play down the difficulties that she had experienced recently, she swept an elegant hand down the leg of her dress whites and added, "I was quietly exonerated."

None of Tuvok's facial features moved, but Janeway saw the relief in his dark eyes.

Picking up his glass of water, the Vulcan stated, "You have been avoiding me."

Surprised, Janeway choked on her whiskey. "What?" she asked. Quickly, she wiped her chin with the palm of her hand, catching the spillage.

"Kathryn, we have met only three times since our return, and you have not responded to any of my communications."

Janeway smiled a little to herself. If she didn't know better she would have thought Tuvok's feelings were hurt.

"In fact," he continued, tilting his head. "Given your propensity of avoiding me and many of your crew, it would not have been illogical to assume that you would choose not to attend Seven and Chakotay's wedding ceremony today."

Janeway sucked in her breath. Wedding, her inner voice yelled in pain. She ignored it. Stymied, she tried to rationalize her feelings as her heart began to softly thud. Why did you let it happen? her inner voice asked with a note of defeat. Janeway closed her eyes briefly. How could I stop it? she asked. No answer was returned.

Even now, Janeway still found it difficult to believe in the veracity of Chakotay's feelings for Seven given his lack of trust in her at the beginning. The change in his attitude never sat well with her. For Janeway, first impressions always counted. She trusted her instincts implicitly, and it was rare that she changed her mind about anyone. She found Chakotay's absolute change jarring and unsettling.

What a pity Vulcans didn't indulge in the art of small talk, Janeway thought as she looked at her old friend. "Tuvok," she said slowly placing her glass on the table in front of her. "Since Voyager's return from the Delta Quadrant, I have been inundated." She sighed and leaned forward. "I'm sorry that it seems I'm avoiding you." She waved a graceful hand dismissively. "Although it may appear that way, I promise, I'm not avoiding you or anyone."

"How many times have you been home to San Francisco?" Tuvok asked bluntly.

Unsure of where Tuvok was going, Janeway frowned and said slowly, "Several." She watched in surprise when Tuvok glanced at the young, blonde waiter who was serving a table close to them. She wondered if he too noticed the similarities between her and an ex-crew member of Voyager. Suddenly feeling uncomfortable, Janeway pinched her nose reflexively at the thought that Tuvok would have an inkling of the primary reason she frequented this bar.

Tuvok looked at her. "Have you seen any of Voyager's crew since your return?"

"Of course," Janeway answered picking up her glass. Although she knew with certainty that it wasn't a streak of jealousy Tuvok was showing, she indulged the idea for a moment and teased, "Why do you ask?"

"Clarification is required, Kathryn," Tuvok answered. "I would like to understand why you have not been in contact with the many of the crew with whom you have spent the last seven years."

Feeling more than a little frayed after the ceremony today, Janeway was in no mood to indulge this conversation.

"Tuvok, my engagements since our return have prevented me from seeing many of the crew as much as I would like." She raised a hand to stop any response. "However, now is not the time to claim negligence." She held a finger up to make her point. "You of all people should know that."

Tuvok nodded in acceptance. "Negligence is not a word I would ever associate with you, Kathryn."

Janeway smiled and inclined her head slightly. "Thank you, Tuvok."

"Perhaps," Tuvok said raising an eyebrow, "avoidance is more appropriate."

The smile slipped from Janeway's face. "Tuvok," she said crisply. "I think it is fair to say that I have been spending time with those I think need it most." She looked at him. "Like B'Elanna."

"How is B'Elanna?" Tuvok asked with a faint note of fatherly concern. "Unfortunately, circumstances today prevented me from spending time with her."

Thankful that the conversation had changed direction, Janeway nodded. "I know what you mean. Today went by so quickly." She gulped down the remainder of her whiskey. What? Her inner voice stated. You're kidding me! Today was agonizingly slow.

Janeway looked at Tuvok. "B'Elanna is struggling." She chinked the ice in her empty glass. "She is still finding the split from Tom difficult."

Tuvok inclined his head. "And Seven?"

Janeway raised her eyebrows questioningly.

"Have you spent much time with her?"

Janeway's heart began to hammer. She shrugged. "Why do you ask?"

Tuvok's elegant Vulcan hand placed his barely touched glass of water on the table. He sat back and steepled his fingers. "Seven and Chakotay were married today, Kathryn."

Increasingly uncomfortable, Janeway signaled to the young, blonde waiter that she required a refresh. She then gave Tuvok a force ten look and scowled. "I'm aware of that Tuvok. In case you've forgotten, I was there."

Unperturbed, Tuvok held Janeway's gaze. "Logic dictates that you would have found today difficult."

Her heart beating rapidly, Janeway stared at the Vulcan. All these years Tuvok had been by her side, providing quiet, solid support. Other than their skirmish at the beginning of her career, where he criticized her in front of three admirals for failing to follow proper tactical procedures during her first command, they had somehow forged a friendship, and when Tuvok was later located to Jupiter Station, they kept in contact by utilizing the out-dated method of letter writing. Ten years on, there was no doubt in Janeway's mind that Tuvok was her most trusted friend.

Where is he going with this? She thought eyeing him. Aware that the Vulcan was very astute, she waited. He knows, her inner voice warned. She closed her eyes briefly, and silently prayed that he would not go down this road. He can't, she thought.

The waiter returned with a fresh glass. Thanking her, Janeway swallowed some whiskey then relaxed slightly when the heat in her belly spread. Feeling confident that she had done an excellent job of hiding her feelings over the last five years she asked, "What is your point, Tuvok?"

"Seven of Nine is my point, Kathryn," he replied bluntly. "I want to talk to you about the marriage, and your feelings for Seven."

Her inner voice quipped, How well did you say you hid your feelings again? Janeway gulped then swallowed a full mouth of whiske.y

Tuvok raised an eyebrow and waited for a response.

There was no doubt in Janeway's mind that being lost in an unknown territory had encouraged a stronger friendship than she would have probably had with the Vulcan, but regardless of how strong their friendship was, never once had she openly confided in him about matters of the heart, and she wasn't about to start now. She looked at the chronometer hanging on the wall over the bar. "Tuvok," she said putting her glass down. "This has been a rather long day. As much as I love being with you." She stood. "You're right, I've been doing too much lately." She straightened her dress tunic. "I think I'll catch a shuttle home."

"Kathryn?" Tuvok responded looking up at her.

"I'm sorry, Tuvok," Janeway said. Her tone firm, she added before striding out of the bar, "Consider this matter closed."


Chapter 2

If he were human, Tuvok knew that he would have sighed heavily at this moment, and cursed Admiral Janeway from the alternate timeline for putting him in this situation. However, he was not human and, as he watched Janeway leave, he was forced to use logic and reason to work through this growing problem.

Tuvok frowned. He took out the PADD that Admiral Janeway had given to him and placed it on the table in front of him. He had attempted to create a situation today where he could pass the PADD to its rightful owner, Kathryn Janeway, but he had failed. The opportunity had not presented itself until now, and he had not handled the situation as well as he had intended.

Looking at the PADD, Tuvok picked up his glass and sipped from it. He thought back to those last days before Voyager returned to the Alpha Quadrant.

Tuvok tapped commands to allow access to Holodeck 2. There, Admiral Janeway stood keying instructions into the console. "Thank you for coming, Tuvok", the silver-haired Janeway said without looking up. She finished keying in her commands then moved away from the console. She stood beside him.

Tuvok watched the holodeck change showing a room setting. He raised an eyebrow when Chakotay and Seven of Nine appeared. Although there was no sound, it was evident that the interaction was intimate; Chakotay was nuzzling Seven's neck.

"This is where it happened," Admiral Janeway said with a wistful note.

Tuvok looked at the elegant silver-haired woman. "What happened?" he asked intrigued.

"This is where everything changed," she replied watching Seven's holopogram closely.

"Explain," Tuvok said placing his hands behind his back.

"A few days ago," the older Janeway said raising a hand. "My younger self needed to find out why Seven of Nine was late for duty." She focused her slate gray eyes on Tuvok. "It will be fresh in your mind that she has been late more than once for duty recently?"

Tuvok inclined his head. "Yes, it has been brought to my attention."

The Admiral pointed at the couple. "Using her command privileges, your Captain tapped into the simulation that Seven has been running. This is where she stood and observed this interaction."

Tuvok noted the pain in her voice.

Admiral Janeway looked at Tuvok for a moment then stated matter-of-factly, "Janeway is in love with Seven."

Tuvok's brow rose.

"When she watched this," the Admiral said, her eyes never leaving the couple. "It changed everything. A part of her," she hesitated. Turning, she looked at Tuvok, her eyes showed deep pain. "A part of her changes forever. She looked back at the couple. "Janeway will withdraw from Seven, from the crew, from life. Not noticeably at first but slowly," she smiled faintly, "tactically." The Admiral placed a hand on her hip. "She has only ever loved a few people in her life," she paused. Eyes warming, she studied Tuvok. "But, you know all about that, don't you?"

He nodded. "Not directly, Admiral, as you know. But yes I am fully cognizant of Captain Janeway's past."

The Admiral smiled then lifted an elegant finger. "In the end, no matter how hard Seven tries, your Captain will let her down." She folded her arms. "And for over twenty years it has haunted me."

Aware that she had switched to first person, Tuvok observed the older Janeway for a moment then asked, "What is it that you want, Admiral?"

The Admiral looked at Tuvok and replied with a note of sadness. "I forgot how much I missed your candor, Tuvok." She eyed him for a moment then moved toward the console and froze the program. "In three years time, Seven is going to die in the arms of her husband, Chakotay." The Admiral paused and gazed at the couple then, as if the image was too much to endure, she looked down at the console. "And Kathryn never gets the chance to reconcile her feelings." She added almost to herself, "I never get the chance."

The Admiral looked at Tuvok then approached him. "Do you know that Janeway loves to hike?"

Tilting his head, Tuvok looked at her enquiringly. "Yes."

"She loves the outdoors. Loves the air, the sense of freedom, but in particular she loves trees." The Admiral laughed. "I bet you didn't know that Tuvok?"

"No," Tuvok responded evenly. "You are correct Admiral. I am unaware of that particular fondness." He looked over to the simulated holo-couple and added, "It seems that I am unaware of many of Captain Janeway's predilections."

"Don't take it too personally, Tuvok," Admiral Janeway said then smiled warmly. She's spent a lifetime keeping secrets." She folded her arms. "When she was young her father took her to see the giant redwoods on Earth, in California; the sequoia trees."

Tuvok watched Admiral Janeway's eyes warm as she remembered.

"Otherwise known as wizened sentinels," the Admiral added softly. "But for all their stature, Tuvok. All their mass, alive a tree is a remarkably delicate thing. All of its internal life exists within paper-thin layers of tissue, just beneath the bark. However tall a tree grows, it's just a few pounds of living cells spread between roots and leaves, and because of that they are vulnerable." She looked at him. "Just like Janeway." She unfolded her arms and placed a hand on her abdomen. "But most people don't see that." She half-smiled at her friend. "Even you."

"Agreed," Tuvok stated. "However, Admiral, there is no doubt that you and Captain Janeway are formidable characters."

Admiral Janeway's nodded. Her eyes took on a determined look. "In the next few hours," she said straightening her red tunic and picking up a PADD. "I have to convince your friend to return to the Alpha Quadrant, the only way I know how," she looked pointedly at Tuvok, "by telling her about Seven's death."

Tuvok frowned.

The Admiral looked at Tuvok for a long moment then revealed another of Captain Janeway's secrets. "She will send this ship to hell and back to save her." She placed a hand on Tuvok's shoulder." And I need your help, old friend." She squeezed it. "I need you to give her this."

Tuvok unclasped his hands from behind his back and took the PADD that Admiral Janeway held out to him.

"I'm sorry I have to do this, Tuvok," Admiral Janeway said. "But being my oldest friend comes with some responsibility. This PADD will tell her everything." The Admiral's face filled with tenderness. "Katie cannot do as I have done," she said with deep emotion. "Seven must know how she feels." She removed her hand and suddenly she was back in command. She added briskly, "I have provided Janeway with all the armor and weaponry that she will need from the future, and this will make it possible for Voyager to pass the Borg unharmed."

Tuvok looked over the Admiral's shoulder and studied the two frozen forms in a tight embrace. "It would seem Admiral that your arrival appears by all indications to be more than a little too late to encourage the Captain to declare her feelings for Seven of Nine."

Admiral Janeway moved away from Tuvok and toward the console. "Maybe," she replied. "Then maybe not." Standing at the console, her eyes pierced Tuvok. "I want her and the crew to have a chance. I want to get Voyager home. But," she added. "There's a catch. You must only confide what I have told you when Janeway is back on earth, and settled. Right now, all her focus must be on getting this ship and crew back to the Alpha Quadrant." She smiled showing some of her old charm. "She is more likely to listen to you than she is to her disappointing future self."

The Admiral lightly touched the console and the program disappeared. She looked at the empty space for a while then turned, and approached Tuvok. "Come, we have work to do." She ran her arm through his. "In the PADD that I have given you, there is a sequence of commands that will ensure that the future technology I brought is disengaged as soon as Voyager docks at DS9." She quirked an eyebrow and looked at Tuvok mischievously. "We don't want Starfleet to get its hands on that kind of technology." Her lips tweaked. "I know only too well how greedy some individuals can be."

Surprised, Tuvok raised his eyebrows. Those words about Starfleet would never fall from Captain Janeway's lips. He looked at the Admiral as they walked through the doors of Holodeck 2 and was suddenly aware that although they might be physically identical and share the same history, both Janeway personalities were indeed very different.

Admiral Janeway laughed heartily. "B'Elanna would have a minor fit if she realized that her daughter Miral was the one who helped me find the solution to ensure that all the technology I brought will dematerialize as soon as the command sequence is entered, otherwise Katie or I may have the Temporal Integrity Commission hot on our tails." She removed her arm from Tuvok's when they entered the turbolift. "I'm hungry," she said. "Let's go eat." She smiled. "Believe it or not I do miss Neelix's cooking on occasion."

"Admiral is that wise, "Tuvok asked as they exited the turbolift, and entered the Messhall.

The Admiral grinned. "What? Eating Neelix's food?"

"No, telling B'Elanna that her unborn daughter is under your command." Tuvok frowned. "I am unsure how well she will receive the knowledge that you have involved her daughter in a highly illegal mission."

"Well in that case, maybe I should tell her, just to get a reaction from our half-Klingon." Janeway replied then grinned at Tuvok and added impishly, "You will find this hard to believe Tuvok, but the years have settled her down." She chuckled lightly. "It would be good to rouse some of B'Elanna's spark again."

Stopping abruptly, the Admiral breathed in the aroma wafting from the entrance to the Messhall. "It has been such a long time," she said with a tinge of loneliness as she looked around the low lit and quiet Messhall. "It looks like it's more than B'Elanna who needs a little shake up. Don't you think, Tuvok?" she said then approached the galley with more than a challenge in her gait.

When he saw Admiral Janeway, Neelix stopped chopping, and stood to attention. "Admiral Janeway," he said stiffly.

"Ah, Neelix," she replied warmly to the little Talaxian whose reddish-brown spots shone on his head with the effort of preparing food for the Alpha shift. Eyes twinkling, she waved a hand to dismiss his nervousness. "At ease before you sprain something."

Nodding his head vigorously, the stocky little Talaxian's plume of ginger hair bobbed up and down as he replied. "Yes, Admiral."

"How is Dexa?" the older Janeway asked.

"Wonderful, Admiral. She is just wonderful." Neelix responded. "Admiral, I can never thank you enough for allowing Dexa and her son to travel with us on Voyager."

"You're welcome," Admiral Janeway replied then grinned. "Anyway, how could I refuse," she looked at the little Talaxian with great warmth. "I was delighted when you found your own kind, Neelix, and even more grateful that you and Dexa made the decision to continue on our journey to the Alpha Quadrant." She winked. "However, in my timeline it took sixteen years to return home." Her eyes sparkled with amusement. "And you and Dexa made good use of that time by increasing the Talaxian population substantially."

The Talaxian looked at the Admiral in surprise. Color crept up his pale skin slowly. "This is wonderful news, Admiral," he eventually managed to say. "Wonderful news, indeed."

Admiral Janeway looked at the abundance of food on the galley, and smiled. "Ah Prixin," she said with a note of wistfulness. "I forgot it was approaching."

Neelix nodded. "Admiral," he said with delight. "I'm so glad you remember Prixin." He spread out his hands. "We have leola root soup, Talaxian stew, chadre-kab, Trellian crepes and of course Taga cake." He put down his knife, and moved toward the cooler. "And for you, Admiral," he said opening it, "nothing less than a bottle of Talaxian moon ripened champagne to toast your arrival."

Admiral Janeway bowed her elegant head. "I'm touched, Neelix," she said, her eyes glowing softly, "and honored that you would chose to share such precious cargo with me."

The Talaxian's color deepened. "You will remember that my culture places great importance on family connections." He smiled. "And it seems rather fitting that you are here to share this." He tapped the bottle, then puffed out his chest and started the traditional salutation, "We do not stand alone. We are in the arms of family: father, mother, sister, brother, father's father, father's mother, father's brother, mother's brother, fa—"

"It is sufficient to say," Tuvok interrupted, raising an oblique eyebrow at Neelix's overly exuberant behavior, "that the list is extensive."

Admiral Janeway looked from Tuvok to the miffed Talaxian. "It's good to be back gentlemen," she said. She grinned then finished with a shorter version of the welcome gesture. "We are in the arms of family. We gather this day to extol the warmth and joy of those unshakable bonds. Without them we could not call ourselves complete. On this day we are thankful to be together. We do not stand alone."

"Sir, can I get you anything else?" The young, blonde waiter asked, bringing Tuvok out of his thoughts.

"Just the credit charge, thank you." Tuvok replied. He stood then tucked the PADD that Admiral Janeway had given him all those months ago back into his dress coat. He should have passed this to Janeway shortly after Voyager returned as the Admiral had instructed, but he had not. Logic had told him that challenging the younger Janeway about her feelings for Seven of Nine would prove more difficult than the rite of Tal'oth, where he had survived in the Vulcan desert for four months with only a ritual blade.

Tuvok settled the credit charge and prepared to return to his family. He made his way outside. Although the evening air was cold, the gentle breeze soothed him. Even though he had returned to teach at the Vulcan Institute of Defensive Arts, San Francisco would always hold a special place for him. It was the headquarters of Starfleet Command after all and home to his close and struggling friend, Kathryn Janeway.

Vulcan training had taught Tuvok to ignore illogical emotions. And, Admiral Janeway's confession of love for Seven, while the young woman was wrapped in the arms of her future husband seemed illogical to Tuvok. However, years of being among humans had taught him that when it comes to affairs of the human heart, it is wise to look beyond logic.

Given Admiral Janeway's confession about her and consequently Captain Janeway's feelings for Seven of Nine, Tuvok had intended to inform the younger Janeway of the admission, but at the right moment. However, that moment never arrived. Once the captain made the decision to return to the Alpha Quadrant, which was shortly after his meeting with the Admiral, she was too preoccupied to spare even a moment of her time. Even when he asked to speak to her privately – a request that he made rarely - Janeway refused. Unless it was a matter of life or death, she told him, the plan to blow up the Borg conduit took precedence.

Disturbed by the depth of emotion in the younger Janeway's eyes and increasingly aware that this matter needed, as Admiral Janeway had informed him, to be handled carefully, Tuvok had decided to follow the Admiral's instructions and wait until their return to the Alpha Quadrant. However, when Voyager returned, Seven and Chakotay appeared such a couple that instead of speaking to Janeway, Tuvok decided to seek guidance in the Temple of Amonak on Vulcan before approaching his friend regarding such an intricate and intimate matter. There he was told to remember that a Vulcan served no purpose with matters of the human heart.

"A house divided cannot stand," the Priest told Tuvok.

"Explain." Tuvok asked.

"All three love?"

"It would seem so," Tuvok responded.

"Then, my brother, they will all fall if you chose to divide them."

Tuvok looked at him solemnly.

"Prayer is required my brother. It is there, you will find the answer."

"Perhaps." Tuvok responded.

Tuvok pulled his coat closer against the strong wind as he walked along the San Francisco bay toward his hotel. He placed his hand in his coat pocket and felt the PADD that carried a personal communication for Captain Janeway along with instructions for dematerializing the technology the Admiral had introduced to Voyager. The same PADD the Admiral had passed to him trusting fully that he would carry out her instructions, but the instructions had never been initiated.

As he walked in the wind, Tuvok thought back to that day in the Messhall with Admiral Janeway. After having her fill of Talaxian stew, the older Janeway insisted that Tuvok give her younger self the PADD only when he felt it right. "I trust your logic." She had told him patting his hand. "It is something that I have missed dearly, my friend. "I also know that you will do what is right when it comes to the technology I have brought with me." She had looked at him carefully. "Do what you feel is right."

His thoughts returned to Janeway. Since his return, the Vulcan found that prayer had not provided an answer and wondered if the Admiral understood all along that his logic would dictate that the technology, now they had been exposed to it, was too valuable to confiscate when they docked at DS9. He recalled Janeway reprimanding him while aboard Voyager for intentionally sacrificing his career in order 'steal' the spatial trajectory from the planetary inhabitants of Gath Labin who had harnessed a technology that could fold space to allow long distance travel in an instant. Captain Janeway was offered the device by unscrupulous means, but refused it accepting that the planetary inhabitants had their own prime directive which prevented them from sharing their technology with less advanced races.

Tuvok understood that logically it was unwise to ignore a technological device that could in an instant place Voyager some forty thousand light years closer to the Alpha Quadrant. As such, he had decided to act as the agent during the transaction to not only protect Janeway's ethics, but at the same time deliver the crew closer to home. However, it transpired that the technoloyg was incompatible with Starfleet technology.

After the event, Janeway privately reprimanded him, and in her reproach told him that that as one of her most valued officers and oldest friend she depended on him, not only as her counsel but as a moral compass. It was a strong lesson for Tuvok in further understanding the complexity of Kathryn Janeway.

A strong sense of T'Pel, filled Tuvok. The enduring power of their marriage and ultimately their devoted connection gave him great inner strength. His thoughts returned to Janeway. Since his return, the Vulcan found that prayer had not provided, and this morning when he tucked the PADD into his coat pocket, and escorted his family to the wedding of Seven of Nine and Chakotay, he had decided that it was the right time to pass on Admiral Janeway's communication to Kathryn.

Tuvok believed now he understood why he was disturbed by the look that Captain Janeway had given him when he asked to speak to her privately before Voyager returned to Earth. The look carried something that Admiral Janeway's did not. Kathryn's look was not one of loss, but one of deep, intolerable fear; a fear that he had never seen in her eyes before.

Entering the hotel, the words of Tom Paris rang through Tuvok's ears. "You know something, I always thought that beneath that cold Vulcan exterior lay an even colder Vulcan interior, but now I'm convinced you're a hopeless romantic." Tuvok responded by telling Mr. Paris that there was no need to insult him. But, as Tuvok made his way to his room, he was uncertain whether Tom Paris's observation held a grain of truth.

Entering his hotel room to the familiar and warm sounds of his wife and his family, Tuvok understood that he may have failed Janeway.


Chapter 3

Janeway looked out at the most iconic symbol of the city of San Francisco from the balcony of her apartment; the Golden Gate Bridge, a suspension bridge spanning the opening into San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean. It had been almost two months since the wedding, and she was nervous at seeing Seven for the first time. The honeymoon had been extensive, and the thought of seeing the younger woman made her stomach churn.

The comm system alerted Janeway that Seven had arrived. She checked her reflection before activating the console to allow Seven entry. Her heart almost pounded out of her chest when the door slid open. Seven stood before her in casual clothes; dark slacks and a black tight fitting turtle neck top. Janeway caught her bottom lip, sucking on it lightly she noted that Seven's hair was down, a style the younger woman rarely wore.

"Kathryn," Seven whispered as Janeway ushered her in. "It is very pleasing to see you."

Janeway smiled and inclined her head. "Thank you, Seven," she replied aware that for Seven that meant she had missed her. "And it is very pleasing to see you also," she responded as the door slid shut.

Seven looked at Janeway with clear blue eyes. "I believe it is customary to hold close a friend that one has not seen for a period of time."

Eyes widening in surprise, Janeway blinked for a moment, then smiled encouragingly. "Yes," she replied as Seven moved close to embrace her. "I believe it is."

Holding her breath, Janeway felt Seven's arms fold around her waist then pull her close. Exhaling, her eyes closed involuntarily as she leaned into Seven's long, lean throat. Breathing in deeply, her senses were assaulted.

"It has been sixty-two days, six hours and twenty-three seconds since I saw you last," Seven whispered in Janeway's ear.

Janeway's response was immediate. It was an innocent comment, but the connotation for her explosive. An electric spark flickered then flared through her entire body. The hair on her neck stood erect. Her respiration increased rapidly. She was on fire. Unable to control her response, and aware that the ex Borg would be able to analyze her every physiological flux, Janeway stiffened, and pulled out of Seven's arms. "Come," she said hoarsely.

Quickly, Janeway moved toward the kitchen at the back of the apartment, and prayed that Seven would not query her response to their physical contact. "I'm keen to here all your stories from your honeymoon," she said to the blonde with forced interest. She pulled out a stool at the breakfast bar and gestured for Seven to sit. "Would you like some refreshment?"

"A glass of water will suffice, Kathryn," Seven replied, sitting down.

Busying herself, Janeway tried to focus on the task at hand, but she was unnerved.

Placing a cup and a glass on the counter, she noticed a slight tremor in her hand.

"Are you all right, Kathryn?"

"Yes, of course I am, Seven," Janeway responded immediately. Forcing herself to clamp down on the almost overwhelming desire Seven's words and closeness had awakened, she made an excuse. "I think I exercised rather too strenuously this morning." She smiled. "These bones are getting old."

Sitting with her back straight, Seven said nothing, but watched Janeway closely as she poured a cup of coffee and then a glass of water.

"Adapting to your absence was," Seven said accepting the glass, "difficult."

Still reeling from the physical contact and Seven's words, this further declaration of need from the blonde made Janeway's stomach clench then flutter. Fighting hard to keep her composure, she sipped her coffee slowly. Eventually she managed, "But, we've been in regular contact."

Since Voyager's return, regardless of her busy schedule, Seven ensured that Janeway made time for her. Telling her that she needed to 'maximize' her leisure time when she wasn't on tour, and what better way than with her. Janeway knew that Seven's view of her 'leisure time' involved more than a few trips to Indiana. Fortunately, her mother Gretchen and younger sister, Phoebe, had taken an instant liking to the ex Borg.

Janeway understood why Seven adored Indiana. It had been brought home to her what a beautiful place it was when she had refused a site-to-site transportation to the family home, where the celebration of her return was taking place. Instead, she commandeered a shuttle and flew the scenic route over the 300 miles of Ohio River Byway. Flying close to the mighty river, through the twist and turns, past the cypress swamps, scenic overlooks and archaeological sites, she headed for her hometown of Bloomington.

Janeway remembered feeling a sense of exhilaration when she flew over the vineyards, orchards, and church spires of the traditionalist county where she had grown up. When she eventually passed the rural village and church yard near her family farm, she struggled to contain her emotions. When she set the shuttle down, and stepped out onto the farmhouse yard, tears shimmered when the all too familiar humidity of an Indiana summer hit her. But it was the sight of her family bursting through the farmhouse doors that brought the tears flowing. At last, she had thought falling into their arms, she was home.

Seven raised her ocular implant. "I have discovered that being in regular contact is not the same as being in someone's company," she said focusing her clear blue eyes on Janeway.

"Sometimes, that's the way thing are, Seven," Janeway responded.

Seven looked at Janeway. A hurt look flitted across her eyes.

Janeway stopped herself from comforting the younger woman. She looked into her coffee cup, and told herself that this was how it needed to be. Not wanting to give further indulgence to her complex feelings for Seven, Janeway changed the subject. "Phoebe will be here shortly."

Seven smiled.

Janeway's jaw almost hit the ground. She gaped.

Seven's smile faded. "What is it, Kathryn?"

Janeway closed her mouth. "You smiled," she replied leaning against the counter for support. "I've never seen you smile like that."

Seven inclined her head. "It is an activity I have mastered during my time on Chakotay's home planet, Dorvan V." A look of puzzlement crossed her face. "It seems that it is a mandatory requirement for a newly married couple to display signs of happiness at all times during their stay." She looked at Janeway. "Chakotay suggested that smiling would achieve this."

Dragging her eyes from Seven's mouth, Janeway swallowed hard. "Is that so," she replied slowly. Heartbeat increasing and mouth suddenly dry, she licked her lips quickly. "The Mayan wedding was beautiful," she squeezed out. "Chakotay's sister, Sekaya, did a wonderful job during the ceremony."

Seven's blue eyes regarded Janeway. "Yes," she responded, folding her hands in her lap.

Janeway watched the thumb of Seven's exoskeleton left hand rub absentmindedly over the thumb of her right. Janeway raised her brow. Such affectations were new to the ex Borg. Seven's humanity was proceeding at warp speed, she realized.

"Chakotay was initially concerned, that the enactment of a traditional ceremony would not be a success, but it was, as I suspected."

Janeway nodded. Chakotay's home planet of Dorvan V was remote and located on the border of Federation and Cardassian space, too remote a location for many of their former crew to attend. What better location for a traditional wedding, Seven had told her at the time, than Chakotay's ancestral home on Earth.

Janeway recalled the ancient Mayan ceremonial wedding held at the Azulik, a fifteen villa retreat in central America. The place carried the concept of rustic luxury to the maximum. That day, Janeway felt increasingly ill when Chakotay showed her the lounge beds and hand-carved wooden soaking tubs, telling her that the wedding night would be honored by nothing more than a canopy of celestial stars, and hundreds of candle lights.

How she managed to get through the day, Janeway would never know. She had never seen Chakotay or Seven look so happy. That day, as she watched the ceremony unfold, Janeway had felt fifty feet outside her body. She recalled the garden palapa festooned with multi-colored streamers and flowering garlands, and when Seven appeared and moved toward the altar, Janeway lost her breath. Even now, the memory was exceptionally vivid - Seven making her way toward the table altar, dressed in the traditional ceremonial white embroidered huipil, looking absolutely stunning.

As Janeway watched Chakotay's sister, Sekaya, wed the couple inside a circle of friends and family, she knew that she would have to deliberately remove herself from Seven's life – slowly, tactically.

"How is Icheb?" Janeway asked.

"He is well," Seven responded her eyes warming. "Icheb and Chakotay have developed a strong relationship, and under his counsel, Icheb has decided to join Starfleet Academy." Seven added with some pride, "The Department Heads of Astrophysics were impressed with the high-resolution gravimetric sensor array he designed." She looked at Janeway. "As you know, Kathryn, Icheb has an aptitude for astrophysics." She bowed her head slightly in acknowledgment. "It was, after all, your recognition of his aptitude when he increased the ship's long-range scanner resolution. You allowed the technology to be developed by providing him a permanent post within Astrometrics." She smiled faintly. "Kathryn, you seem to show extraordinary ability when it comes to developing ex drones from the Borg collective."

"Indeed," Janeway replied warmed by Seven's evolving sense of humor. She smiled, pleased that the young Brunali had found his niche in life, after such a difficult start. Although she tried, Janeway would never fully understand how his parents could deliberately modify their child's genome so that at birth he would produce a pathogen designed to attack cybernetic organisms such as the Borg.

"How is the development of the medical tricoder going?" Janeway asked feeling as always great pride that the ex Borg's exceptional abilities had been readily recognized by Starfleet Command.

Upon Voyager's return, Starfleet had enlisted Seven immediately, and placed her in the nurturing hands of the Federation's 'think tank' along with the Doctor. Janeway was aware that as a result of the Dominion War, a depletion of raw talent meant that Seven's 'Borgness' was to a great degree overlooked. Similarly, the Doctor's sentience was readily granted to ensure that the Federation had complete developmental control of the medical tricorder.

"Development is progressing well," Seven replied.

"And the Infinity Modulator?"

Currently, Seven was developing a technology that could be used against the Borg. The Infinity Modulator, developed from the technology that Admiral Janeway brought aboard Voyager was designed to fire unique modulated shots that make adapting impossible.

"The I-Mod also is going well, Kathryn," Seven responded. "The design is almost complete." She raised her ocular implant. "However, there is much discussion within the development group regarding how the weapon should be displayed."

Janeway could see the amusement in Seven's eyes.

"Specifically around whether the firing mode energy beam should be purple or blue in color."

Fully aware that when it came to Seven's intelligence, she left many of her peers within the elite Federation group stumped, Janeway smiled then said with a note of amusement, "That should keep your colleagues busy for a while."

Seven smiled back.

Janeway's heart thudded. Seeing Seven smile sent a bolt of desire up her spine. Needing some fresh air, she picked up her cup. "Let's go out onto the balcony."

Seven nodded.

On the balcony, Janeway breathed in air deeply, and stared out at the landscape. How am I ever going to get through this? she asked herself. Now is the time to begin to put some distance between us, she told herself. Squaring her shoulders, Janeway turned to face Seven, but she wasn't there. Confused, she placed her cup on the table, then re-entered the balcony doors to her living space. To her surprise, Seven was sitting at her piano.

"Seven?" Janeway said approaching the younger woman.

"Kathryn," Seven replied, making room on the early Victorian rosewood two-seater stool. "Join me."

"It hasn't been tuned in some years, Seven." Janeway said taking a seat.

"That is correct," Seven responded. "I am aware of that fact."

"Are you now?" Janeway replied raising her brow.

"Yes," Seven answered. "I have evaluated the condition of the piano."

"It just needs a little tuning," Janeway said as she positioned herself, ensuring no physical contact.

Seven raised her ocular implant. "It requires more than a little tuning, Kathryn." She looked at Janeway. "I have noted previously that it requires restringing, and the soundboard needs repair. However," she added lowering the lid. "This Steinway is beautiful." She ran her hand over the case. The original ivory and marquetry are in excellent condition."

Janeway watched Seven's fingers caress the Gothic decal.

"It has been in my family for generations," Janeway said. "But I'm afraid, Seven," she eyed the younger woman, "here, it is strictly a furniture piece." She sighed. "It hasn't been played for such a long time." She pinched her nose reflexively. "I should return it to the farmhouse, but Mom won't have it." Janeway smiled faintly. "My grandfather bequeathed it to me."

"Did your grandfather play?" Seven asked, her hands now resting in her lap.

Janeway nodded. "Yes. Often," she replied. "When I was young, he loved to play this piano." She remembered how as a child she would sit on this very stool alongside him, luxuriating in the closeness.

"Did you have favorite composer or piece of work?"

Janeway thought for a moment. "Yes," she replied. "He used to play one composition often." She frowned trying to remember. "Lakme, I think it was." Her frown cleared "Yes. He loved Lakme by Delibes."

Seven looked into Janeway's eyes then nodded. "I shall remember that."

Wondering why, Janeway looked at blonde for a long moment. Suddenly aware that she was staring, she cleared her throat. "Thank you for reminding me that it requires some attention. It's something I intend to rectify soon."

"When you do, I will play for you."

Surprised, Janeway looked at Seven. "I didn't realize you played."

"Music," Seven replied running a hand lightly over the lid of piano, "has intriguing mathematical properties." She looked at Janeway. "I learned to play proficiently aboard Voyager using holodeck simulations, but did not play skillfully until my recent trip to Dorvan V." Returning her hand to her lap, she added, "Although it was a honeymoon period; a time of rest and relaxation, there were times when I—"

Janeway filled in, "Needed to be efficient?"

Seven inclined her head slightly. Her eyes warmed as she gazed at Janeway. "Yes."

That's my beautiful ex Borg, Janeway thought her heart swelling with pride. Efficient as ever.

"Kathryn, Chakotay and I will be having a dinner party this Saturday evening."

The moment broken, Janeway stood. "I think I might have something already scheduled," she replied. Like sticking an isometric hypospray in your eye, her inner voice said, as she moved toward the balcony. She stared out at the view. Right now, the last thing she needed was to spend time with Chakotay and Seven at their love nest.

"I have checked your schedule," Seven responded moving off the seat." You are free." She stood behind Janeway. Stance erect, she clasped her hands behind her back,

"I see," Janeway replied. Keeping her eyes fixed on the Golden Gate Bridge, she tried to think of a way out.

As if sensing this, Seven moved closer to Janeway. "Sekaya, B'Elanna, Tuvok and T'Pel have all accepted our invitation. Unfortunately, the Doctor has a prior engagement."

"Probably because it's rather short notice," Janeway said, frantically thinking of a reason not to go, but coming up blank.

"Yes," Seven replied. "In this case, impromptu would be a more appropriate term."

Realizing this was another one of Seven's experiments; Chakotay and a subsequent romantic relationship being one of the others, Janeway sighed then turned. "Seven, I—"

"Kathryn," Seven interrupted. "I require your attendance." She looked at Janeway. "It is important to me. Please."

Janeway's stomach fluttered. She groaned inwardly. Why, she asked herself, does that one word from her mouth bring me almost to my knees. Never able to refuse Seven much, Janeway nodded slowly. "I'll attend."

"Excellent." Seven responded.

Janeway warmed when a look of pleasure passed over the younger woman's face.

The comm system sounded.

"That will be Phoebe," Seven said.

"Yes," Janeway replied. She made her way toward the entrance.

"I am intrigued," Seven said coming up behind Janeway "as to whether I can also persuade Phoebe to make herself available to attend our dinner party."

Janeway's hand froze over the console, a feeling of ill ease passed over her. Evidently, Seven was very aware that her ex Captain was unable to resist her pleas. Touching the console, Janeway granted Phoebe access.

"Seven," Phoebe, the tall, curvaceous red head squealed when the entrance doors slid open. Quickly, she moved passed her older sister, and hugged the six foot blonde. "It's great to see you."

"What about me?" Janeway asked. She had been on tour and hadn't seen her sister in over a month.

Letting go of Seven, Phoebe laughed, she reached for her sister. "Of course I missed you, sis. Don't I always." She pinched Janeway's cheek lightly. Whenever, her sister could, she would tease Janeway and today was no exception.

Janeway caught Seven's eyes; they were filled with amusement.

"How are you?" Janeway asked making her way to the kitchen.

"Fine," Phoebe replied following.

"I thought Mom might come?"

Phoebe shook her head. "She's busy," she replied. "She has George doing some work around the farmhouse." Phoebe took a seat at the breakfast bar. She patted the one next to her for Seven to sit on. "It is no longer," she bracketed her fingers, "suspicion on my part. There is definitely romance in the air."

Janeway smiled. She poured a cup of coffee for her sister. Recently her mother had engaged the services of a carpenter for some general repairs to the farmhouse. She hoped they were becoming close. Since her father's death some years ago, her mother had never been involved with anyone. Gretchen was still a very attractive woman, and had received many offers over the years, but never once had she let anyone in. Maybe George will have more luck, she thought.

"Seven, anything for you?"

Seven shook her head. "No thank you, Kathryn."

Phoebe shook out her long red hair. "Seven," she drawled lifting up her coffee mug. "How's lover boy?"

Seven's blue eyes twinkled. "He is well thank you, Phoebe."

"Just well, Seven?" Phoebe asked her tone lingering. "I was hoping he would be," she raised her eyebrows, "exhausted."

Seven looked at the younger Janeway curiously. "On the contrary, Phoebe. Our schedule ensured that there was more than sufficient time to regen…relax."

"That wasn't what I meant, Seven," Phoebe responded. She looked pointedly at Kathryn then smiled. "For someone with an eidetic memory, surely you can remember our conversation before you left on your honeymoon?"

Seven stared blankly at Phoebe for a moment then blushed heavily.

Janeway cringed. She couldn't stand having Seven and Phoebe around each other too much. Seven was an easy target for Phoebe, and as much as the ex Borg was her sister's match in every way and more, when it came to teasing, especially about Chakotay, Janeway found it torture. The idea of her younger sister arriving at Seven and Chakotay's along with B'Elanna, who had become firm friends with the ex Borg since her split from Tom, was almost too much for her.

"Seven and Chakotay are having a dinner party on Saturday," Janeway said pouring herself a fresh mug of coffee. "She wants to know if you're available."

Phoebe smiled. "Ready for visitors already," she asked. "I thought he would be too busy keeping a beauty like you tied to the bed." She winked. "And I mean that literally."

Janeway closed her eyes briefly. "Can you make it?" she asked, desperate to change the subject.

"No," Phoebe replied.

Janeway sighed inwardly with relief.

"I have a serious of ink brush drawings accepted for exhibition by the Cardassian Institute of Art."

Janeway gaped. "You're kidding?"

Phoebe grinned. "Nope."

"That's wonderful news, Phoebe," Seven said with genuine warmth.

Janeway laughed with delight.

"It seems that my art work has become very popular since your return."

Janeway's laughter disappeared. "This is intolerable," she said frowning.

Phoebe looked at her sister. "Kathryn, I'm teasing. The Institute has shown interest in my work for some time."

Janeway smiled in relief. Her sister had real talent, and she hated the idea that Voyager's return, and subsequent notoriety would influence the Institute to exhibit Phoebe's work.

"It's wonderful news, Phoebe," Janeway said. Reaching out, she patted her sister's hand. "I'm delighted for you."

"I concur with Kathryn," Seven told Phoebe. "It would be unacceptable if your work was shown only as a dividend of Voyager's return."

Phoebe smiled affectionately at Seven. "I'm glad you concur." She put her coffee mug down. "Now, Katie," she said carefully. "Since I can't make it to the dinner party, there is a space available." She looked at Janeway. "It would seem the perfect time for you to take a date."

Eyes widening, Janeway looked at her sister.

"Date?" Seven repeated with a note of surprise.

"It's about time, Seven." Phoebe responded. "Underneath all that Captaincy, there lurks an extremely hot blooded female."

Janeway shook her head. "No."

"Yes," Phoebe replied.

"Phoebe," Janeway said, injecting a command tone in her voice. "This topic, as I've explained to you before, is not open to discussion."

"Aw, c'mon, Katie," Phoebe responded, her tone rising to the challenge. "I'm not asking you to engage in a life long commitment with anyone." She looked at Seven. "What's the story when she was in the Delta Quadrant? Did she have a love interest?"

Looking suddenly intrigued, Seven looked from Phoebe to Janeway then nodded.

"Who?" Phoebe asked with delight.

"No one,"Janeway replied quickly.

"Jaffen," Seven replied.

Janeway gritted her teeth.

Eyes wide, Phoebe asked Seven, "Who is Jaffen?"

Seven didn't hesitate. "Jaffen," she replied, "is a Norvalian who worked at the main power distribution center on Quarra." Seven looked at Janeway then raised her ocular implant. "Employee number 1326." She looked at Phoebe. "Kathryn lived with him on Quarra, an M-class planet located in the Delta Quadrant."

Looking astounded, Phoebe stared at her sister, "You lived with someone in the Delta Quadrant?"

Janeway nodded. "Yes, but only for a short while."

"Wow," Phoebe said throwing up her hands.

Janeway glared at Seven for a moment then looked at her sister. "Phoebe, our memories had been altered. At the time, I had no recollection of my past whatsoever."

"Who knew that a little thing like zapping your memory was the best way to get you to commit. Let's send a comm to all your exes." Phoebe laughed. "You," she stared at Janeway incredulously, "living with someone. Wow."

Smiling faintly, Janeway raised an elegant finger in the air. "It was passionate, I'll give you that. But," dropping her hand, she sighed. "Nothing happened."

Seven looked at Janeway in surprise.

"Spill the beans, Katie," Phoebe said leaning forward.

Janeway knew there was no way around this subject. "For three months," she said looking at her sister. "I lived a completely different life. I didn't have an inkling about anything unusual until Chakotay infiltrated the plant and informed me that I was the captain of a starship and that the crew's memories had been altered to provide forced labor." She looked at Seven. "Chakotay arrived on Quarra just when I moved in with Jaffen. And," she clicked her tongue as she remembered the tall, dark, handsome Norvalian. "Once I suspected that I had another identity my priorities changed. My need to find out the truth took precedence." Memories flooded Janeway. "Up until that time, I really had no idea." She smiled. "It took Chakotay quite a bit of effort to convince me. But even though I had a hard time believing him, something inside me switched off."

"To Jaffen you mean?" Phoebe asked.

Janeway nodded. "And once I returned to Voyager, and my memory was restored, my full focus was then on my crew and the ship."

What she didn't tell them was on her return to Voyager, she had stood on the bridge, and feeling invigorated, commanded Lieutenant Paris to engage warp speed. It wasn't until the six foot blonde ex Borg swept through the bridge doors a few minutes later to report for duty that Janeway realized immediately why she had switched off from Jaffen. The woman striding toward her station was not Annika Hansen, the Efficiency Monitor on Quarra, who carried no emotional resonance for Janeway, but Seven of Nine did, and everything she felt for the Norvalian simply slipped away.

Sipping here coffee, Janeway recalled the emotional tidal wave she felt that day for a woman who stood at her console, keying in commands, completely oblivious to her epiphany. She recalled standing on the bridge, watching Seven's elegant fingers fly over her console and wanting to rush to her, wrap her arms around her slim waist, and kiss her until she begged for air. The urge, Janeway recalled, was almost irresistible.

Janeway paled as she remembered how hard the gravity of the situation hit her, forcing her to find her command chair before her legs buckled. Nails digging into her palms, she had tried to stop her fingers tingling, ashamed that it signified something she could never ignore – extreme attraction, and left her in no doubt that she was bone-crushingly, nerve-tingingly attracted to the younger woman.

Sitting in her command chair, Janeway was stunned by the overwhelming emotional outpouring. She had never experienced anything like it. Not with any of her first crushes, or her first love Justin, and definitely not with Mark. Fingers trying to burrow deep into the arms of the chair, the reality of the situation hit her; she was in love. The realization was astonishing, and the knowledge almost crushed her.

Janeway placed a hand on her abdomen in an attempt to settle the sudden nausea. She looked at Seven. Even now, it was untenable to think that she could be anything more than a mentor to this woman who had not only been a member of her crew, but was a very young woman in the throes of discovering her humanity, her individuality; herself.

Janeway recalled almost bursting a blood vessel at the breach in the unwritten protocol when she had thought that Chakotay had pursued a member of her crew, only to be told by a very red faced first officer that it was Seven who initiated the romance.

"Katie, come back," Pheobe said clicking her fingers.


"I said are you telling me you never slept with him?" Phoebe asked with a note of astonishment.

Janeway's eyes narrowed. "This matter is closed, Phoebe."

Phoebe swallowed some coffee then looked at Janeway for a long moment. "This time, sis," she replied raising her eyebrows.

Relieved Janeway sipped her coffee, aware that her sister would, when it came to it, respect her need for privacy. Surreptitiously, she looked at Seven. The ex Borg looked disappointed.

"Seven," Phoebe said slipping off her stool. "I can't wait to here about your honeymoon." She took Seven's hand and led her into the living space. "Tell me all about it. I want to here everything. And please, don't leave any details out. When I say everything, I mean everything."

Aware of how literal Seven would take her sister's comment, Janeway swallowed. This conversation would be unbearable. Picking up her credit wallet, she headed for the doors. "I forgot I needed some groceries," she yelled. "I'll be back soon."

Janeway heard a baffled comment from Seven as the doors slid closed behind her, "Why does she not replicate what she needs here?"


Chapter 4

"B'Elanna," Janeway said when the half-Klingon entered her apartment. "Are you all right?" She asked, noting how pale she looked.

Dressed casually in black, and her dark hair in a pony tail, B'Elanna waved a hand as she followed Janeway into the kitchen. "Yes, fine. Tom and his mother collected Miral." She looked at Janeway. "Can you believe it?" she asked. "At his age, fighting off everything in the Delta Quadrant and the guy brings his mother with him." She pulled out a seat, and looked around. "Do you have anything to drink?"

"Wine?" Janeway replied.

"Maybe something stronger," B'Elanna said showing Janeway two bottles of blood wine she had brought.

It was obvious to Janeway that too many late nights had pooled dark circles under the younger woman's eyes. Trying not to show her concern too much, she said gently, "Remember we have the dinner party tonight."

"I've had one helluva day, Kathryn."

"All right, B'Elanna. Just the one though."

The ridge on B'Elanna's forehead rose. "Can you believe him?" she asked. "Tonight he told me that our love life was always lacking. He told me he felt frustrated." Her eyes narrowed. "And here I am feeling guilty." She shook her head. "Men don't really do guilt do they?" she added rhetorically. "No, they do the big things like murder or running out on their wives."

"That's the y chromosome for you," Janeway said handing B'Elanna a small glass of wine.

"Do you know something?" B'Elanna asked Janeway. "I believed that my father wouldn't leave me. I believed that my husband wouldn't walk out on me." She slurped down the glass of wine then wiped a hand over her mouth. "It's obvious that blind faith isn't my strong point."

Aware that B'Elanna had an unhappy childhood, and that her parents had fought so much that her father left, Janeway worried that her ex chief engineer was somehow blaming herself for the recent break up with Tom. But, as Janeway knew, the relationship had never been an easy one. She recalled Seven's comment aboard Voyager about the couple when they announced their intentions to marry. 'Given the volatile nature of their relationship, one might have predicted homicide rather than matrimony'.

B'Elanna held out her glass for more wine. "Do you know what that the 'mother in law' from hell said to me?"

Janeway shook her head, and refilled B'Elanna's glass.

"You'll get over it." B'Elanna said then drained her glass. "I said oh sure, a year of therapy, some heavy duty drugs, and I'll be brand new."

Unable to hide her concern, Janeway frowned. "How are you coping with Miral?"

"I'd like to say we've settled into a routine, that I've got everything strategically planned. But with the split, we're affected," B'Elanna said. She laughed. "I had to peel her off me like Titanium leg wax when Tom came for her today."

Janeway hesitated when B'Elanna reached for the bottle, and poured another glass of wine.

"I can't believe the strange world I've entered. I might have been lost in the Delta Quadrant, but being a working mother beats the hell out of that." She looked at Janeway, "Right now, my one ambition is to go for twenty minutes without having to pick something up of the floor. And," she paused as she gulped down her third glass. "I'd like nothing better than to soak in a tub for a while." She laughed. "My horizons are shrinking." She poured more wine. "I love my daughter, Kathryn, more than anything, but right now, motherhood to me means feeling tired all the time." She huffed. "I think I'm doing a terrible job." Tears rolled down her face.

Janeway took the glass from B'Elanna's hands and placing it aside, stood in front of the half-Klingon. "B'Elanna," she said taking her in her arms. "Without a doubt, I know that you are a damn fine mother."

Janeway stood at the entrance to Chakotay and Seven's house with B'Elanna. She was dreading tonight, but Seven had commed her twice this week; first to confirm that she was attending and the second to ensure that she wouldn't back out. Seven, Janeway was beginning to realize, was very astute when it came to second guessing her.

"Kathryn, B'Elanna. Welcome," Chakotay said when the entrance door slid open. "Come in." He stood aside. "It's wonderful to see you both."

"And you, Chakotay," Janeway replied as the doors slid closed behind her and B'Elanna. She looked around then raised her eyebrows. The apartment was practically palatial. Not bad, she thought. Starfleet certainly was treating them well.

"Here," B'Elanna said pushing a bottle of wine into his hands.

"Thank you," Chakotay replied then led the way into the lounge.

"Seven is busy preparing the food." His dark eyes looked at Janeway. "She is aware that Welsh rabbit stew is your favorite, so she has made a change." He raised an eyebrow. "As you both know, I'm a vegetarian, so she has adapted the recipe."

B'Elanna tutted. "How do you adapt rabbit stew?" she said. "No rabbit means no stew."

Chakotay frowned. "She's cooking a vegetarian option."

B'Elanna gave Janeway a look that could only be described as envious. "So she's cooking your favorite meal, and adapting it for Chakotay." She shrugged. "Who knew?"

Wanting to snap B'Elanna's mouth shut, Janeway gave her a force ten look.

Ignoring Janeway, B'Elanna continued, "Maybe I should have tried those tactics with Tom?" She threw the words over her shoulder as she made her way toward the kitchen, "It might have kept him in my bed."

Chakotay touched his tattoo over his left eye. "Is B'Elanna drunk?"

Janeway held up her hands. "It's a difficult time for her, Chakotay."

"Is Miral with Tom tonight?"

"Yes," Janeway responded placing her hand on her midsection. "He picked her up this afternoon." She looked pensive. "It's clear she's struggling with the separation."

Chakotay nodded. "Well, it's good that she's here with friends."

"Yes," Janeway replied. He is right, she thought. This is exactly where B'Elanna needs to be.

Although the half-Klingon and ex Borg had gotten off to a rocky start when Seven first came aboard Voyager, there was no doubt that they were firm friends now. Seven, B'Elanna had informed Janeway recently, was an exceptional friend.

"Come, Kathryn, let me get you a drink." Chakotay said. "Seven has purchased Aldebaran whiskey."

Janeway raised her eyebrows.

"No synthehol where you're concerned," he added looking at her.

"And you?" Janeway asked unable to shake the niggling feeling. There was something odd about the way her former first officer was looking at her.

Chakotay shook his head.

Aware that Chakotay preferred to avoid alcohol, in order to stay in control, but on occasion indulged with Antarian cider, Janeway asked, "Won't you join me?"

Chakotay shook his head.

Watching him pour the green whiskey, Janeway made a mental note to ensure that given the company, and that Alderbaran whiskey was twice as strong as ordinary whiskey, she would monitor her intake.

"Seven has been working on the recipe that your mother gave her," he said holding the glass out to her. "As you know, for her, it is very important that you enjoy it."

Aware that it was a traditionalist recipe, but positive that Seven would do a wonderful job, Janeway smiled. "She hasn't let us down yet, has she?"

Chakotay's dark eyes assessed Janeway for a moment. "No, Kathryn. She hasn't. She's always challenged you, hasn't she?"

Picking up that his look and reply were more than suggestive, Janeway looked at Chakotay curiously. "What do you mean?"

"What I mean, Kathryn," Chakotay answered coming closer. "Is that Seven is intelligent, strong-willed, and independent. She thinks for herself." He looked at her. "Never afraid to speak out if something seems obtuse or doesn't make sense to her. You have always recognized that. You have always recognized that, in the end, it's only character that matters."

Feeling increasingly uneasy, Janeway looked at Chakotay, unsure if he was offering praise or criticism. Eyeing his dark features, her gut told her it was the latter.

"You have always encouraged her human personality to grow—"

"Chakotay," Janeway interrupted. "Where are you going with this?"

Her ex first officer's eyes narrowed. "Where I'm going Kathryn is—"

"Kathryn," Chakotay's sister Sekaya said with great warmth as she walked through the sliding lounge doors.

Left with the uncomfortable feeling that he was about to tell her to back off, Janeway tore her eyes from Chakotay, and smiled at Sekaya.

"It's wonderful to see you." Sekaya said standing in front of her.

"And you," Janeway responded to Chakotay's younger sister.

Janeway looked the younger woman over and noted, not for the first time that she was exceptionally beautiful. Sekaya was dark like her brother, and of similar height, but unlike him, she was bald with elaborate symmetrical tattoos on both sides of her face. Her baldness was symbolic, Chakotay had told her on his wedding day, representational of being the spiritual leader of their people. It suits her, adds to her striking looks, Janeway thought.

Trusting her gut that Chakotay was about to tell her that now Seven was married, her 'mentoring' role was no longer required, Janeway forced a smile as icy steel shot through her.

"Would you like a glass of water?" Chakotay asked his sister.

Sekaya smiled. "Yes, thank you."

The comm system buzzed.

"That must be Tuvok and his wife," Chakotay said. He smiled. "If you'll excuse me."

Janeway nodded. Feeling very uneasy, she sipped her whiskey.

"How are you, Kathryn?" Sekaya asked moving closer to Janeway.

Janeway swallowed her whiskey. "Good," she replied. "And you?"

"Excellent," Sekaya replied then smiled. "You must find it difficult."


"The amount of attention that you receive."

Janeway blinked then looked at the younger woman curiously.

Sekaya quoted, "Coffee, the finest organic suspension ever devised. I beat the Borg with it."

Janeway laughed amused that Sekaya would know this.

Tuvok and T'Pel entered the room. Janeway took a deep breath, excusing herself, she approached them. She hadn't seen Tuvok since the night of the wedding. Tuvok had tried to reach her, but she just wasn't ready for the conversation he wanted to have and doubted that she ever would be. But tonight there would be no running, Tuvok, she could see from the arc of his eyebrow, and the way he looked at her, had something on his mind.

"Tuvok," she said placing her hand on his arm and squeezing it gently. "I'm glad you could make it old friend. T'Pel," she added smiling widely at Tuvok's wife, "how wonderful to see you."

"Kathryn," T'Pel responded. "You are well, I trust?"

"Couldn't be better."

Looking from Tuvok to T'Pel, Janeway remembered that when she found Tuvok in the Delta Quadrant, she had told him that she had spoken to T'Pel and that his wife was worried. She was quickly corrected by Tuvok that worry is an emotion that Vulcan's do not experience. However, he admitted, he did miss his wife and family.

Miss them, Janeway thought as she looked at T'Pel with great affection. They have been married for more than sixty years. They must have been devastated to be parted from each other. But through all that, Janeway knew that Tuvok's maturity, wisdom and Vulcan equanimity had served him, and ultimately the crew of Voyager well. She was aware that although Tuvok had lived long, he had also lived well and because of that many of the crew turned to him for advice, and counsel as she had. But it was with B'Elanna and Seven that Tuvok had the most intense relationship. His calm, logical demeanor had always been a comfort to Seven, and there was no doubt that B'Elanna's journey would have been a much tougher one without Tuvok's constant reassurance that 'one's volatile instincts' could be contained.

"Kathryn, it is good to see you," Tuvok said inclining his head.

Janeway picked up the subtle note of sarcasm in the Vulcan's tone. Color rose in her cheeks. "And you, Tuvok," she replied. Knowing that she had been less than a good friend to him recently, she smiled then added, "We'll catch-up soon, I promise."

"Perhaps," Tuvok said then raised an eyebrow. "However, it is now apparent to me that patience and Kathryn Janeway go hand in hand."

Janeway's color deepened. She half-grinned at her ex security officer. It would appear, she realized, that she had a lot of making up to do.

Seven entered the room and Janeway's heart sped up. She looked beautiful. Her blonde hair was down, and she was wearing a black, low cut dress. She was stunning.

"Kathryn," Seven said as she approached. "Is your refreshment adequate?"

Janeway cleared her throat and raised her glass. "More than adequate."

"Excellent," B'Elanna said behind Seven staggering slightly. "You'll be happy now that your captain's all right."

Ignoring B'Elanna, Seven approached Tuvok and T'Pel. "It is good to see you both," she said warmly. She looked at Tuvok affectionately. "The food is ready."

"Let's eat," Chakotay said, leading the way to the dining room.

In the dining room, B'Elanna was guided by Chakotay to the seat next to Janeway.

"I brought a bottle of Klingon blood wine," B'Elanna said, as she scraped her chair out, and sat down.

"I am aware of that," Seven replied raising her ocular implant in concern. "However, given that it is stronger than Kathryn's whiskey I think something a little less," she hesitated, "potent would be sufficient."

B'Elanna scowled.

"What would you like?" Seven asked.

Janeway watched B'Elanna swallow when she caught the expression on Tuvok's face.

"Beer," B'Elanna replied quietly. "Beer is fine."

Janeway smiled slightly, it seemed she and B'Elanna were the only ones who enjoyed alcohol at this table.

"The food smells wonderful, Seven," Sekaya said when Seven returned.

Evidently pleased, Seven inclined her head. "Thank you. This is a recipe that Kathryn's mother, Gretchen, cooked when we," she looked at Janeway warmly, "visited her farmhouse in Indiana."

"Hey, Seven," B'Elanna said slurring slightly. "Have you told everyone about our trip?" She waved a hand. "How you and Kathryn spent the afternoon arguing about the old farm equipment." She grinned at the rest of the table. "They argued on Voyager." She waved a finger between Janeway and Seven. "A lot."

Janeway's pulse picked up speed when Seven blushed.

"We visited Gretchen's farm recently. It's a beautiful place," B'Elanna told everyone. "We've been a few times now and love it more each time." She looked at Janeway. "Once, the captain was working on some obsolete farm machinery. Was it a twenty-first century potato digger?"

Janeway smiled at B'Elanna still referring to her as her captain. "It was a corn planter."

"Oh" B'Elanna replied. She shook her head. "Gretchen actually owns this primitive equipment," she said in disbelief. "And it was filled with…" She looked at Janeway.

"Seed and fertilizer."

B'Elanna nodded. "Kathryn asked if we wanted to come along for the ride. I think she wanted to impress on us the values of the traditionalist way." B'Elanna laughed.

Janeway shook her head. "I'm not a traditionalist." She smiled warmly at B'Elanna. "But sometimes, I like to escape modernity."

"Gretchen," B'Elanna said to the table. "Insisted that we get out of our 'city clothes' and wear some strange looking outfit."

"Dungarees," Janeway interjected.

B'Elanna nodded. "That day after planting only two acres the machine broke down." She looked at Janeway as if her knuckles dragged across the floor. "Kathryn got out this archaic toolbox and crawled underneath the planter." She chuckled. "She used a…" Looking completely flummoxed, B'Elanna asked, "What was that thing?"

"Jack," Janeway offered.

"Yes, jack on one side," B'Elanna said. "And she asked Seven if she would hold the other side." She laughed. "Just as well, Seven's Borg enhanced strength allowed for that. The whole time Kathryn was under there, utilizing these strange traditionalist tools, she was telling us how great it was to be back home." B'Elanna shook her head. "Well when I looked at Seven, 've never seen a person look so out of place in my entire life. The most cybernetically enhanced human on the planet, was wearing dungarees that were too short, with mud smeared over her face from the machinery. Seeing Seven being nothing more than a farm hand, was a strange sight indeed."

Chakotay laughed, and the rest of the table followed.

Smiling, Janeway picked up her glass and thought that maybe the evening wouldn't be too difficult after all.

"Thank you, Seven," Janeway said, following Seven into the kitchen with empty dessert dishes for the replicator. "Dinner tonight was fabulous. Your culinary skills are coming along beautifully. And I--"

"Remain still," Seven said moving into Janeway's personal space.

The move unexpected, Janeway's heart pounded. During all their time on Voyager and their friendship Seven never willingly moved into her or anyone else's personal space. Holding the plates in her hands, she stood perfectly still. Her mouth opened then slowly closed as the blonde peered at her.

"It appears there is an eyelash on your cheek," Seven said. Her warm breath whispered across Janeway's face as her finger brushed across her cheek.

Frozen, hands out, breathing heavily, pupils fully dilated, Janeway's groin immediately clenched at the contact. Afraid that her body might launch into orbit with the unexpected and intimate contact, she held her breath.

Remaining still, finger mid-air, the forgotten eyelash clinging to the tip, Seven gazed at Janeway.

Color rising, Janeway tried to say something, but her voice disappeared when amazing blue eyes focused on hers.

Their eyes locked.

Face close, Janeway could feel Seven's breath wash lightly over her. Unable to help herself, she focused on the burgeoning, full, moist pink lips that she ached to kiss. Lost, Janeway watched Seven lean closer, just as the sound of laughter filtered from the dining room.

The moment broken, Seven blinked. A look of confusion crossed her face. She dropped her hand.

Heart pounding with anticipation and excitement, Janeway cleared her throat.

Seven stepped back. Her face tightened when B'Elanna walked into the room.

"Time to move from baby beer onto the big stuff," B'Elanna said. Focusing on Seven, she asked, "How about some wine, Seven?"

Looking perplexed, Seven shook her head.

Putting the dishes down, Janeway stepped in. "B'Elanna," she said approaching her friend. "I think you've had more than enough."

"No way, Kathryn," B'Elanna replied then hiccupped. "The party's just starting."

Un-nerved by the ache of desire she was experiencing, and desperate to escape, Janeway replied, "It's time to leave."

B'Elanna looked at Seven' "Do you want me to go?" she asked with a note of vulnerability.

Seven responded immediately, "Of course not, B'Elanna,"

Smiling, B'Elanna clasped her hands together. "Okay, then let's crack open some of that wine you've been hiding from me."

"B'Elanna," Janeway said. Her voice firm, she raised a hand in a no nonsense manner. "We're leaving." She turned to Seven. "We need our coats."

Looking slightly dazed, Seven nodded then left the room.

"This evening isn't over, Kathryn," B'Elanna threw over her shoulder as she left the kitchen following Seven. "If we're not having wine here, we'll be having wine at yours."

Sighing heavily, Janeway placed a hand on her hip and pinched her nose. She needed to get out of here. She needed to think about what had just happened.

"Kathryn," Chakotay said entering the kitchen. "B'Elanna said you're leaving?"

"Yes," Janeway replied then smiled faintly. "I think B'Elanna's had a little too much to drink." She shook her head.

Picking up the dessert dishes that she had brought in, Chakotay moved over to the replicator and punched in a set of commands.

Janeway watched the dishes disappear, and wished that option was available to her.

"Did you and Seven have a chance to catch up?"

Janeway's head snapped back, at the slight menace in Chakotay's tone. She frowned slightly. "In what way?"

Chakotay punched fresh instructions into replicator console, and grinned at her. "I mean has she mentioned that we are trying for a baby yet?"

Stunned, the words echoing around her head, Janeway felt the room move in and out. The moment took on a surreal quality. She stared at Chakotay. "A baby," she uttered.

"Yes," Chakotay said his dark eyes shining.

Janeway's world shifted as Chakotay grinned at her. At her best she always presented a calm, collected persona. Whenever she found herself in an uncomfortable situation, she always applied her intellect to master it. But right at this moment, she could not stop her jaw from falling open. Blood was pumping through her veins so fast she thought her head might blow off. Open mouthed, she stared at Chakotay.

"I take it that's a no then?"

Janeway quickly closed her mouth. "No." She squared her shoulders. Placing a hand on her abdomen, she added, "Not yet."

Holding a cup of steaming tea, Chakotay looked at Janeway.

Lifting her chin, Janeway said with a calmness she didn't feel. "I'm sure your wife will tell her friends when she's ready."

Chakotay looked at Janeway for a long moment. "I'll take this through to Sekaya."

Janeway nodded. Reeling, she stared after Chakotay. Her Starfleet training told her that she had just suffered a serious and very deliberate tactical blow from her ex first officer. She moved to lean against the kitchen counter. Hands grasping the counter, she leaned on it for support, and tried to organize her thoughts.

"Tuvok," she whispered, when the Vulcan entered the room which at this moment seemed busier than the drydock on Earth's McKinley Station.

"Kathryn," Tuvok replied approaching her. "I have in my possession information that Admiral Janeway requested I give to you." He held out a PADD. "On reflection, I realize that I should have insisted that we meet before now to ensure that this information was given to you in line with Admiral Janeway's wishes."

Distracted by the devastating news that Seven and Chakotay were considering a family, and that Chakotay obviously had his suspicions about her feelings for Seven, Janeway stared at the PADD. Somehow, it had never entered her mind that Seven would want a children.

Janeway suddenly recalled how fond the younger woman was of Naomi Wildman, and also the Borg children that came aboard the last year of Voyager's time in the Delta Quadrant. She thought about how close she was to Icheb and now Miral who was her goddaughter. Janeway suddenly saw images of Seven holding a baby in her arms, and Chakotay standing with her. Clutching the counter, the image almost broke her.

"Kathryn," Tuvok said looking at her. "Is everything all right?"

Unable to speak, Janeway nodded. "Yes," she managed eventually then tried to smile. "Yes. Yes, I'm fine. Happy," she said releasing the counter.

"Kathryn," Tuvok said looking at Janeway intently. "Smiling is considered a symptom of happiness. However," the Vulcan inclined his head, "I have learned not to assume that your smile signifies happiness."

Janeway's smile faded. "This is why you have been so keen to meet up?" she asked looking at the PADD. The news that Seven and Chakotay were planning for a child was still ricocheting around her brain but, somehow, she pushed her command mask protectively into place.

Tuvok nodded then frowned. "That, and the fact that I am concerned about your welfare."

"There is no need to be concerned, Tuvok," Janeway responded sharply. She took the PADD from his outstretched hand. "What is it?" she asked with a note of impatience.

Tuvok raised his eyebrows. "I have not viewed the data."

Looking at the PADD, Janeway placed a hand on her hip. "Obviously, she didn't think interfering in my life the first time around was enough!"

"Kathryn?" Tuvok replied.

Even with her command mask firmly in place, Janeway was aware that Tuvok's Vulcan senses were picking up that she was extremely alarmed.

"Kathryn, I consider that the communication from the Admiral to be extremely important to your future. I have no doubt she will try to convey to you her—"

The doors slid open and B'Elanna walked into the room. She had consumed only three beers, under Seven's careful eye, and not the six she had pushed for. She was still intoxicated.

"Ready?" she asked Janeway. Trying to place her arms in her coat, she lurched forward then tripped over her own foot.

Throwing the PADD down, Janeway rushed toward B'Elanna, "Tuvok," she said. "Quickly."

Tuvok took B'Elanna's arm, and together they led her to a seat at the kitchen table.

Janeway looked at her old friend, "We'll continue this conversation another time."

"Very well, Kathryn," Tuvok said. He gently squeezed B'Elanna's shoulder reassuringly before moving toward the PADD. He picked up the PADD then approached Janeway.

"However, I urge you to take this PADD and view Admiral Janeway's communication."

Wanting to make light of the situation but her humor temporarily gone, Janeway accepted the PADD.

"I have prepared a room for B'Elanna," Seven said entering the kitchen. "She should stay here tonight."

Not looking at Seven, Janeway replied "Good idea." She smiled at her woozy ex chief engineer, and tucking the PADD under her arm added, "I'll say goodnight."

"You do not have to leave, Kathryn," Seven responded slipping her arm through B'Elanna's and helping her stand. "I have prepared a room for you also."

"I do have to go," Janeway replied. They made eye contact. "Yes, I really must go now."


Chapter 5

"Admiral Paris," Janeway said walking into the palatial office of one of Starfleet's most senior officers, and one of her oldest and dearest family friends.

Admiral Owen Paris's office was located in the Communications Research Center at Starfleet Headquarters adjacent to the Pathfinder lab and its facilities which were instrumental in communicating with Voyager while in the Delta Quadrant.

"Kathryn," Admiral Paris said coming around his desk to meet her. "How lovely to see you," He looked at her. "How's your current assignment going with the Bureau of Planetary Treaties?"

"Well. I've been touring the provinces as a Federation Diplomat," Janeway replied, as Admiral Paris took her in his arms, and gave her a firm hug.

Early in her career, Janeway had served under Admiral Paris's command aboard the USS Al-Batani as a science officer during its participation in the Arias Expedition. She recalled that he was a demanding taskmaster. He would often lecture his crew about the Prime Directive, which was one of his leading principles of space exploration. Subsequently, a principle she later embraced.

"How has the touring been?" the Admiral asked as he led her across the room and to a high back chair facing his desk.

"It doesn't change," Janeway said warmly to her old mentor. Taking a seat, she glanced at the flags of Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets behind his desk. She noticed among the items on his desk, a holo-image of the family including his son Tom, B'Elanna and Miral.

"Kathryn, I'm so glad you initiated this meeting," he said. "I've been meaning to schedule it. I have good news." He took his seat across from her.

"Before you start, Admiral, I'm here to request some time off."

"What?" Admiral said looking at her in astonishment.

"Admiral," Janeway said. "Owen, I need a leave of absence."

"Kathryn, of course, you do. You've spent seven years in deep-space. It is to be expected. How much," he asked. "A couple of weeks?" He looked at her. "A month?"

Janeway shook her head. "Six months."

Admiral Paris gaped at her. "What do you intend to do for six months?"

Janeway frowned slightly. Not prepared to discuss why she needed the time at this moment, she said gently, "Owen, I just need it."

"Kathryn, now is not the time."

Janeway shook her head. "Owen, I need this."

"You are about to be offered an Admiralty."

"Janeway shook her head. "I'm not ready."

Admiral Paris stared at Janeway for a long moment. "Kathryn, do you realize how rare it is in the history of Starfleet to promote a Captain directly to the post of Rear Admiral?" He leaned back in his chair. "You have the opportunity to climb through the ranks fast. I suggest you grab it with both hands."

Watching Admiral Paris, Janeway knew that getting an extended leave of absence was not going to be an easy task. As they wrangled, she was forced to remember how stubborn her old mentor could be.

"Kathryn," Admiral Owen said eventually, almost wearily. He stood and walked around his desk then perched on the edge. "Do you know the reason for this promotion?"

Janeway half smiled. "I can take a guess."

The Admiral shook his head. "It is not only because of the wealth of data and technology you brought back, Kathryn." He smiled. "It's because you embody all that is exemplary about Starfleet officers." He looked at her intently. "You are an intelligent, thoughtful, perspicacious individual. Who is sensitive to the feelings of others, but tough when it's required."

Aware that these types of compliments, were unusual if practically unheard of from Admiral Paris, Janeway looked at him in surprise.

The Admiral sighed. "It has not gone unnoticed, Kathryn that during your years in the Delta Quadrant your ability to keep your crew's morale high as you worked to bring them home was exceptional." He added. "Your dedication and diplomacy has earned you respect and recognition as one of the best Starfleet captains, and that is why you are being promoted."

Janeway's head was suddenly giddy. But aware how much of a smooth diplomatic operator the Admiral was, she held her ground. She stood. "Owen," she said, smoothing down her tunic. "I'm not ready for a desk job."

Admiral Paris looked at Janeway. "You may be right." He studied her thoughtfully. "There is a brand new Prometheus-class vessel named the USS Titan," he said slowly. "That will carry a crew complement of 350. It is designed for extended missions." He smiled and his eyes twinkled. "Deep space exploration." He pushed himself off the desk. "We need to get back on an exploration standing after the Dominion War, and who better to captain such a ship than you?" He laughed. "The ship will be ready to sail in six months." He led Janeway to the door. "It could be yours if you want it." He took her hands as the doors slid open. "All I ask is that you think about it. If you're not ready for a desk job, as you say, then this may be exactly what you need, Kathryn."

Making her way from Admiral Owen's office, Janeway stopped at the entrance to the transporter room. It had been over a week since the dinner party. Since, she had been holed up at her mother's farm in Indiana.

Needing some familiar ground and comfort, Janeway turned around and left Starfleet Headquarters. Taking a shuttle, she headed for the Japanese Gardens housed in the grounds of the Academy.

In the gardens, Janeway headed for a familiar place, the central lake. She walked through an arbor then another, and felt an immediate and recognizable sense of tranquility at the familiar sight. She was pleased to see that in the last eight years, the gardens hadn't really changed, and as she strolled, she took deep comfort in naming the variety of trees and flowers surrounding her.

Eventually, Janeway stopped at a bridge and stared out across the distance to the Golden Gate Bridge. Soon, her attention was caught by a crane strolling along the black-pebbled shore. She smiled faintly then returned to look at the bridge. From her apartment, the bridge was a familiar sight, and since her return, she took strength from the fact that during the Dominion War, the bridge was almost destroyed, but it had been rebuilt just as she would rebuild her life. To new beginnings, she told herself as the crane strolled past.

Janeway thought back over the last week, to the farm and her time with her mother. The weekend of the dinner party, the following day she had cleared her schedule, packed a bag, and headed straight for Indiana.

Janeway knew that her unexpected visit and lack of willingness to explain what she was doing there concerned her mother tremendously. Several times in the first week, her mother had tried to engage her in a conversation deeper than the day's weather forecast. Eventually, one evening, she insisted that Janeway sit on the porch and talk about their lives.

The redhead smiled as she remembered that night. She had to admit, that she loved being with her mother, and had missed her desperately while in the Delta Quadrant.

Yesterday, mostly out of frustration, Janeway knew, her mother insisted that they take a walk along a farm track that Janeway hadn't visited since her teenage years.

Remembering, Janeway's smile widened.

"Do you see this, Kathryn?" Gretchen asked her daughter as she came to a standstill at the end of an overgrown path.

"What?" Janeway asked looking out at the field before them.

Gretchen spread her hands. "This," the older Janeway replied smiling.

"What?" Janeway looked all around her in confusion.

"The land."

Frowning, Janeway looked at her mother then said with a note of amusement. "Yes, of course, I see it." She couldn't resist. "Mom, it's all around us."

"This," Gretchen responded turning in full circle. "Is yours."

"What?" the younger Janeway asked for the second time. She looked at her mother, and was reminded that although they shared the same eye coloring and bone structure, she didn't inherit the height. She was a good few inches shorter than her mother.

"Kathryn, as a child you used to tell me that when grew up, you would buy this land and live right here." Gretchen smiled. "You took that view from your father, of course." She looked around her. "He wanted to build here. He thought the view was better." She pointed. "But, you wanted to build near the creek, didn't you?"

Not knowing how she should feel, but touched and slightly exasperated that her mother should make such as grandiose gesture, Janeway looked at Gretchen. "Mom, it was a child's wish."

"Kathryn, a child's wish is very important," Gretchen replied, taking her daughter's hand. "At this moment in time you, my darling, have no idea what being a mother truly involves."

A look of pain crossed Janeway's face. By the looks of it, she thought. I'll never know what it will be like to share my dreams with a child. She looked out across the land that her father adored, and felt an unfamiliar longing for a time that had now passed; a time when she rode down here on his shoulders and shared his dreams for this land with her.

"Somehow, I think the time has passed me by, Mom," Janeway said with a note of regret.

Gretchen looked at her daughter then shook her head. "Don't be so sure. I prefer to think of it as an unknown at this moment in time." She touched her daughter's cheek. "As scientists, we like nothing better than to use our intellect to rationalize things by weighing probabilities, but even we have no real idea what the future holds."

Sucking in air, Janeway looked around her. "You have no idea how much I've missed this." She looked tenderly at her mother. "Every morning for seven years, I woke to a holograph of this place by my bedside. Next to it was an image of you, Dad, Phoebe, the dogs, and Mark, of course." Janeway mustered a smile then shook her head slightly. "I never realized that the order was significant before." She frowned. "Poor old Hobbes, he always did come last."

Gretchen squeezed Janeway's hand.

Looking at her mother, Janeway saw deep compassion and love in her eyes, she shared, "Some days, the homesickness was," she hesitated, "overwhelming."

Tears glistened in Gretchen's eyes. "Come here, darling." She folded her arms around her daughter. "I cannot imagine how hard it must have been keeping up a positive front for all those years. Reinforcing, each day that you as captain would find a way home. Allaying fears that somehow you would get your crew back to Federation space in their life time. I know you, Katie," she sighed. "I know how you would have held your own doubt at bay during your duty shift, but on your own, alone – at night – doubts would have haunted you. What a truly exceptional individual you are, my darling child."

Janeway pressed her forehead into her mother's shoulder. Ever since she could remember, her relationship with her mother had been particularly close. She had always enjoyed talking with her, discussing issues of math – as a Starfleet theoretical mathematician; it was her mother's specialist subject – as well as everyday issues of life.

Janeway breathed in. The familiar smell of her mother's morning dew fragrance triggered memories of how deeply isolated she had felt throughout her tenure in the Delta Quadrant. Burying her head, Janeway realized that no matter how hard she tried to replicate this comforting smell with her mother's holoprogram aboard Voyager, she never got it exactly right. She caught a deep sob. How could she, she realized, it was unique.

"Let it out, darling." Gretchen whispered.

Janeway tried to laugh. "I'm a starship captain, Mom," she said trying to gather some resolve.

Stroking Janeway's hair, Gretchen laughed lightly. "So, when did that stop you finding comfort in my arms?"

Janeway braced herself to pull away. "I can't. You don't understand."

Loosening the embrace, but not letting go, Gretchen looked at Janeway. "I know I don't, Katie. But I want to." Her eyes carried great sadness. "Do you know the only thing that kept me sane during your time in the Delta Quadrant?"

Surprised at the depth of emotion in her mother's eyes, Janeway shook her head.

"It was buying this piece of land for you." Gretchen touched Janeway's face. "I bought it in the hope that one day you would return and build the house you always said you wanted down by the creek. I bought it when Starfleet told me I shouldn't continue to hope. That in all likelihood Voyager was lost and would never return." She breathed in deeply then exhaled slowly. "The wonderful thing about life is that it teaches you the natural order of things. As an adult, somehow, you can come to terms with the loss of your partner, however heartbreaking that might be, but the loss of a child - never."

Gretchen's voice held a note of despair. "Starfleet wanted me to let you go, Katie. Put you in a box. Pack you away. But, as your mother, that could never happen. From the moment you were born, I realized that your life depended on me. From the moment I held you in my arms, I loved you." Gretchen swallowed. "I was being asked to let go of my love for you, Katie." Her grip tightened reflexively. "There was no way I could ever do that." She shook her head. "That's what having a child does to you, darling. I love you. I am committed to you, and because of that I will never give up hope."

Janeway struggled to control her emotions. "I love you too, Mom," she whispered.

"Do you remember coming down here with your Father, Katie?"

Janeway nodded.

"He shared his dreams with you of what he intended to do with this land when he retired. He wanted to build it the traditional way, using traditional carpentry skills." Gretchen laughed lightly. "When you were young, you couldn't understand why your father would want to use Neolithic tools, as you called them, tools and material that would take any project months to complete. He didn't care. It was his dream." She shook her head. "But, somehow, he never got around to actually buying the land."

Gretchen smiled as tears pooled in Janeway's eyes. She placed her daughter's head back on her shoulder, and leaned her cheek gently against it. "Boy, did he catch your imagination with this place though. Even from a young age, you were filled with ideas about what you and your father were going to do. You even sketched out drawings of how the place should look, to supplement his ideas. Do you remember?"

Unable to speak, Janeway nodded.

"No matter the design of the house, you wanted a wrap-around porch." Gretchen lifted Janeway's head. "I want you to come home," she said looking at her daughter. "I want you take some time out from Starfleet. It is important that you re-establish your roots, Katie. You've been gone for too long. You need to find yourself, darling. Start here. Build the house of your dreams." She swept hair from Janeway's face. "Katie, trust me, career is not and will never be as important as family."

Janeway said nothing.

"Share with me, "Gretchen said rubbing her daughter's back. "Please darling. Tell me what's wrong."

Janeway couldn't control herself. Pressing her forehead into the warm shoulder of her mother's protective hold, fat tears rolled down her face. Surprised, she half sobbed.

"Talk to me, Katie. Please."

Trying to get a grip on herself, Janeway breathed in deeply a few times. "Do you think it's that simple, Mom?"

"Yes, I do, Katie. I think it's time you came home."

"Each and every day, all I could think about was getting us home." Janeway said her head still resting on her mother's shoulder." I thought getting Voyager home would stop the homesickness. But," A sob broke free. Unable to continue, she shook her head.

Gretchen finished. "But it hasn't," she soothed. "Has it?"

"No," Janeway muffled.

Rubbing her daughter's back, Gretchen replied softly, "You're still homesick for something." Eyes widening, the older woman's hand slowed. She caught her breath then slowly released it. "No. Not something," she whispered. "You're homesick for someone."

Unable to stop herself, Janeway's control broke, she sobbed uncontrollably.

"Come home, Katie. Let me help you."

Brought back by the sounds of the birds in the garden, Janeway smiled faintly. And so the decision was made. And here she was about to embark on building a home.

Janeway looked around her and remembered how as a cadet, she loved wandering through these gardens and how Boothby worked these grounds, and in particular these gardens. Her smile broadened as she remembered the gnarly old Academy grounds man. Aware that she hadn't thought of him in a long time, her eyes warmed at the memories. She recalled how much of an interest he took in the careers of many of the students and in particular hers. Janeway knew she would be forever thankful to him. Although tough on her, he also had a gentle side. She grinned when she remembered his habit of giving her fresh roses for her quarters.

The grin slipped away, replaced with a frown when she recalled Species 8472's elaborate simulation of Boothby during their extensive intelligence gathering exercise against the Federation, while Voyager was in the Delta Quadrant. Even though the being wasn't the real Boothby, the encounter left Janeway deeply saddened - it had felt like a reunion with her old mentor.

From the bridge, Janeway admired the view along the waterway, and down to the lotus blossom. Pleased that the gardens were quiet, she watched fish swim for a while before making her way to the shoin; the central structure and gathering place where she hoped she would find time alone to contemplate her meeting with Admiral Paris.

"I'm sorry," Janeway said turning quickly to leave the shoin to the cadet and a teacher who were in the middle of a conversation.


Janeway turned back, and immediately recognized Chakotay's sister. "Sekaya," she said, surprised.

Sekaya smiled at Janeway. "Kathryn. How nice to see you again."

"And you," Janeway responded. "I'll leave you two alone."

"No," Sekaya replied hurriedly. "I...It would be nice to catch up." She turned to the student and making it clear that the meeting was over, patted the first year cadet on the shoulder.

Janeway recognized from the shape of the flat ears that the cadet was Huanni; a species that was even more empathetic than Betazoids.

"If you need me," Sekaya told the cadet reassuringly. "You know where to reach me."

The cadet nodded at Sekaya. Leaving, she dipped her head at Janeway, her purple eyes showing recognition and admiration as she passed.

Janeway smiled at the cadet.

"Kathryn," Sekaya said with a note of pleasure. "Please join me." She moved along the seat, creating a space.

Janeway hesitated.

"Please," Sekaya repeated. Gently, she patted the wooden slats. "I'm here on duty," Looking at Janeway through long dark eyelashes, she added, "And it would be nice to chat with a friend."

Nodding, Janeway moved to sit next to Sekaya. "I didn't realize that you worked for the Academy."

"Yes, more and more." Sekaya responded looking at Janeway. "But in truth, I am here to spend time with Chakotay." She looked off into the distance, "I have missed him so much, particularly since our father's death." She smiled. "Starfleet believe that since I had a relationship with a Haunni, it is only I who can understand how difficult they can be."

Janeway smiled, She knew that the Huanni were an emotional race. It in no way compromised their intelligence or skills, which were considerable, but they were as open in their emotions as Vulcans were closed. "Yes, I understand what you mean," She surprised herself by saying. "I also miss my father terribly."

Sekaya looked at Janeway, deep warmth filled her dark eyes. She stood and held out both hands. "Captain Kathryn Janeway, I love these gardens and whenever I can, I come here. Would you care to join me on a tour around this beautiful place?"

Janeway looked up at Sekaya. Chakotay had told her much about his life and his family but very little about his sister, other than that she was a spirit guide for the tribe. Even at the meal with Seven and Chakotay, Sekaya had listened more than talked that evening. Janeway had to admit she was intrigued. She smiled. "I would love to." Taking the younger woman's hands in hers, she allowed Sekaya to gently pull her up noticing, not for the first time, her distinct cheekbones, and that her eyes were the color of rare ebony wood.

"Chisen-Kaiyushiki," Sekaya said as they strolled along.

Janeway smiled. "Japanese for wet garden with promenade and this particular garden emulates the type of stroll garden built by Japanese feudal lords during the 18th and 19th Century."

Sekaya nudged Janeway then laughed. "Why am I not surprised that you probably know the full history of this garden?"

Surprised at Sekaya's playfulness, Janeway smiled. Bowing her head in remembrance of Boothby, she replied, "I had a good teacher once."

The taller woman folded her arm through Janeway's. "Fancy sampling some of the beautiful tea in the tea garden?"

Janeway smiled, and remembering Admiral Janeway's liking for tea, shook her head. "I'm strictly a coffee drinker."

"I know," Sekaya said then smiled teasingly. "Captain Janeway: coffee, black." Her eyes sparkled. "It's well known that coffee manufacturers want you to endorse their product."

Aware that every shred of her private life now seemed to be public property, Janeway's eyes narrowed. "They have tried," she replied.

Sekaya looked at Janeway for a moment. "I hear you're a bit of a pool shark," she said changing the subject smoothly. "If you're free, maybe a game of pool, and some light refreshment would appeal?"

Maybe some whiskey and a darkened room would suit me better, Janeway thought. She looked into gentle, dark eyes, and considered for the briefest moment accepting Sekaya's offer. But Sekaya was reputed to be an exceptionally gifted counselor, and as a spiritual leader for her people, her skills would have been honed over the years.

Feeling exposed and vulnerable, Janeway shook her head. In need of some privacy, she said. "I'm sorry, Sekaya, any other day, I would be delighted to join you, but today is," she hesitated. "Can you accept that today is not a good day for me?"

"Of course, Kathryn," Sekaya replied. "A rain check is more than acceptable." She looked at Janeway. "I have tickets for Aktuh and Maylota at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles tomorrow night."

Janeway shook her head in refusal.

"Barak-Kadan is performing."

Janeway smiled, it had been years since she had attended an opera and even longer since she had seen that particular production or the renowned singer.

"The theater manager is a friend of mine, so there is no need for it to be too public an attendance."

Not surprised that Sekaya had picked up on her aversion to public scrutiny, Janeway laughed. "How can I refuse such an offer?"

"Good, it's a date then?"

Janeway looked at Sekaya in surprise.

"I mean a purely social date, Kathryn."

Lighten up. She's offering a hand of friendship. Don't read too much into it, Janeway told herself. But as she looked at the dark eyed beauty, something in the way Sekaya returned her gaze made Janeway doubt that 'purely social' was what this woman had in mind.

"Tomorrow evening?"

Amused, and if she would ever admit a little flattered, Janeway tilted her head, and nodded. "Tomorrow evening it is."


Chapter 6

"Thank you, Sekaya," Janeway said warmly to her companion as they left the Pavilion, and headed down the stairs. "That was," she hesitated, "wonderful." And to her surprise, she meant it. "It has been quite some time since I've enjoyed a production as much as the one we have just seen."

Sekaya wrapped her evening shawl around herself. "You're welcome, Kathryn," she replied as they walked down the stairs.

Janeway smiled at the dark eyed woman.

"I had hoped you would enjoy tonight," Sekaya said. "Aktuh and Maylota is a favorite of mine, and I'm delighted that you've enjoyed it as much as I have." Reaching the bottom stair, she placed her hand on Janeway's arm. "Now, can I entice you to a light evening supper?" She looked down the street. "I know a wonderful restaurant not far from here."

Sekaya had, the few times Janeway had met her, worn traditional Mayan clothing of a huipil; a garment worn as a shirt, usually worn over trousers then tied with a woven belt, but tonight she wore a knee length, high-necked, black dress which showed off her striking figure. Her only adornment was an intricate, but stunning obsidian necklace that seemed to illuminate the elaborate tattoos on her head, and make Janeway very aware that her companion was an extraordinarily beautiful woman.

Janeway knew that as a Mayan Shaman, Sekaya would have tattoos over her body. From what she understood, tradition had it that her tattoos would be strategically positioned to allow the gods and their helpers use her body as a vessel to provide the power of healing and spiritual wisdom.

Janeway smiled. "I-"

"Captain Janeway."

Janeway turned around when she heard her name being called. Her smile widened when she saw the Doctor and a petite blonde heading towards her at a pace that didn't seem to suit the small blonde; she was panting, and hanging on as the Doctor marched along.

"Kathryn," the Doctor called out as he approached. "How wonderful to see you." He stopped in front of her. "I didn't know that you were an Aktuh and Maylota fan." He beamed. "We were just talking about you, weren't we, Lana?" He turned to his very young companion who was trying to catch her breath.

"Yes," she panted.

"Indeed," Janeway replied with some amusement.

"This," he said to the small blonde, "is Captain Kathryn Janeway." He looked from the blonde to Sekaya, "I was just telling Lana that the great Q himself couldn't believe how a scrawny little bipedal specimen like Captain Janeway could refuse such a brilliant, handsome and dashingly omnipotent entity like him."

Janeway caught the surprised look on Sekaya's face, and swallowed her laughter. She had forgotten how abrupt the Doctor appeared to the uninitiated.

"Thank you for the wonderful introduction, Doctor." Janeway responded. Her eyes twinkling, she smiled at the blonde. "Nice to meet you, Lana."

"Nice to meet you, ma'am," the small blonde replied.

Janeway groaned internally. Ma'am or sir were titles she abhorred. Captain was her preferred salutation.

"Dr Zimmerman talks about you a lot. Don't you Joe?" Lana looked up at the Doctor in adoration.

"Is that so, Joe?" Janeway replied drawing out his name. "So you've taken a name, Doctor Zimmerman?" she added in a teasing tone.

"Yes," the Doctor replied, and to Janeway's surprise he shuffled his feet slightly.

"Nothing like taking the name of your creator, is there, Joe?" Janeway stated, enjoying the Doctor's sense of bashfulness for a moment.

The Doctor raised his brows. "In your case, Kathryn," he said dipping his head, "God doesn't quite have the same aesthetic ring as Captain Kathryn Janeway."

Sekaya chuckled.

Janeway smiled at her companion. "Doctor Zimmerman. Joe. You remember Sekaya?"

"Yes, the Doctor replied smiling at Sekaya. "Seven and Chakotay's ceremony was," he raised his chin," very moving."

So moving, Janeway's inner voice quipped. You wouldn't get out of your bed for four days afterward.

Janeway shut the voice down.

"Sekaya bowed her head slightly. "Thank you, Joe." She looked at Lana and smiled warmly. "Nice to meet you."

Lana responded with a big toothy grin. "You too."

A group of people gathered a short distance from them. Lana turned around when they called out. "That's our friends, Joe. We'd better go."

"You run along, Lana. I'll catch up with you."

"Okay," she replied then winked. "We've got a big night ahead, Joe." She looked at the Captain and Sekaya. "Nice to meet you folks."

They both nodded in response.

The Doctor watched Lana for a moment then turned to Janeway and Sekaya. "She is the healthiest member of her species I have ever seen."

"But, she's human," Sekaya responded.

"Exactly," the Doctor replied.

Janeway chuckled. "Nice to see your humor is coming along, Doctor."

"Yes, now we are here on Earth, it's proving a valuable tool." He swept a finger over each eyebrow and jutted out his chin. "Lana still finds it hard to believe that I started life as a standard Emergency Medical Holoprogram."

Aware that some things never change, particularly the Doctor's ego, Janeway replied. "Good for Lana."

The Doctor looked at Janeway with great affection. "Was it not you, Kathryn, who encouraged me to utilize my sense of humor?"

"If I recall correctly," Janeway replied raising her brow. "It was Seven that I encouraged."

"Yes, well," the Doctor said. "I seem to recall that you and Seven were in sickbay at the time."

"Ah, I see." Janeway responded with a wry note. "You overheard?"

"Yes, of course, Kathryn." He frowned. "I'm a Doctor, not an eavesdropper."

Janeway placed a hand on his shoulder. "Well Doctor," she said warmly. "Whatever the circumstances, nice to know you took the advice to heart." She looked at Sekaya. "We have a light supper that's calling our name. It was nice seeing you again, Joe."

"Let's not leave it so long, Kathryn."

Janeway looked at the Doctor, understanding that he still needed her time, she replied, "I won't," she promised. "So long, Joe."

Heading for the restaurant, Sekaya said with a combined note of disbelief and amusement, "So that is the indefatigable doctor that my brother speaks about?"

"Yes," Janeway replied then smiled. "That is Dr. Joe Zimmerman."

The weather biting, they walked quickly to the restaurant. Sekaya raised an eyebrow. "I take it the crew enjoyed spending time with the Doctor."

"Some thought the brig preferable," Janeway replied.

Sekeya laughed. Slipping her hand through the arm of Janeway's coat, she asked gently, "Tell me about him."

"He's unique."

"Like you?" Sekaya replied.

"No. Not like me." Janeway frowned. "I am not unique."

"Well, let's see," Sekaya replied playfully. "What do I know about you? I know that you have studied chromolinguistics, American Sign Language and the gestural idioms of the Leyron." She smiled. "That's a plus given my heritage."

"Glad I did it now," Janeway said walking along.

"Me too," Sekaya replied. "Let me see. What else?" she said eyes twinkling. "You were a brilliant science officer before being promoted to captain. You helped Seven of Nine, an ex Borg drone, and now my sister-in-law, reclaim her individuality and humanity. You helped Dr. Joe Zimmerman through many difficulties, even advocating his status as a sentient, living being. You—"

Janeway held up her hand. "Enough," she said. "I can see you've done your homework."

"What is there not to know about you, Kathryn?" Sekaya replied, her dark eyes shone with unusual warmth. "You are without doubt the most famous Terran in the Alpha and possibly the Delta Quadrant. That is what makes you unique. But that is not what interests me." She eyed Janeway and added thoughtfully. "You are a warm, sensitive, and very beautiful woman who exudes an unmistakable sensuality."

Surprised, Janeway stopped dead and looked at the dark eyed woman.

Sekaya, smiled then nudged Janeway to move along. "You are a fascinating woman, Kathryn Janeway, and that's what interests me."

Part 7

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