DISCLAIMER: All things Start Trek, people, places, aliens, that have been used in the shows and movies are copyright to Star Trek, its creators and Paramount. Some of the characters and information was taken from the show and some from book Mosaic by Jeri Taylor. I have mentioned parts from different episodes, some minor some major (Year of Hell), and have taken several lines from the show and incorporated them into the story. A special thank you to Kate Mulgrew and Jeri Ryan for bringing Captain Janeway and Seven of Nine to life.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I have differed from parts of the seventh season…Neelix's return to Earth with Voyager is just one of the differences. Also please note that Chakotay is somewhat of a dubious character towards the end of Voyager's journey, I'm not a fan of Chuckles so if you are, don't say I didn't warn you. I forgot to thank my beta readers, shame on me, Sarah and rt. The awards used are ones that have been mentioned in the Star Trek universe except for the Purple Heart.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

The Odyssey
By Joan


Part Eleven

Chapter Forty One

Two days had passed since Janeway had been reunited with her ship and crew, less one head of astrometrics.

The medical staff was still at a loss as to how to neutralize the effects of the collar and the nanoprobes in the captain's system. They had tried injecting her with the Doctor's modified ones since her human systems were still functional, but that had left her in agony. Now they had suggested she not regenerate to see if perhaps they might simply shut down.

The medical staff had reluctantly, upon the captain's insistence, released her to her quarters, on three conditions. One that she wore a monitor at all times, two that she periodically had someone 'check up' on her and three, that she wasn't to go back to work.

Both doctors had looked at her suspiciously when she had readily agreed to all three conditions. It was at that point they concluded they would need to at least double the amount of 'checking up' time.

Janeway was currently in her quarters, having been released that morning from sickbay, when the door chime sounded. "Damn, so much for a little peace and quiet." She put down the PADD she had been reading and picked up her mug. "Come."

Phoebe was pacing in her mother's office. "Why can't they do something for her? This is inexcusable, mom." She had spent every waking moment with her sister in sickbay, watched as medical staff failed, only managing to bring Katie more pain.

Gretchen stood in her daughter's path, grasping her upper arms to garner her attention. "Believe me; I know how helpless you feel having to stand by and see her in agony is almost more than I can bear. But, honey, the only thing we can do is to be here for her when she needs us."

"She doesn't act like she needs or even wants us around." Phoebe countered.

"I know, she's always been very stoic when she was hurting." Gretchen rubbed her youngest child's arms and released her. "Do you remember the time she was thrown from Mr. Brier's horse?"

Phoebe smiled at the memory and rolled her eyes. "God yes, she had a broken collarbone and we had to walk all the way back from the lake while she insisted she was fine. Talk about stubborn."

"And that was when she was fourteen, how much more stubborn do you think she is now. She had seven years of practice not wanting to show any kind of weakness."

Phoebe sighed, "It's not just the physical pain." She rubbed her eyes. "How can she be so… calm about what's happened? Two months, mom… she went through this for two months and even though we have her back she still has to endure it."

Gretchen's eyes clouded over. "I asked her that this morning. I was so angry and frustrated that she was still hurting…"

"What did she say?" Phoebe prodded when her mother trailed off.

She refocused, "That the pain is a little easier to endure since she was back on the ship with all of us. Also easier since the alternative was death."

The two women stared at each other in silence for a few minutes. "Well," Phoebe cleared her throat, "that kind of puts things into perspective, doesn't it?"

The door to the captain's quarters slid open and her chief of security walked in. "Tuvok," Janeway greeted him; her eyes boring into his. If she didn't know better, she'd swear he looked a little green.

"Captain," he stood at attention in front of her, "per your orders, Mr. Worf and I have completed our… evaluation of your incarceration." It had taken every bit of his considerable strength and his command over his emotions to suppress his anger at what his commanding officer and long time friend had been through.

"I see." She leaned forward and placed her mug on the low table. "What's your conclusion? Am I a security risk?"

"No, Captain, it is our recommendation that you be reinstated as the captain of this vessel and crew. We have delivered our findings to Captain Riker and Commander Viktor and suggested that be entered into the logs."

"Thank you, old friend." She stood and walked over to stand in front of the viewport; only limping slightly. "Did you view the entire two months, Tuvok?"

"Yes, Captain," he turned his head to view her. "May I say that no one, possibly not even myself, could have endured the incarceration with more dignity and integrity or shown a more valorous behavior than you did under the most extreme of circumstances. I have relayed that information also without betraying your privacy."

She turned to look at him, amazed at his declaration and just for a second her eyes turned to a brilliant blue before once again shading to the grey that seemed to be the dominant color now.

In all outward appearances this Captain Janeway was the same person she was before the abduction unless one looked closely. But her family and close friends could tell the differences; her eye color for one, her loss of focus at times for another and the tremors that ran through her limbs especially if she was tired. Her eyes had always been a gage of her temperament; steely grey in anger, light grey in pain or frustration; blue had been the color of happiness, humor and love.

"I suppose they'll want to view the… ordeal," she sighed.

"They are willing to accept our assessment of the episode; however for your well being, I recommend that one or both Counselors view the data."

Her first reaction was to refuse but even with her ranking of captain, she would be subject to a mental evaluation to clear her for duty after this kind of ordeal. "I'm not at all happy about this, but you're right." She closed her eyes and sighed in resignation. "Contact Explorer and ask Counselor Troi to stop by my quarters."

"Of course, Captain, would you like her to meet with you today?"

"No," she managed a half smile, "but I suppose the sooner I start, the sooner I get it over with."

"As you wish, Captain." He stood for a few seconds more before leaving her quarters to carry out her request.

Tuvok had only been gone for a couple of minutes when the chime sounded again. Knowing it couldn't be Deanna yet, she shook her head wondering which of the long list of people she was sure would take the opportunity to stop by now that her visitors couldn't be regulated by the medical staff.

"Come," she turned to face the door as it slid open.

"Kath, they wouldn't let me in to see you in sickbay," Mark explained. "Are you all right?"

'Well that's an incredibility asinine question.' Kathryn thought as she stood there glaring at him. She turned and sat down in her chair as he started towards her. "Mark, I appreciate the concern, but I'll be fine." The door chime sounded again. 'Good God, I'd get more rest on the bridge during a red alert at this rate.' "Come."

An ensign from security entered. "I'm sorry to bother you, Captain Janeway."

"It's all right, Ensign Nyree, what is it?"

If the ensign was surprised by the captain's recognition of her, she didn't show it. "Dr. Hansen is requesting that he be allowed to see you, Captain."

Her first thought was Seven was back, but then the 'he' registered. She took a deep breath to calm her nerves. "Of course, Ensign, send him in."

As Magnus entered the quarters the ensign looked to Janeway and at her nod Nyree stated, "I'll be right outside if you need me, Captain." She backed away from the entrance allowing the door to swish shut.

Magnus glanced at the other man and turned his attention to Janeway. "Thank you for seeing me, Captain."

"I see the Doctor has been busy." The ex-drone's skin tone had been restored along with his hair. And several of the Borg components had been removed. "What can I do for you, Dr. Hansen?" She only winced a little at the name.

"My daughter, Ann… Seven, do you know where she is?"

"Not at the moment." She adjusted her posture to a more comfortable angle. "Why don't you sit down, Doctor?"

"Thank you, Captain." He sat on the couch that backed up to the viewports, noticing the other man's reluctance as he slid away.

"What are your plans, Dr. Hansen?"

"Please, Magnus will do… I want to see my little girl. Then try to find my wife," he paused, "if she's survived all these years."

"I don't need to tell you the chances are not good. Millions of Borg were killed in the attack five years ago by Species 8472 and that was just the one incident. And as for Seven, she's a 30 year old woman now, not the six year old child you remember."

"I realize that, but I have to try to find Erin or at least find out what happened to her. My daughter, Captain, I know she remembers…" he trailed off. "The Doctor said she was very, very angry with us."

'The Doctor talks too much,' she thought. "You need to discuss this with Seven, it's not my place to…" 'To what, Katie, tell him his arrogance destroyed his family? Destroyed his daughter's chance at a childhood? Made her have to struggle with having to learn what it's like to be an adult human without being allowed to grow into it?'

When she didn't finish he spoke up, "Fair enough." He stood up, but paused before leaving. "I wanted to thank you for all you've done; not just for my daughter, but for all of us. I wish there was something I could do for you," he looked at the dull brushed silver looking collar around her neck, "but I don't have any knowledge about the device. I'm also very sorry for what you had to endure the past two months, I…"

"It's not your fault. I've had that argument with Seven many times. You weren't responsible for your actions as drones," she stated.

"I know that in my head, but I think it will take some time for my conscience to believe it. May I ask one last question?" At her nod, he continued. "When you stole the transwarp coil and Seven returned to the Collective, why did you risk yourself and your crew members to come after her?"

"I'll tell you the same thing I told a little girl who asked me if I was going to rescue her friend." She stood up to face him. "There are three things to remember about being a starship captain; keep your shirt tucked in, always go down with the ship and never, ever leave a member of your crew behind."

"Not leaving a person behind is one thing, Captain; flying into the heart of Borg space in a shuttle with only three other members of your crew is entirely something else. Most people would say you were crazy or suicidal. You could've been assimilated, along with your crew."

She shook her head. "I would've ordered Tom to destroy the chamber before that happened." 'What is he fishing for?' she wondered. 'He knows.' It dawned on her. 'He knows how I feel about Seven.'

"You would've killed her and yourself?"

"To keep her from going through that living hell again? You're damned right I would; in a nanosecond."

They stared into each other's eyes until Magnus must've been satisfied with what he saw. "Thank you again for seeing me, Captain." He dipped his head at her and turned; walking out of her quarters.

"What was that all about?" Mark finally spoke when the door shut.

"Tuvok to Captain Janeway."

"Janeway here."

"Commander Troi is here, Captain."

"Thank you, Tuvok, send her down. Janeway out."


"We'll have to continue this some other time, Mark, I need to speak with Deanna."


Chapter Forty Two

Deanna sat patiently waiting for the captain to start. She had been slightly surprised by Janeway's request to speak with her. Starfleet officers in command of starships were notorious for their dislike of 'counseling'. Having their decisions dissected after the fact by a review board was bad enough, but when they were the one's being dissected by individuals that had never been in their positions, wasn't something they tolerated very well. On the other hand, she knew Janeway understood she would have to be cleared by her or by Gazsi.

The counselor could 'feel' the struggle the captain was having. Her emotions were hard to read though. 'Like a Vulcan,' she thought. Finally Deanna broke the silence. "Is this a professional visit or would you just like a friend to talk to?"

Janeway looked up from the seemingly fascinating view of her mug that she had been staring at for the last several minutes. "I know Tuvok and Mr. Worf have cleared me as not being a security threat, but I also know I'll need my mental state cleared."

Deanna slid effortlessly into professional mode. "Do you have any reservations about your mental state?"

Janeway shifted in her chair; a brief flash of pain crossing her face. "About my ability to command, no; in fact I'm probably more clear about that now than before."

"And what about Kathryn? You had concerns about your ability to be yourself when we talked after Voyager returned."

The captain's eyes took on a distant look. "I don't think there's any Kathryn left in me at this point. I can pretend, I even laughed at a joke Phoebe told, but it's all superficial."

"You need to give yourself time to heal… physically and emotionally, Kathryn. Before you came to see me during the review board, I read your file; both your service record and psychological profile. You've been through your fair share of adverse situations. What makes you think you won't or can't recover from this one?"

Janeway took time to finish her coffee before answering. "I spent so much of the time the past two months… suppressing myself, my thoughts, my feelings," she paused, "they're not there anymore. If it wasn't for the anger and hate; I'd say I was dead inside."

"Don't you think those are normal reactions to what you've been through? To what the Borg Queen is still doing to you?" Deanna moved her eyes to the captain's neck.

"Yes, but… Deanna, I wanted the satisfaction of destroying her. Not to stop the Borg or to help the drones, but because of what she had done to me. I wanted to kill her and that's not Kathryn Janeway."

"Kathryn, you knew she was a machine, not a living breathing person that at one time had been an individual. Can you honestly say what would've happened if that had been the case?"

The captain struggled with her thoughts. "Honestly no, but what if… what if I can't control my anger? What if I take it out on my crew or some other undeserving party? I believe I have control over my actions, but I won't know for sure until a situation arises. Do I still value life, mine and other's… yes, but I'm so scared that the anger will get the better of me."

"I think the fact that you are worried about it shows there is a caring person underneath the resentment and hate. You need time to resume your life, to return to the normality of running your ship." Deanna hated to bring it up, but if anything were to rock the captain, this would. "Will and I were briefed on Axum's involvement in your capture by the Queen. How do you think you'd react to him?" She almost shivered at the cold that radiated from the steely grey eyes that fastened onto hers.

Janeway took a deep breath, "I think I could very easily kill him."

'And kill what's left of yourself if you do,' Deanna thought. "Will wants to charge him and take him back for trial."

"Good luck; he's still mostly Borg. He would have to find a way to keep him confined."

"Beverly is meeting with your Doctors now to see if they can come up with something. Of course we might not be able to find him, though I'm assuming your Seven will return and he would be taken into custody then."

"My Seven…" Janeway trailed off. Deanna of course had pried the information of how she felt about Seven out of her in one of their previous counseling sessions.

Deanna leaned forward. "I think that's enough for today, we can continue this tomorrow. Beverly wants to stop by and see you before she heads back to Explorer. I didn't know the two of you knew each other."

"We met during my third posting…"

"Viktor to Captain Janeway," interrupted them.

"Go ahead, Commander."

"I'm sorry to bother you, Captain, but we're picking up a Borg cube headed this way. It's the tactical cube that Dr. Hansen left on and Commander Tuvok believed that you should be informed."

A look passed between the counselor and captain. "Commander, have you been made aware of the situation with one of the individuals aboard that cube?" Janeway questioned.

"Yes, Captain," the anger clearly coming through in his response. "Mr. Tuvok and Mr. Worf are planning a… welcome as we speak."

"Very well and, Commander, make sure Dr. Hansen is… separated from that individual as soon as you're able, and let's not tip him off as to my status."

"Aye, Captain."

Robi checked the readings then contacted Seven. "The two Starfleet vessels are orbiting the third and fourth planets and I'm reading billions of lifesigns… mostly Borg, but several humanoid species as well. There are thousands of Borg vessels in this sector."

"The communications array is completely inoperative. We'll have to be within 10,000 kilometers to contact Odyssey." Lordic yelled from his post. "I thought you repaired it, Seven."

"You are correct in your assumption," she stated with a look that was a cross between anticipation and dread.

"We can increase speed now and be in range within a half hour." Robi informed them.

"Do it." Seven sighed as she unconsciously used the expression favored by her lover.

"Should I wake Axum, Seven? He is scheduled to regenerate for another couple of hours." Robi asked.

"No, Robi, I believe the array was intentionally disabled again," she replied.

"You don't think…" the young man trailed off.

"I am uncertain what I think at this point."

"Commander, we're being hailed by the cube." Lt. Kim stated.

"On screen." The view of the planet vanished and was replaced by Seven. "Dr. Hansen."

"Commander Viktor." Seven noticed the people on the bridge were equipped with phasers and several members of security held rifles. "We have just come from the Unimatrix Complex…"

"Dr. Hansen," he interrupted, "why don't you let us beam you aboard." It wasn't a question.

"Of course, Commander."

As Seven materialized in transporter room one, she was met by Tuvok and Gretchen. "What has happened to Kathryn?"

"Captain Janeway is in her quarters." Tuvok stated knowing it would answer her most pressing question.

Seven's relief of knowing Kathryn was alive was tempered by the fact that something had to be horribly wrong for her not to be on the bridge to meet the cube or to greet her. "I must see her."

Gretchen spoke up, "Wait, Seven, you need to come with us first. Please," she added when it looked like Seven was about to protest.

"Very well." She stepped down from the transporter pad and reluctantly followed them to Dr. Janeway's quarters.

Tuvok quickly ran through the events that took place after she had left Odyssey; he also informed her of the alleged roll that Axum played in the abduction according to the queen. Only Tuvok's assurance that he would be dealt with and the threat of her not being allowed to see the captain, kept Seven from personally dealing with her former friend.

Tuvok left Seven in Gretchen and Phoebe's hands. They would explain Janeway's condition before Seven saw her.

"Seven, are you okay?" Phoebe asked when it looked like she might actually pass out.

"I… This is my fault. I should have stayed."

"No," Gretchen sat beside her. "You thought you were doing the right thing, protecting her. You couldn't have known he had anything to do with any of this. And if I understand anything from Lt. Torres, Lt. Kim and the other's about what was done to the ship to disable it, there is nothing even you could've done."

"Now that you're back," Phoebe spoke up, "it couldn't help but to cheer her up. You can see your father, too," she added, "and maybe you'll have some idea on how to get that damn collar off her."

The security team had beamed to the cube, stated the facts to Robi and several others and showed them the recording of the queen informing Janeway of Axum's betrayal. All in all it had taken very little for the other's to hand him over.


Chapter Forty Three

"Why?" Janeway was standing in sickbay facing Axum who had been incarcerated behind a rotating frequency forcefield until the Doctor could begin removing his Borg hardware.

He at least looked regretful. "I… she threatened us, I didn't want the others to be reassimilated."

"You're lying, she only threatened you," Janeway replied.

The entrance in sickbay by Seven, Gretchen and Phoebe went unnoticed or ignored by all but the security people.

He swallowed nervously, "She said she wouldn't turn you into a drone. I didn't rate the same courtesy. I couldn't go back to that, not after being free again."

"Is that supposed to make it okay? I think it would've been easier to be a drone, no emotions, no caring. Did you know what she had in store for me?" He shook his head. "No? Was is easier on your conscience not to know or did you just not care?"

"What are you going to do to me?"

She didn't answer him; just looked at him, showing all the hate and anger she felt. Suddenly the ex-drone fell to the floor, twisting in agony as Janeway continued to stare with an intense look, which never left the man.

Everyone in sickbay was stunned, even those that were aware that Axum was displaying the same type of reaction Janeway had when they had tried to remove the collar.

The EMH was the first to recover from the shock. "Captain," he called out and started towards her, but was stopped by a hand grabbing his arm. "She's causing this; we have to stop her." He looked at Dr. Collins.

"No," she replied and tightened her grip. "She has to be the one to control her actions, not us," she whispered.

About that time Janeway closed her eyes and released him. Stumbling a step, she leaned against the nearest biobed. 'God, what am I doing.'

Janeway quickly left sickbay and retreated to her quarters, haunted by the expressions on the faces of the people that had been in sickbay when she had mentally attacked Axum.

Revenge was an emotion that she had been accustomed to dealing with. She had fought the Cardassians, been their prisoner twice and dealt with the dregs of the Delta Quadrant for seven long years. But she had never acted on it, until now. As a Starfleet officer and especially as a captain, her personal feelings were always the last thing to consider.

"When did I lose control?" she turned to Deanna who had beamed aboard as soon as she was told Axum had been on the cube. "How do I command a crew when they can't depend on me to control myself?"

"Kathryn, you can and did control yourself. Did you attack him? Yes, you did. Who stopped you from killing him?" she questioned.

"I…" she stopped; thinking intently. "No one."

"You did, Kathryn, you stopped yourself."

"But I still attacked him. God, the expressions on their faces… I'm sure the entire ship knows by now."

"Do you know that after you ran out of sickbay, Seven had to be physically restrained from killing him? That Dr. Collins kept the EMH from interfering during your attack?" She saw the surprised expression. "As far as your crew goes, yes it is all over the ship and the comments I heard between sickbay and your quarters have been and these are direct quotes; blow him out an airlock; I'd like five minutes with him; why waste the time on taking him back, he's guilty and deserves to die… should I go on?"

"No," she whispered. The support from the crew was gratifying and she knew Seven loved her, but she had seen the looks on her mother and Phoebe's faces. "What has Will decided to do with him?"

"He wants him to go back to the Federation for trial, but a delegation from the cube has asked to meet with him and you," she informed her.

A raised eyebrow was the only reaction.

"As for the 'expressions' of those that witnessed the incident, their concern has been only for you. I've talked with all of them, several were impressed by your mental ability, the others were impressed by the way you refrained from doing permanent damage to him. The fear that you saw in their eye, Kathryn, was fear of what killing him would've done to you."

Janeway looked up surprised. "But what if I can't control it? What if I…"

Deanna knew this was a major stumbling block for the captain. But she needed her to admit to the concern before they could address it.

"What if I hurt someone else?"

"Someone else? Who else, Kathryn? How many people aboard have nanoprobes?"

"Seven," she blurted. "What if I hurt Seven?"

"Would Seven ever do something to you that would cause you to hate her that much? To want to hurt her to that extreme?"

"Hate her? I could never hate Seven. I love her, Deanna."

"Then what makes you think you could or would turn on her? You went through a living hell for two months and still couldn't kill one of the people responsible for it."

The captain couldn't answer the question and the counselor continued, "Kathryn, underneath you are the same person you were two months ago. Look inside yourself; you said you love Seven, was that what you felt before or what you feel now?"

Silence fell between them as Janeway strove to find the answer. "I… I do still love her," she stated surprised. "I do feel it."

Deanna smiled, "I'm recommending that you retake command. In the morning you and Will can meet with the delegation from the cube."

"You don't think that's too soon?"

"No, you still have the problem of what to do with that collar, but you are in control of your emotions and your mental faculties. There is no reason you can't resume command," she stated. "Oh, there's one thing you should know, Lt. Commander Chakotay is aboard Explorer and has been asking to see you, but Will has denied his requests."


"Why what? Why is he here, why does he want to see you or why isn't he allowed?"


Deanna smiled, "He's here because of his first hand knowledge of the Delta Quadrant in case the ships had been separated. I'm not sure why he's asking to see you considering your past problems, and as for Will refusing," she paused, thinking of how to phrase it, "I'm not too sure my husband trusts him. He'll probably be at the meeting since he is technically on the senior staff even though it's as an advisor, unless you don't want him there."

"Believe me, he's the least of my concerns. I really don't care if he's there or not. As for seeing him before or after the meeting, I have no desire to."

"All right, I'll let Will know. There is a very anxious person wanting to see you. I don't know how much longer she'll be put off."

The captain closed her eyes. She had glimpsed Seven in sickbay after her attack of Axum. It was all she could do not to throw herself into Seven's arms, but she was sure the woman wouldn't want anything to do with her now. 'She'd probably be better off without me. Nobody knows how this damn collar is going to affect me for one thing… or am I doing what I've done in the past and letting the guilt of my actions dictate how I perceive others to think of me,' she sighed. "Has Seven seen her father?"

"I don't think so, but she does know he is alive. She was surprised; she had thought he would've been killed after your rescue of her from the complex several years ago," Deanna stated.

Janeway stood and moved to the viewport. She braced her hand on the side and stared at the planet they were orbiting. 'Part of my problem,' she willingly admitted to herself, 'is wondering if she's going to leave me again to go with him in search of the rest of her family… and why wouldn't she? Would she be better off with her family than with a lover who was waking nightly from memories of the past two months, when I manage to sleep at all that is? Of course she would. But it's her choice not yours, Katie.' She turned around to face the patiently waiting counselor. "I know I need to see her and mother and Phoebe. I've put them off too."

"I know Commander Tuvok and Lt. Torres were going to try to convince Seven to beam down to the planet to speak with her father."

A quick inquiry to the computer and the captain learned that Seven was on the surface. A communiqué to her mother and she along with Phoebe were on their way to Janeway's quarters.

Deanna met them coming in on her way out and gave them a smile of encouragement. "I'll see you in the morning at 0800 hours, Captain."

"Thank you, Counselor." Janeway said as the door closed.

"Katie, how… how are you feeling?" Phoebe looked between her mother and sister who were staring at each other.

Before she could answer, Gretchen closed the distance between them and wrapped her arms around her. "Mom?" Janeway felt the tears dropping onto her shoulder and heard the sob.

"Kathryn…" the tears were from the relief she felt at seeing the emotion her daughter had displayed in sickbay. Ever since they had gotten her back, she had been more of an emotionless shell than a living breathing person.

"I'm sorry, Mom, I…"

"Sorry?" Gretchen pulled back. "Sorry for what?"

Janeway saw they both looked genuinely confused. "For what happened in sickbay, for what I almost did."

"Good lord, honey, you have nothing to apologize for." Gretchen replied as she dried her eyes.

"Katie, believe me, we all wanted to kill him," Phoebe said. "If Seven could've gotten to him, she would have. In fact the EMH is the only one that is allowed near him simply because Tuvok said his programming won't allow him to intentionally hurt anyone." She paused, then added, "I even overheard Tuvok tell him that if it had been left up to him, he would already be dead."

The captain felt better after the talk with her family. Now all she had to do was retake command, get through the meeting in the morning and see Seven. She limped towards the replicator… "Coffee, black." The prospect of that meeting filled her with a certain amount of apprehension. 'Can I give her what she deserves? What if anger and pain are the only things I have to look forward to? Is it fair to her to expect she stay with me if that's all I can give her? Of course if she does decide to go with her father that would take things out of my hands.'

"Dr. Annika Hansen has returned to Odyssey," the computer informed her.

"Well, I guess it's now or never." She raised her hand to open a channel before she chickened out.

Seven was in the turbolift when the communication came over her comm badge; she had actually been headed for the captain's quarters at the time. She stood outside the silver door and took a deep breath or two, hoping to calm her pounding heart.

The chime sounded and Janeway took a deep breath of her own. "Come." The door opened and Seven stepped inside.

When she had first beamed back aboard from the cube and Tuvok and Gretchen met her in the transporter room, she had feared the worst. When they had explained what had happened two months ago, she blamed herself. Then in sickbay, learning that someone she had once thought of as a friend had been a party to the queen's plan, left her questioning herself. Standing here now, she felt uncertain of what she should do and should say. "Kathryn…"

"Seven, I understand you've seen your father."

"Yes, we have spent time together and talked. We have… cleared the air."

Janeway smiled, though Seven noticed it didn't reach her eyes. "I'm glad."

Seven wanted to wrap her arms around her lover, but she wasn't sure she had the right to do that anymore.

"He said he intended to search for your mother," she swallowed the lump in her throat. "Are you going with him?"

"No, Kathryn, I am not." Seven moved a step closer before she was stopped cold by the captain's next words.

"Maybe you should."

"Explain." Seven could feel her heart crumbling. Kathryn blamed her; why else would she not want her around.

"She's your mother, Seven, don't you want to find her?"

"That is not the reason for your statement. If you do not want me here then tell me the truth… that it is my fault… my fault you were taken," her eyes teared.

"I don't blame you, Seven. You weren't responsible, it's just…" she faltered.

"What? Explain it to me, please. Tell me how you feel," she pleaded.

Janeway looked her in the eye. "That's the problem, Seven, I'm still not sure I can feel anything anymore. I do feel anger at Axum for what he did and I feel physical pain, but what bothers me the most is that there's an emptiness inside. I can pretend to smile, to laugh, but I don't feel it," she tapped her chest, "here. I'm not sure I have anything of myself left to give you." She wasn't completely sure that what she had told Troi about feeling her love for Seven was something she really was feeling or something she hoped she was feeling.

"You will have again, Kathryn, it will take time, but I will not give up hope and I will not let you give up either."

"I can't let you do that, Seven. You could spend most of your life waiting on something that might not happen."

"You can not stop me; it is my choice, Kathryn. I love you and I will wait forever if that is what it takes." She did move within hugging distance and wrapped her arms around the woman she loved.

Kathryn automatically returned the hug and did feel a sense of rightness about the embrace, which gave her hope.


Chapter Forty Four

Early the next morning Janeway was in the turbolift heading for the bridge, her mind on the upcoming meeting and what the outcome would be with the ex-drone. She stepped off the lift and raised her eyebrow; all three bridge shifts were there.

"Captain on the bridge," Viktor stated and everyone snapped to attention.

She paused on the upper deck noticing the three shifts sharing their posts and the fact that also present were the other members of the senior staff along with the EMH, the Counselor, Phoebe, Neelix who was standing by Ensign Wildman, and Naomi. Seven had even taken her post at navigation even though they were orbiting a planet.

"Computer," Viktor spoke up again, "enter into the ship's log that on this stardate at 0745 hours, the command of Odyssey has been cheerfully and with great enthusiasm returned to Captain Kathryn Janeway."

"So noted," the computer acknowledged.

Janeway took a minute to look at each of them, "As you were."

Released from their at attention stance, they readily looked at the captain, most of them for the first time since she had been taken. The facts of what had been witnessed on the bridge and rumors of what happened during the two months she was gone, were widespread through the ship and most of them looked at her in awe. Janeway made sure she went to each of them and thanked them for being a part of her rescue. She knew what each of them had risked coming after her when they couldn't have been entirely sure there was anything left to rescue.

"It didn't much look like you needed rescuing, Captain," Lt. K'Vel stated.

"You kicked their butts, Captain," Lt. Toric added.

"Welcome home, ma'am," Ensign Wildman stated. Naomi looked up and lunged towards Janeway, wrapping her arms around the captain's waist and pressing her head against her stomach.

"You taught me that a captain never abandons a member of their crew," the young girl stated.

"That's right," Janeway said as she looked questioningly at Samantha to see if she had any idea of what was going on and only received a slight shake of her head.

"But you never explained what would happen if the captain was the one that needed to be rescued," she sniffed. "I was so scared."

The captain held Naomi to her and rubbed her back. The little girl had grown beyond her years and she wondered if it was the K'tarian in her or if it was because she had been raised under such difficult circumstances. "I'm sorry you were scared, Naomi." She would've knelt down, but she was afraid she would need help standing back up. 'And wouldn't that just blow the image all to pieces.' "Honey, did you really think anybody here would let the Borg get the better of them?"

Naomi leaned her head back and looked up at the captain. "I should've known you wouldn't let them win, you always beat them and made everything okay."

The captain looked over at Seven who was trying to hide a grin. 'Well, wasn't this going to be hellish to have to live up to?'

Janeway sat in the larger briefing room on deck four, the senior and medical staff filing in. This would not only be a meeting that the ex-drones on the cube had requested, but also a formal debriefing on the two months she had spent at the unicomplex.

She let her eyes drift to the doorway and came to rest on her mother's, which were locked on her. The captain raised an eyebrow.

Gretchen bucked protocol and sat down beside her daughter. "Some ceremony, huh?"

"Yes, it was… unexpected."

"And the little girl, Naomi, such a precocious child. Seven said she was your Captain's Assistant on Voyager."

Janeway held on to the feeling of Naomi holding on to her. She had felt something… something good. She didn't have time to explore that thought as the senior staff from Explorer joined them. Both Dr. Hansens had been asked to join the meeting and they also arrived.

Robi, who had been chosen to be the spokesperson and two other representatives from the cube, came in with Tuvok. After the introductions, the young man stated their proposal.

"We have learned from the Federation citizens that are on our vessel that if Axum is tried and convicted in your society, that the worst punishment he can expect is to be incarcerated for the rest of his life."

"That is correct," Tuvok answered. "Most sentences are not ones involving the termination of life."

"But don't you see; that wouldn't be much of a punishment for him. He would still have the one thing that meant the most to him, his life," Robi stated.

"Don't underestimate the facilities where he would be held," Worf spoke up. "They're not a walk in the park."

"You're wrong," Tom said. "To an ex-drone whose mind and body had been… imprisoned by the Borg, it wouldn't be much of a punishment. I agree with Robi."

"What are you suggesting?" Riker asked. "Surely not to turn him into a drone again?"

"That was one of the suggested punishments. But most of us agreed that it would be too cruel even if it could be done. There would be no hive mind to connect to and we believe it would be a very slow, torturous decline into madness. We also discussed locking him into a small area on the cube and holding him there, but it would take people and resources to tend to him and there are others who need and deserve our help more. We have decided the best punishment would be to deprive him of what he holds dearest."

"You will execute him," Seven stated.

"Yes," Robi answered. "It wasn't an easy decision, but Captain, you and two of your crew risked everything for us. Not to mention your ship."

Everyone in the room looked at Janeway. "Don't look to me, I don't think I should have any part in deciding his punishment."

"You've got the seniority on me," Riker reminded her.

"The Captain's right," Counselor Gazsi stated. "The 'victim' should not be placed in the position of making that decision."

"I agree," Troi added.

It was decided that five of them would make the decision on whether or not to turn him over, Riker, Worf, Tuvok, Viktor and Tom since he could give insight into the penal system. Tuvok made the recommendation that the decision should be made after the captain had debriefed them. He had little doubt what that decision would be then.

Chakotay had stayed silent during the young Borg's plea. His sole reason for being here was to speak with Kathryn. He was glad that her mother and Seven left right after the three Borg did, he was uncomfortable with the way the two women were glaring at him.

Seven didn't need to remain in the meeting; she had learned most of what Kathryn had been through from her father. She was anxious to get back to work on developing a way to deactivate the collar and in turn the nanoprobes in the captain's system or at least have them benefit her.

She was working in one of the smaller labs off astrometrics when Phoebe entered. "What are you doing? I thought you'd still be at the meeting."

Seven correctly deduced the reason she was here. "Gretchen would not tell you what happened."

"No," Phoebe admitted. "Hey, your screen is blinking."

"I realize that, I have a message from the EMH."

"You're not going to see what it says?"

"I know what it says, the same thing it said last night and this morning, Axum wishes to see me."

"Oh," Phoebe sighed. "I can't figure out why the Doctor is sympathetic to his cause after being with Katie so long it seems like he would be on her side."

"I do not believe he is on Axum's side, it is just that with his programming he wants to help everyone."

"Okay, I guess I can understand that. I forget sometimes that he's not, what's the term, organic." She sat down in a chair near Seven. "So, what happened in the meeting? Why aren't you still there and," she leaned closer to Seven looking at the complex diagram and algorithms on the console, "you never said what you're doing."

"I am no longer in the meeting because I am not senior staff, I am trying to devise a way to deactivate or reprogram the nanoprobes in you sister's system and thereby rendering them no longer a threat; and what makes you think that I would tell you what happened in the meeting if Gretchen would not?"

"The rumors are running rampant about what is going on and for some reason they think I know," she sighed. "You know, Seven, I've never seriously wished harm on any person, but I have to agree with a lot of the crew, Kathryn should've killed him."

"No," Seven immediately replied.

"I know he was your friend, but…"

"That is not it, Phoebe. I would gladly terminate his life for what he did. But if Kathryn had killed him, it would have damaged her beyond repair."

"She's killed before. I unfortunately saw her do it when she rescued us."

"Yes she has, many times, in fact more times than you probably wish to know, but never in revenge. She will kill to protect her ship, her crew, individuals and herself. Phoebe, I know it is hard to see your sister as anything other than the person you grew up with and it is difficult to reconcile that person with the Starfleet officer that can command missions where people die, order ships fired upon that might be destroyed and possibly give up her life to protect others. But for her sake as well as for your own, you need to see the person she is now and try to understand her." Seven lightly squeezed the hand that was clutching the chair arm. "You can not wish her back to the way you are more comfortable with."

Phoebe looked at Seven and realized the truth of what she was telling her. "You're right about not understanding her. She's changed so much. I think it probably started when she first took command, though the greatest change was the time spent here in the Delta Quadrant. She was so different after that, even at home. And now this," she took a deep breath. "If what we saw in sickbay… if she had to go though that kind of physical pain for two months… I can't begin to imagine what kind of mental pain she endured."

"Your sister is a strong individual, both physically and mentally, she will get through this. There is an old Terran saying that I heard from several individuals while on Voyager, usually just after a particularly arduous confrontation with an aggressive species, 'That which does not kill us, makes us stronger', I believe it would apply here, to you and Gretchen also."

"Probably… I'm just not sure of how to talk to her anymore. When we were kids it was because of different interests; I didn't care anything about science and she didn't want to hear about my latest art projects. Then I find out she's got a da Vinci holoprogram." Phoebe shook her head. "One night when she was home after the review board, I found her outside staring up at the stars. I couldn't understand why or how she missed… this," she waved her hands around. "I still don't understand, but I'd be a fool not to see she's in her element out here. And god help me, I had to go and marry into it," she laughed.

"She said running the program relaxed her. I think it also made her feel closer to you."

Phoebe pondered that for a while. "Maybe." She walked around the lab looking at the consoles, some having an equation or search running that Seven had started earlier. "You've spent time with your father. How's that going?"

Her ocular implant rose. "It is going… well."

"He's not upset that you're not going to help him look for your mother?"

"No, he is not; he understands." She watched Phoebe circle the small lab. "What is it that you wish to ask me?"

"What makes you think I want to ask anything?" Her circuit ended and she was standing in front of her companion.

"Your respiration has increased by twelve percent, you heart rate by eight, you face is flushed and…"

"All right, I get the picture. Damned Borg enhanced senses." Phoebe complained and Seven merely waited. "Did you find out from him what… happened to Katie?"

Seven sighed, "Some of it, yes."

Phoebe waited; hands on hips. "Well."


Chapter Forty Five

Danu walked into Gretchen's office. She was sitting at her desk, elbows propped on its top, her face buried in her hands. "Gretchen?" he called out.

"Oh, Danu, you startled me," she leaned back.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to. I just wanted to see if you were okay," he paused and studied her frazzled look. "I can go if you'd rather not have to see anyone right now," he offered.

"No, sit… please. Tea?" She asked as he settled into the chair in front of her desk.

"Please." He watched her request it from the replicator and hand it to him. "How'd the thing on the bridge go? Was she surprised?"

"Oh yes," she smiled slightly. "I realized how much the Voyager crew respected her on the flight to Earth; they were more like a family after spending seven years together. But this new crew does also. Even in the small amount of time she's been their captain. I look at her as my little girl, but the people here look at her as their leader and some of the expressions on their faces today… you could tell they would follow her anywhere, even to their deaths. What did she have to do, what did she have to go through to get that kind of respect?"

He shook his head. "I couldn't begin to guess. I do know that the stories from Voyager have made the rounds through the crew and from what I've heard a lot of that respect comes from those. Also her and Dr. Hansen's saving the ship from the core breach added to that I'm sure. And not only surviving the past two months, but defeating the Borg Queen again has certainly added to her reputation."

"During some of the worst news of the war, I was glad she wasn't home. Because I knew if she was she would be in the middle of the fighting. Now, after hearing just some of what happened to Voyager I'm wondering if the Alpha Quadrant wasn't safer even during the war."

"Gretchen," he leaned forward and grasped her hand, "they survived, she survived to come home."

"I know, Danu, but to have the Borg target her specifically and to come after one individual… to have an unemotional… species exhibit revenge, it terrifies me to think what went on between them."

"Has she said anything about the confrontations with the Borg and the Queen?"

"Some," she sighed. "She's hit some of the highlights. She said she and the Queen had been and I quote, 'pissing on each other's parade for a few years'. Good lord, Danu, I know she's a grown woman and a Starfleet captain, but…"

"But, like you said, you look at her as your little girl and it's hard to realize the two are the same person."

"Yes, it is," she admitted. "I can hear the story where Captain Janeway defeats the Borg, Captain Janeway saves the Ocampa but in doing so strands her ship and crew 70,000 lights year from home, Captain Janeway survives seven years in unknown hostile space, but it's in the abstract. Hearing Kathryn Janeway talk about it terrifies me. And I don't think I've heard even half of what they went through and some of what I have heard, I'm sure has been down played."

He knew there really wasn't anything he could say to reassure her and she knew it to.

As the meeting broke up and the participants were filing out, Chakotay called out, "Kathryn," no response, "Captain," he tried again.

Janeway paused, "Yes, Lt. Commander."

"I… could I have a moment?"

She looked to the others that had stopped by the door when he had called out. She nodded at them, a not so subtle acknowledgement that it would be okay to continue. Turning her attention back to Chakotay, "I'm waiting."

"You're not going to make this easy for me are you?"

A raised eyebrow and an incredulous look was sent across the table towards him.

"All right, I know I messed up and I want you to know I'm sorry. I went about this all wrong. All the time you kept saying you couldn't get involved with a crew member, then I had to watch you spending more and more time with her and risking your life for her and the look in your eyes when you watched her… it hurt. But I did a lot of… soul searching you might say and I'd planned on talking to you on Mars after the ship launched. Then I find out Odyssey was your ship and I'd lost the opportunity," he paused. "I know the problems we had before Voyager returned were my doing, but I do care for you, Kathryn; all I'm asking is that you give me a chance to prove it to you."

She was silent as she looked out at the stars. Then she turned back to face him, "Chakotay, before our… problems, I thought of you as my close friend, someone I could count on even though we didn't always see eye to eye on certain matters. I thought of you as a kind caring person. But what you did was so cold and calculated that I'm not so sure which is the real you."

"I was hurt. I lashed out at the person that caused it. I made a mistake."

"That wasn't a gut response to being hurt. It was a cruel and callous plan to not only hurt me, but Seven as well. I don't know if I could ever trust you again. And right now I have other things to worry about." She stood and left the room, heading back to the bridge.

Instead of answering Phoebe's question Seven thought back to what she had learned from her father. She had wondered at the time why he was telling her and had concluded that he felt guilty and probably needed to 'get it off his chest'. She knew about guilt, she still felt it to some degree even though she hadn't had control of her actions while she was a drone.

She had beamed down to the planet when she couldn't see Kathryn right away. He had been down there assisting some of the Borg children that had been released from the maturation chambers when she found him. Since she had had time to deal with her anger and resentment towards her parents, she was cordial during their initial meeting.

He had explained his plans, to try and find Erin or at least what happened to her. "You could come with me?"

Seven shook her head. "No, my place is here on the ship." She picked up a PADD and started recording names and species of the children that could remember them. "Papa, have you determined mama's last known location?"

"Actually yes, a sphere about 500 light years from here." He watched her as she finished the last entry and turned to face him.

"Then there is a possibility she is still alive. I am glad she wasn't in the destruction of this last encounter."

"Annika, do you love the Captain? I know that she is in love with you because of the connection to the Queen. It was one of their 'heated debates'."

"Yes, I do," she stated without preamble.

"She's going to need help, though from what I've learned in the short time I've been around her, she won't admit it or ask for it. I think it would help all three of us if you knew, at least what I know, of what happened."

Seven was torn, she did need to know, but she was reluctant to invade Kathryn's privacy. In the end his argument persuaded her. She listened as he proceeded to tell her and a few hours later she was once again struggling with the fact she, without a second's hesitation would kill someone who had once been her friend.

"Seven." Phoebe called out bringing her back to the present.

"I am sorry, Phoebe, but you will need Kathryn's permission to see or hear what happened to her."


Seven flinched; mentally kicking herself for revealing that. "Kathryn retrieved the Queen's cortical node, mainly so the technology would not be used by anyone. But it would have a visual record of her ordeal." She eyed the younger Janeway. "Why do you want to know so badly?"

"I'll admit that all the questions about Voyager, is mostly curiosity on my part. But this is… Seven, she's going to need us to be there for her and I want to be prepared ahead of time. I don't want to be blindsided by anything she has to say. If I know what happened going in, I won't let my anger or shock interfere with helping her."

Seven had to admit those were valid points. "I believe we should speak with one or both Counselors and see what they recommend."

Messages between the ships and Alpha Quadrant were taking several days to relay. They were using the enhanced communications array equipped on the ships and some of the Borg's own network through the remaining transwarp hubs to be able to communicate with Starfleet.

The five people charged with making the decision about Axum decided it would remain with them instead of letting HQ have a say in the matter.

"Nothing you could say will make me change my mind," Tom stated. "I don't care if he's spent every waking moment rescuing babies and old ladies, give him back to Robi and the others."

Worf spoke up next, "I agree after what I've heard, he's a coward and does not deserve to live."

Will looked to Tuvok, he had expected Worf and Tom's response, but he wasn't sure about the Vulcan.

"What would logically be considered a suitable punishment, incarceration, for most people would be a fitting punishment for his crime. However, Mr. Robi was correct in saying after being a Borg drone, it would not have the desired affect on Axum. So my decision is that the only logical punishment for him would be to take away what he so desperately at any cost, tried to retain."

Deanna looked around the table. "I do not believe in putting people to death," she paused. "But that's not the real question here. It's not whether he deserves to die, but whether the punishment we have available would 'fit the crime'. Did he know what the Queen had in store for the Captain? Probably not, but I'm not sure it would've made any difference if he had. The Captain told him it would've been easier to be a drone… she's probably right. For an individual to be put through the mental and physical pain that she endured on a daily basis for two months is inconceivable. So, with that in mind, my answer is, return him to the others and let them deliver whatever punishment they see fit. And we'll just have to live with it."

That completely surprised Will and it took a minute for him to absorb that declaration from his wife. "It's very hard for me not to let my personal feelings interfere in my decision. Captain Janeway and I met as cadets at the Academy. We never really took the time to become friends, but there is always a certain amount of camaraderie that exists when you go through something like that together," he paused. "As a captain in Starfleet I am sworn to uphold certain expectations, one of them being the valve of all life. And as a Starfleet captain, it would be my duty to turn Axum over to the proper authorities for trial as they saw fit. However," he held up his hand to stop the complaint that was about to come from Lt. Paris, "I do believe the arguments that all of you and Mr. Robi have stated to be valid. There is also the fact that being this far away from the Federation and Starfleet; I do have a little leeway. If I was making this decision as Will Riker, I'd kill him myself. As Captain Riker, I will have to take the heat from HQ if there is any, but I will not stand in the way of the majority; we'll turn him over to the others."


Chapter Forty Six

Within two weeks of the captain's return to Odyssey, many of the freed drones were well on their way to being able to take over implementing their own medical care and the logistics of organizing what each species was going to do and helping the ones that were finding it difficult to adjust.

Seven had, along with the help of the EMH and other doctors, developed a partial solution to the captain's problem. They had been able to program some of Seven's nanoprobes to render the experimental ones in the captain's system inoperative, but she would still have to wear the collar as a kind of substitute cortical node in order to control the new nanoprobes until enough time had passed to make certain the others wouldn't reactivate. It would also give them time to find a completely safe way to remove the collar.

While several things had fallen into place and Janeway had returned to commanding the ship, she was still distant with friends and family. Both counselors had advised time and caution in dealing with her and while Seven would stand by her declaration to wait for her no matter how long it took; she still wanted Kathryn to know how she felt. Tonight was the perfect opportunity.

Neelix's celebration, a sort of belated welcome back to both the captain and to all the drones that had been freed, was to take place starting at 1800 on the holodeck.

Janeway looked at herself in the mirror; she had been sorely tempted to remain in uniform for the barrier it provided her. The crew, other than the members of Voyager, tended to shy away when she was wearing it. But Deanna and Counselor Gazsi suggested tonight would be a good step in retrieving part of Kathryn. So she was in a silk pants suit with grey pants and a black tank top underneath a grey tunic, which was gathered at the waist with a loosely tied silk belt.

'Mom was right, with this outfit the collar looks more like jewelry.' Then her perusal of her appearance focused on her eyes. Still a predominate grey though showing a bit more sparkle of life in the last few days. 'But how long will it take?' She had asked herself that many times over the course of the last two weeks. 'And is it fair for Seven to wait when there is no guarantee that I will ever return to normal?' She sighed and turned to go; picking up her communicator and affixing it to her tunic on the way out of her quarters.

The holodeck was programmed with tables of various sizes that would accommodate anywhere from four to a dozen people. A small stage sat in the center of one of the walls for the crew members from both ships that had agreed to entertain periodically during the celebration.

When Janeway entered, she saw B'Elanna and Tom standing with Harry and Lindsey, Neelix, Samantha and Naomi; all laughing at something the young girl said. She also saw Gretchen, Danu, Phoebe, Mark, the Doctor, Will and Deanna standing in another group. 'Damn, she had forgotten she wouldn't be able to dodge Mark like she had been doing for the past week or so. Gretchen and Phoebe had at least stopped asking her how she was feeling each time they saw her; Mark had yet to get the message.

Dr. Collins walked up next to her while Janeway was looking for the one person she so desperately wanted to see. "Captain."

"Doctor, I want to complement you and your staff on the exceptional work all of you have done. I know these past few weeks have been difficult," she smiled. "I bet you never thought you'd be disassembling Borg drones when you signed on."

Andrea laughed, "No, but I assure you, Captain, Aunt Kate did warn me that serving on your ship would not be a walk in the park."

"I bet she did." Janeway's thoughts turned to the doctor she had butted heads with more than once. "How is Dr. Pulaski doing?"

"Good. She's taken over the research labs at Starfleet Medical and seems to like it."

Janeway spotted Seven speaking with her father and stopped herself from heading that way, knowing that Magnus was leaving the next day and it would be a long while before they would see each other again.

Dr. Collins excused herself as the captain's family and friends headed her way.

The captain held up her hand and pointed at Mark. "Do not ask me how I'm feeling." His eyes widened at being caught.

The others smiled and Phoebe turned to him. "I did try to warn you, Mark."

Will turned to Janeway, "So, Captain, we seem to have done about all we can do here, how about a tour of your Delta Quadrant?"

An eyebrow rose, "My Delta Quadrant?" He shrugged. "All right, Captain, who would you like to meet, the Kazon, the Hirogen, the Vidiians? Although they might not be the threat they once were since the phage has supposedly been eradicated by the Think Tank. Or maybe you would like to meet the Malon or the Voth?"

Deanna grinned, "I believe he actually had in mind meeting one person first… Amelia Earhart." She answered the inquisitive stares.

They're conversation was interrupted when Neelix, standing on the stage called for everyone's attention. "Ladies and Gentleman, if you would kindly take a seat, we have a few people who have graciously agreed to entertain us tonight with their multitude of talents." He gave them a minute or two to settle at the tables.

"First up is our very own Lt. Harry Kim on sax, the Doctor on piano and from the Explorer we have Ensign Larry Smithson on drums and Lt. Coren Lucie on bass."

Deanna spoke up during the quiet between songs, "Will said the two of you attended the Academy together."

"Yes, though we really didn't know each other," Kathryn answered.

"Not without trying," Will explained, "at least on my part." He grinned at Janeway; not seeing the look Mark sent him. "But Cadet Janeway was much more interested in her junior thesis on… what was it?"

"Massive compact halo objects," Janeway answered as Neelix introduced someone from the Explorer that was joining the band to sing. "I seem to remember a very confident Cadet Riker who was certain even then that he would be captain of a starship."

"It took a while longer than I thought it would." He replied as Mark glowered at the mutual admiration that was occurring.

"You had many chances before this, Will." Janeway stated seriously.

"Well, at the time of the other offers I thought second in command of the flag ship was better than holding the reins."

"And now?" Janeway questioned and he just blushed. "So, Deanna, how many times did he stop in front of the mirror staring at the fourth pip?"

Deanna chuckled and lowered her voice as the music started back. "I lost count after the first two dozen times."

After several more songs, an intermission and a few more singers, Neelix walked on stage as the applause died down. "Our last performer of the evening is our very own Dr. Annika Hansen."

"She can sing?" Mark whispered and Phoebe shushed him.

Seven walked out and thanked Neelix. "I heard this song several months ago when I was studying different cultures' music. It is a Terran song from the 20th century called 'Just The Way You Are' and it is for someone very special to me." She turned her head and nodded to the musicians. She closed her eyes, knowing if she didn't she would stare at Kathryn through the entire song and probably embarrass the captain.

'Don't go changing, to try and please me
you never let me down before
Don't imagine you're too familiar

and I don't see you anymore
I wouldn't leave you in times of trouble
we never could have come this far
I took the good times, I'll take the bad times
I'll take you just the way you are.

Don't go trying some new fashion
Don't change the color of your hair
You always have my unspoken passion
Although I might not seem to care

I don't want clever conversation
I never want to work that hard
I just want someone that I can talk to
I want you just the way you are.

I need to know that you will always be
the same old someone that I knew
What will it take till you believe in me
the way that I believe in you.

I said I love you and that's forever
and this I promise from the heart
I could not love you any better
I love you just the way you are.'

As the last notes of the music drifted to silence and the applause started, she opened her eyes to see what Kathryn's reaction had been. And saw an empty chair.

During the song as the occupants of Janeway's table and several others who knew Seven, wondered who the romantic song was for; Gretchen looked to her eldest and saw her trying desperately to hold the tears back. She leaned over and whispered something the others couldn't hear, "Go to her, Kathryn. Don't throw this chance away."

The lyrics had hit her hard and reminded her once again this was not her decision alone. Her mother's words propelled her from her chair towards the side entrance of the stage.

She mounted the two steps, Seven's eyes still closed, and waited. She could see the curious looks from the other four people out of the corner of her eye and surreptitiously motioned for Harry not to say anything. Seven opened her eyes and Janeway could see she was upset; probably at finding her chair vacant.

Seven turned to leave the stage and froze at the site of the woman she loved. "Kathryn," she whispered in surprise.

Janeway crossed the distance between them, knowing she was closing more than the space that separated them on the stage. Carefully lowering herself on one knee, she could see shock in the wide blue eyes.

"Annika," Janeway started even though she knew the others on the stage could hear her and not caring, "forgive me for trying to push you away, for thinking I know what's best for you and for hurting you these past weeks."

Seven had tears in her eyes as she looked down at the kneeling woman. "Kathryn, will you forgive me for leaving you?"

Janeway smiled; one which reached her eyes and softened the grey into the warm blue that sent a feeling of love and tenderness through Seven's body. She knelt down bringing their faces close together. "I love you, Kathryn Janeway."

The captain reached up cradling her lover's face in her hands. "And I love you, Seven of Nine, more than I could ever put into mere words." She touched their lips together. The contact lasted only a few seconds; it was not a passionate kiss.

The couple turned their eyes to their audience when 'It's about time' was heard. "That sounded like Gretchen," Seven stated.

"Mm, yes it did," Janeway agreed. The comment seemed to be the catalyst for wolf whistles and a few other shouted comments, most of which were along the lines of 'Way to go, Captain' and 'Well done, Seven'. 'Well I'll be damned' was added and Janeway actually laughed, "That was definitely B'Elanna."

Gretchen looked over at her youngest and started laughing. "Phoebe, honey, you look like a fish out of water."

"You… you knew about this… them and didn't tell me." She faced her mother, now looking rather indignant. "You let me make a fool of myself trying to get Katie and Mark back together."

"I was asked not to say anything and I did try to warn you off, but as usual you were full steam ahead, which, by the way, is why Kathryn didn't want you to know."

Both women took a quick glance at Mark; he was staring down at his hands which were folded together on top of the table. Gretchen sighed knowing it would take time for him to come to terms with her daughter and Seven being together, if he ever did.

There was another that needed to come to terms with them being together. No one seemed to notice the glare directed at the stage and the two women just before he stormed out of the holodeck. Two people however did see his reaction and their eyes followed him though the large doors.

"He bears watching, Commander Tuvok," the half Vulcan and second in command of security stated.

"Indeed," the commander noted. He was gratified that the person he was grooming to take over as chief of security had observed more than just what was happening on the stage.

The two women made their way back to the captain's table. Deanna and Will congratulated them, Tom looked a bit stunned and B'Elanna walked over to Seven and slapped her on the back. "Good for you, Borg, you bagged the most eligible woman on the ship. Now, why the hell didn't you tell your best bud?"

Seven's implant climbed up her forehead. "Does the term blabbermouth mean anything to you?"

A silence fell over the table waiting to see how the volatile half Klingon would respond to the insult. A few more seconds passed and the captain was about to insert herself between the two women when B'Elanna started laughing.

"Well damn, Seven, you got me there."

Everyone let go of the breath they had been holding and the conversations started back.

Janeway and Seven strolled through the corridor heading for the turbolift. The captain had not relinquished the hold she had on her companion's hand.

"Your priorities have changed." She held up their laced fingers.

Janeway smiled, "I've been at war with myself these past few weeks. One minute deciding what's best for you, the next minute saying to hell with it." She paused as they entered the lift, "Deck two."

"And now you have decided?"

"You decided for me. That song pretty much said it all; isn't that why you chose it?"

"Yes, to let you know I would be here waiting for you no matter what. I did not expect a public declaration though I am not complaining."

"Those two months, when I could let my thoughts free that is, I came to realize a few things. One in particular…" she paused as they entered her quarters and walked to the replicator asking for two glasses of cider.

"What did you realize?" Seven questioned as she took the beverage that was handed to her.

"That life was too short to waste with maybes and what ifs." She sat down on the couch turning sideways to face Seven. "Annika, I truly didn't think I would get out of there alive. They should not have risked two ships and their crews for one person. With all that has happened in my life, the one thing I regretted more than anything else, was not shouting from the mountaintops to whoever would listen, that I love you."

"Would it not have been easier to announce it through the ship's communications instead?"

Janeway chuckled, "Yes, but not as romantic."

"And yelling from a mountain is?"

"It's the whole 'I'll do anything for you no matter how difficult it is' and the 'I don't care who knows' kind of thing."

"Indeed." Seven had turned sideways to face the captain.

"Don't leave me, Annika. I know it took me a while to act on what I had realized in those two months…"

Seven stop the explanation. "Kathryn, I will be with you for however long you want me."

"Tonight, tomorrow, next week, for the rest of my life and beyond," Janeway responded, "is how long I want and need you."

Seven placed both of their glasses on the table in front of the couch and held her arms open. It didn't take a second before the captain was in them, feeling the long arms wrap around her. "I will never leave you again," Seven assured her. "You will have to throw me out of an airlock to get rid of me now."

"If that ever happens, I can guarantee I'll be coming out right behind you."



The next morning at 1000 hours, Janeway was on the bridge in her command chair letting her eyes take in the people at their stations. There was a level of excitement and anticipation coursing through both ships, which were awaiting her command. The crews knew either they would be returning home or going exploring in an area of space most of them had only read about after Voyager had returned.

The captain had been in her ready room most of the morning preparing and sending a communiqué to Starfleet, which would take several days for them to receive. She had smiled as she encoded the message and sent it on its way. 'I wonder if they'll regret giving me the sole authority if or when we ever made it back here,' she chuckled to herself. "Mr. Kim, open a channel to the Explorer."

"Channel open, Captain."

"Captain Riker…"

"Captain Janeway," he smiled.

Seven turned her head back just enough to see the long absent twinkle in Kathryn's eyes before concentrating on her navigation console once more.

"You have the coordinates, Captain?" she asked.

A nod from his helm. "Aye, Captain."

"Well then, Captain Riker, shall we go exploring and see what mischief we can get into?"

Riker's grin was echoed by everyone on the two bridges that hadn't known what their destination was going to be until that moment. "I'm sure it will be… memorable, Captain, Explorer will be right behind you."

"Dr. Hansen?"

"Transwarp drive online and ready, Captain; awaiting your command." Seven replied after accessing the engineering readouts.

Janeway sat back and crossed her legs. "Well then, let's not keep the Delta Quadrant waiting. Engage."

The End

The song Just The Way You Are was written by Billy Joel.

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