Game’s End

Game’s End

“a sacchariney dessert praliné thingamy”


Disclaimers: Star Trek Voyager, its characters and plots belong entirely to Paramount. What, however, these characters might plot and pursue post or in between episodes, belongs entirely to our fantasy. This epilogue to “Endgame” sprung from mine and thus belongs to me. No pecuniary profit has been or will be gained from this endeavor.

Credits: Thanks to hanibal for a new entry in the banner collection and all technical support. Thanks to Rose for betaing, and for Aunt Martha.


Kathryn Janeway’s right hand was completely numb. After spending the better part of an hour working her way down the receiving line of Starfleet brass, she was beginning to wonder just how much longer she could keep her best diplomatic smile plastered on her face. She had no idea how many hands she had shaken, only that she could hardly feel her right one anymore, and that the corners of her mouth ached. Now that the prestigious Starfleet delegation had finally filed out of her ship, Captain Kathryn Janeway felt drained. The euphoria and the pride she felt upon their return, the welcoming committee beamed directly to the bridge as the hastily arranged but still pompous landing of her beloved vessel commenced – it had happened after all. She had done it, had brought them home, as many as she could, and here she stood having reached her goal. And yet, she felt nothing. She was numb. The sweaty, out of fashion uniform stuck to her body, and all she wished for now was a bath and a bed as she watched the last of the crew slowly file out onto Earth over the gangway. Standing unobtrusively aside with her own bag packed she had the definite sense that her little collective had fallen apart.

She knew there would be questions and trials, inspections and suspicions, but for now, everyone was free to stumble safely into the arms of what family they had waiting for them. The crew had made their own toasts, over and over, and Janeway knew that it wasn’t a farewell, to any of them, but she also knew that it would never be the same. The pang of loss she felt at this realization came over her with an unexpected intensity.

Starfleet tech personnel were already going through the ship’s systems, running checks and downloading logs, strangers in unfamiliar uniforms sweeping her ship. Feeling slightly overstrained by the fact that her mother and possibly also her sister were waiting outside, and that all this was finally happening after all, she hefted her bag, certain she was the last of the crew to leave her vessel. The captain leaving the ship. It was a bittersweet sensation, she concluded, as she approached the gangway, now alone in the corridor when suddenly hasty steps from behind approached and she recognized one of her crewmen , one of those who had made it through the seven years with her loyal and unharmed. He was smiling as he neared the exit, loaded with what had to be most of his private possessions.

“Captain,” he nodded at her, his smile brightening. “I thought I was the last one…” He looked at her bag, which was tiny in comparison, and frowned. “Where’s Seven? Isn’t she going with you?”

That took Janeway by surprise. “Why would you say that?”

“I don’t know,” he replied after a moment of hesitation. “I just thought… well, it just seemed… natural.” He shrugged, continuing on. “See you tomorrow at HQ, Captain.” And with that, he was down the ramp, no doubt looking for his family in the crowd waiting at the exit.

Janeway’s lips twitched, remembering her last look at Seven, who had left the ship earlier. The captain knew she had avoided any too personal goodbye, not wanting this to feel like parting, and also uncertain about how to treat her Astrometrics Officer since she knew from the Admiral that there was a romance blossoming between Seven and Chakotay. He had left with her, his hand on her back, bags over their shoulders, in the first rush, Janeway standing at the other end of the hallway, silently grateful for the crewmen between. Seven had looked back at her over her shoulder for a moment, and she had merely nodded back curtly at her, unable to do anything else – what could she have said?

It was over. Janeway neared the exit, halting once more, fidgeting with her bag.

“Computer, how many crewmembers are still aboard Voyager?”

“There are forty-eight individuals aboard Voyager,” the familiar computer voice answered, not projecting any sign of the dramatic changes that the ship had undergone over the past few hours.

“Computer, specify,” Janeway sighed. She did not like the thought of unfamiliar personnel tearing through her ship. She tried again. “How many of these individuals’ life signs have also been recorded on Voyager during the past seven years?”

“One life sign identified. Captain Kathryn Janeway is aboard Voyager.”

Janeway stood there motionless for a moment, then she shook her head, fighting off the sharp feeling of loss. Slowly, she descended the ramp, walking towards the voices, the crowd and her family.

*****

“… she hallucinated in the end, and almost died when she routed even the power from environmental systems to save us, but she brought us through the whole nebula safely.” Having finished her tale, Janeway reached for another cookie.

“That is incredible,” Phoebe stated, clearly impressed.

“A month alone with a hologram?” Janeway inquired wryly. “You bet. And the Doctor can be much more aggravating that your average EMH hologram, trust me.”

Phoebe smiled at her sister’s tone, and even her mother interrupted her preparations for a pot of mild evening coffee and turned around with a chuckle. Gretchen Janeway had only seen the crew, including the holographic doctor, briefly at two official functions and the impromptu public welcome reception, but he truly seemed to have enough stubbornness in his personality subroutines to annoy even her thick-skinned daughter.

“Not the hologram,” Phoebe replied, snatching another cookie herself as soon as their mother had turned her back on them. “Seven of Nine! It almost sounds as if she commanded the entire ship for the past few years.”

“Oh no. The one with the hidden command aspirations was the Doctor himself,” Kathryn replied dryly. “But Seven… well, she does have the Borg arrogance, but she was mostly using it to question command, not to exercise it.”

“Uh-oh.” Phoebe remarked with dramatically wide opened eyes. “I know one captain for sure who does not take well to being questioned…”

Instead of fiercely reacting to the obvious dig, as Phoebe expected, Kathryn merely shrugged, an amused expression on her features. “I know one captain who learned to listen over the past couple of years. At least most of the time…”

“I don’t think we’re talking about the same person.” Phoebe resolutely shook her head in mock earnestness, waiting for Kathryn to take the bait. “Who are you, and what have you done with my sister?”

Kathryn smiled at that, continuing in earnest, “It was a unique situation, we had to…adapt. In seven years with no support from Starfleet and only each other to rely on, we developed a special sort of command structure. More personal – after all, it takes a lot of diplomacy to forge a crew out of Fleet officers, Maquis, aliens and holograms…”

“..and the occasional ex-Borg,” Phoebe added with gravity.

“That, too.” Kathryn eyed her younger sister suspiciously. “Do you have a point?”

“She is in almost every story you tell,” Phoebe stated. “She sounds pretty, well… crucial.”

“She is … she was a crucial member of my crew,” Janeway stated, her tone immediately turning defensive. “She saved our skins on more than one occasion.” She was still not used to referring to the crew of Voyager as her former crew, though as of yet, there had been no official decision as to whether she would ever command a new one. The debriefings were still going on for her while most of her crewmembers, even the larger part of the former Maquis, had already been cleared and in various cases, immediately promoted. The official Welcome Banquet would, however, not be held until the last of the Voyager staff was released from the debriefings, and Janeway thought it most likely that her own hearings would take the longest. It seemed as if that was all she had done in the past two weeks: answering the same questions about her journey through the Delta Quadrant again and again in front of various committees of high-ranking Starfleet officers, psychological advisors and approved representatives of the press.

At least she had arranged to be cleared for the evenings where she could take a shuttle transport out to Indiana to spend time with her mother and sister and the few contacts she still had on Earth after seven years. She had even seen Mark and Melissa and their child in San Francisco HQ for lunch, and she was surprised at how easy that had been. She hadn’t felt even a hint of the jealousy she’d been dreading. After imagining so often what she would say to him it seemed that now, none of it mattered anymore.

He looked smaller than she had remembered and the hug she offered in greeting had not been the awkward embrace she’d anticipated. It felt more like hugging an old friend than a former lover. Janeway found it very amusing that the situation had actually seemed a lot more embarrassing for him than for her. As she looked at him across the table, she realized that somewhere along the journey, her romantic feelings for him had become nothing more than a fond memory. Mark however, frequently glanced at her, seeming irritated, and she wondered if perhaps he had expected something more from her.

You cut your hair, he stated flatly, and from the tone, Janeway felt that somehow, he disapproved. She had talked about her travels, she seemed to do little else these days, and had noticed him growing quiet like he had always done when something bothered him. He looked so small. He looked old. The projects he talked about were unremarkable, his interaction with his wife soft spoken. There was no challenge. He had changed over the years, and he seemed less interesting all together. Almost… bland.

Only on the way home, catching the sight of herself in a mirror in passing she realized that, in fact, it was just the other way around. It was she who had changed. She had outgrown him, and their entire past relationship. She had not wanted a challenge in her private life then. She had not wanted to be questioned. She had not wanted to clash and argue with him because she needed control. Had she really believed then that she could make her private life a perfect little copy of her successful professional career? That she could keep both worlds nicely apart? That it would work that way, and even worse, that it would make her happy? Janeway shook her head at her former self, pleased when she observed how her hair moved with the gesture and smoothly resettled around her face, framing it neatly. She stopped and studied her reflection for a moment longer, realizing that perhaps this was how the Admiral must have felt meeting her.

She didn’t need Mark anymore to bolster her emotional courage. She was sure of herself, including her failures, her doubts and her weaknesses. And over the past seven years Janeway had found out that she could handle them very well without Mark.

A lot had changed. As she reached over the table for another cookie, she realized that this was new too. Letting her family in, talking not only about her successes, but also about things she wasn’t particularly proud of. Simply sharing her thoughts and thereby something of herself.

At first, her mother and sister seemed uncertain as to how react to this change, after the initial euphoria, the tears and the hysteria had ebbed. Nevertheless, after two weeks, they were comfortably settling into this new evening routine, and Kathryn was able to relax after her hearings, relieved to share her stories as personal experiences without the burden of having to apply Starfleet protocols to every moment. The new ease amongst her family already gave her a greater sense of belonging than she had ever felt with Mark.

“So, what else did the Doctor do?” Phoebe questioned, her eyes twinkling impishly. She had quickly realised that the medical hologram had undoubtedly given her commanding sister a run for her money, and enjoyed teasing Kathryn about him. And she wanted to see if her sister really could tell a story that would not feature Seven of Nine at some point. It sure did sound as if the Borg had run the ship.

“I already told you he went through a ‘Maestro’ phase with his singing…” Janeway tried to think of another doctor story that would entertain Phoebe. “Oh, and once, when we accidentally got to see his daydreams in the holodeck, there was one where he was painting Seven in the nude.”

“He did what?” Phoebe squeaked.

“One of his fantasies was to paint Seven in the nude,” Janeway repeated coolly, remembering her shock upon entering the holodeck to find a reproduction of Seven looking back at her, lounging on the couch, draped in only a sheer swag that left little to the imagination.

“He painted her?” Phoebe fairly sputtered.

Misunderstanding her sister’s reaction, Kathryn added dryly, “He painted the canvas, Phoebe. She was his model.”

“He painted?” She repeated. “A painting hologram?”

Kathryn shot her sister a crooked smile. The artist, she realized, was more scandalized at the concept of a sentient hologram that pursued painting than in the circumstances of the setting that had been insulting and embarrassing for the real Astrometrics officer, the holographic version obviously having agreed to ‘comply’ with the doctor’s request. Janeway of course had primarily been worried about Seven’s feelings about the situation, although she guiltily recalled taking a quick glance at the painting, and even commenting on it. The young woman had taken the incident in stride, and she hadn’t even budged when months later, Q junior had undressed her while she stood at her workstation. Although once, over a nightcap in the Captain’s quarters, she had admitted to Kathryn that she didn’t consider his behaviour ‘appropriate’. A small smile slowly etched its way onto Kathryn’s features.

“Was the painting that good?” Phoebe teased, immediately astonished to have apparently caught her sister off guard given the thoroughly shocked expression that had replaced what Phoebe might have considered almost a leer… if she didn’t know her sister better.

“Then there was the time where the doctor’s program threatened to collapse because he couldn’t decide whom of two patients to save in a life-and-death situation…” Janeway was trying to steer the conversation away from painting and nude models and only belatedly realized that she has started a story she rather wouldn’t have told late on a comfortable evening at home.

Over at the sink, Gretchen Janeway’s movements slowed, and she didn’t turn around as she listened to the tale that brought back painful memories of a time where Kathryn had been faced with her own choice of whom to save, a father or a fiancé –if her daughter could have made the impossible choice to decide between the two… Gretchen concentrated on her daughter’s voice, knowing she was remembering the unfortunate event as well.

“…I had decided to reprogram him, to remove the memories completely,” Janeway confessed. “But then Seven stopped by for one of our late night discussions, and pleaded for the doctor’s right as an individual to try and deal with it himself. And in the long run, she was right, I have to admit that.”

“Incredible!” Phoebe breathed as she looked at her sister, again astonished more at how clear it was that Kathryn valued this Seven of Nine’s opinion. And although she was fairly dying to ask about these apparently frequent ‘late night discussions’, she too was aware of the parallel between this story and the events of her father’s death. So she asked lightly instead, “It takes a former Borg and a late hour, and you are willing to admit she was right? Kathryn, what did they put into the food in the Delta Quadrant?”

“You truly do not want to know,” Janeway replied, shuddering at the memory of some of Neelix’ more daring concoctions. Though truth to be told, she almost missed his Leeola root creations and the strangely comforting sense of home among the stars she knew they would hint at if she tasted them now. “I remember when Seven first had to begin consuming solid food again, and Neelix took it upon himself to…”

“She really is in every story you tell,” Gretchen Janeway remarked with a shake of head as she sat down between her daughters, carrying a pot of promisingly aromatic coffee. “And apparently she was able to talk some sense into you, during these ‘philosophical discussions’. Of course I would have preferred to hear that you’d changed those ridiculous sleeping habits, but apparently Miss… of Nine knew at least how to make good use of your nocturnal working hours.” She poured coffee into the mugs, placing one in front of her eldest daughter who absently looked at the steam rising from the hot beverage.

It was true, she realized. Even if she wasn’t telling a story about Seven, there always was a reason to mention her – how they had talked about a problem over breakfast, or after a Velocity game in the mess hall, or how they had worked through a problem while spending time in the da Vinci simulation, or how she simply had asked for Seven’s opinion when they had embarked on another of their late night talks that had always given her a new perspective on the things she looked at and helped to clear her mind after a long working day. She was naturally present in almost every story Janeway told. Had they really spent that much time together?

Where’s Seven? Isn’t she going with you? The crewman’s question resounded in Janeway’s mind. Well, it just seemed… natural.

“She is a very good friend of mine,” she answered her mother’s comment, closing her eyes over her first sip of coffee and thus missing the glance Gretchen Janeway exchanged with her younger daughter.

“Where is she now?” Phoebe asked after a moment. “Are her debriefings over yet?”

“Yes,” Gretchen Janeway agreed. “You really should invite her over here for coffee. I only saw her briefly at those fussy functions. And since she apparently had quite a good influence on you – I would really like to get to know her a little better.”

“Oh yes,” Phoebe chimed in. ” Do you think I could paint her? Doing her implants would be a real challenge…” She trailed of when she noticed her sister’s raised eyebrow.

“I am afraid she is still in debriefings,” Janeway answered stiffly. “They have thankfully by now decided that she poses no threat, but they are still questioning her about the Collective and her time as a drone.”

“That must be terribly uncomfortable for the poor girl,” Gretchen, who had never warmed up to the assembly of uniforms her husband had been so dedicated to, stated with concern in her voice. “You really should try to get her cleared for at least an evening, and invite her over for dinner.”

Kathryn Janeway sighed. She hadn’t talked to Seven privately in the past two weeks, only at the second official function, while Chakotay had been organizing drinks for the couple, they had a few brief moments to themselves. Janeway remembered how weary Seven had seemed, although she had noted aloud that the unadorned Starfleet uniform did look good on her. The former Borg had smiled briefly at the compliment, admitting abashedly that her debriefings were more intense and draining that she had expected. Afterwards Janeway had tried to intervene with the committee responsible for Seven’s hearings to lighten her schedule, only to find that Chakotay had already seen to that.

One evening, after a particularly stressful session involving questions regarding her interactions with the USS Equinox, Janeway had spontaneously decided to pick up Seven after her hearings at the other end of the huge HQ facility, and had almost run into Chakotay who was already waiting. Janeway had remained in the outer hall unseen. It would have been ludicrous to line up waiting for her former first officer’s girlfriend. But she had wanted to see Seven after practically re-living the Equinox incident during her debriefing. Seven had been crucially involved in her dealings with the other ship and Captain Ransom, and seeing the young woman again, if only to reassure herself that Seven had indeed survived that dreadful adventure unharmed would have been comforting. The image of Seven, exhausted and enfolded in Chakotay’s embrace as the two of them walked off together, her arm linked into his, had haunted her for days. As much as she wanted to reconnect with Seven, and to show the concern she felt for her, she was uncomfortable with the thought of intruding on the budding relationship. Kathryn was sure that if she herself were being courted, she would want to spend the remainder of a stressful day with that person rather than with anyone else. Chakotay would make sure that Seven was fine. It was not her place anymore to worry. But she simply couldn’t help herself.

Kathryn looked up from her coffee at her mother and her sister who had found something else to talk about, used to Kathryn’s new habit of suddenly disappearing in thought in the middle of their evening chats. Being home again felt strange, but it felt good. Although somewhere deep inside, Janeway knew that it would take a long time for her heart to know she was really home. With all her debriefings and the fate of her crew not entirely decided upon, a part of her was still out in the Delta Quadrant. She felt suspended between two worlds. Now that she had reached Earth, she was left feeling aimless, and unsettled. This was not how she thought it would be. She still felt driven, and while most of her crew seemed to be settling in just fine, she was restless.

*****

The deep, slightly erratic breathing was unnerving and the volume just a tad disturbing. It was heavy, and it was disconcerting in the extreme if one listened to it longer than a few minutes. The sleeper didn’t move, not even as Seven scooted closer to the opposite end of the bed, away from the noise. She sighed as she caught the sight of the chronometer on the nightstand. 04:03 and twenty-seven seconds. Without her biosuit it was warm under the covers, too warm with the heat of the body next to her.

Her eyes adjusted easily to the relative darkness, scanning the room for the thirteenth time tonight. It was still strange to be planetside for so long, and to have to adjust to the solar cycle. But Seven wasn’t convinced that the changing light was to blame for her lack of sleep, since the concept of sleep itself was still new to her. She had discovered that her exhausting schedule supported her experiments with the phenomenon, but the results were inconsistent. Tonight, she was unable to induce it.

The living arrangement was unremarkable, she decided, scanning the temporary quarters Chakotay had been assigned by Starfleet HQ, now for the fourteenth time. She supposed she should find these rooms, or even the entirely impersonal standard apartment Starfleet had provided her with for the duration of her debriefings, more comfortable than her previous housing situation. However, she dearly missed the coolness of the cluttered Cargo Bay, and the generous space it had offered. And even though Chakotay’s quarters were much more spacious and personalized than her own, she felt uncomfortable… It was not the fault of the décor she decided; it was simply not an arrangement she wanted. It held no sense of the rest or warmth that even some of the sparsely decorated travel quarters on Voyager had emanated.

Seven remembered the Captain’s quarters, a little smile gliding over her face with the memory, to quickly to be seen. It had been a place without much luxury or overt decoration, but it had always made her feel welcome. Though that might also have been due to the company, Seven pondered. Even if she had come by late at night, the Captain, if sometimes a bit tousled, had always given of her time and attention, just as Seven always would when Janeway took a late night stroll through the ship and ended up in Cargo Bay 2. It was something that Seven had come to rely upon, and something she cherished dearly in her friendship with the Captain. Things had been different on Voyager than they were now – she hadn’t spoken to Janeway in weeks apart from a few hastily captured moments at an official function, and she found herself missing the connection with the other woman severely. She had believed their relationship would not change upon reaching Earth, but Janeway had clearly withdrawn from her, and apparently given up more than only her Captain’s duties with Voyager’s return. – Did she think that Seven’s ‘education’ was complete and that the younger woman no longer needed her support?

She is wrong, Seven thought miserably. I do not feel complete. I miss her. I still need her. The former Borg felt dreary and frustrated. Seven had engaged in the relationship with Chakotay with the idea that having finally accomplished a romance, something that she perceived as distinctly human, Janeway might perceive her as more of an equal. Seven realized that she desired more depth in their friendship than could be achieved if Janeway saw her simply as her student, even if the subject was humanity itself. But instead of proving herself a peer, it seemed to Seven that she had failed. Ironically, her immediate response was a desire to seek Janeway’s advice. However, since Janeway spent every free minute with her family and had not once tried to hail her, Seven was uncertain whether it was still appropriate to seek out Janeway’s company, feeling as if the Captain had made herself unavailable and did not want to be contacted.

I need her advice, Seven concluded. Discussing her problems with Janeway had always helped her, and even now, when her initial intent had been to accomplish something without the Captain, to prove to her that she could master the simple act of engaging in a romance, her first thought was to turn to the other woman for advice. After all Janeway was the one who had always seen some sense in the conducting of a romantic relationship that Seven had never quite agreed with, and could still not agree to now, after having attempted to practice the concept herself. She saw no purpose to this experience, no benefit. While courting rituals were bearable, she had discovered that she did not enjoy the physical aspects of intimacy at all. Romance always seemed to be such a pleasurable endeavor when she spoke of it. Perhaps she could tell me where I’ve gone wrong. She always made love sound like something…so desirable. But here she lay, and she felt nothing. Seven concluded that perhaps she was simply not cut out for romance after all. Certainly not if this was all there was to it.

*****

The sunlight streamed in through the large windows that looked out onto San Francisco bay. A residence fit for an admiral: Admiral Kathryn Janeway. Of course, it wasn’t official yet, but she had already discreetly been told that she would receive the promotion at the banquet that would finally put an end to the tedious hearings and administrative procedures for all of her crew. It had taken another two weeks, but at least she had managed to arrange for a new permanent apartment for herself with the help of the Fleet desk personnel. It was expected that she stay on Earth or in close proximity for the next few years, to adjust to the protocol again, or to ‘relax’, as they called it. It was part of the bargain she had agreed to in order to have the former Maquis pardoned without exception, and to have some of her own actions more or less overlooked.

She did not own many possessions; evident as she set down her two bags containing the things she had brought from Voyager and a few additional personal items her mother had kept for her. Her meager belongings seemed forlorn among the stylish, but comfortable interior. Phoebe had claimed artist’s privilege and gleefully seized upon her sister’s copious ‘back pay’ to turn the new apartment into a living space. Phoebe had been successful, Janeway had to admit. Though the apartment was definitely elegant, it also held a warmth that she considered appropriate, but somehow knew she wouldn’t have appreciated seven years ago.

It held no sense of home yet, but Janeway suspected that she would only need time to adjust after having lived such a long time among the stars. The feelings of loss and restlessness that still remained would fade. She doubted that they would go away completely though – she would hopefully be assigned to new tasks in the near future, but the close-knit unit the crew of Voyager had formed was lost forever. It was a bittersweet notion, that reaching their goal had effectively torn them apart. They were home, and in achieving that, had outlived what held them together for seven long years.

She knew she would see each of them at the official banquet tomorrow, a place for decorations and speeches, but hopefully also a last chance to cherish what they had together. There were new plans already, the former crew members that did not generally reside on Earth planned to visit their home worlds after the weeks of hearings, and new projects within the Fleet itself that were about to commence had recruited some of Voyager’s staff.

Janeway had chosen this day before the banquet to move into her new home, to have somewhere she could go afterwards. A place that was hers, even if it still felt foreign. Determined to add some personal touches to the apartment to ease the loss of the upcoming day, she unpacked the box with her holoimages.

Some of them had already traveled through the entire Delta Quadrant with her, though she had kept them in a padd instead of displaying them openly in her quarters, unwilling to be constantly reminded of what she had lost every time she stepped into what was supposed to be her private sanctuary. Several of the images had been taken during her time in the Delta Quadrant, some of the Doctor’s collection, some from other crew members, one had even been taken by Naomi during a shore leave. And some of the images were new, taken after their return – the official picture of her crew, posing in front of the landed Voyager the day after their return, with the distinct silhouette of the HQ in the background, Janeway herself shaking hands with Admirals Necheyev and Paris, and one a candid shot, taken in her mother’s kitchen by her Aunt Martha, where she sat chatting comfortably with her mother and her sister.

Slowly, Janeway began to organize the images, grouping the more official shots together that were concerning her career, before she sorted through the depictions of her friends and crew. The first one showed her promoting Naomi Wildman to the rank of Captain’s Bridge Assistant, the girl beaming with pride. Then there was the one of a party in the mess hall, Neelix proudly presenting an enormous cake that had subsequently fallen into itself without anybody touching it, the Doctor, of course, recording the moment. Further, a recently taken image of the Torres family – Tom proudly holding Miral with B’Elanna looking at the two indulgently. Another one showed B’Elanna, Harry and Seven at some sort of function, Harry looking as boyish as ever in comparison to Seven’s trademark arrogant smirk. The Captain herself and Seven at Sandrine’s with Tom and Chakotay, after having beaten the men in a round of pool. Janeway couldn’t resist playing the one with the imploding cake again as she put it up.

The top shelf, she reserved for the family pictures she had not displayed on Voyager – an official shot of her father that she had kept in her room as a child, then a picture of an aging Edward Janeway, proudly embracing his daughter at her graduation from academy. One of herself and Phoebe as children, clad in uncomfortable looking dresses she remembered their mother had chosen, and another early, rather madcap shot displaying all four members of the family on vacation, her father actually out of uniform for once.

Janeway reached for the last holoimage that lay top down in the box, smiling fondly as she recognized the picture and placed it on the top shelf. It was the one Naomi had taken on a shore leave when they had landed Voyager to do some repairs, granting the crew a much needed chance of stepping planetside again. Seven had been unusually relaxed, wearing casual clothing, and had spent half of the day explaining photographic techniques to Naomi, in excruciating detail, who had gotten a small camera for her last birthday. At some point Janeway had taken pity on the young girl and whisked her Astrometrics officer away for a walk, remarking that the first forays into taking holoimages generally turned out a little wacky. However, Seven’s theory lessons seemed to have born fruit, or the young Wildman had gotten in a lucky shot, since Naomi had caught them perfectly when they returned from their walk, months later proudly handing the Captain a handcrafted copy for her birthday. The image showed the two woman walking, Janeway fondly looking up at Seven who seemed to be explaining something with that small, almost imperceptible smile around her eyes, the warm afternoon light softening the contours of the landscape.

Stepping back to inspect her decorating work, content with the result, Janeway realized, only when she swept her eyes over the arrangement appreciatively for the third time, that she had put the image of Seven and herself up with the ones of her family.

A bit embarrassed, she reached for image, stilling her movements when she gazed onto the picture in her hands once more. She noted the closeness between the two of them in the image, the look exchanged between them easily transporting the trust and familiarity between them. Seven’s expression was open, like it only seemed to be around her few close friends, and the look she bestowed upon the Captain was soft and intense.

Activating the image, the scene came to life: Seven walking down the path beside her, talking, although Naomi had not recorded the words from the distance – she herself nodded pensively, then smiled as Seven added something. Dodging some obstacle on the path, the younger woman accidentally stepped closer to Janeway, their arms brushing against one another. The Captain watched herself reaching out a steadying arm around Seven who shook her head, smiling at her to indicate she was fine, and they walked on, Janeway fondly looking up at Seven, neither of them readjusting to the now again wider space of the path, until Seven, having discovered Naomi, suddenly pointed at the camera, and then there were the girl’s giggles as both women waved at the camera as they neared the invisible photographer.

I miss her.

The realization came in a rush of unexpected intensity, bringing hundreds of little moments she and Seven had shared over the years with it, some of them dramatic, some of them quiet, some angry, some humorous or tender. But they all were tinged with respect, with trust, and with an emotional depth she had never quite acknowledged during all their time on Voyager.

It seemed that only now that the time they had evidentially spent together had been suddenly ended, that she realized just how much of their lives they had shared.

Janeway sat down heavily on the couch that Phoebe had chosen for her, still staring onto the picture in her hands as if she was seeing it for the first time.

How could I have been so blind?

She was in every story because she was always there. The person who knew her best and whom she had shared most of her time with aboard Voyager was – Seven. It was Seven with whom she discussed her decisions, often late at night. It was Seven with whom she relaxed after a long day in the holodeck, playing Velocity or attempting to show the young woman an appreciation for the intuitive concept of art. It was Seven who aggravated her most, who challenged her most, and it was Seven whom she trusted the most. Enough to have her pilot the ship through a poisonous nebula alone. Enough to risk the ship and everyone aboard in order to rescue her from the Borg Queen. Enough to share her personal time with her.

Everything crucial, everything essential she had shared with Seven, if she had not experienced it with her directly. The moments they shared even while imprisoned with her on an alien ship facing assimilation. Convincing Seven to return to Voyager when her malfunctioning implants had overloaded with information – she had managed to regain Seven’s trust by documenting the bond they shared. Desperately fighting for Seven’s life when her cortical node was dissecting itself. Even considering in that instance to sacrifice the life of a drone to save her.

Why couldn’t I see then the place she holds in my life?

Everything made sense. Now, that she did not have the former Borg in her life anymore, she felt as if a part of it was missing. Seven. The realization hit her with such clarity that Janeway thought it absurd to have been so obtuse.

She shared my life for the past four years.

Feverishly Janeway tried to pinpoint an important situation where Seven had not been with her, or that she had not shared with Seven later. She couldn’t recall any. Only countless visits to the Cargo Bay and Astrometrics came to mind, shared breakfasts and late night discussions.

“Isn’t Seven going with you? It just seemed natural…”

So natural in fact that Janeway had managed not to see that the deep friendship she had developed with Seven had indeed become the most important relationship in her life. They had indeed shared their lives as partners would. Not in a romantic sense, of course.

Another flashback appeared in Janeway’s mind – Sitting in her mother’s kitchen a few weeks ago, telling Phoebe how the Doctor had painted Seven in the nude. She remembered feeling guilty about having commented on it at the time. Of course Seven had always been strikingly attractive, but there had been something more from the very beginning, from the very moment a formerly human Borg stepped from the dais on a cube, announcing that she would speak for the Collective.

They had always worked well together, their countless arguments non-withstanding. They fitted together. Of course, not in a romantic sense.

More memories surfaced.

Seven in the blue-gray biosuit that brought out her eyes so brilliantly.

Seven with her hair flowing down over her shoulders when Janeway had first accompanied her to Unimatrix Zero.

Seven sitting next to her in front of a fireplace after Omega had been destroyed. Their thighs almost touching.

Seven, standing over her, fastening a pip to her dress uniform while discussing the concept of romance – Had I actually been flirting with her?

Seven in her form fitting Velocity outfit, scowling as far as the ex-Borg would allow such an expression at having lost another match against her captain.

Seven in a black turtleneck sweater, her hair braided back smartly, calmly staring at the weapon Janeway pointed at her chest in a simulation of an old Earth war during their first encounter with the Hirogen.

Why was it that she remembered so vividly what Seven had looked like in all these situations? After all there had never been a physical attraction between them….Not in a romantic sense…

Once more, Janeway recalled her initial reaction to the Doctor’s painting, and to the nude hologram that had seemed to her for a moment to actual be her real Astrometrics officer, before she let her head sink into her hands with a shaky sigh.

Oh God…. I’m such an idiot.

Kathryn Janeway sat on the living room couch in her new apartment for a long time, absently staring at the holoimage still lying in her lap.

Finally, one more scene surfaced. Admiral Janeway, the other Admiral, the one who had died to bring them home. The look in her eyes when she had told her younger self that Seven would die. That she would die in the arms of her husband. Chakotay. It all made sense now.

“She loved her,” Kathryn Janeway whispered surprised.

But that was only half of the truth.

“I love her.”

And Seven was alive. Yes, Seven was with Chakotay. But she owed it to the Admiral, to herself, to tell her. Perhaps it wasn’t too late.

It was almost evening when Janeway rose from the couch, the holoimage of Seven and herself cradled in her hands as if it confirmed everything she was thinking.

She is family. She has been for so long.

In a unique way, they were together. Or at least they had been. Janeway sighed. Perhaps there would be a possibility to address this at the banquet tomorrow. There had to be. The future Admiral Janeway had freely given her life to save Seven, violating about every protocol with it, and Janeway suspected that the present Admiral Kathryn Janeway would not handle differently. But the present Admiral still had a chance. And luckily, she’d only have to break social protocol this time. “Thank you again, Kathryn.” she sighed.

Slowly she put she holoimage back onto the top shelf, next to the one where she sat in the kitchen with Gretchen and Phoebe. Smiling contently at the arrangement, she returned to unpacking her bags.

*****

He was late again. Seven paced Chakotay’s temporary quarters with growing impatience although she knew that she was reacting irrationally. Having dealt with unwelcome delay before she was aware that it was not the actual cause for her tense condition. They were supposed to appear to the official welcoming banquet in less than ten minutes, and although the walk to the main building where the gathering would take place was short, she was irritated nevertheless.

Tonight would no doubt require many goodbyes; most of them irrelevant to Seven, but some of them would disturb her deeply. Above all, she looked forward to meeting some of her friends again, Tuvok and the Doctor, Ensign Wildman and Naomi.

And the Captain. Seven increased her pacing. She had no idea what it would be like to see the Captain again, only that she had dearly missed her friend and was afraid that Janeway would formally end their association tonight, deciding she had no more use for her former Astrometrics officer in her personal life. After all, they had barely spoken over the last month, Janeway apparently having no need for the young woman, while Seven had constantly found the absence of her friend most disconcerting. Not only had she needed the other woman’s advice, but, she concluded during the absence of Captain Kathryn Janeway’s constant presence in her life, that their former association had improved its quality immensely, a fact she no longer deemed irrelevant. More disturbing was the fact that this observation was clearly not shared by her former Captain.

She tugged on her uniform sleeves, smoothing out an invisible wrinkle. She remembered that Janeway had complimented her on it when they last met, the memory lightening her mood just a bit. Seven had only seen her once after that, from afar, while the other woman crossed the expanse of the HQ gardens, her stance poised. But even from that distance, Seven could detect the consternation evident in her gait, concluding that she must be on her way into another stressful debriefing and preventing Seven from calling after her.

Another glance at the chronometer. The moments ticked by. Seven felt ill at ease in Chakotay’s quarters. They held nothing that made her feel comfortable. Resigning herself to the fact that Chakotay would be late, she decided to look through the latest data padd of job offers she had already received although she was not officially cleared to be anything other than Voyager’s former Astrometrics Officer. Perhaps that would help her concentrate on something apart from the increasing nervousness. Entering the small office the quarters contained, she activated the work console and waited for it to accept her access codes. Scanning the room she had been to only once or twice before, preferring to work in her own, sterile quarters, she halted when she saw the shelf that covered most of the back wall of the room. It contained various pieces of art from the Delta Quadrant, items she knew Chakotay cherished. There were several holoimages, displaying more historical pieces of Native art, there was one of the crew, and one was from the impromptu welcome reception they had attended together, Chakotay talking to some official, Seven observing the exchange. The center of the shelf was, however, dominated by three images of the Captain, considerably larger than the others. All of them showed her in civilian clothes, two had obviously been taken during shore leave before Seven joined the crew, the Captain’s hair still long. Seven had not given much thought to it before, but as she now noted the exceptionally expensive lining of the images, and the careful arrangement they had been placed in, she felt… anger. Analyzing her discomfort, Seven was surprised to find herself jealous. And even more surprised when she realized she was jealous… of Chakotay.

The outer door opened with a chirp.

“Seven?” Chakotay called from the living room, and, not receiving any answer, looked around, surprised to find the door to his office open, Seven standing in the middle of the room with her back to him.

“I’m a little late, I’m sorry – Are you ready? We have to get going. Not good to keep the brass waiting.” He tried lightly, noticing her discomfort as he stepped up next to her in his new dress uniform. Following her gaze, he noticed she was staring at the pictures of Kathryn. Feeling a sense of foreboding, he looked at her, waiting until she finally said something, though she did not turn her head.

“This is not right,” Seven stated quietly.

“I…” Chakotay tried to say something, but trailed off when he saw the expression on Seven’s face. She wasn’t talking to him, more to herself.

“It has never been right.”

“What?” Chakotay inquired, although he had a fairly good idea of where this was leading.

“Us,” Seven replied, finally turning her head to fix him with a look that chilled him.

“How can you say that?” He protested. “We have been together for over a month!”

Seven just looked over at the lovingly arranged pictures of Janeway and then pointedly returned her glance to him. She didn’t even have to say a word.

Chakotay took a step back. “I never had a chance against her,” he stated bitterly.

It took a moment for Seven to work herself through the implication of his admission. He did not refer to his feelings for the captain that were painfully obvious in his reaction even for Seven of Nine. He was referring to her feelings. Seven thought that to be strange since Chakotay surely had known from the beginning of their involvement that the most important person in her life was Kathryn Janeway, and that the friendship the two women had was the more important relationship in comparison.

In a way she felt sorry for the man who was clearly romantically interested in the Captain and had to face the knowledge of never being able to realize those feelings. Janeway herself had told Seven during one of their late night discussions that centered around Seven’s interrupted romance with Axum, that things had simply changed over time, mentioning an early and quickly overcome attraction to her first officer.

Opposed to Chakotay’s unfulfilled attraction to the Captain, Seven was sure of the woman’s affection towards her, or at least she had been sure of it, knowing that Janeway cherished her as a dear friend whom she confided in even if Seven had missed the other woman severely during the last month. Although Seven still strove to reach a more equal position as a peer with the Captain, she did consider her own situation more fortunate than Chakotay’s who’s feelings for the captain would forever remain unrequited.

“Neither had I,” she observed softly, watching the expression on his face shift, suddenly looking more vulnerable than angry. He did not answer.

Absurdly, Seven felt the jealousy rise again, almost as if she was competing with Chakotay for the Captain’s affection. This could only be due to the doubts the last month had risen with Janeway’s complete withdrawal from them both.

They couldn’t give each other what they truly wanted. Seven had discovered her abhorrence for physical intimacy but wanted a close emotional and spiritual relationship, one like she used to have with the Captain, while Chakotay wanted a romantic and sexual involvement that he could not have with the person he desired most.

“We used each other,” Seven concluded, now clearly recognizing the pattern of their relationship. Chakotay met her gaze without any challenge. “I think we should consider our involvement concluded.”

“You are probably right,” he admitted. He didn’t sound sad, only defeated, as if he had truly hoped to make this work.

Seven looked at him for a long moment, trying to see the man with whom she had shared most of her time during the past weeks, only to come to the conclusion that she did not know him at all. “Perhaps we should not go to the banquet together,” she suggested calmly, surprised to find Chakotay protesting.

“No, I wouldn’t do that to you. I know you’ve been apprehensive.” Seven was taken aback some by the Commander’s concern for her welfare, but when she didn’t answer immediately he added, “Come on Seven, you can’t leave me hanging like that,” and again, Seven needed more than a moment to understand what this was about: It was not a matter of affection towards her. It was a matter of reputation and vanity. He did not want to arrive alone. His reaction disgusted her, but she agreed to accompany him. She had no desire to go to the banquet alone, either, being prey to the strong anti-Borg sentiments among the Fleet brass.

When they left Chakotay’s quarters to make the short walk towards the reception hall, they kept a small careful distance between them.

*****

The large hall was filled with uniformed people, both guests and personnel, and brimming with activity. The official greeting was already over. Thankfully, it had only been a short welcome speech, and Janeway found herself glancing repeatedly towards the entrance doors: Chakotay and Seven had not yet arrived.

In a way she felt nervous about seeing Seven, as if she was about to see her for the first time, and partially, that was true: For the first time she was fully aware of her feelings; fully aware of what exactly the other woman meant to her.

When the doors finally opened to admit the third rush of belatedly arriving guests, among them Seven and Chakotay, her arm formally linked into his, while he smiled broadly into the assembly, she swallowed convulsively, suddenly knowing why she had avoided them both during the past weeks: It hurt her to see Seven with him, making her feel jealous, furious, and helpless.

The official part of the festivity seemed to stretch on interminably as the long list of promotions and announcements were presented, Janeway being the last to be decorated. All the time she waited her gaze was following Seven, not comprehending how she could have refrained from consciously acknowledging her feelings for the woman earlier. It was all so clear now.

The only question now was what Seven’s take on the situation would be. She had not even had a chance to greet her upon her entrance, having been surrounded by a delegation of high ranking officers all clamoring for her attention when all she wanted to do was talk to Seven in private. She figured she was probably the first person promoted to admiral who missed more than half of the speech held in her honor.

Janeway let out a sigh of relief when she was finally allowed to leave the high decorum seat in the front row after all the speeches and announcements were done, including the final one announcing that the dinner banquet was to be served in the bordering hall in a little while. The banquet would still be official but hopefully, less stiff than the Fleet ceremony of decoration had been.

Trying to stretch discreetly, Janeway was surprised to suddenly find Seven standing before her, her heart skipping several beats at the unexpected sight, her mind prominently occupied with noting that the dress uniform did indeed look very good on her former officer.

“Hello Seven.” She suddenly found it hard to breathe normally.

“Captain,” the ex-Borg coolly returned the greeting, but immediately corrected herself. “Admiral. My congratulations.”

“Don’t get started with admiraling me,” Janeway said wryly, indicating with her head for the other woman to follow her out onto the terrace through the large opened double doors. “It’s been a while… how are you doing?”

Seven took a moment before she replied in her typical direct fashion. “I have missed our interactions.”

“So have I,” Janeway was admittedly, surprised to find Seven relying on her Borg bluntness while expressing something personal. She hardly did that anymore, only when she was irritated or when she was uncertain about something. “What about taking a little walk?” she suggested when they entered the huge terrace.

She looked up at Seven to see her nodding in agreement, the brief eye contact between them sending her nerves spiraling. Janeway took a steadying breath, and studiously avoided looking directly into Seven’s eyes. “I missed you, Seven,” she confessed softly.

That earned her one of the smiles so uniquely Seven, the one where the corners of her mouth twitched only briefly, but her eyes lightened up with honest pleasure.

How could I not know that I loved her?

“Seven,” Janeway began, determined to say what she needed to say. “During the last month I have come to realize several things…” She interrupted herself gesturing with her hand for Seven to step further towards the unlit end of the terrace, down to the gardens, where they would be unobserved. She was feeling uncomfortable with the thought of offering her heart to the woman while half of the Fleet promenaded within earshot.

The two women walked in silence for some minutes, only the gravelly path crunching softly beneath their boots.

“How are you?” Janeway finally asked, breaking the silence.

“I am happy to see you,” Seven stated, trying to convey to the Captain how much she had missed her during the recent weeks.

Encouraged by the comment, Janeway bravely began her practiced little speech; far more important to her than the impromptu thanks she had given at her promotion just minutes ago. “Seven. I have to tell you… This will sound strange to you, but I think you should know… the Admiral… I…” This was proving more difficult than Janeway had thought, the close proximity of the young woman, combined with her own nervousness, making it difficult for her to organize her thoughts.

“Captain?” Seven inquired curiously, sensing the other woman’s nervousness.

“I am not your captain anymore, Seven,” Janeway corrected her wistfully. She did not even wear the beloved insignia anymore, instead now adorned with the decor of an admiral.

“You will always be my Captain,” Seven contradicted her softly.

Janeway regarded her former officer for a moment feeling absurdly pleased. “But perhaps you could adjust to calling me Kathryn instead?” She suggested easily.

Seven’s smile warmed her all the way through. “Very well, Captain.” She swallowed lightly. “…Kathryn.”

The name fell gingerly from her lips, as if still uncertain of how it would fit, but Janeway liked it just fine. She would have loved to just stand here with Seven, not saying anything more, just enjoying her presence so close by.

The Admiral died for this, she reminded herself sternly. I should at least be able to say it.

“Seven, I certainly don’t want to interfere with your relationship with Commander Chakotay. I have stayed out of both your lives for that reason over the past weeks – but…” She shook her head, trying anew. “I only want you to be happy, but I have to tell you – this is the game’s end, I suppose, and I missed my chance in all these years…”

Seven took a breath as if to contradict, and Janeway hastily raised her hands, forestalling any interruption. “No, please, let me finish. I had four years to see this, and didn’t because you were always there. Now that you aren’t constantly around anymore, I’ve come to realize what an essential part of my life you were. How essential… you are. – You… you were the one person to share my life the most over the past four years. And the one person I wanted to share it with all along. And I mean share it… completely. – I miss you, Seven. I… I need you in my life.”

Seven stood stunned, grasping the content of the Captain’s words only very slowly as they impacted on her with unforeseen force.

“I am not with Chakotay,” she finally replied, still organizing her train of thought that had been completely disorganized by the Captain’s… Kathryn’s… unexpected admission. “I think I never really was. You are the most important person to me, you always were. He could never change that. I think he was aware of that as I was. And you were, too… I thought. – You… we… I did not assume our relationship would require an acknowledgement like this. It is what I cherish most. I…” Seven halted for a moment, unaccustomed to confessing the emotions she had always thought to be very clear on both sides. “I thought you knew –…I miss you, too. – I never felt the need to alter the format of our relationship. It has always been the most important to me. My failed attempt at romance did not impact on that – I assure you, I am in no need of physical intimacy at all.”

“You don’t…?!” The euphoria at learning that Seven was no longer involved with Chakotay but cared more about her former captain died quickly, turning to confusion. This was not going as she had expected. She had thought that Seven would politely accept her confession, but remind her of the relationship with Chakotay, but instead she was rejecting romance in general.

“I find kissing especially distasteful,” Seven assured her coolly.

“What has this jerk done to her?” Janeway mumbled under her breath, shaking her head before she nervously glanced up at Seven, unable to tear her eyes from those alluring lips.

Do it.

“Would you… would you mind if I kissed you?” She finally inquired shakily. ” Just once?”

Seven impulsively wanted to decline, knowing that she found the suggested action physically repulsing, only to discover in surprise that she was in fact, intrigued at the conjured image, the usual aversion being replaced by a giddy nervousness that could not be defined as unpleasant. “Very well,” she allowed, curiously gazing at the smaller woman.

But rational thought vanished quickly as two elegant hands slid around her neck, grazing past her collarbones, slowly drawing her head down towards a pair of waiting lips that were warm and soft and made her insides tingle with their touch, making her want nothing more but to draw Kathryn closer to her, sliding her own hands around the woman in response. The harsh intake of breath from the smaller woman made Seven’s head spin, losing herself in the touch of those yielding lips completely, opening her own in response. She tensed at first when she felt Kathryn’s tongue tentatively enter her mouth, but quickly relaxed against Kathryn’s body again as the touch remained gentle, increasing in intensity only when Seven initiated it, tightening her hold on Janeway. The exchange went on for long, timeless moments; Seven being suspended in a blissful euphoria where she could breath in Kathryn’s sweet scent and let herself sink into her gentle but insistent ministrations. Seven felt her body responding to the delicate contact in a way she had never experienced. She did not want this to ever end. When they finally broke apart and Seven managed to open her eyes, she found Kathryn looking back at her with huge dilated pupils, her expression slightly fogged, her breath coming quickly.

Anxiously awaiting a response, the silence stretched out into unbearable length straining Janeway’s already frayed nerves. It took long moments until Seven finally broke the silence.

“Captain…” She interrupted herself and started anew, answering the anxious look of the other woman intently. “Kathryn… I think I would indeed mind if you did that just this once and will not repeat it.”

Tentatively, Seven put her arms around Kathryn’s shoulders, drawing her into a close embrace, surprised to find tears stinging at the back of her eyes as Janeway hugged her in response, pulling Seven even closer. Even though their arms were still a bit uncertain, their bodies adjusting themselves to each other a bit gingerly, the embrace held the final reassurance, it conveyed what they felt more surely than mere words ever could.

Neither could have said how long they were simply holding each other, reveling in the feeling of unconditional belonging. A bond that had been there all along. When they finally released each other reluctantly, they were talking at the same time.

“I never knew… ” – “I never thought…”

Janeway shook her head, trying again, knowing now that they had all the time they wanted. “We should go back in,” she remarked with regret.

“Yes, Capt… Kathryn,” Seven acknowledged, and Janeway hoped that her slightly subdued tone indicated Seven was just as taken with the situation and what just had occurred between them, finally, as she was herself, and just as regretful to have to attend the banquet now instead of staying in the gardens in private for a while longer.

As they neared the stairs to the terrace, Seven was one step ahead of Janeway. Quickly climbing the few steps up, she reached the top, and turned around, gallantly offered her hand, the former captain grasping it reflexively, feeling herself drawn up the last steps with gentle strength, towards the lightened plateau, and the noises of the festivity which she heard in the background through the open doors, but most importantly towards Seven.

Pulling her former captain closer to her, feeling the elegant hand in her own, did something to Seven, making her hold fast to the woman when she was level with Seven as she stood before her. Soon, she was drawing her more tightly against her, her other arm settling naturally around Kathryn’s waist as she trapped their linked hands between their bodies. Looking at Janeway from that close proximity, she suddenly found that she required more research concerning the act of kissing and could not prove her hypothesis on just one experience.

The newly promoted admiral never knew what hit her when Seven’s lip passionately crushed against her own, subsequently extinguishing any feeble worry of perhaps being witnessed by the entire Starfleet brass when her mouth was devoured with an intensity that had the woman’s knees literally buckling, Seven’s body smoldering lovingly against her own, so tight in fact that she could even note some of the warm metallic outlines of her implants through the thick fabric of the ex-Borg’s uniform.

Time seem to stretch on indefinitely as she let Seven set the pace, fully allowing herself fall into the mutual exchange. When she was finally, hesitantly, released, Seven still held onto her hand keeping it pressed against her chest. The light smile around her eyes was there again, brighter and happier than Janeway had ever witnessed it.

“I misjudged my dislike for this activity,” Seven stated, and someone who did not know her as well as her former Captain did would not have picked up on the slight twitch in the corners of her mouth, hiding the smirk that was ever so discreetly evident in her tone. “However, I will require extensive sampling to redefine my position accurately. Possibly extremely extensive sampling.”

“Oh my,” Janeway breathed when she was capable of speech again. “I am most certainly not objecting. For the start though… would you simply like to dine with me? Right now?” She gave Seven a crooked smile. “I am sure there’s a seat next to the Admiral I could get my hands on. I’ll have to start exercising the privileges of my new status sometime, won’t I?”

“Yes, Admiral,” Seven conceded primly, formally offering her arm, which Janeway took after a moment of charmed hesitation. Looking at the smaller woman sliding her hand through her arm filled Seven with an absurd mixture of pride and tenderness, and, glancing at her, she added in a much gentler tone, “And… I would also like to have dinner with you… tomorrow?…In private?”

Janeway smiled up at Seven softly, warmed to find her smile returned there. “I’d love to.”

They returned to the banquet hall, their linked arms kept so close to their bodies that their shoulders were touching the entire time. No one even seemed to wonder at seeing them together, not even Chakotay who observed them taking seats next to each other with a pained expression. For the former crew of Voyager, things were as they should be, the Captain in the familiar company of her Astrometrics officer. It was as if it had always been. Naturally.

*****

Late afternoon sun crept through the large windows overlooking San Francisco Bay, painting light shadows onto the bedroom furniture. Kathryn Janeway had learned that from a certain angle, one could even see a bit of the bay from the bed, at least theoretically since at the moment, the view was blocked by an equally lovely shoulder sporting a small silver implant, blond hair spilling over it freely, down, and further onto Kathryn’s stomach.

The apartment definitely felt like home now only after a couple of months, though she doubted that it was due to the décor itself and much more to the company she was keeping. A lot had changed since her promotion to Admiral, most importantly she and Seven having slowly reestablished and enhanced their relationship, tentatively adding the more physical aspects of a romantic partnership to it of which Seven had been exceptionally wary. At least in the beginning. Ever since their slow progress beyond kissing, the younger woman seemed to have overcome her initial disregard for physical intimacies, astonished what romance in all its aspects could indeed hold. And to tell the truth, Kathryn had been overwhelmed by it herself.

“Your expression could be described as smug, Kathryn,” Seven volunteered from where she lay sprawled over her lover’s body, careful to keep the most of her much heavier mass off of her partner, peering intently up at Janeway. “And I have not even mentioned Chakotay.”

Kathryn gazed at her now with what was indeed a smug expression. Seven’s droll outlines of her tepid encounters with Chakotay had only assured Janeway that she had made the right decision in calling off her early attraction to her then First Officer before it had ever come to anything more intimate, the stories being a wholeheartedly appreciated cure to having endured watching Seven with him for over a month, though that was months ago already.

“No,” Janeway smiled. “I am simply feeling wonderful.” She smoothed the tousled hair back from Seven’s collarbones, regarding her tenderly. “I love you. I always have.”

“I always knew.”

Seven sighed contentedly, drawing herself up to lay beside Janeway. “But I admit that adding the complexity of physical intimacy was a brilliant idea of yours.”

“I am glad you approve.” Janeway chuckled as Seven settled her head onto her shoulder, welcoming the warm body closer to her.

Seven remained quiet for a moment, placing her hand softly on Janeway’s stomach before she turned her head to look up at Kathryn again. “Perhaps we should marry,” she then suggested reasonably, drawing her hand in slow, lazy circles over the offered expanse of skin. “Since we obviously have been engaging in ‘most’ of the required interactions already for more than four years.”

She waited patiently for a response, stilling her hand and growing nervous when Janeway stared back at her blankly for long moments. “Kathryn?”

Had Seven just matter-of-factly proposed her?

“Did you just ask me to marry you?” she inquired carefully, unsure whether it had been a serious suggestion.

Seven sat up in bed, looking back at her distraught. “Did I express myself unclearly?”

“Not at all,” Kathryn replied, her eyes very blue as she gazed up at Seven. “I think I would like that very much, my love.” She tugged the younger woman back down to her and drew up one of the tousled sheets around them. “You do of course realize that Phoebe will never let me hear the end of this,” she remarked dryly.

“Indeed,” Seven replied cheerfully. “She has already informed me when I discussed the issue with her that only her sister could be so dense to require four years to see what was right in front of her… ‘bossy nose’, and that if I ever wanted to marry you I would be best advised to propose you myself.”

“Oh,” was all that Janeway managed, completely dumbfounded.

“Your mother approves as well,” Seven added tenderly after a moment, shifting so that the inviting body next to hers was pressed up as closely as possible against her side.

“Well, I’m glad,” Janeway murmured. “I only hope you’ll be worth be worth all the teasing.”

“We shall see,” Seven prompted with her trademark Borg smirk, kissing Janeway on the top of her head.

“I’m not sure I like the sound of that…”

But it was true, Janeway reflected as she busied herself and Seven to prove that hypothesis. Seven would be worth anything. Gone were the feelings of loss and restlessness after she had realized that she had been home with Seven all along. And after really having shared her life with Seven for years, the marriage itself would only be small formality, offering little reason to tease her… or at least she dearly hoped so.

*finis*


~ Anik LaChev 2003 ~

9 thoughts on “Game’s End”

  1. Thank you, I enjoyed this. It’s a bit saccharine, but we need that after all the angst and near-death and that terrible terrible thing with Chakotay they came up with at the last minute to avert any lesbian suspicions I presume (very clumsily done, and raising suspicions rather than averting them, I’d say).
    Just one thing, I can’t get over how you refer to Janeway as “the smaller woman”. It just sounds weird, and belittling, and also I never really thought of her as “smaller” than Seven – shorter, yes, and definitely less busty, but hardly lighter or thinner (that Seven is supposedly stronger has more to do with her implants than her physique I think). In general, I think formulations like “the older/younger/other/taller/blonde/whatever woman” should be avoided – it’s so impersonal and people just don’t think of each other that way. Though I know it gets repetitive to just write their names over and over…

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    1. yes, much as I complained about the hamhanded Chakotay/Seven romance, I think it was rather telling and made the logial (natural!) choices that much more obvious.

      Now, about ten years after writing this story, I see the “smaller woman” trope more critically, though it remains – in the colloquial sense of “shorter, of sligher build” – a staple of J/7 (and other) fanfic. The beauty of a genre not determined by stlye, but by katharsis!
      Rather than repeating names, I think, the issue for me always was that I had – woes of lesbian fiction – too much “her” and “she” that ended up ambiguous if not tied to a signifier.

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      1. Yes, I know all about the she/her confusion, which tends to lead to a lot of repetition of names, which in turn tends to lead to a search for alternatives, like title, profession, physical attributes… But the fact that “the x woman” is a staple is even more reason to avoid it, I think. For me, the beauty of fanfic is style AND katharsis – the katharsis being very dependent upon style (as in paraphrasing the canon well enough to stay in character, and quite simply being well-written enough to build up that delicious tension). Anyway, I’m really looking forward to that Killing Game fic – who can resist Janeway in a white tux?

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        1. style AND katharsis, if possible – but fan fiction is precisely so fascinating to me because of the katharsis being the deciding factor, which reflects in most of the work out there. A too big surplus of style even might detract from the katharsis – still pondering that one. Would be fun to have time for another paper in that area of research. Ah well, fiction first, wasn’t it?

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  2. Interesting idea, I wonder if it’s true for erotica as well? “Surplus of style” sounds a bit like it’s not really good style, or the right style, though – more of an incongruous mannerism distracting from the story? Or do you mean that the style can actually be too good – so good the literary pleasure of reading detracts from the libidinal pleasure of finally seeing your favourite characters in each others arms? For me, I think bad style is always more distracting, and getting in the way of that libidinal pleasure – especially if I can’t “recognise” the characters (and I didn’t recognise my Janeway in “the smaller woman” – it interrupted my suspension of disbelief). Of course, something can be beautifully written but totally OOC and therefore not work as fanfic at all. Successful Star Trek fanfic is probably by necessity in “bad style”, to the extent that it successfully imitates the “low” tv series style of the canon. I think a certain stylistic skill at paraphrasing is crucial to fanfic – but then most fans already have that, they already quote, play, imitate, make in-jokes…
    I’m all for fanfic-related research papers! In fact, that’s what I’m considering for a possible postdoc. Right now of course I just want to write about opera but I don’t know enough about music to do it academically.

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  3. More the style being too good – but yes, the style being too bad would probably also draw attention, although as long as certain triggers are maintained, fan fiction is a very patient genre in that sense. Not unlike erotica, which with it often shares elements, though I find fanfic more charming. Both the non-professionality of the writing and the easy inhabiting of headcanon play into that, I think, which leads to the style mostly not being a conscious choice, a fact that is fascinating in its own right.
    This calls for at least a post-doc! (and please do so in the US, Canada or the Commonwealth, so that the findings will be published in English… we need more monographs on that subject matter)

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    1. Actually, some of my colleagues at Umeå university are already working on an English monograph (US publisher) with close readings of vampire fanfic. If I get funding I’ll probably do it in Sweden, though publish in English, which is perfectly acceptable and even encouraged. But you should pursue your argument in an article as well!
      Actually, I don’t see a difference in quality between a lot of fanfic and a lot of published erotica – or other published fiction, for that matter. I think often it has more to do with “special interest” than writing skills who get picked for publication or not. My colleagues who study Twilight definitely find a lot of the fanfic stylistically superior to the original!

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    2. probably in retirement from that job I’m not having, I’ll see the end of my due publications queue and will have time for fun things that are confined to the blog for now. Until then, I’ll be content to read others’ writings on it.

      I’m not surprosed there’s Twilight fanfic superior in style to the original works – even the original books read like fanfic, with the direct emotive style and camera POV, minus the gender etc. subversion of good fanfic *snicker*(sorry, not a Twilight fan, though the as a phenomenon, it’s fascinating).

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      1. True, it’s sad that stuff that reads like really terrible fanfic but with anti-feminist and heteronormative morals gets published, while fiction with decent political and ethical standards is rejected as too “special interest”. Luckily a lot of fanfic tries to amend or subvert that – some of the Twilight fanfic is not strictly speaking FAN fic but really critical of the canon.

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