Freeing Kathryn by Paulann Hughes

Seven of Nine darted left, attempting to dodge the disk that Kathryn had sent speeding toward her. She lost her footing on the sweat covered floor and the disk hit her right shoulder, but it was her lack of concentration which caused her to trip and fall. She hit the deck hard, damaging her pride more than her posterior parts. Were she not Borg, she would have cursed. But she would not give Kathryn the satisfaction of knowing she felt defeated.

"You seem a bit off your game, Seven," she reached to her and helped her back to her feet.

Kathryn did not release her hand, and Seven felt the touch change. It softened and became a caress. She wished to pull her hand away, not wanting their time tonight to end in the rushed joining that had become their habit. However, she permitted her partner to keep hold of her.

"Are you feeling all right?" Kathryn asked, though Seven thought she sounded more curious than concerned.

"I am merely distracted," she said and became absorbed in studying the tiny redhead standing in front of her.

She had been so certain that Kathryn was intended to be her mate. When the defiant female had forced her from the collective, she had also forced into birth a new part of Seven. A part who understood that one of the benefits of being an individual was being able to choose who you would belong to. She had looked into those stormy, proud eyes and been sure that this woman would one day make Seven a part of her. Of Kathryn. Of everything that she was and did and lived for. So, she had offered herself to her and the captivating Captain had accepted.

But there had been no more nights since that first night. Just moments. Just moments that had left Seven feeling as though there was no difference between being the Queen�s drone and being Kathryn Janeway�s partner. Both wanted her to comply. Both wanted her to be efficient.

And both wanted her to expect nothing in return.

"Well," Kathryn�s voice drew her from her reverie, and she realized that she had worked her arms around Seven�s waist, "I say we take advantage of the time we have left and I�ll� alleviate� your distraction."

"No." She stepped away. She wanted to be with her, but not in this manner. Not anymore. She had grown tired of their sexual encounters being limited to stolen minutes. She had begun to feel resentment at being sent back to her alcove or to her duties once Kathryn was sated. And she had come to hate Kathryn�s stubborn insistence that the truth of their relationship be kept from the crew. It reduced Seven to being nothing more than this female�s sexual partner. It was illogical.

Unless that was all Kathryn wished for her to be.

The thought had occurred to her before. But as much as it hurt, as much as she despised the possibility, it was preferable to the only other reason Seven could think of for her lover�s behavior: that the ambitious Starfleet Captain would feel humiliated to have others know she had copulated with a Borg.

"Seven?" The crack of Kathryn�s command voice cut into her thoughts. She loathed when her partner spoke to her like that in private. It made her feel inferior, and even more certain that she was nothing but a convenience to the Captain.

"Do not take that tone with me, Kathryn," she said. "There are other ways to obtain my attention."

"You�re right," she answered, "I�m sorry. I�m just not used to you seeming so� disinterested� in being with me."

"I am not disinterested in being with you," she said and, again, cursed herself; regretting that part of her which was Borg and would not allow her to lie.

"I�m glad," she said and Seven felt Kathryn�s hand reach to and massage the small of her back, near her implants. It was Kathryn�s silent request for her to disrobe. "Because I really need to be with you, and we don�t have much time. I have to meet Chakotay in twenty minutes."

"I need to be with you, also," Seven said, steeling herself to try, yet again, to get what she needed from Kathryn. "But not like this. You will cancel your meeting. Tonight, we will take our time. We will spend the night together."

"I can�t, we can�t, you know that," Kathryn said and then tried to kiss her, but Seven raised her head beyond the shorter woman�s reach.

"That is no longer acceptable," she said.

Kathryn lifted her hand to Seven�s cheek and stroked her. Seven knew she was attempting to coax her into complying. And with the blessing of those fingers and the breeze of her breath on Seven�s throat, she may have succeeded. But then she said, "I�m sorry. It can�t be any other way."

Seven felt her emerging arousal alter and flare into anger. They had debated this matter often. So often that Kathryn had grown too quick with her excuses to suit Seven.

"No," Seven said, "that is not correct. It can be, but you will not allow it to be."

"And you know why." She had moved her hand to the back of Seven�s neck. The young Borg was amazed, as always, that Kathryn could continue to feel desire even during their most heated arguments. And that she, herself, was always in danger of succumbing to it. "The crew can�t know about us."

"Explain, again, why they cannot. The crew speculates about your relationship with Commander Chakotay. You are not disturbed by that."

"I don�t encourage it."

"You do not discourage it. In fact, many on board believe your dinner meetings to be nothing more than excuses to copulate with him."

"Seven, you know they aren�t."

She did know that. Her enhanced senses and Borg technology would have detected if Kathryn was having sexual relations with anyone other than her. But that truth had come to mean less to her than what her shipmates thought.

"It is not appropriate that the crew believe Commander Chakotay to be your sexual partner when he is not," she said, attempting to keep her voice calm but aware that she was failing to do so. "I am your partner. I do not see valid justification for our relationship to remain a secret."

"We�ve been through this a thousand times, Seven."

"I am tired of pretending, Kathryn."

"I know, but it�s the only way we can be together. You�ve known that. You agreed to it." She drew Seven down to her and said, with her lips pressed to Seven�s lips, "Now, let�s not waste any more time. I need to hear you�"

"No." Seven pushed away from her, breaking all contact between them.

"Seven?" She tried to touch her, but Seven edged away. Kathryn followed her. Seven continued to evade her. "I don�t understand. Don�t you want�"

"You do not care what I want." Kathryn seemed to freeze at Seven�s words and they stood, staring at each other, like combatants ready for battle. "And you are either unable or unwilling to give me what I need."

Kathryn continued to stare at her, silently, almost sullenly and Seven realized that her brilliant and bold partner had no idea what she was talking about. Finally, she asked, "What is it you need, Seven?"

"More, Kathryn. I need more," she answered, and then turned and walked away.

* * * * * *

Kathryn couldn�t imagine what more her young Borg wanted from her. She gave Seven every private minute she could spare. She never let a day pass without making sure they had time together, alone. Whatever was left of her when she was done being Captain belonged to Seven. And only to Seven. She would never let there be anyone else. Not in her bed, not in her mind, not in her heart. Not in her soul. What more could she give the young woman than that?

A too familiar pain pushed through her. It was like electricity arcing from her abdomen to her chest. It was the reminder of what the four pips on her collar had cost her. Without them, she would have married the beautiful blond long ago. There was little to soothe her in the fact that she felt married to Seven; that a couple of rings and the Federation�s blessing couldn�t make her any more devoted to her Borg than she already was. Still, it would have been nice. And maybe that�s what Seven�

"Um, Kathryn?" Chakotay�s gentle voice cut into the line of questions in her mind.

"Hmm?" She�d completely forgotten he was there. "Oh. I�m sorry, Chakotay, what?"

"I asked how you intend to address our little problem."

"What problem?"

He laughed at her. She knew he wasn�t trying to be unkind, but she felt foolish anyway. Apparently, she�d missed some point he had already made.

"I�ll start over," he said. "The Doctor came to see me earlier. It seems that Ensign Zor came to him with a rather� unusual� request that has him a bit worried."

"Zor?" She thought about it for a minute, then remembered a lovely and very young Bajoran/Betazoid hybrid. "Right, Ceron Zor, down in Life Sciences. She and Seven did the work on the Tondorian remains we recovered. So what could she possibly want that would rattle the Doctor? A still breathing specimen to dissect?"

He grinned and she watched as a blush began to creep up his neck. "Well, she wants something breathing but� not to dissect."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning," he drew in a deep breath and the blush claimed the rest of his face, "she seems to have developed a rather serious� attachment� to Seven of Nine and asked the Doctor to educate her in Human and Borg female sexual�"

His words slammed her back in her chair, the rage they evoked breaking like a tidal surge on her. It took her and tossed her reason away. And into its place it swept jealousy. Blind, ferocious, jealousy. She balled her hands into fists and slammed them on the table, swearing, cutting Chakotay off, refusing to hear the rest of it.

"That�s enough," she said.

"Look, Kathryn, normally neither the Doctor nor I would involve ourselves in the crew�s� activities."

"But?" She knew there was a but. There was always a but with Chakotay.

"But," he smiled and Kathryn wanted to smash him one for always being so damned pleasant, "Seven seems to feel more comfortable with you than�"

"Get to the point, Commander."

"The Doctor, and I, thought it would be a good idea if you had a chat with Seven about� well, you know� What with Seven being a virgin and Ensign Zor having the combined� drives� of a Betazoid and�"

Kathryn pushed up from the table with such fury that Chakotay actually recoiled. She didn�t even try to catch the words before they left her throat. "If she touches Seven, I�ll kill her."

"Kathryn� I�" he softened his voice even more than normal and she knew he was trying to calm her. "I know how much Seven means to you, and I know you don�t want to see her hurt, but, it�s her choice whether or not�"

"Like hell it is."

"What do you mean?"

She looked him dead in the eye, knowing she had to tell him something to explain how she�d reacted; accepting that she had to tell the truth. She clenched her jaw and said, "Seven isn�t a virgin."

"Oh, all right, but I don�t see why, then, you�re so upset that she and Ceron�" She saw the realization settle in his eyes. "Kathryn? You?"

"Yes. Me."

"I� I had no idea."

"That�s the way I had hoped to keep it."

"Are you two still� I mean�"

She snapped, furious at his implication. "Do you think I�d take her and then abandon her? I�m not Tom Paris!"

"No, of course not, I didn�t mean�" He folded his hands on the table in front of him. "I�m sorry, Kathryn. This just took me by surprise."

She could feel her anger ebb. She sat down and covered his hands with hers.

"I�m sorry, too, Chakotay. It isn�t your fault. I� it�s just that Seven and I have been having some problems and� she� she doesn�t seem happy with me anymore." She paused and stopped herself from biting her lip. She didn�t want her first officer to see how insecure she�d begun to feel. "I just never expected anyone to� become so interested in her."

"Kathryn, how could you not?" His tone made her feel like she was in a counseling session. She resented it, but kept quiet. She knew, whatever he had to say, he really was only trying to help. "She�s not only the most beautiful woman on board, she�s the most intelligent as well and, since no one knows of your relationship with her, she�s also considered the most eligible."

Her head shot back as if she�d been slapped. She was sure Chakotay could read the fear in her face. She pulled her hands out from under his and leaned back in her chair. She thought about what had happened between her and her young Borg not an hour ago. Seven�s words returned to her, cutting her, causing her throat to close; making her whole being feel as if it were collapsing in, on her.

"Kathryn? You okay?"

"I�m worried, Chakotay," she said, knowing that � with him � she didn�t need to say more.

"Seven doesn�t strike me as the type who would do anything behind your back, Kathryn," he said, and raised his brow, crinkling his tattoo in the way Kathryn knew always meant trouble. "Even if it is her choice."

She shot him the look she usually reserved for making ensigns wish they were wearing a diaper. "What the hell does that mean?"

"Earlier, you implied it wasn�t her choice whether or not she would� be with Ceron. But it is, Kathryn." He reached for her hands again. "Regardless of what you two may share, or what you may feel for her, it is still her choice. You�re her lover, Kathryn. Not her commanding officer."

She absorbed that fact with about as much gusto as she�d use to stick her hand into a plasma fire. He was right, as he usually was. She couldn�t just order Seven to be faithful, or to stay with her. She�d just always assumed Seven was as committed to her as she was to the young woman, but she couldn�t make her be.

"Kathryn?"

"Yes, Chakotay?" She raised her eyes to meet his.

"What do you feel for her?"

"Like you said, I�m her lover."

"I know, but do you love her? Are you in love with her?"

She felt her intestines tense, her stomach churn. How could he think that she wasn�t? Did Seven think she wasn�t? Maybe she�d never said the words to her, but, surely Seven had to know... She sighed and found her friend�s kind eyes again.

"I love her more than..." She paused, wondering how to express it; how to make him privy to the emotions that had always left her at a loss for words. "Than even this," she said and gestured to the ship around them.

"Does she know that?"

"I�don�t know. I� I never�" What had possessed her to stay silent? What had made her think Seven wouldn�t need to be told how she felt? To assume that someone who had been so young, so isolated, when they�d become lovers would just� "Oh, God, how could I have done that to her?"

He leaned toward her. "Kathryn, you need to tell her."

"Why? Why now? It�s probably too late." She cringed at the self pity in her own voice.

"Because it may make all the difference. The Doctor�s convinced that Ensign Zor�" he drew a deep breath and Kathryn knew he was stalling.

"Just tell me, Chakotay."

"He�s sure that Ceron is, also, in love with her. And we both know the Bajoran talent for making their feelings known."

"Dear God," was all she could think to say.

* * * * * *

"Hey, Seven! Hi!"

Seven looked up from the Antillian Ale she had been staring into and saw the Ensign from Life Sciences approaching her. She was one of the few people on board actually younger than Seven herself. She was energetic and ebullient and Seven found her alternately amusing and irritating. She had enjoyed working with the innovative biologist. But their encounters had usually left her feeling drained and somewhat uneasy, although she had not been able to identify why.

"Ceron Zor," she said, intending only to be polite and then to be left alone.

"Do you� mind if I join you?" She motioned to the empty bar stool beside her. Seven considered her request and then, not wishing to hurt the Ensign�s feelings, nodded her consent. "I don�t think I�ve ever seen you come to Sandrine�s alone before, Seven. And I didn�t know you drank alcohol."

"I do neither. Normally." She swirled the drink in its glass, attempting to make it foam again. "Mr. Neelix suggested the environment and Mr. Paris suggested the beverage."

Then they fell silent. Seven could see through the corner of her eye that the Ensign never took her own eyes from Seven�s face. She felt as if she were beneath one of the ancient microscopes Zor used on special experiments. She did not like the sensation and was about to say so when she remembered the girl�s heritage.

"You are telepathic," she said.

She laughed and leaned toward Seven. Then she whispered, "Actually, I�m only a little bit empathic. But, I like to let the rest of the crew think I�m a full telepath. Keeps �em on their toes."

"How is that possible? You are half Betazoid."

"Yeah, but, that�s on my father�s side. I get the Bajoran from my mother and, well, you know� Bajoran females, Bajoran genes�" She tapped the bar, signaling for service. "You don�t seem to be enjoying that ale, Seven, how about something non-alcoholic and� warm?"

"Such as?" She looked at the Ensign and wished she had not. The girl�s eyes were like the green of a Terran Spruce tree, deep and dark, and the way they seemed to nestle her nose ridges made Seven forget how to breathe.

"What about a good, old fashioned, hot cocoa? That shoul�" Zor brought her gaze to meet Seven�s and seemed to lose her own breath. Then she appeared to recover and said, "You know what would be even better? A walk. Would you like to take a walk, with me, Seven?"

Seven began to breathe again. However, her thought processes seemed to be trapped in a loop. They would not allow her to look away from that forest before her. She recognized these feelings. She had experienced them often, with Kathryn; though never before with anyone other than Kathryn. That was why their presence unnerved her now. Not for the fact that she was feeling them. But for the fact that she was receiving pleasure from feeling them toward this female.

She realized she was trembling. And that the other patrons were watching them. But before she could shake herself free of this inexplicable fascination with the Ensign, she felt Zor�s hand slip onto her own. They were still looking into each other�s eyes. She watched as that dark green turned almost black with desire. There was no doubt in her mind that it was desire. The perfume of Zor�s passion was already pulling Seven closer, closer, to a place she knew Kathryn would never forgive her for going.

Nor would she forgive herself.

"Zor," she said, stood, and withdrew her hand from the Ensign�s. She was in danger of betraying Kathryn and that was not acceptable. "I do not�"

"Ceron, Seven." The girl also stood and glided nearer to her. Seven realized that she, too, was trembling. "Please call me Ceron. Zor is my last name. I know it gets confusing because Bajoran�s do it last first and Betazoid�s do it�"

"Ceron," Seven interrupted her, wondering how she was capable of seeming so aroused and could yet be so talkative. "I am experiencing inappropriate feelings toward you and must leave."

They were the same height, and standing so close to each other that Seven could feel the cool breath of the Ensign�s words when she said, "They�re only inappropriate if one of us isn�t interested in pursuing them." Then she leaned forward just enough to whisper into the stunned Borg�s ear. "And nothing has interested me more, for months, than the thought of making love with you."

Seven had to struggle to keep from turning her face toward the half-Bajoran�s lengthy black hair. She did not understand the impulses which were pounding through her. They were making her wish to disregard her promise of fidelity to Kathryn. Then two of Ceron�s words sifted through her racing thoughts: making love.

She had been Kathryn�s lover for nineteen months and had never heard the Human refer to their copulation with those words. She was familiar with the words, and the meaning behind them. But, it had not occurred to her, until now, that perhaps this �making love� was what may be missing from her relationship with Kathryn.

"Explain, �making love�, Ceron." She still could not bring herself to step away from the young scientist. So when the girl placed her lips on her ear and sighed, Seven was too near to resist putting her hands on the Ensign�s waist.

"Oh, Prophets. Seven. You smell, you feel, more incredible than I imagined." Ceron had settled one hand on each of Seven�s biceps. The Borg did not resist. She was too frightened to even move. So they stood like that, arms and hands on each other, Ceron�s lips resting on her ear, as the potpourri of their shared desire drifted up to her, making her wish she did not possess an enhanced sense of smell.

Seven�s internal chronometer marked the minutes as she and Ceron stayed, unmoving save for the way they quivered under each other�s touch. And with each instant that inched away, her fear grew. She did not want to betray Kathryn and she did not understand why her body was becoming increasingly insistent that she should do just that.

Finally, Ceron shifted and drew back just enough to allow Seven to see into her eyes. "Don�t be afraid," she said. "I can sense that you are and that you�re not� really sure about this. Or maybe you�re not sure about us. I can�t tell which it is."

Seven remained welded to the spot as the girl looked from her face to her throat to her breasts and then back again before she continued speaking. "Making love, for me, Seven, with you, would be something constant. Not just something saved for bed, but something we would do all the time. Taking meals together. Talking. Working. Playing hologames. All the time."

"I� do not believe I understand," she said, despite the fact that she felt sure she did understand. She would just prefer to be wrong. Because, if she were right, it would mean that she and Kathryn had never made love; that Kathryn did not love her.

"Seven, to me, making love is an emotion, not an act. It�s the feeling you put into everything you do with the person you love. And because it�s a feeling, it can be there at any time, all the time." She moved her mouth back to Seven�s ear. "Like right now, for example."

Seven tensed at the renewed contact and Ceron suddenly pulled away. "Prophets," she whispered and dropped onto a stool, "you already have somebody else."

"I thought," Seven said, and could not resist grinning, "that you were only a �bit� empathic."

"Well, okay." The young Ensign looked as if she had been caught cheating on a Starfleet examination. "A bit more than a bit. I only said that because I didn�t want you to be nervous around me. I didn�t want you to try to keep a clamp on your feelings just because you thought I might be able to sense them. But, I am only empathic, not telepathic, so I can�t actually read�"

"Ceron," Seven cut the girl�s ramblings off, "I was attempting to joke with you. I am not angry."

"Oh, well, boy, I�m glad." She sighed and Seven saw regret fill her face and her eyes return to their original green. Seven gritted her teeth, chewing back the wish to make those eyes darken again. "Look, I�m really sorry. I� I shouldn�t have just assumed you were available. It�s just that I� um� I really do care for you. And well, you were feeling, um� responding�"

"Yes, I was," Seven said, though she was grateful to feel her that her body�s responses to the younger Ensign were receding. "You are a very desirable woman, Ceron Zor. However, I love someone else."

"But you�re not happy," Ceron said very simply and Seven understood it was meant as a statement of fact, not a question.

"I am uncertain of the future of my current relationship," she acknowledged and decided to entrust her young friend with the truth. "I am uncertain if she loves�"

"Oh no. Oh heck." Ceron leaped to her feet, seeming very distraught. "It�s the Captain. Oh no, I tried to seduce the Captain�s� And I went and told the Doctor about how I felt about� Oh Prophets, how much lower can they bust me than an ensign?"

"Ceron Zor," Seven began, deliberately dropping her tone to a dangerous level, "You said you were not�"

"I know. But, I am. A little. I�m a little bit telepathic too. But only if you�re really focused on something, like you were just now thinking about the Captain."

"Is there anything else you would care to admit to before we continue our conversation?"

"Well, um�" She sat down again and slumped back against the bar. "I kinda know it all, now. I didn�t when we first started talking, but, when we were standing together and you were thinking about� I didn�t know it was the Captain �till just now, but�" Then she paused and Seven watched her face flush. "And, well, it�s no accident that I bumped into you tonight. I asked the computer where you were because I� I really do care for you and�"

"That is enough." Seven could not stop herself from placing her fingers across the girl�s lips in order to silence her. "Then you understand that it is the Captain that I love." She paused and Ceron nodded. "And you understand that although I am experiencing sexual desire for you, I am unsure of the origin or validity of those feelings." She waited until Ceron confirmed her statement, then asked the question she knew she had to ask, to take the risk she knew she had to take:

"Then, would you still be willing to make tentative plans with me for a walk, tomorrow, following your duty shift?" She moved her fingers to allow Ceron to respond.

"Why would you want to if you�re in love with Captain Janeway?"

"Because I am not sure the Captain loves me." She paused, allowing herself a moment to consider and choose her next words. "And because I wish to know what it is like to be loved."

Ceron stood and Seven permitted the girl to place a hand on her cheek. "All right, tomorrow," she said.

"You do understand that it is only tentative? I do not wish to hurt you, but I cannot guarantee that I will feel the same tomorrow."

"I want a chance with you, Seven, but I know where your heart is. And I know that right now you�re not ready to give up on the Captain. So, why don�t you go talk with her? If you�re not going to keep our date, leave me a message. I'll know then that you got what you really want, and with the one you really want." She leaned in and Seven accepted a very, very soft kiss from her. "But if things don�t work out with the Captain and I don�t hear from you, I�ll be waiting for you in the Arboretum at 19:00 hours tomorrow."

Then the breathtaking hybrid left Seven to wonder what she was going to tell Kathryn.

* * * * * *

Kathryn prowled her cabin like a caged cougar. After Chakotay had left, she�d used the computer to track Seven down. She�d wanted to see her, to talk to her. But the Borg had already been in the company of Ceron Zor. The angry Starfleet Officer had had to call on every bit of her training to stop herself from storming into Sandrine�s to drag her woman out.

She tried to put a cap on her temper. It seemed as if things had gotten out of hand so fast. But, she knew in her heart, it hadn�t been that fast at all. Seven had been trying to loosen the rules Kathryn had imposed on their relationship for some time. She�d just been too damned stupid to see that the Borg wasn�t simply testing her limits. That she had grown into a woman desperately in need of things Kathryn wasn�t giving her.

She couldn�t believe she�d been so narrow minded. It wasn�t that she didn�t want to fulfill her young lover�s needs. She wanted to be everything that the bright and brave Borg could need or want. It had just never occurred to her that she wasn�t. But she knew, now, that she�d better let it occur to her and damn quick or she was going to lose Seven. And she�d rather lose her ship and her command and her life than lose Seven.

If she hadn�t already lost her.

The thought made her feel faint. She stumbled toward a chair, needing to sit, but, before she reached it, she heard Seven�s voice.

"Seven of Nine to Captain Janeway."

She slapped her comm badge and rushed to answer her. "Yes, Seven, I�m here."

"Captain, I am outside your cabin, but, you have initiated the privacy lockout."

Kathryn ordered the computer to disengage the lock and nearly ran to the doors. When they slid open, her beautiful Borg was standing before her. "I�m sorry about locking you out," she said. "After our last� talk� I wasn�t expecting to see you. I�m glad you�re here."

Seven moved past her, then turned to face her. She was paler than normal and Kathryn would have sworn the Borg was on the verge of tears. Her hands were at her sides, rather than behind her back, but they were clenched into fists.

Kathryn stepped toward her and asked, "Seven, are you all right?"

"I was frightened," she said. "When I could not get in� I thought� because I had refused you that you had found someone else�"

"Never," she cut her off, resisting the urge to throw herself into her young lover�s arms. "I would never do that. There is no one else, anywhere, Seven, that I would share myself with."

"I�" The tears had begun to spill down Seven�s cheeks and she was shaking. "I am sorry, Kathryn," she said and Kathryn could tell that she was doing everything she could not to break down completely, "I am confused. I do not want anyone else to�" Her fists tightened until her knuckles went white. "You are mine. And yet� I considered giving what is yours to� to�"

"Ceron Zor," Kathryn whispered, needing to make sure there would be no pretenses between them. No lies. Seven stared at her, her face streaked with tears and worry and fear.

"How did you know?"

"I was afraid too, Seven. So I was� kind of keeping tabs on your whereabouts tonight." Kathryn sighed and guided her to the sofa. "Apparently, Ensign Zor went to the Doctor for some� courting� advice regarding you. The Doctor went to Chakotay and Chakotay came to me."

"Why would they do that? They do not know that you and I�"

"Well, Chakotay does. Now." She wanted to laugh at the shock that stripped all other emotions from Seven�s face.

"So does Ceron," Seven whispered, finally, and Kathryn knew the young woman was afraid of what her response was going to be. She lifted Seven�s arm and settled it around her shoulder, then lowered her head to rest against the Borg. At first, Seven tensed and Kathryn thought she might bolt, but then she relaxed and brought her other hand to rest against Kathryn�s abdomen.

"It�s all right, Seven," she said with the practiced calm of a diplomat. "I�m sure you had good reason for telling her."

"I�" She felt Seven shake herself, as if trying to clear her head. "Kathryn?"

"Yes?" She brought her hand to rest atop Seven�s and welcomed the ripple of relief that ran through her. Her Borg had said she�d "considered" being with Ceron, which meant she hadn�t actually gone through with it. Which meant, at least for right now, that she was still hers.

She felt Seven�s thumb very lightly stroking her stomach and the young woman said, "We have not sat together like this before."

"You�re right. I like it." She snuggled nearer to her. "Do you?"

Seven didn�t respond. Kathryn knew her lover well enough to know from the change in her breathing that she liked it very much indeed. But, as much as she wanted to be the immediate cause of further changes in Seven�s breathing, she also knew they needed to finish their conversation. "Seven, we need to talk about Ceron. And you."

She felt Seven�s Borg hand tighten its grip on her shoulder. She held still against the pain, knowing she wasn�t trying to hurt her. She was just afraid.

"I� am so confused, Kathryn."

"Go on," she prodded, accustomed to having to pry most information from Seven. Then she listened quietly and attentively while Seven explained, in devastating detail, everything that had happened between her and Ceron Zor that evening.

"Kathryn," she said when she�d finished. Seven had lifted her onto her lap near the end of her story. Now she allowed herself to be turned to face her trembling lover. "When I was with Ceron, I wished to allow her to� But, now that I am with you, here, like this, I am not sure I wish to permit anyone but you to� to�"

"Make love to you, Seven?" She deliberately chose the words that had seemed so important to Seven in her retelling of her talk with Ceron. She had been shocked, and hurt, to learn that Seven hadn�t believed that their times together could be described as love making. Then she�d realized that � even on the rare occasions when she�d brought Seven to her quarters � she�d given her no romance before and no tenderness after. And absolutely nothing in the times in between their having sex.

"Yes, Kathryn." Seven sounded unsure, insecure, and Kathryn hated herself for having made her feel unworthy of the one thing she deserved most. She brushed her fingers along Seven�s ear. She knew damned well they wouldn�t be having this conversation if she hadn�t dismissed Seven so blithely in the past. If she�d only listened to her. If she�d only heard her.

"Seven, I�ve been so wrong about� so many things. And I want to make it up to you, to give you everything you need. Everything. I know that Ensign Zor can give those things to you, Seven, but so can I." She moved her fingers to caress her Borg�s full lips. "Will you let me be the one?"

When Seven hesitated in answering, she wanted to take advantage of her position straddled around the Borg�s waist and make her yield to her. It would be easy. She�d done it so many times in the past when Seven had been reluctant. But she wouldn't do it now. This meant too much to the younger woman. More, probably, than having given Kathryn her virginity. Because, now, she was trying to decide who she was going to give her heart.

Seven ran her hand along Kathryn�s neck and pulled her into the most gentle kiss they had ever shared. Then, she released her. "I desire you, Kathryn, and I wish to have sex with you tonight. Now. But� I do not know the answer to your question."

"Well, then," Kathryn slid off Seven�s lap, taking care not to rush, not to let her see the fear and the hurt that were hammering at her heart, "I don�t think we should do this until you do."

She tugged the obviously unnerved Borg to her feet and led her to the door. If Seven stayed, she would take her up on her offer. That would be the worst thing she could do to her very confused lover.

At the door, she permitted the Borg to pull her into a hug. Seven brushed the bangs from Kathryn�s forehead and rested her own against it. "When will I see you, Kathryn?"

She knew Seven had a date with Ceron for the next night, and she�d be damned to the Delta Quadrant forever before she�d let them see each other without having time with Seven first. "Meet me in the mess hall tomorrow for breakfast. 0600 hours."

Seven nodded and started to go, but then turned and with more terror than Kathryn had ever seen in the Borg before, asked, "Kathryn, you will not� make love with anyone else� before I decide?"

"Seven," she tipped Seven�s face to her, insisting on eye contact, praying that her frightened love would see the truth as she heard it spoken, "I have never made love with anyone but you and I never will."

Then she gave her a kiss that would leave no doubt in the Borg�s mind that Kathryn Janeway knew damned well how to make love.

* * * * * *

Kathryn got to the mess hall early. She wanted to make sure she could snag a table in clear view of all the other tables. She�d spent too much time hiding Seven in the corner and now she was dealing with the consequences of it. Starting this morning, things were going to change.

She ordered coffee for herself and milk for Seven. It was one of the few beverages she knew the Borg actually enjoyed, though she�d never understood why. She passed on the food, since neither of them much cared about breakfast, and settled herself into the seat facing the door. She wanted to be the first person Seven saw when she walked into the room.

Soon, the doors began to open and she felt her blood pressure rise. She started to stand but then dropped, disappointed, back into her chair. It was only Chakotay. He saw her and headed right for her.

"Go away," she said through gritted teeth when he got close enough that she wouldn�t have to shout to be heard.

"Par� pardon me?" He looked positively dumbfounded.

"I said get lost." She motioned for him to move on. "You�re going to ruin everything. I�m waiting for Seven."

His face lit up. "I see," he said, "private party." And then his eyes glinted with mischief. "Shall I just make the mess hall off limits to all personnel for the morning?"

She stood and leaned across the table toward him. "Actually, Commander, if you�d really like to be of help, you could� entice� as many of the crew as possible to stop by this morning."

"Oh?" he asked and she knew he had another smart ass remark ready so she cut to the chase.

"It�s time to make it clear that Seven is taken."

"I�ll see what I can do," he said, "and I�ll do you one better."

"And what would that be?"

"Seven isn�t scheduled for duty today. There�s nothing urgent on your desk, so, why don�t you take the day with her?"

"I�m not sure that�s what Seven would�" Her answer was choked off in her throat. Seven had stepped through the doors. She had let her blond hair fall free and had tucked it back, behind her ears, just the way Kathryn loved it. She was wearing long, loose, navy blue slacks and a flowing beige silk blouse. Every bit of the clothing accentuated her beauty, her femininity, in ways that were making Kathryn salivate.

"Oh, God," was all she could manage to say.

Chakotay laughed and said, "I�ll take that as a yes, Captain." Then he nodded to Seven as he passed her. "Good morning, I hope you and Kathryn have a pleasant breakfast."

The most delightful smile filled Seven�s face, "Thank you, Commander," she said and then turned that smile on Kathryn.

"Oh, God," she muttered again and realized that the crew who were already present had stopped eating and were staring at her. She knew she should say something else, or sit down, or� anything� but all she could do was stare at the absolute loveliness standing in front of her.

"Good morning, Captain," Seven said and laced her hands together behind her back. She was obviously waiting for her to make the next move. When Kathryn didn�t, she said, "Do you wish me to carry your coffee to our usual table, Captain?"

"Not Captain," she finally found her voice, "Kathryn."

Seven looked at her and she saw the uncertainty in the Borg�s eyes. But the young woman said nothing and Kathryn knew it was because she was staying true to her promise to keep their relationship secret. It was time to free her from that promise.

She forced herself to take a breath and then walked around the table, to Seven. Then she said, loud enough to regain the attention of those who had politely stopped staring at her, "The Commander has been kind enough to give me the day off to spend with you, Darling, so, I�m not on duty. So you can dispense with the rank and call me Kathryn." Then she added for the benefit of those whose chins hadn�t yet hit their tables, "Like you do when we�re alone."

And then she found herself absolutely enthralled when her young Borg actually blushed.

"Are� are you sure?" Seven whispered, seemingly ignorant of the fact that the only sound in the room now was their conversation.

"I�ve never been more sure of anything," she answered and gave her a kiss that was intended to appear anything but chaste. When she stepped back, Seven�s human hand shot to the spot Kathryn�s lips had just left and touched it, as if to ensure herself that Kathryn had, indeed, kissed her in front of all these people. "Why don�t we sit down? I missed you."

Seven started toward the corner table, but Kathryn took her elbow and guided her to the one she had secured earlier. She got Seven seated and then pulled her own chair around and next to hers. Then she looked up and deliberately made eye contact with Harry and Tom, who were directly across from them. She nodded and Harry hesitantly returned the gesture, looking as if he�d just caught his mother in bed with his wife.

"Would you care for anything other than the milk, Darling?" she asked and draped her arm across the back of Seven�s chair, returning her attention to the woman who�d claimed her heart on a Borg cube so long ago.

"Kathryn, I do not understand." She ran her eyes around the room and then leaned to Kathryn�s ear. "Why do you call me �darling�? I have not heard you use that term of endearment toward me before."

She took Seven�s chin in her hand and turned her until they were looking into each other�s eyes. "I should have been calling you that since the first time we�" She smiled rather than finish the sentence. She knew Seven would understand and she wasn�t quite ready to take their new openness that far in front of the crew. "I�m sorry that I didn�t."

Seven seemed at a loss for words but then said, "I forgive you, Kathryn."

"I�m glad." She moved her hand from the chair back to Seven�s shoulder. "You look incredible, Darling. I�ve never seen you wear anything like this before. What�s the occasion?"

Seven blushed again and Kathryn felt butterflies start to kick around in her gut. She felt her heart actually flutter as her mind ran with the possibilities of what that blush might mean. She put her lips to her ear and said as softly, as seductively, as she could, "Tell me."

Her young Borg caught her gaze. The look in her eyes made Kathryn wish they were anywhere but in front of fifteen people. But then, when she realized that the desire on Seven�s face was probably as evident to them as to her, she felt rather smug.

"I cannot," Seven finally said. "Not here."

"Does�" She had to stop, to swallow back the urge to reach the hand that was resting on Seven�s shoulder around and down. Down. Into and under that billowing blouse that seemed to be begging for her entry. "Um� does that mean you can answer my question now?"

"No. It means I wish for us to continue our�" It was her turn to smile rather than finish.

Kathryn couldn�t take her eyes from that mouth; remembering the times it had torn her asunder with pleasure and the times it had taken her to task with words. It was the essence of what they were: passion and pain and disputes and desperation. She stared at it for several more, searing, moments; unable to rouse herself from what the sight of it, the nearness of it, the memories of it, were doing to her.

And then she knew that she would never refuse Seven. Not even if the young Borg gave her love to someone else. So she said, "So do I."

The smile faded from Seven�s face and was replaced by something Kathryn didn�t think she�d ever seen in her young love before: undaunted lust.

"I am glad." Seven shifted so that she was as near to her as she could be without actually sitting in Kathryn�s lap. She drew in a shaky breath and ran her eyes over Kathryn�s face and body before continuing. "Because I have been unable to think of anything else."

Seven�s scent surrounded her. It was fresh and light and robust and the most sensual thing she had ever smelled, and Kathryn knew that if the young woman moved any closer she was going to embarrass herself in front of her crew. She swallowed again and made herself ask the question she wished she could just forget. "What about Ceron?"

"I do not know," she said. "I only know that you are the one I want to be with now." She covered Kathryn�s hand, sliding her thumb into her palm, massaging it, making Kathryn shudder with the thought of that same pressure elsewhere on her body. "Do you wish to be with me?"

"Yes," she said, afraid to say more; knowing that if she tried, the words would be incoherent and guttural and would leave no doubt in her crews minds of the depths to which Seven drew her .

"Then, since you do not have duty," Seven said, "why do you not take me to the holodeck and prove it to me?" She stood without waiting for an answer and Kathryn found herself being led willingly past her astonished crew and out the door.

* * * * * *

As soon as the holoprogram was complete, Seven lifted her stunned partner into her arms. She carried her to the picnic blanket that was spread out in the center of the small clearing. But, once there, she did not put her down. It was the first time Kathryn had allowed Seven to lift her like this and her lithe body was too pleasing to release. Her form was exceptionally erotic. Exceptionally feminine. Like her scent and her sounds and her taste. Seven found Kathryn considerably arousing to hold in this way, and she wished it were possible for her to take pleasure from her in this position.

"Seven," Kathryn said, "I�ve never seen such a beautiful setting. What place is this?"

"It is from Plazon, a class M planet near the Crax nebula. The Borg assimilated its inhabitants eight years ago." She could not resist kissing Kathryn before she continued. "They were skilled in their sexual inventiveness and�" she paused and kissed her again, taking Kathryn�s tongue when it was offered, welcoming the demonstration of Kathryn�s desires and returning the request in kind.

"And�" She found it difficult to catch her breath when Kathryn broke the kiss. Kathryn rarely allowed her to initiate their sexual interactions and she found the fact that she was being permitted to do so now� intoxicating. She inhaled deeply, to enable herself to finish the explanation for her choice of holoprogram. "And this location, because of its proximity to their sacred forests and waterfall, was purported to enhance an individual�s prowess."

"I see," Kathryn said and Seven nearly dropped her when the older woman slipped a finger into Seven�s mouth. "So, then, am I to assume we�re going to be here for a while?"

"You are to assume," she lowered them as she spoke, no longer able to stop her legs, her entire body, from shaking, "that we are going to be here for a very long while."

She eased Kathryn onto her back and straddled her, careful to bear most of her own weight on her knees so as not to harm the more delicate Human.

"Oh, yes," Kathryn murmured and slid two fingers into Seven�s mouth. Seven sucked and licked them, sensing, understanding, what Kathryn intended to do with them once they had been moistened. "Maybe we can make that a very, very long while."

"Perhaps," Seven said after Kathryn removed her fingers and had begun to maneuver them into Seven�s slacks. But then Kathryn stopped abruptly, as if something had occurred to her.

"Seven, what about the holodeck? We�re only allowed an hour."

She bent to her, and ran her tongue across Kathryn�s teeth before answering. She was pleased when her partner shuddered and pushed against her. "When I initiated the privacy lock, I had the computer notify all crew that this area is off limits until further notice. Captain�s orders."

"Seven, that�s not�" she started to say but Seven silenced her by trailing her tongue deeper into her mouth to stroke the back of her teeth. Kathryn tried to speak around her. "I� mmmm� I mean, surely others had time�"

She pulled back just far enough to allow herself to answer. "You have compensated them with their choice of three additional holodeck hours or a half-day off from duty."

"Oh, of course. I�ve always been the generous sort."

"Indeed? Well, let us see if you can be equally as generous with me." And then she lowered herself to her, to demand what Kathryn had never before given.

* * * * * *

"This method of obtaining nourishment is inefficient," Seven complained and refused to take the chunk of bread Kathryn was offering her. Instead, Kathryn found herself once again having to ward off her wandering hands. "And disruptive."

"So you�ve said." She managed to capture the amorous Borg�s wrists and pressed them back to the young woman�s own lap. "But we�ve been at this for hours, Darling. I do need to rest and recover some of my strength."

Seven seemed to accept that, albeit with demonstrable reluctance, and she wondered if the much younger woman always had so much stamina or if this place really was magical. They�d never made love like this before, so slowly, so many ways, so many times. With such passion. Kathryn was amazed that she, herself, had managed to keep up the pace as long as she had. That was new to her, like everything else about her relationship with Seven had been. Like the fact that she was ready for her again, now, despite the dozen or so times the young Borg had already delighted her over the past five hours. But, she was exhausted and she could tell, in spite of her lover�s protestations, that Seven needed a break too.

"Even you�re tired," she said, "and don�t give me your usual �Borg do not get tired� excuse."

"I was unable to regenerate last night," she said and nibbled on a strawberry with about as much enthusiasm as Kathryn�d seen her put into practicing her social skills.

"Were you upset?"

"No." She put the fruit down, obviously dissatisfied with the results of her experiment with it. "I was� frustrated from wanting you and not being able to have you."

"Oh," Kathryn answered. She knew the feeling, and the temporary solution. "Well, then, why didn�t you� masturbate?" She would have preferred a more delicate approach to the question, but in dealing with Seven she had to get right to the point.

"I did not think of it," Seven said, seemingly unshaken by her suggestion. "I have not had need to do so in the past."

Kathryn felt her face flush and her ego soar at the admission. She�d always known she�d been able to satisfy Seven but she�d never known to what extent.

"Neither have I, since you. That was never true of any of my past�" She didn�t want to call them lovers, or even partners. They�d been neither, even if she hadn�t understood that until Seven had become both to her. "Any of the people in my past."

Seven stared at her for a minute, then grinned and asked, "And last night? Did you have the need because we had not been together?"

"Yes."

"And did you�?" Seven asked and Kathryn felt every nerve within her ignite from the look in her young lover�s eyes.

"Yes," she said, unable to think of any word but that word. That one, simple, word that she wanted to say to Seven again and again and again.

"Show me." Seven settled herself behind her. She lifted Kathryn to sit between her legs, guiding her until her bare back rested against the Borg�s warm and welcoming breasts. And then she took Kathryn�s hand and urged it into the waiting wonder that Seven�s command had created between her legs.

And Kathryn showed her. Performed for her. Gifted her with yet another part of herself no one else had been allowed to have. And soon, she toppled over the precipice and shouted her arrival into Seven�s throat. Then she shouted again when Seven covered her hand with hers and insisted they enter and complete Kathryn together.

"Oh, God. Oh, Darling." She spun, when she could, and shoved Seven to the blanket. "Now you show me," she said and then watched in awe as Seven began her first self exploration.

She sat, transfixed, as Seven used her left hand, her Borg hand, to caress and excite herself. She listened to her sounds and held her as she shuddered. She moaned as the musk of Seven�s madness made its way to her. She leaned over her, to watch as the glistening metal implants swam through the evidence of Seven�s approach to the border of her fulfillment. And she marveled that something so inhuman as that hand could move with such purposeful tenderness.

But then, when she saw Seven extend and insert her assimilation tubules into her opening, it terrified her and she grabbed her lover�s hand, forcing her to stop.

"Seven, Dear God, what are you doing?"

Seven had opened her eyes and was staring at her, need and confusion covering her face. "Kathryn� why� did you stop me?"

Kathryn held onto her hand, knowing how near Seven was to crashing across that border, knowing that if she freed her, the young Borg wouldn�t be able to resist finishing what Kathryn had led her to begin.

"Darling, the assimilation tubules� I don�t understand. I�m concerned you�ll hurt yourself."

"Please, let me, Kathryn. Trust me." She lifted her free hand and ran the fingers across Kathryn�s trembling lips. "I want to do this for you."

"But� Darling�"

"I know what I am doing." She drew her hand out from under hers and Kathryn watched - too aroused, too frightened to do anything else � as Seven resumed her course. She listened as her obviously overwhelmed lover spoke. "Let me� show you� It is what I want. The tubules will add to the ways� the ways in which I am able to stimulate�"

She stopped and pulled Kathryn into a kiss, whimpering into her mouth as she continued, "Kathryn ... My Borg� hand is more flexible and stronger than� the other� therefore I am able�" Seven stopped again, to cry out against her lips. "Please� I will be able to� let you see me� be pleasured many times this way�"

Seven�s words washed across her like waves driven inland by a growing sea storm. They overtook her, overpowered her, dredging her own need back up from the depths of her exhaustion. She pulled Seven�s hand from its cradle between the young woman�s legs and forced it onto her own, again aching well.

"Kathryn?" Seven�s question came as a whisper against her ear. Kathryn felt the Borg�s ragged breath and knew she�d left her lover at the brink. She knew she was being selfish, stealing Seven�s release for herself, but she couldn�t help it. She couldn�t stop it. She had to be the recipient of that hand�s potential. She had to be the one it made scream.

"Show me," she begged and Seven, instantly, obliged her. She teased her, tempted her. And then, finally, with that Borg hand, took her, thrilling her with countless small climaxes before Kathryn imploded in an orgasm that shattered the walls around her soul and left her sobbing in Seven�s arms.

* * * * * *

Seven held Kathryn as she slept. She had stayed still since the small Human had cried herself to sleep. She would not risk waking her and ending this� perfection. She had believed Omega to be perfection. But in those seconds when Kathryn had arched into her Borg hand and had carried Seven with her to bliss and back, she learned she had been wrong. She learned that perfection was two souls, two individuals, colliding in a single, shared, moment of triumph and then falling, together, simultaneously, into one unalterable instant in which they are forever fused.

Seven turned her face to Kathryn; this new Kathryn who had proved to her that everything she could need, could want � had needed or wanted � was here, alive, waiting for her in this one feral female. That the well controlled Kathryn who commanded this ship had hidden within her this untamed, untamable, woman who � Seven now knew � Kathryn had been afraid to set free.

But Seven had set her free. Now, she would reap her reward and ride with her, with Kathryn, her maverick, wherever she would lead. And only where she led.

"Computer," she whispered, "send a personal message to Ensign Ceron Zor informing her that I am unable to keep our plans for this evening and that I will speak with her tomorrow."

"Acknowledged."

Then she closed her eyes and replayed the day�s pleasures in her mind, hoping that, in her sleep, Kathryn was doing the same.

After some time, she felt Kathryn stir and tightened her arms around her. She did not want to let her go. She put her lips to her waking woman�s ear and whispered the only word worthy of speech, "Kathryn."

"Seven? Darling?" She came awake and Seven watched the fear on her face transform into relief as their eyes locked. "Oh, God. Thank God. I was afraid I�d dreamed all this."

"Yes, Kathryn, it was a dream." She dropped a kiss onto her Human�s auburn hair. "My dream. Come true."

"I�" Kathryn slid atop her, seeming pleased but very confused. Seven had to struggle for control when the older woman settled herself onto Seven�s leg. "I� I don�t think I understand�"

"And I do not know if I can explain."

"Are you�" Kathryn paused and Seven saw pain and fear fight for position in her eyes. "Are you still going to see Ceron?"

"While you were asleep, I canceled my plans with Ensign Zor, but, as I said, I do not know if I can explain." She ran her Borg fingers along the outer edge of Kathryn�s breast. "Will you simply trust that I am now sure I have no need of anyone but you?"

Kathryn�s face became lined with a joy Seven had not known she was capable of displaying. She laced her fingers with Seven�s Borg ones and drew that hand to her lips. She placed small but satisfying kisses on each finger, each implant. "Darling? Why haven�t you ever used this hand on me before?"

Seven could not prevent herself from smiling. As brilliant as the more experienced woman was, she had made a habit of missing the obvious. "You never allowed it, Kathryn."

"Oh," she said. "Well, that was dumb."

"Indeed." She removed her hand from Kathryn�s and edged it toward her partner�s thighs. "Shall I demonstrate its other uses?"

Kathryn groaned but, despite the shiver Seven felt race through her, she said, "How about later? I really do need to recuperate."

"Very well." She did not feel disappointment; not now that she knew allowing Kathryn to rest meant having her huddled against her. "Would you like to sleep again?"

Then, without another word, Kathryn lowered her head to Seven�s shoulder.

* * * * * *

She didn�t want to get up, but she knew they�d have to clear out of the holodeck soon. They�d been in there nearly ten hours. Much longer and she�d owe the entire crew a year�s worth of reservations. She brushed her cheek against the smooth skin of Seven�s throat. She wished she could just have them transported directly to her cabin as they were, but, she couldn�t break her own directive against unnecessarily wasting ship�s resources.

She felt Seven�s arms draw her nearer and she remembered the last time, the only other time, she had fallen asleep with her young love. It was after their first time together, there, on the floor by Seven�s alcove, so soon after they�d met.

She�d gone back to Seven after the newly arrived Borg had told her that �red� was her favorite color. She�d seen the meaning in Seven�s eyes, the way those eyes had wandered over Kathryn�s hair and the red shoulders of her tunic. Nothing, absolutely no one, could have kept her from taking what she knew Seven had offered. What she knew Seven, herself, needed and wanted. And it was then, when the younger woman had given her virginity to Kathryn as if it had never been intended for anyone else, that she�d made her silent vows to her.

She hadn�t been able to leave her then. The Klaxon�s could have sounded and she�d have stayed. But then morning had come and she�d remembered who she was and where she was and what was expected of her. And she�d pushed the rest away, deep inside herself, sneaking through the days and nights like a thief to take what time she could with Seven.

What a damn fool she�d been. What a waste she had made of these many months. But she couldn�t undo that mistake. She could only do better by Seven, and herself, now and every day from now.

She raised herself up and found Seven�s eyes open and locked firmly on her. She bent and brushed her lips across hers. "I do love you, Seven."

Her young lover�s face seemed to lose what bit of blood was normally in it. She wasn�t sure, at first, that Seven was even breathing until she finally asked, "You do?"

"Absolutely. All of you." She pulled them both to sitting positions, preparing to lure the astounding Borg back to her quarters. "Do you know why I never pushed you about letting me call you �Annika�?"

"Because I forbid you from doing so?"

She laughed, "Well, there was that, but, it�s more because I realized some time ago that Annika is someone I never knew. That you, the woman I love and have always intended to spend my life loving, are Seven of Nine. Not Borg. Not human. But the best of both."

Seven didn�t protest when Kathryn tugged her to her feet. In fact, she wasn�t saying much of anything at all. "Are you all right, Darling?"

"I� I did not expect that if you did love me, you would ever say so. But, I am glad, because I also love you and it is� nice� to hear you say it."

"Yes, it is nice to hear." She placed a gentle, promissory peck on Seven�s lips. "Come on, let�s get dressed and go home."

"Home, Kathryn?"

"To my quarters. Our quarters." She smiled and needed to say it again, to savor the sound of it. "Our quarters." Then she remembered and grimaced at the thought of her lover having to leave her to regenerate.

"I�m going to set the crew to relocating your alcove," she said. "And, maybe, you�ll even try sleeping with me in bed once in a while."

"Perhaps," Seven said, then added, "I am sure you will be able to provide ample incentive for me to do so."

Kathryn felt herself blush and refused to answer. "Let�s go," she said, instead, and they helped each other dress.

---end---

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