Not Just Strip Poker by Pink Rabbit Productions

TITLE: Not Just Strip Poker
EMAIL:  pinkrabbit@altfic.com Comments welcome
ARCHIVE: The Pink Rabbit Consortium - http://www.altfic.com
SUMMARY: A lighthearted Voyager story. After a certain number of mixups, Seven and Captain Janeway mix it up.
DISCLAIMER: This is just your basic silly, romantic, fluff piece. It's not meant to infringe on Paramount's copyright. I'm just having fun here and not making a profit. Meanwhile, it does feature sex of an alternate f/f variety, so if you're underage, such things are illegal where you hail from, or you find such things offensive and worry that Tinky Winky might just be gay, please leave now.

"Excuse me?" Kathryn Janeway was well aware that her voice climbed nearly an octave in midsentence, but she really didn't have the wherewithal to control it. "Mr. Paris did what?" she demanded.

Seven of Nine stared perfectly seriously at the captain of the Voyager, just as she did everything perfectly seriously. "He said the game was quite commonly played among crewmembers," the statuesque former Borg said, not quite defensively, but as though she strongly suspected she might have done something wrong.

Janeway saw the confusion in the young woman's eyes. Right. Inexperience. She reminded herself. You're dealing with an innocent here, Katie. "I'm sure he did," Janeway muttered under her breath, trying valiantly to unclench her teeth. Trying, not succeeding. She could put Paris back in the brig�or maybe just beam him into space with a wide dispersion beam. No, that wasn't fair. She'd probably just misunderstood this whole matter. Doubtless Seven was just explaining badly. After all, Paris wouldn't actually�. The blond shifted, drawing Janeway's eyes back to her long, lean, curvaceous body. The hell he wouldn't. "I'll just bet he did," she growled, her teeth grinding between words. She had a mental image of Tom Paris, a slimy smile on his face, eyes bulged with lust as Seven lost another hand of poker and had to toss another item of clothing onto stack. Janeway's gaze followed stunning curves. And Seven didn't have many to lose. The thought made her blood pressure rise, though she wasn't in any mood to analyze the precise reasons for the increase. She suddenly realized that Seven was standing perfectly still, her head canted slightly to one side, watching her carefully, her expression uncertain. "Maybe you should have a seat," Kathryn suggested at last, gesturing toward the couch that dominated her small livingroom. "And tell me exactly what Tom taught you about poker."

Her expression still serious almost to the point of grimness, Seven sat.

Janeway briefly considered sitting next to the young woman, then noted she was right in the center of the couch. Taking a seat meant being pressed thigh to thigh, bodies close, touching. Her blood pressure rose another notch. "Stop that," she chastised herself. If she wasn't careful, she was going to be relating to Paris' machinations just a little too much.

"I'm sorry, Captain," Seven broke into Janeway's musings. "I should not have disturbed you." The young woman started to rise.

"No�please." The captain caught one of Seven's hand's patting it lightly. "It's not you," she assured the former Borg. "I was just--it's nothing," she started to explain only to change her mind. She ran the pad of her thumb over the back of the young woman's hand, enjoying the warmth and texture. "Sit," she instructed, still holding the fine boned hand in her own. Seven sank down and Janeway dropped onto a cushion next to her, still stroking her knuckles very lightly as she peered into limitlessly deep eyes. "Now," she began carefully. "Your poker lessons?" she prompted.

Seven frowned, wondering why a simple, and in her opinion rather foolish, card game should attract so much notice. She had only mentioned the details that seemed to so interest the captain as a side issue. She was more interested in the strategies of winning than she was in the means of betting and keeping score. Still, it did seem to be important to the captain that she learn the game and as such, she had decided to put her full attention into the project. "You have been recommending that I involve myself in more crew activities," she reminded Janeway.

"Yes, yes," Kathryn agreed, waving that part of the discussion aside. "Now, you were saying about Tom?"

Seven blinked, a neat vertical frown line forming between perfectly arched brows. Janeway seemed rather more interested in Tom Paris than Seven of Nine would have preferred, though she was uncertain why the concern disturbed her so. It was a problem that required additional contemplation. "I am aware that several members of the crew play cards--poker to be specific--at regular intervals. After some inquiry, several crewmembers recommended that I speak to Mister Paris if I wished to learn the specifics of the game. By all accounts, he is quite good at it--"

"I don't doubt," Janeway muttered under her breath, free hand fisting where it rested on her thigh as though it was wrapped around Paris' throat. She suddenly realized that Seven was watching her, an odd expression settling over porcelain perfect features. She consciously released the tension, opening her fingers with a small, embarrassed laugh. "You were saying?" she prompted once again, wondering at her own response to the situation. Seven took a breath, preparatory to continuing, and Kathryn's eyes dropped to the sculptured curves of her chest. A healthy dose of good, old fashioned lust ignited her pulse. Get it under control, Katie, she cautioned herself mentally.

"I researched the basics of the game, but the finer points of betting were not well explained, so I enquired if Mister Paris would teach me."

Janeway offered a forced smile.

"Which he insisted he was happy to do."

Janeway forced down a growled, 'I'll just bet,' and just kept smiling�and grinding her teeth. If she had any molars left by the time this conversation was over, it was going to be a miracle.

"After some time spent teaching me the concepts, I felt I was ready for practice, but explained that I had nothing to bet--"

Janeway couldn't keep silent anymore. "Let me guess, he suggested," she paused, momentarily considering her wording. She didn't want to make Seven feel guilty, but all the same, she needed an answer. "An item of apparel," she continued at last.

A pale eyebrow lifted slightly. "Yes," Seven allowed.

Janeway rose sharply, her eyes flashing with dangerous lights. "I'll kill him," she muttered under her breath, then forced herself to slowly turn back and offer the younger woman a gently sympathetic expression. She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly as she fought to control the fiery anger that burned at the thought of Tom Paris seeing pale flesh revealed inch by inch. Had she been calmer, she might have paused to wonder at the strength of her emotional response, but as it was, she was doing well not to storm out and throttle the lieutenant personally. "Seven, I want you to know that you did nothing wrong," she said in an effort to reassure the Borg.

Now both eyebrows lifted. "Of course I did not," Seven confirmed with absolute certainty.

Janeway's mouth momentarily hung open, before she realized she was staring. She snapped her jaws shut, took a moment to gather her thoughts then tried again. "It's just that, the permutation of the game you played--the game that Tom Paris tricked you into playing--it's...that is...well, it's played for the..." she hunted for the right term, finally settling on, "prurient interests of the participants."

"You mean, it is done to cause sexual arousal?" the former Borg cut right to the chase, sounding decidedly unimpressed by the idea.

Janeway nodded, wondering why just hearing the word 'sexual' floating from Seven's full lips made her blood pressure jump through hoops. She shook off the momentary distraction to nod her head. "Yes. You didn't understand that, so what Paris did--"

"Tom Paris did nothing," Seven mused aloud. "Except lose several rounds of the game. He was not nearly as proficient as I had been led to believe." Seven appeared to consider this problem. "And while I find the game quite fascinating, I do not believe I can learn anything from him--"

"And you aren't going to find out," Janeway snapped impatiently, frustrated at Seven's apparent refusal to want to throttle Paris as much as she did.

"However, I would still appreciate an opportunity to play against someone from whom I can learn."

Janeway wondered if she had the right to decree that Seven was only allowed to play games with Tuvok or the Doctor. Every other man on the ship wasn't trustworthy as far as she was concerned--Seven shifted, drawing Janeway's eyes to the sweet curve of her upper chest--and the women were probably no better. Even the straightest of arrows could respond to a curve ball that appealing. "Perhaps Tuvok--" she started to suggest, but Seven put the kibosh on that thought almost instantly.

"No," the beautiful former Borg interrupted very quickly before pausing for the briefest moment. After a heartbeat, she continued, her tone once again its usual uninterested monotone. "I mean, that would not suit me. As a Vulcan, he would play according to strict logic, which would negate the value of learning the game, as I am supposed to be learning about how humans interact." Her eyes lifted to meet the captain's. "Is that not correct?"

Kathryn Janeway couldn't argue with the logic, no matter how much she wanted to. "Yes," she agreed grimly. She considered suggesting the doctor as a possible playmate, but strongly suspected the Seven would shoot down that idea for exactly the same reason she'd refused to study poker with Tuvok. Which meant she'd be wanting to study with someone else, maybe Chakotay--Janeway's blood boiled at the thought--or perhaps Harry Kim--which was not as bad as Chakotay, her all too good looking first officer, but still made her hands clench into tight fists--maybe B'Elanna Torres, whom Janeway had long privately suspected wasn't quite as straight as she tried to pretend--not such a great idea on second thought. Mentally, she went through the entire crew, and found them all inappropriate, even the gay male couple in engineering, after all, they might decide to try a little experimentation for the first time in some ten years of marriage. One never knew.

"I think," Seven began when it seemed that the captain was not going to say anymore. "That I know who would be ideal to teach me this game."

Janeway stiffened. It was going to be Chakotay. She just knew it. It was going to be Chakotay and then she was going to have to kill her first officer. It was just that simple.

"You."

Janeway blinked, momentarily thinking that she must have heard wrong.

"I believe you are the finest tactician on the ship and that, as such, you are the best choice to teach me this game."

Janeway swallowed hard and was just starting to formulate a response when Seven continued.

"Also, you are the only member of the crew with whom I wish to explore sexual arousal."

Whoa Nelly! RED ALERT, RED ALERT! Kathryn Janeway's eyes went wide and her mouth dropped open. Whatever she had been expecting to hear, that wasn't it. Then Seven did something else totally unexpected and reached out to rest her hand lightly on Janeway's knee. The captain had done the same to the former Borg any number of times, offering a measure of human contact and comfort during her struggle to adjust to being human once again, but this was different, very different. Janeway felt her blood pressure soar through the roof. Her eyes lifted from that long, fine boned hand, taking in graceful curves, smooth skin, full, oh-so-kissable lips. Then Kathryn Janeway did the only thing she could think of under the circumstances.

And leapt up and straight over the back of the couch. She was all the way across the room before she skidded to a halt. "I...uh...I don't think..." she stammered. Finest tactician indeed, she thought as she tried to regain the shreds of her shattered composure. "I don't think that would be appropriate," she finally got out a complete sentence. Janeway didn't have a chance to enjoy that tiny victory before Seven was speaking again.

"Why not?" the Borg enquired. "We are both single adults, and I would enjoy an opportunity to experiment with both poker and..." Seven paused before opting to use the same phrase that Janeway had chosen, "prurient interests."

Her blood pressure completely off the charts, Kathryn Janeway could do little more than shake her head. "No," she croaked as she valiantly reminded herself that she was the captain and Seven was an innocent. It would be wrong, totally unacceptable. No, no, no. "I...uh...can't..." then Kathryn Janeway did something she'd never done before in her life. She ran, literally fleeing out the door as she spoke without looking over her shoulder. "I have to be on the bridge."

Seven stared at the door to the captain's cabin long after it had closed in the captain's wake. That had not gone as she had either expected or desired. With a soft sigh, she rose, and paced a slow circle around the room, taking in the simple decor and the faint odor of the woman who lived in this place. Finally, her concentration focused on the thoughts running through her head, she slipped out.

* * * * * *

Tom Paris groaned softly as he entered the confines of his cabin, then flung himself into an exhausted puddle on his bed, face down in his pillow. He didn't know what the captain's problem was, but she'd been a bear with a sore paw from the moment she arrived mid-way during his shift. It hadn't seemed like she was on anyone's else's case, though he wasn't sure, since she been hammering him so hard he hadn't had time to pay attention to anyone's else's problems.

"I need to speak with you," a perfectly modulated, perfectly serious, and perfectly unexpected voice told him.

Paris sat bolt upright his eyes swinging around in the darkened interior of his cabin as he snapped, "Lights." His eyes widened as he realized the Seven of Nine was seated quite calmly on the chair that sat in one corner of the room. "Seven, what are you doing here?" he questioned, not understanding her presence at all. "Look, if it's about more poker lessons, I'm really kind of tired." Not to mention broke. She'd started betting with a pair of earrings Neelix had given her and wound up cleaning him out of two weeks pay, not that he really needed it as long as they were in the Delta Quadrant, but he enjoyed watching the numbers build.

A neat line formed between her brows, a sure sign that something was wrong. Seven's expressions tended to be subtle in the extreme. "I wish to ask you several questions."

Tom blinked, uncertain why she had questions for him, but relatively confident he wouldn't enjoy the experience. God knew he still regretted agreeing to teach her the basics of poker. "Yes?" he said when she didn't elaborate. Seven blinked, leaving him the oddest impression that she'd been distracted for a brief moment, which was patently absurd. Seven was never distracted as far as he could tell. Concentration was her personal specialty.

"I have spoken with the captain about our poker lessons," she told him.

Paris groaned softly, wondering if that was why Janeway had been on his case. Maybe she didn't approve of gambling among the crew. His eyes touched on the former-Borg's lean figure, or maybe she just considered Seven too innocent for such pastimes. The captain did tend to get protective about her young protégé. "And?" he prompted worriedly, wondering how much sucking up he was going to have to do to get back on the captain's good side.

"And," she ran an assessing gaze over her body, "I fail to see the prurient appeal of the game we played. Please explain."

Any explanations were going to prove difficult for Paris, since he was busy swallowing his tongue. He coughed it back up a moment later, still choking as he asked, "What are you talking about? There was no prurient appeal to the game we played."

Seven frowned ever so slightly. "I do not understand. The captain said quite distinctly that the permutation of poker that you taught me was designed to cause sexual arousal in the players. I wish you to explain this."

A moment later, after Paris had coughed his tongue up again so he could ask, "Exactly what did you tell the captain about your poker lessons. And I mean exactly, word for word," he begged as he scrambled off of his bed and moved to the opposite end of the room, his eyes darting nervously toward the door. The last thing he needed was B'Elanna walking in while Seven was discussing sexual arousal and he was lying on the bed. She hadn't even been very happy with the poker lessons and he'd learned that having his half Klingon girlfriend even vaguely suspect he was doing something he ought not was enough to make his life difficult.

Seven was only a couple of lines into repeating her dialogue with the captain when Paris's groans of agony caused her to trail to a halt. "I do not understand," she admitted. "Why are you so upset?"

Paris slapped his forehead with his hand. "Because Captain Janeway thinks we were playing strip poker."

Seven didn't move as she stared at him. In fact, she barely blinked she as so intense. "Explain," she commanded him at last.

Paris froze for the briefest moment before exhaling, "She thinks I was trying to get you naked to take advantage of you."

"Ah, so when I said we played for an item of apparel--"

"She thought you meant your clothes!" Paris all but shouted, before continuing more calmly, "not that pair of earrings the doctor gave you. And I was just trying to teach you the basics of betting," he added resentfully as he remembered just how much of his money she had. "I wasn't even going to keep them if I won." He slapped his forehead again. "God, no wonder she was so hard on me today. I'm probably lucky she didn't just throw me in the brig--"

"I wish you to explain this alternate permutation of poker," Seven interrupted his self-pitying tirade.

Tom Paris fell silent, his eyes on the gorgeous woman seated only a few feet away. His heart was suddenly in his throat. That was the moment that he finally realized what he felt for B'Elanna Torres had to be love. There was just no other option. Because he wasn't in the least bit tempted. "Umm, Seven, you're a really lovely girl, but I'm--"

"I do not wish to play with you," Seven dismissed his concerns with a solid right to the ego.

"Oh."

"I wish to understand so that I may play this game with the captain."

Moments later, after Paris had coughed up his tongue one more time, he croaked, "The captain?"

"Yes," Seven responded, her tone crisp.

Paris sat down in the nearest chair because he wasn't entirely certain he could remain upright. "The captain?" he repeated, praying to God he'd heard her wrong the first time. There were some things he just didn't want to know.

One eyebrow arched high on Seven's forehead. "I believe I just answered that question," she reminded him.

Paris grunted something that seemed vaguely affirmative as he stared at the young woman, thoroughly uncertain what to say or do. It wasn't just the same sex issue--in truth that part kind of turned him on--but the captain, Seven was thinking of sexually approaching the captain. That was just scary. Well, that did explain why the crew's recent efforts to set the former-Borg up with a man had been so unsuccessful. He began carefully, "Seven, you do realize that the captain's previous relationship was with a man."

"Yes," the Borg confirmed. "However, after some research, I also discovered that she had a female roommate at the academy with whom she was romantically and sexually involved."

Paris coughed but managed to resist the urge to swallow his tongue for once. "Oh," he exhaled, wondering why he was so surprised. Maybe because thinking of the captain in any romantic or sexual way was just totally antithetical to his basic inclinations. Janeway was...well...Janeway. She was shaped like a female, but he thought of her in distinctly captainly terms. The mere notion of sex or romance in regards to the woman was just plain icky as far as he was concerned. Sort of like imagining his mother naked-only moreso. "Seven exactly what happened during your meeting with the captain," he asked at last. Moments later, as she began relating the details of the discussion, Tom Paris was grateful he'd gotten off the bridge alive. Like the rest of the crew, he'd noted how fond of Seven Janeway was, but he'd chalked it up to parental feelings. It hadn't struck him that it might be something else until the moment when Seven related the captain's response to a light touch on the knee. That wasn't how someone uninterested would have reacted at all. Nope. Paris trailed his eyes over the former Borg's lush curves as he remembered the way Janeway was often inclined to rest a hand on the other woman's shoulder, brush her arm, lean close when they were talking. And, dear God, she thought he'd made an inappropriate move on Seven. "You have to tell the captain the truth about our poker games," he croaked, visions of scrubbing out the head on the bridge with his toothbrush dancing in his head.

Seven looked insulted. "I did. When she asked if we played for items of apparel, I answered in the affirmative."

"But we weren't," Paris insisted. "We played for your earrings not your...." He gestured at her body. "Your jumpsuit. You've got to tell her that!" Or she was likely to kill him.

Seven blinked. "I will inform Captain Janeway of the appropriate information," she answered at last. "However, you still have not given me any information on this permutation of poker."

And he never would. There were some things Tom Paris did not want to get involved in. Not now, not ever. Any attempts by the gorgeous former Borg to seduce the captain fell solidly fell into that category. "Sorry, nope, can't help you. Don't know a thing about it." And then he was up and hustling her toward the door. "Now, if you'll excuse me, it's been a very long day. Wish I could help, but I don't know a thing." He booted Seven out the door and closed it again in her wake, manually setting the locks before he leaned his forehead against cool steel. "God," he groaned. "Why do you always do these things to me?" But there was no answer forthcoming, and at last, he just tumbled back into bed and prayed to wake in the Alpha quadrant.

* * * * * *

"Care to talk about it?" Chakotay asked as he entered a turbolift behind Janeway, his voice soothing and well-modulated so that no one on the bridge heard him even before the doors closed in their wake.

Janeway's eyes lifted to meet her first officer's dark gaze. His look was tender, caring, worried. She knew he'd had hopes for the two of them, though he finally seemed to have accepted she was never going to feel what he wanted. Still, she couldn't imagine answering that question honestly. "It's nothing," she responded, shifting her gaze away from him and those eyes that saw so much.

"Really?" Chakotay drawled, doubtful. "You spent the entire last half of Paris' shift on the verge of tearing his head off. Has he done something to upset you?"

"Nothing," Janeway clipped in a tone that did not invite questions. She had no intention of going through that situation with Chakotay. "His work was sloppy today." The doors slid open and she stepped out, annoyed to notice that Chakotay kept easy pace with her. "This crew can't afford to get lazy out here. We're on our own."

"I'm well aware of that," Chakotay allowed, "but I didn't see any problems with Tom's work today. Are you sure it's not something else?"

"Of course I'm sure. I think I know my own reasons for doing things."

Chakotay continued to stride along beside her. "Then perhaps you can tell me why you've been distracted and jumpier than a cat for the last several weeks." Janeway started to draw breath to answer, but he held up a hand, halting her to add, "And it's only been getting worse, so don't deny it."

Janeway turned into the crew dining hall, Chakotay still hard on her heels. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Yes, you do," he disagreed sagely. He fell silent as she ordered a cup of coffee and something sinfully sweet. "And that is only comfort food."

Janeway flashed him a look that was meant to silence. It even worked for a moment or two, at least until they reached a corner table. Janeway sat and Chakotay took the opposite chair, despite the glowering frown flashed his way. "I don't recall inviting you," she intoned.

Chakotay only shrugged. "I'm your first officer. It's my responsibility to see to your health--that includes the mental variety."

Janeway set her coffee cup down carefully as she considered giving him any number of responses, most of them involving torture. But his look was so serious and so very sincere. She exhaled heavily. "Have I really been that bad?" she sighed.

Chakotay froze, momentarily debating how honestly to answer the question. "Well...."

Janeway sighed again and held up a hand. "Well, I think that answers that question," she muttered miserably.

Chakotay reached out, resting a comforting hand on one of hers, massaging her knuckles lightly with his thumb. "So why don't you tell me what's going on."

Kathryn shook her head. "You wouldn't understa..." her words trailed off as the double doors into the dining hall slid open to admit a tall slender figure in a body hugging jumpsuit. She felt her pulse pick up as her mouth went dry and her breath caught. There was no way Chakotay could miss her response, despite the way she tried to cover it. He turned, his eyes following the line of her gaze until he realized just who had his captain's attention so completely.

Meanwhile, the stunning blond's eyes swept the room before coming to settle on the pair sitting alone together their pose seemingly romantic. Seven of Nine froze, all color draining from her face. Her lips parted as though she intended to speak, but no sound came forth.

Behind the counter, Neelix saw the beautiful Borg enter and bounded around the counter. "Oh, my dear Seven of Nine, we don't see nearly enough of you here."

"No," Seven murmured, somehow managing to sound anguished despite the flatness of her tone. "I entered the wrong room by mistake." She spun on her heel and was out while Neelix was still halfway into his farewell.

"Well, thank you for stopping by. Hope you...stay...longer...." Neelix trailed off and shook his head slowly. "One of these days, you're going to stay and eat," he muttered under his breath and turned back toward the counter.

Chakotay turned away from the door and back to his white-faced captain. Their eyes met and Kathryn yanked her hand back guiltily, then covered the gesture by picking up her coffee cup and taking a sip. "Captain," the first officer began hesitantly. "I couldn't help but notice..." The stormy look in her eyes warned him not to pursue the subject but he was in too deep to stop. "Seven of Nine had a very strong response to seeing the two of us together."

A muscle clenched in Kathryn's jaw. "I have no idea what you're talking about," she growled.

Chakotay faced her threatening glare with a look of serenity. "I think you do," he disagreed, his tone mild. He looked back over his shoulder in the direction Seven had disappeared then back at his captain. "She's a very beautiful woman," he said softly and if he was jealous, he didn't show it.

Janeway's brows drew together in a frown and she glared at her coffee as though it was responsible for the present situation. "She's a girl," she whispered then took a long swallow. "An innocent girl."

Chakotay watched her closely for a long moment before choosing his words carefully. "No, Kathryn, she's not. She's inexperienced in many ways, but she's no more a child than you or I."

"Chakotay--"

"Kathryn, hear me out," her first officer interrupted. He took her hand once again. "I'm aware that you've had female lovers." He saw Janeway's frown and shifted uncomfortably. "Normally, it's not the sort of thing I would look up about a colleague, but..." He looked embarrassed. "Well, I was..." He trailed off again, looking away this time as he cleared his throat. "You know I've hoped..." Again he didn't finish his sentence. "I shouldn't have done it," he said at last.

Janeway looked away as well, equally embarrassed by the obvious meaning of his admission. "I think I understand," she said hesitantly. "But it doesn't change anything."

"Kathryn," Chakotay said softly. "You can't spend your life without any emotional intimacy. It's not healthy."

Janeway waved the comment off. "I'm fine," she insisted.

Her first officer's expression called her a liar. "I think you should talk to her," he said simply, but Janeway shook her head.

"No, that's not going to happen."

"Kathryn--"

"It's not on the table," she said her tone and expression equally steely.

Finally, Chakotay sighed and nodded, accepting that she meant it.

"Now, you should be back on the bridge," Janeway pointed out sharply.

Chakotay started to argue but gauged the look in her eye and changed his mind. "Aye aye, Captain," he said softly then rose and hurried out.

Kathryn Janeway stared after him for a long moment, before turning her gaze back to the surface of her coffee.

* * * * * *

She raged, hammering her fists against the wall of the cargo bay until she shouldn't have been able to feel anything but the pain in her hands. But she could feel. She could feel the awful tightness in her chest, the tears running down her cheeks, but the anger and pain in her heart were still worse. Groaning softly, Seven of Nine twisted, falling back against the wall and sliding down until she was sitting, her head buried in her knees. Her whole body shuddered with the force of her sobs. She had heard the rumors about the captain and first officer, but had disregarded them since asking Kathryn herself and getting a negative response. She had believed that denial. It was hard to know why she was so hurt and so angry. Was it the lie or the very thought itself?

She hadn't deeply considered exactly what she felt for Captain Janeway until that very morning when the captain had mentioned the sexual importance of the card game and she had felt her entire body contract with the awareness of just what it was she wanted, had wanted for a very long time. Even as upset as she was, just the thought of those moments was still enough to make her blood heat. And with the way the captain had fled, her eyes showing the panic of someone afraid of herself. She had thought she had a chance. Seven slammed her fists into the floor, howling out her pain, then sobbing again.

Lost in her agony, she didn't hear the soft whoosh as the door that opened into her little section of the cargo bay slid open and then closed again. "I am not having an affair with Captain Janeway." The voice was low, soothing, but Seven was so immersed in her hurt that she barely understood what he said.

The former Borg's chin lifted, eyes narrowing dangerously as they landed on the imposing figure of Chakotay. Had she had anything in hand, she would have hurled it at his head. "You," she snarled, hating the very sight of him. She lunged smoothly to her feet, her breath coming in ragged gasps. A part of her wanted to go for his throat. She froze, the intensity of the emotion catching her by surprise. She was Borg, unemotional, inhuman, unfeeling. She swallowed hard, suddenly frightened by her own feelings.

"I thought you should know that," Chakotay continued calmly, well aware that he was dealing with a human being on the edge.

Seven's gaze lifted again, and she refocused on the tall man standing in front of her, consciously straightening, her expression once again becoming an inscrutable mask. She was Borg, not some weakling at the mercy of her body. "It makes no difference to me," she responded in a voice dripping in verbal icicles.

Chakotay watched the transformation with interest, noting the way she calmed in an instant, though her eyes continued to flash. "Really?" he drawled, his eyes dropped to her hands, which continued to flex at her sides. "That's not what I would have said by the look of things."

Seven's jaw muscles pulled taut. "You know nothing," she attempted to dismiss him, turning away with the hope that he would leave.

He didn't. "This isn't easy for me," Chakotay explained to the young woman's stiff back. He stared down at his laced fingers, wondering if the young Borg could appreciate what it cost him to come here like this. "But I'll say it again. I am not the captain's lover," he repeated, tamping down the hurt they caused as he said them. The captain's mental and physical health were his prime concern.

"It is no matter to me," Seven bit out, waving him off without turning back.

"She needs you," Chakotay said very softly. He drew nearer. "She's too alone." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "And I think you're the only one who can help her with that."

A slight frown marred smooth features as Seven slowly looked back over her shoulder. "I saw you with her," she accused.

"Just as friends. Nothing more."

Seven's frown deepened as she digested this news, not quite allowing herself to hope. "The gossip among the crew--"

"Is wrong," he answered the implied question simply, then waited a beat before murmuring, "I'll help you if you like." The words were out of his mouth before he really knew he was going to make the offer. It was just that she looked so pathetic.

Seven's gaze became distant. "I asked Paris, but he would not help."

Chakotay lost some color. "You asked Paris?" he croaked. Well, whatever happened, it wasn't likely to be a secret from the crew for long.

Seven's tone became practical. "I'm not sure it was the best choice I could have made, but it seemed logical at the time."

Chakotay reached out to give her narrow shoulder a light squeeze. "Well, let's see if we can do it a little better."

* * * * * *

Kathryn Janeway reached up to massage her temple tiredly as she felt a headache throbbing behind her eyes. She blinked several times, trying to bring the print on the PADD in front of her back into focus. She knew she was pushing herself past any reasonable limits, but she wasn't anxious to return to her all too quiet cabin alone. She rubbed her temple a little more firmly, offering Neelix a tight smile as he refilled her coffee cup for perhaps the hundredth time since entering the mess hall. She suddenly realized that he hadn't left, and was, in fact, standing stock still and studying her. "Do you need something?" she questioned, her voice carrying a well-honed edge designed to scare off all but the most determined questioner.

"No, Captain, but I'm wondering if you don't," Neelix said enigmatically. When Janeway didn't respond, he continued, either oblivious to her thundering look, or simply too tired to care. "You've been here for hours...don't you think you should get some sleep?" And if she would leave, he could close things down and get a little sleep for himself.

"I'm fine," the captain growled.

The Talaxian shook his head. "All new definition of fine, if you ask me," he grumbled as he stomped off.

Janeway sighed softly, and ran a hand through her hair, dragging it back from her face. She knew Neelix was right. She should leave and go to bed. The problem was that her dreams had been disturbingly erotic since Seven had made known her interest nearly four days before. Actually, it didn't even take sleep for her brain to slip off onto unwanted pathways. She'd found heated images of the former Borg burning in her brain every time she closed her eyes or relaxed for more than a moment. She'd seen those gorgeous curves on the doctor's table after he'd finished making the cosmetic repairs and couldn't forget the sight of pale, porcelain smooth skin or the shape of perfect hips and breasts.

Kathryn took a long swallow from her coffee cup, hoping against hope that the hot liquid would do something to alleviate her raging hormones. It didn't help, but then lately, nothing had helped much.

Especially not the fact that Seven had been underfoot every time she'd turned around since the incident, her tone polite, her expression politely bland. No one looking in from the outside would have guessed the statuesque blond had recently propositioned her, but Janeway was intensely aware of it with every word, every tiny physical contact, every long look, until even the quickest of shared glances became an erotic experience.

Just the thought of it had her blood heating in her veins.

God, this had to stop. Janeway raked a hand through her hair and drained the last of her coffee before shutting down her PADD and rising. She purposely avoided Neelix's gaze as she strode out, not wanting to see his triumphant grin. She squared her shoulders and straightened her spine. She was the captain of the Voyager, not some junior lieutenant. She was in control. Mere lust was not going to rule her existence. Head erect, she strode through the ship with confidence and grace, until she was feeling like her old self by the time she reached the door to her cabin and called for entry.

She would just retake complete control of her life and go to bed, sleeping peacefully and dream free in her own bed.

Still striding authoritatively, she stepped through the hatch as it opened for her...

And nearly left skid marks on the carpeted deck as her eyes fell on the elegant figure who sat on the couch under the starport, her features silhouetted by starlight.

For a moment, Janeway's brain refused to function, but then reality started to sink in. She wasn't going to be alone in her cabin because her cabin was already occupied by one very female former Borg. She heard the door slide closed in her wake as Seven's head slowly swung around. Even in the thin light, she could make out the intensity in those blue eyes and feel her body's instinctive reaction, which was to melt into a little puddle, preferably at aforementioned Borg's feet. "Seven," Kathryn forced a chiding note into her voice, though she suspected she sounded more shaken than authoritative. "It's considered customary to ask before entering an officer's cabin."

The former Borg rose easily to her feet. "Under the circumstances, I felt it best to simply enter and wait for you," Seven said simply and without further explanation.

Janeway concentrated on not staring at that luxuriant body standing only a few feet away, instead focusing on perfectly sculpted features, a strategy that produced mixed results at best. God, didn't the woman have any physical flaws that she could stare at. Perhaps, a more detailed examination is called for, a very unhelpful part of her brain suggested. She tamped it down quickly to respond as frostily as she was able, "I see, and exactly what circumstances would those be?" she questioned, trying to keep her tone dry and seemingly uninterested.

Seven's brows lifted on her forehead, her head canting to one side as she studied her carefully. The captain was a subtle woman, quite able to hide her reactions from most people, but she was learning to read those indirect signals with increasing accuracy. "I desire you," she said simply. Chakotay had offered considerable advice and she had listened politely, absorbing his suggestions before formulating her own plan based on her own insights. Considering that Chakotay had apparently been interested in the captain since their first meeting and had so far failed to achieve more than the faintest interest gave her some reason to believe that her plans couldn't be any less effective than his. She had agreed with his suggestion that she not press the captain, that she give her time, but had been unable to remain completely away from the other woman. Her duties required that she be on the bridge during the captain's shift, but more than that, she couldn't resist the need to be in Janeway's presence. She had intended to keep her distance longer, but the constant feel of Janeway's eyes following her in her duties had convinced her perhaps it was time to act. After four days of keeping a polite distance, she was tired of waiting and wondering. Chakotay had offered his opinions of what Janeway needed, but only the captain herself could truly answer the question and Seven could no longer wait. "And I did not think you would wish the rest of the crew to be aware of our activities," she added after a short beat.

Janeway's brows rose high on her forehead as she consciously stiffened her spine, struggling to bring forth some anger that might help her get through this without giving in to her baser desires. "Our activities?" she repeated. "Since there aren't going to be any activities, I hardly think it matters either way."

"I disagree," Seven responded with characteristic calm.

Janeway opened her mouth to ask whether the statuesque blond disagreed that it hardly mattered or that there weren't going to be any activities only to decide that was a poor choice of questions indeed. Instead she chose to overlook the statement, opting for the safest of statements. "We're not going to have a relationship, Seven."

"I also disagree with that," the former Borg said quietly.

Kathryn's eyes glittered dangerously. "Meaning?" she growled.

"We are," Seven paused, considering her words carefully. The ways and complexities of human emotion were often a tricky sea for her to navigate and it took some thought. "Friends...I do not predict that state will change. Unless I am mistaken, that is a relationship."

The proclamation caught the captain by surprise after the younger woman's earlier statement of desire. "Of course, we're friends," she agreed on a soft sigh, chiding herself for forgetting the younger woman's often literal interpretation of language. "That's not what I was referring to."

"You were referring to sex...love...romance..." the Borg said softly, and for once her tone lacked its usual flatness, instead softening, becoming low and intimate in a way that made Kathryn Janeway's body react in ways she did not want.

"Y-yes," the captain said shakily, and looked away to stare out at the stars visible through the ports, reminding herself that they were lost and far from home, that she was the one who had to set the standards of behavior for everyone, that she had to be a leader first and foremost. She couldn't afford to take what the young woman was offering, no matter how tempting it was. It would be taking advantage. She blinked sharply a brief moment later as she realized that Seven had drawn to within arm's length.

"You are wrong," the former Borg said intently. "I am not a child."

"I didn't say-" Kathryn started to insist, but Seven cut her off in a crisp voice.

"But it is your reason for refusing to even consider a relationship beyond friendship, is it not?"

"It's not that simple," Janeway explained, then at Seven's raised eyebrow added. "I don't think of you as a child." Boy did she not think of Seven as a child...which was really part of the problem if she stopped to think about it, which, considering the thought that thought led to wasn't really such a good idea after all. Kathryn Janeway whimpered softly and lifted a hand to her temple as she stepped around the younger woman, careful not to make contact with the inviting warmth of her body. With her back to Seven, it was easier to concentrate. If nothing else, it meant she wasn't spending all her energies trying to decide where not to stare. "I just...I...it's not that simple," she repeated helplessly.

Seven of Nine drew closer to the captain's narrow back, sculpted brows coming together in the subtlest of frowns. "Do you desire me?" she questioned.

Janeway opened her mouth to say no, but the words wouldn't come. She just couldn't lie like that, and saying no would definitely be a lie. "Seven, you're a very beautiful woman..." she responded without actually answering the question.

"That is not what I asked," the former Borg pointed out with characteristic seriousness, which would have been endearing were it not for the fact that Janeway really didn't want to answer the question that Seven had asked.

"No," Janeway allowed and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly to calm her jangled nerves, before slowly pivoting to face the taller woman. "You're not making this easy," she complained.

"Because that is not my intent," Seven explained searching Janeway's face with hungry eyes in an attempt to gain some insight into her thoughts and feelings. She opened her mouth but no words came out and she looked away, struggling to put her own feelings into words. "But you need only tell me you do not desire me and I will leave."

Janeway straightened her shoulders as she faced the younger woman. "I'm the captain," she said, choosing her words carefully. "For me to have an...intimate...relationship with any member of the crew would be irresponsible." She'd gotten herself at least partially back under control. "It's a matter of power."

"You fear that it would be a misuse of power... that we would be unequal," Seven said with sudden understanding.

"Something like that," Janeway admitted. "Look, this conversation is pointless--"

"I do not believe so," Seven disagreed. "It has enhanced my understanding of the situation."

Kathryn Janeway felt a rare thrill of nervousness in response to that unemotional comment. Seven's gaze sharpened, her expression becoming even more determined. The captain of the Voyager was amazed to find herself feeling suspiciously like a deer in the proverbial headlights as the former Borg studied her in minute detail. She swallowed hard, very much aware of the hammering beat of her own heart, not to mention the unwanted flood of arousal Seven's tone had set off in her body. God she had it bad.

"However, I assure you, while you are my captain, were I not interested in you, nothing could force me to do anything I did not wish to do."

Kathryn had to give her that one. "Nonetheless--" she began to argue, but Seven of Nine cut her off.

"As I believe you are very much aware," the former Borg continued, drawing closer and crowding the captain.

Janeway started to turn away, only to find her wrists caught in impossibly strong hands. "Release me," she commanded, her tone obdurate.

Seven slowly shook her head. "I do not think so."

Janeway tried to pull her wrists free, but the other woman's grip was too powerful. "Let go," she ordered, then twisted wrists in an attempt to break free. Seven's grip was firm, but not painfully tight, and far too strong for her to break it that easily. Janeway drew herself to her full height--which was still several inches shorter than Seven's imposing stature--and squared her shoulders as she glared up into ice blue eyes. "Release my wrists."

A pale eyebrow arched as Seven studied her captain from head to toe. "No," she said very softly, her tone sending a thrill of both frustration and sexual awareness through Janeway. Their gazes locked and held as Kathryn subtly tried to twist free, her jaw muscles flexing as she struggled while trying to look like she wasn't struggling. Seven drew a step closer, crowding Janeway back until her shoulderblades touched the nearby wall. "Perhaps I do not wish to release you yet," the former Borg exhaled, her breath ghosting over Janeway's face. She pressed a little closer, putting them toe to toe, nearly touching.

"Seven," Janeway gasped, unable to believe what was happening. "I don't know what you think you're doing-" She also didn't believe that her body was reacting the way it was.

Those impossibly strong hands pressed Janeway's hands to the side, pinning them against the wall with no apparent effort. Seven drew still nearer, until they were just touching, the faint contact sending a shiver of awareness through both women. "I am proving a point," the former Borg whispered. "So that you understand that there is no inequity."

"I never meant physical power," Janeway hissed. She twisted her wrists harder, expression tightening with frustration. "Let me go!"

And just as suddenly her wrists were freed, the move so startling she toppled downward into a sitting position, her back braced against the wall, dark brown hair falling across her eyes. Janeway tilted her head back on her shoulders to stare up at the figure towering over her. "I would never willingly harm you," Seven said very softly. "And I believe you would never willingly harm me."

Kathryn massaged her wrists, though they were unbruised, not even sore in fact. It was more of a way to have something to do with her hands. "I wouldn't," she responded breathlessly.

Seven acknowledged the words with a regal tilt of her head. "I am a member of this crew by accident, not planning. I have no wish to gain position or advance in rank, nor any desire to curry favor with any officer of this ship. I am more than physically able to protect myself. You have no hold or say over me other than our feelings." Seven straightened. "When you have accepted that fact, we can discuss this again." The former Borg turned sharply on one heel and strode toward the door, very aware of the eyes that followed her exit.

"Damn," Janeway hissed and pushed to her feet just as the door slid shut in Seven's wake. She jogged after the younger woman, snapping, "Open," in time to remove that unwanted barricade. "Seven," she called out as she skidded into the corridor.

The younger woman pivoted to face her captain just as Tom Paris rounded a nearby corner, stumbling onto the scene. Everyone froze for a long moment.

Tom Paris' eyes flickered nervously between the two women as sweat instantly beaded on the back of his neck. Judging by electric tension arcing between the two, he could only fervently wish he was someplace else...more correctly, he could only wish he was anyplace else. "Uh..." For a moment, words wouldn't come and then he stammered, "Captain...Seven...." They both turned flinty gazes his way. Sadly, black holes never seem to appear when people could really use them. "I...really should be going now," he croaked, and tried to hurry on, hoping that if he moved fast enough, he might get out alive. A hard hand on his shoulder ended any hope of avoiding the situation, yanking him up short and forcing him around.

"You should be aware, Captain," Seven began, her voice icily pointed. "That nothing transpired between Lieutenant Paris and myself. He did nothing untoward, and any misunderstanding is my due to my error in expressing the events that transpired."

Paris smiled weakly in the face of the stormy look on the captain's face and barely resisted the urge to offer a nervous wave. Somehow, he was more than certain that wouldn't help the situation at all. "This is about the poker lessons, right?" he broke in before he had time to think better of it. Janeway's pointed gaze broke from the Borg's to swing his way, the way it blazed making him wish he'd just kept his mouth shut.

"Explain," Janeway commanded in a hard voice.

"The item of apparel we played for was a pair of earrings," Seven explained.

Tom's nervous smile widened a notch. "What she said," he agreed by way of confirmation, then added more seriously, "I would never...ever...ever...ever..." A raised russet eyebrow warned him to hurry with his protestations of innocence. "Take advantage of Seven-"

"He could not even if he wished to," the Borg in question added with a solid left hook to his manhood.

"Gee, thanks," Paris muttered, thinking his ego would do better if he stayed away from the beautiful Borg altogether. She was very hard on his self-image.

"Is this true, Mister Paris?" the captain's sharp voice cut into his musings with efficient skill.

"What, that we only played for her earrings? Absolutely, Captain. I would never-"

"Don't push it, Mister Paris," Janeway warned and he fell silent.

Paris glanced up at Seven, noting the shuttered expression on her face then back at his captain who was standing there with an equal lack of expression on her face. "Let me guess, you're practicing the art of bluffing," he riffed before he could silence himself.

"No," Seven disagreed. "We were discussing personal matters."

"Oh," Paris exhaled, "...oh..." His eyes swung nervously back and forth between the two women. "Oh, oh." And his arm was abruptly released almost as suddenly as it had been grabbed.

"And now I will return to my duties," Seven clipped, turned smartly on her heel and hurried around the corner.

Janeway opened her mouth as if to call the younger woman back, but slammed it shut again, the words unspoken, and stood there staring after her.

Paris straightened his uniform, then followed the line of the captain's gaze. "Uh...captain," he began hesitantly. "If I might speak?"

"You may not," Janeway responded, her tone forbidding. The last thing she wanted to hear was Tom Paris' take on the situation.

"It's just that it seems to me you're being a fool..."

Janeway's head swung around, her eyes pinning him in place with a hard look. "Excuse me?" she drawled, threat implicit in her tone. She allowed her crewmembers a certain degree of latitude in the Delta Quadrant that she might not otherwise allow, but that latitude did not extend to having Tom Paris call her a fool.

Paris lost all color as he realized what he'd said. "That is," he squeaked, then began again in a more normal voice, "We may be out here all of our lives. Can you really go on without being close to anyone for the rest of your life?"

She pulled up short, startled by the question. It voiced the fears she'd felt when alone at night so many times since finding herself and her ship in the Delta Quadrant. "Mister Paris, I suggest you return to your duties," she ordered without acknowledging his question.

He seemed undecided about whether or not to say more, but one look quelled any thoughts he had of speaking again. He swallowed hard and offered a queasy smile. "Right...I'll just get back...to my duties," he said haltingly.

Janeway's lips curved upward in a tight smile. "You do that." She waited until he'd gone a few steps before she added, "Oh, and one more thing, lieutenant...."

Paris pivoted back to face her.

"If one word of this hits the shipwide gossip circuit, I'll know why, and you'll regret it. Is that understood?"

Paris nodded jerkily. "Yes, Captain," he exhaled, his chin still bobbing.

"You can go now," Janeway prompted when he hadn't moved a heartbeat later.

Grateful to have survived, Paris fled while his captain stood in the corridor for a long moment before finally slipping back inside her cabin.

* * * * * *

One profoundly sleepless off-duty period later, Kathryn Janeway stumbled onto the bridge, a cup of coffee clutched in one hand, her eyes looking like they needed to be propped open with toothpicks. Thankfully, Voyager was moving through a decidedly boring stretch of space, one the crew was more than capable of navigating without her input. The coffee was the real kind, hot, black, and simply loaded with caffeine. She downed half of it in the first drought, sank down into her chair with a muttered grumble, checked in with the crew, then left them to their duties. It was one of those kinds of days. She ran a hand through her hair, wondering if she was imagining that her crew was looking at her oddly. If Paris had said anything, she'd kill him, there was no way around it. One word and he was dead.

She was still musing about the lieutenant when someone cleared their throat and she abruptly realized that B'Elanna Torres was standing in front of her, a data PADD tucked neatly under one arm. "Are you feeling all right, Captain?" she asked worriedly.

"Fine, thank you," Janeway clipped, her soft groan belying her words as she reached up to massage the back of her neck. "What have you got for me?"

B'Elanna passed the large PADD over, her voice crisp as she explained, "I've been running some long range scans, and I thought you'd like to see...."

Janeway stared blearily at the figures while Torres' voice buzzed in her ears.

"Captain, are you sure you're all right. You really don't look very well," the young lieutenant broke into Janeway's somewhat disjointed study of the information before her.

"Fine," Janeway snarled and ran a hand over her hair, smoothing it back from her forehead. It was the highlight of her shift. From there, everything was downhill, until finally Chakotay showed up and hauled her off the bridge.

The ensuing confrontation was short, not terribly sweet, and to the point.

"This can't go on," Chakotay told her honestly when they were safely ensconced in her office. "You're like a lion with a thorn in its paw, but about half as charming." He looked harried, which was as close to upset as her first officer ever managed.

Kathryn drew breath to tell him off, but the words didn't come as she got a look at the expression on his face. Worried. God, he was worried. With a grumbled curse, she turned away, massaging her temple tiredly. "I'm not getting much sleep," she admitted, her voice rough with exhaustion.

"Not surprising," Chakotay murmured soothingly. "All things considered."

Kathryn grumbled something impolite under her breath before growling, "You, sir, are skating dangerously close to the edge here."

Chakotay threw up his arms. After several days of dealing with her growling and roaring, he was past caring. "So, what are you going to do to me?" he demanded. "Have me thrown in the Brig?"

"Don't think I won't," Janeway threatened, pugnaciously thrusting her chin forward.

"Believe me," her first officer shot back, "it would beat spending the next 70 years listening to your lectures on why you need to spend the rest of your life making your average nun look like a party girl."

Janeway pulled up short, her expression shuttering down in an instant. She yanked herself back under control in an instant, leaning back and folding her arms across her chest. "Consider your opinion noted, Mister Chakotay," she growled.

Chakotay sighed, regretting his own loss of temper in an instant. "Look, I'm sorry," he muttered and ran a hand over his short-cropped hair. "This hasn't been my best week either," he admitted--after all, he'd had to once and for all give up more than a few personal fantasies--then took a deep breath and began again. "I don't pretend to know what's best for you, but this can't go on...it's affecting your performance as captain of this ship."

Janeway's spine snapped ramrod straight, but she didn't argue. After a long moment of silence, she sank down at her desk, leaning her elbows on the satin sheen top and her head in her hands. "You can go now," she sighed after another long moment.

"Kathryn-"

"It's all right," she reassured her first officer. "I've just got some thinking to do." He was right, this couldn't go on, but she was damned if she knew how to put a stop to it.

He nodded, but seemed hesitant to leave. "If there's anything I can do..." he started to offer, but her answering look silenced him.

"Chakotay, I appreciate your concern, truly I do, but I think you've done quite enough." She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I've got to think...."

"All right," he allowed at last, "But you know where to find me."

She nodded and showed a bleary smile. "I do...and...thank you for caring."

"I do, Kathryn. Whatever else, I'm your friend." He looked her over. "Now why don't you take some time and get some rest. You look like you could use it. I'll cover the rest of your shift."

For once, Janeway didn't argue, just nodded and muttered. "Thanks, I appreciate it."

A few moments, and a few more bland pleasantries later, he left her alone, and Janeway deflated in her chair.

"Oh my, Katie, you have done it this time," she muttered, then barely smothered an exhausted yawn. She was still sitting there like that when the door chimed. "Come," the captain called out, then stiffened as the door to her office slid open to reveal a certain statuesque, blond, former-Borg. "Seven of Nine," she exhaled almost inaudibly. Her body unhelpfully chose that very moment to vibrate with sexual awareness, which-- no matter how firmly she told herself was purely coincidental-- was entirely attuned to the woman in front of her.

"Captain," Seven clipped, her tone its usual flat contralto that sent shivers down her captain's spine, not to mention fantasies of one day hearing that voice uttering soft words in tones thick with emotion. "I am here to inform you that I have finished recalibrating all of the stations in astrometrics," she informed Janeway, giving no indication that she remembered any of the more intimate conversations that had taken place between them in the last few days. She passed a data PADD over to the captain. "As you can see, they are now all synchronized."

"I'm sure they're fine now," Kathryn exhaled without looking down at the report. She was too busy drinking in the sight of the woman in front of her. Besides, she knew full well that Seven's report would be thorough and accurate. The former Borg was nothing if not conscientious. Fortunately or un- that was part of the problem. Kathryn Janeway had always found conscientiousness very appealing...along with blond hair, sexy contralto voices, and luscious curves that just invited a human hand-among other things--to touch and caress for hours on end. Janeway swallowed hard as she found herself wondering who'd turned up the thermostat in her office.

"Of course they are," Seven agreed unabashedly. "I am very competent at such tasks. However, ship's protocol demands that I report my findings to you." Actually, she could have just as easily turned her information over to either Torres or Chakotay, but Janeway was a very hands-on captain. Seven knew she liked to see all of the reports pertaining to her ship. Also, the former Borg had no intention of missing any opportunity to see the other woman. In the days since she had realized just what she wanted from Janeway, her desires had only intensified. She had studied them, putting her feelings under a mental microscope, trying to understand the logical reasons for her thoughts and fantasies. Now, in Kathryn's presence once again, she fully accepted that emotion bypassed logic. The heat in her veins had nothing to do with the other woman's skills as a captain, her knowledge of tactics, stellar navigation, or astrophysics. It was something far past admiration, respect, or companionship. It was hot, blinding, and overwhelming; the sort of thing that could drive a sane person mad, or make the mad sane once again, as Seven knew so well. It was Janeway's gentle handling that had brought her back from her own kind of insanity. The doctor had removed the Borg's appliances from her body, but it was Kathryn Janeway who had helped remove them from her soul. "Also, it is my preference," she added in a lower voice.

Janeway swallowed hard and barely resisted the urge to pull at her collar which suddenly seemed several sizes too tight. "Right," she breathed, wondering how she managed to force any air past the sudden constriction in her throat. "Preferences." Oh God, this was not getting any easier with time. In fact, it was getting harder and harder with every passing hour. Her eyes dropped to the reflective black surface of the desk as she tried to regain her shattered composure. It was no simple feat when Seven was standing right in front of her desk, every curve offered up for her perusal. "Well, I'm sure you've done an excellent job," she said with forced brightness as she forced herself to look up, blinking in surprise as she realized that Seven had come around the side of her desk and was standing no more than a pace or two away.

Seven's head was canted to one side as she studied the captain, noting her response with eyes that saw too much. The young woman straightened, folding her hands together at the small of her back, unknowingly throwing her chest into sharp relief.

Janeway swallowed hard as she felt her blood pressure leap through hoops once again. It was fast becoming a wonder she hadn't collapsed with a major stroke all things considered.

"I still wish to learn to play poker," Seven said formally. "And I still wish to learn from you."

Janeway's mouth went dry in an instant and her first thought was to flee, but how far could she really go on a starship, particularly while being pursued by a very determined and insanely gorgeous Borg. She made a soft sound in the back of her throat, unable to believe what she was about to do. "And if, as your captain, I ordered you to do something personal that you did not wish to do, what would you do?" she abruptly questioned, wondering what madness was driving her to ask. Her eyes fell to rounded breasts. Scratch that question. She knew exactly what was driving her.

Seven shook her head. "I would refuse," she answered calmly, sensing that the question was a test. She leaned forward, bracing her hands on the armrests on either side of the captain's chair. "I do not desire Captain Janeway," she intoned firmly. "I desire Kathryn...and I have come to understand that I am unwilling to accept anything less."

Janeway swallowed hard, amazed to feel a wicked sense of disappointment at the answer, even though it was the one she wanted. She needed to know that Seven wasn't simply trying to please her mentor figure, that she was still in control of her part of the situation, that she understood her own emotions. Her eyes fell away again and it took considerable effort for her to resist the urge to massage the back of her neck. "I haven't been sleeping well...lately..." she murmured hesitantly as her eyes dropped back to the surface of the desk. "Since our last...conversation...actually, since our first conversation about...well...prurient interests..." she said haltingly. That's it, Katie--she thought disgustedly--seduce her with your romantic sweet talk.

"My rejuvenation periods have been disturbed also," Seven admitted as she continued to study Janeway's face, noting the expressions that quicksilvered through her eyes. During her off hours, she had spent hours imagining those eyes watching her, looking at her with the sort of hunger and affection she often glimpsed between Paris and Torres and other couples aboard Voyager. "I have been thinking of you."

It was like those simple words tripped a switch in Kathryn Janeway's chest, sending her pulse into overdrive and threatening to send her crashing to the floor in a dead faint-which was about as far from her normal mode of behavior as it was humanly possible to be. Mark hadn't even come close to making her feel this way. No one had ever come close to making her feel this way except perhaps her first real relationship at the academy. That too had been hot and desperate, but this was all that and more. She didn't just want to touch Seven, make love to her and adore her body, she wanted to know her, understand her, learn every secret within that deliciously complex mind. "Well, at least I'm not the only one," she sighed, well and truly surrendering to her fate. She had managed to resist for something over five days...probably a record for anyone faced with Seven's steely determination mode. Kathryn ran a shaky hand through her hair, combing it back from her face as she studied the young woman poised in front of her.

"No," Seven confirmed perfectly seriously. "Not the only one."

Kathryn's heart was in her throat as the younger woman reached down to touch her cheek, but she rose, amazingly aware of the warmth of Seven's fingertips as they brushed along the arch of her cheekbone.

"You are beautiful," Seven exhaled, the compliment seeming strange coming from this woman who was usually so much more comfortable discussing astrometrics than human emotions. Then long slender fingers slid into the silky hair at Kathryn's temple, testing the texture and playing with the delicate strands. It was a sensory pleasure she had never really allowed herself to enjoy before. She'd touched her own hair, knew it was every bit as soft and yet the sensations that came from touching Janeway's silky brown locks were totally different, making her aware of a thousand thoughts and longings that she had privately doubted when she'd heard others expound on them. For the first time in her life, Seven of Nine was a believer.

Janeway shook her head. She knew she was reasonably attractive, with good features and in fair condition, but beautiful. No, she couldn't see herself that way, especially not when standing in front of this incredible exotic woman, whose face and body seemed to have been designed to exemplify every physical perfection. "You," she whispered and reached up to stroke crimson cupid's bow lips, outlining the neat curves with the tip of her finger, "are the beautiful one...physically...mentally...everything about you...."

Seven flinched, uncertain how to respond. Many times, she had been aware of the pointed gazes of her fellow crewmembers following her, their looks sometimes merely appreciative, and other times full of heat and desire. She had ignored them all with casual disdain, careless of their hunger, viewing her body as nothing more than a vessel. For the first time, she wanted to see that glimmer of lust in another being's eyes, and she was gratified by the lights that gleamed in her captain's eyes. "I wish to kiss you," Seven exhaled, unable to rein in these new thoughts and feelings.

Janeway's brows lifted and she couldn't help but wonder if she would ever get used to Seven's disarming honesty, but for once she didn't try to resist it. "Yes," she exhaled, tilting her head back to meet warm lips as the taller woman leaned down.

The kiss was more than a little tentative on both their parts, Seven because of the newness of the experience and Janeway because of the newness of Seven's experience. Kathryn Janeway had kissed and been kissed more times than she could count, but none had prepared her for this encounter. She felt her body melt with needy arousal as their lips parted then met again and she tasted a tiny whimper of awareness that slipped from Seven's lips. "God," she breathed when the kiss broke again. She lifted her hand, stroking a high sculpted cheekbone, then moving on to outline the starred Borg implant that still decorated Seven's cheek just in front of her ear. Her fingers traveled on, finding the other implant at her brow. Seven pulled her head back ever so slightly, her eyes sliding away, a hint of shame marring her expression.

Kathryn dropped her fingers to the younger woman's jaw, bringing her head back around until their eyes met. "Don't ever be ashamed of anything about yourself...every part of you fascinates me."

And then Seven allowed the gentle stroking caresses of the implant, quivering like a wild thing as though she wanted nothing more than to run. For the first time she had doubts about what she was doing as she remembered what she was. "I am no longer entirely human," she whispered very softly, the guilt from past crimes that she'd had no choice in thickening her voice.

"You're more than human enough for me," Janeway assured her, then slipped a hand behind her neck and drew her head back down. This time their kiss was hungrier, more passionate as both women unleashed more of their tightly maintained control. Their lips moved together, stroking, caressing, exploring. "More than human enough," she gasped in reaffirmation when their lips parted again.

Seven's eyes slid closed, her chest heaving as she dragged much needed oxygen into her lungs. "I am glad," she groaned, then took another deep breath, struggling to calm herself. "But I am still...still on duty..." she stammered unevenly, then swallowed hard before continuing only slightly more steadily, "I am due to return to the Astrometrics Lab. In fact, I should already be there."

Kathryn nodded jerkily, folding her arms tightly across her chest. For a very serious moment, she was more than a little tempted to call down to Astrometrics and tell them that Seven's unique skills were needed elsewhere on the ship. And then her finer instincts kicked in, reminding her that taking Seven off duty for personal reasons would not be an auspicious beginning to this new phase of their relationship. Besides, she was so tired she was almost out on her feet...which also would not make for an auspicious beginning to things. "Right," she exhaled. "Go on," she murmured. "You don't want to leave them waiting for you."

Seven frowned ever so slightly, momentarily thinking that Janeway was backing away once again.

Instead the captain cleared her throat before speaking carefully. "And when you get off duty, would you do me the honor of joining me in my cabin for those poker lessons?"

Seven blinked in surprise. Whatever she had been expecting, somehow that wasn't it, but it warmed a place deep in her soul. "Yes," she whispered simply, then added, "My duty shift ends at oh-eight-hundred. I will come to your cabin then?" Her voice lifted, making her words into a question, despite seeming like they should have been a statement.

Kathryn nodded. "Oh-eight-hundred it is."

Seven could not take her eyes off of her captain's face, hungry to see the flickering emotions in her eyes. "I...I must go now," she said at last.

Kathryn nodded, equally absorbed in Seven's crystal gaze. "I look forward to seeing you later."

Finally, Seven had no choice but to leave, slipping out on silent feet, the only sound to indicate her passing, the soft whoosh of the doors as they opened to allow her exit, then closed again after she had passed through.

When she was alone again, Kathryn slowly sank down into the chair behind her desk, her expression distant, more aroused and aware of her body than she had been in a very long time, perhaps moreso than she'd ever been before--at least after something as simple as a kiss. Good Lord, she'd always been one to consider love simply one more controllable reality in the world, a thing to be viewed logically, important, but not the be all and end all of her existence. Well, it looked like those rules were out the window now.

She rubbed the back of her neck slowly. At least she had a few hours to get enough sleep that she'd be conscious later. Now wouldn't that be just too ironic if she fell asleep right in the middle of her big seduction scene.

* * * * * *

The soft chime of her cabin door brought Kathryn Janeway's head around. Her breath threatened to catch, but she spoke clearly, "Come."

A brief second later, the door slid open to reveal a familiar figure standing there, looking as she always did, her hair up, a silvery blue bodysuit molding to every luscious curve, her expression serious. And yet, there was something more there, an awareness in her eyes that bespoke the changes and new feelings growing in her breast. She stepped over the threshold, then stood perfectly still as the door slid closed in her wake, blinking while her eyes adjusted to the soft illumination that lit the room. "Captain," Seven of Nine said very softly.

Kathryn winced and shook her head. "No titles tonight...here, it's Kathryn."

Seven nodded in acknowledgment. "Kathryn."

They stared at one another for a long moment, neither one knowing quite what to say or do next, until finally Janeway held up her hand, revealing a deck of cards.

"Poker lessons," the captain said simply.

Seven nodded. "Poker lessons," she agreed. Her eyes followed Janeway as she crossed to the small dining table on the opposite side of the room, taking in the neat vee of her back, then trailing down to the flare of her hips. "I have now read about the permutation of the game you thought I played with Tom Paris...and...I wish to be tutored by you."

Janeway did a slow turn, a wry smile dancing on her lips. "I'm afraid that could prove tricky," her eyes slid over Seven's figure and she gestured loosely in her direction, "because you're a little short on chips."

Seven frowned in confusion, not fully understanding the comment.

Janeway's smile became teasing, and the former Borg found herself lost in the expression. This was a side to the woman in front of her that she had only glimpsed before and it was fascinating. "All you have to bet is a bodysuit and boots and...well...that's it...it seems a little unfair..." Kathryn trailed off. And besides, she wasn't quite ready for things to go that far. She slid the cards out of their case, fanning them, then snapping them back together. "I propose something a little different."

Seven drew nearer, bewitched by this side of Kathryn. Wry, sensual, her eyes sparkling with humor, she was amazingly appealing. She sank down into the nearest of the two chairs. "Explain."

"Somehow, I knew you'd say that," Janeway exhaled as she took her own seat, sitting near Seven, but not too close. She began shuffling the cards with automatic skill. "I think we should bet something a little more personal but a little less substantial...at least at first." She began to deal as she explained....

Kathryn had played more than a few rounds of poker in her life. She knew how to play the game and she was lucky enough to draw three Jacks in the first round. They bid back and forth, each one studying the other. Seven had been born to bluff, but Janeway could see the uncertain gleam in her eye. She didn't have a winning hand, but she wanted to take the first round--badly--so she wasn't folding. There was no question in her mind. Finally, she called.

"The first rule of bluffing," Janeway informed Seven as she revealed her cards. "Never let your opponent see how badly you want to win."

The former Borg nodded, absorbing the lesson with her usual aplomb. "You have won." Few people would have picked up on the delicate emotions threaded through the words, but Janeway did. She knew how overwhelming the world had to seem at times for this young woman.

Dark brows lifted as a hint of a smile graced Kathryn's lips. "Yes...I have," she agreed. "Which means I get one confession from you." She tapped the cards thoughtfully as she studied the younger woman, trying to decide how to spend her newfound currency. "How long," she whispered at last, "have you felt this way?"

Seven paused as she considered her answer. The obvious response was to refer back to the conversation that had set things spinning in motion. That had been the moment of realization, but her feelings? She abruptly saw that those had been building much longer. "I don't know," she admitted at last. "But I think it has been some time."

"Good enough," Janeway allowed, secretly pleased that the younger woman's feelings weren't new, since she knew her own weren't.

It was Seven's turn to deal and she shuffled the cards with ease before passing them out. She took the advice on bluffing to heart, her expression showing nothing of her desire to win, and nothing of the cards in her hand. A flush beats a pair of fours and before it was over, she'd won a confession.

Seven didn't pause. She already knew what question she wanted answered. "Do you desire me?" the former Borg questioned.

That laid it all out on the table. No going back once she'd answered that one, Janeway realized in a rush. The room seemed to shrink around her. Then again, they were already way past the point of no return. "Yes," she breathed, barely getting the single word out, though it was amazing what a relief it was to finally say it. "Desperately."

Seven let out a breath she hadn't even been aware of holding.

The next round went to Janeway, who won a confession of her own from the beautiful former Borg.

"Why me?" she questioned.

A faint line formed between sculpted brows as Seven considered the question for a long moment. She started to answer once, only to fall silent before speaking. Finally, she began to hesitantly answer. "I do not know. I could tell you a thousand things I find attractive about you, but they are not the reason for what I feel...." She shook her head in wonderment. "I only know that I do feel for you."

They were both on their game for the next round, steely gazes matched over the edges of their cards. The betting rose higher with each passing moment, each woman confident of her hand, until finally Seven called--and Janeway won. Four Jacks to a full house.

"It looks like this round goes to me," Janeway murmured, a wicked smile touching her lips.

"Yes," Seven said, her expression faintly uncertain. After all, the betting had gone higher than she'd expected. She didn't know what her captain would ask.

"Your hair," Janeway exhaled after a long beat, her eyes touching on the blond hair bound into its customary neat French roll. "Let it down." During the past five days, she'd fantasized constantly about watching Seven slowly, luxuriantly unpin the silken mass to let it fall around her shoulders.

Seven frowned. "It is convenient this way," she murmured.

"I know, but I'd like to see it down. You're not going to welsh on a bet, are you?"

In answer Seven reached up and began tugging pins out of her hair, her expression shuttered as she plucked them free.

Mesmerized, Kathryn watched as blond silk spilled out of its neat roll, fall around narrow shoulders in glistening waves that made her hands itch to touch. God, she had resisted this for five days? It was a miracle. She swallowed hard, wondering if it was possible to implode from arousal. Her mind still on the probable texture of the silky waves, she didn't keep her focus on the game during the second round and made the mistake of telegraphing her hand and bidding too high. She lost by drawing to an inside straight and busted with an empty hand.

"You win some, you lose some," Kathryn breathed as she noted Seven's hand.

"And I have won this one," Seven said, her voice thickening with hungry lust. Her eyes slid over Janeway's figure, taking in the tailored cut of her uniform. "One time," she began, her expression momentarily distant as she summoned the memory to the fore, "when there was a weapons drill during your off-duty period, you stepped out of your cabin wearing a night gown--lavender satin--I wish to see you in it again."

Janeway froze for a moment. Well that was getting down to brass tacks, but she'd known from the first moment she'd invited Seven to her cabin that it would. "All right," she said at last and carefully stood. "I'll be back in a minute."

Long moments later, she stepped back into the livingroom, very little of her figure concealed by the pale gown that left her arms and back bare and veed deeply in front before molding to her waist and hips and falling to the floor in flowing ripples.

Seven's breath caught and she could do little more than stare as Kathryn returned to her seat. Unable to keep her mind on the game after that, she really should have lost the next hand, but luck was on her side, and no amount of bluffing could get around it. Besides, Janeway wasn't in much better shape, so it wasn't much of a competition.

Seven knew exactly what she prize she wanted for her victory. "I wish to kiss you," she requested, her voice low and intense.

Since it was what she would have requested if she'd won the round, Janeway nodded, gasping a moment later as warm lips met her own. The heated kiss deepened with every passing second, then a powerful hand fitted itself to her hip, drawing her out of her chair and onto Seven's lap. The time for games was quickly passing away. Seven skimmed the silky skirt upward to stroke an even silkier inner thigh.

Kathryn moaned into the heady kiss, stroking the bare flesh above the edge of Seven's high collar.

"I have read several books," Seven murmured through the blending of their lips, her voice huskier than normal, though her pronunciation somehow maintained its crisp quality. "On sexual contact between women...and memorized charts on the female anatomy..." As erotic conversation went, it was at least unique.

"It's nothing like reading a book," Janeway murmured, then rose, catching Seven's fine boned hands in her own and tugging her to her feet. The time for games was over. She lifted the younger woman's hand to press soft kisses across the knuckles and stroke the delicate metallic implants that decorated one slender hand. "And it's not just sex, it's lovemaking. It's about being with someone...pleasing them...and yourself...." She released Seven's hands to trail her fingertips up the length of her arms, then smoothed them along the breadth of her shoulders. The younger woman stood perfectly still, absorbed in the leisurely caresses. She shivered a moment later as exploring fingers just barely brushed over the curve of her breasts.

"Come to me," Kathryn whispered, then turned and ambled into her bedroom.

Her eyes locked on the sensual sway of rounded hips, Seven stood paralyzed for the longest moment, and then she straightened her shoulders to start forward. She found Janeway already seated on the foot of her bed, her pose deceptively casual. She was nowhere near as calm as she seemed the former Borg realized as she noted the tension that rippled through her arms and shoulders. Her gaze lifted, locking with Kathryn's, and then she reached up, finding the hidden seam that closed her form-fitting bodysuit. She knew the captain had seen her naked body when the doctor first removed her implants, but this was different. She saw her own reflection in Janeway's eyes as she parted the front of the bodysuit and deliberately slowed her movements, instinctively sensing that anticipation only intensified the hot need burning through both of them. For the first time in her life, she appreciated the beauty she'd been blessed with, thriving on the hungry admiration she saw in the other woman's gaze.

Janeway felt her breath catch as the younger woman revealed her body inch by glorious inch. She wore no underclothes, and her skin was pale and porcelain smooth. Muscles flexed gracefully as she peeled the silver-blue fabric back. Another few inches parted, exposing full, coral-tipped breasts.

Kathryn was amazed the other woman couldn't hear the hammering of her heart, it was beating so hard. Her hands itched to touch, but she sat still, watching, allowing Seven to take her time and learn how the seduction game was played.

The fabric parted several more inches, allowing Kathryn to catch a glimpse of more smooth skin and silver implants, then Seven peeled the garment all the way off of her arms and let it fall down her back, completely baring her naked torso. A delicate black and silver implant trailed down her right side from just below her arm pit, splitting into four slender fingers that followed the underside of her breast and the curve of her ribs, the effect oddly appealing. Another of the biomechanical implants followed the outer curve of gently banded stomach muscles just to the left of her navel. She shimmied out of the garment, slowly revealing a delicate spidery implant running along the outer curve of her hip, down her thigh and calf and finally ending in a starred shape that wrapped around her ankle bone. The garment spilled to her feet in a silvery pool and she kicked out of the matching boots, then stood perfectly naked in front of the woman who was to be her lover.

"You're beautiful," Kathryn exhaled heavily, her eyes moving over Seven's rounded curves like a palpable caress. "So beautiful." Her chin lifted, meeting the other woman's crystal sharp gaze once again. "Do you want me to touch you?" she husked raggedly, uncertain what she'd do if the answer was no. Crawl out a hatch maybe.

"More than I have ever wanted anything," Seven answered honestly.

"Come here," Kathryn invited. Her head tilted back as the blond crossed to stand in front of her. Unable to resist temptation, she reached out, spreading her fingers wide as she rested her palm lightly on Seven's stomach, feeling the faint quivers that trembled through her muscles. Her skin was amazingly soft and warm, while the implants were fluid, their smooth surface eerily cool under her fingertips. "So perfect," she breathed again and slid her other hand along a rounded hip, tugging her closer as she arched forward to taste the curve of the former Borg's ribs, tracing the faint rise and hollows with the very tip of her tongue. She felt Seven's breath catch and tasted the sudden acceleration of her pulse. "Tell me what you feel," she whispered against velvety skin.

The answers came in ragged bursts as though the stunning blond couldn't quite form the words to answer. "Hot...I ache..." She lifted her hands to slender shoulders, massaging them lightly before sliding her fingers up into her lover's thick fall of hair. Soft lips followed the trail laid out by the implant that outlined the bottom edge of her breast and she shuddered, gripping Kathryn's shoulders tightly, afraid her knees might buckle without the support. It was as though the contact points between her flesh and Borg technology were shorting out, sending sparks through hypersensitive nerve endings. "...electric...sharp..." Her chest heaved as she fought to draw air into suddenly constricted lungs.

"Where?" Janeway questioned as she gave way to the temptation to touch and learn sweet curves. She ran her tongue along the implant in Seven's stomach, brushing the sandpaper roughness over flesh and metal in delicate strokes.

"There," Seven panted, her voice becoming a husky remnant of itself. "Everywhere," she groaned and Kathryn shuddered as she truly heard the tone of need and raging desire she'd been fantasizing about for days.

"God," Janeway groaned suddenly, and stood, dragging her tongue up the center of Seven's torso as she worked her fingers into thick blond hair to tug her head down. The meeting of their lips was out of control, filled with the sort of desperation that most people can only dream about.

When Kathryn pushed her toward the bed, the former Borg went more than willingly. Kneeling on the edge while her lover reached for the hem of her gown. Seven batted aside those competent hands that were so much smaller than her own, then clutched the silky fabric and tore it off over Janeway's head, letting it fall forgotten to the floor as she stared at the body she had revealed. An active life had left Janeway's body well toned and fit, while her skin was smooth and lightly tanned, though a few pale scars served as mute testimony to the dangers she'd faced as a Starfleet officer. Seven reached out with a tentative hand to lightly trace a ragged line that cut a diagonal slice across her ribcage. "You were hurt," she said very softly, her heart clutching at the thought of anything harming this amazing woman.

"I ran into a drunk Klingon while on shore leave a long time ago," Janeway admitted with a wry smile. "And the local doctor didn't have access to the most advanced medical techniques in the universe. I left it as a reminder to pick my fights more carefully."

Seven leaned forward, mouthing the scar with exquisite tenderness, while she smoothed her palms along the S curve of her lover's waist. "I wish I had been there to protect you," she whispered against warm skin.

Janeway slid her fingers into cool blond hair, sifting through the sleek strands as she released herself to the loving caresses. "It wasn't that bad really...not much more than a scratch...." Her head tipped back on her shoulders as Seven's lips slid into the valley between her breasts.

"I would not even allow you to be scratched if I could prevent it," Seven exhaled as she trailed soft kissed up over the top edge of a gently rounded breast. She lifted her head as she gently fondled the warm mound, watching warm flesh pull taut under her fingers, noting the contrast of Borg implants against two tones of human flesh. "This feels good?" she murmured.

Janeway swallowed hard and nodded, tipping her head back down to press a soft kiss to Seven's temple. "Very good," she answered, the words trailing off into a tiny gasp as Seven closed her lips over the swollen tip of her breast briefly before resting her forehead against Kathryn's sternum.

Everything Seven had read about sex and intimacy hadn't prepared her--couldn't have prepared her-- for the reality of making love. She smoothed a hand down Kathryn's hip, then stroked her belly, feeling the gentle ripple of banded muscles before sliding slower. She heard her lover's tiny moan as her fingers touched soft curls, then felt her gasp sharply as she slipped fingers into soft flesh. "You are aroused," she said as she felt the proof of her statement.

"Very much so," Kathryn groaned and dragged Seven's head up to kiss her hungrily. She traced her other hand over smooth curves before dipping into slick heat. Knowing fingers drew a low whimper, and Seven wrapped her free hand around Kathryn's waist, hauling her close with desperate strength.

They tumbled together onto the mattress without slowing the sweet kisses or caresses. Janeway straddled her lover's hips as she leaned down to dust delicate kisses over her cheeks and down the arch of her throat. "You even taste good," she breathed, then covered Seven's lips again, absorbing her low moan as her fingers stroked more deeply.

"I think you like that," Kathryn whispered and dropped a kiss between full breasts. The words melted into a soft groan as Seven's fingers perfectly mimicked the caress. "You learn fast," the captain praised breathlessly.

"I have always been a quick study," Seven agreed in her unique way, then cried out very softly as she arched into more sweet caresses that sent electricity searing through every hypersensitive nerve ending.

"Careful," Janeway warned. "That came dangerously close to being a joke."

Seven rolled her lover underneath her with controlled strength, then stared down at her. The faintest of smiles curved her lips. "You have wished for me to learn more about human interaction," she deadpanned. She moved against the woman underneath her, experimenting with this newfound power to cause such indescribable pleasure. "I think I am doing rather well."

"Now that," Kathryn groaned as she responded with a few answering thrusts of her own, "was definitely a joke."

And then neither of them had anything left for clever remarks; they were too lost in the ebb and flow of their own pleasure. Mouths and bodies wedded, the lover's moved together in a slow thrust and parry, filling the air with the soft sounds and smells of sensual pleasure.

Seven's breath caught, her muscles rippling with ever increasing tension while hot liquid arousal burned through her veins and the first shudders of orgasm wracked her slender frame. She cried out as hot pleasure flared outward from her center and arched into the curves pressed intimately against her own.

Kathryn cried out in response to the rich increase in friction, clinging more tightly to her lover, devouring her soft cries hungrily as she felt her own orgasm ripple through her. In the moments that followed her every sense exploded with hot pleasure so intense that it seemed as though every nerve ending had to be fried to a crisp in the ensuing conflagration. The luscious ripples went on for long minutes, finally draining away to leave them cuddling together, both sleepily exhausted. Soft, affectionate kisses followed, more sweet than sensual this time.

"I didn't..." Seven groaned but ran out of words. "I could not have guessed," she tried again, but that wasn't adequate either. "Nothing could have prepared me."

Kathryn kissed her cheek softly. "Earth shattering, isn't it?" she breathed as she wrapped her arms tightly around Seven, holding her close.

Seven stared at her lover wonderingly. "Is it always..." she whispered and trailed off, her question apparent.

Janeway shook her head. "Oh no...no, that was definitely unique." She kissed her lover softly on the lips. "Like you."

Seven lay back and closed her eyes, focusing on the physical sensations still vibrating through her lean frame. "I begin to understand humans better," she observed, her tone once again its usual dry, unemotional self, though her hand was tender as she continued to play with strands of sweat damp brown hair. She felt a gentle hand stroke her chest very lightly.

"What do you mean?" Kathryn questioned.

Seven opened one eye to peer up into Janeway's darker gaze. "Human history is erratic, much of it driven by the desire for love and sex." She closed her eye, relaxing into the mattress as she continued. "I never knew why before. Now I can understand needing this so badly, a person would do anything for it." Both eyes slid open this time as she studied the woman lying next to her. "Why someone would do anything for someone they love."

Kathryn absorbed the words, her expression thoughtful, then waited a long moment before clearing her throat to begin speaking. "I was wrong before...to think of you as...as young...and unready. " She stroked Seven's brow with the tips of her fingers. "Part of learning...of growth...is experience." She leaned forward to kiss Seven's mouth softly. "It was time."

The blond nodded. "Only to learn from you," she proclaimed absolutely seriously.

The captain's mouth twisted in a wry smile. "And in the teaching, I learned a lesson as well," she admitted, then shook her head with a mildly disgusted sigh. "I realize now that Chakotay was right. I can't go through the rest of my life with no one."

Seven pushed up on her elbow to study Janeway carefully. "When I was taken by the Borg Queen, I told you that Voyager had become my collective, but now I realize it is more complex than that." She brushed her fingers along her lover's brow. "You are also my collective."

Janeway was struck dumb for a long moment, but finally, she nodded. "And you're mine now."

Seven settled back onto the mattress, while Janeway cuddled up against her side, resting her head sleepily on a narrow shoulder, while she draped her forearm across Seven's midsection. Later, they would make love again, but that moment was for sharing the languorous aftermath and companionship that came from being lovers and sleeping in each other's arms.

EPILOGUE

Janeway stepped onto the bridge lightly, her eyes bright as she studied the starfield stretched out before Voyager, each glittering point of light a new possibility. She took a long sip from her coffee cup, enjoying the feel of the hot, tangy brew on the back of her throat.

"You seem to be feeling better," Chakotay observed as he came up beside her.

Janeway glanced over, russet brows high on her forehead, a hint of a smile touching her lips. "Nothing like a little R and R to make a body feel better."

Chakotay eyed her curiously, trying to decide whether she had taken his advice or not, and uncertain which answer to hope for. To say the least, he was conflicted about the subject. "Well, whatever you did, it appears to have done the trick."

The captain's smile broadened a tiny notch. "Yes, Mister Chakotay, it did. And I suspect it will go on doing so for some time to come."

Well, that answered that question. "I'm glad for you, Captain.."

Janeway eyed him for a brief moment before speaking, her tone sincere. "Thank you for your help, Chakotay. You were right."

The commander's eyebrows rose. "Well, that should teach you to always listen to your first officer."

The captain laughed almost inaudibly. "Good point." Then she settled into the daily grind of command. Only once did she pause...when Seven stepped onto the bridge to cover her shift. Their eyes met, electricity arcing between them as the shared knowledge of their relationship glittered in their eyes.

And then they both returned to their duties, secure in the knowledge that the journey had only begun.

END

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