Disclaimer: I don't own these characters; they belong to Paramount and were brought to life by those lovely and talented ladies Kate Mulgrew and Jeri Ryan. No profit is made nor infringement intended. I'm just borrowing them for a little while and I promise to put them back when I'm through. Whether or not they'll ever be the same again is anybody's guess.
Rating: M/NC-17 If you have a problem with two adult women in a committed, loving relationship then this is where you need to find something else to read.
Distribution: Do not archive or repost without author's permission.
Feedback: As always, constructive criticism and comments are welcome.
Summary: It's Christmas time, and Kathryn's priorities are confused. She gets some unexpected help in sorting them out.
A/N: I must give thanks to the people who labored mightily to wrestle this into a readable story. Quiethearted and JAZwriter13 uncomplainingly dealt with thousands of extraneous commas (both deleting AND adding), corrected my ongoing and unapologetic misuse of the ellipse and managed to keep my plot churning determinedly in the direction it needed to go despite my whines, pleas and threats. Ladies, you are amazing. A would-be writer could have no better friends.
A/N: I would also be remiss if I did not fervently thank Gina Dartt for a singular bit of fanon she created in her Just Between series. Where, oh where, would J/7 fan fiction be without the WonderWand 9000?
"Dammit, Seven! Go if you want to; all I'm saying is that I can't!"
"Kathryn, she is your mother. This is important to her."
"So you go. Hell, she likes you better than me anyway!"
"That is inaccurate and you know it. Your mother loves you beyond measure."
Grumbling, Admiral Kathryn Janeway waved an "I don't care; do whatever - just leave me in peace" gesture in her lover's general direction and returned to the pile of PADDS on her desk. Seven regarded her gravely for a long moment then turned and quietly left the study of their San Francisco home.
This latest squabble had originated with a hail from Janeway's mother, Gretchen, from the family farm in Indiana. Her request had been simple: she wanted everyone to come home next week for Christmas. Kathryn had balked, pleading the demands of her duties at Starfleet Headquarters and Seven had not been pleased. Seven adored Gretchen and the older woman had loved her "almost" daughter-in-law from the moment Kathryn had brought the beautiful young woman down the gangway from Voyager to introduce five years ago.
The intervening years had brought many changes to their lives. Kathryn had accepted promotion to flag rank and taken over critical tactical duties at Starfleet Headquarters, and Seven had begun her career as one of the preeminent researchers at the prestigious MIT-Daystrom Institute. Her invention of the Hansen Processor and her highly buffered interface protocols for CPU/deflector arrays had made the development of a working quantum slipstream drive possible for the first time. Thanks to the foresight of the director of MIT-Daystrom and Gretchen's financial advisors, Seven was now one of the wealthiest beings in the galaxy. But nothing had dimmed her love of Kathryn's family, younger sister Phoebe included.
Seven stalked out of the study, went into a converted walk-in closet adjacent to their bedroom, and locked the door behind her. The room was small and contained one fully-functional Borg alcove brought back on Voyager from the Delta quadrant. It also contained a filled bookcase and comfortable chair to cushion the backsides of any lonely ex-starship captains wishing to stay near their former drone-lovers whilst said former drone-lovers regenerated. It had been so long since Kathryn had used the chair to stay with her during her cycle that Seven had taken over the room as a private haven to escape their increasingly frequent arguments.
She settled into the chair and pulled the PADD that had been resting on it into her lap, considering what to do. Finally, she accessed the COMM protocols and hailed the youngest Janeway at her studio in Paris. In a moment a face hauntingly similar to Kathryn's but with luxurious chestnut hair and gray eyes appeared on her screen.
"Seven! Hi darlin'. What's new and exciting?"
"Your mother called earlier to invite us to Bloomington for Christmas."
"Yeah, I know. She called me, too. When are you and Kathryn arriving?"
"I don't know if we will be coming. Kathryn's work is pressing, and she does not seem to believe that she can get away."
The beautiful face before her became somewhat less attractive as Phoebe scowled impressively. "What the hell does she think she's doing? Shit, she's worse than Dad was. He broke Mom's heart every time he couldn't be home, and now Kathryn's doing the same damned thing to her. What's wrong with my sister, anyway?"
Seven's equally beautiful face clouded as unwanted tears filled her eyes. "I do not know, Phoebe. But she seems to be ignoring everything that was once important to her."
"Everything?" Phoebe's keen ears picked up on the hurt in Seven's voice. "Are you okay, Seven?"
"I will adapt. Kathryn is only attempting to adjust to her new duties. Headquarters has added additional responsibilities to her position."
"Bullshit. My sister could do any job at Starfleet Headquarters with one hand tied behind her back, and you know it. Adjusting? She's had five years to adjust. Ought to be settled into the job by now. And the last thing she should be ignoring is you."
Phoebe's heart plummeted when she saw the tears Seven could not contain any longer spill out as she hung her head. After a long moment she watched Seven straightened and wipe them away.
"Honey, are you all right?" Phoebe's quiet, loving voice only made things worse. Seven sniffed and rallied.
"As I said, I will adapt. But I cannot give you or your mother a definite answer about Christmas, yet. Kathryn and I will need to discuss the issue again."
"What about you? You're off for the winter break, aren't you?"
"Yes, I am on vacation until after the New Year."
"Well then, come by yourself. If Kathryn wants to stay and work, that's her business. Mom and I want you to be there."
"I will consider it, Phoebe. Please tell your mother I will be in contact with her soon."
"I will, honey. You take care of yourself, you hear?"
"And you as well. Goodnight."
Phoebe Janeway sprawled back in her desk chair and spun around to face the bank of windows that looked out over the City of Lights. Paris during the Christmas season was a fantasy of light and romance, and Phoebe reveled in it. She had been working at her Paris studio for nearly half a year and was putting the finishing touches on the last of the paintings that would debut at the Gallérie Nationale in mid-January. These latest works would cement her position as one of the most talented artists in the quadrant and add a hefty sum to her already burgeoning bank accounts.
But none of that mattered right now. Right now, her older sister was not only going to break their mother's heart but probably lose the woman who loved her to boot. She wished she could do something; the look of abject misery on Seven's face nearly broke her heart. Kathryn didn't have the sense God gave a goose, sometimes. And worse yet, she was getting more and more like their father every day.
Damn you, Dad. You passed on the worst parts of yourself to her. Why the hell couldn't you have shown her how to love her family more than her duty? How much more do we have to suffer in the name of Starfleet? It's not enough that you ignored Kathryn, Mom, and me our whole lives, but now Kathryn's doing the same damned thing to not only us but to Seven as well! Respected Starfleet Admiral or not, you've got a hell of a lot to answer for.
The rest of the week flew by and soon it was Christmas Eve. Outside the panoramic windows of Starfleet Headquarters the lights of the city were already twinkling in the twilight but Janeway hardly noticed as she listened to her aide who was still on the COMM fielding demands from various departments for "just a moment of the Admiral's time." There were still three tactical plans to review and pass along the chain of command, and then there was the request from the Vulcan Institute to lecture that needed a reply. And to make matters worse, the latest Intel briefs indicated that the Romulans were up to their old tricks again and raiding some of the Klingon colonies that had sprung up since the end of the Dominion War. They'd most likely have to send patrol ships to the area to defuse the escalating tensions. She began to outline a tactical plan to run the Romulans out of Klingon space but couldn't concentrate. Her mind kept returning to the night before at home.
The clash had been epic. It was one of the rare times Seven had put her foot down and given her an ultimatum and Janeway's innate stubbornness had answered in kind. It had been a stalemate: Seven demanding that they go to Indiana for Christmas, and Janeway insisting that she didn't have the time. When the shouting had escalated into matching "I dare you to push it one more inch!" glares, Seven had abruptly turned on her heel and locked herself in the guest room. The door had still been locked this morning when Janeway had left for her office.
Giving a heavy sigh, she returned to her work, only to be brought up short by the memory of the restless night she'd spent without Seven's familiar presence beside her in their bed. Even during the worst of their arguments, Seven had never slept apart from her before. They may have fallen asleep beside each other in angry silence, but during the night one or both of them would unconsciously seek out the comforting warmth of the other, and they would wake in the morning wrapped in each other's arms. This morning she had awakened stiff, sore, and alone and had not liked it one bit. She needed to talk to Seven and get things back on an even keel again. Shifting uncomfortably in her chair, she admitted to herself that an apology would likely be required to do so. Well, if that's what it took, then so be it. She could show Seven she was the bigger person and apologize despite being right.
Her decision made, she stood and gathered her work PADDS. Dumping them into her briefcase, she called out to her aide in the outer office.
"Hardison? Let's call it a day."
The slender, young Lieutenant walked into her office with a questioning look on his face. She grinned back at him. "You've got a family, right? So go home to them."
He hesitated a minute then quietly asked, "And tomorrow?"
"I suppose you should have Christmas off to be with them, too. I'll see you early on the 26th, though. We're going to be busy for a while with the Romulans."
His grateful smile could have lit a black hole. "Thank you, Admiral. I'll be early on the 26th, I promise. It's just that the kids are at that age where Santa is still a big deal, and my wife was so upset at the thought..."
She cut him off before he could make her out to be an even bigger humbug than she already felt. "I get the picture. Go home and take tomorrow. I'll see you the day after, bright and early. And Merry Christmas or however you celebrate."
"Same to you, Admiral."
He had his boards secured and was out the door before she even managed to shrug into her overcoat. She trudged through Headquarters to the transporter bay, materializing on the transporter pad of the Hyde Street station in mere moments, and began the three-block walk home in the chilly night air. She called out to Seven as she unlocked the front door and shut it behind herself, but tonight there was no answering reply.
"Seven? Are you here?" Kathryn shucked off her overcoat and hung it in the front closet. "Seven?"
Only an echoing silence answered. She walked into the empty great room and realized for the first time that no effort had been made to decorate for the holidays. When they were first together, they had enjoyed hours of decorating the house and then making love amid the twinkling lights. When had that stopped being important? She walked into the adjacent kitchen. A new bottle of Janeway's favorite Irish whiskey and a PADD leaning against it on the gleaming island counter were the only signs that her lover had been in what was normally her favorite room. She picked up the PADD and activated it.
I have gone home to Indiana to spend the holidays with the family. I do not believe it would be a good idea for you to join us. I have a great deal of thinking to do about our future, and your presence would make that difficult. I will make your excuses to your mother.
P.S. I noticed your Jameson's bottle was empty, and since it is your favorite evening companion of late, I purchased you another.
A flash of anger surged through Janeway as she read through the message a second time. Favorite evening companion? She glared at the bottle and back at the PADD. Who did Seven think she was? And what was she trying to say? That she liked a drink or two to unwind after a long day at the office? What was wrong with that? Well, okay, sometimes it was more than a couple, but dammit, she worked hard and deserved to be able to relax however she wanted to. Talk about ultimatums! Was Seven trying to push her away? Because she was doing a great job of it if that was the case. Their next conversation was going to be a very serious one. But before her temper could allow her to make matters worse, the realization that any confrontation with Seven would now include her mother and sister as witnesses brought her up short. Might as well get some work out of the way first.
Grabbing the bottle and her briefcase, she walked into the study and set them on her desk. Crossing the room, she lit the fireplace and then returned to sit down behind her desk. She broke the seal on the liquor bottle and poured herself a generous measure as she activated her home terminal. She pulled the PADDS out of her case and synced the first one to her desktop unit.
As the screen came to life in front of her, she was surprised by the chime of an incoming hail from Headquarters. Most of the offices had been empty when she and Hardison had left, their occupants eager to get a head start on their holiday celebrations. Only the diehards or those with no families were still at work. She faced the screen, hit the COMM link, and then froze in disbelief at what she saw.
"Hello, Goldenbird. I've missed you." The handsome face of the late Admiral Edward Janeway confronted her sadly.
"D-Daddy?" How... What the hell? "I… I... Daddy, what's going on here?"
"I can't tell you that, Kathryn. Let's just say that I begged for a really big favor, and it was granted in the spirit of Christmas. Any more than that is classified far above your pay grade, I'm afraid."
This can't be real. I'm imagining it. Or...or it's another alien trying to get into my head like what happened on Voyager. But there's no Voyager for them to take control of now. How can this be?
"I'm real, honey. This isn't another alien trying to get control of you. After all, there's no Voyager now to try and steal. I'm just here for you, sweetheart."
"I don't understand, Daddy. Why?"
"I'm here for your salvation, Kathryn."
"My salvation? I'm fine...I'm an admiral now, just like you. Things are just... great."
"Just great, eh? All right, if not your salvation then let's call it your reclamation. But, honey, if things are really that great, why are you alone on Christmas Eve? Or rather why don't you have anyone more meaningful to spend Christmas Eve with than a bottle of booze?"
"But I do, Daddy. It's just that she doesn't understand. The Romulans are raiding what's left of the Klingon Empire, and I've got to figure out a way to push them back to their side of the neutral zone without igniting a quadrant-wide conflict. And then the Jem'Hadar remnants of the Dominion seem to be organizing in the Beta quadrant and we need to..."
"Kathryn." The beloved voice stopped her onrushing explanation. "Kathryn, listen to yourself. You're babbling about Romulans, and Jem'Hadar and Klingons and never once mentioning the really meaningful things. Seven understands perfectly. She's just chosen to focus on what's really important."
"Um-hmm. Like family: Seven, and your mother, and Phoebe. It's Christmas, Goldenbird. They're all that should matter at this time of year. Why are you ignoring them?"
"I'm not ignoring them, Daddy. I'm going to call them tomorrow and wish them Merry Christmas."
"You should be there with them tomorrow, sweetheart. That's what should matter to you."
"But Daddy, I don't understand. You were always gone, and we were just fine. Why shouldn't I try to be like you?"
"Because I was a miserable excuse for a husband and father. I allowed my stubbornness to overrule my heart, and I lost everything that should have meant something to me because of it."
"That's not true! We all love you and miss you."
"Kathryn, you were always too eager to see the best in me. But sweetheart, I broke your mother's heart so many times that by the time I was ready to settle down and stay close to home, she couldn't have cared less whether I was there every night. And your sister has never forgiven me for missing most of your childhoods."
"Well, that's Phoebe. She's always been emotionally overwrought and -"
"Kathryn, Phoebe's right. It's only since I've lost you all that I've learned what I cost our family. Honey, don't make the same mistakes I did. Don't ever let the job become more important to you than the people who love you the most."
"Daddy, I can balance the job and -"
"No, you can't, Kathryn. You're not. And if you aren't very, very careful, you're going to lose the best thing that's ever happened to you. You're going to lose Seven. Remember what it felt like when your future self told you she was going to die? Your heart nearly stopped. That's what finally scared you into telling her you loved her. But don't be the reason she leaves now! Don't let your Janeway hardheadedness ruin your life like I did. It's too late for me, but it's not too late for you. I've made sure of that."
"That favor I mentioned. You're going to be visited by three non-corporeal beings - spirits, if you will. Each has something to teach you. The first will appear at 0100 hours tomorrow, the second at the same time the next night, and the final one at the last stroke of midnight two days from now. Listen to the lessons they have and learn, Kathryn. Save yourself from the loneliness I suffer. Make things right before it's too late."
"But, Daddy, I don't think – "
"Gotta go now, Goldenbird. Pay attention, and learn the lessons. I love you, sweetheart."
"Daddy! No! Don't go!" But the screen faded to a deep blue, and a moment later the Starfleet insignia appeared with a sedately blinking cursor awaiting her command.
"Seven!" Janeway bolted awake bathed in a cold sweat from the nightmare and quickly regretted it. Her head pounded, and her mouth tasted like the mud in a barnyard. After her encounter with her father on the COMM she had spent the rest of the evening with her bottle of Jameson's and had fallen into bed only after a goodly portion of its contents had vanished. She grabbed her throbbing head with both hands as she heard the faint chiming of the antique grandfather clock in the front hall. Half past the hour.
But what hour? It was pitch black outside, so she knew it was still night. She looked at the door to the bedroom, and nothing seemed amiss. No sounds from the main part of the house indicated any spiritual presence. Finally satisfied that she had hallucinated the entire encounter with her father, she fell back against the pillows and waited for confirmation of that conclusion. Three-quarters of the hour was announced by the next chime. She waited again and finally heard the chime of the hour.
Only one chime rang out: 0100 hours. She listened intently. Still no indication of any non-corporeal activity. Just as she began to relax and talk herself into believing that she had imagined everything, the door to her bedroom flew open, and a ghostly figure clothed in a gleaming white tunic floated into the room. Janeway gasped.
"I took a shape that you would not fear, Admiral."
"Are you the spirit my father told me about?"
"Yes, I am the Ghost of Christmas Past."
"No, your past. Come with me now, and let us see what we may see." The figure held out her arm to Janeway, and, trembling, she rose from the bed to gingerly take the proffered hand.
In an instant they were flying over snow-covered hills. Janeway gasped in astonishment as the familiar fields flew beneath them. A moment later and she found herself in the Janeway living room just after dawn with her non-corporeal guide. A large fir tree stood proudly, covered in holographic lights and glittering ornaments, large piles of gaily-wrapped packages under it. Very soon, the clatter of small feet and the excited voices of children could be heard as the Janeway girls stormed downstairs in their pajamas, followed closely by their yawning parents.
The two young girls dove into the mass of presents and began tearing open the wrappings as the adults watched indulgently. When the last one had finally been revealed, the grownups gathered the shredded wrappings to be recycled, and they adjourned to the kitchen for some much-needed coffee while the children played with their new toys.
"Are you going to give me the silent treatment all day long or just this morning? I told you it couldn't be helped."
"I'm not giving you any treatment at all, Edward. It was Kathryn's pageant you missed. You ought to apologize to her. She practiced for a solid week to make sure she had her lines perfect for you."
"C'mon, Gretchen, cut me some slack here. You know that we're doing everything possible to avoid an all-out war with the Cardassians."
"Yes, Edward. And before that it was rogue elements of the Klingon Empire, and before that it was the Romulans, and before that it was the rumor of some cybernetic race from the Delta quadrant. The Burg? Wasn't that it?"
"The Borg. And if half of what we've heard about them is true, they're a huge threat to the Federation."
"The Burg, the Borg; who gives a damn? Your children won't be children for long, and you're missing it. Your family should be more important than some alien race you don't even know for sure exists!" She spun on her heel to carry mugs of hot cocoa out to the girls and left him trying to formulate some kind of comeback.
Later that afternoon they sat down to a sumptuous Christmas dinner. The girls had finally calmed down and napped around noon, and their weary parents had at least avoided revisiting their earlier argument. But no sooner had they filled the girls' plates than the all-too-familiar chime was heard on the COMM unit in the den. A fearful look ghosted across the oldest girl's face at the sound.
"Daddy, don't! Please, Daddy, you promised us you'd be here."
"And I intend to keep that promise, Kathryn. But I have to answer the hail, sweetheart. I'll be right back."
But he wasn't. He emerged from the den twenty minutes later and quietly asked their mother to step into it to have a private word. Their words were indistinct, but the shouting was hard to miss. Phoebe sobbed, and Kathryn held her as she tried to reassure her baby sister even though she wanted to cry, too.
"It'll be okay, Phoebe. Even if he does leave, he'll be back soon. He misses tucking you in bed each night; he told me so. And he still hasn't finished reading you that story about the bear and the donkey, right? So he'll come back to do that."
"M-M-Mommy f-f-finished it f-for m-m-me," Phoebe sobbed. "He's n-n-not coming b-b-back. He always w-wants to g-go away from us. What d-d-did we do w-wrong, Katy? Why does he al-al-always want to b-b-be somewhere else?"
"I don't know, Phoebe. I don't think we did anything wrong. But if we did, I'll try to find out what it was, and then I'll make sure we never do it again, okay? I promise. That way he'll stay with us. Okay?"
"O-o-okay, Katy. I m-m-miss him when he's n-n-not here."
"So do I, Phoebe."
The scene dissolved and reappeared with both girls about eight years older. Gretchen was in the kitchen packing the remains of their dinner into the storage unit in stony silence as Edward donned his overcoat and prepared to take the waiting hovercraft to the Transport Center in Bloomington. Phoebe sat scowling impressively at him as Kathryn walked him to the door.
"Daddy, do you have to go? Can't you stay until the morning? You said you were going to help me put the DaVinci flying machine together."
"I'm sorry, Goldenbird. But it's my duty as a Starfleet officer. I have to go help the Federation colonists on the Cardassian border; it's important. The transport leaves in less than an hour, and I need to be on it. Don't be sad, honey. I'll be home as quick as I can, and we can work on the flying machine then, okay?"
Kathryn put on a brave face. "Okay, Daddy. I understand about your duty."
He reached out and caressed her face. "That's my girl. You're going to make a fine Starfleet officer someday, Kathryn." And then he was gone.
When she turned around to go back into the dining room, Phoebe was standing right behind her, the scowl still firmly in place.
"He had to, Phoebs. It was important."
"Important, my ass. He was just looking for an excuse to bolt. All day long he was dodging into the den to call the office. He wanted to be anywhere but here."
"Phoeb, I don't think…"
"I don't give a shit what you think, Kathryn. All you ever do is make excuses for him. Keep the peace. Mom won't yell when you tell her he had to go like she will at him. Well, he can just go to hell. I don't care if he ever comes home again!"
"Oh, Phoebe, you don't mean that!"
"Wanna bet?" She turned on her heel and stormed off.
Admiral Kathryn Janeway hung her head as the pain of that brief exchange surged through her again. Her relationship with her sister had never been the same after that point. She kept idolizing their father, and Phoebe grew to despise him more with each passing year.
Again the scene faded and this time a teenaged Phoebe stood next to her mother at the COMM unit facing an earnest Kathryn in her Starfleet Academy cadet uniform.
"I didn't think I'd be eligible, but my qual scores were so good that they made an exception. I'm the first plebe ever to qualify for the training cruise. It's only for two weeks, but I won't be able to make it home for Christmas. It's last minute, and I know you've been planning, but I really can't pass up this opportunity. You understand, don't you Mom?"
With an obvious effort Gretchen summoned a smile. "Only too well, Kathryn. Well, the up side is that you'll be in the same sector as your father for the holidays. At least I think you will be. If you have any layover time at DS6, look him up. Maybe you two can go out for dinner or something."
"Okay, Mom. Thanks for understanding. You guys have a Merry Christmas. I'll call you as soon as we get back!"
As the COMM unit went dark Phoebe shot it a dirty look and turned to their mother. "She's just as bad as Dad. Worse. She's starting earlier. They can both go to hell as far as I'm concerned."
"Now, Phoebe, you need to understand…"
"No, I don't, Mom. I don't need to understand a damned thing. All I need to understand is that those two break your heart every time they call home, and I'm sick and tired of it. You held this family together. You. Just you. Daddy was like some visiting relative that popped in on occasion, inconvenienced you for a few days, and then left again. You mark my words; Kathryn is going to be just the same. And I don't have to like it one stinking bit. Not when I see what it does to you."
Admiral Janeway hung her head as the truth and pain in those words struck home. Why had she never realized how strong her mother had been? She had worshipped her handsome Starfleet father and ignored the massive effort it had taken for her mother to keep some semblance of a family life going in his absences. Only Phoebe had seen. And now Phoebe hated her for her lack of insight.
A touch of the ghost's hand and Janeway saw herself sitting in the Officer's Mess of the Al-Batani, drinking coffee and studying a PADD. Another young ensign walked over and greeted her cordially.
"Hey, Kathryn. Have you put in for Christmas leave, yet? Looks like there are still a couple of slots open."
"No, Jeremy, I'm not putting in for leave. Dad's off on the frontier putting out some border dispute or other, and my sister and my mom are going to Paris to get Phoebe settled in her new apartment there."
"Your sister is moving to Paris? I didn't know that."
"Yeah, she's been accepted at the Sorbonne's L' École des Beaux Arts. She'll be studying there and at the Louvre for the next two years for her Doctorate in Fine Arts. They don't need my help, so I figured I'd just stay aboard and cover for anybody who wants to go home."
"Christmas isn't a big family thing in your house then?"
"I… well, it used to be. But then we grew up. Not so much anymore."
"Okay, then. I'll pass the word. Thanks for covering for all of us. See you after New Year's. And Merry Christmas."
"Same to you, Jeremy." She returned to studying her PADD, the only indication of the depth of her emotion was the white-knuckled grip on her coffee mug.
The specter grasped Janeway's hand once again, and instantly they were moving at warp speed through the vastness of space toward a sparkling Voyager in the distance. In an instant they were inside the captain's quarters watching an obviously tired Captain Janeway sprawled in her recliner, reading. The door chime sounded, and she looked up wearily.
Seven of Nine strode into the room, a storm cloud on her beautiful face.
"What can I do for you, Seven?"
"You can keep the promise you made to your crew and attend the Christmas party that Neelix organized. They are waiting for your arrival."
"You're mistaken. I never promised to attend the party; I said I'd try to make it if we weren't overwhelmed with something."
"We are in a sector with no viable threats for fifteen light years in any direction. Lieutenant Torres and her engineers have been working double shifts to make sure the damage from the Lokinem insurgents has been repaired. The ship is operating at nearly peak efficiency, and the crew is fully recovered as well. What precisely is it that is overwhelming Voyager and her captain?"
Janeway bristled at the arrogant tone. "Look, I said I'd try to make it, but right now I'm just too damned tired. So go to the party, and make merry, and leave me to grab some much-needed rest, will you? I'm sure Chakotay will do a fine job as host."
Seven straightened into what Janeway usually thought of as Borg parade rest, her feet slightly apart and hands clasped behind her back. "Ever since you severed my connection to the hive mind, you have stressed the importance of embracing my humanity. Is not one of the aspects of that humanity to care for the needs and wants of your family? The crew of Voyager is our family here in the Delta quadrant. They require the head of that family to host the Christmas party. You are that family matriarch. The party will not be the same without you. If you will not come willingly, then I will carry you. But, willing or not, you are going to that party." She pivoted on her heel and strode over to the sofa where Janeway had tossed her uniform tunic. Seven grabbed it up and flung it to her sputtering commanding officer.
"Who do you think… you can't… where do you get off…" She finally gave up and pulled her tunic on. "I've got a class three rating in hand-to-hand combat. What the hell makes you think you could carry me?"
"I have a class five rating in hand-to-hand combat, and I am Borg. That issue was never in question." The two glared at each other until Janeway finally exploded in laughter.
"Well, go ahead and say it. I know you're dying to."
Seven tried not to smile and failed utterly. "Yes, Captain. As you well know …"
"...Resistance is futile," they chorused.
"All right. Let's get a move on. If I have to attend this thing, I at least want to get there before all the hors d'oeuvres are gone. I hope Neelix made the ones with the Argwyllian prawns again."
Seven twitched her optical array in amusement and gestured toward the door. "I believe there is a tray of them with a "Reserved for Captain Janeway" tag on it. After you, Captain."
Admiral Janeway's heart did a flip-flop. How can she make a tritanium alloy implant so damned sexy? Shaking her head, she watched as her dream self and her Astrometrics officer headed for the turbolifts.
The star field swirled around them, and she found herself back in the Janeway living room. The fire had been banked, but the holographic lights still twinkled on the large fir tree. Soft sounds could be heard from the stairs.
"Shhh! Try to be quiet. I don't want to wake Mom or Phoebe."
"Kathryn, what are we doing? It is the middle of the night, and we are not supposed to open presents until morning."
"Just come with me, okay?"
Janeway led Seven down the stairs to the living room. Both were clad in pajamas and robes. Kathryn immediately built up the fire to warm the room and pulled Seven down to sit in front of it with her.
"It's your first Christmas back on Earth and basically our first Christmas together, and I wanted to give you something special. Merry Christmas, darling." She pulled a gaily wrapped package out of her robe pocket and offered it to the breathtaking ex-drone who had captured her heart.
Seven quickly unwrapped the package, her eyes twinkling and her characteristic small smile on her lips. As she opened it, however, her eyes widened and she gasped.
"Oh, Kathryn, it is beautiful! But why would you buy such an extravagant gift for me?"
Janeway's eyes flashed with warmth. "Because I love you. I love you with all my heart, and I wanted to get you something special for our first Christmas back home."
"Help me put it on."
Janeway rose to her knees and fastened the sapphire and diamond necklace around her lover's neck. When she sat back down and looked at Seven's face, her breath caught in her throat.
"They make your eyes bluer. God, you're beautiful. I love you so much."
"And I love you, Kathryn. I always will. I am unfamiliar with most of the traditional customs of Christmas, but am I not required to give you some token of thanks for such a wonderful gift?"
"That is customary, yes." Janeway's eyes sparkled in the firelight.
Seven leaned forward and gently took Kathryn in her arms, happiness written on every inch of her face. "I believe I can think of a suitable token." Her breath brushed over Janeway's lips, followed closely by a deep kiss. Kathryn groaned deep in her throat at the contact.
"Oh, God, I hope you're thinking the same thing I am."
"I am, my Kathryn, I am." Her arms tightened, and she lowered Kathryn onto the soft rug in front of the hearth, caressing her softly as she did so. "Are your mother and sister sound sleepers?"
"Cripes, I hope so. I'll never live it down otherwise."
By the time they had finished making love by the fire, Seven's skin had glistened with a sheen of sweat, a sure sign her internal temperature modules had nearly shorted out from trying to regulate her body temperature. From the look on her face, she could have cared less so long as she could hold Kathryn in her arms.
The ghost did not allow Janeway to savor the memory, but again grasped her hand. This time they landed back in her bedroom, and she staggered toward her bed as a bone-deep weariness overwhelmed her. She looked back at the ghost one last time, and just before she collapsed unconscious on the bed, heard a final command from her non-corporeal guide.
"Remember, Kathryn. Remember."
Janeway woke stiff and wrapped in the bedclothes as the grandfather clock struck the three-quarter hour. She sat up with a groan and did her best to untangle herself as she listened for any sounds from the house.
She'd either slept for the entire day or only for a short while, for the house was again pitch black. She judged that she'd slept quite a while based on the stiffness in her shoulders and neck. But how long was the question. She sat nervously fingering the coverlet as she waited for the chiming of the clock. Finally it rang the hour: 0100.
Suddenly, there was a flare of light under her door, and a well-remembered voice summoned her jovially. "Come out here, Admiral, and say hello." She hopped out of bed and threw open the bedroom door.
The great room was ablaze with light. A roaring fire filled the hearth, and a large evergreen wreath hung over the mantle. The mantle itself was draped in greens and groups of glowing holotapers. Against the windows stood a huge fir tree with thousands of glittering holographic lights and ornaments. Thick holocandles burning brightly adorned every table and shelf surface, and a huge feast covered the counters that separated the kitchen from the great room. Even the air smelt of Christmas.
"Merry Christmas, Admiral! It's wonderful to see you again!" Resplendent in one of his gaudiest suits and holding a lit torch, stood a grinning Neelix.
Janeway was overwhelmed with the marvelous sights and smells and the soft sound of age-old carols playing in the background. "Neelix, this is all… amazing! How did you manage it?"
"I have many talents, Admiral. I just put them to use for you."
His kind voice was so wonderful to hear she nearly cried. She hadn't realized until that moment how much she had missed the ebullient Talaxian. She covered her emotions by asking what was to come next.
"Are you the second of the ghosts that are going to visit me?"
"Indeed. I am the ghost of Christmas Present."
"And you have things to teach me?"
"Many things, if you are willing to learn, Admiral. Shall we begin?" He extended his hand to her.
The moment she grasped it, the room morphed into a small living room in a tall apartment building. A small tree glowed with homemade ornaments and holographic lights, and a pile of children's toys were piled haphazardly around it. Two small boys were fast asleep on the carpet next to it, and their parents moved quietly so as not to awaken them.
"I still can't believe she gave you the day off."
"Honey, she's not the ogre you seem to think she is."
"All I know is that she kept you there working on some stupid tactical plan so that you missed the boys' holiday play. Lucas and Jesse were heartbroken you weren't there."
"What was I supposed to do? I'm her aide; it's my job. I can't help it if family doesn't mean anything to her."
Admiral Janeway couldn't contain herself. "But it does, Hardison! Family means everything with little ones around."
"They cannot hear you, Admiral," said the ghost quietly. She flushed in embarrassment at her outburst and returned her attention to the scene unfolding in front of her.
"Anthony, we've talked about this before. The boys won't be little much longer, and before you know it they'll be grown and out on their own. You can't miss these years; they need their father. Why don't you put in for a deep space berth on one of the larger ships so we can all go? You're fully qualified in exobiology, and God knows you've learned how to navigate the political minefields of Headquarters. You'd make a wonderful Science Officer."
"I just hate to leave her right now. She seems, I don't know, kind of lost somehow. Diminished. She's sure not the heroic Captain Janeway of Voyager anymore."
"You've got to do what's best for your family, Anthony. She's got to do what's best for hers."
"You're right, sweetheart. I've been stuck at HQ long enough. I'll put in for a Science Officer's berth as soon as I get back into the office tomorrow." He wrapped his arms around his wife and kissed her long and hard. "Is that good enough for you?"
She smiled up at him and planted a soft kiss on his lips. "It's the best Christmas present I've ever received."
Neelix grasped Janeway's hand, and the room dissolved into the elegant foyer of a large city home. The door chime sounded, and Admiral Owen Paris strode into the hall to answer it. When he opened the door, Admiral Rob Patterson and his wife stepped into the house, each carrying several gaily wrapped packages.
"Merry Christmas, Rob, Angie! C'mon in; we're all in the family room." He greeted his old Academy roommate's wife with a kiss on the cheek and his old Academy roommate with a hearty backslap.
"Something smells wonderful, Owen. Is that Siobhan's famous citrus-stuffed turkey?"
"It is, indeed. I keep going back into the kitchen to see if I can help, and she keeps throwing me out. Maybe you'll have better luck." Laughing, Angie Patterson handed her load of presents to Owen and headed to the kitchen to help her best friend. The men carried their burdens into the family room, put them under the tree, and then quietly adjourned to Owen's private study for a quick drink before dinner. They filled their glasses and made what had become a bittersweet toast for both of them.
"Absent friends." They both took a swallow of the aged single-malt and thought of the third member of their Academy rooms.
"I always thought the three of us would retire together. Never figured Edward wouldn't be here with us."
"Hell, Owen, sometimes I'm surprised he lived as long as he did. He was always running into the middle of something before he had all the facts. I still don't know what the hell the damned fool was doing test-flying that experimental shuttle. It's a good thing only he was lost. It would have killed Gretchen to lose both him and Kathryn."
"Did Kathryn and Seven go to Indiana for the holidays?"
"As far as I know, no. Kathryn was still in her office late on Christmas Eve, and I'm sure Alynna called her in because of the Romulan incursion."
"What's your take on that situation?"
"I think Nechayev's making a mountain out of a molehill. The Romulans are always flexing their muscles in that sector. All we need to do is send a couple of cruisers, and they'll back right off. Did she try and call you into the office, too?"
"Yep; three times. I finally had to remind her rather bluntly that 'on leave through the New Year' means off for a full ten days. I think she's over-reacting again, but she insists on a full-blown response."
"Too bad Kathryn's the one that has to develop it." Patterson chuckled. "Talk about a chip off the old block. She's just as idiotic about work as Edward was. Thinks Starfleet can't survive without her. We need to have a word with her, Owen. She's going to burn out if she keeps up like this."
Paris nodded in agreement. "Yeah, she's doing a great job in tactical planning. But I wonder if we didn't do her a disservice when we promoted her."
"I know what you mean. No way could she refuse once the promotion was offered. All she's ever wanted was to be like her old man. Personally, I think she should have stayed in the fleet; she was one helluva starship captain. She sure doesn't seem happy about her position now."
"Hmmm. I think you're right. But she made her decision. All we can do is be supportive. We owe Edward that much." He raised his glass again. "To Fast Eddie. We miss you like hell, buddy."
The men drained their glasses and rejoined the others around the tree.
Janeway hung her head as tears flowed freely down her cheeks. "They thought he was a fool for his dedication to duty."
"No, Admiral. They loved him as a dear friend. But they didn't allow that to color the truth of what they saw. They knew he neglected your family. But they couldn't manage to convince him of the harm he was doing to all of you. They tried, Admiral. They tried for years. Your father wouldn't listen. Don't make that same mistake."
Neelix touched her hand and the next moment they were flying over the countryside. In the distance, Janeway could make out the familiar lights of the farm. Then they were standing in the living room.
Seven of Nine sat alone staring into the fire, a cup of tea untouched beside her. Gretchen came into the living room from the kitchen and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"I'm going up to bed now, sweetheart. Is there anything else you need?"
"No, thank you. I'm fine. It was a wonderful Christmas, Gretchen. Thank you for everything you did."
"I didn't do anything special, darling. Merry Christmas." The older woman leaned over and kissed the alabaster cheek. Seven gave her a soft smile and squeezed Gretchen's hand. The older woman patted her shoulder and headed for the stairs. "Don't stay up too late. God only knows how early Phoebe's going to get us up. I think she's decided we all need to go sledding."
As soon as the footsteps had faded into the upper story Seven's face fell. But even in sadness her beauty by firelight was stunning, and her ice-blue eyes began to glitter as they filled with moisture.
"Oh, Kathryn. Why can't you realize what you're doing? You have broken my heart so many times. But this time… I cannot go on like this." She covered her eyes with one trembling hand and wept bitterly. Finally she raised her head and gazed into the fire once more, the tracks of tears on her cheeks shimmering in the flickering light. The pain and sadness etched on that beautiful face hit the admiral like a phaser blast to the gut. Knowing she had been the cause of it shattered her heart.
"I'll make it right, Seven, I promise. I love you. I'm so sorry!" Blinded by tears she reached out but grasped only air as the room began to dissolve into dark vapor. From somewhere behind her she heard a clock begin to strike midnight, and the ghost turned to her.
"My time is now short. You've seen the hurt your actions have caused. You've seen the reasons for those actions, right or wrong. What has been is past, what is now exists for only a moment. What will happen is obscured in the mists of time. Do not become complacent, or you will be doomed to follow your father's fate. Remember and learn." The bright Neelix form began to swirl and darken and finally vanished.
Janeway found herself in a dimly lit passage that looked like the corridor on a space station. Ahead of her she saw light begin to grow and she dashed the traces of tears from her face as she hurried toward it. Entering a control room, she saw the light source, and her heart nearly stopped. The all-too-familiar surroundings caused a frisson of fear to snake through her gut, and she watched helplessly as her worst fears were realized.
A ceiling hatch opened around a power node and an armature began to descend into the chamber. Directly in front of her, the floor opened and robotic arms rose quickly from it. Cybernetic Borg arm and leg modules were attached to an exoplated torso module and the completed Borg "body" was moved backward directly under the descending armature.
The organic remains of the Borg Queen twitched in anticipation as they descended from her nest into the waiting "body" and were seated. The exoplating tightened around the truncated shoulders and arms, and then sternal and scapular clamps affixed themselves to the flesh before locking into place. With an almost sybaritic sigh, she rolled her shoulders, enjoying the momentary pleasure of being once again mobile. Turning her attention to Janeway, she glided forward and gave a small smile.
Kathryn fought down the feeling of dread that churned inside her. "Are you the final ghost I am to meet?" The queen gave a slight nod.
"And you are to show me things that are yet to come?" Again, the slight nod.
"All right, then, let's get on with it."
The queen gestured to one of the many alcoves on the outer perimeter of the room. It began to glow and grow brighter as they neared it. The familiar setting of the Janeway living room in Indiana came into focus with Gretchen and Phoebe sitting by the fire with steaming cups of coffee. The room was fully decorated for Christmas, and the Janeway canines snoozed blissfully on the hearth as the winter wind hurled snow against the windows.
"She's crazy as a shithouse rat. It's as simple as that."
"Phoebe, you know your sister has always been just like your father about Starfleet."
"Yeah, and you should have divorced the bastard the first time he put his career ahead us. Seven was right to leave her. Kathryn didn't deserve someone as loving as her, just like Daddy didn't deserve you!"
"Phoebe, please. It's Christmas. Kathryn made her decision, Seven made hers, and we made ours. Now drop it. I won't have you getting Seven upset again while trying to be supportive. Let her deal with this how she needs to, and then we'll all move on."
"How are you dealing with it, Mom?"
"You were right about one thing; my heart was broken a long time ago. What your father began, Kathryn finished. I'll always love her; she's my daughter. But she made her choices, and I don't have to abide by them. So I've made mine. Now let this go before Seven gets back from her walk." She rose from her comfortable chair and walked toward the kitchen. "I'm going to put some hot cocoa on; she'll probably be chilled. Do you think she'll want a sandwich?"
Smiling, Phoebe rose and joined her.
Frowning, Admiral Janeway watched as the alcove dimmed suddenly, and another to her right grew brighter. This time, the scene was Seven's lab at MIT-Daystrom where an impromptu party was underway. People milled around laughing and slapping each other on the back and popping Champagne corks. Seven stood at the center of the throng smiling her small smile and receiving congratulations.
"Dr. Hansen, you've done it again. Your neural interface will allow much more efficient control functionality in smaller class vessels. This will revolutionize crew management across not only Starfleet but the merchant marine fleets as well. Congratulations!"
Seven smiled a bit wider and thanked the man, then turned to another group of well-wishers.
"Dr. Hansen, congratulations! I knew you'd perfect that interface. Have you met our new TPG Liaison Officer, Commander Malloy? Colleen, this is one of our MIT-Daystrom superstars, Dr. Annika Hansen."
Seven shook hands with the tall, handsome Starfleet officer whose expression was somewhat dazed. Clearly, she was taken with the famous Seven of Nine.
That scene dissolved into another; Janeway instinctively knew it was later the same day. The party was in full swing, and she watched Seven standing out of the way of the revelers.
Out of nowhere Commander Malloy appeared holding two flutes of sparkling liquids. She offered one to Seven, who gave a small shake of her head in refusal.
"I'm sorry, Commander, but I do not usually..."
"I know, Dr. Hansen. It's sparkling cider. Go ahead."
Seven took the flute and drank a small sip. She smiled fully and thanked the officer for her kindness.
"You're welcome, but it was nothing. I remembered reading somewhere that you don't drink."
"Still, it was thoughtful. My nanoprobes function efficiently for a great many things. Metabolizing alcohol is not among them."
"Again, it was nothing." The look on Malloy's face spoke volumes, and Janeway felt a small tremor of fear run through her belly.
The alcove went dark, and one to their left brightened. Janeway watched a serious-faced Seven working at her terminal when Malloy stuck her head in the office doorway and asked if she's eaten yet. Seven hesitated a moment then commented that she was waiting for a call from Janeway. Malloy looked surprised.
"I'm sorry, but I thought you and the admiral had… well, that you weren't together any longer."
"Technically, we are not. But we are exploring the possibility of seeing each other again. We had discussed having dinner together this evening."
"When was she supposed to call?" asked Malloy gently.
"Two point six-eight hours ago."
"Don't you think maybe you've waited long enough?"
Seven looked at the taller woman a long moment and appeared to reach a decision. She shut down her terminal and stood. "Perhaps I have."
"Then come and have some supper with me. You've got to eat something. I know a terrific seafood place not far from here."
Janeway watched with growing alarm as the two women left the Institute and walked through the cold Boston night to a nearby restaurant. But the alarm vanished, and she smiled when she saw the look of dismay on Seven's face at the large lobster Malloy ordered for her.
Janeway relaxed knowing Seven's aversion to crustacean shells. But her dread returned full force as Malloy rose, walked behind Seven, and reached around her. She took Seven's hands and deftly showed her how to deal with the shell. Once they had extracted the sweet tail meat, Malloy returned to her seat and grinned as Seven took a succulent bite dripping with drawn butter. The blissful look on her face at the flavor frightened Janeway most of all.
"See what you've been missing?" asked Malloy, "But now you know how to crack the shell so you'll never have to worry about lobster exoskeletons again. They really are worth the effort."
Seven smiled a glowing smile and began to eat her meal with gusto, Janeway's fear growing by the minute. She spun to face the spirit.
"Are these things that will happen or only things that might happen?"
Her guide said nothing, merely pointing at another alcove which began to glow.
"Before I look, tell me! Are these events that will happen or that can still be changed? I have to know!"
But the Queen only grabbed her arm and spun her to face the next scene. As the light coalesced and Janeway realized what she was seeing, an agonized groan escaped her.
"Oh, God, no!"
Seven was pushed back against the wall as Malloy took her in her arms and pressed hard against her. Lips joined in a searing kiss as strong hands swept up Seven's sides and covered her breasts. Never breaking the kiss, Malloy ripped open the fabric under her hands and caressed the warm flesh beneath. Seven's bra went next, and her nipples instantly pebbled into hard buds as they were exposed to the air. Malloy kissed her way down the column of Seven's neck to her chest, and with a moan took one into her mouth.
Seven writhed against the wall gasping as Malloy sucked hard on her and a hand began to stroke her other nipple. Again, there was the sound of ripping fabric, and another hand slid into her pants. Seven bent into the touch as Malloy's fingers slid effortlessly through her dripping heat. Malloy released her nipple with a final flick of her tongue and kissed her way back up to Seven's ear.
"I knew you'd be like this," she hissed. "So hot; so wet. I'm going to have you all night long."
Seven's neck arched into those lips and gasped "Yes!" Her arms snaked around Malloy's neck and her hips began to gyrate wildly as fingers found the bundle of nerves. "Oh, please! Inside... now..."
"Soon," Mallow growled. "But right now I want to feel you. In my hand; you're gonna come in my hand." Fingers pinched Seven's nipple hard and stroked her deftly. "Now, baby... I can feel how much you want to."
Seven's face froze in a mask of ecstasy as she exploded in orgasm, crying out her release. Malloy's touch gentled as the spasms ended, and she tenderly disengaged, holding Seven close.
"Shhh, I've got you. Trust me, I won't let you go." Seven trembled and sobbed against her lover, trying to regain control of herself but instead gasping again as Malloy swept her up in strong arms and carried her to a nearby bed. Carefully she lay Seven down and settled next to her, taking her in her arms once again. She caressed and kissed the trembling woman and as arousal grew again, gently stripped the remnants of Seven's clothing off. Malloy's hands explored the alabaster softness of skin and tritanium bands, carefully bringing her lover back to a state of heated want. When Seven began to tug at her clothing, Malloy chuckled and kissed her.
"Hang on a sec; I know you're impatient, baby, but I need to get my boots off first." She rolled to the edge of the bed and sat up, reaching down to remove her footwear. Then she stood and looked down at the nude Seven of Nine waiting for her.
"God, you're beautiful. I want you so much..."
Seven rose to her knees and with a wanton look reached for Malloy's belt.
"Well, here I am. Waiting."
The alcove faded to black as Admiral Kathryn Janeway began to sob. "What have I done? How could I have been so stupid? I drove her away. Oh, God, I've got to make this right! I can't lose her; she's everything to me!"
The Borg Queen was merciless, forcing her to watch as another alcove glowed into life, this time showing Malloy going down on Seven, her lips and tongue feasting on the glistening folds as Seven's legs thrashed and she screamed in her pleasure, her human hand pressing Malloy's head firmly against herself. It went dark and another brightened with Seven lying between Malloy's legs. She sucked her lover's core deeply into her mouth, flicking with her tongue as Malloy grasped the headboard and cried out when she exploded in release.
Still another alcove showed the lovers kissing passionately, each with a hand buried between the others' legs. They writhed together moaning, and both sobbed together as they brought each other to climax. They stroked each other as the spasms faded and settled together in each others' arms. Murmured words and soft chuckles were heard as fingertips explored softly and lips tracked across sweaty flesh to soothe rather than arouse.
Malloy sat up and dropped a quick kiss on Seven's lips, then leaned away and drew a box from the nightstand. Seven's eyes followed it eagerly as her partner opened it to reveal a WonderWand 9000™. The fingers of her Borg hand traced its outline as Malloy explained how it worked and showed her the remote control.
Seven's eyes widened in fascination as Malloy attached the device to herself and demonstrated how the remote worked. Seven took it eagerly and began to change settings, keenly observing and touching the toy as she did. Malloy leaned back on her elbows and groaned as fingers slid along the shaft. Seven made another adjustment and ran her fingers up to the head of the device. She seemed shocked to see Malloy cry out and double over, grabbing her hand as she did so.
"Honey, no! That's the intensity control. You set that too high, and you're gonna kill me. Dial it down some, please!" Seven obliged and resumed her experimentation as Malloy tried to catch her breath. Just as she did, Seven looked at her with a twinkle in her eyes.
"If I understand correctly, the sensors surround your clitoris and link the tactile stimulations on the device to it. So you are, in effect feeling whatever is done to the device, correct?"
"So if I were to do this, you would respond?" Seven leaned down and took the head of the device into her mouth, swirling her tongue around the tip as she did so.
"HOLY FUCK!" Malloy collapsed onto her back, and her hips bucked as she watched the blonde head bob up and down on the toy. It took only moments for her to explode in a shattering orgasm.
Seven only gave a long, lingering lick up the shaft and regarded her gasping partner with amusement.
"I may have underestimated your ability to control yourself. Perhaps I should set the intensity even lower if I am to get any enjoyment from this sex toy."
Malloy growled and rolled Seven underneath her. She took the remote and tossed it on the nightstand. "The intensity is just fine, and so is my self-control. Did it ever occur to you that maybe you're just very, very good at what you do?"
"Of course. I am Borg. But I still have doubts as to how much enjoyment I will receive from this device."
"Watch and learn, love. Watch and learn."
With that, Malloy began to make love to the lanky blonde. Fingers and lips did their work, and when Seven was wet and ready, she carefully eased the tip of the WonderWand inside and slowly began to thrust. Seven gasped at the feeling, and Malloy immediately stopped.
"Am I hurting you, baby?"
"No! No, it is... I... do not stop!"
Malloy continued a slow in and out motion, and very quickly Seven began rising to meet each thrust. Gradually they found their rhythm, and Seven's gasps turned into deep moans of pleasure. Malloy's skin began to gleam with a sheen of sweat, and the soft grunts and wet sounds of their coupling gave ample proof to the level of Seven's arousal. Her legs rose to wrap around Malloy's hips, and she begged her lover for more.
Tears tracked down Janeway's cheeks as she watched the woman she loved grinding herself wantonly against another as she sought release. They flowed all the harder when the moment came, and Seven screamed out in her ecstasy. Malloy came seconds after Seven, and the exhausted lovers collapsed into each others' arms.
Janeway turned to face the Queen. "Please tell me that these are just things that might happen. That they aren't set in stone. Tell me I still have the chance to change things!"
The spirit merely smiled and pointed at another alcove coming to life. It showed a spinning montage of scenes with Seven and Malloy together. Seven on her stomach, hips raised, crying out her pleasure as Malloy pounded into her from behind. Malloy on her back as Seven straddled her hips and rode the toy; Malloy's hands covering Seven's breasts with Seven's hands pressing them more firmly onto her nipples. When she climaxed, Seven rose off the toy and with the single most lascivious look Janeway had ever seen, lay down between Malloy's legs, and began to lick her own juices off the toy. The tall commander's hips thrashed, and she came so hard she doubled over as the spasms overwhelmed her. And finally, the lovers going down on each other, faces buried in wet heat and fingers thrusting in rhythm until they came together with shattering orgasms. Malloy slid off Seven and moved weakly up the bed to hold her partner, and Seven nestled tightly against her. Then Janeway could hear only soft murmurings as the lovers fell asleep entwined.
Admiral Kathryn Janeway wept bitterly, knowing that she alone was to blame. She had single-mindedly destroyed the great love of her life and driven Seven away. If only the ghost would give her some indication that it wasn't too late, that she still might salvage things. But she was not granted even that small measure of relief as the Queen forced her head up to watch one final, devastating scene.
Janeway tried desperately to collect herself as a final alcove began to glow. She watched as a living room became visible, just after dawn. A large fir tree stood covered in holographic lights and glittering ornaments, large piles of gaily-wrapped packages under it. Very soon, the clatter of small feet and the excited voices of children could be heard as two angelic blonde girls stormed downstairs in their pajamas, followed closely by their yawning parents and extended family.
"Aunt Phoebe! You were right! Santa did come!"
"Grandma, look at all the presents!"
The two young girls dove into the mass of presents and began tearing open the wrappings as Seven, Malloy, Gretchen and Phoebe watched indulgently. When the last gift had finally been revealed, the grownups gathered the shredded wrappings to be recycled and adjourned to the kitchen for some much-needed caffeine while the children played with their new toys.
Seven handed everyone a cup of coffee while she waited for her tea to steep. Malloy took a deep draught and sighed in bliss. She leaned over and planted a loud, smacking kiss on her wife's lips. Seven tried to scowl and failed miserably.
"You taste like coffee. You know I don't like coffee."
Malloy chuckled deep in her throat. "Yeah, but you like me." She leaned in to nuzzle that wonderfully sensitive spot right below Seven's ear.
"Jeez you two; get a room!" complained Phoebe jovially. "You've been married nearly ten years; the honeymoon ought to be over by now."
"Ignore her, Seven. She's just feeling her oats because she loves it when the girls call her Aunt Phoebe," Gretchen chimed in.
"Oh yeah, right! Like you don't melt into a puddle of cytoplasmic goo every time you hear Grandma!" laughed her younger daughter.
The good-natured ribbing was interrupted by the arrival of the girls, both babbling excitedly and hugging their parents around the legs. Malloy scooped them up in her arms and deposited them at the kitchen table as Seven brought over steaming bowls of hot cereal for them.
"Erin, sit up and eat your cereal. Samantha, you too."
The smaller of the children turned big blue eyes to her mother. "But Mama, you said you would make us cocoa!"
Seven smiled an impossibly tender smile at her younger daughter. "And I am doing so, my darling; I'll bring it just as soon as it is finished. Can you wait for two-point-three-seven minutes?"
"Yes, Mama. Will you bring some for Grandma and Aunt Phoebe, too?"
"If they want some, of course I will."
Malloy scooted booster chairs up close to the table and tied napkins around little necks before helping get the correct amounts of sweetener poured into each bowl. By the time she had the girls ready to eat, Seven had brought the promised mugs of cocoa and the adults' breakfasts to the table as well. The family ate together as the children chattered about their new toys and the smiling grownups listened.
This final scene completed the destruction of Admiral Kathryn Janeway as she saw the life she could have had with Seven. Her pride and hubris had cost her everything. The blissful expression on her partner's face was a greater agony than that of assimilation. And her family had made their choices as well. Reeling under the enormity of what she had lost, she collapsed to her knees and sobbed.
The first stroke of midnight sounded from the antique grandfather clock, and she threw her arms around the Borg Queen's legs in a panic. As the apparition began to fade, she tightened her grip and begged, "Please, oh God, please Spirit! Give me some hope! Tell me it's not too late. I can change; I have changed! Please tell me I can still salvage things. Tell me these are only things that might be! Please, Spirit, please! I have to know!"
But the Borg Queen merely smiled her hateful smile and shot her assimilation tubules into Janeway's neck. Even as her vision began to dim and implants erupted from her skin, Kathryn's thoughts were on the visions she'd seen and the woman she loved.
"Forgive me, Seven."
Borg exoplating began to encase her body. Frantically she struggled against the bonds, desperate to escape her assimilation. Then everything went black.
"NO!" she screamed, bolting awake and clawing at the imagined implants. It took a moment for her to realize that the constraining exoplating was in reality her sheets and blankets trapping her, and she fought her way free of the bedclothes, flying to her feet and gasping for breath. She stood trembling in the dimly lit room for several long minutes summoning the strength to face her fate in the main part of the house. What if it was too late – what if she had already lost everything? God knows, she deserved to.
But if her life had been irrevocably changed, there wasn't any obvious indication. Nothing in the house was awry; nothing out of place. The fireplace showed no trace of the roaring blaze that had heralded Neelix's arrival. Neither were there any remnants of Kes or the Borg Queen. The mostly-empty bottle of Jameson's was still on her desk in the study. Grabbing it up she strode to the kitchen and poured the remainder down the drain before tossing the empty bottle into the recycler.
Ordering a cup of coffee from the replicator she stepped out onto the back pool deck and looked across the bay to the Marin Headlands. The sun was just beginning to brush them with light, and a soft fogbank surrounded the Golden Gate Bridge; that meant it was around 0700 hours.
But what day? By Janeway's reckoning it should be the morning of the 28th, but the city was strangely quiet for a work day – even at 0700 hours. She was scared to check her COMM logs - too afraid she'd find that Seven had left her a message ending their life together. Admiral Kathryn Janeway was considered heroic by many, but she knew that losing Seven would be the end of her. That loss she could not withstand.
Taking a steadying breath she returned to her study and sat before her COMM unit, working up her courage. She gave the verbal command to activate the unit and took a fortifying sip of her coffee while the screen came to life. When it did she nearly spit that sip all over what appeared.
It couldn't be! The COMM system had to be screwed up somehow. Maybe this was still part of her dreams or the Spirits' visits. Barking the reset command she waited tensely for the few moments it took to reboot the system. But her screen again showed the impossible… a fact she knew simply could not be.
Hurriedly she ran her hands through her hair and paged the duty officer at Headquarters. A young lieutenant's face appeared on her screen, and he smiled when he recognized her.
"Admiral Janeway, ma'am. How can I help you?"
"I've had a bit of a problem with my COMM unit, Lieutenant. The chronometer is incorrect. Could you run diagnostics from your end? My link code is 8596.24817.51."
"Of course, Admiral. Give me just a second." He busied himself on his keypad and a moment later looked back at her. "Your system checks out just fine, Admiral. I verified linkage integrity, and your system is right on the money. Stardate 60981.62. Or December 25, 2383, 0702 hours if you want to be old-fashioned about it. Is there anything else I can help you with?"
A temporal mechanics problem and the headache it would entail was all Janeway needed after the night she'd had. "I…no. No thank you, Lieutenant. I just wanted to make sure."
"Well, then have a Merry Christmas or Joyous Solstice or whatever you celebrate, ma'am."
"You too, Lieutenant. Janeway out."
It was still Christmas! The Spirits had done it all in one night! Of course they have – they can do anything! Maybe it's not too late. Maybe I still have time. Oh God, what do I do? I need to talk with Seven. She won't believe me. Why should she? How do I convince her that I see how wrong I've been? That I'll make it right? That I can change; that I have changed?
She began pacing as she thought through the problem from every angle. Still unsure, she ordered up a fresh cup of coffee and then realized what she needed to do as a first step. But as she began to formulate the plan, her COMM unit chimed. Daddy! Dashing back into the study, she answered the hail only to see Admiral Nechayev facing her and demanding her presence at headquarters ASAP. The Romulans had moved faster than anyone had expected, and her tactical plan to defend the Klingon colonies had to be implemented immediately. She agreed to the order, replying quietly that she would be there within a half hour and signed off. She rose and walked back to her bedroom to dress.
As she entered the closet she paused in thought, debating her options. Then, with a heavy heart and slumped shoulders she began to don her uniform. It was going to be a long day.
Christmas had been marvelous for all the women gathered at the Janeway farm. Gretchen and Phoebe had been totally supportive of Seven and had wrapped her in their love and care from the moment she had arrived. Christmas morning, they had come downstairs in their pajamas to open presents, and Gretchen had cooked a large breakfast for them. Then she and Seven had worked to assemble the holiday feast that would be eaten in the late afternoon. They had spent the rest of the midday talking and laughing, and remembering other happier times. While neither Gretchen nor Phoebe deliberately avoided the mention of Kathryn, both tried to keep their references to her positive.
Gretchen had just checked on the turkey and brought in a fresh round of coffee and tea when they became aware of a low hum coming from outside.
"Anybody else hear that?" asked Phoebe.
"Starfleet type-4GS shuttle. On final approach." Seven's enhanced hearing had no difficulty not only picking up on the sound but immediately classifying it and identifying what was going on as the hum grew to a roar.
The three of them went to the back door and watched the shuttle touch down on the snow-covered back lawn. There was a short wait while the engines spooled down to an idle, and then the midships hatch opened. Kathryn trotted down the steps trailed by two ensigns, all three loaded down with gaily wrapped presents.
Seven threw the door open as Janeway hit the back porch. "Kathryn?"
"Merry Christmas, darling! I haven't missed dinner, have I? Phoebe, show these two stalwart, young officers where to put these, will you?" Janeway managed to pile her load on top of those the ensigns were already struggling to carry. They returned a few moments later, crisply saluted her, and wished everyone a Merry Christmas. The shuttle lifted off shortly thereafter, and Kathryn closed the back door, turning to face her partner.
"So, is dinner ready yet?"
"Kathryn, what are you doing here?" demanded Seven.
Janeway squared her shoulders. "I'm an idiot. An utter and complete idiot. In five years I've managed to lose sight of everything that was ever important to me. I've come to apologize." She reached up and began to unfasten her uniform overcoat. As it fell open, Seven, Gretchen, and Phoebe all gasped.
"What have you done?" whispered Seven.
"What I should have done a long time ago." She shrugged off the heavy overcoat and, grinning, hung it on an empty peg. "Apparently something that other people thought I should have done, too. Admiral Nechayev hardly argued with me and Owen practically thanked me."
"Oh, Kathryn…" Seven's Borg fingers reached out to trace the four gold pips that now adorned her beloved's collar instead of the prized admiralty insignia. "But you always wanted to be an admiral…"
"No, darling – I always thought I had to be an admiral. To live up to my father. But it's not what I want. I'm a starship captain and a pretty damned good one by all estimates. They've given me a new command; the first of the slipstream-drive battleships. It'll be an exploratory and diplomatic mission back to the Delta quadrant. So can I talk you into shipping out with me? I'd feel a whole lot better knowing there was some Borg analytical skill at the tactical station when we get in a tight spot."
"Kathryn, are you certain this is what you want?"
"Absolutely. There's only one small wrinkle."
"And what is that?"
"A starship captain is supposed to lead an exemplary life; be an example to their crew. Up to now I haven't been, and it's entirely your fault."
Gretchen's eyes widened while Phoebe looked ready to deck her older sister for hurting Seven. Then to their astonishment and relief, Kathryn dropped to one knee and pulled a dazzling diamond ring from her inside tunic pocket. Phoebe's mouth dropped open at the size of the solitaire stone.
"So, since it won't do for me to bring my lover into the Captain's quarters of my new command, I'll just have to bring my wife. Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix 01, will you marry me? I know I'm no bargain and I'm generally a mess, but I love you with every fiber of my being, and I will until the day I die. I lost my focus and put my job ahead of you. I swear I'll never do that again, and I'll spend the rest of my life making it up to you. I want to spend every moment we have left together if you'll have me. Please, my darling, will you?"
Gretchen let out a whoop and hugged Phoebe so tightly the beautiful artist's eyes bugged out. Seven, on the other hand, was totally focused on the woman kneeling before her.
"Yes, Kathryn, I will marry you. And I will be very happy to spend the rest of my life with you. Do you have any idea when we'll be shipping out? I will have to give my notice at MIT-Daystrom."
"Not for a few months at least. Mom will have time to throw us a great wedding. And you don't have to quit MIT-Daystrom if you don't want to. You can come as a civilian mission specialist with the assimilated rank of Lieutenant Commander. After all, you designed and built the slipstream drive. It only makes sense that you come along on the first ship to utilize it. Will that suffice, my love?"
"It will be most acceptable, Kathryn." Rising, Janeway gently took Seven's Borg hand and slipped the ring on her third finger. She looked over at her younger sister and grinned.
"That's why the ring has to be so big, Phoebe. So it doesn't get lost in the mesh on her hand."
"Well, it sure as hell won't. It's a good thing she's got a duranium-enhanced skeleton, or she'd never be able to lift the damned thing."
But neither Janeway nor Seven bothered to respond: they were too busy kissing each other. Gretchen nudged her younger daughter back toward the kitchen to give them some privacy, but it was obvious from the mischievous twinkle in Phoebe's eyes that she could hardly wait to start in on Kathryn again. Some things really never did change.
Long after midnight the life force that had, on this mortal plane, been Admiral Edward Janeway hovered over the rambling farmhouse. Everything he had cherished in life was there: his family. His beloved wife was sleeping soundly, secure in the knowledge that both her daughters would now be all right. His youngest child, the free spirit, slumbered happy in her life choices. She'd always seen through him, but maybe that was best – at least he'd never broken her heart the way he had Kathryn's.
And Kathryn: his eldest. His pride and joy. Decorated Starfleet officer and one of their finest starship captains. At peace with herself at last. He let his awareness drift over her room; she was lying entwined with her fiancée, kissing her languidly. They had been making love all night and he smiled at the waves of joy that emanated from her.
His sacrifice had been worth it. Now all his family was content. He could face his fate with equanimity. I'm ready, he thought. But instead of the paralyzing cold and darkness he expected, he felt warmth, and light, and freedom as the regret and pain that had bound him to his earthly home dissolved. Confusion vanished as enlightenment washed over him: it had been his reclamation as well. Kathryn had saved them both.
And as his spirit soared outward to continue its cosmic journey, one final gift reached him. A whispered prayer, offered on the moonlight by his Kathryn, his Goldenbird…
"Thank you, Daddy."