“If I ever imply it's been easy on you these last few years, remind me about today.”
- Kathryn Janeway, Unimatrix Zero, Part II
My ocular implant adjusts seamlessly to the low illumination as I step into the captain’s quarters. She reclines in the armchair I’ve come to identify as her favourite, a book lying open in her lap. She has shed her uniform jacket and pulled a soft-looking blanket about her shoulders, and her still-booted feet are propped on a padded footstool. A cooled cup of coffee sits on the table beside her.
Her face is turned toward the viewport and at first I believe she has bidden me enter without consciously realising it.
But when I address her by rank, modulating my voice so that I don’t startle her, she merely turns her head toward me. An expression flits across her face, one I immediately recognise as an attempt to obscure her physical pain. It is gone in an instant, a tired smile appearing in its wake.
“Seven,” she says. “What can I do for you?”
Her tone is civil with an edge of weariness. Having spent three years observing Captain Janeway and cataloguing her verbal and visual cues, I understand that she is receptive to my presence but that her patience has a definitive limit.
The knowledge causes me to hesitate – should I retreat? – but the captain closes her book and places it on the low table beside her, turning her full and considerable attention to me.
“Take a seat,” she offers.
I prefer to stand, but refusing her hospitality would be self-defeating. So I lower myself to the edge of the chair she indicates and clasp my hands on my knees.
“You are in discomfort,” I observe, noting the tightened corners of her mouth as she shifts in her chair. “Has the Doctor provided you with an analgesic?”
The captain displays an expression I interpret as rueful distaste. “He has. Unfortunately it has a sedative effect.”
“Given the late hour, one might assume that would be welcome.”
“One might,” she replies, “if sleep was a desirable state. Now,” she continues before I can question her further, “why are you here at this late hour?”
“I was unable to regenerate.”
“Oh?” the captain frowns. “The queen?”
“No, she hasn’t been in contact with me. And my alcove is functioning properly.” I feel tension gathering across my shoulders and deliberately relax them. “I am preoccupied with certain events that occurred while I was inside Unimatrix Zero and I want – I would like your help interpreting my feelings about them.”
“Ah,” she says. “Axum?”
“Hold on a second.” Captain Janeway levers herself to her feet – slowly, with a bitten-back grimace, but silently declining my offer of help. “Coffee, black,” she murmurs to the replicator, then leans against the bulkhead to sip her drink. Her other hand is at her lower back, pressing lightly into the curve of her spine.
I rise, clasping my hands behind my back. “Perhaps I should leave.”
“No,” she says abruptly, “please, don’t go.”
I feel my eyebrows rise.
She sighs. “To be honest, I’m glad you came by, Seven. I’d rather not be alone with my thoughts right now.”
“Yes, I suppose you do.”
The captain pushes off from the wall and moves toward the couch, long fingers alighting on my arm and squeezing briefly as she passes me. At her unspoken invitation – a glance back, a tilt of the head – I follow, seating myself beside her.
She sips her coffee and I feel her gaze on me. My hands twist in my lap. I am having unaccustomed difficulty in expressing my thoughts.
“Tell me about Axum,” she invites. “He was special to you, wasn’t he?”
“He was my…” I hesitate, uncertain of the correct term to describe the relationship I remember only in snatches, or our hastily-resurrected association of those few days.
I think about kissing him as Unimatrix Zero dissolved around us and my sharp regret at having wasted the chance of more. The captain is watching me.
“Yes,” I answer. “Axum was important to me.”
She sets her coffee down and says softly, “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry that Unimatrix Zero was destroyed, and that you lost the chance to explore what you and Axum could have been to each other.”
The captain’s hand rests on my arm and I look down at it, at her slender white fingers.
“Perhaps it was for the best,” I blurt.
“Why do you say that?”
“Because it wasn’t real.” I pull my arm away. “The woman in that construct – Annika – she wasn’t real.”
“I beg to differ,” the captain says quietly. “She was every bit as real as the woman I see sitting beside me, and so were her feelings and experiences. And if you want to experience the things she did, Seven – if you want to feel the things she felt – then you have that opportunity here.”
My eyes stray to her face, very close to mine; to her eyes, which are very serious and very blue. My lungs do not seem to be taking in sufficient oxygen.
“Here?” I repeat.
Her eyes flicker and she withdraws a little. “Yes, here on Voyager,” she clarifies. “There must be any number of the crew who’d like to get to know you better, as Seven or as Annika.”
“Just give it some ti- oh,” she breaks off in a groan, crumpling sideways, and my hand shoots out to steady her.
She leans into me, clutching my arm until the pain subsides, then raises her head.
“If you’re going to suggest I go back to Sickbay,” her smile is wry, if a little strained, “don’t bother. I’ve already had that conversation with Chakotay.”
“Then I will not subject you to its repetition.” I help her straighten up on the couch. “Where is the analgesic?”
“What? Oh,” she grimaces, “the Doctor sent the file to my replicator. I just have to punch in the access code, but Seven, it isn’t necessary.”
“You are being stubborn. Medication is readily available that will minimise your discomfort, yet you refuse to take it.”
“I don’t want it.”
“You are in pain.” My voice is strident, and the captain’s eyes widen at the quiver in it. I force myself to calm, adding, “It is unacceptable.”
“Seven.” The captain leans forward, her eyes searching my face. “It isn’t your fault.”
“Yes, it is.” My jaw clenches. “You allowed yourself to be assimilated because I asked you for help, and now you are suffering.”
“And I would do it all again in a heartbeat.” She catches my hand. “It was my choice, and I knew the risks. A little discomfort is a small price to pay for what we’ve achieved.” Her smile blooms suddenly. “Not to mention seeing the look on the queen’s face when she realised we’d beaten her.”
Reluctantly, I find my own lips twitching in response.
“At least allow me to alleviate your pain,” I press. “The Doctor insisted that I program a holographic masseuse to assist in my therapy after my spinal clamps were removed. I remember the techniques.”
Captain Janeway’s smile fades.
“I won’t hurt you,” I assure her.
“No, it isn’t that –” she hesitates. “It’s just … I have some scarring.”
The statement is a non sequitur, and my confusion must show on my face.
She starts to say something and cuts herself off. “Never mind. I’m being foolish. Thank you, Seven, I’d appreciate that.”
I nod and assist her to stand. “The most appropriate flat surface for this activity would be your bed.”
Amusement twists her face. “By all means,” she says with what I assume she intends to be a sweeping gesture of her arm, but it’s cut off by a gasp of pain, and again my help is required to steady her.
“Perhaps you should limit your movements until after I have applied the therapy.”
“Good idea,” she says tightly. Her eyes are closed, her face pale.
I wait until she straightens and nods, and we shuffle slowly into her sleeping space. I have never been in this room before and my curiosity prompts me to take stock of the rather nondescript artwork and utilitarian furniture. Unlike the rest of her quarters or her ready room, this space is sparsely decorated, though given her propensity for insomnia I am not surprised she spends little time in here.
The captain stands beside her bed. “What now?” she asks. “Should I lie on my stomach?”
She is still fully dressed. “The therapy will be more effective if you remove your clothes,” I tell her.
“I was afraid you’d say that,” she mutters, then, “You might have to help me with that, Seven. I’m not sure I can bend.”
I crouch at her feet and unfasten her boots, and she rests a hand on my shoulder for balance as she steps out of first one, then the other.
Rising, I indicate she should turn around, and when she does I raise my hands to brush aside her hair so I can unclasp her turtleneck. My fingers graze her nape and she shivers, her flesh visibly prickling where I’ve touched it. I have a strange urge to repeat the gesture.
The captain shifts her weight and I blink back my distraction.
“Please raise your arms.”
She obeys, and the turtleneck, now sufficiently loosened, slips over her head, followed by the tightly-fitting undershirt. She is not wearing any other undergarment. Her arms lift to cross over her breasts and I observe the pale expanse of her back, her skin perfect but for the circular pinkish scars placed at regular intervals alongside the knobs of her spine.
I touch one lightly with the tip of my finger and she inhales sharply.
“I’m sorry.” I wonder why my pulse rate has increased. “Did that hurt?”
“No,” she says, her voice husky.
I find I am anticipating the moment when I will be able to place my hands on her more fully, to stroke and soothe her aches. Disconcerted, I take a half-step back.
“Please finish disrobing,” I order her, and after a moment she unfastens her uniform pants and lets them fall. Her panties are plain grey cotton.
“Will that do?” she asks. Her head is bowed, her tone dry with an amusement that feels slightly forced. Her hands have returned to cover her breasts.
“It’s sufficient,” I tell her.
“Should I lie down now?”
I step back to allow her space. As she turns to climb onto the bed her hands fall away from her body, and I find I am staring at her breasts, at their curve and fullness, her nipples a darker shade of pink than mine and erect in the cool room. There is a smattering of freckles across her chest, the colour of weak tea. I wonder if they taste differently to the rest of her skin.
She positions herself face-down on the bed, her cheek resting on her folded hands. “I’m ready,” she says.
I move back into the main room and tap my access code into her replicator, ordering a small bottle of the medicinal oil the Doctor prescribed for my use in the first few weeks after my de-assimilation. When I return, the captain’s eyes are closed. She appears relaxed, but the air holds a tension I cannot quite define.
“May I?” I rest one knee on the bed and wait for her nod before settling myself over her, careful to minimise contact. Warming a small amount of oil in my palms, I inhale deeply and lay my enhanced hand on the base of her back to steady her, while the other strokes upward along her spine.
She makes a whisper of a sound and I pause. “Did I hurt you?”
“No,” she says softly. “The Doctor’s massages are much more vigorous. You have a very gentle touch.”
I work carefully over her tender skin, my fingertips pressing more firmly into the taut muscle and tendons surrounding her spinal column until her body seems to melt under my hands. She exhales, a long shuddering sigh that ends in a hitch of breath, and I pause.
“It’s nothing.” She shifts on the bed. “I suppose it’s just been a long time since … since anyone touched me like this.”
I continue my long, languorous sweeping motions, pressing the heels of my hands into her lower back, easing tension along her spine until she moans, low and echoing with pleasure in her silent room.
The sound provokes in me a feeling of reckless curiosity, a desire to press against invisible boundaries I have only recently discovered a desire to test.
And it fills me with a need to be closer to her, the captain – Kathryn – not only in the physical sense, but to know her inside out.
“Was it Commander Chakotay who touched you like this?”
It takes a moment, but she tenses under my hands. “Excuse me?”
The warning note in her voice gives me pause. But before I can consider apologising she speaks again, and this time the teasing undercurrent confuses me almost as much as her question.
“Is this part of your exploration into humanity?”
She has propped herself on her elbows and is looking at me from over her bare shoulder. Her eyes are smoky in the half-light, the angles of her cheekbones and jaw so sharp I feel compelled to stroke a finger over them to see if they’d draw blood.
My inner thighs feel warm where they are pressed against her slender hips, and I realise that my hands have stilled and are resting on the upper curve of her buttocks. Her skin, where my palms touch it, is softer than the cotton of her panties.
“Seven?” The captain’s eyebrow quirks.
“Axum was my – her lover,” I explain in a rush. “Annika’s lover. He and I – we did not – there was no time.”
“And you’re curious about it,” she deduces.
“I am fully aware of the mechanics of sexual intercourse.” I swallow. “I want to know about intimacy. About desire and the significance of touch. And love.”
“I see,” the captain says. She is silent for several seconds, though it isn’t the awkward silence I am aware my bluntness often causes.
Belatedly I resume massaging her pressure points; it’s something to focus on while she contemplates my request.
“You realise I’m probably not the best person to ask about this,” she says eventually with a rueful twist of her mouth. “I certainly haven’t had much practice with intimacy these past few years.”
“You may decline to answer any questions that cause you discomfort.”
She chuckles and settles back onto the bed, chin on her folded hands. “All right, Seven. Ask away.”
I continue the soothing motions of my fingertips while I consider how to frame my question. “Do you miss it? Being intimate with another person.”
The captain sighs. “Yes, I do. Forming a deep connection with someone is one of the most rewarding things about being human, Seven. Familiarity, understanding, support, someone to spend time with – it’s important to most of us.”
“But do you not have that with people aboard Voyager?” I ask her. “You have the support of the entire crew. Commander Tuvok understands you, likely due to your long association with him. You spend time with Commander Chakotay, and with me.”
“That’s true,” she says, “and I am very lucky to have such wonderful friendships, but for many people, physical closeness is a vital aspect of true intimacy.”
“Yes, including me.” She sounds sad. “I’m only human, Seven. I miss having someone to hold me at night and kiss me good morning. I miss being touched ...”
My fingers continue to stroke along her spine as she trails off into a sigh, and I realise I have unconsciously lightened the pressure of my touch, focusing less on easing pain and more on the texture of her skin.
“I kissed Axum.”
I hear a smile in her voice as she replies, “Analysis?”
“A curious activity.” I recall the pressure of his lips on mine, the sensations, the sharing of breath as he gently opened my mouth with his, the unexpected thrill as his tongue traced my lower lip. “But pleasurable. I would like to repeat it someday.”
“Perhaps you will,” she says. “He did say he’d find you.”
“I am not certain that I want him to,” I admit. “As I said, the woman he knew was not the woman I am.”
“Well, Axum isn’t the only person who can help you experience intimacy.”
My fingers still momentarily as I analyse her statement. Her voice: husky, lazy, with a charged undertone I’ve occasionally detected in her speech, usually when she speaks to Commander Chakotay, but sometimes in conversation with me. Her words: a platitude perhaps, or an offer, depending on interpretation. But how should I interpret it?
I lighten my touch further, tracing patterns in a widening arc across her lower back, curving my palms upward over her delicate ribs, my fingers just brushing the underside of her breasts. She makes that same soft sound as before and her hips raise a little beneath my cradling thighs. Encouraged, I repeat my previous action, this time allowing my hands to linger, and am rewarded with a shaky exhale of her breath.
“You’re very good at this,” she murmurs. “My back barely hurts at all anymore.”
“Should I stop now?” I hold my breath, awaiting her reply.
“I didn’t say that.”
“Then I’ll continue.”
I slow my movements even further, sweeping my palms down the narrow surface of her back, cupping her hips, spreading my fingers as I drag them upward along her sides to trace the outer curves of her breasts. She shudders and presses into my hands, and I lean forward to press my lips to the fading scar just above her first thoracic vertebra.
“What was that for?” she almost whispers.
I find my voice is trembling slightly as I answer, my mouth drifting up to the nape of her neck. “A kiss to make the hurt better.”
“Seven…” She turns her head, pushing up slightly on her elbows. Her lips are parted.
I brush my mouth behind her ear. “Yes, Captain?”
She swallows audibly. “We shouldn’t do this.”
“This kind of involvement…” she pauses to gasp as I cup her breasts, closing finger and thumb around each nipple, “it’s complicated.”
“I wish to learn about human intimacy,” I tell her. My lips find the point of her shoulder. “You wish to feel human touch. We can help each other. What is complicated about that?”
The captain’s body writhes under mine and I crouch back on my heels so she can sit up to face me, knees bent to one side and one arm draped loosely over her breasts. Her undershirt lies on the bed just beside us, but she doesn’t reach for it.
“This is inappropriate,” she says quietly, her eyes serious, “Seven, I’m your captain.”
I let my gaze stray deliberately from her dishevelled hair to her bare shoulders and lower. Her accelerated breathing is evident, and now that she has shifted position I can clearly see the flush across her chest. Inappropriate or not, she is aroused.
And at this moment I am having difficulty thinking of her as my captain.
Impulsively I lean forward and touch my mouth lightly to hers. She takes a sharp breath but doesn’t retreat, and so I press closer, angling my head to catch her lower lip between mine.
Her lips are softer than Axum’s, but that is the last comparison I draw between them. And as her tongue licks into my mouth and her hand comes up to wind into my hair, it seems she has similarly abandoned her protests.
With my metal-veined hand I trace an imaginary line from the hollow of her throat to her pointed nipple. She moans into my mouth, strong fingers curving around the back of my neck to bring my body closer as her other hand skates upward over the thick fabric covering my ribs. I feel her fingers spread, measuring the curve and weight of my breast inside my biosuit. An unfamiliar sensation ripples throughout my body, patterning randomly from that point of contact. It makes my breath come faster, prickles my skin, swells the flesh between my legs.
It makes me want to induce in her the same feelings her touch gives me.
She lets me ease her back onto the pillow as the kiss deepens, and I feel nimble fingers working at the clasp of my biosuit, sliding the fastener down. I raise up a little and she peels the suit from my arms, pushing it down to my waist.
The captain goes still, lips parted as she explores the shape of my body with one hand, fingertips tracing the lines of scars and skin. I feel exposed, naked and raw in ways more visceral than simple nudity. I await her assessment, holding my breath in fear of the first judgement that really matters to me.
“Seven.” Her voice is as gentle as the hand she lays against my face, bringing my focus back to her. “What is it? You left me for a minute there.”
“I’m afraid,” I stammer, unable to quantify my apprehension.
But she seems to understand me. Her fingertips are cool as she strokes lightly over my ocular implant. “You wanted to learn about intimacy,” she says softly. “It invariably comes with a healthy dose of fear. Trusting yourself to another person, whether that trust is physical, emotional or spiritual, is the riskiest thing a human can do. It can be terribly painful and difficult.”
“If it is so difficult,” I manage, “why would anyone risk it?”
She stretches up to nuzzle her lips along my jaw. “Because it can also be wonderfully rewarding, if you’re willing to trust me.”
The slide of her bare skin against mine sends a wave of heat through me. I bend to kiss her again and she wraps her arms around me, long fingers whispering down my spine and pushing my suit over my hips, down my legs. I clutch at her, press a hand between her thighs, hearing her whimper as I trace the edge of her panties and slip my finger inside.
She is slippery-hot, and as her fingers find and stroke me with clever purpose I realise that I am too. Her scent overwhelms me, so weighty on the back of my tongue I can almost taste her. I begin to loosen my hold, wanting to crawl down her body and use my mouth on her, but she wraps her legs around my hips and traps our hands between us.
Her fingertips circle my clitoris, pressing and sliding. The pleasure is sharp and immediate, a contrast to the low ache swelling in my lower belly. It makes my breath catch and my insides spasm.
“Seven,” her breath is hot in my ear, “oh, like this,” and she moves her fingers faster as her hips push into mine.
I mimic her and she cries out, her spine arching helplessly, the fingernails of her other hand digging into my lower back. My face is pressed into her hair as she gasps and shudders beneath me, perspiration prickling my armpits and the creases of my thighs. The wave swells inside me, a roaring in my ears that builds pressure so fierce it hurts. I begin to shake, and wonder if I will burst before I can crest the wave.
But in the end, it is easy.
A curl of the wrist, fingertips pressing, her mouth at my throat – and I cry out in shock and relief, my limbs tense and back bowed until the wave passes, leaving me wrung out and elated. The captain lies still against me, her breath gusting warm and damp against my neck, one arm clasping me close. Her thighs are relaxed outward and as I draw my fingers slowly out from inside her she gives a low, breathy moan.
“Are you in pain?”
My voice sounds different – languid and husky – and it almost distracts me from her answer.
“No,” she says. She wipes quickly at her cheeks with the heel of one hand and gives a shaky laugh, amending, “A little. But not physically, and only in a good way.”
“Is there a good way to be in pain?” I wonder.
Her laugh is more genuine this time, and she pulls me down for a lengthy, lazy kiss. A kiss I deduce is a kind of farewell when she smiles at me and says, “Thank you, Seven.”
“For making me feel human again.” Her fingers trace the star-shaped implant below my cheekbone, and I understand that she’s remembering her own, more recent assimilation scars. “I hadn’t realised quite how badly I needed it.”
“I’m glad I could give you something you need.”
“And you?” Her tone holds an edge of uncertainty. “Are you all right? I should have thought – perhaps I should have been gentler. Gone slower.”
I pause, mentally cataloguing the unfamiliar ache in my pelvis, the swollen tissues, the sense of blissful languor.
“The sensations are curious,” I admit, “but I am not injured. I – I believe I would enjoy repeating this experience. Perhaps someday I will have the opportunity to further explore sexual intimacy.”
Her smile cracks suddenly in a yawn that clearly surprises her. “Oh,” she says, “I guess I won’t be needing the Doctor’s analgesic tonight.”
“I should go,” I decide, extricating myself from her loosening embrace.
“You don’t have to –” she starts, but tails off into a rueful smile. “Yes, I suppose you should.”
With the ease of practice I shrug fluidly back into my biosuit, stretching to fasten it as she sits up to watch me. She pulls her knees up to her chest, thin arms wrapped around them. It makes her look younger than her years.
I would like to bend and kiss her, weave my fingers into her hair one last time, but she is already drawing into herself, detaching. Holding herself apart. It’s difficult to leave her. But I know that soon her eyes will lose the softness they still hold as she looks at me, and I find I don’t want to be here to see it.
“Good night, Captain,” I murmur as I retreat, and as it turns out, leaving is easy after all.