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“Kathryn, where is your mind today?” Gretchen Janeway slowly made her way from the kitchen counter to take her usual seat, coffee cup in hand. “You’ve been a million miles away all morning.”

“I’m sorry, Mother,” the younger woman replied with a self-depreciating chuckle. “I think I was actually closer to 50,000 light years away.” She gave a quick shake of her head and looked down to her half empty coffee cup. “It’s been almost a year, and there’s a lot to review before the gathering Starfleet’s insisted on putting together for us.”

“You never were much of one for being the center of attention, which,” her mother smirked from behind her cup of coffee, “I always thought was a little ironic given how often you were the star pupil or,” she winked, “admiral, as the case may be.”

Kathryn winced. “I’d hardly call myself a ‘star’ anything. I’m pretty sure the only reason Starfleet offered me the promotion was because of the high number of causalities within the brass due to the war.”

“If that were the case, Kathryn, I could think of several other captains who they could’ve forced into promotion and didn’t. They promoted you. I don’t understand why you’re so against the praise that comes with that. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you don’t feel you deserve your current rank.”

The admiral sat at her mother’s kitchen table and stared out of the window over the kitchen sink and into the rolling fields of Indiana. For a time, she silently considered the comment before bringing herself back to her mother’s questioning gaze. “Maybe I don’t?”

“Then why did you take it? Picard has been offered an admiral’s pips off and on for over a decade now, and he’s always turned them down every time.” Gretchen frowned deeply at her oldest daughter, trying to understand. “Why take a promotion if you don’t feel as though you’re ready for it?”

“I didn’t say I wasn’t ready for it, Mother.” Kathryn drained the last of her coffee and stood to refill the cup from the waiting pot on the counter. “Starfleet made it clear once we were settled back into this quadrant that the war had taken a heavy toll, and they were admittedly desperate for any technological edge they could get just in case the end of the war wasn’t really the end of the war.”

“And all that Borg technology that you came back with was that edge?” Her mother rolled her eyes. “Everyone said as much as soon as news hit that Voyager was back. It isn’t surprising they’d want her captain to be in charge of Borg tech research. When you told me about the promotion, I assumed you were chomping at the bit to take it on.”

“I was,” the younger Janeway sighed heavily as she plopped back into her chair. “But, mostly, I was ready to be home for a while. I missed being on solid, familiar ground; I missed being able to spend time with you and Phoebe.” She chuckled again. “I missed having a dog, and I didn’t want to take a leave from Starfleet or just leave. It was clear they needed every helping hand to get everything put back to rights.”

Her mother tilted her head in question. “But?”

“But,” her daughter replied through a sigh, “there is something deeply demoralizing about knowing that the longest standing joke in Starfleet is about you getting lost and not knowing how to ask for directions to get back home.” Kathryn rolled her eyes. “There’s so much that happened while we were out there, Mother. So much I can’t tell you and so much more I can’t even begin to know how to tell you.” She shook her head thoughtfully to herself. “I can’t imagine what the war was like, the suffering and loss here is clearly immense. I just don’t think it was wise of Starfleet to lavish praise on a lost ship returning home and spotlight it’s captain as some golden child as if to imply nothing of consequence had been happening here while Voyager was away. It seems… trivializing of those who survived the war.”

“Kathryn,” Gretchen reached an aged hand out to place it gently over her daughter’s where it rested on the kitchen table. “We needed the break from reality. Voyager was a sun ray of good news in a thunderstorm of very bad things, and you were a breath of fresh air to a group of people who had been stuck in the same stifling rut of thinking and doing for several years. No one is trivializing anything, except for, maybe, you.”

The admiral pulled back, glaring at the older woman. “What is that supposed to mean?”

Her mother gently smiled at the look, brushing it off with a mental note of how much her daughter looked like her husband when she scowled like that. “It means that, if you don’t consider your promotion and the praise you and your crew received for your return and the help you’ve since provided as invaluable to us, then maybe you’re the one that’s trivializing the significance you and your crew’s return home has had. I’d say, based on what I’ve read in the papers, that some of your old crew has really pulled through, like that Borg…”

“Seven,” Kathryn quickly cut in. “She has a name, Mother.”

“I’m very well aware of that, Kathryn.” Gretchen sighed in frustration. “Have you spoken with her recently?”

“No,” the admiral’s face dropped and her eyes darted back down to her coffee. “The last I heard, she was still dating my first officer.”

Former first office,” Gretchen quietly corrected before pressing on. “How long ago was that?”

“About three months after we returned.” Taking a sip of her coffee, the younger woman blew a puff of air as she tried to release the growing tension at the direction the conversation was going. “I’m sure they’re happy.”

Gretchen gave a flat hum at her daughter’s remark. “I’m sure.” She raised an eyebrow at her daughter. “But, I know that tone; what haven’t you told me about those two?”

“Nothing,” Kathryn responded defensively, but, at her mother’s knowing look, she rolled her eyes and waved off the silent question with a flip of her wrist. “Fine. Nothing that means anything anymore.”

“So, it meant something at one point?” The older woman narrowed her eyes, carefully watching her daughter.

“No.” Kathryn’s voice betrayed her as it cracked with unspoken emotion. “No, at no point could any of it have mattered.” She sighed again, shaking her head. “If Seven’s happy, healthy, and safe, then that’s what matters now.”

“And what about your former first officer?”

“As long as he keeps her happy, healthy, and safe, then things will be fine,” the admiral responded, steel slipping into her voice. “I know Chakotay wouldn’t intentionally hurt her, but…”

“But you’d put him six feet under if he did?” Gretchen laughed at her daughter’s guilty look. “Kathryn, you never talk about your Voyager crew much, but I thought you were fond of Chakotay, and I’ve seen his picture. He’s very handsome. I’d ask if you two were ever involved out there in the Delta Quadrant, but I know better, but what about Seven?”

“What about Seven? I just told you, Mother, she and Chakotay…”

“Were dating three months after you all got back to Earth. Yes, kitten, I was listening, but I wonder if you are?”

Her daughter scowled again. “Mother, nothing happened between me and Seven, either. My god, I was practically her mother. I was the one who separated her from the collective. I was the primary one helping her understand her humanity. I was the one who made the decision to save her from the Borg Queen when she was abducted, I was the one who first agreed those of us in the rescue party would need to be assimilated to…”

“You did what?” Gretchen nearly dropped her coffee mug.

“Nothing. Forget I said that,” Kathryn quickly responded. “You’re not supposed to know about…”

“Kathryn Janeway, are you telling me that you have been assimilated by the Borg?”

“Yes, but,” the admiral smirked as she pulled her coffee cup up to her lips, “I got better, Mother.”

“You got… you got better. Good Lord, Kathryn.” The older woman tried to steady herself. “You chose to enter some kind of Borg ship, allowed yourself to be assimilated, and for what? To save a single member of your crew? You could’ve died or worse. What if they couldn’t get you back?”

“Mother, I wasn’t about to allow a member of my crew to be taken hostage. Seven….”

“What else have you done to save Seven that any sane person wouldn’t have done to save a singular member of their crew?”

“You don’t understand, Mother. I was responsible for her. She was assimilated as a child. When I took her from the collective, all she’d ever known was being a drone. I couldn’t let her give up on her humanity. I couldn’t let the Borg Queen just take her from me without…” Kathryn drifted out of the sentence, her eyes glazing over slightly in memory.

“What’s her full name?” Gretchen’s voice was sharp, pulling her daughter out of her thoughts. There was something more there than Kathryn was saying, and she wanted to throw the younger woman slightly off balance to see if she could pull it from her daughter without it being painful. Her oldest daughter could be a stubborn one.

“Before she was assimilated, it was Annika Hansen, but she prefers her designation now: Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct Unit of Unimatrix 01,” Kathryn replied flatly.

“And what does that mean? I thought the Borg didn’t have ranks.”

“They don’t, not exactly, but I believe, based on what I’ve learned, that they have a labelling system that allows them to keep better track of each Borg unit, what their primary function is, and it allows them to keep track of units that would be a good fit to become the next Queen should the current Queen be destroyed.”

Her mother frowned at her. “Which means what as far as Seven goes? What was she before you pulled her from the Borg?”

“It means,” Kathryn began to respond thoughtfully before her mind came to a full stop. “Oh my god, why didn’t that ever occur to me before?” He mother raised a questioning eyebrow but said nothing. “Mother, it means that Seven was in line to become the next Queen.”

Gretchen watched the play of emotions run across her daughter’s face. Intermixed with the surprise, wonder, sadness, and anger was something else. She hadn’t seen it in her daughter’s eyes since Kathryn was a commander and someone was hitting on her then fiancée, Mark. It made her wonder what Kathryn was keeping buried away from even her own mind. “Kitten, are you okay?”

“Yes,” the admiral responded slowly. “I’m glad I got her out of there. She’s too important to become the mouth piece for the Borg.”

“How important?” Her mother pressed.

Kathryn finished her coffee and went to the sink to clean the mug before putting it away. “Important enough that,” she placed her hands on the edge of the sink and leaned down, staring into the depths of the silvery reflection looking back up at her, “a version of myself broke every Starfleet directive known in order to travel back in time to get the ship home sooner so that I didn’t have watch her die on some god forsaken planet in the Delta Quadrant while being held in the arms of her husband.”

Gretchen’s jaw clenched at the anger mixed with ache in her oldest’s voice. She thought of pressing to learn more about the time travel, but she knew it was something Kathryn had let slip, and she didn’t want to cause issues later. Instead, she focused on the feelings she heard in the words of that last sentence. “You know,” she began softly, “the future isn’t written in stone. If you’ve altered the course of history, its possible things are different now.”

“Maybe,” the admiral replied as she straightened up, “but, as I said before, Mother, it doesn’t matter.” She turned around, her face contouring into a controlled mask. “Anything else wouldn’t do. I was her mentor, her motherly figure. She’s half my age, and,” she squared her shoulders, as she checked the time, “Chakotay is a good man.”

Her mother slowly shook her head. “You sacrifice too much, Kathryn.”

Heading over to kiss her mother goodbye on the cheek, Kathryn gave her the barest of smiles. “I’m a Starfleet officer in command. Sacrificing is part of the job. I have to go, Mother. I’ll see you and Phoebe in a few days at the event.”

“Be careful, kitten. I love you.”

“I love you, too, Mother.”

______________________________

“Seven! It’s about time you answered.” B’Elanna rolled her eyes at the up ticked eyebrow she received as a response. “Where the hell have you been?”

“Working,” Seven flatly replied, though a small smirk tugged at the corner of her mouth. “I assume you still recall what that means?”

“Look, stop trying to provoke me so early in the morning. Miral has been fussy all night, and Tom had to go off and run a shuttle for his dad the other day, so I’ve been alone with our child for going on three days. Don’t test me, Seven. I mean it.”

The blonde nodded in compliance. “Very well, B’Elanna. My apologies. I was simply…”

“Teasing me. Yeah, I know, and, usually, I’d be fine with it, but, right now, I just need about six hours of uninterrupted sleep.” The lieutenant sighed as she reached beyond the view of the screen to pull her babbling daughter into her lap. “You stay right here until I’m done talking with Auntie Seven. I can’t keep an eye on you and her at the same time.”

“Auntie Seven?” Seven’s smile grew just a touch. “I was unaware we were related, but,” she cut in before the half-Klingon could snap at her again, “I find being called her aunt acceptable. However, if you’re doing so to ingratiate me simply because you need a babysitter, I may have to politely decline the title.”

“Are you telling me the Borg Princess can’t handle one mostly human baby for a few hours?” B’Elanna laughed at the terrified looked that quickly passed over Seven’s face. “Honestly, that’s fair. I’m half-Klingon, and I have problems handling this mostly human baby.” She laughed at herself. “Anyway, I’m not calling you to come babysit, although I wouldn’t tell you no if you volunteered. I’m calling you to see if you’re going to the Starfleet shindig in a few days.”

“The anniversary party?” Seven straightened in her chair, her face clamping down into a controlled mask of nothing. “I’m very busy with the think tank.”

“And you’ve been avoiding all of us ever since you broke it off with Chakotay five months ago.” B’Elanna shifted Miral to her other knee with a grunt. “There’s no reason to. We all get it. You were new to emotions, and Chakotay was new to not being an ass to you. He can be really charming when he wants to, and he’s not half bad to look at, either.”

“Chakotay is a good man, B’Elanna…”

“Yes, but he’s not perfect, and we all know that, Seven. Gods know we experienced that while we were stuck in the Delta Quadrant. Look, all I’m saying is that no one is holding it against you that you broke it off to go out and explore the universe on your own. Frankly, a lot of us were glad you did.”

Seven tilted her head in question, reaching to pick up a mug situated just outside of the view screen. “Is that so?”

B’Elanna’s eyebrows raised as she watched Seven take a drink. “Is that coffee?”

“Yes,” Seven indifferently replied. “Since arriving on Earth, I have found that I appreciate it’s qualities.”

“It’s qualities… right.” The other woman let the comment slip by with only a small gleam of knowing in her eyes. “Seven, I’m not saying Chakotay isn’t a good man. He is; he’s my friend, and I’d trust him with my life or my child’s life any day. I’m just saying that being a good person isn’t enough to make a good mate, and you two had so little in common that it really shocked us when we found out you were dating, especially because of how much he hated the idea of you originally coming on board.”

“To be fair,” the blonde replied matter of factly, “I was part of the Collective at the time I came aboard.”

“Yeah, for about twenty minutes and then the captain took care of that,” B’Elanna said with a grin. “I’ll never forget how pissed you were for the first few months.”

“Captain Janeway was nothing if not persistent. It was… annoying.” Seven took another sip of her coffee. “In retrospect, I am grateful for her. If not for her, I would never have regained my individuality.” Her voice softened. “I owe her everything.”

“She wouldn’t see it that way,” B’Elanna replied carefully, knowing she was about to hit a nerve. “She’s never been one to feel as though any of us owe her anything for everything she sacrificed for us to get back home.”

“But, I do owe her everything, B’Elanna. The sacrifices she has made for me to maintain my humanity cannot be measured. I cannot think of anyone else who would have gone to the lengths that she has.”

The dark-haired woman nodded solemnly. “You’ve always held a special place with the captain.”

“I’m aware the crew often referred to me as her ‘Pet Borg,” Seven bitterly replied. “It was not a title that I appreciated.”

B’Elanna flushed with guilt. “Yeah, well, some of us were just frustrated at what we saw as special treatment, but, looking back on it, I think most of us realize that it was more that Captain Janeway cared about you in the same way that any of us care about our loved ones, our family, you know?”

“The captain has said on numerous occasions that she considers Voyager’s crew to be her family,” Seven pointed out contritely. “How is that any different from how she treated me?”

“Seven,” the other woman allowed a tired sigh to escape as she bounced her daughter on her knee. “You were more than just a member of her crew, and I think you know that. We all knew that, even then. Don’t you think it’s silly for the two of you to keep dancing around it now that we’re home?”

“We are not ‘dancing around’ anything, B’Elanna. In fact,” the blonde set her mug down with a small thunk, “the last time Kathryn Janeway and I spoke was three months after our return to the Alpha Quadrant. She hasn’t contacted me since.”

“Have you tried to contact her?” B’Elannas narrowed her eyes in thought. “Or are you two avoiding each other?”

“Yes, B’Elanna, I tried. I tried four months after our return. I tried when Chakotay proposed and I told him to wait. I tried when I called off my relationship with him. I tried just two weeks ago. I have tried. It’s clear she has no interest in speaking with me, and I have no interest in being in the vicinity of someone who would push me to the side so easily after claiming how important I was to them.”

“Oh,” the comment blew the breath out of the brunette. “Seven, no; I don’t think it’s what you’re thinking.” She sighed at her squirming child. “What does the captain do whenever she feels she’s too emotionally close to someone and that her involvement is going to hurt them?”

Seven tilted her head in thought. “She withdraws.”

“Right, and what does she do whenever she feels like she’s going to be hurt, too?”

The blonde’s eyes narrowed in thought. “She withdraws even more.”

“So,” B’Elanna said through gritted teeth as her daughter’s bony elbow accidentally ground into her side, “What does that tell you?”

Picking up her coffee and breathing in the deep aroma of the cooling liquid in the cup, Seven closed her eyes and really considered the situation. She tried to see it outside of her emotions and through the filter of what she’d observed of Kathryn Janeway’s behavior patterns over the years.

Finally, she opened her eyes to return the expectant stare being leveled at her by the half-Klingon on the other end of the call. “It means I will have to find something appropriate to wear for the upcoming Starfleet function commemorating the anniversary of our return home.”

The brunette nodded approvingly. “Good. We’ll come get you on our way there, and, Seven?”

“Yes, B’Elanna?”

“You better be in a real outfit and not that ridiculous catsuit the doctor cooked up for you.” She grinned mischievously at the other woman. “Wow her, Seven, and remember that leaving a little bit to the imagination can go a long way.”

Seven nodded. “Noted.”

With a chuckle, B’Elanna ended the call leaving Seven alone with her thoughts and a brewing plan.

_______________________

“Admiral Janeway, sir, I’m here to take you to the function.” A young, fresh-faced ensign stood at rigid attention at Janeway’s office door and waited for her response.

Glancing up from her PADD, she finished her coffee and stood, using the reflection of the monitor to check herself. Her formal uniform fit well, it’s white material with gold trim highlighting the red in her hair. She smoothed down her tunic and reached up to touch the pips at her neck. They were small golden reminders of all the reasons her life was so very different than she imagined it would be nine years ago.

With a sigh, she turned her attention to the young officer quietly waiting and took a moment to appraise him as she slowly walked to the door. He was human with a crisp new officer’s uniform in command red and bright, eager but uncertain eyes.

He remaindered her of another ensign she’d known not that long ago.

Putting on a gentle smile, she nodded. “At ease, Ensign,” she said through a chuckle, “before you strain something.”

He relaxed his stance but had problems meeting her gaze as he sharply nodded. “Yes, sir, Admiral.”

She sighed, missing the familiarity of her Voyager crew. “Ensign, despite Starfleet protocol, I don’t like being addressed as ‘sir.”

The ensign blanched, his posture moving back toward the rigid side as his eyes betrayed his worry that he’d deeply offended the famous admiral. “Yes! Sorry… ma’…”

“Don’t call her that, either,” a friendly voice called out from behind Janeway.

She turned to see Harry Kim walking along the corridor at a steady pace, a giant grin plastered across his face. Stopping next to her, he addressed the young officer. “She actually prefers ‘Admiral’ unless it’s crunch time.” He gave her a jovial nudge with his shoulder as he added almost conspiratorially, “And don’t worry, Ensign, she will definitely let you know when it’s crunch time.”

Kathryn laughed, which startled the young officer but just made Harry chuckle all the more. “Harry, I didn’t know you were at HQ today.”

“I decided to swing by before I went to the party,” he said with a sparkle in his eyes. “I figured one of us should make sure you didn’t lose track of time and forget to go.”

The admiral snorted. “I don’t think that was going to happen. As you can see,” she gestured toward the visibly uncomfortable ensign, “the brass has sent Ensign…” she waved her hand as a plea for help.

The young man cleared his throat a few times before he could get out a shaky reply. “Ensign Kirk, Admiral.” He blushed a little, ducking his head slightly in apology, as he added, “Ensign James Kirk.”

“James Kirk?” Kathryn raised an eyebrow in surprise.

Ensign Kirk coughed uncomfortably, again unable to meet her eyes. “Yes, Admiral. My… uh… my parents are fans of Admiral Kirk. My father insists we’re somehow related to him, so, when I was born, they named me after James T. Kirk, but,” he finally raised his head to meet the questioning looks of the senior officers before him, “my middle initial is L for Luke.”

Harry shook his head in disbelief. “That’s some big shoes to fill, Ensign.”

“Yes, Lieutenant. I’m trying my best to do right by my name, though,” he scrunched his face up as he realized he was likely oversharing, “I’m considering going by my middle name for efficiency’s sake.” He gave a self-depreciating chuckle. “You wouldn’t believe how often I have to have this conversation.” Quickly glancing up, he held a hand up defensively, adding quickly, “Not that I mind having it with you, Admiral. I’m happy to have whatever conversation you’d like about anything.”

Janeway chuckled again and gave Harry a side glance, catching his eyes and giving him a quick, mischievous wink. “Anything?”

“Yes, anyth… well, I mean, whatever is, uh… that is to say, you’re very… um….” Ensign Kirk sucked in a deep breath as a blush rose up his cheeks.

Harry laughed again, reaching out to give the young man a light pat to the arm. “Don’t worry, Ensign, she has that effect on people.” Giving a mocking shake of his head to his former commander, he nodded toward the exit. “Captain, don’t you think we should probably stop embarrassing the Ensign and take his offer of a ride to the party? It’s getting late.”

“Probably, Mr. Kim, but,” Janeway replied as she motioned for everyone to head toward the shuttlecrafts, “I’m not a captain anymore.”

“True,” Harry replied jovially as he followed along, “but I doubt anyone who was on Voyager would ever be able to call you anything else, but we’ll try.”

She hummed in thought. “How about if you all called me Kathryn?”

“No, absolutely not,” Harry shot back quickly as they settled into the back of the craft. “That would be like calling our parents by their first name.” He gave a little shiver to emphasize how strange the concept was.

“I’m not sure how I want to take that, Lieutenant,” Janeway replied with a chuckle. “I guess I should probably roll with it, though, because I think you’re right.” She shrugged, leaning back into the cushions of her transport. “Once your captain, always your captain, I suppose.”

Harry let out a sigh of relief. “I can’t think of a better person to be my eternal captain.”

She snorted at him. “Flattery won’t get you another pip any time soon, Harry.”

He chuckled. “It was worth a shot,” he replied with a grin.

_____________________

Seven appraised herself in the full-length mirror in her bathroom. She had literally been through hundreds of outfits trying to find the right ensemble to strike a balance between visually appealing without revealing too much and being too covered to be visually appealing enough. She was finding it difficult to find just the right balance.

After hours of consideration, she’d finally settled on a wrap dress that cinched at her waist and flared out into a full skirt that reached to just her ankles. White with accents of gold, the dress had a classic Grecian feel to it, which she thought went well with what many people had told her was her statuesque form.

She chose to wear flat sandals to go with the Grecian theme. Originally, she’d thought to wear her hair down, but she realized she wasn’t comfortable with that. Instead, she pulled it up into the French twist most had come to know on her but allowed a few strands to fall artistically down to frame and soften her face.

In the harsh light of her bathroom, she started at the Borg implants that stood out in contrast to her pale skin and the white and gold of her outfit. She had the passing thought that it would be nice to at least change the color from the stark silvery gray to gold for the evening but pushed the idea aside as a level of a vanity she wasn’t willing to indulge.

The dress’s sleeves and modest but not too conservative neckline hid most of the implants that the public didn’t already know about. It was satisfactory.

Taking in a cleansing breath, she released is slowly while she walked to her vanity to add a few pieces of golden jewelry to complete the look: a golden bracelet around the wrist of her Borg hand, a golden band on the middle finger of her human hand, a delicate golden chain around her neck with a small trinket that closely matched what the communicators from her time on Voyager looked like, and small diamond studded earrings.

She stepped back to again appraise how she looked. Her makeup was flawless, her hair and clothing were acceptable, and she was pleased with the light honeysuckle perfume she’d chosen for the evening. With a nod to herself, she turned to head toward the front of her house just in time for someone to ring the chime.

She smirked, appreciating the promptness of the ring. Behind the front door stood Tom with B’Elanna on his arm, both suited up in dress whites.

“Wow, Seven, you look great,” B’Elanna exclaimed with a smile. “She’s never going to know what hit her.”

Tom looked confusedly between the women. “Do I want to know.”

“Likely not,” Seven replied as she stepped outside and turned to lock her door, initiating a Borg encryption sequence while she spoke. “In fact, I am not sure I want to know what your wife and I are talking about.”

“Oh, come on, Seven,” the brunette woman chided, “you do, too, and I, for one, am glad you’re at least going to try.”

Tom’s eyes lit up, and a grin slowly spread across his face. “Wait a minute, are you… Seven,” he gave her a knowing look, “Are you finally going to ask the captain out?!”

The blonde rolled her eyes and walked past them toward the Delta Flyer. “If we do not leave now, Mr. Paris, we’ll be late,” she replied over her shoulder.

B’Elanna leaned up and whispered in her husband’s ear, “She’s absolutely going to ask Janeway out, and, if she doesn’t, I’m going to do it for them.”

“At this point,” Tom said with a chuckle as they turned toward the flyer, “the whole crew is going to lock them in a closet and refuse to let them out until they agree to at least go on a date.” He snorted. “I mean, Chakotay? Really?”

The brunette nodded sagely. “I know… I know… but can you blame the man? The woman is a freaking goddess in a catsuit.”

Tom shrugged and leaned down to kiss his wife. “Eh, I prefer short, fiery tempered half-Klingons, personally.”

B’Elanna nodded approvingly. “Damned right, you do.”

____________________

Kathryn stepped into the gathering of old and new faces with a level of confidence on showing she didn’t feel. Despite the comfortable and jovial conversation with Harry on their way to the party, her mood was dark and shiftless.

As she made her way across the large room to find the refreshment table, she greeted each person who stopped her with the well-honed, diplomatic smile she’d learned to plaster on her face as a young officer.

Harry’s gut had been right. If he hadn’t come by, she’d have worked through this gathering and shown up late, feigning guilt because she was so swamped with work. She knew she needed to be there for her crew and her political career, but it was the last place she really wanted to be.

Her mother’s voice rang in her head, and she had to agree with it. She never had liked being the center of attention.

As if by magic, Gretchen appeared at her daughter’s elbow with Phoebe Janeway in tow. “There you are, Admiral. Your sister and I have been looking for you everywhere.”

“Sorry, Mother, but every time I think I’m going to make it to the refreshment table, I get stopped.” She laughed at her sister’s eyeroll.

“God, Katie, it’s like people think you’re important or something,” her younger sister said with the trademark Janeway smirk rolling across her lips.

“Mother assures me that I am important, Phoebe, although I’m suspect of her judgement these days.”

“Me, too! Obviously, she’s wrong.” Phoebe linked her arm through her mother’s and gave it a loving squeeze. “Must be the old age setting in.”

“You two are no spring chickens yourselves,” their mother shot back annoyedly.

Phoebe nodded enthusiastically. “You got us there, Mom. I’m clearly not a chicken. I like to think of myself more as a… a… dragon.” She laughed. “You know, something cool looking.”

“And the Admiral is definitely a bear,” came a familiar voice from their side. The group opened up to allow the EMH to step in. “In fact, I recall several times on Voyager when we referred to her as a Mother Bear.”

Janeway visibly winced but laughed. “Hello, Doctor. I’m glad to see you.”

“Admiral, it’s good to see you as well. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to contact you as often as I would like, but Starfleet is a stickler for the command structure.” He looked to the other two ladies with apology and explained, “Despite the fact that I’m working under Admiral Janeway’s command with regard to the Borg Tech program, and in spite of the fact that, for seven years, I worked directly with her every single day, my commanding officer refuses to let me report anything directly to her. In fact, he seems uncomfortable with even the notion of my speaking with her at all, even socially!”

“Doctor, Lt. Commander Astern is just following protocol. You know you can always message me socially; I don’t mind.” Janeway shook her head. “It’s not the same, though, is it?”

The EMH regarded the admiral for moment before replying sadly, “No, it most certainly is not.” He turned back to the other two ladies. “My apologies ladies, I’ve been rude. I’m the EMH, but, please, call me ‘Doctor,’ and you are?”

Phoebe’s eyes lit up. “You’re Voyager’s holographic doctor! Oh, I’m so excited to finally meet you. I’m an artist, and I’m fascinated with the idea of artificial intelligence creating its own art. I hear you’ve become a regular renaissance man, and I’d love to pick your brain about it! Or, holomatrix? Whatever it is, I’d love to pick it!”

The doctor’s chest puffed out slightly and his smile broadened. “That’s me. In fact, I sing, paint, and even do a little holoprogramming.”

“That’s so interesting. How do you… oh, wait. I’m Phoebe, by the way.” Janeway’s younger sister blushed, realizing too late she’d jumped the gun and gone straight to the fun parts of the conversation.

Janeway chuckled. “Phoebe is my sister, Doctor, and this,” she turned to the oldest woman in the group, “is my mother, Gretchen Janeway.”

The doctor nodded, offering his hand to the eldest Janeway. “It’s an honor to meet the both of you. You raised an amazing daughter, Mrs. Janeway. I hope you know that. If not for her, most of us wouldn’t be here today.”

The admiral stiffened, face falling into a warning expression. “Doctor…”

“Oh, Katie, stop it. If your crew wants to recognize how much of an ass kicking, hard-as-balls, mama bear of a commander their captain was and is, let them.” Phoebe withdrew her arm from her mother’s and slipped it around the EMH’s, delight playing in her eyes. “My sister, always the martyr.”

“Can we please talk about something else?” Janeway brushed off anything they might have said with a wave of her free hand while her other went to pinch the bridge of her nose. “I’m not sure I can take the teasing much longer. I haven’t even had my evening cup of coffee yet.”

“Kitten, you really drink too much coffee. It can’t be good for you,” Gretchen gently chided, ignoring her oldest’s glare at the nickname and the accusation. “Perhaps some water?”

“Mother, I’m fine, really. I just want a cup of…”

“Coffee, black,” Seven’s voice pierced the conversation as she stepped between the doctor and admiral to hand Janeway a cup of coffee. “There you are,” she smirked slightly, adding at the end of the line, “Kitten.”

Janeway paled, and, from somewhere behind the tall blonde, she could hear her sister giddily ask, “Is that her? Oh my god, Mom, she’s even more gorgeous in person. Holy hell, what is Katie thinking?!”

It didn’t matter what her sister was babbling on about because she only had eyes and ears for the woman in front of her. Slowly, she reached out to take the offered cup of coffee, her eyes never leaving Seven’s.

“Thank you,” she all but whispered when their fingers accidentally grazed each other as the cup was being passed. “Where have you….” She began, but then her brain kicked back in and she cleared her throat, forcing herself back to rights. “I mean to say, where is…”

“I do not know,” Seven replied sharply as she stepped back to join the circle at large, “nor do I particularly care, Admiral.” She nodded at the EMH. “Doctor, it’s always nice to see you.”

“Seven! I’m glad you could make it, and that dress looks exceptional on you. I see you’re really embracing your humanity these days.” His proud papa smile radiated approval. “I’m sure Chakotay will be sorry he broke things off with you after he sees you in that dress.”

“I couldn’t care less,” she responded as she turned to watch the play of confusion and surprise run across the admiral’s face. “I ended my relationship with Chakotay several months ago. It was congenial; we’ve remained in contact, but there is no likelihood that I will pursue a relationship with him again.”

“I… I see,” Janeway said in amazement. “I had no idea.”

“I know,” Seven shot back pointedly before turning to the unknown women in the group. “I am Seven of Nine.”

Phoebe practically squealed. “I know! You’re the second biggest celebrity to come for Voyager outside of my sister. Oh my god, Seven, you’re so much taller than I thought you’d be. The holos don’t do you justice.”

Seven tilted her head to the side in quick thought. “You are Phoebe Janeway, the admiral’s sister?”

“You know who I am?” The younger Janeway’s whole body vibrated with excitement. “How?!”

“Captain Janeway often spoke of her family with me when I was first regaining my humanity. In fact,” she looked back to Kathryn, eyes asking for approval, which the shorter woman quickly gave with just a small nod of her head, “one of your paintings resides over my mantle in my home, a gift from the captain after a particularly emotional episode I experienced involving my family, Leonardo de Vinci, and ravens.”

Phoebe slow blinked for a few seconds, processing. “I have so many more questions now, but I’m going to let it slide for now.” She gave her sister a meaningful look. “Anyway, I’m flattered you have and like one of my paintings. I’d be happy to give you another if you ever would like to visit my studio to take a look.”

“Thank you; I may consider that at another time.”

“My daughter always speaks very highly of you Seven.” Gretchen offered her hand. “I’m Gretchen Janeway.”

“It is a pleasure, Mrs. Janeway.” Seven carefully shook the older woman’s hand, mindful of her grip. “The family resemblance is strong.”

“When Kathryn was a child, the family used to comment on how hard it was to tell her baby pictures from mine when I was about the same age. She’s my spitting imagine in appearance, but she’s every bit her father in action.”

“Baby pictures…” Seven looked again at the admiral, who was studiously staring down into her cup of coffee. “I must admit, I cannot picture you as anything but fully grown, Admiral.”

Janeway cleared her throat, wishing the blush she felt on her cheeks would go away. “Well, Seven, as you know, we were all children at one point in time, even me.” She gave the young blonde a careful but teasing smile. “I wasn’t always ten feet tall and bulletproof.”

“You are five foot, four inches and hardly bulletproof,” Seven deadpanned before she allowed a hint of a smirk to form on her lips. “However, I believe most people would argue the point with me, especially the Borg. I think you may be their version of a boogieman by now.”

“Seven,” Janeway shook her head, “I don’t think…” She glanced for help only to see amusement on the faces of the others in their small circle. She sighed, accepting her fated legacy.

“Admiral,” Seven glanced around, her eyes falling on something across the room before pulling quickly back to the other woman, “would you care to take a walk with me? It has been some time since we’ve spoken, and there’s much to catch up on.”

“Oh, I don’t know. Mother and Phoebe…”

“Go, Kitten. I’m sure the Doctor will be more than happy to entertain us,” Gretchen cut in with a smile that said she wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“Yes, go Capt… Admiral! Sorry, old habits. You can leave you family in my more than capable hands.” The EMH nodded at Seven, and Kathryn watched some unspoken conversation she couldn’t place go between them before he turned with her family in tow to take them toward the center of the room where the refreshment table sat.

Seven reached forward to pluck the coffee mug from Janeway’s hand, placing it on the try of a passing server. “There is a small garden walking path just outside the east entrance. Shall we?”

Kathryn noted that was in the opposite direction of wherever Seven had been looking a moment before, and she started to suggest they go west just so she could see what Seven had seen, but something told her now wasn’t the time for her to know. Just this once, she was going to push her natural curiosity aside because it was becoming increasingly difficult for anything to hold her attention but the white and gold wrapped woman beside her.

They said nothing to each other as they made their way through the crowd. Occasionally, someone would say hello in passing or give a nod of their head. Had Kathryn been paying attention, she would have noticed that, unlike her entrance, no one stopped her to speak. No one interrupted their trek to the small garden path, and, when they stepped outside, the few who were out there immediately noticed them and quickly found other places to be.

_______________________

“You never returned my messages,” Seven bluntly began as they started their walk along the dimly lit path.

Janeway sighed. “I know. I’m sorry; I’ve just been…”

“Do not tell me you’ve been busy,” Seven cut her off. She snapped her jaw closed, her temples flexing with her effort to not snap again at the other woman. “I’m aware you’ve had time for others from the crew.” She stopped them in an open area with a few benches artistically placed about. “Why not me?”

Taking in a deep breath, Janeway released it slowly as she thought about how to answer the question. It was loaded, it was direct, and it was so very Seven. “Sometimes…” She trailed off, not really sure where she was going to go. Shaking her head, she tried again. “Sometimes, life is more complicated than we realize, and it’s so easy to become reliant on something or someone to help you find your way through it, but, if you rely too heavily on that thing or person, then you inadvertently create a barrier for yourself that prevents you from moving forward.”

The blonde looked around their space, taking in the empty benches and the beautiful landscaping around them. She pivoted on her heel and walked across the opening to stare up into the night through the branches of one of the many trees surrounding them.

Her silence scared Kathryn. She knew Seven liked to process something before she responded, but it normally didn’t take her this long. She worried she’d said finally said the one thing that would make Seven lose whatever remaining respect she had for her. She wasn’t sure how she would deal with that.

“You were worried your presence in my life would inhibit my ability to move forward in a healthy way?”

Janeway released the breath she was holding. She recognized that voice intonation. Seven was angry. Angry she could work with. “In a way, yes, but, also, you were in a new relationship, and those can be very delicate. The last thing I wanted to do was to interfere in some accidental way. You and Chakotay were still trying to learn and understand each other. I didn’t want to meddle.”

Turning back around, Seven scowled at the smaller woman, the implant above her eye gleaming in the low evening light. “You should have.”

“What?” That was not the response Kathryn was expecting.

“You should have interfered. You should have asked more questions.” Seven stepped back into the other woman’s personal space. “If our relationship was strong, it would have weathered anything you could have done. Do not think that your sphere of influence on me is so strong that I would do whatever you wanted simply because you wanted it.”

At that, Janeway actually laughed. “Believe me, Seven, I would never think I had that kind of influence over you. If there’s one thing I can say for you, it’s that you’re hard headed enough that I could never get you to do anything unless you wanted to.”

“Good.” The blonde nodded. “If you believe that, then I cannot believe that you stayed away from me simply because you thought your influence on me might ruin my relationship with Chakotay. In fact,” she raised an eyebrow, tilting her head in question, “why would you consider that your presence would have any bearing on my relationship with him?”

“I…” The admiral mentally kicked herself. She’d been so distracted at seeing Seven and taking her in that she hadn’t payed close enough attention to her words, and now she was trapped. “Seven, you were in a relationship with a good person who I know would take care of you. You didn’t need me anymore.”

“Irrelevant and incorrect,” the former Borg shot back, her voice laced with frustration. “No matter who I may be involved with, I would always want you in my life.” She held the smaller woman’s eyes with her own to make certain she was being heard. “I will always need you.”

Despite herself, Janeway snorted derisively. Seven would always needs her …as what?

At the sound, Seven’s eyes narrowed. “What do you find amusing regarding that statement?”

“Not amusing,” Janeway replied with a sigh. She calmly walked to a bench and took a seat, her back to the building fully of jovial people. “More like …questioning. You’ll always need me? As what? As a mentor? A friend? A mother figure?”

Seven stared down at the small woman, taken aback for a second by how small she really was, especially with the weight of their conversation bearing down on her. She considered how to reply. What would work to prevent the older woman from running but get the point across that she was more to Seven than a mentor.

It occurred to the young woman that she had never minced words with Janeway. She’d always been direct. She’d always been honest, even to her own detriment, and, in this, she decided there was no reason to change her behavior now.

As they stared at each other, Seven took in a deep breath and replied simply, “As your lover.”

Janeway’s world stopped.

__________________

“Hey, have you seen Seven or the captain?” Harry looked around the large room, scanning the crowd. “I know the captain is here; I came in on the same transport as her, and I heard Seven was here.”

“Hey, Harry,” Tom gave his friend a hug. “Yeah, Seven is here. She came in with me and B’Elanna. The last time I checked, Seven and Captain Janeway were headed out to the East Garden …alone.”

“Really?” Harry’s eyebrows went up to his hairline. “Do you think they’re finally going to do it?”

“You mean talk about their feelings and then maybe go out on a date?” Tom scoffed. “Harry, this is Kathryn Janeway and Seven of Nine we’re talking about. Of course they’re not.”

The men were laughing as B’Elanna made her way back. “What’s so funny? Hey, Harry.” She gave him a hug.

“Harry here wants to know if I think Janeway and Seven are going to finally talk about their feelings about each other, and, I mean, of course they aren’t.” Tom took the offered glass of champagne from his wife and gave his thanks via a kiss on the cheek.

“They better,” she retorted with an eyeroll. “I talked to Seven about this a few days ago. Something’s got to give. The captain won’t stop working so she can avoid Seven/Chakotay, Seven has just been avoiding all of us, and Chakotay…” she glanced around the room until she found him. “Seems to be dating a Bajoran, so I think he’s fine.”

“I watched them walk out there.” Tom nodded toward the eastern door. “The whole place practically parted like the Red Sea to give them a path, and I saw at least six people scramble inside from the garden when they walked out there. I’m pretty sure everyone in the room agrees it’s time they did something.”

“It’s Janeway’s damned sense of duty and Seven’s stubbornness that’s getting in their way.” B’Elanna took a sip of her own drink, licking her lips in appreciation. “It’s sure as hell not any of us standing in their way.”

“Maybe we should go check the set up for the seating arrangements for tonight,” Harry suggested while looking around for the tables. “Let’s make sure Seven and the captain are seated together.”

Tom grinned. “Good idea, Harry. B’Elanna…”

The half-Klingon, nodded. “I’ll keep watch.”

____________________________

“As my…” Janeway’s voice left her. She wasn’t positive, but she thought her whole essence might have left her body for a few seconds before slamming back down into her so hard she felt the reverberation echo into the ground below her feet.

Swallowing down the lump in her throat she attempted to speak a few times before she finally managed a word. “I’m old enough to be your mother.”

Seven straightened her stance, pulling her arms behind her back, and clasping her hands firmly together. Her sharp posture and rigid stance only added to the Grecian effect of her outfit, and it mentally gave Kathryn fits. Seven was too beautiful for words sometimes.

“Age is irrelevant,” the blonde stated plainly.

“Is it? I’ll be an old woman, and you’ll still be in your prime in just a few years. What then? Would you really want to be shackled to someone who can’t possibly keep up with you?”

“It is not a shackling if I want to be there, and you’ve said yourself that you cannot force me to do something I don’t want to do.”

Janeway stared up at the young woman. Half of her was relieved they were having this conversation. The other half of her wanted to go back in time to prevent this talk from happening. “Seven, it’s not uncommon for people to develop crushes on their commanding officers. In fact, we go over this in command school at the Academy. People feel close to their commanders, and it’s easy to confuse that closeness and absolute trust for something it isn’t. I was the only real authority figure you’d known when we were in the Delta Quadrant. It only serves to reason…”

“Do you not find me attractive?” Internally, Seven was ranting at the inefficient use of resources the conversation was taking. She could easily see how she effected the admiral. It was clear Janeway found her attractive. What wasn’t clear was why Janeway was so resistant now to them attempting a romantic relationship.

“That’s not the issue here,” Kathryn replied with a sigh. “Anyone with eyes can see you’re attractive, Seven, but it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to become romantically involved with you. I was your mentor and mother figure for four years. Don’t you think the crew, and others, would see it as me suddenly dating my daughter? I can’t imagine that would go over well in Starfleet.”

“I do not care what others think.” The blonde carefully sat down next to Kathryn, her knee just touching the other woman’s. She quietly delighted in how the touch made Janeway’s pupils dilate ever so slightly. “But, to ease your misgivings, I’m certain there would be approval among the crew. Several have spoken to me about you since I ended my relationship with Chakotay. Most of those conversations have been about how they think it’s time for me to approach you as I’m doing now.”

“Are you telling me,” Kathryn asked with a groan, “that the crew wants us to start dating?”

“I am telling you that the crew is aware we have romantic feelings for each other and believes there is no harm in us pursing a romantic relationship.” Seven waited and watched as Kathryn thought over this new piece of information.

“We can’t work this all out tonight,” Janeway finally replied with a sigh. “But we should discuss it more. If you’re not busy tomorrow, maybe you could come to my apartment in San Francisco so we can talk about this?”

 

Seven raised an eyebrow in question. “Does this mean you are not opposed to the idea of us being in a romantic relationship, Admiral?”

“It means…” Kathryn signed again. “It means maybe you should call me Kathryn? You’re not in Starfleet or under my command, and there’s no reason for you not to.”

“That didn’t answer my question ….Kathryn,” Seven pushed.

The older woman shivered just a touch at the sound of her name on Seven’s lips. “I’ve spent so much time trying to ignore any seemingly inappropriate feelings toward you, Seven, that this is going to be difficult for me.” She reached a hand out to place it atop the other woman’s where it rested in Seven’s lap. “If you’re willing to be patient with me, I think I’m willing to try to explore whatever it is between us.”

“Patience is not one of my strengths, but,” Seven leaned in until her lips were centimeters from Kathryn’s, “I am willing to be as patient as I need to be, Kathryn. I want this to work between us.”

Janeway dryly swallowed, her eyes flicking from Seven’s to the blonde’s lips and back again. After a still moment, she let out a breath she’d been holding for five years and leaned forward to capture Seven’s lips with her own.

It was a chaste, sweet kiss. There was no move to deepen it by either of them, but there was a galaxy’s worth of promise in it.

Slowly pulling back, Kathryn genuinely smiled. “We should go back in. They won’t start dinner until I’m seated.”

Seven stood, offering her arm to the smaller woman. “Shall I walk you to your table?”

Sliding her arm into Seven’s offered arm, Kathryn nodded, a blush coloring her features again. “Please do.”

__________________________

Chakotay sat down at the table with Major Nerys. He was glad she’d agreed to be his plus one; they’d become good friends since his return. He’d spent a lot of time at Deep Space 9 trying to help sort things out there. They’d hit it off poorly to start, but had slowly warmed up to each other, and he now considered her to be a close friend.

As he glanced about his table, he tried to keep a neutral expression at realizing he wasn’t seated with Kathryn. He tried to console himself with the fact he was at least with the other senior officers from Voyager.

“Harry, Tom, B’Elanna,” he greeted cordially as they all settled. “Happy to see you. This is my friend, Major Kira Nerys.”

“Hi, how’s everyone?” She smiled politely but shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She hadn’t missed the fact that Voyager’s former first officer was not seated with his former captain. Instead, they’d all watched Kathryn Janeway walk inside on Seven of Nine’s arm, and take a seat with Seven beside her. There were two other women at the table as well as a Vulcan. She presumed that must be Commander Tuvok.

Still, being replaced with Seven at the head of the table had to be a sting to her friend, and she wondered what it meant politically.

“We’re good,” Tom absentmindedly replied while keeping one eye on the admiral’s table.

B’Elanna rolled her eyes at Tom. “Please excuse my husband, Major. He’s distracted by Voyager’s latest update on a pool the crew has been betting on for over four years now.”

“Four years?” Kira’s eyes widened a bit. “That’s a long time to be taking bets on something. Mind if I ask what it’s all about?”

Turning to follow both Tom and Harry’s stares, Chakotay again saw Kathryn and Seven seated next to each other. This time, however, he also noticed the slight blush playing over the admiral’s face, and he immediately recognized the look on Seven’s face. That had been a look just for him not that long ago.

Sighing resignedly, he shook his head as he turned back. “I’m not positive, but I could take a guess,” he said as he reached for his napkin to place it in his lap. “I’m willing to bet Tom has been running a pool on how long it would take Kathryn and Seven to start dating.”

“The Borg and Admiral Janeway?” The Bajoran scoffed. “You’re kidding me.”

“Believe me, Kira, I wish I was.” Chakotay took in a deep breath and tried for patience. “Of course, the fact that the pool was still going while I was dating Seven doesn’t really make me happy.”

That comment seemed to pull Tom and Harry from their spy games, and Tom gave the older man a sheepish look. “Yeah, uh… sorry about that, Chakotay. It’s not that we didn’t want you two to work out, it’s just that, well… you know, sometimes two people just aren’t…”

“It’s fine, Tom,” Chakotay offered pleasantly. “I think I always sort of knew it wasn’t going to work out between me and Seven. I hope, at least, I was able to help her along her journey.”

“That’s a good way to look at it, Commander,” Harry said with a little surprise in his voice. “I think I might be a little upset if my exgirlfriends were dating.”

“Kathryn and I never dated, Harry. You know that.” The table settled into silence as the servers brought over the first course. As they began to eat, Chakotay continues. “I know all of you think Kathryn and I had some kind of intimate relationship with each other, but it never happened. She was nothing but a consummate professional for our entire time in the Delta Quadrant, and I respected her boundaries.” He stabbed something on his plate, voice falling a little from the bravado he was trying to put on. “I still do.”

“We know that, Chakotay,” B’Elanna assured between bites of food. “I think we all just wanted you both to be happy.”

“I get that,” he replied with another sigh. “I just wish everyone would butt out of our personal lives.”

“You know, we have the same issue on the station.” Kira took a bite of her food, scrunched her nose a little, and gently set the fork down on the plate before pushing it slightly forward. “Everyone’s always fascinated with the senior officers’ personal lives. I think it has to do with the rank bestowing some kind of weird celebrity status on us.”

“Maybe,” Chakotay nodded a little. “I know on Voyager it had a lot to do with everyone worrying Kathryn was going to be alone with no one to share her life with for the duration of the trip.”

“Or, worse, she was going to fall in love with that horrible Irish guy from that program Tom created,” B’Elanna added with a shudder. “I mean, we all got it. Sometimes you just have to … you know … let off a little steam, but none of us really wanted to picture her with a hologram. It didn’t feel right.”

Chakotay quirked an eyebrow. “But, with me or Seven, it’s a fine mental picture?”

“I mean, just looking between the three of you and not really knowing the two women over there, I’d say any combination would be a pretty good mental picture,” Kira teased just to cut the tense air. She wasn’t normally one for inappropriate, but drastic measures needed to be taken.

It worked. Harry Kim choked on his drink, causing B’Elanna and Tom to both reach over to help him catch his breath.

She smirked from behind her champaign flute. “You owe me one for that, Chakotay.”

“I’ll happily settle the score however you’d like, Kira, but I’m guessing the next time Quark does something it’s my turn to deal with him?”

She nodded. “You got it.”

_____________________________

“Tell me, Seven,” Gretchen smiled gently at the young blonde, pleased to see her oldest daughter was at least trying not to act awkwardly despite the fact she had been blushing off and on ever since she and Seven had returned from the garden, “do you cook?”

“I am not adept at cooking, but I have learned the basics, and I continue to grow my skills.” Looking down at the first course, Seven gritted her teeth for a moment. “There was a time in which I would have insisted that taste is irrelevant. I wish I still felt that way.” She poked the dish with her fork. “I would have preferred to never see another piece of leola root again.”

“If I didn’t have to eat this, I wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole,” Kathryn grumbled under her breath as she cut a small piece and ate it. Her face twitched, but she managed to swallow it before placing her fork down and pushing the plate away from her. “Whose idea was it to serve us this?”

“Katie, what is this?” Phoebe picked up the little bit of food on her plate with her fingers and pulled up closely to her face to get a good look. “It looks like a potato, but it tastes like what I think the sole of my shoe probably tastes like.”

“That,” the EMH replied with an amused grin, “is leola root. For most of our trip, we were blessed to have a Talaxian named Neelix onboard. He served as our morale officer and galley cook. He introduced us to this vegetable as way to supplement the replicator rations to help feed the crew. I, of course, have never eaten it because, well, I don’t have a need to eat, but I’ve been told by almost every member of the crew that it was one of the foulest things they’ve ever eaten.”

“It does possess a displeasing flavor,” Tuvok agreed as he, too, took a single bite and then pushed the dish away. “Although I understand the desire for nostalgia that Starfleet is trying to indulge for Voyager’s former crew, I do believe this particular gesture was misplaced.”

Phoebe dramatically dropped the leola root back on her plate. “It’s disgusting,” she stated with an overly dramatic gagging face. “You all should get medals just for having to eat this for seven years.”

“I chose nutritional supplements for the majority of my time on Voyager, in part, because of the Mr. Neelix’s …creative cooking.” Seven pushed her plate away to join Kathryn’s.

“What was the other reason?” Gretchen took a bite of the food, swallowed carefully, and pushed her plate to join the rest.

“As a Borg Drone, there are certain nutritional requirements I need that normal humans do not in order for my systems to function within acceptable parameters. Although I can get those nutrients from food, it was simply more efficient to create a supplement.”

Kathryn leaned in toward Seven and reached to place her hand atop Seven’s. “You are normal, Seven.”

Phoebe, ever the troublemaker, snidely added before any tension could build, “She’s right, Seven. You’re normal. My sister, however, is another story. Have you ever met anyone who can drink as much coffee as she can and then sleep at night?”

“I have not,” Seven replied with just a hint of a smile on her lips. “In fact, I have yet to meet anyone who could do so, including Capt… Kathryn.” She blushed at the use of the other woman’s given name. Kathryn squeezed her hand in reassurance.

“You know,” the younger Janeway sister began playfully, “Maybe you two ought to…”

“No, Phoebe,” Gretchen cut in, silencing her youngest. With a glare to put her older daughter’s to shame, she quietened Phoebe with a look that made the EMH laugh.

“Well, now I know where she learned that look from, and here I was thinking she’d learned in command school!” The hologram leaned back in his chair, still chuckling.

Janeway chuckled, choosing to ignore what her sister was likely going to say in light of hooking onto what the EMH had offered as a way out. “My mother can be terrifying.

“Coming from you, Admiral, I’d say that’s quite the compliment,” the doctor replied with a smile.

“I’d hardly call myself ‘terrifying,’ Kathryn, but, if I am, it’s because you girls drove me to it. One of you was always walking around with her head in the stars, and the other one of you couldn’t wait to find some way to get messy.”

“Growing up in farm country was fun,” Phoebe said with a snort. “I probably ruined a hundred dresses because I liked to make artsy mud pies on Sundays.” She chuckled at the thought. “Seven, have you ever been to the countryside?”

“I have not,” the blonde replied carefully, not wanting to give the youngest Janeway an opening to invite her lest Kathryn wasn’t ready for that. She was really trying to take this as slowly as they both needed. “But I’m certain I will one day when I’m ready to do so.”

Phoebe narrowed her eyes at the blonde and then nodded. “Fair enough.”

Kathryn sighed and looked over the MC for the evening, who was motioning for her to make it to the front of the room. “It looks like it’s time for me to make a speech. I won’t be long.” She gave Seven’s hand a pat and placed a thankful hand on her mother’s shoulder as she walked by.

The table watched as Kathryn became Admiral Janeway with each step forward. When she reached the podium, there was nothing but Starfleet professionalism and a command mask to see.

With a tone of good-naturedness tinted with solemnness, Janeway began her speech. “Good evening everyone…”

____________________

Kathryn Janeway nervously paced her living room, occasionally wiping her palms along the sides of her pantlegs. In all of her adult life, she couldn’t remember a time when she was ever this nervous. This was worse than her admissions test to become an officer. This was worse than when she took command of Voyager for the first time. This was worse than that time she accidentally set her mother’s gardening shed on fire because an experiment she was working on didn’t quite go as planned.

She was so nervous she felt nauseous.

Was this a good idea? What if this didn’t work out? What if Seven only said what she had in the heat of the moment? What if it was a mistake to invite her over? What if she didn’t show?

She stopped pacing and smoothed down the front of her light button-down shirt, frowning at how the top couple of buttons seemed to refuse to stay closed. She tried once more and then gave up as they fell open again. It didn’t matter. There was nothing scandalous about the off-white shirt. It was perfectly fine as it was. She, however, wasn’t.

The waiting was killing her.

What was she going to say now? Now that everything was out in the open? Now that they’d shared a kiss? Now that they were going to be alone together for the first time in almost a year?

The front door chimed, and Kathryn tried to pull herself together.

It was now or never.

She turned to the door and called for whomever it was to come in. She signed with relief as Seven stepped inside, a small bag in her hand.

“My apologies for running late,” the blonde began as she walked toward the other woman. “I had to make a stop in Hawaii for this.” She held the bag out.

Curiosity overcoming her nerves, Kathryn happily took the bag to peek inside. A small delighted gasp escaped her as the fragrant smell of the small roasted beans inside filled the air. “Coffee!”

“Yes, grown exclusively in the Hawaiian region. I understand it’s uniquely flavored.”

“Thank you, Seven. I can’t wait to try it, but,” Kathryn rolled the top back down and gently set the package upon her coffee table, “it can wait.” She turned back to the younger woman and took in a deep, settling breath. “We should probably talk about last night first. Would you like to have a seat?”

“No,” Seven replied, reaching out to capture Kathryn’s arms to pull her forward until they were mostly wrapped around each other. “I would prefer to kiss you. Objections?”

Kathryn swallowed a few times, eyes flicking over Seven’s face looking for something but unsure of what. “I… probably should object. There’s so much…. To… that we should…” Her voice faltered as Seven’s perfume wrapped itself around her and the feel of Seven’s curves against her began to fully sink into her senses. “Later,” she changed directions. “We can talk later.” Pulling free to wrapper her hands around the back of Seven’s neck, she repeated her thought lest she completely forget it. “We can talk about it later.”

“Acceptable,” Seven replied before leaning down to kiss the smaller woman in her arms.

Light, exploring kisses turned deeper the longer they stood there until Kathryn finally pulled away. She led them to her sofa to take a seat and promptly held her hand up to keep Seven from pulling her back in for another searing kiss.

It took a moment for her to catch her breath. She wanted to at least try to sound reasonable. “We need parameters, Seven.”

Seven tilted her head in consideration. “Such as?”

Kathryn groaned. Of course this wasn’t going to be an easily forward moving conversation. “Well, such as you work at Daystrom. I work at Starfleet HQ. I’m still an officer. You’re a civilian. How comfortable are you with our pacing? How slow, or fast, would you like to go? How private or public are you comfortable with our relationship being?”

Pursing her lips in thought, Seven resigned herself to having this conversation even though she had much preferred to continue on with their previous activities. Settling back into the sofa, she considered her words before answering. “Travel here is simple. I do not consider that an issue. I presume that we will date, and, as things move forward, we will plan more the more we become involved.” Janeway had to smirk at Seven’s surety that they would move forward. She was very sure of this; it was oddly reassuring.

The woman continued on, seemingly obvious to Kathryn’s amusement. “Whether I’m in Starfleet or a civilian is irrelevant. We have more in common than Starfleet, and I have no desire to try to gain information from you about your position that I shouldn’t know. I also have no preference with how public or private we are. Although, I would like to point out that it is arguably already very public as gossip among Voyager’s former crew travels quickly even now. Last night, Tom Paris was quick to tell people he believed you and I had finally come to an understanding.” Kathryn signed and nodded; Seven was probably right about that.

“As far as pacing goes,” Seven grabbed the older woman’s hand and brought it up to her lips to give it a gentle kiss. “I am open to going as slowly as you feel comfortable, but only to a point. If, in a year’s time, we still haven’t progressed past third base, I may be inclined to speed the process along.”

“Third base?” At the small woman’s surprised laugh, Seven smirked. “I see you’ve been spending too much time with Tom and B’Elanna these days.”

Allowing her hand to stray a path along Seven’s Borg hand, she thought over what had been said so far while keeping an ear open to hear the small gasps Seven would make as Kathryn’s finger hit sensitive spots here and there across the mesh. “You know, I’ve never really been one to shy away from danger or fear,” she commented quietly. Seven simply nodded, deciding to wait to see where this was leading. “I’m not going to say we should slow down or speed up. I’m sure we’ll follow whatever pace we both think feels right, and I have no doubt you’ll tell me if that pace is off.”

“Yes, I most defiantly will.” Seven caught Kathryn’s roaming hand in her human hand and held it, pulling the other woman closer to her. “Do you feel we’ve discussed this enough for now, or would you like to wax poetic about all of our missed opportunities and the things that may be difficult for us as our relationship progresses?”

Kathryn stared with wide eyes at the blonde. She thought of a few retorts to the demands in Seven’s voice and the harshness of her reply, but the older woman eventually realized what she was hearing weren’t angry demands. It was impatient need, and, with that realization, any thoughts of trying to be responsible flittered away.

“I think we’re good,” she husked out as she allowed herself to be pulled into Seven’s lap.

“Good.” Seven ran a line of kisses up Kathryn’s neck, delighted to hear the gasps and moans that escaped the older woman’s mouth. “Which way to your bedroom.”

If there were misgivings about jumping right to a homerun with Seven, Kathryn all but forgot them when the younger woman bit down on an especially sensitive spot on her neck. With a groan, she managed to point in the general direction of her bedroom and gave a surprised yelp when Seven easily lifted her off the sofa to start walking them both in the right direction.

Coherent thought completely left her when Seven tossed her onto the bed and gave a surprisingly feral growl before stalking on all fours up it toward her.

Time stopped as they began exploring each other.

Her mind left her body to her senses the first time Seven touched her, and, in an instant, everything changed.

___________________

Kathryn Janeway woke to sore muscles and a warm, cuddly body next to her. She languidly grinned at this new piece of information about Seven. Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct Unit of Unimatrix 01, liked to cuddle in her sleep.

There was so much they’d both learned about each other over the course of the night, but this small piece was, perhaps, the best as far as Kathryn was concerned. She’d always wondered if Seven would be a cuddler, or would she see cuddling as an inefficient use of time? Was she the type to immediately get up and shower after the passion died down, or would she insist on reassuring touches and gentle kisses until they both fell asleep?

Did she snore?

That answer was yes. Seven snored, though it was very light. Seven preferred gentle kisses until they fell asleep, and …she liked to cuddle.

In all her years, Kathryn never thought she’d be so lucky as to know the softer side of Seven. It was a wonderful feeling to be privy to it, and, in the shimmering morning light surrounded by the cocoon of warmth their bodies created under the covers, she couldn’t imagine finding a happier place to be.

It wasn’t long before the object of Kathryn’s thoughts and affections began to stir. Waking was a slow process. First, Kathryn felt the hand resting across her hip flex, felt the fingers wiggle slightly to make sure what they detected beneath them was real. Then, she felt the other woman’s chest expand as Seven took in a deep breath, smirking as she realized the young blonde was smelling her hair.

Finally, Seven’s sleep roughened voice floated over her shoulder as the taller woman pulled her closer, snuggling back in. “It is too early to be awake.”

Kathryn chuckled. “It’s nearly 8. I’d argue it’s almost too late to be in bed, but,” she rolled over, mischievously pushing her thigh between Seven’s as she resettled, “I’d say, given our activities last night, a little sleeping in is fine.”

Groaning hoarsely, Seven shifted to keep Kathryn from starting something before she had a chance to fully wake up. “I take it that means you were pleased with what happened last night?” She carefully watched the older woman’s face, waiting to make sure there wasn’t some sign that Kathryn thought this might have all been a mistake.

“Extremely,” the smaller woman replied with a peck to Seven’s cheek. “In fact, I haven’t felt this good in eight years.” She rolled onto her back and stretched out. A few joints popped, and Seven watched in awe as the sheet pulled away revealing Kathryn Janeway in nothing be a dopey smirk.

“You are even more beautiful in the light of day, Kathryn,” Seven breathed out, carefully reaching to run a finger along the side of her Kathryn’s breast and across her hip to rest her hand on the other woman’s now quivering stomach. “So much more than I had ever imagined.”

“You thought about me like this?” Quirking an eyebrow in question, Kathryn shifted so she could really see Seven. “When?”

“Often,” the blonde admitted with a sigh. “On board Voyager, I began thinking of you intimately about seven months into my stay. Once we were back in the Alpha Quadrant, I found myself thinking of you when I,” she stopped, guilt twisting her face into a frown. “What I did to Chakotay was unfair. He is a good man.”

“He is a good man,” Kathryn agreed, placing her hand on Seven’s where it rested. “In time, he’ll heal from that experience; you both will.”

With a sigh, Seven slowly sat up, allowing her side of the sheet to fall around her waist. She didn’t bother to hide her smirk at Kathryn’s appreciative gasp. “Another topic? This one seems wrong for the morning after the almost perfect time we had last night.”

The older woman’s eye’s narrowed in offense. “Almost?”

Pushing from the bed, Seven headed to the bath as she commented dryly, “There is always room for improvement, but,” she turned in the doorway to look at Kathryn again in the sunrise’s rays, “that simply means we will have to repeat and experiment until we find perfection.”

Kathryn laughed, a deep, resonating chuckle that made Seven shiver. “Well, that can certainly be arranged.”

___________________

“Katie!” Phoebe raced down the driveway to greet her sister. The shuttle craft was parked further from their mother’s house than Kathryn would’ve liked, but Gretchen was barely tolerant of having a shuttlecraft on her property. This was their compromise. “It’s been two months. Where they hell have you…” Phoebe stopped abruptly and gave her sister a sly grin. “Oh, someone has finally gotten a partner for the bedroom.”

Kathryn rolled her eyes. “Phoebe, must you?”

“Must I?” She took a step back to really look at her sister. “You look great, you’re smiling, and I can’t remember the last time I heard you hum. Kathryn Janeway, you have a new paramour finally. Who are they?”

“Can we at least make it inside the house before you start badgering me? I’ve had Internal Affairs at Starfleet ask me fewer questions over breaking the Prime Directive than you can ask me over the dinner table about my private life.”

“Wait a minute, we?” Phoebe leaned to the side to look at the shuttlecraft door. With a delighted laugh and clap of her hands, she did a little giddy jump at what she saw. “Seven,” she squealed. “You’re dating Seven?” At her sister’s bashful nod, she launched into a congratulatory hug. “Oh my god, Katie, this is great, and it’s about time.” She pulled back. “I can’t wait to hear all the details.”

“You may hear some of the details,” Seven offered as she came to a stop next to Kathryn. “Others are only for us.”

The older Janeway sister gave an uncomfortable cough, but Phoebe just grinned harder. “Fine, but, if you need advice on what my sister likes…”

“I do not,” Seven cut in definitively. “I’m very aware of what Kathryn likes, and I’m happy to provide.” The twinkle in her eye told the other two women that Seven knew exactly what she was saying.

“Okay,” Kathryn called out, her voice cracking just slightly from embarrassment and a blush rising to her hairline, “Let’s get inside. Mother said she wanted to teach Seven how to cook whatever the dinner is for tonight, and I could do with a shower. I’ve been away from Earth for a week, and showers on ships are just not the same.”

Not bothering to look back, Kathryn headed for the house. Phoebe and Seven dutifully followed behind. With a happy grin, the younger Janeway leaned over to Seven and whispered gleefully, “Nice one.”

Seven simply nodded.

_______________

“If you’re going to take care of my daughter,” Gretchen lightly commented while directing Seven on the proper way to prepare chicken and dumplings, “You’ll have to not be afraid of her moods. I take it this isn’t an issue for you?”

“It is not,” Seven replied, though she was fully distracted by making the dumplings. “I have never had an issue confronting Kathryn on something she should do or on something I prefer she not do.”

“Good. She needs someone who can stand up to her.” Gretchen began adding ingredients to the broth, tasting it occasionally to check the flavor and offering Seven a taste each time so the younger woman could learn. “I’m not sure what it says that I raised a woman who requires a former Borg’s steel will to be any match for her hardheadedness, but I suppose worse things have happened.”

Considering the flavor of the last offered taste test, Seven pointed to the salt. Gretchen shook her head no and pointed to the sage. Seven nodded her understanding and added a bit to the pot. “She can be formidable, but it is that fierceness that I was first drawn to.” Setting the dumplings aside, Seven moved to wash and dry her hands. “Although I must admin that even I have my limits and sometimes find it easier to simply acquiesce than continue to argue the point.”

The older woman chuckled. “Pick and choose your battles, dear. I think you’ll find that, when you’re in a relationship, conversation and absolute honesty are a must, but, sometimes, it’s okay to go along to get along on the smaller things.”

“Agreed,” the blonde nodded curtly. She moved about the traditional kitchen with ease, helping to clean and put things away as dinner continued to cook. “Mrs. Janeway,” she began hesitantly.

“You’re welcome to call me by my given name, or some version of ‘Mother’ if you’d like. I really don’t mind, dear.” Gretchen gave her best reassuring smile to the wide-eyed, fearful look from the other woman.

“I… I will try to comply.”

The matriarch signed bemusedly. “You don’t have to comply, Seven. I’m only giving you options. Calling me ‘Mrs. Janeway’ seems a little too formal considering your relationship with my daughter.”

“Of course.” Seven turned to fully look at the other woman, pulling her hands behind her back and clasping them firmly together. She would never admit nerves, but she was certainly irritated at her humanity asserting itself just now. “Perhaps ‘Gretchen’ for now?”

With a smirk, the other woman quietly replied, “Acceptable,” as she made her way to the kitchen table. She motioned for the blonde to follow, and they were soon settled with two cups of coffee. “Now, what is it you wanted to ask me?”

“I understand that in some traditionalist households,” Seven carefully began, internally wincing at the cold Borg intonation she was suddenly using. She wasn’t sure she should bring this up, but she felt compelled to know. “It is unacceptable for members of the same sex to be involved in a romantic relationship. Although I will not walk away from Kathryn if that is the case here, I would like to know… Are you comfortable with my relationship with your daughter?”

Gretchen took a slow sip of her coffee, gently setting it back on the table to give herself time to think of the best way to answer the question just thrown at her. “You know, Kitten warned me you didn’t pussyfoot around. I took that to mean you were direct, but I think maybe a better way to think of it is brazen.”

“I would argue it is likely both,” Seven replied with more confidence than she felt.

“Maybe so,” Gretchen agreed with a small nod of her head. A sigh played at the end of her words as she thought aloud. “Am I comfortable? Well,” she cleared her throat and forced herself to be as direct with the young woman as Seven had just been to her. “Yes and no. You’re much younger than she is, and the age difference concerns me, although I see how dedicated you are to her. Every time I do, it eases my concerns a bit more. Right now, people are enamored with you. You’re the first human to be brought back from the Borg after having been raised by them, and you’re the first to retain your implants in such a pretty way. It’s almost jewelry on you, but I know it’s not.” She held up a hand to keep the other woman from breaking her train of thought. “What I mean to say is that, between you being part of Voyager’s former crew, how pretty you are, and your background, the general public sees you as something of a celebrity, just as they do my daughter. I’ve watched it happen more than once that, when two people high in the public eye become involved, it devolves violently because of public nosiness. That doesn’t even begin to cover what will happen once someone who was traumatized by the Borg decides to use you as their scapegoat for their pain.”

She signed at the thought, knowing her daughter would do anything to protect Seven because she loved her so fiercely. That worried her, too, but she wasn’t going to voice that particular thought. “But you’re asking me if I’m bothered by the fact you’re a woman, and that answer is no. Kathryn has always been drawn to men, but, really, it’s been personalities. I always suspected she had a crush on a few women she’s known through the years. It’s never bothered me so long as she was happy.”

“I see.” Seven thoughtfully sipped her coffee. “If it is of any consolation, Gretchen, I, too, worry about the things you’ve listed.”

Nodding approvingly, the older woman finished her coffee and got up to check the dumplings. “Good. I feel better knowing you’re thoughtful of her needs and her safety.”

Seven followed so she could watch the cooking process. “Am I to assume this means you approve of my and Kathryn’s relationship?”

Looking up from the pot with a patented Janeway grin, Gretchen couldn’t help but laugh. “Seven, I wouldn’t be teaching how to make my dumplings if I didn’t like you and think you were good for keeping my daughter in her place. Of course, I approve, dear.”

Seven could feel herself relax; she hadn’t realized how important it was to hear those words from this woman until they’d come, and, now that they’d been said, she felt immense relief. “Thank you.” She leaned over the pot. “What’s to be done next?”

Gretchen headed back to the kitchen table, pointing at the empty chairs. “We wait, and we chat. It’s part of the process.”

_________________

“Katie, you need to calm down. Mom’s just teaching Seven how to cook her dumplings.” Phoebe rolled her eyes for the hundredth time at her older sister, who, with growing anxiety, was pacing the art studio.

“Phoebe, I know you’re trying to help, but that doesn’t help,” she growled out between steps.

Phoebe groaned and picked up her brush to continue her painting. “Fine. Then at least tell me why this is making you so damned nervous.”

“Because Mother has never offered to teach that recipe to anyone. She always said that either one of us would learn it or she’d take it to her grave.” Kathryn turned to her sister, a slightly wild look in her eye, as she repeated for emphasis, “To her grave, Phoebe.”

The younger Janeway chuckled, shaking her head in disbelief. “Is the great Admiral Janeway scared that her Mother thinks Seven might be The One for her oldest daughter?”

“Can it, Phoebs,” Kathryn spat back with a tone somewhere between command and older sister annoyed. “This is serious.”

“Is it?” Putting her brush back down, Phoebe stepped away from her project to give her full attention to her sister. “How serious?”

Kathryn stopped pacing. “What?”

“How serious, Katie? How serious is this, and you know I’m not talking about Mom teaching Seven to make chicken and dumplings.”

Stopping long enough to run a shaky hand through her hair, Kathryn finally sat down in one of the overstuffed chairs in the studio. She groaned deeply, running her hand over her face and then closing her eyes against the mix of emotions running rabidly through her. “It’s serious.”

Phoebe walked around to sit on the arm of the chair, careful not to impose too much on her sister’s personal space. “As serious as the other two?”

“Yes,” the older Janeway said breathlessly. “Maybe even more.”

Phoebe let the silence sit for a moment before letting out a quiet, awe filled, “Wow.”

“Do you think Daddy would’ve liked her?” Kathryn turned in the chair to look up at her sister.

“I think he’d have thought she was the most interesting person in the universe outside of you,” Phoebe replied with a chuckle. “Katie, she’s good for you. If you’re happy, and she’s happy, then what’s to worry about?”

“I don’t know,” Kathryn replied as she stood to pace again. “It just seems that every time I find someone I think I’m going to spend the rest of my life with something happens to pull us apart. First there was Justin’s death.” A pained look past between the two women that added their father’s name to that thought. “Then, I get pulled into the Delta Quadrant, and I lose Mark.” She shook her head at the sting. She understood why he moved on, but it still hurt. “What’s next?”

“Katie, you can’t go around expecting everything to go to hell. I don’t know what all you and Seven have gone through, but I understand there was a lot of near-death misses for you two. If you’ve managed to make it through that, maybe this time it will be okay.” Phoebe frowned at how short her reassurance fell, even to her own ears. “Just… just love her in the now, Sis.”

“You’re right,” Kathryn said with a tired sigh. “I know you’re right, but I can’t help myself. If I lost her…”

“She’s so smitten with you, Katie, you couldn’t shake her with a crow bar and a tub of grease. She’s not going anywhere without a fight, and I know you’re not either. It’s going to be fine.” Phoebe checked the time and wince. “Shit. We have to go downstairs. Dinner’s probably close to done.”

_______________

“This is really good.” Phoebe talked around a mouthful of dumplings. “Katie, you have to keep Seven. She’s almost as good of a cook as Mom.”

Seven scowled down at her bowl, trying to find fault with the food. “Is there something that you don’t like in the dish, Phoebe?”

The youngest Janeway laughed, shaking her head. “What? No! It’s great. It’s just not Mom’s. That’s all.”

“Seven,” Gretchen kindly stepped in to alleviate the growing concern on the young blonde’s face. “Even if you follow an exact recipe, which I know you know I don’t, food cooked by one person never tastes the same as the exact same food cooked by someone else. Everyone adds their own flare. It’s part of what makes each person’s cooking unique.”

Seven’s frown deepened even more. “I was expecting you to tell me some platitude regarding adding love or some other emotion that makes the difference, which would have been absurd. Emotions are not food spices.”

Gretchen affectionately signed at the blonde. “Well, perhaps that, too, but I know better than to tell you that.”

Kathryn smirked from behind her glass of iced tea. It was reassuring to see her family getting along so well with Seven. The domestic scene of Seven cooking in her familial home and then breaking bread with the Janeways had made Kathryn feel deeply warm and content. She could do this every day for the rest of her life and have no regrets.

Watching Seven be shy and inquisitive while talking to her mother and bold and assertive when talking to her sister made Kathryn feel an amount of pride and love she couldn’t put into words. She had been concerned there would need to be a transition time, but that was all misplaced. It was as if Seven had always belonged.

In her button-down red flannel shirt and faded jeans with her hair pulled up in a loose twist, Seven was a picture of beauty wrapped in the safety and security of Kathryn’s traditionalist home. She couldn’t help but stare at the women and adore her.

“Kitten, I asked you a question.” Gretchen’s voiced pulled Kathryn from her thoughts.

“I’m sorry, Mother.” Shaking her head, she finally took a sip of her tea to clear her parched throat. “I’m afraid I was distracted.”

“You were too busy giving Seven heart eyes, Katie,” Phoebe chided playfully. “Mom wants to know how long you two are staying.”

“I refuse to dignify that remark with an answer, Phoebe.” Kathryn gave her sister an eyeroll for good measure but didn’t miss the pleased look on Seven’s face. Maybe she had been giving Seven heart eyes, but she’d never admit to it. “Honestly, I’m not sure, Mother. How long will you have us? I’m on vacation for the next two weeks, and Seven has taken hers to match mine.”

“Why don’t you two stay for at least a week, Kitten, and we can come back to it from there? Take Seven around to your old haunting grounds and show her all the things you hated as a young woman that made you jet off into the stars as soon as you could.” Gretchen grinned at her daughter’s wince. “I think you two will have a lovely time. I actually plan to go with Phoebe to Paris in a couple of days, so you’ll have the house to yourself.”

“Oh, yes! I have a show in, Paris, Katie. You and Seven have to come to opening night. It’s not for another week, but I think you’ll really like it.”

Seven nodded. “I think I would enjoy that.”

“Well, then, we’ll be there, Phoebs.” Again, Kathryn found herself watching Seven blend seamlessly in with her family, and, again, she marveled at how easily it had happened.

So much of this wasn’t go to be easy. A public relationship between two of the most well-known former crew from Voyager was definitely going to come with some pitfalls, not to mention the ins and outs that come with any new relationship. But, if this was the reward …if watching Seven warm up to the Janeway family and slowly become fully a part of it was what Kathryn got for the rollercoaster, then she was all in.