Vaxen - A Starting Place
J/7 Stories

This first time story takes place sometime after "Someone to Watch Over Me" and before "Collective." Many thanks for comments and suggestions from Psylocke and Songbirde.

Disclaimer: The characters of Star Trek: Voyager are the property of Paramount Pictures. This story is written in the spirit of Voyager fandom. No infringement is intended.

Warning: This story depicts two women in love. If this offends you or you are too young or it's just plain illegal on your part of the planet, do not proceed.

Please do not archive, link to or reproduce this story without author's consent

Inner Child

by Vaxen (

Janeway and Seven approached the shuttle bay at a leisurely pace. The Captain was shaking her head in disbelief and it wasn't for the first time during the course of their conversation. Janeway's concerns had begun the moment the tale of Seven's romantic interlude hit her ear. If she had suspected Seven would go to the Doctor for advice and what his idea of dating entailed, she might have delayed her Kadi mission or at the very least, postponed her disciplinary discussion with Seven until after her return. Timing was once again unfortunate, with another away mission demanding her attention, but she was determined it could wait until she was certain Seven was more enlightened about the nature of romance.

"So the Doctor was mistaken?" Seven asked.

"Not altogether, but his approach was a little flawed. I don't imagine Dr. Zimmerman put a lot of effort into romantic subroutines when he created his prototype. The Doctor has acquired most of what he knows about love and relationships from other sources. In a sense, I suppose you could say that he has the romantic maturity of a child. He's only had five years of experience as a sentient being."

"His approach was somewhat juvenile," Seven agreed. "The Doctor's lessons seemed to emphasize wanting, manipulating and acquiring as the essentials in seeking a companion."

"I wish you could have sought advice elsewhere. I'm so sorry."

"It was not your fault. It was not entirely the Doctor's fault either. My own research was flawed."

Janeway cringed, wondering if anything she said was getting through. "You shouldn't be thinking in terms of research. Romance is something that comes from the heart."

"I understand, I was referring to the impression the Doctor gave me that the pairings only occurred between members of the opposite sex and with the same species. Now that I know these options exist, I feel I may yet find someone with whom I am compatible."

"Same sex pairings among humans go back as far as recorded history. It's even been observed in our animal counterparts. Pairings between humans and aliens are rarer and certainly more recent."

"My search parameters were also too narrow. Rather than limiting my choices to those individuals who possess all of the traits I desire, I'm trying to allow more latitude."

"Sometimes it can be more of a impediment than a guide when you think you know what you're looking for. Sometimes, the one who is right can be there in front of you all along, but you just never think of them in romantic terms. That's the way I was with Mark."

"You think that perhaps I'm being too pragmatic."

Janeway smiled, glad that Seven was perceptive enough to save her from being blunt. "I'm just saying that I don't think you're going to find love in a database. Open up a little. Get to know people and let people know you. Love and romance will follow in its own natural course."

Seven was tempted to ask Janeway about her relationship with Mark Johnson, but Tom Paris and Harry Kim, the other two members of the away mission were circling closer, anxious to be on their way.

"Thank you, Captain, for taking the time to discuss this with me."

"Embracing your humanity is a long, complex process. I'm only trying to do what I can to help you."

"You have helped. Safe journey, Captain."

Janeway fought the urge to give Seven a hug, then wondered why. The urge was dismissed as a maternal gesture. Why she fought the urge was a little more difficult to explain. Before she could sort it out, Seven was gone. She shrugged off the uncomfortable tension in her shoulders and joined her crew in preparations. After a short time, the launch doors rolled back to expose the vastness of space and the little craft eased its way through before setting a course and jumping to warp. No one noticed the solitary ex-drone, who had lingered in the bay's upper-level observation booth to catch a final glimpse as the shuttle departed.

Seven turned from the window and chastised herself for the frivolous indulgence. Yet, try as she may, she couldn't shake the feeling of disquiet that settled around her heart. She always missed the Captain when she was away and idea of a meeting with aliens the Borg had never encountered disturbed her. She wandered the passages aimlessly, until she found herself in the mess hall, seeking comfort or distraction.

The large room was empty, with the exception of Neelix and Naomi, who were in the lounge area with their heads bent over a game board. They were enjoying themselves so much that Seven decided not to intrude. She turned to exit. Naomi spotted her and summoned her to join them with gleeful shrieks.

"Seven, this is the greatest game."

She deduced from Naomi's enthusiasm that the girl had been winning. Neelix verified the speculation when he proclaimed, "She's really very good at this." Seven could tell by his expression that he had not just been letting her win.

"Come on, Seven," Naomi laughed, "I'll show you how to play."

"Enough play, young lady," Neelix chided in mock ire. "Time for you to work on your lessons."

"But Neelix…"

"Study," Neelix persisted.

"But Seven," Naomi whined, hoping to enlist her as an ally.

"Naomi Wildman, you must study," Seven stated firmly, then whispered, "Later you can teach me."

The impending pout turned into a grin, the reluctant girl resigning to her educational needs. She flopped down on the sofa with her padd while Seven and Neelix adjourned to the galley.

"It's too bad Naomi doesn't have other children to play with," Neelix said, placing a large pot of water over a burner. "I hate to make her study. There's already so much serious business going on around her with all these adults. I wonder what she'll remember when she looks back on these days."

"She won't remember all of it?"

"The older we get, the more fragmented childhood memories become. By the time you’re my age, you're lucky if you remember a few dozen events with any kind of vivid detail."

"Perhaps this explains why my own memories are so incomplete. I always assumed it was a result of the assimilation process. I thought that eventually the entire memory of my childhood might return."

"I'm sorry, Seven."

"In some ways, it is a relief to know this." The disappointment was left unspoken. "I must report to the astrometrics lab. If you will excuse me."

"Seven, you're leaving?" Naomi shouted at her back.

"We will play after dinner," Seven assured her.


Seven was taken aback at being required to swear to her commitment, but the questioning need in the child's eyes compelled her to answer. "I promise."

Naomi's face glowed. "It's a date."

"So, we're going to enter a virtual world in order to communicate with these aliens?" Kim asked the Captain.

"I'm not sure what you would call it. The Vin Network seems to be the center of their society. It was all our universal translator could do to extract that much information. The verbal skills of the Vin have eroded to a point where their vocabulary consists of only a few hundred words. Most interactions are conducted through the Network. It allows for direct mental contact without telepathic powers."

"How are they linked? Something physical like wires? A wave frequency? Quantum? Do they have any good bars?"

"This is not shore leave, gentlemen. We have a very small window in which to learn about this technology."

Kim and Paris both gave her a sad look.

"Maybe one beer," she relented.

"Sounds like the Network gives the Vin the ability to get inside each others heads. I wonder what they'll find when they look inside yours, Harry."

"Nothing as depraved as they will in yours, Tom."

"You've got that right," Paris laughed. "I guess it would sorta take the fun out of playing 'Have You Ever.'"

"Is that a game?" Janeway asked. "I don't think I've heard of it."

"Tom made it up. It's derived from 'Truth or Dare.'" You get to ask the other people playing a question starting with 'Have you ever' to find out something about them. The catch is you have to have done the thing you're asking about."

"For instance," Tom continued the explanation, "I could ask, 'Have you ever spent time in prison?' because, well, that is where you found me."

"More than once," Kim added.

"That's right. You rescued Harry and me from the Akiritirian's floating gulag, so Harry's answer would be yes. What would your answer be, Captain?"

Janeway decided Paris was getting a bit too cheeky. "I'm not playing the game, Ensign, but if I were I would have to say, 'Yes.'"

Kim's eyebrows shot up as Paris blurted, "What for?"

"I was captured by the Cardasians. It was a brief but memorable imprisonment." There wasn't a hint of humor in the Captain's voice. The Cardasians were infamous for their torture techniques. This effectively took the wind out of Paris's sails.

"I'm sorry, Captain. It's just a game. I didn't mean to pry."

"No need to apologize, Tom, it's just…"

The two ensigns nodded their heads in understanding. They were all suddenly very cognizant of the invisible barrier that separated a commander from her crew.

"…but if you two want to play, don't mind me."

"Have you ever fallen on your head?" Paris started, poking his friend in the rib.

"You fell on your head. That would explain a lot." Kim replied. "When did that happen?"

"I don't know, but my family is always telling me I did, so it must be true. Answer the question."

"No, to the best of my knowledge, I have not fallen on my head. Have you ever gone deep sea fishing?"

"Yes," Paris replied.

"Yes," Janeway thought, beginning to wish she hadn't excluded herself from the game.

"Have your ever milked a cow?"


"Yes," thought Janeway.

"When did you milk a cow?" Kim challenged Paris's farming skills.

"The same place I went to prison. It's called hard labor."

"I bet. Have you ever eaten anything that was still alive?"

"Ugh, no."


"Have you ever dated a Klingon?"



"Have you even wanted to kiss Seven of Nine?"

Janeway didn't hear Tom's reply. She suddenly found herself preoccupied and restless. "I'm going to see what I can find to eat," she said. "Can I bring either of you anything?" They both declined and the rapid-fire questions continued as Janeway disappeared into the aft section.

Voyager was unable to locate the Delta Flyer. They had not arrived at the prearranged coordinates and short-range scans had produced nothing. Seven was off-duty, but when she heard about the situation. She contacted Chakotay and volunteered her services, which he gratefully accepted. He assigned her to ops, where she stood focused on the long-range sensors. "I'm detecting an automated emergency distress call. It is the Delta Flyer, which seems to be drifting. There are three life signs."

"Have you hailed them?" Chakotay asked.

"No response."

"Helm, set a course. As soon as we're within range, beam them to sickbay. That's where I'll be."

As he mounted the steps to the turbo lift, he noticed Seven stepping away from ops with a worried expression. "Seven, thanks for the help. You can stand down now and you're welcome to join me in sickbay."

A little surprised by the invitation, Seven was nonetheless willing to accept. The turbo lift seemed to take an eternity to arrive and even longer to make its way to deck five. As they approached the doors to the medical unit, their ears were assaulted by shrieks. Seven and Chakotay looked at each other. They were not cries of pain but of laughter.

The doors opened just before the pair came within range of the proximity detectors. It gave Chakotay enough time to brace himself against the assault of the oncoming Paris. Running into the readied commander was like hitting a force field and the stunned ensign fell in a graceless heap on his backside.

"Whoa, what a trog," Paris exclaimed as he nimbly scrambled to his feet and dashed back into the room. "They're ganging up on us, but I think we can still take 'em." He stood in the center of the room, bouncing on the balls of his feet, and gave Seven and Chakotay an appraising look. "Or maybe not."

"Mr. Paris," Chakotay demanded, "what's wrong with you?"

"Mr. Paris is my dad. I'm Tom. And as for what's wrong with me, what's it to you?" Paris's face took on a triumphant expression.

"Doctor, is there something going on here you’d like to tell me about?"

"Commander, I was about to scan Ensign Paris when he bit me."

"He what?"

"He bit me on the thumb." He held up the offended digit.

"Doctor, you’re a hologram. You can't be harmed by a bite."

"Yes, I know, but it was quite disturbing nonetheless."

Chakotay turned his attention, first to Kim, who was cowering behind a biobed, then to Janeway, who stood stiffly nearby doing her best to keep her trembling under control.

"Captain, can you tell me what happened?"

Janeway blinked, not realizing at first that she was being addressed. "My name is Kathryn. Your clothes are like my daddy's uniform. Do you work for Starfleet?"

"Don't you know who I am?" Chakotay took a step closer to Janeway. She stepped away, shifting her eyes back and forth between Chakotay and Seven with a frightened, pleading expression. Seven was moved. Almost by reflex, she offered her hand to Janeway, who took it in both of hers and pulled Seven closer, placing Seven between herself and Chakotay like a shield. "She doesn't recognize me."

"I'm afraid it's more than that." Chakotay turned to find that Tuvok and B'Elanna had entered sickbay.

"Tuvok is right," the Doctor agreed. He'd finally gotten close enough to Kim to run a medical scan. "Assuming the other two are exhibiting the same signs as Mr. Kim, they are all suffering from mental regression." He moved toward Janeway, giving Paris and his bared, snapping teeth a wide birth. Janeway burrowed herself deeper behind Seven.

"Do not be concerned," Seven reassured her. "The doctor only wishes to examine you." Janeway came forward and allowed the Doctor to make several passes with the tricorder, most of them concentrating on her head.

"Yes, Captain Janeway is the same. Their neural chemical levels and microelectric activity resemble that of someone who has undergone selective memory deletion, only this deletion wasn't very selective. I'll need to run further tests to verify it, but I'd say that right now they are at a mental maturity level somewhere between four and eight years old. The only memories they have are those they acquired up to that age."

"According to the Delta Flyer's logs, it was set on auto pilot soon after leaving orbit around the Vin planet," Tuvok said. "That seems like a logical place to begin if we hope to restore Captain Janeway and Ensigns Kim and Paris to their former condition."

"I'm very tired," Janeway interrupted meekly. "Can I go home now?"

Chakotay looked from one to the other. Even Paris's seemingly inexhaustible energy was flagging. "Doctor, is there any reason they can't leave sickbay."

"None at all. In fact you'll be doing me a favor if you remove the irrepressible Mr. Paris."

"Hey, Cueball, who you calling pretzel?" Paris sputtered.

"Someone will need to supervise them. They shouldn't be left alone."

"I could assign someone from security," Tuvok suggested, "but for the sake of morale and the Captain's dignity, I believe it would be better if one of us took charge of her."

"Seven, would you be willing to stay with Captain Janeway?" Chakotay's question caught her off-guard.

"What is our estimated return time to Vinot?" she asked.

"Less than two days. Is there a problem?"

"Please," Janeway whispered over Seven's shoulder.

Despite the gravity of the situation, Chakotay couldn't help smiling. "She seems to be very attached to you."

"Yes," Seven said, gently tugging at the hands still wrapped around hers, "Come, I will take you to a place where you can rest." She left sickbay with Janeway obediently in tow.

"I'll take Tom," B'Elanna offered.

Tom began to fidget again. "No way, I'm not going anywhere with any of you."

"Now listen here," she began to shout then checked herself. "Listen little boy, I have a TV set that plays shows from the 20th century. Wouldn't you like to take a look?"

"I'm yours, babe." Paris leaped across the room and stood as close as he could to her without actually touching.

"Come on, Captain Proton, let's go."

"You know Proton? I love Proton." Paris's enthusiastic praise for the celluloid hero could be heard in sickbay until he was well down the hall.

"I guess I'll take Harry." Chakotay crouched, trying to decide how best to extract him from under the biobed.

"You will be burdened with the duties of command. I will take responsibility for Mr. Kim." Tuvok's countenance assumed a more dower expression than usual. A melancholy whimper emitted from beneath the biobed.

"He's already frightened and this isn't helping," chided the Doctor. He peered over the edge of the bed at the ensign. "Harry, would you like to stay here with me?"

Kim glanced about him, evaluating his options and then nodded.

"Would you like to come out from under the bed?"

Kim shook his head decisively.

"Perhaps a little later."

He answered with a shrug.

The trip to the captain's quarters was filled with surprised looks from the crew. After the first few, Seven had released Janeway's hand and tried to reassure her that she was among friends, but the sudden action of the doors closing them into the small space of the lift startled Janeway and she wrapped her arms around Seven's waist, clutching her tight. The contact left Seven with a strange, disconcerting sensation. By the time they reached deck two she'd managed to persuade Janeway back to handholding.

"You will be safe here," Seven reassured her charge once they were inside. Janeway reluctantly released her hand and began to tentatively investigate her surroundings. "Do you require food or liquids?"

"No, thank you, ma'am." Janeway made her way to the couch, where she folded herself into the cushions. At last, the tension and nervous exhaustion was too much for her. Tears puddled in her eyes, until a blink released two tiny rivulets that traveled down her cheeks. "I don't understand what's happened."

Seven sat down at the far end of the couch. Janeway immediately moved closer and put her head in Seven's lap, her cheek resting against Seven's thigh. This time, she was less startled by the sudden contact and soon began to smooth Janeway's hair in slow, comforting strokes.

"These are your quarters. We are on a starship and you are its commander."

"That's what that man told me, but I don't see how that's possible."

"What do you remember?"

"I was playing in the backyard one minute and the next I was in that little ship with those two…well, they look like men, but they act like boys."

"You knew it was a spacecraft?"

"Daddy took me to the airfield one day and showed me the inside of a shuttle. It was smaller. That's how I recognized the symbol." Janeway drew the symbol for the emergency distress control in the air.

"You activated the beacon?"

Seven felt the movement against her leg as Janeway nodded. "Did I do something wrong?"

"Your actions were appropriate."

"You talk funny, but I like it." Janeway yawned. "That one guy wanted to try the other buttons, but I told him not to. He tried a couple anyway. He's a brat." She yawned again and was soon breathing in a slow, heavy rhythm.

Seven continued to stroke the soft auburn tresses until the warmth radiating into her body and the sounds of sleep made her drowsy. Her head rolled back and settled against a cushion as she drifted into oblivion.

A short, sharp scream awoke her. Her lap was empty and Janeway was not in sight. Seven heard a moan. It came from somewhere beyond the entrance to the bedroom. She found Janeway in the bathroom, standing in front of the mirror. She jumped when she saw Seven in the doorway. "I'm old."

Seven had never thought of Janeway as old, but to a child, the body of an adult Janeway must have seemed ancient. She checked the time. They had been sleeping for two hours. Seven suggested that Janeway shower, eat and get some more sleep, this time in the bed. Seven was relieved to see that she had a good appetite, but found her reluctant to go bed.

"I like dogs," Janeway continues in her delaying tactic. "Do you have a pet?"

An image unfolded in Seven's mind of a small animal, a little larger than a human head, uncurling itself from a ball, stretching it's long sinewy limbs, then brushing the side of its head against her until she picked it up and held it close to her face. A deep rumble vibrated through her hand and resonated in her ears. The warm, clean, comforting fragrance of its fur lingered as the memory fragment faded. "I had a cat."

"Cats are nice, but they aren't faithful like a dog. They're very independent."

"Very much like a certain starship commander I know."

"Do you mean me? I grew up to be a captain." Janeway was adjusting quickly to her altered status, but the words still sounded like something she intended rather than something she had already accomplished. "And what are we?"

"You are my captain," Seven replied.

"I know, but are we friends? Do we do fun things together?"

"Yes, we are friends. I often considered you my mentor. I think that you sometimes think of yourself as my mother."

"Do I give you a hug and a kiss when we say goodnight?"

"No." It occurred to Seven that despite Janeway's frequent reassuring gestures, especially during her early days of separation from the collective, she had never been embraced.

Janeway nearly knocked Seven over when she pounced, throwing her arms around the taller woman and planting a kiss on her cheek. "Now you have been, only I feel like you’re my mother, not me yours. And what do we do for fun."

"We play games."

"I love games…"

"Tomorrow," Seven interrupted, seeing the ploy as another stalling strategy. "Now it is time to sleep." She motioned for Janeway to crawl under the covers. She smiled and acquiesced, but as Seven began to tuck her in, she tensed.

"You aren't going to leave me here alone?"

"That was my intention. You were expecting me to share the bed with you?"

It was obvious from Janeway's hurt expression that was exactly what she expected. "Please."

Difficult as it had been for Seven to adjust to sitting, the prospect of reclining was utterly intimidating. The times she'd done it where invariably associated with sickbay. Pushing aside the unpleasant memories, she stretched out on top of the covers, flat on her back and stiff with uncertainty. "Lights off."

"Good night, Seven," said Janeway, as she scooted closer and laid her head of Seven's shoulder.

"Good night, Captain."

Janeway giggled. "Will you sing me a lullaby?"

"I don't know very many songs."

"That's OK, anything will do."

Softly, slowly Seven began to sing "You Are My Sunshine." By the time she had finished the first chorus, Janeway was once again asleep and Seven was finding repose more pleasant than she remembered.

"Chakotay to Seven of Nine."

Seven dampened the sound from her commbadge, gently eased herself out from under Janeway, and went into the other room. "Seven here."

"I just thought I'd find out how the Captain was doing."

"She has eaten and is now sleeping. Under the circumstances, she seems to be adapting well."

"I can send someone if you want to be relieved."

It never occurred to her that taking care of Janeway might be considered a duty. "That will not be necessary."

"I've scheduled a meeting for 1500. We'll review what we've found out about the Vin and formulate a plan. I'd like you to be there. Neelix will watch over our new children."

"Understood. Good night, Commander." She broke contact, then peeked into the bedroom and found Janeway curled in a fetal position. Seven debated whether to return to the bed. She couldn't remember ever feeling such conflict over a simple choice.

"How soon will we reach Vinot?" Chakotay was seated at the head of the bullet shaped table, feeling uncomfortable. It wasn't the first time he'd occupied the chair. This time, as before, it didn't seem to fit him quite right.

"Two hours," Tuvok replied, "but we will be within communication range in 15 minutes."

"Do we know enough about the Vin Network to reverse the effects?"

B'Elanna brought up a diagram on the wall computer console. "We've examined the schematics the Vin sent us to build our interface modules. They conformed to specs and there were no defects, so we extrapolated some theories about how the Network functions based on the interface. Think of the human memory as a collection of files, just like those in a computer, which can be copied or moved. The Vin Network moved the crew's memories into their system in order to communicate."

"How did they get back to the shuttle and set the controls for auto-navigation if their memory was gone?"

"Continuing the computer analogy, a file that's moved or deleted still remains until it is overwritten. Evidently, the lag time on the overwrite was enough to get them started. It's a little more complicated than that, but the point it that I think there's a possibility the memories are still a part of the Vin Network. We need a way to get them out."

"But that's the catch," Chakotay observed.

"Yes," B'Elanna continued. "The only way to communicate with the Vin is to interface, but whoever interfaces risks losing their memory."

"Then let me," the Doctor volunteered.

"I will do it," Seven countered.

"The Doctor does seem like the better choice." Chakotay sat forward in his chair. "His thought processes can be monitored remotely through our main computer."

B'Elanna waved a dismissing hand. "If you're hoping to control the Doctor it will never work. The interface is too fast. By the time we knew he was in trouble it would be too late to do anything about it. Since Seven has offered, she would be the best chance. Her cortical implant could act as a backup for the organic portion of her brain."

Chakotay rubbed his temple with his knuckle. "Alright, the Captain deserves our best chance." It had already been determined that only one of the affected members would be used in the initial attempt. "Any questions?"

"What will happen to the memories that have been acquired over the past few day?" Seven asked.

"We weren't able to determine anything from the module," B'Elanna stated. "Is it important?"

"I was just wondering what they might remember."

"I know I'll never forget the last couple of days," said B'Elanna.

"Motherhood not agreeing with you?" Chakotay teased.

"All I know is if Tom and I ever have any children, I hope there's a recessive personality gene for the kid to fall back on. Tom is or was a hellion."

"Really," the Doctor sniffed. "Harry has been perfectly…"

"Obsequious, I think, is the word your searching for," Tuvok offered. "He had the ensign sterilizing hypospray units."

"He wanted to," the Doctor objected.

Chakotay chuckled. "And how is the Captain?"

"She is a most remarkable child." There was something in Seven's tone that caused all but Tuvok to lean forward in anticipation. She fidgeted under their scrutiny until Tuvok came to her rescue.

"We are within hailing distance of Vinot," he announced. "Perhaps we should adjourn to the bridge." He and Chakotay exited to the bridge while the rest reported to their stations.

"Open a hailing frequency to the Vin," Chakotay ordered.

"We, Vin," a gravely voice greeted them.

"This is the Federation Starship Voyager. I'm Commander Chakotay."

"Voyager, yes."

"Three of our crew interfaced with your system and lost all of their adult memories. We're hoping you can help us recover those memories."

"Voyager, small, talk."

"I believe your request was too complex," Tuvok suggested. "Perhaps if you make it more elementary."

"I'm not sure I can and still make myself understood." Chakotay pulled on his face. "Care to make a suggestion?'

"Voyager, talk, Vin?"

"Voyager, yes," the Vin responded

They arrived on the planet's surface and were escorted to a building. Seven had become accustomed to the feel of Janeway's hand in hers, but this time the palm was damp. Sunlight streamed in through the transparent ceiling, illuminating the center of a great hall. The walls were lined with alcoves similar to the regeneration units used by the Borg. Most were occupied by Vin. Their guide stopped in front of two empty alcoves, smiled and left.

Seven attached the interface device to Janeway's temple. "You've been very brave. Soon you will be restored to your former self."

"Are you sure, Seven?"

"Yes." She wouldn't allow the doubts to rise to the surface.

"I almost wish it wouldn't," Janeway murmured.

Seven looked at her in surprise.

"I'm going to miss being with you," Janeway explained. "That's one thing I wish wouldn't go back to the way it was. We'll have to be apart."

Her simple honesty touched Seven's heart and caused the corners of her mouth to draw up. "I will miss you, too." Janeway gave her one last, quick hug before stepping into the alcove, where her face went slack. Seven paused a moment or two, studying the delicate features, before taking her place in the alcove beside Janeway.

It was not what Seven had expected. This was not the hive mind of the collective. It was more like a village - a village one could move through at the speed of light - that enabled its inhabitants to exchange the contents of their minds. Those she encountered understood her purpose and directed her to others until one acknowledged that he or she understood exactly what was needed.

Seven felt something touch deep in her mind. She recoiled from the advance. The aide understood. She felt the touch again, much more delicate this time, and together they tapped the surface of Janeway's awareness. Seven experienced the change that came over the woman as she moved from childhood, through adolescence to adulthood. Janeway became aware of the mental contact, of Seven's presence in her mind. Then, suddenly, Janeway was gone.

Seven searched the village for several milliseconds before realizing that Janeway had discontinued the interface. Seven eased herself back to full consciousness and found Janeway seated on the floor of the alcove with her arms wrapped around her knees and her head buried against them. Her fist was clutching the interface module and an angry welt throbbed at the temple where it had been violently ripped away.

Janeway slowly became aware of Seven's scrutiny. She pushed herself up the wall and walked by Seven without making eye contact.

Janeway spent several days isolated in her quarters. She used the first few to sort out the memory conflicts between her real childhood and the two days she existed as a child on Voyager. The latter was so vivid. The images and texture were current, none of the soft, fragmented recollections a woman her age would retain. It was as if the two days spent with Seven were more real than her actual childhood. Sometimes she felt as if she was still a child.

Other thoughts of Seven also occupied her days. The Network was a tool that laid the mind open like a landscape with infinite horizons. What she experienced there was such a jumble, that at first she did not recognize that she had accessed Seven's thoughts. Foremost among them had been thoughts of Janeway. It was understandable. Janeway was the reason Seven was on Vinot. However, Janeway found thoughts she had not expected. The satisfaction Seven took from the simplest contact with her, the joy of finding a piece of her own lost childhood in Janeway's renewed one and the crushing knowledge that they had shared a closeness they would never experience again. She realized that Seven loved her and in the next instant, Janeway realized something about herself. It was this epiphany that caused Janeway to rip free of the interface before Seven could see the truth. She was also in love with Seven.

Days of examining the matter from different angles could not alter her analysis. No amount of denial could eradicate it from her consciousness. It had wrestled her to the floor, straining and panting, until she was forced to accept the fact that no one in the universe mattered to her as much as Seven. No one stimulated her – mind, body and soul – the way Seven could. Accepting the inescapable truth, she was faced with choices.

She could not spend the rest of the voyage, the rest of her life, locked away in her cabin. She could try to hide her feelings. The idea of deception rankled in her. Besides, if she had been too slow to break the interface, Seven would already know the yearnings of Janeway's heart. If Seven had witnessed her moment of truth there would be no point.

In the end, she decided there truly was no point. It did not matter what Seven felt. It did not matter what Janeway felt. It did not matter what Seven knew. The final conclusion was always the same. The captain stands alone.

Janeway took no satisfaction in the conclusion. While it provided the solution to one problem, it did not address her most pressing dilemma – what to say to Seven. She huddled behind her desk waiting for Seven to answer the summons to her ready room, still uncertain what to say.

"You wished to speak to me, Captain." Seven stood before her.

"Yes, Seven, I think we need to talk about Vinot."

"Is this an official discussion?"

It took Janeway a moment to realize that she had neither offered Seven a seat nor made any move to come out from behind her desk. "No, please have a seat." She gestured in the direction of the lounge area by the windows and followed Seven. "Can I get you something?" Janeway asked, finally remembering her manners.

"Nothing, thank you."

"First I wanted to thank you for helping us recover our memories. I trust you've suffered no ill effects from you're interface with the Vin Network."

"None, Captain. And you?"

"I…I seem to be having some difficulty adjusting. My memory appears to be suffering from an overlap. It's as if those two days of my life are competing to occupy the same space with my real childhood." It wasn't what she brought Seven in to talk about and Janeway wondered why she was having so much trouble getting to the point.

"Then you remember the two days I took care of you?" Seven proceeded.

"Yes." Janeway struggled to get the admission out.

"You are embarrassed about it?"

"I wouldn't say that I'm embarrassed," Janeway lied, remembering the mortification that had overwhelmed her when she initially recovered her memory. "I'm concerned that there might be some misunderstandings about my behavior."

"You need not be concerned. It was a pleasant experience. I was disappointed when it was over."

A bubble of nervous energy crept up Janeway's spine and she laughed in an attempt to suppress it. Like an imp of the perverse, Tom Paris's foolish game suddenly sprang to mind and the words rose to her tongue as if she was once again a child, "Have you ever seen into another person's mind?"

"You're referring to the experience on Vinot. I did encounter your thoughts."

The game refused to release Janeway. "Have you ever thought about spending your life with someone?"

"I had not given it consideration." Seven was becoming increasingly perplexed by Janeway's line of questioning.

"Have you ever…" Janeway began before she was shocked back to reality by the confusion in Seven's face. Until then Janeway had not considered the possibility that Seven might not be aware of her own attraction to the Captain. "I'm sorry. I'm afraid my faculties aren't all functioning just yet. Perhaps we should continue this discussion at another time."

"You don't look well. Should I notify the doctor?"

"No, no," Janeway answered distractedly. "I'll be fine."

Seven let herself out. Janeway folded her arms around her head and cursed.

Seven was muttering. B'Elanna couldn't help being curious. She'd never known the woman to speak in anything but precise, clear although sometimes loud and angry tones. Seven never talked to herself. B'Elanna edged closer to the console, trying to make out what she was saying. She picked up, "have you ever," before Seven turned a jaundiced eye on her.

"Sorry," B'Elanna apologized.

Seven went back to her muttering.

"Are you talking about that silly game of Tom's?"


B'Elanna proceeded to explain the rules for 'Have you ever.' "I always thought that game was a little too touchy-feely for Captain Proton. While he was regressed, I found out that it started as a bragging game, just an exercise in one-ups-man-ship."

Seven had stopped listening. Her mind processed everything Janeway had said, peeling away the layers of revelation like the skins of an onion. Her eyes grew big and her lips parted in astonishment. "Computer, locate Captain Janeway."

"Captain Janeway is in her quarters."

Seven left without a word.

"As always, a pleasure talking with you," B'Elanna muttered at Seven's receding back.

Janeway wasn't anxious to have company, when Seven announced her presence at the door to the captain's quarters. Her entrance was brisk and she wasted no time. She searched Janeway's face for an answer she asked, "Have you ever thought about spending your life with someone?"

Janeway blanched. "Seven, you have to understand…"

"Have you ever loved a woman?"

"I can't."

"Have you ever longed to hold that woman in your arms?" Seven's smoldering, unflinching gaze was eroding Janeway's resolve. "Have you ever wanted to…" The rest of the question hung pregnant in the air as Seven's lips closed over Janeway's mouth. A soft, warm tongue begged for admission and the Captain's lips parted in response.

"How do you do this to me?" Janeway's voice was clouded with passion. "I've never felt this way with anyone." She did not wait for a reply but began to cover Seven's throat with kisses, indulging in the intoxicating taste and aroma of her skin.

"I believe it is destiny."

"That's a very human concept. Some might even call it fanciful."

"It isn't the least fanciful. I based my conclusion on logic." Seven had moved into the Captain's arms and methodically stroked her torso from her shoulder to thigh, letting hot whispers outline the details of her theory in Janeway's ear. "The commander of a starship is drawn into an uncharted region of space and, following the only ethical choice allowed her, is forced on a long journey to return home. The daughter of researchers travels far from the realm her species calls home. She is lost to the life she knows only to be chosen from among millions of drones to be the liaison to that commander. Our paths were destined to cross and that destiny has a purpose."

Janeway hesitated to point out that there were over a hundred other people on Voyager who had arrived at that same destiny with her.

As if reading her mind, Seven continued, "No one else on this ship occupies my thoughts or causes me the physical distress that you do. I believe I have a similar effect on you." Seven's hand had finally found its way under the layers of uniform and Janeway moaned at her caress. "Unlike the ideals of romance the Doctor purports, what I feel involves being and belonging together. I believe it is destiny."

"I believe it is love," said Janeway, as she captured the hands that seemed so intent on molesting and disrobing her. "I do love you, but you have to understand that there are obstacles, not just for me but for you."

"I was a prisoner of my solitude among a multitude of voices until you took my hand and led me to find my own voice. There is no obstacle I can not overcome."

"Then I guess I'll have to overcome my obstacles as well," Janeway said with a smile as her eyes explored Seven's face. "After all, I can't expect anything less of myself than my crew is willing to try." She released one of Seven's hands, kissed the back of the other tenderly then used it to lead Seven to her bedroom.

Naomi had lost another game, but it didn't seem to dampen her spirits. When Seven apologized for winning, the girl gave her a peculiarly mature look and stated knowingly, "It's not the in the winning. It's the game itself that matters."

"So you still like this game?" Seven observed.

"It's the best game ever. Don't you think so?"

"There is one that may be better." Memories colored Seven's expression and brought a rosy hue to her cheeks.

"Really, teach me how to play it."

"One day, when you are older, you will learn."