At Last

by Casta Diva


This story stems from a request from Onyx at the Alcove who, noting how music tends to inspire me, suggested ‘At Last’ by Etta James as a starting point. Listening to the song, I began to wonder once again… “What if?”  What if timelines, like emotional patterns, are persistent little blighters which find a way of happening, even when you have been forewarned?  What if Seven really did marry Chakotay, unconscionable though this thought is, after Voyager’s return?  What then? Well there’s a challenge!  This is set three years after Voyager’s return to the Alpha Quadrant.

The song itself has that afternoon matinee quality and so here is an afternoon at the movies watching a black and white women’s picture from the forties  - or an early Technicolor extravaganza - where the heroine fills the frame, luminous and fragile, but also strong and resourceful.  Her world is controlled by mysterious outside forces, but every now and then she finds a way to challenge the tide of events threatening to overwhelm her and to escape the clutches of the draconian, vengeful…  scriptwriter!  Whether she survives or not - to wake to another iconic day – well you always have to wait to the very last frame of the movie to find that out. ;)

So my thanks to Onyx for the suggestion; to Bailey B for keeping me on track with the dream;  to you patient readers for being so nice about how long it has taken me; to Julie for such witty feedback; and to J for being just so beautiful.   The next one has guns in it ;) but this one is fluffy - ish! (Cue opening music.   Titles roll…)

Disclaimer:  Love is a journey that undertakes us.  You may think you are in the driving seat, but isn’t losing control and surrendering to fate really love’s goal? And if it’s not infringing something, some scared little part of you, it is probably not worth doing.   Warning enough, I reckon!  Enjoy!!!


 

Part I

The woman's hands gripped the smooth, polished rail in front of her.   She watched her knuckles tightening, so that they appeared bleached white against the dark relief of ancient timber in the hazy tallowed light of the cathedral.  Bony, she thought.  God knows how anyone would call them elegant.  But then, that was the Doctor all over, resorting to the immaculate exercise of charm, just when it always seemed to her that her grip on life must surely be falling apart.   If only he knew.

She felt a sharp constriction in her chest as pain stabbed momentarily through her heart.  How ironic.   That this is where it had happened, where she had woken to herself, to her aspirations and to her dreams - in time to see them crushed.

A door banged behind her, sending deep reverberations crashing through the cavernous space.  A subatomic particle on the threshold of eternity.  This is how it had seemed to her then - three years ago - head covered with a black veil and bowed in deference to the weight of events outside of her command.  How she had prayed.  She laughed silently to herself.  It hadn't been prayer.  She had focussed her energy on perfect self-management, marshalling every last scrap of willpower into raising her chin and staring at the altar as though she were staring down the barrel of a high-density laser rifle.

She still couldn't believe it, Seven of all people, choosing to cement her destiny, her future, here, of all places.  She for whom 'God' had been evidence of humanity's weakness, actively embracing Him in this bastion of tradition and of hope suspended between impossibly vaulting arches. This monument to ritual superseding science.

The pain was back: it made her gasp and slide back on the hard wooden bench, leaning against a panel of sharp decoration, which bit into her spine.  The pain was good: it made her uncomfortable with herself, with her mood.  She swept the veil from her head in a deliberately unguarded, ugly gesture, eyes sparking a challenge to the divine.  This pathos is ridiculous.  What am I going to do: come back here every anniversary of that day, year in year out, regretting that I brought my people home and that they are leading happy, fulfilled lives?  She could just see herself, the little elderly lady, flask in pocket, teetering to this spot, to this very seat where newly promoted Admiral Janeway had witnessed Seven of Nine, her protégé and her favourite, sign her life away to Captain Chakotay.  She sighed.  That would be 'was joined in blissful union,' Kathryn.   The idea made her feel ill.

Why did it seem that he was too old for Seven, when she herself was the elder?  Why was it faintly distasteful to her that Chakotay, the First Officer, Personnel Officer and father figure to the crew, should take Seven when she, the Captain seemed to be caught in the belief that somehow Seven was meant for her.  Her mind replayed the image of a gentle, doting Chakotay almost swaggering with pride as he led his new bride away from the altar.  She won't change him - he is impervious to her on that level.

The truth was Seven always made Kathryn feel a little vulnerable. There was something beyond her ken, beyond her command even, in Seven of Nine.  She loved that, only realizing far too late - when the champagne had been drunk, the debriefings wrapped up, the new office moved out of - what a gift it had been.  Without the challenge of Seven, the Admiral was bored.  Nothing seemed as interesting as when she had Seven to share it with her.

Footsteps were echoing through the cloisters: sharp staccato sounds that indicated a female presence.   Another women throws her heartache into the great realm of spirit hoping that prayer will help the pieces of her life settle more easily.   She snorted.  Or it could be a vertically challenged priest in heels.  Preachers were not high on the Admiral's list of desired acquaintances right now.  Seven had ‘found’ God, because of the Starfleet Multi-Faith Chaplain provided by the Federation to help her adjust to 'coming home' - as they had optimistically put it.

Kathryn sighed, the heaviness returning to press in upon her breast.  She should forget these memories, get up and walk out, walk away from their taunting, teasing little voices, but she knew she wouldn't.  Three years on, this was her time of reflection - the only day in each year where she actively sought them out and let them have their say.  Part of her longed for this moment and needed it. This was as close as she would ever get to Seven of Nine.

This is when, having put on her carefully assembled Catholic outfit of black pants, shoes, veil and coat with only her burgundy blouse to remind her of her command status, that she traced through each fatal moment between arriving home and Seven's wedding as if she might alter one tiny detail and then things would be different.

"Let's see...”  She murmured to herself,  “…it was two and a half months after our homecoming..." Kathryn had been in the process of moving into temporary offices in Starfleet headquarters…

*****************************************

"It's open!"  Captain Janeway was beginning to feel irritated by the constant stream of visitors to her chaotic new work area, more because they insisted on ringing the door chime and engaging in pointless polite chatter, than because so many people wanted to visit - which after all, seemed natural enough.  She had discovered that being lost in the Delta Quadrant had done nothing for her ability to maintain meaningless small talk for very long.

Pulling again on the lever, which was supposed to raise her desk in the central office off the floor high enough to easily manoeuvre it, her temper was beginning to fray.  "Not." Tug. "...Even.."  Tug.  "…The anti-grav units”  Tug.  "Work!"    She sat back on her heels, behind the desk. Whoever it is, probably just wants to deliver another sickly Starfleet denial of one of my many apparently unreasonable requests.  I can't believe… Tug.  That I told half the Delta Quadrant… Tug.   What a grand organization… Tug   ...Starfleet is.  Join the Federation!   Where even the stationery cupboard has three hundred protocols before you can get your hands on a blessed datapad!

"Right!"  She would send the ensign back with a new request: for maintenance to come and fix her desk. Halfway to an upright position, Captain Janeway was stunned to see Seven of Nine standing framed in the doorway of her inner office.  She was wearing her skin-tight blue biosuit

"Hello, Seven."  Her pleasure was mixed with annoyance, stemming from the anxiety that Seven wanted something.  The Borg looked tight, unhappy and…. determined.

"Captain."  Her voice was quiet.  "Thank you for the bibliography and the Museums’ Guide.  They have been most informative."

"You're welcome.  I'm sorry I haven't had time to show you around."

"Starfleet has commanded your time.  I understand."  Seven moved gracefully into the room.  "May I assist?"  She indicated the lever with an inclination of her head.

"I don't know what I'm doing wrong...  But feel free... So, have you been to any yet then?  Museums, that is?"  Captain Janeway took her best jovial in-command posture as Seven knelt to examine the switch.

"I" she did not look up "have not had time. The Federation's interest in me has been... monopolizing."  Her hands slid up the leg of the desk.  "At least they do not intend to prosecute me for the Borg's crimes against humanity."

Kathryn laughed for what felt like the first time in days: Seven was referring to the wildfire rumours that once all the fuss had died down, she herself would be brought to trial for anything from giving holograms a legal precedent to claim sentience, to enslaving said sentient beings by giving holosuite technology to the Hirogen.  "No," she said, "but I bet they'll find a way to hold me responsible for the Borg, one way or another."  Her tone was light and flippant, with just a hint of an edge.  I shouldn’t have said that.

She watched the movement of Seven's arms as her fingers traced underneath the surface of the desk.

"So, how are you, Seven?"  The Borg looked up, perhaps because of the surprisingly soft tone in her voice.  Their eyes held the moment, taking it almost outside of time, before the Captain panicked, "I mean - are they treating you OK?  Respecting your right to privacy, helping you orientate - that sort of thing?"

Seven's gaze fell to the floor, "I am functioning withi- adequately.  Thank you.  I have... quarters.  With ensuite regeneration unit.  The Doctor says pretty soon everyone will want one."  Seven tried a half smile, her mind on her mission, on her reason for this visit.

"I know - I .. You sent me the address.. I'm sorry Seven, I should have visited ...you.. I... ah - Tell me, why are you out of uniform?"  Kathryn moved to perch on the side of the desk leaning on one hand towards the Borg.  "Are you in trouble?"

"I am not a member of Starfleet, yet.  The uniform was to lessen the impact of my Borg upbringing on the general public. However, technically today I am 'off-duty' so I am exercising my right to recreational time."  She raised an eyebrow  "And to my individuality."

The Captain guffawed, "To your individuality, but in a style which so emphasizes your Borgness."

Seven's hands stilled on a spot beneath the centre of the desk, "I find this garment... efficient and comfortable.  I recognize myself in it."

The Captain frowned slightly, something didn't feel quite right, she wasn't sure what it was, was barely aware of the unease she was experiencing - her mind just refused to focus on anything other than her duty.

“You are unmistakeable in it, that’s for sure,” she said, using humour to silence her misgivings.

****************************

 

Something hadn't felt right.  It was, as her friend Jean-Luc had once put it, like that moment when, at the height of the hot grape harvest with the sun beating down on you, you get a hint of October, of cold air and rotting leaves filling your senses, but then it is gone and you are not sure if you have time travelled – or - if the future really does reach the present on the winds of change.

The Admiral shifted in her seat thinking about the legendary Picard. That was a good bottle of wine, Jean-Luc.  She watched the candles flickering on the altar emphasize the fading light outside.    Her mind drifted to her developing friendship with the Captain of the Enterprise.  He had been promoted so many times since those days, but to her, as with most of Starfleet, he would always be The Captain.  In fact he preferred it.  She loved him, without question. What a mind, what courage.  Courage to sometimes see beyond ethics to the spirit of the thing.  To the very essence of rightness.  He understood the transience of such a position too - how for a split second there is a solution and then you move on.  How the difficult decisions were never fully resolved in ones conscience.

I should have asked Seven what was wrong. I could have done that.

Even Jean-Luc had known how preoccupied she was in those early days, had known she was caught up in her heart, before she had really understood it herself.  He had invited her to dinner in Venice for a ‘little of the best of Alpha Quadrant to welcome you home…’

****************************

 

 

"You are pensive tonight Kathryn...?"  Jean-Luc's voice demanded her attention be brought back to the terrace where they sat overlooking the masked revellers in the square below.  He leaned forward as he spoke, bronzed arm extended, pouring a rich vintage claret to sparkle and rage against the sides of her glass before settling into promising aromatic rubiness.

She considered him as she took her first incisive sip, holding the dark liquid in her mouth, allowing it to swell through her senses, before swallowing.  It is curious how rarely I see him in uniform and yet how he wears his Starfleet career like a second skin.  He was waiting.

"Delicious.  Forgive me, Jean-Luc.  After all the years of countless choices, subservient to a single goal, to one direction - to getting home - I now find myself in a position of having a wealth of possibilities, but seemingly… very little leeway."  Her fingertips caressed the glass as though she were trying to absorb the wild fermented liquor through her skin and into her heart.

He looked up sharply, "You are prevaricating, my friend.  What is it?"

She cleared her throat, watching two performers in grotesque masks of ecstatic joy and grief circling around each other in a surreal pantomime.  Story of my life.   She thought ruefully gesturing towards them.   “Like these, I am caught between reality and dreams I think.  I have so much to be grateful for… except the things I can’t change. They just stay with me: what might have been; what I could have done.  It is all just illusion now of course.  Self-deception and… fantasy.  We are home and that is the reality.  This is it.  Every other thought is a waste of time.  I just have to get on with it.”  She tried to keep the disappointment out of her voice but she found Jean-Luc  observing her shrewdly. 

“And what if it isn’t just a fantasy? Are you willing to take that chance?  Will you just let these feelings go?  Experience tells me that some things must be resolved, even if it is only inside.  Prevaricate with all the world if you must, Kathryn, but do not do that to yourself.  Whatever is troubling you - find a way of being at peace with it.”

****************************

 

 

What is it?  What is it? Why am I here?  What is it?   She spoke aloud. "It is too late, that's what it is."  Her voice was paper-thin in the holy space.  It made her feel alone, sitting among the wandering tourists and purposeful worshippers so painfully aware of her solitude.  "Small."  She muttered to herself.  "That's what Seven would say."  Here, more than any other place on Earth, I can make a map of my loneliness. 

A Bajoran tourist, who had been staring up at a stained glass window above the south aisle, turned to look at her.  Kathryn didn't quite smile and then looked away.  She didn't exactly care that she had been overheard and besides feeling a little self-conscious took her mind off the idea of spending the rest of her life without Seven nearby.  She looked back towards the Bajoran woman only to find her standing in front of her. 

"My sister," she said, "All time is one - it is never too late."

"Ha!"  Exclaimed the Admiral. "Even in death?"  Steady, old girl, this is no place to be belligerent.

The woman smiled. "That is not for us to judge.  Death is beyond our control, yet matters of the soul and spirit are eternal."

“So they are!”  Kathryn retorted sarcastically. Her manners caught up with her then and so she added, “Thank you” while nodding a quick dismissal to the stranger.   The Bajoran did not budge; instead she gazed down at the Admiral compassionately.  Her hands, neatly folded in front of her, struck Kathryn as hideously pious.

"That which is lost in the past cannot be lost in the future, unless you will it so.  Only you can lose it again."

Kathryn looked through her, startled and remembering her last meaningful conversation with Seven of Nine…

****************************

"The future is to be viewed with scepticism."  Seven's face, as always, was deadpan. Captain Janeway could not tell if she was joking.

"Meaning?"  Her low tone was seductive - but contained a slight menace.  They were walking towards The Intergalactic Research Institute across an expanse of neat stone squares, to discuss a role for Seven.  No one would use the word 'job' since it gave her too much status. Ostensibly today the Captain was on hand to do something about that.  It was the second time she had seen Seven since the Borg had visited her in her temporary offices. The other occasion had been at a cocktail party in honour of Admiral Paris' retirement.  Seven had stayed exactly half an hour.

"If I am a threat to humanity, then I should be incarcerated, but not where the Borg can find me and if I am to be of benefit to humanity, then I should be kept safe where apparently no-one at all can find me."  She looked at Janeway.  Even you, she seemed to be saying.

Kathryn did not laugh, she put her hand on Seven's arm, slowing their pace.  "There are other choices you know.  You are human.  You have the same rights as everyone else.  You must remember that, Seven.  You can and should make your own choices."  Her coat caught in the wind and flapped around them.  Seven's was fastened with buttons and a belt.  It seemed to not be affected by the weather - any more than Seven could be comforted by her words.

The Borg raised an eyebrow in her direction, her silence indicating more than argument would have just how much she did not believe a word of it.  Kathryn's heart ached: once upon a time, Seven would have spat her derision straight back at her. These are human sentiments to make you feel good. They are an illusion, nothing more.  Words.  Sentiment and words! Now Seven's bleak acceptance troubled her.

"Yes Captain, I have choices.  I choose to act in the moment.  To stay… unconstrained right now.  I will not consider the past and I will pay no attention to the future."  There was a greyness about her, a pallor.  To Kathryn it seemed as though she were sickening for something.  As if living in the fresh air is damaging to her.  She belongs in space.

Kathryn hated to admit it, but she felt the same was true of herself.  "Home" for her was an awkward, uncomfortable experience.  She felt hemmed in, restless.  She needed to experience the fertile wastelands of faraway galaxies and live on the edge of quickfire decisions.  Starfleet had other ideas, however and Captain Kathryn Janeway had been forced to accept a new job: Goodwill Ambassador for the Federation. Forced. With a promotion all neatly tied up.

They had given her no choice.  In return for a five year programme of lectures, diplomatic visits, peace missions and an honorary professorship at The Academy, all the crew of Voyager would be officially welcomed home with their records wiped clean.  No Maquis inquisition.  No hauling the Captain or any of the senior officers over the judicial coals of a tribunal for decisions made in the field.  The fact that no Government from the Delta Quadrant was likely to lodge a complaint about Voyager's actions - on account of being on the other side of the universe - eased that decision.  The fact that Voyager contained advanced technologies, priceless astrometric charts and research and not to mention enough anthropological data to keep the boffins employed for a generation, underlined it.  So everyone - nearly everyone - went freely home to a hero's welcome and a career of their choice.  But there were conditions.  Secret agreements made between the Captain of Voyager and her masters.  She had got Voyager lost in the first place and she would pay.

They were standing in front of the glass entrance to the IRI building.  Sunlight ricocheted at sharp angles, causing her to wince.  Seven was looking at her, her face a mask of control, of acceptance.  Even though I believed your words I always knew it would come to this. It seemed to say.  She was looking down at Janeway, waiting.

Kathryn's mouth was dry causing her to swallow awkwardly.

"Shall we go in?"  Was all that she could say.

****************************

"I'm sorry, Seven."  The woman was nearly on her knees, asking forgiveness of a woman who could not forgive her and of a God she did not think either of them believed in.  "I'm sorry!"  If only Seven had become angry and challenged her.  That would have been better - she could have explained somehow.  I can't see you very often, but you will be all right, I have made sure of that.  She winced as though she had been stabbed in the belly.  Betrayal?  No! No - I did not betray you.

She drew in a breath, a breath full of history.   Millennia of polish on wood and stone, sweet, but faintly bitter.  Like pink gin or like loving someone who has no idea what it is to love.  Lifetimes of leather Psalters caressed and held in devotion mocked her.  The fading songs of past worshippers pressed in against her on the cool air.  Ghosts.  It is all just ghosts and dreams.

The great doors spoke again.  Someone leaving.  She should go.  This time, at least it had been better.  Last year, Admiral Janeway, hidden in her worshipper’s disguise, had wept.  Tears scorching her face with acid hurt.  She would not do that again.  Ever.  Rejection, after all, is a transformative emotion: even indirectly felt, its subtle nuances leave long traces.  Once the hurt is gone, anger pushes the sharper arrows of pain away.   At least, this is what she told herself.  Never mind the fact that she had abandoned her friend in the first place.  Footsteps were echoing through the Cathedral, reminding her of Seven's walk down the aisle.  She did not need to marry him.   Half the time, Kathryn was sure that Seven had married Chakotay to get at her, to punish her.  For a moment she gave that thought full rein - anything was better than thinking about betrayal.  Her betrayal.   But still her undisciplined heart returned to that very moment: the moment of her own treachery…

****************************

There had been five messages from Seven bleeping on her console.  All had gone unanswered.  The commanding officer noted how long it had taken Seven to learn this particular lesson.  In the past, the Borg had been quick to learn and would not expend energy on futile activities. Kathryn Janeway sat at her desk, fingers linked together, examining her thumbs, listening to the last communication.

"Admiral Janeway, this is Seven of Nine.  I do not know if you have received my other messages, but perhaps you have more pressing priorities to attend to...  I find living on Earth confusing.  So many choices but I do not feel free.  I do not like the structure I am supposed to live by. I would like to talk with you."  She paused and her voice became achingly quiet.   "As we used to."  On Voyager.  "If you have the time, contact me."

There was silence in the room as Kathryn pressed her thumbs together.  She would not feel guilty.  Seven didn't understand.  Did not understand what the alternatives would have been.  This way she gets to create her own future, eventually.

"The hardest adjustment of all, Seven, is understanding that I cannot be your guide anymore."  She whispered.

The Federation understood that Kathryn Janeway's idiosyncratic independence was an apt quality for a Starfleet Captain, but it was not a trait they wanted encouraged in their new Borg.  Seven was far too useful.  Her natural stubbornness was bad enough, without the influence of the rogue Captain Janeway.  Heroes are vital to an organization like the Federation, but a political nuisance at home.

She leaned forward and punched the 'Reply as Message' button.  The console bleeped its readiness,

"I'm sorry Seven, I can't help you."  Chewing on her bottom lip, Admiral Janeway pressed 'Send.'

****************************

And that was why - THAT was why she married him, because the Captain was unavailable, she had settled for the First Officer!  Kathryn's lip curled.  "Coward!"  Her eyes blurred with tears she would not shed.  She examined her hands, now clenched tightly in her lap.  "You fool."  She muttered.  It was not clear to whom she addressed the insult.  To Chakotay for stealing away her happiness - or to herself for blindly ignoring what was obvious until it was too late.  She had erred and now she must suffer.  Right place then!  She raised her eyes to the altar and the humour quickly fled in the face of the pain of memory.

Even if she lived another hundred years, experienced a thousand more adventures, nothing could hurt as much as that moment three years ago when self-knowledge had hit her like the most potent weapon ever devised.

Seven had arrived radiant in white at the altar.  She had knelt and been baptized as a child of God, then stood as a woman, placing her hands inside Chakotay’s and word by word closed the door on Kathryn Janeway forever.  Forget science.  Forget individuality.  She did not once look back at Kathryn.  It still infuriated her.  It still impaled her.

But the Admiral had eyes for no one else.  She was seeing Seven for the first time.  Was experiencing the Borg's beauty as a physical sensation, consciously, for the first time.   What was the matter with me?  Why the hell didn’t I see it before?  Memory after memory played through her mind of Seven and each one nailed her with iron pangs of agony.   She was losing her. In this very moment - she was losing her.  Her legs had almost buckled beneath her.   She was losing the Seven that she had helped to create.

Have I done this?  The question that had played through her mind.  All that work!  The careful, painfully slow lessons in humanity.  In individuality.  She, Captain Janeway had insisted Seven learn to assert her own sense of herself.  Had dragged her kicking and screaming from the comfort of the hive mind to become the magnificent woman that was Seven of Nine.  The very Seven who was now abandoning herself to a life that mystified her former Captain.

Only in the moment of Seven's wedding did Kathryn Janeway finally understand for herself what it was to lose such absolute certainty.  When it was too late.  She had always assumed that all she had to do was call and Seven would be there.  She never once imagined what it would be like to lose her and she certainly had never thought that Seven would change so much.  She sighed.  "You were wrong about that."

There were voices coming from the quire.  I will go soon... What did I expect?  That Seven would have none of the emotions of any spurned human being?  Kathryn sighed.  Leather soles moved neatly away and began to climb stone steps. The organist. She coughed slightly.  I should have explained. But she couldn't.  Could never, ever tell Seven what she had done.

Kathryn reached into her coat pocket and pulled out the little hip flask she allowed herself for this annual pilgrimage to her dreadful mistake.  Mistake?  She sighed again.  It had been the right decision.  The only decision I could make. 

The organ began warming up with a lightening fast discordant scale ascending higher and higher until Kathryn's nerves stood on end. "Good grief!"  Her long fingers sped up to unscrew the little silver cap.  She placed it carefully on the handrail in front of her, taking the flask in her right hand.  "Here goes nothing. To -" She raised the flask in the direction of the altar and nearly dropped it - so hard had her heart thumped in her chest.  Seven was standing there.

Kathryn froze.

Seven.

With head gracefully covered in a white silk scarf, which disappeared in immaculate style beneath a light raincoat.  Still buttoned-up perfectly.  Seven cutting a figure of pure grace and light against the grey of the Cathedral and looking up at the dome above the high altar.  The blue of her eyes radiant before it’s lapis lazuli.  Kathryn Janeway shivered in pleasure. Oh I could look at her forever.

Slowly the Borg turned round to face the altar.

Kathryn sucked a breath in, flushing with embarrassment as she remembered the flask still held out stiffly before her.  She lowered it laboriously, the toast abandoned.  Her mind had emptied of thought, distracted by her legs which inexplicably had become rubbery and were shaking.  Instinct took over.  Still watching Seven, she reached for the silver cap but it slipped through her fingers, bouncing off the wooden prayer book shelf and clattering in a series of seemingly thunderous crashes to the floor.  Kathryn fell to her knees to gather it up, quickly twisting the lid into place and stuffing the flask back into her pocket before raising her head and daring to look at the Borg again.  The organist was playing a series of near-deafening chords and Kathryn prayed that he had covered up the sounds of her clumsiness.

She's gone!  Momentarily, Kathryn thought that Seven had left, or had been a mirage for she was no longer standing.  Then she saw her.  The Borg was kneeling and leaning forward onto the step of the altar, her right arm outstretched.  Her head was now uncovered and her golden hair gleamed like a beacon.  Kathryn craned to see what she was doing.  Had she said something?  Damn the cap!!!  Seven stood and began to turn, just as it dawned on Kathryn that she herself would have to move, in order to speak to her.

Her body refused to work.  What was Seven doing here?  Where was Chakotay?  She wanted to turn and look for him, but dare not take her eyes off the Borg, lest she should fade away.  Like a holy vision which only the mad can see.  Kathryn gripped her black veil to her throat and slid back on to the bench, eyes widening as Seven slowly completed the turn and looked straight at her.

For a split second their eyes were locked: wide with shock on the Borg's side and with alarm on the Admiral's.  She stopped breathing altogether.  Her chest hurt.

Seven broke the contact first, turning towards the north aisle - the furthest from Kathryn’s position - and took off towards the great doors at speed.  Each sharp echoing footstep raised the level of Kathryn's panic.   Leaping to her feet, she scrambled over the kneelers, banging her knees on the benches. “Ow! Damn!  Damn! Ow!!”

"Seven!"  The footsteps were fading.  Seven had already disappeared into the gloom.

"Seven, wait!"  She was running down the central aisle, grappling with her coat, her choking veil, her bag.  Damn these clothes!!!  Panic made the distance vast. Kathryn opened her mouth to call out again when the cathedral doors banged.  No - please God - let me catch her!  Outside in the maze of tree-lined paths surrounding the monumental building, she would never find her.

She cornered the massive marble font at the foot of the central aisle and made for the right hand doorway, trying to weave her way through the tourists lingering around the entrance.  Maybe she hasn't left yet?  Kathryn spun round to look back up the north aisle, eyes glistening with the effort of trying to make Seven appear before her.

No Seven.

"Damn! "  Her voice was breathless and panicky.  Somebody nearby tutted.

She spun back springing towards the exit, feeling cold air about her neck as the door banged again.

"Hold the door! Wait -"

"What are you doing here?"  Six foot of Borg appeared from out of the darkness of the porch.

Kathryn screeched to a halt suddenly faced with a furious Borg in full charge.  She tried to catch her breath, backing away deeper into the cathedral, instinctively trying to lure Seven away from the exit.

"I..." Kathryn swallowed.  Seven - incensed and flushed - advanced on Janeway.

She is very tall.  She thought irreverently.

"I..." Her back came into contact with a pew, jolting her to stillness.  The bag fell off her shoulder and onto the seat behind her.  She played for time.

"Seven, are you all right?"

Seven halted before her, deliberately using her height to make escape difficult.  She would not be sidetracked.

"Admiral Janeway, you will explain why you are here!"  Her eyes were wild.  Her voice close to shouting.  A quiet descended in the crowds around them.

Kathryn looked up at the Borg, lost for words.  How do I tell her?  It's crazy.  I can't tell her that!  She looked for a prevarication.  I know, Jean-Luc, I know.

"It's a public space, Seven.  Why are you here?"  Seven's eyes narrowed and, for an awful moment, Admiral Janeway thought that the Borg might just accept her explanation.

"You do not believe in God!"  Seven announced to the entire building.  Her smugness began to rile the Admiral.

"Not exactly, no, but -" she raised a challenging face to the Borg - a posture which forced her to lean backwards over the rail which bit into her.  This is bad.  Surely this isn’t what I was looking for…

"So you are not here for religious purposes.  You have been here before, for my wedding, therefore you are not a tourist." Seven waited, staring the Admiral down.

"Well, no, but - "

"Are you getting married?"  The insolence stung.  It was like a smack in the face.

"Obviously not, Seven - "

"Why today?"  Seven leaned over her, her chest heaving from the exertion and from the need to threaten.  Candlelight flickered in the implant above her left eye giving it a life of its own.  Her breath fell on the Admiral's face.

Kathryn felt hot, her face, red from the chase, became scarlet.  She felt awkward in her unfamiliar clothes.  If I lie, I will lose her and if I tell her the truth - God!

She let out a laugh, half from the realization of the blasphemy and half from panic.  She looked up at the Borg whose jaw was clenching softly.  People were milling around staring at them.  Kathryn Janeway tried to calm the proceedings by lowering her voice.

"Seven, this is hardly the place for such a discussion -"

"- Incorrect, Admiral Janeway, this is the perfect place."  Seven settled back on her heels.  "You have not answered my question."  She raised her eyebrow.  "Why are you here? Why today?"  She repeated, insistently loud.

Kathryn looked down, putting her hand out to touch the Borg's arm, appeasingly, controllingly.

"Seven -"

Seven tensed all of her muscles in her forearm, drawing herself upright and repelling Kathryn's hand.  It felt like an electric shock.

"You will answer, or I will leave."  Her expression was hard - like her body.

"Don't you threaten me, damn you!"  Kathryn pulled at the shoulder of her coat with her right hand, bringing the bag in her left round to swing her forward and get her off the wooden rail.  The Borg took half a step backwards, though her energy was so pumped up that it nearly knocked the Admiral back down with its force.

"You do not command me, anymore!  You are not my friend!  Threaten you?"  Was that tears, maybe in her eyes?  Kathryn watched in horror, feeling the situation sliding even further out of control.  Seven's jaw was working as she struggled with herself, pacing away in agitation back towards the font and the door.

"Threaten you, Admiral Janeway?  I should not even bother to talk to you!  I should IGNORE you!"

Later Kathryn Janeway would wish that she had allowed the compassion she felt for the younger woman to rule her response, but the Admiral was a proud woman.  A proud, angry woman.  She had waited many years to speak her heart and suddenly patience was not an option.  Dropping her tone another octave she spoke with venomous, acid projection, so that her perfect diction filled the entire space.

"And what the HELL do you think you have been DOING these last three years?  When exactly did you contact me, Seven?  Did I hallucinate your total and absolute silence?"  The Admiral, temporarily forgetting her own culpability, was off the ropes and circling a Borg whose emotions were rising to the surface with the measured certainty of a time bomb.  Only later did she realise the number of bystanders, standing in shocked fascination.  Ghostly faces which made no sense to her now.  Only later was she truly astonished at herself.

Seven shouted back at her “I contacted you!”

“No: some lobotomised automaton, contacted me.  Not you.  Not Seven of Nine. Not -” She spluttered to a halt, two words lingering on her lips:  My Seven. 

Seven turned slowly on the spot, following the Admiral with incandescent eyes.

"I have been married."  She said quietly. 

The words burned Kathryn Janeway.  Stopped her in her tracks, wheeling her around to face the Borg. On her face was an expression that Seven of Nine, if she had paused to consider, knew well, because of its rarity.  A particular deadly mask.  It was the one, which for a split second always accompanied the command, "Fire" on the bridge of Voyager when extreme force was about to be put into action.  It was the face of ruthlessness.

But Seven was in a flow all of her own.  Her mentor, her friend who had hurt her more than anyone in her entire life had the presumption to attack her and Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct to Unimatrix One knew exactly what to do in the face of a full frontal assault.  Return fire.

"What have you been doing, Admiral Janeway?  Aside from appearing on the news, making presentations, making the news, hosting diplomatic dinners, attending charity galas and appearing on the news again?"  Her volume had risen in order for it to carry over the swathes of arpeggios from the organ.  Sarcasm seemed to drip down from the vaulted heavens.

“I have been doing my duty.”  Kathryn’s voice was cold and quiet.  She was trying not to see the new maturity in Seven’s face, trying not to feel the effect of the young woman’s blossoming beauty as it waged a private war within her body.

“You have been exercising perfect conformity.  I have witnessed none of the warmth and compassion that you so arrogantly preached when you wrenched me from the Borg and forced me to become human!  You, Admiral Janeway, are the automaton, not I.”  Tears refusing to fall made Seven’s eyes shine with heart-piercing brightness.  The organ crashed to a crescendo and there was silence.

Punctured by helplessness, desire and pain, Kathryn held Seven’s stare clinging to the contact as though she had slipped over the edge of a cliff and only her fingernails gripping the sharp rocks of Seven’s gaze could save her.  Seven was right.  More than this, the affect of the Borg’s physical presence after so long apart was seriously hindering her command of the situation and of her body.  She couldn’t tell if she was panting from anger, exertion or lust.

A hand fluttered in the Admiral’s line of vision and she turned to focus on a squat man wearing the robes of a verger.  His eyes rolled in his head with anxiety.

“Ladies, please!”  He whispered, “This is a house of God.”  Kathryn broadened her vision to encompass the circle of onlookers riveted to the spot by the spectacle of a Borg and a famous Admiral fighting.  He cleared his throat. “I recognise that this is a distressing time for you both, so why don’t you find a quieter place to… ah …air your… discussions?  The coffee shop, say, or one of the side chapels?  Quietly mind.  Otherwise I will have to ask you to leave.”  He glanced nervously up at the Borg as though he didn’t quite believe his own words.

Kathryn looked at Seven too, her heart suddenly pounding with fear that the younger woman might just leave.  Seven had ignored the verger and had been watching Admiral Janeway with the settling coldness of an ice storm.  Impulsively the older woman moved to try to balance it, to get control.

"Listen to me, Seven, I actually want to talk to you, alright?"  Blue-grey eyes that had stared down the worst that the Delta Quadrant had to offer had no effect at all on Seven of Nine.

"After three years of silence, you want to talk to me now?"  There was scorn in the Borg's voice.

"I know."  The Admiral swallowed, "We need to talk. I- “ She felt her heart sinking as adrenalin rushed to announce the possibility that Kathryn Janeway might just be about to disclose more than a long-held secret, she was about to reveal her heart.  Maybe some form of the truth, anyway.   “I need to talk to you, but" she looked around, "somewhere a little more private, mmm?"  She looked back down the aisle Seven had originally come, from "Let's sit over there?"

Seven stood her ground, her gaze boring into Admiral Janeway, anger and impatience making her reluctant to give one single millimetre.  The verger fidgeted at the edge of their vision.  Hidden away out of sight, a choir began a bass profundo chorus which modulated into a transcendent run of harmonies sending shivers up her spine.  The andante chorus from ‘Libera me’, she thought, Verdi’s Requiem.  Oh how fitting – just after the Dies irae, ‘ the day of anger, of calamity, of misery and bitterness’ comes a plea for peace.  The soprano’s voice soared through the building, sharpening Kathryn’s hope with its sweetness.

"I will explain, Seven, I promise."  She sounded firm, but in her eyes there was a hint of a plea.   Seven relented.

 

“Very well.”  The Borg executed a perfect turn and marched off into the gloom.

***********

 

Continue to Part II

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