When Past Returns
posted December 2005
The view in front of her was the same as yesterday. It was the same as the day before yesterday. The same as last week. And the same as last month. Captain Kathryn Janeway was on the bridge, drumming her fingers on the armrest of her chair and feeling her frustration over the view begin to smolder.
I don't ask for much, she fussed within. I don't need a new world. Not a wormhole. Not some energy that will take us home – just something small, like a puff of a cloud. A toxic cloud even. Janeway sighed. I'd even go for a ship full of Talaxians.
The ship, the USS Voyager, was once again in perfect condition and managed to leave more than a light year of the Delta Quadrant behind them every day. The crew had been one with the ship for so long now; they knew every corner, every familiar sound and kept her in perfect condition. But even this made Janeway irritated.
The door behind her swooshed open. Janeway turned and saw Commander Chakotay walk in.
“Anything exciting going on, Commander?”
Chakotay stepped down the stairs and walked over to the chair next to Janeway's. “She runs as good as ever,” he said and sat down. “Neelix had some problems with his comm-badge and one of the lights on the port navigation light was out, but that's it.” He shot Janeway a smile and got a frown in return.
“Ridiculous,” Janeway muttered, starring at the darkness outside.
Chakotay chuckled. “Frustrated?”
“I just want something to happen --,” she looked at Chakotay, “something that can excite me -- something that can energize me.” She sank down in the chair and stared ahead. “I wish for a challenging adventure,” she snapped.
Kathryn Janeway had always been one of the curious kinds of people. Brave, stubborn and determined, she fearlessly attacked every challenge. Her wish for adventure had taken her far – too far some might say – but there was one thing she tended forget: one has to be careful about what one wishes for. Janeway was not known for being careful, and this time was no exception.
While Janeway was fretting about lack of adventure, Seven of Nine was enjoying the reliable motion of time. The last month had been the most efficient she had since becoming a member of the Voyager crew. She'd finally had time to re-organize all collected data from Voyager's first five years in the Delta Quadrant and her own data from the Borg collective, making it easier to cross reference and therein find different views of the same issue. Humans, in Seven's opinion, lacked the ability to see in multiple dimensions, and often put themselves in harms way as a result. Considering how often Captain Janeway had ended up in trouble, Seven noted, she was particularly good at making bad decisions. Seven's new reference system should help the Captain to stay on course and not stray off into nuisances.
Seven now made some test searches and found to her satisfaction the results were far superior from the ones she had two months ago. This work, she concluded, would make the Captain's future decisions much more efficient.
The following morning, Janeway found she was incapable of ogling at the empty space Voyager was plowing through. Instead of taking a tour around the ship, she walked straight into her ready-room, made herself a cup of coffee and sat down at her desk. Hoping to not spend another day in boredom, she booted up her computer and waited for logs and messages to turn up on her screen. Perhaps something unusual happened during the night? Nursing the coffee, she glanced out the portal to the space outside and felt a heavy sense of doubt.
Her doubt was shoved aside by the flickering of messages. She leaned forward and hit the first of last night's logs. What she read wasn't surprising:
“All systems are working within parameters.”
“Long- range scans showed nothing out of the ordinary.”
“Ensign Baldwin sprained his ankle after slipping in Engineering.”
Janeway rolled her eyes. “Not even a descent self-inflicted injury,” she muttered, shutting down the logs to read personal messages. The first was from Neelix.
I have noticed a slight restlessness among the crew. I would like to suggest a social gathering, a party. It would be something the crew can look forward to.
Janeway shook her head. A party was not what she wanted. “An adventure!” she spat. “That is what I want.” She flipped to the next message. It didn't have the senders name in the heading.
“Against protocol,” Janeway muttered, opening up the message.
Frowning, Janeway looked up. No one onboard Voyager puts ‘Dear' and ‘Kathryn' after one another. Unless Chakotay lost his mind, Janeway chuckled and returned to the message.
I am truly glad you kept pursuing me about having dinner – I had the most delightful time last night. I do not know how to say this, but you are such a special woman, Kathryn; so strong and focused. You are unlike anyone I've ever met.
With a suggestion of a smile, Janeway looked up from the screen and stared at the gray wall in front of her. The message made no sense, yet Janeway felt ridiculously flattered by the words. She returned to finish the message.
Unless you had a terrible experience with me, I wish to meet you again. Please say you will.
Janeway's eyebrows shot up as she saw the signature: Helen. What is this? she thought and sank back in her chair. Helen. Dinner. Somewhere deep in her mind, Janeway recognized the message, but it was impossible she told herself. She had deleted every piece of information from that time. She had cleansed her memory, her soul.
Janeway swallowed. This is not right, she concluded.
“No, this is not meant for me,” she muttered and hit the ‘Delete' key. Instantly the message was gone and Janeway left her ready room for another blasé day. But when the past is chasing you, no delete button in the universe will stop it from reappearing.
The following morning, after a night of surreal dreams, Janeway kicked her feet up on the desk in her ready room with a cup of black coffee in one hand and a PADD with last nights reports in the other. Without realizing it, she was anxious. There were one, two, no -- three notes from crew members about issues she read and soon forgot about. One note, for instance, was from B'Elanna -- something about the warp core. Janeway didn't have the patience to read it.
“I'll ask her at the meeting,” she decided and flipped to the next message.
Janeway felt her checks burn and her stomach make peculiar twists. She looked away, took a big mouth of coffee and wondered for a split second if she shouldn't go out and check on the bridge. Peering down on the message, she could not avoid reading:
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to go on a deep space mission, but now when I am on my way I cannot feel anything but sadness. Oh, Kathryn, I am so sorry about having to leave – especially after last night. You were so gentle, so loving, so --. I cannot help but smile and blush at the same time. I could not have a better lover.
Her vision blurred behind a curtain of tears, Janeway propelled her legs down on the floor, slammed the coffee cup down on the desk and then threw the PADD like a Frisbee through the room. It landed softly on the couch.
“No!” Janeway screamed, storming across the room to crush the PADD into pieces, but when she reached down her glance caught the next line in the message:
I love you, Kathryn.
I had hoped to relive the experience again, tonight, but Starfleet was obviously of a different mind.
I will soon be back.
Hugging the notepad, Janeway sank down on the couch and buried her face in the cushions. There she shed the tears as she had cried fifteen years ago.
It was 08.06 when Captain Janeway walked into the briefing room. The officers were already sitting in their seats, chatting about all and nothing. B'Elanna teased Tom Paris about a lost game – what kind, Janeway didn't care; Tuvok whispered something to Seven of Nine who Janeway noted seemed more distant than ever.
“I'm sorry for being late,” Janeway mumbled tersely as she sat down.
Chakotay looked at the Captain. “It's not like you have missed anything.”
Janeway feigned a smiled. “Nothing on the horizon?”
“Not a thing.”
Janeway sighed and straightened up. “Well,” she began. “Let make this quick, shall we?”
Chakotay opened by briefing general stats about crew and machinery, B'Elanna informed about the warp core and Janeway nodded bored with the findings.
While Tuvok, in regular monotonous voice, began his briefing, Janeway's mind wandered back in time.
Helen Fairbanks was eight years older than Janeway and a Starfleet officer. Janeway was fresh out of the Academy, and it was June when their delicate relationship began to sprout.
“Seven of Nine!”
Janeway was jerked out from her thoughts by The Doctor's stern voice.
“Seven, are you asleep?”
Looking first at Seven's confused expression and then at the Doctor, Janeway intervened. “You're bedside manners are working like a charm,” she muttered, staring at the Doctor before turning to Seven. The woman was pale.
“Are you not feeling well?”
Looking from one to the other before meeting Janeway's eyes, Seven hesitated. “I believe I am not functioning properly.”
The Doctor was edgy. “When was the last time you regenerated?”
Seven looked down and took a deep breath. “I have regenerated for six hours every twenty four hour. Just like you recommended.” She turned to Janeway. “I am just feeling … under the weather, as you might say.”
Janeway broke into a smile.
“But I can still perform my duties with far more efficiency than the rest of the crew.”
It was not often Seven of Nine felt ‘under the weather,' but the times she had turned out to be something quite out of the ordinary. “Seven see the Doctor for a complete physical.”
Seven seemed to want to reply, but the Doctor added, “Perhaps you would like one as well, Captain?”
Janeway's brows furrowed. “I just had one, but thank you.”
“Your eyes are red and you seem distracted,” the Doctor argued.
Before the meeting, Janeway had forced her emotions into a tight restraint, but the Doctor's nagging voice made those restraints loosen up like wet spaghetti. “I -,” she slammed her fist on the desk and stood up, “No, thank you!” With her stare, she nailed the Doctor to his seat. “This meeting is over,” she hissed and marched out from the briefing room.
Tom Paris saw the door close behind the Captain and said, “One would think the Captain has Klingon blood in her veins.” Grinning he looked at B'Elanna whose expression was far from amused. Paris quickly changed view -- only to be pinned down by Chakotay.
“You heard her. This meeting is over,” the Commander said. “Return to your posts.”
Cussing over her weakness and short temper, Janeway plopped down in her chair in the ready room. Her mind rushed like a pinball and she found it impossible to grasp onto anything singularly. Twisting her hands, she waited for the inevitable knock on the door. What should she tell him? Should she come clean? Could she say she was just bored? Or should she face her demons and find the truth? The latter shock her to the core, and she feared what she could find.
Ten minutes later the familiar chime on the door broke into her thoughts. Janeway took a deep breath.
Chakotay looked both cautious, but solidly secure at the same time. They had butted heads many times, yet more often helped one another in precarious situations. He would help her, and he would do it smoothly.
“Is everybody back in business?” she asked as Chakotay sat down in the chair on the other side of the desk.
Chakotay nodded. “They'll go on like nothing happened. They're a reliable crew.”
Janeway looked down at her hands. “I've had some -.” She swallowed. “I've had some unpleasant messages the last couple of days.” She looked up at Chakotay, whose mouth puckered and shoulders seemed broader than ever.
“If someone in the crew is out of line, you will have to tell me, Captain.” He shook his head. “I will not allow anything to hurt you.”
His loyalty was honorable and Janeway could not help but smile for a second. “It is not from someone in the crew. It can't be.”
Chakotay cocked his head to the side. “No? So who is it from?”
Janeway turned her glace out the window and the endless universe. Now, if ever, she thought, was a great moment for an alien spaceship to show up. But she had no such luck.
“They're from someone I knew a long time ago.” She turned back to Chakotay. “Someone who vanished in space fifteen years ago.”
Brushing her hands across the already polished desk, Janeway said, “Her name was Lt. Helen Fairbanks.”
Chakotay straightened in his seat. “I don't understand. Is she here?”
Janeway shook her head. ”The messages are written like we met yesterday. One of them I've even read before.” She thought back to the last message and felt her face drain. “The other one I never received.”
Watching the Captain, her hands twitching and face pale, Chakotay sensed she was not willing to share the messages with him.
“Have you tried to trace the origin?”
Janeway sighed. “I can't get anywhere.”
“Kathryn,” Chakotay leaned forward, “you have to let me help you.”
At that moment, Janeway cussed at herself inwardly for deleting the first message. The only one she now had was far more personal. It would be a deep cut into her privacy to share something this intimate. She stood up and walked over to the replicator.
“Coffee, black,” she said and immediately a cup materialized. She returned to her seat and slowly sipped the hot beverage before saying, “I was a fresh Ensign when I first met Lt. Fairbanks.” She met Chakotay's glance. “Helen. The first time we met was in the mess hall at Starfleet Command School and for reasons I cannot fully comprehend, we -.” Janeway faltered for a beat. “We had relationship.”
Chakotay felt his jaw beginning to drop, but rapidly shut his mouth and sat back in the chair.
Avoiding her First Commander's look, Janeway again sought comfort in the void outside the portal. For the few months they had together and for all the years after, Janeway had managed to keep her relationship with a female superior officer to herself; nowhere in her records were proof she had even known Helen Fairbanks. Why now? Why here?
“A couple of months after we first met, Helen was hastily assigned a position on the USS Northern and a deep space mission.” Janeway took a deep breath. “Shortly after they left Utopia Planitia command center lost communication with the Northern. No one ever heard from them again.”
Chakotay didn't know what to say. Having spent years with Janeway he somehow thought he knew everything, but obviously there was a big part of her life she kept hidden deep inside her.
“Well,” Chakotay began, “I don't think anything that happened back then will matter here and now, but for some reason the past is reaching for you.”
“I did not ask for this,” Janeway said.
Having seen his Captain's growing more and more impatient the last couple of weeks, Chakotay wasn't sure what she actually had asked for. ‘An adventure'-- was that what she had said? He decided not to bring anything of that up. Instead he asked if he could read the message.
Janeway cringed. “It's quite personal.”
“There is a slight chance the Northern is in this area. It could be a beacon. A cry for help.”
Instantly, Janeway looked out the portal. Could Helen be in this nothingness, she thought, feeling her heart rate pick up speed.
“I don't want to pry,” Chakotay whispered, “but it could be something amazing behind these messages.”
Janeway felt weak. She wanted to go back to bed. She didn't want to be Captain anymore. Slowly she lifted the coffee cup to her mouth and swallowed the remaining contents. She then hit the computer keys and the message appeared on the screen. “You can read from over here,” she said and stood up.
While Chakotay walked around the desk, Janeway walked across the room and leaned against the window. Are you out there? She questioned inwardly. Behind her, she heard Chakotay clear his throat then begin to tap the keys in an amazing pace.
Suddenly, the Doctor's voice echoed over the comm system.
Janeway had never been so happy to hear from him. She tapped her comm badge. “Janeway here.”
“I think you should come to sick bay, Captain. I have news --.” He hesitated. “It's Seven of Nine.”
Instantly a jolt went through Janeway's body and she looked at Chakotay.
“Go ahead, Captain,” he said. “I'll try to figure this out.”
With a childish feeling of relief, Janeway hurried to sickbay. She was not at all comfortable with the messages and the memory of Helen and could not be more pleased about getting something to tend to. Unfortunately, Seven of Nine would have to sacrifice her health. But as she stepped trough the doors of sick bay and saw the Doctor's stern look, she wasn't convinced it was a proper sacrifice.
“What is going on?” she said and walked up to the biobed where Seven lay seemingly sedated. “Has she passed out?” Janeway reached down, touching the woman's face. The skin was warm.
“I had to calm her down,” the Doctor said. “Seven is having company again.”
Janeway's eyebrows curled. “Company?”
“I have found an interfering neurological pattern in Seven's brain. It looks exactly the same as when she was affected by the Vinculum, only this time there is only one extra pattern – not hundreds.”
Janeway looked from the Doctor to Seven and then back to the Doctor. “Are you sure?”
The encounter some months ago with a Borg Vinculum, infected with pathogenic virus by Species 6339 had been close to a disaster for Seven. Hundreds of assimilated personalities suddenly emerged and took over her mind and if they hadn't been able shut down the Vinculum, Seven would not have survived.
“But we haven't seen any Vinculum in this area. We haven't seen anything that could cause the problem to return.”
The Doctor eyed Seven. “I do not know the reason, but someone is bothering her regeneration cycle. That is why she nodded off during the briefing.”
A chill went through Janeway's body. Someone is bothering Seven, she thought, and someone --. Her thought was interrupted by Chakotay's voice over the comm system.
“The message is not coming from space,” Chakotay said.
Janeway looked down on Seven of Nine and felt something she had never felt for the former Borg: disgust. “Let me guess,” she hissed, “it came from Cargo Bay 2.”
For two days Janeway sat mostly by herself in her personal quarters, battling between reason and emotion, fear and anger. She let Commander Chakotay handle morning briefings and only appeared on the bridge for a few minutes.
Seven of Nine was confined to sick bay and the care of the Doctor in order to find a cure for her sudden extra personality. Janeway had not visited her, nor had she told anyone why. The Doctor was as confused, but decided this was one of those moments when human rationality failed completely. Yet, he was irritated because Seven could use the support from the Captain. It did not help Seven in her recovery not knowing why the normally protective Captain Janeway was avoiding her. He confronted Commander Chakotay who after a lot of hemming and hawing eventually gave up realizing Seven of Nine should not have to suffer from something she had no control over.
After some consideration of the news, the Doctor offered a suggestion – or rather forwarded an order.
Captain Janeway sat in her personal quarter staring out the window. A book lay open in her lap, but not one page had been read the last couple of hours.
The door bell chimed. Janeway sighed and looked down on her book. She read a sentence when the door chimed again.
“Come in!” she grunted.
The door swooshed open and Commander Chakotay stepped inside. Janeway ignored him and Chakotay knew from experience he wouldn't gain anything by sweet talking.
“I have an order from the Doctor,” he stated.
Janeway didn't look up, but she listened.
“I had to inform the Doctor about your – situation.”
Janeway looked up at him. If looks could kill --.
Chakotay held up his hands in defense. “Seven of Nine is slipping away from us, and we have to do whatever is in our power to save her.” He paused for a moment, searched in Janeway's face for acceptance, but found none. He continued. “The Doctor believes you are the only one who can save her.”
Frowning, Janeway stood up. “I have saved her once – why should I do it again?”
“Because you would lose yourself if you didn't.” Chakotay walked up behind Janeway. “Kathryn, Seven of Nine is not responsible for Lt. Fairbanks disappearance. You know that. Seven was ten years old at the time and was in a Borg maturation chamber.”
Janeway crossed her arms and tried to hold onto the anger, the disappointment, the sadness she felt. But when she thought about it, she couldn't really say what she felt anymore. “What does he want me to do?” she mumbled.
“Talk to her.”
Chakotay stepped around Janeway and looked her straight into the eyes. “He wants you to speak to Lt. Fairbanks.”
Two cups of coffee later, Janeway walked under silence to sickbay with Chakotay by her side. Unconsciously, she fiddled with her nails and brushed her hands against the side of her pants. When they reached the door, she inhaled deeply before following behind Chakotay.
The lights in sickbay were dim and it took Janeway a couple of seconds to adjust. To the left, by the control panels, she saw Seven of Nine working as if she was in Astrometrics or Cargo Bay 2. Her hair was down and her sleeves were pushed up near her elbows. Janeway watched her movements. They were more … loose it seemed. Confused, she peered at the Doctor in the other end of the room. He nodded for her to go on and Janeway took another deep breath then took a step closer to Seven.
“Seven,” she said in a low voice.
Seven did not look up, but said, “Hang on.” The voice was far from Seven of Nine's flat tone. This one was enthusiastic.
Janeway wasn't very keen on waiting, but before she began to object she found herself a bit intrigued. Was it really Helen inside Seven's body? Before finishing her thought, Seven of Nine, still tapping the keyboard, looked up. As soon as she saw Janeway, the tapping stalled.
“Kathryn?” she whispered, slightly hesitant. “What -.”
Terrified, Janeway stood glued to the floor and was unable to say a word. Seven walked out from behind the control panel. “What are you doing here?” She stopped less than two feet from Janeway.
“I could ask you the same,” Janeway responded in an attempt to sound strong.
Seven slightly tilted her head and eyed Janeway from above. “You look different.” She smiled. “Older.”
“And what is this?” Seven took half a step closer, reached out and brushed the tip of her fingers across the row of pips on Janeway's collar. “You're a Captain?” she whispered.
Janeway could feel Seven's breath against her face and the voice --. She closed her eyes for a second before taking a step backward. “Helen,” she began cautiously. “We need to talk.”
Seven eyed Janeway for a long moment. “Something is awry, isn't it?”
“Something is strange,” Janeway said. She held onto Seven's glance for a moment, feeling the connection she believed was long gone. “Come,” she said and took Seven by the arm and led her to one of the biobeds where they both sat down. From the corner of her eye, Janeway could see the Doctor and Chakotay trying not to be too curious.
An awkward silence arose.
“We used to be able to talk,” Seven mused.
Janeway's heart tightened. We used to be able to talk about anything and everything, she thought. Aloud, she said, “A long time has passed, Helen. A lot of things have happened.”
Seven brushed her hand through her hair and sighed – a motion Seven of Nine never would do, but Helen always did when she was confused. “I don't think I know where I am,” she whispered. “I was on my way --,” she turned to Janeway, “with the Northern. We weren't allowed to send messages home, but I wrote several to you anyway – for later.” She smiled faintly.
Seeing Seven's face and Helen's struggle, Janeway reached for her hand. “Do you remember what happened?”
Seven looked down on their entwined hands. “About three weeks after leaving Utopia Planitia, we were attacked. It was a sight we'd never seen before, a terrifying rumor coming true.” Seven peered at Janeway. “It was the Borg.” She chuckled. “And we didn't know any better than to stare in awe at the massive cube, hoping to learn something new.” She paused for a moment. “If you ever encounter the Borg, Kathryn, promise me you will turn the helm and never look back.”
As if she was caught by a spell, Janeway said, “I promise,” and with a mysterious feeling of recognition caressed Seven's hand. The response was the same as she remembered Helen giving her, a soft squeeze. “Where are you now?” Janeway asked.
Seven looked away and shook her head. “I don't know. I recall the Borg saying we should be assimilated, I recall how they boarded the ship.” The grip around Janeway's hand tightened. “I … but then -. Nothing.”
Suddenly the Doctor spoke. “Lt. Fairbanks neurological pattern is weakening.”
Tears welled up in Janeway's eyes; she blinked to get rid of them, but barely succeeded. Time was running away from her. “Helen,” she whispered, sliding off the bed and still holding onto Seven's hand she stood face to face with her. “I wish you could stay, Helen.” A tear fell down her cheek.
“I know, Kathryn, but I cannot.” She brushed away the tear. “For some reason I felt your presence. I don't know how, but I wanted you to know I never stopped thinking of you. All the letters I wrote you are in your database – together with the Northern's logs.” She then wrapped her arms around Janeway, pulled her close and whispered in her ear, “Tell everyone what happened to us when you get home.”
Janeway sobbed into Seven's throat.
“I love you, Kathryn,” Seven whispered and lifted up Janeway's chin. She then leaned forward and softly placed her lips against Janeway's.
With tears streaming down her cheeks, Janeway let the wall around her fall, exposing every ounce of emotions she kept behind.
The kiss lasted for no more than a second, but for Janeway it felt like eternity. Closure, finally. She opened her eyes and looked right into Seven of Nine's.
“Captain,” Seven said faintly, her mouth still against Janeway's.
Like being snapped out from a dream, Janeway breathed, “I'm sorry,” and backed away. She turned around and paced out from sickbay.
After a sleepless night, Janeway showed up for morning briefing and was for the first time glad nothing was wrong with the ship or anything interesting happened in deep space. Tom Paris talked about something she just as soon forgot, B'Elanna had some new ideas about the warp core and Tuvok wanted to have a security drill. Janeway merely nodded in agreement.
Chakotay gave the senior officers a short version of the previous days happening and offered the logs from the USS Northern to Tuvok. No one expected to find anything more dramatic than the fact that they had been caught by the Borg – a drama most would like to do without.
Seven of Nine was not present. She had, to Janeway's dismay, been ordered to regenerate for twenty four hours. According to Chakotay, Helen Fairbanks personal logs were locked with a Borg encryption codes and only Seven could decrypt them.
For the remaining of the day, Janeway stayed away from the crowds and again let Chakotay be in charge. “I just need some time for myself,” she informed him.
Late in the evening, Janeway sat in the dim light of her quarters thinking about nothing when the door bell chimed. It was Seven of Nine.
“I am sorry for the lateness of my visit,” Seven offered, “but I wanted you to have Lt. Fairbank's personal logs.” She handed Janeway a PADD.
Janeway took the device and looked at it. In there were words, wonderful words that once would have made her heart melt and for the last day had made her terribly impatient. Now, though, she wasn't sure she was willing to even consider what was in there. Whatever it was, it would hurt. She put down the PADD on the table and looked up at Seven. Her hands were clasped behind her back and she glanced beyond Janeway. The posture was so Seven, off-putting perhaps, but in this instant Janeway felt an enormous connection. Something suddenly changed.
“Come,” Janeway said, moving to give Seven room to sit down next to her. Seven remained still. “Sit with me for a while.”
Slightly hesitant, Seven did as she was told. Sitting down, her back straight, she clasped her hands together in her lap.
Janeway couldn't help but smile at her discomfort. “Seven,” she said, her tone serious, “I have a feeling you know more about Lt. Fairbanks than what is in the logs.”
What Seven knew would have to come from within the Borg collective. Janeway wasn't certain if she wanted to know, but felt she had to face it all. “What happened, Seven?”
Seven took a deep breath. “Lt. Fairbanks,” she began, “was assimilated with the rest of the crew of the USS Northern. She was given the designation Two of Nine, primary adjunct of Trimatrix 942.”
Two of Nine. Janeway closed her eyes and recalled Helen's smile, her wit, her gentleness – a memory far from someone called ‘Two of Nine.'
“Go on, Seven.”
“She was assigned to weapons detail -- photonic torpedo technology, to be specific.”
That makes sense, Janeway thought. Aloud, she asked, “Is she still within the collective?”
Seven turned her face and looked down on Janeway. “She will always be part of the collective, but physically she --.” Seven faltered and looked away.
“What?” Janeway asked, taking Seven's hand. “What?”
“She died at the battle of Wolf 359.”
Still holding Seven's hand, Janeway fell back in the couch and brought Seven with her. Wolf 359, she thought, resting her head against Seven's shoulder. So close to home, yet so far away. “Thirty nine Federation ships were destroyed in that battle,” she whispered. “And Helen helped.” Her heart ached for the woman she once loved – still loved. “She would not have liked knowing that.”
Without thinking; Janeway began caressing Seven's hand with her thumb. Surprisingly, Seven squeezed back. A smile spread across Janeway face. Softly, she said, “I'm glad it was you Helen's soul found, Seven, but I want to apologize for my behavior.” She glanced up at Seven. “I didn't think. I shouldn't have let her --.” She faltered.
“Kiss you?” Seven filled in.
Janeway felt she blushed. “Yes.”
Seven looked down on their hands. “I am aware it was my first kiss,” she said and gently played with Janeway's fingers, “and must admit the closeness was curious.”
Feeling her heart begin to beat twice as fast, Janeway forced herself to wonder what was going on. It was Helen she loved, it was Helen who caused the kiss, it was Helen who --. She felt Seven's body heat, heard her breathing and felt her touch. So calm, so special, so unexpected.
“Curious, indeed,” she mused.
“Captain,” Seven said faintly and looked at Janeway, “I am sorry for the pain the Borg have caused you.”
Janeway met Seven's glance and smiled. “The Borg took one important person, but gave a different one in return.”
A hint of emotion passed across Seven's face, but just as she was about to comment, Tom Paris' voice echoed over the comm. system.
Janeway shook her head. “What can I do for you, Mr. Paris,” she said without taking her eyes off Seven.
“We picked up a signal from an M-class planet, Captain. Not far off our course.”
“How far off?”
“Two days,” Paris responded.
Janeway looked out the window and found that space suddenly seemed brighter, not at all depressing. She actually liked what she saw, yet the thought of solid ground was appealing. Looking at Seven's hand in hers, she said, “Change course, Mr. Paris!”
“Does the Captain seek regeneration?” Seven asked.
Janeway laughed. “I believe I do.”