Sustenance

    by Tenderware (tenderware@gate.net)

VOY J/7 NC-17

Warning: This is a sexually explicit story that explores a loving relationship between two female characters. If you are a minor or are offended by lesbianism or sex or both, then please go read something else.

Disclaimer: The characters were created by Paramount, Kate Mulgrew, and Jeri Ryan.  I'm just borrowing them to tell a tale. This is strictly a fair-use, not-for-profit, just-for-fun kind of deal. No money exchanged hands; just a few ideas about romance. Also, for the sake of being consistent with what's becoming canon where Janeway's past is concerned, most of the details of Janeway's life -- including the discussion of her former lovers -- in the conversation she and Seven have on "Day 6" are borrowed from Jeri Taylor's Mosaic, a Star Trek: Voyager novel.

Summary: Rescued after weeks stranded on a desolate planet, Janeway tries to come to terms with what she and Seven were forced to do to survive.

Timeframe: Towards end of 5th Season, after Warhead.


Part 1

"We're approaching the system, Commander!" Ensign Tom Paris called out urgently from the helm.

Chakotay turned anxiously to Ensign Harry Kim at Ops. "Can you run a sensor sweep yet?" he demanded, sounding more desperate than he intended.

"Not yet, Commander. We're still too far," Harry responded.

"Tom," Chakotay called, turning back to the helm, "I want you to keep punching it until you have to drop out of warp and then give me full impulse!"

"Aye, Sir."

Chakotay was proud of the crew, but he knew a number of them, with the possible exception of Tuvok and the other Vulcans onboard, were at the breaking point.  Everyone had put up a good front throughout the 25 days of their ordeal -- a crippled ship without its captain, the crew not knowing for certain whether Janeway was even alive -- and it seemed now, with their answers so close at hand, that the fine veneer of their enforced calm had vaporized and all that remained was raw emotion.

"Just hold on, Kathryn," Chakotay mumbled under his breath.

*****
Several weeks earlier, Voyager had come upon a desolate planet rich in mineral deposits that were desperately needed. Captain and crew had conducted several Away missions extracting the ore and conducting a few scientific studies. The planet was barren of vegetation and complex lifeforms. Its minimal water supplies, most of them undrinkable, did reveal a few microscopic organisms. Beyond that, it was little more than a massive rock formation with several respectable mountain ranges and a network of caves. Except for the mineral extraction, the only points of interest were these caves, whose walls and ceilings were adorned with the most intricately patterned and colorful crystalline formations that the crew of Voyager had ever seen.

"Magnificent!" the Captain had offered after several moments taking in the sight of the first cave she had explored on the planet.

She had spent the next week exploring other caverns and taking samples while her crew extracted the minerals.  It had been the lure of another of those magnificent caves that had separated the Captain from her ship and most of her crew, who had already beamed up preparing for departure.  At Janeway's request, Seven of Nine, Voyager's Astrometrics officer and resident Borg, had lagged behind to help the Captain collect a few more samples on the last of these expeditions.

Janeway thought the activity would do Seven some good both as a way of relaxing and also to learn to appreciate the natural beauty of the caves. And she also invited Seven because they generally enjoyed each other's company and liked engaging in recreational activities together.  At the moment, however, Janeway had to concede that her young friend was looking bored and uncomfortable.

"What's wrong," Janeway asked.

"I do not see the point of gathering these crystal samples."

"They're pretty to look at," the Captain had offered, believing that to be enough.

"But they serve no purpose."

"Their purpose is to be admired.....to please me. To satisfy my desire to gaze at their beauty, their color, their patterns."

"That is not a useful function; it is merely an indulgence," Seven had countered.

"Then indulge me," Janeway insisted, in mock exasperation. "Tap off a sample of that ruby crystal over there......and please try not to look so pained about it."

"I apologize for my expression, Captain, but Pru is bothering me."

"Pru?"

"The Doctor's nickname for the Portable Regeneration Unit I am wearing -- the P. R. U., or Pru.  I do not understand his sudden need to anthropomorphize technological devices, but I believe it is related to our recent encounter with the artificially intelligent warhead. I think that as Voyager's only sentient technology, the Doctor may be experiencing 'loneliness'."

"That's very good, Seven. It's very sympathetic of you," Janeway noted, genuinely pleased.

Seven smirked. "Why must you always be so condescending, Captain? Of course, I am 'sympathetic'. You severed me from the Borg hive mind where I shared my thoughts with millions of others. Loneliness is the first human emotion you taught me! And regardless of the Doctor's reasons, I find his new habit of naming everything in sight only marginally less annoying than his making me wear this device!"

"My, you are touchy today," Janeway teased, ignoring the young woman's cutting remarks.

Seven merely snorted, and Janeway couldn't help smile thinking this, too, was a new form of human expression for her.

The Doctor had recently developed the P.R.U. as a survival unit for Seven to use whenever an emergency and/or an Away mission kept her from regenerating in her Borg alcove.  The box-like unit -- four centimeters thick and about the size of Seven's lower back, where it strapped on and linked with her contact nodes -- was photo-powered, converting light beams into an energy source that Seven's implants could use to regenerate. While the energy supplied by the unit was weak in comparison to the full Borg alcove, the Doctor speculated that the device could sustain Seven for a period of about a month, even supplying her nutritional needs "in a pinch."

Seven considered that an apt phrase since the unit did "pinch." It pinched considerably, she noted, as she shifted once more against the hard object's weight and shape.

Janeway looked on sympathetically. "Why are you wearing it now?"

"The Doctor requires me to wear it for twenty-four hours to make certain the unit is properly calibrated to and synchronized with my systems."

"And how much longer do you have?"

"Twenty-two hours, thirty-three minutes, and fifteen seconds!"

"Oh, dear."

"Indeed."

"Well," Janeway offered hopefully, "maybe when we get back, you can talk the Doctor into adding some sort of padding to the thing." At that, she had granted Seven what she hoped was an assuring smile.

"Chakotay to Janeway!" It had been the Commander's urgent voice coming in over the comm badge.

"Janeway here," she answered, having automatically activated the comm link with a tap even before Chakotay's first word was quite out.

"Sensors show a massive spatial phenomenon approaching the ship. It appears to be a giant ion storm, Captain, and some particles have already disrupted the transporters."

"Understood. Don't waste time with us, just get Voyager out ahead of that storm."

"Captain, you have to take shelter right away! We're leaving now, but we've filled a torpedo casing with some supplies and have just fired it off near your coordinates.....It could be days, Kathryn."

"I know.  Just go! Janeway out."

That had been the last time the crew had heard the Captain's voice.

*****
"Talk to me, Harry," Chakotay demanded again, this time almost pleadingly.

"Still too far, Commander."

"But we are within viewing range now and dropping to full impulse," Paris reported.

Chakotay resumed his command chair, trying to calm himself. "On screen."

Instantly, the forward view-screen filled with the image of a rock-light satellite, unremarkable in every respect, except (hopefully) for two of its current inhabitants -- if they did, indeed, still inhabit. Chakotay studied the rock intensely now as if half-expecting to see the Captain herself waving back and saying, "Yoo-hoo. Over here. What the hell took you so long?" He smiled despite himself at the thought.  That nonchalance would be just like the Captain.

"Sensors scanning the surface now, Commander," Kim reported.

No one breathed for a beat.

"And?" Chakotay broke-in finally.

Kim smiled. "I see two life signs!......Weak. But definitely life signs."

An audible sigh of relief emanated from the Bridge crew accompanied by a nervous laugh or two.

"We are in communications range," Tuvok informed the commanding officer.

Chakotay looked almost giddy before continuing: "Voyager to Janeway. Captain, are you there?"

Silence.

"Voyager to Captain Janeway. Please respond!"

Another pause. And then, finally:  "Janeway here," came back the unmistakable voice, weak and hoarse, but still commanding.

The cheers that suddenly erupted on the Bridge forestalled Chakotay's next statement. After a moment, he continued: "Captain, it's great to hear your voice. We were all very worried about you. We're ready to beam you and Seven up, directly into Sickbay if necessary. What's your status?"

There was a pause: subtle, but enough to make a frown briefly shadow Chakotay's happy features. And then Janeway responded.

"We're in one piece, if that's what you mean?" Janeway hoped her tone was light but it was humorless. After a moment, she continued, forcing her voice to adopt its confident and decisive tones:  "Frankly, Chakotay, Seven and I have more immediate needs than Sickbay. We'd like to.....freshen up, if you catch my meaning?"

"Yes, Captain," Chakotay assured.

"Good. Then, please be a dear and beam us directly to my quarters, will you?"

That elicited the laughter that Kathryn had intended, which she hoped would in turn keep her Bridge crew from becoming too suspicious about her delaying the visit to Sickbay or, for that matter, beaming Seven, too, into her quarters.

"All right, Captain," Chakotay relented through his grin. "Stand by to be beamed to your cabin, but the Doctor and I will be there in about ten minutes to check in on you," he bargained.

"Make it twenty and you have a deal."

"Yes, Captain," Chakotay laughed. "Are you locked on, Harry?"

"Yes, Commander."

"Uh, just a second, Chakotay," Janeway called over the comm link. Then the Bridge crew could hear her instruct, "Seven, the samples and the PADD's." There was a pause, then, as the two women seemed to be gathering belongings they wanted to bring back. "All right, Voyager," Janeway continued, after a moment. "Two to beam up."


Part 2

Kathryn had shut her eyes in thanks when the transport began, and after she materialized, she opened them slowly, blinking back tears as she caught her first glimpse of her own familiar sanctuary. They were home.

Seven watched her carefully and put a sympathetic hand on the smaller woman's shoulder.

Kathryn smiled at her weakly. "Let's go get cleaned up," she said.

They dropped their packs by the Captain's work station and proceeded into her bath area where they silently disrobed, activated a hydro-shower -- Kathryn suddenly wanting the therapeutic and cleansing sensation of hot, pulsating water -- and then entered the stall. Together.

Normally, Seven would not have accompanied the Captain into her private chambers, but it was an intimacy the two of them now took for granted having been thrown together by circumstance and having shared many more intimacies as a result. Recalling an old Earth cliché now that she had once heard Kathryn use, Seven considered that they had, indeed, experienced "desperate times requiring desperate measures." And she knew that it was those measures, more than the physical aspects of their ordeal, that had etched that anxious look into the Captain's erstwhile noble features.  After a moment, Seven interrupted Kathryn's troubled thoughts.

"You are worried they will discover what we did," she said matter-of-factly.

"Yes," Kathryn admitted sadly.

Seven raised her chin decisively:  "We will not tell them."

Kathryn tried to smile back at Seven's Borg assertiveness and at her very human effort to cheer her, but she still felt hopeless. "I'm just not sure how well we can hide it," she began gently.  "I mean, it'll be obvious -- won't it? -- when the Doctor runs his medical scans."

Seven frowned. "What if we do not permit the scans?"

"That's a bit suspicious, don't you think? And completely against both Starfleet protocol and common sense. Of course the CMO has to check the medical conditions of the members of an Away team that have been stranded on a planet for weeks!"

"Then you will have to command the Doctor to maintain doctor-patient privilege."

"Chakotay will want some kind of report," Kathryn considered, more to herself.

"All the Doctor needs to tell him is that you are fit for duty. And you can simply order him to omit.....certain details from his medical logs, as we must do with respect to our mission logs."

Kathryn considered Seven's words as she absent-mindedly rinsed the soap off her body and hair.

*****
A short while later they were clean and freshly dressed, Kathryn foregoing the uniform she'd grown sick of wearing day and night, and opting, instead, for a pair of loose trousers and an oversized, button-down blouse -- although she noted, ruefully that the clothes were now, suddenly, much looser.  Seven had chosen her blue and grey suit -- resizing it to her own new, lankier dimensions -- and was just beginning to arrange her hair in its usual twist when Kathryn came up behind her and gently put a restraining hand on her arm.

"Seven, you realize you're probably going to have to regenerate for several days now to recover, don't you?" she began.

"Yes?" Seven asked, looking at Kathryn through the mirror.

"Well, the only contact I'll be able to have with you will be watching you in Cargo Bay 2, while you regenerate."

Warmth and affection washed over Seven's features as she understood Kathryn's meaning. "You wish me to leave my hair down," she said softly.

"Would you mind?"

Seven simply returned the look as she let the blonde bundle fall loose again, picked up Kathryn's brush, and swiped a few quick strokes through her hair. When she was done, she turned so that Kathryn could inspect the results directly. "Sufficient?"

Kathryn smiled.

"Have you done that a lot, Kathryn?"

"What?"

"Watched me while I regenerate?"

Kathryn's lips quirked. "Once or twice," she underestimated. And then sadly, she added, "But I think I'll be doing that a lot more in the coming week."

Seven reached out to pull Kathryn into a comforting embrace, but her motion was interrupted by the sound of the door chime. As she dropped her arms abruptly, she noticed Kathryn's face instantly awash with worry again.

Kathryn turned and walked out to the living area, with Seven trailing behind and stopping a few meters just past the bedroom door.  "Come," Kathryn called out, continuing her walk across the living area until she reached the replicator. "Coffee, black," she ordered.

Chakotay and the Doctor entered the Captain's quarters and visibly flinched when they caught sight of the two painfully thin women.

"Gentlemen," Kathryn greeted over her cup of coffee. Then, after an uncomfortable moment, she offered, "I know what you're thinking, and I promise that Seven and I will be eating something shortly.  But if it's all the same to you, I'd like to get this over with so that she and I can eat in private." Then, as an almost confessional afterthought, she looked past them and muttered slightly to herself, "Hunger is not an experience easily shared."

Both men frowned uncertainly, and then the Doctor pulled up his arm to begin a scan of Seven.

"Doctor!" Kathryn called out sharply.  And then lighting on a less suspicious tack, she suggested, "Perhaps you and Seven could use my bedroom so that I might have a word with Commander Chakotay? Just send her out when you're ready for me."

"Of course, Captain," he nodded.  "And, Captain?" he added gently. "If that's coffee, could you go a little easy on it until you get something more substantial in your stomach?"

Having just started to take another sip, Kathryn glanced down at the mug and back up at the Doctor before bringing the mug away from her lips and nodding in agreement. She turned to the replicator now and replaced the coffee with an apple juice, surreptitiously glancing at Chakotay over her shoulder.

The ruse seemed to work. As soon as Seven and the Doctor were out of the room, Chakotay let down his own command mask and adopted the warmer tones of friendship and trust when he and Kathryn spoke in private. Kathryn felt a little guilty pretending that she had wanted to be alone with him, but she had needed desperately to avoid the Doctor blurting out the results of his scans in Chakotay's presence.

"Kathryn, you look......" he interrupted himself, suddenly unable to admit to his friend how horrible she looked.

Kathryn smiled placing a calming hand on his chest and admitting, "It was like hell, Chakotay. But.....we'll be all right now. The hardest part was not knowing if you'd been able to get the ship to safety."

"It was a close call. We tried outrunning the storm, but it was coming on fast. All we could do was reinforce shields and let it hit. When that happened, we got the ride of our lives. The damn thing jettisoned us almost fifty light years away."

"Injuries?" Kathryn interjected.

"Several. Two of them serious but thankfully no fatalities -- unless plasma conduits count. We had to repair all kinds of structural and warp core damage before we could make tracks back here to rescue you and Seven." He paused, shaking his head sadly and looking at her frail body again. "I'm sorry, Kathryn.  We worked non-stop, and it still took so much longer than we wanted it to......We should have double stocked the supplies we sent down."

Kathryn seemed to flinch at that last comment, and then her expression froze, unreadable.

Chakotay frowned and was about to inquire when the sound of Kathryn's bedroom door caught his attention. He turned to see Seven walking towards them.

"The Doctor is ready for you now, Captain."

Kathryn seemed to steel herself before she nodded and began moving towards the bedroom, and again Chakotay frowned. He also noticed that when the two women passed each other, Kathryn reached out to squeeze Seven's arm, as if in a gesture of support, and mumbled something to her.  But when Seven nodded in response, there was something too abrupt and businesslike about it.  And then he guessed that Kathryn wasn't asking if Seven was all right; she was giving the Borg instructions of some kind, and that idea unaccountably unnerved the Commander as he watched the Captain retreat into her bedroom.

When she had left, he turned to Seven. "Well, did you get a clean bill of health?" he asked curiously but trying to seem nonchalant.

Seven understood his meaning, but she had also caught on that Chakotay was beginning to worry about Kathryn's behavior. So to distract him, she quirked a brow and became deliberately obtuse in her quintessentially Borg fashion. "I was not served with any kind of 'bill', Commander: 'clean' or otherwise. Please explain."

Chakotay sighed. "It's just an expression, Seven. All I was asking was what the Doctor had concluded about your health."

"He concluded what I expected him to conclude: I am undernourished, will need to consume some nutritional supplements immediately, and then I must return to Cargo Bay 2 and regenerate for a week.  I regret that my condition will continue complicating your personnel assignments for Astrometrics.  I had hoped to be able to return to active duty more quickly."

"It isn't a problem, Seven," he said, not caring at all about scheduling at the moment and suddenly wanting more information about their ordeal on the planet. "So," he began inquisitively, "I guess your portable unit held up?"

"Yes, Commander. We were quite fortunate to have it."

"We?" he asked.

Seven cocked her head and after a moment responded.  "The Captain and I could rely only on each other for our mutual survival, so naturally my continued well-being, with the aid of the regeneration device, allowed me to remain functional and assist the Captain in her own efforts to survive." And then, to drive the point home, she added, "We benefitted from the unit because it enabled me to continue performing my duty of protecting the Captain's welfare."

Chakotay seemed to accept the answer, but he was still frowning a bit when Kathryn came back from the bedroom. The Doctor trailed behind, looking somber and concerned for a moment, but he seemed to shake the mood off when he caught Chakotay's inspection.

"Well, Doctor?" Chakotay asked.

"Nothing to report aside from the obvious, Commander. They need food, drink, and rest. Seven needs to regenerate for a week, and I've advised the Captain to remain off duty for at least that long herself, until her body recovers a bit."

"So, Chakotay," Kathryn began with a smile, "would you mind holding onto those reins for just a little longer. The Doctor's right. I'm not feeling quite myself yet and could use the rest."

That mild admission of vulnerability should have been enough to tip the Commander off that something was definitely wrong, but he allowed her soft tones of friendship to lull his suspicions.  "Take as long as you need, Kathryn," he said with a warm smile. "Doctor?" he called, indicating that it was time for them to go.

"Thank you, Chakotay," Kathryn said sincerely. "And thank you, too, Doctor."

*****
What Chakotay did not know was that Kathryn had carefully instructed the Doctor regarding the hologram's required course of action, and she had made it almost threateningly clear that he was not to divert from this course.

First, he was to remain utterly discreet about the results of his scans, neither disclosing nor recording his findings. Second, he was to await the two women in Sickbay where they had arranged to meet in approximately an hour, after Janeway and Seven had eaten something. At that time, he would apply the necessary treatment to remove all physiological traces of how the two women had managed their survival.

"And then," the Captain had continued in her lowest, most menacing register, he was to "forget about the whole thing."

The Doctor had visibly flinched at the stark implication, and he was certain the Captain meant it: if he did not comply, she would erase his memories of the event, as she had done once before when the memory of an impossible medical decision the hologram had been forced to make had caused the equivalent of an emotional breakdown in his programming.

Seven had been occupied with Chakotay when the Doctor and the Captain had had this discussion, but as she watched Kathryn now, brushing her fingertips pensively over the controls on the medical console in Sickbay, the young woman could tell what her captain was thinking. And when the Doctor retreated into his office to prepare their hypos, Seven saw her chance to register her objection: "Kathryn," she called in a low voice, "I know what you are planning, and......I am asking that you reconsider.......I am asking that you trust the Doctor.....please."

Kathryn went to where Seven was sitting on the end of one of the biobeds and returned the young woman's imploring gaze with one of her own.  "I haven't come to any decisions yet, Seven, and I know how you feel about this. But it isn't about trusting the Doctor. Chakotay seemed suspicious, and he may press the point, and I just don't know if the Doctor would be able to resist saying something if Chakotay commanded him to report his findings."

"Then we should simply prepare for that contingency."

Kathryn misunderstood Seven's meaning and began running with the idea she thought the young woman was suggesting: "You mean like a conditional program. A covert subroutine in the Doctor's programming that could erase these memories only if and when they are about to be revealed.  Can you do that?"

"Yes, but -- "

"But you need a trigger," Kathryn interrupted, again misunderstanding.

Seven relented, deciding to let the conversation run its course in the hopes that Kathryn would see the absurdity of it. "I could use the data transmission sequence," she offered, knowing it would not come to that. "I believe I can design the subroutine to initiate if and when the program accesses the data of these events and tags them for transmission to the Doctor's vocal subroutines."

"So whether he's starting to tell Chakotay what happened or starting to record the information in a medical report to give to Chakotay later, he'd forget about all this immediately.  Is that right?"

"Yes. The memories would be wiped out the instant the Doctor begins to.....betray our secret." Seven intentionally exaggerated the words to convey a too-conspiratorial tone, and that began to do the trick.

"Listen to us. Secrets. Betrayals," Kathryn noted wearily.  Then resting her head on her co-conspirator's shoulder, she admitted, "It's all getting to be a bit much, Darling."

Seven took advantage of the opening and tried again gently:  "There are other alternatives."

Kathryn looked up at the young woman and then immediately averted her eyes.  "I can't," she said simply. Then she felt a warm hand on her chin, drawing her gaze up to connect once again with the loving blue of Seven's eyes.

"I understand that you do not want anyone to find out what we did."

"So you're okay with this?"

"No. The Doctor is sentient, and he is my friend.  I do not wish to assist you in wiping out part of who he is."

"Then why did you suggest the deletion subroutine?"

"I did not suggest it; you misunderstood me." Seven took Kathryn's hand in her own and spoke to her in gentle tones, trying to bring the Captain back to herself. "Kathryn," she began, "I believe you are somewhat delirious from your malnourishment.  You are not reasoning as you normally would. It is in your nature to alter the Doctor's program for his sake, as you did once; but it is not in your nature to take such extreme measures for your sake."

Kathryn felt the truth of it in her weary mind and rubbed her eyes against her rising sense of shame. "Thank you," she managed.

"I understand this is difficult for you. I will help you."

Just then the Doctor returned carrying a tray full of various hyposprays. "Well, here we are. Sorry it took so long, but since your systems are so depleted, I had several more nutritional supplements to prepare in addition to the boosters to help get your digestive systems functioning normally again. And, of course, the resequencing to undo your little solution."

"Doctor," Seven began, "in your medical opinion, did our solution harm the Captain in any way?"

"Hardly. It kept her alive! Well, that and the portable unit I designed for you," he added proudly.

"What about side-effects, Doctor?" Seven continued.  "Could the Captain's physical and mental faculties become impaired in any way by our actions?"

"No, not at all," he asserted with surprise. "I can't even think why the issue would come up!"

"Very well. Then you'd have no reason to report any of this to Commander Chakotay or anyone else on Voyager, correct?"

"I've already given my word that I wouldn't," he responded, feeling a little defensive.

"Doctor," Kathryn finally chimed in, "Seven is asking you these questions because I'm concerned that you might feel compelled to give the Commander a full report if he orders you to."

"I understand, Captain," he said solemnly. "And I promise you, my ethical subroutines would not permit me to betray doctor-patient confidences even in response to a direct order except under the circumstances that Seven's questions were hinting at: if you were suffering from a condition that impaired your ability to command. And that simply isn't the case here."

"Thank you, Doctor."

"However," he added quickly, beginning to administer the hyposprays to the two women.

"Yes," Kathryn responded cautiously.

"I think you are a bit more.....anxious than usual, Captain.....which is certainly to be expected. But I think I should adjust your course of treatment nonetheless."

"How do you mean?"

"Clearly, you and Seven have.....bonded......emotionally, I mean. I think a separation your first night back on Voyager would be unnecessarily difficult for you, and I really see no harm to Seven if she delays her long regeneration cycle a few hours more......provided you're in your alcove by 0600 tomorrow, Seven," he cautioned.

The two women eyed each other a moment, an almost giddy sort of relief beginning to play on their faces.

"Are you sure there's no danger to Seven in waiting," Kathryn asked hopefully.

"None at all, Captain," he smiled. "Just don't......over-exert yourselves."

*****
Within an hour, the two women were happily tangled together in the cozy center of Kathryn's bed. And just before their weariness overcame them, Seven nuzzled Kathryn's hair and muttered inquisitively, "Are you not glad now that you refrained from tampering with the Doctor's memory matrix?"

"Yes," Kathryn mumbled back drowsily, "he's a nice holoprogram."

Seven smiled and kissed Kathryn's temple. Then the two of them contentedly drifted off to sleep.


Part 3

Seven and Kathryn had awoken in time to install the young woman in Cargo Bay 2 by 0600 the following morning, Kathryn bidding her fond dreams and granting her an even fonder kiss before the Borg initiated the lengthy regeneration cycle.  That had been six days ago. And as Kathryn watched the young woman now, she considered (not for the first time) interrupting the cycle just so she could hear Seven's voice again. Kathryn missed the young woman -- craved talking with her, touching her, making love to her.  And her need for Seven had become more acute as the secret they shared distanced Kathryn from the rest of her crew.  Concerned that her expression had become too readable, Kathryn had retreated more and more. By about the end of the third day, she spent all of her time alone either in her own quarters or else watching Seven for long hours in Cargo Bay 2, as she was now.

Everyone had sensed the rift even before the Captain's actual retreat. It had begun as a kind of distant look in her eyes. And perhaps that was the most perplexing aspect of her behavior: that for the first time anyone could ever remember, the formidable, proud, and even arrogant Captain Janeway could not look her own crew members in the eye.

Chakotay had noticed the Captain's evasive gaze more than the others.  He considered that Kathryn had been acting oddly since the first day they were rescued, but he had, nevertheless, kept trying to convince himself that she simply needed time to readjust to life back on Voyager, especially after the trauma of being stranded for so long and, apparently, starving......perhaps very nearly to death.

Except that they shouldn't have been starving. He had rechecked the emergency log entries recently, and the manifest clearly indicated that the crew had managed to pack enough rations to last the two women for about eight weeks -- even longer, in their case, since Seven wouldn't have needed much while she was using the P.R.U. Try as he might, he couldn't explain this away, nor could he continue rationalizing Kathryn's peculiar, almost deceitful behavior. Her report of their ordeal was considerably shorter and less detailed than it should have been, and it was full of gaps, particularly regarding the supplies.

But if they hadn't found the supplies, as Chakotay had now begun to suspect, how had Kathryn survived? Only Seven would have made it without food since she had the protection of the regen unit. And Seven had said "We"! She had said that both she and Kathryn had been lucky to have the unit, and then she had tried to cover up the admission with some lame logic about her well-being contributing to the Captain's well-being. The only way Kathryn could have benefitted from the unit was if she had used it herself to stay alive, and the only way she could have used it.......

Chakotay's Maquis instincts detected subterfuge, and this deeply offended his sensibilities as -- he thought -- Kathryn's friend. The best response, he decided, was to approach the matter as First Officer.  He had checked the ship's computer to make certain the Captain wasn't in Sickbay and was unsurprised to discover she was once again in Cargo Bay 2.  He allowed that their ordeal had thrown Kathryn and Seven even closer together, but the bond between them seemed almost obsessively close now, even secretive. He needed, finally, to know their secret.  He would use his command rank to get the Doctor to give him the un-abridged results of his medical scans, since Chakotay was now convinced that Kathryn had ordered the Doctor to withhold information about how they had survived. Whatever it took, he would get that information. He needed to find out if they had done something that could ultimately endanger Voyager. It was his duty to find out.

*****
The following morning, Kathryn found herself again in Cargo Bay 2 at several minutes before 0600 hours, the time Seven was scheduled to come out of her long regeneration cycle. Kathryn was almost desperate with anticipation. She felt that once Seven was back with her, everything would return to normal. She had even put on her Starfleet uniform, intending to retake command of the ship again when Alpha shift started. It was high time. And all she wanted now was a quiet breakfast with Seven and a warm embrace from her.....to start off her day.....to start her own life anew.

"Regeneration cycle complete," came the feminine voice of the computer.

Seven stepped out of her alcove and blinked once before noticing the smaller woman smiling up at her. She smiled back and then quirked a brow. "That is precisely where you were when I began the cycle.  Have you been there the whole time, Kathryn?" she quipped.

"Yes," Kathryn purred back through her grin, "the whole time, my love."

Seven stepped down off the dais and pulled Kathryn into a warm embrace. "You did not.....recover," she observed acutely.

"No," Kathryn admitted. "Not the way you mean. But I did rest. Actually, I barely left my quarters," she said, trying to sound proud of it as if staying off-duty was what she had needed to accomplish.

Seven was not fooled. "You did not engage in any social activities with the crew?"

Kathryn turned away. Then after a moment, she turned back. "I will now that you're back beside me. Let's go have some breakfast. Okay?"

"In the messhall?" Seven queried, pressing the issue.

"Uhm.....No.  Not yet. In my quarters today. In the messhall tomorrow."

Seven softened, understanding that Kathryn needed to set her own pace. "Very well."

*****
By 1100 hours, Kathryn was back in her Ready Room, starting to allow the routine of her duties to wash away the weeks of feeling cast adrift and the days of.....of trying to forget.

In fact, she had almost enjoyed the early-morning senior staff meeting -- especially with Seven there and everyone welcoming her back -- but Chakotay's silent brooding had made it impossible for her actually to enjoy herself. She knew he sat out there on the Bridge now, brooding still; but she was acutely aware of how much she needed not to know what he was thinking.

Anyway, she thought, Seven was in her company at the moment, delivering an Astrometrics report. And as the lovely young woman droned on in her delightfully uninflected Borg diction, Kathryn permitted herself the indulgence of clasping her hands behind her head, lounging back in her desk chair, and surveying her crew member from the glint of the young woman's implanted left brow to the slight bulge of her irresistible inner thighs -- the limit of Kathryn's field of vision from behind the desk (but hardly the limit of her imagination, she smirked).

"What?" Seven asked after a moment, interrupting her own report.

"What, what?" Kathryn rejoined perplexed.

"You are grinning at me, Captain."

"Oh.....sorry." But both women knew that she wasn't. And they smiled openly at each other for another while until the incongruous chortle of the door disrupted their silent conversation.

"Come," Kathryn called out, still smiling. Her expression froze, however, when she saw Chakotay enter.

He tried to smile back. "Seven," he greeted insincerely. "Captain, here are the personnel updates you requested."

"Thank you," she said, trying to sound businesslike and hoping that was the end of it.

It wasn't.

Chakotay lingered a while, absently rubbing his tattoed brow as he studied the carpet. Then he looked at the two women and continued, trying to sound casual: "I'm curious, Captain. The morning after we rescued you, while you were having breakfast with me in the mess, you joked that you wouldn't have been able to survive much longer without coffee. Weren't you able to make some with the drinking water you found and the couple of kilos of dehydrated coffee we were able to pack away for you at the last minute in the supplies we sent down?"

Kathryn was stymied for a moment. She sensed she was being tested but wasn't certain how she should answer. She decided there wouldn't have been time nor any possible justification for adding something so frivolous as coffee to the emergency supplies they sent down.

Once resolved, she tried to adopt a surprised tone and responded, "There wasn't any coffee among the supplies you sent us, Chakotay."

His lips quirked up a bit -- restrained, but still seeming a bit too pleased with himself, Kathryn thought -- and then he admitted: "You're right. That was a bad bluff. But you still took a little too long to answer." Then taking a deep breath, he began, more seriously, "You haven't been honest with me since the day we rescued you, Kathryn. And I'm worried about what that means.....about what you and Seven did down there and about possible risks to this crew as a result of your actions."

Kathryn's almost fearful expression became stony at that last comment, and in captainly tones she commanded, "What the hell are you talking about?"

Chakotay eyed the two women before answering. "I can't say for sure, Kathryn, but your evasiveness every time I've brought up the supplies, your failure to mention anything specific about them in your report, and your hesitation just now lead me to think that you were never able to recover the provisions we sent down to you. Which means that.....you should be dead right now, Kathryn. Seven could have survived. She had the regeneration unit. But you." He took a breath. "Seven let it slip that you both used the unit."

"No," Seven broke in. "What I said, explicitly, Commander, is that the Captain and I both benefitted from my having and being able to use the unit."

"Yes, I know: because it kept you healthy enough to 'assist the Captain', to 'protect her welfare'.  Sorry, Seven.  That's just not enough of an explanation. But I'll tell you what is." He paused, carefully studying both women before declaring his suspicions. "I think once you ran out of the minimal rations you had in your personal packs, you clearly had no choice, Kathryn. You needed to use Seven's regeneration unit to survive, and the only way you could have done that is if......if Seven assimilated you."

"That is not what happened, Commander," Seven insisted. She looked at Janeway for support, but the Captain remained silent, waiting for Chakotay to finish, and she felt that he wasn't.

"I also suspect you tampered with the Doctor's program."

"We did not!" Seven asserted indignantly.

Chakotay spoke over her objection. "I ordered him repeatedly to tell me about your scans, but he seemed to get stuck in some kind of feedback loop about 'doctor-patient privilege'.  Very clever programming.  It has all the earmarks of Borg ingenuity. Correct, Seven?"

"No!"

"Stop attacking her, Chakotay!" Janeway finally broke in.

"Kathryn, I understand why she did what she did. It was the only way you could have survived! But you need to be honest with me! We need to figure out what this will mean.....for Seven's possible control over you, for your future susceptibility to the Borg hive mind. This could put Voyager at risk, Kathryn! You know that!"

"I did not assimilate Captain Janeway," Seven repeated anxiously.  "I.....I....." She suddenly bit back her words and looked at Kathryn wide-eyed and slightly embarrassed to have been so close to revealing more.

"What?" Chakotay demanded. Then turning to Kathryn, more urgently, "What did Seven do to you, Kathryn?! Please, tell me!"

Kathryn stiffened and raised her chin a bit more, demanding that her body evince the dignity that she felt certain her words were about to betray.  Then in her deep, steady command voice, she finally answered Chakotay's question.

"She adjusted her nanoprobes so that her body would produce what I needed to survive. And then.....she fed me......in the most natural way a woman has for feeding another human being."

*****
Chakotay had stared back at Kathryn a long while, mouth agape as the words registered and the truth sank in. Before he could say anything more, however, Kathryn had silently risen from her chair and left, retreating once more to the solitude of her cabin.  Chakotay now looked at Seven, trying to comprehend what he had heard.

"How?"

Seven's head was downcast, eyes brimming with tears. "As she said, I reprogrammed my nanoprobes to induce lactation."

"And how did she......did she......"

"She did what was necessary to survive, Commander," Seven said simply. "The details are irrelevant."

Chakotay licked his dry lips and considered aloud, "I've never seen her run out of her own Ready Room like that."

Seven took a breath. "What will you do now?" she asked, trying to keep the anxiety from her voice.

Chakotay picked up on her meaning and flinched.  "I understand that I need to keep this quiet, Seven.  Kathryn and I have been friends a long time.  She knows she can trust me. She knows I wouldn't do anything to hurt her."

"You have just forced her to admit something she clearly did not want you to hear," the Borg noted with acute precision. "Perhaps she knows differently now."

The words fell heavily on Chakotay, but he understood that the mantle of command sometimes forced one's duty to ship and crew to override one's duty to a friend. And he was certain Kathryn understood that, even if Seven didn't.  "I'm sorry, Seven, but I had to make certain the ship wasn't in danger from whatever might have happened down there."

"I understand," Seven rejoined. "It is I you do not trust. My Borg technology. Perhaps in time, however, you will understand. Perhaps in time you will learn to trust what I feel for Kathryn."

Seven didn't explain further. She didn't have to. Chakotay already guessed her meaning from the heartfelt tone with which she inflected Kathryn's name, with too much emotion to be uttered in anything more than a whisper.


Part 4

Kathryn sat solemnly in the dark of her living area. She was coiled in the corner of her couch again -- a favorite spot -- angled toward the window so she could watch the star bursts glinting past.  She had peeled down to her plain purple shirt, suddenly despising the incongruity of her command tunic. Try as she might to accept what happened as -- how did Seven put it? -- "an efficient means of survival," she just couldn't get past the fact that she was a Starfleet captain who had allowed herself to be suckled like some helpless babe.

She now found herself slipping her hand pensively under the purple fabric and cupping her own breast. Forcing herself to remember and willing herself to accept.

*****
Day 1

After cutting the comm link, Kathryn and Seven had barely had time to pick up their belongings and move away from the mouth of the cave, for deeper cover, before the storm hit with a fury and intensity neither of them had ever imagined possible.

"Did things just get suddenly very grim?" Kathryn queried rhetorically.

"Captain?" Seven asked, in her efficiently condensed fashion.

It was the fragment of a conversation they had many times, so Kathryn understood Seven's meaning perfectly. The expanded version went something like this:  'I find that you are being quite cryptic again, Captain. Would you explain what you just said so that I may determine if and how best to respond to you?' Kathryn smiled to herself.

"I was just wondering if this is going to be as ominous as it already seems. Chakotay said it was a huge storm. It could last days, even weeks, and we could be stuck in here without the extra supplies, assuming they'll even survive this." She sighed against the gloomy prospect she just outlined. "Let's see what we have to work with," she instructed, motioning to the personal packs and instruments they had brought.

With the Away teams working long hours on the planet and under such inhospitable conditions, the Captain had commanded that all members be equipped with individual, emergency-supply packs. As they laid out the contents of their own packs now, Kathryn was deeply grateful with herself for that little bit of caution. She had already guessed what was in them and was not disappointed: standard Starfleet issue for an emergency overnight, including a liter of water, one bedroll, a med kit, a miniature tool kit, a personal hygiene kit, a plate, cup, utensils, and heating unit in case the environment provided something edible, and three ration bars in case it did not.  Each ration bar provided the nutritional equivalent of one meal, so the three-bar supply was meant to replace a day's worth of food, although Kathryn knew it could be stretched to three days without severely depleting one's system.

Seven was less optimistic:  "You will not last long on six ration bars, Captain."

"I have only three bars," she immediately countered, understanding Seven's meaning.

"And I have the portable unit. Its regenerative properties will supply the nutrients I need for the duration."

"Nevertheless, those are your ration bars."

"Nevertheless, I will not use them," she said simply.

Kathryn gritted her teeth but did not bite back, deciding it was better to assume that Seven's mockery had been unintentional.  "What else have we got?" she continued, surveying their uniform holsters now. "The two tricorders and two phasers, our mining helmets, the hand picks, the mineralogy kit....and....." she paused looking around some more.

"And," Seven added unhelpfully, "several samples of  'pretty' crystals that we will, no doubt, become extremely tired of  'admiring' before this is over."

Kathryn studied the impudent young woman for a long while.  At times, Seven's sarcasm made Kathryn feel remarkably petulant for a Starfleet officer, and when that happened, she had to fight hard to keep herself from throttling the young Borg.  "Seven," she commanded, after a moment, "I want you to remove the portable unit."

"But the Doctor -- "

"The Doctor wanted you to test it, but it's too late for that now. It's either going to work or not.  Since you don't need it at the moment to regenerate, I'm ordering you to take it off....because your wearing it is driving me crazy," she explained menacingly.

Seven quirked a brow but did not protest further. Instead, she did as she was told and found herself quite relieved to remove the torturous device, feeling her mood lighten almost immediately. "Thank you, Captain," she conceded with a slightly embarrassed smile.

Janeway nodded absently, having pulled out her tricorder to scan their surroundings. "I'm reading a water source nearby, about fifty meters." She increased the intensity of her helmet light and motioned towards the interior of the cave. "Let's see how lucky we are."

*****
Day 3

As crisis situations went, Kathryn conceded that she and Seven were, in fact, quite lucky. The water source her scans had detected was a heated spring in a large, interior cavern where the ground was softer and the surroundings generally more hospitable. They had decided to set up their base camp there -- once they had ascertained that the water was drinkable.  At first, Kathryn thought that it wouldn't be, noticing that the spring seemed to luminesce, which might indicate toxic contaminants. But Seven analyzed the water further and determined that the microorganisms in the spring had phosphorescent properties. She had then devised a way to filter them out of their drinking water.

Janeway studied the water now, acutely aware of the two days of grime that had deposited itself on her body and desperately needing something to occupy her vivid imagination, which had already conjured a thousand different ways that the ion storm could have disrupted Voyager's systems, destroying her beloved ship and crew.....and leaving her and Seven to starve slowly to death on this desolate piece of rock.

Kathryn shook those images out of her head again and forced her thoughts onto other matters.

"Seven?"

"Yes, Captain?"

"Is there any danger in our bathing in this water -- even without its being filtered?"

"Actually, Captain, there's no real harm in even drinking it as it is. You were the one who indicated that you'd find it more palatable if you did not have to worry about, as you put it, 'shiny little fellows swimming around inside'."

Janeway nodded absently as she pulled off her uniform tunic. "Well, then, I think I'm going to go for a little swim myself," she announced.

Seven quirked a brow as the Captain began to lift up her T-shirt.

Sensing the Borg's eyes on her, Janeway became suddenly self-conscious and froze in her actions. "Uhm.....aren't you going to take a dip, too?"

"No, Captain. I will just watch."

Seven thought she caught a very odd little sound emanating from the Captain's throat, and she noticed, too, that the smaller woman was visibly distressed by this suggestion, her complexion turning remarkably like the color of her tunic.

"Seven," Janeway began patiently, "it isn't really polite to watch someone else engage in something so private as a bath."

"You gave me the choice of joining you, Captain, so how is this bath 'private'?"

Janeway sighed. "Close friends may occasionally bathe together as a casual pastime while they have a conversation."

"And do they not look at each other while they engage in this 'pastime'?"

"It's different," Janeway asserted, not quite sure how to explain the subtleties. Not quite sure, herself, how she learned where to draw the line between social taboos and allowances.

"All right, Captain," Seven relented. "If it will make you feel more comfortable." She immediately reached behind her neck to unfasten her suit and then began to undress.

Janeway shyly averted her eyes and began disrobing again herself, but she felt no less awkward as she sensed the Borg's eyes still boring into her. Deciding that she'd feel better once she was under cover of the water, she quickened her pace and then rushed into the spring, stumbling clumsily on a bit of slippery rock but managing to maintain her balance until she was neck-deep in the shimmering warmth of the pool. She then caught Seven out of the corner of her eye gingerly entering the pool with a great deal more calm and grace than the older, wiser, more experienced Starfleet captain had managed.  That thought made Janeway smirk, ruefully noting the irony that she should feel so foolish simply because she had a well cultivated sense of decorum whereas Seven's ignorance allowed the young woman to take their nakedness in stride with a kind of maturity that actually shamed the Captain.

Try as she might, however, Janeway was having trouble letting go of that sense of decorum. And the Borg's continued gaze wasn't making things easier.  "Seven, could you please stop ogling me?"

Seven quirked her brow again. "Did you not say it would be acceptable to watch if I joined you?"

"That's not quite what I said, no. I can understand your being curious, but can't you be more subtle? A surreptitious peek is one thing, but people don't just stare at each other's bodies in such open appraisal.....not if they're just friends, anyway."

"Ah, I'm beginning to understand, Captain.  'Ogling' you is a privilege that should be reserved only for someone with whom you copulate. Correct?"

Janeway winced, beginning to rue the entire idea of the bath.  "Yes, something like that."

"Do you wish me to turn away from you then?"

"No, Seven," she responded tiredly. "Just try to maintain eye contact. That's the polite thing to do."

"Very well." Seven still did not quite understand the Captain's discomfort and considered that perhaps the smaller woman was for some reason embarrassed about her body. Reviewing her social training, she decided that the 'polite thing to do' would be to put the Captain at ease.

"Captain?"

"Yes?" Janeway cautiously responded.

"I wish you to know that having studied your physical features as carefully as I was able before you informed me that it was inappropriate, I have come to the conclusion that your body is quite.......beautiful."

Janeway was completely taken off guard by the comment, and, knowing it to be earnest, she felt something pleasant flutter in her chest. "Thank you," she managed, feeling very sincere herself.  She spent the next several minutes in companionable silence with Seven, luxuriating in the warm water.....and in the warm flattery.

After a short while, they eased into a conversation about swimming, with Janeway demonstrating a few simple strokes, and Seven mimicking them and catching on rather quickly. But when the Captain tried to teach the young woman how to float, Seven was dismayed to discover that she was not buoyant, the metal in her body weighing her down too much for her to stay afloat.

Having been unnerved by Seven's sprawled nakedness, Janeway was secretly relieved when the young woman gave up the effort to float. With a little more distance between them now, however, she allowed her eyes to return occasionally to Seven's voluptuous form -- convincing herself, as she had told the young woman, that there was nothing wrong with a few discreet glances to satisfy curiosity. But what she saw next absolutely fixated her gaze.

Seven had apparently decided she'd had enough and had glided over to the rock shelf that jutted out from the shoal where they had entered the spring. Since that section was shaded a bit from their artificial lights, the phosphorescent properties of the pool's tiny creatures seemed to take more effect there. So when Seven pulled herself out of the spring in one swift motion, landing in a kneeling position with her curled body profiled toward Janeway, the water cascaded off her sculpted form in a rain of liquid light. And when, in the next instant, she flipped her wet hair from front to back in one rounded sweep until her body arched, the water splayed off the glistening, golden strands in a fine, luminescent arc as more shimmering rivulets glowed off her perfect breasts and sent a shower of sparkles down the plateau of her abdomen. It was a breathtaking display of water, light, flesh, and motion that had lasted only moments, but somehow Janeway knew that this perfect vision of Seven would remain forever etched in her memory.

"Beautiful," she whispered to herself, forgetting about the young Borg's enhanced hearing.

Seven caught the appraisal and turned sharply toward the Captain. Then she simply smiled, picked up her clothing, and walked away, not really minding that her friend's glance had become a gaze.

*****
Day 6

To occupy the bulk of their time, the two women had set up a kind of field lab to test the properties of the crystalline samples they were still collecting and cataloging at the Captain's insistence. It was a pastime Kathryn appreciated, and Seven indulged her simply because there was little else to do.

But what Seven actually relished the most were the evenings, when Kathryn became wistful and nostalgic.  For it was during those quiet moments of shared remembering that Kathryn began to let down her command mask, began letting herself reveal to Seven a little more of the woman behind the Captain. It was superficial at first:  reminiscences of her youth. It began with Kathryn telling Seven how their little spring reminded her of swimming the quarries on Mars Colony as a child, then telling her stories about her sister Phoebe and of her days at the academy. Eventually the stories turned to more personal accounts, Kathryn telling Seven about her assignment as a junior science officer aboard the Icarus and how she and Admiral Paris had been captured and beaten by the Cardassians, Kathryn barely escaping torture; Admiral Paris not.

Seven had been unaccountably unsettled by the story, vexed by emotions so intense and so radically varied that they confused her: white-hot rage warring with an almost crippling sympathy and desire to heal.

Kathryn understood what Seven was feeling, even if Seven did not. "Let it go, Seven," she had advised gently. "You can't protect me from my past.  Just.....let it go."

Kathryn's openness had emboldened Seven, encouraging her to ask still more personal questions she would never before had thought to ask the Captain. And the one question she had found herself most curious to explore was why the Captain did not "copulate."

Kathryn smiled at the question, no longer shocked or surprised by Seven's directness. Then she had proceeded to tell Seven about her previous lovers: Cheb, her first -- "young and inexperienced but terribly sweet and well-meaning" -- Mark, her last -- her "dear old 'Hobbes'" for most of her youth and her fiancé when Voyager disappeared in the Badlands; but he had since moved on, as Kathryn had discovered the year before when they had been able to make contact with the Alpha Quadrant.

And in-between, there had been another fiancé: Justin Tighe.  Seven already knew from personnel reports that Captain Janeway had been testing an experimental vessel with her father, Edward Janeway, and her fiancé Justin in the cold climes of Tau Ceti Prime when a mishap crashed the ship and sent both men to a watery death. She had also sensed that there was more to that tale, but all Kathryn had said at the moment was "Justin died." That had been two days before.

They sat in their usual spots now:  at right angles from each other, facing the cozy, makeshift "campfire" (as Kathryn called it) that they had constructed from hand-sized rocks and radiating phaser bursts. Kathryn was quieter than usual -- perhaps because she had consumed that last piece of the sixth ration bar earlier in the day. Seven had finally convinced Janeway to take all the ration bars, explaining in detail precisely how the portable unit was more than adequately meeting her nutritional and other needs. But Seven had also been right that the bars would not last long. And restricting herself to only one bar a day seemed only to make Kathryn hungry and weak much sooner than she had anticipated.  She was huddled into herself now, almost hugging her growling stomach as if trying to hold down some wild child -- restraining and protecting in the same gesture.

Kathryn's expression was distant, however.....and very sad......as though the only way she could temporarily forget her body's distressed condition was to dig deeper into her own memory to find something still more distressing to occupy her mind.  Perhaps that is why when she did begin her storytelling on this evening, she allowed herself to recall the darkest episode of her life:  the incident at Tau Ceti Prime.

Most of what Kathryn told Seven were details the young woman had already known from the data she had read. But now Kathryn revealed details Seven hadn't known. As a result, the emotional impact of Kathryn's witnessing the death of two people she so deeply cared for began to occur to the Borg, who was surprised to find herself blinking back tears as she listened.

"I could have saved them," Kathryn admitted bitterly. "Well, one of them," she added sardonically.

"What do you mean, Kathryn?" Seven asked gently.

"Their section of the ship was sinking quickly, and I had only enough power to transport one of them to safety.  I had to choose. But......I couldn't. Instead, I squandered precious seconds rerouting enough power to the transporter so that I could get them both out.....but I wasn't quick enough. In the time it took to boost the confinement beam, the fuselage sunk beneath the water. Too much interference, too little power:  whatever the reason, I wound up losing them both......and all because I couldn't sacrifice one's life for the sake of the other's. I just couldn't choose, Seven."

Kathryn looked up at Seven, eyes glistening but unable to shed any more tears. All that had remained for Kathryn of the event was a crippling doubt that she confessed openly to Seven now: "I don't think I could ever choose."

Seven understood Kathryn's meaning, understood the import of what she was saying. The Captain was no longer discussing a past failing but rather admitting a profound weakness that still scarred her.  A weakness that had haunted Kathryn Janeway all the years since that terrible incident and that had committed her to her personal course of action here in the Delta Quadrant, where the safety of Voyager always mattered.  Seven understood now that Kathryn had not let herself fall in love with one of her crew because in the likely event of a crisis demanding that she save either her ship or her lover, she was certain she would wind up losing both. Kathryn clearly wanted to avoid putting herself in a situation where she would again have to sacrifice one love for another because she knew she.....could not choose.

"No, Kathryn!" Seven objected, suddenly feeling she could not let Kathryn's self-condemnation stand. "You can choose.  You did choose. You chose that both should live because that is who you are. Because you could not capitulate to mere circumstance, particularly with those you loved.  The rest was beyond your control. But it is not in your nature to yield anyone's life without attempting rescue. You must always choose at least to try, even if the consequences are tragic."

Kathryn was silent for a long while as she looked at Seven uncertainly. And then something seemed to resolve itself unhappily inside her.  "I'm sorry," she said finally, the remorse painfully clear on her strained features and in the sob she held back in her throat.

"For what?" Seven asked, genuinely perplexed.

Kathryn studied her for a beat. And when she had regained enough control, she replied haltingly, "For asking you to join me on this little expedition.....For choosing you."

*****
Day 7

The storm finally abated the following morning, leaving a sharp odor in the air and making Kathryn's skin tingle a bit. They had set out as soon as it was light, using their scanners to try locating the supplies Voyager had sent down.

After a half-hour's hike due-north of their little cave, they came up short at the edge of a huge precipice. Their cavern, they discovered, was at the plateau of an enormous canyon -- a tectonic rift in the planet's surface that was about 500 meters wide, at least twice that in depth, and that seemed to extend forever in either direction.

"There," Seven said, quickly picking out the object with the aid of her ocular implant and pointing a little to the right at the opposite side of the rift. "The torpedo casing is on that ridge, midway down the canyon wall."

Kathryn followed the line of vision until she caught sight of the object:  a familiar splotch in the distance, long and dark against the light hue of the rock.  Then she quietly studied the surroundings. She could see no way across and no way around. And even if they could have gotten to the other side, they had no way of getting down the sheer rock face approximately half a kilometer to the ledge where the supplies had landed. That ledge seemed to mock Kathryn now, displaying its booty.....hopelessly out of her reach.

"I'm sorry, Kathryn," Seven broke in, reporting what the smaller woman had already concluded, "but the supplies are irretrievable."

Kathryn did not respond. She merely turned and began the weary trek back to their cave.

*****
Day 8

Kathryn felt herself slipping into someplace dark and cool and numbing, like a black pool, and she considered for a moment that she might actually be dying, although the analytical part of her brain told her that it was too soon for that. She then felt a gentle nudge pulling her back into consciousness. After rubbing her eyes into focus, she saw -- an angel?

"Oh, it's only you," she said to Seven, sounding almost disappointed.

"Who else would it be, Kathryn?" Seven frowned.

"Never mind," she said, pulling herself up with some effort into a sitting position on her bedroll. "What's wrong? Why did you wake me?"

"Kathryn, I have found a solution to your problem," Seven began, sounding happy and relieved. "I've modified my nanoprobes to produce the nutrients you require."

Janeway took a while before responding, taking time out to drink some water and even splash a little on her face for extra coherence. She took a moment more to study the young woman, who was just patiently kneeling next to the Captain's bedroll.  Then she sneered, deciding that she knew what Seven was getting at and that she was not desperate enough yet to accept her 'solution'.

"I'm not going to let you use your assimilation tubules on me, Seven.  Besides, I don't need a shot of nutrients. I need food."

"I understand that you are starving, Kathryn," Seven countered gently. "It is my intention to alleviate your hunger as well."

"How?"

"By feeding you."

"How?" Kathryn returned, more impatiently.

"My nanoprobes are processing your nutrients in a liquid form that you'll be able to ingest, thereby dissipating some of your hunger."

The urgency in Kathryn's tone betrayed her hunger:  "What 'liquid'? Where?"

Seven carefully reached around and picked up a cup from the flat rock sitting behind her. She then gingerly held the cup out to Kathryn and continued:  "I have programmed my nanoprobes to stimulate lactation in my mammary glands.  You can survive by drinking my breast milk."

Kathryn had started to reach automatically for the offered cup and then froze in her motion. "Your what?" she said shocked.

"My breast milk?" Seven responded less certainly.

Kathryn pulled her hands back abruptly and peered skeptically into the cup. She felt herself becoming suddenly dizzy from the whirl of conflicting emotions agitating her in two directions. Her throat felt dry and tight with fear yet her mouth had moistened in anticipation of an impossible taste. Even while her body craved the sustenance, however, she was overwhelmed by the number of unsavory implications of what Seven was proposing. And that it was Seven making the offer made it both more palatable and more revolting.....because it meant exploiting the person who was beginning to matter more to Kathryn than she could dare admit.

"I can't do what you want," she said with ambivalent conviction.

Seven frowned. She could see Kathryn was upset, which troubled her immensely since she had expected the hungry woman to be elated that such a workable solution could be found.  Less certain now, Seven carefully restated her solution as a request:  "All I want is for you to ingest my breast milk."

"I......I can't feed off of you, Seven," Kathryn said, shaking her head in sad disbelief. "I can't let you artificially alter your poor body just so it can sustain me. It's so unnatural."

Seven quirked a brow in genuine confusion. "I do not understand your reaction, Kathryn. My nanoprobes regularly inhibit several of my body's given physiological functions -- perspiration, urination, menstruation -- yet you have never labeled that 'unnatural'. And now that I allow the nanoprobes to induce one of my body's basic functions, this is what you consider 'unnatural'? Explain."

"You pick the oddest times for a philosophical discussion." She looked almost imploringly at Seven, feeling too tired to explain and willing her to understand. "I just can't."

"But.....you need it, Kathryn," Seven insisted gently.

"No."

"To survive."

"No, Seven," she repeated with more conviction. "That's Harry Kim's puerile fantasy, not mine."

"I do not understand why you would criticize Ensign Kim when he is not here to defend himself, but I believe his fantasy would not include a cup!" Seven tried to take a calming breath before continuing. "Kathryn, I anticipated that you would be uncomfortable drawing the milk out yourself, which is why I expressed it for you. It is less efficient, but -- "

"Stop," Kathryn interrupted. She pressed her palms to her face against the building pressure of the headache that had started just behind her eyes. Then, looking at Seven, she tried again more patiently. "You can't just apply cold, detached analysis to everything you do, Seven. This has emotional repercussions, as it would for the rest of the crew when they found out."

"The crew would understand you needed it."

"No. It's a sign of weakness."

"It is just breast milk, Kathryn."

"It's too.....humiliating!"

"But it is your only means of survival!"

"No!"

"Kathryn!"

"No, damn it!  End of discussion!" Kathryn commanded loudly, rising to her feet and pulling away a few paces.  She considered ruefully that she had perhaps let the already presumptuous Borg become too familiar with her these past few days.  And feeling suddenly defensive, she forced her command mask to come crashing down between them, hoping it would provide the fortress she needed between her weakened will on the one side and Seven's solution and her own hunger on the other. Carefully gathering herself behind that mask now, she raised her chin at Seven and warned menacingly, "I forbid you to bring it up again!"

"You forbid?!" Seven yelled incredulously, tears of pain and anger welling up in her eyes. She turned away, covering her mouth for control and cradling the cup to her bosom in an odd little gesture to protect it from Kathryn's brusque refusal.  She could not understand why she was reacting this way, but she felt suddenly vulnerable, Kathryn's rejection searing white-hot against her typically cool temperament.

Kathryn was stunned and even more incensed by Seven's reaction.  "Yes! I forbid! I'm still your Captain!"

Seven stiffened.  "And when you are dead," she asked solemnly, "will you still be my Captain?"

*****
Day 10

Seven could no longer tolerate the painful pressure of the milk collecting in her breasts. So despite Kathryn's orders, she had again begun expressing the liquid, for her own sake this time, until her breasts were voided. Then, unable to bring herself to discard it knowing that Kathryn desperately needed its nutrients, even if Kathryn herself was still unwilling to accept that she was starving to death without it, Seven left the cup of milk on one of the flat rocks flanking their little hearth. After that, she had retreated again to her new location past the mineral spring and just around the bend, where she had repositioned her bedroll the previous day after Kathryn had demanded that Seven leave her alone.

When Kathryn awoke, Seven was nowhere in sight:  'probably hiding from me again', Kathryn thought ruefully. She despised her own behavior towards Seven, but she despised even more what Seven was asking her to do. And it was becoming harder to reject Seven's offer as time passed, which made her begin almost to resent the young woman for tempting her with a solution that she felt sure she could not live with later.

Wearily, she wiped the sleep from her eyes and then noticed the cup on the rock. Something in her recoiled and stiffened. Sensing what was inside it, Kathryn approached the cup carefully.

From her part of the cave, Seven heard the scream of rage and the loud clank of metal hitting the rock wall. She closed her eyes and sighed.

*****
Day 12

"Damn it, Seven! I'm sick of this! I'm a Starfleet captain; not some infant who needs to be breastfed!" Kathryn screamed, flinging yet another cup of milk at the cave wall, this time just missing Seven's head.  Driven mad by hunger and tormented by Seven's relentless offerings, Kathryn had taken to reviling the young woman. That torment now became cruelty. "How could I expect you to understand," she spat. "You're not even human! And you never will be!"

The words stung, deeper than Kathryn could imagine, but Seven bore them silently, as she had borne everything since the day Kathryn had rejected her offer, had rejected her.

The silence unnerved Kathryn, and she had allowed her cruelty to escalate in the hopes of baiting Seven, but the former Borg's resistance was formidable. She merely picked up the empty cup, as always, and replaced it on a bit of ledge until the next time she would need it.

Kathryn by now had grown considerably weak.  Even these last screams, for all the energy and bile she poured into them, had been nothing more than mere croaks, her dry throat unable to execute the fevered pitch her brain demanded. All she could do now was fume, quietly out of breath, and watch Seven retreat again to what Kathryn had taken to calling 'her new little alcove', which was not inaccurate since that is where the Borg regenerated with the portable unit, as she was preparing to do once more now.

Kathryn wanted to hit something, wanted to lash out in anger and frustration. She looked around for something she could at least throw, and that's when she saw the cup and seized on the idea.  If Seven had nothing into which she could express her milk, she'd have to discard it immediately, which would end Kathryn's torment. So with the last ounces of energy and resolve Kathryn could muster, she methodically collected the two cups and the various casings from their packs that could be used as containers and walked out the cave.

She felt driven now and found herself heading, despite the length of the hike, towards the precipice where her hopes had been dashed the week before. When she finally reached it, she looked to the spot where the supplies had landed, and then with all her might, unable to comprehend that she would fall short of her mark by several hundred meters, Kathryn drew back her arm, and one-by-one flung each of the containers at that spot across the canyon, her bedeviled mind finding a bitter kind of poetic justice in the notion that all her hopes for salvation should lie scattered on the same bit of rock.

***
Several hours later, Seven returned to the main area of the cave, her bosom once again painfully filled with fluid and needing to be emptied. Kathryn was there, lying on her bedroll and looking even more weary and sad than before. Seven went to the rock shelf and immediately noticed the missing cup. She turned a suspicious look on Kathryn. Then, unable quite to read the woman's expression, she began rummaging through the nearest pack for something else to put the milk in.

"Don't bother," Kathryn said in a hoarse and regretful voice.  "I got rid of all of them."

Seven was stunned. Kathryn had thrown out all the containers, and along with them, Seven felt, she had also ejected what hope remained that she would eventually relent. That was suddenly more than Seven could bear. Weary herself from too little regenerative energy, too much battling with the stubborn Captain, and too much anticipatory grief over the smaller woman's likely death from starvation, which seemed all but assured now, Seven crumbled to her knees and began to sob.

Kathryn sat up, distantly aware that her heart ached at seeing Seven so visibly shattered.  She had been boiling with anger and resentment at Seven for days, and the rage had blinded her. She blinked now, looking at Seven for what seemed the first time. The young woman was clearly distraught, although Kathryn couldn't quite figure out why. In her hunger-plagued mind, she had convinced herself that Seven's willful actions were being dictated by her exasperating Borg sense of efficiency and stubborn superiority; now Kathryn sensed something different. She began, by turns, to let a little of the bond they had begun to forge between them to resurface, and as it did, she realized she had hurt Seven in a very profound way.  She approached Seven quietly and knelt down in front of her, eyes questioning, and carefully reached out, gently taking hold of Seven's hands and pulling them away from her face.

Seven looked at her then, eyes full of anguish, and whispered through her tears, "I have lost you, Kathryn. I chose you, too, and I have lost you."

It took only a moment for Kathryn to recognize Seven's words as an echo of her own sentiments, to realize that what lay behind those tears was the same crippling grief that comes when we have allowed our hearts to make choices and those choices turn tragic. She had not considered that Seven's heart was yet capable of making such choices; consequently, she was unprepared for Seven's raw display of emotional pain.  And as soon as she felt it, tears filled her own eyes.

They held each other then, for what seemed an eternity, until their sobs had subsided to whimpering gasps. When they parted, Kathryn studied Seven for long moments. And finally, she declared her need in a plaintive whisper.

"I'm hungry, Seven."

The young woman gasped in mild surprise at the subtle plea in the tone, but she was still uncertain whether the Captain was finally relenting. She carefully reached behind her neck to the fastening on her suit and then paused, looking at Kathryn with a questioning expression.

Kathryn's eyes were fearful but resolute in their appraisal of Seven's eyes. Then she gave a slight nod in assent.

Suddenly nervous herself, Seven swallowed down a lump in her throat, realizing how difficult this was for Kathryn.....and how desperately she needed it. Not wanting to delay her further, the young woman unfastened her suit and peeled it off her body until she was naked to the waist.

Kathryn looked now at Seven's bare breasts, involuntarily licking her dry lips in hungry anticipation. She was suddenly unnerved by her own gesture and recoiled from the naked young woman.

Seven lurched forward and grabbed her frail partner gently by the shoulders to forestall her retreat.  She looked at Kathryn for a long moment, eyes trying to convey calm and affection in the hopes of eliciting trust. Then, when there was nothing more to communicate, she carefully arched her back, reached down with her right hand to cup the nearest breast, and raised herself toward the Captain's mouth.

Slowly, Kathryn lowered herself toward the offered breast and poised her parted lips over Seven's nipple. She decided to draw out only a few drops of Seven's milk first, more to get accustomed to the idea of what she was doing than to get a taste of the liquid. So she gently puckered her lips in a snug fit around the tip and very tentatively sucked the nipple once.  To her dismay, the breast was so full that even this shy request was answered with one thick stream that shot its way to the back of the Captain's throat.  Kathryn sputtered -- from the shock of it rather than from the liquid accidentally going down the wrong way -- and then stole a quick look at Seven.

The young woman seemed unusually strained, not looking at the Captain nor reacting to her near-choking. She was just staring out, head slightly turned away, and holding still, as if trying to pretend she wasn't there so that Kathryn could proceed without embarrassment. Kathryn accepted Seven's gesture and bent down again toward the teat, toward her salvation.

This time, she was less tentative. She began sucking slowly but steadily, three times, allowing a mouthful of liquid to collect on her tongue.  She then pulled back a little considering the taste. Seven's milk was warm and creamy and much sweeter than Kathryn anticipated. The flavor pleased her tastebuds, making her mouth salivate and forcing her grateful throat to swallow convulsively. Tears welled in her eyes, which closed suddenly in a profound prayer of thanks for this blessing.  And as the milk flowed in one exquisite stream down her gullet and into her empty stomach, Kathryn's hunger asserted itself.

She fluttered her eyes open, awakening to her need, and then reached out with both hands and clutched the young woman by the shoulders to hold her possessively in place as she prepared finally to feed her painful hunger.  She then brought her mouth down again to the wellspring of her bliss and began sucking Seven's nipple more rhythmically, drawing the milk noisily into her mouth and not caring at all anymore about how indelicate and unseemly the whole thing might appear. After a short while, Kathryn no longer cared about anything other than the taut, fleshy nubs at her lips -- the little spigots of sustenance that were suddenly, finally, pumping life back into her. And not caring, she became more aggressive -- moving urgently from one teat to the other and back again, trying desperately to fill her stomach in a few, glutinous gulps. As she felt some of her energy returning, Kathryn began to suck still harder, now pulling up hurtfully on the plump nipples, trying to fill her hungry mouth with them and unconsciously biting down and chewing in her instinctual drive to eat.

Seven had winced briefly when Kathryn's sucking had turned aggressive, but she had just as quickly clamped down on any outward sign of pain for fear that Kathryn would recoil with embarrassment and stop feeding. Instead, she gave herself over to Kathryn's need and lovingly held her head in place, stroking encouragement into the auburn strands of hair.

And with a murmur of pleasure, Captain Kathryn Janeway, half crazed from starvation, finally chose life.....finding it in the bosom of a young Borg female who silently adored her.

*****
Day 15

Once Kathryn accepted Seven's solution, the two women settled into the quiet rhythms of necessity, doing what was required for their mutual survival. They returned to some of their old habits, studying the mineral samples, bathing in the warm spring, and telling each other stories. At night, while Kathryn slept her eight hours,  Seven regenerated as best she could on the portable unit, trying to replenish nutrients that now sustained two bodies. And interspersed with the old habits were the newer ones associated with Kathryn's feeding and patterned after the natural cycles of Seven's lactation.

Since Seven's breasts produced almost a cup of milk every four hours, they were painfully full by morning and needed to be voided immediately, a task that Kathryn dutifully and gratefully executed. Then at five-hour intervals throughout the day, when Seven felt her breasts had become full again, she would silently disrobe to the waist, sit on the short ledge along the far wall of the cave, lean back slightly against the cool wall, and turn her head away in an odd little rite she performed to allow Kathryn a bit of "privacy"......and for which, she knew, Kathryn was ineffably grateful.  After a moment, she would feel Kathryn sidle up next to her on the ledge and modestly dip her head down to feed, less painfully than that first time, but no less fervently. It became a solemn ritual between them, executed with reverence and in silence, the formality of it allowing the Captain to retain her dignity, and its execution enabling Seven to sustain her Kathryn.

*****
Day 18

After almost a week of using the tiny energy of the portable regeneration unit to sustain both herself and Kathryn, Seven's own systems had begun to weaken.  She had taken to lying on her side to regenerate, needing the extra bit of rest that the horizontal position afforded. And, increasingly weary, she had begun now to recline even when she wasn't regenerating.  So when the cycle ended on the morning of the eighteenth day of their ordeal, she did not immediately arise, as was her custom. Instead, she just pulled the unit away from the contact nodes and rolled onto her back wanting to rest a little longer.

She had kept her bedroll in the little alcove on the other side of the mineral spring, sensing that the intimate physical contact required for Kathryn's feeding needed to be balanced by a certain judicious distance in other respects, which was also why she hadn't openly declared her feelings for Kathryn nor pressed for other, more intimate contacts. Since they were apart, then, she knew Kathryn would soon start to worry that Seven wasn't up and about yet.  And that would bring her to Seven's part of the cave. Seven did not want to interrupt their routine or make Kathryn feel intrusive, so she carefully prepared herself, unfastening her suit and pulling it off her breasts in quiet indication to the Captain that she should help herself. Then she laid her right arm across her face, both to give Kathryn her time 'alone' and also so that Seven could rest her tired eyes a little longer.

After a short while, Kathryn did come looking for Seven, more out of concern than out of an urgent need to eat. In fact, Seven's careful ministrations had taken the edge off the Captain's hunger. But she had noted from Seven's visible relief during their early-morning sessions that Seven's breasts would become painfully distended with the milk they produced in the longer intervals, at night, when Kathryn did not feed. So she assumed Seven would be experiencing some discomfort if Kathryn did not void her breasts soon after she awakened.

Turning the corner now, she saw Seven still lying on her bedroll, and Kathryn understood that the young woman was growing tired. She suppressed a pang of guilt, driving herself to her task because Seven needed this now, too. The young woman had even prepared herself, peeling back her clothing, as was her habit, to grant Kathryn access to her nipples. Seven's averted eyes were also part of the custom, so when Kathryn saw the arm draped over them, she thought nothing of it. About the only circumstance that was different was that Seven's reclined position meant that Kathryn would have to lie down herself, which she promptly did without any particular reflection on it, slipping an arm around the torso until her hand came to rest on the floor at the other side and then propping herself up over Seven's chest.

Having readied herself in this way, she now readied the young woman's flaccid nipples, as she often had to do, by gingerly licking each bud so that it would stiffen for suckling. Kathryn secretly enjoyed the gesture, and enjoyed even more pulling back a little to watch Seven's nipples respond almost immediately to the stimulation. If there was something slightly inappropriate about her little indulgence, she did not allow herself to contemplate that, nor did Seven protest. In fact, Seven always remained absolutely impassive throughout the entire process. And with the exception of the preparatory swipe with her tongue, Kathryn had tried to restrict her contact with Seven's breasts to the unavoidable joining of her lips to the young woman's nipples. During one of their sessions on about the third or fourth day, however, Seven had been angled away more than usual on the ledge, and her breast kept pulling away from Kathryn's mouth until finally Kathryn had to reach up and hold the breast in place. Seven did not seem to mind that either, so ever since then, Kathryn had gently held the breast she was sucking.

Too weak to continue propping herself up over Seven now, Kathryn allowed more than the usual contact with Seven's body, settling down partly on the floor and partly draped along Seven's side. And with her right hand no longer occupied keeping her propped up over Seven, it resumed its habit of holding the breast that was about to feed. Then, with everyone and everything finally settled, readied, and held in place, Kathryn brought her head down to the expectant nipple and began sucking, Seven's sweet breast milk warmly filling her mouth.

Seven was in a semi-conscious state when she felt a welcome warmth pressing down on her too-cool body.  Then she had felt a familiar sensation, rough and wet, at her nipples, but she couldn't quite place it, couldn't quite connect the sensation to any particular event. What she felt next made her body arch toward the delicious feel of it. There was a gentle, rhythmic tugging at her right nipple that was slowly drawing fluid out of her. She could feel the liquid flowing through her breast, warming its way inside the mass and up through several channels to the nipple as it finally squirted out and mingled with another warm wetness around the outside of the tip.  It was an exquisite feeling, more so since each outpouring progressively relieved some of the painful pressure in her bloated glands.

Still half asleep, Seven was not on her usual guard, not stiff and self-restrained as was her habit when she fed Kathryn. Instead, she was in a relaxed and dreamlike state, not yet realizing what was happening. As a consequence, she allowed herself to moan in loud appreciate of the relief she was being given and automatically reached out to pull the warmth closer to herself in a loving embrace.

Her own utterance made her come awake with a start, pulling her arms away and gasping out an embarrassed "Kathryn!"

Kathryn pulled her head up in mild surprise and studied Seven. It took her only a moment to realize that Seven had been holding back her own pleasure all this time.  How obtuse she suddenly felt.  Of course, Seven would feel slightly aroused by these touches. Yet she had refrained from expressing herself so openly during these delicate interludes because she sensed that the Captain had needed cool detachment to feel a little less vulnerable and dependent.  And that bit of self-control for Kathryn's sake made the older woman consider that maybe there were other unexpressed sentiments, other emotions the young Borg was withholding.

"Seven," she began gently, "please tell me what you're feeling."

Seven's expression was wide-eyed and anxious, obviously concerned that Kathryn might put an end to the feedings if she knew how they were affecting her.  "I cannot!"

"Please tell me," Kathryn pleaded in calm tones.  "I promise I won't run away.  I just need to know what you feel when we do this, when I touch you this way."

"I.....I feel.....love."

Kathryn gasped, apparently dumbstruck, but she was not running away, so Seven pressed her luck a bit more and restated her feelings more accurately:  "I feel love when we do this because.....I am in love with you, Kathryn."

That admission drew the breath out of Kathryn in one startled huff.  And in the next instant, she began darting her eyes over the young woman's face and exposed chest as if reassessing Seven's actions from some new perspective.  Then something seemed to settle itself in Kathryn, something that etched its resolve on her face, which started looming closer to the young woman's. And when she was close enough, Kathryn dipped her head down and whispered "Seven" against the Borg's full lips.  Her breath made contact and, in the next moment, so did her own hungry lips, fastening themselves to Seven's in a passionate kiss.

This touch was different from any Seven had ever felt before from Kathryn. It was not utilitarian in nature; it was hedonistic. Not the unavoidable contact of a feeding but a wanton caress. It was desire.  That realization shook Seven to her core and erupted in a magnificent display of finally unrestrained emotions.  All the long days and nights of suffering Kathryn's rejection and then many more days of denying the magnitude of her feelings so that Kathryn would not turn away from her again, from the sustenance she needed. All this hurt and love that were suddenly more than Seven could bear came bursting out of her in one heartfelt, throaty sob as she joyously gave herself over to the delicious taste of Kathryn's lips on her own.

After a long while savoring the taste of Seven's mouth, Kathryn silently trailed her lips back down to Seven's bosom to resume her feeding, now with the left nipple. This time, however, there was more to her mouth's movements than the motions of ingestion. She allowed herself to nip seductively and to suck a little less rhythmically and gently so that Seven would feel herself being sucked, so that she could not detach herself from the sensations asserting themselves with acute intensity on her nipples. Kathryn's hand also solicited Seven's pleasure; no longer content merely to hold, it now fondled and gently squeezed the left breast, the added pressure helping to spray warm streams of fluid into Kathryn's mouth.

And Seven did feel it all.  Kathryn was making love to her! The realization filled her with still more emotion. This time, however, she moaned in open appreciation, letting her companion know just how sexually aroused she was becoming. And each disclosure of passion promised to escalate their lovemaking to some new level, a caress becoming an embrace and then a desperate need to feel bare flesh and then to permeate and consume, to become one entity inexorably and eternally joined by its own self-sustaining ecstasy. That was the promise of Kathryn's touch.....and the fulfillment.

With a smile of unadulterated pleasure, Seven realized that they were now progressing to the bare-flesh stage, as she felt Kathryn pull herself off a bit and begin tugging down on the suit bunched at the young woman's waist.  Seven assisted, lifting herself up to peel the fabric off her bottom, down her legs, and off her feet until she lay completely naked before Kathryn. Then she reached for the hem of Kathryn's shirt and pulled up, the Captain helping the rest of the way by pulling the shirt off.

Kathryn's eyes warmed then as she regarded her lovely companion, her hands absently fumbling on her own body as she reached down to rid herself of the rest of her garments.  When they allowed their bodies to roll back together, their passion ignited again with redoubled intensity. Kathryn resumed her feeding then, sucking Seven's nipples with still more passion, desperate now with another hunger.

Seven arched her back and moaned with pleasure, writhing from the intensity of Kathryn's new hunger and permitting herself now to express her own joy in feeding Kathryn's needs -- her ecstasy in letting this adored individual feast on her body in every way imaginable, and perhaps even in some ways the former Borg could not yet imagine.  Seven understood the mechanics of what they were doing but not the emotional resonance of it.  She now welcomed those emotions, nothing else mattering.  Kathryn was feeding, and Seven's own desperate need to sate all of her new lover's desires overwhelmed her, making her surrender completely to whatever the Captain wanted.

For her part, Kathryn considered ruefully that wants aside, what she might actually need very shortly was a dose of oxygen. She was panting helplessly, her own desire almost too great for her weakened state. And as she gentled her mouth's motion on Seven's nipple, trying to catch her breath, she began to laugh into the soft, pink flesh, suddenly amused by the cruel irony that here she was, finally making love for the first time in five long years, and that she could actually die from the delirious effort of it.

Seven pulled her up gently. "What is it?" she asked, trying to catch her own breath and grinning, despite herself, in sympathetic amusement.

"Nothing," Kathryn said smiling, her hands now stroking languidly along the younger woman's body. "It's just.....if I pass out from all this exertion, Darling, please revive me.  I'd hate to miss anything."

Seven laughed. She actually laughed. A full, throaty, sexy gurgle of a laugh that emanated from deep inside her, came bubbling out of her open mouth, teeth glistening white, and washed over Kathryn with a warm timbre so overwhelmingly enchanting in its effect that it spirited her heart away in its wake.

"Seven," she breathed. "I think I just fell in love with you, too."  Her voice caught, holding back a joyful cry that nonetheless made her eyes brim with tears, and she smiled openly back at Seven, her own teeth glistening. "I love you," she repeated.

"Kathryn," Seven breathed back, pleadingly. "Show me."

Seven's plea energized Kathryn, and all she wanted now was to grant the young woman's request.  "Spread your legs, Darling," she instructed. "I'm going to slip my fingers inside you. Is that all right?"

"Yes, please" Seven begged, parting her legs in compliance, and then a startled "Oh," as Kathryn's fingers pressed lovingly inside her.

Kathryn stroked her fingers in Seven's wetness a long while, trying to build the young woman's pleasure slowly by just feeling her way around a bit, by gently caressing.  She then pulled her fingers out and rubbed their moisture in and around the gentle folds of flesh, passing her thumb suggestively over the sensitive knot at the top of the folds. Seven arched and cried out.

"Easy," Kathryn soothed. "Easy," she instructed. "Don't rush it, my darling."

Seven slowly settled back, forcing herself to relax, but the private way Kathryn was caressing her made her body jerk and shudder in ways she found hard to control. She felt the smaller woman's long, delicate fingers begin a different rhythm that seemed intended to tease -- a kind of hurried, agitated groping -- fingers spidering playfully along her folds with the fingertips rasping against the sensitive flesh at Seven's entrance and the thumb spinning wildly around her center. It......tickled, Seven considered. Which made it all the more difficult to hold still so she could delight in the sensation.

But she did hold still, and she even held her breath now as Kathryn's mouth began an exquisite descent down her abdomen. Seven whimpered as the lips reached the edge of her down, and she noted absently how the contact made her legs spread themselves even farther apart of their own volition. Then Seven felt it. Kathryn's tongue, making one slow-moving, exploratory swipe right up the middle of Seven's sex, which lurched in response.  And then she felt Kathryn begin to lick along the sensitive flaps of skin on either side of her opening -- the "labia," Seven suddenly remembered out of nowhere. And she found herself just as suddenly gasping and shuddering as Kathryn pulled the labia into her mouth and began gently sucking it.

"Ohhhhh," she moaned.

Seven's cries and shudders and scent and wetness all combined and overwhelmed Kathryn, heightening her appetites beyond all comprehension.  And this time, her hunger could not be sated with Seven's breast milk alone. So with a groan of anticipation announcing her intent, she possessively held the younger woman's legs astride her own face and fastened her mouth hungrily onto her sex, lapping Seven's more savory juices and finding a different kind of sustenance there.

Seven opened herself completely to Kathryn's appetite amazed at how thoroughly it was satisfying her own hunger for an intimate kind of touch she had never known existed nor could have guessed how much she wanted. She thought, too, that she had become familiar with all of the nuances of Kathryn's mouth, with all of its shapes and gestures and tempos. But Kathryn sucking her nipples had a very different kind of feel to it from the lapping and suction and nips she felt acutely now in and around the ultra-sensitive area between her legs.

Suddenly her legs began to tremble from the intensity of Kathryn's feeding. As she spasmed, she felt the lower part of her body expressing more of her fluids into Kathryn's impatient mouth, whose hunger seemed unabated despite the bounty Seven's sex yielded to it.  And in the next instant, Kathryn's hunger became finally more than Seven could bear. So it was with a loud keening that her body convulsed one final time, went rigid with intensity, and then fell limply on her bedroll.

Kathryn restrained herself from demanding more and, after a moment, reluctantly eased up. She lapped the few remaining drops of Seven's essence, nuzzled her sex as if in thanks, and then gently kissed the sensitive nub in a fond farewell before ascending. Then she held the young woman, who was still bouncing involuntarily like a bit of flotsam in the wake of her climax.

"It's all right," Kathryn comforted the young woman with a knowing smile.  "You're going to be all right, my love," she soothed. She planted gentle kisses along Seven's temple before continuing. "I know it's intense and a little shocking," she smiled again. "That's the way it's supposed to happen.  But you will recover, Darling," she assured. "Honest."

"Kathryn," Seven cried out finally, swallowing down some of her emotion, "if I do not die from this," she continued with difficulty, "can we do it again?"

"Ohhh," Kathryn laughed. "Yes, Darling. We'll do this many, many times again," she smiled. "I promise."

*****
Day 25

Kathryn kept her promise over the course of the following week, even though the two women continued to weaken, their condition no doubt aggravated by the exertion of their lovemaking. They realized that prudence dictated they should rest more, but even their own natural instinct for self-preservation failed them, giving way to a different kind of animal instinct. In fact, by the following day they did not bother to dress at all, reveling in their naked contact when they were having sex and Seven exacting her newly acquired privilege of "ogling" Kathryn when they weren't having sex.

And the day after that, as they huddled together in the afterglow of a particularly intense encounter that had found the Starfleet captain and her crew member "probing deeply into previously unexplored space" (Kathryn's little off-color joke), they felt certain they had entered some half-starved, half-crazed state of bliss.

"Kathryn?" Seven had called out.

"Yes, Dear?"

"I cannot stop smiling."

"Then don't, Dear."

"It is not natural," she said matter-of-factly.

Kathryn merely laughed.

"Do you think there is something wrong with us?"

"Yes."

"Are you worried?"

"No," Kathryn responded in a surprised tone.

"I believe we may be delirious."

"Deliriously happy," Kathryn had said simply, silencing any more commentary with another series of passionate kisses.

They were smiling again now. They had been cuddling languidly after Kathryn's last feeding and were now pulling on the last of their clothes against the chills they had started getting in their deteriorating condition. Kathryn was about to ask Seven if she wanted to try regenerating for a bit when her comm badge came suddenly and unexpectedly to life again.

"Voyager to Janeway? Captain, are you there?"

Both women jolted at the sound and then froze in mild shock, realizing that at some point in their ordeal, although they were not quite sure when, they had quietly given up any hope of ever being rescued.  But now Voyager was back.....for them.....and all of Kathryn's worry and shame came rushing back at her in one dizzying wave.

"Voyager to Captain Janeway, please respond!"

And it was with an unexpected kind of ambivalence that Captain Kathryn Janeway slowly reached up to activate her comm link, all the while trying to draw cool-blue courage from her young lover's unbroken gaze.


Part 5

Kathryn came back to herself, then, to her quarters, to the present, and to the undeniable reality of her humiliation. While on the planet, far from Starfleet and duty and honor and everything else that made her Captain Janeway, she had accepted Seven's succor:  at first reluctantly, than lovingly, one human being to another. But now back on Voyager, the quiet desperation, the loving sacrifices, the reasonable choices were all too distant and ephemeral. And all that remained was the stark reality that she had exploited a member of her crew and stolen her innocence.  What had seemed a symbiotic bond forged in love between her and Seven now felt like a parasitic attachment born of her own spineless and selfish instinct for self-preservation. And as her Starfleet sensibilities reasserted themselves, she began to will her human needs to recede again to that dark tower, behind the fortress of her command mask, to which they had been condemned five years before when Voyager got lost in the Delta Quadrant.

She considered ruefully, however, that Seven might not be so willing to bottle up her own newfound human needs and emotions. And perhaps she shouldn't. Kathryn adored Seven -- would always cherish her for what Kathryn was convinced had been a sacrifice. No. Seven was beyond reproach and should not be hurt by any of this if Kathryn could help it.

But Kathryn couldn't help feeling that her own behavior in allowing all this to happen was in some sense inexcusable. Even unimaginable. Except that she could, regretfully, imagine it because she couldn't get it out of her head! And now Chakotay knew, too, compounding her guilt and humiliation.  How could she face him again? Face anyone, knowing what she had let herself do? She wanted to vanish permanently, never to see another individual again.

As if to mock her, the door signaled someone's request to see her. Kathryn ignored the chime. "Computer, log me as off duty for a personal emergency and not to be disturbed for anything less than a Red Alert, and then inform whoever's at my door of my current status."

"Acknowledged," responded the feminine sounding digital voice.

The chime did not sound a second request for entry, and after a moment, Kathryn allowed herself to breathe a small sigh of relief. Then suddenly the doors swished open, and Seven of Nine walked in. "Computer," she said, "reset doorlock and this time use Borg encryption code Alpha 2."

From anyone else, Kathryn would have been livid at the invasion, but she could not bring herself even to scold Seven.  She merely looked away trying to maintain her self-control.

"Commander Chakotay has closed the investigation promising not to record or otherwise reveal any of the events that took place."

"And will he also promise to forget?" Kathryn asked sarcastically, eyes still fixed on the star field outside.

Seven took a breath. "Whether the Commander forgets or not is irrelevant. What matters is how you remember those events."

Kathryn looked sharply at Seven then, tears threatening to obscure her vision.

Seven went on. "I believe you and I remember those events differently. We had different experiences. And since I am grateful for what happened, I am here to help you begin to remember those events through my experiences."

"Oh, my darling, can't you see how I used you?"

"It was what you needed at the time, Kathryn. And I gave myself over to it willingly because I love you. I chose, too. Remember?"

As Kathryn considered, Seven took the opportunity to approach the couch and sit down next to her, placing something on the table across from them.

"What is that?" Kathryn asked, mildly grateful for the distraction.

"It is a hypospray."

"I can see that. What's in it?"

"I will explain in a moment." Kathryn was nonplused by Seven's evasion but allowed the young woman to continue. "You believe that you used me. My experience of those events is that I took pleasure in the sensations you were producing in me while outwardly giving you the impression that I was sacrificing myself to your hungers."

"You did sacrifice yourself."

"No, Kathryn. There was no sacrifice." Seven paused, trying to determine how best to explain what she felt. "After you severed me from the Collective, and the Doctor was forced to remove the implants my body began rejecting, I warned you that while you could perhaps alter my physiology, you would never be able to change my nature. Do you remember that?"

"Yes."

"I believe now I was wrong to draw such a stark distinction between my body and my mind.  My physiology does affect what I think and feel. I admit that my decision to modify my nanoprobes to induce lactation was based initially on a utilitarian calculation of how best to secure your survival with the provisions we had; however, my reasons did not remain utilitarian."

Kathryn winced a little at the notion that Seven's breasts were "provisions," but she had sufficient Starfleet survival training about how to generate body heat and how to recycle bodily fluids to recognize and acknowledge that one's body and the bodies of one's companions could, in a sense, provide for everyone's mutual survival. So she left Seven's comment unremarked and allowed the young woman to continue.

Seven's voice became almost wistful as she pressed on. "Kathryn, when I felt my breasts filling with milk, my heart became filled as well -- it filled with such a sense of purpose, with the import of what I was doing for your sake. And when I expressed that first cup for you, I felt as though I had also poured out my emotions for you, which is why your refusal hurt me so deeply. And when you finally accepted.....Oh, Kathryn! Nothing could have prepared me for what I felt when you ingested my milk that first time, drawing it out yourself......I felt.......I.......I cannot adequately describe it.  The physiological sensations, the emotions, the terrific joy I felt in being able to assist in so......intimate a fashion in your survival. Kathryn, I cannot describe how wonderful it feels to feed someone you love!"

Seven reached over now for the hypospray and cradled it in her hands as she continued, less certainly. "If you wish to understand some of what I felt, I can show you."

Kathryn caught her breath at the impossible suggestion that was beginning to form in her mind. "How?" she exhaled.

"I have extracted some of my nanoprobes and reprogrammed them for one purpose only. To stimulate the production of a few ounces of milk in your mammary glands and then go into stasis to forestall any further lactation. All I would have to do is inject the nanoprobes into your system. The dormant probes would then be expelled in the milk when I drink it."

Kathryn gasped again: "When you.....?"

"Yes, Kathryn."

Seven paused to allow Kathryn time to consider all she had said. "Kathryn," she continued after a moment, "I cannot reproduce all of the conditions of our experience, nor would I want to. However, to help you begin to understand the experience from my perspective, I am giving you the opportunity to suckle me as I suckled you."

Kathryn couldn't believe she was actually considering this. But perhaps it was the recent memory of having done this same thing repeatedly with Seven that made the whole notion, even despite the turnaround, less radical. And she could see, could understand, Seven's heartfelt intent in the suggestion: to help Kathryn come to terms with everything she did to Seven, to help her understand how Seven felt in response.

"Computer. Log Seven of Nine off duty on a personal emergency and to be disturbed only for extremely urgent ship's business. Captain's orders."

"So logged," the computer responded.

Kathryn eyed the hypospray then stared back at Seven a long moment. Then licking a dry lip, she reached down and slowly pulled off her shirt and then the sleeveless half-shirt, leaving her breasts exposed.

"Uh.....where exactly do you need to introduce the probes into my system?" Kathryn asked nervously.

Seven smiled. "In your neck, Kathryn," she explained gently. "The nanoprobes know where to go from there."

Kathryn visibly relaxed a bit.  She then leaned back against the low arm of the sofa, which helped at once to keep her propped up while also slightly arching her back.

She flinched as the hypospray made contact with her skin, instantly feeling an almost electrical, tingling sensation moving from her neck in two directions, flickering up into her head and tittering down across her chest.  She felt momentarily dizzy.  Just as quickly, she felt a sharp warmth suffusing both of her breasts and then a dull ache as the skin and tissue distended, no doubt from the immediate lactation that the nanoprobes had stimulated. After a moment, the activities seemed to abate.

Kathryn reached up curiously and gently lifted her breasts, which were suddenly larger than she'd ever seen them, and feeling firm and bloated and heavy with fluid.  She gave them a gentle squeeze and was caught off guard by the short streams of milk that squirted out of each tip and splashed irreverently on Seven's clothes. She would have laughed at the absurdity of it but for the fact that she was overwhelmed by the unfamiliar sensation of fluid coursing through her nipples.

Seven understood. And wanting now to help her beloved repeat that marvelous sensation, she dipped her head down gently, wrapped her mouth around one of Kathryn's nipples, and slowly began to suck.

Kathryn gasped from the intense delight of Seven's mouth on her breast -- the feel of soft, wet heat tugging at her sensitive nipple and drawing liquid out of the mass. She closed her eyes in concentration, focusing on the physical sensations and beginning to lose herself in the pleasure of it. Then her chin came gently to rest on Seven's head, and she remembered the woman at the end of that contact.

She looked down and studied the scene carefully: the blonde head nestled against her bosom, eyes peacefully shut, the jaw languidly flexing in a rhythmic motion, the full lips wrapped tightly around the offered nipple, a slight film of milk waxing-waning around the rim of contact, and the expression -- Seven's expression -- sweet, innocent, content. And then Seven's words came back to her: not just a utilitarian outpouring but an emotional one. Kathryn considered that and began to analyze her feelings one by one, to let them wash over her.

What she recognized first was a deep sense of tenderness toward Seven. And she allowed herself to express that tenderness, dipping her head down to nuzzle and then kiss the sweet-smelling blonde hair at the top of Seven's head.

That elicited a gurgle of pleasure from the young woman, which in turn stirred more sentiments in Kathryn.  And what she felt then was great joy, almost bursting from her chest in its intensity: so much that she involuntarily brought her arms up to cradle Seven's head to her bosom as if to contain that joy.

Seven responded to that, too, bringing her hands up to Kathryn's arms in subtle affirmation of the embrace and then stroking up the shoulders and around back until she was returning the hug with one of her own. She then kissed across Kathryn's chest until her mouth found the second nipple and began drawing liquid from there to relieve a bit of the pressure in the other breast.

Kathryn immediately recognized the gesture for what it was: an effort to alleviate her own discomfort. And the realization touched off another chain of emotions -- a sense of mutual caring and adoration, of helping and being helped, all at once, by someone both cherished and cherishing.

As if sensing the particular sentiments now playing in Kathryn's mind, Seven pulled back a moment to explain precisely how Kathryn was helping her, how she was meeting the younger woman's physiological needs.  "I want you to understand.  I will not need to ingest anything more tonight after I am done drinking your milk. The nutrients you are supplying me will be enough to sustain me for a day. You are feeding me, Kathryn." With that pronouncement, Seven dipped her head down again and resumed sucking Kathryn's nipple.

The explanation had the effect Seven intended. Kathryn was overcome with a sense of the import of what she was doing. She felt, at that moment, the most profound affection for Seven, wanting nothing more than to continue suckling her, sustaining her.  And she allowed that if her delight in this simple female gesture was so great under these less extreme conditions, than how much more must Seven have felt knowing that her own gesture had kept Kathryn from starving, had kept her alive.

"Oh," Kathryn cried, wrapping her arms even more tightly around Seven.  She understood finally what Seven had felt.  And understanding that, she realized that in accepting Seven's solution, she had accepted Seven's love.  And that was not a personal failing.  That could never be considered a failing.  She had been strong and right in accepting Seven's love and would always be so.  At that moment, Kathryn felt all the worry and shame beginning to pour out of her body as if carried away by the milk flowing from her bosom into her lover's mouth, where Seven's own body would no doubt extract the nutrients and discard the worry and shame as useless and irrelevant waste.

And Seven was her lover. She understood that now. Understood the force of what they had shared together, for each other. The sacrifices that were not sacrifices because they were borne in love.

Seven pulled away sensing Kathryn's epiphany. When their eyes met, they were both crying, their emotions too great to contain any longer. Kathryn gently wiped away a dribble of milk that had leaked out the left side of Seven's mouth. Then she bent down, and kissed Seven, profoundly sensing, beyond all rational thought, that for the rest of her life, Seven would be the only real sustenance she would ever need.

** The End **



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This page is from the Delta Quadrant of Venus website. The site was originally hosted on AOL's hometown pages, which AOL shut down on October 31, 2008. The DQV site was resurrected and moved to this new home on November 30, 2008 because fans asked to have it back. Thank you for your continued interest in my stories. I'm truly touched. --T'ware

Posted May 31, 1999.  Last updated March 7, 2000, for minor errors. Updated January 2, 2002, to delete table and add logo graphic.