Title: Sometimes More Sweetly
Author: Ellen Milholland
Series: VOY
Rating: PG-13
Codes: J/7, angst
Disclaimer: Standard disclaimers apply. I don't own 'em.
Summary: Years after their return to Earth, Janeway visits Seven.
Note: This is a sister piece to Boadicea's wonderful 'Sometimes More Fiercely.'
~ * ~
"God gives us love. Something to love
He lends us; but when love is grown
To ripeness, that on which it throve
Falls off, and love is left alone."
-Alfred Tennyson, 'To J.S.'
~ * ~

The house was lovely. It was large, and it had rooms with huge windows that looked out on kilometers and kilometers of water. White-caps and these magnificent waves greeted me each morning as the sea breeze whipped off the beach.

It was my home, though I hardly ever lived in it. Several kilometers outside of San Francisco, I'd bought the home when we returned to Earth from the Delta Quadrant. It had too many bedrooms, too many baths, but I'd bought it anyway. Because I could. Because it felt right.

Once in a while, I think I bought it because of her, lovely girl that she was. I'd barely known her three years, and I didn't want to lose her.

So I took my posting as captain of the Rabin, a beautiful science vessel devoted to exploration of our galaxy. It was much like Voyager, but it could never be the same to me. Somehow Alayr, my first officer... I think she knew she would never be the fabled Commander Chakotay, and that was okay.

I always returned, though. I always came back to Earth, to my home, empty and alone, a monolith holding its own against the massive ocean. The door unlocked easily under my command, and despite the fact that I'd barely lived in the house for six months, altogether, it always felt like home to me.

I always invited her there. Brought her into my home and served her drinks, and we'd sit in the den or on the long porch, and I'd stare into the waves while she watched me. And we'd talk.

She was beautiful. She was so beautiful, it hurt. She was at the Academy, studying the sciences, because that was as much her passion as it was mine. She always wanted to know, "Why?" She could be a pain in the ass with all of her questions.

But she was beautiful. She had her golden hair grown out so that when the pins were removed, her hair tumbled over her shoulders in shining waves. Her eyes glimmered, and her skin was pale and soft. Her cheeks were perpetually reddened with the flush of youth. She was beautiful.

I realized this before we returned. From the first moment I saw her as a human, without the majority of her Borg implants, I was attracted to her, in a way. Perhaps she never knew. But the attraction was low-lying, and it was overpowered by my maternal instinct. I was her mother and sister and friend and captain, and I loved her in all these ways.

And when she smiled, my whole world turned upside down. Her smiles didn't become habit for several years, but when they did... she had men falling at her feet.

I thought about her often, when we returned. Even during my months-long trips into deep space, she would remain in my thoughts until I couldn't contain my desire to return home. And she would be there, and I'd treat her to dinner and dessert. And for a little while, we were happy.

Until I met Aryn. Seven was in her final year at the Academy, and I could see the twinkle in her eyes as she spoke of the pip she'd receive with her ensign's uniform. There was a nice little research facility she was heading out to when she graduated, before she took a ship posting, and she was thrilled.

Aryn changed me, altered my world, and ultimately tore Seven from me. I'm not sure why, and I'm not sure how, but it did. And we can never go back to change it.

Aryn was dark and mysterious. He moved with the grace of a cat, and had black, black hair that swept up and away from his face. His features were sharp and lovely, and he had the most amazing violet eyes that I've ever seen. His hands her soft when they touched me.

I loved him. It was strong and heady and fast kind of love that left me on fire. He made me feel good about myself, and he made me feel strong and safe, no matter where I was in the galaxy.

It didn't last long... only a few months. After a while, we decided that it would be for the best if we didn't commit ourselves to each other. I didn't agree, really, but Aryn thought it was the best idea, and I went along with him. It hurt me, and I don't think he knew that. Maybe it's good we broke up, if he couldn't tell the pain he was putting me through.

So it only lasted a few months, but when that few months was over, I was left empty and broken. And I sought out the only person I knew who could come close to making me feel whole again.

"Seven," I told her, "I'm coming back."

And I did, a few weeks later. I'd sent a letter to her, prior, and she knew why I was returning.

I returned to San Francisco during the very early summer.

San Franciscan springs were gorgeous. Flowers bloomed, trees blossomed, and the sun seemed brighter and warmer than ever before. As summer approached, environmental controls kept the weather steady, though the temperature was a little less pleasant.

I couldn't feel it, though, because I was drowning in my own grief. My heart was broken, and my hands shook. I hadn't slept a good night's sleep for weeks.

When Seven saw me, she hugged me, and I couldn't feel anything. Inside, there was no feeling, and I smiled sadly. "Seven," I told her, "It's good to see you."

"Yes," she agreed. "It's been too long." And it had.

She drank sweet red wine that evening from a crystal glass, and I drank whiskey that I poured from a dusty decanter. We sat in what might be called her living room, and we looked out the window over the city, the lights sparkling.

And I told her about Aryn. I told her every detail, and I drank the whiskey, and I didn't cry. It'd been a long time since I'd thought of him without tears sneaking to my eyes. But I didn't cry, and I just talked, looking into the swirling liquid as I drained glass after glass of the alcohol.

And she listened. Quietly, respectfully. She looked at me with huge, soulful eyes as she sipped her wine. I told her the story of my love and my loss, and I don't think she understood the ins and outs of love and loss. But she listened. And that's what I needed. I needed someone to listen, and to tell me that it would be okay. I needed Seven's rich, sweet voice to tell me that she believed I would recover, and that she was there to listen.

We talked late into the night. The moon had risen high above the city, and a million stars glittered in the dark sky. I wondered how many of those and how many more I'd visited in my lifetime. I imagined I could see back to the stars of the Delta Quadrant. I imagined that if I looked hard enough, I could see into the ships of all the former crew of Voyager. My lost friends and family.

I ended my story, and we'd sat in companionable silence. I was a woman who could hold a drink, but even my head buzzed with the whiskey. She knew, and she was gentle with me. "Kathryn," she said, "Let me make your bed."

I stood, and moved to the window, and stepped to the tiny balcony, drinking in the warm air. A few people scurried down the side streets, and in the distance Starfleet Academy shined like it had been carefully spit-polished. It looked as prim and proper as the people who attended it. I could hear music from the lower level of the building, and it sounded wistful and silken. It fit my mood well.

I felt her eyes on my back long before she called out to me. I leaned against the rickety railing, and I closed my eyes and enjoyed the scrutiny. The gossamer fabric of my light dress blew in the breeze, and my hair flew in wild tendrils. The warm breeze was heaven, and the scent of the balcony's potted plants made me light-headed.

"Kathryn," she said after several minutes, "Come on inside."

I looked at her over my shoulder, and she was more beautiful than perhaps I'd ever seen her. Her white t-shirt clung to her body like a second skin, and her old- fashioned, worn blue jeans were tight in all of the right places. She wore a pair of broken-in sandals, and her hair was tucked back with a dark blue headband.

"Kathryn," she said again. "It's time for sleep."

"You're right," I nodded, and I stepped inside, latching the window closed after I climbed back in.

She excused herself for a moment. I heard water running, and I sat back on the bed, carefully unfastening the straps of the sandals I wore. I opened my bag, and set the contents out on top of the rough quilt. A simple white nightgown; a soft robe, white with an intricate black and red design; the next day's clothes; a pair of sturdy, low, black shoes; an assortment of cosmetics and toiletries. And at the bottom of the small bag, a small book of blank pages. With it came a carefully carved fountain pen with a golden nib.

I opened the book to the next day, and wrote the date, in Earth standard. June 29th. I stared at the blank paper, willing myself to form my feelings into something coherent to write.

I did not add an entry to the diary that night. After several minutes, I set the book back inside the bag and put the bag back on the floor.

I stood and moved back to the window. A bird perched on the railing of the balcony, and I envied its freedom.

Seven appeared suddenly, and her voice startled me. "Do you need anything?"

I spun around, resting my back against the window. "Could you draw me a bath?" I asked after a moment. She'd changed clothing, and the lovely powder-blue of her pajamas made her look younger than she was.

She smiled. "Of course, Kathryn. Follow me."

I followed her to the small room, with the real-water bathtub and the old-fashioned mirror. The furnishings seemed unlike Seven, but I was too exhausted to consider it... emotionally and physically.

I drew a hot bath, but I didn't linger. The bathroom simply reeked of Seven's presence, and it was wreaking havoc with my mind and body.

I wasn't supposed to feel like this. I'd suppressed this desire for so long... I couldn't do this to Seven.

I dried myself off in the big, soft towel, and as I changed into my sleepwear, I examined myself in the full length mirror. I couldn't muster the emotion to be either pleased or disappointed with my reflection. I did not bother to brush my wet hair.

I smelled of her soap, fresh and clean. I smelled of her soap, and that made me want her.

She was motionless in her bed, as if she was asleep. I knew she wasn't by the way she clenched her fists against the bedclothes when I entered the room. I stood at the edge of her bed, watching her for several long moments. Her eyes moved beneath her eyelids in the brightness of the moonlight.

Boards creaked as I stepped towards her. I cringed inwardly but did not stop looking at her face.

Beautiful...

She opened her eyes as I sat down on the edge of the bed. Slowly, without speaking, she sat up, and watched me for a long moment. I moved closer to her, and she did not shy away. Perhaps I believed that she wanted me as I wanted her.

I kissed her then. Even now, I couldn't explain the logic behind the action, but I can't take back that I did it. I kissed her, and it was sweet and desperate.

She did not kiss me back. She wrapped her arms around me in a tight embrace, and she released a shuddering breath that made me shatter.

But I understood.

"I loved you as a sister," I told her, "and sometimes more fiercely."

I left the room without giving her a chance to respond. With a last look out the window, I repacked my bag, slipped it over my shoulder, and left without saying goodbye.

I hoped to God that she'd understand why I had to leave, even though I didn't understand it entirely myself. The door clicked quietly shut, and I didn't leave her a note, though I should've.

But things had changed at the moment our lips touched... and she didn't kiss back.

Maybe that's what hurt most. She didn't kiss back.

***

I lost contact with her after that, only talking to her occasionally as the years went by.

She tried to make me love her again. She sent me books of love poetry, and she wrote me long letters, and she told me she'd always loved me.

I'd always loved her, but love can change. I'd loved her as a daughter, and sometimes more sweetly. But after that night, things were never the same. Our relationship had changed.

I couldn't tell you exactly how it had changed, but it had. And there was no going back.

I visited her once, years later, and it was one of the last times I ever spoke to her.

We sat in her living room, looking out the window into the sea of stars, though a crisper fall breeze blew against the window than the last time we'd been in this situation.

It was late in the conversation. There was a thick pause, and I couldn't stand the tension building behind the unspoken words.

"I was your captain," I told her, shaking my head, and clutching the delicate wine glass. "I couldn't..."

And I was right. I couldn't have. It was wrong then, and it never seemed right. Seven and I were from wholly different worlds, and I don't think we could have ever made it work.

"You aren't my captain now," she replied, but I pretended not to hear.

Underneath us, the lights twinkled, and the new moon was no where to be seen.

We never saw one another after that. We corresponded briefly, but eventually, that, too, ended. I lost her, and she lost me. In some ways, I'm still lost, even today.