DISCLAIMER: Paramount owns all things Star Trek. Just borrowed a few folk. No money earned.
NOTES: An angst warning. It's taken me a while to come up with this, but I'm pleased with the result. For the benefit of artistic licence, I have non-whooshy internal doors in B'Elanna's quarters - they open the ways ours do - handles, hinges, the lot. It was more dramatic that way!

Choices and Pain
By alastria7

Part One

Tom smiled. He always did when he saw B'Elanna and he hoped he always would. Coming down the corridor towards him, she did not smile back. As she came closer he said, "You don't look so good," with his usual lack of tact.

B'Elanna exhaled with force.

"You OK?" She was close to him now, and he knew he had been right - she really did look rough, although he was surprised he couldn't `read' her.

"I'm fine," she shot back, practically through gritted teeth, causing Tom to go on the defensive.

"I'm sorry I asked," he managed, as she brushed past him without another look, and stormed off down the corridor. He watched her receding form, and frowned. She was a firehead, but something was wrong here. Really wrong. Tom determined that when his shift ended on the Bridge, he would try to discover what it was.

"Tom, I'm telling you. Just."

"Butt out, right?"

B'Elanna began pacing around her living area, with every look of a caged animal - wild, trapped and yet controlled. "Yeah. Sorry, but this isn't something that can be fixed by just talking about it. In fact," she said sadly, "it can't be fixed at all. It's broken. OK?"

Tom knew his ex well enough to know when she'd ended a conversation. To pursue the cause of her obvious distress now would probably end in a row, with him still being none the wiser. He decided to leave and hope she could work it out in her own way.

"Well, If you need me." Tom said quietly. He moved towards her with his arms out, attempting to convey, with a hug, that he was on her side.

"Yeah." B'Elanna pulled away and rubbed her forehead. Her eyes ached so badly, and she didn't know if she could cry anymore. She sank down on the couch and covered her face with both hands, her elbows supported by her knees. How long she'd sat like that she wasn't sure. At some point Tom had left but she hadn't seen him go. Exhausted, she ordered: `Computer, dim lights by 50%' and went through to the bedroom and lay on the bed.

B'Elanna had been on her bed for quite some hours. She was caught in that strange place, half way between awake and asleep, when the door chime interrupted her. She jumped heavily - throughout her entire body. Instinctively she knew it was late, just as she knew it would be Seven on the other side of the door because no one else would be here at this hour. B'Elanna granted access, but clambered off the bed and flung the bedroom door shut, staying inside; she briefly wondered why Seven hadn't used her door code.

"B'Elanna?" Seven asked quietly, as she entered the quarters she had shared with her lover. Until today, that was. Until she had ruined it. Looking around, she saw no sign of B'Elanna and determined she must be in the bedroom, as the door was firmly shut - they usually kept it ajar. Seven moved over to the door and placed a hand on it and said, in a gentle voice: "I need to collect some of my things. I will be gone shortly." There was no reply from inside the room, but she did hear movement. Although her question was ridiculous, Seven asked it anyway; she was worried: "Are you alright?"

B'Elanna snatched the door handle, jerking the door open. And yelled, "Me? Yeah. Course I am. Why the hell wouldn't I be? I'm terrific!" Seven had turned and moved away as the door had opened, and now looked back towards the enraged woman. B'Elanna finally looked into Seven's face and was momentarily shocked by what she saw. Seven's eyes were sunken; her cheeks a greyish white. The girl looked ill. It crossed B'Elanna's mind to go to her, ask her if. but her rage reasserted itself rapidly as her mind yet again recalled too- recent events. "Get your damned stuff and get out of here! Go back to your lover, kiddo, `cause you're not wanted here."

"But I don't love him," said Seven quietly. "I love you."

"Well, that's great isn't it, you bitch," screamed B'Elanna, gripping onto the door fit to break it. "You'd throw us away on someone you don't even love! What is it with you?"

"B'Elanna, I."

B'Elanna picked up the nearest thing, a vase, and hurled it at Seven. "Just go," she screamed, "get out of my sight!"

After Seven had gone, B'Elanna started the aqua shower, stripped off and stood in the water. She felt both numb and in pain - a strange combination. Numb she could live with right now, but part of her was hoping she could wash all the hurt away. She was not looking forward to the night.

The Chief Engineer stared down at The First Officer: there was blood on his face, but she felt no remorse. In fact, she felt nothing this morning but coldness, deep within.

Lying propped up on one arm and looking up at her, Chakotay said, good-naturedly, "I'm glad this was only hand-to-hand fighting. With a Bat'leth in your hands, I think you might have killed me!"

Without smile or apology, B'Elanna leant down and offered a hand to help the First Officer to his feet and he looked into the stone that was her face. "Something on your mind, Lieutenant?"

"I'm fine. Good bout, thanks," she said. Her eyes were looking at his, he knew, but she seemed to be looking right through him. Abruptly, she turned and left the Holodeck.

"Seven, what is it?" asked the Captain, gently, as Seven remained silently staring at the Astrometrics screen. It was unlike her, and the Captain became concerned. "Seven?" she asked again, shaking her officer's arm.

"Uhm. I am sorry, Captain. A temporary lapse. Forgive me," offered Seven, by way of explanation.

"Now I am worried about you." Something about Seven's pallor alerted the Captain. "You don't get `lapses' Seven, and you don't look well. I want you to get down to Sickbay, let the Doctor take a look at you. In fact, I'll take you there myself." Kathryn attempted to carry out her words.

"I assure you I am not sick. Will you please leave me alone!" The Captain was astonished at the power behind Seven's words, as the young woman pulled away from her. The ex-drone fought hard to control emotions that were new to her. "Captain, please. I beg you."

"I will do as you ask," came the quiet reply, "on one condition."

"What is it?" Seven looked anywhere but at the Captain.

"That you report to my quarters when your shift ends, and tell me what's going on with you. This isn't a conversation for the Ready Room, is it?"

"No," replied Seven, weakly. "I will comply. But I have a condition."

"What is it?" frowned The Captain.

"That if I find I am still unable to share this with you, you do not force me."


Kathryn walked onto the Bridge, still puzzling over the possible causes of Seven's current state of being. Making her way to the Command Chair, she saw Chakotay looking at her, with concern in his eyes. "Captain, do you have a minute?" She nodded and Chakotay made his way over to the Ready Room.

"Tuvok, you have the Bridge," she conveyed, before following her officer into the small room, wondering what this was all about.

"I had a combat session with B'Elanna this morning, on the Holodeck," said Chakotay, turning to face his Captain. "She appeared to be fighting her inner demons. I'd swear she didn't even know it was me."

Kathryn approached Chakotay and reached out her hand, frowning: "Is that blood on your face?"

"I thought I'd got it all, sorry. The Doctor cleaned me up."

Walking around her desk and leaning on the back of her chair, Kathryn looked at Chakotay and frowned. "I've just seen Seven in Astrometrics. She looked terrible. I think it's safe to say something's going on between them, and whatever it is, it's hurting them badly."


"I'm hoping Seven will talk to me later - I've arranged a meeting in my quarters. Beyond that, we should keep an eye on them, and just hope they can work it through. I suggest we only intervene if their professional approach is compromised in any way."

"Agreed. But it's a small ship. It's not like they can get away from each other."

"Let's hope it won't come to them wanting to," replied a thoughtful Captain.

B'Elanna made her way to Engineering. The fight she had just had with Chakotay hadn't even come close to allowing her to release the pain and hurt she felt inside. In fact, she'd held back. Within minutes of entering her familiar territory, she was in dispute with Joe Carey and, an hour later, the poor man was desperately trying to stay out of her way, as were the rest of the Engineering staff.

Halfway through the day B'Elanna wasn't sure how she was going to get through it. The feelings inside her were getting more intense, not easier, and she knew the rest of the day was going to be difficult.

"Lieutenant Carey to Captain Janeway."

"Janeway here. What can I do for you, Mr Carey?"

"I need to see you, Captain. May I report to the Bridge?"

"Right away. Janeway out."

The Captain was in her Ready Room when Carey entered. He informed her, efficiently and without blame, the state his Commanding Officer had been in during the day, and how she had left a half an hour before her shift was due to end - that alone was proof that something was wrong with the Lieutenant. They both knew that the hands-on Engineer hated to give a job to one of her team if she could do it herself, and she always saw her shifts out.

As Carey left, the Captain returned to the Bridge, and quietly brought Chakotay up to speed.

Something was on the floor on the other side of the bedroom door. An item of clothing, perhaps. It stuck fast under the door as B'Elanna tried to open it, and the door jammed. With some patience, B'Elanna attempted to free it, but it wouldn't come loose. All at once the anger she had held back earlier in the day came rushing to the fore. She wrenched at the door, hurting her shoulder, then kicked it several times and, when it still wouldn't open, she turned and glared at the room.

Within minutes, most of what wasn't a permanent fixture had been smashed, broken, bent, or relocated with force. Blood was oozing from two slashes on her right arm where her vest had offered no protection, and her left leg hurt; a chair had fallen back hard against it after she had tried to kick it out of the way.

In the midst of the wreckage, on her knees, her tears were falling unrestricted now, and a low wail was emerging from somewhere deep within the hurt and pain she felt inside. The wail made it's way up the scale as it gathered volume, and soon she heard someone screaming, unaware it was her own voice. Getting up in a daze, the final assault was to throw herself bodily against the bedroom door, forcing it open. She collapsed on the bed, sobbing occasionally; worn out.

She could see herself in this tiny bucket of a ship, being tossed around in the oceans of space: it was vast and cold, and she was alone in it now. Alone and without love. She tried to cry at the thought but she was dry at last. She lay with her right cheek pushed into the bedcover, mouth open - staring. Her right arm, above her head, had smudged the cover with a dark red stain. If she had been thinking, she might have cared. She might have tried to wash it out. But she just stared, as the last tear welled up in the corner of her left eye and ventured out only a millimetre, too exhausted, as she was, to fall.

Due to the famous punctuality of the ex-Borg, the Captain had excused herself from the Bridge a little early; she wanted to reach her destination before her guest this evening.

"Hello Seven," Kathryn said quietly, as a very lost looking person entered her quarters. She resisted the urge to rise from the couch and lead the young woman into the room, feeling that any movement on her part would have Seven retreating. So she simply put her book down and watched as Seven nodded her acknowledgement and sat, stiffly, in the chair opposite.

Neither spoke. Kathryn took the book off her lap and put it on the floor, then leaned back and crossed her legs, with her left arm over the back of the couch. She regarded Seven with renewed concern. At length she said, "You look awful."

"I feel. awful."

"I'm here. I may not be able to fix it, but I can listen." Kathryn waited. "Seven, I care about you - care about the state you're in here. Let me in; let me help you, please."

"When I was a child," Seven faltered, looking at her fingers, "there was something that helped, whatever difficulty I was facing. It didn't `fix it', but it helped."

"What was it?"

Seven looked quickly at the space beside Kathryn on the couch. Her eyes were conveying a message, not lost on the Captain who smiled. She patted the couch beside her and said gently, "C'mon," inclining her head to convey an expectation of Seven joining her.

In one movement, Seven was up from the chair; she crossed the room and fell half across her comforter, who immediately wrapped both arms around the now-sobbing woman and stroked her hair, soothingly. "It's all right, Seven. Whatever this is, we can work it out, somehow. I'm here. Shhh." Kathryn rocked Seven slightly, continuing her gentle voice and actions until the sobbing eased and then eventually stopped.

Seven made no move to sit up. She allowed her Captain, her friend, to comfort her for a long while, whilst Kathryn honoured the silence. "My mother used to comfort me like this," Seven said at last, "when I felt hopeless over a broken toy, or a cut finger."

Stroking the blonde hair beneath her hand, Kathryn said, "I'm getting the feeling this is more than a broken toy or a cut finger."

"I have broken B'Elanna's heart." Kathryn halted her hand on Seven's head and just held her, trying to convey her deep feeling of support to the forlorn woman. "She refuses to hear me," Seven continued, "and so I am unable to explain my actions to her." Disengaging herself from her Captain, Seven sat up beside her and regarded her silently, a single tear halfway across the bridge of her nose.

At the young woman's obvious pain, Kathryn's heart went out to her, "I can't imagine you doing anything to wilfully hurt."

"I slept with Ensign Harries."

It was no more than a whisper, but Kathryn's ears heard. Her mind, however, took longer over the information, but her eyes told her that Seven spoke the truth. "Jonathan Harries?" Seven nodded miserably. Kathryn fought to keep the look from her face, the look of judgement: it was the last thing Seven needed right now. In her confusion, all she could manage to say was, "Why?"

"Computer, locate Lieutenant Torres."

Lieutenant Torres is in her quarters

"Computer, locate Seven of Nine."

Seven of Nine is in Captain Janeway's quarters.

`Good,' thought Chakotay. `Seven's shift has not long ended and Kathryn should keep her awhile.' With the coast clear, Chakotay headed off to B'Elanna's quarters.

Somewhere inside B'Elanna, a familiar sound invaded her nothingness. She dismissed it. It came again, but her mind fitted it into the nothing so well that it blended and ceased to demand thought.

Chakotay checked once more with the computer, confirming B'Elanna hadn't left her quarters in the time it had taken him to reach them. She was inside. He grew concerned at her failure to respond to the chimes. He appreciated private spaces, perhaps more than most, but he gave the Command Override and stood looking in disbelief as the doors parted to allow him entry.

The floor was littered with smashed, buckled, torn or upside-down items. The mirror was smashed; the replicator flashing occasionally from the damage it had sustained, the chair that had been thrown at it now sideways on the floor beneath it. All this he saw in a few seconds of vision, while his mind was screaming, `where is she?'

"B'Elanna," he called out, pushing the bathroom door open to reveal an empty room, before continuing to the bedroom. He saw her then - lying, eyes open, unresponsive. There was a little blood on the sheets, and her hands were red in patches, hints of the bruises to follow.

He moved over to the bed and sat, scooping her up into his arms. She winced as her arm, which had stuck to the sheets with congealed blood, pulled away and started the blood oozing gently again. Chakotay pushed the hair out of her eyes and almost shouted in his concern, "What's been going on here?"

B'Elanna was beyond reply, he could see. Spent, exhausted, emotionally drained, she lay in his arms and her eyes closed then, at last. Gently, and with great care, Chakotay removed his friend's vest and trousers. A night-shirt was protruding from under the pillow; he removed it and placed it over her underwear and then gently eased her into bed, drawing the cover over her and looking down on her thoughtfully.

He moved into the battlefield again and retrieved a chair. Carrying it back into the bedroom, he placed it beside the bed, then he returned to the living quarters and began a systematic clean-up operation, which took some time. Eventually, his work complete, he cast his eyes around the room one last time and then returned to the bedroom and settled himself on the chair. B'Elanna hadn't moved. It would be a long night, but he wouldn't leave her. Not like this.

Kathryn moved back to the couch, from the replicator. She had offered Seven a beverage but had been refused. Holding the coffee gratefully in both hands, she sat with ease, and returned her attention to Seven. "Before you start this, I have something to say. In all matters professional, I am `Captain' and I expect you to address me as such," her voice suddenly softened, "but we are off- duty, Seven, and what you're about to tell me will be told to a friend. Call me Kathryn, please."

Seven smiled, nodding her agreement and then drew her right leg up onto the couch and turned sideways. Slowly, she began her explanation of recent hurtful events.

"At the Tendara colony, where I was born, I had a normal life - an only child, but I was happy. One day my parents and I left Deep Space 4 on The Raven and eventually we found. B'omar space." Seven halted, blinking to keep her tears in check. Kathryn reached over and squeezed the young woman's hand briefly, knowing that she would be re- living the horrors of the assimilation. "Go on," she urged gently, before returning to her coffee.

"I was only six," came a weak and childish voice that cut Kathryn to the quick. She placed her cup on the floor and sat sideways, as Seven had, and took hold of `the child's' hands.

Seven looked into her friend's eyes and found strength in them. "When you rescued me, Kathryn, you rescued a six year old in an adult body, who had had her emotions suppressed and been linked up to a Hive mind, where all thoughts were one. From the moment I was released from the maturation chamber and linked up with them, I had all experiences, all thoughts all feelings, all life in my head, but I was still only six. I hadn't lived any of these things, they had.

"In your dealings with me, you connected to the vast knowledge and experience within me. But none of that was me, none of it was my own knowledge and experience, until you helped me to learn, both for and as myself. Then the six year old began to grow."

Kathryn remained silent, as a counsellor would, allowing her friend to speak freely and without interruption. She released Seven's hands, and then placed her left elbow on the back of the couch, resting her head on her left hand. She thought she saw where Seven was going with this; thought she was beginning to understand.


Chakotay jumped. His neck hurt him where he had fallen asleep and allowed his head to fall sideways. "You're awake!"

"For a little while. I've been lying here looking at you, thanking the Gods I have a friend like you - although, I think you stole my clothes!" she said, looking under the sheet. They both laughed and then B'Elanna asked, "You OK?"

"Me - what about you? What was all that about, (he indicated the other room) anyway?"

B'Elanna half smiled, apologetically. "I made a bit of a mess, didn't I," she said, as a statement, not a question. "I dread to think what it looks."

"Don't worry, I cleaned it up. I didn't think you'd want the dirty glasses from the party around on the morning after!"

B'Elanna looked at the tired man with renewed respect. "You're something, you know that?"

He paused and then looked at her, "You want to talk about it?"

"Not yet." She smiled nervously at him. "But if I do, I'll come find you, OK?"

"Is there anything I can do?"

"Yeah, you can go back to your quarters and relax. You look all in." At his rising objection she raised her hand and said, "I'm fine now. Really. I just lost it; couldn't hold it in anymore."

He rose, "Well, if you're sure." On her two nods, he turned and walked towards the bedroom door.

"Hey," called B'Elanna softly and her friend stopped and turned, "thanks." Chakotay smiled warmly at her and left. She ordered the computer to kill the lights and she lay back in the dark. The only word she could find from all her experience of life and all the words she knew was, `why?' as she closed her eyes and tried to sleep.

`Why, Seven? Why?'

Part Two

Seven changed her position on the couch; she then continued her explanation as to why she had seen fit to sleep with a young Ensign, Jonathan Davies. Her confidant (her Captain, her friend) was showing the glimmerings of understanding.

"When B'Elanna befriended me, we played, like the child I was within. I felt free to express myself as I once had. It delighted B'Elanna to see the change in me."

Kathryn nodded.

"Then she started to care. We both did. But she cared from an adult perspective and I struggled to understand my changing emotions. She knew it was my first relationship and she was careful to allow me to take the lead after her initial kiss; to let it go at my pace."

"But you came from an area of the experiences of the Collective, and not from your own self?" asked Kathryn, beginning to really understand Seven at last. So many things dropped into place at that moment for Kathryn, she thought of all the times she and Seven had been at variance. when she thought she would never understand Seven, no matter how long she lived. Now it was all beginning to make sense. "Oh, sweetheart," she said, in a voice low with emotion, "did you tell her what was going on with you?"

"She was in love with who she thought I was, not the Collective. I couldn't disillusion her." Seven stopped talking and looked at her friend. "I think I will have that beverage now," she said, with a weak smile.

Kathryn smiled, got up off the couch and stretched deeply. "Oh, that's better," she said. Then, reaching her hand back down to Seven, she suggested "Come with me, stretch your legs, huh? We're getting to the tough part, let's have a break first. Yes?"

Seven smiled gratefully and took her friend's hand. "I believe it will be beneficial," she said, with a smile.

Kathryn watched amused as Seven battled to get her right leg working, which was still complaining after being half sat on. "That's the Collective speaking," said Kathryn knowingly. "What do you say?"

Seven looked at Kathryn and, for the first time in Kathryn's sight, the Borg fell away from the woman and the woman replied, "I'd love to."

"Computer, activate EMH."

"Please state the na. oh it's you, Lieutenant," said the Doctor in an easy-going manner. However, he studied B'Elanna's face and could see that all was not well with her. ". And what can I do for you at this hour?"

"I was, uh, rearranging. the furniture in my quarters earlier," B'Elanna smiled apologetically at her obvious lie, "when I did this." She eased her jacket and top off to reveal her torn right arm.

The Doctor's eyebrow enjoyed an elevation as he casually took hold of the dermal regenerator and indicated that she should sit up on the bio bed. He then began passing the instrument over her skin, watching her slight reaction to the tingling it produced. "Didn't like the position of the couch?" he asked cockily, taking in the sight of her hands, which were showing sizeable bruises.

"Can we keep this off the record, Doc?"

"You know I have to record the treatment of your injuries," he reprimanded, but when he looked into her face he felt the need to help, "but I can record the cause as some kind of domestic accident, and leave it at that."

She smiled at him sheepishly, "Thanks Doc. I guess not everyone needs to know the extent of my. domestic reorganisation."

Finishing his work on her right arm, he moved to her hands, passing the regenerator over the bruises and watching them fade. "Did your couch get you anywhere else, Lieutenant?"

His humour was not lost on her, "Might have got my left leg," she suggested.

"Perhaps your couch has an attitude problem," the Doctor stated as she revealed her leg, with a large welt on her mid shin. He passed a medical tricorder over the site. "Hmmm."


"You have chipped the bone. What did this? Off the record of course." He wanted an answer.

B'Elanna sighed, "Off the record it was a chair. It fell back against me after I had. moved it, with some force."

A few minutes later, the Chief Engineer was as good as new. She looked into the Doctor's eyes and asked a silent question.

"It'll be our little secret," he reassured her as she dressed, "although it's going to require a little creative thinking on my part. But then, after all, I am a hologram of superior intellect."

The grateful woman placed a hand on the Doctor's arm and smiled at him shyly, "I'm sure you'll do just fine. And thanks." With that she left Sickbay.

The Doctor watched her go with a mixture of concern and puzzlement, at least anyone watching him would have sworn that's what he felt. As the doors closed behind his patient, something else came to the fore that would have astounded his creator in the Alpha Quadrant - he cared.

"Computer, deactivate EMH," he said, quietly.

They'd enjoyed their break, and had stood side by side staring out at the stars, chatting easily about unrelated issues and drinking their beverages.

Kathryn had just put the cups into the recycler; and now, turning to face Seven, she asked "Do you feel ready to continue?" On receipt of Seven's nod, she led them back to the couch, where they both sat comfortably, inclined towards each other. Kathryn raised both eyebrows at once and nodded her head, conveying to Seven her readiness for the story to be continued.

Seven took her cue. "I slept with Ensign Davies to help my relationship with B'Elanna," stated Seven seriously.

"How on Earth do you work that out?"

"B'Elanna was in our relationship with her past history and experiences fully present and available to her in dealing with us. She had even said that her experiences with Tom had helped her prepare for a relationship with me, in fact had made her a better person to be with me." Seven looked down at her fingers.

"I had no such background; I found myself drawing more and more on the Collective's thoughts and feelings about romantic love, until I realised," she said sadly, "that second-hand experiences were no more real to me than my own guesses about such things." Seven fell silent. "I felt that I was inadequately prepared." Lifting her eyes, shining with tears, up to Kathryn's she continued quietly, "I didn't want to let B'Elanna down."

Kathryn instantly saw the logic that had led the young woman to sleep with the Ensign. "So you decided to go for the experience in reality. learn from it, and use that learning to enrich the relationship you had with B'Elanna?"

Seven nodded miserably "But it backfired."

"Out of interest, why Ensign Davies?"

Seven wiped her eyes, "Ensign Davies had pursued me frequently but I felt no attraction towards him, and told him so."

Kathryn smiled at the thought of young Jonathan Davies chasing the tall ex-Borg around the ship. She hadn't realised the young man was so ambitious! "Go on," she urged.

"You are laughing at me!"

"You? No." Kathryn shared her thoughts with Seven, which had both women smiling at the picture she had created in their minds.

"When I arrived at my decision, I sought out the Ensign and told him I had reconsidered. I allowed him to `romance' me on the Holodeck, with roses and a meal, and then I allowed him to express his romantic interest in me back in his quarters. He had apparently bribed his roommate with Holodeck time, to ensure we would have privacy."

Concerned, Kathryn asked, "And were you alright with what happened?"

"I found the incident unremarkable, from both a physical and emotional point of view. It held none of the feelings of intensity I share with B'Elanna. I went to tell her so."

"You did what?!"

"I told her what I had done, but I was unable to move into telling her why I had done it; she wouldn't hear me out."

"I am not at all surprised," mused Kathryn, thinking of the volatile Klingon receiving this information.

"She is very hurt and implies it is over between us - and now she won't talk to me at all." Seven's eyes filled with tears again and she looked at Kathryn in such a way, almost begging the older woman to put it right for her.

Kathryn reached out across the small gap between them and put her hand on Seven's cheek. "Oh, sweetheart," she said as she moved her hand to the back of Seven's head and drew the unhappy woman into a hug, "you're still a child in many ways."

"Do you think I'll ever become an adult?" came the tearful voice.

"I think you're growing from this experience, not in the way you had hoped, but growing nevertheless. You understand something from your point of view now, not the Collective's."

Seven pulled back and looked Kathryn in the eye. "I didn't expect it to cause so much pain, to me and B'Elanna. It hurts so much."

"I know. I can see that pain in your eyes. Come on." she sprung up from the couch, pulled Seven up after her and deposited the woman on a nearby chair. "You're staying here tonight, and no arguments. I don't want you left alone with all this in your head."

Kathryn was surprised to see that Seven actually looked relieved and, as she set about turning the couch into a bed, Seven came and helped her. Kathryn's mind then applied itself to something it could solve, and she approached the replicator to provide them both with a meal.

A week had gone by. On the second day, the Captain had provided Seven with one of the guest quarters for use when she was not regenerating, and the ex-Borg was slowly adjusting to her new life without her love being a part of it.

The daily meetings were clearly difficult for Seven and B'Elanna - Seven wore a sad look throughout them all but was none the less efficient, and B'Elanna was clipped, precise and plainly still very angry. Whenever they looked at each other, Seven quickly looked away as B'Elanna's eyes threatened to burn holes in hers. The Captain observed them, locked into their daily routine, unable to help.

In the daytime, Seven got on with her work efficiently and gave her Captain no qualms. In the evenings, Seven often sought out a friend called Kathryn, needing emotional support, which was freely given. The two women talked easily, and gradually Kathryn began to educate Seven on life and emotions, effectively putting her through school, the tutor amazed at how the student was coming along.

It wasn't all one-sided, either. Kathryn felt she was gaining a true friendship with the ex-Borg. She also gained a deep satisfaction, watching Seven grow and mature as a person in her own right. B'Elanna would be proud, she thought.

"Seeing a lot of her lately, aren't you Captain?" B'Elanna spat at her superior, in Engineering. "They say you're an item, you know."

"Rumours, nothing more," answered Kathryn with her voice lowered. Even so, Carey had heard their conversation, she knew, and she was grateful when he respectfully moved out of earshot.

"There's no smoke without fire," muttered the Chief Engineer as she moved away and busied herself with something insignificant.

"Now listen!" Kathryn grabbed B'Elanna's sleeve and held her still while she spoke with her. "Seven explained to me why she did what she did. If you bothered to listen to her it makes perfect sense, given her innocence and inexperience with life."

"Innocence! Is that what they're calling sleeping around and breaking your partner's heart these days!"

"Hear me out, Lieutenant."

"No, you listen to me." B'Elanna's dark eyes flashed at Kathryn's. "I can only stand this kind of hurt once in a lifetime, do you understand? I won't set myself up for it again. Seven and I are through."

The Captain looked at the hurt in her Chief Engineer's eyes, the same hurt she saw regularly in Seven's. "You love each other so much," she said quietly, "are you really prepared to just walk away from the kind of love that most of just dream about?" Kathryn smiled sadly at B'Elanna. "Where's the honour, Lieutenant, in condemning someone without giving them a fair trial, huh?"

Kathryn let go of B'Elanna's sleeve and walked out of Engineering, very aware that two tearful eyes were watching her back.

This was never going to work. These pillows had got it in for her, thought B'Elanna; they were related to rocks, she was sure. And the room temperature - that was in on the conspiracy too. For the fourth time that night, she ordered the computer to change the temperature while she flung back her cover. Restless, hot, bothered and uncomfortable, she lay there in the dark. She hoped sleep would become her friend and not some elusive butterfly, taunting her with her past memories of being able to achieve it.

`Kahless, Great Warrior,' she pleaded, `you fought your brother Morath for 12 days continually after he brought shame on your house. Show me the strength and the courage to live through Seven's dishonour of me.' She snatched the pillow from beneath her head and hugged it to her, turning sideways and drawing her knees up, adopting a foetal position. Sleep found her then.

Behind closed eyes, B'Elanna saw herself dressed in a full Klingon outfit, with Bat'leth, standing over Seven of Nine who cowered at her feet. B'Elanna struck again and again with the Bat'leth, but there was no honour in this kill. Her opponent wouldn't fight back; she simply looked into the eyes of her would-be assassin and awaited her death, considering she deserved it.

Raising her hand for the final blow, the warrior B'Elanna snorted and hurled her weapon aside and walked away shouting, "you're not worth the kill. It will hurt you more to live with your pain. Let that be my satisfaction for your dishonour!"

Seven got up slowly and watched tearfully as the warrior walked away from her. Her wounds were not impeding her movement, and she walked off into the nearby forest, away from prying eyes. There she changed her form into that of a deer and stepped into the clearing once more, setting off on the same path as the warrior.

The clearing was ending slowly, the trees becoming more plentiful now, and the deer picked her way through them with ease. Up ahead she could at last see the warrior, sitting on the ground and leaning her back against a tree. The deer approached cautiously, unsure of her welcome. She needn't have been concerned: the warrior's eyes grew misty when she saw the fine creature and the deer gained the courage to go right up to the warrior and place her soft muzzle in a battle-scarred hand.

"Hello, my beauty," crooned B'Elanna sadly, stroking the deer's forehead. The creature flicked her ears and shook her head, but didn't back away. B'Elanna reached to stroke the sleek neck and the deer allowed it, although her instincts were still warning her she may yet be attacked. Slowly, however, the deer found trust and settled down beside the warrior, who stroked her and marvelled at the behaviour of this wild animal.

The deer moved her position and stretched her long neck across the warrior's lap and she licked the hand that lay there. Then she lifted her neck upward to the warrior's neck and licked there also. As she did, she reverted back to Seven of Nine, much to the amazement of B'Elanna.


"Be with me, B'Elanna," said Seven softly, "or kill me. I cannot be without you. Choose, my love."

"You dishonoured our relationship. You hurt me deeply. I cannot forget."

Seven sighed and moved away from the warrior. She got to her feet and retraced her steps, back to the clearing. The warrior watched for a while and then followed. As Seven reached the clearing, she found the discarded Bat'leth and in one sure movement fatally cut herself with it and fell in a pool of blood.

The warrior, seeing what was about to happen, had broken into a run to try to prevent it, but was too far behind. Reaching the crumpled woman, B'Elanna cradled her, stroking her hair, as life began to ebb away. Seven looked into the dark eyes she knew so well and whispered, "I love you. Find a way to forgive me one day," and then fell back - the last breath gone.

The warrior was stunned. It took her a while to realise the fair creature in her arms was gone; when she did she threw back her head and howled the soul's release to Sto-Vo-Kor, knowing in that moment that this gentle soul deserved to be among the honoured dead.

A movement disturbed the warrior's grief; she turned her head and saw a vision of Kahless, the Great Warrior and bowed her head in salute.

"You asked for my help," boomed Kahless in his mighty voice. "Look upon what has transpired here."

B'Elanna looked from Kahless back to the face of her love, lifeless and still. Suddenly angry, she looked back at Kahless: "I asked for your help and you bring me to this?" she screamed, uncomprehendingly.

"I bring you to your choices girl! Let this love live. or kill it. Which is it to be?" He faded as she stared at him, understanding finally what he meant. She returned her attention to Seven, fully expecting her to be alive and responsive now, but she was as dead as before, and B'Elanna felt hopelessness growing around her hearts.

"This was one choice," came the voice of Kahless from the surrounding countryside, "you have another."

"You have another."

"You have another."

B'Elanna burst through the barriers of sleep into wakefulness. Seven was here, on the ship, alive! "Computer, locate Seven of Nine."

Seven of Nine is in her quarters

"Computer, what is the location of Seven of Nine's quarters?"

With the information in her head, she dressed as quickly as she could and ran out into the corridor, filled with hope.

Seven was seated, looking out at the stars. Her recent regeneration cycle had been sufficient for her needs and she did not require sleep. Getting into bed only served to remind her that she was alone, and she could not take that reminder.

When the door chime pulled her from her thoughts she realised it would be B'Elanna. It would be B'Elanna in anger, finally wanting revenge on Seven, who had hurt her so. She was ready. Moving over to the door she let the woman in but was unprepared for what was to follow.

B'Elanna scooped Seven into a bear hug and showered her neck with kisses. All she could keep repeating was, "Seven. Seven."

Seven pulled back. "I don't understand," she said, with her blue eyes begging explanation.

"All I understood before today was that you hurt me deeply," began B'Elanna. Seven looked away; a loving hand retrieved her face. "But I understand now that it would hurt me more to be without you."

Seven didn't yet understand B'Elanna's change of heart and right now she didn't care. "I love you, my life," she answered simply, grateful that she had another chance to say those words to her love, and she allowed herself to be held.

"Get your things, you're coming home. I want to hold you in my arms tonight. Tomorrow I'll figure out how I'm gonna try to forgive you."

Seven was deeply asleep, lying slightly across B'Elanna and being held in her strong arms. As B'Elanna hovered near sleep, she pictured herself under the tree with the deer snuggled up against her. The deer nuzzled her and then reverted back to Seven.

"Be with me, B'Elanna," said Seven softly, "or kill me. I cannot be without you. Choose, my love."

"You dishonoured our relationship. You hurt me deeply, but you also hurt yourself deeply. You must have had a good reason, because I know you to be a good person," the warrior reasoned. "I cannot lose you - I cannot lose us. I choose to be with you, Seven of Nine - always,"

Seven snuggled back into the warrior's safe arms and allowed her despair to leave her at last.

"Let this love live. or kill it. Which is it to be?" asked Kahless of B'Elanna, one more time.

"Kahless, Great Warrior - I will let it live," mouthed the warrior silently, as she held her prize in her arms and joined her in sleep.

The End

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