DISCLAIMER: I do not own these characters, except Mara Fillmore, who I made up. The others belong to Paramount. This story was a writing exercise only, no intent to infringe, insult or profit is intended
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Clearing the Air
From her table nearest the galley, Seven of Nine watched as a new face entered the crowded mess hall looking distinctly uncomfortable. Seven understood the young woman's nervousness as this was her first shift on Alpha watch and that meant having to work with several new people. Mara Fillmore had previously been a little known Ensign who had recently been promoted to Alpha Shift. Seven herself knew little about the woman, but she knew what it was like to have to learn to interact with new people. She watched as the woman looked around the full mess hall for a place to sit.
Seven was as usual sitting alone. Her occasional dining companion Naomi Wildman was spending the day with her mother who had the day off. She contemplated suggesting the Ensign sit at her table since she had the room, but before she could decide she saw Lieutenant Torres gesture the woman over to where she sat with Tom Paris and Harry Kim and the three of them greeted the newcomer with a warmth they had never shown to her. With of course, the exception of Mr. Kim. She found herself watching the group talking and laughing and suddenly felt an unwelcome wave of loneliness wash over her. She hated the feeling. From the time she was six years old, she had been a part of the Borg collective who believed that such emotions were irrelevant. Then after Janeway had turned her into an individual, she found that no matter how hard she tried she was unable to avoid them. It was at times like this that a small part of her missed the uncomplicated focus of the collective.
B'Elanna Torres smiled as Tom made another one of his lame jokes trying to loosen up the still uncomfortable Ensign. She, like the rest of the senior staff, had heard good things about the Ensign. Despite her awkwardness, the young woman seemed pleasant, and would make a good addition to the 'day' shift. Torres herself wasn't very good at making friends, but hanging around with Paris and Kim had made it a lot easier and she did what she could to make the woman feel welcome. Suddenly she felt a tingling at her back that warned her she was being watched. She turned to see Seven of Nine sitting alone and looking in their direction. Probably taking notes again, Torres thought irritably. She started to turn back but something caught her attention. If she didn't know the former drone better, she would have thought she looked rather sad. Apparently realizing B'Elanna had caught her looking at the happy table, Seven nodded once in cool acknowledgement then stood up, and after depositing the tray that still had most of her food on it at a nearby receptacle, she quickly left the hall. That was odd, B'Elanna thought. Even for Seven. She shrugged and turned back to her table mates.
Four hours later, B'Elanna was walking from console to console inspecting individual readouts. For once, there seemed to be no catastrophes on the horizon and the engines and warp core were running at peak efficiency. In short, the Lieutenant was bored. So much so, she found herself wishing that Seven would drop by unannounced so she could yell at her a little. But the former Borg hadn't made an appearance all day, nor had she commed her to demand her presence in Astrometics and that in and of itself was damned strange. The woman usually bothered her at least three times a day to either complain about something B'Elanna was working on, or to demand something. The irrational part of her brain briefly wondered if this silent treatment was just another one of Seven's ways of getting under her skin.
Inexplicably, she recalled the expression on the other woman's face before she had left the mess hall earlier. As many times as she had called Seven an emotionless drone both to her face and behind her back, she had almost always known that that wasn't exactly true. She had seen Seven in enough situations to know the woman did have feelings, but she showed them so rarely that B'Elanna tended to forget.
Finally boredom won out and on a rare whim she decided to go irritate Seven of Nine for a change. She left Engineering after telling Lieutenant Carey to keep an eye on things and headed to Astrometrics. She entered the large room and saw Seven in her usual place in front of a console typing away as various images flashed on the massive view screen in front of her. Seven made no indication that she had heard the doors slide open and kept working. B'Elanna looked around and saw that they were the only two in the room. It suddenly occurred to her that almost every time she saw Seven, she was alone. For some reason, B'Elanna found that rather sad. She wondered if the former drone ever got lonely. She herself knew only too well what loneliness felt like and it wasn't pleasant.
"Lieutenant Torres, is there something I can help you with?"
The question startled B'Elanna as Seven hadn't even turned around.
"How did you know it was me?"
"I can not think of anyone else who would come here aside from the Captain. As I just spoke to her a few moments ago, I knew it would not be her."
"Have I interfered with your work in some way, Lieutenant?"
"What? No I just " B'Elanna was startled. She had just planned to come in and aggravate the Borg, but somehow the tables got turned. "Never mind," she grumbled and turned to leave.
"Why did you come here, Lieutenant? Do you require my assistance?" Seven finally turned and had an expression on her face that made her previous ones look downright friendly.
"No. Not really." Torres was quiet for a moment, regretting her sudden impulse. Finally she just shrugged. "As I'm sure you're aware, there's nothing going on right now so I thought I'd check and see if you needed any more power transferred over here."
Seven looked slightly confused by the rare offer.
"No. All systems are functioning fine. Thank you." She turned back to her console, neatly dismissing her visitor.
B'Elanna found herself gritting her teeth. This polite and complacent Seven of Nine was even more irritating than the superior acting one. "Okay Borg, Spill."
"Clarify," Seven ordered.
B'Elanna wanted to pull her hair out. Seven of Nine was the single most aggravating person she knew, even when she wasn't trying to be.
"That's just an expression Seven. It means well it's hard to explain. I just want you to tell me what's bugging bothering you." She decided to avoid the term 'bugging' as she didn't want more confusion over vernacular.
"Nothing is bothering me Lieutenant." Seven kept working so B'Elanna moved to stand beside her. She leaned back against a console, crossed her arms over her chest and faced the taller woman, waiting for her to speak. Seven finally stopped her typing and looked at the half Klingon Engineer with her ocular implant raised in what could be construed as either curiosity or impatience.
"Look Seven. I know we don't exactly see eye to eye," Seven's mouth opened and B'Elanna knew she was about to get an explanation about their disparate heights and put a hand up to cut her off at the pass. "Get along," she clarified, "but you haven't criticized my work, attempted unauthorized modifications or borrowed anything without asking all day, so I know that something has you upset. What is it?"
"Emotions are "
"Irrelevant," B'Elanna completed the phrase with her. She'd heard that word enough to last her a lifetime. "I know. But that doesn't mean you don't have them."
Seven was silent for a moment, and then B'Elanna saw a flicker of anger cross her face. Now that was an expression she was familiar with.
"The last time we spoke, Lieutenant, you reminded me that I do not have any." Back to work she went, once more turning her face from the small, bossy woman.
B'Elanna frowned. She and Seven had had so many verbal altercations over the last few years that she couldn't keep track of every insult she had thrown at the other woman. But she couldn't think of a crueler insult than to tell someone they had no feelings.
Suddenly various images crossed her mind. B'Elanna had seen the look of pride as Seven watched One help research a proto-nebula and also knew how devastated she had been when he sacrificed himself for Voyager. She thought of the guilt that she had seen on Seven's face when she remembered reassimilating members of her own unimatrix and linking them permanently together. She recalled the agony in Seven's voice when she had been consumed by the personalities of those she'd assimilated. Finally B'Elanna recalled the conversation she'd once had with Seven who revealed her fear that if she died, she would be forgotten. She had looked so lost at that moment. B'Elanna silently cursed the quick temper that had caused her to coldly issue words that were not just hurtful, but untrue as well.
"I shouldn't have said that Seven. You frustrate and drive me crazy sometimes, but it wasn't fair for me to say you have no feelings."
"Regrets for words already spoken are irrelevant. And you are not the easiest person to work with either."
B'Elanna smiled at that. "I have heard that from time to time," she agreed pleasantly. "So what's bothering you? And don't say 'nothing'."
Seven sighed. "Lieutenant. If you have nothing to do, perhaps you would be better off conversing with your new friend Ensign Fillmore. You seemed to have no trouble welcoming her to your mini collective."
"Oh," B'Elanna said a little guiltily. "So that's the trouble is it?" She remembered the sad look in Seven's eyes when she had watched B'Elanna and her friends welcoming the Ensign. B'Elanna felt a flicker of shame as she realized how differently she had welcomed the new former Borg to the crew.
"I know that I "
"I don't know why my emotional state has suddenly become so important." Seven interrupted.
"Because I'm concerned about you damnit," B'Elanna growled, fighting to keep her temper and losing.
At that, Seven did something she rarely did. She lost hers. "I find that statement to be somewhat dubious given our history. You frequently comment on my attitude, my implants and my suggestions when all I have wished to do is help the crew achieve their mission of returning to the Alpha Quadrant. You dismiss them and me and often say things about me that you are not aware I can overhear. Or simply don't care if I do."
B'Elanna opened her mouth to argue, but then closed it. She couldn't dispute anything Seven had just said.
After a few seconds of awkward silence, Seven spoke once more. "What you seem to forget, Lieutenant is that I never asked to be assimilated by the Borg, nor did I ask to be removed from the collective."
"You're right Seven."
Seven stopped working and turned toward B'Elanna. She quirked an eyebrow in surprise at B'Elanna's rare admission, but continued quietly. "Naomi Wildman and Icheb have been the only people on this ship that have accepted me for who I am and do not expect me to become someone I am not. That includes the Captain. As kind as she has been, she still wishes me to become more like her. Or you. I am not, nor will I ever be, what everyone tries to make me. Nor will I apologize for it. I can not change the way I am anymore than you can change being bad tempered and judgmental."
After giving the longest speech B'Elanna had ever heard her utter, Seven turned her head away, but B'Elanna would have none of it. If she was going to do something she rarely did and apologize, she wanted to look at the person she was apologizing to.
"Seven." No response. "Seven, ignoring me will not make me go away." She had to suppress a small grin. Sometimes talking to the former Borg was like talking with young Naomi. Finally the taller woman turned to her and though her face was expressionless and her eyes were dry, they reflected every ounce of hurt that had ever been inflicted on her and the perpetually cranky half-Klingon was filled with shame. Seven had not just heard every insult that B'Elanna and the other members of the crew had thrown at her, she had felt them. She thought back to a conversation she had had a while ago with Chakotay, after a particularly heated argument with the Borg.
"Keep her away from me Chakotay," she had ordered, not caring Seven was standing mere feet away. In her rage she had forgotten that Seven had enhanced hearing due to the Borg implants still within her. "She is a rude, obnoxious machine and I can't stand her. If she keeps coming in here, I will not be held accountable for my actions."
Chakotay had justifiably chastised her for not behaving like an officer and told her to deal with Seven on her own. He also told her to ask herself why Seven kept going to her instead of someone who wouldn't continually berate her. He believed it was because Seven respected her, and that he suspected that she was secretly seeking B'Elanna's approval. But the Klingon had scoffed at that. Now she wasn't so sure. Why would Seven willingly subject herself to B'Elanna's wrath on a regular basis?
Seven appreciated directness, so B'Elanna didn't beat around the bush.
"Seven, all this time have you been trying to get my approval?"
Seven tried to leave at that but B'Elanna gently grabbed her enhanced arm to stop her. She knew the Borg could send her flying across the lab with just a slight twitch of her arm, and was somewhat surprised when she didn't.
"Your approval is ."
"Don't you dare say it," B'Elanna ordered. "I'm beginning to hate that word. Just answer the damned question."
Seven was silent for so long, B'Elanna didn't think she was going to answer. Finally, she saw the blonde head nod once.
B'Elanna blinked her eyes in surprise. What an idiot she was. "Well then why are you always criticizing me?"
Seven was quiet so long that B'Elanna didn't think she was going to answer.
"My intentions have not been to criticize. You are a brilliant Engineer and I only wished to offer my knowledge and assistance. My words may have been blunt, but the Borg do not lie or prevaricate. Those are human qualities that I still have not mastered. "
B'Elanna looked at her for a moment, and then gave a half smile. "Geez, Seven. You really know how to make a person feel like a jerk."
"Jerk?" She quirked an eyebrow at the unfamiliar word.
"Never mind. Look, I don't see why we can't get along. Despite whatever I may have said or will say in anger, you're a better person than I've given you credit for. I've seen you with One, and the children and I know you have a good heart. And you're painfully honest," she added with a grin. "And I know you have feelings. I should never have said that you didn't. Sometimes my temper gets a hold of my mouth and I am sorry for that."
Seven stared at her in confusion for a moment then nodded her head. "Your apology is accepted. But only if you will accept mine."
"Still setting terms are you?" B'Elanna said with a grin, puzzled that forgiveness came so quickly and so easily to the taller woman. "Agreed. But I won't no can't promise never to yell at you again. You can be very irritating, you know. "
Seven raised an eyebrow and her lips quirked up in a rare smile.
"I have heard that from time to time," she smiled repeating B'Elanna's own words. But I won't promise not to tell you when you are mistaken, or not to get frustrated with you either. As you say you are short tempered, and very stubborn. Also, I would hate to deprive your crew of their daily entertainment. They seem to enjoy our frequent altercations."
B'Elanna grinned when she realized Seven had made another joke. "Fair enough," she said. She knew that there was more bothering Seven and she guessed the former Borg was lonely. She decided it was time that she, Tom and Harry start including her in their activities. No one should have to be alone.
"Well, I need to get back to Engineering. We're about due for another disaster and I should be there when and if it happens. She turned and headed toward the door but turned back to see Seven looking at her, with her head cocked to one side, totally bemused. Seven of Nine may look like a grown woman, but socially she was almost childlike. People, especially B'Elanna, needed to remember that more often.
"I'm glad we had this talk Seven. Just know that when I lose my temper, which considering your affinity for making unauthorized modifications to my engines I'm bound to do... frequently, I'm just venting and expressing my displeasure with your actions. I will try not to say anything deliberately hurtful."
"Understood, Lieutenant. I will try not to take your rudeness personally."
B'Elanna opened her mouth to retort, but closed it and laughed. She really had had no idea the former drone had such a dry sense of humor.
"Okay then. See ya Borg," she said with a smile.
To her complete amazement Seven gave a half smile back and replied, "see ya Klingon." Their eyes met and held and B'Elanna felt an unexpected and completely unwanted flare of something when she saw the smile that altered Seven's features. She was further startled when she saw a matching flicker in the blonde's eyes. Both women blushed and B'Elanna quickly said goodbye and all but ran from the Astrometrics Lab telling herself that that did not just happen.
"Shields down to sixty percent," called out the always calm voice of Lieutenant Commander Tuvok as Voyager shook from a weapons blast.
Captain Kathryn Janeway sat on the edge of her chair, looking at the tactical data flowing across the console by her chair.
The 'pirates' as Tom Paris referred to them, had attacked without warning. They had de-cloaked almost directly off their port bow and immediately fired, damaging the impulse engines. For once Kathryn refrained from any attempts at a diplomatic solution and returned fire, but without working engines, there wasn't a lot that they could do.
"B'Elanna, how long until we have engines?" She demanded calmly.
"I don't know Captain. I have Seven working on .Seven! What the hell " The communication broke off suddenly.
"B'Elanna! What's going on?" Kathryn rose from her chair.
"Seven is trying to assimilate the engines. She's using her tubules in order to insert nanoprobes to get the engines to adapt."
"Is it working?" Kathryn asked with some agitation.
There was a pause. "It's a little early to tell yet, Captain but this is a dangerous interface. She's connected to a hell of a lot of circuitry."
"Seven knows what she's doing B'Elanna. If she can " She was interrupted by a hard blast coming from behind her.
"Shields down to thirty percent." reported Tuvok through the noise of exploding consoles.
"Fire aft plasma torpedoes!" Kathryn shouted as the bridge was rocked hard again by another hit.
"Direct hit, enemy shields severely damaged," called Harry.
"Weapons are offline, Captain!" yelled Harry.
"It's working Captain, the engines are adapting. I Oh my god. Seven!"
Kathryn had heard the horrifying sounds she recognized as an electrocution in the background.
"The console overloaded with Seven still attached," B'Elanna rushed out. Kathryn heard a surprising tone of fear in the Klingon's voice.
"How is she?"
"She's still alive but barely. We're transferring to sickbay now. Torres out."
Kathryn longed to tell her to stay in engineering, but she knew she had her hands full.
"Impulse engines now online," Tom cried enthusiastically, even as he began to initiate evasive maneuvers.
"Thank you Seven," breathed Harry.
"Enemy is breaking off," stated Tuvok. "They have re-cloaked."
"Pursuit course?" Tom asked.
"There is no trace of the attacking ships," Tuvok responded.
Kathryn sighed. "We won't pursue now, but they know we're injured so I fully expect them come back to try and finish the job. Go to yellow alert. I'm going to sickbay, Chakotay, you have the bridge."
Kathryn arrived in sickbay to see the Doctor working over a prone Seven of Nine. B'Elanna stood nearby looking as worried as Kathryn had ever seen her.
"What's the status?" She asked as she drew close to B'Elanna.
"Not good Captain," the half-Klingon replied distractedly. "If she had been even slightly less Borg, she'd be dead."
Kathryn approached the bio bed and looked down at her adopted crew member. The doctor had cut back the bio suit from her Borg arm, and it was nearly black where the tubules had been fried.
"How is she doctor?"
"Not good. Her implants made a very strong conductor for the huge amount of electricity that went through her. A few of her internal implants were badly burned. Her nanoprobes were also affected and appear to be having trouble repairing the damage."
B'Elanna stepped beside the Captain looking down at the unconscious woman. "She'll be okay though, right?" An inexplicable tremor went through her at the thought that this woman who was so strong and who'd suffered so much already would die from a mere power surge. That she'd never again have the opportunity to annoy Voyager's Chief Engineer was unacceptable to B'Elanna.
"It's too early to tell. We do have some of her nanoprobes that she produced for the weapons to fight Species 8472. I am going to try and insert them back into her in order to help repair the damaged implants."
"Good. I'll leave her in your capable hands then doctor," Kathryn smiled wanly at the hologram. "Please keep me informed." She looked sadly down once more at the pale woman and patted the uninjured hand.
"Yes, Captain." He went back to his office where the nanoprobes were being kept, and Kathryn turned to B'Elanna who had moved closer to Seven's bedside. She was taken aback, to say the least; by the intense look the engineer was giving her nemesis. She watched as B'Elanna slowly reached out a hand as if to brush back a lock of the blonde hair that had escaped Seven's normally perfect arrangement, then quickly pull it back. What's all this then? Kathryn wondered briefly.
"B'Elanna, the attackers appear to have left for the moment, and I want to have a meeting with all the senior staff to discuss ship status and find out what we can about these beings and how we can detect their cloaked ships in case of future attacks."
B'Elanna turned towards her Captain, still trying to grasp her unwelcome discovery that she was attracted to a woman. A woman who drove her crazy on a good day.
"Captain, can Vorik sit in? He knows the status as well as I do, and I need to be here to help the doctor with Seven's implants."
Kathryn shot her Chief Engineer a speculative glance. "Of course, B'Elanna. Whatever we can do to help get Seven back on her feet. But be available for questions."
Kathryn looked with concern at Seven for a moment before leaving sickbay.
B'Elanna watched the Captain leave before turning back to the bio bed. The doctor had activated the opening to remove Seven's cortical node. B'Elanna hadn't seen the previous operation to replace the node that had malfunctioned and as an engineer she was morbidly fascinated to see the small device emerge from the smooth forehead. She had worked on Seven's implants when she had first been removed from the collective, but after all this time it still took her by surprise and angered her to fully see what the Borg had done to the beautiful woman. She often wondered what Seven thought when she looked at her own implants or each time she had to regenerate. B'Elanna found herself slightly depressed by the thought.
"The node doesn't look too badly damaged," the doctor was saying, shaking B'Elanna from her musings. "Can you repair it?"
B'Elanna took the node from the doctor, somewhat weirded out that she was technically holding a part of Seven's mind.
"Yes, I think so."
"Good. It was nearly impossible to replace the last one and we're all out of Ichebs to provide one."
B'Elanna frowned. "Where else can I help, doc?"
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