Inspired by a challenge issued by Voyooho in Voq Je Bang, the rules of which are displayed just prior to the start of Part I, I must therefore dedicated this to Voyooho and thank her for firing my muse.
I also need to thank my betas Arcanum and Anaglyph, without whom, all this would be far poorer and quite littered with mistakes – thanks for the support.
DISCLAIMER:- The characters belong to Paramount unfortunately – wasted opportunities!
RATING: PG-13 (just in case) for f/f. If this isn't your thing – don't read it.
PAIRING: B'Elanna/Seven

Rules of the Challenge:-

1. B'Elanna has to actively seduce an unwilling Seven.
2. Seven has to be involved in a relationship with someone other then Janeway.
3. Has to have at least PG-13 content, for the same reason as wyld's challenge.
4. Must find some way to deal with cortical node booby trap besides ignoring it.

By Rebelgirl

Pt I

B'Elanna Torres curled her fingers round the hot cup of coffee and took a deep sip, surveying the Mess Hall from over the rim of the black and silver cup. She could feel the moist heat steam onto her face from the cup even as the cup warmed her fingers and hands. From her vantage point near one of the large windows in the hall, she could watch the occupants unnoticed, or more particularly, watch for one occupant.

B'Elanna had finally found enough Klingon honour and courage to be honest with herself about her feelings for the ex-drone. As her love for helmsman Tom Paris had dwindled, her attention had focused on Seven of Nine and how she felt whenever they crossed paths. Their confrontations were legendary. Recently though, they had been far less frequent as the Chief Engineer had taught herself not to react to the actions of the tall blonde in the same hot-headed manner. She felt sure that Seven of Nine deliberately provoked her in order to get a response. As she continued to analyse that she came to wonder if the borg was doing it to be irritating or because she craved the same feelings as B'Elanna from the interaction.

B'Elanna could no longer deny was that she was totally head over heels in love with Seven. Her hearts would race when she felt her presence. Her pupils would dilate, trying to take in as much light as possible so that she could admire the tall, curvaceous body, the swell of her breasts and sway of her hips as she moved. Before conversing with Seven, she would fight to get her breathing under control and her skin felt hypersensitive when she was so close to her, yet unable to touch her.

Her stomachs lurched as the object of her desire walked through the doors and up to the counter. B'Elanna was too far away to hear any conversation between Seven and Neelix, but she could admire how she gracefully nodded her head as Neelix said something that met her approval.

Seven turned and she smiled, her face lighting up as she detected the instigator of the smile. B'Elanna thought her hearts would give out completely as Seven approached her, but just as suddenly wished that they would when Seven sat down at a table opposite the provocateur of her smile. B'Elanna closed her eyes briefly - trying to block out the image - but it was too late. It seemed burnt onto her retinas. Seven had sat down across from Thomas Eugene Paris.

Tom rose to brush his lips lightly across Seven's cheek. "Hi Seven, bang on time," he smiled warmly at her.

"You are incorrect, Tom. I am 3.45 minutes late. I needed to speak with Mr Neelix to request his help with the Borg children while I am occupied on our…" she paused slightly, searching for the right word.

"Date?" Tom offered.

Seven nodded.

Tom sat back and grinned. "You're gonna love it Seven, I've put a lot of work into this holo-program." He described the program animatedly until Seven stopped him with a quirked eyebrow.

"If you describe the whole program to me, it will hardly seem worthwhile taking part in it," she reminded him.

"As long as I'm with you anything seems worthwhile," replied Tom, but he took the hint and changed the subject.

Due to the proximity of her table, B'Elanna had managed to hear every word of Tom's plans. Every smile or look he shared with Seven cut deeply into her. She felt shocked by the intensity of her emotions. Not wishing to inflict further torture on herself, B'Elanna stood up, pushing her chair away with the backs of her legs and returned her cup to the replicator, retreating back towards her safe environment of engineering.

Seven glanced up and acknowledged B'Elanna's passing them with a nod. She felt somewhat uncomfortable in starting up a relationship with Tom, as she knew she would have to work closely with Lt. Torres but so far the half- Klingon had done nothing to indicate that she was unhappy about their relationship. Come to think of it, B'Elanna had done nothing to indicate her approval either but Seven felt that at least open hostility had been avoided. Tom was easy company and had been one of the first crewmembers to extend his friendship to her when she had first came aboard Voyager. At the time he had been involved with the Chief Engineer but as Tom had explained, the two had drifted apart.

The one link that had held them together had been B'Elanna's pregnancy but since the accident in Engineering that had forced her to miscarry, Tom had admitted to B'Elanna that he no longer harboured the same feelings. They remained friends and they had supported each other through their loss but now it was time to move on.

Seven felt that the sandy haired helmsman was a suitable candidate for a first relationship, having researched the subject thoroughly. She felt comfortable in his presence and was relaxed enough to practise "small talk" and other inanities on him without feeling insecure. Her biggest problem was B'Elanna though.

After discovering that she had a cortical inhibitor that would never allow her to feel strong emotions like love, she had approached the Doctor and asked for advice. Seven had balked at the idea of extensive surgery that may or may not work and had covertly continued to research her problem. She now believed that she had a solution but it was one that would involve a great deal of involvement from the Chief Engineer. Seven was confident that B'Elanna would be willing to help under normal circumstances but was unsure that she would assist Seven in feeling love for Tom Paris.

The helmsman dragged her back to the present with a touch from his hand. "Hey, I lost you there for a moment", he grinned at her, but did not remove his hand from Seven's.

"I apologise, Tom. A matter personal in nature distracted me," she explained hesitantly and then stood up abruptly. "If you are ready to proceed, shall we go to the holodeck?"

B'Elanna was lying on the floor underneath the warp core muttering a whole host of klingon and human curses and in many cases, a mixture of the two as she tried to isolate the power fluctuation that was causing Voyager to drop out of warp without warning. It had taken her the better part of the shift to narrow it down to just one portion of the bio-neural circuitry but she was almost there now. As she reached, without looking, for her tricorder, her hand brushed across a boot, drawing B'Elanna out. Her eyes travelled hungrily up the boot owner's legs and over her torso before coming to a halt as she gazed into wide clear blue eyes.

"Can I be of assistance?" Seven asked, quirking the metallic implant above her eye questioningly.

Torres fought to regain control of her senses as she greedily absorbed as much of Seven as she could - from the look of her to her smell. She even sounded gorgeous and the small brunette wondered for a microsecond how Seven's voice would sound if she were crying B'Elanna's name aloud in passion.

She forced her brain to concentrate and eventually worked her dry mouth into answering. "If you'd been here a while ago I'd have said yes but I think it's done now". The engineer grabbed her tricorder and ducked back under, using her continued work as an excuse to hide her flushed face from the statuesque blonde.

"Then when you have finished, could I discuss a project with you?" Seven spoke slightly louder to combat the physical barrier separating their faces.

"Sure, Seven. But my shift finishes soon. Can we discuss it over dinner?" B'Elanna's muffled tones came from underneath where she was working. Somehow, B'Elanna had found it easier to ask Seven to dinner when she wasn't facing her.

"I do not require nutritional supplements.."

"At this time, yeah I know," finished B'Elanna. "Well I do and I can't think straight on an empty stomach".

Seven opened her mouth to question B'Elanna again when the Chief Engineer interrupted her.

"If you ask how my having an empty stomach interferes with my thinking process, I won't help you".

Wondering how the lieutenant could have anticipated her when she could not even see her, Seven merely looked at where she approximated the half klingon's head to be and asked, "Would 19:00 hours be convenient for you?"

After receiving an affirmative, Seven stared at the half-hidden body of Lieutenant Torres for a moment. She felt certain that the woman was smiling under the panel. Seven spun on her heel and wondered again at the complexity of B'Elanna Torres. She headed to find Tom and tell him that she would not be available to see him tonight.

Seven looked on in amazement as she watched B'Elanna busily tuck into a huge portion of Neelix's latest creation while barely pausing to breathe.

"You must have an extremely high metabolic rate, Lieutenant", she stated blandly.

B'Elanna's fork paused halfway on its journey to her mouth and she grinned wryly. "That's what being part klingon does to you, I think", she responded cheerily before adding, "and being Chief Engineer I barely get a chance to sit down, so I use up a lot of energy." She finished her forkful before speaking again. "So what is this project then Seven?"

Seven studied her wordlessly for a while before sliding a data padd across the small table towards B'Elanna silently.

B'Elanna paused slightly before picking the pad up. She wasn't certain but she felt sure that she'd seen worry, if not fear, pass fleetingly over Seven's exquisite features. Wondering why a project would cause her distress she reached out and examined the padd. Seven saw B'Elanna look confused briefly and was about to explain the whole concept when she was stopped by B'Elanna's raised hand. The olive skinned woman sat and studied the padd for several moments, totally absorbed in the information that had been submitted, her dinner completely forgotten. Seven merely waited, trying to read her expressive face as she dealt with each concept. Finally, B'Elanna looked up, sat back in her chair and exhaled audibly.

"Have you told the captain about this?" asked Torres.

Seven had anticipated the question but did was surprised that it was the first thing B'Elanna asked. "I did not want to approach the captain until I spoke with you. I believe that you are the only member of this crew able to assist me in this."

"I'm not sure I can help you Seven," B'Elanna began.

Seven fought off a wave of disappointment and regret, wondering if the Chief Engineer would not help because of Seven's relationship with Tom. Her worry proved unfounded as B'Elanna continued though.

"I don't know if I understand borg nano-circuitry well enough to make the modifications".

Seven released a breath she failed to realise she had been holding. "Lieutenant, you are the most skilful engineer on this ship. Your talents are legendary amongst your staff. You also possess phenomenal ingenuity and improvisational skills."

"Are you sure you are not Borg?" Seven asked suddenly, startling B'Elanna until she realised that Seven was actually joking.

"Quite sure," she grinned openly at the jest and Seven continued.

"I am unsure if this procedure will work, regardless of how much data I collate. However I am willing to attempt this rather than a medical operation that has poor odds at best for success; but only if you are prepared to work with someone you have a deep dislike for, Lieutenant." Seven hid none of the sadness she felt over this. Of all the people on board Voyager, B'Elanna was probably closest to her equal in intelligence and strength. Seven had just never been able to break through and actually become friends with the compact brunette.

B'Elanna stared at the beautiful blonde sitting opposite and wondered how Seven could have no perception of the feelings that were radiating from her. B'Elanna would happily die for Seven at this moment. A chance to foil the cortical inhibitor and release her deepest inner emotions, with the faint hope that they might one day be directed toward her, could not be forsaken. Simultaneously, she felt her hearts lurch as she realised that Seven needed her both as an engineer and as a friend.

She fought to keep her voice under control as she answered. "Then what I suggest we do is gather as much data as possible, rig out a few tests and then present the final findings to the captain. There's no point bringing this to her attention unless we're absolutely confident that we can be successful."

B'Elanna was warming to this challenge as every second passed and her mind was already racing ahead and working out duty schedules to get maximum time on the project.

Seven found herself comforted by the fact that B'Elanna had used the term 'we'. She knew now that the half-Klingon was sold on the idea and she would help Seven. Perhaps she had at last found a way through the volatile woman's defences. There had been no mention of how the result would affect either of them, and for that Seven was grateful. She could detect B'Elanna's rise in body temperature, pulse and breathing but reasoned that those reactions were in response to the project that had been laid before her. For the first time since she had discovered the terrible secret of the cortical inhibitor, Seven felt hope again.


B'Elanna Torres worked almost continually on the project for the next two weeks. Every spare moment not taken by Engineering had her pondering over bio-neural circuitry, gel-pack design and electrical transference data. Most of the work was done in the holodeck to minimise the damage to parts Voyager could ill afford to lose.

It was also time shared with Seven of Nine. Seven worked closely alongside B'Elanna, often explaining the finer aspects of Borg design and technology and how it could be related to Federation or, more often, Federation-B'Elanna Torres' hybrid technology. They would extrapolate data and conclusions together, bouncing ideas and solutions off each other, making rapid advancements.

Tom, who felt neglected and ignored for the second time in two relationships, would interrupt them frequently during their work. Seven would take her leave on occasion in order to spend time with him but found the intrusion on their work schedule frustrating, particularly if Tom used a ruse to extract her from the holodeck.

She found herself voicing her feelings to B'Elanna one afternoon after Tom had pried her from the holodeck on the pretence that Mizati was ill - only to discover that she was perfectly well but he had arranged a candle lit dinner for them to share in his quarters. He then accused her of selfishness when she failed to warm to his surprise. It was their first argument.

"I told him that his behaviour was irrational and childish," Seven confided to the half-Klingon and looked sharply at her when she heard a barely restrained snort of laughter from the Chief Engineer. "I do not understand how this can be funny, B'Elanna", she admonished.

To the small brunette's surprise, Seven pouted, causing her to throw her head back and laugh unreservedly. B'Elanna regained her composure quickly though and hurried to explain her reaction. "Seven, the first time Tom and I argued I used exactly the same words as you. He must have a sinking feeling of déjà vu now."

Seven's face lit up in understanding and she grinned openly at B'Elanna. "That would explain his actions directly after I uttered those words", she stated, prompting B'Elanna to collapse into laughter again.

"Don't tell me," she begged, gasping for breath, wiping away an errant tear, as she fought to regain control again. Eventually, a semblance of decorum was restored and B'Elanna leant against the workstation, arms folded and faced Seven. "So how do you feel about quarrelling with Tom then?" she asked softly.

Seven faltered slightly before answering. "I am unsure. I am still irritated by his actions so logically it has solved nothing, but I do nor regret my words, as I felt that my displeasure needed to be expressed. However I may have, I think the expression is, 'dented his ego' somewhat. I could have chosen less pointed adjectives", she reasoned objectively.

"Okay", replied B'Elanna slowly, "that's the clinical dissection of the argument. How do you actually feel about what happened?" she pursued doggedly.

Seven opened her mouth to reply and then stopped, looking at B'Elanna miserably. "I have no feelings over the events at all B'Elanna. Perhaps it is the cortical inhibitor preventing me from getting emotional over this."

"It could be," the smaller woman nodded. "But it may be that you just haven't developed deep enough feelings towards Tom to care," she articulated quietly. B'Elanna tried desperately to stop her mind from racing. She couldn't believe she had just voiced her opinion like that. She knew her heart was crazily hoping that Seven didn't have any sort of feelings for Tom but it was dishonourable to chase someone already committed in a relationship. She could hear her heart chastising her brain – aware of the irony in allowing her Klingon honour to guide her actions when she had for so long denied her heritage.

Seven allowed herself a few moments to consider B'Elanna's point. "Am I ever likely to develop those feelings though? With anyone, not just Tom?" she wondered aloud.

B'Elanna closed her eyes briefly to combat the pinprick of tears she felt begin and swallowed. "I hope so Seven, I truly do. Let's see if we can get any further with the gel packs", she suggested with a lighter voice, changing the subject to one more comfortable for the pair of them. Seven acknowledged her agreement by nodding her head curtly and B'Elanna swung her body round, examining the workstation carefully.

The two women continued their experiments, methodically overcoming each problem that emerged during their research. When not discussing hypotheses, they worked in a companionable silence, making extraordinary progress.

The chime of the holodeck door broke one of these silences. "Come in", B'Elanna yelled, without even looking up. The swish of the doors was followed by a soft footfall.

"I came to apologise, Seven".

Both women spun round to see Tom Paris holding a huge bouquet of orchids, wearing his most sincere smile. B'Elanna felt like she wanted to rip his heart out and eat it raw but she remained silent as Seven approached Tom and took the bouquet.

"Thank you Tom. I am unsure what to do with these flowers but I do understand that they are a symbol of reconciliation", she spoke gently.

"Thank you, Seven," Tom replied and put his arms round her and hugged her. B'Elanna turned back to her work, not wishing to see any more.

"Would you please have dinner with me?" Tom asked pleadingly. He hurriedly qualified his question. "No deception or ruse, just you and I sharing dinner in the mess hall."

Seven glanced at B'Elanna, hunched over a gel pack, prodding furiously at her data padd and then looked back at Tom. "Yes Tom, but this is a very special project to me. Please understand that I want to return to it after we finish."

Tom, knowing that it was best to quit while he was ahead, agreed willingly. "Sure thing, just don't bolt your food". He linked his arm in Seven's and escorted her out of the holodeck.

B'Elanna refused to glance at them as they left, instead allowing a solitary tear to trickle hotly down her cheek before sniffing angrily and cuffing it away.

Feeling that her emotions had taken enough for one day, the diminutive engineer continued alone. As soon as she saw Seven's data she had realised that the idea was ingenious, however the more she delved into its nuances, the more she realised how radical Seven's solution was. The basic principle was to replace the borg nano-circuitry from around the cortical inhibitor with bio-neural circuitry from a gel–pack, substitute their functions and then safely remove the inhibitor. The bio-neural circuitry to continue functioning and fool Seven's borg systems into thinking that it was still present.

The largest of the many snags that they had to overcome was the adaptivity of Borg technology. Despite exhaustive analysis, B'Elanna could still not find a way to adapt the bio-neural circuitry into Seven's systems faster than the nanoprobes could detect and reject it.

"Unless…" she spoke aloud, despite being alone. Suddenly, B'Elanna's brilliant mind kicked into overdrive as a glimmer of an idea formed within its recesses. Within seconds she was totally engrossed in performing a mass of rapid calculations and tests that took her deep into the gamma shift.

Seven lay in Tom's bed watching his face as he slept and wondered if she could ever really feel passion. She had studied the helmsman's face as he had lain on top of her and examined her face with his fingers, before kissing her gently. She scrutinised him as his passion mounted and he kissed her harder, moving to her breasts, kissing one and massaging the other.

She felt his erection on her thigh before he swivelled his hips slightly, rubbing the tip along her vagina several times before finally adjusting his position and entering her slowly. He paused, looking triumphantly into her eyes as he began thrusting into her, his breathing becoming rapid. She had felt her own body respond physically to the attention. Her heart rate increased and she undulated with him. His cry as he came was euphoric and he collapsed across her in ecstatic exhaustion … but as he climaxed, she felt strangely detached from the whole experience, as if she were watching from outside her body.

She sighed quietly as she adjusted position slightly, gently pushing Tom away from her arm so she could restore circulation. Her bewilderment continued as she realised that her thoughts could not remain focused on the sandy haired pilot for long. Instead, she found herself examining the relationship she had with B'Elanna Torres. If ever passion and feeling could be made into a person, surely it would be someone like B'Elanna. Nothing she did was done with anything less than total commitment, so much so that she could easily become obsessed with tasks. Seven recalled how she had zealously worked on their project in the holodeck and how animated she was as she formulated ideas and solved problems.

Seven sat bolt upright, ignoring Tom's mumbled annoyance at being disturbed from his resting-place. She had meant to return to the holodeck to continue with B'Elanna when Tom had convinced her to return to his quarters. Caught up in his excitement and her own curiosity, he had moved her into the bedroom. She couldn't think of their time together as 'making love', as she felt so emotionless about it all but she supposed that must have been what they had done. Before Tom had drifted off to sleep he had muttered that everything would be fine once her emotions were released.

Perhaps he was right but Seven was not so sure. However, staying here would not assist B'Elanna so she swung her legs to the edge of the bed and scanned the room for her clothing.

"What'cha doin'?" Tom slurred sleepily. Seven looked down at him and answered, "I need to assist Lieutenant Torres."

"She's probably in bed asleep right now honey, which is where you should be. Start again in the morning, Seven." He shifted slightly and patted the bed; his eyes still closed. "Lie down, you're letting cold air in".

Seven elected to stand and move away from the bed. "I am sorry Tom, but I need to do this." Tom failed to answer having drifted back to sleep again. She stared at his still form briefly before retrieving her body suit and slipping quietly out of the helmsman's quarters.

The doors to the holodeck hissed open allowing Seven to enter. She studied her colleague's face for a while. It was the first time the ex-drone had seen a look of real peace on the dynamic engineer's visage and the young woman was taken aback with her beauty.

"B'Elanna." She spoke softly to wake B'Elanna gently and then had to bite her lip to stop grinning as the half Klingon sat up with a jolt, scattering the data padds around her comically, the serenity being wiped from her face to be replaced by a look of guilty confusion.

"I think you may find it more comfortable to sleep in your own quarters," Seven suggested gently, allowing B'Elanna a little more time to compose herself.

"What time is it?" B'Elanna rubbed her eyes roughly, trying to stimulate her senses.

"By the ship's chronometer, 0300 hours. I believe you need to take a break." Seven continued to keep her voice low, though she was unsure why.

B'Elanna, senses fully recovered, looked carefully at Seven. Her heightened Klingon senses could smell Tom's scent on her and Seven's slightly dishevelled appearance confirmed her worst fears. She felt totally at odds with herself. Emotionally, she didn't think she could stand to be so close to Seven, knowing she was unattainable. Her keen engineering mind however, craved the opportunity to continue working with Seven and see the project through to conclusion. She decided to take the coward's way out and put her mind on hold and nodded acquiescence.

Seven found herself escorting B'Elanna back to her quarters. She wondered why B'Elanna did not mention her late arrival but she did not voice her query. There was an easy silence between them as they strode through the dimly lit corridors, giving the women an artificial sense of the lateness of the hour.

When they reached their destination, B'Elanna stopped and punched her access code, permitting the doors to open. She looked up into Seven's eyes and smiled mischievously. "I know how to beat the nano-probes," she stated quickly, before stepping through the doors.

Seven remained motionless as the doors swished shut and her mind reeled. She was torn between knocking on the door and discussing B'Elanna's discovery, and letting the exhausted engineer sleep. She also suspected that the raven-haired woman had deliberated revealed the information as a parting shot to cause turmoil in Seven, though to what end, Seven had no idea.

Grinding on her heel in frustration, she turned and headed back to Cargo Bay 2, not wishing to disturb Tom again tonight.


"I will not allow you to put yourself in danger, Lieutenant." Seven's voice increased in volume as she paced the floor angrily in the Briefing Room.

Captain Janeway glanced at Seven's agitated movement before turning to gaze steadily at B'Elanna. "I'm not sure I can allow it either", she told her Chief Engineer.

Instead of exploding, B'Elanna leant back in her chair and sighed though inwardly she was seething. She and Seven had approached the captain after the senior staff briefing to explain their project. Janeway's interest had been piqued by the ingenuity and the sheer science of it all and had briefly yearned to return to her science officer origins. B'Elanna waited till the end to reveal how she could beat the nanoprobe problem. In order to program the bio-neural circuitry quickly enough, B'Elanna proposed to connect herself directly with the circuitry controlling the gel-packs using a bio- neural link. Seconds would be shaved off the installation of the circuitry and any challenges the nanoprobes attempted could be combated as they happened rather than as a reaction to their effects. After running a series of simulations last night, B'Elanna was confident she could do the procedure. However, a direct link to bio-neural circuitry was against Federation law and held inherent dangers.

"Using a link to combat potentially aggressive nanoprobes could be suicidal." Seven broke her stride to argue. "I am grateful for your assistance in this project but there must be another way to proceed with the programming", she insisted and looked imploringly at the Captain, hands clasped behind her back in a familiar pose.

"Before you both write this suggestion off, would you please allow me to work with the Doctor and see if we can make the link safer? He may be able to assist", proposed B'Elanna calmly, privately thanking Tuvok for all the meditation lessons. Even if she was fighting turmoil within, she could at least now project a slightly calmer aura. Her comment and the manner in which she expressed herself stunned both the Captain and Seven. Janeway looked at the klingon hybrid and made another evaluation. She so desperately wanted Seven to be able to experience complete humanity but that was never going to happen unless a drastic course of action was undertaken.

The Captain paused for a moment, picking her words carefully. "If you and the Doctor can work out a safer way to do this then you have my support", she offered and held up a hand to silence the outburst from Seven before it even started. "Whether Seven chooses to accept the procedure is up to her." The Captain looked at Seven intently and waited. B'Elanna refused to look at the ex- drone, not wanting to intimidate her into an answer.

Seven was confused about the whole issue. She wasn't sure that achieving complete humanity was worth the risk to B'Elanna. She was uncertain as to when her feelings toward the Chief Engineer had changed from superior indifference to genuine affection but she knew with absolute certainty that those feelings were totally authentic and not just a temporary emotion brought on by the proximity they had shared whilst working on her project. She did not want to do anything to jeopardise B'Elanna's safety. She also realised that, had the tables been turned, she would be the first to offer her services to help her friend regardless of risk, and Seven did not like the idea of being a hypocrite. "I will only consider this if the Doctor agrees to the procedure", she stated, her tone indicating that this was strictly non-negotiable.

It was enough for B'Elanna and she sprang from her chair, a look of happy determination etched across her features. "Captain, would it be acceptable to work on this now? I have Vorik in charge of Engineering. Naturally, if our current situation changes I'll head straight back there." She paused to draw breath and the Captain took the opportunity to interject quickly.

"If you'd approached me earlier, you wouldn't have had to spend all last week working into the early hours", she admonished gently. "As it is, I see no problem in releasing you to this full time, on the provisos you've already expressed obviously." Janeway allowed herself to smile at the woman's enthusiasm as B'Elanna hastened from the Briefing Room. "I'm glad you and B'Elanna have overcome your differences", she confided in the young ex drone.

Seven smiled shyly. "So am I Captain", she agreed readily. Seven seemed about to say something more but changed her mind. "Captain, if I am not required in Astrometrics, I would like to assist B'Elanna".

Janeway nodded and Seven turned briskly, barely pausing for the doors to slide open before leaving. The Captain returned to her chair for a moment and took a deep draught from her coffee cup that had been neglected during the meeting. She grimaced as the bitter liquid touched her lips. It had gone cold but she swallowed the dark beverage down quickly and appeased her craving. She studied one of her data padd reports for a moment before her mind drifted back a few minutes. Janeway did not know how the ex- borg would react to the release of all her emotions. She had a dread feeling that it would be a bumpy ride for the young woman and the rest of the crew as she adjusted. At the same time, if the cortical inhibitor could not be removed, it might affect Seven just as deeply. Seven needed her friendship and guidance more than ever yet she had not confided in her at all. Janeway felt an illogical stab of jealousy directed at her Chief of Engineering and shoved it back to the recess of her mind hurriedly. If the ship's grapevine was correct, Seven was dating Tom Paris. Janeway wasn't sure that was wise either but she was confident that there would be no future in it. Once Seven had her first relationship out of the way, Janeway would slowly reveal her interest and finally show Seven the love she so truly deserved. Janeway was alarmed as her libido soared at that final thought. She gulped down the last dregs from her black and silver cup before returning the receptacle to the replicator. Fortunately the strong taste of cold coffee had the desired effect and she entered the Bridge fully focused on the day-to-day running of Voyager.

For the next few hours the EMH joined B'Elanna and Seven on the holodeck to examine their proposal carefully. Once he got to grips with the concept, he was keen to assist in any way he could, though he felt somewhat aggrieved that Seven had chosen to pursue a different way of getting round the inhibitor without consulting him. He understood the principle of linking B'Elanna up to the bio-neural circuitry but had serious doubts that it could ever be totally safe.

"Mr Paris' involvement with 'Alice' should give you warning enough to not try and do this B'Elanna", he cautioned.

"I remember Doc, I was there", the petite engineer reminded him. "But the information we gained from that may help us come up with a buffer for me, or at least some sort of safety net so that the risk to me isn't unacceptable". She pulled a face as she spoke the last words, causing Seven to break out into a wide grin and release the tension that had been building between them ever since B'Elanna had first approached the Captain. Her brown eyes sparkled as she returned the smile good-naturedly and there was a tacit understanding between the two women that things were back to normal. The Doctor coughed to regain their attention.

"So how do you propose to put a buffer between the circuitry and your brain without slowing down data transference?" he asked, getting to the crux of the matter.

"Well that's where you come in, Doc", the engineer informed him, her dark brown eyes sparkling as she tossed yet another data padd towards him. The Doctor frowned darkly but scrutinised the padd carefully. Seven ran her fingers gracefully over her workstation and viewed the same information that the Doctor had been given by the Chief Engineer. She lifted her enhanced eyebrow in surprise at the information on the padd and stared at B'Elanna intently.

"I would never have made this sort of inspirational leap between theories. I believe your staff and I have underestimated your abilities", she stated sincerely.

B'Elanna felt herself blush at the compliment so quickly brushed it off defensively. "It was just a hunch, Seven. I just tend to get lucky with them". She looked away as she saw Seven still studying her.

"Thank you, B'Elanna", she stated simply, her voice barely audible, as she realised just how much effort and time B'Elanna had put in.

"We're not there yet, remember?" she reminded the beautiful ex drone gently. "I'm not allowed to do this if we don't get the odds down". Seven bobbed her head in agreement and began punching up more data. B'Elanna turned to her own console, her heart pounding furiously. She'd spent more time with Seven in the last week than she had for years and yet she still couldn't tell her how she really felt about her. So much for facing up to her feelings, she thought bitterly, clenching her fists reflexively to manage the anger that she directed inward. The dark engineer then chastised herself for once again forgetting Seven's involvement with Tom. Her feelings would have to remain hidden. Slowly, she uncurled her fingers, using the action to release the tension her fury had built up inside her and enabling her to direct her energies more profitably towards the task at hand.

B'Elanna sat at a workstation in the sickbay resting her chin on the backs of her hands as her elbows were propped on its edge. She and the Doctor had moved there when Seven excused herself to have dinner with Tom. The young blonde had felt guilty in leaving him last night and thought it would be a good idea to spend some time with him this evening. She had wanted B'Elanna to join her but felt it would be insensitive to ask her to share dinner with an ex-lover and his new girlfriend. The EMH had suggested it instead, not realising his faux pas until he was skewered by one of B'Elanna's fiercest stares. Once Seven had departed, B'Elanna had suggested moving to the Doctor's 'home environment', so to speak, and continuing. Unfortunately, they were now at deadlock.

She fixed the Emergency Medical Hologram with a stare so hard he convinced himself that he felt uncomfortable. "It doesn't matter how you look at me Lieutenant, the figures can't be changed", he told her definitively, though there was a hint of nervousness about him that the klingon couldn't fail to detect.

She sighed deeply, almost growling, before speaking. "Shall we look at this from a medical point of view as opposed to a technical one then?" she suggested.

The Doctor appeared to take umbrage at this suggestion. "I have already researched the matter and given Seven her options as far as medical surgery is concerned. She chose not to take me up on my idea", he replied somewhat haughtily.

B'Elanna closed her eyes for a long moment and the Doctor had the distinct impression she was counting to ten. When she opened them again she pinned the EMH with another stare. "Well how about you look at how you can adapt my idea?" she asked. "I would have thought you wouldn't care who suggested what as long as she gets a chance to fulfil her humanity", she added pointedly, her humourless smile chilling the words further.

The Doctor, suitably chastised, sniffed unnecessarily before bringing up some more data on one of the larger screens. "Perhaps I need to look at this from a different perspective", he suggested to himself and began to make some rapid calculations. B'Elanna smiled at his back, accepting his unspoken apology before returning to her own console.

Four hours later, they sat across from each other and smiled. They hadn't eliminated the risk, but by using the Doctor's holographic matrix the feedback from the bio-neural circuitry could be contained and the borg nanoprobes would be slowed down too – an added bonus. The only snag was that the EMH would have to be off line during the procedure and therefore unable to monitor either Seven or B'Elanna. As soon as it was over and his matrix purged however, he could be restored to assess the success or failure of B'Elanna's work.

Seven lay in Tom's arms listening to the soft sounds of his breathing as she contemplated. For the second time in two days she wondered what love was really all about and if the inhibitor removal was really necessary. Tom seemed to enjoy himself when they had sex. Seven failed to see its attraction however, except as a physical gratification for others. She certainly had no similar sense of enjoyment in the way Tom had. Perhaps that would change if B'Elanna succeeded.

The tall blonde sighed heavily. There was a bittersweet irony to all this. Seven had never felt so close to anyone as she had to the half-klingon. She had been able to anticipate her actions and needs when they had been working today and Seven had felt an exhilarated thrill as they worked together. Once it was over though, they would return to their normal jobs and not have the opportunity to work so closely again and the ex- drone resented that. Willing the project to fail, however, was not an option. She had come so close now. To share real depth of emotion would make her complete and perhaps begin to eradicate the feelings of isolation and loneliness she had harboured for so long. Even now she felt alone and wanted nothing more than to be back with B'Elanna but Seven decided that it would be inappropriate to leave Tom for two nights running, so instead, she relaxed her body as best she could and tried to sleep.

The next morning Seven was summoned to the Captain's Ready Room. She arrived promptly and discovered that the Doctor and B'Elanna had already joined the Captain, B'Elanna sipping at what smelt like a hot chocolate whilst Janeway, naturally, was savouring a hot coffee.

There was no preamble about the meeting. The Doctor took the lead in explaining how they could reduce the risk to B'Elanna before going over some final nuances that he and B'Elanna had tackled late into the night.

Seven at first felt guilty for not being as involved as she could have been, but then realised that she could not undo her actions. She was still dubious about the potential risk to the Chief Engineer though.

"This has less risk involved than most of my Engineering repairs", B'Elanna explained gently. "I'm prepared to take the risk and, as long as the Captain is prepared, I can't see how you can continue to object".

"I do not wish to be the cause of any harm to you, B'Elanna", Seven responded, almost snapping out the reply.

Janeway noticed how Seven used the engineer's first name again and felt a familiar pang of jealousy, wondering how it was that Seven and B'Elanna were on first name terms all of a sudden. She admonished herself once more, remembering that the two women had been working closely on a very personal project for over two weeks now. It was only logical that the barriers would eventually lessen.

"It really is up to you now Seven." Janeway advised her. "It's your choice if you want to go through with the procedure." The Captain took another draught from her cup, looking at Seven carefully, unwilling to put any pressure on her beautiful protégé. Unexpectedly, Seven sat down and stared at her companions in the room. The young ex- drone could feel the conflict in her yet she felt under a tremendous burden that she ought to be able to resolve. Confusion flashed through her eyes as she tried to reason out her anxieties and hesitancy.

Sensing Seven's inner turmoil and wanting to give her some room to manoeuvre, B'Elanna spoke up. "Seven, you don't have to make your decision right away. To be honest, I'm in no fit state to do it today and I'm sure the Doc wants to run a few checks with you before we go ahead. Why don't you take some time to think about it?" she offered, earning a sharp look of reproval from the Captain.

"Yes", Janeway concurred smoothly. "Take the day off and consider your options. If you want to talk about any of this you know where I am", she continued smoothly, putting the chain of command firmly back where it belonged.

Seven's eyes darted between the two women, searching their faces for some hidden clue on how to deal with her predicament. She stood once more as she came to a decision. "You are correct. I need time to assimilate all my feelings on this matter. I will return later when I have an informed and logical choice." With that, the tall blonde nodded briefly at the other occupants in the room before stalking out, her eyes unfocused as she searched her feelings.

"Dismissed", said the Captain softly, with a wry expression as the borg left. She turned her attention to the Doctor and B'Elanna. "Make your preparations both of you. Get some rest too B'Elanna. I've given you the day off. Just make sure to catch up on your sleep. I have a feeling tomorrow will be a big day for all of us." With a nod, she dismissed the bald hologram and shorter, slight engineer. As the doors closed Janeway could still feel her heart hammering inside her chest and she dwelt on her feelings for Seven a while longer, feeling closer to her already.

Feeling out of sorts and unsure of how to proceed, Seven sought comfort through familiarity. She spent time with the Borg children, ensuring that they had plenty of study to do, as well as time to play, as children should. When she was satisfied that they had been dealt with properly, she made her way to Astrometrics, in order to perform a series of routine diagnostics and made several minor adjustments to the instruments. The young woman realised that she was employing delaying tactics in order to avoid the conflict she felt but was not ready to think about them seriously yet.

When she exhausted her supply of test routines, Seven found herself wanting to express her concerns but was uncertain who to speak to. She remembered the Captain's offer but for some inexplicable reason, felt uncomfortable exposing her weaknesses to the Captain. Tom would not be suitable either as he would use the time to try and comfort her instead of really listening or understanding how she felt. Oddly enough, Seven felt herself drawn to speak with B'Elanna Torres, so she asked the computer for the engineer's location.

"Lieutenant Torres is on Holodeck One", came the bland reply. Seven was surprised. After the brief this morning, she didn't think that there was anything further to be done until she was ready to go ahead with the procedure. Viewing this as one of her last opportunities to work closely with B'Elanna, Seven strode towards the holodeck to offer her assistance.

She realised her assumption was incorrect as she stepped through the doors of the holodeck and found her heels sinking into soft white sand. Her skin registered the change in atmosphere from the temperate, sterile corridor to a hot, humid climate and she squinted her eyes as her pupils painfully constricted, trying to block out the bright sunlight from her delicate retinas. There was a saline smell hanging in the air and her auditory nerves registered the gentle rhythmic beat of surf breaking on the shoreline. Her attention was caught by a shout emanating from the sea. She turned and focused on a dark head bobbing in the azure water and watched unabashed as B'Elanna stood and emerged from the ocean.

For a moment Seven thought that she might be malfunctioning, for her mouth had turned arid, her heart hammered furiously somewhere near her throat and her insides turned to liquid as she watched the lithe, dark woman run toward her. She was wearing a lime green one-piece swimsuit that Seven recognised as being functional, yet it accentuated the dark woman's figure and tan perfectly.

She struggled to gain her composure as B'Elanna stood in front of her, her chest heaving from the exertion of both the swim and run.

"I didn't know you were a fan of the beach", B'Elanna stated breathlessly as she used strong hands to slick her dark hair over her head, wringing out rivulets of seawater that ran chaotically over the curves of her body from the thick tresses.

Seven found that she had to swallow several times in order to get her vocal chords working. "I am not. I thought that you were working on the project still and came to offer my assistance."

B'Elanna smiled, wondering why the ex- drone appeared so flustered, noticing the slight flush to her alabaster skin and the racing pulse, clearly visible at the side of her porcelain neck. "Nah, I'm just enjoying some time off. This is one of my favourite places. I can wear myself out swimming and then relax and soak up the warmth in the sun without a soul to disturb me", she explained.

"Then I shall leave you in peace", Seven replied and turned her shoulders to go. She was stopped by a gentle hand on her upper arm.

"There's plenty of room to share, Seven", B'Elanna offered. "Besides, I like your company", she smiled again as Seven noticed how the saline content of the water had crystallised over the klingon's exposed skin, sparkling as the bright sun reflected off its microscopic fascias.

B'Elanna didn't wait for an answer as she led Seven towards a shaded area of the beach. Within the umbra of the trees, a large blanket was spread neatly with a small pile of clothes on one corner. B'Elanna threw herself onto one side of the blanket and stretched out languidly, putting her hands behind her head to use as a pillow and closing her eyes as she felt the warm breeze caress her body.

"Sit down and relax, Seven", she told the tall blonde who had remained standing, transfixed by the raven-haired beauty. B'Elanna felt the ground move slightly as she heard Seven sit and opened one eye to squint at her companion. She fought to hide a grin as she saw Seven sitting crossed-legged next to her, back ramrod straight. "You can relax if you want to. No one else can see you", she mocked lightly.

"I do not feel like relaxing", was the hesitant reply. B'Elanna rolled over onto her side and cradled her head on one hand. "You want to talk about it?" she offered gently, watching the young woman stiffen slightly as she warred within herself.

Seven looked closely at B'Elanna and then began to speak. She confided all her inner dreads and fears concerning the removal of the cortical inhibitor, from the bombardment of her emotions to the possibility of B'Elanna getting injured during the process. She expressed her fears for the borg children and how they would react if she changed drastically and how her relationship with the members of the crew could potentially alter. She even articulated her feelings for Tom Paris and how uncertain she was about her relationship with him.

Throughout this elucidation B'Elanna remained silent, watching Seven attentively and listening carefully. She had thought that Seven might have had a few reservations but she hadn't realised that up till now, Seven had remained reticent to everyone.

Finally, Seven ran out of words and looked miserably at the woman lying next to her, smiling wanly.

"You must think I am weak", she remarked self-depreciatingly.

B'Elanna sat up hurriedly and looked intently at her, noticing how the difference in their height became less marked when seated. "Not at all, Seven. Just the opposite, in fact. To admit your most personal feelings to someone is one of the bravest things you can do. By voicing them, you've already admitted them to yourself."

B'Elanna put her hand over Seven's and squeezed it gently. "Just remember that this is for you. If you don't want to go through with it or you want more time say so. No one will get offended."

Seven's hand felt like it was on fire as it reacted to B'Elanna's touch. The blonde woman gloried in the sensation for a brief second before responding to B'Elanna's words.

"Thank you for listening to me. I feel I can make a more informed decision now". With that, Seven gently returned the pressure from B'Elanna's hand before standing in one fluid movement. She gazed down at the dark engineer. "I need to see the Captain", she explained before turning and exiting the holodeck.

B'Elanna slumped back down onto the blanket with a groan. As she had listened to Seven and given her advice, she realised that her words were equally relevant to her own predicament. She had been given the perfect opportunity to express her feelings but had been stymied by her abrupt departure. She put both her fists to her head in frustration. She had probably blown the one chance she had with Seven. She spun around to lie on her front, grabbed her jacket from the neat pile of clothing to make a pillow, and settled down to relax, trying not to chastise herself needlessly and pondered over what Seven would tell the Captain.

Part Four

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