DISCLAIMER: Seven, B'Elanna and all things Star Trek as everyone knows do not belong to me, but they certainly are inspiring at times. This story in particular comes from watching the episode with the same name, "Drone", and asking myself what would have happened if B'Elanna had listened to the doctor's nagging and therefore been the first to enter the science lab instead of Mulchaey. The story has bits of actual dialogue from the episode in it, arranged to suit my story, just in case you feel you recognise something.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Carola "Ryûchan" Eriksson


B'Elanna's day did not start off on a good note. First there had been absolutely nothing for her to do when she got to Engineering but listen to the complaints of a few of her crew, and she had gotten more and more antsy by the minute. Then a week of increasingly strained relations with her on and off boyfriend had ended up in a big fight that had them both saying very hurtful things, and had her telling him in no uncertain terms where he could shove himself for the remaining trip back to the Alpha Quadrant.

Finally an assignment had come along in the form of a survey trip to a nearby protonebula, and B'Elanna had assigned herself to it just to have something to do. To her chagrin the people that would join her on the trip was the doctor and the bane of her existence Seven of Nine. When Janeway assigned Tom Paris to be the designated pilot on their little excursion B'Elanna just had to put her foot down – bad enough to be in a closed off area with Seven, she simply refused to have her extremely annoying ex join in for the ride. At least with Seven she could count on them to keep a civil and professional silence if need be, but with Tom? One word out of his mouth and she would spend the rest of their journey home in the brig, because she would have murdered the idiot.

Besides, B'Elanna was perhaps not as fancy as Tom Paris but she was no slouch at piloting herself. She barely managed to convince Janeway that she could handle the shuttle, and only when she grudgingly admitted the situation between the two of them did the Captain relent, but in the end B'Elanna found herself curiously relieved to be in a small shuttlecraft working alongside Seven of Nine, both of them trying to ignore the doctor's bubbling enthusiasm.

A casual reply from Seven to a muttered complaint from B'Elanna regarding the size of the standard Starfleet shuttles had B'Elanna's mind awhirl with the possibilities in designing a custom shuttlecraft for Voyager. Slightly distracted by the idea B'Elanna nevertheless kept a vigilant eye on the readings, and so noticed the spike in the nebula's growth just as it occurred.

"We're backing off!" She shouted and did so, but the shuttle was not fast enough. Caught in the gravimetric shear of the nebula, the shuttle was already lost. Their only salvation would be Voyager and that whoever was on transporter duty could overcome the interference of the radiation to get them all back onboard.

As it turned out, Ensign Mulchaey got them all onboard but not without difficulties. B'Elanna materialised in the transporter room with a sense of relief, immediately turning her head slightly to affirm with her own eyes that Seven was standing beside her, intact as ever. Covering the act, in fact barely acknowledging it to herself in the first place, B'Elanna briskly got down from the platform speaking to Mulchaey. Seven followed and when the doctor tried to do the same the problem became evident.

B'Elanna raced to the console to send his program back to Sickbay as the malfunctioning mobile emitter had the doctor flickering alarmingly. She barely managed to finish her command before the doctor vanished completely, leaving the damaged emitter to fall to the floor with a tiny clatter.

It was not a good day indeed, B'Elanna reflected as she went to bed. What remained of the day had been spent with the nagging sound of the doctor's whining whenever she went, and she had wound up finally promising to deal with his mobile emitter personally, first thing in the morning. That had finally appeased the annoying voice, and B'Elanna had stumbled to her quarters, every bone in her body crying out for some sleep, infinitely grateful for the opportunity to sleep in the following morning, something that was a rarity for Voyager's Chief of Engineering.

Unfortunately, the doctor had not been informed of this.

Cursing his name... well, his designation, she supposed, feeling slightly amused that she had borrowed Seven's expression, all the way to the Science lab where the mobile emitter was located, B'Elanna bemoaned the lost opportunity. Nature had not made her an early riser but work demanded it and she had adapted, in fact B'Elanna could go for days without sleep if she needed to. But still, the few mornings B'Elanna was allowed a precious few more moments of sleep was a treasured luxury and having lost one did not put her in a good mood. Granted she could quite understand the doctor's concern so she wasn't angry with him, really... slightly annoyed perhaps, but not angry.

She was shaken from her musings the moment she stepped into the lab and found the lights dimmed and, in the darkened room, the shape of the examination console slightly... off. Tricorder in hand B'Elanna quickly stepped up to it to find out what had happened, and, after a slight hesitation, she reached up to slap her combadge.

"B'Elanna to..." Her voice cut off as two slender Borg tubules shot out from what had been the doctor's mobile emitter and embedded themselves in her neck, the computer never receiving the end location of B'Elanna's call and therefore never registering her attempt to contact Security.

The moment Seven of Nine stepped out of her alcove, her regeneration cycle interrupted, she was aware of a Borg signature nearby. Despite being met by disbelief and being sent to Sickbay to check for malfunctions, Seven's information nevertheless had the Bridge on alert, and once the signature registered on Voyager's own sensors, Seven was swiftly called in to join Tuvok and his security team on their way to the Science labs.

As soon as the malfunctioning doors to the lab were pushed open, by use of Borg and Vulcan strength, the assembled team were met with the unmistakeable green glow of a Borg environment. A Borg force-field separated the centre of the room from the front, allowing the security team to carry B'Elanna's still unconscious form out of there but appearing to prevent Tuvok and Seven from reaching the construct at the centre... a Borg maturation chamber, although one that was different from anything Seven had seen before.

After a moment of staring appraisingly at the construct, Seven stepped up to the barrier. "It will recognise me as Borg." She stated quietly but with far more conviction than she truly felt in the circumstances. Tuvok did not try to interfere, and she stepped through the force-field as if it did not exist.

A moment later the force-field came down on Seven's command, then a few more buttons pushed and the blast shield protecting the observation port on the maturation chamber slid open, revealing what was resting within.

A swiftly growing Borg foetus, it's tiny, gentle Klingon ridges meeting the growing silver arch of its optical implant, the slightly twitching infant form already bearing an obvious resemblance to its parents.

The discovery was of course reported to Janeway whom, after having a look at the then slightly larger infant form for herself, decided that there would be no pulling of any kind of plug on this tiny drone. Rather the reverse, instead of thinking in terms of threat to the ship and to humanity at large once the superiority of the child-drone's futuristic implants became obvious, Katherine Janeway was alight with enthusiasm at the prospect of turning yet another drone to the path of individuality.

Overruling Seven's objections Janeway assigned Seven to work with the drone, effectively to be its mentor, guide and caretaker in one once it would step out of the maturation chamber. With a great deal of hidden trepidation Seven prepared for her new task despite her own doubts, and the ship around her – each in his or her own way – prepared as well.

Except for B'Elanna Torres. B'Elanna had been taken to Sickbay upon discovery inside the Science lab, and made such a fuss at being restricted to Sickbay for the rest of the day that the doctor quickly gave in and had B'Elanna restricted to her own quarters for bed rest instead. Already in a bad mood to begin with for the day, B'Elanna became even crankier upon hearing that she was supposed to be sleeping when there was work to do, but eventually she did give in and slept for a few hours. The sleep improved her mood if only slightly, but it also meant that B'Elanna was out of the loop completely to recent events and therefore knew nothing of the rapidly growing drone that bore her own Klingon ridges on its forehead.

When the restless workaholic sneaked back to Engineering to work despite the doctor's orders, the rumour mill of the ship filled in some of the blanks but not all, leaving B'Elanna with the knowledge that there had been a Borg drone growing on the ship and once it was grown enough to exit the maturation chamber, Seven had been assigned its guardian by Janeway herself. B'Elanna remained unaware of her own involvement, but it did not take long for the half-Klingon genius to figure out Seven's part in the creation of this new drone.

And so, without any clear understanding why herself, B'Elanna's mood deteriorated further.

She snapped at her crew, she glowered at anyone that dared enter her domain; she even mocked Neelix when he came by to install Borg data nodes for the drone. B'Elanna at last felt bad about that, Neelix was a supportive and undemanding friend when she needed one, and despite their obvious differences she both liked and respected the man in her own way. He certainly hadn't deserved her snapping at him at it was something she so rarely did with Neelix that it showed her just how dark a mood she had allowed herself.

Resolving to do better B'Elanna managed to mentally go through one of Tuvok's calming Vulcan techniques before resuming her work with a bit more clarity and a lot more accessible mood.

It almost was for naught as when B'Elanna stepped off her lift from the upper level of Engineering to continue her work, she was faced with Seven walking up to the warp core – B'Elanna's warp core! – with the new drone in tow.

"This isn't a classroom, Seven." She all but hissed as she rounded them on the way to the warp core. Perhaps if she did not look at them directly she could hold on to her temper this time.

Seven spoke up in her usual aloof tone, but B'Elanna pretended not to listen as it was not directed to her. "Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres, chief engineer. Klingon-human hybrid.

She possesses extensive knowledge of this vessel's systems... as well as a volatile temperament."

Hearing the praise had both surprised and actually flattered B'Elanna a great deal. She knew that compliments from Seven was rare and that the other woman did not say anything she did not mean, and so she found herself standing just a little bit taller, a bit more straight while trying to keep an unaffected look in place. The last part of Seven's description of her however, blew that right out of the water.

Turning around to glare at Seven while not being too obvious about the fact that she was gnashing her teeth, B'Elanna was just about to snarl something in her direction. Honestly she had forgotten anyone else around them as in her anger she only had eyes for Seven.

Another voice intercepted B'Elanna's outburst, a voice as perfectly modulated as Seven's own, yet somehow sounding gentle and innocent. "Volatile. English adjective, meaning readily vaporisable at low temperature. Easily aroused. Tending to violent eruption."

Looking into Seven's pale blue eyes while she heard herself be described as 'easily aroused' proved very embarrassing for B'Elanna, and she looked down and tried to control herself. "Very good, you get a gold star." She mumbled in response, the reply sounding not even half as sarcastic as she had meant it to.

"Our presence here is authorized. The Captain asked me to familiarise the drone with Voyager." Seven interjected smoothly, raising a silver eyebrow at B'Elanna's behaviour.

"Well, how about familiarising her with the airponics bay?" This time B'Elanna managed something a bit more acidic though not entirely aggressive, as she quickly made her way to another console to continue her work. She refused to look directly at either of the Borg individuals in her engineering room.

"I have got one hour to predict the expansion rate of this protonebula or Janeway is going to pull the plug on the entire survey..." B'Elanna began in a distracted tone as her mind began working with problem solving again, in a to herself surprising attempt to explain herself to Seven.

"...do you _mind_?!" B'Elanna snapped finally, as the drone had stepped directly into B'Elanna's personal space causing B'Elanna to bump into her as she turned to work.

The taller figure did not seem to notice the animosity. "If you apply a multispatial algorithm it will accurately predict the rate of expansion. I can demonstrate."

B'Elanna hesitated, her mind following what had been suggested and realising it just might at that. She glanced up at Seven, eyes asking and, again surprising, trusting Seven to know if it was a good idea to let the drone go ahead.

Seven raised her implant in a small yet smug expression of approval, and B'Elanna was only dimly aware that she told the drone to go ahead as she caught the undeniable yet subtle expression of pride and affection in Seven's eyes. It nearly floored B'Elanna.

Blinking herself back into focus with an almost Herculean effort B'Elanna got back to the matter at hand, watching carefully and listening to the drone's explanation. A few moments of work later, and the algorithm had indeed predicted an accurate expansion rate, which B'Elanna swiftly sent on to Janeway with a sense of success. She did not forget to make sure that Janeway would know whom to credit for the good work, and, with the improvement of her mood still in place, B'Elanna turned to give some praise of her own to the person still standing by her side.

The words left her tongue unspoken and the grin tugging at her lips gave way for utter shock as she found herself face to face with her own features.

The drone was tall, of a height with Seven, and Borg-pale underneath the gleaming bright metal implants. But the features, the face, the one human eye looking back at B'Elanna... it was all B'Elanna, and no mistake about it. The ridges were a smoother replica of B'Elanna's own, the nose, the shape and colour of the eye duplicates of B'Elanna's. Only the jaw and general shape of the face of the young woman in front of her was upon closer look stronger than B'Elanna's own.

It wasn't until a pale head came into view, eyes filled with concern although only a little was revealed in the even tones of her voice, that B'Elanna made the connection. "Are you damaged, Lieutenant? Shall I assist you to Sickbay?"

Seven. The jawline and build came from Seven, of course. Seven who now was looking at B'Elanna with such concern. Seven who was standing a lot closer than she should be.

"Oh Kahless..." B'Elanna breathed unsteadily. Seven.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Seven could easily hear the anguish and the confusion in the whisper. "Why didn't anybody tell me?"

For a moment Seven was at a loss for what to say. "I... believed that someone had."

It took B'Elanna quite a while to recover from the shock while Seven and the drone continued with their lessons. Eventually B'Elanna sought the two of them out and spent the rest of the evening in their company, tentatively getting to know her unexpected child. She also, although unintentionally, slowly came to know the woman with whom she had this strange child better than before.

Soon the interview with Janeway came, with B'Elanna impatiently waiting outside the Captain's ready-room while the other two were inside.

"Greetings. Our designation..." The well-modulated voice hesitated for a second, then continued with a warm earnestness that was surprising. "My designation is One. How are you today?"

Janeway blinked and could not help but to smile. "I'm just fine, thank you." She cast a mock-reproachful look at Seven. "_One_?"

Had B'Elanna seen Seven she would have seen the tiny twitch at the edge of Seven's lips as a hidden grin, and known the brief movement of a Borg eyebrow to be Seven's version of a shrug. "She decided upon the designation herself, despite other... suggestions."

Janeway left it at that and turned back to the fully grown yet still so childlike figure of One. "And how are you today, One?"

"Well. Thank you Captain Janeway." One was eager and polite, Janeway could not help but to marvel at the thought that Seven had been teaching her these things when Seven herself never quite mastered the art.

"Adapting to life on Voyager?"

"Yes. Today I've assimilated 47 billion teraquads of information on a vast variety of subjects including particle physics, comparative humanoid anatomy, warp field theory..." One trailed off, then continued with enthusiasm. "and the culinary delights of the Delta Quadrant."

Janeway's baffled look prompted Seven to clarify. "Mr. Neelix. They've been spending time together."

If Janeway had not been focused on One she would have noticed the obvious affection in Seven's eyes and voice when looking at her child.

"Is your assessment of me complete? Am I... sufficient?" One showed some anxiety at the thought of not being thought sufficient enough. Janeway hastened to reassure her.

"More than sufficient, in fact I'd say you're making excellent progress. But this isn't an assessment, One, I simply wanted to meet you." She assured warmly, despite the fact that it had in truth been an assessment of sorts. There was no need to alarm the... child... especially since One had more than fulfilled whatever hopes Janeway might have had.

"With your permission I would like to be excused. I have promised to assist B'Elanna... she wishes us to work on increasing the efficiency of the Bussard collectors." Reassured that she need not worry the childlike eagerness returned to One, and Janeway didn't want to keep her. Also she was amused to hear that B'Elanna had apparently put the girl to good use.

"Permission granted." Janeway said with as much seriousness as she could muster, although the smile played at the corners of her mouth.

Once One had left the room she turned to Seven with an expression of awe. "You've done a remarkable job. Not only has she absorbed an incredible amount of knowledge in the matter of days, but she seems to be fitting in with the crew and developing a distinct personality."

Seven tilted her head slightly and replied rather humbly. "Thank you. Lieutenant Torres has been aiding me in teaching One."

Janeway was surprised to hear that. "B'Elanna has? Really?" Catching herself she managed to drive the incredulity from her voice before speaking again. "You have both done a remarkable job then, and I'll make sure to tell her that as well."

A few hours into One's second regeneration period ever, Seven was roused from her regeneration alcove by a grim-looking Janeway and a roomful of armed security officers. One had been transmitting a Borg proximity signal, she said, and her eyes were dark and unreadable. Seven was ordered to wake One and she complied, informing One on what was going on as she did so.

A quick scan confirmed that One's cranial implants had regenerated and created a secondary transceiver to replace the one Seven had already deactivated, and the signal had been transmitted unconsciously while One was regenerating. A Borg sphere had intercepted the signal and was fast approaching by transwarp conduit, it would reach them within a few hours.

When One expressed her desire to meet the Borg, Janeway told Seven in no uncertain terms to "show our drone what the Borg are all about". Seven, fearing the lure of perfection, of unification through the hive mind, would be too great for her child still had to acquiesce to her Captain's orders.

Much as Seven feared, One was pulled towards the Collective, wanting to experience the hive mind and the billions of voices speaking as one. Janeway made certain that One would know the horrors of the Borg, telling the young drone that the Borg was the most destructive force she had ever known. One hesitated, equalling the Borg with Seven and not finding anything destructive or evil about her fair-haired parent, then finally asked Seven for advice the only way either of them could.

"Seven of Nine, do you wish to rejoin to the Collective?"

Seven hesitated, meeting Janeway's eyes briefly. The words were difficult to say, even if it was the only choice she could make. "_Voyager_... is my Collective."

Tears sprang to Janeway's eyes, stinging them despite the graveness of the situation, but there was no time to feel awed gratitude or pride at this verbal confirmation that the child she herself had taken in had found her home at last. No, no time at all as the alert rang out that the Borg sphere was upon them.

The ensuing battle was brief by Voyager standards, but brutal and the victory came at a very high price... One.

One had stood on the bridge, improving what she could of Voyager's system from there to save the ship from assimilation. She had, with Seven beside her, defied even the immensely strong pull of the hive mind as it called out to the two of them, but in the end One had decided there was no other alternative. Using her own internal transporter nodes, the young drone had transported aboard the Borg sphere and hurled it, with herself still in it, right into the nebula. Not even a Borg vessel could withstand the power of a nebula, and it had been destroyed.

From what little wreckage left of the sphere, One's body was collected and transported to Sickbay, but it was no use. Although the Borg components were salvageable and would regenerate in time, the biological components of One's body were beyond medical or Borg aid. Seven and B'Elanna were present at One's side when life finally fled One's body and the doctor stepped back, knowing there was nothing more to be done.

Caught in a state of severe shock B'Elanna could not move, not blink, not look away as Seven staggered here and there on her way out of Sickbay as if she had no idea where to go or what to do. B'Elanna's paralysis did not let up until Seven reached the doorway and suddenly broke into an all out sprint.

Trembling B'Elanna reached out and gently closed one unseeing eye, then leaned down to kiss the ridged forehead goodbye. In a broken voice she asked the doctor to take care of One until she and Seven had decided what to do, then B'Elanna walked out of the room, heading towards Cargo Bay 2.

She found Seven in the Cargo Bay as she had thought, staring into the now shut-down alcove that had been altered to fit One. The pale blue eyes were wild, desperate and filled with such pain it tore at B'Elanna's heart, and yet Seven still stumbled around the alcove dais, not knowing what to do.

B'Elanna did the only thing she could. She grabbed Seven to her and held her, hard when Seven tried to draw back, pulling Seven's head down onto her own shoulder. With a ragged voice filled with her own pain B'Elanna told Seven to let it out, to cry, scream, rage, whatever she wanted to, as long as she let it out.

As if B'Elanna had just given her the key to unlock the door to this emotion that was threatening to devastate her, Seven froze for the briefest of moments. Then her legs gave out, and as the two of them fell to their knees on the metal floor the screams began. Torn out of Seven's throat as if they came directly from her soul the wailing screams came, on and on while B'Elanna held her tight, on and on until Seven's voice finally broke and the sobs took over.

Commander Chakotay was on his way back to the bridge, having left to supervise personnel assignments since there were repairs needing to be done while Voyager was speeding as far away from their last location as the ship could manage. His combadge chirped as he stepped onto the turbolift and he barely recognised the strained voice that spoke through it as B'Elanna's.

"Chakotay, unless it is really, truly necessary that I'm personally present for the repairs, I'm leaving Vorik in charge of Engineering for tonight."

Her voice was so haggard Chakotay didn't have the heart to tell her that the night had passed and it was now early morning onboard the ship. "...allright. You get some rest, B'Elanna."

She grunted something at that, he couldn't make out what. As an afterthought she added. "Seven is with me by the way, make sure no-one disturbs her either unless there's really no other alternative." A pause. "And I mean that, Chakotay."

"No disturbing Seven, got it." He hesitated, wondering if he dared to ask. "Uhm, B'Elanna? Where exactly is Seven with you?"

She sighed in a way that made him wince. "She's with me, in my quarters, ok Chakotay? She's... sleeping with me tonight."

Chakotay could feel his eyebrows straining to climb his forehead tattoo like a ladder, but all he uttered was. "Aha."

"I just... she shouldn't be alone tonight." Spoken very very quietly. "And I don't want to be, either. Just... see to it."

Chakotay nodded quickly even though she couldn't see him. "I will, I promise." She disconnected without another word, leaving him to be true to his word.

Seven had never achieved sleep before, but caught in her grief she never had time to consider her circumstances when she was brought to B'Elanna's quarters, all but dressed by the smaller woman in one of B'Elanna's nightgowns, then tucked into bed. The moment B'Elanna had gotten in behind her Seven had instinctively curled into the other woman's arms, still having a few tears left to shed somehow, and the two of them had held onto one another even when they fell into an exhausted sleep.

The morning brought with it a multitude of new experiences. Seven of Nine had no memory to which to compare the sensation of slowly rising to consciousness in a cocoon of warm softness instead of merely opening her eyes and stepping down from her alcove. She experienced a curious reluctance to move, especially when her senses finally alerted her to the fact that she was resting half upon the form of B'Elanna Torres, head tucked into her shoulder and with the smaller woman's strong arms still wrapped around her.

Seven took a moment to reflect upon her responses, as she had never been in a situation before where she had been in physical closeness with anyone while being able to merely enjoy the sensation. Physical closeness was rare for her, and usually restricted to medical exams, violence in some manner or form, or the rare and fleeting touch by Janeway in encouragement. Not even Janeway's tendency to walk extremely close to her side while traversing the corridors of Voyager could really come close to this. B'Elanna was... soft, and warm. Very warm, in fact, and it soothed something deep inside that felt tired and alone.

The steady rhythm of B'Elanna's heartbeat was a fascinating mystery that had Seven entranced, despite her being quite able to picture the hybrid's multi-chambered organ and all its functions in her mind. The soft breathing was another mystery, as was the sensation of silk on skin, and she could not comprehend why these things held such an interest suddenly. Seven just knew that she did not want to get up.

B'Elanna made a small sigh and the hand that rested near Seven's shoulder moved up to her neck, scratching gently as B'Elanna made a number of other little sounds that indicated that she was waking up. Seven barely kept the surprised moan from escaping her lips at the new sensation. She felt B'Elanna's body stiffen momentarily and the heartbeat under her ear to pick up speed. Then B'Elanna cracked an eye open and peered at her.

"Seven?" B'Elanna's voice was husky with sleep.

"Yes?" Seven's own voice was quiet, and for a moment Seven dimly recalled screaming until her throat felt as if it had suffered multiple internal lacerations and her voice had broken. It was almost disconcerting that such a thing could happen, yet a short while later her body had restored her vocal ability to normal.

B'Elanna yawned and cleared her throat, unconsciously hugging Seven a little. "What time is it?"

Seven got the answer from her internal chronometer. "In four minutes thirty-seven seconds it will be nineteen hundred hours."

B'Elanna blinked in surprise. "Nineteen hundred... we slept that late?" She stretched a little. "Ah well, I'm sure someone would have summoned us if the ship was coming apart without us." Another yawn.

It was not until then that Seven realised that she had missed duty assignment for the day. It shocked her that she had shirked her duties in such a manner, especially since there was work to be done. She voiced her concerns to B'Elanna, who snorted softly.

"I know we're both workaholics, Seven, so this is a pretty foreign thing to both of us, but the truth is we just can't live for work alone. And in this case..." B'Elanna's voice softened a little. "We lost our little girl, Seven. No-one could expect us to work today, and we shouldn't try to. I'm pretty sure it could even be dangerous if we did."

"Our... little girl?" Seven whispered hesitantly. Even though she knew who B'Elanna referred to it did not mean that she understood how the other woman meant it. Worse, the mere thought of One brought with it a raging torrent of emotion that threatened to consume her. Seven tried to lock the emotions in, to focus instead on the present.

The memories of screaming flickered in her mind's eye for a moment.

B'Elanna sighed. When she spoke her voice was earnest and open, despite being tinged with sadness. "She was ours, Seven... yours and mine. No matter how she came to be, no matter why, she was created from parts of us and that made her ours. Our child."

Seven digested that in silence, her head still resting on B'Elanna's shoulder and with B'Elanna's soothing touch in her hair. Finally she spoke up in a tiny whisper filled with pain. "I was not a good mother."

B'Elanna swallowed the lump in her throat before answering. "Yes you were... I was there, I saw you, remember? You were a good mother Seven."

"A mother is supposed to love her child!" Seven's protest was rasping and painful, and louder than anything spoken since they had awakened.

B'Elanna sat up and pulled Seven to her chest. Shouting at the surprisingly frail blonde wouldn't help either of them, but what could she say? How could she make Seven see what she knew for a certainty?

"A good mother is supposed to love her child." B'Elanna began carefully, ignoring the twinge of old pain and the voice in her head that said it wasn't that simple. "I've seen the way you reacted to One, the pride she made you feel, the concern and worry, the joy you took in her presence, the care you took with her in everything... I saw you when we fought to save her, and I saw you beg her not to leave us. I saw the pain, the grief, when she did."

"That sure sounds like love to me."

"I never... said." The reply was quiet and muffled by B'Elanna's neck.

"I never did either, but I would like to think she kinda knew it anyway. I... worked when I could have been with her instead." B'Elanna spoke with quiet anguish. "I said mean things the first time I met her, and I never told her I was sorry for that." Closing her eyes B'Elanna knew she was sorry for so many things, now.

"One did not have the experience to realise how your words were meant, at that time. And you were very kind after." Seven offered when B'Elanna sniffled. Strangely her words seemed to have the opposite effect on the smaller woman.

"I'm sorry Seven... I'm so, so sorry!" B'Elanna cried, thinking not only of One but of all the other comments, all the other, much crueller, things she had said to the woman now in her arms.

They remained that way, holding one another, for a while longer before B'Elanna finally made to get up.

"Computer, lights."

Neither expected the small hiss of pain and surprise that came from Seven when the lights in B'Elanna's quarters came on at the standard setting. Seven bent over at the edge of the bed and grabbed her face with both hands, scaring B'Elanna as she did so.

"Computer, dim lights!" B'Elanna barked and kneeled in front of Seven. "Seven? What's wrong? What is it?"

"My human eye..." The human eye Seven had not opened while held in B'Elanna's arms, for the simple reason that the side of her face had been nestled close to B'Elanna. "...it was difficult to open and I am experiencing a... stinging sensation as well as heightened sensitivity to light."

Pulling Seven's hands away B'Elanna realised what it was. She was shocked to see that Seven's human eye was swollen and bloodshot, the edges a bright pink even in the dim light. B'Elanna hissed in quiet sympathy.

"C'mon, I've got some things in the bathroom that we can clean it up with." She grasped one of Seven's hands and led the taller woman into the bathroom with her. The stronger light inside the bathroom made Seven wince and caused the swollen eye to tear up some more, and B'Elanna unconsciously made some small sounds of sympathy as she directed her to sit down.

"It happens sometimes." B'Elanna explained quietly as she carefully swabbed at Seven's eye and gave her a few eye-drops. "When people cry a lot, I mean. It's not permanent, and in you it probably won't last very long, but we can get the doc to give you something for the pain if you want." She peered at the injured eye for a moment, and then, on impulse, did something that shocked them both.

B'Elanna leaned in and gave Seven a brief kiss on her forehead.

She realised what she was doing when the warmth of Seven's skin was pressed against her lips, and immediately B'Elanna backed and turned away from Seven, trying to hide the heat rushing to her face. Trying hard not to sound as nervous as she suddenly felt, B'Elanna spoke towards the wall, deciding that if she pretended it was nothing out of the ordinary then Seven would as well. "Did you want to have the first go at the sonic shower, while I make the bed and fix us something to eat?"

No reply was forthcoming from the other woman, so after a moment B'Elanna got out a second towel and handed it to Seven without looking at her too closely. "Here, use this one, kick your clothes over there... I'll take care of them later... and we'll replicate you something when you're done, allright?"

A silent nod was her answer, and B'Elanna raced out of the bathroom.

It took B'Elanna hardly any time at all to make the bed and put on a robe, deciding at the last minute not to put her blue satin nightgown in the dirty laundry since she didn't want to be walking around naked underneath her robe when Seven got out of the bathroom. Breakfast she had already decided would be banana pancakes since not only was it her comfort food of choice, B'Elanna had what she needed to make them herself since indulging in a bit of cooking a few days earlier. She already knew from the doctor that Seven pretty much could eat anything these days, she just preferred not to due to an aversion to Neelix' cooking.

What took time however was deciding on what to replicate for Seven to wear. The biosuit Seven had worn the day before was out of the question, and B'Elanna was reluctant to replicate a copy of it. Finally deciding on something and putting the command into the replicator B'Elanna wondered briefly if she was doing Seven a disservice. What if she only felt comfortable in her regular clothes?

Well, she'd have to wait and see what Seven thought of it. Placing the bundle near the bathroom door B'Elanna returned to her pancake batter, attacking it with bit more vigour than what was strictly necessary.

She had just finished mixing it when she heard Seven behind her and turned around. With a startled yelp B'Elanna's hands involuntarily clenched, causing the mixing bowl to fly right out of her hand and up into the air.

Standing there wearing a puzzled expression and nothing else, was Seven of Nine. Naked as the day she was... possibly born... the taller woman was holding her clothes in both hands, not appearing to take any notice of her own unclad state. Even the shoulder length blonde hair was free from its usual bun, softening familiar features in a surprising way.

It said quite a bit about B'Elanna's reflexes that she managed to lunge for the bowl, fumbling only slightly and spilling almost nothing of the contents, without tearing her eyes off Seven. The dollop that escaped hit B'Elanna square in the opening of her robe, and made a slow, cold descent downwards underneath her nightgown. Seven's eyes glued to the spot and seemed to follow its journey even through the fabric of B'Elanna's robe.

"Seven?" B'Elanna's voice was very weak, and she was standing stock still. "Why are you naked?"

The strength of her own reaction was frightening B'Elanna a little and she did not want to let on. She had seen Seven naked the night before, as the bereft woman had been in no position to get undressed and ready for bed on her own, but B'Elanna had been too preoccupied with her own grief to notice things then. She had just gotten the two of them changed into her nightclothes, finding a nightgown that fit the taller woman, if just barely, and they had stumbled to bed.

The vision standing in front of her today was simply... breathtaking.

"I could not find my biosuit." Seven said awkwardly. "Did you intend for me to use these garments?"

B'Elanna smiled. This was something she had anticipated, although she had not imagined that Seven would waltz out naked to voice her protests. "Yeah, I replicated those for you. I thought you might like to try something a little more..." The words seemed to fail for a moment. "...casual, for a change? You don't have to wear it if you don't want to, we'll just replicate you a new biosuit instead."

Seven eyed her new clothes with a slight frown. "Will they be... acceptable?"

"Huh? Acceptable to whom?" B'Elanna wanted to know, finally pulling her eyes off Seven's lanky form and putting the bowl down on the table. "Why wouldn't it be?"

"The doctor assigned the biosuits to me and has been accommodating enough to allow for some changes upon my request, as well as a few colour variables of my choice."

B'Elanna blinked. "Is that the reason you wear those... uhm... very, uh, tight outfits? Because the doctor has told you to?"

"Yes, of course."

B'Elanna felt a headache building, not to mention cold pancake batter inching across her stomach. "Look, Seven, you don't have to wear or do anything the doctor tells you to, trust me on that one. You certainly don't have to wear anything you don't want to; in fact unlike the majority of us, you don't even technically need to wear a uniform at work, since you've not gotten a Starfleet assignment. I promise I'll talk to Janeway about it later but for right now, would you please, as a favour to me, put something on? That or whatever else you would like, just please have pity on me and get dressed."

Seven's head tilted in question at the plea while B'Elanna passed her on the way to the bathroom. "Oh... if you can make pancakes the batter is over there. If not, I'll be out in a little while." B'Elanna threw over her shoulder before closing the door on a very naked ex-Borg behind.

The meal passed pleasantly, and B'Elanna made sure to tell Seven that she looked very nice in the replicated clothes, as well as to thank her for finishing the cooking. After finishing their breakfast B'Elanna brought Seven with her as she went to see Janeway. B'Elanna was amused to see the stunned reactions Seven's new clothing invoked along the way, especially since Seven herself did not appear to take any notice. Only when reaching the door to the Captain's Ready Room did Seven appear self-conscious, perhaps even somewhat nervous, straightening her clothes before entering.

B'Elanna had to give the Captain credit for her reaction upon seeing Seven's attire, or rather, her ability to cover it far more quickly than most people could. Although, even though Janeway could school her features and her voice, the older woman's eyes still carefully examined every detail of the outfit with obvious curiosity. Privately B'Elanna was quite pleased with her choice, the sleek blue-grey suit was a nice cut on Seven and the pale blue of the jacket's shoulders and arms made Seven's pale eyes shine. However...

Seven's human eye was still bloodshot and slightly puffy, although clearly improving rapidly. One look at it and B'Elanna's momentary good mood vaporised, giving way for the grief that was never far away.

"Good evening Seven, B'Elanna." Janeway greeted them warmly. "Chakotay informed me that he had given the two of you the day off..." She trailed off as she rounded her Captain's desk to stand in front of them. "What can I do for you?"

Knowing that Seven did not know exactly why they had gone to see the Captain, and suspecting that the younger woman had gotten the impression they were to either report for duty or possibly to make excuses for their absence, B'Elanna put a supportive hand on Seven's back and spoke up first.

"About that Captain, we'll need the day off tomorrow as well... and, if both holodecks should be booked full tomorrow, your permission to overrule the schedule to give us a two-hour slot." B'Elanna had given this some thought while in the shower and felt that two hours was the minimum time allotment they could ask for. She had briefly thought about offering a reimbursement to whoever got their holodeck time taken but reconsidered, reasoning that in lieu of the traditional arrangement two hours of holodeck time was not too much to ask for.

It took Janeway a moment to stop blinking at B'Elanna and answer, as the Captain was clearly mystified why and for what B'Elanna was asking. In fact, the older woman was staring at B'Elanna much in the way she might have had B'Elanna entered the room with a shaved head and a sign hung around her neck that said 'Borg Chicks Are Hot'.

"Allright... I think we can arrange for another day off for both of you, barring any major emergencies." A quick glance in Seven's direction revealed that Seven was as clueless to what B'Elanna was up to as Janeway herself. "As for the holodeck time, that depends. I would have to know exactly what you intend it for... don't get me wrong," Janeway hastened to assure, putting a hand on the arms of each of the younger women. "I am pleased beyond words to see the two of you trying to get along, but..."

"We do 'get along' well presently." Seven interrupted, her voice softer than it normally would have been. "We have... bonded, through our child."

Janeway lost whatever it was that she had been about to say and could only stare in open-mouthed shock at Seven. Seven sought out B'Elanna's free hand in support against the grief, and B'Elanna entwined their fingers, giving Seven's hand a small squeeze in encouragement.

"Your... child?" Janeway managed weakly after a moment.

B'Elanna decided to cut in. "Yes, our child, One. And the requested holodeck time is needed for us to... tend to the funeral details." She added more quietly. "We know we can't give One the traditional Starfleet space-burial, and we will hold a private ceremony tomorrow instead."

Shock slowly got overtaken by horror on Janeway's face. "Burial? B'Elanna, I ordered the doctor to see to... the body... once his mobile emitter was extracted. I told him to make sure there were no remains."

B'Elanna ground her teeth together, hard, against the urge to scream at the woman that was not only her commanding officer but also a dearly loved unofficial second mother to her. Deciding against arguing with Janeway B'Elanna instead eased out of Seven's death-grip on her hand and slapped her combadge. "Torres to Sickbay."

The voice that came across the speakers was far less jovial than it tended to, and held a note of sympathy. "B'Elanna, what can I do for you?"

B'Elanna grasped Seven's hand again. "Doctor, One's body... what happened to her?"

The doctor cleared his throat and when he spoke again the sympathy was a bit more evident. "I have removed my mobile emitter as per the Captain's orders, and with the aid of Tuvok placed One's remains in Sickbay pending your and Seven's decision. I'm afraid time is of the essence so I will have to ask that you come to an agreement tonight... possibly tomorrow morning at the latest."

"You haven't..." B'Elanna searched for a fitting word but found none. "disintegrated her body?"

"No..." The doctor replied slowly, sounding slightly confused. "The Captain has given me the order to... tend to the body... but in the cases of children or non-Starfleet individuals onboard a Federation vessel family ties take precedence in who decides on the funeral detail. That would be you and Seven." He added helpfully.

"Thank you doctor." B'Elanna choked out. "Seven and I will hold a private ceremony tomorrow, we will let you know as soon as possible what we intend to do. Torres out."

Janeway's relief was palpable. "God, B'Elanna, I'm so sorry... I didn't..."

Whatever else she had intended to say and whatever B'Elanna might have replied were lost as the soft sound of Seven's sobs interrupted them. Janeway watched in mute awe as Seven, overcome with emotions, turned to B'Elanna and the shorter woman immediately wrapped her arms around Seven offering a shoulder to cry on.

Janeway tried to give them some privacy until Seven regained her composure enough to manage the walk back to B'Elanna's quarters or wherever else the two of them were headed next, but she found herself unable to leave the room. She was sick to her stomach with the realisation of what she had done, and worse, what she must have ignored in order to not even consider that certain decisions were not hers to make, Captain or no Captain.

Watching Seven Janeway was hit by the realisation that the young former Borg did not even have a place to go to where she could grieve in peace. She had no 'home' to speak of as the only corner of the ship that was assigned as hers was a tiny spot in a cargo bay among the rest of the stored equipment. No bed, no chair, no shower, not even a door to close and lock around her for privacy. And looking at Seven now, whether the younger woman knew enough to acknowledge it, Seven truly needed these things. She was no longer the emotionless Drone that could be stored anyplace Janeway saw fit and that posed a potential threat to the welfare of the others onboard – the events with One had certainly proven that beyond any doubt.

Seven had been forced to make the ultimate sacrifice for her 'new collective', and had Janeway acknowledged it? Had anyone, besides B'Elanna who shared the loss? No, they had carried on, business as usual, because Voyager's Captain had, despite earlier protests about 'pulling the plug', allowed a life, a soul, be sacrificed for all of them and not be recognised for that act. Oh yes, Janeway was sick to the core with her own actions and decisions of late, and she fully intended to do everything she could to rectify things now.

When Seven and B'Elanna left, Janeway locked the doors to her Ready Room and sat down to think. She had a lot to think about.

It took quite some time before Seven and B'Elanna went to the Sickbay to inform the doctor of what they had decided, mostly because Seven had many questions that needed answers, some even regarding the concept of an afterlife which in turn became a halting and somewhat difficult exposition on B'Elanna's own beliefs in the matter. Seven of course had none to speak of, nor did she have any preference in regards to the ceremony itself, but it was clear to B'Elanna that the conversation gave Seven a lot to think about. She only hoped that when Seven was ready to talk about it, she would still seek B'Elanna out.

B'Elanna had suggested a ceremony that was a combination of sorts of Vulcan, Klingon and Terran light-ceremonies. Seven had no objections, and they proceeded to look for a hopefully empty time-slot in one of the holodecks to use. They found however that one holodeck had a suspiciously empty schedule all day, while the other was booked to the brim. Janeway had clearly acted quickly to accommodate them, and while B'Elanna was a little aggravated that the older woman had gone overboard – they really would not use more than the two hours – she was still grateful for the help.

Their next stop was Sickbay and the doctor. They laid out their plans to him and then, as they had agreed upon beforehand, both feeling rather keenly grateful for his thoughtfulness, asked him if he wanted to attend the ceremony as well. It was going to be a very small and private ceremony with only the two of them, the doctor and Neelix, the latter because he had been a great support for Seven during One's brief lifespan, as well as a good friend to One. Both men gracefully accepted, the doctor going so far as to volunteer to arrange for the actual disposal, so that Seven and B'Elanna need not be concerned with that part.

When Seven and B'Elanna stepped out of the holodeck they found to their surprise that the Starfleet funeral dirge was playing on near ship-wide transmission. Captain Janeway had decided to rectify her earlier ignorance by holding a speech for the tragic yet heroic life of One, timed with the private ceremony and broadcast everywhere on the ship save the holodecks and private quarters. When her speech was over a moment of silence was observed, then the funeral hymn was performed by an Ensign on the Bridge and broadcast the same way.

The doctor and Neelix left the two women to their thoughts as Seven and B'Elanna walked down the corridor in silence, heading for Cargo Bay 2. It was time for Seven to regenerate and B'Elanna felt a need to see her settled before returning to her own quarters and the solitude that was beginning to look less and less palatable for each passing moment. She was also worried about Seven, knowing that the other woman would have to face the alcove in which One had regenerated and the knowledge that this alcove would now be empty, that night and every other night to come.

B'Elanna spent a long time in Cargo Bay 2, making up excuses to linger even though she had already seen to it that Seven was regenerating peacefully. B'Elanna had even made sure that the ship's computer would awaken or otherwise alert her in time for B'Elanna to return to Cargo Bay 2 and be present when Seven would come out of regeneration. Eventually B'Elanna ran out of excuses and had to return to the silence of her own quarters and at least attempt to sleep.

Finding Seven's scent still faintly clinging to one of the pillows B'Elanna clutched it to her as she curled up tightly and, eventually, fell asleep.

Slowly, somewhat painfully but as always inescapably, the days came and went. Seven and B'Elanna both returned to full duty, but, with dedicated determination on B'Elanna's part, not to their old adversary relationship. In fact, because Seven with her inexperience with such emotions and her eidetic memory had a much harder time to handle her grief, B'Elanna found herself often having the taller woman over after their shifts. Seven spent enough nights sleeping in B'Elanna's bed that B'Elanna had taken to replicate Seven a baby-blue silk nightgown that fit the taller woman far better than the one she had previously borrowed from B'Elanna. Unconsciously B'Elanna had even come to think of one side of her bed as Seven's, and the nights that Seven had to regenerate proved restless for the half-Klingon.

Other changes had occurred as well since the death of One, the most obvious one being the change in how Seven was treated. B'Elanna had gone to see Janeway regarding the issue of Seven's biosuits only to find that not only had the Captain been oblivious to the reasons Seven wore them, Janeway had also begun thinking of the many ways in which Seven was treated... inhumanly was the word Janeway had reluctantly used to describe it.

Three weeks after the funeral of One, Seven was presented with her own version of a Starfleet uniform. It was made in the same cut and fabric as the suit that B'Elanna had replicated for her and that Seven had taken to wearing whenever she could, but with the proper colours of a Starfleet science uniform. Seven also received a Starfleet rank at that time, to her complete and visible shock as the event was kept very small and completely secret in order to give Seven a nice surprise for a change.

Deciding on the rank itself had been difficult for Janeway and in the end involved both Chakotay and Tuvok to help advice her. That Seven as the senior and chief Astrometrics officer was a part of the science-section fairly self-evident, what proved to be a more sensitive issue was the fact that Seven had been placed in a situation where she had to all effects acted, prompted by all involved, as a kind of section head. Science personnel regularly sent their requests and reports to Seven, whom in turn presented them in abbreviated form to Janeway, or when more appropriate, B'Elanna. To make her command status official would step on quite a few toes onboard, but to not give Seven the command position she effectively had worked as up until then would mean not using an invaluable asset to her full potential, not to mention that Janeway then would have to find another to take Seven's place and there just wasn't anyone that could match Seven's skill.

Finally Seven's new rank was recorded as Lieutenant and Chief of Astrometrics, with Astrometrics containing all of the old Stellar Cartography and the science sections. It placed Seven rather squarely on the command track, theoretically on the same level as B'Elanna as the fourth-in-command, so a few alterations were added to the rank to ensure that B'Elanna was still Seven's superior. It landed Seven as fifth-in-command and placed the none too pleased Tom Paris a level lower than previously as sixth.

The newly minted Lieutenant Seven – her name causing a minor problem as 'Lieutenant Nine' sounded even more awkward and ridiculous than 'Lieutenant Seven', and Seven was still adamant about not using her birth-name of Annika Hansen – then, through no fault of her own, prompted the next issue on Janeway's agenda of errors to rectify. The question of private quarters.

This issue was something Janeway put quite plainly before the senior officers. The simple truth of the matter was that for Seven it would be an advantage to be thrown in the Brig, as at least there she would have access to a few basic amenities such as a bathroom, a place to sit, and overhead lighting... and unlike Seven, anyone onboard Voyager that had to serve any kind of long-time punishment would be confined to private quarters rather than the public Brig. So in short, the need for quarters for Seven was obvious and undisputable.

The location and spaciousness of private living accommodations onboard Starfleet vessels were assigned according to rank, single living quarters considered a privilege connected to promotion, and Voyager was no exception. Because Astrometrics was a creation unique to Voyager, the position of Chief of Astrometrics was of course not taken in account when building private living space onboard, so there existed no pre-determined area that would be allotted for someone with this rank. Janeway and Chakotay had juggled living quarters before to suit the unique needs of Voyager's crew, originally assigning the Chief Medical Officer's quarters to Kes and Neelix, then re-assigning them to Sam Wildman despite her rank, as family housing, while Kes and Neelix were given other, by then separate, quarters.

Due to a handful of such relocations and a few rebuilds none of the regular officers' living quarters were available for Seven, leaving Janeway with the option of assigning one of the spare V.I.P quarters for private living accommodations. However, only the ship's Captain and first officer had personal quarters that were more generously built than the one that was the likeliest candidate for Janeway to allocate. That meant that the obvious thing to do that would be in spirit with Starfleet customs would be to grant the V.I.P quarters to the third ranking senior officer onboard, and then merely 'move up' everyone else until a vacancy was created for Seven.

That put Tuvok as first in line for the new, large and somewhat more luxurious living space. And he of course, being Vulcan after all, politely declined the offer, stating that he was comfortable with his present arrangement. That put B'Elanna as next in line for the V.I.P, and created something of a dilemma. If B'Elanna accepted Seven would receive B'Elanna's old quarters as her own, and Janeway was aware that Seven had spent a great deal of time in them since One's death so at first glance it seemed a perfect solution. The dilemma was that the women had spent so much time together that neither seemed quite willing to consider separate quarters, and also that B'Elanna was quite aware that if she declined, the V.I.P residence would go to Seven directly.

After a long silence during which B'Elanna's eyes never left Seven, B'Elanna finally quietly told Janeway to go ahead and install a regeneration alcove for Seven in the V.I.P rooms. Almost as an afterthought, and without acknowledging her superior officer with as much as a glance – which Janeway found somewhat amusing – B'Elanna said that she and Seven needed some time to plan for the rest, earning a questioning Vulcan eyebrow at the implication that she herself had some part in the planning for Seven's future residence.

Seven was understandably rattled by all the changes in her life. For a woman who prided herself of being 'adaptable' she was rather annoyed to find herself uncharacteristically hesitant and worried about what some of the changes would bring. She enjoyed her new uniform and was curiously enchanted by the existence of rank insignia on her collar. Whenever B'Elanna caught Seven touching or looking at the insignia in question the shorter woman would tease Seven by polishing and admiring her own Marquis buckle in an overly devoted manner, sometimes going so far as to speak to the ornament and call it endearments.

The rank in itself posed no problem for Seven. She was aware that her duties were much the same as before work-wise, and Seven was no stranger to command, having been a Tertiary Adjunct with the Borg. No, what was a point of worry for Seven was that there was suddenly the factor of individuals working directly under her command.

For Seven that was new. And she was afraid that 'her' crew would not like her, not acknowledge her authority.

As things turned out perhaps not everyone assigned to the new section liked Seven all that well, but they all had long since come to acknowledge her superior skill, her dedication, yes, indeed her authority. Most were happy to have their work be assigned as a part of the new and important section, since on Voyager the various sciences had all too often had to accept that assignments and resources that normally would have been allocated to them instead be given to Engineering. Many hoped that with such a visible and determined Chief would improve the status of science work onboard the ship, and therefore Seven was a welcome addition.

Seven still intimidated a lot of people, but that was solved internally by keeping the Delaney sisters, Tal Celes and Sam Wildman as go-betweens as they were used to Seven and, in the case of all but Tal Celes, far less intimidated by her. Seven of course knew nothing of the arrangement, but most of her concerns were laid to rest when she arrived at the Astrometrics lab a day after receiving her new rank to find that her new department, organised by the Delaneys and Sam, had thrown her a small party.

Seven had still been talking about it in almost childlike awe as she got into bed with B'Elanna that night, causing the other woman to grin goofily into the dark and mentally vow to give her thanks to Sam Wildman at first opportunity.

A few days passed, and the two women would have procrastinated infinitely regarding Seven moving to her own quarters if it had been left up to them. A chain of events would however set things in motion despite their reluctance to approach the subject.

A meeting in the Briefing Room for all senior officers brought nothing out of the ordinary, or at least not for a day in the Delta Quadrant, and did not take long. As the Captain dismissed her senior officers and all rose to leave the room, Seven turned to Janeway and made a small request.

"Captain, request permission to remain and hold a meeting with Mr. Neelix." Seven was polite but as always spoke in such a tone as to make the request seem somewhat less than a request and more perhaps like an order. Most of the senior staff had long since learned to ignore that when speaking to Seven, chalking it up to a by-product of ignorance and her Borg upbringing, so it was not the sound of the request that stayed everyone in place. No, it was simply curiosity regarding such an unusual request. "We shall not take long." Seven added, thinking that might be the reason for the looks directed at her from her colleagues.

"Certainly Seven," Janeway said with fairly good cheer, but not without a touch of curiosity herself. "Might I ask why you would want to hold it here and not in your office?"

Seven looked at her strangely. "Captain, I have no 'office'. And as Ensigns Delaney and Tal Celes are currently working in Astrometrics I do not wish to disturb them by holding our meeting there." A slight pause. "Ensign Tal is easily... distracted."

"Ah." Janeway blinked and silently berated herself for considering Astrometrics something of Seven's personal office when it was nothing of the sort. The fact that the rest of the ship surely viewed Astrometrics the same way was of no real comfort either. Mentally wincing she knew how Tal Celes would indeed be 'distracted' and most likely fumble whatever assignment she was on if Seven returned there. "Of course."

What prompted Tom Paris to make the comments he would was the mounting frustration from trying to get B'Elanna alone time and again for the past week without succeeding. Glancing at the half-Klingon where she stood next to Seven he adopted what he thought of as his 'charming rascal' expression and asked Seven "Ensign Delaney? Which one?"

Seven looked at him, clearly not grasping why this was relevant. "Both."

"Mmm... Meg and Jen both, not bad. Though that Tal Celes is shaping up to be quite a cutie. Maybe I should slip on over and ask her out, seeing as I have a moment before my shift starts." His grin was wide and insinuating, making more than one person present want to smack him on pure principle.

"I would... ask... that you do not, Lieutenant Paris. Your duty shift has perhaps not started yet but Ensign Tal's has, and your presence would undoubtedly cause her to make a critical error in her current assignment." Seven hesitated for a moment before continuing. "Also I believe you will find it to be a... wasted effort if you were to approach her for... romantic liaisons... as Ensign Tal already has someone in mind for that purpose."

Seven was quite uncomfortable with the subject and both unwilling to discuss Tal Celes' private matters and somewhat at a loss as to what terminology to use not to offend, but felt it was her duty to discourage Paris. She was uncertain if she was doing so more as a favour to Tom Paris or to Tal Celes, which made her all the more eager to leave the subject completely.

Tom was not so easily dissuaded, despite the roomful of superior officers that were glaring at him.

His grin became delighted. "Really? Who is it?" An amused laugh. "Don't tell me... she's fallen for you, hasn't she?" There was no malice in his voice, just genuine good humour. Despite her resistance to his charms and his complete incapability to understand her, Tom had never had anything against Seven and would every so often try to drag her with him on his holodeck adventures.

Whatever reprimand Janeway had been about to voice to end this conversation died on her lips as B'Elanna suddenly stiffened from her relaxed position and spun around towards Seven, clearly furious.

"WHAT?! Celes' got designs on you?" B'Elanna demanded in a bark, gesturing angrily. "Why that two-faced little... I'll have her cleaning plasma for the rest of her natural life!" She glared at Seven and crossed her arms over her chest, her stance challenging. "Well? Is she?"

Seven was caught completely off guard, unable to do anything but stare wide-eyed and speechless at B'Elanna's ire. She had not seen B'Elanna angry for some time, and never before had B'Elanna's anger been quite like this.

The rest of the room was so silent one could almost hear the grinding of B'Elanna's teeth as her expression darkened. If Vulcans had been prone to sigh, Tuvok would have before speaking up. As it was his eyebrow wavered in a fashion that would have signalled much the same thing as a sigh to a fellow Vulcan, had one been present.

"Seven of Nine, although it is inappropriate to discuss Ensign Tal's private matters at a briefing, I do believe you will have to answer Lieutenant Torres' question. With the Captain's permission I suggest the rest of us return to our duties."

With that, and a nod of approval from Janeway, Tuvok turned to silently urge Lieutenant Paris and Ensign Kim to move out of the room without resorting to nudging them along.

Seven looked slightly shy. "I am... not the individual Tal Celes is... romantically interested in." Through no fault of her own, Seven glanced briefly at Harry Kim as he was moving towards the door as slowly as he could. Harry gulped and froze, causing Tuvok to grasp his shoulder and simply shove him out the door.

This mollified B'Elanna and made her ire rather deflate. Unsure of herself she glanced into Seven's eyes and suddenly they were locked, both of them staring wide-eyed at one another, completely oblivious to their surroundings.

Janeway was somewhat chagrined. While watching the two young women who were so close to her own heart in this suddenly tender scene was heart-warming, not to mention amusing since the amazed expressions on both their faces made them look much younger than they actually were, she could not for their sakes in good conscience let them kiss right there. Her first officer and chief medical officer were walking as slowly as they could without walking backwards – thankfully Tuvok had gotten Tom with him out of the room a moment earlier – and the doctor was after all the biggest gossip on the ship.

Not that Seven or B'Elanna noticed, Janeway realised, they had stopped seeing anything other than one another the moment their eyes met, neither did either of them seem conscious of the fact that they were definitely beginning to lean in towards one another.

Remembering what it was like being young, in love and sharing those first handfuls of kisses with someone special, Janeway hated doing what she had to. Frankly, sometimes it really sucked being the woman in charge. She cleared her throat.

"B'Elanna, I suggest you keep your temper better in check in the future. I don't want to have to order you to take more lessons from Tuvok." Janeway's warning was a lot louder than it needed to be, but it did manage to catch B'Elanna's attention. "Seven, I'll send Neelix in so you can begin your meeting, let me know what you come up with when you're done."

Both women drew back as if stung, suddenly standing ramrod straight and not looking at one another. B'Elanna blushed a fierce crimson, muttered something in reply to Janeway, and then bolted for the door... leaving Seven, with a pale blush of her own dusting her cheeks, to watch her go with a forlorn expression mixed with quite a bit of confusion.

B'Elanna had hardly disappeared from the doorway before Neelix peeked back into the room. "Ah! Well Seven, what do you say we go over our storage details? I need to be starting dinner soon I'm afraid..."

The meeting with Neelix pertained Voyager's stores and reserves in terms of non-replicated foodstuff and material, and the fact an opportunity to replenish the former had revealed itself when Seven went over planetary scans in Astrometrics. Due to the fact that there was no shortage of energy presently and that Voyager were aiming to make First Contact with a space-faring species in a few days in the hopes of doing some bartering, some port work on the ship, and preferably also some shore leave, it was a very low-priority assignment. If things worked out at the space port, the stocks would be replenished anyway, but there were a few things in the planet survey that had caught both Seven's and Neelix' interest.

A few soil and fluid samples from the planet would be a welcome addition to airponics, as judging from the scans there was every possibility that either or both could be used to increase and speed up the harvest of their ship-grown fruit and vegetables. There were also a handful of particularly interesting specimens among the plantlife that Voyager could benefit from, especially if the information Seven had gleaned from a launched probe had been correct and the planet held something very similar to Earth's Coffea Arabica.

While Seven had no personal interest in the beverages made from the beans of that plant, it was still the selling point with her to support the endeavour. She had examined her reasons and found that she simply wanted to bring a sample of the plant in case a non-replicated substitute could be created for the Captain and B'Elanna, both of whom took great pleasure in the various concoctions derived from the plant. Seven found herself wanting to undertake the mission simply because it would please the two women who were otherwise dependent on the replicators to receive their daily dosage of the brew.

Neelix himself was enthusiastic about the endeavour, for much the same reason as Seven, but to his regret he would be needed at the space-port, to oversee the larger restock and to be on hand for any negotiation work Janeway might need assistance in. Seven was reluctant to assign anyone else for the mission as it would take several days before they would reunite with Voyager at the space-port, and it would be asking whoever went to risk losing their one shot at shore-leave for who knew how long... and for what was a rather frivolous reason.

So Seven therefore decided to go herself.

Unfortunately Starfleet regulations prevented her from going alone, and now that she was a Starfleet officer herself, Seven felt obliged to actually follow the rules. Well, most of the time anyway. She did consider asking Tuvok along, since they would pass by an interesting nebula whose readings were unlike anything Seven had on record, and the Vulcan had an interest in these things to match her own. It would be an activity that Tuvok may well, and had in the past, chose for his recreation during shore-leave if left to his own devices, but it was unlikely the ship's Chief of Security would feel it appropriate to leave the ship presently.

Slightly frustrated with the complications of what really should be a simple and quickly expedited matter Seven decided to get Tuvok's input on the subject as soon as she had visited B'Elanna. Just the thought of the other woman sparked a number of strange and strong reactions within, the most prominent and easiest to identify being anxiety... Seven was certainly intelligent enough to realize that something had occurred between herself and B'Elanna earlier, or been about to, and it seemed important. She did not, however, have any way to reason out what exactly that was, or why it seemed to have changed things.

Since she was at heart a rather straight-forward person, Seven's first response to this problem was to go to B'Elanna and ask. Fortunately they had decided before the briefing to meet at B'Elanna's quarters for a private dinner during their meal break, so Seven would see her there.

The argument was loud enough that it did not take Borg-enhanced hearing to hear the raised voices from out in the hallway, but Seven's sensitive ears also allowed her to hear the less loud words in full clarity as she walked from the turbolift to the door to B'Elanna Torres private quarters. The people arguing were B'Elanna and Tom.

"...what are you so uptight about? I just came to ask you out to dinner." Tom Paris complained, something apparently not going according to his plans. "You've been avoiding me for, oh I dunno, forever!"

"That's because we broke up, Tom... We. Broke. Up." B'Elanna was not happy but had not yet resorted to shouting. "And I told you: thanks but no thanks."

"Aww come on, don't be like that." He pleaded, trying to convince her. "I don't see why you wouldn't want to see me for a little while."

"Because we broke up." B'Elanna muttered, slamming something inside the room. "Will you get a move on, I'm busy."

"Is this because of this morning? Because what I said in the Briefing Room? You know I was only kidding."

"No, that would be because we have _broken up_. I couldn't care less who you're drooling over now, Tom."

"Don't be jealous babe, Celes may be cute but she doesn't hold a candle to you." Tom's attempt at a winning smile was evident in his voice, though the touch of smug pride ruined the effect somewhat.

B'Elanna's sigh was audible to Seven even through the bulkhead wall. "I'm not, I'm really not. And I'm not interested." Moving closer to the door. "What I am, Tom, is busy, so you're leaving. Now."

It finally seemed to reach through to Tom that he was being rejected, and so he switched tracks. "Busy doing what, B'Elanna? Hiding away in here, eating alone? At least come to the Messhall with me, what's one lousy meal huh?"

The doors opened with their usual tiny burst of air. "Nope, I'm waiting for Seven actually. We're having dinner together." She pushed him slightly through the opening. "Scram."

"Really? About Seven, B'Elanna..." Tom's voice was not unkind as he continued, but surprisingly serious for him. "How long are you going to be babysitting her? Don't get me wrong, I'm happy you're not going for her throat anymore, and I think it's great that you've been taking care of her through this tough time, but... how much longer are you going to put your own life on hold to be the good Samaritan?" Tom's voice dropped a notch or two. "You don't date, you don't socialize, you don't do anything but take care of Seven or work. She's a big girl you know, you don't have to keep sacrificing any chance of being happy for her sake anymore. She's even got her own quarters now, we can concentrate on _us_."

B'Elanna was at first simply too furious to reply, and that let both her and Tom quite clearly hear the sharp gasp beside them where B'Elanna had pushed Tom through the doorway. They both snapped their heads around in the direction of the sound.

"Oh shit, Seven..." Tom whispered, looking and sounding very remorseful all of a sudden.

B'Elanna found herself staring right into wide pale blue eyes rapidly filling with hurt and tears and knew suddenly that right then, right there was where her life changed. This was the place in time where B'Elanna's sweet dream of innocent and unspoken affection, curiously domestic life and uncomplicated companionship ended. She could see it in Seven's eyes, no matter what B'Elanna said now the damage was done – Seven would be thinking in terms of sacrifice and pity now.

All that passed through B'Elanna's mind in no more than a heartbeat or two, before Seven spun around and disappeared in the direction of the turbolift. Enraged and in pain herself, B'Elanna let out an agonized cry, grabbed Tom's uniform by the front and body-slammed him into the bulkhead on the other side of the corridor with enough force to make Tom's head whiplash against the wall with a dull thud. She snarled in his face.

"Listen carefully, you idiot, because I won't repeat myself again." She held him hard enough that he would end up with twin bruises from her hands. "You and I are _over_. I'm not interested and even if you were the last humanoid in this godforsaken Quadrant, I wouldn't take you back." She shook him against the wall to emphasize her words. "The relationship I have with Seven is none of your business, but just for the record... it's not charity. In the entire universe there's no-one I'd rather be with, and she means more to me than anyone. Get what I'm saying?"

At his weak nod she tossed him aside. "Get out of my sight."

As soon as she released Tom B'Elanna spun and sprinted down the hall where Seven had disappeared. She caught up to the turbolift just as it was closing, barely managing to get her hand in the opening to make them open for her. Seven quickly wiped at her eyes, trying to hide a few tears that had escaped before B'Elanna noticed.

Seven had heard every word spoken in the hallway, but did not know what to make of them. She was upset and confused, and people often said things they did not mean, or meant things they did not say, leaving Seven unable to grasp what was really spoken.

"Seven?" B'Elanna all but whispered, stepping inside to stand in front of Seven. "Seven, look at me." She pleaded.

Seven was staring at the turbolift wall next to B'Elanna's head. "I apologize Lieutenant, I did not realise that I was... it was not my intention to..." To Seven's embarrassment, her voice wavered and the words fled.

B'Elanna closed the gap and reached up to cup Seven's face in her hand, gently urging Seven to meet her gaze. When she spoke her voice was choked but intense, and her dark eyes pleading. "Seven, honey, don't listen to that moron. He wouldn't know anything genuine if it walked up to him and hit him in the head with a hyperspanner."

A deep breath. "It's not like he said, not at all. It couldn't ever be, not with us. I..." B'Elanna looked into wide, wet pale blue eyes and somewhere deep inside, beyond the roaring sound in her ears, beyond the fierce pounding of her heart, beyond even the icy chill of risk at the nape of her neck, B'Elanna made the decision to let go. "I want you Seven, need you in my life. I'm only ever really happy if you're with me, and I can't stand us being apart... I want you with me always."

"I..." Love you, her mind finished the sentence as her body, perhaps cognisant of the fact that they were alone and without superior officers present at last, followed the pull of instinct. The hand on Seven's cheek carefully guided the taller woman to lean closer, and then there were no room for words, no room for anything at all but the soft meeting of lips.

And it was heaven, it was perfection, it was unbelievable sweetness and it was Omega. Seven's response was timid at first, although not lacking in enthusiasm. The small moan the taller woman emitted when B'Elanna's tongue eased past her lips to engage in an electrifying caress caused B'Elanna to gasp and her knees to buckle. Encouraged Seven grew bolder, catching B'Elanna with ease and pinning her against the wall, eagerly conducting her own exploration beyond B'Elanna's lips.

B'Elanna's response was to moan out loud followed by a deep growl, then to capture the inquisitive tongue to give it extensive and fervently passionate attention. After long moments like this they traded places again, and once Seven was leaning against the wall B'Elanna sucked a full lower lip into her mouth and...

The problem with turbolifts is that they are always in use and not very private.

The door opened to reveal a startled Tal Celes, loaded up with data pads, an oblong reddish fruit that Neelix was always trying to convince his customers to eat, and a medium sized lunch box.

B'Elanna spun towards the intruder that not only she was still a bit peeved with from earlier that day even though she now knew the truth, but that also had the audacity to disturb her precious moment with Seven. B'Elanna felt quite... upset.

She roared at the young Bajoran, whose already wide eyes took on a new dimension of width, appearing to almost fall out of her skull. Tal Celes opened her mouth to emit a high-pitched, ear-piercing scream, threw the pads and the lunchbox at B'Elanna, then turned to run down the corridor in blind panic, arms flaying aimlessly in the air above her head as she went.


The lunchbox lost its lid upon impact and a sizeable blob of gelatine-like vegetable mash struck B'Elanna's cheek, flopped down to her shoulder, rolled down her chest and dropped with a squelching sound squarely down on her shoes. B'Elanna did not move. Then...


The screaming increased in strength even though it was moving rapidly away from them. Seven cleared her throat and slapped her combadge. "Seven to Ensign Tal. Cease running and screaming this instant!"

The sound stopped as if by magic. "Return in four minutes to clean up your mess and retrieve your items. You will have the opportunity to apologize to Lieutenant Torres at another time." Seven glanced at the fuming B'Elanna. "And she shall apologize to you as well. Seven out."

B'Elanna merely snorted at that.

"I gave her four minutes so she will be here in eight." Seven mentioned quietly and flicked some mash off B'Elanna's face. "You... need to clean up. And... since our dinner break is over, I need to speak to Lieutenant Commander Tuvok." Seven sounded regretful about having to leave.

"What? Dinner is over already?" It had been almost forty minutes left of her break when Tom had appeared at B'Elanna's door, but Seven was never wrong about the time. "What are you going to see Tuvok about?" Discreetly scraping mash off one shoe with the toe of the other.

So Seven told her about the sample retrieval from the planet, and her hope that Lieutenant Commander Tuvok would be able to suggest someone to accompany her since regulation demanded Seven bring someone with her on the newly commissioned Delta Flyer.

"You're going away?" B'Elanna sounded as disappointed as she looked.

"Yes, for the duration of my away-mission. Although I find myself very... reluctant to go." The last was spoken very quietly. B'Elanna thought about it.

"You're going away on a mission that will keep you on the Delta Flyer for days... all alone with whoever goes with you..." She mused out loud and then began to grin. It could be arranged, she was sure of that. "I can almost guarantee that I have someone that will go with you."

Seven raised an eyebrow in polite interest, even though leaving Voyager right now had become curiously even less palatable.

B'Elanna grinned widely. "Me!"

Much as B'Elanna had hoped, after excessive and repeated instructions to Carey and Vorik it seemed as if Voyager's Engine room might survive without her for a few days. She had convinced Seven that if they left as quickly as possible they might be able to make it back only a day or so into Voyager's stay at the space-port, and even though Seven had disliked the idea of not allowing for more preparations and scans she had rather quickly agreed, seeing the logic in the proposal. She had then instructed Sam Wildman and Megan Delaney in a much similar way on what duties to perform in her absence, leaving both women somewhat awed with the sudden realisation that they had become Seven's seconds in the newly formed department, then the Chief of Astrometrics had informed both Neelix and Lieutenant Commander Tuvok on the mission plans.

The Delta Flyer was then scheduled for takeoff at the end of the Alpha shift, which was the earliest Seven and B'Elanna's preparations would be ready. Fortunately for Seven she had spent some time regenerating the day before and should be fully able to make do with regular sleep for the duration of the away-mission, so by the time their shift was over they were more or less packed and ready to go.

As they were tending to the last few details before taking off Janeway joined them in the shuttle bay, apparently to make some small talk and see them off. She had of course been briefed on the purpose of the trip some time earlier, but all involved had managed not to mention the plant Seven and Neelix had such hopes for, intending it to be a surprise later if all worked out.

As the Captain Janeway had to admit to herself that she should probably question sending the two irreplaceable officers off on such a low-priority errand at this time, or, in fact, any time, and suggest someone less vital to ship's operation to carry out the assignment. The woman that viewed Seven and B'Elanna as very close friends and even family in all but blood, however, was not only supportive but also highly amused to hear that B'Elanna had volunteered to join Seven on the trip.

So the young lovers wanted some time alone, did they? Well, let it not be said that she wasn't a romantic at heart, Janeway thought, and saw both women off with hugs and her well-wishes.

As Janeway made to leave Seven unexpectedly called her back. "Captain?"

Janeway turned and smiled benignly towards the tall blonde, half expecting an awkwardly uttered polite phrase like 'take care', which other people used all the time without thinking and Seven never did unless she really meant it. "Yes Seven?"

"I... would like to place a request regarding my quarters, although I will be unable to send it through proper channels until my return."

Janeway was slightly surprised but nonetheless pleased, Seven asked for nothing and it was difficult to get her living arrangements squared away when the tenant in question said barely word one about how she wanted things arranged. So far they had left things more or less as they were from when the rooms were V.I.P assigned, save from the regeneration alcove and a few Borg modifications that B'Elanna had informed them of. "Certainly Seven, what is it?"

Seven straightened her already perfect posture and lifted her chin slightly. "I would like to request a larger than standard issue bed, as the Starfleet standard issue single bed will not adequately accommodate myself and B'Elanna for our nightly activities."

Janeway blinked and barely managed to suppress the giggle that wanted to escape. B'Elanna's eyes went wide as saucers and her face turned beet red. It took every ounce of self control that Janeway possessed to keep as calm and impassive as Seven appeared to be, while inside she was howling with laughter.

"Oh of course. I will see to it that you get a queen-sized bed installed as soon as possible." Janeway was not about to tell Seven that the bed that was already located in the quarters was of a size with a Starfleet standard issue family bed, which was slightly smaller than the size Janeway had just offered, oh no. She was having way too much fun at B'Elanna's expense at the moment, and if only she could get away with it the two of them would find a king-sized bed waiting for them in Seven's quarters upon return. Janeway tried not to smirk. She felt positively evil today.

B'Elanna went from beet red to dark burgundy, and she seemed to have some trouble breathing.

Janeway decided to take it a bit further. "Any specific preference in terms of bedding? If you tell me now we can forgo proper channels, I'll just put it on Chakotay's to do list." She tried not to look as if she was looking at B'Elanna at all.

Seven considered the question for a beat. "I have no preferences, standard issue will be fine."

"Duly noted." Janeway smiled and inwardly added a note to herself to replicate a nice set in muted blue silk. Another thought occurred to her and she added another note to make sure the bed ended up extra sturdy. You never knew, it might be cheaper in the long run.

She decided to take pity on B'Elanna before the half-Klingon passed out. "Unless there's anything else, I'll wish you both a safe trip." She smiled at the replies – a polite thank you Captain from Seven and a weak gurgle from B'Elanna, and strode out of the Shuttle bay.

As the doors closed behind her the giggling began. By the time Janeway had crossed half of the corridor she was laughing so hard she had to lean against the wall for support. Oh she hadn't had this much fun in ages!

"She is laughing at me." Seven was clearly disturbed by the muffled sounds, she did not like being laughed at and the idea that Janeway would do so did seem particularly unsavoury.

"No..." B'Elanna sighed and rubbed her face vigorously, as if it would help the blush to recede faster. "She's laughing at _me_."

B'Elanna glanced up at Seven and knew with a wistful certainty that the often surprisingly innocent woman had no idea what she had implied with her unusual request. While she had no idea just what Seven had meant by 'nightly activities', she knew that it was most likely very innocent by comparison to what B'Elanna and Janeway had imagined. It was all the more reason for B'Elanna to rein certain... instincts in, not to overwhelm the inexperienced woman.

If Seven, after knowing her options B'Elanna vowed, chose B'Elanna to be her first – only! her heart demanded but B'Elanna tried to ignore it – she would be gentle and take her time, make sure Seven's first experience was nothing like her own had been. No, she wouldn't hurt Seven. She wouldn't _let_ herself hurt her precious Seven, in any way.

"Trust me." B'Elanna smiled and gestured Seven to get into the Delta Flyer before her.

"Always." Seven replied simply, climbing in and missing the wide, delighted and decidedly goofy smile on B'Elanna's lips. B'Elanna sighed again, this time a happy sigh, and followed Seven inside.

At fate would have it, Seven and B'Elanna would never set foot on their intended planet.

The beginning of their trip was uneventful, Seven and B'Elanna settled in and B'Elanna steered the shuttle towards the planet. They were rather exhilarated about spending a few days completely alone, and the small-talk they shared was mingled with long silent looks and happy smiles for no particular reason. B'Elanna felt a little as if she had become a teenager again, except her teenage years had never been particularly pleasant and this certainly was.

The problems began when the Delta Flyer unexpectedly encountered the probe that had been launched from Voyager. The device was supposed to be in orbit around the planet, not drifting in space, completely powered down, some distance from it. Seven and B'Elanna beamed the probe aboard for study, but they never got the chance.

Seven called out a warning as the readings on her console went off the scale. The nebula that had previously been located well away from this area had not only moved, it _was_ moving. And doing so very rapidly, pulling the Delta Flyer in towards itself.

B'Elanna hit the controls but the pull of the strange space phenomenon made it moot point, and they were overtaken. Borg-enhanced reflexes made for a speedy attempt at sending out a distress-signal, but it was to no avail. The edge of the nebula pulled the ship in and moved through it, causing arches of blue lightning to move through the interior of the ship, trailing thick white fog while the Delta Flyer shook and spun beyond the ability of the ships inertial dampeners to counteract.

Seven and B'Elanna were thrown out of their seats and against the walls until Seven found purchase for her Borg hand and grabbed B'Elanna with the other. The Flyer bucked and shook for several long moments more, then, as suddenly as it had started, it went absolutely still.

Gasping, both women got up and tried to assess their situation.

The cockpit was dark, only the smattering of small green Borg emergency lights kept the space from being pitch black, and there were still traces of mist in the air although they were fading. Everything, including Seven and B'Elanna, was covered in a cold, clear fluid that seemed a lot like water, and it ran in rivulets off walls and furniture to pool towards the front of the cabin. Even in the dark it was easy to see that none of the consoles still had power, the helm where B'Elanna had been sitting was nothing more than a blackened mass from an explosion during the chaos, but the two women nonetheless hurried over to bring whatever systems they could online.

It made no difference. The Delta Flyer was dead in space.

Soon the emergency life-support would fail as well B'Elanna thought, as the air was far colder than it should be and dropping rapidly. If they did not get at least a force-field up they would freeze to death within moments from the coldness of space. Abandoning the console B'Elanna tore open a hatch near the floor and grabbed the box inside it. She had installed it there for hull breach emergencies but it was as the only thing she had handy that she could think of.

Seven stopped her attempts to rewire her console and stared wide-eyed at the front of the ship. B'Elanna turned to look as well.

Reaching towards them were thin tendrils of ice, thickening and branching out against walls and consoles, spreading from the front of the ship where the water had already turned solid ice. B'Elanna spun to Seven, yanked at her arm and shouted "RUN!", her breath turning into tiny crystals of ice almost as soon at it left her lips. The air she pulled down her lungs cut like knives from the cold, they had just run out of time.

They turned to run, but where was there left to go?

B'Elanna was just going to run, no destination in mind, when Seven grabbed her arm and yanked her, hard, after herself as she took off to the right. B'Elanna stumbled upon entering the small space that served as storage for equipment, a miniature medical bay as well as having the only food replicator onboard, while Seven spun around and sealed the door. The air was far less cold in there but frost was appearing on the door even as Seven closed it.

Cracking the box open B'Elanna didn't bother getting to her feet. Instead she threw herself closer to the door and put the box down, pulling up a piece to aim at the door and desperately fiddling with the contents. Seven pushed her away, none too gently in the hurry, and extended her left arm towards the box.

To B'Elanna's surprise twin tubules shot out of Seven's wet sleeve and forced themselves into the metal object on the floor. Seven's other hand moved to press a few buttons on the machine, but mostly her attention was on the alterations going on inside it, as evident by the rapid movement of her eyes. B'Elanna bit her lip and stared at the door. It was almost covered with a thin sheet of white. Then suddenly the machine emitted a brief sound and the greenish light of a Borg force-field covered the walls around them.

B'Elanna decided she could breathe again.

Seven detached herself from the construct and marched over to where a few phasers were stored for emergencies, taking them out and apart, clearly to use them as additional power-source for the force-field. B'Elanna shook herself and went over to the medical controls and used them to check what was still functioning.

The ship around them was largely dead, only the Borg components smattered here and there and concentrated around the room where Seven and B'Elanna now were somehow resistant to what had happened. Although damaged they still held power and some functions, among which was an auxiliary power grid for the miniature medical bay.

B'Elanna quickly re-routed all remaining power to life-support in the room, keeping temperature and oxygen levels acceptable and dimmed the light somewhat. She could not send out a distress call from there, and she would have to shut down the replicator, but at least the oxygen and heat would last for several days. Long enough for Voyager to come looking for them, she hoped.

If it came to that, this was where the space-suits were stored. She and Seven would put them on and try to get to the escape pods and launch them manually if they had not been saved by the time the Borg system lost power. B'Elanna tried not to think about the fact that the escape pods were likely just as unusable as the rest of the ship, she had faith in that Voyager would come for them before that. Janeway would come for them... she always did.

Even though environmental controls were working for the small room, B'Elanna was freezing. Looking down at herself she realised why – she and Seven both were soaked through with water, and the water had begun freezing before they got the force-field in place.

"Seven, we need to get out of these clothes _now_!" Without fully realizing it herself B'Elanna went to Seven's side and, instead of removing her own clothing, reached up to pull Seven's uniform jacket off.

Seven complied and allowed B'Elanna to help her out of her clothing before returning the favour, until they were both completely naked. Scanning the room quickly B'Elanna spotted the rounded metal case that held the rolled-up bedding she and Seven were meant to use for this trip. The Delta Flyer had no beds or bunks installed, so bedding-cases like these were loaded for all away-missions that would keep people away from Voyager overnight. Haphazardly hooking the wet clothing on whatever protruded from the walls around the room B'Elanna quickly cleared the floor and opened the case.

One of the thinner blankets was yanked out first and sacrificed, B'Elanna using it to briskly rub Seven dry, then accepting Seven's aid in doing the same to herself. A stray thought occurred to her and prompted a brief, slightly strained, grin to grace her lips – B'Elanna really would have enjoyed the view of slightly flushed pale skin, perhaps even a bit too much, if she hadn't been so cold that she had to struggle not to let her teeth clatter.

Casting another speculative look around the small space, B'Elanna hesitated somewhat before putting the used blanket on the floor. Seven immediately followed suit and began laying out the rest of the bedding on top of the blanket, laying the two sets of bedding out in one pile so that the wetness on the floor would soak through only the first layers, leaving the rest of the bed fairly dry.

Noticing the strange way B'Elanna was staring at the newly made bed, Seven cocked her head and considered. "I shall lay down first as my weight is greater than yours and would cause you discomfort." Pleased that she had deduced the problem and solved it, Seven wasted no time to get under the covers.

B'Elanna did not move.

Seven frowned. "Come, B'Elanna... quickly!" She held up the covers to help the smaller woman climb in.

"I... I can't!"

The frown deepened. "Why? We need to conserve our body heat and this is both an expedient solution as well as the only one available to us presently. I see no reason to resist." With concern. "Your body temperature has dropped below acceptable parameters. I can tell by your colouring."

A pause.

"Please B'Elanna."

B'Elanna twitched. She knew Seven was right, she had no choice, and the cold had already made her body feel alarmingly numb. She cursed inwardly that her Klingon genes could not have given her a bit more resistance to cold rather than to make her more sensitive to it, because climbing into that bed with Seven was... it was... damn, there was no way out of this, was there?

B'Elanna sighed and very carefully kneeled on the edge of the bed, insinuating a leg and an arm under the covers to brace on the other side of Seven's body. "The reason you're asking me why is the reason why." She grumbled, fixing her eyes with a stubborn determination at a spot next to Seven's head.

Seven helped pull the blanket over B'Elanna's back. "I do not understand." She frowned with some more displeasure as B'Elanna hovered above her, allowing much air between their bodies which was not conductive to their goal of conserving heat. "We often share a bed."

"It's not the same thing, and I know you don't understand why." B'Elanna bit her lip but did not resist as Seven's arms slid around her and gently pushed her down.

Even with her body still numbed from cold B'Elanna could not hold back the gasp as their bodies came in full contact. She was gratified to hear a startled gasp be torn from Seven's lips as well, and while B'Elanna fought to stay very still, face hidden against Seven's shoulder, Seven had no such concerns. Seven wriggled slightly and, most likely unconsciously, moved her hands on B'Elanna's back, softly tracing and caressing muscles on a back tight with tension.

After long moments of absolute silence save for their breathing, Seven finally spoke up with a voice pitched slightly deeper than normal. "This is different. I see that now."

A brief, strangled snort of laughter escaped B'Elanna's lips at that. "Yeah." She choked out. As the contact with Seven heated the blood in her faster than even the warmth from Seven could seep through chilled muscles, B'Elanna's body went from somewhat numbed to hypersensitive and aware in a rather disorienting way. She clutched the blankets weakly as the ache for Seven became a physical, throbbing ache in almost all of her body much too fast for comfort.

Seven would not lay still. They lay in silence for a long time, the only sounds in the room being the discreet hum of the force-field generator and the sound of shallow, trembling, breathing. Seven's hands moved on B'Elanna's back, up and down, feather-light touches and more firm ones, until finally the fingers of her Borg-enhanced hand scraped a path along B'Elanna's spine from the base of her skull to the round swell of her bottom.

B'Elanna moaned into Seven's shoulder, bucking slightly by instinct only to go absolutely still as the hand in question hesitantly cupped her behind.

B'Elanna's breathing turned even more ragged, and she was not the only one. "Seven... oh Seven..." She whispered, pressing her face into Seven's neck.

"You are..." A husky whisper from Seven as fingers roamed slightly. "...leaking?"

A slight dip. A slow swirl.

B'Elanna's answering moan was louder than before despite being muffled against Seven's skin, the very sound of it causing Seven to whimper slightly with her own excitement. The world outside the makeshift bed might have been sheeted with ice, but underneath the blankets they had a furnace.

Hungry lips traced a path up Seven's neck slowly, paying close attention to every little dip and curve and stopping to give extra care to the starburst on Seven's cheek. Just as B'Elanna was about to devour Seven's lips she drew back a little. "We... can't do this. We shouldn't."

Unconsciously emitting a soft sound of protest that the expected kiss was denied, Seven blinked. "Why?" She sounded confused and slightly hurt.

Pale blue eyes had darkened with desire, the one feature that Seven's Borg mask did not cover and that were always painfully honest for anyone that cared to look... and B'Elanna was staring into them at close range. She felt her resolve quickly dissolve in the face of the amazing beauty that was Seven's desire.

"The... circumstances..." B'Elanna managed to gasp. "and... wanted it to be... special... your first."

"It will be, with you."

The words were simple but honest. Seven's eyes were dark with desire and need, and after looking so deeply into them B'Elanna couldn't remember why she was trying to resist. It was what they both wanted after all.

Lips met and yielded, B'Elanna exploring the velvet warmth of Seven's mouth with passionate diligence, learning all and tasting all. Tongues met, traced, chased and retreated... lips were sucked and nibbled until they burned, then they kissed some more.

B'Elanna was burning a path along Seven's jaw and neck when Seven gasped her name. "B'Elanna..." B'Elanna fastened her lips to a tiny indent at the base of the pale neck and tasted it. "B'Elanna... I want... I need..." B'Elanna pulled herself up enough to look at Seven.

"I need..." A frustrated whimper accompanied by a wriggle. "closer."

Smiling B'Elanna slowly slid herself until her legs were entwined with Seven's, straddling one of Seven's and pushing one of her own up to press against Seven's burning heat. "Like this?" Seven gave a soft cry of pleasure in reply, instinctively bucking against B'Elanna. B'Elanna shifted her weight and moved against Seven, staring deep into impossibly wide blue eyes. Those eyes and the ever-changing staccato of Seven's ragged breathing and soft moans were driving B'Elanna insane, until she couldn't take it any more.

The path down to Seven's breasts was quickly traversed, and B'Elanna took one in her mouth, claiming it as hers. She sucked, licked, nibbled and flicked, and even drew in a sharp, chilling breath that made Seven cry out and draw one long leg up against B'Elanna's body, pushing B'Elanna firmly in place against herself. A low, aroused growl rumbled through B'Elanna's chest in response.

Finally B'Elanna shifted until there was just enough room between their bodies for one of B'Elanna's hands, and then she reached down. Surprisingly nimble fingers found the wet heat of Seven and claimed it, caressing everything she could.

Up. Down. Along the edges... taking special care with that spot that made Seven shake and her soft cries turn loud and urgent, and caressing it until the body underneath her own were on the edge of orgasm, then trailing off, changing direction and touch.

Skilled hands found the opening and teased and caressed until Seven had thrown her legs so far apart they left the warmth of the blankets. Pressing gently against it with one slender finger B'Elanna waited until Seven's body opened on its own accord, drawing her inside on its own.

The very tip of B'Elanna's finger was drawn inside and B'Elanna carefully eased the length of her finger in. The slick wet heat inside was unlike anything B'Elanna had ever experienced

Keeping her finger still inside to allow Seven's body to adjust to it, B'Elanna raked her eyes over the beautiful sight beneath her. Seven's hair was loose and messy, spread out over the pillow like a halo, her eyes firmly shut and her mouth open in such a perfect expression of pleasure that B'Elanna briefly wished she could somehow snapshot that image to carry with her. Seven's hands clutched feebly at B'Elanna's back as B'Elanna began to move ever so slowly.

Drawing almost completely out before returning again, thrusts slow to begin with but increasing in speed to match the movements of Seven's hips... B'Elanna bit her lips to the point where she drew blood, aroused beyond anything she'd ever experienced by the sounds that Seven was making. The growl rumbled in her chest and vibrated against Seven's skin.

Hers. This was hers. Seven was hers. Hers!

Among smooth velvet a tiny bump was found, and to B'Elanna's delight, caused Seven to buck so hard she nearly threw B'Elanna off. B'Elanna grasped a rounded hip with her free hand to make sure she wouldn't lose her place, then returned to that spot with some determination.

Seven gaspingly invoked Omega, and B'Elanna's name, before dissolving into cries, her body taut and arching. B'Elanna rode out the shockwaves and shudders until Seven's body was completely still, then curled up against her.

Hers. B'Elanna felt her eyes begin to sting unexpectedly. She wanted Seven to be hers, huh? She sniffled slightly and blinked furiously, annoyed with the tears that escaped because she was happy and tears had no place in this. This was all so beautiful and perfect beyond belief, and B'Elanna felt strangely vulnerable.

Pressing her face into the side of Seven's neck B'Elanna spoke with a voice thick with emotion. "I love you Seven. I am yours and I love you."

There was no reply.

Horrified, B'Elanna's head snapped up to stare at Seven. Seven did not speak or even move. Then B'Elanna heard it, barely audible above the soft sound of Seven's breathing... a tiny, exhausted snore.

B'Elanna let her head drop back down on Seven's shoulder, chuckling softly to herself. Seven hadn't heard her, but it was alright. She would just say the words some other time, when Seven was awake to hear them.

Seven did not need long to rest, and once she was wide awake again she was very eager and more than willing to show B'Elanna exactly how good B'Elanna had made her feel. B'Elanna surrendered to Seven's touch roaring in delight, as long Borg-enhanced fingers were clearly designed with the pleasure of half-Klingon hybrids in mind. And Seven was absolutely relentless.

As there was little else to do or to distract them in their tiny space, since checking the functioning systems and hooking the force-field generator to draw power from the Borg systems as well took little time, they loved often and inventively. B'Elanna quickly found that despite Seven's initial reaction, she had found a good match for her own stamina in the tall former Borg, and Seven found that some of her pre-conceived notions needed revising. Physical pleasure was not, in fact, irrelevant after all... and with a certain half-Klingon it was suspiciously close to pure Omega.

The newfound physicality in their relationship did not come entirely without its drawbacks. B'Elanna found herself ravenous from all the activity and even Seven felt some hunger occasionally, yet all they had available was half a box of emergency rations... and no way to know how long it would take until Voyager would come looking for them.

Seven's internal chronometer worked as well as ever, in fact Seven did not appear to have taken any damage to her internal systems during the strange phenomenon as Borg technology seemed to be able to withstand whatever it had been unlike Federation technology, and that chronometer told them when a day passed in their small room, and another night. Their uniforms dried slowly, but at the beginning of their second morning they were dry enough to wear.

It turned out to be fortunate, as a few hours into their second day the ship rocked violently once, then shook and shuddered for some time. As they had no access to any external sensors, Seven and B'Elanna had no idea what was shaking the small ship, and all they could do was to put on the last bits of clothing, double-check their force-field, and stand ready to get into the space-suits if the integrity of the ship was broken.

A final strong shudder and the shuttle went still. Seven and B'Elanna both strained to listen for any kind of sound outside their room.

And there was. They could hear a dull thud and the faint sounds of someone moving outside the door, then louder noises as some kind of manual override device was fastened to the door and, with a slight grinding noise, forced the doors apart.

Strong light on the other side of their shimmering green force-field had both women blinking briefly before their eyes re-focused to discover Lieutenant Commander Tuvok, Lieutenant Paris, Ensign Kim and a worried-looking Captain Janeway.

Unconsciously B'Elanna straightened immediately, running her hands over her hair and clothes to make sure it was all at least moderately in check. Seven of course did no such thing, despite the unusually dishevelled state of her blonde hair, but rather bent down to switch off the force-field.

B'Elanna was looking directly at Janeway when the force-field went down, and therefore there was no way she could miss the otherwise quickly covered reaction of the older woman once the air from within the room mingled with that of Voyager.

For a moment Janeway's eyes went huge and she blinked rapidly. Then a tiny twitch of just the corners of her mouth before the Captain's mask came back in place... the blue-grey eyes danced with amusement though, and B'Elanna felt her face heat up.

A quick glance at Tuvok showed that the Vulcan's left eyebrow had attached itself to his hairline, although his face betrayed nothing. Tom Paris was less discreet, grinning widely and even emitting a low whistle, earning a glare of death from B'Elanna.

Harry Kim waved the air in front of him, making a face. "What IS that smell?! Phew!"

B'Elanna's blush darkened to the point where the roar of blood in her ears drenched out almost all sound. "Zip it, Starfleet!" She managed to growl, pushing past them as best she could.

Captain Janeway, blushing slightly herself, cleared her throat and put an end to whatever teasing that would have ensued judging by the look on Tom's face. "Right. Everybody out, and the two of you" directed at Seven and B'Elanna "report to Sickbay at once. After you've both been cleared we'll have a briefing on what have happened, meanwhile we'll put some distance between Voyager and this part of space... unless there's some reason we shouldn't?" Giving Seven and B'Elanna the opportunity to give her a sound reason why she should belay her orders.

"That is probably for the best, Captain." Seven's voice was calm and her demeanour completely unaffected by the circumstances as she stepped up next to Janeway to make her way out of the damaged Delta Flyer.

The suddenly halted path to the exit of the shuttle sobered all of them. The interior of the small craft was still coated with a thick cover of unyielding blue-tinted ice, the entire nose of the ship a solid chunk of the same. B'Elanna was standing just inside the shuttle staring at what remained of the door.

Janeway put a hand on B'Elanna's back. "We had to cut through both the ice and the hull with phasers. We could read your lifesigns on sensors but we couldn't get a signal from either of your combadges, and the Borg force-field made it far too risky to attempt an emergency beam-out."

"The nebula destroyed nearly all the technology on the ship, including our combadges." B'Elanna said a bit apologetically and allowed Janeway to gently push her out through the opening.

"Oh my god!" Tom gasped when he heard B'Elanna's words and turned towards Seven as soon as she got out of the shuttle. "Are you allright?" He opened his medical tricorder to wave it over Seven even as he used his other hand to slap his combadge and tell the doctor to prepare a number of tests specific to Seven.

Seven raised a silver eyebrow. "I am... fine, Lieutenant. The Borg technology onboard was resistant to the nebula's effects, and my systems are Borg." A beat, then in a softer tone. "You need not worry, I am fine."

Tom snapped the tricorder closed and nodded. "Sure, course you are... just get over to Sickbay before the doc has my hide for keeping you." He flashed a smile but it was noticeably stiff. "I'll join you in a while."

Seven nodded and left the shuttlebay, but B'Elanna hung back and pierced Tom with a demanding look. The helmsman had turned pale when he turned to Seven and he still looked suspiciously serious for the usually flippant Tom Paris. He met B'Elanna's gaze and, understanding the unspoken question, spoke so quietly that she only heard him because she was standing next to him.

"B'Elanna, if Seven's Borg implants had been affected like the Flyer had... even though you're a brilliant engineer and all that... there's no way you could have saved her. I don't think even the doctor could have saved her if her Borg technology failed." He hesitated. "Lanna, the work that the doc has done on Seven is mostly surface stuff and a few non-vital systems. Without her remaining Borg systems... Seven would die immediately."

B'Elanna's hand shot out to grab Tom's arm hard as her knees suddenly wanted to buckle. Her mouth moved but for long moments no sound came out. Then finally she closed her eyes, straightened herself, and let go of him.

"Thanks Tom." She said quietly, looking at him with honest gratitude. "For telling the truth, and... for caring."

He made a pained face. "Christ B'Elanna, she's my friend." A wry half-smile and a look that he hoped would take the sting out of his next words. "I'm the one that mostly tried to get along with her, to be her friend... not you."

Out of words for a moment, since he was feeling rather conflicted himself, Tom patted B'Elanna lightly on the shoulder and dashed off to join Harry in examining the Delta Flyer. B'Elanna stood stock-still for a moment before nodding and walking out of the shuttle bay.

B'Elanna found Seven and Janeway waiting for her in the corridor as she left the shuttle bay, and Janeway accompanied the two younger women to Sickbay. When the doctor greeted them with a flurry of frantic activity directed at Seven even Janeway caught on that something serious might have befallen her tall ward, and so Janeway remained instead of returning to the Bridge as she had planned, hovering nervously alongside B'Elanna.

If Seven had been a little more prone to a variety of human facial expressions she would have rolled her eyes at the excessive tests, having already assured all present that her implants were working well within acceptable parameters, but not having that to fall back on she raised a silver brow and gave the doctor a pointed look. Eventually even the doctor got the hint, and proceeded with his next patient instead.

"Hmm. Neither of you is any the worse for wear, despite your little jaunt." The doctor spoke up after a while, giving them all his trademark lopsided smirk. "Nothing a little food, a little drink, and some rest and regeneration will not cure."

His smile faded somewhat and a tiny frown appeared. "You both have increased hormonal levels though, nothing dangerous but still a marked increase. I would like to run a few more tests to see what is cau..." He blinked and trailed off as Janeway was standing behind Seven and B'Elanna making rather comical 'cutting' motions with her hands, with an even stranger facial expression. He blinked again.

"On second thought..." He began slowly. "I think I've got all I need. You two can go on and clean up, but let me know if either of you feel any after-effects. Captain, if you would remain behind for a moment?"

He barely finished his sentence before both the younger women had hurried through the doors, eager for an escape. Captain Janeway, not having that option, did her best to not to sigh as Chief Medical Officer approached her with that particular gleam in his eyes only potentially juicy gossip inspired in him.

The briefing was fairly short for an unscheduled one onboard Voyager, given that unscheduled briefings usually dealt with emergencies that took some time to handle. This latest adventure left Voyager with a damaged Delta Flyer, but all involved felt it would be restorable without too much material loss. In the process it was decided that more Borg or hybrid technology would be incorporated in the vessel, to prevent any similar situation in the future, and Seven and Harry were given the task to swiftly come up with a plan for a functioning secondary system for the shuttle as a backup for situations where the one that now needed severe repair might fail. B'Elanna was put in charge of extracting all information possible from the salvaged probe and also from whatever was left of the Delta Flyer's systems, besides her other duties. Voyager was headed for the space-port and the entire ship was preparing for all-around busy days during the stay.

If Voyager had proceeded ahead as scheduled Seven and B'Elanna would not have been rescued for perhaps as much as up to a week later, and Janeway told them that the reason they had come as quickly as they had was because of Tuvok. When a day had passed without contact with the Flyer Tuvok had explained to Janeway that something was amiss since Seven of Nine would not neglect her duty to report to Voyager on a regular basis. Janeway had agreed, and when no-one had been able to raise the two onboard the Delta Flyer on any kind of communications, Voyager had been turned around to go collect their people.

When all was said and done there was plenty of work to go around, so nothing could have been further from Janeway's mind than her little 'gift' which she as things turned out had just enough time to get installed before the situation with the Delta Flyer was brought to her attention. As such when the bone-weary Captain stumbled to her bed after quite a bit more than a full day's work, the last thing she expected was an incoming call on her combadge.

"Seven of Nine to Captain Janeway."

Janeway froze with one knee on her bed, throwing a longing look at her inviting mountain of pillows. "Janeway here. What can I do for you Seven?"

"I wish to express my gratitude, Captain, for... your generous gift."

Oh, the bed. Janeway grinned to herself and relaxed a little. Seven, and probably B'Elanna as well, had gone to Seven's quarters for the night it seemed. "You are very welcome, Seven." A silent smirk. "I hope it was all... satisfactory?"

There was a brief pause in Seven's reply. "It is... most satisfactory. And... opulent."

Janeway's grin grew wider, and reassured that she was not going to need to get back into her uniform Janeway slipped her chilling feet into her own burgundy red silk bedding as she spoke. "Mmhmm. I thought it may come in handy." She wriggled her toes to warm them up some. "Is that B'Elanna I hear?"

"Yes. We will 'break in' the bed presently. It is time to get naked and also bed-time for ex-Borg." Seven sounded as serious as ever, making Janeway nearly swallow her tongue not to burst out laughing. It was all undone when less then a heartbeat later a shrill cry of protest – 'SEVEN!' – from B'Elanna was heard in the background. "B'Elanna wishes to express her gratitude also."

Janeway snorted with laughter but managed to make at least a stab at a dignified reply. "She's welcome too. Goodnight girls... have fun." Janeway chuckled evilly. "Janeway out."

As the comlink was severed Janeway burst into heartfelt laughter until finally the last snickers petered out and she was ready to snuggle down comfortably among her pillows. Sleep found her quickly, but in a room not far away sleep would have to wait and wait some more.

The space-port was teeming with all sorts of life and activity and, to Janeway's quiet relief, the government for the planetary system that owned this popular venue of commerce and entertainment were certainly welcoming enough towards their visitors from far away. Voyager's reputation had, as Janeway had feared, preceded them but the very charming government official with whom Janeway would negotiate for most of their stay assured her that reputation would mean nothing at their port. As long as Voyager and her crew would abide by the laws and rules of the space-port they were all more than welcome to do business and enjoy what was offered by the many cultures represented there.

The friendly pink-skinned alien - whom Janeway to her embarrassment would find out near the end of Voyager's stay was not in fact a male as Janeway assumed, but female – did give Janeway an unofficial warning that although the space-port was fairly well managed it did still suffer from the usual criminal activity, and Voyager's crew was advised not to go to the seedier areas alone or unarmed. Janeway was grateful for the warning for several reasons, the incident with the supposedly crimeless planet of telepaths strong in memory.

The planetary system was ruled by two joint species, one culture centred around commerce and knowledge while the other was centred on pleasure, and the space-station was an unusually successful joint venture where both species were equally active. The space phenomenon that Seven and B'Elanna had encountered was frequently observed in certain areas along the edges of their space, and had been the reason neither race expanded their territory beyond their small but very wealthy system at one time. Now the phenomenon had been observed enough to allow their ships to avoid it, but neither race had any desire to expand their territory so things remained the same as ever. Other races instead came to them with their commerce, and there were no reason to expand.

At first glance the two races were polar opposites, the tall, pale and angular-shaped species from the larger of original home planets were almost Vulcan in their behaviour, stoic and usually reserved, tended towards science and control, while the pink-skinned species that the official assigned to Voyager belonged to were as a rule more open and passionate, dedicating their lives to various types of pleasurable things. It was a large part of why their co-existence was a fruitful and unchallenged one, what one species lacked the other provided... although they had common grounds as well, the innate love for commerce being an obvious one. In short, the space-port was much more than merely that, it was every Ferengi merchant's sacred dream... and a welcome respite on Voyager's long journey.

For the senior officers onboard, the first few days of Voyager's stay was extremely busy, even more so than for junior officers and crewmen as they at least could take time off after their scheduled shifts. Not so for the senior staff, and for workaholics like Janeway, Seven and B'Elanna, there was only barely time to eat and get the odd hour of sleep.

This all changed after a few days, as the official trade was more or less completed and it was decided that most of the work with the newly acquired stock would be mostly postponed until after Voyager left the space-port in order to assure that everyone had ample opportunity for some shore-leave. As Janeway herself put it, it would be a shame to waste this opportunity to 'stretch their legs'.

Voyager's reputation was something of a problem, even in sections like this where most species had not yet encountered the Starfleet crew, Voyager tended to be disliked. For most part it posed little problem... crewmembers knew to follow their orders not to go to certain more questionable districts and to travel in groups whenever possible. The only major skirmish that had occurred was when Tom Paris decided that the off-limits area was exactly where he needed to go and not even Harry Kim could persuade him otherwise. The two somewhat inebriated Starfleet officers were saved from more severe repercussions than a black eye and some bruises by a group of pleasure girls that had taken shine to the newcomers, save for the minor scolding when Janeway found out about their little stroll.

A more difficult situation was the wide-spread animosity towards the Borg. As Seven had been working hard she had not been in contact with more than a handful of the indigenous people, and whatever warnings those had tried to pass on to the Starfleet personnel had been written off as the usual reaction people had to Seven. The warnings were ignored and never reported to anyone that would have informed Janeway about it... it was, after all, only Seven of Nine.

Janeway had, if at least somewhat subtly, managed to convince Seven that there _was_ in fact a use for shore-leave, especially if one was seeing a half-Klingon engineer that might appreciate a romantic dinner-date or a stroll along the more romantic vistas. Janeway then mused out loud that even the gruffest of professionals could often be romantics at heart, and that she worried that certain I-shall-mention-no-names-but-doesn't-those-ridges-look-a-bit-tense-to-you people might be working themselves into exhaustion if they did not take some time off soon.

After this little speech of encouragement, Seven was of course a Borg with a mission... and B'Elanna found herself all but ordered to wait for Seven by the turbolift in 5.2 minutes to be whisked away to one of the fancier restaurant available to the Starfleet personnel.

Seven quickly polished her visible implants to gleaming and even remembered to dress for the occasion, a sleek sleeveless dove blue dress that Janeway had helped her replicate, although she had forgotten that B'Elanna needed to know beforehand that she was invited out on a date in order to let her dress up as well. B'Elanna thought privately that she would work on that before they had another dinner date, but she wasn't particularly upset at the oversight. Oh no, B'Elanna was thrilled over Seven's initiative and just grateful that her uniform was not covered in oil or plasma refuse.

Then there was of course the matter of Seven's dress. B'Elanna would have been willing to forgive quite a lot for that alone.

"Is smoke coming out of my ears?" B'Elanna whispered to Seven as Seven led her by the hand after the waiter who showed them to their table. B'Elanna was feeling positively giddy... perhaps she hadn't had enough sleep for a while? "Because you are beyond hot."

Seven blinked in some confusion. "Hot? I assure you, I am nearly at my normal body temperature." She tilted her head. "Why would smoke come out of..."

B'Elanna laughed softly and bumped Seven playfully. "It is just an expression, it's not meant be taken literally. What I mean is that you look very..." She purred and eyed Seven with obvious delight. "...very, _very_ sexy in that dress."

Seven's answering shy-looking but brightly happy smile brought a lump to B'Elanna's throat. She wished suddenly that they had been alone so she could have taken Seven in her arms, kissed her all over and told her lovely girl the many, many other ways in which Seven was simply beautiful.

Appreciation and affection were things that had been sorely lacking in Seven's life for far too long, even if things had gotten a lot better recently. B'Elanna had noticed Janeway's recent attempts at being both more open and more affectionate towards Seven, the older woman appeared to be getting better and better at stepping away from her role as Captain in regards to her ward, and B'Elanna approved wholeheartedly, even if the older woman had a wicked sense of humour that occasionally made B'Elanna's face want to boil off.

It was more than a little ironic as it was not that long ago that any perceived favouritism towards Seven from Janeway would have had B'Elanna terribly upset, which in turn would have B'Elanna act even more territorial with Seven. There was that jealous child inside B'Elanna that desperately wanted her cherished parent's love and attention for herself, but whether it was personal growth or simply due to her own feelings for Seven, that same part of B'Elanna had come to the understanding that more love for Seven did not mean less love for her. The knowledge that Seven was the favourite brought only the tiniest and swiftly fading sting of sadness... after all, Seven was _her_ favourite too, so B'Elanna was more than happy with the turn of events.

They were seated at a small table near a window, a small stone bowl with a glowing crystal arrangement casting a cosy light over them as Seven punched up the menu and made their order without glancing at what the tiny display actually said. B'Elanna smiled affectionately as she realised that Seven must have gone through the restaurant's selection before reserving them a table, and probably had even gone over the choices with someone else – Neelix or Janeway most likely – before deciding what would be the best and most romantic choice.

That too was a change for B'Elanna. In the past, whenever a date had presumed to do something along the lines of making a decision for her, even if it was just what dinner to order, B'Elanna would have become angry. Tom learned quickly that if they were ever 'out' on dinner – a rare occurrence – B'Elanna made her own choices and he had better not suggest otherwise. It was different with Seven though... perhaps because B'Elanna knew without a doubt that Seven would have gone through a list of myriad considerations that B'Elanna herself would never have even thought of, in order to get something that B'Elanna would like – what could B'Elanna's half-Klingon system handle, what would appeal to her taste, what would be considered a delicacy at that place and time... Seven would have gone over an immense list before making a decision. B'Elanna herself would just have chanced it with something and trusted her sturdy stomachs to be able to tolerate it if left to her own devices, and Tom or indeed anyone B'Elanna had dated in the past, would just have gone for something expensive to impress, regardless of what it turned out to be.

Yeah, maybe that was why... Seven's thoughtfulness.

B'Elanna reached across the table to take Seven's hand, lightly caressing the ridges of warm metal that adorned it. She smiled and looked deeply into those pale blue eyes.

Or maybe it was just a matter of love.

So absorbed by her musings and in gazing lovingly at Seven was B'Elanna that it wasn't until the rough sound of metal chairs scraping harshly against the floor reached her ears that B'Elanna began noticing their surroundings. The soft and pleasant murmur of private conversations held quietly at various tables that mingled with the soft music further away by the dance floor that had met them as they arrived had now changed. The mood was different, and the whispered conversations no longer soft... the word 'Borg' was clear to B'Elanna's sensitive ears.

Looking around she found that several of the alien groups and couples were staring at them, no, rather at Seven, with ill-hidden hostility or unease. One large group had abruptly gotten to their feet and were in the process of leaving in protest against Seven's presence, making quite a bit of noise while doing so... it was them that B'Elanna had heard. Suddenly tense and holding on to rising anger B'Elanna looked around again. Just as many as those that were staring at Seven were the people that were looking uncomfortable and casting disapproving glances at the ones causing the noise. The people working at the restaurant all looked uncomfortable as well, and somewhat unhappy, but B'Elanna got the impression it was not directed at their presence there at least.

Their waiter, a rather effeminate pink young man, came back with their orders and many quiet but heartfelt apologies. B'Elanna waved him away with a grunt after receiving their meals, she was busy deciding whether she should go bust some heads – or at least break some bones – or not. If her Seven was upset B'Elanna would chase down those rude aliens and show them a thing or two about 'volatile' tempers.

But Seven did not react at all. She politely thanked the waiter and sampled her food, all the while giving rather sweet looks and smiles to B'Elanna... even going so far as to attempt her own version of small talk between bites.

Well, if Seven was able to be all mature and poised about it, B'Elanna decided she would at least try to be as well. Besides, doing that could only ruin their date and B'Elanna was determined, now more than ever, to make sure Seven had a good time. This was, after all, not only their first official date, but also Seven's first real date ever.

She was distracted from her thoughts by a new arrival on the other side of the room. Excitedly she patted Seven's hand. "Seven, isn't that Harry and Celes over there?"

Seven obediently turned to stare in the direction B'Elanna suggested with a discreet wave. She spotted the pair immediately and nodded in satisfaction. "Yes it is. It would appear that Ensign Kim has finally asked Ensign Tal on a date."

B'Elanna couldn't help but to grin. "Heh, he'd be a fool not to, after you pretty much hit him in the head with how she was pining away for him. Still, way to go Starfleet... Celes is a cute kid, hope it works out."

"I did no such thing!" Seven seemed slightly affronted at the suggestion. "I merely pointed out that the object of Ensign Tal's affections was not I." A brief pause, then Seven's eyes narrowed. "Cute?" B'Elanna was amazed to see an adorable pout forming on Seven's awe-inspiring lips.

'She's jealous!' B'Elanna felt decidedly hot under her collar, and had a sudden urge to stand up and shout something very joyful though rather inappropriate and embarrassing in Klingon. She hastened to reassure. "Cute as in cute together with Harry, they would make a cute couple. As in an observation on behalf of a friend, with no personal feelings, desires, inclinations or designs involved at all." B'Elanna was relieved to see the expression fade from the lovely features in front of her, and dared to joke. "Celes is still on my shit-list, remember?"

Seven relaxed and made a cute little snorting sound. Then she eyed the goofily grinning B'Elanna. "Must you speak of faeces? We are having dinner." B'Elanna did a double take, then burst out laughing, causing people to stare at her instead of Seven.

"You sneak, you were having me on!"

Seven reached for her beverage with a tiny smirk. "Not yet. Later perhaps."

With that B'Elanna ignored their surroundings, ignored the looks and muttered comments, and, besides a smile and nod in greeting, also ignored Harry and his date. Instead she concentrated on Seven and on making their first official date a memorable one.

After dinner and dessert – a tangy fluorescent gelatinous dish which, to Seven's consternation, did a little song and dance number around the plate before it was supposed to be ingested – Seven asked B'Elanna if she wanted to dance. B'Elanna, convinced she possessed two left feet when it came to the art of dancing, was unwilling to say no merely because she would make a fool out of herself, and braved the dance floor with the same attitude others might the battlefield.

To her surprise, and Seven's as well as she was not too secure in her dancing ability either, they moved well together. The music was made for slow, romantic dances and although perhaps no-one would stop and marvel at their ability, no hurting of any toes, other limbs or of pride was involved. There was just swaying softly to the music and enjoying the closeness of one another.

A sudden shrill shriek near the end of their second dance announced that Harry and Tal Celes had begun their dessert, and that the couple had the misfortune of ordering the same dessert as Seven and B'Elanna had, only Tal Celes was more vocal in her surprise.

B'Elanna smirked. "Oops... I'm sure I meant to warn Harry about the dessert."

Seven smiled knowingly. "You did not, and you are enjoying Ensign Tal's... surprise."

"Who, me?" Grinning B'Elanna took the opportunity for a more daring twirl and dip as it was her turn to lead. She remembered to be careful of the other dancing couples and to mind her strength, having in the past thrown more than one dance-partner across the room in a miscalculation of her own strength. "Would I be that mean to poor Celes?"

Her wicked grin spoiled her innocent act and made Seven smile even wider. "Indeed. However I am sure she will adapt." Apparently closing that subject Seven leaned in closer to lean her cheek against B'Elanna, causing the shorter woman to wish fervently for her stashed-away Klingon battle boots, feeling the sudden need for the several additional inches they brought in stature.

As they danced oblivious to their surroundings neither Seven nor B'Elanna noticed that their dancing had cause even more negative attention among the aliens in the restaurant. Several of those that had previously glared and commented were now arguing with the waiters and pointing animatedly in Seven and B'Elanna's direction.

Seven and B'Elanna did not notice, but there were several other people from Voyager present at the restaurant besides them, Harry and Tal, and they noticed. A couple of off-duty security officers from the space-port were also present, and as the argument began turning physical they along with several of Voyager's crewmen stood up to intervene.

"Ma'am, watch out!" The frightened cry from Tal Celes warned Seven just in time, as a phaser blast whizzed past Seven's head and hit the wall with a tiny shower of sparks. The room went deadly quiet as even the music stopped abruptly, and someone switched the lights on to full intensity.

In the brightness it was plain to see the inebriated troublemakers, and most of all the large alien holding a tiny smoking phaser device in one outstretched meaty hand. The security officers were fast, and Voyager's crewmen were not far behind as they all tried to reach the large alien but were intercepted instead by his equally displeased companions. Seven discreetly pushed B'Elanna a little farther to the side.

With a roar the alien threw away his ruined phaser and charged at Seven.

Seven watched his approach without as much as a flinch. B'Elanna however gasped and moved to step between Seven and her attacker... one slender hand stopped her short of her goal.

The alien was large but the length of his outstretched arms was disproportional to his body seen from a human perspective. Thusly although his reach was respectable, Seven's reach was longer. His roar came to a sudden, abrupt end.

In a lightning-fast movement one metal-adorned hand whipped out and attached itself firmly to the alien's face. Using but one outstretched arm Seven halted the alien's charge as effectively as if he had just run into a wall, and her grip around his face could easily have crushed much of the same. Instead Seven used her palm and fingers to cover the alien's mouth and nostril openings, quite calmly choking him as he struggled helplessly to escape her grip.

Seven looked uninterested if not a little bored as the alien flayed weakly for a few more moments before going limp in her grip. B'Elanna stared, amazed, at her girlfriend who had not even wrinkled her dress, as did everyone else in the room. The security officers shook off their trance and began to approach as Seven released the alien and let his body hit the floor with a dull sound.

B'Elanna stared in admiration at Seven, awed with the graceful and effortless, or so it appeared, display of power and skill. Seven had not delivered a single blow; she had not needed to. B'Elanna all but drooled.

"Kahless, I love you Seven!"

The declaration was as loud as it was impulsive and heartfelt, and it echoed in the silence of the restaurant. B'Elanna realized what she had said only when Seven turned to her with eyes gone impossibly wide with wonder.

"You love me?" The wide, beaming smile of utter happiness made Seven radiant enough to light up whatever room by her own power, and the look she bestowed upon B'Elanna was one of utter devotion. "I love you as well, B'Elanna."

The floor dissolved underneath B'Elanna's stunned feet then, and it was fortunate that Seven was standing close enough to catch her as she fell.

Security arrived to the scene and the troublemakers were taken care of, but neither Seven nor B'Elanna felt like remaining after that. Their waiter and the elderly gentleman in charge of the restaurant both apologized profusely to them all but begged Seven for a way to compensate them. At a loss at how to act, Seven and B'Elanna had both tried to politely decline, but that had only made the aliens more insistent. Finally Seven had noticed something in the back of the room that would appease the aliens. She told them that if they insisted upon compensating her they could do so by informing her of where she could acquire a sample of the plant, and that she would be grateful for such information.

The elderly man of course did something better. One clap of his hands to bring another waiter to his side, and within moments Seven and B'Elanna found themselves strolling down the street with a large potted bush, a small box containing a number of sweets made from the fruit of the plant, and a data padd containing various food, beverage and dessert recipes that all contained the fruit of the plant. The elderly man had beamed at them and informed them that the padd also contained the restaurant's secret recipe for their famous singing dessert, and that he hoped it would lighten their spirits on their long journey home.

Seven and B'Elanna had thanked him with honest gratitude, then left the restaurant as quickly as dignity would allow, lest the generous man would decide to give them something else.

"Do you think that's the one?" B'Elanna asked quietly, carefully minding not to jostle the box in her hand just in case it started singing or worse.

Seven cradled the enormous pot and studied the plant. "I believe so. I cannot be absolutely certain until we have access to a tricorder, but my ocular and olfactory inspection indicates that the probability is high."

"You mean, it looks and smells about right?"

"... yes."

"Hmm. That'd be great." B'Elanna eyed the padd. "What are we supposed to do with this though?"

Seven smiled somewhat. "I am positive that Mr. Neelix would appreciate the addition to his repertoire, perhaps it will be of some use."

B'Elanna looked sceptical. "I dunno... I don't think we're really ready for dancing leeola-root jelly, do you?"

"In that case we shall convince Mr. Neelix not to alter that recipe."

B'Elanna chuckled. "If anyone could do that it'd be you, love."

It made her almost bouncy with happiness to be able to say things like that to Seven now, and what was even better, Seven was so obviously happy when B'Elanna would use terms of endearment for her. If there hadn't been that bush to consider B'Elanna would have kissed her girl for sure, and Seven would have let her. B'Elanna sighed happily. Life was good in the Delta Quadrant.

"What do you say, shall we head on home?"

Seven smirked. "Yes... I did promise after all." She gave B'Elanna a heated glance that made the shorter woman's heartbeat pick up. "Your quarters or mine?"

Suddenly not caring about appearances B'Elanna slapped her combadge. "Voyager, two to beam onboard..."

The incident caused quite a stir, both onboard Voyager where Seven was surprised to find that in the face of an outside hostility the solidarity of Voyager's crew did indeed extend to her as well, and with the officials assigned to Voyager during their stay. The government apologized profusely and compensated by lowering prices on goods and offering even more bargains for Voyager's crew, but they requested that 'the Borg' remained onboard the ship to prevent any other unpleasant events.

Janeway was angry, but realised that it was not up to the clearly unhappy and uncomfortable official, and that it also was a matter of priorities. Seven would have to remain onboard and Voyager remain where it was until all had been gathered, bartered and bought that they had intended, and the rest of the crew would still get their shore-leave as planned until that point, but after that Voyager's stay would be cut short. B'Elanna on the other hand was livid, but calmed down some once it was apparent that Seven did not mind.

Seven, born and raised as she was on various starships, did not have the innate urge to abandon the confined space of a ship for the vastness of a planet, any planet, that overcame most space-travellers from time to time, Starfleet crews included. Her only concern was that B'Elanna would be robbed of any recreational activities because her lover would not go planet-side without her.

B'Elanna of course did not see it as any great sacrifice, and made sure they spent their free time as enjoyably – and, when she could manage it, as romantically – as possible. As long as she could spend her time with Seven, she had no complaints.

Soon Voyager said goodbye to the space-port and set course back towards the Alpha Quadrant, most of its inhabitants feeling rejuvenated by the stay and stores stocked to full capacity for once. Work was slowly returning to what passed as normal, and in fact even the work on the Delta Flyer Mark Two was well underway, making Janeway hopeful that they would have their super-shuttle functioning by a week or so at the most.

A day after Voyager had resumed course Captain Janeway found herself summoned to the Messhall at an odd hour by Neelix, Seven and B'Elanna. Feeling slightly apprehensive at the combination Janeway fervently hoped that they were not going to try out another alien dessert on her... the experience with the jelly had been quite enough and she had not been able to make herself eat it in the end, despite Neelix' fervent explanation that it was all a kind of mirage created by reactions in the components of the dish. Yes, Janeway was quite aware that there were Terran dishes and desserts that required one to light the entire thing on fire before it was considered fit for eating, but still, she had to draw the line somewhere.

Her three friends were standing close together and all of them looking at her in a most peculiar and rather excited way when Janeway arrived at the Messhall. For a brief moment she wondered if it really was too late to turn around and feign some important work. But a Janeway never backs down or out, after all.

Seven met her with a steaming mug in her hands.

Suspicious Janeway accepted the mug and looked at it. Then she looked at the three people staring at her expectantly. "OK. What are you up to that you need to soften the blow with coffee?" She asked with worry even as she lifted the mug to her lips.

A long gulp, despite the brew being almost hot enough to scald her tongue. She looked at Seven, then at B'Elanna. "You're not pregnant, are you?"

Janeway blinked and speared Neelix with an intense stare. "Are they pregnant? They are, aren't they?!"

The Thalaxian shook his head comically before stopping to give Seven and B'Elanna his own speculative looks. B'Elanna rolled her eyes at the pair but said nothing. Seven raised a Borg eyebrow and replied. "B'Elanna is not expecting child, and I am physically unable to carry new life due to my implants." A beat as Seven thought of something. "Would summoning you here and giving you a beverage be within acceptable protocols for announcing our reproduction, had such been the case?"

B'Elanna looked at Seven strangely.

Janeway downed half of the contents of the mug before answering. "Any way you felt like telling me something like that would be fine, you don't have to worry about protocol if that would happen. I just hope you both would come to me to tell me the good news in person." She studied the mug. "What's in this coffee? Is this a new blend?"

A baleful glare at Neelix. "Who had this replicator blend, and WHY haven't I gotten hold of it until now?" Unspoken was the threat that the person that had hidden such a treasure from her had a visit from Janeway to look forward to in the near future. Right before being put on plasma detail, most likely. She swirled what was left in the mug before emptying it.

B'Elanna shrugged a little. "Well, did you like it?"

Janeway looked forlornly into the now empty cup. "It is different... more aromatic and fragrant, a little sweeter than usual but with a slight tangy aftertaste. It tastes... very exclusive." She grinned. "More?"

With big grins on their faces B'Elanna and Neelix stepped away from one another and the counter, revealing the large potted bush sitting there. Seven spoke up. "Regretfully we need the only other cup to enter the replicator pattern into the buffer, and it will take a while yet before the beans of this kada bush will be fit for harvesting. We would like your permission to add it and eventually some other specimen's grown from its seeds to the airponics bay, Captain."

Janeway stared at the plant. "Is this...?"

"The natives called it a kada, so we call it a kada bush. It seems to be the Delta Quadrant version of a coffee bean plant, as you could tell by the coffee Neelix made from some beans we got along with the plant itself." B'Elanna smiled and decided not to tell Janeway of the box of sweets made from the same that, aside from a few pieces given to Neelix for his cataloguing duties, Seven had declared was B'Elanna's alone and needed not be shared with their Collective. It seemed only fair since B'Elanna did not get to taste the coffee this time around, but would have to wait until later... still, Janeway might not see it like that, at least not where caffeine was involved. "We were going to get some from that planet, Seven and I, and we thought we lost the opportunity until Seven spotted this plant in that restaurant we went to."

Janeway was genuinely touched. "You did all that for me?" Impulsively she hugged Seven and B'Elanna in turn. She gushed some more about the plant, then insisted on coming with Neelix to personally oversee planting the bush in airponics bay. The two of them were cheerfully chattering about the many uses of the beans as the exited the Messhall, and therefore did not notice that B'Elanna had stopped Seven from following them.

B'Elanna leaned in closer to Seven and entwined their fingers, a peculiar little smile playing at the corners of her mouth. "So were you planning on... reproducing?"

The question was gently teasing, but there was something serious hiding in dark eyes as B'Elanna watched Seven closely.

"I still do not believe I would make a good mother, and One can never be replaced... but my situation has changed and I would not be opposed to the possibility." A tilted-head look at B'Elanna. "Are you averse to the idea?"

B'Elanna chuckled. "Kahless no. I mean, I don't exactly see myself getting pregnant anytime soon, but eventually? Eventually I'd love to have a couple of kids." She reached up to trace Seven's jaw with her free hand. "I guess I hadn't realized that you'd decided you were in this for the duration."

She regretted not choosing her words a bit better when Seven's eyes clouded over and her lovely features contracted into a frown. Seven drew back a little.

"...you are not?"

The surfacing hurt in pale blue eyes stunned B'Elanna for a moment. "NO! I mean, yes! Of course I am, Seven..." She closed the tiny distance. "I love you, remember? It may not be all that obvious from the time we've known one another Seven, but I don't give my heart easily..." She put Seven's Borg-enhanced hand over her heart. "...and this heart is all yours, for as long as you want it and then some."

Thankfully the expression faded, replaced by a slightly bashful look that charmed B'Elanna utterly.

"That is a considerable length of time." Blue eyes looked deeply into brown. "One might even suggest a lifetime."

"Yeah." B'Elanna pulled her arms around Seven's slender waist and vaguely hoped that she didn't look to silly with the grin she felt straining her face to be wider. "A lifetime or two sounds about right." She leaned in for a kiss.

"I need to do more research." Seven stated just before their lips met, and B'Elanna drew back to give Seven an amused look.

"Research? Believe me honey, you've got _that_ part down to an art form, no need for any more research."

"Not that." Seven smirked. "There are several other areas where I have come to realize that my lessons in social protocols have been very lacking. I need to rectify the oversight at first opportunity."

B'Elanna purred and hugged Seven close, deeply inhaling her scent. "Like what?"

"Like... matters regarding children..." Seven sounded distracted and her hands were wandering up and down B'Elanna's back. "...marital protocols... living space unification protocols..." Seven's voice trailed off as she leaned in for a hungry kiss.

After a few long moments of being gleefully devoured B'Elanna put both hands on Seven's shoulders and pushed off slightly. She took a moment to regain her breath. "Marital? Unification?" She gasped a little. "Seven what are you saying... do you want to marry me?"

Seven beamed and nodded decisively. "Yes!"

B'Elanna on the other hand was reeling. "Buhbuh-but we've barely begun dating... are you sure?"

"Of course!" Seven was still beaming happily and hugged B'Elanna tighter... which helped as B'Elanna's knees buckled somewhat. "Should I have replicated crockery?"

B'Elanna clung dazedly to the strong arms holding her up. "What? No, no, I wouldn't want to do it the Klingon way... are you really sure?" Suddenly she realized that she needed to talk fast or else Seven might get the impression that B'Elanna didn't want to marry her. And as sudden and new as the idea was to her, B'Elanna found it wasn't an unpleasant one. Not at all, in fact the more she thought about it the more certain she was that it was in fact a very very pleasant one. She probably would have thought of it herself... eventually. "What I mean is, there's no need to hurry. These things may not need to follow any 'protocols', but usually people might start dating, move in together, and then when they've lived together for a while decide if they want to get married. Sort of to get to know one another really well before taking that step."

She smiled up at Seven. "I wouldn't want you to have any regrets later in life when you're saddled with a very possessive and jealous half-Klingon."

"I find nothing regretful about that arrangement." Seven stated earnestly. "And we already know one another." She gazed at B'Elanna with such adoration in her eyes that the smaller woman felt a lump in her throat at the sight. "I have... watched you since I first came onboard Voyager. Although I knew well of your... dislike for me" Somehow Seven could not bear to say the word 'hate' although she believed it would have been more truthful. "...it did not alter my emotions towards you."

Seven broke eye-contact and glanced away. "Although I did not have a name for my emotions, nor understand their nature until recently."

"Oh honey." B'Elanna whispered. "How could I have been blind for so long? And can you forgive me for not realizing it sooner that you are the one that owns my heart?"

"Do you love me?" Seven's question was soft and unassuming.

"I do! I do, oh Seven, I love you so much!" B'Elanna's reply was all the more fervent and her voice raspy with emotion.

"Then there is nothing to forgive. I would have waited the rest of my life for you."

B'Elanna hid her face in Seven's chest for a long while before she regained her composure somewhat. She giggled a little when Seven buried her nose into B'Elanna's hair, and hummed in approval when the tickling motion changed and Seven's lips reached her neck. "So... Seven? Would you like to move in with me? We could start with that, see what happens after a while. If nothing else I would get a chance to propose to you properly." The last was spoken under her breath, but Seven heard B'Elanna anyway.

"Yes. I would like that, B'Elanna. However..."

B'Elanna's head snapped up with sudden concern.

"...I believe it would be more practical if you would move in with me." A pause. "My quarters are bigger and I have my alcove installed there."

Impulsively B'Elanna threw both arms around Seven's neck and reached up to shower her face with enthusiastic kisses, somehow getting her breathed 'yes' in there as well. Soon their kissing turned more passionate, and, after an unknown length of time, Seven lifted B'Elanna up on Neelix' counter.

The cold metal of the countertop had barely registered with B'Elanna before her uniform jacket and undergarments were stripped off and tossed somewhere, exposing her upper body to the slight chill of the large and empty room. Seven was after all nothing if not efficient. Hot lips trailed fire on sensitized skin while strong, deceptively slender hands caressed the muscles of B'Elanna's back before skirting underneath the band of her uniform pants to caress what was available of her backside.

"Seven!" B'Elanna gasped and fought for some self-control. "We can't do this here... someone will walk in..." She lifted herself slightly to help those amazing hands slide her pants down her hips. "...we'll get caught!"

She was completely naked within moments, and pressed down against the chilled surface by a form that was just way overdressed for her taste. B'Elanna wasn't about to complain about the cold though as that talented tongue did such wonderful things... in fact she didn't even notice when she knocked one of Neelix' bowls off the counter in an attempt to find something to hold on to. She whimpered in protest as Seven stopped and straightened up slightly.

"We will not 'get caught'." Blue eyes had gone dark with desire. "Computer, seal entry to the Messhall, authorization Seven Omega Omega Pi."

"Entry sealed." The female computer voice stated. Seven stared at B'Elanna hungrily and shrugged out of her uniform jacket before returning to her task with determination.

For some time no words were spoken, then a ripping sound was followed by an amused voice that said with mock reproach "B'Elanna, that was the third undershirt this week."

"Seven..." B'Elanna gasped "shut up and come back here."

Outside the locked doors of the Messhall, Neelix hummed to himself in a cheerful way. Well, he was finished with his work there for the night, he supposed, it wouldn't hurt to go to his quarters instead and pick up a little light reading. As he turned to walk to the turbolift he made a mental note to casually get into a conversation with B'Elanna early the following morning that he would do a complete trace scan of the galley for hygienic reasons, and then find himself some work to do in another part of the ship for a while. If he did it early enough B'Elanna would be sure to sneak in and clean up whatever mess she and Seven had made well before he had to begin preparing food for the crew. No doubt his kitchen would be in just as pristine shape as he had left it when she was done, even more so if Seven was recruited to clean up as well.

Neelix chuckled to himself as he strolled down the corridor.

Because B'Elanna found herself frantically cleaning up the Messhall and eliminating any microscopic trace of her and Seven's activities the previous night early the following morning before the start of her duty shift, she and Seven did not have the opportunity to speak to Janeway about their decision to move in with one another until well after the official end of their duty shifts that evening.

To her credit, Janeway did not question their decision nor comment on the speed by which they had come to the point where B'Elanna would officially move in with Seven. She did look startled when Seven informed her that it was a logical thing to do before pursuing marital status, to which B'Elanna blushed but also had to bite back a laugh at the older woman's surprise. Janeway was all encouragement and friendliness, which actually reassured B'Elanna somewhat since Janeway's approval of B'Elanna as Seven's life-mate was very important to her, and Janeway gleefully signed off on the necessary orders for Chakotay to reassign B'Elanna's old quarters to the next in line.

It didn't occur to B'Elanna at the time that the next in the command chain after Seven and herself was Tom Paris. If it had B'Elanna probably would have asked Janeway to hold on to the reassigning order for a while, until she had the opportunity to speak to Tom personally. It would have been a small act of courtesy that might have been wasted on Tom Paris, but nonetheless B'Elanna would have made the effort.

As it were Tom Paris was the furthest thing from her mind as she and Seven spent their free time over the course of a couple of days moving B'Elanna's things into Seven's, now theirs, quarters. It would take them additional days before everything had been arranged to both their tastes, but already living together seemed a natural thing, given their recent past.

On the second day after Seven and B'Elanna's talk with Janeway, Tom Paris walked up to the couple as they sat enjoying a peaceful lunch together in the Messhall. B'Elanna tensed up as soon as she saw him.

"Heey Seven, B'Elanna." He spoke with a false cheer that didn't quite reach his eyes.

"Lieutenant Paris." Seven nodded in greeting. "Do you wish to join us for lunch?"

Seven's offer was genuine, and in a way perhaps a testament to her inexperience with such things as the palpable tension between Tom and B'Elanna. B'Elanna loved her for it of course, but she was silently stunned to see an honest expression of affection cross the features of her ex as he watched her beautiful lover. Tom had been sincere when he said that Seven was a friend.

Perhaps... perhaps there had even been a time when the affection for Seven could have grown to be something more. Perhaps Seven could have been the woman Tom Paris loved. B'Elanna was floored with the thought... she had in all honesty always thought that Kes was the one that held that particular and very singular position in the hidden depths of one Thomas Eugene Paris. Which, when she thought about it rationally, really raised the question of what in Kahless' name she had been doing dating him in the first place.

"Thanks Seven, but no... I'm meeting Harry for lunch, I just had a few things to say to you both."

He looked at B'Elanna, the expression in his eye returning to its previously rather guarded state. "I was offered to be reassigned your quarters last night." He left unspoken how Chakotay had appeared to take delight in asking him and making sure that Tom knew exactly why B'Elanna would no longer need her old living quarters. He also did not mention that Voyager's second-in-command had seen fit to carelessly drop the information that Janeway had told him that Seven and B'Elanna planned to get married eventually. It would get back to them through the rumour mill in due time without his help, Tom figured.

"Oh!" B'Elanna's eyes grew comically wide. "Shit! I had forgotten that you'd be the next on the list... I would have told you in person first, otherwise. Sorry Tom."

He waved the apology away. "No problem. Look, I didn't take Chakotay up on the offer, so it moved on to Harry. He'll be moving into your old quarters, though I have no idea who'll be filling his old one."

"Starfleet will?" A part of B'Elanna was kind of amused rather pleased at that. They were good quarters, so it seemed perfect that they'd go to her good friend and semi-adopted little brother. Come to think of it, with all the extra soundproofing she had installed in her quarters for... personal reasons... it would be perfect for Harry to practice his clarinet without disturbing anyone. That was sure to please the young man who regretted not being able to play at will in his own quarters in fear of upsetting his neighbours.

"Yeah. Anyway, I thought I'd give you my congratulations... and..." He took a deep breath. "That I want you both to know you don't need to tiptoe around me. I'll be fine, I'll get over it, plenty of other fish in the sea and all that." The last said with an outrageous smirk and wink at Seven, but Seven and B'Elanna both saw through the bravado.

"Plenty of 'fish', perhaps... but only one B'Elanna." Seven's voice was surprisingly gentle, and the earnestness in her reply made B'Elanna want to reach over and kiss Seven for always making her feel special.

Tom's smile was rueful. "Eh yeah. Gotcha. As long as the two of you are happy together, it's fine and I'm fine. Just wanted you to know that." A self-depreciating smile. "On very rare occasions I can do a passable imitation of being an adult, too."

Seven put a hand on his arm. "You are capable of surprising acts of kindness. You were the first to show me this aspect of being human, and for that I am grateful. I will not forget that."

Tom blinked a few times, clearly fighting with himself not to show that he had been moved by Seven's statement. Then he straightened his posture a little and gave a lopsided smile that looked genuine, apparently deciding to take a little pride in what Seven had told him. He began to say something in reply, but changed his mind, nodding slightly and simply going for "I think Harry is waiting for me. Enjoy your meal, ladies"

With a small wave he had sauntered off, a slight bit of his old bounce back in his step as if at least a tiny bit of what had been weighing on him had been lifted.

B'Elanna smiled lovingly and reached over to take Seven's hand. "You're pretty amazing and capable of surprising acts of kindness yourself, you know."

The answering bashful smile made B'Elanna forget all about Tom Paris and any potentially hurt feelings the helmsman might be nurturing. In the face of such a beautiful love all other things seemed... well, irrelevant. B'Elanna pulled the hand in hers to her lips and kissed in silent devotion.

Almost one year later, in the Torres' family quarters lights were set to minimum, casting rooms into a dusk broken by the light of one brightly burning candle. B'Elanna was standing in front of the candle, in the same spot as she had hours earlier when she had spoken a simple prayer and lit the candle in remembrance. It was a year since the birth of One, and she and Seven had agreed to remember One's brief life instead of her all to sudden death.

Her wife's long, strong arms wrapped around B'Elanna from behind, fitting their bodies together perfectly with Seven's head on B'Elanna's shoulder and tender hands cradling B'Elanna's stomach. B'Elanna knew she did not show yet to anyone but Seven, still Seven had already gotten the habit to hold her this way. It was a beautiful thing to be so loved... B'Elanna had no doubt that even when she would be near the end of the pregnancy, large and swollen in what she had jokingly referred to as the 'B'Elanna the maturation chamber' stage, those pale blue eyes would still gaze at her with that same boundless love.

They didn't need to say it out loud for both women to know that they were thinking of the same thing. They were picturing the face of their first child, wondering how much resemblance to One there would be when this little girl child was born. And resolving silently that nothing may harm this child. This child, and any born after it, would know only love no matter in what Quadrant they would find themselves.

A gentle kiss shared and the two figures standing as one, illuminated by the light of a single candle... outside their window stars twinkled past as the solitary ship continued its long journey home.

The End

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