DISCLAIMER: All characters from Star Trek belong to Paramount and use of them here is not intended to infringe, nor to make any profit. This story depicts a loving relationship between women. If you have objections, don't read it. You have been duly warned.
NOTE: This story is a sequel to Truly Free and The Razor's Edge, so you might want to read them first since they establish a number of post-delta quadrant events and introduces many new characters. I used names for Bajoran characters that come from the world of Star Trek but the reader should not associate the Trek characters' histories with the characters here.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
RATING: 15. Some discussion of violence.

Flashes of Fire
By Weejee

Chapter 1

B'Elanna Torres stood in her office at the Jalaran Institute for Technological Development and loaded items into the package she would have Anara and Bemar bring to the transport station when they finished school for the day. She had engaged in the same exercise each week for the last three and a half months, the routine of it now fully assimilated into her being. The package, addressed to Seven of Nine, contained threads of the life that the two had shared for eight months and B'Elanna hoped that these meager offerings would tempt Seven to reach out and grab hold of life again. Seven had been living in Stockholm with Irene Hansen ever since B'Elanna and Tuvok had liberated her from her kidnapers and, although B'Elanna knew that Kathryn and Tuvok had spoken with Seven, her own last contact with the former drone had been three and a half months ago in one of the guest quarters aboard Voyager. Seven had been staggeringly cold, refusing to look B'Elanna in the eye for most of the encounter and, when she did, doing so with a look that froze B'Elanna's blood. B'Elanna had longed to touch the woman she had come to love more deeply than she had ever thought possible but Seven retreated with every advance.

The violence of Cole's greedy assault on Seven's body in an attempt to profit from her Borg implants, combined with the isolation of her captivity -- especially after Jocasta was ransomed -- had rendered Seven an entirely different person than the one who had left their home for a short and simple business trip. As many times as B'Elanna had charged Seven with being an 'emotionless drone' when they had served together aboard Voyager, she had had no idea of the depths of frozen terrain that fear could reveal in Seven's soul.

Placing the last item in the package, B'Elanna recalled the profound frustration of that last conversation -- if you could call it that -- and of the surprise of her own resignation. She knew that Seven was reacting to the violence and confinement and B'Elanna understood, if only viscerally, that the only way she could truly show the depths of her love would be to resist the urge to capture and confine Seven herself. She had done many difficult and emotionally-wrenching things in her life, but nothing compared to what she felt in giving in to what Seven insisted she wanted.

B'Elanna closed the box and placed it on her desk for the children to see when they arrived. Shuffling through a stack of padds to decide what work to take up next, her mind was drawn to review the items in the package to make sure that she hadn't forgotten anything. She enumerated the items silently: a message from the children and one from Ven, a 'clipping' from a Jalaran news show from last week that B'Elanna thought might amuse Seven, a report on the projects underway at the Institute, some strawberry tarts from Jaxa, and a message from B'Elanna, which was more of an aimless diary than a message. Within the diary, as always, B'Elanna had placed an encrypted text, hoping that Seven would feel tempted by the challenge.

B'Elanna didn't know whether Seven even opened the packages or, if she did, whether she read any of the things they contained. Each week when B'Elanna would speak with Irene, she would ask the same question and Irene would give the same answer. No one knew what Seven did with those packages. The way things were going, B'Elanna figured she might never know. Perhaps the most difficult part was the children's realization each week that they would get no reply to their message. B'Elanna knew that Seven wouldn't hurt the children's feelings intentionally. It just wasn't their Seven they were dealing with and B'Elanna just didn't know how to find her.

The silence of B'Elanna's contemplation was broken by the arrival of said children in their typical rambunctious fashion.

"Belly Button," Bemar whined, using their favorite nickname for B'Elanna. "Anara won't let me look at the book her teacher gave her today."

"I don't want his dirty hands on it," Anara whined right back.

"Okay, you two," B'Elanna sighed, hoping to put a stop to the argument before it really got going. Addressing Anara she continued, "Will you let him look at it at home later *after* he's washed his hands?"

"Okay," the girl said, always eager to please B'Elanna. "Is the package ready to go?"

"Right here," B'Elanna said, patting the box on her desk. "And you head right home to your father after you drop it off at the transport station."

"We know," Bemar insisted.

"Good," B'Elanna said, crouching down so that she could be at eye level with the children and placing a hand on each of them. "Thank you both for helping me out. I think that Seven must really love hearing from you and I know that you're also helping her to get better." The children nodded, having heard B'Elanna and their father assure them many times that what they were doing was very important. "Okay then, munchkins. I'll see you in a few days."

Bemar picked up the box and both children left the office, shepherding their precious cargo. For her part, B'Elanna turned back to work. The Institute staff had decided to place Seven on indefinite medical leave but their agreement not to attempt to fill the position of director meant that everyone else had a great deal more work to do and that most of the administrative work fell to B'Elanna. Sighing, she sat down at her desk and dug in.

"Oh God," Varis Sul thought, looking over at B'Elanna who was standing at the other end of the bar, "is it that day again?" Sul and all of B'Elanna's other friends knew the pattern by now -- that B'Elanna always got drunk whenever she had spoken with Seven's aunt. During the days and throughout most of the week, B'Elanna was a more quiet and a sadder version of herself but, nevertheless, fully engaged with her work and with her friends. But on these nights, she was entirely different and Sul feared for her. Admittedly, there was much about the B'Elanna before her that was familiar to Sul from the days that the two of them had been involved, but they had both come so far since that time and it pained her to see B'Elanna seeming to move backwards.

Sul approached her hesitantly. "Hey, B'El."

"Sul," B'Elanna slurred, grabbing Sul by the waist and pulling her close. "Where have you been? I've been here for hours."

"I just got out of a meeting and came by for a quick drink," Sul replied. "I didn't know you'd be here."

"Well, it's your lucky day," B'Elanna said seductively, looking deeply into Sul's eyes.

"I can't stay long, B'El. I've got to get to work early tomorrow. We've got some important issues before the Town Council."

"Oh, come on, Sul. You can play for a while, can't you?" B'Elanna whined.

"I'm sorry, B'Elanna, I can't. I've got to go home soon."

"Well, then, let's go home," B'Elanna whispered, her breath teasing the skin on Sul's neck.

**Prophets help me,** Sul prayed. There was a time when she would have given almost anything to have a chance with B'Elanna again. And, even though there was no denying that she loved the woman still, she couldn't bear to get what she wanted this way.

"You know you want me, Sul," B'Elanna whispered.

It was true. The temptation was powerful but Sul cared for B'Elanna too much. "B'Elanna," Sul said, pushing her back gently and making some space between them. "Seven . . . ."

"What about Seven? Seven isn't here, is she?" B'Elanna said, stepping back from Sul. "I gave her what she wanted and now I'm trying to get on with my life."

"Not this way, B'Elanna. You would regret this so much, sweetie. I know you love Seven and I believe that everything will work out."

"Damn you, Sul," B'Elanna said, her eyes now watering. "I was just trying to have some fun for a change," she finished before storming out of the bar.

B'Elanna stumbled in to the house she used to share with Seven of Nine and headed for the kitchen in search of a beer. Meeting with success, she flopped down on the couch in the living room with the intention of watching a holovid to take her mind off the depressing reality of her conversation with Irene and the abject loneliness she always felt after each such conversation. No, Seven didn't want to speak with her and no, Seven didn't want to see her. And now, not even Sul could stand to be with her. Setting the beer down on the table, B'Elanna noticed a padd that she had left there from two days prior when she had composed her message to Seven. The padd contained the encrypted text she always sent as part of the message and, each week, B'Elanna simply transferred a copy into whatever thoughts she wanted to share with Seven.

By now, B'Elanna didn't need to read it, she had committed the few lines from the Hebrew Bible to memory: "Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned."

B'Elanna picked up the padd and flung it across the room, feeling some small satisfaction at the sight and sound of the device shattering against the wall.

Chapter 2

"Seven" Irene Hansen called out after knocking on her niece's bedroom door. "Dinner will be ready in about ten minutes." Silence greeted her but Irene had become used to this after having had Annika with her for three months now. Turning to walk away and return to her preparations, Irene was more than a little surprised to hear Seven's voice coming from behind the door.

"I will be there shortly, Irene . . . Aunt Irene."

Irene smiled broadly but made sure to keep her tone even so that she would not embarrass Seven with the absolute joy she felt at this small measure of human engagement. "I'll see you soon, then."

Irene had difficulty calling her niece by the Borg designation the young woman had retained since having been liberated from the Collective and, at first, had hoped that calling her Annika would make her feel more at home. Over time, however, despite the fact that she often thought of her niece as Annika, she realized that the woman was now truly Seven -- someone who had been raised by the Borg and had only recently begun to forge a unique approach to humanity.

Irene returned to the dining room to set the table and thought about how important was Annika's -- Seven's -- simple reply. As she had gotten to know her brother's daughter since she returned from the Delta Quadrant, Irene had become accustomed to Seven's extreme reserve and understood that it did not mean that the young woman was not attentive or caring. And seeing Seven blossom and thrive in her relationship with B'Elanna had proved that there was a wealth of emotion beneath the calm surface. It broke Irene's heart to see the two women separated and to see each in so much pain.

Seven's demeanor since the kidnaping marked not a return to her old restraint but signaled something much more difficult to deal with. At first, Irene had tried to counsel and console Seven but had gotten nowhere and so decided to simply let her be and hope that she would come around eventually. She hadn't imagined that three months would pass before the first sign of change would come. But, now that it was here, she would have to think about how to help Seven along.

Seven of Nine placed the stack of padds that she had removed from the package in the recycler, in a routine to which she had become accustomed. Each week a box would arrive and Irene would place it on her bed. After Seven failed to respond to her questions about the first few such packages, Irene had ceased to ask. All Irene knew was that she never saw the boxes again, nor their contents. Seven wished that her aunt would as easily accept her insistence that she did not wish to speak with B'Elanna and not continue to inquire each time B'Elanna contacted them. She suspected that Irene thought that she did not read the messages contained within the packages or partake of the various treats that B'Elanna was always sure to include. Seven was satisfied to leave this assumption, however incorrect, in place. She did, indeed, read and consume every item in every package B'Elanna had sent, despite her wish that she could be a stronger person and resist. Each week, after devouring the contents of the package, she would recommit to placing the next one in the recycler unopened but had been unsuccessful in keeping her promise.

Seven had discovered the encrypted text in the very first message that B'Elanna had sent her. The two had often communicated in this way when separated, knowing that the other would enjoy the challenge of decryption and the anticipation of discovery of the hidden message. The decryption was never especially difficult and Seven had revealed the text quite easily in these cases. Since B'Elanna had been sending these messages, the encryption was always different but the text had never changed. Nevertheless, Seven decrypted it each time, the words cutting right to her soul -- "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it." She knew full well that nothing could quench her love but she was determined to stay the course. The contents of the box now returned to their molecular components, Seven made to join Irene for dinner.

Everything was ready when Seven sat down and she couldn't help but note that her aunt looked livelier and more chipper than she had in some time but certainly never imagined that she herself was the cause.

"So, what did you have planned for your week?" Irene asked, partway through the dinner.

"I am going to attempt to get my old job back," Seven replied.

"Your old job? Why?" Irene asked, saddened by the implications of this decision.

"I do not enjoy being idle and I believe that I have completed all the work you needed done here. I need to occupy myself."

Irene sighed. She had hoped that Seven's openness earlier meant that she had begun to think about going back to her life with B'Elanna. "Seven," Irene said, shaking her head and knowing she should probably resist opening up this conversation. "Why are you doing this?"

"As I said, I desire to keep busy," Seven said evasively, knowing full well what her aunt was really asking.

"I mean, why have you cut yourself off from everyone you love? Why have you cut yourself off from your life?"

"I am here with you," Seven responded softly.

"And I am so happy to spend time with you, sweetie. I am. But your life can't be here with an old woman," Irene asserted. "You and B'Elanna had made a home and a life together. You need that. Don't you want that, sweetie?"

"Home is irrelevant," Seven said, her Borg coldness creeping up again. "Desire is irrelevant."

"Seven," Irene exhaled, her heart breaking to see her niece's pain.

"Home is impermanent and desire leads to disappointment," Seven explained, frustrated that her aunt could not see the logic of her actions.

"Disappointment? Has B'Elanna disappointed you in some way, Seven? If she has, don't you think she deserves a chance to make things right? Has B'Elanna done something wrong?" Irene asked, trying to understand what was motivating Seven.

"B'Elanna . . . ," Seven began, her voice losing some of the Borg edge. Seven felt deeply torn. The implication that B'Elanna had done her some grievous harm made her want to defend her beloved but she also did not wish to give Irene the sense that there was any hope of her going back. "This conversation is irrelevant," she said, standing up. "If you do not wish me to stay here, I will make other arrangements." She began walking toward her room.

"Seven! That's not what I meant. Of course I want you here." Irene sighed again and took a big sip of wine. "Good going, Irene."

Chapter 3

"Here you go, Jaxa," B'Elanna said, handing her friend a beer and then moving to the far end of the porch. She hopped up on the rail to look out at the sky.

Jaxa, Ven, Jack, Sul and Falor had descended upon B'Elanna's house for dinner in an attempt to cheer her up and remind her of the good times that they had often shared. And they *had* been having a good time. B'Elanna seemed relaxed and able to enjoy the beautiful evening and the company, something that certainly made her friends feel good. Sul moved to stand near B'Elanna as Jack continued telling a story about his brother's newest get rich scheme.

"Beautiful evening," Sul commented.

"Sure is," B'Elanna replied, taking a sip of beer and turning to look at Sul. "This was nice of you guys. I'm having a good time for the first time in a long time."

"I'm glad," Sul smiled, truly happy that, for once, she seemed able to do something to comfort B'Elanna.

"Listen Sul," B'Elanna said hesitantly. "I'm really sorry about how I acted the other night. It was really terrible of me to . . . try to take advantage of you like that. I hope you can forgive me."

"Well, by my count, you've had to forgive me dozens of times, so you've still got a few in the bank."

"Thanks," B'Elanna said softly. The two women's attention was soon directed at Falor, who was heading in their direction.

"Hey, Falor," B'Elanna greeted him. "I'm glad you could make it tonight. I know how busy you are with the Parliament about to go into session."

Falor smiled. "I'll always have time for my friends, B'Elanna. Besides, I need to hang out like we used to so that I can remember what and who I represent. I'm sometimes in danger of forgetting when I'm off in the capitol."

"I don't think there's any danger of that," B'Elanna assured him. "We all trust you to do what's right for Ilvia and for all of Jalara." Sul nodded in agreement.

Falor hung his head and thought for a moment. "Which brings me to my next question." He looked up at B'Elanna. "I'll need to report something about the status of work at the Institute and I'm sure I'm going to have to answer questions about whether Seven plans to return and, if not, what we plan to do."

B'Elanna sighed and Sul and Falor watched her intently, having no idea how she would respond. "I know, Falor. Everyone's been very patient and I really appreciate it. We're hanging on and getting the work done but we can't hold out forever this way."

"And don't think I'm asking as a criticism," Falor jumped in.

"No, I know that, but I just don't know what to tell you." She paused for a moment. "Listen, I'm off for about a week and a half to do some work configuring a new planetary security grid that we installed some time ago. Why don't I give it some more thought, talk things over with the staff, and promise to have a decision for you when I get back?"

"That sounds good, B'Elanna. And I'll hold off the questions until I hear from you," Falor agreed.

As the evening wore on, B'Elanna enjoyed the company of her friends and looked forward to some time away with work that would occupy her and give her a chance to start to think about the future. Even as she was having a good time, she couldn't shake the sinking feeling in her stomach that Seven might never come back and, worse, might never want to see her again.

Seven returned to her aunt's house from a day of research in a public lab and time at the gymnasium. After her blow up the previous week, Irene had managed to get her to agree to remain at the house and to hold off on making any job decisions for a while. So, instead, she filled her days with small projects she was designing for Irene's house or simply for the challenge, such as it was. The best she could hope for these days was work that would occupy her mind and keep her from thinking about the past or about the future. And isn't that what she had told everyone she wanted? But it turned out to be onerous work to keep the desire for her life, or for any life, at bay. She found herself exhausted at the end of each day, feeling up to little more than dinner with her aunt and an evening of reading. She had no desire to engage other people but sometimes did concede to accompany her aunt to the theater or to a concert where they usually saw some of Irene's friends. Irene's friends had been extremely warm and interested in her and it had also been difficult to resist their attentions. On this evening, however, she knew that Irene had nothing planned and Seven looked forward to the solitude of her room.

After greeting Irene and promising to be ready for dinner in an hour, Seven retreated to her room. It had been an extremely difficult week for her and Irene knew it. For the first time in the almost four months since she had been in Stockholm, Seven had not heard from B'Elanna. There had been no package. There had been no messages from the children or from Ven. There had been no message from B'Elanna, no encrypted declaration of eternal love. And, there had been no communication with Irene, as had become B'Elanna's custom.

After depositing her things in the closet, Seven turned and her eye was caught by two items sitting on the bed -- a box and a data padd. She stood frozen for a moment, cursing herself for the tears that had begun to fall from her eyes. "Home is irrelevant," Seven repeated in her head. "Desire is irrelevant." But, as if mesmerized, she found herself moving toward the box and placing her hand on it. She stood for a moment, imagining that, by touching the box, she would be able to make physical contact with B'Elanna. She was shaken from her reverie by the feeling of a tear splashing on her hand.

Slowly, Seven opened the package and saw a smaller box and a padd inside. The small box, she soon discovered, contained a Triga, a stone that changed color to reflect the emotions of the individual holding it. She had first seen one when she and B'Elanna had been away on a work assignment and had found it strangely appealing. As someone whose emotions were often unreadable on her face, except by those who knew her well, Seven found the idea of an external sign intriguing. B'Elanna had bought one for her, although Seven knew her lover did not need a stone to see into her heart. Seven had left her Triga on Jalara and, as this one was a different shape from hers, knew B'Elanna had obviously found another one.

Turning her attention to the other item in the package, Seven picked up the data padd and activated it. Instead of the usual text file, an image appeared of B'Elanna sitting in her office at the Institute, her feet up on the desk and the Triga in her hand. Seven gasped, thinking that her heart might explode at the sight of her beloved.

B'Elanna began to speak, hesitantly: "Hey Seven. I'm sorry this is late but I've been away from the Institute on an assignment. But I didn't forget you." The stone in her hand changed color to indicate sorrow. "I didn't forget you," B'Elanna whispered. Holding up the Triga for Seven to see, B'Elanna continued. "I saw this in a shop while I was away and thought of you." The stone's color displayed B'Elanna's affection for Seven. "I thought you might like to have it." B'Elanna regarded the Triga as it turned to the color of sorrow once again. "I don't know if you even look at these messages but sending them makes me feel connected to you, even if it is only a fantasy. I love you, Seven. I hope you'll come home soon." The padd flickered off as the message ended.

The only other data on the padd was an encrypted message. Seven made short work of the encryption and was relieved to see that the text was the same as always: "Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned."

Seven looked at the stone in her hand, noting that its color matched the color of B'Elanna's sorrow. It was not the first time since she had been staying with her aunt that Seven had questioned the wisdom of her course of action. She had never done anything as difficult as leaving B'Elanna and the life they shared on Jalara but, most times, she felt certain that making this break now would spare her certain pain in the future. Life was fragile and fleeting and separation from B'Elanna seemed inevitable. Surely separation now would be easier than later. Seven had come to these conclusions as she sat strapped to a chair as William Cole attempted to extract the remaining Borg implants from her body and use them for his own gain. The physical pain of the procedure had been considerable but Seven had nearly been felled by the longing she felt for the safety and comfort of B'Elanna's arms. Ironically, it had been a desire for B'Elanna's protection that had moved Seven to admit her feelings for her former crewmate some years after Voyager had returned from the Delta quadrant but the magnitude of the connection was almost overwhelming now. She knew that no one had understood her decision to separate from B'Elanna after she had been rescued from Cole. She herself sometimes faltered in her resolve but continued to believe that, if the loss was difficult now, it would surely kill her later. Seven had often thought it could not be possible to love more deeply than she loved B'Elanna but each day revealed her error. The logic of acting on this instinct for self-preservation seemed incontrovertible -- most of the time. Seeing the lovely face of the woman who had affected her more than she had thought possible did, however, make her waver.

Placing the Triga back in the box, Seven picked up the padd that had been lying on the bed next to the package. Activating it, she found an official Federation communique.


Stardate: 55336.7

To: Annika Hansen (a.k.a. Seven of Nine), Director, Jalaran Institute for Technological Development

From: Interplanetary Supreme Court of Justice, United Federation of Planets

You are hereby summoned to appear and give evidence in the case of United Federation of Planets vs. William Cole. The defendant has been indicted on charges of piracy, theft, kidnaping, and attempted murder. You will appear on stardate 55340.7 at the Central Jurisdiction Court on Penthara IV and remain until your attendance is no longer required.

Please report to Mr. Reyes, who will represent the United Federation of Planets and serve as the Prosecutor of the case."

"Seven, dinner's ready," Irene Hansen's voice came through the door.

Seven sighed and, carrying the padd, joined her aunt in the dining room.

Irene could not mistake the signs that Seven had been crying and she knew that it must have been the package that had arrived today that had been the cause. Seven had been even more withdrawn than usual when the customary day for the arrival of a parcel from B'Elanna had come and gone. Although Seven claimed repeatedly and insistently to want nothing more than to be left alone, it had been clear to Irene that the possibility that B'Elanna was finally complying with Seven's wishes had been devastating for her niece. Perhaps this was a good sign, Irene thought.

"I received this today," Seven said, handing the Federation's message to her aunt.

"Well that's good news that they've captured him and that he'll pay for his crimes," Irene said, returning the padd.

"Yes," Seven replied. "However, I feel some apprehension at the prospect of seeing him again."

"That's only natural," Irene said, moving to place her hand on Seven's shoulder. "But he can't do anything to you any more. You're safe now."

Seven regarded her aunt, who had done so much for her these last months. It occurred to her that even this emotional connection violated her commitment to self sufficiency but she quickly set that thought aside. "Would you consider accompanying me to the trial?" she asked softly.

"Of course, I'll come with you, sweetie. Of course, I will."

Seven nodded to indicate her thanks and the two women sat down to dinner. The conversation quickly turned again to the trial.

"I am not familiar with Federation courts and procedures," Seven admitted. "I wonder what will transpire."

"Well, you and the other witnesses for the prosecution will testify about what you know of Cole's crimes and there will probably be some witnesses in his defense. Pretty straight forward, really. Then the jury will decide whether the evidence against him is sufficient to find him guilty."

Seven processed all of this information but remained stuck on one element. "Other witnesses?"

Irene nodded. "I'm sure that the prosecution will call other people to testify in order to make the strongest case possible on all counts " Jocasta Lakar, for example. Tuvok . . . B'Elanna."

Seven drew in a breath and her eyes met Irene's briefly. Neither woman spoke but both considered how truly difficult the experience of the trial would be for Seven.

Chapter 4

"Up the stairs and to the left," the guard barked out at Seven and Irene who looked at him wearily. It had been a long trip to Penthara IV, a remote and unremarkable world that had been chosen as the site for William Cole's trial. The two women had made it with no time to spare before Seven's appointment at the Central Jurisdiction Court office building, having barely had time to deposit their things at the hotel. Mounting the stairs, they turned left and found the door labeled "Stephen Reyes, Prosecutor." Seven sighed and knocked on the door.

"Enter," she heard a man say.

Upon opening the door, Seven and Irene found a handsome man of about forty sitting behind a large desk in an office cluttered with data padds. He stood up to greet them.

"Ah, good. You must be Annika Hansen," Reyes began.

"Seven of Nine," Seven corrected him, standing rigidly. "You may call me Seven."

"Yes, Seven." He extended his had. "My apologies. You must understand that, as far as the Court is concerned, your legal name is Annika Hansen. But 'Seven' it is."

Seven nodded. "This is Irene Hansen, my aunt."

"Thank you both for coming," Reyes said as he shook Irene's hand. "Please, sit down and we'll review what you can expect when you testify," he continued, looking at Seven.

"I . . .," Seven began before she caught Irene's eye. Thinking better of insisting on her preference for standing, Seven took the seat that was offered.

"Okay. I want to begin by saying how sorry I am about everything that William Cole did to you and I promise you that we're going to put this guy away for life as he deserves. I'm completely committed to this and I'm not going to let him get off. Your part will be very straightforward," Reyes continued, authoritatively. "I'll ask you a series of questions about what happened and all you need to do is tell the truth."

"Understood," Seven replied, with some relief at the thought that this might not be as difficult as she imagined.

"Now, I want you to look at me or at the jury when you testify and not at the defendant. It will be very important for the jury to get a sense of just how cruel and horrible what he did to you was, so don't be afraid to let your emotions show. Okay?"

"I . . ." Seven faltered.

"Mr. Reyes," Irene interrupted. "As I'm sure you're aware, Seven was raised in the Borg Collective and her manner of showing emotions is . . . unique." Irene turned to look at Seven briefly, her affection for her brother's daughter evident in her gaze. "That is, it may not conform to your --or the jury's --expectations."

Seven sat silently, grateful that her aunt had been willing and able to assist her.

Reyes too sat quietly for a moment, clearly considering carefully what Irene had just told him. He looked at her and nodded and then turned his attention to Seven. "There's no right or wrong way for you to do this, Seven, so don't worry about that. The most important thing is for you to be comfortable on the stand so that you can convey all of the evidence that you have for the jury to consider. The rest is my job. Okay?"

Seven nodded. "When will I be required to testify?"

"I haven't decided on the final order of witnesses yet but I think you'll be up early in the case. In any event, it won't be until tomorrow or the next day."

"But isn't court in session today?" Irene asked. "I thought that the trial starts today."

"When we go in today, the judge will read the charges before the defendant and the jury and then defendant will enter a plea. There won't be any testimony today. You can be in the courtroom for the reading of the charge but, after that, will have to wait outside until you're called to testify. Once you've testified, you'll be free to observe the rest of the trial if you wish."

"I understand," Seven replied, her body language indicating that she was preparing to stand and leave.

"There's one more thing I must mention," Reyes began again. "Cole's defense attorney -- Ms. MacKenzie -- can be intimidating, but she's fair. When she conducts her cross-examination, just focus on the questions and answer truthfully."

Seven had felt momentarily relieved at the prospect of giving her testimony and being done but had forgotten about the cross examination. "I will do my best, Mr. Reyes," she said, almost as much to convince herself as the prosecutor.

"I know you will," Reyes said, rising from his chair. "Leave the rest to me." He shook each woman's hand.

"Thank you, Mr. Reyes," Irene said, grateful for how gentle he had been in dealing with Seven and for how committed he seemed to getting justice.

"I'll see you both in court this afternoon," he said as the two women exited his office.

"Come in," Stephen Reyes said, with no small measure of irritation. It had been a long morning of meeting with potential witnesses for the case and his meeting shortly before with Jocasta Lakar had nearly wiped him out. It was going to be difficult to keep her on point during her testimony but what made him most nervous was the thought of Nora MacKenzie getting a crack at the woman. **Well, I can only do my best,** he thought. Three more witnesses to go and he'd be ready for the court session in the afternoon.

His office door opened and two women and a man walked in. He recognized Captain Kathryn Janeway immediately and assumed that the man was Commander Tuvok, her security chief. By process of elimination, he concluded that the other woman was B'Elanna Torres.

"I apologize for not being able to meet with you each individually today, but time is of the essence since the charges will be read in court this afternoon," he began.

"That is quite understandable," Tuvok said as they each took their seats.

"I just wanted to give you a quick sense of what information I need to convey to the jury in your testimony," Reyes continued. "Captain Janeway," he said, addressing Kathryn. "I am not yet certain that we'll need you to take the stand but, if you do, I'll ask you simply to testify about the details of your conversation with Laertes Lakar about the ransom demands. Honestly, since Lakar himself will testify, I suspect that the judge will deem your testimony unnecessary. If so, I apologize for taking you away from your duties."

"No apology necessary, Mr. Reyes. I want to see justice done here and will do whatever you need me to do," Kathryn said in earnest.

Reyes nodded. "Commander Tuvok, Ms. Torres, what I need you to do is to testify to the fact that you found Seven of Nine being held against her will by William Cole and to give a sense of the physical condition in which you found her."

"It will be my pleasure to help put that cowardly p'taq in prison for the rest of his life," B'Elanna said, her eyes flashing with anger.

"Good," Reyes said with a small smile on his face. "Because that's precisely what I plan to do. You'll also have to be prepared to answer questions from the defense attorney about *how* you came to find her with Cole."

"Why is that relevant?" Kathryn asked, concerned that Tuvok's unorthodox method of tracking Cole's ship would open him up to investigation.

"I know it sounds crazy but it is not unusual in kidnaping cases for the defense to try to raise reasonable doubt by claiming that the victim might have been there willingly and that the rescue violated his or her wishes."

"You have *got* to be kidding me!" B'Elanna exclaimed, rising from her seat. "That is so far from the truth . . . ."

"I know," Reyes said, calmly, trying to calm her down as well. "And MacKenzie, the defense attorney, won't get very far if she takes that tack but, be prepared for it."

B'Elanna took her seat again and then something dawned on her. "Um, I don't think that you should call Tuvok to the stand," she said, hesitantly.

"I am perfectly capable of handling myself on the stand, Ms. Torres," Tuvok offered in his typical calm manner.

"Excuse me?" Reyes said, having no idea what was going on. "Why shouldn't Commander Tuvok testify."

"B'Elanna," Kathryn began before B'Elanna interrupted her.

"Kathryn, I know . . . ."

"Will someone tell me what's going on?" Reyes said, stopping them all from speaking. "I've got fifteen minutes before I have to be in court and I don't need any surprises."

"Look," B'Elanna explained, "let me testify about finding Seven and about how we found her. Tuvok went out on a limb for me -- for us -- in putting that tracking device on Cole's ship and I don't want him to suffer as a result."

Tuvok turned to look at her. "It is not necessary for you to attempt to protect me, B'Elanna. I assure you, I am willing to accept the consequences of my actions. I would not have proceeded otherwise."

"I know," B'Elanna replied. "But, if I can help, why won't you let me?"

"Okay," Reyes intervened again. "We'll see if we can work around this and get the information about the tracking device in with as little detail as possible. I'll call Ms. Torres -- who will testify truthfully -- and if we need Tuvok, then he'll testify."

"Acceptable," Tuvok offered and B'Elanna and Kathryn nodded in agreement.

Reyes sat back and took a deep breath. **Why is everything always so complicated?** he thought.

Kathryn, Tuvok and B'Elanna stood in the hallway outside the courtroom, only moments before the session was to begin. B'Elanna held her breath as she saw Seven and Irene at the other end of the hallway. "Oh, God," B'Elanna whispered, causing Kathryn and Tuvok to follow her gaze.

Kathryn placed her hand on B'Elanna's arm in a silent gesture of support. As Seven and Irene approached, Kathryn could feel the tension building in B'Elanna's body until Irene came near and pulled her into a hug.

"It is so good to see you, B'Elanna," Irene whispered in her ear.

"You too," B'Elanna replied.

"Hello, Kathryn, Tuvok," Irene said, greeting the others.

"Hello, Seven," B'Elanna said softly, relieved beyond measure that Seven looked her in the eye.

"Hello, B'Elanna," Seven responded, equally softly. "I . . . ," she continued, interrupted, however, by a court officer calling everyone inside.

B'Elanna could have strangled Kahless himself at that moment as Seven turned away to enter the courtroom. She followed the others inside, opting to remain at the back of the room.

"I think you should sit with us," Kathryn insisted.

"No, you go," B'Elanna said. "She needs you and it will just make things harder for her if I'm with you."

Despite her desire to help speed her friends' reconciliation, Kathryn couldn't help but agree.

"Mac," Reyes said, greeting the defense attorney, a striking looking auburn-haired woman. "Long time."

"Hi, Stephen. Yes, it has been a long time. I hope we can see each other under better circumstances sometime soon, though," MacKenzie replied, smiling.

"Absolutely," Reyes concurred as they both took their seats as the court session was about to begin. The court's security officers then brought in William Cole, shackled and wearing a prison uniform but smirking and obnoxiously arrogant nevertheless. The officers deposited him in a chair at the defense table.

Judge Selek, a stately Vulcan man, entered the courtroom and began to read the charges:

"The defendant, William Cole, is charged with the following:

1.Piracy: that the defendant did raid and plunder property belonging to the United Federation of Planets, property which was at the time in question, in residence on the Bajoran colony of Free Haven, now the Federation member world of Jalara.

2. Theft: that the defendant did steal the shuttle Sphinx, the rightful property of Jocasta Lakar.

3. Kidnaping: that the defendant did kidnap and hold against their will, Jocasta Lakar and Annika Hansen (a.k.a. Seven of Nine).

4. Attempted murder: that the defendant did commit intentional bodily harm to Annika Hansen in the knowledge that it would likely cause death and that he did show reckless disregard as to whether death would ensue from said bodily harm."

Nora MacKenzie stood to raise an objection. "With all due respect, your Honor, I request immediate dismissal of the charge of piracy, as inappropriate and unable to be supported by any evidence the prosecution intends to put forth. None of the alleged acts took place on 'the high seas' and, therefore, logic would dictate that no act of piracy could have taken place.

Reyes jumped in, "Your honor, the Federation property in question had not yet been officially transferred to the citizens of Free Haven. Therefore, the Prosecution contends, the act . . ."

"The alleged act . . .," MacKenzie insisted.

Reyes rolled his eyes and continued, " . . . the alleged act took place 'on the high seas' and merits a charge of piracy."

Judge Selek considered the situation for a moment. "I must concur with Ms. MacKenzie. The charge of piracy is not applicable in this case and is, therefore, dismissed."

Reyes' disappointment was evident in his body language but he was satisfied that the more serious charges were not in question.

Judge Selek continued, "Mr. Cole, how do you plead?"

Cole stood, still smirking. "Not guilty," he said, turning to look at Seven and sneer for good measure.

Chapter 5

"Great," B'Elanna muttered to herself. "Just great." She was sitting at the bar in the restaurant of the Hydra, the only halfway decent hotel in the district capitol on Penthara IV. Apparently, everyone who was working on the case or had been called to testify was staying here and that included Jocasta Lakar, who was making a beeline for her.

"B'Elanna," Jocasta said, taking the seat next to her at the bar and ordering a drink. B'Elanna ignored her and took a sip of her drink. "I'm sorry that we're seeing each other again under these circumstances," Jocasta continued.

"Or any circumstances," B'Elanna said, still not looking in Jocasta's direction.

"Oh, come now. That's not fair. You really can't blame me for *everything* that's happened. And, besides, I took good care of Seven after she left Jalara," Jocasta said, half wanting to secure B'Elanna's approval and half needing to gloat.

B'Elanna finally turned to look at her. "I'm surprised you didn't just swoop in and get what you wanted all along."

"Don't think I didn't try," Jocasta said, releasing a small laugh. B'Elanna glared. "*But,* I was forced to conclude that, however inexplicable, she actually loves you."

"You know," B'Elanna said slowly, turning her body to face Jocasta and leaning menacingly forward, "if you had believed that in the first place and minded your own business, none of this would have happened. Its true, I can't blame you for what Cole did to Seven, but she wouldn't have been in danger at all if you hadn't dragged her along just to try to . . . seduce her."

B'Elanna saw out of the corner of her eye that others connected to the case had entered the restaurant and were taking notice of the exchange between the two women. She could see Kathryn heading in their direction from one end of the restaurant and Laertes Lakar from the other. She stepped down from the stool on which she was sitting and moved imposingly into Jocasta's space, determined to have her say before the others arrived.

"I know you think that everything's a game and that your money can get you whatever you want, but Seven's not a toy. You obviously have no idea what she's been through to become the person she is or you wouldn't have acted as if the life she had made for herself were nothing more than a joke," B'Elanna said through gritted teeth.

"I never thought that her life was a joke," Jocasta said, indignantly, "and I'm sorry that you've taken what's happened so hard."

"Well you could have fooled me," B'Elanna shot back. "I don't know how to get it through your head that it isn't about me. Yes, it has been hard for me to watch my life crumble before my eyes and to lose the only person I'll ever be in love with, but I'll live. My life will never be the same and I'll never be as happy as I was for those eight months that we were together, but I'll muddle through. Your real crime was the contribution you made to whatever Cole did that took away her will to live."

"It was an accident," Jocasta protested. "I couldn't have foreseen that this would be the outcome."

"And that's the only reason you're still alive now and that your blood isn't smeared all over my blade," B'Elanna assured her, her eyes narrowed and her gaze pinning Jocasta.

"Are you threatening my daughter again?" Laertes Lakar nearly bellowed as he reached them and caught the last snippet of the conversation.

"I do not threaten, Mr. Lakar," B'Elanna replied, noting that Kathryn was now standing at her side. "If your daughter deserved to be dead, she would be."

"B'Elanna," Kathryn said in an attempt to draw her attention away from Mr. Lakar, "I came down to see if you'd join me for dinner. Please," she continued, tugging on B'Elanna's arm, "I would appreciate it if you would."

B'Elanna and Laertes stood, their gazes locked, hostility emanating from them palpably. Finally, B'Elanna turned to look at Kathryn and nodded her assent. "Thank you, Kathryn. I'd like that." The Lakars could only watch as the two women headed off and sat down at a table.

B'Elanna recognized the look on Kathryn's face -- the I know you know I think you did a stupid thing, but I'm not going to say anything look. "I didn't start it," B'Elanna defended herself against the unspoken rebuke. "I was minding my own business and she just couldn't stop herself from rubbing in the fact that . . . the fact that Seven left me."

"I know you didn't start anything," Kathryn assured her, placing a hand on B'Elanna's.

"I don't know how I'm going to get through this, Kathryn. This trial, seeing Seven, staying in the same hotel at that."

Kathryn nodded in sympathy.

"The hardest part is still not knowing precisely what Cole did to Seven." B'Elanna sighed in resignation. "And I won't get to hear it during the trial or be there for Seven because I'll have to wait in the witness room."

"I don't know what happened either," Kathryn admitted. "She just won't tell me."

"Do you think there's a chance that talking about it in court will help Seven?" B'Elanna asked, almost desperate.

"I do think it possible," Kathryn said, patting B'Elanna's hand. "I don't know what precisely has made her react this way but, if I know Seven, she probably thinks that she shouldn't have been afraid while being tortured or that she should have been able to stand more pain than she did. She might even blame herself somehow. I don't know for sure but a jury's confirmation of Cole's guilt might help."

"I hope so," B'Elanna admitted softly. "I'm out of options."

The conversation was interrupted by the arrival of the waiter who took Kathryn's order.

"I wish you would eat something, B'Elanna," Kathryn pestered. "You're so thin and I'm worried about you."

"I'm just not hungry but I'm okay. Really."

Kathryn looked skeptical but remained quiet as she could see B'Elanna mulling over something.

B'Elanna laughed and shook her head. "Who could have predicted?"

"What precisely?" Kathryn asked, curious about what had suddenly changed her friend's mood.

"Any of it," B'Elanna replied. "That my career in the Maquis would lead to a tour of duty with one of Starfleet's finest captains and in the Delta quadrant, no less."

"Well, no one would have predicted that," Kathryn laughed.

"Or that I would be so desperately in love with a woman who used to infuriate me by simply raising an eyebrow." She was quiet for a moment. "I hope there's another good surprise around the corner."

Rounding the corner, Seven of Nine could see the sign for the Hydra hotel at the end of the block. She had been out walking for almost an hour in an attempt to clear her head and quiet herself in preparation for her testimony tomorrow. As much as she appreciated having Irene with her and was grateful for the support her aunt provided, she definitely found herself needing some time alone. She was not looking forward to having to recount the events of her captivity in such a public venue. She hadn't actually told anyone exactly what had happened and probably never would have if she had not been called to testify.

Suddenly, the sound and vibration of a blow to her head echoed in her ear and Seven found herself face down on the pavement of an alley just off the street on which she had been walking. Placing her hands on the ground, she attempted to rise but felt the weight of a body preventing her from moving. She heard her assailant breathing in her ear.

"If you know what's good for you and your aunt, you won't implicate Cole when you take the stand," the man hissed.

"Leave my aunt out of this," Seven said, struggling against the weight on top of her.

"You heard what I said and I meant it," the man responded, striking her in the head again and running off.

"Kahless," B'Elanna exclaimed, kneeling down near the body of an unconscious Seven of Nine. B'Elanna had decided to take a walk after her dinner with Kathryn and had, just by chance, glanced into the alley where Seven's assailant had left her. B'Elanna turned Seven onto her back and brushed the hair out of her eyes. "Seven," she said, patting her beloved's cheek. "Seven, are you okay?"

Seven's eyes blinked open and she sat up abruptly, holding her head. She focused on B'Elanna, at the same time recalling the events that had brought her here.

"What happened? Who did this to you?" B'Elanna asked, using her sleeve to wipe away the blood from the side of Seven's head.

"I do not know but I assume it was one of Cole's men. He threatened Irene and me if I implicated Cole in my testimony." Seven stood up, using B'Elanna's shoulder to balance herself. "I have to get back to Irene," she said, heading for the hotel with B'Elanna right behind.

Half an hour later, Seven, B'Elanna and Irene had been joined by Kathryn, Tuvok and Stephen Reyes. Tuvok and Reyes were in the process of devising a security plan for the two women and had already had a guard posted outside their hotel door. Kathryn and Irene's attention was focused on convincing Seven that, despite her concerns, she still had to testify. B'Elanna, still feeling that it was better to remain silent, hung back.

"Everything will be okay, sweetie," Irene assured Seven, her hand on her niece's shoulder.

"We do not know that," Seven insisted. "He has . . . he has hurt me before. But it is not for myself that I am worried."

"Tuvok will make sure that the security plan is the best one possible," Kathryn interjected. "You are compelled by law to testify, Seven, but we'll make sure that you'll both be safe. "

Everyone was silent as Seven mulled over her very limited options.

B'Elanna leaned against the wall, tense from restraining herself from pulling Seven into her arms and never letting her go. **Once again,** she berated herself silently, **I wasn't there to protect her.** Lost in thought, she suddenly realized that Seven was looking at her. B'Elanna met her beloved's eye and it occurred to her that Seven wanted her to offer an opinion. She thought for a moment, took a deep breath and spoke, her eyes never leaving Seven's. "I know you don't feel you need to do this for yourself -- that you're not thinking about getting revenge for what he did -- but you should think about what it would mean to put him in prison for life. Think about how many people would be spared the pain of lost property, the pain of torture, or lost life. I know you can do this and I trust Tuvok and Reyes to keep you safe."

Again the room fell silent as everyone waited for Seven's response. "Acceptable," she said, finally, looking at B'Elanna.

"Good," B'Elanna said, nodding her head in encouragement, praying that, if anything did happen, she'd be there to protect Seven this time.

Part 6

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