Flashes of Fire
"So, that's where we are," B'Elanna said, finishing her report and gesturing to the prototype of the ship she and her engineering team had been working on for quite some time. She had been the model of professionalism as she found herself standing before Seven of Nine and briefing her on the Institute's main project. As much as she knew the Institute needed Seven and, perhaps, that Seven needed her work at the Institute, B'Elanna hadn't quite been prepared for the overwhelming rush of emotion that her former lover's return had brought forth in her. It had been more difficult than she had imagined to hold her emotions in check but she felt satisfied that, at least outwardly, she had been successful. Stepping back, B'Elanna turned to look at Seven, noting as no one else would, the hint of unease in her manner.
Seven thought for a moment and looked out at the engineering staff who had gathered for the briefing. "I want to thank you all for the work you have done in my absence and for giving me the chance to work with you again." Many of the staff who had worked with Seven from the Institute's start nodded in response to indicate their welcome. "You've done an impressive job with this project and it seems clear that we'll be ready to proceed with some test runs...."
"Actually," Dar'el said, interrupting Seven and handing her a padd, "there's one more item we should consider."
"Dar'el," B'Elanna said, her irritation clear, "I thought I made myself clear that this is not a priority."
"But I'm sure we can get more shield strength pretty easily," Dar'el said, arrogantly, regarding Seven as she read the specifications on the padd.
"Be that as it may," B'Elanna shot back, "there are other considerations . . . ."
"But last night you said my proposal looked good," Dar'el broke in.
"I said it had potential," B'Elanna explained before she turned to Seven. Even though B'Elanna had worked hard to accept the fact that Seven no longer wanted to be with her, she was unaccountably pleased when she noticed the muscle in Seven's jaw pulse, clearly an indication of her displeasure at Dar'el's reference to the late night conversation. She addressed Seven, hoping to put the issue to rest. "Among other concerns, I don't think the small increase is worth the expense of implementing the upgrade on an entire fleet," B'Elanna explained.
Seven considered the different positions the two women held for a moment. She had taken an instant dislike to the arrogant young engineer but she also realized that, despite the disagreement between B'Elanna and Dar'el, there was something else there that disturbed her. Perhaps attempting to overcompensate for her disapproval of Dar'el, perhaps in an effort to get back in the good graces of the staff members she had deserted for so long, she decided to give the idea an opportunity. "But might it not be worth it to test such an upgrade on the prototype?" she asked B'Elanna.
"*I* think so," Dar'el replied.
B'Elanna frowned. "Honestly, I don't think we've thought through the implications of the stress that the new configuration would have on other systems."
"How long would it take to implement the upgrade?" Seven asked.
"Half a day, maybe less," Dar'el conjectured.
Seven turned to address B'Elanna. "Unless you feel that to test this upgrade would constitute a danger, I don't see why we should not attempt it for the test run," she concluded.
"Okay," B'Elanna sighed.
B'Elanna sat inside the prototype ship, completing the wiring on the navigational console, the last of the interior work that needed to be finished before Dar'el shield upgrades could be installed. As if on cue, the young engineer entered the cockpit, carrying the equipment she needed to implement her plan. B'Elanna looked up and nodded at her.
Dar'el dropped her equipment and took a seat next to B'Elanna, regarding her closely as she finished her work. "I'm sorry," she said finally.
"For what?" B'Elanna asked, not looking up from her work.
"For disagreeing with you in front of Seven and pushing my idea," Dar'el explained.
"Why?" B'Elanna asked, looking up. "That's how we work here. Everyone's ideas should be heard. I just don't happen to agree with you but Seven considered the options and made a decision."
Dar'el thought a moment, uncertain about whether to pose the question she was considering. Her curiosity winning out, she spoke up. "Do you always defer to her?"
"Not by a long shot," B'Elanna snorted. "But we've worked together for years and I know how she thinks. If she thinks this is worth a try, I'm willing to give it a go."
"Thanks," Dar'el responded.
"No need to thank me," B'Elanna said with a smirk. "And I'll try not to say 'I told you so' when you see that I'm right."
"Oh really," Dar'el said, joining in what had now turned to playful banter. "Would you care to place a wager on that?"
"I have complete confidence in my assessment," B'Elanna shot back, packing up her equipment.
"Well then," Dar'el said, smiling now, "let's place a bet."
"Okay, what's your wager?"
"If I'm right, you take me out to dinner and if you're right, I take you to dinner," Dar'el announced with a triumphant look on her face.
"Dar'el," B'Elanna began to protest.
"I thought you were sure that you're right," Dar'el said, trying to egg B'Elanna on and force her into accepting the bet that would make her the victor, no matter how it turned out.
B'Elanna sighed, knowing she should resist the temptation to prove herself right and seeing the potentially complicated consequences. But, it was just a harmless bet, after all. "Okay," she finally agreed.
"Great," Dar'el said, a broad grin across her face. "I'll start planning where you'll be taking me for dinner."
B'Elanna laughed and shook her head as she packed up her equipment and exited the shuttle.
B'Elanna sat in the pilot's seat of the new ship, going over the pre- flight sequence as Dar'el and Seven made sure that everything was secure for the test flight. The plan was to take the ship into warp and into orbit around an uninhabited planet where the Institute had set up a target range to test the multiphasic weapons. The engineering staff had been buzzing about all morning preparing for the test that would bring together the work they had done for the past few months.
"We're all set," Dar'el announced to both Seven and B'Elanna, her excitement evident in her voice.
"Great," B'Elanna responded. "Everything looks good here. I've linked the ship's sensors to the main console in the lab so you can monitor things from there."
"Will do," Dar'el acknowledged as she gathered up her tools.
Seven took a seat at the tactical station, having decided to accompany B'Elanna on the test flight, much to Dar'el's obvious dismay. As Dar'el exited the shuttle, the two women fairly glared at each other but neither said a word.
Two hours later, Seven and B'Elanna had taken the shuttle through a battery of impulse speed maneuvering tests, warp drive tests and were preparing to try the weapons in the target range.
"Weapons systems online," Seven reported.
"Entering weapons range," B'Elanna replied. "Target the beacon off the port side and fire when ready."
"Locking weapons. Firing," Seven announced.
The two women watched as the beacon exploded from the impact of phaser beam. Before either could proceed to the next target, the console at which Seven sat shorted out, sending out sparks that caused her to withdraw her hand in pain.
"Are you okay?" B'Elanna asked, backing away from her own console.
"I am uninjured," Seven replied. "What was the cause of the failure?" she asked as B'Elanna moved back to her console, satisfied that, for the time being, things seemed safe.
"I think the shield generator overloaded," she answered. "Crap. Engines and the weapons are off line."
"That would seem to present a problem," Seven said, moving to another station to try to bring them back. "I do not believe that we can bring them back online."
"Unfortunately, I think you're right," B'Elanna sighed, having reviewed the same systems status information that Seven had just read through. "B'Elanna to Dar'el."
"Yes, B'Elanna," Dar'el replied, her face appearing on the viewscreen.
"It seems we're dead in the water," B'Elanna reported. "I know I promised not to rub it in when I turned out to be right, but the shield generator blew and took engines and weapons with it."
"Oops," Dar'el muttered under her breath. "We'll send out a shuttle to tow you back. It should be there within the hour."
"Acknowledged," B'Elanna said, about to close the comm channel but Dar'el made sure to get in one last sentence, a small smile on her face.
"And you can pass the time thinking about where I'll be taking you for dinner on our date. Dar'el out."
"Crap," B'Elanna grumbled as Seven, jaw pulsing and body rigid, stood up suddenly and rushed into the aft compartment.
Seven stood before one of the windows in the small ship's lounge and stared out, looking but not seeing the stars before her. She found herself inexplicably irritated by the realization that human colloquial expressions did have some basis in reality and, in this case, that what she had always thought to be the exaggerated insistence that experiences could cause one's heart to break seemed somehow to describe her emotions at this very moment. She had made it clear to B'Elanna that their relationship was over and knew, intellectually at least, that B'Elanna would get on with her life. Nevertheless, her heart was breaking. When she heard B'Elanna's voice a moment later, the expression about nearly jumping out of one's skin also suddenly made sense and her body tensed in an attempt to hide her reaction.
"We're not dating," B'Elanna said softly as she stepped into the lounge. She stared at Seven's back, trying in vain to gauge what was going on in her head by reading her posture. When Seven failed to respond, B'Elanna tried again. "It isn't a date, no matter what Dar'el said. . . . We just had a bet about the shield upgrades and dinner was the prize." B'Elanna waited again and when Seven still did not respond, she took a step back toward the door and it swished open as she stood in the frame. "I just wanted you to know, we're not involved. I'm not involved with anyone."
"I have no right . . . ," Seven finally said, her back still to B'Elanna. "It isn't my place to ask. I have no right to ask," she added, her voice thick with emotion that B'Elanna could tell she was trying unsuccessfully to keep in check.
"But I wanted you to know," B'Elanna responded, stepping back in to the room so that the door swished closed. "I could see you were upset."
"My . . . upset . . . is with myself," Seven whispered, glancing over her shoulder to look at B'Elanna, if only briefly.
"What do you mean?" B'Elanna asked gently, knowing that this was more than Seven had offered her since she had been rescued from Cole.
Seven moved to stand before a metal chair in the lounge, her body still facing mostly away from B'Elanna as she gripped its back. "I cannot seem to quell it," she choked out.
"Quell it? To quell what, Seven?"
It took every ounce of composure B'Elanna could muster to remain calm when Seven tightened her hold on the back of the chair and began to crush it, the sharp edges created by her mangling causing blood to trickle from her enhanced hand.
Suddenly, Seven turned to face her. "Do you know what he wanted from me? What he really wanted?"
"Cole?" B'Elanna asked. Seven nodded. "He wanted to sell your Borg implants for the money."
Seven began to shake her head, a small smile appearing on her face as she gripped the chair more tightly. "He wanted me to want."
"To want? To want what?"
"To want my life. He wanted me to want so that he could deny it to me. And, somewhere along the way, I decided that he was fundamentally correct. Desire for life can only lead to disappointment, so I let it go."
B'Elanna was stunned and speechless at this first substantive glimpse into what had driven Seven to run from her and from their life together. Tears formed in her eyes at the thought of what Seven had endured at Cole's hands and at the emotional torment she was still experiencing.
"He got no satisfaction from me," Seven whispered.
"But what about you?" B'Elanna asked. "What did you get?"
"Frustration that, even though I kept it safe from him, even now, I cannot seem to quell it." Seven's hold on the chair let up ever so slightly. "And fear. I fear I may have miscalculated."
"And what if you did?" B'Elanna whispered back.
"It isn't my place to say."
"If not your's, then whose?" B'Elanna asked. "He was wrong and I think you know that."
Seven did not reply, thinking instead of everything she had lost.
"Its all waiting for you, you know" B'Elanna said, breaking Seven's reverie and hoping that she had enough of a grip on the situation that her new direction made sense. "Everything's waiting for you, your life is waiting. You just need to acknowledge it."
Seven met B'Elanna's gaze and searched her eyes. "Everything?"
B'Elanna nodded. "Yes, everything," she replied, her eyes locked with Seven's.
The two women started as the computer beeped to indicate an incoming signal. Reluctantly, B'Elanna broke the gaze and returned to the cockpit to see about getting them towed back to Jalara.
"Okay children. Finish your dinner so that you can complete your assignments before bedtime," Ven instructed Anara and Bemar as the two grumbled about their schoolwork. Ven crossed from the dining room to join B'Elanna on the couch. She was dressed for her dinner with Dar'el, wearing a sleeveless black dress, and had stopped by to speak with him before meeting Dar'el.
"I can't tell you how much I'm not looking forward to this," B'Elanna began. "I like Dar'el. She's a good kid but she wants something I'm not prepared to give her."
"Well, you haven't made any kind of commitment, right?" Ven asked. "You're just collecting on the bet after all."
"True," B'Elanna responded. "I should never have let myself get dragged into it in the first place, though. It was one of those 'heads I win, tails you lose' things. And Seven was so upset by it."
"It seems to me that Seven's response is a good thing," Ven mused. "She can't help but face the possibility of really losing you now."
"What should I do?"
"I think you should let her come to you," Ven advised. "It sounds like she might be ready to do so."
"I can't stand this waiting anymore. It was hard enough after she left and even more difficult on Penthara IV during the trial, but now that she's back and we're working together, I'm about to lose my mind," B'Elanna whined.
"I can't imagine how hard it has been for you, B'El. But I don't think pushing her will be effective. If you think she's upset about having made the wrong choices, give her some time to figure out how to work her way back."
"I know you're right," B'Elanna sighed. "But it isn't easy."
"I know," Ven replied, taking her hand in sympathy. "Go and try to enjoy your dinner."
B'Elanna frowned and nodded, getting up to meet Dar'el but wishing the evening were over already.
"I guess that could have gone worse," B'Elanna mused as she headed toward home. "A marauding pack of targhs running through the restaurant could have made it worse," she thought. "But not much." The whole situation hadn't been fair to Dar'el but, in her own defense, B'Elanna thought, the young woman had known about her history with Seven and had forged ahead anyway. Lost in her thoughts, she pulled up short before her house when she saw Seven pacing in front. B'Elanna's heart began to race as she continued forward.
"Lovely evening," B'Elanna said, drawing Seven's attention to her.
Seven stood frozen at the sight of B'Elanna. "You make it so," she said softly, her blood pounding and her face becoming flushed at the smile with which B'Elanna responded.
"Thank you," B''Elanna said, taking a seat on the steps of her porch. "Did you want to talk about something?"
"I don't know where to begin," Seven answered hesitantly, beginning to pace again.
"There's no rush," B'Elanna assured her.
Seven stopped suddenly and turned to look at B'Elanna. "Isn't there?"
B'Elanna frowned, not understanding Seven's meaning.
"You had your date with Dar'el tonight," Seven ground out.
"It wasn't a date," B'Elanna insisted. "I thought I made that clear."
"She . . ."
"She is irrelevant,"B'Elanna insisted. "What did you want to talk about?" When Seven didn't reply, B'Elanna continued gently. "Come and sit down here." Seven opened her mouth but B'Elanna cut her off. "Sit, please."
Seven took a seat on the steps next to B'Elanna and stared at her hands for a long moment before turning to look at B'Elanna. As she pulled her thoughts together, her eye was caught by the tattoo that graced B'Elanna's collarbone and shoulder. "When did you acquire that?" she asked, pointing to the tattoo.
"A few months ago."
"What does it signify?" Seven said, leaning a bit closer to look at the design of flames in an unusual pattern.
Watching Seven study the tattoo, B'Elanna recited: "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."
Seven looked up, questioningly, and into B'Elanna's eyes.
"The flames are arranged in groups of seven and go all the way down to my heart," B'Elanna explained.
Seven began to shake her head. "B'Elanna, I do not deserve . . . ."
"Don't start with that, Seven. You deserve whatever it is you want to have. What is it you want?"
Seven reached out to trace her finger along the tattoo on B'Elanna's collarbone. Looking into B'Elanna's eyes, she whispered, "I want you. I want to be with you, but I don't know how."
Cupping Seven's cheek, B'Elanna smiled. "We can figure it out together." She brushed the hair back from Seven's face and tucked it behind her ear.
"I'm sorry, B'Elanna. I'm sorry for everything."
"Shh," B'Elanna soothed her. "There's nothing for you to be sorry for. Just promise me you won't run out on me like that again."
"I promise," Seven vowed, bringing her hand from B'Elanna's shoulder and running it up her neck to her cheek. Leaning in, Seven brought her lips to B'Elanna's and kissed her softly.
Sequel Wings Unfurled
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