DISCLAIMER: What a pity we don't own 'em - but we don't. All Paramount's. No money earned. That's a shame, too.

The Gift
By alastria7

It was a place where B'Elanna and Chakotay often met to discuss business, the Mess Hall: a meeting room with refreshments laid on and the added bonus of Neelix's personal attention. Mid evening found the two officers at their usual window seats.

"Look, can we wrap this up?" B'Elanna asked, "I'm kinda tired. I can let you have the rest of the modification proposals in the morning."

"Sure." Chakotay eyed B'Elanna with some concern, thinking she appeared a little irate and testy this evening. "You OK?"

"I'm fine," B'Elanna shot back, but her answer was a little too snappy and she knew it wasn't about to fool anyone, let alone someone who had known her as long as her ex-Captain had. To Chakotay's continuing stare she assured, "I'm OK - alright?"

"Alright but, before you go, just look this over and give me your approval."

"What is it?" asked B'Elanna as she took the padd and looked at it: Chakotay thought a reply unnecessary, as she appeared to be in the process of reading the padd for herself. "I said what is it?" snapped the Chief Engineer, glaring at her fellow officer angrily.

Thinking B'Elanna was too tired to be bothered to read, Chakotay outlined the contents and got the required approval before B'Elanna pushed the padd back into his hand and rose from her seat. "Well, goodnight," she said with a forced smile before turning and leaving the Mess Hall.

A confidently excited Harry Kim watched the Chief Engineer coming towards him down the corridor. "I hope you're going to employ a certain amount of dignity, and lose gracefully, Maquis," he said as she came near.

Distracted by her thoughts, it took B'Elanna a while to became aware of Harry. "What?" she asked, frowning.

"Our game? Velocity? In half an hour?"

"Oh. You know what, Harry? I'm gonna pass on that."

The Ensign's face registered his disappointment. "But I booked it," he protested.

B'Elanna raised a hand towards him, "I'm sorry, OK? Another time," and walked on past Harry who stood watching her for a moment.

"Yeah, sure," the Ensign muttered as he turned and walked away.

B'Elanna reached her quarters and sighed gratefully as the door opened. Slipping into the safety and security of the room, she felt her shoulders begin to relax for the first time that day. She requested a low light level and a little gentle music from the computer and headed straight to the aqua shower, leaving a trail of clothing over the furniture and the floor as she went.

The stressed Engineer leaned up against the shower wall, put her head back against it and closed her eyes, having directed the water to find her. It took a while for her mind to still while, under her breath, she put up a silent request to Kahless, the Great Warrior. `Kahless, not this, please. Help me,' she asked of him, hoping he could hear her.

Afterwards she lay in bed in the dark and tried to relax, but it seemed that each time she approached sleep her eyes would suddenly open, needing the reassurance of the sight of the things around her in the room. Up until now, she had fought it and closed her eyes again but at last she surrendered: `lights, one third', she asked of the computer and cast her eyes around her, almost greedily. Deciding to leave the lights on, she wriggled her head deeper into her pillow searching for comfort and support.

The last thought that B'Elanna Torres remembered having that night was that maybe things would be better in the morning

"What the hell is that?" demanded Kathryn Janeway. "I mean, I know what it looks like, but that's impossible, isn't it?" The Captain didn't like surprises and the scientist in her was both intrigued and frustrated. From her seat she looked around the Bridge staff for answers but none were forthcoming.

Several minutes later nothing had changed; the phenomenon still held its position outside the ship. "Anything on sensors?" asked the Captain yet again, to be greeted with the same reply. There was nothing on sensors. She let that sink in and wondered how she could be seeing something outside that didn't register on sensors. Getting up, Kathryn moved half way towards the viewscreen and stared at the puzzle. "Try hailing frequencies again, Mr Kim," she asked, casting her eyes back towards him, and then murmured, "although I don't know how we contact something we can't define."

"All subspace frequencies have been explored, Captain. There's nothing."

"Tom?" Kathryn asked, looking down at her helmsman.

"I'm sorry Captain. No matter where I go, it's ahead of us, "replied Tom, turning around to look his confused Superior in the eye.

"Bridge to Astrometrics. Seven? Are you getting this?"

"I have it, Captain."

"Can you give us any answers?"

"I cannot. The Borg have no record of any such encounter."

"Keep monitoring visually and let me know if there are any changes. Janeway out."

"Well," the Captain looked around the Bridge and shrugged, "I guess we'll just have to adopt a wait and see attitude, unless anyone can offer any suggestions?" The Bridge crew remained silent and the Captain returned to her seat and sat down, crossing her legs. Resting her elbow on the arm of the chair and her chin on her hand, she studied the sight beyond the viewscreen, looking for answers, waiting for her brain to give her some obvious suggestions, but when it did not she turned to her First Officer: "Chakotay, your thoughts?"

"Clearly, what we're seeing on the screen, if we are to believe our eyes, is not possible, and yet it's there," smiled Chakotay, his eyes twinkling at the conundrum.

"And yet," counteracted his Captain, "according to our sensors, it's NOT there!"

"All the fun of a day in space," quipped Tom Paris from his seat at the helm.

Janeway smiled fondly at the back of Tom's blonde locks and then said to everyone in general, "Well, this one has us beat. No welcome; no lifesigns; no attack, nothing."

"It is logical to suppose," offered Tuvok, "that whatever this is, it does indeed require something from us, or we would be able to change course and be on our way, leaving it here."

"Well, we can't shake it," agreed Tom.

The Captain stood and looked around at everyone generally. "This is an interesting way to start a day. I'm going to Engineering. Organise replacements for yourselves and meet me in the Conference Room in 15 minutes," she ordered. By the time she had reached the lift, Chakotay was busy starting to inform the Doctor, Neelix and Seven of Nine of the impending meeting.

"No idea, Captain. We have been monitoring it from here for the past 10 minutes, although `monitoring' isn't really the term for something that won't show up on sensors!"

"What have you tried?"

"Everything in the bag, Captain. There's nothing left to work with."

"Well, I've called a Senior Staff meeting for a few minutes time, or a `mind pick', as Tom calls it."

"So why do you need Tom?" said B'Elanna jovially, with a wide grin.

"And I always thought you were a nice person."

"Now where did you hear that?" B'Elanna looked away from her Captain and friend and turned her gaze towards Joe Carey. Immediately the problems she had recently been experiencing with her vision returned: Joe was blurred. "Mr Carey?" she called, covering her fears, "you have Engineering. I'll be in a meeting in the Conference Room."

Joe Carey nodded and moved to take B'Elanna's station, as his Commanding Officer followed the Captain out of the room.

"15 minutes, people, and we have no answers."

Almost without exception, the crew looked down at the Conference Table, as though having been reprimanded by a parent. Any one of them would have gladly given the Captain an answer, but there was nothing to give, and she knew it. The only crewmember who remained looking up held her glance steadily until the Captain looked away from those cool blue eyes. Kathryn felt the burden of leadership more strongly when Seven looked at her in that way - a look that said, `It's alright, I know you will sort it out. I trust you.'

Ten minutes later found the crew walking around the Conference Room, discussing in small huddles: sitting occasionally; looking out of the windows. each one as frustrated as the other.

The Captain, Chakotay and the Doctor were standing together, forming one such huddle, and were probably the nearest to Seven when it happened. "Seven!" shouted the Captain urgently, with her hand outstretched to the ex-Borg, but there was nothing anyone could do. Alerted by their Captain's cry, the rest of the Senior Staff were now looking in Seven's direction and were all privy to the strange occurrence in their midst.

It was as though Seven's solid shape was ceasing to exist and she now only existed as transparent colour, although she retained her human form and features. A frown crossed her lovely face as she locked on to her Captain's eyes with the same expression she had given her earlier, and then she simply disappeared.

"That wasn't like any transport I've ever seen," commented Chakotay, staring at the space Seven had occupied only seconds before.

"Everyone, return to your stations! I want answers. I want results. I want Seven back safely. Dismissed," barked the Captain, striding off towards the door.

As everyone left, B'Elanna fell into step behind Chakotay as the last one to leave, but then dropped back again and moved over towards the window, looking out at the coldness of space, glistening with tiny pinpricks of light. They were all blurred - even more so now because she had tears in her eyes. She tried to give herself any reason for her tears but the truth. Perhaps she was afraid of the phenomenon outside the ship. Perhaps she was afraid that her vision was going the same way as her grandmother's, who had become irreversibly blind at the age of 42. Perhaps she. no, that couldn't be it. perhaps she was afraid she would never see Seven again.

"Lieutenant?" B'Elanna felt Chakotay's hand on her arm, and she allowed him to lead her from the Conference Room.

Seven had been fascinated when the phenomenon had first appeared outside Voyager. She had never seen a rainbow before and knew this couldn't be one, with the absence of water vapour and sunshine, but it looked like the pictures she had seen during her research of Earth's weather patterns.

Right now she seemed to be in amongst the colours, outside the ship, and yet still alive and unharmed. She looked down at her hand and was surprised to realise she could see right through it, it was not solid. She raised the hand and tried to touch her head but met no resistance, her hand simply passed straight through the area where she understood her head to be.

The answers were here, all around her. The rainbow was here, all around her. Slowly she asked, in what she still thought of as her mind, "What are you, and what do you want with me?"

Naomi Wildman tapped her combadge. "Crewman Wildman to Seven of Nine," she said importantly. Being met with silence, she tried again. With more silence, the child frowned. "Computer, locate Seven of Nine."

Seven of Nine is not currently aboard this vessel

With her mother on duty, Naomi's concerned mind turned to Neelix as she tapped her combadge again. "What is it, sweetie?" asked Neelix amiably.

"Where's Seven? The computer says she not aboard. Is she on a mission? Only, she didn't say, and she usually tells me everything."

"Er, this was a rather sudden one, sweetheart" replied Neelix, instantly trying to protect the girl from the truth. "It's nothing to worry about, I'm sure she'll be home soon."

"Where's she gone?" asked the innocent.

Neelix was not good at lying. Basically, he was too good a person to be good at telling anything but the truth. He tried valiantly to give an answer, a good answer, but he stuttered and hesitated too long before he got into the swing of the untruths and the child saw right through him. "She's in trouble, isn't she?"

"Well, perhaps. But we're all doing our best to help her. I'll tell you what," he continued, knowing she wouldn't settle now, and that she would be alone until Samantha's shift ended, "you come to me in the Mess Hall, and we'll do what we can together, OK?"

"I'm on my way. Wildman out," said Naomi, copying the way she'd heard the Captain reply to a summons. She picked up her favourite doll, Flotter, for security, and headed for the Mess Hall.

"Computer, halt turbolift," Chakotay ordered. He looked at B'Elanna's tearful face and needed answers. "What's the matter, B'Elanna?" he asked, knowing there was every chance she would shout at him to mind his own business. To his surprise, she didn't.

"I ever tell you about my maternal Grandmother, Tiy'ra?" she asked nervously looking around the lift.

"No, I don't believe you did."

"She went blind," B'Elanna said bluntly, pausing before she continued, "and they couldn't do anything to help her." The Lieutenant took a deep breath, not wanting to say the next thing out loud; she levelled her gaze at the Commander and drew upon her courage: "I think it's happening to me."

Chakotay was obviously disturbed by the news, "Have you seen the Doctor?"

"There was no point with her. No one understood why it was happening and no one could stop it" answered B'Elanna, becoming agitated.

"It may not be the same thing. You should have the Doctor take a look at you. And remember," he said before she could object, "years have passed - perhaps something can be done now, perhaps he can help."

They both fell silent but the First Officer felt there was more behind his friend's sad expression. "That all?" he asked.

"Isn't that enough!" shouted B'Elanna, as a defence mechanism. She put her hand to her mouth and turned away, angrily. After a moment of silence between them she said softly into her hand, "I think I have feelings for Seven." Chakotay said nothing and she turned back to look at him again. The look he saw in her eyes was both forlorn and frightened as she added in almost a whisper, "And now she's gone."

Wrapping his arms around his friend, Chakotay let her cry - for her eyes, for Seven - he didn't know; he just knew she needed this. No one would miss them for a short time. In a moment he would re-start the lift and they would move on with their lives, but for now.

"I am a lifeform, more aligned to pure thought than anything else - although not thought as you would understand it, which may be measured in brainwaves. I needed a corporeal being and I found many aboard your ship, but I soon realised that only three could be suitable for my purpose."

"Why only three?"

"Because the being I am looking for has to be an innocent in many ways. The choice was between you, the Talaxian and the child, Naomi."

"Of the three, why did you choose me?"

"Because you have adult sensibilities whilst retaining the innocence of the child. An interesting and impressive mixture, my dear; it made you the perfect choice."

"You could have approached me while I was still aboard my ship. The crew of Voyager is dedicated to helping others wherever possible; you could have put your proposals forward to the Senior Staff. We would then have discussed how best to help you."

"It would have taken too long to convey messages between you and your colleagues. I can only be `heard' by the truly innocent of mind and soul."

There was no one to face, no person to talk with as such, just a voice in her mind (which seemed undeniably female), a voice that had ceased communication for the moment. Seven was grateful for the space - it meant she could use it to study her situation. She appeared to be part of the rainbow-like phenomenon she had first seen outside the ship - now both within it and made up of the same light, no longer physical. She had long-since lost her fear and was now simply observing and being amazed by what she saw, by what she had become. Being `here' was. it was. she found it hard to put her feelings into words except to think how safe and loved she felt. Together with that there was a peculiar feeling of endlessness, stretching out into infinity with no barriers at all. All things seemed available to her, all places. It was with a slight struggle that she returned her mind to the `entity' and asked. "What do you want from me?"

"I have a friend, the only other one of my kind. He is corporeal at present but is destined to become what I am."

"Which is?" interrupted Seven, fascinated.

"Infinite thought, infinite being. He should have transmuted from one state to the other aeons ago, but he became stuck in his thinking which has resulted in the process not being able to move forward."

"If you are so all encompassing and powerful, could you not just help him yourself?"

"In my present state, I would frighten him very much. He doesn't understand. He has been alone for aeons of (what you call) time and has become withdrawn, depressed and afraid."

"You have still not told me of the part you wish me to play in this," stated Seven, deciding all at once to help this `entity'.

"I wish - but only with your full approval."

"Then I may object?"

"Of course, and I would return you to your ship in an instant and be on my way."

"Go on."

"I wish to use your corporeal self to be able to go the being of which I speak and comfort him, help him to help himself towards his transformation. Should you agree to this, you must understand that when I transfer all that I am into you, you will still retain who you are, but you will become very powerful. You would also have the ability to use your will, together with the power that I have. In that state you could achieve anything, for what you call `good' or `bad'."

"And you consider my innocence beneficial in not wishing to retain that power, or misuse it while I have it," stated Seven.

"Yes, my dear. Only an innocent would realise that the true power is what you are within, not what can be attained with force from without."

"I understand," said Seven. She felt the `entity' relax and was suddenly overwhelmed by a deep feeling of love and gratitude coming to her from it. "When do we begin?" she questioned, willingly awaiting the next step.

"Captain, the phenomenon, or whatever it is," cried Harry Kim, "it's moving away!"

"Oh no you don't," said Kathryn to the viewscreen, "not while you have Seven. Tom? Pursuit course."

"'Aye Captain."

Rising from her chair to pace the Bridge, Kathryn ordered, "Chakotay, open comlinks between the Bridge, Engineering and Icheb in Astrometrics.

"Aye, Captain." The First Officer set up the communication while the Bridge effectively held its collective breath.

"Give us all you can, B'Elanna. The phenomenon is moving away at speed."

"Yes ma'am." There was a pause from Engineering and then, "that's all we can manage before I rip the heart out of the old girl."

"It isn't enough, Captain," began Tom, "It's moving too fast. It's - It's gone!" The surprised pilot sat back in his chair looking at empty space. Except for the stars impressively elongating into lines as they sped past at warp 9+ there was nothing there. "It's disappeared completely."

"Confirmed, Captain," added Icheb. "High magnification shows nothing at all."

"And as our sensors were unable to detect it in the first place, there's nothing to track," added Tuvok.

"Damn," said Kathryn with feeling, returning to her seat. "We can't see what we're chasing and we don't know where to look. And I'm not about to resume our course for the Alpha Quadrant without Seven on board. If we can't find her, maybe she can find us. Tom, drop us out of warp, turn around and return Voyager to where we lost Seven."

"Yes ma'am."

"She could be anywhere," protested Chakotay mildly. "How long do we wait, Kathryn," he asked, knowing he was on thin ice.

"For as long as it takes, Commander." Chakotay and the others knew it was best not to argue with the Captain while she was in this mood and, although her proposal was impractical, she remained unchallenged. "She'll come home," she added with conviction.

"She has to come home," echoed B'Elanna's mind as she disconnected the open comlink, and looked around her domain. Everything was blurred still, although fortunately she knew her instruments inside out and she executed operations efficiently and well.

Thoughts of her grandmother flooded into her mind. She could clearly recall her mother telling her, many years ago, how scared they had been when it was obvious there was no cure, although she remembered her grandmother was an extremely capable woman who hadn't allowed her affliction to get in the way of a full and eventful life. However, her brain insisted on reminding her now that the progression of the disease had taken only two weeks, from the onset of occasional visual disturbances to full and irreparable blindness. This was the beginning of B'Elanna's second week and she supposed that she could run away from it no longer. Shuddering, she called Carey over, spoke to him briefly and then left Engineering for Sick Bay.

"And why didn't you come earlier?" the Doctor asked angrily.

"Look, I'm here now. OK!"

"Well," said the Doctor more quietly, "now that I've heard your story, let's see what the instruments have to say." He scanned his patient, frowning. By the time he'd finished, he was wearing a look that told the Lieutenant all she needed to know. Seeing her search his face, he didn't try to hide anything. This was a time for truth. "It's following the same course exactly, I'm sorry to say. There's nothing to work with here - selected cells are simply disintegrating and I've no idea why, and no idea how to arrest or reverse the process. I've never seen anything like this before."

"So, that`s it?"

"Obviously, Lieutenant, I'm going to be doing all the research I can, and if I find anything at all."

"But you don't expect to."

"Frankly, no. But there's always hope," he replied, noting that his patient had let her guard down; he had never seen her look so afraid before.

Jumping down off the bio-bed, B'Elanna said with some force, "Well, I'm going back to work!"

"Lieutenant, I strongly rec."

"Look Doc., no offense, OK, but I could run Engineering even if I were blind. And it may come to that! Now, I'm going, OK?"

The Doctor paused, looking into the fiery, sad eyes. "Well, alright. I don't suppose I have the necessary equipment to stop a charging half-Klingon anyway," he said smiling. "But I want you here every three hours, for a check."

"But, that's."

"Every three hours, Lieutenant. And you tell the Captain. You owe it to the position she holds on this ship."

B'Elanna surprised the Doctor with a wan smile. "You know, you drive a hard bargain," she said as all the fight drained out of her. "OK. See you in three hours, bar ship-wide emergencies of course."

While Seven had been deciding whether or not to help the `entity', it was as though she was being gently propelled through space. Now that she had firmly agreed to help she found that, with the special power the `entity' possessed, she was suddenly standing on a planet that gave off a strangely comforting orange glow. There was no sun to shine on this world, she noted, but there was some kind of light and it seemed to be iridescent. `Quite beautiful,' she thought as she looked around but she had the urge to move forward, to seek out the being the `entity' had come to meet.

The terrain beneath her feet looked to be uneven and yet she didn't feel it. Movement seemed to be along the lines of - think and move forward. It wasn't the kind of co-ordination between mind and body as with the physical form; it seemed that the rule here was simply that if you thought yourself moving forward, you would find yourself doing just that!

The `entity' had returned Seven's physical form to her at this point although it didn't leave her mind. It allowed Seven's own senses to seek out the being, instead of simply materialising her in front of him and, after a short time, sounds of sobbing came to her. As Seven rounded a rock-like structure she was met with the sight of an extremely old man sitting upon another of the rocks, with his thin sinewy fingers up against his equally thin face awash with tears. Her heart went out to him, as she approached with just enough sound to gain his attention.

The old man looked up at Seven with a very confused expression. "I thought I was alone here," he said, "have been for longer than I can count." Suddenly suspicious of his faculties, the old man shouted, "Are you really here, or are you in my mind?"

"I assure you, I am really here," replied Seven evenly.

"Then who are you?"

Seven found herself going forward to squat down before the man and, clasping her hands around his forearms she heard herself say to him, "Know me. It is the other half of you, seeking to become whole."

The man looked astounded and he stared into the eyes before him for a long while before finally standing, pulling Seven up with him, and holding onto her as though he would never let go again. Seven held the sobbing form close, stroking his head and soothing him until he pulled back to look at her once more. "Why has it taken so long for you to come? Don't you now how alone I've been?"

The `entity' within Seven answered, "I could only come when you were ready. The delay has been of your own making, not mine."

"I don't understand," replied the man, looking into a stranger's pale blue eyes to the soul he knew so well.

"You cannot evolve to the next stage of your development until you learn and conquer certain things; things such as thoughts; feelings; attitudes and understandings. You are such a stubborn being." the `entity' reprimanded with infinite love. "I sometimes think you will never learn, never grow."

"But now?" asked the old man, his face lighting up and his tears becoming forgotten.

"You are not quite ready. But soon. Talk to the being I have brought to you. She has your final answers."

"And then we can be together?"

"The only barriers are within you, remember."

The `entity' then seemed to withdraw from Seven, leaving her fully physical and `real', in her third dimensional self. The other mind, huge and expansive, was gone from within her and already she felt strangely lost and empty without it.

"What is it that you have come to teach me, my dear?" asked the old man of the ex-Borg, with hope dancing in his heart.

"I have no idea," began Seven, "but no doubt there will be something."

"And there's nothing he can do?"


The Captain was sitting on the soft seating in her Ready Room under the window, with concern and sorrow etched into her face, staring at the woman sitting next to her. "B'Elanna, I don't know what to say."

B'Elanna let out a rapid breath, which came out as a muffled sob, although her eyes were clear of tears. "There's nothing to say, Captain. We just have to wait and. see." The Engineer laughed nervously at her own joke, looking down and beginning to fiddle with the material of her jacket.

"What's the vision like at the moment?"

"Oh I can see well enough, but everything's blurred. It's been happening for a bit, but usually only for part of each day. Today's been almost constant, and it's getting worse. I can make out your face from here, but if I was over the other side of the room." The Engineer suddenly got up off the chair and turned around, kneeling up on the same chair to look out at the stars. She folded her forearms across the back and rested her chin on them.

Twisting in her seat to look up at her friend's face, Kathryn asked, "What do you want to do about this? Have you thought?"

"Yeah. I want to carry on as long as I can: afterwards too - if you'll allow it, of course. Carey can be my eyes. My brain and my knowledge don't need eyes, and my fingers know their way around the panels OK. What do you think?"

Kathryn got up from her chair and adopted the same pose as B'Elanna had, staring out into space beside the best Chief Engineer she had ever known. "You know, if this was happening to me, I don't know what I'd do. I mean, you could hardly have a Captain who couldn't see, and yet they'd have to carry me away from the post, kicking and screaming."

B'Elanna smiled as she looked sideways at her friend. "I can picture that."

"So, if I wouldn't want to leave, I can't expect you to just go."

"I would you know. If you ordered me to."

"To do what? Sit in your quarters and mope - stumble around the ship and try to feel a part of something you can't see? No. You need somewhere to belong right now, and you belong in Engineering."

"Hey, I always said I could do the damned job blindfolded. I guess I have to prove it now, huh?"

"Oh, B'Elanna."

"Yeah, I know." The two Senior Officers sat side by side staring out of the window in silence until their knees hurt, and even then they remained, as though the answer lie out there somewhere, among the stars.

"I've heard the Terrans believe in something called Guardian Angels: they are meant to protect people when their loved ones aren't there to do it for themselves. They say everybody has one, so perhaps Seven has one too, sweetie," suggested Neelix. "Maybe you could ask it to look after her and bring her back safely."

Naomi's eyes lit up, "Could it take me to her?" she asked excitedly.

"Well, no. But it will hear you, I'm sure."

"Do the Borg have Guarding Angels?"

"Er, that's Guardian.well, you know, I don't know. But I'm sure they would all need one so very much. so for that reason alone, I'm sure they must have one."

"Do you think they exist - Guarding, um, Guardian Angels?"

"Many Terrans believe they do, but I don't know. But, you know, if they do exist and you don't ask, and they might have helped, well. you're going to be pretty mad with yourself. And if they don't exist, then no harm's done by asking, is it?"

Naomi took all this information into her young head and then made her decision. "OK, I'll go over there (she indicated a corner of the Mess Hall) and ask."

Neelix nodded and watched the child, who was in many ways a daughter to him, walk to a place furthest away from the counter and sit down on the floor, with her back against the wall. She drew Flotter into her arms and hugged him and, after a while, she began, "Hello (although she didn't know who she was saying `hello' to) I want to talk to the Guardian Angel belonging to Seven of Nine, please. I think she's in trouble and I would like you to go and help her for me, If you will." Naomi paused, feeling she should do more but not knowing what, "I don't know what else to say except that she's my friend, and I love her very much. Please bring her back safely to me. Thank you."

`Well, that should do it,' thought Neelix, who had heard the child's words coming across the space of the empty Mess Hall. `How could they ignore her, if they exist? Why, she's nearly an angel herself!'

"What is that, over your eye?"

It is an artificial implant, one of many such devices made by a created race of beings called the Borg."

"The Borg?"

"Yes, they travel throughout the Universe, forcibly taking beings to add to what they call their Collective. All minds are linked together and all thoughts are heard by the others, but they are no longer the thoughts of individuals. They have a central command figure called a Queen, and they strive for perfection."

The old man gestured for Seven to sit with him on the rock and then he took hold of her non-human hand very gently, "They did this?"

"Yes. They also removed parts of my physiology and replaced them with artificial parts, this arm for example, and one eye."

"When did all this happen to you?"

"I was six when the Borg took me and my parents."


"This high." Seven demonstrated with her outstretched hand.

"Did it hurt, what they did to you?" he asked, his face screwing up against the sure answer.

"I find it hard to remember, but I certainly heard many others screaming as the same thing happened to them over the years to follow. I concluded that it must have hurt very much."

"But you're away from them now. How did you manage to leave the, er, Collective?"

"A Borg cannot choose to leave as it does not possess free will. It was decided I should be disconnected temporarily from the Collective to work as a representative of the Borg on a project with the Captain of a Starship called Voyager. At the end of the assignment the Captain refused to allow my return, as I was of the same race she and most of her crew was. I fought against her, wanting to return because I knew nothing else, but she persisted in her programme to help me to re-claim my individuality and grow as my own person."

"The things you have been through, you poor child," said the old man, his eyes filled with sorrow for the young woman before him. "You must be filled with resentment about what happened to you. I mean, how do you ever forgive something like that?"

"When Captain Janeway liberated me from the Borg I had many emotions but I was mostly afraid, afraid of the changes. Perhaps it is always difficult for us to cope with change, whatever our previous circumstances may have been. Once I had conquered my reactions to my fear I started to learn, and even began to enjoy the environment in which I found myself.

"As for resentment - my Captain and the Doctor have asked me about that before, but I have come to realise that resentment is a useless emotion as the past cannot be altered. So I simply changed what I could and moved forward. If I forfeited this moment now by filling it with resentment about the past, the Borg would still own that part of me and I would be unavailable to the present. I would not be able to move on."

"Oh," said the old man very quietly. He had been sitting and watching Seven very intently as she'd spoken of her experiences, but it was the way she was choosing to think now that had overwhelmed him. "I think you have given me the reason why I have not moved on.

"I was left alone here such a very long time ago, after the `entity' you have met conquered everything with such ease and moved on. I was filled with a great loneliness at first, which became anger, which then moved into resentment and coldness - I suppose I have lived in that state ever since. I think you have just shown me another way to think so that I may move forward at last and. I thank you from the bottom of my heart."

The old man turned away from Seven's gaze finally, his eyes filling with tears of gratitude and realisation, and then he stood and walked slowly away. Seven watched him go, not attempting to follow. She had complete trust in the `entity' that had brought her here and knew that somehow she had accomplished what had been required of her.

"You have indeed," came the words in her head as she felt the tremendous, limitless power and love moving back into her: she checked her hand to confirm what she already suspected, that she was able to see through herself to the rock beneath. "You have helped me more than you know my dear," continued the `entity', "and now I would like to do something for you in return."

"I require nothing from you. I was glad to have been of assistance," Seven replied. "However, I would like to return home to Voyager now. There are people there who will be worried, and I do not wish to prolong their discomfort."

"Of course," replied the `entity', "although I think there may be something you want, something you might like."


"I shall do nothing unless you agree, of course, but I have the ability to make you fully human, to restore you to the person you would have been, without the intervention of the Borg."

Seven was silent for a long while, considering what had been offered, and then replied slowly, "I am the product of all my experiences to date. Perhaps by changing my outcome, I would lose something of who I am now, and I feel I must remain just as I am." As Seven experienced, for the first time, her complete acceptance of the person she had become, she also felt the `entity's' approval of her love for herself, and the increase of the energy of love within her was suddenly overwhelming.

"In all my experiences, I have never met such wisdom in one so young. My dear, I shall immediately return you to your ship." As the `entity' finished conveying the message to Seven she felt herself, once again, feeling expansive and free from physical form but she hadn't much time to contemplate the sensation before she was once again within the structure called Voyager.

"Captain, the anomaly, it's outside again," reported Harry Kim excitedly.

"There's still nothing showing up on sensors, Captain."

"Thank you, Mr Tuvok." Following a hunch, Kathryn Janeway got up from her command chair and moved into the space in the centre of the Bridge. Tilting her head upwards and looking around the Bridge she said, "Computer, locate Seven of Nine."

Seven of Nine is in the Conference Room

The Captain had timed her request of the Computer at precisely the point when the `entity' had withdrawn from Seven, leaving her a solid being once more.

"Right where we last saw her," said Tom, amazed.

"Mr Chakotay, you have the Bridge. I think you know where I'll be!" said Kathryn, heading towards the lift.

"Oh no, please, stop this!" Seven placed her hands over her ears as she spoke with the `entity' within her. "It is as though I were back in the Collective," she said in a small, scared voice, "I can hear all the thoughts of everyone on this ship."

"As I can."

"Always? You hear everyone's thoughts, wherever you are?"

"I can block them out if I choose. Don't be afraid; I will leave you now and, when I do, you will be as before." The `entity' then withdrew once again from Seven, leaving her in her physical state. In the moment before that happened however, a particular wave of feeling had arrested Seven's attention. With no way of knowing whether the `entity' was still in contact with her, she shouted, "Wait!"

Instantly in her head she could hear the gentle words, "What is it, my dear?"

"I heard a particular cry of pain, emotional pain, before you left me - it was so raw; it stood out from all the other feelings on this ship. Before you go, before I lose this ability, may I investigate it further with your help?"

"Of course my dear, I owe you much," replied the `entity', once again merging with Seven. "Simply think yourself to the root of that pain and you will be there." Seven felt as though she was closing real physical eyes; she concentrated on locking her mind onto travelling to the source of the feeling she had picked up. Managing it with ease, she moved towards the owner of that feeling at the speed of thought, just as the Captain came through the door of the Conference Room.

"What the.," called Kathryn to the fast-disappearing shimmer that bore a strange resemblance to Seven of Nine. "Not again! Computer."

In the corner of her office, away from prying eyes, the Chief Engineer had gone to cry softly about her situation. In the past hour alone her eyes had become so much worse, and it was proving hard for her to even begin to accept being this much out of control. There was no doubt she was panicking. In time, she knew she would come through these feelings, but at this precise moment she was terrified - terrified of being less of a person; less of an officer, and terrified of the adjustments ahead of her that she knew she would have to make.

"B'Elanna?" The `entity' projected Seven's `voice'.

The Engineer removed her right hand from her sodden eyes and looked up in anticipation. "Seven?" However, B'Elanna's joy at hearing the voice was short-lived as her face began to register confusion and concern. Not only was she having trouble focussing but it also seemed that, whatever this was standing before her, it was simply a mass of colour in Seven's form. "What's happened to you?"

As B'Elanna had called out Seven's name, the ex-Borg had picked up strong emotions of both relief and. affection, which surprised Seven to the point where she felt unsure how to react. "I will tell you everything later, Lieutenant. At the present time I am more concerned about your current situation," Seven replied, deciding that for now she should concentrate solely on the root of B'Elanna' distress.

Seven instantly picked up on the Engineer's stubborn reluctance to let anyone in, to let anyone see that she had a problem, let alone that she wasn't, as yet, coping with it.

"I'm fine. Really."

"Of course, Lieutenant," replied the apparition, linking its hands behind its back and standing with its long legs slightly apart. "You look as normal as I do right now." Seven's eyes twinkled. "It will be our little secret."

Blushing and smiling, B'Elanna looked away, but her concern for both Seven and her current situation overrode her need for caution. She turned back to Seven and sniffed, wiping her fingers over her cheeks to dry them. "You know somehow, don't you? I mean, you're acting like you do. Seven, it's my eyes, they."

Seven suddenly raised a hand towards B'Elanna to stop her speaking further, then she cocked her `head' sideways, as though listening intently to some silent voice. All B'Elanna could do was remain quiet, as requested, and watch in fascination.

"It is time for me to leave your body, my dear," said the `entity' within Seven's mind. "Thank you once again for your assistance. You have been invaluable."

As the final word was transmitted to Seven, she began to feel that same wrench as her mind started to become small and finite once again. "Wait!" she said suddenly.

"My dear?"

"You asked me a while ago if I wanted anything for myself and I said no. May I please ask on behalf of this individual instead? Can you possibly do anything to help her?"

"But you've had no affinity with this person, why should you choose to help her?"

"Because she needs help," answered Seven simply.

"And you led me to believe it was these people who've helped you to grow and develop your humanity? Why, it is you who could teach them!"

"Perhaps it is safe to say that we have taught each other, for doesn't the student always end up teaching the teacher something, along the way?"

"Your wisdom outweighs your years, my dear. I will grant your wish. However, although I offer the gift, I cannot work outside of an individual's free will. Tell your friend `as she thinks, so shall it be'. That is to say she must first think herself healed and, in believing it, I will grant her the power to make it so. If within one of your days she has not embraced the gift, I shall have to leave. Do you understand?"

"I understand perfectly. However, she is a stubborn individual and it may be difficult, persuading her of the validity of your words."

"I can work no other way," replied the `entity', finally withdrawing from Seven completely as a stunned B'Elanna watched the woman before her revert to a solid being once again.

"It's holding off the port bow, Commander. Still nothing on sensors. Whatever that thing is, it isn't registering, and yet we can see it!" Harry was still as confused as he had been when he'd first seen the phenomenon outside the ship.

"Acknowledged. Hold our position, Tom. Once the Captain has spoken to Seven, we may have some answers."

"Yes sir."

Seven of Nine is not currently aboard this vessel The Computer was a sophisticated piece of equipment, but it was unable to read Seven, in her present state.

`Oh, this just keeps getting better,' "Janeway to the Bridge."

"Chakotay here, Captain."

"Commander she was here, right in front of me, but she de- materialised again, same as before. I'm heading back to the Bridge. Keep trying to locate her and let me know if you're successful. Janeway out." The Captain sighed, considering she was certainly getting her exercise today.

B'Elanna had watched open-mouthed as something that was recognisable as Seven, but essentially a light being, had become a solid (if out of focus) form right in front of her eyes. She had heard nothing of the dialogue between the two beings. "Seven, is that really you?"

Seven watched as B'Elanna got up and made her way over to her. "Yes, it's me Lieutenant. I have spoken with the `entity' that was here a moment ago about your eye disease and it said."

"I mentioned my eyes, Seven, but I didn't mention I had an eye disease. How did you know that?" asked B'Elanna, suddenly defensive. She veered off before she reached Seven and headed back towards her chair.

"I know everything you know, Lieutenant. I know you are going blind and you think nothing can be done."

"Nothing CAN be done! The Doctor."

"The Doctor isn't the only help available to you right now. The `entity' has promised to heal you, but you have to believe it is possible."

"Yeah, right. Look, I know you mean well but the dice has been rolled and nothing's going to change the numbers, OK."

"Bridge to Janeway."

"Go ahead, Commander," replied Kathryn, walking down the corridor in the direction of the Bridge.

"We've located Seven. She's in Engineering."

"Then I guess that's where I'll be! Thank you Commander. Janeway out." As Kathryn turned around again she muttered, `Seven, you just hold still this time! It's not manners to keep ducking out like this!'

Naomi Wildman had asked the Computer repeatedly about the location of Seven of Nine. Had the Computer been a person, it might have been more than a little frustrated with the child by now as, for the umpteenth time, it was questioned.

Seven of Nine is in Engineering.

"Neelix!" squealed Naomi, running across the Mess Hall towards him, her face filled with excitement.

"Sweetie? What is it?" questioned Neelix, although he had heard the computer.

"Seven's back," she informed him happily and, dragging Flotter by his right leg, she ran over towards the Mess Hall doors.

"Uh, honey, you might want to let the Captain speak to her first. I'm sure she'll want to know where she's been and what's happened to her."

"You're right Neelix," grumbled Naomi, stopping her flight and returning with slow and deliberate steps back to her favourite person on the ship, aside from her mother and Seven, that was. "When do you think I can see her?"

"Oh, I think she'll probably let you know when she's ready." To the child's disappointed face, the furry little man with the big heart continued, "Hey, at least you know she's home safe - here on Voyager. So your Guardian Angel must have worked."

"Yes. It must have," replied Naomi, as her face lit up in a smile.

"Lieutenant, you are one of the most annoying people I have ever."

"Yeah, yeah - you love me really." B'Elanna could have kicked herself for saying those words as she turned away quickly, hoping Seven wouldn't see the current look on her face. After a moment she asked, "Seven?"

"Yes, Lieutenant."

"When you said earlier, `I know what you know,' you were talking about my eyes, right? Or were you looking into my mind? Did you pick up on other thoughts, other feelings I was having?" B'Elanna turned back, suddenly a little nervous.

Seven opened her mouth to reply.

"Is it OK if I come in?" the Captain asked from the open doorway with a wide grin on her face at seeing Seven looking human at last.

"Of course, Captain," replied B'Elanna, suddenly relieved her conversation with Seven would go no further just yet. "Come in!"

Kathryn nodded her acknowledgement to B'Elanna and then approached the ex-Borg. "Seven, we were so worried about you, are you alright?" At Seven's nod the Captain visibly relaxed and then continued, "I want a full report on my desk as soon as you feel able to write it, but right now I want you in Sick Bay. Get the Doctor to take a look at you." To Seven's look of challenge, Kathryn frowned and added, "That's an order."

"Yes, Captain," smiled Seven.

"I'll make sure she gets there Captain," offered B'Elanna. "I'm due for a check-up myself."

The Captain's eyes clouded at the reminder of the state her Chief Engineer was in, but she managed a smile as she barked, "Off you go then!" Standing back she allowed the two women to leave and then followed them out of Engineering, content in the knowledge that her lost sheep was safely home.

The Doctor had found nothing amiss with Seven; she was in the same perfect health she usually enjoyed and, although she had been dismissed, she hung back as B'Elanna's sight was checked. The news there was not so good.

Now, as they walked together along the corridor from Sick Bay, Seven urged, "I must speak with you, B'Elanna, it is important."

"Oh, and I suppose you want to tell me again that I can succeed here where the good Doctor has failed?"

"I believe so. May we speak in private? Your quarters, perhaps?"

"Huh! That's quite a story!" said B'Elanna, shifting her position on the couch, she looked over at Seven, who was sat opposite her on a chair, "You think the other one will evolve now, so they can be together?"

"The `entity' suggested that the ability to change lay deep within the old man himself and that no-one could do it for him. But yes, it seemed confident that it wouldn't take him too long."

"Well, that's a relief. Poor old guy, waiting around all that time."

"Because he was stubborn, as you are, B'Elanna Torres. He denied change because he was locked into an old pattern of belief and it left him no room to grow."

"Don't start with that again, alright?"

"Lieutenant, why do you resist this? I asked the `entity' for this gift for you and it was granted, but not against your free will, it said. All you have to do is believe it is possible, and it will be so. Are you really so stubborn as to not even try?"

"This is cruel, you know. Getting my hopes up," stated B'Elanna as she stood up and began pacing her quarters.

"I'm not doing this to be cruel."

"Then why are you doing it!" yelled B'Elanna, rounding on Seven.

The silence between them was suddenly deafening. It continued before Seven replied, "When I first felt your emotional cry of pain, I seemed to `feel' the insecurities within you. Your panic at wondering how you would cope with blindness was similar to the way I felt when I was first disconnected from the Collective: I had felt such hopelessness that day, and I felt it again in you. I was touched by your situation and it prompted me to ask for help for you. But it seems that, although help has been granted, I cannot help you take that final step."

"You still believe I can just say `OK' to this - and be healed?! Oh, kiddo - are you gullible!"

"The `entity' made me an offer to restore me to my full human self. At the time it made it, I knew it could happen."

"And you said no?" B'Elanna stared at Seven in amazement. "Why?"

"Because there is nothing I wish to change about myself. This is who I am. And so I asked for the gift for you instead."

"Oh boy, this is like the genie and the bottle and the three wishes, isn't it!"

Seven's rope broke - "All right then!" she almost shouted at the stunned Lieutenant as she rose to her feet, "give the gift away, go blind! I've tried my best to help you, B'Elanna Torres, but you have failed yourself. I give up". With one last cold glare at B'Elanna, Seven left the Engineer's quarters.

"Seven, wait!" Running to the door Seven had just walked through, B'Elanna was relieved to see the ex-Borg halt in the corridor, although still facing away from her. "Please, come back. I'm sorry, OK?"

Slowly Seven turned around and looked at B'Elanna in silence.

"Don't leave." Something in that voice made Seven walk back in the direction of the quarters she had just left. "Oh God, Seven. It's starting," said B'Elanna urgently as Seven reached the door.

Understanding immediately, Seven led the frightened woman back into the room and was surprised that, when the doors closed, B'Elanna clung to her. Standing awkwardly with her arms by her side, Seven didn't know how to react, then slowly she raised her arms and wrapped them gently around the frightened woman, "Oh Seven, I was so afraid when you disappeared that I would never see you again."

"I am surprised that it bothered you that much," replied Seven honestly but gently.

"It surprised me, too."

B'Elanna held on tightly to Seven, nuzzling into her in such a way that Seven was surprised to find that she tightened her grip in return. Then she pulled back and took hold of B'Elanna's upper arms and firmly propelled her backwards towards a seat, sitting her down. Kneeling on the floor before her, she took hold of both of B'Elanna's hands. "B'Elanna, please. Ordinarily, I would not expect you to be able to think your way out of something, but this is different: this is a promised gift from a powerful being of some kind. It had the power to transport me to another world and to change my body into light. It has the power to heal you. Please, give this a try. What have you got to lose? - except your eyesight if you don't try it?"

"So help me," sobbed B'Elanna, "I want to see, truly I do. Everything is so dim now. I really can't make out your features, you know."

"I know, you've been staring at my nose instead of my eyes."

"Sorry. I'm so afraid," she said and, as Seven's hands tightened around hers in response, she decided, "OK, I'll try. " She disentangled her hands from Seven's and sat upright, taking in a deep breath as she did so and, with great feeling, she then said, "I accept the gift from the entity, and I choose to see perfectly again as of this moment."

".Any change?"

"Nothing," replied B'Elanna, visibly crumpling back into the seat. "I told you."

"The `entity' said you could make it happen if you believed it. When you just spoke, did you believe what you were saying, or did you just say it and hope it might happen? There's a big difference."

"I suppose I just hoped it might happen," agreed B'Elanna.

"Then begin again, and believe it will this time."

B'Elanna closed her eyes and remained silent for quite a while and Seven realised that the Lieutenant was saying the words to herself. Suddenly B'Elanna gripped onto Seven's hands more tightly, obviously about to open her eyes and test her belief.

"Believe. Just open your eyes and believe they will work - and they will."

"You make it sound so simple."

"Perhaps life is simple. Perhaps we complicate it unnecessarily."

"Maybe you're right. I do want to see again Seven, for many reasons but, more importantly, because I want to see you again - I really want to see you again." B'Elanna slowly opened her eyes.

"It's moving away," announced Harry redundantly, as the entire Bridge crew could see for themselves that the `whatever it was out there' was beginning to move off.

"Well," commented Kathryn, "I guess we won't know why it was there until we read Seven's report. Resume course, Mr Paris."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Sounds like she's had quite an adventure" commented Chakotay, looking at his Captain.

"That's for certain. And, not knowing what kind of adventure it was I just hope she's come through it as well mentally as she seems to have done physically. Only time will tell."

"B'Elanna, can you see me?" asked Seven, who was still sat at the Lieutenant's feet. "What can you see? Is it clear?"

"I see two large blue eyes, perfectly in focus." B'Elanna leaned forward with tears of gratitude in her eyes, bringing her right hand up to rest it against Seven's left cheek, tenderly, "And I see a kind face, full of concern for me, which I must say I find touching, ma'am."

As B'Elanna's smile widened, Seven suddenly became self-conscious: not enough time had passed for her to get used to the fact that this woman had feelings for her and truly, at this stage, she didn't know where her own feelings lie. It was all too sudden.

B'Elanna removed her hand and took both of Seven's in hers, staring intently at them. Slowly and awkwardly she said, "I didn't expect to feel like this about you, you know? I guess it's shocked me."

"Not as much as it's shocked me, Lieutenant."

`Oh God, she doesn't want me.' "Oh, so it's Lieutenant again now, is it?"

"B'Elanna, I."

"Shhhhh." B'Elanna reached up and placed her right index finger over Seven's lips to silence her. "Don't say anything. I'm gonna ask you to go now, but before you do I want to say that I'll never forget what you did for me today - that was so special." B'Elanna indicated that she wanted to rise out of her chair and Seven moved aside and then got to her feet also. "And tomorrow, whenever I see you, it'll be `business as usual' between us, OK?"

Finding it hard to make eye contact, Seven said quietly, "Give me time, B'Elanna. I'm not rejecting you; I'm not accepting this, I. I don't know what I'm doing. Just, please, give me time."

"All you need," said B'Elanna far too brightly as she walked Seven to the door.


"Naomi Wildman," acknowledged Seven in her usual clipped terms, although her resultant actions were in no way Borg. She moved across the Mess Hall at speed and scooped the child into her arms, swinging her around. "I hear you were worried about me, little one?" With Naomi deposited back on the floor, Seven looked down at her for an answer.

"Well, only at first. Then Neelix suggested I ask your Guarding - uh, I mean Guardian Angel to look after you, so that's what I did. I knew it would bring you back safely (although I guess I still worried, a little bit). Did you see it? Your Guardian Angel? Did it come to you?"

"Maybe so," replied Seven looking round at Neelix. "And your part in this?" she asked with a twinkle.

"Oh, I just suggested a Guarding Ang - oh, she's got me at it now! A Guardian Angel and she did the rest. You have Miss Wildman (he proudly gestured toward the child) to thank for your safe return."

"Then you have my gratitude, Miss Wildman, but just be aware that next time we play, I shall still play to win!"

"I know," said Naomi happily, watching Seven sit and then happily settling on her lap.

With her arms wrapped around the child, Seven looked over to Neelix.

"You sure you're OK?" he whispered, and was reassured by a warm smile and a nod.

Most people experience that wonderful time between sleep and wakefulness, that time when they lay in the warmth of their bed and let their mind wander. Seven was not most people; she would find herself simply awake - from unconscious to fully conscious in the moment.

Ten minutes after her Regeneration Cycle had ended, she sat down at her console to do some work before transferring to Astrometrics. At least, she tried to do some work. A featureless face came into her mind, a face moving very close to her own, and she `felt' a hand touch her cheek. She allowed her face to nestle into the touch. Then a finger was lightly placed across her lips - she pulled back and upward a little, opening her mouth slightly, trapping the finger between her lips and touching it with her tongue.

Seven sighed and then looked into the eyes belonging to the face. "B'Elanna!" She broke the daydream abruptly, surprised by the revelation - never in all her thoughts of romantic love had she ever considered a same sex relationship, and certainly not with the volatile Chief Engineer. And yet there was definitely something.

There was no denying that B'Elanna had displayed courage in making her relatively new feelings known, Seven thought. She wondered if she should just take this daydreaming a little further, to see how it affected her, to see if it would give her any clue as to how to react in real life.

`What would it be like to kiss her?' Seven allowed her mind to return to what had now become B'Elanna's face, so close to hers. A little uncomfortably, she cupped the face in both of her hands and moved her lips forward, drawing back briefly to look into the dark eyes, before moving forward again.

Taking her cue from the fact that she hadn't broken the daydream for the second time, Seven pushed her lips into B'Elanna's and gently parted the woman's mouth, sliding her tongue gently inside, tasting the.

"Seven, how are you?"

To say Seven had jumped would have been an understatement! Flustered, she turned and looked into Chakotay's amused eyes. "I'm fine, Commander. Thank you," she replied shakily, her eyelashes fluttering and her eyes looking all around the console in front of her.

"Did I come at a bad time? I'm sorry I made you jump! I read your report, your experience was amazing. Lucky for B'Elanna that it happened, eh?"

"Yes, wasn't it. Now really Commander, I have quite a bit of work to get through, and."

"Then I won't disturb you further. If you want to talk about any of your experiences, I'm a good listener."

"Thank you Commander, I'll bear that in mind."

Chakotay smiled and retreated, leaving Seven to question what the hell she'd been trying to do for the last few minutes. Confused, she touched her combadge. "Seven of Nine to Astrometrics."

"Icheb here."

"I will be coming in late this morning. I trust you can continue without me? I will be there as soon as I can."

"Is everything all right?" Icheb asked in a concerned voice.

Seven allowed her voice to soften, "Everything's fine, really. Seven out."

"Captain! Come in. Please."

"B'Elanna. I'm not stopping. I just thought I'd detour and pay you a visit before going to the Bridge. I suppose I needed to see for myself that you're really alright."

"Well, as you can see. I'm fine!"

"It was a close shave," commented Kathryn, following her friend into the room and recalling the hopelessness she and her Chief Engineer had felt so recently in her Ready Room. "I'm so glad it's all worked out for you. You're a good person, B'Elanna - you deserve the best. Well. I'll leave you to get ready for the day."

"Kathryn?" The Captain had stepped closer to the door again, causing it to whoosh open. She turned and looked at her friend expectantly as B'Elanna asked, "You got a minute?"

"You did say everything was alright?" Suddenly concerned, Kathryn moved back into the room and placed a hand on her Engineer's shoulder. B'Elanna nodded, but there was something about her expression. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah. Look," B'Elanna said nervously, "it's not the eyes, OK? I could do with."

"What is it?"

Kathryn's gentle concern had tears itching to form in the Lieutenant's dark eyes, although they remained dry. "It's Seven. Well, not Seven, more how I feel about her." B'Elanna moved to the couch and perched right on the edge of it.

"Has she been giving you her own special brand of trouble again?" Kathryn's half-grin came into play as her mind re-ran some of the infamous battles between her officers - they were certainly value for money, those two! However, the look on B'Elanna's face right now suggested to the Captain that something different was happening here. Moving to sit on the chair near the couch, she said, "I don't know if I can help, but I do know I can listen. Go ahead."

B'Elanna sniffed. "When Seven disappeared in front of us in the Conference Room, I remember being shocked, as we all were but, beyond that, there was something else. I couldn't understand my reaction, so I hung back to think about it and.huh! Are you ready for this?"

"You care about her."

"You knew! I didn't know, how could you have known?"

"I know you, B'Elanna. I've seen it for a while."

"Well, you might have told me!" B'Elanna laughed along with her Captain.

"Have you told her how you feel?"

"That's the problem. I can't tell her I love her because it's way too soon to know if I do, or if I ever could. What I have told her is that I have feelings for her, and that it`s surprised me."

"And?" urged Kathryn.

"She said it'd surprised her too. In fact she looked more thunderstruck than surprised." B'Elanna rose from her perch on the edge of the couch and walked to the replicator. She inclined her head towards it whilst asking a question of Kathryn with her eyes. With raised brows and a slight nod, the Captain answered the question and B'Elanna ordered coffee. She scooped up the new cup and her half- drunk cup and she returned to the couch, handing the coffee to her friend.

"Thank you."

"She says she's not going ahead, and she's not running away. Says she doesn't know what she wants."

Taking a sip of her coffee Kathryn asked, "That's reasonable, given the suddenness of all this. So what's the problem with just giving her a little time?"

"No problem at all. Except that you didn't see her face, Kathryn. I think I've lost her before I even get a chance to see if we could have had something."

Kathryn drew in a breath and lifted her chin up, looking B'Elanna squarely in the face. "If there's one thing I've learned about the Borg, they never run away from anything, without a fight!"

"You must, as with all things in life, follow your heart. What is it telling you?"

"I don't know, that's just the problem." Seven looked at Tuvok in exasperation. "I can't just switch on feelings for B'Elanna, simply because she has declared she has them for me."

"Then it seems logical to suggest that, for now, you remain friends."

"But we were not friends before! This is why I find it so hard to make this emotional jump!"

"It isn't because she's a woman?"

"No. Yes. I don't know!" Seven glared at the trusted friend she had asked to come to the Cargo Bay to help her understand her feelings. "I think I'd feel as confused had it been Commander Chakotay or Harry Kim."

"Do you want Commander Chakotay?"


"Mr Kim?"


"B'Elanna Torres?" Seven turned her face away from him and hesitated just long enough for Tuvok to know what her subconscious mind had answered, even if her conscious mind was unsure. "I suggest that perhaps you require more time. If you do not find the idea abhorrent, why not allow Miss Torres to `date' you. Perhaps book time on the holodeck together?"

"I do not find the idea. abhorrent. And you are correct, I do need more time." Seven paused and Tuvok waited patiently. "I saw something in her eyes yesterday, something I have never seen in anyone's eyes before, and it drew me." Becoming irritated, Seven moved away from her friend and then looked back at him, "But I cannot suddenly say that I love her. I hardly know her. We've spent most of our time together arguing and bickering. I swear I do not know where she has found the feelings for me she professes to have."

Tuvok approached Seven and placed a fatherly hand on her arm. "It took many cycles for my love to develop for T'Pel. As I recall, I did not find her particularly appealing on our first meeting." Seven smiled at him as he continued. "But love did grow and out of our union came three sons and a daughter. We were a good family and I miss them all very much.

"Maybe you have something here with Lieutenant Torres; maybe you do not. Although, it would be folly to miss your future by closing down your options in the present."

Seven gave her trusted friend a rare full smile. "I shall call her now," she told him, "and we shall see."


"Seven of Nine to Lieutenant Torres."

Kathryn Janeway knew when to leave. She rose from her seat, putting her coffee cup down - then she smiled at her friend and headed for the door with a wave of her hand.

Watching her go, B'Elanna replied, "Here, Seven. What's up?"

"Lieutenant. B'Elanna, do you wish to share a date with me this evening?"

The Lieutenant could not contain the grin that enveloped her face. "Uh, sure. What time?"



Seven smiled. "There's a chance that, out of all the crew, I have the most holodeck rations saved up, as I hardly use the facility. If you would allow me."

"That would be perfect, but - Seven?"

"Yes, Lieutenant."

"It's a long time `til 19.00. You think you could find some reason to come and have a row, or something, in Engineering before then?" B'Elanna rose from the couch and paced the room, hanging on the reply.

Seven hesitated only momentarily before replying, "I think that might be possible." B'Elanna could hear the smile in her voice and relaxed. "And, B'Elanna?"


"I was reseaching some 20th Century Earth music a few months ago. There was a song entitled, `Nice `n' Easy': I remember liking the words very much at the time and, with your permission, I shall ask the computer to play it for us tonight."

"What? We have an `our song' already, this early in the relationship?" B'Elanna stopped pacing and pulled a face to the empty room, annoyed she had used the word `relationship' - perhaps appearing too pushy.

"Will you allow me to sing you four lines of the song right now?"

Intrigued, B'Elanna smiled and replied, "Of course!"

"The problem now of course is
To simply hold your horses,
To rush would be a crime.
Nice `n' easy does it, every time!

"19.00 hours, Lieutenant, with the odd row beforehand!"


"Oh no. Not again; I thought we'd seen the last of that. Wait a minute. what's - there's two of them!" Kathryn shared her reaction, looking around at her crew. At that moment the Bridge door opened and Seven entered, with B'Elanna.

"Captain, if you will excuse us. The `entities' contacted me telepathically a few minutes ago, and asked me collect B'Elanna and come to the Bridge."


Seven cocked her head, `listening'. "They have come to share their gratitude and say goodbye."

They all stood and watched the viewscreen as the rainbow `entities' began to merge and become one, in the process they became not an arc of colours, as before, but one endless circle. Each member of the Senior Staff could almost feel the great joy that was now emanating from the new singular `entity'.

"Captain, with your permission, I would like to request a gift for you all." Puzzled, but trusting her Astrometrics officer implicitly, Kathyn nodded, and Seven communicated her desire.

As the crew watched in amazement, the `entity' slowly moved inside the Bridge and, as the phenomenon had never been picked up on sensors, the computer refrained from launching into its `Intruder Alert' mode.

The `entity' then began to do with the rest of the Senior Staff what it had previously done to Seven. Looking around from one to the other, they saw themselves becoming transparent, but it was the feeling of endlessness, stretching out into infinity with no barriers that humbled the crew into just simply `being' with their experience. It seemed to them that they were experiencing all thought, all feeling, all knowing. that they were a part of everything in the here and now. And it seemed that `now' was forever, and ever would be; a state where all wisdom and all understanding was one with all things.

Seven, who had remained unchanged, waved a hand right through the transparent Lieutenant, who smiled in amazement. B'Elanna was then able to tell the `entity', first hand, of her joy and gratitude.

Slowly, very slowly, the joined `entity' withdrew and hovered outside the ship again for a moment, watched by faces filled with awe at the experience they had just received. Then it vanished.

"Well," said the Captain, who seemed to have recovered first, "that was certainly one hell of a first contact. Everyone OK?" Looking around at her staff, her eyes rested on Seven. "Thank you for your thoughtfulness. I'm sure we'll all treasure what just happened for the rest of our lives. I know I'll never forget it."

"You're welcome. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and row with B'Elanna in Engineering before I report to Astrometrics."



With a wide smile, Kathryn gestured towards the door, "Then I wouldn't dream of stopping you!" She turned back to her First Officer and they shared a smile that spoke volumes about the assured success of a certain very new relationship.

"Resume our course, Mr Paris."

"Yes ma'am."

B'Elanna leaned towards Seven, stretching her body down to rest very near the sitting form at her feet. With her lips a millimetre from Seven's she whispered, "Is it too soon to do this?"

"A week ago, I would have said yes."

"And now?"

"I have anticipated your kiss all evening, and so I conclude that it is not too soon."

"Want a row?"


The End

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