DISCLAIMER: This Star Trek Voyager story utilizes characters that are copyright © by Paramount Pictures. No infringement on their respective copyrights is intended by the author in any way, shape or form. This is an original story. The story and non-trek characters belong to the author.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: A very heartfelt thank you to Pam, Beta Extraordinaire. Your expert help and untiring dedication to this story is greatly appreciated. Also thanks to Victoria, for listening to me talk incessantly about the story and characters. Your support means a lot to me. And to WW for her continued encouragement and support.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a sequel to my Star Trek Voyager Story, Unexpected Arrival. It takes place approximately ten months after the end of Unexpected Arrival.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Into the Void
By RJ Nolan


Chapter Seventeen

They ended up having dinner with Del and Seven after all. At the end of shift Seven had invited Annika to dinner. When she declined, it quickly came out that Annika and Kara already had dinner plans together. Del and Seven had shared a look Kara hadn't been able to interpret, then Seven had insisted they all have dinner together. Seven was very persuasive when she wanted something. Although she was disappointed not to spend the evening alone with Annika, Kara had to admit dinner had been fun. Shortly after dinner, Del and Seven had made their excuses and left the cabin. Kara had tried not to smile; it was pretty contrived, but Annika didn't seem to notice. She had taken the opportunity to suggest they head to Annika's cabin so Del and Seven could have some time alone when they got back.

Kara glared at a crewman who stopped to stare at them as they headed for Annika's quarters. Annika seemed oblivious to the man.

She was curious to see Annika's quarters. Seven had lived in the cargo bay until she moved in with Del. Annika on the other hand, had quarters of her own since coming onboard two years ago.

Annika's steps slowed as she flashed back to last night with Daniels and her steps faltered. Unable to face returning to her quarters, she had stopped by sickbay earlier in the day and replicated her coverall. The doctor had been surprised, but she hadn't stayed long enough to answer any of his questions. She shook away the disturbing thoughts, but not before Kara noticed her hesitation.

"What's wrong?" Kara asked.

Annika wouldn't meet her eyes. "Nothing," she said stepping closer to her cabin door.

Kara reached out and placed a restraining hand on Annika's arm. "Talk to me," she said gently.

Annika appeared at a loss for words, but Kara had a good idea what the problem was.

"It's normal to be uncomfortable going back to your cabin after what happened to you last night. You don't have to pretend with me. I'm here for you."

Annika looked into Kara's eyes, amazed by the warmth and understanding she saw there. How did she know what I was feeling?

She smiled shyly at Kara; she wasn't used to people being able to read her. Annika wondered if it had anything to do with Kara being Seven's friend. She had been fascinated by the friendly banter between the two women at dinner. It was totally different than how Seven interacted with Del, but it was obvious she and Kara cared for each other.

Annika wasn't sure what to say. She nodded before reaching out to key the door.

Kara looked around in interest when the lights came up. A frown marred her face as she gazed around the room. It looked like a standard issue cabin that no one was using. The only hint of occupancy was two data pads lying on the desk that housed the computer console. Other than that, the room held nothing other than what it had come with: a standard couch with a small end table, a breakfast bar and two stools.

Kara noticed something she had missed in her first perusal of the cabin. Her stomach clenched when she spotted the crumpled coverall lying beneath one of the bar stools.

At the sudden look of anguish on Kara's face, Annika's gaze followed hers and saw the discarded garment. She quickly hurried over and picked it up and deposited it in the replicator to be recycled.

Annika approached Kara and her anxiety rose. Kara had not moved from her spot near the door. She wasn't sure what she was supposed to do. When Bud arrived, he sometimes had a drink, but usually they headed right for the bedroom. Other than a few words, conversation between them was a rarity.

Kara glanced at Annika and could see how nervous and uncomfortable she looked. She smiled reassuringly. "Why don't we have a seat on the couch?"

Annika sighed in relief that Kara had not only not mentioned what she had seen, but had taken the lead. She made her way over to the couch and sat down gingerly on the edge of the seat.

Kara sighed; this wasn't going as she expected. They had not been this awkward with each other in her cabin. Remembering how easily they interacted last night, Kara decided to go with what worked.

"Annika, would you mind going over the data Seven ran through Stellarcartography? I thought I noticed something strange about the void and wanted your opinion on it."

Kara smiled when Annika quickly rose to download the requested information onto a data pad. When she came back to the couch, she sat right next to Kara as she had last night and leaned back so Kara could see the pad she held.

Glancing at her companion, Kara was pleased to see all the earlier tension seemed to be gone. They had been going over the data from Stellarcartography for the last hour. There was something nagging at her about the void, but so far she hadn't been able to find anything concrete to support her disquiet.

Kara knew Annika could go all night. That was how she ended up falling asleep last night. She wanted this evening to be more than just work. She wanted to get to know the woman on a more personal basis. Although it scared her, she couldn't deny that she was incredibly drawn to Annika in a most unexpected way. Yes, she desired her, but the former Borg also called to her on another level that she wasn't willing to examine too closely.

She reached over and took hold of the data pad in Annika's hand. "Enough work for tonight. Why don't we give this a break? All the figures are starting to look the same."

Annika looked like she was about to protest but then relinquished the pad without comment.

They sat quietly for several minutes. It was soon obvious that Annika was uncomfortable without having work to talk about.

"What do you like to do, when you're not working?" Kara asked, trying to break the ice.

"When I am off duty I plot the next area of space we will be traversing as well as study any interesting astronomical phenomenon."

"That's work, Annika, what do you do for fun?"

"I find the concept of fun…difficult."

Kara shook her head and tried again. "Besides those things you listed, what do you like to do that you enjoy… that gives you pleasure?"

"Borg work at a specific task to benefit the hive. They do not… have fun."

"But you're not a Borg anymore," Kara insisted.

"I am not fully human and never will be," Annika said sadly. "I am not normal."

"Who told you that?" Kara asked, already having a good idea.

Annika looked down but refused to answer.

"It was Daniels…wasn't it?"

Annika nodded but wouldn't meet Kara's eyes.

"Annika, please listen to me. You are as human as anyone onboard. There is nothing abnormal about you." Kara reached out and tipped up Annika's chin. "You're a beautiful, human woman. The only person who has something seriously wrong with them is Daniels. He's the one that's abnormal, not you."

She gently brushed Annika's hair back and exposed the two implants on her face. Annika flinched but didn't pull away when Kara cupped her face and gently ran her thumb across the star shaped implant at her jaw line.

"You have nothing to hide…nothing," Kara insisted. She reached up and lightly ran her fingers over the implant above Annika's eye.

Annika was overwhelmed by the strange tingling over taking her. She felt an almost overwhelming urge to press herself against Kara's body. The intensity of the feelings scared her; she had never experienced anything like it before.

Both women jumped when the door chime sounded.

Annika looked at the door then back at Kara. She wasn't expecting anyone. The chime sounded again.

"Do you want me to answer it?" Kara asked. She hoped it was Del or Seven but had a bad feeling she knew exactly who it was.

Annika shook her head and headed for the door.

The door slid open to reveal Daniels. He leered at Annika before trying to step inside.

He had thought of nothing all day but enjoying a repeat performance of their encounter last night. Annika was usually a cold fish, but last night she had whimpered softly as he thrust into her. It had really turned him on, not to mention how hot she was in that tight biosuit.

Daniels looked at Annika in surprise when she blocked his entrance. "Let me in," he demanded.

"No. I no longer wish to copulate with you."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

Before Annika could react Daniels pushed her back into the cabin and quickly stepped in. "Get this off," he demanded, grabbing two handfuls of her coverall.

Kara jumped up from the couch. "Get your hands off her, you bastard!" she yelled as she rushed toward Annika and Daniels.

Daniels jerked at the sound of Kara's voice. "What are you doing here?" he snarled. He was shocked to find someone else in Annika's quarters.

Kara reached out and grabbed Daniels's arm. "Get your hands off her!"

Annika seemed stunned by the confrontation, staring back and forth between the two. She had not expected Daniels to react this way.

Daniels' anger soared. How dare the little bitch interfere! He twisted his arm out of her grasp and shoved her backward, hard.

Kara stumbled back a couple of steps, but surprisingly didn't fall.

Annika felt a blinding surge of rage that Daniels dared to touch Kara. She reached out and grabbed his upper arm, jerking him away from her. Daniels screamed and dropped to his knees, clutching his arm. Annika in her fury had unthinkingly grabbed him with her Borg enhanced implant hand.

Daniels glared up at her. "Now look what you did you stupid bitch; you dislocated my damn shoulder. I don't know why I ever had anything to do with you… You're a freak and a lousy fuck!" His right arm was hanging limply at his side. "You'll go to the brig for this, bitch. I'll go to sickbay and report this…then they'll haul your ass away and lock you in a little cell," he snarled.

Annika's shoulder's dropped. She had not meant to injure Daniels, just get him away from Kara. She was ashamed of her loss of control.

Kara stepped up next to Annika and placed a gentle hand on her back. Annika looked at her, appalled by what she had done. Kara looked down at Daniels. She wasn't the least bit sorry he had gotten hurt; it was a lot less than he deserved for what he had done to Annika.

Kara didn't know if it was true of this universe but from the looks she had seen Janeway giving both Annika and Seven, it was worth a try…

"Yeah, Daniels, you just run right to the Captain. Just remember, I'll be right there to let her know what you've been doing to Annika."

Daniels looked up at Annika in shock. He didn't think the cunt knew enough to tell anyone. He scowled up at Kara.

"I didn't do anything wrong!"

"That's bullshit, and you know it!" Kara scoffed. "But if you want to go to the Captain, go ahead…feel free. We all know how protective Captain Janeway is of Annika. You'll be in the cell next door."

Daniels blanched. He was well aware of Annika's wish for the Captain's approval and had used it to get what he wanted. He had also used Janeway's need to feel that Annika was integrated into the crew. If she ever found out what was really going on…

"I'll have to tell the Doctor something."

"We all know what a great bullshit artist you are," Kara sneered. "I'm sure you'll think of something."

Kara watched impassively as Daniels struggled to his feet. His skin was very pale and sweat ran down his face. It appeared he was in quite a bit of pain.

As he stepped through the door way, Annika found her voice. "Do not come here again. I will not copulate with you."

Daniels snarled and walked away, clutching his injured arm.


Chapter Eighteen

Annika and Kara stood close together but not quite touching. Neither had moved, or spoken since the door slid shut behind Daniels.

Kara had been surprised to see the stricken look on Annika's face and realized she was upset that she had injured Daniels. She was amazed she could feel anything but hatred for the man after what he had repeatedly subjected her to. Kara would gladly send him out the nearest airlock without a bit of regret. Just seeing Daniels's hands on Annika had made her furious and sick at the same time.

Kara turned to face Annika. When she wouldn't look up, Kara reached out and gently urged Annika to meet her eyes. Although she was tall, she didn't quite match Annika's six-foot stature.

"Are you okay?"

"I did not mean to injure him," Annika blurted. "I just… when he touched you…I got angry."

"Oh, Annika, it's alright. I know it was an accident. I wanted to do much worse than that to him for touching you. And believe me, it wouldn't have been an accident."

"You did?" she asked, clearly confused.

"Of course I did. It's only natural to want to protect someone you care about."

"You care… about me?" Annika wanted to believe what Kara was saying but it was hard. It was difficult to overcome all the insecurities that Daniels had reinforced in the months they had been together. She had gone over and over all the things Seven had told her about her and Del's early relationship and was coming to the conclusion that as impossible as it seemed, she was falling in love with Kara. It was incredibly scary and thrilling at the same time. It was something she had never dared dream of. It just did not seem possible that the woman could return her feelings, regardless of what she said. It was too much to hope for.

Kara's first instinct was to lie to protect herself, having sworn she would never do this again. But she wasn't able to deny the fact that she had never felt so deeply about someone is such a short period of time, not even Maria. It scared her to death. One look in Annika's eyes and she was lost; she could do nothing but tell her the truth. Her expression was so open and vulnerable.

Giving in to the need to comfort her, and if she was honest, comfort herself, Kara wrapped her arms around Annika and drew her into a gentle hug.

"I know we haven't known each other very long, but I find myself caring very deeply for you," she whispered close to her ear.

Annika's world spun out of control. Her body surged forward into Kara's and she instinctively wrapped her arms around Kara's waist, trying to increase the contact. The sensation of their bodies pressed together was incredible. Her senses whirling, it took a moment for Kara's words to sink in. She tightened her grip on Kara trying to get closer to her.

"I care deeply for you too." She had never felt for anyone what she did for Kara. Before seeing Del and Seven together she had not even believed it possible.

Kara pulled back sharply from the hug, drawing a whimper of protest from Annika.

"You do?"

Annika smiled and nodded her head too overcome by her emotions to speak.

Without a thought of the consequences, Kara leaned forward and brushed her lips against Annika's. She was unprepared for the surge of searing heat that shot between her legs at the chaste kiss. She groaned when Annika pressed hard against her.

Annika struggled to regain her equilibrium. She remembered what Seven had said about fearing her implants were malfunctioning the first time Del kissed her. Now she understood perfectly, nothing could be more incredible than the feeling of Kara's lips against hers. It was nothing like when Daniels kissed her and she wanted to feel it again.

Kara's arousal soared when Annika leaned in and brought their lips back together. Unconsciously, she shifted and pressed her thigh between Annika's. Her hips bucked in reaction. The kiss quickly grew in intensity. She licked at Annika's bottom lip urging her to grant entrance. Annika opened to her and Kara moaned into her mouth as her tongue slipped inside and began to explore.

She whimpered at the loss when Annika pulled away. Annika took hold of her hand and led a willing Kara into her bedroom. A small part of Kara's mind knew this wasn't right, but at the moment her long dormant libido was in charge.

They stood at the end of the bed and kissed again. Kara brought her hand up and cupped Annika's breast through her clothes. Annika stepped away and quickly removed her baggy coverall. Kara's eyes widened when Annika picked up her hand and placed it back on her breast. When Kara squeezed gently Annika pressed herself tight against her again.

Kara looked into Annika's passion glazed eyes and took her lips in a series of kisses, losing all track of time. They could have been kissing for minutes or hours, she wasn't sure. She was throbbing and knew Annika must be as well. Her hips were moving against the thigh Kara had wedged between her legs. Annika's hands remained on Kara's hips; she had made no move to touch her. Kara's hands gently kneaded Annika's breasts through the thick biosuit. Annika pressed herself into Kara's hands, encouraging more contact. Kara needed to feel her bare skin.

"How do you take this off?" Kara whispered, looking for the opening of the biosuit.

Annika stepped back. Her face was flushed and she was deluged by the incredible things she was feeling. Her heart was pounding, and it was matched by a throbbing between her legs. That had never happened before. For the first time she looked forward to what was to come. She had already experienced more pleasure than she thought was possible.

She reached back and released the clasp of her biosuit then spread the back of it open wide before moving to lay face down on the bed and spreading her legs.

Kara stared down at Annika, wondering what the heck was going on. Her raging arousal was slowing down her thought process.

Annika looked over her shoulder at Kara. "Are we not going to copulate?"

The implications of what she was seeing hit Kara like a ton of bricks. It acted like an ice cold bucket of water on her overheated libido. Daniels, you sick bastard, I'm going to kill you!

Kara slumped down onto the foot of the bed, feeling sick. She couldn't believe what she had almost done. Even knowing what Annika had suffered just last night and how vulnerable she was, she had let her libido take over.

Annika started to feel very uncomfortable. Kara sat unmoving and was staring at the floor. When realization struck, she stood and quickly pulled her biosuit shut. The urge to flee was overpowering. She couldn't bear to see the rejection in Kara's eyes. It was the only thing that made sense. She had seen her abdominal implant where it wrapped around her back and been revolted.

"I must go to the cargo bay," Annika said, her voice devoid of all emotion. She quickly turned away.

Kara came to her senses and jumped up when Annika tried to flee. She didn't blame her; she was no better than Daniels.

"Wait. Don't go." Kara rushed after Annika and managed to get between her and the cabin door.

"Please don't go," Kara said reaching out to gently touch Annika's arm. Her heart hurt when Annika flinched at her touch. What have I done?

"Please, believe me, I'm so sorry. I never should've kissed you."

Although she already knew it, hearing Kara's confirmation broke Annika's heart.

"I understand… I am Borg."

"What?" Kara asked, now totally confused.

"You were revolted at the sight of my implant. I understand."

That's when it hit Kara that Annika had no idea why she stopped or what Kara had done wrong. How could she think I was repulsed by her implants, they're part of her…Of course…that prick Daniels, who else.

"Please don't leave, Annika. We need to talk. I swear to you; I wasn't repulsed by your implants. That's not why I stopped."

Annika looked hesitant but this time did not reject Kara's gentle touch and allowed herself to be led over to the couch.


Chapter Nineteen

Kara sighed, this was going to be difficult. She was disgusted by her lack of control and cursed herself for kissing Annika to start with. Yeah, but what a kiss! her baser side spoke up. Shut up, you've caused enough trouble tonight. Though, she admitted it was true. She had never been affected by a kiss like that in her life.

"Would it be okay if I replicated myself something to drink?" Kara asked tentatively. Annika nodded. "Would you like something?"

Annika shook her head but again didn't speak. This isn't a good sign. Kara made her way over to the replicator and ordered a glass of wine, then quickly returned to take up a seat next to Annika.

After draining half the glass, Kara set it on the small end table.

"Annika." She refused to look up so Kara tried again. "Please look at me," Kara begged.

She was staggered by the pain in Annika's eyes when she finally looked up. Kara wanted to wrap her in her arms and never let go. She realized the only way out of this was to tell the truth.

"I'm so sorry, Annika. I wasn't completely honest with you a few minutes ago. I'm not sorry I kissed you; it was wonderful." A slight smile appeared on Annika's face. "I just shouldn't of let things get so carried away. That wasn't right." And disappeared just as quickly. "But not for the reason you think. I wasn't repulsed by your implants. They are part of you."

Seeing the doubt in Annika's eyes, Kara took a different tact. She reached out and took Annika's gloved hand in hers. "Would you take this off, please?" she asked, tugging gently on the glove.

Annika's implant over her eyebrow shot up and her hand in Kara's trembled.

"Please, for me," Kara begged. She stroked Annika's arm with her free hand.

Giving in to the gentle persuasion, Annika slowly tugged off her glove. She jumped when Kara took the mesh-covered hand between her own.

Kara stroked her fingers slowly over the mesh. She could feel Annika shiver but didn't let go.

"This is part of you. If I touch here," Kara stroked the implanted hand, "or if I touch here," she said running her thumb across the back of the more human hand. "I get pleasure from touching both of them…because they are you. Do you understand?"

Annika shook her head.

"Then until you do, you'll just have to take my word for it because it's true. I would never…never lie to you. Please believe that." Kara lifted Annika's hand to her lips and placed a soft kiss in the exact center of her mesh-covered palm.

Annika gasped in surprise when Kara kissed her implant. That gesture did more to convince her than any words.

"I do not understand. Why did you stop? Did you not wish to copulate?"

"First off, we were not going to copulate. We were about to make love. Do you remember I told you the difference?" At Annika's answering nod, Kara smiled. "Good, because I never want to copulate with you, but I would like to make love."

Annika still didn't understand. "But you stopped. Did you not wish to copu… make love?"

"Oh, Annika, more than anything, but it wasn't right. It's way too soon." Seeing her continued confusion, Kara tried to explain. "You just got out of a horrible relationship. It was just last night that Daniels… hurt you. Not to mention the fact that he showed up tonight and acted like a real bastard. If I pressured you into making love tonight, it would make me no better than he is. You're just beginning to have feelings for me. I can't push you into doing something you're not ready for."

Annika's eyes sparkled and a flush covered her face as she remembered how it felt when Kara touched her.

"But I wanted to copu …make love," Annika insisted. "I have never felt anything like that before. When you kissed and touched me… it felt… I never realized it was possible to feel such pleasure."

"I can't tell you how wonderful that makes me feel to hear you say that." Kara smiled at Annika and leaned forward to place a sweet kiss on her lips. Her libido immediately flared to life. She pulled back before things could escalate. This woman was dangerous; she just couldn't resist her. The phrase, Resistance is Futile took on a whole new meaning.

Kara knew it was time to tell the whole truth. "It's too soon for me too, Annika. I feel so much when I'm with you and it scares me to death!"

Annika's shoulders slumped. "You are afraid of me?"

"No, not of you but of the emotions you stir in me. I swore I would never get involved with someone again. It just hurts too much," Kara said, tears building in her eyes.

"I do not understand."

Kara scrubbed her hands across her face. Her stomach roiled at the thought of telling Annika about Maria, because that would lead to questions about her family and even Maria had not known that story. That was Kara's fear, that she wouldn't… couldn't hold back anything from Annika. Tell her, the voice of her sister insisted, tell her!

Resigning herself to the inevitable, Kara finished her wine, wishing it were the real thing and not synthahol.

"I told you about the woman that I used to be involved with before I came onboard Voyager." At Annika's nervous look, Kara took her hands between hers and held them. She needed the contact as much as Annika. "What I didn't tell you is what happened to her… She died during my senior year at the Academy."

"You still love her?" Annika asked sadly.

"She will always hold a special place in my heart, just like my family does, but that's not why I'm afraid to get involved with you. Everyone I have ever loved has died or suffered because of me. I don't think I can do it again."

"I will not die," Annika insisted. Her heart clenched at the mere thought of something happening to Kara.

"You don't know that! I'm cursed; anyone who has ever loved me has had horrible things happen to them," Kara cried. "It would have been better for my family if I were never born."

Kara was shocked when Annika's arms wrapped around her and pulled her into a comforting hug. She savored the warmth and comfort in the other woman's arms.

Finally managing to regain her composure, Kara pulled back and looked deep into Annika's eyes. "I need to explain some things… I need you to understand."

"Tell me," Annika said simply.

"I was forced to leave my home planet when I was thirteen. My family remained behind. My father told me never to return. To this day, I don't know if my family is dead or alive." Kara was bombarded by the horrible memories of that time. She squeezed Annika's hands and shook her head to forestall any questions. "It's complicated and a long story. I'll tell you about it some other time. Because of that, I swore to myself when I left Bacaraian I would never allow myself to love anyone; it just hurt too much."

Kara shook her head at the memory. "But Maria wouldn't accept that. First, she was determined to be my friend, then later, my lover. It took her over a year but she finally wormed her way into my heart and I couldn't keep myself from loving her."

Kara could see hearing about Maria was upsetting Annika. "Are you sure you want to hear the rest of this?"

Annika nodded.

"I knew I shouldn't have gotten involved with her. We were only lovers for three months before she graduated. Two months later she was dead. If she hadn't loved me she would still be alive."

"How did she die?" Annika asked. She could not believe Kara could have had anything to do with it.

Kara hesitated not wanting to tell Annika. She wasn't sure how she would react.

"She died in a battle that the starship she was assigned to engaged in."

"Then you couldn't possibly have had anything to do with her death." Annika didn't know how but she could tell Kara was holding something back.

"What battle?"

Sadness filled Kara's eyes. "Wolf 359."

Annika pulled her hands from Kara's grasp. "She died in a battle with the Borg."

Kara nodded miserably.

Annika's features hardened. "If you want to blame someone for her death, blame me. I was at Wolf 359."

Kara stared at Annika incredulously. How could she think I would condemn her for that? She knew that Seven had confirmed to a crew member that she was there.

"You're not responsible for things you were forced to do as a drone, any more than Seven was. I knew she was at Wolf 359, and it didn't stop me from becoming her friend. Although, at first, I did fight against it, but not for that reason. I didn't want her to suffer for being my friend either."

Annika's heart felt like it was going to burst with feeling. Kara was the first person who accepted her for who she was, not what she had been.

"And you are not responsible for the woman's death."

"If she hadn't…"

Annika cut her off, determined to convince her. "No. She was doing her job. You had nothing to do with that. The Borg are responsible for her death, not you."

Annika drew Kara into her arms wanting to comfort this very special woman. She never knew how wonderful it could be to simply hold someone.

"Seven cares about you. She is your friend. Please, let me care about you too."

All the emotions of the evening crashed down on Kara and she started to cry. She knew she should run now, before it was too late. This could only end in heartbreak for both of them. But her heart held firm and Kara remained in Annika's arms.

Annika wasn't sure what to do so just held on tight and whispered over and over to Kara how much she cared about her.

Finally, Kara pulled away, embarrassed by her puffy eyes and runny nose. She walked over to the replicator and ordered some tissues. After cleaning herself up a little, she headed back over toward Annika and sat down next to her.

"It's already too late you know," Kara muttered almost to herself.

Annika's brow furrowed in confusion.

Kara looked up into Annika's caring blue eyes and allowed herself to admit something she had been trying so hard to hide from herself.

"In just a few days, you've managed to work your way deeper into my heart than Maria ever did."

Tears flooded down one side of Annika's face. "Thank you," she whispered, too emotional to say more.

Kara pulled Annika into a tight embrace. They stayed that way for quite some time. Eventually, all the stress of the day caught up with Kara. She pulled back from Annika, then reached up and brushed the hair out of her face. Gently cupping Annika's face, she stroked the implants on her face before placing a soft kiss on her lips.

"It's late and I'm really exhausted. I need to get some sleep. Why don't you come back to my cabin with me? You can try to sleep if you want or just work." Seeing Annika about to protest, Kara stopped her with a finger on her lips. "I couldn't rest knowing you were here alone… Please come back with me."

"You could stay here."

Kara looked down at the small couch they were sitting on and chuckled. "There is no way I would fit on your couch. I'd never be able to unbend myself come morning."

"You could sleep in my bed," Annika offered.

Kara's libido jumped at that thought. Obviously she wasn't as tired as she thought.

"I don't think that would be a good idea."

Kara felt terrible when Annika's face fell and her shoulders slumped in dejection. Quickly changing her mind, she took Annika's hand back in hers.

"May I use your replicator?"

Annika blinked at the sudden change in subject but nodded.

Kara smiled at Annika's obvious confusion. "I don't want to sleep in my uniform again. I need to replicate some pajamas."

"You will stay?"

Kara smiled realizing this could work out after all. She wanted to encourage Annika as Del had done Seven.

"On one condition…you try to sleep too," Kara said.

"With you?" Annika asked hopefully.

Kara's eyes bulged at the thought. Are you nuts! You have to think these things through before you open your big mouth! You just told her the couch was too small. What were you thinking!

Kara gulped and met Annika's hopeful eyes. "Yes, with me, but we are just going to sleep…Okay?"

Annika looked puzzled but acquiesced.

Kara smiled and led Annika over to the replicator. "You can be without your biosuit overnight…right?" She knew Seven could, but wanted to make sure.

Annika reached for the clasp of her biosuit in answer. Kara managed to stop her before she got it open. "Not yet. I was just checking." She mentally groaned at the thought of Annika's bare body and questioned her sanity for agreeing to sleep in the same bed.

Kara had to guess at Annika's size but replicated herself and Annika each a pair of long sleeved cotton pajamas.

"I'm going to go into the ensuite and change. You change into these, and then I'll meet you in the bedroom."

Kara took her time changing, wanting to make sure Annika had enough time to get into the unaccustomed attire. It gave her plenty of time to thoroughly berate herself for even suggesting this. How was she going to sleep in the bed with Annika that she had shared with Daniels? She knew she couldn't let Annika sense her unease. It wasn't like Annika could request another cabin. Sighing, she opened the ensuite door. There was no point in stalling any further.

Her breath caught in her throat when she spotted Annika sitting on the end of the bed, her hands resting in her lap. For once her hair wasn't hanging in her face and her implants were clearly visible. With the soft lighting of the room, she was breathtaking.

Annika stood at her approach and Kara had to force herself not to stare. The swell of Annika's breasts was readily apparent beneath the soft cotton. She knew quite well how those breasts felt in her hands through Annika's thick biosuit. Now all that separated her from the luscious mounds was a thin layer of cotton.

"Is this acceptable?" Annika asked, running her hand up and down her body, feeling her strange attire.

It took Kara two tries to get her voice to work. She wanted to be that stroking hand. She clenched her hands together to keep from touching Annika.

"You look wonderful," Kara finally managed. "Do they fit okay? I wasn't sure about your size."

Annika nodded and looked at Kara expectantly. Kara reminded herself that Annika had no idea what to do and she needed to take the lead. Annika had previously made it clear she had never slept before. She stepped to the side of the bed then hesitated; she couldn't do it. The thought that Daniels and Annika had been together on these sheets made her feel sick.

"Would you mind if we put fresh sheets and a blanket on the bed? I really love fresh linen out of the replicator." To Kara, the excuse sounded pretty lame, but hopefully Annika wouldn't realize that.

Annika looked a bit confused but reached down and began to pull the blanket and sheets off the bed. Kara smiled at Annika in thanks and bent down to help. She took the bedding out to the replicator and quickly recycled it, then ordered new. Kara knew it was a waste of resources but it was a necessity as far as she was concerned.

In short order, the bed was made with clean sheets and a new blanket. Kara walked to the foot of the bed where Annika stood nervously.

"Ready to give sleeping a try?"

Annika didn't move and her expression was blank. Kara worried she had changed her mind.

"Come on, get in bed…just for a little while," Kara encouraged. "I'll help you try to fall asleep. If you can't, then you can get up…Okay?" Kara reached out and softly ran her hand up and down Annika's arm. "It'll be okay. I promise."

Annika was completely distracted by the other woman's touch. Strange bumps appeared on her arm in the wake of Kara's fingers. It felt strange to be touched with just the thin material of her shirt between them.

Kara tugged on Annika's arm. "Come on," she urged.

She led Annika over to one side of the bed and quickly made her way over to the other. Kara slipped under the covers and lay on her side. She pulled back the covers on Annika's side.

"Get in."

Annika hesitated then got into the bed. She had never been under the covers. The only thing she had used the bed for before was when Daniels came over and it was always the same. She would open her biosuit and lie face down on top of the blanket, then he would do what he wanted, only occasionally giving her instructions. When it was over they always returned to the main room of the cabin.

Kara had forgotten that standard crew quarters beds were not particularly large. They were large enough for two people…barely, if they were very close friends. She mentally shook her head at the situation she had gotten herself into. She could feel the heat of Annika's body only inches away. Her libido reminded her of just how wonderful that body felt pressed to hers and caused a renewed throbbing between her legs. She tried to force away those thoughts and focus on Annika. She was lying on her back with her eyes open staring at the ceiling. There was no way she was going to fall asleep like that.

Kara racked her brain for a moment trying to come up with a way to help Annika relax enough to sleep.

"You don't look very comfortable."

Annika turned her head and looked at Kara. She had no idea how to even start to fall asleep.

"Tell you what, why don't you roll over onto your stomach?"

Annika stared at Kara, her eyes widening in surprise at the request. Did she wish to copulate after all?

Kara wondered at the reaction, then mentally cursed herself when realization quickly dawned. Damn it! You are so stupid. Her insistent libido rapidly disappeared with the knowledge of what Annika most likely thought she wanted.

"Wait, Annika! I have a better idea." Kara rolled onto her back, and then lifted her arm. "Scoot over here and lay your head on my shoulder," she requested.

Kara helped Annika into position. Her body was completely stiff and she seemed to be attempting to keep from touching Kara. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. Determined to make the best of it, Kara slid her hand into Annika's hair and began to massage her scalp.

Annika let out a surprised groan. The feel of Kara's fingers felt wonderful. Her body started to relax and she fought against the urge to rest against Kara. She was worried that she would be able to feel her implants through her pajamas.

Kara frowned when Annika started to relax then stiffened up again. "It's okay. Just rest against me. Your muscles need to be loose before you can fall asleep."

Annika allowed her body to relax until it lightly touched Kara's down the length of their bodies. It felt so incredible. She could feel the other woman's warmth and hear the beating of her heart.

Kara smiled when she felt the tension leave Annika's body. "Put your arm around me," she invited.

Annika quickly draped her arm across Kara's abdomen.

"Are you comfortable?" Kara asked quietly.

Annika nodded and unconsciously snuggled closer.

Kara placed a sweet kiss on Annika's forehead. "Now close your eyes and let yourself drift off." Kara resumed her gentle head rub.

Annika felt an unaccustomed lethargy overcoming her and fought against it. She did not want to miss one nanosecond of the feel of Kara's body and the amazing sense of peace and contentment she felt in her arms. For the first time since being separated from the collective two years ago, she felt like she belonged.

It wasn't long before she heard Annika's breathing even out. Kara wanted to cheer, but didn't dare move for fear of waking her companion. So many thoughts were running through her mind that she had trouble falling asleep. The day had been so unbelievable with so many emotional ups and downs. She couldn't quite conceive of the fact that she was actually here, sharing Annika's bed.

Finally, she forced herself to think of nothing but the feel of Annika's body pressed lightly to hers. Tomorrow was a new day and she would face all the unanswered questions that plagued her. Until then, she wasn't going to miss a moment of the incredible sense of peace and contentment she felt with Annika in her arms.


Chapter Twenty

Annika slowly became aware again. She felt a strange lethargy affecting her limbs and was very disoriented. Experiencing an unaccustomed surge of fear, she struggled to recall the last thing that she remembered. Her thoughts were further muddled by the fact that overriding the fear was a sense of being very warm and comfortable. Now a bit more awake, she became aware of a weight resting on her. Her eyes fluttered open and she looked down to find Kara's head on her chest and the rest of her body sprawled over hers. Kara's arms were firmly wrapped around her and their legs were entwined. Annika's forehead furrowed as she tried to figure out just what had happened. A quick check of her internal chronometer showed an incredible almost seven hour gap in her memory. She was always aware of the passage of time, even while regenerating and had been for as long as she could remember. Was this what it was like to sleep? She found it very disconcerting.

Annika remembered resting against Kara's side with her head on Kara's shoulder, then nothing. How they had gotten from that position into their current one was a mystery. Taking stock of the feel of Kara's body on top of hers, she was surprised to realize she liked it. Daniels' weight pressing her into the bed had always felt suffocating, but having Kara lying on her felt wonderful. Kara shifted in her sleep, rubbing against her body. Annika's implant over her eyebrow arched as a tingle spread to everywhere they touched.

Annika wondered what it would be like to touch Kara. The very thought shocked her. She had never had the urge to touch anyone before and she never touched Daniels. Unable to resist the temptation, she brought one hand up and carefully stroked up and down Kara's back. The tingling intensified and she felt her nipples harden. Intrigued by the strange but pleasurable sensations, she stroked Kara's back again with both hands.

Kara hummed in pleasure, lingering in that limbo between sleep and wakefulness.

At the first sound from Kara, Annika hastily removed her hands.

"Don't stop. That feels so good," murmured Kara in a sleep laden voice.

Annika eagerly brought her hands up and resumed rubbing Kara's back. She never thought it could be so pleasurable to touch someone else. The strange tingling she felt before seemed to have settled between her legs, just like last night. She wondered if Kara felt anything like that.

Kara's eyes blinked open then fluttered shut before she could process what she was feeling. She was so warm and comfortable that she was having a hard time waking up. The warmth beneath her and gentle stroking sensation on her back felt wonderful. She snuggled into the body underneath her as warm hands continued to glide over her back. Body underneath me…warm hands…what? Kara's body stiffened and her eyes flew open in reaction; she had not shared her bed with anyone in over ten years. The hands immediately disappeared from her back.

"Annika," Kara murmured to herself as the events of last night flooded her mind. She was a bit confused. They had started out the night with Annika's head on her shoulder. Now she was…Oh Barash! I'm lying on top of Annika. Her libido immediately flashed to life at the feel of Annika's firm body. She lifted up her head and look down into worried blue eyes.

Her first instinct was to pull away, but luckily she caught herself and forced her body to relax. Having experienced how insecure Annika was, if she pulled away now she would surely see it as rejection.

"Good…" Kara glanced up at the chronometer set in the headboard. "Morning." A bright smile suffused her face as realization hit. "You did it, Annika…. You fell asleep." She leaned down to place a soft congratulatory kiss on Annika's lips.

Kara's heart thumped in her chest when Annika's eyes lit up and a full bright smile spread across her face at the praise. Her ardor already at a low simmer, flared brightly. She needed to put some distance between them and quickly.

"We need to get ready for duty," Kara said as she carefully untangled herself from Annika, trying hard to resist the urge to touch. "I'll use your ensuite, if you don't mind."

Annika nodded, struggling with the immediate sense of loss she felt when Kara moved away.

Annika waited until Kara disappeared into the ensuite before getting out of bed. She reluctantly removed the pajamas she was wearing, having grown to like them. Donning her biosuit and a coverall, she returned to the main room of the cabin to wait for her.

Kara stared into the ensuite mirror. She knew she needed to get her libido under control before facing Annika again. Her mind was whirling with the morning's events. Maria had often complained because Kara was not comfortable sleeping snuggled together. Whenever Maria would try to cuddle during the night Kara would inevitably awaken. She couldn't figure out how she ended up on top of Annika, let alone how she managed to sleep so soundly. Pushing away the perplexing thoughts, she quickly got ready for duty.

Annika was dressed and waiting for her when Kara stepped back into the main cabin. Walking over to her Kara stopped in front of her and took both Annika's hands in hers.

"I'm so proud of you."

Annika regarded her quizzically.

"You not only managed to fall asleep, but slept almost seven hours. How do you feel?"

Annika smiled sweetly. "I could not have done it without you. It is a bit disconcerting to have such a large gap in my memory. Is that how it is for you too? Even when I regenerate a small part of me remains aware of the passage of time."

Kara nodded. Seven had told her the same thing. "It'll just take a little getting used to. You do want to try to sleep again…. Don't you?"

Annika hadn't been sure she wanted to try it again, but seeing the look on Kara's face and remembering how wonderful it felt to hold her, she couldn't resist.

"Would you sleep with me again?" Annika asked, her warm blue eyes filled with hope.

Kara gulped; she hadn't been expecting that, but she should have. She wasn't sure she could spend another night in Annika's bed and keep her hands to herself. She remembered very vividly being pressed to that firm body.

"Of course I will," Kara found herself answering, despite her reservations.

Annika's bright answering smile was enough to convince Kara she could survive anything. Even a night pressed against the beautiful blond.

Kara squeezed Annika's hands in response. That's when she became aware of the fact the Annika had not only donned her biosuit and coverall but her glove as well.

"Annika, would you do something for me?"

Annika stared deeply into Kara's eyes. "Anything," she said with total conviction.

Kara's heart did a strange flip at the intensity of Annika's gaze. She tugged at the glove covering Annika's implanted hand.

"Would you take this off and not wear it today?"

Annika looked down at the glove then up at Kara. It was such a part of her that she hadn't even been aware of putting it back on. She nodded then slowly removed the flesh colored glove.

Kara smiled lovingly at Annika and reached for the revealed hand. She took it between both of hers then gently stroked her thumbs across the mesh, causing Annika to shiver. Keeping eye contact with Annika she brought the hand up to her lips and placed a soft kiss directly in the center of Annika's palm, just as she had last night.

"Thank you," Kara said.

Annika was speechless. She still could not believe that Kara so willingly touched her implants. Another small piece of her fractured psyche fell into place with the gesture.

Kara could see the emotion in Annika's eyes. She brought her free hand up and brushed Annika's hair back from her face. Using just the tips of her fingers she stroked first the implant at her jaw line, then the one over her eyebrow.

Annika leaned into Kara's warm hand. Going on instinct alone, she leaned forward and initiated a kiss.

Kara groaned as Annika's lips made contact with hers. Opening her mouth slightly she deepened the kiss. She released Annika's hand when her body surged forward, but left her other hand on Annika's face. They both quickly became lost in the passionate kiss. The beeping of Kara's combadge startled them apart.

"MacMillan to Jarvis."

"Oh shit," Kara muttered, the sound of Del's voice quickly dousing her libido. She tried to get her breathing under control before she answered the com. Annika's body still pressed firmly against hers wasn't helping. She moved back several steps and touched her badge.

"Jarvis, here."

"Duty shift started fifteen minutes ago."

Kara glanced at the chronometer and cursed under her breath.

"We're on our way, Commander," Kara acknowledged before breaking the connection.

Kara smiled at Annika. "We better get going." She immediately grew concerned when Annika made no attempt to respond. "Are you alright?" For the first time Kara wished she, like Del had empathic ability.

Annika was struggling with the multitude of sensations. She felt a growing need for something…but she didn't know what. It happened every time Kara kissed her and was all very confusing. She forced away the distracting feelings.

"I am…fine," Annika said, somewhat unconvincingly.

Kara wanted to question her further but knew she needed to get to Astrometrics. She reached out and took Annika's hand, urging her toward the door.

Del's eyebrow arched when Kara and Annika stepped into Astrometrics with their hands linked together. She and Seven had been surprised that morning when they realized Kara had not returned to their cabin. A quick query of the computer had confirmed that she was in Annika's quarters. Seven had been ecstatic for her counterpart, but Del had found it hard to believe that Kara would have slept with Annika so quickly. Aside from Annika's recent breakup with Daniels, everything Del knew about Kara argued against it. She was one of the most emotionally guarded women she had ever met. Now, seeing the two women together, she wondered… While both women radiated a myriad of emotions it was not what she would expect from new lovers. Del mentally shook her head. Now was not the time or the place for this.

"Sorry, Commander. It won't happen again," Kara said as soon as she reached the console where Del was working.

Del nodded in acceptance. "B'Elanna is almost ready to go. I'm just waiting final word."

Annika and Kara quickly joined Seven at adjoining consoles to monitor the probe. The main screen in Astrometrics had been linked to the one on the bridge. The protonebula filled the screen.

"Torres to MacMillan."

"Go ahead."

"We're ready to go here. Voyager is going to go into the nebula as far as possible before launching the probe. Are you ready to receive its telemetry?"

Del shared a surprised look with her companions. Up until now Janeway had refused to take Voyager into the nebula, stating it was too dangerous to the ship.

"We're all set here, launch when ready."

Voyager turned smoothly and headed into the nebula. B'Elanna had worked out the timing between the expansion waves hoping to keep damage to Voyager to a minimum. She had argued long and hard with Captain Janeway about the necessity of taking the probe as close to the void as possible before launching, if it were to have any chance of success.

"Probe away," B'Elanna announced.

"Get us out of here, Mr. Paris," Janeway ordered.

Voyager had almost reached the edge of the nebula when the wave hit. Several people were thrown to the floor, but other wise everything seemed intact.

"Status, Mr. Kim," Janeway demanded, when the ship came to a full stop outside the nebula once again.

"No damage, shields at 100%."

B'Elanna breathed a sigh of relief. She had insisted the danger to Voyager was minimal if they got in and out quickly.

"Probe approaching the void. Engines at maximum. Data coming in," B'Elanna reported. She had an open link to Astrometrics.

All eyes turned to the viewscreen.

As had happened before the probe jerked and the screen broke up into static, then immediately cleared. The void with its scattered stars appeared briefly before the probe was back in the nebula.

"There she is!" Tom exclaimed excitedly.

A collective gasp filled the bridge. There on the viewscreen was a very clear image of Voyager being beamed back from the probe. Although they had known all along that their three guests came from another Voyager it was quite another thing to actually see proof of it.

A second gasp, this one of dismay was heard when the probe appeared to be pushed sideways, then the screen went black.

"That's it," B'Elanna said. "The probe stopped transmitting.


Chapter Twenty-one

Voyager – Prime

"There it is!" Harry exclaimed excitedly.

A few minutes before, he had picked up an object exiting the void at high speed.

"What have you got, Harry," Janeway demanded.

Harry ran his scan a second time just to be sure. "It's our probe," he said the confusion apparent in his voice.

As they watched the probe get closer it took a sudden sideway jag and seemed to lose speed.

"Is it transmitting?" Janeway asked.

"No," Harry said.

"Can you get a tractor beam lock on it? I want that probe before it's destroyed."

Harry quickly attempted to get a lock on the probe. "It's still out of range."

"Tom, take us in close enough to get a lock on the probe," Janeway ordered.

Tom moved Voyager into position.

"Got it!" Harry said.

Without waiting for a command, Tom quickly turned Voyager around and headed back to safety.

"Janeway to Torres."

"Torres here."

"B'Elanna we just pulled your probe back in from the nebula. I want you to go over ever centimeter of it. I want to know exactly where it's been since it stopped transmitting," Janeway ordered. "I'll send Harry down to give you a hand."

"I'm on my way to the hanger bay now. Have Harry meet me there," B'Elanna requested before breaking the contact.

Janeway looked behind her at Harry. "You heard her. What are you waiting for?"

Janeway and Chakotay shared a smile when the ensign ran for the turbolift.

"These modules are completely scrambled," Harry complained as he pulled another set of fried data modules from inside the probe.

"Keep looking. There has to be something," B'Elanna insisted. She was in the process of tearing apart the engine of the little probe. The original engine had been heavily modified, but B'Elanna was sure she had not made some of the modifications she was seeing. Looking back at the schematics of the first probe she had up on screen, she compared them to the probe in front of her.

Harry tried to pry out the next set of data modules and in the process knocked the hatch cover to the probe on the floor. When he bent to pick up his eyebrows furrowed and he looked closer. What the heck does that mean?

"B'Elanna, you better take a look at this," Harry said, handing her the object in question.

B'Elanna read the printed letters etched into the back of the hatch cover and let out a loud whoop. "Seven and Del are alive!"

Harry looked at B'Elanna in confusion.

"Don't you get it?" Harry shook his head. "Remember Del and Seven's wedding reception?"

It took a couple of seconds, but Harry got it. He let out an excited yell and grabbed B'Elanna in a tight hug. When the body in his arms stiffened he quickly came to his senses and released her.

"Sorry," he muttered in embarrassment.

B'Elanna grinned at the discomforted Ensign making him blush harder.

"What does the rest of it mean?" Harry asked, hoping to distract B'Elanna from what he'd done.

B'Elanna examined the hatch again. "Well this," she said pointing, "is the current stardate, but I don't know what this other figure is…. .00042."

This had to be Del's doing but what was she trying to tell her?

Overjoyed by the knowledge that their crewmates were alive and well, they attacked the mystery of the probe with renewed vigor.

It wasn't long before Harry found the data module with the message from Del. Unfortunately, it was severely damaged. In between the static, it showed Del with Seven standing behind her but no audio was retrievable due to the condition of the chip.

B'Elanna quickly contacted the captain with the preliminary data but told her she needed a few more hours before she would have a full report. Captain Janeway called a senior staff meeting for later that same day.

B'Elanna smiled and shook her head in amazement as she left the conference room. Even though she, with a bit of help from Harry had managed to decipher the message from Del, it was still unbelievable. They were not dealing with a temporal incursion as they had originally assumed, but instead an alternate universe — one that had a phase variance of .00042 from their own. She had to give Del credit. With the small space she had to work with she managed to not only confirm they were alive but give her enough information to figure out what was going on.

She had taken some serious ribbing about Del's message. You just wait my friend. I will get even! B'Elanna's smile turned feral. It was defiantly time to introduce Del to chech'tluth. It was a strong Klingon drink. The name literally translated meant: drink to be drunk. A prized bottle of the liquor was one of the few things B'Elanna had been able to salvage from the Marquis ship before joining Voyager.

She wondered how her friends were fairing on the 'other' Voyager. Was it very like their own? She could imagine another Del without much problem, but another Seven of Nine. That must be a sight…

Voyager – Alternate

The mood had been subdued in Astrometrics since the probe's sighting of Voyager. Seven, Del and Kara had been excited to see their ship but one glance at Annika and things had turned somber. It was the most emotion any of them had ever seen displayed so prominently on Annika's face; she was devastated.

It was something they all had obviously tried not to think about. Seven and Del missed their friends and wanted to go back, but the reality of leaving Annika was a painful one. Both women had quickly come to care for the former Borg.

Kara, when realization of the inevitable hit, was as devastated as Annika. She had no friends to go back to. Seven was the only person she had allowed past her defenses. Now, Annika had knocked those same defenses down in a way Seven never could. The thought of Annika here alone among people who cared nothing for her was intolerable.

Annika left Astrometrics at the end of shift having refused a dinner invitation from both Kara and Seven. She had earlier refused to accompany them to lunch, so they had all remained in Astrometrics. Despite repeated attempts by all three of them, Annika had barely spoken half a dozen words all day and her voice when she did speak had been cold and emotionless.

Kara was torn when Annika left. It was tearing her apart seeing Annika in so much pain and knowing she was the cause. She wanted to follow her, but didn't know what to say to console her when she wasn't able to console herself.

The three very somber women returned to their cabin.


Chapter Twenty-two

Annika stepped away from the console, where she had been trying to work for the last hour and gazed around the room. She had fled to the cargo bay as soon as the Alpha shift was over. The realization that Kara, Del and Seven would soon be going back to their own universe caused an unexpected wave of pain and despair that she had no idea how to cope. She had been so enthralled by her growing feelings for Kara she had not stopped to think about that fact that Kara would eventually have to return to her own ship.

Up until now, the cargo bay was the one place where she felt the most comfortable and it had been a refuge from the stress of trying to deal with being a member of Voyager's collective. Now, it had ceased to be a haven and become a cold, bleak reminder of everything she thought she left behind when Janeway separated her from the Borg collective.

She had tried to convince herself that she was integrated into Voyager's crew, but that all turned out to be a lie. It was hard to believe it had only been a week since Kara, Seven, and Del burst onto the scene. In that short space of time, her whole life had been turned upside down. Having nothing to compare it with, Annika had assumed her life on Voyager and relationship with Daniels were how things were supposed to be. She had seen other couples and noticed that they seemed happier with each other than she did with Daniels, but she had assumed the lack was hers. Daniels had always insisted it was and she had no way of knowing it wasn't true.

Annika had not been aware of being unhappy or lonely because she had never known any other way of life. Her formative years were spent as a Borg drone. Captain Janeway had seemed very pleased with her and complemented her on regaining her humanity. She believed the Captain; she had no reason to doubt her.

Now, all that had changed. She looked forward to what each new day would bring. Thinking back, Annika realized she had talked more in the last week than the preceding two years put together. Even during the philosophical discussions with the captain, when she had first come onboard, Janeway had done most of the talking… lecturing really, Annika realized now that she had conversations with Seven, Del, and Kara to compare.

Janeway assumed she was friends with the crewmembers Daniels socialized with, but that was not the case. What Janeway never understood was that she had no idea how to make friends. Annika never understood the importance of having friends. Her mentor did not have any friends onboard, so why should she? Now she understood, but that was because the three women had gone out of their way to befriend her.

Thinking of the women, her thoughts immediately centered on Kara. A full smile unconsciously spread across Annika's face at just the thought of the woman. She was still amazed by the fact that the woman cared for her. No one had ever accepted her for who she was, not who they wanted her to be, not even Captain Janeway. She had felt pressured from the beginning to conform to what Janeway considered the norm.

Annika had been shocked that Kara had stood up to Daniels and been so angry when he touched her. Though she had felt the same way when he touched Kara, it was still hard to fathom Kara defending her, but it made her feel incredibly special. That was something she had never experienced before.

That led her right back to what had caused her to retreat to the cargo bay in the first place. Now that they knew for sure that the void was a two-way gateway it was just a matter of time before the three women returned to their own universe. Annika could not imagine going back to the life she led before they arrived. It was all a lie. She was no more a part of Voyager's crew now than she was two years ago after being separated from the collective.

The memories of the past week, spent in the company of the three women filled her with a sense of happiness she had not known was missing. Just one evening with Kara had shown her how wrong her supposed relationship with Daniels had been. What had been acceptable before now loomed before her as a bleak, lonely existence.

Unable to deal with the emotions churning inside, Annika quickly set her alcove for a regeneration cycle. She knew it was a temporary escape from the painful emotions battering her, but she didn't know what else to do. A small part of her urged her to go to Kara, but she fought against it. In a few days the woman would be gone, and the sooner she got used to being alone again, the better.

With thoughts of Kara filling her mind, she stepped onto the dais and pressed her back against the contacts. A sense of peace flooded her as her eyes snapped shut and her face became serene.

Seven looked across the table at her friend in concern. Kara had not spoken a word since they left the Astrometrics lab. Seven pushed away her still full plate; she had only managed a few bites. Glancing at Kara and Del's plates, neither of them had eaten much either.

Seven decided to voice what she suspected was on all their minds. "There must be something we can do."

Neither of her companions asked about what, confirming Seven's suspicions that they were all thinking about Annika.

"There isn't anything we can do. This isn't our universe. We have to go back to our own," Del said. She felt terrible leaving Annika; in many ways she was so like Seven had been when she first met her, but they really had no choice.

"Yes, there is something we can do. We can take her back with us," Kara stated.

Del shook her head. "You know that's not possible."

Kara looked over at Del, her eyes blazing with emotion. "Why not? No one here gives a damn about Annika. Why shouldn't she come back with us? At least on our Voyager she would be treated like a human being and there would be people who care about her."

Del flinched as she felt the raw emotions rolling off Kara. She was normally so emotionally guarded it made her hard to read. Now, all her emotional barriers were down and Del was blasted by the depth of her pain. She knew Kara had developed feelings for Annika, but had no idea until now the strength of those emotions or how deeply they ran.

"Kara's right. Why can't she go back with us?" Seven questioned.

She could not bear the thought of leaving Annika to the bleak existence she had been living. Seven had too many vivid memories of just what it was like to live in such isolation with no one to care about you or anyone to care about. She could never go back to how her life had been before Del's arrival on Voyager.

Del sighed heavily. She would gladly take Annika back with them and damn the consequences, but she knew neither Janeway would ever accept it.

"You both know neither Captain would accept it. This Janeway would never let Annika leave. Even if we did manage to get her off the ship and to our universe our Janeway would never let her stay. She would do everything in her power to return Annika to her own universe."

Two sets of shoulders slumped as Kara and Seven reluctantly acknowledged the truth of Del's words. Kara wanted to be angry with Del, but knew enough about the way Captain Janeway did things to know she spoke the truth.

"What if I asked Captain Janeway to let me stay here?"

Seven's eyes widened in alarm; she had not even considered that Kara would want to stay.

"No! You belong on our Voyager," Seven blurted.

Del met Kara's eyes evenly. "It's the same thing, just reversed. Neither Captain would agree to it. You don't belong here."

"What difference would it make? The Kara of this universe is dead. It's not like I'm trying to take her place. No one on our Voyager would miss me."

"That's not true," Seven insisted. She couldn't stand the thought of losing her friend. "I would miss you terribly."

Kara reached across the table and took Seven's mesh-covered hand in hers. "I know you would, Seven and I would miss you too, but Annika needs me. I… I umm…" Kara looked at Seven, her eyes brimming with emotion. "I'm in love with her. I can't leave her."

Seven nodded her head in understanding. She didn't know how but Kara's news wasn't surprising; she had seen it coming since the night she and Del had found Kara and Annika together in their cabin. Something had happened to lower the barriers between the two women that night. Seven knew it when Annika had told her she no longer wished to be with Daniels and had questioned her so extensively about her early relationship with Del.

Seven wondered if Kara knew that Annika was in love with her. She had seen the difference in her counterpart that morning and easily read all the signs. It was eerily similar to how she had been when she had fallen for Del. She didn't know what had transpired between the two women overnight, but it had been monumental.

Del tried to pick her jaw up off the table. In love! That was damn quick. Even as she thought it she realized how unfair she was being. She had started to fall for Seven from the first moment they met. She couldn't fault Kara for doing the same. Seven of Nine, no matter what the universe, or the name she went by, was an amazing, intriguing, beautiful woman.

"Have you told Annika how you feel?" Del asked quietly.

"She knows I care about her, but no, I haven't told her I'm in love with her."

The enormity of the situation once again hit Kara and she buried her face in her hands. "I should have stayed away from her… I knew she would get hurt. This is all my fault."

All Kara's insecurities flooded her and she was overwhelmed with guilt. Unable to help herself, tears began to flow down her cheeks. She knew what happened when she allowed herself to love someone. It always led to pain and loss for both of them. Despite all her best intentions, she had done it again. She allowed Annika to care about her and now she was going to hurt her and be hurt by her.

Kara jumped when a warm arm slid around her shoulders and pulled her close. She had been so caught up in her pain she hadn't even noticed when Seven moved. She looked up into the face and warm blue eyes of her friend and at the same time it was like looking into the face of the woman she loved. It was too much for Kara. She threw herself into Seven's arms and sobbed.

Del watched as Seven tried to console her friend. The pain radiating off Kara made Del's stomach clench. The one thing she didn't understand was the guilt Kara was radiating. What did she have to feel guilty about and what did she think was all her fault?

Kara finally got control of herself and pulled away from Seven. Her eyes dropped to her lap and stayed there; she was embarrassed by her total loss of control. Kara started when a hand grasp her chin and gently urged her head up. She met Seven's understanding eyes.

"Thank you," Seven offered quietly. Kara frowned in confusion. "For trusting me enough to let go." Seven knew what it must have taken for her friend to lose control.

"Thank you," Kara said sincerely. She smiled her thanks and felt her face flush when Del held out some tissues. The woman's eyes held nothing but compassion.

Kara cleaned up a bit then came back over to the table where Del and Seven sat waiting. She felt a sense of resolve settle over her. No matter what happened, the die had been cast; she already cared too much for Annika to let her go.

"I'm going to ask Captain Janeway to let me stay onboard this Voyager." Kara held up her hand to stop both women from protesting. "I know neither of you like the idea, but I have to try. I can't leave Annika here…. I just can't."

Del knew what the outcome would be and as much as she hated the idea, in this instance agreed with Janeway. Kara didn't belong here and had to go back with them to their own universe.

"I'd suggest you wait until morning. The captain… at least our captain doesn't appreciate being disturbed after hours," Del said.

Kara smiled brightly at Del; she was pleased she wasn't going to try and stop her. For the first time, she wished she had taken the time and become friends with Del as well as Seven. She now realized she had allowed her discomfort of Del's abilities and her own insecurities to keep her from getting to know this remarkable woman. She shook her head at the thought. Letting people close was what had gotten her into her current predicament. It was one of the reasons she had strived to isolate herself from anyone for so long. Once you let one person in, it got easier with the next one.

"Thank you, Del," she said.

Del sighed. "Don't thank me. She's going to say no, but I understand your need to try."

Kara nodded and stood up. "I need to talk to Annika." She shocked both women by leaning down and placing a soft kiss on Seven's forehead, and then gently squeezed Del's shoulder. "Thank you again," she said before heading out the door.


Chapter Twenty-three

Kara unconsciously straightened her shoulders as she approached the cargo bay. She had rung the chime on Annika's door several times before it dawned on her maybe she wasn't there. A quick query to the computer had disclosed her location.

When the doors slid open, Kara didn't know whether to feel disappointed or relieved; she wanted to see Annika and she didn't. She walked to the foot of the dais and stared up at Annika; this was something she had never seen before. Annika's eyes were closed and her face was serene. Her customary coverall was gone and she was once again wearing just the tight silver biosuit. She looked much younger than she did when she was awake. Kara marveled once again on just what a stunning woman Annika was. She reminded her of an ancient marble statue of the goddess Casaraes she had seen in a museum as a child.

Kara spun around when she heard the doors to the cargo bay slide open behind her. She snarled at the sight of Daniels's sneering face as he strode over toward her. He stopped directly in front of her, well within her personal space.

"What are you doing here, bitch?"

Kara stood toe to toe with the larger man, refusing to be cowed. "Get out of here, Daniels," she demanded. "Leave her alone."

"I belong here… You don't." He glanced up at Annika, then back down at Kara and his anger soared anew. Everything had been fine before this cunt and her friends had come onboard. He told the doctor he had taken the safeties off the holodeck and injured his shoulder skiing. Thanks to this stupid bitch, he had been assigned extra duty by Janeway for flouting safety regulations.

Daniels leaned down until he was inches from Kara's face. "What lies did you tell her so she'd fuck you?" he growled, his eyes blazing.

Daniels looked crazy, but Kara never flinched. Her anger flared brighter at the accusation.

"I didn't tell her anything. She figured out what a sick, pathetic bastard you were all by herself after you raped her!"

Daniels looked momentarily outraged then laughed in Kara's face. "Raped her," he sneered. "She used to beg me to fuck her! Hell… I've had her right here in this room."

Kara's rage burned white hot. She grabbed Daniels and slammed him into the wall next to Annika's alcove. Her forearm was across his neck and she had him pinned in place before he knew what happened.

Daniels gasped in pain and surprise. He growled and tried to shove Kara away. His eyes bulged in shock when he couldn't budge the tall, lanky red-head.

Unbeknownst to Daniels, the gravity on Kara's home planet was 1.3 that of earth normal. While she didn't have the heavy muscles and thick build of someone from a heavy gravity world, she was still stronger than the average human from earth.

"Get off me, bitch!" Daniel yelled, starting to struggle in earnest.

"Stay away from Annika!"

Daniels laughed manically as he figured it out. This bitch actually cared for the Borg. He should have known; they were both freaks — Annika with her disgusting implants and this bitch with her scarred face. "She let me do anything I wanted," he taunted. "Too bad she such a pathetic, cold fish. But who cares, soon you'll be gone and I'll fuck her any where, any time I like."

A veil of red clouded Kara's vision. Her anger soared to hither to unimagined heights. She reached down and grabbed Daniels between the legs and squeezed as hard as she could.

Daniels screamed and dropped to his knees.

Kara kept her grip on his genitals. "Stay away from Annika!," she snarled in his face. "Or I swear, I'll rip these off and stuff them down your throat."

Daniels whimpered in response as tears of pain ran down his face.

Kara released the hold she had on him. He whimpered in relief. She leaned down close to his face. "Remember what I said. Now get out of here and don't let me see you near Annika again."

Daniels painfully got to his feet and moved away from Kara. "This isn't over, bitch," he growled.

Kara took one step toward him and he immediately turned and headed for the door as quickly as he could with both hands clutched between his legs.

After he was gone, Kara stood with her fists clenched as she tried to get control of herself. She was shaking from the adrenaline that had course through her in her rage. Finally, garnering a measure of calm, she walked over to stand at the foot of the dais where Annika was still locked in her regeneration cycle. Looking up into her beautiful face, she felt the last of her anger drain away.

Now calm, she thought about what had happened. She had never intentionally harmed someone in her life. Kara tried to stir up some guilt at what she had done, but couldn't. Just thinking of Daniels abusing Annika made her anger rise anew. She had always believed that violence wasn't the answer to anything, but in this case she didn't see any alternative. Daniels was hardly the type to listen to reason. The man was a self serving bastard who thought of nothing but himself.

That was part of the problem she knew, she was being affected not only by what was happening with Annika, but her past as well. Daniels' taunting that he could do anything he wanted to Annika had struck Kara like a knife in the heart.

She still remembered it as if it was yesterday; the day the emperor unexpectedly showed up in the kitchen with his Bashar in tow. He never went anywhere without the man. Kara and her family had served the sovereigns of Bacaraian for hundreds of generations. The old emperor had died under mysterious circumstances and his son had taken over. He was a cruel man, who thought only of himself. He reinstated the sovereign's right to enjoy the first fruit of any maiden. The custom had not been enforced in living memory. His Bashar had pulled Adara, her fourteen year old sister, into his arms and fondled her as he extolled her assets to the emperor. She and her sister both had hazel eyes and red hair, something that was very uncommon among their people. Kara clenched her eyes shut; she could still see the emperor's leering face, his eyes glowing with lust when he ordered her sister to his bedroom to serve him. She and her mother had watched helplessly; there was nothing they could do. The emperor had the power of life and death over them.

Adara returned to them three days later and was never the same. Kara's fingers ran unconsciously over the scar on her face. She had been unable to do anything for her sister, but she would be dammed if she would let Daniels touch Annika again.

Drained by all the emotions and painful memories, Kara looked for a place to sit down. She would not leave Annika alone and unprotected. She sat down on the base of the alcove next to Annika's. That way she could watch over her and keep her safe.

"Regeneration cycle complete," intoned the computer.

Kara jumped, then winced at the pain in her back. Her eyes blinked open and she looked around in confusion. Her eyes widened when a pair of very shapely legs appeared in front of her. She followed them up the long body and finally into the warm blue eyes looking down at her. "Annika," she murmured, the memories of earlier flooding her.

She smiled gently and accepted the offered hand. Unable to help herself, she lost herself in the deep pool of blue gazing at her. Leaning forward, she placed a soft kiss on Annika's lips.

"Hi," Kara said huskily.

Annika had been shocked when she came out of her regeneration cycle and spotted Kara. She knew she should flee, but her feet felt rooted to the spot. Her lips tingled from Kara's kiss. All the turmoil from earlier came rushing back.

Seeing the pain on Annika's face and knowing the cause, Kara reached up and gently cupped Annika's face in her palm.

"We'll find some way to work everything out. I'm going to ask Captain Janeway to let me stay here."

Annika's face filled with awe. "You would leave your friends, your universe…for me?"

Kara's stomach clenched and she felt a shot of fear. You can do this… tell her the truth, piped up her sister's voice. Kara looked deep into Annika's eyes and a sense of peace came over her. No matter how things eventually turned out, Annika deserved to know the truth.

"I love you. I would do anything for you," she said in an amazingly steady voice, considering the fact that her knees felt weak and she was shaking.

Annika felt her world spin. Kara loved her…actually loved her! Overcome with emotion, she pulled Kara into her arms and hugged her tightly against her body.

Kara wrapped her arms around Annika's back. She had thought she was in love with Maria, but now she realized it was nothing compared to what she felt for Annika. The intensity of the feelings scared her. For Barash' sake, she had only known her a week! Kara shook away the thought, nothing mattered but the here and now with Annika in her arms.

Kara was emotionally drained and the nap she had ended up taking leaning up against the cold alcove had not helped. She leaned back in Annika's embrace just far enough that she could see her face.

"Are you all through here? Could we go back to your cabin?"

Annika nodded eagerly. Kara grinned in pleasure when Annika took her hand and led her toward the cargo bay doors.

Kara met Annika's eyes defiantly; they were sitting on the couch in Annika's cabin. She had just finished telling her of the events in the cargo bay that evening. She felt Annika deserved to know what had happened.

"I'm not sorry for what I did. I would do anything in my power to keep that bastard from ever touching you again."

She had told Annika exactly what had transpired between the two of them, making no attempt to soften the things Daniels had said. Kara needed Annika to finally realize what Daniels was really like.

Annika stared at Kara as everything she said reverberated through her mind. When if finally hit home what she had allowed to happen, and how she had been used, she was ashamed.

Kara watched in confusion as Annika's face crumpled and tears began to pour down one side of her face. This wasn't the reaction she had expected. After Annika's reaction to accidentally injuring Daniels last night, she thought she would be angry with her for purposely hurting him.

She pulled the distraught woman into her arms. "Please don't cry. Everything is going to be alright. I didn't permanently injure him." Kara felt a surge of pain when Annika pulled away from her.

"How can you stand to touch me?" Annika cried.

Kara blinked at the non sequitur completely lost. "I don't understand… Why would I not want to touch you?"

She reached out for Annika only to have her lean away. Kara dropped her hands and felt the tears gather behind her eyes at Annika's rejection.

"How can you touch me… after…after what I let him do?"

"What!" Kara was totally floored. How could Annika think that? But when she thought about it for a second it made sense. Daniels had spent the last year undermining her self-confidence and mentally as well as physically abusing her.

Kara reached out and took both of Annika's hands in hers. When she tried to pull away Kara refused to let go. Annika's head was down and her hair hid most of her face.

"Look at me, Annika," Kara gently requested. Annika shook her head adamantly. "Please," Kara begged, running her thumbs across the back of Annika's hands soothingly. Nothing happened at first, but Kara was determined to wait her out. Eventually, Annika lifted her head and pain filled eyes met Kara's.

"Remember I told you I would never lie to you?" Annika nodded slightly. Kara smiled lovingly at her. "Then believe what I'm about to tell you. What Daniels subjected you to for the last year is not your fault." Kara shook her head to keep Annika from interrupting. "You had no experience to compare your interactions with him to and no one to go to and talk about it. I know how much Captain Janeway means to you, but she let you down — as your mentor and as a poor excuse for a friend. She was the one who made the decision that changed your life forever when she separated you from the collective. She should have done a better job of protecting you. I can't change the past, but I can promise you it doesn't change my feelings about you one bit. I love you, Annika. No matter what happens in the next few days, I want you to know that I will always love you, no matter what."

Kara was glad for the increased gravity of her home world when she suddenly found herself on her back with six foot of former Borg pressing her into the cushions. She wrapped her arms around her and murmured nonsense words of comfort into her ear. What amazed her the most was the fact that her fear was gone. She knew in her heart that she belonged with Annika and regardless of what the future held for them, Annika would always hold her heart.

She wasn't sure how long she held Annika, but eventually her back began to protest. They had landed in a very awkward position when Annika's weight had pushed her down onto the couch. Most of Annika's weight was resting on her chest, but because the couch was so small both their feet were still on the floor.

She shifted uncomfortably. "Are you okay now?" she questioned softly as she tried to ease Annika away from her.

Annika whimpered and tried to press closer.

Kara was reluctant to break the embrace, but her back insisted. She brought her hand up and stroked the back of Annika's head.

"I need to get up."

Annika buried her face deeper into Kara's neck and grumbled a protest.

"Why don't we go into the bedroom so we can be more comfortable?"

She couldn't help but smile when Annika shook her head adamantly and never budged from her spot.

"Come on, love. My back is killing me."

Annika immediately popped up and pulled away, looking worried.

"It's okay," Kara soothed. "I'm fine." She placed a gentle, reassuring kiss on Annika's lips, pleased that she didn't pull away. Kara was exhausted, the emotional lows and highs of the day had taken their toll on her.

"I know you probably don't need to sleep after regenerating, but could I stay here tonight and just hold you while I sleep? I'm sorry. I'm exhausted."

Kara's heart melted at the look of love on Annika's face. When Annika took hold of her hand, she followed her willingly into the bedroom.


Chapter Twenty-four


Kara stared a Janeway incredulously. She had woken that morning in Annika's arms filled with hope and optimism. Their Captain Janeway was a fair woman and Kara felt sure that this Janeway would at least hear her out.

"You didn't give me a chance to explain…"

Janeway cut her off. "Your reasons don't matter. You don't belong here. I'm sure my counterpart would tell you the same thing. Your being here was an accident. You have to go back to your own universe."

"But I would be a productive member of your crew."

"I'm sorry, Lieutenant. It's not open for discussion. You can not remain here."

Kara's shoulders slumped; Del had been right after all. What was she going to tell Annika?

Janeway watched the woman's face crumple. She had been shocked when the lieutenant asked to remain onboard. She couldn't imagine her not wanting to return to her own ship.

Now, she wondered about some of the comments Chakotay had made over the last few days. Normally, she didn't encourage the man and tended to put him off. She was interested in facts, not speculation. Curious to how the three women were interacting with the crew however, she had been paying closer attention to the gossip Chakotay always seemed to know. Nothing was secret on a starship and absolutely nothing spread faster on a ship than gossip. It seemed Annika had been spending her off time exclusively with the three women. There had even been a rumor going around that Lieutenant Jarvis spent the night in Annika's cabin. At the time, she assumed it was just idle gossip about someone new onboard. After all, it had been six years and talking about the same people got old.

Now she began to reconsider, she had spotted Lieutenant Daniels at a table in the mess hall this morning with several friends and he had not looked happy. Janeway wouldn't tolerate anyone coming onboard and interfering with an established relationship, especially Annika's. She had struggled so hard to find a place aboard Voyager. She had felt it from the start but was now convinced. The sooner the three women returned to their own universe the better.

"One other thing before you go," Janeway said. "Lieutenant Torres is working on trying to reinforce one of our shuttles for your return trip."

Kara looked at Janeway curiously wondering where this was going.

"I would like you to give her a hand."

"I could be more help working on the probe data," Kara suggested quickly. If she was sent to Engineering she wouldn't be able to be with Annika for whatever time they had left.

"I'm sure the Commander and Seven can handle it. Report immediately to Lieutenant Torres in Engineering. She'll be expecting you."

Kara knew she couldn't refuse a direct order. Quickly shifting tactics she tried again. "Annika could help…"

Janeway quickly cut her off. "No. Annika is needed in Astrometrics.

Kara bit her lip to keep from protesting further. "Aye, Captain," Kara said respectfully. She still hoped to come up with some way to convince Janeway to let her stay and pissing her off before hand was not a good idea.

"Dismissed," Janeway said turning back to the work on her desk.

Kara took a detour on her way to Engineering; Janeway be dammed. She had to explain what happened to Annika, though the very thought made her stomach churn. She hesitated outside the door to Astrometrics then took a deep breath and squared her shoulders.

One look at Kara's face and Annika knew the Captain had said no. After Kara left, she had thought about it and knowing the Captain like she did realized what the outcome was most likely going to be. Though she was filled with despair at the thought of Kara leaving, the very fact that she had asked to stay meant more to Annika than she could ever express.

Kara looked up at Annika, tears shining brightly in her eyes. "I'm sorry," she murmured. She started to cry in earnest when Annika engulfed her in a warm hug. Kara buried her face in Annika's neck as the pain of their impending separation washed over her.

Del and Seven stood by and watched the painful scene. If Del had any doubts whatsoever to the women's feelings for each other, they were blown away by the sight before her. It was obvious to even the most casual observer that these two women loved each other. Her heart ached for both of them. She glanced over at Seven wondering what she would do if the tables were turned and she was in Kara's situation. Her stomach roiled; she couldn't even begin to comprehend what it must be like.

Kara managed to pull herself together somewhat and brushed at the tears on her face. She leaned back just enough to see Annika's face. Not caring that Seven and Del were watching she place a soft kiss on Annika's lips.

"I have to go. Captain Janeway assigned me to help B'Elanna in Engineering."

Annika's arms tightened around Kara's back. "I'll go with you."

Kara shook her head sadly and reluctantly moved out of Annika's embrace. "I already asked. The Captain said you were needed here."

"Will you come back…later?" Annika asked hesitantly.

"Of course I will. Would you like to have lunch with me?"

Annika nodded eagerly. "Could we have a grilled cheese sandwich?" She remembered vividly the amazing taste of the sandwich and couldn't wait to experience it again. So far every meal she had shared with the three women had been wonderful. She would have never believed food could taste so good. It was just one more thing she had learned from them.

Kara chuckled. "Grilled cheese sandwiches it is." She looked over at Seven and arched her eyebrow. "How about you… want to join us later for grilled cheese sandwiches?"

Seven nodded, the same eager expression on her face as Annika's had had at the mention of her favorite food.

Kara laughed heartily, feeling the pain and despair at the situation lift away, at least temporarily.

"That's three votes for grilled cheese. How about you, Del…want to make it unanimous?"

Del's eyebrow shot up in shock. It was only the second time Kara had used her first name without a reminder.

"Sounds good to me."

Kara smiled at the three women. She didn't want to leave, but knew she had to.

"Great. I'll meet you in the mess hall at 1230."

Kara leaned close to Annika and softly brushed their lips together. "I'll see you later." She quickly turned and headed out the door.


Chapter Twenty-five

A bright smile lit Annika's face when she spotted Kara making her way toward the table; it quickly disappeared when she noticed who was with her. The Chief Engineer had made her dislike and distrust of Annika readily known.

B'Elanna watched as varying degrees of wariness crossed the faces of the women sitting around the table. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. She had worked with Kara all morning and the woman had barely said two words to her except to acknowledge a direct order. B'Elanna had been thinking quite a lot about the women, Seven especially. Deciding she wanted to find out more about them and their universe, she had invited Kara to join her for lunch. She wasn't particularly surprised when Kara declined; they had not exactly hit it off. B'Elanna needed to talk to Commander MacMillan and used that as an excuse to accompany Kara to the mess hall.

"Lieutenant Torres said she needed to talk to you, Commander," Kara said, explaining the woman's presence. She slid into the last seat at the four man table and left B'Elanna standing.

B'Elanna squirmed uncomfortably under the scrutiny of the four women. This had definitely been a mistake.

Del easily sensed what B'Elanna was feeling and felt a bit sorry for her. What ever her reasons for coming here with Kara, she didn't seem hostile, just uncomfortable. Del decided it give her the benefit of the doubt.

"Would you like to join us for lunch?" Del invited. She hid a smile at the shock coming off her companions at the invitation. B'Elanna had turned into a good friend to Seven; maybe she could help this B'Elanna see Annika differently.

B'Elanna hesitated; this was what she'd wanted, but now that she was here she felt like she was intruding.

Del misread the reason for B'Elanna's hesitation when she spotted Tom Paris walking toward them. "Oh, there's Tom. If you already have plans with him for lunch we could talk after," Del offered.

B'Elanna glanced at Paris and he nodded in greeting, then walked passed her. Seeing the bemused expression on everyone's face she asked the obvious.

"Why would I have plans with Paris?"

Three of the women at the table shared confused looks, and then recognized their mistake.

"Oh….never mind," Del said quickly, realizing once again that they had all made assumptions that were obviously not the case.

Seeing the women's strange reaction, B'Elanna's eyes widened as the significance of Del's comments sunk in. She threw back her head and roared with laughter.

"Me and Tom Paris," she wheezed. It took her several moments to compose herself. She wiped the tears of mirth from her eyes. "I think Harry Kim might have something to say about that!"

As if conjured by her mentioning him, the door to the mess hall slid open and Harry stepped inside. He smiled brightly at someone and headed directly past B'Elanna and her table mates. Tom stood at his approach and the two men shared an embrace before sitting back down.

B'Elanna laughed again at the stunned faces around the table. Only Annika didn't seemed phased.

Kara was the first to find her voice. "Tom and Harry?"

B'Elanna nodded. "For the last four years."

Del shook her head in amazement. This Voyager was definitely a very different place. "Let's move to a bigger table so we can all have a seat."

The move was quickly made and B'Elanna found herself sitting next to Seven. B'Elanna looked around the table expectantly, not quite sure what to do. She met Del's eyes a bit uncertainly.

"We're going to have grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. Would you like one?"

B'Elanna's face lit up before she could sensor herself. She had not had that particular sandwich in years and it brought back fond memories.

"Sure," she said enthusiastically.

B'Elanna's discomfort returned when Kara and Del left to retrieve lunch and she found herself alone at the table with Seven and Annika. She had no idea what to say to either woman.

Thankfully the two women returned quickly with lunch. B'Elanna's stomach rumbled at the first sight of the sandwiches. She inhaled deeply, savoring the aroma. She quickly accepted the offered plate and picked up the sandwich to dig in. She jumped when a hand came to rest on her arm. Looking up, she was shocked to realize that Seven had touched her. She fought not to pull away.

"Wait," Seven said. She saw the look on B'Elanna's face and quickly removed her hand, realizing once again that this was not her friend. A warm hand landed on her thigh and squeezed in encouragement. Seven took heart at her wife's unflagging support. She met B'Elanna's eyes and offered her the plate of pickles that Del had brought back with the sandwiches.

B'Elanna's eyes widened in shock. How in Gre'thor does she know I like pickles on my sandwich? Then it hit her…of course Seven obviously had lunch with her counterpart. It was such a small thing, but really brought home the fact of just how good friends her counterpart and Seven where. B'Elanna knew for a fact that not a single person on this Voyager had any idea that she liked grilled cheese sandwiches, much less with dill pickles on them.

B'Elanna surprised Seven by smiling at her. "Thanks," she said, reaching out for the pickles.

"You're welcome," Seven said before picking up her own lunch.

B'Elanna was a bit taken aback by Seven's courtesy. This woman is just full of surprises. Annika barely spoke to anyone, much less politely. B'Elanna happily pulled her sandwich apart and placed the pickles inside. Not wanting to take all of them, she offered the plate back to Seven.

Seven shook her head. "No thank you."

"You sure you don't want any of the pickles? They're the best part."

Seven's face scrunched up. "I don't like pickles."

B'Elanna was fascinated by the range of emotion on Seven's face. She glanced over at Annika and was surprised to find her watching. She started to stiffen, her hostility to the woman so ingrained, but she caught herself and forced herself to really look at Annika.

Annika was amazed at the interaction between the two women. B'Elanna had never been anything but extremely hostile toward her. She wasn't sure why she did it, but she decided to follow Seven's example since it worked so well. Annika nodded her head slightly in greeting and smiled a bit shyly at B'Elanna.

B'Elanna's jaw dropped open in shock. She couldn't believe what she had just seen. Annika actually smiled at her! What next?

Del and Kara were watching everything going on at the table, unknowingly for the same reason. Both felt incredibly protective of Seven and Annika and were ready to step in at the first sign of anger from B'Elanna. So far, things were going better than either woman expected.

Del picked up her sandwich as soon as Annika did; she wanted to be ready to provide the appropriate taste for her as she had been doing. Both she and Seven had panicked a bit when they found out Kara and Annika had dinner plans together two nights ago. Neither wanted Annika to eat and not have it taste right.

Just as Annika started to take her first bite, Del started as a hand landed on her thigh and squeezed. She looked at Seven and she tilted her head slightly toward Annika, and then shook her head no subtly. Del was surprised when she realized Seven didn't want her to provide the taste for Annika. It had been her idea in the first place.

Annika chewed her first bite of sandwich and a pleasure filled smile appeared on her face. She quickly took a second larger bite and unconsciously hummed in pleasure.

Del breathed a sigh of relief; she couldn't help wondering how Seven had known that Annika's taste buds would recover so quickly. She had provided the tastes for Seven for several weeks.

Seven smiled happily. She hadn't known for sure if Annika's taste buds had started to work yet, but she knew they were leaving soon and wanted to find out. If it hadn't worked she would have asked Del's permission to tell her what she had been doing, in the hopes that Annika would continue to eat until they came back on their own.

Seven and Del weren't the only one's watching Annika enjoy her lunch. B'Elanna was watching the obvious pleasure that lit Annika's face as she ate. It changed her whole appearance. It had been strange to see Seven's emotions, but not as shocking as seeing Annika's. Seven was very different from Annika, in the way she carried herself and the self-confidence she radiated. The best way she could describe it was Seven projected a sense of self that Annika never had. What she was seeing of Annika now was totally different. Instead of seeing Annika as a Borg pretending to be human, for the first time she was seeing her as a human woman. It was an amazing transformation.

"B'Elanna, you wanted to talk to me about something?" Del said breaking into her thoughts.

B'Elanna forced her gaze away from Annika with difficulty. "Um… yeah, I mean, yes. I was going over your shuttle, looking at the areas that took the most damage when you passed through the void. Now that we know the gateway is two-way we need some way to get you home in one piece. We've been working on reinforcing those areas on one of our type two shuttles as well as trying to reinforce the shields. Hopefully, that will give you a safe ride home."

Del nodded; that made sense. She glanced at Annika and Kara, when she felt a surge of emotion. They had stopped eating at the mention of returning home. Both women had a stricken look on their face. Del sighed mentally and forced her attention back to B'Elanna.

"One of the most damaged components was the starboard nacelle. More than half of it was missing." B'Elanna was still amazed they had even made it onboard in one piece. "Anyway, while I was examining the remnants of the engine, I noticed there was a problem with the tertiary plasma induction coil. It looked like it had been tampered with."

The three women shared the same shocked expression at B'Elanna's words.

"But that turned out not to be the case," B'Elanna quickly assured. "I checked both our shuttles and they had the same problem. I think it's a defect with the type two shuttles. I wanted to warn you incase you have any other shuttles of that type to check them before anyone takes them out. It wouldn't show up under normal circumstances, but the gases in the nebula along with strain the gravimetric shear put on the engines would made the coil fail."

"Thanks for the warning, B'Elanna. It's much appreciated," Del said sincerely.

B'Elanna smiled. "No problem, Commander. If you'd like to come down to the hanger bay and see what we've done you're more than welcome." Surprising even herself, B'Elanna looked at two other occupants of the table. "Seven, you and Annika come too. I've been working on a way to route the shield output through the warp engine to give more power to the shields. Maybe you could take a look at the equations."

Annika and Seven shared a stunned looked. Annika was rendered totally speechless by the fact that she had been included in the invitation.

Seven recovered first. "Would after lunch be acceptable?"

"Sure. I need to get back to Engineering. There was a problem this morning with one of the inducers, but I'll meet all of you in the hanger bay at 1430…Okay?"

At the nods all around, B'Elanna stood up. "Lieutenant, I don't need you right away. Why don't you go back to Astrometrics then come down with everyone else at 1430?"

Kara could only nod as stunned by the turn of events as Seven and Annika. Only Del didn't seem surprised.

With a final nod to everyone at the table B'Elanna walked away. None of them saw the large grin that broke out on the engineer's face as she walked away. The two former Borg had managed to surprise B'Elanna today, it was only fair she return the favor.


Chapter Twenty-six

Voyager – Prime


B'Elanna looked up and was surprised to see Captain Janeway standing in the doorway of her small office. If the Captain wanted to talk to her she normally called her to her ready room. It was rare she showed up unannounced in Engineering.

Quickly standing up, B'Elanna looked around frantically for a place for her captain to sit. The small room held a desk, which was currently covered in assorted parts, the chair she had been sitting in, and one small chair in front of the desk that was occupied by a large pile of data pads. The floor was littered with miscellaneous parts from the dismantled probe. She started grabbing data pads out of the chair.

Janeway chuckled and reached out a hand to stop B'Elanna. "It's okay. I'll stand."

B'Elanna was thankful for her dark complexion that covered what she was sure was a vivid blush.

"Any luck?" Janeway questioned. She had asked B'Elanna to look into the possibility of somehow communicating with the 'other' Voyager. She was confident that her people were alright, but was frustrated to be out of the loop so to speak on any attempts to return them to their rightful universe.

B'Elanna shook her head. "Another probe is out. We saw what type of damage the one we got took. I thought about trying to send them a subspace message, but the gases in the nebula would interfere with that. The only way we could hope to get a message through would be to get as close to the void as we could and beam it into the opening. The risk to the ship would be great and it might not work. There is no way to know how the void area would affect a subspace transmission."

Janeway scrubbed her hands across her face. "So you're suggesting we just sit here and hope they come back," Janeway said, her frustration showing in her voice.

B'Elanna bristled at the tone, ready to give back as good as she got then caught herself. After all this was the Captain.

"I don't see that we have much choice, unless you're willing to send in a shuttle after them. We know the void gateway goes both ways. I could reinforce the shields on one of our shuttles. It might make it through."

Janeway immediately shook her head. That was too dangerous.

"I volunteer to go."

Janeway smiled at her Chief Engineer; she wasn't the least bit surprised at her offer. "I can't let you do that. I'm not willing to risk any more of my people. The people onboard the other ship know what we know. We're going to have to trust their Voyager's crew to send our people home."

While that was what Janeway told B'Elanna, she hated putting the fate of her people into someone else's hands — even if those hands were most likely those of her counterpart.

"I'll be in my ready room if you think of anything else."

Janeway had almost made it to the door when the ship jerked violently, throwing her against the bulkhead. B'Elanna didn't fair any better, she was thrown into her desk and landed on top the pile of parts. The second jolt, closely following the first tossed her to the floor.

Captain Janeway held onto the door frame with one hand and hit her combadge with the other.

"Janeway to Bridge. Report!"

"Something is happening with…"

Voyager – Alternate

"…the nebula," Harry reported.

B'Elanna was in the hanger bay working with Del and her group. They had all been tossed to the floor when Voyager abruptly jerked. She had contacted Harry on the bridge when a second jolt quickly followed the first.

The ship jerked again more violently than before.

"What's going on, Harry?" B'Elanna demanded.

"The nebula appears to have undergone a huge expansion. One minute we were on the boarder of the nebula and the next inside it. Tom backed us off 500 kilometers, the next wave engulfed us again."

Captain Janeway's voice came over the com.

"Lieutenant Torres, is Commander MacMillan still with you?"

Del tapped her com badge to open the channel. "I'm here, Captain."

"Commander, I want the three of you back in Astrometrics immediately. I want to know what's happening."

Janeway had stopped by the hanger bay earlier to check on the status of the shuttle and found the five women working companionably together. Most stunning of all was seeing B'Elanna standing between Seven and Annika as they worked at one of the consoles. She had been hard pressed to hide her shock.

"Aye, Captain. On our way." Del turned to B'Elanna. "You might want to hurry up with reconfiguring the shields and reinforcements. I have a bad feeling about this."

Del was even more worried than she let on. The nebula had been continuing to expand at a steady measurable rate since they first encountered it over two weeks ago on their Voyager. This sudden change in its behavior didn't bode well.

"I'm coming with you," Kara announced.

"No. Stay here and help B'Elanna," Del ordered.

Kara looked momentarily defiant, but did as ordered. She shared a longing look with Annika before she walked away with Del and Seven.

B'Elanna noticed the look that passed between Kara and Annika. What's up with that? Another, albeit minor jolt of the ship turned her thoughts back to work.


Chapter Twenty-seven

Annika's eyes widened and she quickly ran the calculations again. She felt her heart sink.


Del quickly looked over at Annika, alarmed by the wave of emotion rolling off her.

"What's wrong?"

"I made a mistake…" she stammered.

Del quickly abandoned the console where she had been scanning the data from the nebula. They had only been back in Astrometrics fifteen minutes and Voyager had been forced back twice by the rapidly expanding nebula. The waves seemed to be coming closer and closer together.

"What is it?" Del questioned gently, knowing how upset Annika was.

"Kara and I went over the information and correlated the data from the original probe and the one from your Voyager with the data from Stellarcartography." Equal parts sorrow and guilt showed on Annika's face. "I should have recognized…" She looked pleadingly at Del and Seven.

The ship once again lurched violently.

"What, Annika… what did you find?" Del asked urgently.

"The void is getting incrementally smaller with every expansion of the nebula. It was so minuscule in comparisons to the expansion...." Annika looked helplessly at the two women. "With this new larger expansion phase…." Annika's voice trailed off as the significance of the situation registered on Del's face.

"Son of a bitch! We have to get out of here." She quickly slapped her combadge.

"MacMillan to Janeway."

"What have you got, Commander?"

Del quickly filled Captain Janeway in on what Annika had discovered.

"Get your people to the shuttle bay immediately, Commander," Janeway ordered, "and have Annika report to the bridge. I need her to monitor the situation from here."

"Aye, Captain."

Del's heart clenched when she saw Annika's stricken expression. "We have to go…. I…" Del's voice failed her as her emotions got the best of her. There was so much she wanted to say, she didn't know where to start. She didn't want to leave like this. The ship jerked, reminding Del of how little time they had. She stepped forward and wrapped her arms around a shocked Annika. Annika stiffened for a moment, then relaxed in Del's embrace. "Take care of yourself. We'll never forget you."

Del pulled away, fighting to keep from crying. Seven took her place and quickly hugged her counterpart. Tears tracked down one side of Seven's face.

"Goodbye," Seven whispered in a choked voice.

The two women stood staring at Annika, neither wanted to go. A sharp jolt of the ship galvanized them to action. They quickly headed for the door. Annika remained frozen where she stood.

"Del," Annika called as the door slid open. "Tell Kara…tell her… I… I love her."

Del couldn't hold back her tears; they poured freely down her face. "I promise." Another abrupt jerk of the ship and the two turned and ran for the turbolift.

Annika watched them go, her heart breaking.

Voyager – Prime

"What's happening?" Janeway demanded. She had quickly returned to the bridge with B'Elanna in tow.

B'Elanna grabbed at the science station console as the ship lurched abruptly. "We're getting rapidly fluctuating readings from the nebula. The expansion waves are increasing exponentially."

"What about the void?"

"There's no way of knowing from this distance, but if the nebula keeps going like it is the expansion waves will become so strong it'll eventually tear itself apart."

Janeway's eyebrow shot up. "What would that do to the void?"

B'Elanna met the captain's eyes, her worry apparent. "We've been working on the assumption that the forces of the expanding nebula are what opened the void between the universes to start with. If the nebula explodes…most likely the void will be destroyed as well."

A quick look of panic crossed Janeway's face before her command mask slammed into place. She turned to face the view screen; her mind was whirling. Quickly making her decision, she began to issue her orders.

"Tom, keep us right at the edge of the nebula. Move back as it expands. B'Elanna, I want you to continuously monitor the sensors. You too, Harry. If the same thing is happening in our counterpart's universe, our people will have to come through the void now. I want to know the second they do. Tom, as soon as B'Elanna or Harry gives you the word that they have located the shuttle, take us into the nebula. Harry, it's up to you. Get a transporter lock on the occupants of the shuttle, and transport them immediately. Tom, as soon as Harry has them, get us out of there. Don't wait for my order."

At the acknowledgement of her officers, Janeway settled back in her seat, her eyes locked on the viewscreen. She had done all she could now it was up to her counterpart to get her people back to her safely.

Voyager – Alternate

"They'll never survive, Captain," B'Elanna said.

Upon arriving in the cargo bay, Del had quickly brought B'Elanna up to speed on what was happening. She had insisted on contacting the captain.

"We're running out of time," Janeway reminded. "What do you suggest?"

"We need to go into the nebula as close as we can get to the void and then launch the shuttle at the closest possible point."

"And the risk to Voyager?" Janeway felt responsible for the three women who had inadvertently ended up on her ship, but she had her crew to consider as well.

"I can launch the shuttle remotely from the bridge while we're in flight. That way, the shuttle gets the added momentum from Voyager at impulse power. We could come in at an angle and head straight through the nebula as soon as the shuttle clears the bay instead of backtracking our course."

Janeway never hesitated. You didn't get to be a captain by being indecisive. "Do it," she ordered.

B'Elanna turned to Del and grinned. "Well, it's been… interesting."

Del laughed. "That it has." She reached out and clasped B'Elanna's shoulder. B'Elanna's eyebrows shot up in shock. "Give Annika a chance." Del glanced at her wife and smiled before turning back toward B'Elanna. "She might surprise you."

B'Elanna glanced over at Seven. "Point taken, Commander." She turned to the two technicians who had been helping with the shuttle. "Clear the bay." She smiled at Del. "Good luck. I'll launch the shuttle as soon as we're in position. We're running out of time." A sharp jolt punctuated her words. "There won't be much warning. You need to be onboard and strapped in."

B'Elanna headed toward the hanger bay door, stopping just short of the door, she turned back to wave. "Be safe," she called.

Del grabbed the side of the shuttle as another wave hit. "Seven, power up the shuttle."

Seven hurried onboard leaving Del with Kara. She had not said a word since Del and Seven returned to the hanger bay.

Del knew what Kara was feeling, but there was no help for it. "It's time to go home." She stepped into the shuttle and then turned back when she realized Kara hadn't moved.

"We have to go, now."

Kara shook her head adamantly, her eyes filled with pain. "I can't leave Annika."

Del sighed; she had expected this. "You know you can't stay here. I wish it could be different. I really do," she said sympathetically.

"What if it were Seven?"

Del was spared answering by the hardest wave yet. She hit the floor, just inside the shuttle entrance. Kara was slammed into the shuttle parked next to them and crumpled to the floor, momentarily stunned.

Del regained her feet and looked down at Kara. "You have to go back with us."

"Shuttle launch in ten seconds," B'Elanna's voice announced over the com inside the shuttle.

Kara scrambled to her feet.

A klaxon blared suddenly. "Warning, depressurization imminent, warning!" the computer intoned.



B'Elanna clung to her console as the ship's inertial dampeners momentarily went offline.

"Shuttle away," B'Elanna called.

"Get us out of here, Mr. Paris," Janeway ordered.

Annika watched, her heart shattering, as the shuttle shot away from Voyager.

Harry's eyes bulged when the energy readings from the nebula went off the scale. "Hold on," he managed to warn just before it hit.

The nebula was blown apart around Voyager. Annika managed to keep hold of the console in front of her. B'Elanna was thrown over the railing and onto the main bridge floor. Voyager was tossed about like a toy in a rough sea by the massive explosion.

When the ship came to rest, Captain Janeway sat up and ran her fingers through her wildly disordered hair, trying to bring it into some semblance of order. The tight bun she normally wore had come loose when she'd been thrown out of her chair. She winced when her fingers came into contact with a very tender spot on her scalp. She pushed herself to her feet, more worried about her ship than a little bump on the head.

"Status, Mr. Kim?"

"Sensors coming back online," Harry said. He was still a bit shaken up from the punishment the ship had taken. He had been slammed into his console several times before being thrown to the floor. The results on his board blew away all lingering cobwebs.

Harry's face paled. He looked up and met Captain Janeway's eyes. "It's gone! Everything's gone."

The viewscreen chose that moment to come back online. A collective gasp went up on the bridge. There was nothing in sensor range. The only thing showing on the viewscreen was the normal smattering of stars.

Part 28

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