DISCLAIMER: I don't own them, Paramount does. I took them out to play with them, and I promise I'll give them back when I'm done, hopefully with smiles on their faces. No profit made in writing this fanfic. Don't sue me, you can't get blood from a turnip.
Contains F/F interaction so if you don't like it.. please find some general fiction to read. If you are underage, come back in a when you're not. If it is illegal where you live, leave or don't get caught. No matter what it's not my fault if you read it. Most of the story is PG-13, with a couple of minor NC-17 chapters which will bear warnings for the squeamish.
TITLE DISCLAIMER: Title is from a Melissa Etheridge song of the same name. Other songs credited at the end of story. No lyrics in this fiction belong to me, and once again, no profits will be made by their inclusion.
FINALLY: I need to give a very special thanks to my betas, who have kept me honest, and semi-sane. And both have been brutally honest enough to tell me when things don't make sense. So big, big thanks to Nicole, Rebelgirl and Wyrdmaege!

Late September Dogs

By Cirroco DeSade

Chapter 10

After dropping Seven off in sickbay, B'Elanna had to return to engineering. She was extremely worried about the blonde, especially since the Doctor had no sarcasm for either one of them. He had quickly pushed the Klingon aside and asked why the Borg hadn't been delivered to him more quickly. When the older woman had asked if the former drone would be alright the Doctor had actually raised his voice, telling her that Seven's chances would be better if he was given time and space to do his job. He suggested she return to engineering. B'Elanna had wanted to rip him in half, but knew he didn't mean to be so rude. To a certain extent he was right; she had a job to do. She left hesitantly, looking upon the beautiful face one last time as she walked through the door.

The next three hours were a blur for the engineer. They had received only minor damage to the exterior of the ship and its systems, but the assault and attack in engineering had wreaked havoc with some very important systems. It took an entire team two hours to replace the ARI control interface and realign it to its original power grid. Then B'Elanna needed to run diagnostics on the warp core and send teams out for repairs throughout the ship.

An hour into Beta shift, the engineer felt confident that all further repairs and diagnostics could be handled by the next two shifts. She logged her reports and left instructions for the Gamma crew as to which tests to run. As she made up the duty roster for the next day, she noticed that Seven had been put on medical absence for the day, so she left a senior ensign in charge of Gamma. She closed down her station and left engineering, heading towards the sickbay.

When she arrived in sickbay she looked around and found all the biobeds empty. A certain measure of relief flooded her. If Seven wasn't still lying on a bed, she must be okay. She searched for the Doctor, and found him in his office. Striding into the EMH's private domain, she cleared her throat to announce her presence.

"Ah, it's my resident 'injure-myself' specialist. What do you have for me now B'Elanna? Broken finger? Cracked rib?" He smirked as he recounted some of her past injuries.

B'Elanna simply rolled her eyes, growling out, "No, I just wanted to make sure Seven was okay. I guess I missed her. Can you tell me how it went?"

"Yes, she is healing wonderfully thanks to my brilliance. Yes, you missed her. She headed off to Cargo Bay 2 a short while ago. I gave her the day off tomorrow; she needs to regenerate and rest. Now if you don't need my expertise, I have a wealth of reports to enter," he said excusing her.

"Oh. No, Doctor. Thanks," she answered and left.

The EMH watched her retreat curiously. He had seen the pair's relationship changing since landing on the planet. Little things piqued his curiosity. He had been growled at by Seven over his treatment of B'Elanna. The engineer's concern over the Borg was enough to personally deliver the blonde, and to come back to check on her later. The clincher was that now he was purposely goading the Klingon, and she hadn't taken any of the bait. Initially, he was uneasy about Seven's obvious attraction to the engineer. Now, seeing this tender side of the half-Klingon, he thought he could be happy for them both.

B'Elanna decided she would go and check in on Seven before she returned to her quarters. She knew that the Borg was probably regenerating, but she needed to see her, just to reassure herself that the blonde was alright. So much had happened that day, but somehow she couldn't help feeling positively elated. She hadn't realized her feelings had changed until the meeting. Initially, she had thought she would take some time to think about her feelings, but in the Jeffries tubes, she realized she didn't need time. Their first kiss had more feeling and soul-deep electricity than she had ever felt. Just thinking about that kiss made her shiver with excitement.

As she approached the Cargo Bay doors she wondered if she should announce herself. Then she realized that nobody ever did. For the first time, she thought about the ridiculous lack of privacy the blonde endured. It disgusted her to think that any crewman could come in and leer at her girlfriend while she was sleeping. 'Girlfriend?' B'Elanna thought with a grin.

She entered the Cargo Bay smiling, then froze in her tracks. The Captain was leaning over the Borg consoles staring at Seven. It occurred to the hybrid how many other times she had caught Janeway gazing at Seven and had never given it a thought. However, after this afternoon's meeting and subsequent talk with the hurt blonde, she was giving it very serious thought.

"Captain," B'Elanna intoned coolly from several steps behind the redhead.

Janeway stood up straight and spun quickly to face the Klingon. "Lieutenant," she replied nodding. "What brings you here this evening? I would have thought you were asleep after such a long day." The Captain put on her best command smile and silky voice.

"It's a personal matter," B'Elanna replied. "Can we talk as equals Captain? No rank?"

"Always B'Elanna. You should know by now that my door is always open for you. What can I do for you?" The redhead approached the Klingon.

"You can tell me what kind of petaQ takes a woman's virginity for a three hour fling," the Klingon growled out. "It was you, wasn't it Kathryn? You're the one who sliced her heart in half to satisfy your own lust."

"B'Elanna, I don't know what she told you, but she got what she asked for…" Janeway began. However, before she finished her sentence she was knocked cold by a hard right hook. The older woman went limp, and hit the floor. B'Elanna had a satisfied grin on her face as she sucked on the knuckle of her now broken index finger. She knew there might be hell to pay, but, damn, she felt so much better right now.

She looked at the beauty before her. Walking up to place a gentle kiss on Seven's cheek, she whispered into her ear. "I know you will probably never know it, but I got her for you bangwI'."

B'Elanna walked over to the Cargo Bay replicator and retrieved a large glass of ice cold water. She returned to the fallen woman, standing over her with a disgusted look on her face. Pouring the entire glass on to the redhead's spluttering face, she felt confident she was pushing the envelope. She grabbed Janeway's hand and hauled her off the floor. "Get up Kathryn. We don't want someone coming in and seeing you on the floor, now do we?" The engineer straightened the Captain's collar somewhat before continuing. "Now that I've said my piece, I won't ever mention it again. But, I want you to know that I plan on courting that beauty over there, and if you get in my way, I will invoke a challenge. I respect that you are the Captain. I will never confront you in front of crewmembers. Are we in agreement that we won't have to discuss all these details with others?"

Janeway's force ten glare focused upon B'Elanna when she realized how she had been backed into a corner. The Klingon wasn't fazed; she merely raised an eyebrow to emphasize her question. The redhead sighed deeply, then nodded her assent. Finally, B'Elanna sneered, "I think you'd better get the Doc to look at your eye where you fell into the table, don't you?"

"B'Elanna, I know you don't want to believe this, but I never meant her any harm," Janeway stated in a subdued voice before walking away. The redhead stopped a few meters before the doors and snarled over her shoulder, "By the way, Klingon. I may have deserved this, but if you ever try anything like it again… you will live in the brig for the rest of the ride home." Janeway then straightened to her full height and stalked away. B'Elanna stayed and looked at the beauty for a few minutes, then left for her own quarters.

"Regeneration cycle is complete." The cool tones of Voyager's A.I. greeted Seven as it had on most mornings since she had joined the ship. Nonetheless, Seven was disturbed by a sense of something amiss. Striding to the left side of her alcove, she accessed a panel of which only she was aware. As her humanity had begun to reassert itself, she had undergone changes of which nobody else was aware. The first, and to her most disturbing, was the appearance of dreams.

Within the first year, the dreams had started as simple loops of images, obviously purged from her eidetic memory into her human brain. Her brain would display the events in cycles. After this had occurred several nights in a row, she consulted the Doctor, describing how the images of failures then successes would repeat during her cycle. He, of course, scanned her and her alcove for any malfunctions. When he found none he declared with some delight that in his opinion it was a growth of her humanity. In fact, he thought it was wonderful that her progress had brought her to a point where her 'subconscious' was balancing her psyche even if she wasn't allowed REM sleep like other humans. After all efforts on her part to have her alcoves store the 'data' of these 'dreams' failed, it further supported his theory of this 'advance' in her humanity, much to her initial dismay.

Over the years the imagery had expanded to include things that had not taken place. She never confided that fact to the Doctor; initially because she found it too disturbing, but later because she was not enthusiastic about sharing the sometimes wonderful, if confusing, dreams.

Another change she had undergone, and not shared with anyone, was her realization of her lack of privacy. Two hundred days after she had joined Voyager, she had stepped out of her cycle to face a crewmember who had lost his family at Wolf 359 who was staring at her and subsequently lashing out at her verbally. In hindsight, she realized she hadn't handled the situation very humanely, only logically and emotionlessly stating that she had not been there and therefore it was 'irrelevant' to her. Now she understood why he had attempted to strike her when she told him to cease his emotional displays. She never found it worthy of mention to the Captain or security since he had not harmed her. Two years later she did approach him and offered her apologies and condolences. At the time he did not accept them, but he had since stopped looking at her with the fury and hate that had been present that particular morning.

After other incidents, including finding crewmembers going through her belongings, she had taken measures to insure her privacy and security. First she secured her meager belongings in a container and sealed it with Borg encryption codes. Even if someone wanted to see her things, they would be stymied. Indeed, she believed only three individuals, Tuvok, Harry Kim and Lt. Torres, could break her codes. Those efforts would take days and in the meantime a program of her own design would inform her immediately of the intrusion.

Next she had installed several complex monitoring programs within her alcove. She tied the cargo bay's sensors into the alcove's monitor, enabling the Borg device to be alerted if any weapons became present during her regeneration. She recognized that security forces often carried phasers on their person, therefore it would be inefficient if she was awakened simply by their presence. So her program only woke her if a phaser was unholstered or if a primitive weapon such as a knife appeared within a 5 meter radius of her alcove. Hyposprays couldn't approach her closer than 2.5 meters, and any extreme fluctuation of her bioreadings would eject her from her cycle in case someone tried a foolish maneuver such as choking her. Being Borg gave her the ability to survive such an encounter, nonetheless she wanted to be able to identify any attacker.

Finally, she had set the cargo bay sensors to record all life signs which entered her sanctum and any conversations which took place. All of this data was recorded and analyzed by the alcove's database illicitly as she knew that officially her domain was considered "public" space aboard the ship. Fortunately the Borg database was far too advanced for anyone but herself to understand, and the information she had gleamed had taken up less than a fraction of the space available to her. All analyses had provided her with useful insights. She knew that 33% of those watching her considered her 'angelic', 3% considered her a 'monster', 42% 'beautiful, and 14% just thought she was interesting. She knew which people came for no apparent reason (the Captain, and occasionally Chakotay) and who came regularly to retrieve supplies (Neelix and various engineering staff.)

The captain's late night visits had initially confounded her. After her erroneous encounter where she tried to download Voyager's databanks however, she had believed that the Captain held romantic notions for her. For the longest time she had found that idea comforting. To hold the belief that Janeway could consider her worthy of such attention gave her the necessary peace to overcome other's hurtful remarks.

As she accessed her databanks she was reminded how wrong she had been about Janeway's intentions. It did not help her fragile state when she realized that the captain had observed her almost every night since their encounter. It dawned on her that she had not checked her data in a while, so she perused the accumulated information before concentrating on the previous night's recordings. She frowned when she realized that Janeway once again appeared in the late night hours, recorded as stationary in front of her dais. Unbeknownst to herself though her features lit with a smile when B'Elanna entered. From there, the sensor data became confusing. Tapping a long code into the console, a panel retracted revealing an area specially designed for her left hand, which she lay down-- her assimilation tubules extended into nearby portals. Closing her eyes, she 'viewed' the entire scene through her cortical array. She gasped as Janeway hit the deck, then smiled as B'Elanna whispered into her ear. Snickering as the water was dumped upon the Captain, her heart grew full with gratitude for the Klingon's actions. In the end though she was troubled by the Captain's parting words. Retracting her tubules, she sealed the panel and station, turning to her dressing area to prepare for her shift. As she dressed she pondered what she should do with the knowledge of last night's events.

Later that morning found the senior staff meeting in the conference room to go over the details of the previous day's attack. Seven studied the tactical data in her PADD from Tuvok's report while waiting for the others to arrive. As a matter of course, Seven and Tuvok were the first present in the conference room. The Vulcan was absorbed in a security report and had only politely acknowledged her after her entry. Shortly thereafter, Chakotay entered, followed by Ensign Kim and Lieutenant Paris. The Doctor came in and seated himself, glancing at Tuvok, then busying himself with a new opera he was thinking of performing. When B'Elanna finally entered, Seven found her heart-rate increasing and could not seem to stop a small smile from answering the smile that the Klingon had instantly favored her with as she gazed across the table. Before Seven could talk to B'Elanna however, the Captain entered the conference room with purposeful strides beginning the meeting.

"Good morning, people. Let's get this meeting started. Seven, what can you tell us about the species that attacked us yesterday and why was there no mention of them in your reports of this sector?" The Captain fired off her questions before she had even finished sitting down.

Raising her eyebrow slightly in surprise at the Captain's brusque manner, Seven began her report. "Species 9763. An unremarkable race the Borg considered unworthy of assimilation. The Llannari, as they are known, are primarily a species who steal technology and resources. They tend to stay within their own system, not seeing any reason to explore except for missions to 'acquire' new resources. For example, their cloaking technology was stolen from species 9644, the Nguener, who were their neighbors before the Borg assimilated that species."

"The Llannari had already spent many years raiding the Nguener race, who were a predominately peaceful race that had achieved a level of scientific in advancement similar to the Vulcans. Since the assimilation of the Nguener race the Borg recorded Llannari movements without concern. They travel in small groupings of scout ships or pairs of larger battle cruisers, although the Borg had never recorded their travels taking them this far from their home planet. "

"Their attack strategy is very simple. They remain cloaked, taking readings and assessing weakness in shields and deflectors. When they are ready, they batter a hole in the shields then they transport directly to the engine room. This allows them to take over the ship with minimal loss of resources. Prisoners are sorted according to their usefulness. Those deemed useless become slave labor or food."

Chakotay looked up from his PADD, "Perhaps without advanced neighbors to prey on they have had to reach further out?"

"That is possible Commander," Seven stated.

"Well, what I want to know is how you intend to fix these weakness they obviously found, Lt. Torres," the Captain growled while glaring at B'Elanna, surprising her staff with her obvious rancor. Even Tuvok raised his eyebrow high on his head.

B'Elanna was actually unsurprised by the attack and answered calmly. It was becoming clear that Janeway had a lot less honor than she had given her credit for all these years. "Obviously out first priority will be to protect the deflector array or else they will be able to continue to board us. I'd like to consult with Seven on the possibility of setting up a modulating shield system and maybe a cloaking system over the array.."

The Captain scowled, "Do you think you are even capable of implementing a cloaking system?"

Seven was getting very irritated with Janeway at this point. She wasn't sure but it seemed that the attacks on the Lieutenant were a direct result of the conflict of the previous night and had nothing to do with ship's business. "Captain, I approached you last year with an idea of how to disguise and cloak all of Voyager so it would look like nothing but solid duranium throughout and you told me it was a waste of resources. Indeed, I have had the ability to help upgrade our systems to many species' designs of cloaking technology and you have always indicated it made you uncomfortable, reminding you of Romulans."

Tuvok observed the jumping vein in Janeway's temple and decided it was time to refocus the meeting. "Captain, I believe it would be prudent to review all available cloaking technology available to us in regards to what is immediately feasible. With your permission I would like to meet with Seven and the Lieutenant to review what is tactically sound."

Appreciative of the out she had been given and saving face, Janeway replied directly to him. "Do it, Tuvok. Lieutenant Torres, I expect a report on all proposals by the end of the day."

The meeting proceeded with a modicum of normalcy after that. When it was over Janeway dismissed everyone, surprising them all again by being the first out of the meeting and directly handing the conn to Chakotay to disappear into her ready room.

As the rest of the senior officers began leaving the conference room, B'Elanna captured Seven's attention and strolled over to sit next to the former drone. "Hey, how are you feeling today?" the half Klingon asked somewhat shyly. She wasn't sure when she had ever felt as nervous and giddy to be alone in somebody's presence before.

"I am functioning within-- I am fine jonwI. Thank you for delivering me to the sickbay," the Borg replied with a small smile.

"Seven…" B'Elanna began to say, only to be interrupted.

"Annika." The blonde interjected.

"Annika? I thought you didn't want anyone to call you that?" the engineer asked.

"Initially I didn't because I did not desire to be away from the Collective, and believed I would return. After a time, I would not allow anyone to use my human designation because I did not believe any of Voyager's crew saw me as human, only Borg, and I did not want to be treated as Borg under my human name. Seven of Nine was my designation, but Annika is my name. Few people understand that. I would like it if you called me by my name." Seven said most of this looking down at the table, lifting her eyes only at the end to see if B'Elanna understood. When the engineer inhaled deeply and smiled tremulously.

B'Elanna took Seven's hands in her own. Leaning down slightly while keeping eye contact, she kissed the human hand saying, "Thank you Annika, I would like that. I adore who you are, human," and then kissed the mesh encased hand, "and Borg." Seven's heart felt like it was about to beat out of her chest. Before she could get too lost in analyzing what to do, the lovely brunette beat her to it. B'Elanna leaned in and captured her lips in a sizzling kiss, that threatened to consume the blonde with its intensity.

"That's for taking that blast for me and probably saving my life yesterday," B'Elanna said after releasing the blonde's lips and leaning back. "But please BangwI, don't do that anymore… I can't take seeing you hurt."

"And it is unacceptable for me to allow you to be hurt. So I suppose we will have to watch each other." Seven smirked. She sensed that B'Elanna was about to argue the point, so she deflected her attention. "Meanwhile, I believe we need to adopt a plan to cloak the deflector array before the Captain becomes more aggressive with you."

B'Elanna sighed and slumped back in her chair. "I can handle Janeway, dear, but you are right."

"You do not need to 'handle' the Captain anymore after last night, "Seven stated sardonically with a raised eyebrow, surprising the engineer. "I do not wish to have to exterminate her if she threatens you again."

The smaller woman stuttered and blinked. "You know what happened?"

"I am not completely unprotected in my domain. Let us say that my Borg devices serve me well in knowing what occurs during regeneration."

"Well, you shouldn't have to rely on Borg devices Annika! You have no privacy down there. And she has no right to sit and watch you regenerate like some peeping tom." B'Elanna had gotten up and was pacing around furiously, clenching and releasing her fists repeatedly.

The Borg looked down at the table lost in thought. "I know," was all she said. After they had both broken out of their private thoughts, Seven once again prompted B'Elanna's scientific mind with an outline of what they could do to solve the cloaking situation, effectively shelving the privacy issue for later discussion.

After the two of them had come up a plan that they thought was feasible they called Tuvok into the conference room. He reviewed their ideas, seeking clarity on a few points occasionally, as some of the schematics were more advanced than even his scientific mind was accustomed. Once he understood the plan he was impressed.

"How long will it take to implement the changes Lieutenant?" he asked, hoping to clear the last hurdle. In order for it to be an effective strategy, it must not leave them hanging in space too very long.

"I think we can have all repairs complete and the upgrades online within 32 hours if I'm allowed to pull in my staff for double shifts. The most complicated part is obviously the hull work, but I think Seven and I could lead two teams of three engineers and have them done within a few hours each." She looked up at Seven for confirmation of this as she spoke and was satisfied when the former drone simply nodded her agreement.

"Very well. I will present your report to the Captain and stress that I think it would be an efficient plan. Please continue the other repairs until I contact you." Tuvok stated succinctly.

The lieutenant stood and began to exit the room, stopping at the door when she realized Seven wasn't following her.

"I will report to engineering shortly Lieutenant. First, I must speak with Commander Tuvok." Seven said.

B'Elanna felt some trepidation at what Seven would need to consult with Tuvok about, but did not allow it to show. Instead she smiled and told her to show up when she was done.

The Vulcan raised his eyebrow in a subtle signal of inquiry as Seven began to organize her thoughts. It was a most difficult situation she had found herself in, and she had no desire to burden her Vulcan mentor with these emotions, yet he was the only person to trust.

"Commander, I must seek your advice," she finally stated as the silence had grown thick.

"Indeed. I take it this advice is not ship's business?" Tuvok asked.

"Actually, it began as a personal issue, but has begun to effect ship's business… much to my dissatisfaction," Seven answered with a frown. "I have no desire to bring you into an emotional situation, as I respect your sensibilities. In fact, I have often thought it would have been more desirable to have been born Vulcan. Humanity and its emotions are not an easy adjustment to make after 18 years as a drone. However, I am faced with a situation where I must seek advice, and you are the only person I believe I can trust. Also, you have spent many years among Humans and can more accurately interpret their actions."

Tuvok took three deep breaths, seeking a center to strengthen himself for the oncoming discussion. He greatly admired and respected the former drone. She often reminded him of his daughter with her forthright demeanor, and logical approach to her duty. He was pleased to have the drone seek his advice, even if the subject was to be humanity's illogical emotions. "Please, feel free to begin when you are ready."

Seven sighed and stood, striding over to the transparent aluminum view-ports. For some reason she could not define she did not want to face him directly while beginning this discussion. "Very few on Voyager are aware that my humanity has begun to reassert itself at an accelerated pace. There are physiological components which will always be Borg, but emotionally, and, indeed physically, I have become more human Although some will never notice it, my emotions have already reasserted themselves to the point where I cannot always diffuse them with Borg logical thinking. Indeed, loneliness and the need to mate became an emotional and physical need which I believe led me to the problem I must discuss with you."

"Mating is a physical need within almost all humanoid species. Indeed even Vulcans are not immune to that instinct Seven. We may handle the situation much differently than humans, nevertheless our mating is not any less a biological imperative." Tuvok replied. He briefly wondered if he should discuss the irrationality present during Pon Farr, but that thought was so appalling that it was instantly squashed by years of Vulcan instinct.

"I have researched many humanoid species mating practices, including Vulcans," she said pointedly, dropping that line of conversation altogether after that, respecting the Vulcan's privacy. "Unfortunately, this… human body" she sneered while waving her hand towards herself, "has hormonal urges more than once every 7 years." She stopped there to gather herself and to try to control her emotions. It would not do to overwhelm her friend with an emotional outburst before she could obtain her advice.

"I was initially successful in deflecting these physical needs with work, and exercise. Later, when my mind would not allow work, I endeavored to find distracting hobbies. I was still left with unmet desires, but I believed that my status as a former Borg would preclude anyone aboard Voyager from finding me as a suitable mate. Indeed only one adult ever regularly sought out my company as a friend: Captain Janeway." She paused and collected her thoughts, not wanting to continue to disclose her mistakes, but knowing that the Vulcan would need all the facts for a logical assessment. "As we began our last shore leave, my physical needs became overwhelming and I sought a solution within the holodeck. It was a distasteful idea from the beginning to me, but I felt I had no other option. The cargo bay is not exactly conducive to privacy in any respect." She stopped, feeling utterly embarrassed. Gathering her courage, she finally continued. "As I was… engaged with a holocharacter, Captain Janeway overrode my security lockout and entered my program. I have known for a long time that the Captain had little regard for my privacy. Indeed, she watches me regenerate on a regular basis. Nonetheless, I was overcome by my hormones, and the possibility that the Captain might desire to take me as a mate. Since she had interrupted me I approached her and asked her if she would make love to me."

At this point Tuvok was fighting shock as his eyebrow tried to crawl off his head. He had not expected such a rash decision by the former drone. Unfortunately, he had a good idea where this might lead. He had known the Captain longer than anyone else aboard Voyager after all. Their long time association had granted him more knowledge of the charismatic human than anyone else aboard Voyager.

"I am embarrassed to admit she acquiesced to my request, but I was mistaken in her intent. While I believed we might begin a relationship, it was simply what human's call a 'one night stand'. I think this is a misnomer since she excused me from her quarters in less than four hours. Initially I was distraught to know that someone I had considered a friend and mentor, indeed I believe I could have loved, had used me. Nevertheless, she had made it clear that we could not let that night affect our work upon Voyager, and I was able to clear my feelings and focus on my duty." The blonde paused her monologue to gather herself for the next part. It was less embarrassing, but more disturbing.

The Vulcan was digesting all of the information, looking for clues that perhaps the worst had happened. While hoping it had not, he knew he was the only one who could recognize her affliction. Distasteful as it was, duty and friendship required his vigilance. It was after a long silence that he prompted her to continue. "Am I to infer that this situation has further eroded since you are discussing this with me?"

"You are correct. I have discovered that the Captain has continued to disregard my privacy and continues to watch me during regeneration, as if she believes she has a right to do so. While I have known of my vulnerability during regeneration for quite some time, all other invasions of my privacy have not disturbed me to this extent. I had implemented what I believed to be enough security to protect from attacks, but I cannot protect myself from the Captain's voyeurism." The former drone was interrupted by the security chief.

"There are crewmembers who take advantage of your unconscious state? Why did you not report this?" The Vulcan was disturbed by the idea of Starfleet personal acting so unprofessionally, but even more so by the idea that his security was insufficient for protecting a crewmember.

"I did not believe that the situation could be changed. It was obvious to me when I began to understand my place upon Voyager that I was not regarded as a human, but instead as a piece of machinery which could be stored away when not in use. As I said, I implemented my own security protocols within my alcoves to ensure that I would not be physically harmed. Verbal and emotional outbursts from the crew directed at me in the Cargo Bay I handled as best I could and removed myself from irate crewmembers presence quickly. I apologize for not bringing it to your attention, but I truly believed the Captain would not change my situation as she benefited from my placement."

"I see." He paused, reflecting briefly on the logic the blonde used to reach her conclusions. "What are the security measures you implemented?" He asked warily. He was worried the perhaps the former drone had set up some sort of weapon to handle attackers. She began describing her programs and his fears were allayed. In fact, he was impressed with the whole system. It was efficient, and non-intrusive, without draining Voyager's systems; yet it had provided her with some relief. Yet, he was still dismayed for not realizing his failure to secure the woman before now. It was a situation he vowed to resolve immediately. "You have not yet asked my advice. Should I presume you need me to help with Captain Janeway's… presence?"

"It is more than that I am afraid. I would like my privacy guarded against her, but I find myself unable to confront her. Beyond that, the situation became more dire last evening," Seven responded. She explained the changing nature of her relationship with the lieutenant, and then detailed what had happened the night before. "I believe this situation could quickly escalate out of control. I would find it unacceptable if the Captain goaded the Lieutenant into an attack since it would interfere with the relationship I would like to explore with Lt. Torres. I have no desire for them to fight over me. I would prefer the Captain to leave me alone since she already dismissed a relationship. Yet, I have no power to persuade the Captain in this matter. Therefore, I am seeking your advice."

"I understand. Since the Captain did not report the attack, and officially there are no witnesses, I will not pursue the assault. Indeed, I believe it is surprising the Captain Janeway has only now suffered any consequences for this situation. Will you let me contemplate a solution for a while?" On her affirmative nod he continued gravely. "I will also personally make sure she does not invade your privacy until a solution has been reached. Is there anything else I should know?" She shook her head wearily. He stood and they proceeded to leave. The blonde halted shortly before the doors.

"Commander, I appreciate your help," the former drone stated stoically

"Of course Seven. I am also grateful that you have handled this situation so logically and brought it to my attention instead of turning elsewhere. We will resolve it together… logically. Also, I believe that you would be well served to undergo study of the Kya'shin. It would supplement your grasp of logic as well as give you a chance to further understand your new emotions. It would be an honor if you would allow my to be your guide."

She raised her brow, surprised by the offer. "I would like that Commander."

"See me again when you know your schedule, and we will begin your training," he told her and left the room.

After leaving the conference room, Tuvok proceeded to the Captain's ready room. He delivered Lt. Torres report and supported her ideas. Studying the small human before him, he would have been alarmed at her negativity towards the lieutenant, had it not been for Seven's timely insights. Nevertheless, it was an extremely delicate matter before him. His sense of duty was many-fold in this situation. He genuinely enjoyed the company of this human, she was a universal conundrum, an outstanding study of humanity's spirit. Indeed, over the years she had become what he would consider a friend. He also knew his role within Starfleet, and more importantly aboard Voyager. Voyager would not be likely to make its return to the Alpha Quadrant without this enigma of a Captain. She was the heart of the ship, fairly or unfairly.

Finally, he felt the golden touch in his heart of Asil, his daughter, when he thought of the troubled young woman who approached him earlier. He had never been able to qualify why Seven reminded him of Asil. Perhaps he had been among humans too long and had become inordinately sentimental. Nevertheless, the Borg had reminded him of home in this way from early on, and he was therefore as defenseless in his musings of her as his daughter had always left him. They both had inescapable intellect, and discipline, yet both could turn the unfathomable tide of an emotion into something desirable, and make him want to understand in a way not even T'Pel accomplished.

In the short meeting he secured Janeway's permission for the upgrades. They discussed briefly strategies on defending against the Llannari raids. Meanwhile, he had observed the Captain surreptitiously. He was quite sure of his conclusion. It was occurring again. However, before he would implement the solution, he needed the final proof. That was a small matter. After she dismissed him, he would gather the necessary equipment for his studies, and could have a final analysis by the evening.

A wave of nausea rolled over her body after she looked up at the stars. 'Kahless, Torres! You know better than to look up!' She berated herself. Picking up her boots slowly, she made her way over to the aft section of the deflector array. Her team was installing the necessary circuitry and new manifolds for this section of the new cloaking system. If she were to look to the fore of the array she could probably see Seven's team, but her space-sickness made that idea unappealing. Instead, she placed her equipment beside the next panel. As she was installing the circuit she tried to occupy her mind with anything other than the fact that she was outside the ship. The comm. link inside her suit allowed her to listen in on her teams conversations. Apparently, Harry and Tom were planning a party in the holodeck for the next week based on an Old Earth festival called 'Woodstock'. It had something to do with 20th century Rock-N-Roll from what Nicoletti was saying. It was Nicoletti doing most of the talking, trying to pump her teammate for information on how to ask out a mutual acquaintance that he knew better.

B'Elanna rolled her eyes, grinning at Nicoletti's enthusiasm for the party. It dawned on the half-Klingon that she hadn't had cause to be nervous about asking someone out in a long time. Just a couple of months ago she would have been expected to go to the party with Tom. By now, he would have driven her crazy, making her listen to all the music he wanted to play. Not that she disliked the music, but he could be relentless about it, not to mention obsessive. Now, though, she wasn't even in the loop. That certainly didn't bother her. She didn't really feel like attending a party of his. It would be better if they had their space, and he got on with his life and left her alone. She still wanted to choke the bastard for his drunken rantings that day in the corridor, but Seven had convinced her to leave him alone. Harry had apologized too, even though she certainly didn't see why he should, but it had made her feel better to know that he was still her friend too. Maybe one day she would be able to be friends with Tom again, but she wasn't going to hold her breath on that one.

Completing the circuit, she broke in on Nicoletti's chatter and got a brief on her team's progress. She shook her head when the ensign abashedly reported they were all done and just waiting for her. Evidently her team had no idea that she had handled half of the workload on this section while they talked about the party. She knew she should probably confront the two, bring them in line and admonish them, but she decided that it wasn't a big deal. After all, it was her orders that had her entire department working double shifts over the last two days. They deserved to slow down some and relax now that it was almost over.

Seven reported to her as she was double checking her team's work. "Lieutenant Torres, beta team installation is complete. We are ready for testing when you are."

B'Elanna smirked. Seven refused to call her B'Elanna in front of her staff. It was surprising to find that essentially Seven was very shy. Of course she knew that the woman had gotten badly burned in her last romantic attempt, so B'Elanna was taking it slowly. Still, the Borg's absolute professionalism around her staff was so different from her and Tom's interactions that she was left a little off balance, but pleasantly so. "OK Seven. We're done here too. Let me get Harry to bring it up."

After a half hour of tests outside, they determined that the cloaking was effective and 100% operational. The teams gathered together and beamed back aboard the ship. Afterwards B'Elanna released them, telling them that after they properly stored the equipment and suits they should consider themselves off duty until their next regular shift. Seven was waiting for her in engineering once she had stowed her suit. Together they began a series of automated diagnostics that would run through the night as the final test.

"Annika, would you do me the honor of joining me for dinner?" B'Elanna asked formally with a big smile after they had everything complete and everyone in her department had their assignments.

The former drone smirked and raised her eyebrow. There was no reason to ask of course. They had been dining together every chance they had gotten for a while, and Seven was always happy to join the engineer. However, the smaller woman seemed to be in good spirits now that the upgrades were done, and Seven assumed that was why she was acting this way. "I will comply," the blonde replied with a smirk, and together they left.

An eerie green glow flickered, casting shadows over the two women. Neither of them registered his presence; one too involved in unknown mental wanderings, the other unable although she would most certainly be recording their appearance. Withdrawing the modified tricorder, he took his readings. As expected, the data was merely a confirmation. It was almost a relief; if the data had not supported his conclusions, he would not understand the red-headed woman before him. He had been in her company for years, had studied her behavior, they had been through much together over a span of more than a decade. Closing the tricorder, he attached it to his side then strode forward slowly to stand near his captain. The time had come. He cleared his throat lightly, and she spun, straightening to her normal mien.

"Tuvok! You startled me. What brings you down here old friend?" Janeway asked.

"Actually, I came to find you." An economy of words, so fraught with meaning. He always found these situations intriguing; to stand at the precipice of change and face it with lucidity. "There is a matter of great import we must discuss." She raised her chin, eyes questioning. "Privately." He clarified.

"Very well, Tuvok. After you," she gestured to the door.

Neither of them conversed on their short journey to the turbolift. He called out for the deck where he resided and ignored new questioning glance, preferring silence until they arrived at his quarters.

"May I offer you a refreshment Captain?" He asked after lightening a ceremonial lamp which rested on the low table situated in the center of his living room. She shook her head and continued giving him a questioning look. Large pillows rested upon the floor on each side of the table, and he held his hand out to indicate she should sit across from him.

Finally, she impatiently broke the silence. "What brings you in search of me this late at night Tuvok?" Her gaze was imposing.

"Your Kae." It was a simple answer. She should know what he meant. "You must undergo another Kae'k'akkayam."

She leapt to her feet and paced before him. "No!" She threw the word, the denial at him like a weapon. "My mind is fine. I need no retraining. It is gone, and you do not need to do this again!"

It was as he expected. The resistance was natural. She would resist if she were herself as well, but not like this. If it wasn't necessary she would laugh at him, that deep rich laugh that was so uniquely hers. It was the duality that caused the anger; the addiction that caused the tension.

"Please, Captain… sit before me. I will let you examine the evidence for yourself." He was absolutely calm. When she sat he extended a PADD containing Seven's sensor data and his observations. Then he unclipped the tricorder from his person and lay it before her, open, with the readings he had taken on display. After she had its contents, the redhead sighed dejectedly. He watched the strong woman carefully. The set to her shoulders disappeared and she slumped. He waited patiently for her to finish. Finally, she picked up the tricorder. After a moment she lay it back down, then folded her hands in her lap, staring at them. He observed her for a time, watching as a tear began its journey down her face.

"Damn." One simple word was all she uttered. Her summation of the awfulness of the reality before her. Her accession to his evidence. It was a testament to her strength, and he was encouraged by the relative ease in which she had accepted the knowledge. Finally she met his eyes. "When can we start?"

"Immediately would be best," he answered. At her nod, he rose from his position and came around the table. Arranging a cushion to face hers, he resumed his position facing her. They began a meditation and after a time he reached over and grasped her head gently, positioning his fingers over the correct channels. He stared deep into her blue-gray eyes and opened a psychic link. He began the mind meld.

Reliving her experiences through her, they appeared together in the chambers in her mind. They were unnoticed third parties, able to pass through her memories like wraiths, yet able to see each other. Every mind had a flavor he knew. He was familiar with hers from the last time they had been here. He was still impressed by the clarity; the way the ground they stood upon was so solid, even if the walls and boundaries sometimes blurred. The heart of her mind was always the command center of a ship, yet the view port showed endless rows of corn kissed by the terran sun.

"Where do you believe it began?" he queried gently.

The scene shifted, and together they appeared in the cargo bay. She was outside herself, watching herself watch the Borg who had become her friend. He could feel the emotion of the moment, knew instinctively the timeframe. She had returned to watch the blonde after reprimanding her for returning a member of species 8472 to a Hirogen hunting party.

"Why are you here?" he asked.

"She's beautiful," she replied softly, her voice tinted with awe. "I've never known anyone so strong, yet so fragile. She's the only person on board whom I can not control. I realized I was captivated by her that night. I was furious that she had disobeyed me, released the captive to the Hirogen ship, yet I was impressed… no, satisfied by her need to do what she believed was right, consequences be damned. I began coming too often. Almost every night, for a while." This representation of her self crossed her arms and sighed disgustedly at the watcher.

"Tell me about the encounter. Why did you let it happen?" Before Janeway realized her mind had shifted to the holodeck. Tuvok and Janeway stood to the side and watched the memory self enter, then stare in shock. "How did you get in?"

"I overrode her privacy codes," she responded shamefully.

"You violated her from the beginning," Tuvok stated

"Yes," she whispered, pained.


"I didn't think she would care. It didn't occur to me she might be involved-- in this." Janeway answered, her voice cracking. The scene seemed to slow down as they watched the blonde and the hologram. Janeway's mind was cloyingly thick with jealousy and desire.

"So you had not considered her rights. You expected her to want humanity, but at the pace you prescribed? Did you ever ask?" His tone was still flat, emotionless. She shook her head, miserably.

The actions of that night continued in front of the two of them. They listened to the brief dialogue. He could feel her desire, so very primal, growing at an accelerated pace. He recognized the point when Janeway was lost to her Eros as the details of the holodeck blurred, everything being lost to the passion.

Once the couple started materializing out of the holodeck, Tuvok found himself in her bedroom. The scene was passionate, the two women tangled in their desire for each other. Janeway led the young woman in the beginning, tenderly building her up to a point where she could lovingly break through the barrier of her virginity. He observed the present self becoming breathless and crying.

He prompted her memory to expand. "How did it end?" Suddenly, the memory Janeway stood from her bed, naked, leaving an equally naked Seven of Nine in the bed. He watched her recommend a shower, then leave the room. "You just excused her once you were satisfied? How did you expect her to follow your orders after that?"

Once again the scene shifted before him. They listened to the Captain tell the Borg how much she enjoyed the evening. How it could never happen again. "Voyager is my only true love." The blonde flinched. The conversation carried on very briefly after that, then rigidly the former drone excused herself, leaving the redhead alone yet smiling on her couch. Shortly thereafter she fell asleep right where she sat.

"You did not see her pain?" Tuvok asked the present self next to him, who was staring at the door.

"I was too elated. Not only was it the first real sex I had had in years… It was probably the best I had ever had in my life. At the time all I could think was how she was like the finest gourmet meal, and I was satiated after starving." Janeway trailed off.

"And now?" he asked simply.

She lowered her head. "Now I see how badly I hurt her. I thought her breath caught as she was leaving because maybe I wore her out. I was arrogant… full of myself… now I realize she was crying."

"Why do you continue to watch her?" he asked, and the scene shifted back to the cargo bay.

"Because… She's the most beautiful woman I have ever touched. I can't describe how satisfying it is just to see her breathe. Every time I was there I could feel her against me… I could remember what we shared. It made me feel less alone, Tuvok. Stronger. A reward for the ache I've endured each night here in the Delta quadrant."

"So she is your reward?"

"No." Janeway replied sadly. "She is a person… and I am a fool." The scene shifted back to her bedroom. This memory was strong, close. Long arms were wrapped around her back lovingly. Full lips kissed an earlobe nearby. *"I believe I could fall 'in love' with you Kathryn."* A throaty laugh from the older woman and the redhead pounced upon those full lips with fervor. "I didn't realize then…"

"That she had handed you her heart?" Tuvok asked.

The mind meld continued on like this for hours. Finally, the Vulcan felt they had dug through all of the depths to which the woman had fallen. They had examined all of her interactions with the young woman. Then he asked her about her confrontation with the half-Klingon, and they examined it from all sides.

He finally released his hold upon her head, disconnecting the psychic link in the early hours of the morning. He observed her for a short while. She appeared more fragile now. Not unlike the last time they went through this together.

"You must remember this Kathryn. It can occur again. Yet, you must balance this with the fact that you were one of the only survivors, and the only one left with your own mind." He only hoped that would give her the strength she needed to survive the next few days without another meld, or worse yet, bringing the Doctor in if she spiraled into depression. "Meanwhile, I believe we must continue our counsel for a while. I must insist you visit me every evening starting tomorrow."

"I know, Tuvok. I have a lot to atone for, and unfortunately I may have destroyed something infinitely more precious than I was aware." She looked up into his eyes. "If only…" She lowered her head again.

He raised his eyebrow curiously. "Yes?"

"I think I could have fallen in love with her too."

The next day, Kathryn Janeway sat in her ready room going over reports while waiting for her chief engineer. She sipped on a lukewarm cup of coffee, then rubbed her temples, trying to stave off the headache that threatened her. She hadn't slept the night before, unable to quiet her mind after leaving Tuvok's quarters. Instead, she brought up ships records and schematics, trying to begin a long process of righting her wrongs. She had very little desire to share these secrets. But at least one person deserved to know. It would make little difference to the woman who would be joining her shortly, so for now, she would stay her hand. Klingon honor mixed with alien illness and Starfleet secrecy. She sighed and thought, not for the first time in the last 12 hours, 'God, what a mess.'

A soft chime at her door brought her out of her melancholy musings. Taking a bracing breath, she cleared her throat. "Enter."

As the small half-Human, half-Klingon swaggered in, Kathryn mused over their interactions over the years. They had started out on shaky ground, this fiery young woman at the time determined to distrust everything Starfleet, especially a Captain handing her the position of Chief Engineer. Nobody had to tell Janeway that Torres thought she was setting her up to fail. It was the farthest thing from the truth of course. Janeway needed her to succeed; she needed the Maquis to show not only her associates that they could trust and work with Starfleet, but the Starfleet personnel had to be shown that the Maquis were their equals and also worthy of respect. It took quite some time before the chip seemed to leave the young woman's shoulder. The thing that had helped the most, ironically enough, was the very thing that sealed their command relationship-- allowing the Klingon to engage in a crazy scheme to die. Never would Janeway have believed she would have allowed that, but she did. In the end, the spiritual journey that Torres believed she had made was the impetus for a growth and a turning point. Lieutenant Torres changed that year, and her relationship with her Captain became almost familial. Initially, Janeway and Torres spent many nights talking about her journey. Kathryn never professed to truly understand the Klingon imagery, or believe it, but she understood that it was responsible for a wonderful change in the woman. Gone was the mistrust, and that's what thrilled Kathryn the most.

Now, she looked up and saw not only the mistrust from the first days, but something else in the engineer's eyes. If she had to hazard a guess, she would think it a loss of respect, a lessening of honor. Klingon honor was a serious thing, and even by her own human standards Kathryn knew what she did was dishonorable. How far would that go for a Klingon she wondered.

"Lieutenant. I have a project I wish to implement as soon as possible." The redhead finished her statement by pushing a PADD across her desk, forcing the young woman to look down to take it. "You know the ship's power relays a bit better than me as far as strengths and weaknesses. So I want to know which of these three quarters will be the best suited, or if you believe there to be somewhere better. I'm not inclined to remove someone from their quarters as it would cause more trouble, but if you think it's better…"

B'Elanna was surprised to say the least. The PADD contained a request to come up with a way to move an alcove into private quarters for Seven. "I'm not sure exactly what she would want Captain," the engineer interrupted. "I guess I mean it would depend on how much she sleeps too. As far as the power flow goes the VIP quarters are actually the best. You know that they are the most adaptable… but what would you do about visiting guests? And wouldn't others in the crew resent her getting quarters that size?"

"Frankly I don't care what others in the crew think about that Lieutenant. I will handle that. She has the right to privacy as you know, and it's past time for me to give her that. If anyone has a problem with her, they can see me. And we'll just have to find another way to house dignitaries. It's not like we have had many anyway since we aren't in the Alpha Quadrant on Diplomatic missions. So, if you think that's the best place that's where I want you to begin."

The red-headed woman was calm and clear in her speech, but B'Elanna could sense that there was more. She didn't trust her, and wondered if moving the fragile blonde next door to her was the best idea. It was the best place for an alcove, that's for sure. She was sure she would be able to design a way for the alcove to be hidden when not in use in fact, giving Seven some space from her Borg past when she wanted it. "What does Seven think?"

"I wanted to make sure it was possible before I talked to her B'Elanna," the Captain answered. "I didn't want to hurt her by getting her hopes up and then having to take it away."

B'Elanna snorted. She couldn't believe this woman was telling her she didn't want to hurt Seven. She had already hurt the beauty more than anyone else on the ship. Suddenly the small captain jumped up from where she sat and stared her down.

"I don't need you to believe me, Lieutenant," she sneered. "Just do your job. No matter what you think has happened, you don't have all of the facts. And you don't need them. I am still your Captain and you will respect that and obey me! Do I make myself clear?"

B'Elanna was thrown off guard by the anger and by the questions circulating in her head. What facts was she missing? Seven hadn't told her all of it, not really even much of it, but Torres knew a dishonorable act when she saw it. "Yes, Captain." She stood at attention and stared beyond the woman.

Kathryn sighed. She wasn't handling this well. She wasn't going to tell B'Elanna the story, but maybe she could start to mend the rift between them another way. "I owe her something that I don't owe you. But I do think you should know you were right. My actions were dishonorable. You will never have to fear reprisal for hitting me. qaHIvlaHbe' jItuH" She finished in Klingonese, the phrases she had researched this morning, 'I can't attack you, I am ashamed.' They both froze and looked at each other, both wondering what the other was thinking. Kathryn hoped that B'Elanna would accept it, but knew she couldn't force it.

"SoH Dev. jIlob." 'You lead. I Obey' was all that B'Elanna would give. Normally she should have mentioned honor to a leader. She just wasn't sure she was ready for that yet.

"jIquv." 'I am honored.' The captain replied. She walked away from her desk and faced out the window. "I want you to make this project a priority Lieutenant, but don't discuss it with anyone until I contact you later today. I need to see Seven first myself." She paused. "Dismissed."

B'Elanna wondered once again what to think of all that was happening and what the small woman before her was thinking. Finally, she realized it would have to remain a mystery and left the room.

Lt Commander Tuvok watched the engineer leave the ready room. It appeared that the Captain had done something to resolve matters with the young Klingon. She had entered the office with an angry demeanor, but left the office much later perplexed. In fact she hardly took notice of anyone as she strode across the bridge and into the turbolift carrying a padd. He kept his counsel of course, but decided to inquire later that evening of Janeway as to what happened.

Shortly after that Janeway herself left her office. Chakotay began to rise from the Captain's chair but Janeway just waved him back down. "Sorry Chakotay. I have to attend to some other business. You still have the conn."

His face betrayed his curiosity, but she made no reply. "Aye, Captain." He said then sat back down.

Once aboard the turbolift, she called out for deck six. She was glad for the empty lift while she rubbed at her throbbing temples and inhaled deeply many times. Not really wanting to go through with this next part, she wished for her tub and bed. But her nature wouldn't allow her to procrastinate. The lift opened and she exited to head for Astrometrics. Upon entering, her heart caught in her chest. She wondered if she would always feel this ache around Seven now. She strode up near the blonde and called out her name.

"Captain. How may I be of assistance?" the Borg asked stiffly.

"I need to discuss a few things with you, Seven. Do you need to get someone to cover your post?" The Blonde shook her head in the negative so the Captain straightened her uniform nervously and indicated the door. "Alright, let's go."

A short time later they arrived at holodeck one. The Captain entered a program number and the doors opened. The blonde tilted her head curiously. "I'll explain everything shortly Seven, if you'll just be patient and join me," the redhead stated and entered the program.

They walked together onto a bridge of a ship. Seven could tell it was a Federation Vessel, and as she scanned the bridge her gaze fell upon the plaque naming the vessel the U.S.S. Billings. "Captain?"

"This is where my story begins Seven. This story at least…" She sighed and crossed the deck to sit in her old captain's chair. She indicated the first officer's seat next to her, "Please Seven, come and have a seat." Quickly she raised her hand to interrupt the expected argument. "I know you prefer to stand Seven, but this will not be easy for me, and I don't want to tell you this standing or craning my neck up to look at you."

Seven was caught off guard. The Captain rarely interrupted her like that, and insisted she sit. She braced herself and walked the few steps to the indicated chair, sitting very properly.

"Computer, display planet." Normally, that command would mean nothing to the computer, but this was the Captain's holoprogram and everything was stored as it was 10 years ago. A planet appeared on the view-screen, small and earthlike. "That is the planet my crew and I stumbled upon one day ten years ago in the beta quadrant. We were on a scientific mission exploring a region of space near of several non-traversable wormholes that had been discovered by a diplomatic envoy several months before. Our main goal was to simply plot the wormholes, and leave probes behind to study the phenomena. This planet simply appeared on our sensors one day unexpectedly. The star it orbited, shouldn't have supported it, its make-up was impossible. I decided to take a look into it. Despite Tuvok's warnings, I took a small scientific team and security detail and beamed down to the surface."

"Our team was not expecting any dangers. There were no signs of sentient life, nor any signs of larger life. But shortly after arrival we realized that communications were inoperative, and we couldn't get through to beam out. I knew Tuvok would find a way to get us back. So I instructed my team to make a camp near where we had beamed in and stay close. As the night fell on the camp and we gathered around our fire, one of the sentries alerted us to movement in the nearby trees. Before anyone could even investigate, we were surrounded by what looked very much like an earth animal called gibbons." Janeway tapped out a series of command on the panel of her chair and a life sized holopicture appeared on the bridge.

"We tried warning shots and even stunning the animals, but they continued into the camp undeterred even as we kept stunning them. Very quickly the first sentries were down, and we watched in horror as they were subdued and thrown to the ground. We were trapped and our weapons removed."

"The most chilling thing happened next. One of the guards was taken and laid face down. Then one of the gibbon-like creatures lay atop the ensign's prone body. When the creature opened its mouth at the base of her neck I was sure that she was about to be killed. But it was actually worse. A fist sized creature crawled out of the gibbon's mouth and burrowed into the neck of my ensign. Her screams of pain filled the jungle surrounding us. Then the gibbon got up off of her and walked away a few paces only to fall over. We found out later, that it was dead after that." Janeway stopped and collected herself. It was never easy to think about this story, and she hadn't had to tell it to anyone in a decade.

"I tried to keep my team focused, and we even tried to reason out what was happening, but the gibbons had gathered us into a group and kept us surrounded away from the ensigns body. She had stopped screaming and passed out, but it was obvious she was still alive… she was still breathing. Also, the gibbons were protecting her… they seemed to be even reverent of her. We figured out that there was a definite order to the 'troop' of gibbons. Their behavior was organized. When one would come over to examine one of us, another would screech at it, almost like a warning and the first would fall back into line to simply watch us. They had taken our weapons, our tricorders, our badges, anything electronic, and had moved us away from the fire. Our only hope was for a rescue from the ship."

"Some time much later Ensign Anderson stirred from the ground. She sat up and shook her head and looked at first us, then the gibbons. One of the larger gibbons near her started singing and waving its arms at her, and surprisingly she laughed. Then she sang back to it, high pitched squeals and grunts that all of our captors seemed to understand. I called out to her and she looked at me curiously, but didn't respond. She went to stand on her hind legs like they did, with her hands dragging the ground, then watched us. Minutes later she stood, shaking her head again. We watched as she seemed to examine her own body and hopped up and down. Finally, she approached our group, and more specifically me."

"You are the leader." "She asked me, or told me, I wasn't sure which. Her voice was different, darker and rougher than before, and the sclera of her eyes were blood red." The redhead shivered before continuing. "I told her yes, and began to ask questions, which she completely ignored. After that she made a high pitched noise and motioned towards me and two of the gibbons grabbed at my arms. I tried to resist being pulled away and my security officers fought as best as they could, but we were overwhelmed by their numbers and I yelled commands for everyone to stop resisting. I was separated from the group and she told me to lay down. I refused, so they forced me down, face in the dirt and in a few minutes the same thing that had happened to her had happened to me. I passed out somewhere in mid-scream."

"When I awoke, I was aware of myself, but unable to control myself. I was no longer alone in my mind. I screamed at the being who had possessed me. I argued with it, over every move he made. He wanted to know everything I knew, but I wouldn't tell him, so he began commanding the gibbons with my body to torture my team. He could see enough of my mind, and live enough of my memories to know that it would work. He wanted to know how to work the phasers. I wouldn't show him. So he picked one up and had one of my security detail pulled from the group, held by his troop. Using my own hands, he tested the settings on the phaser until the young Bolian was dead. I railed against him and cried, but he just laughed… inside my head and with my own voice. Anderson's captor meanwhile was busy exploring her new body. She had taken off her tunic and stripped down half naked. Occasionally she would rub up against me, or she would go over to the other humans and run her hands over their chests. After a while she sang back in that broken pitch language to me, and I actually understood what she was saying. It was some kind of symbiosis; I was learning the gibbon's language, absorbing my captors knowledge, which I knew meant he was probably beginning to understand mine. But he wanted me to speed it up, he wanted me to just tell him what he wanted to know immediately. He was impatient."

"Human" "Anderson pointed to herself and smiled. Apparently she was getting farther along inside the poor ensign's mind than my captor. Of course she had been in possession of her new body longer. She walked back over to the group and pulled out our Biometrics officer. He was a large young human male named Carson Geary. She faced me and sung to me, "For Uhna?" and I understood she wanted his body for her mate. Uhna was another one of these parasites I suddenly knew, just as I knew now knew mine was named Trian. Information was coming slowly, but I still had no control. Trian allowed Anderson, who I realized was controlled by a parasite named Pok, to take Geary. He was shoved down near an older gibbon and the whole disgusting thing started again." The older woman stopped for a short while and swallowed convulsively. Seven noticed that she was decidedly pale. Again, the redhead began her story.

"Three of us were hosts, and one dead, leaving the four remaining in my team in terror. They were talking loudly, trying to come up with a plan to escape, spurred on by the ranking security officer left, Ensign Walters. What they didn't know is that Trian and Pok could understand every word they said. When Walters was about ready to start his plan, Trian walked right up to him and shot him point blank in the head with the phaser set on kill. As the three remaining screamed, I was wailing inside my own mind, listening to my own laugh reverberating through the forest."

"At that moment, the scene changed and the three remaining crew started to sparkle under a beam out. My own eyes fell to my hands, still controlled by Trian and I watched as the transport began. A day later I woke up in my sickbay. You'll never know how good it felt to sit up on my own and look down at my hands.. which I had moved." Janeway was actually looking down at her own hands now. "My CMO appeared by my side and examined me, then briefed me. We had lost three that day. Geary didn't survive. It seems that a human male couldn't host the parasite. The three others were fine, leaving me and Anderson. She had not recovered yet and was in the bed next to mine. We had both underwent surgery to remove the parasites. The Doctor felt we were lucky considering it was a major brain surgery. The parasites had wrapped themselves around our brain stems and burrowed into our corpus collosa. But he was concerned about our brain chemistry. Mine was more stable, but Anderson's was completely off. All of her hormones were off balance, and her serotonin levels were off the scale. He wanted to stabilize her before he allowed her to come out of sedation."

"I was released from sickbay a week later, with a clean bill of health. But Anderson remained sedated. We had orders from Starfleet to mark the planet with a warning buoy, and return to Starbase Deep Space 12. On the way I was examined by our counselor, and she ordered me to regular sessions. It was a 7 week journey back to base. After two weeks, my CMO called me down to the sickbay to be there when Anderson was awoken. It wasn't good. She had a split personality. Pok was still there and sometimes controlled her, but at other times she was herself. After a thorough examination, he found that she had been changed on a genetic level. Then he examined me and found I now I had some of the same genetic traits. My base DNA had been altered, just slightly. He had no idea why I had escaped Trian's personality, but hypothesized that it was because I had been a host for a shorter time. It turns out that they had operated on me six hours before they even began on her. So she had the parasite for probably fourteen hours longer than me." Again the redhead shivered, and this time she actually wrapped her arms around herself as she stared at the view screen and the planet.

"Through the Pok personality we learned a lot about the parasites. They hadn't originated on that planet, they had been exiled there hundreds of years before. Their original hosts were long dead, so they had migrated into the closest primate the planet had offered. The planet itself was placed there by the species in a place that was thought to be so remote that no one would ever find it. There were a total of around two thousand exiles living in the gibbon–like creatures of the planet. Pok couldn't translate his species name, our even tell us about his home world, as he claimed it was in another dimension of space. Their society had dumped them on the planet over time, and their symbiosis allowed the primates to flourish. But our landing had given some of the more ambitious ones the idea to try to escape, to live in a higher life form again." Another pause and Seven was left digesting all she had heard. Nothing from her Borg mind remembered this part of Federation history. Of course the Borg would have deemed the parasitic creatures as unworthy of assimilation, so maybe it was discarded data.

"Anyway, my personality was almost completely unchanged. At least to everyone else. I had noticed though that there were some strange desires that I couldn't remember from before… most notably my sexual appetite. When we had arrived at DS12 and were accorded leave I went on an unprecedented tear through the station, spending almost two weeks moving from partner to partner. After that the ship was stifling me. I was even contemplating sex with one of my officers, which is something I had never done. Desperate for answers, yet wanting my privacy, I asked Tuvok to help me. When he opened a psychic link with me, he could feel the remnants of Trian strongly. He became my lifeline and cure. I spent many nights in his quarters studying my mind, my Kae with his help, and undergoing a Vulcan process called the Kae'k'akkayam, or mind retraining. It worked fairly well and I knew I could always count on Tuvok to keep an eye out for Trian's faults, or my new sexual addictions." The older woman turned and looked into Seven's eyes. The blonde noticed that Janeway was actually on the edge of tears. "You are my first failure in nearly a decade. Actually, I think what I did to you, is my greatest failure."

The normally energetic woman seemed to be only a fraction of her normal self when she rose from her chair and paced away from the hologram of the gibbon. She stopped finally in front of the view screen and planet. "I'll never be able to forgive myself for what has happened Seven. I have always tried to help you on your path to humanity, but somewhere along the line the part of me that I thought was gone… Trian's part of me… found you to be the greatest temptation." Her shoulders slumped and she turned back around and moved back to her chair. "You came to me innocently. I probably even had led you there without knowing it. I never knew you realized I watched you sometimes. I never knew you could see I loved you more than I should one of my crew. And yes I had begun to love you, but I thought there would be time… long in the future, maybe if we made it back home for me to tell you that." She sighed. "But when you asked me to teach you about physical love, I taught you a different lesson I never wanted to teach you myself. I taught you the pain of heartache." The two women looked at each other through tear filled eyes. "You deserved better. I'm so terribly sorry." Janeway whispered and raised her hand two wipe a tear away from the stoic blonde's face.

Seven was bombarded by emotions. It was confusing and overwhelming. She didn't even know how to begin to process through it all. She certainly didn't know what to say. This woman seemed so much like the woman Seven thought Janeway to be. This was the woman she had thought she had loved. Once again when she thought she had a grasp on her emotions for this human, she had changed and left Seven feeling lost. It must have shown on her face.

"Don't worry Seven. I don't expect you to say anything. You don't owe me anything. But I owed you an explanation. I owe you much more than that. I'd prefer it if you kept the details that I just told you to yourself though, mostly because that whole incident is classified… the Federation determined that the knowledge of the parasites was too risky in the wrong hands. As much as I didn't want to have to go through the Kae'k'akkayam again with Tuvok, I am in your debt for talking to him. You somehow went to the only person who could help me, before I lost it all. I truly believe if the Trian part of my mind ever gets too powerful, I'll lose my ability to command." Janeway frowned as she followed that thought to its conclusion in the Delta Quadrant. Shaking off that line of thinking she cleared her throat. "I think I owe you one last thing. If I had been in better control of myself all this time, I would like to think I would have realized by now that you need your own quarters. Therefore I have assigned Lt. Torres the task of fitting one alcove into the VIP quarters. I discussed it with her this morning to determine which of the available quarters would handle your alcove's power needs the best upon Voyager and it was concluded that you'd get the best." She finished that with a wry smile. "I think you should probably help her with design and placement. Don't worry though I'm pretty sure she'll want your help on this project."

The Captain stood and this time Seven followed suit. Janeway called out for the computer to end the program. "I think you should go down to engineering now and see what B'Elanna may need."

"I will comply, Captain." Seven managed after she found her voice. She turned to leave but paused before taking a step away, turning her head so that she could see Janeway in her peripheral vision. "Thank you, for the explanation… Kathryn. And for my future chance at privacy." Taking a long stride, she was just at the edge of the sensor range of the exit when the redhead answered.

"It was the least I could do. And Seven? I hope that maybe one day you'll be able to consider me a friend again," she said so softly as to almost be a whisper, and Seven actually turned to look in her eyes and dipped her head before leaving.

Chapter 11

Seven strode into engineering and looked around for her love interest. Catching sight of the engineer in her office, she proceeded to the small room with alacrity. Entering the half Klingon's domain, she cleared her throat as she had seen Tuvok do on so many occasions to get her attention. The smaller woman looked up and her features lit up with a smile that threatened to stop the Borg's heart.

"Hey Annika," B'Elanna said while trying to control her own heart-rate. She had no idea when the former drone began to affect her this way, but lately it seemed her Klingon lust had decided to take control whenever she saw the beauty standing before her.

"Lieutenant," Seven began then looked around and decided things were private enough to be a little less formal. She beamed a small smile that was entirely her own and continued. "B'Elanna, the Captain informed me you might require my assistance on a project with my alcove?"

"So you want this move," B'Elanna asked.

"Yes, I believe I will enjoy having my own quarters," the blonde replied with another small smile, one that illuminated her eyes.

That smile did it for the engineer. She may have had her reservations about Seven moving into quarters next to Janeway, but she would do anything to facilitate the blonde's happiness. She decided that she would just have to keep an eye out for any tricks from the Captain and she would make sure that the older woman didn't hurt Seven any more than she already had. "Well, why don't you come over here and see what I've already done? I think we can have everything moved in two days if you don't see any problems with my designs."

Seven joined the smaller woman at her desk and together they went over the plans and specifications. If it took a little bit longer than it could have because each woman was distracted by the other, neither of them complained.

Seven left what would be her new quarters alongside B'Elanna at the end of the alpha shift. She was not surprised that she had to convince the young engineer to stop working at the end of the shift, but she was, as always, amused. She finally understood why the Captain and Doctor had gotten exasperated with her all those times when they would order her to stop working on a project and she had no inclination to do so. It was interesting to understand both sides at once. Comprehending that B'Elanna was just enthralled by the new insights of the Borg technology that Seven was providing, she still had no desire to see the brunette overwork on her account. Besides, she had an appointment to keep with Tuvok.

"Well, since you won't let me continue working how about I take you to the mess hall for a taste of whatever Neelix is calling food tonight?" B'Elanna smiled and gave Seven her best pleading look.

"I am sorry B'Elanna, but I already have plans with Tuvok this evening, otherwise I would not hesitate to join you… even if I still refuse to eat what Neelix designates food," the blonde answered with a smirk.

B'Elanna's face fell with disappointment for a minute before she schooled a smile back onto her face. "Okay then… well… I'm sure we'll have plenty of time between now and the Alpha Quadrant to get together in the mess hall and debate the origins of Neelix's cuisine."

They hopped onto the turbolift together and the short ride down one deck for Seven's exit was over much too quickly for both of them. The engineer decided to hop off the lift so she had another few moments with the blonde.

"I couldn't happen to convince you to go to Sandrine's later tonight could I? You still owe me a game of pool you know." B'Elanna didn't know why she was so eager, but she just wanted more time with the blonde.

Seven turned and looked down into the soft brown eyes that captivated her so. "B'Elanna, again I am sorry. But I really must spend some time alone tonight. It has been a long day for me, and I have still another four nights of extra regeneration to compensate for my injuries. Working an extra half shift through Gamma shift has made it difficult for me to follow the Doctor's orders regarding the extra regeneration time, and I am not at one hundred percent functionality yet."

"Kahless Annika, why didn't you say so? I mean I wouldn't have kept you all the way through alpha if I had known." B'Elanna frowned and grabbed Seven's hands.

"I wanted to spend the extra time with you B'Elanna, and it was my choice to extend my shift accordingly," the Borg answered with a raised brow. "I find it quite satisfying to work on projects with you. Indeed, it is curiously fulfilling to be able to work with you on moving my alcove." She tilted her head and pondered that thought momentarily. Realizing she was making herself late, she put aside her questions on that subject for consideration at another time. "I need to go now jonwI."

B'Elanna nodded, not quite sure if she wanted to take the risk of kissing the blonde, feeling shy now since she felt rejected twice already. It would have been so much simpler if the women could know what the other was thinking. Both women were feeling shy and insecure. Seven's lack of experience in matters of the heart kept her from taking charge and claiming the kiss that each of them wanted, but neither could express, so she finally turned and left the engineer in the passageway.

Tuvok opened his eyes at the sound of the chime of his door. He had returned to his quarters immediately after his shift and changed into his simple robes. It would be a pleasant challenge to take on Seven as a student. He had meditated until she was due to arrive. "Enter," he called out from his position on the floor. He studied her as she strode through the door. Her bearing was already possessed with an economy of motion, an almost leonine grace. Motioning to the pillow on the other side of his table he asked her to take a seat.

The next day as alpha shift was almost over, B'Elanna completed her part of the alcove relocation and she also found herself very distracted by her company. Mesmerized by the long slender fingers flowing over the console before her, B'Elanna was in a deep trance and barely registered the fact that she was being questioned. "Uh.. What?" she stammered.

Seven raised her eyebrow curiously, wondering what was distracting the engineer. "I asked if you were through with those couplings? If you are I will load the final programming instructions and begin diagnostics."

"Oh! Yeah, go ahead. I finished a little while ago. Sorry," the brunette answered with a wave. "So, you've got all your stuff here I see. I guess this will be your first official night in your own quarters. Are you going to celebrate somehow?"

The blonde finished up her entries into her console them turned with a smile. "I do not think what I had in mind would be considered a typical celebration."

"Oh yeah? What did you have in mind?" B'Elanna asked.

Seven crossed the small area, stood within B'Elanna's personal space and leaned down so that her lips were scant millimeters away from the half-Klingon's. "I wanted to conduct research," she whispered, her breath invading B'Elanna's senses.

The engineer lifted her arms and circled the blonde's waist pulling her closer until their bodies were molded together. She moaned at the sensuality of the moment, the feel of Seven's soft curves against her body. "Research on what?"

"The effects of hybrid physiology when applied to a human-Borg body in a localized environment, including the input of many variables," Seven answered in a very low breathy tone, then captured the soft lips before her in a long sultry kiss. The two women were weak in the knees as the kiss broke. "Of course, I need to secure a willing research participant."

Seven began trailing kisses down along the smaller woman's jaw. As she approached the soft ear she trailed her tongue along the edge lightly, then took the earlobe in her teeth and tugged gently, causing the smaller woman to shiver. B'Elanna leaned her head to the other side. The Borg took this as permission and began biting and kissing her way slowly down the beautiful neck.

"Mmmm… Did you have someone in mind? You know you have to be careful about who you choose. I wouldn't want your… research to be skewed by an inferior subject." B'Elanna's voice was throaty with desire, but she was enjoying the verbal interplay. It was a refreshing change from what she had become accustomed to over the years with Tom. The fact that the Borg was rubbing her back slowly, massaging all the right areas to stimulate her Klingon nerve endings was quickly driving her to distraction.

"Indeed. A superior subject is within reach. I just need to secure her permission to begin my study." Seven moved her body slowly up against the strong woman she was embracing. She bit her lower lip briefly and closed her eyes at what felt like a firestorm reaction racing through her frame. Opening heavily lidded eyes and staring into equally lust-darkened eyes before her, she forgot about her verbal sparring and simply leaned in to claim the inviting lips before her.

As their passion grew in intensity and their hands began mapping out the curves of each other's bodies, Seven's impatience grew. In a lightening fast move, she reached out and lifted the smaller woman into her arms. She took long strides over to her bed, laying B'Elanna gently in the middle before easing her long body down, trapping the smaller woman. Insinuating her thigh between B'Elanna's legs she ground herself slowly into the engineer, which made the Borg moan and a deep growl bubble forth from the Klingon's throat.

B'Elanna's body was burning from everything Seven was doing to her. She hadn't really realized how powerful a lover Seven might be; she had forgotten that the blonde was actually physically stronger than her. When the Borg had lifted her and carried her across the room, both her hearts had skipped a beat, and she felt ridiculously like some damsel in a holo-novel. It was a feeling she never would've guessed would thrill her. Nonetheless, she was completely enraptured by the experience. Reaching around the blonde's neck, she found the pins restraining the woman's hair, released the silken strands and flung the pins across the room, plunging her fingertips into the soft mane and pulling Seven down for another passionate kiss. She raised her knee in between the taller woman's thighs to exert her own pressure on the former drone's center, swallowing the answering moan while consuming the soft lips and exploring tongue. She felt the long fingers of that Borg enhanced hand she had been fantasizing about work its way between their bodies to explore the planes of her stomach, then the fingers spread and cupped her breast gently. The move was so tender, yet so erotic, that she moaned and threw her head back.

Seven immediately captured the soft neck between her lips, nuzzling her way down to the pulse point that seemed to draw her like a moth to a flame. As before, her enhanced senses were overwhelming her with information and she could hear the beat of B'Elanna's hearts, the very blood pulsing through her veins like a siren's call. While she licked the soft spot gently, she moved to unzip the tunic that hindered any further progress, lifting herself up off the soft yet muscular body only long enough to part the fabric, leaving the tunic open underneath her. The natural odor of this strong warrior below her was growing stronger every moment and Seven's nostrils flared as she inhaled deeply. Kissing lower she nipped and licked the exposed parts of the collarbones then nuzzled lower down to the top of her well-formed chest.

Could B'Elanna know how very much she affected her, she wondered briefly. Were there even words for the perfection she felt in her arms? She was just about to express how wonderful she felt when Yellow Alert sirens rang out through the room.

"No!" B'Elanna growled out then whimpered. Seven's forehead fell to the smaller woman's chest briefly and she breathed in three deep breaths as Tuvok had so recently taught her, hoping that maybe they could clear her head of the emotions rushing through her like a concussion wave. Finally, she pushed herself up off of the smaller woman, standing before her and helping her off of the bed.

"We will continue this later, but we are needed elsewhere," Seven stated formally. Falling back on her Borg mannerisms was the only thing keeping her focused on her duty. She felt strangely like abandoning her post and ignoring the Yellow Alert and that frightened her.

The way Seven seemed to turn her feelings off like a light switch startled B'Elanna. 'How could she be so calm?' the smaller woman wondered. 'Did none of this mean anything to her?' She had to shake off that line of thinking as the Yellow alert changed abruptly to a Red alert, the ship rocked and Seven's comm. badge came to life with Chakotay's voice ordering her to the bridge. They both collected themselves and dashed out of the quarters. Stepping into the lift, B'Elanna watched the doors close as Seven waited for the next lift since they were going in opposite directions.

Seven had managed to clear her head and her body was no longer vibrating with desire by the time she exited the lift onto the bridge. Her long strides brought her to her station quickly and as her hands flew over the console logging herself in, she raised her eyes to the view-screen lifting an eyebrow in surprise at what lay before Voyager. Dropping her eyes back to the tactical data streaming by on her console she was unsurprised by the audacity of the Captain, who had engaged a trio of Llannari vessels that were attacking a lone Nguener ship. She was perversely happy that the Borg had not managed to assimilate all of the Nguener race, and determined to help the crew efficiently rid the Nguener of their Llannari threat. Among reports being shouted back and forth on the bridge she calmly informed the Captain who they were defending.

"I may be able to modify our phasers to penetrate the Llannari shields," she calmly added beginning the process before even hearing the expected "Do it" command the Captain always shot back when her Borg experience was helpful in these situations. Moments passed before she was done, the ship taking only one volley in the time before she could announce the changes were complete.

After that, the tides of the battle turned very quickly. Once the Llannari found their shields penetrated by the bigger vessel that had seemingly appeared out of nowhere to take sides with the Nguener they made a hasty retreat, warping out of the area. Voyager let them leave, the Captain having no need or intention to give chase.

"Captain," Harry's voice rang out, "We're being hailed by the Nguener vessel."

"On screen," the redhead commanded.

"Unknown Vessel, we thank you for your timely assistance," the small harried-looking humanoid started once the link was open. He was a compact man with caramel colored skin. Janeway thought that he could pass for a human if it weren't for a ridge that neatly bisected his forehead. "I am Ferzi, First Marshal of the Nguener Ship Necessity. We would be honored if you would tell us who rescued us on this day and how we may repay your efforts."

Janeway smiled broadly and fully engaged her best diplomatic persona to answer. "First Marshall Ferzi, I am Captain Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager. We are glad we could be of assistance, and there is no need to repay us. We were in the area when we picked up your distress call. Since we recently encountered the Llannari ourselves, we were aware of their unreasonable hostility and simply felt the need to help even the odds of your survival. Our sensors indicate you took some heavy damage. Is there any way we could assist you with that, or would you like an escort until you can contact your fleet for assistance?"

"That is most gracious of you Captain Janeway," the Marshal responded, "and indeed fortuitous for us. We are many parsecs from our home and any of our fleet. Since the Llannari saw fit to damage our cloaking array so thoroughly, we would indeed have much trouble finding our way back home unaided."

"Well, then perhaps we could send a team over to facilitate a more speedy recovery for you and we will accompany you along your journey while you are heading our way?" The Captain posed the solution very gently, knowing how difficult it would be for her to trust newcomers if she were in Ferzi's position.

Evidently he had no such qualms. "That would be wonderful Captain Janeway, and if you would be so inclined I am sure my government would be most interested in rewarding your kindness if you were to visit our home world," he answered with a bright smile which caused his golden eyes to sparkle. "It has been many years since we have encountered a new peaceful people, and your magnanimity would be celebrated at home."

"If it will not add too much time to our journey, I don't see any problem with meeting your people First Marshal. In the meantime, I will let my security chief handle the details with you about the best way for us to begin aiding in your repairs, and I will send my Second in Command over on the first team." Janeway smiled at the end of her statement. She loved it when they got to meet new species and it appealed to her whenever they could help out in any way. The Marshal returned her smile and nodded, then looked over his shoulder and the communication was broken.

"Captain, their security commander has established contact now," the cool tones of Tuvok informed.

"Forward the details of the size of the team to my ready room Tuvok. The commander and I will be discussing who to send," Janeway stated as she left her chair and strode across the bridge. Chakotay had followed and they were several steps into the short journey when Janeway turned her head, looking at the Borg across the bridge. "Seven would you please join us?"

The blonde shut down her station and moved across the bridge. She had no idea that her movements were so well tracked by some of the stunned men on the bridge. It had not occurred to her when she couldn't re-pin her hair in its customary bun in her rush to her station earlier that its free-flowing state made her even more beautiful. So if Harry Kim was more than a little breathless while watching her, or Tom Paris actually glanced at her for longer than normal, she took no notice.

Upon entering the Captain's ready room, the redhead asked both of her officers over to the less formal area and inquired if they wanted drinks. Keying in a cup of coffee for herself, and a terrilian tea for Chakotay, she was flabbergasted when Seven requested a glass of iced orange juice. Shaking her head to clear it of her amusement, the smaller woman brought the requested drinks over to the low table, and sat facing her officers.

"Seven, I wanted you to join us so you might tell us what we should expect from the Nguener. I guess the Borg weren't as thorough when assimilating their species as they usually are, so why don't you tell us what you know about the race." Kathryn said then leaned back in chair to listen, sipping her coffee from a pale porcelain cup.

The Borg closed her eyes for a moment, accessing the areas of her cortical implant where the knowledge of the Nguener race was stored. She began by revealing when the Borg had become aware of the race, then went through a brief history of the Borg's strategy and success in assimilating the race. After that she detailed their physiology and gave information regarding their level of technology. "The Nguener added much to the distinctiveness of the collective," she concluded after nearly a quarter hour of speech.

Chakotay raised his eyebrows, his tattoo crinkling at the expression. "I, for one, am very glad to hear that this race wasn't completely destroyed after what you just told us. It would have been a great loss."

"Indeed, Commander. I agree," Seven replied, catching him totally off guard.

The Captain broke in, questioning Seven again. "You had said that the Borg had monitored the region after assimilating the Nguener. Why would the Borg leave survivors behind?"

"My memories of the collective show that the home world was clearly taken. I can only hypothesize that there were ships away from the world at the time, or an undetected colony. Many of their governmental officials committed suicide rather than being taken by the Borg. It was clear from the beginning of the assimilation process that they had knowledge of how the Borg functioned. Perhaps they knew that the only way to protect their colonies was for anyone who had knowledge of those colonies to die before assimilation." Seven looked slightly uncomfortable.

Chakotay was surprised when he realized that the source of her discomfort was her own culpability in past assimilations. He had spent a long time mistrusting Seven, especially when she first came aboard Voyager, but over the years she had proven herself, and he no longer felt he needed to watch her. That never stopped him from believing her to have no remorse about her past. Looking at her now, her hair down and falling gently around her face, which was further softened by her pensiveness, he felt arrogant in his assumptions and he saw a much more human woman than he ever had before now. Janeway's voice broke into his musings.

"Chakotay, I'd like you to confer with Tuvok. Take Lt. Torres with you to the Necessity so that she can best determine what we can do, and which of her people would be best suited to assist in their repairs. I want to do everything in our power to make this as easy as we can for a race that has obviously struggled. Have Tuvok report the details once you two are sure of them." Janeway nodded to him, in effect dismissing him to carry out her commands.

"Aye, Captain," he responded with a smile, rising from the small couch. He left the room after placing his glass in the recycling unit.

Once they were alone, the Captain and Seven both fell quiet for a few uncomfortable moments. Then the redhead sighed and said, "Damn Seven. If I lived to be two hundred years old, I don't think I'll ever stop regretting doing something so foolish as to put this unease between us. I had wanted to tell you that your hair looked beautiful down like that, but I am so afraid of saying something wrong that I find I can't even tell you simple things I would not have hesitated to tell you before."

Seven looked down at her hands shyly. "Thank you, Captain. Although I will say I am more comfortable with my hair up while I am on duty; it is more efficient that way. It is down now simply because I did not have time to restore it once the Red Alert was called."

"I see," Janeway answered. She stood, feeling the need to put space between them, and strode over to the windows. Looking beyond the smaller Nguener vessel in front of her ship, she found comfort in the vastness of space which always calmed her. "I do miss our friendship Seven. An old cranky Starship Captain like myself doesn't have very many friends. I've spent too many years on this journey holding myself away from the crew. Starfleet teaches command candidates to stay apart from their subordinates, so that when split-second decisions must be made a crew will always obey their commands. It hasn't been easy out here since I am the highest ranking Starfleet officer. You wormed your way past my defenses and became my friend so very quickly once you came aboard." She stopped and laughed. "I found it was impossible to keep command distance with someone who didn't believe in the chain of command."

Seven's eyebrow and implant rose a little and the corner of her mouth quirked up in amusement. The redhead caught the facial expression and understood it's meaning. She had begun to wonder if she would ever see that small smile again, which she knew, was actually somewhat equivalent to a laugh for the Borg.

"Captain … I have spent some time thinking about our friendship myself. Although I am still hurt by the brevity of that evening, I cannot help but relate your duality of nature to the very duality of my nature. You have forgiven me many times when my Borg nature has caused problems. I am left to wonder what kind of person I would become if I could not forgive you your duality also. Logically I am ready to forgive you, and find I must. However, you must understand that emotionally I still ache sometimes. The ache subsided greatly after your explanation, for which I must thank you. Perhaps in time, I will not ache at all when I remember that night."

Kathryn's heart hurt so much to hear what Seven was saying, and not be able to respond. Every night since Tuvok had initiated the retraining, she spent long hours crying herself to sleep over the blonde and her own foolish mistakes. How she longed right at this moment to tell the lovely woman before her how very deeply she affected her; how their night together as seen through a now sane mind was so infinitely precious as to be indescribable. Yet, she had decided from the start never to interfere with Seven's relationship with her Chief Engineer. Just because she had thrown away a perfect chance at a relationship with the Borg, she did not have a right to affect theirs in any way. "I hope that you can see it differently one day too," Kathryn said softly.

Clearing her throat to hopefully eliminate the lump that had formed, Janeway turned and changed the subject. "Do you mind telling me how the move is coming? B'Elanna had indicated she thought it would be done this afternoon."

"The move was successful. I had just begun diagnostics on the alcove before I was called to the bridge. I have already moved my things and will begin settling my belongings during my next free period." Seven answered.

"Well, I hope you enjoy your new space to its fullest. Just be careful about any loud late night parties. I heard your neighbor is the Captain, and she is supposedly a real stick in the mud about loud parties… unless you invite her to them." Janeway teased and finished with a wink. "And as far as your next free period… The Doctor has informed me you haven't gotten all of the regeneration he had ordered, nor did you stay off duty on the day after your injuries like he asked. Consider it an order for you to go straight back to your quarters and rest."

"I assure you Captain I am functioning with acceptable parameters," Seven said in order to try to calm the Captain's worries and avoid being ordered to be restricted even further.

Janeway held up her right hand signaling the Borg to stop. "You can't fool me Seven. I was overextending myself and being ordered to take it easy before you were out of the maturation chamber." The absurdity of that caused the redhead to laugh. "Just make the Doctor happy and catch up on your regeneration cycles tonight. I will tell B'Elanna and Chakotay to have someone else cover your shifts for the next day. Unless something comes up where we just have to have a Borg design immediately, you can expect no business calls, Captain's orders to all of the departments who rely upon you. Now if I have an ulterior motive for wanting you healthy…"

Seven canted her head and raised her eyebrow. Janeway laughed softly at the look that was so uniquely Seven's questioning look. "Hey," Kathryn started, "You are the only decent competition I ever get at Velocity. Chakotay, bless his heart has been trying to fill your shoes over the last few weeks, but Seven… I will beg if I have to in order to get my old velocity competitor and friend back." Blue-gray eyes sparkled with mirth as Janeway shot a pleading look at Seven.

Seven's mouth quirked again in a small smile. "Very well Captain. I will 'take it easy', rest and regenerate during my forced free time. However, do not be surprised if I take you up on that begging… a public forum sounds like an interesting stipulation. I must contemplate how to fully enjoy a captain's begging."

Janeway laughed out loud. They had cleared more of the air and Seven was smiling again. If Seven wanted her to crawl on her knees through the messhall in order to keep up the feeling that they were heading back to a place that recognized their friendship, well she would do so quite giddily. "Seven, go home. Rest. And remember, it's always considered diplomatic to invite the neighbors over for coffee once you feel settled in. Dismissed."

Seven stood and smiled, dipping her head in acknowledgement, then left the ready room. Striding across the bridge she was in a very happy frame of mind. It was a shame that B'Elanna could not be there with her to share her happiness, but the Nguener were getting the best when they got B'Elanna Torres' assistance.

When Seven entered her quarters, she was surprised to find objects that had not been there when she left lying on the low table in the front room. She walked over to the couch and sat down to examine the objects. There was a small vase with a red rose, a stuffed creature of some sort and a PADD. Picking up the PADD she found a short note of apology from B'Elanna.


I'm sorry that our 'research' got interrupted. Believe me I Am Sorry! I have been asked to go on the away team over to the Nguener vessel, otherwise wild Targs couldn't keep me away from being at your side tonight, whether you wanted to finish this research or just talk. I left you a small welcome home gift I hope you will like. The rose is just an imperfect reflection of your beauty in my mind, but I thought it might brighten up your quarters and remind you how very beautiful I find you while I am away. The teddy bear is for you to hold… he will protect you from any bad dreams while I am gone. I hope you will consider delaying your research until I return. I would really like to continue being your subject.


Seven reached out and pulled the teddy bear into her arms. She smelled the bear, inhaling deeply when she noticed that B'Elanna's scent was on it. Smiling she reached out with her human hand and touched the petals of the rose delicately. Their softness reminded her of B'Elanna's skin. She sat there for many minutes just enjoying the happiness that these small objects brought her.

Her reverie was interrupted by the chime to her door. At first she just waited for the person to come in on their own. Then she remembered that she had to allow their entry. This wouldn't be like the Cargo Bay where anyone could enter anytime they wished. It was a wonderful reminder that she finally had some privacy and if she wished she could totally ignore the chime. Nevertheless she called out "enter", preferring that simple phrase to all others she had heard over the years for its efficiency.

The door opened to reveal Harry Kim holding a dozen red roses. He was smiling, but he appeared to be nervous. She would never understand why Harry was often nervous around her. She had watched him interact with other members of the crew before and hardly ever saw this level of nervous energy. He only seemed to get this nervous before dangerous missions, and in the company of exceptionally beautiful humanoid women.

She stood and used her hand in a sweeping gesture she had seen the Captain use many times to invite him to come further in. As it was he seemed frozen in her doorway. "Harry Kim. How may I be of assistance?"

He seemed jarred back to reality and stammered. "Uh, um… here," he said as he thrust the roses out in front of him, "These are for you. I thought it would be nice to come by and congratulate you on your new quarters. I'm happy the Captain finally realized how much you deserved them." He smiled and ran a hand through his hair, disordering it with his nervous gesture.

She delicately took the flowers, and was once again lost in their scent, thinking of B'Elanna. She smiled softly as she became lost in thought about the small woman who had already given her so much. Harry though was lost in his own thoughts. He had never seen Seven smile like that. She was standing there with her eyes closed, inhaling the scent of the flowers he had just given her and smiling. He was just sure his time had come.

"I also wanted to see if maybe, I mean, now that you have your own place if you, well…" He babbled a bit. This wasn't as easy as when he rehearsed it on his way up. "I was wondering if you'd let me take you out to dinner on a date?" He finally stated in a rush.

There was a long moment of silence as she processed this. It was an unexpected turn of events. She had thought he had stopped desiring her when she had offered to copulate with him and he ran out of the room terrified. Evidently she had not analyzed the data as thoroughly as needed. She had no desire to hurt him though. She rather liked the boyish man. He was a good man with a good heart, and further, would be a good person to call a friend.

She walked over to her couch and sat down. Again she took her cue from the ways the captain and Tuvok had always treated her when she had visited their quarters and indicated that he should sit in the chair across from her. When he sat down she noticed he looked even more afraid than before he asked her out.

"Harry Kim, I cannot comply," she started and his head and shoulders fell noticeably. He started to stutter out apologies and even began to stand as if to leave. "Please! Let me explain." She raised her voice slightly to get his attention. He sat back down and looked at her. "I am obviously new to this, so I hope I won't say anything that will damage you. While I think you are a wonderful man, and a very good friend Harry, I do not have romantic feelings for you. Indeed I recently discovered that I have no romantic feelings for any man. Apparently, I am only attracted to women. I think that if you were a woman you might make a very good mate for me. You are obviously kind and very romantic in nature. I hope you will be able to remain my friend even though I do not return your romantic feelings."

Harry just sat there stupefied. He blinked several times and shook his head as if to make the new information digest easier. Finally he just asked in a squeaky high-pitched voice, "You're gay?"

"I believe that is one designation for my inclinations, although I have no idea what being happy has to do with loving a person of the same gender," she answered. She was becoming concerned for his health though. He didn't seem to be breathing correctly, and he was mumbling short nonsensical statements. Finally, he just burst out laughing.

"I fail to see what is so funny Mr. Kim."

He just waved at her while he collected himself. "It's not really that funny. I think all my nerves just caught up with me. But I was thinking how ironic it was to come all the way out to the Delta Quadrant, rescue a Borg, who initially scared all then men on Voyager with her sheer strength, then have more than half of those same men fall head over heels in adoration for her beauty, only to find out that she is gay!" He snickered a little again. She just watched him confused. "What you just told me will leave a lot of broken hearts on the ship Seven. Although there are more than a few women who would be really happy to try and woo you if they knew."

"I do not understand why my attraction to women will affect anyone," Seven responded softly with a genuinely puzzled look on her face. "Nobody other than yourself has ever asked me out on a 'date'. "

He smiled and then answered her. "You really have no clue how beautiful you are… and most people on this ship only see the outside beauty since you never let anyone get close. I guess I'm lucky to have gotten to know your internal beauty too. Seven, you have a lot to offer someone. I only hope that when you start dating women, you don't settle for anything but the best. And it must be because you are so new to your feelings as to why you have never noticed how many people look at you with adoration and lust. Believe me, I can think of at least three ensigns down on the lower decks who just about crumble every time you talk to them because they have such big crushes on you. I thought you didn't respond because you didn't feel the same way. Now I know you just don't even see it."

This surprised the former drone even more than anything else had this evening. "What should I do about these ensigns?" she asked bewildered.

"Nothing Seven, that's not the point. You aren't responsible for other people's feelings. I was just pointing out how oblivious you are to the feelings you inspire. Some people think you know how beautiful you are and are arrogant about it. I am so happy to know they are wrong. Your ignorance of your own beauty just makes you that much more appealing. Whatever woman wins your heart will be lucky." Harry finished. "Well, I hope you'll enjoy the roses anyway. And thanks for letting me know why… I mean you have no idea how nervous I was and you could have really hurt me without knowing it. You are a good friend."

"Indeed, Mr. Kim. I enjoy our interactions as well. You are one of the few people aboard Voyager who has the ability to grasp Borg encryption codes, which only proves your intelligence, and also one of the few who can constantly tolerate Tom Paris, which shows your remarkable patience." She smirked.

He waved that off, a bit embarrassed from the praise. "Well, I like working with you on the Borg codes. They are so different than they taught us at the academy. And Tom? Well, he's just an over-grown kid. I mean he's actually a good guy most of the time. He has a great heart, but sometimes it's hard to see."

"I can question that statement. His 'great heart' was not present when he insulted and hurt B'Elanna in the corridor, or when he disregarded her feelings to date another." She replied.

He frowned. "Yeah, I know. He was really drunk that night. Unfortunately he doesn't think when he's drunk. He was hurting, and he wanted to hurt her because of it, and he knows what to say to hurt her the most. He was really sorry about it the next day. I convinced him to just leave her alone for now. It wouldn't have worked though if you hadn't put the fear of death into him. I had to go and pull him off the ceiling that night, and when he woke up the next morning on my couch, I made him go look at the hull where you bent it. Told him he was lucky it wasn't his head. He finally listened to me and has been leaving B'Elanna alone since then." He looked up at her. "Thanks for not hurting him by the way."

"I have no desire to hurt anyone. But I could not let him hurt B'Elanna like that. I thought a warning was an efficient way to stop his cruel remarks. I am glad it succeeded." Seven stated.

"Yeah, I'm glad she's got you as a friend. I mean I know she doesn't talk to me about Tom these days, so I figured she's been talking to you. It's great that you two buried the hatchet after the Hirogen battle. I always knew you guys had a lot in common." He said amiably. Then his face froze up as a thought occurred to him. He shook his head and laughed.

She really was getting exasperated while trying to decipher where his mirth seemed to originate from moment to moment. "What is amusing now Mr. Kim?"

He chuckled again. "I won't tell you unless you promise to stop calling me Mr. Kim and start calling me Harry from now on. Friends just don't call each other by their surnames." He responded with a grin.

"Very well, tell me what is funny Harry. Now." She glared at him but he could see a twinkle in her eye.

"I just had the funny thought that maybe you and B'Elanna were dating. It would make sense in a way, but you just said earlier that nobody other than me had ever asked you out on a date, so I figured that I was just letting my imagination run away with me. I think it's a guy thing to pair off all women once they realize one is a lesbian," he finished with a snicker.

"Actually we are trying to establish a romantic relationship Harry. Yet, neither one of us has asked for a date. Have I failed by neglecting to ask her to 'date' me?" Seven asked, her eyes large with worry.

Harry just sat there shocked for the second time that night. "Uh.. whoa.. you really are trying to keep me off balance tonight aren't you? I can't answer that Seven. I mean I don't know what you mean when you say you are trying to establish a romantic relationship. I do know two things about B'Elanna though. One: she says what she feels, so if she says she loves you, you know it's true. Two: I would be damned stupid to interfere because she could rip me limb from limb if I screwed up and gave you bad advice. On that note, I'm going to get out of here. Klingon jealousy is a damned frightening thing and if she catches me here, after I gave you a dozen roses… Well, let's just say I like my arms attached to my body." He laughed and stood to leave. "But I will give you one piece of advice," he turned and said as he was almost in range of the door sensors. "When she finally asks you out on a date, wear your hair down. You look like an angel that way, and seeing you like that today gave even me the courage to ask you out!"

She had stood and walked over to join him as he was leaving. Before he could turn away she pulled him into a hug. "I have been told a hug is of value among friends. Thank you for being mine Harry."

He blushed and stuttered out a flustered, "no problem," then made his exit with a smile and a wave.

Over on the Nguener ship Necessity, B'Elanna was in engineering heaven. Sure, there was a lot of work to be done, and many repairs that would have to be made before the small ship could get underway again. However, the engineers here really had some impressive designs and they had no qualms about sharing them with Voyager. They had a fascinating way of using a minimal amount of dilithium crystals in their engines that she was just itching to inspect further, but that needed to be put off until after the repairs had been completed. Their head engineer, Truhan, was a short scrawny guy, not even as tall as her, but she could tell by his hands that he liked to keep them in his engines like she did. He was a likable character with a non-stop bright smile and he was equally impressed with her knowledge. He had just left to gather some schematics for her to take back to Voyager so that she could brief and train her crews before they came over.

"B'Elanna, you have drool on your chin," Chakotay quipped.

Having not heard him approach she startled, then turned and mock glared at him. "Ha-ha Mr. Wow-I'd-love-to-hear-more-about-that-ceremony." He snickered good naturedly so she continued, "Kahless, I think I could happily get lost in this engine room for a few days." She smiled.

"Well, only as long as it takes to help them repair their damage. The Captain still hasn't decided how long we will accompany them, but she wants to make sure they are safe before we leave. Their navigator has sent over their flight route to Astrometrics and Ensign Delaney is going over it right now to see how far off course it would be for us to accompany them all the way back to their new home-world."

"Why didn't the Captain just get Seven to do it? You know she could have just looked it over and had an answer within minutes compared to the hours it will take Delaney," B'Elanna wondered out loud.

"Yeah, we all know Seven's faster, but it's good for her department to get some practice in while we're not in a crunch. Besides, the Captain's been really concerned about Seven lately. I think Kathryn is finally figuring out that she was pressing Seven too hard. The Doctor has also been up there to complain that Seven wasn't resting enough." Chakotay answered her, not realizing B'Elanna's jealous worries. "Just between you and I, I think Kathryn has also finally realized how she really feels about Seven." He said this last bit with a conspiratorial smile.

"What?" B'Elanna exclaimed.

"Oh come on B'Elanna… Don't tell me you've never noticed it. It's been obvious to a lot of us on the bridge for a while that Kathryn is in love with Seven." Seeing her angry look he misconstrued it. "Hey, I thought you and Seven buried the hatchet? Even if you don't think Seven is right for the Captain, you can't really want Kathryn alone, and you can't choose who she loves. I mean don't you think out of all the people on Voyager, the Captain deserves to finally relax some and indulge in her love?"

B'Elanna's good mood had been officially and thoroughly destroyed now. How could she explain everything she knew about what had already happened? She couldn't, because that would mean breaking a promise to Seven never to tell anyone. "Yeah, whatever."

"B'Elanna, please don't interfere. Don't tell Seven either. I don't know when or if Kathryn will ever get her courage up and ask Seven out, but I don't think she'd be too happy to know that you or I had been talking about it beforehand." Chakotay looked into her eyes for an agreement from the half-Klingon he had considered a friend for so many years.

She growled out, "Fine. I won't tell Seven. I have to get back to Truhan about those schematics, then I'll be ready to go over and assemble my teams."

"Good," he smiled thinking all was normal again. "Get me a schedule made out before you send anyone over though, and keep me updated about timelines everyday." He turned and left the engine room, flanked by a short security guard who had been escorting him all day.

Chapter 12

Seven of Nine spent the next day arranging her new quarters to her liking. It really was a simple task that should not have taken quite so long, but she was interrupted often by visitors. It took her hours to accomplish the simple tasks of putting things away and assembling the most pleasing and efficient layout for all of her items. Then someone would come by and almost everyone came bearing a gift of some sort, and then she would spend another period of time rearranging everything into a new efficient design. It was actually beginning to aggravate her.

In the morning, Naomi came by with her mother before her mother's shift. The small half-Ktarian brought a kadis-kot board. She was honestly touched by the child's gift and happily consented to play a game immediately after getting Ensign Wildman's consent and promising to drop her off at her studies.

When the Doctor realized where Naomi was, he asked if he could just come by and pick her up himself. It turned out that he really wanted to see her new quarters and bring a gift himself. He left her with manuscript paper in case she wanted to write any songs, and he double checked her alcoves. It was a quite unnecessary inspection, but he insisted that he knew what was best for her health. She thought he was just being nosey and wanted to see what her bedroom looked like.

She played her guitar for a while after that. It had been her first opportunity to play and sing since she had moved in, and she was quite pleased by the acoustics of the room compared to the Cargo Bay. She had become thoroughly engaged in a new song she was learning when the door chime interrupted her again.

This time it was the Captain, and she came bearing a dozen white roses in a crystal vase as well as a book of poetry. They talked for a while, and Seven even learned how to replicate the coffee that Janeway so enjoyed. The Captain had heard her singing before she entered, so, after much coaxing, the Borg capitulated and sang an old jazz tune for the redhead. Amazingly enough, Janeway was true to her word and never once brought up any work issues. The older woman left a half hour later when her lunch time was over, but only after she got a promise for a Velocity match the next day.

The afternoon was much the same, with eight more visitors before Alpha shift was even over. The most pleasing part of all the visits was the simple fact that Seven had come to realize that she did have friends. She had even apparently made a good impression on the Gamma shift engineering crew because there were several well wishers from that department alone, and they had all chipped in together to replicate a set of non-standard sheets and towels. It was Johnson, the big burly ensign teased with the nickname 'Neanderthal', that was the one who brought them. He told her with a big blush that the Starfleet issue sheets and towels were too rough and that 'everyone deserves soft towels'.

After alpha shift was over, she got a visit from both of Voyager's Vulcan. Vorik brought a set of meditation oils and incense, and a kal-tow board. Tuvok came by moments after Vorik left and brought with him a traditional oil lamp and a book of katra exercises. She felt honored that each man had made such efforts to demonstrate their friendship. It was indeed rare for a Vulcan to make friends with humans, and she considered their visits the greatest of compliments.

Tuvok was just leaving when B'Elanna walked up to the door. As they passed each other he dipped his head in acknowledgement. Seven saw the smaller woman and smiled. She stepped back from the door allowing the brunette to pass through, and said "I have missed you, jonwI," then pulled her into a hug.

B'Elanna just let herself fall into the embrace. She had spent too much time worrying over Chakotay's remarks yesterday, and by the time she had gotten back from the Nguener ship and gotten a proposal together, the Borg had already been regenerating. She had been disappointed to see Seven as listed off-duty that morning, so she couldn't even see her to discuss what she had learned before heading back out to the other ship with her crew. She leaned up slightly and kissed the blonde softly. "I've missed you too, Annika."

Letting go of the smaller woman, Seven strode over to the replicator and ordered up a cup of raktajino that she knew B'Elanna favored after she had gotten off shift. B'Elanna, meanwhile, looked around the room, amazed at the overnight transformation. The blonde had made her quarters feel quite homey even if things were very sparse. Of course, the Klingon favored order herself in her own living area, even if she was messy in the ensuite. When her eyes fell on the two dozen roses on the table though, her heart fell.

"Wow, Annika. Who are all the roses from?" she asked casually. Her mind was in turmoil, though. She kept chanting 'don't say the Captain' over and over in her head.

"Harry brought some last night, then Kathryn brought some today," Seven answered guilelessly. "Apparently, it is considered a way to 'brighten up a place' by many humans." She smiled, and delivered the steaming coffee drink to the smaller woman, sitting down beside her.

B'Elanna assumed the red roses were from Janeway, of course, and was internally howling. She couldn't understand what possessed her to believe she could trust the Starfleet Captain. She didn't mean to let her annoyance show on her face, or to let a small growl escape from her chest.

Seven heard the growl, though, and studied B'Elanna's face intently. "B'Elanna? What is wrong? Why are you angry?" Seven was frightened because she believed she had done something to anger the Klingon, and honestly had no idea what it could be.

"I just don't trust Janeway. Why would she bring you flowers Seven, except to lead you on? She shouldn't even be allowed near you anymore after what she did." B'Elanna was growing angrier by the second and had leapt off the couch to pace the room.

"I told you," Seven started, confused by all this anger. "She said it would brighten up the place. I also believe that I should be the judge of who can and cannot come near me, B'Elanna. She has explained her behavior to me and I have forgiven her. We have decided to continue our relationship as friends now."

"How can you be so naïve Annika?" the brunette rounded on her. "I, for one, don't trust her!"

Seven was getting angry herself now. "How can you insist that I trust you and forgive you after years of calling me names and not forgive her for her mistake?"

"That's different and you know it!" B'Elanna shot back.

"I fail to see the difference," the blonde stated. She had stood up by now and had her arms behind her in her old Borg stance. Her inflections had cooled and she had bottled all of her raging emotions behind a icy mask. "You are in error B'Elanna Torres."

"Kahless Seven! She used you then threw you away. What could she possibly say to explain that?" B'Elanna pleaded with her, trying to get her to see what she believed the Captain was like.

"I cannot tell you. She asked for my confidence on the matter and I will respect that," the blonde responded.

"Well, isn't that convenient," the half-Klingon snorted.

"It would not matter to you if you trusted me and my own judgment," the Borg pointed out. "Do you not trust me?"

"Yes, I trust you, Seven! I just—" she answered but was cut off by the blonde's fingers on her lips.

"Then that should be enough," Seven said softly. She stayed in that position for a moment, letting her fingers trace the soft lips and then the fine cheek. B'Elanna responded by leaning her cheek into Seven's palm.

The smaller woman's anger was fading into more confusion. She pushed it to the back of her mind, not wanting to argue anymore. They stood there looking into each other's eyes, then slowly moved together into an embrace. Each was lost in thought of how much they had come to cherish the other, and how frightening it would be to lose the other, but neither seemed equipped to start that discussion.

After long minutes in the embrace, Seven finally prompted B'Elanna to tell her about her day on the Nguener ship. With a convenient excuse to ignore her fears of saying three simple words, B'Elanna tried to forget her desire to tell Seven her feelings and her fear of the very same thing by rambling on about everything she encountered in her day and a half aboard the Necessity.

Not long after starting her story, she pulled out a PADD to show Seven the design on the Nguener's dilithium chamber. They were about to begin discussing whether or not it would be possible to implement the design or modify it to Voyager's needs when B'Elanna's stomach announced it's displeasure at not being fed. This, of course, led to Seven grilling the lieutenant about her eating habits and dragging her laughing out the door to the mess hall.

When the two arrived in the mess hall, B'Elanna noticed a lot of people picking at their plates. Looking over to Neelix's serving area she noticed that nobody was in line. Usually, this was a very bad sign.

"You know what Annika, I suddenly lost my appetite," the engineer said before Seven could approach Neelix. Unfortunately, her stomach chose that moment to growl again.

The blonde turned her head and canted an eyebrow curiously. "I find it difficult to believe that you are not hungry."

"Fine," B'Elanna grunted. "But you don't have to eat that…" She examined the pot nearest to them, which contained a gelatinous purple mixture with floating brown chunks. "I think I'll have whatever you are having tonight. A liquid supplement sounds so much better than whatever that used to be." The brunette shuddered. "Actually, a ration bar sounds better than that."

The blonde smirked. "I will program a supplement for each of us then. You may find us a table."

The hybrid went off in search of a table, trying to find one as far away as possible from the noxious fumes of Neelix's meal. She sat down, not having to wait long before Seven approached with a tray in her hand. The blonde lay a plate of chicken, rice and bread in front of her and a prune juice to drink. She had an identical plate, but with water to drink.

B'Elanna raised her eyebrow and smiled. "Well, when I said I'd have what you were having I expected to have to drink my meal. But, I am certainly not complaining. I didn't realize you ate solid foods." She dug into her chicken and noticed a distinct lemon taste.

"Of course I can. I am sensitive to some ingredients and cannot consume large amounts of solid nutrition, but I am able to digest most of the same food as the rest of the crew. I just find the supplements to be more efficient. Also, if Neelix doesn't realize how much I can eat, I will not have to hurt his feelings by refusing his 'food'." The blonde answered before daintily eating some rice.

The Captain entered the messhall, appraising who was present. She often used this time of night to communicate with officers she didn't see on a regular basis, and she made a small circuit through part of the seating area before heading over to Neelix's domain. Cringing at the unappetizing display she decided a cover story would be necessary.

"Oh Captain! How delightful to see you! Are you ready to try my nitlik soup?" Neelix beamed at the Captain.

"No, thank you, Neelix, I already ate in my quarters," she answered. She had decided since she would be eating in her quarters later it wasn't too bad of a lie. She smiled at him diplomatically. "But, I would love a cup of coffee."

As he was retrieving the requested beverage, she turned and completed her survey of the area. She noticed Seven and B'Elanna sitting alone together. When she saw Lt. Carey join them she decided this might be a fortuitous time to show B'Elanna that there were no hard feelings. She wanted to show the two women her support and friendship in a neutral way. As Carey had joined them, he gave her a convenient excuse, since she also wanted to congratulate him for finishing his physical therapy.

As she approached the table she heard the hybrid ask Carey when he would be getting back to work. He was just responding that he was more than ready, that he just needed to get the Captain's permission when she cleared her throat. "Mind if I join the party?" She asked with a smile.

With Seven and Carey both smiling at the Captain, B'Elanna wasn't about to refuse. Stifling a strong urge to growl, B'Elanna just nodded. The redhead took a seat next to Carey and smiled at the man.

"I received a report from the Doctor that you have completed your physical therapy. He has released you for duty. I'd like you to start back on Gamma shift for now. Would it be possible for you to start tonight?" She asked, knowing the answer from his previous lament.

"Yes, Captain," he beamed. "I am more than ready to get back to work. As much as we all complain about needing time off, being forced to do nothing for weeks on end is not my idea of fun."

The redhead smiled at him amiably. "B'Elanna, remind him of this conversation the next time he feels overworked," she quipped and grinned at the two engineers. B'Elanna couldn't stop the amused snort. "Seven, I want you to work with Carey through all of Gamma until he feels back at home. After that, we'll get you back to alpha shift and Astrometrics." She would be happy to have the blonde back in Astrometrics. Jennifer Delaney was a fine officer, but no ordinary human was as fast or precise with a star chart as Seven.

Janeway examined the women's plates and then raised her brow at Seven. "So I see you still take the pepper out."

"Indeed," Seven answered with a small shudder. B'Elanna raised curious eyebrows first at Seven, then the Captain.

"That's really supposed to be lemon and pepper chicken, B'Elanna. The first time I made it for her, I didn't realize that pepper would be a little strong for her." She snickered. "Unfortunately, I enjoy a liberal amount of pepper on this dish. Let's just say we discovered that her tear glands really worked that night. Now she won't even try a little pepper on it."

Seven looked at little disgusted at the memory. The engineers just laughed gently. B'Elanna thought it explained the recipe; she had thought it could use a little pepper herself.

"I have discovered many bodily functions with your cooking," the blonde said pointedly, teasing the redhead. Both of the engineers tried to cover up their laughter, but neither was particularly successful. The Captain just narrowed her eyes in false anger.

"Watch it or I'll make you all eat my pot roast!" Janeway declared. B'Elanna stopped laughing and her eyes got big; Janeway's pot roast was a legendary culinary disaster.

Seven decided to further torque the redhead. "I am still contemplating public displays of groveling."

"Touché, Annika! I didn't realize manipulation was a Borg skill," the captain answered while holding a hand over her heart, feigning injury.

"It is not. I acquired it on Voyager observing you," the blonde smirked.

"Ouch," Kathryn responded wryly. "Lieutenants, this is one of those situations you learned about it the Academy: strategic retreat. If you will excuse me, I think I'll leave before I lose my undefeated streak with the Borg." She grinned rakishly as she stood. She laid a gentle hand on Carey's shoulder. "I am happy to see you back," she told the man then nodded at B'Elanna and Seven. "Ladies, good night."

After the Captain left, Carey slapped Seven gently on the shoulder affectionately. "Only you could get away with that, Seven. But thank you so much for letting me watch. I love to see our Captain lose the command mask now and again. You seem to be the only one who can always get her to be a woman for a while." He smiled. "So, I guess you're stuck babysitting me for a little while. I have been reading the reports though, so it probably won't take me that long to get caught up on all the changes that were made while the Doc was torturing me."

Seven and Carey began discussing the deflector array cloak specifications, while B'Elanna got lost in thought. Carey's comment really hit her hard. Reflecting over the short visit by the captain, she realized that both women truly were at ease in each other's company again. Chakotay's comments from the day before edged back into her mind again.

Later, Carey pulled her out her reverie. "B'Elanna? You ok?"

She didn't realize that her mood was reflected on her face, so she feigned exhaustion. "Yeah. I think the long day has just caught up with me. Would you two mind if I called it a night?" she asked as she stood with her plate in hand.

"No, Chief. Go ahead. We'll see you in the morning." Carey answered.

Seven wanted to spend more time with B'Elanna, but could see that she wanted time alone. Not knowing how to handle the situation she decided just to be patient and follow the brunette's lead. "Goodnight, jonwI. Quch."

B'Elanna smiled slightly and then left the two alone. Recycling her plate, she left the messhall, heading for her quarters. She was so lost in thought she couldn't remember her journey when she found herself standing next to her bed. Exhausted from her confusion and emotions, she stripped and fell into bed, tossing and turning until she achieved an uneasy sleep.

:Captain's Log:

We are in our third day of escorting the Nguener vessel back to their home world. Lt. Torres has assured me that her teams will be able to complete their repairs by 1400. Her report indicated that she had an interest in bringing the Nguener Chief Engineer over on a visit to Voyager once the repairs were complete. Apparently she has an interest in their ability to use dilithium more efficiently, as well as wanting to see what his thoughts are on implementing further cloaking technology on our ship. It isn't often that another engineer impresses my Klingon Chief Engineer so easily, so I have agreed to the visits. I have also decided that it would be worth our while to visit the Nguener home-world. First Marshal Ferzi and I have visited each other twice now, once on each ship. He is a fascinating man, and their culture seems most remarkable. Despite all of the strife which has befallen their culture, they are determined to hold to their ideals as a race. Maybe even more so since the Borg attack which nearly eradicated their species. When I told him about our resident Borg he was amazed and wanted to meet her right away. I gladly brought him to Astrometrics, and was pleasantly surprised by his interaction with Seven. I am glad to know that there are other Captains who would risk their ships to rescue one of their own from the Borg. Seven was obviously uncomfortable in his presence at first, but he assured her he held no animosity for her past, and that she would be as welcome on their home-world as any other member of our crew, if not more so simply because she would represent hope. Hope that one day even one of their people could be returned, no matter how small the chance. Bless her heart, Seven just couldn't process this kind of positive reaction very well, and fell back on her stoic mannerisms, but I could see she was deeply touched.

It will take us four day's journey to reach their planet. The First Marshall has been in contact with his government, and they are very interested in trade with Voyager. Since their society is still rebuilding, there are many unexploited resources on their planet that we could probably use easily. They also assure us that we can trade for dilithium and some heavier metals. We would have to mine the metals and crystals ourselves in order to not tax their established mining facilities, but Ferzi has pointed out entire unused regions that would be suitable. In exchange they want scientific, medical and astrometric data. Apparently Seven was correct in her reasoning about why the Borg had not discovered the hidden Nguener. Many of their greatest minds that had been left behind sacrificed themselves to save the remainder of their race. That is not to say they do not have scientists left, but they are as equally spread thin as all other types of workers on the planet.

Chakotay has been in an anthropologist's nirvana while studying their culture. He has spent much time aboard Necessity and has been exchanging data crystals about Federation and Nguener history with their equivalent of a historian on board, who is actually a security guard most of the journey.

I look forward to reaching their home-world, and if everything is as it has been presented to be, I believe I will even negotiate for shore leave on the planet. I believe that with some of Voyager's resources pitching in while we rotate leaves, we could benefit an injured race while gaining always welcome downtime. Let's hope things are what they seem. I, for one, love a mutually beneficial deal.

:End Captain's Log:

B'Elanna returned to Voyager at 1330 hours with the last of her engineer teams. The repairs to the Nguener ship had been successful. Her crew had been treated like royalty while they were there, so she suspected there would be some grumbling about getting back to work here.

The engineer decided to take her lunch break, as she hadn't stopped for anything since that morning. Seven had worked the entire Gamma shift, assisting Carey on his first day back, so the blonde was off. B'Elanna hit her comm. badge to hail her to invite her to eat together in the mess hall.

*"There is a privacy seal for this crewman."* the placid tones of the computer reported.

"Computer, where is Seven of Nine?"

*"Seven of Nine is in her quarters"* the computer answered.

"Is she active?"

*"Negative, Seven of Nine is stationary in her bedroom."*

B'Elanna sighed. Figuring the former drone had gotten tired and was regenerating, she stifled her disappointment and went to the mess hall alone.

Chapter 13

The last three hours of B'Elanna's duty shift found her swamped in paperwork. She had never figured out Starfleet's need to know every last detail in triplicate, or why the Captain insisted on following that particular protocol this far from headquarters. However, she had always taken her job as Chief Engineer very seriously, so she was diligent about every report.

Once she hit her quarters, she jumped into the sonic shower and ran through a quick cycle. After stepping out, she threw her dirty uniform into the recycler and padded into her bedroom naked. Brushing her hair she called out to the computer, asking if Seven was active. Upon the affirmative reply she queried for her location while choosing a loose tunic and pants that she found comfortable. When the computer answered that Seven was in Holodeck One, she froze.

A sharp pain whipped through her heart as she was reminded of all the times Tom had disregarded her for the holodeck, or his friends. She sat down on the edge of her bed, clothes in hand and tried to erase the feeling. She tried to tell herself that Seven wasn't Tom, that she was more considerate than that. However, her curiosity got the better of her and she found herself asking who else was present and what program was running.

Jealousy and rage warred with bitterness and sorrow when the cool tones of the computer told her that the Captain was with Seven, but would not report the program because of a privacy protocol. She knew she could bypass the security protocol if she wanted, but only in an emergency. Her curiosity wasn't enough of a reason to break the Captain's privilege. It didn't matter anyway. What could she do about it no matter what program they were involved in?

She got up and strode across her living room. Stopping at the replicator, she ordered a heavy Klingon ale. Downing it in one long draft, she set the glass down in the replicator and ordered another. Walking back over to her couch, she flopped down bonelessly. Drinking her ale, the thoughts and feelings raced through her at warp speed.

She had told Seven yesterday that she trusted her. She just didn't trust Janeway. She knew that Janeway was going to try and win the Borg's heart. Chakotay had told her as much even if she hadn't felt it herself. She knew more than Chakotay this time too. Would she be very likely to want to give up Seven heart if they made love? Not likely, she answered herself. As it was she was consumed by her desire to be with the woman. How much would it hurt to lose her if they had made love? More than she wanted to guess. As it was she was in tremendous pain not knowing where she stood.

If Janeway was really going to try to woo Seven, how could she even compete she wondered. The redhead had been there for Seven from day one. Had been there through every challenge, every misstep, and every joy. She had led the charge to rescue Seven from the Borg queen. She had stood toe-to-toe with Seven, somehow coaxed her back when her mind was overloaded by too much data and the blonde had believed in paranoid fantasies, willing to die to escape the pain.

B'Elanna stared into her now empty glass. The ale wasn't enough; she wanted to stop feeling so much. A blissful stupor is what she needed. She moved over to a compartment beside her replicator. In the back was a false wall where she hid a very old bottle of scotch and another bottle filled with bloodwine. Real alcohol was not allowed on 'Fleet ships, but almost everyone had a stash. Torres was very conservative about hers. She had never even let Tom know it existed. Pulling out the bottle of scotch, she moved back to the couch and poured herself four fingers into the glass.

Sipping the potent, gold liquid, she wondered how she could stand up against a living legend. Then it occurred to her to question if she even had the right. Seven had categorized Janeway's discarding her as a mistake; nothing more, nothing less. It was obvious to B'Elanna months ago that Janeway was Seven's first love. If that love was now returned, who was she to stand in the way?

If she did fight for Seven, how likely was she to win? Not very, she thought and snorted. How would she be able to live with the knowledge that she had been left, yet again, for something better, something easier? It seemed like no matter where in the universe she was, there was always a human ready to leave her for something. Staring into her empty glass, she wondered where her drink had gone. She reached across and grabbed the bottle.

The turbolift door opened on deck three and B'Elanna stepped out into the corridor. As she passed Chakotay's door heading towards Seven's quarters she heard a soft moan. Looking up from the floor, she was crushed by what she observed. There, in plain sight, stood the tall blonde and the Captain locked in a passionate embrace. The engineer froze, a weak cry escaping her chest.

"Told you half breed trash like you couldn't make it," Tom's voice broke through her pained haze. She spun and growled at him, despising his leering face, his smug superiority. She ran the few short steps between them, intending to claw his leering eyes out. When she reached him, her arms were caught in a vice like grip and she was spun away from him, yanked back into a fierce grip, her own arms trapped.

This was all wrong. Tom wasn't this strong. She looked down at his hands and they weren't human; they were grayish, pasty. Studying the uniformed arms restraining her, she could have sworn it was a Gul's uniform. She looked around and realized she was in the cargo hold of the Bolian freighter she had served on before joining the Maquis.

"Proud little Klingon," the voice she hadn't heard in so many years whispered in her ear. She was turned and found her self face to face with Gul Tancret.

She didn't bother with games this time, head-butting him right away. The scene from the past replayed itself, the Gul sprawling. Then she kicked his exposed head, yet this time his neck snapped like a twig. She turned away from his limp body only to face Seska.

"You should've taken him up on the offer. It's not as if trash like you will ever find love. At least you would know where you stood with him," Seska cackled.

Furious she ran at Seska, wrapping her hands around the traitor's neck while tackling her. B'Elanna was lost in full blown Klingon battle rage. She could barely hear herself howling over the pounding of the blood in her ears. She began picking up Seska's head by the neck and pounding it down into the deck plating over and over into she felt a sickening crunch and warm liquid spill over her fingertips.

Rough hands lifted her up from behind and she prepared for another attack only to be picked up in a bear hug. "Congratulations Cousin! You finally killed the weak fool!" It was her cousin K'Karn, and she was in her grandmother B'Kor's house on Qo'nos surrounded by her mother's relatives. She turned back to Seska's body, only to find it wasn't Seska. It was her fully human half, the one the Vidiians had created when they split her in two while they researched a cure for the phage. Looking down at her own hands covered in blood and gray matter, she felt weak.

When she looked up she saw her father across the room, standing in the door watching her with pained eyes. He lowered his head as a tear ran down his face, then turned and walked out the door.

"Father," she cried, bewildered by it all. She got up to run after him only to be caught by her grandfather Torg.

"You are a Klingon. Your place is here on Qo'nos" he yelled at her

"Look at her! She is no Klingon! She's still a weak little stripling!" Her uncle Kor sneered.

"Nonsense. She just needs a good Klingon meal," B'Kor said as she plunged a knife into the body's chest. Pulling apart the ribcage she tore the heart from its cavity and threw it onto a plate. Blood oozed off of every side of the plate as the gray-haired old woman thrust it at the hybrid. "Eat! It will make you strong."

Gagging, she staggered backwards into another body. She whirled around and was face to face with her mother. The older woman bared her teeth and shook her head. "nuch," her mother said simply, calling her a coward, then walked away.

"No!" B'Elanna screamed from the depths of her lungs. It was a howl of pain so loud, so aching that it actually woke her from her own terrifying dream. She only had a moment to realize she was on her couch in her quarters before the contents of her stomach demanded release. She propelled herself through her bedroom into the ensuite making it to the waste reclamation unit just in time.

After long minutes spent retching, and when her stomach was only producing dry heaves, she lay down on the floor of the bathroom crying. Miserably, she pushed herself off the floor, washed her face in the sink, and rinsed her mouth out. Calling for the lights to go off, she sealed her comm. badge for privacy then crawled into her bed. She balled herself into a fetal position in the middle of the bed and cried herself to sleep.

B'Elanna woke at 0600 hours the next morning feeling like she had been to Grethor and back. She had managed to sleep the night through by some small miracle, yet she was convinced something had crawled into her mouth and died while she slept. Blearily kicking off the covers, she managed to stumble into the ensuite and used the extra rations for a hot hydro-shower. After using every mouth cleanser she had, she felt marginally less disgusting.

Ambling over to the replicator, she programmed in a concoction that was both horribly offensive and noxious that she had learned from an old Maquis drinking buddy. She took a deep breath, then swallowed the entire contents of the glass in one long gulp. As obnoxious as the drink was, it was the best hangover cure short of a hypo that she had ever found.

Deciding she didn't feel like being alone in her quarters with her thoughts, she headed out to the mess hall. Once there she grabbed a raktajino and a stack of pancakes from the replicator and found a quiet table near the windows. Sipping her coffee and picking at her food, she didn't notice when Harry came up and stood in front of her table.

"B'Elanna?" Harry asked after a moment.

"Hey, Harry," she looked up and replied.

He took the seat in front of her and arranged his utensils. He observed her out of the corner of his eye while he was doing this. She didn't look like herself. She was slumped down in her chair picking at her barely eaten food and looked kind of pale. After several minutes of eating in silence, he finally got up some nerve. "Uh, I hope you don't mind me saying so, but… you look like hell today. What's up?"

"Gee thanks, Harry. It's nothing, I just have a lot on my mind." She answered quietly.

"Anything you want to talk about?" he asked gently.

"No. I just need to figure some things out. Don't worry about it." She answered with what she hoped was a firm voice.

"Oh. Okay." He replied softly. He hated seeing her upset, but he knew better than to try and drag it out of her. So he changed the subject. "How are the repairs of the Nguener ship going?"

It was an effective way to get her to perk up a little. He knew how much she loved new technology, and he had heard Chakotay tell the Captain that he thought B'Elanna was in love with the Nguener engine room. She told him how they had finished the repairs, and about the visit from the Nguener Head Engineer that was to take place later that morning. She lost him in a couple of parts of the conversation on cloaking devices, because cloaking theory wasn't his forte, but everything else was really informative. When he had finished his meal he thought she looked a little less distant, and maybe a little less pale, but he couldn't be sure.

Alpha shift was approaching, so the two of them recycled their plates and headed out to the turbolift together. She rode the lift with him, and he got off at the bridge before she headed down to engineering to start her day.

When she arrived, Carey and Seven were at her work console. Seeing Seven pained her, reminding her of the night before and her nightmare, yet her hearts still quivered at the woman's beauty. Both of them turned at her greeting, and Carey began to give the Gamma shift report.

Seven studied the brunette curiously while letting her eidetic memory store the other engineer's conversation. B'Elanna was decidedly different this morning, yet she could not ascertain why. She was pale and looked weary, and her characteristic spark seemed to be missing.

After the man finished his report, the hybrid sent him off for the day. He smiled, then said goodbye to both women. Once he left, B'Elanna felt the weight of Seven's examination. Turning to her, the half-Klingon tried desperately to come up with something to say, but Seven beat her to it.

"What is wrong, B'Elanna?" the Borg asked.

B'Elanna turned her head away quickly and sighed. It just figured that the blonde would notice, but she wasn't prepared to deal with it yet. "There's something on my mind, but I don't want to talk about it right now." The Borg looked concerned, but said nothing.

"Look, are you doing anything after Alpha shift is over?" B'Elanna asked and Seven shook her head. "Maybe I could drop by your place and we could talk?" the hybrid questioned very softly.

The soft, hurt tones of the half-Klingon were worrying Seven, and she wanted desperately to take the woman in her arms and chase the pain away. However she knew that she could not do that in the middle of engineering. So she put her hands behind her back to help resist the temptation and answered, "I will comply, B'Elanna."

"Thanks Annika," B'Elanna responded. An uncomfortable silence followed and finally the engineer broke it. "I really should get to work now. Truhan will be arriving in a half hour and I need to get ready."

"Of course," the Nordic beauty answered, dipping her head. "I will see you tonight."

B'Elanna's day went by slowly. The only time she wasn't obsessing over her meeting with Seven is when she took Truhan on a tour of Voyager's engine room. They thought that the Federation ship could adapt Nguener cloaking system and dilithium, yet it would require many parts and components that Voyager simply didn't have. Both engineers were going to talk to their leaders to see if a trade could be arranged. As hectic as his visit was, it only lasted a few hours. She could only distract her mind for so long with the data he provided.

The rest of the time she tortured herself with what would occur that evening. She had decided to tell Seven they couldn't be romantically involved. It wasn't exactly what she wanted, but she knew it was for the best. Eventually Seven would leave her for the Captain, and B'Elanna knew her heart couldn't take that kind of rejection. It would be better to end it now, before she got hurt. She felt that they could still save their friendship, since they had only been contemplating romance for about a week.

She just had to figure out a way to tell Seven without hurting her. It was too late for B'Elanna: she was already in too much pain.

Seven answered the chime by calling out "come." When the engineer came in the blonde's face lit up with a big smile. B'Elanna looked at her, absorbing the smile into her heart, before she felt a pang of remorse. It must have shown on her face, because the Borg was across the room in three long strides.

"B'Elanna, what is wrong?" the blonde asked, taking the hybrid's hand into her own and leading her to the couch.

The engineer laid her head in her hands and rubbed the bone ridges with her fingertips, trying to say things just right. "I've been thinking about things, Annika. So much has happened these last few months, so much has changed and it's all kind of caught up with me." She stopped and looked at the blonde. "One of the best changes has been getting to know you."

B'Elanna felt so afraid, but she had made her decision. She felt like she was about to start trembling so she got up and paced in the small are in front of the table. "I wasted so much time disliking you and being jealous of you. Then, once I opened my eyes and truly saw who you were you quickly became one of the best friends I've ever had. You are the best female friend I've ever had."

She stopped and knelt in front of the blonde, cupping the woman's face in her hand. "Then I felt attracted to you. Kahless knows, you are the most beautiful woman I've ever known. When I found you in the Jeffries tube a week ago, you were in so much pain, and I just wanted to fix it all, and I couldn't stop myself from kissing you. Then the Llannari attacked, and everything got confused. I think it all caught up with me when I saw you bleeding. Maybe it was my Klingon hormones overcoming my good sense."

"But now I know, I made a bad choice… we were never meant to be lovers. I think we should go back to being just friends before we ruin our friendship."

"You deceived me?" Annika asked plaintively.

"No!" the hybrid exclaimed. "I deceived myself. I was deluding myself thinking I could be what you want. When I saw how badly you were hurting that day, I just wanted to protect you with all I am. But I could never give you all you deserve, what you need. And if we try, I'm afraid I'll lose what I've come to cherish so much… your friendship." She looked down at her hands. "I've lost a lot of friends that way… once you cross that physical line, take things into the bedroom, relationships change. I'd rather have your friendship than the best sex in the world."

"I do not understand." Seven wouldn't look at the brunette. She was busy trying to control the cascade of emotions running rampant through her system. Tears were freely flowing down her face despite her best efforts not to let them fall.

"Look, I just can't be what you want. Maybe I'm just not ready for love; maybe I'll never be ready. I'm a much better friend than lover, Annika." B'Elanna tried to lay her hand on top of Seven's but the blonde pulled away quickly and moved to her window.

"This is painful," the Borg stated.

B'Elanna approached her slowly. This was hurting her so much more than she imagined it would. A part of her wanted to take it all back, forget everything she just said, but she knew it was better this way. She said softly, "What can I do?"

At first, the blonde made no reply. After a few moments B'Elanna realized her shoulders were shaking as she wept and Seven answered. "Just leave."

Whatever she had expected it wasn't this. "Are you sure you want to be alone?"

"Yes!" the Borg wailed. "Leave!" She commanded with a growl. The lip of the window under her left hand began to groan and bend.

B'Elanna jumped slightly, and backed off slowly. Sighing, she finally turned and head out of the quarters. As she reached the door she whispered. "I'm so sorry Annika." Then the doors closed behind her.

The blonde wiped her eyes, and walked over to the couch. Sitting down on the edge she stared at the rose that B'Elanna had given her just a few days ago. Reaching across and picking up the vase, she began to sing to herself.

"Just outside my window, I hear, the late September dogs… And I understand their warning… I understand their song."


To Be continued in
November Rain

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