DISCLAIMER: Voyager, and all it's characters belong to Paramount. I am not making profit from this tale it is purely for fun. No copyright infringement intended.
RATING V:R, S:NC-17(maybe)
WARNINGS: F/F interactions. If you are under 18, this is illegal where you live, OR the idea of two women in love/attracted to each other offends you PLEASE go read something else!
NAUGHTY WORDS WARNINGS: there are some, but they are not gratuitous, or often.
DARKSIDER WARNING: There is ALOT of lightside interaction here. You've been warned.

I would like to thank Wyrdemage, TJ, Nicole, and Rebelgirl for their Beta time. I have been bouncing ideas off of them, sending them stuff, bugging them and being a general nuisance for quite a while and they are ALL so wonderful to me! I love you girls!! <hugs>

November Rain
By Cirroco DeSade

Chapter 2

The silver and white halls gleamed with a high polish. Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Commander Tuvok had transported over as soon as they were docked. They had been met by a young Nguener in a crisp military uniform. He introduced himself as the aide of Aquila's Marshall and then proceeded to escort them to the Marshall's office. Janeway looked around curiously as they made their way through the facilities and found herself impressed. The space station was clean and well organized. They passed many technicians and engineers and the general mood was very friendly.

When they arrived at the Marshall's office, the young man announced their entry. Janeway was very happy to see First Marshall Ferzi, as well as a slightly taller Nguener man who had slightly more pronounced forehead ridges.

"Captain Janeway, Lieutenant Commander Tuvok. It is such a pleasure to see you again," Ferzi said upon rising. "Let me introduce you to Marshall Gahn, an old friend of mine and the man who will oversee Voyager's needs while you are visiting us."

Gahn approached the Captain and her security officer and held out his hands palm up in the Nguener gesture of greeting, bowing slightly. "It is truly a pleasure to make your acquaintance," he said as he straightened. "Please, have a seat. Is there anything I can get you?" he asked, gesturing with one hand while walking to a replicator.

"Whatever you are having will be fine," Janeway answered, while Tuvok and Ferzi politely declined.

He returned handing the Captain a tall glass filled with a ruby red liquid, taking his own with him back to his desk. "It is a local fruit juice I have found I like. One of the better discoveries on Nyrvon if you ask me," he stated as Janeway took a sip of her drink.

"Captain, our government has charged me with negotiating for some information in exchange for things that we hope will make your long journey easier. Thanks to Ferzi's thorough report, we feel we have a good idea what you need." The redhead nodded for him to continue. He leaned across the desk handing her a PADD very similar to Starfleet's, queued to his proposal. "We would be very happy to trade as much dilithium as you can mine from the southernmost continent, and any organics you need from that same continent, in exchange for your astrometric charts. In addition, we would be happy to provide shelter and accommodations for your crew for up to a lunar cycle, which is 33 of your days, in exchange for all scientific and cultural data you have retrieved in the 'Delta Quadrant'… I believe that is what you call our sector of space." He raised his eyebrow curiously.

"Yes, that is what the United Federation of Planets calls this area," she smiled while responding. She leaned further back in her chair casually, since the Nguener men had taken on a very casual appearance also. "Although I don't think we will be able to stay nearly that long, that is a very generous offer."

"Well, we found the information you provided on your 'Alpha Quadrant' very enlightening, if not immediately useful," he grinned then continued. "That is a part of why we feel it is an equitable trade. If you do not wish to stay that long perhaps we can find some other form of trade for the 'Delta Quadrant' data."

"Really your offer is quite alright. We can work out the length of stay later. Of course, we will have to rotate our crew so that Voyager will always be attended."

Gahn pulled out another PADD, and handed it to the Captain. "Actually Captain Janeway, we would like to offer you any routine maintenance you may need, here at our base. We feel it is only fair. Your crew came to Necessity's defense without thought of your own safety, and then offered aid without thought for profit. Surely, you will understand our desire to aid you, now that we can. You may leave any crew you deem necessary of course, to assist or instruct, but I can assure you that my engineers are very capable. This would give your people what is probably a much needed rest over a longer period of time which, as a Marshall I understand can improve morale a good deal."

The men and the Captain shared a laugh, all three smiling broadly. "I'm sure that we can arrange a couple of engineering teams in shifts to assist in bringing Voyager back up to tip-top shape. I have to say, it is an unexpected resource, Marshall Gahn, but one we will gladly take you up on."

The two Nguener men exchanged a glance and Marshall Ferzi nodded to his compatriot. Marshall Gahn took the final PADD on his desk and held it in his hand, as if contemplating the contents and hesitant to pass it to Janeway.

"There is one final thing I have been asked to negotiate with you about Captain. I believe I will state my personal opinions first in this matter. As a commander, I think my government is being a bit brash to ask for this. As a Nguener citizen, well, I understand the value of the request." He stopped there and considered his words and the PADD.

"I'm sure if it's a reasonable request, we will be open to negotiations Marshall. Please, continue," Janeway finally prompted him.

"As you know, Marshall Ferzi was in contact with our people shortly after your rescue. Not only have your people become admired for reaffirming our faith in a greater good's existence beyond our own people, but for another reason. Ferzi's report of your Astrometrics officer excited all those who were exposed to the knowledge. Our reports to our superiors are very thorough, per regulation, and therefore, he detailed the entire encounter with her, however brief it may have been. He also detailed everything you told him about every other encounter with the Borg, and what you and he discussed regarding your courageous rescue of one of your own kind from the clutches of the Borg.

However, we have several scientists who desperately want to know more; and that does not even mention what kind of hope ordinary officers and politicians felt to know that such a rescue was possible." The Marshall paused and looked Janeway in the eye.

"And?" she asked.

"Quite simply, we would like to trade our cloaking technology with you, upgrade your ship for it, provide you with spare parts and replicator patterns. In exchange, a handful of our scientists would get to spend a few days with your officer and learn what she can teach us about the Borg; learn how it was medically possible for you to separate her from the Borg and the details of your rescue. They would like to understand what she knows, so we can protect ourselves better, and so they can explain what happened to Cyera. We have very little information on the Borg, certainly not enough for a complete picture, and she could give our people hope, and maybe closure," he responded. "Personally, Captain, if she were one of my officers I would be very protective of her. She has been through enough misfortune to last many lifetimes. From what Ferzi tells me, you and I probably think alike that way."

The redhead had straightened in her chair some during his speech. She steepled her fingers together and furrowed her brow deep in thought. "Still, Marshall, it would seem that we would get more out of this deal than you."

For the first time in a while Ferzi spoke. "Not really, Captain. Our cloaking technology is centuries old. Also, the Aquila stations orbit this gas giant for a reason. We can mine the rings for all the materials needed to retrofit Voyager a thousand times over and we wouldn't have tapped into even a half of one percent of the ring's resources."

"On the other hand," Gahn continued from where Ferzi stopped, "even our leaders understand what we are asking of one individual. She is a sentient being… and to be put in a position of potential discomfort in order to facilitate her entire crew? Well, that is asking a lot of one person, who has already been through so much. We wouldn't even ask this of you except for two facts. First, it would give so many of our people closure and help us immeasurably. Second, Ferzi's report on your style of command and your culture's ideals made it clear that she would not be forced or pressured to do this, that it would be her choice." He finally handed her the PADD.

"Well, I will have to think about this. Of course, we wouldn't be averse to having the upgrades, but as you said it would have to be her choice. If she chooses not to go through with it, would your government be willing to find another trade?" Janeway asked.

"Captain, I am sure we can find something. Even if it is peripheral knowledge that Voyager herself has acquired of the Borg and maybe something else unique you have to offer, I will find a way to push the trade through with our leaders," Gahn replied.

Janeway nodded. The conversation started veering into the concrete issues of when teams could begin inspection of the starship, and when the alpha quadrant crew could begin departing for Nyrvon. After another hour of discussion, they set a time to reconvene the next morning to finalize all the details, and for Janeway to let Gahn know what Seven thought of the proposal.

Arriving back on Voyager, Janeway was pensive. Tuvok chose to remain silent, allowing the woman the time and space to think while he escorted her back to the bridge. Finally, she spoke.

"Well Tuvok, old friend, what do you think about that final proposal?" she asked him.

"It is indeed a unique trade situation, Captain," he replied. "I believe the Nguener are quite aware of the value of what they are asking. Both Marshalls seemed reticent to ask for the deal therefore I do believe they are sincere in their desire to not harm Seven. Yet, only Seven knows how costly the emotional toll of such open disclosure would be."

They continued further down the corridor in silence. As they waited for the turbolift, Janeway again faced him. "What I wonder is whether she would feel she would have to do this, out of some misguided sense of duty for her 'collective'. Would she ignore her own personal costs? And she is still so new to her feelings. Would she even be able to comprehend what kind of toll it might take on her?"

"Captain, I believe Seven has grown much more aware of her emotions than you, or most of the crew, have given her credit for. Whether or not she would feel compelled to agree to such an arrangement out of a sense of duty to her collective, I cannot say. Yet I must ask, when you put duty above your own emotional well being, and you have led her down her path to humanity, who did you expect her to emulate?"

The lift arrived, yet the Captain didn't immediately follow Tuvok in she was so rocked by his question. Eventually, she boarded the lift, and stared at the closed doors. As they ascended to the bridge, she tried to find some response. It wasn't the first time Tuvok had left her stunned about a personal observation, and it probably wouldn't be the last. However, this time it left her reeling, and further confused as to whether or not to present the idea to Seven.

Kathryn Janeway stood in her ready room looking out the viewport. Instead of the calming star-scape she was accustomed to, she could only view the inside of the Aquila. Yet, she wasn't even concentrating on that. Instead, her mind was wrestling with the import of what she was about to do. The chime to her door interrupted her reverie.

"Come," she called out, having expected this visitor. She had called for Seven of Nine less the five minutes ago. She didn't turn back yet, only continuing to contemplate her words.

"Captain, you wished to see me," Seven asked. She observed the troubled state of her friend and was curious as to what caused it.

Janeway turned away from the window and moved over to the chair next to her couch. Indicating the couch she stated, "Please, have a seat." Seven sat down on the couch gracefully in a formal pose, her back rigidly straight, and her hands folded primly in her lap. An uncomfortable silence followed.

"Well, I guess I need to tell you why I called you in here," the Captain finally said. The Borg simply nodded, never losing eye contact. "The Nguener have proposed an unusual trade, one which only you can approve."

"Captain?" Seven asked.

Janeway began to detail everything the Marshalls had offered, and gave Seven a copy of the details in a PADD. She hesitantly told the former drone what they wanted in return. Watching the blonde's face carefully, she wasn't surprised to find that she couldn't read how Seven felt. She reiterated repeatedly how it was Seven's choice, and she could turn down the trade. As the silence grew thicker, the Captain felt more, and more, unsure of herself. She began to believe she made the wrong choice to even to approach Seven about it.

"I will comply, Captain," the Borg stated and stood. She obviously felt the conversation was done.

"Are you sure? You don't want to think about it any longer?" the redhead asked, standing herself.

"I am certain, Captain," Seven answered. "It will be 'all right.' It is a good trade, Captain. Do not hesitate to take it." The blonde turned away and stood in front of the door. "If there is nothing else?" she asked.

"No. Dismissed." the Captain answered with a weak wave. After the door had closed, she resumed her place at the window, and wondered what motivated the blonde, and whether there would be any repercussions.

Two days later, everything had been arranged. The senior staff had met, and they had been apprised of the details of the trade. The engineering teams had been coordinated. Plans for Voyager to be vacated by all but the engineering teams during the first ten days were drawn. Once that was over, the rest of the crew would return and begin mining and foraging the southernmost continent of Nyrvon. At that time the engineering crew would get seven days on planet and either 3 days leave on board afterwards, or a rations bonus.

Seven had just made her second transport, arriving on Nyrvon's lunar base. From there, she would transport to Nyrvon itself, near the hotel where she and some of her crewmates would be staying. Not many from Voyager had chosen to stay in the small city. Most instead had opted for beach resorts or even skiing resorts. The few that were there had chosen the city for its cultural center or its casinos and bars.

Once Seven had settled into her hotel room, a large suite on the top floor, she made her way down to the lobby. One of the researchers was supposed to be in the lobby, to meet her and escort her to Nyrvon's leading university and research center where they would be interviewing her. As she looked around the lobby, she noticed a small woman approaching her. She was at least a head shorter than Seven, with long amber colored hair. She had an athletic gait and her sleeveless blue tunic showed off a wiry frame.

"Are you Seven?" the woman asked with a remarkably soft and sweet voice. Seven noticed that she had golden brown eyes that seemed to sparkle as she smiled. Her forehead ridges were more delicate than most of the Nguener that Seven had already encountered.

"Yes. I am Seven of Nine, Former Tertiary Adjunct to Unimatrix Zero One, now head of Astrometrics aboard U.S.S. Voyager," the former drone stated formally.

"Wonderful! Welcome to Nyrvon, Seven," the woman said putting out her hands, palm up and bowing. "I am Alarie, and I will be the one conducting our meetings, and showing you around. Actually, I am the one who begged my government to request a meeting with you. I am so happy that you agreed. So, if there is anything you want or need while you are here, please don't hesitate to ask me, and I'll make sure we arrange it," Alarie's smile broadened and made Seven feel warm and happy herself. At least the woman she would be talking with was very pleasant she thought. "Was your room to your liking?" she asked.

"It was acceptable. The view is quite pleasing," Seven answered.

"Good! Would now be a good time to talk Seven? By the way, nobody told me of your human name. I feel awkward continuing to call you by a Borg designation. It must have been an oversight; nobody I know would believe you are still a Borg just by looking at you! You seem too beautiful to address by a number," the small woman said as they left the hotel.

Seven canted her head processing the thought. It was quite unusual how fast the Nguener people readily accepted her transition back from Borg to Human, even though she had obvious implants. It was possible that this woman wouldn't think she was as human once she learned how many implants she was forced to retain, or how Borg she would always be, but for now, it was pleasing to be considered simply a human with Borg experiences. "The name my parents gave me was Annika Hansen. Very few on Voyager use that name however. When they first severed me from the collective, I was not enthusiastic about returning to my humanity and demanded to keep my Borg designation."

They made their way down the street and reached the edge of a park. "Well, Annika is a lovely name, much more fitting," Alarie said, then pointed to a path in the park. "I'd like to cut through here. It takes a little longer, but the trip is much nicer. This is the time of year when most of the flowers are in bloom, so I try to come through and enjoy them when I can." She waved her hand in the direction of several blooming trees and some of the many flowerbeds present. They walked along in silence for a few minutes, and Seven took the time to appreciate the aesthetic quality of the blooms around her, as well as her companion.

"So," Alarie began, "It doesn't really sound like being rescued from the Borg collective was an easy transition. I really want to hear about the whole thing when we get back to where my colleagues can record it, but one thing I'm curious about right now is how you feel now. Was it worth it Annika?"

Seven cocked her head and faced the smaller woman with a small grin. She decided she liked the Nguener scientist. She certainly asked questions that nobody else had ever thought to ask, and she treated Seven very pleasantly. The blonde began quietly answering, as they continued along their way. The conversation was easy, feeling very natural and they had reached the lab complex before Seven had even realized it.

There was a delicious symmetry of gliding through the cool water, she decided as she turned to start her twentieth lap. She had only learned to swim at B'Elanna's insistence, yet she had decided to try again here tonight. She had nothing better to do with her time this evening, and the cerulean blue depths of the hotel pool were inviting. She had lost herself in the rhythm and it took her a few moments to realize that someone was calling her name. She stopped, treading water and looked to the edge of the pool.

There stood Kathryn Janeway with a sly grin upon her face, staring at her. The older woman was dressed casually in black slacks and a satin green tunic. Seven propelled herself over to the edge nearest the Captain, and levered herself out.

Kathryn's breath caught in her throat and her heart beat harder as she watched Seven's exit from the water. Seeing the water gliding off her alabaster skin and over her perfect figure was almost more than she could take. She averted her eyes for a moment, but it was already too late. She already had absorbed the vision, and it was as if it had burned itself onto her retinas. She tried to push her more libidinous thoughts away, since she had not come here as anything other than a friend. At least that is what she continued to tell herself.

Seven noticed the Captain's physiological responses to her approach, but decided to act as if she had not. "Captain?" she inquired.

"No, please Annika," Janeway answered. "Kathryn right now. I am on leave, now. I just came by because I was worried about you. I had tried to hail you earlier, and when I got no response… well, I guess I didn't know what to think. So, I checked on the location of your com badge and found you out here." She studied the ground for a moment ruefully. "Silly, isn't it?"

The former drone padded barefoot over to where she had left a towel and began to dry her hair. "It is not unusual for you to take rash actions when you are worried Kathryn," the Borg replied wryly. "Even when you are supposed to be relaxing." She finished drying her hair and wrapped the towel around her waist, tying it off as B'Elanna had taught her on the planet.

Janeway crossed her arms and smirked at the woman before her. "Humph. I think I would be insulted by that… if I didn't know it was true." The Borg led her over to a table and they sat down together. A waiter appeared and took an order for drinks. "So, how did it go today? They aren't being too invasive I hope."

"It was not unpleasant. Mostly they had questions on my past itself: when I was assimilated, where it occurred, where I was when you severed me from the collective. In all actuality I spent a great deal of time getting to know the researchers first, especially Alarie, the lead researcher." Seven smiled when she mentioned Alarie, and it made Kathryn a bit jealous. "They apparently feel it is very important to make sure I am comfortable with them. Tomorrow they would like to go over what I know of the collective's hierarchy, and my medical history." The waiter returned, leaving their drinks. "The day after that I will meet two more scientists who are interested in nanoprobe technology, and another who is interested in transwarp. I have told them I am not an expert in transwarp design, but he would like to talk to me anyway."

"Even if you are not an expert Annika, you know more than most. I can understand their desire to run things by you. Look at how many times your knowledge has saved Voyager. Beyond what you know from your time with the Borg, you are a brilliant scientist in your own right. Never underestimate that my friend." Janeway told her sincerely.

Seven's alabaster cheeks briefly became rosier and she shyly smiled. "Thank you, Kathryn." They sat there silently for a moment before Seven spoke again. "Have you consumed your nutritional… your dinner this evening Kathryn?"

Kathryn smiled at her, and before either woman knew it, they were eating a fine meal under the stars together.

The following afternoon, Seven found herself exhausted from the medical portion of the researchers' queries. Even as Alarie tried to temper their enthusiasm, the doctors were full of endless questions and tests. They would exclaim over every new implant she showed them. Her left arm alone was the subject of three hours examination. They scanned her assimilation tubules in and out of her arm. They wanted to record and examine the bores at the tips of each tubule. They took samples of nanoprobes, once she agreed that they must be inert and had programmed them to go offline.

She showed them how the malleable metal of the mesh on her hand could be changed, and tried to explain the directions that were necessary in her cortical implant for it to happen. Going over the typical configurations of a drone's fingertips, she allowed them to morph before their eyes. Each new configuration was photographed and recorded and generally fascinated the doctors to no end.

Finally, as the sun was setting, Alarie called the doctors out, declaring an end for the day. She was just as passionate about the data, but could see that it was affecting the human. She had already discovered that even though the former drone appeared stoic and unaffected, she was quite gentle inside.

"Annika, I am so sorry we have kept you so long today. You have been very generous with us, and really, some of my team has forgotten that." Alarie offered softly.

"It is understandable, Alarie. They merely wish to know more. I am often caught up in my research, and have been frequently ordered to go off duty or regenerate when I get very involved in a project," Seven answered diplomatically. For some reason, she did not want this small woman to feel bad.

"Still, let me make it up to you. May I take you to my home and prepare you a home cooked meal?" the Nguener asked with hope in her eyes.

Seven was surprised, but decided to take the opportunity to learn more about the woman and her culture. "I would like that."

Alarie and Seven left the lab together shortly after that and walked to the smaller woman's house. The small structure was in a neighborhood just outside the city, and seemed to fit what Seven knew of the scientist. It was surrounded by trees and plants, and a small, domesticated animal bounded up in greeting when they opened the gate in front of the home. Alarie petted the rodent-like creature, talking to him briefly before signaling to it and it ran away.

"Mossa! I'm home," the small woman called out. Seven accessed her language databanks and translated the word as an equivalent to the human word 'mama.' "I have brought company home for dinner."

An old Nguener woman with incredibly long gray hair and eyes of pure gold puttered into the main room. "Who?"

"She is the visitor from the starship I told you about. The doctors were relentless harassing her today, so I wanted to reward her infinite patience with a real meal," she answered her mother, yet smiled at Seven half of the time.

The little old woman made her way over to Seven and looked up, way up to see her face. "Well, they grow you tall don't they? Can you speak? Got a name do you?" the woman grinned at her.

Seven was bemused by the little woman's attitude. She mimicked the bow she had become quite familiar with after meeting so many Nguener. "I am Annika."

"So you are," the woman answered back. She grabbed a large bowl full of crystals and looked at Seven. "Well, come here so I know what to think of you."

"Oh mossa! <Don't make her do that! She is a guest on our world, and the government would be shocked to see you treat her like this! >" Alarie slipped into her native tongue for the very first time in front of Seven, evidently a regional dialect of Nguener.

"<Hush child. You know that nobody comes into my house without having their life read. She will not mind if she is worthy and has a good life. >" the older woman waved and answered back.

Alarie sent an apologetic look to Seven. Since neither woman knew that she understood them, simply because of her Borg past, she feigned ignorance. She didn't want to further embarrass the scientist. "I'm sorry Annika, but my mother wants to read your life. She does it to everybody who comes in the house," Alarie said with a stressed out look on her face.

"'Read my life'?" Seven asked slowly.

"It's an old superstitious tradition. It has no scientific basis whatsoever and I apologize. Really, there is no harm. I just didn't expect she would make a distinguished visitor," she glared at her mother, which the old woman waved off, "do this."

The older woman waddled over to a low couch and pointed to a chair on the other side of a table in between. "Sit, Annika," she commanded gently. "It is not superstition. My little one does not believe in what her instruments cannot prove. But, even she has never seen it wrong. Have you Alarie? It is simply a way for me to know who you were, who you are, and who you will be. The sacred runas will tell me all these things."

"Indeed," Seven stated skeptically. "What do I do?"

"Take a handful of the runas from the bowl and lay them down upon this mat. Follow your instincts to where they go, but make sure you lay only one in the center. I will tell you what they say when you are done now." The older woman answered.

The younger Nguener was beside herself with embarrassment, but Seven saw no harm in placating the older woman. She reached inside the bowl grabbing a large handful of the crystals. She scattered them carefully onto the black velvet, which was covered in odd markings. In the very center, she laid the last stone in her hand. It was a sparkling blue crystal with a large sword etched on its face. As she laid it down, she noticed all of the crystals had etchings.

"Well, you have had a hard life haven't you?" the woman said then whistled. "I have never seen so many of the holy sword in one drawing child. You don't see it often at all, let alone," she stopped and counted, "seven times in one drawing."

At this point even Alarie seemed shocked. She looked up from the velvet she had just recently ridiculed, and amazement widened her eyes. "What does this sword mean?" Seven asked.

"Well, since you placed one in the center, it means your life is bound unto duality. Everything about your life has something to do with twos. You are human, and you were Borg, just an example. It will always be that way for you. But, the holy sword means more. It's special. It's a balance, because it has two edges. For all the bad that has happened to you, there will be good too." She stopped and pointed down to two rocks in a circle off to the side. "And here you place two of them in your heart's center. You will have two great loves in your heart. You will have more happiness that way than most people ever find, child. But, the holy sword also means that you will not hold onto either forever. See the rious birds you placed below them? They mean you will outlive them both." She pointed to another set of stones. "You will have two children," she stated then pointed to another pair, "and two places your heart will call home. And you've already worn two names, and two faces. Your life is a special one child. And it will be a long one. See this flower here? It shows me that you are fated to change the lives of many around you. It blooms, and so will they." The old woman looked Seven in the eyes seriously. She reached across the table and laid her hands upon Seven's. "You are unique, Annika. And you are most welcome in my home."

The old woman gathered the stones back into their bowl and stood slowly. She waddled away, setting the bowl back on the hall table. "I will begin the meal Alarie. See to our lovely Annika," she said as she walked away, leaving a very befuddled Borg in her wake.

After dinner, the scientist invited Seven for dessert out in her backyard. Seven declined the sweet cake, but sipped a warm beverage that tasted like mild chocolate. "You handled my mother well, Annika. I've never seen anyone get away from the table without a second serving before," Alarie grinned, her eyes twinkling with humor.

"The food was quite palatable, and I was sincere when I stated that most aboard Voyager would love for her to replace our cook," Seven stated. "Neelix is a very kind man, who I am pleased to know, but his taste buds are not very well aligned with my sensitive stomach, nor most of the rest of the crew. However, I believe I ate too much. It will be difficult for my body to process without the aid of regeneration."

"I admire you Annika. I did not need the runas to tell me you are special."

"It is predictable that she would think me unique. I am Borg. Yet, I am not. Indeed, it took me a long time to be able to say "I" am anything. However, even now, I do not entirely understand what I am."

Alarie took Seven's left hand in her right. "You are beautiful. I am glad we had a chance to meet. I think mossa's runas were right in some ways. You have touched me and changed my life." She looked away shyly. "I think you would have even without your Borg past."

Seven examined the delicate features of the smaller woman. She knew that if she pursued it, the woman would like to escalate their intimacy. Yet, Seven's heart was not in it. It was confusing, how selective attraction could be. She was realizing that her heart and mind had only ever been attracted to two people: Kathryn and B'Elanna. Perhaps that was to be the extent of the 'great loves' that the older woman had predicted.

"When your mother's runas said I would love twice, that was accurate. Nevertheless, they are not dead. They are aboard Voyager. I am grateful that the runas carry nothing more than superstition. I do not think I could bear to see either of them die," Seven said in a pained voice. Alarie sighed, and felt wistful to hear the beauty speak of love for someone else. "Yet, it was a pleasant fantasy for a moment. To believe either of them could love me in return," she paused, "that I would have children to love." Seven looked away sadly.

"You may have children one day," Alarie said trying to be optimistic.

"I am unable. My abdominal implant would prevent that. The possibility of removing the implant successfully is minimal. The Doctor could only predict a 12% chance of me surviving without it." Seven answered softly.

Alarie traced the mesh on Seven's hand with her thumb. "Still, Annika, I find it hard to believe that either of your loves could ignore your love," the smaller woman said strongly. She laughed sadly. "I have to confess, mossa was not exaggerating: I have never seen her readings disproved. It has always confounded the scientist in me. What is even more infuriating is that she believes so strongly in them. You see she was a great scientist on Cyera. She was recruited to move to Nyrvon when I was very young. One day after we arrived, she did a new reading." The scientist looked up at the stars. "Rious birds appeared in her hearts circle. We found out the Borg had attacked two weeks later. My father was still on Cyera, and had killed himself to escape the Borg and keep them from assimilating the knowledge of Nyrvon's existence. I haven't let mossa do another reading on me since then. I don't want to know what might happen, and I don't think I could bear it if those birds appeared in my life again."

Seven could not think of anything to say, so they lapsed into silence. Much later, she excused herself, thanking her hostesses, and walked back to her hotel lost in thought. It wasn't that she believed any of the old woman's predictions but they had made her think about the nature of life aboard Voyager, how very perilous their existence could be.

When she arrived at her room and settled in for the night she made a decision. She didn't believe B'Elanna would return her love, any more than Kathryn had. Yet, she knew she was being foolish to push a good friend away because of her pain. It was time to move past that, and when she made it back to Voyager, that was exactly what she would do.

Chapter 3

She sipped her tea while her left hand calculated complex equations on the screen of the PADD in her hand. It had taken her months to find a blend of tea that she liked, but Harry had been persistent in his opinion that she needed to drink something with flavor with her meals. He would hound her every time she had a glass of water, even spending his own rations replicating a new drink until she finally told him she liked tea just so he would stop wasting his rations on her.

It was amazing how many frivolous human emotions he proved from her. Like an annoyed guilt for wasting his own resources on her. She snorted the first time when he had that ridiculous compulsion to demonstrate a hula-hoop for her. The sweet man had taken it upon himself to never let her feel lonely, to make sure she had friends. For three months now he had been always around whenever she wasn't with Tuvok or the Captain.

She heard a cough and looked up to find him standing there in front of their table with a tray. He grinned and set his tray down. "Hey Sev. How did the power alignments go?" he asked as he shook out a napkin and arranged his silverware.

"It was succesful. As I predicted it extended aft sensors range another .04 percent," she answered.

"Yeah, well don't get too cocky on me Sev. Don't forget who helped you overcome the Starfleet-Borg material interference problem," he pointed out with a flourish of his hand and a gentle point in his own direction with his hand. He winked at her, grinning and dug into the food in front of him.

Smirking she replied. "Indeed, Harry. How will I ever repay you?" She tried and failed to imitate the southern belles they had encountered on their last visit to the holodeck together. He snorted and choked on his meal in the process.

They had taken to going to the holodeck once a week together, taking turns each week as to who chose the program. Last week had been an almost frightening adventure into the 'old south'. It was an era of coal locomotion, and the level of technology shocked Seven to the core. Really, it was amazing that humans made it off Earth at all in her opinion.

He took his cue from her earlier attempt at the southern accent and attempt a gentile voice himself. "Well, dear lady. You could do one little ol' thang for me."

She lifted her mesh-covered hand, putting it out to indicate he needed to stop the bad accent. "Please, Harry. Just tell me what you want. I do not think I could endure more 'southern hospitality' though."

"OK," he answered, setting down his silverware. "I want you to go out on a double date with me." When her eyebrow immediately shot up on her forehead and her eyes became very large, he back-pedaled a little. "What I mean is, well, I finally got Jennifer Delaney to agree to go out with me, but only if you agree to escort Megan."

The former Borg drone looked as pale as when she first stepped off the cube. She sat back against the back of the chair and the PADD dropped out of her hand entirely forgotten. "No! I will not comply," she almost stuttered.

"Why not Seven?" He asked quickly.

"You know why Harry. I do not want to ever experience love again." She explained vehemently, glaring at him.

"Who said anything about love? It's just a date! One date is all I'm asking. Come on please Sev, I'm begging you here. You know how long I've been wanting to go out with Jennifer, and this is the only way she will agree." He whined at her.

"I do not understand why," she responded.

"Apparently, Megan has had a crush on you for a while, and it's only become worse since she heard you dated women," he answered with a grin. "Do you know how many guys would love to go out with Megan? Come on, if you don't enjoy yourself, you don't ever have to do it again. But you gotta do it for me." He put on his best pleading smile.

She sat there silently for a few minutes while he tried to follow her eyes persistently. She looked at him carefully and in measured tones told him, "I will consider it."

"Great! It's the night after tomorrow. We pick them up at 2000 hours. How about I grab you at 1945?" He winked and grinned.

"Harry Kim." She growled and glared at him. "You have already arranged this?"

"Yes, because I just knew you would never let me down, Seven," he replied in an overly sweet voice. "Oh, wow, look at the time…I need to get to the bridge!"

They both stood and she followed him. They recycled their trays and dishes, leaving the mess hall together. As they stepped onto the lift together and called out their floors, he threw an arm over her shoulder and gave her a side-ways hug. "Thanks for helping me, Sev. Besides, you might just find out there is life after B'Elanna after all."

The lift reached the bridge and he hopped off with a wave. She sighed and shook her head, not even noticing that she was picking up the all too human traits, even when alone lately. He really could exasperate her sometimes. They had shared many discussions over her feelings for B'Elanna. He always wanted her to 'move on' and 'let it go.' It wasn't that the Borg had not tried. She had approached B'Elanna three months ago after leaving Nyrvon, and apologized for distancing herself. She had swallowed her feelings for the caramel beauty, trying never to display her attraction, castigating herself in private for even feeling them.

Yet, even though B'Elanna and Seven had resumed their friendship, it was still strained. They didn't spend nearly as much time together as before and the hybrid was always canceling their appointments. The only time Seven could consistently see B'Elanna was in engineering under the guise of work. She had yet to understand what she could do, but she was still trying to go back to their easy camaraderie.

The Nordic beauty whisked into Astrometrics. Opening her station, she began preparing for a new day. Work was always so comforting to her: consistent, reliable, and often intriguing. Pushing all other thoughts, including the disturbing idea of a date, out of her head, she smiled and lost herself in the data.

Kathryn Janeway looked up from her console when the chime to her door sounded. She grinned because this area of space had been so boring that she was actually craving a distraction. 'Lord knows these reports aren't doing it' she thought. "Come," she called out happily. Her smile widened even further, when she saw her Astrometrics officer stride in.

"Projections for the next two sectors of space Captain," Seven stated succinctly as she handed a PADD across the desk.

Janeway looked down at the PADD and sighed when she saw how dismally empty their course would continue to be.

"Is there a problem Captain?" Seven asked when she saw Kathryn's despondent look.

The older woman stood from behind the desk and strode over to her replicator. She pointed to the replicator and raised her eyebrow, inquiring silently if Seven wanted anything. The blonde shook her head, so Kathryn called up a single cup of coffee then moved over and sat on the couch, indicating Seven should join her.

"No, Seven. Your report is thorough as always, and I appreciate it. Yet, I am growing tired of these desolate stretches of space. It's ironic how sometimes we wish for peaceful travel, yet when we get it in these large doses… well, I just get bored!" she said vehemently and crossed her arms over her chest.

Seven smiled faintly. Although nobody would ever believe her, Kathryn Janeway allowed her guard down enough in front of Seven so the Borg got to see many emotions that others did not see. For instance, now, the intrepid, unflappable Captain was pouting. Annika saw no reason to let the opportunity pass her by either. "You are pouting Kathryn. Shall I altar our course into the nearest nebula for your entertainment?"

"I am not," Janeway exclaimed, not amused at being caught. She tried to put her command mask back on, but one look at Annika's mirth and she lost the effort. "Damn you, Annika," she said with a laugh, then actually stuck her tongue out. "Get out of here while I have a shred of dignity left," she commanded with a fake growl.

The Nordic blonde smiled and rose. "Very well," she answered. As she strode away, she stopped and turned back around. "Oh, by the way, I need to reschedule our weekly Velocity appointment. Would you be available tomorrow night instead?"

Kathryn was just sitting back down. She looked up. "Sure, sounds good. What's up?"

"Apparently, Harry thinks I owe him a favor. So he scheduled me to accompany him on a 'double date' with the Delaney sisters."

Years of diplomatic training thankfully kicked in and Kathryn's face remained impassive, even as her heart sank in her chest. "Well, enjoy yourself Annika."

"I will endeavor to do so, Kathryn. I will see you tomorrow night, 1700 hours," Seven replied and made her exit.

Kathryn watched the doors close, and then laid her head in her hands. She didn't know if she could stand watching Seven dating again. It was bad enough when it was a good match for the beauty, which B'Elanna actually had been. Yet, watching Seven date a Delaney? She didn't know if she could stomach that. She felt a gentle despair settle into her heart, not knowing how she could handle all of the emotions that she had begun to feel for Seven… for Annika.

After alpha shift, Seven made her way to Holodeck one. She really was going to be spending an inordinate amount of time in the holodecks this week she thought as she entered the corridor. For some reason, Tuvok had requested she meet him here for their weekly training session. Since Seven had begun spending time with Tuvok on a regular basis, she had developed deeper feelings for the Vulcan. She would probably never tell him, as she understood the sentiment might embarrass him, but he was like the father she didn't really get to have.

They had initially spent a great deal of time with Tuvok leading her through meditation techniques. After a time, when he felt she had mastered the very basics, he started helping her explore some of her emotions. He never discouraged her emotions. Instead, he taught her how to examine them, and always insisted that she recognize that each emotion belonged to her, originated within her. He once told her "your emotions can give you power Seven. Either you control them by understanding them, or they will control you while you attempt to ignore them."

Tuvok pushed her to deal with her anger and resentment towards her parents. She had found great release when she had finally forgiven them. Now, when she had some fleeting memory of her life before the Borg, she could remember without agony. There was still sadness over the fact that she was robbed of the opportunity to know them better, but that was accompanied by the knowledge that it was a fate beyond anyone's control.

Perhaps her greatest achievement under his tutelage was her new internalizations. Before his help, whenever things got hard, or someone irritated her, she would chant, "I am Borg" in her head as if that shielded her from everything. Now, she would tackle problems with the idea of "I am strong" or "I can find a way."

Their time together had also allowed her to learn a good deal about the man. He often told her things about himself to serve as examples. When she was reluctant to release her Borg background as a crutch, he shared with her the tale of his youth's all consuming goal of becoming a priest. One time when she complained of the lack of logic of some Starfleet protocols, he told her of his time in the Academy, and how he quit Starfleet five years after graduation. Then he recounted the spiritual journey that allowed him to see the universe beyond the confines of logic that led him back to Starfleet.

This in turn had led to many more discussion about Starfleet and the Federation. He would calmly discuss the merits of protocol, Federation ideals, or anything else that Seven became curious about. Tuvok was even able to explain why Starfleet's chain of command was the most logical structure possible for any set of diverse and emotional species. That in turn led to a fascinating discussion one night about whether or not it was emotion and that chain of command that had defeated the Borg time, and again.

She arrived at Holodeck One, and keyed in the sequence to open the door. She saw the older man meditating in the middle of a large set of workout mats. The program was of a very large open gym, brightly lit and unfurnished other than the mats. She approached him, and he opened his eyes and stood gracefully. He was wearing loose trousers and a loose shirt tied off in the front with a long belt.

"Commander," she greeted him with a respectful nod.

He returned her nod, "Annika." He gestured with his arm to a doorway on the furthest edge of the gym. "You will find a comfortable outfit in the changing room for our next set of lessons. It is a real outfit, and my gift to you." He once again lowered himself to the floor.

She did not seek an explanation. He would clarify what the next set of lessons would be when they began. Seven had already decided that any time he was willing to give her was time she spent well, and that everything she was learning from him had value. Making her way into the small changing room, she found an outfit similar to his, but in her size, and in a royal blue. A small grin touched her lips, as she considered the silent sentimentally of the color. He knew she enjoyed wearing the color, therefore he had added that touch. She changed quickly, and rejoined him on the mats, seating herself in front of him, waiting for his instruction.

"Annika, we have spent time together examining your mind, and your spirit. You have learned the basic meditations of my people and many of our ways. I think the next useful lesson will be to further acquaint you with your body, and how you can control it, without the aid of your Borg skills. I would like to begin training you in ketarja. Ketarja is an ancient martial art form still practiced on Vulcan. It will be different from any other fighting form you may know, because our goal is more than you learning a new way to fight. Our goal will be for you to learn to balance your body, your mind, and your spirit. It will not be something you will achieve quickly. Do you feel you are ready to begin such an undertaking?" he asked carefully.

Since he had told her so much, she knew he felt it was an important event. He rarely made long speeches to begin a lesson. Therefore, she was even more determined to succeed. "I will endeavor to succeed. How do I begin?" she answered formally, feeling as if something significant had happened, yet deciding to examine that thought later.

He nodded his approval. He began leading her through the first lesson, which started with stretches and lessons in why it was important to remain flexible. Soon, they were involved in the first of many nights together practicing ketarja.

The disc spun away from Seven's beam, picking up velocity, and bouncing off the far wall. An ordinarily easy move to avoid, Janeway took the disc right in the middle of her chest. Janeway had been lost in thought, wondering which one of the Delaneys the beauty was going out with the next night, and if that twin realized how lucky she was. As the computer announced the point for Seven, the Borg studied her friend curiously.

"Is something distracting you, Kathryn?" Seven asked.

Caught, Kathryn tried to evade the question. "Just a little tired tonight, Annika. I'm sorry if I'm not giving you the level of competition you're accustomed to."

"Perhaps we should cancel our game and you can rest," the Borg offered.

'Well, that didn't work,' Kathryn thought. 'Now I'll have even less time with her.' "Well, if you'd like, we can postpone it, and maybe you would join me in my cabin for some dessert and discussion instead?" Kathryn answered aloud.

The blonde nodded and called out to the computer to cancel the program. They exited the holodeck together, leaving the deck free for almost forty minutes of their allotted time.

The following night at 1950 hours, the chime to Seven's quarters sounded. Seven resisted the urge to roll her eyes at Harry's tardiness. She walked over to her door and pressed the entry button, and the door whisked open revealing Harry Kim as expected.

"You are late, Harry," she stated abruptly.

He waved her off, and pushed by her into the living room. She was confused by this, and a little irritated, since they needed to leave if they were to arrive in a timely manner. "Yeah, I know, but I kept changing my mind on clothes. What do you think? How do I look?" He turned about nervously, modeling his outfit. He was wearing stylish brown pants, with a matching leather vest over a white tunic.

"You look nice, Harry," she responded, again resisting the urge to roll her eyes. "Are flowers part of the dating protocol? Should I replicate some for Megan?" she asked after noticing he had a dozen in his hand.

"Well, they're always nice, and girls like that I'm told. My father always told me never to show up on a date without flowers," he grinned. "But, since you're sort of on a blind date, a dozen may be a bit much. How about a single one?"

"Acceptable," she answered and was about to key in the parameters for a red rose when he stopped her.

"You don't want to give her the wrong idea with a red rose, Sev," he said.

"Wrong idea?" she asked then shook her head. "Explain quickly Harry, because I still fail to understand how giving someone dead organic matter gives them any ideas!" she growled at him.

"Calm down Sev. It's just an old human tradition, and a red rose signifies deep passion or love. How do you feel about her?" he asked.

"She performs her duties adequately, she is fairly aesthetically pleasing, and she smells nice," Seven answered blandly.

"Ho boy, we need to work on your complimentary skills," he stated. "OK, let's go with how she smells nice." He keyed in an order for a Risan moon orchid. "These smell good, and if she asks the significance you can say that you that the lovely odor reminded you of how she always smelled so nice, and that you wanted to give her something that was as delicate in it's beauty as her. OK? Just be really sweet when you say it!" He handed her the orchid.

She took the delicate flower and inhaled its scent. It was rather pleasing she thought with a lifted brow. Meanwhile, he looked at her closely. "Great outfit, Sev, you look nice. But, why don't you let your hair down?"

She knew he thought she looked better with it down, but she thought it was inefficient to wear it that way most of the time. It really bothered her when it got in the way, so she usually wore it up. Yet she knew he would insist, so in the interest of expediting matters she reached up, and released the bun and shook it out. She handed him the orchid and disappeared into her bedroom to brush it. When she returned she raised the eyebrow under her implant and asked pointedly, "Better, Harry?"

"Beautiful!" he exclaimed. "Now let's go before we're late," he said as he thrust the orchid back at her and turned smartly on his heel.

She had to struggle not to smack him hard on the back of the head as she had seen B'Elanna do a few times to both him and Tom. Currently it was a very appealing idea, but she knew it would only cause them to be tardy, so she was able to resist.

At that same time, Kathryn Janeway was wandering the lower corridors of her ship. She had felt restless and decided to walk off some of the irritation that seemed to be plaguing her. She had chosen to pace the lower decks in order to see a few of the faces she didn't get to see very often. When she allowed herself to be honest, she knew she was avoiding seeing Annika out on her date. Kathryn had studiously avoided knowing where they would be, and would not allow herself to ask the computer, therefore, she wandered decks without holodecks, or any of the crew's date hotspots.

Tired of feigning interest in her crew's work, and trying to put on a front of good cheer, she ordered the turbolift to deck fifteen. The deck didn't house anything, nor were there any crew quarters here, so she could walk along in relative peace.

She ached inside knowing how close she had been to an honest love, and how callously she had thrown it away. She had decided it would have been better if she had never had that one night in Annika's arms, because often the memories were enough to rip apart her heart knowing she could never again have that sweet perfection. It was decidedly better not to have known. The Borg was an incredible lover; sweet, gentle yet strong, attentive, and oh so beautiful.

Kathryn Janeway leaned against a bulkhead and pounded her head softly, trying to drive out those images and override those feelings. Yet, she couldn't forget the quality of Seven's voice, as the blonde told her how she felt. She couldn't ignore the pounding of her own heart.

Janeway made a decision abruptly and returned to the turbolift. She couldn't let this spiral out of control, so she would talk to the one person who could help. She flexed her fists and tried to relax her jaw as the floors whisked by. When the doors opened she calmly strode down to his quarters and requested admittance.

"Captain," he answered the door personally and stood away from it to allow her entry. Who else but the unflappable Tuvok, her oldest friend on the ship, could greet his Captain at 2100 hours unexpected without question she wondered. He gestured to a chair and she sat. When her offered her refreshment, she declined, so he merely joined her. "How may I assist you?"

"I think it's happening again. I feel too much for Seven, and I'm going out of my mind with jealousy knowing she's out on a date," she said rancorously.

"Indeed," he stated. "Please, describe all your feelings, Captain."

So, she did. For the next hour, she poured out her heart, occasionally pacing around the room animatedly, before reeling herself back in and sitting back down. She went over every detail and felt near tears at the end. Finally, she stopped and stared at him. "I thought we had worked through this, Tuvok," her voice had taken on a plaintive tone.

"You have, Kathryn. There is nothing I can do about this condition. It is not related to your past condition," he told her calmly.

"Then what is it," she demanded.

"You know what it is, Kathryn," Tuvok told her. "You are in love. You must work this one out on your own."

She stared at him as if he had just turned into a Cardassian. Belatedly, she realized her mouth was hanging open, and she snapped her jaw shut. "So, what are you suggesting?" she asked with not a little trepidation.

"Discuss it with her honestly," he replied succinctly.

"Out of the question," she snapped. "Surely you, of all people, can see how being in love with one of my crewmembers, one of my best friends, can damage my ability to command. It's against protocol."

"For the latter, no it is not. To the former, no I do not," he answered calmly.

"What?" she exclaimed. "Please, explain that."

He inhaled deeply and ordered his thoughts. He had already seen this coming, so he was prepared. "There is no protocol against a Captain dating a crewmember. It is an implied protocol. Such an occurrence would be frowned upon in the Alpha Quadrant. However, that is because allowances could be made, transfers could be arranged before such a relationship took place. You do not have that option, Kathryn, nor do I think Starfleet command would demand you remain alone for a sixty year journey for an implied protocol." He stopped and let her absorb that set of information.

"Furthermore, I cannot find fault with you falling in love. I do not think that your command would be damaged by an honest love, yet I know it would be damaged if you were to try to lock those emotions away. A dynamic woman such as yourself deserves happiness, and cannot be happy if you stifle a primary emotion out of a misaligned sense of duty. I believe the only healthy thing you can do at this point is to resolve the situation. That would mean telling Annika how you felt, and seeing where that led. It may only lead to rejection, Captain. I do not think she harbors any ill will towards you for your past transgressions. However, she may not be capable of returning your love any longer. Either way, you will be able to resolve your emotions after you confront them." He finished and gazed at her impassively, waiting to see what else she would say.

A long silence followed. Realizing that she was overwhelmed, he decided to direct her a little. "Captain, I think you should probably retire for the evening. Perhaps meditation and reflection is in order to focus your thoughts?" he suggested.

She nodded at him passively and stood. Walking over to the doorway, she turned back and thanked him half-heartedly then left. He sighed and made his way to his own meditation area. Being in the presence of such strong emotions for such a long period had drained him, and he needed to clear his mind so that he himself could rest.

B'Elanna Torres was lying on the floor of the upper level of engineering, running a detailed diagnostic of a plasma relay. She was also grinning and enjoying her position. People often forgot that Klingons had keen ears, and often she could eavesdrop and catch all the latest gossip from her staff when they didn't realize they were within a Klingon's hearing range. Crewman Dalby and Ensign Molina were down one level going on and on about everything that happened at Sandrine's the night before.

"Hey what did you think of the latest Delaney double date?" Dalby asked with a bright voice.

'Ooh' B'Elanna thought, 'this should be juicy.'

"I dunno," Molina responded hesitantly. "I mean yeah, I could see Kim and Jenny, they actually made a nice couple. But, Megan and Seven?" his voice was skeptical. "That was just kinda weird."

B'Elanna froze, not believing what she had just heard. Her hearts both skipped a beat as her mind processed the thought of Seven dating Megan Delaney. Meanwhile the men below kept gossiping like hens.

"Weird," Dalby exclaimed. "It was hot! I mean Seven in that pantsuit and Megan in that short little dress together on the dance floor?" He whistled.

She wanted to growl and throttle Dalby. She didn't really like him too much in the Maquis either, but he was there before her and Chakotay had trusted him. Of course, Chakotay trusted Seska too, so what did that really mean.

"Oh shut up, John," Molina said with disgust. "Seven deserves better than to be pawed in public like that. I mean she looked sort of, I dunno, timid about the whole thing."

"What d'ya mean? And who can tell what Seven is feeling? She's all mysterious beauty," Dalby chuckled.

"Hey, you better not let anyone from Gamma hear you talk about Seven like that," Molina warned. "Remember, I was on Gamma that last month that Seven took over for Carey. Well, that crew loves her. Hell, I like her too. She's really nice. And, she's just as human as you or me, she's just real reserved and shy … doesn't show all that much unless you're really looking for it."

"Yeah, whatever," Dalby growled back. "Hand me that spanner."

"What I want to know is what happened to the chief and Seven," Molina ventured after a while. "I thought they would be a good pair."

B'Elanna couldn't take it. If she had known back then what she did now, she wouldn't have ever made the stupid mistakes she did. Even now she wondered on an almost nightly occurrence why she had pushed Seven away.

"Man you are warped," Dalby laughed. "They would've killed each other."

B'Elanna decided that Dalby definitely was an idiot. He would be cleaning Jeffries tubes a lot over the next few months.

"Yeah, well, you didn't see that kiss that day," Molina retorted. "It was like they were made for each other. They were talking to each other in Klingon, saying who knows what, then Boom! An electrifying kiss and a fainting Borg. Of course, she was bleedin' out. Chief needs someone smart like Seven."

Dalby snorted. "Well, whatever it was, it ain't any more."

Did she say months? She meant years.

"I know. It's kinda sad. They hated each other, and then they were best friends. Then that kiss, and then a week later they're both back in their shells. Now they aren't as close." Molina said.

"Well, chief has been kinda distant the last few months. But she'll come around. As for Seven I don't really care, she's just fun to look at." Dalby said.

'OK' B'Elanna thought. Dalby was now the Jeffries tube and waste receptacle cleaning man for the entire journey home as far as she was concerned. If the Captain asked, she could just repeat that last sentence. He would still end up cleaning them, and he would get his skin flayed by a Class Ten Janeway glare to boot.

"Oh just shut up, John. Sometimes I don't know why I listen to you at all," Molina said and B'Elanna could hear the sound of tools being put away.

"Hey where are you going?" Dalby asked.

"To work somewhere else," Molina replied.

B'Elanna collected her own tools, having finished with her diagnostics a little while ago. She made her way down to her office and then informed Vorik he was in charge while she went to lunch. Heading back to her quarters, she sat heavily upon her couch and let go of the pent up frustration.

Chapter 4

A week later, Captain Janeway sat sullenly in her command chair on the bridge. Space was boring and there were no challenges to distract her from her personal problems. Once again, her thoughts had been going round in circles as she tried to work out what to do regarding her feelings for Seven. Finally she leapt out of her chair and handed the conn to Chakotay, escaping into her ready room.

She had retreived herself a coffee and was just sitting down at her desk when the chime rang. Annoyed, she called out for the interloper's entry. Seeing her first officer enter only irritated her further.

"I thought I left you the conn," she grumped.

"Well, I just gave it to Tuvok. What's wrong Kathryn?" he asked as he lowered himself into the chair in front of her desk.

"I have no idea what you are talking about," she answered evasively.

"I'm talking about your mood lately. You've been stomping around the bridge for the last week like a lion with a thorn in his paw. You're actually scaring Harry. Something is bothering you and I'd like to be able to help you. So, I'll ask again. What's wrong?" He had a patient and compassionate tone, and his eyes were soft and understanding.

Kathryn felt deflated by his compassion. She wondered if she could confide in him. Maybe if she didn't reveal too much, she could just test out the waters, see what his opinions were on his Captain in a relationship. She sighed and slumped in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest.

"I have had some things on my mind," she answered slowly. He nodded for her to continue. "So many things that have occurred out here have been so different, so alien from everything that I was trained for, that I'm often left disconcerted. Not having the option of contacting Starfleet command for advice leaves me ultimately in charge, and sometimes it seems to be more weight than I can bear. Usually I only have moments to make these decisions, but I have no problem standing by them once I have made them. It's when I have too much time to ponder things that it becomes difficult."

He looked at her expectantly. "So, share the weight. That's part of what you have a first officer for isn't it?" he asked.

She snorted a small, rueful laugh. "Well, I'm not entirely certain what I should do about this, so I suppose I should ask your opinion. This wouldn't be a problem back in the Alpha Quadrant…" she trailed off, now embarrassed.

"What is it?" he prompted gently.

"I've fallen for someone, Chakotay," she said softly. She continued after a pause. "How am I supposed to handle that and be the Captain at the same time?"

"Kathryn, you've defeated the Borg, Kazon and the Hirogen. You should be able to handle a relationship," he laughed and smiled.

"Really," she answered dryly, her eyes narrowing. She didn't enjoy his mirth at her quandary. "So, how would you handle it?"

"How would I? Or, do you mean how do I?" he asked, leaning forward. She appeared surprised by that implication. "With discretion and honor. Not to mention great care in my choices."

"Are you saying…" she trailed off.

"Yes. I have been seeing someone for several months now," he smiled broadly and relaxed again in his chair. "I never believed I could be superhuman and ignore my heart. I haven't dated a lot, but there have been a few women over the last six years. I've never let it interfere with the job, and I've always handled it discretely. I don't hide it, but I don't flaunt it either."

"I never knew," she said with wonder in her voice.

"You didn't ask," he pointed out. "However, since you are asking for my advice now, I say go for it, Kathryn. If you try to hold back your heart, everyone will suffer."

That surprised her, so she asked, "What do you mean?"

"Well, it's quite simple really," he started. "What makes you a great Captain is who you are, not how you were trained. You are a complex woman, who can feel so deeply yet balance your feelings with protocols and regulations. Your feelings and your spirit are what compel people to follow you, not your rank. But, if you try to sublimate your love, well eventually some of your other emotions will follow. Then we'll be left with a Captain who is nothing but an automaton, definitely not the engaging leader who managed to meld such a diverse crew."

She sat stunned and thoughtful for a few minutes. "Tuvok said something similar, believe it or not," she finally said.

"Then what are you waiting for?" He laughed. "He's a wise man. Take my advice and do it, Kathryn."

He stood and began to leave her alone to her thoughts. Just as he got to the door, he turned back and grinned at her. "Oh, and would you do it soon? You really are driving us crazy out there!" He winked at her and left.

Seven stepped off the turbolift heading to the holodeck for her weekly Velocity game with the Captain. She usually arrived before Janeway, so it was with a bit of surprise that she found the woman standing outside the holodeck waiting for her. She smiled at Janeway as she neared.

"Kathryn," she said warmly in greeting.

"Hello, Annika," Kathryn answered huskily. "Would you mind if we ran a different program this week?" she asked hopefully.

"As you wish," Seven answered with a nod.

The redhead tapped in a few commands and they entered the holodeck together. Seven studied the scene around her avidly. They were standing on the edge of an agricultural field of some sort. Several hundred meters in the distance was a large, white farmhouse. The program was very detailed, with bright sunshine, passing butterflies, and a soft spring breeze.

"Computer, alter our clothing to reflect the environment," Janeway commanded. A distinct noise followed, then both women were garbed in jeans, cowboy boots and loose, cotton, short-sleeved shirts.

Seven raised her eyebrow curiously at the smaller woman. "What is this program?"

"This is a personal program of mine. It's my childhood home, during my favorite time of year. Indiana in the spring," she said with a smile. "My family is still there as far as I know. I don't run this program very often, because it usually makes me homesick, but I thought I might share it with you." She paused then looked into Seven's pale blue eyes. "Would you like to see the house I grew up in?"

"Certainly," the younger woman answered easily.

They started off through the fields together heading towards the house. Seven decided to take advantage of the program and reached up, unpinning her hair. She had discovered a while back that she enjoyed the feeling of wind blowing through her unrestrained hair.

Kathryn stumbled a bit at the sight. She smiled at herself when she realized she was acting like a teenager. In fact, she felt very much like a nervous, giddy teenager taking her date home.

Along the way, Kathryn pointed out various places that were special to her. Pointing out the willow tree where she hid when she wanted solitude. Showing her the pond where she learned to fish. She rambled on about various memories, opening up to Annika in a way she hadn't allowed herself in years.

Seven wasn't completely quiet either. She had no idea what had brought on this unexpected side of Kathryn. However, she was enjoying the interaction fully. She would ask about things they passed, or for a more thorough explanation about why Janeway had done something that the redhead told her about. Kathryn would elaborate honestly and without reserve. The blonde was at once joyful about discovering more about Janeway, and wistful about her own missed childhood.

When they reached the house, the redhead held out her hand to help Seven up the stairs. Over the years, Janeway had refined her program greatly to include many fine details, including the slightly loose board at the top of the stairs that she remembered fondly.

"I know I've told you that my sister Phoebe is an artist," Janeway said, looking at the blonde, who nodded in confirmation. Janeway held open the old screen door for Seven and they entered the house. "Well, about a week before I left for Voyager, she gave me a special gift, a subroutine for my Indiana program. Of course, she inserted her own unique brand of humor into it, but it's still very special to me. I don't know how she did it, but it must have taken a lot of effort."

Janeway led Seven into the kitchen, then called out wryly, "Computer activate 'Katie is a brat.'"

Seven started at the phrase, and looked at the Captain. Meanwhile, two holographic women appeared in the kitchen. One sat on a stool that was situated at a low counter that separated the cooking area from the dining area. The other was standing at an old fashioned stove. Annika noticed that both resembled Janeway. The one on the low stool was roughly Janeway's age, yet taller than the Captain with hair a brighter shade of red. In addition, she seemed more relaxed than Kathryn, and her face sparkled with a happy exuberance. The older woman was closer in height to the Captain, yet her hair was grayer with reddish tones. Seven couldn't tell much more than that since the woman was facing away, working on some dish.

"So, Katie, you finally climb off your mighty bridge to come visit us? About time!" the younger hologram exclaimed with a laugh.

"Don't tease your sister Phoebe," the older one admonished. She turned and carried a pie to the counter. She looked at Kathryn, then Seven and smiled. "You brought some company I see Katie."

"Yes mom," Kathryn answered in a tone of voice that Seven didn't recognize.

"Hi! I'm Phoebe; Katie's younger, prettier sister," the Phoebe hologram said with a grin as she held out her hand to Seven.

The Captain just rolled her eyes as Seven shook the hologram's hand. "Well, I've never seen that bit of programming," she complained.

"Of course you haven't Katie. You've never brought company before," she answered with a wink.

"And I'll never figure out how you programmed this so well Phebes. I know you couldn't have done it all yourself," Kathryn shook her finger in the hologram's face.

"I told you before, that's for me to know, and you to always gripe about," Phoebe laughed. "My sister hates mysteries," the hologram told Seven conspiratorially.

Janeway shook her head at Phoebe. She held out her hand to Seven unconsciously, who wondered a bit at the gesture yet gave her hand to Kathryn anyway. The Captain led her around the counter to the older woman.

"Annika, I wanted to introduce you to my mother … well, a really good hologram of my mother, Gretchen Janeway," Kathryn said.

"I'm pleased to meet you Annika," the hologram answered with a warm smile. The older Janeway had a soft, loving face that reminded Seven of Kathryn's face at her most sensitive. "Katie, the pie will be ready in about fifteen minutes if you'd like to show Annika around," Gretchen told Kathryn.

"Okay, momma," Janeway answered, her voice hitching.

Seven noticed Kathryn unobtrusively wipe away a tear, as she was lead out into the large living room. She heard the Captain quietly call out for the computer to save the holo-characters and remove them.

"There is an amazing familial resemblance Kathryn," Seven said softly after a moment's silence. "Although, if the personality matrices were accurate, I do not understand the differences between you and your sister."

"Phoebe was always a free spirit. I think she also took after mom more, whereas I took after our father," the older woman answered with a smile.

"Why is your father not present in your sister's program?" Seven asked curiously.

Janeway bowed her head for a moment then reached out, taking a picture off a table, and handed it to Seven. "My father, my fiancé and I were on a test flight for Starfleet together, when the ship crashed into an ice-sheet on Tau Ceti Prime. I was the only survivor," she answered softly.

Seven examined the man in the picture briefly. Then she noticed a tear rolling down Janeway's cheek, so she lowered the picture and pulled Janeway into her arms. "I am sorry Kathryn. I did not realize…"

"It's okay Annika. You couldn't have known, and honestly I have no idea why it still affects me this way after all these years," the redhead answered, allowing herself to enjoy being held in the strong arms, drawing on the comfort so readily offered. "However, this is not how I had imagined our hour together. I really am ruining it, blubbering about my memories," she said as she pulled out of the sweet embrace.

"I have enjoyed this. However, I know you do not normally allow your crew to see the human side of you, so I am curious as to why you have allowed me to see it today," Seven answered.

Janeway walked over to the door that led to the back porch, indicating Seven should follow. Outside, there was an old wooden swing large enough to comfortably sit three people hanging, facing the horizon. She took a seat, inviting Seven to join her with a hand gesture. As they sat and Kathryn rocked the swing into motion, she ordered her thoughts.

"You are right, of course. I do keep my distance from most of my crew," she started hesitantly. "Beyond Tuvok, I never thought anyone else aboard Voyager would ever see me for who I am beyond my command; until you came along. You have always had an ability to push beyond the command mask, and over the years, you've caused me to question so much that I thought I understood." She paused looking into Seven's baby blue eyes. "I've been running and hiding from my feelings a lot lately, until there was no longer anywhere to run." She sighed, started to speak, and then paused. "This is not easy for me," she said miserably.

"What is not easy?" Seven asked guilelessly.

"What I'm trying to tell you is that, other than my family, the people I just introduced you to … there is nobody else in the universe I feel as close to as you, Annika." She looked at Seven for any reaction. When the blonde didn't seem upset, she gathered her courage and continued. "I know I fairly well made a complete and total mess of things several months back, but … I was hoping, maybe you might give me … give us another chance. If you would, I would very much like to date you, explore a relationship with you," she finished softly and stared intently into Seven's eyes, feeling as if she couldn't breath while waiting for Seven to respond.

This was certainly unexpected, Seven thought. She felt as if her cortical implant had gone on leave, abandoning her to fend for herself, and was vaguely aware that Janeway was looking at her expectantly. Her heart felt joy and her mind told her to remember the pain of heartbreak, so she decided to seek clarity.

"Why now, Kathryn? Why did you wait so long?" she asked so softly, as to almost be a whisper, staring at her hands. "Why did you have to hurt me first?"

Kathryn felt the need to do something, anything to make Seven see how much she cared. "Oh God, Annika, if I could take away that pain, I would." She reached out and took Seven's hand in hers. "Do you know how that night has haunted me? Night after night, I lie in bed and I hear your words echoing through my soul. How you said you could fall in love with me, and I wish, … I wish I hadn't been such a fool and cast that aside." She stood and paced for a moment then came and knelt in front of the blonde, taking the slim hands into her own. "I didn't realize then how much you mean to me, how much I would regret it. But, now I do. Now, I know I have to try again, I have to do everything in my power to show you that I love you Annika. If you don't feel the same, I will never mention it again, but if there is even the slightest chance that you could forgive me, and give me a chance … I promise I will show you every day how I feel, and just how special you are."

Annika sat there stunned for a moment, before a solitary tear left her right eye. She leaned down to the redhead and edged slowly forward, finally capturing the thin, wine-colored lips in a gentle kiss. It was a slow tender kiss, and Janeway was careful not to escalate it, but she couldn't help the joyous whimper that escaped. When it ended, the Borg rested her forehead upon the Captain's.

"Very well Kathryn. However, I expect this 'romance' that I have heard so much about," she said wryly.

"Anything Annika … I'll give you anything," Kathryn answered breathlessly.

Chapter 5

Seven of Nine stood in front of the mirror in her ensuite trying to focus. Usually focusing was an easy task for her, except when there was an emotional resonance to a situation. That was the crux of her difficulty right now: the emotions involved in her current situation. Layer upon layer of possibilities could arise out of every action or inaction she took from this point forward. She brushed her long blonde hair, attempting a pleasing style she had found in the database as she allowed her mind to wander.

She had learned so much about the pitfalls of love in a quite personal way over the last six months, but never did she get an opportunity to fully explore its joys. She knew she could fall in love with Kathryn again so easily. However, it was frightening. She had endured so much pain after their first encounter and she didn't know if she would be able to endure that overwhelming sorrow again. Kathryn had been clear in speech, and in some indefinable way in action, that she loved Seven beyond friendship.

Kathryn had said she would do anything and everything in her power for Seven. That actually said quite a bit since Seven had never seen the powerful woman fail at anything she had set her mind to. Yet, Seven didn't want the impossible. She simply wanted Kathryn's love. She wanted to share in her life, to be respected as an equal, and be loved for who she was. She wanted to share her joys and sorrows, to comfort and be comforted in return. It would bring her great joy to cast aside Kathryn's loneliness, and in return not have to feel alone herself.

After her date with Megan, Seven realized that not just anyone could fill that role in her life. Yet, she despaired of ever finding another who had the same passionate intelligence as Kathryn or B'Elanna-- that indefinable quality that attracted Seven so much to the two women. In the end, that had been Seven's deciding factor as to why she was giving Kathryn another chance. If love truly was Kathryn's motivation, then it would be illogical for Seven to not try again. They were eminently suitable for one another, not to mention that Kathryn would always hold a part of Seven's heart and love forever anyway. B'Elanna would also. Seven just wasn't the kind of woman to stop loving someone, no matter the situation.

The former drone was surprisingly human in her preparations for this date, even if she didn't realize it. She had been primping and preparing for the date for an hour now, and was smoothing over her dress as she examined her reflection in the mirror. She would have believed trying to look perfect was a Borg induced trait, not knowing that it was so utterly human to be nervous before a date you cared about. She believed that no other woman would be as dissatisfied about her appearance as she was, lamenting her visible implants, since she had no idea that there was always something a woman found unappealing about themselves when they prepared for a potential mate.

The sound of the chime finally brought her out of her self-inspection, and she strolled nervously through her bedroom, calling for entry as she entered her living room. Kathryn strolled through the door, stunning in her beauty. The older woman had chosen to wear tailored navy pants with a pair of matching heels that lifted her by a few inches. She also wore a thin, silky, cream-colored blouse, which was opened down to just above her sternum, revealing the lines of her breast in a tantalizing fashion. Resting on her upper chest was a sapphire pendant, which seemed to point to her hidden cleavage as if inviting the observer to speculate. She had a gentle and pleased smile, and Seven's enhanced hearing could pick up on her rapidly thudding heartbeat from where she stood a few feet away.

"Annika," she said very softly with a hitch in her voice, "You look beautiful." She reached out and handed the Borg a solitary red rose.

Seven noticed that it was not a replicated rose, but one purchased from the hydroponics lab; therefore, it was not as perfect as the replicated roses appeared, yet, somehow it was even more beautiful. She brought the bloom to her face, and inhaled the sweet scent and smiled. "Thank you Kathryn," she replied shyly. She replicated a vase with water and placed the rose on the low coffee table.

"Shall we?" Kathryn asked the younger woman, extending her hand in invitation. When Seven set her hand into Kathryn's, the older woman gently cradled it, then pulled her gently forward, bringing the hand to her lips, and kissing the top ever so softly. She smiled at Seven while threading her fingers through Seven's.

When they left together Seven fully expected that Kathryn would let go of her hand before they saw any crew. However, even after the lift arrived on their destination deck, the redhead continued the display of affection. In fact, Kathryn didn't seen even a bit abashed as she passed members of the crew, even when some did double takes at the sight of the couple.

"Where are we headed?" Seven asked.

"Holodeck One," Kathryn responded.

"Not Sandrine's?" Seven asked with some surprise.

Janeway laughed softly. "Honestly Annika, do you find Sandrine's romantic?" she asked.

"No," Seven answered firmly.

"Good! Neither do I," Kathryn quipped.

They arrived at the holodeck and the Captain entered her commands. Kathryn allowed Seven to enter ahead of her, and Seven noticed they were in a short hallway. A tall, handsome gentleman appeared from around the corner and immediately smiled.

"Ah! Bon soir! We have been expecting you," he exclaimed in an accent that Seven recognized as French. The Borg had actually retained the French language because of the Queen's minor obsession with Jean Luc Picard, known to the collective as Locutus. "If you will follow me?"

He led them to a table set near the outer edge of a large room. To the side of the table, there was a large floor to ceiling window with a spectacular view. He held out Seven's chair as the Captain seated herself opposite the Borg. When they were comfortable, he handed them each a menu, then quietly walked away.

Seven glanced at the menu and realized it would take her a few moments to translate the written French. When she had, she also found that she had no experience with any of the dishes. Her consternation must have shown, because the Captain smiled gently at her.

"Would you mind if I ordered for both of us Annika? I'd like you to be able to sample a few of my favorite French dishes," she stated delicately, as if it had always been the plan. Of course, Seven had no way of knowing if it always had with the Captain.

"I think I would prefer that Kathryn," Seven answered and set her menu aside.

"Would you mind a light wine with dinner also?" Kathryn asked, prepared to forego the wine if necessary.

"Perhaps a glass," the Borg responded looking into Kathryn's eyes. They were the loveliest shade of blue at that moment, telling the young woman that Kathryn was very happy. She had learned long ago to read the Captain's eye colors as mood indicators.

A waiter came and Kathryn ordered in perfect French surprising the blonde. The language was well suited for Kathryn's voice Seven mused. The rolled inflections in that husky timbre sent a chill down Seven's spine. She tried to hide her flush by looking out the window. The restaurant sat upon a hill and had an unobstructed view of a moonlit lake. Seven was observing the reflection of the full moon when Kathryn broke into her musing.

"I have a confession to make Annika," she said. Seven looked at the Captain expectantly. "I have always been mesmerized by how moonlight plays upon your face. I used to find a way to be with you on night time away missions if I could."

Seven blushed and looked away for a moment. "Then, I will tell you, I have always been fascinated by your hair in sunlight," she answered timidly and noticed that this caused the redhead to smile bashfully, but very happily. Then the Captain reached across the table, taking the fine boned hands in her own, and caressing the fingers with the tips of her thumbs tenderly.

The waiter arrived with the wine and presented it to the Captain. She went through a routine with it that the waiter obviously expected and patiently waited for. At her smile and nod he poured them each a glass, then left the bottle nearby in a silver ice bucket. Seven asked about the routine, and Kathryn explained it to her, which led to a longer discussion about wine. Kathryn obviously knew a great deal about the subject. Seven discovered she was enjoying the taste of the wine Kathryn had selected, although she was careful to sip very slowly.

During their meal, they spoke in low tones about a great many things, from the mundane to the philosophical. Of course, Kathryn also explained the cuisine and how she had learned to appreciate it. She spoke freely about her past, and Seven was finding herself more fascinated with Kathryn after every story.

After they had finished their dessert, they sat sipping another glass of wine. The Captain abruptly rose and stood in front of Seven smiling. She held out her hand and said, "Annika, may I have the honor of a dance?"

The Borg nodded, so the Captain assisted her out of her chair and led her to a room that had a dance floor. There were few furnishings in the room and the only thing that drew any attention was a large stone fireplace with a comfortable blaze already lit. Soft music had already been playing throughout the night. When they stood together in the center of the room, it was a simple, natural progression into an easy embrace, swaying together to the music.

Kathryn was a graceful dancer Seven observed. The older woman easily led her through each dance, and she felt quite comfortable in her arms. She lost all sense of time and the songs seemed to flow past without her notice. More important was the sense of ease and happiness she felt, the comfort of their brief caresses. She felt drawn closer and closer to Kathryn's body, as if by a magnet, until their bodies moved together as one.

Finally, the computer broke into their reverie, informing them that their three-hour time-slot was about to expire. Seven was shocked and almost dismayed at how truly she had lost track of the time.

"Well," Kathryn said in a thick voice, "I suppose we had better leave." Her face showed her disappointment.

Again, the Captain held Seven's hand throughout their journey back to the Borg's quarters. When they arrived, the Captain again kissed Seven's hands softly. "May I kiss you Annika?" she asked earnestly.

"I would be disappointed if you did not Kathryn," Seven answered honestly.

Kathryn stepped closer, cupping the beautiful face in her hands and slowly leaned up, while bringing the taller woman's face down. Her lips hovered over the fuller lips tentatively, and then touched them in a gentle kiss once, then again, before tracing the lips with her tongue slowly. Seven opened her mouth slightly and they pressed together more firmly, the kiss building. One kiss became another, then another even more passionate than before. Finally, after some time, they broke apart, resting forehead to forehead, embracing one another.

Seven inhaled deeply, trying to catch her breath. She noticed that Kathryn was also flushed and breathless.

"I had the most wonderful time tonight Annika," Kathryn husked.

"Do you not want to come in?" Seven asked timidly.

"Oh Annika, God knows I do … but I want to take this slowly. If I come in, I don't know if I will be able to," she answered with a sly grin, looking Seven directly in the eyes.

"Very well," Seven replied. "However it is not easy."

The Captain laughed ruefully. "No. It is not. So, I will be strong now for both of us and say goodnight." She pulled away from the embrace slowly, letting go of the fine hands only when she was too far away to continue holding them. She turned and walked the short distance between their quarters feeling Seven's eye still on her. As she keyed her entry code, she locked eyes with the Borg and said, "Sleep well Annika, darling." Then she turned and entered her quarters.

Unknown to either woman, they each stood inside their doors for long moments, leaning back finally against the door for support almost simultaneously with very similar smiles.

Kathryn sat at her desk going over a report from the biometrics department. It was really a stalling technique since she was trying to avoid more personnel reports that needed to be finished in a few days. Therefore, she gladly put down the PADD when the chime broke into the silence.

"Come," said with a smile.

Chakotay ambled into the room and laid another stack of PADDs on her desk in preparation for the personnel reports. She pursed her lips at him, but did not give her usual mock glare or aggrieved sigh.

"I must say Captain," he said as he lowered himself into the chair in front of her desk. "I think I am going to retire as first officer and become a full time counselor after my latest success."

She laughed. "You can't fool me. You only want to run away from personnel reports also. Nope. I won't let you do it," she quipped at him. She sipped at her coffee cup then raised her brow. "So, whose life have you 'fixed' now?"

"Yours of course," he laughed. "It was an almost overnight transformation. First we had a bear on the bridge and now we have an affectionate pussy cat." He smiled broadly knowing he was tweaking her mightily. That was okay with him. She was a little less cautious when she was off guard, and he might even be able to pull more details out of her.

"Really? So glad I could please you my friend. However," she held up a finger to make a point, "I would hardly call your efforts the cure. Just a first officer's duty to help his Captain in a seemingly impossible decision."

"You wound me," he said with a mock grasp of his heart. "So are you going to tell me about it?"

"Nope. I can handle it from here I do believe," she winked. "Besides, a lady never kisses and tells. Now, go mind my bridge before I decide Tuvok looks better in red than you."

He laughed and left her alone. She promptly ignored the new PADDs and the forgotten report and instead took her mid morning break to begin devising a new surprise for Seven. A very un-Captain like smile split her face as she thought of a new way to show the blonde that she was thinking about her.

Chapter 6

Almost two weeks later Seven was sitting at her workstation in her quarters, trying to finish a series of equations before Harry showed up. In her private time, she occasionally worked on the integrity field issue, which kept Voyager from being able to utilize a slipstream drive. Thus far it had failed to lead anywhere, as there were some serious deficiencies in the basic geometric design of the ship when encountering forces of the magnitude that slipstream technology would exert. Yet, she found the equations and the problem oddly soothing to work on. The door chime rang, interrupting her train of thought, so she called out for her friend's entry before turning back to the screen.

"Hey Sev. Are you ready to go jam?" Harry asked holding up his clarinet case with a glowing smile.

"One moment Harry. I would like to finish this analysis first," she answered, not even looking his way as her long fingers glided over the touch-pad.

"Okay," he shot back amicably. He looked around curiously as he wandered around her place. "Hey, would you trade your holodeck time for next week with me for some rations? I want to take Jenny to a special program, but I need two hours in a row."

She looked at him with exasperation. As expected, he blushed. "Only for you Harry."

"Thanks Sev! You are the best," he beamed at her and crossed the space to try to hug her. Of course, she expected that too and forestalled it by placing a hand out on his chest.

"We will not make it there in a timely fashion if you interrupt my work-flow," she explained to him wryly.

He snorted. "Yeah, sure." He leaned over to look over her shoulder. "You're still working on the integrity issue?" he asked. She nodded without looking at him. Then he noticed an arrangement of red roses sitting proudly on the desk next to her console. Looking closely he realized they were real, from the hydroponics bay, therefore very expensive. He whistled. "Who gave you the flowers Sev? I thought you told Megan that you didn't want to see her anymore."

"They aren't from Megan Harry," she said. "I have been seeing someone else."

"Really?" he asked with a large smile. "I thought you didn't want to date. That love was illogical and too painful." He snickered after saying this playfully in a monotone.

"Your efforts to tease me are futile Harry," she told him, the corners of her mouth twitching up despite her words.

She finished her analysis, saved it and logged out of her station. Getting up and striding across the room to retrieve her guitar case, she was unable to stop him from pulling the card off the vase and begin reading it.

"Sweet sentiment, but who is K?" he wondered aloud.

"That was private Harry," she frowned at him.

"I'm sorry Sev. Although, I have to know now, especially since you are being so evasive. Who is she, and why didn't you tell me you were dating someone?" he all but whined at her, and threw her a puppy dog look.

"Very well," she said and sighed. "I had not shared it with you because I wanted to make sure she was sincere, and at the moment I still want to remain discrete." She paused and looked into his eyes for recognition. "Kathryn and I have been seeing each other."

"Uh … The Kathryn? Kathryn Janeway?" he blundered through the question.

"Yes, Harry. That Kathryn. Since I know of no other Kathryns on the ship, it seems redundant to point that out." She smiled at him. He had always been a fascinating human to study, and now was no exception. He stood there pale with his mouth hanging wide open, his jaw working occasionally to try to close, but failing miserably.

"You're dating the Captain?" he squeaked.

"I believe that is what I said Harry. Shall I call the doctor? You look pale, and there seems to be something wrong with your hearing," she asked playfully.

"Oh, very funny," he frowned at her. After a minute he said, "I don't think I could have been more shocked if you told me you were dating Tom. I mean, at least people have seen him date. Jeez Sev. No wonder you got bored with Megan if your taste is more inclined to powerful women like Janeway. First B'Elanna, now the Captain eh?" He shook his head as if that would help him understand it better, and mumbled to himself.

She smiled at him, well aware that he was still shocked, but would support her anyway. Making her way to the doorway, she turned back to him and asked, "Shall we leave now?"

He nodded stupidly, retrieved his clarinet case from the coffee table and followed her out the door.

"Ah, Captain, thank you for coming so quickly," the holographic Doctor said. "Please, come take a look at this." He pointed to a console, which was displaying multiple views of an organism.

Janeway strode over and studied the organism's data for a brief moment. "Alright Doctor. This is all very fascinating, but why don't you tell me why I would be interested in this virus, and why it was exciting enough for you to summon me off the bridge," she said in a low warning voice.

"This is not exactly a virus, Captain. It isn't quite complete enough to be called that. If I had to classify it, I would put it in the same general family as prions. Yet, it would be the most incredible prion I have ever encountered. As you know, most prions that were initially discovered by modern science seemed to be bent on the destruction of a species. They were hypothesized to be a sort of population thinning mechanism for a planet that had become overpopulated. For example, the first prions discovered on Earth could jump species easily, and usually caused fatal brain deteriorating diseases." He took another breath to begin a long speech.

"Doctor," Janeway warned in a voice that could slice duranium. "Skip the lecture and tell me more about this," she pointed to the console.

"Oh. Well, this little fellow seems to be a catalyst to propagate higher life," he said with a smile. He touched the screen and a read-out of some crewmember's latest scans appeared on the screen. "Those infected with this prion have highly altered brain chemistry, and indeed it seems to change the general make-up of certain parts of the brain. Testosterone, and progesterone, among other hormones, and melatonin, serotonin, dopamine and certain other neurotransmitter levels have increased levels in anyone with the prion. You see this slight strengthening in the hypothalamus? It is an effect in humans. I've found similar changes in the Bolians, and Bajorans also."

"So where did we pick up this little hitchhiker, and why did the biofilters not eliminate it?" Janeway asked trying to bring him to the point.

"After I first found the symptoms in a security officer who had come in with nausea, I began researching it, and have determined that we picked it up two months ago when we sent down a biometrics team for food gathering on that uninhabited class M planet. As to why the biofilters couldn't screen for it, well as nearly as I can determine, it would have been in an encapsulated predevelopment stage in the bloodstream of the team. It would have been far too small for the biofilters to even recognize, since it disguises itself as a body's normal chemistry," he answered and inhaled deeply to continue.

Janeway was getting impatient. She would normally find such a scientific discovery very interesting, but the doctor could have simply written this all up in a report. "Please tell me how this affects my ship Doctor. So far, I cannot understand why you didn't send all this to me in a report."

"Well, Captain, if you would let me finish, you will see that it will have a profound affect upon Voyager. This little prion is not the least bit interested in your directives. Its sole purpose as far as I can tell on its original planet was to help begin life, to encourage what life was there to mate often. Being brought here didn't change its purpose, but its job became easier. The crew already mates often here on Voyager. You know as well as I do how many couples and casual pairings there are on board. So, the prion's only challenge was to propagate itself and to overcome the birth control methods we have in place." He paused for drama, and looked pointedly at the Captain. He raised his eyebrows when he realized how pale she had become. "Apparently two months time was plenty for our newest little friend to meet its challenges," he continued gamely.

"What are you saying Doctor?" she asked in a flat voice.

He really was concerned about the pallor Janeway had taken on and guided her over to a chair. Even more concerning was the fact that she didn't notice she was being led to the chair. He coughed, in a little sign of nervousness. "In eight months time we will have four new Humans to add to our ranks, and 3 months after that 2 new Bolians. I'm still waiting on the rest of the away team to report to me for scanning, so there may be some Bajorans too. In short, all females that were on that team that I have examined have become pregnant. All the males I have examined have told me that their libidos have been unusually high, and that they have entered into exclusive pairings, even some of those who never thought themselves likely to 'settle down'."

There was a long silence as Janeway considered the ramifications of the issue. The Doctor was wise to call her down immediately. "So, it's only that away team that has been affected, right?"

"I'm sorry Captain, but no," he answered nervously. "As I said, the prion used its time not only to effect those it already existed in, but to propagate itself further. From the scans I have done on all other crewmembers who have come through here today, well … I haven't found anyone free of the prion even if it hasn't resulted in a pregnancy."

He reached down with a hypospray and took a sample of Janeway's blood. She flinched and glared at him for his presumption, but he didn't even notice as he put it in for analysis. Fingers flying over the screen, he did his measurements, and then turned the screen towards her.

"See Captain?" he asked. "Even your four pips didn't deter the little guy."

Captain Kathryn Janeway sat on the low couch in her ready room, sipping a glass of coffee and reading a PADD containing the information on a crewman she had just summoned. On the low glass table in front of her was her silver tea service, a pot and scones waiting to be offered as a gesture of hospitality. Starfleet had taught her many things, yet it was her mother's deeply instilled lessons of etiquette that kept her offering these simple niceties. Of course, she knew that many of the finest Captains in the Fleet had the same habits, including Jean Luc Picard.

The Doctor had informed her earlier of a new problem, which would rock Voyager more than any Hirogen or Borg attack ever had. Indeed, it would change Kathryn's career in a way she wasn't prepared for. She had never had the desire to command a generational ship. Ensign Wildman's daughter was an easily ignored exception on Voyager. The bright little girl was never a problem, and a single child could be cared for with little additional change to her ship. However, multiple pregnancies and childbirths would have to fundamentally change her ship's way of life, possibly even her style of command.

The chime broke her out of her musing, and she set down her coffee cup and stood.

"Enter," she called out, hopefully with a calming tone of voice.

A tall, striking woman in security yellow and black entered and stood at attention facing the Captain. Janeway noticed that she was a pretty woman, with long brown hair, and an athletic figure. "Crewman Foster reporting as ordered, Captain."

"At ease Crewman," Janeway said immediately, trying to set a positive tone for the upcoming meeting. "Please, join me," she stated, indicating the chair across from the couch.

The young woman appeared a bit nervous, but did as asked with no hesitation. After the brunette sat down, the Captain smiled at her and gestured to the tea service. "Would you like anything?" Almost predictably, the security officer declined. Very few of her crewmembers ever accepted the first time they joined her for a chat in the ready room. Yet, Janeway remembered her first time inside a Captain's ready room. She had been extremely nervous too, but her personality had never allowed her to let something like that show.

"I'd like to be a little less formal here for a few moments, so may I call you Jamie?" Kathryn asked.

"Uh yes, Captain," Foster answered shocked.

"Well, for the moment, you can call me Kathryn. What we are about to discuss is so unusual that it has no place in the command chain," Kathryn said, leaning back, sipping her coffee and taking a moment to collect her thoughts.

"Okay," the security officer offered quizzically.

"Your Starfleet career started off on a crazy note didn't it, Jamie? I mean, you probably thought it would be great to get some experience in your last semester on board a real ship," Janeway smiled. "I looked at your records, and they are impressive. I took the same route in my final year myself, serving on board for my final credits. If we had completed our mission, instead of getting stuck in the Delta quadrant you probably would have advanced much further by now, and I'm sorry for that." The Captain looked at her with real compassion.

"Well, uh, Kathryn," she said the name very hesitantly, "that's alright. It wasn't your fault."

Janeway barked out a short laugh and a broad smile covered her face. "I'm sure we could debate that. In fact, I know many of my crew has. That's okay too. I take responsibility for stranding us out here, even though I will always stand by the decisions that led to it." She set her coffee cup down, and leaned back again, crossing her legs comfortably. "Yet, you have done well for yourself. Beta Squad is an honor, and Tuvok has cited you many times for bravery, and 'impressive conduct.' That's high praise from Tuvok, by the way."

"It's been an honor serving under him ma'am. I've learned a lot," the young woman answered.

"What I am leading to is that you seem to make the best out of every situation you encounter," the redhead said.

"Thank you," Foster smiled brightly at the compliment. She seemed much more at ease.

Janeway inhaled deeply, and lowered her brow to look at the woman. "So, when the Doctor gave me his report today, he told me he had already discussed the latest curveball the Delta Quadrant had thrown at you." The young woman nodded, and Janeway noticed that she didn't appear overwrought, just composed. "Now ordinarily, I wouldn't involve myself in these situations … um romantic pairings that is. Yet, because of the nature of what I am going to have to do, I needed to know what kind of decisions you have made. Obviously, your partner will be finding out about this in a little while, when I have a Senior Staff meeting. So, since it was fairly obvious to me by his demeanor that he hasn't been informed yet, I wanted to give you a chance to tell him yourself what you would like to do before then."

"Thank you, Kathryn," the young woman said sincerely. She paused then looked at the older woman. "I would like to keep it, if you are going to let that happen."

Janeway's eyes became big and she held out her hand in a reassuring gesture. "Oh, Heavens! I never allowed anyone to purposely pursue this option, because we couldn't before. However, now that has been taken out of my hands. I would never force anyone to end a pregnancy, even if they had disobeyed my directives." She smiled. "Of course, don't let anyone know I said that last part," she said wryly trying to inject a little humor, into what a conversation that had become a little bleak for her taste.

"I am happy for you then. All new life is precious in my opinion Jamie. And I bet you'll be as good a mother as you are a security officer," Janeway said brightly. "Now, there will be some decisions made over the next few weeks over how the ship will handle this, and I will be in contact with all the new mothers …"

"So, I'm not the only one?" Foster asked with a smile.

"No. At this moment, I don't know how many we are talking about. Or how many women will want to carry to term. However, I expect your baby will have a few friends right around the same age. And, I am going to do everything in my power to make Voyager ready to care for all of them," Kathryn told her solemnly.

"I have complete faith in you Captain," the young woman smiled.

Embarrassed by that sentiment, since she was not the least bit accustomed to praise from junior staff, she cleared her throat. Really, what did she expect when she gave the woman permission to be less formal, and had been discussing such an intimate issue, she wondered. "Yes, well, I, uh expect I'll be getting to know you better Jamie. One way or another." Janeway abruptly stood and nodded to the young woman. "Well, my senior staff meeting is in another hour and a half, so I need to let you tell the baby's father, don't I?"

The young woman started to rise, and Janeway motioned her back down. "Sit. I think you can handle this here. Just have him call me back in when you are done … and you can stay here if you need me afterwards. Okay?" The young woman nodded and smiled.

Janeway tapped her comm badge and called out, "Chakotay. Could you please join me in my ready room?"

Chapter 7

The senior staff had gathered in the conference room, and all were present except for the Doctor. Most were curious about the unscheduled meeting since space had been very boring and the recent repairs at a space station had left Voyager in great shape. Harry and Tom were huddled together discussing a Parisses Squares match. B'Elanna was sitting with a disgruntled look on her face and her arms crossed. She knew unscheduled meetings usually meant that her department had a lot of work ahead. Seven was sitting quietly working on a PADD. Neelix was trying to engage Tuvok in conversation, yet the Vulcan was actively trying to figure out Chakotay's surprised and giddy facial expressions. The Captain was unusually quiet, heavily involved in several PADDs. The Doctor finally arrived and headed straight to the Captain, handing her another PADD. She reviewed it then sighed.

"I suppose it was inevitable that at least one Bajoran would be involved since three were on that mission," she commented to the Doctor.

"It would seem so Captain," the Doctor responded.

"Okay Doctor, have a seat," she told him. He took his seat and she leaned back in hers, further studying the PADD that he had handed her. She then cleared her throat and held up one delicately boned hand to gather the attention of everyone in the room. "Life on Voyager is about to change significantly. I have called this meeting to inform you of what has happened and to begin formulating the process of how we are going to deal with it. Every one of this ship's departments is going to have to pitch in, and many of us will have to deal with changes on a more personal basis.

"Apparently, on our last food-gathering mission, we brought on board an organism. I will let the Doctor explain the mechanics of it, but the basics of it is that this organism has defeated our birth control techniques and has made us more inclined to try to mate." She paused and looked around the table to everyone who did not already know where this was going to judge how they understood the information. "The first people affected were the away teams on the mission. Of that team, we have four humans, two Bolian and one Bajoran who have become pregnant. I have not ever allowed planned pregnancies aboard for obvious reasons, but since these were out of the respective women's control, I will not be trying to halt the pregnancies either. Therefore, we have to find ways to make our ship ready to support families, and we have a very short time available to do so. For those of you who do not already know, Bajoran pregnancies only last five months. Our Bajoran crewmember is already past the four week stage, therefore we have less than four months before there will be a birth. Furthermore, I know there will be marriages for some of these women. Therefore, family quarters are now going to be a necessity for some." She stopped and pressed a few buttons on one PADD in front of her.

"I have now downloaded into your PADDs my preliminary list of concerns. The most important of which will be how to protect those who will not be able to protect themselves. Now, I will turn the meeting over to the doctor to explain how this organism has affected us all beyond the initial pregnancies, because there are lasting repercussions. Doctor?"

The Doctor stood and went over to the wall-screen and brought up the technical data describing the "pre-prion" as he was calling it. He went over the details he had already described to the Captain, including the fact that everyone who had come into sickbay had shown evidence of the prion, even if they had not yet become pregnant, or in the male crewmember's cases, impregnated someone. He detailed his theories about how he felt the prion affected birth control, and then detailed how everyone would have to go back to using their species more primitive prophylactics. He then requested that they search for a candidate for an obstetric nurse, and that every crewmember aboard would need to come by sickbay to be tested for the organism, as well as a pregnancy test for the females. Most in the room were lost in thought over how this would affect them personally.

The meeting continued with many questions and orders for well over an hour. Finally, Janeway called for an end to the meeting, directing them into smaller teams dealing with separate issues. Tom was to help the Doctor with the tests. Harry, B'Elanna and Seven would work together to find a way to deal with the structural changes needed for a daycare center, and all other needs for children. Chakotay, Tuvok and the Captain would come up with ideas on family housing allotments. The Captain made it clear that if anyone had ideas outside their team, to submit them to the respective team immediately, and that everyone was to work together. She directed them to make sure that they explained that going to sickbay was a command to their subordinates, and that the senior staff were to attend themselves immediately after the meeting. Janeway looked around the table trying to find anything inspirational to say, then decided that most present were overwhelmed, so instead dismissed them immediately, asking them to gather again at the beginning of Alpha shift in two days time.

Seven observed everyone curiously as they rose and left. She had never given thought to the effect children might have on Voyager and it would appear that many others had not either. Each person was behaving abnormally, with the exception of Tuvok. She suspected he was thinking of potential problems and repercussions in a logical fashion as always. Seven gazed across the table at Kathryn, watching her study a PADD from the Doctor. The older woman's face was lined with stress and worry as she frowned briefly. The Doctor made a few more comments to the redhead, then left. Then Chakotay grabbed the Captain's attention with a brief, yet quiet joke. Janeway smiled at the man and they shared a brief laugh. She rose and hugged the first officer, and then he left the room. After that, Seven and Kathryn were the only two left in the room. Kathryn's trademark crooked grin appeared as she noticed the former drone's presence.

"Annika?" Kathryn said inquiringly.

"Will you still have time for our date tonight Kathryn?" Seven asked as she crossed the room.

"Of course! I'm not missing your cooking for anything less than a red alert." Kathryn replied and went to meet the blonde.

Seven gave the woman a knowing look, then responded, "Very well. I will see you at 1700 hours." She leaned down to leave a chaste kiss on the redhead's cheek. Kathryn surprised her by capturing her lips and kissing her soundly.

"1700 it is then," Kathryn said with a raffish grin. "I can't wait."

The two women had enjoyed their meal and were sitting on the couch sipping their wine. Kathryn was leaning back against the blonde's chest content to be held in her arms. She had not really realized truly how much she had missed being held over the years. In fact, she was not entirely sure that she had ever felt this comfortable being held by anyone before Seven. In the past, she would get antsy, but now she felt safe, cherished. They had not taken the relationship into the bedroom again yet. That was partly because Kathryn wanted Seven to know she loved her for more than sex, and partly because they had not shared an off day together yet.

"What are you thinking about Kathryn?" Seven asked.

"I'm thinking about how wonderful it feels just to be held by you," Kathryn answered with a grin. She turned a head, leaning back a little and kissed Seven on the cheek.

The former drone's lips turned up in a small smile and she turned to capture the redhead's lips with her own. Seven enjoyed kissing Kathryn. In her first few years aboard Voyager, she could not understand peoples need to pair off, and kissing was a gigantic mystery to her. However her experiences kissing B'Elanna and Kathryn had made her understand. Megan's kisses were not as fulfilling; they were too aggressive and demanding. In addition, she realized she could not love Megan. She still did not understand how love and sexual fulfillment were so intertwined, but she knew they were. She could analyze each of the women's kisses, from B'Elanna's fiery excitement, to Kathryn's soft passion, but why only their kisses made her heart throb, she really could not grasp.

A tiny whimper of excitement escaped Kathryn's lips and Seven realized she had become too embroiled in analysis, therefore denying herself and Kathryn the actuality of the moment. She deepened the kiss, purposely pushing the redhead's ardor. The kiss only ended because of a need for air, at which point Seven gently removed the wine glass from Kathryn's hand and set it and her own down upon the coffee table. Surprising the smaller woman, she picked Kathryn up and placed the woman in her lap facing her, straddling her thighs.

Kathryn smirked, only a corner of her mouth rising, and then leaned in to capture those full lips again. Her hands were resting upon the upper slope of the blonde's full chest, her fingertips tracing the delicate collarbones. She purred into the kiss as she felt Seven's strong hands running over her sides and back. Then those very same hands ran down past her lower back, and she felt her bottom being first massaged, and then spread open. Next, she was pulled closer to Seven's body still, and the young woman ground her center down the ridged abdominal implant. Kathryn broke the kiss then in a gasp, involuntarily leaning back, her hips taking a life of their own, rolling into the intimate contact. The Borg leaned into her and captured her neck in small nips and kisses, causing her to groan outright.

Seven loved the sounds emanating from Kathryn and she was suddenly feeling very amorous. She had no interest in continuing to take it slow anymore. She felt they would either make it as a couple or not, but she would be foolish not to enjoy the love while it was offered and in her hands. It was also such a thrilling sensation to dominate this strong woman as she was now. Their past interactions had always left Kathryn in the lead, but now Kathryn was being led. She knew she was the one stoking the fire in the redhead. She felt that she was in control and it was exciting. She wondered how far Kathryn would let her control the night.

Seven's passionate advances surprised Kathryn yet decidedly aroused her. In their one night together, Kathryn had experienced Seven's seductive abilities, and she knew that Seven was an incredible lover. However, she had not seen this demanding side of the Borg before now, and it was exciting her to no end. She felt her hips being guided by strong hands over the ridged, implanted stomach, and her center ground down into contact with Seven's. The Borg was kissing her with an intensity she had never felt before, and she could feel her heart racing, her toes curling in her boots. The Captain was quickly coming to a point of no return, where she would need to make love to the Nordic beauty. She knew she needed to end this and go back to her quarters if she was going to continue taking her time with the blonde, but she could not seem to make herself stop Seven.

The blonde was kissing her way up Kathryn's neck and upon reaching Kathryn ear, she captured the small delicate shell with her tongue, then suckled on the earlobe briefly. She felt Kathryn shiver in her arms, and heard a quick intake of air. Seven whispered into Kathryn's ear, "I want to make love you to you tonight Kathryn."

That pronouncement sent a surge of excitement through the redhead and she found her grip on Seven's slim, strong shoulders tightening. She realized in some distant way that it was her voice that croaked out "oh yes," but her real answer was to intensify all contact between their bodies.

Seven recognized the feral glint in Kathryn's eyes and it excited her. She knew what she wanted to feel next was to feel their bodies together, unfettered by clothing. Proceeding with the only logic left in her passion befuddled-brain, she stood, carrying Kathryn into the bedroom.

Much later in the early hours of the morning they lay together, Seven holding Kathryn tightly in her arms. They had gone from Seven's domineering beginnings into making love tenderly and passionately. They spent hours exploring each other's pleasures and more than once during all of it, Kathryn had cried out to Seven declarations of love. Seven was afraid to say she loved Kathryn; afraid Kathryn would run away like B'Elanna. As she lay there, she was overwhelmed by her feelings and could not stop herself from crying. Even though she tried to refrain from making noise while doings so, Kathryn could feel the movement of her chest and looked up to see the tear streaked face.

"Oh love," Kathryn asked as she kissed the tear tracks, "what's wrong?" Seven tried to bury her face, so that Kathryn would not see her crying, but the redhead simply turned to fully face her. "Did I do something wrong Annika?"

"No. I," Seven started, then stopped and looked away.

"What? Please tell me." Kathryn prompted after it was clear that Seven was not going to finish on her own.

"I am afraid to feel this happy. I am afraid of this love. I am afraid… You will leave me again. I don't want to be left alone again," Seven said with her eyes averted.

Kathryn's heart ached, knowing she was at least partially responsible for the blonde's fears. She leaned in and kissed the Borg tenderly. "Oh love, I'm not going to leave you ever again. I love you. I want to stay with you as long as you will have me." She then gathered the taller woman into her arms, and traded places to hold her, to give her the comfort she so obviously needed. It took only moments and the blonde began to cry in earnest. Kathryn muttered words of comfort, nonsense phrases that soothed the blonde nonetheless, and when some time had passed, the blonde had cried herself to sleep in Kathryn's arms.

Chapter 8

B'Elanna fidgeted with her collar as she strode down the hall towards the mess hall. Today would be the first day of many that she would be forced to work closely with Seven. For over six months now she had been avoiding the former drone. It had started out at the Borg's insistence after B'Elanna had broken off their blossoming romance. Even after Seven had come to terms with their break-up and tried to renew their friendship, B'Elanna could not bear to be around her. She could not explain why to the ex-drone without admitting that she broke up with her out of fear and feelings of inadequacy. That would only lead to her having to admit she was still in love with her. The hybrid was not going to put either one of them in that position again. She did not want to see pain on the young woman's face ever again knowing she was the cause of it. Therefore, she had done everything to minimize their time together. However, duty was throwing them together, and there was no avoiding Seven now. She would be spending a great deal of time with her on these projects, so she knew she had to get a grip and handle her emotions. The fact that she was meeting her in the mess hall before her shift made no difference. An hour earlier would be no more painful, and Seven had left a message for B'Elanna last evening asking if they could have breakfast together like old times.

As she neared the mess hall B'Elanna gathered her courage, essentially using the same Klingon methods her mother had used to shame herself away from her fears and reluctance. The doors parted with a near silent hiss and she strode in determined to be the picture of confidence no matter how she really felt. As expected, Seven was at the corner table waiting for her. The table had become 'their' table early in their friendship. B'Elanna had come to associate it so strongly with Seven and their time together that she refused to sit there unless it was with her. Collecting a tray with Neelix's breakfast and a fruit juice, the engineer made her way over and joined Seven.

"Hey Annika," B'Elanna said as she sat down across from the beautiful young woman.

"B'Elanna," Seven replied with a smile, looking up from the PADD she had been studying. "How are you jonwI?"

B'Elanna swallowed hard. While jonwI was not technically a Klingon term of endearment, it was the closest B'Elanna had ever come to having one. Also, the blonde was the only one who ever found time to learn conversational Klingon for the engineer. Seven had addressed her as jonwI as a friend, then bangwI when they dated, yet jonwI was so uniquely Seven's that it always made B'Elanna ache to hear it.

"I'll be okay when I figure out whether or not to eat Neelix's breakfast. Is it safe?" the engineer joked in response. She was not very sure of herself anymore around the blonde so she fell back upon jokes.

The Borg smirked. "Since I have not seen any crewmembers bolting for the door with an odd skin tone as sometimes happens, I must conclude that the meal is safe. However I consumed a liquid nutritional supplement."

"Ladies," Harry Kim appeared next to Seven and took a seat. "So Seven, knowing you, you sat up half the night and came up with a solution for all the ship's housing issues." He loved razzing her and made no exception, starting as soon as possible.

The implant over Seven's eye lifted along with her eyebrow as she handed B'Elanna the PADD she had been studying. B'Elanna put down her fork, relieved to not be chewing the odd tasting meal for a moment and studied Seven's plans.

"Wow Annika. Great idea," she smiled at the former drone.

"What?" Harry asked as he arranged his utensils perfectly in his straightforward little routine.

Before B'Elanna could respond, Seven deadpanned at the ensign. "The plan is simply to eliminate all male crewmembers the rank of ensign or below. It would create necessary space and free the female crewmembers to date the senior officers who are as yet alone." The engineer blinked in shock at the Borg's words then howled in laughter as Harry choked on his first bite of food and spluttered.

Realizing that Seven had got the better of him, Harry squinted at her. She merely smirked in reply. "Very funny Sev. I'll remember that the next time you need something."

B'Elanna decided to leave Harry alone and went back to eating her meal, studying the PADD simultaneously. The Borg's idea about using the Captain's yacht as a daycare was something she would have never thought of. It was quite ingenious in that if there was an emergency it could be separated then piloted away from Voyager. As she was reading, Harry leaned in to speak softly to Seven. The engineer had told the fresh-faced man many times she could hear his soft tones clearly but he never seemed to understand the Klingon sense of hearing.

"Annika you need to go to the Doc before your shift and get that mark on your neck removed," he said in hushed tones.

Seven raised her brow. "What mark?"

He blushed then lowered his voice even more. "You have a hickey. You know the Captain wouldn't be happy if you wandered around with a hickey."

"Then why would she," she began.

He held up his hands quickly for her to stop. "Seven just trust me! Go to sickbay. You have more than enough time."

"If you insist," she replied after sighing. She looked up at B'Elanna. "Apparently I must go to sickbay."

"Yeah, so I heard." B'Elanna answered and waved her off. "See you in a bit in the science lab." B'Elanna kept looking at the PADD trying not to betray the breaking of her heart. She was surprised she had not noticed the mark before he mentioned it, but then again it was small. Still, the thought of someone else touching Seven had her working hard to contain a jealous growl.

Once Seven had left Harry and B'Elanna continued to eat in silence for a while. The ensign studied the engineer surreptitiously for a while before finally mustering courage to talk. "You're quiet Maquis. Want to tell me what's on your mind?"

She looked up at him as calmly as possible but could not contain the glare she pinned him with. "I just can't understand why you set her up with that woman Starfleet. It's obvious she is bad for Seven. I mean really; letting her run around with a hickey like a silly teenager? Forgive me if I don't find it humorous."

"What?" Harry exclaimed. He did not understand where the hostility was coming from or what she was talking about so suddenly. He didn't set Seven up with the Captain. "What are you talking about B'Elanna?"

"Oh, come on Starfleet. Everyone knows you set her up with Megan so you could date Jennifer. Frankly I expect that kind of behavior from Tom, but I thought you were my friend." Her voice started to rise and when she noticed other people looking their way she got disgusted with herself. She had said too much and old wounds were opening. She did not want to do this so she grabbed her tray. "Dammit. Forget it. I've got to go and check some things in engineering before I meet you guys in the science lab."

Harry sat there in shock for a second processing what was happening. As he watched her slam her tray into the recycler he decided not to let B'Elanna run away this time, no matter the risk of bodily injury. As far as he knew this was the most she had talked to anyone about her feelings in the last few months. He grabbed his own tray and jogged over to recycle it then ran out the door to catch up with her in the hall.

"B'Elanna wait," he shouted out before he caught up with her. "You are my friend. Stop." He wanted to grab her arm to stop her but knew better so he placed himself in her path instead and tried make her look him in the eyes. "I'm sorry if setting Megan and Seven up on a date hurt you, really I am. Yet, you have to see the other side of it. You wouldn't let anyone near you, least of all Seven. Her heart was breaking and every time you cancelled an appointment, she just moped in her room blaming herself. I had to work hard at keeping her from hiding herself away. I tried like hell to get you to come out too but you wouldn't," he said. "Maybe it was a little selfish of me to want to go out with Jennifer, but Megan honestly liked Seven. I do not see how that betrays you though since you broke up with her, saying you only wanted to be her friend. Yet you wouldn't even be that!"

"That's none of your business Harry," B'Elanna growled at him.

"It became my business every time you left her in the lurch and I had to pick up the pieces. Why would you break up with her then refuse to be around her? Why does it bother you that she saw Megan? It shouldn't if you only want her friendship," he pushed her verbally. He was going out on a limb but he thought he could see something happening in B'Elanna's face. He thought he was either going to find out what was going on, or end up in sickbay. At his last sentence, her eyes became wide then, a single tear escaped and she turned from him and tried to push past him weakly. "Wait, please B'Elanna." He hopped into the turbolift with her, but when she did not order it anywhere, he called out for deck six and his quarters.

The turbolift arrived and he dragged her, much too easily for his taste, to his quarters. After he opened the doors and pulled her in, he tried to look into her eyes but she refused to look up. "You still love her don't you?" he finally asked gently.

She just nodded slowly and tried to turn away. "But now she's dating a Delaney," she growled with a thick voice. He knew she was crying and did not want him to see it.

"No, she's not B'Elanna. She only had one date with Megan," he said softly. He did not know what had happened to the gossip that B'Elanna used to be. She used to know everybody's business but now it seemed her isolation had left her out of touch. He wondered how she would take the news of who it was Seven really was dating.

"Then… who?" she asked with not a little trepidation.

"The Captain," he replied. "They've been dating for about a month now, and I haven't seen Seven this happy except when she was with you. Janeway is being really romantic with her. It kinda surprised me what the Captain is capable of, but I guess it shouldn't since she's such a great Captain." He shrugged.

"Yeah. She is capable of a lot more than anyone knows I think," she said noncommittally then fell silent.

"So if you loved her why did you break up with her B'Elanna?" Harry asked after letting the silence sit for a while.

B'Elanna looked Harry in the eye for the first time since they had entered his quarters. "I don't know Harry. Kahless, I just don't know." She wrapped her arms over her chest and stayed frozen there for a minute.

Harry stared into her eyes, deep brown, and filled with sorrow and felt his heart break for her. "I'm so sorry B'Elanna. If I had only known, you know I would never have pushed her to start dating again. It just seemed like the thing to do. If you had only talked to me, let me in, I could have told you how she felt." He felt his own eyes filling with tears, and tried to blink them away.

"It's not your fault Harry. I'm the one who ran and hid like a scared Tikka cat. I have only myself to blame. I'm sorry about what I said. You are my friend. I can understand why you would want to keep Annika from burying herself away. After all, I am one of the few who has seen her with her defenses down. Thanks for taking care of her."

Then abruptly she seemed to come to some decision. "I really have to check out a few things down in Engineering. I'll see you two in the science lab." She exited quickly, leaving him stunned and not a little lost as to what to think.

B'Elanna took the same turbolift down to engineering moments after leaving Harry. The ride went by unnoticed, as she was lost in thought. All this time she had spent being angry with Harry for setting up Annika, she realized he wasn't to blame. Harry was right about her pushing everyone away the last few months. She had pushed him away too many times to count. She had actively avoided him in fact. She had known through the rumors that his relationship with Tom had cooled after she broke up with the helmsman. She had never thought about the fact that she had left him alone too. Before she and Tom had become a couple, the three of them had been good friends, especially she and Harry. He was one of the first Starfleet people to openly accept her for who she was and to totally disregard her Maquis status. Yet, she had pushed him out her life lately so that she would not have to face her demons. How many messages had he left for her? How many times had she dodged him?

She strode through the doors and straight up to her customary comm panel. Reviewing the reports from the previous night automatically, she tried to order her thoughts on what she may have missed before. She found herself unconsciously staring at the antimatter reactant injectors. They had been replaced a long time ago, but to B'Elanna it seemed to be so recent. It was their explosion and the possibility of Voyager's destruction that had brought the truth out of B'Elanna so long ago. She remembered every moment of that fight, from the furious work on rerouting the antimatter, to Seven taking a phaser blast meant for her. It was Seven's stubborn refusal to go to sickbay that made her slip up and call the blonde "bangwI" in front of her entire staff. However, what she concentrated on now was Seven's next words.

'HltojQo' ' or 'don't deceive me' the Borg had said and B'Elanna assured she was not deceiving her. It was one of Seven's biggest fears, to be deceived. The young woman had talked about that more than once with the engineer. She freely admitted she did not understand the purpose of deception and found it to be illogical. B'Elanna had declared her love to the blonde and promised no deceit.

Now she realized how wrong she had broken that promise. Harry was right. She had deserted Seven. When she ran from Seven to avoid the pain, she was deceiving her every step of the way. She had promised love, then friendship and had failed the Borg at both. What kind of dishonorable woman had she become? Why did the blonde's love scare her so badly that she had run away faster even than she had run away from the academy? It didn't matter now. She had pushed Annika away and she was now in someone else's arms. The Captain probably would not be stupid enough to let go of the Borg, and B'Elanna would not dishonor Annika by fighting their relationship. As it was she knew she had a lot to make up for in her own mind. Honor demanded she make amends. Even the Captain had the honor to explain her actions to Seven. Yet B'Elanna did not think she should explain to the Borg why she had left her. It would only bring the blonde pain. No, she would be Annika's friend. She would fix her friendship with Harry too.

After eight hours together in the science lab the trio was still interested in their work but Harry was famished and demanding food. After hearing Harry whine for the fourth time B'Elanna suggested they adjourn to the mess hall and grab a bite to eat. They could continue to work and debate their problems there.

B'Elanna had enjoyed the day immensely. Over the last few months she had tried to forget how much fun it was to work with Seven. However, once the three of them had got into the swing of things, she had wondered why she had tried to deny herself that pleasure. Mixing her intuition with Seven's theoretical brilliance was exhilarating. Their ideas bled together, meshing and morphing until another problem had a potential solution.

Besides, adding Harry to the mix was priceless. Seven had a way around Harry that was hilarious. Gone was Harry's old crush on Seven. He treated her more like he treated Tom, or maybe a sister. Somehow, Seven came out acting like the older sister that would always best the poor Ensign.

So they sat at the table that B'Elanna had avoided so many months, and worked. Well, they were going to work, but Harry and Seven were engaged in another debate and B'Elanna was trying to keep the amusement off her face. Harry had chosen the food, buying it with his own rations. According to Seven, he had developed a habit with her whenever she went to order a nutritional supplement around the young man. When Harry left the table B'Elanna had asked the blonde if she ever told Harry how she had adjusted the nutritional supplements to taste good. Seven smirked and said, "And deny myself free meals so often?" which caused B'Elanna to laugh. However, this time the meal was not something Seven wanted to try. Apparently eating raw fish was where she was going to draw a line.

"Why call it Sushi? It is a deceptive designation Ensign Kim. It is simply uncooked aquatic matter. It is highly likely that you could become ill." The former drone's face was the picture of disgust while she stared at the meal in front of her.

"No you will not Seven, it's replicated fish remember," he pointed out quickly

"Nevertheless it is amazing your ancestors survived," she shot back to him.

"Just try it Sev," he pleaded.

The drone primly held a piece of sushi up to her nose and sniffed. "It is malodorous Harry," she said as she put it back down. B'Elanna snickered and ate a piece of buri.

"Help me out here B'Elanna," Harry whined.

"Oh no, you are on your own Starfleet," B'Elanna smirked back at him. She then popped another piece in her mouth and sat back to watch him try again.

"See that? B'Elanna likes it," Harry tried a new tactic with his reluctant friend.

"Redundant stomachs," she responded before he barely had the words out of his mouth. Across the table B'Elanna just laughed deeply and Harry spluttered.

A deep husky voice they all knew well appeared behind them. "Ladies, Mr. Kim. I am glad to find you are not overworking yourselves in the science lab. May I?" the Captain asked indicating the empty seat next to B'Elanna across from Seven. They all nodded and she lowered herself into the chair. "Were you able to make any progress today?" she asked.

B'Elanna was feeling a little uncomfortable sitting next to Janeway. She knew that not only was she her Captain, but she was also the woman who had captured and was currently holding the heart of the woman she desperately wished she had not left. In a sense, Janeway was her rival. B'Elanna endured her presence and their badly hidden loving looks. She knew that she could have been on the receiving end of those looks, if she had not screwed up, but now she had to pay the price for her mistakes. She pushed aside her feelings as if they did not exist and focused on the work. "We've got some good ideas on daycare facilities, but we are having some disagreements on where to place a biosphere. The structural and power needs are problematic. We were actually just taking a working break before getting back to it."

The Captain lifted her eyebrow and smirked her trademark crooked grin. "I agree that you need a break. I think you should consider the break over at 0800 tomorrow."

Harry seemed relieved to know they could table the debates, but B'Elanna and Seven both looked obstinate. "I happen to know that you three would work yourselves into the ground if given a chance. I did not expect everything to be solved by tomorrow's meeting. I just wanted your preliminary ideas."

Acceptance came from around the table with Harry saying, "aye Captain", and B'Elanna and Seven nodding. They still looked disappointed, like children with their toys taken away. Janeway noticed this and had to struggle not to laugh at them. Instead, she picked on Harry. "Annika darling you have barely touched your meal. Let me guess, it's another one of Mr. Kim's attempts to acquaint you with terran foods." The blonde smirked and nodded at the Captain. "Sushi Mr. Kim? You really thought you would be able to get Annika to eat raw fish?" Janeway smiled at the young man as he fidgeted.

"Well, I think it's good," he responded. He completely missed the disgusted shudder that Seven displayed as she looked back down at her plate. Janeway looked at B'Elanna and for a brief moment they shared a conspiratorial smile.

"Harry, I think it's wonderful that you continue to treat Seven to new foods. Just be prepared for disappointment now and then. Her stomach is still a bit sensitive after all," the Captain said in her best motherly tones. She was not oblivious to the fact that the young man thought of her as somewhat of a surrogate mother, especially sensitive to all her praise and admonishments. "Now, Mr. Kim, Ms. Torres, would it be alright with you if I steal my Astrometrics officer away from you?" she asked with a shy smile directed straight at the tall blonde.

Harry grinned. "That's fine with me Captain."

B'Elanna just nodded. Inside she was crying out at the injustice of it all. Yet, at least she did not have to endure the Captain and Seven's glances for much longer. They stood almost immediately excusing themselves from the table. B'Elanna's eyes followed the couple as Seven recycled her untouched meal and they left through the mess hall doors together. When her gaze returned to Harry, she found him looking at her with unconcealed sympathy. He opened his mouth to say something, but she immediately raised her hand to stop him. "Don't… please Harry just don't say anything," the hybrid croaked out and then faced her meal.

"Okay B'Elanna. I'll leave it alone… as long as you know you can talk to me anytime," he responded softly.

"Yeah, I do. Now tell me about Jennifer. How's that going?" She knew he would see the blatant conversation change, and she did not care. She was busy bricking off a new hole in her heart and needed the distraction.

He smiled softly at her and started to tell her all about his relationship with the Delaney twin. He found that he could even make her laugh and smile again when he told of his most embarrassing moments to date with the pretty, young woman. They spent the next hour just catching with each other before he finally excused himself for the night.


B'Elanna was still in the same seat, PADD in hand, in the seemingly empty mess hall many hours later. Instead of studying the PADD though, she found herself constantly studying the stars through the nearby viewport. Her mind lacked the focus she needed to work, as her heart focused on the remarkable woman she had cast aside. Time contracted, escaping her, moments bleeding into hours as she sought some elusive solace, some remedy for her soul which ached for its other half. A memory of a touch or a taste would take her away for long periods, feeling so real as to make her ache. Try as she might she could not banish the love of Annika Hansen, or equally the love of Seven of Nine. She was lost to her sorrow again as if the last few months had not even occurred. She thought that she had forgotten, that she had locked it away for good. She only realized now that she would have to find a way to live with it. Hiding from it would not work anymore. Hiding from Annika was not what she wanted anymore. She wanted to be in her presence as she was today, as much as possible.

"B'Elanna," came the unusually soft voice of Neelix from in front of her. He set a cup in front of her. "Hot cocoa with vanilla just like you like it," he said with a soft smile, indicating the cup.

She thanked him and tried to smile, tried to put on a happy front, wanting to avoid any questions. However, she knew he was too observant of people's mood for her ruse to work.

"You know in the time I've been aboard Voyager I've noticed a few things," he said as he sat down across from her. "The most obvious is that if anyone stays in the mess hall for more than an hour staring out the window, well, it's not for my cooking." He chuckled slightly. It was not one of his bright exuberant laughs. "No, when people sit here like you are, they are thinking about something, trying to come to terms with something." He stopped speaking, letting the statement hang in the air for a while and sipped his own drink. A couple of minutes later he spoke again. "I've been told I'm a good listener if you want to talk about it."

She opened her mouth to turn him down, only to find herself saying exactly what she was thinking. "Have you ever loved someone so much it hurt, even when you knew you couldn't be with them?"

His face softened. He took a moment to look away and out the window as if he could see his own great heartache just outside the glass. "Yes I have."

"What did you do?" she asked, a bit surprised by his admission. Neelix was a perpetually cheery man and she never would have imagined he had felt the kind of sorrow she was feeling, yet remain as perky as he was.

"Well, I took what she could give me, which was her friendship, before she was gone," he answered. "I look at it that I was lucky to know such a beautiful soul, to have such a fine friend. I cherished every day I could be near her."

"Kes?" B'Elanna asked softly.

He nodded barely perceptibly. She reached across the table and put one of her hands upon his, patting it softly.

"She was good to me. She couldn't return my love, but that didn't stop her from being the best friend she could to me," he smiled softly. "I found my joy in the moments she could give to me, and I'll always be grateful for what we did have."

"I wish it was that easy Neelix," B'Elanna said.

"Does this someone know how you feel?" Neelix asked.

"No… and they can't. They are already involved with someone else. Honor demands I stay away." She stated with finality.

He looked at her questioningly. "I thought Klingon honor would demand you tell them how you feel."

"Not in this case. Besides, I am only half Klingon, and my heart tells me it would be wrong to hurt her," B'Elanna answered.

Neelix filed the slip of her tongue away, B'Elanna's revelation that she loved a female. After he heard that he was sure he had been right. The hybrid was still interested in Seven. Yet, he also could tell that the relationship between the Borg and the Captain had changed. Enough rumors of the two holding hands had come by him, and he had seen the way they exchanged looks lately to know that those two women were in the beginnings of a relationship. He ached to know he could not do a single thing for the fiery little Chief Engineer. Therefore, he sought the best words of comfort he could offer.

"Then accept their friendship. Life is too short to ignore whatever love we are given B'Elanna. One day your love may be gone forever, just like mine. Make the best memories you can, while you can." He squeezed her hand and stood. "I need to finish preparing tomorrow's stew, then I'm closing for the night. Do you need anything else?"

"No thanks." She paused then looked up at him. "Thanks for listening Neelix."

He smiled. "Anytime B'Elanna."

Part 9

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