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B'Elanna sighed as she looked round the holodeck setting. The EMH had decided that he too was entitled to a birthday and therefore a birthday party to mark the occasion. The captain had agreed, though she had vetoed the Doctor's suggestion that the anniversary should coincide with the day he was first activated. Janeway doubted that anyone would want to celebrate the day Voyager was stranded in the Delta Quadrant.
Having negotiated a suitable alternative and enlisting the help of both Neelix and Tom Paris, the Doctor had elected to hold a Masquerade and requested that the crew attire themselves as flamboyantly as possible.
At eight months pregnant, the thought of putting on any more clothes than absolutely necessary horrified the Klingon engineer, so after a little careful research, she had managed to find a costume that didn't make her feel like she was wearing a brightly coloured marquee and just about met the Doctor's requirements. It was a simple, elegant blue dress that was made fancy with a garish mask.
The mask was currently lying on the bar next to her drink. The engineer did not like donning it; it reminded her too closely of the times she had hidden her heritage behind scarves and hats. B'Elanna had managed to secure the position at the bar early into the evening. She had agreed to accompany Seven to the function, much to the former drone's relief as it gave her a valid reason to turn down the many offers she had received to escort her to the party.
The two women had arrived as late as they dared and B'Elanna had quickly guided Seven over to the corner of the bar. The brunette explained that it made sense to have just one way for people to approach them so Seven could not be ambushed by unwanted attention from many people simultaneously, and at the same time, they could demonstrate that Seven did indeed have social skills and give the crew an opportunity to speak with the young blonde in a more comfortable environment for her. B'Elanna had ordered drinks for them and they had conversed quietly for a time, with B'Elanna pointing out various crew members and commenting on their dress, interactions and other social nuances that Seven had never been privy to when attempting her humanity lessons with the EMH.
Inevitably, Seven had attracted attention of many of the staff. She was complemented continually on her choice of costume; a shimmering silver dress that hugged her curves before flaring out and down to the floor. She had elected to wear her hair pinned up in a far less severe style, with loose tresses framing her face. She had selected a similar style mask to B'Elanna's, but it was midnight black, contrasting with her alabaster skin and golden hair. B'Elanna had been secretly pleased to note that Seven seemed to lift her mask when she conversed with every other member of the crew, but lowered it again when she spoke with her.
At first the evening had gone well. B'Elanna found that she was relaxed, despite the setting and she enjoyed spending time with the Astrometrics officer. Even when the first few crewmembers plucked up enough courage to engage in conversation, B'Elanna was simply pleased that they had seen past Seven's frosty exterior and were making the time to get to know her. She patiently stood just behind Seven and would join in the conversation if the taller woman faltered or began to look lost, smiling reassuringly at her when she saw the relief on Seven's face at her interventions. She also vetted the crew's interest and politely but firmly steered some people away, knowing that they had a hidden agenda when they struck up a conversation with the ex-drone.
As the evening progressed, Seven's confidence grew and eventually, she accepted Harry's offer of a dance. B'Elanna had collared the young Ops officer before the function and instructed him to escort Seven back to her location at the end of the dance so that the blonde wouldn't have to fend off a long queue of admirers all wanting a dance. Harry had been true to his word and returned Seven. However, the crew had seen that Seven was not totally averse to the idea of dancing and a steady stream of hopefuls lined up to lead Seven onto the dance floor.
At first Seven baulked, but B'Elanna reminded her of her success with Harry and the tall blonde accepted one invitation, and then another. As her confidence grew, the Astrometrics officer spent more and more time away from the corner of the bar, talking with her dancing partners even as she glided elegantly over the ballroom floor.
Now, B'Elanna found herself alone with a non-alcoholic drink in the corner of a bar and no-one talking to her. She didn't want to dance with anyone due to feeling so cumbersome and clumsy, and she was tired, having already worked for 12 hours in Engineering. She wanted nothing more than to sink as much alcohol as possible, but was denied that small luxury due to the baby inside her. The engineer didn't want to admit it, but she missed Seven when she wasn't with her, and, perhaps more curiously, was envious of those people she elected to dance with. She found that she couldn't take her eyes off the taller woman as various partners guided her across the dance floor.
B'Elanna knew that she had agreed to accompany Seven to functions so that the young woman could learn to interact naturally with the crew and perhaps be more successful in her quest to find a romantic interest, but B'Elanna found that she did not want to share Seven with anyone else. The more time they spent together, the more B'Elanna realised they had in common. They discussed engineering and scientific problems intelligently, bouncing ideas off each other even as they disputed each other's opinions. B'Elanna found herself leaving work at a more reasonable hour so that she could meet with the ex-drone and had shared meal times since Seven's aborted date with Chakotay.
She had dreaded attending the EMH's masquerade ball, knowing that she would have to stand back and watch as Seven developed her social skills and perhaps selected someone she wanted to date. Now, she was watching Seven engage in conversation and dancing if not easily, then certainly less formally than she ever had before. B'Elanna noticed the twitch of a smile that graced her lips every time the former Borg looked her way. Seven was clearly enjoying herself.
B'Elanna sighed and rubbed her abdomen distractedly. It wouldn't be too long before Seven found someone else to share her free time with, and once again, B'Elanna would be on her own. It bothered her that she could potentially be losing the first person she had actually related to since being on Voyager and at the same time, she kicked herself for not seeing the woman for what she really was sooner.
She grimaced; not only was she having a dismal time on the holodeck, but now, Neelix's cuisine seemed to be affecting her. She ignored the pain in her belly and took another sip of her drink. Perhaps Seven would return at the end of her current dance and they could talk again.
Seven allowed herself to be led across the dance floor expertly by the Doctor. He had been talking almost incessantly about the success of his party and the tall blonde had pretended to listen attentively. Every now and again, a turn in their routine allowed her to glimpse at B'Elanna as the brunette hid herself away in the corner of the ballroom. Seven smiled every time she saw her, hoping to convey that she was thinking of her and wanted to get back to her company, but the engineer looked troubled.
Seven had been delighted when B'Elanna agreed to accompany her to the Doctor's `birthday' party. She had been prepared for the dark Klingon to try and back out of the arrangement they had made a few days before, but B'Elanna had acquiesced willingly, grumbling only about finding something decent to wear.
Since their meeting in Astrometrics after Seven's disastrous liaison with Chakotay, the blonde ex-drone had managed to spend a lot more time with B'Elanna. She had badgered her in Engineering so that she took time off for lunch, and would make arrangements to meet for dinner so that the Klingon hybrid did not bury herself in work.
At first, Seven was worried about upping the contact with the Chief Engineer. They did not share the calmest of relationships and the young woman was concerned that they would end up clashing explosively. To her surprise, she found that although they disagreed on issues; mainly engineering and science problems, they either agreed to differ or came to solutions that they both found acceptable.
Seven enjoyed talking with B'Elanna. She was one of the few people on Voyager with whom she could hold a conversation on the same level, and Seven was amused by B'Elanna's admission that she liked to see the looks of utter bewilderment on people's faces when they overheard their discussions.
B'Elanna had advised her not to turn up too early for the function so that they did not have to endure any more than was absolutely necessary, and that they were free to leave at any time should Seven feel overwhelmed. On the way to the holodeck, the Klingon made reassurances that she would stay close and deflect any unwanted attention away so that Seven could have the opportunity to socialise without worrying over ulterior motives. Seven had found the smaller woman's concerns touching, and realised that this was probably the first gathering on Voyager that she was not dreading. As long as B'Elanna was close, she would be fine.
Seven guessed that B'Elanna had briefed Harry before he asked her to dance. It was another small detail that had amazed the ex-drone. But Seven was also concerned. B'Elanna had provided her with a more comfortable environment in which to socialise and potentially find a romantic interest. However, the Astrometrics officer's desire to do that had waned since she had begun to spend more and more time with B'Elanna. She was reluctant to enter into relationship with someone else if that meant encroaching on the time spent with B'Elanna.
Seven was acutely aware that the engineer was feeling isolated since her separation from Tom. B'Elanna would not talk about what might happen after the birth of her child, but simply stated that she would cope. But the former Borg thought that she was making progress with her. She was no longer quite so tense when they talked about the future, and B'Elanna also informed her that she would be calling upon her services as a babysitter should she need one. Although they had both laughed, Seven had been thrilled at the thought that B'Elanna outwardly trusted her enough with that sort of responsibility. The ex-drone did not want to undo the bond of trust she had formed with B'Elanna by diverting her attention elsewhere. More to the point, Seven wasn't sure that she wanted her attention diverted elsewhere.
So now she was dancing with various crewmembers and instead of wondering if she could further her social skills and expand her humanity, she was comparing each one to B'Elanna and the connection she had formed with her. To her surprise and delight, everyone so far did not even come close to those standards. But if B'Elanna had gone to that much trouble to ensure a comfortable setting for her to socialise, Seven doubted that the woman would be interested in developing their own relationship any further than the friendship that they now shared.
Seven knew that her situation was complex and she was not sure that she could find a solution to her predicament without alerting B'Elanna to her feelings. If that happened, there was no telling how the half-Klingon would react.
She was startled from her reverie by her dancing companion. "Seven? Have you listened to a word I've said?" The Doctor sounded aggrieved.
"Yes I have," the blonde replied honestly. "I have just heard you ask me a question," she pointed out reasonably.
"That's not what I meant," the EMH answered testily. "I was just asking if you thought that my party was a success."
Seven resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "You have already enquired about the accomplishment of your Masquerade. My opinion has not altered." At the Doctor's crest-fallen look, she felt compelled to add. "It has been a success."
"Well, you've certainly bloomed in this environment, Seven. I wish I'd thought of this sooner."
"The credit is not yours to take," Seven replied bluntly. "B'Elanna has given me the confidence to attempt social functions. Without her assistance, I would not have attended tonight."
"B'Elanna? What does she know about social etiquette?" The Doctor was incredulous.
"She may not be fully conversant with all the nuances of social etiquettes, but she does me the courtesy of treating me as an equal. Her observations are honest and useful. She has not mocked my attempts at developing my humanity, nor has she treated it like an experiment." Seven wasn't sure why she was so angry at the Doctor's sneering at her friend.
The EMH was surprised at Seven's outburst. "I didn't mean to cast doubt on B'Elanna's abilities," he hedged.
"Yes, you did," Seven contradicted instantly. "Now, if you will excuse me, this dance has finished." The tall Borg stepped out of the EMH's grasp and turned round in order to return to where B'Elanna was waiting. Her step faltered when she caught sight of her friend. The brunette was doubled over, her face a rictus of agony.
"Doctor," Seven called instantly.
The EMH followed her gaze before the two of them sprinted over to B'Elanna's location.
B'Elanna screamed out as pain tore through her abdomen. The agony forced her to sit upright on the biobed she was currently occupying in Sick bay and she clenched her stomach. "Doctor, what the hell is happening to me?" This was way beyond the upset stomach she thought Neelix's food had provoked.
"Your baby is trying to put in an early appearance," the EMH replied calmly as he ran a tricorder over the lower half of her body.
"Then why the hell does it hurt so much? Klingons should be able to give birth on the battlefield without drawing attention to their position," the brunette grated out, the tendons in her neck standing out as she braced her body against the pain.
"Because you're half-Klingon," the EMH pointed out reasonably. He frowned as he examined the results of the scan.
B'Elanna picked up on his change of mood instantly. "What's wrong?" She looked at Seven anxiously.
"The placenta is breaking away from the uterine wall prematurely. It's why you're in so much pain," the Doctor told her. He started to move more speedily. "I'm going to have to do an emergency transfer."
"Do you want Mr Paris in attendance?" Seven asked B'Elanna.
"What for?" B'Elanna was confused.
"He has some interest in the birth of your child," the blonde stated.
"Unless I've been in here a lot longer than it already feels, the last time I looked, Tom was more than halfway to getting completely drunk."
"I am sure he would sober when he is told of the situation," Seven speculated.
B'Elanna grunted as pain tore through her abdomen again. "Doc, what's taking so long? Is my baby okay?"
"I'm just setting up the procedure. It shouldn't be too much longer," the hologram assured her.
"If you want Mr Paris present, I must contact him now," Seven reminded her gently.
"I'd rather have you here," the engineer gasped. She looked steadily at Seven and held her gaze. A small smile graced B'Elanna's lips when she saw the blonde nod acquiescence.
"If you're staying, you can help." The EMH broke the mood instantly.
"How may I be of assistance?" Seven was immediately attentive.
"The transporter is having difficulty separating the baby from B'Elanna," the Doctor explained, gesturing to his console.
Seven looked at the readings briefly before making a series of computations, her long slender fingers gracefully floating over the console. She looked up at B'Elanna, her face carefully schooled into a mask of concern and reassurance. "This will take a few moments," she stated.
"I'd offer to help, but I'm not sure I can concentrate for any length of time," the Klingon groaned. She wiped away the sweat from her face distractedly, her eyes never leaving her companions.
The EMH and Seven continued to work swiftly as they tried to solve the problem of transporting the baby out of B'Elanna's womb safely. The Doctor broke off on several occasions to re-examine his patient and administer analgesia. B'Elanna was still clearly in pain, and she looked exhausted and drawn, her normally tan features pale.
"What's taking so long?"
"The sensors will not recognise your baby as a separate entity," the EMH answered.
"I know that! Why's it taking so long to resolve?" B'Elanna's patience, never in abundance under normal circumstances, was dangerously worn.
"I am working on their reconfiguration, but standard methods are not resolving the problem," Seven replied, not looking up from the workstation.
B'Elanna struggled to sit up and get off the bio-bed.
"What do you think you're doing?" The Doctor's voice rose incredulously.
"Trying to get up," the engineer replied tersely.
"Well don't, you could aggravate your condition."
"I'm telling you Doc, I can't imagine feeling any more aggravated than I do now. I'm gonna see if I can sort out this sensor problem," B'Elanna told them. As she put her feet onto the floor, she swayed.
"Get back on the bed," the EMH ordered, hovering over her.
"Doc," she protested, even as she swallowed down her nausea.
"Lieutenant, if you remain standing, your blood pressure will drop and you will lose consciousness. Your decreased blood pressure can potentially harm your baby. You are in no fit state to help."
"Well, not much is getting done at the moment!" B'Elanna growled back, her patience finally gone. She clutched the side of the bed suddenly as the room started to spin.
Knowing that he risked only B'Elanna's pride, the Doctor swooped down, lifted her up and placed her gently onto the biobed. His concern grew when she made no protest whatsoever. Hurriedly, he ran a tricorder over the hybrid. "You're haemorrhaging internally," he told her. "I have to operate now."
"The transporter is not functioning adequately for the procedure," Seven reminded him, even as she tried another method of recalibration.
"I'm not talking about an emergency transport. I need to do a caesarean," the EMH replied curtly. "Is Mr Paris available to assist?"
Seven raised an enhanced eyebrow, surprised that the Doctor had missed her earlier exchange with B'Elanna. "I believe he may have consumed alcohol and his judgement could be impaired."
The tall bald medic grimaced. "My damned party. Every one with an ounce of medical training is there." He looked at the Astrometrics officer speculatively. "Well, scrub up Seven. Looks like you're going to add `nurse' to your list of duties."
"I am not qualified to assist you," Seven protested, still furiously working on the transporter.
"You're a quick study." The EMH returned his attention to the woman reclining on the biobed. "B'Elanna, I need to sedate you. I haven't got time to anaesthetise just your lower body. Your baby wants to make an appearance, and we don't have time to wait."
"Doctor, you're scaring me," B'Elanna admitted candidly.
Showing a keen insight, the EMH continued, keeping his tone low and sympathetic. "I know it's unusual to do this procedure, but Seven is staying right here to help me. I need you to remain calm. I'll explain everything as I go."
B'Elanna blinked suddenly, feeling the burn of tears in her eyes. "Am I going to lose my baby?" she asked in a small voice.
"Not if I can help it."
The engineer swallowed and nodded hesitantly. "Go on then," she invited.
The EMH smiled and nodded kindly before pressing a hypospray against B'Elanna's neck and administering the sedative.
"Doctor, I have looked at the procedure you cited. Is it your intention to cut the foetus from B'Elanna's uterus?" Seven sounded incredulous.
"I am aware that it sounds barbaric. But I can think of no other procedure that will save both the baby and Lieutenant Torres at this time," the EMH replied perfunctorily.
"B'Elanna is also in danger?" Seven wanted the last statement confirmed.
"At the moment, I'm more concerned for her welfare than the baby." He paused, noting the stricken look on the ex-drone. "Seven, we have to work quickly. The baby is showing no signs of distress yet, but B'Elanna is going into hypovolaemic shock. As the placenta breaks away from the uterine wall however, the baby will be denied a blood supply, and B'Elanna will continue to haemorrhage internally. I have to get the foetus out and repair the vascular damage."
"But the placenta is designed to break away after birth," Seven pointed out reasonably.
"Quite right, but when the baby is born, hormones are triggered to reduce the size of the womb rapidly and vaso-constriction also takes place. As the baby is still in situ, none of this is happening."
Seven stared at B'Elanna for a moment. "What do you need me to do?" she asked finally.
The baby squalled noisily as she squirmed in the crib she had been placed in. Her cries accompanied the sounds of medical equipment beeping regularly and the movements of the two people working feverishly around a bio-bed.
"Her blood pressure is falling again," Seven intoned neutrally.
"Increase epinephrine push another 2mg," the Doctor reacted automatically as he continued surgery.
Seven complied and looked at B'Elanna anxiously, waiting for the next direction from the EMH.
They had been working for over three hours. The Doctor had managed to deliver the baby safely within a few minutes of starting the procedure. Despite being only ╝ Klingon, the baby had remained resolutely quiet, giving credence to the legends of childbirth on the battlefields.
Seven had placed the baby gently into a neo-natal chamber and run a set of diagnostics to ensure her health while the Doctor continued his surgery on B'Elanna. As soon as she was satisfied that the baby was stable, she returned to assist the EMH.
Methodically, the Doctor repaired the vascular damage to B'Elanna's uterus. Fortunately, Seven was indeed a quick learner and her assistance was invaluable, enabling him to work without interruption. However, as he continued, he realised that there had been far more damage than he first thought and it had taken him almost three hours to stop the haemorrhaging. As the time drew on, the baby woke and began to cry. Knowing that the baby was just hungry, she was ignored while they stabilised her mother.
Eventually the Doctor stood back and straightened. "That's it. She just needs time to recover," he declared, satisfied that the procedure was over.
"How long will it take for B'Elanna to recover?" Seven asked, looking at the crying infant.
"Difficult to say at this stage," the EMH admitted honestly. He finished setting up the monitoring equipment for the engineer. "It will take approximately two hours for the anaesthetic to wear off." He shrugged as he continued contemplating the situation. "And another two or three days for her to recover well enough for her to leave sick bay."
Seven raised an adorned eyebrow speculatively. "Will you be turning Sick bay into a nursery until then?" She asked, looking over at the crying infant.
"I don't think I have much choice. B'Elanna certainly won't want to be separated from her."
Seven moved over to the crib and picked the crying baby up. "She is in need of nutritional supplements," the blonde declared.
The EMH agreed, and hurried over to the replicator. He came back with a small feeding bottle and held it out for Seven to take.
"Why are you handing that to me?" she asked nervously.
"She's hungry and needs feeding," the bald man told her.
"You want me to feed her?" the ex-drone wanted clarification.
"Well you are holding her. And from what I've seen recently, I rather suspect B'Elanna would want you to look after her while she can't."
For a fraction, Seven's normally cool fašade cracked and she looked panic-stricken. "I am not sure that I can," she faltered.
"Well, now's the perfect time to find out. I need to clean up," the Doctor stated cheerfully, and walked away from the tall blonde.
Seven held the bottle inertly for a few seconds, before B'Elanna's baby put renewed effort into her crying. Quickly, she looked at the infant and then put the bottle to its intended use.
The change was instant. The baby relaxed in Seven's arms and sucked noisily. The feed was accompanied with contended sighs, and Seven could not help but smile. Perhaps this enforced assignment might not be so bad after all.
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