DISCLAIMER: Star Trek is the property of Paramount, this story depicts a loving/sexual relationship between women...okay, disclaimer done.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Feedback: T.J.

Reluctant Solitude
By T.J.

Seven of Nine was slowly going insane. Since the crew had been put into stasis in order to protect them from the nebula's radiation she had been almost completely alone. She had struggled with hearing only her own voice in her mind since her separation from the collective, but this was far worse.

Much as she had struggled with integration into Voyager's crew she found that what she had once deemed inefficient and annoying was now essential. She couldn't stand to be alone with her thoughts for this long—she needed the distraction and companionship of her crewmates to thrive. She was dismayed at that thought, but nevertheless with each day that passed she knew it to be more and more true.

The doctor had started to get on her nerves after only a few days. Where once she found him helpful and even charming, now she found him cloying and annoying. The feeling seemed to be mutual and had his program not begun to degrade requiring that he be taken offline until they cleared the nebula, they would have continued to avoid one another wherever possible. The corridors of the ship seemed to mock her as moved from place to place carrying out her self-imposed routine. She had thought that the logic and order of a work schedule would help alleviate the stress of solitude, but now she wondered if it wasn't only making it worse.

When she heard the hail from the alien ship she had thought her salvation was at hand. She had never thought that she would be excited at the prospect of making first contact with an alien species, but she had been thrilled when the stranger had made his request for parts and assistance. It meant that their contact would provide a distraction for a more prolonged period of time. How quickly it had turned into a nightmare. The alien had begun terrorizing her almost immediately and the worst part was that she still didn't know how much of the encounter had been real, and how much had been the product of her own delusions. She began to worry that she would be unable to maintain her sanity until Voyager cleared the nebula. She MUST persevere, the crew, her new collective, were counting on her.

She felt the person she was slipping away. She hadn't really taken the time to appreciate what it meant to be an individual--a person--and now it appeared to be too late. She clenched her hands into fists so tight that the palm of her fully human hand began to bleed from the pressure. She needed to concentrate! She needed to remain focussed on the task at hand or Voyager and its crew would perish. She needed to maintain her humanity but she had no idea how to do so in the face of her steadily increasing psychosis.

"I am Seven of Nine Tertiary Adjunct to Unimatrix Zero One," she repeated…her voice growing louder as she desperately tried to remind herself of who and what she was. "No! I am Seven of Nine, Astrometrics officer of the Federation Starship Voyager. I am Seven…I am not One, not alone…I am Seven."

Despite her best efforts her sanity, her ability to function, continued to slip away. The harder she tried to hold on, the worse it was. Then the crew began to appear around her. Not her friends and acquaintances as she knew them, but rather angry, jeering visions of radiation burned crewmates who blamed and ridiculed her as she worked to repair the ship's failing systems. They said the most hurtful things to her—things she had only ever said to herself in her darkest moments. Her self-loathing and her deepest insecurities were feeding off the words and images of the people she had come to care about.

"Shut up!" she yelled, spinning around to face her tormentors.

They were all there: the captain, Chakotay, Paris and Kim, even Tuvok was taunting her with looks and words. At first she thought Lieutenant Torres was absent, but upon closer inspection she saw the half-Klingon standing at the back of the bridge, half in shadow. Her face was marred by the radiation just like the rest of the crew. She stood, hipsprung with her arms crossed, a familiar half-smile on her lips. At first glance Seven was certain the smile was a derisive one, but when she looked more closely the smile appeared friendly, almost encouraging. The rest of the crew continued to mock her while B'Elanna stood silently—observing. Just when Seven reached her breaking point, unable to stabilize the warp core containment field and reinitialize the engines, unable to block the sounds of her 'friends' voices, B'Elanna suddenly spoke.

"You can do it Seven—just concentrate."

Seven closed her eyes tightly, then reopened them slowly. The room was empty; there was nobody there. She returned to her task and to her relief after a further 30 minutes of work the field was stabilized and the core came back on line. She made the course corrections and set the ship back on its path to the edge of the nebula.

She breathed a sigh of relief and began to complete her self-imposed rounds. Midway through she could no longer stop herself from deviating from her carefully planned route. She found herself in the cargo bay where all of the stasis tubes were located. She made her way to Lt. Torres' stasis tube. She gazed down into the peaceful face of the Chief Engineer. In repose, she seemed much younger than the force of nature she had come to know as B'Elanna Torres. She touched her hand to the Plexan casing of the tube, wishing it were the engineer's face she was touching, but knowing that if she were awake the fiery Klingon would not welcome the touch of a drone. She laid her cheek on the cool surface, her mind clear and calm at last. She smiled slightly at the sight of B'Elanna's stuffed Targ tucking out of sight down by her hands. Seven began to appreciate that beneath B'Elanna's tough exterior she was as full of fears and doubts as everyone else trapped here in the Delta quadrant.

"Thank you B'Elanna," she whispered.

Sighing, Seven stood upright and forced herself to leave the cargo bay and continue on her rounds. She heard a sound and turned her head to find B'Elanna keeping pace with her as she walked. The engineer stayed with her as she worked, never speaking, but always offering a comforting presence to Seven in her agitated state. The last thing that Seven saw before her regeneration cycle began was the figure of B'Elanna Torres settling down on the dais, to watch over her as she slept.

From that day on Seven spent at least a portion of everyday in the cargo bay 'talking' to B'Elanna. She told her of her difficulties in keeping the engines running, and of her fears that she would not be able to keep control of her mind long enough to get Voyager clear of the nebula. She took comfort in her closeness to the beautiful engineer and longed wistfully for the impossible. That when the crew was again awake that somehow she and B'Elanna would become close. She knew the engineer was involved with Tom Paris, but she had often observed that the couple was ill suited for one another.

"You deserve someone stronger and more honourable, someone who can love you with their entire being the way you should be loved, not someone who will make you feel that you are second in his affections to the holodeck." She paused for a long moment as she gazed at the face of the one she had come to think of as her saviour. "I would be that person."

She straightened up and prepared for her rounds. Her mind had been much calmer the last few days, and the edge of the nebula was close, but Voyager's systems continued to break down with increasing regularity. She was worried that all of the patches and bypasses she had created would not be enough to carry the starship through to the other side. If too many more systems and gel packs malfunctioned there would be nothing left to bypass with. However, she knew she had to keep trying. She spent the day rerouting power from every non-essential system left running, and still it might not be enough. The engines were constantly on the edge of stalling out, and her crewmates had returned to taunt her with her imminent failure. She had to make a decision, the crew or herself. She deactivated the life support to the stasis tubes and the engines came back on line—the edge of the nebula was in sight. The crewmembers appeared to her again tormenting her, accusing her of being responsible for their deaths, of sacrificing them to save her own life, the figure of B'Elanna appeared and walked through the darkened room toward her.

"I trust you Seven—with my life."

Seven made the only possible decision upon hearing the engineer's words. She deactivated the life support on the ship and restored power to the stasis tubes. The doctor would come on line the second they cleared the nebula and he would be able to revive the crew. She would perish, but it was worth it if B'Elanna would live. As she sank into unconsciousness she was still able to hear the torments of the Captain and Chakotay as they watched her die.

She awoke in sick bay several hours later. Her plan had been successful and the crew had come through the ordeal unscathed, unknowing of what she had been through, what she had been prepared to do on their behalf. None of that mattered to her now that she knew her collective was safe. Once she was released from sick bay she made her way back to Cargo Bay 2 for an extended period of regeneration. She looked around the room, hoping illogically that B'Elanna would appear and again watch over her while she rested, but of course the Klingon never appeared.

Part 2

When Seven awoke from her regeneration cycle she found herself alone, again. As illogical as it was, she missed the illusion of the Chief Engineer that had been her constant companion during her ordeal in the nebula. She was saddened to realize that even the simple pleasure of visiting B'Elanna's stasis tube was now denied her—she could no longer gaze unrestricted at the beautiful face of the Klingon hybrid. She would miss her one-sided conversations with the fiery beauty as she had found them a valuable asset in accessing and evaluating her thoughts and emotions. Now, more than ever, she was alone.

Sighing at the illogical paths her thoughts were taking, she left her alcove. The loneliness was overwhelming; she needed the company of her peers. It was not in her nature to 'need' and she found the feeling disconcerting. Even though it was her habit to partake of her nutritional supplement as quickly as possible and report to Astrometrics early for her duty shift, this morning she decided to eat breakfast with her fellow crewmates to try to alleviate the sense of separateness that was plaguing her.

When she entered the messhall she did not know whether to be delighted or dismayed at the sight of B'Elanna having a meal with Tom and Harry. She retrieved her food and then stood awkwardly near them, unsure of how to proceed. To her surprise it was B'Elanna who came to her rescue. The normally taciturn engineer actually invited her to sit at their table, joked with her about the quality of the food, and went so far as to say that they 'owed her one' for bringing them through the nebula safely. It was more than Seven could have hoped for. She took a seat beside B'Elanna and immediately dropped her eating utensil when her leg inadvertently brushed against B'Elanna's. If any of them noticed they were too polite to draw attention to it and soon she found herself actually making conversation with the small group. She felt completely awkward and exposed, certain that B'Elanna could read her thoughts and was aware of how Seven felt about her. Every moment was agony and bliss at the same time. She wanted to flee the room, at the same time as she never wanted to leave the engineer's side. She was in heaven and in hell. Through it all she mechanically ate, nodding in what she hoped were appropriate points in the conversation, and simply hoping that she could get through this situation without inviting the ire of the Klingon beauty sitting at her side.

When the meal was over, the group began discussing their plans for the evening. They were planning to meet for an evening of drinks and pool in Sandrine's. Images of B'Elanna kissing Tom while they socialized with their friends rose unbidden in Seven's mind to torment her. So absorbed was she in her thoughts that she barely heard Harry address his question to her until he asked it for the second time.

"Would you like to come with us Seven?"

She hesitated, unsure of whether or not she could stand to spend so much time in the company of B'Elanna knowing that the beautiful woman was with Tom. In the end it was B'Elanna who made the decision for her.

"Come on Seven, you never know you might actually have fun." The light teasing tone of her voice took the sting out of the words for Seven, and almost involuntarily she found herself nodding her acquiescence.

"Great," Harry said, "we'll meet you there at 1900hrs."

Seven rose on unsteady legs and nodded to the small group of friends.

"Lieutenants, ensign, thank you for your company and your kind invitation." She barely breathed until she heard the messhall doors swish shut behind her.

"That was weird," Tom laughed at Seven's overly formal departure.

"Give her a break Tom, at least she trying," B'Elanna spoke up.

"Since when do you defend the Ice Princess?" Tom's surprise was evident by the look of shock on his face at hearing B'Elanna defend her adversary.

"Since I heard she nearly died getting us through that nebula."

"I heard she nearly killed us all by shutting off power to the stasis tubes," Tom retorted.

"For a few minutes just to get the engines restarted, then she powered the tubes back up and shut off life support to keep Voyager moving. She had no way of knowing we'd get out in time to save her from asphyxiation. Anyone who would do that deserves a second chance in my opinion."

"I'll remind you of that when you're threatening to blow her out an airlock for interfering with engineering…probably later this afternoon," Tom laughed.

"Shut up Paris," B'Elanna growled.

She was angry with Tom for being such a child, but even more angry with him for probably being right. She had been impressed with Seven's actions, but Kahless knew the former drone got on her nerves. She vowed to try to be more patient with the stiff young woman and hoped that, to that end, some of the meditation techniques she learned from Tuvok might come in handy.

Seven entered Sandrine's several minutes after Tom, Harry and B'Elanna arrived. The truth was that she been on time, but had stood outside of the holodeck doors for several minutes debating with herself over the wisdom of entering the room. A part of her wanted to leave and return to the cargo bay where she would be safe, if alone. But another part of her wanted to enter the holodeck and be near B'Elanna, no matter what it cost her personally. In the end, the fact that she had given her word that she would appear was the deciding factor and she took a deep breath before striding into the room.

As soon as the door opened and Seven of Nine appeared, B'Elanna felt a flash of annoyance. The coldly superiour look on Seven's face never failed to irritate her. She watched as the Astrometrics officer strode through the bar toward them. When Seven reached their table she hesitated, uncertain of her welcome and unsure of what to do with herself now that she had arrived. As B'Elanna watched the look of uncertainty flit briefly across Seven's haughty features she felt her anger fade. 'It's just a front,' she thought to herself as she saw Seven assume her customary stance beside their table.

"Have a seat Seven," B'Elanna felt herself smiling up at Seven, amazed to see a small smile grace the former drone's features for a second before she once again became her inscrutable self.

Tom jumped up and came back with a tray of drinks and soon he and Harry were entertaining the group with stories from their last away mission. Seven was seated across from B'Elanna and she passed the time that Tom spent bragging about his piloting skills observing the Klingon hybrid surreptitiously. B'Elanna did not appear to be listening closely to Tom's story at all, in fact her eyes were unfocussed and Seven would have bet that she was working through some problem in engineering the entire time that she was smiling and nodding at the flight controller's antics. Tom didn't seem to notice in the least that half his audience was paying him no mind and he and Harry continued trading barbs and laughing until it was their turn claim the pool table.

"So, whaddaya say…girls against the guys," Tom taunted as she racked up the balls. He was enjoying paying B'Elanna back for her defense of the Borg earlier. He fully expected her to make an excuse to not have to partner with Seven, and in fact it had been on the tip of her tongue to do just that when she saw the look in Tom's eyes.

"If you think you can handle us flyboy," she replied.

Seven felt as if she was getting into a situation that was beyond her social skills, so as much as she wished to play with B'Elanna she felt compelled to speak up.

"I have never played this game before, perhaps it would be better if Lieutenant Torres had a more experienced partner."

B'Elanna could clearly see the discomfort on Seven's face and she hastened to reassure her.

"Don't worry Seven, with your hand-eye coordination you'll catch on in no time," she said with a wink.

Seven thought that her heart would never beat again when she saw the beautiful engineer wink at her. Still, she wanted to be certain that B'Elanna knew what she was getting into.

"If you are certain Lieutenant."

"I'm certain Seven, you'll do fine," she said as she handed Seven a cue.

When B'Elanna's fingers brushed hers as she took the cue from the engineer's hands, once again Seven lost all sense of time and space. She nearly dropped the stick from her nerveless fingers and felt her face heat up with embarrassment as she saw Tom laughing, presumably at her clumsiness. She watched carefully as the helmsman broke the triangle of balls, and then observed every nuance as both B'Elanna and Harry lined up the balls and took their shots. She listened carefully as B'Elanna explained the game to her, gritting her teeth to maintain her concentration at she felt the Klingon's hands on her hips, and then her shoulders as she showed her how to take aim and make her shot. Her heart was pounding but she forced herself to focus and to her delight she sank the ball she was aiming at with a quick flick of her arm, her heart fell however when she saw the white ball follow the other one down into the pocket.

"I am sorry Lieutenant," she foolishly felt as if she might cry at the sound of Tom and Harry gloating good-naturedly over her mistake.

"Don't worry about it Seven, you're doing great." For an instant Seven felt as if she were back in the nebula and this was her illusion of B'Elanna being so kind and compassionate.

Despite her best effort Tom and Harry won the first game by several balls. Tom suggested switching partners and to Seven's surprise B'Elanna refused.

"Oh no you don't Paris. You challenged us and now you're just going to have to take your medicine. Right Seven?"

"Correct." Seven was uncertain as to how exactly to participate in this kind of banter so she followed B'Elanna's lead, happy that the engineer wished to keep playing with her despite their defeat.

The second game wasn't even close as B'Elanna practically ran the table before Tom or Harry could get in a shot. So it came down to a third and deciding game. B'Elanna missed her first shot and Harry sank several in a row. They played quite evenly, with Seven managing to sink several balls in a row much to her delight and relief. In the end it came down to a tie. Only the black ball remained and it was Seven's shot. If she missed then Tom would have an opportunity to win the game. Despite her normally cool Borg exterior Seven was nervous and to her dismay she felt her hands trembling as she lined up the shot. B'Elanna leaned on the table beside her and whispered so that only Seven could hear.

"You can do it Seven—just concentrate."

Seven sucked in a quick breath as B'Elanna echoed precisely the words her specter had uttered on the bridge while they were trapped in the nebula. She closed her eyes for a moment and then concentrating fiercely she lined up the ball and made her shot. She heard B'Elanna's whoop of elation almost before she saw the ball find a home in the pocket, and to her amazement she felt the fiery engineer pick her up and spin her around. She was actually in B'Elanna's arms! When her feet were once again on the ground she graciously accepted the congratulations of both Tom and Harry.

"Well, hate to cut your gloating time short, but Harry and I have Holodeck 2 reserved for the next couple of hours," Tom informed.

"What are you talking about Tom. I thought we agreed that we were spending the evening here, together?" B'Elanna asked with an angry edge to her voice.

"I know, I know, but the group that had the other holodeck reserved had to cancel at the last minute so we grabbed it. You CAN come with us you know. We're gonna run Captain Proton—you could be my secretary if you'd like," he teased wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. "Of course you and Seven could always stay here and play some more pool if you'd like," he said.

Once again B'Elanna knew that Tom was rubbing her nose in her defense of Seven, but this time she didn't care. She was so angry that he always chose his friends and his holoprograms over her that she didn't even care that she was stuck here in Sandrine's with Seven.

"I'm certain the lieutenant has better things to do with her time. Thank you all for a lovely evening," Seven replied and prepared to go back to her cargo bay.

"Hold on Seven, if you want to stay I could use the company," B'Elanna said, staring right into the amused eyes of the pilot. She knew she was being manipulated by Tom, but the stubborn Klingon in her couldn't let go.

"I…would like that Lieutenant." Seven replied shyly.

"I think it's about time you started calling me B'Elanna, don't you?"

"As you wish…B'Elanna." In truth Seven always thought of the engineer that way in her mind, but had been reluctant to take such a liberty out loud until now. She was both terrified and thrilled at the prospect of interacting alone with B'Elanna socially for the first time.

Tom threw his arm around Harry's shoulders and began explaining in detail the portion of the Captain Proton program they were about to run as they left Sandrine's together. B'Elanna's knuckles were white where she clutched her pool cue and tried to control her anger. She was startled when she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder.

"Are you certain you wish to remain B'Elanna? It would be understandable if you did not."

"What…no, I mean yes…I'm sure I want to stay. The truth is I could use the distraction. Why don't you rack 'em up."

Seven moved quickly to set up the balls before B'Elanna changed her mind and left. She motioned for the engineer to break and the two of them began moving around the table, quietly playing the game. It was B'Elanna who finally broke the silence.

"You're being awfully quiet Seven…what's up"

Seven hesitated before she answered the question. She was a little afraid of B'Elanna's reaction, but she could not bring herself to be less than honest with her.

"I am enjoying our interaction, and I do not wish it to end prematurely. To further that end I am keeping my trap shut."

B'Elanna choked on the sip of beer she had been taking when Seven answered her question. Finally she sputtered

"Keeping your trap shut?"

"Stardate 51658.2 you told me that if I wanted to live long enough to see the Alpha Quadrant I should just shut my trap and let you think."

B'Elanna felt the colour rise to her cheeks.

"I really said that?"

"I assure you that you did."

"Kahless I can be a read hardass sometimes. I'm sorry Seven…it's just sometimes…"

"I irritate the hell out of you," Seven interrupted.

B'Elanna barked out a laugh at Seven's comment. It never occurred to her that Seven could be so self-aware. She found herself laughing until tears ran down her cheeks, and every time she thought she had it under control she would hear Seven's words again in her head and the laughter would begin again.

"Kahless Seven, I can't remember the last time I laughed like that," she said when she finally had control of her voice again.

"That is truly a pity B'Elanna, you are lovely when you laugh."

B'Elanna was a little taken aback by Seven's comment, but it had been a long time since anyone had called her lovely—she had forgotten how good it felt.

"Thanks Seven," she said sincerely.

The rest of the evening passed quickly and an easy camaraderie began to grow between the two women. They discussed several engineering problems that the crew was working on, and to her surprise B'Elanna found herself having a good time. She was amazed when Seven told her of her experiences alone in the nebula, and touched to find that it had been Seven's image of her that had allowed the former borg to be able to continue functioning. Seven left out many of the details of those lonely weeks, but she wanted B'Elanna to know how much she had appreciated the engineer's unwitting assistance during that stressful time. Even though B'Elanna had had nothing to do with Seven's hallucinations it made her unaccountably proud to think that Seven had drawn strength from her image. It was with real regret that B'Elanna noticed how late it was getting.

"I hate to say it Seven, but I really should be getting to bed. I have an early day tomorrow."

"Of course B'Elanna, as do I." Seven hesitated a moment before continuing. "I had a wonderful time with you tonight. Thank you."

"I had a lot of fun Seven. We should do this again." B'Elanna felt awkward talking like this with someone she had never particularly gotten along with, but it was the simple truth.

"I would very much like that," Seven replied, happy to think that B'Elanna wanted to spend more time with her. "Sleep well B'Elanna."

"I'll see you tomorrow," B'Elanna said as they parted ways in the corridor.

For the first time since she had come aboard Voyager Seven no longer felt alone. She couldn't remember ever feeling quite so happy. She resolutely refused to think about the fact that later tonight Tom Paris would probably be stopping by B'Elanna's quarters; that was something she would rather forget.

Part 3

Seven awoke from her regeneration cycle and a smile immediately graced her features as her eidetic memory replayed the events of last evening. The chief engineer's smile, the sound of her laughter, the touch of her hand on Seven's body all flitted through her mind, making her happy. She decided to take a chance on running into B'Elanna in the mess hall and so she headed out quickly to the turbolift. To her delight the Klingon hybrid was eating her breakfast when Seven entered the room, but her heart fell when she saw that she was sharing a table with Lieutenant Paris. She retrieved her nutritional supplement and debated whether or not she should approach their table. Neither of them looked up or appeared to notice her presence so she decided that she should not intrude. She took a seat across the room, one with an unimpeded view of B'Elanna. She watched as the beautiful brunette smiled at one of Tom's jokes and suddenly her meal turned to ashes in her mouth. The happy mood she had been floating on seemed to drain away like water, and suddenly she felt alone again. She finished her drink quickly and left for her duty shift. She caught B'Elanna's eye as she moved toward the doors, but she couldn't bring herself to acknowledge the Klingon's look; she just wanted to be far away from the image of the engineer and the flight controller eating together.

As Seven exited the room Tom looked up and noticed that she had been there. He couldn't resist a quick poke at B'Elanna.

"Well, I see your new best friend couldn't wait to get out of here. I'm surprised she didn't want to have breakfast with you Lanna."

"Give it a rest Tom. She's not so bad once you get to know her."

"Right, that's why she rushed over here to have breakfast with you."

"Jump to conclusions much Tom? She could have been in a hurry, or maybe she just didn't want to have breakfast with you."

B'Elanna was angry with Tom for his incessant harping on her conflicted relationship with Seven. She also hated to admit that she was a little hurt that Seven hadn't even said 'hello' this morning, or acknowledged her smile after things had gone so well last night. She shook her head…it shouldn't matter to her whether Seven said good morning or not, two days ago she would have traded all of her replicator rations if someone could have promised her that the former drone would never speak to her again. So why did it matter so much all of a sudden? B'Elanna didn't have time to worry about it; there was work to complete in Engineering. She rose abruptly and left a smirking Tom Paris to finish his breakfast alone—again.

Everyone in engineering could tell that the Chief was in a foul mood from the second she strode through the doors to the department. She was caustic and short with everyone, but it wasn't until she nearly tore Vorik's head off for being unable to complete a simple repair quickly enough that B'Elanna herself realized that there was a problem. She apologized to an impassive Vorik and went to her office to catch up on her paperwork and spare her coworkers her foul mood. She had already missed lunch and it was well past the end of her shift when she finally stopped working and allowed herself to examine her mood. To her surprise she realized that she was indeed upset about Seven not even giving her the time of day this morning in the messhall. She felt a surge of irritation that it seemed to matter so much to her, but still, there was no denying that it did. Never one to avoid a problem, B'Elanna left her office and made her way up to Astrometrics to confront Seven of Nine. Even though the Gamma shift was long over B'Elanna wasn't surprised to find the former Borg still working away alone.

"Hey," she said as she entered Seven's domain.

The younger woman looked up at B'Elanna's greeting and the smile that spread over her face wiped away the foul mood that had been haunting the engineer all day.

"B'Elanna," she replied in her carefully modulated tones.

"I was…uh…" B'Elanna was suddenly ill at ease. She had come here for a confrontation and now the mere sight of Seven's genuine smile had taken the wind completely out of her sails. "Do you want to have dinner? I mean if you haven't already eaten." The words were out before the Klingon even knew what she was saying.

"I would like that very much." Seven's normally impassive face was suffused with colour. She couldn't believe that B'Elanna was seeking out her company. It was more than she could have hoped for in her wildest imaginings. Never in her life had she felt such a mixture of emotions, joy, fear, happiness and trepidation coursed through her body nearly causing her cortical node to malfunction as it worked to keep up with the welter of intense feelings Seven was experiencing. Without another word Seven shut down her workstation and logged off for the evening.

When they reached the turbolift B'Elanna ordered it to the messhall, and then realized that she really didn't want Tom to see her having dinner with Seven. She just didn't want to see the look of amusement on his face when he saw them together, especially after his comments at breakfast. She told the computer to belay her first command and then ordered the lift to her own deck. Seven was surprised that B'Elanna was taking her to her personal quarters but the joy she felt at the prospect of having the engineer all to herself quickly washed away all other thoughts.

As they made their way to her quarters B'Elanna found herself growing more and more confused. Although she did the emotion 'angry' very well, when it came to the rest of the emotional spectrum she was more childlike than she cared to admit, even to herself. She had known little joy in her life, had few friendships, was rarely happy and wasn't certain that she really knew what love was despite her relationship with Tom Paris. So it was that she wasn't able to settle into a feeling state now. She still felt hurt at Seven's apparent disregard for her this morning. She felt as though her new friend had rejected her and her offer of friendship out of hand, but the former Drone's behaviour this evening would seem to belie that fact. B'Elanna was uncomfortable with her confusion and so she lapsed into sullen silence. When they reached her quarters she motioned Seven inside and began the preparations for dinner without a word.

Seven stood in the centre of B'Elanna's living room and found that she didn't know what to do with herself. She wanted to look around the Klingon's well-ordered living space, but she was afraid of invoking the engineer's ire if her interest was mistaken for snooping. So she merely stood in place and watched as B'Elanna worked. She could sense that the Klingon-hybrid was becoming increasingly agitated and she was worried that she had unwittingly angered the dark-haired woman.

"B'Elanna," she finally mustered up the courage to speak. "If you would prefer that I go…I will comply," she finished softly.

"No one's keeping you here Seven. If you want to go just go." B'Elanna felt the comfortable blanket of her anger wrapping itself protectively around her as she interpreted Seven's question as a statement of desire.

"I do not wish to go, but it seems that you are uncomfortable with my presence here and I do not wish to make you angry." Seven stopped, unsure of how to explain her feelings.

The two women stood facing one another, their confusion and hurt building a wall between them. Finally it was B'Elanna who bridged the gap.

"Why didn't you say hello to me this morning in the mess hall?"

Whatever Seven had been expecting it hadn't been this.

"I…you were having breakfast with Lieutenant Paris. I did not think you would welcome my intrusion. I apologize if I hurt your feelings or offended in any way. It was not my intention to do so."

Now it was B'Elanna's turn to be surprised. She was unable to formulate a reply and simply stood staring at the concerned face of Seven of Nine. Seven took the engineer's silent look to be one of anger or disbelief and so she hung her head and walked toward the doors of the cabin. When the sensors activated and the doors slid open she paused.

"You should know B'Elanna that I would never do anything to intentionally hurt you." She was about to leave when the voice of the Klingon stopped her in her tracks.


Seven's heartfelt words made B'Elanna feel a sharp pang of remorse. She wasn't used to dealing with other people's emotions like this, and Seven's inexperience was exacerbating their communication difficulty. B'Elanna realized it was up to her to clarify the situation before she lost someone she was coming to consider a friend.

"Look Seven…I'm sorry I'm being so prickly with you today. The truth is I'm feeling a little out of my depth here. I…I've never really done this kind of thing before. I guess after last night I thought we were becoming friends, and so this morning I got my feelings hurt when you didn't even acknowledge my existance…"

"So you decided to push me away before you were further hurt by my perceived rejection of your friendship," Seven interrupted.

B'Elanna was taken aback by Seven's razor sharp incite, and frankly she didn't like the image it evoked of her as a frightened child, but she had to admit that the former drone was correct.

"Yeah…something like that," she muttered. "Something exactly like that. Seven I'm sorry."

"There is no need for you to apologize. I should have said something to you this morning when I realized you had seen me. I simply didn't want to interrupt your time with Mr. Paris."

"My friends are always welcome at my table," B'Elanna declared.

She was rewarded for her words with another of Seven's brilliant smiles. She found herself breaking into an answering grin.

"Alright, enough of this sentimental nonsense, I'm starving." B'Elanna's voice was gruff but Seven could tell by the laughter in her eyes that she was only teasing.

The mood between the two of them was much more relaxed as B'Elanna returned to the kitchen and continued with her dinner preparations. Seven felt sufficiently at ease to wander around the Klingon's quarters and observe the sparse decorations that B'Elanna had placed in her rooms. When they finally sat down to eat it was as if their misunderstanding had never occurred and B'Elanna found herself laughing at Seven's deadpan imitations of various crewmembers. She couldn't remember when she had felt so relaxed or had so much fun. Later that night she would remember this observation with a tinge of sadness when she realized that Tom seldom made her laugh like that, or spent so much uninterrupted time alone with her outside of the holodeck.

Part 4

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