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She Who Hesitates is Lost
By Lisa Countryman


Chapter Nine: Changes

Seven looked out of the cabin door at the falling snow and smiled when she heard B’Elanna in the kitchen. She turned and followed the sounds of the Half-Klingon heating something on the hearth.

"Good morning," B’Elanna said without turning around. She could hear Seven’s approach, and smiled knowing what was coming next.

"Good morning," Seven answered as she wrapped B’Elanna in her arms and kissed her neck. "What are we having?"

"Borg barley." B’Elanna tilted the large pot away from the fire to show her wife their breakfast. She leaned back into Seven’s body and sighed, savoring the contact.

"Did you put bee saliva in it?" Seven asked as she wrinkled her nose.

"Yes, I put honey in it. It’s too bland without it. No offense, love, but that barley is gross." B’Elanna struggled as Seven playfully poked her ribs.

"And how exactly does adding bee saliva make the meal less gross?"

"It just does," B’Elanna said. She put the pan back onto the burner and turned to face her lover. "Trust me."

"I require convincing." Seven tilted her head down and gently kissed B’Elanna. They kissed briefly before Seven pulled back and caressed B’Elanna’s cheek.

"Convinced?" B’Elanna asked, smiling when her taller partner nodded. She toyed with the laces of Seven’s leather shirt, noticing the way it was a bit looser on one side than the other. "How come we can build a cabin, make weapons, pots and pans, but we can’t make a simple shirt that does you justice?"

"I had not considered it." Seven looked down at the garment. In truth, she hadn’t noticed, she considered the fit of the apparel irrelevant, but if it bothered her wife, she would find a way to fix it. "Perhaps we are better engineers and warriors than tailors."

"Yeah? Well, right now, I’d promise Kahless himself a day in the sweat caves if he’d send us a tailor." B’Elanna turned and took the barley cereal off of the heat and began filling the two bowls on the table. "And while I’m thinking about it, maybe Kahless could send us a plumber too. I’m tired of not having a shower."

Seven picked up the canteen on the table and poured two glasses of tea. She had discovered some sweet, tangy leaves that grew near the lake that made a beverage far better than anything Neelix had ever created. It was a tea blend that was bitter but when raspberry leaves were added it became quite pleasant. It also had a potent caffeine kick.

"I could help you with your bathing," Seven offered with a coy grin. She enjoyed watching B’Elanna use the steaming water from the hearth and a soft rag to wipe her body each night. She liked the way the cooling water made her lover’s caramel skin erupt into goosebumps and the way her skin seemed even more sensitive when she finished. Many nights Seven couldn’t even wait for B’Elanna to take the used water outside before carrying her to their bed to make love to her. They would wake up in the morning and have to wash the soiled pot before preparing water for their morning wash routine. Of course, since it was Seven’s fault, she had to do the predawn chore, but she didn’t consider it a sacrifice, quite the contrary.

"You could help me in a shower too, or better yet, a nice hot bath." B’Elanna smiled, her mind wandering to images of Seven in a fragrant bubble bath.

A loud roar suddenly shook the cabin walls. Seven jumped to her feet and ran out of the door with B’Elanna close behind. They jogged to the middle of their camp and watched as a craft shot overhead and went down in the trees on the other side of the lake.

"Damn, it." B’Elanna shifted her weight from foot to foot. She had rushed out barefooted and the thin layer of snow felt like pins in her feet. "We need to go check that out."

Seven turned, quickly noticing her wife shuffling her feet and scooped up the feisty Klingon. "You should not be outside without your shoes," she chastised.

"Seven, a shuttle just crashed, and for all we know it could be a murderer or worse and you’re worried about my bare feet?" B’Elanna held on around Seven’s willowy neck as she was carried back inside.

"Whoever they are, they will wait for you to put your shoes on. I will not have you injuring yourself." Seven gently placed B’Elanna next to the fire and went to get her boots.

"You’re not my mother," B’Elanna said, but her complaint was softened by the wide grin on her face and the fact that she was warming her chilled feet on the hearth.

"No, I am your wife. I outrank your mother." Seven used a towel to dry B’Elanna’s feet before handing her a fresh pair of socks.

B’Elanna laughed and finished putting on her footwear. "You just remember you said that when you meet my mother."

Seven and B’Elanna dressed warmly, collected the med kit, and then gathered all of the weapons they had before heading toward the crash site. Both were quiet, each worrying about the other and what they might find.

They reached the site after an hour and a half of hiking. The snow was a light dusting, having only fallen a few nights before, with most of it melting off except under the thickest trees. Seven used the tricorder to locate the exact location, but B’Elanna insisted on taking the lead as they followed the long rut carved through the forest by the ship’s impact.

"Over there," B’Elanna whispered and pointed to a shuttle exactly like the one they had been sent down in.

Seven nodded and made her way around a large boulder. She scanned the wreckage, seeing two lifesigns. "Lana," she whispered and then held up two fingers to indicate the number of occupants. The Klingon nodded and gripped her spear tightly as she raised it up to her shoulder. As they rounded the boulder they heard a loud moan, and stopped.

"Who are you?" B’Elanna demanded as she stepped out and straddled a man leaning against a downed tree. He was almost six feet tall, and well muscled, his hair brown peppered with grey at the temples and he had a thick brow ridge.

He looked up, terror filling his eyes and then looked back toward the shuttle.

"Who are you?" B’Elanna asked again, adding a throaty growl for good measure.

"Please don’t hurt him," a woman said from the shuttle as she leaned out of the door. She was smaller than the man, with mousy brown hair and small pretty features. Both she and the man looked almost human except for a slightly thicker brow ridge that made them both look rather unintelligent like the Cro-Magnon’s of Earth’s past.

Seven stepped out of the trees next to the shuttle, startling the woman who screamed and jumped back, but quickly recovered and leaned back out.

"One more time," B’Elanna said. "Who are you? Answer now or I get…grouchy. "

"B’Elanna," Seven interrupted. She turned to the woman. "Can he understand?"

The woman nodded slowly.

Seven tilted her head to one side and glared at the woman. "Then I suggest he answers the question."

"I am Tach," the man said as he tried to stand. His leg gave out and he fell to the wet, cold ground.

"Well, Tach, what are you doing here?" B’Elanna asked as she moved the spear to a less threatening position at her side.

He seemed to relax slightly once the weapon was no longer posed to hit him in the throat. "My wife and I were imprisoned for carrying contraband."

"Contraband?" B’Elanna asked.

He nodded. "We were transporting our livestock, Kelvin cattle. We didn’t know that they had been outlawed in this system."

"How long are you here for?" Torres asked as she knelt beside him and examined his leg.

"One year," he said warily. "Who are you?"

"Trespassers," B’Elanna said with a smile.

Seven eyed the woman. "We will not harm you."

"I’m Nara," she said as she climbed down. Once she was out of the door it was clear why she had stayed inside. She was pregnant, and judging from the size of her belly, it wouldn’t be long before a child joined the small group.

"You are pregnant," Seven pointed out.

"Yes, but only for about another month," Nara said quietly.

Seven looked inside the cabin, noticing that the chair restraints were in place and realized Tach shouldn’t have been hurt in the crash. "How did you injure yourself?" she asked, suddenly suspicious. "How did you alter your trajectory away from the prison cities?"

"The guard, Malok, reprogrammed the guidance system. He said we wouldn’t want to go to the cities," Nara said as she made her way toward her husband.

"And this leg?" B’Elanna asked.

Tach mumbled something and looked away, while Nara smiled.

"What?" B’Elanna asked.

"I fell out of the shuttle," he said.

"Oh," B’Elanna said and bit her lip to stop from laughing. "Seven, bring me that med kit." She looked into Tach’s eyes and smiled. "I’m B’Elanna. This is Seven, my wife."

"Nice to meet you. We are Narians," he said. "Does your wife run your house, too?" he asked with a wry grin. B’Elanna smiled and bit her lip.

Seven placed the kit next to Tach’s leg and leaned over near B’Elanna’s face. "Do you trust them?" she whispered.

B’Elanna shrugged and mended the leg. "Seven is human, and I’m Klingon, well mostly. So, Tach, what are you gonna’ do?"

He flexed his leg and then stood carefully, smiling when his leg held his weight. "We brought our tools. We are farmers, so we will farm." He moved careful toward the shuttle hopping from rock to rock.

"Tach, don’t break the other one," Nara ordered.

He smiled and squeezed her arm when he finally reached her. "Even my luck isn’t that bad, Nara."

Seven looked to B’Elanna and raise an eyebrow. "We should go. The snow could start again soon."

"Thank you, for your help," Tach said. "Perhaps we will see you again."

"Thank you, for helping my husband. Tach, we should build a fire. Don’t dawdle." Nara went back into the shuttle. Tach obediently followed.

B’Elanna watched, then turned to Seven. "Maybe we should, you know, help them until they can get on their feet. I mean, she’s pregnant for Kahless sake."

Seven smirked, and crossed her arms. "Kahless? Perhaps these are the tailors you asked for… or the plumber."

"You were gonna’ offer to help all along, weren’t you," B’Elanna accused with a smile.

"Falling in love has made me weak," Seven replied and took B’Elanna’s hand.

"Hey, Tach?" B’Elanna yelled.

"Yes?" he asked, leaning out of the shuttle with his arms full of tools.

"You wouldn’t happen to be a tailor would you?" B’Elanna asked and squeezed Seven’s hand.

"No," he said, obviously confused. "But my Nara is quite a seamstress."

Seven’s eyes widened. "And are you a plumber?"

"Great Goddess, no," he laughed. "As I said, I am a farmer. But I have done my share of home repairs. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be having a home other than this shuttle for a while."

"Kahless?" Seven whispered and looked at B’Elanna.

"Don’t look at me," B’Elanna said in a whisper. "Um, Tach, can you two travel?"

"Nara can, but I can’t guarantee myself. I am a bit…clumsy." He flinched and Nara leaned out.

"I told you not to dawdle. Where’s the firewood?" She stretched and rubbed the small of her back.

"If you’re interested, we have a cabin a few hours from here. It’s warm and dry, and we have a good supply of food," B’Elanna said.

Nara leaned into Tach, and wrapped her arm around him. "We have nothing to offer in return," she said.

"You’re a farmer," B’Elanna said. "You can help us… uh, farm. Can you hunt?"

He nodded.

Seven stepped forward. "Nara, you are a seamstress? We require…assistance," she explained, then pointed to her shirt to prove the point.

Nara jumped down from the shuttle and approached Seven, carefully examining her clothes. "You’re a big one, aren’t you?" she asked. "And you certainly do need…assistance."

Seven pulled away and glared at the smaller, rounder woman. "Do you wish to accept our offer?"

Nara smiled. "I like her." She turned to B’Elanna. "Are you as difficult as she is?"

"Worse," Torres said as she stepped onto a rock behind Seven that put her several inches above her wife. She wrapped her arms around Seven from behind and rested her chin on her lover’s shoulder. "Much worse."

"It’s a deal," Nara said without looking to Tach.


Chapter Ten: Close Quarters

It took just over two hours to get back to cabin, which surprised B’Elanna. She had expected a clumsy farmer and his pregnant wife to slow them down, but both proved to be competent. They traveled quietly through the trees and didn’t complain about the weight of the tools. Once back at the cabin, the farmers were impressed.

"I don’t think you’ll be needing much help from me with the cabin," Tach said as he shook his head. "That’s a sturdy structure, and from the size of that smoke shed, looks like I have some hunting to do."

"Come on inside," B’Elanna said as she opened the door. The fire in the hearth was mostly burned down, but there were coals glowing brightly thanks to the hard wood and the well-crafted fireplace. The room was warm and the smell of breakfast still lingered.

Nara followed B’Elanna and smiled as she took in the surroundings. "Well now, we can work with this," she said as she looked at the stack of furs off against one wall. "I’ll have you in shirts in no time." She moved to the hearth and warmed her hands.

Seven and Tach came in last and stacked most of the tools near the door. Tach picked out a small box and carried it over to the table next to the fire.

"Get those boots off," Nara ordered. "I won’t be tending you in a sickbed."

"Yes, dear," Tach said as he sat on the floor at his wife’s feet.

"Oh god," B’Elanna thought. "He’s me… and we’re both whipped." She turned and looked at Seven who had both eyebrows raised and her arms crossed. Her blue eyes were pinned on B’Elanna’s wet boots.

"Yes, dear," B’Elanna said with a huff and tugged her boots off.

Tach smiled at the Klingon and she shrugged her shoulders and sat next to him.

Seven ignored her own wet feet and stoked the fire, pausing her run her hand through B’Elanna’s hair as she passed. Once the flames were putting off as much heat as a warp core breech, she went to the kitchen and started heating some water and collecting spices and some dried meat.

Nara came up behind her. "Can I help you with that?"

Seven turned at looked at the shorter woman’s bulging belly. "Perhaps you should rest. I do not want the child coming out early."

"No chance of that." Nara laughed and rubbed her stomach. "I love Tach, but that man’s never been early to anything in his life."

"And the child knows this?" Seven asked suspiciously.

"Great Goddess, I hope so." Nara laughed again. Seven liked the sound of the tiny woman’s rich laugh. "What is that?" Nara asked, pointing to the pot.

"B’Elanna calls the animal a cow, but I assure you, that is a deceptive designation." Seven tossed in some wild mushrooms.

"Well, if they’re cows, Tach will get the best from them."

"We do not…farm them. They are wild and we take them as we need them," Seven said a bit sadly.

"You don’t much like killing them, do you?" Nara moved closer and examined the various vegetables on the counter, tossing in a few that interested her.

"No," Seven said quietly. "I have seen enough death."

"I hope you never change that way of thinking. Death should never be welcomed. We take a life when we need it. The Goddess doesn’t like waste. Take what you need and leave the rest." Nara smiled up at Seven. "And soon, we’ll be having new life."

Seven nodded, liking the idea of new life, but uncertain about who the goddess in question was. "I have never seen a lifeform from its initial emergence."

"Well, you will," Nara said as she looked around the kitchen, stopping when she saw the power converter. "What’s that? I didn’t think there was any electricity on the planet."

"It is a solar converter. I require it to augment my…implants." Seven glanced out toward the other room, suddenly nervous.

"I noticed your…prosthetics. I didn’t realize your injuries required special treatment. Where you injured in an accident?" Nara asked.

"I was Borg," Seven said quietly.

"Borg? What is that? I don’t understand?" Nara moved closer, staring at the implant over Seven’s eye.

"Be glad you do not. If you did, we would most likely not be meeting now." Seven stepped away and turned to leave. "The stew needs to simmer for a while before it is tender. Help yourself to anything you want." Seven went back out to the fire and sat next to B’Elanna.

"You’re soaked," B’Elanna whispered as she wrapped a fur around her wife and then crawled around her and began taking off her shoes. Seven said nothing, just watching as B’Elanna removed her shoes and rubbed her feet to warm them. The compact Klingon then moved around behind Seven and rubbed her shoulders. Seven relaxed into the touch and leaned back against her.

"You been married long?" Tach asked, smiling at the two women.

"Almost five months," B’Elanna said as she leaned down and kissed Seven’s temple from behind.

"Four months twenty eight days," Seven corrected. "Our anniversary is in two days."

"Then I guess we’ll be having a party," he said. He noticed Seven’s eyes widen. "Or perhaps the two of you can celebrate alone. I remember being newly joined."

"It’s not that," B’Elanna said, though she knew that was a big part of it. "We’ve been alone for a while, and we may need some time to adjust to having…company."

"Good enough," he said.

Nara came in and sat on one of the seats at the small table. She leaned back and let her head fall over the headrest and released a long sigh.

"Are you having the child?" Seven asked, sitting up.

"No," Nara said without moving. "Just nice to be off my feet."

B’Elanna pulled Seven back to her and giggled. "It’s not just gonna’ come shooting out without warning."

Seven turned her head and kissed B’Elanna’s cheek. "Are you certain?"

"Well, yeah," B’Elanna said. "Well, pretty sure." She looked over at Tach. "That thing isn’t gonna’ come flying out of there is it?"

"Goddess, I hope not," he said calmly.

"Tach," Nara said, her eyes still closed. "I think you need to go out hunting tomorrow and help bring in some meat. You need to pull your weight."

"Our weight," he corrected then looked over at B’Elanna. "You mind showing me around in the morning?"

"Not at all. I was going out myself." B’Elanna felt Seven squeeze her arms and she pulled the blonde closer. She enjoyed the closeness, then remember something else. "There are a few rules, though," B’Elanna added.

"It’s your valley," he said carefully. "What is it?"

B’Elanna rubbed Seven’s arm as she spoke, the feisty Klingon not even aware she was doing it. "Well, we use whatever we kill, all the meat, and the hide. And we don’t take the best animals of the herd, leave those for breeding," she explained.

"You sure you’re not a farmer?" he asked. "Those are good rules. It’ll keep the herd strong."

"Oh," B’Elanna said. "One other thing. There’s a honey red calf, you leave that one alone."

"Breeder?" he asked.

"No," B’Elanna said as she kissed Seven’s hair. "That one is my wife’s pet. You don’t want to hurt that one, as a matter of fact, maybe you shouldn’t take any of the honey red ones. I don’t."

Seven blushed, touched by her lover’s words. She had known that B’Elanna would never kill the calf she had named after Naomi Wildman, but she hadn’t been aware that the protection extended to all the reddish blonde cattle.

"I didn’t know," Seven said, turning to B’Elanna.

"Well, I didn’t think you’d want to look at a hide the same color as your little Naomi Wildcow." Torres began blushing too. She wasn’t used to having witnesses to her soft side.

Seven didn’t seem phased by the newcomers. "I love you, Be’nal."

"Me too, my wife," B’Elanna said quietly.

"Naomi Wildcow?" Tach asked with grin that proved he had his own soft spot.

"I have a friend, a child. She was my family on board our ship," Seven explained. "Her name is Naomi Wildman. The calf looks like her. Well, it resembles her…slightly."

Nara sat up. "Tach, you best not be bringing home any ‘honey red’ hides or I’ll string you up myself."

"Yes, dear," he said. He looked over at B’Elanna. "Will you show me exactly what a ‘honey red’ cow is?"

B’Elanna nodded and rested her chin on Seven’s shoulder. It occurred to her that her life on this prison planet seemed more full and rewarding than being Chief Engineer ever had, although if they ever got back to Voyager, she knew her life would be just as full. It wasn’t the planet, or mountain air, or even the new friendly couple. Her life was full because of the woman she held in her arms, and nothing would ever change that.

Captain Janeway was tired of waiting. The Overseer had promised her that the all-powerful "Magistrate" would arrive soon but it wasn’t fast enough for Janeway. The Magistrate was due in three days, but Kathryn decided she would have her crewmembers long before that.

"Tuvok, you’re with me," Janeway said as she came out of her ready room. "Chakotay, you have the bridge. I’m going over there and I’m not coming back until I have news about B’Elanna and Seven." She didn’t wait for a response and Tuvok had to rush to make it to the turbolift with her.

Chakotay nodded. He had already argued with the fiery redheaded captain, trying to convince her to just wait until the Magistrate arrived, but she didn’t agree. He looked down at Tom Paris who was obviously concerned as well and the two men sighed in unison.

Janeway and Tuvok waited at the airlock for their escort. They had been traveling the corridors everyday to appeal to the Overseer to allow a visit, but so far she had not agreed. Janeway had seen several groups of prisoners being led to battlecruisers that always disappeared into the nebula. She had decided to take Voyager into the nebula and retrieve her lost crewmembers if she didn’t get satisfaction soon.

"Captain Janeway," the tall guard said as he opened the air lock. "I will take you to the Overseer’s office."

"Malok, isn’t it?" she asked.

"Yes," he said, shifting his weight.

"I keep seeing prisoners leaving, but none arriving. Why is that?" Janeway walked alongside the giant of a man while Tuvok seemed almost bored as he followed behind her. Tuvok’s expression was impassive, but behind his dark eyes he was noticing every detail of the space station, from the leaking pipe near the airlock to the fact that Malok’s boots needed a shine.

Malok glanced around before speaking. "The prisoners arrive at a different docking ring, near the medical facility."

"Why would they need a medical facility? Doesn’t the prison have doctors on staff?" she asked. She was well aware that a guard should not be sharing any tactical information, and that this man was probably risking his job or worse. She waited for his answer, figuring that if he was going to answer, he would do so when he felt safe.

They walked awhile longer then Malok paused and looked at a small atrium that most likely helped process the station’s air supply. Janeway stood next to him, waiting.

"Jusari Prime is not exactly a prison," he said quietly.

Janeway nodded, keeping her face calm.

"Prisoners are released in two main cities and must fend for themselves," he said.

"And the medical facilities?" she asked.

"There are none on the planet. After retrieval, prisoners are checked for any illness and their genetic markers and universal translators are removed. We use the markers to track and retrieve the prisoners." Malok turned away and watched as another guard approached and passed by. Janeway said nothing.

"The doctors are very conscientious," Malok said. "They also handle placing the children."

"Children?" Janeway asked, truly confused.

Malok turned and faced her. "It is my people’s greatest shame, Captain. The violent criminals are given life sentences, and they become…predatory. Many of the women return with children. We place the ones the mothers do not wish to raise and terminate any unwanted conceptions."

All the color drained from Janeway’s face and she actually felt lightheaded. "You send women down there to be preyed upon?" she asked, her voice cracking.

He looked down, unable to meet her eyes. "There are not many women sent to Jusari Prime. Our own citizens are not sent there except for heinous crimes, and there are not many female travelers in our space."

Janeway glared at Malok, her eyes completely grey. "So you won’t put your own people in harms way, but you send others into hell?"

"As I said, my people are ashamed. The Magistrate began this new system seventy five years ago. It has cut down on crime and it is cost effective," he said quietly.

"Cost effective?" Janeway demanded in a harsh whisper to avoid being overheard. "I want my people out of there, now. What kind of monsters allow this to go on?"

"Most citizens know nothing of the actual horrors of Jusari Prime." His expression was pained. "Those who work here are born to it. We have no choice. If I were to leave, I would be captured and sent to Jusari Prime for life."

"How do I get my people out of there?"

"I cannot help you," he said. "I do what I can to help the prisoners."

"How? By apologizing for dooming them?" Janeway said. Her voice was more snarl than speech.

"I look the other way, leave a restraint a little too loose, accidentally send the nonviolent offenders off course away from the city," he explained.

"What about my people?" Janeway looked down the corridor at a small group that was approaching. Four guards were dragging two men in shackles.

Malok began walking with Tuvok and Janeway flanking him on either side. "Your people seemed resourceful," he said. "The golden haired one complained of an arm injury and asked me to loosen her restraint, but I do not think she was injured. I… agreed to loosen the restraint." With that he was silent, and walked quickly to the Overseer’s office.

Janeway was beyond angry. She was horrified at what her away team might be going through and furious with herself for not demanding their release sooner. She only hoped B’Elanna and Seven had been able to hold there own so far. "A few days… they’re both strong. They can keep themselves safe for a few days," she told herself, but inside she wasn’t convinced.

Once they reached the office Malok leaned closer to Janeway. "There is more," he whispered. "But to reveal it means certain death. Find out about the planet, study it."

Janeway moved closer. "What am I looking for?" she asked, wondering what other horrors could be worse than what he had already revealed.

"Hurry," he said and then marched back down the corridor leaving Janeway at the Overseer’s office under the supervision of the two guards at the door.


Chapter Eleven: Answered Prayers

Nara stood in the doorway of the kitchen and cleared her throat. B’Elanna jerked her head around, startled. She had been sitting at the table removing the hulls from some small nuts while Seven stood in the corner regenerating near the cooking hearth.

"Need something?" B’Elanna asked quietly.

"Can she hear us?" Nara asked as she studied Seven.

"She’s aware of my presence, I don’t know about you." B’Elanna stood and moved over to the door, blocking Nara’s view. "Look, I’m not real comfortable with anyone hanging around looking at her while she’s regenerating…"

"I didn’t mean to intrude," Nara said sincerely. "I was just concerned. Is she all right?"

"She’s fine," B’Elanna said quietly. "I didn’t mean to bite your head off, it’s just that, well…"

"You worry about her," Nara said with a smile. "As it should be. I’ll tell Tach to stay out of the kitchen whenever she’s…uh… regenerating. How long does it take?"

"About two hours, sometimes more if I don’t keep after her to eat right." B’Elanna walked into the main room with Nara, but continually looked over her shoulder. She wasn’t used to having Seven out of her sight when she was so unprotected.

Nara shook her head and smiled. "Go back to her. I’ll just be looking over the skins you’ve gathered so I can start showing Seven how to make those shirts fit a little better."

"Thank you," B’Elanna said. She went back the kitchen and continued cracking open the nuts. It was a time consuming task made more difficult by the fact that the Klingon constantly caught herself staring at her wife and wondering what she did to deserve the beautiful woman.

Tach closed the door to the smoking shed and washed his hands in a nearby bucket. He turned when he heard footsteps.

"B’Elanna," he said. "I finished hanging that meat. Those cattle of yours are a little bigger than I’m used to." He smiled shook the water from his hands.

"You’re done?" B’Elanna asked. "It usually takes me until evening to prepare it for drying."

"You took that animal down like a first class hunter, but thirty five years of experience butchering cattle gives me an advantage in there." He pointed to the spears on the ground. "Those’ll work, obviously, but I think I can rig up a crossbow if you’re interested."

"I like the way you think." Her smile widened.

"I took the liberty of having a good look at the storage area this morning. Might be nice to set up a cold room, maybe somewhere we could hang a few sides of meat." He fidgeted with a stick from the ground. "Don’t mean to be presumptuous."

"Not at all," B’Elanna assured him. "We thought of that too, but we haven’t found anyway to rig it."

"Well, if we built an insulated building a little bigger than the smoke shed, couldn’t we use some of the coolant from the shuttle and some tubing? Don’t all thrusters need coolant?" he asked.

"For a farmer, that’s pretty good thinking. Unfortunately, we checked into that, and there isn’t enough coolant or tubing to rig it." B’Elanna sighed, thinking how nice it would be to have fresh steaks instead of just jerky and rabbit.

"Even with our shuttle?" he asked.

B’Elanna stopped in her tracks, her mind calculating tubing and coolant requirements per square foot of the area to be refrigerated. She was in full engineer mode and it felt good.

"I’m gonna’ enjoy having you around, Tach." She pulled him to a stop and looked into his pale brown eyes. He might look like a Neanderthal, but he was a godsend. "Ya’ know, right before you two got here, Seven and I were asking for a tailor and plumber. Looks like he sent me an engineer too."

"Asking who?"

"Kahless." Torres laughed. "I don’t believe much in prayer, but it seems like he heard me."

"Have you paid tribute?" he asked.

"Uh, no."

"Well, you must. Won’t you incur this Kahless’ wrath?" Tach seemed extremely concerned, looking around as if Kahless would jump out of a tree and strike them both dead on the spot. "What is the expected offering for such a gift?"

"Um, well, I was joking about going to the sweat caves for a day… we were just kidding." Now Torres looked around, expecting to her wife jump out of a tree and strike her dead for getting trapped in the current conversation. "Besides, we don’t have sweat caves here," she tried.

"A sweat house is easy enough to prepare," Tach said waving one hand in the air. "We should wait until Nara has brought the child into being. We will need her help."

"Um, Tach…If I were to do a sweat, I hardly think I’d need your wife’s help. No offense." She looked around for her own wife thinking the fates would probably drop the exdrone on her any minute.

"No offense taken." He studied B’Elanna. "Have you ever entered a ritual sweat?"

"Well, not exactly."

"And it is part of your spiritual quest?" he asked.

"Well, I’m only half Klingon. But I have had experiences," she said, thinking of her unpleasant visit to the Barge of the Dead.

He smiled. "We will help you through it. I sense you are a woman of honor, B’Elanna. If you promised your Kahless a sweat, you must give it." He walked away, obviously considering the subject settled.

"Thanks," she said. She walked toward the cabin, thinking about her words before the shuttle arrived. Each step closer to the Homestead made her realize how much Tach and Nara’s arrival had been exactly what she had requested, and she was Klingon after all. Besides, how difficult could a day of sweating be? She sweated everyday. It might even be kind of fun.

The next month passed quickly, with everyone keeping busy. Nara taught Seven and B’Elanna faster ways to tan the hides and helped collect herbs, berries and nuts. Their days were busy, despite the fact that they had four people working. The first thing they did was build the cold storage house for the meat, then they moved on to expanding the cabin, which Seven was especially grateful for. The two weeks it had taken to add a separate bedroom had been the longest of her life. She had become quite short tempered in the close quarters, not appreciating the fact that she and B’Elanna had to limit their lovemaking. She enjoyed making love with her beloved Klingon at least once a day, and preferred the spontaneity of grabbing B’Elanna whenever the mood stuck her, often spending the afternoon in bed. She was not amused by the concept of planning lovemaking around times when they had the cabin alone, not amused at all.

The first night after the new bedroom had been completed she and B’Elanna moved into it, the group deciding that the "Newly Joined" should have the more spacious addition and the privacy it afforded. The first day after it had been completed, Seven and B’Elanna never left their bed.

Once Seven felt properly reintroduced to her wife, the group began B’Elanna’s dream project. They added a bathtub with running hot and cold water as well as putting in a real toilet with leech fields. The Klingon decided she was in heaven. Indoor plumbing and a hot bath seemed almost decadent, add to that a private room with six feet of hot-blooded blonde, and life couldn’t get any better. Now they just had to wait for Nara’s baby, and then settle the minor matter of the sweat she owed Kahless.

Seven was sitting in front of the fire making a jacket for B’Elanna. She and Nara had carefully prepared the calfskin so that it was as smooth as a newborn’s bottom, or so Nara explained. Seven would wait until she actually felt the child in question’s bottom before deciding. She had used a rich brown dye made from tree bark on the leather. She thought it would complement B’Elanna’s eyes and looked forward to giving it to her.

"Seven?" Nara said from the small table.

"Yes?" Seven looked up from the leather covering her lap as she sat in front of the fire.

"How long before Tach and B’Elanna get back?" she asked, knowing that Seven had an incredible ability to keep track of time and estimate when any given task would be completed.

Seven raised an eyebrow. "They were going out to the herd at the end of the lake. If they were successful with their hunt, they should be back in under two hours," she explained and then went back to her project.

"Um, Seven?"

"Yes?" Seven asked, looking up again.

"It’s time," Nara said.

"Time?" Seven stared at Nara, then the realization sank in. Her pale features lost what little color there was and then she stood and tossed the jacket onto the floor. "You must wait until Tach returns," Seven decreed.

"It doesn’t work that way," Nara said with a faint smile.

"I do not care how it works," Seven said as she moved to the table. "You will wait for Tach."

Nara laughed and shook her head. She had grown very fond of Seven and B’Elanna and was still amazed that Seven’s brilliant mind often had no understanding of day to day reality.

"I see no humor in this situation," Seven said, her voice rising as she paced around Nara. She stopped and cautiously looked under the table as if the child would come crawling out at her.

"Oh, Seven, believe me, this is funny." Nara stood, using the table to lever herself out of the chair.

"What are you doing?" Seven yelled and jumped back. She looked from Nara’s belly to the rug, edging closer and then pulling back, not sure if the child would flop onto the cabin floor.

"I’m having contractions," Nara explained calmly. "I’m going to walk around a little so my back doesn’t hurt so bad. Then I’m going to go over to the bed and get the supplies together."

"No," Seven ordered. "You should not be doing any of that. I will prepare the bed, and you should not be walking," With that, Seven picked up Nara and carried her toward the bed.

"I’m in labor, not crippled," Nara said.

Seven stopped and stared at the bed, then at Nara. "What do I need to do?"

"Let me see?" Nara said. "For starters…you can put me down."

Seven settled Nara on the bed and glared at her. "You are enjoying my discomfort," she accused.

"Yes, I am." Nara shifted until she was more comfortable. "Now get me a stack of towels, some clean, hot water and some jerky."

"What are you going to do with the jerky?" Seven asked, horrified.

"Eat it," Nara said and then burst into laughter. "Seven, how can someone as smart as you are know so little about birth?"

"As a Borg I had no experience with this process, and I do not remember my own birth," she said, somewhat offended. She hurried to the storeroom and came back with the jerky and towels.

"Thanks." Nara took the jerky and began chewing it while she put the towels on the bed under her and then started removing her pants.

Seven went to the door and looked outside for any sign of B’Elanna or Tach but saw none. She went back to the bed and stood with her hands linked behind her back.

"You must delay this child’s arrival. I have insufficient experience to assist you," Seven said.

"It probably won’t get here for a few hours anyway," Nara said calmly. "If it does, just do what I tell you."

"Very well." Seven nodded, somewhat more relaxed. "How many children have you delivered?"

"Well, none," Nara said.

"No," Seven said. "You will not have this child until they return. I forbid it."

"Seven, children don’t listen even after they’re born. They certainly don’t listen while they’re inside." Nara shook her head and looked to the door. She was trying to remain calm, but the idea of Seven as a midwife did not appeal to her. "Maybe you should go get them," Nara said.

"I do not believe that is the prudent course of action," Seven said, although the idea of leaving the cabin certainly appealed to her. She had complained about the foot of snow outside, but now she would be quite willing to go outside even if the snow increased to ten feet.

Nara looked at Seven and then the door while Seven studied the floor. They both knew Seven was in over her head. A sound outside caused both of them to turn toward the door. Seven sprinted outside without grabbing a coat or shoes. She saw Tach and B’Elanna lifting a side of beef into the cold storage.

"B’Elanna," Seven yelled, running toward her spouse.

Tach and the Klingon looked up, both covered in sweat.

"What it is?" B’Elanna asked as she moved toward her wife.

"Your child is coming," Seven said to Tach angrily.

Tach smiled and ran toward the cabin. His thick brow ridge crinkled as his smile widened with each step. B’Elanna began moving toward the cabin as well, but stopped when she reached Seven.

"Hey, is everything all right?" she asked noticing how pale Seven was and the look of terror in her eyes.

"No. No, it is not. You left me here and… and…"

She saw Seven shiver, and took off her thick cloak and wrapped it around her as she led her toward the cabin. "Good thing we came across this bull on this side of the meadow." She knew Tach was the only one experienced at assisting births, although his experience was limited to cattle. "Is Nara okay?" B’Elanna asked.

"She is fine. She finds the experience humorous." Seven stopped and looked at B’Elanna and then pulled her into a hug.

B’Elanna held her for a moment and then eased away. "Let’s go inside where it’s warm."

Seven nodded and kept her arm around B’Elanna the entire time. Once inside, they went to the bed to check on Nara.

"Her water broke," Tach said calmly. "Could still be a while, though. The contractions are still a ways apart."

"That is disgusting," Seven said after looking at the bed and seeing the water in question and then headed for the other room.

Two hours later B’Elanna was able to convince Seven to come back into the room. It was just in time for her to see the baby born. Suddenly, she didn’t find the experience quite as disgusting. She watched as Nara and Tach held their son, a child their love created, and she felt an unfamiliar ache inside.

B’Elanna seemed to feel her lover’s pain and took her hand. "You okay?" she asked.

"I did not realize," Seven whispered as she watched the tiny child struggling to hold Tach’s finger in his fist.

"Realize what?" B’Elanna ran the back of her fingers down Seven’s cheek. The taller woman smiled into the touch and lowered her face down to her partner’s.

"He is already a person," Seven said as she pressed her forehead against B’Elanna’s. "A person who is loved just for being… for existing."

"That’s the way it’s supposed to be." B’Elanna kissed Seven’s nose. "Come on, let’s give them some time alone." She led Seven back to the main room and they sat in front of the crackling fire and held each other, unknowingly thinking the same thoughts. Each woman was wondering what a child of theirs would look like and hoping that the other would someday want to have children, but each still too unsettled by the new feelings to voice them.


Chapter Twelve: Revelations

"I want my people off that planet now," Captain Janeway demanded as she stalked into the Overseer’s office and grabbed the data padd from the tall woman’s hand.

"I have already informed you…" the Overseer began.

"I don’t care," Janeway said, her voice dangerous and deep. "You led me to believe they were in a prison, not thrown into a free for all where they would be stalked like animals."

"Someone on my staff has been a bit too generous with information," she said as she came around her desk and took the data padd back from the smaller woman.

"Thank you for not insulting my intelligence by denying it. I want my people and I want them now." Janeway looked up at the imposing woman and locked her in her gaze, daring the Overseer to argue.

"I wish I could help you, Captain, but it is not within my power," the Overseer said quietly.

"Not good enough," Janeway said menacingly. "Give me the coordinates and I’ll get them myself."

"I’m afraid it will take you seventeen years to get there at maximum warp." The Overseer moved the comm panel on the wall. "Unless you have access to your own wormhole."

"What are you talking about?" Janeway moved closer to her, inside the taller woman’s comfort zone, causing her lean away from the small but imposing captain.

"The Nebula is artificial, as is the wormhole it conceals. Without the wormhole, there is no way for you to reach Jusari Prime."

"Then I’ll use your wormhole," Janeway said. Her mind was reeling at the possibilities an artificial wormhole represented, but until she had her missing crewmembers, that would have to wait.

"That will not happen." The Overseer shook her head slowly and laced her fingers together under her chin.

"Oh?" Janeway challenged.

"Your ship is not able to access the wormhole or handle the gravimetric stress once inside." She sighed and studied the captain and then stared at the comm panel. "Even if your ship could handle the increased stress, the wormhole cannot be opened on a whim."

"A Whim?" Janeway put her hand across the comm panel and leaned against the wall. "I don’t call rescuing my people a whim."

"A poor choice of words," she replied. "What I meant, captain, was that the wormhole opens when it opens. We know the gateway schedule, but you do not. And before you think about using the previous battlecrusier flights into the nebula to decipher the timetable, you should know that it changes each day. We have no control over it, but after years of study we do know its complex cycle."

"Sounds like you’ve covered every angle." Janeway turned and rested her back against the comm panel. "The problem is, you’ve lied to me so many times, I don’t believe you."

"Your beliefs are immaterial," the Overseer said. She looked into Janeway’s eyes and for the first time, allowed her remorse to show. "It is too late," she whispered.

"What does that mean?" Janeway asked. She felt fear grip her, squeezing her heart, pushing her down into a place so dark she wasn’t sure she could ever climb back out. Her mind supplied the worst case scenario, that they were both already dead.

"The Magistrate will be here before we can dispatch a retrieval ship. You must speak with him, and he does not share my attitudes about this issue," she explained.

"Are they alive?"

"As far as I know," the Overseer said.

"I want to know everything about this planet that you do," Janeway demanded.

The Overseer said nothing for a moment as she considered the request. She nodded and went to the comm panel. "I can show you an image of the planet, but it will not show you much beyond the climate and continental configuration."

"It’s a start," Janeway moved closer to the panel and waited while the other woman pulled up the data. The image filled the screen; Janeway stiffened and her jaw clenched as she recognized the unusual make up of the planet. "What is the temporal differential?" Janeway asked, her voice at its most deadly register.

"I, you… how did you know?" The Overseer stepped away from the captain, surprised by Janeway’s recognition of a planetary mutation she hadn’t know existed anywhere else and more than a little intimidated by the chilling quality of the small woman’s voice.

Janeway turned and grabbed the taller woman by the jacket and shoved her against the wall, surprising the Overseer with her strength. "What is the temporal differential?"

"Time moves 180 times faster on Jusari Prime than in the rest of the Universe." The Overseer’s voice cracked. "By the time we can recover your people, their sentence will be complete. Each day here is more than a half year for them."

Janeway pushed away from the taller woman, her hands shaking. Every instinct told her to choke the life out of the woman in front of her, but she was a Starfleet Captain, and she would not give in to the primal desire. She walked to the door and took several deep breaths before turning.

"I want to talk to someone who has been there," Janeway stated.

"That isn’t… I…I will arrange it. There is a group docking in two hours. You may observe their arrival, but I cannot allow you to speak with them." The Overseer saw the determined look on Janeway’s face. "It is the best I can do. The Magistrate will be displeased that I have even offered to let you witness their arrival."

"Displeased? I don’t think you have any idea of how displeased I am, and you don’t want to see what that is going to mean to you." The captain’s eyes narrowed, they were cold, showing no hint of the compassion Janeway was known for.

"You may witness the arrival… and no more," the Overseer said. She reached down and signaled for the guard and the door opened. The guard immediately stepped inside.

"Overseer?" he asked.

"See the captain to her ship, and then escort her and her party to the observation room for the next arrival."

"Ma’am?" he asked, obviously confused.

"You have my orders," the Overseer said and turned her back to the captain.

"Yes, Overseer," he said.

Janeway followed without a word. She was too busy picturing Seven and B’Elanna and wondering how they could survive on the planet. She walked back to Voyager, her thoughts traveling back to Seven. She was still so new to humanity and Kathryn wondered what emotional scars the beautiful young woman would return with. She had only been on Voyager for three years, but she had made so much progress. Now, trapped for almost as long on a planet full of inmates without any humanity, all of that had probably been erased. She hoped B’Elanna could look beyond her dislike of the tall blonde and keep her safe, although, even as that thought crossed her mind she felt guilty. Of course B’Elanna would do everything she could to keep Seven out of harm’s way. The Klingon was an honorable woman with fierce loyalties to her crew. She would give her life to save any of Voyager’s crew. A shiver ran through the captain’s spine as she realized that the situation could very easily call for that. "Keep each other safe," Kathryn thought as she reached the docking clamp to her ship. "And for god’s sake don’t kill each other."

She entered the familiar corridors of her ship and headed for the bridge so that she could call the senior staff together. On her way, she passed the holodeck and briefly thought of Michael Sullivan. The weight of the past hit her like a phaser blast. She couldn’t love him…it. It wasn’t real; she couldn’t go to him and share her anguish because he could no more understand the dilemma than he could walk off of the holodeck. Worse, she realized as she continued toward the turbolift, there was someone she desperately needed to talk to, needed to touch, if only for an instant to get the grounding sense of peace their connection always offered. That someone was on Jusari Prime.

"I’m in love with her," Kathryn thought, the words shocking her, causing her to stop and lean against the wall for support. "It’s always been her." She pictured Seven standing in Astrometrics, smirking when she had just pointed out some error the rest of the crew had missed. She remembered the day on the shuttle when Seven had been convinced a conspiracy would be her undoing. She remembered in exacting detail how she had asked the former Borg to trust her, and how relief had washed through her when the forcefield came down. She remembered kneeling down beside Seven, so close that she could see the tiny crinkles around Seven’s eyes that were evidence of her fear, but something else had been revealed as well. Seven eyes were a deep blue, so deep they begged to be drowned in, blue and pleading. Those eyes that so many saw as cold chips of ice were full of life and hope and love. "She loves me," some part of Kathryn’s mind had whispered as she had knelt at Seven’s feet like a lover proposing marriage. That was the moment, the moment that sent her running to the holodeck like a coward to find someone, something, to hide behind. Her love for Seven had peeked out on the shuttle, and Kathryn had run screaming for the nearest exit.

"You have to be all right, Seven," Kathryn whispered in the empty corridor. "Come back to me and I swear I won’t let my fear stand in our way." She entered the turbolift replaying her last conversations with Seven and realized how much she had hurt the woman she loved. Seven had struck out at the Michael Sullivan character, and Kathryn had missed the jealousy it exposed. "Come home to me," she whispered before ordering the lift to the bridge.

Snow fell lightly each day on Jusari Prime and the weeks passed quickly. The adults in the Homestead adjusted to the routine established by its newest member. The tiny child had a name bigger than he was. Tyralanar had been Nara’s favorite uncle, and she proudly gave her son his name, but it was quickly shortened to Ty. She would reserve the use of his full name for when he was older and in trouble, much like humans who only used a child’s first and middle name when serious discipline was about to ensue.

Tach seemed content to stay at the cabin with his new son, which was fine with B’Elanna and Seven. They would go out each morning to hunt, relishing the time alone in the beautiful snow covered setting, although Seven let B’Elanna do the actual killing. When Tach and B’Elanna had gone out at the break of dawn, they quickly found a few rabbits to bring down and returned in a few hours. With Seven along there seemed to be no reason to hurry. The two women took their time, often pausing under the cover of a tree to just hold each other and enjoy their surroundings. They would eventually find a rabbit or small deer, and sometimes they would watch the animals going about the forest. B’Elanna learned quickly to kill and dress out their meal before ‘nature watching’ because once they had seen a rabbit hopping around in the snow or wrinkling its nose, Seven invariably found some reason to spare the animal. Of course it was always a logical, unemotional reason; it was too thin, or too small, or it had too much fat, or it looked tough. B’Elanna would frown and grimly agree that yes, it was a miserable looking animal and they would find another.

The day came to repay Kahless, and B’Elanna was both excited and nervous. Tach had prepared the sweathouse in only a few hours, creating a domed frame and covering it with heavy hides. He built a huge fire at the front and placed carefully chosen stones to heat while he waited for B’Elanna to arrive.

"It is ready," Nara said as she stomped the snow off of her boots. She was standing in the doorway with a smile B’Elanna couldn’t quite identify.

"Okay," B’Elanna said as she wrapped herself in a thick cloak. "I’m almost ready."

"We are almost ready," Seven corrected as she stood up from the chair next to the hearth. She cradled Ty in her arms, his face nuzzling her breast as if he expected her to provide a warm meal like his mother always did.

"Wait a minute." B’Elanna turned and shook her head. "I made this promise and I will pay the debt. You are not going through this."

"Indeed?" Seven asked as she walked past the flustered Klingon and handed Ty to his mother. Nara smirked and went to her bedroom to change Ty’s clothes.

"Seven, you have no idea what this involves. It’s very demanding." B’Elanna stood with her hands on her hips watching helplessly as Seven gathered a thick fur cloak around her willowy frame.

"Are you implying that I am unable to handle its demands?" Seven leaned over a stack of diapers and grabbed her boots.

"Well, no…I…" B’Elanna growled and threw her hands into the air. She was screwed and she knew it. If she agreed that her wife couldn’t handle the ordeal the stubborn blonde would do it just to prove her wrong, and if she conceded that Seven could handle it, well, Seven would climb into the sweathouse with her.

"Yes?" Seven asked with a knowing smile.

"Fine, but don’t come crying to me when it gets too hot," B’Elanna grumbled.

"Borg do not cry," Seven said as she pulled B’Elanna into a gentle kiss.

"Yeah, well…what was I saying?" B’Elanna leaned against Seven and pulled her face down for another kiss.

Nara cleared her throat, but the two women didn’t break their kiss. She cleared it again, more loudly, and rolled her eyes as the two deepened the kiss. "Let’s go," the tiny woman finally ordered.

Seven looked at the sweathouse and thought it was the most incorrect designation anyone could have come up with. It was a fur hut in the snow, and she couldn’t imagine anyone sweating with the foot and half of snow that covered the surrounding area. To call the structure a house was indeed generous. She knew that even B’Elanna couldn’t stand up in it, and doubted she and her spouse would be able to fit inside at the same time.

"You can still back out," B’Elanna said smugly as if reading Seven’s mind.

"I will…adapt." Seven looked over at Tach who had settled by the fire with his back to the sweathouse. He had Ty on his lap and was telling the infant some long involved tale.

"Okay," Nara said crisply. "Take off those clothes."

Seven’s eyes widened. "I am already cold. How am I supposed to sweat if I remove my clothing?"

"Strip, Borg," B’Elanna said as she began tossing her clothes into a pile next to the small dwelling.

Seven glanced back at Tach, and once she was convinced that he was not looking at her wife, she smiled. "We are both going to be nude?" she asked. She watched as B’Elanna’s nipples hardened instantly when the frigid air hit them. Suddenly she liked this idea very much. Obviously she and B’Elanna would go inside the cramped building and create their own heat. Seven ripped her clothing off and stood naked in front of Nara awaiting the next command.

"That was fast." Nara was a bit surprised by how quickly the tall woman had disrobed and more than a little distracted by her perfect body. She might be married, but she was not immune to Seven’s considerable assets.

"Inside, my little exhibitionist," B’Elanna said. She shivered and rubbed her arms, moving from foot to foot on the cold ground.

"Little?" Seven asked as she bent down to crawl into the sweathouse. B’Elanna didn’t answer, distracted by the tantalizing view of Seven’s backside as she wiggled through the small opening.

It was hot, hot and impossibly dry inside the sweathouse. Seven felt like someone had pushed her into a plasma manifold, or perhaps under it, because the heat was oppressive, making her feel like it was forcing her to the ground. She felt B’Elanna’s hand on her hip, and what should have been a pleasant, arousing caress became a distant, dull reminder to keep moving. Once inside, the former Borg drone wondered what she had gotten herself into.

"Kahless, it’s like gre'thor in here," B’Elanna said. It seemed odd that a payment to Kahless would be so much like a visit to the Klingon equivalent of hell.

Seven nodded, and pressed her body onto the heat-baked soil hoping to find cooler air at the lowest point in the tiny structure. Her body was already covered in sweat and she realized that Tach was indeed an expert builder of sweathouses. She sucked in air trying cool her body but the air was like an oven and seemed to only heat her from within. This was not what she had expected.

B’Elanna settled onto her back on the ground beside Seven and looked over at her. Seven’s blonde hair was soaked in sweat and sticking to her face. B’Elanna enjoyed the silky strands and was happy that Seven was letting it grow out. She reached over and wiped it off of her closed eyes. "I like the longer hair," she whispered.

Seven opened one eye, and did not look amused. "Right now, I miss my Borg hair style."

"Not on your life," B’Elanna said quietly. "I love your hair and I can’t wait ‘til you can braid it down one side."

Nara crawled into the tiny space and handed each woman a container of water that they eagerly drank down. "Easy," she said. "Not too fast." Nara’s thick brow was cover in sweat, but she seemed unaffected. She took another container of water and poured it over the rocks filling the room with steam. Seven instantly missed the annoying, dry heat. The steam seemed to add to her misery. Nara noticed her discomfort and poured some water onto Seven’s back. It felt amazing. B’Elanna raised her eyebrows in silent request and Nara poured the water over her chest then ducked out of the room and left them alone.

"How long must we stay in here?" Seven asked without opening her eyes.

"Until we a have a vision or turn into jerky."

Seven kept her eyes closed and tried to relax despite the weight of the heat on her body. She took small breaths, trying to avoid too much over heated air entering her lungs at once and fought to relax. She had tried meditating with Tuvok on board Voyager but found it inefficient. Now, she had no where else to be, so she focused on the sound of her beloved B’Elanna beside her and the sound of her own heart pounding in her ears. She reached over and gripped B’Elanna’s smaller, darker hand, smiling when she felt a reassuring squeeze.

B’Elanna felt Seven take her hand and her body relaxed, but then Seven always had that effect on her. She shifted on the ground and took slow breaths and waited for her Klingon side to do something. She hoped it would show up soon, but she also hoped it wouldn’t send her running outside naked in full blood lust looking for an enemy to slay.

"Ahem." Nara cleared her throat and put her hand on her husband’s back. Tach had his forehead gently pressed against Ty’s tiny belly and was growling, not the most dignified thing for a sacred firekeeper to be caught doing.

"How are they?" he asked, smiling down at Ty who whimpered when his playmate pulled away.

"They will be fine," Nara said and sat next to Tach. She reached over and pulled Ty’s covers around his neck against the cold.

"They argue as much as we do," he said with a wry grin.

"Yes, and B’Elanna loses every time… just like you."

"Not true," he said. "Seven lets B’Elanna win sometimes…unlike you."

Nara smiled and snuggled closer thinking about their two friends. It was true of course, B’Elanna won some of the daily conflicts, but more often than not, Seven would cheat. She would look at B’Elanna with her big sky blue eyes, tilt her head to one side, flash a meek smile, and the Klingon would give up. Although, whenever they discussed something serious, they seemed able to come to the best resolution, no matter who was the winner of the argument. Nara thought she might just take that into mind the next time Tach seemed to have a valid point.

Seven felt like her body was shrinking and she thought she was suffocating. She was still stretched out on the ground with her face pressed to the dried mud, but now she was using her Borg hand to dig a tiny hole next to her face in hopes of finding cooler air to breathe. She felt as if she were floating, and the only sound was her heart, or was it a drum? She had a vague memory of a Klingon myth about the drum of Kahless, how warriors with true hearts could hear its beat, and if they were worthy, their hearts would pound in time with it. But that was a myth, and she didn’t believe in myths.

B’Elanna remained on her back, the earth was a grounding presence until she felt it begin to sway from side to side. She opened her eyes and realized that she was on a ship, a ship she had seen before.

"Not again," she said disgustedly, and then the bargemaster turned, but instead of the keeper of the Klingon dead, she saw her mother, Miral.

"B’Elanna, Ka’pla," the older Klingon said.

"Please tell me this is a heat induced hallucination."

"Do not concern yourself. You are not going off to Stovocor just yet." Her mother slapped her on the back, almost knocking her over.

"I should have known better than to try one of these damn Klingon rituals." B’Elanna walked to the edge of the ship and looked over at the swirling sea of lava. "Probably fried my brain. Seven’s gonna’ kill me if I ever wake up."

"You chose well, daughter. She has a true heart." Miral leaned against the rail and mirrored B’Elanna’s gaze over the fiery surface.

"Yes, she does." B’Elanna turned to the hallucination. "But she’s not a Klingon. I can’t imagine that pleasing you."

"She does not have to please me. It is enough that she pleases you. You must find your own way, and not worry so much about living your life for others." She reached out and turned B’Elanna toward her.

"Now, I know you’re a hallucination." B’Elanna studied the older version of herself.

"You walk a path of honor. Nothing else matters. You adapt our ways for yourself, as it should be," Miral said with a wistful smile.

"So, am I to believe that you are dead? Or do you just happen to be on your own Klingon vision quest right now somewhere in the Alpha Quadrant?" B’Elanna asked.

"You think too much." Her mother took her chin and turned her face to the side and kissed her on the cheek the way B’Elanna had done to Seven during their bonding ritual. "Be happy daughter."

"Thank you," she said. "I am."

"She is worthy of you," her mother said with a smile. "And I never thought I would say that about anyone."

B’Elanna smiled. Hallucination or not, she was enjoying this talk.

"You must go back," her mother told her. "Your Be’nal needs you. She listens to the drum of Kahless, and you must call her back."

"Call her back? How?" B’Elanna asked. "From where?"

"She hears the drum, and will leave with it unless your heart calls to her." She leaned forward and gripped B’Elanna’s arms in a warrior’s grasp. "Go, daughter. Be happy."

"What drum?" she asked as the ship began to fade. She tried to remember where she had heard of the drum, then it hit her. It was an old myth, one she had loved as a very small child. The warriors who had true hearts would hear the drum of Kahless and their hearts would begin to beat with in time with it. It was said that the truest of hearts would sometimes fade as the drum slowed and Kahless would take them with him to Stovokor.

"Seven," B’Elanna yelled as she sat up, but she lost her balance in the steam filled room.

Seven heard a sound, it was relaxing, and it comforted her. She opened her eyes and found that she was in a cave. There were two people standing several feet away with their backs to her and another was far in the distance. "Apparently," she thought, "I have mastered meditation, and am having a vision." It was annoying that her once rational mind was being cluttered with such human jumbles of archetypal images.

"Seven of Nine, tertiary adjunct to unimatrix zero one," the darker figure on the left said as it turned. It was Seven, or rather the drone she had been. "We have been polluted by humanity. Return to the collective where we belong."

Seven looked at her former self and frowned, and then raised an eyebrow. "You are an imperfect vision. I do not wish to engage you."

The second figure turned and Seven was looking at the person she would have been if she had not been assimilated, Annika Hansen, beautiful, and fully human. "Hello, Annika," the apparition said to Seven and smiled warmly. She was wearing a billowing white dress that was waving gently despite the lack of a breeze.

Seven glared at the newcomer, not finding it any more appealing. "Why am I seeing versions of myself? What kind of vision is this? Am I not supposed to speak to great masters who will enlighten me?"

Annika laughed, her voice carefree and playful. "Who better to explain yourself than us?"

"This human is insignificant. Seven of Nine, why do you insist on reclaiming that which makes you weak?" the drone demanded.

"I am her strength," Annika said. "I am the part of her that loves."

"Love is irrelevant," the drone responded.

"And that is why the Borg will never achieve the perfection they seek," Annika said as she crossed her arms over her chest.

"Humans are weak, their necks snap easily," the drone said as she moved toward Annika. "We will demonstrate."

"How can you do that?" Annika asked. "You are alone here, without the collective to guide you, you’re a puppet with its strings cut. And you don’t look much like Pinocchio."

Seven looked at the two and then sighed. She turned and walked back toward the sound of the drum in the distance. She found the arguing pair tiresome and didn’t want to see either one. They continued arguing even as Seven left, which seemed wasteful since it was Seven’s vision and they were bickering out of her range of hearing.

"Seven, Be’nal of B’Elanna," a deep voice said. It was a commanding voice, yet there was a sincere quality to it. Seven turned and saw a robust and familiar Klingon standing behind her.

"Well," she told the third being. "At least you are what I expected to see in a self-induced hypnotic state. Kahless, I presume?" She studied him, and decided that he seemed rather unremarkable. "For a god, you lack the perfect physique I would expect. You have a rather large protruding stomach, and your incisors needed sharpening. My wife’s teeth have a much finer edge."

He laughed a held his large belly. "I like you," he said taking her by the arm and leading her away from the other two apparitions who were still arguing with each other. "You spend your time denying both sides of yourself when you should be embracing both."

"Predictable quasi-religious advice. I believe I have fallen asleep and I am dreaming," she said.

"Ha," Kahless said, waving his hand dismisively. "You must do as you choose; heed my advice or not. It matters not to me."

Seven walked around the cave examining the walls. "When do I wake up?"

"I am a warrior, not a nursemaid sent to wake you. I must go," he said and started to fade, as he did, the drum began to slow. Seven was being tugged away with him, then something pulled her back, away from the drum and the peace it offered.

"Seven," B’Elanna yelled again. She leaned over and felt her wife’s neck, her pulse was weak and so slow that the Klingon almost couldn’t find it. Seven didn’t move and her hand was limp when B’Elanna squeeze it.

Nara crawled into the sweathouse. "What’s wrong?"

"It’s Seven," B’Elanna pulled Seven to her, carefully shaking her.

"She passed out. It happens. Let’s get her outside."

"No, her pulse is weak," B’Elanna said, trying not to panic. They carried Seven outside and placed her on a fur that was spread out nearby. Tach looked away, thinking that they were just coming out to cool off.

Nara knelt beside Seven and grabbed handfuls of snow and began rubbing them onto her overheated skin. "Seven," she whispered. "Wake up. You’re scaring your wife." She noticed that Seven had stopped sweating, despite the fact that she had made sure both women drank plenty of water. "Tach," she said. "Go to the cabin and bring back the medical kit."

Tach stood and turned, quickly averting his eyes from the two naked women. "I’ll leave Ty over here," he said. Ty was snugly wrapped in a hard backed carrier, which Tach set close enough to the fire to stay warm, but far enough away to be safe and then ran for the cabin.

"Seven, come on, wake up," B’Elanna said as she held her lover’s face in her hands. She felt her pulse, and realized it had slowed even more. She thought of her mother’s words, and the drum of Kahless. She was watching her wife leave her.

"I don’t know what else to do," Nara said. "She should be waking up." She rubbed Seven’s arms and legs with snow, but nothing seemed to reach her.

"Help me," B’Elanna said quickly. She stretched out on her back next to Seven. "Put her on top of me," she ordered.


"Put her head here on my chest." Nara helped as B’Elanna guided Seven to her. She held Seven’s face to her breast and breathed slowly.

"She should be on her back. It’s harder to breath the way you have her," Nara protested.

"Shh," B’Elanna said. She used one hand to hold Seven’s cheek to her, and pressed her other hand over Seven’s shoulder. She prayed she was doing the right thing.

Part 13

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