DISCLAIMER: I own neither the characters nor the concepts of Star Trek: Voyager. I am receiving all of the fun and none of the profit.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

The Strong Are Saying Nothing
By Jillo


Seven of Nine was already in the Delta Flyer when Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres boarded the shuttle. Stowing her gear and closing the hatch, she turned to consider the tall woman who served as Chief of Astrometrics, a position created by Captain Janeway for Seven to make use of the vast knowledge she had accumulated as a member of the Borg Collective for most of her young life. Seven and she had not meshed well aboard Voyager in the three years the ex-drone had now served. B'Elanna felt threatened and profoundly irritated by the young woman's arrogance and icy demeanor. However, she bit her tongue and put up with her crewmate as best she could, recognizing with not a little annoyance that, were it not for the presence in her life of Seven, she would have the best of all possible worlds, all things considered.

A Starfleet Academy dropout, B'Elanna Torres had joined the renegade Maquis, a band of freedom fighters that had had enough of the Federation's disastrous appeasement policy toward the dictatorial and brutal Cardassians and their illegal plunder of the planet Bajor. The ragtag band of misfits had been the perfect spot for the half-Klingon, half-human hybrid to find a place of her own and a cause that she could, if not embrace with the zeal of a true believer, at least get enough behind to fight for with all the aggression and violence her Klingon warrior nature gloried in. It little mattered to the Maquis that her human and Klingon sides waged war within the young woman. They recognized a good fighter when they saw one, and if her inner demons got the better of her from time to time, so much the worse for the Cardies, the filthy lizards. Disgusting, cold-blooded reptilian race. Her blood still boiled when she thought of their treachery and brutality.

While she may not have given it much thought at the time, B'Elanna now knew that, had things not transpired as they had, she would have been long dead, killed in one of innumerable raids upon some Cardie stronghold on some dusty, unremarkable outpost or annihilated in the Dominion's ambush that all but wiped out the Maquis freedom fighters--her friends--not long ago. It had been her ironically good fortune to have been spirited 70,000 light years into the Delta Quadrant by the Caretaker's Array and, out of necessity, forced to join with the military arm of the Federation. B'Elanna still couldn't quite believe that Captain Kathryn Janeway, as by-the-book an officer as there was in Starfleet, had placed her in charge of Engineering over her own man. It had turned out to be a sound move on Janeway's part, for B'Elanna's Klingon sense of honor could never betray the trust that the older woman had placed in her. And while the transition had not always been smooth sailing, B'Elanna had found a place within the Voyager family as Chief of Engineering, Starfleet Lieutenant, and girlfriend of Tom Paris, Admiral Paris's son, for crying out loud. A black sheep, himself, admittedly, but still. She was settled, respected, even admired. She was among friends and now family. Yes, the world would be her oyster were it not for a certain ex-Borg.

Shaking her head to clear her thoughts--no point in going over all these things again--B'Elanna watched as Seven of Nine began to run through the pre-flight procedure. Becoming aware of the Lieutenant's eyes upon her, Seven looked over at B'Elanna and quirked an implant-adorned eyebrow.

"Lieutenant?" queried the former drone, her hands frozen over the controls.

B'Elanna stood leaning against a bulkhead with her arms crossed.

"I just wondered how you managed to get us paired on this pointless mission, Seven."

"You are the expert in dilithium extraction, are you not?" Seven countered. Captain Janeway had ordered the two women on this away mission, Seven to study the Class III nebula slightly out the way of Voyager's path toward the Alpha Quadrant, and B'Elanna to evaluate a planet nearby for the likelihood of dilithium deposits. Voyager would remain at full stop where she was while the crew finalized trade negotiations with some passing Delta Quadrant natives. In three days, B'Elanna and Seven would rejoin the ship.

"Voyager's mission remains exploration, Lieutenant, even if she is far from her home." Seven's voice had taken on the qualities of a teacher with a recalcitrant student. "Captain Janeway desires to take the opportunity to explore this nebula for such scientific knowledge as it may yield. The existence of the planet in a nearby sector is but a happy coincidence. Thus we two were the most likely members of the crew to go on this mission."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Spare me the lecture," muttered B'Elanna, irritated with the ex-Borg's blinding grasp of the obvious as she settled into the pilot's seat to prepare for launch.

"You did ask. I merely provided an answer to your inquiry," Seven pointed out, returning to the pre-flight checklist.


"Voyager to Delta Flyer," the Captain's voice came across the comm channel.

"Go ahead, Captain," Torres responded.

"How are you two settling in?" The Captain's warm, husky voice always had a soothing effect upon B'Elanna--unless she was dressing her down for some conduct unbecoming or other. Then her voice could freeze her blood.

"We're ready to get underway now, Captain," said B'Elanna.

"How's that co-pilot's chair, Seven?" The women could hear the smile in Janeway's voice. "Fit you all right?"

Uncertain yet again of just how to take such an indirect question, Seven decided to answer using Janeway's own wording. "I am 'settling in', Captain."

"Good. We'll meet you at this rendezvous point in three days. Good hunting, ladies. Voyager out."

"Let's get this over with," muttered B'Elanna as she piloted the Flyer out of the shuttlebay.

Seven mentally sighed as she turned her attention to the view screen. She knew that her relationship with the Chief of Engineering was problematic at best. She found the woman and her life fascinating, and she knew that her watchfulness over the half-Klingon's daily activities, both professional and private, irritated the Lieutenant, even if Ensign Paris found it slightly amusing. Her awkward attempts at communication with Torres were routinely rebuffed. What Seven failed to realize was that B'Elanna could not--or would not--see them for what they were--expressions of admiration for her and a desire to cultivate a friendship with her. She insisted on interpreting the ex-Borg's attentions as misguided studies of human behavior and resented what she saw as Seven's relegating her and Tom to the status of lab rats. Besides, it was creepy. Had Seven realized that the source of the friction between her and the Lieutenant was partially miscommunication, she might have been able to rectify the situation, thereby gaining a closer intimacy with the attractive young officer. The nature of the desired intimacy with B'Elanna was not something that Seven wanted to decipher as yet. Perhaps she wanted to have the Lieutenant. Perhaps she wanted to have the Lieutenant's life. Perhaps she wanted, simply, to be the woman. None of it was clear for Seven. Nor was it something that she wanted to discuss with either her mentor, Janeway, or her self-appointed, personal guide to humanity, the Doctor. A girl had to have a few secrets. She preferred to deal with this on her own. As she tried to settle more comfortably in her chair, she wondered uneasily if this away mission would not, as she had hoped, provide her the opportunity of developing a closer relationship with Lieutenant Torres after all.

The two women had been concentrating on their respective duties for the better part of the day, nearing the point at which they would fly first either to the nebula or to the planet. Neither said much during this period, B'Elanna because she had little to say to Seven, and Seven because she was awkward in the practice of speaking just to be speaking.

As the departure point approached, B'Elanna gave her order.

"Lay in a course for the planet."

"Lieutenant," Seven responded, "the planet lies past the nebula. Would it not make more sense to explore the nebula on the way to the planet? I could get some readings and have some data to analyze while you scan the planet for dilithium were we to take the most logical course of action."

"We'll hit the nebula on the way back, Seven. What am I supposed to do while you stare at a cloud of gas? Besides, dilithium is vital to the ship's needs. What's one more nebula among the thousands we must have studied in seven years in the Delta Quadrant? Why am I explaining myself to you? I gave you an order."

"Yes, Lieutenant," Seven acquiesced, turning to the controls.

"Course plotted, Lieutenant," said Seven after a few moments.

B'Elanna, relenting a little at the ex-drone's abandonment of the argument after so little resistance, banked the Flyer in a tight arc around the perimeter of the farthest tendrils of the nebula to give Seven a glimpse at the phenomenon she would be studying later. Scientists. Haven't you seen all nebulae if you've seen one? Give her a mechanical problem to solve any day. Finding and extracting dilithium. There was a challenge she could sink her teeth into.

The planet loomed ahead of them, dimly blue and green, but mostly white, the atmosphere a thick soup swirling above what land masses they could make out. B'Elanna steered the Flyer through the clouds, approaching the continent that seemed the most likely to have the highest concentration of dilithium, titanium, magnesium, and other semi-precious metals space-farers needed to make and fly their ships.

"Lieutenant, sensors are picking up three vessels approaching from the west, closing fast," Seven reported in her calm voice.

"Shit! Where'd they come from, Seven?" B'Elanna demanded. "How'd we miss this?"

"The heavy cloud cover of this planet may have interfered with long-range scans, Lieutenant. Perhaps the nebula behind which the planet is situated also prevented me from noticing their presence." Seven knew that Lieutenant Torres was being generous in including herself in referring to the miss, but the failure to detect these beings was hers, and it weighed heavily upon her.

Phaser blasts streaked past them, port and starboard.

"They are indicating that they want us to land," reported Seven, somewhat unnecessarily.

"Thanks for stating the obvious," B'Elanna retorted. "What can you tell me about them?"

"Sensors indicate two beings in each craft. The vessels are heavily-armed fighters. Life sign readings suggest . . ." Seven hesitated, checking her sensors again.

"Suggest what, dammit? We need to know what we're dealing with," B'Elanna growled as she steered the Flyer toward the ground.

"Bioscans report necrotizing tissues, disease . . . I am picking up blood, suggesting open wounds . . ." she paused, unwilling to draw the logical conclusion.

"Vidiians," stated B'Elanna baldly.

"Yes, Lieutenant."


Each woman, silent with her own thoughts, turned to concentrate on the landing.

The Flyer came to a halt near a dense forest, a swath of downed trees and smoking debris left to mark her passage. Inside, the two women prepared for battle. They quickly filled packs with rations and water, phaser charges and flashlights. Both took phaser rifles from the weapons locker.

"We're sitting ducks in the Flyer," B'Elanna stated as she stuffed her pockets with ration bars. "We'll have to leave her and take up a defensive position somewhere--try to take cover before the Vidiians find us."

"I concur, Lieutenant," Seven replied, shouldering her rifle. She hesitated at the hatch, looking back at B'Elanna. Her eyes seemed enormous as they met B'Elanna's, luminous and shining with . . . anxiety?

"Ready?" asked Torres. Seven nodded. "Let's go."

It was early evening on the planet, the star system's sun all but obscured by the rising fog, giving their surroundings an eerie pall. Moisture beaded on their uniforms, in their hair, on their faces as they cut through the fog.

"Fucking great," thought B'Elanna. "Trapped in a bad remake of Night of the Living Dead with Seven of Nine and no way to let Voyager know we're in trouble." She and Tom had just watched the old horror film on the twentieth century television set that she had made for him. She pushed that thought down. Better to keep her mind on the present.

After several minutes of hard running, made difficult by the dense underbrush, they found a small clearing, just a few square feet of open ground surrounded by vegetation and rock outcroppings. Night was fast descending. The planet's small moon turned the night almost white as the reflected light bounced off the fog. They paused to catch their breaths and take stock.

"I think I got us in a situation where we could get killed," said Torres quietly, squinting into the night as she tore a ration bar open with her teeth. "If we had explored the nebula first, like you said, we might have been able to pick up the presence of these body-snatchers. Now we're on our own for at least 60 more hours before Voyager misses us. Hell, they won't even know where to look in this pea soup."

"Actually, Lieutenant," Seven turned and said, "Voyager will know where we are in 36 hours and 17 minutes."

"How the hell will that happen?" snapped Torres. The ex-drone could always surprise her.

"When you decided to explore the planet first, I programmed and released a communications beacon to alert Voyager to our approximate location and included a distress call. It will submit a subspace transmission in 36 hours and 16 minutes unless we deactivate it. We will need to stay out of the Vidiians' way for that amount of time plus the time it takes Voyager to find us."

B'Elanna didn't know whether to brain the woman for acting so independently or to kiss her for possibly saving their hides.

"Why did you think to do this?" asked B'Elanna, a thought slowly occurring to her. "Were you second-guessing me again?" She fought the urge to clench her fists.

"I believe that the appropriate description of my action is that I 'hedged our bets', Lieutenant. I became concerned that the dense cloud cover surrounding this planet might hide dangers to our mission and to our well-being. I thought that my actions in launching the beacon would give us a 'fighting chance' were we to encounter difficulties. I had not anticipated our difficulties coming in the form of the Vidiians, however."

B'Elanna knew a smart move when she saw one and conceded defeat. "Officer thinking, Seven. Remind me to put you in for a commendation for originality--if we get out of this, that is," she grinned.

"I shall 'make a note of it'," returned Seven in her dulcet tones.

"Did you just make a joke?" asked B'Elanna.

"Shhhhh," hushed Seven, turning to peer into the night and fog. They could hear phaser fire in the distance.

"Who are they firing at?" whispered B'Elanna from their vantage point atop a rocky cliff. Deciding that they should keep moving, the two women had used the cover of darkness and fog to climb a small bluff to give themselves a defensible position at which to spend the night. Now that daylight had come, they finally got a good look at the Vidiians who had forced them to land. They were engaged in a fire-fight with someone else on the planet. The smell of burning vegetation and the reverberations of photonic cannon fire reached them on their ledge above a skirmish line of Vidiians moving through the brush below them.

"I believe those are the Relora, a clan of Vidiians whose chief rivals are the Olga. They often engage in violent conflicts over such resources as they encounter," Seven quietly explained. "They shadow one another and try to take whatever resources the other clan finds as soon as it finds them."

"Self-perpetuating war, eh?" B'Elanna mused. "I thought they just preyed upon other species for their organs."

"Indeed, they expend so much energy in their pursuit of healthy tissues and organs that they find it easier to take resources from rival clans than to find and mine their own."

"Well, I'm not in a hurry to get between two rival clans of these zombies. We need to keep moving for another 24 hours or so to avoid them. I think we should split up, moving in big circles going in opposite directions, eventually getting behind their lines. We'll meet up back at the clearing to wait for Voyager to find us. With any luck, she'll track us down before the Vidiians."

"Agreed, Lieutenant. This way one of us may survive. If we stay together, odds are that we both would be taken."

"Okay. Back at the clearing as soon as you think you've moved behind them."

With that, the two women moved away from their perch to face the next several hours alone.

Seven tried to still her breathing from a pant to silent, shallow breaths as she lay face-down, burrowed beneath low-hanging branches of some kind of dense evergreen. She had been moving fast through the forest for several hours now, and it seemed that every few hundred yards or so she was practically running into one or another of the Vidiians' little skirmishes. The danger was not only in being caught by one of the clans and facing unthinkable horrors as her organs were slowly extracted, but also in catching a stray phaser beam. Plus, the almost incessant firing from phaser rifles and photonic cannon was working on her psyche. Hiding every few hundred yards, dodging hideous beings that wanted to do unspeakable things to her, jumping involuntarily from explosions--it was all too familiar.

Seven couldn't stop the memories flashing before her.

*We are the Borg. You will be assimilated. Your distinctive characteristics will be added to our own. Resistance is futile.*

The scream froze in her throat as she watched her mother being assimilated by the mechanized monster. Then it was turning to her. It was moving toward her. It was reaching out with its hand . . . .

With a sharp intake of breath Seven launched herself from beneath the branches. Running was better than waiting for the Borg to come for her again.

As the afternoon wore on, B'Elanna was thinking of Miral. Her mother would have been proud of her bad Klingon self had she seen her the time the Vidiians had separated her into two beings, one human, the other Klingon. She wished she could channel a little more of that Klingon energy as she plastered herself against a rock wall to avoid a raiding party moving through the underbrush. At this moment her human side was a little too ascendant in her being as she remembered the time she and Tom had been taken by the Phage-infected race. They had wanted her Klingon DNA for its resistance to their plague. She'd like to give them a little Klingon something or other, but that was not going to happen now. It had been a long day. She wondered how her crewmate was faring. If she and Seven got out of this alive, she was going to make an effort to be nicer to her; she really was. A nosy ex-Borg was infinitely preferable to a bunch of disease-ridden aliens. "Come on, Kathryn," she whispered, casting a glance at the sky. "Come on."

Seven paused and looked around her, listening to the wind sighing through the trees. For a few moments, there was silence, the wind the only sound. She had managed to fight down the panic that had been rising within her since she and Torres had separated. Never had she felt so alone, and never had she missed the eternal hum of the hive mind as she did at this moment, acutely aware as she was of the distinct possibility of her own death. As a Borg drone, she had not had reason to ponder her death. The thought simply did not occur in the hive mentality. A drone would cease to function properly and be deactivated, but that simply meant the better, more efficient functioning of the Collective. A drone might be destroyed in battle or in an accident, but that was not a cause for concern. The hive mind droned on; the Collective endured.

They existed to serve the Borg Collective and, not incidentally, the Borg Queen. She came as close to a god as the Borg possessed. Or perhaps it was Omega, perfection, that was their god, the Borg Queen its physical manifestation. Since she had been severed from the Collective, Seven had been, in effect, godless. Voyager had become her new Collective, and Captain Janeway in a sense her new queen, but the absence of the hive mind had meant that she had had to fall back upon her own resources for purpose, initiative, meaning. Now, severed again from even Voyager's meager collective, she feared for her sanity.

A thought, triggered by the sound of the wind in the trees, began nagging at her as she kept a close watch on her immediate surroundings for any sign of the Olga or Relora. It was a poem that she had encountered in her perusal of Voyager's cultural databanks. Something to do with the themes of isolation, of living alone, of dying alone. Something about the question of the existence of an afterlife. She accessed her eidetic memory for the verse that had struck her:

Wind goes from farm to farm in wave on wave,

But carries no cry of what is hoped to be;

There may be little or much beyond the grave,

But the strong are saying nothing until they see.

She could not give in to the panic, the fear. She had to accept that there were no promises now, of life, of rescue, of anything. She knew that she could lie down and wait for the Vidiians and death, lose her hold on herself and start raving, or face her fate with equanimity come rescue or death, salvation or oblivion.

"Strong," she thought. "I must be strong." How much easier this would be if she hadn't separated from B'Elanna. Finishing the last ration bar and draining her water supply, she prepared to keep going as the afternoon went down toward evening. Seven sent out a prayer to gods she didn't believe in for the Lieutenant's continued well being.

B'Elanna Torres cursed every eventuality that had brought her to this wretched moment. Not only was Voyager still at least 10 hours away from even knowing that she and Seven were not simply engaged in a little surveying, but also Seven and she were separated and faced their possible deaths alone. Even if they could get back to the Flyer, one or the other of those clans of grim-reaping p'taQs would surely have stripped it bare by now. No, it was Voyager to the rescue or nothing this time. Why had she and Seven thought that being separated was a good idea again? Oh, yeah. Moving targets, harder to hit. But 36 hours was a long time to keep moving, and B'Elanna was getting tired. She never thought she'd ever think this, but she'd give one of her hearts to see Seven right about now. Just having someone to talk to would be better than letting herself think about dying alone on this worthless shithole of a planet, getting almost weepy at the thought that no one would be around to howl for her soul on its way to Sto-vo-kor.

"Get a grip, Torres," B'Elanna told herself as she continued to pick her way through the forest toward their benchmark. B'Elanna thought that she had successfully doubled back and around the warring Vidiians. Yes--there was the little clearing to which she and Seven had agreed to return--if they could. She stood still and listened as someone approached through the brush.

"Kahless, be with me," she silently prayed as she raised her phaser rifle, training it along the slightly-swaying path of vegetation that marked movement toward the clearing. The branches shook slightly, and B'Elanna found that she was holding her breath, ready to fire.

It was Seven.

They stood frozen for long moments, their eyes locked. Seven's uniform was filthy, dirt and debris clinging to her knees and elbows, the blue yoke around the shoulders of her jacket darkened into a dingy gray by rain and sweat. Her eyes looked haunted, and long tendrils of blonde hair, escaped from her bun, framed her exhausted face. Her phaser rifle, held at the ready, shook slightly. B'Elanna looked no better. The tightness around her eyes and her lips clamped into a hard line reflected her anxiety. At the sight of her crewmate, her shoulders sagged in relief, her body giving in for a moment to her bone-deep fatigue.

Whether it was Seven who made the first step toward B'Elanna or whether it was the half-Klingon toward Seven, they closed the distance between each other, dropping their rifles along the way. When their bodies came together, they wrapped their arms around one another, their mouths meeting in a savage kiss. Their hours of separation and isolation finally ended, they exulted in the living, breathing body each held in her arms. Tongues and lips vied for dominance as each woman took what she could from the other in an attempt to deny the circumstances of their abject vulnerability. To exert their existences, their beating hearts against the terror, the loneliness, the threat of death that even now hovered around them, they devoured one another. They sank slowly to the ground, their arms and lips still fastened to one another's. They pulled the uniforms from each other's bodies, their hands and mouths ranging over warm, soft skin. To cease to fear, to cease to know, to lose herself in the ecstasy of the body under her hands and mouth became the focus of each woman's existence.

B'Elanna buried her face in Seven's hair, her neck, her breasts. Seven's smell, the feel of her smooth skin, chased any conscious thought from her mind. She couldn't have stopped if Kahless himself had appeared before her and demanded it. If there were to be consequences, she would face them. For now, for what Seven was to her, she would risk anything, honor be damned.

Seven hugged the tight, muscular body of the engineer to her as if she were trying to get inside the woman's skin. The things they had done, the things they were doing to each other drove the haunting memories of assimilation, the crazy-making silence of her solitary mind, the stress of avoiding the Vidiians from her in an explosion of sensations. There were no more yesterdays. There were no tomorrows. There was only now, this body in her arms, this woman. Only this was relevant. Part of her rational mind whispered that now she understood, now she realized something of significance to the development of her humanity. But it didn't seem to matter anymore.

All night they grappled as tracers streaked the sky, the Olga and Relora slugging it out for the planet's meager resources. And if death came for them as they struggled against each other, how much better than if each faced her annihilation terrified, alone, and aware.

The morning dawned cold and drizzly, the silence almost oppressive after the long night of photonic blasts, phaser fire, and the screams of the dying. B'Elanna awoke as if from a drug-induced coma, her body naked and shivering in the half light. As awareness came back to her, she hugged herself against the cold rain chilling her body and looked around. Next to her lay Seven of Nine, naked, her mouth slightly open in sleep, her breathing even, her hair spread beneath her in damp, darkened hanks. B'Elanna felt a wave of tenderness for the ex-drone as she lay there, curled in the fetal position, hugging herself for warmth, her arms crossed over her breasts.

"Seven! Seven, wake up!" B'Elanna hissed as she roused her crewmate, shaking her shoulder lightly.

Blue eyes opened, vague and unfocused. Then they cleared, met her own, and held her.



"Voyager to Torres," her comm badge chirped.

B'Elanna reached for her jacket, found the comm badge, and responded.

"Torres here, and it's about god-damned time!"

"At ease, Lieutenant," Chakotay's calm voice came back. "Prepare to beam up."

"Give us five minutes, Commander," replied Torres, trying to keep her voice calm.

There was a pause. "Five minutes, then. Voyager out."

Seven and B'Elanna had been gathering their clothing and pulling it on as B'Elanna and Chakotay sparred. There was no time to think about the night before, no time to place what had happened into some perspective, no time to ponder what that perspective might be. They were saved. They were going home. Relief washed through them both behind the adrenaline rush, leaving them quivering as their fatigue reasserted itself.

"Ready?" asked B'Elanna, pulling her sodden uniform jacket into place, looking over at the ex-drone.

"Yes, Lieutenant," said Seven as she pulled her hair back and attempted to put it up in her familiar, tight bun.

"Leave it, Seven," said B'Elanna softly, hitting her comm badge. "Two to beam up."

Seven's hands dropped slowly to her sides, her head turned in a sidelong glance at Torres as she felt the pull of the transporter beam take her.

Upon their safe return to Voyager, neither Seven nor B'Elanna had had time to think much about what had passed between them on the planet. In the rush of debriefings, medical check-ups, reunions, they hadn't seen one another or spoken. As soon as they had materialized on the transporter pad, Tom had engulfed B'Elanna in a crushing hug then hustled her off to Sickbay. Captain Janeway, checking to make sure that B'Elanna seemed no worse for the wear as she was tended to by Ensign Paris, had taken gentle control of the ex-Borg, guiding her to Sickbay and hovering over her while the Doctor examined and evaluated her condition. After separate debriefings, B'Elanna went to her quarters, accompanied by Tom, while Seven began a 36-hour regeneration sequence. Janeway lost no time in putting distance between her ship and the trouble on the planet--no one wanted another go-round with the plague-infested Vidiians. And as each woman slowly worked back into her respective routine, it became easy to wonder if what had happened on the planet was, in actuality, a dream.

B'Elanna wondered what, if anything, she should tell Tom about what had transpired between her and Seven that night. Yet she knew that first she needed to decide what, if anything, it had meant. Technically, she had been unfaithful. Why didn't it feel as if she had? The honorable thing to do would be to come clean, to tell Tom and then reassure him that it hadn't meant anything, that it was just . . . just what? Just that she had feared for her life, that she had been terrified of dying alone and of lying unmourned on a hunk of rock a kajillion miles from nowhere, that she was worried about her crewmate, that Seven would be frightened, lonely, and needing to regenerate. And that when she saw her coming through the brush, looking so tired, so worn, so . . . beautiful . . . . No. She would not tell Tom about that night. She would tell no one. What they had taken from each other, what they had given to one another was a precious gift. To speak of it to anyone else would be to sully it. No. It was hers--hers and Seven's. She knew that from the moment that they had come together in need and fear and lust and, yes, love, something had changed, something deep.

Seven of Nine stepped from her alcove after her long regeneration cycle knowing that she had turned a corner. Her time upon the planet had clarified a great many things for the former drone. The intimacy she had desired from B'Elanna had come in an unexpected way. Her time alone on the planet's surface amid the confusion and danger had shown her a glimpse into her own mortality. The deactivation of a drone meant little, but the cessation of the existence of the individual who was Seven of Nine, nee Annika Hanson, was something, and that something was unacceptable. For just the second time in her life she had known terror. To see her crewmate across the small clearing was to see her own life held back out to her. To take and cling to that life embodied in B'Elanna Torres was as natural as breathing. They had become life to each other, and it was beyond her ability to express in thought or word.

As life returned to normal aboard Voyager, one thing, at least, had changed. There was a lowering of stress levels whenever the Chief of Engineering and the Chief of Astrometrics interacted that had not gone unnoticed. While the two did not spend any more time together than they had before the away mission, when they were together, instead of tension, there was . . . nothing. No explosions, no low mutterings, just a moment's silence as blue eyes searched for brown. A small smile, a silent acknowledgment, a brief hesitation over a sip of raktajino. Tom wondered at the change in his girlfriend's demeanor around Seven but didn't press. He found the quiet calm that emanated from B'Elanna since her ordeal appealing. Her temper, never far from the surface, still manifested itself at the usual targets--all but one. And if this was the only difference in his B'Elanna, it was a change he decided he could live with.

For her part, Captain Janeway noticed a slightly altered Seven of Nine. Somehow, in some fashion, Janeway felt a distance, a wall go up between her and the ex-drone. It wasn't anything concrete, certainly nothing overt. But it was there. Seven seemed more solid, more . . . mature. That was it. She seemed more grown up. A confidence, a certainty radiated from Seven that she found both attractive and disturbing. Something had sure happened down there on the planet, and whatever it was, Seven wasn't sharing. Kathryn realized that the young woman might have outgrown her need of her tutelage, and if this was the case, then she would not resist it. Silently and with love, Kathryn blessed Seven and released her to live her life as she saw fit, always prepared to be a shoulder to cry on, a sounding board, a mentor, a friend, whatever the young woman should need from her.

"Morning, Seven," said B'Elanna as Seven stepped into the Engine Room to begin work on a project that the Captain had assigned.

"Good morning, Lieutenant," returned Seven. "How was your evening?"

"Great. Tom and I had dinner with Harry and made it an early night. How about you?"

"I spent the evening playing Kadis Kot with Naomi Wildman. She is developing into a formidable opponent." Seven smiled at the memory of her young friend's growing abilities.

"Well, she would, going up against the best, wouldn't she? Now, what ideas do you have for me about boosting the power output to the sensors? I'm sure you've given it some thought."

And so went their interactions since that night. So much had passed between them, yet for both women the change in their relationship was manifested in small ways. They had never spoken about it. Their intimacy had revealed to each other their naked need, their shared humanity. For B'Elanna, Seven of Nine became almost a reflection of herself, a reminder of both her vulnerability and her tenacious hold on life. And as for Seven, who had desired some nameless connection to the half-Klingon, she got, if not exactly a friend, certainly more than a crewmate. It was a smile in the mess hall. It was a look of acceptance in warm brown eyes. It was a hand on her arm in consultation. It was ineffable. It was wonderful. It was enough.

The End

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