SPECIAL DISCLAIMER: A certain scene of this chapter sounds very similar to a scene in the story 'Changes of the Heart' by Letterx. Be assured that this is the result of two people having the same idea and that in NO way were any rights infringed upon.
If you do not know what I'm talking about after reading this chapter than that means that you are probably not reading the 'Taking to Heart' series by Letterx. And all I can say to you then is: tsk tsk. Shame on you, you do not know what you're missing. Now, if you want my advice, you go and start reading 'Taking Command'. The first of three truly excellent stories by Letterx. Go read them, you won't be sorry.

The Traveler
By H.W.

Chapter 4

When B'Elanna entered her quarters she was surprised to find her husband sitting on the couch.
"Tom, what are you doing here? I thought you were planning on tinkering with the Delta flyer this afternoon?"
B'Elanna asked while she went to him and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.

"Hi to you too." He said with a smile. Then he picked up the padd he had obviously been reading recently. "Well I am actually working on the flyer, kind of. I was going over your suggestions and trying to find a way to integrate that shield enhancement without having to alter the lines of the flyer."

"Hi Tom." She said with a smile before getting serious. "Tom, that shield enhancement can save your life in a battle. By then, you really won't mind if the line of the flyer is being broken."

After hearing that opening, he could not resist and turned on his boyish charms to the maximum. "Oh, but B'Elanna, it would be a shame to spoil a beautiful body line by adding bumps. Bumps are only beautiful if they are in specific places."

"Very funny." B'Elanna said without giving an indication that she really thought his remark was funny.

B'Elanna's reaction made Tom once again realize that things were different than they had once been. There was a time that his jokes actually did amuse B'Elanna. But with pain in his heart he realized that that time had been before they got married. "Well let me turn that question around on you. What are you doing here? You're only halfway through your shift."

"I am here to grab a bite to eat and change my uniform. I won't have time later on."

Now Tom's curiosity was awakened. "Why? What's going on?" He asked while B'Elanna came back into the room after changing her uniform and went to the replicator.

That question stopped all of B'Elanna's movements for a moment before she replicated something to eat. She went to the chair opposite of the couch Tom was sitting on and she placed the snack she just replicated on the coffee table between them. "Kahless, I'm sorry Tom. We found out what caused your accident and I will be working a lot of extra hours in the near future, because your accident wasn't a accident."

"Whoa, wait a second. Who is 'we' and what do you mean when you say that it wasn't an accident?"

B'Elanna took her snack and started eating. Never thinking of offering Tom something to eat. Because that was how it went lately. They never seemed to find the time to do something together, even as simple as sharing a dinner. Both would replicate something when they got hungry. There wasn't even a set time anymore for... for anything. The only thing they seem to enjoy together lately was sleeping. Not the sex part, though that was nice also, but the real sleeping together. The comfort of not being alone in those long dark nights that only the Delta quadrant seemed capable of providing.
"Well I could explain about the 'accident' but you will hear it again in half an hour anyhow so you'll just have to be patient until then." A grin took away the hardness of the words. "And as for who 'we' is. I mean Seven and me."

"You mean you let Popsicle actually help you?"

"Don't call her that, Tom."

The tone in his wife's voice told Tom that for some bizarre reason Seven of Nine was suddenly off-limits for jokes. He was smart enough not to mention that only one day earlier Seven still was the most favorite target for B'Elanna herself. Instead of the reply he had ready he changed his approach to simply asking: "Why not?"

B'Elanna realized that Tom would not be the last one to ask that question so she practiced what was going to be her standard reply, on him. "Because she is my friend."

"Okay. So that was the official reply." Tom said, knowing his wife only too well. "But I would like to hear the real reason. Harry is also your friend but it never stopped you from joking about him, preferably when he is around to actually hear it."

By now B'Elanna was finished eating and put her bowl down. "Those jokes are meant in fun. I am making fun with him, not about him. That is why I usually only do that when he is around.
Tom, when Seven and I were trying to solve what happened to you something clicked between us. Maybe we both simply had enough of the hostilities, I don't know. But from today on, Seven IS my friend and you know how I protect my friends. So please be careful what you say next time."

"Geez, B'Elanna. You are talking as if Seven's your whole life. I am sorry, but I simply cannot forget that less than forty-eight hours ago YOU were the one who called her Popsicle."

"I know it seems ridiculous Tom. But I gotta confess that I feel kind of guilty for the way I always treated her. I guess I'm just overreacting. It is as you say. Yesterday I hated her, today I like her. I guess I'm just still in the process of getting acquainted with the idea."

"Okay, she's off-limits... for now. But I tell you B'Elanna, she won't be off-limits forever."


Tom interrupted, and surprised, his wife by adding. "But the jokes will be of the nice kind. Come on, B'Elanna. Even you have to admit that Seven correcting Chakotay is something that has to be joked about."

"Hey!" B'Elanna said with a smile. She knew that Tom was trying to get the serious conversation into a lighter mood, and she was thankful for it.

"Seven was right when she corrected him. That course he had suggested would have taken us through a radiation-filled gas cloud, to the rim of a blackhole, through not one, but three war zones, and a giant asteroid field just thrown in for good measures."

"Exactly!" Tom said excited. "The way she told him in her dry, serious, voice that her route would take one day longer but was not as likely to get the ship destroyed was priceless. Chakotay didn't say a word for the rest of the senior staff meeting. Now, I ask you. How could I possibly not a joke about that?"

"Thanks, Tom. Well, I'm off. Are you coming along? You are expected at this meeting you know."

"No you go ahead. I want to grab a bite to eat myself before going to the conference room. I'll be along in a couple of minutes."

"Okay," was all B'Elanna said before stepping through the door.

When the door closed behind B'Elanna she took a moment to compose herself. She wondered if this was all a marriage had to offer. These games of pretend. Every time she stepped into the Torres/Paris quarters B'Elanna Torres stopped existing. As soon as she would step through the door she would become B'Elanna the wife. She wondered if this was so for every married couple. There had to be a way to be B'Elanna Torres, the wife, the partner, the woman.

Slowly, B'Elanna started walking down the corridor, the pain of something missing heavy on her hearts.

When the door closed behind B'Elanna, Tom looked at it for a moment before closing his eyes, all thoughts about food forgotten. He had lost his appetite the same moment B'Elanna started defending Seven.

People often thought that Tom Paris was nothing more than a big child.

Those people seem to forget that this child was capable of pushing a starship like Voyager beyond its construction limits and yet have it survive time and time again. No, Tom Paris was not a mere child. He liked acting like one because of the freedom that gave him but he had a brain and at that moment he knew more than B'Elanna.

He knew that the time was there. He had to act.

B'Elanna was operating on her last reserves when she entered her quarters. She and Seven had gone directly to work after the senior staff meeting and they had worked for twelve hours. Only taking a half-hour break to get something to eat in the mess hall. If you added to that: the senior staff meeting, the report to the Captain before that, finding the virus before that, and first working almost half a shift before even that, you would realize that it had been a eighteen-hour workday for B'Elanna.

And it had been a draining one. She and Seven had found seventeen codes and viruses already. Only three thousand, one hundred to go.

It seemed that the viruses could be divided into two categories. The first category was targeted at members of the crew; the second category was targeted at the systems of Voyager.

The fourth virus was targeted at Vorik. Had Vorik entered Engineering another fifteen times the doors would have closed with enough force to break even some of his Vulcan bones.
The fourteenth virus was directed at Carey, but this virus was controlled by a time limit. Everything would have been fine for the next two years. But after that time, the Chief Engineer's office would have sealed the next time Carey had entered and then all air would have been pumped out of the office, creating a vacuum.
So it now seemed that anybody on board Voyager could be a target. Tom just happened to be the first one who triggered a trap.

The good news was that until now none of the viruses would have cost a fatal accident.
Even with the virus targeted at Carey, there would have been enough time for him to beam out of the office. Barely enough time, but enough.
The bad news was that Seven had been right.

Until now all the viruses targeted at systems had been targeted at important systems, and all would have caused a lot of trouble if they had been activated.

The second virus they had found had indeed been with the warp core. They had been just in time. If the warp engines had been engaged another four times the warp core would have automatically jettisoned.
The eighth virus would have started the automatic disconnection of the saucer section.
The twelfth virus would have overheated the thrusters to the point of meltdown. It would have been repairable but it would have taken days.

No, B'Elanna knew that they had been lucky until now. With the yet so many codes unaccounted for it was only a matter of time before an other virus would activate before it was found.

It was dark in the quarters, only one small light was on. The one at the replicator. That light was always on, it was malfunctioning. And it also was a good indicator that B'Elanna Torres the Engineer did not exist in the Paris/Torres quarters. B'Elanna Torres the Engineer could not accept any malfunctions on board Voyager of any kind what so ever, yet that light had been malfunctioning since the very first week of her marriage with Tom. It had never crossed the mind of B'Elanna Torres the wife to fix the light. Only minutes of work and yet the wife had never even thought of it.

"B'Elanna." Tom said from out of the dark at the very same moment B'Elanna's tired brain registered another presence in the room.

"Computer. Lights, half intensity." B'Elanna said while she turned to the voice of her husband. "Hi, why are you sitting in the dark like that. I thought you would be asleep by now."
She went to sit in her favorite place, the chair, and looked over the coffee table at Tom. Suddenly she wondered when that happened. She remembered a time when she would sit down on the couch beside him. But now, she always sat down in the chair and he always set down on the couch. Always separated by the coffee table. B'Elanna realized that this situation could be seen as a good reflection of their marriage. Both having a specific place, yet on opposite sides with a barrier between them.

"I had the lights out because I needed to think, make some decisions."

"What are you talking about? Tom, it's late and I'm tired. Can this wait until tomorrow? I really want to go to bed."

"I don't think that it can wait. We need to talk, B'Elanna. We need to talk about our marriage."

That was enough to fully waken the Klingon.
"And what exactly, in our marriage, do you want to talk about?"

"B'Elanna... you know that I love you... But, our marriage, B'Elanna, it is not working."

"And what do you want to change?" B'Elanna asked, not denying that the marriage was not working. She knew that Tom was right about that. She was just wondering what he had come up with to change it.

Tom did not look at B'Elanna while saying his next words, he couldn't. He did love B'Elanna and he knew that that was why he had to say it, but that did not make it any easier.
"I think we should end it. Our marriage is already over, let's make it official."

"I can't believe I'm hearing this. You were the one who proposed to me and now YOU want to end our marriage?"
B'Elanna really couldn't help it, but her Klingon side gave a distinct growl to the last six words.

"Don't you get it? I want to see you happy. Tell me B'Elanna, when was the last time you were happy? As far as our marriage is concerned."

It took only a couple seconds for the entire marriage to cross before B'Elanna eyes. And what she saw was enough to quiet the Klingon down. She sighed and leaned back in the chair. She closed her eyes for a moment and let it all surface. All those feelings she had been suppressing. Finally she did what she should have done a lot earlier. She accepted it. Marrying her best friend had been a mistake.
"We had a lot of good moments. But if you really want to know the last time I've been happy in our marriage, I have to admit that was on our wedding day. Since then I have always felt like two people. When I'm here at home, with you, I am B'Elanna 'the wife'. But when I'm somewhere else I am B'Elanna Torres 'the woman', Chief Engineer, the person I want to be. I don't like being 'the wife'.
You're right, Tom, our marriage is not working. We are drifting more and more apart instead of becoming closer. But 'the wife' could not accept that; 'the wife' could be content with our marriage but 'the woman' would not have accepted this marriage for much longer. It is just that, until now, 'the wife' was still trying to resist reality."
B'Elanna could see that her honest answer hurt Tom terribly.

His eyes lowered to the coffee table and he spoke so quietly that was more of a mumble, yet she heard him clearly.
"I married B'Elanna the woman. I never wanted for B'Elanna the wife to appear."

It was at that moment that B'Elanna realized what he meant.

She knew that Tom was not ending the marriage because he didn't love her anymore. Tom was ending the marriage because he did love her. He loved her so much that he only wanted to see her happy, and he knew that he was not making her happy.
"I am so sorry Tom. I wish I could be content with what we have. You are a good husband."

That brought a smile to Tom's face. "I don't want you to be 'content' I want you to look at your marriage and KNOW that you are the luckiest person in the universe. I want you to look at your marriage and wonder how it is possible that one person can be your entire universe."
His voice lowered again before speaking the reality.
"And I know that I'm not that person."

"I do love you, you know."

"I know, B'Elanna. But it is the wrong kind of love. You love me as a friend, don't you?"

B'Elanna gave a hesitant nod. Admitting the last secret in their marriage.

"You know, before we got married you were my best friend. Now you're my husband. Tell me Tom, if we end our marriage, would I be lucky enough to get my friend back?"

"I want to be a part of your life. And if I can't be your husband I desperately want to be your friend. Yes, B'Elanna, you will get that friend back."

"So this is it? Tomorrow we will make the request official?"

Tom took a padd from the coffee table and handed it to B'Elanna.

She activated it and started reading. The first words quickly made clear that what they just talked about was actually about to happen.
And it also made clear that Tom had known that she would agree that the marriage really was over.
'To Captain Kathryn Janeway.
Official request for the dissolution of the marriage contract between Thomas Eugene Paris and B'Elanna Torres.'
B'Elanna's eyes skipped over the standard contract text to the reason for the divorce.
"Irreconcilable differences?"

B'Elanna had said the two words as a question and Tom answered.
"That's the only thing I could come up with."

That made B'Elanna smile for the first time since the conversation had started.
"When you think of it, it's kind of strange isn't it? We really fit together perfectly. We could be a great couple."
B'Elanna was took a deep breath before adding the painful but honest truth.
"If I could only love you as a husband."

"Don't go there." Tom warned. "B'Elanna, I know you. You need more than that. You don't need a love you could settle for. You need the kind of love that makes your toes curl. You need to love somebody so much that it makes you glad that you have two hearts because one of them always stops beating when you see the person you love.
THAT is the kind of love you need. Not what you have for me."

B'Elanna looked at Tom wistfully. Now that she was talking to her best friend again, for the very first in a long time, she asked. "Do you think I will ever find that? I dream about it sometimes, you know.
I and somebody I don't know are on the most beautiful planet I have ever seen. But that planet is crawling with dangerous creatures.
Yet, I am lying in that somebody's arms and the universe is perfect. We are on the beach of an ocean. Creatures that could kill me in seconds are all around us. But the love between that person and me is so great that not even the most dangerous creatures on the planets would harm us. They would know that our love is so special that it needs to be preserved. They would kill anybody who even tried to come near us. Yet, at night those same deadly creatures would share their body heat with us.
In the morning cat-like creatures so powerful that they could dent the Delta flyer are playing with us as if they were harmless kittens.
And all of that because all those creatures can feel the love that person and I share."

"That is beautiful B'Elanna. And that is also what you need."
Then Tom brought the attention back to the ending marriage.
"She is going to ask, you know. Janeway, she will want to know what those differences are."

Now B'Elanna actually started grinning. "You know, I really can't think of anything."

That made Tom laugh out loud. "Tell me something I don't know."

"Well I really hate those stupid Captain Proton programs of yours. And all of that time you spent on the holodeck." B'Elanna finally said desperately, and laughing. Suddenly she realized that she was sitting on the couch next to her friend. She wondered when she had actually moved from the chair to the couch, she couldn't remember it. But for the first in a very, very long time it felt right to sit there.

"Well, I really hate that mess you leave everywhere you go. For instance, just before I went to the senior staff meeting I had to put your bowl away because you had once again left it on the coffee table."
"Do you think she'll buy that?"

B'Elanna asked as she put her head against his shoulder in a desperate attempt to stop laughing.

"No. But it will be the only reasons we will give. The rest are private matters."
But then Tom became serious again and picked up the padd that B'Elanna had put on the coffee table after reading the contents.
He looked B'Elanna straight in the eyes and said: "When I put my thumbprint here, I will make it official from my side. So let me say one more time that I love you, my wife."

B'Elanna stopped Tom just before his thumb touched the padd. She took it from him and once again put it on the coffee table.
She brought her lips to his and kissed him one last time as his wife. When the kiss ended she tenderly caressed his cheek.
"Thank you for trying to make me happy, my husband."

Now that husband and wife had said goodbye, B'Elanna put her thumb on the padd and made her decision official.

Tom did the same and then quickly stood, not really knowing what to do next.
"I eh... I will go to Harry's for the rest of the night."

"Don't be ridiculous, Tom. I will not kick you out of what are also your quarters at two o'clock in the morning. You can stay here until Janeway has appointed your new quarters. I think I can tolerate you for a day or two more."

"Okay, thanks. Then I will grab some blankets and..."

B'Elanna interrupted Tom before he could even finish that sentence.
"And I am also not going to throw you out of the bed. Come on Tom, I know that you can keep your hands to yourself when I'm not in the mood.
You can sleep in the bed. Just pretend that I'm not in the mood."

With that, they both made their way to the bedroom. But now that the serious part was over Tom could not help but saying: "So you are in the mood, I just have to pretend that you're not.
Any chance of me getting lucky tonight?"

By now B'Elanna knew her husband, no, ex-husband well enough to know whether he was asking for real or whether he was joking. So she knew that he was only joking.
"If you keep that up, fly boy then you WILL find out how it is to sleep on the couch out there.

"Okay, okay. I have never been evicted to the couch in my entire married life. I sure as heck will not be evicted at the night my marriage ends."

"You are really asking for it, fly boy. So tell me, think you will be able to sleep tonight? I mean with me being naked and all."

That sure was enough to wipe the smile of Tom's face.
"You are going to sleep... naked?"

Knowing that she had won the round, B'Elanna removed the last of her clothes and deliberately used almost the same words Tom had only seconds before.
"I never wore clothes to bed in my entire married life. I sure as heck will not start wearing clothes to bed the night my marriage ends.
Goodnight Tom. Have pleasant dreams."
B'Elanna made no attempt to hide her grin when she heard Tom mumbling.

"The couch suddenly sounds mighty fine to me."


Chapter 5

The always composed, cool blonde was visibly annoyed. Well, at least visibly to the doctor. "Look Seven, I know that you find this a waste of time but if you keep complaining about it you will only add to the time that you have to be here. These checkups are important in a confined space like a starship."

"I know that, doctor. However, I do not see why I have to have a 'checkup' every two weeks while others only have one each month. This is an unproductive use of time. I should be on the bridge helping B'Elanna with the inspections."

"Yes, I know all about those inspections. And I am glad that I am not affected."

The doctor said before continuing with a heavy dose of sarcasm in his voice.
"And I am also glad that I rated important enough to be checked right after ALL of Engineering. Even the doors." Then his voice turned normal again. "Was that really necessary Seven? I mean, I can understand that certain parts of the ship have to be checked before checking the Emergency Medical Hologram program. This goes along the line of insuring the safety of the crew before insuring the safety of one individual. But the doors? The doors in Engineering are more important than me?"

By now the doctor had stopped what he was doing and he was facing Seven directly. That's why Seven could easily see that the doctor was really upset about that. "No doctor, you are certainly more important then the doors in Engineering. However, with the possibility of these viruses effecting each system on Voyager we decided that we needed one place on board of which we knew that it was completely safe. We chose Engineering because all systems can be rerouted through Engineering. So we can, if need be, use Engineering as an emergency control center. And that is why the doors of Engineering were so important. We had to inspect everything. It would be unacceptable if the senior staff wanted to gather in Engineering in case of an emergency only to be stopped by doors that would not open."

Seven once again saw the shifting emotions on the face of the doctor. Emotions that should not have been there with a non sentient EMH. But then again the ex-drone had always suspected that the doctor was sentient. She was glad that she had found a way to explain to the doctor that he was more important than a couple of doors, yet that the functioning of those doors indeed had been more important than him at that moment in time.

"Well." The doctor said, clearly a bit more at ease, while he started scanning Seven with the medical tricorder. "To come back on what you said about the frequency of the checkups. All members of the crew officially have to be checked every two weeks. But you, Tuvok, and Naomi are the only once who actually do that. The rest of the ship has found a very interesting loophole in Federation rules. You see, officially the checkups are every two weeks. But the Chief Medical Officer can do nothing against it if somebody decides not to show up. The CMO can only do something about it if the time between checkups is more than a month. When some of the crew members actually came in here saying that they were there for their 'monthly' checkup I finally decided to just stop running after them and simply started doing ALL of the tests once a month."

The doctor actually had a smug smile on his face when he explained what that meant. "Because I do ALL of the tests, even the most unimportant ones, it means that they actually have to spent more time in here during that one checkup then they would if you combined the time of the two normal checkups."

"Do you mean that you do not treat me different than the rest of the crew?"
Seven had asked that question without giving any indication how important the answer was to her. So the honest answer of the doctor meant even more to her.

"Of course not. Well, that's not entirely correct. I do treat you differently from the rest of the crew. But that's only because my treatment of you has to include your Borg physiology. Just like my treatment of for instance Lieutenant Torres is different because she is part Klingon and my treatment of Lieutenant Tuvok is different because he is Vulcan. But for the rest, no."
Then he looked at her suspiciously and quickly added: "But that does not give you the right to also come for your checkup only once a month. Remember, if you do that I will do all of the tests. And with you that means that I will test each Borg implant individually."

"Be assured that I will continue appearing for my 'checkup' on the established schedule."

"Good... Say," The doctor started casually, too casually. Seven knew that tone. The doctor was fishing for information again. Of course, some simply called it gossip. "How is that going? The working with Lieutenant Torres I mean. I know that you two usually mix like oil and water but lately I've heard it said that you two actually work well together. It is even said that you two make a very good team. That you both actually stopped fighting. So what happened?"

"That information is incorrect. We still have at least one altercation a day. However, now B'Elanna and I no longer take those altercations seriously. We have discovered that we actually like the occasional 'fight' if we both know that it is not meant seriously." Seven let her eyes drift to some point on the sickbay wall while her voice became thoughtful. "I actually find that quite puzzling. My Borg implants have, and always will, remind me that I'm different than a normal human being. Yet, I enjoy it now, when B'Elanna calls me a 'stupid Borg'. And I... Why are you smiling like that doctor?"

"B'Elanna still calls you that?"

"Yes, she did not in the first two days after we became friends but since then she does say it on occasion. Now, I ask again, why are you smiling like that?"

"I am smiling like that because that same B'Elanna Torres, if the talk of the ship is correct, now goes around challenging anybody who says one wrong word about you."

"Indeed? I do not understand that, doctor. How can one's perception change so drastically in the course of a few days? B'Elanna always called me 'stupid Borg' and it annoyed me while she was laughing about it with others. And then only because we realize that we can be friends I suddenly actually like it when B'Elanna calls me that and B'Elanna challenges any but she who calls me that."

The doctor started pacing slowly while answering, the checkup, which was almost finished anyway, forgotten. "Well, I am only guessing here. But I think that the expression 'stupid Borg' is actually so important to B'Elanna because she always called you that. It was her favorite insult for you and now she is ashamed of it. Yet, because she always called you that she is used to saying it to you. So now she sees that you don't mind if she calls you that; and she also knows that you DO mind that OTHERS call you that. So without really realizing it she turns it into 'her' expression. Like a term of endearment for her new friend. A term of endearment she guards viciously because it's hers."

"But how can a insult be a term of endearment?"

"It all depends on who says it and how it's said, because we know how that person really feels. For instance, have you ever heard Mr. Paris calling Voyager 'the grand old lady'?"

"Of course, he does so frequently. And while it is an incorrect description of Voyager, a starship which is relatively young compared to the usual lifespan of a spaceship, it is also not an insult."

"That could be debatable." The doctor said while he leaned against a second bio-bed. "But anyhow, did you also hear him calling Voyager a 'bucket of bolts'? Or 'rust bucket'?"

"Yes I have. He usually does so when he intends to show off his knowledge of piloting the ship."

"Exactly. But because HE says it we don't think that he actually means it. He says it in a way were he is going to prove just what that 'rust bucket' is capable of. But if we meet another race and THEY call Voyager a rust bucket we assume that they mean it maliciously and that they have insulted us as a whole because the crew identifies with the ship in moments like that. So when Tom Paris says that, it's an endearment. If somebody else says it, then it is an insult. When B'Elanna Torres calls you 'a stupid Borg' it is an endearment. If somebody else calls you 'a stupid Borg' it is an insult and B'Elanna will react to a friend being insulted."

"Ah." Seven said, clearly understanding now. "Thank you for explaining that."

"You're welcome." The doctor said before he started talking again. But this time the talk was mainly to pass time while he continued finishing the last couple of tests. "I really don't understand why the rest of the crew can't see how important these checkups are. The captain is the worst of them all. Her last checkup has been four months ago. She always claims ship's business as an excuse for not showing up. And that works only because Federation rules state that a captain can postpone checkups if ship's business does not give that captain enough time. A captain can only be forced to submit to checkup once every six months. And Janeway sure as heck puts those six months to good use. Can you understand that? She comes here and gives me some coffee beans to test, yet she claims that she does not have enough time to do the checkup while she's here. I only..."

The doctor's monologue stopped when the doors of sickbay opened and Lieutenant Tom Paris entered. "Hey, Seven, just the person I was searching for."

"If you were searching for me, you should have asked the computer where I was. Then you would have known that I was in sickbay."

"Huh? But I did ask the computer. That's why I'm here." Tom answered, puzzled. Not seeing the twinkle in the Borg's eyes.

"In that case you were not searching for me. If you were searching for me it would mean that you did not know what my location was."

Tom thought about that for a second and then figured that it was really not worth the trouble. So he brushed it off with a simple: "Whatever," before getting to the point. "In any case, I need your help with plotting the course we will need to take through this sector."

"I was on the assumption that Commander Chakotay was to plot a course from the information I gave him."

Tom scratched himself behind the ear while, unsuccessfully, trying not to smile. "Actually, since his last course suggestion was so... um, unfortunate, he and the captain agreed to let us both set the course and then send it to them for their approval. Janeway ensured him that the possibility of your plotting a course directly to Borg space was negligible by now."

"I find it strange that Commander Chakotay is still concerned with that possibility. If I wanted to deliver Voyager to the Borg I could have done so on numerous occasions. I actually find it a quite inflexible attitude for a Commander. Especially a Commander who was a Maquis member before becoming the commander of a federation starship. He was distrustful of me from the very first day and still has not changed his point of view. If somebody should believe in giving a person a second chance it would be him. Yet he continues to 'keep an eye on me' as he calls it himself."

"I wouldn't worry too much about that if I were you." The doctor said while finishing his last scan and starting to put his equipment away. "He was also distrustful of me in the beginning. He even suggested returning me to my original EMH state of programming after some of the more... unethical things I did. Which would have meant that I would only have been activated in case of emergencies and that my matrix would have been purged every month to make sure that the program, which means me, would not learn from its own existence. With the Commander it simply takes some time to earn his trust. Maybe because he was too trustful as a Maquis. Don't forget that Seska as well as Tuvok had infiltrated his resistance cell. Something like that is bound to make you distrustful of new members to the crew."

"That is not logical and incorrect. If you look at it exactly you will see that your program was activated BEFORE Chakotay became Commander. So you have actually been a member of this crew longer then he has. Yet he has accepted the crew of the Equinox relatively quickly after they became members of our crew. Even though they misused his trust in the beginning. I think the Commander is simply distrustful of anything that could pose a threat that he cannot counteract. Which would mean you as a hologram and your abilities as such hologram. And myself as a Borg and my abilities as such, being Borg."

"But the Commander trust me by now."

"Are you sure about that doctor? Or do you simply WANT to believe that? I know from experience that wanting to be accepted will make you believe things more quickly."
Because Seven had her attention directed at the doctor she did not notice how Tom's eyes fastened on her when he heard her saying that. It was at that moment that Tom decided that maybe Seven could use another friend. After all, B'Elanna usually did not go wrong when choosing a friend.

"Well as interesting as this is, we are supposed to be doing something Seven. And after that, you're supposed to help B'Elanna if I'm not mistaken. So shall we get going?"

"Doctor?" Seven only asked.

"Yes, you can go, I'm finished."

And with that, Tom and Seven exited Sickbay, leaving behind a hologram deeply emerged in thought.

"So..." Tom started while they were walking to the turbolift. "Almost finished with checking the bridge out?"

"Lieutenant Paris, is there a specific reason why you are trying to engage me in 'small talk'? You were in the conference room when B'Elanna and I explained our plan of action and how long the inspections on each part of the ship will approximately take."

"Damn, Seven your really don't know how to have small talk do you?"

"On the contrary. Naomi was a very good teacher and taught me the art of talking about nothing very well. However, I do not see the need to do so with others of the crew."

"Well, it would make the others feel more comfortable around you. Smalltalk is a very good way to get to know people, people who could eventually become friends."

"I will think about that suggestion. However, for now it does not answer my question, unless you suddenly decided you want to be my friend."

"Yeah, well... maybe I decided just that."

"I find that highly unlikely, Lieutenant."


"You seem to forget about my enhanced hearing." Seven said before starting to quote. "'Damn, if all Borg looked like that I wouldn't mind joining the collective at all.' 'Well Chakotay, she may assimilate me anytime. And preferably use all night to do so.' 'Who would want to resist her anyway? Heck, I would even help.'"

"Okay, okay, I get your point Seven. But you've got to admit that I haven't said anything like that in a long time."

"That is correct. You have not. From the moment you married B'Elanna." It was at that moment that Seven remembered to use one of the doctor's lessons. "I am sorry about the termination of your marriage, by the way."

By now they had reached, and entered, the turbolift but neither of them had given a destination.

"Are you really?" Tom asked in a way that made clear that he doubted her sincerity.

"What do you mean, Lieutenant?"

"Just that I'm not." Tom said, not wanting to be too obvious in case he was wrong. "Don't get me wrong, I regret with all of my heart that our marriage did not work. But I'm not sorry that the marriage is over. You see, Seven, I should have never married B'Elanna. I love her, desperately. But B'Elanna and I were the best of friends and we fitted together perfectly so it was only logical that we should marry, right? Wrong. B'Elanna only loved me as a very good friend and I knew that. But I figured that would change. After all, we were perfect for each other. And yes, B'Elanna did change. She changed into somebody she really did not want to be and I realized that I did love her too much to let her continue being that person. That person was not the one I loved so much that I wanted to marry her.

"And now, we are separated and that person I loved enough to marry is back. I know now that I can never have the person I love as my wife, but I can have her as my friend. So yes, Seven, I am glad that my marriage is over. It hurts me terribly, but I am glad."

"That is confusing. Are you telling me that one should never marry a friend?"

"No! God no, Seven. One should always be friends before marrying, however not all friends should marry." Tom sighed, as this was even confusing to him. Then he started to explain, reluctantly. "You see, Seven, you have friends and you have friends. For instance, Harry and I are great friends but there was and is never one single moment between us where the possibility for more existed..."

"Because you are both male?"

"What has that got to do with it? Same gender pairings are quite common. There are, I believe, at the moment, around ten same gender pairings on board Voyager. No, Harry and I simply never clicked in that way. And that is what I mean. Harry and I are the kind of friends who should never marry. But Gilmore and Jarvis are two lovely ladies who first had to become friends before they married. Yet their marriage is holding strong for over a year now."

"That their marriage is successful whilst yours was not does not explain why their relationship extended into copulation while Lieutenant Kim and yours has not."

"Damn, I knew you'd pick up on that." Tom mumbled more to himself than to Seven. "Look Seven, you have friendships and friendships. Some lend themselves for romantic, others don't. Harry's and mine does not lend itself for that but Gilmore and Jarvis' did."

"And why do you keep referring to Gilmore and Jarvis?"

Now Tom was smiling when he said. "I knew you'd pick up on that. I use them as an example to indicate that romance doesn't have anything to do with logic or compatibility. Gilmore was one of the officers on board of the Equinox and..."

"Yes, I know who she is. She rendered me unconscious after all."

"Exactly, Seven. And Jarvis is the security officer who had to guard her while she was in the brig. The perfect example that 'opposites attract'."

"Very well. But if the degree of friendship does not make it clear whether or not a relationship should evolve into a romantic relationship than what does?"

"Gee, Seven, why don't you ask me something easy. Like recalibrating the warp core while flying at warp nine point eight."

Seven did not answer but merely looked at Tom and raised that damn ocular implant.

"Okay, okay." Tom sighed. "Let me go for all of the romance novel's classics. When you walk into a room with a hundred people in it and yet your eyes immediately find your loved one. Or your heart skips a beat every time you see your loved one. Or when just hearing your loved one's voice sends your heart beat racing. Or a simple movement of that loved one will spontaneously raise the room temperature with ten degrees. Or when seeing your loved one hurt hurts you even more. Things like that indicate that changing your friendship to a more romantic nature is not such a bad idea."

*All of the above and more Mr. Paris.* Seven thought. *All of the above and more happen every time I am around B'Elanna. Just the scent of her skin makes it difficult for me to keep my composure. Especially these last weeks since she and I became friends. When her hand accidentally touched mine yesterday....*

Seven could not even finish the thought without her heart beat picking up again. *How naive I was. Thinking that this had something to do with my enhanced senses. Conveniently forgetting that B'Elanna is the only person that this happens with.*

"Seven?" Tom asked when he got no reply.

"Lieutenant, did you feel all of this for B'Elanna?"

Tom looked at the floor of the turbolift before answering. "Sometimes I did. But it usually always lasted only for a moment. And that should really have been an indication for me. The first time I kissed B'Elanna my heart was practically jumping out of my throat. Sure, I played it cool but on the inside I was shaking. Yet the second time I kissed her it was just the same as every time after that, very nice." Tom doubted whether or not he should say the rest but then decided that he could always brushed it off with his boyish charms if it fell wrong. "The only thing that never changed was in regards to our love-life. To have B'Elanna naked in my arms... it never, ever, stopped to affect me."
And Tom could see that the image he just painted was also affecting Seven. He never would have guessed that the Borg could actually blush.

"So, um, Lieutenant, if somebody was feeling like that for a friend, what would you suggest that person do?"

"Well Seven, I wouldn't be surprised if YOUR friend would be very susceptible to that idea." Tom emphasized the 'your' to indicate that he knew exactly who Seven was talking about. "But the way I know your friend I would play it slow. Let it grow, and don't push her."

"Do you think that will work?" Seven asked, dropping all pretense of speaking of somebody else.

"Hey, I know her. And I am the only one who ever got to marry her. So believe me, if this is supposed to happen, then B'Elanna will not be able to stop it. But if you maneuver her into a corner she will fight. She will resist and do anything she has to do to alter her reality. Even if that means getting hostile with you again."

"I do not want that. I have the patience to wait."

"You do that, Seven. But I don't think you will have to wait that long."

"Tell me, Lieutenant, why are you doing this? Why are you helping me in regards with to former wife?"

"Because a part of my wedding vows said; 'I will do everything in my power to make you happy'. I am simply trying to keep at least that promise, Seven.

"In that case, I welcome your help Lieutenant."

"Seven?" Tom asked before he gave the destination for the turbolift as 'Bridge'.

"Yes Lieutenant?"

"Call me Tom, all my friends do."

"Yes, 'Tom'."

And when the turbolift doors closed and the lift started ascending, Seven added. "And Tom..."

"Yes, Seven?"

"You and B'Elanna should really work on finding a more original way to invite new friends into calling you by your first name."


Chapter 6

It had now been three months since B'Elanna and Seven had found the first virus and a strange kind of peace and continuity had settled over Voyager. They were still traveling through a relatively quiet piece of space, only having encountered three other races with which they were allowed to establish contact, according to the prime directive. But that had been enough to keep Voyager supplied. In fact, they had so many supplies that both cargo bays were stacked full to the brim. Energy was at peak proficiency so all replications were free for use, except the more luxurious items on which there was a limit placed by the Federation.

But despite it all, there was still a slight ongoing unease amongst the crew. Everything would be going fine and than suddenly, a previously undetected virus would strike. However, the crew felt more of an annoyance than a fear because by now, everybody knew that the problems caused by the viruses were never dangerous. Sure, it could be annoying, it could even take a incredible amount of work to repair the damage but the worst injury yet to a person was a couple of broken bones and some third-degree skin burns. All of which was painful but treatable by the doctor within minutes.

It had also been three months in which B'Elanna and Seven spent approximately twelve hours a day together.

"Red alert, all hands to..." The Captain stopped speaking before she had finished the sentence and at the same time the red alert was canceled. The Captain then proceeded with more than a little bit of annoyance in her voice. "Seven of Nine and Lieutenant Torres, report to transporter room 1. We seem to have misplaced Commander Chakotay."

"On our way. Torres out." The standing Klingon said before turning to Seven, who was lying underneath a console in the shuttle Bay. "The transporter room? But I thought we had finished that?"

"We did." Seven said while she maneuvered out from under the console.

B'Elanna once again closed her eyes to keep from looking at the Borg. She knew that she could not go on like this much longer. Things had changed. In the beginning of their friendship it was easy. Her Klingon half saw a suitable partner and wanted it. Her Klingon half had long ago recognized and accepted that she wanted Seven as a partner. No, her Klingon warrior half had long ago accepted 'that stupid Borg' as her third heart. The Klingon warrior inside of her always relished those moments when Seven could approach her or touch her without she noticing it before it happened. This was something the human half had not understood at first, why the Klingon warrior would relish that. But now the human half did understand. Klingons thrived on danger. So to have somebody be able to come close enough to kill you without you noticing it, it was a constant high for Klingons. That is how this behavior had evolved in the first place. To get a constant high from merely being in the presence of your partner.

But now things had been complicated. The human half was falling in love with Seven. And for humans things were never as simple as they were for Klingons. A Klingon would simply stake his or her claim for a woman. Then it was either accepted, or you fought your rival for the woman, or she would turn you down and you would go and drink bloodwine with your friends to drown the sorrow.

But with humans, things were not that easy. Humans suffered from strange questions like; am I good enough for her? Does she love me? Should I tell her and risk our friendship if she does not feel the same? Do I want to be humiliated if she laughs at me? And the human half of B'Elanna lately was continuously wrestling with those questions. Never for once thinking about simply letting her Klingon side take charge or that the cool blonde might actually prefer such a straightforward claim.

"Are you coming B'Elanna?" Seven asked when the Klingon did not join her in walking to the door.

"Sure, Seven." B'Elanna calmly replied when she joined the Borg and they started walking to the exit.

But Seven had seen the way B'Elanna had looked at her. She had seen want in those eyes, not the mere Klingon lust that had been there for the last couple of weeks. The Borg started to wonder whether or not it was time for HER to act. She remembered the words of Tom, to take it slow, but Seven suspected that B'Elanna, all of B'Elanna, was now ready for more. She decided that she would give the matter some of thought. However, for now, they were both on duty and had other things to attend to.

"Okay, so how did this happen?" Janeway asked while she, B'Elanna, Seven, Harry and Tuvok were standing in transporter room 1.

"As far as I can tell, Chakotay is still in the pattern buffer but the alignment of the buffer is changed." Harry kept trying to get the transporter to give up the Commander. "I think that it is altered in a way that will enable Chakotay to feel the passing of time while he is in the buffer. So basically, at the moment he realizes that he is nothing more than information in the computer. Kind of like the doctor when he is off-line."

"You are correct, Lieutenant. That was the design of this trap. I reprogrammed it to activate on a date that has already past. That way the virus should not have been activated at all. The only way it could have been activated is if somebody changed my programming. And since it is the Commander who has been targeted it was also he who changed the programming since I re-programmed the virus in that fashion."

Janeway took a brief look at the information on the console. Reassured that Chakotay was relatively safe she turned to Seven. "Okay, Seven, with that answer you opened up three questions for me. First, why have you only reprogrammed the virus and not removed it? Second, why did you reprogram it so that whoever tampered with it would be targeted? And third, what do we do against it now?"

"As B'Elanna and I stated in one of our initial reports, some of the viruses are integrated so much into the programming of Voyager that it would take days just to remove that one virus. In that case we try to determine if we can somehow 'trick' the virus into thinking that it has already activated or slightly modify it so that it will not activate. Then, later on, when we have found all other viruses, we will concentrate on those viruses. It is approximately 1/5 of all of the viruses that we actually leave in place for later removal.

"As to why I reprogrammed the virus to target whoever was trying to remove it. I had to supply a target, so I choose this option because it normally would have been myself who would try to deactivate the virus. Since I would then be the person targeted I would have the ability to once again alter the virus before it could obtain a lock on me and then safely remove it.

"And as for what we should do against it now, I suggest waiting. In nine points five minutes the virus will automatically materialize whoever is in the pattern buffer. But what I would like to know is why the Commander was changing the programming I made."

"Don't worry about that Seven. I am sure that he only accidentally changed it when he was checking the modifications that were made."

"You mean when he was checking the modifications 'I' made. The programming that I have performed; correct, Captain?"

"Now Seven, it is only normal for the first officer to check repairs that are being made."

"Indeed. Tell me, Captain, was it your idea or his to actually go as far and physically control all the changes I made?"

"Well, no. It was his. But he is correct that we can't be too careful."

"Of course not, Captain." The tone in the ex-drone's voice was as cold as Janeway had ever heard it.

"The time is almost up." B'Elanna interrupted, mostly to get the woman to focus on something else.

The next two minutes passed quietly and than finally, the Commander materialized on the transporter pad as if he had just come back from an away mission. "How the Hell did that happen? I thought this room was safe?" Chakotay immediately demanded.

"It is." Janeway said while she took a last look at the readings on the console to see if the materialization had correctly ended. "But it appears that you accidentally triggered one of the traps that were already detected. Join me in my ready room and I will explain it all."

"You could have gotten me out of there sooner, couldn't you?" He asked Seven.

"Come on, Chakotay. If she could have done that, then certainly she would have."

"Actually, B'Elanna, the Commander is correct. I could have retrieved him from the transporter buffer approximately three minutes earlier."

"You could have?" B'Elanna asked surprised. "Then why didn't you? Or why didn't you at least mention it?"

"Because I did not see the need to. By letting the virus run its course and wait three minutes longer, there was a one hundred percent possibility that the commander would rematerialize on the pad. But had I interrupted the program to cut that time down, there would have been a fifty-percent chance that his pattern would have been lost. Which, in essence, means that he would have died. I knew that none of this crew, especially the Captain, would accept such a risk merely to win three minutes of time.
Now, if you all will excuse me, then I shall return to the shuttle bay. B'Elanna?"

"I'm right behind you." The Klingon said, not waiting for the official dismissal of the Captain, nor to see if Chakotay had any other stupid replies to make.

"That brings us to an even two thousand five hundred codes and viruses that are accounted for." B'Elanna said while she and Seven were in the Klingon's quarters at the end of the day.

That was something that had somehow developed a couple of weeks back. B'Elanna had invited Seven in to talk about what they were going to do next. And since that day each day had ended like that. Each day Seven would be in B'Elanna's quarters and they would talk. First it had been over work but lately every topic was fair game.
Those hours always were a sweet torture for the Klingon. Because she would always realize that she felt more at ease in those quarters with Seven then she had ever felt with Tom. There was no trace of anybody else but B'Elanna the woman. With Seven around she felt more at ease then she could ever remember.

"That is correct. If we continue to find the viruses at this rate we will be finished in approximately one month. After that we can concentrate on the viruses that we have 'pacified', as you like to call it."

Seven looked at B'Elanna and once again saw the conflicting signals she had seen earlier that day in the shuttle Bay. Seven knew that B'Elanna felt at ease around her, comfortable, secure. And yet, there was a tension coming from the Klingon that felt strange, but the good kind of strange. As if the Klingon was ready to jump her yet the human was holding the Klingon back. Not allowing the Klingon to claim what it wanted to claim.
*I have been patient long enough. When I find the correct opportunity I will, act.*

"I just still can't understand why this guy would do this. I mean, I have heard of a practical joke and this has all the sign of being some kind of joke. But the idea of a practical joke is that you are around to see how others react to that joke."

"I have been thinking about that, B'Elanna, and there is more that makes no sense. First we have some trader who trades his goods with us in exchange some things he can use, but mainly for water. Yet he has a spaceship which is capable of warp and he is coming from a direction where there are planets that have an excessive water supply.
Then he appears to have coffee which originated on the Earth, in the Alpha quadrant. Something which is impossible unless he either got it from somebody else or he is not what he pretends to be and he actually has the powers to go to the Alpha quadrant himself.
But then again, he asks me to write those codes for him which would indicate that he does not have any omnipotent powers."

"Yeah, until now I agree with you entirely. But what's your point, Seven?"

"My point is this. If he does not have omnipotent powers that how did he manage to place all those viruses and codes? To do so, if he was a normal mortal being, would mean that he would have to go to each place individually and also place each virus individually. Tell me B'Elanna, disregarding the rest of the ship, would he have been able to place all of those viruses and codes in engineering? Would he have been able to get access to the warp core? The environmental controls? The weapons systems?... The doors to your office?"

"Woly shit!" B'Elanna shouted while she jumped from the chair, almost running to the padd which had all of the places where the viruses had been found.
"You are absolutely right Seven." She said after taking a look at exactly were the viruses where found in Engineering and on the bridge. She then put the padd down again and continued her train of thought.
"But let's for a minute assume that he was somehow able to do that. What about all of those viruses we found on the bridge? No way, no way could he have done that if he was a simple human being."
B'Elanna once again sat down. This time on the couch beside Seven. "But if he had powers that was even one-hundredths of the powers of Q then he would not have the need for your codes. Heck, he would not have the need for those viruses. He would simply let the accidents happen. And that is another point. Why only things that could be considered some strange kind of joke? By now I don't really think he was out to hurt us, not really."

"And that is also one of the things." Seven added. "Why do we only realize this now? Three months after we found the first virus. We should have realized this immediately when we found the virus in the warp core. Or at the very latest when we found a virus on the bridge. The only time he was on the bridge was when he walked from the turbolift to the Captain's ready room."

"We should report this to the Captain." B'Elanna said while she already was getting up.

"I do not think that the Captain would appreciate if we were to disturb her at five minutes to midnight only to tell her this. This information is not important at the moment because it does not change anything in our situation. We can tell the Captain tomorrow when we give her our report."

"You're right." B'Elanna said while she dropped back on the couch, accidentally brushing her hand against Seven's leg. The Klingon pulled her hand away quickly but only to have it captured by Seven's hand even quicker.

For a moment neither of them said anything, both relishing the feeling of finally holding the others hand. Then after looking at the hands for an unmeasured amount of time their eyes found each other and they looked into each other's eyes for the first time without hiding anything.
Blue eyes that held more emotions then B'Elanna had ever seen in a pair of eyes.

Brown eyes that held the fire of raw Klingon lust, but tempered with human emotions.

"Do not run away from me, Klingon." Seven finally demanded of the woman sitting next to her. "I am merely awaiting your claim." Seven hoped that despite whispering that last comment it would still reassure the trembling engineer of the love she felt for her, and that she was open to that famous Klingon straightforwardness. She knew that B'Elanna loved her but also that for some reason she was afraid, scared to show and feel that love.

"It is not the Klingon that is running away but rather the human." B'Elanna answered not sure what she was trying to say but needing to somehow voice the feelings she was experiencing. It really wasn't the Klingon part of her that was afraid, for months now 'it' had been wanting to claim Seven for herself. No, it was her human half that was running scared.
"Then, human, why are YOU running away from me?"

And that shocked B'Elanna. Though she would never consider herself schizophrenic, with her two heritages she might perhaps very well seem similar to those who had multiple personalities. On the one hand there was her Klingon self ready to claim it's third heart and be with Seven. But on the other hand, B'Elanna realized, was the human who was trying to fight the already lost battle of love.
"Because I'm scared, afraid of being hurt." The human finally admitted. "When I let you in, let you into my heart, you will have a power over me that nobody ever had. I'm afraid that you will hurt me."
"I will most probably hurt you on occasion." Seven whispered honestly. Knowing that, no matter how much she wished it not to be true, there was no guarantee that she would not hurt B'Elanna. Then Seven continued in a strong earnest voice. "But never intentionally. I would rather suffer a year of pain myself then see you in pain for one minute. But, human, remember that there is also a human inside ME. And that you might just as easily hurt me. The potential for pain is there on both sides but if we are together we will make each other stronger. We will make each other so strong that nothing, except we ourselves, could ever hurt us.

Annika promises you this.
So, human, will you give your trust to this human? Do you trust Annika, Lanna?"

B'Elanna was quiet for almost ten minutes. Ten minutes in which Seven nervously waited for an answer to her question, and to the questions she had not voiced. 'Does B'Elanna want to enter into a relationship with me? Does she trust me even more then she did Tom? Does she love me as much as I do her or have I read too much into her feelings?'
But knowing that B'Elanna needed that time to make one of the most important choices in her life Seven kept quiet. Ironically enough that important choice of B'Elanna was also the MOST important decision in the life of Seven.
It seemed to Seven that others made all of the important decisions in her life and that she could do nothing more than live with them.
It had been her parents that had made the decision which had brought a young child into the clutches of the Collective. It had been Captain Janeway that had made the decision to sever her from the Collective. And now, it was B'Elanna who was going to make the decision whether Seven's life was going to be an empty one, or a full one.

Finally a quiet 'yes' was heard. Then a little louder: "Yes, I will trust you. I will open my heart to you if you do the same."

"Annika already did months ago. But the Borg is good at hiding feelings." Seven said while she closed her eyes in relief. Finally, for once, the decision of somebody else had been what she had wanted it to be with all her being.

"Since when do you specifically refer to your human side with the name 'Annika'?"

Seven shifted her weight around on the couch a few times while she was trying to figure out a way to answer that question. Finally she decided to tell her love how she truly felt and how she truly saw herself.
She looked straight ahead, not being able to face B'Elanna. Her hands clasped tightly in her lap, Seven finally spoke up. "I tend to see myself as a merger of Borg and human. Each with it's separate identity. The 'Borg' is what the crew see everyday. As the Borg I feel strong, less emotional, detached, and protected from those around me that make me feel weak, emotional, attached, and vulnerable. The Captain once referred to my tendency to project my Borg nature during times when I feel uncomfortable or not in control of my Borg armor. Though I did not admit to her, she was right I use my 'Borgness' as a barrier from things that can potentially hurt me or unnerve me."
Seven took a shaky breath before revealing her most intimate secret. "That is why I always seemed the most cold and emotionless when I was around you. You have the potential to hurt me and more often than not just your mere presence tended to unnerve me. I realize now that I already loved you then. And that feeling scared me.

"But when my more human side, my emotions, began to assert themselves even more... It is then that I started seeing myself as somebody with a dual nature. Borg vs. Human. Seven vs. Annika. No matter how hard the Borg in me try to repress feelings and emotions I still felt, I still experienced emotions. And no matter how hard my human side tried to do away with logically thinking and emotional detachment, I still thought like a Borg would think. Logically and efficiently. I realized that I was a harmony of two separate identities which formed one person. So to account for this I began referring to my human side as 'Annika' and to my Borg side 'the Borg'.
However, I have never told anybody else about this. But I believe that I wished for you to know who I really am, all of me. So now that I finally could, I told this to the only person I trust. You."

"Thank you." B'Elanna said quietly, moved by that show of trust. She as nobody else knew how private that information must have been for the Borg. "Can I call you that in private? Annika I mean? I don't want to disregard your Borg half, it this a part of you just like my Klingon half, but I want something more... personal than Seven. Because Seven is neither your human name nor is it your real Borg designation."

"Yes, that is one of the reasons I told you this, I would like it if you used it as a form of endearment. But Seven is the name I want to be referred to on a normal basis."

"Of course." B'Elanna said. She had also liked it went Seven had called her Lanna. But it was not something that B'Elanna would want to be called on a routine basis. Lanna should be the most intimate of endearments, just as Annika should be.
"Now what?" The Klingon suddenly asked agitated as she sprung from the seat and began to pace the floor. "I mean, do we go out on a first date? Should we tell anybody? Are we considered a couple? Where do we go from here?"
"Now you need to let the Klingon claim the Borg." Seven smirked up at the suddenly stock still woman. It was a challenge, one that B'Elanna soon caught on to.

So with a deep growl, B'Elanna stalked back to the coach and knelt down in front of the love of her life. Sniffing the air, smelling the unique scent of Seven, sent her Klingon passion into overdrive. But her human side refused to let happen what was about to happen without clarifying something first. "But a Klingon claim, if it is accepted, means a marriage. I don't know if I'm ready for that."

Seven took hold of the kneeling woman's hand and once again answered with a honesty that B'Elanna had come to admire. "You are not. And neither am I. However, you are mistaken. A Klingon claim does not necessarily immediately mean a marriage. While longer Klingon engagements are not commonly heard of, they do exist."

B'Elanna smiled at that explanation. "You're right. While longer engagements are uncommon, they are a respected tradition. I forgot about that. Heck, the last time that somebody had a longer engagement in my family is five generations back. But it most definitely IS a respected Klingon tradition. But how'd you know all that?"

"Because I studied all the information I could find about the race my... the person I love is part of."

After hearing that B'Elanna finally gathered all her courage and decided to just... go for it. *I love Seven. I would be crazy not to do this.*
Then, thinking about the universal translator that was standard always online all over the ship, she said; "Computer, from this moment on do no longer translates any of the Klingon spoken in my quarters. Authorization Torres 01."

<Authorization accepted. Klingon translation is now off-line.>

B'Elanna then fully faced the Borg, looking for any trace of doubt but finding none. Then she took a deep breath and came off her knees. Nearly sliding across the other woman's body. In this way she pushed Seven back on the couch, into a semi-lying position until she almost completely covered the Borg.
"Before I do anything else let me just clearly say this, I love you. You are my life."
Then, before Seven could answer, B'Elanna began the ritual.

" jIqu "
(I am fierce.)

" jISov "
(I know.)
Seven answered.

" qatlha' "
(I chase you.)
B'Elanna stated because she was the one that was making the claim.

" chovuv "
(You respect me.)
Seven said with a voice full of trust and confidence.

" qaDev "
(I lead you)
B'Elanna claimed, once again according to tradition.

" jItlhab "
(I am independent.)
Seven objected. Also according to tradition. But she would have also said so if it had not been the tradition.

" qachargh "
(I conquer you.)
B'Elanna growled. Tradition said that the person that claimed should get a clear concession on who was going to be the leader of the household.

Without B'Elanna really realizing how it happened Seven somehow reversed positions. Now it was B'Elanna who was lying on the couch with Seven pinning her down with enough force to almost hurt the Klingon and try as she might, she did not get loose. It was then that Seven continued with the ritual and the Klingon understood what the Borg was doing.

" qachaw' "
(I allow you)
Seven said.

B'Elanna understood that the Borg was showing the Klingon half that B'Elanna could always be sure that whatever happened, now and in the future, would only be what the Borg allowed to happen. The Borg was showing the Klingon that the Klingon was really no match for the Borg if the Borg really wanted to resist.

Then Seven let go of B'Elanna and patiently waited until she was sitting once again facing Seven. They sat quietly for a moment both understanding what they just agreed to. They would be equals in this relationship. But B'Elanna would be recognized as the leader of the household to be, because Klingon custom demanded a clear leader to a household. However, B'Elanna would never have more of a voice in the relationship then Seven.
They were equals.

" qavoq "
(I trust you)
B'Elanna then continued.

" qavoq "
Seven repeated.

" qaQan "
(I protect you)

" qaQan "
Seven once again repeated and thereby ending the ritual.

They looked at each other, realizing that now they were officially engaged according to Klingon custom. The long engagement meant that they had five years in which they would have to make up their minds about whether or not they would get married. But in those five years they could choose whatever stage of interaction they wanted. From continuing with being nothing more than friends, to actually living as a married couple. Which would mean that they would also be inclined to all the privileges of married life, including sharing the bed.

" quch ?"
Seven then asked.

" HIja' "
(yes, true)
B'Elanna answered with a big grin.

" qaHo' Kyamo "
(I admire you) (Beautiful one)
Seven replied before she started talking in English. "I have wanted to say that to you for more than a year now."

"That long?" B'Elanna asked surprised.

"Well, yes. It is more than a year ago that I started to admire you. And you ARE a beautiful one."

"So what you're telling me is that this could have happened a year ago if I only treated you normal."

"No it could not. You were involved with Tom at that moment."

B'Elanna smiled when she heard that.

"Details." She said before getting serious again. "Well since we are making confessions there, I've been wanting to kiss you for almost half a year now. May I?"

"Are you serious with that question or is the meaning of that question to establish the boundaries of our engagement?"

"The last."

"In that case let me make it clear that there are no boundaries on personal contact. Kiss me B'Elanna."

And so B'Elanna did. Softly, tenderly at first. Lips barely touching. But quickly it became more. The kiss built and passion entered. Tongues started to demand entrance and were allowed.
Annika and Lanna were swept away by passion and slowly but surely hands started to caress bodies.
Suddenly a growl built deep in the throat of B'Elanna and the Klingon half of her made itself known. Seven answered the growl with a moan and B'Elanna knew that she had to stop before the Klingon warrior inside her could get out of the hand.
However, when she tried to distance herself from Seven she found herself pinned in place by one hand which was holding her head in place and a arm over her back which held her body tightly pressed against Seven's.
That confinement was enough to release all of the holds that B'Elanna had on her Klingon half and the Klingon warrior was given free range.
And the kiss changed again. This time to raw passion, Klingon passion. And the Klingon noticed that the kiss was returned just as fiercely. However not by Annika, but by the Borg.

Finally the kiss ended, leaving them both breathless but satisfied. Finally B'Elanna could admit that she sometimes wanted to be kissed like that. Sometimes.
"Wow." Was the only thing that B'Elanna could say. She tried to move but found herself still locked in place. As she noticed this she looked at Seven's face and saw ice cold blue eyes looking back at her. The Klingon realized that it was now solely the Borg that was looking at her. Yet despite that B'Elanna could still see love in those eyes.

" qachargh "
(I conquer you.)
The Borg said.

The Klingon realized that the ex-drone was stating her own claim. Something that had nothing to do with Klingon tradition. So the first reaction of the proud Klingon was an obvious:
" ghobe' "

" HItlhochQo' "
(Don't contradict me.)
Seven said with a growl that would make even Kahless proud.

" Qatlh jImatlh "
(It is difficult) but (I am loyal) to you.
B'Elanna relented after a moment. Knowing that this was what Seven wanted to hear.

" wa' ?"
Seven asked.

" wa' "
B'Elanna agreed before changing back to English again. Apparently talking Klingon was more difficult for her than it was for Seven.
"Yes, we are one. Now, would you mind letting me go?"

"Why would I want to do that? I like the way you feel against me. I wish to continue with kissing."

"And by whom do you want to be kissed, by the human or by the Klingon?"

There was a dose of humor in B'Elanna's voice. But Seven could easily detect that B'Elanna meant that question seriously.

"B'Elanna, what I just did was not to make a preference." While she let go of B'Elanna and they once again went to the position of sitting beside each other on the couch. "I just want you to be yourself. All I did was show you that you should not hold back because you fear my reaction. I can handle the human just as easily as the Klingon. So what ever you feel like at that moment, act like it. Be yourself."

A wave of relief flooded over B'Elanna. To have somebody accept her so completely... to allow her to be herself... to actually want that impossible Klingon/human mix. That alone made her feel even more love for Seven.

"Isn't this really a bit sudden?" B'Elanna than asked, realizing the quickness with which all had happened. "I mean, I just told you I love you and now I am already engaged with you.

"Perhaps it is not. To the contrary, it is quite logical for two individuals like us. It is your Klingon heritage which allows you to do this. Klingons see what they want and take it. And for a Borg, anything else would be unnecessary waste of time."

"Yeah? Then tell me, why did I wait so long before I married Tom? And what about your human side? Isn't this too quick for the human in the Borg?"

"Are you regretting what we just did?" Seven asked in a small voice already filled with sorrow.

"No! Don't you ever go think that." B'Elanna contradicted fiercely. "No Seven, this is the best thing I ever did. I am sure of that. I'm just wondering why this feels so... right."

Seven decided that she had enough of just sitting beside B'Elanna when she could have more. And so she opened her arms and B'Elanna immediately reacted. The Klingon had dreamt of being held in those arms and now that she could she was not about to hesitate for one single moment.

When Seven's arms closed around B'Elanna a feeling of utter bliss spread through both women. This was how it was supposed to be. THIS was... right.

The ex-drone actually had to concentrate first before she could say the words that were so clear only moments before. Before she had taken the Klingon into her arms, and everything else had become unimportant.

"Maybe, Kyamo(beautiful one), because you love me as much as I love you. And... B'Elanna, I do not believe in the gods, so let me borrow your Kahless for a moment. Kahless, how I love you, B'Elanna."

Hearing that lit a fire of pure love in B'Elanna. "I love you too, you stupid Borg." B'Elanna said affectionately. "And I understand why you wanted to borrow Kahless. Because, Kahless, Seven how I love you. I never knew what love was before I met you."

That lit up Seven's face with a beautiful smile which immediately brought a similar smile to B'Elanna's face. And it was with that same smile that the Borg offhandedly, yet tenderly, explained. "Maybe you waited so long with marrying Tom because you're Klingon side never wanted to. It was the human who wanted the continuous company and familiarity that a marriage like that could offer.
And when your human side finally won that battle, for that moment, it was your Klingon side who once again acted and suddenly married Tom in the course of one day.
And for my human side, B'Elanna, you yourself once said that I am emotionally very young and..."

"I'm sorry for that Seven." B'Elanna once again felt shameful for one of the many verbal things she had thrown at the Borg.

"And you will be sorry for a lot more things that you have once said. Do not go apologizing for all of them B'Elanna. Because a lot of them were true and a lot of them made me actually think, like this one did.
Now, as I said before I was in so ruefully interrupted." The Borg joked to lighten the mood a little bit. "As you said, I AM the emotionally very young. But 'thanks' to the Borg I am a mature person who has seen everything from mass assimilation to... the Omega molecule. So I AM a grown person, mentally and physically. But emotions, I am just exploring. However, that combination makes it incredibly easy for me to know how much I love you and that there will never be anybody else for me. My young emotions make this easy. My memory of assimilated species gives me a indication of how great a love for a person can be. And, B'Elanna, none of that comes even close to what I feel for you.
So maybe this time the Klingon and the Borg have done the right thing and the humans should simply go along and enjoy."

Yeah, you're probably right." B'Elanna agreed before smiling again and adding: "In that case I would love to just lie here and continue kissing you."

"I would like that. And I would not mind at all to feel your hands caressing me."

"Only caress?" The Klingon asked with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.

"For tonight? Yes. I want time for more but unfortunately our shift starts in six hours and twelve minutes."

"You're right, of course. But let me get off of you. I must be crushing you."

"No! Stay I like the way you feel against me. And you are not crushing me. I am Borg, I can take it. So stay where you are and kiss me."

And B'Elanna did, tenderly.

The next day the alpha shift on the bridge was extremely quiet. No strange things had happened on the bridge for more than a month now and all of the important systems were a virus free. So finally, on the bridge at least, the usual ease that always hang in the air was back.
And that should have been an indication. Because if their journey in the Delta Quadrant had thought them one thing it was that if everything was quiet... then something was about to happen.

It started of innocently enough. Just a blip on the screen in front of Tuvok. Something he of course dutiful mentioned.
"Long-range sensors are picking up a relatively small ship Captain."

"Really? Out here in this quiet space desert? On screen."

"That is not possible. The Borg enhanced long-range sensors have a range that is greater than the range of the standard Federation viewscreen sensors."

"Is that your Vulcan way of saying 'I told you so', Tuvok?" The Captain asked with a humor filled voice.

"We Vulcans do not believe in 'I told you so', Captain. However, the fact remains that I did advise you to upgrade the viewscreen sensors at the same time as the long-range sensors."

"Of course you did, Tuvok. But what can you tell me?"

"Only that it is a spaceship with roughly one-tenth the size of Voyager, that it is stationary and that the sensors can not penetrate it. We can merely registered it... And that is now coming into range of the viewscreen sensors."

"Well in that case, on screen." Janeway did not try to hide her amusement about the fact that the Vulcan had just really basically told her 'I told you so', despite his claim that he had not.
But then the viewscreen was activated and the Captain was captivated by the small sleek-lined ship. If she had to describe how the ship looked she would describe it has one of the Lions she had once seen back on Earth. It had a feel about it as if nothing could be of interest to it, and yet there was a power shining through in the design that told you that you were dealing with a very deadly creature.

"I still can not get any clear readings, Captain. However, the closer we come, the clearer some of the readings are getting."


"Yes Captain. I would semis that we are only getting the readings they want us to get. The rest is completely blocked."

"Take us out of warp, Tom, and close in until a distance of five thousand kilometers."

"Aye ma'am. Dropping out of warp, now. Ten thousand kilometers and closing."

"Harry, hail them."

"No response."

"Five thousand kilometers."


"Still the same readings, Captain. There are living beings on board the ship and they have an environment which can sustain normal humanoid life. But that is all I am reading. I cannot tell you of how many members the crew is made up."

"Close in to one thousand kilometers and then come to a full stop."

Voyager closed in while the zoom of the ship in the viewscreen automatically adapted itself to the closing distance.

"One thousand kilometers and holding."


"Still no response Captain."

Janeway looked at Chakotay who only lifted a hand to indicate that he ready had no suggestion.

"This is getting annoying. Tom, bring us in to one hundred kilometers."
Janeway then addressed Tuvok. "If there is still no reply to our hail by then I want you to start a level 1 scan."

"One hundred kilometers and holding."

"Harry?" Janeway heard the turbolift opening but did not take the time to see who had entered the bridge.


"Okay, Tuvok..."

But before Tuvok could initiate the scan a purple light was filling the bridge. "WE are being scanned." Tuvok said calmly, if a bit redundant. Then his eyes went to Seven of Nine who had just entered the bridge together with B'Elanna but who had stopped moving when she saw the ship on the viewscreen.

"Raise Shields." Janeway had hardly said the words before her voice was drowned out by a not so cool nor composed blonde urgently screaming...


Chapters 7-9

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