DISCLAIMER: All characters from Star Trek belong to Paramount and use of them here is not intended to infringe, nor to make any profit. This story depicts a loving relationship between women. If you have objections, don't read it. You have been duly warned.
NOTES: I used names for Bajoran characters that come from the world of Star Trek but the reader should not associate the Trek characters' histories with the characters here. I've also invented a "Bajoran" word toward the end of the story.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Truly Free
By Weejee

Chapter 1

B'Elanna Torres heard voices calling her name in the distance and stood up to wipe the dirt off her pants and hands. She knew who it was coming for her and knew that she would not be able to indulge herself in her garden much longer. Perhaps the thing that surprised her most in the three years that she had been living on the Bajoran colony Free Haven was how very much she loved to garden. She had chosen this small house almost a kilometer from the small town of Ilvia not only because it gave her some privacy but because it had wonderful space for gardening and a spectacular view.

"B'Elanna! B'Elanna!," the new arrivals shouted.

"Stop right there Anara and Bemar before you do any damage to my garden." The siblings pulled up short at the entrance to the garden and watched as B'Elanna washed her hands at a spigot.

"B'Elanna!" Anara, a ten year old girl continued, excitedly. "The shuttle's here and father needs you to come."

"Okay, okay. I knew it would arrive today and have been waiting for you, little ones."

"Not so little anymore," eleven year old Bemar pouted.

"True enough, young man," B'Elanna conceded. "So, let's get a move on."

"Carry us, carry us," the pair begged in unison.

"I thought you were all grown up and too big to be my little ones," B'Elanna laughed.

"I just said I wasn't SO little any more," Bemar protested. He looked down at his feet shyly. "I don't think I'll ever be too big to be your little one, B'Elanna."

"Okay, okay, I'm a sucker for you both. Climb on." Bemar jumped onto B'Elanna's back as Anara leapt into her arms.

"Ooomph," B'Elanna exhaled as she set off with the children. "I gotta tell you that you *will* be too big for this and I'll be too *old* for it pretty soon."

"Oh, Belly Button," Anara teased, using their pet name for her.

The second thing that most surprised B'Elanna Torres in her time on Free Haven - after gardening - was how much she adored these two children. When she first arrived three years ago, four years after Voyager had made it back from the Delta Quadrant, she had become fast friends with Jomat Ven and Jomat Luson, the children's parents and prominent author and doctor, respectively. It seemed as if she had known them all her life and they had become her family. When Luson, their mother, died last year, B'Elanna and the children had become even closer and B'Elanna did what she could to help Ven and the children adjust. If she knew about anything, she knew what it was like to lose a parent at a young age.

As she crossed the familiar path to town to meet with Ven, she pondered the third surprise that Free Haven had offered her, but, if she had to be honest with herself, it wasn't a terrible surprise that she was happy here. After spending a year bouncing around from one thing to another (after taking a bit of time to reconnect with her father), B'Elanna had planned to spend only a few weeks on Free Haven visiting the graves of some of her Maquis comrades but Ilvia and its people had simply seduced her. Best of all, she could make a great contribution to helping Free Haven recover from the lingering effects of the Breen attack on it during the Dominion war. She liked to feel needed and no other opportunity that had come her way since Voyager's return had been so satisfying. Here she was helping to really build something special, even if they didn't have many resources. The rag tag group of mostly Bajorans was committed to building a peaceful, egalitarian society and their devotion to honor and justice appealed to her. More than anything else that appealed to B'Elanna about Ilvia was that they had welcomed and accepted her for herself.

"Okay, munchkins, down," B'Elanna commanded as they reached the town hall. "We don't need to meet the Federation's technical advisor like a pack of wild animals."

"Belly Button," the children chimed as the three entered the hall to find Ven.

"Ah good, you're here," Ven said, gesturing for B'Elanna to join him. "Children, do not tease her so."

"Yes, father," they replied contritely and stood quietly off to the side.

B'Elanna approached Ven and their newly-arrived advisor, who was engrossed in a display of Free Haven's infrastructure.

"The Federation's technical advisor has arrived," Ven noted unnecessarily since the children had already told her as much and she could see the woman standing right there.

"Well, we've certainly hit the jackpot, Ven," B'Elanna said, slapping him on the back. "They've sent us the smartest person they've got."

At that, the woman turned around in shocked recognition of the voice she had just heard behind her.

"B'Elanna Torres!"

"Welcome to Ilvia, Seven," B'Elanna replied, grinning at her former shipmate. To her incredible surprise, Seven pulled her into a bear hug and then held her by the arms to examine her. Seven noted that B'Elanna looked well and happy.

"B'Elanna Torres! I am very pleased to see you. For some time now we have not known whether you were dead or alive."

B'Elanna took a step back, hanging her head. "I know," she said quietly. "I'm sorry." She took in Seven of Nine standing before her. She was wearing casual clothes and seemed more mature, relaxed and comfortable with herself.

"Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay will be most relieved to hear that you have not expired."

"Janeway ... you were on Voyager as well, Seven?"

"His powers of deduction are legendary," B'Elanna said, smacking Ven lightly on the arm.

"I believe that my children's bad manners have rubbed off you on, B'Elanna," Ven said with mock sternness.

"I must defend your children, Jomat Ven. B'Elanna Torres' manners left much to be desired long before they were born," Seven said with a smirk.

"Great, one more person to give me a hard time," B'Elanna laughed.

"Nothing you do not deserve my friend," Ven said, backing away to avoid another smack. "Why don't you show our guest to her quarters and brief her on what we have planned? Your belongings have already been deposited there, Seven. And we'll expect you both for dinner later."

"Thank you, Jomat Ven," Seven said as B'Elanna began to show her out the door of the town hall.

"I did not expect to find you here, B'Elanna," Seven said, suddenly serious, as they crossed the short distance to the small house that the town had set aside for the adviser the Federation had offered them.

"Neither did I," B'Elanna quipped as they reached the house. "I only came to pay my respects to some of my Maquis friends and never left. Here we are."

Seven entered the house and took a quick look around. "Most acceptable," she said as they passed through the door to the small veranda at the back of the house.

"Where is your alcove equipment, Seven? Or have you come up with a portable regeneration device?"

"May I offer you something to drink?" Seven asked, returning to the replicator.

"I'd love a beer."

"Please make yourself comfortable on the veranda and I will bring it to you."

When Seven returned with a beer and a glass of wine for herself, she settled into a comfortable chair next to B'Elanna and took in the view of mountains.

"So, is the equipment here?" B'Elanna asked again, curious to know how Seven was going to regenerate during the three months of her assignment.

"I no longer need to regenerate. The Doctor was forced to remove my abdominal implant one year and eighty eight days ago."

B'Elanna turned to look at Seven with worry evident on her face. "Forced to?"

Seven met her gaze. "My body was rejecting it and there was no other option."

"I'm so sorry that you had to go through that. But the Doc fixed you up good?"

"Yes, and Lieutenant Kim assisted him in devising the procedure." Seven looked away and continued quietly. "I would much have preferred your presence . . . your expertise. We tried to find you but, obviously, failed."

B'Elanna put down her beer and covered her face with her hands to hide the tears that had begun to fall. She hadn't thought about the repercussions of her absence on her Voyager family but hadn't imagined anything as serious as this. "Oh, God. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry, Seven. I've been a selfish idiot and wasn't there for you when you needed me. I'm sorry."

Seven put aside her drink, knelt down in front of B'Elanna and took the crying woman's hands away from her face. "Look at me, B'Elanna." B'Elanna reluctantly lifted her head to look into Seven's eyes. "The procedure was a success and I am fine. And I am very pleased to find you here."

B'Elanna pulled Seven into a hug. "Kahless, I hadn't realized how much I missed you."

"You do not even like me, B'Elanna Torres. How could you miss me so?" Seven said with what could only be called an impish smile on her face.

"Nevertheless, I have missed you, Borg."

Seven smiled ever so slightly as the two settled back into their chairs to finish their drinks and enjoy the view as they waited for dinner.

Chapter 2

By the time B'Elanna and Seven returned to Ven's home for dinner, most of the members of the town council had arrived. B'Elanna introduced everyone to Seven and Ven seated her next to Keeve Falor, the chair of the council.

"We're very grateful for your presence, Seven," said Falor. "There's a great deal of work to be done on Free Haven and we're pleased that the Federation has agreed to assist us with resources and personnel."

"I am happy to do whatever I can to help, Keeve Falor."

"Please, just Falor," he replied as Seven nodded.

"And B'Elanna tells me that the Federation has sent its best person to us," Ven chimed in.

"There's no question of that," B'Elanna agreed, winking at Seven who looked embarrassed by all the attention. "We'll have the most efficient infrastructure possible in no time."

"So how did you become a Federation technical advisor, Seven?" inquired Sito Jaxa, a long-time member of the council and director of the school system.

"Although I enjoyed serving on Voyager and wished to continue working with Captain Janeway, I did not wish to join Starfleet. The Federation's Institute for New Technology was the most appealing option for me to continue my scientific work and I am able to be in contact with many of my former ship mates. I have also become reacquainted with Irene Hansen, my father's sister. I have found it unexpectedly satisfying to know her and did not wish to be away on extended missions when we returned from the Delta Quadrant."

"And what became of the other members of the crew?" Jaxa asked. "B'Elanna is very stingy with Voyager stories."

"Captain Janeway and Commander Tuvok have returned to Voyager after its upgrade at Utopia Planetia. Commander Chakotay is currently at Starfleet Academy teaching about the anthropology and sociology of the Delta Quadrant. Tom Paris has become a commercial pilot and Lieutenant Kim is serving as Operations officer aboard the USS Wyoming."

B'Elanna was embarrassed that she had not kept up to date with events in the lives of her crew mates but when she decided not to remain with Starfleet, she had felt too adrift to think about much except herself. Janeway and Tuvok had very much wanted her to remain on Voyager but B'Elanna was forced to admit that it had only been Captain Janeway's impressive leadership and the unusual circumstances of life in the Delta Quadrant that had made it possible for her to serve so productively. Everything about Starfleet that had always made her feel claustrophobic was still there and even being aboard Voyager would not have made it any easier.

Shaking her head to help return to the conversation at hand, B'Elanna joined in as the group continued getting to know Seven. The conversation alternated between discussions of Voyager and Seven's life after and debates about what kinds of technological assistance the colony would need or accept. B'Elanna was impressed with how at ease Seven was these days, a far cry from her early years on Voyager. It was a pleasure to listen to her and B'Elanna had to admit that Seven was captivating. Judging from their behavior, everyone else seemed to agree. At the meal's conclusion, it was decided that Seven and B'Elanna would work together to assess the situation and draw up a list of equipment and supplies that Seven would request from the Federation.

B'Elanna walked Seven home and they agreed that she would return in the morning to accompany Seven to the science and engineering lab where they would be working.

"Thank you, B'Elanna. That was a very enjoyable meal. I can see why you like living here so much."

"That's nothing. Wait till you see my garden," she responded with a smile. "Seriously, I am glad that you're here, Seven. It will be fun to work together again."

"I believe that your memory is malfunctioning, B'Elanna. First you claim to have missed me and now you believe that it will be *fun* to work with me."

"Things change."

"I do not see how that much change is possible in only four years," Seven mumbled as she entered the house.

"Everybody's a comedian. And always at my expense," B'Elanna retorted as she huffed off home.

Over the next week, B'Elanna and Seven did indeed work together productively and with relatively few arguments, given their history of conflict. When they weren't in the town's lab, they were at B'Elanna's house brainstorming about how best to handle the growing colony's needs. The pair had fallen into a comfortable work life and were almost ready to move the project to the next phase. They had also settled into a social routine and this night, as they often did, joined Ven, Anara and Bemar for dinner.

"Will we see you tomorrow night, Belly Button," Anara asked as she sat on B'Elanna's lap after dinner.

"You bet, munchkin. Wouldn't miss it."

"What will occur tomorrow night?" Seven asked, looking up from the puzzle she was helping Bemar complete.

"The town's monthly party night," Ven explained. "We don't have much here and don't go in for high tech entertainment but we do like to party. There's always food, music and dancing. I hope you'll join us. Practically everyone comes."

"Please, Seven," the children, who had become quite fond of their guest in a short time, begged.

"Of course I will attend," Seven responded, to the children's glee.

"Geez, if I had known it was so easy to get you to comply, I'd have resorted to begging a lot sooner," B'Elanna grumbled.

"That I'd like to see," Ven muttered under his breath, not wanting to risk B'Elanna's anger.

The next evening B'Elanna arrived late at the town hall to find Ven and the children already there with Seven. The music was already going and people were out on the dance floor. B'Elanna waved at her friends and headed over but before she could get there, Varis Sul, an artist of about B'Elanna's age, intercepted her.

"Great, you're here sweets. Let's hit the dance floor. You know I love this song," Sul said seductively.

B'Elanna looked at her and then over at Ven and Seven. "I...." was all she could get out before Sul had dragged her out to dance.

B'Elanna finally gave in and began to dance with Sul, hoping that this would do it for the night. And she did love the song too.

Seven observed with wonder as B'Elanna and the young woman danced. Or, more precisely, as the woman danced around B'Elanna, who had her eyes closed and seemed to be in her own world. Watching B'Elanna dance, Seven finally comprehended the concept of sexiness. The woman's movements, while technically proficient, seemed crass and exaggerated when compared with the self possessed and powerfully erotic movement of B'Elanna's body. Seven noted that her mouth suddenly felt parched and that she could not take her eyes off B'Elanna.

Ven, who had amusedly been watching Seven watch B'Elanna, retrieved a glass of wine and thrust it into Seven's hand. "Here, you look like you could use this."

"Thank you, Ven," Seven replied, still mesmerized and not looking at him. She drained her glass quickly as the song ended.

B'Elanna headed off the dance floor with Sul trailing her and, with resignation, introduced the two women before Sul ran off to find someone else to drag onto the dance floor. B'Elanna also took the opportunity to smack Ven on the arm since his face was plastered with a ridiculous smile. Disgusted, B'Elanna turned her attention to the children.

"Oops, that's my cue," Ven said suddenly as the song changed. He ran up on the stage at the front of the hall and took the microphone to sing along for the crowd.

Seven looked at the stage with a quizzical expression as Ven delivered a strained rendition of the song that was playing.

"Homespun entertainment," B'Elanna explained. "Lots of people do a song each month."

"That was *interesting*," Seven conceded to Ven when he returned.

"Why thank you, Seven. I think you're up next, B'El."

"No, not tonight, Ven."

"Please, Belly Button," Anara and Bemar begged, now intoxicated with their success at getting the adults around them to do what they asked.

"This begging is too much," B'Elanna complained, putting her hands over her ears for effect. "This is *it* for you two tonight." The children nodded mutely, but satisfied once again with their success.

B'Elanna took the stage and sang along with a slow song, the words of which were about leaving in search of true freedom. Again, Seven was mesmerized both by the singer and the combination of pathos and longing in the song.

Ven leaned over and spoke in Seven's ear. "She's done this song every few months for the past three years. The first time she sang it, Luson and I thought that we would wake up the next morning to find her gone but she's still here. She seems to do it now whenever she feels restless or upset somehow." Seven could only nod to indicate that she had heard him.

When B'Elanna had finished the song, many of her friends booed her and she left the stage with an exaggerated huff. "I love you all too," she shouted, making her way back to her group.

"They just do that to show her that they don't want her to leave," Ven explained again.

"That was . . . lovely, B'Elanna. I was not aware that you could sing so well," Seven said when B'Elanna arrived.

"Thanks, Seven," she replied shyly, "although you wouldn't know it from the response of my friends, here. But Seven's quite a singer herself, Ven. We'll have to get her involved next time."

The three adults and the children continued to enjoy the party, eating and chatting with people until Sul took the stage to deliver a rousing and fairly drunken version of "I Will Survive."

"I've got to get out of here. See you tomorrow," B'Elanna said suddenly to Ven and Seven and then took off.

"B'Elanna," Seven exclaimed, taking off after her. The two bickered about her sudden departure as Seven trailed B'Elanna all the way home. B'Elanna sighed with exasperation when they reached her door and invited Seven in, getting them both something to drink.

"I'm sorry, Seven, but I just had to get out of there. Sul and I were involved for a short time a long time ago and I know that I'm in for trouble every time I hear that song. It means that she's just broken up with someone else."

"Why did you terminate your relationship with her?"

"It just wasn't working. It was fun for a while but she doesn't care about any of the things that are important to me. And she doesn't like Anara or Bemar. How *could* I stay with her?"


The two women jumped when they heard a knock at the door. B'Elanna frowned and went to answer it only to find a very drunk Sul.

"Aw come on, sweets, let me in," Sul said, putting her hand on B'Elanna's rear and pulling their bodies close.

"No, Sul. Go home and sleep it off."

"But I want to stay here and not sleep," Sul whined, moving her face to B'Elanna's neck, inhaling her scent and trailing kisses along it, despite B'Elanna's struggling against her, until she finally noticed Seven of Nine standing in the living room. "Oh, I see. You've traded me in for a new fuck buddy."

B'Elanna shoved Sul out the door and closed it behind them. "Cut it out, Sul. She is no such thing."

"I saw how she looked at you tonight. What, is she too good for fucking?"

"Yes, she's too good for either of us. Now go home. I don't want to talk to you when you're drunk."

"Fuck you, Torres," Sul spat out as she staggered back toward town.

B'Elanna breathed deeply before re-entering her house to face Seven, who she knew must have heard the entire exchange.

"I'm sorry about that, Seven. That's why I left the party. I just didn't want anyone else to have to deal with her. Look, you'd better go. I'll see you at the lab tomorrow."

"My apologies for intruding," Seven said contritely as she stepped through the door. "B'Elanna . . ." she continued, turning around again.

"I can't, Seven. I can't talk right now. I'll see you tomorrow," B'Elanna said, the strain evident in her voice, and closed the door.

Seven sat down on B'Elanna's front steps, reviewing the events of the evening, making little progress at making more sense of them. What distressed her most was the possibility that B'Elanna thought that she was inadequate and unworthy. While they had been on Voyager, Seven had developed tremendous respect for the engineer, despite their frequent conflicts. They were never friends exactly, but Seven had come to view B'Elanna Torres as an extraordinary individual and seeing her on Free Haven had only increased that sentiment. In fact, she was experiencing feelings for B'Elanna that were entirely new to her and very very strong. But something about Seven's presence had disturbed B'Elanna. Perhaps that was why she had chosen to sing her sad song that night. So engrossed was she that she did not hear the front door open or B'Elanna come out and sit down next to her.

"What are you doing, Seven? I thought you had gone home half an hour ago."

"I do not know what I am doing. I am thinking. I am . . . ."

"I'm sorry I sent you away so abruptly. I'm an idiot and seem to keep doing stupid things that require many, many apologies."

Seven turned to face B'Elanna and grabbed her by the shoulders. She wasn't sure why she felt so upset but knew that she could not restrain herself. "There is nothing for you to feel sorry about, B'Elanna, and please cease disparaging yourself. . . . It damages me." As quickly as she had grabbed B'Elanna, she released her and turned away.

A stunned and speechless B'Elanna could think of nothing else to do but take hold of Seven's hand to signal her assent. She held it in both her own hands and stroked it softly, hoping to soothe Seven. A short time later when she had collected herself she said, "Well, I was *going* to say I'm sorry but I guess that's out of the question."

"Everybody's a comedian," Seven shot back as she stood. "Good night, B'Elanna. I will see you in the morning."

"Night, Seven."

Chapter 3

The next morning B'Elanna breezed into the lab to find Seven already there. Without a word, she placed a small plate on the desk next to the woman who was engrossed in her work. She crossed her arms and leaned against the desk, waiting for Seven to acknowledge her. Seven looked at the plate and then up at B'Elanna with an amused expression before she picked up one of the items before her and popped it in her mouth.

In a fashion quite uncharacteristic of the restrained former Borg, she began speaking before she had finished chewing. "Mmmm. Strawberry tarts." When she had finished swallowing, she picked up another. "These are hardly appropriate nutrition for this early hour of the morning, B'Elanna Torres."

B'Elanna laughed, feeling somewhat unsettled by how satisfying it was to see Seven's small pleasure. "That's what Jaxa said when I woke her up this morning to get these leftovers from last night's party."

"I did not know that you were so fond of strawberry tarts," Seven said, licking the remains of the second tart from her fingers.

"I'm not," she said, smiling at the sight of the former Tertiary Adjunct to Unimatrix 01 licking strawberries off her fingers.

Seven looked at B'Elanna with an expression of warmth and silent thanks. "Well, I have a surprise for you as well, B'Elanna. I have completed the equipment survey and am prepared to send the requisition to the Federation - pending your approval, of course."

B'Elanna took the PADD that Seven held out to her and reviewed the list while Seven consumed another tart. "Looks good to me. Thanks for finishing things up. You've done a great job."

"You are welcome. Once the supplies arrive I think that we should begin by upgrading the energy grid and then move on to the water reclamation system. We will have to assemble a construction team but, for now, I believe that you may take the day off."

B'Elanna picked up another PADD and moved over to a display to pull up the plans that she and Seven had drafted for the new energy grid. She began making notes on the PADD, completely lost in thought.

Seven came up behind her and grabbed the PADD. "I *said* that I do not require your assistance today."

B'Elanna pouted. "What are *you* going to do?"

"I have other work unrelated to this project," she replied, sitting down at the desk and beginning to key in information. B'Elanna continued pouting and again leaned against Seven's desk, her arms crossed. Seven looked up at her, popping another strawberry tart in her mouth. "I'm sure the children would enjoy seeing you," she said, returning her attention to her work.

"They're in school," B'Elanna reported, still not moving.

"Well then your garden no doubt needs some work," Seven tried, not looking up.


"Surely you can find something else to occupy yourself."

"Mmm. Nope."

As Seven considered how to handle the intractable engineer, she absentmindedly reached for the last tart but found that B'Elanna had snatched it away and was holding it out of her reach. "I see I finally have your undivided attention," B'Elanna said, triumphantly.

"B'Elanna Torres, explain yourself."

"Well, I just thought that since I was being *forced* to take a day off that you might do the same and come out and play."

Deep down, Seven was thrilled that B'Elanna was asking her to join her but continued to play along. She thought that she was finally beginning to understand the appeal of flirting, something she had many times characterized as inefficient or irrelevant. Seven sighed and sat back in her chair, looking up at B'Elanna and pretending to be annoyed.

"Please," B'Elanna whined, imitating Anara and Bemar. Seven never imagined that a pouting Klingon could look so cute.

"I will comply," Seven said finally, standing up to grab the strawberry tart from B'Elanna's hand.

"Good," B'Elanna exclaimed. "I think you'll need to work off those tarts anyway."

"I am Borg."

"Oh really, you don't say," B'Elanna quipped as she headed out the door with Seven on her heels. "I hadn't noticed that."

The two women spent the day seeing the sights of the small town, such as they were, since Seven had not done much but work in the lab since her arrival a little more than a week before. They went in and out of stores looking at clothes and other things and Seven even purchased a few new outfits in the popular styles of Ilvia. In the afternoon they ended up at an outdoor café having something cool to drink and watching people pass by as B'Elanna introduced Seven around or related aspects of the colony's history. She was in mid-sentence when she felt a tap on her shoulder and looked up to find Sul, looking a little worse for the wear.

"I'm sorry to interrupt," Sul said to both women, then turning to B'Elanna, "but I need to speak with you for a minute."

Grumbling her assent, B'Elanna stood. "I'll be back in a minute, Seven," she said and moved off with Sul to a distance she thought would put them out of the range of Seven's hearing. For her part, Seven displayed no emotion but inside felt apprehensive. Needless to say, she did not like Sul and did not want her to say any more unkind things to B'Elanna.

B'Elanna crossed her arms and tapped her foot impatiently. "Go ahead."

"Okay, okay. I'm sorry. You know how I am."

"Yes, I know how you are. I've forgiven you many times before for things you've said to me and I'm sure I'll have the opportunity to do so again in the future." B'Elanna took another step toward Sul and stood, imposingly, in her space, baring her teeth ever so slightly. "But listen to me when I tell you that if you say anything foul about or to Seven, you will have to answer to me. I will consider it an offense to the honor of my house if you *ever* act that way toward her. Do - you - understand - me?"

Sul nodded mutely.

"Good then," B'Elanna responded and huffed off back to the table. When she arrived, Seven was still watching passers by and B'Elanna sat down, satisfied to have that out of the way.

Seven turned to B'Elanna with a small smile on her face. "Although I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself, B'Elanna Torres, I am very proud to be under your protection here."

B'Elanna blushed furiously and looked away from Seven's gaze. "Geez, remind me to calculate the precise distance that puts me out of the range of the average drone's hearing."

"That is difficult when the drone in question is concerned about you," Seven retorted, the smile growing slightly more intense.

"Yeah, well. The last thing you need is anyone around here saying mean things to you. That's my job after all."

"Indeed," Seven said, her smile a toothy grin now.

As it neared dinner time the women left the café and headed out into the street. "Listen, Seven," B'Elanna began, "I'm sure Ven and the munchkins would love to have you to themselves for dinner tonight. I've got a few things to take care of."

"I will convey your regrets."

"Thanks and thanks for coming out to play," B'Elanna said, squeezing Seven's arm briefly. "I had a great time."

"Thank you, B'Elanna. It was most pleasant."

After taking a long run and having a quick, simple dinner, B'Elanna sat down before the console at her desk and opened a comm channel. Chakotay's face appeared on the screen and B'Elanna felt such a rush of emotion at seeing her old friend again that she could not speak.

"B'Elanna Torres, I should get on a transport right now so I can kick your ass from here to the Delta Quadrant."

"And I'd certainly deserve it, Chakotay. Its good to talk with you."

Anara and Bemar were indeed happy to spend time with Seven and, when the group had finished dinner and the children were in bed, Ven took the opportunity to get to know their interesting new friend better. He liked Seven a great deal and saw that B'Elanna did too, despite her characteristic grumbling and teasing. He also knew that Seven was very fond of B'Elanna and wanted to see if he could help things along.

"I hear you had a run in with Sul last night," he said.

"Yes. It was most unpleasant," Seven responded.

"I know she can be difficult at times but she's not always like that. Sul lost her family in the Breen attack on Free Haven during the Dominion War. We've made lots of progress rebuilding our homes and schools and energy grid in the years since but repairing hearts can be much more difficult."

"I was not aware that she had suffered such a loss," Seven said sympathetically and Ven continued to describe the difficult war years.

Just as B'Elanna and Chakotay finished their conversation B'Elanna's console began to beep, indicating an urgent message. She pressed a button and Ven appeared, worry evident on his face.

"You must come quickly, B'Elanna. There's something wrong with Seven. She's ill."

"I'm on my way," B'Elanna said and rushed out of the house.

Chapter 4

When B'Elanna arrived at Ven's house she found Seven lying on the couch doubled over and holding her stomach in pain. Her face was pale and a sheen of sweat was apparent on her skin. B'Elanna was especially taken aback because she had rarely seen Seven show any evidence of pain and knew the former drone to be one of the most composed and strong people she had ever encountered.

"Seven!" B'Elanna exclaimed as she rushed past Ven and over to Seven, bending down to look her in the eye.

"This drone is damaged," Seven squeaked out.

B'Elanna put her hand to Seven's forehead and stroked it gently. "Don't worry, Seven. I promise, we'll fix you right up. I need my drone to look out for me." Her heart was gripped with concern as she saw the fear in Seven's eyes.

At that moment, Jack Parker, Ven's close friend and one of Ilvia's doctors, flew through the door. "I got here as fast as I could. What's the problem?"

Ven stepped forward and explained that he and Seven had simply been talking and then she began to experience severe abdominal pains. Jack took out a medical tricorder and moved over to examine Seven. "Uh, B'Elanna, you'll have to move."

"Oh, right," B'Elanna said, forcing herself to step back despite her desire to stay physically connected to Seven. Ven pulled her over to himself and stood with his arm around her to comfort her and to keep her out of Jack's way.

After Jack had examined Seven and asked her a few questions, he stood up. "As far as I can tell, Seven has a digestive infection. I suspect it isn't serious but I'm not familiar with Borg technology and Seven tells me that, until recently, she had an implant that regulated her digestive functions. I'm not really sure how to proceed."

"Give me a minute and I'll get us some help," B'Elanna said. She went over to Seven and whispered some words of comfort before going to the console in Ven's bedroom. She opened a comm channel, sent a message, and sat down to wait for a reply.

"Kathryn," B'Elanna whispered when the screen displayed a response from the party she had contacted. A rush of memories came upon her when she saw the bridge of Voyager and her former captain standing before her.

"Hello, B'Elanna," Captain Janeway said in clipped and formal manner meant to hide the hurt and anger she had felt when her Chief Engineer had disappeared without a word.

"Kathryn. Hello Tuvok, Jenkins," she said, acknowledging the others she recognized on the bridge. They nodded in response. "Kathryn, I need to speak with you in private. Its rather urgent."

Janeway turned to her Ops officer and told him to transfer the signal to her Ready Room. Once there she sat at her desk wondering what could have motivated B'Elanna to contact her after so long. Seven had told her that B'Elanna was on Free Haven and doing well but when she still had not heard directly from the engineer, she had assumed that, for whatever reason, B'Elanna still did not want to talk with her. She tapped a button on the console to activate the signal and B'Elanna's face appeared.

"Kathryn, I know you must be furious with me and I can't blame you but I need your help right now. Seven is here with me..."

"I'm aware of that, B'Elanna."

"I figured as much. But she's ill and I need to speak with the Doctor. The doctor here doesn't think whatever it is is serious but, since we have no idea what's involved, we need to consult with him to make sure that the course we take doesn't damage the work he did in removing the abdominal implant."

B'Elanna could see Kathryn flex the muscles in her jaw, a clear indication that she was seething. "I guess I don't need to tell you that if you had been here when she needed you, you would know full well what had gone on during the surgery," Kathryn finally said, unable to resist letting out some of her anger. "She was almost desperate at the thought of going ahead with the procedure without you present."

B'Elanna was stunned to find out how badly Seven had wanted her there and ashamed that she had been too self involved at the time. "I know I let her down" she said softly, "and I'll have to live with it but she needs me now and I'm here."

"How convenient," Kathryn spat out.

"Look, you can tell me how disappointed you are at length after we get her the help she needs - and you won't get any arguments from me."

"Fine," Kathryn finally conceded. "I'll transfer you to the doctor. Have him keep me informed."

"Thank you, Kathryn," B'Elanna said, waiting for the signal to be transferred.

"One more thing, B'Elanna." Janeway paused, her voice breaking. "I'm so happy that you're okay. . . . I miss you."

"I miss you too, Kathryn. I promise I'll be in touch soon and it won't be for an emergency."

Janeway nodded and transferred the signal to Sickbay.

"Well, if it isn't Fek'lhr's prodigal daughter," quipped the Doctor as soon as he saw B'Elanna's image on his viewscreen.

"As much as I'd like to trade barbs with you, Doctor, Seven needs your help. She's taken ill and we need to you consult with the doctor here."

"Of course, B'Elanna," the Doctor responded, immediately serious and professional.

B'Elanna returned to the main room of Ven's house where Seven was still lying on the couch and transferred the Doctor to the nearby console to allow him to consult with Jack and speak with Seven. She stepped out of the way and Ven wrapped his arm around her again to try to reassure her. B'Elanna had been such a comfort to him when Luson had died and, recognizing the deep affection that Seven and B'Elanna had for each other but hesitated to admit, he knew that she needed him. As the consultation went on, B'Elanna turned to Ven, pressed her cheek into his chest, and accepted a soothing hug.

After some time, Jack called them over to hear what the Doctor had to say. "I concur with Dr. Parker that Seven is suffering from an infection. At this point I believe that the best course will be to let the nanoprobes handle things since her digestive system is sensitive and still somewhat compromised. Unfortunately, it will likely mean that you will have to remain in bed for a few days, Seven. You'll feel tired and weak but I believe that the pain will subside once you refresh the nanoprobes, which you should do as soon as possible. Other than that, you should remain well hydrated and rest." Seven nodded.

"What's this about refreshing the nanoprobes," B'Elanna asked, stepping closer to the console.

"Oh, yes, now I remember," the Doctor began in his customary biting manner, "you were not available when we developed the process." B'Elanna squinted her eyes in a threatening manner and he continued. "In order to provide sufficient power to the nanoprobes in the absence of an abdominal implant to connect to an alcove, they must be recharged in a specially-designed storage unit. Only a portion are refreshed each time so that she will always have fully-powered nanoprobes available both in her body and in the storage unit."

B'Elanna turned to Seven. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Now lying on her back but with her hand still on her stomach, Seven did not look at her. "You did not ask. You asked only about regeneration and I do not make a custom of volunteering information about my medical status."

B'Elanna regretted her question almost immediately when she saw the expression of anger cross Seven's face. Although the former Borg had assured her that she did not harbor any animosity toward B'Elanna about not remaining in touch, B'Elanna now knew how much she had hurt her. "You're right, Seven. I'm sorry." Turning to the console, she continued. "Thank you, Doctor. We'll have Jack give you an update when he examines Seven tomorrow."

"Yes, please call on me any time, Dr. Parker. Ms. Torres, I look forward to speaking with you in another three years." And, with that, he closed the channel.

B'Elanna and Jack helped Seven return to the guest house and, after assisting her in the process of refreshing the nanoprobes, Jack left to return in the morning. The Doctor had been correct that the pain was no longer acute but she did feel weak and longed to sleep. She insisted that she did not need B'Elanna's help to prepare for bed and so took twice as long as usual and expended more energy than she thought she had. When she had gotten into bed, B'Elanna brought her a large glass of water and sat on the edge of the bed while she drank it.

"I do not like being ill," Seven said, handing the empty glass to B'Elanna.

"Yeah, it stinks. Guess we'll have to lay off the strawberry tarts for a while. Or at least cut back a bit," she joked, getting up to return the glass to the kitchen.

"I do not believe that I could eat a strawberry tart now if you promised me the Omega particle." She continued, "Goodnight, B'Elanna, and thank you for contacting the Doctor. Will you return with Dr. Parker in the morning?"

"I'm not going anywhere, Seven. I'll be right in the living room if you need anything."

"Acceptable." Seven watched B'Elanna leave and settled in to try to sleep. She was sorry that she had been curt with B'Elanna about the nanoprobes but generally became unsettled when she thought about how much she had needed the engineer when the time had come for the Doctor to remove the abdominal implant. She knew that she had wanted B'Elanna's expertise and skills as an engineer - which were unmatched - but had also come to realize that there was some other kind of need entwined with the practical. As the surgery drew near, Seven could not help but acknowledge that she wanted B'Elanna present because of the unique emotional support that she provided. Seven found B'Elanna's absolute command of her domain captivating and, once their working relationship on Voyager had become relaxed and cordial, had felt that a unique connection to her. Only Captain Janeway had been aware of the emotional distress that accompanied her physical difficulties at the time of the surgery and the older woman had helped her name the emotions that lay beneath the surface. Despite that, Seven had never really accepted that an emotional need of B'Elanna Torres was the explanation for her extreme upset at the time. But being here with B'Elanna, and in this vulnerable position, she could not deny her feelings, nor fail to note how much more powerful they felt. Drifting off to sleep she couldn't help but feel grateful for a second chance. She would have to formulate a plan.

Sometime in the middle of the night B'Elanna entered the bedroom, as she had done many many times that night, to made sure that Seven was okay. Each time she had checked Seven had been sleeping but never seemed to be resting easily and B'Elanna assumed that she was still experiencing some abdominal pain. This time, as she did the other times, B'Elanna gazed at Seven's lovely features and contemplated her very strange relationship with this woman. If anyone had told her five years ago that she would be so happy to spend time and work with Seven of Nine, she would never have believed it. If anyone had told her that she would be having so much fun with the former drone, she would never have believed it. If anyone had told her that her heart would ache with the knowledge that she had caused Seven pain, she would never have believed it. But there was no denying it. B'Elanna had been happy in her years on Free Haven but Seven's presence seemed to fill a void that she hadn't even known was there. She was shaken from her reverie by the realization that Seven was saying something. B'Elanna checked to make sure that she was still asleep and bent down to stroke her forehead.

Seven spoke again in her sleep. "B'Elanna," she whimpered. "B'Elanna."

B'Elanna's heart melted and she felt a wave of affection for this woman and a powerful desire to protect and care for her. B'Elanna climbed into Seven's bed, snuggled up to her back and embraced her, hoping to comfort her and help her find an easier sleep. If anyone had asked her, though, she might have admitted that having her arms around Seven, inhaling her scent, feeling her heart beat were not inconsequential bonuses.

Chapter 5

Seven was awakened by a knock at the bedroom door and by B'Elanna's voice calling to her from beyond it. "Seven. Jack's here and wants to see how you're doing. May he come in?"

Seven of Nine, former Borg drone, had never quite adjusted to the experience of sleeping. She knew that most individuals enjoyed and took comfort in it but it left her disoriented and feeling vulnerable. She much preferred regenerating. Waking up was not pleasant for her and this morning was no exception, particularly because she felt depleted from her illness and from her inability to sleep soundly. But as she ascended from the depths of sleep she noticed something different. It took her point two four seconds to determine that she was detecting the scent of B'Elanna Torres on the sheets, on her sleeping attire and on her own skin. Her attempt to determine how this could have happened were interrupted by another knock.

"Seven, are you awake?"

"Yes, B'Elanna. Dr. Parker may enter."

Jack went in to examine Seven while B'Elanna waited in the living room, thinking it would be an invasion of privacy to follow, given how much B'Elanna had obviously hurt her (but, of course, did not admit that hovering over or embracing her while she slept constituted an invasion of privacy). To her surprise, however, Seven called her in to hear Jack's report once he had finished the exam. B'Elanna stepped inside the doorway but kept her distance. Seven noticed with dismay that B'Elanna looked as if she hadn't slept at all.

Jack spoke to Seven but turned to B'Elanna on occasion as well to reassure them both. "Everything looks good. As Voyager's Doctor indicated, you will feel fatigued as you recover but I'd say you'll be back on your feet the day after tomorrow. Those nanoprobes are really amazing."

"Thank you, Dr. Parker," Seven said, relieved that her recovery would be relatively quick.

"You can get out of bed if you feel up to it but don't overdo it. Get some sleep whenever you feel tired." He headed for the door. "I'll come by tomorrow but call me before then if you need me."

B'Elanna walked him to the door and thanked him then, when she heard the sounds of water running in the bathroom, returned to the veranda and to her raktajino. She rushed into the living room when she saw Seven come out of the bedroom, looking refreshed and dressed in clean clothes but nevertheless clearly in a weakened state.

"Seven, you should have called for me to help you. You really don't seem strong enough to be walking around alone." She helped Seven settle into a comfortable lounge chair on the veranda.

"I am functioning well enough to walk. You look rather weak yourself. Did you not sleep?" she asked with concern.

"I'm fine," B'Elanna lied, returning to the kitchen to get a glass of water and one of the nutritional supplements that Seven used to eat regularly. "Here, drink these," she said, putting the water on the table next to Seven's seat and handing her a mug.

"I do not believe that I am capable of ingesting this supplement," Seven said, handing it back to her.

"You have to have something," B'Elanna insisted, placing the mug in Seven's hand once again. "Jack said so. How about starting with half and we'll see how you do?"

"I do not think so," Seven responded, holding the mug at a distance.

B'Elanna sat down on the other lounge chair and looked at Seven. "Well, I don't think you want me to resort to begging." She smiled, bringing the mug of raktajino to her lips, her eyes dancing with mischievousness. " I know you can't resist me when I beg."

"I did not think begging was common among Klingons," Seven retorted, still trying to get out of drinking the supplement and suddenly feeling a bit uncomfortable at the look in B'Elanna's eyes and with the knowledge that she truly could not resist her.

"I'm only half Klingon. We could try it the Klingon way but I don't think you're up to the battle. Seems to me that, however you look at it, you're going to be drinking some of that baby food crap. Sorry. But the sooner you get better, the sooner we're back to strawberry tarts."

Seven sighed, knowing that she had been defeated. B'Elanna looked out toward the mountains, satisfied that she had won and Seven, resignedly, took a few sips.

"Hey, I thought I'd stay here and work today, if that's okay with you. I'm going to map out a work plan for the energy grid upgrade - pending your approval, of course. Ven will be by shortly with all the stuff I'll need and then he's going to supervise the delivery of the Federation equipment this afternoon. Once you're back on your feet, we'll be good to go."

"Acceptable," Seven replied, still nursing the supplement. "Will the equipment be easily accessible when we begin?"

"There's a storage facility at the edge of town. We've had lots of problems with a group of pirates who have a base on an asteroid in this sector and so had to construct a high security facility. Having supplies plundered by pirates on top of the lingering effects of the Breen attack is what left Free Haven with so few resources. Everyone's grateful that the Federation decided to help."

Seven nodded. "It was obvious to me when I reviewed the proposal that the colony was an excellent candidate for technical assistance from the Federation. I do not recall any mention of pirates, however."

"We didn't say anything about it. We figured that the damage done by the Breen would be enough to get the proposal looked at. And the issue of what to do with the pirates in this sector has been a thorny issue for Starfleet. We just didn't want to get into any of that. Besides, I don't think its really relevant now. They've left us alone for a long time now since we don't really have anything they want." B'Elanna motioned for Seven to continue drinking her breakfast and thought for a minute before she continued. "Why did you accept this assignment anyway? It doesn't seem like it would be intellectually stimulating for you?"

"I volunteered for this assignment. Indeed, there were very few candidates interested in spending three months or more on a remote Bajoran colony doing this kind of work so it was easy for my supervisors to choose." Seven's voice became softer. "I had many reasons for desiring to come here." If she had known that the fascinating engineer was on Free Haven, this would have been first on her list of what made the assignment appealing. "I had begun to find my life at the Institute somewhat boring and lacking in challenge beyond the intellectual. I wanted a change, something new. I had also begun to consider what I could do to make a contribution . . . to make up for the destruction that the Borg have caused."

"Seven. You don't have to make up for what the Borg have done. I know that for a long time I tried to make you feel personally responsible but I never believed that and I don't think anyone else does. You've got nothing to feel guilty about," B'Elanna said, guilty herself for having been unkind to the former drone.

"I understand. But I am not interested in this work only out of guilt. I find great satisfaction in assisting people in this way."

"I guess Captain Janeway had rubbed off on you. . . ." Seven smiled and nodded. "What did you mean when you said that the Institute was boring and didn't provide challenges other than intellectual ones?" B'Elanna handed her the glass of water now that Seven had finished the nutritional supplement.

"I am not entirely sure how to answer this question. I have begun to feel the need for a more well-rounded life. Work is satisfying but I found the individuals at the Institute uninteresting. I expect that you'll find this difficult to believe but I needed interaction with a more varied set of people." Her voice became soft again. "I wanted the opportunity to develop . . . relationships."

B'Elanna swallowed, wondering if Seven was saying what she thought she was saying. "Well, change can be good and I think its very courageous of you to challenge yourself in this way."

"Were you looking for change when you came here?" Seven asked, happy for the opportunity to find out why B'Elanna had been out of touch for so long.

"I guess so. I was looking for a place that could be home. It felt like Voyager had been taken away from me since I could only stay there if I joined Starfleet and I just couldn't stand to do it. The only home where I had been able to be myself was gone and I acted like a spoiled teenager *again*." B'Elanna took a sip of raktajino, wondering how much of herself she should risk here. "I went to see my father a few times after we got back. He's married, has other kids, grandkids even. It was good to see him and I was finally able to forgive him but it was clear that that could never be my home. I felt like the wicked Klingon stepdaughter . . . ."

"B'Elanna," Seven said, somewhat agitated by her choice of words.

B'Elanna held up her hand to stop Seven from chastising her for saying negative things about herself. "Anyway, I was looking for a way to feel free from other people defining me. Just free, I guess. But eventually I realized that that was just the same old running away that I've always done. . . . I've stuck it out here for a while, though." She continued, softly. "I love it here, actually."

"But why did you not contact us?" Seven asked, her voice trembling. "We did not know what had happened to you?"

B'Elanna sighed, embarrassed. "At first I thought that, in order to be free, I had to get away from everything in the past - even Voyager. When I realized I had been wrong, so much time had gone by that I just felt too stupid. I didn't think anyone would want to hear from me by then . . . ."

"How could you think that - after all we had been through together, after all we meant to each other?" Seven asked, incredulous.

"I know now that I was wrong. I know that. I even spoke with Chakotay the other day and with Kathryn yesterday. She's so angry with me, I could feel it coming through the viewscreen."

"She was just worried about you, B'Elanna. And I do not think she'll remain angry long. You *are* difficult to resist, after all," Seven joked, trying to lighten the mood.

B'Elanna smiled and got up to answer the knock that she had just heard at the door, knowing that it was probably Ven with the material she had asked him to drop off. She showed Ven in and sent him out on the veranda to see Seven while she got set up to start working.

"How are you feeling this morning, Seven?" He asked, sitting next to her.

"I am somewhat improved but it will be another day or more before I am recovered."

"I hope B'Elanna is taking good care of you?"

"Indeed, she is," Seven said shyly, knowing that Ven knew of her affection for his friend.

Ven nodded knowingly. "The children would like to visit you after they are done with school if you are up to it."

"I would like that very much, Ven. Your children are very interesting and challenging to me."

"Challenging is a good word for them," he was saying as B'Elanna joined them again. He stood up to leave. "I must go and prepare for the delivery," his pleasure evident on his face. "Today begins a new era for Free Haven. Finally we have a chance to leave it to our children in better condition than we received it. The Prophets have surely blessed us today."

"Today is a good day for us, my friend," B'Elanna concurred, slapping him on the back and looking over to Seven who was also smiling.

B'Elanna spent the day working on the construction plan and schedule, taking breaks to talk with Seven whenever she wasn't sleeping. In the late afternoon Anara and Bemar visited and B'Elanna left them alone so that they could have Seven to themselves. She couldn't help but peek in on them from time to time, amused by the easy interaction between the former drone and the children. Of course this didn't surprise her but she enjoyed it nonetheless.

"Okay, munchkins. Time to go home for dinner. And Seven needs to rest."

"Oh Belly Button," Bemar whined.

B'Elanna bent down to comfort the boy, whispering in his ear. "I know, I know. I would spend all my time with her too if I could. I promise you'll see her tomorrow." Seven, who naturally had overheard the interaction, tried to pretend that she had not.

Bemar hugged her. "I'll see you tomorrow too, won't I?"

"You bet. Now run along home." She kissed them both and sent them off.

After successfully getting Seven to drink another portion of "that baby food crap," as B'Elanna called it, she tucked her into bed for the night and returned to work. Beginning to draft plans for the colony's water reclamation system, B'Elanna could not stop yawning, not having slept very much the night before. Finally having to concede that she couldn't be productive any longer, she decided to hit the couch but went in to check on Seven first. Although she seemed to be sleeping more soundly than she had the night before and wasn't talking in her sleep, Seven still seemed restless. B'Elanna knew she shouldn't indulge herself again but could not help it. She climbed into the bed, put her arms around Seven and held her.

Seven of Nine awoke in the early hours of daylight feeling considerably better - almost entirely well, she noted. This morning, as with the last, there was something unusual about her situation but, this time, it was not merely the remnants of B'Elanna Torres in her bed but the object of her desire in the flesh. And B'Elanna's arm was draped across her torso. Seven turned on her side to face B'Elanna, who, stirring slightly, turned onto her back. With all the concentration, focus, and analytical power of a former drone, Seven looked at the face of this woman who had, inexplicably, affected her so.

When she caressed B'Elanna's soft cheek and brushed the hair back from her face, she was met with an intense pair of brown eyes looking back at her. Her gaze never leaving B'Elanna's, Seven continued stroking her face, her thumb brushing across B'Elanna's lips. Emboldened when B'Elanna responded with an almost inaudible whimper, Seven brought her lips to B'Elanna's and kissed her softly and then more insistently. B'Elanna moved her hands to Seven's face and urged her on, opening her mouth to allow Seven's tongue access while Seven moved so that she lay on top of B'Elanna.

When they finally broke the kiss, B'Elanna searched Seven's eyes and found emotion there that she would have thought impossible when she had last seen the former drone since their return from the Delta quadrant. Flipping them over so that she was now on top, B'Elanna kissed Seven, their passion quickly escalating. Although her brain was barely functioning, B'Elanna regained enough control to pull back. "Seven," she whispered into the lovely woman's neck, "I want you." Again looking into her eyes, B'Elanna continued, "I don't think I've ever wanted to make love with anyone more in my life but we need to slow down." When Seven nodded in agreement, B'Elanna rolled back on to the bed and they both lay on their backs looking at the ceiling.

Seven turned to look at B'Elanna, a big smile on her face. "Just one more," she said, stealing a kiss that left B'Elanna breathless.

Chapter 6

"Do you think you're strong enough to walk over to Ven's for the afternoon?" B'Elanna asked, kneeling down next to where Seven was sitting and reading on the veranda.

Ignoring the question Seven took advantage of the opportunity and captured B'Elanna's lips with her own. After the intimacy of the early morning, the diligent engineer had spent the next hours working hard to prepare for construction to begin the next day while Seven had tried to read, thinking too often instead about the woman in the next room. She broke the kiss. "Yes."

"Yes what?" B'Elanna asked breathlessly.

"I believe you asked a question," Seven said, smug in the knowledge that her kisses seemed to render B'Elanna senseless.

"I did?" B'Elanna gazed into the incredible eyes before her and kissed Seven again. "Oh, yes. I have some things to take care of - have to see what my garden needs and check on some other stuff - and I don't want to leave you alone just yet. I know that you're almost all better but I don't think we should take any chances."

"Acceptable. I believe I will enjoy spending the afternoon there. I hope that I can return to work tomorrow, however. I am tired of being idle."

"I hope so too," B'Elanna said, standing and helping Seven up.

They made their way to Ven's where Jaxa had just brought the children home from school. Ven returned shortly, bouncing with excitement at the delivery of equipment and supplies for the work that B'Elanna and Seven would begin shortly. After listening to Ven recount the details of the delivery, B'Elanna prepared to leave.

"Will you return for dinner, B'Elanna?" Ven asked.

"If it isn't too much for you. I've been imposing on you a lot lately."

"I'd be happy to have you here with us every night and Seven is always welcome too."

B'Elanna nodded to indicate her gratitude and her acceptance of the dinner invitation. Before leaving she went to Seven, stroked her cheek and told her that she would be back soon. Unable to resist, she kissed her quickly and headed out the door. A few steps from the house she turned around when she heard Ven call her name.

"B'Elanna," he said, a silly smile on his face.

"Yes, Ven," she said, arms crossed and mock annoyance in her tone.

He embraced her vigorously. "I'm just so happy."

"Does new equipment always get such a rise out of you?" she joked.

"You know what I'm talking about, B'El. I have prayed for you to find someone who would love and take care of you as you deserve. And Seven seems to be everything I hoped for you and more."

"I can take care of myself, you know, Ven," her annoyance becoming real now. "And don't go marrying us off like that. I don't know what's going to happen and I'm trying really hard not to mess this up. *Please,* don't jinx it."

"Okay, okay," he said, trying to calm her down. "I didn't mean to upset you, B'El."

"I know. And I'm happy you like her. I can't imagine feeling this way about anybody and having to face your disapproval." She kissed him on the cheek. "And I'm glad I have you to look out for me. I'll see you later."

B'Elanna returned some hours later, her arms laden with vegetables from her garden as a small token for Ven's extra support these past few days. He was truly an unexpected treasure in her life and she suspected that she should express her affection for him more regularly. She gave the vegetables to Ven and to Jaxa, who were in the process of preparing dinner, greeted the children, who were doing their homework, and went into the bedroom to check on Seven, who was resting. B'Elanna tiptoed into the room, not wishing to wake the recovering woman, but found her sitting up and reading instead of sleeping.

"I thought you were supposed to be resting," B'Elanna said, moving to sit on the bed.

"I had been resting for quite some time but I wished to be awake when you returned since I missed your presence this afternoon. Besides, I am almost well and no longer require as much sleep."

A smile stupid enough to be Ven's emerged on B'Elanna's face at the thought that Seven had missed her. She took Seven's hand. "I'm glad you're feeling better. Feeling up to joining us for dinner?"

"Yes and I believe that I will not need to ingest 'that baby food crap' this evening." B'Elanna chuckled at Seven's appropriation of her joke.

Seven and B'Elanna joined the others in the living room just as Ven and Jaxa put dinner on the table. When they were well into the meal and enjoying each other's company, the console in Ven's living room beeped loudly to indicate an urgent incoming message. He rushed over to access the signal and found Keeve Falor, the chair of the town council, looking at him with an anguished expression.

"Ven, I hope B'Elanna is there as well. The pirates are attempting to break into the storage facility! We must act quickly."

"We'll be right there," Ven said, closing the channel.

B'Elanna had jumped up when she heard what Falor had said and retrieved the weapons from Ven's locker. She took a phaser rifle for herself, handed one to Ven, and a hand phaser to Seven.

"Wait here, Seven," B'Elanna said as she moved for the door and waited for Ven to reassure Anara and Bemar.

"I will not," Seven replied adamantly.

B'Elanna moved back to speak with her quietly. "Look, you're not at one hundred percent. I know you want to help but we can't have you out there."

"I am Borg, I can be of assistance."

"If you were well, yes. But not now." B'Elanna continued less harshly, "I need to know that Jaxa and the kids are okay if this gets out of hand. Please."

Seven nodded to indicate that she would stay but the look on her face told B'Elanna that she had not heard the end of it. B'Elanna tried to convey her affection for the younger woman despite their disagreement. "We'll be back soon."

Almost an hour later Jack Parker burst through the door, dragging one of the men who had gone to help defend the storage facility and who was bleeding badly from a wound in his side. Ven helped Keeve Falor, whose head was cut, and B'Elanna, sporting a large gash on her arm, followed behind with a woman whose leg was injured. Others trickled in shortly after. After giving the children a chance to see that their father was okay, Jaxa hurried them off to the bedroom so that they did not see any more blood than they already had.

Seven rushed over to B'Elanna, who had just settled her comrade on the floor so that she could wait for Jack to get to her. Seven grabbed B'Elanna and attempted to examine her arm but B'Elanna brushed her away and went off to stand in the corner, covering her face with her hands and not looking at what was going on with the men and women with whom she had just fought.

Jaxa emerged from the bedroom. "What happened? Was anyone hurt badly?"

Jack weighed in. "We've got injuries but nothing critical. Everyone will be okay."

"What happened with the supplies?" she asked again.

B'Elanna turned around, and took her hands from her face. "They got everything," she said, seething with anger. "We got a few of them but they took all the equipment and supplies."

Seven looked at her injured and dejected friends and was at a loss for words. She wanted to comfort B'Elanna somehow but knew that the woman was far too agitated. And given what they had lost, Seven could not imagine what she could possibly do to comfort her.

Ven, who had been at his console, spoke up. "We're all set up for an emergency town meeting as soon as everyone can gather. How soon do you think you'll be done, Jack.."

"Just give me a few more minutes," he replied, going over to B'Elanna and running a dermal regenerator over her wound despite her protests.

Fifteen minutes later the group had joined others in the town hall, the site only a few nights before of one of the more hopeful and excited of their monthly parties. On the night of the party, everyone had been so excited about the improvements in their quality of life that would come with the Federation's assistance. Now it seemed that they could look forward to nothing more than what they had at present.

Falor chaired the meeting as best he could, given how shaken up he was and how upset the townspeople were. "We've got to decide what we're going to do and how we're going to handle this situation."

"What do you mean 'what we're going to do'," a man spoke up. "We're going to go on as we have. We've lost this chance and there isn't anything we can do about it."

"We do have options," Falor responded.

A woman stood up. "I don't see what options we have," she said. "We can't go against these pirates. We've never been able to stop them for long and I don't think we should risk angering them by resisting. Some of our people have already suffered injuries in trying to defend the storage facility. Do we want to risk people getting killed?"

The crowd debated the issue for some time, with many agreeing that it was too risky to cross the pirates in any way. Ven and Falor tried to convince them otherwise.

Finally, B'Elanna stood and spoke. "I know I haven't been here as long as most of you, but I *have* made my home here for some time and feel that I've contributed enough to have earned the right to express my opinion now." Various people urged her on, indicating that they did, indeed, consider her one of their own. "Aren't you tired of getting pushed around and having those cowardly pirates take away what belongs to you?" she continued. "I don't see how fighting back could make things any worse. They've already taken everything." She was pacing now and the people gathered in the town hall were clearly beginning to be swayed. "No one wants more blood to be shed and no one wants to lose any of our people but I'm sure that some of us are willing to take the risk. I am," B'Elanna asserted forcefully. "I am willing to take the risk so that everything that you've worked so hard to build here in Ilvia will not be destroyed. I am willing to take the risk so that the people I love will not be terrorized anymore."

B'Elanna sat down. Seven, who was standing at the back of the room, not wishing to intrude upon the town's deliberations, felt her heart swell with pride and affection at the courage and conviction with which B'Elanna spoke.

Falor took control of the discussion again. "I think we should take a vote on whether to organize a small, volunteer unit to attempt to retrieve what is rightfully ours. All in favor. . . ." A majority of hands went up to signal assent. "All right, then. Volunteers with combat experience or special skills, please report to B'Elanna and myself. We've got to move quickly before the pirates sell the equipment."

B'Elanna breathed a sigh of relief that the town had voted to authorize the action and hoped that she and Falor could make a success of it with no casualties. She stepped over to Falor so that they could speak with volunteers and assemble their team. Seven stood nearby to observe, again not wanting to interfere with B'Elanna's work and not knowing exactly what to do.

When Ven approached B'Elanna she began shaking her head vigorously. "No, Ven. Go home. Go home to your kids. You're not on this team and there's nothing you can say to change that. Go home."

Ven looked at her sheepishly. "I know you're right, B'El. I just had to volunteer."

B'Elanna put her hand on his shoulder. "No one can question your commitment, Ven. Let me take care of this one."

He nodded and walked away, silently praying that his friends would return safely - with or without the equipment.

B'Elanna rolled her eyes and sighed when she saw Varis Sul making her way over to Falor. She went over to them and interrupted the conversation, pulling Sul aside.

Still hovering in the background, Seven's ears perked up. Not only did she find Sul rude and crass, but now that her own feelings for B'Elanna were becoming increasingly powerful, she found herself intensely jealous of the past relationship between the two.

"What do you want, Sul?" B'Elanna said, not bothering to disguise her disgust at the woman's recent behavior.

"I want to be part of this team," she replied, trying to hide her fear of B'Elanna's disapproval.

"You're kidding, right?"

"You know I was part of the resistance on Bajor before my parents forced us all to move here. I have lots of experience with covert operations and am a pretty good demolitionist. Besides, if we're worried about losing people - losing fathers and mothers, sons and daughters - then I'm a logical choice. I have no one left to mourn me."

"You haven't been particularly trustworthy lately," B'Elanna challenged, her wall beginning to crack since she knew well how much the loss of her family had damaged Sul.

"I know." Trying a new tactic, Sul motioned over to Seven. "Is she going? She's not even one of us."

"We haven't discussed it but, if she does, we'll all be very lucky. I have been in countless situations in which my life depended on her. She's never let me down and I don't hesitate for a nanosecond to trust her with my life."

Again trying not to look as if she could hear the conversation, Seven's heart swelled at B'Elanna's impassioned defense of her.

B'Elanna continued. "Can we count on you, Sul? Can we trust you with our lives?"

Sul nodded. "Yes, I promise I won't let you down."

B'Elanna sighed. "Okay, you're in." She paused for a moment. "You're wrong, you know."

"About what this time?" Sul said, exasperated that she couldn't seem to break through B'Elanna's hostility.

"There are lots of people here who would mourn you if you died. Family doesn't always require biology, you know." Sul patted her arm with gratitude and returned to talk with Falor. For her part, B'Elanna was forced to think about the words that had just come out of her own mouth and about how she had deprived herself of many of her own true family members - her Voyager family - for too long.

Sometime later, Falor and B'Elanna had chosen a small group and agreed to reconvene at daybreak. Seven walked B'Elanna home and they discussed options for the strike on the pirates' base, not once raising the issue of whether Seven would accompany them. When they reached B'Elanna's house they decided to do some work to get additional intelligence on the base. Reluctantly, B'Elanna opened a channel to another former crewmate.

"Hey flyboy," B'Elanna said, hoping that this encounter would not be as heart-wrenching as had been her recent ones with Chakotay, Kathryn and the Doctor.

"B'Elanna. Its great to see you!" Tom had heard of B'Elanna's reappearance from his former crewmates and knew that some had given her a hard time. He knew what it was like to want to get away from responsibility and strictures and had no intention of trying to make her feel guilty. Besides, he thought, she's probably beating herself up enough anyway. "I heard from Chakotay that you were on Free Haven now. I was happy to hear that you're doing so well."

"Thanks, Tom. I've missed you," she said softly. "Hey Seven's here as the Federation's technical advisor and tells me that you're a much sought after pilot these days. Sounds like the perfect job."

"Yeah," Tom replied. "The commercial transport work is good but I've also been able to do some work for the commercial carriers on new designs. You know how much I love new toys."

B'Elanna smiled. "Listen, Tom. I'm sorry to ask a favor the first time I've been in touch in such a long time but we've got a situation here. The equipment that the Federation just gave the colony has been swiped by Cole and his band of merry men."

"Cole," Tom asked, his eyes growing wide. "Cole, the one who has his base on that asteroid in your sector. What's it called?"

"X573," Seven offered.

"Right, X573," Tom repeated. "Hi Seven."

"Mr. Paris," Seven responded.

Just then, it dawned on Tom why they had gotten in touch with him. "Don't tell me you're thinking of going after him?" When neither B'Elanna nor Seven answered, he knew that they must be hatching some kind of crazy plan. "B'Elanna you can't be serious about this. From everything I've heard about Cole, he's ruthless and won't hesitate to kill you if he catches you on his territory."

"I know that, Tom, but we don't have a choice. We've had run-ins with Cole before and I know what he's like. He's left us alone for a while now but sent some men in tonight and cleaned us out. Look, this equipment means so much to the people here and I don't see how the colony can make much progress without it. Since Starfleet doesn't seem interested in stopping him, we'll have to take matters into our own hands."

Tom was shaking his head in disbelief, trying to think of some other way that wouldn't involve his friends putting themselves in danger. "B'Elanna, there's got to be another way."

"If we don't act soon, Tom, Cole will sell the equipment and we'll never see any of it again."

"What do you need from me?" Tom asked, resigned that he wouldn't be able to talk her out of it.

"I was wondering whether you might be able to dig up some intelligence on the layout of the base on X573."

"Yeah, I think I can do that. I'll speak with some of the other pilots here and find out who's flown by or knows anyone who's been there. I'll get it to you asap."

"Thanks, Tom. I owe you."

"You're welcome, B'Elanna. Be careful you two. Please."

"We will," B'Elanna replied.

That taken care of, B'Elanna began to pace her living room, arms crossed and deep in thought about what else had to be done before morning. Seven, who could no longer contain herself, stopped B'Elanna and embraced her. B'Elanna finally gave in and wrapped her arms around Seven's waist.

"I was very moved by your speech, B'Elanna." B'Elanna hugged her more tightly. "You know that I am going to accompany you, don't you?"

B'Elanna pulled back to look into Seven's eyes. "It isn't your fight, Seven. You don't have to go."

"If it is your fight, it is my fight. I will not abandon you in this."

B'Elanna hugged her again. "As selfish as it makes me feel, I was hoping you would want to come." She looked at Seven again and said, hesitantly, "Will you stay with me tonight? I don't mean . . . I'm not . . . ."

Seven placed a finger over B'Elanna's lips to quiet her. "You do not have to explain."

"I'm so glad you're here," B'Elanna said, hugging her close again.

"As am I," Seven replied, never having meant anything more sincerely in her life.

For a third time the two women shared a bed, this time B'Elanna sleeping in the protective arms of Seven of Nine, who was sure by now that she was in love.

Chapter 7

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