DISCLAIMER: Star Trek Voyager and its characters are the property of Paramount. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To laughinglee123[at]gmail.com

By LaughingLee


Captain Kathryn Janeway shook her head. She must have imagined it. Wait, there it was again. Someone was singing in the corridor. Janeway had been walking through Voyager to clear her head. The singing seemed to be coming from all around her. The jeffrey's tubes! Janeway took the next turn and headed for Engineering.

Lee had been having a rough few days. The previous encounter with the local Delta Quadrant inhabitants had not ended well and she had spent the last week on night shift working on the gel packs. Something had infected almost all of the packs and no-one could figure out what it was. This frustrated the hell out of Lee and led to her current predicament. The problem had been running through her mind all day making sleep impossible and so she had started her shift a little early.

Lee had been crawling around the jeffrey's tubes around Engineering for the past few hours, running diagnostics on every pack she came across. Shifting her body, she sighed and ran a hand through her blonde hair. I'm gonna need a few days in sick bay after this, Lee mused and stretched her back. Maybe Seven could lend me some nanoprobes to fix these kinks in my back and, well, everywhere else. Lee grinned and then sat bolt upright.

"Woohoo!" Lee couldn't stop laughing. She had figured it out. The gel packs were not only malfunctioning, they had also been infected with a virus that was acting like a biological agent. That's why her reconfigurations were only working for a little while and then not at all. The packs were sick. With a few small adjustments to the antivirus program she had been working on, the gel packs could be fixed. They would each need individual adjustments to account for each pack's uniqueness. That would take some time, but at least they had a solution.

Captain Janeway scanned Engineering. At this time of night, the day shift had already finished and most of the night shift crews would be working on repairing the damages to the hull and lower decks. Janeway sighed. Why did most of her simple trade missions turn into battles across entire sectors? Luckily, Voyager had taken minimal hits with most of the damage centred in non-critical systems.

There it was, that singing again! Janeway followed it up to the top level of Engineering. A hatch was open and Janeway could hear someone chuckling and muttering to themselves inside the jeffrey's tube. The singing started again as the person moved closer to the hatch. Janeway took a step back, crossed her arms and waited.

Lee was ecstatic. Wait until Seven and Lieutenant Torres hears this! They'll be able to fix all the packs in no time. As Lee neared the hatch opening into Engineering, she heard a polite and completely unexpected cough. She got such a fright that she tried standing up inside the jeffrey's tube. Lee bashed her head against the bulkhead, tumbled out and landed with her face flat on the floor.

Janeway rushed forward and tried to help the crewman up. As she bent down, she realized the young blonde woman was doubling up with laughter. She recognized her as Ensign Roberts, part of B'Elanna's engineering team.

Ensign Lee Roberts rolled over and saw Captain Janeway. Her eyes widened and then she was laughing even more. Janeway reached down to pull the Ensign up, but her laughter was too infectious. Captain Janeway ended up sitting down next to her and chuckling as well. Slowly, the women calmed down and Ensign Roberts smiled.

"I'm so sorry, Captain," Lee explained as they stood up. "I wasn't expecting anyone else being around."

"You weren't expecting anyone on a ship with almost 130 people?" Captain Janeway smiled.

"Weird, right?" Lee laughed. "What brings you to Engineer? Couldn't sleep?"

"What makes you think that?"

"It's way past the usual officer's shift and you're wandering around Voyager scaring crewmen. Or is that a typical day for the Captain?"

"I like scaring crewmen, it keeps them at their best behaviour," Janeway said and wondered slightly at her familiarity with the Ensign. Probably the late hour, she thought. "But, yes, I couldn't sleep and walking around Voyager helps me think. Also, I heard you and I had to investigate. You do realize you were singing, Ensign?" Ensign Roberts grinned widely. She gestured to a nearby crate and they sat down.

"I didn't realize I was so loud. I usually do it without thinking – it helps me concentrate," Lee said. "These bulkheads can keep the most dangerous radiation out, but can't keep a few melodies in. They really don't make them like they used to. It's good you found the source, though. Otherwise Neelix would have ended up telling Naomi stories about the singing spirit of Voyager!"

"Why are you up so late?" Janeway asked, smiling. "Couldn't sleep either?"

"I'm on night shift, but I couldn't switch off my brain." Lee reached behind her and took a small flask from her bag. "The gel packs were bothering me so I came up here to try and sort out the problem. I had a 'aha' moment and finally figured it out." Lee started pouring two small cups of coffee while explaining how she was going to fix the packs. Captain Janeway was impressed with the elegant solution and said so.

"Thanks, Captain," Lee said. "Seven helped a lot with the algorithms and she's going to be happy we can get this sorted out." Lee handed Janeway a cup. "Sorry, I've already added milk, but there's no sugar in it."

"Thank you. Does the entire ship know I drink so much coffee?" Janeway took a sip and sighed contently.

"No, Captain. I've just noticed whenever you're in the mess hall that you always ask for black, strong coffee." Lee paused. "That doesn't sound too much like a stalker, does it?" Janeway laughed and shook her head. They sat in silence for a while, enjoying the hum of the warp drive and a moment of peace on a starship lost light years from home.



"Are you doing okay?"

Janeway turned to Lee and frowned.

"I don't mean that you don't look okay," Lee fumbled. "You look great!" Janeway smiled and Lee blushed slightly.

"What I mean is that I sometimes feel isolated on this ship," Lee continued. "We're all one big family and we mostly get along with each other. But, it's tricky being surrounded by the same people all the time. And it's difficult to find someone who shares your interests and who you can really talk to. Well, that's how I feel sometimes." Lee glanced at Janeway. "I can only imagine what it must feel like to be captain. The one who everyone looks up to. The one who can't show emotion or any weakness. The one who, because of stupid regulations, can't get too involved with any of her crew. Which is one of the regulations I will be making a huge fuss about when we get back to Earth." Lee laughed slightly and looked at Janeway.

"I hope I'm not out of line, but I've always just wanted to ask you if you're okay. If you wanted to talk? We've been out here for almost five years. And, I'll completely understand if you want to ignore me and forget this conversation ever happened."

Kathryn Janeway was shocked. It was as if this young woman had been reading her mind. She composed her thoughts and slowly put her coffee down.

"Thank you, Ensign," Kathryn said with a smile. "I appreciate that you're worried about me. But, I'm fine. Just laughing with you and having a normal conversation has been nice."

"Okay, good. But my offer to talk stands."

"I'll keep it in mind." Kathryn took another sip. "This coffee is excellent. Did you make it yourself?"

"Good change of subject," Lee grinned and Kathryn just smiled. "I programmed a new flavour into the replicator system. You can try it if you want. It's called Lee Coffee Finally. It took a few tries to get it right."

"That's quite a skill," Janeway smiled. "Most of my replicator efforts come out as mud."

"That's nothing. Watch this." Lee turned slightly. "Computer, how long until my shift starts?"

"In approximately 8 minutes," came the reply.

"Just in time," Lee murmured and turned back to the Captain. "With my amazing mind powers, I predict that I'll be contacted by an ex-Borg shortly."

Janeway laughed. "How could you possibly know that?"

"I have many skills," Lee whispered with a smirk.

"Seven-of-Nine to Ensign Roberts." Seven's voice echoed through Engineering and Janeway had to hold back her laughter.

"Ensign Lee here. Seven, we've spoken about this. You can call me Ensign Lee like everyone else does."

"That is not your correct designation. It's procedure to address you on your rank and then surname."

"But, Seven, since the Academy I've been called Ensign Lee. Doesn't that take precedence over procedures?" Lee glanced at the grinning Captain and tried to keep from laughing herself.

"Very well. I will call you Ensign Lee, even though it is not accurate." Seven paused. "Ensign, are you purposefully trying to engage me in frivolous small talk?"

"Yes, Seven, I am. How did I do? New record?"

"No, your previous attempts at distracting me yielded far better results. This conversations only took up 2 minutes. Your previous 'record' stands at 5 minutes."

"I apologize, Seven. I'll put more effort in next time. What can I help you with?"

"I wanted to remind you that your duty shift starts in 3 minutes and that you must report to Astrometrics. We will start working on the gel packs there."

"Thank you, Seven. I'll report to you on time. I appreciate the reminder."

"Do you?" Seven's voice sounded slightly uncertain.

"Yes, Seven," Lee frowned. "What do mean? What would I mean otherwise?"

"I simply find it interesting the difference between your reaction to me and the rest of the crew." Seven paused. "If you do not mind, I would like to discuss this with you further after our shift."

"Not at all, Seven," Lee replied. "See you in a bit. Ensign Lee out."

"I take it Seven reminds you about your duty shift every day," Captain Janeway said while finishing the last of her coffee.

"Yes. We've been doing shifts together for a while now," Lee replied. "In the beginning I was a bit wary of her, but now I really like her. She's an excellent engineer and very straight with you. What you see is what you get."

"I have been a bit worried about Seven's adjustment to Voyager. That she wouldn't have friends." The two women got up and Lee packed away the flask and small cups. They started walking towards the ladder leading to the bottom level.

"I think she's doing okay," Lee said as she followed Janeway down to main engineering. "We talk a lot actually and I think she's spending more and more time with the rest of the crew as well."

"That's comforting to hear." Janeway and Lee walked out of Engineering and headed to the nearest turbo lift.

"Will you be able to have a good night's sleep?" Lee asked as the lift's doors closed.

"I think so, thank you," Janeway nodded. The doors opened again and Lee stepped out.

"Sweet dreams, Captain, and thank you for the chat," Lee said. With a slight touch on Janeway's elbow, Lee exited the lift and was gone.

Why am I grinning like an idiot, Kathryn Janeway thought and shook her head. Maybe it was just nice not to be Captain for a few minutes. To just talk without judgment or expectations. Or I'm in need of much more sleep than I realized, Kathryn smiled and headed to her quarters.

Seven looked up from her station as the doors to Astrometrics opened. Ensign Roberts was perfectly on time which Seven found admirable. She had been working with Ensign Roberts, no Ensign Lee, for the past few months and found that she enjoyed their duty shifts together. The woman was efficient even though she always engaged Seven in conversations irrelevant to their work.

"Hi, Seven," Lee greeted the ex-Borg and pulled out her pad. "I have great news! I figure out the problem with the gel packs. We should be able to fix all of them in the next few days."

Seven raised her eyebrow and inspected the pad. She made some small adjusments in some of the calculations, then handed the pad back.

"I agree. Your solution will shorten repair time considerably."

"Thanks, Seven," Lee replied and started humming.

"Why are you in such a good mood?" Seven asked. "From previous experience I have noticed that even though it seems you are constantly in a happy state of mind, when you hum or sing you are even happier. Did something happen?"

"Wow, I didn't know you were paying such close attention to me, Seven," Lee said with a laugh.

"It's hard not too, you are very loud and overly talkative."

"Thanks," Lee said with a smile. "And, I'm not sure if something happened. I ran into the Captain and we had a very nice chat. I had wanted to ask her something and it turned into a good conversation."

"The Captain has conversations with everyone constantly. What made this one different?"

"I'm not sure," Lee murmured while opening up a panel below the main console. "But, I'll leave it to my subconscious to figure out for now. Let's see how many packs we can fix this shift."

"All right," Seven said and handed Lee a tricorder.

As Captain Janeway entered the mess hall the next morning, she heard a very distinctive laugh. It was still early and picking out the women sitting in the corner was easy. Ensign Lee was laughing while Seven tried to explain something. Janeway grabbed a cup of coffee and headed their way.

"Mind if I join you?" she asked.

"Not at all, Captain," Ensign Lee said between laughs and motioned for the Captain to sit down next to her.

"Interesting shift?" Janeway asked the still smiling Ensign.

"We repaired 25% of all the damaged packs on Voyager," Seven replied. "Ensign Lee's algorithm was easily adjusted to the individual packs. We should have all the packs up to full efficiency within the next 3 days."

"Seven, I think the Captain might have been referring to all the laughter," Ensign Lee grinned. "If you don't mind sharing."

"I had wanted Ensign Lee's opinion on some questions, but perhaps a second opinion would be helpful as well."

"Be ready," Lee whispered to Janeway.

"Captain, I have been researching sexual intercourse and the various, although they seem to be completely unnecessary, courtship rituals before and after. I had been asking Ensign Lee some detailed questions on sexual orientation as well as what positions ..."

"Hold on," Captain Janeway said, raising her hands and trying not to laugh. "I think I understand the direction your questions were taking, Seven. What made you study this topic? I thought the Doctor had been quite thorough in his lessons."

"The Doctor's explanations were adequate, but very simplified and in general," Seven said. "I need more concrete and practical answers. The Doctor also did not cover topics such as how to recognize a potential partner. I did try to discuss more detail on sexual intercourse, but the Doctor continually changed the subject."

"Most people are not very comfortable with discussing those kinds of topics, Seven," Janeway said, taking a sip of her coffee. "What do you mean by recognizing a partner?"

"We were actually just discussing that," Lee chipped in. "I was trying to explain that there's an affinity and attraction that you feel with someone. A connection. You just click with that person. Trying to explain it better was getting tricky."

"I was interested in this concept of a 'type' that many people have," Seven carried on, oblivously to Lee fervently shaking her head.

"What do you mean, Seven?" Janeway asked. Kathryn was intrigued that the usually unflappable Ensign would have some topic she wouldn't want to discuss.

"For example, Ensign Lee has found through almost all of her life she has been attracted to women. And mostly women with dark hair who are older than what she is." Seven paused. "Captain, you are actually Ensign Lee's type."

"Really, Ensign, I'm your type?" Kathryn thoroughly enjoyed watching the younger women blush and squirm in her seat.

"Seven, didn't we talk about what is appropriate conversation in certain circles?" Ensign Lee managed to say while not looking at Janeway at all.

"Yes, but we are among friends, are we not?" Seven frowned. "I find it interesting that you are embarrassed by this topic. You are almost never embarrassed and we have discussed some very intimate subjects."

"O, good, a distraction." Ensign Lee visibly relaxed as Commander Chakotay came walking towards them.

"Good morning, ladies," Chakotay greeted them. "How are you this morning? What are you talking about?"

"Sex," Ensign Lee answered immediately.

"All right. I'll see you on the bridge, Captain," the commander replied, briskly turning around and walking out again. Janeway burst out laughing and Ensign Lee soon followed suit.

"I didn't mean for it to come out so bluntly," Lee said. "But, he did ask."

"Perhaps the Commander is not as comfortable with the topic as we are," Seven remarked.

"I think very few people are as comfortable with it as you two seem to be," Janeway said, getting up from the table. "I need to get to the bridge. But, this was a wonderful way to start the day."

"Anytime," Ensign Lee said as they walked out of the mess hall. It was slowly getting more crowded. "I'm looking forward to a good day's rest. Our shift starts the same time as yesterday, right, Seven?"

"Yes, Ensign Lee." Seven paused just before they reached the turbolift. "Ensign Lee, I want to thank you. You have always been honest with me in all our working and social activities. I have found that you try and answer me even when I ask questions which I now realize were very personal and could have been considered offensive. I do not always understand why you laugh so much, but you always laugh with me, never at me. You have helped my adjustment to life on Voyager. I consider you a close friend and wanted to tell you that." Ensign Lee and Captain Janeway were stunned. Janeway smiled as Lee hugged Seven tightly.

"What are you doing?" Seven asked.

"I'm hugging you, Seven," Lee replied. "Friends do it to show support, empathy, affection and appreciation. Thank you, Seven. I also think of you as a friend." Seven tentively hugged the woman back.

"Will this hugging happen on a regular basis?"

"Probably, Seven," Janeway remarked and laughed at Seven's raised eyebrow. "But, I'm sure Ensign Lee will respect your personal boundaries." Both women smirked at that as they stepped apart. They entered the turbolift and asked for their respective floors.

"Have a good regeneration, Seven," Ensign Lee said as Seven left the turbolift. The ex-Borg nodded to her and the Captain and walked down the corridor.

"Captain, is it all right that Seven has been talking to me?" Ensign Lee asked as the turbolift carried on. "I know you're sort of her mentor and discuss a lot of things and I wouldn't want you to feel as if I'm stepping on your toes or anything like that."

"Not at all," Janeway said. "I'm glad Seven has found a friend to talk about anything and everything. It's good for her." Ensign Lee nodded, pleased. She smiled and Kathryn was caught in the warmth of the younger woman's gaze.

"Well, have a wonderful shift," Lee said. Briefly, she squeezed Kathryn's shoulder as she walked out of the lift. Kathryn grinned and shook her head. It's good to have friends, she mused, not wanting to put any deeper thought into her own growing affection for the Ensign.

"Are you trying to skip out on this mandatory social event?"

Janeway turned quickly, slightly embarrassed. She had been standing outside the small Irish pub, debating whether to go in and get out quickly or to leave the holodeck before anyone sees her straight away.

"The Captain does expect all of us to mingle," Ensign Lee reprimanded Janeway with a mock frown. "It's apparently good for the crew to gather in random holodeck programs and socialize – even though we spend every other waking moment with each other."

"Are you trying to hide the fact that you weren't going in either?" Captain Janeway put her hands on her hip. "As you said, it's a direct order from the Captain."

"I would never try to hide anything from the Captain," Ensign Lee replied, not missing a beat. "I can honestly tell you that I will not be going in. I'm heading to a much smaller and shabbier pub. Care to join me? They have a darts board and I don't think anyone else knows about it." Janeway spared one last glance to the pub before following Lee down the street.

"How have you been?" Lee asked as they rounded the next bend. They hadn't seen each other in the past few weeks besides the occasional engineering meeting.

"All right, thank you," Janeway replied. "I just don't feel like a lot of people tonight."

"Same here."

"But, I heard that Ensign Lee Roberts is the life of the party," Janeway smiled, prodding Lee slightly with her arm. "You're apparently always full of energy and lots of laughs."

"True," Lee grinned. "But, I need to get that energy from somewhere. So every now and then, when I'm a bit down, I try and get away from everybody and just relax."

"You, depressed? I almost can't believe that."

"No one ever does," Lee replied softly, but quickly smiled again. "So, Captain Janeway, are you a good loser? I do plan on beating you at every darts game this evening."

"I'm not sure, Ensign, I've never lost in anything," Janeway replied, glad that it got a laugh from the younger woman. Her whispered remark had not gone unnoticed.

"Fighting words, Captain. Good, I love a challenge!"

Lee stepped forward and opened a small wooden door. They had turned down a small alley Janeway had never noticed before in this holoprogram. Janeway went through murmuring her thanks to Lee and scanned the dusty interior. It was a very small bar with only about four stools in front of the raised wooden counter and a few tables scattered throughout the large room. It looked well-kept, but very old and disused. There was a roaring fire in the one corner with the dart board just to the right of it. It seemed they were they only patrons.

"Charming," Janeway remarked. "I can't for the life of me think why I haven't come here before."

"Very funny, just give it a chance," Lee said and walked to the bar. "Nick, can we have a pint and two glasses, please. And, bring out the darts as well."

"Aye, lass," a voice rumbled from a door behind the counter. A wizened, silver-haired old man came out. "You brought a lady friend? Didn't know ye had any."

"You're such a gentleman, Nick," Lee laughed. "This is Kathryn. We felt like a bit of peace and quiet and needed someone place nice to go to. Since I couldn't find anywhere else I thought we'd come here. Do you mind?"

"You're such a lark, lass," Nick replied with a toothy grin. He handed Lee a pitcher and two glasses. "The darts are in the board. Enjoy." And with a nod to Janeway, he shuffled to the back again.

"Kathryn?" Janeway asked as they headed to the table. Lee slowly started pouring two glasses.

"Do you mind? If you prefer, I can call you Captain Janeway. I didn't mean to offend you, it just came out." Kathryn laughed at the flustered young woman. She took a glass and clinked it against Lee's.

"Kathryn is fine. We're off duty and I plan to beat you as myself, not the Captain."

"Great," Lee answered and picked up her glass. "To friends and darts!"

"Hear, hear," Kathryn replied and the women took a swig of their beer. "Wow, this is quite strong."

"Yes, I know it's still synthenol, but it tastes better than the usual stuff."

Kathryn carefully put the glass down. She'll have to watch herself. She wants to keep a professional distance, but somehow she finds herself immensely enjoying Lee's company. When last did you just enjoy an evening out, Kathryn berated herself. Just relax for once and have fun.

Lee opened the board and started taking stock of the darts. Some were old and a bit frayed. They divided the good and bad darts equally between them. After some debate about who would go first, with rank and age jokes coming from Lee, Kathryn decided to throw first.

"That's great," Lee replied and wrote the score with a piece of chalk on the board next to the darts. "We'll play to 200. See who gets there first?"

"Fine by me," Kathryn replied. "Should be a very short game, then."

"Don't be so sure," Lee said and stood in front of the board. Her throw went completely to the left and bounced against the wall. Kathryn had to keep from smiling. "Wait, my muscle spasmed, I'll go again." Lee's next throw was a bit better, but still bounced off the chalk slate next to the dart board.

"Damn, this is much harder than I thought it would be," Lee said with a frown.

"You haven't played before?" Kathryn said, laughing even more when Lee shook her head sheepishly. "What was all that talk about beating me?"

"I was bluffing," Lee grinned. "I've seen people play, but I haven't actually thrown any darts myself. I do suffer sometimes from over confidence. It's one of my more endearing qualities, I believe."

"Endearing or not, we can't carry on like this," Kathryn said and Lee's face fell. "Don't worry. I can show you. Stand like this, with your arm and elbow like this." As Kathryn was explaining, she looked at Lee. The blonde's face was a mask of concentration and Kathryn couldn't help but smile.

"What?" Lee asked Janeway. "Am I not doing it right?"

"You look like you're about to fight a raging Klingon," Kathryn replied. "You need to relax more. Wait."

Kathryn stood in front of the taller woman and put her hands on Lee's hips. She pushed the younger woman slightly so that she was square with the dart board. Kathryn moved Lee's arm and elbow to the correct position, suddenly noticing that she was right in the younger woman's personal space. She glanced up at Lee and only saw deep blue eyes staring back at her. Kathryn felt a blush creep up her face from her neck and quickly stepped back. Lee smiled and tried to hide her own slightly reddened face.

"There," Kathryn said when she caught her breath. "Now, slowly pull your hand back, keeping your elbow steady, and then throw the dart. Remember to aim for the board."

"Very funny, Kathryn," Lee grinned. With her tongue sticking out, she squinted slightly and threw the dart. It went straight into the board, not a great throw, but definitely better. "That's great! Thanks."

"Not a problem," Kathryn said. "I don't want you using your lack of skills as an excuse later."

"Ha, I hope you're hungry, Kathryn," Lee smirked. "I'm a quick study and you'll be eating those words very soon."

The women laughed and the game started in earnest. Kathryn quickly took the lead and insisted on lowering Lee's target. But, the Ensign wouldn't have any of it. The women slowly started to unwind and started talking about more than just Voyager.

"That's not poetry," Kathryn exclaimed after Lee had recited something nonsensical. "There's no rhythm to it, it doesn't make you think or feel something. It doesn't move you."

Kathryn was up one game and the women had been discussing books. Both happy that they had passion for reading in common. Lee knew Kathryn liked more serious and thoughtful poems and had decided to share her more comical ones.

"Of course it moves you," Lee argued, lining up for her turn. "But, you have to hear the whole thing. I can only remember a small piece and it probably doesn't make much sense out of context."

"Where does it come from?"

"It's from a children's book." Lee grinned triumphantly as her dart hit the board. The points she got came a far second to actually just hitting the board.

"Is it Naomi's book?" Kathryn said and laughed at Lee shaking her head.

"It's one of my favourite authors, and yes, I read it to Naomi, but I have always hated classifications. A good story is a good story, no matter if it was written for kids or adults." Kathryn's dart hit sqaure in the centre and she jumped another few points ahead in the game. Lee shook her head.

"If I didn't know you better, I would have said you were gloating," Lee said. "Actually, no, I think even the darts are gloating at this stage."

"Well, you didn't want adjust the points, so these are the consequences."

"A winning and gloating Janeway. I'm not sure if I can stand both. But, I can feel my luck changing." And with that Lee squarely threw her dart into the wooden beam above the fire place. She looked so surprised that Kathryn burst out laughing.

"Okay, quickly changing the subject." Lee walked over, but she couldn't reach the dart to pull it out. "You will have to come and hear the whole story before you can decide if it's poetry or not."

Kathryn pulled a chair over and held Lee steady as she clambered up. She could just reach the dart and with one quick pull, she and the dart stumbled off the chair. Kathryn just grabbed her before Lee reached the floor.

"I think I'll do that," Kathryn replied and slowly let go of Lee. The younger woman seemed flushed, but it could just have been the heat from the fire.

"Good," Lee managed to say, wondering why she was suddenly struggling to speak. Kathryn wasn't holding her that closely. "Now, go and hit anything but the dart board, please."

Kathryn ended up beating Lee two games to nothing, but Lee had slowly been improving towards the end. The younger woman had vowed that a rematch would certainly end differently. When they finally left the holodeck, it was later than either expected and Voyager's corridors were empty. They walked in companionable silence towards the turbo lift. Lee walked Kathryn to her quarters and they stood a bit awkwardly in front of the door.

"Thank you, Kathryn," Lee said. "I had needed this more than I thought."

"I'm sorry, was there something you wanted to talk about?" Kathryn asked concerned.

"No, please," Lee replied quickly. "I was just going through a bit of a low. But, laughing with you helped."

"Good," Kathryn said. "I must admit, I wasn't up to doing anything social tonight either, but I really enjoyed the game. Thank you."

"It was such a pleasure. Maybe we can do it again sometime? I am planning on beating you soon. Someday. Or maybe much later, depending on how quickly I can do some secret training."

"That would be nice," Kathryn replied with a genuine smile.

"Well, then, good night, Kathryn." Lee gingerly stepped forward and gave Kathryn a hug. "Sweet dreams."

"You too, Lee," Kathryn said as she returned the hug. It felt nice being in the younger woman's arms. And with that, Kathryn harshly came back to reality. What am I thinking? She is a member of my crew. I am her Captain. This is not good.

As Lee stepped back, she smiled at Kathryn and the Captain's doubts were pushed to the back of her mind. Kathryn was drawn into the complete warmth and openness in the younger woman. Kathryn realized she trusted Lee, without any second thoughts. She felt a connection with her. How could that be wrong?

B'Elanna Torres had just finished her morning discussion with her team in Engineering. Everyone had their duties for the day and were scattering to get started. Ensign Lee was finishing up some story or other with Ensign Andrea Nicoletti. As B'Elanna walked over, Nicoletti excused herself and headed out of Engineering.

"Morning, Lieutenant Torres," the blonde woman greeted her. "I'm looking forward to getting those new parts. When will the trade agreement be finished?"

"Morning, Ensign. Probably tomorrow or the day after," B'Elanna replied. "Where were you last night? Everyone missed you at the pub."

"Oh, I didn't feel like a sulking Lieutenant Paris," Lee replied quickly.

"What? Tom wasn't sulking."

"He would have been after I beat him at pool," Lee said with a laugh. She walked over to her console to start her daily checks and reports.

"Hold on," B'Elanna followed her. "You haven't answered my question."

"I just didn't feel like a lot of people so I ended up playing darts with a friend at another pub."

"Who?" B'Elanna crossed her arms. "Did you finally give in and go on an actual date? I know there have been quite a few women and men who wanted to ask you out."

"What?" Lee shook her head. "Where are you getting this?"

"Oh, come on, Lee. For some reason, you're one of the very few people on this ship who hasn't starting seeing someone or even just dated. I don't understand it really. You get along with everyone and there's some good pickings on Voyager."

"You make it sound as if I'm picking fruit," Lee said with a laugh. "I just haven't clicked with anyone and I don't want to just go out with whoever asks."

"Morning, Lieutenant Torres, Ensign Lee," Seven greeted the women as she walked over to stand next to Lee.

"Thank Voyager, a change of topic," Lee said with a sigh. "How was your yesterday, Seven?"

"Don't answer that, Seven," B'Elanna interrupted. "You're going to help me get Lee to tell us who she was with on a date last night."

"Captain Janeway," Seven answered immediately. Lee and B'Elanna stared at her and then Lee burst out laughing.

"It is the Captain, isn't it?" B'Elanna said turning back to Lee. "That's your nervous laugh."

"The Captain and Ensign Lee were the only two crew members, except those on duty, not present at the social gathering last night," Seven added.

"Firstly, I do not have a nervous laugh. Secondly, it's a bit creepy and cool that you notice those things, Seven." Lee paused. "Thirdly, I did play darts with Kath- with the Captain, but it wasn't a date."

"But, you like her!" B'Elanna argued. "You clicked or whatever with her. In a way that you haven't with anyone else. That's why you didn't want to admit it was her and that's why you've been so happy lately. Well, happier."

"I agree," Seven said. "You have been displaying a happier temperament lately. And you did say a few weeks ago that you had a nice talk with the Captain."

"I'm going to work on something urgent and important somewhere else on Voyager. Preferably outside the ship where you two cannot get to. Maybe I can fix some hull plating." With that, Lee left her console and started towards the door.

"We're happy for you!" B'Elanna shouted after her. "Actually, that might be a good match. What do you think, Seven?"

"Relationships are more complicated than I had previously thought." Seven raised her eyebrow. "But, I agree. They do suit each other. Shall we get back work?" B'Elanna rolled her eyes before nodding and joined Seven behind the console.

Captain Janeway sat staring at her screen. Her ready room was a good place to go over the day's activities and get her thoughts in order. Neither being accomplished at the moment. The day had been without incident and Janeway couldn't focus. Or at least she couldn't focus on whatever it was on her screen. She kept thinking about a certain laugh and infectious smile belonging to only one person. One person she hadn't seen in a few days. Suddenly her door chimed, and Janeway jumped slightly.

"Come in," she said, laughing at herself. "Chakotay, what can I for you?"

"Captain," the commander greeted her. "Actually, I just wanted to find out how you were doing? You seem a bit distracted today."

"I'm fine, just some personal things I need to sort out," Janeway quickly replied.

"If you wanted to talk ..."

"Thank you, but no." Janeway stood up. "I think I'll figure this one out for myself. But the sentiment is appreciated. And, if there's nothing urgently needing my attention, I'll be ending my shift a bit earlier today."

"Sounds good to me," Chakotay said as he followed Captain Janeway onto the bridge. "Good luck with whatever it is." Janeway only smiled and entered the turbolift.

Lee had finished her duties a bit earlier and with B'Elanna being in a generous mood, she found herself in her quarters with some time to kill. She idly wondered what Kathryn was doing. Maybe I can go check the bridge, Lee mused and then laughed out loud.

"What? And make up some explanation as to why I'm checking up on the Captain? You stay right here," she admonished herself. "Whatever's going on between you and Kathryn – which is probably only in your imagination – will sort itself out."

Lee stepped into her bathroom for a nice relaxing shower, hoping to get her mind off the auburn-haired woman. Naomi and Seven would be coming around later for their usual story time. She'll get ready for that and hopefully the book will get her mind off the Captain.

Lee had just gotten dressed in jeans and a t-shirt when her door chimed. Naomi's early, she thought, walking into her small living room.

"Come in," Lee said and went over to the replicator. She had saved some rations specifically for this. "Who wants chocolate ice cream?"

"Thank you, that would be lovely," Kathryn replied with a smile as Lee immediately spun around. She had two bowls in her hands and a slightly confused look on her face.

"Shouldn't we starting eating it before it melts?" Kathryn asked as the young woman seemed rooted to the spot.

"I'm sorry, Kathryn," Lee said, walking over to the Captain. "I was expecting Naomi. But this is a very nice surprise. And I'm sure Naomi wouldn't mind sharing her ice cream." Lee handed Kathryn hers and they sat down on the couch together. Lee had moved her furniture to face the windows and they had a wonderful view of stars racing past.

"How was your day?" Lee asked and took a bite of the ice cream. She cringed immediately as the cold hit her. Kathryn watched in amusement as Lee shook her head slightly and took another bite.

"What?" Lee asked with a smile. "Why are you always laughing at me?"

"I'm laughing with you," Kathryn grinned. "Do you realize you make funny faces?"

"This is my face, I was born with it," Lee replied, enjoying the teasing. "And, yes, I sometimes forget to control every reaction. But, it's much easier than always trying to remember to look like this or don't show that or whatever."

"I agree, you should keep your face the way it is."

"Thanks, I plan too," Lee replied and the women shared a laugh at the absurdity of their conversation. "Now, back to the original question, did you have a good day?"

"It's definitely looking up now," Kathryn replied without thinking. She glanced at Lee who simply carried on eating, but was smiling between bites. The door chime sounded again and Lee put her spoon down.

"It's probably Naomi and Seven," Lee said and got up. "Actually, this is a good chance for you to see if my books are poetry or not. If you're not busy, I mean if you had plans, it's fine, we can do the book thing another night."

"No, it would be nice to stay," Kathryn replied and got a huge grin in return.

"Great!" Lee walked to the door. "Come in."

Naomi Wildman, the young daughter of Samantha Wildman, burst through the entrance and hugged Lee. Seven of Nine simply nodded at Lee and followed at a more sedate pace.

"What took you so long to let us in?" Naomi asked. "We have to read the whole book tonight. You promised, remember?"

"Yes, and we will," Lee said. Both Naomi and Seven paused as they noticed the Captain. "Would it be all right if Captain Janeway joined us? She doesn't believe how awesome the book is."

"What?" Naomi's eyes couldn't be wider. "Captain, it's one of the best books ever! Lee even used some of her replicator rations to get a real one. Now we don't have to read it from a padd."

"Good evening, Captain," Seven greeted Janeway and sat down on the one chair. "I must agree with Naomi that the book is quite interesting. Some of the words are very peculiar, but Ensign Lee has assured me that they are part of the author's artistic licence."

"We've had some ice cream already," Lee said. "Does anyone want any or maybe something to drink before we start reading?"

Naomi was too eager to get to the book and didn't want anything. When Seven and Kathryn also declined, Lee took her seat next to Kathryn. Naomi ran into Lee's bedroom and came back with a thin, but very colourful children's book. The young girl paused in front of Lee and then promptly squeezed herself between the Ensign and the armrest.

"You could sit in the middle, if you like," Kathryn said. She was very aware of Lee's body so tightly against her.

"That wouldn't work," Naomi replied. "Lee's reading and you have to see the pictures. Seven already knows it so it doesn't matter."

"We have read this particular book 6 times," Seven remarked.

"If you wanted to go and do something else, I wouldn't mind, Seven," Lee said, shifting slightly to get comfortable. Sitting this close to Kathryn was very nice, but she had butterflies in her stomach. Get a grip, Lee, she thought, we're just reading a book.

"No, each time has been different and I think this will be as well. I find it interesting how you and Naomi can enjoy the book even though you've heard it before."

"Once funny, always funny," Lee said and Kathryn smiled. "You all right, Kathryn? You have enough space?"

"I'm fine," the Captain replied. I just need to stop my heart beating so wildly, Kathryn thought. This close to Lee she could smell her perfume and Kathryn wondered what it would be like to just lean her head against the younger woman's shoulder. Mentally shaking herself, she said: "Please, start reading. I'm very curious to see what all the fuss is about."

"Good." Lee took an exaggerated breath which made Naomi giggle. "Oh, The Places You'll Go by Dr Seuss. For those new to his work, Dr Seuss is a nineteenth century writer who wrote many children's books. Each had his signature style and illustrations."

"Boring! Start reading the book, please," Naomi pleaded and opened the book in Lee's hands to the first page. The women on the coach laughed and Seven smiled.

"All right, all right," Lee said and started reading. "Congratulations! Today is your day. You're off to Great Places! You're off and away!"

Kathryn was immediately captured by Lee's voice. The Ensign lived the book, voicing every emotion and laughing at herself and the book at the right places. Lee would look up and grab Naomi's attention and did the same with Kathryn and Seven. When she would glance at Kathryn, the Captain would lose the plot slightly and only see the blue of Lee's eyes.

The book was about going where you want to and handling bad situations as they come along. Never giving up on your journey. Kathryn thought it was very apt for Voyager's current predicament and said so once Lee had finished reading it.

"That's one of the reasons I love it so much," Lee replied. "And, does it qualify as poetry or not? What was it you said? O, right. Does it move you? Make you feel something?"

"I have to say that the when you quoted a piece the other night, I wasn't convinced." Kathryn paused. "But, you have changed my mind. It's a wonderful book!"

"I told you," Naomi chipped in. "Please, Lee, can't we read one more? Please!"

"No, Naomi," Lee replied and interrupted the girl before she could make another plea. "Your mom will be here any minute and we can always do this again another night."

"What do you think, Seven?" Kathryn asked. She realized she was practically lying on Lee's shoulder. Slowly, she shifted away from her and spared Lee a glance. Lee immediately missed Kathryn's presence and frowned.

"I like the message," the ex-Borg said, not missing the body language between her friends. "And, I find it amusing. Thank you, Ensign Lee. You read it very well."

"Thanks, Seven," Lee replied as the door chimed. She turned to Naomi. "That'll be your mom. Come in!" Lee got up with Naomi as Samantha came in. She greeted the women and only paused a second when she noticed the Captain.

"How was it? Did you read the same one again?" Sam asked her daughter, giving her a hug.

"It was great! We even had the Captain liking the book," Naomi grinned.

"That's nice," Sam replied and turned to Lee and Seven. "Thanks again for this. I really appreciate the time you spend with Naomi."

"It's our pleasure," Lee replied.

"Where else would Ensign Lee be able to read her children's books?" Seven added getting a laugh from everyone. Sam and Naomi said a final goodbye and left.

"Would you like something to drink? Coffee?" Lee asked her friends, hoping to spend some more time with Kathryn.

"Thank you, but I think I should be getting to my quarters," Kathryn replied. She wasn't trusting herself with the younger woman.

"I should also be getting my required regeneration," Seven said. "Thank you for a nice evening." Lee hugged Kathryn goodbye and had to remind herself not to hold on too long. Seven also got a hug and didn't frown as much as the previous time.

"Thanks for coming," Lee said as the women walked out her door.

"It was very nice," Kathryn said. "Sleep well." Seven gave a final nod as the door closed behind her and Kathryn. The women headed for the nearest turbolift.

"Captain, you should spend more time with Ensign Lee," Seven said. Kathryn had been lost in thought and it took her a few seconds to process what her companion had said.

"What? What do you mean, Seven?" Kathryn tried to keep her voice calm. Seven had noticed. Kathryn had been inappropriate in her exchanges with Lee and Seven had seen it.

"You both seem to be happier and more relaxed in each other's company. It would be logical then to spend more time with the person who makes you happy."

"It's not that simple, Seven."

"I disagree. Are you concerned about Starfleet protocols regarding relationships among crew members?"

"Seven, I am not having this conversation with you," Kathryn replied, getting defensive and a bit angry. "Nothing is happening between me and Lee. And, yes, I strongly believe in Starfleet protocols. They are there for everyone's safety. The Captain must make objective decisions regarding the crew and ship. Not base them on personal feelings about a specific person."

"You are rationalizing," Seven replied and Kathryn bit off an angry retort. "Neither you nor Ensign Lee would ever put the other in that kind of position. And neither of you would expect that from the other person."

"This is all hypothetical," Kathryn said angrily. "And we're done talking about this."

"I am not." Seven stopped walking and they stood in the corridor. Kathryn had her hands on her hips and Seven knew she only had a few sentences before the Captain exploded. "If you're happy, you make sound decisions which will keep Voyager and it's crew alive. And, you're happy with Lee. A happy Captain is a happy ship." Kathryn couldn't believe what she was hearing, but Seven's last comment floored her. She burst out laughing.

"You've been spending too much time with Lee and her books," Kathryn said with a smile. "You're starting to sound like her."

"I do not think that's a bad thing," Seven replied and carried on to the turbolift. Kathryn just shook her head and followed the ex-Borg.

It had been an awful few weeks. Voyager had entered an innocuous nebula and had planned to travel through it in a matter of days. But, as many things in the Delta Quadrant, the nebula had been more than it seemed. There were different mercenary tribes scattered throughout the area who started attacking the Starfleet vessel within minutes of them entering the area. Other ships had cut off their retreat and Captain Janeway had been forced to take her crew deeper into the nebula. They had been fighting off sporadic attacks while also trying to repair the damage done to Voyager. Nothing was beyond fixing, but the crew had been running on high alert for weeks and everyone was starting to feel the lack of sleep and constant stress. Luckily, they were reaching the end of the nebula and should be out in open space within the next 48 hours.

Captain Janeway was ragged, her nerves frayed to breaking. She had been on duty for hours on end, getting little sleep in between. She couldn't let herself relax with the constant threat of attack. Janeway would only feel comfortable once they were out of the nebula and out of reach of those damn mercenaries. Everyone was running on empty, but Janeway's temper had considerably shortened and she knew she was snapping at people for no good reason. But, she wouldn't allow herself to let her guard down. I've already stranded this crew in the Delta Quadrant, she thought as she was making her rounds through Voyager. I will not let them suffer anymore than they need to. Being stricter and sharper with my orders for a bit won't kill anyone. A small tendril of doubt crept into her mind. Why can't I keep this ship safe? Every decision I make seems to take us even deeper into dangerous situations. Janeway balled her fists in frustration. Why can't I get us home without ending up fighting every species we come across? This crew has lost so much already. A small part of her was trying very hard not to think how she would feel if a certain Engineering Ensign was lost as well.

Ensign Lee was tired. No, she was beyond tired and was just putting one foot in front of the other. She had been on fire duty for the past few week. That wasn't the official description, but Lee had renamed it since it felt like she was constantly putting out fires. Whenever a new attack damaged a critical system, Ensign Lee would get to the affected section as quickly as possible and try to contain the damage. Lieutenant Torres had a few of these fire-fighter teams and they were running around the entire ship. Mostly they didn't have time to do the correct repairs before the next urgent area needed attention. Lee ended up feeling frustrated with the patch jobs she was forced to do. She knew it was necessary, but it felt like a itch needing to be scratched. Once this was all over, she would go back and fix it properly.

Lee wondered how Kathryn was holding up. She had heard that the Captain had become very irritable. Completely understandably given the tense and extreme circumstances. Lee simply wished she could see or talk to her. But, their paths hadn't crossed and Lee knew both of them were beyond busy.

Janeway found herself in one of the smaller storage lockers. She had been so deep in thought that she hadn't realized she had entered the small room. Crates of provisions and equipment were stacked everywhere and there was a small window showing the stars going past at a very sedate pace. Janeway gave a frustrated sigh. The warp engines haven't been at their best for the past few days and she knew Lieutenant Torres was pushing her teams to fix all the small systems which were affecting the engines' performance. Add it to the list, the Captain thought despondently and suddenly couldn't hold back her tears anymore.

When Janeway heard the door slide open behind her, she immediately wiped her face before turning around. Lee stared at her, not believing her luck in finally running into the Captain. The Ensign's face twisted in concern when she noticed Janeway's tear-streaked face.

"You look as bad as what I feel," Ensign Lee joked.

"Ensign, this is not the time," Kathryn said as Lee started forward. She had to stay focused. Get Voyager out of danger. Stay strong. She couldn't let Lee come any closer. "Leave."

"What? Why? I just – "

"No," Kathryn barked, sounding very harsh even to her own ears. "We are in a crisis situation. I've already gotten us stranded in this god-forsaken quadrant. I am responsible for this crew and I will get Voyager home in one piece. I cannot stand around making small talk with every Ensign on this ship. We will maintain our professional ranks as befitting proper Starfleet officers. I will not allow this ship to perish!" Kathryn was almost shouting as she finished talking. Lee stood there, allowing Kathryn's anger and frustration to simply flow over her.

"Are you done?" Lee asked.

"I am giving you a direct order, Ensign." Kathryn was beside herself with rage. Why was Lee making this so hard on her? If she would just leave, Kathryn could compose herself and get back to normal.

"If that what it takes to stay, I resign my commission," Lee replied calmly. Kathryn couldn't believe it. "Now will you just let me hug you? I hate seeing you like this."

Kathryn saw Lee's face falter and the pure love and deep concern in the younger woman's face was the final straw. Kathryn's anger dissolved and before she knew how, she found herself wrapped in Lee's arms. They must have been standing like that for quite a while because when Kathryn finally lifted her head, she saw she had cried Lee's shoulder into a nice damp patch.

"Feeling a bit better?" Lee asked tentively and Kathryn saw the engineer had also been crying. Kathryn gently wiped the tears from Lee's cheeks and nodded.

"Good." Lee wasn't letting Kathryn go and the Captain wasn't complaining. "Now, you are going to your quarters and taking a shower or bath or whatever. Then I'll be bringing you something to eat. Neelix has done wonders with the emergency rations since the replicators were damaged." This brought a small smile to Kathryn's face and Lee grinned as well. "Then you'll go to bed."

"I'm still on duty," Kathryn said. "I can't just shirk my responsibilities."

"You won't be," Lee countered. "You're always on duty, no matter if you're not on the bridge. Commander Chakotay can let you know the moment anything happens. And we're almost out of the nebula, right? There shouldn't be any major disasters in the next few days. You need some rest and some food. Both of which I'm sure have been lacking the past few weeks."

Kathryn wanted to protest, but a bigger part of her didn't want to move out of Lee's embrace. A happy captain is a happy ship, Kathryn thought and smiled. And they were moving away from the mercenaries. Chakotay can handle the bridge for a short while.

As soon as Kathryn had informed the Commander of her whereabouts, she and Lee headed for the officer's quarters. Lee left her there, but not before making Kathryn promise that she would stay there and not head back to the bridge.

Lee quickly made her way through the ship and headed to her quarters. She desperately needed a quick, warm shower before heading back to Kathryn. When she got to the mess hall a few minutes later, she rescued a couple of crewmen from Neelix sharing a new Talaxian tradition with them. She got a nice tray with two bowls of food and a flask with coffee the man had dug up from somewhere. Lee hadn't wanted to mention Kathryn, but it was the only way to get the coffee. Neelix was sworn to silence based on Lee's insuation that the Captain would hate the rest of the crew to feel as if she were being treated differently.

"She's the Captain!" Neelix exclaimed as he got the things together on the silver tray. "We need to look after her every once in a while. And I know she hasn't been eating like she should."

"Thanks, Neelix," Lee said as she headed out of his kitchen. "Captain Janeway's really going to appreciate this."

"Anytime, Ensign. Have a nice dinner together," Neelix waved and winked.

"What? Oh, yes, I thought I'd just take her food," Lee blundered, but just didn't have the energy for a better excuse. "Thanks again."

This is exactly what I needed, Kathryn thought as she got out of the shower. Wondering how a young woman could get her to leave the bridge when even Tuvok hadn't been able to convince her, Kathryn got dressed. She hadn't been sitting on the couch for more than a few minutes when her door chimed.

"Come in," Kathryn said, not getting up. She was more tired than she had realized. "That looks wonderful. How did you manage it?"

"Neelix was very helpful," Lee said, walking very slowly not to drop anything. She was concentrating very hard with her tongue sticking out slightly. Kathryn smiled at that and joined her at the table. "I even got us some coffee, but the food might be a bit of a challenge."

"The coffee smells great," Kathryn said as Lee handed her a bowl. "What's wrong with the food?"

"Neelix calls it something something surprise. And that means he's stuffed whatever he thought would be nourishing in here. It might kill us, but we'll be in perfect health when it does!"

The women laughed and Kathryn felt the tension ease from her shoulders. When last did she laugh? Definitely too long ago, she thought as they started eating. The food was surprisingly good, considering it was mostly emergency ration stew. Once they had almost licked their bowls clean, both women quite hungry, Lee poured them two mugs of coffee and they sat in the living room. Lee made herself at home on the couch, but then saw Kathryn pause at the small step leading down to the open living room.

"Kathryn, sit where you want to sit," Lee suggested gently, knowing Kathryn was probably thinking about their wildly inappropriate closeness earlier. "Don't think too hard. We're too tired and your brain might explode."

Kathryn settled in next to Lee and smiled. "Thank you, I needed to laugh." She shook her head, quickly become serious again. "I've probably been impossible the last few days. It's just that I need to keep Voyager safe. I am the Captain. I can't be everyone's friend all the time."

"I heard that some crewmen were volunteering to work on the deflector array," Lee said, sipping her coffee. "From the outside - just to stay out of your way."

"What? Really? No, it can't be," Kathryn exclaimed, but then she saw Lee's shoulders. She was shaking from keeping her laughter in. "That's not funny."

"Of course it is!" Lee burst out laughing. "I should have gotten a picture of your face. It was priceless!"

Kathryn knew she should be angry, but she couldn't and laughed as well. The women carried on drinking the much-needed coffee and looking out the window. Lee finished hers first and put her mug down. She slid a bit forward and leaned back against the couch, closing her eyes and sighing contently.

"This is one of those moments you have to remember," Lee murmured.

"Why?" Kathryn asked not taking her eyes of the young women's face and gazing appreciately over her lengthy form. Kathryn placed her mug on the small table next to the couch and leaned back as well.

"Not that the moment is perfect, but that's the beauty. We've been through hell the past few weeks. But, we're still alive, enjoying a piece of quiet and excellent company."

Lee turned to Kathryn and the Captain couldn't look away. Lee tentively lifted her hand and when Kathryn didn't move back, Lee put her arm around her and pulled her close. Kathryn panicked slightly, absurdly thinking she had to get up and be the Captain. But, her heart rebelled and she simply turned into Lee and rested her head against the younger Ensign's shoulder, tucking herself under Lee's chin. She felt Lee relax and she closed her eyes as well.

"Chakotay to the Captain." Kathryn was cruelly awoken by the loud voice over the comms system.

"Janeway here," she replied, years of Starfleet waking her up instantly.

"Captain, we have exited the nebula and entered open space. There's no sign of pursuit."

"Good news, Commander. Get us back on course to the Alpha Quadrant."

"Already done, Captain."

"Perfect. Janeway out."

Janeway slowly realized she had been sleeping almost on top of Lee. Kathryn had wrapped her body over the younger Ensign and was definitely appreciating her softness and warmth. Her hand was lying casually over Lee's breasts and Kathryn panicked. Her heart beat faster at how intimate the whole situation was – and perhaps even more at how much she wanted it to stay that way.

"What's wrong?" Lee mumbled, shifting slightly to look at Kathryn. She had felt Kathryn suddenly stiffen in her arms. "Chakotay said everything's fine. Can't we go back to sleep?"

"I can't do this," Kathryn said and got up quickly. "This isn't right. I'm your Captain. I can't take advantage of my rank like this. We need to keep the correct distance in our relationship. I need to be objective."

"You're over-thinking this," Lee said. "Let's just go back to sleep and sort it out tomorrow."

"No." Kathryn crossed her arms. "This isn't right. I think you should leave."

"You're being ridiculous," Lee said and got up. "You're using being Captain as an excuse. I know there's something between us. Why can't you do what you want for a change? Instead of what you think is right?"

"Being Captain is not an excuse! I need to stay focused on getting us home! I cannot allow personal feelings to cloud my judgement. One of my decisions already got us stranded out here!"

"That's absurd and you know it! You need to stop feeling guilty. You made the best choice at the time. Right now you should do what your heart is telling you and look after your own happiness."

"I am doing what I want! I am getting this crew home!"

"Do you want me to leave?" Lee's sudden softly-spoken question threw Kathryn off guard. She stared at the younger woman, not sure how to answer.

"What do you want?" Kathryn countered after a long silence.

"I want you, Kathryn," Lee said and stepped closer to Kathryn. Kathryn was stunned, but knew she should have expected nothing but complete honesty from Lee.

"I can't," Kathryn started to say and Lee backed off.

"Don't do this, Kathryn. We can work this out," Lee said. "I want to see you, spend time with you, just be with you."

"I'm the Captain," Kathryn replied with more conviction, standing slightly straighter. "This is wrong. You need to go."

"Fine," Lee said. "You let me know when you stop being afraid."

Kathryn watched as Lee walked to her door and stood rooted to the spot. This was the right thing to do, wasn't it? She couldn't allow herself to get personally attached to anyone. How could she command Voyager if she did?

As Lee went through the door, she glanced back, and Kathryn could see she was crying silently. Without another word, Lee walked out and Kathryn felt a tear on her own cheek. What had she done?

Lee was shattered, but she kept it together until she got into her quarters. Her couch creaked slightly when she fell on top of it and started crying loudly. Maybe I shouldn't have said all those things? No, I had to tell her how I feel, Lee argued with herself. I can't control Kathryn's reaction. I said what I wanted and Kathryn made her decision. And tomorrow I'll be okay. But, tonight I think I'll just cry. With that, Lee got up, climbed into her bed and drew the covers over her.

Captain Janeway was nursing her drink, wishing it was more than just strong coffee. The mess hall had emptied hours ago after the dinner rush. Neelix had offered to keep her company, but Janeway had politely declined and asked for another coffee. She had made the right decision, hadn't she? She couldn't become involved with Lee. She had made the right decision as Captain. Then why have I been feeling so awful for the past week, Kathryn thought, shaking her head. Maybe I am scared of becoming more attached to someone again.

"Captain, may I join you?" Tuvok's question caught Janeway unawares. She hadn't noticed someone had entered the mess hall.

"Actually, Tuvok, I need to think some things through and would prefer a bit of peace and quiet."

"Perhaps a second opinion would help," her oldest friend on Voyager replied, taking a seat across from her. "A fresh perspective often highlights other ideas and thoughts."

"I'm not sure if this is something I want to discuss with you, Tuvok," Janeway replied. "This is quite personal."

"I believe you should explore your growing friendship with Ensign Lee." The statement was completely unexpected and Janeway could only stare at her Tactical Officer.

"What? That is almost exactly the same thing Seven said to me. Does the entire ship know I've been spending a little more time, very little I might add, with Lee than before?"

"No, I do not believe so," Tuvok replied calmly. "But, as Chief of Security, I felt a need to become involved."

"I don't understand, you think I should spend more time with Lee, but feel this is a security risk."

"Perhaps I should explain."

"Please do," Janeway said, leaning back and crossing her arms.

"A captain of a Starfleet vessel needs to maintain a certain distance from the crew in order to be an effective leader. As does the crew with each other. But, Voyager is in a unique situation. We have become closer, formed bonds of friendship which go beyond normal shipmates." Tuvok paused, gathering his thoughts. "At first, I felt this would be detrimental to our mission of getting back to the Alpha Quadrant. But, I have revised my opinion. I believe that it is exactly those stronger bonds between us which make the mission much more possible."

"I completely agree, Tuvok, but that still doesn't quite relate to my situation," Janeway interjected. She knew her Vulcan friend had changed slightly since the start of their voyage, but hadn't realized how much even he felt for this crew.

"As Captain, you have also formed closer bonds with everyone on board, but have still kept any personal relationship at a distance. I think this will be detrimental to you in future. I have always admired your strength as a captain and as a person. I do not believe that you would ever allow any personal feelings to hinder your duties as captain."

"I'm not sure what to say," Janeway started. "Thank you for your support. But, I'm still not certain if this is the right thing to do. Hell, Lee and I haven't even started anything yet and I'm already unbalanced. So much can go wrong."

"I believe that you can trust Ensign Lee's intentions," Tuvok replied. "I have had numerous conversations with her closest colleagues and friends and with her as well. I do not think she means you any harm."

"What? Did you interview all those people?" Kathryn laughed. "You interrogated the crew because I might become more involved with Lee. Why?"

"I did not interrogate anyone," Tuvok said, lifting an eyebrow. "I simply asked questions in a very subtle manner. I never alluded to my reasons. As Chief of Security, I had to make sure that Ensign Lee was not using her friendship with you for her own gains. That she was not planning to harm you or take advantage."

"And from all of this, you concluded that I should take our friendship further?"

"Yes, Ensign Lee seems to make you happier. It is a rare quality to find in another person. And you, perhaps more so than anyone else on Voyager, deserve to be happy."

"Thank you, Tuvok," Janeway replied, slowly getting up. "You were right, a second opinion was very useful." Tuvok nodded and walked with Janeway to the door. She felt lighter – Tuvok had managed to echo what she knew she herself had been thinking.

"I'm surprised how much value you've placed on an emotion like happiness, Tuvok," Janeway quipped as they headed to the turbolift. "I thought Vulcans believed most emotions to have no use."

"Being constantly surrounded by humans may have altered my thoughts on the matter," Tuvok replied and Janeway laughed.

"For the better, I hope," she replied, walking into the lift.

"I believe so," the Chief of Security replied as the doors slid shut.

Kathryn had finally gotten her chance. The major damages from the mercenary attacks had been repaired and they were back on course to the Alpha Quadrant. Kathryn had been trying to get to Lee to talk to her, but some urgent matter always cropped up. She also thought that the Ensign might be avoiding her. But, no more distractions. She had finished her shift on the bridge and was heading to the holodeck. Apparently, Lee was there with Naomi and Seven, probably playing some game or running a Flotter program.

When Kathryn walked into the holodeck, she found herself in a dense rainforest. Huge trees towered over her and there were smaller bushes with large leaves everywhere. Everything was so green and beautiful and – Kathryn was violently knocked off her feet by someone almost running straight through her. They crashed to the forest floor and Kathryn felt a few bruises start to ache.

"What? Kath – Captain, what are you doing here?" Lee was bewildered. Captain Janeway was the last person she had been expecting to see. She tried to get up and away from the woman underneath her, but ended up falling over her again. "I'm so sorry, we're playing hide-and-seek and I was trying to get away from Seven's damned acute Borg hearing."

Kathryn was staring up at Lee and couldn't stop smiling. Her heart was hammering against her rib cage and she knew she had been right in coming here. Lee started to smile, but her face quickly closed again.

"I'm sorry, Captain, " Lee repeated, getting up and pulling Kathryn with her. "What are you doing here? Did you need Seven for something?"

"No, I wanted to talk to you," Kathryn said, noticing Lee had immediately stepped away, putting some distance between them after helping her up. "I think you've been avoiding me."

"I've definitely been avoiding you, but not in any way which comprised my duties, Captain," Lee answered, still smiling, but it wasn't reaching her eyes. "I thought it best to put some professional distance between us. Like you requested."

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about. I – " Kathryn was cut short by Lee grabbing her roughly. She pulled the confused Captain with her towards some large bushes underneath the nearest tree.

"What are you doing?" Kathryn asked, trying to get free from Lee's grip.

"I can hear Seven's boots! They're going to find me. We need to hide now!" As Lee was explaining, she turned to Kathryn and didn't see a gnarled root in her way. Lee yelped, stumbled over it and into the enormous leaves, trailing Kathryn behind her. They crashed into the bushes, with Kathryn sprawled over the Ensign.

"This is ridiculous!" Kathryn exclaimed, trying to get up. "I need to talk to you. You can play this game later!"

"No!" Lee said, pulling Kathryn back down. "I haven't had the best few weeks and I refuse to lose this game as well! So you will be quiet and stay in the bushes. We can talk after."

Kathryn's heart ached at the hurt in Lee's voice and simply nodded. Lee muttered a thank you. The younger woman tried to get more comfortable, but was struggling to ignore the warm body lying so tightly against her. They were quite well hidden in the bushes – the large leaves had simply bounced back over them after their fall through. Kathryn was leaning over Lee and was happy just to be talking to the her again. She could see Lee was trying to look at everything but her.

"Are you sure –," Kathryn started to ask, but Lee clamped her hand over the Captain's mouth.

"Shhh! Here they come," Lee whispered back, pulling Kathryn closer and shifting slowly deeper into the bushes. Kathryn wanted to protest, but then heard two people talking.

"Seven, I don't see her," Naomi said. "Are you sure you heard something?"

"Naomi Wildman, my hearing is excellent," Seven replied as they walked closer to their hiding place. "I heard a crash. I think Ensign Lee might have ran into a tree in her haste to get away from us."

"Well, I don't see her. Maybe she got behind us? Back to home base?" Naomi said, pointing behind her. "Do you think Lee's okay?"

"If she has run into something, she would probably have sustained only minor injuries."

"That's not what I mean. Lee seems a bit sad, don't you think?"

In the bushes, Kathryn glanced down at Lee. The younger woman didn't meet her gaze and kept staring at the ex-Borg and young girl.

"Ensign Lee seems to be functioning normally," Seven replied. "What makes you think she is sad? She still laughs the same."

"I don't know. I mean we haven't read a story in a very long time," Naomi replied as the two started walking further into the forest. "She just seems different. Maybe nothing's wrong. I don't know. Let's try and find her. We already beat her 2 times. I want to win this one too!"

"I thought playing the game was the most important thing," Seven said. The rest of her words were lost in the trees as they moved away from Lee and Kathryn.

"Um, I think we can get up now," Lee said after a few minutes. Kathryn realized she had been staring at Lee and she smiled. Lee frowned slightly and they got up. Kathryn swept some leaves and twigs from Lee's arms and back. "Captain, can we talk after this? I'll come by your ready room."

"No," Kathryn replied as Lee started to walk away, the younger woman desperately trying to get away from Janeway. "I need to talk to you now."

"All right. What can I help you with, Captain?" Lee said, crossing and uncrossing her arms. Finally, she just let her hands hang against her sides. "Did you need something from Engineering?"

"I'm sorry," Kathryn blurted, startling Lee. "I shouldn't have been so harsh with you. That was wrong of me."

"Thank you, Kathryn," Lee said, her shoulders untensing slightly. Kathryn smiled at Lee finally saying her name again. "That's very nice of you to say. But, it's fine. I respect your decision. I do think you ended something which hadn't even begun yet, but I respect your choice. I didn't mean for you to feel as if I was avoiding you. I just needed to get some distance between us as well." Lee nodded and turned to leave. Kathryn quickly caught up to her, grabbing her arm and spinning her back around.

"Wait, I'm not done," and with that Kathryn leaned up and kissed Lee lightly on her lips. "I was wrong. You were right. I acted too rashly. I want to see where this goes." Kathryn slowly let go of Lee's face and stood back.

"I'm sorry, I lost you after the kiss," Lee replied and grinned. It was the most beautiful smile Kathryn had ever seen and she knew she had made the right decision.

"I am asking you on a date," Kathryn said. "I want to spend more time with you. If that's what you want."

"Kathryn, I would love that," Lee replied, but frowned again. "But we should probably take things slow. Our last discussion was a bit of a disaster and I definitely don't want a repeat. I know it was partly my fault – I shouldn't have dumped everything so quickly on you. It was a bit sudden."

"And I shouldn't have overreacted so badly," Kathryn interjected. "But, let's take it from here. Leave that in the past."

"All right. Agreed."


The women stood looking at each other and Lee started to laugh. Kathryn's smile got wider. She hoped she would never go so long again without hearing this woman's laughter.

"Aw, damn," Lee said, calming down. "Seven would have heard that. I need to get to home base without them seeing me and win this thing."

"All right. Then I'll see you the day after tomorrow?" Kathryn asked, slight butterflies in her stomach.

"Perfect. I'll get the details from you later," Lee said, starting to walk away. "If I had known this would happen, I would have tackled you to the ground days ago!"

"Maybe it's a strategy to keep in mind in future," Kathryn called after the smiling woman. Lee nodded, waved and ran behind a large tree and deeper into the forest. Kathryn was ecstatic and scared at the same time. But at least she was doing what she wanted.

"You didn't have to choose this program," Kathryn said as they entered Leonardo da Vinci's workshop. "Wasn't there something else you wanted to do?" Lee was trying to look at everything at once in the famous inventor's work place. Kathryn had suggested they use her holodeck rations for their date and gave Lee the option of what do to.

"What? No, this is great. I've never been here," Lee replied, staring at some sketches on Da Vinci's desk. "I know you really like it so I wanted to see why. I noticed you were skipping a lot of your holodeck time so I thought we could work on whatever project you've been busy with." Kathryn raised her eyebrows in question.

"I was tracking the power usage from the holodecks, all right?" Lee replied, slightly embarrassed. "I just saw that with everything keeping you busy you weren't using your rations. Didn't we already cover my stalker tendencies?"

"I appreciate it, thank you," Kathryn replied with a smile. "It's nice that you noticed."

"So what will we be doing? Building a catapult? A flying contraption? Drawing something? I can pose nude if you like." Lee was going through Da Vinci's book case and turned to Kathryn when the Captain didn't reply. "What? Too soon for a joke?"

Kathryn burst out laughing. "No, I'd just forgotten how you just say what pops in your head! Please don't ever stop doing that."

"I promise," Lee replied, smiling at Kathryn, not quite believing they were actually on a date.

"Who is this, Katarina?" Da Vinci's voice boomed through the workshop as he came in. "I didn't realize you had friends!"

"I'm the only one brave enough to stick around, Master Da Vinci," Lee quipped, earning a playful slap from Kathryn.

"Ah! I like you already!" the master painter replied. "Katarina, your timing is perfect. I have to show you my latest invention." Leonardo da Vinci lead them over to a work bench near the window. He started explaining and the two women listened in earnest.

After their holodeck session, Kathryn and Lee went to the mess hall for dinner. They grabbed a table in a corner and started debating Da Vinci's imagination. Lee questioned whether he would have been such a wonderful man in any other era. Kathryn argued in his favour, saying it was back to a nature versus nurture argument. The women carried on discussing the matter while eating their food.

"Can I join you?" Chakotay asked, having grabbed some dinner as well.

"Help yourself to a chair," Janeway replied after a quick glance at Lee. Soon, B'Elanna, Tom and Seven had also joined them and the conversation turned to the recent lack of activity on Voyager.

"We've barely finished all the repairs from our previous adventure," Lee said with a smile. "I like this bit of boredom. But, only for a little while, though."

"I agree," Janeway replied. "Too much of nothing can be just as bad as being under constant attack."

"What were you doing today, Lee?" B'Elanna asked. "Enjoying your off shift?"

"Yes, thanks," Lee replied without even blinking in Janeway's direction. "I got in some holodeck time. Did some old style woodwork. Very relaxing, sort of."

"That sounds nice," B'Elanna replied. "What did you build?"

"Actually, Lee helped me," Kathryn interjected with a smile in Lee's direction. "I hadn't gotten around to my Da Vinci program in a while and Lee offered to help me finish my latest project. We built a kite."

"A kite? What's that?" Seven asked.

"It's a very old type of flying contraption," Lee replied. "It was mostly used for entertainment. Basically, you take a wooden frame, put some paper over it and let if fly in the wind. We had some trouble with ours, though."

"What happened?" B'Elanna asked, noticing Captain Janeway trying not to laugh. "Did it crash and burn?"

"In a manner of speaking," Lee said, wincing. "The thing kept falling on me. Captain Janeway would be holding the anchor string and I would get it up in the air. But as soon as I think it's staying up, the damn kite would come crashing into me."

"Can't you control those things?" Tom asked. "Pull the strings and make it go where you want?"

"What? You can?" Lee turned to Kathryn who finally burst out laughing. "You were doing it on purpose! I was attacked by that thing at least a dozen times!"

"I had to see if I could aim the kite," Kathryn tried to explain between fits of laughter. B'Elanna and Chakotay were also smiling. "And you were so distinct in the grass – very good target practice."

"I can't believe it!" Lee said, leaning over the table and slapping Kathryn's arm. "I was running around like a lunatic trying to avoid that thing! Now I know why I couldn't get out of its way. Kathryn!"

By this time the entire table was laughing, especially when Lee got up to show her strategy for trying to outrun the kite. After getting even Seven to laugh with her detailed demonstration, Lee sat back down.

"You know of course that this will have repercussions, Kathryn," Lee said, glaring at the woman across from her. "I would sleep with one eye open if I were you."

"Is that a threat, Ensign?" Kathryn replied, loving every minute of the teasing.

"More of a helpful suggestion, Captain."

"Which I will take under advisement, thank you."

"You do that," Lee replied and started laughing again. "But definitely one of your best ever. You had me running around like a child chasing candy!"

"I would pay to have seen that," Tom said, earning a shove from B'Elanna. "What?" The table laughed and Kathryn started to get up.

"This was a lovely dinner, everyone, but I think I should get to my quarters," Kathryn said, walking around and standing in front of the table. "Apparently, I need time to practice sleeping with only one eye closed."

"I'll walk out with you," Lee said as the group grinned at Kathryn's joke. B'Elanna and Tom decided to stay for a bit longer and Seven went to regenerate. Chakotay ended up chatting with Neelix, leaving Kathryn and Lee walking to the turbolift alone.

"If hadn't said anything, would you have mentioned we were in the holodeck together?" Kathryn asked as the two women entered the lift.

"No," Lee replied, turning to Kathryn. "I can understand that you would maybe want to keep your personal life separate from your duties as Captain. So I thought I'd leave that decision to you. I mean, we wanted to take it slow, right?"

"Yes, thank you," Kathryn said as they exited the lift and headed to her quarters. "I appreciate that." The women stopped in front of Kathryn's door and Lee stepped closer to Kathryn.

"But not that slow," she whispered, looking deeply into Kathryn's eyes before kissing her lightly. "Thank you for a wonderful afternoon."

"My pleasure," Kathryn breathed, finding herself holding on to Lee's waist. "We should do this again."

"That's the plan, right?" Lee replied mischievously, letting go of Kathryn. "Have a wonderful evening."

"You too." Kathryn slowly let go of Lee and watched as the younger woman walked away. "Cold shower, I need a cold shower," Kathryn muttered, but never stopped smiling as she entered her quarters.

Voyager rocked again and Captain Janeway grabbed the edge of her seat. An electrical storm of sort had slowly formed in their area of space and was growing into a large lightning cloud. Ensign Kim couldn't get clear readings on what exactly was causing the phenomenon. This made Janeway very uneasy. At first, the electrical discharges had been harmless, but they had been growing in strength and number. For the past few hours, various of Voyager's systems had been damaged and there were fears about what effect a sustained burst would have on the warp core.

"Lieutenant Paris, alter our course a few degrees to starboard and increase our speed," Captain Janeway said, getting up to stand next to Tom Paris.


"I want to make sure this nebula isn't more than what is seems."

"Yes, ma'am," the pilot answered grimly and made the adjustments.

"Captain, you do not believe this electrical storm is a natural occurrence?" Tuvok asked from behind his tactical console. The crew on the bridge all turned to Captain Janeway.

"I would rather prove myself wrong, Tuvok," Janeway said with a slight smile. "But, if it is something more, I want to be prepared."

Tuvok simply nodded, returning to his console. The turbolift doors opened behind him opened and Lieutenant Torres stormed in. She marched down the steps and went to the engineering console.

"Report, Lieutenant," Janeway said. She settled back into her chair just in time as another massive lightning bolt rocked Voyager.

"These electrical discharges into our hull are playing havoc with almost every system on this ship. It was annoying at first, but I'm starting to worry a bit. I would feel better once we're clear of this."

"Major damage?"

"More like lots of minor systems all over. I have repair crews working in small groups on all the decks, keeping in contact through the consoles now that the communication systems and sensors are offline. The power conduits are the most affected and I'm worried about a surge. But, if the storm's strength doesn't increase, we should be fine." Another discharge almost threw Captain Janeway from her chair.


"I've adjusted course again, Captain. The storm is definitely following us."

"Damn," Janeway muttered. "Chakotay, Tuvok, give me options on how we can retaliate without creating a feedback loop and blowing up my ship?"

Commander Chakotay nodded and went to work with Tuvok. I hate being right, Captain Janeway thought with a small shake of her head.

"Damnit!" Ensign Lee shouted in frustration as she was thrown off her feet for which felt like the hundreth time. "Stop shaking so we can fix you!"

"Do you really think Voyager's going to listen, Lee?" Ensign Andrea Nicoletti asked, pulling herself off the floor as well.

Together with Ensign Vorik and a few other crewmen, the women were at the deflector array controls on the lower deck. They had been diligently working their way through the area, trying to fix the overloaded power conduits. Two problems persisted – the constant rocking of the ship and the fact that as a conduit was fixed, another discharge from the storm would immediately overload it again.

"Probably not, but it does make me feel better," Lee laughed, grabbing hold of the console and Nicoletti as the ship pitched again. "That one felt bigger." Lee quickly accessed the ship's power grid and frowned, her fingers flying over the console.

"Why are you frowning? You never frown," Nicoletti said with a smile which quickly disappeard when she saw Lee shaking her head.

"Ensign Vorik, you have to get everyone out of here immediately!" Lee shouted over her console to the Vulcan. Vorik came running from where he had been working on one of the conduits.

"Ensign Lee, explain yourself," the man replied, excrutiatingly calm.

"The discharges from the storm are becoming too strong. A major power surge will happen at any moment! The bridge will probably try to siphon the power through the deflector array." Lee took a quick breath. "This deck will be destroyed, but the ship might be saved. Get into the jeffrey's tubes now!"

"You are correct, Ensign," Vorik replied after glancing at Lee's console. "Everyone, follow me!" The engineering team quickly dropped what they were doing and went with Ensign Vorik to the nearest hatch. Nicoletti stopped when she saw Lee wasn't behind her. She sprinted back.

"What are you doing? We have to get out of here!" Andrea shouted as the ship pitched violently. Various klaxons started sounding and emergency lighting flashed red.

"Some of the systems are malfunctioning. B'Elanna won't be able to access the right conduits from the bridge to funnel the power. It has to be done from here. " Lee looked up from the console with a smile. "This will make a great story!"

"That's not funny!"

"It will be later, now go!" Lee shoved Andrea towards the hatch. "Don't worry, the pretty girl always survives, so you'll be fine!"

Nicoletti knew she wouldn't be able to argue with the blonde woman and ran towards the jeffrey's tube. She glanced back one last time, but Lee's estimate had been too perfect. A massive explosion ripped through the deck. Both women were tossed around the room like snowflakes in a storm.

"Captain, I could try and reroute the power to the – " B'Elanna started to say, but Janeway interrupted.

"There's no time, activate what you can to prevent the surge from building around the warp core. It's lose the lower decks or lose the ship."

"Our people at the deflector array will – " Chakotay was cut short by another electrical burst.

"I know!" Captain Janeway barked over the noise of klaxons and consoles short-circuiting. "I would love another option, but there isn't one. Do it, B'Elanna!"

B'Elanna Torres turned back to her console, nodding grimly. Janeway grabbed her armrests and closed her eyes as an enormous explosion rocked the ship. It was pitch black when she opened them again, realizing she was lying on the deck. Slowly, emergency power came on.

"Report!" Janeway said, getting up. The bridge was a mess with various panels and bulkheads littering the floor. But, not the worst I've seen it, Janeway thought with some hope.

"The electrical storm has dissipated," Tuvok replied first. "I believe our attackers were not expecting us to resist. They have retreated."


"No signs of pursuit, warp drive fully functional," the pilot answered, gingerly climbing back into his seat.

"The lower decks?" Janeway asked, dreading the answer.

"I'm not getting any internal readings, Captain," Ensign Harry Kim replied. "The sensors have suffered too much damage."

"B'Elanna, get a team down there, medical and engineering," Janeway ordered. "I want a full damage report from all departments in one hour."

"Aye, Captain,"the bridge echoed with everyone's reply.

Captain Janeway sat back down and started accessing her console. She desperately wanted to run after B'Elanna, but she knew she had work to do here. Kathryn fervently hoped Lee was okay and focused on her console again.

"Damnit!" Lee shouted in frustration. "I think that's my new favourite word!" The woman laughed and crouched down next to her companion. "What's your favourite curse?"

"You are just trying to distract me from this massive hole in my side," Nicoletti replied and smiled. "It's working a bit so don't stop."

Lee smiled in return, but her brow furrowed. The blast had collapsed major sections of the deck – she didn't even know if there was still hull plating around them. They were trapped against a wall, near the deflector controls. Lee's head throbbed and her whole body ached. She thought her left arm might be fractured and her ribs didn't feel right either. But, Lee was more worried about Nicoletti. A piece of plating had ripped a huge slice into her side and she was losing a lot of blood.

The smart Starfleet thing to do would be to wait until rescue. That's standard procedure. But, Andrea was getting very pale and Lee didn't want to see how white her friend could get. Lee also doubted whether anyone would be able to find them in all the wreckage. They had been cooped up for at least a few hours with no communication from anyone and hearing nothing besides their own shallow breathing.

What frustrated her the most was not knowing what was happening with the rest of the ship. Had she helped? Had the power surge been restricted only to this deck? Was Voyager safe? Was Kathryn okay?

"I'm hungry," Lee said and got up. "I feel like a piece of hot apple crumble pie with some ice cream." Ensign Lee walked to the pile of wreckage she figured would be the nearest to the jeffrey tube's hatch. It's like a big puzzle. Except, pulling a piece from a normal puzzle wouldn't get you crushed by massive metal beams. New game then, Lee thought and smiled back at Nicoletti.

"How about you, Andrea? What would your perfect meal be? And it has to have five courses."

"Five?" Nicoletti replied, coughing slightly. "All right. Let's see. First, I'd start with the perfect wine, ..."

Lee only half-heard her as she started pulling debris away. She very carefully pulled each piece of pipe or plate from the pile before stacking it against the wall. A wrong pick could make their little nook even smaller. Or kill us, a stray thought crept in and Lee dismissed it immediately. Happy thoughts, happy thoughts, she muttered adding a comment to Nicoletti's choice of wine.

"Are you telling me we can't find them?" Janeway said, pacing behind the conference table. "Ensign Vorik was with them minutes before the explosion. What did he say?"

"Ensign Vorik reported that Ensign Lee got everyone into the jeffrey tubes ahead of the power surge," Tuvok replied. "His team was injured when the explosion occurred, but were far enough away and came out on the deck above relatively unharmed. When Ensign Vorik checked his group, he found that Ensigns Lee and Nicoletti were missing."

"She stayed behind," Lieutenant Torres chipped in. "If she had noticed the power surge in time for Vorik and his group to get out, she must have seen that I had limited control from the bridge. She stayed behind to get the necessary conduits online to push the surge through the deflector array."

"I'll give her a medal when we find her," Captain Janeway replied, keeping the intense angst from her voice. "How's Seven and her team doing?"

"They have successfully gotten into the lower decks, but the damage in the area is severe," Tuvok replied. "It is making their progress slow. Seven and Ensign Kim are investigating alternatives for determining what is happening behind the debris."

"Good, keep me informed," Captain Janeway said, dismissing the officers. Chakotay stayed behind and Janeway sighed. "Anything else, Commander?"

"I understand your concern for Ensign Lee and Nicoletti, Captain. We will find them," Chakotay said. "Maybe you should go to your quarters. This has been a long shift and I can keep you up to date from here."

Captain Janeway bit off an angry retort. If she was going to worry, she might as well do it were she felt more comfortable. She nodded at the Commander and walked out.

"Lee! Lee! Please get up!"

Lee heard the shouting, but it sounded like it was coming from far away. I was doing something important, the Ensign struggled to get her thoughts together. Kathryn! I need to get us out of here. I have to see if Kathryn's alive! Lee got up quickly, but fell back down as a wave of dizziness hit her.

"Thank goodness," Nicoletti said, her voice quavering. "I thought you were dead! When the roof came down, I wanted to help, but there was so much metal. I'm so sorry! Please be all right."

"Andrea, Andrea," Lee interrupted Nicoletti before she started panicking further. "I'm fine. I just got a bit of a bump on the head. I'm fine."

"You're bleeding!"

"What? O, that's nothing, we're going to be all right," Lee said, gingerly getting up and crouching next to Nicoletti. "Don't worry. I'm fine. I'm going to check if my idiot move helped."

Lee turned back and inspected the newly arranged wreckage. Something jumped at the edge of her vision, but was gone when she looked. Her head felt very light and she was seeing dark spots. Maybe it's only a small concussion, she muttered, walking closer to the debris.

"Woohoo!" Lee exclaimed, climbing over the top of the pile of wreckage. "I can see the hatch! We are getting out of here."

Lee walked back to Nicoletti, putting her arm underneath the other woman's shoulder. Something jumped to the left of her again and she shook her head. It is not a bunny, the concussion is just playing with my head, Lee thought. I just need to get Andrea to sickbay and get to Kathryn. I can do this.

"You all right?" Lee asked as they made their way to the hatch. Nicoletti was walking, but Lee needed to support her. "Once we're in the jeffrey's tube, I'll push you up and in a few short ladders we'll be in sickbay."

"Ouch," Nicoletti breathed and grabbed her bleeding side. "Good plan. Thank you."

"For what?" Lee asked as they climbed over pieces of console. "You came back for me. I'm just returning the favour."

"Fine, I'll thank you properly later for everything else then," Nicoletti said with a small laugh which immediately turned into a wet cough.

"Okay, no more talking," Lee said, trying to keep smiling. "I'll tell a story and you just listen."

Lee started mumbling something about rabbits and bunnies as they started down the jeffrey's tubes. Lee knew they would probably have to rest often, but if their luck held out, and nothing blocked the way, they should be in sickbay within a few short hours. The blonde Ensign fervently hoped she had made the right decision in moving the very pale Nicoletti.

Kathryn was pacing. She had tried to read damage reports and do some work, but she couldn't focus. Idly she wondered if the carpet in her quarters could be walked through. Her door chimed and she hoped it was good news. Nicoletti and Lee have been missing for 8 hours. The rescue team hadn't been able to get close to where the original deflector array controls were. They weren't even sure what state the entire deck was in.

"Report –," Kathryn automatically asked as she opened her door. Her words died in her throat as Lee collapsed in front of her. The Ensign was bruised, battered and bleeding. Kathryn immediately knelt down and pulled the injured woman into her lap. "Lee! What happened? How did you get here?"

"Kathryn, I'm so glad you're alive," Lee said softly and smiled. "They didn't want me to come, but I said to them, I brought Nicoletti to sickbay and now I have to go to you. Even the bunnies agreed with me!"

"What? You were in sickbay? How did you escape the explosion?" Kathryn could see Lee's eyes were dilated and unfocused. How did she make it here in such a state?

"Yes, Nicoletti and I worked, then we exploded. We waited and then I worried. She was hurt. I dug us out. Then there were bunnies everywhere. I can still see them." Lee whispered this last part before carrying on. "We climbed out. We went to sickbay. Then they wanted to keep me there. I told them – the bunnies will tell you as well – I said I had to see you. They said you were fine, but I had to find out for myself. And then I came here. Then you asked me what happened and then I told you we were working –,"

"I get it," Kathryn said before the confused woman could start all over again. "I need to go get the Doctor. If only the transporter were online! You're seriously injured. I can't carry you to sickbay alone."

"That's all right, Kathryn," Lee replied with a slow grin. "Seven will be here very soon and she's Borg strong."

"How could you possible know that?" Kathryn asked, trying to wipe away some of the blood from Lee's face.

"Many skills," Lee whispered, her eyes fluttering.

"Stay awake, Lee!" Kathryn shouted. "You came this far, don't give up now. I need you with me!"

"Okay," Lee said, opening her eyes wide. "I'm super happy you're alive too." Kathryn bit back tears and kissed Lee's cheek.

"Captain, let me help you," Seven said, coming round the corner. "I can carry her back to sickbay."

"Seven? How did you - ? Never mind," Kathryn said and helped Seven lift Lee between them. "Let's just get her to the Doctor."

"Kathryn, I want to tell you something before the bunnies multiply," Lee said, floundering slightly between them. "This is not your fault. You made the right decision. All right?" Kathryn paused and Lee bumped her head against the Captain's. "Even the bunnies are shouting that you must not feel guilty. You have to promise me! I might die."

"What? You can't say that!"

"I can! Now, promise!"

"Fine, I promise. Now will you stop struggling and keep quiet? We're trying to get you to sickbay." Lee didn't answer and Kathryn doubled her pace. "Hurry, Seven." The ex-Borg nodded and they practically ran through the corridors.

Lee felt as if she was trying to think through honey. Everything felt fuzzy and it was very dark. O, wait, she had her eyes still closed. Kathryn! No, she remembered finding her. She wasn't trapped with Nicoletti anymore. Then what was lying against her side? Lee slowly opened her eyes and saw the dimly lit interior of the sickbay. She was lying in the main biobed and someone was resting their head on their arms against her side. When Lee saw the auburn hair, she smiled. She shifted slightly and lifted her arm to gently touch Kathryn hair. Big mistake as a sharp pain shot through her ribs.

"Damn," Lee hissed, dropping her arm and waking Kathryn up.

"What's wrong?" the Starfleet Captain asked, concern clouding her eyes. "I'll get the Doctor." She started to get up, but Lee grabbed her hand.

"It's fine, just sore, please stay," Lee asked through slightly gritted teeth. "I'll just not move anything beside my mouth."

"That should be relatively easy for you," the Doctor replied, walking up to the bed. "How do you feel?"

"With my hands," Lee replied, starting to laugh, but stopped quickly and clutched her side.

"This isn't funny," the Doctor replied, picking up a tricorder and running it over the prone Ensign. "You had major internal injuries. Climbing through jeffrey's tubes and up ladders also didn't help. And if your head wound had gone without treatment for much longer, you could have suffered permanent damage."

"Would anyone have noticed?" Lee quipped, but stopped smiling when she saw Captain Janeway glaring at her. "What? Too soon? Wait, what happened to Nicoletti? Are Vorik and the others all right?"

"They weren't hurt," Kathryn said, still holding Lee's hand. "Vorik and his team only had cuts and bruises. Nicoletti will be fine, right, Doctor?"

"Yes," the Doctor replied, scanning the tricorder results. "She lost a lot of blood, but a transfusion easily solved that problem. Her laceration is also mending nicely. She'll get out of here before you do."

"Good, and no one else got hurt?" Lee asked and smiled in relief when Kathryn shook her head. "That's great. When can I go? That lower deck is going to need a lot of work."

"What?" the Doctor stared in disbelief at his patient. "Haven't you been listening? You were seriously injured. You need at least a week's bedrest."

"Didn't you fix what was broken?"

"Yes, but your body needs time to recover. You've suffered major trauma."

"Perhaps you should sleep on it," Kathryn added before Lee could argue again. "Decide tomorrow how you feel, but you will listen to the Doctor's advice."

"Thank you, Captain," the Doctor said and lifted his chin. "I do sometimes feel as if no one takes me seriously around here. I am the Chief Medical Officer."

"I am sorry, Doctor," Lee replied. "I just don't like being stuck here. But, thank you for your hard work. I'm sure I would have been much worse off if anyone but you had been in sickbay." The Doctor preened with such high praise and left to carry on with his rounds and reports.

"That was very nice," Kathryn commented, sitting down next to Lee's bed again.

"It did get rid of him, didn't it?" Lee laughed, but it quickly turned into a grimace. "Damn, I really did a number on myself this time, didn't I?"

"The Doctor was being serious. If we hadn't gotten you here in time, you could have died." Kathryn squeezed Lee's hand. "He was also furious that you left the first time."

"But, I'm alive, right? So no harm done. And I was slightly concussed so my actions were bound to be crazy."

"The Doctor told me you walked in with Nicoletti and then refused to be treated. Apparently, you got past Seven and two other crewmen," Kathryn said, shaking her head. "Why did you do that? You were hurt. Why didn't you stay here?"

"I only had one thought running through my mind," Lee said, slightly embarrassed. "I was worried about you. Some part of me knew that my concussion was muddling my mind, but other parts were screaming to find you. I had to make sure you were okay."

"I don't know what to say," Kathryn replied, staring at this battered woman in front of her. "I was a bit scared myself when we couldn't find you and Nicoletti."

"Have you been here long?" Lee asked, trying to change the subject. She could feel the blush creeping over her face.

"I came here after my shift. You've been here for almost 24 hours now."

"Geez! I do feel as if a starship flew into me." Lee smiled and closed her eyes. "Kathryn?"


"Do you think the next time we could ask for a nice Borg attack?" Kathryn stared at the younger woman, who opened one eye and peeked at the Captain. "I mean with Borg assimilation, you and Seven could whip up some amazing plan with nanoprobes and radiation or something and get us all back to normal. It should avoid all the damage to the ship and to me. What do you think?"

"Are you trying to check if I'm keeping my promise?" Kathryn asked, standing up and glaring down at the Ensign. "If I'm feeling guilty about what happened?"

"Actually, I was trying to lighten the mood," Lee replied, grinning widely. "My brain's too fuzzy to do anything more. But, while we're on the subject, are you okay?"

Kathryn dropped her hands from her hips, smiling. "You almost died and you're laughing about a Borg attack and asking me how I'm doing? I think you hit your head harder than the Doctor thought!"

"Probably, but hearing you laughing and talking is definitely helping," Lee said, closing her eyes again. "I'm sorry, but I think I'm falling asleep again. We really should check the Doctor's sedative doses. He might be giving me too much on purpose."

"No, you should be sleeping. The Doctor wasn't expecting you to wake up until tomorrow."

"Really?" Lee said, mumbling slightly. "And you were here? Does this count as a second date then?"

"Probably not," Kathryn replied, gently stroking Lee's cheek.

"Good, I had much better plans," Lee muttered, leaning into Kathryn touch. "Thank you for being here, Kathryn."

"My pleasure. Thank you for staying with me," Kathryn replied softly as Lee started to breathe more deeply. The younger woman smiled slightly, squeezed Kathryn's hand and fell asleep.

"How's Ensign Lee doing?" B'Elanna asked. They were gathered in Engineering discussing the repairs. "The Doctor isn't letting us in. Nicoletti's been released, but he says we'll only slow down Lee's recovery."

"She's fine," Janeway replied, interrupting B'Elanna's further frustrations about the Doctor. She, Seven and Harry were in B'Elanna's office. "I think the Doctor is struggling to keep Ensign Lee in sickbay to get the rest she needs. He's probably trying to prevent any more distractions."

"But, she'll be okay?" Ensign Kim repeated. "I mean there isn't any lasting damage or anything?"

"I saw her briefly the night before last. She's a bit sore, but she'll be back on her feet in about a week."

"Harry, you're very concerned," B'Elanna teased.

"Ensign Lee saved this ship," Seven said when Harry didn't reply. "And she is our friend. We are all concerned."

"Ensign Lee will be fine. Please spread the word," Captain Janeway said. "Now, can we get back to the matter at hand? How are we doing on the new sensor device?"

The group nodded and Harry started explaining the principles behind their new technique. The team listened intently and tried to concentrate on getting Voyager back to her old self.

"Doctor, am I to understand that you lost a patient?" Captain Janeway was not impressed and stood glaring at her Chief Medical Officer. "How is that possible?"

"I don't understand it myself," the Doctor was embarrassed. "I think Ensign Lee deactivated me somehow and discharged herself. I've checked internal sensors and she seems to be heading back to her quarters. She's not answering any of my hails."

"She only woke up the day before yesterday. What is she doing walking around?" Captain Janeway said in exasperation.

"I did tell her she had to stay in bed for the rest of the week, but apparently I wasn't being clear enough. Should I go after her, Captain?"

"No," the Captain sighed. "I don't think you'll be able to keep her here if she doesn't want to stay. I'll go talk to her."

Lee was halfway to her quarters and leaned against the corridor wall. Wow, I didn't think I would be this tired, she thought and started walking again. I hope the Doctor doesn't get into too much trouble about this. Lee heard someone walking behind her, glanced back and grimaced. Forget the Doctor, I'm screwed now.

"What do think you're doing, Ensign?" Captain Janeway blocked the Ensign's way. "You still need to be in bed."

"I'm sorry, Captain," Ensign Lee said, shuffling slowly past Janeway. "I'm just on my way to my own quarters. The Doctor's singing is driving me crazy!"

"Stop, Ensign," Janeway ordered and stood in front of Lee again. "I won't force you back to sickbay, but you better have one hell of a good reason."

Lee tried to get past Janeway, but she didn't have the strength. The Ensign glanced at Janeway and the Captain saw the fear in her eyes.

"Please, Captain," Lee asked, quickly shoving her fright to the back of her mind. "I just need to be in my quarters."

"All right," Janeway conceded, concern for the Ensign worrying her brow. "Here, lean on me. Why do you make things so difficult for yourself?"

"It'd be boring otherwise?" Lee suggested with a smile. Janeway simply shook her head as they walked to the turbolift. A few crewmen passed them and greeted. After the fifth person, Lee paused. "Is it just me or is everyone grinning weirdly at us?"

"No, I noticed it too. Oh wait, you wouldn't have heard yet."

"Heard what?"

"Seven told me about it this morning," Janeway said and smiled. "Apparently, you are more than just the local hero. Everyone is talking about how you bravely stayed behind at the deflector controls to prevent Voyager from being destroyed. But, that's not the best part."

"What? Kathryn, don't leave me in suspense. What is everyone saying about me?"

"About us," Kathryn replied and grinned at the dumbfounded expression on Lee's face. "As Seven tells it, the entire crew is talking about how you got Nicoletti to sickbay, but refused treatment until you saw me. Apparently, everyone is very impressed by your utter devotion to me and debates are raging about whether we're officially a couple, just dating or only good friends. Tom already has a betting pool going." They had reached the turbolift and Kathryn asked for their deck. Lee was staring at her and Kathryn could only laugh.

"I'm so sorry, Kathryn! I didn't think this would happen. I mean you wanted to take things slow and I practically made an announcement over the comms system. Why are you laughing? Aren't you mad?"

"A part of me tells me I should be mad," Kathryn admitted as they walked out of the turbolift. "But, I'm just glad you're okay. We can work the rest of the stuff out later. And there will always be rumours running around the ship, no matter what happened."

"Good," Lee replied, relieved. She tapped in her security code at her door and Kathryn followed her into the small living room. "Thank you for helping me get here."

"My pleasure, but I'm staying until I'm convinced you'll be listening to the Doctor and getting back to bed."

"Yes, ma'am," Lee joked and headed for her bedroom. "I'll get into my pajamas right now."

Kathryn stood staring out the window, contemplating the last few days. She almost couldn't believe she wasn't angry about the rumours, but with everything that had happened, one thing was very clear. Life was too short to waste time worrying about nonsense.

"Kathryn?" Lee's voice carried from the bedroom. "This might be a strange request, but would you please come help me?" Kathryn frowned and went to Lee. She found the Ensign with her uniform jacket halfway off.

"What's wrong?" Kathryn asked and sat down next to Lee on the bed.

"It hurts a bit much," Lee replied sheepishly. "I can't get out of this uniform. I'm sorry to ask this, but a little help?"

"It's fine." Kathryn stood up and gingerly helped the younger woman get her jacket off. When she got the the long-sleeved shirt underneath, she paused slightly.

"This isn't how I pictured you taking my clothes off for the first time," Lee murmured softly.

"Really? What were you planning?" Kathryn asked and laughed as she saw Lee blush furiously.

"I keep forgetting to use my inside voice," Lee said as Kathryn slowly pulled off the shirt. Kathryn grabbed Lee's pajama top and helped her get into it, trying very hard to keep her eyes on Lee's face.

"There," Kathryn said. "You okay?"

"Fine, just beyond embarrassed. But after that explosion, I'm sure I'll be able to survive anything now."

Kathryn laughed with the younger woman and stepped back. A little physical distance might be necessary, the Captain thought, hoping the dimmer lights in the room would hide her own blush.

"I'm going to work a bit at your desk until you fall asleep, all right?" Kathryn said, walking back to the living room.

"You don't have to do that, but thanks, that would be nice," Lee replied, carefully moving her bruised body under the covers.

"Sweet dreams."

"I hope so," Lee replied, closing her eyes. Kathryn frowned at the comment as she walked to Lee's small desk. She opened her files on the console and started going through the day's reports.

When Captain Janeway glanced at the time on her console, she realized she had been working for the last 3 hours straight. The latest news from Engineering had been very encouraging. Harry and Seven's new sensor device had given them as best a picture of what the lower deck looked like. It was almost as good as having Voyager's own internal sensors working again on that deck. The damage was not as bad they had initially thought. They would need to stop somewhere and get some supplies, but the repairs should only take a few weeks. What would it have looked like if we hadn't been able to contain the power surge, Kathryn wondered, glad she would never have to find out.

A sound from Lee's bedroom caught her attention. Kathryn listened and heard it again. It sounded like crying. She quickly got up. As she walked into the room, she saw Lee was struggling with her sheets.

"Lee, what's wrong?" When Kathryn didn't get a response, she sat down next to the distraught women. The Captian immediately saw Lee was still asleep and slowly shook her shoulder. "Lee, wake up, you're dreaming."

Lee sat bolt upright and stared wildly around the room. When she saw Kathryn, she grabbed her in a fierce hug and carried on crying. Kathryn held her close, and whispered: "It's all right. You're safe. Everything's fine."

Lee stopped crying after a few minutes and her breathing slowed down. "I'm sorry, Kathryn. I just – it was so real."

"What were you dreaming about?" Kathryn asked and carefully pulled away to look at Lee's face. Her cheeks were still wet and her eyes a bit unfocused. "Is this why you wanted to get out of sickbay?"

"Yes," Lee replied with a weak smile. "I thought the nightmares would go away once I got back in my own bed. They kept waking me up every few hours in sickbay." Lee wiped at her face and shook herself. "Apparently my brain is still stuck at the deflector controls."

"Is that what you dream about?"

"I'm still stuck there. I can't get out. Or we do get out and Voyager's destroyed. Or I get out, but Nicoletti's dead. The latest one is me running to find someone alive and I can't. Voyager's a ghost ship." Lee was crying silently again and angrily wiped away the tears. "I feel so stupid. It's just a dream. It's just feels so real. Damn my excellent imagination!"

Kathryn smiled at the attempt at a joke and pulled Lee into her arms again. "You went through a rough time. It'll be a while before you let go of all the fears you had while you were trapped there. But, it will get better with time."

"Make that an order from the Captain and I'll get back to sleep," Lee replied, hugging Kathryn tightly.

"Done," Kathryn replied, letting go of Lee. "Now, sleep. I'll come by again tomorrow."

"That would be nice," Lee said, shifting back under the covers. "I would ask you to stay, but wouldn't want you to think I was trying to take advantage of you. Lieutenant Tuvok's already warned me more than enough times."

"Tuvok told me he was being subtle!" Kathryn said, putting her hands on her hips. "I'm not sure whether to thank the Vulcan or be angry that he interfered."

"He's looking out for you," Lee said and laughed with Kathryn. "But, it did feel a bit like your father was interrogating me. Very weird, but hilarious."

"Yes, hopefully he won't do it again," Kathryn said as she walked to the door. "Sleep well, Lee. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Will do. And, Kathryn?"


"Even though one of us took their clothes off, this still doesn't count as our second date."

"Just go to sleep, will you?" Kathryn said, trying not too think of how she was undressing Lee earlier. Lee's chuckle followed her out the door and Kathryn couldn't help but smile.

Captain Janeway was briskly making her way through Voyager's corridors. She had been kept busy later than she had wanted and hoped she would still catch Lee awake. The Ensign had sent her a thank you message earlier for helping her yesterday. Lee had also giving Kathryn her security code for her quarters in case she was asleep when the Captain came by.

Kathryn smiled at the thought of Lee's message, but sobered up quickly. Things were moving too quickly between them, weren't they? Should I keep a bit more distance? Kathryn shook her head. That would be impossible – I'm just walking to Lee's quarters and I can't stop smiling. She got to Lee's door and entered the code. Kathryn stopped dead at the sight that greeted her.

Lee's small living room was overflowing. Seven and B'Elanna sat next to Lee on the couch. Naomi was sitting on Sam's lap on the floor and Nicoletti was lounging on the last chair. Harry was leaning against the far wall and Tom stood next to him. Everyone was staring at Kathryn and the Captain was at a loss for words.

"See, now that's real power. The Captain hasn't even said anything and we're already hanging on her every word!" Lee said, breaking the ice as the whole room burst into laughter. Kathryn nodded to Lee in a silent thank you as she slowly made her way into the room.

B'Elanna quickly moved to sit on the floor, motioning for Janeway to take her place. Seven also shifted to the other side of Lee. Kathryn raised an eyebrow, but didn't want to make a further fuss and sat down next to the injured Ensign.

"You good?" Lee asked under her breath as everyone got settled.

"Yes. How're you feeling?" Kathryn replied, trying not too show how much the whole situation unnerved her.

"Better, thanks."

"Captain, you can help us," B'Elanna said from the floor. "We've been trying to get Lee to tell us her amazing adventure of saving Voyager, but she's been dodging the questions."

"I'm not dodging anything," Lee said and rolled her eyes. "There's nothing to tell. Andrea also helped. She came back for me. And then the power surge happened. We got out. End of story."

"You're leaving out some important bits, there, Ensign," Tom chipped in with a mischievous smile. "How did you get out and to sickbay? Andrea, what do you remember?"

"Nothing very clearly," Nicoletti replied. "I think I was too out of it from the blood loss by then."

"Captain, you saw Lee first after the explosion," Tom kept prodding. "What did she say?"

"Please, you promised you wouldn't say anything about the bunnies!" Lee blurted, smiling quickly at Kathryn before looking shocked again.

"What bunnies?" Naomi piped up, her eyes gleaming.

"I am sure they were not actual animals. Captain?" Seven asked and all heads turned to the auburn-haired woman.

"Lee, I didn't promise, you imagined that as well," Janeway said, starting to enjoy the game. "You're right, Tom. I did see Lee first and she was hallucinating. It was quite distressing."

"I was concussed, not in my right mind," Lee explained.

"When are you ever in your right mind?" B'Elanna interjected to everyone's amused agreement.

"Tell us more about the bunnies!" Naomi pleaded.

"All right," Kathryn said and started explaining in detail how Lee was muttering about bunnies and how the Ensign would talk as if they were right there next to them. "She said she was seeing them everywhere and they were telling her what to do."

"That does explain why I remember bunnies as well," Andrea said. "You were telling me a story about rabbits the entire time we were crawling through the jeffrey's tubes!" At this point, everyone was cracking up and Lee was wiping a few tears from her eyes.

"I didn't know you could tell such a great story," Lee quipped, touching Kathryn's shoulder slightly.

"I have many skills, Ensign," the Captain replied and Lee started laughing again, grabbing her side again. Janeway felt much more relaxed, knowing that was probably Lee's plan in bringing up her concussed ramblings. "And, Tom?"

"Yes, Captain?"

"In future, find information for your bet somewhere else."

"Yes, ma'am," the pilot answered, chastised, causing the group to chuckle again.

The conversation turned to Seven asking why an intelligent Engineer would hallucinate about bunnies and everyone started adding their opinion. Lee was tiring and slowly leaned back into Kathryn's shoulder. She jumped slightly when she felt the other woman's arm, not wanting to make the other woman uncomfortable in front of everyone.

"It's fine," Kathryn whispered.

"You sure?" Lee asked and smiled at Kathryn's nod. The Ensign settled against Kathryn and found her eyes closing. She heard B'Elanna trying to explain the concept of an inner child to Seven and felt Kathryn's voice reverberate through her shoulder when the Captain added a comment. Lee could feel Kathryn's warmth and slowly her body relaxed. She hadn't felt this at home in a very long time.

"Lee? Lee, you need to get to bed."

"What? I thought I was in bed." Kathryn chuckled at Lee's confused answer and helped her up. "Where is everyone? I just closed my eyes for a second."

"You fell asleep. They stayed for a bit longer and left a few minutes ago." Kathryn walked with the half-awake woman and helped her get into bed.

"You're way too comfortable as a cushion," Lee replied sleepily. "I think I'll keep you."

"Have you been having any more nightmares?" Kathryn asked, tucking the sheets around Lee. "The Doctor tells me your injuries are recovering nicely."

"Less and less nightmares," Lee replied, looking up at Kathryn. "They're not gone entirely, but getting better."


"Kathryn, I'm sorry about this evening. I didn't know everyone would be coming over. I didn't want you to feel ambushed."

"I was a bit unsettled," Kathryn admitted, sitting down. "It's difficult. On the one hand I need to stay the Captain. But, on the other I've become friends with everyone on this ship. And if I want to see you, be around you, I should be able too."

"Good, I'm glad." Lee stifled a yawn. "The last thing I want to do is make you feel uncomfortable."

"It was strange seeing everyone so calmly accept me," Kathryn said. "I don't mean that I haven't been able to socialize with the crew. But, you saw how Seven and B'Elanna immediately assumed I would sit next to you. And here I thought I was going to be worried about the crew's reaction to me maybe getting involved with someone on Voyager. Favouratism and so on."

"Of course, they accepted it. I'm not surprised at all," Lee said, closing her eyes.

"Oh, really? Why not?"

"I'm too awesome," Lee replied with an exaggerated sigh. "It's hard being this amazing."

Kathryn smiled and started to get up. "Go to sleep."

"And it's also because everyone on this ship cares for you, Kathryn. And have the utmost respect for you. They would do anything for you."

"Go to sleep, you're starting to ramble again."

"Yes, Captain." Lee felt Kathryn kiss her cheek and smiled.

"Captain, it's becoming ridiculous. They've been here for two weeks!" Lieutenant Torres complained. The senior officers were all gathered in the conference room. "First, they inspect my ship from top to bottom and now they're interrogating everyone. The questions were harmless to begin with but they're crossing the line. What does it matter who I'm involved with or how many people I've fought with?"

"I must agree, Captain," Commander Chakotay said. "I know they want to make sure we aren't a threat, but their interrogations can't possible need to be so detailed."

"I understand your feelings, everyone," Captain Janeway said as she stood behind her chair. "Their methods are very unorthodox. The Kinians seem to place great value on what they see as high moral standards. This inquisition does seem a bit much, but unfortunately we need those raw materials. Please, bear with me for the next few days. I understand from their High Leader that they should be concluding their evaluation of us soon. Hopefully, we pass their test and we can get on our way and finish Voyager's repairs."

"Is there no alternative?" Seven asked. "Can we not obtain the materials somewhere else?"

"Seven, I'm surprised," Janeway replied. "Are the Kinians even testing your patience?"

"I find their constant questioning inefficient," the ex-Borg said. "It also seems as if they are trying to trick you by asking the same question in a myriad of different ways."

"I heard they got one of the Ensigns to cry," Lieutenant Paris added. "Apparently they were asking about Earth and the Ensign just teared up."

"I had a discussion with the High Leader about that incident," Captain said, pacing around the room. "He assurred me they would be more sensitive in their questions regarding the Alpha Quadrant. Are there any more concerns?"

"None, Captain," Commander Chakotay answered when no-one made any further comments.

"Dismissed," Janeway concluded and her senior staff walked out. The Captain followed Tuvok to the bridge and headed for her ready room, hoping there wasn't a Kinian with questions waiting for her. What she did find, was definitely much more pleasant.

"Captain," Ensign Lee greeted her from behind Janeway's desk. "I'm sorry, I thought I'd be finished by now."

"Fixing my console?" Janeway asked, glad to see the blonde woman. She grabbed a padd off her desk and sat down on the couch against the window.

"Yes, Captain," Ensign Lee replied with a grin. How can it be possible to be so happy just to see someone, Lee wondered and tried to focus on the task at hand. "The power surge partially damaged a few conduits. They were fine initially, but as we got back to normal power levels, they overloaded. There's a few here and in the panel behind me that I need to fix."

"That's fine, Ensign," Janeway replied and Lee dropped down under the desk again. After a few seconds, Janeway could hear her softly singing. "Did you see the Doctor today?"

"Yes, Captain," Ensign Lee sighed, looking over the desk again. "I'm perfectly fine. The only injury I can get now is if people ask me too much if I'm fine."

"Was that the Doctor's assessment or yours?"

"I'll leave that mystery to you, Captain," Lee replied with a grin and climbed back under the desk. Janeway smiled and continued working.

"Come in," Captain Janeway said a few minutes laters when the door chimed. She suppressed a sigh as the Kinian High Leader and one of his aides came in. "High Leader, how is the evaluation going?"

"Very well, thank you, Captain," the humanoid Kinian answered, the bone bristles on his head turning blue. "I have a few final questions for you, if the time is convenient?"

"Please, sit," Janeway offered and the aliens took a seat.

"Captain?" Ensign Lee said and stood up from behind the desk. "Should I come back to fix the repairs later?"

"I have no concerns if your Lee stays, Captain Janeway," the High Leader interjected. "It is up to you."

"Very well," Janeway said, frowning slightly at the Kinian's strange choice of words. "Ensign Lee, please carry on with your work." Lee nodded and ducked back down. "Please, what would you like to ask?"

"I will be discussing your decision to keep this vessel stranded in the Delta Quadrant, what effect this had on your abilities to perform as Captain and how you have been handling the journey back to your home." The High Leader paused, and Captain Janeway tried to keep her anger in check. "I will ask about your relationships with the crew as well as to what lengths you would go to get this vessel back to it's place of origin. Lastly, I will be discussing your previous intimate relationships, what effect they had on your character and what current personal intimacies you have formed on this vessel. I will also ask about the effect your decisions have had on the various cultures of this quadrant and how – "

"Stop," Ensign Lee said sternly. She had stood up and was gripping the desk so hard that her knuckles were turning white. "You will not be asking any of these insane questions."

"Ensign Lee, you are out of –," Captain Janeway said, but the Ensign didn't let her finish.

"No, Captain, this needs to be said," Ensign Lee said as she went to stand next to Janeway and glared at the Kinian High Leader. "You turned Voyager inside out with your inspections and then you traipsed over every crewmember, analysing every moment of our lives. You have made a study out of our behaviours and past actions and we have been very accommodating. We allowed you access to everything. Hell, one of the Kinian aides even asked about my first class at the Academy! But, this is going too far. I will not allow you to ask Captain Janeway these questions. She is the finest woman and Captain I know. She has stayed true to her values and integrity throughout this difficult and extremely taxing voyage. Captain Janeway will pass any test you set. So it stops now. Either agree to trade with us or leave. No more questions."

Ensign Lee had been waving her hands around as she was speaking and with the end of her speech, the fury left her and she just stood quietly. Captain Janeway was dumbfounded. Why didn't I interrupt her? I cannot allow a crewman to speak to guests like this.

"Excellent," the High Leader replied excitedly, his bristles shading a bright green. Janeway and Lee glanced in confusion at each other. "Captain, I wish to congratulate you on your perfect choice of lifemate. On our world, choosing a lifemate is of the utmost importance and reflects your own character and high standards. It has been difficult to judge this quality since you humans seem so reluctant to share this vital information. Thank you, Ensign Lee. Captain Janeway, this concludes our evaluation. You will have your raw materials within the next solar cycle."

"Thank you, High Leader," Janeway said, recovering quickly and walking the Kinians to her door. "I'll tell sickbay to send your medical supplies as soon as possible."

"Thank you, Captain." The Kinian High Leader paused and looked at the two women again. "I wish you both happiness in your life together."

With that, the Kinians walked out, leaving a very confused Ensign and a slightly dazed Captain. Lee grabbed two cups of coffee from the replicator and they sat down on the couch.

"What just happened?" Ensign Lee asked after finishing half the cup in one gulp. "I didn't mean to yell at them. I just had enough. I thought I was going to end in the brig or be sent to look for the raw materials by myself far, far away. Not be called a lifemate and left standing."

"You can still end up in the brig, Ensign," Captain Janeway answered, sipping her coffee slowly. "You are never to speak out of turn like that again. That could have been a major diplomatic disaster."

"I can promise to try my utmost best, Captain," Ensign Lee answered and smiled at Janeway. "And maybe we can try to avoid these kinds of situations. Although, I can't imagine something like this ever happening again."

"Neither can I," Janeway said and chuckled. "I can't believe that's all they were looking for. But, he knew we were seeing each other."

"They have grilling this entire crew for the past week. Someone probably mentioned something." Lee put down her empty cup and started laughing. "I love this quadrant! Where else would you being my girlfriend get us stuff?"

Janeway laughed as well and teased: "He said you were my lifemate, not the other way around."

"As your lifemate, I'm then surely entitled to this," Lee replied, leaning closer to Kathryn. "Just to prove you made the right choice."

Lee kissed Kathryn gently, holding the Captain's face softly in her hands. When she moved away, Kathryn pulled her back and kissed her more fiercely.

"Just to prove I'm almost always right," Kathryn whispered to the rapidly breathing Ensign. Lee simply nodded, tracing her fingers over Kathryn's lips. The sound of the door chime brought them back to the ready room and both women jumped.

"Back to duty," Ensign Lee said, standing up. "But, I'd like to carry on with this conversation later?"

"Yes, so do I," Captain Janeway replied as the still smiling engineer went back to the conduits under the desk. "Come in."

Tuvok entered and greeted the women. "Captain, I understand that the Kinians' evalution has concluded. I have a few final arrangements I would like to discuss with you regarding the transport of the raw materials."

"Please, Tuvok," Captain Janeway replied, motioning the Lieutenant to carry on. Janeway felt Lee's eyes on her briefly before the Ensign climbed back under the desk and went back to work. Kathryn grinned and concentrated on Tuvok's plans.

Lee rolled her shoulders as she walked through Voyager's corridors. The past two weeks had been very busy with repairing the lower deck. The raw materials from the Kinians had come in very handy and they were completing the final repairs. Captain Janeway had arranged a social gathering at the end of the week to celebrate the great work done in record time. Seven had asked Lee for advice on the event and so the Ensign was on her way to Cargo Bay 2.

"Ensign Lee," Seven greeted the blonde engineer as she came through the doors. "How are you?"

"I'm great, Seven, thanks," Lee replied, joining the taller woman in front of her regeneration alcove. "You?"

"Adequate. How are your injuries? Has the long hours with the repairs not hindered your recovery?"

Lee glanced at Seven suspiciously. "Did Captain Janeway ask you to check up on me?"

"She may have hinted at some concerns," Seven admitted, dropping her gaze. "I saw her this morning at the staff meeting. When I mentioned I would be seeing you this evening, she asked me to make sure you were not putting too much strain on yourself."

"Thank you, Seven," Lee replied with a shake of her head. "You can report to Captain Janeway that I am in perfect health. Now, what did you want to talk about?"

"You are not angry?" Seven asked and explained further at Lee's frown. "From my understanding of relationships, I would have expected you to be angry."

"Why?" Lee said, leaning against the console behind her. "I know Kathryn is only concerned and she has been doing very well by not constantly bugging me about my recovery. We haven't been able to see each other in a while so I can understand why she wanted you to check up on me. So, no, I'm not angry."

"Interesting," Seven replied, raising her eyebrow.

"I'm glad you find our relationship so intriguing, Seven," Lee said with a laugh. "But, why am I here?"

"As you know, there will be a mandatory social event in a few days," Seven said, clasping her hands nervously behind her back. "I understand from other crewmembers that this particular event will include dancing. You and I have discussed the disasterous events of my date with Ensign Chapman. I do not wish a repeat."

"I can imagine you might be a bit nervous, Seven. How can I help?"

"I would like you to teach me how to dance."

"But, you can dance," Lee replied, resting her hand on Seven's arm. "What happened with Chapman was an accident. It won't happen again."

"You don't know that," Seven said. Lee knew her friend was tense if she could notice it beneath the usually steely expression. "I thought that if you showed me how to dance, then perhaps I can avoid any further mistakes. But, I will understand if you do not wish to teach me."

"Of course I'll help! I just don't think it's necessary. But, if it will make you feel more comfortable at the celebration, then we can go through a few steps."

"Thank you, Ensign Lee," Seven replied emphatically. "I was not sure who to talk to talk to about this."

"Anytime, Seven," Lee replied smiling. "And don't worry. By the end of the week, you'll feel more at home on the dance floor than in your alcove."

"That is an exaggerated metaphor."

"My favourite ones!" Lee laughed as Seven raised her eyebrow again. "All right. We can practice here or on the holodeck. What do you think?"

"I would prefer here," Seven said, gesturing to an open space between the large containers. "I would like to keep this between us, Ensign Lee."

"I won't tell anyone, Seven. Now, let's start with simple body positions and then get some music and see how we go. If you don't mind, I think I'll lead so you can just relax and enjoy the dancing."

Seven nodded and walked determinedly to the centre of their practice dance floor. Lee smiled and followed the tense woman. The relaxing might be the most tricky part to teach.

Captain Janeway was making her way through Deck 8. She had been busy in her ready room till quite late with repair reports and crew evaluations with Chakotay. The corridors were empty and Kathryn smiled in anticipation. She knew Lee was with Seven and wanted to drop by and see her. The past few weeks had kept them both busy with getting the lower decks back to normal. Janeway had been a bit worried about Lee pushing herself too hard after her injuries.

"Lifemate," the Captain muttered as she neared Cargo Bay 2. Should we have talked about that, Kathryn wondered. We're still just dating, aren't we? Do we need to define the relationship already? Kathryn walked into Seven's unofficial quarters, her thoughts interrupted by hearing the two women talking.

"Seven, stop worrying," Lee sighed, a bit frustrated with her friend. "Doing this perfectly is not the point."

"Then I fail to see why dancing is important," the ex-Borg replied, angry with another apparent failure.

"The point?" Lee stepped back from Seven. "There is no point beyond enjoying the moment. Dancing is sharing a moment, of enjoying something with someone else. It's a bit about trust as well."

"Trust?" Seven arched an eyebrow.

"Yes, trust. It goes both ways between partners. You trust that I won't lead you where you don't want to go. I trust that you'll follow me. In between that everything just clicks and you dance." Lee paused and smiled at the frown on Seven's face. "Let's try the waltz again."

"Perhaps we should first ask Captain Janeway why she's here," Seven added as Janeway stepped out from where she was standing behind some containers.

"How long has the Captain been eavesdropping?"

"For 2 minutes."

"I'm sorry, Seven," Janeway said as she neared the two women. "I didn't mean to intrude."

"It's all right, Captain," Seven answered. "As you can see, Ensign Lee is trying to help me with my dancing."

"How's it going?"

"Very well," Lee interjected before Seven could explain her lack of skills again. "Seven is being too hard on herself. She's already doing better since we started this evening."

"Captain, you can assist us." Seven motioned to their small dance floor. "Perhaps it will help if I see how you dance with Ensign Lee. I do not fully understand what trust has to do with dancing."

Kathryn glanced at Lee who was grinning mischievously. "If you think it would help …," the Captain said and stood next to Lee. "Who's going to lead?"

"I will," Lee said immediately, putting her left hand on Kathryn's waist and gently taking Kathryn's left hand with her right.

"And how do you figure that?" Kathryn replied, her heart already beating a bit faster this close to Lee.

"You're Captain. You're constantly leading. You can at least let me lead when we dance."

"Very logical. I agree," Seven said, standing back.

"Thanks, Seven," Lee said, smiling widely. "Computer, play music Lee Waltz." The Ensign glanced down at Kathryn, suddenly uncertain. "This all right with you?"

"Yes, lead away," Kathryn said, smiling at how endearing Lee's underlying concern was.

The music flowed into the room and Lee started moving them through the usual pattern carefully. As the two women became more comfortable, Lee shifted their dancing pattern, twirling them around and across the cargo bay. As they moved, Kathryn felt Lee's hand move to the small of her back and pull her closer. She looked up into the Lee's blue eyes and her breath caught at the desire radiating from the younger woman. And it's all for me, Kathryn thought as her heart beat faster. She was acutely aware of Lee's body melding against her own as they moved apart and then closer again through the steps of the waltz. Kathryn lost track of where they were and why. Both women lived completely in the moment, rarely breaking eye contact.

"How did you accomplish that?" Seven asked as the music came to an end. It took a few seconds for Kathryn and Lee to get back to Voyager and they slowly stepped apart.

"What do you mean, Seven?" Lee asked, slightly out of breath. Kathryn hoped her face wasn't as red as it felt.

"You haven't danced together before, have you?" Seven asked and Lee shook her head. "How did you know how to move together like that?"

"You and I did the same just a few minutes ago," Lee said.

"This was different."

"Sometimes it just clicks with your dancing partner," Kathryn tried explaining, slightly flustered and trying to calm her heart down.

"Is it because you're in an intimate relationship?" Seven asked bluntly and Lee laughed. "Is that where the trust is coming from?"

"I think that has something do with it, yes," Lee replied, smiling at Kathryn. "But, you've still been dancing well tonight."

"I want to dance like you did." Seven's voice had a slightly different timbre to it.

"You will find someone who'll dance with you like that," Lee said, moving to stand next to her friend. "But, until that time, I'll stand in for practice."

"I'll leave you to it then," Janeway said. "Thank you for the dance, Lee."

"Any time, Kathryn," Lee replied, grinning wildly. "Letting me lead was a good idea." Kathryn laughed at that and gave Lee a quick hug.

"Good luck with the practising," Kathryn said, walking to the door as the women's goodbyes following her out. She couldn't remember the last time someone had made her feel so wanted. And when last did she truly want someone so badly as well?

Captain Janeway entered the holodeck with Commander Chakotay. They were dressed casually and Janeway smiled at the old style ballroom Neelix had chosen for the celebration. Kathryn scanned the room, but knew Lee would probably still be on her way. The Ensign had sent her a message earlier, profusely apologizing that she would meet the Captain at the holodeck. They had planned to come to the party together, but Lee had work she had to finish and promised not to be too late.

"Captain! Welcome," Neelix greeted Janeway as she walked down the large marble steps. "What do you think? I thought we could skip the island resort and do something a bit more classical."

"Very nice, Neelix," Janeway replied and walked with the Talaxian to the tables. "How did the arrangements go? I asked some of the crew to help if you needed it."

The Talaxian started telling Janeway about the fiasco with the food and Janeway listened with half an ear. She realized she was focusing on the holodeck doors and tried to concentrate on Neelix's story again. Her attention was grabbed by another group of crewmen and she started mingling with people as they arrived. Everyone wanted to talk a bit with their Captain off duty. A familiar laugh drew Janeway's attention away from Ensign Vorik and she looked to find it's source. Lee was still at the top of the stairs leading down to the ballroom and was chatting to B'Elanna and Tom. The blonde engineer glanced down, smiling when she saw the Captain. She started towards her, but was pulled back into the conversation by Harry's arrival. Janeway was similarly occupied as Tuvok and Chakotay shared their opinions on the choice of venue.

Lee was smiling triumphantly as she finally got away from her friends and started making her way to Janeway. But, as Lee got only a few steps from Janeway, Neelix pulled the Captain to one side.

"Captain, I think everyone is here," the Talaxian said. Janeway frowned apologetically in Lee's direction as Neelix ushered her away. "We can begin the evening."

"If I can have everyone's attention, please," Captain Janeway said from behind the long table in front. The crew took their seats and stared expectantly at her. "I won't keep you long. I know most of us are very curious to see what Neelix has prepared for dinner and others want to open the dance floor as soon as possible." The chuckles rippled through the crowd and Janeway continued. "The past few weeks, as with most of our time in this quadrant, have been rough. A bit of lightning almost shortened our journey considerably. I want to thank each and every member of this crew for their hard work and dedication. The lower decks actually look better than when Voyager left the Alpha Quadrant." Janeway paused, trying to catch everyone's gaze. "We are far from everything familiar. We are in hostile surroundings. But, we keep going. And because of that simple fact, we will reach home again." The applause and cheers echoed around the large ballroom and Janeway sat down.

"Captain? I would like to say something," B'Elanna asked and stood up at Janeway's nod. "It's about Ensign Lee and her actions during the recent crisis. She risked her life for this ship and I think I speak for everyone when I say thank you. Ensign Lee, we are lucky to have you with us on Voyager."

Again, everyone applauded and many shouted for Lee to make a speech. The Ensign tried to refuse, but got up after B'Elanna kicked her under the table.

"Um, thank you, everyone," Lee started, fiddling with her hands. "As you know, I'm a woman of few words." This was greeted with laughter and Lee smiled. "I could tell you that I did a very brave thing and knew what needed to be done to save this ship. But, honestly, there wasn't any time to think. I think I did what any one of us would have done in my position. I did it to save our current home – Voyager. I must admit that I wouldn't want to repeat my time spent in sickbay – no offence, Doctor. But, I'm glad that my decision at those controls were the right ones. And, now, since I'm very hungry and can't sit through another speech, let's eat!"

Lee sat back down amid chuckles and glanced at Kathryn. The two women smiled at each other, but both were drawn back to their tables as the food was served.

"That was short," B'Elanna teased as she started eating.

"If you had warned me, I would have prepared something shorter," Lee shot back, picking up her fork. "But, thank you, B'Elanna. I appreciate what you said."

"It was the truth." B'Elanna gestured around the table. Seven, Harry, Tom and Andrea looked up from their plates. "We all think what you did was amazing and agreed something should be said."

"Did you draw the short straw?" Lee joked, gaining a playful poke from B'Elanna.

"Yes, we picked utensils in the mess hall," Seven added. "And, Lieutenant Torres drew the fork."

"Wow, now I feel really special," Lee laughed. Everyone started digging into their plates. The conversation turned to the interesting food and the inventive décor for the evening. Lee tried to focus, but found her gaze being drawn to the large rectangular table a few metres away.

"Captain?" Chakotay asked and Janeway looked away from a laughing Ensign.

"I'm sorry, Chakotay," Janeway replied, focusing again on the man next to her. "What did you say?"

"I was saying that you made a nice speech. I think the crew enjoyed B'Elanna and Ensign Lee's additions as well."

"Yes, I was impressed with how the crew rallied around Ensign Lee during her recovery. And how everyone pulled together for the repairs." Janeway took a sip of her wine. "We've really become a close-knit family on Voyager."

"The change in the crew has been quite remarkable," Tuvok said from Janeway's other side. "We started as two separate groups, enemies in fact. But, Voyager has become one crew with one objective."

Chakotay added a comment and started relating an incident about their early disagreements when they first landed in the Delta Quadrant. Janeway focused on her plate and the conversation around her. She was hoping to finish her food as quickly as possible without being rude and then moving over to Lee's table.

"Damnit!" Lee muttered, throwing her napkin down on the table. Her empty plate had just been taken away, but when she had looked up, Kathryn was missing. Lee had quickly scanned the knots of people around her. That was when she noticed Chakotay with the Captain on the dance floor.

"Is something wrong?" Seven asked from Lee's right. "Was the food unpleasant?"

"No, the food was great, Seven," Lee sighed in frustration. "It's just been ridiculously impossible to get close to the Captain this evening. But, that stops right now." Lee stood up and pushed her chair back in.

"The Captain is dancing with Commander Chakotay," Seven remarked. "Should you not wait until the dance is finished?"

"I have waited long enough, Seven. Life's too short." Lee grinned at Seven and walked towards the two senior officers on the dance floor.

"How have you been, Kathryn?" Chakotay asked as they moved slowly to the music.

"I'm fine, thank you," Janeway replied, slightly confused at the question. "Have I given you reason to think otherwise?"

"No, not at all," the tattoed man quickly answered. "We haven't really spoken in a while so I just wanted to take this time to talk again. After the recent crisis, I wanted to –,"

"Could I step in, Commander?" Lee said, tapping Chakotay lightly on his shoulder. Chakotay was caught off guard and glanced at Janeway. When he saw she only had eyes for the Ensign, he nodded.

"Please," Chakotay replied with a sigh, letting go of Janeway. "Thank you for the dance, Captain."

"Thank you, Commander," Janeway replied as Chakotay moved away.

"Finally!" Lee smiled and pulled Kathryn with her into the dance again. "I thought I would never get to you tonight."

"It felt a bit like that, didn't it?" Kathryn replied, smiling as well. "How are you? Could you finish what you needed to in Engineering?"

"Yes, and I'm sorry. I wanted to come with you tonight, but I had to finish up the final tweaks in those conduits."

"You work too hard," Kathryn remarked and Lee burst out laughing. "What? You do!"

"Kathryn," Lee started, still laughing. "Coming from you, that comment had so much irony in it we could have used it to rebuild the entire lower deck!"

"They look so happy together," B'Elanna said, still sitting at the table. Janeway and Lee were laughing as they danced.

"I agree," Seven said, folding her hands on the table. "Captain Janeway is always in relatively high spirits, but they both look truly content."

"And did you see how Lee simply barged in and sent Chakotay packing?" Tom added with a grin. "Lee definitely knows what she wants and doesn't let anyone or anything get in her way."

"You're just thinking about your betting pool," Harry quipped getting a laugh from the table. "But, I think it's a good thing. They both deserve to be happy."

"What about the crew?" Seven asked. "As I understand Starfleet regulations, the captain of a starship is not allowed intimate relationships with any crew member. I find the regulation deeply flawed, but perhaps others do not."

"I don't think anyone will have a problem with it," Andrea Nicoletti started with murmured agreements from around the table. They were still looking at the women who seemed to be dancing faster and laughing more. "We trust the Captain and we know Lee. Nothing personal will get in the way of their duties."

"To new relationships and happiness," Harry said, raising his glass. The others followed suit and they started talking about the different couples on the dance floor.

"Lee, what are you doing?" Kathryn asked as she felt them start to move slightly faster.

"The music is too slow," Lee replied. "We can double-time this two-step."

"What? No, we can stay at the normal speed."

"I'm leading, Kathryn. It'll be fun. Trust me." Lee looked at the woman in her arms, slight uncertainty clouding her eyes.

"I do," Kathryn replied firmly. She was met by Lee's completely open face and it felt as if she was looking right into the younger woman's heart. A privilege she knew few were allowed.

"Hold on," Lee said and sped up their steps. They quickly moved over the dance floor, both women starting to laugh. They spun and twirled much faster than any of the other couples and stopped when the music shifted into a different song. Lee led them towards the large doors leading to the outside garden.

"I'll get something to drink. Grab a bench?" Lee asked between gulps of air.

"Yes," Kathryn replied. Both women grinned at how out of breath they were. Lee stepped back inside and Kathryn walked a bit into the garden. The paths criss-crossed between low hedges with various trees and flower bushes colouring in the garden. Lanterns dotted the hedgerows and gave it a warm yellow glow.

"I thought some cold juice would be nice," Lee said a few minutes later when she found Kathryn on a marble bench under a large fruit tree.

"Perfect, thank you," Kathryn said after taking the first sip. "Thank you for the dance."

"My pleasure. I must admit, doubling the pace went a bit faster than I thought." Lee frowned and then laughed with Kathryn. They sat in silence finishing their drinks. Kathryn slowly put her glass down and glanced at Lee.

"I know that look," the Ensign said, putting her own glass down as well. "That's the look before you launch into a very serious discussion. Was I a bit too rash by jumping in when you were dancing with Chakotay? The faster dancing not a good idea maybe?"

"No, nothing like that," Kathryn replied with a smile. "Do I really have a look?"

"Yes, but you hide it well," Lee said, quickly touching Kathryn cheek. "What do you want to talk about?"

"The Kinians -,"

"I'm sorry about that," Lee interjected quickly. "I really didn't mean to speak to them like that."

"It's not that," Kathryn said, suddenly noticing how nervous her companion was. Lee couldn't keep her hands still. "The Kinians called us lifemates and I wondered if we shouldn't have talked about that. We agreed we'd take things slow and I didn't think we needed to classify our relationship already. But, I've changed my mind. I do think we have to talk about it."

"All right." Lee was staring intently at Kathryn. The blood was rushing through her ears, but she tried to listen to Kathryn above the noise. It had always been a possibility that Kathryn would decide that she didn't want to be with me, Lee thought despondently. She mentally shook herself and said: "What are you thinking? How do you feel about me? About us?"

"I love being with you," Kathryn said and paused.

"But, what?" Lee said, her heart sinking. "I can hear a silent but."

"But, I want more," Kathryn replied, smiling at the confused expression on Lee's face. "This is a serious discussion, but not a bad one, so stop fidgeting." Lee slowly let out the breath she hadn't even realized she'd been holding. Kathryn smiled at that and said: "I want more. I want us to be together as a couple. I only have one question - would you be mine?"

"Kathryn, I've been yours since you gave me a fright in that jeffrey's tubes months ago. Maybe even before then." Lee felt a tear on her cheek and wiped it away, embarrassed. "Of course, I want to be yours."

Kathryn leaned in and kissed Lee, throwing all her emotion into that one single act. Lee felt the change in Kathryn and pulled her closer. The women kissed passionately, both wishing the moment would last forever.

"Dance?" Lee asked after they finally drew apart. Kathryn nodded and let herself be pulled up by Lee. They slowly started making their way back inside. "What would you like to do with our extra holodeck time? I've just won a few hours."

"What?" Kathryn asked, smiling widely and pulling away from Lee. "Did you make a bet with Tom?"

"Not me, I asked Seven on my behalf," Lee replied and tried defending herself as Kathryn playfully knocked her away. "It was a general bet, that we would end up together." Kathryn shook her head and laughed.

The women entered the ballroom side by side. Lee smiled as she heard the waltz music and offered her hand to Kathryn. The Captain nodded and let herself be lead onto the dance floor. This time there was no hesitation and Lee gently pulled Kathryn closely against her. No words were spoken and both Lee and Kathryn forgot where they were. The music became the only thing they heard and the dance the one thing that mattered. Kathryn felt as if a missing piece of herself had been found and when she looked into Lee's eyes, she knew the younger woman felt it as well.

Lee frowned as the music came to a gradual close and glanced at Kathryn apologetically. The Captain started to say something, but was drowned out by roaring applause. Both women stared at amazement at the people gathered around them. No one else was on the dance floor. Everyone must have moved off while they were dancing but neither woman had noticed. Lee started blushing furiously and Kathryn chuckled at the completely flustered look on the Ensign's face. The younger woman started laughing as well as their friends came to congratulate them on an exceptional waltz. Kathryn thought they were probably wishing them well on more than just a few good dance steps.

"Coffee, my place?" Kathryn asked when they could finally move off the dance floor.

"Yes," Lee replied immediately, clasping Kathryn's hand in her own. Lee was very hot and knew it wasn't just the dancing. She realized she was staring at Kathryn and quickly looked away. "That would be great." The women made their escape and walked to the turbolift. "You didn't want to mingle some more?"

"No, I think I've done enough small talk for one night," Kathryn replied as they stepped into the turbolift.

Kathryn's heart was beating furiously and she wanted to laugh. She was acting like a teenager on a first date! The Captain glanced at Lee and noticed a bead of sweat sliding down the engineer's neck. Without thinking, Kathryn leaned in and gently licked the spot below Lee's jaw. She froze when she realized what she was doing, but relaxed when she felt Lee's hand on her waist, keeping her steady. The Ensign tilted her head down and grabbed Kathryn's lips with her own. Kathryn felt on fire and put her arms around Lee's neck. She felt Lee's hands make small circles on her back, pulling her tighter against the Ensign as the kiss deepened. The sound of the turbolift doors opening startled them both and they jumped apart. Both women chuckled and Lee gestured for Kathryn to exit the lift first.

Kathryn walked just ahead of Lee, but she could feel Lee's gaze travelling up and down her body. When she glanced back, the younger woman simply grinned and grabbed her hand. They reached Kathryn's quarters without further incident and the Captain praised her self-control.

"How about some -," Kathryn's words were cut short when Lee pushed her against the wall and kissed her again. Kathryn's worries about not wanting too push Lee too fast dissolved quickly as the Ensign moved her hands on the Captain's waist. Lee's thumbs traced patterns on Kathryn's stomach, drawing a moan from the auburn-haired woman. Kathryn felt Lee's tongue slowly move over her own and missed it immediately when the engineer pulled back.

"I'm sorry, Kathryn," Lee said, out of breath. "I had to kiss you." Lee took a small step back, but kept her hands on Kathryn's waist. "You have to tell me now if I should stop. If this is going too fast, I'll understand. We'll make some coffee and talk about that book you've been reading. Or whatever else. What do you want to do?"

Kathryn cupped Lee's face in her hands. "I want you."

"Good," Lee replied and Kathryn felt her smile in her hands. "Because I really need to touch you right now." Kathryn laughed and pulled Lee closer. Lee quickly carried on where they had left off and Kathryn shivered in anticipation. Both women very glad that they didn't need to get through layers of Starfleet uniform.

Kathryn heard her door open and jumped out of her chair angrily. Only one person had the security code. "If you're here to tell me to get to the bridge and be a better Captain for the crew's morale, you can turn around! Chakotay already tried."

"All right," Lee answered, walking past the enraged Captain. She calmly sat down and started reading something on her padd.

"What do you think you're doing?" Kathryn asked between gritted teeth, looming over the Ensign on her couch.

"I'm reading. I'm not here to talk about why you're avoiding everyone, so I'm staying." Lee glanced down at her padd and carried on reading, seemingly oblivious to the raging woman.

"If you think you're going to wear me down by sitting here, you've made a grave mistake! Who sent you? Was it Chakotay? Tuvok? Did he think you could get me talking to the crew again?"

"Kathryn, you're being paranoid!" Lee finally raised her voice a little. "No one sent me. I'm your girlfriend, not your mother. I'm not going to convince you of anything. I can only imagine that travelling through this void of space has giving you too much time to think. You've probably been questioning every decision you've ever made. You're probably feeling extra guilty over the whole getting Voyager stuck here and that's why you've been avoiding the crew. So what? I don't understand what's the big deal. Whatever you're feeling is good. Work through it, which I'm sure you will, and then carry on as before. Keeping stuff bottled up is even worse. Own your emotions." Kathryn stood gaping at the younger woman. She was trying to argue, but couldn't think of anything to say.

"I'm here on completely selfish reasons." Lee paused and Kathryn's suspicions were raised again. "I miss you. I haven't talked to you or seen you in too long. I thought of just leaving you alone, but decided to do what I wanted. So, I'm going to spend the night here. You can carry on brooding in the dark while I finish my book."

"Is that your entire plan?" Kathryn managed to say. She still didn't believe what she'd heard. How could Lee know her so well? They haven't been together that long, have they?

"No, I had thought of one more thing." Lee stood up so quickly that Kathryn had no time to react. Lee grabbed Janeway and kissed her passionately. She pulled Kathryn tightly against her and only drew her lips away when both of them needed some air. Kathryn felt as if her heart would jump out of her chest.

"That's as far as my plan went," Lee said with a huge grin.

"Why are you with me?" Kathryn asked, suddenly ashamed of yelling at Lee. Yelling at the one person who never judges her or only takes from her. The one person who just wants to be with her.

"I love you, Kathryn," Lee whispered, leaning her forehead against the older woman's. "And you love me. This is how it goes."

"Thank you for being here," Kathryn said and gently kissed Lee again.

"Always. And I needed a quiet place to finish my book in any case." Kathryn slapped her playfully and both women laughed. "I'm slightly serious – I only have 3 chapters left!"

"What if I had a better offer?" Kathryn asked and pulled Lee closer again. "Would you change your mind?"

"The book is amazing so you'll really need something near perfect!" Kathryn slowly caressed the younger's woman's face, sliding her hand down her neck, stopping just above Lee's breasts.

"That is an excellent offer," Lee breathed, her eyes never leaving Kathryn's. Kathryn smiled and started to answer when the lights went out. Lee muttered a curse and then felt her way to the nearest access panel. Kathryn got to the emergency flashlight stowed in the drawers under the coffee table.

"It's a massive power drain, I can't access anything," Lee said in frustration. "We'll need to go to Engineering, after we pry the doors open, of course."

"Of course," Kathryn replied with a grim smile. They struggled for a few minutes, but finally got out into the corridor. "I need to get to the bridge and find Chakotay or Tuvok."

"Okay, I'll head to Engineering," Lee said, taking the second flashlight from Kathryn. "Good luck, Captain."

"You too, Ensign," Kathryn replied, but grabbed the younger woman for a quick kiss. "Be safe." Lee nodded and headed down the corridor. Kathryn stared after her for a few seconds before heading the opposite way.

Captain Janeway greeted crewmen as she walked through the corridor on Deck 8. She was on her way to Cargo Bay 2 to catch up with Ensign Lee. The younger woman had been busy the last week with Seven. Apparently the ex-Borg had needed some advice and Lee had been her sounding board after their duty shifts. Kathryn had wanted to respect their privacy, but thought a quick chat with her girlfriend wouldn't be intrusive. The cargo bay was empty as Janeway entered and she frowned.


"Captain," Seven answered walking out from behind one of the larger containers. "Did you need something?"

"Actually, I'm looking for Ensign Lee," Janeway replied. "Has she left already? Did you talk about what you wanted?"

"I don't understand, Captain," Seven answered, clasping her hands behind her back. "Ensign Lee hasn't been here today."

"And yesterday? The day before that?"

"No, Captain. I haven't seen or spoken to her in at least a week. I had assumed she was spending time with you."

Janeway crossed her arms and frowned. "So you haven't been discussing some personal matters with Lee? Something you needed her opinion on?"

"No, Captain," Seven replied. "Is there something wrong? Is Ensign Lee all right?"

"I'm not sure, Seven. Have you noticed anything strange in her behaviour recently?"

"Perhaps only the fact that I haven't seen much of her to notice anything strange. Ensign Lee has been somewhat absent lately."

"Thank you, Seven. I'll leave you to your evening."

"What are you going to do, Captain?" Seven asked Janeway who was already making her way to the door.

"Find some answers," Janeway replied determinedly. She went to Lee's quarters first, but was not surprised to find them empty. The computer logs indicated Ensign Lee had vanished off Voyager immediately after her shift. Janeway muttered a few Klingon curses. Lee had probably done something to her combadge. Where to start looking, Janeway wondered, more concerned about the state of Lee's mind than her disregard of Starfleet protocols. A sudden inspiration hit the Captain and she headed to the lower decks.

Lee was sitting down. She had gone straight to the deflector controls after her duty shift like she had been doing for the past few weeks. Lee made sure no-one was around before opening the hatch and crawling into the jeffrey's tubes. The engineer made her way into the tubes for a few metres until she hit the first junction. There she crossed her legs, leaned back and started crying. And that's exactly how Kathryn found her about an hour later. Lee had been holding her face in her hands and didn't notice Janeway until she was practically on top of her.

"Lee," Kathryn breathed, carefully moving the Ensign's hands to see her face. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Lee replied automatically and smiled. "I'm fine. I just wanted to revisit the site of old adventures."

"Don't," Kathryn said, slight anger colouring her voice. "You've already been lying to me about your time with Seven."

"I'm not lying now," Lee argued. "It really is nothing. I was feeling a bit down. Anyway, I didn't want to bother you. I can handle this on my own. You really shouldn't worry."

"Now you're lying to both of us," Kathryn answered, wiping away the tears still falling down the younger woman's face. "Don't push me away. You're always there for me when I need you. Why won't you let me do the same?" Lee didn't answer and Kathryn shook her head. "This is what you do, isn't it? You only show the happy Lee to everyone. All your fears and sadness you keep to yourself." Kathryn shifted to sit next to blonde woman. "That stops now. I love you. Let me in."

Lee stared at Kathryn and started crying anew. Janeway pulled the younger woman into her, hugging her tightly. After a few minutes, Lee's breathing evened and she lifted her head.

"I'm used to handling everything on my own," Lee started, wiping her face. "I don't share personal feelings. I handle the lows on my own. I never want to be a burden."

"That's ridiculous," Kathryn chided gently. "We're partners. We're in this together. I don't stay with you just because you're funny and great to be around. I stay with you because I want to share my life with you. Everything. That includes the lows. You can start getting used to that."

"Wow," Lee smiled. "I've never heard you speak so much about your feelings before."

"You're trying to change the subject. It won't work."

"Yes, ma'am," Lee said, smiling when Kathryn continued to glare at her. "I got a message from my parents. You know, from the last time we aligned with the communications array? It was great. My mom was telling me all the latest family gossip. My brother's gotten married, which I didn't think would happen so soon. The message was light-hearted and funny, just like I knew it would be from my mom. She never mentioned the possibility that I might never see them again. Not once. Not even a tiny hint. She acted as if I were around the corner and nothing was impossible."

"Sounds like a remarkable woman," Kathryn commented.

"She is. The fact that I've managed to turn out even slightly mentally balanced is thanks to her and my dad," Lee said. She paused and wiped away a few stray tears. "But, I started doubting. I've always known deep down that we would get back to the Alpha Quadrant. Either in the next 20 years or by some engineering miracle or wonderful wormhole. I've never lost hope. But, after I read my mom's message, I lost something. I'm scared we're going to die a horrible death at the hands of some random alien species or a freak spacial anomoly. I can't stop thinking about it. And I can't seem to get out of this depression - and I hate using that word! I feel guilty. I should stay positive, but I can't."

"Is that all?" Kathryn replied, smiling at the disbelief on Lee's face. "I've lost hope as well at times. I sometimes wonder how we'll ever get out this quadrant. Stop beating yourself up over this. You're afraid. So am I. We will get through this. What's that quote you love telling me when Voyager seems to be on the edge of disaster?"

"You are the hero of your own story," Lee said. "And the hero always wins."

"And, even if that's not true, believing it will make it true," Kathryn added. "Isn't that what you're always telling me? That we create our own reality."

"I hadn't realize I was so intelligent," Lee quipped.

"You just needed someone to remind you."

"No, I needed you to remind me," Lee said, getting a smile from Kathryn.

"Now, fix whatever you did your combadge. I never want to have to look for you again."

"What? O, that. Computer, stop running program Lee-hide-and-seek."

"Acknowledged, program terminated," Voyager's computer replied.

"Computer, delete program," Kathryn commanded and Lee raised her eyebrows. "Just making sure." Lee nodded and leaned into Kathryn's embrace.

"Can we stay like this for a little while?"


"Thank you, Kathryn, " Lee said, tilting her head and kissing the auburn-haired woman.

"There's nothing to say thank you for," Kathryn said, pulling Lee tighter against her. "Just don't do this again."

"Yes, ma'am," Lee replied, wrapping her arms around the Captain.

"Kathryn, you have to give me at least three guesses, all right?" Lee said where she stood in front of the replicator.

She had heard the door slide open while she was busy getting their supper together in Captain Janeway's quarters. The entire crew had been talking about the strange shuttle that had materialized out of a very unusual wormhole. Rumours were rife that it was someone from the Alpha Quadrant or perhaps even a Starfleet officer from another time. Lee herself had seen the readings from the wormhole and agreed it could be someone from the future. The shuttle had a typical Starfleet design and the wormhole resembled the ones they had encountered with Captain Braxton a few years ago.

"I'll understand if it's all top secret and you can't tell me, but I can still guess, can't I?" Lee asked as she whirled around with two glasses of wine. Her next words died in her throat when she saw the two women standing in the doorway. Kathryn couldn't help but smile at the completely confused look on her partner's face. Next to Kathryn, an older Janeway also grinned and ran a hand through her silver hair.

"Well, that takes the fun out of guessing," Lee remarked, walking towards them and smiling widely. "Oh, we'll have to give you different names! I'll call my Captain, Kathryn, and you will be Janeway. That should work, right?"

The older Janeway laughed and pulled Lee into a hug. "It's so good to see you!" Lee frowned at the intense emotion in Janeway's voice and glanced at Kathryn while the older Captain hugged her tightly.

"You too," Lee replied, pulling back slightly. "If this is what I have to look forward too, I'll be a very happy woman. Please tell Kathryn what you've done to stay so beautiful." Lee turned to Kathryn. "Is it considered cheating if I flirt with a future you?"

Both Janeways laughed and Kathryn replied: "Only you would take in a completely unbelievable situation like this without even blinking."

"One of the many reasons you absolutely adore me," Lee replied and gestured to the table behind her. "How about dinner? I got a few things from the mess hall."

"That would be lovely," Janeway replied, walking past Kathryn and sitting down. Being back on Voyager was so strange and so familiar as well. It felt good to be back in her quarters, or rather, in Kathryn's quarters. Lee busied herself with getting the last few dishes on the table. Kathryn turned to help and noticed the place settings.

"I'll get another plate," Kathryn said, but Lee stopped her.

"No, I'm going to leave you two to catch up," Lee said, putting the glasses of wine on the table.

"That's really not necessary," the older Janeway said quickly. "It would be nice to have dinner together."

"Thanks, but I know you two," Lee replied with a grin. "If you're here from the future, there's probably some huge disaster or mission that we need to prepare for. And, you've never like time travelling so I'm sure it'll involve something not in the Starfleet handbook."

"All right," Kathryn agreed, noticing the knowing smile on her future counterpart's face. Lee gave Kathryn a quick kiss and headed for the door.

"And, Janeway, if you wanted to come and have a chat later, that would be fine," Lee said and slipped out into Voyager's corridor.

"She was probably the best decision I ever made," Janeway murmured, a melancholic smile on her face.

"Yes," Kathryn agreed, smiling. The women started eating and the conversation turned to more serious business.

Kathryn slowly woke up as she heard the door to her quarters open. Lee quietly creeped into the bedroom, and jumped into the shower. Within minutes she had her pajamas on and crawled into bed next to Kathryn. The Starfleet Captain turned and Lee pulled her closer, tucking Kathryn against her side.

"Sorry, I didn't want to wake you," Lee whispered and kissed Kathryn's forehead.

"Mmm," Kathryn murmured and then she remembered where Lee had been. "How did it go with Janeway?"

"Weird and nice," Lee answered. "We talked about everything except now or the future. You know, small things, like reminiscing about how you and I got together, childhood memories and other stuff like that."

"That's nice," Kathryn replied, frowning slightly. She wasn't quite sure how she felt about Janeway's presence, not to mention the fact that her future self had spent some quality time with her girlfriend.

"It was quite harmless, I promise," Lee chuckled. "I'm actually a bit worried about her."

"What do you mean?"

"There's a sadness in her," Lee replied, her brow furrowing. "A sense of regret or something. I can't quite put my finger on it."

"It's probably to do with why she's here," Kathryn murmured, trying not too worry about what she knew lay ahead. She could think about it tomorrow, right now she just wanted to sleep with Lee next to her.

"You're probably right," Lee said, closing her eyes. "I can't wait to hear what we'll be doing! And, I know, I can wait until you tell everyone tomorrow."

Kathryn smiled and hugged Lee tightly. Lee kissed Kathryn again and the women drifted off to sleep.

Earth. Captain Janeway couldn't believe her eyes. She was staring out of the window in her quarters with the blue sphere filling almost her entire view. They had made it back to the Alpha Quadrant. Her future self had made a great sacrifice and had gotten Voyager home. The entire ship was preparing for their arrival at Starfleet's main shipyard orbiting the moon. People were packing up their belongings and making plans to get to their loved ones as soon as possible. Brief messages had been sent, but Starfleet had stopped all further communication until the final debriefings were completed. The crew grumbled a bit, but everyone understood it was standard protocol. The mood on Voyager was ecstatic, but Kathryn didn't share it. She had made a big decision and knew following it through was going to be difficult.

"Wow, it looks amazing from here," Lee said as she entered Kathryn's quarters and went to stand next to her. "The officers' quarters really do have the best view." Lee chuckled and put an arm around Kathryn. She was surprised when the older woman moved out of her embrace and crossed her arms.

"Lee, we need to talk," Kathryn said. "Let's sit down."

"No, I would prefer to stand," Lee said, her smile fading. "Usually, I would try to lighten the mood with a joke, but somehow this feels way too serious even for that." When Kathryn simply looked at her, Lee felt her heart beat wildly. "Kathryn, you're scaring me. What's going on?"

"I don't want any confusion about what I'm about to say, so I'm just going to say it." Kathryn paused and for a split-second, she questioned her decision. But, she had been debating it the entire night and knew she was right. "We need to break up. We're back in the Alpha Quadrant. You'll be getting back to your life and will want to carry on with your career in Starfleet. You've been saying how excited you are about seeing your family again and maybe staying with them for a while. I don't want to influence your decisions. I will need to explain our relationship to Starfleet Command during my debriefing, but I don't think that should be a problem. I propose we be honest about what happened in the Delta Quadrant." Kathryn paused and grabbed a breath. "I believe this to be the best decision for both of us."

Lee couldn't believe what she was hearing. She felt dizzy and leaned back against the window, hoping Kathryn wouldn't see how much this was unsettling her. Her first reaction was denial which quickly turned into anger. She closed her eyes briefly and brought her emotions under control.

"Okay," Lee said and started walking to the door.

"Is that all you have to say?" Kathryn asked, stunned. She was expecting an outburst or tears or something. Her worst fear was how she was going to handle a distraught woman. Not this complete ambivalence.

"Yes, that's it," Lee said, turning around. "What do you want from me, Kathryn? I know you, you probably spent hours on this, deciding the right course of action. I could explode and be angry. I could argue how ridiculous you sound trying to pretend this is in my best interest. If you like, I can rant and rave about why we should stay together, how good we've been to each other. Hell, I could list all the reasons why this is the stupidest thing you've ever done. But, I don't think it would make a difference, would it?"

"No," Kathryn replied, not moving.

"I wish you happiness, Kathryn," Lee said softly. "I hope you find what you're looking for. That one thing which will finally give you peace."

Kathryn watched as the door slid open and Lee walked out, not looking back. Kathryn fell down into the couch, her hands shaking. It was over. She had done what needed to be done. A small doubt made it's voice heard, but Kathryn dismissed it.

"Janeway to the bridge," Commandor Chakotay's voice came over the comms. Captain Janeway stood up, pulling her jacket straight determinedly. Pushing any final uncertainties deep down, Janeway walked out of her quarters.

The snow covered everything. Kathryn Janeway could barely make out the path leading to their front door. She sighed and wished a snow storm would blow in – it would match her mood. Kathryn was glad to be in Indiana with her mother. It was just strange being back where she grew up. A place she had thought she might never see again.

The past few months had gone by excrutiatingly slowly. Voyager had been greeted with a hero's welcome. The debriefings of the crew and inspections of the ship took a few weeks and then everyone had slowly scattered. Janeway had been promoted amid some protests concerning her future self's actions. Some in Starfleet Command believed she should be held accountable for future Janeway's disregard for protocal and illegal use of time travel. Others welcomed Janeway with open arms and pushed for her rank to admiral. Kathryn threw herself in her new role as Delta Quadrant expert and lived in her new office at Starfleet Command in San Francisco. She tried explaining her lack of energy to the adjustment of being back. Whenever her thoughts strayed to the last conversation she had in her quarters aboard Voyager, she reminded herself she had done the right thing. Her reasons were the right ones. Kathryn told herself she had made the right decision.

Gretchen Janeway had asked her daughter countless times to take the generous leave Starfleet had offered, but Kathryn kept declined. It wasn't until Gretchen had contacted old friends of her husband to pull some strings which forced Kathryn to take the time off and make the trip to Indiana. Gretchen was shocked by the changes in her eldest daughter. There was a spark missing. They talked about her years in the Delta Quadrant, but never mentioned Lee Roberts. Gretchen knew something had happened, but didn't want to push Kathryn. Now she watched as Kathryn stared out the window of their house. She wished she could do more for her daughter.

"Coffee, dear?" Gretchen asked, walking around the counter and into the kitchen. When Kathryn didn't answer, Gretchen repeated her question.

"What? Sorry, mom. That would be great, thanks." Kathryn moved away from the window, but then looked back. "Are we expecting anyone?"

"Not that I know of," Gretchen replied, joining her daughter at the window. "Phoebe would have mentioned if she had invited a friend." Someone was walking towards their house. That in itself was strange. The nearest transport station was miles away and their closest neighbour as well. The person was so dressed up for the cold weather that neither Janeway could see who it was. Their porch was enclosed with glass and the person carefully opened the outside door and stepped in.

"Can I help you?" Kathryn asked, opening the kitchen door and joining their visitor on the porch. The stranger carefully removed their hat and scarf and took off their thick snow jacket. Kathryn gasped.

"Hi, Kathryn," Lee said a bit uncertainly. "I know I'm not welcome, but what I have to say won't take long. May I please come in?"

"Yes," Kathryn managed to utter and watched in disbelief as Lee struggled to get out of her wet boots and calmly walked into the kitchen.

"Lee! What a wonderful surprise," Gretchen said, embracing the red-faced woman. "Let me make you something hot to drink."

"Thanks, Gretchen. But, I won't be very long so you don't have to go to all that trouble."

"Well, then I'll leave you two alone," Gretchen said. Even she felt the tension in the air. She didn't want to get her hopes up, but she wished her daughter would see through her own stubborness.

Kathryn gestured to the living room and when Lee nodded Kathryn led her into a very cozy room with a warm fire burning in the corner. Kathryn sat down, but Lee remained standing in front of the fireplace.

"As I said, this won't take long." Lee fiddled with her hands and started pacing. "I'm not here to talk about us. I respect your decision and I've honoured it. But, I won't stand by while you destroy your life." Lee stopped pacing and looked at Kathryn. The older woman had forgotten how open and intense the Engineer's gazes were. "You are not happy sitting in that tiny box of an office at Headquarters, filling out reports and writing documents. It's killing you slowly. You have to tell Starfleet to get you back on a starship. That's where you belong. There are quite a few deep space missions that need a good captain. Some are even in this quadrant. Or if you like, back to the Delta Quadrant. With your credentials, you can have your pick."

"I am not doing that," Kathryn replied, angry at how this woman could simply walk in and tell her what to do. The fact that she was completely right irked Janeway even more.

"Kathryn, you don't understand," Lee said firmly. "This isn't a request. If you haven't signed on as Captain on one of Starfleet's latest missions, I will do it for you. You know my skills with a computer. If I don't see your name under captain on a ship's roster after this weekend, I will do the paperwork for you. I will make it look as if you did it yourself. If you start telling anyone different, they'll think you've gone crazy. And I know there are people at Starfleet Command who would like nothing more than to put you under lock and key."

Kathryn gaped at the determined young woman in front of her. "You can't do that."

"Of course, I can," Lee said with a grim smile. "And you know I will. I'm sorry to force this kind of decision on you, but you'll thank me later. Or, you'll hate me forever which probably won't make me feel any different than now." Lee blinked and for a second Kathryn thought she saw a tear. Her heart tugged at the sight. "Either way at least you'll be happy."

Without further ado, Lee left the living room and Kathryn jumped after her. She caught up to the younger woman on the porch where she was putting her boots and jacket back on.

"Remember, Kathryn. You have four days until Monday. Get yourself re-assigned to a ship of your choosing. Otherwise, I'll do it for you."

With that, Lee opened the outside door and stepped into the snow. Kathryn didn't know what to do. Her mind was going round in circles. Everything she had been keeping bottled up bubbled to the surface. This time she couldn't push the feelings back down. Kathryn looked at the figure disappearing into the snow-covered landscape. She took a deep breath, quieted her mind and asked herself one question. When her heart immediately answered, she smiled.

"Mom! Quickly bring my jacket. It's in my cupboard," Kathryn shouted into the house. She heard her mother answer and then grabbed her boots standing against the porch wall. When Gretchen brought her the jacket, she pulled it on and ran into the snow.

"What's going on?" Phoebe asked, standing in the kitchen.

"Your sister has finally gotten some sense back," Gretchen replied. They looked on as Kathryn made her way down the path. Lee was a distance away, but it had started snowing again and Kathryn was not giving up.

"Did you see that?" Phoebe asked and laughed. Gretchen shook her head in amazement. Kathryn had caught up to Lee and had tackled the younger woman into the snow.

"Kathryn? Get off me!" Lee yelled in frustration as the older woman pinned her to the ground. "I told you I'm not changing my mind. I will get you back on the bridge."

"You died!" Kathryn shouted and Lee stared at her. "When Janeway, the one from the future, when she was on Voyager she told me you died on the journey back to the Alpha Quadrant. She told me how completely broken she was. How she wished it had been her instead of you. But, then she realised she didn't want you to feel like she had." Kathryn paused, catching her breath. "I couldn't let that happen to you. I didn't want cause you such pain. I thought it would be better if you found someone else. Someone younger. Someone you could spend your life with."

"You are such an idiot!" Lee shouted and surprised Kathryn with her strength. She flipped the auburn-haired woman over and pinned her arms above her head. "You left me before I could leave you. That's what this is all about, isn't it? You didn't want to get hurt." Lee laughed at Kathryn's fervent denials. "And I always knew I had died in the other timeline."

"Janeway told you?"

"No, I figured it out. She hugged me like you always do when we go on some near-death misson. As if she was never going to see me again. I know you too well." Lee grinned. "Or it might have been the fact that she accidentally said something about my last birthday. In either case, I knew." Kathryn smiled with Lee, but the blonde's mood became somber again. "Kathryn, you should have trusted my feelings for you. If had wanted to be with someone else, I would have been."

"I'm sorry," Kathryn said and Lee's expression softened. "At the time I truly thought I was doing the right thing. I wanted to protect us both from getting hurt."

"What do we do now?"

"I'm not sure."

"It's quite easy, actually," Lee said and stared questioningly at the woman below her. "I love you, Kathryn. If you still love me, even after I threatened your career and stupidly left you alone for months, I want to get back together."

"That easy?" Kathryn smiled. "And I told you to leave me alone, don't feel guilty about that." Kathryn looked at the face above her. Lee was smiling confidently, but Kathryn could see the uncertainty and fragility in her eyes. "You are the bravest woman I know. My stubborness has taken too much time from us. I love you with everything I have. Can you forgive me? I know I've hurt you and I'm sorry. I'll make it up –," Kathryn's sentence was cut short as Lee's lips gentled covered hers.

"Now, can we please get back inside?" Lee asked, quickly wiping away the tears on her cheeks. "I think my legs have frozen."

"Yes, but first -," Kathryn said and pulled Lee down for another kiss. This one was not as chaste as the first and left both women breathless.

"I've forgotten how good we are at this," Lee breathed and started laughing.

"I was doing all the work," Kathryn teased and wormed herself out from under the blonde woman. She quickly picked up some snow and threw a snowball at Lee.

Lee gasped at the impact and glared at Kathryn. "This will not be a repeat of the kite incident, Kathryn. I will have my revenge." Kathryn burst out laughing and then had to dodge a barrage of snowballs.

"Mom, have they gone crazy?" Phoebe asked. They watched as the two women chased each other around in the yard. "It's still snowing. They should be freezing."

"They're in love, dear," Gretchen answered with a smile. "They won't feel the cold."

"I'm glad they got back together. From what I remember from Kathryn's old Delta Quadrant messages, they really fit together."

"Yes, I'm happy too," Gretchen replied and walked into the kitchen. "Come on, let's get some hot drinks ready."

The snowball fight only carried on for a few minutes more and then it was declared a draw. Both Kathryn and Lee were starting to feel the cold and relunctantly made their way back to the porch hand-in-hand. Gretchen could hear them laughing and smiled. She couldn't remember the last time she had heard Kathryn laugh.

"Here's some hot chocolate," Gretchen greeted the two women when they came in.

"Thanks, Gretchen," Lee said, immediately grabbing one. "I think my insides have been frozen solid. I'm not used to snow."

"I'll have some a bit later," Kathryn said. "Mom, would you mind keeping Lee company for a while? I need to send a few messages to Starfleet. It shouldn't take too long."

"You take your time," Lee said, grinning at Kathryn. "It gives me a chance to ask your mom about all your embarrassing moments as a child. Oh, and all the stuff you got up to when you were a teenager."

"For all those stories, we'll need a few days at least," Gretchen said and steered Lee to the living room. "And you can finally meet Phoebe as well."

Kathryn smiled as Lee was ushered away. She started up the stairs to her room, already planning what she how she was going to word her message to Starfleet Command.

Lee wanted to pinch herself. The day had definitely not gone as she had planned. The engineer had hoped to simply convince Kathryn to get back on a starship. The fact that she was sitting and chatting with Gretchen and Phoebe, knowing that Kathryn was just upstairs, was mind boggling.

"Lee, what are you thinking about?" Phoebe asked and poked her playfully. "You've missed my amazing retelling of the pumpkin incident."

"I'm sorry," Lee said with a laugh. "It's just a bit surreal. I didn't expect the day to turn out like this. I mean it's wonderful and I'm beyond happy. It's just strange."

"I'm so happy you two got back together, dear," Gretchen said. "Your mom and I have been discussing it and it took all our willpower not to interfere."

"You've been chatting with my mom?" Lee asked and grinned. "I thought it was strange when she stopped bugging me about Kathryn. That's probably when you two started talking."

Lee's face suddenly lit up and she got out of her chair. Gretchen turned to see her eldest daughter enter the room. Kathryn walked straight to Lee and kissed her fiercely. Lee was slighly caught off guard, but quickly wrapped her arms around Kathryn.

"I think we can put out the fire. It's hot enough in this room as it is," Phoebe quipped and Gretchen shook her head.

"How did you know?" Kathryn asked Lee, not letting her go. "How could you possible have known what I would do?"

"Excalibur?" Lee asked and laughed when Kathryn nodded. "O, Kathryn. Haven't you realized yet? I am beyond amazing. I'm surprised you keep forgetting that."

"If you are done speaking in code, would you please tell us what's going on?" Gretchen asked. Kathryn blushed and sat down next to Lee.

"Lee convinced me to captain a starship again," Kathryn started.

"Well, more like blackmail," Lee chipped in and Gretchen laughed.

"In either case, we both knew I was busy dying at Starfleet Command and needed to get back on the bridge of a starship."

"Hear, hear!" Gretchen said and Phoebe agreed. "I would like to know how you got through to Kathryn. I've been trying since she got back and nothing worked."

"This is a perfect point to make some kind of dirty joke about my many skills," Lee said and Kathryn burst out laughing, her blush deepening. "But, since I'd like you're family to keep their good impression of me, I think I'll keep quiet."

"Your self-control is amazing," Kathryn added when the Janeway women had stopped laughing.

"I know, right?" Lee said with a huge grin. "But, please, continue with your story."

"As I was saying, I needed to captain a starship again. First, I had to decide which ship, but I had a fairly good idea which mission I wanted to command."

"Excalibur?" Gretchen asked.

"Yes, it's a deep space mission to the Delta Quadrant to carry on with the trade agreements Voyager started. The ship has the latest in transwarp technology, shortening the journey considerably. Also, the communications array has been upgraded so Excalibur would be in constant real-time contact with the Alpha Quadrant. The ship is also one of the new generational starships allowing families to stay together." Kathryn turned to Lee who smiled innocently. "I then sent a message to Starfleet Command. I worded it such that they understood it was not a request. I re-assigning and demoted myself."

"And they agreed?" Phoebe asked, surprised. "You must have more power than I thought."

"No, she's just annoyed a lot of people and they would prefer if she were very far away," Lee said and Phoebe laughed with her. Kathryn glared at her. "And, of course, she's an excellent Captain."

"Starfleet Command did agreed," Kathryn continued, smiling at Lee's last comment. "Excalibur leaves in six weeks. I'll report to the shipyard in four weeks to do the final inspections and so on. But, that's not the best part."

"Kathryn, I'm so happy for you!" Gretchen exclaimed, getting up and embracing her daughter. "I don't like that you'll be off in space again, but I understand that this is what you makes you happy."

"Me too, sis," Phoebe added. "But, what's the best part?"

"I wanted to get an idea of what my crew would look like," Kathryn said and looked at Lee. The younger woman's smile grew wider. "And to my great surprise and utter joy, I find a Lieutenant Lee Roberts listed as part of the crew. Now I want to know how the hell you knew I would pick Excalibur? How did you know I would even agree to command a ship again?"

"I could tell you that deep down I felt it," Lee said, sighing overly dramatic. "I could say that in my heart of hearts I knew you felt stifled at headquarters and that Excalibur was exactly what you would want. Insert romantic movie here." The women laughed, but Kathryn wouldn't be distracted.

"Lee, how did you know?"

"Kathryn, I didn't," Lee replied, shrugging with a smile. "When Excalibur and it's mission was announced, I signed up immediately. The plan of making you a captain again came after that. If there was a tiny part of me that entertained the idea of us back together on a starship, I ignored it. It was too -," Lee paused and quickly wiped at her eyes. "This snow is really stinging my eyes! Anyway, I took it one step at a time. I just glad things worked out the way they did."

Kathryn gave Lee's hand a squeeze. "What would have happened if I had said no? If I had stayed at Starfleet Command?"

"I would be struggling through a snow storm right now!" Lee said, pointing to the window which was one white pane. Gretchen and Phoebe laughed and Kathryn simply shook her head. She snuggled up to Lee who hugged her tightly.

"What?" Kathryn asked when she noticed the surprised looks on Phoebe and her mother's face.

"It's just nice seeing you so affectionate," Gretchen replied.

"She couldn't keep her hands off me on Voyager," Lee said and then immediately blushed as the Janeway women burst out laughing. "I'm so sorry. That sounded much better in my head."

Lee started telling more incidents of when she had forgotten to censor what came out of her mouth. Kathryn slowly felt her eyes close and leaned her head back. She felt Lee pull her closer and drifted off.

"Kathryn, it's time for dinner," Lee said, gently shaking the woman next to her. Kathryn grimaced, slowly waking up.

"Hey! Wake up, I'm hungry," Phoebe's voice came with a prod in Kathryn's side and the Captain grumbled. "Mom made her special stew. It's your favourite."

"I'm up," Kathryn said, letting Lee help her off the couch.

"You were fast asleep," Lee remarked as they walked to kitchen. Gretchen had laid the table in front of the counter very nicely and had added a vase with flowers as well.

"Good cushion," Kathryn replied and smiled with Lee. They helped get the final dishes on the table and Phoebe poured them each a glass of wine. When everyone had settled, Kathryn raised her glass. "I would like to propose a toast. To Lee. Congratulations on your promotion to Lieutenant!" Everyone cheered and clinked their glasses. "And I'm sorry that I had to find out from some ship's roster. I will make it up to you." Lee nodded and couldn't smile any wider. Kathryn felt her heart expand and promised herself she would never let this woman out of her sight again.

"Ooh," Phoebe said with a mock leer. "Exactly how are you going to make this up to her, Kathryn? The walls in this house can be very thin."

"Phoebe!" Gretchen exclaimed as Lee burst out laughing.

Kathryn retorted with how jealousy can be a very unflattering personality trait. The teasing continued as the women started eating. Lee was asked to fill in some of the gaps in Kathryn's retelling of their time in the Delta Quadrant. Her stories quickly turned to the more comedic adventures they lived through and had everyone in stitches. After dinner, coffee was made and the group moved back to the coziness of the fire. A few more stories later and even Lee was starting to yawn.

"I think it's time we call it a night," Gretchen said, getting up. "Lee, there's a spare room across Kathryn's room if you like. Or you can stay with Kathryn, whatever works for the two of you."

"Damn," Lee said and quickly got up. "I'm so sorry. I hadn't realized it had gotten so late. I didn't mean to impose. I can still get to town in time for a transport back to San Francisco."

"Don't be ridiculous," Kathryn said, gently grabbing Lee's hand. "You can stay here. I would like you too."

"Good, then it's settled," Gretchen interjected. "Good night, girls."

"Sleep well," Phoebe said and gave a surprised Lee a quick hug. "I'm glad you're here. Kathryn has been intolerable."

"Thanks," Lee replied, glancing at Kathryn as Phoebe left.

"Shall we?" Kathryn ask and gestured towards the stairs. Lee nodded and followed her to the bedrooms. Kathryn grabbed an extra set of pajamas and showed Lee the guest bathroom. When Kathryn got back from the shower, Lee was pacing in the front of her bed.

"I want to say something," Lee said and gestured for Kathryn to sit down. "A few somethings. It's not bad. Or I don't think so. It just needs to be said."

"It's fine, Lee. What is it?" Kathryn sat on the edge of the bed, uncertainty making the blood rush in her ears. "Is there someone else? I know you didn't plan what happened today and maybe I was a bit too rushed -."

"That's exactly what I want to talk about," Lee interrupted the auburn-haired woman. "I'm not involved with anyone else. But, that's my point. We have to put what happened behind us. Otherwise it's going to keep bothering us." Lee paused and glanced at Kathryn. "First, you have to trust me. You have to stop worrying that this is temporary. That I'm just with you in the mean time. You're stuck with me – for better or worse." Lee stopped pacing and sat down next to Kathryn. "And it goes both ways. You really hurt me. And I don't want to keep that hurt with me and bring it up in every argument as some kind of ammunition against you. I have to trust you won't hurt me like that again. And I know it's going to take time to build that trust again, but I think it's important that we talk about it now. I want to look to the future. Life's too short to waste on worrying about stuff from the past."

"Okay," Kathryn said and smiled at a slightly confused Lee. "I'm not trying to make light of this. I completely agree with you and couldn't have described it any better. You always surprise me with how clearly you see through me."

"Many skills, Kathryn," Lee said and relaxed. "But, you do the same with me. I found it very frustrating in the beginning when I realized I couldn't hide anything from you."

"And now?"

"You've grown on me," the Engineer replied with a smile. "So, we're going to be okay?"

"I have no doubt about that," Kathryn replied and surprised Lee by kissing her. Lee felt her heart pound faster as she leaned back on the bed and pulled Kathryn on top of her.

"Kathryn, I just have one question," Lee said, short of breath. The captain moved her hands to the buttons on Lee's shirt. "How thin are these walls really?"

"We'll just have to be discreet," Kathryn whispered into Lee's ear. The captain grinned when she felt the younger woman shiver beneath her. She started working on the top button and chuckled when Lee stifled a moan. The blizzard outside should make enough noise, but Kathryn decided she didn't care in the least.

The End

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