DISCLAIMER: This Star Trek Voyager story utilizes characters that are copyright © by Paramount Pictures.  No infringement on their respective copyrights is intended by the author in any way, shape or form. This is an original story. The story and non-trek characters belong to me.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Feedback and constructive comments are always welcome. You can reach me at rjnolan@gmail.com
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Unexpected Arrival
By RJ Nolan


Chapter One

Captain Kathryn Janeway grabbed the arms of her command chair when her ship suddenly shuddered violently.

"Report!" she snapped at Ensign Kim.

"An anomaly just off the starboard nacelle interrupted our warp bubble knocking us out of warp." Harry explained, frantically going over the data pouring in on his board. "No sign of the anomaly, what ever it was it's gone but I'm picking up two escape pods… with federation signatures," he added excitedly.

"Any lifesigns?" Janeway demanded.

"One of the pods has faint lifesigns," Harry confirmed.

"Bring both pods onboard Harry," Janeway commanded. "Janeway to the Doctor. We have a Federation escape pods with faint lifesigns in the hanger bay. Meet us there."

"Captain, why don't you just beam the injured directly to sickbay?" The Doctor inquired.

"Because we don't know what we're dealing with. Meet us in the hanger bay Doctor... NOW!"

"On my way," he acknowledged.

A security team was standing by as well as the doctor waiting for Janeway to arrive before opening the pods. The two badly damaged and scorched pods sat in the middle of the hanger bay.

"Okay, go ahead," she ordered the doctor as she neared.

The first pod contained a woman with severe burns on her hands and face. According to the Doctor, she was also suffering from life threatening internal injuries. She was wearing a Starfleet uniform in command red with the pips of a Commander. The doctor whisked the injured officer off to sickbay. The second pod contained the body of a man; also dressed in a Starfleet uniform who appeared to have died from his pod being breached.

B'Elanna tried to access the pods internal memory. "I'm sorry, Captain, these are just too badly damaged to get anything out of."

"Can you figure out what ship they came from?" Janeway asked, leaning over to look at the scorched components B'Elanna was working on.

"No, it appears all the identification markings have been intentionally removed. Could that have anything to do with the war with the Dominion?" B'Elanna wondered out loud.

"That's a distinct possibility. I guess we'll just have to wait 'til our guest regains consciousness. I'll be in sickbay," she said before striding off.

"Janeway to Chakotay."

"Chakotay here."

"Any sign of the anomaly or any other escape pods?"

"Nothing, we've run a full sweep of the area. Were the pods really Starfleet?"

"Yes, we've got one survivor, seriously injured. I'm heading for sickbay now. I want all the senior staff assembled in an hour," she ordered.

"Acknowledged, Chakotay out."

Janeway entered sickbay and quickly appraised the scene. The doctor was behind a forcefield working on the new arrival. The doctor set aside his instruments and the forcefield came down.

Janeway walked over and looked down into the slack features of the woman in the biobed. The pink skin where her burns had been healed showed prominently against her tanned face but did nothing to hide the beauty of the woman with her high cheekbones and classically sculpted features. Her blond hair was cut close to her scalp on the side, short on top with the back tapered down ending just short of her neck. Her arms and shoulders showed sleek muscle, her lithe form apparent beneath the sheet covering her. Janeway was willing to bet she would rival Seven in height, smiling at the thought of her Astrometrics officer.

She forced her thoughts away from her appraisal of the woman in the bed. "What did you find out about her, who is she?" Janeway asked.

"Excuse me, Captain, I was too busy saving her life to do a genetic scan," the Doctor replied acerbically.

Janeway ignored his tone. "Is she going to recover?"

"Of course," the Doctor huffed in an offended manner.

Janeway sighed. Some days she wished she had never allowed the Doctor to expand his program to take on so many human mannerisms. She glared at him showing her own impatience. Finally he told her what she wanted to know concerning the woman's condition.

"She had severe internal injuries as well as burns on her hands and face. I stopped the bleeding and repaired the internal injuries. The burns responded well to dermal regeneration. She lost a lot of blood before I got to her. I don't expect her to regain consciousness anytime soon and it would be too dangerous to bring her around," he added quickly, knowing that was going to be the Captain's next request.

"Fine, I'll be in my ready room. Once you identify her send her record to my console," Janeway ordered, sparing one more glance at the mystery woman before heading out the door.

Janeway's head jerked up from the pad she was reading when her console beeped indicating the file had arrived from the doctor. She opened the file scanning the information.

Commander Delores Ray MacMillan, 32-year-old human female

Current assignment: First Officer - Scout Ship Franklin

The woman had an exemplary record though it was strange that she had turned down several assignments to larger ships and seemed to prefer small scout type ships. Her eyebrows arched as she reached the information at the bottom of the file. The Commander was an empath and had originally trained to become a ship's counselor but changed to Command half way through the academy. Janeway immediately felt uncomfortable with the information she uncovered. The thought of an empath on her ship regardless of their capacity made her ill at ease. She had spent her entire career avoiding the clutches of ship's counselors and had been relieved when Voyager's small complement had not rated one. She closed the file pondering just what she was going to do with the unexpected new arrival.

They had found no further traces of the anomaly or what had caused it. She finally ordered them back on their way to the Alpha quadrant. Any other answers would have to wait on their guest.

"Captain, please report to sickbay…our guest is awake," requested the Doctor.

"Acknowledged, I'm on my way, Doctor."

Janeway was happy to finally be getting some answers. The Commander had been unconscious for almost 24 hours recovering from her injuries and surgery. The Captain headed directly for the biobed where the woman sat glaring at the doctor.

"Captain," the woman greeted respectfully when she spotted her. Her ice blue eyes met Janeway's directly. "Where am I and where are my shipmates?"

Janeway glanced over at the doctor in surprise. No wonder the woman was upset if the doctor hadn't told her anything.

"I thought you'd want to fill our guest in," he said.

"What's the last thing you remember?" Janeway asked, ignoring the woman's questions.

Del was immediately suspicious, could this be a Dominion trick to get information out of her? She cocked her head studying Janeway trying to sense her intent. Janeway stiffened when she realized what the woman was most likely doing. Del couldn't detect any duplicity on the Captain's part but it never hurt to be cautious. Though she couldn't miss the sudden uneasiness confirming for her that this woman knew or at least suspected that she was an empath. It was a common reaction she was all too familiar with.

"How do I know if you or any of this is even real? For all I know you're all Founders trying to get information from me and I'm really a prisoner," Del accused.

Janeway remembered the fears about the Founders when she was still in the Alpha quadrant. The information Starfleet had sent them via the Hirogen Array concerning the Dominion and the Founders had been disturbing to say the least. She really couldn't blame the Commander for being suspicious with the war going so badly.

"Doctor, get me a scalpel," Janeway commanded.

The doctor looked puzzled but complied. He gasped and reached out to try and stop Janeway when she lightly drew the instrument down her thumb. "Captain!" he cried in alarm. Janeway's thumb immediately welled up with bright red blood. She held the digit out to the Commander.


Del glanced over at the doctor. She had been uncomfortable with him since she awakened. Not being able to sense anything from him had made her suspicious. He appeared human but she had never encountered one she couldn't sense, if only faintly.

"What about him?"

Janeway sighed, this wasn't going as she expected. "He's an EMH, our original doctor was killed." At Del's dubious look Janeway turned to the doctor. "Doctor decrease the integrity of your holomatrix," she ordered. The doctor looked stubborn then with a resigned sigh complied. Janeway showed Del how her hand could pass directly through the doctor. Janeway could see all the questions in the woman's eyes. "I'll explain everything but first I need to know what happened to you. I assure you, you're on a Federation Starship and quite safe Commander MacMillan."

Del's eyebrow arched at the Captain's use of her name, then again it made sense they would have identified her. It also explained how the Captain knew she was an empath. If this was a federation starship then the Captain would have access to her personnel file. Del relaxed slightly accepting the Captain's word for now.

"I was first officer aboard the scout ship, Franklin. We were on a mission to confirm the Breen where testing a new weapon. Shortly after arriving in the area where it was suspected the weapon was being tested we encountered a weapon signature we couldn't identify. On our way to investigate, our scans picked up a spatial anomaly in the area where the weapon's signature originated. The Breen appeared out of nowhere and attacked with a weapon we'd never seen before. It cut through our shields like butter. We never had a chance. Captain Daley ordered us to abandon ship right before he was killed. Only seven of the ship's complement of forty made it to the escape pods. The Breen opened fire on the pods and the pod I was in was hit. That's the last thing I remember before waking up here," Del concluded, sadly realizing it was most likely none of her shipmates had survived since she had not seen anyone else. It all hit her hard causing her shoulders to slump.

Del started in surprise when a warm hand squeezed her arm. She looked down into Janeway's compassionate gaze. "I'm sorry."

"No one else survived did they?" Del questioned already knowing the answer; Janeway's demeanor as well as the emotions Del could sense said it all.

"No, I'm sorry. We picked up two pods. The man in the second pod was already dead from a breach in the pod," Janeway sorrowfully explained.

Del felt tears pooling in her eyes but shook her head refusing to let them fall. "How did you defeat the Breen or had they already gone?"

"We didn't see the Breen just the two pods."

Del stared at her sensing she was holding something very important back. "Just where am I?" Del demanded.

Janeway cursed under her breath realizing the woman had read her emotions and knew she was not telling her everything. She sighed heavily and met the woman's eyes.

"I'm Captain Kathryn Janeway and you're onboard my ship, Voyager," she stated watching the Commander's expression.

"Voyager! She's lost in the Delta quadrant. Starfleet had their first contact with her in over three years just last year," Del exclaimed unbelievingly. "What are you trying to pull?" she accused.

"Watch your tone with me, Commander," Janeway ordered, giving the woman a glare. She was not used to her word being questioned.

Del met Janeway's glare unflinchingly. Great someone else who thinks nothing of challenging me, Janeway grumbled to herself. She took a deep breath realizing in the same situation she would be just as suspicious.

"We were thrown out of warp when our starboard nacelle came into contact with a spatial anomaly. When we came to a stop we spotted the escape pods and brought them onboard. The anomaly whatever it was had disappeared and there was no sign of anyone or anything except the two escape pods. So you are on Voyager in the Delta quadrant. It's possible the Breen weapon caused the anomaly."

Del's shoulders slumped lower, not only were her shipmates dead but she wasn't even in the Alpha quadrant anymore. In a blink of an eye everything she had ever known was gone.

"I'm sorry, Commander. I know this is a lot to take in. At this point we have no idea how you got here much less how to get you back. We're currently on our way back toward the Alpha quadrant," Janeway said sympathetically, knowing what a shock all this must be to the woman.

The door to sickbay swooshed open before Del could reply and a stunning blond with strange facial jewelry strolled in.

"I did not realize you were engaged, I will return later, Doctor."

The blond's voice sent a shiver down Del's spine.

"No need for that, Seven. I'm finished here. Captain, Commander, if you'll excuse me," he said, before leading Seven over to a nearby biobed.

Del was immediately taken by the beautiful blond; despite her aloof manner. She could sense the insecure woman beneath the haughty exterior.

Janeway noticed the Commander's interest and was pleased by the chance to brag about her protégé.

"That's Seven of Nine, a member of my crew. She was assimilated by the Borg as a child and was a Borg drone when she originally came onboard." She grinned at the Commander's shocked expression. "You'll find Voyager has a very diverse crew, including a few we didn't start out with. The Doctor was able to remove most of her implants after I separated her from the collective. She's become a very valuable member of my crew," Janeway explained, the pride evident in her voice. Del was able to pick up other, less obvious emotions from the Captain. She cared a great deal for this Seven.

Del had so many questions but Janeway raised a hand stopping her before she could ask any of them.

"I know you must have a million questions. I'll make Voyager's mission logs available to you. Since it appears you're going to be with us for the foreseeable future I'll make sure quarters are available for you once the doctor releases you. We don't have any open quarters for a Commander so I'll be assigning you to the VIP quarters on Deck 3. Let me know if you need anything. I need to get back to the bridge."

"If I could ask one question before you go?" At Janeway's nod Del continued. "Am I under restriction?"

Janeway seemed genuinely surprised by the question. "No, Commander, you're not. Your only restrictions are those imposed by the doctor. Give yourself a few days to recover. I know what a shock this all must be. You have full run of the ship, look around, read Voyager's logs. Come to me when the doctor releases you to full duty and I'll put you to work. Again, I'm sorry for the loss of your colleagues," Janeway said sincerely.

"Thank you, Captain."

Janeway gave Del's arm one last squeeze before heading out of sickbay.

With Janeway gone Del couldn't help but watch the Doctor and Seven of Nine. He appeared to be checking the implants on her face. Del was captivated by the gorgeous blond and was surprised when she sensed her discomfort with the exam because nothing of her distress showed on her beautiful face. Just watching without being able to sense the underlying emotions would lead you to believe she was the epitome of haughty disinterest; a queen being attended by her servant but Del knew better. The exam over Seven stood and started to walk out of sickbay.

"Hello," Del called when Seven neared the foot of her bed.

Seven stopped in her tracks and turned to appraise the woman in the biobed. "You are from the escape pod we picked up."

"Yeah, Del MacMillan," Del greeted with a smile, extending her hand to Seven. She could sense the blonds' hesitation. Seven came to an apparent decision and took hold of her outstretched hand. Del almost pulled away in surprise when an electrical tingle shot up her arm at Seven's touch. Though Seven's face remained passive she could sense her surprise realizing she had felt it as well.

"I am Seven of Nine - Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero One," Seven stated formally.

"It's a pleasure to meet you," Del replied, not the least bit affected by the woman's apparent cold manner. She knew it for the defense it was. Del glanced down surprised to find she was still holding Seven's hand. Seven didn't seem aware of it either. She reluctantly let go of her hand instantly missing the warmth. She sensed Seven's confusion at the loss of contact as well. They stood staring at each other for several moments.

The Doctor had been watching the interaction between the two women with increasing irritation. He strode over to the biobed.

"Now Delores, you need your rest. Seven, you shouldn't be tiring my patient out."

Del glared at the doctor. "I told you it's Del or Commander," she ground out, "and she's not tiring me out. I'm fine."

"Tsk…tsk… Commander, I only have your best interest at heart."

Del growled at the Doctor's condescending manner. She wondered if there was a way to turn him off. She reached out unthinkingly when Seven turned to walk away and put a restraining hand on her arm. The same tingle she felt before surfaced again.

"Please don't go," Del requested.

Seven looked down at the hand on her arm in surprise. Janeway and the Doctor where the only crew members who touched her so casually. She looked up into Del's warm blue eyes and hesitated. This woman's whole reaction to her was confusing… did she not realize what she was.

The Doctor opened his mouth to further protest. "Computer, deactivate EMH." Seven did not know why she did it but it seemed the right thing to do at the time. The doctor disappeared mid-protest.

Del laughed in relief. "Thanks," she said, turning a bright smile on Seven. "I should've thought of that."

"Only senior officers can turn him off," Seven informed her. She was further confused when Del threw her head back and laughed heartily.

"I can understand that. Everyone would be turning him off if they had the chance," Del chuckled.

Seven was starting to feel bad for deactivating the doctor. "He's a good doctor and takes excellent care of the crew. He has been invaluable to our survival." Seven opened her mouth to reactivate the doctor.

"Wait!" Del said stopping her. "I'm sorry, I know I owe him my life, it's just he can be a tad overbearing and I'm frustrated being stuck in this bed," she explained.

Seven could understand that, there were many times she had been subjected to the doctor's overbearing personality.

"Could I ask you for a favor?" Del questioned.

Seven's implant over her eyebrow rose in response and Del was totally charmed.

"Could you replicate me a pair of PJs'? This sheet leaves a lot to be desired with all the people coming in and out of here." She had asked the doctor and he put her off.

"PJs'?" Seven questioned, obviously unfamiliar with the term.

"Pajamas," Del clarified. "Attire used for sleeping or when stuck in a biobed," Del added. She couldn't help wondering how Seven didn't know what pajamas were but she could sense the woman's true lack of understanding and something else she couldn't quite place, a sense of discomfort.

"I do not sleep," Seven stated, "I regenerate. Though the Doctor has suggested I try sleeping," She told Del as if it was perfectly normal as she walked over to the replicator.

Del realized to Seven it probably was normal not to require sleep. She really needed to access Voyager's logs. She was fascinated by this woman and wanted to find out everything she could about her.

Seven returned with a pair of dark blue cotton pajamas and placed them at the end of the bed. "Are these acceptable? I queried the computer for basic sleep attire." Seven had noticed the woman was tall and that they were very similarly built, so when the computer had ask for a size she had used her own.

"They're perfect. Thanks," Del said with a smile.

"I have to get back to Astrometrics," Seven informed Del. Again she started to reactivate the doctor only to have Del stop her.

"Umm…would you mind sticking around for a minute, I may need a hand getting these on?"

Seven nodded in agreement.

Del reached for the pajamas causing the sheet to pool around her waist. When she looked up and found Seven staring at her breasts she felt a hot blush cover her cheeks. She could not remember the last time a woman had made her blush. She quickly pulled on the top and buttoned it up.

Seven did not know what came over her. With the exception of pictures, she had never seen another woman's breasts except her own and they certainly did not look like that. She knew she should not be staring but couldn't seem to stop herself. She watched with interest as a red color suffused the Commander's face. Interesting…

Del had regained her composure now that she was covered. She dangled her legs over the biobed waiting for the dizziness to pass. She pulled up the pajama pants as far as she could before standing to pull them up. She grabbed the side of the biobed when her legs refused to hold her up. Her pants dropped around her ankles. She gasped in surprise when Seven stepped over wrapping an arm around her waist.

"Are you alright? Should I call the doctor?" Seven questioned, sounding slightly anxious. Maybe she should not have gotten the pajamas for the Commander.

"I'm fine, just getting my sea legs," Del joked.

Seven's expression betrayed her lack of understanding.

"A joke," Del explained. She was very conscious of the fact that she was only wearing a shirt and her pants were down around her ankles. Seven's arm wrapped around her waist wasn't helping her composure any.

"Um... Seven, could you give me a hand?" she asked, indicating her pants when Seven looked confused. She was afraid if she let go of the bed she would hit the floor. Her face flushed red once again. Del bit her lip to keep back a groan when Seven's warm hands slid up the outside of her thighs and hips as she pulled the pants into place. Surprisingly the hand she noticed earlier covered in some type of mesh was just as warm as the more human one. She swallowed heavily surprised at the arousal caused by the innocent touch.

"Thanks," Del murmured huskily. She gasped in shock when Seven swept her up into her arms and deposited her back on the biobed. She was not a small woman by any means, though when they were standing Seven met her eyes evenly.

Seven misinterpreted Del's gasp and quickly jerked her arms back as if burned, thinking the woman was repulsed by her touch. Del immediately sensed the reaction and quickly reached out keeping Seven from completely withdrawing.

"Thanks. I was wondering how I was going to make it back into that bed," she said, smiling at Seven, wanting to assure her that she wasn't upset and unconsciously stroked Seven's arm.

Seven was well aware of the Commander's touch and totally confused by the sensations it caused. She stepped away from the distracting touch and was surprised to find she missed it.

"I have to go," she said, part of her wanting to run away as fast as she could and the other part not wanting to leave at all.

Del sensed Seven's jumbled emotions and wanted nothing more than to reach out and hold her even as she acknowledged the impossibility of it.

"Thank you for your help. I really appreciated it," she said, smiling sweetly.

"You are welcome, Commander," Seven replied with a slight lifting of the corner of her mouth. It was the closest Del had seen her give to a smile. She wondered if the woman ever smiled.

"Please, call me Del, all my friends do and I'd like us to be friends." Though Seven's expression never changed Del quickly sensed her shock at her request.

Who is this woman? Seven wondered incredulously. "I have to go, Del," she said. "I would like to be your friend too," she added shyly.

Del grinned. After the news Janeway had dropped on her, the day had taken a decidedly upward turn. Though she had only been onboard the Franklin for a few weeks before it was attacked she still felt the loss of her crewmates. But right now all she wanted to think about was the beautiful woman standing so shyly beside her biobed.

Seven walked to the doors of sickbay and stopped. She turned back to face Del. "Computer, reactivate EMH," she said, before stepping through the doors.

Del groaned as the doctor reappeared and started ranting at her. She glared over at Seven who stood in the open doorway. When the doctor turned to look Seven quickly stepped back allowing the doors to close but not before Del could have sworn she saw a mischievous sparkle in her vivid blue eyes.


Chapter Two

"Free at last!" Del muttered as she stepped out of sickbay and the door whooshed shut behind her. She had been confined to sickbay since she awakened three days ago. The doctor had gotten on her last nerve by the end of the first day and by the third she was ready to commit mayhem. After repeated requests to the doctor and finally to Janeway Del had gained her freedom. She had not seen Janeway since that first day though the captain had checked on her via com several times. The only up side of her time in sickbay had been the chance to read Voyager's logs and bring herself up to date. As fascinating as those logs were they were nothing compared to the information she found on Seven of Nine. The woman continued to intrigue her. She had been a little disappointed Seven had not come back to sickbay to visit her but with what she learned she was not particularly surprised. When she asked the doctor about Seven he happily filled her in on all the things he had done for Seven and how he was responsible for her transformation. He also condescendingly told her of how he had successfully tutored Seven in the ways of humanity. Del's dislike of the doctor had ratcheted up another notch at his self-important posturing. Though she could not sense his emotions Del soon came to realize the Doctor had feelings for Seven that extended well beyond the realm of friendship.

Using the schematics of Voyager's layout she memorized she headed for her assigned cabin. Del passed several crewmen on her way to the turbo lift; two greeted her pleasantly and introduced themselves obviously curious about her. The third crewman she encountered was a totally different story. Del felt herself bristle at the man's blatant appraisal. He smiled oily, his eyes lingering on her breasts.

"Welcome aboard Voyager," he greeted, "I'm Daniels. I'll be happy to show you around or if you need anything just let me know." His tone evidence of just what he had in mind.

As if his expression and tone of voice wasn't enough, Del's ability to sense his emotions added to her instant dislike of the man.

"Thank you, Ensign. Your assistance isn't required," Del replied coldly, dismissing the man. She felt his sudden surge of anger as she walked away.

Del looked around her cabin in surprise. It was the largest cabin she had ever had. There was a large living room, with an oversized couch as well as a comfortable looking sidechair and ottoman. The couch was placed under a wide expanse of view ports. The view of the passing stars with the ship at warp was mesmerizing. There was also a separate dining area with a table and four chairs. Tucked in the corner of the room was a desk with a terminal inset in its top. A door set in the back of the room led to a separate large bedroom with a queen bed, two small bedside tables and a large walk-in closet. A quick peek into the ensuite showed not only a shower but a tub as well. Her quarters checked out, Del began to pace restlessly. She didn't have any belongings to put away; she had lost everything when the Franklin was destroyed. She felt a stinging behind her eyes as she thought of her lost comrades. Del was not used to being inactive and after being confined to bed for the last three days she was going stir crazy. The doctor refused to release her to return to duty and insisted she take the week off.

Frustrated Del decided to do some exploring of her new home. On impulse she queried the computer. "Computer, locate Seven of Nine."

"Seven of Nine is currently located in Astrometrics," the computer responded promptly.

Del stepped over to the computer console to double check the location of Astrometrics. Decision made she headed for the door.

Del strolled the corridors of Voyager familiarizing herself with the ship. She found herself outside the Science Labs. Knowing that Voyager already had a first officer she was already thinking ahead to what position she could occupy that would best serve the ship's needs. From what she understood Seven under took some of the duties of a science officer but she wasn't Starfleet and didn't fill the supervisory duties associated with the position. She was considering asking Janeway to assign her as science officer. Wanting to meet some of the other people assigned to the Science section she stepped into one of the labs.

A tall, well built, dark haired man with striking green eyes looked up when she entered. He sported the pips of a Commander. He looked momentarily startled then quickly recovered. "You must be Commander MacMillan," he said, coming out from behind the worktable where he had been examining rock samples and offering his hand to Del. "I'm Paul Grimes."

"Nice to meet you," Del returned, shaking his hand. She wasn't surprised he knew who she was; it was a small ship and news spread at warp speed.

"Familiarizing yourself with the ship?" he asked curiously.

"Yeah, I just got out of sickbay and after being cooped up for so long thought I'd stretch my legs and have a look around."

"Well I'd be happy to show you around the lab. There's no one but myself working at the moment. I head this particular lab, which focuses on the planetary sciences. I myself specialize in geology. As you can imagine in our current situation there isn't much call for planetary specialists. We get our occasional outing when Voyager finds a planet with possible supplies but that hasn't been very often lately. We work with just a skeleton staff; the majority of our people double as maintenance workers," Grimes explained.

Del allowed the Commander to show her around the lab asking pertinent questions as they went. "It must be very helpful to have someone of Seven of Nine's expertise onboard helping out," Del commented innocently. She was surprised at the sudden surge of distrust and hostility that emanated from Grimes.

"Well just between us, I think Janeway made a real mistake keeping her onboard. Should've blown her out the airlock like Chakotay did the rest of those creatures. Don't be fooled by her, she's not to be trusted," Grimes declared adamantly.

Trying hard to hide her shock she quickly changed the subject.

"Well I should get going there're other areas of the ship I want to check out. Thanks for taking the time to show me around."

"My pleasure. Say, how about I take you to lunch. I could introduce you around to everyone," Grimes invited, his green eyes sparkling. He would love to walk into the mess hall with the beautiful Commander on his arm. He knew his shipmates would be green with envy.

Del knew exactly what Grimes had in mind, his emotions fairly radiating from him.

"Thank you but no," Del politely declined. After making her farewells, she resumed her impromptu tour of Voyager.

Unsurprisingly in due course she found herself outside the door to Astrometrics. After leaving the Science Lab Del stopped to make conversation with several people she met along the way. When she managed to bring the conversation around to Voyager's diverse crew and Seven of Nine in particular she had been surprised at the reactions ranging from distain to outright hostility when she mentioned her. She couldn't understand the crew's reaction. She was a newcomer and outsider but everyone had gone out of their way to make her feel welcome. Seven had from what she understood been onboard for almost a year but was still perceived as an outsider. Del hoped she had just happen to run into people who didn't care for Seven but she was beginning to have her doubts. Seven's own surprised reaction to her offer of friendship led her to believe that Seven was not treated well by the crew.

Pushing aside the disturbing thoughts Del entered Astrometrics. Seven was working at a console in the center of the room and didn't even look up when she entered but Del could sense a sudden tension in Seven. She was wearing the same type of form fitting bodysuit she had when Del had first seen her in Sickbay. She wondered why she wasn't wearing something more comfortable than the skin tight suit and high heels. Not that she didn't appreciate seeing the assets the suit prominently displayed but the idea of Seven being constantly on display bothered her for some reason.

Del walked over to the console. "Hi Seven," she greeted with a smile.

Seven looked up and her face showed a flicker of surprise before her features resumed their normal placid expression.

"Commander, how may I be of assistance?" Seven inquired as if Del's appearance in Astrometrics was an everyday occurrence.

Del might have been hurt by Seven's business like greeting if she hadn't been able to sense the blonds' underlying nervousness at her presence. After all, the last time she saw Del she had been in recovering in sickbay. Most people would have inquired about her recovery. It just reinforced for Del the fact that she should not react to Seven's projected persona and instead ought to go on what she could feel of her underlying emotional state.

"The Doctor finally released me from Sickbay. I've been familiarizing myself with Voyager and thought I'd drop by and see Astrometrics," Del explained. "And I thought we'd agreed you'd call me Del. I'm not on duty and there's no one else around." She reminded Seven. "How about you tell me all about this place?" Del requested gesturing around the room."

Seven seemed to relax as she led Del around the lab explaining the various functions of the equipment and what her job was. Del could sense her obvious pride in her accomplishments. Not that you would have known it from watching Seven; her expression and tone of voice never changed. She might have been reading a grocery list for all the enthusiasm in her voice and manner. They finally made their way back to the main console. Del stepped close to Seven to see the display she was indicating. She sensed Seven's surprise at her proximity but didn't think twice about it. Her arm pressed against the back of Seven's and she felt the same electric tingle she had when she touched Seven in Sickbay. When she moved her breast brushed Seven's back and she felt Seven shiver and the tingle intensify. Del moved back a step breaking the contact, she wondered if it had anything to do with her implants.

Del knew Seven had been discomforted by the physical contact but there was something else there as well. She just had not quite caught it, it had been so fleeting. Del's stomach chose that moment to growl loudly. Seven turned and looked at her questioningly her implant over her eyebrow arching.

Del felt her face flush in embarrassment at her wayward stomach. "I didn't eat any breakfast. I was in a hurry to get out of sickbay." She could sense Seven's confusion at her explanation. "Doesn't your stomach growl when you're hungry?"

"My alcove meets all my needs. At the doctor's insistence I ingest a nutritional drink; he said if I eat more I would be less dependent on my alcove but I have never heard my stomach make such a noise."

"Surely you've heard other people's stomach's growl?" Del asked somewhat incredulously.

"The only person who would stand in such close proximity to me for me to hear their stomach would be Captain Janeway and I've never noticed her stomach making that particular sound," Seven stated flatly.

Del shook her head in amazement. No wonder Seven had seemed so surprised by her touch earlier and previously in Sickbay. It sounded as if she had no physical contact with anyone, not even a casual touch by a friend.

"Don't you have any close friends onboard Seven?" Del immediately regretted the question. Although Seven's expression never changed she sensed a deep hurt and sadness radiating from her.

"Captain Janeway has been my mentor, helping me with my struggle to regain my humanity. She told me she would not always be able to be my friend because of her position aboard Voyager. The Doctor has also been a mentor to me, and he is my friend."

Del couldn't believe it, two people out of a crew of one hundred and forty-five and both of those people were really more mentor than close friend. Del shook her head in disgust, what was the matter with these people? Del knew she was attracted to the beautiful blond and wanted more than friendship from her but for now she was determined to be the friend Seven had obviously never had. "I'm glad you have people who care about you Seven. I know we've just met but I'd very much like to be your friend as well," Del said sincerely. She could sense Seven's uncertainty as well as an underlying fear.

Seven for her part could not understand why this woman would want to befriend her. She was well aware of the fact that she was almost universally disliked, despised or downright hated by the crew. At best the crewmembers that were not overtly hostile merely tolerated her presence. Why should this woman be any different and why did she make her insides flutter just being in the same room with her? Seven decided she should be honest with Del and let her know being friends was not a good idea.

"I am Borg. I will never be totally human. You are new aboard Voyager. Being seen with me will alienate you from the crew. Those who do not fear me and what I am despise me for my actions while I was a drone," Seven stated succinctly. Knowing the Commander would rethink her offer now that she knew the truth, Seven could not help the part of herself that wished she could be friends with the intriguing woman. She turned back to her console not wanting to see Del walk away. After several moments she looked up in surprise and found Del staring at her. She met her blue eyes directly.

"I could care less what the crew thinks. I choose who I'm friends with. I find you an incredibly intelligent, articulate and intriguing woman, who I'd very much like to get to know better. Unless, of course, you don't want to be friends with me?"

"I do," Seven blurted out anxiously, surprising even herself. She was further shocked to feel a strange heat suffuse her face.

Del couldn't resist the grin that broke over her face. It was the first even slightly emotional reaction she had ever seen from Seven and the blush was just adorable.

"Then it's settled…friends?" Del intentionally held out her left hand to Seven.

Seven looked at Del's offered hand then into her eyes. Del could feel her trepidation. She projected at Seven a sense of acceptance and friendship. Seven slowly reached out for Del's hand and closed her mesh-covered hand carefully around Del's. Del smiled at her reassuringly. She wasn't sure how long they stood with their hands clasped together when her stomach growled again breaking the moment.

Del laughed. "Could I interest you in going to lunch with me?" she invited.

"I do not require a nutritional substance at this time."

Del decided to try a different tack. "Then come and keep me company," she proposed. She could feel Seven debating with herself. "Please…I hate to eat alone," she added, with her best puppy dog look.

"That would be acceptable," Seven responded seemingly emotionlessly.

Del was beginning to see what the crew's problem was with Seven. If she wasn't able to sense the woman's emotions she admitted Seven's demeanor would have put her off. She was nervous and unsure of Del's invitation but she came across as very cold, emotionless with a haughty demeanor. Del was quickly coming to realize what a vulnerable, insecure woman laid beneath the arrogant facade. Del wondered how much of her demeanor was due to her time with the Borg and how much was really a cover for her inexperience and uncertainty in dealing with social situations.

"Come on then," Del encouraged reaching out to grasp Seven's hand pulling her from behind her console and toward the door.

Seven actually stumbled slightly in surprise but willingly followed Del out of the room.

The walk to the mess hall was quiet. The two crewmembers they passed greeted Del pleasantly but neither acknowledged Seven. Del felt herself bristle at their attitudes but Seven seem to accept their behavior as normal, which infuriated Del further. Seven's stride seemed to slow the closer they got to the mess hall. Del noted her growing discomfort. They stopped just outside the door to the mess hall and Del watched as Seven's expression grew even more aloof than she had ever seen it. Seven jumped when Del placed her hand on the small of her back. Del left her hand in place allowing Seven to grow used to her touch projecting calming reassurance.

"Ready?" Del asked calmly, when she felt Seven relax.

She sensed Seven's surprise; obviously she was not used to someone being able to read her. Seven nodded her head.

Conversation quickly ground to a halt with the entrance of the two blonds. Though they shared blond hair and blue eyes they looked nothing alike but they were both beautiful women in their own right. Together with their statuesque builds they made a stunning pair. Del felt the roiling emotions ripple through the mess hall. She ignored everyone and keeping her hand on the small of Seven's back led her over to a table in the far corner. Del made sure she took the seat facing the room's occupants. Conversation slowly picked back up but Del was well aware of the curious glances she and Seven were garnering.

Del had met Neelix and tasted his cooking while she was in Sickbay. Neelix was a nice enough man if a little over enthusiastic in his efforts to please but his cooking left a lot to be desired. She decided to use some of her replicator rations to procure lunch.

Del glanced over at Seven; she was sitting ramrod straight in her chair with her hands resting in her lap.

"Are you sure you wouldn't like some lunch?"

Seven remembered the Doctor's lessons and his lectures on the fact that eating was considered a social interaction not merely a means of sustaining the body. That people sharing their favorite food was one way of developing a closer bond with them. Seven never really understood the concept. She had tried a few things but everything tasted the same to her, very bland and tasteless. She had seen crewmembers sharing meals, heard them talking about how this thing was so good and that was so bad but it was something she had never personally experienced.

"I could consume my nutritional supplement at this time."

That wasn't quite what Del had in mind but it was something, Seven was trying in her own way. "Great, come on… I see an open replicator."

Seven and Del sat back down at the table with their respective lunches. Del wrinkled her nose at the nasty looking green shake Seven had chosen. She had selected a grilled cheese sandwich with potato chips and dill pickles.

Del took a big bite of her sandwich humming in pleasure at the taste. She noticed Seven watching her intently. "Would you like some?" Del offered, holding out the other half of her sandwich.

Seven shook her head, then felt a need to explain at Del's disappointed look. "I have tried different foods at the Doctor's insistence. He feels that if I were to eat more I would be less dependant on my alcove but I never understood the fascination people seem to have for food. It all seems the same to me, a very bland, tasteless substance. I get everything I need from my shake," Seven explained.

Del remembered some of the medical information she read about Seven and the Doctor's theory that her taste buds had atrophied from disuse. That was the real reason he had been encouraging her to try different foods besides lessening her dependence on her alcove. He had hoped with use her taste buds would regain their sensitivity. Del debated with her self about what she was about to do. Though it was well documented in her personnel record that she was an empath; she had other skills that Starfleet nor anyone for that matter were aware of. She realized these abilities early on but had made the decision to keep them a secret. She was not only a strong empath but was able to project feelings and sensations toward another person. In this case she could project to Seven the correct taste of whatever she was eating and allow her to enjoy the experience everyone took for granted when eating. She figured with time Seven's own taste buds might take over. Praying she was doing the right thing she held out half of her sandwich to Seven again.

"Give it a try, you've never had a grill cheese sandwich have you? Maybe it'll be different," Del encouraged.

Seven looked at the sandwich suspiciously then back at Del.

"Please…" Del pleaded, reaching out with her other hand to gently stroke Seven's arm, "for me."

Seven's stomach fluttered at Del's touch. Having never experienced this type of subtle persuasion she quickly gave in and gingerly took the sandwich from Del's fingers. Del quickly got the taste firmly set in her mind ready to project it to Seven as soon as she took a bite. Seven raised the sandwich to her mouth and took a small bite. Her eyes went wide and she unconsciously hummed in pleasure when the taste hit her tongue. She quickly took a second larger bite.

She looked up meeting Del's eyes. "This is good," she said, with more emotion in her voice than Del had heard before.

She grinned at Seven. "I told you." Del's heart slammed in her chest when a fleeting smile flashed across Seven's face. It had for just a second illuminated her face turning her from a beautiful woman into a gorgeous one.

"Want to try a potato chip?" Del asked, pushing her plate toward Seven.

Seven eagerly reached out and took a chip off the plate. Her face scrunched up at the unfamiliar salty taste. She took a second chip from the plate and tried it knowing what to expect this time.

"I like these too," Seven enthused.

Del looked on in delight as Seven ate her sandwich and all the chips on her plate. Any guilt she felt for what she was doing was quickly washed away by the obvious pleasure on Seven's face. Del was fascinated watching her features come alive as she enjoyed her lunch.

Seven looked up at Del then back down at her empty plate. A light blush covered her face when she realized she had eaten Del's lunch.

"I ate your lunch," Seven stated, abashed at her behavior.

Del laughed good-naturedly. "Don't worry about it. I offered, remember. I'm glad you enjoyed it."

"I never knew anything could taste so good. Do you know other foods that taste this good?" Seven asked somewhat hopefully.

"Let's not over do; that was a pretty big meal compared to the shakes you usually drink." Del cautioned. She almost fell out of her chair when Seven's lower lip stuck out just slightly in the cutest pout she had ever seen. Seven seemed totally unaware of it. "Tell you what, how about you come to my cabin tonight around 1800 and I'll make us some dinner," Del offered.

"That would be acceptable," Seven responded. "What is that?"

Del looked down and smiled when she saw what Seven was pointing at. On a small side plate rested two dill pickles she had ordered with her sandwich. She picked one up and offered the other to Seven. "These are dill pickles."

Seven took a bite of the pickle and Del provided her with the appropriate taste. Seven's brow furrowed and her mouth twisted in distaste. She swallowed the bite she had taken and gingerly laid the rest of the pickle down. It was all Del could do not to burst out laughing at the look on her face.

"I think there is something wrong with those," Seven stated seriously.

This time Del couldn't help herself and started to chuckle. "I guess they are kind of an acquired taste. I assure you, that's how they're supposed to taste."

"I do not think I will ever acquire a taste for that," Seven said, eyeing the pickle in obvious distaste.

"Got it, no more pickles," Del said, trying to stifle her laughter. She did not want Seven to think she was laughing at her.

She met the eyes of several people who were staring causing them to look away. Del was well aware of the attention they were drawing. Emotions in the room had turned mostly to curiosity and amazement with one exception. Someone in the room was harboring an extreme resentment against Seven and herself. It was equally mixed with anger and lust. She let her gaze slide over the room trying to figure out who the emotions were coming from. Daniels, who she had encountered earlier was standing near the door with another man. The emanations strengthened sharply when she met his angry eyes but he quickly looked away.

"I must return to Astrometrics," Seven said, breaking into her thoughts.

Del nodded reluctantly. "Okay I'll walk you back."

As they made their way among the tables to the door Del unconsciously put her hand on Seven's lower back. She became aware of it when she felt Seven's surprise. She started to pull way then realized that Seven wasn't uncomfortable and seemed pleased by the contact so she happily left her hand in place. When they reached the area near the door Daniels and his buddy blatantly ogled them. Del glared at both men wondering if it would make things worse if she called them on their behavior. She decided to take Seven's tactic and totally ignore the men. Just as they were going out the door she heard Daniels mutter something but she didn't quite catch what it was. His friend leaned over and whispered to him causing them both to laugh. At the sudden stiffening of Seven next to her she was willing to bet she had heard what was said.

Neither spoke on the way back to Astrometrics each lost in their own thoughts. Del followed Seven back into the lab.

"I must return to work," Seven informed her.

"I know," Del acknowledged though she didn't want to leave. "Did you hear what Daniels said as we were leaving the mess hall?"

"Yes," Seven admitted. "He said 'arrogant bitch'."

"Does he always speak to you like that?" Del questioned wondering if she should go to Janeway about the man's attitude.

"He does not like me and is aware of my sensitive hearing. He always makes sure no one is able to hear his comments but me. He is of no consequence."

"It's still not right, Seven. You shouldn't have to tolerate that type of behavior."

"As I told you before I am not well liked aboard Voyager and many people feel I should have been destroyed for my actions as a drone."

Del's heart broke at the sadness Seven tried so hard to mask.

"I am a productive member of the crew regardless of people's reservations and Captain Janeway trusts me."

"From what I've read of Voyager's logs you're an invaluable member of this crew and have saved many lives, many times over. You deserve to be treated with respect. The treatment you receive from people like Daniels is unacceptable."

"He is of no consequence." Seven reiterated. "I must return to work." Effectively ending the conversation.

"Okay, I'll see you at 1800 right?"

Seven nodded then turned her attention back to her console.

Del sighed frustrated and made her way to the door.


Chapter Three

Del paced nervously. Seven was due any minute. She glanced over to where set the table in preparation for her arrival wondering if Seven thought this was a date. Del hadn't issued the invitation as a date but certainly was not against the concept. Does she even know what a date is? Del wondered. She looked worriedly down at her attire; she had changed out of her uniform and into a short sleeved knit shirt and drawstring cotton pants. Maybe I should've stayed in my uniform. She had taken a single step toward her bedroom when the door chime sounded. Glancing at the chronometer she saw it was exactly 1800 hours. "Shit," she muttered as she stepped over to the door. Del took a deep breath before keying the door.

"Hi Seven," she greeted. "I'm so glad you could make it." Del knew Seven was nervous and tried to make her as comfortable as possible.

Seven noticed Del's change in attire and worried she was supposed to have changed into something else but she was unsure what that would be.

"Are you hungry?"

Seven's brow furrowed. "I am not sure," she said hesitantly.

"Dinner can wait, why don't we sit on the couch for a bit and get to know each other better. Would you like a drink?" Del offered as they made their way over to the couch.

"Alcohol interferes with the functioning of my cortical implant."

"No problem, I have just the thing," Del said, stepping over to the replicator. "Two glasses of sparkling cider, chilled," she ordered. She carried the glasses over to the couch where Seven still stood. "Have a seat," Del invited, handing Seven her glass once she was settled.

Del took in Seven's rigid posture. She sat on the edge of the cushions with her back ramrod straight, knees together, looking very uncomfortable. Del relaxed back against the cushions and stretched out her long legs in front of her.

Seven looked at the glass in her hand with just a hint of suspicion.

"It's non-alcoholic."

Seven took a cautious sip, then a second larger one. "This is good."

"Glad you like it. I made pasta for dinner. I hope that's alright."

"Is it as good as grilled cheese sandwiches?" Seven questioned seriously.

"Better," Del assured with a smile.

They fell silent as they sipped their drinks but it was a comfortable silence. Del smiled to herself when Seven finally moved back and leaned against the cushions in a more relaxed pose, at least for her. Del decided since she already knew some things about Seven it was only fair to tell Seven about herself. She told her of her short time aboard the Franklin. Seven listened avidly eager to find out all she could about Del.

As the evening continued Seven was surprised at how comfortable she was with Del. Not even during her philosophical discussions with Captain Janeway had she felt this relaxed and at ease. But it was more than that; Del stirred strange feelings in her she had never experienced before. Del had not touched her since her arrival and she could not figure out why that caused such a feeling of disappointment. Why would Del touching her suddenly be so important?

Del noticed Seven's waning attention and sensed her jumbled emotions. "What's wrong?" Del questioned softly.

Seven jerked back to awareness at the sound of Del's voice. She felt that uncomfortable heat cover her face as it had before. Her thoughts had distracted her, causing her to lose track of the conversation and that was something that did not happen to her.

"I am sorry. I do not know what happened," Seven said, her confusion apparent.

Del smiled at her understandingly. She reached over and patted her arm. "Don't worry about it."

Seven shivered slightly when she felt the strange tingle Del's touch always invoked.

"Ready for dinner?" Del invited, hoping to distract Seven from whatever was bothering her.

Seven nodded eagerly.

They made their way over to the table. Del got Seven situated then headed for the replicator to get their dinner. She had made her selections earlier and had the replicator holding them in stasis.

Seven looked down at the plate then up at Del curiously.

"It's called Fettuccini Alfredo, it's pasta in a cream sauce with herbs." Del took her seat and glanced over at Seven. She immediately realized she had no clue how to eat what was in front of her. Cursing herself mentally for not picking something simpler, she picked up her fork and expertly twirled several strands of pasta around it and took a large bite. She noted Seven watching her intently. Seven picked up her fork and attempted to copy Del's actions. Her eyes widened at the first taste of the pasta. As she had done earlier with the cider, unbeknownst to Seven, Del projected to her the appropriate taste.

"This is better than grilled cheese!" Seven said, allowing that tantalizing half smile Del had seen briefly at lunch to flash across her face.

The rest of the meal was fairly quiet as Seven concentrated on her meal. Del spent more of her meal watching Seven than actually eating.

"Don't you like it?" Seven asked indicating Del's almost full plate. She cocked her head to the side and looked at Del questioningly when she blushed.

"No, it's good," Del assured her, digging into the rest of her meal.

When they finished eating they retired back over to the couch neither woman anxious for the evening to end. They talked for a bit about Voyager, but Del knew Seven had something else on her mind.

Seven did indeed have something on her mind but wasn't quite sure how to ask her question or even if she should. When the conversation naturally trailed off Seven decided to take a chance. Up until now Del had been nothing but straight forward with her and she felt confident she would tell her if her questions were inappropriate.

"I have a question about something that happened today. I was going to ask the Doctor but considering it concerned us…" Seven hesitated. "Is it more appropriate to ask you?"

"Sure Seven, you can ask me about anything."

"I can?" Seven's surprise was evident. "Captain Janeway once told me she would answer any questions I might have but I soon found that she became very uncomfortable and suddenly busy especially if my question concerned human sexuality," Seven stated, matter of factly. She watched Del's reaction closely knowing how people reacted when she mentioned sexuality.

Del was well aware of Seven's scrutiny and kept her expression carefully blank. "Well, Seven, some people aren't comfortable discussing human sexuality. I assure you, you can ask me anything you wish. If I don't know the answer I'll help you find it… okay?" Del couldn't help but wonder what she was getting herself into but was determined to help Seven any way she could. She should not have to depend on a computer hologram to answer her questions and obviously Janeway was only willing to help up to a certain point.

Seven's thoughts whirled. If Del was really willing to answer her questions she wasn't going to waste any time in case she changed her mind. "Crewman Philips made a comment to Ensign Daniels this afternoon as we left the mess hall. I wish to know what it meant."

"Alright, what did he say?"

"'I'd pay money to see those two go at it.' Daniels laughed and agreed."

Del's first response was a flash of anger at the crewmen's behavior. She forced it down knowing Seven required a calm explanation. Del cleared her throat. "He was being crude and indulging in a common male fantasy. He was saying that he would be willing to pay money to be able to watch us engage in sexual intercourse."

"I do not understand. Why would he wish to do that? Copulation occurs between a man and a woman."

Del blinked in surprise. "Who told you that?" she questioned, much sharper than she intended.

Seven was taken by surprise by Del's response. "All of the social interactions and dating scenarios the doctor provided were between men and women. I assumed that since the purpose of mating was procreation, humans only copulated with a person of the opposite gender," she explained, very confused by the whole thing.

Del shook her head in disgust at the Doctor's blatant tactics. It could not have been an accident that he had only presented her with heterosexual choices. She had been right when she felt he had feelings beyond friendship for Seven and now to find out he had used her so called lessons to stack the deck in his favor. Del took a deep breath trying to calm herself.

"You have access to the assimilated knowledge of the Borg…correct?"

"Yes, all the knowledge they had assimilated up until the time I was severed from the Collective."

"In all the species that you know about are there not instances of sexual intercourse between people of the same gender?"

Seven's gaze became distant for several seconds. "Yes, there are, in almost all races including humans. But the doctor did not include that as a viable alternative and only presented me with a list of the male members of the crew. I assumed it was an unacceptable deviation from the norm."

"Wait 'til I get my hands on the Doctor!" Del muttered sharply under her breath, forgetting about Seven's sensitive hearing.

"If I correctly interpret your anger toward the Doctor, am I to understand I assumed incorrectly?"

"First off, there are more reasons to mate than just to procreate, though that is an option for same gender couples if they choose to do so. The Doctor only presented you with half the truth. While it is true that the majority of humans are heterosexual i.e. a man and a woman there is also a percentage that are homosexual i.e. prefer their own gender. Both are perfectly acceptable," Del explained patiently. She decided not to even go into the fact that some people were bisexual not wanting to confuse Seven further.

"So when I considered possible mates aboard Voyager I could have considered the females aboard as well?"

"Yes," Del admitted, somewhat reluctantly. The thought of Seven with one of the crew was an unexpectedly unpleasant thought. "Though the woman you chose would have to be one who preferred her own gender as well."

"Which gender do you prefer to copulate with?" Seven asked, a suddenly very interested look on her face.

Del choked, surprised by Seven's directness then chastised herself for not being ready for the question. In all her interactions with Seven she had been nothing if not blunt. Del looked over and met Seven's eyes directly. "I prefer to make love with another woman." Del held her breath waiting Seven's reaction. She breathed a sigh of relief when Seven seemed to accept the information. Del wasn't quite sure but thought she might have detected a hint of pleasure at the revelation. Her thoughts were drawn back to Seven by her next question.

"Make love?"

"Yes, copulation refers to the physical act of intercourse regardless of the gender of the participants. Animals copulate, well humans can too but I much prefer the term 'make love' as it signifies the emotional component of intercourse as well as the physical. Some people choose to have sex as a purely physical interaction. They take physical pleasure from another person's body but have no emotional attachment or in your words, they copulate, a physical act. Love making is the emotional and physical combined and in my opinion much more satisfying."

Seven was silent for several minutes taking in all Del had told her. Finally she met Del's gaze. "Thank you," she offered simply.

"For what?" Del asked, confused.

"I have tried several times to discuss copulation with Captain Janeway. She always found an excuse to leave or change the subject. You answered my questions just as you promised. Why do humans have such trouble discussing their sexuality?" Seven asked, genuinely curious.

"It's a very private thing Seven. People are at their most vulnerable physically and emotionally when they're making love. It evokes strong emotions that most people are not comfortable talking about."

"But you answered my question without discomfort."

Del shrugged her shoulders. "I guess I'm not most people."

"Can I ask another question?" Seven requested eagerly.

"You don't have to ask first. Just ask me anything you want to know."

That brief half smile flittered over Seven's face and unconsciously she turned slightly on the couch until she was facing Del more fully. She had tried to go to the Doctor a few times but his lack of humanity often led to more confusion for Seven after he answered the question than before. Here was someone who not only answered her questions without discomfort but also encouraged her to ask them. Her excitement was apparent in not only her emotions but also the look of anticipation on her face.

"What does it mean… 'If I don't get some relief soon, I'm going to have to take matters into my own hands'?"

"Where did you hear that?" Del asked, stalling for time and beginning to realize just what she had gotten herself into when she offered to answer Seven's questions but was determined to persevere.

"In the mess hall. Two of the crew were talking about working double shifts. One of the crewmen complained about not seeing his girlfriend recently then made the statement."

"He was most likely talking about masturbating. Are you familiar with the term?" Del asked, not wanting to assume a level of knowledge Seven didn't have.

"I came across it in my brief study of human sexuality. The computer defined it as self-stimulation of the sexual organs for the purpose of sexual release. It didn't provide any examples," Seven said, somewhat disappointedly.

"Well that's what the crewman was referring to from what you've said. He was unable to have sex with his girlfriend and was going to masturbate to provide some relief."

"Do you masturbate?" Seven asked bluntly.

Damn! Well I did tell her she could ask me anything. Determined not to make Seven uncomfortable or feel she couldn't ask questions Del met her gaze directly. "Yes, Seven, I do, when the need arises."

"Would you show me how?"

"Excuse me?" she asked, trying to hide her shock. Del knew she could not have possibly just heard Seven ask her to show her how to masturbate.

"Would you show me how to masturbate? Should I remove my clothing?" Seven asked again, thinking Del hadn't understood what she was asking.

Del seemed to lose the power of speech for several moments. That's when Seven seemed to realize she had asked something inappropriate and began to feel very uncomfortable. Del was brought back to her senses by the sudden burst of anxiety emanating from Seven. She quickly pulled herself together and addressed Seven while looking her directly in the eye. She didn't want Seven to sense any of her discomfort or her acute arousal at the thought of what Seven had suggested.

"It wouldn't be appropriate for me to actually show you how to masturbate but I can show you several books in the database that will explain the basics and provide illustrations."

"That would be acceptable," Seven agreed readily, but couldn't help feeling a little disappointed Del wasn't willing to show her. Some how the thought of Del touching her made her feel warm inside and ignited a strange tingling sensation between her legs.

Del sensed Seven's disappointment and fought to keep her own reaction to the thought of touching Seven from showing on her face. She glanced up at the chronometer and groaned.

Seven followed her gaze and was surprised to find it was after midnight. "I should go. The Doctor would not approve of me keeping you up so late with you just out of sickbay," Seven said as she stood to leave. She was amazed; usually she looked forward to returning to the cargo bay in the evening and the solitude it provided. But tonight she didn't want to leave Del's quarters and actually dreaded the long hours of the night.

Del didn't want her to go either but knew she still wasn't completely recovered from her injuries and needed to rest. She walked Seven to the door of her quarters but stopped short of the sensor that would open them. She turned to face Seven. "I really enjoyed tonight and I'd like to have dinner together again soon."

"I would find that pleasant as well."

Going on impulse Del leaned forward and placed a chaste kiss on Seven's cheek. "Good night, Seven," she murmured. Del could feel Seven's shock and worried that she had gone too far. She was reassured when a brief flash of pleasure coursed through Seven.

"Good night, Del," Seven said softly before stepping through the doors.

Del stood rooted to the spot. She could still feel her lips tingling from the brief contact with Seven's soft cheek.

Seven had been affected by the kiss as well. She rubbed the still tingling spot on her cheek where Del's lips had been as she walked back to the cargo bay.

Del rolled over with a groan and cursed. She had been trying to fall asleep without success since shortly after Seven left. Every time she closed her eyes she replayed that last conversation with Seven in her mind with a very different outcome. She pictured Seven peeling down her tight bodysuit and offering that glorious body to her for instruction that Del was more than happy to provide. Growling Del threw off the covers refusing to give into the throbbing pressure between her legs. It had been a long time since she had been with anyone and the conditions aboard the Franklin had left little time or privacy for providing herself with a little relief.

She stripped off her pajamas and headed into the ensuite. Setting the shower for cold water she stepped in and gasped when the chilling spray hit her overheated body. Shivering she finally stepped from the shower and dried off before retrieving her pajamas and climbing back into bed. She felt guilty for her earlier fantasy about Seven. Somehow it felt like a violation of Seven's innocence and she would never do that.

Del groaned in frustration trying to relax and still feeling some residual arousal from earlier. She knew there was only one way she was going to get any sleep. Fixing her mind on one of her normally favorite fantasies Del allowed herself to respond to her body's demands. She slipped her hand into her pajama bottoms unsurprised to find herself already wet. She stroked the slick tissue under her hand allowing her fantasy full rein. As she reached her peak she was unable to stop the images of Seven that filled her mind. Her body slumped back to the bed and she quickly drifted off to sleep, her body sated.

Seven did not know what was wrong with her. She had spent last night in the cargo bay but had been unable to concentrate on her work for any length of time. Her thoughts kept returning to Del and the events of the day; first their lunch in the mess hall and then dinner in Del's quarters. Now she was in Astrometrics and was supposed to be working on the path Voyager needed to take through the upcoming area of space but again her thoughts were distracted wondering what Del was doing. "This is not efficient." She grumbled shocked when she realized she had spoken out loud to herself. She glanced at the chronometer seeing it was almost 1300 and felt a piercing sense of disappointment. She realized she had been hoping Del would ask her to lunch again. Drawing on all her mental abilities she forced the distracting thoughts aside and concentrated on her work trying to ignore her lingering sense of dissatisfaction. She had been working for approximately fifteen minutes when the door of Astrometrics whooshed open and a slightly out of breath Del hurried in.

"Hi, Seven. Is it too late to ask you to lunch? I'm sorry it's so late. I got tied up in Engineering with B'Elanna."

Seven stiffened slightly at the mention of the Chief Engineer then realized Del had meant to come earlier and ask her to lunch again. The thought caused a surge of pleasure.

"I have not consumed my nutritional supplement today."

Del hadn't missed Seven's reaction to the mention of B'Elanna. She had innocently mentioned Seven to the Chief Engineer and had been startled by the blatant dislike B'Elanna had displayed at the mention of their Astrometrics Officer.

"Is that a yes to lunch?" Del asked teasingly.

Seven looked at her quizzically not used to being teased. She felt her earlier confusion and dark mood lift at the openly affectionate smile on Del's face.

"Yes," she affirmed, stepping out from behind her console and over closer to Del.

Del fought to hide her surprise when Seven stepped into her personal space close enough that their arms brushed. As she had done outside the mess hall Del placed her hand on the small of Seven's back urging her toward the door. "Great, let's go. Today I want to introduce you to a hamburger and french fries." Del couldn't hold back a grin at sensing Seven's pleasure at her touch.

Seven could not explain why but she got great pleasure out of Del's hand resting comfortably on her back. No one's touch had ever invoked such feelings before. Deciding to stop analyzing it and just enjoy the sensation Seven matched her pace to Del's hoping she wouldn't remove her hand.

Del cooperated and kept her hand in place even when they passed other crewmen. Both women were aware of the startled looks but neither reacted or seemed to care. As had happened the previous day conversation died down immediately when the two blonds stepped into the mess hall. Del glared at several people who showed more than a passing interest in their entrance and they quickly looked away. Soon conversation returned to its previous level. Del led them over to the table they had occupied the previous day and left Seven there while she retrieved their lunch. She returned to find a grinning Tom Paris standing next to their table. Seven's expression was as emotionless as ever but Del sensed Seven's acute discomfort and her anger instantly rose.

"Can I help you Mr. Paris?" she asked sternly. She had met the brash helmsman while she was in sickbay and was less than impressed with what she was sure he considered his irresistible boyish charm.

"I wanted to invite you to join us for lunch." Tom smiled at Del with what he thought was a winning smile before turning to indicate a table where Harry Kim sat looking embarrassed. "You and Seven, " he added hastily when Del frowned.

"No thank you, Mr. Paris," Del rejected, sitting down with every intent of ignoring him.

"Well, I just thought you might enjoy a little stimulating conversation at lunch." He smirked with a quick glance at Seven his insinuation obvious.

Del was on her feet before she was even cognizant of the thought of getting up. She glared at Tom Paris allowing him to see and feel her anger, her blue eyes blazed. She easily matched him in height and could be very intimidating when she wished.

"I said no, Mr. Paris. I'm already having lunch with the companion of my choice. Your presence is not wanted…understand?"

Tom gulped at the wave of anger that seemed to roll off the Commander and quickly realized he had made a serious mistake. "No problem, Commander," he muttered as he stumbled away from the table.

Del unclenched her fists and forced her anger at the arrogant helmsman down. She resumed her seat and glanced over at Seven. Del knew how much Tom's words had hurt Seven though by looking at her you would never know she was even aware of what had been said.

"I should return to Astrometrics," Seven said quietly, feeling totally out of place. "I am sure the invitation to join Mr. Paris and Mr. Kim is still open."

Del reached out and stopped Seven when she attempted to rise. Seven met her eyes in surprise. Surely Del would rather have lunch with Paris and Kim than her.

"I didn't invite them to lunch, Seven. I invited you because you're who I want to spend my time with not them. Paris barged into our private lunch uninvited. If you really have to go back to Astrometrics then I'll go with you and maybe we could meet for dinner. I don't want to have lunch with anyone else," Del insisted earnestly.

Del waited for Seven to respond aware of her roiling emotions. Finally one emotion took predominance…pleasure.

Seven looked at Del almost shyly. "What are we going to have today?" she asked, looking down at the lunch Del had provided. "Is it very good?"

Del breathed a sigh of relief and resisted the urge to glare over at Paris. "Today we're having a hamburger with all the fixings and french fries. I left the pickles off your burger," Del said, laughing at the relieved look on her face. Del had brought Seven her own burger so she picked up her own taking a big bite and firmly setting the taste in her mind.

Seven followed Del's example. One glance into her face showed her liking of the burger. Del smiled, happy that she had chosen something Seven would like. "These are french fries," Del explained, pointing to them on her plate. "You can eat them plain or with ketchup, another alternative is malt vinegar but you might not like that."

Seven tried the plain french fry first, when that met her approval she met Del's eyes seeking her permission then dipped one in the ketchup on Del's plate. "That makes them even better," Seven said, picking up another fry and dipping it deeper into the ketchup this time. After finishing most of her burger and a good portion of her fries she grew brave. "Can I try that?" Seven asked, pointing to the bottle of malt vinegar Del had brought back to the table.

Not wanting to ruin Seven's lunch in case she didn't like it, Del sprinkled the malt vinegar on her remaining fries and ate several of them. Seven watched with interest. She pushed her plate over toward Seven urging her to take one.

Seven picked up the saturated fry and took a large bite. Her face immediately scrunched up and it was all Del could do not to burst out laughing. Seven swallowed the bite she had taken shuddering slightly at the taste. When Seven turned an accusing glare on her and pushed her plate back toward her she couldn't hold back any longer and started laughing.

"I'm sorry, Seven but you should've seen the look on your face. I did try to warn you," Del reminded. "Okay, now we know, no pickles and no malt vinegar."

Under any other circumstances Seven would have been hurt thinking Del was laughing at her but she quickly realized that was not the case. She remembered once seeing two crewmen in the mess hall trying dishes from each other's nationality and laughing when the other person tried something that obviously had an unexpected taste. She hadn't understood at the time but now realized they weren't being cruel to each other and that it was all in fun. Definitely a hard concept for her to grasp. But now she thought she might have a real inkling into the concept.

"I will take your warnings more seriously next time," Seven assured, smiling slightly when Del laughed. "I should get back to Astrometrics," Seven said reluctantly. She really didn't want to go.

"I spoke to Captain Janeway this morning and mentioned I'd really like to learn all about the Astrometrics lab. It never hurts to have people cross-trained. I don't have a permanent assignment yet since the Doctor hasn't released me to full duty. So would you mind me hanging around Astrometrics for a few days and teaching me how the lab works?"

Del felt her heart slam in her chest when a full-blown smile briefly crossed Seven's face. It was the first full smile she had ever seen and was determined to see lots more of them.

"That would be acceptable."

Though she used the words Del had grown used to they were unexpectedly filled with emotion. "Great… come on!" Del urged excitedly, looking forward to the chance to work with Seven.

Neither woman noticed Daniels watching with an angry look on his face as they exited the mess hall.


Chapter Four

The scuttlebutt concerning Del and Seven's daily appearance in the mess hall for lunch for the past week was flying around the ship. Rumors abound about the blossoming friendship. They ran the gamut from the benign to the ridiculous. B'Elanna had heard them all; from the two being just friends, to lovers, to the most absurd of Seven having secretly assimilated Commander MacMillan and that accounted for why she was willing to spend so much time with the resident Borg Ice Queen.

B'Elanna finally decided to check it out for herself. She was known as the Gossip Queen of the Ship and prided herself on knowing the real dirt before anyone else. When she heard the first rumors about Seven and the Commander she had dismissed them as made up gossip about a new crewmember. The rumors persisted and an increasing number of people claimed to have seen the pair in the mess hall together. One person even claimed to not only have seen Seven eat lunch with the Commander, but that, they had actually seen Seven smile. B'Elanna snorted to herself in disbelief.

She stepped into the mess hall and quickly glanced around wanting to make sure she was in position before they arrived. A crewman had told her what table they usually sat at and B'Elanna made sure she had an unobstructed view.

She didn't have long to wait and got her first shock when the two blonds entered the room walking closely side by side deep in conversation. The second came when they turned to head for their table. That's when she saw the Commander's hand resting comfortably in the small of Seven's back as she led her over to their table. Seven remained at the table while Commander MacMillan headed for the replicator.

B'Elanna watched as the woman took her turn at the replicator and then walked back toward Seven with two plates of food. She couldn't tell what she ordered but it certainly wasn't the usual shake Seven drank. She continued to watch in utter disbelief as Seven began to consume her lunch along with her companion. When Commander MacMillan said something to Seven and reached out to stroke her arm B'Elanna almost fell out of her chair at the answering half smile that briefly flashed across Seven's face. Seven had been onboard almost a year and B'Elanna had never seen her have anything for lunch except those nasty shakes. Add to that the fact that she had actually seen Seven smile and B'Elanna was totally intrigued. Determined to find out just what was going on between the two she headed for their table.

"Hey Commander," B'Elanna greeted in a friendly tone. "Seven," she added as a seeming afterthought nodding to the blond.

Del had hoped bringing Seven to the mess hall everyday would help her crewmates see her in a different light. She was well aware of the scuttlebutt going at warp speed around the ship. So far no one other than Tom Paris had approached their table. Hoping that if she could get B'Elanna to see Seven more favorably maybe some of the rest of the crew would come around. Del decided to take a chance.

"B'Elanna, why don't you join us," Del invited. "And I'm not on duty so Del is fine." She added with a slight smile wanting to keep the atmosphere as casual as possible. Del quickly glanced over at Seven feeling her sudden discomfort. Crossing her fingers that she was doing the right thing she quickly projected a sense of reassurance over toward Seven. She immediately felt her anxiety lessen and smiled reassuringly at Seven when she looked up.

Seven's comfort with and trust of her had grown by leaps and bounds over the last few days. Del didn't want to do anything that would damage that budding relationship. In addition to their lunches together, Seven had spent every evening over the past week in her cabin. Del had provided dinner as well as spent the evening answering the myriad of questions Seven seemed to have.

"Thanks, Del," B'Elanna said, acknowledging Del's permission to use her first name before taking a seat at the four-man table. Seven and Del were sitting across from each other so B'Elanna had a good view of both women opposite her. "What are you having for lunch?"

Del was pleasantly surprised when Seven spoke up before she could.

"Grilled cheese sandwiches; they are very good." The sandwiches were Seven's favorite of all the things they had tried for lunch so far. She had actually asked Del to order them today instead of accepting whatever Del ordered for her.

B'Elanna looked at her in shock for several seconds then finally found her voice. "Yeah, my Dad used to make them as a treat for us when I was a kid, they were great. I haven't had one in years."

Del offered B'Elanna half her sandwich. She took the offering eagerly then growled excitedly when she spotted the dill pickle slices on Del's plate.

"May I?" she asked Del even as she reached for the pickles.

Seven watched aghast as B'Elanna peeled open her sandwich and put the pickles inside.

B'Elanna glanced up and paused at the look of distaste on Seven's face. "What?" she asked hostilely. Though the hostile tone was automatic B'Elanna was actually fascinated by the emotions crossing Seven's face. She had never seen her show such emotion about anything.

"Those are pickles. I don't like pickles," Seven stated matter of factly.

B'Elanna laughed. "Those are the best part!" she enthused, taking a big bite of her sandwich and growling softly in pleasure. Her eyebrows shot up when Seven offered her half of her sandwich as Del had done. She hesitated for just a moment then accepted with a muted 'thanks.'

Del got up and ordered two more sandwiches. She offered a whole one to B'Elanna and split the other one with Seven. She and B'Elanna spoke about some of the needs of the ship and Seven sat quietly saying nothing. Del eventually managed to turn the conversation back to the discussion she had been having with Seven when they came in.

"So, Seven, you were telling me about the Class M planet coming up in the next system where we might find supplies," Del prompted, hoping to draw Seven into the conversation. You didn't need to be on Voyager long before knowing looking for additional supplies was a constant endeavor.

"Yes, it's a stable planet with a larger water to land ratio than normal. Long range scans show it to be uninhabited. Its distance from its sun makes for large temperate zones. So we may be able to find edible foodstuffs. " Seven explained, actually expressing verbally some excitement at the thought.

"Since when are you interested in foodstuffs?" B'Elanna questioned Seven.

"Del told me about the difference between replicated and fresh food. I wish to experience this."

So it's Del is it, very interesting. "Has Del been offering you lots of different foods?" B'Elanna asked curiously.

Del listened to the exchange and knew B'Elanna was honestly interested. Sensing no hostility from her she remained quiet.

"Yes, I especially like grilled cheese sandwiches," Seven said, a brief smile lighting her face. "Today we are going to try…" Seven looked over at Del for confirmation. "A hot fudge sundae." Her delight at the idea could clearly be heard in her voice.

B'Elanna couldn't believe it, who is this woman! She looked like Voyager's arrogant and aloof Astrometrics officer but she sure didn't act or sound like her for that matter. It totally threw off her perception of Seven. "Ah…that's great Seven, I'm sure you'll like it."

Seven was confused; B'Elanna was never this nice to her. At first she thought it was because of Del's presence but then she knew from past experience that someone else being around, even Captain Janeway had not stopped B'Elanna from expressing her disdain before. She and Del had had several conversations about the crew and their behavior toward her. She decided to follow Del's example and hoped it was the right thing. "Would you like to have a sundae with us?" she invited B'Elanna somewhat hesitantly but obviously sincerely.

Del could have stood up and cheered. This was going much better than expected. Seven had even managed to surprise her with the invitation to B'Elanna.

B'Elanna's eyebrows almost shot off her forehead in shock at Seven's invitation. Not only had the woman invited her to have dessert with them she actually sounded as if she meant it. She had heard more inflection in Seven's voice in the last half hour than she had in the last year. B'Elanna glanced over at Del curiously wondering how much she had to do with the sudden change in Seven. She flushed when she realized Seven was waiting for her answer.

"A sundae sounds great."

Del headed for the replicator leaving Seven and B'Elanna alone at the table. "So umm… you've been having lunch every day with Del huh?" B'Elanna asked, then cursed herself for stating the obvious.

"Yes, she is helping me in my endeavor to consume more food so that I will be less dependent on my alcove. She has been very helpful," Seven added, in a surprisingly warm voice.

B'Elanna met Seven's eyes amazed to see them sparkling with emotion. Whoa, something is really up here; I think Seven has a crush! "So you really like Del?"

"Very much, she is my friend."

B'Elanna didn't know how many more shocks she could take today. Seven was claiming someone was her friend!

Del chose that moment to return with the ice cream. Seven reached for hers eagerly. Del reached out and placed a restraining hand on her arm when Seven scooped up a big spoonful. "Don't chew it, just put it in your mouth and let it melt then swallow it." She instructed.

B'Elanna started to make a smart comment but caught Del's warning glare. It was then she realized how unfair she was being to Seven. She obviously never had ice cream or at least not that she could remember from before being taken by the Borg. B'Elanna had never really seen Seven as vulnerable or inexperienced. She had just seen the aloof and arrogant know it all attitude and allowed herself to react to that.

Now she was seeing a whole other side of Seven and began wondering what else she had misjudged about the woman. For the first time she tried to imagine what it would be like trying to cope when suddenly thrust into a crew as a full grown adult when your last true experience with people had been as a six year old child.

She couldn't help speculating how Del had been able to see that vulnerable part of Seven that all of them had seemed to miss. Except Captain Janeway, B'Elanna admitted to herself. She had tried several times to help Seven socialize with the crew. The problem was Janeway herself stood apart from the crew and so she wasn't really able to give Seven an 'in' with the crew so to speak.

B'Elanna shook away the disturbing thoughts and took a bite of her ice cream. She really wasn't a big fan of sweets but for some strange reason hadn't been able to turn down Seven's invitation.

She glanced up at Seven and her mouth dropped open in astonishment. Seven had her eyes closed and was humming in pleasure at the taste of her sundae. B'Elanna felt herself react before she could stop herself; her hearts pounded in her chest and she stared at Seven mesmerized. Even though she disliked Seven she had always admitted that she was a beautiful woman but now with her face alight with pleasure she was stunning.

Del felt B'Elanna's reaction and couldn't hold back a grin; she met the engineer's shocked gaze and winked.

B'Elanna quickly ducked her head thankful for her dark complexion that hid her blush. She was embarrassed that her visceral response to Seven had been so obvious.

Seven was oblivious to B'Elanna's reaction lost in the taste of her first hot fudge sundae. She opened her eyes and gazed over at Del. "We should have this for lunch. It's good!"

Del laughed. "It's dessert, Seven, and only meant for an occasional treat. It doesn't provide the necessary nutrients that you need to maintain your body and your implants."

"But it tastes so good," Seven said, totally unaware of her bottom lip sticking out in a slight pout.

B'Elanna choked on the bite of ice cream she had just taken; now she had seen everything! Seven was actually pouting. Her head was whirling, all this was just unbelievable. "I'm okay," she assured her tablemates when they both turned to look at her.

Del reached over and patted Seven's arm consolingly. "Yeah, I know, sometimes it seems like things that taste the best are not the best for us but most humans just can't seem to resist sweets."

Seven looked down at her dish in disappointment but seemed to accept Del's explanation.

The beeping of Del's combadge interrupted them. Del reached up and touched the device. "Go ahead."

"Commander, you were due in sickbay fifteen minutes ago," came the Doctor's aggravated voice.

"I'm perfectly fine, Doctor and no longer require your assistance," Del answered, reaching up to break the connection.

"I'd like to assure myself of that. Might I remind you, you cannot return to full duty until I release you," he added smugly. "Report to sickbay for a complete physical…" He obviously heard Del's angry snarl of outrage over the com circuit. "Now, Commander MacMillan," the Doctor ordered before breaking the connection.

Del growled under her breath but knew she had no choice. She stood up and faced Seven and B'Elanna. "Sorry ladies, I have to report to sickbay. Thank you both very much for an enjoyable lunch. Seven, I'll see you back in Astrometrics as soon as I'm done with the doctor." Del gave Seven's forearm a brief squeeze and nodded to B'Elanna before heading for the door.

Seven and B'Elanna found themselves alone at the table. Neither spoke they just stared at each other uncomfortably for several moments. B'Elanna finally broke the silence.

"I should get back to Engineering." She hesitated slightly before adding. "Umm… thanks for lunch."

Seven wasn't sure how to respond but remembered what Del had told her about how she needed to reach out more to the crew with common courtesy even if she didn't always understand it. "You are welcome."

B'Elanna was surprised by Seven's courtesy. She really hadn't expected a response. Seven usually just walked away when she considered a conversation done. She wondered if the Commander had been tutoring her, if she had she'd obviously been more successful at it than the Doctor.

The two women exited the mess hall together, drawing just as many stares as Seven and Del had that first time they entered together.

The doors to Astrometrics slid open admitting a flushed and obviously very angry Del. Seven felt an immediate flash of anxiety and fear; she'd never seen Del angry before. Before Seven realized what she was doing she rushed from behind her console and over to Del's side.

"What is wrong?" Seven questioned fretfully.

Seven's concern and fear quickly drew Del from her angry contemplations of slowly and painfully de-compiling the Doctor's holomatrix. Del couldn't help but notice the inflection of Seven's voice. She had detected over the past week the increasing nuances her voice had taken on when speaking to her. It wasn't apparent with anyone else but when they were alone Seven's voice had taken on a decidedly emotional laden tone.

"I'm fine, just angry at the Doctor." She tried to reassure her sensing her continued apprehension. Unthinkingly she reached out and wrapped an arm around Seven's shoulders. She felt Seven stiffen for just an instant then relax against her side.

"What did he do?"

"He insisted on doing a full physical and running a whole host of diagnostic tests. I know he did it just to flaunt his power. I've never been subject to that type of ordeal after being injured before I could return to duty. The Doctor has a serious flaw in his holomatrix somewhere. That's not how an EMH should act. I'm going to talk to the Captain about me having a look at his program," Del said, getting angry all over again just thinking about it.

Seven knew she should defend the Doctor but did not want to irritate Del any further. The feel of Del's arm around her shoulders was also distracting her. She felt an almost instinctive need to press closer to Del's body. The contact scared and delighted her at the same time.

Seven's jumbled emotions again drew Del out of her angry thoughts. It was then that she realized she had her arm wrapped around Seven's shoulders. The contact was so natural she wasn't even aware she'd done it. Del took a step back from Seven, breaking the contact.

She was tempted to put her arm back when she sensed Seven's disappointment at the loss of contact but resisted, knowing she needed to be very careful about touching Seven. But it was hard; it was almost instinctive at times to reach out and physically make contact with her. Del kept reminding herself that Seven most likely didn't feel the same things she did when they touched and was just reacting to the simple pleasure of the touch of another human. She on the other hand was strongly attracted to Seven and rapidly falling for the beautiful blond.

Del blew out a breath in frustration pushing away her anger at the Doctor. She realized that Seven probably felt loyal to the Doctor for all he had done for her. And Del was willing to admit he had done a wonderful job removing Seven's implants. She didn't want her to feel conflicted because of her personal dislike of the doctor.

"Don't worry about it. I've been cleared to return to full duty so I shouldn't have any contact with the Doctor again."

Del looked at Seven curiously when she felt the stabbing sense of disappointment her words caused.

"Does that mean you will not be working in Astrometrics anymore?"

Del smiled, happy that Seven had enjoyed their time together and didn't want it to end anymore than she did. "I hope not. I was the First Officer on the Franklin but Voyager already has a First Officer. So I was going to approach Captain Janeway about being assigned to the Science Officer's position since you don't have one. I know you currently fulfill a lot of those duties but this way we could still work together."

A full smile blossomed on Seven's face and Del smiled widely in response.

"That would be acceptable," Seven said, her voice warm and inviting.

Del had been in sickbay all afternoon submitting to the Doctor's tests; it was almost 1700.

"Could I interest you in having dinner with me?" Del invited as she had every night since that first lunch in the mess hall.

"I would like that."

"Well, I was thinking, how about we do something a little different tonight. How about we have dinner in your quarters instead of mine. I'll still replicate everything." Del assured Seven hoping to convince her. She had never been in Seven's quarters and was very curious to see where Seven lived.

Seven looked at Del in surprise. Maybe she was unfamiliar with Voyager's layout. "There are no replicators in Cargo Bay Two."

Del laughed. "No, Seven, I don't want to have dinner in the Cargo Bay. I mean in your quarters…where you live."

"I live in the Cargo Bay."

"What!" Del exclaimed incredulously.

"My alcove is located in Cargo Bay Two," Seven patiently explained. "I have a work console there as well. That is where I live."

"But…" Del didn't know what to say. It had never even occurred to her that Seven didn't have any quarters; every crewman was entitled to quarters. "So is the Cargo bay closed off to the rest of the crew to provide you with space for your alcove and living space?" Del questioned curiously.

"No, the crew comes and goes performing their duties in the Bay. It is still used for normal storage as well."

"What about when you regenerate? Can anyone just walk in?"

Seven was truly puzzled as to why Del appeared upset. "Yes, but I would not be aware of them. In my regeneration cycle while I am not asleep I am only minimally aware of my surroundings. Normal activity in the Cargo Bay would not be enough to interrupt my regeneration cycle."

"What about when you're not regenerating? What do you do then?" Del was having a hard time accepting that not only did Seven live in a Cargo Bay, she didn't see anything wrong with it either.

"I work in Astrometrics during the day, when I am not regenerating, I work at my console in the Cargo Bay." She looked over at Del somewhat sadly. "I am not fully human, " she reminded her. "I do not require sleep."

Del remembered Seven telling her that the first day they met. "But isn't it like eating, you can sleep can't you? Wouldn't it further lessen your dependence on your alcove if you slept at night?"

"It is not a good use of my time," Seven tried.

"Seven…" Del said sternly.

Seven looked at the floor unwilling to meet Del's eyes. "I have been unsuccessful in my endeavors to sleep."

"If you don't have any quarters where did you try to sleep…in the Cargo Bay?"

"No, in Sickbay."

"Well, no wonder you weren't able to fall asleep. I never sleep well when I'm in Sickbay. There's too much noise from the equipment plus a biobed is incredibly uncomfortable. You need to be in comfortable familiar surroundings to fall asleep."

Del looked over at Seven speculatively. "Have you ever thought about getting quarters of your own? Every crewman is entitled to quarters, Seven. You don't have to live in a Cargo Bay."

"I never thought about it. I have always lived in the Cargo Bay. What would I do with quarters of my own?"

"Well… you'd have your own bed so you could try sleeping again. It would give you some privacy you currently don't have in the Cargo Bay and… you could invite me over for dinner," Del added teasingly. "If you'd like, I'll go with you to talk to Captain Janeway about it."

Seven thought for several moments. "That would be acceptable."

"Great, so how about dinner in my quarters tonight?"

"That would be acceptable as well."

Del grinned having become used to that response. She knew that it was much more than acceptable since she was able to sense Seven's emotions. Though her voice had taken on much more inflection Del wondered if Seven's speech patterns would ever change. She shrugged off the thought indifferently, it really didn't matter. It was what she felt that mattered not the way she expressed it.

"1800?" Del queried as she headed for the door. At Seven's answering nod she smiled. "It's a date." She was out the door and had taken several steps down the corridor before it dawned on her what she had just said.

Seven stood frozen in shock as the doors closed behind Del. "It's a date?" she muttered, wondering if Del really meant it or it was just a figure of speech. The idea of being on a date with Del equally excited and scared her.

Their evening so far had been fairly quiet. After sharing a glass of the sparkling cider that Seven had developed a taste for they had enjoyed a dinner of Del's family recipe of chicken and rice casserole. Del was used to being bombarded with questions when they were alone and Seven's suddenly reserved demeanor was starting to worry her.

She wondered if it had anything to do with what she'd said as she left Astrometrics that afternoon. Determined not to let her own feeling of disappointment affect her she turned to Seven to do what she was convinced she needed to do to fix things.

"You're very quiet tonight. Does this have anything to do with what I said when I left Astrometrics today?" Del didn't give Seven a chance to answer and started to babble. "I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable. You've become a good friend and I would never do anything to jeopardize that. It just slipped out… I mean umm… it's just a figure of speech." Seven's expression never changed but Del got a sudden sense of crushing disappointment. It stunned her for a moment in its intensity.

Seven couldn't help but feel humiliated. She had allowed herself to believe Del would really want to go on a date with her. After she left Astrometrics the more she thought about it the more excited she became. She had been quiet because she was not quite sure how she was supposed to act on a date. The Doctor's lessons didn't make any sense. The things he described as a date where the things she and Del did normally; so this must be different if it was a real date. She was unsure how to act.

Now she realized what a fool she was to think someone like Del would ever want to date a Borg. Seven had to get away; she didn't want Del to know how much her rejection hurt her. She wondered if Del even wanted to still be friends.

"I have to go," Seven murmured, bolting from her chair.

Del was quicker and managed to stop Seven just short of the door. "Wait," she cried, "what's wrong?"

"I must return to my Cargo Bay," Seven stated, her voice as cold as Del had ever heard it.

Del could sense the pain rolling off Seven in waves despite her stoic demeanor. It finally penetrated. Seven had thought this was a date and wanted it to be. Del wanted to jump up and down with joy. Realizing what the problem was and what Seven probably thought Del could have kicked herself for misreading the situation and making a mess of things.

Del reached out and placed her hands on Seven's shoulders refusing to remove them even when Seven tried to pull away. "Listen to me Seven. I wasn't honest with you just a minute ago…I did mean what I said when I left Astrometrics… I wanted it to be a date. I thought you were uncomfortable with the idea so… I lied," Del admitted.

Seven's head came up and she met Del's eyes staring into them trying to read the truth in them. "You did?" she asked timidly, afraid to believe.

"Yes, I did. I'm so sorry. I would be proud to be on a date with you."

"You would?" Seven questioned, just a hint of hope in her voice.

"Yes, I would." Del reassured her then trying to convey her sincerity she wrapped her arms around Seven and pulled her into a gentle hug.

Seven's body exploded in sensation. She had only ever been hugged once that she was aware of. When she had first been separated from the Collective she had demanded to be returned. Captain Janeway had briefly hugged her, wrapping one arm around her shoulders from behind. This was nothing like that.

Her body surged without her permission against Del. The feel of Del's body against hers caused a cascade of sensations she had never felt before. She instinctively wrapped her arms around Del's waist and tried to press them closer together.

"Easy," Del whispered in Seven's ear as she softly stroked her back. She was quite aware of Seven's emotions and did not want to pull away and take the chance that Seven would think she was rejecting her. She let the hug go on for several minutes before finally releasing Seven.

Seven looked at Del as they drew apart her eyes wide, she whimpered slightly when Del broke the contact between their bodies. Del reached out and gently cupped Seven's cheek. Seven leaned eagerly into the touch. Del wanted so badly to accept the unconscious invitation she saw in Seven's eyes and taste her sweet lips but she knew it was too soon. She eased back a little further from Seven but kept her hand on her cheek stroking it softly with her thumb.

"Okay now?" she asked quietly.

Seven nodded, still too overcome by the feeling of being in Del's arms to speak.

Del led Seven over to the couch and urged her to sit down. "We need to talk," she insisted. "Tell me what was going on earlier? If you wanted it to be a date why were you so quiet and seemed to be so uncomfortable?

Seven looked down not wanting to meet Del's eyes. Del was having none of that. Reaching out, she placed her fingers under Seven's chin and tilted her head up until their eyes met. "Why Seven?"

"I was not sure how to act. The Doctor's dating lessons made no sense. What he described as your 'typical date' was what our regular interaction were like. I thought a date would be very different and didn't want to behave inappropriately. Because then you wouldn't want to date me again," Seven confided.

"Oh Seven…our previous evenings together were much better than most dates I've been on," Del assured. "You don't have to worry about that."

Seven's implant over her eye rose in question.

"Okay, let me see if I can explain this..." Del took a deep breath. "The difference between two friends spending time together having dinner, conversation etc. and two people doing the same thing and it being a date are their expectations. Two friends have no expectations of it ever being anything more than enjoying time with a friend. When two people are on a date there's a hopeful prospect that it will develop into something deeper, beyond friendship. An anticipation… that they will fall in love and make a life together. Do you understand the difference?"

Seven thought for several moments then smiled. "You wish this…prospect with me?"

Del wondered just how much to tell Seven. She didn't want to scare her off but she had never been anything but totally honest in answering her questions up until now. "Yes, Seven, I do. You're a very intelligent, intriguing and beautiful woman. I enjoy our time together and I have developed feelings for you."

"Feelings?" Seven asked, wanting to make sure she understood correctly.

"I care for you more than I do someone who is just a friend and I'm attracted to you…sexually attracted," Del clarified, trying to brace herself for Seven's reaction.

Seven wasn't prepared for the intensity of the emotion that surged through her at Del's revelation. "I have developed feelings…for you as well but I am uncertain. I have never been attracted to someone before so am unsure of what I am experiencing. I only know I feel for you things I have never felt for anyone before. I wonder what you are doing when we are not together. I am happiest when we are together. I long for you to touch me and when you do I feel a strange tingling sensation travel through me. Is this sexual attraction?" Seven asked innocently.

Del wanted so badly to tell Seven yes what she was feeling was attraction but knew she couldn't. "I can't tell you that Seven. That's something you have to decide for yourself. You haven't had a lot of experience so it may just be feelings of friendship you're feeling for me. I know you've never had a real friend before. I think what we need to do is just take things slow and see how they go.

"We can go along just like we have been and see how things develop. See if your feelings get stronger for me or if you realize as you develop other friendships that what you feel for me is just as a friend."

"Can we still date?" Seven asked eagerly, only hearing what she wanted to, that she might indeed have sexual feelings for Del. She was pretty sure she did. Del made her feel like no one else ever had but she was willing to follow Del's lead and be cautious.

Del laughed happily. "Yes, Seven, we are going to date."

They spent the rest of the evening talking about dating and the rituals involved with it. When the evening was over Seven was looking forward to experiencing her first good night kiss.

Del fought to keep the grin off her face as they approached the door to her quarters. Seven was practically vibrating with excitement.

"Good night, Seven," she said, leaning forward and placing a gentle kiss on Seven's cheek. Del couldn't help it; she smirked at Seven's unknowing pout. She leaned forward a second time and gently brushed her lips over Seven's. Del wasn't prepared for the swift flash of arousal that streaked straight down between her legs from the simple, almost chaste, kiss.

Seven was in even worse straits never having experienced anything like the sensations Del's lips brushing over hers caused. She gulped convulsively and felt dizzy wondering if her implants were malfunctioning.

Del opened her eyes to see Seven staring into space with a blissful look on her face. "Good night, Seven," Del repeated.

Seven's eyes finally focused on Del's face and she struggled to regain her composure. She knew she was supposed to leave now but was having trouble getting her legs to cooperate.

"Good night, Del," she said, finally managing to turn and stumble out the door.

As the door swooshed shut a joyous laugh burst out before Del could stop it. Her first official date with Seven had turned out better than she had ever hoped for. She quickly sobered hoping Seven really understood what dating meant and that her sense of Seven's emotions toward her were accurate and not wishful thinking on her part.

Part 5

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