B'Elanna sat back on her heels and wiped the dirt from her hands as she surveyed her garden. When she had first moved into this small house on the outskirts of Ilvia, she had thrown herself into planning, planting, and tending what had eventually become a lush landscape. There had been few things in her life on Jalara – then Free Haven – before Seven arrived that had been able to provide her with such a deep sense of accomplishment and contentment. As had been the case with her work in Voyager's Engineering room, getting her hands dirty somehow held the demons that frequently raged inside her at bay. But she had neglected the garden over the past year, unable to bring herself to cultivate new life even as her own unraveled around her with Seven's ordeal and departure. Now, even with many things left unsettled, Seven was back and B'Elanna felt the pull of her garden again, ashamed that she had let it go to the point of almost complete ruin. Perhaps, she thought as she returned her attention to the tasks before her, things would settle down eventually. There was a lot to do, a lot to get through before that could happen, however.
After a tense morning, Karen had decided to rest at home while B'Elanna tended to her garden and Seven and Mac had gone off to meet Sul to take care of some errand about which Seven had acted especially cagey when B'Elanna had pressed for details. With the impending arrival of John and Elizabeth Torres, however, B'Elanna had quickly let go of her inquiry.
As if on cue, B'Elanna saw her father and his wife approaching house and she stood quickly to intercept them before they reached it. Elizabeth Torres stopped cold and gasped as B'Elanna appeared before her, having hopped up on the front porch from the side of the house. The two stood, eyes locked for a moment before Elizabeth spoke.
"Where is my daughter? Bring her to me immediately."
B'Elanna leaned against the porch rail, arms crossed before her, and looked from Elizabeth to her father and back. "Nice to see you too."
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "I have no time for pleasantries with you. Where is my daughter?"
B'Elanna raised her eyebrow and smiled, able only to shake her head at the boundless rudeness of this woman and at her father's lack of concern for anything other than Elizabeth's commands. She sighed and finally answered, "She's inside." B'Elanna opened the door to her home and stepped inside, gesturing for the couple to follow her.
"B'Elanna, we just want. . . ," John began haltingly.
B'Elanna spun to face him, her ire rising. "You want what? What?" she ground out. "Shouldn't this all begin with what Karen wants?"
"Please, B'Elanna, calm down," John responded. "I know that you're only interested in what's best for Karen and that's what we want too."
John's wife interrupted him sharply. "I know no such thing. I am Karen's mother and you are her father and we should be the only ones to decide what's best for her." Elizabeth rolled her eyes again and sighed. "I cannot believe that I've had to come here and leave Jane and the baby to come to this godforsaken place and deal with this."
"Elizabeth!" John exclaimed.
"And that's my life in a nutshell," Karen announced, entering the room and drawing the attention of the three adults. John rushed to her and pulled her into a brief hug.
"Are you okay?" John asked, genuine concern on his face.
"I'm fine, Dad, thanks to B'Elanna, Seven and Mac," Karen responded, her head hanging. "I got myself into a big mess and they got me out of it." She looked up and over at her mother, who had not moved, but simply watched the exchange between her daughter and husband.
"No doubt," Elizabeth muttered, eyeing B'Elanna.
"Its true," Karen insisted. "None of what happened was B'Elanna's fault and I'm only here because I was lucky enough to have run into her."
"I really am not interested in any of this," Elizabeth responded. "We're here to take you home and that's that. Get your things and come with us now."
Karen crossed her arms in defiance. "I'm staying here with B'Elanna and Seven."
"Karen," B'Elanna and John said simultaneously.
"I'm serious," Karen insisted. "I'm not going back there."
B'Elanna stepped closer to Karen and placed her hand on the young woman's shoulder. "Look, why don't you sit down and talk with them? You need to listen to them before making a decision."
"If you don't want me here, I'll leave, but I'm not going back!"
B'Elanna rubbed her shoulder and spoke quietly. "Of course I want you here if that's the best thing for you. But they're your family and you need to talk with them and tell them how you feel."
Karen pursed her lips. "You're family too. You and Seven can be my family."
B'Elanna could see Elizabeth grow tense at Karen's words and looked over at her briefly. "We *are* your family too, but I really think that it would be wrong for you to turn away from any part of your family." She glanced at her father, old hurt washing over her at his abandonment of her and her mother. "I know the kind of person you are and I know that you'd regret it."
Karen considered her words for a moment and then looked over at her parents.
"Okay," B'Elanna said finally. "Why don't you all sit down and talk this out. I'll be outside if you need me."
Having finished up the work in the garden while John, Elizabeth and Karen talked inside, B'Elanna sat on the front steps and watched as Seven and Mac approached, chatting animatedly about something. "Did you take care of your mysterious errand?" B'Elanna asked when they finally reached the house.
"Indeed," Seven responded cryptically, taking note of B'Elanna's pensive mood. "Have John and Elizabeth Torres arrived?"
"Indeed, they have," B'Elanna sighed. "They're inside talking. You know, as much as I try to keep calm for Karen's sake, I might just have to kill that woman."
"I feel reasonably certain that that would not be a good idea," Mac chuckled.
B'Elanna couldn't help but smile at that. "I'd have a great defense counsel if it came to that."
"Trust me, it wouldn't be worth it," Mac replied.
The three women chatted for a while, talking about Mac's plans to return home the next day and Seven pressuring her to accept Stephen Reyes' invitation to dinner. Finally, Mac could take no more.
"Will you just shut up if I say that I'll go out with him?" she asked, exasperated.
"If you agree to stop burying yourself in your work and hiding in your apartment, I will comply," Seven said and smirked at her impending victory.
"Okay, okay. I'll have dinner with him when I get back. Happy?"
Seven smiled broadly now, reveling in her success and hopeful for her friend's happiness. B'Elanna watched the exchange between the two women with amusement, happy to see Seven very much like she had been before her terrifying and painful encounter with William Cole.
"You are truly evil," Mac muttered.
"You know what they say about the Borg," B'Elanna chuckled. "Resistance is futile."
The playful banter between the friends was interrupted by the sound of the front door opening and all three looked up to see John and Elizabeth emerging, followed by Karen.
"Great," Elizabeth grumbled, "more misfits."
B'Elanna could see the anger shadow across her father's face as he stepped close to his wife. "B'Elanna is my daughter and this is her house and family and you will not speak of her in that manner again. Do you understand me?"
"I understand you, John," Elizabeth sputtered. "I simply . . . ."
John cut off her attempt to cast herself in the best possible light, continuing, "Short of contrition, which is something that seems to be completely foreign to your being, there is nothing you can say to make that statement seem anything other than the unkind and insensitive utterance it was."
Since regret was an emotion in which Elizabeth Torres never permitted herself to indulge, she simply remained quiet from this point on and attempted to ignore the smirk of pleasure on B'Elanna's face.
"So," B'Elanna began after the long pause, "what's the decision?"
Karen frowned slightly and sighed. "I decided to go home with them and give it another try."
"And *we* promised to make sure that the things we did to cause Karen's unhappiness will never be a problem again. Isn't that so?" John asked Elizabeth, who nodded. "B'Elanna, may I speak with you in private?" he continued.
Uncertain about being alone with her father and about leaving Seven and Mac with Elizabeth, B'Elanna nevertheless entered the house as she heard Karen introducing Mac to her mother. Once inside, she sat on the couch in the living room.
John sat across from her and looked down at his folded hands. "I want to make it all up to you, but I just don't know how," he began. "I'm having trouble balancing everyone's demands on me – everyone's need for me to be . . . ." He trailed off, unable to articulate his frustration with the complicated position in which he had placed himself.
"You can't," B'E'lanna said flatly. "What's done is done and you just can't make up for something like that."
"I'm sorry," John whispered.
"I know, but I think we both need to stop feeling so guilty and move on."
John regarded her for a moment, impressed with his daughter's maturity, which far exceeded his own.
B'Elanna continued, "I don't expect anything of you for myself, so there's nothing to feel pressured about. I've made my own life and I feel incredibly lucky to have Seven with me. We've got an incredible family here and I'm happy."
"I'm glad to know that," John said sincerely.
"What I do expect from you is to not repeat the mistakes you made and to make sure that Karen has a wonderful and happy life. She's a wonderful kid," B'Elanna said emphatically.
"I know and I intend to see to it that she's happy, no matter what," John responded.
"Good, that's all I ask," B'Elanna said, eager to be done with the awkward extended moment of intimacy with her father.
When they rejoined the women on the porch, Karen was thanking Mac once again for her generosity and her help. "I guess I should get my stuff," Karen said softly.
Even though B'Elanna was certain that this was the right course of action, she also knew that Karen's return to her old life, even in its improved version would be difficult. She also knew that she would miss her sister. "I'm here for whatever you need, kiddo, whenever you need me" she said, hugging the young woman, who clutched her tightly in return.
"I'm going to miss you so much," Karen choked out. "Both of you," she added, looking over to Seven.
"Then you must return and visit soon," Seven offered, and joined the two in their embrace.
Seven lay sprawled across B'Elanna, confident that her intense attention every detail of her lover's body and to every aspect of her need had resulted in complete satisfaction and utter exhaustion. After seeing Karen off the evening before, spending a hectic day at work, and then bidding farewell to Mac, the two had tumbled into the darkness of B'Elanna's bedroom and lost themselves in each other's bodies. She could hear B'Elanna's breathing and heartbeat begin to slow and reveled in the soft touch of the hand stroking her back.
"Don't stop" Seven requested when B'Elanna's hand paused on her lower back, just where the portion of her abdominal implant that had connected her to the regeneration unit had been.
"What is that?" B'Elanna asked, her hand moving again across a slightly rough patch of skin. When Seven did not answer, she slid out from under body and sat up. "Computer, lights."
Seven sat up quickly, careful to keep her back out of B'Elanna's view.
"Let me see," B'Elanna insisted, trying to look around Seven and see with her eyes what her fingers had felt.
"B'Elanna," Seven said, trying to redirect her attention. "B'Elanna, please listen to me."
B'Elanna ceased her efforts and met Seven's eye. "Is everything okay? Are you okay?"
"I am fine," Seven said, caressing B'Elanna's cheek to calm her. "In fact, I am better than fine."
B'Elanna released a sigh of relief and, even though she wanted to see for herself that Seven was not injured, nor ill, she sensed that there was more that her lover wanted to say. She soon found that she had been correct.
"Before we left for Velnar, you asked me to move in with you," Seven began, "and I told you that there were things to which I needed to attend before I could do so."
"I remember," B'Elanna said softly, some of her fear of rejection from that earlier conversation revisiting her.
"I am so grateful for your patience in all of this, B'Elanna, because when I asked for time, I was not entirely certain what it was that I needed to take care of. Talking with Mac made me see that I needed to let go of the fear that I would hurt you and to feel strong again in my commitment to you and to our relationship."
"And have you been able to do that?" B'Elanna asked, certain that she could never prepare herself if the answer were to be negative.
In response, Seven kissed her softly. "I feel strong with you and for you," she said. "I know where I am meant to be."
Her assertion was met with a powerful kiss from B'Elanna who, for her part, attempted to convey some small measure of her own commitment and devotion to Seven. "So that means that you will move back in?" B'Elanna asked, smiling and already certain of the answer.
"I will, indeed," Seven responded and kissed B'Elanna on the forehead.
After a moment of reveling in the joy of the moment, B'Elanna pulled back and met Seven's gaze with a frown.
"And this has *what* to do with the rough skin on your back?"
"The 'mysterious' errand on which Sul and Mac accompanied me has everything to do with my back and with us," Seven said smiling. She then lay flat on the bed and exposed her back to B'Elanna who gasped at the tattooed image of a butterfly at exactly the spot where Seven's implant used to connect her to the regeneration unit.
"It's beautiful!" B'Elanna exclaimed, touching the image, which had not fully healed, gently. "But I still don't quite understand."
Seven sat up again and ran her thumb across the tattoo on B'Elanna's shoulder, a mark she had had inscribed as an expression of her love for Seven, and B'Elanna suddenly understood.
"It took a great deal of time for me to decide on an image that would capture even the smallest element of what loving you and experiencing your love for me has done. I discussed it at great length with Sul and with Mac before proceeding. I chose this butterfly with its wings unfurled to represent how our relationship helped me to transform myself." Seven brushed away a tear that had begun to make its way down B'Elanna's cheek. "With you, I can no longer close myself off from life and remain in a cocoon and I am so grateful for this."
B'Elanna moved behind Seven, ran her hand across the tattoo again and then bent down to press her lips to it.
"I placed it on my lower back on the spot which had, for so long, been associated with regeneration and with life-giving force," Seven continued, completing her explanation. "Our life together regenerates me now."
B'Elanna hugged Seven tightly and pressed a kiss into her neck. "I love you, Seven. I'm so glad I found you."
The two remained quiet in their embrace for some time until B'Elanna broke the silence. "So, what should we get for our next tattoos?"
"I believe that I am a one-woman, one-tattoo person, B'Elanna."
"I'll just have to keep working on you, then -- but only on the tattoo part," B'Elanna responded, kissing Seven's neck again and laughing.
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