DISCLAIMER: Star Trek characters and settings are owned by their respective owners. Author retains all rights to any independent creations. This is fiction and not-for-profit.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: 1) In case some things look familiar: Small bits and pieces have been lifted from my own LO:SVU stories to continue with the Lemon+Orange universe/theme. Any similarities to other works are purely coincidental. 2) It's my sincere hope that by the 24th Century, people will have learned to accept romantic love without regard to gender, and the story is told with this in mind. 3) This is my first STV fiction; feedback would be much appreciated. Happy reading! AL06/2013.
ALERT: Story is set post Voyager "Endgame"; spoilers for Star Trek canon in general (though there are intentional inconsistencies), especially ST:VOY and DS9; also certain characters' background taken from J. Taylor's Mosaic and Pathways.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To lexalex001[at]yahoo.com
Year of Dishonor
"But Captain, we're in the Alpha Quadrant."
"Yes, and I'm still the Captain."
"Voyager will be docking in less than two hours. Then I will no longer be a member of your crew."
"Yes, and Starfleet "
"I am not a member of Starfleet personnel. Their regulations do not apply to me."
"Adm. Janeway gave up her life to save me."
"And Tuvok, and to bring her crew home."
"I am aware. But her primary objective was to make sure I live, and that I know love and happiness she told me herself. And I believe "
"Seven. We need to stop."
"But Captain, we haven't even begun."
"And we can't. I'm sorry Seven."
"Very well Captain. If you should ever change your mind "
"What about Chakotay?"
"I've told the Commander that while I enjoyed his company, I could never love him, not when my duty and honor "
"Seven, love is not about duty. It's never just about duty."
"And yet, you allow your duty towards Starfleet..."
"Seven, we need to stop."
That was three months ago, the first of several of this same conversation with her captain, now Admiral Janeway. No, they were not exactly the same, but similar enough; and every time afterwards, Seven of Nine replayed their respective lines over and over again in her eidetic memory, watching for any subtle emotional changes. She had found nothing that allowed her hope, nor despair, only confusion. At some point, she wondered if she should stop as she feared her only visitor would decide to stay away, tired of their conversation. Yet, every Friday evening and Saturday morning, for the last three months, Admiral Janeway had used her security clearance to see her. To spend time with her, and later watch her while she regenerated with the portable generator she brought a unit modified to minimally maintain her Borg enhancements. Officially, Janeway was there to monitor the procedure, to make sure everything followed Starfleet protocol.
Unofficially Seven was aware anyone in the building could have performed Admiral Janeway's duty of keeping her alive. She knew Janeway had somehow finagled this dubious assignment. But why? What does she hope to achieve? Seven wished the Doctor were here; he would undoubtedly offer to help with her current predicament, and perhaps even has an opinion on how she should proceed.
She looked around her living area on the military base, with its stark white walls against blue grey carpeting. Prussian blue upholstery covered everything that was not metal or glass; in her blue biosuit, she could be invisible, which she sometimes wished she were. It was her understanding that this was typical décor for personnel housing. Suppose she should be grateful that they had not thrown her in a brig, or kept her in a lab like a test animal. It was ironic that her search for humanity had led her to this sterile, cold space.
Not for the first time, she regretted not taking a shuttle to join Mr. Neelix in the asteroid where he decided to stay. At least she would have a friend there, one with whom she knew exactly where she stood. She could have made a life for herself in the Delta Quadrant, instead of being stuck on Earth, doing nothing. Waiting. Lost. Confused.
At this point, she would even welcome the input of B'Elanna Torres. Voyager's Chief Engineer had always been honest with her, brutally so. She would at least tell Seven she was out of her mind. Unfortunately, in the last three months, Admiral Janeway had been her only real visitor, 'real' as the people who Seven of Nine had come to regard as her interrogators and tormentors did not count.
For the first time in many months, Seven felt utterly alone.
"What have they done to you, Seven?" Kathryn Janeway gasped as soon as she walked through the door. Lightly but quickly, she placed the piece of modified Borg technology on the console next to the couch, and took the younger woman's face in her palms. "Are you all right?" She asked, her heart ached at the fatigue weighing blue eyes. Obviously, her nanoprobes had other priority systems to maintain. She had wanted Seven to regain her humanity, but dark circles and eye bags were too much.
Temporarily shocked by the gesture, Seven froze; then she was afraid that any movement she made would alter Janeway's actions. Finally, she closed one of her own hands over the other woman's, to hold it in place, and answered, "I'm fine, Cap Kathryn," she corrected before the Admiral could.
"But Are you sure?"
"Yes," Seven replied, and then deciding to preempt additional questions, offered, "Again they requested tests, this time I cooperated. I knew that sooner or later, I would have to. There was not a real choice."
"What happened? Why wasn't I told?"
"I cannot answer your second question. As for the first, I do not wish to I wish to put it behind me. Please, Kathryn."
"All right, Seven, if you wish."
This whole time, Seven of Nine was aware of her former captain's hands on her cheeks, their gentleness against her skin, and the warmth and concern in the woman's eyes, they provided a comfort that she suddenly realized she wanted, deeply, perhaps even craved. Gathering her breath, she made a bold decision: this day, their conversation would be different.
"Kathryn," she began, pulling the woman's hands from her face. For a moment, she was surprised that the hands remained in her own. That gave her courage. "When I was with Adm. Janeway, she told me that when I died in her timeline, Chakotay was devastated, and he remained devastated and honored my memory until his own death."
"The Admiral also said she understood that feeling, and that she herself had not coped well with my death."
"Somehow I don't doubt that," Janeway had to admit.
"I am important to you," Seven stated the obvious.
"I am your friend. And you are mi my friend. We're friends. Good friends."
"Better friends than Cmdr. Chakotay and I were."
"According to Adm. Janeway, I appeared to be happy in my marriage, and yet, based on what I know, and how I feel, I find it difficult to believe."
"It takes time to develop a relationship, Seven, time you had, in Adm. Janeway's timeline."
"Three years. That was all." This was getting her nowhere fast, Seven realized, and made another move. "Chakotay mourned for me as a spouse; and when I asked, Adm. Janeway did not deny a similar feeling towards me "
"You yourself said it takes time to develop a relationship. I cooperated with Starfleet's requests because I believe the sooner I do, the sooner I may leave this place, and "
Janeway cut her off, "Doesn't it bother you, to be here?"
"My quarters are adequate."
"But you can't leave the compound without an escort."
"This, being a closed environment, is not too different from being on board a Borg Cube or a starship. At least here, I can experience the sun rising and setting without the aid of a holodeck," Seven offered, knowing her mentor would find a way to feel guilty about her current status of being a 'guest' of Starfleet. "I am adapting, especially with your help."
"Yes, helping, that reminds me," Janeway motioned to the portable generator. "We should probably "
"Why do humans feel the need to prevaricate?"
"Are you not trying to direct me away from the natural course of our conversation?"
"Seven, please." Janeway closed her eyes and sighed. "We, I can't, not right now."
"Soon, I promise, we'll talk, about Adm. Janeway's feelings."
"Hers, not yours."
"I, I don't know what I'm feeling, to be honest, Seven. The Admiral had thirty years to figure out all the answers. I have nothing but questions."
"Fine. I understand."
"Do you really?"
"Yes, you need time to come to terms with your feelings for me. I can wait."
Moments like this, Janeway found it difficult to deal with the woman. She was so self-assured, so convinced that whatever she was thinking or feeling, and through whatever means and reasoning the conclusions she had arrived, were infallible without a doubt. Kathryn Janeway wished she felt a fraction of that conviction. "Seven, I'm not certain "
"I require regeneration," Seven blurted, reverting automatically to the Borg mask. Catching herself, however, she added, "I'm sorry, Kathryn, I'm fatigued."
"All right," Janeway replied with an indulgent smile. This role she could play; she had three solid months of practice and years on Voyager before that. Swiftly, she got up, to retrieve the unit. Efficiently, she set up the device. Then she returned to the couch, pulling Seven down as she sat, so that the younger woman's head rested in her lap. Graciously, she accepted Seven's smile as her reward, and coupled the attachments after blue eyes closed. "Pleasant dreams, Seven," she whispered as the machine whirled to life.
It was 1700 hours, Seven of Nine knew as she waited for the seconds to pass. Her captain was not late, she reminded herself, not until one whole minute after at least. Somehow she still thought of Kathryn Janeway as her captain; she was not certain that would ever change. The idea caused a furrow on her forehead; it did not last as the chime sounded and the door whooshed open. She turned and greeted her visitor with a smile, and received one in return.
"Seven," Janeway placed the generator at its usual place, and looked up at the younger woman, searching for any signs of distress. She had had a long and serious talk with Starfleet command after their last visit about the general care and future of her beloved Borg. "How are you?"
"I am," adapting, Seven almost replied, but made a split second decision. "I'm better now that you are here," she said what she had been practicing for hours. To her surprise, Janeway's smile only grew. She considered her next course of action but her captain spoke again.
"Sit," Janeway said as she did so and patted the space next to her on the couch. She smiled again when Seven obliged without protest.
"You are happy," Seven concluded.
"Yes, yes I am. The weather is nice this weekend. Perhaps, if you like, we could take a walk outside tomorrow morning."
"I would love that, Kathryn."
"Great, great. Now I have something for you," she said, reaching into her bag.
A bag Janeway had not carried before, Seven noted with mild apprehension. What happened to her normal acuity? "A gift, Kathryn?" She eyed the thin white ribbon.
"Well," Janeway let out a self-conscious chuckle. "Not exactly."
"A book?" Seven took the proffered item, recognizing it from Kathryn's holodeck programs on Voyager. "Nostalgia, it's " she said without thinking. "I meant..."
"It's all right, Seven," Janeway soothed with smile and a squeeze of the younger woman's arm. "It is meant to be nostalgic, even if book printing is a bit inefficient. This is a special edition. Although what you have is an advance reading copy, the real thing will have a dust jacket and glossy photograph of yours truly when published," she explained with another chuckle. "I just didn't want to wait."
"Beyond Alpha - the Journey of a Woman who became a Starship Captain?" Seven read from the cover. "Written by Adm. Kathryn Janeway and Thomas E. Paris?" She could not suppress her shock. "Lt. Paris is your co-author?"
"Tom wrote it; I just told him my story." She lifted a hand to forestall any questions and digression into the practice of ghostwriting. "It's Mr. Paris now."
"He resigned his commission?" Seven did not know. Somehow, until this day, they had avoided talking about and catching up on the lives of the former Voyager crew.
"To become a holo-novel writer, so he can stay home with Miral," Janeway revealed, "And B'Elanna can be the Chief of Engineering on my next ship."
"Your next ship, Captain?" She gasped, feeling sudden terror and loss. "When?" When will I be left alone?
"Shh... no need to get excited yet," Janeway comforted the younger woman with another gentle squeeze of her arm. "To be honest, I'm hoping I can get Voyager back. I won't have to wait for another ship to be built, and I've grown attached to the old girl. Either way, we're going to incorporate Borg and other alien technologies. At some point, we'll need a consultant. Then I'll need an astrometrics officer."
"Me?" The Borg blinked, fearing hope. "They will let me leave here?"
"In time, Seven; it is my hope," Janeway offered with a deep smile.
"Wait, to be a starship captain, you'll have to give up your rank as Admiral."
"Yes, as soon as the ship is ready, and I've got everything settled Starfleet and I have come to an understanding."
"I see," Seven said even though she did not entirely understand. Would it be presumptuous to believe Janeway's plans were in some ways influenced by the woman's desire to keep her safe? On the other hand, she knew her friend was an explorer belonging on a starship, not sitting sanctimoniously behind a desk. She wanted to ask, to seek clarification; but she was not given the chance.
"Now, I believe you should regenerate," Janeway said, pulling the book from Seven's grasp. "You can read this after our visit; it'll help you pass the time."
"Yes, Kathryn, I shall welcome the distraction," Seven complied, turning around to lay her head in her captain's lap. Absorbing the woman's comforting warmth and calmed by the tender fingers stroking through her hair, she closed her eyes.
With her eyes closed, Seven felt her fingers slide over the black and white keys, the synthetic sound striking against the silence of the room, near mechanical in their precision. She was reminded of her holo-program, her obsession with humanity, her prior inability to feel.
She missed the Doctor, who according to her captain, had said 'hello' and inquired of her well-being. Despite their arguments and misadventures, she liked him, and owed him her life, many times, literally. In a way, he was her Pygmalion, she his creation. If only she could return his affection.
If only she could play Chopin with the same perfunctory detachment she once did.
Chopin. Resolutely, she decided she detested him. Abhorred his Nocturne Op. 72 No. 1. Abruptly, she stopped, barely refraining from striking a harsh discordance. Instead, she looked down, and touched gently the keys of the synthesizer a lover's stroke, in her imagination at least. The newly acquired instrument was supposed to be a gift from the Doctor; but for the twinkle in Admiral Janeway's eyes as she relayed the information over the restricted communication channel, she would not have doubted.
Why do humans lie?
White lies. She recalled the term. Not meant to cause harm. But still inefficient.
Carefully, Seven of Nine tested other notes, a piece she learned not from the Doctor, but only the day before, after the gift was delivered. Maybe she would play it for her captain during their next visit. Saturday morning. Perhaps Kathryn would enjoy this. After all, it was Tchaikovsky, the woman's favorite. The thought brought a little smile to Seven's lips. It turned wry when she considered the name of the morceau Tendres Reproches tender reproaches an almost light little piece except for the minor key and in the end. Janeway would see the irony.
There were certainly incongruous elements in her current predicament, predicaments really. She remembered her episode of paranoia, due to her own misguided quest for knowledge and efficiency. Being dissected and studied by Starfleet to gain tactical advantage over the Borg was her greatest fear then. Most definitely, she was still wary of Starfleet, especially provisions of Article 14, Section 31 of its charter. Would she become a target of allowable bending of rules? What would be considered extraordinary threats? Would they suddenly decide to turn her soft-imprisonment into a living nightmare? However, those were not concerns that kept Seven from sleep, or her appetite at bay, not these days.
She could curse the Doctor for reconfiguring her micro-circuitry and allowing her to function normally. However, she herself held the blame of wanting to experience full human emotions. She herself was to blame for forgetting her supposition that there were no suitable mates on board Voyager. Why did she allow it to happen?
Cmdr. Chakotay had many admirable qualities, she had once told the Doctor. It was true. The man could have been a suitable mate, at least in general.
Axum. The drone she had forgotten, who she had disappointed by at one point deeming their six-year relationship irrelevant. Six years. Longer than she had known anyone in any quadrant, possibly save for her parents, except for the Borg Queen, and all in her head. Then there was
Poor Lt. Chapman. Who was selected as a result of statistical analysis, who had forgiven her despite the bodily harm she inflicted on him during their one disastrous date.
And Harry Kim. Harry who proceeded to befriend her after she had made a fool of herself after she had essentially sexually harassed him.
The reproaches were definitely not only towards her captain. She deserved them herself, and not so tender ones.
Captain. Who had allowed herself to be assimilated, who infiltrated the central plexus of a Borg cube to help her 'friends'. Her captain who was ready to seek out and murder another drone, so the Doctor could replace Seven's failing cortical node, so she could live. Her captain whose shoulders she leaned on time and again, and guided her tirelessly in her quest for humanity.
If the commander had many admirable qualities, her captain's were enumerable, making her more than desirable to be one's mate.
Why had I not considered her before? Why did I require Adm. Janeway from the future to point out the obvious?
The current Admiral Janeway had reminded Seven of Nine an opinion she had formed earlier: that love was like a disease. That it was nothing more than pheromones and endorphins and chemicals in one's blood wreaking havoc with one's system.
Then Admiral Janeway had proceeded to ask Seven a question posed by Harry Kim: Did her skin ever flush when she was near another person?
Seven's skin had flushed then. She wished only it were in response to her captain's proximity. Perhaps it would, given time, she had thought to herself. To answer Kathryn, she attempted what she had determined to be a shy smile.
Obviously, I am becoming human.
The Doctor thought that finding one's heart was the surest route to finding one's individuality. Perhaps the opposite is true?
The soft notes of her captain's favorite composer gave way to her other mentor's favorite melody. She sang along with the man's gentle tenor in her head, "I'm a little lamb who's lost in a wood. I know I could always be good, to one who'll watch over me "
"There are other kinds of love," Seven had heard her captain, who kept repeating the phrase as if she was trying to convince a stubborn child. She knew there were many different forms of love, and she recounted them as she half-heartedly listened to Janeway's philosophical monologue. Her eyes were focused on the scenery beyond the window, once again wondering how far the grass field went, if it stretched beyond the perimeter of the naval base, and what type of fence surrounded it.
She shrugged, wondering not for the first time how Icheb was faring. She loved the boy like a son, or at the very least, a much younger brother. Hopefully, he had adapted to life at the Academy.
"I don't love you like I do Naomi Wildman, or Mr. Neelix," she replied. Yes, she felt love for him, too, the love of a friend, one she had lost to space and distance. She hoped he found happiness. "It's a different kind of love, I'm aware."
"And Chakotay?" Kathryn had to ask, even if she did before, only not quite so specifically.
"The Commander and I went on several dates. That was all. I kissed Harry more passionately than I kissed him."
"Okay." Janeway looked down at the remains of their breakfast and shook her head. "I'm not sure I needed to know that."
"Are you," Seven paused to consider her next word. "Jealous?"
"No, Seven, I'm not."
"Isn't jealousy a common element in romantic love?"
"Common, yes, I believe it is. But the past "
"The past is irrelevant."
"Now, I wouldn't say that, not for all things anyway."
"You have said many times that you do not judge me based on my past."
"And I don't, Seven." Janeway dropped her gaze again. Why was this so difficult? While she was determined not to make the same mistakes her older self from the future made, her honor and pride still kept her from reaching out and taking what was offered.
In a strange way, she understood Seven's reasoning. If the woman could be happy married to Chakotay, why not herself, who she had known longer and felt closer to? Why not repay the person who had given her life and a sense of belonging away from the Collective? But would she honestly want someone bound to her by duty and worse, indebtedness? "But, we're not talking about your past. And presently, I'm not sure this conversation is going anywhere."
"Then why do we keep engaging in this type of conversation?"
Why indeed? Perhaps latent masochistic tendencies? Or more likely, she considered it part of her role as mentor, and this peculiarly unemotional discussion was not dissimilar to their many other discussions about life and what it meant to be human. "Because I think you need to understand."
"We could try action."
"Oh, no, Seven. Let's not do that."
"Weren't you acting, by giving me a book about yourself, sharing your past and your thoughts?"
"It's due to be published. And I told Tom those same things."
"What about the piano?"
"That was a gift from the Doctor. And I really enjoyed your Tchaikovsky, by the way, especially the Méditation, and the Passè lointain, that was so beautiful, and passionate. But I liked how you treated the entire opus. Perhaps you would play for me again?"
Another hour of musical interlude? Her time for the most part belonged to Starfleet anyway, and this may prolong her weekly visit with her captain. "If you wish. But can you honestly tell me you didn't have a role in me acquiring the gift from the Doctor? You, by your actions, showed that you care."
"I never denied that I care, Seven," Janeway reminded. Finally, with another rub of her brow ridges, she decided to try another level of candor. "You know, Seven? Never mind how unfair it would be for you to commit yourself to someone you don't have romantic feelings for, and all the other reasons we've covered I also didn't get to where I am by settling."
"Yes, settling. By accepting your offer, that's exactly what I'll be doing."
"I don't understand," Seven replied, misery evidence in her voice. "But you love me." When neither denial nor confirmation was forthcoming, she continued, quoting her captain from a prior discussion about the various signs of being in love, "Do you feel as if someone had hollowed out your stomach when we are apart?"
"Seven, that type of love is for the young, and holo-novels."
So the answer in the negative was mutual; she was becoming quite adept at reading between Janeway's lines. "I'm neither young nor do I wish to live in a novel," she offered.
"Oh, but Seven, you are young. You still have much life to catch up on."
"And I shall endeavor to do so on a starship? What if we get stranded again?"
"Are you saying you do not wish to join me on the next adventure?"
"No, absolutely not. I will go wherever you wish to take me."
"As your captain."
"As my captain." Seven looked down at her hands. "And perhaps " More?
"And one of these days, you may find that being loved simply isn't enough. I hope you do."
"So you're not giving me a chance," to prove myself? She was wise enough to swallow the end of the sentence. Love is not about proving oneself, is it?
"I didn't say that, Seven."
"But, if things go according to your plan, you will be my commanding officer, and I, even as a civilian contractor, will be a member of your crew. I know you, and "
"And the lines I draw?" Janeway smiled. "You know what? Whatever happens, happens."
"That's your decision?"
"Yes, and it's final."
"But it takes two."
"Exactly, Seven, it does."
"What if I found that perfect love that you wanted for me, with someone else? There will be new crew on board Voyager; we will be docked at various stations."
"Then I'll know that you're happy."
"And that's enough for you?"
"Yes, Seven, that is enough, believe it or not," Janeway said with a smile. In that way, she understood why the other Admiral Janeway stepped aside; she thought Seven was happy with Chakotay. "My feelings towards you are a bit complicated at the moment, but they could be easily uncomplicated, either way. We're friends, and family. That's first and foremost. Do you understand?"
At that, Seven laughed.
"What's so funny?"
"Do you remember what I once said to you about us being assimilated and understanding each other?"
"That our minds would be one and perhaps you would understand me then?"
"There are many forms of love, Seven," Janeway repeated, perhaps a mantra to herself. This time, she added, "And I do love you, you know that."
"I love you as well, Kathryn."
"I still would like to see your birthplace, one day."
"And I still would like to take you there. Hopefully very soon," she promised, reaching across the table to touch the younger woman's hand. "But not today, today we have other friends and family to see," she said, standing, and pulling her companion with her. "Come."
Seven of Nine worked to hide her excitement from the officers they encountered along the way as anticipation nearly overwhelmed her. She wondered who her visitors would be. 'Friends and family' so there would be more than one. As soon as she stepped outside the building, she saw, and almost sprinted towards the person waiting underneath the tree. Instead, she maintained her normal brisk pace. "Icheb," she said, hoping he had not noticed the quiver of her lower lip.
"Seven! I've missed you!"
"And I, you."
"Admiral." He turned to the other adult and snapped to attention.
The gesture pulled a smile from Janeway's lips. "At ease, Cadet."
"How are your studies?" Seven asked, visually inspecting the young man's uniform, feeling pride. "Are you enjoying your classes?"
"You were a much better Astrometrics instructor, Seven."
"Thank you, Icheb," she said, looking the boy over again. "You've grown."
"Only two centimeters," he answered, though standing straighter.
"I'm Borg, I notice these things," she justified with a small smile, and placed an uncertain hand on his shoulder.
Before the teenager could formulate a reply, a noise caught their attention, and the small group turned towards the sound.
"Seven!" A purple beam sped across the grass.
"Naomi Wildman!" Naturally, without hesitation, she bent and enveloped the young girl in an embrace. "Naomi Wildman," she said again, softer. Then impulsively, she scooped the girl up in her arm, stood, and wrapped her other arm around the young man. "I've missed you both," she choked, very aware of her captain's hand against the small of her back.
Angel Island. Seven had accessed the information in her processor and found the history of the island off of San Francisco bay. It seemed it had once been a military base, an immigrant detention center, a POW encampment later, then a State park, and now a military base again. A secured compound for detainment of non- or former-Federation visitors she would have thought, if she had not been told otherwise. Strangely, it still seemed appropriate that they were there.
Meanwhile, the short shuttle ride seemed like an eternity, with Admiral Janeway introducing the sites they passed by. Oh, how beautiful Mount Tamalpais would be in Spring, she extolled, the number of endangered endemic plants in the area, and the importance of the military museum on the island leading to their destination Fort McDowell. She had recognized the excitement in the woman's voice, the same heightened anticipation she found in new discoveries, encountering unknown alien species, or a cup of perfectly brewed coffee. Now, on the ground, moving through various checkpoints, Seven of Nine wished she had the ability to channel that enthusiasm while the Admiral nodded friendly hellos to everyone.
They entered yet another set of doors, and greeted yet another Starfleet officer. Shortly thereafter, they arrived at an unmanned entrance. Unexpectedly, Janeway stepped aside and waved Seven forward.
"Go ahead, let's see if it works." She motioned to a device.
Seven complied, moving her feet, reflexively bringing her extended arms to the back of her body. With her palms facing outwards, she kept her head and gaze straight ahead. She had a difficult time not blinking when a red beam hit her eye.
"Annika Hansen," the computer announced after the retinal scan as the door slid open.
"After you, Seven."
"Captain?" She asked her voice not much more than a squeak as she looked around her. Judging by the type of consoles and view screen displays, she knew they were in some sort of engineer's laboratory. A gasp escaped when she saw the familiar green glow emitting from a number of stations. "What is this place?"
"The surprise I promised you four weeks ago your lab."
"This is mine?"
"Yes, we set it up so you can do your research for the ship from here." Janeway explained, punching a few buttons to bring up the schematics of the refitted and remodeled Voyager. "This is how she should look after all the modifications."
Quickly, Seven took in the information. Her ocular implant rose. "Admiral, you're asking me to assimilate your ship."
"Not quite," Janeway replied with a small laugh. "She's going to be a beauty, don't you think?"
"A team will be provided for you, to help with your work. You will find their files waiting for you when you get back to the base."
"When 'I"?" Not 'we'?
"Yes, I have a meeting with an old friend, Lieutenant Commander Data. I hope to introduce you soon," Janeway provided. "The shuttle will take you back to the base. Ens. Wellington is now assigned to be your chauffeur, so to speak."
"But what about transporters?"
"What about them?"
"If I have to travel between the two buildings every day, wouldn't it be more "
"Efficient?" Janeway cut Seven off. "Not every day, just Monday through Thursday. Friday, before our visit, you may ask Ens. Wellington to take you wherever you like, provided you stay within communication range. The shuttle may be inefficient, and you may use the transporters if you like, but I recommend that you try to enjoy this arrangement. It's not much, but it is a little more freedom than you have now."
"If I wish to spend Friday morning playing Kadis-kot with Naomi Wildman in Golden Gate park?"
"As long as Lt. Wildman is fine with it," Janeway promised with gentle grin.
"Thank you, Kathryn."
"I'll expect a progress report every Tuesday and Thursday, you may send the data through the communication channel and give me a supplemental verbal report. Whichever way you think most efficient, I'll leave it up to you."
"Of course, sometimes you'll need to be there, to see for yourself. You'll let me know, and I'll make all the necessary arrangements. In fact, next week, I would like you to spend some time on site. I'll be there of course."
To be my babysitter-warden. Seven suppressed a sigh. "Of course."
"Seven, this is only temporary, I hope. Ideally, I would like you to be at the station, with the ship and the rest of the engineering crew." Janeway gave Seven an apologetic smile, and squeezed her shoulder warmly. "But, for now, you have this lab."
"I understand. Thank you, Kathryn."
"If I can get everyone together, I'll introduce you to the new senior staff. Tuvok is undergoing treatment for his medical condition as you're aware; he may or may not make this trip in time. The Doctor is still trying to decide if he wants to join us."
"It would be nice if he decides to do so," Seven offered without hesitance.
"Can I let him know how you feel?"
At this query, she paused, but only minutely. "Sure, of course."
"You and B'Elanna will have a lot to do. We have technology that shouldn't exist for another 27 years."
"It will be interesting; I'm looking forward to it."
"Yes, and while I'm aware you two have been getting along better in the last year, please try not to kill each other."
"Don't worry, Kathryn, I shall make sure to leave her redundant organs in tact."
Janeway barked a laugh. "Yes, well, before we get started though, how do you feel about going away for a long weekend?"
"Away?" Seven blinked. From Starfleet? Just ourselves?
"It's nice in Bloomington this time of the year. The grass is still green, and we have several new calves. It'll be an experience."
"I would enjoy that."
"I'm thinking perhaps making it a girls' weekend? With B'Elanna and Miral? A little R&R before all the work? I doubt we'll have time when we "
"It's fine, Kathryn, I think it will be delightful to spend time with Miral Paris and her maternal unit," Seven said, masking her disappointment.
Janeway's brows furrowed, almost imperceptibly, and then her expression cleared. "Great! Then it's settled. I'll talk to B'Elanna and my mother, and then make arrangements with the people here. Maybe Phoebe, my sister, can join us, too."
"Thank you, Kathryn, for everything you're doing for me."
Janeway gave Seven another warm smile and a squeeze of her arm. "Now make my ship worthy of Jean-Luc Picard's envy."
The pronouncement made Seven grin. "Aye, Admiral."
"I trust you two can be in the same house for a few days without waging interpersonal war?" Janeway smirked from the back seat, eyeing her surrogate daughter and Seven.
"Don't worry Kathryn." B'Elanna looked up from the navigational screen of the rented hovercar and grinned at her copilot. "We won't embarrass you in front of your family, will we, Seven?"
"And we will not set bad examples for little Miral."
"How's my little goddaughter?" Janeway cooed, lifting the infant into her arms. "We're excited about our girls-only weekend, aren't we? You're such a cutie, and so pretty like your mommy. My, she's growing, isn't she?"
"Like a weed," B'Elanna said with a mother's pride. "We weren't sure being one quarter Klingon how fast she'd grow. So far it seems just about 25 percent faster than humans."
"Oh, but she still smells sweet and pretty like a Klingon. And what a cute baby she is, yes she is Anyway, that's good, the slower growth rate, you have more time to enjoy her babyhood," Kathryn replied distractedly, her attention once again captured by the smiling girl.
What was it about infants that made all adults behave like, well, Kathryn Janeway here? Seven of Nine wondered as she soaked in the changing scenery with secret hunger.
"So how are you, Seven?" B'Elanna engaged the other woman's attention with a hand on her arm. "We heard about Starfleet Command "
Despite the established truce from their once constant antagonism, the deep concern and sympathy had surprised Seven. "It is not as challenging as it could have been, or in the beginning," she answered honestly. "The Admiral has been," My strength? That's a little much. "She has been " Helpful? No, that's not good enough. Indispensable? Too cold.
"It's all right, Sev. I know how difficult it must've been for you to adjust."
"How would you "
"You try living with Admiral Paris and Mrs. Admiral Paris. There are days I want to take Miri and run."
"Yeah, that's my nickname for her."
"You like nicknames," Seven observed, and attempting to control the direction of their conversation, she added, "Why?"
"Oh, come on, Sev, can we skip the twenty questions? Not this weekend, okay?" B'Elanna threw up her hands in frustration and immediately relented. "Fine, nicknames are my way of showing affection. Like Flyboy for Tom, and Starfleet for Harry. Sev for Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero-One, get it?"
Seven absorbed the information and blinked. The Klingon's admission surprised her; they had forged an awkward and tenuous friendship at best, she had thought. "I believe I do, B'Elanna."
"You remembered my designation," Seven explained.
"Would you prefer to be called Annika?"
"That's the name Starfleet uses."
"Probably just as well." B'Elanna shrugged. "After a while, they might forget you're Borg. Hopefully."
"Do you have a nickname for the captain?"
A stern voice piped up from the back. "Yes, do you have a nickname for your dear captain?"
"It's all right, Lanna. Just teasing." Janeway chuckled as a small palm batted her face. "I don't suppose one gives one's parental figures nicknames."
"No, one certainly does not, O Captain, my captain."
"Walt Whitman. Not bad."
"Yeah, well, Tom has been reading poetry to Miri, instead of bedtime stories."
"But I, with mournful tread, walk the deck my Captain lies, fallen cold and dead? Lanna? Isn't that a bit macabre for a six month old infant?"
"Well, you can tell him when we get back."
"I hope this isn't his way of showing his resentment."
"What? Oh, you mean the poem? And me joining you on the next mission? No, he's looking forward to spending time, just with his parents, and Miri. Things have been, a little, uncomfortable, you know, with a foul-tempered Klingon around the house," B'Elanna managed, somewhat relieved to get the feelings off her chest. Then she remembered she and Kathryn were not alone, and suddenly she felt exposed. "So, Sev, are you looking forward to flying out again?"
"I'm looking forward to being away from the scrutiny of Starfleet."
"Oh, I'll bet. Like I said, I know exactly how that feels. Anyway, hopefully, with the Admiral's new book coming out and other holo-novels Tom's writing, we can afford our own place. Maybe it'll be waiting for me at the end of our mission." She forced a cheerful smile. "A girl can always hope, right?"
"I hope for your sake then his literary endeavors are commercial successes."
After several moments, Seven tried to break the uncomfortable silence, "May I be honest with you, B'Elanna?"
"I was, apprehensive about the assignment, not knowing anyone besides the captain. I'm glad that is not the case."
"Yes. I'm happy we'll be working on the ship together, too." Torres laughed. "Although remind me when our arguments get out of hand and we get thrown in the brig, by our slave driver captain," she yelled the last few words to make sure the older woman heard, and laughed again when she received the expected glare. Somehow it did not have the same authority with an infant trying to stick a rattle up her nose.
"Are you trying to play matchmaker, Katie?"
"For the two young ladies in the next room."
"They were members of my crew on Voyager, I promised them both "
"That you'd bring them to Bloomington when you come back to the Alpha Quadrant, I remember, I'm not senile."
"I didn't say Mother, B'Elanna is married to Admiral Paris' son, happily married."
"I see My mistake then."
"Mother, you've never admitted to being wrong before."
"Well, there's a first time for everything, Katie."
Seven revisited the conversation she overheard in the living-room of Gretchen Janeway's house when Mrs. Janeway and Kathryn were cleaning up after dinner in the kitchen. Human social interactions and human emotions were confusing was her singular conclusion from her prior memory recalls. However, that did not stop her from repeating the process.
That night and during subsequent replays, she had listened to the nuances of her captain's tone and wondered what her feelings were in regards to the obviously surprising misunderstanding. At the same time, she wished she could shut off her Borg enhanced hearing. She knew it was considered rude to eavesdrop, but she also found herself intently following the conversation, cursing the little noises generated by the recycler and other things that normal humans did not hear. So intent, in fact, that at some point, she even forgot that B'Elanna was in the same room.
"Hey, Borg, I said, 'Hey, Borg'!"
A micro-spanner waving in her face brought Seven back to the present. Once they returned from Indiana, the work started, with Torres coming on base every Monday through Thursday. Admiral Janeway had yet to introduce the senior staff of the new Voyager as most assignments were still pending. However, the engineering crew did meet. Some of them, like the Chief Engineer, worked in the lab at Fort McDowell with Seven; while others implemented the results of their experiments at the ship yard.
The crew had been working on a simulation of the enhanced warp core for days now, refining the matter-antimatter streaming components. Early on in their collaboration, B'Elanna had told Seven about the work she, Tom and Harry had done, reaching infinite speed. She also relayed the misadventure involving Tom and Janeway, the changes to their molecular structure and the amphibious off spring they had. Seven had felt a pang of something then, of what she was uncertain. Perhaps jealousy?
"Hey!" Fingers snapped this time.
"Yes, Klingon, I both saw and heard you," Seven replied in her most superior tone, embarrassed by her inattention. "Do you require assistance with the energy relay alignment?"
"No, not right now," B"Elanna replied, tucking away the tool. "Penny?"
"Penny, an antiquated form of " Seven of Nine began, launching once more into evasive mode, knowing full well the meaning of the Earth colloquialism.
"Yeah, yeah, I meant what were you thinking? I called you three times."
"I'm sorry B'Elanna Torres."
"Oh, gees, first and last name, too? Listen, I won't push, but if you ever want to talk "
"Thank you, B'Elanna, I shall keep your offer in mind."
"I know you, Seven. Something's really bugging you for you to go back to your Borg talk."
At that, Seven sighed. On one hand, it was good to have a friend in the engineer; on the other, friendship means the person knew when one was prevaricating. "It seems I'm becoming human," with my inclination to dissemble, she thought, trying to come up with an excuse for her statement. B'Elanna did not give her a chance.
"Hate to break it to you, Sev, you are human."
"I am Borg."
"You have Borg enhancements, granted some of them are critical to your physical well-being, but other things, most things, you're human."
"Perhaps. But I doubt you were calling me repeatedly to discuss my humanity," Seven hedged. "How may I help you? Or, 'what's up'?"
"I was gonna ask you to take a look at these results." B'Elanna waved the PADD in her other hand before pressing the shutdown button. "But it can wait. Let's go grab some lunch," she decided, placing the equipment on the other woman's desk.
"I do not wish "
"Yeah, yeah, too bad," B'Elanna tossed over her shoulder. "You're coming with me whether you wish to partake nutritional supplements or not. That Ferengi gives me the creeps."
After a pause, Seven followed, her longer legs made it easy to fall into step beside the other woman. "We could always find another dining establishment, one not next to his shop."
"And get food poisoning? No, thanks!"
"You're sure it doesn't have anything to do with their all-day breakfast menu and your banana pancake obsession?" She nudged, falling also into their habit of banter which, in her opinion, was one of the more delightful humanoid endeavors.
"Someday, Sev, you'll understand my 'obsession'."
"I sincerely doubt it, Lanna," she used the captain's nickname for the engineer to denote her mock annoyance. The designation still felt odd to her tongue.
"Wait until you try real maple syrup, you'll feel differently then."
"Somehow that sounds like a threat."
"Then consider yourself threatened, Borg."
"Borg do not feel threat, Klingon."
"Come on." B'Elanna sped up as they exited the corridor that led them into the base exchange food court. "I hear pancakes calling."
"You've finally gone bananas," Seven deadpanned. That earned her a laugh and a hearty slap on her arm. For some reason, that made her smile.
"Permission to speak freely, Kathryn?"
"B'Elanna?" Janeway placed her coffee on the table and shifted in her seat. "You're on break if I'm not mistaken, and unless I've misheard, you used my name."
"Well, yes, I," the Klingon sighed. This was a lot more difficult than she had believed, and she knew it would not be easy. Her friend was a private individual. In fact, both of them were. However, she had watched as the two danced around each other for nearly three months; things were getting more awkward for her by the minute. She had put off saying anything, hoping at first she was imagining things. Now with Seven finally receiving her clearance to leave Earth, she felt anxious. Granted, Admiral Janeway would stay behind until the work on Voyager was substantially completed. Nevertheless, how would Seven handle the separation? Janeway, for that matter? How would she herself get along with the Borg at Utopia Planitia on Mars for the next three months, not to mention their scheduled mission? Things most certainly would just get worse. "I'm sorry, Kathryn. This is hard."
"Take your time, Lanna."
"Um. What's argh!" She growled in frustration. Finally, deciding to be direct, she asked, "Is there something going on between you and Seven?"
"Seven of Nine?"
"Do we know a Seven of Twelve?"
"Of course." Kathryn had to smile. "I'm sorry, Lanna, your question caught me off guard. Why, may I ask?"
"You've been acting, weird, for lack of a better word, around each other." The Klingon fought a growl and paced the small area before the couch instead. "When we were in the Delta Quadrant, I know some people assumed that, you know, you two were, um, a couple? You spent a lot of time with her, and you obviously care about her."
"I seemed to recall spending a lot of time with you, too, and obviously care about you. Not too many people call me 'Kathryn' on Voyager."
"I know that."
"Are you saying people thought you and I were "
"Oh," Torres sniggered. "No doubt, at least in the beginning." She scratched her temple. "Anyway, the two of you watch each other. And before you say anything, sometimes after you leave the room, Seven gets this look on her face "
"What kind of look?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe confusion? A little wistful? But sometimes you have the same look."
Janeway sighed, audibly this time. She had delayed the inevitable long enough. How could she not expect B'Elanna to notice? Her Chief Engineer could not be good at her job by being oblivious. She tended to her ship with all the consideration and attention due another sentient being close to her heart. Could she be less to a friend and possible parental figure? "Adm. Janeway from the future apparently harbored unrequited feelings for our friend."
"And this Adm. Janeway?"
"Is, frankly, at a loss."
"Seven is under the impression that she should love me, because of what the Admiral said or didn't say."
"No one should love anyone because they 'should'."
"She still has a lot to learn about humanity. You know, I used to see her as Borg, and then I got to know her, but there are times I still have to remind myself that she's really only been an adult for like four years, or maybe even less, considering."
"Or she's a little more mature, considering. However neither one of us can deny that she can be naïve when it comes to emotions, and also easily hurt."
"Yeah, underneath that Borg mask and all the data she assimilated."
"Should we be talking about our friend behind her back?"
"Well, if this is to be an intervention Kathryn, do you feel "
"I feel I'm too old to be a tour guide through the journey of romantic love."
B'Elanna was surprised, only because she was not surprised. She had expected the lack of denial, or at least hoped, but the hope was more about the depth of their friendship. That part, fortunately, was true. "I see."
"I don't think "
"Seven is loyal and honorable, and she obviously loves you."
"Same could be said of you. Are you saying you would sacrifice your future for me, if I harbored romantic feelings towards you?"
Torres stopped the pacing and looked down on her boots. "Well "
"Feelings that I don't feel are appropriate, mind you. She's much too young."
Brown eyes met blue ones again. "She's only a year younger than me."
"Exactly. And you've always been like a surrogate daughter to me."
"Age shouldn't be a factor."
"Perhaps. But would you want someone to be with you out of loyalty and honor?"
"But she loves you."
"Not in love. But, back to the subject of loyalty and honor, Starfleet still commands mine."
"But you went against Starfleet, for Seven," B'Elanna tried. She was not equipped for this conversation, she knew; but she had to do something to help her friends.
"No, I didn't. I simply employed a little diplomacy and convinced them that Seven has proven herself to not be a danger to Earth, at least she won't be while she's in space."
"They still don't trust her?"
"She has some powerful people on her side; it's a matter of convincing the rest."
"In the meantime, you're her babysitter."
"I'm her friend, friends do whatever they need to, to keep each other safe," Janeway replied with stern passion, "As she has done for the last Voyager crew, even those who were not her friends." She put up her hand to forestall further comment from the astute engineer. "But it's not just to keep her safe. As much as I enjoy the respect due a Vice Admiral, I didn't go to command school just to spend the next fifteen years pushing paperwork behind a desk."
"Honestly, I can't see you doing that either," Torres muttered.
Janeway smiled. "That said, I'd like to be a Fleet Admiral one day; and I will need people I trust alongside me, people whose abilities and loyalty that are more easily ascertained out in the field. For instance, Harry, you and I know, wants his own command; and I intend to see to it. You, too, Lanna, whatever you want to be, if you want to stay in Starfleet."
"Thank you, Kathryn."
"Anyway, back to the point." Janeway shook her head and forced a crooked smile. "I'm also not in my twilight years with a lifetime of regret and bitterness and nothing to lose." Despite herself, the smile grew. "The romantic in me still hopes for that perfect love, after all, we are not going to spend the next twenty something years lost in space."
"And that could be Seven."
"It very well could."
"But you have doubts."
"I know I'm not what she needs." And neither is Chakotay, suddenly she realized; nearly as quickly, her guilt towards the demise of that relationship dissipated. "She doesn't need to be treasured or protected, at least not more than she needs someone who would just let her be. She also should be first in someone's life, not competing with Starfleet for my attention. Anyway, I'm sorry if how we've been around each other caused you any discomfort, and if that had prompted " She stood, to see eye to eye with B'Elanna.
"No, not at all, Kathryn. I was just wondering if I could help."
"You've been a good friend, to both Seven and me." Closing the distance, Janeway gathered Torres into an embrace.
"That's not going to change, regardless."
"I'm happy to hear that." She clapped the younger woman's back, and retreated. "Now if you'll excuse me, I do have a meeting with Capt. Picard and Ambassador Worf in ten minutes."
"Then I won't delay you."
"I'm glad we had this talk though, Lanna."
Torres returned the smile. "Me, too, Kathryn."
As the small group traversed from one area of the shipyard to the next, passing through design facilities for other starships and conference rooms, B'Elanna could not help but compare the tour to their prior and only visit nearly six weeks ago. Admiral Janeway was there then, and the Yard Commander had met them at the transporter pad, showing them directly to where Voyager was refitted. Now a junior lieutenant took them through all the relevant levels of the station, preparing them for an extended stay.
Of course, Ens. Yaxara Wellington was there, tagging along. Not for the first time, she wondered if the half-Betazoid was permanently assigned as Seven's shadow. On several occasions, Torres saw what seemed to be hero worship and awe in the young ensign's dark eyes, similar to her own early on when she looked at Chakotay and then the Captain. Still, there was something about the woman that put her Klingon senses on high-alert, and made her suspicious. Perhaps the unspoken knowledge that she was Starfleet Intelligence, reporting every little thing to her superior, was the cause. B'Elanna sighed internally on the Borg's behalf.
From the recreational deck, they went to the habitat area. Not surprisingly, their accommodations were adjacent to each other's, all three identical, sterile and utilitarian like any Starfleet issued space. It was efficient, as Seven would say, with a sitting area consisting of a table, two chairs and a couch, a bedroom with a double bed, a small bathroom, and a replicator. They would have the next three months to personalize the space. Or not.
More unexpected were the wide viewports along the outer part of the station, affording them different views of the planet's surface depending on their location in orbit. That was nice. In a way, it reminded Torres of their time on Voyager, travelling through space wide open and limitless.
Until that moment, she had not fully acknowledged how cooped up she felt on Earth even though she had remembered the first time seeing the ship again at the shipyard, and walking on the deck towards Main Engineering. She recalled her shipmate's carefully frozen expression; still there was something in the sky blue eyes. Unidentifiable, but it somehow resonated.
Voyager was my collective, Seven's voice spoke in B'Elanna's memory.
Voyager was home, the half-Klingon admitted as they moved on to the administrative decks, where Admiral Janeway of course would have her temporary office, and also where the station's infirmary was located. As her feet automatically followed the group, her mind travelled.
Even Indiana felt like home, sorta, B'Elanna regarded with a stab of guilt. She attributed the comforting feeling to Gretchen Janeway's kindness and warm hospitality. Something about the elderly woman reminded her of her paternal grandmother caring and accepting. Plus, Her banana pancakes Wistfully, she reminisced.
Her reflection brightened when she remembered the look of undisguised pleasure on Seven's face when she tasted real maple syrup on their last visit to Kathryn's childhood home. Since then, the woman had not poked fun at her 'pancake obsession', Torres realized with a smirk.
The grin tugged at her lips when she recalled another visit to the farm. It was the beginning of calving season, and they were shown the firstborn. The calf, though nursing, had decided Seven's green tunic was food, causing the woman to jump back in surprise. The un-Borg-like squeal had B'Elanna laughing then teasing her for days even after they started working at the lab. Seven sulked for even longer, making both their days impossible, until she was presented a plush version of the bovine. Briefly, she wondered if the toy went with them to Mars.
Then there was Olive, one of Mollie's off-springs. It was most distressing to watch the emotions shifting through Kathryn's face as Phoebe Janeway first relayed the story of how Mark, deciding to keep Mollie, had dropped off the puppy as soon as she was weaned. Back then, they all thought Voyager was lost; the family, including Kathryn's former fiancé, grieved together. Now, Olive was expecting her own litter, and Gretchen had promised to keep one of the puppies for whenever Seven decided to settle down. The way blue eyes flew wide with shock was comical. B'Elanna and Kathryn wagered if the Borg, to circumvent the threat of a pet, would try to barricade herself in her room until the end of the visit. In the end, Mrs. Janeway won the bet they had found Seven asleep on the couch with her hand over the dog's swollen belly the next morning. Huh, wonder if she had the puppies yet. A small smile graced her features, before she thinned her lips.
Thoughts about Seven inevitably led to Chakotay. Last B'Elanna heard, her former Commander had taken the lump sum compensation from Starfleet and put a down payment on his own flyer. He was travelling to Tevlik's Moonbase, and then to Athos IV, places where the Maquis were overran and massacred. He had planned to visit with their former colleagues the handful that had survived the Dominion War and were scattered in different outposts or on starships after accepting Starfleet's reinstatement offers. It sounded to Torres like he was on some sort of vision quest, trying to find himself and to cope.
She had to admit she felt sorry for the man. It seemed he genuinely cared about Seven of Nine. When she first started work at Fort McDowell, every time they talked, Chakotay would ask about Seven while she gave vague responses. Really, what else could she say? But for the captain's weekly visit and Icheb and Naomi's periodic ones, Seven spent almost all her waking moments in the lab, judging by her logs and the amount of work she accomplished. The meeting with Starfleet command decreased to bi-weekly briefings, and according to Seven, it was more and more about the integration of technology and new design developments than her time with the Borg. The woman gave no indication that their former Commander had any place on her mind, let alone in her heart. At some point, Torres wished she could tell him that Kathryn and Seven became involved, at least that would put him out of his misery. Thankfully, he had finally pulled off his own band-aid.
The captain. After careful consideration and repeated deliberation with Tom, Torres had come to the conclusion that either Janeway was really busy with Starfleet or she was determined to let Seven find her own way. Or perhaps both. She had definitely put her role as mentor-parent if not Starfleet Admiral before that of a hopeful lover. Her action did not surprise Voyager's Chief Engineer or the ship's former pilot. Admiral Janeway was right their friend deserved more.
Friend. After B"Elanna had gotten over her own insecurities and jealousies, she began to see what the captain saw - a talented young woman who lashed out in anger to hide her fear and uncertainty of not belonging anywhere or to anything. The half-Klingon saw her not-too-former self. After that realization, she learned tolerance, established some sort of unspoken peace, and the tentative beginnings of friendship.
Torres smiled at the memory as she turned her attention back to the present, and caught Seven looking around and absorbing their surroundings with the curiosity of a child, held back by the propriety requirements of being an adult. Then a slight frown marred her serene visage, and her steps slowed until she was lagging behind. B'Elanna hanged back with her friend and watched with equal amusement and aggravation as the Betazoid made obvious effort to not keep in pace. Knowing they had all the privacy that was allowed, she whispered, "What's wrong, Sev?"
"I've been wondering, why are we here?" After a moment of hesitation, the Borg elaborated, "On Mars, when Voyager could've been refitted back on Earth? The San Francisco Yard, even Oakland Fleet Yards, would be the most practical and logical option."
"Have you asked Adm. Janeway?"
"The Admiral merely shrugged, and said Utopia Planitia is where Voyager was built."
"Well, she was right about that." B'Elanna offered plainly, "Something tells me Adm. Janeway also wants to keep you away from Starfleet. And a station you can see with the naked eye hovering over the Bay Area wouldn't fit the bill. You know, out of sight, out of mind?"
"In that case, Lieutenant, I'm sorry."
"For what, Sev?" Torres provided a frown of her own. "And what's with the rank?"
"If indeed I'm the reason why we're in Mars, millions of kilometers from Earth, I also took you away from your family."
Just 'millions'? Not the exact orbital distance calculated to the hours and minutes? "Oh, that's not your fault," B'Elanna spoke out, not bothering to check the volume of her voice. "First of all, you've done nothing wrong; you didn't ask to be assimilated. You don't need to be watched like a child; that's Starfleet's fault."
"Starfleet will always be suspicious of the Borg; I've accepted that."
The resignation affected B'Elanna unexpectedly. She hoped what she was about to say would provide enough assurance and take away her friend's guilt. "Besides, it's my decision to stick with Starfleet. They could send me on a three year mission to the Delta Triangle to investigate unidentifiable space debris if they wanted."
"But they wouldn't send you to a place where ships routinely disappear. You're an accomplished engineer, your services are invaluable."
"The point is, Seven, I'd still have to go wherever they send me. Mars is not the worst place in the galaxy," she reasoned. "And what's more prestigious then refitting Voyager and being her Chief Engineer under Adm. Janeway's command?"
Why was she suddenly such an optimist? B'Elanna asked herself. Perhaps it was the years spent on Voyager, lost in the Delta Quadrant, surviving enemy attacks and all the other bad experiences. Maybe she felt lucky. She had her dad and her little family with Tom. Even if her peace with his parents was uneasy at times, she was luckier than Seven who has only an aged aunt who, despite all her love and best intentions, had been having a hard time adjusting to her half-Borg niece. Or maybe Seven was the one keeping the relationship at arm's length; it would not surprise B'Elanna one bit.
"I'm sorry, first the captain, now you, are my babysitter."
"Hey, at least you're potty trained."
"Do you miss Miri?"
"Of course I do," Torres replied tersely, hyper aware of the other people around them. If Wellington was continuing to be Seven's shadow, she might as well get used to it sooner than later. "But, I don't know. Sometimes it's better to have an absentee parent than an unhappy parent. It's not like I abandoned her. This commission is a means to an end. Hopefully, she is too young to remember my absence."
Seven just nodded in acquiescent. Really, what else could she say?
"Would you want children of your own, one day?"
"I'm not sure, Lieutenant. Vulcans believe that their children are part of their identity. Meanwhile, I'm still trying to find my own identity."
"You might be logical and reserved with your emotions, Seven, but you're not Vulcan."
"I don't know that I'll be a good parent."
"You were a good parent to the Borg children, and Icheb, he looks up to you."
"But it's different. I'm, apprehensive about the process," Seven admitted. "Besides, I'm just not sure."
Birthing process? B'Elanna recalled with a cringe. It was not something she would want to live through anytime soon, if ever again, so she could understand the apprehension. Or the process of falling in love and sharing yourself with someone? The nonchalance with which Seven discussed relationships when they were crawling around the Jefferies tubes had not fooled her. It was hollow bluster, to disguise her fear. "It's okay. I wasn't sure either. And there are no laws that said you have to have kids." Torres shrugged, ready to change the subject. "Anyway."
"Were you that unhappy on Earth, B'Elanna?"
"It's just not my home, you know? I didn't grow up there. And the time I was there, at the Academy, I wasn't particularly happy. Voyager had been my home, more than anywhere else I've known," she said the words out loud. "I imagine you feel the same way, about the ship."
"Yes, I believe I do."
Seven of Nine stepped through the door into Astrometrics; her eyes were drawn to the darkened viewscreen, as anyone's would. After all, the domed area was the main feature of the semi-rectangular room. If Voyager was home, this was her room, her domain.
Except now I have my own quarters, she thought with satisfaction. Briefly, she recalled the images of her space on the ship sterile like her current rooms on Utopia Planitia, somewhat larger, but with only a single viewport. She was looking forward to decorating it and making it her own though. Besides, it was on Deck 9, in the same section as B'Elanna Torres, who had requested her old quarters. The prospect of being amongst the crew made Seven happy. It would be mostly engineering and astrometrics staff on this deck, no doubt due to its proximity to both departments. The arrangement was efficient; Seven approved.
Thinking about her future living arrangement on Voyager reminded her of the work scheduled for the day. They would spend the afternoon disassembling the Borg alcoves in Cargo Bay Two, and collecting the parts they needed for her new regenerating options. She and B'Elanna had focused on design modifications that would both allow Seven privacy as well as conserve Voyager's resources. Using Admiral Janeway's portable Starfleet prototype as reference, they arrived at a small alcove to fit into her closet, and an auxiliary unit for her bed.
Meanwhile, if there was another Borg attack, if there had to be future wars with other hostile races, the United Federation of Planets wanted to be prepared. Hence, the rest of the machinery would be packed up and transported back to the lab at Fort McDowell, to be analyzed and experimented on by scientists and engineers in Annika Hansen's lab. With her recommendations and training, they were developing new devices and protocols with the data she accumulated and provided.
The lab at Fort McDowell was definitely 'hers'. In that short time, the Borg had finally understood why Lieutenant Torres flew off the handle every time she challenged her position in Engineering. She understood why B'Elanna wanted to strangle her in the beginning of their relationship; she could fathom less why she had not. At 'The Lab', everyone followed Seven's orders and gave deference to her opinions everyone except for Voyager's Chief Engineer of course, but she had expected that. In fact, despite her lack of formal credentials, the 'newbies', as B'Elanna's referred to the new crew, called her 'Doctor' Hansen. Secretly, Seven adored the address, and more than once wondered if she should acquire a university diploma, and perhaps that could be her life if she ever decided to settle down. Working as a research scientist for Starfleet would not be the worst thing, she surmised.
Strangely, Starfleet, through Admiral Paris, had thanked Annika Hansen for her assistance and cooperation, as if she had a real choice in the matter. Perhaps equally surprising was that she had not minded sharing her knowledge; she had more to give in that department than anyone. Like it had been on Voyager, it felt good to be useful, towards a generally benevolent goal, for the benefit of humanity. In a way, she was repaying her debts to Starfleet for sending Kathryn Janeway to her, and for her past as Borg.
The interrogations by faceless voices, the forced links to her mind, however, made her angry. Oddly, once she decided to cooperate, to accept the invasion of her privacy as penance, her 'captors' backed off. Immediately, their tones shifted, one of the voices that of a female lost its edge and became almost nice as time passed. Still, she could tell the person was someone who was used to having her views unchallenged, her orders obeyed without question, and who truly believed in the import and virtue of her actions. Seven appreciated that arrogance of conviction, as she did in Janeway with her Starfleet ideals.
What got the Borg was the nameless Admiral's justification of Ens. Wellington's assignment. That she had excelled in her science and engineering classes at the academy was apparent. Seven had not doubted that the woman was a valuable contribution to her team and would later be to Voyager; even Lieutenant Torres was begrudgingly beginning to accept the fact. To be her friend, however? That was preposterous. Try as she might to remain impassive in her opinion, she could not help but be affected by B'Elanna's outrage: why was Icheb allowed to move freely, while Seven had a constant minder?
Why had the Lieutenant accepted her own treatment by Starfleet without more indignation? Every member of the senior staff her grade and below had received their promotions at the banquet celebrating Voyager's return. Chakotay and Tuvok both had captaincy waiting for them should they accept. Because she was Maquis? Or that she had never finished the Academy? B'Elanna seemed grateful that they had allowed her to keep status quo. Seven found that acceptance odd.
And Icheb wasn't truly free either. He was living in the dorms; he was surrounded by Starfleet, and learning how to be the perfect soldier upholding Starfleet ideals. Besides, he was only a boy, genetically created to destroy the Borg. He had not assimilated countless individuals.
Not countless. She remembered the exact number. Abruptly, she turned, and quick marched to the command console. A familiar sequence of keys, and the viewscreen flickered to life, showing the last image it captured a pretty blue and green planet in the Sol system called Earth. Beauty was never more relevant to the Borg.
Seven remembered her inner war of trepidation and elation as they approached her ancestors' and her aunt's home. It was ironic that she was just beginning to feel like she, too, belonged, and now she was on Mars.
She belonged here, too, however, in Voyager's Astrometrics lab. This was her 'baby', hers and Harry Kim's, as it was their joined efforts that made the massive upgrade possible. The system's combination of Starfleet's bio-neural gel packs and isolinear circuitry with Borg technology, its usefulness in data-transmission, the long-range communication capability, and the wealth of information on the Delta Quadrant that the sensors captured to Starfleet, she had learned, it was proof positive of her loyalty to Earth. To Seven of Nine, also known as Annika Hansen, it was another milestone of her self-acceptance, as a hybrid person and not simply a desperately flawed human or defective Borg.
Unexpectedly, her ruminations took another turn. She was reminded of her experience with the vinculum. Memory of those events remained irretrievable, but she had read the reports of everyone involved. Her Klingon personality's attempt to take B'Elanna Torres as a mate was shocking and embarrassing. Thankfully, the Lieutenant had not held her responsible. The Ferengi trying to buy Astrometrics' holographic viewscreen from Janeway, she could understand. If she had enough latinum bars, she, too, might try to make Starfleet a deal.
On that last thought, with a small smile on her lips, Seven threw herself into her work, making adjustments to the system, possible now that all previously stored data had been downloaded. It was Kathryn Janeway's intention to collect and bring back more valuable information to the Federation during their next mission. Seven would make fulfilling her captain's requirements her command.
Distractedly, Seven rubbed her forehead. By her internal calculations, she had spent the last three hours and many more the day before reviewing the design specifications and retracing her work. She could not find any acceptable cause for the mal-function. Even the Chief Engineer was stumped. Fortunately, she was working at one of the side stations when the main control blew out a panel. Otherwise, she would be spending the day at the station's hospital instead of Voyager's Astrometrics lab; although, perhaps she should pay the Bajoran doctor a visit.
For several days, on and off, Seven had experienced lingering headaches. They were not severe enough to affect her concentration, or cause concerns, but it had become an annoyance. The saving grace was that it was different from the last headaches she felt. At least she had no reason to fear for her life.
She did, however, dread her "date" B'Elanna Torres' word. The Klingon had caught the momentary slip of her Borg mask, and asked what was wrong. Finding it impossible to tell B'Elanna anything but the truth, she relayed her mild discomfort. Immediately, the woman decreed they would leave work promptly like everyone else on the team, and the two of them would meet for recreational activities, i.e. their "date". Of course, she understood it was not a romantic overture. In fact, she understood most human linguistic nuances perfectly, and that of several thousand other languages too, thanks to the Borg Collective and the convenience of computers. Still, she found words with multiple definitions and ambiguities less than efficient.
Part of her was tempted to just call off their "date", perhaps using fatigue as an excuse. Borg, however, do not tire, at least not when they are regenerating properly.
What she had not told anyone, was that since being 'guest' of Starfleet, and relying on Kathryn Janeway to keep her systems running, she had been making modifications to her nanoprobes. Forcibly, she made herself adapt, until spending four hours regenerating with her head in her captain's lap became a luxury and not a functional necessity.
Emotional necessity, however, was another matter. Seven missed the closeness, with Kathryn, or with another human-being. She had not felt alone all those weekends; and she hated feeling alone. Her parents had never been overtly physically demonstrative, but her aunt was. She remembered being cuddled and doted on as a child. If she had given Irene Hansen the opportunity, no doubt she would envelope her in a hug and never let go. She feared she would not want her to, and the same fear had kept her from accepting Starfleet's offer to arrange for regular, actual visits. Not only because the woman embodied the childhood she had lost or that she was her only living relative truthfully, she simply missed her aunt. The thought itself, and the emotions that went with it, scared her.
Belatedly, she realized, with a small frown, how hard she had been pushing herself could very well be the cause of her headaches. She had no choice, however. There was a deadline they had to meet. When Captain Janeway wanted something done, she wanted it then; Admiral Janeway was expectedly more demanding. As best as she could, she tried to work on the redesign of her alcove on her own time, but she still needed B'Elanna Torres' help in some things. Now other members of the engineering team had to spend time on the install while she repaired the damaged astrometrics console. While she doubted the crew cared, accepting the malfunctions and hiccups as routine, she disliked having to rely on others; it made her feel helpless and weak.
She hated relying on others, especially Lieutenant Torres. But friends are supposed to rely on each other, and you're friends, she heard the Doctor telling her in another time. She could still remember the hurt in Icheb's eyes when she rejected his help when her cortical node was failing. But this is B'Elanna Torres. Their friendship was fragile as it was; there were days she thought her mere presence irritated the Klingon. In fact, it was a miracle they were even friends; she did not want to overburden the relationship. The result would be unacceptable.
Calling off their "date" could lead to unacceptable results, Seven reflected. With a soft sigh of determination, she shut down the equipment and left for Main Engineering.
Two decks away, Seven found the Chief Engineer ready and eager to sign off for the day. So much for a change of mind, she accepted with another silent sigh.
"Someone cancelled their slot for one of the holo-suites, and I snagged it," B'Elanna Torres explained with undisguised excitement. "We have an hour. Would you like a game of Velocity? I haven't played for a while, but I know you and Kathryn used to play every week. When was the last time "
"Perhaps that would be acceptable."
Unfazed by the brusque interruption, B'Elanna continued, "Or we could skip the holo-suite, and go grab a bite. Maybe your shadow would let us transport to the surface, we could take a walk. Outside," she added with emphasis, anticipating the Borg's response.
"Ens. Wellington is not my shadow. In fact, currently, she is nowhere to be seen."
"Yeah, well, I guess she figured you don't need a chaperon with me."
"And for good reason."
"So what'll it be, Borg?" Torres asked with unhindered enthusiasm and even a slight bounce on her feet. "Velocity? Food? Surface?"
"B'Elanna Torres, you're in a good mood," Seven stated the obvious.
"We made some headways in Engineering. Tomorrow, Carey, Vorik and I, and you of course, are going to work on your alcove. Afterwards, I'll help you with the console; I have some ideas as to what might've caused the mal-function."
"Wouldn't you want to do that now?"
"Oh, no, not tonight Borg. We're taking time off, whether you like it or not."
"Has anyone told you you're bossy?" Seven accepted with a smirk.
"Haha. Pot. Don't you dare give me that 'pot, a container for cooking' targ crap." B'Elanna mock glared with her hands on her waist. "Help me decide on our activities for the evening. Comply."
"Why do we need to decide?" Seven gave her best superior look. "We could visit one of the dining establishments on the surface after our time in the holo-suite."
"Great! Let's go!"
After the women logged in, the holo-suite door whooshed open. "Computer "
Before B'Elanna could complete her sentence, Seven provided her own command, "Computer, run program Qo'noS, Caves of No'Mat." She had discovered the program while perusing the list of available settings. She could not believe some of the ones sanctioned by Starfleet the violence in the numerous battle reenactments, and there were only so many ways to interpret the term 'love slaves'.
"Computer, two bat'leths, one hundred sixteen centimeters tip to tip, standard weight and composition."
"Bat'leths? Sev, you realize No'Mat is where Klingons go for the Rite of MajQa? To meditate?" Torres said, even as she picked up one of the weapons.
"A level of mental training and focus is required in combat, B'Elanna Torres. In some cultures, martial arts form a part of their religious training."
"You don't have to tell a Klingon about combat, Seven of Nine. Although I doubt Kahless had this in mind," she said and laughed as they circled one another, each looking for an opening for the first strike.
"Are you reporting me to the High Council? Or the great emperor himself?"
"You wanna talk? Or fight? Don't think I'm gonna go easy on you, Borg."
"I wouldn't dream of it, Klingon." Seven returned the playful sneer. "B'Elanna Torres, defend yourself," she warned and struck forward.
When they first began, B'Elanna did go easy on the Borg, mindful of her assumed inexperience. As they sparred, however, B'Elanna noticed how skilled Seven was in wielding the ceremonial sword, by the speed the blade spun and twisted in her hands. Quickly, the Klingon's competitiveness took over, and she went on the offensive, executing a move she learned from Tuvok. It almost put her partner off balance, only almost as Seven successfully blocked her. The force of metal striking metal vibrated through B'Elanna's body.
"This is the best you can do, B'Elanna Torres?"
The Klingon growled and redoubled her efforts. She wanted to wipe the smug look from the Borg's beautiful face the woman was beautiful, she acknowledged, with her severe coiffure falling loose around her flushed cheeks, her lithe form in fluid motion. She understood why Kathryn, or anyone, would find her attractive. With a louder grunt, she launched into another offensive sequence, this time honed from the 'Kahless' program on Voyager's holodeck.
Seven returned the attack with an effortlessness that surprised B'Elanna. Instead of the painless victory she had anticipated, she found herself being pushed back towards the cave wall. Her defeat came as if in slow motion as the Borg's blade swept her legs and took her to the ground with a thud. Her heart pounded from the exertion and disbelief. It took her a long moment to adjust, too long, apparently as her companion's features shifted from arrogance to concern.
"Are you damaged, B'Elanna?"
She shook her head and laughed self-depreciatively. "Just my Klingon pride. Who did you assimilate? A member of the High Council?" As soon as the words left her mouth, she regretted them. The pained look on Seven's face almost rent her heart pain she inflicted. Without thinking, she held out her hand, and presented her best smile. "Wow, Sev, you're good. I'm impressed. Heck, Kahless would be impressed," she said, and saw the instant transformation and the hint of a smile. The captain was right once you know where and how to look, Seven's emotions was like an open book.
"Come on, you gonna help me up?" B'Elanna grinned into blue eyes. The strength and ease with which she was pulled to her feet again surprised her. "I'm sorry about the Borg crack. Like I said, you damaged my pride."
"I am Borg, B'Elanna; and you have met the Klingon warrior I assimilated."
The sentence was said with a smile that told B'Elanna she was forgiven. "Does this count as our third date?"
If Seven was as shocked as Torres was by the blatant flirting, she did not show it. "I must confess, however, I have been using your training program on Voyager. I hope you don't mind."
"'Mind'? It came standard with the ship, I mean, I made modifications, sure, but it's not 'mine'. But why, Sev? Why the bat'leth?"
"I find Klingon culture fascinating." Seven hesitated. "You have traditions, traditions I lack. And you seem free, from your emotions. Klingons seem to be fearless."
"Only about death, Seven of Nine," B'Elanna said with a wry smile. "There are lots of things Klingons are afraid of. Well, this half-Klingon anyway."
"Gagh, for instance?"
"Who told you?" B'Elanna stepped forward, invading the tall blonde's space with exaggerated irritation. "Tell me," she demanded, "Was it Starfleet? Or Tom? Tell me which one so I can show him the business side of my bat'leth."
"You would not strike your own husband."
"You'd be surprised. A Klingon is a warrior in any battle." Unnerved by the truth in her unchecked words, B'Elanna added a self-conscious laugh and changed the subject. "Anyway, seriously Sev, you were amazing, with the bat'leth. And your moves? They were wow. Just, wow."
"Thank you, B'Elanna."
"I don't know about you, that's enough mental training exercise for me."
Interestingly, the Borg noticed her lingering headache was gone it had been since shortly after their time in the holo-suite started, she discovered after an internal diagnostic. Indeed, she felt more alive than she had for days. It must be the sparring. The physical exertion was exhilarating, and the competition with a real and not holographic warrior was exciting. It felt in some ways even better and more challenging than Velocity with Janeway she must admit, and she did not want the feeling to end. "One more round, I'll go easier on you this time."
"Don't you dare, Borg!" B'Elanna took up the invitation and her weapon readily. "Although if you end up having to carry me out of here, don't complain."
"Borg do not complain, Klingon."
"Yeah, right!" B'Elanna laughed. "En garde!"
"I believe that's a fencing term. Terran, French, for "
"Oh, shut up and fight!"
"She's an attractive little thing, isn't she?" The older woman smiled from her seat, the same one Seven had first set eyes on all those months ago when they were on board Voyager in the Delta Quadrant. "Very handsome in her Starfleet uniform."
"Come now, Annika, you can tell your aunt."
"There's nothing to tell." Seven of Nine clasped her hands tightly behind her back and looked uncomfortably to the side, as if in fear that someone would walk in on her conversation. Even though she was in her own private quarters, nearly every time they talked, she would be transported back to the ship, to when each crew member had three minutes with his or her loved ones. Somehow everyone managed to ignore her station at the controls, while she remained hyperaware of their conversations, and her own emotional reaction to them. "I promise you."
"Oh?" The woman grinned again, a mischievous twinkle never leaving her light eyes. "I can hear it in your voice whenever you mentioned her."
"I assure you, if anything it had been annoyance you heard."
"Your parents were like oil and water when they first met at the university. Your father complained endlessly how irritating his assigned lab partner was."
The mention of Magnus and Erin Hansen somehow reminded Seven of the first time B'Elanna Torres talked to her long lost father. She had envied the lieutenant then. She knew, if her father were alive, he would still be as distant as he had been when she was a child, and focusing all his energies on the Borg. She wondered how he would feel about her being the Queen's favorite drone. If he had not gotten himself and his wife and daughter assimilated, that is. Swallowing the bitter taste, she replied instead, "I did not know that."
On the other side of the wall, B'Elanna knew she should walk away, that this conversation was not meant for her ears. Yet, she could not help listening in. Who were they talking about? Obviously, a female of small stature, belonging to Starfleet. Off hand, she could think of several people who fit the bill.
"There are lots of things you don't know or remember, Annika. One day I'd like to tell you."
"Why don't you tell me now?"
"She's your age, right?"
"I don't yes, Aunt Irene, she is." Seven admitted with defeat. Obviously, her own stubbornness and her tendency to ignore others had not come from the Borg. It ran in her family. "But I must repeat: you're mistaken regarding the nature of our relationship."
Well! That eliminated the captain. Right?
"She's half human?"
At that, B'Elanna's eyes narrowed darkly. She was aware of two half-human hybrid females that Seven has regular contact with, and one of them was herself.
"Is she telepathic, Annika? It must be interesting to be involved with a telepath, to have them read your mind and know your every wish."
Torres tightened her fists. Seven, or Irene, preferably Irene, must be out of her mind.
"Empathic, only full-Betazoids are telepathic. But Aunt Irene, why won't you listen to me? Ens. Wellington was merely my assigned chaperone, and now a member of Lt. Torres' crew. Nothing more."
"Because I want to see you happy. When can you come back to Earth? Maybe you could invite your friend? I'll make roasted chicken to go with the strawberry tarts I promised you. You loved my herb roasted chicken, too."
"Of course I do, you're my only niece, Annika, all the family I have. I love you, and I always knew one day you'll come back to me," the woman said with genuine warmth laced with sadness. "I was hoping you'd come see me before shipping off again. Talking on comm doesn't count. Although, I miss talking to your friend. She was always so polite."
"Xara, Ens. Wellington is no longer required to put my comm through."
Xara? Seven hates nicknames! B'Elanna wanted to step away; she really did. Who in Kahless' name designed these rooms with the lousy sound-proofing? If Irene Hansen is right B'Elanna found herself bristling at the thought. She and Seven worked together and saw each other every day; in fact, they had been spending most of their off duty time sparring in the holo-suites. Besides, they were stuck on a shipyard orbiting Mars. So when did she have time to date? And what about Kathryn?
Wait 'til Tom hears about this!
Oh, Kahless, Tom. Can she hear what goes on in my room, too?
Quickly, Torres assessed the layout of the two suites, and sifted through her memory. This was the first time she had overheard Seven. Stepping away, she confirmed that she had to be at that exact spot. Meanwhile, Seven had never given any indication that she was aware of her conversations with Tom about her, or her occasional complaints. Maybe it was a random structural weakness. Maybe it was intentional, so Ens. Wellington could report back whatever she heard. She did remember the odd look on the woman's face when she insisted on the middle suite. Originally, she had wanted to put a little distance between her friend and Starfleet Command; it seemed the gesture was not entirely symbolic. Good thing I did that, huh?
Seven should thank me.
That damn spy! An evil smile crossed the Klingon's face she decided to give the ensign something to report, or at least to think about, the next time she talked to her husband, if their suites were similarly linked.
"I Very well, if possible, I shall come back to see you before my mission," Seven acquiesced, realizing at that moment disappointing her aunt was worst than coping with her own fear of attachment. "Do you mind, if I brought along another visitor?"
"You may bring whoever you like, Annika. The more the merrier."
"Unfortunately, I do not have that many friends. But my captain, Adm. Janeway had expressed a desire to meet you."
"Then I'd love to meet her, too! Bring the entire engineering team if you like. There's enough room in the house."
"I will not impose the entire engineering team on you, Aunt Irene."
"Nonsense! And you remind Icheb, whenever he gets tired of dormitory food, to beam himself over here. What a fine young man he is, my darling Annika, you've done a wonderful job with him." Instead of allowing her niece the chance to counter that opinion, she continued, "Anyway, tell Icheb he'll always have a home-cooked meal waiting for him here."
"I'm sure Icheb would appreciate your invitation," Seven managed awkwardly before her smile won out. "Thank you."
Lieutenant Torres stared at the console and drummed her fingers. Against the stark black background, lemon and orange and lime color blocks blurred together. She felt a familiar emotion simmering in the pit of her belly thick, dark, oppressive, threatening to rise from within and overwhelm her. Already, she had yelled at Leadon and Szeto, two newbies. Vorik and Carey long knew the drill and had stayed far away, with the other members of her crew. She swore, if they did not leave her alone
She swung around at the familiar voice, barely avoiding slamming into its owner. "Dammit Seven!" She barked. "How many times have I told you not to sneak up on people?"
For a moment, Seven was speechless. She had not seen, or at least been on the receiving end of that level of Klingon ire for a long time. Before, she would have responded by getting in the engineer's face and yelling back, and it would have led to an interpersonal war that stretched on for days, or until the next crisis. A part of her wanted to do that now, to rage against the undeserved anger. Instead, she took advantage of their proximity, placed a hand on B'Elanna's arm as if to prevent their bodily collision. Then inclining her head, bracing herself for further outbursts and trying not to wince, she waited.
The space was silent, as if the entire engineering lab held its collective breath, waiting for the inevitable explosion. It never materialized. A shared gasp could be felt when Klingon shoulders sagged, and dark lips twisted in contrition. "Sorry, Annika," she said, remembering to use the official Starfleet designation for her friend. "What do you need?"
"Is everything all right, Lieutenant?"
"Huh? Oh, fine. I'm just," she said, and rubbed her neck. "Tense, I guess. It's really bugging me that we don't know what went wrong with your console."
"I must admit I also find it troubling. However, everything seemed to be functioning perfectly now, after the repair I performed on it."
"I know." Torres shook her head. "I just. Never mind, I'm being illogical." She laughed lightly, and stood tall to glare at blue eyes in silent challenge.
Seven responded with a small, teasing curl of her full lips. B'Elanna blinked.
"Anyway." She reached out for the PADD she finally saw in the Borg's hand. "What do we have here?" What she found surprised her. It looked to be a menu of some sort. Scrolling to the next page confirmed her initial observation. She lowered her voice, "Sev?"
"It's from my aunt," Seven of Nine explained with a small shrug and a hint of shyness. "She wanted to make sure it is met with our approval." When B'Elanna failed to reply, embarrassment turned into irritation. "Perhaps this is an inappropriate time. My apologies, Lt. Torres. Here," she held out the other PADD she was carrying. "Here are my proposed modifications to the auxiliary plasma relay," she said, and attempted to switch the two devices.
"Wait, wait." A smile spread across the Klingon's face. "Your aunt's proposing to make us all this?"
"She regrets that she cannot make pancakes without burning them, but she assures me that you will find her real banana trifle acceptable."
"Seven, she doesn't have to go through all this trouble. It's a lot, for any cook, and she's, well, not young."
"I know, but she said it would bring her great pleasure. Should I share the menu with the rest of the team?"
"Starfleet is really bringing her here?"
"Adm. Janeway said something about Mohammed and the mountain. They'll be arriving together at the end of the week."
"Mohammed and the mountain on a ship?"
"I believe she was referring to me "
"I know, Sev." B'Elanna smiled, the first one of the day, she felt. "I think we should keep it a surprise, for everyone."
"You believe it'll make the team happy."
"It's making me happy, just the thought of real banana anything." She grinned. "When you talk to your aunt tomorrow, would you thank her for me?"
"I will," Seven promised, seemingly pleased. This time she successfully swapped the PADD. "Here, the schematics."
After nearly ten days, and a gradual build up of anticipation that Seven tried to ignore, the dinner affair was not what she had imagined. In her estimation, her aunt and her captain and perhaps Icheb would arrive on a Starfleet vessel with a collection of stasis plates. She figured her guests would join the engineering crew in the break area and they would consume their meal while engaging in idle small talk.
Instead, Cadet Icheb had arrived at the lab accompanied by the Station Commander, with explicit instruction from Admiral Janeway to usher Seven and the rest of the team to one of the lower level conference areas. There, waiting for them were Cmdr. Tuvok, who had successfully received the Fal-tor-voh treatment, and been given a clean bill of health. Seven was happy to see him. Of all the people on Voyager, besides the captain, she trusted Tuvok most. She was grateful for his logic and impartiality, and for the wisdom he imparted along the way, not to mention the peace he had instilled in her mind during her moments of need.
No, that's not true.
Seven trusted and had relied on every member of the bridge officers, and was getting to know the rest of the crew. Especially, B'Elanna, who was fast becoming her friend Perhaps even best friend, even though most certainly one-sided, she thought with a small tightness in her chest. She was happy for B'Elanna for the surprise she received: Tom and Miral were also there. She saw and focused on how much little Miri looked like her mother, and how much she seemed to have grown. Janeway, while still perfunctorily adoring with her goddaughter, was preoccupied with their other guests. For joining them that evening, was the senior staff of the USS Enterprise, whose captain was kind enough to provide transportation for Irene Hansen.
Irene Hansen was much less towering than Annika had remembered, but not as diminutive as she had seemed on screen, and definitely stronger than she had appeared. Suppose Seven had come about her tall genes honestly, and not courtesy of the Borg maturation chambers that realization had pleased the ex-drone. As soon as they were introduced, before she could steel herself for any possible emotional onslaughts, a strange sensation overtook her her aunt had enfolded her in a strong, true hug.
"Oh, Annika, my darling Annika," the woman had whispered into her ear, over and over again.
Even now, the woman had refused to let go, keeping Seven close to her side. Icheb, too. It was apparent that he had been adopted into the family. Most amazingly, Irene had turned the boy who preferred liquid supplements onto making his own meal, with him protesting that he was mostly reheating the mountain of food she sent back to the dormitory with him after each visit. There were explanations for her benefit about cafeteria food compared to Neelix's cooking. They talked about things he found interesting to do around the house, which could be repairs or engineering projects depending on who was relaying the stories. It seemed Icheb and her aunt had become genuinely fond of each other, and even relied on each other's affection. That knowledge gave Seven a deep pleasure and threatened to overwhelm her ocular implant many times during the evening.
B'Elanna felt like she was transparent that evening, like a ghost, as though she was watching everything through a fog, as though people could walk right through her. People talked to her of course. She had an interesting conversation with Lieutenant Commander Data who she had always wanted to meet; she knew he and Kathryn were old friends, that Cadet Data played tour guide for the young Kathryn at Starfleet while her father worked. Jean-Luc Picard was more than charming and she understood her captain had served as a science officer under his command, performing research in the Beta Quadrant, and had learned a great deal from the man.
While Tom Paris had stars in his eyes when he and Picard talked, something about the legendary Starfleet captain made Torres pause. Perhaps it was because he was Locutus of Borg, who had survived the Collective, and had made no secret of his hatred for the Borg. Or maybe it was because he had been not so secretly watching her friend, with an unreadable expression on his face. She knew that because she too had been watching Seven of Nine. Once in a while, their eyes would meet. After the first arch of her implant, and B'Elanna's mouthed reply of "How are you?" across the distance, Seven had been returning small, carefully calibrated smiles that assured her, that said, "I'm fine."
B'Elanna Torres wished she could say the same, that she was "fine". Ambassador Worf of course wanted to talk to her, about being Klingon, about Qo'noS, and his two Houses, three, since he also talked fondly of his human foster parents. He even promised an ear to the High Council, should she ever need one; and she was not stupid enough to turn down that favor. Most of the exchange though, was about his time away from the Enterprise, and how he learned to live as a Klingon raised by Humans in Starfleet. He probably had assumed her troubles fitting in based on her half-Klingon-Academy-drop-out-Maquis background; and she knew he meant well, but Kahless, she wished he would shut the hell up and leave her alone.
The two half-Betazoids in the room also had her attention. Naturally, they would gravitate towards each other just as Worf attached himself to her. It seemed they were having a great time, laughing and smiling. Enterprise's counselor obviously had taken a mentor role with the younger ensign, patting her on the arm and nodding encouragingly. B'Elanna tried, honestly she did, but she still could not shake the doubt in her gut. Of course, as soon as she learned of Irene Hansen's supposition, that Wellington had romantic interests in Seven, the distrust multiplied. Was Kathryn aware of this potential development? Should she tell her captain so the woman could make a stand about her prior claim to Seven's affection? If she even wanted to? B'Elanna felt as if she was witnessing a warp plasma manifolds meltdown.
The mood in the room was jovial. The food, though mostly catered was wonderful; the dessert, as promised and made by Irene Hansen, was divine. The wine was flowing; and her people and everyone else seemed happy. Still, she could not help but feel the flutter in her multiple stomachs, the constant rush of blood akin to anger that had been just underneath the surface. The dark shroud had plagued her for days. Why?
What's happening to me?
Torres, you're being paranoid. There's nothing here besides meeting of old friends and making of new ones. Everything's going to be fine. "It is," she said to her daughter in her arms, closing her eyes, and repeating the words, letting it unfold heavily like a prayer, "Yes, it is."
"What is, B'Elanna?"
"Oh, nothing, Tom," she replied quickly, with a quicker smile. "I was just telling Miral what a great party this is turning out to be."
"It sure is," he readily agreed, tickled his daughter's chin, and returned to his conversation with Enterprise-E's helmsman.
In the silence of her quarters, her brown eyes trained towards the distant stars twinkling in the darkness, B'Elanna Torres sipped her wine, a Tempranillo, not French which was Tom's favorite, but made from grapes grown in Spain, her paternal ancestral home. She had developed a preference for the full-bodied flavor of this wine, perhaps because of the complex taste of berries and herbs, or perhaps simply because it was one of several bottles that her father had sent.
For a moment, her gaze faltered and drifted to the couch, her overused muscles yearning for its comfort. She had been avoiding it for the last few days, as memories of her night on it plagued her. It was the night of the party, celebrating the reunion of families and friends, of Aunt and Niece at least it was now B'Elanna considered the event. It was understood that Tom and Miral would be staying with her here, at the station, in her quarters for the night, rather than on board the Enterprise. As the festivities drew closer to the end, she found herself dreading the thought of going back to her room, changing into her nightgown and lying down in her bed. Her daughter asleep in her arms provided an excuse for her to leave, while insisting that Tom stayed and enjoyed mingling with his new friends. She needed the time to think, to figure out what to do.
In the end, Torres settled on the sofa, with Miri resting peacefully against her chest. She was still thinking when the door beeped with its unlocking mechanism; automatically, her hand on her daughter's back slacked, while her other arm fell next to her body on the cushion. She kept her eyes closed and her features relaxed, while her heart thudded. She was grateful Tom did not possess Seven's acute hearing while her own senses sharpened.
In her mind's eye, she saw her husband standing at the closed door, his vision adjusting to the semi-darkness and the foreign layout of the rooms. For several seconds, she wondered if he would call out for her, and how she would respond. Then she imagined the frown on his boyish face as he discovered her location. His feet shuffled towards them; and then she felt the throw being lifted from the back of the sofa and laid gently across her body. She felt his breath on her skin, his hair tickling her neck as he placed a kiss on their daughter's head like he had done every night when she was living with them at his parents' house. She stayed motionless, waiting for her turn that did not come. Then she heard his soft sigh, his footfalls as he found his way into the bedroom. Strangely, she felt nothing; she managed to tell herself her actions were meaningless. Still, as seconds became minutes, she imitated slumber, until the computer's voice called out the time at zero six hundred hours
The melodic chime at present pulled B'Elanna from her reverie. With effort, she raised herself from her seat, and walked to the door. Her mood brightened at the sight of her visitor. "Sev, hi."
"Am I disturbing you, B'Elanna Torres?"
"No, no, not at all," she replied readily, stepping back in welcome. "Come in. Have a seat. Would you like something to drink? I'm having wine," she offered, motioning to the bottle on the table.
"I'm fine, thank you," Seven replied, settling on one end of the small couch unaware of B'Elanna's misgivings towards the piece of furniture, her preference to stand had long ceased to be a part of her thought process. "Besides, my system does not handle synthehol well."
"Oh, right, the champagne. I remember." The small spectacle the Borg made at the party on Voyager announcing she and the Doctor were 'One' and the rumors that ensued pulled a smile from her lips. So much time seemed to have passed since they had first attempted the quantum slip stream propulsion system. While it failed to take them all the way back to the Alpha Quadrant as they had hoped, the work did provide the foundation for their latest project: outfitting Voyager's aeroshuttle with the experimental drive. It was their goal to turn the runabout into a multipurpose craft that could transport crew and cargo across great distance and protect Voyager if necessary. The engineer looked forward to the test flights.
"It might just be the type of synthehol, Sev. I can handle bloodwine fine, but a klingon martini, with vermouth and gin mixed together knocks me flat on my ass," she explained and caught the flicker of hesitance crossing her friend's face. She smiled and approached the replicator for a glass. "Anyway, this is not the synthetic stuff. Try a little," she said and proceeded to pour. To her surprise and delight, Seven did not refuse.
"Thank you, I think."
"Don't worry," she grinned as the Borg took a cautious sip of the red liquor. "I promise I won't take advantage of you."
B'Elanna shook her head, dismayed by her own flippant words. "I mean I'll make sure you get back next door okay. Sorry, it's been a long day," she excused.
"Would you prefer that I visit at another time?"
"No, no, that's not what I meant." That seemed to be B'Elanna's problems lately not finding the right words or saying what she intended. "I probably should've eaten something, alcohol and empty stomach "
"Why didn't you join us for dinner? Ens. Wellington and I would've enjoyed your company."
And be a third nacelle? No, thanks. "I wasn't hungry then. And a swim sounded good."
"You were swimming? I thought Klingons hated water?"
"This half-Klingon doesn't." B'Elanna replied with a teasing smile. "You know an awful lot about Klingons. Have you been researching again?"
"You're my friend, and, now that we're back in Federation space," Seven provided, wavering, fearing any negative reaction. "And having met Ambassador Worf "
"It's all right," B'Elanna assured, reaching over to touch the other woman's arm. "I don't mind," she said, and stood, too abruptly for her head. "Could I get you a snack or something? I definitely need food."
"No, thank you, I'm fine."
She replicated some cheese and crackers and sank once more into her seat next to the Borg. "So what's up? Please don't ask me about human mating behavior. You'll need to call the Doctor for that."
"Why would I wish to "
"I don't know, just figured, you know, your dinner," Torres justified, refusing to look up, to see her friend's reaction. "Anyway, there are lots of new people on the station. Maybe you've found someone you like."
"In order to 'find', I would have to be looking, and I have not been doing so."
"Oh." She sighed and refilled her glass. "So, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?" She said too stiffly. What's wrong with me?
"Do I require a reason for my visit?"
"No, of course not," B'Elanna replied and watched her friend's face split into a smile that lit up her face like sunshine. "You can come over anytime, Sev. We're friends. Whenever you want, to visit, my door's always open." And I'm rambling, she realized abruptly, and stopped.
"However, I do have information I wish to share with you," Seven replied with a shy grin, and powered on the PADD she had with her. "Holo-images, from the party. Icheb sent them, along with ones of my aunt and her house, and of the puppy, at my aunt's house."
"Olive's subunit, the one Gretchen Janeway promised. It's now living with my aunt."
Torres knew Irene Hansen had moved back to Earth from the Tendara Colony shortly after her brother and his family were lost and presumed dead. Somewhere in the Upper Midwest, near the Canadian border, she remembered Seven telling her, and the mixture of sadness and relief in her voice. She knew the emotions were because the woman no longer had a reason to revisit a place she could barely remember, nor would she have to find an excuse not to do so.
"Congratulations, Seven!" She said with enthusiasm. "Have you named him? Or her?"
"Him. I'm uncertain if I should name him."
"He needs a name, Sev. All pets have names."
"I'm finding it difficult to accept that I have a companion animal, especially one I have not met, and that in all likelihood would be bonded to my aunt, or Icheb."
A tint of wistfulness came through the Borg's harsh tone; it tightened the Klingon's heart. "Talk to Kathryn, maybe she'll let you keep him with you."
An idea occurred to B'Elanna. "Data has a cat. In fact, there were like a dozen cats on the Enterprise," she relayed with growing excitement. "I've always wanted a dog, since I was little. My grandmother had one, her name was Pepper."
"Pepper? The spice?"
"It was probably Pepa, with an 'A', a Spanish name, but I called her Pepper. Anyway, considering your puppy's lineage, Kathryn will have a hard time saying no. I'll help you. I bet we can talk her into it."
"I doubt our attempt will be successful."
"It won't hurt to try." B'Elanna grinned, excited by the prospect of having a dog around. "Can you imagine a puppy on Voyager? You have to name him."
"Well, he is third of five, in the order of birth. He could be 'Three'."
"No! No, numerical designations, Sev!" she argued. Then she saw the teasing glint in bright blue eyes. Her own narrowed as her lips split into a wide smile. "You're not calling him Red either."
"Red is imprecise. His coat is more brown, a burnt "
"Shut up, Borg," Torres ordered, and pulled the PADD from her friend's hand, her earlier somber mood completely forgotten. "Let's see the pictures!"
Fright raced through Seven of Nine. Where was she? Who was she? Something was happening, something had happened to the crew of Voyager. They were all staring at her, looking down from the main engineering deck, blaming her. For something she had done something horrible, that she had no control over. What was it? What had she done? She tried to ask. Someone. The Captain. B'Elanna Torres. Tuvok. Anyone. But no one, yet everyone, was there. Faces were melting, dripping away, and down the ladder rungs onto her. Blue, like the color of a Bolian, the color of her old biosuit, the warp core, flooded the decks of engineering. Both decks. Drowning her. It was comfortable. Covering her like some amniotic fluid. Soothing her. The stillness, it was seductive. A Klingon opera.
Stillness? Klingon opera? The two are mutually exclusive.
"It's illogical," said the voice of the Queen. "Small, you're small. They've made you small. Irrational. They infected you with a disease. A fatal disease."
"It will be your undoing, Seven of Mine," the Captain said.
"I hate you, Borg. I hate you. You're just a mindless automaton. Stay out of my way. Engineering is mine. Mine, you hear?"
"Mine, mine, mine," squawked the giant raven in Da Vinci's workshop.
Fresh terror ripped through Seven as she was returned to the Collective. Unimatrix Zero. A dream, yet not a dream. The crew was being assimilated, one by one. Her own tubules plunged into the Captain's neck, her nanoprobes multiplied, taking over. The soft auburn hair fell, like rain, onto her hands. She collected them, shoving them into her mouth like she was dying of thirst. She watched her Captain's blue eyes turn red.
"O Captain, my Captain," the Vulcan shouted.
"But O heart! heart! heart! O the bleeding drops of red," whispered the Klingon.
"You'll be mine," said the Queen as her vision turned from blue to brown to green.
In her mind, Seven knew the Borg virus had spread. Instead of the slow and gradual process that the Queen had promised, Borg implants were bursting out of faces. Faces she knew. One. Naomi Wildman. Icheb. Miral Paris. Even the Doctor he was wearing exo-plating. His left eye was lifeless, just like hers.
This makes no sense, a hologram cannot be assimilated, Seven tried to argue in her mind.
"Heart, heart, heart," screeched the monster raven, as it pecked a hole into her chest.
In the next chamber, B'Elanna bit into an apple her dinner as she stood in front of the viewport. Her brown eyes set on the blinking lights at a distance down below. Which terra-formed colony, she did not particularly care to know. The dozen or so environmental domes across the planet all contained life. Life that was unnatural, non-aboriginal to Mars.
Somehow she felt no more different than when she was in San Francisco. Would she feel the same towards Qo'noS? Spain? Was she hardwired to see only Kessik IV as 'home'? What about Miri then? Would she feel her own bond with Voyager? Or at least understand her mother's? Her little girl seemed to grow each day. She had already missed her first step; she would probably miss her first word, too. What would it be?
Dad, no doubt, she thought with a sigh. Tom had been patient, and kind, and he had stood by her and stuck around when time and again she had pushed him away. He was still doing that, in his way, waiting patiently for her calls as she worked herself to distraction and exhaustion.
If not working, she was at the pool, the gym, pushing her stamina to its limits. Every other day or so, she still met up with Seven for dinner, knowing the former drone was using her free evenings to develop a friendship, possibly more, with Ens. Wellington. The knowledge irked her, even as she realized she had no right to interfere, especially when Admiral Janeway declined her offer to keep them apart. The woman had insisted Seven should be allowed to experiment, to grow, and find her own way.
"If you love them, set them free," Janeway had quoted the human cliché.
Humans are stupid. She raged for her captain. A Klingon would step up and claim, and glory in the victory. Since when had she grown so close to her mother's people? She did not ask.
In any case, mostly, it had been work that kept B'Elanna awake at all hours; if not the lab, or the flight simulation holodeck, she was in her quarters with her finger tips, her eyes attached to her PADDs. Oh, but it's for good cause necessary 'evil', she had told her husband as she did herself. Look at what we've achieved!
B'Elanna took another bite of the sweet fruit, to hide a smile. It had been a good day today, not to die, of course. It was a good day in Engineering. They had successfully installed the multi-adaptive shielding on the AeroShuttle. They tested it it worked. She noted the pleasure in her colleague-and-friend's eyes as simulation after simulation showed that their design had been successful. They managed to modified and improved upon Magnus Hansen's invention, and adapted it as their own.
It'll be perfect. We'll make it perfect.
You'll have your perfection, B'Elanna promised idly as she moved to the next viewport, her eyes chasing after certain flickering bright lights, no doubt belonging to a freight transport, considering the time of the night, rather, the morning.
A noise froze her blood and nearly stilled her steps.
Quickly, she backtracked, a pace, then two. There it was again, the sound of a wounded animal a wounded female animal, wild with fear. Her own pulse raced to match the noise, her warrior instincts reared.
Suddenly, with horror, she recognized the source. No!
The apple slipped from the Klingon's hand as her feet cut the distance of her suite. In seconds, she was outside, half-growling, "Computer, disengage the lock! Dammit! Computer!" This was not Voyager; she could not simply override with her authorization code.
Out of nowhere, she remembered Kathryn's stern chastisement about her accessing Seven's personal logs without permission, when she thought the Borg had betrayed them by returning to the Collective. Guilt a suffocating wave washed through her. Dammit, Torres, think!
Her legs heard the command somehow, and took her in the other direction. Resisting the urge to pound, she nonetheless leaned on her other neighbor's door chime. Dammit, Wellington, open up!
Finally, the door whooshed open, and the sleepy-eyed brunette appeared. "Lieutenant?"
"Give me the access code to Seven's door!"
"Give me the access code."
"I don't "
"I know you have it!" Giving up on reasoning, B'Elanna yanked the younger woman into her room, to the spot where structural anomaly had linked her quarters to Seven's. "Come on! Listen!" She barked, and saw the color drain off of the half-Betazoid's face. The next instant, she was following the woman down the hall and watching her punch in a series of buttons on the entry pad. Finally. She shoved the ensign aside, and raced into the room.
"Sev, wake up!" She added her voice to the inhuman sound and began shaking her friend. "Wake up, Seven!" She ordered, crawling onto the bed, and gathering the thrashing woman in her arms. "Wake up!"
In the space between one heartbeat to the next, the body jerked upright. Full lips held open in mid-scream, only there was silence, but for the racing of their breaths.
"B'Elanna, where " Seven stopped, blinking, surprised.
"Shh It's okay, Sev, you're okay," B'Elanna soothed, and hung on to the lithe, trembling frame. "You were just having a bad dream."
"We're Borg," Seven whispered hoarsely, "We do not dream."
Ignoring and blaming her Klingon physiology for reacting to the situation wrong and pumping too much blood into all the wrong places, she replied instinctively, "No, Sev, you're not Borg anymore.
"I'm not fully human."
The undertone of whimper moved B'Elanna's heart more than she cared to admit. "Yes, you are, Sev, Annika. You're more human than a lot of people I know," she promised, pulling the blonde head to rest on her shoulder. "You're safe now."
"Listen to me, Annika: you're safe."
Seven's nightly terror continued for three more days, each one a variation on the same themes, and each time she found herself jerking awake in the Klingon's arms. Finally, enough was enough, and she informed her friend-and-colleague that she would go see the station's doctor, and would be late that morning. Something flickered over B'Elanna's face, and then she offered to accompany her, to make sure there was someone else familiar with her unique Borg physiology. The suggestion irritated Seven, but the reasoning was sound, she had to admit.
Once at the medical facilities, she immediately regretted her decision. The Bajoran doctor, while much less acerbic than Voyager's Doctor, was almost dismissive of Seven's nightmares, telling her it was simply her subconscious sorting things out. When informed that the Borg did not dream, he shrugged. Her human psyche must be re-asserting itself, he opined and recommended seeing the station's counselor if necessary.
"But doctor," she said, her back straight. "I've also been having headaches." Right away, she realized she had made another mistake, this time with B'Elanna. She could sense a change in the Klingon's temperature; it denoted anger. But why?
"These headaches, are they severe?" The doctor asked concerned, his medical tricorder buzzing around her head, then up and down her body.
With remote calmness, she provided her answers to his follow up questions. Inside, her irritation grew; she had definitely made an error in judgment. Finding nothing significant or conclusive, he had nevertheless offered to keep her under observation for a day. True to form, Seven refused.
His parting recommendation was for her to rest, to take it easy, given nightmares and headaches were both signs of stress and they could form one giant vicious cycle. The advice was promptly ignored as Seven proceeded directly to Voyager's hanger, and had been working ever since.
B'Elanna, meanwhile, spent the past hours vacillating between anger and concern. Why haven't you said anything about the headaches? She wanted to demand, but knew that line of questioning would not go well.
What's going on inside that head of yours? She wondered, remembering her friend's ordeal with her failing cortical node. She had headaches back then, too.
Instead of inquiring about Sto'vo'kor and expressing concerns about any legacy she might leave behind, Seven seemed withdrawn, staying behind her personal invisible force field, keeping everyone at bay. Even now, when they were the only two people left in the lab. She showed no sign of wanting to stop, throwing herself into efficiency and hard work, as if racing against time to finish the tasks at hand the ship, for her captain. B'Elanna wanted to scream.
"Let's take a break," she said with forced nonchalance. "The doctor said you should rest."
"I do not require rest."
"But Sev - "
"We're behind schedule. I have much work to do."
"Seven, I'm worried about your headaches," Torres admitted. "Last time you had them " She let the sentence trail off, the lump in her throat making it difficult to continue.
"This is not the same," Seven replied, not looking up from the console.
"Are you sure?"
"I assure you, Lieutenant," the Borg replied, her head snapping up, blue ice boring into the other woman's face. "This is definitely not the same. It will not be, for I already have Icheb's node."
No more viable donors, in other words. B'Elanna felt goosebumps erupting across her skin. "You can't " She reached up, wanting to touch her friend, but thought better. Still, she could not deny herself the connection, and grabbed the woman's arm, pulling her to a nearby private area, away from work. "Don't think like that, Sev," she insisted. "We can get the Doctor to come take a look at you. He knows your body better than that Bajoran quack."
"Dr. Bareil appeared competent. I do not wish to trouble the Doctor; no doubt he is busy working with Starfleet."
"Do you trust me to take a look? I could at least make sure there's nothing wrong with your implants?" The engineer offered. "Have I told you about the time I got kidnapped by a bunch of sentient robots to create a prototype?"
"Do you still think of me as an automaton?"
"Of course not, Seven! What kind of question is that? They were sentient beings, their physiology Never mind! I just brought that up to let you know I have technical skills, I can help."
"I'm very aware of your superior abilities, Lieutenant."
She tried not to wince at the formal address. "Then what?"
"I'm weak, and defective, as human and as Borg."
"You're not, Sev, you're one of the strongest people I know," B'Elanna said, needing to hear the words. "Let's call Kathryn," she tried another approach. "She can at least get the Doctor out of whatever he's doing and over here quickly."
"No, don't, B'Elanna. I do not wish to trouble the Admiral."
'The Admiral'? "Why not? If you're unwell, she'll want to know."
"The Admiral has already expended a lot of energy and resources trying to protect me since our return to the Alpha Quadrant. The Federation needs her, other people, need her. Her efforts are better spent on the rebuilding, and preparing for future threats."
The speech sounded well-rehearsed; its implication chilled B'Elanna to the core. "I know she'll disagree."
"B'Elanna Torres, Lieutenant, I never apologized to you for observing you and Mr. Paris, in my efforts to learn humanity."
"Apologize?" The non sequitur was not one bit humorous. "To Tom and me?"
"I know some individuals believe that love could be shared with more than one person in a lifetime, while others believe in the concept of a Someone, a soulmate," Seven of Nine spoke softly, looking down at her enhanced hand, held tightly in a fist. "May I ask what you believe?"
"I think you're asking the wrong person, Sev."
"Why? You're married."
"Before we started dating, Tom kidded me about living like a monk. Funny thing was, I studied in a monastery. Despite the reputation Klingon females have, I haven't been with enough people to know if love, deep romantic love, could be shared with multiple people in a lifetime," Torres revealed with an honesty that surprised even herself. "And I'm not sure I believe in Soulmates. I mean, Tom and I are friends, very good friends, and I love him deeply "
"But you do not believe he's your Soulmate?"
"Like I said, I don't know that I believe in the concept..."
"It seems, ultimately, I am not meant to learn this aspect of humanity," Seven concluded with an audible sigh.
"I don't mean to be insensitive, Seven," B'Elanna said with barely controlled anger. "You're just having headaches, mild headaches, according to you, and nightmares, fine. You're not dying here," she hoped to Kahless she would not regret those words. "Stop talking like you are!
"You'll live, and you'll adapt, and if a thing like 'Soulmates' actually exists, Seven of Nine, you'll be the one to find it. You don't give up why start now?" Taking advantage of her friend's stunned silence, she continued, "You're probably having tension headaches like Bareil suggested. You've been under a lot of stress. You're human now, capable of experiencing the full range of human emotions like the Doctor said. It's entirely possible you're just having stress headaches. I get them all the time."
"Sometimes I want to bang my head against the nearest bulkhead."
"What would that achieve?"
"Alleviate the pain? I don't know, Seven." Torres let out a helpless laugh. "It's hard to think clearly with a ten centimeter spike through your frontal lobe," she acknowledged, and watched as blue eyes regarded her with curiosity.
"Are you experiencing pain now?"
She dropped her arms against her sides. "Actually, yes."
"Then we should rest."
That's it? Own up to a headache was all I had to do? Kahless. "Great! I've been thinking, Sev, we should take the aeroshuttle out for a test run. You're right, we're a little behind. Maybe we could kill two birds with one stone? And go somewhere?"
"Where do you have in mind?"
"We're orbiting over Colony III right now, right?"
"That is correct."
"How'about Elysium Mons," B'Elanna picked a place of appropriate distance for test flight purposes. "It's supposed to be beautiful."
"Elysium, that's likened to Heaven in ancient Terran beliefs "
"Wait, no," she backtracked mentally, in the opposite direction, away from thoughts of afterlife. "How'bout the capital, Nova Ares? Lake Cassini just outside is supposed to be gorgeous. Yes, let's go there," she said; her enthusiasm chilled when an odd look crossed Seven's face. "Or we don't have to go anywhere," she offered instead. "We can just grab dinner; afterwards, you can turn in early."
"I, I do not wish to be alone."
"Well, fine, we can grab dinner and just hang out in one of the holo-suites."
"I do not wish On a Friday night, they're usually reserved."
"We use one of the holodecks on the ship then," B'Elanna threw out, annoyance and desperation warring. "The old programs are still there."
"We don't have authorization."
"It's my ship. Our ship."
"Very well, B'Elanna, We will visit Lake Cassini."
"We will? Great, you won't regret it."
"Even though it's merely a crater filled with water."
"Come on, Seven! Let's go. I'll even let you fly the shuttle."
"Wait, on second thought, maybe you should just relax, kick up your feet while I get us there."
"Are you sure that is wise? Can you see with a ten centimeter spike between your eyes?" Seven asked with a gentle smile in her voice. "I, on the other hand, am currently not experiencing any headaches," she said, not exactly a lie.
"Oh, all right, fine, Sev, you can drive."
B'Elanna saw the superior little smirk, and decided all was well for the time being. She did not argue when Seven wanted to spend a few more minutes to wrap up. With an agreement to meet again in half an hour and the excuse to get ready for their short getaway, she hurried back to her quarters. She had a comm-call to make.
During the AeroShuttle's overhaul, each design specification they submitted, each special requisition, B'Elanna Torres held her breath and kept her fingers crossed. Fortunately, no one at Starfleet saw fit to reject any of their proposals, allowing them full rein. The result was unbelievable. The shuttle's bio-neuro gel packs were maintained by specially programmed nanoprobes, which would 'cure' any 'sickness' and also enhance their 'thinking' abilities. In addition to the regenerative multi-adaptive/meta-phasic shielding, it was armed with a 360 degree phaser array system and two torpedo launchers, carrying both quantum and transphasic torpedoes. Built into the system were holo-emitters capable of emergency medical and security projections, and an aft tractor beam that could tow a Galaxy-class vessel at warp velocity. If necessary, the shuttle could be deployed to defend and aid Voyager. With its cruising speed of Warp 8.9, and a maximum slipstream velocity of the equivalent of warp 9.99992, a crew of four could travel back to the Delta Quadrant in three months. The Delta Flyer, in comparison, was a child's toy.
Part of Voyager's next mission was to test out all the different functions of the prototype craft, to make sure they perform outside the simulated environment. Afterwards, her team would work on incorporating the technology to create a new class of warships. The engineer could not wait.
Her chest swelled with pride as she pulled her attention away from Saturn's icy rings. They had decided, before heading to Nova Ares, to pre-test the quantum slipstream drive. It was a risky move, but everything worked as it should, and in Seven's capable hands, the runabout flew like a dream.
This feels like a dream, the words fell unbidden from B'Elanna subconscious. A beautiful she caught them, and herself. Still, her eyes were drawn to her companion's face cold, aloof in concentration
"Seven? What do you see?"
The way you look at people, tilting your head, it makes people feel like that moment, they're the center of your world. Bet you don't realize that. "The word 'saturnine', I imagine is derived from the planet," she gestured towards the gas giant.
"An adjective, meaning taciturn and morose."
"I don't find it gloomy; I think it's beautiful, and mysterious."
"Is irrelevant, I know," she said and chuckled, and saw a flicker of annoyance in blue eyes. She paused, and waited.
"I was going to say: beauty is in the eye of the beholder."
That surprised the Klingon; she let out another light laugh. "Do you ever get the feeling that maybe sometimes you behold too little, or maybe too much?"
She shrugged. "Must be Saturn."
"I'm afraid I don't understand."
Join the club, Borg. "It's the equivalent of Cronus."
"Saturn, in ancient Earth mythology," Seven tried to follow. Klingons were not known for their logic.
"He castrated his father, and threw the bits into the sea. Nymphs and giants and avengers were created; and from the sea foam, Aphrodite was born."
"The goddess of love."
"My father used to tell me the story of Cronus Kronos, also what Terrans call Qo'noS I'm sure you know all this," B'Elanna said and waited for the brief nod. "Qo'noS is nothing like this," she waved her hand again as their shuttle circled the rings. "But I suppose my people are born of violence, our blood forged from fire and steel." In a way, so are you. The Borg implants are your battle scars. She turned back to her console, to check on the readings, to gather her thoughts.
In the last few days, she had become aware of strong emotions she felt towards her companion, emotions she consciously avoided over-analyzing, attributing them to her concerns over her friend's recurring headaches and violent nightmares. It was simpler, easier logical. "Funny," she muttered, partly to herself.
"We're so different."
"We're unique individuals."
Torres laughed. "You can say that."
"We're both female, employed by Starfleet. We're also both intelligent and highly competent in our work," Seven stated the obvious. Inside, she felt they had a lot more in common than B'Elanna evidentally thought. We have shared goals and interests in technological advances; we both think of Voyager as home. The discrepancy was causing her an inexplicable level of distress the fact itself was distressful.
B'Elanna Torres' approval had always been important to her, as much as the captain's. It had been since day one, and when she requested to be assigned to Engineering. Why? With the latter, she understood the need Janeway was Voyager's leader, the queen of that collective. Certainly, as Chief Engineer, the half-Klingon also had an important place in the hierarchy, whose command, at least regarding engineering matters, she had to obey. That, in and of itself, did not justify her desire. It could not.
Because I want her friendship?
But why hers in particular?
Why does she want mine?
"I like being by myself; you hate being alone. And no, I'm not saying I don't want to be here, with you. I'm just generalizing."
"What is the purpose of this generalization?" Seven asked, frustration coloring her voice.
"Nothing. Just pointing out how different we are." B'Elanna shrugged. "No, I don't know why I'm pointing out the obvious, and I know it's an inefficient use of our time. But we're not on a schedule here. Well, except that we want to get to Lake Cassini, at some point."
"Is this perhaps your attempt at small talk?" Full lips twitched.
Amusement? B'Elanna shook the next thought from her head. Sure. "Wasn't there a Social Lesson for 'small talk'?"
"I'm afraid I've never mastered it, to the Doctor's dismay."
"Oh, well. You can't make everyone happy."
"We can skip the small talk if you want." B'Elanna explained with another shrug, "I personally think it's a waste of time, too. Sometimes I think people talk so they don't have to listen," she said with a guilty smile. "Anyway."
"Never mind. How's the head?"
Unlike the first time she encountered the lieutenant's expression, Seven now recognized the look as one of worry and concern. It felt odd to have the Klingon's dark eyes watching her, tracking her every move. The previous hostility was replaced by something else, something she did not recognize. Somehow, she did not find the strangeness threatening; on the contrary, it made her feel warm and cared for. B'Elanna was obviously interested in her well-being, and clearly not just because of the contributions she could make in Engineering. That thought alone gave Seven joy.
"Better, clearer. How's your spike?"
"Perhaps you were correct," Seven decided with a soft smile.
"Of course, I was! Were there any doubts?" B'Elanna replied with a rakish grin. "I was right about what exactly?"
"That we needed a break."
"For the record, Seven of Nine, we're working," she said, a playful sternness in her voice. "Every maneuver we make is being logged for further analysis."
"I doubt Starfleet will find the metallic hydrogen level of Saturn enlightening."
"Oh, I don't know, we could be testing the thermodynamic range of our systems. You ready to go somewhere else? Check out the anomaly that's showing up on our subspace sensors?"
"That would require a deviation of 208.3 light years from our current course."
"So that'll be what, four extra hours? Give or take?"
"Eight hours and forty-three minutes, give or take, including the return. If we engage the quantum slip-stream drive."
"And we have a date with a crater filled with water."
"That is our planned destination."
"And any deviations from previously agreed upon plans would be unacceptable," B'Elanna said, with more gruffness than she intended. Seven was not at fault here; if anything, she was the victim of circumstances, or at least Starfleet rules and regulations. Softening her tone, she suggested, "I think we should break curfew."
"Curfew? I'm not aware of any current restrictions on our movements?"
"Tell that to Wellington." Just like that, the dark emotions returned. With effort, she reined in her temper. "Aren't you supposed to check in with her at some point?"
"I'm not aware, she did not mention it when I informed her of our plans."
"Really? Huh. Then definitely, I think we should take a couple extra days. Visit a distant star, or galaxy."
"Or look into a spatial anomaly."
"Or a spatial anomaly, although that's really more a Janeway thing." They need not go into what they both thought were unnecessary risks and detours taken during their journey back to the Alpha Quadrant. Still. "Think of it as an away mission. What do you say?"
"The idea of getting away from Starfleet for a few days is appealing it would be nice."
"In other words, you think I'm right," she grinned and watched Seven's eyebrow arch, lifting her full lips into a smirk of amusement.
"I suppose you're right."
"Wow. Today's must be my lucky day. Twice in less than fifteen minutes you acknowledged you might be wrong. Or is it thrice?" She tweaked as her companion tried unsuccessfully to compose her features.
"Do not get too used to it, B'Elanna Torres."
"No, of course not, Seven of Nine." They both grinned.
B'Elanna stared out the window of the break-room, so lost in reverie that she did not notice the opening of the door. Only when her senses were assaulted by a familiar fragrance and a shadow loomed over her PADD did she look up. "Seven?" She said, her voice sounding funny, so she cleared her throat and tried again, "Hi."
"Am I interrupting, Lieutenant?"
"No, not at all." She leaned back, to avoid craning her neck as she smiled into sky blue eyes. "What's up?"
"You appear to be in a good mood," Seven observed. It seemed the Klingon was about to respond, her face flushing slightly. Then, abruptly her expression changed, and became some amplitude of something she could not place.
"How was lunch with the Ensign?" B'Elanna asked, carefully modulating her tone. If the Borg were to ask 'which ensign', she swore she would scream.
Ignoring the question, in reply, Seven brought her arms from behind her back. "I have something for you, B'Elanna Torres," she said, and presented her offering.
"Sev? What's this?" Torres swallowed hard, stunned by the bouquet of flowers in her friend's hands, and the shy smile tugging on her lips.
"Lesson 22, Thanks for the Memories. One of the Doctor's many lessons on Social Protocol," Seven explained, pushing the flowers forward. "I wish to thank you for the time we've spent together. I shall always treasure it in my memories."
"Memories, Sev? You're not " Suddenly, the station dropped out of orbit, taking all of B'Elanna's stomachs with her. "Is this, some sort of good-bye?" It made no sense, but she had to ask, while jumping up from her seat, wanting to run, far, far away.
"No, I merely wish to convey my gratitude. I have enjoyed your company. You once said that the Borg wouldn't know fun if they assimilated an amusement park. While I'm not certain an amusement park would be fun, I did enjoy our impromptu away mission."
"Oh." The stars were once more shining radiantly, dazzlingly, the station back on its serene orbit. Things were right with her world again. Happily, she took the proffered bouquet. "You sure? All we did was sitting around and comparing data."
"We brain-stormed our next projects."
"It was fun, wasn't it? A little like old times." Except they were not under attack, and did not have deadlines for these pet projects. It seemed they even learned to listen to each other's ideas before launching into verbal combat. Although the latter was as enjoyable as ever, the Klingon noted with relish.
"I believe we work well together."
"No doubt about that." B'Elanna laughed, tucking her hair back behind her ear. "But what about when I was reading?" With their agreement on the pointlessness of 'small talks', there were hours of silence between them on the shuttle neither awkward nor complicated in retrospect.
"When you were amusing yourself with Klingon romance novels "
Brown eyes rolled dramatically. "Let me guess, you were assimilating the entire work of William Shakespeare or something."
"You were a formidable Kadis-kot opponent."
"I want a rematch."
Seven nodded in acknowledgment, and shifted her feet. Tentatively, she tested her words, "I'm also grateful for your concern over my well-being, B'Elanna Torres. Your assistance during the past week was much appreciated."
"With my unpleasant dreams. Thank you. My apologies again for waking you."
"Seven." B'Elanna looked up into bright blue eyes, uncertain what she should say. While she was sorry her friend had the nightmares, she was happy to be there for her. "Anytime," she finally decided. "And thank you, for the roses," she said, and smelled the apricot blooms lightly. "What do you call this? Species "
"Rosa valencia, a hybrid tea rose, prized for its large fragrant flowers, and first cultivated in the late 20th Century."
"And does the color mean anything? It's not quite orange, or yellow, which I know means friendship."
"Indeed. I believe traditionally, orange is for celebration of a new beginning, a new journey." It also conveyed fascination, and she must admit to finding B'Elanna Torres intriguing, perhaps even mystifying. "This combination of both colors would suggest friendship and voyage; considering the progression of our interpersonal relationship, and our upcoming mission, it seems apt."
"I see. Well, then." Impulsively, she pulled a stem from the bunch and handed it to the Borg. "Here's to our new journey."
"To our new journey," Seven repeated, accepting the flower.
The brilliant smile that greeted her eyes took B'Elanna's breath away. There was nothing Borg in that open expression, the metallic implants looking more like adornments, not dissimilar to Barjoran earrings. Had she ever seen her face so unguarded like that? Has anyone? It felt so welcoming, she wanted to reach out and touch. Instead, resorting to banter, with jaunty nonchalance, she asked, "You gonna tell me what you were reading?"
"Why do you wish to know?"
"Szeto to Hansen," Seven's comm badge chirped.
"Your curiosity will have to wait. See you back at the lab, B'Elanna Torres," she said, turning on her heels. If she had looked back, she would find the Klingon staring at her departure. As it was, she could almost feel the heat of her gaze.
The Doctor waved the medical tricorder confidently down the right side of his patient's face, and then across to the left. This felt familiar; certainly brought back memories, and not entirely pleasant ones. He smiled with reassurance. "Last time your cortical node destabilized you were not able to regenerate," he stated, lifting his brows expectantly.
"I've been able this time, as recently as the day before yesterday." Seven knew what he was thinking, so she added for his benefit, "Since our return to Earth, I've been relying less on regeneration."
"You've been sleeping! That's great news, Seven!"
In response, she shrugged. "Unfortunately, sleep comes with undesirable side-effects."
"Nightmares! Congratulations, Seven!" He ignored his patient's look of incredulity and continued with his questions. "And these headaches, how often do you get them?"
"Sometimes more frequently then others, but they seem to go away on their own if I engage in recreational activities."
"Then they're good-old-fashion stress headaches."
"That's Dr. Bareil's opinion as well."
"Ah, the Station's doctor. I had the pleasure of speaking with him earlier. He seemed like a competent individual, not as skilled as yours truly of course, but he doesn't have the benefit of an encyclopedic "
"As I was saying, a very spiritual man, that Dr. Bareil. Not what one would expect of a man of science " As his friend's eyebrow rose, finally, the Doctor let his observation trail off. "Very well," he said releasing a wounded sigh, and performed another scan along Seven's arms and legs. "You're as good as new. However, just to be sure, I want to do a complete check on you," he announced, and stepped around to the other side of the monitor, showing a three-dimensional x-ray of his friend's cranium. "Meanwhile, according to these readings, your cortical array is and has been functioning perfectly. Your nightmares, no matter how disturbing, were just that. Perhaps you should speak with the counselor on the station.
"Or put a comm call through to Counselor Troi," he added, flattening his lips into a pout. "I understand you have been hobnobbing with the Enterprise crew without me."
"That's all right." The faint look of guilt on Seven's face had pleased him; he patted her knee and gave her a self-satisfied smile. "To tell you the truth, I have been busy working with Dr. Zimmerman on the latest EMH; socializing would not have been an efficient use of my time. However, that isn't to say I wouldn't have enjoyed a visit by two old friends. You knew I was on the Jupiter Station minutes away from Saturn."
Seven tipped her head, genuinely surprised by the clear oversight. "I'm sorry, it had not occurred to B'Elanna or me to pay you a visit. It would've been a short detour "
"I'm sure you were having too much fun with your new toy," the doctor provided with an indulgent tone. His smile widened. "I'm happy to hear though that you and Lt. Torres have been developing your friendship. Already I can see the positive influences you have on each other."
"You seemed freer with your emotions," he observed, looking cheerfully into her eyes. "You're smiling."
"It's a smirk, Doctor," she retorted, both corners of her lips lifting.
"And B'Elanna seemed calmer. At least after I assured her that you had not sustained permanent damage."
"She was worried?" Seven asked despite knowing the answer. Somehow she wanted a verbal confirmation of the fact, an observation by another individual. The Doctor did not disappoint.
"Worried, irate, upset, frustrated, you name it." He rolled his eyes. "She reminded me of a rabid Klingon targ."
"Doctor, I believe that's redundant. A targ is an indigenous Klingon species."
"Well! You know what I mean."
"I'm sorry, Doctor," Seven said with a hint of a smile. "For taking you away from your no doubt important work on Jupiter."
"Nonsense, Seven! There's nothing more important then tending to one of my dearest friends." He beamed. "Besides, I got to be the first passenger on your new shuttle. It is quite impressive. I'm sure Adm. Janeway is proud of your achievements."
Admiral Janeway. It had been how long since she had seen the woman? She was on her way to Utopia Planitia now.
"Seven?" The medical tricorder buzzed again. "Your pupils are dilated, and your heart-rate has increased. Are you experiencing another headache?"
"No, Doctor." She swallowed, her throat becoming suddenly dry. "I was merely thinking about the reason for the Admiral's visit."
"Ah. That's perfectly understandable. Now lie down, so I can finish the rest of the scans."
It was 1600 hours Earth time, the chronometer in B'Elanna's room reminded her time she promised her mother-in-law she would call. It was difficult keeping track, as Mars ran on 25-hour days. Still, she always made sure to be in her quarters, as that was when she could see her daughter, and catch up on everything that was happening on Earth. She liked Mrs. Paris, despite what she told Seven before. The woman genuinely seemed to love her granddaughter, and tried to make up for her husband's distance towards the former Maquis. Unfortunately, despite Starfleet's amnesty, Admiral Paris still considered the renegades traitors and terrorists. It was no secret that he wished his youngest son had chosen a different wife.
Taking a deep breath, B'Elanna pressed the last button.
The comm-screen flickered to life and the face of her husband appeared. "Tom!" She nearly jumped, not expecting him to be home. A wave of guilt washed through her.
"Hi, how are you?" She choked out as her inside clenched in response to the excited boyish grin.
"Feels like it's been forever. I've missed you."
"Me, too," she responded with a full smile that she did not feel. Self-reproach almost made her sick. "How's Miral?"
"She's fine. My mom took her out for a walk in the park. So we can have this time to ourselves. I've missed you, B'Elanna," he repeated. "I can't wait to see you next week."
"Yeah, Tom, me, too."
"So how are you?
"I'm fine." B'Elanna replied automatically, and winced. His expression changed immediately to one of concern. She reassured, "Really, I'm fine."
"There was an explosion," she sighed. "One of the panels blew out in engineering. Seven was hurt."
"How is she?"
The sincere concern on her husband's voice only added weight to her stomach. She wrapped her arms about herself. "She'll live, thanks to the Borg."
"Oh, that's good." Tom began to grin, but B'Elanna's silence made him pause. "It's good right? She'll be okay?"
"Yes, yes, she'll be fine. From this incident anyway."
"What do you mean?"
"I had Carey and Vorik run diagnostics and I double-triple checked everything afterwards." B'Elanna held her arms tighter and tried to block out images of the burnt panel lying on the ground and the destroyed relays within the console. She could only imagine her friend's battered body being thrown through the air from the blast. "Starfleet Command had been notified. Adm. Janeway is on her way. Station security is now involved."
Tom filled in what she hadn't said. "It was sabotage."
"Weeks ago, the command console in Astrometrics blew, too. We never figured out why."
"You think it's the same ?"
"It couldn't have been Wellington," B'Elanna jumped in with her theories. "She was injured in the explosion. Last I know, she was still in a coma." A true one, not medically induced like Seven. She thanked Kahless for that small grace. "It's been three days." As many days she had last spoke with her husband, she realized.
"You can't be sure," Tom replied, having been indoctrinated by his wife with stories of the ensign's numerous infractions against their friend on behalf of Starfleet Intelligence.
"But she still works for Starfleet."
"Who sees Seven as Borg and kept her imprisoned for months, and obviously whoever did it works for Starfleet, since the station is closed to civilians," he unnecessarily reminded.
"We've got civilian contractors."
"Screened by Starfleet and have top security clearance." Then he proceeded to tell B'Elanna all about the kamikaze pilots in World War Two - one of the worst wars fought amongst men and the beginning of weapons of mass destruction. At the end of that history lecture, B'Elanna was beside herself. She had to go back to the infirmary, to interrogate the ensign if she could, or at least be by her friend's side for when the Doctor deemed all right to bring her out of the induced coma.
When Torres got there, she found Seven sitting on the bio-bed glaring at the Doctor. She felt a twinge of disappointment that she had not been there when she came to; it was quickly taken over by relief. Somehow the irritation on the woman's face soothed her like a balm possibly because it was directed at the Doctor and not herself she did not have time to evaluate. "You're up," she said, standing behind the physician's console, subconsciously creating a distance. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine," Seven sighed with exasperation, "As I've been trying to convince the Doctor."
With a glance of contempt at the woman in the next bed, B'Elanna accused, "No thanks to her."
"Did the Doctor tell you? It was sabotage."
"And you believe Ens. Wellington is involved?" The Klingon's expression said it all. "You're mistaken, B'Elanna, she saved me."
"She did?" Torres blinked. Her hearing must have been affected by the blast even though she was nowhere near Engineering something she berated herself about. What had been so important? She could not even remember. Another voice interrupted her thoughts.
"Indeed, Lieutenant. It's obvious that Ens. Wellington suffered a greater trauma. According to Seven, Ens. Wellington had pushed her out of the way and in the process taken the brunt of the explosion."
"If I had been there, I could've "
"There is no telling what would've happened had you been there, Lieutenant."
"And I'm glad you weren't, B'Elanna."
The Doctor looked between the two women briefly. "Anyway, Seven here is no worse for wear and Ens. Wellington is stable."
"That's good," B'Elanna acknowledged.
"Doctor, am I free to go?"
"Yes, Seven." He issued another suffering sigh. "You are free to go, provided you return to your quarters and rest. I will see you back here tomorrow at 0800. While I'm here I'd like to make sure "
"Doctor, we still have a lot of work to do before Voyager's ready..."
"Voyager is docked and not going anywhere." He shaped his features into a scowl and sternly ordered, "Lieutenant, I will put you in charge of keeping our patient out of trouble."
"You're putting a difficult patient in charge of another?"
"I trust you'll take your responsibilities seriously."
"Of course," B'Elanna muttered. "Lest you sic Adm. Janeway on me."
"On us," Seven whispered the correction loudly, a small smile tugging at her lips as she hopped off the bed.
"Yeah, let's go, Sev." She looked up at her friend, meeting her eyes, for a beat. Then she turned her gaze forward. "Are you hungry? Do you feel like grabbing something before we go back to your quarters? I know how you feel about replicator food."
"Curious," the Doctor commented at the monitors as the women departed.
"You've got to, to believe me, I never, I never meant to hurt anyone."
"Casualty is usually one of the anticipated results of severe overloads," she said then, noting the contrition on the man's face, weighing on his slumped shoulders. She suffered his deep regret. His unwavering belief in Voyager had given the crew hope during their journey to Earth. His tireless work had provided means of communication and moments of anticipation and comfort. Even she had felt like she owed him.
"I only want to, I want to make them see you. They don't realize how important you are, Seven of Nine," Reginald Barclay repeated his earlier statement, wringing his hands.
Part of her, most of her, felt sorry for the man. "I'm only a civilian contractor assigned to develop new technology for Voyager."
"That's what you're, your job is now. But you're much more than that! You're the embodiment of triumph over adversity, over the Borg! You're the symbol of Humanity."
He had said something like that before, rather, a photonic version of him had. At the time, and subsequently, she had written off his impassioned speech about her worth as part of the Ferengi's scheme to gain her trust. The mercenaries had altered Lieutenant Barclay's hologram, in an attempt to acquire her nanoprobes. After all, the ticker tape parade, celebrations, and lectures he suggested never materialized. They had a banquet and a broadcasted ceremony, during which members of the Maquis received their official pardon and officers like Harry Kim, their promotions. She was allowed the benefit to attend that event; there was nothing more.
"You are a hero, Seven of Nine. Instead of honoring your accomplishments, they try to cover up your Borg past, calling you Annika Hansen, and treating you like a common criminal."
She could not deny she would have preferred a different welcome. Still, it was not all bad. "Annika Hansen is my legal designation. I had nowhere to go after our return. Starfleet has provided shelter, and now gainful employment, with promise of future opportunities and advancement."
"But you deserve, you deserve more than that! I was going to show them, open their eyes, so they can see "
"How do you intend for sabotaging Voyager, and my work, to achieve your goal?"
"You survived, didn't you? You showed them how strong you are."
Thanks to the Borg and her reinforced musculature. "Ens. Wellington suffered as a result of your sabotage."
"I never intended to hurt her, I never intended for anyone to be hurt."
She could anticipate another rehearsal of the same conversation, and sighed at the futility of attempting reason. "Lt. Barclay "
"Call me Reg, please." He dropped his already lowered head. "I'm sure they'll strip me of my rank and throw me in the brig until the next millennium."
"If I have any say, Lt. Barclay, I assure you, I will recommend leniency and counseling." The latter of which the man clearly needed. "While your actions were misguided, I know you meant well."
"So you'll forgive me?"
"I believe that is something you should ask of Ens. Wellington."
Yaxara Wellington, Xara as she was called by her friends. Friend. Xara was Seven's friend, the first one she made on Earth, despite B'Elanna Torres' obvious and not so obvious protestations, and her own reluctance in the beginning. She wished her two friends would get along better, she thought with a small sigh. There would be time, hopefully, in the next three months or more. Three months would pass soon enough; almost a year had already. What would she do afterwards? Follow Captain Janeway on another assignment? Yet another? Then what?
They lead dangerous lives, as she had told Chakotay, her reason for not pursuing their relationship. While she had not regretted breaking things off with him, she felt an undeniable void. She missed having a real family, missed being part of a collective. While in her coma, Xara had visitors, including her parents, and her brothers, one of them her twin. Sure she had the Doctor, and according to him, B'Elanna rarely left her side while she was under; and they were like family on Voyager. But it's not the same.
During their weekend away, they went shopping in Nova Ares. While her friend bought toys and educational holo-programs for Miri, she collected things for the puppy that was not hers Oliver, she decided to name him. At least she would have that. Otherwise, he would most likely become Icheb's dog. The boy already had the Irish Setter following him around and obeying his commands like a Starfleet security canine would. That was one of the reasons why she got him so many playthings someone in her life should be allowed to have their childhood puppyhood in this case. Still, if he remains obedient and learns the proper protocols, maybe Kathryn would let me
Notes from Schumann's Kinderszenen flowed from her fingers without the benefit of the metronome. 'About foreign lands and people', the composition she assigned as the holographic Chakotay's favorite. The title of the movement seemed appropriate in her fantasy and for her life's journey. The musical theme repeated in the fourth movement, the 'Pleading Child'. Of course, her holographic creation did not know that. Gone was the liveliness of the first piece. Slow and melancholic, it ended on a sustained silence, as if the child had cried herself to sleep. The next one was 'Happy Enough'. Would it be enough if Oliver was allowed on board? Was what she had enough? Could she settle for mediocrity when she had spent her life in search of perfection? She felt the same weariness of the pleading child.
Ignoring the simmering frustration and anxiety overrunning the erratic tempo of her notes, her fingers skipped ahead to 'Träumerei' Dreaming it was complete change: leisurely, graceful, if not a tad pensive, a dream of love perhaps
Love. The Doctor, assuming the imminent de-compilation of his program, had confessed his love for her. Had he ever gotten over it? He aided her research on human intimacy. How would he feel if she fell in love one day? Would he treat her any differently? Somehow Seven knew he would always be her mentor, supportive and accepting. She wondered if in his place she could do the same. Belatedly, she realized she never did thank him personally for the piano. Nor had he mentioned the fact. That was unlike the Doctor. Perhaps as she had originally suspected, it was simply a gift from Kathryn
Kathryn. She wondered how the woman was handling the situation with Lt. Barclay. The engineer had come forward as soon as it became clear that the incidents, including the series of minor ones that led to the final explosion, were no accident. While Seven was initially surprised by the betrayal, she was more moved by his guilt and remorse. The admiral, on the other hand, appeared devastated. It wasn't as if she had known him for long, Seven failed to understand.
Human emotions were still too complicated, she had complained to the Station's doctor on one of her visits to the infirmary to see Xara. She wanted to feel real, human emotions, and now that she did, she had no idea what to do with them. Finding one's heart was the way to individuality what happen if one's heart was divided? Indeed, her heart was still uncertain, divided, possibly more so than nearly a year ago, when they first passed through the Borg conduit to the Alpha Quadrant.
The Prophets guide in mysterious ways, Dr. Bareil had offered sagely as he left for morning prayer service. What had prompted the comment? What had she given away in her demeanor? She wished she believed in prophets, or that her parents had a religion she could fall back on.
One minute they were talking, no not talking, but arguing about the proposed layout for the inertia dampeners, how much pressure they could take, and where to place the extra power couplings. The next minute Seven of Nine was grasping the console gracelessly, her pale eyes squeezed shut, full lips widened in a soundless scream, her beautiful face contorted in agony. The torture for the Borg had not lasted long; she crumpled in a muted heartbeat to the floor. Fortunately, B'Elanna's quick reflexes lessened the impact of the fall.
"Torres to Infirmary," the engineer shouted into her comm badge as she kept Seven in her arms. "I need a medical team." Her anguish had only begun.
At the hospital, before the biobed that held her friend, B'Elanna paced. She paced as the doctor ran the requisite scans and checked the monitors. She glared and paced as he swapped medicine vials and touched the hypospray repeatedly to Seven's neck, first in failed attempts to revive her, then to stabilized her condition. Every rearrangement of the medical equipment tray sped up the beating of the Klingon's eight-chambered heart.
She narrowed her eyes as the neuro-scanner secured over fair head, its controls blinked in syncopation with the rest of the equipment and Dr. Bareil moved to speak, "Lieutenant "
"Yes, I'm going, I'm going."
"Don't worry. I'll take good care of Ms. Hansen."
"You'd better," she grumbled. With a last glance at the prone form of her friend, she stalked out of the room and into the infirmary's communication center.
First she contacted Admiral Janeway, pulling her out of a meeting. While apprising the admiral of the situation, B'Elanna worked to ignore the alarm and concern clouding the woman's blue eyes. Her feet shifted eager to walk away, to not let the barely hidden emotions overwhelm her. Immediate permission to use the AeroShuttle was granted. Quickly, she closed the channel and opened up another to the Doctor. It was somewhat easier talking to him, letting him know she would be there to pick him up again and why. Perhaps because as a physician, he was better at handling distress; half-Klingon engineers certainly were not. Seven was the one with the cool head in their relationship.
What relationship? Her brain tripped. With a grimace, she rubbed the back of her neck, and realized she had another call to make. What do people say? Easier to apologize after the fact than to get permissions first? Maybe she should just deal with the repercussions later, but that was not how B'Elanna Torres did things. She sighed deeply and connected another link. All her nerve-endings twitched at once when her husband's happy face appeared on screen. She should have made it voice-only. "Hey."
"B'Elanna! My mom and I were just talking about you!" He grinned and began without preamble. "She wants to know what you would like for dinner; she's looking forward to fixing your favorite dishes. Let me tell you, day after tomorrow won't be here soon enough. I can't wait to see you!"
"I'm sorry, Tom. I'm not sure I can make it," she said, staring at his chin, imagining it with a dimple. She shook the random thought away.
"Why? Didn't you pick up the ticket?"
"Yes, Tom, I got the ticket, days ago."
He saw beyond the defensiveness and asked, "What's wrong, B'Elanna? Something happened?"
"Seven, she's been having headaches."
"Yeah, I know, you told me."
Tom's impatience B'Elanna could read like a book; but there was something else. She rushed ahead, "She's unconscious, in the infirmary. I'm taking the AeroShuttle to Jupiter Station to get the Doctor"
"Can't someone else do that? There's gotta be another pilot "
"I can't believe you're suggesting I leave her and come back "
"I'm not saying that at all! Have someone else get the Doctor, and you can stay with her."
"Oh." Her anger, then his indignation, deflated. "I'm not sure who "
"Didn't you say Wellington started off as her chauffeur?"
"Flying a regular shuttle; the quantum slipstream drive " She rubbed her neck again, her legs shifting again. Both she and Tom had felt awful for assuming the ensign's complicity in the sabotages; and she had been trying to warm up to the woman more. Still, it had only been over a week since Wellington returned to full duty. "I have to do this," she decided.
"You should hurry," he explained with a smile. "Seven needs you. I'll tell mom. Don't worry. She'll understand."
"Thanks, Tom, for being " She stopped, caught by a look in his eyes, an undercurrent in his voice. What's he saying? Deciding whatever it was only existed in her imagination, she continued, "Thanks, for, you know."
"She's my friend, too, B'Elanna," he soothed, offering his most charming grin. "I won't keep you. Tell Seven I hope she feels better, when she wakes up. I'm sure the Doc will figure out "
"He didn't before "
"She'll be fine, B'Elanna, she's Borg."
Ex-Borg, she wanted to argue. Instead, she just nodded. "Give Miral a kiss for me."
"I will. Paris out," he said, and cut the link.
Torres had debated asking Wellington to co-pilot the shuttle. They could take the opportunity to start the woman's training. It would at the very least distract her from the worry gnawing her insides. In the end, she ordered the ensign to stay close to Seven, so she would not wake up alone. Finding her already at the hospital, she demanded instant report on any changes to their friend's condition. Wellington agreed without question.
At the helm, with the integrated slipstream drive and the velocity-booster sequences engaged, hurtling towards Jupiter, B'Elanna felt like a part of her was still back at the station, pacing, pacing, pacing.
"Ah, Admiral." The Doctor looked up from his work. "You just missed Lt. Torres. She said she's heading back to the Holographic Labs in Engineering."
"I'll catch up with her later."
"Could you make sure she get some sleep?" His brows knitted with concern. "Or at least eat? She tends to follow orders better when they come from you."
Janeway nodded and sighed, "I'll see what I can do." With measured steps, she moved to stand beside Seven's biobed. The woman's face looked peaceful, as if deep in sleep. She glanced at the different monitors, to her untrained eyes, the indicators appeared erratic. The grim expression the Doctor wore underscored the gravity of the situation. "How's our patient?" She had to ask.
"Stable so far." He replied with another frown. "I just put her back under. Hopefully, that'll allow her nanoprobes to repair her systems more efficiently."
"Do you know what's wrong with her yet?"
"I knew something was off last time I saw her. I should've run more tests," he said, picking up a test tube and putting it down again without really looking at it.
"No point beating yourself up, Doctor," Janeway consoled. There was enough guilt to go around, particularly from the station's doctor, who prescribed analgesic and rest thinking it was stress. B'Elanna also appeared to hold herself responsible for not paying enough attention, or insisting a higher level of care. Kathryn contended it was illogical for B'Elanna to blame herself, even as she harbored similar feelings of self-reproach.
The depth of concern in her chief engineer's voice and in her demeanor and carriage had surprised Janeway. These days B'Elanna Torres and Seven of Nine more than tolerated each other they were friends she knew. She had seen the similarities between these two members of her crew, the basis of friendship, and tried time and again in the last four years to bring the two women closer together. It seemed she had succeeded. With flying colors even.
But just how close are they? Had she read too much into B'Elanna's emotion? After all, her anger, her joy, and her sorrow were always close to the surface, driven no doubt by her Klingon heritage. If indeed there was more, were the feelings all one-sided on B'Elanna's part? Was she even aware of them? Was Seven? What about Tom?
What about me? One might add, but Admiral Janeway managed to avoid that inquiry.
Meanwhile, there was more about his patient that the Doctor wanted to share. His matrix felt like it would overload from the need, given his natural fondness to be the source of new information. This time, however, with less difficulty than he had anticipated, he held back. Whatever he unwittingly witnessed would fall under doctor-patient confidentiality, he decided, even if his patient was ignorant of the fact. He had eyes; he knew how Admiral Janeway felt about Seven of Nine. His feelings towards the younger woman were the same.
With a less than dramatic sigh, he breached the silence. "To answer your question, I found something quite disturbing: Seven's been infected with a neuro-pathogen."
"A neuro-pathogen? How?"
"Perhaps a more important question is 'Why'?"
"This neuro-pathogen has a signature similar to one used in the Dominion War, according to my research."
"Signature?" Janeway asked automatically, already knowing the answer. She had received briefings on all aspects of the war; she knew where this conversation was going. The Doctor was right: Why? "That makes the pathogen sound manmade," she added.
"Indeed. Whether Bajorans, Cardassians or Romulan, synthetic viruses all have their unique structures depending on who made them. The pathogen that is similar to the one we're dealing with was created in a Starfleet lab." The Doctor paused to let his words sink in and his distaste clear. "It was used as a weapon before the Federation Alliance decided a full-scale war was more efficient."
Efficient. The Borg's favorite word, besides perfection. Since when is war efficient? They were looking at the grim aftermath; people were still reeling from the devastation. "Are you saying what I think you're saying?" Janeway finally demanded, her voice flat.
"That Starfleet is behind our friend's ailment. Yes."
"That's a serious accusation, Doctor."
"I'm aware of that, Admiral."
Janeway stood rigid in silence, her blue eyes bore into dark brown ones. Her years of training, her sworn loyalty to Starfleet demanded that she believed the Doctor was wrong, that he had made a mistake. Deep down, she knew the error in judgment was not his. Finally, with resignation, she asked, "Is there anything you can do to help Seven?"
"With time, I have no doubt I can come up with a cure." The Doctor promised with a slight smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. Then his expression turned grim again, "It might be easier, and more expedient, however, if you went to Starfleet Command to get the antigen. They must have one."
"Whoever behind this will pay, or at least get an earful, I swear."
"I would advise caution, Admiral." He revealed, "Based on my initial findings, the pathogen has an indefinite incubation period with a trigger. If it is anything like the one used during the war, once the trigger is released, the effect is swift and lethal. It was used in high-level assassinations."
"Assassinations?" Janeway was taken aback; perhaps she had not been briefed on everything. Before her last chat with Jean-Luc, any such allegations against the Federation would have been met with her doubt and resistance. Unfortunately, Picard himself had come face to face with a covert agency within Starfleet. He had called its operatives ruthless thugs, but they were in fact much more dangerous, willing to compromise the ideals upon which Starfleet was founded without a second thought or remorse. She hoped the group was not involved; she doubt she could protect Seven of Nine if she was its target. "Trigger? How?"
"I don't know. But Seven is lucky in that her nanoprobes detected the pathogen."
"Are the results of her body trying to purge the infection."
"So she's not in immediate danger." Maybe she could breathe again.
"I don't think so, unless someone activates the trigger."
"Of course." Janeway rubbed her brow ridges, feeling the onslaught of her own headaches. "Can you start work on the antigen?"
"Most certainly, I already have." The Doctor tried not to snap at the admiral for what her question implied; she was under a tremendous pressure, he understood. "Meanwhile, let's hope Seven's nanoprobes continue to do what they're supposed to, and hopefully eliminate the pathogen from her system completely."
"Let's hope so."
"I must say, she's lucky that I'm around to lend my expertise." He could not resist a dig at Bareil. "A regular doctor without the benefit of my extensive database would not be able to make this diagnosis. They would simply try to revive her, then give her an analgesic for the headaches and tell her to rest," he said, trying in vain to assuage his guilt over not making the discovery sooner.
"Well, she's lucky that you're not only versed in medical science, but you have knowledge of her unique physiology," Janeway reminded the Doctor with a small, indulgent smile.
"It seems my decision to join you on your next journey is made."
"You'll be joining me because of Seven."
"Let's just say that she needs me makes my decision a lot easier. A patient's need makes a doctor's work a lot more satisfactory."
"In that case, Doctor, I, too, need you," she offered and clasped his arm in appreciation and solidarity. "I can't imagine another doctor bugging me to take care of myself the way you do."
"Yes. You're quite right about that. Other doctors are human, with human flaws like lack of patience and persistence." He provided a tight smile. "Now if you'll excuse me, Admiral, I have a lot of work to do."
After Janeway left, the Doctor sighed, partly in relief. Acting was hard. He hoped the woman only saw his concern for his patient's physical well-being, and nothing more. Throughout their exchange, he was steeped in conflict, wishing he could share what he knew and what he had seen. He wanted to commiserate with the Admiral, to share the heartbreak for their unrequited love. Beyond that, they also shared a goddaughter.
The kiss he witnessed between B'Elanna and Seven of Nine lasted no more than a second. One might even say it was an impulsive touching of the lips to show a friend's concern for another, and her relief upon seeing her friend regaining consciousness. He knew, however, there was more, a lot more.
His personal loyalty was first and foremost towards his former pupil, his love. He wanted her to have everything her heart desired; she deserved nothing less. He knew B'Elanna Torres would be good for her, and treat her with honor. He also found the idea of the two of them together much less distasteful than Seven with Commander Chakotay who was six years older than Janeway. Still, he would not want little Miral to suffer as a result of her mother's indiscretion, if that was the right word for falling in love.
Picking up the earlier test tube containing Seven's blood, he let out another sigh, burdened by the weight of his photonic heart.
In her mind, Kathryn Janeway pulled at the collar of her dress uniform; it felt tight, like a noose around her neck. Going to Starfleet Command was a mistake, a little voice inside her repeated for a millionth time. Another equally tiresome voice warned she was about to make a deal with the devil. She would do whatever it takes, including going directly to the only person in Starfleet who could be behind the attack on Seven of Nine, who her friend Jean-Luc had already cautioned against. Fleet Admiral Alynna Nechayev not only had the power as head of Starfleet Intelligence, she was ruthless in getting whatever she wanted, no matter the means, and she also hated the Borg.
With a proud nod to the ensign at the desk, she waited for her presence to be announced. To her amazement, audience was granted right away.
"Adm. Janeway." The young woman stood. "This way please," she said and guided her led the way to Nechayev's office.
"Thank you, Ensign. Please make sure we're not disturbed."
"Yes, ma'am," the woman replied and closed the door.
"Adm. Nechayev," Janeway began, preparing to stand for the duration of this potentially short meeting.
"Please, sit. Would you like some tea? Earl Grey perhaps?" The Fleet Admiral asked, and then quickly amended her offer. "Oh, wait, coffee, black. Correct?"
"Thanks, Admiral," Janeway accepted with a neutral smile. Secretly, she was beginning to realize she might have underestimated the woman. "Thank you, also, for meeting with me on such short notice."
"Voyager's captain. I've been waiting for this moment for a long time. I'm sorry I wasn't at your welcome home banquet. I had things to attend to in the Beta Quadrant; then it was one thing after another. You know how it is," Nechayev said conversationally while handing Janeway her coffee.
"Of course, Admiral."
"Now, let's get right to it I know why you're here." The blonde woman spoke over her dainty china teacup. "Seven of Nine could be a danger to the Federation; maybe not today or tomorrow."
"I know how you feel about Annika." And Hugh, the Borg drone Picard found. "I also know there are those in Starfleet Command who would agree with you, that she should be deactivated," Janeway replied bluntly; the other woman did not believe in beating around the bush.
"She hasn't yet, has she?"
"Annika Hansen is under my protection."
"You'll have to deactivate me first."
"Such melodrama." Blonde head shook slowly, patiently, amusement shining in her eyes. "Adm. Janeway. As much as I would like to take credit for the attack on your pet Borg, I'm afraid I can't."
"But you're "
"The only one who could do something like that? I'm flattered."
"So this is not your way of keeping Annika in line? The infection was not carried out under your order?"
"My idea of insurance was letting you drop your rank as Admiral, giving you your ship back, and putting you on extended science missions. I believe Starfleet Command is giving you precisely what you've asked for. After all, while you're accomplished in your own right, many people here at Headquarter knew you from when you were a child."
Yes, and I'm on first name basis with most of them. "Then who? The Doctor said the neuro-pathogen was created in a Starfleet lab," Janeway demanded, unwilling to connect the dots. "And Annika had not left Federation premises without a Starfleet escort, and she had at all other times stayed in the Starfleet-only areas of the Utopia Planitia."
"As you are aware, there are individuals I have no jurisdiction over, who act independently outside Starfleet Command, beyond even the Federation," Nechayev said with a grim smile. "Individuals with their own code of honor, who would not hesitate to exploit our ideals as weaknesses, in the name of protecting these same ideals. Ask your pet Borg, I'm sure she had assimilated enough Starfleet personnel to know a thing or two about these rogue operatives - that's what they are, if you asked me."
Section 31, Janeway thought with alarm; her fear had been confirmed. It seemed even Nechayev, head of Starfleet Intelligence, was reluctant to mention the clandestine agency by name, as if doing so would give it power or invoke its wrath, or both. "Admiral "
"Perhaps you prefer to talk to Jean-Luc Picard. I believe he had prior dealings with this agency; they perceived Locutus of Borg as a threat to Humanity. I suppose you can't completely blame them."
Can't I? While Picard warned her of Nechayev's hatred towards the Borg; he also felt indebted to her. Without her help, he would have been assassinated by Section 31 agents. How could anyone find honor in the murder of a decorated Starfleet captain who spent most of his life serving the Federation, or someone like Seven of Nine?
"Anyway, you and Picard are old friends..."
"As much as I disagree in principle with your plans, I must admit I have more pressing concerns than a single Borg severed from the Collective. Ms. Hansen has also been most cooperative, and I can certainly see her value." Nechayev folded her arms on her desk and leaned forward. "I'm aware your EMH is now tending to her, and of his progress in finding an antidote. You may, however, wish to contact Dr. Julian Bashir, you are acquainted with him, yes?"
"Yes." Janeway had met the man when her ship was docked at Deep Space Nine. "He cleared several members of the crew before Voyager went into the Badlands."
"While you were on your vacation in the Delta Quadrant "
Finally, she couldn't resist speaking out of turn. "I assure you, Admiral, it was hardly a vacation."
"Dr. Bashir managed to find a cure for the morphogenic virus used by the rogue operatives to attack the Dominion elders; his success was instrumental in ending the war a war that went on for years and cost countless lives." Nechayev paused.
And how many crew members have you lost? Janeway heard the unasked question loudly. She had read the reports. Ninety-eight Federation vessels were lost in one single, early battle. Voyager could easily have been amongst the sacrificed. Firming her lips, she kept her gaze leveled and her head held high. In turn, as a reward, Adm. Nechayev gave her a vague smile.
"You'll find him sympathetic to your causes and willing to lend his expertise. By now, he will have results to share, maybe even the antidote."
"Poor Reginald Barclay was right; and we have a symbol to protect."
"Thank you, Admiral." Janeway was surprised, to say the least. Nechayev had already made the extent of her reach quite clear; but now she seemed to imply Seven was under her protection as well. It was a sign that Starfleet Command had not been compromised by Section 31 as she had dreaded. Nevertheless, it was obvious the organization to which she devoted her whole life had changed in the last eight years. She would have to take time to think and sort out everything the admiral had said between the lines. For now, however, she held onto the comfort of the silver-lining around the looming storm cloud.
"Now, I understand Voyager is almost ready. Before you get back to your ship to explore the galaxy, there is one last thing I need you to do."
"It has come to our attention that the Romulan Empire is interested in improved diplomatic relations. It may be in the Federation's best interest to explore this avenue. Besides the usual, we have other causes for concern. You were briefed on the War. The new Praetor is one of the generals, a Reman the inferior of the two."
"But they're warriors," Janeway replied, uncertain of the seemingly classist comment. "We've successfully dealt with warrior races before. We made peace with the Klingons."
"We were involved in a recent war with the Klingons."
"Based on a misunderstanding, I thought. And it stopped as soon as the truth came out. They were our strongest ally during the war with the Dominions. Or were the reports incorrect?"
"The events were common knowledge, Kathryn. May I call you Kathryn?"
Janeway nodded. "Even in our own history, countries have been ruled by warriors."
"I see." She did not, not really.
"I would like your old friend Picard to undertake this diplomatic mission. Officially, you will order him to do so as Admiral."
"Of course - " Janeway paused, looking expectant; she did not have to wait long.
"Alynna is fine."
Running with themes of hidden agenda and covert operations underlying this meeting, she offered, "Perhaps, you have concerns and advices about this mission that might be better received if they were counsel from a trusted friend?"
"Kathryn Janeway, you are a woman after my own heart." Alynna Nechayev smiled widely. "I'll be keeping an eye on you."
Oh, I'm sure you will. Janeway adjusted in her seat, bracing herself for a long afternoon. Would a snack of Bularian canapés be too much wishful thinking? Perhaps she would have to bring them next time Picard had mentioned they were Nechayev's favorite; and she knew there would be a next time.
"B'Elanna." He said her name, his face not quite a frown. "Shouldn't you be on the transport? I didn't see any cancellation announcements?"
"I'm sorry, we had to make a last minute adjustment this afternoon." Through Ambassador Worf's efforts, they were able to procure a cloaking device for the AeroShuttle. Starfleet had previously tested on an interphase cloak which allowed a starship to pass undetected through solid matter. The experiment was in direct violation of the Treaty of Algeron signed with the Romulans which prevented the Federation from developing cloaking technology. In response to the latest intelligence of a new 'perfect' Reman cloaking device, and treading fine lines as a dual Federation and Imperial Empire citizen, B'Elanna would continue Admiral Pressman's work. The objective was top secret. Meanwhile, Tom looked like he was expecting her to elaborate. She took a deep breath.
"We're still trying to catch up, you know with Seven," B'Elanna started to explain the delays caused by the various assaults on her friend, which were never far from her mind, but all of which he had already heard. "I mean she's been working double shifts everyday since returning to duty, so it's really not her fault."
"I wouldn't think it's her fault for being a target of attacks," he replied with a sigh of exasperation.
"I'm sorry I missed the shuttle."
"Does that mean you're not coming home?"
"I want to, I really do," B'Elanna protested. In the last three years, she had not lied to him. The guilt and shame she expected to feel nevertheless proved illusive. She had not done anything wrong, at least not yet. She was going to give him the chance to fight for her, for their marriage; she swore to Kahless she would.
"But the next passenger transport doesn't go out until the day after." He shrugged his shoulders and allowed another sigh. "That's okay."
"I can still get on that one."
"What? And come back for half a day before you have to turn around and leave again?"
"I can see if Kathryn would let me use the AeroShuttle, I could get back to Earth in no time."
"You think she would?"
"It wouldn't hurt to ask."
He looked skeptical. "When did you last take time off for yourself, real time off?"
"But Miral..." She objected. "I want to see her before I go."
"She'll be fine, B'Elanna. If you like, I'll put her on the next time we chat." As if anticipating her question, he added, "Not now though. My mother took her out with her group of ladies and their grandchildren today. The kid is pooped. She's already asleep."
"Me, too, B'Elanna." He curved his lips into a smile. "So how's the rust bucket?"
"She's great. You won't believe, with all the hybrid Borg and Federation technologies. I wish you could see her," she gushed as she was prone to do. Funny, it seemed not too long ago that she had complained about Voyager being turned into a Borg circus.
"And I wish I could, too. I can't believe someone else is going to pilot her." His brows tightened briefly; then he was grinning again. "To be honest though? I'm kinda glad."
"You really like where you are?" With Earth? With life?
"There's really nowhere I'd rather be, than here, home, with our little girl, and my holo-novels."
"What happened to your dreams of being a test pilot?"
"I think being a father has really changed me. Miral is my priority now."
Miral is his priority. Miral. In a way, she was pleased with his devotion. "You're not going to turn into one of those parents who live their dreams through their kids, are you?"
"I get the feeling her mother would object to her being a test pilot. An engineer would be a better choice," he teased right back.
How many chances was she supposed to give him? For a moment, B'Elanna closed her eyes, waiting. Then she felt threads of weariness weaving across her bones, down her spine. The thick sensation laced with her voice. "Tom, we need to talk."
"What's up, B'Elanna?"
"You know I love you."
"And I love you."
"And we promised to be always honest with each other."
"Now you're scaring me," he said with a grin that spoke otherwise.
"We have a history. Even before Voyager, sort of."
"If you're referring to us both being in Chakotay's cell, yes, I suppose we did."
"Granted you weren't with us for long, but we fought against the Cardassians together." B'Elanna gave voice to some of the questions that had been swirling in her mind and nipping at her like a swarm of targ fleas. "How come we never noticed each other? I knew who you were because of Chakotay, but that was it."
"Yes, I imagine the stuff he said about me kept you and everyone else away, and I must admit, he was right, I was a mercenary. Besides, even on Voyager, you thought I was an arrogant pig, only interested in chasing skirts." He countered her grimace with a casual shrug. Then he turned his expression serious, thoughtful, his voice carefully soft and assuring. "You know I've always wondered, if we weren't trapped in the Delta Quadrant, if you and I would've gotten together. You're too good for me."
"Don't say that, Tom. You're a good man, and a wonderful father to Miral." She resorted to guilt, the easiest weapon, and attacked herself. "Meanwhile, I've already missed three solid months out of my daughter's first year, and going to be missing more," she said quietly, and followed with a caustic laugh.
"Klingon warriors never have their children with them; and you are a Klingon warrior," he circumvented her protest. "But back to what I was saying: I love you, B'Elanna, I always will. But I won't stand in your way. Your happiness is too important to me."
"But what about your happiness?" Impulsively, she argued. As soon as the question left her mouth, however, she realized her misstep. Really, she should take his offering and run. Then the full meaning of his words hit her, "Wait, 'in my way', what do you mean, not standing in my way?"
"Weren't you about to tell me while you love me, you're not in love with me?"
"Wait, Tom, how "
"I know you, B'Elanna, we've been friends for a long time. Like you said, we have a history, as acquaintances and friends." He sighed and met his wife's dark eyes steadily. As if convinced there were no more secrets to be found in those depths, he continued, "And while that might be enough to sustain a marriage when we thought we'd be lost in space for seventy years "
"It's not enough for you either, huh?"
"I didn't say that."
"So what are you saying?"
"You always complained how hard we have to work to stay together. Maybe it shouldn't be that hard. Maybe it wouldn't be if you're with the right person," he acknowledged with a sad smile. "My parents love each other, maybe at one point, they were even in love. I've been spending some time with Harry, helping him look for a place as you know. No, he hasn't found the perfect joint, Mr. Picky," he added with a laugh, anticipating her question. "Anyway, I see his parents squeezing into a loveseat and finishing each other's sentences, so different from my parents you know how they are cold and polite, and I know I can never have what he has. I don't want our daughter growing up with the same envy."
"Tom," she said his name. She wished she could say more, refute his concerns as groundless; but she knew what he was talking about. She remembered being a child and wishing for parents who were in love with each other like her classmates and cousins had. Instead, she just stopped having friends and avoided her father's family. She wished she could promise to fall in love with him again, but she could not do that either. Not while she was in love with another. She was Klingon, not wired like a Betazoid who could be in loving romantic relationships with multiple people at one time.
"I want you to be happy, B'Elanna. And if Seven makes you happy "
Even just a stray thought concerning Betazoids brought forth the familiar darkness stark jealousy towards Wellington, she had come to realize, and could no longer deny. "How'd you know? What gave it away?"
"Well, it goes back a coupla years, at least."
"What do you mean?"
"Remember that crazy mission you volunteered to go on with the Captain and Tuvok? Infiltrating the Borg Tactical cube? Unimatrix Zero?"
"What about it?" B'Elanna argued, her temper flaring. "I couldn't let Kathryn go alone."
"The Captain had Tuvok. She could've taken Harry. I always wondered if you weren't trying to play hero for Seven, to impress her."
"Am I?" He laughed at her scowl and with his charming smile in tact, he said, "For the last six months, I've listened to you talk about her, B'Elanna. I wish you talked about me like that. And when we were on Voyager; all the hostilities? They were overboard even for you. Harry and I always wondered if it weren't some sort of subconscious Klingon mating ritual."
"You're crazy," she repeated, a reluctant grin tugging at her lips. "Both of you." In fact, she had recently started wondering the same things herself.
"And if she wasn't the captain's girl "
Another weight added to B'Elanna's chest. How was she going to explain to Kathryn? She felt like a usurper assuming there was something to usurp. Still, she hoped to Kahless there was. "She wasn't," B'Elanna replied with undeniable lightness.
"None of us knew though, but if you and I did, things may have been different between us, and between you," Tom offered with unwavering understanding. "You were always pushing me away; and I've always thought "
"That I was playing hard to get? I was."
"But your change of heart was pretty sudden. We thought it was the aliens mucking with our hormones, remember?"
The clandestine medical experiments performed on them, turning the crew into guinea pigs, yes. It was also one of the first times Seven had shown her courage helping the crew in a significant way, exposing and defeating the alien scientists. "But I loved you. I still do."
"It's not the kind that makes your Klingon blood boil."
"Maybe in the beginning. But it was nothing like the cave."
"That was stupid Vorik's fault. I'm not like that." Right?
"Something tells me you don't need the effects of pon farr " He said with a teasing grin that took the inappropriateness out of the comment. "You were unreasonably hostile, even for a Klingon. There were times you were downright mean to her, for no good reason, B'Elanna, but to get a rise out of her. How much more convincing do you need?"
None. And enough from him, that's for sure. "You're persistent. That's one of your qualities I admire."
"Persistence is futile it seems, for the long run."
"Tom, I'm sorry."
"So is this where you back hand me and spit on me and tell me our marriage is done?" He winked. "Virtually anyway?"
Finally, she saw the break in Tom's smile and heard it in his voice. She had expected him to fight for her and their marriage, counted on it even. Instead he had anticipated her betrayal, come to terms with it on his own even before this talk. Suppose she should thank him for making it so easy for her. Maybe somewhere down the line, when his hurt was less apparent, she would. "I'm so sorry."
"Just be happy, B'Elanna. Don't worry, I'll take care of Miral." His easy smile returned, as did his teasing words. "Hey, if you and Seven have little Borglings, I'll watch over them while their mommies play Capt. Proton in Outer Space. What do you think, Uncle Tom's Daycare?"
"One step at a time, Tom." She rolled her eyes to hide her grin.
"Or Paris' Day School for the Future Starfleet? There's a certain ring to it, don't you think?"
"I thought you were going to be a successful holo-novel author."
"You bet our daughter's sweet cheeks I will!" His expression became serious, and the rambunctiousness left his voice once more. "She'll miss her momma, but she'll be fine until you come back from your mission."
"Okay." She swallowed the lump in her throat, and reached out to touch the screen, the man who was her husband and soon to be ex-. She curved her lips lightly when her best friend met her palm on the display. "Thank you."
"And tell Seven she'd better come up with a diaper changing protocol."
"I will, Tom, that is, if she, if we I'm not even a hundred percent sure how she feels."
"B'Elanna, you're irresistible." He met her eyes with another reassuring smile. "I know first hand."
"Yeah, I'm not the one with the Borg mantra." She shuffled her feet, suddenly feeling shy. "You know, resistance is futile?"
"Just, do it, tell her if you haven't already. Wait, what am I saying? Of course you haven't. Go, tell her. And I expect reports. Let me know how it goes."
"If you think I'm going to feed your prurient fantasies "
"Of course not! But now that I'm a free man I might need some pointers you know, on the finer points of a same-sex relationship."
Blinking in surprise, B'Elanna gasped, "You're going to chase after Starfleet?"
"Well, Libby's loss could be my gain."
"You can't really expect her to keep waiting for him," she offered. Finding his girlfriend married to another had been the tarnished spot of Harry's triumphant return to Earth, and aside from Miral and Seven, an often topic between her and Tom during the last few months. Now she viewed the information with new eyes. "Huh "
"We'll talk more later. You have a Borg to assimilate."
Along one of the side corridors leading to Ops Central, Lieutenant Torres paced. The moment felt like a déjà vu. Just over three months ago she had worn the nap off of the carpet outside Admiral Janeway's office at Fort McDowell. Only last time, she was there to offer assistance, a shoulder to lean on if necessary, while Janeway contemplated pursuing a romantic relationship with Seven of Nine.
Why didn't she? B'Elanna resisted the urge to kick the bulkhead. Before they left Earth, she had assumed the Admiral would at least spend part of the time on Utopia Planitia with them, at least for a final if not periodic inspection of the work performed on Voyager. Instead, up until the last sabotage and then the discovery of the neuro-viral attack on Seven, Janeway's office on the station sat empty. She had even been difficult to reach via comm. Had Federation business kept her that busy? Or did she stay away on purpose? Maybe both?
What am I doing here? She asked as a section of the Starfleet Handbook on Personal Relationships fell into her consciousness. Surely she would not be required to obtain authorization or clearance before initiating intimate relationship with Seven. After all, she was the one with the alien blood, and the blonde was human, mostly. She knew she was just stalling. This is absurd.
"Torres, you need to just get in there," she muttered.
B'Elanna swung around to the emotionless voice, to find herself face to face with the ensign working in Ops Security. After the all the incident investigations, they were practically on first name basis. Still, his typical blank Vulcan demeanor never failed to cause her unease. "Surak."
"I did not mean to startle you, Lieutenant. My apologies." He bowed his head lightly. "If you're here to see Adm. Janeway, she is in her office."
"Yes, thank you, Surak." She let out a small nervous laugh. "Just need to figure out " What I'm gonna say, or how I'm going to break it to her. "Never mind."
He returned a brief nod and continued on, leaving B'Elanna standing in the middle of the corridor. Taking a deep breath, she resumed her queries. What am I going to tell her? How to begin? Would she understand? What if she doesn't, then what?
But she will. She has to.
And I owe her. Torres squared her shoulders, quick-walked to the door, and pressed the chime before her courage failed her.
As the door separated, strains of music escaped. B'Elanna recognized it as one of the pieces Seven favored. The nights she sat underneath the viewport, secretly collecting the troubled notes falling like teardrops into her quarters, she tried to read her friend's emotions surging from her fingers. She wondered if she was the one on Seven's mind as the music flowed. Maybe it was Kathryn, she thought with equal jealousy and distress, the door panels sliding closed further trapping her in.
"B'Elanna," Janeway greeted her protégé with a smile of pleasure.
"Kathryn," she answered her voice shaky to her ears. The use of the older woman's given name nevertheless hinted at the personal nature of the visit. Clearing her throat, she continued, "Can we talk?"
Concern instantly edged Janeway's face and shone through her dark blue eyes. "Of course, B'Elanna."
She looked towards the ceiling, imagining Seven's fingers sifting through the keys, her mesh hand a contrast with the black and white. Would she ever play for her? She stopped thinking and commented, "The music, it's haunting, hauntingly beautiful."
"Tchaikovsky's Romance in F minor."
"Romance?" B'Elanna felt another pang. "It's sounds sad, and afflicted."
"As love is prone to be, sometimes."
"Yeah." She groaned, her gaze sliding from her captain's pinched features and landing on her hands strong hands that held her when she had lost her mother, and after Miral was born. Would their closeness become nothing more than a memory? How would their relationship change after this meeting? She expelled a breath, her shoulders stooping with the sigh. "I can see that, unfortunately."
"B'Elanna? What's wrong?"
Ever astute, the captain. B'Elanna's eyes shifted skywards, to keep her tears from falling. Somehow the reality of that situation had only just hit her. Guilt and regret warred, cutting her deeply. "Tom and I, we're getting a divorce."
"You are?" Recovering quickly from her shock, Janeway pushed back her chair, stood, and rounded her desk in one sustained beat.
"It's my fault," B'Elanna whispered, letting her mentor guide her to the sofa, and sitting as directed. Like a robot. She hated herself for how she was feeling, and what she was about to do.
"Because of the mission?"
The gentle blue depths, the soothing deep voice only made the admission so much harder. "No," she said, barely a shallow breath. "Because I fell in love, with someone else."
Do you, really? She stared at Janeway, watching. "Aren't you going to ask who?"
"You know I try not to interfere with the private lives of my crew members."
'Crew members.' That distance hurt; she deserved it. She knew, as she witnessed the rapid shuttering of her captain's face. "Kathryn "
"Nevertheless, I suspect I know the identity of the person who captured your heart." Janeway schooled her expression into a careful smile. "It's Seven, am I correct?" She voiced her suspicion, injury roughening her tone. A self-inflicted wound, she accepted, as B'Elanna was not to blame. Hell, she practically pushed the two together. She alone let her duty to Starfleet and her fear keep Seven at bay. It hurt, but at the same time she felt pressure lifting from her heart. Idly, she thought about the ancient, supposedly therapeutic practice of bloodletting. A wry smile tipped from her lips.
"I wasn't expecting this." B'Elanna, meanwhile, remained lost in her own misery. "I'm sorry, Kathryn, it's like one day I woke up and I just was. If I had known, if I had been aware of the process, of falling, I would've tried to fight it, I swear."
"It's okay, Lanna."
"No, it's not!" She protested, anger strengthening her voice. The use of her nickname did not escape her. It only fueled her anguish. Only her mother, and Kathryn, had called her that. And Seven, in their early days at Fort McDowell to annoy her. Was that when it all started? And not when the woman literally swept her off her feet with a bat'leth? "She, you, I shouldn't be "
Her protégé's obvious distress brought forth a strong emotion in Janeway. Any scorn and bitterness she felt as a rival subsided. She would have to deal with her own loss another time, if at all. With maternal gentleness, she caressed the younger woman's cheek. "So, how long? Have you been seeing each other?" She asked, in part seeking the bitter medicine that would hasten her own cure. Or quicken her heart's death, depending on one's perspective.
"Seeing each other?" Torres parroted. "As in dating? We haven't started, I don't think?"
"B'Elanna." It was difficult not to smile at the Klingon's childlike voice. "Does she know how you feel?"
"I'm not sure?" She replied, her hand lifting. Roughly, she jerked it down and hugged her elbow. "We kissed. Or more like our lips touched," she admitted with wonder. The next blink, she realized her faux pas, and grabbed her captain's arm. "Oh, Kahless, Kathryn, I'm sorry, that was insensitive."
"It's all right, Lanna." Janeway patted the hand, and held on to the connection. "Tell me, then what happened?"
"Don't tell me you fled."
She nodded with a sigh. "Yeah, I ran away. And we've been avoiding each other outside of work. For almost three weeks." As much as she wanted a romantic relationship with Seven, she missed her friend.
"I'm sure you don't need me to remind you, but it's a big step between kissing someone and getting a divorce."
"I know, but there was something I felt it." This time, she allowed her fingers to reach her lips, touching them, feeling the ghost of Seven's imprint, like she had so many times since their kiss. "We both felt it, I'm pretty sure." She saw it in sky blue eyes. Besides, the mutual avoidance must mean something. Otherwise, the normally straight forward Borg would have confronted her and demanded an explanation for her slipup long before now.
"He was the one who brought up the divorce." Brown eyes fell again in shame and grief. "He told me to go after her. It's like he'd seen it coming, and wasn't at all surprised? I wish he were, you know?"
"I'm not surprised either, to tell you the truth," Kathryn acknowledged, fighting her own turmoil, trying not to wince. "Especially in light of your reactions to the recent events." Indeed, the younger woman brooded, and after being chased out of the infirmary by the Doctor, had thrown herself into work. She understood that type of evasion out of sight, out of mind. Had she not been guilty of it herself? Look where that had gotten her.
"You mean the sabotage? Neuro-pathogen?" Dark brows knitted. "I haven't reacted any differently than " She chewed on her lower lip. "You did? Oh."
"Even when we were in the Delta Quadrant, I've always wondered if there wasn't something between you; and, if circumstances were different..." B'Elanna's sudden marriage to Tom, in truth, was more of a surprise. She remembered being thankful they had eloped without anyone's knowledge. That the younger woman was in her office, giving her a chance to voice any objections before she pursued the new relationship, meant more to Janeway than she would ever know. "Frankly, I think I've been expecting this talk we're having." Possibly another reason she avoided Utopia Planitia.
"Why? What made you think so?"
"I'm not sure? But whatever it is, my mother saw it, too." Katherine thought back to their conversation in the kitchen with another, deeper smile. "The first weekend I took you two home with me, that first night after dinner, she asked if I was trying to play matchmaker. I corrected her of course. It seems Mother is never wrong after all."
"I'm sorry, Kathryn, I didn't mean for it to happen, you've got to believe me." B'Elanna implored. With Janeway's clear acceptance, she voiced her concerns. "We're so different. I'm not even sure how it happened."
"A wise doctor once told me, romance is born out of differences, and similarities, out of the unexpected, and also the familiar."
"Our Doctor said that? About Seven?"
Janeway shook her head and offered another smile. "Sometimes you just need to jump in, with both feet. Or at least stop running away."
"So you're okay with this? Me and Seven? On your ship, together, for the next three months?"
"As long as both of you are happy," she reassured, pulling B'Elanna into a warm embrace, and kissing her softly on the cheek. "And I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that you'll find true happiness in each other. You both deserve nothing less."
"Thank you, Kathryn."
"Now, go," the admiral ordered and closed her eyes for a brief moment while the younger woman jumped to her feet. "B'Elanna, hold on," she said and stood.
"I was going to wait until next week, when everyone's present." Janeway reached her desk and opening a drawer, she pulled out a small brown box. "For your exemplary service to Starfleet and the contributions you've made since our return to the Alpha Quadrant, it's with the utmost pleasure that I grant you the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Congratulations, B'Elanna."
"I wish I could've done this a year ago." She pinned on the solid gold pip, recalling the bittersweet she felt on her Maquis crew's behalf when their insignia were traded for Starfleet equivalents while everyone else received his or her due promotion. "Anyway, like my mom always says, good things are better when they come in pairs."
"Thank you, Admiral. I appreciate " A hand on her arm stilled her words.
Torres nodded, and with newfound determination, turned on her heels.
"Seven!" B'Elanna wanted to shout; the name ended up a loud whisper. It was enough for the sensitive Borg hearing though, as the target of her quest stopped in her tracks. As if in slow motion, she watched the woman as she arched her already straight back, turned around, placed her hands behind her and assumed the position of a perfect soldier.
The frostiness fissured her heart. She winced, hyper aware she was wearing her emotions on her sleeve, but could not bring herself to rectify that imbalance. One of them had to act like she was feeling something; it might as well be her. "Seven, please."
A light brow rose. "Do you require assistance, Lieutenant?"
"Can you just drop the 'lieutenant'?" B'Elanna grounded out her frustration and saw Seven hesitate, surprised by her outburst perhaps, and uncertain whether to yell back or stalk away no doubt. She took the opening and closed their distance. Grabbing her friend's arm lest she escaped, and looking directly into harsh blue eyes, she pleaded, "I want to talk to you."
While they were the only people in the corridor leading to their quarters at the moment, they could be interrupted at any time. "I was hoping we could go somewhere more private?"
"If this talk is of a personal nature," Seven paused, her gaze defiant. Then something caught her attention, and she smirked. "Lt. Commander, it appears congratulations are in order."
"Thanks, but whatever." Her promotion lacked importance compared to this. "We need to talk."
"I do not believe there's anything for us to talk about."
"Sure there is." B'Elanna countered, her anger simmering under her frustration. Part of her wanted to strangle the infuriating Borg, the other part wanted to smother the superior smile with a breath-robbing kiss. "We should talk about how you're feeling."
How am I feeling? "I'm functioning within " Seven started, and even though she wished to keep the animosity going, she changed her words. "I feel fine, and thanks to Dr. Bashir and the Doctor, I will be fine," she replied, choosing the most obvious interpretation of the Klingon's statements. Underneath that haughtiness, she was feeling anything but fine. She could sense her heart, her adrenaline pumping. She wondered if her cortical implant would start initiating shut down sequence, even though it was not supposed to not anymore. With an impatient huff, she continued, "Hopefully, Admiral Janeway's talk with Starfleet Intelligence will forestall future attempts on my life." She firmed her lips. "As far as I'm concerned, this matter is closed."
"I'm not asking about your health. I know you're fine, thank Kahless. And I knew about Kathryn's talk with Nechayev. She told me." Days ago, and she knew for a fact that the older woman had discussed with the Borg about sharing the information with her. You're just playing your semantics game. B'Elanna grunted, "I want to know how you're feeling."
B'Elanna could growl. Instead, she gripped the arm tighter, half expecting to get bodily tossed aside as a result. Instead, Seven offered no reaction of any sort. That grew her ire. "Are we really gonna do this here? Out in the corridor?"
"What precisely is 'this' we're doing?"
"Fine, have it your way." She took a small step forward, further invading the Borg's space, and was pleased to see blue eyes turning a shade paler. Suddenly, she knew what it was like to hunt prey; her warrior instincts reared. "We kissed," she said, and felt the time stop. The perpetual hum of the space station seemed loud as she watched for cracks in the Borg armor.
"That is incorrect. You kissed me."
"All right, I kissed you." And I'd give anything to do it again. "And I want to know how you feel about the fact that I kissed you." For a moment, Seven looked thoughtful; B'Elanna held her breath.
"I, I do not wish to discuss my feelings on the matter."
She took the slight hesitance as a breakthrough, that and the downward smile that was not quite a sneer. "Come on, Sev, tell me. It's important."
Seven of Nine felt a sharp stab of anger, blinding, white hot anger, towards herself, Kathryn, the galaxy even, but especially the Klingon. She could have been blissfully ignorant, growing their friendship, unaware and unable to identify the depth of her feelings for the woman. She would have been content. Instead of this, this anger and confusion. Things were definitely easier when she could not feel, when there was a bright line between function and dysfunction she could draw. She spat, "I fail to see why you should care!"
"I care, Sev, as your friend," B'Elanna blurted, knowing immediately she was going about this all wrong. The grim press of full lips told her as much. Somehow it always worked when Tom brought up how much he cared as a friend. Clearly, she and the Borg were not wired the same way. There goes the mighty Klingon warrior, she sighed. It was definitely more difficult to be the pursuer than the pursued. Perhaps happily married Tuvok would give her some pointers. She rolled her mental eyes, and altered her tactic, "I mean, are you still going on the mission?"
"I don't see why not. I've made a commitment to Starfleet, I intend to honor it."
"Then we'll be on Voyager together, and we can't keep avoiding each other."
"We could try."
"B'Elanna Torres, please," Seven finally said, her voice losing all its edge and ice. Whatever game the Klingon was playing, she had had enough. Had she known the woman was not on the passenger transport back to Earth, she would have locked herself in her room like she had done so many nights before. They very well could have avoided each other for the next three months; she would see to it no matter the cost. "Let's not, I can't "
"I love you."
She felt the faint burning behind her eyes and the bitterness in the back of her throat. In the last few weeks, she had come to appreciate how her captain must feel. Things would be a lot simpler if she could just return Janeway's affection. She replied with a sigh, "As a friend, I'm aware."
"No, I'm in love with you," B'Elanna clarifies. "Don't you love me, too?"
"You're married," Seven said briskly, eager to cut their pointless conversation short. In those same weeks, she also had the time to evaluate and re-evaluate every byte of data available, adding and subtracting, and dissecting her own psyche and emotions. Her findings were the same. "My feelings are irrelevant. You're married," she repeated for good measure.
"Not for long, I won't be."
"Clarify," Seven demanded, while her heartbeat picked up for an entirely different reason. It was hope and anticipation, she quickly identified, and shoved them away as selfish, and undesirable, no matter how human.
"Tom and I are getting a divorce."
"Because of me?"
"Because of me, and because I fell in love with you," B'Elanna explained with a smile.
"But your marriage, I do not wish to be the cause of its dissolution."
"Tom and I love each other, but only as friends, best friends, well, and co-parents."
"What about it? It's not honorable for me to stay and deprive Tom the chance to find someone who loves him properly, is it? The chance to find his soulmate?" She argued, bringing up the human concept she and the Borg discussed. Leaning closer, taking up more space, she rushed ahead, "He wants me to be happy. He wants us to be happy, you and me."
"You, and me?" Seven blinked. The questions were redundant and inefficient, but she had to ask, "Us? Both of us? He wants happiness for both of us?" There is an 'us'?
"Of course! He's your friend, too."
That was true. He was the first person on board Voyager who offered her friendship, and perhaps the reason why she never considered a relationship with B'Elanna Torres a possibility. During the many hours of introspection, she also discovered she had been infatuated with the Klingon for much longer than she cared to admit. It explained why she craved the engineer's approval, and why the woman's concern touched her so deeply. Instead of experiencing anger and violation, she was even secretly happy that B'Elanna had accessed her personal logs. She had hoped it would bring them closer somehow. It appeared her desire had come true. Fighting herself, she sighed, "I do not wish to betray his friendship."
"You're not. He wants this, whatever 'this' is for us, trust me."
"Fine. But Kathryn "
"I talked to her, just now, before I came to find you."
"You did?" That had surprised Seven, although the extra pip on the Klingon's collar sort of made sense now. Since the kiss, she had also come to realize her captain was right, that love was not simply about honor and duty. In fact, this love seemed to be the opposite, she thought with another wash of dark emotions. "I should talk to her, and explain "
"It's okay, Seven. I told her how I feel about you." B'Elanna assured with a smile, "She wants us to be happy, nothing more. She even said good things should come in pairs. That's why she gave me the promotion then, instead of waiting 'til next week."
"I see." In truth, she had not expected Kathryn to hold any grudges, and was not surprised by how easily she had set her free. Still, she was afraid; and it was not in her nature to act without considering every detail, no matter how minute. And this is definitely not a simple minutia. "What about Miri?"
"My parents were estranged, I turned out okay. Tom and I, we'll make sure she will, too; and she has grandparents and godparents, and you and Harry?" As our friends and hopefully more? "So can we try this?" B'Elanna asked gently, searching blue eyes for a hint. "Whatever this is between us?"
"I thought you said it is love?"
The smile that accompanied the question was out of the galaxy. "So I did," she replied, releasing her hold on Seven's arm, only to slide up to her shoulder, to reach around her neck. Her other hand caressed her impossibly soft cheek, before winding its way into thick blond tresses. She held her breath when full lips lowered to meet her own.
The first kiss was tentative, a series of brief touches, soundless. Just warmth and silence as if old souls getting reacquainted, learning the changes, tasting the familiarities. Their lips brushed against each other softly, tenderly. It could go on forever; it had.
Then a whimper escaped, and then a moan, easily the last strands of self-consciousness and restraints fell away. They inhaled, deeply, each other's scent, a thicket of blossoms and passion.
Time sped up. Hurry, hurry. They clung onto each nanosecond, their bodies pressed tightly against the wall. Their mouths opened honestly, drinking from each other, tongue stroking tongue, thirsty, out of breath. Their hearts pounded into each other's chest, eager to join, to be rejoined. Breathless, as one, they fumbled at the keypad to the nearest quarters belonging to one of them. Finally, the door opened in one exulted whoosh; together, they tumbled inside.
B'Elanna had expected to talk, to come to an understanding, and maybe, hopefully, initiate some sort of dating protocol according to precise Borg specifications. There would be a great deal of romance and tenderness, and whatever else sweet and slow that humans generally desired that human-Klingon hybrids could find appealing leading to their first intimate encounter. Instead, Seven was half-pushing, half-guiding her into her bedroom, her lush, full lips never disconnecting from their kiss. Her hot moist tongue pushed for dominance in her mouth, her perfect teeth bruising her skin. The Klingon felt the confrontation, and a low vibration grew deep in her core.
Before B'Elanna knew it, her uniform top was off, impatient hands had untucked her shirt, and impossibly warm fingertips were burning a path along her spine, pushing her to a new layer of arousal. She doubted this, this rapid ascend to madness, was acceptable according to the Doctor's dating manual for before the first date. She hoped Seven knew what she was doing; she most certainly did not. Her body felt like a jolt of electricity had shot through her, breaking something free.
Then unexpectedly, abruptly, the Borg pulled away and straightened. B'Elanna nearly screamed at the loss. Her lips tingled; and she was going to yank the woman back so they could resume their connection, when Seven grabbed hold of her shirt. Her eyes widened while her arms automatically rose to assist. Relief hit her when cool air touched her skin; she had not realized how trapped she felt underneath her clothes. Then Seven spoke.
The simple command bounced around in the Klingon's head. Assist what? Automatically, her neurons fired, despite understanding. She stared, frozen, her libido fixed on the invisible zipper running down the back of Seven's biosuit. Her muscles trembled, not sure where or how to start, or if she should. Fearing if she did, she would never ever want to stop. "Sev, you sure?"
The Borg gave a small impatient toss of her chin, and lowered her lips. With a sharp inhale, she closed her mouth over B'Elanna's, kissing her so hungrily and deeply that there could be no doubt of her sincerity. She kissed her until her synapses frizzed. Only then did she lean away, and meet brown eyes for a sustained moment. Without another word, she turned around and unclasped the closure at her nape.
Okay. In those short seconds, B'Elanna found her wits again. If that was where Seven wanted to go, who was she to object? She was a married woman, she knew the joy of sex; and from her years in Chakotay's Maquis cell, she was aware of his conquests, how quickly he moved. She could not fathom how she ever harbored any desired for him - no doubt some sort of daddy issues from her father's abandonment; but what was Chakotay's excuse with his penchant for much younger women? With a grunt, she forced further thoughts of the man from her mind, and grabbed Seven's wrists. She would obliterate any traces of him and anyone else from the woman's memory and her body if that was the last thing she did.
In her mind's eye, she saw her captive with her arms above her head, in the universal subservient position, while her own hands trapped the mounds of soft flesh, molding them to her desire. She doubted that would ever happen. At least not so easily, she grinned, considering the Borg's aggression, and saving the challenge for later. She contented herself with pressing tightly against the lithe body, pushing her up against the cold wall. Inhaling deeply, she scented Seven's excitement and fear mirroring, mingling with her own. She wanted to roar.
Instead, she eased back, just enough so she could reach up and un-pin the sensible twist. Her hands sifted leisurely through the smooth golden silk, feeling them uncoil and coil against her fingers; she had not realized just how long she had wanted to do that. The indulgence lasted until she sensed Seven's growing impatience. Then carefully she lifted the soft tresses to undo the first few inches of the zipper, exposing pale flesh. She rubbed her cheek against the soft skin, luxuriating in the sensation. A growl rumbled from deep inside her belly; she wanted to bite, to claim the woman in her arms. Quickly, she spun her around, and took hold of full lips in another kiss, while the rest of the zipper fell with a sharp tug.
The jagged noise immobilized the Borg; B'Elanna took the opening and grasped the collar of the biosuit. Her eyes followed as she peeled the garment like a fruit. Momentarily, she was surprised by the absence of underwear, realizing she was never going to look at the biosuit the same way again. Then, she became mesmerized by the full breasts, pink tips quivering as Seven pulled at her sleeves to free her arms; then they jutted out firmly, proud. Now B'Elanna understood why people stared. She used to think it was disgust and envy, the annoying stab that she felt whenever she caught others checking out the Borg. Now she understood what they were thinking, and more importantly, what she was feeling. These perfect breasts, they were hers. She covered them with her hands, eliciting a sharp gasp from Seven. This woman was hers. Hers.
Seven meanwhile thought both the gravitational control and the inertial damper on the station were mal-functioning. Her eyes squeezed shut, she felt off-balanced and faint. Grabbing B'Elanna's face, she took her lips as anchor. She could sense her nanoprobes working overtime as goosebumps spread fire across her skin. In her core, she felt a deep need, a stark want, for something something beyond what she had read and learned about human sexuality. She felt like she was dying an exquisite death with B'Elanna's fingers pulling at her nipples, her teeth scraping across her lips, her tongue pillaging her mouth. She wanted more.
Amidst short gasps and harsh moans, the Klingon heard a noise, somewhere between a purr and a growl from the woman's subvocal processor. It lit a bonfire in her blood. "Sev," she gasped, but her lips were captured again. Then she felt fingers at her waistband, fumbling at the top button before making quick work of the rest. Strong hands grasped her buttocks, closing their distance once more. Instinctively, she angled her hipbone and pressed, pulling a whimper from the Borg. "Seven," she tried again, valiantly. "Maybe we should, slow..."
"No!" The Borg ordered, capturing her soon-to-be-lover's face and boring into her gaze. Then she issued another purr, one that resonated in the Klingon and finally drew out a growl.
Any caution B'Elanna had fell away, with a final twist of rose pink nipples, she let go of the soft breasts, gathered the dermaplastic material and yanked, revealing the rest of the Borg's body. Her gaze followed the silver ridges down, down. She breathed deeply, letting the seductive scent flood her senses, wondering for the first time how another woman might taste, no, how Seven would taste, and how she would feel inside. Her head buzzed.
Heeding the howl of her blood, quickly, she stood, her arms circling Seven's waist. Taking advantage of the material winding around the woman's legs impeding her movements, she pulled her off balance. Catching the trim body easily, using the momentum, with a burst of strength, she propelled her prey onto the bed. Her throat rumbled, and her pride swelled in the knowledge that the Borg could effortlessly turn the tables if she wanted. This would be a battle won by both sides.
Seven arched up to the force of landing on the firm mattress. Her generous chest heaving, her long legs half raised, closing tightly, she was a glorious sight. It took B'Elanna everything to not simply covering her with her body, her mouth, her hands, and claiming the woman with her teeth right there and then. Instead, with deliberate slowness, she picked up Seven's feet, and removed her footwear, first the right, then the left. Impulsively, she ghosted a kiss over the implant by her instep. The response was an abrupt squeak. Laughter bubbled from her chest. "Ticklish, Borg?"
Across fair features, indignation and passion warred. "B'Elanna Torres," she warned at last, pulling herself towards the pillows, a half pout gracing her full lips, and a smile in her bright blue eyes.
Seven looked like a Siren, one of the ones in mythology that often lure men to their dooms. Or a dragon slaying warrior, with pieces of armor glinting across her body. Either way, there was no doubt who was in control at the moment; the awareness only made the Klingon grin. Picking up from before, without haste, she finished removing her own trousers, letting them fall to the ground and kicking them off along with her boots. Briefly, she contemplated taking off her regulation grey tank and underwear. To stall for time, she climbed onto the bed, and pulled the biosuit free.
Literally at Seven's feet, she kneeled in awe. Her eyes traced and took in all the metallic bits marring smooth planes. She crossed the shimmering carapace that separated the woman's torso, before lifting her gaze again. Finding uncertainty and trust in blue orbs, she smiled, and tipped the scale. A switch flipped in her as well; this was no longer a battle to be fought and won. She was about to make love to her par'Mach'kai.
"B'Elanna," she heard her name in a whispered gasp. With a warrior's poise, she placed a palm on Seven's knee, and repeated the gesture on the other side. The Borg stilled, a breath caught between her lips. Gently, very gently, she held her lover's gaze, willing her own not to wander, and her hands not to falter, she guided the slender legs apart. She climbed higher onto the bed, and as lovingly as she knew how, she lowered her own body onto Seven's.
They kissed softly, gently sucking, licking, while molding their bodies together, trying to find the perfect fit. Something was wrong; Seven pulled away, with their noses still touching, she complained, "You're still dressed."
"What? I'm supposed to do all the work?"
"Fine," she groused, pulling off the grey tank top only to find additional underwear. "B'Elanna Torres," she protested, her voice alarmingly sounding like a whine. She stopped and glared at the smirk growing on olive face. With a decisive snap of her enhanced fingers, she shredded the offending material.
"Hey!" B'Elanna objected as the impatient hand rushed to her waist and made quick work of her panties.
"Uh huh." She smiled, raising her body enough to allow removal of the garments, and pressed down again, enjoying the sensation and marveling at the newness of skin against skin and warm metal. "Better?"
Seven gasped and closed her eyes; she had no words. Her whole body was melting, around the woman above her, wanting to pull her in, to become a part of her. Suddenly, she was glad Harry had not taken up her offer of recreational sex. That she could share this brand new experience with B'Elanna. Somehow, she remembered the first time she bit into a strawberry, the freshness of the taste, the sweet tartness bursting in her mouth, the juice flowing down her throat, her hunger for more. She showed her need by taking B'Elanna's face in her hands again, her lips parting, her tongue moving urgently into her mouth, coaxing hers out. Rough and delicious, B'Elanna responded, her touches burning across her body.
It did not take much for things to return to their fevered pitch. They had to break apart for breath. The Klingon lowered her head, to nuzzle her neck, kissing, sucking. She could feel the woman's barely contained want, and her own answering moan trapped in the back of her throat. Voicelessly, she raised the dark head, cradling it in her palms and turned her own cheek.
Brown eyes flew wide at the gesture; almost immediately, they narrowed. Without hesitation or restraint, B'Elanna accepted the gift as offered, one no one had before. Quickly, she returned it, the sharp touch jogging her memory, as if the experience from months ago had imprinted her being. She swore then to Kahless that she would defend this gift, this love, with her life, until her last breath.
They kissed again, their mouths melding, exchanging saliva and blood. The coppery tang assaulted her Klingon senses; soon kissing was not enough. She wanted to taste, to see pale skin blossoming to her caresses. She dragged her lips and teeth downwards, to lick at the hollow of her lover's throat, down to the center of her chest and across her breasts. She nipped at her engorged nipples, making her writhe and jump and hiss.
She heard, between a growl and a purr, and gripped her lover's hips, intending to slide further down, to run her tongue along the metallic cage, eager to seek the prize below. Before she could act, her hand was captured and forced between their bodies.
"Sev?" She asked, resisting, temporarily confused, then her lover's desire became clear.
"Finish claiming what's yours."
Trust the Borg to demand what she wanted. B'Elanna almost laughed, but a look on her lover's face stopped her. There would be time for exploration, as there would be for slow, gentle and romantic encounters later, she supposed.
"Now." Seven gazed up into dark brown tenderness. "Please, I need " Her blue eyes widened slightly as the sentence connected. "You," she finished in a hoarse plea.
B'Elanna obliged, her fingers finding their way and sliding into the hot wetness. Dripping, lush, tight, she seemed different from her own physiology. Pushing deeper, "Kahless," she gasped and faltered at the unexpected resistance, but Seven refused to let her dwell on it, almost roughly, she pulled at her wrist, fast, sharp, rushing her inside.
For a moment, she wondered if she should apologize, say something, anything. Then, "Yes," Seven heaved, and let go and kissed her hard, harder, before letting go again. Fingernails and metal dragged down her back. In response, she stroked, deeper, harder, charging the heat between them. Then Seven's hand, her human hand, squeezed its way between their bodies, push, pushing inside her. Reaching, filling, her inside fluttering and opening. A litany of yeses followed, she joined in, not sure if they were agreeing to or exalting the same thing.
In and out, rise and fall, movement echoing need, thrusting, deep, deeper, until B'Elanna lost track of where Seven began and she ended. She bent her head, and pressed her lips to Seven's pulse, synching the drumbeat of their hearts.
Again, and again, they surged, higher and higher.
When Seven flew, B'Elanna saw stars.
Catching her breath, B'Elanna looked down and grinned. Who knew she would be feeling like this, this incredible euphoria, this indelible jubilation. Who knew how much joy and exhilaration she would derive from watching arousal spread across her lover's features. If someone had told her a year ago that on this day, at the Utopia Planitia Shipyard, she would be face and fingers deep in Borg, intent on making her cry out in pleasure again and again, she would have treated the person to a painful death and blown the battered corpse out of the nearest airlock. Instead, her heart raced as a gentle hand unwound from her hair, and cradled her cheek. She pressed a quick kiss to the palm, and raised her head.
Beyond soft full mounds, tipped with a luscious pink still quivering from exertion, she met blue eyes, liquid and bright from their last bout of passion. She grinned again. Holding her gaze, with a mischievous grin, she wiggled her fingers, and received a hitched gasp. Blonde head fell back into the pillows. She felt the walls around her holding and clenching and releasing and pulsing, in a series of aftershocks the sixth, B'Elanna had kept count.
"Please what? More?"
"No!" Seven replied weakly, her voice laced with a distinctive whine.
Who knew, and who knew the Borg would be ticklish, that she would have a squeaky, girlish laugh. No one would believe her if she told; not that she would, this was their secret, this soft side of Seven belonged to her. Hers. She dropped another kiss into her lover's palm still cradling her cheek. Maybe she should try for a seventh? So the numbers match? For providence perhaps?
Except her own bones felt liquid, like the rest of her. The whole time Seven was coming, she was coming with her. Again, and again.
With a lazy sigh, and gently, very gently, she retrieved her fingers. They both whimpered at the loss. Then she placed one last kiss, a soft one, at the apex of her lover's legs, and smiled when strong thighs tightened against her.
"Behave, B'Elanna Torres. Comply," she heard the discombobulated groan. Reaching up, she stroked the warm carapace in wordless assurance.
Then tenderly, languidly she dragged her body up, dotting kisses where a moment ago her hand caressed, along the corset of liquid metal encasing pale silken skin. Her heart ached as she thought of the violence Seven had endured. It, nevertheless, made her who she was and her journey towards humanity all the more remarkable.
You, you're remarkable, she thought, as she placed a kiss over her heart, then another on the starburst near her ear. "Thank you," she whispered, settling down with her head resting against her lover's shoulder.
"Sharing this with me." She explained, listening to the soothing beat of the woman's heart. As an experiment, she altered her touch along the top ridge that felt more chitinous than metal, framing full breasts a teasing, rousing touch that barely skimmed the surface. The near instant pick up of the steady rhythm made her smile. Deftly, she changed the pressure once more, until the tempo smoothed. It was marvelous, how quickly she was becoming attuned to the Borg.
"I'm glad it's you."
It's me what? For a person who hated imprecision, sometimes Seven of Nine left many ambiguities in her words, no doubt intentional to confound and annoy her. The person you fell in love with? Your first lover? If the Klingon had her way, she would be her only. "Me, too" she said, pressing another kiss on her lover's skin, this time on her neck. Mine, she said a silent wish, squeezing the trim waist tightly.
As if in answer, full lips touched her forehead.
Only moments later did she realized she had not flinched, that she had not felt any thread of self-consciousness when Seven explored her Klingon physiology. She slid her fingertips along the center of her lover's abdomen, feeling the dips and rises of the implants. Beautiful, she thought. Perhaps seeing Seven's beauty had helped her accept her own.
The Borg was distant, brilliant, haughty, reserved, beautiful in anger, devastatingly so in passion, B'Elanna waxed, her eyes caressing where her fingers did not. Suddenly, she wished she knew more of her mother's culture, and her language. She could write Klingon poetry for this woman tomes, and songs and operas, to proclaim her affection.
It felt strange, this readiness to accept love, to enjoy the moment to its fullest, and to feel hopeful for a happy future. In the past, she had always let fear hold her back, paralyzed as she waited for the other shoe to drop, for the inevitable pain to hit. Now, now she was beginning to understand how Klingons choose a life-mate from a single bite. Why was it so different with Seven of Nine?
A soft sigh of her name drew her from her musings. "Hm?"
"Is this normal?"
"Is what normal?"
"The time is 05 hundred 22 hours and 52 seconds."
"You have your time set to the seconds?" B'Elanna asked, though not exactly surprised. She was more so by the subject matter leap, and waited for the bridge.
"We've been, making love," Seven paused, tasting the syllables, rolling them around on her tongue, deciding they were now on her list of favorite words, possibly second favorite, right after 'B'Elanna Torres', before 'astrometrics'. She finished with a smile, "For hours."
She heard the teasing tone and wondered if she should bite. In the end, curiosity, and the Klingon's irresistibility got the better of her. "Explain."
"Hours, minutes, exact number of nanoseconds," B'Elanna provided, moving her lips to place a kiss on the nearest skin before continuing, "That's how you normally count."
"I don't normally count in nanoseconds," Seven replied pausing, blinking. She had to do something about this developing whine. Carefully calibrating her voice, she added, "And this is not 'normal'."
"Don't do that," B'Elanna scolded, adding another kiss to soften her words. Actually, any excuse to kiss the Borg would do. "I like your whiny voice, your giggly voice, and I especially like your moan-y, scream-y voice."
"I don't believe 'moany-y' and 'scream-y' are words," Seven objected, the capillaries in her cheeks expanding.
"They are now," B'Elanna decided with a laugh. "Your voices just show your human emotions, that's all," she said with another kiss. "As for normal, I guess it's sorta normal? We just found each other. Although I suppose most humans need more rest and sleep."
Indeed, she had read about oxytocin, the neurohypophysial hormone that the brain releases and that which plays a role in people falling in love and aspects of sexual reproduction. None of the scientific entries or the Doctor's lessons had prepared her for this, this seemingly extreme behavior, and her own irrational response. "Sleep is an inefficient use of our time."
"I can't agree more." B'Elanna grinned, and shifted, amidst small gasps and sharp intakes of air, to reclaim her space between long legs. Rising up on her elbows to gaze down at warm blue eyes, she found herself wanting again, and drowning again. She yearned for her lover to give her breath. Don't think I'll ever get enough. "You're beautiful, you know that?" She sighed instead, and received an inscrutable smile in answer. "What?"
"You called me your par'Mach'kai."
She did, aloud, once, a whispered prayer in the middle of their earlier love-making. She was not certain Seven had heard. "You are," she said, hoping the woman would not ask for further explanation. It was a term for a lover, one that could be for a single meaningful night, or a thousand years. She was convinced Seven would not be ready for her answer. Her worry, however, was needless.
"I have no words for this." Seven reached up and tucked a lock of dark hair behind B'Elanna's ear. "Even 'love' seems inadequate."
"Yeah? Is that good or bad?"
"When we encountered Omega, for three point two seconds, I saw it stabilized."
"You saw perfection."
"I thought I did," Seven replied, looking inward. "As Borg, we were to assimilate it at all cost; it was our, 'Holy Grail', as Kathryn said, something that is elusive and precious, and grants special powers, whatever that might be. Now I'm not so sure what I saw was perfection; I believe the Borg erred."
"Omega, Particle Zero-one-zero, is considered perfection because it is infinitely complex yet harmonious," Seven proceeded to give voice to her thoughts. It was difficult, yet easy, as her emotions had been overwhelming and at times confusing. Yet, she never knew such clarity. "You and I, we're complex individuals. We have different functions here, and on Voyager."
"We have some overlapping functions, many in fact. We're both scientists and engineers." B'Elanna was no longer seeing only their differences; she want to focus on their similarities, the many, many things they have in common.
"And we found a way to get along on the ship a while ago."
"Yes, and we evidently found a way to " Seven paused, her brows knitting.
"I don't know. This sensation is curious."
"Okay. Is it good, or bad?"
"I believe I require additional analysis," she replied, reaching up to close the distance of their lips. Using the momentum, she turned, rolling B'Elanna onto her back. "Is this acceptable?" She smirked, seeing the immediate answer in dark eyes.
Just to be clear, B'Elanna arched up and growled.
With a soft smile, B'Elanna watched Seven, locks of still damp hair stuck to her cheek like blades of tender grass. Absently, she thought once more to brush them away, and as previously, she resisted the urge. Regeneration had been declared an inefficient use of time; but judging by the glasses of nutritional supplements the Borg ingested, she needed the rest. So she simply kept her arm wrapped around the pale shoulders, and found contentment in playing pillow for her par'Mach'kai.
Par'Mach. The Klingon version of love, with its brand of violence and aggression so far, they had not lived up to those words. Then again, 'I do not detest you', and 'I honor you' were also Klingon's idea of love. They make it seem so simplistic. Just like the bite. And the one-minute courtship. How long had she and Tom dated? And Max? She recalled her boyfriend at the Academy with a grimace. Marriage was not even a part of that equation.
They had not talked about marriage either, she and Seven of Nine. It was definitely too soon, at least by human standards; and together, they made at least one and a quarter human. That heritage should rule, B'Elanna decided with an internal shrug.
Outwardly, she took in a deep breath, and released it slowly. She closed her eyes, and allowed her senses to fix on the weight and feel of her lover in her arms, and her consciousness to wander.
Indolence, she arrived at the word. It seemed until now, her whole life had been about moving from one place to another, running away, fighting on one side or another, and fighting herself. On Voyager, it was always one crisis after another; and on Earth, it was diaper changing and feeding and work and familial obligations and more work. Diaper changing. Miri. She thought with a pang of guilt. When they had finally gotten out of bed this morning, it was still too early to call. She was certain by now Tom would have told his parents about the impending divorce, and wondered how they took the news. Admiral Paris would no doubt be relieved. Harry Kim, a Starfleet poster boy, would make a better partner for his beloved son. Assuming Harry falls for Tom, that is. B'Elanna grinned. If they did things right, Miri could be the luckiest kid in Sol. Certainly the most loved.
A slight shift of the Borg's slender form recaptured B'Elanna's attention. Another smile took over her face. All of it still seemed surreal. She and Seven were lovers. How unlikely was that? Her Klingon half was definitely roaring in delight, thrilled by the fact that this magnificent female specimen, one who could kill with a single hand, was sleeping in her arms like a tika cat. Her human half somehow discovered peace watching the gentle rise and fall of her lover's pale back. She thought of the story of Kahless and his consort, Lukara, mating like crazed voles, and wished she believed in gods and destinies. Then there was the almost imperceptible touch of her warm breath across her skin
And the deep, sleepy sigh; and the tight squeeze of her ribs Long lashes fluttered open against her chest. A moment later, Seven raised her face, the shadows accentuated the disappearing-and-reappearing cleft in her chin, and her pupils were enormous and black. B'Elanna thought she could see herself as if through a mirror. Suddenly, she wanted to kiss her, so much.
"B'Elanna Torres," Seven said evenly with a slight twist of her lips.
"What?" In a flash, B'Elanna found herself face to face with the Borg, their breasts mashed together, their legs entwined. She swallowed. "Yes, Sev?"
"Oh?" With all the indignation she could muster, she contended, "It seems you're the aggressor here."
"I sensed the increase of your heart rate. And now I scent your arousal."
"Well, I scent." She paused and made a show of sniffing the air. "Yours, too," she finished with a grin. "But before we get distracted, I have an idea..."
"We have a few days before we leave dock, how do you feel about spending the time with me, just the two of us? Maybe we could check out New Venice? It's supposed to be beautiful. Of course, if you're busy, um, have prior commitments or something else you'd rather do "
"I'd love to."
B'Elanna blinked. Would she ever get used to that brilliant smile? She loved that she was responsible for bringing it out. "You would?"
"Yes, B'Elanna Torres,"
"Again with the full name?"
"Perhaps it's my way of showing affection."
"Really?" Her lover replied by capturing her lips with kisses that made her breathless. "Wait, Sev." She broke for air, stopping the Borg's hands from straying, while her brain grasped. "I know Naomi is always Naomi Wildman to you and you obviously like her. But you've called me B'Elanna Torres before, even when we were at each other's throat, I think?"
"Indeed," Seven confirmed with a smirk. "I give you permission to analyze all available data at a later time. Right now, I have other plans for you."
"You do, huh?" B'Elanna grinned widely and reversed their position with ease. "Looks like change of plan, Borg."
"I don't think so." With a quick twist of her body, Seven was on top again. "Klingon."
B'Elanna shivered. Seven's soft breath against her skin felt more like fire. It scorched. It branded. "You have only two hands to hold on, so hold onto what you love most," her mother's voice spoke in her head, so long ago, the words now as clear as day. Involuntarily, she grabbed on, wanting to reach for her lover's heart.
"No," Seven grunted and stilled her companion's hands.
"You're trying to take over from your position. When you did before, I couldn't resist you," she replied, boring into brown eyes. "This turn is mine."
"You are mine," the Klingon roared, thankfully, not out loud. Instead, she said with a leer, "Did you not enjoy yourself?"
Moving lower and bending her knee, pressing her thigh against Seven's center with a gasp, aloud she said, "We could share."
Share. Seven repeated the word in her mind. Supposed they could do that. The muscled thigh felt good, so good against her sex. She could taste B'Elanna's hunger, her want. She could feel her own building desire, and hear the staccato sounds of the woman's heart beating while her own tried recklessly to catch up.
The single syllable of her designation, most imprecise, yet it conveyed the affection she craved, that the other woman held for her. With a gasp, she replaced the Klingon's hands on her breasts, and capitulated. It was easy to do; she wanted to be wanted. She and B'Elanna would share, they were one; and she moaned into the brunette's mouth.
Yes, the Klingon rejoiced. She loved the way Seven kissed, hungry, but sweet, as if handing over her control and trust. That was a big thing for the Borg, she knew; and she tried to show her appreciation. She told her how much she wanted and cherished her, with her mouth, her hands, her desperation.
Seven breathed deeply, unable to resist, fitting their bodies more intimately. As a Borg, she was the aggressor. As a part of Unimatrix Zero-One, she was third in command under the Queen, her orders were followed without question by hundreds of millions of drones. The unassimilated masses shook in fear in her presence, and she could never deny loving that feeling. Yet, in the last two days, she discovered she loved more being weak to the Klingon's strength. It defied logic, unless logic was love; and without a doubt, she loved B'Elanna Torres. All my life She opened her eyes to the irrational thought, and moaned again as dominant hands stroked down her curves, holding, squeezing, and thrilling her.
Still, the excitement was not enough to assuage the need she felt. With a groan, she pulled away, eliciting an answering one from B'Elanna. Locking onto brown eyes, and smiling, she moved down, breaking eye contact only to drop kisses along the way, licking, nipping kisses that made her lover keen and arch. At the juncture of her legs, she spread her fingers almost possessively on lean powerful thighs. Playfully, she shook her hair, so the tips would brush over the woman's groin. Sensing the Klingon's heat, the jolt of vibration, she grinned.
She lowered her head to kiss the swollen flesh; B'Elanna's breathing hitched. Her thighs relaxed, her body sinking lower while her hands grabbed at her shoulders, urging for more contact. Seven felt her own sympathy ache, growing from between her legs to wrap around her heart. She used her fingers to spread apart her lover's folds, and slipped her tongue out to tease.
"B'Elanna Torres!" She gasped.
She lifted her brow at the concerned face. "Do you realize you taste like strawberries?"
That's what happen when you feed me, B'Elanna thought, falling back into the pillows and spoke, grounding out each word, "Strawberry flavored nutritional supplements." She arched up, wanting to thrash her body against her lover, to get closer. "Sev?"
"I love strawberries."
"I know," she wiped a hand across her face. Seven and her discoveries could be charming, but this was driving her insane. "Please, Sev," she gripped the sheets and pleaded into dark blue eyes, and sighed when full lips closed around her. Then everything stopped. Now what? She wanted to growl. "Something wrong, Sev?"
At that, Seven chuckled, and shook her head. "You're like an addiction," she explained, smiling deeply and closing her eyes. She tossed back her hair, ready to resume her ministrations.
"A good addiction."
"I know, Sev. Come back anyway."
Seven obliged, crawling up her lover's body slowly, deep brown eyes holding her captive.
"Kiss me," B'Elanna huffed, reaching up to cradle flushed pale face.
Eagerly, Seven fell in. She caressed the ruby lips with her lips, the velvet smooth tongue with her tongue. She trembled when her lover trembled, and sighed when she sighed. She gasped when the woman clasped her hips and squeezed her close.
"Love the way you kiss."
"This is insanity." She giggled, euphoric.
"Touch me," B'Elanna asked, arching, inviting.
How could Seven resist? She slid her right hand downwards, stopping when fingers twined with her own. "Lanna?" The syllables slipped out. "Sorry."
"It's okay, Sev, I like it. Now, touch me."
Still B'Elanna held her fast. She inclined her head in question.
"Your other hand."
"But " The exoskeleton...
"I want all of you. Please?" B'Elanna panted, her thighs yawning open. "Sev?"
Again that syllable; it made the Borg smile, even as her eyes burn. She slipped her enhanced hand between their bodies, teasing her lover's satin wetness. Her fingers danced, touching lightly, feeling her sliding against her, letting her needful whimpers drive them both wild.
She swallowed the breathless syllable in a kiss. Deeply, she drank in her companion, inhaling her passion, until she felt like she was drowning. Finally, unable to hold back any longer, she rushed in, soaking up the sharp noises of need. The clinging hotness made her quake.
Slowly, subtly, Seven moved, shifting her metallic fingertips, hyper aware of the dips and swells of the Klingon's core, gliding into bliss. Her movements rolled with the woman's rhythm, she felt lightheaded. She felt her insides coiled into a knot, as she stroked, deeper, harder, faster, matching her lover's want.
Sev, B'Elanna thought, the name of her happiness trapped in her throat as her body climbed higher, as she rocked her hips higher, drawing her lover deeper in. Her limbs held tightly onto her Borg, the electrifying friction melting, joining them together; she was never letting go.
More, Seven heard her own need, and felt the jolt and moaned when her lover gave in. She forced her eyes open, so she could watch, so she could see lush ruby lips parting, panting for release. She wanted to watch the woman's passion spreading across her skin, to feel the silky hot flutters pulling her fingers deeper and still deeper. She watched, refusing to miss anything as she rotated her wrist, just so, pushing against where the Klingon would feel the most pleasure. Then, digging her toes into the mattress, she added the force of her hips.
Breath by breath, stroke by stroke, Seven counted every strong beat of her lover's pulse as the woman thrust and curled against her, her need soaring. "I love you," she plucked her mouth away, just enough to pant.
Her eyes slammed shut when strong hands grabbed her face, cradling her cheeks. Trembling slightly, she welcomed the brunette's tongue. As if the woman were a buoy in a raging sea, she rocked on, clinging to her body, wishing she never had to let go at all. She kissed her, inhaling the sweetness of her lover's skin, as if she was the air she needed to live.
"Yes!" B'Elanna answered and closed their distance again, holding fast, squeezing, holding tight. "Sev," she moaned, her body clenching, swelling, grinding into her lover's hand, her pelvis, her tongue thrashing, plundering the woman's mouth, drawing them both towards the brink. Always, she added her own silent promise.
With a growl, Seven raised her lover higher, sinking deeper and deeper, pressing their bodies closer and closer together. Lanna, she called out voicelessly, sighing, her hips her heart pounding hard, their blood roaring though her veins. Lanna, she repeated, as she felt her lover's pulse grow into a ripple, when the ripple burst into a violent shudder, dragging her screaming, throbbing over the edge...
She was still light-headed, still trying to find her equilibrium when B'Elanna stroked lovingly down her back, and showered kisses on her face, on her lips. Her eyes were still tempestuous layers of blues when she locked gaze with liquid brown.
"Wow." B'Elanna laughed and sighed.
"Yeah, wow." She sighed and grinned, pressing their foreheads together. "You okay?" she asked, pushing blonde hair out of wild blue eyes.
Drawing a calming breath, Seven tested her voice. "Yes."
"Good." B'Elanna sighed contentedly, taking her lover's hand and linking their fingers again, feeling the cooling metal on her skin. "How did you do that?" She asked, curious. A slight smile pulling at full pink lips made her blink. "Nanoprobes?"
"Did you mind?"
She shook her head and grinned. "Handy. No pun intended." Then she sobered. "It doesn't hurt you, does it? To heat up your fingers like that?"
"Not at all."
"Did I? You know." She asked, waving her own fingers. "Before? I mean yesterday. I never asked."
Seven gave a brief shake of her head, capturing her lover's hand, and pressed a smile to her fingertips. Her nostrils flared at her own scent; for a moment, she stilled, to regain her balance. "It was a, delicious, feeling," she struggled for the most appropriate description. "It was like you filled a space, no pun intended," she said, her cheeks flushing lightly, "And I felt, complete." A blonde brow twitched. "Does that make sense?"
"Yes, Sev," B'Elanna gasped, pulling her mate close to her heart. "Me, too."
Outside the VIP quarters, Seven of Nine stared at the door with trepidation. It was just like any other door, with the same entry pad, somehow it seemed more imposing. She wanted to turn around and walk away. She wished B'Elanna was there with her.
The last few days on the planet surface had been incredible. There was no pretext of an away mission, and there were no data to collect, unlike their previous visit to the colonies. This time, their eyes were wide open. Wanting to be alone, instead of beaming back to the station every night, they found vacancy at a guest facility. The oxytocin-induced madness continued. Still, the day they arrived, they managed to see some of the sights in New Venice, enjoyed the Renaissance-styled architecture and a gondola ride along the manmade canal. On the last day, they even made it to the museum dedicated to the 20th century American author in nearby Bradbury City. Spending time with B'Elanna, leaving everything behind, she finally understood why the Voyager crew yearned for shore leaves. Indulgent as it may be, she was looking forward to their next-time off; B'Elanna had suggested a trip to Risa.
B'Elanna Torres. The name itself made Seven touch her stomach, to still its flutter. She had just left the woman moments ago, and two levels away, already she missed her. Would it always be like this? Pathetic, she scolded with a wry smile. Then squaring her shoulders, deciding she could face the present trial on her own, she pressed the chime.
"You wish to see me, Captain?" She said, and watched the older woman's face transform into a disarming smile. She smiled back, a different swarm of butterflies invading her stomach.
"We're still docked, Seven, you can skip the rank." Janeway set aside the PADD she was reading and stood from her seat. Instead of her normal, hands-at-waist command posture, she gestured freely, her grin never leaving her lips. "I know people think I'm crazy, especially after spending seven years in the Delta Quadrant, but let me tell you, 'captain' sounds so much better than 'admiral'. Not that I don't appreciate it, just not so soon. Maybe in a few years."
As she listened and observed, Seven of Nine began to acknowledge her happiness in seeing her captain again, especially without the dire circumstances surrounding their last, brief visits. As much as she pretended otherwise, the attempts on her life had shaken her, and she was grateful for Janeway's rock-solid presence. As always, she wished she had a way to repay her, besides her loyalty and respect.
"So." Janeway stopped two steps in front of Seven. "I heard you were off on the surface with B'Elanna?"
The conversation she dreaded; she had hoped it would not be so soon, if not bypassed all together. They had left word with Starfleet as required, part suspecting part hoping it would get back to Janeway, to belay this talk. It was inevitable, knowing her captain. Besides, she owed her, something, if not the least honesty. "Yes, Kathryn."
"Things are going well between you?"
"I'm aware there have been changes to your relationship." Janeway would not mention how she had found out, the noises she heard several hours ago while standing outside Seven's quarters still rang in her ears and made her cheeks burn. She would have to suggest better sound-proofing for the next overhaul of the station's habitat levels. What she experienced was, however, very much the thing she needed to ascertain her emotions towards the younger woman.
"How are you handling those changes?"
With a soft smile, Janeway touched the younger woman's arm as she always did. "Seven, it's okay, if you're concerned about my feelings. Nothing's changed."
"Well, some things obviously have," she said with a wink and another smile. "But you can always come to me, I want you to know. And you can give more than a one-word answer. But if you don't want to tell me anything, that's fine, too."
Seven released a breath. While she was certain of her feelings for B'Elanna, some aspects were confusing. She did wish for guidance, for someone to help her understand. "Everything's still so new, I'm not sure But this newness, it's not always present?" She said hesitantly. Kathryn began returning to the seating area; she followed, and sat next to the older woman.
"I don't know if I can? Sometimes things seemed familiar? Besides the fact that we've worked together for four and a half years. I have no reasonable explanations for these feelings." With a frown, she caught herself. "I'm sorry Kathryn, perhaps I shouldn't be talking to you about this."
"Nonsense. What did I just say? We're friends, and you can always talk to me."
Her eyes lowered to the reassuring hand on her arm. Strong, capable, yet elegant were her captain's hands. She could not help but compare the feelings they elicited. "But, Lanna and I..." She stopped, horrified by her slip.
Gently, Kathryn lifted Seven's chin, so she could look into her eyes. "Lanna," she said firmly, "Has always been like a daughter to me. She told me the only other person who called her by that nickname was her mother, although I see that, too, has changed."
Seven nodded, the additional guilt weighing her head down. What is in a designation? Why do they carry so much significance? "You're very important to her." She added after a pause, "And to me."
"I told you before my feelings for you can very easily be uncomplicated. And it has."
"Yes," Janeway assured with another smile. "All I want to know is that you are happy, that you and B'Elanna are happy with each other."
"I think we are. I know I am," Seven replied with a smile.
"Now, this familiarity you were talking about, is it a pleasant one?" Janeway asked, and saw the smile transforming into radiance. The former Borg's face had lit up in a way she had never seen before. Her expression was open, and warm. And fully human. Tears pricked her eyes. It seemed B'Elanna Torres, half-human-Klingon engineer, had succeeded where she and the Doctor both failed. Love has conquered even the Borg. The romantic in Kathryn, the one who believed in princes waking sleeping princesses, rejoiced.
"Seven, Annika," she breathed, feeling privileged to share in that miraculous journey. She took the younger woman's hands in her own. "I think," she began, her voice shaky. She had known that familiarity, with Justin, her first fiancé, the man she lost in the same accident she lost her father. There had been moments when they were together that she thought she had known him all her life, lifetimes even; and whether she wanted to admit it or not, she had been searching for the same thing ever since. She doubted she would ever succeed, or that she would love anyone else the same way again.
Looking into blue eyes brighter than her own, she continued, "I think you should just enjoy that feeling." Then, to right the moment, she added with a grin, "And try not to over analyze everything, huh?"
Knowing she was being teased, Seven sighed. Nevertheless, she acknowledged the advices with a resolute nod.
"Good. I'm aware the Doctor was helping you with social development. I'm not sure if you wish or need for the lessons to proceed as before. That's between you and him. But if you ever want a woman's point of view, an experienced one I might add, "
"I will come to you, Kathryn. Thank you."
"Now, I have something for you from home."
"I'm sorry, Kathryn, we didn't ," Seven paused, catching the plural pronoun. Was it the first time she had used it? She could not remember. How did it happen so quickly, the loss of individuality? Although had she really? She tried again, "I mean I didn't get anything for you when "
"It's okay." Janeway laughed and patted the younger woman's hand before she stood. Moments later, she returned with a lopsided smile and her gift.
Seven stared at the proffered item. "Captain? You're giving me a bone?"
"A roasted venison femur, to be exact. And it's really not for you." Janeway smirked, delighting in the bewildered expression overtaking the blonde's face. She crossed the living area into her bedroom.
The confusion did not last long before suspicion then hopeful speculation moved in. Through the partially opened door, Seven heard the small noises before seeing their source. They were sounds of happiness and excitement, she could tell. As they grew nearer, her heart pounded. It melted when she saw the big brown eyes.
"Meet Oliver Hansen."
"Kathryn?" She blinked while her arms gathered automatically to receive the puppy, to cradle him against her chest. Despite B'Elanna's suggestion, she had not mentioned to the captain her desire for a companion animal, thinking partly that it would be an imposition. She also did not know what kind of life she could offer a dog on a starship. Now that she had seen him though, she could not imagine giving him up. "You are allowing him on Voyager?"
"It's been brought to my attention, by a certain resourceful young cadet," Janeway provided in response to Seven's inquisitive head-tilt. "That Data has a cat on the Enterprise." That was all the excuse she needed. So many times had she regretted not allowing herself to accept Q's gift of a puppy during their last voyage, she lost count. "Now that we are on strictly science missions, I don't see any harm in having a dog on board. He could even be our mascot, if you agree."
"As you are aware, Icheb visits your aunt regularly, and he took it upon himself to train Oliver." She reached over to stroke the puppy's head. "He responded very well; he already knows all the single-word commands."
Even without Icheb's and her aunt's stories, Seven had no doubt Oliver had proven himself in some tangible ways. Otherwise, Kathryn would never have allowed him on board. Icheb. She had not talked to him since telling her aunt during their bi-weekly call about her new relationship, although she still did not know how the woman knew to ask. After their initial trip to the infirmary for a dermal regenerator, she and B'Elanna had made sure neither wore visible love marks She would have to tell Icheb at some point; she hoped he had forgotten his crush on the engineer.
Engrossed by the puppy and unaware of Seven's inattention, Janeway continued her lecture, "His breed is not known for guarding instincts, so he won't be of much help to Tuvok. But he is a hunting dog; maybe he could help seek out local fauna and other life-forms for our catalogue. Of course only when he's older and after receiving the appropriate training."
"I'll make sure he does."
"Irish Setter is an affectionate breed," Janeway explained and laughed as he licked her hand as if to prove her point. "They like to be around their people, so you shouldn't keep him in your quarters all day. That said, I expect him to be on a leash at all times in the public areas of the ship. And I also expect visitation rights. After all, he's almost like a grandpuppy to me."
"Of course, Kathryn. Although since he is Mollie's grandson, doesn't that make you his great grand - "
"Stop. Don't you dare finish that sentence," she warned with another laugh. "I'm barely biologically old enough to be your mother as it is."
There was an undercurrent in the last remark; Seven caught it easily. The understanding brought a bright smile to her face. So this is what the captain meant by uncomplicating her feelings. "I would love for you to spend as much time with him as you like."
"Thank you, Kathryn," she said, leaning over Oliver to pull the older woman into a hug. "For everything."
"Now, take him back to your quarters," Janeway ordered, giving the silken red fur several last strokes. "Before I decide to keep him."
Carefully, Seven stood, wondering if she should keep carrying the puppy or let him down on the floor to walk on his own. All legs and paws, he was heavier than he looked. They regarded each other with curiousity. "Hello," she said, feeling slightly silly, and could not help but smile when he touched his nose to hers and settled comfortably in her arms.
Kathryn pointed to the PADD and placed the bone beside it on the coffee table, while picking up the data chip. "You can come back for the rest later, but take this." She slipped the crystal in the woman's shirt pocket. "Icheb formulated food for different stages of Oliver's growth, and specifications for the replicator are in here. Along with a holoprogram you could use for his daily exercise. The boy also entered all the training instructions on the PADD, and kept detailed notes on the progress. He will make a fine Starfleet officer one day."
Seven smiled in agreement.
"Last bit of advice before you go: Irish Setters are extremely smart, but they're independent and can be frustratingly willful and stubborn. They are not submissive like most dogs, you must earn their respect, and to do so, you'll need a firm command; even so they may test your patience now and then," Janeway offered with a meaningful grin. "But I'm sure you'll do fine."
Seven inhaled a laugh, and said with a self-deprecating smirk, "Don't worry, Kathryn. You've set a good example for me to follow."
"Computer, initiate program 'Seven of Nine Alpha Three: Music Parlor'." In response to the command, electromagnetic fields took on form and substance, and the room shimmered into existence. Aside from the recreational holo-programs that had become public by default, personal files and data of the original Voyager crew members who were continuing their assignment on board had been preserved. While Seven had deleted the 'Living Quarters' section when she decided her attempts on regaining humanity were futile, this remnant of her experiment remained.
Her quarters. It had been exactly a week since Voyager departed Utopia Planitia. Even though she had known of its assignment for much longer, and spent hours there installing her regeneration units, the idea of having a living area of her own amongst the crew still brought a smile to Seven's face. She was no longer a piece of equipment stashed in Cargo Bay Two, but a valuable senior staff member her single occupancy unit proved it so. Now she just had to find the time to decorate it. Put something else on the mostly bare shelves besides the plush bovine from B'Elanna Torres, and the photographs of herself and her parents from when she was a child, and a more recent one with her aunt and Icheb. Oh, there were the two books from the captain: her biography given earlier, and the complete work of William Shakespeare as a house-warming gift. She should replicate more; as inefficient as actual books were, there was something about the gesture of opening the covers and turning pages...
Perhaps a small collection of Klingon romance so she and B'Elanna could read aloud to each other, she thought with another smile.
Turning to face her lover, Seven was about to provide a reason for the holo-program's existence when the other woman's gasp caught her attention. Immediately, she realized her error. How could she have forgotten?
"Computer, delete Seven of Nine clothing and physical enhancements."
"Computer, belay that command," B'Elanna quickly forestalled the changes. She looked up at her lover, trying unsuccessfully to catch her eye. Finally, she took her chin in her hand and asked, "What happened to your implants?"
"An experiment. A mistake."
She refused to react to the tense voice bordering on belligerence, and swallowed a sigh. Of all the people on Voyager, more than anyone else, she knew how it was like to feel self-conscious about one's looks and hybrid attributes. Not belonging in either human or Klingon culture was one of the things she and Ambassador Worf talked about during the Enterprise crew's visit as they provided escort service for Irene Hansen to Mars. It seemed Seven of Nine suffered similar difficulties of feeling trapped in between two worlds; and the more human she become, the more she rejected her past as Borg.
Suppose I had a hand in that, B'Elanna thought with regret all the mean things she had said about Seven being part Borg. It was amazing they were even on speaking terms; funny they should end up being romantically involved.
"You know?" With a gentle smile, she first traced the arc of Seven's artificially unadorned brow. Then she turned her cheek to touch the space where the implant should be. "I have to agree it's a mistake." At her lover's pained look, she amended, "Sev, you are a beautiful woman, just as you are."
"In your eyes perhaps."
"In many people's eyes, I promise you. But mine are the only ones that count, I thought?" She asked with a confident grin, while taking in the sight of Seven sheathed in red silk. "I like the dress though. It suits you," she said, tracing a finger along the décolletage, following the dips and swells of her lover's breasts. Happily, she noted the nearly imperceptible quickening of her pulse, and the darkening of her pale eyes. "Would you keep it on? For me?"
Seven knew she was being manipulated, but obliged, instructing the computer to remove all the camouflage. Her initial self-consciousness disappeared with B'Elanna's words, only to return again for a different reason when tender fingers slipped into her hair, and loosened it from the practical twist.
"Much, much better," B'Elanna sighed, brushing through the golden locks. "Seriously, Sev, you're one gorgeous woman," she said, eliciting a shy smile. Then she looked down at herself and winced, felling simultaneously over- and under-dressed. "Now I feel like I should change."
"I don't know. A fancy cocktail dress like yours, or my dress uniform?"
To be honest, Seven thought the white and grey jacket clashed horribly with the Klingon's coloring and washed her out. She would not mind seeing her in her full armor at some point, but that seemed out of place for this occasion. With a lift of her brow, she offered, "You look fine."
"Yeah, you see this engine grease spot?" B'Elanna pointed at the splotch on her sleeve.
"You could always take off your jacket, and your shirts," Seven replied with a smirk, and received a playful shove. Her lips lifted into a full smile as her lover took her hand, leading them further into the space.
B'Elanna looked around carefully, taking in her surroundings. The first things she noticed were the burning candles, the fire place, and the dim yellow lights. They illuminated the darkened room with a warm glow. As her eyes adjusted, she saw the rich mahogany paneled walls, and the large picture windows. It was a deep winter night; the pine trees outside glistened with icy crystals hanging from their needles. Finally, in the center of the room was a piano, utilitarian in appearance, less imposing than the one in Chez Sandrine, and without the glossy black lacquer veneer. A stack of sheet music sat atop.
"This looks like one of Janeway's period novels."
Seven shrugged. It was possible that she had inadvertently taken elements from Kathryn's holo-settings; she certainly had spent enough time in them.
"Who's the dead guy?" B'Elanna pointed at the bronze bust on a stand.
"Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, arguably the greatest composer in Earth's history."
"Yeah, okay, I've heard of him. Your favorite?"
"He," Seven paused to formulate her reply, trying to decide how much to say. Finally, she continued with another shrug. "He had a gift. His music seemed simple, restrained, like mathematics. But underneath the discipline and order, if one listens for it, one finds emotions, sensuality, and a passion for life. At least according to the Doctor."
"Huh." B'Elanna looked around the room again, an idea falling into her head. It was more a gut impression; she held onto it for later. "And you don't agree?"
"I'm not sure? The last time I listened to Mozart " It was over a year ago, at one of the EMH's concerts. "Well, a lot of things have changed since then. The Doctor has made adjustments to my micro-circuitry, for instance. He repaired me, so I can feel."
You mean you can feel intense emotions without shutting down, don't you? B'Elanna knew the answer though. "You could feel before," she argued. "I've seen you angry, and afraid." She even saw her hate. "Granted, those were negative emotions, but you had feelings."
"It's not the same." Not like the things you make me feel, Seven told her lover with her eyes, a smile curling her lips. "You've been a good teacher."
B'Elanna laughed. "I haven't taught you anything you don't know. Helped you unbury and let loose some stuff, maybe."
"Isn't that part of the responsibility of a teacher? To help his or her students discover and develop their potentials?"
"That may be a teacher's job," B'Elanna conceded with a smile. Tenderly, she reached up, and touched her lover's cheek. "But I prefer to think of us as equals," she said, and leaned in for a kiss.
Easily, Seven fell in, deepening their connection, her palms sliding anxiously up the engineer's shirt. The conversation had made her feel exposed and raw, and she wanted to be loved, and comforted. To her frustration and distress, the woman captured her hands, twining their fingers together and held them fast.
"Nuh-uh, not in front of the kid."
Despite the chastising words, she felt herself pulled forward, while her lover arched up to her on tiptoes. In between rushing kisses and quickening breaths, she reminded with a smirk, "He's a puppy, B'Elanna Torres, not a child."
Right. Seven treated Oliver better than some parents, their offspring. She fussed over his food, redoing Icheb's formulas, brushed his teeth and fur every day, and even designed games to stimulate his development and improve his response and acuity. At times, her patience seemed infinite. The woman had great maternal instincts, B'Elanna decided, and any child would be lucky to have her as a mother.
Somehow, watching Seven interact with her companion animal made B'Elanna miss Miri all the more. Still, and maybe because of it, as often as her engineering duties permitted, she helped take care of Oliver. She could easily see her daughter and the puppy growing up and bonding with each other; the images squeezed her heart. However, not for a single moment had she regretted secretly convincing Icheb to talk to the captain, or helping him go over the proposal and firming up his argument just in case the older woman resisted the idea of having Oliver on board. In truth, she was very pleased with the result, patting herself on the back for pulling off the romantic gesture.
"Anyway, he doesn't need to learn lewd behavior," she said, wanting more than anything to unwound her fingers from her lover's, and allow their hands to roam free.
"You didn't consider the behavior inappropriate this morning, as I recall."
The touching of their noses made the Klingon smile. "Yeah, well, maybe later," she said, her eyes, then her kisses promising.
"Maybe," she whispered against full lips, before drinking from it again. Unable to resist, she loosened her hold, to feel her lover's palms flying around and down her hips, pressing their lower bodies tighter together. Her own hands swooped up to cup and tease full breasts, delighting in the reaction they drew from Seven. The rise and fall of their breaths reminded her of ocean waves, crashing over her body, drenching her. Finally, with a raucous cry, she pulled away, and stalked over to the piano, flopping unceremoniously onto the bench. She looked up to her lover's blue eyes full of sparks, and saw herself naked and splayed over the long seat. Drawing a steadying breath, and patting the space next to her, she cleared her throat. "Come on, play something for me. It's why we're here, isn't it?"
Is it? Seven hesitated, feeling as though brown eyes were seeing into her body, her soul. She knew the woman could sense the increased beat of her heart, and the vibration strumming through her arms and legs. B'Elanna had requested a performance, true; but she could have simply played on the keyboard set up in her quarters. Why here? Why invite the Klingon into her fantasy? Why risk her scrutiny?
She ordered her feet to move forward, to guide her to the bench. She sat, careful to not let their clothing touch, and lifted her arms. A hand on the back of hers stopped her, and made her jump. Then her lover scooted closer, squeezing out the air space between their hips, their thighs. She was about to comment on their proximity's impediment to her music-making, when B'Elanna snapped her fingers.
"Oliver, come." The puppy immediately obliged, settling on the other side of her body, half of him lying across her lap. She slipped a hand underneath his jaw, and grinned up to an arched ocular implant. "Okay, now your audience is ready."
"You know you're undoing his training."
"No, I'm not. I commanded and he responded."
"He's falling asleep in your lap."
"He's a puppy. He's supposed to spend anywhere between eighteen to twenty-two hours a day sleeping," she offered with a grin, cluing her lover to her own research on the nurturing and care of young dogs. "You're just jealous he took your spot."
With an impertinent turn of her chin and a barely concealed smile, Seven asked, "What would you like to hear?"
"I don't know. Mozart?" A wooden pyramidal object on the other side of the paper stack caught B'Elanna's attention. "Hey, what's that?"
"What does it do?"
"It enables a musician to keep a steady tempo when she plays." To demonstrate, Seven released the mechanism, and let it run. "Humans usually can't follow the designated beat and maintain a regular rhythm; their movements are inexact."
"I see. So this gives you a clear sense of timing and control." B'Elanna nodded to the fast, steady sound. "Helpful. Maybe a little annoying after a while with the incessant ticking, but helpful."
The difference between B'Elanna's opinion, and that of the holo-Chakotay in Seven's previous program surprised her. He thought the device was holding her back from her emotions, while the Klingon appeared to be its advocate. "You believe so?"
"Timing's important, you know that, Ms. Nanosecond. Everything has to be calibrated exactly to keep our ship running."
"I suppose you're right."
"Wait, we need to memorialize this moment, how many times does this make?"
"If you're referring to my acknowledgment of your superior judgment, eleventh, since we've begun our courtship."
'Courtship.' B'Elanna smiled widely at the old-fashioned word; she liked the sound of it. "You've kept track?"
"Only because you do it so inaccurately." That earned Seven a slap on the arm. With a light laugh, she said, "Here, to commemorate this moment: Computer, generate musical scores for Mozart's Piano Sonata Number 11, K331." The requested sheet music materialized and she set the metronome at the correct tempo. "Shall we proceed?"
"I have to warn you, this is my first time playing this piece."
The music started off pretty and peaceful, the repetition almost calming in its softness. The melody flowed skillfully from Seven's fingers flying across the keyboard. It was difficult to believe she had not been playing the piano all her life. In her mind's eye, B'Elanna could easily see Annika Hansen, with her fair tresses in a chignon, dressed in a long black gown, sitting before a grand piano on a stage with an attentive audience. Yes, she could even see herself, sitting in the front row, smiling proudly, as she hung onto each note as if her heart depended on it to beat.
Then, unexpectedly, the mood changed. The light and bouncy rhythm gave way to busy sounds. Hands crossed, long fingers pounded at the keys, becoming more and more agitated. The music grew louder, and louder, even angry. Alarmed, B'Elanna looked up at her lover, who seemed only focused on following the mess of black dots on the page.
Was this the passion they spoke of earlier? That one could find in Mozart? Oddly, B'Elanna caught herself wondering about the times Seven played for Janeway. What went through the captain's mind as she experienced her concert-for-one? Did she simply enjoy the music, as she always seemed to during the EMH's concerts, or was it different for her as well?
Truth be told, it bothered her at first how similar this room was to Janeway's historical programs. It reminded her of the interests Seven and the captain had in common, classical music, for example. She was willing to learn though, and would even listen to Klingon operas if Seven asked.
Still, the woman was traditional in ways she was not, showing more than passing interests in her Klingon heritage, studying its history and beliefs. Instead of all things Qo'noS, she could easily have been studying Midwestern Irish American farm life and memorizing the words of Irish poets. In her own thoughtful way, Seven even insisted that they emerge from their respective quarters each morning, to keep their reputation in tact. It was both delusional and unnecessary, but it was something the captain would have appreciated if not expected. In those ways and others, Seven of Nine and Kathryn Janeway seemed more suited for each other.
Gently, B'Elanna sighed, pulling her attention back. Right now, she was the one sitting in the holodeck with Seven. Her lips got to kiss her good morning and good night. Her name was the one she whispered in passion. That should be enough.
The tune changed again. It became sad, sullen, calling to mind a dark and moody winter night, much like the one outside the picture windows. Saturnine, the word popped into her head. Then the music stopped, incomplete even to her untrained ears.
"It's finished?" B'Elanna asked.
"No, it's not, but you don't seem to be paying attention."
How can you tell? She grinned sheepishly. "It's too, I don't know, perky?" Manic might be a better word, especially with the metronome. "We're not exactly perky people."
"Too 'perky'," Seven repeated. That particular adjective would not be her choice, and she was sure the Doctor would object vehemently and denounce them as Philistines. In any case, she knew B'Elanna was not being completely honest with her thoughts; and she contemplated pressing for the truth.
"There was something else. Can't put a finger on it, but I just " Torres shook her head. "It's not important. I'm sorry, for spacing out," she apologized and laid a tentative hand on her lover's thigh, breathing only when slender hand covered hers.
"It's all right," Seven decided, and reached for the metronome. Improbably, the ticking was interfering with her ability to think. "May I turn this off?"
B'Elanna shrugged. "You're the maestro." After a pause, she let out another sigh. Why could she not leave well enough alone? "Sev?"
"Am I the only, I mean, has anyone else, been here?"
Ah. Seven understood the motivation behind the question, and suspected that was the cause of her lover's inattention. She empathized with the feeling of insecurity, experiencing it herself while waiting for the Torres-Paris divorce to become final. Should she mention holo-Chakotay? In the grand scheme of things, she knew he was insignificant; B'Elanna was not threatened by their former commander. Disturbed by his romantic interest in her maybe, but she knew he was harmless. She shook her head. "You're the only. It was an experiment, as I said. I never intended to share it with anyone."
"Could this be ours?"
'Ours'? "I'd like that," she breathed, a smile overwhelming her face. To keep her happiness veiled, she shuffled through the sheet music. Her fingers stilled as a title caught her eye. It was an exercise piece by the 19th Century composer Franz Liszt, for practicing proficiency in both hands. She must have played it a hundred times, each with a different meaning. This interpretation, too, would be different, she knew. "How about this?"
"Un Sospiro " B'Elanna read from the long title. "What does 'sospiro' mean?"
"It's Italian for 'sigh', although I believe it's the same word in Spanish."
"A sigh? That sounds depressing!" She protested. The enigmatic smile on Seven's face quieted any further comments, and when fingers touched the keys, she listened.
As the notes rushed up and down, Torres found herself recalling summertime at her childhood home on Kessik IV, when she would run around the yard chasing butterflies while her father mowed the lawn. The scent of freshly cut grass, the warmth of the morning sun, they made her feel happy, alive.
But not like when we make love. The comparison paled. Suddenly, she saw the two of them in Venice, dressed in rich, elaborate renaissance costumes, like in one of Janeway's holo-programs. Dancing, twirling in each other's arms, perhaps in one of the carnivals they read about.
She felt breathless, swaying with Seven as her fingers traversed the keyboard, holding her breath as soft notes like warm breezes settled nearby. Gentle touches here and there, skipping, gliding between high and low, she watched, and saw a lover's sigh. A prolonged exhalation of breath. A breathless inhalation. She stole a glance upwards, and saw blue eyes closed in concentration, in fantasy perhaps, a smile of pleasure lingering on her lips.
The music, it was an extended sigh of ecstasy, and joy, of fulfillment of yearning. This was how true love must feel like, B'Elanna thought, as she watched agile fingers dancing across the keys. She felt her heart ache with happiness, her own breathing labored; she never wanted the feeling to stop.
Soon, too soon, it ended. She felt like she should clap and yell 'bravo' like the captain always did after the Doctor's performance; she could not. Instead, she sensed Seven looking down at her; and she had the urge to draw her legs up against her chest, and hug her knees. Instead, she rested her temple against her lover's shoulder.
"Lanna?" Seven asked softly. "You're crying."
Her earlier suspicion, her instinctive reaction, were falling into place. The wintry exterior, the warmth inside, the traditional décor this room they were sitting in, down to the bust of the genius composer whose analytical music hid great passion, whether Seven of Nine realized it or not, represented the person she was. She, B'Elanna Torres, had been allowed entry.
Within the proud competent ice princess exterior, was a warm, passionate woman, and once you got used to her dry sense of humor, funny, and the subtlety of her actions, considerate and romantic. She gazed into blue eyes, bright like the stars, and fell a little bit more in love. "Happy tears," she choked and let out a light laugh. "Stupid human tearducts."
"The music, it's breathtaking," she explained, smiling a watery smile as gentle fingers caught the wetness from her eyes.
"It's not perfect. But I've learned that perfection isn't everything."
Slowly, she took in the blonde's features, the distinctive metallic adornment on her brow, her chiseled cheek bones, her full lips and she touched the dip in the middle of her chin. "It reminds me of us, Sev, when we're breathless," she said, knowing that was exactly what her lover wanted to hear.
Her other hand sifted through Oliver's fur, and felt his happy puppy sigh against her skin. At this moment, except for having Miri in a basinet nearby, she could want for nothing more in the galaxy. "So it's damn perfect to me," she declared with a smile.
Omega. Seven remembered those 3.2 seconds as she gazed into deep brown eyes. This is perfection, she agreed.
Resting her head once more on the blonde's shoulder, B'Elanna asked, "Play it again?"
With a deep smile, Seven complied.
Return to Voyager T/7 Fiction
Return to Main Page