Summary: A few of Voyager’s crew encounter aliens that feed off the products of the imagination. During this encounter, Janeway and Seven finally reach an understanding. How will the crew rescue them? Will they even want to be rescued? Completed 8/2001
"Captain, I’m reading a polarized graviton wake coming out of subspace and heading our way. Distance to the disturbance is 100,000 kilometers. Time to intercept… twelve seconds," Voyager’s young operations officer, Harry Kim reported. Although he had been out of the academy for five years he still seemed like an unseasoned cadet as the excitement filled his voice.
"Tom, can we go to warp?" Janeway asked, knowing that if they were hit by that wake all of their systems would be disrupted and damage to Voyager would be severe. The ship was still being repaired from their last encounter with a Delta Quadrant species and they really couldn’t afford another encounter of any kind right now.
"Warp engines are still down, Captain," the sandy-haired helmsman replied, fingers flying over his console already looking for avenues of escape. "I can give you impulse only!"
"Paris, turn Voyager into the wake and cut engines. All hands this is the captain. Red alert! Brace for impact!" She grasped onto the railing by the science station where she had been standing.
The large radiation filled eddy was upon them almost immediately. Control panels exploded throwing showers of sparks and acrid smoke quickly filled the bridge. Voyager’s automatic venting systems kicked in instantly, but were hard pressed to pull the smoke from the air. Janeway struggled to hold on to the railing as her ship and crew were tossed around. The deck tilted unexpectedly and her grasp was torn loose sending her crashing into Ensign Kim. Both of them impacted with the wall before falling to the floor with Janeway practically sitting on Harry’s chest. As soon as the shaking ceased she pushed herself to her feet and strode to the command center.
"Thanks for the soft landing, Harry," Kathryn said with her typical dry humor. "Report." She pushed the thick auburn hair out of her eyes while surveying the chaos surrounding her.
Chakotay had been working at the auxiliary engineering station augmenting B’Elanna’s work on the engines. The two had been in the Maquis together and worked well in tandem. Now he lay crumpled on the deck with blood covering his face. Even as she started toward him a crewman ran to his assistance and quickly checked for a pulse in the Native American’s neck.
"He’s alive, Captain," the young man reported.
Janeway nodded once. "Get him to sickbay."
Everyone else seemed a little battered, but were conscious and covering their stations. Why was it every time they hit a bump Chakotay ended up with a concussion, Kathryn wondered?
Maybe it’s his subconscious way of getting out of doing all the hard work, her little voice supplied.
Janeway smirked even as the updates she was receiving were exactly what she had feared. The ship had been severely damaged with hull breaches on four decks. Food supplies in Airponics had been contaminated by radiation leaving them with Starfleet emergency rations. Plasma relay conduits and bio-neural gel-packs had been blown out all over the ship. The plasma relay conduits could be replicated, if the replicators had been working, but they only had so many bio-neural gel packs. They would have to try and repair the ones they had. Repairing gel-packs was no easy task and would require the doctor and the chief engineer to work together, something Janeway didn’t want to have to observe. The acerbic wit of the holographic physician tended to easily enrage the Klingon/Human hybrid.
Maybe engineering had fared better than the gel-packs and B’Elanna could concentrate on one crisis at a time.
"Janeway to Lieutenant Torres,"
When no reply was forthcoming Janeway repeated her hail. Again, there was no response. Just as the dynamic captain was about to query the computer for the engineer’s position her combadge chirped.
"Captain, this is Nicoletti. Torres is in sickbay. She was injured when a plasma conduit she was working on exploded."
Since Torres had been working in engineering that meant Lieutenant Carey was off duty, leaving Nicoletti in charge. Although the young woman was a good engineer she was no B’Elanna Torres.
"Nicoletti, what’s engineering’s status?" She tried to convey confidence in the young woman’s abilities.
"We’re relatively well off, Captain. A few plasma conduits blew, engines are down and we’re at critical levels on dilithium crystals, but I can give you impulse in about two hours. We were working on the warp core when we got hit by… whatever it was. That’s going to set us back a little. I’d say we’ll have warp capabilities in two days."
Janeway was about to snap that she didn’t know how that left them ‘well off’, but then realized things could have been much worse. The warp core could have breached and destroyed the ship.
With a frustrated sigh Janeway drew a hand across her brow and snapped, "Keep me informed," before closing the channel.
There was no choice, Kathryn realized, they were going to have to find somewhere to make repairs and replenish supplies. Just another day in the quadrant from hell.
Seven had located a Beta class planetoid that looked promising for their current needs and long-range scans had shown an abundance of plant life and dilithium caches. The planetoid was relatively young and resembled Earth in the early Mesozoic era. It was prime for life but revealed nothing larger than a terran bovine. Odd indeed since scans had also revealed ruins of an ancient civilization.
The atmosphere was high in neucleogenic particles, indicating almost constant precipitation and a turbulent thermosphere. However, with the gravity and breathable atmosphere at 85% Earth norm it would be tolerable for the members of the away team, if not particularly comfortable. The majority of the planet was covered with water or something very much like it. Landmasses were small, little more than islands.
Kathryn decided to launch two teams. She would head the team to retrieve the dilithium along with Seven of Nine since her chief engineer was still in sickbay. The dilithium had been discovered submerged in an ocean in the Southern Hemisphere so Janeway would take the Delta Flyer. The multiphasic shielding would protect the shuttle from the upper thermosphere and compensate for any deep pressure effects of the underwater exploration.
Neelix and two members of security would take the shuttle Cochran to gather edible plants and vegetables. Kathryn felt that if anyone needed protection it would be the team to land on the small continent. Even then that was stretching it since their scans had revealed nothing to be concerned about, by land or by sea. Voyager would maintain station keeping at their present location. They were far enough away from the anomaly that they wouldn’t be hit with another graviton wake, but there was no reason to use up the rest of their reserves when the shuttles were fully capable of making the three-hour flights.
With Janeway on the away team and Chakotay laid up in the medical bay Tuvok would have to stay on the bridge. They couldn’t afford to have all of the senior staff absent from their posts. The away teams were prepared and eager for launch in the shuttle bay in half an hour.
"Let’s do it," Janeway commanded with a grin, entering the Delta Flyer.
Mentally she replayed the argument with Tuvok at her lack of security. He thought she needed it. She didn’t.
"Captain," he had expressed with as much disapproval as a Vulcan was capable, "I must insist that you be accompanied by a security team. Since I am required to occupy the bridge I would like to send Lieutenant Ayala and Crewman Chell in my place."
Holding up an elegant hand she had interrupted. "Tuvok, you saw the scans of the planet. There’s nothing there," she argued logically.
"Yet," he interjected. "However, since this planetoid is high in mineral concentration it stands to reason that other passing species may be in need of obtaining supplies as well. I would be remiss in my duties if I let you go on this mission without adequate security."
"Let me? Tuvok, you can’t ‘let me’ do anything. I’m the Captain." Seeing the look of fire in his normally sedate eyes Janeway backed down slightly. "Okay. What about Seven of Nine? She was Borg, surely she can protect me. Besides, our portion of gathering supplies is underwater. Because of the decreased visibility at those depths it would be easier with fewer crewmen. "
Obviously not satisfied he finally allowed, "I agree that Seven would be a formidable opponent."
"There, you see?" she asked triumphantly.
"But," he continued, "I will make a full report in my log."
It seemed that Tuvok saw that as quite a threat, but Janeway was merely relieved. It would be nice to get away for a while without a security contingent around her neck. She might just be able to feel like a real person again for a few hours instead of a precious crystal that needed to be protected lest it shatter.
Kathryn walked by Seven of Nine as she entered the shuttle and suddenly realized the Borg had been uncommonly quiet the last few days, even for her. Perhaps they would have some time to talk on their way to the planet, she thought.
Everyone else seemed eager, Seven thought. She was also anticipating this mission and had mentally planned for every foreseeable contingency. When one was working alone with Captain Janeway it was wise to be prepared since the redhead had a penchant for finding trouble. There was another reason, however, for the Borg’s uncharacteristic excitement. It was the first occasion that she had to be alone with the captain since she had discovered some rather unexpected emotions. Certain feelings had begun to manifest whenever Seven was in close proximity to the smaller woman.
Her stomach would develop a strange fluttering sensation while her pulse rate and blood pressure would increase, forcing her nanoprobes to compensate. Research into the ship’s database had given only one possible conclusion for these symptoms. Seven of Nine was in love with Kathryn Janeway. Seven knew there was no possibility the Captain could return those feelings for a Borg drone, but that didn’t stop her from saying Kathryn’s name aloud when she was alone. The name suited the older woman. Seven thought it expressed elegance, intelligence and determination, an accurate description of Janeway in Seven’s eyes. It was perfection.
As she followed her captain onto the Delta Flyer Seven wondered if Janeway would notice how the blue and gray bio-suit seemed to bring out the color of her eyes.
They are coming, the smaller of the two hooded figures observed.
The words were not spoken, so much as mentally projected into the dark cavern. The Tikani had no need for the spoken word. Their species had evolved into telepathic beings through eons of necessity. Being a relatively slim and weak bodied life-form, the Tikani were forced to rely on their more formidable mental abilities and their scientists put all their efforts into enhancing those abilities through gene splicing and DNA manipulation. The end result was an extremely powerful telepathic ability, but not without a price.
The Tikani needed to occasionally ‘refuel’ those abilities lest they weaken and leave themselves open to the greatest threat the quadrant contained … the Borg. The fuel required was the creative power of mental images that were not real, formed from passing aliens. In short, it required the imagination. Something the Tikani were unquestionably lacking in.
Of course they are, the elder responded bowing his head and folding his long skeletal hands inside the sleeves of his robes. They have no choice. They have encountered the anomaly and require supplies.
Profound regret emanated from all of the order present. They didn’t want to harm the beings that would be coming through the waters toward the mineral deposits, but there was no other way. The order of Tikani Associates were tasked with drawing the necessary energy to sustain the rest of their kinsman. It was for the good of the people.
With a single mental command all of the monks turned toward the central chamber to begin preparing for the ceremony. The blood-red flowing robes swirled up little dust devils in their wake as the six disciples trudged in single file through the dirt floors of the submerged caverns.
Only a few of the aliens would be taken. Their life-force could be maintained indefinitely and the drug induced dreams and imaginings would sustain the Tikani for a very long time. Undoubtedly their colleagues would search for them, but the minerals lining the cave walls that the Tikani had been forced to flee to a millennia ago would mask any life signs. The others would give up … eventually.
The captain glanced up from the padd she was working on. Her attention was captured and held by the tall, blonde beauty of her Borg Astrometrics officer manning the science station. Seven was wearing her blue bio-suit which had always been a favorite of Kathryn’s.
Not only did the suit bring out the pale blue of her eyes, but complimented the silver of the young woman’s implants. Kathryn thought the implants somehow added to the Seven’s beauty, if that was even possible. She was so exquisite already; it was hard to imagine anything adding to her overall loveliness.
Kathryn Janeway, a small compact woman with long auburn hair held back in a clasp at the nape of her neck and deep blue-gray eyes, possessed an air of commanding authority that served her well on the Intrepid Class Starship known as Voyager. But she also possessed a loving and compassionate heart and often wondered what would have become of her stoic young friend if her family had never encountered the Borg.
Would she still have become the frighteningly brilliant scientist she was? The staggering amount of information gained from her time in the collective certainly couldn’t be discounted, but Kathryn doubted seriously if that was all there was to it.
Janeway shook her head ruefully. Sometimes she simply couldn’t fathom where these tenderly protective feelings for Seven came from and chalked it up to natural sympathy for someone who had lost so much of her life through no fault of her own.
While Janeway sat lost in turbulent thought Seven was not oblivious to the slightly unfocused look in her companion’s eyes. She was aware that such an expression denoted the person in question was ‘daydreaming’. It was an expression that she had seen quite often when working with Ensign Kim. She was not however, accustomed to seeing this distracted look on the countenance of her commanding officer. Indeed she had assumed that only less mentally disciplined individuals engaged in these phenomena.
"Captain," Seven said, startling the smaller woman out of her musings. "Please explain the concept of daydreaming." The young Borg's request was phrased in her typically demanding and abrupt manner.
Janeway chuckled and sat aside the now forgotten padd. "Caught me napping, huh Seven?"
"Just an expression," she said waving it off.
Kathryn stood and stretched for a moment, then walked over to the replicator for a fresh cup of coffee. She was willing to engage in a philosophical discussion since the auto navigation would guide the ship and the computer would inform them when they were nearing the planet.
"What do you want to know?" She settled comfortably in her chair after retrieving a hot mug and crossed her slender legs.
Seven sat quietly for a moment organizing her thoughts before responding. "I was under the impression that only individuals with less concentration indulged in this practice. Yet, moments ago, I observed a similar expression of distraction on your face. Explain the purpose of this … daydreaming."
Kathryn took a deep breath, formulating her reply and thinking; she never gives me the easy ones, does she? Still, I have always encouraged her to ask me anything so here goes.
"Seven, daydreams are part of what makes us who we are. Imagining different outcomes to problems or different paths our lives might take. It’s part of being Human."
A look of confusion colored Seven’s eyes making them darker than they had been moments before. "But … that is irrelevant," she said shaking her head. The comment more a question than a statement.
"Not to us," Janeway said taking a sip of her coffee. "Daydreams are part of the imagination, like my Da Vinci program on the holodeck. The imagination is what fuels the mind and soul. Without imagination mankind would still be undoubtedly living in caves and hunting with clubs."
"I still do not understand," Seven interjected with a characteristically upswept eyebrow. "Do only Humans utilize their imaginations in this manner?"
"Hardly," Kathryn chuckled. "Seven, if no one ever asked the question ‘what if’ thousands of species would never have looked to the stars. No one would have built satellites or probes, and certainly not starships."
"And I would never have been assimilated. The Borg would never have come into existence," the young woman finished quietly.
Kathryn drew a startled breath at the pain and anger suddenly radiating from the quiet woman. Desperate to divert attention away from the hurtful path this conversation had taken Kathryn asked another question.
"Don’t you ever imagine alternatives, Seven?"
Carefully considering the question Seven answered, "Yes. Often while working in Astrometrics I postulate various alternatives in course trajectory for Voyager through the Delta Quadrant. I seek the most direct albeit safe route for the ship and crew."
"That’s not what I meant." Kathryn shook her head. "Don’t you ever wonder about things you will do with your friends after the end of your duty shift? Or wonder what holodeck program to run and where it will lead you?"
"No." She answered in what Kathryn could have sworn was an almost defensive tone. "I do not have friends other than yourself, Naomi and the Doctor, and I do not run holodeck programs. They are inconsequential."
Kathryn didn’t quite know how to respond to that. She had never realized the young woman was so utterly alone and berated herself silently for it. As the captain, and certainly as a friend, it wouldn’t have taken much effort on her part to make sure Seven wasn’t alone so much. As someone recently severed from the collective consciousness of the Borg she was used to billions of voices in her mind at once. How much lonelier she must be to not only have her solitary voice, but no one with whom to talk on a regular basis?
The captain and the doctor had their own duties on the ship that often precluded them from speaking with Seven for days at a time and Naomi was just a child.
"What do you do with your free time?" Kathryn tried to keep the sorrow from her voice.
"I read the ship’s logs to catch up on what occurred onboard before my arrival. I plot course changes for navigation, conduct research on nebula and other interstellar phenomena."
"I get the picture," Janeway interjected, holding up a slender hand. "Don’t you do anything for fun?"
She was aware of the amazement in her tone, but couldn’t seem to prevent it.
Kathryn breathed a sigh of relief until Seven finished the sentence.
"I play velocity with you and kadis-kot with Naomi."
The auburn haired woman stared at her in stunned amazement for a moment. "You’ve got to get out more."
Silence filled the tiny cockpit for a moment before Seven asked her next question. "Captain, what do you daydream about?"
Janeway almost blew the sip of coffee she had just taken across the shuttle and managed to finally swallow the fiery liquid. "That’s an extremely personal question, Seven, but fair I suppose."
Kathryn was an intensely passionate woman and had been celibate for five years in the Delta Quadrant with only her imagination to keep her company on some very lonely nights. She certainly didn’t want to share those daydreams with her young friend, but there were other things she could tell her.
"When I was a child I used to dream about fairy tales that were told to me. I would dream about being a white knight on a steed that would rescue the damsel in distress," she answered in a far away voice.
"That does not make sense." Seven's voice seemed almost haughty. "Why were you not the ‘damsel in distress’ and the knight coming to your rescue?"
Kathryn laughed and shook a long finger at Seven. "I was a tom-boy, what do you want? Besides, this isn’t the dark ages anymore. No one cares about gender pairings … or at least almost no one. If two women or two men desire to enter into a romantic relationship, who cares?"
"I did not realize…" the drone began in a confused tone.
"Seven?" Kathryn asked with a frown. "Surely you don’t have any personal bias against such pairings, do you?"
"No, Captain. I was simply unaware of the options. The doctor led me to believe that only heterosexual relationships were the accepted norm."
Seven’s implant nearly lifted off her cranium at the sudden explosive outburst from Janeway about the absurdity of a hologram teaching the young woman social etiquette. Fortunately the computer chose that moment to announce they were closing in on the planet’s atmosphere. The next few minutes were spent establishing the course and trajectory necessary for the Delta Flyer to submerge beneath the waves. Just before entering the icy blue waters Janeway made a final communiqué with Voyager since they wouldn’t be able to maintain a com-link while submerged.
"Janeway to Voyager."
"Tuvok here," her chief of security responded.
"We’re preparing to submerge, Commander. See you in a couple of hours."
Seven of Nine quickly ascertained the location of the largest of the dilithium deposits beneath the ocean floor and Janeway navigated them through the watery calm. The mineral deposits were located near some sizeable cave-like structures, but the captain wasn’t concerned. Sensors detected no life-signs other than fish. She just wished there was time to explore those caverns but this wasn’t exactly shore leave. It really was quite beautiful and reminded Kathryn a lot of exploring the underwater caves on Mars when she was a child. That line of thought started her thinking about Seven again. She wondered how much of the blonde woman’s lack of imagination was simply a result of being with the Borg for so long. After all wasn’t the imagination much like a muscle that one must exercise?
The Delta Flyer landed with hardly a bump and the two women immediately set about putting on their environmental suits and collecting their equipment. The suits were designed for space and would easily protect them from the pressures of the briny deep. They were also heavily weighted so the exploration would be more like space walking than swimming. Mining the dilithium would be a lot easier if they could walk instead of worry about floating away on the current.
Could Seven swim, Janeway suddenly wondered and was glad she didn’t have to find out in these conditions.
"I am ready, Captain," Seven informed her as she locked down her helmet.
Nodding in understanding Janeway activated the computer interface that was attached to her left wrist. She engaged the transporters from the shuttle and beamed their signals approximately ten meters from the outer hull. Janeway scanned with the tricorder and struck off directly toward the caves while Seven hefted the weight of the boring drill needed to obtain the precious crystals.
"This way," Kathryn said unnecessarily as Seven followed quietly behind her.
The captain homed in unerringly on the best spot to dig for the minerals the ship so desperately needed. Readings from the tricorder indicated the dilithium was fairly close to the surface and both breathed a quiet sigh of relief that the mining expedition would not take very long. Seven was relieved because she was unaccustomed to being underwater and found the shifts in current unsettling. Kathryn simply didn’t like leaving her ship unattended.
The boring tool was carefully centered over the mark and Seven reached up to engage the mechanism. As the device penetrated the soil the water surrounding the women became thickly black, lending Seven a moment of near panic until she felt the reassuring grasp of the captain on her shoulder. Somehow, Kathryn had known the swirling debris would perturb the former Borg. At that moment the currents shifted again and carried most of the agitated soil toward the caves in a steady stream. Seven felt the adrenaline of fear leach out of her when she could see clearly again.
At first the current wasn’t strong enough to knock the women off their feet or make footing precarious, but it was enough to allow them to continue their work unimpeded. The device they were using actually did most of the work for them. It would bore down until it encountered whatever type of mineral had been entered into the interface. Once it reached the matter in question it would retrieve the article and place it into a built in storage unit then continue digging. The only thing the mining crew would have to do is ensure the tool remained upright and continued to function. Continuing to function was no problem but as the strength of the current increased they were having difficulty keeping it upright. Even Seven’s Borg-enhanced strength was being put to the test.
"That’s enough," Janeway finally breathed in relief. "Can you carry that thing back to the shuttle? We can’t transport back from here; the signal’s being disrupted by the matter in the cave walls."
"I can manage, Captain." Seven knew she would carry five more of the tools if it meant she could leave these watery depths.
They turned and started back for the shuttle having to lean forward and dig in with their toes to make any progress. Both women were panting from the effort when the current suddenly increased in force yet again.
To her horror Kathryn began sliding back, still leaning forward and leaving trenches in her wake as she dug in with her feet. She was caught under her right arm by a strong left hand as Seven held her and continued her agonizing journey to a safe transport site. Each step was hard won, the drone struggling against the pull of the undercurrent. Janeway did her best to assist; digging in hard with her toes but the current, astonishingly, increased still more.
Seven let go of the precious canister of dilithium, hoping that by losing the substantial weight she could get herself and the captain back to the shuttle. The boring bit could always be retrieved later but if the women dashed their brains out on the unyielding rock it would be a mute point. Their efforts proved to be in vain when Seven abruptly felt her upper body being pushed backward by the force of the water. It was enough to throw the young woman off balance and she began to tumble head over heels despite the weights built into her boots.
Kathryn yelped in surprise and grasped onto the only solid thing she could find … Seven.
With their arms and legs wrapped firmly around each other they were pitched toward the looming shadows. Seven did her best to protect her smaller companion by wrapping her arms around the captain’s head and pressing the elegant face into her bosom. Her legs were wrapped firmly around the wiry torso in an effort to prevent damage to the internal organs should they slam into anything particularly unyielding.
The breath left Seven’s lungs in a whoosh when their unplanned roller coaster ride slammed her into a towering pillar of rock. Her left side and upper thigh impacted with the granite, but thankfully the sharp coral clinging to the rock did not tear her suit.
Kathryn gasped from the impact but was not injured, her personal shield having taking the full brunt of the blow. She was concerned about the beating Seven’s body was taking as they were hurled into object after unforgiving object, but now she had a new concern. Where before they were traveling feet first, now they were moving headfirst. As hard as the blows were they were taking they wouldn’t stand a chance if they struck something with their heads. The helmets could only absorb so much of the impact.
Finally the force of the tide relented somewhat. Seven struggled to refill her lungs with air, feeling as though she had been on the verge of losing consciousness. With her optical implant she could see a faint illumination coming from just above them and used the last of her strength to propel them toward the light.
When Kathryn felt Seven’s legs unwrap from her hips and begin kicking she automatically started kicking as well, trusting that the Borg knew what she was doing. And with her face still pressed into Seven’s bosom she couldn’t exactly see where that was.
They broke through the surface of the water to find themselves inside one of the caves. Seven quickly reached out with her left hand and grabbed at the sandy floor. She assisted the captain out of the water before using the last of her strength to haul herself out. She gratefully collapsed on the dusty floor and took in air in great shuddering gulps.
Then Kathryn was beside her helping her to remove the helmet. "Seven, are you all right?" she asked with concern, frightened even more when the lanky blonde didn’t answer immediately. She assisted Seven in turning over and was surprised when the younger woman laid her head in Kathryn’s lap.
"Are you all right?" she repeated, brushing the tangled blonde locks back from Seven’s forehead.
"Kathryn … I hurt," Seven groaned, wrapping her long arms around her battered torso.
Her concern for Seven was so strong she didn’t even notice the use of her first name as she concentrated on removing the environmental suit from the young woman’s body. "Don’t move," she instructed gently. "I’m going to get your clothes off and see how badly injured you are."
They had lost all of their equipment when the current had swept them away and all Kathryn had to fall back on were her Starfleet first aid courses.
Seven’s body was a roadmap of cuts and bruises, but what drew the captain’s attention was the large spongy area covering most of her left side. Even the Borg’s abdominal implant hadn’t been strong enough to withstand the force of the blow and Seven undoubtedly had internal injuries. There was nothing Kathryn could do for the young woman but keep her comfortable and try to get them out of this situation as quickly as possible. Fortunately the environmental suits had kept their clothing dry underneath. Kathryn knew the bio-suit would keep Seven’s body temperature regulated and drew the garment carefully over the mauled body.
She took off her own tunic and placed it over Seven in an attempt to prevent the shock that would probably be setting in before stopping to take stock of their situation. Kathryn sat down and took Seven’s hand into her own. She eased Seven’s head back onto her lap and sat thinking quietly, knowing there was very little they could do now except wait for Voyager to come looking for them. They were expected to be out of communication with the ship for about four hours then Tuvok would be expecting them to check in. By Kathryn’s estimation that time had elapsed and the Vulcan would immediately begin looking for them. He would follow protocol to the letter and not allow for the Human propensity to lose track of time.
Sometimes she was extremely grateful for Vulcan dependability.
Kathryn slowly drew the knuckles of her left hand down the Borg’s cheek. Seven had fallen into a fitful sleep and her skin felt clammy to the touch. "I’m sorry, Seven," Kathryn whispered softly, then thought, I wish I could be your knight, right now.
Time passed slowly in the darkness. The only illumination was from some of the minerals imbedded into the walls that seemed to give off a natural luminescence. Kathryn grew more concerned with each passing moment as her blonde companion began to shiver slightly. Feeling her brow Janeway was frightened at how cold Seven’s skin was.
A furtive sound drew her attention to the other side of the cave. She was startled to see several aliens in dark, hooded robes standing there. The fact that they hadn’t detected humanoid life-signs notwithstanding Kathryn was relieved at the aid she expected to be forthcoming.
"Please," she rasped, her voice cracking in a relief. "My friend … she’s hurt. Can you help us?"
Instinct caused the fine hairs on the back of her neck to stand up when no reply was issued. She had no way of knowing that they had responded telepathically. She had no way of knowing that indeed they would be helped, but not in any way she could have expected.
The Tikani slowly approached the female duo projecting thoughts of assistance, not knowing whether they were understood and not caring in the slightest.
When the small group stopped in front of Kathryn she held her breath when the leader reached up to push his (her?) hood back. She tried to contain her revulsion when his visage was revealed to her. The alien had dark, ruddy skin and was completely hairless. The rest of the face appeared humanoid except for the triple row of ridges adorning each cheek and the large elongated eyes. It was those eyes that horrified her and she drew on all of her training to keep her fear in check. The eyes were four times the size of a human’s and elliptical in shape. There was no color in the fathomless depths, only inky, soulless darkness.
Without speaking one of the aliens assisted Kathryn in standing, grasping her roughly under the arm and hauling her to her feet as three others lifted Seven from the cave floor.
Okay, Janeway thought as she was ushered unceremoniously down a dank tunnel behind her Astrometrics officer, maybe they can’t speak. Or maybe they communicate differently. God knows I’ve seen some strange stuff out here so far from Earth.
Since it looked like the aliens were rendering assistance, or at least she hoped they were, Janeway tried to push her misgivings into the pit of her stomach. But when they were lead into a large circular chamber she couldn’t contain her suspicions any longer.
"What’s going on here?" she demanded in her best captain’s tone that had caused others to tremble in fear.
There was no reaction to her query other than being grabbed and forced to lie on a rock altar of some sort. Kathryn fought desperately; lashing out with a booted foot that connected solidly against the crotch of one of her captors. Evidently their anatomy was similar to that of the Human male because the alien fell to the ground with a high, keening cry. Kathryn was summarily cuffed across the temple for her efforts and her vision blurred. Her energy reserves were severely depleted and her struggles were useless against her stronger adversaries as she was chained spread eagle to the hard surface. Seven of Nine was still unconscious and couldn’t resist at all.
Kathryn was surprised when the aliens began running what looked like a myovascular regenerator over Seven’s wounded torso. She honestly didn’t know whether these creatures were benevolent or a threat until the leader attached some kind of mechanism to the front of her temporal lobe. They seemed desperate and in a hurry…for what, Kathryn couldn’t begin to fathom. As the mechanism against her temple activated she understood they were a telepathic species and were anything but benevolent.
She understood they were healing Seven’s injuries, but only for their own personal gain. It wouldn’t do to have their subject die on them before they had gotten what they needed. And Kathryn knew they needed something, she just didn’t understand what.
From now on, she promised herself, security on every away mission.
Trying to concentrate on putting all her mental energy into a single thought, she asked them what they wanted. One of her best-used tools in the Delta Quadrant was diplomacy. If she could get these beings to communicate with her, offer them something in exchange for whatever they were trying to take by force, she and Seven might have a chance.
The Tikani had no interest in diplomacy or in accepting anything in exchange for their prisoners. They had exactly what they wanted.
The leader deftly affixed neural amplifiers onto each of the alien females before answering the small one’s question.
Just before Janeway was plunged into darkness she heard the answer and shivered in terror.
There was no moon that night. The world was thick and black, illuminated sporadically by lightning. The electrical storm charged the atmosphere causing hair to stand on end as thunder clapped in the distance. The wind cried in the night, carrying a wailing echo.
The watcher was accustomed to the unpredictable storms having survived in this land between realities for centuries. It was an enchanted place, containing fairy folk and sprites and all things light and lovely. It was also a place harboring monsters and demons. Unwary travelers could find death here on swift wings, but the lone sentinel was their self-appointed guardian.
The wind tugged at the cloaked figure attempting to rip the hood from the powerful features. Hands clenched strongly in the dark leather gloves when the being spied the light of a carriage in the distance. Iron gray eyes narrowed thoughtfully as the magician wondered what would bring someone out into a night like this.
As the carriage approached the quiet one detected the sounds of raucous laughter from the drunkenly swaying riders and the smell of fresh blood wafting through the ozone-layered air. The horses surrounding the once proud carriage were recognized as belonging to a band of cutthroats that lived near the boundaries to the inner world. Whenever the opportunity arose the marauders would breach the sanctity of the protected realm to poach the animals and capture the village women for sport. Only on a night such as this could the villains have crossed the invisible barrier and it would appear that another innocent had suffered as a result.
A low growl erupted from the cowled figure before the dark one waved a hand, the palm flat toward the ground and whispered softly.
Leaves at the foot of the figure abruptly cleared, the ground becoming reflective and beginning to form pictures. The scene had occurred hours earlier but played itself out again for the sorcerer.
The coach was traveling down a dirt lane, swaying gently in the sunshine; horses bolted from the woods to encircle the hapless prey. A man with a dark balding pate sitting atop the carriage pulled a musket from his waistcoat and suddenly toppled to the ground shot through the chest for his effort.
Blood soaked into the ground as a woman opened the wooden door brandishing a rifle.
The dark figure caught its breath at the stunning beauty of the woman. She was light and silver, her hair seeming to catch the sun itself even as her countenance offered fury to the attackers. A bright glint of the sun off a metallic adornment framing the left eye…
Events unfolded quickly. The looters overpowered the young woman, not without casualties, and bound her hands. She would not be harmed, yet, but she would make a wonderful diversion later when they reached the sanctuary of their camp.
Debris swirled as the heavy, fat raindrops finally began to fall and disrupted the vision. Outrage filled the small, wiry body even as the figure quickly turned and leapt into the saddle of a tall white stallion.
Annika huddled miserably on the cramped floor of the coach. She wondered why she had been spared and dreaded the answer. This was her own fault, she thought. She had insisted on this excursion into the city to visit a friend and since the doctor was heading this way he had offered to provide transportation. She had insisted on taking this road knowing the woods were supposed to be haunted. She felt it would provide a kind of protection for the two due to the reduced amount of traffic. She hadn’t counted on the fact that the isolation would actually work against them, especially when the storm had burst loose overhead.
At present there were only two ruffians with her in the tiny confines of the carriage, passing a bottle of mulled wine back and forth between them. One of the men lashed out at her with a booted foot, laughing cruelly when it impacted solidly with her narrow ribs.
Annika grunted in pain, but forced herself to lay quiescent on the floor. She felt bones shift inside with her reflexive flinch and knew she had internal injuries from the initial beating she had taken. The heavy skirt and petticoats had undoubtedly guarded her from even worse injury just as they had prevented her from being able to fully defend herself.
"Easy, Phillip," the other thug advised his partner. "You don’t want to break her too much before we have a chance to enjoy her." Both men laughed uproariously at their shared lechery, but were interrupted from shots that suddenly rang out.
"It’s the demon!" someone outside the coach shouted, fear tinting his voice.
Pistols were quickly drawn as the two men lurched to their feet. They leaped out of the coach with drunken courage in an effort to defend themselves. They had heard the stories of the enchanted woods but had never really believed it. In all the time they had been poaching these lands they had never seen anything supernatural. The man called Phillip froze as soon as his booted feet hit the ground. A startling figure dressed all in black and red sat astride a rearing stallion, a broadsword uplifted menacingly.
It was true, he thought, gibbering incoherently as spittle drooled from the corner of his grizzled face just before the sword separated the reasoning portion of his body from his lower extremities.
Annika lay inside the coach as quietly as possible hoping the new threat would not find her. She was not naïve enough to believe that she had been miraculously delivered into benevolent hands. The harsh realities of the world had shown her that there was no mercy for a lone female traveler, add to that the fact that this was a dark and haunted forest. Eventually all the stoic woman could hear was the quiet snuffling of the horses moving around and deemed it safe enough to venture out and assess her situation.
She forced herself to her knees inside the coach and gasped at the sharp pain in her side. Quietly inching toward the door, Annika grasped the edge of the low set window and raised her head until only her eyes were peeking over the top.
The creature was right in front of the coach door, sitting astride an amazingly tall white stallion and peering directly at the carriage. It could not have missed seeing her or hearing the slight gasp through parted lips before Annika dropped heavily to the floor. She gasped again, this time in pain, as the sudden impact jolted her aching side.
"My Lady," a surprisingly husky, although pleasant voice came from the other side. "Forgive me if I have offended you. I am here only to secure your release from these ruffians."
Thinking furiously for a moment Annika responded. "These ‘ruffians’ have been dealt with, sir. You are now free to be on your way."
"Very true," was the easy rejoinder. "However, the woods are not safe this night. I would ask that you reside at my home this evening before continuing your journey on the morrow."
A pack of wolves chose that moment to begin singing in the distance, lending credence to the well-uttered words. Annika shivered in response, sensing something dangerous but unsure if that was from her recent experiences or from her would be savior. The ridiculousness of the situation finally manifested itself to the young woman and she realized she had been debating spending the night in the woods with a pack of wolves or accepting the help of someone that had shown her no malice. Fear was still heavy in her heart, but she was nothing if not logical. There was nothing to indicate that this being held any hostile intentions toward her.
Slowly Annika left the relative safety of the coach, grunting softly when her feet hit the ground and grasping her aching ribs.
"You are injured." The rider seemed genuinely concerned.
Annika raised her head when she heard a soft thud. The creature had dismounted and was rapidly approaching her. Willing herself not to recoil she raised her metal eyepiece in apparent disdain. "I am functioning adequately," she replied with only a shade of her normal arrogance.
Annika was surprised to see that this ‘demon’ that everyone feared was several centimeters shorter than she was. Perhaps it was no demon after all, merely a troll, or somehow related to sprites or fairy folk. The husky voice was more reminiscent of a troll than a fairy even if it was fairly pleasing. There was something strangely familiar about that voice; although Annika thought that was pretty close to impossible. She could never have heard the voice before because she had never before encountered this being.
She was so engrossed with her private thoughts that it came as a shock to her when the creature suddenly reached up a slender hand and pushed the hood away. This was no demon; it was a woman, and quite a pretty one. In the glow of the torchlight, Annika saw short auburn hair that curled sweetly at the nape of the slender neck. The woman’s features were petite and elegant, with a small upturned nose and blue-gray eyes that were filled with concern.
The woman laid her hands against the younger female’s side. Flinching Annika tried to pull away, but found herself powerless to do so.
The touch was warm through the dark leather gloves and strangely comforting. A tingling began where the hands pressed her body lightly; not the tingling of pain but the tingle of healing and tenderness. As the feeling moved in waves through her side Annika found it suddenly easier to breathe. After a few moments the pain was gone completely and a pleasant glow had taken its place.
"What did you do to me?" she asked in confusion.
"I have merely given you a gift. Now if you please, Lady. We must depart these woods."
The small lithe form suddenly walked up to the steed and vaulted easily onto its back. Holding out a small hand to assist the dumbfounded blonde the other seemed to be challenging her in some way. Gazing up at the small form Annika took a quick moment to ponder her predicament.
Her rescuer was dressed to intimidate. She wore a dark red cape complete with cowl, a blood red shirt, dark leather gloves and boots, and dark britches that clearly showed the muscled legs beneath. With the hood in place Annika knew she would have feared the dark one, she had heard the stories just as all the other village children had. They were stories told to keep children in line.
But now that the classic features had been revealed she trusted her own counsel above all others and for some reason she trusted this being. Besides, she was no longer a child. Grasping the smaller hand she stepped into the stirrup that had been vacated for her use and climbed with questionable ability behind her companion.
The horse tossed its head impatiently and the rider spun the beast about and launched them into a full gallop. Annika held on tightly to her protector, pressing herself into the delicate back. The ride to the refuge took little time, but to the younger woman it seemed to take an eternity. She was uncomfortably aware of an increase in her respiration and blood pressure, and was honest enough to admit it was a result of her proximity to her escort.
She was attracted to this creature and the constant motion of the steed under them wasn’t helping matters. Her groin was being rubbed forcefully against the tight derriere of the rider in front of her and a slow but insistent heat was building in her stomach. Annika tried to tell herself that it was the thrill of riding into the darkness with a stranger that was causing these feelings of desire and desperately fought to control her rampaging hormones.
The cape and shirt that K’ryn wore were not thick, and she could feel the sharp points of the woman’s nipples poking into her back as well as the death-like grip around her own small waist.
She must be freezing! K’ryn thought worriedly, and spurred Flyer to move faster.
Soon the lights from the castle could be seen in the distance. Rain was falling in a heavy, blinding torrent; almost obscuring horse and rider’s vision. K’ryn gave a quiet sigh of relief as they swept into the courtyard. As soon as the trio came to a halt Chovok came up to take control of the horse as K’ryn and Annika dismounted, almost as though he had known of their approach beforehand. The thin, dusky manservant led the winded horse away silently.
The castle was obviously ancient and although not completely dilapidated Annika was sure it had seen better days. She was surprised when a maidservant met them just inside the door with towels and assisted her in removing her wet shawl. Annika scrubbed vigorously at her wet hair and face to remove as much moisture as she could, trying to ignore the weight of her sodden garments while the other woman followed suit.
"Please remove your shoes here," the gravelly voice asked kindly. "Lanni would kill me if we were to dirty her clean floors."
The last was said with the first hint of a sense of humor that Annika had heard. Considering everything she had been through recently the comment was perhaps more humorous than it would have been in different circumstances. Annika did not laugh, it was not her way, but she did smirk in appreciation as the jest seemed to dispel some of the tension in the air. Annika took a moment to look at the servant more closely, curious why she still had not spoken. The woman boasted a beautiful caramel color and had faint ridges on her forehead.
K’ryn caught the inspection and said, "She is not from this land. Neither is Chovok. Do they frighten you?"
Again Annika thought the older woman was testing her somehow. The question didn’t so much solicit information out of concern as it seemed to be gauging her reaction. Squarely meeting her benefactor’s eyes the young woman stood up straight and squared her shoulders before replying, "and monstrous and wonderful are the people of undiscovered lands…"
"Indeed," K’ryn responded gently as though very pleased. "But come, we must warm you."
Throwing the towel indifferently over a shoulder, the smaller figure lead Annika in her stocking feet through a maze of halls and finally into a study. A blazing fire was roaring in the hearth and the room was warmly inviting. Lanni did not follow and the stoic blonde was surprised to find a tea service already set in place.
"They knew we were coming," she accused, folding her hands defensively behind her back.
"Yes," was the simple reply.
K’ryn suddenly realized she had not introduced herself. Guiltily, she thought she had to rectify the situation. "My lady I would like to introduce myself, but first I must make sure you will be comfortable in my home for a short time."
"Why would the prospect of staying here distress me? You are not hideous. You have been kind and gracious. Do you have an ulterior motive?"
The question was asked without artifice and K’ryn couldn’t help but burst into laughter at the surprising reply. Annika appeared to be unaffected by the display, merely raising an eyebrow as was her habit.
Finally when K’ryn had regained control she answered. "No, I don’t. But I am not as you expect either," she said soberly, eyes shading to a darker gray.
"Clarify," the woman said in a tone that was very like a command.
K’ryn seemed to finally understand that this woman would not frighten easily. She recalled the vision she had conjured in the woods and the expression on the young woman’s face when the marauder’s had attacked. She had not been frightened, she had been angry.
The proof was yet to come, K’ryn realized as she slowly took a breath to muster her courage. Previous experiences caused K’ryn to fear the worst. In this country it was unseemly that a woman be a sorcerer or magician. Such a thing was considered an abomination and she expected the ridicule that would be rightfully directed her way.
"This castle is enchanted … as am I. I command the very wood beneath our feet, the animals in the forest, even the air that we breathe. I am a sorceress."
Silence was Annika’s only reply. The magnitude of what the smaller woman was saying had rendered her speechless, but not for the reasons that the other apparently expected. Annika realized how lonely the woman must be; alone in a country where women were second class individuals, ostracized by what made her who she was. But she also thought it was a wonderful gift. She was delighted at the opportunities for discovery.
Misunderstanding her companion’s expression K’ryn was no longer able to bear the pity in the ice-blue eyes. She turned on her heel and strode for the door. "Enjoy, your tea. When you have finished Lanni will show you to your room. Goodnight."
Annika felt like she didn’t know what had hit her. She had been stunned by her thoughts regarding the other woman, unable to speak. Somehow she had offended her. Annika felt suddenly ignorant. Obviously she had reacted unexpectedly and somehow disappointed her host. Undoubtedly her champion had felt Annika unworthy of her company. The young woman looked at the silver tea service and felt nauseous. As though sensing that no one would be eating this night the door to the study opened and Lanni entered.
"I am to show you to your room, Lady," the woman said in a strong but gentle voice.
"Annika," the blonde replied absently.
"My name is Annika."
A furtive glance and a quick grin were sent her way before Lanni responded. "Annika it is then. Welcome to our home."
Annika was shown to a room on the second floor. The room was large and grand and boasted a generous four poster, canopied bed covered with heavy quilts and numerous pillows occupying one wall. A large fire was burning in another fireplace and elegant tapestries covered the walls. The young woman gazed at the splendor in wonder before Lanni’s voice interrupted her musings.
"I take it the room meets with your approval?"
"Indeed," the young woman answered. "I am not accustomed to such accommodations."
Lanni grinned again showing slightly pointed teeth and Annika had the feeling she had gained a friend in these unusual circumstances.
"You’ll find dry clothing in the closets, I’m sure something will fit you. Just leave your wet things in the hallway and someone will retrieve them. If you feel like bathing the facilities are just through that other door." Lanni indicated a closed door in a darkened corner.
Feeling a certain amount of comfort with the dark woman Annika asked a question that had been burning at the back of her mind all evening. "What is the designation of my… host?"
"Designation?" Lanni asked not understanding.
"Her name, what is it?"
Annika had experienced hostility with her abrupt manner in the past, but if Lanni noticed she chose not to comment.
"Her name is K’ryn, and don’t mind her. She’s abrupt sometimes, but she has a good heart."
"Indeed," was the only reply.
Lanni sensed that nothing else would be forthcoming and wished their visitor a ‘good night’ before quietly exiting the room.
"B’Elanna, please try to relax," the holographic doctor urged acerbically. "I can’t complete my scans if you continue to fidget in this manner."
"I’m fine, Doctor, just let me get back to work."
"I’ll be the judge of that," he returned easily, continuing his work.
The captain and Seven of Nine were missing and B’Elanna needed to get down to the engine room and get the warp drive back on-line. Tuvok had began hailing and scanning for them the minute they hadn’t checked in at the pre-arranged time and Voyager was limping toward the planet on impulse engines.
The hissing of the sickbay doors opening distracted the engineer from her ire. She looked up expecting to see Tom Paris and frowned when she identified her visitor.
Susan Nicoletti walked over and said, "I just stopped by to see how you’re feeling."
Chakotay had been released over an hour ago and was resting in his quarters while Tuvok still had command of the bridge. Nicoletti was in charge of engineering while Lieutenant Carey was working on the gel-packs and B’Elanna was still stuck in sickbay. How did the woman expect her to be feeling?
"Why aren’t you in engineering?" B’Elanna asked disgruntled.
Susan blinked at the rebuke in the tone and shook her head in confusion. "I just finished lunch in the mess hall. I’m on my way back to engineering now. I just thought I would check on you first. I’m sorry, Lieutenant."
B’Elanna let out a breath and lowered her head before saying, "I’m sorry, Susan. I’m just a little irritated."
She reminded herself that the brunette had been working double shifts since this incident and it wasn’t fair to take her ire out on the young woman when what she wanted to do was throttle Paris.
"You’re free to return to duty, Lieutenant," the Doctor interrupted. "You may now ‘go back to work.’"
"Thanks," B’Elanna retorted, jumping down from the bio-bed.
Nicoletti walked beside her as they left sickbay, wondering how to steer the conversation the way she wanted. "So, what’s got you so irritated?" Susan asked carefully.
"It’s Paris," B’Elanna snarled, feeling the urge to talk even if she didn’t know the woman very well. "He’s supposed to be my boyfriend yet he never even stopped by to see me. Probably too busy in the holodeck…"
The last was muttered under her breath, but Susan caught the words. They entered the turbolift and were almost to deck ten when Nicoletti halted the lift with a command to the computer. "Look, I know it’s not any of my business…" she began.
"Yes?" B’Elanna prompted.
"Maybe you deserve better." Susan held up her hands as B’Elanna almost interrupted. "Please, just hear me out. He’s always ignoring you and putting his own interests first. Everyone knows it; it’s only obvious. I just think you deserve someone worthy of you. You’re too special not to be with someone who would put you first." Nicoletti fell quiet, thinking she had revealed too much and when no response was forthcoming she quietly ordered, "Computer, resume."
B’Elanna would think about the lieutenant’s advice later and wonder if Klingon honor was the only thing keeping her with Paris. She would also wonder if there were something else Susan was trying to tell her. But right now she needed to focus on getting those warp engines up … they had a missing captain to find.
Annika tossed and turned restlessly. Sleep had been an elusive quarry this night. She was sure it was to do with more than the wind howling through the trees or the torrents of rain pouring from the heavens. Her mind was on K’ryn. From the moment she had met the other woman she had felt an electricity in her veins that she had never known before. Closing her eyes she pictured the small dynamic woman and felt a surge in her lower stomach as her nipples tightened almost painfully.
"This is ridiculous," she grumbled aloud, rising from the comforting warmth of the bed.
Pulling on an old but elegant blue silk robe she had found in a closet Annika strode to the windows to peer into the moonless night. She could see little except the slant of driving rain. A light in a window across the courtyard drew her attention. Considering the late hour that was odd indeed. Squinting she could just make out a dark figure on a balcony. Undoubtedly it was K’ryn but Annika wondered what could possibly have drawn the woman out into the storm. Then she realized that K’ryn was standing under an overhang in a kind of garden. Annika quickly turned and left the room and made her way toward her host, not stopping to question her motivations.
The garden was just outside the study and the younger woman easily traversed the now familiar path. She pushed the double doors open, the noise drawing K’ryn’s attention.
"My Lady, is there something wrong?" K’ryn queried politely.
Only now questioning her purpose for coming here Annika paused before answering. "No, I merely wished to speak with you."
"Oh, I see," K’ryn responded quietly before turning to stare pensively out into the night.
Standing next to the smaller woman Annika again felt the pull of her attraction and struggled to prolong their contact. She was not very skilled as a conversationalist but felt that was a very important ability at the moment.
"I wished to introduce myself. I am Annika." Realizing how lame that sounded at this early morning hour, Annika searched for something else. "I also wished to … apologize." K’ryn turned to look at her with a confused expression forcing Annika to clarify. "For offending you."
"No, I’m afraid I have offended you," K’ryn stated softly. "I know it is somewhat unusual for a woman to be a magician. Some might even consider it an atrocity…"
"Oh, no," Annika interrupted, involuntarily moving closer to the diminutive redhead. "It is a wonderful gift. It is a gift from the Old World, a gift of charm," she asserted. Without volition Annika raised a silver-tipped hand and gently touched a soft cheek. Her lips parted slightly as her breathing increased.
K’ryn watched in amazement as the pupils in the ice-blue eyes expanded. She felt caught in the gaze, unable to look away. Desperate to break the unexpectedly intimate contact K’ryn searched for a distraction. "The silver on your face and hand, is it merely decorative?"
"No," Annika responded dropping her hand back to her side and turning away from her companion. "It is necessary to sustain my life. A few years ago pirates accosted me. Somehow I managed to escape but my body was severely mutilated. These implants were necessary to prolong my life. There are other more invasive ones."
A look of tender compassion crossed K’ryn’s face. Annika felt like she had seen that look before but couldn’t remember where.
"I’m sorry," K’ryn said wishing she had never brought the subject up. "It must have been terribly painful for you."
"Actually, I do not remember the event. I am told that selective amnesia is very common in such cases."
"Of course," K’ryn said, looking for another way to change course. "Are you hungry? Lanni told me you didn’t eat anything earlier."
"Yes," Annika answered honestly. "It has been some time since I have consumed nutrition, but it is rather late to bother anyone."
K’ryn smirked and said, "I always have a little something put aside in case I can’t sleep. Come on into the study."
Annika settled into the plush sofa and was surprised when K’ryn sat closely beside her. A previously unnoticed tea service sat on the low glass table and K’ryn reached easily for a cup and saucer.
"It’s not tea," K’ryn advised her, "it’s coffee. I’ve never liked tea … too weak." K’ryn’s knee brushed Annika’s as she leaned over to pour the dark rich liquid into their cups and Annika felt a shiver flutter up her spine. K’ryn felt the movement and turned her eyes to the blonde woman.
"Are you cold?" the words died on her tongue as she noticed again the look of desire on the younger woman’s face.
"No," Annika croaked.
Compelled by powerful emotions she couldn’t identify Annika suddenly reached forward and cupped the pale face between her palms. She felt K’ryn stiffen, but the smaller woman did not pull away. Emboldened by the rapt look in her companion’s eyes Annika leaned forward and drew in a deep breath. K’ryn’s scent filled her nostrils and Annika smiled faintly, enjoying the clean, slightly spicy scent.
"I am sorry," Annika whispered, "but I feel I have always known you. You have occupied my thoughts since I first saw you."
She drew closer to the redhead and heard the china clatter in the delicate hands when she stopped only a breath away from the wine shaded lips. Annika searched for resistance in the stormy eyes and finding none closed the distance between them. Full coral lips brushed over the trembling mouth once … twice. It was an introduction, gentle and non-invasive. K’ryn managed to lower the fine crystal ware to the table without breaking anything and without pulling away from the mesmerizing woman before her.
Needing to be closer to the beautiful woman Annika turned to face her fully, parted her lips and kissed her. A loud voice of protest screamed in her head to cease these activities even as she stroked across K’ryn’s smooth softness with her tongue.
K’ryn had known the kiss was coming, anticipated it from the first touch of the gentle hands. But some part of her had been convinced it would never really happen. She drew in a startled gasp of air, holding very still. This woman was a stranger in her home but still K’ryn couldn’t force herself to back away. The soft lips exploring her mouth held her transfixed. Finally releasing her breath in a soft sigh K’ryn allowed her tongue to touch a full upper lip fleetingly. Then a groan issued from her as her lips pressed to Annika’s. Her hands circled the narrow waist to slide across her back and hold her close as she parted Annika’s lips with her tongue.
Hunger rose between them, drawing them impossibly closer. Then they were kissing deeply, eyes closed, mouths open, tongues dancing. They were devouring each other. K’ryn’s mouth was demanding and Annika welcomed it gladly, thinking of nothing beyond the moment.
Finally K’ryn’s strong hands slid to her shoulders as the smaller woman drew away. K’ryn panted quietly for a moment, seeking control.
She drew a deep, shuddering breath with her head lowered before saying, "My apologies, Lady. I think the lateness of the hour has affected us. It is best if we cease these activities."
"No," Annika said quietly, shaking her head. "I do not wish to…"
"I’m sorry," K’ryn said rising to her feet. "I insist." K’ryn turned on her heel, leaving the study and picking up speed as she went.
Annika watched her leave horrified at how the evening had ended. She had meant to apologize to the dynamic older woman not assault her. No doubt K’ryn considered her quite mad. What was she to do now, Annika wondered miserably? How would she face K’ryn after this?
Annika rushed after K’ryn, feeling the need to try to explain her actions to the older woman. She mounted the steps quickly and reached the second floor landing just in time to see a door close at the end of the hallway. With a heavy heart Annika realized there was no way to explain her behavior to K’ryn because she couldn’t even explain it to herself. She had never been so impulsive and had never even actually kissed anyone. Now she couldn’t seem to keep her hands off the other woman. Finally she left the hallway and made her way back to her lonely bed.
Her thoughts were consumed by K’ryn. The kiss they had shared played itself over and over in her mind, leading to other possible endings for their late night tryst in the study. An hour later Annika was literally shaking from the excitement her sexual fantasies had produced. Her nipples were hard and aching where the cotton nightgown rubbed when she moved.
Could K’ryn not see that fate had brought them together for a reason? She and this wondrous woman were meant to be together. It would be up to Annika to show K’ryn the truth of that. Her resistance would be futile.
Having reached her conclusion the young woman decided that there was no time like the present. K’ryn would be sleeping and her guard would be down. If the kiss they shared was any indication the older woman was definitely interested. To someone else the plan might seem a little unethical but to Annika it was logical. K’ryn’s response to her would be honest, not just what she thought it ought to be.
The determined young woman flung back the bedclothes and donned the silken robe once more. Not bothering with slippers she padded out her door and down to the far end of the hall. Standing in front of K’ryn’s door she paused for a moment and drew a steadying breath.
What if the door was locked, she wondered suddenly. Raising her metal covered eye she acknowledged to herself that she would just have to implement her plan the next morning should that indeed be the case. She grasped the knob firmly in her right hand and turned it expecting resistance. Annika was a little surprised when the knob turned easily and the door opened without a sound. Silently she stepped into the wizard’s bedchamber.
A fire blazed brightly in the hearth warding off the chill of the night. The rain had stopped and Annika could hear the whisper soft breath as K’ryn slept peacefully. Slowly she approached the large bed. Her heart pounded painfully against her ribs and her own breath came unevenly. Even though she knew the other woman wanted her this plan was still risky at best.
K’ryn slept in the center of the bed. She was turned on her side and facing the wall with her back to the door. Shyly but with determination Annika lifted the comforter and slid in behind her intended prey. Scooting close she slid her right arm around a slender shoulder and leaned up over the smaller woman.
She felt K’ryn stiffen instantly and whispered, "Shh, it is only me."
"What are you doing here?" K’ryn asked, trying to keep the fear and desire out of her voice. The instant the form had pressed against her K’ryn had known who it was.
"We have not yet finished what we began. Like all of us of the old ways, you must believe this is not the first time we have met. There is something between our souls," she said, sliding the fingers of one hand through short auburn locks.
K’ryn was astounded by the proclamation from the young woman but found she couldn’t argue. She had felt the same connection and her body yearned to be closer to Annika.
Annika didn’t give K’ryn time to respond, believing she would only encounter an argument. She bent her head and captured soft lips with her own. K’ryn was caught off guard by the quick move and Annika slipped easily into her mouth. K’ryn’s own desire surged and easily overcame any resistance she may have thought to give. She moaned deeply and answered Annika’s dueling tongue with her own.
Her legs parted slightly, urging the blonde to move closer. Annika eagerly pressed her thigh up against her center causing the smaller woman to gasp with excitement.
K’ryn reached to unbutton the front of Annika’s nightgown, slowly revealing the creamy flesh.
"Please," K’ryn gasped, "Take this off."
Annika quickly shed the nightgown, pulling it over her head and dropping it hastily to the floor. She reached to assist when K’ryn wasn’t fast enough in removing her own shirt. Too excited to wait, she grasped both edges of the shirt and ripped the material open scattering buttons in every direction. K’ryn hastily removed the shredded fabric and lay back against the mattress. Annika slowed abruptly wanting to see and touch and remember everything about this moment.
K’ryn’s coral colored nipples beckoned to her and she lowered her mouth to them eagerly, taking one of them into her mouth and instinctively sucking hard on the tiny bud.
The heat and warmth of Annika’s mouth upon her breasts caused K’ryn to cry out as she was overwhelmed with need. Their legs entwined and K’ryn couldn’t prevent herself from thrusting against a strong thigh. A slender hand slipped between their joined bodies and K’ryn gasped again when long fingers rubbed her strongly.
"Annika," she gasped before capturing the full lips again.
As Annika pressed against K’ryn’s sex she could feel the warm wet curls through the pajama pants and needed more. "I want to feel your skin."
Reluctantly K’ryn released her hold of the soft body and reached for the waistband of her pants. Annika rose slightly to accommodate the removal of the offending garment. As soon as it was off K’ryn reached up and pulled the blonde back into her arms. Annika ground her pelvis into K’ryn’s enjoying the feeling as their wetness merged between them. She felt K’ryn’s fingers moving down her body seeking the wetness she knew was waiting for her. They slid easily through the pale curls to her intimate crease.
"There may be some pain," K’ryn softly whispered, looking for reassurance in the pale eyes.
"Please," Annika whispered. "Take me,"
As the fingers slid into her Annika gasped. The pain was sharp and quick, gone almost instantly and leaving behind a feeling of wonder at the sensation of being filled by K’ryn. Annika began to move against the hand, encouraged by whispered words and a soft guiding hand on her back.
K’ryn braced her hand against her leg, increasing the pressure as Annika rode against her. The pale blonde head was thrown back and her mouth was open as Annika panted with the kaleidoscope of sensations rampaging through her body. The pleasure exploded suddenly as she delivered her orgasm into the thrusting hand. Slowly she lowered herself onto the mattress, pressed against K’ryn’s side where she lay for a moment trying to get her bearings. When she took a deep breath she could smell the other woman’s excitement and felt passion surge again.
She covered K’ryn’s body and took a small breast into her mouth, pulling in as much of it as she could while she squeezed and pulled the other nipple. K’ryn began moaning and thrusting up towards Annika, the desire burning within her. Annika kissed and nipped her way down the small body toward the scent that was driving her crazy. Finally her head reached the juncture of the muscular legs. She opened the crease with her fingers and dipped her head down taking a large breath. K’ryn’s scent was maddening and Annika could not hold back any longer. She tasted the other woman for the first time and couldn’t get enough. Her tongue explored every flap and fold before pushing determinedly into the small opening.
"Please," K’ryn whispered, "I can wait no longer."
Feeling the tension in the small body Annika quickly searched for K’ryn’s small excited clit. She flicked it quickly several times with her tongue before drawing it into her mouth and sucking on it firmly, bringing K’ryn to a shattering climax.
K’ryn cried out her pleasure as she delivered her orgasm into Annika’s eager mouth. Annika held on tightly as K’ryn bucked against her. Finally the spasms subsided and she moved back up into K’ryn’s arms resting her head on a dainty shoulder. K’ryn put her arm around Annika and both fell into a deep slumber.
Seven of Nine regained consciousness in a dark and dirty cave. At first she didn’t know where she was. She had been with K’ryn … hadn’t she? Memories returned slowly and Seven realized she had been dreaming. But the taste of the other woman was still heavy on her tongue.
It had felt so real. Is that why Human’s seemed to enjoy sleeping so much?
The smell of the dank cavern and the salt from the ocean helped her assemble the pieces of her sketchy memory. She recalled the terrifying journey through the water and seeing the opening of the subterranean cave. Obviously she and the captain had gotten onto dry land but she didn’t have a clear recollection of that event or anything further.
Since the captain wasn’t near her and this obviously wasn’t sickbay something told Seven that they were in trouble. Keeping her eyes closed in case she was being watched she listened intently for sounds of stealth. All she could hear was another person breathing quietly. Pale blue eyes opened and she quickly looked around. Captain Janeway lay a short distance away on some kind of stone table. A monitoring device was attached to her temple and she looked like she was sleeping peacefully. Or she would have if her wrists and ankles weren’t strapped down.
The young woman was slightly discomfited by the long hair still clasped at the base of the captain’s neck. The woman from her dream, K’ryn, had looked exactly like the captain except that she had short hair. Residual sensations of excitement from the dream flurried through her stomach causing her to look at the captain differently, but Seven knew there was no time for that and with an effort she pushed the thoughts away.
Seven attempted to sit up and found that she was immobilized in the same manner as the captain. Scanning the small chamber the Borg realized that they were alone and began formulating a method of escape. Whoever had done this hadn’t removed her combadge; it was still attached to her biosuit. A homing signal wouldn’t help with the interference from the minerals in the nearby rock but it was something to consider after she obtained their freedom. Escape was the primary objective at the moment. If she could alter the implant in her left hand to a cutting tool she might be able to slice through the strap holding her against the table.
Just as Seven was preparing to send a signal to the implant through her cortical node an alien entered the chamber. Her blood ran cold as she identified her captor. "Species 227, the Tikani," she rasped. The Borg had encountered them hundreds of years ago and quickly overcame their resistance. If it had not been for their telepathic abilities the Borg would have considered them unremarkable and passed them by.
The being sent a thought to Seven through the interface device; We have not had a drone before. With all the imaginations you have assimilated you will feed us for an eternity.
Quickly Seven altered the implant and attempted to swipe against the thong, but for all of her enhanced speed the Tikani was faster. He pressed a button on the side of the neural interface and Seven fell back into darkness.
Annika started awake with a quick breath and a bitten off scream. She sat up in the darkness with her heart pounding against her ribs.
"What is it?" K’ryn asked, sitting up and placing an arm around her shoulders.
Taking a shuddering breath Annika said, "I was in a cave. It was cold and I was tied to a table. That’s all I remember." The images were already fading from her but the terror insistently remained.
K’ryn kissed her jaw tenderly before saying, "It’s all right, darling. It was just a dream. Come here and let me hold you." Laying down she held her arms open and Annika couldn’t resist. She snuggled against the lanky side as loving arms folded around her and her fear receded. Sleep gently claimed them again and this time there were no bad dreams.
"Come in," Chakotay, Voyager’s first officer, called out as the chime to the captain’s ready room sounded. He had been released from sickbay and allowed to return to duty eight hours before and had refused to rest upon hearing the news of the away team’s disappearance.
Neelix and his security contingent had returned on schedule loaded with food supplies having seen nothing unusual. But the whereabouts of the captain and Seven of Nine was a mystery. The captain had been scheduled to hail the ship within four hours of submerging beneath the planet’s ocean. When she had failed to do so Tuvok had immediately begun hailing them. When he had failed to receive a response he had notified Chakotay of the situation and employed his own considerable skills at attempting to shore up their weakened com system.
Harry had been trying to cut through planetary interference by utilizing the ship’s forward sensor array but to no avail since much of the components were damaged or outright fried.
B’Elanna Torres and Harry Kim tried to squeeze through simultaneously as the pneumatic doors parted. The Klingon hybrid shot a look at the young ensign, causing him to cringe as she shouldered past him and made a beeline for the captain’s desk.
The crew had been working non-stop on the sensor systems since the captain and Seven’s disappearance sixteen hours earlier, trying to find any signs of life or any clue as to where the two had gone. Chakotay had ordered anyone with a level two or higher engineering rating working on getting the ship’s systems operational.
"I take it you have something?" the first officer asked with a good-natured chuckle at their enthusiasm.
"You know we located the dilithium mining probe the captain and Seven were using and beamed it onto the ship about an hour ago.
The good news is it’s full. We should have full power restored by this time tomorrow," B’Elanna reported.
"That’s great!" Chakotay said. Then he realized that his two crewmen didn’t seem to find that necessarily reassuring. He didn’t want to ask the next question. "And the captain and Seven of Nine?"
"You’re not going to like it," B’Elanna predicted, crossing her arms with an angry expression on her face.
"What is it?" Chakotay felt the grin leave his face.
B’Elanna glanced at Harry before saying, "We managed to get most of the primary sensor array functional and boosted the signal by tapping into the Borg sensors in Astrometrics."
"We think the captain and Seven of Nine may have been abducted," Harry blurted out unable to remain quiet.
"Abducted?" Chakotay asked rising to his feet. "But we scanned this planet. Sensors didn’t show anything before."
"Yes, but the systems were damaged by the graviton wave and were only operating at 30%," Harry explained. "Even had they been operating at peak efficiency at the time we wouldn’t have found any life-signs because of all the interference in the rock formations. It’s only because we boosted the signal with Seven’s Borg sensors that we were able to cut through most of the static."
"So what makes you think they’ve been taken by someone?"
"Because," B’Elanna said hesitantly, "we found the Delta Flyer… unoccupied,"
"That doesn’t mean they were kidnapped," Chakotay argued.
"However, we detected two Human life-signs, or one Human and one half-Human," Harry corrected himself, "approximately fifty meters from the Flyer. The signal is coming from some kind of underwater caverns."
"They’re not moving, Chakotay," B’Elanna spoke, "and they’re surrounded by thirty-two unidentified alien life-signs."
Chakotay held up a hand halting the two. "Okay, stop. You two are making me feel like I’m watching a tennis match. One of you finish."
"We think we’ve come up with a way to get them out of there," B’Elanna said, taking over the discussion.
"We can’t just transport them out because of the mineral interference so we came up with an idea," B’Elanna explained. "Taking elements of the doctor’s 29th century holo-emitter we can create a portable personal pattern enhancer. Say that three times," she grinned.
Chakotay smiled and was impressed in spite of himself. "You never cease to surprise me, Torres," he complimented.
"Don’t give me all the credit. It was Harry’s idea. I just put it together."
The bearish first officer thought for a moment considering possibilities before saying, "Good work. Get busy on making the pattern enhancers. We’ll need enough for Tuvok and a rescue team."
"And one for me, as well," the Klingon added. She rushed to justify her reasoning as she saw the argument about to be voiced by the acting captain. "You’ll need an engineer down there if something goes wrong with the pattern enhancers. I’m also a pretty good warrior, not to mention a fair pilot."
"Fine," Chakotay agreed after weighing the options. "Now we need a working plan. Gather the rest of the senior officers and we’ll meet in the briefing room in thirty minutes."
Annika came awake slowly. Her muscles felt pleasantly heavy and the smell of sex and something sweetly perfumed filled the air. She drew a deep breath, smiling as she remembered the wonderful night spent with K’ryn. Abruptly she realized she was alone and she turned her head to see where K’ryn had slept. The pillow still held the depression of the beloved head and roses were scattered all over the mattress.
The young woman let out a small laugh before sitting up to take in the room. Red and pink roses were everywhere, covering the bed like a blanket and littering the floor. She scooped one of the burgundy flowers off the bed and brought it to her nose inhaling the scent deeply. The rose had no thorns and Annika suddenly realized that all of these blooms had been conjured. The sheer sentimentality of the gesture brought tears of happiness to the young woman’s eyes. Annika couldn’t explain the whirlwind events of the past two days but there was no doubt in her mind that she was completely head over heels in love.
In love with a complete stranger, she thought with a grin. No, not a stranger, she amended. She knew this woman … somehow.
Her stomach finally made its presence known with a rumbling growl. She hadn’t eaten anything since the previous morning’s breakfast and her stomach was complaining loudly. Annika happily threw back the covers and stood up searching for her robe. The nakedness of her body brought to mind again the previous night’s activities and the small smile on her face seemed like it was permanently etched onto her features.
She had taken only a few steps when a rushing sound filled her ears and her head began to spin. The feeling was so overpowering that it drove her to her knees. Annika concentrated on staring straight ahead through the pinprick that her vision had been reduced to. She was alarmed when the walls of the castle seemed to take on a transparent quality. Bedrock was clearly visible through the haze, seeming to close in on her from all sides.
Closing her eyes Annika concentrated on taking deep slow breaths and gradually felt the dizziness recede. After a few minutes she stood up and was pleased that the sensation did not return. The young woman found the effect of a few skipped meals completely unacceptable and went in search of something to rectify the situation. Considering how dizzy she had been Annika decided to forgo getting dressed in favor of eating something immediately. Slipping into her robe from the previous night she headed down the stairs. At the bottom of the landing she smelled something wonderful and followed her nose into the kitchen.
Lanni was in the large room and was surrounded by a multitude of foods. She had made pancakes, eggs, bacon and sausage, biscuits and fried potatoes.
"Are you expecting company?" Annika inquired politely watching as Lanni jumped at the sound of her voice.
Whirling around with wide eyes Lanni saw that it was Annika and she laughed self-consciously. "Sorry, I didn’t hear you come in. No, we’re not having company. I just didn’t know what you liked so I made a little of everything," the brunette admitted.
After a slight pause Annika simply said, "Efficient."
Lanni smiled to herself, turning back to her duties. It was funny how this woman could make one word sound like a compliment.
"There’s coffee on the stove," Lanni offered.
Annika walked to the sink and drew a glass of cold water. "Water will suffice."
Lanni couldn’t take offense to the formal way of talking after having seen K’ryn this morning. The smaller woman had radiated a happiness that the brunette had never seen from her before. If this woman could make the lonely mistress of the castle happy she could speak any way she wanted to as far as Lanni was concerned.
"I was going to bring your breakfast to you but you can just eat in here if you want. K’ryn usually does."
"Is she joining us for breakfast?" Annika asked trying to keep the excitement out of her voice, sitting down at the full table.
"Not us … you. I already had my breakfast about an hour ago. And K’ryn should be here any minute."
At just that moment the small, dynamic redhead entered the kitchen. She stopped and directed a sweet, pleasantly shy smile at Annika.
The blonde felt like she was melting under the gaze and a smile graced her full lips in return.
"Good morning," K’ryn said in a husky trill that sent shivers up Annika’s spine.
Lanni felt like she’d just been scalded from the look between the two. She took a breath, shaking off the feeling and quickly sat the last of the breakfast dishes on the small kitchen table before excusing herself and beating a hasty retreat.
"Good morning," Annika returned hesitantly, dropping her eyes shyly to the floor.
Sensing some embarrassment K’ryn knelt in front of the other woman and raised the dimpled chin with gentle fingers, urging the young woman to meet her eyes. "Are you sorry for what happened last night, my darling?" K’ryn asked softly.
Annika found she couldn’t speak and simply shook her head in response.
Taking that as permission K’ryn leaned forward and placed her mouth against full lips. The touch electrified Annika and she slid her arms eagerly around K’ryn’s slender neck sliding a hand into the pleasantly thick hair, requesting and receiving a deeper touch. Their mouths parted avidly, searching tongues explored ravenously and suddenly Annika couldn’t think of anything but having K’ryn right there on the floor. Fortunately K’ryn seemed to have a little more control and reluctantly moved away from the kiss to nuzzle the silky blonde tresses at Annika’s neck.
Annika’s stomach again announced its presence and K’ryn chuckled indulgently.
"I think perhaps we should feed you, my dear," she said, gently disengaging and walking over to fill a cup with coffee.
The two began filling their plates and Annika tucked into her food with an enthusiasm that she rarely showed for mere nutritional supplements. During their repast K’ryn finally broached the subject that Annika had been silently dreading.
"We should discuss your plans for continuing your journey," she said in as off-hand a manner as she could, willing her voice not to shake.
Annika placed her fork down on her plate no longer hungry. If K’ryn could so casually broach the subject did that mean she was looking forward to having her privacy again? The woman sounded as though she could care less if Annika stayed or went. Her heart felt as though it was lodged in her throat as she quietly contemplated her companion.
Eyeing K’ryn for a moment she finally stated, "You wish me to leave."
"No!" K’ryn burst out looking up at her then quickly amended in a softer voice, "Unless you want to."
The younger woman could see the fear in her companion’s eyes and realized that K’ryn did not want her to leave. The weight that had suddenly seemed to be pressing down on her chest lifted and Annika was finally able to answer. "There is no one expecting me for at least a month. I told my guardian that I was going to visit a friend in Erstwhile but I did not communicate with Tules that I was coming to see her."
"That is fortunate," K’ryn responded keeping her eyes firmly on her plate.
After a few moments of silence Annika finally prompted, "Clarify."
The magician flinched as she realized she had been procrastinating about answering the younger woman. Annika deserved to know the truth even if K’ryn was terrified at the response she would receive; afraid Annika would think she had taken advantage of her.
"Because you cannot leave," she answered slowly and forced herself to meet Annika’s eyes. A gasp escaped K’ryn’s throat at the fire contained in the younger woman’s eyes and she hastened to explain. "As I have mentioned before these lands are enchanted. There is a protective circle surrounding us that prevents the outside world from intruding. This circle is weakened as the lunar cycle ebbs. That is how you were able to be brought here."
Annika immediately understood what K’ryn was saying and her gaze softened. "You are saying that I will be able to leave here at the end of the lunar cycle … in a month," she stated calmly.
K’ryn nodded her head silently, her eyes still fixed on her plate. Her grip on her fork was so tight she was in danger of damaging the utensil and Annika realized the older woman was afraid. Gently she reached out and covered K’ryn’s hand with her metal-tipped fingers, drawing the other woman to meet her gaze. "There is no where I would rather be than here with you," Annika said sincerely.
A sigh of relief escaped K’ryn’s throat and a beautiful smile spread across her classic features.
"Then there’s only one more thing to discuss," K’ryn said trying to show her heart with her eyes. "I don’t know how you’ve done it, after all we’ve known each other less than a full day. But I believe I love you, Lady Annika."
A lovely blush rose from Annika’s neck and spread to her cheeks even as her eyes sparkled with happiness. "And I know that you hold my heart, my magician."
The two forced themselves to finish their breakfast while they discussed inconsequential things. They decided to take a walk in the garden after breakfast and after Annika got dressed. Finally replete they moved away from the table leaving the clean up to Lanni. As soon as she stood Annika could feel the dizziness resurfacing. She fought the feeling for a few steps thinking that if she ignored it, it would go away. But with each beat of her heart the vertigo increased until her vision reduced to a long dark tunnel and her knees began to buckle.
From a vast distance she could hear K’ryn calling to her in a panic stricken voice but she was unable to respond as the darkness finally claimed her.
Seven of Nine awakened with a gasp. She opened her eyes to see a ragged expanse of ceiling overhead and remembered the cave she had awakened in before. The ex-Borg wasn’t as groggy as the last time she had awakened and realized the Tikani would know instantly that she was awake. She knew she didn’t have much time to act.
A quick signal from her cortical node adjusted the implant in her left hand to a cutting implement and she quickly severed the strap binding her left wrist to the table. She had finished cutting her other wrist and one ankle free when two aliens entered the cave.
Ignoring the twinge in her side Seven took advantage of their brief hesitation to finish freeing herself and suddenly six feet of pissed off Borg was charging the stunned aliens.
These creatures had dared to harm the one being in all the universe that mattered to Seven and there was no remorse as she used the same cutting implement that she had freed herself with to neatly decapitate them. Not knowing if they had managed to contact others telepathically Seven quickly reached up and tore the alien device from her temple before turning to her captain. Seven was struck by the frailty of the woman lying before her. An intense feeling of protectiveness surged through her breast as she gently gathered the unconscious woman into her arms.
Holding Janeway tightly against her chest she turned prepared to fight as she heard rapidly moving footfalls. It was at that moment Tuvok, B’Elanna and three security officers rushed into the cave with phasers drawn.
"Commander Tuvok …Lieutenant Torres," Seven greeted calmly, looking from one to another.
B’Elanna, brought up short by the sight of the captain being held so easily in the Borg’s arms, struggled for something to say. It wasn’t everyday she saw the captain being lugged around like a sack of corn and she certainly wasn’t used to seeing the Borg in the role of protector.
The sounds of pursuit coming from the other side of the cavern caught her attention. Since she was fairly certain there was only one rescue team B’Elanna would have to guess it was the bad guys headed their way. "Come on, Seven," she barked and turned to lead the band of would-be rescuers back to the underground spring.
The small group reached the same pool of water where Seven and the captain had emerged hours earlier just as a shout was heard from deep inside the tunnels.
"Here, quick," B’Elanna urged to the Borg as the security contingent covered the tunnel entrance. The Klingon engineer fastened an odd device to Seven’s upper arm then did the same with Captain Janeway. Seven saw similar devices on the arms of the members of the rescue team as B’Elanna rapidly punched in a set of commands and yelled to Tuvok that they were ready.
"Engage," he ordered just as a group of Tikani monks rushed out of the tunnel.
Seven, the captain and B’Elanna rematerialized on the Delta Flyer. As soon as their patterns solidified B’Elanna jumped into the pilot’s seat and prepared to engage the engines, completely disregarding pre-flight protocols.
"Strap in," she ordered tensely as the warp engines came on-line.
"We came down on the Edison. That’s where Tuvok and the others are," the chief engineer explained as she initiated the emergency launch protocols.
B’Elanna turned to ensure her passengers were belted in for the ride and was struck by the tender way Seven was strapping the captain into a chair. Seven quickly tightened the straps over the delicate shoulders and then drew her fingers gently across a soft cheek before settling herself into the seat at the science station.
Torres had not missed the uncharacteristically gentle look in the Borg’s eyes and suddenly wondered if Tom had ever looked at her that way. Somehow she suspected the answer was ‘no’.
"Lieutenant?" Seven asked pointedly, raising an eyebrow at the lack of movement in the dark-haired engineer.
"Right," B’Elanna said turning back to the controls. "Initiating thrusters."
"All systems optimal," Seven returned.
Suddenly the ship felt like it was being pulled forward, the same way Seven and the captain had been before.
"We are caught in a gravitational eddy being generated near the cave opening," Seven reported.
The Klingon growled in frustration. There was no way she was going to be drawn into that thing after managing to secure the captain. B’Elanna targeted the Flyer’s forward phaser array and opened fire, neatly destroying the alien device that was pulling them in. The small ship was instantly released from the strong current and the Klingon set a course for Voyager.
Seven remained seated as the ship rose to the surface of the vast ocean and throughout the bumpy ride through the planet’s atmosphere, but once they left the thermosphere she disengaged her safety straps and knelt beside Janeway. Tenderly, the young drone disengaged the alien device from the captain’s frontal lobe. Emotions were flooding her system that Seven couldn’t begin to identify.
She knew she had loved Kathryn before their alien encounter but her experiences with K’ryn left her confused. How could she have loved the captain so much and experienced the same feelings for K’ryn?
Of course she knew that dreams were the manifestation of subconscious desires. Perhaps that was why her mind had created the magician. Subconsciously she must have known it was the only way she could ever be with Kathryn since the captain could never engage in a romantic relationship with a member of her crew. She couldn’t help but wonder what the captain had dreamt about.
As she sat gazing in wonder at the older woman’s noble features the eyelids began to flutter. Gray on blue eyes finally opened, seeming to recognize her in an instant.
"Annika?" the husky voice inquired.
The Borg’s heart thumped painfully in her chest at the spoken name. Is it possible, she wondered? Did we share the same dream? Is it possible we remember the same events … making love?
"I was so worried, darling … when you disappeared," Janeway whispered weakly before losing consciousness.
"Lieutenant Torres … you must hurry."
The break in the drone’s voice was enough to cause B’Elanna to push the thrusters well past recommended speeds.
Voyager’s first officer sat in the holographic doctor’s office trying to glean as much from the physician as he could. It was a consummate act of skill since one typically had to pry information from the EMH piece by piece.
"Why did the alien technology have such a debilitating effect on the captain and not on Seven?" He had asked the same question three different times in three different ways and finally settled on the direct approach, the frustration evident in his tone. The doctor leveled a look at the Commander that made him feel like a particularly unintelligent child. Chakotay wondered how a being made up of photons and light was so adept at inspiring that feeling and was relieved when the physician finally answered.
"I’ve been studying the neural interface that Seven brought back with them. My initial findings suggest that it actually re-sequences the subject’s brain waves, causing the victim to live in a perpetual dream state. While a little bit of sleep is healthy this re-mapping of the brain causes damage to the cerebellum. Seven wasn’t as severely effected because her nanoprobes kicked in to compensate and overcome the device. In effect the nanoprobes assimilated the technology."
"Prognosis for their recovery?" Chakotay prompted, cutting to the heart of the matter.
"The captain is naturally weakened by her trauma, but her synapses have been fully repaired thanks to excellent medical treatment. She should be fine after a few days rest. I’ve also repaired the damage to Seven of Nine’s abdominal implant. She will be fit to return to duty after completing a regeneration cycle of at least six hours. I have already taken the liberty of ordering her to her alcove."
"Good," Chakotay said, heaving a relieved sigh. "May I speak to the captain?"
"Yes, but only for a few minutes. She needs her rest."
Chakotay walked quickly to the diminutive woman lying on the bio-bed. He understood that she needed her rest, but knew the duty-driven captain would refuse to do so until she knew the status of her ship and crew. He met her eyes from across the room and was surprised to see what looked like embarrassment flit across her expression. Then the look was gone and he was convinced he had only imagined it.
"Report," she ordered in what she hoped was her command voice.
Bending slightly to rest his elbows on the bio-bed Chakotay settled uncomfortably close to her. Seeming not to notice as Kathryn pulled slightly away he proceeded to give his briefing.
"We were able to recover the dilithium and should have full power restored by tomorrow afternoon. Neelix’s team was successful in restocking most of our food reserves and we’re back enroute to the Alpha Quadrant."
"Commander, please…" Janeway rasped thickly raising a hand to gently push against his burly chest, giving herself some room to breathe.
"Sorry, Captain," he said with a chuckle, "Didn’t mean to crowd you."
Kathryn accepted the apology, but couldn’t help notice the hurt look in her executive officer’s eyes. Surely the man didn’t still harbor feelings for her? She had known there was something between them once upon a time when they were stranded on a planet they had dubbed "New Earth", but nothing had ever come of that. Deciding she wasn’t giving him enough credit Kathryn changed the subject.
"And our … hosts? Did you learn anything about them?"
"Yes, the Tikani." He proceeded to tell her what he had learned from Seven of Nine.
"They won’t be coming after us. After they were assimilated by the Borg, they lost the ability to travel in space."
"So they bait a trap and wait for something to land in it. Like a spider," she finished in disdain.
Having nothing left to say about the aliens Chakotay posed, "The doctor says he ordered you to take a few days off. Are you actually going to listen to him?"
"If you don’t mind watching things for a few more days," Kathryn mumbled softly.
She needed those few days desperately, Kathryn realized, a few days to sort through the emotions and images of her dream. Knowing now that it was a shared dream how would she ever be able to look at Seven again? How could she look into that face and know she had taken the innocence from the young woman? The fact that what happened between them hadn’t occurred in the waking world meant nothing. Kathryn was wise enough to realize that sex was just as much mental as it was physical.
"I don’t mind," Chakotay stated. "I’m just surprised you agreed to the time off. It’s not like you."
For a moment he thought Kathryn was going to say something. The captain seemed to change her mind and looked away from him, but not before he saw something in her eyes. If he didn’t know better he would have said it was longing.
Finally she simply said, "I’m tired, Chakotay."
If her voice cracked they both chose not to notice it. Chakotay gave her what he hoped was a compassionate smile before leaving her to her own counsel.
Kathryn turned onto her side and closed her eyes. But she couldn’t shut out the site of blue eyes, oh so soft lips and the taste of a love she hadn’t even known she was missing. It was only a dream, she tried to tell herself as a tear escaped and slid down a pale cheek.
Kathryn Janeway sat lost in thought in the comfort of her own private sanctuary. Her ready room had always been a place to draw strength from, a place to gather her indomitable will and intelligence. Now it was simply a room. There was no comfort anymore, no comfort from the raging inferno of turbulent emotion. The door chime interrupted her thoughts and for a moment she actually considered ignoring it. Duty finally won out over her own personal desires and she grudgingly granted admittance.
Janeway wanted to face out into the passing star-field as Chakotay entered the room but forced herself to politely face the man.
"Here are those systems reports you asked for," he said handing her a stack of padds.
Kathryn took them mumbling a polite thanks before placing them on her desk without so much as a glance. Noticing that he was making no move to leave Janeway fixed him with an emotionless stare. That scared Chakotay more than anything. He could deal with annoyance or any other emotion but the deadpan response deeply concerned him and strengthened his suspicion that she was holding something back. He had read her mission report on the Tikani and while traumatic it didn’t explain her behavior.
The report had been clear and concise up to the point of the dream state that had been induced by the alien device. Then it became sketchy, outlining a vision of dark nights, sorcery and taking a stranger in from a storm. At first Chakotay had dismissed the lack of detail. Dreams were frequently illusive, details fading as soon as consciousness returned. But now he suspected something more had occurred. The fact that Seven’s after-action report so closely mirrored the captain’s in lack of detail convinced him he was on the right track.
"Commander," Janeway finally prompted.
Forehead wrinkling in concern Chakotay asked, "Captain, are you all right?"
She held up a slender hand forestalling the commander. "I don’t want to talk about it."
Her tone of voice told him she meant it, but he decided it was time to push the issue. Lowering his bearish frame uninvited into the chair beside her desk he experienced a brief surge of hope at the fire that flashed in her stormy gray eyes. Then it was gone as if it had never been.
"Kathryn, I’m worried about you," he began without preamble. "What is it you’re not telling me?"
She folded her slender hands together atop her desk and lowered her eyes to her joined hands. Silence reigned for a few moments and Kathryn began to hope he would just give up and go away if she refused to answer him. She started when one of Chakotay’s large hands covered her smaller ones. Tears rushed to her eyes at the touch and she refused to look up, blinking furiously to clear her eyes and willing the tears not to fall.
"Please, Kathryn. You know I’m your friend. I can see you’re in pain, let me help you," he pleaded.
A muscle in her jaw twitched as Kathryn considered his offer. She stood quietly and walked to the upper level of the ready room requesting a cup of coffee from the replicator. Wrapping both hands around the ceramic mug as though drawing warmth from it Janeway stood staring out into the stars rushing past her view port as she thought about what to tell him.
"You’re right," she finally admitted. "I do need to talk to someone and there is no one I trust more than you," she assured him, meeting his eyes openly for the first time in a week and showing him what was in her heart.
Chakotay was almost floored by the pain he saw reflected in her eyes and immediately promised that anything said would stay between them.
They sat next to each other on the plush sofa as Janeway told him everything. In a voice filled with pauses and ramblings she closed her eyes and recounted the shared experience. When it was done she sat silent and exhausted from the outpouring of her tale.
He was almost speechless at the power behind the shared vision and could only observe in an awed voice, "You’re in love with her."
Kathryn didn’t notice the stunned sound in his voice as she protested, "But whom do I love? When I look at Seven I see Annika. It’s so confusing. I know they’re the same person but at the same time they’re not." Her voice rose on a note akin to panic and Chakotay rose as Kathryn surged to her feet.
Pushing his own feelings aside Chakotay was determined to do what was right. After sacrificing everything to keep this ship and crew safe in the Delta Quadrant Kathryn deserved a little happiness. He would not allow his own selfish desires to get in the way.
"Kathryn, what you shared was very intense and very special. But I think you’re missing something."
When she remained silent with her back to him Chakotay continued trying to reach her. "Don’t you see, Kathryn? As traumatic as this has been you were given a special gift."
Incredulously she spun to face him. "A gift, Chakotay?" she asked, disbelieving. "This is torture!"
"It’s a gift," he insisted. "You were allowed to see each other without the masks you wear everyday. You wear the mask of command at all times. It prevents you from ever truly letting down your guard. It protects you from ever caring about any one person too much.
Seven wears a mask of Borg perfection. But I think her mask hides her insecurities, protects her from being hurt."
"It was a dream, Chakotay!" she insisted clenching her fist in frustration.
"But it wasn’t your dream," he pointed out. "It was a shared dream. Seven wasn’t Annika because you dreamed her that way. She was Annika because that’s who she is… behind the mask."
The fight suddenly went out of Kathryn as comprehension flooded her being. Chakotay could see the knowledge filling her eyes shading them from stormy gray to a radiant blue. She stumbled forward a step raising a hand to her forehead as he stabilized her with strong hands on her shoulders, the information impacting almost physically on the slender form.
"I love her," Kathryn whispered. "I love her … Seven."
All those endless nights of concern for the blonde Astrometrics officer. All the times she had caught herself worrying how events and people would affect her, the countless times she had assessed Seven’s physical attributes… Each incident had been rationalized, categorized and justified. The truth had been there all along and Janeway had refused to see it. It had taken a dream to bring them together.
What if Seven couldn’t return her feelings? What if all they would ever have was what had gone before?
Kathryn abruptly remembered shunning the young woman since they had been back on the ship. She had refused numerous requests by Seven for an audience because she hadn’t known how to respond. Now she might have ruined everything by her frightened refusals.
"Oh, Chakotay, what have I done?" Janeway asked sitting on the arm of the sofa before her legs gave out. "I haven’t even talked with her since we’ve been back."
"Then I suggest you do so … soon," he advised. "You can’t just ignore her. If you’ve been confused think how she must be feeling. She doesn’t have as much experience with humanity as you do."
Kathryn sat for a while longer after Chakotay left considering all the possibilities. For the first time since receiving the ‘Dear Jane’ letter from Mark, her former fiancé, Kathryn dared to hope for a future that didn’t have her spending the rest of her life alone. Reaching up Kathryn tapped her combadge.
"Captain Janeway to Seven of Nine."
The response was immediate. "Seven here, Captain,"
"Seven, I was wondering if you would like to have dinner with me later …in my quarters?" Her heart was pounding in her throat as she waited for the younger woman’s reply. The wait wasn’t long, but it felt like an eternity.
"I would…like that, Captain. What time shall I arrive?"
"1900 hours?" Kathryn suggested softly with a tremulous smile gracing her lips.
"Acknowledged," the ex-drone responded before terminating the connection.
Feeling a new spring in her step and preparing herself to eat a little crow for her recent behavior with Seven, Kathryn decided she could afford to leave early one day. After all it wasn’t like she ever gave herself any time off and she had a very special date to get ready for. She intended to show Seven that she could be every bit as gracious to her in the waking world as she had been in the dream world. Seven would see the woman behind the mask.
Seven of Nine had stood outside the doors of Captain Kathryn Janeway’s private cabin for 3.2 minutes. When the curious gaze of Voyager’s first officer rested on her as he traversed the corridor she had finally pressed the chime requesting admittance. Now she sat at the dining table attempting to enjoy the light fare of chicken and vegetables in oyster sauce that the captain had replicated.
Mood lighting and scattered candles as well as the soft jazz playing bore silent witness to the preparations a very nervous Starfleet Captain had made for what she considered the date of her life. Still her guest sat picking at her food, barely speaking a word. Kathryn realized Seven’s nervousness was only natural. She was quite tense herself and tried to concentrate on eating the small portion on her own plate. Feeling her companion’s scrutiny Kathryn glanced up to find Seven staring at her. Pale blue eyes were fixed on the top of Kathryn’s head for so long that the smaller woman began to feel self-conscious.
"What?" she asked, reaching up a slender hand to smooth any wayward strands of hair.
Janeway had always considered her hair to be her worst feature and never quite knew what to do with it.
"When I look at you I expect your hair to be short. As it was…before," Seven explained her voice faltering.
"Did you prefer it short?" Kathryn asked, grateful for any topic that would allow them to converse with something approaching normalcy.
Speaking with a catch in her voice Seven answered, "I remember how it felt. It was pleasing to me."
K’ryn’s auburn strands had curled thickly around Seven’s fingers during their lovemaking. It was a sensation Seven couldn’t seem to get out of her mind. She hadn’t meant to bring up the Tikani incident, but couldn’t regret having done so. There were so many questions and feelings that she couldn’t hope to understand on her own. Since being severed from the hive Captain Janeway had always been there to help Seven through her most difficult moments. The ex-drone instinctively turned to the captain now.
"Seven, what is it? What’s troubling you?"
"There is so much," the younger woman said with pain in her voice. "So much happened that I do not understand. I am not accustomed to these feelings."
Taking a breath Kathryn stood and grasped Seven’s left hand. Tugging gently she encouraged the young woman to stand with her.
"It doesn’t look like either of us has an appetite," she explained. "Why don’t we sit in the other room and talk. I’ll try to help you figure things out. As much as I can."
Kathryn replicated herself a whisky and soda while Seven settled on the sofa in the living area. She had no intention of getting drunk, but felt a need for something a little stronger than coffee. Mentally reminding herself that Seven needed some closure on this event Kathryn decided to keep a tight rein on baring her soul to the young woman. Finally settling next to the blonde on the cushions Kathryn invited Seven to tell her what was bothering her.
"I understand the dream-state was induced by the Tikani, but the dreams were solely the product of our imaginations," Seven began.
"Yes, that’s true." Kathryn nodded, encouraging the young woman to continue.
"I even understand the setting, the magic and our roles were a direct manifestation of our earlier discussion on the Delta Flyer. No doubt you were the knight and I was the ‘damsel in distress’."
A small grin touched Janeway’s lips but she didn’t interrupt, wanting whatever the young woman said to be uninfluenced by her participation.
"But out of all of Voyager’s crew I do not understand our choice of companions in this shared vision."
Kathryn blinked slowly, trying to follow Seven’s direction. "That’s what’s troubling you? Who we dreamt was with us?"
"I need to understand all facets of this event. I feel that who we chose to have with us is as important as our actions and interactions with each other," Seven explained.
"Okay. I think I understand," Kathryn said trying to work through everything. "Well, I imagine it was because each of whom we dreamt about is important to us in some way. The doctor has been a good friend to you and even a mentor of sorts. Tuvok has been my oldest friend and confidant."
"And Lieutenant Torres? I suspect she was not present because of me. Her dislike for me is well known."
Knowing the young woman was right didn’t make it any easier for Kathryn to answer the question, but she tried to answer in a way that she didn’t give away too much personal information. "I always wanted you two to get along better so that was probably my contribution," she finally offered.
Seven seemed to be searching for something as she stared at Kathryn’s face for a moment. "That would explain her friendliness toward me in the dream," Seven allowed. "But why is her opinion of me so important to you?"
To Seven’s surprise Captain Janeway’s cheeks flushed before she looked away. Something seemed to click into place as Seven realized the woman harbored more than friendly feelings for the Klingon hybrid. Not being one to mince words Seven asked, "Do you have romantic feelings for Lieutenant Torres?" even as she felt a strangely unpleasant sensation blossoming in her chest at the prospect.
Kathryn knew that now more than at any other time in the past she had to be completely honest with Seven. If there was to be any chance of having a relationship with this incredible woman there could be no secrets.
"No. At least not anymore," she added. "I used to have romantic feelings, but as captain I never allowed myself to act on them. Then, when B’Elanna became involved with Tom it was no longer an issue."
Seven turned away attempting to sort her thoughts and deal with Janeway’s feelings for someone else. She would not be a problem she decided. If Kathryn had feelings for Lieutenant Torres and the Klingon returned those feelings Seven would not stand in the way.
"Do you?" Kathryn asked, interrupting the drone’s musings.
Slender hands gently grasped a mesh encased one as Kathryn sought to explain. "Seven, after Tom and B’Elanna became involved my feelings for her began to fade. Don’t misunderstand, she’s still very important to me but I came to realize what I had felt for her was an infatuation. The way I felt for her paled in comparison to the feelings I began to feel for someone else."
Boldly meeting Seven’s gaze Kathryn allowed her heart to show in her eyes.
"For me?" the young woman asked breathlessly.
Kathryn gently stroked her knuckles down a soft cheek, speaking softly so as not to frighten the young woman who looked like she was ready to bolt for the door. "I’m terribly sorry for the way I’ve treated you this last week. I’m sure it felt as though I had abandoned you, but I’ve just been so confused and frightened at the intensity of my feelings. Can you forgive me, darling?"
"I too have been confused and understand your trepidation, Captain. Yes. I forgive you," was the almost immediate response.
A slow, sad smile touched Kathryn’s lips at the formal address.
"Do you regret what happened between us as K’ryn and Annika?"
A look of such wistful longing crossed the ex-Borg’s face that Kathryn felt her eyes tearing in sympathy.
"No. Those memories will always be special to me," Seven admitted, a familiar fluttering sensation in her stomach accompanied her thoughts. "But, I am having difficulty reconciling the two personalities. I do not know which one you are."
"I’m both. I’m the captain you know and the woman you met in your dream. I know it’s confusing, but in a way I’m grateful to the Tikani. Not for being abducted but for having my eyes opened to a wonderful thing that began happening to me the moment I met you on a Borg cube." Pulling the still captured hand to her chest Kathryn continued, "I love you, Seven of Nine. Do you think you could love me, too?"
"I loved Captain Janeway before we left Voyager," the younger woman began slowly. "I loved K’ryn as soon as I met her. I believe I could love you as well, Kathryn."
It took a moment for Kathryn to see the glint of humor in the pale eyes and realize she was being teased. But before she could respond Seven bent her head to gently claim her lips in a sweet kiss. That kiss melted into deeper and longer kisses and fire seemed to ignite in Seven’s belly. Kathryn tasted of whisky and soda, but she also tasted and smelled of K’ryn. The merging of the familiar and the new embraced Seven, drawing her in, causing her to lose herself in the moment. Seven eagerly pressed Kathryn back against the sofa cushions as she parted the thin lips with her tongue, thrusting the wet muscle inside to duel with Kathryn’s as each sought to devour the other.
Long moments passed as the two women strained closer together. Hands roamed strong, slender bodies, re-mapping previously charted territory until the need to breathe finally caused them to come up for air. Kathryn gently nuzzled the long slender neck, planting kisses and nipping gently at the soft skin.
As much as she didn’t want to Kathryn knew they needed to stop. She wanted Seven so badly she didn’t know if she could, but it was important to give Seven some time to come to terms with everything. When they finally did sleep together Kathryn didn’t want the chance for any regrets.
"Darling," Janeway said, still planting tiny kisses on the Borg’s neck, "I want you to be sure, before we …ah!"
She gasped as Seven’s tongue swirled around her ear just before full lips sucked her earlobe into the wet mouth. For a few moments Kathryn gave up the struggle and avidly returned the enthusiastic kisses.
Drawing back reluctantly Kathryn pried open desire weighted eyelids and gazed at Seven’s passion filled face. Valiantly she tried again.
"I’m not going anywhere, my love." Kathryn traced a finger over full lips that were slightly swollen from over indulgence. "I want you, but I don’t think it should be tonight. I want you to be sure this is what you want."
Seven leaned her forehead against Kathryn’s and drew several calming breaths before she could respond in a trembling voice. "I believe you are correct. I have much to think about," she admitted, drawing away reluctantly. "But, if I am to leave I think I should do so now. While I still can."
Kathryn smiled happily, knowing she was going to suffer from arousal through the night but acknowledging that it was the right thing to do and was confident in the belief that they would be together. She walked the young woman to the door where they shared a few more kisses that briefly threatened to get out of control before Seven finally left.
She left Kathryn’s cabin feeling like she was floating on a cloud. That cloud dissipated quickly after leaving Janeway’s presence as old doubts resurfaced. Seven still wasn’t sure she could trust her feelings for Kathryn.
Needing to work through her emotions, something she had questionable experience with, Seven took the turbolift to the mess hall. The thought of the cargo bay’s stark atmosphere made her feel slightly claustrophobic for some reason and Tom Paris’ holodeck program, Sandrine’s, was not conducive to serious thought. The mess hall would be quiet this late into night watch and would provide a porthole to look out and watch the star field. Perfect.
Seven entered the darkened room and walked unerringly over to the replicator. Requesting a mild cup of Bergamot tea she never noticed the other occupant of the quiet room.
B’Elanna Torres watched as Seven of Nine entered the dimly lit room. She could barely see the Nordic features, but could tell the young woman was troubled. She had never really given Seven credit for having feelings, referring to her on several occasions as ‘the Ice Queen’. But having witnessed her tender behavior and the look in her eyes when they had rescued the captain caused the Klingon to revise her opinion.
She realized she had been judging Seven because of her time as a Borg drone much as people had judged B’Elanna herself for her Klingon heritage. B’Elanna’s sense of honesty finally forced her to admit what Janeway had known from the beginning. Seven had been a victim of the Borg, her actions dictated and directed by the collective. None of it was her doing.
Seven turned away from the replicator and realized she was not alone. "Lieutenant Torres, I did not see you. I am sorry. I will go." She was under no illusion that the volatile chief engineer desired her company and was surprised a moment later when B’Elanna protested.
"No! Seven … please stay." For some reason she was compelled to invite the woman to join her sensing she needed someone to talk to. Considering how she had treated Seven in the past it was the least she could do.
Seven finally sat adjacent to the Klingon hybrid and both quieted as they got lost in their own thoughts. Seven remembered Lanni from the dream and how she had befriended a stranger rescued from the storm raging outside. Studying B’Elanna’s features she wondered at the sudden lack of antagonism from the other woman. Neither of them saw fit to raise the ambient lighting of the room, but even in the dark Seven could see the shadows in B’Elanna’s eyes.
"Lieutenant, are you all right? You seem…preoccupied."
"Peachy," B’Elanna shot back sarcastically without thinking.
She felt guilty when she saw Seven’s almost imperceptible flinch. Great, she thought, the woman finally makes a friendly gesture and I get smart.
"I’m sorry, Seven. I’m always doing that …pushing people away. I didn’t mean it."
Nodding her head in acknowledgement Seven waited quietly for B’Elanna to respond to her question if she felt like it.
"It’s Lieutenant Paris," she said after a while.
"He has done something?"
Shrugging her shoulders listlessly she answered, "Yes and no."
"He has ignored you, again," Seven said simply.
Blinking owlishly for a moment the engineer finally growled, "What do you know of that?"
"What everyone on board this ship knows, Lieutenant," Seven answered honestly. "It is common knowledge that Lieutenant Paris is often selfish and neglectful of your relationship. He frequently pursues his own interests without thought to your welfare. He does not deserve you."
B’Elanna blew out a breath of air at the outpouring from the Borg. "That’s what Nicoletti said."
Even though she had issues with the helmsman B’Elanna still felt the need to defend the young man. "He’s always canceling plans, never realizing how much effort I put into everything. But he should be able to do what makes him happy whether that’s tinkering with an old ship or playing Captain Proton on the holodeck."
"What about what makes you happy?" Seven inquired. "Is the other person’s happiness not paramount in a relationship?"
After a moment of thinking about Seven’s question the Klingon raised her eyes to stare into Seven’s. "I guess I’ve just finally admitted to myself that Tom and I don’t belong together. I don’t love him, I don’t think I ever did."
"Then why are you with him?"
Confusion was evident in Seven’s voice and B’Elanna finally told someone she hardly knew something she had denied to herself for three years. "Three years ago Vorik was going through his pon farr," she began.
"I recall reading about the incident," Seven interjected. "He attacked you and initiated a mating bond that was incompatible with your Klingon metabolism."
"Yes, but it was enough to cause an imbalance in my body. I started exhibiting some of the symptoms of the pon farr. Even to the extent of biting Tom on the cheek while I was…under the influence. When I bit Tom I tasted his blood. When that happens to a Klingon a bond is made with their intended mate. Even if they don’t actually join physically they are drawn to that person. The connection is strong and very compelling."
"But when you joined in physical combat with Vorik the pon farr should have been cleansed from your system," Seven reasoned.
Shaking her head B’Elanna corrected her, "Yes, but only the Vulcan symptoms were purged. I bit Tom as part of a Klingon mating ritual."
Her cortical implant rose sharply as Seven finally understood what the dark-haired woman was trying to tell her. "Meaning that you mated with Lieutenant Paris because you had no other choice. Your Klingon impulses required it of you."
Growling the Klingon admitted, "Those impulses convinced me I was in love with him. A few months after we were actually together the Klingon hormones subsided and I realized that it was a mistake. I do love Tom, but as a friend. He really is a good man and after we were together my Klingon honor forbade me to end it."
Weighing the information carefully Seven realized Klingon honor was very strict, but the mating was the result of outside alien influence. "Surely there is some leeway considering that your were hardly yourself when the joining occurred. I believe that there is more to what you are telling me, Lieutenant."
"Call me B’Elanna," the Klingon said with a smirk. "After all I am telling you all of my dirty little secrets here. And yes, you’re right. There is more to it. I’ve screwed up everything all my life. Everything I’ve ever tried to do went wrong. I got kicked out of Starfleet then I joined the Maqui and got pulled into the Delta Quadrant while all of my friends were killed in the Dominion War. I just want to do one thing right. And it’s not right for me to break up with Tom just because it’s not all I hoped it would be."
In the manner so typical of the former Borg Seven stated, "You are wrong."
B’Elanna’s head came up and she was ready to butt heads with the arrogant woman across the table from her. Well, that’s what I get for letting down my guard with her, she thought as Seven calmly continued.
"You may have been ‘kicked out’ of Starfleet, but being pulled into the Delta Quadrant was beyond your control. Being taken over by the Vulcan pon farr was beyond your control. Mating with Lieutenant Paris was beyond your control. But staying with him is not."
Seven faltered briefly, "I apologize … I am not good at this," she admitted as she searched for the words. "You are doing him a disservice by not being honest with Lieutenant Paris. Klingon honor aside do you believe he would wish to remain in a relationship with you if he knew you were not in love with him?"
"Well, when you put it that way … probably not."
"Then do something about what you can control. I am not saying you should discontinue your relationship, but your honor dictates that you must be honest."
A few moments of silence reined as the Klingon considered the ex-drone’s point. Seven was right, but she didn’t understand the implications. If Tom knew B’Elanna wasn’t in love with him, he would break up with her. It was an unattractive proposal, but one she could live with. Having resolved that particular demon B’Elanna remembered the troubled look on the blonde’s face when she had entered the room.
"So, what’s your story? Why are you so down?" she inquired.
Hesitating to answer Seven realized the captain would not appreciate being casually discussed with a member of the crew.
"It’s about the captain, isn’t it?" B’Elanna prompted. "You’re in love with her."
The Klingon’s question efficiently took care of that logistical problem Seven realized. She hadn’t broken any confidence since B’Elanna had figured out Seven’s problem on her own. Still…
"You must not tell anyone," she counseled sternly.
Waving the statement away impatiently the engineer said, "Relax, will ya? I’m not going to spread any rumors about Janeway. If that ever got back to her, she’d kill me."
"Indeed," Seven agreed.
After a few seconds of silence B’Elanna prompted, "Well? I know you’re in love with her. I’m pretty sure she loves you, too. So what’s the problem?"
Seven quickly filled her new friend in on the events on the planetoid and concluded with, "She says she loves me and I believe I love her, but I am still confused."
As though still waiting to hear what the problem was B’Elanna sat for a few more moments until she realized there was nothing more.
"That’s it? Maybe I’m lost here, but... so? She loves you, you love her. I don’t see a problem. So you had a little fun in the sheets before you knew who she was? I think you’re making a big deal out of nothing."
"I made love with K’ryn, not Kathryn," Seven said ashamedly, turning her face away. "I knew before I left Voyager that I loved Kathryn but my unconscious mind allowed me to make love with another being. Clearly my love for the captain is questionable."
B’Elanna stared at the woman in amazement before bursting into laughter. Placing a hand over her mouth she tried to stifle the giggles and finally subsided. Seven looked outraged and the engineer held up a placating hand.
"Sorry. I’m sorry," she apologized with another chuckle. "You’re worried about not being faithful, and all you did was make love to the person you love."
"They were not the same person," Seven interjected.
"That’s where you’re wrong, kiddo," B’Elanna told her seriously. "Think about it. You made love with the Kathryn that had no barriers against you. She was still Kathryn just without the pips. It was her. She must realize that or she would still be avoiding you and she certainly wouldn’t have told you she loves you."
Needing to clarify Seven asked, "So my feelings of ambivalence are…"
"All in your head," B’Elanna finished. "Let me ask you a question, Seven. How long have you loved the captain?"
Knowing the question was leading somewhere and eager for the revelation Seven answered quickly but truthfully. "I only realized a few weeks ago that the emotion I have for Kathryn is love. However I believe this feeling existed shortly after being severed from the Borg collective. It has intensified over time."
"In other words you’ve loved her since you met her," the Klingon interpreted accurately.
Dipping her head briefly Seven acknowledged the observation. "Yes."
Noticing the Borg’s now cold tea B’Elanna took a healthy draught of her ale.
It’s strange how an epiphany strikes you, the brunette thought. In front of her sat the most softhearted, compassionate, intelligent person she had ever known and it took such extraordinary events to realize it. In that moment B’Elanna realized where the basis for her treatment of the young woman had stemmed from.
I’m jealous, she thought. I’m jealous because from the beginning I could see the bond between Seven and Janeway. But it wasn’t Janeway she had wanted. B’Elanna took a shaky breath as she finally understood that she had been attracted to Seven.
Too little, too late, she acknowledged. The bond between Seven and Janeway was so intense anyone who bothered to look could see it. B’Elanna had missed her chance but she knew that the two women were made for each other.
"Want some friendly advice?" B’Elanna offered magnanimously. "Go to her. It’s what you both want, so why wait? Grab hold of happiness with both hands and never let go."
Seven waited only a heartbeat before standing and exiting the mess hall without another word.
Kathryn tossed and turned in her queen-sized bed. Overexcited nerved endings tingled with arousal as thoughts of Seven’s beautiful alabaster body danced in her head. Even with the Borg implants scattered all over her the young woman was exquisite.
Just when the redhead was considering taking matters into her own hands concerning her arousal the doors to her quarters whooshed open. There was only one person who would dare to override the entrance codes to the captain’s private quarters and Kathryn sat up eagerly. She had told Seven that they needed to wait, but had secretly hoped the young woman would change her mind.
"Seven?" she inquired, voice shaky with barely contained excitement.
The tall, curvaceous form halted in the doorway for only an instant before continuing into the room and perching on the edge of the large bed.
"Annika," Seven corrected softly, reaching out to stroke the classic features with trembling fingers. "To you I am always Annika …my Kathryn."
Lowering herself to cover the small body Seven gazed at the face only inches from her own. She inhaled the scent of the woman, the press of the body causing familiar sensations of excitement.
Janeway almost stopped breathing as she watched the pupils in the pale eyes expand until the blue was almost lost in the black.
When their lips met both knew that here in the Delta Quadrant, 35,000 light years from earth they had finally come home.