"Harry, extrapolate the most likely place Seven would end up," Janeway ordered as the Cochran shot through the atmosphere faster than protocol or common sense dictated. Although the Flyer was already on the surface she had ordered them back to Voyager. An exhausted rescue team would do no good and probably land them with a few more casualties.
Strapping in to a safety harness Kathryn quickly joined Kim at the science console when he said, "Here, I think I have it. The gully forks at this juncture."
She checked the spot he indicated and could see by the scans that the water was already slowing there. "Can you get a lock on Seven?"
Shaking his head regretfully he reported, "I'm pretty sure I can get you close to her, but transporting her out is impossible. With the atmospheric conditions it would be bad enough, but she's in the water and moving. I'm sorry, Captain."
Janeway rested a reassuring hand n the young man's shoulder. He looked like he was going to cry for letting her down, but she knew he'd done everything he could. "Then get us down to her, Harry," she said gently.
Stalking to the transporter she was joined by Tuvok, Neelix, Torres and a few other volunteers. Janeway had been surprised when Torres had informed her she was going. The dislike between the two was common knowledge, but the look of determination in the brown eyes was unmistakable and Janeway was only too happy to have her Klingon strength available.
"Any time you're ready, Ensign," Janeway said confidently.
"Boosting power to the annular confinement beam," he reported.
The doctor stepped quickly to address the captain. "I'll be ready as soon as you have her."
Janeway knew the physician felt badly that he couldn't join them on the surface, but the threat of damage to his mobile emitter was too great. He would have to standby on the shuttle and hope the need for his talents wasn't immediate. Nodding once in acknowledgement the captain ordered, "Energize."
As soon as they sparkled back into solidity Janeway was running for the rushing sound of water while blinking rain out of her eyes. The rest of the team was right on her heels with all eyes searching desperately for the missing crewmember. At first she saw nothing but then someone shouted, "There!"
Horrified Kathryn spotted a dark form floating face down in the swirling, muddy water. The floodwaters had reached the end of the gully and slowed considerably. Seven’s form floated almost serenely, arms in front and blonde hair spread over the water’s surface. She had barely registered the scene before her body was reacting. Quickly she snapped the hook on the end of a safety line to the front of her harness and tossed the coil of rope to a stunned Lieutenant Torres.
"Grab that line, B’Elanna!" she shouted, pausing only long enough to see the half-Klingon pick up the rope before she was running for the gully.
Diving smoothly from the edge Janeway submerged beneath the murky water and came up under the younger woman. Expertly flipping her over, she grasped Seven under the arms and clasped her hands together over her chest while the others began reeling them in.
The blonde head lolled back bonelessly on Kathryn’s shoulder and worriedly she shouted, "Now, pull!" Kicking her feet, she helped to propel them to the edge. Seconds felt like hours until they finally reached the side and strong hands were pulling her burden from her before assisting her from the cold water.
Then the captain was on her knees in the thick mud helping to lay the young woman gently on her back. Everyone stood quietly around them waiting with baited breath while Kathryn lay trembling fingers against a very pale neck. Although she detected a faint throb under the cold skin her eyes could detect no motion in Seven’s breast.
"She’s not breathing," Kathryn said desperately, feeling as though her own breath had stopped. She quickly unclipped her safety line before leaning over the prostrate blonde.
Tilting the blonde head back, she pinched Seven’s nose closed. She covered the full lips with her own and quickly set up the life-giving rhythm of forcing air into the starving lungs. Behind her, she absently heard Tuvok apprising Kim and the doctor of the situation, but her attention was focused on the woman lying motionless on the ground beneath her.
Moments passed agonizingly slowly as B’Elanna watched her captain perform rescue breathing on Seven of Nine. The morning’s altercation in engineering played over and over in her mind and she was mortified to realize that she had never apologized to Seven as she had intended. Damn her Klingon temper anyway, she groused silently. She was always saying things she couldn’t take back to people that she belatedly realized she cared about. As time passed with the rain drizzling into her face and the captain relentlessly forcing air into Seven, she began to worry that she would never get the chance to make that apology.
Kathryn’s head was swimming. She didn’t know how long she had been breathing into Seven’s mouth. Where was the shuttle, she fumed? Forcing down her exhaustion she focused on Seven. Inhale…exhale…
Pulling back, she sobbed in frustration as she took in a lungful of air and prepared to breathe into the young woman’s mouth again. At just that moment Seven’s face scrunched into a frown and she began to cough up dirty water. Janeway eased her onto her side and held her gently while she threw up. Rubbing her back in soothing circles Kathryn had never been so happy to see such a human reaction, knowing it was perfectly normal under the circumstances.
Finally calm Seven turned onto her back with the captain’s assistance.
"There you are," Kathryn said, eyes shining suspiciously as her voice trembled. She cupped Seven’s cheek with her palm; surprised and touched when the younger woman closed her eyes and leaned into the contact as though seeking warmth.
Not surprising, she thought. It was pouring down rain and Seven had just nearly died. No doubt her body had to be in shock. Gently easing her up into a sitting position Kathryn scooted in behind her and held Seven against her chest with her arms wrapped around her. She told herself that she was doing it only to warm the blonde, but the firm body in her arms was the most heavenly thing she could ever remember feeling.
Jealous eyes looked on from behind unobserved by anyone. No one noticed that Torres was uncharacteristically quiet as the shuttle finally landed several feet away. Tuvok and Janeway helped Seven to the vessel with Torres following quietly behind, but her mind was moving at a furious pace. From the proprietary arm that the captain kept around the other woman’s waist B’Elanna knew that if she wanted Seven she was going to have to do something about it soon. Although a part of Seven was unquestionably an adult another part of her was childlike and innocent.
She was counting on that innocent quality to obtain the young woman’s forgiveness. But with the history they shared she also realized that a sudden declaration wasn’t going to do the trick. She would have to be slow and sincere in her approach. She would have to prove to Seven that as much as she didn’t deserve the prize of Seven’s heart, her own love was true.
It had been ten days since her near drowning and events had transpired that left Seven confused and ambiguous in her feelings. B’Elanna Torres had apologized to her for her former animosity and the two had tentatively begun a friendship that the former drone had never dreamed would happen. The Klingon’s playful and adventurous nature had led to Seven being introduced to new holodeck programs and ingratiating her with the crew on the lower decks.
Seven had never felt that she was truly a part of the Voyager family before. She had never really made the effort since she felt she didn’t deserve their acceptance, let alone their kindness. From the time her individuality had begun to reassert itself she had been ashamed, horrified and embarrassed at the crimes she had committed while a member of the Borg Collective. Now she felt that the crew had tentatively begun to embrace her and while she was filled with joy at the prospect a part of her was heavyhearted.
When she’d first regained consciousness on the planet’s surface and seen Captain Janeway’s face she’d been convinced that the older woman truly cared for her. The tears shining in the more gray than blue eyes had convinced her, for an infinitesimal period of time, that she was cherished and perhaps even loved. But since that time the captain had proven that was not the case as she steadily distanced herself from Seven. Now the young blonde had no choice but to acknowledge that the captain’s reaction to her near death was nothing more than the normal concern of a commanding officer for a subordinate.
Snorting derisively while continuing to input data into her Astrometrics board, a gesture she congratulated herself for as decidedly human, Seven recognized that her hope that Janeway would ever see her as more than a Borg drone was ridiculous.
The parting of the pneumatic doors interrupted the brooding thoughts and Seven turned to see Voyager’s chief engineer walk into the room. The brunette had a definite bounce in her step and her obsidian eyes shone with a light that burned into Seven, distracting her from thoughts of Janeway.
Since B’Elanna’s overture of friendship Seven had noticed that same expression on her friend’s face on numerous occasions and come to recognize it for what it was…desire. Although she had to admit that she was not in love with the Klingon she did enjoy her company. Added to that the decided lack of interest by a conspicuously absent third party and she couldn’t think of a reason why she should deny herself the feelings of tender affection.
"You ready to go?" B’Elanna asked smirking as she walked comfortably into the other woman’s personal space. Reaching up she rested a hand casually on a silver covered shoulder. Watching in satisfaction as goose bumps broke out on the leonine neck B’Elanna’s eyes wandered up to meet an indigo gaze. Seven’s pupils were wide and her full lips were parted as her breath came a little faster.
Caught in the enchantment of the deep blue eyes B'Elanna found herself leaning closer; drawn toward the lips she longed to kiss. But when she witnessed the expression in Seven’s eyes suddenly become fearful she remembered that she had promised herself to move slowly. Seven was inexperienced in matters of the heart and B’Elanna knew she would have to woo the young woman if she hoped to win her love. Fortunately Janeway seemed to have bowed out of the competition and was no longer an issue.
Forcing down the Klingon blood that raged for her to take the young woman where she stood, she took a half step back and raised the long, slender case she held in one hand.
"I brought my pool cue. Now let’s see if you’re any good at this."
Smirking at the implied challenge, Seven informed her, "I have not attempted this endeavor before. Therefore, it is unlikely that I shall present much of a challenge."
"Then I guess I’ll just have to teach you," B’Elanna offered, linking her arm through Seven’s after the Borg had finished shutting down her console.
Seven smiled gently, warmed by the physical contact. This had been a recent development in their new closeness and she found herself unconsciously leaning into the almost incidental contact. B’Elanna kept hold of Seven, refusing to release her as they left Astrometrics and made their way through the ship toward the holodeck on deck six. She pointedly ignored the knowing grins of the other crewmen they encountered, only hoping that Seven enjoyed her touch as much as B’Elanna did.
Finally they reached their destination and the doors parted to admit them into the world of 1940s Paris in the establishment known as Chez Sandrine’s. Neither woman noticed the intense gaze that hungrily followed every move the young blonde made.
Her eyes looked up reflexively as the doors opened to admit Seven of Nine and B’Elanna Torres. For a moment Kathryn couldn’t look away and had to admit through the searing pain in her chest that they made a stunning couple.
Seven was a compilation of blue and silver, light and ethereal where B’Elanna was dark and tawny, earth and fire. Perhaps their past antagonism had been based on an unacknowledged attraction, Janeway mused and felt another piece of her heart freeze. Really, it had no other choice. It was either that or shatter completely in two. Turning her eyes reluctantly back to her companion Kathryn attempted to concentrate on him, but her attention was on the two women who began to rack up at the pool table, talking and joking companionably.
A few moments later she was rescued from Chakotay’s insistent ramblings when Paris challenged him to a dart game. Without his distracting conversation she was free to indulge her observation of the two women without being overt about it. Kathryn reasoned that if she couldn’t have whom she wanted she could at least experience that closeness vicariously. But after watching them for several minutes she abruptly decided that she had made the wrong decision. An elegant tawny hand slid up Seven’s back as B’Elanna fit herself tightly against the other woman’s back to presumably adjust her position. Kathryn suddenly decided that she couldn’t take anymore. Pushing unsteadily to her feet and spilling her drink on the table she rushed out the door.
B’Elanna witnessed the look on Janeway’s face as she pressed herself close to Seven. She hadn’t meant to cause the captain pain, but had no intention of letting her companion see that wounded expression. Knowing of the close friendship the two shared B’Elanna saw no reason for Seven to experience that hurt and deliberately placed her body between the two, helping the young woman line up her next shot and preventing her from seeing Janeway’s escape.
The incident was forgotten moments later as she focused on her friend and hopefully soon to be partner. It wasn’t long however, before Seven mastered the basics of the game and began giving B’Elanna pointers of her own. It was only the lateness of the hour that finally called a halt to their fun.
"Well, I guess we should call it a night," the engineer suggested gently, looking around at the empty bar. Only the holodeck characters remained.
Looking into warm sable eyes Seven admitted, "I do not wish for this to end."
Hoping against hope that she was saying what B’Elanna thought, the young woman took a chance. Extending her hand she said, "Neither do I."
Seven hesitated briefly. Seeing the invitation in the brown eyes she reached out and wrapped her fingers around B’Elanna’s. Strong fingers tightened and drew her slowly toward a taut muscled form. Eyes locked and she couldn’t force herself to look away as the distance between them lessened. Instinctively she knew what was coming and found she wanted it more than she could remember wanting anything.
Her eyes slid closed as their lips touched, tentatively at first. Then B’Elanna’s tongue touched her lips and something primal burst loose within her. With a ferocious growl that would have made any Klingon proud Seven pulled the other woman against her and deepened their kiss, devouring B'Elanna avidly.
Starbursts went off behind her eyes and sensations she’d never before experienced shot through her body drowning out all other thoughts. Then an image of auburn hair, blue-gray eyes and classic cheekbones intruded into her mind and the kiss became something else. Her lips gentled as she tenderly worshipped the wine-shaded mouth she saw in her mind. Even as her touch gentled her heart rate and respiration increased, blood thrumming through her veins as her heart threatened its own warp core breech.
Abruptly Seven pulled away staring wide-eyed at B’Elanna. She raised her fingers to touch wonderingly against her bruised lips. "This is wrong," she said quietly with a frown.
Shaking her head in confusion B’Elanna felt compelled to argue. "Wrong? How could it be wrong? It was wonderful!"
On top of the hurt and anger she was beginning to feel B’Elanna was also starting to feel cheated. Had Seven been toying with her all along? Had she been feigning an innocence that didn’t really exist? Was this some twisted way of getting back at B’Elanna for all of their past arguments, by getting her to care for Seven and then suddenly pushing her away?
"I get it," she finally said, beginning to back toward the doors. "This is payback," she insisted with tears shining in her eyes.
Seven could have let her leave, but something she couldn’t define wouldn’t let that happen. Somehow she knew that if she let the other woman leave with things as they were she would lose everything she had gained. She would lose the friendship that had begun to develop between them and she knew something else, too. Grasping B’Elanna by the forearm, she prevented her escape.
"Let me go!" the Klingon shouted with angry tears coursing down her cheeks.
"Wait," Seven said, the softness of her voice a direct counterpoint to the strength of her grip capturing B’Elanna’s attention.
Sniffing, the smaller woman asked, "Why are you pushing me away? I thought you cared for me."
"I do care for you," Seven admitted, "But I do not love you. Nor do you love me."
"B'Elanna stop!" Chakotay ordered ineffectively.
"Because you're her project, that's why! You're her pet drone, the helpless stray…"
"Enough, Lieutenant!" the executive officer finally shouted over her. "You're about two seconds from landing your insubordinate butt in the brig."
Quickly he stepped between the two women. "Seven, maybe you should return to Astrometrics," he suggested kindly. If it had been anyone else he would have been worried at their reaction to B'Elanna's tirade, but Seven's expression was the same as always; cool, calm and indifferent.
"Of course, Commander. I did not intend to cause a problem." Turning on three-inch heels the blonde calmly left engineering without ever having said why she was there in the first place.
As soon as Seven was gone Chakotay turned back to the fiery engineer. Carey was still holding her, but all of the fight appeared to have gone out of her. Either way, he really didn't care. "Your office. Now!"
Not pausing to consider whether or not she would disobey he stalked ahead of her. Joe carefully released the lieutenant and took a grateful breath when she didn't immediately shoot an elbow into his midsection. Instead she followed sedately behind her superior officer with her arms crossed.
As soon as the door slid closed he was on her. "What the hell was that about? You are supposed to be an officer on this ship, but right now I'm wondering if you even deserve to be a junior crewman. Not only was your conduct with a fellow crewmate out of line, but also you were disrespectful to your captain. Did I miss something? What has Janeway ever done to you…other than take a chance with a gifted but angry young woman?"
When B'Elanna continued standing quietly with her head bowed he felt compelled to prompt her a little. "Well, Lieutenant? Answer the question. What has she done to you?"
"Nothing," the young woman finally answered softly, "sir."
The delay notwithstanding Chakotay didn't think she was trying to be disrespectful. With her standing quietly, he felt his own temper beginning to settle. "You better get your act together, Torres, because Seven of Nine isn't going to go away and this crew needs you."
Finally B'Elanna raised her head and he was shocked at the remorse in her soulful brown eyes. "I'm sorry, Chakotay. It wasn't Seven I was angry with."
As much as he knew that admission cost her, he couldn't help but ask, "Then why?"
Taking a deep breath she said, "It's Paris. I broke up with him last week and he's really been giving me a rough time. Seven was just a convenient target."
Rough time was an understatement. He kept showing up in her quarters unannounced and uninvited and trying to persuade her to take him back. But the old promise that this time he wouldn't ignore her in favor of alien women, holo-programs or old ships wasn't going to work. Thank God she had never married him!
"Do you need me to intervene?" Chakotay offered compassionately.
"No, I'll take care of it myself," she assured him.
An uncomfortable pause ensued and after a moment Chakotay felt compelled to say, "You know you owe her an apology, don't you?"
"I mean it, Torres."
"I know, Chakotay." Then more sincerely, "I will, I promise."
"Good," he said letting the matter go and handing her a padd.
"The captain's decided to send a mining team down to the surface of an M-class planet. Scans show it to be rich in dilithium."
"Great," she said enthusiastically feeling like she could use a break from Voyager. "When do we leave?"
"Not you," he informed her calmly.
"What?" B'Elanna asked, feeling herself starting to get angry all over again.
"The captain wants you here. It seems she doesn't want to risk her chief engineer."
Growling a little she asked, "Then why are you handing me the padd?"
"So you can decide who you want to send down with Carey and Seven…Chief," he said unable to resist teasing her a little.
"B'Elanna," he said in a warning tone.
Catching the hint she took a calming breath. "Fine!" was all she said, but he could tell that it wasn't.
B'Elanna watched him leave and knew her friend was patting himself on the back for diffusing the volatile half-Klingon before she could rip Seven's lungs out, but it wasn't Chakotay that had calmed the savage beast in her. It had been the look on Seven's face. It had been the brief flash of utter hurt in the pale blue eyes before it was masked with cold arrogance that had shut B'Elanna's mouth with a snap.
In that one brief moment what Captain Janeway had been trying to tell everyone from the moment the young woman had been severed from the Collective finally hit home. That they should be rejoicing that an individual had been rescued from the Borg and more importantly that Seven had been a victim of the collective.
In that instant, B'Elanna knew that she had been wrong. It wasn't an easy thing for the stubborn woman to admit, but once she realized the truth her honor demanded that she make restitution. She would apologize to the other woman as soon as she could and hope Seven would hear her out. But right now she had work to do. Squaring her shoulders, she gripped the padd and left the office.
The entire away team had been outfitted in black padded sweaters, heavy trousers and combat boots. Well-fitted raincoats with hoods and gloves completed the ensemble and it was more than one crewman who started at the change in Seven of Nine's attire. The gold hair was a sharp contrast to the dark clothing and more than a little aesthetically pleasing.
Sighing heavily, the young woman took a quiet moment to enjoy the fit of the unfamiliar clothing and hoped she wouldn't be expected to wear the bio-suits anymore once she returned to Voyager. She especially enjoyed the footwear for the feeling of stability it generated and wondered why the doctor had designed the high heels she wore with her customary outfits. Perhaps it was an error in judgment that had been mistakenly programmed into his matrix.
Realizing that everyone had finally arrived Seven turned around and found herself face to face with Captain Janeway. The captain was standing in the shuttle bay's control booth. Their eyes met through the transparent aluminum and for a moment something flashed between them. It was like an electrical charge straight to her abdomen. It was over quickly and left her wondering if she had imagined it. Then it was time to go and she was left with no choice but to focus on the mission. Two teams were sent down in two separate shuttles since there was no way everyone could fit in one. Paris would pilot the mining team on the Delta Flyer while Ensign Baytart flew Neelix's team down on the Cochran to restock their food supplies.
Stepping onto the surface was absolute misery. Rain fell steadily and the wind howled as it blew out of the north. Slipping and sliding as she tried walking in the muck, Seven's lips twisted in a sneer of disgust.
"This is unacceptable," she groused, causing Carey to chuckle at her disgruntled tone.
"I agree, "he shouted over the wind, "But let's get on with it so we can get back to Voyager."
In full agreement the team set out. The largest mineral deposit was only about two hundred yards from the shuttle and it didn't take long to reach the location. Unfortunately where they needed to drill was at the bottom of a large gully. Seven quickly assessed the situation, casting a glance overhead at the heavy rain clouds then back at the layout of the gully. The gully was easily ten feet deep and ran as far in the distance as her Borg enhanced eye could see.
"This is dangerous. If this region were to flood suddenly, no doubt we would be seriously injured."
Hawkins was tying a rope around a tree trunk. They would use the line to lower the equipment and then themselves to the bottom.
"True," he said calmly, "but look at it this way, this planet gets rain almost continually. If this area was prone to flooding it would have done so already."
With that profound observation Hawkins lowered himself over the rim with a mining bore strapped to his back. Sliding a little in the muck, he reached the bottom without incident.
Seven thought it far more likely that this region did flood on a regular basis. How else would such a channel have been cut so perfectly into the earth? Casting one last worried look around she followed the other team members.
"Isn't this exhilarating?" Neelix asked enthusiastically.
His hood was pushed back off his head and his spotted face tipped up to the sky. His orange hair was alternately sticking up wildly in spots and slicked to his skull in others as he practically danced in the deluge. "I'm going to recommend this planet for shore leave," he informed Samantha Wildman before he hurried off to direct the gathering of food supplies. "Here, everyone, gather up all of this fruit. These lovely chartreuse ones are called cofelberries. They're very tart so don't eat any of them raw, but they'll make wonderful preserves. Oh, look at all of the leola roots!"
Sam shook her head smiling at the gregarious Talaxian. There was no doubt that her team had lucked out. With all of the edibles abounding they would be finished in no time.
Four hours later Neelix's team had returned to Voyager. The Cochran's hold was completely filled and the delta quadrant native was already planning a party in preparation of celebrating that fact. After landing in the shuttle bay he'd happily resumed his duties as ship's cook and morale officer. No doubt the captain hadn't had a decent cup of coffee while he'd been gone so after a quick shower he grabbed a fresh pot and headed for the bridge.
"What are you saying, Lieutenant?" Janeway was asking just as he exited the turbolift.
He could tell immediately that she was worried. A frown had taken up residence between her blue-gray eyes and she was pacing the command center. Through the static in the open com channel he could hear Carey's strained voice.
"We've got half a cargo hold of dilithium, Captain, but the rain and wind have increased. We're having trouble just keeping our feet."
"Damn," Janeway whispered dragging a frustrated hand through thick auburn locks. They really needed all of the mineral they could get, but it wasn't worth putting her crew at risk. She'd just have to hope they came up on another supply soon.
"Here, Captain," Neelix said quietly while handing her a fresh cup of coffee. "This will help."
"Bless you, Neelix," Kathryn said absently. Then she raised her voice to address her engineer. "It'll have to be enough, Joe. I want you to gather everyone up and head back to Voyager."
"Understood, Captain," he returned promptly.
Janeway grinned at the note of relief in the man's voice, but couldn't really blame him. Turning around she took a sip of coffee before asking Neelix if he had enjoyed himself planet side. The question was meant teasingly and she raised an eyebrow in amazement as she listened to him reminisce enthusiastically about being reminded of summer showers on Talax. A few moments later an emergency hail from Tom Paris rudely interrupted him.
"Paris to Voyager. Captain, we need help!"
Whirling around Janeway faced the image of Paris in the pilot's seat of the Flyer on the view screen. In the background she could see a few members of the mining team liberally covered in mud and assumed the others were storing the dilithium in the cargo hold.
"What is it, Tom?" Chakotay asked quickly seeing the worry in the man's blue eyes.
"This whole region just flooded," he answered looking at his controls. By the bunching of the muscles in his neck and shoulders Janeway could tell he was fighting the shuttle's controls.
"Controls are sluggish and I can't get lift off." Just then the craft lurched violently and everything settled. A moment later Paris let out a relieved breath. "I think we just hit solid ground, or at least more solid. I think we can take off, now."
"What about the mining team?" Janeway asked, worriedly noting the absence of a blonde head.
"I'm sorry, Captain," Paris offered. "They weren't all able to make it back when the flooding started."
Afraid to ask, she fairly whispered, "Seven…Carey?"
Another beep sounded and Janeway was able to hear the static of a familiar com channel open. "Carey to Voyager."
Relieved, she answered quickly. "Joe are you all right? Is Seven with you?"
There was a brief pause and Kathryn felt her stomach hit her shoes as she anticipated his report. "I'm sorry, Captain, I wasn't able to help her. She was caught in the flash flood and was carried down the gully. We need a rescue team."
Janeway was already calling for an emergency transport when she ordered, "Have a team meet me in the shuttle bay. Emergency transports authorized," then she was gone in a sparkle of light.
Unhappily, Seven raised a hand to push limp wet hair back from her face. As she did her eyes fixed on something in the distance and went wide with shock and an interesting new emotion…unmitigated terror.
"Lieutenant!" she said much more loudly than was necessary considering that he was standing right next to her.
Seeing what had the normally unflappable woman spooked he shouted, "Let's get out of here!" He paused only to grasp Hawkins by the arm and propel him along faster to the rope.
Two of the mining team were already on board the Delta Flyer having taken over the last load of ore and he only had the three of them to get out. As for the equipment lying at the bottom of the wash it never even crossed his mind.
Hawkins grabbed the rope and began slip-sliding up the incline. Carey's hands boosted him quickly over the edge before he turned to assist Seven. Joe urged her up next and with one hand on the rope the sound of rushing water became deafening. She didn't hesitate for a moment.
"Go, Lieutenant," she ordered and grabbed him by the seat of his pants. With Borg-enhanced strength coupled with adrenaline she easily tossed him up over the top. Then she barely had time to take a breath before a wall of rushing water hit her.
The torrent washed over Seven and slammed her forcefully along the gully. Instinctively she closed her eyes and clawed toward what she thought was the surface. A moment or two later, however, she was disconcerted when her questing hands dug in to cold, slimy muck. Lungs burning she drew her knees in and placed her feet on the bottom. With every bit of her remaining strength Seven pushed with her feet toward the surface.
Her head broke the top of the water and she quickly gasped for air, managing only a breath or two before the swirling rapids overwhelmed her again. Being closer to the surface this time she was able to reemerge more quickly and began trying to go with the current. Something she had heard Captain Janeway tell Naomi Wildman while trying to teach the child to swim on another M-class planet came to mind and she clung to the advise tenaciously.
If you get caught in the current don't try to fight it. You'll only tire more quickly. Try to swim diagonally to the closest shore while moving with the water.
Forcing herself to try and take measured breaths Seven attempted to follow the advice. The water wasn't moving as fast as it had been initially and she was beginning to think her efforts would be successful. Just when she thought she might reach the bank a large tree branch struck her in the side with all the strength of a fired projectile. The breath left her in a rush and blackness clouded the edges of her vision. Floating on the edges of unconsciousness Seven's body instinctively fought for air and the young woman took in a lung full of water.
S. Y. Thompson
Sometimes you don't ask why, you simply do what you think would be expected of you. Kathryn had been acting on exactly that premise for so long that she'd forgotten what it felt like to do otherwise. She'd forgotten what it felt like to act as a human being, as a woman.
Then Seven of Nine, former Tertiary Adjunct to Unimatrix Zero One came into the picture. From the moment the young woman was severed from the Borg collective everything had been different. The woman in Janeway did sit up and take notice, but she knew she could never act on that interest.
From the beginning Seven seemed to take perverse pleasure in butting heads with the older woman who was supposed to be her superior officer. For a while Janeway had been convinced they would be forever engaged in the dance of antagonism. Then something had changed. Voyager's captain didn't know how or why, but the Borg had reluctantly given in to the Federation. It wasn't an obvious surrender, but more of an unspoken compromise. From it had sprung a bond of mutual trust and respect that Janeway shared with no one else, not even Chakotay whom she considered to be a good friend and comrade in arms. With Seven she could always count on an honest opinion, even if it was something she didn't want to hear.
The younger woman challenged Kathryn’s intellect, demanded her best while at the same time offering her a sounding board as an equal. Although she would never admit that she regarded the former drone as more than a crewmember. Oddly, that emotional outlet focused the older woman and brought out the best in her. It was something that had saved the ship and crew on more times than Janeway wanted to admit. She had continued to act professionally, never giving Seven the credit she was due and always putting her crew ahead of the younger woman's happiness, even when it pained her sorely to do so.
All of that had changed in an instant. The moment Kathryn had learned of the accident, the woman in her had pushed to the forefront of her psyche demanding that the captain in her do something…anything to rescue the woman that secretly meant everything.
What she didn't realize was that there was someone else who felt exactly the same way.
(Before) Star Date 49068.5
Janeway sat in the chair in her ready room looking over a padd with a grim expression. "Come in," she invited glancing up quickly to identify the visitor before continuing her work. Chakotay stopped in front of her desk with an equally somber expression.
"I hope you have good news, Commander. According to this inventory our food reserves look to be down to thirty percent of capacity."
"Good news and bad," he reported. "We have located an M-class planet and initial scans show it high in amino acids and protein readings."
"That should indicate a healthy planet. What's wrong with it?" she asked, dragging her eyes away from the grim supply report to look up at him.
"It's a full day out of our way."
Shaking her head she observed, "I don't think we have much choice. This is the first chance we've had to replenish our supplies in weeks."
"We can tell that dilithium readings are high on the planet, but long range sensors are having difficulty determining what kind of plant life is on the surface," he continued.
Taking that as an invitation, Chakotay sat in the chair in front of her desk and reached to turn the computer console so he could bring up the data. "It's one strange planet, Captain," he said indicating the display while Janeway rested her chin in a hand, concentrating on the read out. "It's surrounded in vapors that cover it like a curtain. EM disturbances all over its atmosphere."
"Some of these readings indicate a planet early in its evolution, almost like a primeval Earth," Janeway said considering the information.
Chakotay nodded in agreement. "Some of the people in stellar cartography have already nicknamed it 'Planet Hell'."
"So it might be a wild goose chase, hmmm?" she asked with an amused grin.
Facing her seriously, her second in command said, "Captain, I don't know what we'll find when we get to the surface, flora or fauna, friend or foe." As he crossed his arms on the desktop and met her gaze intently he continued. "One thing is sure, this planet is covered in storms, wind and rain."
Returning his look the captain tried to reassure him with a wave of her hand, "If I knew we'd find another M class planet soon I'd…" She let the statement die knowing that there was no other choice. "Our ancestors braved the elements for thousands of years before the advent of technology. Surely we can survive a little rain. Set a course for 'Planet Hell', Commander."
He nodded with the only thing left to decide being the away team. "Normal rotation has Torres, Seven of Nine and Wildman up for duty," he reported.
Staring pensively at nothing in particular before meeting his eyes Janeway observed, "True, but the circumstances are hardly normal. I'd rather not have my best engineer on the planet for a simple mining expedition. Send Carey."
Nodding Chakotay picked up a padd to make a few notations. "Right, Carey, Seven and a mining team to recover the dilithium. What do you think of Neelix and Sam Wildman leading another team to locate food supplies?"
"Neelix is our resident expert on edible plant life in this quadrant," Janeway approved with a shrug. "But if the atmosphere is as turbulent as you say they'll have to take a shuttle down to the surface. Transporters will be useless from this distance and I'll want our best pilots at the helm. Have Mr. Paris and Ensign Baytart join them. Anything else you think the away teams might need down there?" she invited as the commander stood in preparation of a dismissal.
"How about life preservers?"
The captain chuckled appreciatively at the small jest, but her levity was short-lived. Their situation was serious and odds of success on this planet were minimal. At the moment there was little to smile about.
"Dammit, Seven!" B'Elanna Torres, chief engineer of the Intrepid class starship, muttered angrily as she stared at the modifications to her engineering console. "And the almighty efficient collective," she groused under her breath.
"Something wrong, Lieutenant?" asked an amused voice from behind her.
Whirling around she was faced with a grinning first officer. She was tempted to take her ire out on her tattooed friend, but the use of her rank by way of greeting let her know that her bad mood would not be well received today. With that in mind she switched to the next best thing. "Yes, something's wrong. That damned drone has been tinkering with the ship's warp core without my authorization."
Not seeing how that behavior was any different from Seven's past behavior, he calmly asked, "Did her modifications cause any damage?"
Growling, B'Elanna clinched her fists and began pacing with short, jerky strides, "Dammit, Chakotay, that's not the issue and you know it!"
Raising a hand, he relented. "Of course you're right, B'Elanna. She should have asked you first, but answer my question. Did her changes cause any damage?"
It was obvious what the answer would be as the engineer's lips twisted into a snarl. "No, actually fluctuations have stabilized and power output has increased 3.2501 percent. But if she touches my board again without my permission, Chakotay, I am not going to be responsible for my actions."
The normally sedate man could feel his own temper rising at the imperious tone in the young woman's voice. "You are a senior officer and will conduct yourself…"
His reprimand was summarily interrupted when brown eyes widened and she rasped "You!"
Chakotay turned as Seven came into main engineering, but from there things became a blur. A gold-shouldered blur as Torres rushed by him so fast he had no time to react. Fortunately, Joe Carey was a little faster. Perhaps he was more accustomed to her volatile temper because he worked with her on a daily basis, but whatever the reason he was able to restrain Torres by grasping her from behind by the upper arms…barely.
"Get out of my engine room, you damned automaton!" B'Elanna railed. "You think you can just do anything you want on this ship and the captain lets you get away with it. And you want to know why?"
"What?" B’Elanna asked outraged and jerked her arm away angrily. "How can you say that? After all the time we’ve spent together?"
Gently Seven pressed the point. "I can say it because I have spent time with you. I know that you are my friend, but I believe you see my affections as a prize to be won."
"That’s absurd!" B’Elanna said as she swiped at the tear tracks on her face.
Rushing to continue before the upset woman could storm out, Seven assured her, "I am not offended. Rather, I am extremely honored that you would deem me worthy of being such a trophy. But I believe your affections stem from the recognition of how alike we are. We are both from similar origins, hybrids that have from necessity fought for the acceptance we have obtained. Over our time on Voyager we have come to appreciate each other as strong, intelligent individuals."
Staring quietly into Seven’s eyes B’Elanna felt the truth of her words, but that wasn’t all their was to it.
"There’s more than that," she disagreed. "When I first met you, your arrogance and superiority angered me. Later, as you embraced your humanity, I was threatened by your intelligence and beauty. But when I let go of the anger I realized how wonderful you are. How all this time there was a jewel shining right before me and I almost missed it."
Her voice trailed away, but Seven waited sensing she wasn’t finished. "I accept that you don’t love me," B'Elanna finally said in a pained voice, "but will you answer one question?"
"Is there someone else?"
Immediately the image of Kathryn’s face flashed through Seven’s mind and she felt her face flush as she looked away.
"There is," B’Elanna whispered seeing the reaction her question caused. Then she remembered the captain’s hurried exit and her own thoughts concerning the woman’s friendship with the former drone. "It’s Janeway, isn’t it?"
To her surprise Seven’s expression became sad and she turned away. "My feelings for the captain are irrelevant. She does not return them," the young woman said harshly over her shoulder.
The sheer anguish in the young woman’s voice reached out to squeeze B’Elanna’s heart and she knew what had been right in front of her the whole time. Seven and Janeway loved each other completely and neither of them knew how the other felt. In the face of that she realized that as much as she cared for Seven her feelings paled in comparison to what they shared. And finally she realized that she couldn’t allow Seven to think that Janeway didn’t return her feelings. Her honor wouldn’t allow that.
Reaching up to rest her hands on stiff shoulders, she said, "Now it’s you who is wrong."
The form went still under her hands before slowly turning to face her. "Explain," Seven demanded and B’Elanna did her best not to flinch at the hope in the other woman’s face. Reassuring herself that she was doing the right thing the engineer took a deep breath.
"You didn’t see the way Janeway rushed out of here earlier when we were playing pool."
"She is the captain," Seven reasoned. "She has many other duties that require her attention."
"In a quiet sector of space, well after her duty shift? Not to mention that I don’t see any red alerts," B'Elanna finished wryly crossing her arms over her chest.
Daring to hope that her friend was right Seven still felt compelled to point out, "But the captain has been avoiding me since we returned from the planet."
Committed now to her course of action B’Elanna told her how she felt Janeway’s withdrawal was based on the change in their own relationship. She thought the captain assumed they had established a romantic partnership and was in pain as a result. When she concluded with a description of the hurt look on the woman’s face as she rushed from the holodeck Seven was almost beside herself.
"I must go to her," she insisted and had actually started for the exit when B’Elanna restrained her.
"Not so fast, Romeo."
"I do not understand."
"No, you don’t. Look, Janeway isn’t going to just give in because you declare your undying love for her. She’s too Starfleet for that and thinks protocol prohibits her from engaging in a personal relationship," the Klingon pointed out, appealing to the Borg’s sense of reason.
"But you have just said that you believes she loves me. Why would she deny us?"
"Just trust me, would you? She’s just now coming to terms with the fact that she’s not just a captain, but also a woman in love. You’re going to have to approach this slowly if you’re serious about being with her."
"Of course I am serious," as though amazed B’Elanna would think otherwise. Sighing in exasperation, Seven finally asked, "What do you suggest?"
Their discussion went on for another hour before they finally parted ways. As Seven walked slowly back to the cargo bay and the Klingon took the turbolift to crew quarters on deck nine B’Elanna had to admit it was not the end to the evening that she had hoped for.
Meanwhile, Seven of Nine was busy setting her regeneration cycle and wondering how she was going to get the captain to see that they were meant for one another. With thoughts of the feisty auburn-haired woman dancing in her head Seven slipped into her simulated slumber.
Kathryn sat alone in the dark and quiet of her quarters. Stars streaked by in a myriad of colors as Voyager passed by relentlessly on her way. Somehow she felt it was appropriate that she was sitting in the dark staring into the coldness of space. It mirrored the frigid temperatures in her heart. For so long she hadn’t remembered hat she had a heart in any but the most clinical of ways. She’d buried any personal feelings as she threw every waking thought and action into getting her crew home. And now, when she had finally woken up to the fact that she had a heart beating in her chest and that her heart was beating for an ex-drone, it was too late. Someone had gotten there before her.
She tried to tell herself it didn’t matter. As the captain it would be bad form to fraternize with a member of her crew. But oh, how she’d hoped…
Sighing Kathryn knew it was time for bed. She wouldn’t be any good to anyone if she didn’t at least try to get some sleep. Standing she reached up reflexively to wipe the tear tracks from her cheeks before walking slowly into her bedroom. Changing by the light of the stars Kathryn slipped into a peach satin nightgown before pulling back the covers. Absently she wondered if Seven would have liked the color before squelching the thought.
When she’d finally settled onto the sheets her thoughts and body were too keyed up for sleep. Seven’s face filled her thoughts, minute details that she felt only she would notice; the small mole at the base of her throat or the slight lift to her lips that hinted at a smile waiting to be born. Surprised, she discovered that she was becoming aroused and couldn’t resist raising a hand to tease her nipple through the sheer satin. A sigh of pleasure escaped her as she imagined the touch to be the long fingers of her Astrometrics officer.
"Seven," Kathryn breathed passionately, closing her eyes tightly to facilitate the fantasy.
Strong fingers pinched and pulled the nipple causing sharp arcs of pleasure to shoot directly between her legs and cause the moisture of desire to flow. Slowly her other hand caressed her stomach. Slipping a hand beneath the hem Kathryn caressed the flesh directly.
Full lips touched her own as she allowed the fantasy to escalate and she almost came from the imagined kiss she craved. Breathing deeply to contain her release Kathryn slipped her right hand lower, brushing the crisp auburn curls that were slick with desire. Two fingers spread her folds allowing the middle finger to lightly brush over the swollen ridge of need. Gasping at the sharp sensation of pleasure, her hips jerked up off the mattress.
"Oh, Seven," she groaned, head thrashing side to side as she gently swirled over the slick flesh. "Oh, yes, softly. Just like that," she encouraged her imaginary lover. She knew in spite of Seven’s great strength that she would be a tender lover.
Tingles of pleasure were beginning in the top of her clitoris and running down the backs of her legs, letting her know how close she was. And as much as she wanted this to last it was the thought of Seven’s lips pulling on her taut nipples that sent Kathryn hurtling over the edge.
Eyes squeezed shut and head thrown back in ecstasy, a long low groan left her throat as the orgasm seemed to go on forever. Finally she was spent and took several deep breaths to calm the pounding of her heart. Then the reality of how alone she truly was came crashing down on her. Turning on her side she pulled the pillow to her face and burst into heart-rending sobs. Eventually the sobs receded, but tears continued to trail down her cheeks long after she’d surrendered to exhaustion.
Time passed slowly for the former drone after her discussion with the chief engineer. B’Elanna had cautioned patience, but so far that tactic seemed ineffective. She had warned that Seven must let the captain come to terms with her emotions and allow her to make the first move. But Janeway had continued to avoid the young woman at every opportunity. She never visited Astrometrics or cargo bay two anymore and even in staff meetings avoided meeting Seven’s eyes. Even B’Elanna was beginning to lose hope. Then something happened that took the decision to avoid Seven out of the captain’s hands.
The morning's staff meeting got off to an uneventful start with routine departmental reports. An upcoming diplomatic mission was the only thing of interest and the captain was informing them that the Neechian Counsel were very particular about meeting with Voyager’s leader to discuss trade.
The Neechians were a race made up solely of females with the capability of spontaneous procreation that began during their twenty-fifth cycle. Tom had compared them to the Amazons of ancient Earth and from what Kathryn had seen he wasn’t far off the mark. Their leader, Mieri, had been the only one they’d seen so far on the view screen, but she was extremely beautiful; radiating both authority and controlled strength.
Even on the viewer Janeway could tell that she was very tall and her raven hair had fallen down below her shoulders. Scantily clad, they seemed to have no self-consciousness about showing their bodies, but then why should they if they were all women? They had never seen a man and had no interest in starting now. With that in mind the captain became seriously limited in senior officers that could accompany her. Protocol dictated that she have at least one senior officer and a security contingent with her on an away mission.
"With that in mind I’ve decided that Lieutenant Torres shall accompany me on this mission," Janeway was saying. "Tuvok, please prepare an all female contingent of security…"
A loud hacking cough suddenly filled the room, interrupting the captain’s words. B’Elanna leaned forward with a hand over her mouth coughing like there was no tomorrow. Then abruptly she leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes while taking long, panting gasps of air.
"I’m sorry, Captain," the young woman said, squinting her eyes and scrunching her forehead as though in considerable pain. Secretly, B’Elanna was already congratulating herself on her impromptu performance.
"Are you all right, Lieutenant?"
Waving a hand, the Klingon assured her, "Oh, yes, Captain. Please continue."
Janeway stared at B’Elanna for a moment and when the coughing didn’t start up again she turned to Tuvok. "As I was saying, Commander…"
"Ah-choo! Ah-choo!" Sniffle, "Sorry, Captain."
This time the holodoctor got involved. "Really, Lieutenant. If you’re ill you should have come to sick bay," he informed her in a wounded tone.
"I’m all right," she growled at him. "I’ve just been working a little too hard. I’m sure I’ll be fine with a little rest." Casting a watery glance at the captain B’Elanna amended her comment. "After this mission, of course."
Tossing her padd on the table in exasperation Janeway pinched the bridge of her nose before looking up at the young woman. "Forget it, B’Elanna. You’re no good to anyone in that condition."
"I guess you’ll just have to settle for Seven of Nine," Chakotay supplied helpfully and wondered why the captain shot him a nasty look.
Kathryn had been about to say that she would take Samantha Wildman with her. Technically Sam wasn’t a senior officer, but then neither was Seven. Unfortunately with the executive officer having beaten her to the punch Janeway really couldn’t be seen to back down. She didn’t have one good reason, other than personal, why the Borg shouldn’t accompany her.
"Very well," she relented uneasily.
The rest of the briefing went rather quickly and if B’Elanna’s symptom seemed to have relented slightly no one seemed to notice. Finally the meeting broke up and the engineer was the first one out the door with the doctor calling, "I’ll see you in sickbay, Lieutenant."
Janeway was left sitting by herself in the briefing room wondering how things had gotten away from her. In just a few hours she would be in a cramped shuttle with Seven of Nine and two others for the next seven days. She had been looking forward to getting away from the ship and the young woman in order to get her priorities straight. Now it would appear she would be forced to deal with the situation head on.
The only thing that made the idea bearable was that she wasn’t so sure anymore that Seven and B’Elanna were a couple. They still seemed very close, but since that night in Sandrine’s she hadn’t witnessed any physical contact. Of course that didn’t mean anything since Seven was sure to be more restrained than Tom Paris, but she just wasn’t sure.
Kathryn looked up to meet the concerned gaze of her first officer. "Yes?"
"Are you all right? You’ve just been sitting there for the last twenty minutes."
Surprised that she had been sitting so long Kathryn stood up and said, "Fine, Chakotay. Just thinking." Then she walked past him on her way to the ready room. "You have the bridge," she informed him without looking back.
Shaking his head in confusion the burly man simply followed her orders knowing she would talk about whatever was bothering her when she was good and ready. No amount of pushing by him would alter the outcome.
A few hours later Janeway sat rigidly in the pilot’s seat of the Delta Flyer with Seven at her side. Ensigns Rachael Jennings and Mary Hallowell sat in the rear double checking their equipment and working out their ‘game plan’ as Jennings called it. So far Janeway and Seven had spoken only those words necessary to carry out their duties and things were decidedly tense.
Kathryn silently chastised herself for her behavior. Honestly, she had to start acting more professional. It wasn’t Seven’s fault that she didn’t return Kathryn’s feelings. It just hurt so much to look into her blue eyes and know that she was thinking of someone else, that in the heat of passion it was someone else’s name she called out.
Don’t go there, Kathryn, she warned herself.
Clenching her jaw she fought against the raw emotion that surged through her at her thoughts. She couldn’t possibly know anything about Seven’s personal life. She couldn’t know if the young woman had ever engaged in physical intimacy with B’Elanna. But looking at her out of the corner of her eye she knew that if B’Elanna were involved with the younger woman it would have to be a physical relationship. How could anyone ever restrain from touching that body if given the opportunity?
Seven of Nine lay on her side in the huge bed trying not to cry. She had begun to worry after the captain left her earlier. They were on a strange planet among aliens and the captain had gone off on her own without a security contingent. Feeling guilty that she had caused the older woman to act in such an imprudent manner Seven had gone after her. She knew that the captain had needed time away from her because she was angry, but it was too dangerous to be alone.
Her Borg enhanced visual acuity had allowed her to easily make out the captain's form down one of the darkened corridors. She had quickly and quietly approached only to realize that Janeway was in the arms of the alien woman and that the two were engaged in a passionate kiss. For a moment she was frozen to the spot unable to move, but the groan of desire from Captain Janeway loosened her feet from the floor and she turned hurriedly away.
B'Elanna Torres was wrong, Seven thought in anguish as she curled into a ball on the mattress. The captain does not desire me. She will never desire me.
The door to the room opened and Seven bolted into a sitting position. Turning she watched in disbelief as the captain entered the chamber and closed the door. Seven had not expected the smaller woman to return until the morning and somehow that had left her hurt, angry and spoiling for a fight.
Kathryn was dazed from the events of the last little while and by the realization that if she couldn't have Seven then she wasn't willing to settle for anyone else. Subconsciously she knew that she'd always assumed that they would be together, taken it for granted as a preordained fate of sorts. That it wasn't meant to be did nothing for her mood. It was the distraction of her thoughts that allowed Seven of Nine to get the drop on her. But the very idea of the young woman being able to surprise her got her Irish temper up immediately.
"I did not expect you to return, Captain," Seven stated in an unintentionally harsh tone as she stood up. "No doubt Counsel Leader Mieri was disappointed that you did not join her in her private chambers."
Janeway's eyes widened in shock as she simultaneously blushed in embarrassment and ground her teeth together in anger. "Just who are you to assume I would have been with Mieri or anyone else? I told you I was going for a walk."
"I saw you with her," Seven told her indignantly. "You were kissing her."
"So now you're following me? Who the hell do you think you are?"
"I think that I am a member of your crew and therefore responsible for your safety," the ex-drone responded logically.
Seven's statement of responsibility seemed to imply that Janeway wasn't behaving in a similar manner, which did nothing but make her angry enough to throw caution to the wind.
"I can look after myself just fine, thank you. And you know it's an amazing thing to me that you are never a part of 'Voyager's crew' unless it suits your purposes."
Kathryn was growing angrier by the second and couldn't prevent herself from saying, "That must be Lieutenant Torres' influence, hmmm? At least you get something useful out of your new relationship."
For a moment everything seemed to freeze. Kathryn was horrified to have made such an uncharitable comment about one of her officers. Even more so that the statement stemmed from jealousy. Seven's eyebrows came together as she frowned in confusion.
"You are correct that my friendship with B'Elanna has enlightened me to new possibilities. However, I fail to understand why you would mention her now."
"I'm sorry," Kathryn said, turning away. Raking her fingers through her hair as she let out her breath the redhead tried to make amends. "That was uncalled for. B'Elanna Torres is a fine officer and an honorable woman. It's none of my business if you choose to conduct a romantic partnership with her and I certainly have no right to comment on it."
Squaring her shoulders as she stared at the wall, Kathryn realized Seven must be truly angry if she couldn't even reply. "Please accept my apology," she concluded with difficulty.
Still there was no response and Kathryn started to walk away. Everyone was no doubt asleep by now and it was too late to make arrangements for other accommodations, but that was all right. Kathryn had camped in rougher terrain and didn't think bunking by the waterfalls overnight would harm her. It was her own fault and she couldn't expect Seven to share a room with her after saying such a thing about her lover. Just thinking the word caused a pang in her heart that she quickly clamped down on.
Halfway across the floor, Seven stopped her with softly spoken words. "Is that what you believe? That I am involved in an intimate relationship with B'Elanna?"
Thinking back to the night in Sandrine's Kathryn could only respond over her shoulder, "Aren't you?"
Seven took exactly 6.3 seconds to recall everything that had occurred in the last few weeks. Her eidetic memory allowed her to remember exactly when the captain had begun withdrawing from her. She and B'Elanna had been in engineering reporting a correction in the warp plasma flow to the captain. The problem had been serious enough that it prevented Voyager from traveling faster than warp two. The engineer had informed the captain how Seven had diagnosed and corrected the problem in less than three hours. The Borg had thought the captain would be pleased that they had worked together without threats of dismemberment, but apparently she had thought something else when B'Elanna had put her arm around Seven's waist and squeezed her. The captain must have discerned a romantic partnership instead of a friendship. That was when Janeway had begun canceling velocity matches and finding other ways to avoid her friend.
Then she remembered the night in the holodeck when the engineer had kissed her. It would appear that Janeway's human instincts had been correct to an extent. She had sensed B'Elanna's interest in Seven, but couldn't know how that had changed. Still, there was no reason that such a relationship should matter to Janeway. Unless B'Elanna Torres had been correct about the captain's feelings…
Desperate to see the other woman's face as they spoke Seven walked around to stand in front of her. Kathryn refused to look at the former drone; her eyes fixed on a point to the right of the young woman's face.
"We are friends," Seven informed her. "Nothing more."
Kathryn's eyes came to meet Seven's, a question warring with hope reflected in her stormy gaze.
"I have no desire to engage in an intimate relationship with anyone."
Caught off guard by the statement and the fact that she had made a faulty assumption Kathryn quickly cleared her throat and interrupted what the young woman was trying to say.
"Yes, well… It seems I was mistaken," Janeway said, fighting tears of disappointment that the blonde didn't want to be with her. "Well, it's late. I should let you sleep…"
Two fingers gently placed on her lips stopped Kathryn's self-conscious tirade. "Please, Captain. Allow me to finish. I do not wish to be intimate with anyone... but you."
"Me?" Kathryn asked softly as the hand moved away from her lips.
"Do not be surprised, Kathryn. How could you think there could be another choice for me?"
"B'Elanna is a very beautiful and much younger woman than I," Kathryn said with a shrug.
Long fingers reached out again, but this time to gently stroke the captain's soft cheek. "You are beautiful," Seven assured her. "And I care nothing for your chronological age. Even as a Borg drone I found you fascinating."
Sweet words, but Kathryn remembered meeting the young woman so long ago on a cube. "That's a bit of an exaggeration isn't it?" she asked softly as the pressure in her chest finally began to ease.
Seven smiled in acknowledgement. When Janeway had severed her from the collective Seven had not been fascinated. She had been angry that the frail human female would not let her go back to the only way of life she knew. "True, but I have always appreciated your intelligence and compassion. It was only later that I began to love you."
"Love?" the smaller woman asked in shock and surprise.
"Yes, Kathryn," Seven whispered as she moved closer. Raising her arms she rested her hands on Kathryn's narrow hips and could feel the trembling in the small form. "I do love you." Moving closer still until she was whispering in a soft ear she said, "And I believe you love me as well."
Seven was all around her, the scent of her hair, warmth of breath on Kathryn's neck and the softness of her skin. Kathryn's hands were trembling at her sides as her heart pounded in her chest. Almost involuntarily she mirrored the other woman's pose by resting her hands on Seven's narrow waist.
"Do you?" the young woman prompted. "Please, Kathryn. Do you love me?"
The last wall around her heart crumbled and there was no resistance left. Weeks of desperate, agonizing loneliness washed away as a Starfleet Captain yielded to the love that was freely offered. A balm of tender adoration that reached in and mended her torn soul and soothed all of the hurt and grief. A sigh that was a sob of acceptance escaped her as Kathryn relented to the tentative embrace and leaned her full weight against the younger woman, knowing that this one individual among all others would always catch her.
"Yes," Kathryn said huskily as she held Seven tightly against her own trembling form. A single tear tracked down her cheek from tightly closed eyes. "Yes," she repeated more strongly. "I do love you. I have always loved you."
Then their mouths met in a hungry, gnashing dance of teeth, lips and tongue. It wasn't romantic so much as it was desperate and exactly what both needed after so long. Eventually, the kiss gentled as they strove to memorize each lingual caress. Conveying in the intimate touch all of the love they felt for one another. It was only the need to draw air that finally forced them apart.
Holding tightly to her beloved Kathryn finally whispered, "As much as I hate to call a stop to this we do have trade negotiations tomorrow. I think it's time we get to bed."
Pulling back to look into the smaller woman's eyes Seven said enthusiastically, "I concur. We should go to bed."
Kathryn chuckled at the blonde's obvious inference, but felt duty-bound to abstain. "That's not what I meant, my love. I assure you, we will get to that, but I need to be rested for tomorrow if I'm going to be on top of things."
Without the captain being aware of how she'd done it, Seven had led her over to the large Neechian bed. The thick sheets were already pulled back from where the younger woman had been lying earlier. "I have no doubt," Seven informed her, "that you will be a formidable negotiator whether you are rested or not."
Then after easing Kathryn down beside her on the mattress Seven lay down and pulled the smaller woman onto her chest. "And I shall always let you 'be on top of things' if that is what you prefer."
The humor shining in pale eyes was unmistakable and the lure of the pouty lips undeniable. Claiming them in a kiss Kathryn conceded that perhaps her young love was right. She'd certainly pulled all-nighters before for a lot less entertaining reasons. And there on an alien planet, lost in an uncharted quadrant of space, a captain and a drone took a chance and solidified a bond that would last throughout time.
"Ten minutes from Neechian orbit, Captain," Seven reported succinctly.
Coming back to her surroundings Kathryn happily focused on her duties. "Thank God," she breathed.
Lifting her cortical implant, the young woman allowed the moment to pass knowing the human penchant for speaking aloud to no one in particular. A flashing light on the control console attracted her attention and she announced, "We are being hailed."
Janeway activated the scaled down view screen, thrilled for the distraction. A moment later the beautiful Neechian leader, Mieri, filled the tiny screen. Muscles rippled visibly in the woman's arms and chest where the skin was revealed by the loose fitting robes.
"Captain," the young brunette purred with a smile full of teeth. Seven of Nine raised her eyebrow again but for a different reason.
"Welcome to our planet. We are sending you the coordinates for landing your craft."
"Thank you, Madam Counsel Leader. We look forward to meeting with your people."
What could only be described as a pout suddenly covered the other woman’s face and although the look was undoubtedly supposed to be alluring Seven thought she looked churlish.
"Please, Captain, call me Mieri. After all, we are going to be great friends."
A charming smile stretched the captain’s lips and she returned magnanimously, "Of course. But only if you call me Kathryn."
Dipping her head with a suddenly shy smile, the Neechian leader accepted the offer. "We will see you soon…Kathryn."
The screen abruptly went dark leaving the two women with radically different reactions. Kathryn’s ego felt a boost it had needed for weeks. There was no doubt in her mind that the gorgeous younger woman had been flirting with her and it felt good. Maybe this away mission wouldn’t be so bad after all. Mieri might just prove to be the distraction she needed to get her mind off her problems with Seven of Nine. And if she was truly lucky she might just be able to get over the other woman all together.
But Seven of Nine was not pleased at all. For some reason she could not understand her stomach felt tight and her pulse throbbed in her throat. Anger throbbed insistently through her veins and she swallowed against the sensation. She didn’t even know who she was angry with or why, but one thing she did know was that she did not like this Mieri.
Soon they had landed on the planet and a troop of the Amazon women met the quartet as they exited the craft. Mieri was leading the greeters and immediately commandeered the captain by linking their arms together and dragging the older woman toward a large palatial structure. Seven of Nine and the security women were not ignored, but certainly didn’t receive the reception that Voyager’s leader did. Women in various colored flowing robes surrounded the three, two of them linking their arms through Seven's while Hallowell and Jennings were treated similarly. Seven had been strictly admonished by Janeway not to do anything to offend these people so had no choice to but allow the familiarity.
Curious, she thought, that the Neechians appeared very human except for their ears. The ears were pointed, but shaped like little fins. Definitely more similar to Ocampans than Vulcans.
Kathryn was led into the palace with the feel of her arm being pressed against Mieri’s full breast. She knew from the flirtatious banter that accompanied the short walk that the move was not accidental, but she honestly saw no reason to put an end to it. They would be on this planet for only a week, there was no threat of Mieri deciding to accompany Voyager and thereby becoming a member of the crew and they were both adults. Why shouldn’t she relax and enjoy herself for once? It was certainly better than having a romance with a hologram! The muscles that rippled where her fingers rested on the powerful forearm went a long way toward assuring her it would be a much more gratifying experience.
"I hope you are hungry," Mieri was saying and from the look Kathryn was sure she wasn’t talking about food.
Staring intently into the most interesting lavender eyes she practically burred, "Famished." That Kathryn had been celibate for more than five years, discounting a holodeck character, made her more willing to see where things lead was something she chose to ignore.
Mieri’s eyes narrowed for a moment as she received the open invitation in the captain’s words. Then the predatory look was gone and Janeway was led into an ornate entryway. The ceiling was easily twenty feet high and carved into a circular dome overhead. The walls were made of some kind of marble. They were highly polished and boasted scores of murals. Kathryn could tell that each of the murals told a story. One in particular caught her eye. It depicted a woman that looked a lot like the mythical Earth Goddess Athena standing next to an eight-legged hound. She carried a long bow and wore winged shoes.
The colors were vibrant and if she looked too hard it appeared to ripple and shift. The effect was quite unsettling and Kathryn had to look away.
"We have prepared a feast in your honor," Mieri said showing her guests into a large banquet hall.
A long low table surrounded by cushions was filled with various dishes and the smell that permeated the air caused Kathryn's mouth to water. Meats and prepared vegetables steamed invitingly while colorful cheese, vegetables and floral arrangements completed the arrangement. Kathryn had eaten nothing since dinner the night before and the meal with the decided lack of Talaxian influence was more than tempting. Forcing herself to wait for some signal how to proceed from her hosts she was delighted when the other women simply seated themselves at the table without formality.
"Come," Mieri said tugging on Janeway's hand, "Please sit beside me."
More than delighted to acquiesce Kathryn settled onto a soft, comfortable cushion with the young Neechian leader sitting very close beside her. Her pleasure was momentarily disturbed when Seven settled on her other side and looked at her very coldly. If she didn't know any better she would have sworn that the ex-Borg was angry about something.
Probably just doesn't want me to have any fun, Kathryn thought caustically. With that thought in mind she decided to focus on enjoying herself and her lovely companion. If Seven didn't like it that was just too bad.
The rest of the meal was very pleasant for Kathryn Janeway. The Neechian women helped themselves from the various dishes and wine flowed freely. Although she drank her share Voyager's captain was a little more careful about becoming intoxicated than her hosts and noticed that as the evening progressed Mieri became more physical. Soon she was practically sitting in the captain's lap, leaning against her and speaking breathlessly into the delicate ear.
A hand was resting on Janeway’s leg as Mieri leaned against her and said, "I am so pleased that you will be staying on the surface while we conduct negotiations." The hand began caressing the muscled thigh and Kathryn felt a flash of heat surge through her body.
"Traditionally, any visiting dignitaries are assigned quarters with their senior officers while lesser crewman are consigned to another area of the palace."
The words were spoken suggestively and a shiver of anticipation skittered up Kathryn's spine. Resting her hand lightly over Mieri's she whispered back, "Traditionally, hmmm? You make it sound as though you have something else in mind?"
Their faces were so close now that she could feel the Amazon's soft breath on her face as she spoke and for a moment she could have sworn the woman was going to kiss her. "Perhaps you could be persuaded to meet me somewhere a little more private later?"
"Perhaps," Kathryn accepted softly. She suddenly found that she wanted nothing more than to taste the younger woman's lips. The moment seemed to draw out forever as the distance between them slowly closed. But just when a breath between them would have been a touch a loud crash sounded next to her and Kathryn felt a spreading coolness in her lap.
Jerking away in surprise she looked over to see that Seven had dropped her goblet. The light metal had landed in such a way that the wine poured all over Janeway, effectively breaking the moment. It wasn't like the former drone to drop anything and concern for the young woman caused Kathryn to look up worriedly. She had been prepared to ask if Seven was all right, but the expression on the pale face stopped her. Instantly she knew that the move had been anything but accidental.
The sudden giggles from the slightly inebriated Neechians prevented Kathryn from venting her ire on her crewman. Instead she told the young blonde, "We'll discuss this later," before turning to Mieri and saying calmly, "Perhaps we should continue this later. I seem to require a change of clothing."
Jennings and Hallowell were on their feet immediately and flanking the captain as Mieri and two others prepared to show them to their quarters. Seven followed behind the small group with her hands folded behind her back. A small smile tugged at the corners of her lips as she and the captain were shown to their own quarters. The security duo was not happy with the arrangement, but Janeway assured them she would be fine with Seven as her bodyguard. The last was said somewhat sarcastically, but it seemed to satisfy them.
Mieri sent a last lingering look to Kathryn, whispering, "Later," before promising to have someone come by with a change of clothing and leaving the women to their own devices.
As soon as the door closed the captain turned to face an unrepentant Seven of Nine. "Just what was that all about?" she asked angrily.
Staring calmly into flashing gray eyes Seven responded. "Your behavior was inappropriate. I believe that you may be intoxicated."
Her mouth opened and closed several times before Kathryn finally snapped it closed. Then she asked through clenched teeth, "And who the hell are you to decide whether or not my behavior is inappropriate?"
A knock at the door interrupted any response the younger woman might have made and Janeway turned to open it. She was glad for the interference as it gave her a moment to rein in her temper and because she was looking forward to getting out of her wet uniform. The Neechian woman at the door merely held out a rose colored robe. "Please leave your soiled clothing outside the door after you have changed and someone will pick it up." Then she was gone.
Janeway closed the door with a bang and turned around to pin Seven with a deadly glare. "We will talk about this later. Right now I am going to change and then go for a walk. Maybe by the time I return, I won't feel like wringing your neck!"
As the smaller woman stalked to the attached bathing area Seven stood stock-still. She was surprised by the anger in the captain's voice, but at least now the other woman wasn't ignoring her. Perhaps they really would speak when the captain returned and she could find out why Janeway had been so studiously avoiding her. For now she was content to allow her the time to calm her temper.
A short time later Janeway was walking down the main corridor away from her room and toward the main banquet hall. She'd hardly looked at Seven as she left the room and dropped her uniform pants outside the door. Her uniform was very much a part of the woman and Kathryn wasn't happy just leaving them on the floor unattended, but what other choice did she have? The Neechians didn't have replicator technology and she could hardly walk around in wine-stained trousers.
Now that she had calmed down, however, she was beginning to regret her display of temper with Seven. She just didn't understand what was happening. Seven was involved with Lieutenant Torres, but during this whole evening she'd been acting like a jealous girlfriend. Janeway knew her own resulting anger was because she secretly wished Seven was the jealous girlfriend. Deciding she would get a rein on her emotions she acknowledged that she just had to let go of any secret desires and get on with her own life. One good way to do that would be to see where this little encounter with Mieri ended up. The only problem was she didn't know where to find the other woman. They'd both said 'later', but neither had said where.
Kathryn emerged in the banquet room and saw Mieri sitting alone on one of the cushions. The meal had been cleaned up and the other woman sat sipping a glass of wine. At Kathryn's entrance lavender eyes rose expectantly and brightened as she identified her visitor.
"Ah, I hoped you would come," Mieri said as she rose gracefully to her feet. Sitting the wine goblet down on the table she strolled toward Kathryn with the predatory grace of a jungle cat.
Holding out her hand the Neechian grasped Janeway's own and pulled the unresisting woman toward her. "Would you like to walk near the fountains? I assure you that they are quite lovely, although I fear that the view will dim in comparison to your own shining beauty."
Kathryn fought the laugh that burbled in her throat. She'd never been one for grandiose flattery, but had to admit that it felt nice to be the object of someone's desire. "I would enjoy that," she returned sincerely.
Mieri held Kathryn's left hand in her own left hand and slid her right arm around the smaller woman's waist. To Janeway it felt almost as though they were about to engage in some elaborate dance, but recognized it as the other woman's way of standing exceptionally, almost intimately, close. She decided she approved and rested her free hand on the one resting on her waist.
The women walked quietly and sedately for a few moments down a darkened corridor. Normally Kathryn didn't like not being able to see around her. Her Starfleet training had ingrained in her a need to constantly be on guard, but in this case she didn't feel threatened in the least. In fact the shadows lent an air of intimacy to the moment and Kathryn felt her heart rate increase as the promise of passion filled the air. A few moments later they emerged into a large cavern carved from solid rock. Kathryn realized that the entire palace had been carved right into the side of a mountain and gasped at the beauty of the waterfalls before her.
Three separate cascades of water fell from a sheer cliff facing at least one hundred meters overhead. Lights had been set into the rock face and around the crashing pool of water, illuminating the streams with rainbows of color.
"This is wonderful," Kathryn breathed, awed at the beauty and power of the sight before her.
Mieri's hand tightened on her own drawing the other woman's attention back to her. "Yes, it is wonderful," she agreed. "It is wonderful that you are here."
The magnificent display was suddenly forgotten as Kathryn felt herself pulled against the young woman's powerful frame. Breath ghosted against her lips as Mieri's face loomed closer. At the last possible moment the brunette stopped and hovered over the wine-shaded lips, teasing Kathryn mercilessly.
"I wish to taste you, Kathryn Janeway," she told her wantonly. "Do you wish for this as well?"
"Oh, yes," Kathryn groaned. "Please."
Long arms surrounded the smaller woman as their lips met. Slowly at first, Mieri pressed her lips softly to the captain's but when Kathryn groaned in arousal she could no longer hold back. She had wanted this small human female from the first sight of her on the viewer. Kathryn's lips parted and a warm thrusting tongue was suddenly dueling with her own. Her arms wound around the strong neck and her fingers buried themselves in long, dark hair.
Mieri was sweet and warm and Kathryn felt as though she was on fire as she sought to push herself even closer to the other woman. As the passion of that first kiss began to cool Kathryn abruptly realized that these lips weren't the ones she wanted. Cursing herself for a fool she tried again to bury herself in the sensations but eventually had to acknowledge that it just wasn't there. The spark of anticipation she'd been feeling was the desire for love, but it wasn't this woman's love that she wanted and she was honest enough to admit that to herself.
Gradually she drew away from Mieri ending the kiss gently. Glancing away in embarrassment Kathryn slowly took a half step back before saying, "I'm sorry. It's not you. I'm afraid I have some unresolved issues."
Disappointment etched itself on the other woman's face as she responded, "It is someone else, isn't it? The blonde perhaps?"
Startled Kathryn looked up at her quickly. "How did you know? Was I that obvious?"
"No," Mieri said, smiling a little sadly. "But it explains why she deliberately spilled the wine in your lap and how easily you angered toward her." Then the other woman reflected a moment before saying, "Perhaps you should talk out your disagreements before seeking another lover as a way to make her jealous."
"Is that what you think?" Kathryn asked astonished. "I assure that Seven and I are not a couple and you were not a tactic for making her jealous. In fact, I think that she's involved with another member of my crew."
"But you love her?" Mieri asked softly.
Closing her eyes in pain Kathryn admitted, "So much that it sometimes hurts to breathe."
"Then you should talk to her."
With a little snort Kathryn said, "It won't matter. Like I said, there's someone else…"
"You said that you think there is someone else. You will not know until you talk to her."
After a moment of considering her advice Kathryn shook her head. "I thank you for your counsel, I'm just not sure I'm ready to do that."
Nodding, Mieri acquiesced before offering graciously, "As you wish. But now I will walk you to your room. It is late and we still have negotiations to conduct tomorrow."