Beta'd by LexTenou, whose suggestions have helped sculpt this piece beyond my expectations.
1: Crash Landing
She sat up slowly, her heart hammering and her head throbbing. Based on the pain in her left leg, she was fairly certain she'd either broken a bone or seriously sprained something. In any event, she needed the Doctor's assistance, although she was also fairly certain she wouldn't be able to find the Doctor soon enough to sufficiently relieve the intense agony wiggling along her bones before she had to move. She refused to accept defeat preemptively, however, and tapped her comm badge as she examined her surroundings.
"Captain to the Doctor. Respond immediately. We have a medical emergency. Captain to the Doctor. Please respond."
Voyager must not have been in range, she thought, as she received no response whatsoever. She'd have to set up some sort of beacon-memories interrupted her train of thought, and her throat tightened. Voyager wasn't responding, she pieced together from the fragments in her mind, because Voyager had crashed. She wasn't in a jungle for fun or pleasure but because Seven of Nine's quick thinking had transported the crew planetside before Voyager's impact. Depending on how much of the system had been destroyed, the comlink might have been severed as well.
Her pleas for help weren't reaching anybody.
She was momentarily flung back to a moment in her childhood when, after playing in a zone she had been restricted from accessing, she'd fallen into a deep hole. Nobody had been nearby to assist her then, either, and she'd spent hours trapped in dirt and darkness with nothing but her fears and pains for company. Anxiety wormed its way into her chest, threatening to overwhelm her, but she squeezed her eyes shut. If a captain panicked, then her crew was lost. She couldn't be human in this moment, she realized. She had to be more.
For several minutes, she remained in place, searching the area around her for anything she could use to stabilize her leg or lean on while she hobbled around. As long as she was doing something, she was getting somewhere, and some progress was light-years better than no progress at all. She located a gnarly branch a bit longer than she was tall, propped the tip against the ground, and dragged herself up and onto her one good foot. The other pulsed with pain to remind her that she was indeed injured.
She sagged, resting her weight primarily on the branch. "Over here."
The brush to her left rustled, and she twisted to greet her approaching crewman; she'd never been happier to see Lieutenant Tom Paris. There had been a few close encounters over the years where he'd almost forfeited his life to get Voyager back to the Alpha Quadrant, but his returning safely to Voyager didn't quite compare to seeing him emerge from the brush, a tricorder in one hand and a phaser in the other. There were scratches and ashy smudges on his face, and his uniform was shredded in places, but he was mobile and in relatively good spirits, a fact she learned as he hurried to her side with a wide grin on his face.
"Captain, you're okay."
"I've been better," she corrected mildly, "although I must admit you're a sight for sore eyes. Where is the rest of the crew?"
"I don't know. I've been wandering by myself for half a day now. I only found you because I heard you calling for the Doc."
"Half a day." She didn't feel as though she'd been unconscious for that long, but there was no reason for Tom to lie. They were supposed to transport to the same location, however, and her brow furrowed. "Something must have gone wrong."
"There was interference from one of this system's suns. I think, anyway. The sun's flare is what caused the initial damage to Voyager, and I'm guessing energy from the flare got into our processors."
"We'll have time to worry about that later. For now, we need to concentrate on finding the rest of the crew."
He straightened, understanding that he had been given yet another opportunity to thank Janeway for turning his life around. Although he had initially chafed against the yoke of his new responsibilities, he found that there was a certain pride in obeying her commands to the best of his ability.
"I'm not sure how far I can move in my current state," she said, more to herself than Tom. With that in mind, she continued, "We'll need to find somewhere to set up camp. Was your tricorder working?"
"Sort of." He offered the device to her, and she frowned at the garbled readings presented to her. "I think I can get it working, once I can account for the increased solar activity."
"Very good. If you can make those changes, then others might be able to as well. We'll create a beacon. I don't want to send you out in search of others if you can't find your way back, after all."
Tom glanced down at her leg and winced. "I'm not sure if the Doctor made it off the ship before the crash, and my medical training isn't advanced enough-"
"Seven," she interrupted. "Find her. She'll be sufficient until we can get our EMH back online."
He nodded and wiped at some of the dried dirt on his cheeks. "Y'know, this reminds me a lot of when Petty Officer Ferlin dumped me and a few other cadets into the wild during my second year. A real joy to work with, that Ferlin."
"I can still hear him yelling about setting up camp near a source of water." Tom set his hand on a nearby tree trunk and stared up into the foliage. "Wait here."
He realized he shouldn't be giving his captain orders, but she waved his concerned expression away. Were they on the ship, she might have reprimanded him. In their current situation, however, she was glad for his initiative, as thinking clearly was getting more and more difficult. They needed to set up camp quickly because she felt like she'd entered Chakotay's boxing holoprogram and lost a several round bout with the heavyweight champion. She must have looked pale and weak, she realized, as Tom insisted on helping her settle back against the jungle floor before turning his attention to the nearest tree trunk.
"Wish me luck, Captain."
Before she could do so, he began scaling. His progress was slow, but she watched his boots disappear into the foliage and sighed. Disaster seemed to be a synonym for the Delta Quadrant, but this was nothing they couldn't fix. Once the crew was back together, at least in part, they could find Voyager and initiate repairs. If they could return the comm badges to functionality, then they could locate the missing crew members and continue on their way back to Earth.
She closed her eyes and pressed a hand to her forehead. Resting had to wait, she reminded herself. She had to keep it together just a bit longer. Swallowing hard, she pushed the pain down and stared intently at the tree.
By the time Tom descended, she had passed out, and he gingerly lifted her up, slinging her arm around his shoulder. She was lighter than he expected, but the captain was notorious for skipping meals in times of stress. Although he'd prefer she was healthier, he was glad he could lug her along without too much trouble.
He'd spotted what looked like a river in the distance and so headed in that direction. Going was arduous, as he didn't want to risk injuring her further, and the ground was uneven and covered in obstacles in the form of fallen branches and thick foliage. While he straggled along, he let his mind wander.
Before the crash, he had been relaxing with B'Elanna in his quarters-for the first time in nearly three weeks, they'd had free time that coincided, and they were determined not to waste a moment. The captain expected them both back at their posts in an hour to begin a routine mining expedition, but at that moment, they were about to enjoy the finest fondue the replicator could offer. When the rumbling of the ship beneath them had interrupted, B'Elanna had sprinted immediately for engineering, and he'd gone on his way to the bridge. Moments later, the ship had seemingly flipped upside down, and he remembered wondering if something had gone wrong with the ship's internal gravitational field just before he slammed his head against something or another in the bulkhead.
He woke up on this strange planet, which thankfully had breathable oxygen. If they'd landed on the same planet Janeway had wanted to mine, they were in luck; the class M planet would sustain them for the foreseeable future, and because it lacked developed lifeforms, there was no real threat to defend against. Less to worry about, he mused, which left him plenty of time to consider his girlfriend. Although B'Elanna couldn't have been far from him on the ship, she hadn't ended up anywhere near him planetside-at least that's what he figured, since she hadn't responded to his yelling once he regained consciousness.
Once he reached what looked to be a safe, relatively flat area of jungle, he decided to take a break. After forty minutes of straining, he was hot, sweaty, and tired, so he lowered Janeway down and leaned against the nearest tree to catch his breath. As much as he liked complaining about Neelix's culinary offerings, he had to admit that he would have killed in that moment for a sip of even the most disgusting of Neelix's beverages. His tongue darted out and stuck to his dry lips, leading him to grimace.
Snapped from his reverie by Janeway's rasping plea, he eased off the tree and squatted by her side. Despite calling his name, she had yet to open her eyes. Indeed, most of her face was screwed up; a glance at her wounded leg reminded him that she must be in terrible pain.
"I'm here, Captain."
"Have you found anything else? Anyone else?"
He hated disappointing her, especially after all the faith she continuously put in him, but he couldn't lie: "No, ma'am. By my estimate, we're another half an hour away from the river I spotted from the trees, and in the time we've been walking, I haven't seen any evidence of other survivors. No natives, either."
Janeway pressed a hand to her forehead and rubbed the tips of her fingers against her temples. Doing so didn't help her mind work any better or faster, but she couldn't simply do nothing about the pain thudding there. "As I recall, we were nearing an M-class planet that contained high levels of beryllium. The planet was uninhabited-if that's where we ended up, I'm not surprised you haven't seen any signs of humanoid life."
"I did spot some sort of animal about ten minutes ago, but it was like nothing I'd ever seen before."
The conversation was pointless, Janeway recognized, but talking about something was distracting her from their real problems. "I suppose the reason nobody had mined this planet clean is the same occurrence that brought Voyager down."
"Solar interference but stronger than anything we've encountered before." Janeway thought about the half an hour walk that still lay before them and shuddered. Still, she couldn't complain, and she couldn't ask Tom to do all the work for her. She gingerly stood up and grabbed the stick Tom offered her. Using that instead of her damaged leg, she hobbled in the direction Tom pointed.
"What happened to Voyager?"
"I presume it crashed somewhere, although I hope damage is minimal and easily fixed, so we can get back on our way. We've spent enough time in the Delta Quadrant, don't you think?"
He kept his hand a few inches from Janeway's lower back, ready to steady her should she stumble. "We'll get back home eventually. You'll get us there."
There were definitely times when Janeway wasn't as sure as Tom sounded. She clung to her stick and fought off a nearly crippling wave of pain. She could make this walk, she coached herself. She just had to keep her balance and keep moving; if she stopped, she wasn't sure when she'd start again, and reaching the river was imperative.
Trying to mine the beryllium had been a poor decision, she realized. They weren't in dire need of the substance, as they could have managed without, but she was so tempted by thoughts of trading more easily for fuel or supplies. Tuvok had warned her about how illogical approaching the planet was, given the extreme conditions caused by this system's suns, but she had persisted, thinking that her ingenuity and the crew's passion would pull them through yet another close encounter unscathed.
She rolled her eyes as she realized that she was Icarus, after a fashion, and she'd flown Voyager too close to the sun. Rather than harangue herself for mistakes already made, she pressed onward. There would be time aplenty for doubt and self-loathing later, but she and Tom needed to reach a source of water where they could set up camp and begin to collect crewmen and supplies.
"Did you ever go camping when you were a young man?"
Tom dodged a low-hanging branch and swatted at some form of insect. "My father wasn't around a lot when I was younger, and my mom was too busy."
"You weren't a Federation Scout?"
"For about two weeks when I was six or seven. I think Ma thought Dad would be proud, but..." Tom hesitated and cleared his throat. "He didn't show up for my first badge ceremony. I quit after that."
"What badge were you set to receive?"
"The sailing badge, for helping my troop sail around the lake near my home."
"Did your father ever explain why he didn't come?"
"I never gave him the chance. Believe it or not, I was a pretty sensitive kid."
Janeway laughed and then winced at a twinge racing up her leg. "What's your estimate? How far are we?"
"Another ten minutes. Do you need me to carry you?"
"No, I'm fine," Janeway lied. She wanted desperately to remove the pressure from her lower body, but she tried to convince herself that she was invincible, at least for the next quarter of an hour. Talking did help, so she said, "Your father is a stern man, Tom, but I do know he's proud of you. He may never say as much out loud, but I saw it in his eyes-"
"That was before I ended up detained." Tom snorted and shook his head. "His precious son threatened his more-precious career. How must that have looked? Decorated admiral with a criminal for a son."
"I never had children, but I assume the love you feel toward your offspring isn't something that goes away because of a mistake."
"Maybe not one mistake, but a couple here and a couple there? It adds up."
"Just you wait. We'll get back to the Alpha Quadrant, and you'll see for yourself."
Although this topic was grating, Tom nodded stiffly, understanding that the captain was talking not to make a point but to keep herself going. He'd resorted to the same in times of great stress-if he hadn't, he thought, he might never have found out that B'Elanna cared so deeply for him. Thinking of her reminded him yet again that he hadn't found her. She was out there somewhere, and he hoped she was unhurt.
Harry was missing, too, and Neelix and Chakotay and everyone else. Pure luck had led him to his captain, but they'd need more than random chance to bring the essential members of Voyager's crew back together.
Before he could entrench himself in his worries, he heard the rushing of water, which alerted him to the fact that they were almost at their goal. Taking Janeway's elbow, he hurried her along. When she stumbled, he picked her up once more and ignored her complaints as he carried her to the river bank. Settling her on the ground near the water, he gripped the hem of her slacks and tore the fabric as best he could.
"What are you doing?"
"If we soak your leg, the swelling will go down," he reasoned. "You can't do anything right now, so you relax and tell me what to do."
He had a point, she thought, so she waved him on. Once her pants were stripped away from the damaged leg, he checked for open wounds. Because he had no working tricorder to test the cleanliness of the water, he wanted to take as few risks as he could. Her leg was injured internally, but there was no blood, scrapes, or cuts. He helped her ease the limb into the chilly moving waters and told her to holler if she needed anything.
A few feet away, he set his tricorder on the ground and wished he had proper tools with which to work. He had to make this function, regardless of the circumstances and what he did or didn't have available to him. He pried the outer casing off and stared at the circuitry. Please, he thought, let this work.
The cold water was extremely refreshing. Janeway couldn't contain the small sighs that escaped past her defenses. With her leg in the water, she felt halfway human again. She didn't quite dare move just yet, but she could think more clearly and her mind wasn't consumed by her pain. She hadn't been hopeless before, but being optimistic was suddenly that much easier.
"I think I've almost got it set up as a beacon. I can't do much to recalibrate the sensors because I don't have my tools."
"That's fine. A beacon is just fine." She twisted to watch him work. "We just have to hope the others can find it."
"If they try to use their tricorders, they'll receive an emergency signal, followed by a series of tones. The beeping will get louder the closer they get to our position. With any luck, they'll find us over the next few hours."
"Good job, Mr. Paris." She smiled at him. "You may not think your father's proud of you, but you ought to know that I am."
He grinned back. "I knew that much, Captain."
"Think you can figure out a way to boil some of this water? I know you're thirsty because I feel dehydrated, and you did most of the work."
"I'll do my best."
"That's all I can ask." Exhaustion catching up with her, she struggled to stay upright and awake. When he noticed her sagging, he paused at his task long enough to help lower her to the ground. Over her protests, he insisted she sleep.
"And hey, by the time you wake up, I'll bet we have more crew members here."
"You make a persuasive argument. Wake me if you run into any problems."
He saluted, and she shut her eyes. He activated the beacon and inspected the trees around them. The tree nearest the water was the tallest; he bit down on the tricorder and climbed his second tree of the day. He hadn't done this much climbing since he was a child, he reflected, and the exertion stressed muscles he hadn't thought about in years. Still, he reached the top and secured the beacon with little difficulty. Getting back down, however, was another issue. He dropped as slowly as he could manage but still fell the final six feet and landed with a dull thud and a soft groan.
As he sat up, he spotted a flash of light from the distance, which prompted him back to his feet. That could have been B'Elanna, he thought with a glance at the captain. He shouldn't run off while Janeway was asleep-but B'Elanna might need his help. He hedged a moment longer before hurrying off toward the light, certain that the captain would understand and support his tracking down of the crew on his own.
Three miles in the opposite direction, Seven of Nine paused, halting the small group of survivors she'd rounded up. Her sensors were unaffected by the crash, and the solar activity was easy to compensate for, which allowed her to track down the life signs of other Voyager crewmen. They were relatively uninjured, but that didn't stop most from complaining about conditions. Their whining accomplished nothing-other than to grate on her nerves. Still, Captain Janeway had told her time and again that she had to be more patient with the emotional aspects of humanity, so she bit her tongue and allowed the nonsense to fill the air.
Thoughts of the captain roused a number of confusing emotions. She didn't understand her physiological responses to the mere memory of Janeway's coy smirk-the way her heart rate doubled and the contents of her stomach churned were completely new reactions. Although she'd observed similar symptoms in Tom and B'Elanna, she couldn't comprehend the implications. She was no longer Borg, but she wasn't capable of the full range of human emotions and reactions. She was fond of Captain Janeway, but she didn't think herself able to feel for anyone the way Tom did for B'Elanna, or vice versa.
Anyway, this was hardly the time for idle speculation. Her sensors were picking up an unusual beeping that hadn't been present just moments before. She tuned out the nervous muttering of those around her and interpreted the first set of beeps as standard emergency code. Once she knew that, the rest of the beeps became an obvious homing beacon.
Without a word to her companions, she tilted her head to and fro to better allow her cortical implant to hone in on the source of the beacon and set off in the correct direction. If her companions were intelligent, they would follow her-and, according to the grousing and griping behind her, that was precisely what they did. Humans and Borg were not so different, she considered. Both required direction and leadership to function, but the humans were so sloppy and disorganized.
At the same time, she'd come to value human individuality more so than she did Borg efficiency. One came at the direct cost of the other, but she supposed she was a perfect balance between the two ideals. Enough of her humanity had asserted herself that she could think for herself, but she was still able to maintain efficiency under the most distressing of circumstances.
"Where are we going?"
"I think she's leading us into trouble."
"Why are we following her? We're not getting anywhere."
She turned abruptly to face her accusers, but none of the people behind her would meet her gaze. Janeway would want her to bring them all, she realized, so she had to convince them that she was right and they were wrong. This would be simpler if they were creatures of logic rather than emotion-if they were a group of Vulcans, then there would be no need for fuss.
"We are moving in the direction of a distress signal. You will accompany me."
"Distress signal?" One of the men in a yellow shirt finally brought his gaze to hers. She recognized him instantly as Ensign Tenou, a human assigned to the lower decks. His personnel records indicated he was a reasonably hard worker by Starfleet standards, which meant, she thought with a touch of haughtiness, that he would likely not meet her personal expectations. "Do you think it's the captain's?"
"There was no indication." Satisfied that they were in agreement, she turned to keep walking and stopped only when she didn't hear footsteps behind her. She spun on her heel and glared at her charges. "You will accompany me."
"What if it's not Captain Janeway?"
"This could be a trap."
"I am in charge." She tilted her head up and straightened her posture as stiffly as she could. Her heels helped add to her intimidating height, and she wanted to convey the same power and authority that Janeway did-and the slighter woman didn't need superior height or muscles to do so. "We will all move together and seek out the source of the signal."
"I say we keep heading for Voyager."
"We don't know where Voyager is."
"You said yourself that you had a pretty good idea-"
"Our primary objective is to find Captain Janeway and carry out her orders. Until then, you will obey me."
"We can't trust her."
Seven gritted her teeth. If they truly wished to scatter to the winds, she wouldn't stop them. She tried once more. "Think logically. Whoever set up that beacon is calling together all crewmen, which is likely at the captain's behest. I am heading in that direction, and I am capable of keeping you safe from whatever dangers this planet may present."
There was a moment of silence, during which she set off again in the direction of the beacon. Relief flooded her at the sound of disgruntled voices following close behind. She wouldn't stoop to begging them to come with, but now she wouldn't show up empty-handed. Janeway would be proud of her-she halted her thought process before she could lose herself too entirely in a world of improbability.
Instead, she began examining her surroundings with increased attention to detail. The animals were unfamiliar, and they approached with little fear in their eyes. Should they need to hunt to survive, these creatures would make easy prey. There were plants around as well that would provide adequate nutrition. According to the sound of rushing liquid, there was likely water as well, to prevent dehydration.
"Can we stop? Just for a moment?"
A hand landed on her arm, and she glared at the offending appendage. "There will be time for rest later."
"Please." The young woman, Crewman White, clung to her, searched her gaze, and then retracted her hand. "My arm was injured. I'm in pain, and I need a break."
"I fail to see how an injury to your arm would incapacitate your ability to walk."
"We're all tired."
Seven surveyed her motley crew and noted their drawn features and sagging shoulders. While they should keep moving, she relented, if only to avoid a mutiny. "Fifteen minutes. Do not wander far."
"You are welcome." She stood in place with her hands linked behind her back and watched nearly every humanoid before her collapse to the ground. She shouldn't judge them harshly. They were human and inferior by nature. She couldn't expect them to perform at optimum efficiency, and she had to maintain a modicum of patience.
Patience, however, was fleeting. She counted out exactly fifteen minutes and urged them to stand and march once more. Amidst the groaning, she heard one voice condemning the overall dismal attitude and urging optimism. She took heart, knowing that someone supported her decisions. Although the regard the others had for her was irrelevant, a small, human part of her enjoyed being accepted.
At the edge of the river, she lifted a hand to halt her group. Across the way, she spotted red-clothed shoulders and a halo of splayed red hair. Her throat constricted, a reaction she commonly associated with the weakness known as fear. Usually, she was only afraid of being alone; now, however, she realized she was afraid of not having Captain Janeway. The revelation was almost as frightening as the loss of her captain, but she didn't waste time pondering the abstract; she waded through the water, ignored the cries of her companions, and stood over Captain Janeway, dripping and stressed.
She bent to one knee and pressed her fingers to Janeway's neck. Seconds passed, and she barely breathed until she felt Janeway's pulse beating strongly against her fingertips. Confused as to why Janeway's leg was dangling in the water, Seven gripped Janeway's shirt and dragged the shorter woman farther from the river and completely onto dry land. Janeway's eyes fluttered open.
"He is not present at this time."
Focusing her vision, Janeway took in the ruffled blonde curls and sharp blue eyes overhead and breathed out Seven's name like a prayer. If she didn't know better, she would have sworn that Seven's cheeks colored for a moment.
"My leg, Seven. It's injured, if you could take a look."
"I will comply."
Janeway closed her eyes once more as Seven's fingers trailed along her shin. For a number of years now, the younger woman evoked elicit thoughts and reactions, none of which were proper, especially given her rank, age, and status. Still, with the amount of pain she was experiencing, she allowed herself that small pleasure as compensation. When she was well again, she could curb her responses appropriately.
When Seven's delicate fingers probed her leg, she couldn't help but yelp. At Seven's curious look, she explained, "You found the injury, I presume."
"Have any medical supplies been located?"
"No. Lt. Paris found me several miles southwest of this location, and we found little of use between there and here… No crewmen, supplies, or information."
"I have collected several crewmen. You will find them all in excellent condition for the circumstances."
"Good. I'm glad you kept them safe."
"Thank you, Captain." Seven completed her perfunctory examination and shook her head. "Until we have a tricorder and supplies, there is little I can do. I have assimilated medical knowledge, and I can make you more comfortable until such time, but I cannot fix you."
"I'll take whatever you can give me, especially if you can make me mobile again."
"Remaining inert will be best."
"I'm not sure that will be a possibility. We have to locate Voyager and begin repairs."
"You will be kept informed, but you will remain inert."
"I cannot comply," Janeway replied, a smirk sneaking onto her lips. A twinge of pain removed any joy from her expression, and her hands curled into fists. "For now, I'll have to settle for doing what you say, as long as you can conjure up something to ease the pain."
"I have analyzed several of the plants on this planet. There are several species that will likely have the effect of a mild anaesthetic."
"I'll take it. Analyze the river while you're at it, and see if the water's clean."
Seven left Janeway's leg and hesitantly placed her fingertips under Janeway's chin. Janeway met her searching gaze, but before Janeway could ask for clarification, Seven dropped her hand away and hurried into the nearby foliage. She was so close to realizing her worst fear, she thought. She had to do everything in her power to make sure that fear remained in the abstract.
By the river, Janeway eased upright and answered the questions of her crew as best she could-yes, they were stuck on the planet for the time being, and no, she didn't know how long. Seven had rounded up a gaggle of confused ensigns, and while she recognized them all by face and name, none were the crewmen she most wanted to see. In particular, Chakotay was still missing-
Tom was gone, too, she noted. Seven had mentioned he wasn't present, which made her wonder how long she'd been asleep and where he'd wandered off to. He ought to have known better than to have adventured far, but he was impulsive to a fault, and the chance remained that he'd gone off to play the hero as was his wont.
He'd be back, she hoped, and he might bring others with him. For the time being, she wouldn't worry about him-there were, after all, more pressing concerns to devote her energy to. The crew that was present needed reassurance and hope, so she smiled through her agony.
"We're gathering here, and then we'll head toward Voyager as a group at 0900 hours tomorrow morning. Until then, I recommend you rest and try to relax. If you're in any pain, you'll report your concerns to Seven of Nine when she returns."
According to the information gathered prior to the crash, this planet was Pylos-uninhabited but within the Wonitian territory. There was a chance the Wonitians would come to their aid, but there was not enough in the database to inform her of what their intentions might be. As they were, she and her crew were vulnerable to attack, and she disliked the idea that she couldn't protect everyone should the need arise. Rather than wait for rescue, they needed to reach Voyager.
Seven approached once more with a pile of emerald leaves in her Borg hand. She offered one to Janeway, who accepted and stared at the foreign vegetation with a cocked eyebrow. As Seven distributed the remaining leaves to any who complained of aches and pains, Janeway lifted the leaf to her nose, sniffed, and recoiled.
"Chew on this," Seven instructed. "The pain will recede."
Janeway eyed the leaf with fresh distaste. If she chewed on this, a foul taste would likely fill her mouth, and she'd be stuck with that after-effect for who knew how long. Additionally, the leaf would give her foul breath. She glanced furtively at Seven and shook her head-she wasn't going to be kissing anyone any time soon, so the state of her breath was irrelevant. Seeing no other immediate option, she set the leaf on her tongue, winced at the acrid taste, and chewed.
While the leaf smelled putrid, the taste was remarkably bland. Janeway's lips quirked down as her eyebrows crept up her forehead. "Not bad."
"The taste is irrelevant."
"Oh, I know." Janeway winked as she chewed. "Still, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down."
"Another time, Seven. Any sign of where Tom went?"
Seven took a moment to collect water from the river, which she then helped Janeway to drink. Janeway preened under Seven's sharp gaze and gentle touch; the intensity with which Seven examined her was both dissecting and flattering. Although Seven wasn't able to verbally express her concern very well, her emotions bled through her gaze, and Janeway had learned to interpret the signs.
"I'm doing much better. Thank you, Seven."
"Would help me stand up?" Sensing that Seven wasn't going to comply, Janeway added, "I'm going to get back on my feet, with or without your assistance."
"That is ill-advised." Seven extended her hands and lifted Janeway up. Even after Janeway was standing, she remained close by, intent on saving Janeway from a nasty tumble. Rather than look like she cared, however, she pretended to examine the position of one of Pylos's suns.
Janeway knew better than to over-stress her leg. She leaned lightly against Seven, who guided her toward the gathered crewmen. "We need to build a fire. We don't know how cold temperatures get during the night, and I don't want to take any chances. If you find anything edible, bring it to camp. We won't be here long, but we need to be prepared to survive."
As most of the small crew dispersed, Janeway sighed. The leaf was doing its job, but they needed the Doctor to treat their wounds more effectively. Hell, Janeway thought, she'd accept minimal medical supplies, as Seven could likely upgrade and use even the most rudimentary technology beyond its initial purpose. Her leg could wait, but she didn't like seeing various crew members with damaged bodies and spirits.
"I am concerned about your leg."
"I'll be fine."
"You cannot ignore your physical needs-"
"I can, and I will. They need me."
Seven hesitated. "I need you, as well, and you cannot function perfectly in your current state."
Janeway turned her face, so Seven couldn't see the coloring of her cheeks. She'd imagined Seven saying the former part of her statement a number of times but in a vastly different context. Most commonly, she'd fantasized about Seven nude and sprawled on her bed, eyes half-closed and voice raspy with desire. I need you, she'd say, and Janeway would gladly comply.
"I asked what you need me to do."
"My apologies, Seven. I was distracted."
"Your cortical implants are still functioning, correct? Can you see if you can locate Lt. Paris? He couldn't have gotten far."
"I will return shortly."
Seven stalked into the foliage, glad to have a moment to think. She couldn't yet make heads or tails of the physiological changes in the captain, but she could analyze more easily with only the sounds of nature around her. Had the changes been precipitated by something she said? Possible but improbable. She had said nothing evocative. Something else must have transpired beyond her awareness. Her palms felt a bit clammy as she realized that she wished she were the cause of the captain's changes.
During conversations with Tom, she'd learned that romantic relationships were a source of comfort, and in times of stress or adversity, a partner could be relied on for support. Janeway already provided her support and comfort, but Seven understood that there was more to romance-after all, Tom and B'Elanna were definitely involved, while she and Janeway were not.
Tom also constantly touched B'Elanna. Similarly, Janeway used every excuse to touch her, but she got the feeling that this still wasn't quite the same. She'd seen them kissing, and she'd created Holodeck characters with whom she could experience the practice. She wasn't bold enough to recreate Janeway, especially because others might view her records or activate the program themselves. Despite how intimate kissing was, she found she preferred the comforting warmth of Janeway's hand on the crook of her arm.
Romance was confusing, and the use of her time to process such was inefficient.
She scanned the surrounding area but found no recent traces of Tom Paris. Using some of the tracking skills Commander Chakotay had endeavored to teach her, she examined the nearby brush and determined that Paris was headed north, although toward what he was going, she wasn't sure. Her orders were to locate him, but she didn't want to leave Janeway for too long, so she retreated to the river once more.
Spotting a man standing over her captain caused a jolt of alarm, but further inspection revealed the newcomer's identity. She relaxed and tilted her head in greeting; Chakotay nodded back but didn't break off his conversation with Janeway until Seven was at their side, hands locked behind her back as she patiently waited to deliver her report.
"Did you find Lt. Paris?"
"I found evidence that he journeyed north of our current location. However, as he was too far away, I chose to return rather than pursue."
"Good idea." Janeway smiled, and the innocuous expression made Seven feel strangely. She tightened her jaw to reassert control over her faculties and responses. "We're scattered enough already, and we need your expertise here."
Chakotay stood hands akimbo. "The captain is out of commission for now, so I'm temporarily in command. I have a small group out right now collecting firewood and supplies, and another group looking for traces of others and Voyager."
"What is required of me?" Seven tensed, wanting immensely to tend to the captain but understanding that other matters might require her more immediate attention.
"You'll be working with Captain Janeway on modifying a tricorder to account for the solar activity currently making everything fritz out."
"I will comply." She nodded curtly at Chakotay and focused on Janeway. "Where would you like to begin?"
Janeway held up a gray toolbox. "One of our quicker thinking ensigns grabbed this before we beamed planetside. We should have everything we need inside."
"Very well. How can I assist you?"
"To be honest, thinking is a bit hard with the pain coming back."
"Do we have access to any medical supplies yet?"
"Unfortunately nobody thought to grab anything of the sort."
"Several crewmen have injuries as well. Finding appropriate treatment methods should be a priority."
"If we can get this tricorder working, then we can modify it to do just that."
Seven tentatively took Janeway's arm; the connection made her feel more secure, and she gladly led her captain to a nearby fallen log. She helped Janeway sit down comfortably and knelt in front.
"Thank you, Seven."
"Of course, Captain."
Janeway gazed at Seven's blank mien and wondered what exactly went on beneath the surface. At the beginning of their interaction all those years ago, she would have doubted there was much beyond what Seven said. However, Seven had grown beyond her expectations, and she knew there was something hidden under that implacable mask.
"Seven, you'd tell me if something was wrong, wouldn't you?"
"Of course, Captain."
"It just seems to me that there's something on your mind." Although Seven's expression didn't falter, Janeway knew she wasn't wrong. "I can't force you to talk to me, but I'd hope you know that you can trust me."
"There is nothing that requires your attention." Seven's eyes flicked to the tricorder. "Perhaps we could begin."
"Perhaps we could," Janeway allowed. She watched patiently as Seven pried the casing off the tricorder and popped the toolkit open. Seven selected a tuner, which she then used to tweak internal sensors on the device. "I suppose you don't need my help at all, but Chakotay knows how much I like to feel like I'm doing something to help."
"You are helping," Seven replied.
"You supplied me with the necessary tools."
"Anyone could have done that."
"I suppose." Seven twisted the end of the tuner, tightening the beam, and continued working. "Would you prefer to handle the tool?"
Janeway watched Seven's fingers nimbly performing their function and thought, just for a moment, about what else those fingers might be capable of. Her cheeks heated, attracting Seven's sharp gaze.
"No, you're fine." Janeway cleared her throat and averted her gaze to something much less stimulating: Chakotay moved between the returning groups and sorted through whatever had been brought back. He was a fine first officer, and she was more than happy to hand the reigns over to him until she could think more clearly.
"Your body responded to something," Seven pressed. "Can I do anything to help? Are you experiencing discomfort?"
"My leg," Janeway lied; although her leg was indeed stiff and uncomfortable, that was hardly the reason for the sudden spike in her body's reaction. "Finish updating the tricorder. That's all there is to it."
Janeway settled back, her palms pressing into the firm wood of the tree upon which she sat. This world was nothing like Earth, but she knew they'd be able to survive there for at least a short period of time-long enough to repair Voyager anyway. Once they were back in space, and she was fighting fit again, she wouldn't have time to while away the hours thinking about Seven of Nine and those delightfully lithe fingers.
She cut that thought off again, determined not to alert the ex-Borg to her wandering fantasies yet again. There were many things the captain preferred to keep to herself, and this childish crush was one of them. Certainly, she didn't need distractions. They had scanned the planet hours before the crash, but a preliminary scan wasn't enough to convince her that there were no dangers here. While there were no sentient beings around, that didn't mean the flora and fauna would be kind to them. The night was dark, she thought, and full of terrors.
"Is anyone starting a fire?"
"I believe Chakotay has set B'Elanna to that task."
"Good. We don't know when it gets dark here."
"Captain, I have been observing the changes in sunlight." Seven paused, glancing up to update her information. "There has been no change in brightness, despite the position of the suns changing. Based on this, I have extrapolated that this planet does not experience what we would term night."
"That certainly presents its own problems. We'll need to get everyone on a sleeping schedule of some sort."
"I will inform the commander once our task is accomplished."
"I can do that, too. I'm injured, Seven, not dead."
Seven's jaw tightened at the thought. She would not allow such a thing to occur, she decided, even if preventing such came at the price of her own personal well being. "Noted, Captain."
"How's that tricorder coming?"
"I require another five minutes."
"Good, good." Janeway kept her gaze averted-doing so was very effective in keeping calm. Still, she couldn't control the wanderings of her mind, which inevitably returned to the tall, slender blonde working at her feet. "How are you doing?"
"I am functioning."
"Were you injured in the transport?"
"I am hardly incapacitated."
"But there is something wrong?"
Seven finished her work, reassembled the tricorder, and placed the device in Janeway's waiting hands. "I suffered slight bruising and a small abrasion."
Janeway finally looked at her companion once more and took note of the dark, dried blood by Seven's hairline. She hadn't noticed that before, she chided herself. She ought to have paid closer attention. To make amends, she tore a bit of her uniform off and instructed Seven to dampen the cloth in the river. When Seven returned, she dabbed the scrap of fabric on Seven's cut as gently as she could while still cleaning the wound.
"This is…" Seven trailed off. She was about to say unnecessary, but she was afraid that the captain would stop. While she didn't require the service, she was pleased by the thoughtful contact and would gladly overlook the inefficiency again if offered the chance.
"Yes?" Janeway's voice was husky as she soaked in their proximity. Being this close to Seven was destroying what little self-control she was maintaining through the pain of her leg. They were close enough to kiss, Janeway thought; her throat tightened, and her mouth felt sandpaper-dry.
"That's enormous praise, coming from you." Janeway pulled back, desperate for distance before she embarrassed herself. There was nothing about Seven's demeanor that suggested an amorous overture would be welcomed, let alone tolerated.
"The Doctor's lessons seem to have stuck, hm?"
"Don't get me wrong-you're still you, and I wouldn't want you any other way-but you're you with a smidge of social graces. You used to say thank you like the words were too big for your mouth. Getting along with the crew must be a good deal easier."
"It is," Seven allowed, although she would trade any amount of social interaction with the crew for just a few moments with the captain.
"Do you think you could tweak another tricorder to function as a medical tool?"
"I never studied the schematics of the Doctor's tools, but I will try."
Janeway appreciated the enthusiasm. "Very good, Seven."
Seven examined Janeway's smile and hesitantly allowed the corners of her lips to twitch up in an awkward reflection that was more grimace than smile. Despite the awkwardness, Janeway warmed at the expression.
"Would you bring Lt. Torres over? I'd get her myself, but…"
Seven waited a moment, on the verge of saying something more, and then nodded stiffly; she may not have been a Starfleet officer, but she respected Janeway's authority to a certain extent. As there was nothing more pressing to accomplish other than bringing the surly half-Klingon over, she chose to obey rather than argue-a fact for which Janeway was likely grateful.
B'Elanna, too, was grateful for a reprieve. She'd successfully lit a fire and had then been mobbed by other crewmen looking for answers, comfort, or someone to blame. When Seven approached, the stockily built woman was fending off a science officer's jabbing finger; Seven got the feeling that if she had interrupted mere moments later, a physical fight would have transpired, as B'Elanna wasn't renowned for her patience or her gentle nature.
"Thank you," B'Elanna slung her arm around Seven's shoulders, "because one more second of listening to Browning-"
"Thank the captain."
"Someday, you're going to have to accept praise for your personal accomplishments, Seven."
"My success is the Collective's success."
"Well, yes, but it's also your success, first and foremost."
Unwilling to agree, Seven walked silently and relaxed only when B'Elanna crouched at Janeway's side. Giving them their privacy, she surveyed the camp from a few feet away, hands locked behind her back and her attention scanning everywhere at once. That did include, she realized with some shame, the conversation happening between Janeway and B'Elanna. She shouldn't eavesdrop, but she was too curious about what the captain was doing.
Janeway rubbed her thigh and winced, unaware that Seven had been so expedient in her task. B'Elanna waited patiently as long as she could and then cleared her throat. Janeway's head snapped up, and B'Elanna could have sworn she saw a blush flash momentarily across the captain's cheeks; indeed, Janeway was a bit ashamed that she had let her guard down to the extent that someone could approach without her notice.
Not allowing her personal feelings to interfere with the task at hand, Janeway said, "I wanted you to know that Tom was here earlier, and he was safe."
B'Elanna's expression remained impassive. "Where is he now?"
Janeway held her flush at bay this time, not quite happy with her inability to keep track of her crew or her ship. She rationally understood that she was only human, but allowing others to see that horrible truth set her ill at ease. She was captain first, person second, and captains weren't supposed to make mistakes like losing consciousness and losing a crew member.
"While he worked on setting up the beacon, I used the opportunity to rest. When I awoke, he was gone."
"If he gets hurt, I'll kill him," the Klingon promised under her breath. She met Janeway's gaze with a terse smile. "I don't suppose you'd let me go look for him?"
"Request denied," Janeway said, not unkindly. "However, if he hasn't returned in six hours, we'll discuss our options. For now, I need you to assist Seven with fixing the tricorders. She can show you how she's working around the solar interference."
B'Elanna snapped a brief salute; Seven thought to turn around, but that would reveal her eavesdropping. Instead, she waited until Janeway called her name before she responded. Janeway gave her an expectant look, which meant she knew that Seven had been listening, and Seven felt her body temperature fluctuate.
"I am more than capable of updating tricorders."
Janeway wasn't sure, but she could have sworn she heard something akin to reproach in Seven's voice. Seven could have accomplished the job efficiently, she admitted, but she wanted Seven to finish up quickly, so they could begin the next task. Once there were more tricorders functioning, she knew Chakotay would start sending crews out to analyze their surroundings, and she'd keep Seven nearby to fiddle with the tricorder's medical capabilities.
On a more personal note, Janeway simply felt more comfortable with her Borg by her side, although she'd be hard pressed to ever say that phrase out loud. 'Her Borg' was a bit too possessive for the relationship she currently had with Seven, despite the fantastical wanderings of her imagination.
"Yes, that's true. However, we need this done quickly, as there are other things that need to be done soon, too."
Seven's implant inched up her forehead as her head dipped in acquiescence. "What can I do?"
"Show Lt. Torres what you did to the first tricorder, and then start trying to upgrade yours to function as a diagnosing tool. The sooner we have a way of finding out what's wrong with the crew, the sooner we can start treating them." Sensing that Seven was going to interject or complain, Janeway lifted a hand. "I know you don't have the proper tools, but we'll make due with what we have."
"Very well." Seven dipped her head once more and settled back down with the scanning device in her lap. She murmured quietly with the chief engineer, who quickly understood how and why Seven had implemented changes.
Janeway resumed rubbing her leg, hoping that a soothing massage would ease some of the discomfort. She no longer thought that anything had broken, but she had definitely done some damage. When they got Voyager up and running again, she'd need to spend a bit of time off her feet. They all needed a break, she thought with a quick glance at her lackluster crew, most of whom milled about aimlessly with their heads down and their shoulders hunched. With a small sigh, she stared back down at her thigh.
She jerked back in surprise as a second set of hands pushed hers out of the way but promptly relaxed as she realized who was behind the assault. Seven's fingers were longer and leaner, but there was more muscle and design behind her movements. Janeway did her best to remain dignified, even as Seven's massage made her want to moan. Her previous efforts had been fine, she thought, but there was something heavenly about what Seven could do.
"I realize you wanted me to upgrade the tricorder," Seven murmured, "however, I thought it more prudent to assist you. Additionally, Lt. Torres understands and is willing to work alone for a short period of time."
"I'm not complaining." Janeway leaned back and braced herself on the trunk. She ought to be, she realized, especially when she glanced at B'Elanna, who smirked back with knowing eyes. Indulging for just a moment, Janeway grimaced and then demurred, "That's enough, Seven. Resume your duties."
Seven released her grip, although all she wanted was to continue rubbing her way along Janeway's thigh. Her fingers were tingling, she noted, and there was a ruddy hue to Janeway's cheeks that suggested that Janeway enjoyed this as well. She wondered if she could convince Janeway to accept further ministrations at a later time.
Her thoughts were jolted back to the present as B'Elanna elbowed her. "What was that about?"
"I'm unsure to what you are referring." Seven tried to focus, uninterested in discussing with others that which she was only beginning to understand herself.
"You can fool a lot of people, but you can't fool me." B'Elanna glanced at the captain, who was stolidly staring elsewhere.
"I suppose you are more nosy than most."
"It's not a matter of being nosy," B'Elanna huffed. "It's a matter of seeing what's in front of me."
"Let us pretend for a moment that your suppositions have merit."
"You don't know what I suppose-"
"Regardless. Do you think the captain would like you speculating about her interactions? Do you think I do?"
B'Elanna rolled her eyes, gleaning from the brief interaction more than she would have if Seven had gruffly blown her off. "I guess not."
"Then help me accomplish the task in a timely manner, preferably without discussing matters that do not concern you."
As thankful as she was that B'Elanna dropped the topic as requested, Seven found that she also wished that she could converse about her confusion with someone. Still, she wasn't sure she trusted the half-Klingon to the extent necessary for a topic such as this. She'd wait, she determined, until she could talk to the Doctor, who would likely provide her even-handed guidance and further social lessons as required.
She just hoped his program was secure, wherever Voyager had ended up.