Seven had been waiting for twenty-one minutes and sixteen seconds by the time Janeway returned to her quarters. Over the course of that time, she'd nearly changed back into her biosuit and returned to the cargo bay at three different moments. B'Elanna's advice to speak directly to Janeway was the most plausible she'd received, and she intended to follow through. As a drone, she would have waited however long it took to complete a mission. However, as a human, she had more going on in her mind-from anxiety flaring to doubts swirling-and she lacked the centralized will of an all-powerful being to hold her in place.
Still, she was as patient as possible, although she did shift her position several times before Janeway entered the room. Some of the videos and pictures she discovered during her research suggested that some poses were more seductive than others, but she found them uncomfortable and strange to hold for too long. Thankfully, Janeway walked in before she lost either her nerve or her most recent body angle.
"Where did you get that outfit?"
"I repaired a replicator and recycled old materials from the cargo bay. But that is not what I wish to discuss."
"What did you want to talk about, then?" Janeway seemed to be stalled out in the doorway.
Seven patted the bedspread beside her, attempting to appear much more in control than she felt. If she could present a semblance of normalcy, then Janeway would trust her. "I would like to take our relationship to the next level."
"We've only just recently talked about being in a relationship-"
"I am aware."
"-and I don't want you to rush into anything."
Seven tilted her head and cocked her implant. "You presume that I am a child, incapable of adult desires?"
"No, of course not." Janeway fiddled with the rose and met her gaze evenly. "Just that this is your first serious relationship, and I'm worried that you've researched into what a relationship should be."
"I have," Seven confirmed. She wasn't surprised that Janeway would make this assumption, especially given their conversation regarding Lt. Torres. To guide Janeway away from assuming that she was mimicking B'Elanna's eager-to-please behavior, she said, "But this was not to inform the future of our relationship. Rather, I wished to discover the proper etiquette for achieving the intimate contact I desire. As I told you during our discussion of bucket lists, I want to engage in sexual congress with you."
Janeway sniffed the flower once more before placing it gently on a side table. She sat beside Seven, deciding that perhaps a conversation was warranted. "I'd also like to experience sex with you, but I'm just not sure this is the right time."
"There will never be an ideal moment," Seven argued. According to her observations, they rarely had any consecutive days of peace and quiet, which suggested that Voyager would always be facing one challenge or another. If Janeway wanted to wait until all was well, they'd likely return to the Alpha Quadrant before she even glimpsed the older woman sans clothing.
"I mean between us." Janeway reached forward and brushed a few stray strands of hair from Seven's face. "It's still early in the relationship. I have no expectations. I don't want you to think that I need you to have sex with me because that's what people do when they're together."
Although her frustration grew, Seven kept her tone flat. "Perhaps I was not clearly enunciating my position. I am propositioning you based on my own desires for you."
To prove her point, Seven slid a hand down Janeway's chest, coming to rest at the hem of Janeway's blouse. She tugged the shirt up; for a moment, Janeway didn't move. Then, slowly, she lifted her arms and allowed Seven to remove the garment completely, leaving her in her dark grey undershirt. Seven removed that as well before reaching behind Janeway's back and unsnapping Janeway's bra.
"If you want to do this," Janeway broke the silence, "then we should slow this down."
Seven dropped her hand away, curious. Her gaze flicked down as Janeway tugged her bra away and tossed it aside. While she had seen numerous humanoid female chests, Janeway's in particular made her mouth suddenly dry. She was uncertain if this was a typical response, but asking would merely make her seem unsure about the whole situation. Her heart rate had accelerated as well, and she felt weak as Janeway guided her back against the pillows.
When Janeway kissed her, she did her best to keep up. She slung her arms around Janeway's neck, held Janeway close, and slipped her tongue between Janeway's lips. Janeway trailed the back of her hand along Seven's cheek before sliding her fingers down Seven's neck. Through the negligee, she teased Seven's nipples until they pebbled against her palms. Still trying to maintain a steady pace, Janeway slipped the thin straps of the negligee down Seven's shoulders, baring Seven's upper body. When she dipped back down to kiss Seven again, their breasts brushed against each other, and Janeway felt a jolt of something hot zap between her legs. She moaned into Seven's mouth.
"As are you," Seven responded; her voice had an unfamiliar, raspy quality that drove Janeway wild.
Deciding that moving along was safe, Janeway suckled a nipple against her tongue. Seven's human hand snaked through her hair and tightened. She took her time paying homage to the sensitive erogenous zone, hoping that Seven was enjoying the process. From the look on Seven's face, she was doing an excellent job, although she'd have to check in verbally later to confirm. Abandoning one nipple for the other, she grazed her teeth over the pert nub, and Seven arched up into her mouth.
Adjusting herself a bit clumsily so that one thigh was in between Seven's legs, Janeway pressed forward to better gauge Seven's arousal. A thin tendril of sticky moisture connected Seven's groin to her trouser leg, so Janeway slowly slid down to examine the area more closely. She pushed the bottom of the negligee up, revealing a patch of curls above a clearly slick patch of tantalizing skin.
"Are you okay?"
Seven curled her fists into the sheet. "I am."
Janeway brushed the soft pad of her thumb along Seven's slit, and Seven spasmed. Seeking Seven's clit, she dragged her fingertip a little more firmly, seeking out the small bundle of nerves that would undoubtedly make Seven feel very, very good. As her fingers rubbed small, concentric circles, she dipped her tongue below her hand, daring to gather the slightest taste of the sleek woman beneath her.
A moment later, she was on the ground with a throbbing head. She blinked, wondering if she'd perhaps dreamed the encounter and rolled out of bed. Her fingers were wet, however, and she wasn't wearing her top. Holding her head, she scooted back to the edge of the bed. Although she was confused, she was primarily worried about Seven, who was panting and clutching her chest.
"I-I believe I am malfunctioning." Seven didn't comprehend everything that just transpired, which didn't sit well with her. Generally, she knew every small fact about her body and its processes, so nothing should happen that she didn't understand. All she knew was that she felt incredibly good, and then suddenly, everything was all too much. The over-stimulation had caused a sort of fatal crash in her processors.
Janeway sat beside her but didn't touch her. Concern laced her voice as she asked, "How so?"
Seven didn't answer straightaway. Panic kept her lips sealed-there was no way Janeway would ever let her attempt intimacy again, not after that catastrophe. Without intimacy, then she feared there could be no relationship. Everything was ruined because her damn body couldn't simply relax and do as it was told. Her thoughts crashed to a halt as Janeway's hand came to rest on her thigh.
"You can say whatever you need to," Janeway murmured. "I'm not going anywhere."
Aware that a stray tear had straggled down her cheek, she hastily wiped the moisture away, glad that only the captain was around to see her weakness. Even if she hadn't cried, Janeway would have known there was something amiss; Janeway could deduce from even a blank mien that a storm of virulent emotions raged within her. For the first time since her severance from the Borg, self-loathing swirled about in her belly, and she wanted nothing more than to delete her humanity in favor of the hive mind.
When she was finally certain that her voice wouldn't quaver, she said, "I failed."
"I ruined our sexual encounter," Seven clarified.
"Nothing was ruined, Seven. If you weren't ready, then forcing yourself through it would have ruined the encounter. I'm glad you stopped me."
Seven stared down at the implant on her hand. "I do not understand. I want this."
"May I ask why? Because a relationship doesn't have to have a sexual element to be legitimate."
"Then what makes a romantic relationship different from any other connection between life forms?"
Janeway hesitated and placed a hand over Seven's. She brushed her fingers along the smooth metal of the implant and considered her response, knowing full well that Seven would take her both literally and seriously.
"If you strip away the connotations, I suppose there is no difference, other than the semantics," she started. She lifted her gaze to Seven's. "More than one person consents to be with one another. In all relationships, whether platonic, romantic, sexual, or otherwise, there is some modicum of trust. But each form of relationship can exist at the same time as the others or completely separately.
"What I mean is that I view our relationship as romantic, which means I've chosen to spend my free time with you, to invest my trust in you. You, of all the beings in the galaxy. If our relationship remains purely romantic, you'll hear no complaints from me. Not because you're not attractive to me sexually, because you are, but because you don't need both to have a happy union between beings."
Janeway held Seven's hand to her chest. "Please don't pressure yourself into what you perceive as appropriate behavior for a relationship because there are myriad variations."
"When I process information regarding you and sexual pleasure, my body responds," Seven replied evenly, withdrawing her hand. She felt miffed that Janeway would think so little of her. "I am not pursuing you sexually because that is what I perceive as appropriate behavior. I am doing so because I have been taught to explore myself and appreciate individuality. I find you sexually attractive, we are in a relationship, and I want more."
Janeway realized her misstep and sighed. "I wasn't trying to condescend, Seven. I just realize that I have more experience in this arena than you."
"That does not make me ill-informed."
Seven's posture relaxed. "Very well."
"Given that this is something you want, we should explore what went wrong. You say you malfunctioned? What does that mean?"
"The sensors that process information overloaded and nearly shut down my systems."
"You know, this planet has been affected all our technology in some way or another."
Seven shook her head. "I have been checked by the Doctor. The technological aspects of my physiology are not broken."
"Nothing is broken, perhaps, but is anything over-performing? The phasers haven't decayed at all but are instead shooting at nearly four hundred percent power."
"I had not considered that."
Janeway smiled at her and lifted the straps of Seven's negligee back up. She retrieved her bra and top and redressed quickly before rejoining Seven on the bed. Cupping Seven's cheek, she said, "We'll try this another time. I promise."
"I will not fail again."
Janeway watched her young assistant skip around the bridge and hid a smile behind her hand. While she was disappointed that Neelix had changed the roster around so that Seven was no longer her partner for the week, she had to admit that there was no harm in spending time with the youngest member of her crew. Naomi was a bright child, and Janeway looked forward to helping her grow even more over the course of the week.
"Have you found it, yet?"
"What does it look like?" Naomi peered at the nearest console.
"That would make this too easy. Just think. If someone were attending to the ship's life support systems, what controls might be necessary to have on a console?"
"Something to see power levels and oxygen saturation."
"Good. Start there."
While Naomi continued her hunt, Janeway glanced down at the padd she held-delivered to her quarters bright and early by an all-too-awake Tuvok. She appreciated the hard work he put into all his endeavors, but after the night before, she wished she had a few more minutes of personal time before reality set back in. She felt as though she'd rescued the moment with Seven, who remained with her for a meal before departing for some sort of get together with Tom and B'Elanna. She was glad Seven was making friends, but she'd spent the rest of her evening worrying about the taller woman.
Seven's magnificent processing power meant that she could come to conclusions much faster than the average person, which meant that if she incorrectly assessed the evening, she'd be much too rooted in her misperceptions by the time Janeway got to speak privately with her again. She could only hope that the time with Tom and B'Elanna proved to be a proper distraction, so that Seven was moping in the same negative mindset as just after the incident.
"Is this it?"
Breaking free from her thoughts, Janeway shook her head. "Not quite, but you're getting close."
According to Tuvok's padd, a roster for shore leave had been created and, pending her approval, would be distributed among the crew that day. She reviewed his instructions, which set strict parameters on where the crew could go while off-duty and what they could do. He was clear and concise as always, and she pressed her thumb to the padd to give her approval.
The next item on the padd was a copy of Neelix's partnership roster. Apparently, he'd paired up the most unlikely of duos, and Tuvok was less than pleased by the impact it had on their potential for progress. Chakotay didn't seem as upset by the delays, but he was more likely to value the team building rather than mourn the lost potential. She'd given Neelix her word that he could proceed, and she wasn't going to renege because of Tuvok's anticipatory anxiety. If there was a significant impact on work production, she'd shut the whole thing down-for now, however, she would enjoy the small change in her work day.
"This time, for real," Naomi called, pointing at a large console screen.
"Very good," Janeway replied. "Can you tell me all of its functions?"
Naomi scampered back to her side and plopped down in the first officer's chair. She was much too small for the large seat, but Janeway was sure she'd grow into it. While Naomi reviewed the information she'd learned that afternoon, Janeway listened with rapt attention and wondered how Seven was getting along with her new assignment.
Down in the airponics bay, Seven stood wordlessly next to Chakotay. The commander had his fingers dipped into the dirt of a planter and seemed to be deep in thought. She didn't understand why he was wasting his time here when there were clearly more important issues to be resolved. He insisted that if they couldn't get their plants growing again, then they would be facing a food production issue. She didn't understand why they did not simply go outside and catalogue edible foods. Certainly Neelix would relish in the opportunity to discover new food stuffs and create a bevy of untasted recipes. Additionally, Chakotay had no specialty in this area, so spending his time here was inefficient.
"The soil is struggling in this atmosphere," he announced, withdrawing his fingers. She supposed he must consider himself an expert to sound so sure.
"There is only a minimal difference between Voyager's internal atmosphere and this planet's." He may have been an archaeologist in earlier time in his life, but his skills as a scientist were definitely lacking. Rather than consult numbers, which never lied, he preferred gut instinct and feelings. How anyone could rely on emotions for stability and answers was beyond her.
"What if the suns-"
Seven gritted her teeth and fought to keep her mien passive. She was incredibly tired of having to hear about the damage the suns were wreaking, especially given the fiasco of the previous night, and she didn't need Chakotay to explain to her what impact they might have on their crops. She was less concerned with why the plants were failing and more interested in what they could do to fix the problem.
"Extra water could be used to compensate," she said. "Someone will be assigned to fetching some so that we do not misuse our generated resources."
"Good idea, Seven." He smiled at her, but she didn't return the expression. She didn't understand the human need to constantly display their teeth in what was supposed to be a friendly fashion. Most animals only bared their teeth as a sign of aggression.
"I am aware."
He slapped a hand on her shoulder. "I can tell this isn't really interesting to you. What would you like to look into next?"
"You are the commanding officer." She tilted her head up. "I will do as you deem fit."
"Tell me something, Seven." He leaned against the wall and folded his arms over his chest.
"You don't seem particularly enthused to be here."
This wasn't a question, but she supposed he was digging for information nonetheless. "Your assessment is accurate."
"Is it me?"
"I mean, are you upset because you were partnered with me? I understand we've had our differences in the past, but I was hoping to move beyond them."
"I am not upset," she replied, meeting his gaze directly. The word 'upset' was too strong for her current emotional state. Aggrieved was perhaps suitable, as was frustrated-but not upset. She had thought she'd be assigned to Captain Janeway for the week, and part of her was certain that this unforeseen swap was due to her failed attempt at intimacy. She'd wanted to talk to Janeway that morning, but thus far, their schedules hadn't aligned.
"You're not happy, either."
"I'm a fairly good listener."
She evaluated him for several seconds and dismissed the idea of confiding in him. While their relationship was significantly less contentious than when they met, she didn't value his opinion. Additionally, to her knowledge, he had not partaken in a romantic venture during his time on Voyager, which detracted from his ability to give useful advice.
"What other matters must we attend to today?"
"The shielding system needs a full diagnostic run when the interference is at its weakest, which won't be until later on. Several crew members have been assigned to rebuilding any damaged areas, but I'm afraid we'd only get in the way. For the time being, our job is simply to make sure everyone and everything is going properly. Was there anything you needed to get done?"
"I will check in on the robot later this afternoon. If there is nothing else pressing, I will help Lt. Torres with the thrusters."
"Sounds good to me." His smile didn't fade, even when she narrowed her eyes. She hadn't realized that he would accompany her, but she supposed she ought to have.
"I also must engage in a private discussion with the captain."
"What would you like to do first?"
With a quiet sigh, she gestured to the door. "We will check Lt. Torres's progress. We will then meet with the robot. At the end of the day, when we part ways, I will have my meeting with the captain."
She moved past him, tempering her frustration with the knowledge that this was only temporary. She'd ask Janeway later to end this practice, as spending time with Chakotay did not benefit her in any way.
Harry ate slowly, taking small bites and chewing more than necessary. His body was so tired, and doing anything more would exert more energy than he was taking in. If not for Tom watching him closely, he might have foregone eating entirely. As it were, however, Tom was indeed sitting right next to him, monitoring his progress and telling him of everything he had missed. The latest important news was apparently about Seven.
"She actually came to movie night."
He swallowed and lifted his eyes, sure he'd misheard. "What?"
"She never goes to anything."
"Well, she went to this."
"What was she like?" Harry propped himself up and let his thoughts drift dreamily away. He always did fall for impossibilities, and he'd learned early on that his crush on Seven would be fruitless. Still, it didn't hurt to fantasize.
"Stiff. The usual cold demeanor, y'know?"
"She relaxed a bit around B'Elanna, and they talked about something before I got there-but I haven't been able to get it out of 'Lanna, yet."
"What does Seven have to talk to B'Elanna about?"
"Your guess is as good as mine."
"I wish I'd been there."
Tom rolled his eyes and pushed the tray of food closer. "Get your strength back up, and I'm sure you'll be there next time."
"Do you think she'll come to the next one?"
"Maybe. Depends on if B'Elanna asks her."
"She should. And I should be there."
"Harry… she's not going to go for you."
Harry tried to sit a little straighter but ended up groaning under the effort. "You don't know that."
Tom shifted his gaze from Harry to the captain, who had just entered with Naomi hot on her heels. "I do know that, actually."
Harry cocked an eyebrow. "How?"
"I have it on good intelligence that she's interested in someone else entirely."
"What?" Harry sputtered. He twisted and spotted the captain right over his shoulder. That she was approaching made much more sense-Tom was calling a greeting, not answering his question. "Oh, hello, Captain."
"Hello, Harry. It's good to see you up and about. How are you recovering?"
"Well enough," he replied, feeling a little small. "I'll be ready for active duty again shortly."
"Very good. You two enjoy your lunch."
As soon as she walked away, Harry turned back to Tom. "So?"
Tom smirked and shrugged. "I'm sure you'll figure it out eventually. I'm not supposed to talk about it."
"Come on, Tom. You don't keep anything from me."
"Maybe I just don't want an angry Borg chasing me around for discussing her business."
"That's never stopped you before."
"You'll figure it out. All of us have."
Harry shook his head. "If it's common knowledge, then why can't you tell me?"
"It's common knowledge, but it's not exactly confirmed common knowledge. I'd prefer it remained a rumor until Seven and her mystery beau decide to say something." Tom imagined the trouble he'd be in if Janeway caught him revealing her secrets. Although Voyager was fairly clean, there were always exhaust funnels to scrub and propulsion debris to clear. He shook his head. Better to leave Harry in the dark. "So, who are you partnered with?"
"That sounds thrilling," Tom teased. "Better than me getting stuck with Carlson."
"He can't still hate you."
"Oh, he can."
"We could trade," Harry offered hopefully. "You get along better with Icheb than Carlson."
"Nah. I sorta like getting on his nerves. All it takes is reminding him that I was a Maquis-for-hire, rather than a freedom fighter. I can literally hear him gnashing his teeth."
Grumbling, Harry got to his feet and hurried as fast as he could away. Granted, this wasn't very quickly, but he did his best. Tom leaned back in his chair, hands folded over his belly, and watched. The relief he felt at Harry being alive was palpable, and he was so grateful he could still tease the little guy. He checked the uneaten food on Harry's tray and frowned; Harry had barely eaten, which didn't bode well for his full and quick recovery.
"Power up the aft thrusters." B'Elanna leaned against the console and waited. She counted backwards from twenty in her mind and tried to keep from losing her cool-her partner for the week was a timid ensign from the lower decks who wouldn't make eye contact. Yelling would only send the woman scampering into a corner.
The ensign botched her first attempt but managed to get the second to work. The ship rumbled under foot, and B'Elanna watched the console for information regarding altitude, power consumption, and diagnostics. After a moment, the thrusters died, but B'Elanna was far from disappointed. She scrolled through the generated data and nodded, piecing together what it all meant. Intent on her work, she nearly didn't hear the doors sliding open.
"I am here to inquire as to your progress."
B'Elanna gestured to the console, aware that her explanation would not be adequate to Seven, who always wanted every ounce of information possible. Rather than answer a slew of questions to satisfy Seven, B'Elanna preferred to hand over the source material and let Seven draw her own conclusions. While Seven browsed, B'Elanna leaned against the wall near Chakotay.
"So, things going okay with your partner?"
"Other than her open dislike of me, yes." He chuckled and watched Seven work. "She'll come around."
"She came around to liking you, didn't she?"
"That's one way to put it," B'Elanna responded. She knew they were much closer now than before, but she didn't quite know what Seven thought of her. Seven was generally blank faced, especially now that she was exploring her humanity and understanding that every vexation did not require a verbal complaint. It was possible that Seven valued the information B'Elanna offered and simply had the tact to avoid pissing her off.
"The data suggest that with a few calibrations, the ship could be lifted from the ground at least temporarily so that repair work can begin." Seven met B'Elanna's gaze evenly. "I will assist you."
"Anything I can do?"
Seven didn't look at Chakotay as she said, "Stay out of the way."
B'Elanna couldn't stop her snort of laughter. She clapped Chakotay on the shoulder and joined Seven at the console.
Holding Naomi's hand, Janeway left the mess hall and headed for the cargo bay holding their robot guest. At Naomi's insistence, they were going to see her dear friend. As there was nothing immediate that required her attention, she'd given in without a fight. Over the next few days, there would likely be too much to do, and Naomi wouldn't get a chance to indulge in frivolous pursuits as long as she was with Janeway. Once the shore leave rotation began, they'd be shorter staffed than usual, which meant more to do for everyone still on-duty.
They entered the room, and Janeway immediately noticed Seven and Chakotay near Scratchy. She couldn't stave off the easy smile that took over her features as she approached. Following Naomi's enthusiastic greeting, both Seven and Chakotay looked at her, and she was pleased to see Seven's expression lightening as well.
"I see we weren't the only ones who wanted to see how Scratchy was doing."
"That is correct."
"He seems to be settled in well here."
"Does he want to return to the caves?" Naomi peered at her friend and placed a palm flat on his plating. "I don't want him to be stuck here."
Seven's tubules issued out and hooked into Scratchy. She relayed the concern. "It is content enough here, although it is aware that it is behind on its quota."
"Apologize for the inconvenience."
Chakotay tugged on Janeway's arm, leading her a bit away. "You're apologizing to a non-sentient being? You might as well compliment a chair."
"If the chair is particularly good looking, I might," she replied tartly.
"I'm just afraid that you're letting your newfound closeness with Seven to impact your assessment of this thing's capabilities."
She stood still and let her initial flare of temper cool. Raging at him wouldn't accomplish her purposes. "I can't say I understand what you're implying."
He grimaced. "That thing back there is a non-sentient object, Kathryn. It serves a function, but it's hardly a living being."
"So, you're saying that non-living entities don't deserve our respect." How this related to Seven, she wasn't sure. Seven might have Borg capabilities, but she was certainly a living being.
"I'm saying that our handling of this matter is a little ridiculous."
Voice hard, she said, "We are visitors on this planet. Regardless of your opinion on robotic beings, we will not instigate any hard feelings-"
"They don't have feelings."
"Maybe not. But they do have the ability to destroy our ship and kill our crew."
He shook his head. "Lt. Ayala will figure out a way to protect us."
"I understand that Starfleet regulations have never been your favorite," she murmured, gazing at Seven, who pretended not to watch them, "but we will not divert from them simply because our potential trading partner doesn't meet your personal standards."
He lifted his hands. "We're just wasting a lot of time when we could just take what we need."
"If I've learned nothing else over the past week, it's that we have to value the time we do have. While this may not get us off-planet by tonight, I refuse to ruin what we have in the name of haste. If you're so concerned about wasting time, please lodge a formal complaint against Neelix's partnership program."
His gaze too shifted to Seven. "I'm actually not opposed to that. I think it's good to get the crew working with others."
A flare of jealousy sparked in her belly, but she kept her tone impassive. "Very well. Then you have no further comments on how I'm running this contact?"
His cheeks darkened. "None, Captain."
"Very good. You are dismissed. Please take Naomi back to her quarters."
Once he and Naomi had gone, Janeway approached Seven and placed a tentative hand on her arm. "You look stressed."
"Today has not been… ideal."
Janeway chuckled. "I can see that."
"Did you tell Neelix that you no longer wished to work with me?"
"Accidentally, I think. He approached me a few mornings ago about the idea and explained that we would be paired up. I panicked a bit at the implication that our relationship was anything more than friendship. He must have assumed that meant I didn't want to work with you, when the opposite is true."
"I don't want rumors flying around. You understand, don't you?"
"I do." Seven withdrew her tubules from Scratchy and dipped her head. Abruptly changing the subject, she added, "It wishes you to know that it finds the plating idea interesting."
"How does it know about that?"
A rosy hue colored Seven's cheeks. "While you discussed matters with Commander Chakotay, I laid out the options for its opinion."
"I didn't think he was capable of opinions."
"It is capable of analyzing situations for ideal outcomes."
"I suppose that's what algorithms do."
"I also offered to contact its home planet once we have returned to our journey, as well as to pass along the information regarding the plating so that a rescue attempt may be mounted."
"Was it interested in that?"
"I do not believe it understood. It knows it was programmed, but its concept of its programmers is vague."
"Perhaps we can try communicating later, to let it know that contacting their creators could lead to their efforts in the mines finally paying off."
"I do not believe the robots care about the outcome of their efforts, only that they continue to work."
"Well, the plating at least will help them accomplish that."
Janeway dragged her gaze away from Scratchy and smiled at Seven. "Now that that's settled, would you rather join me in my ready room to go over some progress reports or resume your partnership with Commander Chakotay?"
"I would prefer to join you," Seven said honestly, not realizing that the question had been a tad rhetorical in nature.
"Good, as I'd prefer that as well."
As they walked, Seven kept her hands locked behind her back. She'd seen B'Elanna hold Tom's hand, but she supposed Janeway wouldn't approve of the display of affection. No matter how much information about relationships she assimilated, she didn't think she'd ever know enough to perform to Janeway's standards. This worried her, as she also was currently sexually unavailable, no matter what Janeway might say to ease her mind.
"You seem distracted."
"I was merely considering our survival odds."
"We're going to get off this planet-"
"I have full faith in your efforts," Seven interrupted. "I meant our, as in yours and mine."
"I hope we both live a long while."
"Oh." Janeway silenced as an ensign hurried past. Once he was out of earshot, she asked, "And?"
"I have concerns."
A sudden onslaught of anxiety constricted her throat. Still, she managed, "Concerns?"
"There is much we do not know about one another, as there is much about myself I do not know. Additionally, I am inexperienced in most things, and inexperience leads to costly mistakes."
Janeway relaxed; this sort of concern she could handle. "Like I said, I don't ever want to rush you through or into something you're not comfortable with. You inexperience is not and will never be a danger to our relationship."
"I trust you to guide me," Seven replied, tightening her hands behind her back. "However, I may commit some form of misstep that not even you could look past."
"You're not planning on murdering me, are you?"
Seven leveled a puzzled gaze at Janeway, who laughed. "I am not."
"Seven, the only thing-other than murder-you could do to hurt me is to be dishonest. I think our survival rate will only go up if we share our concerns and talk about things. As a Starfleet captain, I know a thing or two about negotiations, and I'm pretty certain we'll get through this."
Seven sighed and nodded. "I will do my best to avoid disappointing you."
"You haven't yet."
"May I present an observation?" When Janeway nodded, Seven asked, "I noted your behavior when Ensign Trumari passed by. You stiffened and said nothing."
"I suppose that's accurate."
"You are not prepared to share our relationship with others."
Seven bit down on her inner cheek to keep from asking why not. That was Janeway's business, and she would respect Janeway's position as long as she could tolerate. "Very well."
"It's nothing to do with you, I promise."
"Very well," Seven repeated.
"Right now, I have to be more than human for the crew. I need to perform beyond my abilities and exude focus and confidence. They need to believe that getting off this planet is my sole thought at all times, so they'll also believe that it's going to happen."
"Romance is human."
"Romance is sometimes seen as a distraction. Did the Borg ever have romantic dalliances?"
"Only in Unimatrix Zero."
"The Borg Queen understands perfection, doesn't she? And she doesn't dabble in romance."
The thought that a romantic dalliance was a blemish troubled Seven. She disliked being considered a weakness and a distraction. Her goal was always to increase Janeway's efficiency, not detract from it. "Your point is valid. I will not speak of our relationship without your permission."
"I'm not interested in controlling you-at least not outside of the usual command structure. If you'd like to talk to someone about this, you're free to do so. I just hope your chosen conversational partners understand my concerns as well as you do."
"Lt. Torres is aware of our relationship, but I am not yet certain she understands the stakes of keeping this information private. I will rectify that immediately."
"I assume that Lt. Torres shared this information with Lt. Paris."
Janeway considered the two members of her senior staff and decided that she trusted them with the information. While they were both prone to gossiping, they were also loyal to her. As soon as they knew this information had the potential to harm her, they would be tight lipped. She wondered when she'd come to rely so unflinchingly on an ex-prisoner and an ex-Maquis but dismissed the thought. Everyone on this ship was drastically different than they were at the start of their mission, and she preferred to let the past remain behind them.
Running the simulation one more time for safety's safe, B'Elanna watched the projected results with a keen and careful eye. Her trembling ensign had been asking as to why she was being so hesitant when they knew the thrusters were working at least minimally; the truth was that she didn't dare risk Voyager's stability when they were still struggling to get back to functionality. Instead of relaying this, however, she shrugged and stated it was protocol, which shut the ensign up.
Finally, when she was all but certain that Voyager wouldn't be harmed, she slapped her comm badge and hailed the captain. A moment later, Janeway responded, and B'Elanna announced, "Captain, we are ready to use the thrusters. Requesting a rerouting of power for the next fifteen minutes."
"I will report in after our attempt."
The ensign approached, a little cowardly with her shoulders hunched and her head ducked. "You talk so easily with her. The captain, I mean."
"She's just a person."
"I know. But still… She's the captain."
B'Elanna grimaced. "Yeah, but the captain is also a person. You really can't forget that. Something about putting a person on a pedestal just never works out."
"Okay, she's a person. But she's so much more important than me."
Although she couldn't really argue against that point, B'Elanna shrugged as if Janeway wasn't their only shot at reaching the Alpha Quadrant before they died. "What is it you do on the lower levels?"
"I maintain equipment."
"Without you doing that, the equipment could fail." B'Elanna could hardly believe she was giving a pep talk to a Starfleet officer-but times had changed so drastically. She'd have to tell Tom later, and they could both laugh about it.
The woman nodded, still unwilling to meet B'Elanna's eyes. "Do you like being on the senior staff?"
"I think it'd be too much pressure."
"There is a lot of that," B'Elanna allowed. She gestured to their current project, which they need to return to. "You're getting a taste of that right now. Go check on our power reserves."
As soon as she heard that they had nearly double their usual, B'Elanna initiated the thrusters and closed her eyes. The ship jerked and shifted underfoot, prompting her to open her eyes and track their altitude. At first, they didn't rise so much as jolt up and down. Then, with a creak and a shudder, the ship shot straight up.
"Torres to the bridge."
Chakotay responded, "Bridge here."
"Move Voyager a few yards away from the crash site and set her down gently."
On the bridge, Chakotay motioned for the helmsman to do as B'Elanna requested. The helmsman was no Tom Paris but still managed to move the ship the requisite distance away. Before he set the ship down, however, he punched at his console and frowned.
"Commander, the ship's landing struts aren't activating."
He pounded his comm badge. "Chakotay to Janeway."
"Has anyone done work on the landing struts?"
"Yes. They were deemed to be in working condition as of three days ago."
He tapped a few buttons on the console between his chair and the captain's. She was correct-a log submitted by a junior engineer detailed the maintenance work completed. The problem, then, wasn't in the functionality of the struts but in the computers. He glanced back at the ops station and wished Harry were there to assist on this.
Thankfully, Seven took up the position, her hands gliding over the console as if she were playing a particularly simple piano composition rather than finding and rectifying a potentially awful problem that could crash the ship all over again. Her concentration didn't budge as the ship dipped down, and the helmsman cried out for her to hurry.
She located where the network had failed to connect, thus interrupting the message from the helmsman to the struts, and diligently reprogrammed as fast as her fingers would fly. Just as the ship tottered down to the ground, she activated the struts. Although the landing was harder than she would have liked, they were safely above ground.
"Nice work, Seven."
She glanced at Chakotay, thinking that Janeway would have realized the problem earlier. She stepped away from ops to stand at his elbow with her hands linked behind her back. Through the view screen, she examined the Pylosian landscape, which was actually quite enticing when they weren't fighting for their lives.
"I require regeneration," she stated, not bothering to listen for permission before heading for the turbolift. A short ride later-with no power interruptions to leave her trapped in the 'lift-she headed for her alcove and stepped onto the welcoming metal pad.
"Don't touch that!"
Icheb removed his hand gingerly. "I am aware of its capabilities, Ensign Kim."
Harry furrowed his brow and pretended to be very into the tool he was holding. He was aware that despite an even tone, Icheb didn't think much of him. That much had to be true, especially given the circumstances under which they both left the mining cave. Icheb had been right, and Harry had been wrong-and that irritated Harry as much as he was grateful to be alive.
"Good," he eventually said. "Then you know not to touch it."
Harry hated that Icheb always managed to keep an even tone, when he himself lost his temper so easily and so often. He grumbled under his breath and fiddled with his hyperspanner. Finally, when he'd built enough gumption, he said, "I should have listened to you in the cave."
Icheb inclined his head. "Neither of us knew the outcome of our actions. It was just as likely that I would be wrong as you."
"But you weren't," Harry muttered. He didn't need Icheb's kindness. In fact, what he needed was someone willing to tell him how much he'd messed up. He was tired of everyone giving him a free pass-tired of being just that green ensign who didn't know any better.
"I am uncertain what you want from me."
"Yeah, that makes two of us."
Confused, Icheb returned to his work, although his gaze drifted more often than he liked to Harry's furrowed brow.
Janeway stood outside with B'Elanna and appraised the damage to the hull of the ship. Naomi mimicked her posture and expression, humming occasionally under her breath. The sight of her little shadow filled Janeway with fondness, even in the face of the gargantuan task of fixing Voyager. Her ship had been beaten hard, she noted with a frown. While the crew had repaired portions of the hull, the area that had hid through ground had been crushed in.
"It looks worse than it is," B'Elanna said, her hands on her hips.
"Well, it looks awful."
"Awful," Naomi parroted. Janeway set her hand atop Naomi's head, and Naomi stood a little taller.
Janeway considered the workload and sighed. "The problem is we have shore leave scheduled. I'm loathe to cancel that, especially given how hard everyone has already had to work. We could be looking at a month of work with the labor we have available, not to mention whatever will need to go into creating plating for the hull."
Nodding, B'Elanna turned to face Janeway. She shielded her face from the brilliance of the suns. "I'm willing to forego my shore leave if you can guarantee time off once we're up and running again, for me and Tom."
"I don't want you running yourself ragged."
"I won't. But I'd rather get off this planet before anything else has a chance to go wrong."
"Very well. Request granted."
Janeway led Naomi back inside, all the while answering each of the young girl's questions. Naomi had an active imagination and a vibrant curiosity, which Janeway knew would lend itself toward Naomi becoming an excellent science officer. That was, of course, if Naomi chose to follow in her mother's footsteps. Janeway wondered if her own children would do so, or if they'd end up like her sister who fought incredibly hard to stay away from military life.
"Do you like Seven?"
"Of course. I like every crew member."
Naomi stared up at her and folded her arms. "That's not what I meant."
"I'm not sure what you mean, then."
"I heard my mom talking to Mr. Neelix." Naomi skipped beside her, unaware of the sudden physiological response Janeway was experiencing. "She said she thought you ought to do something before someone else got Seven's attention."
"Did she now?"
"But I don't think you have to worry, though. I seen how Seven looks at you."
Janeway nearly missed a step. "Oh?"
"But mom does have a point, just that you shouldn't wait. If you like her, you should say something because she likes you, too."
"Sometimes it's more complicated than that."
Naomi sobered as she walked, tucking her hands in her pockets and staring down at her feet. "Is this something else I'll understand when I'm older?"
"I think you can understand just now, if it's explained clearly." Janeway came to a halt and looked down at her charge. "In an ideal world, all you'd need is for people to love each other. However, that's only going to work in a vacuum."
"We're normally in space, though."
"We're in a ship in space," Janeway gently corrected. "Life interrupts our existence. While we might want to do something, life restricts us. Does that make sense?"
"Have you ever wanted to stay up late, but your mom made you go to sleep?"
"It's like that, only what you want varies and so does your mom."
"What's stopping you from telling Seven?"
Janeway ruffled her hair. "For one, I have a whole ship to run. Everyone needs my attention."
"I think we'd be okay if you spent time with just Seven."
"Emergencies arise," another voice interrupted. Janeway spotted Seven rounding the corner and smiled. Seven tilted her head in greeting before continuing her comment to Naomi. "I am aware of the captain's feelings, Naomi. They are, however, strictly her business. We have discussed the humanoid capacity for gossip, have we not?"
"Yes." Naomi hung her head. "It's a waste of time and a cause of inefficiency."
"Very good. You will not discuss this matter with others."
Seven finally offered her a genuine smile, a rarity from the usually stiff blonde. Naomi took her hand for a moment, squeezed, and then scampered off. Seven straightened and met Janeway's gaze. "I apologize if you did not want your feelings validated in such a manner."
"She doesn't mean any harm." Janeway gestured down the hallway. "Care to join me?"
Seven's shoulders sagged with relief as she strutted to the 'lift and followed Janeway to deck three. As soon as they were safely in Janeway's quarters, Janeway released a puff of air and ran a hand through her hair. They were making progress, and she couldn't wait until they were once again in space, where life was still arduous but somehow familiar.
"Did you assess the damage to Voyager's hull?"
"Yes. B'Elanna's skipping her shore leave to help complete the work faster."
"I will do the same."
Janeway touched her elbow. "As I told Lt. Torres, I'd prefer if you didn't run yourself into the ground."
"I do not require the same leisure time as my peers. Regeneration is more than adequate to refresh me." Seven cleared her throat and averted her gaze. "As is time spent with you."
Janeway's lips quirked up into a smile. "I find my time with you refreshing as well. Have you eaten?"
"Not since this morning."
"Would you care to have dinner with me?"
Janeway gestured to the couch. "Can I get you a drink while I program our meal?"
"Water will suffice."
"Did you have an interesting day with Commander Chakotay?"
"Interesting is not the adjective I would have selected."
Seven seated herself and crossed one knee over the other. She watched Janeway move about the cabin with a keen eye. She had no worries for Janeway's safety, but she enjoyed watching the way the older woman carried herself. Even in private, there was regality and control with every gesture and step. Seven didn't think that could be taught in leadership classes.
"What did you do?"
"He insisted on visiting the airponics bay, despite having been there yesterday. To my knowledge, he does not have a specialization in the area."
"No, but he might have an interest in the lieutenant working there."
Seven sighed. "He should not let romance get in the way of duty. You have made that perfectly clear. Why is he allowed dalliances, while you are not?"
"He's an officer not the captain," was all Janeway could muster as a legitimate response. Privately, she admitted that she held herself to a higher standard than she often held others. Chakotay could be seen as human by the crew, and he had a rapport with many of them already. She, on the other hand, needed the distance.
"I will not push you. I was merely curious."
"You and Naomi are very similar."
Seven's eyes softened. "She is a good child. She would have made an excellent addition to the Borg."
"That is a compliment."
"Maybe don't say that to anyone but me."
"As you wish."
Janeway finished plugging in their order and waited for the replicator to give her the meal. After a moment, she slapped the machine and frowned. "We may need to see what Neelix is cooking in the mess."
"You wish to dine with me in front of the crew?"
"I expect us to both be professional, so there should be nothing to generate doubt."
Seven gestured to the door. "Let us go before the good food is taken."
"Neelix serves good food?" Janeway joked as she strode into the corridor.
"Good taste is relative rather than universal. There is some creature somewhere that finds his food delectable."
"Too bad that creature isn't human."
Seven dipped her head, a silent acknowledgement of the joke. She wasn't an avid laugher, but Janeway's humor nearly drew an audible response.
"C'mon, man. You have to tell me." Harry elbowed Tom when mere verbal persuasion failed, but Tom just elbowed him back with a wry smirk.
"You haven't had time to listen to the rumor mill?"
"It's ridiculous." Harry poked his form into the gelatinous blob that made up his meal. He lifted his gaze to Tom's. "People are saying Seven's with the captain."
Tom shrugged. "You didn't hear it from me."
"That's impossible, seriously. People are just-stretching. They spend a lot of time together, but they have a lot to talk about. It doesn't have to be something… something romantic. Right?"
Gesturing to the door with his fork, Tom pointed out Seven and Janeway entering together. "No, it doesn't. But look at them together. Tell me you don't see it."
Harry twisted in his seat and examined the way Seven attentively brought Janeway a tray and how Janeway's face lit up at something Seven said. He noted the casual brushing of their hands together, the way they stood a little too close together, and Seven's seeming unwillingness to depart from Janeway's side. He supposed this could be construed as romantic, maybe.
"I don't know. They look friendly to me."
"About as friendly as me and 'Lanna," Tom replied. "But you can think whatever you want. I guarantee, though, that Seven's not going to date you."
"She might," he groused. "Someday."
"Look, we're having another movie night next week, as long as we're still alive. I'll have B'Elanna invite her along, and you can take your swing."
Harry swallowed hard. "That's a little quick. I have to, you know, lay the groundwork."
"Butter her up."
"Get her to like me more."
Tom laughed, letting his head fall back as he held his stomach. A hand eased his head upright, and he grinned up at B'Elanna. "Harry here was just telling me about his plans to woo our resident Borg."
"Harry…" She looked at him with eyes full of pity.
He stood abruptly, taking his tray with him. He didn't need that look from her anymore than he wanted the teasing from Tom. Without so much as a goodbye, he retreated. B'Elanna sat down and shook her head.
"Something's a little off with him since he got back."
"He's having a bit of a hard time," Tom allowed. "But he'll get over it."
"He'd better. I'm not sure how much longer I can stand him moping around."
"You Klingons are known for your patience."
She punched his shoulder. "Do you want to sleep alone tonight?"
"I'm working straight through shore leave."
He cocked an eyebrow. "Last time you did that, you nearly bit my head off for asking how your day was."
"This time I have a vacation waiting on the other side. I got you a bit of time, too, and I've been saving up time on the Holodeck. Even if I bite your head off, I promise to reattach it then."
"I can get behind that." He took one last look at Seven and Janeway before clearing his tray. They certainly looked together to him.