A Perfect Mate – Chapters 1-5

By Kudara

Disclaimer: Star Trek Voyager and all who sail in her belong to Paramount/Viacom and no infringement of copyright/trade marks is intended.

Warning: Contains f/f ?… f/m?... situations between… err consider yourself generally warned of sexual content.

Rating: M (Mature teens and older)

Feedback: Always welcome, feedback is what encourages me to keep writing. Please let me know what you like and what you dislike about the story.

Revision History: 1/24/05

Notes: Experimental work: development of culture for non humanoid race; androgynous character. Sources for Rana behavior would include lion prides, wolf packs, and the behaviors of chimpanzee and gorilla groups.

Chapter 1

The day was perfect as far as I was concerned. A light breeze teasingly ruffled my striped tan and chestnut fur, playing with each strand of hair while the afternoon sun warmed me. The droning of insects was a constant undertone in my ears as they twitched listening to the sounds around me. From my left came a rasping sound I knew was Blackfur hollowing out an antler she was planning on using as a knife handle while the rest of us napped.

I inhaled the warm smell of the earth and the citrus spicy scent of the other members of my rann. Beyond these was the aroma of the grassland, the scent of the green stalked kaltan grass heavy with seed that was sweet when eaten. Faintly upon the breeze I also caught a hint of fleet footed samara. I opened my eyes and sat up and sniffed the breeze curiously at the musky odor, then licked my teeth and looked around at the others of my rann.

Scarface the rann alpha was sitting up as well and from the way she was sniffing the breeze and her ears were both facing toward the grasslands, she smelled the samara as well. Softfur, her mate, was lying exhausted in the shaded cavern opening of the rann's den, my three youngest sisters Treeclimber, Leap and Watcher lying around and upon her, their feet and hands moving in their sleeping thoughts and muted rumbling sounds coming from them.

I grinned in amusement at this and noticed Swiftfoot and Blackfur sniffing the breeze as well, their ears flicking forward and back between the grasslands and where Scarface was laying. I once again glanced over at Scarface wondering if we would investigate or whether she would judge that it was too warm for what would probably be a difficult hunt to bring down one of the long legged grass eaters.

Scarface groaned slightly as she lifted herself to all fours and stretched, then stood on her hind legs and gazed out over the grasslands, undoubtedly searching to see if she could sight what she smelled. She was a large alpha, almost seven feet tall when she stood upright, and her fur was mostly light brown in color but tipped with a lighter color over her chest and in stripes over her face and back. I was the third tallest in the rann after Scarface and Blackfur, and only a half a hand shorter than Blackfur.

Scarface gazed intently out onto the grasslands a moment longer and then dropped down to rest upon the callused joints of her long fingered hands. We used our hands to grasp and manipulate objects, and to modify the meaning of the sounds we made to communicate with each other. When standing on all fours we curled them up so the hardened calluses of the knuckle and first joint protected them from the ground.

Her scarred face turned toward me and I met her gaze for a moment before lowering mine for a brief second in respect. When I next raised it I awaited a sign on whether or not we would seek out the samara. Scarface picked up her knife in its sheath from where she had laid it aside while sleeping and tied it by its cord about her waist. Scarface then ambled over to the rann's small stack of leather goods and pulled out a long cord we used for various tasks and wrapped it about her body. Seeing Scarface do this I was quick to don my own knife and out of the corner of my eye I saw Blackfur and Swiftfoot doing the same, for Scarface's action was a clear sign we would be hunting.

Scarface glanced at her mate and newest young, I could tell how happy she was by how her short high set ears pricked forward as she watched them and how her mouth eased into an upturned grin as she panted lightly in the heat. As Scarface watched Softfur woke and glanced around at us curious to why we were all awake this early in the day. Scarface sniffed the air in answer and Softfur did so as well, catching the odor that interested us. Looking at her mate she cocked her head to the side in inquiry but Scarface glanced at her children and Softfur sighed in disappointment, at only two years old they were much too young for her to leave them alone to go hunting with us.

Watching them I was envious of the closeness they shared, how their mate bond allowed them to sense each other's thoughts. I distinctly remembered the child-parent bond I had with them for several years until it dimmed as I got older. I knew I would never forget the love and acceptance I had felt from them during that time. The experience of that first bond with one's parents cemented the familial bonds of the rann, which in turn served as the basis of Rana culture.

Scarface trotted over to Softfur and affectionately licked her muzzle and the top of her head before glancing at the three of us. Swiftfoot, Blackfur and I got up from where we were sitting down and waited for Scarface's signal. After a few more moments with her mate Scarface sounded a hunting cough and moved toward the enticing scent coming from the grasslands and we trotted to fall in behind her as she left the bare earth in front of the den entrance.

As we went past Softfur we all paused a moment to brush muzzles with her in a sign of affection. As I looked my newest sisters I wondered briefly if I would ever have any young of my own. In order to do so I would have to leave my parents and sisters and strike out on my own, seeking other non-clan rann and hoping to meet the one unmated Rana with whom I could share the same type of bond that Scarface and Softfur did. One's clan was a wider group of related rann, I would be clan with any of my sisters rann, and my parent's sisters rann, and my parent's parents rann.

The difficulty among the Rana of finding one's mate discouraged many Rana from even trying and kept our numbers low. The Rana were not like the other animals that came as either male or female. We had the ability to be both, though our male organs were normally not fully developed. When Rana decided to mate one of the pair, usually the most able hunter would develop their male organs and could then impregnate the other. Before that occurred though the newly mated pair would choose their own den and territory and formally leave their parent's rann to form their own. Though one always in a sense, remained part of their parent's rann.

We followed the scent of the samara out onto the grasslands; the wind had carried it a long way and it was while before we caught sight of the fleet footed samaras. They stood nearly as tall as we when upright and their hooves and horns were sharp. A lucky strike from a hoof of one of these had given Scarface her distinctive look. We would need a combination of stealth, cunning and luck to manage to get close enough to bring down one of the small herd.

Staying carefully upwind we examined the herd closely. It was not long before our noses caught the scent of blood on one of the animals. Now was the breeding season of the samara, the time for the males to show themselves as fit mates for the females and one of the male samara had come out of such a contest badly injured.

This male will likely be our prey I thought and looked at Scarface for confirmation. She was examining the male I had noticed as well, watching the way the samara moved. With satisfaction I noted what Scarface had seen, that the samara was limping badly, perhaps this would not be as much of a chase as usual. Glancing at me Scarface directed her gaze at a point to the side and slightly beyond the herd of samara. I knew I was expected to make my way to that spot without the samara detecting me by sight, sound or scent. Not an easy task given that their senses were as sensitive as our own, the only reason they had not yet scented us was that we were downwind of them.

I noticed Scarface directing Blackfur to the other side of the herd; we would be bracketing them then. Undoubtedly Swiftfoot and Scarface would creep as close to the samara as possible then rush them, depending on the way they broke hopefully Blackfur or I would be in position to attempt to bring down the wounded one.

I crept slowly and carefully around the side of the herd to my appointed place, pausing frequently and paying attention to any shift in the wind which might carry my scent to them. Finally I was in position; I crouched and silently pulled my knife from its sheath then waited patiently knowing that Scarface and Swiftfoot would not advance upon the herd until Blackfur and I were in position. When the samara started breaking off from feeding and began looking around nervously I knew Scarface and Swiftfoot must be close. Keeping an eye on the injured deer I waited patiently.

When they broke and ran I was pleased to see the injured deer coming directly toward me. Making a quick decision I remained crouching and waited to see if it would get close enough for me to attack without giving chase. The samara kept running toward me, not noticing me as I crouched in the high grass. By the time it finally did see me, it was almost on top of me and its panicked stop only made it easier for me to spring from my crouch and leap atop it's back.

Once there I gripped the samara desperately with one hand while stabbing its neck with my knife repeatedly. Then my knife hand was suddenly wet making it difficult for me to grip and I knew I had hit my mark. Suddenly the samara stumbled and I was barely able to jump from its back before it fell. It thrashed violently for a few seconds and then stilled just as the rest of the rann approached.

As Scarface came up to the dead samara I moved away from it, as alpha it was her place to make the first cut. It was a custom that harkened back to when we did not cook our food and the alpha of the rann ate first at a kill. Scarface undid the ties that held her knife in its hide sheath and carefully skinned the side of the animal before making a long cut down its flank where we would begin stripping the meat from the carcass.

Once she was done we finished skinning the animal, laying the skin to the side we began cutting the meat off in strips following the initial cut by Scarface and laid them carefully upon the skin. Once we were finished taking as much meat as we needed Scarface cut small holes along one side of the hide and tied the cord to it and looped it across one shoulder. She would carefully drag the hide with the meat upon it back to the den; the rest of the carcass would be left for the scavengers to feed upon. We were almost ready to head back when my ears detected a sound I had never heard before; it was a piercing, shrieking sound that rapidly got closer and louder.

Suddenly a large object approached us from the sky coming straight toward us and causing all of us to flatten to the ground in fear of it. As it passed over us I was one of the first to stand then go upright to see it slam from the sky into the earth. Curious I started toward the object only to have Scarface come up beside me and give me a reproving look for not waiting for her direction. Abashed I fell back and let her take the lead, as I did so I noticed she had given Blackfur the task of pulling the hide with its meat burden for now.

As we got closer to the strange object we crouched down and approached it carefully, uncertain whether or not it was dangerous. It did not smell or look, like anything living; instead it had the appearance of the metal we used to make the blades of our knives. We crouched for several minutes examining the thing and then Scarface stood and apparently deciding it presented no danger, approached more closely.

The object was longer than it was tall or wide, and had streaks of black, orange and reddish orange along its sides. It had odd protrusions sticking out along its length that had gouged out long furrows in the earth where it had slid and as we got closer we could detect faint sounds coming from inside it. Curious I leaned closer trying to make out what I was hearing but Scarface indicated silently that we should move further away and back into the grasslands. Once there we crouched down and watched it intently.

When one end of the object began to move we all flattened ourselves and became as still as possible. As it opened outward and we could see that the object was hollow inside. A short upright-standing animal was revealed as the end of the object finished opening and finally lay flat upon the ground.

The history we learned when young told of how a single non-Rana female had turned the Rana into what they were today, giving us an understanding of the world we had not had before. She had taught us how to communicate with each other, how to cook and dry meat, how to make tools like knives and how to make leather from the skin of the samara. No Rana knew what happened to her, for after we learned her teachings she disappeared, and had not been seen in the five generations since.

Looking at the strange animal I wondered if it were one of her race and if so had it come to see what had become of us. The animal was curious looking, what appeared to be its head was covered with a small patch of brown fur and its face which was flat with no muzzle, was furless. The remainder of its body was covered with something which was not fur, whatever it was; it was black in color except the shoulders where it was blue. In each hand it held something, one was round and long shaped the other was rectangular and was making noises as the animal moved it about in front of its body.

The object made several noises as the animal held it in our direction, and you could see the animal stiffen as it peered at where we were crouched hiding. With interest I noted that the animal was more like the Rana than the samara, it seemed to be much smarter than any animals that I knew and the objects in its hands appeared to be tools of some type. Scarface seeing that the strange animal had spotted us slowly stood upright. Swiftfoot, Blackfur and I followed her lead.

Upon seeing us rise the animal crouched down and raised the hand with the other object in it, the one that was long in shape. Scarface rumbled curiously at the animal and approached it slowly. The animal did not appear to be much of a threat to us, and it was not acting like prey. It seemed rather afraid of us, and it made a startled sound as we approached.

Suddenly an orange light appeared from the hand holding the tube and struck Scarface who stumbled and fell. The unprovoked attack caused Blackfur and Swiftfoot to rush the animal. It attempted to attack them with the orange light, but it missed. It then turned and looked like it would try to run back into the large object but it's foot caught in the grass and it fell backward, it's head struck the part of the object that had lowered to the ground and it lay still.

I had paused near Scarface long enough to realize that she was still breathing and was unconscious but I could smell no blood on her. I rumbled at the two of them to indicate they should leave the animal and come to me. They returned and nuzzled curiously at Scarface who was already showing signs of returning awareness. I could see they were reassured that she was not dead and I looked at the animal curious as to why it had attacked, it was unfortunate for it that it had.

With Scarface unable to deter me, my natural curiosity won out and I went to sniff at the still animal and quickly realized that it was not breathing, nor was its heart beating. Apparently when it fell and struck its head it had died. I turned and signed this to Blackfur and Swiftfoot who lowered their ears in dismay; it had not been their intention to cause the animals death, even if it had attacked first.

I then carefully ventured into the interior of the object staring curiously at the brightness of it and all the different colored areas on its inside surface. Small things were scattered about on the floor and I paused at each to sniff curiously. The scent of blood in front of me drew me onward and I found another of the animals wounded and unconscious deep inside the object.

Where the other animal had dark fur this one had fur the color of a dried kaltan seed pod and smelled different. There was something about the smell of this animal that drew me strongly, something about the scent that seemed to stir a memory within my mind. Without thinking I found myself cleaning the wound along its face. There was a curious ridge of hardened material around one of its eyes that was not bone, but smelled like the object we were inside of. I noticed a smaller area of the material along the opposite side of its face near its ear.

When Scarface ventured inside seeking me I stood between her and the strange animal and rumbled a warning, asking her to stop and not approach any closer. Scarface stopped surprise evident in every line of her body. I did not lower my gaze from her; I knew it was time for me to form my own rann. Though I was not certain why and what my decision had to do with the animal I had found. She sniffed the air and caught the scent of the strange animal mingling with my own scent, for when I had cleaned the animal I had marked it with the scent glands along the sides of my muzzle as well.

Scarface rumbled at me questioningly.

I was confused about my own actions and my uncertain growl whine in reply was more plaintive than I had intended as a result.

Scarface glanced at the injured animal and at me and moved as if to approach it.

This I was certain about and I stiffened and growl rumbled a warning to her, she was my parent but I would protect this animal, even from her.

Scarface merely looked at me appraisingly then made the hand sign for mate along with a questioning rumble.

I hesitated for a long moment then made another uncertain growl whine. Blackfur and Swiftfoot had come into the object by this time as well and were watching the interaction between Scarface and me with interest as well as sniffing curiously about them.

Scarface watched me for a few moments longer then finally rumbled an acknowledgement and dipped her muzzle accepting that I was seeking to form my own rann. I relaxed and trotted over to exchange scents with them by rubbing our muzzles along each other.

Finally after a few more moments they left me alone but not before Scarface let me know that she would be returning to check on me later. How much later she did not tell me and I could tell she was wondering what my inquisitive impulsiveness had gotten me into now.

Hearing scavengers outside I went and using my hands dragged the dead animal's body away from the metal object and scrubbed the blood on the flat part off with some grasses which I disposed with the body. I did not want the scavengers coming too close to it and perhaps discovering the injured animal inside. When this was finished I went back to check on it. I was not sure whether it was a male or female though I was beginning to suspect it was a female and the dead one was a male from the way they smelled and looked. The unconscious animal had prominent breasts, the dead one did not. In all the animals I had seen with distinct male and females, only the females had breasts.

I hoped we had not caused her mate's death though I did not think so since I did not detect her scent upon the dead one nor it's upon her beyond what one would expect from them being in the same area. Rann mates then but not breeding mates I decided. I sniffed her all over searching for other injuries but could find none, however I discovered more of the hard material on one of her front hands. I did not understand why the female had it but the male did not, perhaps it was unique to the females of her kind.

Finally I decided to move her from the object she was sitting upon to the floor. There were two of these objects where she was and she was resting upon one of them. They moved in a circle so it was easy for me to use my front hands to grasp her and gently lay her upon the floor. Searching around inside the object for bedding material I discovered thin shiny flat objects that while not very cushioning, were the only things I could find that would work for bedding.

I laid her down upon them and pulled one of the others up around her as night had fallen and it was getting colder and then lay down in front of her between her and the opening. When one of the scavengers would approach I would rumble out a no nonsense warning. I would attack if they approached too closely. When the female curled up close to me I rumbled at her affectionately. I was not certain why I felt protective and affectionate toward her but I did, if she were a Rana I would think my feelings meant that she was the one who was my mate, as Scarface had asked if she was, but she was not a Rana and I was confused as to why I felt what I did for this strange creature. Eventually ears alert for any sign of danger I feel asleep with her curled up against my back.

Chapter 2

When I awoke the next morning I began cleaning her face once again noting with relief that the wound showed no signs of heat within it and was healing. Swiftfoot had almost died of such a wound when it got red and hot, and only Scarface's skill with herbs had saved her life.

As I groomed her she showed signs of awareness but did not wake up, she only made protesting noises like a rebellious cub when I cleaned her ears and more contented noises when I cleaned the fur on her head and the skin of her neck. Her head fur was longer than I had thought, as it had been tangled up somehow yesterday, now I worked to untangled it and when I finished grooming her it hung down around her face.

Later in the morning she woke though it was clear she was not entirely aware of her surroundings. She stared at me lying next to her in confusion and fear and froze when I rumbled gently at her and nuzzled her face affectionately. When I drew back she stared at me for a long moment and relaxed slightly. Then she started making noises at me and I understood that she was asking me something from the questioning inflection but I could not understand the meaning of her sounds, they were not like the sounds Rana made. She quit when it became apparent that I did not understand what they meant, looking rather frustrated.

Finally she stirred and crawled along the floor toward the small objects that were scattered about and grabbed two of them and rested against the inside of the object as she tore them open and began eating what was inside one of them and taking what appeared to be drinks from the other object. Curious I came over and watched, she looked at me then picked up two more objects and tore at them and held them out to me. I took them from her and churred at her with pleasure understanding that she was offering me food and drink.

Tasting the food she had given me I found that it was nut like in flavor and consistency. I understood how to eat but it took me some time to figure out how to drink from the other object. I finally figured out that she was sucking on a stalk like hollow thing sticking out from its side. Duplicating her actions I found that I could draw water from it. Rumbling at her and hoping she would understand to stay inside the object I went outside and began marking the area around it. No sane scavenger or hunter would approach such a marked area as it indicated a Rana den. When I returned she had crawled to the opening and was watching my actions intently but had not ventured outside.

When I came back inside she pulled herself up and touched one of the areas with colorful squares beside the door. To my surprise and concern the wall that the male had lowered began to rise again. The female made calming noises to me when I rose agitated and I restrained my impulse to run outside before I was shut inside the object. When there was only a small gap left she tapped the same area again and the wall stopped moving. I was barely able to catch her as she tried to lower herself to the floor only to have her rear legs give way. With one arm wrapped about her, I helped her move back over to the nest I had made for us where she curled up and fell asleep once again.

With the opening in the object mostly sealed I felt less of a need to protect her so I curled up behind her where I could see the opening and was pleased to note that she instinctively moved closer to me. Once her back was resting against my chest she quit moving and fell into a deeper sleep. I placed an arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer and then placed my chin on the top of her head and fell asleep as well.

While I slept I dreamed and she was in the dream with me. In the dream the noises she had made translated themselves into concepts in my mind. I got a strong sense of curiosity from her about myself so I formed images of myself as a cub wandering and investigating everything and then the sign for my name Seeker. In return she gave me the image of seven items and a sound that meant the number for her name. I was puzzled by this but repeated the number back to her along with her image and received a feeling of affirmation from her.

Next there was the sense of her thinking about what we were doing now and a questioning confusion. I was as confused as she, about why we would be able to speak to one another in this manner we were not mates and not parent and child. There was quiet from her as she absorbed this information and the fact that such ways of communication were at least not unknown to my race.

After a few moments I sensed that she was curious about what I was and so I formed images in my mind of my parent's rann and of how we lived. How the rann was composed of two mated Rana and their children. Then I showed her some of my daily tasks such as hunting, gathering kaltan seed and mura roots for food, drying or cooking meat and curing skins for various uses.

Seven was curious about my the familial bond within the rann so I showed her how we groomed each other each morning to mingle our scents into one scent that was the entire rann's. How we greeted and rubbed against each other throughout the day to show our affection for one another. I remembered the bond I had with my parents when I was younger and felt a sharp pang of envy from her at my strong memories of their love for me.

Sensing that she was curious about the bits of Rana sounds and symbols she had seen from my memories I showed her how the Rana made themselves understood by other Rana. The complex meanings we were able conveyed with body posture and sound seemed to amaze her. When I started explaining the hand signs for more advanced concepts I realized she was surprised that Rana communication was so complex. I got the sense from her that we were much more intelligent than she had initially thought after I finished

Seven's curiosity about me sated she formed an inquisitive image of the male that had attacked us. In response I formed images in my mind of my rann investigating the strange object that had fallen from the sky, of the object opening and the male coming out of it. Then I showed her images of the male attacking Scarface and what followed.

I felt a sense of regret from Seven as I finished and she understood what had happened. I let her know that I was concerned she would be angry at me for my rann's involvement in the death of the male but she indicated to me that she was not. She was not certain that she would not have acted the same manner if she had been the one conscious she admitted, we appeared to be a formidable race and it was understandable why he had been scared of us, but also understandable why my sisters had thought he had killed Scarface.

In Seven's mind was an image of myself on all four legs with my front hands curled, the details that seemed to stand out in her mind were how powerfully built I was, with muscular back, chest and limbs. Longish chestnut striped tan fur covered my entire body. Short wide upright ears were placed on a broad muzzled head; the bright topaz slitted eyes were the only thing that she saw as showing that I was intelligent.

Once I was certain she was not angry at me for the death of the male, I sent back a sense of curiosity about whom and what she was.

There was a long pause then confusing images poured through my mind of Seven's life. The images were confusing but Seven was able to explain about what she called 'the Borg', and what they had done to her.

She also showed me how she came to her new home, the 'ship' called Voyager. Seven showed me how the Alpha female of the ship had been damaged, and how when the male that took over, he wanted Seven and the Borg to leave the Voyager rann? I wasn't certain rann was correct as the loose group she showed me looked more like a clan to me.

I thought at first that Seven meant that he had tried to chase them off and she affirmed that he had, but when they tried to do something to Voyager he killed the other Borg except for Seven. I was stunned, Rana did not kill other Rana, we usually did not fight at all and it was a matter of shame to draw blood during a fight. Even when my sisters' had thought the male had killed Scarface they had not attempted to kill it.

I got the sense from Seven after I got over the shock of the idea that the Rana were unusual, most races were much more violent than we were. Seven hesitated and then with unease related how she had drawn Voyager into a fight with the creatures the Borg were fighting. That was what the Borg needed, Voyager had a tool that hurt the creatures badly and the Borg needed it or they faced destruction. Seven continued to show me her tale, and how it had eventually ended with her having to stay on Voyager.

Seven showed me how she had woken after being separated from the Borg, the sense of aloneness she had felt, the overwhelming silence within her own mind. I felt how frightened she had been at the silence, the sense of only being one mind, one voice, and how small she had felt. The fact that she had been frightened had frightened her, as she was not used to feeling any emotions, and she had desired nothing more than to return to the Borg. The Voyager clan alpha female had denied her request and communicated to her that she belonged to the Voyager clan now, that she should rediscover what it was to be 'human'.

Seven explained to me that just as I was Rana she was Human, what she had to relearn was how to be a member of her own race instead of being a member of the Borg. They had taken off her metal skin and made her look as human as possible, the metal above her eye, her hand an a few other places were the only visible reminders of her past.

Fleeting dim images of the other members of the Voyager clan came from her, how the alpha male continued to view her with suspicion, how many members of the clan viewed her as an outsider or worse as still a member of the Borg. Few of them accepted her as a member of the Voyager clan even after almost two full rounds of seasons. Seven felt that she was not a full member of the Voyager clan but she did not want to go back to the Borg now either. She was currently at an impasse in her attempt to become one of them, finding herself unable to let the Voyager clan get any closer to her, keeping herself distance from them by hiding behind a forbidding exterior.

I was certain that much of what I had learned of her she had not meant to show me. How she felt about being separated from the Borg and about how she saw her place in the Voyager clan for the images were not clear like the ones before them, but hazy as if they were not primary in her attention but had been called up by what she had been showing me.

Seven then showed me that she had taken the small ship which she now called a shuttle out to explore a something and had gotten separated from Voyager when some type of storm arose that forced her to seek shelter. Only the shuttle had gotten badly damaged during the storm and when they tried to land, here there was the image of the shuttle going from the air to the ground, they had crashed. The image that followed that was similar to what I had witnessed and I showed her what I had seen of the shuttle landing. That was when Seven had been injured, I got the image of her head slamming into the hard surface I had found her seated in front of in the shuttle.

I showed her how I had found her in the shuttle and had cleaned the wound on her head, and then the confrontation between my parent, Scarface, and I over my staying with her. I formed and image of her and me together, then me grooming her and the distinctive scent of our two scents mingled to indicate that we were rann. I showed her how I had formed my own rann to be with her. She was no longer alone, I did not care that she had once been a member of the Borg nor did I care what the Voyager clan thought of her, I knew what she had showed me of herself and what I had learned of her and it only made me more certain that I wanted to form a rann with her.

There was a sense of uncertainty from Seven and she showed me images of returning to Voyager. There was a worried feeling from Seven as she was almost certain that the Voyager alpha would not approve of Seven letting me stay in the crashed shuttle with her. In response to this thought there was a distinct rebellious feeling from Seven over this because she wanted me close to her, even though her alpha might disapprove of this.

I sensed her trying to puzzle out why she wanted me to stay with her and felt her look deeply into me; I glimpsed how she saw my presence in her mind. I was a warm, comforting, strong, and accepting, it contrasted sharply with the way I saw her in my mind. Seven was cool presence to me; there was a sense of stillness that hid undercurrents that roused my curiosity and an overriding sense of aloneness that I wanted to chase away

Following this sense of exploration of how I felt to her I got the wistful feeling from Seven that she wished her alpha cared more about her but she had been told in the past by her alpha that the clan and her position as alpha came before Seven. I was not certain from Seven's feeling if she wished to become her alpha's mate or whether she just wished her alpha cared more about her, but whichever Seven had decided that it was not possible and had felt more alone ever since. Now she was separated from her clan and alone but for me, a stranger who had cared for her, and offered her friendship and a bond that meant she would be as important as family to me and she did not want me to go away.

The dream faded shortly afterward and I awoke to find her, or rather Seven, still in the same position close to me with my chin resting on her head fur. I felt her wake and half expected her to pull away from me given what she had shown me about how she acted with the Voyager clan but she did not. I shifted and pulled her gently over onto her back where she looked at me out of grey blue eyes.

I examined the wound on Seven's head and was pleased to see it was almost fully healed then began her mornings grooming. She stilled and I thought she would protest but eventually she relaxed and let me continue my grooming of her. When I finished cleaning her face, head fur and neck she reciprocated by stroking my muzzle, face, head and neck with her hands spreading her scent on me as I had on her and as I had shown her how the rann acted with each other in the mornings. Her actions as she did this were filled with both uncertainty and defiance and I wondered if she was thinking about her alpha as she spread her scent on me. The ritual completed I got up on all fours and went to the partially open side of the ship and rumbled a request and made the sign for open, hoping she would understand that I needed to relieve myself.

Seven got up and unsteadily walked over to the panel and lowered the side of the ship for me to get out. After I finished my marking of our territory I walked over to where she was standing holding the square object I remembered the male holding and looking at it intently. Of all the sounds she made then trying to communicate with me I only recognized a few, my name Seeker being one of them and Voyager being another.

Seeing my puzzlement she paused then slowly she made the sign for fix and pointed at the ship and then the sign that meant one wished to talk. Finally she said the word Voyager and made the sign for clan. I tilted my head curiously for a moment then rumbled my acknowledgement, gathering that fixing the ship would allow her to communicate with her clan. Remembering the dream from last night and her belief that the Voyager alpha would not be pleased that we had formed a rann, I wasn't particularly happy over the thought of her fixing the ship.

Seven looked pensively at me, correctly interpreting the set of my ears but she said nothing instead she continued walking around the ship examining it closely. When she finished she went back inside the ship and I followed her and watched as she did the same close examination of the interior. I was puzzled as to what she might be doing but it was interesting enough that I was not bored.

When she finished her examination she went to the front of the ship and sat down between the two objects there and removed a piece of the metal of the ship exposing an interesting looking interior what had many flashing lights. Curious I went and sat down behind her and peered in over her shoulder. She glanced at me for a moment then went back to whatever she was doing.

When she turned and pointed at an object on the wall and rumbled a request at me, I stared at her impressed at the speed with which she was learning my language. Then I got up and went over and touched it and looked at her inquisitively. She made a pulling motion so I grasped it with my hands and pulled on it surprised when it gave way and came off the wall. She held out her hands for it so I handed it to her and she opened it then looked at me and made a churring sound of thanks.

When the sun was highest in the sky Seven paused and made the sign for food and did a decent imitation of a Rana question noise. I made an assenting rumble and she rose and waited for me to move out of her way which I hurriedly did, getting up and moving toward the side of the ship closest to the open part. Seven, who had sorted through and stored the objects with the food and water earlier, pulled out two of each and showed me how to open them.

After we had eaten she went to continue whatever she was doing at the front of the ship and I followed her. When the sun went down she waited for me to relieve myself then closed up the side of the ship. I was curious that she had not showed any signs of needing to do the same but perhaps her race did not need to. Seven pulled up a square section of the floor and sorted through the materials there pulling out a few of them. Some of them she brought over and laid on the floor where we had been sleeping, these she touched and I watched in wonder as they thickened in size forming what was obviously a cushion against the hardness of the floor.

When she stripped off the covering she had been wearing I stared at her curiously noting that she was bare of fur all over except for another small patch at the juncture of her lower legs. I also noticed Borg metal on the arm opposite her Borg metal hand and places on each leg as well.

When she went to put on a new covering I moved over and began grooming her back before she could do so, realizing that I had missed most of her skin from our morning groom. She stiffened rigidly as I began grooming her but as I continued I could feel her sigh and relax and she slumped forward letting me continue. Excepting her breasts and the area between her legs which she strenuously protested me cleaning, I was able to clean her from head to toe leaving her thoroughly marked with my scent.

Seven had flinched and stiffened at first when I cleaned her arm where the Borg metal showed but when I came to the second place and did not hesitate to clean the Borg metal along with the skin she stopped flinching and relaxed. I knew from the dream the night before that she was used to thinking of the Borg metal as repulsive and was used to most of her clan members not wanting to touch them or be touched by them. She was more than half asleep when I finally finished and merely lay down beside me once I was done and began sleeping, the material she had planned to use to cover herself apparently forgotten.

Once again we met in our dreams, Seven was unclothed as she had fallen asleep and she stared at me with confusion and seemed to be asking me why my grooming felt pleasant. I was confused and tried to make her understand that I didn't know why she was asking, of course being groomed was pleasant. Seven shook her head and tried again, apparently being groomed felt very good and relaxing, causing her to be unable to protest a closeness that she would normally not allow and she was asking me why. I got the strong sense that the only reason she was asleep now was because it relaxed her so much. I also realized that she had not slept since she was a child.

I did not know why she was reacting to being groomed in such a manner and let her know that I didn't experience that when another Rana groomed me. I grinned at her and told her that it felt that good all the Rana would do all day would be to groom one another. She stared at me, as if asking if I were being truthful and I began to feel somewhat angry with her for doubting me. Upon feeling my outrage she hesitated a moment, and then I felt a wave of apology from her.

I offered to not groom her tomorrow morning and she sent back an affirmation and I felt a wave of relief from her. I was somewhat disappointed but understood that she felt as if she were loosing control of her actions because of it. She calmed and began sending me images and concepts of what she had been doing all day, apparently the ship was hurt and she was trying to heal it, 'repair' was the term she used. When she had repaired the ship she would be able to contact the Voyager clan and let them know that she was alive and where she was located.

I formed an image of the rectangular object that she had used earlier in the day and sent a questioning feeling along with it. In reply I got images of the object which she called a 'tricorder' allowing her to detect problems in the ship. I wasn't sure after she had completed the series of images exactly how it managed to tell her so many things but I could accept that it allowed to see things that her eyes, ears and nose could not.

I sensed ambivalence and worry from Seven over what would happen once Voyager found her through the entire time she had described why she was repairing the ship. I knew Seven sensed that I was curious about why she was certain her alpha would not approve of us being a rann but she was ignoring my curiosity making it clear she was unwilling to discuss the matter and so I did not press her.

Curious about one last thing I questioned why she had not wanted me to groom certain areas of her body and got back frank images that let me know they were associated with human mating behavior. Embarrassed I sent apologetic feelings toward her for trying to groom those places earlier but she quickly sent back reassurances that she was not angry. I explained to her that the Rana did not develop sexually until they met their mates, so it simply had not occurred to me that she would as she was also unmated. I sensed curiosity from her at this but she did not ask anything further, simply accepting it and again sending reassurances that she was not upset.

In the morning when we awoke I refrained from grooming her and watched as she got dressed and let me out for my morning run around the ship. I scented other clan ranns that had come to see the bizarre object, as was custom they kept their distance after realizing I had formed a new rann. It would be up to me to introduce my rann to the clan after a period of time. I began to feel unsteady on my feet after a short while and decided to make my way back toward the ship. I managed to make it into the ship before starting to feel decidedly ill and shaky, and looking at Seven, I could tell she was not feeling any better.

Seven made her way over to the tricorder and ran it over herself and looked at the readings with a frown then shakily ran it over me as well and stared at the readings. I was feeling more ill by the moment and when she lay down beside me and started repeating the word for groom I was confused but weakly did as she asked. I immediately began to feel slightly better as I cleaned both her hands. When I was done she ran the tricorder over both of us and frowned at the results then got up and closed the side of the ship back up and stripped off her covering then lay down on her stomach near me and repeated the sound for groom and added a rumbled request.

Confused for she had been clear about not wanting me to do this in the dream last night, I did as she asked and finally made the connection she had obviously made with her tricorder earlier. The illness we both felt was linked to my not grooming her. After washing her for just a few minutes I was feeling much better and it was obvious from her state of relaxation that she was feeling better as well. Knowing that my grooming her gave Seven a sense of euphoria I cleaned every inch of her that was appropriate of me only avoiding the areas she had indicated were for mating.

When I was done she rolled over and looked at me with slightly dilated eyes and then stroked her hands along my face, head, neck and chest spreading her scent on me. Within a few minutes her eyes had returned to normal and with one last use of the tricorder she put back on her covering. I tried asking her why I needed to groom her but she looked frustrated and told me that grooming was needed. Finally I gathered that there were not sounds or signs in Rana for her to explain.

Today she opened the box she had used earlier and named all the items in the box until I remembered them. It was then my duty to hand her the instrument she asked for and to place the instruments she gave me in the correct spot in the box. We broke for lunch and a short break then worked again until night fell.

Chapter 3

That night when we slept I asked her what she had learned from the tricorder and why I had to groom her to keep both of us from being ill. Seven stilled for a moment and then began sharing me what she had discovered. For some reason we had changed inside, she needed something that was in my saliva and I needed something that was being secreted from her skin.

I didn't fully understand all the concepts she was showing me but I understood that Seven was convinced that it was not by chance that this was happening to both of us. Something was causing it on purpose, because the same element in my saliva was also what was causing her to feel extremely relaxed and contented when I washed her. But she could not think of a reason why it was happening and she could not find what was causing it with the tricorder.

I sensed then a faint wish for things like the tricorder but more powerful aboard Voyager and a male human she called the Doctor. Seven was certain that with those and with the male human's help she could find out what was happening and why.

Seven broke the quiet that had fallen between us by beginning to explain what her life was like before she met me. Seven told me how Voyager, which was a very large ship, traveled in an area she called 'space' which was between us and the stars that were in the night sky. She explained how the stars were like the sun that warmed the day only very far away, here I got the impression from her of a distance so vast that it was difficult for me to comprehend, so that all that reached my 'planet' was their light.

After she explained all this she regarded at me curiously and I caught that she was surprised by how well I understood what she was describing and how I seemed to be able to understanding more and more of what she was communicating every day. Along with these thoughts were ones of how much she was enjoying these nightly dream meetings, how much they reminded her of the one thing she missed from the Borg, the ease of sharing information. There was also the realization of how different they were from the Borg way of sharing, Borg had not projected warmth, caring and protectiveness for her, but I did, and to her surprise she found herself valuing it.

I was enjoying them as well, perhaps more so than Seven as there were so many new concepts and ideas I was learning. Interestingly enough I was also feeling how Seven formed all these words she was using. In my dream uncomfortable and odd sensations filled my mouth as I seemed to automatically echo the words she was thinking. But it was a small discomfort to bear in exchange for all the things I was learning.

Seven was still not certain what she should do when Voyager found her and I realized abruptly that she needed assistance from them. She could not stay on my planet; the remaining Borg parts needed occasional repairs that could only be done on Voyager. I realized all this suddenly from her thoughts and felt a rush of worry. Seven's thoughts broke into mine as she realized what I had had picked up from her, letting me know that she could make most repairs using the tools on the shuttle. Seven reassured me that she was in no immediate danger and being able to sleep was the greatest help.

After a moment of quiet there was an excited feeling from Seven and she began explaining carefully why her alpha would be displeased over Seven letting me stay. I got the sense from Seven that she had been unable to find concepts I would understand before tonight but now I understood more and now she could explain why to me.

The Voyager clan was part of a larger clan that Seven called the Federation clan. This clan believed that it was a very bad thing to show races that did not have ships their tools and ideas. I was confused as to why and Seven related a story from the Federation past when they had given tools and ideas to a race only to have them destroy themselves because they were not ready for them. In remorse the Federation decided it could not tell which races were ready and which were not so they made the rule that unless the race had ships they were to be left alone. Federation clan members were not supposed to even let such races see them.

Obviously Seven had broken this rule and I protested to her that she had been unconscious when I had found her how could her alpha be unhappy with her when she was not able to hide? Seven answered that her alpha would not be unhappy about that but by the fact that Seven had not insisted that I leave. Now of course things were more complicated with me being unable to leave as we both would become ill because of what was happening to us.

I asked her what she thought her alpha would do and Seven sent back confused feelings and then reluctantly showed me she thought that the Doctor, a picture of the human male I had seen from her before came to my mind, would repair both of us and Seven's alpha would insist that I return to my rann.

What if I wished to stay with her even after we were both repaired I questioned. Seven replied that she did not know but I sensed that she thought her alpha would simply return me to my rann and ignore my wishes as she had ignored Sevens when she was first separated from the Borg. Seven felt her alpha would be certain that she was correct and would ignore my or Seven's decisions.

Presented with this possibility I felt anger that Seven's alpha might not listen to my wishes in the matter and I let Seven know I did not think much of her alpha then lapsed into a frustrated silence. I sensed Seven's agreement with my feelings of frustration but she communicated nothing further to me though I sensed that other than this one failing Seven thought her alpha was a good leader.

In my frustration I the memory of Scarface asking me over the unconscious Seven whether or not I had chosen her for my mate arose and I suddenly realized that the idea did not seem as odd now as it did then. Part of me wished that I was acceptable to her as more than just a companion, what we had shared over the past few dream times had only increased the sense of closeness, caring and protectiveness I felt for her. But with the explanation of her alpha's possible reaction and the fact that Seven did not regard me as a possible mate I knew it was impossible.

A faint sense of surprise and wonder from Seven reminded me that she picked up thoughts that I did not intend her to know, as I picked them up from her. I felt embarrassed but received a sense of reassurance that she was not offended that I cared that much for her, then there was nothing else and I drifted into sleep.

The next morning after I groomed her she examined me curiously with her hands, eyes and finally with the tricorder and appeared puzzled and worried by the results. Seven showed me my hands and trailed her fingers over the calluses on the knuckles which were thinner than I remembered them being. Then she felt of my face and made a noise of surprise as apparently something was different about my face as well. When she opened her mouth at me I opened mine back and she guided my hand up to feel my teeth which should have been pointed but had changed and felt flatter, only the teeth that were normally longer than the others felt like they were the same.

When she had stroked my fur earlier I noticed I seemed to be shedding and I continued to slowly shed throughout the day causing her to fuss at me as my hair was getting inside the places she was repairing. I suspected I was supposed to be embarrassed when she held up one of my hairs that she had just pulled out of what she was repairing in front of my face and raised the metal above her eye at me but I found her amusing and rumbled my amusement at her letting her know it. I immediately realized that had been a mistake when she correctly interpreted my actions and narrowed her eyes at me and then insisted that I move away from what she was repairing. By the middle of the day she pulled me outside where she raked her hands over me until all the loose hairs were gone. By that night she had to do it again.

When we met in our dreams that night Seven tried to explain what was happening to me. The exterior changes included me loosing fur on most of my body except for the top of my head where I was apparently growing in new fur. My muzzle had been noticeably shortening all during the day and as I had felt for myself this morning my teeth were changing shape.

Seven explained that I was also changing inside, and though I could not understand all of the images she showed me or the words she used, I understood that I was changing into something else. From the nature of the changes that had already occurred Seven strongly suspected that I was becoming more human like but she could not figure out a reason for why it was happening or how it was happening.

Once again I caught a feeling of desire for the tools on Voyager from Seven, along with a desire for guidance and reassurance from her alpha. Close on this was a sense of confusion as Seven thought about the other things that might happen when her alpha arrived. Then I sensed Seven determinedly turning her attention away from the plethora of future possibilities as she focused her concern on what was happening now to me.

Seven asked if it had ever occurred before, had I ever heard of another Rana who changed. I replied that I had never heard of any Rana that had, and she next asked if there had ever been another non-Rana here. I had guessed she would ask this question next and I repeated to her the Rana history I had been taught as a cub. How a non-Rana female had made us the way we were today and had taught us many things then disappeared leaving behind empty metal caves. I then showed her images of the metal places. Seven was very curious about these places and I showed her that we could visit one that was not very far away if she wanted to.

The next morning while I was grooming her Seven seemed restless, so I rushed through it, but then she looked briefly unhappy when I stopped. I was confused by her behavior but got the clear impression that she would not welcome a discussion of what was bothering her from the way she quickly turned away from me. Instead I decided to let it lie and see if she were more willing to discuss it during the night when we dreamed together.

Seven was eager to go visit the metal places and she stored food and several waters in a pouch she slung around her shoulders. As we traveled I used my nose, ears and eyes to keep an eye out for other Rana and for animals which might present a danger to us. Seven, of course, used her tricorder and I was amused by this but had realized a few days before that she did not have my sense of smell though her eyesight and hearing were almost as keen.

We reached the metal ruins well before the time the sun was highest in the sky. I was unhappy to note that I was having difficulty moving and that my back, hips and rear legs hurt from the short distance. Seven would have spent the entire day there had I not insisted we head back so we would make our den before the sun fell. It was not particularly dangerous to be out at night but it did make it harder to travel and more likely one of us might get hurt.

She had brought back with her something she had found in the ruins and as she had fixed the 'lights' the day before she spent much time after the sun went down studying it until I laid down without her to sleep. Upon seeing me do so she came and lay down beside me after touching one of the panels and lowering the lights until I could barely see the outline of her. Once there she lay awake, keeping me awake as well, until I rolled over and washed her face and neck then tugged until she turned over. I had watched her put on the covering and figured out that it opened and closed in the back, now I opened it and proceeded to wash her back, by the time I was done she was asleep.

That night she tried to describe to me what she had found, the non-Rana who had been here had been, Seven paused and then started explaining about people who investigated living things and how they lived. Seven called them biologists, this non-Rana had been a biologist and the Rana had been the focus of her investigations just as our history told us.

Seven told me the thing she had found was a copy of the female's lab notes, it was damaged though and several gaps existed where the information had been destroyed. The lab notes appeared to be written so there were no pictures of what the female looked like and Seven had found no information that would let her identify the race the female belong to.

However, Seven did know the name of the biologist, she called herself Katara. The information Seven had retrieved so far were notes on the Rana before Katara had begun to change us. Seven told me that she believed the Rana did not originally come from this planet but from somewhere else and Katara had brought a group of us here to study.

Seven told me that Katara had been interested in the Rana because on our original planet we had made a sudden adaptation that had spread to the entire Rana species within three generations. Katara had brought us here to find out how we accomplished that and to purposefully cause adaptations in the Rana she brought with her to this planet. Seven hoped to find out more tomorrow after she had 'deciphered' more of the information she had found. I gathered that the information was hidden somehow and that she had to figure out how to find it in the piece of metal she had brought back.

Curious I asked her what had been bothering her this morning when I groomed her and before she could prevent it I got a sense that she had briefly thought of mating with me as my grooming her had started to arouse her. Apparently she had been ignoring another effect of my saliva, it made her skin more sensitive to touch, but today it had been harder for her to ignore. After I had absorbed this information Seven let me know that she did not want to think about it any more right now. I realized from the nature of her thoughts that the changes that had been occurring to my body altered how she viewed me, she had always known I was intelligent but now she was able to see me as an equal and a possible mate. And she already knew that I cared for her and saw her as a possible mate.

The next morning before I could begin grooming her Seven stopped me and stared at my face and started talking about how different I looked this morning. I felt my own face and understood what she was telling me. I didn't really have a muzzle any more my face seemed as flat as Seven's. The bridge of my nose felt broader than the one on Seven's face and it merged with the bone around my eyes instead of being separate like hers. My face felt bare of fur except for areas on my cheeks and forehead. The new fur I was growing on my head was longer now in contrast and hung down into my eyes annoying me.

My hands had totally lost their callus and were almost completely bare of fur now except for a fine covering of thick hair on their backs. The fingers had become shorter and the placement of my thumb was different. The nails which had once been long were now short and rounded but were still dark brown in color. I realized suddenly that my hands now looked like human hands instead of Rana hands. The skin revealed by all this bareness was only slightly lighter than my tan fur.

The rest of my body was as almost as bare as my hands, except for my back and legs where I retained more fur than anywhere else. I had been able to move about on all fours yesterday even though by the end of the day my hips and back were hurting but today I found myself unable to crouch properly and had to stand upright. Usually I found it difficult to balance while moving and upright but today it felt more natural to be upright than to walk on all fours.

I grumbled briefly about all the changes and realized I sounded different than before, surprised I experimented with the range of sounds I could make. To my amazement I could easily produce sounds I knew I had been unable to before. I stared at Seven, who had been watching me closely as I checked out the changes my body had made while we slept, and tentatively tried to say her name, realizing why I had been echoing her words during our dream times. Trying to put what I had learned in my dreams into practice I attempted to say Seven's name. The first couple of times were mangled beyond recognition but as she watched I managed to say her name for the first time.

"Sev..en," I managed to form the sounds.

"Seeker?" Seven said with amazement clearly in her tone and upon her face.

"Seven," I said again this time much clearer and becoming more confident in my ability to speak

Seven hurriedly pulled out the tricorder and scanned me, "Your throat and larynx have changed shape during the night to a shaped more like a humans." She continued scanning down my torso, "Your backbone and hip structure have changed from yesterday, you appear to be adapting to walking exclusively upright." Seven stopped and looked up at me with curiosity apparent in her eyes.

Seven asked, "Did you understand what I just said?"

Thinking of the proper words to say I nodded, "Yes," then "My back hurts."

Seven considered my statement then nodded, "Your back and hips are unused to being used in this manner it is not surprising that they hurt. Do not over strain them today with trying to walk too far."

I rumbled my agreement then said "Groom." I was pleased that I managed to pronounce the word correctly the first time.

Seven looked uncertain and I had a hard time restraining my amusement. Apparently even though we both needed the contact to keep from being incapacitated she was uncertain about me grooming her now that I looked much more like a human and was able to speak like a human. I had gathered from her explanations of human behavior that they definitely did not wash each other in this manner. "I must groom you," I insisted and she finally removed her covering and lay down.

Knowing that she was starting to think of me as a potential mate affected my behavior as I washed her. I did not want to offend but at the same time I was now very aware of how she was reacting to what I was doing. Cleaning her back was apparently relaxing but the closer I moved to her buttocks the more she tensed and when I moved to clean them I noticed a faint but definite increase in the light musky scent that came from the area between her legs.

To my surprise I found myself drawing in deep breaths of it and realized with surprise that I was becoming aroused by the scent as well, and by the fact that her breathing had changed and her pulse had quickened. I remembered Softfur rumbling in amusement when she was telling me and my sisters about what to expect when were mated. Full of curiosity I had asked her how I would know that I had met my mate.

Softfur told us that we would know by our mate's scent, and when we looked at them we would desire to mate with them. She assured me that my body would let me know in no uncertain way that it was prepared to mate. She would not answer specifics and now I understood why, my body was being very clear that I was ready to mate and who I wanted to mate with. I continued washing down Seven's legs and then indicated she should turn over which she did with only a slight reluctance.

When she turned over she looked at me for a moment and I knew from the widening of her eyes that she had picked up on my arousal as I had noted hers. I also knew that she would understand what it meant that I was aroused at all as the Rana did not react to anyone but our chosen mate. We stared at each other for a few moments longer then she closed her eyes and lifted her face for me to clean her face and neck. When I started to clean her chest I became aware of how her heartbeat had increased and how her breasts had reacted to me being near them by the nipples hardening into prominence.

From her thoughts of human mating behavior I understood this was considered a clear sign of arousal. I glanced upward to her face as I carefully cleaned between her breasts and was caught by the deepening blue of her eyes which were now open as she watched what I was doing. Curious as to what she would do I began to wash the sides of her breasts, coming ever closer to the nipples. It was not something I had done since that first day when she had protested me washing them and I was not certain yet that she wanted to mate with me.

Licking from the under slope of her breast I continued upward. Seven made a noise but did not move to stop me and watched my actions as if mesmerized. I continued my attentions to the crest of her breast, finding out from the sounds she made what she liked. During this she closed her eyes and one hand came up to hold my head against her letting me know that she wanted me to continue.

I noticed that Seven was shivering and moved to cover her and hold her against me, I was surprised and pleased when she buried her head in under my chin and held on to me tightly. Given the way she was acting I was concerned I had hurt her and lifted her face to mine to ask, "Seven? Did I hurt you?"

She shook her head, "I do not understand why I am shivering, you did not hurt me in any way." Seven paused then continued, "As part of my research on adapting to being more human I studied the act of copulation. I believed I understood the process… The reality is more intense than I had expected."

Chapter 4

After a few moments she had stopped shivering but still did not let me go and I responded by holding her tightly against me in return which seemed to comfort her. I realized from the way she was acting by burying her head against me and needing my arms around her that perhaps she was feeling vulnerable after the intimacy we had just shared.

I wrapped my arms around her and stroked her back soothingly and was not surprised when she fell asleep in my arms. An hour later she stirred and stretched and then hesitantly looked up into my face. "Seven," I rumbled out her name and stroked my cheek alongside hers in greeting.

She smiled faintly and stroked her fingers along my cheek in her version of the same greeting, "Seeker." Suddenly she pulled the long hair on my head down to cover my eyes and with clear amusement said, "I believe you need a hair cut."

I nodded, "I appear to be growing hair like yours." I paused a moment searching for the proper words, "It will be nice to have a proper covering for some part of my body."

Seven looked at me surprised, "When did you learn all those words?"

I rumbled my amusement, "From you Seven, each night when we communicate in our dreams you think and form the words for those thoughts and I repeated them to myself. I wondered why I seemed to be repeating them aloud but now I know why." I was slow in my speech as I had to find the proper words in my memory but all the words and concepts we had discussed over the past few nights were fresh in my mind.

Seven looked thoughtful at my answer and continued stroking me along my back, I watched her curiously until she admitted, "I do not know how to touch you, I do not know what would be pleasing to you."

I was embarrassed to admit that I had no idea either, as she could not develop a male organ and I had not developed mine, but I had no choice, "Rana do not experience sexual feelings until after they meet their mate," I began.

Seven flinched and began to sit up, "You do not want me to touch you."

Sitting up quickly I grabbed her shoulders and said, "I touched you because I realized you were my mate and I desired to mate with you, but we did not mate like the Rana." I explained in frustration looking directly into her eyes.

Seven stopped moving and stared back at me as understanding dawned in her eyes, "How do the Rana mate?" she asked and settled back beside me.

"The Rana are not like your race or other animals, we do not have male and female but female only," I began and had to grin at her look of puzzlement and the obvious question on her mind. "When a Rana recognizes her mate whichever one of them is the better hunter will develop their male organs and impregnate the other, they will also become the alpha of the rann."

"I had detected that you were a hermaphrodite with the tricorder earlier," said Seven nodding, but using a word I did not know.

I looked at her puzzled and she continued, "You have both male and female sexual organs."

I nodded and continued, "You do not have male organs only female and I have not developed my male organs. I am uncertain of what to do," I told Seven.

"How did you know how to touch me?" Seven asked.

"You showed me in your mind last night when you admitted that you thought about me mating with you. Your thoughts showed me where you wanted me to touch you," I told her.

Seven flushed slightly and looked to the side then nodded and moistened her lips before looking back at me and saying hesitantly, "Would you mind if I examined you? Perhaps a method of proceeding would become clear."

I rumbled in amusement and obediently rolled over and opened my legs so she could examine me; I had to admit the idea of her explorative touch there was arousing in and of itself.

Seven moved until she was in between my legs. Looking at my face Seven said, "Let me know if I hurt you."

"What?" I said in surprise and sat up suddenly; causing Seven to move back as I examined the area for myself. Sure enough there was an opening forming but I did not feel as if I was becoming an alpha… "I do not understand," I said confused. "I do not feel as if I am becoming the alpha of our rann, I do not feel as though either of us is alpha, but my male organs are developing. It is not the proper order." I said the last rather plaintively to Seven.

Seven moved from between my legs to lying beside me and tentatively embraced me offering comfort. I had to be amused at the awkward way she did so but I understood that it was not something she was used to doing and for her to attempt it showed how much she cared for me. "I am sorry," she said, "I do not know what is happening to you, the medical instruments in the shuttle are not sensitive enough for me to tell exactly what is occurring."

I hugged her in return and pulled her close to me rubbing her back soothingly, "I will be alright I am sure."

Seven pulled back, "How do you know this?" she said demandingly.

At a loss for a reasonable reply I merely answered, "I do not feel sick; the changes are not hurting me. Perhaps they are normal for Rana when mating with someone who is not Rana." I was grasping for explanations and knew it but Seven looked thoughtful at my response.

"Perhaps," she said. "I must finish reconstructing the date in the data cube we found in the ruins yesterday. I believe the information contained in it may explain what is happening to you."

She moved as if to get up and a small sound of disappointment escaped me. Seven paused and looked inquiringly with the metal about her one eye raised and then she stilled for a moment before smiling slightly and saying, "But perhaps it should wait?"

I nodded vigorously, entirely aware that she was teasing me but not minding.

By now I was unabashedly whimpering at the slow pace she was setting and could see that she was perfectly aware of what she was doing to me in her eyes. "Seven please," I begged.

In response she looked at me and I could see the fierce satisfaction in her gaze that what she was doing was pleasurable enough that I would beg her for more.

I was feeling incredibly satisfied with my life and my new mate and I could not help but begin to rumble my pleasure in a continuous vibration as I breathed in and out. Seven placed a hand against my chest lifted her head up looking at me with amusement evident on her face. "I believe you are purring," she said.

I paused and asked, "Purring? I am merely expressing how happy I feel."

"You are purring," she said authoritatively, with an amused look, and lowered her head again to my chest.

I shrugged, as it did not matter to me what she called it, and wrapped my arms about her and held her close. We must have dozed for only an hour before she stirred, "I should begin working on the data cube, it is not efficient to sleep all day." Seven paused and then admitted in a small voice, "Though it is pleasant to lie with you after," Seven hesitated and then said, "mating and sleep. I have not slept since I was a child, I have tried since being separated from the Borg but I was unable to until now."

I nodded as she merely stated what I already knew and said, "Sleeping is a pleasant thing to do. Rana usually sleep most of the day and are active in the afternoon and dusk."

Seven sat up and looked down at me, "I do not want to spend most of the day sleeping."

I sat up and replied, "Then we shall get up. Can I help you with this data cube?"

Seven considered my question then shook her head slowly looking thoughtful. She got up and grabbed a thin rectangular object and then went and stood at the wall of the ship by what I now knew was a control panel and tapped various places on it. When she was satisfied with whatever she had done she returned to me and showed me the object.

I took it from her curiously, "This is a padd," Seven said as I did so. "Can you read the words on it?"

I looked at the surface and saw that it was covered with… letters. And letters formed words, the concepts were slowly gelling in my mind making sense of this human way of communication. I looked again at the letters and realized I could read most of the words. "Some of the words I do not know but most of them I recognize," I answered her.

"Show me the words you do not know," Seven said abruptly.

I flattened my ears at the tone and stared at her unhappily.

"Show me the words you do not recognize please," Seven repeated in a lower tone and looking subdued. When she sat down beside me and leaned against my side I understood she was apologizing for her behavior and I showed her the words I was having trouble understanding. She explained them then watched me read some more before getting up, dressing, and starting her work on the data cube. When I came to a word I did not recognize I would wait for her to glance up and then ask her what it meant and she would explain.

The words she was having me read appeared to be a basic level teaching text about how things were put together, how the world rotated around the sun. How the plants lived on the energy from the sun's light. How all things were made up of smaller and smaller parts. I was still reading and absorbing all the fascinating information when my stomach grumbled at me.

I looked up and saw Seven glancing at me with an amused look, when she saw me looking at her she said, "You are hungry?"

I nodded and levered myself off the floor and went to the storage area where the food was kept and took out two of the bars and water there. Turning I handed one set to Seven who took them unenthusiastically. I paused for a moment and then said, "I will be back in a few minutes." I turned and ignoring the strangeness of walking upright, left the shuttle and headed toward the patch of kaltan grass I knew was nearby. Once there I broke off as many of the heavy seed heads as I could carry and brought them back with me.

Seven was standing at the shuttle door watching for me when I returned and handed the seed heads to her saying, "These are good to eat, if you do not want to eat the ration bars."

She nodded, "I will have to determine if they are safe for me to eat."

I looked at her puzzled then remembered some of what I had read this morning and nodded. I understood now that very small animals could exist in the seeds that I would not notice having grown up eating them, but that could make her very ill. Also there could simply be inorganic materials that I could digest which she could not. When she laid them down on one of the benches and went and brought back the tricorder to examine them I waited to see what the results would be.

"Neelix would be pleased to know about these," Seven stated when she was finished and I gathered that they were safe for her to eat. An image of a friendly but strange short man formed in my mind at the name Neelix and I remembered that he was the Voyager member that prepared food for the rest. "They appear to be very nutritious," she finished saying.

Curiously Seven examined the seed head and then extracted one of the seeds and began eating it. I waited to see if she would like the taste and was pleased when she looked surprised and said, "They are sweet," in a surprised tone. I was amused by her surprise but then remembered from her memories Neelix's favorite food staple, some bitter tasting root called Leola. Compared to that the kaltan seed was far superior, as it was sweet and had a very pleasant flavor. I was not surprised when Seven began extracting the seeds from the seed head.

I sat down on the floor of the shuttle and showed her how to snap the stem of the head which caused the coverings of the seed to loosen, then one could just shake the stem firmly and the seeds would fall out. We removed all the seeds from the stalks I had picked and had them along with half a ration bar for Seven and a full bar for me.

Afterward Seven looked disinclined to move as the day was warm and she had not yet repaired the environmental controls. Instead she looked at me and asked, "Is there a body of water nearby where we could bathe? My bio suits keep my skin clean but my hair," at this point she dragged her hand through the blond hair with a disgusted look on her face, "Needs cleaning." Seven sniffed pointedly at me, "And you could use bathing as well Seeker."

I rumbled in amusement at this and replied, "There is a stream not too far away that my parents' rann uses for bathing. If we go to the part that is closest to here we will not be encroaching on their territory."

I stood and grimaced at the thin covering of hair on my legs, the kaltan grass had scratched me in several places earlier, thankfully my feet still retained the tough pad on the bottom and I could walk without the shoes that Seven required. Seven came over and made a sound of concern as she saw the red marks.

"You are injured," she commented bending over and gently touching my leg.

I growled an irritated affirmation, "My fur is so thin now that it does not protect me from the kaltan grass."

Seven glanced at my face as I said this and raised the metal around her eye for a moment at my tone. She then went over to one of the storage areas and rooted through it and finally brought out a small package which she examined then tore open and pulled something that was… I searched for the proper term for the color, white out of it and handed the item to me, "I believe these will fit you, the fabric will protect your legs from further injury."

I took it from her and realized that it was white colored fabric, when I shook it out I realized that they were… they were, I sought in my mind for the term and finally found it, pants was the proper name. I examined them puzzled as to how to put them on and then remembered how Seven dressed. Carefully maintaining my balance I slid first one leg and then the other through the top. The material at the top of the pants stretched and fit snugly about my waist once I was wearing them properly.

"Do they fit comfortably?" Seven inquired looking at where the fabric ended several inches above my feet.

I paced around the ship interior for a moment then made an assenting rumble and was about to follow it up by saying it verbally when Seven replied, "Good I was concerned that they might be too tight, would you like to wear the shirt as well?"

I rumbled my agreement and she promptly turned and after a few seconds handed me a white shirt. Holding it up I stared at it for a moment trying to figure out how to put it on, then realized the only possible way would be for me to get in it from the bottom and pull it down. I fought for a few moments with the hole for my head and figuring out how to get my arms in the… I thought for a moment, in the sleeves.

When I was finally done I looked at the sleeves which fell a few inches above my wrists, I was not certain of how it was supposed to look but Seven's sleeves fell even with her wrists so I suspected mine were too short. Fortunately the shirt and pants were loose instead of fitting closely to the skin as Seven's clothes did, I was certain that I would not like the feel of them if they were as close as hers.

Seven looked at me for a long moment then said in a slightly lower tone than normal, "White suits your coloration. You look… beautiful."

I churred at her in thanks for the compliment.

She smiled briefly and said, "You are welcome," and went back to rummaging round in the storage area. As I watched curiously she pulled out a bag and placed a few items within and then hung it on her shoulder and turned back to me. "I have the required personal cleaning supplies." Seven went over to where she had laid down the tricorder and picked it up along with what I now knew was a phaser. Then she looked at me expectantly.

Clearly it was time for us to go, I thought with amusement and led the way out of the shuttle. This time we did not go toward the morning sun but to the right of the setting sun and up the hill. I kept my ears, nose and eyes alert for any signs of danger and Seven examined everything around her curiously. I paused for a moment to show her the patch of kaltan grass, "This is kaltan grass." I showed her the plant and seeds and she took tricorder readings of the grass and area.

"Do you know the length of the germination cycle?" Seven asked me curiously.

I was confused by the word, "Germination cycle?"

"Length of time between when the grass begins to grow and when it produces mature seed," Seven explained.

I rumbled an acknowledgement absently while I thought about the question. I knew that in a full cycle of seasons the kaltan grass produced seeds twice between two seasons of cold. "Between two cold seasons the kaltan grass will produce seeds two times." I informed Seven.

"A year, or full cycle of seasons is 360.4 days, do you know how long the cold season lasts as a fraction of the full cycle?" Seven asked me.

I walked a bit slower as I considered this and finally answered, "The cold season is about the same length as the other seasons, one fourth of the time of a full cycle."

"Approximately 90 days then, which would make the germination cycle of the kaltan grass 135 days," Seven frowned slightly. "I do not know if it will be possible to grow it aboard Voyager."

"I think it will not be that long, it takes time for the ground to warm enough for the grass to appear even after the days warm." Guessing her next question I answered, "Perhaps as many as thirty days, but I have never counted so I cannot tell you a," I searched for the correct word, "exact time."

"If the germination cycle is approximately 100 days then it can be grown aboard Voyager, we have several other plants that are grown which have cycles of similar lengths," Seven replied with a pleased tone and almost absently as we walked let her hand trail over the kaltan grass's tasseled top.

Chapter 5

We had topped the last rise between us and the stream and now we looked down the hill at its length. It wound between hills; and the vegetation around its banks was different from that of the grasslands as it was surrounded by short trees. The ground beneath the trees was covered not by the tall grasses but by a much shorter and softer grass which was pleasant to walk upon. On the other side of the stream the land rose steadily to a range of mountains, and the trees on that side were taller than the ones on the grassland side.

The stream itself was not usually that deep, but the spot I had led us to, was a place where the stream widened and deepened into a pool that was deep enough to bathe in. And unlike the rest of its rocky floored length, the pool had a fine layer of sand at the bottom further increasing its value as a bathing site.

We covered the rest of the distance and entered the shade of the trees, when we reached the pool Seven knelt and scanned the pool with her tricorder. "The water is remarkably clean, most likely due to the speed of the current preventing the growth of microorganisms," Seven announced. She then spread one of the silver sheets under the tree and laid the carry all on it and began to pull out the items she had brought with her.

While she was doing this I stepped close to the water and stared at my reflection curious as to what I looked like now. The proportions of my legs, torso and arms had changed, my legs had lengthened significantly and my torso seemed to have shortened, leaving me proportioned more like Seven. I was taller than she of course, as when we stood together I could easily place my chin on the top of her head.

My shoulders were wider and I seemed much more muscular than Seven. To my eye I did not look as heavily built as I had as an unchanged Rana, instead I looked lean, with my muscles showing clearly under the skin. My newly bare skin was a light tan in color, a shade paler than the tan fur that remained. My stripes still remained as patterns of darker areas of my skin across my chest and stomach.

My face had changed almost beyond recognition except for a few things such as my eyes which remained slitted and topaz colored, the long hair on my head which was at least the same chestnut color as my stripes and my ears which poked up through my hair. My nose had become more slender since the last time I felt of it and my eyebrows started at its bridge and arched above each eye. The general shape of my face was triangular with high cheekbones and a short square chin.

When she was finished placing the items to her liking Seven stood and began stripping off her clothing. I had begun to notice that she had a pleasing shape while we were walking earlier, it was not something I had really noticed before today. Before now she had simply been a non-Rana and I had been attracted to the sense of who she was while we dreamed together. Today though, I found myself noticing the brightness of her hair, the pleasing shape of her face, the gentle swell of her breasts, shape of her hips, the slenderness of her waist, and the length of her legs. I snorted at myself in amusement; it was simpler to admit that all of her was attractive to me today.

Now as I stripped off the clothing that she had given me earlier I found myself watching her entranced as the skin that I had touched earlier was once again revealed to my gaze. Seven noticed me watching her and looked at me curiously then straightened and stood stiffly under my gaze and I realized that she was feeling uncertain.

"You are beautiful," I assured her. I let my eyes wander over her, taking in the proportions of her and feeling a desire to touch her once again. "When I look at you I want to touch you again, to listen to you, to smell you," I met her eyes, "to mate with you and feel you when you have pleasure."

By the end of my words Seven was staring at me with wide eyes and breathing lightly through her slightly open lips. I could tell that her eyes were wandering over my form and I waited for her to finish. When she next met my eyes I could see my arousal mirrored in them.

"We should bathe," Seven said somewhat huskily and then cleared her throat looking surprised.

I nodded and Seven showed me how to use the cleansers she had brought with her. When she had trouble reaching her back I moved behind her and began soaping it for her enjoying the way the soap allowed my hands to glide over muscles and skin. Finally Seven stepped away with a sudden shiver saying, "I will wash your back now."

I turned obediently and groaned in appreciation as she began washing my back applying firm pressure with her fingers as she scrubbed the soap into the fine coating of hairs. For a few minutes, I enjoyed the feel of her running her hands up my back along either side of my spine, then she stopped saying softly, "You should rinse now."

I kneeled in the water so that it was up to my neck and let the current carry the soap away then stood up in front of her and placing my hands under her buttocks lifted her until her breasts were even with my mouth. Seven made a startled sound as I did and reflexively grasped my shoulders.

From there we moved to the blanket and I mated with her once again, this time I was more certain what pleased her and I took joy in the sounds she made and the way she moved against me with abandon as I touched her. The sound of my name as she called it out was sweet to me and I suspected I would never tire of hearing the particular way she said it right before she reached her pleasure.

After she had rested for a few moments on my chest regaining her breath she began touching me. Where she had been tentative at first earlier now she was bold and the possessiveness with which she touched me was arousing in and of itself. She was more thorough this time, touching me in various ways and finding out more of what was pleasurable to me. When she finally filled me I howl-cried her name as I lost sense of everything around me but her touch.

When I finally regained my breath and opened my eyes Seven was resting upon my chest with an extremely pleased expression on her face as she watched me. Her Borg hand was gently stroking my chest just below my collarbone in a lazy manner and I enjoyed the feel of the warm metal lightly rubbing along my skin.

We went back to the pool to wash off again and then laid down in the sun for a short while to dry, before we dressed Seven took out a pair of scissors and carefully trimmed the hair on my head. When she was finally satisfied with her efforts we had spend much more time at the pool than I had thought we would, and as Seven became aware of this as well, she insisted we dress and return to the shuttle.

We had just left the pool when I paused and inhaled the air deeply and then recognized the scent of my parent Scarface. Looking about I located her a discrete distance away, which told me that she had probably come looking for me and heard us together and had moved away to give us our privacy.

'Seven, Scarface is here," I pointed to where Scarface was lying down and was not surprised to see her rise and stand upright looking our way. She made a summoning motion toward us and I looked down at Seven to see what her reaction was. Seven looked slightly anxious but then straightened under my gaze and nodded giving an assenting rumble as well.

"You are my mate, you have nothing to fear from Scarface," I reassured Seven.

Seven reached up and touched my face, "What will her reaction be to how you look now?"

I thought about her question and then realized that Scarface could see me as plainly now as I saw her. She was already aware of the changes that had happened to me, "I do not know but she knows who I am, my scent has not changed and that is more important than sight to a Rana."

Seven nodded and we headed in Scarface's direction. As we got closer I could see the curiosity and concern in my parent's eyes. "She is your mate," Scarface communicated as we got closer.

Seven responded perfectly in Rana with an assenting rumble that startled a clear look of surprise from Scarface.

"She is not Rana but she speaks as one," communicated Scarface and then looked at me slightly annoyed.

I flattened my ears in embarrassment and gave an apologetic sound before indicating to Seven that this was Scarface and to Scarface that my mates name was Seven.

Scarface looked confused for a moment over Seven's name and repeated it once as if to make sure. Formally Scarface signed, "I welcome you daughter to our family," and then moving slowly she rubbed her muzzle against Seven's face.

Seven had the oddest look on her face when Scarface drew away, expressions crossed her face fleetingly, confusion, sadness, a quick burst of what looked like anger, and then wistfulness as she looked back at Scarface who finally rumbled at her questioningly. Seven seemed to come back from wherever she had gone and finally replied correctly by churring her thanks and modifying it with the sign for alpha.

I of course had an idea about why Seven had reacted so to Scarface's greeting and I signed that I would explain later to Scarface and moved up beside Seven and wrapped an arm around her waist. I was pleased when she pressed against me for a moment before she straightened once again.

Scarface moved back and fell to all fours and then sat, politely I sat as well and after a moment so did Seven. Scarface rumbled at me questioningly and ran a curious hand over my face, asking me what had happened to me.

I indicated that I did not know but I believed I was changing to become more like my mate, adding my belief that it was necessary for us to be together. Scarface pondered this then churred her acceptance. What had happened to me was strange, but the idea that I would overcome any obstacle to be able to be with my mate was not strange, it was expected in the Rana culture.

Scarface looked at Seven curiously and I rumbled an affirmation, yes Seven had changed as well.

Seven who had been following the conversation with interest added her own rumble of affirmation and modified it with the sign for internal trying to convey that her changes were not so visible.

Her meaning though could be taken in several different ways and Scarface looked somewhat amused as she rumbled an acceptance. I was amused as well, as both possible meanings were true, Seven had changed physically inside and she had also changed how she thought and felt about me.

Scarface then rumbled an apology to Seven along with the sign for the dead.

I could see Seven was puzzled for a moment then she said aloud, "Ensign Yates," and her face cleared. Seven then churred an acknowledgement followed quickly by a short cough that stood for I understand. Seven paused and then made the sign for the dead and then the sign for something not understood then pointed at Scarface. Seven looked at me and asked, "Did I say that correctly? Ensign Yates, the dead man did not understand Scarface?"

"Yes, but you might want to add what he did not understand," I answered and then watched as she repeated the signs and added a negatory bark and the sign for hurt.

Scarface rumbled understanding then made the sign for daughters, not understood, dead man and then made the same negatory bark Seven had and modified it with the same sign she had, the one for hurt. Only Scarface pointed at herself indicating that her daughters had not understood he had not hurt her.

Seven rumbled her understanding and then a negatory bark and the sign for anger followed by the sign for rann and pointed at Scarface, letting Scarface know that she was not angry at Scarface or my sisters about the incident.

Scarface rumbled in pleasure and then rumbled a request and modified it with the sign for rann and food; we were being invited to come with her for a meal with my parents' rann.

I had been expecting this ever since Scarface accepted Seven as my mate, I did not know though if Seven had expected the invitation.

"It would be unacceptable for us to refuse," Seven stated questioningly.

"It would not occur to a Rana couple to refuse unless they had a previous commitment to the other mate's rann," I answered.

Scarface was obviously curious at the meaning of the strange sounds we were making. When Seven rumbled our acceptance, Scarface churred back at her and stood, apparently we were supposed to go with her right now.

I noticed the widening of Seven's eyes and placed a comforting hand on her back causing her to turn toward me, "Seven they are your clan now as well as mine, you have nothing to fear from them. You know how the Rana view one of their children forming their own rann."

"It is celebrated, but…" Seven looked at me uncertainly, "I am not Rana though, I'm sure they would rather you had a different mate."

I sighed not sure how to make Seven understand that it did not matter that she was not born a Rana. Finally I turned to Scarface who had stopped when we did not follow and was watching us curiously. I knew she had caught the tone with which Seven spoke and her body language and knew that Seven was uncertain about something. I made a questioning bark at Scarface and then pointed at myself and made the sign for Rana.

Scarface actually tilted her head to the side and looked at me as if I were mad and then she made a questioning bark and asked if I felt ill.

I rumbled in amusement and noted that Seven's lips had twitched at this response as well. I repeated the sound and sign to Scarface who promptly replied this time in a tone that left no doubt that of course I was Rana. I then asked if Seven was Rana and saw understanding dawn in Scarface's eyes.

Scarface signed to us that Seven was my mate, and then the sign for something that causes something else and she looked directly at Seven and made the sign for Rana. Then Scarface repeated the signs, except she signed after the causality sign, daughter. All of Scarface's signs were made in a clear and forceful manner, emphasizing that she meant what she was saying.

Looking at Seven, I could see that she was still bothered by something but was finally accepting what Scarface was telling her.

Apparently Scarface saw the same, for the next thing she signed was for her daughter to follow her, and she was not looking at me when she did so. Seven glanced at me quickly and I gave her an encouraging look and rumble.

The next thing Seven did was to straighten slightly and rumble an acknowledgement to Scarface and then audibly take in a deep breath.

I watched Seven during the walk to my parents' rann and noted that she became more and more tense the closer we came. Just before we walked into the den area I stopped her, pulled her to my chest, and wrapped my arms around her. "You are my mate and I am yours. You are Scarface and Softfur's daughter, Swiftfoot and Blackfur's sister. My… family is your family. Such has always been the way of the Rana, and it will not change just because you were not born a Rana." Purposefully I used the human word for rann hoping that it would calm her more.

Seven held me tightly and said into my chest, "I am being irrational, I do not understand why I am experiencing distress over meeting your parents and sisters. I understand how important the concept of the rann is to you, to the Rana. It is much more significant in Rana culture than it is in human culture."

As Seven said this to me she seemed to calm and even pulled away from me to look in the direction of the den. From here we could see the other members of my parents' rann, who were all carefully ignoring us for the moment.

"We should enter your parents den," Seven said finally.

I rumbled my agreement and put an arm around her shoulders, "I have imagined many times what it would be like to bring my mate to my parents' rann." I ran a gentle hand along the side of Seven's face and pushed her hair behind an ear. "In my dreams I did not realize I would feel so much for my mate, I never realized I would be so proud."

Seeing the look of wonder on Seven's face, after I said what I was feeling made me happy that I had thought of telling her. It also had the effect I wanted; it distracted her from her nervousness and when we finally went down to greet Softfur, Swiftfoot and Blackfur she was relatively calm.

Softfur was a wise Rana and quickly set about making Seven feel part of the rann by giving her a knife and some mura roots to slice with my sisters. Scarface and I were sent to gather kaltan seeds which also conveniently took us out of camp so I could explain to Scarface why Seven was reacting the way she was to the rann.

As I was trying to explain Seven's past to Scarface I understood why she had been so frustrated at times when she tried to communicate with me. Thank goodness we had a sign for when you were trying to explain a new idea by listing other things that were similar to it. By the time I was finished Scarface still looked confused but I was fairly certain that she understood that Seven's parents had taken her into a situation they hadn't realized at first was dangerous. By the time they did it was too late and they had been taken by the Borg.

I had made up a new sign for the Borg which was a combination of metal and the sign for a sentient being that was not Rana. Previously this had only been used when speaking of the non Rana female. I was certain that Scarface did not understand what the Borg were but she did understand that Seven had essentially lost the time from when she had been taken at six to two years ago. And that Seven was trying to relearn what it meant to be a member of her own race.

I explained to Scarface that all she remembered of being in a rann were the first six years of her life and that she did not know whether or not her parents were alive or not. I also explained that she was very confused emotionally whenever she thought about them. I had sensed both great anger and great sadness from her when she remembered them.

This lead into a discussion of our relationship and how far it had progressed, I was reassured when Scarface informed me that relationships all started with the bond allowing communication only during sleep. In time it would develop until it was always present between us.

Scarface and I had gathered a large amount of kaltan seed pods by the time we were done with our discussion and the leather sacks we had with us were full as we walked back. I looked immediately for Seven and was pleased to see her conversing with Softfur and watching my youngest sisters curiously. I knew that Scarface had undoubtedly shared with Softfur what I had told her about Seven, so it did not surprise me when Softfur placed one of them in Seven's arms and showed her how to hold the cub properly.

I watched Seven carefully to see how she would react; I did not want her to feel overwhelmed. I could see that Seven was reassured by Softfur's coaching and eventually she relaxed and looked up to see me watching her. I had no doubt that a silly smile adorned my face and was not surprised when she raised the metal brow around her eye at me. The smile that shortly accompanied it though, let me know she was not really annoyed at my reaction.

By the time we ate Seven seemed genuinely relaxed around my parents and sisters, she had been asking questions about the food preparation all evening. And seemed particularly intrigued with our use of a black stone that when crushed and sprinkled with a certain type of dirt and a small bit of water became very hot. We used it for cooking instead of maintaining an open fire because of the fear of starting a grassland fire.

Now Seven was asking Softfur how we had learned how to use the stone to cook with. I do not think she was surprised to learn that this was another thing that Katara had taught the Rana. It was almost dark when the evening ended and Scarface and Softfur offered us a place to sleep, they did not seem surprised when we insisted that we should return to our own den.

"Your parents seemed amused when we refused their offer of a place to stay," Seven said after we were a distance away from my parents' den.

I gave an amused rumble in reply, "I believe they would have been surprised had we accepted," I admitted.

Seven's mouth twitched in reply, "Indeed, their comments implying that perhaps we had other activities planned for the morning besides helping with the kaltan harvest were…," Seven hesitated and then admitted, "accurate."

Seven then glanced at me after she said this and I could see the uncertainty in her eyes and wondered that it was even there. "It was accurate," I agreed with a warm look that caused her fair skinned face to color slightly.