The two exhausted women lay haphazardly in a tangled pile of rumpled bedclothes, bare legs and afterglow. They were panting, lost for words, tiny, weak motions of fingertips against sweaty skin their only movement. As heart rates slowed and breathing approached normal the taller one slid her long, strong arms around the smaller woman and pulled her close until they were spooned together in a perfect fit.
"Mmmmmm darling, thank you. That was wonderful. Just what I needed," murmured the smaller one, resting her arms on her lover's.
The taller woman said nothing, but ducked her head to plant a series of soft, tender kisses from the back of her partner's neck to the tip of her shoulder. A quiet groan was her reward.
"How did you know?" asked the woman in her arms.
"How did I know what?" she whispered into the ear tantalizingly close to her lips.
"That I needed you tonight. That I needed to forget about the rest of the universe, just for one night."
The tall woman thought about that for a few seconds, thinking back over the last few days.
"I have observed that when you are feeling undue stress you frown all the time," she replied analytically. "Also, when we are on the bridge, you often sit with your fingers resting against your temple, which I have learned indicates the presence of a headache."
A throaty chuckle from her lover sent vibrations through them both.
"Is there anything you don't notice about me?"
She felt her bedmate shake her head slowly behind her.
"I do not believe so."
Captain Kathryn Janeway turned over slowly until she was nose to nose with the beautiful blonde ex-Borg known as Seven of Nine.
"Darling Annika," she whispered, using the woman's human name rather than the designation given to her by the Borg collective so many years ago. "If we live to be 100 and still havenít made it back to the Alpha Quadrant, I shall never understand how I could be as lucky as I am."
Ice-cool blue eyes blinked back at her quizzically.
"Oh yes," the captain murmured as she kissed the younger woman's mouth softly. "Finding you out here - that was lucky enough. Loving you was a minor miracle. Discovering that you love me ..." She shook her head in wonderment. "I am a very lucky woman."
Seven gazed into grey eyes that opened onto a soul that meant everything to her.
"I do not believe luck played any part in it, Kathryn," she said quietly. "You are the ideal mate for me. Intelligent, courageous, strong ..." She paused, her expression softening, youth shining through in the tiny half-smile that touched her lips. "More beautiful than anyone I have ever seen. You were the obvious choice for me."
Janeway felt herself blushing in the younger woman's arms.
"I love you Annika," she whispered, burrowing her face against the long, soft neck. She felt the ex-Borg's arms surround her, pulling her closer into a warm, safe nest amongst the sheets.
"And I love you, Kathryn," Seven replied. "Anything else would be inefficient." Janeway's answering chuckle brought a rare full grin to the blonde's face. "Do you wish to make love again?" she asked hopefully.
Kathryn smiled against Seven's neck. "Do you mind if we wait a while?" she answered.
"No," came the reply. "As long as I can continue to hold you," Seven said.
"Mmmmmm, yes please."
A few minutes passed in contented silence. Seven listened to her lover's breathing, half-expecting it to settle into the slow rhythm she had learned to associate with Janeway's sleeping patterns. Instead the captain began to become a little restless in her arms.
"Something is still bothering you, Kathryn," Seven said softly. She waited until she felt the small nod against her neck in reply. "Perhaps it would be useful to talk about it?"
Janeway sighed. And here was one of the dilemmas of a relationship with one of her crew. How much do we talk about ship's business, she pondered. How much can I drop my command mask with someone who must take orders from me in the morning?
She shifted in Seven's arms slightly, moving so she could prop herself up on one elbow. The blonde rolled onto her back, gazing up at her patiently.
"Darling we need to talk about some rules," Janeway began, tracing Seven's cheek with a gentle fingertip.
"More rules?" the young woman asked, somewhat plaintively. The captain smiled at that, knowing how Seven chafed against the hierarchy that was essential to Starfleet's operations.
"I'm afraid so, love," she answered. "You understand that as captain I have many responsibilities, many hard decisions that I have to make every day?"
"Yes, Kathryn," the ex-Borg said solemnly. "It is one of the reasons why I love you. You are always so strong, even when things are ... difficult."
Janeway nodded. "But do you understand that I can't always be strong?" she asked. "There are times when I come back here to my quarters and let myself ..." She swallowed hard and looked away from the penetrating blue gaze. "I'm a human being, Annika, but this crew needs me to be more than that most days."
"You are worried that if you let me see your weaknesses I will be less effective as a member of the crew," Seven stated, seeing immediately why the captain had kept herself apart from the rest of Voyagerís personnel for so long.
"Yes, there is that. But I am also worried that I will be a less effective captain."
Seven looked completely puzzled by that.
"Do you think if I see you at your most vulnerable that it will make your orders not worth following?" she asked.
Janeway breathed out slowly.
"Well, when you put it like that ..."
Seven reached up and cupped the older woman's cheek with her hand.
"Kathryn, you are not being logical," she said gently. "I know that I am now in a privileged position. Unlike the rest of the crew, I can now see how hard these decisions are for you to make. I see how they affect you. My respect for you is only increased by that privilege."
Janeway smiled down at the young woman who was proving to be as insightful as she was beautiful.
"You require me to be discreet, correct?" asked Seven calmly.
Janeway nodded. "I need to know that anything I say to you in private stays between just us two," she replied quietly.
Seven's hand slid around the older woman's neck, pulling her down into a lazy, sensual kiss that left them both breathless.
"You have my word, Captain," the ex-Borg whispered as they parted, mouths just barely touching.
"Thank you darling," Janeway replied huskily. She relaxed, allowing herself to sprawl across the blonde's solid frame, smiling as she felt Seven's left arm wrap around her, pulling her closer. "I feel so safe with you."
Seven bent her head just far enough to kiss the top of Kathryn's head, breathing in the clean, unique fragrance of her lover's hair.
"Tell me what is bothering you," she suggested.
Janeway sighed again.
"Lis and Cass," she said simply.
There was a small silence as Seven contemplated her answer.
"I understand why you are concerned for Dr Dayton," the ex-Borg said finally. "But why are you worried about Lt Lansdown?"
Janeway snuggled further into the crook of Seven's arm.
"Because they have history," she replied. "I was hoping Cass would be able to give Lis the support she needs right now. But so far she seems to have left her alone completely."
"History? You mean they were lovers?"
The captain nodded, stifling a yawn.
"Yes. Before they joined Voyager."
"In that case, I do not understand how Lt Lansdown can stay away," Seven said. "If you had lost your husband and your baby in one afternoon, I could not bear to stay away from you."
Janeway looked up at her young lover, smiling tolerantly.
"That's nice to know darling," she answered. "But things are little more complicated for Cass, I think."
"Because Lis slapped her?"
"Mmmmmm, that's part of it."
"Why did she do that? Lt Lansdown did everything she possibly could to save Dr Standish. Blaming her for his death was an inaccurate assessment of the situation."
Janeway traced slow circles on the flat plane of her loverís stomach, letting her fingers follow the hard edges of the Borg implant that still encircled the young womanís hips.
" Itís not that simple, I donít think, sweetheart," she said, almost hypnotized by the trail of goose bumps that followed behind her fingertips. " Lis watched her husband die a horrible death and that caused her to go into shock. I think if the situation had been reversed and it had been Cass we had to leave on that damn beach; it would have been Nick she slapped."
Seven closed her eyes against the sensuous tingling that radiated from Kathrynís fingertips. She fought to stay focused on the conversation while her body, newly awakened to the joys of touch, begged for less talk and more lovemaking.
" Humans are so contradictory," she said with a frown.
Janeway chuckled. " Thatís part of what makes us human," she replied.
" It has only been a week. Perhaps Lt Lansdown is just ..." Seven searched for the right phrase. " ... Biding her time."
" An awful lot can happen in a week, darling," Janeway replied, allowing her fingers to wander to the blondeís full breasts. " Look at us." She smiled slowly, enjoying the look of pure desire on the young womanís face.
Seven groaned as gentle fingers teased and tugged. " Are you going to speak with Lt Lansdown?" she finally managed.
" Iím afraid Iím going to have to," the captain sighed. " Iíve told Lis to take as much time as she needs, but the truth is we canít do without her indefinitely. And Cass is just going through the motions. Besides I think Lis needs her."
Seven couldnít stand it any longer. She scooped Kathryn into her arms and rolled them both over until she was leaning over the smaller woman. She slid her thigh between Janewayís and began a slow rocking motion as she pressed against warm wetness.
" I need you, Kathryn Janeway," she said softly.
" Oh my," the captain sighed, arching up against Seven. " Goddess, Annika, what you do to me," she groaned. " You certainly learn fast."
" I have the best teacher in the Delta Quadrant," the blonde burred in her ear. " Teach me more, Kathryn. " Teach me how to pleasure you."
" Ohhhhhhhh ..."
Stars swirled past the bay window as Voyager continued her warp-driven journey towards the Alpha Quadrant. Behind the transparent aluminum a small figure sat in the darkened room. Huddled in a corner of a large armchair, Lis nursed a now-cold cup of coffee between her hands. As she had for most of the past week since her release from sickbay, she stared silently into the silver-streaked void, her thoughts as transient as the passing galaxies.
She didn't remember too much of the first few days after they had returned from the planet on which Nick - and her baby - had died. She supposed that was a blessing. All she could see in her mind's eye was Nick's pale, frightened face, his lips tinged with his own blood. And then there had a been a swirl of faces - Captain Janeway, Seven of Nine, Cass, the Doctor - and the awful wracking cramps that had signaled the end of her all-too-brief pregnancy.
Two days of oblivion had followed, she knew. Then they had released her to return to her quarters. Quarters she didnít dare look at too closely, filled as they were with mementos of her life with Nick.
Bad enough that my head is stuffed with memories of the good times ... and the bad, she thought. But mainly good times, she acknowledged. Particularly the last four years when they had successfully rebuilt their marriage after her affair with Cass.
Cass. Why didn't she come to the memorial service, Lis wondered, feeling another stab of pain at the remembrance of the tall dark-haired security chief's absence. I've never been so alone in my life.
A single tear tracked down the blonde's cheek.
On the other side of the ship, Cass had her own problems. She was wading through personnel reports on each of the people in her department, but nothing was coming easy. As had been the case for the past week the security chief was having trouble focusing on anything other than her part in the death of Nick Standish.
She hadn't been able to face the memorial service. The thought of being pushed away, accused by Lis again was too much to bear and she had opted instead for a night of solitary drinking, locked away in her quarters. But even that decision had brought her spasms of guilt.
I could have done more, she thought. Couldn't I? Even though days of reliving the events on the beach over and over in her mind had not shown her where she had gone wrong or what she could have done better, Cass was relentless in her self-blame.
That goddamn rifle, she thought for the millionth time in a week. If I'd just been holding it a little tighter ... If I'd just not listened to Nick when he told me to leave him. I could have saved him, surely?
By the time the Delta Flyer had escaped the planet's weird transporter-damping field, Lis had been bleeding profusely, her miscarriage unstoppable. Cass had watched her disappear in a shower of gold particles with a sense of dread and guilt, sure that the psychologist would blame her for that as well.
Maybe that's what I can't face, Cass thought morosely as she added a request for a commendation to Charlie Johnson's file. I couldn't bear to hear Lis say she blamed me for her baby's death as well.
Finally she pushed away the computer terminal and walked over to a nearby bookshelf. She pulled down a bottle of single-malt whiskey. No synthehol for me tonight, she thought as she poured a measure of the amber fluid into a glass. I'm tired of thinking. Maybe tomorrow I'll think of some way to atone. Right now I just want to forget it all. Quickly she slammed down the drink, gasping against the liquid heat which coursed through her system. Then she poured herself another and turned to walk over to the sofa under the window.
Thinking better of it, she reached for the bottle and brought that with her, settling into the soft cushions for a night of oblivion.
Janeway punched her security over-ride code into the control panel of the door to Lis Daytonís quarters. Despite repeated attempts, Lis had not answered the captainís requests for entry even though the computer told her the psychologist was not only inside but awake.
I donít like doing this, Janeway thought as she keyed in the number combination that would allow her in. But thereís something very wrong here.
Finally the door slid open and Voyagerís commanding officer stepped into the darkness of Lisí living space. Janeway waited several seconds after the door closed behind her, allowing her eyes to adjust to the starlit room. She could just make out a silhouette, framed by the bay window. Lis was leaning on the bulkhead, staring out into space.
" Come on in," came the soft murmur from the figure at the window.
Janeway walked forward slowly until she came up alongside the psychologist. Starlight illuminated a face that was thinner and more haggard than it had been a week ago. Dark shadows made Lis' normally vibrant eyes appear sunken and dull.
"No need to ask whether you're getting any sleep," Janeway said quietly. "You look like hell, Lis."
"I don't feel like I'm anywhere actually," the blonde replied. "I just am." The captain reached out and placed a hand on the younger woman's upper arm. "I feel empty." Unconsciously Lis dropped her hand to her lower stomach, as if comforting the baby that was no longer there.
"I understand," Janeway said softly, though she knew she didn't really. The captain had lost her father, and an old boyfriend, many years ago - and of course being the commander of a Starfleet exploration vessel meant she was all too familiar with losing crew members under her aegis. But nothing compared to losing a husband and a child, however embryonic, in one afternoon.
Haunted, flat green eyes searched hers and Janeway realized Lis knew just how much she didn't understand.
"You need to get some sleep," the captain said, opting for practicalities rather than platitudes.
Lis shook her head slowly. "I don't want to sleep," she said. "I ... I don't like what I see ... when I sleep."
"Perhaps the Doctor can help you with that," Janeway suggested gently.
"Maybe ... But I don't think he can stop the nightmares," Lis replied. "I don't want to go there."
Janeway nodded, knowing she couldn't push anything with the blonde right now. Grief is a hard thing to predict, she thought. And Lis knows that better than anybody.
"You need to talk to somebody," she tried.
The psychologist leaned against the bulwark and glanced at the captain, allowing a small smile to touch her lips.
"Who counsels the counselor," she murmured. "You, Captain?"
Janeway didn't dodge the issue. "You know my door is always open to you. But you also know that what you need right now is the support of your friends. The people who know you best. And that isn't necessarily your commanding officer."
Lis nodded slowly. "The one person who could help doesn't seem inclined to, Captain," she said sadly.
Hmmmmm, thought Janeway, her suspicions confirmed. So she doesn't remember. "Well, I suspect Lt Lansdown is feeling a little uncertain about whether or not you want her help."
Lis frowned. Why would Cass feel that way, she wondered. A little piece of memory suddenly resurfaced and she gasped, her eyes widening.
"I hit her," she said, quickly covering her face with her hands. God, what an idiot. "Why on earth would I do that?" she asked the captain, dropping her hands again.
"Shock," Janeway said bluntly. "Don't think about it right now," she added hastily, watching Lis' face begin to crumble at the memories. "And leave Lt Lansdown to me." The captain stepped forward, narrowing the gap between her and the diminutive blonde, and placed a hand on Lis' shoulder. "Meanwhile, I want you to start taking care of yourself. Consider that an order."
Lis nodded slightly and gave the captain a wan smile, even though she really didnít feel there was much to do to take care of herself. I just want to stop feeling, she thought as she watching Janeway leaving her quarters.
I don't want to feel anything anymore.
A wall of sound pounded at Janeway as she stepped into Cass' quarters a few minutes later. No wonder she didn't hear me, the captain thought, wincing at the mega-decibel onslaught of rock music that could only be Klingon. That sound would deafen a mastodon.
"Computer, halt music," she called out, hoping the ship's computer would be able to distinguish her voice from the cacophony. Relieved at the sudden silence, Janeway amused herself by watching the graceful, but obviously drunken, dancing of her chief of security.
"Hey! Computer!! Where the fuck's the music?" yelled the bemused woman as she swung around to face the commanding officer. "Hiiiiiiiiii, Cap'n," she slurred, her Australian accent broadened by the alcohol. "You come to have a drink with me?"
Ye gods, thought Janeway, rolling her eyes. What did I do to deserve this? She took a deep breath and approached Cass. "Actually, Lt, I came to have a talk with you," she said.
"Weellllllllll, that's just great," enthused the tall woman. Cass flung out an arm and wrapped it around the captain's shoulders. "I know," she said, pulling Janeway over to the couch. "You need some more advice, huh? About getting the charming and lovely Seventy-Nine into the ole sackeroonie, I'll bet." She fell sloppily onto the sofa, dragging Janeway down with her. "Damn, I'll tell ya, Cap'n, you're gonna need a jackeroo and a couple of good workin' dogs to keep that one under control." Cass giggled uncontrollably at the thought and Janeway took the opportunity to disentangle herself, moving a comfortable distance away from the long-limbed woman.
I'm not going to get anywhere until she's sobered up, she realized. She watched Cass pour another drink for herself and another for the captain, spilling scotch on the coffee table as she tried to focus on the glasses. Or I could hasten the process just a little. She tapped her communicator.
"Janeway to sickbay."
"How can I help you, Captain?" came the measured tones of the EMH.
"You can strap on your mobile emitter and join me in Lt Lansdown's quarters, Doctor," she answered.
"Is she unwell? Injured?"
"Neither," Janeway said dryly. "Bring along a hypospray of alcohol suppressant, if you don't mind."
"Ahhh," said the Doctor smugly. "Should I bring the hangover cure, too?"
Janeway looked at the sodden security chief, who was now leaning back in the sofa and humming happily to herself. It was with a mischievous glint in her eye that she gave her answer.
"No," she said. "I think I'm going to let her suffer a little."
"Understood," replied the Doctor. "I'm on my way."
A few seconds later he materialized in the middle of the living area, a hypospray in his hand.
"My, my, my," he said disdainfully, taking in the disheveled state of the room. "We've been having quite the party I see."
"Heeeeeeeeeeeeeey Doc!! Good to see you, mate!" greeted Cass, bouncing unsteadily up out of the sofa and making for the hologram. He stood his ground and held up the hypospray, unloading its contents as soon as it touched the tall woman's neck.
Disoriented for a moment Cass swayed in place until the drugs hit hard and she sobered up in a hurry.
"Whoa," she muttered. Janeway sat back and folded her arms across her chest, waiting for her security chief to pull herself together. "Oowwwwwwww!" Cass' hands flew to her temples where a thumping headache had mysteriously developed.
"My work here is done," said the Doctor with a flourish of his hypospray.
"Thank you Doctor," acknowledged the captain with a nod, as the EMH beamed back out again. " Lt, why donít you join me here on the couch?"
" Oh my god," groaned Cass. She walked slowly back and carefully lowered herself into the seat. " Captain, Iím so sorry." Her dark hair fell forward as she buried her head in her hands.
" Forget it Cass. Then again, youíll probably just add it to the list of things youíre beating yourself up for," Janeway said wryly. Cass slowly sat up, sweeping the hair off her face with a long-fingered hand.
" I know my brain is dribbling out of my ears, Captain, but could you please explain that one to me in words of one syllable?" Cass knew she sounded somewhat petulant, but as she could hardly hear herself talk over the throbbing in her head, she decided to cut herself some slack.
Janeway let the younger woman stew for a few seconds as she tried to decide which approach to take.
" Cass," she said, leaning forward. " Thereís a woman on the other side of this ship who needs you very much. Sheís hurting, and sheís feeling very much alone. Donít add to her hurt by staying away."
Bloodshot, but still piercing blue eyes, locked with hers. " She doesnít want me anywhere near her, Captain," Cass said bluntly. " She made that very clear."
" Until 20 minutes ago when I reminded her, she didnít even realize she had slapped you, Lt," the captain retorted. " It was shock, Cass. Nothing more. Put it out of your mind and go and do some good where itís really needed."
" Is that an order, Captain?"
Janeway sighed in exasperation. " You donít need a damn order to do this, and we both know it," she snapped. "If nothing else, you are her friend. You are the only one on this ship who can talk to her. Donít sit there and try to tell me you donít want to help her, because I wonít believe you for a minute. So put your self-pity, and your self-blame, and whatever other roadblocks youíve got hidden in that aching head of yours, in the trash where they belong. She needs you. That should be all that matters."
She stood up hastily, annoyed that sheíd lost her temper with the young woman, who sat in sullen silence. Janeway turned and looked down at her.
" Damn it, Cass. Donít make me order you."
There was another silence as cool blue eyes looked up at her. Finally Cass nodded, dropping her eyes.
" Funny thing is, it feels like I wanted her to be angry with me. Her slapping me was just the excuse I needed," she said softly.
Janeway nodded. " As I said, Lt. Thereís a woman on the other side of this ship who needs you very much."
This time it was Cassí turn to nod. " Iíll do what I can, Captain."
" Good." Janeway headed for the door. Halfway there a thought occurred to her and she stopped, turning on her heel to face Cass again. " And by the way, about that other matter we were discussing." She smiled at the security chiefís raised eyebrow. " I took your advice. It worked." Kathrynís smile widened into a rakish grin. " Thank you."
Cass answered the captainís grin with one of her own.
" My pleasure."
An hour later, sober, cleaned up and dressed in casual slacks and a t-shirt, Cass stood outside the closed door to Lis' quarters. Uncertain, she reached for the control panel, and then withdrew again.
Shit, she thought as she took a couple of deep breaths. What the hell am I so nervous about? I know Lis better than I know myself. And she needs a friend right now. She ran a hand through her hair and pulled her shoulders back. Come on Lansdown, get a grip.
She reached out again and requested entry. The door slid open without any preamble and she stepped in to the gloom. Though Cass wasn't aware of it, Lis was still standing in the same place Janeway had left her, her left shoulder against the main strut of the window frame, arms folded, her back turned slightly away from the door.
"Hello Cass," the blonde said quietly without looking at the security chief.
Cass said nothing, but moved up behind the shorter woman. Any uncertainty she'd had about how to approach Lis evaporated as she felt the grief and sadness washing off the blonde in waves. An almost overwhelming urge to protect her former lover welled up inside her and she reached forward, sliding her arms around Lis' waist and tugging at her gently. There was a minute pause and then Lis relaxed, leaning back against the warm, solid frame behind her.
The blonde closed her eyes, suddenly feeling not quite so alone. It didn't stop the pain of loss, but now at least now it felt like she had an ally.
"I'm sorry," whispered Cass, close to the blonde's ear. "For everything."
Lis took a long, gasping breath which became a sob as she felt Cass' arms tighten around her. In one movement she turned around, curling her fingers around the soft fabric of Cass' t-shirt and burying her face as the tears finally came.
Briefly taken aback by Lis' sudden reaction, Cass quickly adjusted, wrapping the smaller woman up in the softest of hugs. She slid one hand to the back of Lisí head and held her close, resting her own cheek against soft, blonde hair.
For several minutes they stood there, Cass cradling the grieving Lis as a week's worth of pent-up sorrow flowed out.
"D-don't ... don't l-let me g-go," the blonde eventually said around hitching sobs.
"No way," Cass replied softly. "I'm not going anywhere sweetheart." She felt Lis slump against her and she shifted her weight slightly to balance them. "Let's get comfortable," she suggested, pulling them towards the sofa.
Lis let go of her long enough for Cass to settle them both into a corner of the soft cushions. The dark-haired woman smiled softly as Lis crawled back into her arms and curled around her.
" Try to sleep," Cass whispered.
Lis shook her head frantically against her shoulder. " No. I c-canít," the blonde gulped. " The n-nightmares have b-been too awf-ful ..."
" Sshhhhh," Cass soothed. " They wonít dare come around with me here. Iíll slice up the monsters with my big double-edged sword."
" O-okay. I ... Iím s-sorry I h-hit you, C-Cassie," Lis murmured hesitantly.
" Donít worry about it, love," she answered quietly. " Iím just grateful you didnít have a phaser in your hand." She grinned as she felt a tentative chuckle shake the slight figure in her arms. " What you did was a normal reaction to a really abnormal situation, Lissy. You know that. I donít want you to worry about that any more, okay."
She felt Lis nod.
" I d-donít want to think about w-what happened at all," the blonde said softly.
" I know, honey. And thatís okay for now. Tonight what you need is sleep. We are going to have to talk about what happened at some point. But not now, not tonight. Okay?"
" Okay." Lis settled in more closely and relaxed perceptibly against Cassí warm body. " Thank you," she whispered.
Cass kissed the top of the blonde head gently. " Computer." A familiar beep answered her. " Access my music files. Lansdown Alpha 3-2-2-1. Low volume." Soft Celtic music filled the room and Cass wrapped her arms around Lis more tightly, settling them in for the night.
Within minutes she felt the exhausted woman go completely limp in her embrace. Thank God, Cass thought. Iíve never seen her looking so worn out. Perhaps with a few nightsí decent sleep she can start to regain her feet. With a deep sigh Cass, who hadnít exactly been sleeping well herself, leaned her head against the back of the sofa and closed her eyes, drifting into slumber.
Bíelanna Torres took another sip of her first cup of coffee of the day as she scanned the PADD in her hand. It was 7am and the chief engineer was enjoying a leisurely breakfast in the mess before the start of her duty shift. She had managed to persuade Tom Paris to return to his quarters in the middle of the night. The fiery half-Klingon woman was disconcerted to find that the longer her relationship with the personable pilot went on, the more irritated she became with him.
Which is entirely unfair to him, she conceded. She sighed as she ran her eye down the gamma shiftís log. I just wish he would stand up to me a little more often, she thought. He can be so sweet, but heís just not ... With an exasperated grunt she tossed the PADD back on the table.
A few tables across from her a group of young crewmen, including two from Engineering, she noted, were engaged in a boisterous conversation. Most had just finished gamma shift, Bíelanna was sure, and they were in good humor. Happy to be distracted from her own problems for a few minutes, she tuned in to their talk while she tucked into a plate of Neelixís best scrambled eggs. Anything to stop me thinking about the taste, she thought wryly.
She let the minutiae of the conversation wash over her for a while and then one particular voice caught her attention.
" So come on," said the young woman. " Whoís coming in the pool with me?"
" What are we betting?" said another woman.
" Replicator rations," replied the first.
" What are we betting on?" asked one of the men.
That produced a round of giggling that had the chief engineerís ears twitching.
" The game is to pick how long it takes for Dr Dayton to reel in Lt Lansdown," said the first woman.
What the ... thought Bíelanna, covering her amazement by taking another sip of her coffee.
" Youíve lost me," said the crewman. " What are you talking about?"
" Oh, you havenít heard?" asked the woman. " They used to be lovers. Years ago. Before they came onboard Voyager."
" So everyone knows Lansdownís been keeping herself on hold ever since. Look at what happened with her and Tina Roberts," she explained. " Plus Daytonís been stringing her along ever since. Maintaining the friendship. And now the rumor is Lansdownís been doing some heavy-duty ’comfortingí." The young woman emphasized the word with quote marks.
Bíelanna was stunned. On the one hand, she couldnít believe what she was hearing about Cass and Lis. On the other hand, she thought. It does make a lot of things about Cass click into place.
" For godís sake," one of the other crewmen was saying. " Dr Standish has only been dead a couple of weeks. Youíre not seriously suggesting Dr Dayton is that calculating?"
The voice of reason, Bíelanna thought.
The female crewman shrugged. " Hey, thatís the point of the game, Josh. You can bet it takes six months for them to get together if you like. Personally, I think itís already happening. If you think differently, put your rations where your mouth is."
There was a pause as Josh obviously considered his options.
" All right," he finally said. " Iím in."
Thatís it, thought Bíelanna. Iíve had enough of this garbage. She slapped the flat of her hand down on the tabletop as she stood up suddenly. The sound was enough to silence the conversations around her, a dramatic effect that pleased her as she stalked over to the crewmen in question.
" L-Lt ..." said the lead female, a Bolian, hesitantly. If her blue skin could have flushed with embarrassment, it would have.
" Iím going to give you all a little piece of advice," Bíelanna said menacingly as she leaned her hands on their table. The engineering chief used her formidable reputation to her advantage, letting her top lip curl a little. " I suggest you forget this unpleasant little game youíre all playing. Iíd also suggest you stick to gossiping amongst yourselves about each other, instead of speculating on the private lives of your senior officers." She locked eyes with the organizer of the betting pool. " And if I ever hear one word about this again Iíll haul every last one of you up in front of the captain." She shifted her gaze to each one of them in turn. " Am I making myself clear?"
A chorus of ’yes maíamsí and ’aye, lieutenantsí was her answer.
" Get the hell out of here, all of you," she snarled. She almost laughed at the speed at which the group dispersed, leaving unfinished meals and steaming cups of coffee in their wake. " Idiots."
" Trouble, Lt?" came a low, rich voice behind her right shoulder and Bíelanna startled slightly at its proximity.
" Hey," she replied gruffly, turning to face Cass.
" Hey yourself," the security chief replied cheerily. " Putting the wind up a few crewmen before breakfast, Bíelanna? Thatís a fine way to start the day."
The grumpy Klingon led them back to her table, resuming her seat and picking up her fork for another attack on her now cooling eggs.
" They were just being idiot kids," she said evasively, not meeting Cassí amused blue eyes. " They were getting on my last nerve." Why didnít she tell me about her and Lis? she wondered.
Cass had been a security chief long enough to know when she was being buried under a snow job. " Uh-huh," she said, eyeing Bíelanna carefully. Somethingís up, she thought.
" So, howís Lis?" asked the Klingon.
Okay, so thatís no coincidence, Cass decided. " Getting there," she said aloud. " Itís been a rough couple of weeks, but I think sheís starting to find her way through."
Bíelanna glanced up at her briefly. " Youíve been staying with her, huh?"
Cass nodded. " She sleeps better when sheís not alone," she replied. Their eyes met and Cass rolled hers in exasperation. " Give me a break, B," she said. " Iíve been sleeping on the couch, okay?"
Bíelanna raised her hands in surrender. " Okay, okay. Donít get your phasers in an uproar," she muttered.
Cass put down her fork and looked directly at her friend with an ice-cool blue gaze. " What gives Bíelanna? And what was that little intimidation-fest all about?"
Nuts, sheís not gonna let this go, the engineer realized. She put her own utensils down and met Cassí stare. " Why didnít you ever tell me about you and Lis?" she asked quietly.
Damn, thatís not where I was expecting her to go, Cass thought, taken aback by the question. She gave it some thought for a few seconds. " Because Lis was ... is ... entitled to her privacy," she said simply. " She is ... was ... a married woman, and certainly didnít need those kinds of rumors doing the rounds. Things were precarious enough between Nick and me without that kind of bullshit being resurrected."
" And you thought I couldnít be trusted with that kind of information?" Bíelanna asked, somewhat miffed at the thought.
" Come on, B, be honest here. Youíre not exactly immune to the lure of a juicy piece of gossip."
" Not like that, Cass. Not malicious stuff like ..." she nodded her head in the direction of the table at which the crewmen had been sitting.
" Ah. So there was something going on," Cass reasoned. " Spit it out, Bíelanna."
The Klingon sighed dramatically.
" All right. But youíre not going to like it." She folded her arms across her chest and met Cassí gaze. " They were betting on how long it would take for you and Lis to get together ... romantically speaking." She paused, uncertain just how much she should tell her friend. Piercing, deeply pissed off blue eyes stared back at her. Oh boy. " Only they didnít put it quite so politely."
" Then just how did they put it?" Cass growled, her voice in the dangerously low, quiet register that Bíelanna had learned meant there was trouble brewing.
" Cass, forget it. It doesnít ma-"
" Just tell me," the security chief cut her off.
Bíelanna sighed. Why didnít I eat breakfast in my quarters?
" The gist of the conversation was that Lis has been stringing you along for years, maintaining the friendship, keeping you at armís length, while youíve basically let her by turning into the ice princess around everyone else. The bet was to see who could guess how long it would take her to thaw you out now that Nick is gone." She got it all out in one breath, not wanting to meet her friendís angry, cold gaze.
" Weellllllllll isnít that just goddamn peachy," Cass snarled. She flicked a glance at the chief engineer. " And is that what you think?"
" Hey!" Bíelanna snapped back, allowing her own legendary temper to flare for a moment. " Iím the one who just chased those idiots off, remember? Besides which," she reminded Cass. " Iíve only known about this whole thing for the grand total of about 10 minutes. Iím not sure that entitles me to have any opinion whatsoever."
For several moments the two strong-willed women glared at each other. It was Cass who backed off first.
" Iím sorry I couldnít tell you, B," she said quietly.
" Damn you, Cassandra, you know I canít resist when you bat those baby blues at me like that," Bíelanna retorted, falling back on their old familiar flirtation style. She grinned at the dark-haired woman, and was relieved when an answering smile came back at her. " Tell me about it now?"
Cass nodded, and then dropped her gaze to her hands, which were fiddling with her coffee cup on the table.
" Have you ever met your soulmate, B?" she asked softly.
" Iím not sure I know what that means," Bíelanna replied dryly, thinking back on her own checkered romantic history.
" I do," Cass answered. " The moment I met Lis I just knew. I knew she was the one person I was supposed to be with." She glanced up at the Klingon, who had her head cocked to one side, listening. " I donít just mean I was attracted to her, or that she intrigued me. I mean ... I met her and suddenly I could see what it was that was missing from my life. And not only that, I could see the person who could give me what it was I needed." Bíelanna nodded at her and she continued.
" Lis has a theory about love," she said with a smile. " Itís like we all have a jigsaw puzzle that we wear on our chest. And there are pieces missing. Pieces that we need to make us a complete person. And we spend our lives wandering the universe trying to find the person who has our missing pieces." She looked at Bíelanna again. " Lis has my missing pieces," she said simply. " And I have hers."
The engineer found herself swallowing back tears. " Thatís beautiful," she said huskily. " Was Lis already married when you met?"
Cass nodded. " Bad timing all round," she said wryly. " But it was like what we were feeling was an unstoppable force." She dropped her eyes again. " Iím not trying to excuse our behavior · we made our choices and we took our chances. And in the end, it was too much." She reached up and pressed her fingers to the bridge of her nose, trying to force back the headache she could feel starting behind her eyes.
" Thatís what is so grating about the gossip and the bullshit. Painting Lis like sheís some manipulative bitch does us both a huge disservice. She's so not like that, B'elanna. In fact, she's the most honorable person I know."
"Because she decided to stay with Nick?" the engineer asked.
"Mmmmmm, partly. But more because of why she decided to stay with him," Cass replied. "She turned herself inside out trying to find a way to make it all right. But she couldn't. She couldn't go on trying to keep both Nick and I happy. And she chose to stay with the one she had made lifetime promises to. I can't think of anything more honorable than that."
"Nick came along first," nodded the engineer.
"Well, thatís probably a little simplistic, but yeah. That's how life is," Cass replied. "We live life in a straight line. We can't make decisions and promises based on what might happen, only on what we know now. What was she supposed to say? 'I'll marry you Nick, but only until someone better comes along'?" She snorted with derision. " She did the best she could."
"But it hurt you," B'elanna persisted.
"Iím an adult, Bíelanna. Iím capable of making choices and judgments for myself. It was my choice to be with Lis in the first place, knowing the risks. It was my choice to disappear into deep space for two years to get away from it all. It was my choice not to get involved with anybody else here on Voyager because I didnít think it was fair to lead them on." She emphasized each point with a jab of her finger against her breastbone. " And it was my choice to wait as long as it takes." She swallowed hard. " I canít tell you how many times sheís told me to forget about her and go find happiness with someone else."
Bíelanna nodded. " I understand," she said gently.
Cass laughed softly. " Thanks, but you donít really," she replied. " Not unless youíve been in this position." She looked at her friend enquiringly, unsurprised to the see the engineer shaking her head.
" The worst part is hearing the criticism of Lis," the dark-haired woman continued. "My parents were the best at it, but hearing what those crewmen said, it sounds like the same old crap is floating around."
Bíelanna cleared her throat, hesitating to say what she was thinking. Cass noticed and smiled wryly at her friend.
" Go on, ask whatever it is you want to ask," she said, wearily.
"Okay," the engineer said. She took a deep breath. "If she's so honorable, why did she start the affair with you in the first place?"
Cass sighed. The question everyone always asks, she thought.
"There are so many answers to that, B," she replied quietly. "The simplest is to say that their marriage was in the worst possible shape. Days not talking to each other at all. No touching, no affection. Nobody's needs were being taken care of. She was torn up about it, and feeling like this was how the rest of her life was going to be."
B'elanna smiled gently. "And then you showed up carrying her missing pieces."
Cass nodded, glad at least that the engineer could see that nothing was as black and white as it appeared on the surface.
"I was no innocent in this, B," she said. "I knew the circumstances and did my fair share of seduction."
B'elanna grinned. "Being irresistible as you are," she teased.
"Oh shut up," Cass retorted. "But, yes." They both burst into laughter, relief playing its part in their good humor.
"Thanks for telling me Cassie," the shorter woman said as their chuckles wound down.
Cass shrugged. "I should have done it a long time ago. I'm sorry I didn't."
"Forget it." There was a comfortable silence for a few moments. "So. What now?"
Cass raised an elegant eyebrow. "With me and Lis, you mean?"
"Nothing. The last thing she needs is that complication right now. She needs to be able to mourn Nick properly. That way, when the time is right for her and me, she can come to it without all that baggage that we've been dragging around for six years."
B'elanna looked her straight in the eye.
"So you're still going to wait for her?"
Cass smiled her trademark 1000-watt grin. "She's worth every minute of the wait, so yes. However long it takes. What she needs from me now is friendship and support. And that's what she's going to get, no matter what the cynics want to say or think. They don't know me, they don't know her, and they don't know how it feels for us."
B'elanna took in the fire in her friend's blue eyes and made an immediate decision.
"If there's anything I can do to help, let me know," she said firmly.
Cass grinned again. "Y'know, Lt, I've heard rumors that you eat bad-mannered crewmen for breakfast, but I'm beginning to think you're just a cute little mushball."
"Oh shut up," the engineer muttered good-naturedly.
Cass entered her quarters at the end of her duty shift. It had been a routine kind of day · Voyager was plowing through a relatively empty piece of space that was making existence blissfully dull. It had given the crew a much-needed chance to catch up on minor repairs and maintenance, not just to the ship, but to themselves as well. Everyone was recharging.
Except Lis and me, Cass thought wearily as she tossed her PADDs onto the table. I feel like I havenít slept in about a year. A week of insomnia followed by a week of sleeping in various bizarre positions on Lisí couch were starting to take their toll on the lanky womanís back and she flexed experimentally as she walked into her bedroom. Time for a shower and a change of clothes before I head over, she thought.
Her communicator chirped before she could take another step and she slapped at it in irritation. Her impatience disappeared when she heard the lost voice.
" Lis? Whatís up hon?"
" Are you coming h-here soon?"
" Yes, sweetie. I just came off-duty. Had a rough day?"
She heard tears close to the surface as Lis hesitated in answering. " Y-yes."
Hell, I can shower anytime, Cass thought as she quickly shucked off her uniform pants and pulled on a pair of sweats. " Iím on my way now."
For the past few days Cass had been helping Lis to pack away the pieces and parts of her life with Nick. It had been a slow, sad process and she knew the blonde had spent the day with the last of the mementos and memories. The security chief jogged through the corridors of ship, knowing it was probably going to be a fairly grim evening.
She found Lis curled on the couch with her legs tucked under her. She was holding a small PADD and crying quietly. Cass walked over and crouched on her haunches in front of the older woman, placing her hands on Lisí knees.
" Hey gorgeous," Cass said softly, looking up into tear-filled green eyes. " What have you got there?"
Silently Lis handed her the PADD and Cass took it, turning it so she could read its contents. She felt a sympathetic stab of pain as she realized what she was looking at · a computer-generated moving scan of a fetus, barely formed, tiny beating heart just discernable. Baby Standish.
" Oh Lissy," Cass murmured. She pushed herself up and wrapped Lis in long, protective arms, handing the PADD back to the stricken woman.
" Th-the Doctor did the scan the morning we went down to the b-beach," the blonde stammered. " H-he said she was just p-perfect."
" Mhmmmmm," Cass replied quietly, feeling the blonde snuggle deep into her embrace, face pressed against the crook of her neck. " Sheís beautiful, sweetheart."
Lis nodded, unable to speak for the aching tug in her throat.
Softly, softly, Cass thought, realizing it was the first time they had spoken of the lost baby. " I bet youíd already started thinking about names and stuff, hadnít you?" she asked gently.
Lis nodded again, this time clutching Cass more closely as a sob forced its way out.
" Itís okay, love, let it go," Cass whispered. " Itís okay to cry for her, Lis."
Deep, wracking sobs shook the slight body in her arms, a heartbreaking sound that brought tears to Cassí eyes. She held on tight, letting Lis cry herself out.
" I sh-should have d-done b-better," the blonde sobbed. " I d-didnít p-protect her well enough ..."
Oh, angel, donít do that to yourself, Cass thought as she rocked them both gently back and forth soothingly. " You did the very best you could, Lis."
" N-not g-good enough ..." she cried. " N-not g-good en-nough!"
" There was nothing else you could have done, sweetheart. Nothing."
" Y-you d-donít know th-that."
Cass pulled Lis even closer, stroking the soft, blonde hair against her cheek. " I know you, Lis," she whispered fiercely. " And I know you did the very best you could."
Several minutes of rocking and crying and gentle soothing sounds passed before Lis relaxed in Cassí arms, exhaustion drying the tears.
" Is it always going to hurt?" the blonde whispered.
" A part of you always will, yes," Cass answered honestly. " But youíll find a place to put it, and every day it will be a little more bearable."
" You promise?"
" I promise."