For the first time in months Lis felt like she was finally seeing the universe clearly. She looked down at the spray of violet, yellow and pale pink flowers she was clasping then lifted them to her face and inhaled deeply. The rich, earthy but delicate fragrance filled her nostrils and she closed her eyes, savoring the memories and associations that came with it.
I thought I'd never be able to appreciate simple things like flowers again, she mused as she opened her eyes, drinking in the colors and shapes and textures of the petals. Since the departure of Kes, just over three years into their journey back to the Alpha Quadrant, several of Voyager's botanists had decided to continue the hydroponics garden the young Ocampan had started in one of the cargo bays. Fresh flowers were one of the more appreciated products. Looks like the whole supply is being used today, Lis thought with a chuckle as she gazed around the bouquet-festooned holodeck.
Everything ... everybody ... looks so beautiful, she observed. Just like a wedding should.
"Credit for your thoughts," said a familiar, warm voice close to her ear. Lis smiled, a rarity over the six months since Nick and their baby had died. She reveled in the feeling of cautious happiness.
"I was remembering my wedding," she replied softly, feeling Cass' solid presence close behind her. "And I think, in a way, I was saying goodbye as well."
"Mmmmmm," Cass burred. "Is that a good thing?"
Lis nodded. "I think so, yes," she replied. "I think I'm ready to let go of Nick and the baby. I'll never forget them, but I feel like I can move past losing them."
Cass tried to ignore the double back flip her heart took at those words. Breathe, Cassie, breathe, her mind urged. You've waited this long, you can afford to be patient a little longer. "You're feeling a lot better," she said out loud, quietly proud of the progress her ex-lover had made recently.
"Yes," Lis agreed. "Much. I didn't wake up sad this morning - for the first time in forever." She leaned back momentarily, feeling Cass' strong frame against her back. "Maybe it's just because of the wedding, but I hope it's more than that."
Cass rested her hands on Lis' hips and kissed the top of the blonde's head. "It's more than that," she said confidently. "I hate to drag us back to the business at hand, but we've got a wedding to run here."
Lis turned and smiled up at the tall security chief. Like every Starfleet officer in the official wedding party, both women were wearing dress whites. It was a look that totally suited Cass, Lis thought, drinking in the angular beauty of her friend. Long, dark hair was pulled back in an elegant French braid, and the blue of Cass' eyes was even more startling than usual.
"Yes we do," Lis said softly, smiling as she noticed Cass blush under her scrutiny. "How is your half of the responsibility?"
Cass sighed and rolled her eyes.
"I regret to report that Captain Janeway is currently puking up a lung up in my quarters," she said wryly.
"Hung over?" Lis asked innocently, knowing that Cass, Chakotay, Tom, Harry Kim and Neelix had managed to throw the commanding officer a bachelorette party that had already passed into folklore.
" Actually, surprisingly, no," Cass replied with a smirk. " The Doctor fixed that this morning. I think she's just really, really nervous."
" She's really, really scared spitless, as a matter of fact," came the distinctive husky tones of their commanding officer. Both women turned to face Janeway, who fidgeted with the collar of her dress whites. They grinned at the look of consternation on the older woman's face. " I'm not totally convinced I'm going to get through this without keeling over in a dead faint," Janeway muttered.
Lis stepped forward and reached up to the captain's collar, straightening out the offending piece of errant braiding that was causing the irritation. " You're going to be just fine, Captain," she said with a smile. " If you can survive a close encounter with the Borg Queen, you can certainly survive marrying a Borg princess."
" That woman had the worst breath," Janeway murmured incongruously. " Thank you, Counselor," she said, coming back to the present and taking in the amused expressions of her two crewmembers. " Are we ready to go?"
" Yes ma'am," Cass answered.
" How is Annika?"
" Radiant," Lis said. " Cool as a cucumber. Stunning."
" Not nervous at all, huh?"
Cass chuckled and Lis shook her head with a grin. " Not so you would notice, Captain, no," she said.
" Typical." Both crew members stifled giggles and the captain frowned. " Okay. Let's get this show on the road shall we?"
They split up. Cass led Janeway to the front of the room, past the rows of guests Š all of the crew who weren't required to keep the ship running for the next few hours Š to the slightly raised platform where Chakotay was waiting. Janeway had officially, though temporarily, surrendered command of Voyager to him, giving him the necessary authority to perform the marriage ceremony.
Meanwhile Lis went to an anteroom off the main chamber, where Seven and Naomi Wildman, the other member of the wedding party, were waiting.
" Counselor," said Seven calmly. " Is Kathryn all right?"
" Mhm. Just a little nervous." She smiled. " You may need to hold her hand through the important bits."
Seven nodded. " I believe I will be able to comply," she stated.
Lis walked over to her and handed her the bridal bouquet. " This is yours," she said simply, watching as Seven tentatively moved the flowers around in her hands. For the first time the psychologist saw a glimpse of uncertainty and nervousness on the young woman's normally impassive face.
" Seven, you look beautiful," said Naomi, her excited young face beaming up at the ex-Borg.
" Naomi Wildman," the statuesque blonde replied. " I believe it is possible you are biased in your assessment of the situation." She paused, allowing the slightest of smiles to touch the corners of her mouth. " But thank you."
Naomi, who knew Seven better than most of the adults on the ship and had never been fazed by the ex-Borg's supposed lack of warmth, just giggled.
" You're nervous, I can tell," she said matter-of-factly.
One elegant eyebrow lifted.
" Really?" Seven replied dryly. " And how do you come to that conclusion?"
Naomi put a finger to the corner of her mouth, as if making a scientific observation of some specimen.
" You're about to tell the whole crew how you feel about Captain Janeway. And then everybody's going to watch while you kiss her," she said. " I'd be nervous too."
Uh-oh, thought Lis as Seven went as white as the elegant ankle-length sheath she was wearing. The psychologist quickly reached for the pitcher of iced water on the table, pouring a glassful before walking over to the ex-Borg. Seven had gone weak in the knees, and Lis eased her down into the nearest chair before handing her the glass.
" Drink this," she said calmly.
Seven looked up at her plaintively. " The wh-whole ship? W-watching me k-kiss her?" Lis watched as the pale face went from white to varying shades of green. " I am experiencing nausea," Seven said unnecessarily.
" I know," Lis replied. " The water will help settle your stomach. Don't think about it, Seven. Just concentrate on Kathryn. Don't forget, she's as nervous as you are. You need to help each other get through this in one piece. And then it will all be over, and you'll be wondering what you were so frightened about."
Seven gulped down the water and then stood again.
" I am not frightened, Counselor," she said. " Just nauseous."
" Come on, ladies," she said. " We've got a wedding to go to."
Several hours later the merriment was in full swing. Music, dancing, tables full of food and drink, friends and family. You can't ask for much better than that, Cass thought as she cast her eyes around the holodeck. Everyone was in fine fettle and laughter dominated. Cass grinned. Damn fine party.
She sauntered over to the empty seat next to Seven of Nine and flopped down into it. The ex-Borg was momentarily alone, Janeway having been whisked off to dance with Chakotay. Cass grinned at the contented expression on the younger woman's face.
" You're looking obnoxiously pleased with yourself," she said with a laugh.
A rare smile was the blonde's response.
" Why would I not feel pleased with myself, Lt?" she answered. " I believe I have just married the most beautiful woman in the universe."
Cass chuckled tolerantly. " Well, I suspect Kathryn might argue with you about that one, Seven. And, of course, I've got my opinion on that issue."
Seven followed the security chief's line of sight to where Lis was dancing with the Doctor, the EMH spinning the counselor in a perfectly executed jive step. Lis was laughing and giggling with a sense of abandon that was obvious to everyone.
" It's so good to see her enjoying herself again," Cass murmured.
" Agreed," Seven said, looking from Lis back to the security chief. " Perhaps it is time to put your reticence aside, Cass."
The dark-haired woman looked at her sharply, blue eyes meeting their match as the ex-Borg stared back calmly.
" My ... reticence?"
" Yes," said Seven, clasping her hands in her lap and searching the room for her partner. " Kathryn has told me of your history with Dr Dayton." She looked back at Cass, and quirked an eyebrow in a gesture that Cass suspected indicated great amusement. " I hope that is ... acceptable?"
Cass snorted. " Yes, it's fine. I pretty much assumed that would happen." She smiled at the ex-Borg. " Trust me, trust my wife." She turned her gaze back to Lis. " Works for me."
For a couple of minutes they sat in companionable silence, taking in the goings on as the party swirled around them.
" I believe I owe you a debt of thanks, Lt," Seven said finally.
" How do you figure that?" Cass replied, taking a long swallow from her glass as she watched Lis and the Doctor going through their paces.
" Kathryn explained that it was your advice which persuaded her to ..." She searched for the right phrase. " ... make her move."
Cass laughed out loud. " I'm not sure that's how she would describe it, Seven," she said, half-choking around a mouthful of beer.
" Perhaps not," the Borg agreed. " But it seems somewhat appropriate given the circumstances."
Cass looked at her curiously.
" So let me in on the secret. What was the captain's big ‚move'?"
Seven looked vaguely uncomfortable as she suddenly realized this was probably an area of their lives that Kathryn would want to keep private. But she knew Cass was one of the captain's close confidantes, and perhaps that made it acceptable.
" We were having dinner in her quarters," she said.
Cass nodded. She knew that had been a regular occurrence after Seven came on board Voyager. " Go on."
" On this particular occasion it was different," Seven continued. " There was music playing, and Kathryn had lowered the lighting." Cass smiled. " She asked me to dance."
" Ayup. That'll do it," the security chief said with a grin.
" It did," Seven said succinctly, with just the hint of a smile. She brightened even further as her new wife made her way towards them through the crowd, drinks in hand. The captain surprised her undemonstrative partner by taking a seat on her lap. After a second's hesitation the blonde wrapped her arms around the smaller woman's waist and took her drink from her.
Janeway beamed down at her.
" You two looked like you were deep in conversation," the captain said amiably, taking a drink.
Cass stretched her legs out and sprawled, totally relaxed for the first time in months.
" Seven was just telling me it was time I emulated my commanding officer and made my move," she said cheekily.
" Oh really," Janeway said, chuckling into her glass. " And what do you think of that idea?"
Cass exhaled noisily, blowing out a long breath. Suddenly she stood, tugged down on her jacket and straightened herself up. She cleared her throat and strode off towards Lis, who was now swaying in a slow dance with the Doctor.
" Well, I guess that answers that question," Janeway said dryly.
Seven watched the confident set of Cass' shoulders as she made her way towards the counselor.
" I believe resistance is about to be futile," the ex-Borg answered.
" Mmmmmm, that sounds like a wonderful idea," Janeway murmured, turning her attention back to her wife. " I think we should make a discreet exit, darling," she suggested, leaning down to kiss the corner's of the blonde's mouth.
" I will comply," Seven answered.
Janeway grinned. " I thought you might."
Cass was halfway across the room when gorgeous green eyes locked onto hers. She felt herself smiling and for the first time in so long she allowed the fluttering in her stomach full reign. There are possibilities here I haven't let myself think about in months ... years, she thought as she approached the dancing couple. Don't push it, Cassie. Just be. She tapped the Doctor on the shoulder, never breaking eye contact with Lis.
" Lt," the EMH said by way of greeting.
" May I cut in?" she asked softly, beaming a wide, happy grin at the blonde, who answered in kind.
" Certainly," the Doctor replied graciously, relinquishing his hold on the counselor and stepping away.
" Thanks," Cass murmured absentmindedly. She moved forward, hyperaware of the warmth of Lis' body against her own. She slid her hands into the blonde's smaller ones and puller her closer still. She looks so beautiful, Cass thought as she gazed down at the older woman's peaceful expression.
" Hello Cassandra," Lis said softly, fitting herself against the security chief's lanky frame. Such a right-feeling place to be, she thought, a sense of relief and safety washing over her.
" Hello, Elisabeth," Cass answered just as quietly. Home, she thought. Alpha Quadrant be damned.
Janeway took Seven's hand and led the tall blonde towards the exit of the holodeck. As they wound their way through the crowd of well-wishers, they made their farewells and thank you's, greeting the ribald and raucous commentary with good humor.
No point getting precious about rank at this point, Janeway thought wryly as she indulged her wife's insistence on saying goodnight to everyone. After all, it's not like it's a big secret anymore, Katie.
They reached the door, but as it slid obediently open and Janeway stepped out, Seven tugged the captain back.
"Kathryn, wait," the ex-Borg said, turning back towards the room. The lighting had become more subdued as the night went on and the dance floor was filled with couples swaying cheek-to-cheek. Seven had learned enough about human relationships over the past year and a half to realize that sexual tension filled the air.
"What is it, Annika?" Janeway enquired as she drew level with her partner's shoulder. Seven nodded in the direction of Lis and Cass, who were dancing in a corner of the room.
"Do you think we look like that when we dance?" Seven asked.
Janeway watched Cass and Lis, smiling at the way they had eyes only for each other, as if the rest of the universe didn't exist. Well, isn't that a sight for sore eyes, she thought. The captain glanced up at her partner.
"I suspect we do, darling," she answered softly.
"They must love each other very much then," Seven reasoned.
"I think they do," Janeway agreed. "But they have had to wait a long time for each other, so it may take them a little while yet to figure it out for themselves." She took the ex-Borg's hand again and pulled her towards the door. "Come on, sweetheart," she urged. "Our honeymoon is calling."
Seven smiled and happily followed her commanding officer towards the ship's other holodeck, where a beachside cabin and an uninterrupted week of alone time beckoned them.
"Cassie?" Lis murmured.
"Mmmmmm?" the tall woman replied, her cheek happily pressed against the blonde's soft hair as they swayed slowly in the swirling lights of the mirror ball above them.
"Can I ask you something?"
Cass pulled back a little and gazed down into gentle green eyes.
" Of course you can. Anything. Any time. You know that."
Lis smiled at her friend's seriousness. " You really are a sweetheart," she said, patting the dark-haired woman's chest. " You know that, right?" She chuckled as Cass blushed, finding the acceptance of a compliment, as usual, a difficult thing. " I was just going to ask when your next off-duty rotation will be?"
Cass thought about it, running a list of obligations and routines through her head.
" Well, probably not for another week," she finally answered. " I've got performance reviews to do, and that means training drills and exercises for at least the next four days. Why do you ask?"
" Okay," Lis said, nodding. " No particular reason. I was just wondering." Please don't ask me for more details now, love, she prayed. I'm so close to asking you out on a real honest-to-goodness date ... I just want to be sure I know what I'm doing and you're not going to get hurt again. " Performance reviews, huh?" she said aloud, changing the subject. " I guess that means you're going to need some input from me?"
Cass nodded. " Yep. There are actually a couple of officers I wouldn't mind having you assess individually," she said, allowing herself to slip into security chief mode for a moment, despite the relaxed atmosphere. " I'm just not convinced they're suited for security, and I'd love to have your opinion."
" No problem," Lis answered with a smile. I wonder if she realizes how good it feels to be in her arms. She has well and truly saved my sanity over the last six months. " Just let me know when you want me to sit down with them and I'll rework my schedule." As the ship's only counselor, Lis kept much more flexible hours than the rest of the crew. The advantage was she could coordinate with department heads, Chakotay and the Captain to give assistance when and where it was needed. The bad news was people tended to assume she was always on duty.
Which I'm certainly not right now, she thought contentedly as she rested her cheek back down on Cass' shoulder. She felt the security chief's arms tighten around her slightly and she smiled against the soft skin of Cass' neck.
Mmmmmm, I wonder if you know what you're doing to me, Cass thought to herself. It's been so long since I let myself feel anything but friendship for you. She sighed happily as she sensed Lis' smile. Maybe it is just the wedding atmosphere. But I'm still going to let you dictate the pace, my love. You're the only real judge of where you're at.
Cass opened her eyes as they moved in a slow circle in a corner of the dance floor. Other couples moved and swayed around them. One pair in particular caught her eye.
" Hey," she said softly. " Do you see what I see?"
" Hmmmmm?" replied Lis lazily, loathe to lift her head from the comfortable nest it had found for itself. " What are we looking at?"
" The newest romance on the ship," Cass said with a grin.
That brought Lis' head up and she looked around, searching for whoever had caught the security chief's attention. " If you're talking about Tom and Harry and the Delaney sisters, that's old news," she said. " Ohhhhhhhh," she exclaimed as she finally saw what Cass was seeing. " Weellllllllll, what do you know?"
They danced in place, watching the couple make tentative steps towards getting to know each other. B'elanna was standing, a hopeful grin on her face and her hand outstretched towards Ensign Tina Roberts, who was sitting at a table with others from the engineering department. After a slight hesitation, Tina smiled back at the half-Klingon woman and took her hand, standing as she did so. Hand in hand they walked out on to the dance floor. Cass chuckled as they did a momentary ‚I-lead-you-lead' tug of war, which B'elanna, as the slightly taller of the two, eventually won.
" Hey, stretch, don't laugh," said Lis with a giggle of her own. " You have no idea how awkward that can be."
" You're right, I don't,' Cass admitted, grinning. At just a nudge over six feet tall, she couldn't remember the last time she'd had to fight with a woman for the privilege of leading. Hell, Lansdown, you can't even remember the last time you danced with any woman, let alone one who could look you in the eye without standing on tip-toe.
" So what do you think?" Lis asked quietly, watching as B'elanna and Tina talked as they danced. She was aware that Cass probably knew both women better than anyone on the ship. A little twinge of jealousy over the albeit short-lived romance between Tina and Cass suddenly nibbled away at Lis' heart, surprising her. Where do I get off being jealous about that, she pondered. After all the waiting she's had to do. She shook her head slightly, shaking away the jealous feeling. Get over yourself, Elisabeth.
" Who knows," Cass was saying in reply to the blonde's question. " They're pretty well-suited. B'elanna's mellowed out a lot in the last couple of years. And Tina ..." A moment of self-loathing silenced her. " Well," she finally continued. " Tina's learned a lot too."
" Hey," Lis said softly, waiting until Cass looked down at her. " You did the best you could."
There were a few heartbeats of silence between them as they swam in each other's intense gaze.
I feel like there isn't one corner of me she doesn't know, Cass thought, lost in sea-green eyes that looked straight into her soul.
She's the only person I could never hide anything from, Lis realized, awash in a deep-blue regard.
" So did you," Cass said simply, packing a world of meaning into those three words.
Lis swallowed hard. " Thank you," she whispered.
" For what?"
" For understanding that I was always trying to do the right thing, even if I didn't always succeed." Sudden tears threatened to overwhelm the blonde.
Cass pulled her close, wrapping her up tight. " I always understood that, love," she said huskily. " Anyone who says any different either doesn't know us at all, or is judging us against some bizarre stereotype that doesn't exist in reality." She felt Lis clutch at her, burying her face against her jacket. " Don't listen to them, Lissy. We know better than any of them."
Lis sniffled and then laughed self-consciously, pulling back slightly to look up at Cass again.
" Sounds like you've had this argument a few times," she said, searching the taller woman's face for any clues. " Have you been defending my honor, Lt?"
A welcome, brilliant grin was her answer. " I thought that was my job, Counselor," Cass retorted.
" Oh really?" she asked, as they began to dance once again.
" Mhmmmmm, it's right there in the Starfleet security manual. Page 176, clause 19b. ‚Find the most beautiful woman on the ship, love her from afar, and defend her against all odds.'" The words were flippant but the meaning wasn't lost on either of them. Lis reached up and planted the softest of kisses on Cass' cheek.
" I wasn't expecting this," Tina said quietly as B'elanna moved them in time to the music.
" Expecting what?" the chief engineer replied.
" An invitation to dance from the head of my department," the blonde said with a half-grin.
" Ah, that," B'elanna murmured. " Well, we're only dancing. Not that I don't want to ... I mean ... I want to do more than just ... I mean ..." She caught the amused twinkle in Tina's brown eyes. " I mean," she said more carefully. " We're only dancing, so far."
That provoked a chuckle from Tina.
" And I think the Captain and Seven have proved that anything is possible. Even on a Starfleet ship," the former Maquis rebel continued dryly.
" That's true," Tina murmured, enjoying the feel of B'elanna's arms around her. The brunette was only a couple of inches taller than she was, and though they weren't dancing super close, she found she liked being in near proximity.
As if reading her mind, B'elanna pulled her tighter still.
" So," said the senior officer. " Tell me something about yourself that isn't in your personnel file."
" So, basically you're telling me that in the past week, while Seven and I have been lounging around on a holodeck, absolutely nothing happened. All departments are running at peak efficiency and it's been seriously peaceful?" Captain Janeway asked, disbelief written all over her face as she heard the last of the department reports. Her senior staff officers looked around at each other and began nodding and grinning.
" That's a pretty accurate summary of the week, Captain, yes," said Chakotay from the other end of the conference table. " We've decided that you and Seven are the trouble magnets on board. We're seriously considering pooling our holodeck rations for the rest of the trip home, just so we can keep you two locked away." A wide grin crinkled the blue tattoo over the burly man's left eye.
" Really?" drawled Janeway sardonically, casting a glance at her wife, who sat coolly on Chakotay's left, the tiniest of smiles touching the corners of her mouth.
" I believe this is a hypothesis which you should encourage the rest of the crew to test, Captain," Seven of Nine deadpanned, raising an elegant eyebrow as everyone else around her began laughing. The ex-Borg held her partner's grey-eyed gaze, noting a most becoming flush to Kathryn's cheeks. She is thinking about making love with me, the former drone thought smugly. " Perhaps a week a month for the next several months would be enough to draw a scientifically valid conclusion."
Janeway cleared her throat as more laughter rippled around the table. She tore her glance away from her partner's ice-blue eyes, and took in the knowing and indulgent looks that flicked between the other officers. Time to move this meeting on, she decided with a self-conscious smile.
" Well, somehow I suspect that our good luck is destined not to hold for much longer," she said, fixing her command mask firmly back in place. " Chakotay, Cass - let's get together later today and schedule some training drills for the bridge crews and shuttle pilots." She waited for the acknowledging nods from both officers.
" Thank God," said Cass with a happy grin. " It's been as boring as bat poo around here."
" Don't tempt the fates, Lt," Janeway cautioned, smiling at the Australian officer's unique colloquialisms. " Doctor, I know Tom has been doing occasional shifts as your assistant, but I want at least two more officers trained to cover the other two shifts as well, if necessary."
" Agreed, Captain," replied the EMH. " Perhaps I can find assistants with more ... winning personalities this time," he said dryly, taking a pot-shot at his favorite target.
" Awww, come on Doc. You know you can't stand to be without me," Tom replied agreeably, totally unfazed by the chief medical officer's apparent disdain for him.
" As indispensable as your services no doubt are, Tom, I think it's asking too much for you to be sickbay's only other inhabitant. See to it, Doctor," ordered Janeway.
" Gladly, Captain."
" Fine, that'll be all for now."
Dismissed, the officers stood, breaking into various conversations as they began to file out of the conference room.
Lis approached Janeway, who had remained in her seat as the staff dispersed.
" Captain, I wondered if I could speak with you privately for a few minutes," she asked.
" Of course, Counselor," she indicated the seat next to her. " What can I do for you?"
Lis glanced around, noting that B'elanna and Cass had remained in the room, engrossed in their own conversation.
" Actually it's a personal matter," the blonde said, looking the captain in the eye.
" Very well," replied Janeway, pushing herself to her feet. She smiled at the psychologist. " Join me in my ready room. I'm desperate for a cup of coffee."
" Thank you, Captain," Lis said, following the older woman out of the conference room.
" Got a minute, Cass?" B'elanna had said as the rest of the crew vacated the room.
" Sure. What's up?" Cass rested her backside on the table top, stretched out her long legs and folded her arms across her chest as the chief engineer walked around to join her.
" I've got a personnel situation you might be able to help me out with." Cass raised an eyebrow. It was well known around the ship that Engineering was very much a closed shop, a tight unit that rarely lost people to inter-departmental transfers.
" Okay," she replied, waiting for B'elanna to get to the heart of the matter. She thought her friend looked a little uncomfortable.
" Rumor has it that you might have an opening in security," the half-Klingon said.
Cass nodded. " As a matter of fact, yes," she replied. " One of my ensigns decided he is better suited to astrometrics, and Lis and I basically agreed with him. So, Beta team has a vacancy." B'elanna fidgeted from one foot to the other, not meeting Cass' eyes. " What gives, B?" the security chief finally asked. " One of your lot wants out?"
" Well, yes and no," Torres said. She took a deep breath. " Okay, look. Tina and I have been seeing each other a bit lately."
Ahhh, thought Cass, resisting the urge to grin like an idiot. " Yeah, we noticed you dancing at the wedding," she said, keeping her voice low-key.
" Yeah well," B'elanna confirmed, a blush coloring her cheeks. " We've seen each other pretty much every night this week. And, well, we both think there may be something worth pursuing there." She cleared her throat awkwardly.
Cass punched her friend's shoulder in delight. " That's wonderful, B," she exclaimed. " Really, I'm pleased for you."
" Thanks," B'elanna said, allowing herself a little smile. " Problem is ..."
" ... you're the chief of engineering and she's a junior officer in your department," Cass finished.
" You got it."
" Well, I'm not sure if we haven't loosened the rules on that particular situation lately," the security chief said, nodding in the general direction of the captain's retreating back.
B'elanna shook her head. " I know, but let's face it, Seven's a pretty unique individual, and she's the head of her own department. I mean, yes, she answers to the captain, of course, but not on an hour-by-hour, eight hours a shift basis."
" Mmmmmm," mused Cass. " And you're worried that you might show bias in Tina's favor?"
" Actually no, I'm not," B'elanna replied confidently. " And neither is Tina. That's part of what's making us think we should pursue this further. But there have already been a couple of comments from other juniors in the department."
" Rumblings," Cass murmured.
" What about Tina? Does she want to be a security officer?"
" She thinks it's a challenge she could make the most of," B'elanna said. " And she knows you, knows how you operate." They looked at each other and grinned. " Plus, she double majored with a bunch of tactical subjects at the Academy, so she's confident of making the switch."
Cass nodded. " Okay, in theory, I'm comfortable with it, B. But you know the drill. We've got to run it by Lis and Chakotay before we can make it official."
B'elanna looked sidelong at her tall friend. " Speaking of running it by Lis, how are things on that front? You two were dancing cheek to cheek at the wedding too, y'know."
" B'elanna," Cass growled warningly.
" Whaaaaaaaat?" the chief engineer said, all wide-eyed innocence.
" It's her play to call, B," Cass said. " I'm not going to push it."
B'elanna frowned. " Six months ago, when the accident had just happened, that was a good strategy, Cass. Now I'm not so sure you're pushing the right buttons."
Cass looked at her with mock incredulity. " Pushing the right buttons??" she exclaimed. " She's not a damn warp core, Lt."
" You were both giving off enough heat to give a damn fine impression of one last week, Lt," B'elanna retorted, giving the taller woman a punch of her own.
" Oh shut uuuupppppp."
" What's on your mind, Lis?" asked Janeway, handing the counselor a cup of steaming, strong coffee.
Lis breathed in the delicious aroma, stirring the cup slowly as she took a seat on the captain's ready room sofa.
" Cass," she said bluntly, smiling as Janeway almost choked on a mouthful of coffee.
" Well," the captain coughed. " I do admire an officer who can come to the point, Lis, but next time let me swallow first."
The blonde chuckled, feeling comfortable enough in her commanding officer's presence, after almost five years in space together, to know when the older woman was joking.
" Sorry," she murmured, smiling.
" So. You said this was a personal matter, so I can safely assume you're not concerned about Lt Lansdown's performance as security chief," Janeway said, taking in her counselor's relaxed pose and calm, almost peaceful, expression. She looks better than I've seen in months, the captain thought, pleased.
" Not in the least," Lis agreed. " In fact, she's pretty much the best officer you've got."
Janeway nodded. " I don't usually make those kinds of judgments, but you won't get much argument from me." She smiled and sat back, taking another sip of her coffee. I'm going to let her run this conversation, she thought. See which way the wind blows.
Lis cleared her throat quietly. " I know that you're aware of the history Cass and I share," she said carefully. Janeway nodded. " Cass is probably the only reason I'm sitting here as sane as I am, Captain," she went on. " She has spent the past six months being the best friend I could possibly have asked for. She could have pushed her advantage, but she hasn't. Not at all. Not once. Not even slightly."
Janeway smiled to herself, wondering if the petite blonde was aware that she sounded vaguely annoyed by that fact.
" The thing is, Captain ... I, um ..."
" Don't start beating around the bush now, Lis," Janeway joked, placing her coffee cup on the table.
" I know, sorry." For the first time the counselor looked a little flustered. " Cass waited an awfully long time for me, Kathryn," she said quietly, unconsciously slipping into the more informal manner they used when off-duty. " But now she's backed off to the point where I'm afraid I may have missed my chance with her." She looked up to find Janeway's grey eyes full of sympathy and reassurance.
" I seriously doubt that," said the captain. " I've seen how she looks at you when she thinks you're not watching. I've heard how she talks about you. And I've seen her take care of you and defend you. More to the point I watched you two dancing together at my wedding reception." She grinned.
Lis blushed. " That did feel pretty good," she admitted.
" So what are you waiting for? Is it Nick?" Janeway asked gently.
The blonde shook her head slowly. " No, I don't think so," she murmured. " I'm pretty much at peace with him and our life together."
Janeway decided to take a chance on speaking her mind.
" I don't mean any disrespect to Nick," she began. " But I don't think I've ever seen two people who are more meant for each other than you and Cass." She thought about what she had just said. " With the possible exception of Seven and me," she added, breaking into a grin, which the blonde matched. " Seriously, Lis. It shines out of both of you whenever you're in the same room together. I don't think you should have any doubts about what Cass' response is going to be."
Lis put her coffee cup down on the table next to the captain's.
" At this point, I'm not even sure which question to ask," she said.
" How about just asking her to dinner," Janeway suggested with a smile.
Lis took a deep breath, contemplating the idea. God, that sounds wonderful, she thought. We've had a lot of dinners together over the last six months, but this could be really special. She looked up at Janeway again, and smiled. " I can do that," she agreed.
Something warm and wet was tickling Cass' closed eyelids as she drifted up from a deep sleep. It wasn't enough, however, to make her open her eyes. Ignoring the sensation, she let herself float in a dreamy limbo state. It really felt kind of nice, she thought. The sensation came again and she frowned. Of course, it would feel a lot nicer if it wasn't quite so rough, she pondered sleepily. The feeling continued, pulling her to full consciousness when curiosity got the better of her and she blinked.
"Baaaaghieeee," she groaned, eyeball to golden eyeball with her big black cat, who was curled up on the pillow in front of her face. He licked the end of her nose in greeting and she giggled. "Hi mate," she whispered. She snuggled closer, burying her face in his soft fur, feeling the gentle vibrations of his contented purring.
It was her first day off in over a week. Cass let a few more minutes pass before she opened her eyes again. She shifted slightly and the boy-cat took the opportunity to move, rolling onto his back and sprawling into starfish position, a leg pointing in each direction. Cass spotted something hanging from his collar.
"What the ...?" she murmured, reaching for the small roll of paper clipped to the leather band. " Where did this come from, boy-cat?" Very few people had access to Cass' quarters: Lis and B'elanna ... and Janeway and Chakotay, of course. I think we can rule out the latter two, she thought with a smile. She tugged on the bow of ribbon and unrolled the piece of parchment, wondering at the elegantly handwritten note.
"Breaking your fast should start the day well,
Well, this certainly isn't B'elanna's style, she grinned. And that only leaves ... An anticipatory tingle started low in her belly. Elisabeth.
"Mmmmmmmm," she murmured as she threw the bedclothes off and headed for the bathroom. A scant few minutes later she was freshly showered and dressed in her civvies. She poured some fresh kibble into Bagheera's bowl, freshened his water supply and scritched the big feline under the chin. "Thank you, my little messenger," she said with one final pat.
Cass stepped out of her door and immediately spotted a red rose lying on the floor. Chuckling, she picked it up and sniffed it, drawing in the aroma. Mmmmmm, fresh from hydroponics. She looked left and right, spotting another bloom further up the corridor. Whatever you're up to Lissy, you've already made my day, she thought as she jogged to the rose, spying the next on the floor of the turbolift at the end of the corridor. Around its stem was a tag with 'Deck Six' written on it. A few minutes later Cass was standing in front of the doors to Holodeck One.
The doors slid open and she stepped forward, gasping as she immediately recognized the locale. " Fisherman's Wharf," she murmured as she walked slowly along the San Francisco boardwalk. As the sunshine blazed down and the sights and sounds of the wharf drifted to her on a gentle summer breeze, a flood of memories came back. Wow. This is where we spent our first day together. With a start she came to a halt, quickly calculating stardates and converting them to the regular calendar. Hooly dooly. Seven years to the day.
Tears sprang to her eyes. She realized she really hadn't thought Lis would remember this anniversary. Cass had stopped commemorating the day a few years before, when it had hurt too much to think of it. Wow, she thought again, as she resumed her stroll along the waterfront.
She came alongside Castagnola's, one of the Wharf's oldest restaurants, and one of their favorite haunts. As she did, a waiter stepped out, beckoning her with a smile and a wave of his hand.
"Lt," he said in greeting. He pulled a chair out from a dockside table and offered her the seat. "Good morning. It's nice to see you again," he said. "Dr Dayton left very specific instructions for your breakfast, so if you would like to enjoy the view, I will bring your food."
"Um, thanks," replied Cass, taking her seat. "When will Dr Dayton be joining me?"
"Unfortunately she has other duties this morning, ma'am, but she did ask me to give you this." He handed the security chief a small, white spherical object.
"A golf ball?"
"Yes, Lt," he confirmed. "I believe you will find a message on it." With that he turned on his heel, leaving Cass to enjoy the view.
She rotated the golf ball in her fingers, smiling because Lis had remembered her fondness for the ancient game. On one side of the ball a message was inscribed in gold.
"Enjoy your breakfast, stock up well.
Cass chuckled and tossed the ball in the air, catching it with a flourish. In a few moments the waiter returned, arms laden will all kinds of goodies which he proceeded to arrange around Cass' plate: fruit, muffins, bacon, sausages and fried eggs. She grinned. You always did know how to feed me, Lis, she thought. Cass put the golf ball down and dropped the five roses she had collected into the crystal vase in the middle of the table.
" Thanks, Doc," said the young ensign.
" No problem, Francis," Lis said, leading him to the door of her office. " Try those meditation techniques we talked about and then come tell me how it's been going," she said with a smile.
" Will do," he replied, stepping out of the door and back into the flow of traffic walking in the corridor.
The door slid shut behind him and Lis turned back to her desk, making some quick notes in the young man's file. Mild anxiety attacks, disturbed sleep patterns, flattened affect, she noted. Directed dreaming and meditation techniques. Prognosis, good.
Satisfied, she pushed the terminal away. " Computer. Where is Lt Lansdown?"
" Lt Lansdown is on Holodeck Two," the computer replied.
Lis grinned. So far, so good. She's made it to part two of my devilish plan. She giggled softly to herself. Three more appointments and then I should have time to get to Cass' quarters. I hope she's enjoying her day off.
Cass was certainly doing that. She stood in the middle of the fairway leaning on the long shaft of her club. Ten yards away to her left was one of the greats of golf, Ben Hogan, caressing his second shot to the green up ahead. Over to her right was Shinzu Tomai, a legend from the 22nd century, who had already hit through. And standing next to her was Karrie Webb, the greatest women's golfer of all time.
Cass was in heaven. Not only was she playing against legends of the game, but they were walking on the best golf holes from the finest courses around the Federation. Right now they were in the middle of the 11th from Augusta National on Earth. They had just finished the 10th from Canoustie in Scotland, and the upcoming 12th was from the famed D'Starlus course on the Mars Colony.
"Go ahead," drawled Webb in her distinctive Australian accent. Cass grinned and nodded, stepping forward to address the ball. Damn Lis, you really did your homework. She stroked gracefully through the ball, gratified to see the little white projectile hurtling towards its target. "Great shot," said her playing partner as they began walking up the fairway.
"Thanks," said Cass, grinning. What a fabulous way to spend the day.
Lis was a little nervous as she began preparing the last part of her surprise. She had tracked Cass' progress through the day and knew that her friend was currently indulging in a massage and facial program Lis had devised for her. That had left her plenty of time to finish her duty shift and head for the security chief's quarters.
Bagheera had given her his usual greeting, leaping up onto the blonde's shoulder and draping himself elegantly around the back of her neck, purring like a lunatic.
"Hello, handsome boy," she murmured, reaching up to scratch his head, which earned her a wet snuffle in her left ear. She chuckled and let the feline down to the ground gently, where he proceeded to weave between her legs as she walked to the part of the room that served as the food preparation area.
"Okay," she muttered to herself. "Let's get this show on the road." She turned to the replicator, keying in her code to access the rations she had been saving especially for this evening. Enough for candles, champagne, and a three-course meal, she thought happily. I want to make this incredibly special.
Cass was totally relaxed. Showered, changed and massaged within an inch of her life, the tall security chief was mellow beyond belief by the time she stepped out of the holodeck. There had been no new message for her and so she hadn't known exactly what to expect as the doors slid open. The last person she had anticipated seeing was B'elanna Torres.
"Hello Cass," the chief engineer said cheerily, her hands clasped behind her back.
"B'elanna," Cass acknowledged, looking back and forth along the corridor.
"Something wrong?" the half-Klingon woman asked cheekily, a grin splitting her face.
"Nope," Cass replied, eying her friend warily. "I just wasn't really expecting to see you."
"Ahhh," said B'elanna. "Well, actually, I've been recruited."
"Mhmmmmm. It's my job to take you from here to your final destination," she said mysteriously, winking at Cass.
Cass laughed and folded her arms. "It's not that big a ship, B. I think I can make it on my own."
"Ah, but you see, it's going to be a lot harder once you've got the blindfold on." B'elanna pulled the silk scarf from behind her back and held it up, dangling it in front of Cass' face.
"Oh no," Cass said, backing away from the engineer. "You're not dragging me through the ship looking like a complete idiot."
"Cass," B'elanna pleaded, mockingly. "You just said it's not that big a ship. The torture will be brief, and very worth it." She winked again. "After all, haven't you had a good day so far?"
Cass thought about it.
"Yes," she concluded. "Actually, I've had a fantastic day." She grinned at her friend. "I just wasn't expecting to see you at the end of it."
"So, why not trust that it's going to get even better, and that you're only going to have to put up with me for the next few minutes?" B'elanna reasoned.
"Okay," Cass said warily as the engineer approached.
" Well, bend down, woman. We're not all deformed, y'know."
Cass growled but complied, squelching the uneasiness she felt as B'elanna covered her eyes with the soft material.
" Easy, Lt," the engineer muttered, knowing how much her friend hated not being in control. " Okay, you're done. Come on." She took the tall security chief's hand and began leading her along the corridor.
Cassie decided to just let go of her anxiety. She began anticipating where B'elanna might be taking her. She could hear the Klingon woman making the most of her opportunity to poke fun at her friend, calling out to her crewmates to clear the way as they walked through the corridors. There was laughter all around her, but she decided to enjoy herself, grinning and answering back when she could.
" Coming through, coming though," B'elanna yelled.
Finally the engineer brought them to a halt in a quiet hallway.
" End of the road, Lt," the Klingon said, moving behind Cass. " Keep the blindfold on and step forward. And, um," she leaned in, whispering in her friend's ear. " Have fun."
Cass felt B'elanna move away, sensing the silence of the empty corridor as the turbolift door closed behind the engineer. She took a deep breath, aware of the tingling anticipation making the hair on her arms stand on end.
Now or never, Cassandra, she thought as she stepped forward. She felt and heard a door slide open as she walked through and then hiss shut again behind her. There was eerie silence on the other side and Cass lifted her head slightly, trying to make the most of her hearing and sense of smell. Instead it was her sense of touch that clued her in. Soft, warm fur bumped against her calves.
"Riiiiiiaaaaaoowwww," answered the feline.
"Tch, it's very hard to create an atmosphere of mystery and surprise around that cat," came a familiar, very welcome voice, the smile evident in its tone.
Cass started laughing, sensing another, larger, warm body moving to her side and reaching up behind her head to loosen the blindfold's knot. The soft material fell away and she turned her head to look into gentle green eyes.
"He's my watchcat," the security chief said simply, grinning down at the blonde.
"Mmmmmm, maybe so but he completely spoiled my plans for your entrance," Lis said playfully, smiling back.
"Well," Cass pondered. "I could always close my eyes and act like I don't know where I am."
Lis pretended to think about it. "That would work," she said.
Immediately Cass closed her eyes and tried to look puzzled, which provoked a giggle from the shorter woman. "I wonder where I am?" she play-acted, waving her arms around as if she was searching for something.
Lis avoided her hands then waited for the right moment, stepping forward till she was pressed against the tall woman. She raised herself up on tiptoes and brushed her lips against Cass' lightly.
Blue eyes flew open in surprise, but Cass had waited too long to waste an opportunity like this. She quickly enfolded the blonde in her arms and kept her close, their faces just millimeters apart.
"Lissy," she said breathlessly, barely hearing herself over the pounding of her heart. She could feel the blonde's warm breath on her lips. "Thank you for a wonderful day," she whispered.
Lis swallowed. Her lips were tingling just from the briefest of contact with Cass' and she knew she wanted more. "It w-was my pleasure," she whispered back.
"I just wish you could have been there with me," Cass replied, smiling softly, aching to kiss the blonde again.
" Mmmmmm, I know. But I'm here now," Lis breathed.
" Yes you are," Cass murmured.
She closed the minute space between them, feeling her blood sing as their lips made contact again. Lis gasped against her mouth and they both hesitated for the tiniest moment, each hanging on the ache of anticipation. Then neither could wait a heartbeat longer and they began the gentlest of urgent explorations, lips and tongues touching and tasting.
Six and a half years of waiting expressed itself in that first kiss. Lis' hands flew up to cup Cass' face, fingertips stroking the tall woman's cheeks and temples. Cass wrapped her arms tightly around the blonde, letting her hands roam and cup and stroke the body she had craved for longer than she could remember. Both women crooned and moaned against each others' tongue as the urgency between them increased. Cass never wanted to stop, the feeling so intense she thought she would burn up.
Lis melted against the taller woman. Kissing Cass brought a wonderful sense of rediscovery, familiar, yet wickedly arousing. She groaned as the taller woman deepened the contact further, provoking a tugging ache low in the blonde's guts that surprised her with its intensity. It's been so long since I've felt this way, her mind muttered as her body responded. We should slow down, but I just can't get enough of her.
Breathlessly they separated. They searched each other's eyes even as their hands continued their hesitant explorations.
" Wow," Cass whispered, ducking her head to plant a series of tiny kisses against Lis' neck.
The blonde groaned again, wrapping her arms around Cass' neck and arching against her as the dark-haired woman's mouth worked tender miracles on her skin.
" Ohhhhhhhh Cassie," she murmured, feeling the security chief's powerful body surge against her, almost lifting her off the ground. " Goddess, woman, I didn't expect ..."
" ... to feel this good?" Cass whispered in her ear. She felt Lis smile.
" Not so soon, no," the blonde replied. " I thought it would take us some time to get ... reacquainted." She chuckled, realizing how absurd that sounded.
Cass grinned even as she continued to trail kisses along Lis' jaw-line, back towards her mouth. " Angel, I've been two heartbeats away from kissing you for so long I've lost track," she murmured. " Do you want us to slow down?" she asked even as she couldn't resist nuzzling the shorter woman's chin.
Lis tingled from head to foot, so much so that she could barely focus her brain on the question.
" Mmmm, my mind is saying we probably should," she muttered. " But my body, my soul ..."
Their mouths met again in a tiny explosion of passion that once more left them breathing raggedly. Lis broke off and reached up to brush an errant dark lock from Cass' forehead. She looked up into desire-darkened blue eyes that hid nothing.
" I'm so sorry, my love," she whispered. " For everything I ..."
Long, gentle fingers pressed against her lips, silencing her. " No more apologies," Cass answered. " It's done ... past. Do you think this ..." She kissed the corner of Lis' mouth tenderly, " ... would feel as good if we hadn't had to wait for it?"
The blonde grinned frankly, allowing the joy of being touched to wash through her.
" Yes," she said honestly with a giggle. " You always were the most wonderful kisser."
Cass pulled back and looked down at her, gently brushing her thumb across the shorter woman's lips. " Would you forgive me if I said I'd forgotten how gorgeous you taste?" she asked.
" Mhmmmmm," Lis replied softly, wondering at the ripples of desire Cass' words and touch set off in her. She slid her hand to the back of the taller woman's neck and up into long, soft hair, pulling the dark head down again into another sensuous, prolonged kiss. They were interrupted only when Cass' stomach growled loudly, sending both women into paroxysms of giggles.
" Give me a break," Cass laughed at the mock outrage on the counselor's face. " I just played 18 holes of golf."
" Did you win?" Lis asked as she took the security chief's hand and led her over to the dining table.
Cass snorted. " Of course I did," she boasted. " For some inexplicable reason, the Federation's greatest female golfer ever managed to four-putt from just over a meter on the last hole." She grinned at Lis before she sat down on the offered chair. " Just the way you programmed it, I'm guessing."
Lis smiled enigmatically as she bent down to kiss Cass gently. Then she moved away to the preparation area where dishes of hot food waited. " Actually I didn't," she admitted. " It's one of Tom's programs. I just borrowed it, because I knew you'd have fun with it."
Cass laughed again. " Well, that explains a lot," she said. " Knowing the size of Tom's ego and his competitive streak, I can imagine he would program in that little glitch." Lis threw her a skeptical glance over her shoulder. " Okay, okay, so I probably would have programmed it that way, too," the security chief grinned.
" Mhmmmmm," Lis agreed as she carried over a steaming plate of shellfish, placing it carefully in the middle of the table and then sitting down next to Cass. Her ex-lover - soon to be former ex-lover, she thought hopefully Š reached out and took her hand as she inspected the food.
" Wow," Cass muttered. It's been a day of wows, she thought. Lobster halves, crab claws, prawns, oysters, mussels and scallops were drizzled with an aromatic, buttery garlic sauce that set her stomach rumbling again. " This looks delicious, sweetheart." She turned to the blonde and kissed her again softly. " Almost as delicious as you," she murmured against Lis' lips when they broke apart.
" Mmmmmm, sweet talker," Lis replied. She picked up a morsel of crabmeat, making sure it dripped with sauce, and placed it gently against Cass' bottom lip. Fascinated by the sight of the dark-haired woman's mouth she watched, mesmerized, as Cass drew the bite-sized chunk, and Lis' fingers, inside. Ohhhhhhhh, her body responded.
Cass licked lightly at the sauce on the blonde's fingertips, smiling as she took in the delighted expression on Lis' face. Fingers lingered on her lips as she slowly chewed the sweet crabmeat.
" Damn that's good," she murmured. She reached over and selected a prawn, curled and pink and juicy. She was going to feed it to Lis but changed her mind as a wicked alternative occurred to her. She lifted the prawn to her own mouth and held it in her teeth, raising an enquiring eyebrow at her friend.
Lis groaned audibly, knowing immediately what Cass was suggesting. She leaned forward and bit down on the prawn gently, brushing her lips against her companion's. They both chewed and swallowed in comfortable silence, their eyes never leaving each other. Then they returned for another kiss, nibbling and licking butter sauce from lips and tongues.
" We may still be eating tomorrow morning if we go on like this," Cass whispered against Lis' mouth.
" Suits me," replied the older woman, sliding her arms back around Cass' neck. This time it was her stomach that grumbled in protest and they collapsed into each other's arms, laughing. " I give up," she chuckled. " Let's eat."
Cass grinned and nodded.
Out in space, ahead of Voyager but growing ever closer, a sinister grey sphere hurtled on. Its eight occupants didn't speak, but they didn't need to, their minds in perfect unison, communicating as One. The sphere's scanners probed and searched, sweeping the space ahead of them for any signs of life - anything worth assimilating, though they had a specific preferred target very much in Mind. The green-tinged atmosphere inside the sphere hummed and bristled, the tang of metallic ions charging the air. Borg drones moved silently from station to station, monitoring systems.
It was the scout ship for a massive Borg cube, many light years behind them, but they might as well have been inside the mother ship, so close was their connection with their brothers and sisters.
An alarm sounded and all eight drones immediately knew they had found what they were looking for. In unison they changed course, readied their strategies, planned their moves, all in an instant of shared thought.
No sound, no questions, no debate. No doubts.