They decided to adjourn to the sofa for dessert. Lis had concocted a
chocolate pie that had Cass' mouth watering just looking at it. The
security chief carried the champagne glasses and bottle over to the
coffee table, while Lis sprinkled the slices with a dusting of
powdered sugar, put them on plates and brought them over.
"My god, Lissy," Cass exclaimed around her first mouthful. "This stuff should be made illegal." She chewed enthusiastically. "It's fantastic."
Lis grinned. "It's my mother's recipe," she replied, leaning back against the cushions, her shoulder against Cass' arm. "It tastes even better when it's not replicated."
Cass groaned at the thought. "Oh, god, I can't wait for that," she muttered, spearing another morsel with her fork. A thought occurred to her and she turned her head to look at the blonde munching happily next to her. "Do you think your mother will like me?" she asked quietly.
Green eyes tracked to hers and a quiet acknowledgement of a long future ahead passed between them. Lis nodded with a smile.
"I think she will very much like you," she replied. "And you'll be utterly charming I'm sure." She grinned at the rakishly poised eyebrow that provoked.
"Aren't I always?" Cass asked.
"No," Lis answered around a laugh. "You can be positively obnoxious when you want to be."
Cass grinned back at her. "It's my job to be obnoxious sometimes," she said, nudging the blonde with her elbow gently. She glanced down at Lis. "You must miss her a lot."
The older woman nodded slowly. "I do," she answered. Her mother had finally left her abusive father when Lis was 18. Mother and daughter had taken care of each other until she and Nick had been married, and even then they had remained very close. "That packet of messages we managed to get from Starfleet just wasn't enough," she said, with a sad smile.
Cass leaned over and kissed the top of the blonde's head gently. "You're right," she said. "I've never claimed to have the best of relationships with my parents, but damn, it was good to get that letter from them." She slid her plate onto the coffee table and then swung herself around, stretching along the length of the sofa and resting her head in Lis' lap.
The blonde dipped her fingers in the filling of her piece of pie and offered it to Cass, painting the smooth chocolate across the full lips. Twinkling blue eyes invited her closer and she turned slightly to rest her plate on the windowsill. Then she accepted the invitation, bending down to taste the chocolate on Cass' lips with the tip of her tongue.
Cass felt like something was filling up and spilling over inside her. As their nibbles and licks turned into another deep-felt kiss, the release of a silent tension she hadn't even realized existed began. She started to tremble, even as Lis' arms wrapped around her and lifted her close. Between kisses, a tiny sob escaped and the blonde immediately cradled her gently against her chest, soothing the quivering woman.
"Sshhhhh sweetheart, it's all right," Lis crooned.
"I'm s-sorry," Cass mumbled against the soft fabric of her shirt. "I-it just t-took me by s-surprise."
"Mhmmmmm, I understand baby," the blonde reassured her. "You've waited so long and now it's all happening in a big old rush, isn't it?" She felt the younger woman nod. "We really can slow down, Cassie," she suggested. "What are a few more days ... or weeks ... if that's what you need?" Tenderly, she brushed disheveled black locks off Cass' forehead, placing a light kiss there. "There's no rush, honey."
"B-but that's just it," Cass gulped around her tears. "I don't feel like we need to wait." She reached up and traced Lis' cheek and jaw with her fingers. "I know you better than I've ever known anybody," she whispered, seeing the affirmation in the blonde's eyes. "And nobody comes even remotely close to knowing me like you do." That brought a smile. "I love you with all my heart and I don't think that comes as big surprise to you either." A wider smile and a quick shake of a blonde head. "So, unless you need to wait ...?"
Lis reached up and took Cass' hand, kissing the centre of her palm. "I don't," she murmured.
The dark-haired woman in her lap nodded. "I just feel so relieved," she said.
"Mhmmmmm. To be past all the waiting." Lis nodded in understanding. "I think that's where the tears came from." She watched as Lis clasped Cass' hand to her heart, where she could feel the blonde's pulse pounding strong and fast. "We've been together so much since ... the accident. Part of me is still trying to process that now we're really together." She covered her eyes with her other hand. "I'm not making a lot of sense am I?"
Lis chuckled softly. "Actually, yes you are," she replied. "Do you feel like I sprung this on you out of the blue?"
Cass looked a little sheepish. "Yeah, maybe a little." She grinned. "I'm not complaining, though."
Lis nodded. "I guess I should have built up to it a little," she admitted. "I've been thinking about it for a while."
Cass smiled up at her. "What made you decide to do something about it?" she asked.
"The wedding," the blonde replied. "While we were standing up for Kathryn and Annika I looked across at you and you looked so ... well, gorgeous ..." She laughed softly at the quick blush that colored Cass' cheeks. "But also, for the first time I realized I could look at you and just want to be with you, without any complications or baggage or worries or guilt. And I wanted to be with you so badly I almost reached out and took your hand right there and then."
"I caught your eye once, during the vows, do you remember?" Cass asked. Lis nodded. "I wanted to kiss you then, too."
"And then while we were dancing I was thinking about us and when we first met and it occurred to me that our anniversary was close," Lis continued. "And I decided to make this one the first we could truly celebrate." She squeezed Cass' hand gently. "I know the others have been miserable."
Cass searched the sea-green eyes. "Were they for you too?" she whispered.
"Oh yes, my love," Lis answered quietly. "Every single one." She swallowed. "I used to find a reason to be on my own that day. And I would go to one of our places ..."
"Castagnola's," Cass smiled.
"Mhmmmmm. Or that little beach we found, remember? Up the coast?" Cass nodded. "And I would spend the day just thinking about you ... wondering where you were, if you were okay. And remembering."
Cass reached up and, with a fingertip, brushed away the tear that was sliding down the blonde's cheek.
"We're supposed to be together, Lissy," she murmured. "That was the only thing that got me through. I've known it from the first moment we met."
Lis nodded. "And so did I. That's what made it all so hard." She brightened a little. "Until the day I woke up and didn't feel like grieving anymore. And that's when I knew all those feelings I've always had for you could exist without any restrictions." She leaned down and kissed Cassie's forehead. "I'm sorry I ambushed you, sweetheart."
Cass closed her eyes and rested her cheek against the blonde's shoulder, savoring every second of the warmth and safety she felt there.
"Don't be sorry," she said quietly. "We've been waiting an awfully long time. You did the right thing." The temptation of the close proximity of the older woman's neck was too much and she trailed her lips across the soft skin slowly.
"Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh Cassie," Lis groaned, her body's response to the dark-haired woman's touch immediate and profound.
Encouraged, Cass continued to kiss and nuzzle, making her way to the soft and sensitive spot she knew existed just below the blonde's ear. She brushed her tongue lightly against her lobe, smiling at the shuddering breath Lis took. She slid her hands against the warm torso under her, feeling Lis begin her own exploration. Hands slid under her t-shirt and Cass gasped.
Lis felt like her skin was on fire. Cass' hands seemed to be everywhere, inside her clothes, stroking and teasing. The blonde felt the urgent need to kiss Cass and she sought the younger woman's mouth hungrily. They fell into the kiss, both shifting awkwardly until they lay side by side on the sofa, the blonde slightly on top of Cass' more solid frame.
"I want you so much." Cass whispered hoarsely as Lis tongued the hollow at the base of her throat, sending bolts of white-hot desire coursing through her.
"Oh yes," the blonde growled. Her hands quickly found the bottom of the Cass' shirt and pushed impatiently upwards until her fingertips brushed the bottom edge of her bra. She let her hands wander further, tracing teasing circles across the younger woman's breasts, then zeroing in on the hardened nipples through the flimsy fabric, delighting in the immediate response. Cass growled and arched under her. "Mmmmmm, this shirt has to go," Lis muttered, tugging at the garment.
"Yours too," Cass insisted.
They fumbled and squirmed, trying to remove each other's shirts, succeeding only in tangling themselves further. Simultaneously they swapped roles and wrestled with their own clothing, just avoiding flailing elbows and hands in their hurry to feel skin against skin.
"Were we always this clumsy?" Cass chuckled even as she thrilled at the sensation of Lis' silky-soft skin against hers.
"Only when we couldn't wait to be inside each other," the blonde responded huskily as she pushed her thigh between Cass' legs, unsurprised but deeply aroused by the heat she felt there.
"Isn't it a little late for you Miss Wildman?" Captain Janeway asked with mock formality, surprised to see the young girl, Voyager's only child, standing just inside the door to her ready room.
"A good Bridge Assistant always checks with her commanding officer before going to bed, Captain," replied Naomi confidently, clasping her hands behind her back in an unconscious imitation of her other role model, Seven of Nine.
Janeway smiled indulgently. The youngster had been an unexpected bonus on this long trip, she had decided. Precocious, independent and determined to find a useful role for herself, Naomi had talked her into being appointed as Bridge Assistant, the first step in the girl's quest to become Captain Wildman. The fact there was no such rank as Bridge Assistant had been no deterrent. Janeway had found assigning Naomi little tasks an exercise that had proved helpful to them both.
"Join me?" Janeway said aloud from where she stood on the upper level of the ready room. She had been contemplating the rushing starfield, opting to stay on duty while Seven worked late on an important update to the astrometrics software. Naomi was a welcome intrusion. She waited while her shortest crew member climbed the steps to the top level and came to stand next to her. "Have you had a busy day?" the commanding officer asked, sipping at the cup of coffee she held in her hand.
"Yes ma'am,' Naomi nodded, looking up at the captain with adoring eyes. Of all the adults on Voyager, the girl was closest to Seven, but since Janeway's marriage to the ex-Borg, Naomi had been a regular visitor to their quarters. She had developed a huge crush on the captain as a result.
And don't you just love that, Katie, her inner voice laughed.
"I had lessons this morning and then Mom let me help her with the astrometrics diagnostic," Naomi said, happy to detail her day for the captain.
Janeway put down her coffee then patted the sill of the big bay window, inviting the girl to clamber up. She gave her a helping hand and soon they were almost on eye level. She smiled at the youngster.
"Who were your classes with this morning?" she asked, happy to let the child talk.
"Ensign Roberts for an hour on warp drive theory, and then Chakotay for religious philosophy," Naomi replied. "Today we did Buddhism."
Janeway chuckled. A large group of crew members had volunteered to teach Naomi as soon as the child was old enough to appreciate the lessons. The result was an education that was turning out to be eclectic to say the least.
"And what do you think of Buddhism?" she asked.
Naomi contemplated her answer for a few seconds. "I think I like it," she said finally. "It's kind of peaceful." Janeway nodded. "There was one bit that bothered me though."
"And which part was that?" She wondered briefly if she knew enough about Buddhism to be having this conversation. Too late now, Katie.
"Chakotay gave me a book of quotations," Naomi told her. "One of the sayings was «I am totally defenseless. I have no need to defend myself or anybody. In my total defenselessness is my invincibility'." The child looked puzzled. "I don't think I get that. Especially the not defending anybody part. Isn't that what we do all the time? Defending people who can't defend themselves, I mean."
Hoo boy, thought Janeway. You had to ask.
She thought about her response carefully, trying to reconcile the pacifist philosophy with what she did for a living.
"I'm not sure Buddha means we shouldn't defend the helpless," she answered cautiously. "I think what he's saying is we should accept the things that happen to us. I don't think he means we shouldn't respond to them."
Naomi frowned as she tried to understand. "So, when bad things happen to us, we shouldn't waste time wondering why, but just get on with dealing with it?" she asked.
Janeway nodded, once again impressed by the young girl's mental abilities. "I think he means defenseless as in accepting," she clarified.
"Okay," Naomi said. "That makes more sense than just standing by while someone else gets hurt."
Naomi gazed at her with a look of open honesty. "A lot of bad things happen to us," she said bluntly.
Janeway didn't flinch. "Yes, they do," she agreed. "But a lot of good things do too. It's just sometimes they're harder to remember."
The lights flickered briefly and Janeway glanced around, half-wondering if she had imagined it.
"Something's wrong," Naomi said.
Before Janeway could reach for her communicator, a ghostly green form shimmered into being in front of her, closely followed by another, and then a third. Borg drones. Immediately the captain stepped in front of Naomi, shielding the child. She slapped her communicator as the adrenalin surged through her.
"Janeway to security, intruder alert."
The drones advanced on them and she backed up, torn between protecting the girl behind her and wanting to push her away from the immediate danger. But there was nowhere to go. The three Borg had them more or less surrounded, cutting off any route of escape. She felt Naomi wrap her small hands around her bicep as she peeked around the captain's shoulder at the intimidating creatures. Janeway reached for the phaser that wasn't on her hip, silently cursing herself for being unarmed, though she'd had no warning that she needed to be.
"What do you want?" Janeway asked, sick dread pooling in her gut. She didn't really expect an answer and she didn't get one, the three pallid zombie-like Borg continuing to advance. Voyager's lights had dropped to the pale amber of a yellow alert and she could hear sirens pulsating through the ship.
Chakotay and two security officers burst through the door, phasers raised. But even as they began firing, the Borg to Janeway's left reached out, clenching her arm with his once-human hand. The captain tried to shake him off, pushing at him with her other hand, but he was twice her size and far too strong. She half-expected assimilation tubules to snake out in her direction but none did.
One drone dropped to the floor under the weapons assault from the Starfleet officers, but then the others adapted to the phasers' frequency, their personal shields blocking them. The Borg who was twisting her wrist reached for the transporter module on his shoulder and Janeway realized Naomi would be beamed out too if she was in contact with her.
"Naomi, let go of me," she muttered over her shoulder, even as she tried to shake the child loose. But the scared girl was having none of it, squeezing her arm tighter and pressing her face against Janeway's shoulder blade. The captain felt the tug of the Borg transporter beam taking them away as Chakotay reached them.
Cass' breath came in ragged gasps as Lis teased and tantalized her breasts with her mouth and fingers. The dark-haired woman could barely think. Every nerve ending in her body jangled and hummed under her lover's attentions even as Cass did her damnedest to return the favor. She slid her hands under the waistband of Lis' slacks, rejoicing in the blonde's moaning response as she cupped the smooth firmness of the smaller woman's buttocks.
They moved and slid on each other, rhythm eluding them as haste made them clumsy. Their clothing was half off, their legs, arms and tongues tangled. Movements became more and more frantic as their passion outstripped their ability to coordinate themselves. Small, lust-filled sounds warred with the soft background music.
Lis remembered the body under her so well " almost too well. I want to be everywhere at once, she thought. I want her to be everywhere at once.
Her attention was distracted when Cass slid down further and captured her bare breast with her mouth. The blonde arched in pure response, then slid her hand to the back of the dark head, holding the younger woman closer.
"Oh god, Cassie," she moaned, feeling the answering suckle deep and strong.
Cass was almost beside herself with want. Lis' nipple was hard and sweet against her tongue, her breast full and soft. Without thinking about where they were, Cass pushed herself up and twisted, intending to roll them over until she was on top of Lis. Unfortunately the narrow sofa they were lying on couldn't accommodate them and Lis yelped as she felt the universe drop away from under her.
Cass tried to brace their fall with her hands and elbows but they both thumped to the floor, Lis grunting as the security chief landed on top of her.
Nose to nose they blinked at each.
"Guess you've fallen for me all over again," Cass quipped, grinning down at the blonde. They both started giggling, struck by the ridiculousness of the situation. "My god, Lissy, we suck at this," Cass exclaimed. "Please tell me we weren't always this klutzy."
Lis laughed, brushing the hair off the beautiful face above her. "We were very, very good, actually," she said softly, some sweet memories resurfacing. "We're just rushing things a little too much."
Cass ducked her head, claiming the blonde's mouth in another heartfelt kiss that set them both tingling all over again.
"Mmmmmm ... if this is as bad as it gets, my love, then I have no complaints at all," she murmured when they finally broke off.
Lis chuckled, pulling Cass into a hug. "We'll be fine, angel. We just need to-"
"Janeway to security. Intruder alert."
Cass jerked upright as the lights dimmed to yellow alert status. Hard on the heels of the captain's grim announcement both their communicators, discarded with their shirts, chirped again. This time it was Chakotay.
"Senior staff, Ensign Wildman, to the bridge."
Cass was on her feet and hunting down her clothes even before he finished the sentence, with Lis scrambling up behind her.
"Shit," Cass muttered as she struggled to pull her bra back on.
"Hold still," Lis said, stepping close and helping the taller woman get untangled. She knew it was more important for Cass to get moving. The blonde scooped Cass' shirt up off the floor and held it open for her, allowing her to just slide her arms in.
"You coming?" Cass asked bluntly, buttoning her shirt as she headed for the door.
"Right behind you," the counselor answered, pulling her t-shirt on and following her outside. They ran for the turbolift, warning off a couple of ensigns before claiming it for themselves.
"Bridge," Cass barked. She began pacing circles around the 'lift, anxious to find out just what the situation was. "Why call in Samantha?" she mused.
"We'll know in a minute, Lt," Lis said quietly, trying to stay calm and still as she leaned back against the wall of the 'lift.
Cass looked around at the use of her rank, sighing at the lost opportunity.
"I'm sorry, love," she said. "We didn't get much chance to change gears back there, did we?"
Lis shook her head slowly, but smiled at the tall woman. "No, but that's life in Starfleet," she shrugged. "Especially when you're head over heels in love with the best chief of security in the fleet."
The words curled around Cass' heart like a summer breeze. She stepped closer, momentarily setting aside whatever the latest crisis was. She slid her hand into Lis', savoring the warmth of the brief contact. Blue eyes met green.
"You're in love with me?" she asked hesitantly.
"Oh yes, Lt," Lis said confidently. She chuckled. "Figures that would be the bit you would question and not the «best chief of security in the fleet' part." She grinned.
Cass matched it with one of her own, ducking her head and looking up at her through dark lashes.
"Weellllllllll," she drawled. "That's a given."
The turbolift slid to a halt and Lis watched, fascinated, as Cass became all business once again, stepping away from her quickly and striding out on to the deck of the bridge, straight to her station at Tactical.
The psychologist glanced around, noting the high levels of tension in the room. Chakotay was talking to Harry Kim, the two men pouring over readouts on the ensign's console. Lis watched Cass' hands flying over her own panel, bringing herself up to speed. The blonde stepped close to the tall woman's shoulder.
"What's going on?" she asked quietly.
"Borg sphere," the security chief answered grimly, her eyes flicking over the readouts. "Popped out of subspace with no warning, penetrated our shields." She set her jaw. "Took the captain and Naomi."
"Naomi?" Lis asked, incredulous. "Why would they ..."
She was interrupted by the arrival of Seven of Nine and Naomi's mother, Samantha Wildman. Chakotay quickly moved to the women, talking to them both in low tones. But it didn't take much to figure out what he was telling them, nor what their reactions were.
Ensign Wildman's hand flew to her mouth but Seven's response was much more difficult to read. Lis noted the slight tightening around the young woman's mouth but she was otherwise outwardly calm. The counselor knew the ex-drone well enough now though to know she would be very much different on the inside.
Seven moved immediately to her station on the upper level of the bridge, beginning a series of scans of the Borg sphere, which sat, still and malevolent, off their port beam.
"I will retrieve them," she said succinctly.
"Transporters won't work, Seven," said Chakotay. "We've tried already, but the Borg are blocking our signal."
"Then I will take a shuttle," the blonde said immediately, turning towards the turbolift.
"Wait," Chakotay said warningly. "I'm not sending you over there alone. In fact I'm not sure it's a good idea to send you over there at all. You're too close to it."
"That is precisely why I should go, Commander," Seven protested, just keeping the quiver out of her voice.
"I think she's right, Chakotay," Cass said quietly, not wishing to contradict the senior officer, but strongly agreeing with Seven, nevertheless. "Nobody knows the Borg like Seven. She's our best chance of getting them out of there."
Samantha Wildman was becoming increasingly agitated.
"Why would they take Naomi?" she asked anxiously. Lis moved to the woman's side, offering silent but subtle support.
"I don't think they intended to," Chakotay said. "She and the captain were standing close to each other when the drones transported the captain. Naomi just got caught up in the beam."
"W-will they assimilate her?"
"Unlikely," Seven said curtly. "As long as she stays close to the captain, she will be relatively safe."
"Assuming they haven't assimilated the captain already," Ensign Kim said, immediately regretting his words when he saw Samantha's face go white. "S-sorry," he muttered.
"Also unlikely, Ensign," Seven replied. "They did not come all this way just to assimilate one human." She turned to look at the view screen, which was filled with the image of the sphere. "They came for Kathryn for some other reason."
Tom Paris piped up from his place at the helm.
"What I don't get is why they're still here," he said.
Cool blue eyes fixed on him. "They are a scout ship, Lt," Seven said, her voice devoid of any emotion.
The light dawned for Cass. "Meaning, there's a cube on the way," she said, feeling a cold dread curling around her guts.
"Precisely," Seven confirmed. "It would be inefficient to expend energy moving when the cube will be here shortly."
"Happy thought," muttered Tom.
"We are wasting time, Commander," Seven said, facing Chakotay.
"I'm going with you," Cass said calmly. The ex-Borg looked at her and nodded, gratified that the tall security chief would be by her side.
"All right," Chakotay agreed. "Take those modified phaser rifles we used the last time we ran into the Borg. And, Lt," he hooked Cass' arm as she turned to leave. She looked at him questioningly. "Make it fast," he muttered. "Who knows how close that cube is."
She nodded then walked into the turbolift behind Seven, Lis and Samantha. Cass leaned against the wall of the 'lift, her mind spinning through strategies and her stomach doing double back flips around the butterflies. She looked across at the counselor who was talking softly to Samantha.
I love her, Cass thought. Hard to believe that 20 minutes ago we were making love on my sofa. She half-grinned as she caught Lis' eye. Or at least trying to make love, she chuckled inwardly. Lis raised an eyebrow at her from across the 'lift, obviously surprised to see a sign of merriment from the tall security chief.
The 'lift stopped at Deck 8 and Cass ducked out the door.
"I'll meet you in the shuttle bay," she said, heading for the armory. As the door closed again Lis found herself sending a silent prayer out to the universe.
Don't take her away from me now, she pleaded.
Ten minutes later Cass walked into the shuttle bay hefting three phaser rifles. Seven had added some Borg modifications to the weapons several months ago. Now they were designed to automatically shift their phase variations through a random rotation. That meant it would take a little longer for the Borg to adapt their personal shields.
But they will eventually, Cass reminded herself as she handed one of the rifles to Seven, slung the other across her back, and settled the third into the crook of her arm. We're not gonna have a lot of time to get this done.
Lis left Samantha's side for a moment and walked over to Cass. Long before she got there blue eyes locked onto hers and she felt a wash of warmth sweep through her. Once in front of the security chief she slid a hand into Cass' and squeezed gently.
"You okay?" Cass murmured, seeing the worry and love in the green eyes gazing up at her.
"I will be when you come home," Lis said quietly, feeling Cass' fingers tighten around hers in reassurance. "Do you have a plan?"
Cass smiled self-deprecatingly. "Seven's the expert here," she said. "I'm just the brawn."
Lis snorted. "I can think of many phrases to describe you," she said, watching Seven make her preparations. "«Just the brawn', isn't one of them."
"Are you ready, Lt?" Seven asked. Cass could see impatience in the ex-drone's every movement, even though to most people Seven looked as calm as ever.
"Yes," she said. Lis slid arms around her waist and Cass ducked to kiss the top of the blonde's head. "Don't worry okay? We'll all be home before you know it."
"I'm counting on it," Lis murmured, letting Cass go reluctantly.
Samantha Wildman walked forward as Cass and Seven stepped up onto the shuttle's ramp.
"P-please," she said anxiously. "Don't let them d-do anything to Naomi. Bring her back?"
"Do not worry, Ensign," Seven said firmly. "No matter what happens, we will not be leaving Naomi Wildman behind."
Lis couldn't take her eyes off Cass. There was an aching in her chest that she didn't much like. Blue eyes held her own in a steady gaze that was equal parts confidence and reassurance. With just a touch of love thrown in, Lis thought to herself. More than a touch.
Seven keyed the door's control panel and the ramp began to rise.
Cass stared long and hard into the gentle green eyes of her lover as the door closed. Coming home to you is what I want, she mentally projected towards Lis. More than anything.
Janeway pressed her hand against Naomi's back, trying to convey reassurance to the young girl who had her arms wrapped around the captain's waist, her face buried in the warmth of her uniform jacket. The older woman could feel the girl trembling against her and she tried to still her own rapidly beating heart. Keep her safe, Katie, she urged herself. Whatever happens, keep her safe.
Janeway set her jaw, watching as the drones moved around her, for the moment at least ignoring their captives. She tried to remember everything she knew about Borg spheres.
Subunits, she recalled. They're just subunits of a cube. So it's a fair assumption there's a cube on the way. She swallowed hard. In front of her was a view screen. Voyager loomed large in the frame, hanging motionless and beautiful in open space. And we're not going anywhere so that would mean the cube isn't all that far away, Janeway reasoned. Great.
Naomi stirred and the captain looked down into frightened, wide young eyes.
"C-captain, are th-they going to a-assimilate us?"
Janeway patted the girl's back as reassuringly as she could. "I don't think so," she answered, summoning a confident smile from somewhere. "If they were going to do that, they would have by now." She decided not to tell the Naomi that probably the only thing that had saved her was her close proximity to the captain. It just doesn't make sense for them to come find me just to turn me into another drone. They have something specific in mind. She hugged Naomi closer. And I have a bad feeling the Borg Queen is behind it.
The atmosphere inside the sphere was cramped, warm and clammy. Janeway felt a trickle of sweat run down her backbone. She counted drones. Seven. And, as usual, no discernible leader. The Borg shuffled around her silently, completing whatever tasks they had before the arrival of their mother ship.
"What do you want with us?" Janeway called out, wondering if the collective Mind would answer her. There was nothing. The seven didn't deviate from their steady pace, didn't turn a head in her direction.
That's almost more unnerving than a direct attack, Janeway thought with a shudder. She glanced around, taking in the control panels that were scattered around the small space. Regeneration units ringed the area, one for each drone. Janeway inched herself and the girl closer to one of the consoles.
If they run true to form they will ignore me unless I become a threat to them, she reasoned. On the other hand, there's going to be a rescue party arriving any minute now and they're going to appreciate a distraction. Naomi shifted against her, tightening her grip around the captain's waist. On the third hand, there's her safety to consider.
"Naomi," she whispered, waiting till the youngster looked up at her. "Whatever happens, I want you to stay close to me, okay?" Big brown eyes widened, but the girl nodded.
"This place smells bad," Naomi whispered back, wrinkling her nose in distaste.
"Yes it does," Janeway agreed, smiling at the girl. "I don't think personal hygiene is a big priority."
"Will Seven be coming for us?" Naomi asked.
God I hope so, Janeway thought, picturing her no doubt furious partner. "I'm sure she will soon, sweetie," she murmured. If I was alone I'd be wreaking a little havoc about now, but I can't risk that with Naomi here, she thought. "As long as we don't do anything to annoy them, they'll leave us alone."
Naomi shifted against her side, snuggling a little closer.
"Why did they take us, Captain?" she asked.
Janeway looked down at her.
"That is a very good question," she said. "I think they took you just because you were standing next to me at the time. And I'm still trying to figure out why they took me."
Naomi thought about it for a few seconds while Janeway continued to watch the silently working drones.
"Maybe it's Seven they really want," the girl said quietly. "It was last time, wasn't it?" she asked, remembering the Borg Queen's last attempt to lure Seven of Nine back to the Collective.
Janeway thought about it. She had gone in and rescued Seven herself that time, so the Collective certainly knew they meant something to each other. A cold thought occurred to her. Perhaps this time they will offer Seven a deal she can't refuse. Her life for mine.
She shook it off.
"I don't think it really matters, Naomi," she said finally. "Seven and an away team will be here soon and we'll be back on Voyager before you know it." She patted the girl's back again.
"I hope so," muttered Naomi.
Me too, kiddo, me too, thought the captain.
Seven knew they would have to move quickly once they were onboard the sphere. She had her own theories about why the Borg had taken Kathryn, and she suspected they were using the captain as bait.
For me, she thought as Cass maneuvered the shuttle towards the sphere. I am putting myself in danger by walking into their arms. She set her jaw and pictured her partner's face. Irrelevant.
Cass was deeply uneasy as she kept the shuttle on course. It's quiet, she thought. Too quiet. "They're not firing at us," she muttered aloud.
"Correct," answered Seven succinctly.
"They're expecting us then," the security chief reasoned, glancing at Seven and receiving a small answering nod. "In fact they want us to pay them a visit, right? More specifically, they want you?"
"Indeed, Lt," Seven confirmed, keeping her gaze locked on the looming sphere. "I expect that very shortly they will ..." The shuttle jolted as a green beam lanced out from the sphere and enfolded the shuttle.
"... lock us in a tractor beam," Cass finished. She lifted her hands from the control panel as the beam took over, tugging them closer.
The shuttle was pulled into the tiniest of docking ports, so small that Cass sucked in a breath and held it as they negotiated the narrow opening. The craft settled gently onto the metal deck. It was a tight squeeze " enough room for the shuttle and walking space around it. The two women eased themselves out and made their way to the access corridor.
"Not exactly built for comfort, is it?" Cass muttered, fighting the sudden feeling of claustrophobia. Seven, by contrast, looked focused and rather unnervingly at home in the clammy atmosphere and metallic surroundings.
"It is a Borg sphere, Lt," the ex-drone answered dryly. "It was designed for reconnoitering, not mass assimilation like a cube."
"Well, that's a comforting thought." She flicked the safety off her phaser rifle. "What's your plan?" she asked quietly.
Cool blue eyes turned on her.
"I must insert myself into the Collective," she said calmly. "Then I can misdirect the drones, perhaps even force them into a hibernation cycle."
Cass looked at her uncertainly.
"Isn't that a pretty dangerous thing for you to do?" she asked.
"Yes," Seven answered. "But it is required if we are to retrieve Kathryn and Naomi and divert the cube."
Cass nodded. "Okay, I can see that," she muttered. "Do they know you're here?"
"Almost certainly," Seven said. "And as soon as I reconnect to the Collective they will certainly know." She walked slowly along the bank of Borg computer terminals, searching for the access port she needed. She paused in front of a particular terminal.
"Lt, go and find them," she said, shifting her rifle into her right hand. "Do not provoke the drones. Ignore them and they will ignore you ... at least for the time being."
"Okay," Cass agreed. She watched as Seven lifted her Borg-enhanced left hand to the console, strangely fascinated by the sight of the tall blonde's assimilation tubules emerging from the implant on her wrist. The tubes waved around for a few seconds before plugging themselves into the access port on the control panel. Seven's eyes closed and the ex-drone became very still and silent. That's just creepy, Cass thought.
She shook off her uneasiness and moved slowly down the cramped corridor in the general direction of the centre of the cube. She knew there she would find most, if not all of the drones, and hopefully, the captain and Naomi.
Seven found herself holding her breath as the assimilation tubules snaked toward the access port. She was vaguely aware of Cass watching her quietly, but she couldn't take her focus away from what she was about to feel. She was scared, she knew, but there was also a disconcerting note of anticipation vibrating somewhere deep inside her.
I do not want that, she thought as the ends of the tubules glided into the snug fit of the port. I do not want to enjoy what I am about to experience. She fought the rising panic as the tubules slid home. She knew she had to walk a fine line between allowing herself to be swept along by the Collective, and staying in touch with her individuality. My humanity, she thought. I must hang on to Annika and Kathryn.
The tubules clicked into place and Seven gasped as the sensual flood of thousands of voices speaking as One washed over her. After almost two years of hearing only her own voice in her head it came as an intense shock. Seven dove into the Collective's stream of consciousness and the wash of internal sound threatened to drown her for a few seconds before she found her mental feet.
It feels so good, Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct to Unimatrix 01 exalted. The seduction of many voices slid across the surface of her mind, luring and enticing her to submit.
But Annika Hansen, human, wife of Captain Kathryn Janeway, kept herself apart, wrapping herself in a warm coating of humanity. Like a salmon swimming upstream against the flow she bobbed and weaved through the onslaught of imperatives from the Collective. She suppressed her personality as best she could, not wanting to alert the Borg to her true identity.
But it may already be too late for that, she knew. She flicked her consciousness through subroutines and protocols, searching for the minor string of commands that would give her the opening she was looking for. One part of her mind listened to the soothing directives, one message in particular eventually forcing itself to the forefront.
We have Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct to Unimatrix O1 and the human Janeway. All is well. A message directed at the oncoming cube.
Seven seized on the words, programming them into a repeating loop which her cortical implant continued to broadcast, wrapping around and disguising any other messages from the sphere's drones.
Not alone, Seven of Nine's mind whispered, tempted to just let the Collective draw her in. Not alone anymore. Annika Hansen continued to search for the subroutine she needed. I have to put them to sleep, she thought, letting her mind do its work.
Cass wished she were in uniform. It was an incongruous thought as she picked her way along the dank Borg passageway, but the casual clothes she had been wearing during her off-duty rotation were too loose-fitting for this job. She sighed. Quit being distracted, she berated herself.
It wasn't the first time Cass had been in a Borg ship, but familiarity did nothing to ease the big ball of tension resting in the pit of her stomach. She'd had a theory for a long time that the Borg would be a lot easier to deal with psychologically if they had been a distinct species unto themselves. But instead they were assimilated individuals from every conceivable species in the galaxy.
They're walking reminders of our mortality, she thought as she cautiously rounded a corner. Living, deadly, zombies. She shuddered. All very well to say ignore 'em, Seven, but if one comes down this corridor at the same time as me, we won't be able to avoid each other. It would be just my luck to run into someone I know. She shuddered at the thought.
The background hum that had been ever-present since their arrival on board was growing louder and Cass knew she was close to the centre of the sphere. Carefully she eased her head around another corner. Janeway and Naomi were 20 feet away on the other side of the circular control room.
In one piece and not assimilated. This has to be a good thing, Cass thought, relief sweeping through her. She flicked her eyes around the room, counting drones. Two were in their regeneration alcoves, but the other five moved silently around. Doing whatever drones do when they're not sucking the life out of real people, she thought dryly.
She had two choices now, she knew.
I could just start shooting and see how many I can drop before their shields adapt, she reasoned, her trigger finger itching to do just that. Of course that may not be enough to do anything more than piss them off. She looked at Janeway, noting that the Borg had taken away her communicator. Naomi had her arms wrapped around the captain's waist. Or I could just start walking and see how far I get before they perceive me as a threat.
Either way, I'm relying on Seven to perform a little ex-Borg miracle, she realized. She took a deep breath. In for a penny, in for a pound. She reseated the rifle in her hands and set her shoulders, stepping forward into the middle of the Borg nest.
The Borg sphere hung in space outside the mess hall's window like some kind of twisted artificial moon.
Lis gazed at it, trying to picture her crewmates " my soulmate " inside its labyrinthine corridors. She closed her eyes momentarily, letting the image of Cass' face float in front of her. So beautiful. And so brave. She didn't hesitate to volunteer to go with Seven. Lis opened her eyes again, wincing slightly at the sight of the sphere. I know it's her job, but even if it weren't she would have been the first to put up her hand. She sighed, even as a tiny smile graced her lips. She loves being in the middle of things. And I wouldn't change her for anything. The sphere filled the window pane, dominating the star field. Even when it does scare the crap out of me, she thought.
Lis turned back to the room. Samantha Wildman sat at a table, her hands wrapped nervously around a cup of coffee. Neelix, the ensign's closest friend on board, sat by her side, talking softly to the anxious woman. Two or three other friends had come to the mess hall to offer their support as well, Lis was pleased to note. She walked back to the table and sat down opposite Samantha.
"Sometimes I think I did the wrong thing going through with the pregnancy," Samantha was saying. "Not that I don't adore Naomi, but was it a fair thing for her?" She looked at Lis, her eyes distraught. "We're in so much danger so often ... it's not much of a life for a child is it?"
It was a conversation Lis had had several times with the woman in the past.
"Sam, don't second guess yourself like that," the counselor replied. "Naomi is smart and well-adjusted and loves her life on Voyager."
Ensign Wildman slipped straight into panic mode.
"Maybe so, but she must be so terrified right now," she said. Terror widened her brown eyes suddenly. "Oh God, what if they assimilate her?" she wailed.
Neelix wrapped his arm around the woman's shoulders. "Sshhhhh sweetie, don't think about things like that," he said soothingly.
"The captain and Seven and Cass are not going to let anything like that happen to her," Lis reassured. "They're doing everything they can to keep her safe, Sam. And they'll get her home as soon as they can."
Samantha nodded, trying to calm herself. "I know," she murmured. "But the Borg are Naomi's worst nightmare, they always have been. Getting to know Seven has helped with that, but she still wakes up some nights from it."
Lis nodded. "So do a lot of us. You don't have to be a child to be frightened of the Borg." She reached over and placed a hand over Sam's. "But Seven is the best possible person to be over there trying to get her back."
"I know, I know," Sam replied, tears welling up in her eyes. "M'sorry, I know everyone is doing their best."
"It's okay." Lis patted her hand. "If it was my daughter over there ..." She closed her eyes momentarily against the sting of that thought. "... I'd be climbing the walls too," she finished.
Cass stepped forward and strode into the middle of the circular control room, making a beeline for the captain and Naomi. Janeway's eyes widened as she caught sight of the tall security chief walking confidently towards her. But before she could say anything, two huge drones stepped in front of the Lt, blocking her view of the dark-haired woman.
Well, I guess that answers that question, Cass thought wryly as one of the drones took a swing at her with its artificial arm. She ducked and came up firing, slamming the Borg backwards onto the deck. One down, six to go.
The second came at her more forcefully, making a grab for her, and Cass prayed the modifications to the phaser rifle would do their job as she squeezed the trigger again. It took a little longer but he eventually fell at her feet, though he was close enough that she could smell him and feel his breath on her face before he dropped.
The two drones in the regeneration alcoves came to life, stepping between Cass and the captain, who was doing her best to shield Naomi from the crossfire. The captain can't help me much, Cass realized. They won't hesitate to assimilate Naomi if she gets between the Borg and one of us.
The drones advanced on the security chief and she fired again. This time the Borg she hit staggered backwards momentarily but then came at her again, the second shot bouncing off his personal shield uselessly.
Shit, thought Cass. They're getting faster and faster at adapting every time we encounter them. She reversed the rifle in her hands, grabbing it by the muzzle and swinging it like a club. She caught the drone on the side of the head with a satisfying crunch. It wasn't enough to knock him out though and now more were joining the fight.
"Look out behind you Cass," yelled the captain, but it was too late.
The security chief felt cold, hard arms encircling her from behind. She slammed her head back, smashing into the drone's mouth. She winced as she felt the impact of his teeth on her scalp, but it gave her a brief window of opportunity. She unslung the spare rifle off her back and tossed it towards Janeway. Before she could see if it had reached its mark, the drone had her again. This time he restrained her head with one arm, and her arms with the other.
Cass thrashed around in his arms, trying to loosen his grip anyway she could. His skin felt cold and clammy. And dead, she thought. Very, very dead. She kicked out, using the drone's mass as leverage, and she clipped his advancing brother in the breastbone with both feet. The Borg staggered backwards then came at her again.
Janeway snatched the phaser rifle Cass had thrown her out of midair.
"Stay behind me Naomi, no matter what happens," she ordered, satisfied when she felt the girl's warmth at her back. Cass is in trouble, she thought, quickly checking the settings on the rifle. She raised the weapon, taking a bead on the drone who had Cass wrapped up from behind but the security chief was moving around too much to give her a clear shot. She watched as Cass kicked another drone away only to have it advance again and the captain took aim again, this time taking the Borg down. Three down, four to go, she thought. Now the odds are starting to swing a little.
But the drones, ever adaptable, quickly changed their strategy. Two diverted their course, leaving the other two to take on Cass, before heading straight for the captain.
Or more to the point, they're heading for Naomi, Janeway realized, swinging her aim around. Her rifle was good for one more telling blow, she knew, and she chose her target well, waiting till the drone was close to outflanking her, as he went for the girl. She pulled the trigger, maintaining the blast as the drone staggered, its personal shield sparking and straining to find a way of blocking her fire.
The Borg dropped to its knees and Janeway took her chance, placing a foot in the middle of its chest and ripping the tubing and wires away with her hand. He fell to the floor, writhing and jerking on his back, blue flashes of energy sparking around his head and neck.
Janeway didn't have much time to take satisfaction from the kill, however as a shrill squeal from Naomi alerted her to more danger. Instinct told her to move and she raised the rifle above her head, blocking a vicious downward blow from the next drone's artificial arm.
She grunted as she tried to counter the force of the big creature, the pressure forcing her to her knees.
They know Seven's onboard, she suddenly realized. They think they've got what they want. Or they wouldn't be coming this hard at me. She shoved with all her strength upwards, managing to find her feet somehow. They don't need me anymore, she thought grimly as the drone pressed her back against the console, the stock of the rifle hard up under her chin.
Cass knew she was close to losing consciousness. The drone which held her from behind was relentlessly closing her throat with the blunt edge of his metal arm implant. Her vision was starting to tunnel down and disconcerting red flashes could only mean an imminent blackout.
Come on, Seven, her mind pleaded as she thrashed around, trying to get a purchase on the big drone's arm. What peripheral vision she had left told her that the captain was engaged in her own battle. Not a damn thing I can do about that right now, she realized. Flashes of Lis' face alternated with the stars and sparkles she saw against the back of her eyelids.
The last of the remaining three drones, the one she had kicked backward, came back at her. Cass tried to lift her legs again, but they felt like lead weights. The Borg holding her jerked his arm cruelly, and Cass could feel the metal cutting into the skin of her neck.
I'm not going to leave Lissy this way, she thought grimly, summoning the last of her strength. Not gonna become a goddamn lifeless drone.
She tried to set her feet firmly on the ground, finding purchase on the metal deck even as the second drone came within arm's reach. Cass steeled herself, reached up behind her and found a grip on the first drone's head. With a grunt of exertion she tried to pull him forward and over her shoulder but his mass was too much even for her considerable power. She succeeded only in dragging them both closer to his buddy. With his organic hand the one in front of her grabbed her by the hair, forcing her head still. Assimilation tubules shot out from his implant and Cass yelped as she felt the sharp tips break the skin of her neck.
"Noooooooooo!" she yelled, struggling to bring her hands up to pull the tubules away, but the two drones held her tight.
Seven of Nine was also in a fight for her life, though she wasn't conducting it with fists and rifles. Thousands of voices battled for control of the young woman's mind. Her cortical implant was both her enemy and her friend. It fought to dictate the transmissions emanating from the sphere back to the oncoming cube, as well as searching for the regeneration subroutine that would allow Seven to deactivate the drones on board the sphere. Along the way she had found the sphere's tractor beam controls and disabled it them.
But the implant also allowed a kind of seduction to take place. Eighteen years of being One of Many flooded through Seven's system, soothing and comforting, tempting and intriguing. Annika Hansen struggled to keep her mind focused on her partner, on her friends, on trying to find a way through the noise and confusion that her humanity didn't understand " didn't want to understand.
She knew exactly what was happening to Cass and Kathryn, the drones attacking them broadcasting the situation. It took all her concentration to stop those messages reaching the cube.
I must find the regeneration subroutine, Annika thought. My friends will die if I do not find it.Panic threatened to overwhelm her as her mind dipped and swerved through eddies and backwaters in the Collective stream.
And then there it was. The node she was looking for. We ... I ... can work with this.
She quickly made the changes that were needed, but even as she did so, she felt her humanity begin to slip away. Annika Hansen, now the frightened six-year-old first assimilated by the Borg, curled into a tiny ball to protect herself from the onslaught of the voices.
The two drones dropped Cass like a rock. She fell to the metal deck, barking her shins and elbows on the cold surface. Gasping for air, she put her hand to her throat, unsurprised when she felt warm liquid there.
"Bloody hell," she rasped, blinking at the blood on her fingers. Oxygen had never tasted as sweet as she gulped in big, panting breaths.
"What happened?" the captain exclaimed, watching the three remaining drones move mindlessly into their regeneration alcoves. They closed their eyes, almost simultaneously, and the green glow around them dimmed.
"Seven must have found the regeneration subroutine," Cass rasped, wiping her neck with her shirtsleeve as she pushed herself to her feet.
"Where is she?" Janeway asked quickly, walking towards the security chief. "Let me see that," she muttered, tilting Cass' chin up.
"It's nothing, just a scratch," Cass replied, tactfully blocking her commanding officer's hand. "And Seven's back near the shuttle bay." She looked down into the captain's concerned grey eyes. "She plugged herself into the Collective."
Janeway nodded, her lips thin and pinched. "I thought she might try that."
Janeway looked where her security chief was staring. Naomi was standing against a console. She was hugging herself and shivering noticeably.
"Damn," the captain muttered, moving back towards the girl. She knelt in front of Naomi, taking the youngster by the shoulders. Glazed eyes stared over her shoulder at the Borg drones regenerating. "Naomi, everything's going to be okay," Janeway said softly. "We just need to go find Seven and then we can go back to Voyager."
Wordlessly Naomi pulled her gaze from the Borg and searched the captain's face. Janeway nodded in answer to the unasked question and the girl wrapped her arms around the older woman's neck. Momentarily taken aback, the captain hesitated for a half a second before responding. She cuddled the child close then picked her up as she stood, supporting Naomi as the girl clung on.
Cass watched as a previously unseen side of her commanding officer unfolded before her. She smiled a little despite the circumstances but then her eye was caught by the view screen.
"Chakotay to Lansdown," her communicator crackled. She slapped it.
"Yeah, we know, Commander," she answered before he could say anymore. She stared grimly at the reason for the First Officer's warning call. "Captain," she said. "We've got trouble."
Janeway walked over, Naomi still in her arms. The Borg cube, huge and imposing, hung in space not far away.
"No warnings," Cass murmured, running her eye over the control panels in front of them. She looked at the captain, blue eyes meeting grey.
"Seven," Janeway answered and Cass nodded. "Let's get out of here before they decide to put a tractor beam on us. Lead on, Lt."
Cass bent down to pick up both discarded phaser rifles, slinging one over her shoulder. Probably both useless now, she realized. But they make me feel better. She hefted the second one in her arms, strangely comforted by the weight.
"Back this way," she said, indicating to the captain that she and Naomi should go first.
The trio made their way back through the dim, narrow corridors, Cass bringing up the rear in case Seven's control over the drones should falter. They emerged into the tiny shuttle bay and Cass heard the captain's sharp intake of breath.
"Seven?" Janeway gently let Naomi down on to the deck and the young girl followed the captain over to where the ex-drone stood silently by a bank of computer consoles. Cass felt her stomach lurch at the sight.
Oh, this is not good, she thought. She watched as Janeway approached the tall blonde and reached out.
Janeway felt sick to her stomach. Her partner's usually clear skin was clammy and beginning to show signs of the pale blotchiness characteristic of a Borg drone. As she placed her hand on Seven's arm, cold eyes that were almost colorless turned on her.
"Annika," Kathryn said gently. "We need to leave now. The cube is here."
"We are aware of the cube," came the chilling response from the blonde. "We are in contact with the Collective." Emotionless eyes stared piercingly at the Starfleet captain. "We have told them that we have what we want."
"Which is why we need to leave now, Annika," Janeway replied, deliberately using her lover's human name. "Before they put a tractor beam on the sphere."
Cass watched the interaction uneasily. She's too far into the Collective, she thought. We're going to have to do something drastic to get her out of there. The tall woman leaned forward and down, tapping Naomi on the shoulder. The young girl turned to her reluctantly, her eyes continually drawn to Seven and the captain.
"Naomi, listen to me," Cass said, getting down on one knee so she was closer to eye level with the girl. Big brown eyes finally turned to her. "You know how to operate the shuttle door, right?"
Naomi's eyes flicked briefly to the small craft, and then she nodded.
"Okay. I want you to open it and go inside and strap yourself in ready for departure, okay?" She watched as Naomi looked back at Seven, clearly torn between obeying the security chief and worrying about her friend. "We're not going to leave her behind, honey," Cass said gently. "I promise. But I need you to go into the shuttle, because when we do get her free, we're going to have to leave in a hurry."
Naomi nodded her understanding. "Yes ma'am."
"Good girl," Cass said, smiling. "You've been very brave Naomi. Your mom's going to be proud of you." That elicited the tiniest of smiles from the child. Cass watched as the girl walked over to the shuttle and keyed the control panel before walking inside. The security chief stood and approached the captain and Seven.
"We must stay in contact with the Collective," the ex-drone was insisting in a cold voice that gave Cass chills.
"You've done all you can, Annika," Janeway insisted. "You've given us breathing space to get away, but we're not leaving you here."
Seven's eyes closed and both Starfleet officers held their breath. Cass slowly moved around behind the ex-drone, putting the second rifle over her other shoulder.
If I have to rip her out of here with my bare hands, I will, Cass thought, steeling herself for a fight.
But Janeway had another idea entirely. As Seven lost herself in the communication with the Collective, the diminutive captain stepped forward. She stood on tiptoe, brushing her lips across her partner's, trying to ignore the cold, dead feel of the blonde's skin. Come back to me, Annika.
Cass stepped closer, understanding what Janeway was trying to do. Initially Seven was totally unresponsive, but the captain persisted, deepening the contact with her wife. She slid her hands up to cup the ex-drone's cold face as she maintained the kiss.
Cass found herself blushing at the sight of her commanding officer making such a personal and intimate gesture. She lowered her eyes in an unconscious attempt to give the married couple as much privacy as she could in the circumstances. But her attention was pulled back sharply as Seven began to respond.
The tall blonde gasped suddenly against her partner's mouth. The assimilation tubules which had connected the ex-drone to the Collective through the console's access port snapped back into her wrist implant with a metallic twang that made Cass wince. Seven's knees buckled and the security chief immediately grabbed her from behind, wrapping her arms around the tall woman's waist.
"K-Kathryn?" Seven whispered hoarsely, blinking in confusion at the captain.
"Right here, sweetheart," replied Janeway calmly, sliding herself under Seven's right arm, as Cass moved round to support the ex-Borg under her left. "Come on, darling, we have to get moving."
"We ... I ... I ... they think everything is fine ... that they have me, and that you three have been a-assimilated," Seven gasped as the others began to half-carry her towards the shuttle.
"That's not going to last long once they spot the shuttle," Cass muttered. She left Janeway to hold up the faltering blonde as she climbed up into the shuttle, then turned back to help drag Seven bodily into the craft.
"Th-thought of that as w-well," Seven stammered. She was shivering and trembling, sweat pouring off her. Must be a reaction to breaking away from the Collective, Cass thought as she gave Janeway a hand up. "Their sensors will see only a garbage d-dump. At least for a little while."
"Good enough," Cass replied, leaving Janeway to help Seven into the seat opposite Naomi, who was strapped into the chair behind the pilot. The security chief tucked herself into the cockpit and began the launch sequence.
Naomi stared wide-eyed at her friend as the captain busied herself making sure Seven was properly restrained for flight. The ex-Borg looked ill and the young girl was scared to say anything that might disturb her. Pale eyes that were slowly resuming their blue shade blinked at her and Seven tried a half-hearted smile at her young friend. Carefully she reached out with her right hand and Naomi eagerly grasped it, squeezing gently.
"D-do not concern yourself, Naomi W-Wildman," Seven whispered. "We ... I ... will recover."
"Thank you for coming to get me, Seven," the girl said quietly.
Seven just closed her eyes and nodded as Janeway finished strapping her in. The captain paused, studying her partner's pale face for a moment. She brought a hand up and brushed Seven's cheek with gentle fingertips, smiling softly as the blonde's eyelids fluttered open.
"Find a seat, Captain," Cass barked from the cockpit. "I'm getting us out of here in three, two ..." Janeway braced herself by hugging her partner tightly, as Seven weakly wrapped her arms around her. "... One!". The security chief slammed the shuttle backwards out of the cramped docking bay, then swung the craft around and pointed it towards Voyager. Once the shuttle was steady, Janeway kissed Seven quickly, then scrambled forward to sit next to Cass.
"That cube will follow us, Captain," Cass said quietly. "There's no way they're going to let Seven get away once they realize they've been duped."
"That will not be a problem, Lt," said Seven from behind them. She was starting to sound more like her normal self. The two officers looked back over their shoulders at the ex-drone. "They must pull the sphere inside before they can pursue us."
"That's not going to give us long enough, Seven," said Janeway practically. "Not even Voyager at warp nine can outrun a fully powered Borg cube."
"As I said Captain, that will not be a problem," Seven insisted. Three pairs of eyes fixed on her. "I have programmed the sphere to self-destruct once it is inside the cube," she said calmly.
Cass felt herself grinning like a Cheshire cat, while the look on Janeway's face could only be described as complete adoration. Chuckling, Cass tweaked the controls on one panel, bringing up a view of the scenario behind them. The cube already had the sphere in a tractor beam and had almost drawn its little acolyte within itself.
"It will be very fast," Seven warned.
Janeway quickly opened a comm link to the ship.
"Janeway to Voyager," she said crisply.
"Good to hear your voice, Captain," answered Chakotay.
"No time for that, Commander," she replied calmly. "The cube is about to explode. Head for the Alpha Quadrant at best possible speed, now. We'll catch up with you as soon as we can."
Cass whooped as the cube blossomed into a pale green fireball. She quickly tried to calculate how fast the shockwave was expanding towards them. Too fast, she realized, her elation dissipating as quickly as the debris from the cube. Without hesitating she punched the shuttle into its top speed, warp four, just as the shockwave reached them. The small craft's inertial dampers strained to keep the occupants safe and they were all jostled about as Cass fought to get the shuttle back under control.
Lis gasped as the cube exploded in a shower of green particles in one corner of the mess hall window. She had been standing at the sill with Sam Wildman, watching as the tiny shuttle had emerged from the sphere. The two women had smiled at each other in tentative relief, knowing at the very least that the away team would not be leaving the Borg craft without all four members on board.
"D-do you think she's all right?" Sam had asked hesitantly, concerned for her young daughter.
"We'll know soon," Lis had answered. She was preoccupied with thoughts of Cass, trying to feel her soulmate's presence somehow. The blonde wanted to believe that she would know if something was drastically wrong with Cass, but it wasn't a theory she really wanted to test.
Then the cube had disintegrated, the massive explosion eerily silent in the vacuum of space. Lis barely had time to inhale sharply before the starfield distorted and shifted as Voyager leapt into warp drive.
The woman standing next to her cried out in anguish.
"Where did they go?" Sam yelped, leaning forward, her hands on the windowsill. She searched the streaking starfield in vain. Lis tapped her communicator, her own unease making it an easy decision to intrude on the bridge staff.
"Dayton to Chakotay."
"Go ahead, Counselor," came the First Officer's deep tones.
"Sorry to bother you, Commander," Lis replied. "I was just wondering what the news from the shuttle was, sir. Ensign Wildman is anxious for an update." Not to mention me, she thought.
"We had the briefest of contact, Dr," Chakotay replied. "But our scans showed all four were onboard, and alive. We're outrunning the shockwave from the explosion right now." Even as he spoke, Voyager dropped out of warp again, the stars solidifying outside the windows as the ship came to rest. "I'm sure the shuttle was doing the same," he continued. "Of course they can't match our top speed so it's going to be a while before they catch up with us."
"But Naomi's all right?" Sam interrupted.
"As far as we know, Ensign, yes," replied Chakotay calmly. "As I said, I had a brief conversation with the captain, and she sounded fine. My bet would be if she was healthy, then Naomi would be too."
Sam nodded to herself, knowing the commanding officer would have sacrificed herself before letting Naomi be hurt. She allowed a tentative smile to form on her lips. Lis watched her, satisfied that for the time being at least, the situation was as good as it could be.
"Thank you, Commander," she said quietly. "Is there any way of knowing when they'll catch up to us, exactly?"
"Assuming they went straight to their top speed and stayed there, it could be 24 hours, or it could be a couple of days if they suffered any damage from the explosion," he replied. "Either way, we'll stay put till they get here."
"Can we go back for them, Commander?" asked Sam.
Lis already knew the answer to that. Janeway had long had a policy of never backtracking along their course to the Alpha Quadrant unless it was absolutely necessary.
"They'll be back in communication range soon, Ensign," Chakotay replied. "If they tell us they need help getting home then we will, otherwise it's a good idea to give them a stationary target to hit."
"Understood, sir," Lis answered for the ensign. "Thanks for the update."
"No problem. Chakotay out."
Lis turned back to Samantha, who had her hands over her mouth as the emotion of the last few hours caught up with her. Tears spilled over and Lis stepped closer, wrapping her crewmate up in a supportive hug.
"I'm sure they're fine," she murmured, as Sam cried quietly against her shoulder. She felt the woman nodding.
"I know ... I know," Sam said around the sobs. "I just ..."
"It's late, and it's been a stressful night," Lis finished for her. "It's going to be a while before we hear from them again. Why don't you go and try and get some sleep, Sam? I'm sure the Doctor can help if you feel too wired."
"I think I will," she murmured, pulling back from Lis' embrace again. "Thank you for all your support." She smiled a wobbly smile.
"No problem," Lis said, happy to have been able to provide at least some comfort. "You were helping me too, you know."
Sam looked at her quizzically, before understanding. "You and Cass ...?" she asked hesitantly.
Lis smiled back, her stomach aching from a strange mix of anxiety and elation. "Yes," she murmured. "I will be very happy to have her home again."
Sam smiled more confidently this time.
"That's wonderful," she said. "You two have been waiting a long time for each other."
Lis raised an eyebrow at that. Sometimes I wonder if there is anything about my life that isn't circulating round this ship's rumor mill, she thought dryly. She decided to just accept the good wishes at face value.
"Yes we have," she answered. "Right now I just want her safe."
"Oh, I do know that feeling," Sam said as the two women walked out of the mess hall together, heading for the nearest turbolift.
Cass sighed as she watched the starfield warping around the tiny shuttlecraft. The ship was the smallest Voyager had and she wasn't designed for long journeys or continual warp speed. Conditions were cramped for four people, even when one was a child, and Cass had drawn the short straw, taking the first shift at the controls. Janeway would relieve her in four hours.
She looked back over her shoulder and had to smile a little at the sleeping arrangements in the tiny space between the second row of seats and the stern of the shuttle. They had improvised some bedding from seat cushions and the blanket in the first aid kit. Naomi was snuggled against Seven's right side, soundly sleeping with her head on the ex-drone's stomach. The captain had begun curled up with her back to the other two, but as sleep had relaxed her she had turned around and was now tucked in the crook of Seven's other arm, pressed against the blonde's lanky body.
Nice, Cass thought with a smile. But I'd better not mention it when she wakes up. She grinned at that as she turned back to the view outside the cockpit. Which is a whole bunch of not much, she thought.
They had been caught by the leading edge of the shockwave just as they were about to go into warp drive. It hadn't stopped their escape, but it had thrown them around a little and caused some minor damage to the shuttle's port nacelle that needed constant monitoring. Cass leaned forward and made a tiny adjustment to the propulsion system. They had decided on a compromise, not pushing the shuttle beyond warp three in a bid to keep it together until they rendezvoused with Voyager.
In about 36 hours' time, Cass calculated. She sighed. Which is about 36 hours too long as far as I'm concerned. She eased her feet up onto the co-pilot's chair and tried to relax. They had been banged about a little by the shockwave and Cass was annoyed to find she was stiff and sore in a number of places. She rubbed her neck absentmindedly, feeling the tenderness where the Borg drone had choked her. Not to mention those damn tubules, she thought, shuddering at the how close she had come to being assimilated.
Ewww. Enough of that, she decided. Now, how can I pass the time and keep myself awake for the next four hours, she pondered. A slow, sexy smile crossed her face. I could always plan how I'm going to say hello to Lissy once I get back. Mmmmmmmmmm. Oh yes. That'll do nicely.
The shuttle settled on to the deck of Voyager's docking bay with a metallic scrape. The sound, eerily amplified, bounced off the walls of the large empty room, announcing their arrival. It was the middle of the night shift and apart from the ensign on duty, only three others awaited their arrival.
Cass didn't need to look out the cockpit window to know Lis wasn't one of them. She had spoken to the counselor several hours before, a conversation that was still making her smile.
Once they were back in communication range, the captain had opened a comm link and fully briefed Chakotay. Then she had handed over to Naomi and the youngster had spent several minutes in happy conversation with her relieved mother. Cass had grinned as the girl turned what had been a terrifying experience into something that almost sounded like fun in retrospect. She even found herself blushing at Naomi's descriptions of her fight with the drones.And so here we are, Cass reflected as she squared away the little shuttle's shutdown sequence. Behind her she could hear Janeway opening up the hatch and greeting Chakotay, Ensign Wildman and the Doctor. Naomi was sound asleep in the seat behind her and Cass watched as Seven picked the small girl up and carried her out to her mother.
The tall security chief unfolded herself from the cramped cockpit. After a day and half of trying to keep her long limbs to herself she wanted nothing more than to stretch and scratch and sprawl.
And I have to get out of these clothes, she thought, looking down at the grimy cotton shirt and slacks she had been wearing when the whole crisis with the Borg had begun. She wrinkled her nose in self-disgust. Lis is going to smell me coming before she ever sees me.
A surge of anticipation set her pulse tripping as she walked down the ramp onto the deck of the shuttle bay. Sam Wildman had her daughter wrapped in a relieved hug while the Doctor was running a medical tricorder over a disinterested Seven of Nine.
"Doctor, I have fully recovered," the tall blonde was saying.
"Maybe so," said the persistent hologram. "But it never hurts to make sure. You have elevated numbers of nanoprobes circulating in your bloodstream," he noted.
"Considering she was damn nearly re-assimilated, that's hardly surprising," said the Captain dryly. "I suspect all that's needed is some decent sleep, Doctor."
"All right," he conceded, closing the tricorder. "But I want to see you some time tomorrow for a full check-up," he said to Seven, who nodded wearily. The chief medical officer turned his attention on Cass.
"What about you, Lt?" he asked, eyeing the bruising and other marks on her neck critically.
"Nothing serious, Doc," Cass said, anxious to get the formalities over and done with so she could get where she increasingly needed to go. "I'll be right."
He looked at her a moment longer, then nodded, knowing her well enough to know she wouldn't hide anything serious.
Cass shifted her weight from foot to foot as she listened to Janeway and Chakotay exchanging status reports. She knew she probably didn't have to hang around for this but she observed protocol anyway, waiting for her commanding officer's dismissal. Finally the captain took pity on her, nodding at her with a slight smile.
"I think we've all earned a couple of days' off," she said, glancing at her weary partner and then her silent security chief. She reached out and patted Cass' arm. "Good job, Lt, and thank you."
Cass straightened her shoulders. "I just threw my weight around, Captain," she said. "Seven did all the heroics as far as I'm concerned."
"It was a good team effort, Lt," the captain insisted. "The point is we got the job done, with no casualties."
"I want to thank all of you," Sam Wildman piped up. Her sleepy daughter was still cradled in her arms and the ensign looked more relieved than anyone Cass had ever seen. "Thank you for keeping her safe."
"At the end of the day we're all safe, and that makes it a good day in my book," Janeway said quietly. Her partner yawned, an incongruous gesture from the ex-Borg, who usually looked completely fresh and unflappable. Everyone chuckled.
"I am fatigued," said Seven, slightly miffed when everyone laughed again.
"Come on," Janeway said. "It's time we all got some rest." She turned to look at her security chief, whose mind was clearly elsewhere. "With the emphasis on rest, Lt," the captain said dryly, quirking an eyebrow at the tall woman.
Startled, Cass did a double-take, annoyed at herself for blushing. "Yes ma'am," she growled as she looked to make a quick exit.
After her brief conversation with Cass, Lis had returned to the security chief's quarters. With several hours to go till the shuttle's return, she had found herself at a loose end. What she had told Cass about feeling better in her quarters was certainly the truth, but it wasn't the whole story. The first night Cass had been away, Lis had tried to sleep in her own bed, but nothing felt right. So she had walked across the ship and accessed the dark-haired woman's home base, feeding the cat and sliding between the sheets.
She had felt immediately surrounded and comforted by Cass' presence and had slept soundly, much to her surprise. Waking up to the familiar scent that was a unique combination of her lover's own aroma and the light perfume she used, had been a pleasant revelation. She had buried her face in the pillow and let herself drift sleepily until she needed to get up.
Now Lis pottered around, busying herself with tidying and amusing the boy-cat.
I should just be glad she's almost home, safe and sound, she had told herself. But there were so many other undercurrents to the feelings she was experiencing. Eventually she just gave in to it, flopping down in a corner of the couch and dropping her feet onto the coffee table. We've never spent the night together, she realized suddenly. Through that whole first five months we never had the chance to wake up next to each other, and now finally we get that opportunity.
She chuckled at her own nervousness. Come on Elisabeth, what's to be anxious about? This is Cass we're talking about. And apart from anything else, she's probably going to be exhausted. Just relax and let whatever happens, happen.
Content with that, finally, the diminutive blonde had headed for the bathroom, a hot shower and an early night wrapped in warm, familiar sheets.
Cass walked through the mostly empty corridors. She felt unbelievably wired, despite almost two days of intermittent sleep, minimal rations and cramped conditions.
It must be lurrrrrrrrrrve, she thought sardonically as she broke into a jog she couldn't believe she had the energy for. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach ... right up until the moment she rounded a corner and ran headfirst into B'elanna Torres.
"Hey!" the chief engineer exclaimed, bouncing away from the taller woman's solid frame. "Damn woman, you should send out a warning when you're going to sneak up on a person like that." She grinned up at her friend. "Welcome home."
"Sorry, B," Cass said gruffly, smiling back. "And thanks. It's good to be back."
"I hear things got a bit hairy out there," B'elanna said, turning and walking with Cass as the security chief continued down the corridor.
"It had its moments," Cass shrugged. She stopped suddenly, looking down at B'elanna. "Wait a minute," she muttered. "Since when do you work gamma shift? It's the middle of the night, Lt."
"Ah." B'elanna scratched the back of her head sheepishly. "I was ... um ... just on my way back from ... um ..."
"Tina's quarters," Cass finished for her, grinning. "Roommate problems, huh?"
B'elanna rolled her eyes. "God, yes. Something's got to change soon or we're both going to go nuts." They reached the turbolift and came to a halt.
"What's wrong with your place?" Cass asked.
"Too small," B'elanna answered. "We both need a little more space than that."
"Married quarters," Cass said succinctly. She laughed as she watched her friend going pale under her normally olive skin tones. "Relax, B. It's something to think about at least."
The engineer shook her head uncertainly, and then took a good look at her tall companion, who was looking distinctly distracted while she waited for the turbolift.
"So," the half-Klingon said, seeing an opportunity for a little teasing. "I'm guessing you've got a warm bed waiting for you." She smiled broadly, trying to look innocent.
"B'elanna," Cass growled warningly.
The shorter woman chuckled, but threw up her hands in surrender. "Okay, okay," she said around her laughter.
The 'lift arrived and the security chief stepped inside, smiling tolerantly as B'elanna turned away to resume her walk home.
"Oh, Cass?" the engineer turning back quickly. "One more piece of advice?"
An enquiring eyebrow lifted.
"Take a shower." B'elanna grinned as the turbolift doors shut between her and the outraged Cass.
"Shut uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuup," came the muffled reply.
Howls of semi-Klingon laughter rang down the corridor.
Cass stepped into her quarters a few minutes later. Although not completely darkened, the lights were low and all was quiet. Bagheera padded silently over to the tall woman and leapt up into her arms for his traditional greeting.
"Hey handsome," she whispered into his fur as he head-butted her gently. She could hear the rumble of his throaty purr and smiled softly. "Bet you've been spoiled silly for a couple of days, huh?" He curled and uncurled his toes rhythmically, his claws catching and releasing in the fabric of her shirt.
"Riiiiiiaaaaaaowwwwwwwwww," he answered happily.
"Mhmmmmm, I bet," she chuckled softly as she scratched the sensitive spot at the base of his tail and planted a kiss in his neck fur. He had a bald spot where a food allergy had taken its toll when he was a little kitten, and he ducked his head contentedly as her lips brushed him there.
Chuckling, she carried him over to his favorite resting spot in the corner of the couch and dropped him down onto the cushions. He curled himself into a contented ball and then she scritched him gently between the ears. "'Night boy-cat," she whispered.
Cass ran her hand wearily through her dark hair as she walked quietly to the door of the bedroom. What she saw there brought her up short and took her breath away. Lis had set a circle of lit candles around the small room and their flickering glow was both welcoming and soothing.
The blonde was curled up on her left side, smack in the middle of the double bed. Sleep and the candlelight cast her in a soft glow, the youthful features that had always belied her age seeming even younger. Her locks were splashed across the pillow.
"Now there's a sight for sore eyes," Cass murmured, enchanted by the face that smiled slightly as the counselor slept on.
Cass tiptoed to the side of the bed and knelt down, extending her hand to cup Lis' cheek gently.
Half-lidded green eyes blinked at her.
"H'lo," mumbled Lis, her voice rough with sleep.
"Hi there," Cass replied softly, smiling as Lis tried to focus on her.
"Why aren't you in bed with me?" the blonde grumbled.
Cass chuckled. "Because I need a shower so badly I may use every drop of fresh water onboard," she replied, smiling as Lis pressed her own hand against Cass' to hold it against her cheek. "I'll only be a few minutes, I promise."
"Good," Lis said, closing her eyes again. "Because I want to feel your skin against mine." She smiled beatifically, knowing full well what effect her words would have on the security chief.
Cass swallowed. She tingled in places she'd thought had fallen asleep days earlier. "Oh my," she murmured, unsurprised by the sleepy chuckle that provoked from the blonde. "I'll be right back," she whispered, leaning forward to brush a kiss against Lis' forehead.
Cass padded into the bathroom, shedding clothes as she went. A couple of muttered commands to the computer later and she was standing under a steaming shower of water. She closed her eyes, letting the flow cascade over her. She ached from head to foot, but under the physical discomfort and bone weariness was another, unfamiliar feeling.
I'm happy, she realized. I have someone to come home to. Someone is lying in my bed, waiting for me to tell her about my day. Brilliant blue eyes blinked away drops of water. What an awesome feeling, she thought, a grin splitting her angular features. I'd put it down to blind luck, but I had to wait so long, be so god damn patient ... I'm going to put it down to destiny instead, she decided. Quickly she began soaping herself, delighting in the process of ridding herself of almost three days of dirt and grime.
One last rinse washed out the remains of the shampoo and Cass turned off the shower with a word. Warm air filled the cubicle and she reached for the towel, drying herself quickly.
The shower had refreshed her and it was with a reawakened sense of anticipation that she walked quietly back into the bedroom. The small figure under the sheet was motionless and Cass suspected Lis had drifted back to sleep. She smiled softly and lifted the corner of the bedclothes. Carefully she slid in, her body craving the warmth of close contact with the naked woman next to her.
Cass rested her head on her hand as she leaned on her elbow, watching the quiet rise and fall of Lis' breathing.
I can't not touch her any longer, she thought. Tentatively she reached out, stroking the blonde hair gently. Lis murmured in her sleep and Cass moved closer, sliding her hand down the older woman's side under the sheet, her palm tingling as she discovered bare skin.
Lis sighed as Cass' hand trailed a soft circle across her belly. She snuggled back against the taller woman, reveling in the feel of warm, naked skin against her back. Her fingers found Cassie's and tangled with them as she pulled her lover even closer.
Cass inhaled deeply, sucking in the clean, sweet smell of Lis' hair as she buried her face in the blonde tresses. She explored further, finding the edge of a pink ear and kissing it softly.
Lis felt goose bumps rising on her skin as Cassie's warm breath tickled.
"It's good to be home," the dark-haired woman murmured, her voice a soft rumble that sent vibrations down Lis' spine in an entirely pleasant manner.
"Mmmmmm," she answered. "It feels good to have you back, too." She emphasized her point by snuggling back even further into Cass' lap, adoring the feel of her lover's strong arms around her and even stronger legs behind her.
Cass dipped her head a little, trailing a line of tiny kisses from the point of Lis' shoulder to the nape of her neck. She smiled a little as she felt a tremor of shivers work through the compact frame tucked against her.
"Cold, sweetheart?" she teased.
"Hardly," Lis answered happily, turning her head slightly so Cass could see the tiny smile on her lips. "You're just hitting all my trigger points." She caught the twinkle in the blue eyes above her. "And you know it too, don't you?"
"Mhmmmmm," drawled Cass, who made her point again by gently nuzzling the soft spot just under Lis' ear.
"Ohhh, wicked woman," Lis whispered on a ragged breath, provoking a deep, throaty chuckle from her lover. The blonde sighed and lifted her arm, turning and sliding in Cass' embrace until she was on her back with the younger woman tucked in the crook of her arm. "Let me look at you," she said, suddenly overwhelmed by the urge to make sure Cass was truly unhurt by her adventures.
Cass pushed herself up enough to rest on her elbow, knowing Lis well enough to let her reassure herself. Lis passed gentle fingers across her face, touching each scrape and bruise tenderly. Her fingertips rested on the worst of them, a purpling egg over her left eyebrow, legacy of her tussle with the drones.
"Sore?" Lis asked softly.
Cass nodded slowly. "A little," she murmured. "I've got a couple of bruised ribs too, I think," she volunteered. "But they're not too bad," she hurriedly added, seeing the concern in the gentle green eyes looking up at her.
Lis' fingers trailed along her jaw slowly then tipped Cassie's chin up, exposing her neck and the two tell-tale puncture marks there. A chill went through her as she faced the evidence of how close her soulmate had come to being assimilated.
Cass calmly let her explore the wounds with her fingertips, watching tears well up.
"I'm okay," she whispered.
"I ... I know," Lis stammered. "It just scares the hell out of me that they got that close." She reached up, kissing each puncture mark softly. Cass closed her eyes against the up-swell of emotion that threatened her composure.
"They only just broke the surface," she said, trying to sound casual about it. "And then Seven performed her party trick and they just dropped me."
Lis looked at her wonderingly, trying to imagine the scene. "You must have been scared." She pressed her left hand palm down against Cass' breastbone, trying to feel her lover's heartbeat.
Cass just shrugged.
"Wasn't much I could do about it," she answered quietly. "I felt more helpless and frustrated than anything else." She paused, covering Lis' hand with her own. "And all I could see was your face. I remember feeling really angry that we weren't going to get any time together." She smiled against the finger that was pressing on her lips suddenly.
"It didn't happen," Lis said. "So let's not even go there."
Cass nodded. "Fine by me," she replied, smiling down at the blonde. "Like I said, it's good to be home."
Lis pulled her down into an all-enveloping hug, dark hair tangling with gold as Cass tucked herself under the older woman's chin. She rubbed gentle circles over the smooth skin of Cass' back, loving the feel of steely muscles just under the satiny surface. The lanky body relaxed on top of her and she breathed in slowly, absorbing their closeness through every pore.
"Janeway told me to take a couple of days off," Cass said. "Is there any chance you can too?"
Lis smiled and squeezed her gently. "I think I can arrange that," she answered. She felt Cassie's hand slide along her side slowly, gasping slightly as long fingers cupped the curve of her breast. Cass smiled at the response and brushed against the soft skin in a teasing caress.
"I used to dream about being in this position with you," Cass whispered. "And now here we are." Lis' arms tightened around her. "So many nights I would fall asleep holding the pillow, trying to remember what it felt like to be holding you instead."
Lis closed her eyes, listening to the remnants of lost loneliness in her lover's voice.
"I feel very lucky," she finally said, her voice ragged with unshed tears. "I had no right to expect you to wait. But you did anyway."
Cass lifted her head a little, resting her chin on Lis' chest as she gazed at her.
"I didn't feel like I had much in the way of options," she replied. "I don't mean that the way it sounds. I mean ..." She paused, searching for the right words. "I figured I had two choices. I could keep loving you, finding ways to survive while I waited for you. Or I could just curl up and be miserable and useless for anything and anybody." Lis nodded in understanding. "I tried the second one for a while, and it made me ... a lesser person ... somehow."
Lis smiled at her, tangling her fingers in the disheveled bangs at Cassie's temple.
"Ugh, I think my brain is fried," Cass said. "That didn't make a lot of sense, did it?"
"It made perfect sense, love."
Cass laid her head back down and snuggled closer, running a lazy finger down Lis' midline from the base of her neck to her belly button.
"You are so soft," she murmured. Her fingers continued to explore and Lis found herself focusing almost completely on the trail of sensation tingling in their wake. She knew they were both too tired to take things much further, but there was something so delicious and sensual in the smallest of shared touches.
Cass drifted in a languid half-awake state. Lis' arms cradled her, and her body pillowed her. She had never felt so safe. Years of solitude slid away from her like an un-needed old skin, leaving a rawness that she had no hesitation in trusting to Lis' care.
"I love you," she mumbled, feeling the exhaustion wash through her.
Lis smiled, kissing the top of her head.
"I love you too, sweetheart." The long body pressed against her relaxed totally. Lis smiled into the candlelight, feeling her own breathing and heart rate matching the sleeping woman in her arms. She dropped another kiss on the dark head. "Goodnight my warrior."
The skin against her cheek was smooth and soft. Cass shifted slightly, brushing against the velvety surface blissfully. She was barely awake, aware of the rhythmic movement of Lis' gentle breathing, and she kept her eyes closed, letting her other senses take over. Where her skin met Lis' she sucked up the warmth, fingertips moving slightly in barely-there touches. She was cradled against the smaller woman's right side, her long leg thrown across Lis' thighs, and her arm similarly flung over her stomach.
Fingers trailed along the sleeping blonde's ribs, tracing the lines and curves. Cass floated, half awake, absorbing the feel of the body under her through every nerve ending. A delicious tingling infused her and she moved again, pressing herself against Lis' hip. She turned her head slightly, kissing the satin-soft skin her lips found. It felt so good she decided to do it again, this time trailing her mouth across the soft curves of Lis' breast, dropping tiny kisses as she went.
Mmmmmm more, her slowly awakening mind begged. Cass pushed herself up, shifting so she was above Lis. Gently she dropped her thigh between the blonde's, unsurprised when the slumbering woman's legs parted to accommodate her. Cass smiled softly, wanting nothing more than to wake her lover the best possible way. Slowly she lowered herself, pressing against the warm compact frame beneath her until she was resting on her elbows. For the first time she opened her eyes, blinking a few times till she adjusted to the dim light. She smiled down at the beautiful counselor, resisting the urge to wake her more conventionally.
Instead she dipped her head, returning her attention Lis' breasts. She kissed a line down her breastbone, nuzzling the familiar curves with her nose as she went. Her hands cupped the outsides of the soft mounds and she slid her thumbs across twin peaks that were growing taller even as Lis slept on. Cass smiled again, loving the feel of the blonde's unconscious responses. Unable to resist any longer she kissed a nipple, drawing it slowly into her mouth even as her fingers continued to tease its sister.
Cass lost herself in the sensations, delighting in the pebbling against her tongue and fingertips. She moaned softly around the nipple she suckled, lavishing it with swirls and nibbles, feeling her own body respond with increasing heat. I've waited so long to love her like this, she thought, wondering at the intensity of her physical response to touching the blonde.
Lis came to consciousness in a surge of sensuality that drew a ragged, breathy gasp from her lips even as her eyes fluttered open. Warm wetness surrounded one breast, while fingers tugged teasingly at the other. It was as if Cassie was tightening an invisible wire that wound Lis' desire higher and higher.
The blonde knew she was moving - hips undulating up against Cass - knew she had done nothing to start the motion, and knew she wanted nothing more than to continue the sweet pressure building as she pressed rhythmically against the strength of Cassie's thigh.
As Cass groaned around her nipple, Lis felt the vibrations and shuddered.
"God," she muttered, sliding her hands into the long, dark hair that splashed across her chest, almost completely hiding Cass' face. "Come up here," she implored, pulling the younger woman up gently but insistently.
Cass tore her mouth from Lis' breast and slid upwards, relishing the blonde's sudden jerking response as her thigh pressed even tighter against Lis' warm, wet centre. Hungry, dark blue eyes met half-lidded, aroused green ones before the two women fell into the deepest of open kisses, devouring each other in their need for intimate contact, so long held in check.
Their bodies were now moving in concert, sliding and pressing, rocking and rubbing in a slow dance of give and take.
Cass broke the kiss first, breathless. Lis' fingers tangled in her hair, letting her draw breath before tugging her down again to draw her bottom lip into another nibbling kiss.
"This is the most wonderful wake-up call I've ever had, Lt," Lis whispered on a ragged breath as Cass ducked her head again to lay a trail of kisses on the blonde's neck.
"I woke up wanting you," the dark-haired woman growled, her lust-husky voice sending chills down Lis' spine.
"Mmmmmm I know what you mean," Lis replied, letting her hands wander down the strong muscles on either side of Cassie's spine till she found the dip in the small of her back, one of Cass' most sensitive spots. Fingertips circled and pressed and she felt Cass shuddering against her as they rocked each other.
"Don't stop," Cass crooned close to her ear. Lis heard the heightened desire in her voice and felt her own aching response, like a direct line to her groin.
"God, I love the sound of you," she murmured, finding Cass' ear lobe with the tip of her tongue and biting down on it gently. The younger woman's response was a low moan that proved Lis' point, sparking them into more frantic motion.
"Please don't stop," Lis breathed. "This is just ..." she gasped again as Cass' leg created just the right amount of friction is just the right spot. "... just p-perfect ... ohhhhhh."
Cass took a long shuddering breath, her body begging to go faster, but she knew slow would be best in the long run for them both if she could just stay patient.
"You feel so good," she groaned. "So, so wet." Knowing Lis wasn't alone as she slid easily against the older woman's smooth thigh.
"Ride me sweetheart," Lis urged, remembering how her lover adored being given permission to let herself go. "Take what you need, my love."
"Ohhhhhh, god Lissy." An irresistible tide began to rise in Cass as they skidded against each, the pace quickening despite her best endeavors to slow down. "I don't think I ... can ... w-wait any longer," she gasped.
"Don't," Lis responded quickly. "Don't wait, angel. Just let it take you. Please."
Cass surrendered to the wave of sensation that began to ripple outwards from her core. She shuddered and thrust against the warm sexiness of the womanin her arms. At its peak the climax tore a cry from her lips as she let go all semblance of control.
Lis watched the ecstasy on her lover's face and allowed the erotic charge of the moment to work its magic on her own body's responses. Her release exploded seconds after Cassie's. Through the haze of sensation she was half-aware of the dark-haired woman's arms wrapping around her, cradling her as she let the spasms take her.
As they lay panting and helpless in each other's embrace their eyes met in the gentlest of connections.
"I love you," Lis whispered, brushing a perspiration-soaked lock of dark hair back from Cassie's eyes with a shaky hand.
"I love you," Cass responded, feeling the missing pieces of her soul clicking back into place.
"Hungry?" Lis asked, laughing at the sexily quirked eyebrow that was Cass' only response. "For food, Cassandra," she chided playfully, blowing a raspberry against the smooth surface of the younger woman's belly.
"Mmmmmm, yes I think I am," Cass replied. She felt far too languid to move however, content to just absorb the gentle explorations of Lissy's fingers and lips as they lay tangled in the middle of the bed.
"Could I interest you in a champagne breakfast?"
"Sounds unspeakably decadent," Cass said, very much liking the idea.
"It does, doesn't it," grinned Lis as she slid off the end of the bed and padded out to the living area, interested blue eyes watching her naked form avidly. Despite not being invited, Bagheera leapt up onto the mattress from nowhere, meowing his way up to where his mistress' head lay on the pillow.
"Hello boy cat," Cass purred, running her fingers along his back as he arched into her touch. "Things are working out wonderfully, Baggie," she whispered confidentially to the feline, who at least looked like he was listening. He wandered closer, bumping his head against her forehead in greeting. "She loves me," Cass said, burying her face against his neck fur. "Can you believe that?"
Further feline conversation was interrupted by the reappearance of the blonde. In one hand she held a bottle of champagne by the neck, as well as two long-stemmed glasses. In the other she balanced a platter of fruits and cheeses. Lis stepped up onto the bed and walked to the centre of the large mattress, folding her legs under her as she dropped into a sitting position.
"Hello Bagheera," she said as the big black cat immediately turned his back on Cass in favor of the interesting smells coming from the tray the blonde had placed on the mattress. "Go away, furball," she ordered, distracting him with a grape tossed onto the floor. "Here you go," she said to Cass, handing the tall form next to her one of the glasses.
"Champagne breakfast, eh?" Cass accepted it and slowly sat up, wincing slightly at the stiffness in her side from her bruised ribs.
"Well, we are celebrating aren't we?" Lis replied as she poured the chilled and frothy liquid.
"Oh yes," Cass murmured as their eyes met again in a mutual caress.
The blonde finished filling their glasses and carefully placed the bottle on the floor before turning back to her lover.
"To us," she said, clinking her glass against Cass'.
"To us," Cass murmured in response. She watched as Lis took a sip. "Yours looks tastier than mine," she said suddenly, grinning at the blonde's quizzical look. Before Lis could swallow Cass darted in and kissed her, parting champagne-flavored lips with the tip of her tongue.
"Unnnnnnnnghhhh," Lis groaned, opening willingly, tingling as she felt the liquid pass between them. "Keep that up and it may be a champagne lunch," she murmured, secretly delighted at the prospect.
She watched with half-lidded eyes as Cass took a mouthful from her own glass, then Lis moved in to take the sweet liquid back. Cass wrapped her free hand around the smaller woman's waist as they kissed, pulling Lis down as she leaned back against the pillows. Champagne dribbled from Lis' glass as she pressed against her lover, the fluid splashing down onto Cass' chest, its coldness making her gasp.
"Mmmmmm, sorry about that," Lis murmured. "Allow me." She ducked her head, licking at the droplets of champagne sprinkled across Cass' full breasts. Never one to miss an opportunity she captured a nipple in her teeth, provoking a sharp gasp from the younger woman.
"Oh, you are a wicked, wicked woman," Cass growled. Quickly she downed the rest of her champagne before tossing the glass aside. She hesitated, then, noticing Lis was totally absorbed in her clean-up task, took the blonde's glass as well, and gave it the same treatment. Breakfast be damned, she thought as she wrapped her arms around her lover and pulled her even closer.
An hour later they came up for air again.
"Ugh," said Cass.
"What's wrong?" came the breathless response from somewhere near her knees.
"I'm lying in the fruit," Cass replied, picking a slice of mango from where it nestled between her breasts. Lis giggled. "By the way ... you were right," Cass murmured lazily, planting a kiss on Lis' ankle.
"We are very, very good at this."
Lis laughed again. She licked her lips, relishing the unmistakable taste of her lover which lingered there.
"Yes. Yes we are," she agreed. "And the good news is we'll only get better with practice."
"I hate to tell you this, but I don't think I have the energy to practice anymore," she said, glancing back over her shoulder at her lover.
"Mmmmmm me neither," Lis concurred, grinning up at the ceiling. "Maybe we should just spend the rest of the day right here, recovering."
"No argument from me," Cass replied, reaching back to tickle the back of Lis' thigh.
The blonde squirmed away, giggling.
"Well, that got you moving," Cass laughed.
The computer chirped.
"Incoming communication request from Captain Janeway," said the impersonal voice.
They looked at each other, mutually impressed by the commanding officer's respect for the privacy request they had logged with the computer. Janeway could have easily overridden it.
"Go ahead, Captain," Cass said calmly, hoping like hell the ship wasn't in the throes of yet another damned inconvenient crisis.
"Forgive the intrusion, ladies," came the characteristically husky voice of their captain. The women raised their eyebrows at Janeway's confidence that they were both there. "Annika and I were wondering if you would like to come to dinner in our quarters this evening."
"We'd love to, Captain," Lis piped up, deciding that whatever the assumption, she was over being uncomfortable about it. Cass grinned at her, understanding the unspoken line they had just crossed.
"We look forward to seeing you about 1900 hours then," Janeway replied.
"Should we bring anything, Captain?" Cass asked.
"Not a thing, Lt. Just manage to get yourselves dressed," Janeway said dryly. They could hear Seven chuckling in the background. "We'll do the rest."
The connection dropped out and the two women stared at each other, both blushing.
"Hidden cameras, I swear," Cass muttered as the blonde curled up in silent laughter.
"Cassie ... ohhhhhh Cassie," Lis implored, her hands clenching around the bed sheets as her lover nudged her closer and closer to the brink. The blonde was on her stomach, back arched as she rested on her elbows. Cass was supporting her with a strong right hand which was conveniently well-positioned to torment her already sensitized breasts. The dark-haired woman was sprawled across Lis' back, nibbling tantalizingly on the blonde's neck as her other hand performed a variety of wickedly teasing maneuvers. "Ohhhhhh goddddddd ..."
Cass smiled against the soft skin of Lis' neck, adoring the feel of the smaller woman's ever more frantic movements under her. She kept up her fingers' relentless motions against Lis' most sensitive spots, noting the rising tension in the compact body.
"I love how you move," she whispered in Lis' ear. She knew her lover was close to being oblivious to anything but the rhythms of her passion. Small whimpers and gasps answered her and Cass renewed her efforts, teasing and gently coaxing Lis onward. They rocked together, Cass' fingers dictating the pace before Lis stiffened and cried out as her lover slid strongly inside her.
"I've got you," Cass soothed as the blonde collapsed in her arms, tears streaking flushed cheeks. "I've got you, my love." She cradled Lis close, shifting so she could cuddle her face to face.
"God," Lis murmured, her fingers tangling feebly in Cass' long, dark hair. "What you do to me, woman."
Cass smiled and ducked her head, kissing away the salty tears.
"It only seems fair," she whispered. "You've been doing it to me all day long."
Lis chuckled weakly, her face nestled into the warm cocoon of Cass' arms and neck. "I'm never letting you go again," she answered, suddenly needing to let her younger lover know how important she was.
"Mmmmmmmm, even if you wanted to I wouldn't let you," Cass answered lightly. "Never again, sweetheart," she murmured. "I never want to be without you again."
Lis lifted her head, gazing up into gentle blue eyes. "I adore you," she said, reaching up to claim Cass' willing lips.
"How could you not?" Cass said smugly after they broke off. "I am entirely irresistible."
"Brat." Lis snuggled in deeper, feeling a wave of lassitude forcing her eyes closed. "Do we have time for a nap?" she muttered.
Cass yawned, then rested her cheek on the blonde head.
"Mhmmmmm," she drawled. She began humming softly, letting her pleasant, but barely-used alto wend through a lullaby her grandmother had sung to her many years earlier.
"Oh I love when you do that," Lissy said sleepily, unable to keep her eyes open any longer.
"Only for you," Cass whispered, smiling as she felt the blonde relax completely as sleep overtook her. "Only for you."
"We're going to be late," Lis called out as she fiddled with her ear-ring. It was a jade and pearl setting that set off the color of her eyes and she was pleased with the effect. She half-smiled at her reflection and turned away as Cass walked back into the room.
"I'm sure the captain's not going to court-martial us over a few minutes," the tall woman said calmly as she adjusted her belt. She looked up and caught the slightly dazed expression on the counselor's face. "What's wrong?" she asked.
Lis shook her head and grinned.
"Not a thing," she answered. "I was just suddenly struck by how incredibly beautiful you are." She chuckled as a blush rose quickly on Cass' angular cheeks. "That color really suits you," Lis said, stepping forward and tugging softly on the electric blue silk shirt Cass was tucking into black pants.
"Um ... thanks," Cass answered awkwardly, clearing her throat. Never good at accepting compliments, she opted to move onto safer ground. "You look pretty gorgeous yourself," she said, smiling down at the blonde, whose simple pale green dress showed off her toned arms and legs perfectly.
Lis stood on tiptoes, lightly brushing her lips across her lover's.
"Thank you sweetheart," she said. "Are we ready to go?"
Cass stepped towards the door, then turned towards Lis and held out her hand. Lis smiled and took it in her own, absorbing the strength and warmth of Cass' fingers with a happy sigh. The door hissed open and they stepped together into the corridor.
"Kind of announcing it to the world, eh?" Lis said softly as they walked hand in hand towards the turbolift.
"It's about time, don't you think?" Cass answered, nodding at an ensign who did a double-take as she passed the couple.
"It's more than fine by me, sweetheart," she answered, squeezing Cass' hand gently. They stepped into the 'lift together.
"Deck five," Cass directed the computer softly as they stood gazing at each other for long silent seconds. Cass reached out and cupped Lis' cheek,smiling as the blonde leaned into the touch. "I didn't think it was possible to be this happy," she murmured. "Tell me this isn't a dream?"
Lis turned slightly, kissing the tall woman's palm.
"No dream, darling, I promise."
The 'lift stopped before they were expecting it to, and the doors slid open, admitting B'elanna Torres and Tina Roberts. Both women were also dressed in casual, elegant civvies.
Cass raised an eyebrow.
"Hello, you two," she said. "Where are you headed?"
"Same place you are, Lt," she answered with a grin. "I get the feeling Seven has a new recipe she needs to try out on a few guinea pigs." They all laughed as the turbolift resumed, soon depositing them on the right floor. Together the two couples sauntered down the corridor towards the captain's quarters.
"Actually, I think it's much more significant than just a cooking experiment," Lis mused. Cass looked down at her.
"Being married to Seven has really opened up the Captain's social life," the counselor continued. "Think about it. We've had more invitations to dinner since the wedding than in the entire journey before that. She's realized that she can still be the authority she needs to be without isolating herself from the crew. That's been a big step for her." Lis looked at the other three women, watching as they all absorbed that piece of theory.
"Makes sense," she answered quietly. "I've never really understood that whole captain-must-stay-separate-from-the-crew thing anyway." She shrugged. "I know I'd walk through walls for her, regardless of whether she was my friend off-duty."
They rounded a corner, turning down a quiet corridor that was home to the captain's quarters.
Lis looked across at Tina and recognized the anxiety on the young woman's face. The ensign caught her eye and shrugged.
"I'm a little nervous," she admitted. B'elanna moved closer, throwing an arm around her slightly shorter partner's shoulders.
"Relax, hon. The Cap's just a big old softie under all that attitude," the chief engineer said.
"Well, I wouldn't put it quite like that," came an instantly recognizable husky voice from a nearby doorway. Janeway looked at her four dinner guests with an elegant brow raised over a grey gaze that bordered on steely.
B'elanna began stammering an apology which the captain tolerated for about five seconds.
"Stow it, Lt," she said dryly. She turned to the ensign. "Welcome, Tina," she said, breaking into a wide smile. "These three will tell you that life inside my quarters is one thing, and quite apart from life when we're on duty. So relax, and come on in."
"Damn, Seven, that was fantastic," exclaimed B'elanna, patting her very full belly contentedly.
"Thank you," said the ex-Borg, who was looking a long way from drone-like. Her almost white blonde hair was loose, flowing over her shoulders. She was wearing a pale blue, loose-fitting shirt over a dark-grey mini-skirt that didn't leave much to the imagination. And there wasn't a woman in the room who wasn't appreciating the beauty of the tall young woman.
Especially Kathryn, Cass thought, smiling at the completely besotted expression on the redhead's face as Seven moved around the table clearing the dishes from the main course.
It had been an exceptionally pleasant evening so far, full of happy conversation and laughter. Seven's newly-acquired culinary skills had risen to the occasion and they had been plied with three delicious courses so far. Vichyssoise, followed by a monumental seven-layer salad, and then angel-hair pasta with a creamy seafood sauce to die for.
Cass was wondering what the etiquette books said about loosening the top button of your pants during a formal dinner when a hand crept onto her thigh and gently squeezed her above the knee. Sparkling green eyes smiled at her.
"Doing okay?" Lis whispered as other conversations went on around them.
"Mhmmmmm," Cass answered, smiling. "I'm just stuffed to the gills. How about you?"
"Oh I paced myself," the blonde replied smugly. "I'm ready for dessert."
Seven chose that moment to place an enormous chocolate cake in the centre of the dinner table. A collective groan greeted its arrival.
"Is there something wrong?" Seven asked, perplexed by the response, and she sought out her partner for clarification.
Janeway laughed kindly.
"Not at all, sweetheart. It looks divine," she reassured. "We're just all a little full, that's all."
"I'm not," piped up Lis, grinning. "Bring it on."
"Perhaps we should have coffee and liqueur first," Seven suggested.
"Sounds like a plan, darling," Kathryn agreed, getting up to help her wife with the coffee cups and glasses.
Cass looked across the table at B'elanna.
"So did you two sort out your accommodation problem?" she asked.
Tina shook her head.
"Not yet," she answered. "And my roommate is driving us nuts."
Cass glanced at Lis. They had spent part of the day discussing their own living arrangements and had come to a couple of conclusions. She raised an eyebrow at her lover and received an answering nod.
"Well, we may actually have a solution for you," Cass said, turning back to smile at B'elanna and Tina.
"Tell us do," the chief engineer urged.
Cass took Lis' hand and they rested their clasped hands on the table.
"We've decided to move in together," the blonde said happily.
"Wooooohoooooo," exclaimed B'elanna, applauding.
"Congratulations," Seven said with the half-smile that counted as a Borg grin.
"All good things come to those who wait," Kathryn said softly, walking behind Cass and Lis and placing a hand on each woman's shoulder. "That's terrific news, you two."
"Thanks," Cass murmured, lost in the sea-green eyes that gazed back at her. "Anyway .." She shook herself back to the conversation, blushing at the grinning faces around the table. "For obvious reasons ... um ..."
"We've decided not to set up house in my quarters," Lis finished for her. "So we're going to apply for new double quarters." She looked enquiringly at her commanding officer.
"I can't see any problem," Kathryn said. "I'll talk to Chakotay about it in the morning."
"Thanks," Lis said.
"So," continued Cass. "That leaves Lis' old quarters and my place free." She looked at B'elanna and Tina and grinned. "My quarters are bigger than yours, B. So now you two have the big decision to make." She chuckled as the two women glanced at each other, both blushing and speechless. "What's it gonna be, huh?"
"Tch." Lis playfully slapped her taller partner's shoulder. "Don't tease them, Cassie."
Janeway finished pouring them each a glass of Grand Marnier to go with their coffee.
"It sounds to me like we have a lot to celebrate tonight," she said quietly, smiling at her crew members. My friends, she amended. She raised her glass, deciding a toast was definitely in order.
"You two," she tipped her head at B'elanna and Tina. "Are starting something that could be the most important thing in your lives." The two women smiled at each other.
"You two," Kathryn nodded at Cass and Lis. "Have finally found each other again after a quite extraordinary journey. You deserve all the happiness you can get."
"Hear, hear," B'elanna agreed quietly. Cass lifted their clasped hands to her lips and kissed them softly as Lis smiled at her.
"And we two ..." Janeway reached out and took Seven's hand, pulling her wife down into the seat next to her. She leaned in, claiming a tender kiss. "We are pregnant."
Stunned silence greeted the news even as Seven blushed prettily.
"Wow," said Cass, finally. "That ... is totally ... AWESOME!!"
Pandemonium broke out as everyone tried to congratulate Seven and Kathryn at once. Laughing, the captain shushed them all.
"A toast, ladies," she said, lifting her glass again, and waiting till everyone had done the same. "To the infinite possibilities life offers."
Cass and Lis held each other's gaze for an endless moment of love.
"Infinite possibilities," they murmured, touching their glasses together.
Page updated October 30, 2002.