The rain fell across the yard rippling like sheets on a clothesline in a firm breeze. She pulled on the stubborn old barn door, closing it enough so they could watch the rain yet not get soaked.
"Can we go to the house, Katie, please? I don't like it in here."
She looked at the girl behind her, arms clasped across her chest, anxiety and longing playing over her face. Taller than Katie and thin, her pale long legs bare except for blue jean cut-offs and old sneakers. Otherwise, she was wearing only a white tanktop and her arms were pebbled with goose bumps. The wind had whipped her blond bangs into her eyes and she was shivering. The rest of her hair was pulled into a loose, untidy ponytail that extended down her back. When she turned her face to the light from the outside, her eyes were revealed as large and blue above a straight patrician nose and a mouth which seemed too large for her face. That mouth was turned down at the corners now in discomfort.
"Are you cold?" She wasn't sure why this amused her, yet it did.
"You told me we would hang out in your room, not the stinky old barn. My mother will be so mad at me if I get all wet."
She looked her up and down. "You can put on something of mine," she paused then was unable to resist adding: "I don't know why you're so wimpy anyway!"
"I am not!" Now the girl was indignant and she dropped her arms from her chest making fists of her hands. Katie's eyes went to her breasts and she noticed they were much larger than her own, round and full. She felt jealousy and a stab of something else.
"Well let's see then," she pulled the door back enough for them to fit through. "Are you ready to run?" Before the girl could answer, she took off for the house, dodging over and around puddles, and skidding in the mud. When she made the verandah,taking the steps two at a time, she turned to watch the girl splash through a puddle before she too climbed the steps.
They stood there together breathing hard as the rain continued to fall across the yard between house and barn and a low rumble of thunder made its way across the sky. She looked at the girl, rain running down her face, soaked through her shirt and reached up to push the stray hair out of her eyes. Those eyes now were alive, bright with enjoyment.
"Fun, wasn't it?" she laughed, joy coursing through her body. She was keyed up with energy and it crackled in her like the lightening that snapped above the corn field. "Come on," she sprang toward the screen door."Let's get in before we get hit!"
They pulled off their muddy sneakers and left them on the porch. Once inside and standing at the bottom of the stairs, she noticed the girl's eyes had grown big with fear again. "I'm just kidding!" Katie punched her in the arm before bounding up the stairs.
She took two towels from the bathroom and joined her friend in her bedroom. The girl was standing with her arms crossed over her chest again, waiting and dripping. She rubbed her own hair with one towel and left it draped over her shoulder. The other she held but didn't give to the girl. "I'll dry you off," she said and felt herself tingling with teenage anticipation.
She stood without moving, only turning her head so Katie could reach to dry her hair. And Katie took her sweet time revelling in the feeling having control of this simple task gave her.
"You are so short!" the girl said with a sharp laugh.
"I am not!" Katie didn't like having the mood broken, her mood. She felt herself frowning. "At least I don't have great big boobs like you do!" She tried to make the remark bite, but the thought of those breasts was far from revolting. In fact, all she could think of was running her hands over them and watching the girl's reaction. She had pictured a scene similar to this many times before and now, when it was happening, she wouldn't let it slip away. "Take your top off."
The girl looked at her for a moment knowingly, then she complied and tugged off the white tanktop. Katie tried hard not to stare as she moved in very close with the towel, but she was aware of the girl smirking as she passed the soft cotton up and down her arms and across her back.
She is so beautiful! I almost can't breathe when I'm this close to her. Is this what love is all about? Turning blue from lack of oxygen because a girl is too gorgeous to let you draw air?
"I know all about you Katie Janeway!"
She froze, the towel poised just below the taller girl's chin. Katie drew in a sharp breath, but when she looked into the girl's eyes, they sparkled with playfulness.
"What do you know?" she stepped back and kept their eyes locked, trying hard to betray no expression. "Who told you what?"
With a quick, teasing shake of her head, the girl smiled broadly and Katie almost fell over. "I heard ..." she began, drawing out each syllable. "You like to invite girls to your room to play."
"Why, yes I do," Katie said, ever so serious. "Most girls like to play with my Barbie dolls."
"I'll just bet they do!" The girl was smirking, but she made no move to leave or even budge from in front of Katie.
Feeling the power stream through her in a rush of heat, Katie seized the moment. "I have lots of very pretty dolls but none of them are as pretty as you." With one step she moved to stand centimetres in front of the girl and extended her arms around her waist. She was still smirking, but as Katie trailed her fingers up her smooth, cool back, the girl bit her lip. Up her back, over her shoulders and across her chest. But she did not touch the obvious; instead she passed her fingertips down her arms to where her hands rested, lightly holding Katie's waist.
"Do you have many fancy lines like that?"
"Zillions." Katie flicked her eyebrows upward. Holding the hands at her waist, she leaned inward and upward ever so slowly until her mouth came in contact with those full lips. Heavenly, Katie thought as she kissed her. Her gut clenched and an ache began in the middle of her chest. She felt the girl's hands at the back of her shorts pulling her T-shirt free but she did not want to break the kiss to help take it off, instead she continued to kiss and be kissed running her eager tongue along the girl's upper lip. Eventually, the hands were too insistent and she stepped back to allow her shirt to be yanked off. But only for a moment did she relinquish control, for when the wet garment was free of her skin, she strode forward purposefully and pushed the girl backward onto her bed.
She covered the body with her own and seized both of her hands to push above her head.
"Do you still want to play with me, Seven?"
A door slammed somewhere below in the house and a voice called. "Katie! Katie!" And then more urgently, "Kathryn Janeway! Are you in this house!"
"Oh God, not now." She rolled over to her back as the computer said again in its pleasant voice: the time is now oh-six-hundred hours.
For a long moment she lay still, awake but remaining in the dream. She could feel Seven of Nine's beautiful, expressive lips against hers, could taste the kiss. Her back arched and she groaned. It was so perfect.
I could kiss that mouth forever!
Even as she tried to hold on to it, the dreamís intensity began to fade and she became aware of herself lying in her bed, alone and becoming very frustrated.
Oh my, Katie! How long has it been since you felt so aroused? She's there in your waking moments and all over you in your dreams. And what a dream! So damn real it's like I can still feel it. I kissed a girl like that once in my room. Her name was Suzanne and she was the first person I ever kissed. Lord, how I want Seven of Nine to be the next.
B'Elanna Torres strode into the messhall and up to the row of beverage dispensers. She nodded to Neelix behind the counter as she drew a mug of hot coffee.
"Good morning Chief Engineer," the Talaxian smiled cheerily. "Another fine day for dilithium matrix adjustments, isn't it?"
She bit back a tart reply and said with a touch of humour, "As good a day as any ever was." My work is never done. She scanned the room for Tom as she took her first sip.
He was absent from any table, so she walked over to where Captain Janeway was sitting, a mug clutched between her hands.
"Mind if I join you?"
The Klingon part of her rebelled at the formality, preferring she sit regardless. She can always punch you out of your chair if she doesn't want you there, her Klingon half growled. When Janeway nodded and she slipped into the chair, she did so with a touch of a smile on her face. She had begun to truly embrace her strong, if somewhat rude side, and, held up to the bright light of day-to-day human interaction, she could almost find fun in it.
"You seem happy with yourself this morning, B'Elanna."
She let the smile open completely and answered, "Sometimes the Klingon warrior in me thinks the silliest things, but it no longer makes me feel like breaking things."
Janeway raised her eyebrows and looked at Torres over her mug. "This is a good thing," she tried to say it seriously, but they both laughed lightly. "Now a Borg-Klingon mix would concern me."
"Ha!" Torres snorted. "Then when I broke things, I would break them efficiently!"
They both laughed again. "How is our resident efficiency drone doing these days in astrometrics? I miss her happy banter around engineering."
The relationship between the half Klingon and half Borg had never been comfortable. They clashed almost anytime they were near each other. Seven might be methodical and very efficient, but Torres's passion and drive had kept the ship together on more than one occasion. As she was speaking frankly, Torres added, "Oh and I hear she beat you at Velocity last night."
"She did." Janeway's smile was wry. "And I'm sure she could give you a hand in engineering if you really need it."
The engineer inclined her head. "No, you keep her where she is, out of my hair." She reached over to pick at a bit of biscuit on Janeway's tray.
"You know it's really too bad you two can't try to be friends." Janeway sat straighter and regarded the casual Torres. "She's really not that bad once you get to know her."
Is that so? Torres thought. The woman can't make friends. She drives them away with a stick. You of all people know what it's like to come up against her Borg willfulness.
Janeway was watching her, patiently waiting for some sort of answer.
Torres sighed. "I don't know what you see in her, how you can be so patient. Sometimes I think she's more stubborn than I am. And rude! She just says whatever comes into her mind most times. Isn't the Doctor supposed to be working with her on manners? But then, that's a fine teacher to have."
Janeway shook her head slightly. "But think about it B'Elanna," she began. "She was assimilated at age six. She never had the chance to learn all the courtesy and manners you and I did. Wait," Janeway held up a hand. "I take that back. I should say all the courtesy and manners I learned and you sort of learned."
Torres gazed at her captain levelly then snickered. "Touche, Captain." She inclined her head again. "But you're right, I know. She's a virgin when it comes to everything."
"Interesting turn of phrase." Janeway leaned her elbows on the table, crossing her arms and resting her chin on one wrist.
"It's true though. In her defence, I can't begin to imagine what it would be like to be six years old one day, then to wake up to reality as a grown woman the next." She paused, then added, "All that grown woman. Just think what must be going on in her."
Strange, Janeway thought. It always occurred to me to think about what isn't going on in her mind, not what might be.
"Do you think?" Janeway said a bit to earnestly and Torres looked at her quizzically.
"I don't know, Captain, really. But unless the Borg drained every hormone from her body, she can hardly help but think of it once in a while. I mean she must be at least a bit curious."
Curious yes, but does it appeal to her? Does she think about what it would feel like to touch someone? To be touched? To have me run my hands down her sides and across those slim hips? To let me hold her, her chin tucked into my shoulder?
" ... man on the ship would like to know." Torres had been speaking and Janeway realized she had missed most of it.
"What?" she felt her face colour with embarrassment at what had distracted her. Torres didn't repeat her words, she was looking at Janeway so intently. Then, suddenly, she drew in a deep breath and her back straightened.
"Oh, I see now. I understand."
"Understand what?" Janeway wouldn't give in that easily.
Torres took a quick look around and leaned closer. "You're attracted to her."
Oh, no! Was it that obvious? Do I have a sign around my neck saying I want to get in Seven of Nine's bodysuit?
Torres must have read her stricken look because she said softly. "Don't worry about it, Kathryn. It's understandable. You've been her mentor; offered yourself to her unconditionally when the rest of us would have screamed in frustration." Janeway was looking away, not meeting her eyes. "And you're due. This trip hasn't been any less hard on you than on any of the rest of us," she was speaking passionately now. She had wanted to say these things to her captain for so long, ever since she had come so close with Chakotay and especially since she had received her letter from home.
"We don't expect you to lock yourself up in an ivory tower," Torres continued. "You're as human as anyone else." She wanted to reach out and touch Janeway's hand, but the Captain was sitting sideways now, closed and unreachable.
But the Borg Babe? Torres found herself thinking the term some of the men on the ship used to describe Seven in a not so complimentary fashion.
You could do better.
But Seven couldn't.
Janeway was still looking away when her communicator beeped.
"Report," Captain Janeway strode off the turbolift.
The Gamma shift officer stood up from the command chair. "Captain, long range sensors have located something interesting," He gestured to the main viewer, which was displaying an asteroid field, the coordinates of which were only slightly off their flight path. A red icon blinked from near the center.
"A ship?" Commander Chakotay descended the steps and joined the Captain in the command area.
"It seems to be, Commander. We can't tell much right now except that it's dead in the water, no life signs, at least at this distance." He saved the best for last, "And it's warp capable; we're picking up an antimatter signature."
"Antimatter?" The captain's interest was piqued and she looked at her second officer. "A little goes a long way."
"That would make B'Elanna's day," he nodded.
Janeway took a couple steps forward to stand behind the helm. "Ensign, set a course so we swing by that asteroid field. Close enough so we can have a better look, but not to close so we have to dodge rocks."
Four hours later, better readings were coming in and Janeway went to astrometrics to have a closer look. Walking down the corridor she felt a sweet pleasure at the thought of seeing Seven of Nine.
In a tight, white tanktop...
The door swished open and Seven looked up from her console.
Janeway allowed her eyes to travel past the tall woman to the multidimensional display. It never ceased to strike her how beautiful the representations of stars, planets and other celestial bodies could be. She wondered if Seven saw the beauty ... or if she ever would.
"The planetoids in this system are rich in many minerals in which Voyager is deficient." Seven manipulated controls and the perspective rotated, colours flashing and descriptions scrolling near some of the asteroids. Reading through the listing, Janeway was pleased, but the ship interested her more.
"Can you determine anything more about the ship?" Having just come from the bridge, she knew as much as Ensign Kim, the operations officer, could find, but she wanted to hear Seven's input.
To hear her talk, Katie? Or do you think she might have more?
"Very little," she kept her eyes on the console. "Alloy hull. Warp drive of unknown specifications but utilizing antimatter power. The technology is unimpressive."
"Not worth the bother?" Janeway raised her eyebrows.
"I do not believe so." Seven hesitated a moment then continued. "There appears to be only a small amount of un-degraded antimatter and, with no life signs, there will be no one there to converse with either."
Janeway chuckled, moving to stand with Seven behind the controls. "I need to satisfy my curiosity."
"Perhaps," Seven only looked at the Captain
"I know what you're thinking, " Janeway smiled. "Another useless personality trait."
"No. I am beginning to understand more about personality. And you have proven to me the value of feelings like intuition." She squared her shoulders and faced the captain directly. "I believe there are advantages to understanding my human feelings and I wish to investigate this further."
Janeway felt herself strain to draw a breath. "And continue our conversation from last night?"
"Yes. It has been ... on my mind." Though her voice was level, inflection only on the last unlikely phrase, her eyes hinted at something else. The Captain was not sure what.
"Please join me in my quarters at nineteen hundred hours."
"The time is acceptable. I will engage in regeneration previous to our meeting."
Good. You be ready. We have lots to talk about.
The first thing he saw was the blood. Dried, dark brown, it pooled out from under the body of the humanoid lying only a metre from the spot where they beamed in. Chakotay exchanged a glance with Torres beside him before cueing the communicator on his environmental suit.
"Captain, I think I know what happened to the crew."
The carnage was not confined to the bridge of the alien ship; almost every space they explored had been touched with violence. After recovering from the shock, Chakotay sent Torres and Kim aft to the engine areas and he and Tuvok explored individually.
"I believe they have been dead for some time." Chakotay was listening as Tuvok reported back to Voyager. "Life support systems have only recently failed, as the deck surfaces do not show much ice build up."
The door yielded to a strong shove from his shoulder and the first officer entered a small, dim cabin. He played his wrist-light over the sparse furnishings, picking out a bed, a cabinet with many strange objects, and a desk.
"I believe I have found the data storage system. It appears to contain logs, charts and system configurations. I will attempt to retrieve helpful information," Tuvok was saying.
A dead alien sat at the desk, eyes open and staring into the hereafter, a large energy burn on its chest. When he approached closer, the humanoid's features seemed to him to be female.
"Mr. Kim. If you are finished in engineering, will you give Tuvok a hand." The Captain's voice sounded in his ears but Chakotay was hardly listening. His eyes had been drawn to a beautiful statue on the desk near the alien's outstretched, dead hand.
"Aye, Captain. On my way."
It was so intricate, so complex ... so incredibly real. When he leaned down very close to look into its face it opened its eyes.
"Really, Chakotay. I'm a physician, not a wildlife biologist!"
He held it perched on the arm of the environmental suit he still wore. It was not big, just slightly taller than his hand; elegant in symmetry with wings swept back and held to its sides, tail fanned behind. But it was the eyes that engaged you. Round, green and expressive, they seemed to see far beyond simple forms.
The Doctor, of course, was oblivious to this. As he passed the probe of the tricorder near the creature, it opened its beak and let out a low hiss.
"Hummph!" he palmed the probe. "Have you informed the ..."
The door to sickbay breezed open and Captain Janeway entered. The creature on Chakotay's wrist rotated its head to place its calm gaze on her, and she stopped dead in her tracks.
She was gliding through a dark forest. Around her the trees closed in, dark but not threatening. She felt absolute control of her environment. Aware. Then she was standing on Voyager's bridge her hands resting confidently on her hips. In absolute authority and without any force to usurp that power. Aware of the people around her and the confidence in her ability they held ...
With effort she forced herself back and it left her somewhat disoriented.
"Captain," the Doctor was speaking. "I was just going to inform Commander Chakotay that he should consult with you before starting his own zoo."
Quickly regaining her equilibrium she ignored him, instead focussing on the creature.
"Isn't she just," Chakotay beamed and they both stared.
The Doctor would not be unheard. "It's an owl!"
The hydroponics lab had developed into a small arboretum area with lush green growth, vines, flowers and small trees.
"It should be comfortable here," Janeway said watching the little owl as it paced along a branch. "It's the closest thing we have to a boreal forest."
"I would be more comfortable with her in my quarters."
She looked at him surprised. Surprised, she realized, that he would wish the creature to himself, away from where she could see it, and dismayed that he would question her decision to bring it here. But that's irrational! It's a living creature, belongs to no one but itself. And here it is with no explanation as to how it could survive on that ship, surrounded by death.
She felt herself shudder.
"It will be safe here, Chakotay. We shouldn't be doing anything until we find out more about it." He didn't say anything, just stared for a moment then turned to leave.
At eighteen thirty hours the last of the easily accessible and needed minerals had been mined from the asteroids and Voyager had resumed course. Janeway was intending to go to her quarters when she found herself passing through the doorway to hydroponics.
She could not see the creature, hidden as it was against the trunk of a tree, but she could feel its presence. That presence gave her a sense of restrained power and complete confidence. She enjoyed the feeling immensely.
"Captain, it is nineteen hundred hours." Seven of Nine spoke at her elbow startling her.
She hadn't heard her enter. "Do you have some duty more important than meeting me?"
"No, not really. I was just checking on our guest."
The closeness of the ex-Borg seemed even more acute here in Voyager's tiny forest and when she looked at her, Janeway felt desire flow. She wanted to tell her, right then and there, so strong was her confidence, but Seven had been distracted.
With her Borg implanted left eye she could catch the movement as the creature turned its head to look at her, but it did not take enhancement to see the glow of those eyes.
She caught her breath.
The powerful beat of her wings stirred the air but did not make a sound. The rodent could not hear her coming, was completely unaware until her talons struck. The task was accomplished quickly and efficiently. She swooped upward into the night sky toward the moon shining bright and lovely to her. She was at peace with the beauty surrounding her. Green light glowed around her as she paced heavily along the grating toward the relay matrix. Her focus unswerving, intent on the task ahead, but she could not help her mind from following the patterns in the light, tracing the contours of the intricate conduits. Aware. Aware of the function and the beauty.
"Seven?" Janeway's hand was on her arm, and she allowed herself to be guided to the door.
"Come on. I'll prepare us some sustenance."
By the time they reached the captain's quarters, the strange feeling she had experienced when the odd little creature had turned its green eyes on her had passed, and now she felt stronger, empowered and hyper-aware.
Janeway left her alone for several minutes and when she returned she had changed from her uniform into a white blouse, unbuttoned to the middle of her breasts with the collar turned up. Her pants were black and perfectly tailored, emphasizing her slim waist and the gentle turn of her hips.
"Those garments accentuate your body much more than the Starfleet uniform." Seven of Nine watched the older woman cross the room to the replicator terminal.
"Why thank you, Seven"
The look on her face was pleased when she withdrew two wine glasses and gestured for the ex-Borg to join her on the couch. "I didn't think you noticed such trivial things."
She didn't answer right away, as she was also noticing that Janeway had brushed her hair and it hung around her face catching the room's subtle illumination and highlighting her light brown eyes. "I do see things," her voice was unnaturally husky. "Things that please me. I just do not find a need to express it in verbal language."
"I'm surprised." Janeway sipped her wine and gestured for her guest to do the same. "I would not have thought it important to a Borg ... but a young human female ..." she let the sentence hang, secure in the knowledge Seven would follow her thinking.
"I am no longer Borg."
To Janeway, she seemed to say it as if totally convinced of the fact. Part of her took this perfectly in stride but another part was surprised.
Whoa, Nelly! What's got into her? It's you, Katie. She believes in you, she trusts you.
She will follow, you only need to lead.
It took a lot to resist that intense urge. The urge that wanted her to take Seven's hand and guide her to the bedroom.
I can't just do this. It means so much to me what she feels, what she wants.
"Then you are becoming human?"
"I am having human emotions. Most of them occur to me when I am with you."
Janeway pursed her lips to try to hide the excitement that swelled through her but she knew she could not hide the colour that came into her cheeks. "You are blushing, Captain."
"Please, Seven, call me by my first name. It's acceptable when we are alone like this."
She took the wine glasses to the replicator to be refilled, belatedly noticing that both were empty.
"You like the wine?" She handed the young woman her glass and settled back on the couch, one leg tucked under her. Seven still sat somewhat rigidly, although she was leaning slightly toward Janeway, presumably with interest.
Seven held the glass in front of her, enjoying how the light refracted through the pale liquid.
"It is pungent ... but I find effects intriguing."
Janeway started. "I forgot about the synthehol content! I'm sorry, I don't intend to get you intoxicated."
Yeah right you don't.
After taking a long sip, Seven spoke, "If the effect of synthehol is to make me sleepy, the Doctor will be very pleased."
"Sleep, Seven?" the captain was intrigued. "Are you becoming less dependent on your alcove?"
"Yes, it would appear so. Today I was unable to sustain my regeneration cycle for more than fifteen minutes." She took a deep breath and almost seemed to yawn. Janeway watched in wonder. "It was to be expected. My need for sleep also coincides with the increased frequency of my dreams."
Dreams? I wonder if she dreams of me as I do of her?
"The Doctor wishes that I sleep, but as of yet I have no place to do this ... thing."
Janeway was on her feet before she knew what struck her, reaching for Seven's hand and leading her to the bedroom.
What am I doing? This isn't like me!
Go with it Katie.
"This is your bed," Seven stopped but did not release the captain's hand. "There is a connotation to my being in your bed, a sexual connotation."
Close and very serious, Janeway sought to reassure her. "I would never force you to do anything you did not want to, Annika. Yet I must be honest with you, the idea appeals to me very much. It would please me if it appealed to you as well."
Seven of Nine, ex-drone of the Borg Collective, took a long time to answer, choosing her words carefully. "Perhaps it does appeal to me."
Janeway drew in a sharp breath.
"I am ... uneasy with this form of expression," Seven continued. "Though being near you, and close to you, as I am now, makes my aloneness seem forgotten."
And the loneliness haunts her, I know. Janeway remembered that day in the Brig when she had sought to comfort Seven after the evolving Kes had thwarted her attempt to contact the Collective. What was it she said?
'One, one, I am one ... but I cannot function this way ... alone.'
"You may find your peace when you share the joy of two, love, but you must walk that path on your own as one."
With care, and the newfound awareness of the effect her action would cause in the woman standing close to her, Seven removed her tight fitting brown outfit and her footwear. Janeway drew back the covers of her bed and she slipped inside, turning her face to the Captain.
For a long time Kathryn Janeway sat and watched the most intriguing, vulnerable, beautiful woman she had ever known, sleep.
For the first time in her adult life.