cate3221

Chapter 3

Cass sprinted down the long wide corridor, willing the three crewmates in front of her to move a little faster. She had dropped behind to protect their backs from the chasing pack, stopping and turning every now and then to get off a few phaser shots in defense. Then she would hustle to catch up to the rest of the away team. The foursome pounded through the hallways, desperately searching for a way out of the labyrinth.

Captain Janeway, the ship’s counselor, Lis Dayton and Cass’ security deputy Ray Morgan rounded the next corner and came skidding to a halt. Cass, three paces behind, spun on her heel, firing off a series of shots before slipping around the corner, where she just prevented herself from slamming into Janeway’s back.

“What’s wrong?” she said breathlessly.

“Dead end,” the captain replied tersely, pushing an errant lock of her auburn hair back behind her ear.

Shit, thought Cass. When the hell did this away mission start to go pear-shaped?

It had all seemed benign enough a week ago when Voyager had limped into this system after a brutal encounter with the Viidians. In need of repairs and supplies the crew had made contact with the Sherrina, the inhabitants of an M-class planet very similar to Earth. The Sherrina were not as technically advanced as the Federation, but had seemed an open-minded and intelligent race who had initially welcomed Voyager with open arms.

But it had all been downhill from there. Janeway had insisted on dickering with the Sherrina personally. As usual,Cass thought ruefully. And she had taken along Lis, who had proven herself to be a more than competent negotiator over the two years they had so far spent trying to get home from the Delta Quadrant.

It was only on Cass’ insistence that Janeway had allowed the two security officers along for the ride. But everything had seemed to go well early – even Nick hadn’t objected to his wife spending a few days on an away mission with her.

Be fair, Cass. Things have been a lot better the last six months or so,she acknowledged.

But after an exchange of pleasantries with Sherrina negotiations had broken down to the point where they bordered on farce.

So here we are, thought Cass. Trapped in a dead end corridor with no working transporter, no shuttle, no way out, and a pack of armed aliens on our backsides. Fabulous.

She peeked back around the corner, taking satisfaction in picking off one of the Sherrina with one precise phaser shot as he came into view. One down, only about 16 million to go,she thought.

“Janeway to Voyager.” The captain tried again to establish contact with Chakotay, who was holding the fort on board the ship, high in orbit above the planet. Nothing but crackling and static answered. “All right, let’s get organized,” Janeway muttered.

Lis stood bent over at the hips, hands resting on her knees as she caught her breath. Damn, she thought. If we get out of this I’ve got to get some more exercise. She pushed herself upright and looked around at her colleagues. Janeway was, as ever, calm and calculating. Lis could almost see her brain spinning as she looked for a way out of this mess. Cass and Lt Morgan were occupied with holding off the Sherrina, using the corner they had just come around as an effective shield. For the moment, at least, Lis thought. We can’t defend this position forever.

“Captain,” she said. Cool, grey eyes turned on her. “Do you think we can still talk our way out of this?”

“I don’t think we have much choice at this point, Dr,” the captain replied ruefully. “Come on, let’s explore this corridor a little more while we have the chance.”

Janeway set off at a jog down the middle of the long, wide hallway. Lis drew her phaser, hefting its unfamiliar weight in her hand. She glanced back at Cass and Morgan, noting the tall woman’s confident stance and the aura of focus surrounding her. There was even a half-smile on her face. There’s a part of her that loves every minute of this,Lis realized. She shook her head and set off after the captain.

The corridor, like the rest of the huge palace in which they had spent the last two days, was spectacular to say the least. The ceiling was high above them and the walls were lined with rich artwork, tapestries and murals. Massive marble pillars lined the hallway in pairs. The Starfleet officers’ footsteps echoed in the vast space.

Janeway had already reached the end of the cul-de-sac by the time Lis caught up with her. The diminutive commanding officer was running her hands over the wall, trying to find a hidden doorway. She turned away in disgusted frustration.

“These people need a lesson in architecture,” she muttered. “Who the hell builds a corridor that leads nowhere with no doors?”

Lis raised an eyebrow at her captain.

“These people need lessons in a lot more than architecture, Captain,” she replied. “How to be a Polite Host springs to mind as lesson number one.”

Janeway snorted an ironic laugh but before she had time for further comment she was interrupted by the rapid approach of her two security officers.

Cass hurtled across the marble floor as fast as her long powerful legs could take her. She and Morgan had held off the Sherrina as long as possible but reinforcements had arrived and before too long there had been too many targets and too little time to aim.

She slid to a halt near the captain, Morgan a couple of paces behind her.

“Trouble,” she panted. “Lots of trouble.”

Janeway nodded.

“All right. This is it, people. It’s time to make a stand. Right here, between these two pillars.”

Cass nodded her agreement, noting the pillars were each big enough to give shelter to two of them if needed. And they’re going to be needed, she realized grimly. These guys haven’t listened to common sense so far. No reason to think they will now that they’ve got us cornered.

“Lis, you’re with me,” Janeway ordered, taking up a position between the two pillars and slightly behind them. The psychologist moved up and stood at the captain’s right shoulder. “Cass, you and Morgan get in behind us.” Cass quelled the urge to object, but knew Janeway had her reasons. “And holster your weapons.”

That was too much. “Captain,” Cass protested.

“Do it, Lt,” Janeway growled, clipping her phaser back on her hip. “Let’s show them how we prefer to negotiate in the Federation.” She glanced back over her shoulder at the tall security chief. “Besides, you’re the fastest draw on Voyager, or so the gossip tells me.” She quirked an eyebrow at Cass’ unexpected grin. “I feel safe.”

“Me too,” murmured Lis, feeling Cass move in close behind her. It was the truth, she knew. Her ex-lover had a way of making those around her feel protected. It could have been the simple fact of her size, or her reputation as a superbly skilled fighter, but to Lis it felt much more organic. Cass just was safety, to her at least. She always had been.

Now, as Morgan mirrored his boss’ position behind Captain Janeway and the large group of Sherrina rounded the corner and stalked towards them, Lis felt waves of energy radiate off the tall presence behind her. She resisted the urge to take a step backwards and lean against Cass’ solid frame. Instead she squared her shoulders, holstered her phaser and followed Janeway’s example of calm stillness.

Cass tried to slow her rapidly beating heart as the Sherrina walked towards them, weapons drawn. She shifted onto the balls of her feet, ready to move wherever she had to in order to protect Janeway and Lis.

The leader of the Sherrina lifted a hand to stop his group’s progress, though he continued to move forward a few more paces. He was tall, like his entire race, besting Cass’ six feet by another 18 inches or so. The forehead ridges made him look almost Klingon but Cass hadn’t seen too many Klingons with horns.

“Captain Janeway,” he hissed. “Finally, you stop running.” Not even the universal translator could eliminate the strange accent that lent his voice an almost musical lilt.

Voyager’s commanding officer wasn’t impressed in the least.

“You’ve kept us against our will for almost two days,” she said quietly. “You’ve prevented us from contacting our ship, and I have every reason to believe you’ve blocked our transportation system. You’ve threatened us, shot at us and chased us. Did you expect us to just stand still?”

“We told you what we wanted, Captain,” he said. Cass watched as his men spread themselves in a line across the corridor’s width, their large rifle-like weapons held across their bodies in a posture of easy readiness. She felt her hackles rise.

“Yes, you’ve told us what you want,” Janeway replied dryly. “And I’ve already told you that simply handing over Voyager to you is not an option.”

The big commander cocked his head to one side as if he was examining an interesting specimen.

“Then you leave me no alternative,” he said finally. “I will kill your companions here one by one until you give me what you want.”

A cold smile barely touched Janeway’s face. “My officers understand the concept of the greater good, Chancellor,” she said softly, making full use of her husky voice’s ability to command attention. “Each one of them would willingly sacrifice themselves for the sake of their crewmates.” There was utter confidence in her words and the faces of her three officers backed her up completely. “So whatever you do to us won’t change the outcome, I’m afraid. Voyager is not for sale, at any price.”

Deep rumbling laughter erupted from the Sherrina leader and his underlings joined in, baring their yellowed, pointed teeth.

“That’s a very pretty sentiment, Captain,” said the Chancellor, finally, as his chuckles subsided. “But in practice my instincts tell me you won’t find watching them die something that you can tolerate for very long. We will start with the weakest.”

That’s me,thought Lis, almost before she felt Cass shifting behind her.

A subtle hand signal from the big Sherrina had alerted Cass, who used a similar set of tell-tales with her own men, and she lunged forward, twisting herself in front of Lis. At the same time the Chancellor’s second-in-command, a burly soldier with a ragged scar down the left-hand side of his face, lifted his weapon and fired it at Lis.

Cass twisted in mid-air, turning to face the blonde, her back to the oncoming projectile, shielding the smaller woman from the attack. At the periphery of her vision she was aware of Morgan making more or less the same maneuver with the captain. But searing pain in her left shoulder and a roaring in her ears blanked her mind beyond that.

Her momentum drove Lis backwards and to the side and both women slid with considerable force into the wall of the corridor, the marble pillar shielding them from the Sherrina’s fire.

Lis grimaced as her head slammed into the hard wall, Cass’ weight driving her down and holding her there. The tall woman was unmoving and it took the blonde half a second to realize why. Blood poured from a gaping wound in Cass’ back.

“Oh god, Cassie,” Lis gasped. Further thought was forestalled by the sudden appearance of Scarface around the side of the pillar. Lis grabbed the nearest phaser, which happened to be Cass’, from its holster on the wounded woman’s left hip and shot without hesitation, praying the security chief had the weapon on a high enough setting to do some good against the huge warrior. She gave silent thanks as he dropped like a rock.

Quickly she heaved Cass’ dead weight up and away a little, giving herself the chance to sit upright. She cradled her ex-lover to her chest as she continued to fire at anything that moved. Across the hall she could see Janeway and Morgan doing the same from behind their sheltering pillar.

“Captain!” Lis yelled, terrified by the huge amounts of blood pulsing out of Cass’ shoulder.

Janeway looked across at the psychologist, blanching at the sight of her security chief lying apparently lifeless in the blonde’s arms. Blood was splattering on the floor, and the captain could see that Cass’ left arm was literally hanging by a thread. She turned back in time to pick off another Sherrina, and then nailed another as he was about to round on the other two women.

Lis could smell the blood and it was almost overwhelming. She felt Cass move slightly and fired off another couple of shots before she released the dark-haired woman enough to be able to look down at her pale, clammy face.

“L-Lissy?” Confused blue eyes blinked up at her. “I-I can’t feel my arm.”

“Sshhhhh sweetheart,” Lis replied hurriedly. She ducked as a Sherrina projectile ricocheted off the pillar, scattering shards of marble in all directions. The blonde hunched over Cass, trying to protect her from the shrapnel. Two more phaser shots took out another attacker and now Lis could see that Janeway and Morgan were spreading their fire to keep her covered as well. She looked back down into tear-filled azure eyes that broke her heart. “Sweetheart you’re going to be just fine, I promise,” she said, desperately trying to reassure Cass.

“G-give me a phaser,” the hurt woman whispered.

“Don’t you worry about that now,” Lis replied. Gently she lowered Cass to the floor and quickly stripped off her own jacket. Then, with as much care as she could, she rolled Cass towards her and tried to stuff the fabric one-handed into the horrific hole in the taller woman’s back. Blood quickly soaked the cloth and she pulled Cass close again, using her arms to hold the jacket in place.

Cass looked up at her again.

“M’so c-cold, L-Lissy,” she mumbled.

Lis felt tears stinging her eyes but she mustered a wobbly smile. “I know, baby,” she replied. “I promise you’re going to be okay. Any second now we’re going to be out of here and things will be fine. Just hang in there for me, sweetheart.” She leaned down and placed a kiss on Cass’ forehead, alarmed by the cold touch of her skin against her lips.

“D-don’t leave m-me,” Cass whispered. “P-please d-don’t l-leave me.”

“I’m not going anywhere, angel,” Lis replied, pulling the security chief even closer. “Not going anywhere.” She looked over at Janeway again, meeting her steely grey gaze desperately. We’ve got to get out of here, now, she thought, trying to convey that message to the captain with her eyes. Now … or she’s going to die here in my arms.

Lis felt another movement against her chest and looked down as Cass brought her good hand up to the blonde’s face. Shaking fingers traced her lips and cheeks.

“Y-you’re c-crying,” Cass whispered, feeling Lis’ tears against her fingertips. “I m-must be in real t-trouble.” The injured woman attempted a weak smile, but another shaft of pain lanced through her and she jerked in the blonde’s arms.

“You and trouble go hand in hand Cassie, I’ve always said that,” Lis said, cradling her as carefully as she could, watching the spasms of pain work their way through Cass’ battered body. Don’t die on me sweetheart,she prayed.

Janeway desperately rebuffed the advances of a couple more Sherrina soldiers. Apart from anything else, she knew their phasers would begin to run low on power before too much longer. Looking across to the other pillar, she could see Lis had her hands full trying to keep Cass from bleeding to death. Between shots, she watched as the two women became totally absorbed in each other. In other circumstances it would have been a touching scene. Right now, it scared her to death.

“Chakotay to Janeway.”

It surprised her so much she jumped, but she quickly regained her wits. She slapped her communicator.

“Chakotay, lock on our signals and beam us directly to sickbay,” she barked.

“We’re trying Captain, but we’ve only just re-established communications. The transporters are still being blocked,” came the response from her worried-sounding First Officer.

“We need them now, Commander. Cass is badly wounded and we’re trapped in a dead end with failing power cells on our phasers.”

There was a pause.

“We’ve pinpointed their power source, Captain,” Chakotay continued. “It’s a fair bet if we target that, we’ll knock out whatever is blocking us.”

“Do it,” she shouted, ducking behind the pillar as another projectile shattered the marble near her face. Almost immediately they could hear distant explosions and rumbling as Voyager trained her weapons on the Sherrina’s stronghold. Janeway reached out a hand and felt the marble pillar vibrating with each explosion.

She glanced down at her phaser. Running low, Katie,she thought. “Morgan, you’re going to have to cover us all for a minute, while I get over there,” she indicated the other pillar, where Lis huddled against the wall with Cass hugged tight against her. Janeway handed the junior officer her phaser. “Ready?”

He nodded.

“Now.” He stood and began laying down covering fire, a phaser in each hand. Janeway crouched down and then launched herself across the wide open hallway, tucking and rolling. She prayed her momentum would carry her far enough and it did. Just.

She slid into Cass, trying not to think about the pool of blood she’d come through, preferring to focus on the unused phaser on the ground. Janeway grabbed it and came up shooting, taking the legs out from under the Sherrina approaching Morgan’s position.

Lis pulled Cass’ now limp body even closer, trying to give Janeway as much room as possible. She looked down at the younger woman’s pale face and swallowed the terror that rose up as she saw Cass had lapsed into unconsciousness. Hesitantly she placed fingers against the pulse point in her neck, only breathing again when she detected a faint and erratic beat.

Hang in there love, she begged internally. You’ve managed so far, just keep breathing for me. We’ve come so far, Cassie, don’t give up on us now.She knew she should be helping the captain to defend her position but something inside told her it was Cass who needed her the most right now.

Janeway noticed Morgan dropping one of the phasers as its power cell died and she glanced over her shoulder at Lis.

“Your phaser, Dr,” she barked.

“I can’t let her go, Captain,” Lis replied. “I think I’m the only thing …” she swallowed. “H-her arm is …”

Janeway turned for a closer look and felt her stomach lurch at the sight. Lis hadn’t been exaggerating. The damage to Cass’ shoulder was clearly devastating. Shattered bones were visible and the limb would have hung lifelessly if the blonde did not have her own arms wrapped tightly around Cass’ otherwise solid frame. Lis had her lips pressed to the unconscious woman’s forehead and was rocking them both back and forth gently.

She’s in almost as much shock as Cass, Janeway thought. Not surprising considering their history.

The captain reached across and pulled Lis’ phaser off her hip, then turned and tossed it towards Morgan’s position, the weapon skittering across the marble. The big man quickly scooped it up and resumed his double-handed defense of both positions.

The building rattled ominously as a particularly large explosion shook the foundations. Large pieces of masonry were beginning to fall from the walls and ceiling as Voyager’s onslaught continued. Janeway knew they couldn’t last much longer. It wouldn’t be too long before the Sherrina realized they only needed to be brave enough to send in a large group instead of ones and twos and the Federation officers would be overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Stoically she continued to pick them off one by one as they came into range. Come on, Chakotay.

Lis knew Cass was near death. Dark, blood-matted hair framed a face that was pale and cold. Her breathing was shallow and irregular, her pulse rapid and uneven. She was losing blood less quickly now, but Lis knew that was a mixed blessing. It meant there was very little left to lose.

Oh god, Cassie, don’t leave me please, she prayed, rocking her ex-lover back and forth gently as she clutched her close. We’ve come too far to lose each other now. She thought back over the last 18 months in which they had been able to forge a strong friendship despite their history. Nick had settled into a wary acceptance, and even though he still tended towards bouts of insecurity and distrust about Cass, he had come to tolerate the friendship. Lis had watched Cass grow closer to Ensign Tina Roberts and had learned to accept that there was always going to be a part of herself that hurt when she saw them together. We’re meant to be in each other’s lives, she thought, pressing her cheek to Cass’. Don’t make me have to go on without you, please.

She didn’t care anymore about the Sherrina. Janeway will take care of it, a small part of her mind said. Or she won’t. All that matters is Cass. Staying connected with Cass.

As if on cue, Cass began jerking in her arms, spasms ripping through her broken body as the stress she was under took its toll on her systems. Lis fought frantically to keep her from doing any further damage to herself, but the convulsions washed through Cass like an avalanche of pain.

At the same time another huge explosion rocked the building. Janeway braced herself against the pillar, the cool of the marble penetrating the layers of her uniform. She risked a peek around its considerable girth and what she saw prompted a curse that would have made an engineer blush. A large group of Sherrina was forming up to make what she guessed would be one final push at the group of trapped Starfleet officers.

We’re in trouble Katie, she thought angrily. Unless Chakotay comes up with something in the next half-minute, we’re in deep, deep trouble. Even as the thought formed in her mind she felt the trickling sensation as the transporter beam found her and began to tug her away. Yes. Thank you, Voyager.

She looked around quickly, noting that Morgan, Lis and Cass were also starting to dematerialize. Just get us to sickbay,she thought, watching the devastating spasms torture her security chief.

Lis was oblivious to their imminent rescue. As the jerking continued Cass regained consciousness, blue eyes flying wide open in sheer agony. The blonde fell into their azure depths, feeling every stab of pain with her. She clung on as tightly as she could, willing Cass to hang on.

The transporter dumped them all in the middle of sickbay, where the Doctor and Kes were waiting. Janeway quickly moved to Cass’ side, crouching as she placed a hand on Lis’ shoulder.

“Lis, let the Doctor take her now,” she said softly, alarmed by the desperate way in which the small blonde clung to her mortally wounded ex-lover. Cass’ eyes were open but it didn’t take a brain surgeon to see the security chief was close to death. “Lis, come on now.”

“Allow me Captain,” the holographic medical officer said as he reached over Lis’ shoulder and placed a hypospray against Cass’ neck. The soft hiss could be heard as he administered what Janeway hoped was a powerful painkiller. She watched as the dark-haired woman’s spasm-wracked body relaxed noticeably.

“Don’t leave me, don’t leave me,” sobbed Lis over and over, as she planted soft kisses all over Cass’ forehead and face.

For once the normally acerbic Doctor showed the gentler side of his program, kneeling close to the stricken woman and prying her hands away from his patient.

“Dr Dayton, I promise you Lt Lansdown won’t be going anywhere. But I do need to get her into surgery.” Lis turned confused green eyes on him.

She didn’t even realize we were back on Voyager,thought Janeway.

“Now, Dr,” the EMH insisted.

With a nod, Lis relinquished her grip on Cass and Morgan, Kes and the Doctor gently lifted the tall woman onto the nearest surgical biobed. Janeway stepped closer to Lis and threw her arm around the blonde’s shoulder.

“She’s in good hands,” she said quietly, watching as Kes and the Doctor hurriedly worked on Cass to stabilize her life signs.

“I’m not leaving,” Lis whispered. “I’m not leaving her.”

“I understand,” said the Captain. “I’m not asking you to.”

“Chakotay to Janeway.” She hit her communicator impatiently.

“Janeway here.”

“The Sherrina are coming after us, Captain,” said her First Officer. “We need you here on the bridge.”

“On my way,” she replied tersely. She turned back to her ship’s counselor. “Are you going to be all right?” she asked.

Lis nodded mutely, her gaze transfixed on a drop of blood which hung from the tip of Cass’ little finger. “I’m not leaving her.”

*****************************

Lis had no idea how long she had been standing there. Janeway had left and it had seemed like hours since the Doctor had starting operating on Cass, but she had no real way of telling. All she knew was the steady beeping of electronic equipment monitoring Cass’s frail life signs and the quiet instructions and comments passing between the EMH and Kes as they worked. For Lis, time stood still.

She didn’t notice Janeway returning, the Sherrina summarily dispatched and outrun. Nor did she pay attention when Ensign Tina Roberts came in at a jog. The pretty young officer stood with Janeway, who told her what she could about Cass’ condition. And neither did she notice when her husband walked into the room.

Nick Standish hurried into the sickbay and was brought up short by the sight in front of him. Blood was everywhere on the floor of the room, and he could see the Doctor and Kes working frantically on the figure on the biobed. For a heart-stopping moment he thought it might have been his wife being operated on, but then he caught sight of the forlorn blonde figure standing in a corner. Lis was hugging herself and was visibly trembling, her eyes fixed on the injured woman. She was covered in blood, her uniform and hands stained. Quickly he moved to her side.

“Lis are you hurt?” he asked anxiously, sweeping his eyes over her. She shook her head wordlessly. “Are you sure? There’s blood all over you.”

“It’s not mine,” she murmured, her eyes unblinking.

“Come on then, let’s get you home so you can get out of those clothes and get some sleep.” He stepped in front of her and placed his hands on her shoulders, momentarily obstructing her view of the bed where Cass lay. She blinked once and stepped to one side, determined not to let the dark-haired woman out of her sight. “Lis, come on now,” he tried again, once more stepping in front of her. This time he took her arms more firmly and pulled her in the direction of the doorway. “She’s in good hands. Let’s go.”

Lis wrenched herself away. “I’m not leaving her.”

Nick was completely perplexed. He took her hand and again tried to pull her away. “Look, come on,” he persisted. “There’s nothing you can do here.” This time he yanked her more forcefully and she pulled back just as hard, stubbornly holding her position.

“You two are becoming quite the distraction,” came the dry voice of the Doctor. “Stay or leave, but make a decision quickly. We’re trying to do delicate work here and neither of you are helping at the moment.” While his voice maintained its normal programmed calm, the EMH was working desperately hard, his hands and expert eye roving all over Cass’ injuries.

“I’m staying,” Lis said quietly, maintaining her vigil.

Nick scratched his head. He could see utterly no reason for Lis staying in sickbay. Like everyone else on Voyager he had heard what had transpired down on the planet and he was glad everyone was safe. But now he wanted his wife back in their quarters so he could look after her. The fact it was Cass Lansdown on the operating table didn’t surprise him. She had always been reckless and prone to taking unnecessary risks as far as he was concerned. He’d come to have a grudging respect for the woman’s courage and so far at least, she had kept her word about staying away from Lis. He’d been more than fair when it had come to allowing Lis to maintain some kind of passing friendship with the woman.

But there was no reason for his wife to take this kind of responsibility for her.

“Let me take you home and we can talk about what happened.” He wrapped an arm around her shoulder and attempted to bodily move her towards the door.

After all the fear and tension of the day, her husband’s forceful tone was the last straw and Lis finally snapped. She twisted away violently and whirled on him, eyes blazing into his. They were full of a fierce intensity that set him back on his heels. He had never seen her like this.

“Leave me alone!” Lis shouted, pressing her hands against his chest and pushing him away. “I’m staying here with her, Nick! I’m not leaving her. Just leave me alone.”

Embarrassed by his wife’s outburst in front of other officers, not to mention the captain herself, Nick moved in closer, trying to shush her.

“Don’t tell me to be quiet,” she said through gritted teeth. “She saved my life, don’t you understand? Despite what I did to her, she put herself in danger for me. She’s there, on that table, because of me.”

Nick moved forward again, even as she kept him at arm’s distance.

“She was just doing her job, Lis,” he said, mortified by his inability to calm her down.

“NO! That’s not how it was,” Lis cried, tears flowing freely as her emotions finally bubbled over. “You don’t understand about us. You’ve never understood and you never will!”

“Captain,” the EMH called out. “Either calm her down, or get her out of my sickbay, or I will sedate her.”

This is getting entirely out of hand, Janeway thought, reluctantly moving towards her distressed crew member. Remind me again why I wanted to be a Starfleet captain? Save me from my officers’ private lives.

“Dr Standish,” she said quietly as she walked up behind the exobiologist. “I think, under the circumstances, it would be best to let Lis do what she wants to do.”

The baffled and hurt man turned to her, confusion all over his face. “Is that an order, Captain?”

Lord.“No, Nick, but clearly this is where she wants to be. She’s safe here and there’s no point in upsetting her further.” She looked at him and raised an expressive eyebrow. “Unless you plan on throwing her over your shoulder and carrying her out?” she asked dryly.

“N-no … no, of course not,” he muttered, humiliated by the entire incident. He looked over at Lis who had resumed her watching stance.

Janeway leaned closer to the scientist and dropped her voice even lower. “She’s in shock. This really is probably the best place for her. Let the Doctor sedate her and then she can get a good night’s rest. I’m sure tomorrow everything will be a whole lot better for everyone.”

Flushed, he nodded and with one last glimpse at his wife, Nick turned and walked out of the sickbay, the door hissing closed behind him.

How on earth did those two ever get together, Janeway wondered. Hush, Katie,she chastised herself.

The captain turned back and noticed Ensign Roberts looking more than uncertain where she stood on the opposite side of the sickbay from Lis. Oh for … Janeway rolled her eyes and sent out a silent prayer to the universe. More complications.

She walked back and placed a gentle hand on the young woman’s upper arm.

“Are you all right, Ensign?” she asked quietly.

Tina glanced up at her captain timidly. She’d only had the briefest of conversations with her commanding officer before and she was finding the diminutive redhead every bit as intimidating up close as she was from the lower decks.

“I-I think so, Captain, yes,” she replied hesitantly. A few more pieces of the puzzle that was Cass Lansdown had fallen into place. “I just learned more about Lt Lansdown in 10 minutes than I have in the two years we’ve been seeing each other,” she remarked ruefully.

Why doesn’t that surprise me,Janeway thought to herself. “Ahhh,” she said out loud. “Well, when she recovers, you’re going to have some talking to do,” she added, not unkindly. Tina nodded, her instincts telling her that wasn’t going to be a conversation she would enjoy.

“She is going to recover, then?” she asked, looking at Janeway for reassurance.

“Yes, she is,” came the Doctor’s voice as he stepped away from the operating table. Because he was a hologram, the EMH didn’t need to wear the sterile clothing that Kes was draped in – in fact he looked more like he’d come from a tense game of chess than a life-saving operation. Showing surprising sensitivity he walked over to Lis first.

“H-how is she?” the blonde asked, the tears still evident in her ragged voice.

“She’s going to need quite a long recovery time but I fully expect her to be back to normal given rest,” he said with a slightly smug smile.

“Her arm?” Janeway asked.

“Actually that was the easiest thing to solve,” he said brightly. “That was just mechanical damage, easily reconstructed. No, the major problems were the blood loss and the damage to her lung. She lost almost the total volume of blood in her system. That’s going to take some time to build back up even with the transfusions we’ve given her and the metabolic enhancers. The lung is another thing altogether.” He led all three women over to a computer console above Cass’ biobed and pushed a few buttons. He pointed at the diagram displayed on the screen.

“The weapon the Sherrina used was a primitive form of laser technology that causes a catastrophic mini-explosion, if you will, on contact.” Lis bit her bottom lip anxiously. “When Lt Lansdown was hit,” the Doctor continued. “That explosion destroyed her shoulder joint but also seared the inside of her lung. I’ve done what I can to repair the damage but the rest is up to her, I’m afraid.”

Janeway glanced at Lis, who looked like she was having trouble absorbing all the details. “But the bottom line is, she’s going to recover fully. Correct, Doctor?”

“Absolutely, given time and sufficient rest,” he replied. “The biggest thing we need to watch for is the possibility of infection in her lung, but the next 24 hours should tell us all about that. We’ll keep her sedated and monitor her closely until we know for certain that she’s in the clear.”

“Thank you, Dr,” said the captain. She waited until the EMH had moved away to attend to other business before she turned back to her two junior officers. Lis stood at Cass’ side, gazing down at the unconscious woman’s pale face. Slowly she leaned down and placed a gentle kiss on her ex-lover’s forehead, then brushed a lock of blood-matted hair away. Janeway half-smiled but felt huge sympathy for the confused young ensign standing next to her.

“Why do I get the feeling I’ve missed something pretty important here,” Tina murmured, watching the tender ministrations of the ship’s counselor.

Sympathetic grey eyes turned on her. “Ensign, I think you should take all of this with a grain of salt, given the circumstances. It’s been a traumatic day for everyone.” God knows, I could use about three days sleep,she thought wearily. “Don’t make any hasty decisions. Wait until you and Cass can talk things out.”

Tina nodded. “Thank you, Captain,” she said. “For getting her home safely,” she explained at Janeway’s enquiring look. “Good night.”

“Good night, Ensign,” the captain murmured as the young woman walked out of the sickbay. Now all I have to do is persuade this one to get some rest, she thought, watching Lis warily. Whatever the history between these two, their connection is very real. She watched as Cass’ good hand flexed unconsciously, grasping Lis’ hand when she placed it in the security chief’s larger one. Incredible.

For the first time in what seemed like hours, Lis felt like she could breathe again. The tight bands of tension that had wrapped themselves around her chest let go and she finally relaxed. Cass looked gravely ill but at least now she was breathing regularly, albeit with the help of sickbay’s life-support systems. Sleep deep sweetheart,she thought as she watched Cass’ long, dark eyelashes fluttering as her eyes twitched behind their lids.

Lis felt like she was emerging from her fog herself. She had vague memories of an argument with Nick. I’ll have to deal with that later, she thought. Right now I just want to concentrate on Cass. She sighed. He’s going to make me pay for that, I know. But we’re both just going to have to live with it.

A wave of fatigue swept over her and she swayed, suddenly dizzy. A hand on her elbow kept her upright and she looked up at the Doctor.

“I know what you’re going to say,” she told the EMH.

“I’m sure,” he replied dryly. “And I’m equally certain that you are going to reply with something original and witty, like ‘I’m not leaving her’.”

Lis looked from him to the quietly amused captain standing with arms folded on the other side of Cass’ biobed.

“Well, I’m not,” Lis said huffily.

“No-one’s asking you to, Counselor,” Janeway said quietly. “But you do need to get some rest.”

Before she could object the Doctor held up a hypospray.

“Lt Lansdown isn’t going to be awake for most of the next 24 hours, so you might as well use that time constructively,” he said, pressing the head of the device to the side of Lis’ neck. She opened her mouth to protest but the soft hiss of the hypospray told her it was too late anyway. Within seconds she slumped bonelessly into the Doctor’s arms and he lifted her gently onto the biobed next to Cass.

“I don’t suppose I could have one of those,” Janeway said, envious of the easy way the younger woman curled into a ball on her side, facing Cass, and slipped into sleep.

The EMH raised a sardonic eyebrow. “Trouble sleeping, Captain?” he asked.

Janeway snorted as she turned towards the exit. “Not tonight, Doctor,” she threw back over her shoulder. “It’s been a long day. A very, very long day.”

************************

The details of the dream were foggy and uncertain but one thing Cass was sure of was the pair of sea-green eyes that held her still and entranced. There was pain aplenty and a wash of red that the lucid part of Cass’ brain told her was her own blood. She felt tied down, restrained by a pair of hands. She railed against the restriction but those eyes … she drifted back into the mist of the dream, a soft and gentle voice echoing in her memories. I’m not leaving you, I’m never leaving you …

It was the middle of gamma shift and sickbay, like the rest of Voyager, was running on ‘night-time’, lights dimmed and deserted of all but skeleton staff. The ship’s chief medical officer was up and about, but that was hardly surprising, being a hologram.

This night the EMH had only two patients. Cass was out cold on the surgical biobed, held in place by restraining bands which would stop her doing further damage to her newly reconstructed shoulder. On the next bed over, Lis lay curled in a tight ball, her face turned towards Cass. She was deeply, profoundly asleep.

The Doctor wandered around sickbay, monitoring Cass’ vital signs, making slight adjustments to her medication, stimulating the healing mechanisms in her shoulder and lung. As he worked he hummed quietly, a Puccini aria here, a Gilbert and Sullivan refrain there.

Cass swam up through the layers of sedation and pain, trying to find a way to consciousness. It was like walking through successive curtains of cobwebs. Finally blue eyes blinked open.

Ugh. Did someone get the number of the shuttle that ran me over?Gingerly she tried to move, but a lancing pain brought her up short and she gasped.

“Ah, ah, ah, Lt,” said the Doctor, coming up on her left and standing over her. “No moving please.” She opened her mouth to speak and he wagged a finger at her. “And no talking either. Just let the machinery do your breathing for you.” He correctly interpreted her enquiring look. “No doubt you have a lot of questions. Why don’t I try and answer them for you?”

Relieved to find she could at least move her right arm, Cass raised her hand to silence him. Painfully she turned her head to the right and watched the beautiful blonde breathing deeply and rhythmically on the bed next to her. She pointed at Lis and looked back at the Doctor.

“She’s fine, Lt,” he said, understanding her concern. “She’s just exhausted.” He smiled knowingly, like a child with a secret. “You know, she wouldn’t let go of you until she was sure you were safe. It caused quite the scene when her husband showed up.”

Cass closed her eyes tight, wincing against that piece of gossip. Great. That’s all she needs. Me hurt and Nick on a tear. A wave of drowsiness and low-grade throbbing pain washed through her. Can’t do anything about that now, she thought through the fog. Just gotta sleep. A tiny smile touched her lips. She didn’t leave me …

The EMH smiled smugly, happy that his handiwork was progressing nicely. He glanced over at the counselor. The dose he had given her had been just enough to put her out, and should have worn off hours ago. Pure exhaustion was keeping her asleep now. Best thing for her,he thought as he draped a light blanket over the blonde.

************************************

Lis awoke with a jerk. She was stiff and sore but the sight her eyes opened to made her forget all that. Cass’ sleeping face looked infinitely healthier than it had. There was some color in her cheeks again and her expression was peaceful. Lis threw off the blanket and eased her way off the biobed. She moved to Cass’ side and brushed her fingertips across the younger woman’s cheek. She breathed a sigh of relief at the warmth she felt there, shuddering as she remembered the deathly cold that was there before.

Lis looked up at the Doctor’s approach.

“She’s doing very well, Counselor,” he said with a smile. “Even if I do say so myself. There’s no sign of infection and everything is progressing as it should.”

Lis nodded. “How long will you keep her under sedation?”

“At least the rest of the day, I should think,” he replied, running his fingers over the control panel of the biobed’s sensor array. He glanced at Lis. “She woke in the middle of the night, asking after you,” he said casually.

The blonde didn’t take her eyes off Cass’ sleeping face.

“Did you tell her I was fine?” she asked quietly.

“Yes,” he answered. “That’s when she fell asleep again.”

“Good,” Lis murmured. She looked down at her hands, noticing the bloodstains on them for the first time. And my uniform too,she realized. “I’d like to be here when she wakes up.”

“I’ll let you know,” he replied.

She smiled at the hologram, then bent down and placed a kiss on Cass’ cheek. “See you soon, sweetheart,” she whispered, before she straightened and walked out of the sickbay towards her own quarters.

The short walk gave her time to wonder just what kind of reception she was going to receive from Nick. She knew he’d been embarrassed by their conversation of the night before and she winced as she remembered pushing him away in front of the captain. She was apprehensive as the door to their quarters swished open. Her husband was sitting at the dining table, a cup of coffee in one hand and a padd in the other.

“Hello,” he said quietly as he placed both items on the table.

“Hi,” she replied. She walked over and took a seat opposite him.

“You beat me to it,” he said with a small smile. “I was just about to wander over to sickbay to see if you wanted to have breakfast with me.”

“I’d like that,” she nodded. “Do you have time to wait while I get cleaned up?”

“Sure,” he agreed. “I told Lt Kroger I needed some personal time this morning and he was fine with that.”

“Okay, good.” She stood and placed a hand on his shoulder as she walked towards their bedroom. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.” That went better than I thought it would,she thought. She threw off the soiled uniform and tossed it into the replicator’s receptacle, then programmed herself a new one and hung it in the closet ready for her next duty shift. Wearily she stepped into the shower and let the hot water do its work, as she tried not to think about the fact that it was Cass’ blood sluicing off her.

A few minutes later she was wrapped in a silk bathrobe and back in the living area. Nick put a plate of hot bacon and eggs down in front of her as he retook his seat opposite her.

“You didn’t have to do that,” she murmured, suddenly regaining her appetite as the tempting smells wafted up from the plate.

“It wasn’t any trouble,” he replied quietly, watching her tucking into the food. “How’s Cass?”

She glanced up at him, trying to get a feel for his emotions. Take it on face value Lis,she decided. “Still sedated,” she replied. “But she looks a lot better than she did last night.”

“That’s good.” He caught her slightly skeptical look. “No really. I’m glad she’s going to be all right. I know she means a lot to you.”

Lis chewed slowly as she tried to interpret her husband’s mood. “I’m sorry if I embarrassed you, Nick,” she said finally. “I know you were only trying to help.”

He kept his gaze on his coffee as he contemplated his reply.

“I should be the one apologizing to you,” he said. “I shouldn’t have pushed. You had a scary day and I should have recognized that you needed to see it through to the end.” He paused to take another sip from the mug. “She means a lot to you, and I should have allowed for that as well.”

She reached across the space between them and placed her hand on his. “Thank you for understanding,” she said softly.

He smiled weakly.

“You know me, Lis,” he said, trying to make light of the situation. “I’m usually a day late and a dollar short, but I get there in the end.”

She smiled back at him, knowing it was taking a supreme effort for him to keep a hold on his more insecure emotions. He’s really trying, she thought. I don’t deserve how hard he tries sometimes.

“Can I ask you something?”

She nodded. “Mhmmmmmmmmm.”

“Why me?”

That caught her by surprise. “Why you what?”

“Sometimes I lose track of why you married me in the first place. And why you stayed with me after you met someone who means as much to you as she does.” He raised a hand to halt her usual protestations about his low self-esteem. “No, seriously, Lis,” he said. “I’m not fishing for compliments. Sometimes I genuinely wonder. And I know other people do too. Captain Janeway certainly did last night. I could almost hear her asking herself how we ever got together in the first place.”

Lis looked at his face closely. He didn’t seem to be panicking or anxious. At least no more than usual,she thought. She gave his question careful consideration, trying to find a way to explain.

“Do you remember when we were kids, Nick?” she asked finally. He looked at her enquiringly. “Remember how I always used to run to your place when things got nasty at my house?” He smiled gently and nodded. “No matter how much I was hurting, and scared … you were always there.”

They looked at each other in mutual understanding.

“He was such a bastard to you,” Nick said softly. “I could never understand that. How could a father be so angry that he would hurt his own kids?”

“You were lucky,” Lis replied. “Your parents couldn’t have been sweeter if they’d been dipped in sugar. And they never asked me any difficult questions, just fed me and let me sleep over when I needed to.”

She remembered a particularly black evening when her father had come home from another stressful day. Fuelled by the old Irish whiskey he had always preferred over synthehol, he had beaten her mother senseless, only stopping when Lis had thrown herself between her two parents. And then he had turned on her, despite her youth and small size. Eventually he had stopped long enough to refill his glass and she had escaped to Nick’s house.

“You were my safe place, Nick,” she murmured. “You loved me without ever asking me to love you in return. You were my best friend.”

He looked at her and smiled sadly. “All I ever wanted was to protect you from him. I always felt so useless because I could never stop him hurting you, only be there afterwards.”

“That was what I needed from you.”

“It wasn’t enough.”

“It was for me.”

They looked at each other again for long silent seconds.

“I was so surprised when you said yes to marrying me,” he said with a smile.

She laughed gently. “You’re always surprised when something good happens to you, Nick. That hasn’t changed.”

“True,” he agreed wryly. “Why did you say yes?”

“I loved you,” she said simply. Like a brother as it turned out, but at 18 and desperate to get away from home, who knew,she thought to herself. “You loved me, and you needed me every bit as much as I needed you.”

He nodded. “Also true.” He took another swallow of lukewarm coffee. “So why did you stay married to me?”

And here is the thing he has never understood,Lis thought. “For all the same reasons, Nick,” she said aloud. “And because I made a commitment to you that means something to me. It always will mean something to me.”

For long seconds he gazed at her and she met his look with honest, open eyes. Finally he nodded and stood, leaning over to kiss her on the forehead.

“Thank you for explaining,” he said quietly. “I’d better get moving.”

“Okay,” she agreed, smiling up at him. “Thank you for breakfast.”

He beamed down at her. “My pleasure.” He turned to leave and then thought better of it. “Oh, and tell Cass hello from me when she comes to.”

“I will,” Lis murmured as he walked out the door.

She turned back to the remains of her breakfast. Thank goodness he never summons the courage to ask why the affair with Cass ever started, she thought. I don’t think he’d find the answer to that question as palatable. She chewed on a piece of bacon. Which, of course, is why he doesn’t ask.

Cass.

She sighed and remembered the awful dread that had washed over her as she had held the mortally wounded security chief in her arms for what had felt like long, desperate hours.

She’s my soulmate. The one I’m supposed to be with. The one I’ve been with over and over again through time. I’m sure of it. And Nick – he is my soulmate too, but in a far different way. We just got the timing horribly, horribly wrong this time around,she thought with a deep, sad sigh.

But I honor my commitments. Especially to the ones I love.

*********************************

Cass was pushing herself hard. She knew it and she knew the Chief Medical Officer would have objected strongly if he could see what she was up to. But she didn’t care. A week confined to sickbay had driven the tall security chief nearly mad with boredom and pent-up energy. After a final examination this morning, the EMH had released her, her ears ringing from his warnings to take it gently for a week or two.

Too bad Doc,she had thought as she strode from sickbay with a glint in her eye.

She had come straight to the holodeck with a plan in mind to work off some energy and test her brand new shoulder and recovering left lung. Once there she had ordered up the appropriate clothing from the replicator and keyed in an obstacle course program that was designed to challenge even the toughest and fittest recruits. She slipped into the skintight, thigh-hugging shorts and matching cutoff tank top before pulling on a pair of lightweight hiking boots.

Within minutes she was at full throttle, running hard through a lush green forest, arms and legs pumping. Almost immediately she could feel the burning deep in the left side of her chest, but she decided to ignore it, pushing through the discomfort. She burst through into a clearing and sprinted up a grassy ramp, launching herself into mid-air without hesitation or lessening of speed. Her outstretched hands grabbed the metal t-bar of a flying fox and she grunted as her weight came onto her reconstructed shoulder.

Cass held her breath for a few seconds as she pulled her legs up parallel to the ground, riding the tightly stretched wire as it whisked her down and across a small creek.

She dropped onto a small patch of grass, letting her momentum carry her into a forward roll and up onto her feet. Then she was away again, pounding along the dirt track towards the next obstacle.

**********************

“Computer, where is Lt Lansdown?” Lis pulled on her uniform jacket, having finished her last appointment of the day, and walked towards the door of her office.

“Lt Lansdown is on Holodeck Two,” came the measured response from the computer.

“Figures,” the counselor muttered. “You couldn’t just once do what the doctor tells you and go home and rest.” She stepped into the turbolift. “Deck six.”

Lis hadn’t seen Cass since the day the security chief had woken from her drug-induced sleep a week ago. Partly that was because she’d been incredibly busy, but she also knew that was an excuse. The truth was she was unnerved by how she had felt around the dark-haired beauty that morning.

“There’s a sight for sore eyes,” Cass had said hoarsely. Lis had been standing by her right shoulder when she woke, pale blonde hair framing an anxious, but very welcome face. The counselor had smiled down at her, green eyes sparkling.

Lis had never felt so relieved in her life. The deep blue eyes that blinked up at her were weary but contained a very familiar sparkle.

“Good morning,” she had said quietly. “You’re looking a whole lot better than the last time I saw you.”

“That wouldn’t take much, would it,” Cass had replied dryly. “I have some very bad pictures in my head that I’m hoping were just a dream.”

“’Fraid not, sweetheart,” Lis had answered. She slid her hand into Cass’ and squeezed gently. “It was pretty awful down there.” She found herself swimming in an azure gaze that was unwavering and wide open.

“You … you never let me go for a moment, did you?” Cass had whispered.

“I couldn’t,” the blonde replied. “I felt like if I let you go, you would …” She glanced down at their two hands, fingers interlinked. She pulled Cass’ hand up to her face and rested it against her cheek. “It felt like you would disappear.”

Cass shook her head gingerly.

“I never could leave you be, Lissy,” she had murmured.

The blonde closed her eyes tightly against the sudden uprising of emotion that welled in her chest.

Oh Cassie, you always knew just what to say. She opened her eyes again and smiled back at her ex-lover. “I’m glad,” she answered softly. Loving her is the best thing that ever happened to me,she realized.

“Thank you,” Cass said, summoning a small smile.

“I didn’t do anything but hang on tight until we got back here,” Lis demurred.

“Thank you for letting me love you.”

Lis leaned down until she was almost nose to nose with Cass. She felt the security chief’s hand let go of hers and slip down to her hip, where it rested quietly. Cass tried to breathe in the older woman’s familiar scent, but the effort had caused a sharp pain in the left side of her chest, making her wince. Lis cupped her face in both hands and soothed her with gentle strokes of her thumbs across her cheeks.

“Sshhh sweetheart.” She paused until she could see the wave of pain had lessened. “You need to let yourself love someone else, Cassie,” she said, thinking of Tina Roberts. “You can’t spend your whole life waiting for me. It isn’t fair to you.”

Fierce blue eyes gazed back at her. “Don’t send me away again,” Cass whispered hoarsely.

“No, no I’m not, love,” Lis reassured hastily. “I just mean that you have to let someone else into your life. Give yourself a chance at happiness. You deserve it.”

Tears filled Cass’ eyes. “I’ll wait for the one I’m supposed to be with,” she had said softly.

“Cass …” Her protestations had tailed off at the determined look on her ex-lover’s pale face.

You can’t argue with that, she thought. You know she’s right. You can feel it – you always have.Instead she had leaned down further and placed the tenderest of kisses close to the corner of Cass’ mouth. “Just do what’s right for you,” she had whispered.

“I am.”

Lis brought herself up short outside the closed doors of Holodeck Two. Remembering that conversation and knowing she was about to see Cass again had her heart pounding disconcertingly. Get a grip, Counselor, she thought to herself. You’re here on ship’s business.“Yeah, right,” she muttered as she keyed the door mechanism, stepping through as the heavy metal doors slid open.

She’d come to expect pretty much anything from Cass’ holodeck programs so the sight of the tall security chief hauling herself over a tall wooden structure draped in rope netting didn’t surprise her.

Cass thumped to the ground and paused as she heard the holodeck doors open. She was aware she was breathing way too hard, and her lungs burned with a deep fire on her left side. Her shoulder ached persistently and frankly, she probably should have eaten something before she’d attempted this. All in all, I feel like crap, she mused as she watched the petite blonde walk into the room. She drew herself up to her full height and stood with an easy grace that belied her discomfort. Damn it’s good to see her,she thought, a smile playing across her lips.

Lis watched the tall woman closely. She’s hurting, she realized. But she’s hiding it well. She noted the brief costume, long bare legs, muscular but lean arms and the glisten of a thin sheen of hard-earned sweat on Cass’ skin. Oh my, she thought. She felt herself blushing as the security chief caught her looking and unleashed one of her trademark 1000-watt grins. Nobody has ever moved me the way she does.

“You look like you’re recovering, Lt,” Lis said wryly, moving towards the taller woman.

Cass shrugged, wincing as the movement renewed the stabbing ache in her shoulder. “I’ll be honest with you,” she replied. “I hurt like hell.” She was still breathing heavily and as Lis moved closer she could see more subtle signs that Cass was holding herself fairly gingerly.

“You couldn’t have just gone back to your quarters and read a book? Or, god forbid, gotten some sleep?” she asked with a smile.

“You know me, Counselor,” Cass replied, as she bent over and rested her hands on her knees, trying to catch her breath. “I always need to know my limits.”

Lis reached out and placed her hand gently on Cass’ head. “I know,” she said softly. “But for once you could have believed the Doctor when he told you what they were.”

Cass stood again, this time a little too fast, and a wave of dizziness made her sway. Quickly Lis stepped closer, tucking under the Australian’s left arm, partially supporting her weight as she regained her balance.

“Whoa,” grunted Cass. She rested her injured arm on Lis’ shoulder, grateful to have the shorter woman’s arms wrapped round her waist, holding her up. “Ugh. Who moved the deck?”

“You’re scaring me a little, Cassie,” the blonde murmured, trying not to be alarmed by the suddenly pale face above her.

“M’okay,” her ex-lover muttered. “Just stood up too quick.”

“Uh-huh. When was the last time you had a square meal, Lt?”

An embarrassed grin was the only answer she got before the sound of the holodeck doors opening interrupted them. Suddenly aware that she was well inside the normally stand-offish security chief’s personal space, Lis backed off quickly.

“Hi Tina,” said Cass, who was facing the doors.

Damn, thought Lis. Just what she didn’t need to see.She turned to greet the young ensign, who was standing uncertainly just inside the threshold. “Ensign.”

Tina Roberts nodded briefly at the counselor. Nobody gets that close to Cass without her wanting them to, she thought. Just one more piece of the puzzle.

“Well, Lt,” Lis said quickly, backing even further away from the dark-haired woman. “I just came by to let you know that we need to schedule a session some time soon. Starfleet regulations when someone’s been injured on an away mission.”

Cass nodded gravely.

“Understood, Counselor,” she replied. “And, um … thanks for … holding me up there, before.”

“No problem. Let me know your schedule once you’re back on duty.” With one final half-smile at Cass, she turned and left the holodeck, leaving the two lovers alone together.

Cass took a deep breath, knowing the next conversation wasn’t going to be an easy one. A few moments of uneasy silence passed between the women as each sized the other up.

“It’s good to see you back on your feet,” Tina said quietly, walking slowly towards the lieutenant.

“It’s good to beon my feet,” Cass replied, smiling.

Tina looked around at the holoprogram. “Is there somewhere we can sit down and talk?” she asked.

“Sure,” Cass said. “Computer, switch us to the waterfall.” The scenery blurred and rotated, the computer ‘moving’ them to a different part of the program. Soon they were standing at the edge of a waterfall-fed pond. Cass indicated a place they could sit on a shelf of sun-warmed rock. They sat side by side for a few silent minutes, just absorbing the peace and the warmth.

Tina slid her hand into Cass’, feeling the tall woman hesitate a little before she wrapped her fingers around hers and squeezed gently.

“We need to talk,” the ensign said softly.

“I know,” Cass replied. “It’s been quite the week, huh?”

Tina nodded slowly. “That it has.” She paused, wondering how to proceed. God knows, I’ve rehearsed this enough,she thought. “I’ve learned a lot about you this week, Cassie,” she finally said. “Stuff that maybe I would have appreciated hearing from you some time over the last couple of years, rather than secondhand while you’re bleeding all over sickbay.” She took a shuddering breath and she felt Cass go very still beside her. “Damn, I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean that to come out that way.”

“It’s okay,” Cass murmured, staring at their two hands as they rested on her thigh. This is so unfair on her.“I’m sorry that it was hard for you.” She felt Tina looking at her and she turned to meet her brown-eyed gaze.

“Make it easier now,” Tina asked. “Tell me about you and Dr Dayton.”

Hoo boy. You owe her that much Cass.“Okay,” she agreed.

************************

An hour later the two women sat cross-legged facing each other, their knees touching. Cass had told Tina everything about her relationship with Lis, knowing she could trust the ensign to keep it to herself.

I hope Lis is all right with this, Cass thought fleetingly as she and Tina sat quietly. No way to avoid it though.

She looked up into sad eyes.

“You still love her.” It was a statement rather than a question.

Cass nodded silently.

“Do you … can you … love me?”

Cass took a deep breath. “I do love you Tina. But …” She was at a loss to explain.

“But you can’t let me close the way she is close,” the ensign guessed.

“I’m sorry,” Cass said softly.

“I need to know where we’re going, Cassie. I need more than what we’ve had.” Tina leaned forward, taking the security chief’s hands. “Even though there are so few of us on this ship … I can’t just be with you if all we’re doing is stopping each other from being alone. I don’t want that kind of relationship.”

“That’s not all you are to me,” Cass protested. But she’s right. I can’t give her what she needs.“I don’t … I don’t know what to say.”

Tina smiled sadly and planted a light kiss on the dark woman’s lips. “It’s okay.” She brushed her fingertips gently through the long bangs at Cass’ temple. “We had some fun, didn’t we?”

Cass took the younger woman’s hand and softly kissed her fingertips. “Yes we did.”

“I hope you get your girl,” Tina whispered. She tucked her feet under her and pushed herself up. Once she was standing she leaned down again and kissed the top of Cass’ head. “See you on duty, Lt,” she said softly before she turned and walked towards the holodeck entrance.

“Ensign,” Cass called after her. She waited until Tina turned back and looked over her shoulder at her. “Be happy.”

The junior officer smiled back at her. “You too,” she replied and walked out.

Cass leaned back on the warm rock and closed her eyes against the sunshine. Will I ever get my girl, she wondered. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

Chapter 4

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