cate3221

Chapter 2

Cass picked herself up from the floor near her bridge station. Warm wetness trickled down the right-hand side of her face and she knew she was bleeding, but she shoved that knowledge firmly aside as irrelevant for now. She looked around and saw several of her colleagues struggling to regain their positions. And sickeningly, there were a few others who remained still where they had fallen.

“Report!” barked Captain Janeway as she clambered back into her command chair, her auburn hair spilling from its restraints.

Cass scrambled to assess which ship’s systems were functional.

“Extensive damage to engineering, as well as decks five and six, Captain,” she said as calmly as she could. “Casualties are ship-wide, including …” she touched a few more indicators, trying to make sense of the scattered readings. “Damn,” she muttered under her breath. “Including the chief medical officer, Captain.” She glanced up and caught Janeway’s eye.

“Life support?”

“Functioning,” Cass said bluntly. “The damage is widespread, but not getting any worse. I’m sending out security details to collect the injured and start assessing the casualties.”

“Good. Have them activate the Emergency Medical Hologram,” the captain growled.

“Ma’am,” Cass acknowledged, punching out orders to her officers.

Janeway knelt by Cavit’s motionless body, resting fingers against the pulse point at his neck. Cass watched as the captain’s shoulders slumped momentarily. Damn, thought the security officer. He was a good man.

The captain stood and turned back towards Cass, a grim set to her expression, a tacit understanding between them that, for the moment at least, the security chief was her right hand.

“The Maquis ship?” she asked.

“Also caught in the explosion, Captain,” Cass reported. Her fingers flicked quickly across the board. “I’m reading massive damage to their life support, and their warp core. There are life signs.”

“Can you get a transporter lock on them?”

“Yes, but I’ll need to bleed power from our weapons array.”

“Do it,” Janeway barked. “Beam them directly to sick bay.”

Cass initiated the beam-out of all she could find alive on the Maquis vessel, and it was just in time. Her eyes were caught by the flash of another explosion in a corner of the view-screen.

Janeway walked over to her station.

“Did you get them all?” she asked, deliberately keeping her voice low.

Cass swept her eyes down the list of Maquis survivors and her heart sank.

“Twenty-three survivors, Captain,” she replied, equally quietly. She gritted her teeth and told her the worst. “I’m afraid Lt Tuvok is not amongst them.”

For a brief instant Cass saw a flash of the deepest grief cross the older woman’s face, replaced immediately by the command mask for which Janeway was renowned. She turned to the young ensign stationed at the other side of the bridge, opposite Cass.

“Ensign Kim, find out where we are.”

“Yes ma’am,” he replied shakily, quickly focusing on his task. Janeway turned back to Cass.

“Lt, you’re bleeding. Get yourself to sickbay and then I want you to start coordinating the departments. Also, get all the senior staff, including the Maquis officers, in the conference room in an hour.”

Cass barely had time to nod before she noticed the look on Harry Kim’s face.

“Ensign?”

“Captain …” The young man’s open face was showing astonishment and distress.

“What is it, Harry?” asked the Captain, quickly walking to his station.

“According to my readings we’re …” He swallowed audibly. “We’re in the Delta Quadrant.”

Cass quickly started work on verifying his findings, hardly believing that they could have been flung so far by the Caretaker. She noted that Janeway was watching over Kim’s shoulder while he double-checked himself. Her computer chirped a response and Cass glared at the numbers in front of her.

“I can confirm, Captain,” she said hoarsely. “We are 75,000 light years from Federation space.”

Her words hung there like a dark cloud. All the bridge officers who had survived the Caretaker’s catastrophic blow against Voyager turned and stared at her.

Janeway walked slowly into the well of the bridge, staring at the view-screen and the empty expanse of space beyond the hull.

“Is there any sign of the Caretaker, Lt?” she asked huskily.

Cass quickly scanned the long-range sensors, or at least the ones that were functioning.

“No Captain,” she replied. “There are no life signs or ships around us for at least a light year.”

Janeway took a deep breath. You’ve really dropped us in it this time, Katie, she thought. No time for that now.

“All right,” she muttered. “Tom.” She rested a hand on the helmsman’s shoulder. “What’s the status of the engines?”

“Warp engines are offline, Captain,” he replied, running his fingers over his board. “I can give you half impulse.”

“Fine. Find us a nice, safe rock to hide under, so we can catch our breath.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Get moving Cass.”

“On my way, Captain.”

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

Lis brushed a stray blonde lock out of her eyes impatiently. Like most of the crew not directly involved in repairs, she had been seconded to sickbay to help with the large numbers of injured personnel. She looked around the crowded room. The EMH was directing traffic quickly and efficiently as security teams brought in more and more wounded.

There was a nagging worry at the back of her brain. She knew Nick was all right … he had contacted her almost as soon as the ship’s communication system righted itself after the initial impact. Things had been very shaky between them since the revelation that Cass was on board, but, miraculously, they had survived the month without major bloodshed, though it had taken some juggling of schedules to keep her husband and her ex-lover apart. She knew that Cassie had been able to organize a lot of that, and if it was possible to be both sad and grateful at the same time, then Lis was.

But all of that is irrelevant now, if the rumors are true,she thought glumly as she used a dermal regenerator on a young ensign’s cut forearm.

Cass. That was what was worrying her, she knew. She didn’t know if Cassie was all right. All kinds of rumors were flying around the ship even as everyone fought to regain control over Voyager’s systems. One of the scarier things Lis had heard since she had picked herself up from the floor of her office, was that they had been flung to a far corner of the galaxy with no way of getting home.

“Dr Dayton?” The ensign tried to attract her attention.

“Sorry. Yes, ensign?” She made another pass across the wound with the regenerator, pleased that it was healing nicely before her eyes.

“Is it true?” The baby-faced officer was just a few months out of the Academy and Lis recognized him from one of her classes. She flicked her eyes quickly to his face, noting the edgy emotion in his features.

“Is what true, James?” she said softly, suddenly realizing that if the rumors were true there were enormous implications for what her role would be onboard Voyager in the long term.

“They’re saying we’re lost,” the young man said breathlessly, his eyes wide and scared.

Step gently here, Lis,the psychologist reminded herself. “I don’t think anyone knows anything for sure yet,” she replied quietly, patting his now healed arm. “You’re done. Better head back to your station.”

“But what if we are lost?” he said anxiously. “How is Starfleet going to know where to look for us?”

“James,” Lis caught his attention. “Listen to me, okay? We don’t know what the facts are yet. The captain has called a senior staff meeting in about an hour’s time and I’m sure we’ll know more then. For now though you should concentrate on just doing your job and keeping busy.” She kept her expression calm as the inexperienced officer searched her face for any signs of doubt. Finding none, he nodded quietly and jumped off the bio-bed.

“Thanks, Doc,” he said with a smile as he headed for the door.

One down, 139 to go, Lis thought, realizing that whatever Voyager’s fate, each crew member was going to react individually and would need different things from her over the coming weeks. I’m about to get very busy.

Just then a tall, dark presence filled the sickbay doorway and Lis breathed a sigh of relief. Cass strode in, confident despite the blood which was liberally splattered over the side of her face and down on to her uniform. The security chief walked over to the EMH.

“I’m rather busy, Lt,” said the officious little man. “And you don’t look like you need a specialist’s care.” He looked around the sickbay and gestured towards Lis who had been watching quietly from near the corner bio-bed. “I believe that officer is free,” he said.

Cass glanced perfunctorily over her shoulder at Lis and then turned back to hologram.

“Not her,” she said curtly. “Assign someone else.”

The newly activated program made up in impatience what he lacked in bedside manner and he rounded on Cass, jutting his chin aggressively up at her.

“Lt, this man has two broken legs and possible internal bleeding. He needs my full attention. As you can see everyone else is also busy. That officer is free. Now either let her attend to your injury or get out my sickbay.”

Cass bit her tongue. She knew that as acting Chief Medical Officer, the hologram was one of very few people on board Voyager who could order her to do anything, even though he held no official Starfleet rank. She could, however, let him know exactly what she thought of him and she fixed him with a formidable ice-blue stare that would have pinned his ears back if they hadn’t been just particles of light and color.

“There’s no point trying to intimidate me, Lt,” he said blithely, turning back to his patient. “Either seek treatment from her, or bleed to death. It’s of no never mind to me.”

Cass growled at him. Who programs these damn things, she thought as she reluctantly walked over to Lis. Deep green eyes regarded her calmly. Goddamn, she thought. Don’t look at me like that.

“I’m glad you’re all right Cass,” said Lis as the taller woman sat on the edge of the bio-bed. The psychologist adjusted its height until the wound on Cass’ head was at her eye level.

“I’m bleeding like a stuck pig,” Cass replied grumpily, eliciting a half-smile from the older woman. “And what do you care anyway,” the security chief said icily, noting the smile and deciding to knock Lis down a peg or two.

But the past month had taught Lis quite a bit about the woman Cass Lansdown had become and she was unfazed by the display of anger. She reached up with a clean damp cloth to wipe away some of the blood that was matting Cass’ hair. The security chief flinched away from her as her hand came close and Lis held her palms out in a calming gesture.

“At ease, Lt,” she murmured, waiting as Cass slowly relaxed back within reach. Gently Lis began cleaning the blood from around the long slice near the younger woman’s temple. She realized this was the closest she had been to her ex-lover since coming aboard Voyager. She found it vaguely unsettling. Cass had lost none of the power to set her senses tingling.

God, does she have to stand so close, Cass grumbled to herself. I can’t think with her so close to me.

“What’s going on Cass?” Lis asked quietly, conscious of the proximity of junior officers well within earshot. Blue eyes flicked to her quickly. “Come on,” she said. “I’ll find out shortly anyway. Are we lost?”

A humorless smile played across Cass’ lips briefly.

“Oh no,” the dark-haired woman replied. “We’re not lost. We know exactly where we are.”

Lis picked up the dermal regenerator and began slowly healing the cut on Cass’ scalp. “So where are we?”

“The Delta Quadrant.”

Shocked green eyes widened, staring blankly at the security officer for several seconds, and Lis’ hands dropped.

“Delta Qua- …” She swallowed. “But that means …”

Cass nodded, looking gloomily at her boots.

“That means we’re 75,000 light years and several decades from home,” she muttered. Slowly she lifted her head and turned to meet Lis’ eyes. “How do you think Nick’s going to like that idea?”

Lis flinched. She recognized that Cass was being deliberately provocative and normally she would have ignored the younger woman’s barbs, but combined with the shock of knowing they were stranded in the furthest corner of the galaxy … She shook her head, trying to get her thoughts in order.

“You’d better hurry up and fix this cut, Doctor, before your husband comes looking for you and finds your hand on my thigh.”

Lis looked down and found that indeed her right hand had dropped to Cass’ leg where it rested as if it belonged there naturally. She snapped it away quickly.

“That’s right, Lis,” Cass murmured, turning icy eyes away again. “God forbid you might get caught … again.”

Lis quickly resumed work with the regenerator, surprised by the sudden sting of tears in her eyes.

“Stop it Cass, please,” she whispered pleadingly. “Isn’t it bad enough that we’re all trapped out here, without making it as hateful as possible?” She carefully brushed aside Cass’ hair as she traced the wound back, trying not to notice how the dark locks felt against the back of her hand.

Cass said nothing but her thoughts were going a mile a minute.

She still uses the same perfume. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply recognizing the apricot-tinged scent coming from the woman standing at her right shoulder. She always smelled like summer to me, she remembered. Warm and sweet and soft like a summer breeze.

“Cassandra.”

The gentle way Lis said her full name struck a chord that resonated deep inside the tall woman and a sudden rush of longing welled up. Her eyes flew open as she felt a touch on her shoulder.

“What?” she said, much more roughly than she intended.

“You’re done,” Lis said quietly, trying to ignore the hurt she felt each time Cass recoiled from her.

Both their communicators chirruped.

“Senior staff to the conference room,” said the computer.

Again the two women locked gazes and for once, Lis was relieved to notice, Cass softened her attitude just a little.

“You go on,” the dark woman said quietly. “I’ll catch up. I need to talk to Morgan for a minute.” She nodded in the direction of her security deputy, who had just walked in with another injured officer.

Lis nodded and took a chance, patting Cass’ arm before she turned and walked out of the sickbay.

Cass watched her leave, half-smiling at the familiar sway to the older woman’s hips. Damn you, Lis Dayton,she thought, but for the first time in a very long while, the thought came with a wash of something other than antagonism.

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

Janeway looked around at the grim faces seated around the conference table. She leaned back against the bulkhead, resting her hands on the window sill behind her. Everyone knew all there was to know about their predicament and by the expressions on her senior officers’ faces they didn’t much like what they’d been told.

And just what is there to like Katie, she berated herself. We’ve exhausted all the options. All we can do is point ourselves towards the Alpha Quadrant and get on with it. She studied each silent face again, feeling a sudden surge of pride at the way her officers were dealing. And these are just the people to get us home.

The diminutive captain pushed herself forward and sat down in the chair at the head of the table.

“So,” she said quietly. “We have quite the challenge ahead of us.” She glanced at the two Maquis officers who sat uneasily amongst the Starfleet personnel. “Our first task is to blend the two crews together as seamlessly as possible. We’re not going to get anywhere quickly if we can’t work together as a team.” She paused to let the point sink in. “We also have three senior officers to replace.” Eyes looked at her expectantly from around the table. “I’ve decided to appoint Chakotay here as First Officer in Commander Cavit’s place. Apart from being eminently qualified for the job, it will also send a message to the other Maquis that they are valued members of this crew.”

The burly dark-haired man nodded and smiled briefly, the movement crinkling the blue tattoo which stretched across half his forehead and around his left eye.

“We need to complete repairs and get under way as quickly as we can,” Janeway continued. “We lost our chief engineer when the Caretaker hit us and none of the remaining engineering staff really have the experience to fill that post. Chakotay assures me that the best engineer for the job is B’elanna Torres.” She indicated the half-Klingon, half-human hybrid woman sitting silently next to Chakotay. “Have you had a chance to look over the damage, Lt?”

Torres looked very surprised to suddenly find herself a lieutenant in the organization she had spurned to join the Maquis. Cass couldn’t help wondering just how easily the two crews were going to blend together.

“Briefly, Captain, yes,” Torres replied carefully. “We’ve got a good two or three days’ solid work ahead of us.”

Janeway nodded as if the engineer’s words were simply confirming her own assessment of the situation.

“And of course we must replace Lt Tuvok,” she said wearily, swiveling her chair to gaze out the long window pensively. “Obviously Lt Lansdown will remain as security chief.” She paused. “Tom,” she turned back and looked directly at the blond helmsman. “We’ll need another pilot to cover the third shift rotation. Have your recommendations to me by the end of the day.”

“Captain,” he murmured.

“I don’t need to tell you all about the implications for ship’s morale,” Janeway continued quietly. “You all know how you feel about being lost out here, and God knows, I know how I feel. The trick is to turn those feelings into something positive. I expect you all to lead by example.” She smiled, making eye contact with each officer. “We’re also very fortunate to have a counselor on board. Most Intrepid-class ships aren’t so lucky.”

Janeway settled on the steady green-eyed gaze of Lis Dayton.

“You’re about to get very busy, Doctor,” she said wryly. “I want you to get to everyone on board, one way or another, over the next few weeks. Assess how people are dealing not only with being stranded out here, but how they feel about blending the two crews. Hopefully you can help us nip any problems in the bud.”

“Yes, Captain,” Lis said firmly.

“That includes everyone at this table,” Janeway said deliberately, raising an authoritative finger. “Look after yourselves, people. We can’t afford to be off our games,” she warned. “All right. We’ve got a lot to do.” One more sweep of the room and she was satisfied. “Cass, Lis, give me a minute. Otherwise, dismissed.”

Blue eyes met green across the table as the other senior officers filed out of the conference room. Janeway resumed her place at the window, gazing out at the barren, grey rock they were currently orbiting.

This cannot be good,Cass thought, dropping her eyes from Lis’ and focusing instead on her hands which she clasped on the table top in front of her.

She’s angry with us,Lis realized, watching the firm set of the captain’s shoulders.

There was a long pause and then the commanding officer turned back around to face them, her arms folded across her chest and her head bent. She kept her voice low and soft.

“I have spent the past month watching you two turn yourselves inside out in the attempt to avoid each other,” Janeway began. “Cass, you’ve rearranged away teams and juggled rosters in order to avoid contact with both Lis and her husband. I’ve seen all three of you ducking and diving your way through social occasions as if your lives depended on it.”

She stepped forward and placed her hands flat on the desk, fixing both women with an intense look that brooked no argument.

“I’ve said nothing for a month in the hope that you would resolve this animosity between you. Well, now I have no choice. We’re in a life and death situation here, ladies. We could be out here for years – in fact the chances of that are very good. We have to get along together.”

“Captain, I …” Cass started to object but was brought up short by the fierceness of Janeway’s stare.

“The captain’s right, Cassie,” Lis said softly. Pale blue eyes swung around to her and the psychologist resisted the urge to flinch under the baleful glare. “What we’ve been doing was fine as a short-term solution when we only had a month to get through. But now we have to think of something else.”

Satisfied, at least for the time being, that she had made her point, Janeway rose to her full height and backed away from the table.

“This is the last I want to hear, or see, of this matter, ladies,” she said pointedly. “Get it resolved.” The captain swept out of the room, the door hissing shut behind her.

For long seconds the two ex-lovers sat in silence.

“Perhaps we should take this to my office,” Lis finally suggested.

“I don’t have time for this now, Counselor,” Cass muttered. It was the truth. She had a million things to organize before she finished her shift.

“Cass …”

“Enough.” Cass slapped her hand down on the tabletop. “Frankly, Elisabeth, I’m not the problem here. You’re not the problem here. Your husband is the problem, and thankfully, he’s all yours to deal with. I’m done juggling shifts and assignments in order to protect his fragile sense of peace. I’m over it. It’s time he was too.”

Big green eyes looked back at her sadly.

“Why do you have to be like this?” she whispered. “What possible good does it do any of us?”

“You’re the psychologist, Lis. You tell me,” Cass snapped. She stood up quickly, slamming her chair under the table and backing away.

“Cass, don’t just walk away from this …”

The tall security chief held her hands up in a gesture that said she’d had her fill of the conversation. Then she turned on her heel and exited without another word.

Lis stared at the closed door, completely at a loss.

“Damn you, Cassandra.”

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

The young woman shuddering at the end of Cass Lansdown’s fingers was beautiful and sexy. Petite and blonde, she was an ensign from the engineering department, smart and funny, great company. Eyes are the wrong color though, thought a detached part of Cass’ brain.

After several weeks of concerted flirting, Tina Roberts had finally won her prize, a date with the woman most of the crew on the lower decks had dubbed ‘TDD’ – tall, dark and dangerous. And the cool security chief had proven to be a wonderful companion so far. Dinner had gone well and back at the ensign’s quarters – conveniently devoid of roommates for the night – deep in the lower decks of Voyager, things had progressed nicely.

Cass was enjoying herself. The attractive young officer hadn’t made too many demands on her and she was certainly a more than pleasant bedmate. The couple of months since Voyager had been stranded in the Delta Quadrant had been hectic, sometimes dangerous and always stressful for everyone, and Cass was not immune to any of that. In the few off hours she had to herself she had found amusement with a succession of female crewmembers. Ensign Roberts was the latest.

Cass concentrated on pleasuring the blonde. Though her companion was naked, she remained in her black uniform pants and dark grey turtleneck, content to give only so much of herself.

“Cassie?” the young woman whispered as Cass kissed slowly along her jaw line.

“Mmmmmmmm?”

“Let me touch you.” Tina ran her hands up Cass’ ribcage, anxious to get beyond the soft fabric to the warm, strong body beneath.

With a low, dangerous chuckle Cass grabbed the ensign’s hands and pushed them back against the pillow above her head. Holding both the slender wrists in her left hand she began to play Tina’s body with her right, fingertips swirling and teasing around sensitive nipples. The blonde shivered and groaned under her, all thoughts of anything but her own pleasure evaporating into thin air. Cass grinned at the woman’s response and continued her tantalizing journey down the slim, firm body beneath her. It wasn’t long before she had Tina hovering on the brink and Cass felt her own desire rising. Pushing her needs aside she concentrated on reading the blonde’s rhythms, nudging her ever closer to the edge in sliding, thrusting increments.

“Oh yessss,” Tina crooned as Cass drove her beyond the point of no return. The dark-haired woman watched with a strange sense of detachment as her bedmate rode out the climax with abandon. With a sigh Cass rolled on to her back, releasing Tina’s hands as she did and placing her own behind her head as she lay back. “Oh my god, Cass,” Tina muttered, struggling to recover her senses. “That was amazing.”

I wonder how long I have to stay here before I can leave without it looking rude, Cass pondered. She squelched her slight feeling of irritation as Tina snuggled up against her left side, flinging an arm and a leg over her possessively. Cass sighed. Why are they always like this?She resisted putting her arms around the blonde, but that didn’t seem to stop Tina cuddling even closer.

Eventually the ensign began moving sensually against her again, kissing her way up Cass’ neck until she was nibbling on the security chief’s earlobe.

“I want to make you feel as good as you made me feel,” she murmured seductively.

Cass smiled and patted Tina’s shoulder. “I’m fine,” she replied. “Don’t worry about it.”

The blonde raised herself up on one elbow, looking down at Cass’ impassive face with a puzzled, slightly hurt expression.

“Don’t you want to feel good?”

Cass mustered a tight smile. “I do feel good,” she replied. “And the bottom line is there isn’t really time. I’ve got to get some sleep. Alpha shift tomorrow.” She began to sit up, but a hand in the middle of her chest stopped her.

“You can sleep here,” Tina said softly. “My roommate’s not going to be back until tomorrow.”

Cass sighed again. Why is this always so hard? I don’t want to have to pull rank on her, damn it.Gently she took the ensign’s hand and moved it away from her as she sat up.

“Thanks for the offer. But I really need to sleep in my own bed, or I get real cranky in the mornings.” She grinned, trying to make light of it, but she could see the dismay in the woman’s brown eyes. “It’s been a lovely evening. I had a great time,” she said hastily as she slid off the bed. She looked around for her uniform jacket and boots, spying them where she had shed them in a crumpled heap by the bedroom door.

As she shrugged into the jacket she turned back to the disconsolate woman sitting in the middle of the crumpled bedclothes. For God’s sake, she thought. It was just a date. Quit looking like I promised you a lifetime.She walked back over to the bed and leaned down, lightly kissing the blonde on the lips before standing up again.

“Thank you,” she said softly. Tina nodded silently.

Cass walked to the door and glanced back over her shoulder.

“Goodnight, Ensign,” she said before stepping out into the corridor and walking away, oblivious to the hastily-flung pillow bouncing off the other side of the closed door.

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

Lis nibbled nervously at the nail on the little finger of her right hand. Her next appointment was running late, not that she was surprised by that. Six months into their journey home from the Delta Quadrant the crew of Voyager were now well-used to their regular sessions with the ship’s counselor. It wasn’t a weekly thing, not even a monthly thing, but every crew member had sat in the chair opposite the blonde psychologist at least twice. Janeway had even gone as far as making Lis’ reports regular parts of the crew’s personnel assessments.

There were only four exceptions on board. One was Janeway herself, the captain preferring to keep her distance even from the counselor. That bothered Lis somewhat, because her trained eye could readily see the signs of stress and loneliness beneath her superior officer’s command mask. But she figured Janeway knew her own limits and would come to her if it was absolutely necessary. And besides, she had rapidly learned that trying to make the formidable commanding officer of Voyager do anything she didn’t want to do was a futile exercise.

The second was the holographic Chief Medical Officer … but then the jury was still out on whether the quirky doctor even had a psychology to assess. Lis smiled to herself at that. She was inclined to believe he did. But whether that meant he was susceptible to the same mental stresses and strains as the other crew members was another issue entirely.

The third exception was Lis herself. Who counsels the counselor,she mused. But that was an old issue; one ship’s counselors had been dealing with for decades.

And the fourth exception … Lis bit down a little too sharply and a little too closely to the quick and she winced at the stinging at the corner of her nail. Hopefully the fourth exception is going to turn up this time.

Cass had managed to avoid every other appointment Lis had made for her, but the psychologist had persisted, determined to break through the cold, hard wall that was keeping the security chief’s anger at bay. She’s got to start letting that go, Lis thought. For her own sake.

While Cass was the model of professionalism when it came to serving Voyager, Lis knew her personal life was a chaotic mixture of loneliness and one-night stands. More than one of Cass’ brief conquests had ended up on Lis’ couch, and while it would be exaggerating to say she was leaving a trail of broken hearts through the ship, there were certainly hurt feelings and confusion in her wake.

And that’s all down to me, Lis thought sadly. She sighed. And what about your own feelings, Counselor? How are you going to convince her, and yourself, that you’re objective enough to be her therapist, and not her ex-lover? Lis stood impatiently and stalked to the window, pressing her forehead against the cool transparent aluminum surface. Ugh. What a mess.

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

Outside the office door, Cass paced up and down restlessly. For six months she had managed to avoid this moment, but she knew she was now out of options. Up until now she had felt like she had control over her private life. But in the past few weeks … she stopped pacing and leaned wearily back against the bulkhead next to the door. I’m so tired, she realized. I’m tired of being this … angry, she acknowledged. And of being alone.

The hiss of the turbolift door at the end of the corridor drew her attention and she pulled herself upright. By the time Tina Roberts approached Cass was in full security chief mode, cool and calm.

“Ensign,” she murmured. The young woman flicked her a sour look with barely an acknowledgement as she continued on her way past. Puzzled, Cass watched the attractive form disappearing around a corner. What the hell was that about, she wondered. Wait a minute. Isn’t she …? Have I …? Did we ever …? She slapped her hand to her forehead. Shit. How could I be so goddamned …“Aargh,” she sighed and pressed fingers to the bridge of her nose where a slow throbbing ache was starting to make itself known.

She turned back around and rested a hand against the wall next to the door controls. This isn’t good, she thought. Pretty soon there won’t be a woman left on board who’ll talk to me, let alone be happy to take orders from me. I need some help. She looked up at the name tag on the door. Dr Elisabeth Dayton. But is she the one to help me?

Just then the door slid open and Cass found herself staring directly into a pair of startled green eyes.

“Ummm hello,” Cass muttered, taking a step back out of the smaller woman’s personal space.

“Hello, Lt,” Lis replied, half-smiling at Cass’ skittishness. “Come in, please.” She stepped aside and the tall officer sidled in, nervousness washing off her in waves. “Have a seat.”

Cass looked around the spacious office, noting the three armchairs and the long sofa under the window ledge.

“Where?” she asked.

“Anywhere you find the most comfortable,” Lis replied, walking past Cass and leading the way into the circle of seats. “Your choice.”

Great, thought Cass. Just what I need. Another decision to make. She opted for comfort, sliding into a corner of the couch. Lis dropped into an armchair opposite her. I wonder if she’s as nervous as I am,she pondered, noting the way the blonde’s hands fidgeted in her lap.

She wants to get as far away from me as she possibly can,Lis observed sadly, watching Cass push herself back into the cushions.

“So,” the counselor began. “As you know the captain wants me to do regular check-ins with every crew member.”

Cass nodded. “I know. I get to see the personnel reports,” she said shortly.

“Mhm. You’ve been pretty reluctant to take part in those assessments though.”

Cass sighed. “Lis. Let’s not play around, okay? We both know why I haven’t been coming to these sessions. You’re supposed to be the objective counselor, but we both know that’s impossible when it comes to me.”

Lis nodded slowly. She still knows how to cut to the chase, she thought wryly. There’s going to be no prevaricating here, I can see that.

“That’s probably true,” she acknowledged. “So why don’t we just talk? God knows, we never really have. And what happened between us is still having repercussions.”

Cass glared at her. “I doubt you’ll find fault with the way I do my duty, Counselor,” she growled.

“Oh, I know I won’t,” Lis replied. “But that’s not my point.” She paused, trying to think of a way to get through to the younger woman. Leaning forward she rested her elbows on her knees and clasped her hands in front of her. “Are you happy, Cass?”

Surprised by the directness of the question, Cass was momentarily taken aback. After a few seconds she turned away from the blonde’s intense gaze and looked out at the speed-streaked star-field.

“Look where we are, Lis,” she murmured, waving a long-fingered hand at the view. “We may never see our families and friends again. No, I’m not happy about that.”

Lis shook her head, but smiled.

“We’re all in that boat,” she replied softly. “And we’re all finding different ways to deal with it. Some of the crew have chosen to make each other their family of choice. Most are getting to know each other, trust each other, because they know it’s a matter of survival.”

Cass could see all too clearly where this conversation was going and she pinned Lis with a cool blue stare.

“But I’m not,” she said quietly.

“No, you’re not,” Lis replied. “Are you making any friends, Cass?”

The dark-haired woman snorted.

“I’m the security chief, Counselor,” she said. “People are a little wary about trusting me, and rightly so, frankly.”

“It doesn’t seem to have stopped a succession of women trusting you enough to get into bed with you,” Lis said, instantly regretting it as the flush rose on Cass’ angular cheeks. Dammit, Lis, rein it in. That wasn’t fair.

“What the hell has that got to do with anything?” growled Cass, trying hard to control her temper.

“Cass you don’t exist in a vacuum. What you do affects other people. You, more than almost anyone on this ship, know this.” She watched her ex-lover fighting to maintain her equilibrium, her throat working against what Lis was certain was an onslaught of tears. The petite counselor sat back with a thump as a sudden realization hit her. I’ve handled this so badly from the very beginning.She took a deep breath and tried to organize her thoughts.

“I owe you an apology,” she said softly. Blue eyes brimming with tears turned to her.

“W-what?”

“I hurt you badly, Cassie. We never had a chance to talk about it properly. And for the last six months, I’ve been making you jump through hoops to protect Nick, all the while expecting you to just get over the hurt. I’m so sorry.”

Wide azure eyes blinked at her and for the first time in two and a half years, Lis saw a glimpse of the young woman she had fallen so in love with. When did she become so cold and hard, she wondered. When you told her you would stop loving her,came the harsh reply.

“I … I miss you so much,” Cassie whispered miserably, tears finally spilling over.

Oh god, thought Lis. I can’t stay distant from this. She swallowed against the ache in her throat, torn between wanting to comfort the distraught woman, and knowing she was supposed to maintain some kind of professional relationship. I want to hold her close so badly. But god knows what will happen if I do that. I don’t trust myself.

“I’ve missed you too, sweetheart,” she murmured, keeping a white-knuckle grip on the arms of the chair to stop herself from bridging the gap between them and taking Cass in her arms.

“Y-you sent me away, and I c-couldn’t believe you would do that,” Cass sobbed, her breath catching around the words. “You always p-promised that you would never s-send me away.”

Lis squeezed her eyes shut against the stinging tears, two and a half years of painful regret welling up.

“I didn’t have a choice,” she whispered. “I couldn’t go on hurting both of you. I had to make a decision.”

“And I lost.”

“Damn it, Cassandra.” Frustration and anger bubbled up. “It’s not … it was never about competition. It wasn’t …” She struggled to find the words to try and make the young woman understand. “It wasn’t about who was the better person, or who deserved happiness more, or even who was the better lover.” She ran a hand through her hair roughly. “What else did you expect me to do? We couldn’t go on the way we were. It was killing us all. And I made him promises.”

“You made me promises too,” Cass flashed back. “Don’t sit there and tell me he won out because it was first come, first served,” she snarled bitterly, instantly regretting her words when she saw Lis wince and flinch back.

“I’m sorry,” the blonde whispered. “I’m so sorry.” One tear tracked down her cheek, unnoticed.

Cass’ defenses collapsed completely and she rested her head on the back of the sofa, one arm flung across her eyes as she cried silently. I know she’s right, her aching heart told her. I put her in an impossible position. And we’re still paying for it.

“It hurt so much,” she said finally, dropping her arm down by her side. “I thought I was going to die from it.” She laughed ironically. “There were times when I wished I had.” She heard Lis’ breath hitch at that and she lifted her head, surprised to see the blonde with her face buried in her hands. Ohhh, honey.

“I thought getting as far away from you as possible was the best thing I could do,” Cass began to explain quietly. “I’d like to say I joined the Moonshadow because I wanted to give you and Nick the best chance of mending things between you, but I can’t. I was being purely selfish. I wanted to be able to pretend that you didn’t exist … that you and I had never happened. I wanted to take those feelings and bury them so deep they would eventually disappear without me realizing it. I’m sorry I left without explaining or saying goodbye. I’m sorry we didn’t have a chance to talk some more.”

Lis sniffled and wiped her face quickly, trying to regain her composure.

“You had to do what you needed to do, Cass,” she said huskily. “I understood that. I was just so worried about you.”

Cass blinked.

“Why were you worried? You’re the one who sent me away. You’re the one who said you would stop …” Like a bolt out of the blue it came to her. “Y-you … you didn’t stop … believing … in us,” she murmured, watching Lis for confirmation.

“No,” she answered simply. “How could I?”

“Then why … why did you tell me you would?”

Lis considered that for a few seconds. She knew the conversation they were having was crucial to their ability to live and work together, maybe even become friends during the long journey home.

“Would you have let me go if I hadn’t said it, Cass?” she said softly.

Air rushed out of the dark-haired woman’s lungs like she had been kicked in the guts. They held each other’s gaze for long, telling seconds, both knowing they had reached a point of new understanding.

Cass nodded wearily.

“So how do we make this work, Lis? I know we’ve survived the last six months but …”

“I’m not sure I would call this survival, love,” Lis replied, biting her lip as soon as the endearment slipped out. Move on,she chided herself. “You’ve been driving yourself hard and keeping yourself isolated. And I’ve been tying myself in knots trying to prove myself to Nick.”

“How is he dealing?” Cass asked softly, not really wanting to hear the answer.

Lis shrugged. “He was so looking forward to this mission,” she replied. “Finding out you were on board took a lot of the joy out of that for him.” Cass nodded. “But he’s adjusting, just like the rest of us. He doesn’t trust me, and I’m not sure he ever will again. I think every day he expects me to announce that you and I are … what we were.” She sighed. “But we’re working at it, and he loves the research he’s able to do here.”

“So what do we do now, Counselor?”

Green eyes met blue across the coffee table.

“I think we just keep talking as we need to, Cass. Perhaps we could try not avoiding each other like the plague so much. Maybe if Nick sees that we can exist on the same ship without falling into bed with each other he can learn not to fear you so much. I could be a little easier on myself about what I did to you and Nick. And you could find a way to let people get close to you without leaving them feeling like some cheap conquest.” She smiled a little to soften that blow.

Cass pulled a mock dagger from her heart.

“Ouch, Counselor,” she winced. “Have I reduced so many blushing young virgins to tears on your couch?” she asked, only half-jokingly.

Lis nodded honestly.

“I think sometimes you forget how charming you can be, Cassandra,” she said softly. “And there’s something about you that makes people trust. That’s a very powerful thing, especially to young, impressionable ensigns. Go easy on them?”

Cass felt herself blushing again.

“I guess I have a few people to apologize to,” she muttered.

“That would help,” Lis agreed.

The security chief nodded, and then glanced up at the blonde psychologist.

“Are we done?” she asked.

Lis nodded. “For now, yes,” she confirmed.

Cass pushed herself up and crossed the small space between them till she was standing next to the older woman’s chair. Slowly she reached out and placed a gentle hand on Lis’ shoulder.

“Thank you,” she whispered. A smaller hand covered her own and squeezed gently.

A few seconds later the door hissed closed behind the dark-haired woman, leaving a pair of green eyes gazing out into the rushing star-field.

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

Cass walked into the mess and paused just inside the doorway. Other officers walked past her, finding their friends in the crowd as the shift rotated from alpha to beta. The tall security chief swept the room with her eyes, spying Lis and Nick at a corner booth.

She was feeling strangely lighter since her conversation with the counselor earlier in the day. It was an odd feeling. She still adored the blonde heart and soul, but for the first time in almost three years there was a calmness surrounding those feelings.

She had always understood the reasons why Lis had sent her away, chosen Nick over her. There had always been the fear, deep inside, of those reasons even when she and Lis were at their happiest together. But now the anger had dissipated, leaving only a quiet hollowness. Cass was sure now that Lis and Nick would stay together, and while she mourned the loss of hope, she finally felt capable of co-existing with them, without feeling like she would explode from frustration or anger.

She might even … hmmmmm …She filed that thought away for future reference as she continued to survey the room, spotting her target over near the window. Cass wove her way between the tables, finally reaching Tina Roberts, who was talking to another ensign from engineering.

The attractive blonde glanced up at the security chief, her eyes immediately turning cold and hard.

“Lt,” she muttered, barely civil.

“Ensign,” Cass replied quietly. “I was wondering if I could have a word with you.”

Roberts’ male companion quickly slid out of his seat and offered it to the tall senior officer.

“Ma’am,” he said, gesturing at the seat. “I’ll … uh … see you later Tina,” he murmured, beating a hasty retreat.

Cass took his place, clasping her hands on the table top and trying to ignore the unfriendly stare from the petite blonde. How do I get myself into these things, Cass wondered. By being an insensitive, cold bitch, mainly,her inner voice replied. She sighed and girded her mental loins.

“Tina I owe you an apology,” she said without any preamble, fixing the ensign with as open a gaze as she could manage.

“You don’t owe me anything, Lt,” Roberts muttered.

“Look, can we drop the rank thing for a bit?” Cass implored, trying to catch and hold Tina’s eyes.

“Okay,” the blonde said uneasily, allowing herself to be captured by the gorgeous blue eyes across the table.

“I behaved very badly the night I was with you,” Cass said. “I was selfish, and rude, and I didn’t show you the respect you deserve. I was hoping you could accept my apology and maybe eventually forgive me for being the date from hell.” She ventured a half-smile, relieved to see the ensign’s expression softening.

“Yeah, you left me a bit confused,” Tina admitted.

“Mhm, I know, and that was dead wrong of me,” she said as she pushed a long, black lock of hair behind her ear. “I don’t really have any excuse other than being totally oblivious to anyone’s feelings other than my own.” She glanced up at Tina and smiled. “I think I’ve been in a bit of a funk the last six months or so.”

Tina tentatively smiled back at the security chief.

“Does this apology mean you might be coming out of your funk?” she asked quietly.

Cass nodded. “I think so, yeah,” she replied. “I hope so.”

“I’m glad.”

They smiled at each other for a few seconds.

“Would you like a second chance?” the ensign finally offered, with a cheeky grin.

Cass chuckled, but knew better than to promise more than she could deliver. She sighed.

“Can I take a rain-check, Tina?” she asked softly. “I think I’m in need of some time alone with myself.” She saw her companion’s wry smile and took a punt on her thoughts. “Yeah, I know,” she said with a grin. “Time alone with myself is pretty much what I deserve, huh?”

The ensign chuckled.

“I’m glad you said that, Lt, and not me,” Tina replied. “And of course you can take a rain-check.” She reached out and placed her hand over Cass’, squeezing gently. “After all, you know where to find me.” She smiled again and stood up, giving Cass one final pat before she moved away.

Cass watched her go, satisfied that she may actually have made amends with at least one person on board. She glanced up at the approach of Neelix, the Telaxian Voyager had picked up soon after arriving in the DQ.

“Can I get you anything, Lt?” he said cheerfully. Neelix had taken over as the ship’s chief cook and bottle washer and had been given the run of the mess hall by Captain Janeway. With replicators using as much energy as they did, and Voyager needing to conserve as much fuel as they could, Neelix, and his Ocampa girlfriend Kes, had been welcome additions to the crew.

Even if his cooking talents are really … really … questionable, thought Cass as she looked up at the smiling alien. He always reminds me of a hedgehog.“I’ll just have a cup of coffee, thanks Neelix. Double-double,” she said aloud. He looked a little disappointed at the simplicity of her request.

“Are you sure that’s all you’d like?” he pressed. “I’ve just made a fresh batch of Nuvian fudge brownies. I couldn’t get quite the right ingredients but I think I’ve made some very adequate substitutions. They’ve turned out really quite well, considering.”

Cass tugged on her earlobe as she tried to figure out a polite way of saying no, but in the end she decided discretion was the better part of valor. “Sure, why not?” she muttered. “Bring it on.”

“Excellent,” said the little man, clapping his hands together with glee. “I’ll be right back.” He scampered away, leaving Cass wondering just what adventure her digestive tract was about to undertake.

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

Across the room the conversation was not going quite so swimmingly. Cass’ entrance had not gone unnoticed by Lis and Nick, though the psychologist had tried hard to keep her husband’s attention away from the statuesque brunette. But her presence in the room, albeit 30 feet away and with her back to the couple, was aggravating Nick’s already frayed temper.

“Why can’t she just stay away?” he growled.

Lis rolled her eyes. It was an old conversation. One they had had at least a couple of times a week since they had come aboard Voyager.

“Nick, this is the mess hall. She has to eat. Give it a rest, can’t you?” God, I am so tired of this, she thought. It’s like nothing penetrates his paranoia. Not even the truth. She watched her husband’s face, his eyes tracking every move Cass made. This has to stop.

“Honey, I need to talk to you about Cass.” Immediately his gaze swiveled around to her, his expression fierce and intent. And fearful, she realized. He’s still scared to death of me leaving him for her. “I’ve said this to you a thousand times since we came aboard. And now I’m going to say it one, last time.” She let a little of her anger and frustration come through. “She and I are not involved. We haven’t been in over two and a half years. We’re not going to be involved. I am begging you to get over this fear, Nick. Because right now our marriage is in more danger of dying from your distrust than it ever was from Cass.” Well, shit. Way to be subtle, Dr Dayton,she thought.

He blinked at her, stunned by her anger and her bluntness.

“You think I can just get over what you did?” he muttered.

“No, Nick, of course not. But, honey.” She reached out and took one of his hands in hers. For once he didn’t pull away from her. “Look around you. Look at where we are and the predicament we’re in. For six months we’ve been fighting for our lives here. Literally. Every single day we face a new challenge, new dangers. But you don’t see any of that.”

His eyes dropped and for a moment she thought he was going to withdraw his hand from hers, but instead he just sat still.

“You do your work, Nick, and you do it very well, but you don’t see the bigger picture. We – Voyager, all of us – we’re on our own out here. Every single one of us needs every other person on this ship. One day she may save your life. You may save hers. But all you see is something that happened a long time ago, in another universe. A universe that doesn’t matter anymore.”

He stared hard at her, and for the first time in an age she felt like he was actually listening to her, starting to understand what it was she was trying to say.

“Doesn’t matter anymore?” he murmured.

“Nick, everything changed when the Caretaker threw us out here. Everything.” She squeezed his hand. “We may never get home. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life worrying about Cassandra Lansdown and something that happened years ago? Or do you want to spend it enjoying life as best we can?” Wide brown eyes continued to stare at her and suddenly she felt very weary. She dropped his hand and slumped back in her chair. “I know what I want to be doing, Nick. And it sure as hell isn’t having this goddamn conversation over and over every day for the rest of the trip home.” She rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand.

There was a long silence where Lis didn’t bother to look at her husband, preferring to concentrate on her glass of juice and the untouched meal she had been fiddling with for the past hour. Unseen by her, Nick chewed his lip.

Suddenly he slid out of the booth and stood up.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“To talk to Lt Lansdown,” he said quietly.

Oh shit.

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

Nick caught Cass with a mouthful of fudge brownie. He sat down opposite her but said nothing as she hurriedly chewed the unpalatable morsel and washed it down with a quick swallow of lukewarm coffee.

“Another Neelix masterpiece, Lt?” the man said coolly, noting the grimace on the dark-haired woman’s face.

“Ugh. Not one of his better efforts,” she responded, pushing the plate away from her. She tried to remember the last time she had been this close to Nick Standish, her mind going back to a dinner party over three years ago when she had first met him. And his wife, she recalled ruefully. And now he’s sitting across the table from me and I’m sure we could both cheerfully throttle each other.She wrapped long fingers around her coffee mug and fixed him with a pale blue stare. “What can I do for you, Dr?”

The scientist sat back in his chair, his arms folded across his chest.

“My wife,” he enunciated slowly. “Loves you.”

Cass tilted her head to one side, trying to figure out where this conversation was coming from, and more importantly, where it was going to. “She loves you,” she replied, deliberately keeping her voice low and calm.

“I think she does,” Nick said, shrugging his shoulders slightly.

“I know she does,” Cass reiterated. “She wouldn’t have married you – wouldn’t still be with you, if she didn’t.” She acknowledged the low, sad ache in her guts as her words rang true.

Nick nodded slowly. “I haven’t allowed myself to believe that for a very long time,” he said. He looked at her directly. “Thanks to you.”

Cass let that pass, preferring to sit passively. She was vaguely aware that somewhere behind her, Lis was anxiously watching the conversation. Now wasn’t the time to let her temper control her reactions, she knew.

“You’ve done a lot of damage to my marriage, Lansdown.”

You did more before I ever came along, Cass thought. Or Lis would never have thought to look elsewhere for what she needed.“If you’re waiting for an apology from me, Nick, then you’re going to be disappointed,” she said aloud, her voice low and dangerous.

He shook his head.

“I know better than to expect that from you,” he said calmly. “That’s not why I decided to come and speak with you.”

Cass waited, figuring the man would get to his point if she just let him be. This is already the longest conversation we’ve ever had, she realized. Lis must be going spare.

“They say the best revenge is to lead a good life,” Nick said, avoiding eye contact with the tall woman. “That’s what’s going to happen, Lt. My wife and I are going to repair the damage you’ve done and we’re going to have a long and happy marriage. Regardless of where Voyager is.” Now he fixed her with an unblinking stare. “Regardless of where you are. And you and I are going to play our parts by working well together.” He set his jaw and waited for the security chief to respond.

Cass slowly turned her coffee mug around and around between her hands. I lost this battle long ago, she realized. It’s just taken both of us this long to get around to letting it go. She looked up at the man and lifted her hands in surrender. “No argument from me Nick,” she said softly, feeling something sad and lonely cry out inside her. I’ll deal with that later, she reasoned. When he won’t get any satisfaction from it.

He stood again, trailing his fingertips along the tabletop until he stood at Cass’ shoulder. Then he rested one hand on the back of her chair and leaned down till his mouth was close to her ear. Cass felt her hackles rising and she had to consciously push down the urge to shove him out of her personal space.

“Don’t ever touch her again, Lt,” he hissed. “Because if you do, ship’s protocol, rank – nothing – will stop me killing you.”

It was so absurd Cass had to bite her tongue to stop from laughing in the little man’s face. I wonder if he realizes how many different methods I could use to kill him, she thought. Let him win this one, Cass,she told herself, willing her fighting instincts back into the little black corner of her soul in which she kept them. Instead she turned her head till she was almost nose to nose with Nick.

“You’ve got what you wanted, Dr,” she said softly, keeping her expression impassive, though her eyes were ice-cold.

“Yes, I have,” he replied, turning on his heel and returning to Lis.

Cass turned back to her coffee, feeling her heart pounding its way up into her threat in some kind of delayed reaction to the conversation. In the corner of her eye she could see Nick leading Lis by the hand towards the main door of the mess hall. The petite blonde was half a step behind her husband and as the doors opened she cast a glance over her left shoulder towards her ex-lover.

Blues eyes, wide open with love and sadness, shone back at her and Lis felt her heart clench as the door slid shut behind her.

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

Several hours later Lis lay curled in bed, her husband’s arms wrapped around her as he cuddled her from behind. He was slumbering quietly and she couldn’t remember the last time they had slept so closely together.

Finally, some peace, she thought wearily as she lay in the silvered pool of light provided by the starfield. We made some progress today, and that has to be a good thing. She closed her eyes and remembered the look on Cass’ face as she left the mess hall. She’s still hurting, Lis admitted. And so am I. But at least we’ve talked, dealt with some of the misunderstanding. And recognized that we have to move on. Even Nick seems to have accepted that. Finally.She placed her hands over her husband’s and absorbed their warmth.

Her mind traveled back in time, to one sweet night early in her relationship with Cass and for a brief few moments she imagined the arms around her were the tall Starfleet officer’s.

They had made love for hours, she remembered, though the details of how they had managed to find the time alone together were fuzzy. They had lain together in the afterglow, just gazing into each other’s eyes, talking softly and touching, sweet caresses that were loaded with tenderness and care. Even then their love had been tinged by the knowledge that it could all be over in an instant. But it didn’t stop either of them from knowing the rightness of their love.

She had cradled Cassie in her arms, the younger woman nuzzling into the crook of her arm, face buried against her neck.

“There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you,” Cass had murmured, her words accompanied by the gentlest of touches across Lis’ stomach.

She had smiled at that, knowing that it was youth dictating her lover’s words rather than common sense, but it didn’t stop Lis’ heart from melting nonetheless.

“Be careful what you ask for, my love,” she had replied softly, a response which caused Cass to lift her head and fix her with a guileless blue gaze that never failed to hypnotize her.

“I want you … forever,” the dark-haired woman had whispered.

“You have me, darling,” had been her reply, knowing her young love’s focus was much more on the here and now than on the universal truth of their love.

Cass, always a woman of action, wanted everything now, Lis had known, but it had taken many late-night conversations such as this one to make her understand that leaving Nick was not as simple as packing a bag and walking out.

“I have to do it right, Cassie,” she had tried to explain. “He has to feel it’s the right thing to do, as well. We can’t just take what we feel is ours without giving some thought to the consequences for him as well. I care about him.”

“How long do we have to wait?” Cass had asked impatiently.

“I don’t know, angel,” she had always answered. “But you have more of me now than he ever had, or ever will have.”

It was a conversation that inevitably ended in tears for one or other of them, but they had the capacity to comfort each other that had never ceased to amaze her.

And even as they had come down from their mutual climaxes, wrapped in each other arms, she had known that no matter their circumstances, no matter whom they were with, she and Cass would always be destined for each other. Whether in this life or the next.

And now here we are, she thought as Voyager plunged on through the depths of the Delta Quadrant. I made my choice and now we have to make the best of it. She closed her eyes and tried to settle back into sleep. But somewhere deep inside a little voice persisted. We will be together, Cass. It just might not be in this lifetime.

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

Cass grabbed the rope with both hands and launched herself into space. She felt the rough fibers bite into her palms but she ignored the burn. Instead she concentrated on her target, a large, ugly-looking pirate with a flowing black moustache and a deadly cutlass in each hand. She ploughed boots-first into the big man’s face, his nose splattering with a satisfying squelch that brought a feral smile to the dark-haired woman’s face. Cass’ momentum took her high again and she let go of the rope at the peak of its arc, somersaulting into the crow’s nest high in the tall ship’s rigging.

She looked down on the scene below her. It was one of her favorite holodeck programs, a childhood game that she had modified and updated into a training exercise perfect for security teams. But tonight she was running it just for her own pleasure, and just to make things more interesting, she had turned off the safety protocols.

Sometimes it’s good to be queen,she thought as she took in the chaos below her.

Two Spanish galleons complete with full rigging, cannons and crews were pulled alongside each other in the middle of a wide, blue ocean. The pirates were attempting to board Cass’ ship and it was her and her crew’s objective to repel the invaders. The program could be set to a variety of skill levels and right now the security chief had it set at its most difficult.

She grinned rakishly, spying a situation below that required her assistance. With a flourish she reached over her shoulder and drew the broadsword from the leather scabbard clipped to her back. She hooked her free arm around the sheet hanging from the cross-stay and then hacked through its counterweighted partner, riding the freed rope down to the deck. Cass let out a piercing whoop as she landed in the midst of a tangle of fiercely fighting men. Sunlight glinted off her flashing blade as she set about wreaking a little havoc of her own.

An hour later, bloodied from her conquests and a few nicks inflicted by a lucky pirate or two, Cass and her remaining men stood in the midst of dead and wounded. She was panting, sweat trickled between her shoulder blades and her left knee was throbbing from some bizarre maneuver she had pushed herself through.

But it’s worth it, she thought with satisfaction. I haven’t felt this good in … too damn long.

She looked up as the holodeck doors opened, a long wooden jetty materializing in front of them. A familiar blonde figure walked out to the end of the structure, turning her head left and right as she took in the view. Cass grinned and stepped up onto the bulwark of the wooden tall ship, holding herself in balance with one hand on a taut section of rigging.

“Counselor,” she yelled in greeting. “What brings you here?”

Lis smiled at the dashing figure in front of her. Cass’ black boots, tight black leggings and white, laced, long-sleeved shirt lent the tall security chief an even sexier aura than usual. The blonde felt a familiar aching low in her guts just looking at the dark-haired woman. Damn, she thought appreciately. Remind me again why I’m not with her?

She cleared her throat. “You removed the safety protocols,” she shouted back. “The computer automatically notifies me when that happens.”

“Aaaah,” replied Cass, reaching back and sheathing her sword. “So why did it take almost two hours for you to check it out?” She grinned.

Lis folded her arms across her chest and looked down at her feet while she thought about how to answer that.

“I knew it was you,” she finally replied, glancing up again. “I figured you were scaring the hell out of some young ensigns. And then I got curious.”

“Computer. End program.”

The galleons, ocean, pirates and jetty instantly disappeared, leaving both women standing on the black floor of the bare holodeck, yellow gridlines glowing eerily around them. Cass walked slowly towards the blonde, holding her gaze.

“You’re hurt, Cass,” Lis said worriedly, noting a nasty slice on the younger woman’s bicep, blood seeping through the shirt.

“I’m fine,” Cass reassured her. She moved to walk past Lis, but the shorter woman reached out a hand, taking hers gently and halting her progress.

Green eyes looked up at her calmly.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” the psychologist asked softly.

“We’re not talking about sword fights anymore are we?” Cass replied. Lis shook her head slowly. Cass sighed. Always worrying about me.“Actually, yes, I think I am.”

“I’m glad.”

Impulsively Cass reached out and cupped the blonde’s cheek with her right hand, a little surprised when Lis closed her eyes and leaned into the gentle touch. “Don’t worry about me, love,” Cass burred. “See, I’ve figured something out about us.”

Lis swallowed, trying to ignore the warmth and softness against her cheek. “W-what’s that?”

Cass leaned down till her mouth was close to Lis ear. “I’ve discovered that I still believe in us, too,” she whispered. “And I’ve learned that good things come to those who wait. And I can wait – till the next lifetime if I have to.” She heard Lis’ breath catch at that and she quickly kissed the blonde on the cheek, just barely lingering against the warm skin. “Goodnight, Counselor,” she whispered.

Lis watched as the tall woman swept from the holodeck, the doors clanging shut. The echo reverberated off the walls covering her whisper so only she could hear.

“Oh my.”

Chapter 3

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