When the computer announces “0600 hours—regeneration cycle complete,” B’Elanna only has a fraction of a second to curse herself and consider a site-to-site transport before Seven of Nine’s cold blue eyes snap open and settle directly upon her.
“Lieutenant Torres,” Seven announces, stepping down from the alcove.
B’Elanna remains on her knees, her spanner lodged firmly in her fingers, knowing that to jump to her feet would make her appear guilty—
--as if the red hues across her cheeks haven’t already done that. She clears her throat. “Good morning, Seven.”
“Do you require my assistance?” she asks, her head tilting curiously to the side as she observes the engineer’s work.
“No. Uh—I was just finishing.” To demonstrate, B’Elanna replaces the panel and slowly gets to her feet. “There was a power surge in your workstation.”
“Ah. How convenient that you were awake at an early hour to repair a malfunction.”
At Seven’s finely sculpted eyebrow arching over her forehead, B’Elanna bristles with embarrassment. “Excuse me for trying to be helpful by doing my job.” As she heads for the door, the former drone’s voice stops her.
“Were you watching me regenerate?”
B’Elanna pauses, her face aflame, and turns to look back at the other woman. There’s something in her voice—something uncertain, something foreign—that banishes her humiliation. “Why would you say that?” she counters cautiously, eyebrows knitting together against her ridged brow.
“I wondered if it was a…novelty. A ‘sideshow attraction’ perhaps.”
B’Elanna opens her mouth and then firmly closes it. She conjures a connotation for the term Seven used, the words that had sounded so dirty and laced with malignance on her tongue. She recalls its usage in ancient human cultures, the barbaric practice of leering and staring at oddities. The Klingons perform similar rituals when gazing upon the weak and the damaged, only their gaze involves pain sticks.
“What do you mean?” the engineer questions, the words sounding like a growl around the lump forming in her throat.
Seven’s face is drawn and stoic, and B’Elanna cannot read her at all. “I often have visitors during my regeneration hours.”
The blonde woman offers a nonchalant shrug as her Borg-adapted fingers fly over her console. “Captain Janeway, the Doctor, Commander Chakotay, Ensign Kim…” Her eyes meet B’Elanna’s. “Lieutenant Paris.”
“What do they do? When you’re regenerating, I mean.”
“They look at me. It is…unnerving.”
Guilt burns hotly in the half-Klingon’s stomach. “I’m sorry, Seven. Have you—do you--?” She purses her lips, at a loss. “I’m sure they have good intentions,” she finishes lamely, though she knows it’s an empty statement. The captain watches her pet Borg out of scientific fascination and the Doctor out of love. The others...she knows them, so she knows that they look at her with reverence and curiosity and desire. She knows that they look upon her as if she’s a beautiful object to be possessed.
B’Elanna can tell by the vacant expression in the other woman’s eyes that she is aware of the same fact.
“What were your intentions, B’Elanna Torres?” Seven asks, her voice measured and quiet. “There was no malfunction in my workstation.”
B’Elanna squares her shoulders. She clears her throat. “It’s not the same thing, Seven.”
“Is it not?”
“I see you as a person. I—you’re pretty when you regenerate. All right?”
Seven blinks, her own cheeks tinged with the faintest color. “I have noticed you looking at me before.”
The accusation stings only because B’Elanna knows she’s been caught. She doesn’t express embarrassment well and so it comes forth as anger, reddening her face. She curls her hands into fists, her fingernails digging into her palms. “Look—I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I know it sounds like I’m no better than the rest of them, but—“
“I know you are different.”
“You used to look at me with contempt, but something has changed.”
“Let’s not make a big deal out of it, okay? I won’t do it anymore. I should have asked your permission.”
“I do not dislike the way you look at me. You see me as an individual. You see…me.”
B’Elanna’s stomach twists with something vaguely anticipatory, something pleasant. “That’s what you are, Seven. And…I’m sorry.”
Seven gives a little nod and tilts her head, her eyes studying the contours of the engineer’s face. “Perhaps I shall come to your quarters and watch you sleep some night.”
“A joke.” Seven’s eyes sparkle with amusement.
B’Elanna lets out a relieved sigh and smiles. “Hey—it would be only fair.” She clears her throat. “Uh, I should go. Are you…okay?”
B’Elanna nods and turns toward the cargo bay doors.
The darker haired woman turns, one thick eyebrow raised in nervous anticipation.
“I find you aesthetically pleasing as well. I find myself looking at you more frequently than I look at anyone else aboard this ship. If I may continue to gaze at you, it would be acceptable for you to gaze at me.”
The conversation is so ridiculous that B’Elanna could laugh, but she’s too relieved and too flattered and too overwhelmed to do anything but smile, nod, and say, “Deal.”
As the half-Klingon heads toward Engineering, she makes a mental note to inquire about whether or not they’ve entered into a gaseous, mild-altering anomaly—just in case.