Disclaimer: The characters belong to Paramount but the story is mine. I don't mean any harm, I just want to right a few wrongs. I promise to return the characters in better shape than when I got them.
Author's Note: Thank you to Tracy, my special friend from the world of 'Imzadi', for helping this Voyager writer to find the confidence to venture away from home into the realm of TNG, and for reading the result to check I did ok. Thank you for your help, but most of all thank you for being a friend.
Tying The Threads
Chapter Seven: Only Human
Seven of Nine paused inside the door of the laboratory and looked around. A slight smile of satisfaction appeared on her lips as she surveyed the familiar consoles and screens. At last she was somewhere where she could put her abilities to work. Locating a pair of legs protruding from beneath a console she strode across the room and came to a halt beside them.
"Lieutenant Barclay, we are to work together I believe."
A thud shook the console and was followed by a muffled exclamation. Lt. Barclay emerged from beneath the console, rubbing his forehead.
"S-seven of Nine! I wasn't expecting you so soon. I was told you would be here tomorrow."
"You may call me Seven, I am accustomed to that title. I have found that people find it cumbersome to use my full designation."
Barclay nodded in mute acceptance.
Seven smiled slightly as she studied the nervous man before her.
"I apologise for startling you, Lieutenant. I am aware that I was not due to start work until tomorrow, but I had nothing else to occupy my time, to delay would have been inefficient."
"O-of course. I'm sorry. I-I didn't mean to imply that you were unwelcome. I've been looking forward to working with you, I was just surprised to see you. I had assumed that you would be visiting family and friends or getting to know San Francisco."
"I prefer to stay within Starfleet Headquarters. I am uncomfortable with the attention I receive when people notice my implants. It is easier for me to stay here where my presence is more familiar. I have no friends outside Voyager's crew and therefore have no reason to leave."
Barclay looked at her with concern.
"But people from Voyager won't be staying here indefinitely, many of them have already returned to their homes, surely you'll be lonely if you don't visit them sometimes?"
"I am accustomed to my own company, and there are few among Voyager's crew who would consider inviting me to their home."
"I-I'm sorry I don't mean to pry, it's just that I thought, I mean I'd heard, I..." Barclay stuttered to a halt.
"You had heard what, Lieutenant?"
"Well someone mentioned that you had become close to Commander Chakotay. I thought that maybe you would be spending some time with him."
"We had attempted to form a personal relationship towards the end of our time on Voyager, but once we arrived here it became obvious that we had little in common. We made a mutual decision to end our relationship and I have not seen him since that time."
"There is no reason for you to feel remorse, Lieutenant. You were not responsible for the end of the relationship."
"No, no, of course not. I meant, it must have been upsetting for you."
"I felt no distress. Such a feeling would be inappropriate when following the logical course of action."
"Unfortunately feelings can often be inappropriate," Barclay stated, ruefully.
"So I have been told, though I fail to understand why that should be so. It seems that I have much to learn about human emotion. Perhaps you will assist me."
"I don't know if I'd be much help. Oh, but I know someone who would!" Barclay's face suddenly lit up with eager anticipation. "Have you met Counselor Deanna Troi?"
"Seven, may I introduce Counselor Deanna Troi? Deanna, this is Seven of Nine."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Seven. Reg often talks about you."
"As he does about you, Counselor. I am grateful that you were able to make time to meet us today."
"You make it sound like an official appointment, Seven! I always enjoy meeting friends for lunch. Especially," she grinned, "when lunch includes chocolate."
"Lieutenant Barclay has mentioned your fondness for chocolate. I believe he selected this restaurant due to the number of desserts on the menu that include that ingredient."
"Reg knows me too well," Deanna smiled at the blushing engineer. "But I hope there's something on the menu that you'll enjoy too."
"Enjoyment is irrelevant, I select my meals for their nutritional value."
"The one need not preclude the other, Seven."
"That has not been my experience. The database lists leola root as an excellent source of fourteen nutrients and yet, no matter how Neelix prepared it, I never found its consumption to be a pleasurable experience."
"Did you ever consider the possibility that leola root just tastes bad?" Deanna fought to suppress a smile.
"I had reached that conclusion," Seven confirmed.
"Then why continue to eat it?"
"It is an efficient method of obtaining the required nutrients. It would have been foolish to waste replicator energy on producing additional foodstuffs."
"But there's no need to worry about that now, Seven. You should experiment, find out what you enjoy."
"Do you have any suggestions, Counselor?"
Deanna scanned the menu.
"How about Mushroom Soup followed by Seafood Risotto? With luck you'll still have room for a chocolate sundae afterwards."
"Very well. If you believe that to be an enjoyable selection I will follow your suggestions. Indeed Commander Chakotay expressed a fondness for mushroom soup during our time on Voyager."
"You and the commander became quite close I believe?" Deanna queried.
"We attempted to begin a relationship but it was not successful. I am unsure why that was the case since we appeared, to me, to be well matched."
"What makes you think that you were well matched?"
"We worked together successfully, we have a similar level of intelligence, we are both physically attractive."
"It takes more than that for a relationship to work. In fact, some of the most successful relationships occur between couples who appear to be totally mismatched. Did you ever hear the expression ‘opposites attract'?"
"Yes, but I have never understood it. How can people who are not alike find each other attractive?"
"I don't think anyone has been able to explain what makes one person attractive to another. Certainly there's more to it than looks or intelligence."
"Then how does one determine a suitable candidate with whom to attempt a relationship?"
"You have to be guided by your feelings. Sometimes the attraction is instantaneous. Sometimes a couple grows together over time. But when you find the right person you'll know."
"Then why do couples take so long to form a permanent partnership? I have observed that couples who are obviously attracted to each other often attempt to hide their feelings from others, from each other and sometimes from themselves. Such behaviour is illogical if they are aware that they have, as you say, found the right person."
Deanna gave a wry smile.
"Little about love is logical, Seven."
Reg had been sitting quietly listening to the conversation of the two women, but now his curiosity got the better of him.
"Did you have a particular couple in mind?"
"There were several such couples on Voyager," Seven stated.
Deanna and Reg stared at her expectantly but no further information was forthcoming. Finally, unable to contain herself, Deanna broke the silence.
"Seven, if you want to learn about being human then your first lesson is the art of gossip. So spill it, who was attracted to who?"
"Lieutenants Paris and Torres shared a mutual attraction for some time before they made their relationship public and eventually married."
"That's not gossip, Seven. Everyone knows about their relationship." Deanna was obviously disappointed. "Tell us something we don't know."
Seven paused to consider for a moment before deciding to enter into the spirit of the conversation.
"Commander Chakotay often behaved in a manner that indicated that he was attracted to the captain, and although she was more discreet, I believe that Captain Janeway had similar feelings for the commander."
"And yet Commander Chakotay began a relationship with you?" Reg was intrigued by this information about the officers who had become his heroes.
"I am unsure why he chose to pursue that course of action, but Captain Janeway gave him no indication that he should act on his feelings for her, and I am told that he had demonstrated on several previous occasions that he finds women with my colouring attractive."
"Do you think the captain knew how he felt about her?" asked Reg.
"I do not see how she could fail to notice. It was obvious to everyone else," Seven answered before turning to the counselor. "I am curious, if she was aware of his feelings and returned them, why did Captain Janeway not begin a relationship with Commander Chakotay?"
"Only she can answer that, Seven. Perhaps you should ask her," Deanna joked.
Seven, as usual, failed to catch the humour in her remark and left Reg and Deanna speechless with her next remark
"I have arranged to meet with Captain Janeway next month. She is anxious to know how I am adapting to life away from Voyager. I will ask her then."
"Seven, you're looking well. Come in." Kathryn Janeway looked up as Seven appeared at the door of her office.
"Thank you, Captain. You are also looking well. I assume that your homecoming has been a pleasurable experience."
"I certainly wouldn't describe it all as pleasurable, but things seem to be looking up lately." Kathryn smiled inwardly as she considered recent events. "How have things been with you? Are you enjoying being on Earth?"
"It has been unsettling. I receive more attention from strangers than I desire. I understood that it was considered rude to stare, but that view is not supported by the actions of many of the people I encounter."
"They don't mean to be rude, Seven, but you are a unique individual. It's not every day that they get to see an ex-Borg, you have to expect some interest."
"I understand that it is inevitable, but it is unpleasant never the less."
"I imagine so. But aside from that how are things going? Do you enjoy your work?"
"It is valuable work. Starfleet's astrometrics systems will benefit greatly from the addition of Borg enhancements."
"I'm sure you're doing a wonderful job." Kathryn was used to Seven's lack of modesty and was unfazed by her high opinion of the merits of her work.
"I would be unable to perform satisfactorily without the assistance of Lieutenant Barclay. Federation technology has improved since Voyager was developed and his knowledge of current systems has been invaluable to the efficiency of our project."
"Reg Barclay is a fine engineer," Janeway agreed. "I look forward to hearing more about your work. I'll need full reports if I'm to include the details of your design changes in my briefings to the academy instructors."
"Reg mentioned to me that you will be overseeing the work at Utopia Planitia. Congratulations, Captain, I understand that the position carries a promotion to Admiral."
"Yes, it does, thank you, Seven. It will be somewhat different from commanding a starship, I'm looking forward to the challenge."
"When will you be taking up the position?"
"Well, I've already begun reviewing some reports and meeting with the engineering teams but officially I don't start until the promotion takes effect on the first of next month. I'm planning to make my first visit to the shipyards in three weeks time."
Janeway rose from her seat and moved to the replicator. She ordered her customary mug of coffee then turned back to her companion. "Can I get you something, Seven?"
"Thank you. A strawberry milkshake would be most welcome at this time."
The captain stared at her in wide-mouthed astonishment.
"A strawberry milkshake?"
"I was advised to find nutritious foods that I also find pleasant. I have found that I enjoy the taste of strawberry milkshake," Seven explained.
"Sounds like excellent advice. The Doctor?"
"No, I have not seen him since the enquiry into his sentience." Seven looked vaguely uncomfortable for a moment. "The advice came from Counselor Deanna Troi."
"Ah," Kathryn smiled. "An excellent source of advice. Her love of chocolate is legendary within Starfleet."
"As is your own fondness for coffee." Her tone was bland but a slight smile revealed the humorous intent.
Kathryn laughed as she handed Seven her drink and settled back into her seat.
"Touché. I guess I can't deny it when the evidence is against me." She indicated towards the mug in her hand. "Did Deanna have any other advice for you?"
"She advised me to ask you why you had not begun a relationship with Commander Chakotay while we were still aboard Voyager." Seven wasted no time in getting to the point.
It wasn't the first time that Kathryn had been rendered speechless by a statement from Seven, but on this occasion her recovery took a little longer than normal. She took a gulp of coffee as she considered the situation, finally she attempted to avoid the issue.
"I really don't think that Counselor Troi has any interest in such matters, Seven. You must have misunderstood."
"I understood perfectly, Captain. That is precisely what she advised me to do."
Seven proceeded to outline her conversation with the counselor for the captain's benefit. She ended her narrative by reiterating her question.
"Since my conversation with Counselor Troi I have learned that you have now begun a relationship with the commander. Since the crew's observations regarding your feelings for each other appear to have been correct, I am curious to know why you did not begin such a relationship in the Delta Quadrant."
Although Kathryn immediately realised that Deanna had not been serious in her advice to Seven she decided that the younger woman was genuine in her desire to understand more about the nature of human relationships. That being the case some sort of answer to her question was clearly necessary, but first she had some concerns of her own to address.
"I hope you know that I would never have stood in the way of your relationship with Chakotay, Seven. Although it was upsetting to me personally to see him with you, I truly hoped that it would work out for you, if that was what you both wanted. It was only after I knew that your relationship had ended that Chakotay and I became.." she hesitated for a moment as she searched for the right word.
"Intimate?" suggested Seven.
"Actually I was going to say ‘closer' but I guess ‘intimate' is correct," Kathryn agreed.
"I do not blame you for the failure of my relationship with the commander. Had you and Commander Chakotay become ‘closer' while we were on Voyager the possibility of such a relationship would not have been considered by either of us."
"I suppose so." Kathryn sighed as she attempted to formulate an explanation. "I'm not sure that I fully understand my reasons myself, Seven. Starfleet regulations had a lot to do with it, I was reluctant to begin a relationship with an officer under my command, but that wasn't the whole reason. For a while there was Mark, the man I was engaged to marry. I could never have become involved with another man while I thought that Mark was waiting for me, and once I heard that he had moved on ...Well, I guess I was afraid."
"Afraid of what? You had no reason to fear Commander Chakotay."
"No, not afraid of him, afraid of many things: afraid of what the crew would think; afraid of Starfleet's reaction once we got home; afraid that my command would suffer. But most of all I think I was afraid that I would lose him."
"I do not understand. Why would you lose the commander if you acted on your feelings for him?"
"In some way or another I have lost every man I've loved. My first fiancé was killed in a shuttle accident along with my father. I lost Mark when we became stranded in the Delta Quadrant. And then there was Jaffen, the man I lived with on Quarra." She paused and glanced at Seven, seeking confirmation that the reference was understood.
Seven nodded her remembrance and Kathryn continued.
"I don't think I loved Jaffen but I certainly cared for him a great deal and if we hadn't returned to Voyager and had our memories restored who knows what might have happened. So, in a way, I lost him too. Perhaps I was afraid to allow myself to love Chakotay because, if I gave in to my feelings for him, I would lose him too."
"That is irrational. Events such as those you have mentioned are not influenced by your feelings for the individuals involved and, even if they were, it did not make sense to avoid a relationship with Commander Chakotay on that basis. The logical course of action would be to commence a relationship, and have him for a short time, rather than to deny your feelings and never have him at all."
"Perhaps so," Kathryn admitted, "but little about love is logical."
Seven looked startled.
"That is what Counselor Troi said."
"Then she is a wise woman," Janeway smiled.
"She also told me that when I found the right person to begin a relationship with I would know, but that does not appear to be the case."
"What makes you say that?"
"You have told me that you have been engaged to marry twice in the past and yet on each occasion you have subsequently commenced a relationship with someone else. Did you agree to marry men who you did not feel were the right person? Or did you believe that they were right at the time and only later find that they were not? And if that is true then how can you be sure that the commander is the right man for you now?"
Kathryn flinched under the barrage of questions. This was not the conversation she had envisioned when she arranged Seven's visit. She was unaccustomed to discussing her private life, so to suddenly find herself doing so, and with Seven of all people, was somewhat disconcerting.
"I don't regret my relationships with Justin and Mark. I was young when I met Justin, he was older than I was, a respected Starfleet officer. Our relationship was passionate and exciting; it made me feel alive in a way that I'd never experienced before. I was devastated when he died, but looking back I think that, although I missed him badly, a large part of my grief was for my father and the fact that I blamed myself for not being able to save them."
"You were in the shuttle with them?"
"I was injured in the crash but I was thrown clear of the ship when it crashed. My father and Justin were trapped in the remains of the hull when it sank under an icecap. I tried to transport them out but failed."
"If you made every attempt to save them then you have nothing to reproach yourself for."
"I realise that now, but it wasn't so easy at the time. Mark was the one who helped me through it. We had been in school together and I'd known him since I was a small child. His presence was familiar and comforting, and we grew closer over time. It was a very different relationship to the one I'd had with Justin, comfortable rather than passionate. I don't know if I'd have been happy married to either of them, but I believed I would at the time."
"Do you feel that way about Commander Chakotay?"
"What I feel for Chakotay goes far deeper than anything I felt for Justin or Mark. He's the other half of my soul. Counselor Troi is right in saying that when you find the right man you know. The hard part is recognising when someone is not the right one. Sometimes you don't know what you're searching for until you find it."
Seven sipped her drink and contemplated what she had heard. Kathryn watched her in silence for a moment before her curiosity got the better of her.
"Seven, may I ask you something? When you wanted to start a relationship, why did you choose Chakotay? I don't mean to pry but I have to confess to being curious. It all seemed so sudden, one day you were barely friendly the next you were dating. Why him?"
"It was because I believed you were attracted to him."
"Excuse me?" Kathryn was sure she must have misheard.
"In the time that I have known you, I have observed that you are a good judge of character. I believed that if you found Commander Chakotay attractive then he must be a good choice of mate. I therefore selected the commander from the available crewmembers when I began to explore my sexuality. I now realise that my reasoning was flawed. Counselor Troi has been most helpful, as have you, Captain. Thank you."
"You're welcome, Seven. I'm glad we could help." Kathryn was still surprised by the turn the conversation had taken, but she was genuinely glad to be able to help her former crewmember. Her eyes became alight with mischief as she plotted revenge on Deanna for placing her in this situation. "If you want to learn more perhaps you could ask Counselor Troi why it took her thirteen years to begin a relationship with Commander Riker, when even she would admit that they fell in love the first time they met."
"She did not mention that to me. I will ask her should we meet again."
Kathryn was about to reply when the door chime sounded. Looking up she saw her assistant hovering in the doorway.
"Come in, Ensign."
"I'm sorry to interrupt, Captain, but Admiral Muir wants to see you in his office."
"Thank you, Ensign. Tell him I'm on my way."
Ensign Gerrard nodded and left the room. Kathryn turned back to her companion.
"I'm sorry Seven, I have to go. Perhaps we can do this again sometime?"
"I would like that, I have found our conversation most interesting."
Seven stood and moved towards the door.
"Before you go, Seven...."
Seven stopped and turned back to face Janeway who was smiling and holding out a tissue.
"You might want to wipe your lip, you have a moustache."
"I do not understand." Seven looked puzzled.
"The milkshake, you have milk on your upper lip."
Seven took the tissue and left the room rubbing at her face.
"Seven, wait up!"
Seven turned at the sound of her name to see Reg Barclay hurrying down the corridor towards her.
"Is there a problem, Lieutenant? I thought you had taken the day off."
"I did, I mean I have. I just wondered if you'd like to join me. I'm meeting Deanna and I'm sure she'd like to see you again."
"It would be pleasant but I have work to attend to."
"Work can wait, Seven. You should take some time for yourself, you haven't had a day off in three months; it's not normal to work that hard, most people take at least one day off each week. You'll make yourself ill if you don't rest."
"I do not require rest, it is sufficient that I regenerate regularly. Besides I took time off to visit Admiral Janeway."
"That was three weeks ago, you took half a day and you didn't leave the building!" Three months spent working closely with Seven had cured Reg of his initial shyness. "Come on, Seven, you'll enjoy it. We're going to have a picnic on the beach."
"I had understood that such activities were reserved for the summer months. I do not believe that January is a suitable time, it will be cold and damp." Seven frowned in distaste at the thought.
"It would be if we were staying here but we're not, we're going to transport down to San Juan. Sun, sea, fresh air, it'll be wonderful. Say you'll come, Seven, you won't regret it."
"Very well, if you wish me to come I will do so, but first I must return this padd to the laboratory."
"That's great. Grab a swimsuit and meet us at the transporter hub in 30 minutes." Barclay beamed at her before hurrying away leaving Seven with a perplexed frown on her face and an unspoken question on her lips.
Half an hour later Seven arrived at the transporter hub to find her companions waiting.
"Seven! I'm so glad you could join us," Deanna greeted her. "This is Commander Will Riker, Will this is Seven of Nine."
Will reached out to shake her hand.
"Delighted to meet you, Miss Nine."
"I do not believe that is an appropriate designation, Commander. You may call me Seven or, if you are uncomfortable with that name, perhaps Miss Hansen would be more suitable."
"You're using your human name now, Seven?" Deanna was surprised.
"I have considered doing so, but I am undecided. While I am not comfortable with that name, I have observed that others find the use of my Borg designation unsettling. There is much hatred for the Borg here. My name is a reminder to them of what I once was."
"If you prefer Seven, then that's what I'll call you," Will decided, "it's your name and you're the one that should feel comfortable with it."
"I am surprised that you feel that way, Commander. Your experience of the Borg has been greater than that of the majority of humans. I expected that you would feel the same dislike for me that I have sensed from many others."
"I may hate the Borg but I don't dislike you. You're an individual now and that's who I want to get to know."
Will turned a beaming smile on her and, seeing the genuine warmth behind it, Seven gave a tentative smile in return.
"Well we can't stand around here all afternoon," Deanna took Will's arm, "let's get going."
They gave their destination to the transporter operator and stepped onto the transporter platform. Seconds later they were gone, reappearing 5855km away in the bustling transporter station that served the city of San Juan. Deanna led the way through the crowd to the section reserved for local transports and requested a transport to Luquillo Beach.
"Done this before, Deanna?" asked Will, as they once more stepped onto a transporter platform.
"I love the beach, you know that!" she chided him, "Luquillo is beautiful, you'll love it."
Will had to agree with her when they emerged from the transporter station at Playa de Luquillo. Gentle waves lapped at a broad crescent of white sand that was fringed by cocoa palms and afforded a spectacular view of the distant El Yunque rainforest and mountain range beyond. They wound their way through the trees to the edge of the beach where Deanna took a blanket from her bag and spread it on the sand.
"I'm going to change," she declared indicating to a cabana further down the beach. She turned to Seven and for the first time noticed that Seven was empty handed. "Didn't Reg tell you to bring a swimsuit?"
"He did, but I do not possess such a garment."
Deanna looked horrified.
"You can't spend the afternoon at the beach without a swimsuit. Come with me. I know where we can get one for you."
Seven followed helplessly as Deanna led her back through the trees.
Will and Reg watched them go, then turned back to the beach and began to unpack the picnic basket that they had brought with them. By the time the two women reappeared they had changed into their swimming shorts and were sitting with their backs against palm trees enjoying a cold drink. Will's eyes widened as he watched them approach.
"Wow! You look great, Seven!" He turned to Barclay. "Doesn't she, Reg?"
Reg was unable to speak, he nodded mutely as he stared at Seven. Gone was the dull brown catsuit that she had been wearing and instead she was attired in a vivid blue swimsuit with a matching sarong tied around her waist. After taking a few moments to enjoy the view Reg found his voice.
"You look wonderful, and so do you, Deanna," he said with a shy smile.
Deanna beamed back at him.
"Why thank you, Reg. I'm glad someone appreciates me," she said, pointedly.
"I always appreciate you!" Will protested grabbing her hand and pulling her into his lap. He lifted her chin with one finger and planted a gentle kiss on her lips. Deanna smiled up at him for a moment then turned to Seven who was still standing beside the blanket looking perplexed.
"Are you alright, Seven?"
"I fail to see the necessity of changing my clothing. I did not find my original attire uncomfortable."
"Perhaps not," Deanna conceded, "but to swim you need a swimsuit. Talking of swimming, I need to cool down, coming?"
Deanna jumped to her feet and looked expectantly at her companions. Her smile turned to an expression of concern as she regarded Seven.
"What are you afraid of, Seven?" she asked, gently.
"I do not know how to swim," Seven answered after a moment of hesitation.
"You never learned as a child?" Will was amazed.
"Perhaps I did, but I have no memory of doing so. I have little recollection of the time before I was assimilated. If I was taught how to swim, I no longer remember how and I have had no need to learn."
Deanna and Will glanced at each other as they wondered what to do next. On the one hand they both wanted to enjoy a dip in the sea, but on the other they felt uncomfortable leaving Seven out of the fun while they enjoyed themselves. Before they could reach a solution, Reg solved their dilemma for them.
"Don't worry, Seven. I've never liked to swim. We can take a walk along the beach while the others swim."
"That would be acceptable," Seven stated, with a small smile at her colleague.
"Well if you're sure?" Deanna waited for Barclay's confirmatory nod before continuing. "Come on, Will, what are you waiting for?"
Deanna sprinted off towards the ocean leaving Will to race after her. He caught up with her, swung her into his arms and ran into the sea before dropping her, screaming, into the water. Reg and Seven watched the laughing couple for a moment then set off down the beach. They walked in silence for a few minutes before Seven turned to her companion with a question.
"I am curious. I have observed that Counselor Troi and Commander Riker often appear to communicate without speaking. I know that the counselor is half betazoid and therefore has some telepathic abilities but it is my understanding that Commander Riker is fully human. Does he have abilities of which I am unaware?"
"No, you're right, the commander isn't normally telepathic but it's different with Deanna, they're Imzadi."
"I am unfamiliar with that term. Explain please."
"I'm not sure that I really understand it myself. It's a betazoid word meaning ‘beloved' but it's more than that. It's a special bond they share, they can explain it better than I can but it enables them to share their thoughts and their emotions. It's very rare for a human to become linked to a betazoid in that way." Reg looked wistful. "Commander Riker is a very lucky man."
"You envy him?"
"How could I not? Deanna is a very special woman."
"You would like to have a romantic relationship with her." It was a statement not a question.
"I suppose I would," Reg admitted, "but I know it won't happen, so I've stopped fantasising about the possibility. She's happy with Commander Riker and they share something special. I wouldn't do anything to spoil that for them. I just have to hope that one day I can make someone as happy as he makes her."
"I have no doubt that you will, Reg."
Reg stopped in his tracks, surprised both by the unexpected warmth of her statement and her first use of his given name. Regaining his composure he hurried after her and they returned to their picnic spot in companionable silence.
The picnic basket was empty and they were relaxing as they digested their meal. Will was sprawled on the blanket as he dozed in the sunshine, his head in Deanna's lap. Reg had half covered himself with sand as protection from the sun and was snoring gently from under the hat that covered his face.
"May I ask you a question, Counselor?"
Seven was seated with her back against a tree and had been deep in thought until she broke the silence with her query.
"Of course, Seven. What is it?" Deanna was curious to know what had been troubling the ex-Borg.
"Lieutenant Barclay has informed me that you and Commander Riker have formed a bond that is termed ‘Imzadi' and that this bond enables you to share your thoughts. In the collective we shared one thought and one will, is that how it is with you and the commander?"
"Oh no, not at all! Yes, we can communicate telepathically, but our thoughts are our own until we chose to share them. Unless Will opens his mind to me, I can no more hear his thoughts than I can yours."
"If that is so then why is this bond considered special? It is my understanding that telepathic communication is normal for betazoids and not unknown in humans."
"Being Imzadi means more than being able to share our thoughts. To be Imzadi is to share hopes and dreams, happiness and tears, weakness and strength. I feel Will's presence in every fibre of my being, even when we are apart. I know what he wants and what he needs. The bond we share allows me to love him and understand him, to accept him without needing to change him. It's a connection that we feel in our minds, in our hearts and in our souls. In betazoid the term Imzadi means beloved but it also means ‘the first'. Will is the first person who was able to touch my soul, the first person to make me feel whole, the first person I gave my heart to and received his in return. He is my beloved and whatever may happen in the future he will always be my first, my Imzadi."
Seven paused to consider Deanna's words then nodded her understanding, but one thing was still puzzling her.
"Admiral Janeway told me that it was many years after your first meeting before you began your current relationship. Did you feel this bond when you first met? If you did, why did it take you so long to act on your feelings?"
"Actually I hated him at first," Deanna looked fondly down at Will, "but it didn't take long before I changed my mind. I think we both realised that what we felt was unusual and very special, but we were young and it was complicated. Will was just starting out on his career. I was still studying on Betazed. I think we were both afraid to make a commitment at that time and later, when we were reunited on the Enterprise, we settled for being close friends. It was easier to stay that way than possibly risk our working relationship by giving in to our feelings."
"It appears that it is common to be afraid of acting on such feelings. Admiral Janeway expressed similar concerns regarding her relationship with Commander Chakotay."
"You talked to her about that?" Deanna was amazed.
"Certainly, you advised me that I should."
Deanna suppressed a groan and wondered how she could ensure that she didn't encounter Admiral Janeway for the next decade or two. The poor woman would never forgive her.
The afternoon passed in quiet conversation and companionable silence. As the sun began to set Deanna and Will took a stroll down the beach leaving Seven and Reg alone. Seven was lost in thought and Reg grew concerned as he watched her studying a nearby family with a wistful expression.
"Are you alright, Seven?"
Seven started at the sound of her name and turned her attention back to her companion.
"I was observing the other groups around us. There are many families here who seem to be enjoying themselves, it made me wonder if my parents ever took me to the beach. I regret that I have no memory of such occasions."
"Do you have any memories of your childhood?"
"I recall some incidents from my time on the Raven, I remember the sound of my father's voice and the smell of my mother's perfume, but I have no memory of being on earth or of my family here. The assimilation process suppresses such memories and although I had hoped that they would return they have not yet done so."
"Perhaps your family could help. Didn't you say that you had an Aunt who was anxious to see you?"
"She has invited me to visit her, but I have not yet done so."
"Don't you think it's time you did?"
Seven thought for a moment before nodding slowly.
"I believe that it is."
"Annika! Welcome! Come in, come in!"
Irene Hansen threw open the door to her home and ushered her niece inside.
"I was so thrilled to get your message saying you were coming to visit. Now stand back and let me look at you."
Seven stood in bewildered silence, as her aunt looked her up and down. Irene nodded in satisfaction.
"You're your parents' daughter that's for sure. Now come and sit down and tell me all about yourself. I want to hear everything!"
Irene led her niece out to the back porch and settled her in a wicker chair. She poured two glasses of lemonade before turning to look expectantly at Seven.
"I am not sure what you wish to know."
"Like I said – everything! Tell me what you've been up to since you got home. How does it feel to be back? Why did it take you so long to come visit?"
"After Starfleet decided that I did not pose a threat to the Federation they offered me a position within the Engineering department at Headquarters. I am aiding in the development of enhanced astrometrics laboratories for integration into Starships. The laboratory aboard Voyager was significantly improved by the inclusion of Borg technology. The aim is to share that technology with the rest of the fleet. It is interesting work."
"I'm sure it is." Irene sounded totally disinterested. "I'm glad you're enjoying your work, how about outside of work. Is it good to be home?"
"I do not regard Earth as home since I have no memory of living here as a child. What memories I have from my childhood are of being aboard the Raven. Voyager was the closest to a home that I have known and I have found returning to Earth to be unsettling."
"Is that why it's taken you so long to come see me?"
"Perhaps so. It has taken me some time to adjust to leaving Voyager. On the ship people were familiar with my appearance, but on Earth I am an object of curiosity and sometimes hatred. It is unpleasant to be subject to such intense scrutiny wherever I go."
"It must be hard." Irene's voice was rich with sympathy. "But you are my niece, my brother's child, it doesn't matter to me if you are Borg or human. You are family and that is the only thing that counts."
Seven smiled at her aunt.
"I would like to learn more about my family and especially about my parents. I have little memory of them and yet you say I am my parents' child. I am curious as to how I resemble them. I have seen no likeness in the images in the Starfleet database."
"You have your father's height and build, but your eyes come from your mother. She had that same determined gaze. I'd know it anywhere and you had it even as a small child."
"Did I visit you often?"
"Whenever your parents needed a sitter, which was at least twice a week. They left you here when they went to meetings at Starfleet. That was before they left the 'fleet to pursue their own research."
Seven detected the veiled anger in her voice.
"You believe they made the wrong decision."
"They were free to make their own choices, but they shouldn't have taken you with them. It was never any kind of life for a child and they should never have exposed you to that risk. We knew nothing about the Borg at that time, but going into an uncharted area of space was bound to be dangerous. I wanted to keep you here with me, but they refused. When you left I thought I'd never see you again." Her eyes filled with tears at the memory.
"They thought that they could protect me. I do not blame them for what the Borg did to us, they had no chance to resist. I was happy on the Raven, all that mattered to me was that I was with my parents and that they loved me. I do not regret that they took me with them. You should not either."
"It's hard not to be bitter when I think what the Borg did to my little Annie. They even took your name and replaced it with a number."
"The Borg system of designations is more efficient, names would be confusing within the collective."
"I know, but you're not in the collective now. Why do you continue to use Seven? It's such an ugly name."
"When Admiral Janeway separated me from the collective it was the only name I knew. I had no memory of my life before I was assimilated and the name Annika meant nothing to me. I kept the name I was familiar with because so much was changing and I needed to have something remain constant. It was hard to find my identity as an individual. It was suggested that I revert to my human name, but Annika was a child and a stranger. I didn't feel like Annika Hansen then and I didn't believe that I ever would."
"Now I don't know, I no longer consider myself to be Borg but I am still discovering what it means to be human. Perhaps one day I will feel like Annika again."
"You will always be Annika to me, so I hope you'll forgive me if I continue to call you that. I'm too old to change now."
"I would like it if you did. Perhaps it will help me to remember more about my family."
"Oh, I can do far more to help you with that. Let me get my photo albums." She leapt to her feet and hurried into the house. Seven watched her go then turned back to survey her surroundings. Sitting there on the porch she felt a new sense of warmth and security, suddenly this place seemed safe and familiar. She frowned, wondering if her imagination was playing tricks on her. Could it be that she remembered her aunt's home? Wrapped up in her thoughts she didn't hear Irene return and was startled when she felt a hand on her shoulder.
"Is something wrong, Annika?" Irene asked with concern.
Seven glanced up at her aunt then indicated towards a tall tree at the end of the yard. It was a sturdy specimen with wide sweeping branches and dense foliage.
"Was there once a treehouse in that tree?" she asked hesitantly.
Irene's face broke into a beaming smile.
"You remember!" she exclaimed in delight. "It's still there, come see!"
Irene practically dragged her niece to the foot of the tree. Seven stood gazing up into the branches where she was able to make out the shape of a small cabin perched among the boughs.
"I loved to hide away up there," she said softly. "You would bring me cookies and lemonade and I would stay there until you forced me to come down."
"I never knew what you did up there. For such a young child you were remarkably self-reliant, but I always knew where to find you," Irene remembered. She wrapped an arm around Seven's waist pulling her close and together they stood in silence staring at the home of their shared memories.
Sometime later they were once more settled on the porch and Irene could stand it no longer.
"Annie, I've just got to ask, why do you wear such dreadful clothes?"
Seven looked down at her dark red catsuit.
"My garments were designed by the doctor to protect my dermoplastic grafts following the removal of my Borg implants."
"That's lovely, dear, I'm sure he did a wonderful job but do you still need them?"
"It is no longer necessary that I wear them, the grafts are now fully integrated into by own skin. However, I am accustomed to this clothing and have not felt the need to adopt another form of dress."
"Well you should," Irene was blunt. "You say that you dislike the attention your appearance receives and yet you dress in such a way that no man within a hundred metres could fail to appreciate your, ummm, assets." Her hands outlined exaggerated curves. "Frankly my dear, you look like one of those dolls that grown men design for little girls, but which owe more to their own vision of a playmate than that of a child. You're a strikingly beautiful young woman, but you have a brain too. Make sure that it's your face that people talk to, not your breasts."
Seven was silent for a moment as she considered her aunt's words.
"Perhaps you are right. Would you assist me in choosing more appropriate attire?"
Irene was delighted.
"I thought you'd never ask, come with me."
She led the way into the house and twenty minutes later Seven was standing in front of a mirror studying her reflection. She was dressed in navy blue leggings and a pale blue v-necked top in a finely knitted fabric that draped softly from her shoulders lightly skimming her breasts and hips before ending at mid-thigh. Her hair had been freed from its harsh pleat and was clipped at the nape of her neck by a silver clasp.
"Well? What do you think?" Irene was anxious to hear Seven's verdict.
"You look like your mother," Irene decided.
Seven shook her head.
"No," she whispered. "No, I don't. I look like Annika."
"Annika, have you seen the padd with the specs for Defiant class vessels?" Reg Barclay rummaged frantically through the stack of padd's on the desk.
"I believe you took it home with you last night. Did you not bring it back this morning?"
"Damn it, no! I left it on my desk. I'll have to go get it, I need to finish this report today."
Reg hurried to the door only to come to an abrupt stop as he encountered a figure in the doorway.
"Data! What are you doing here? I thought the Enterprise was on a diplomatic mission to Daled IV?"
"My presence was not required aboard the Enterprise. I have been attending a conference on matrix transfer technology."
"It's good to see you, Data. I haven't seen you since Doctor Zimmerman's sentience hearing. Oh," Reg suddenly remembered that there was someone else present, "do you remember Annika Hansen?"
Data turned to her and inclined his head in greeting.
"Indeed I do, although I believe that you have changed you name since we last met, Miss Hansen."
"I have found that since my return to Earth I have felt a greater connection to my humanity. It no longer seemed appropriate to use my Borg designation."
"I have often wished that I could become human. I would be interested to hear how it feels for a human to become a machine."
Annika paused for a moment as she considered the question.
"The Borg cease to experience emotion when they are assimilated and so there is no ‘feeling' associated with the process. I have no recollection of becoming Borg and when I was freed from the collective being Borg was all that I remembered. Becoming Borg was easy, reclaiming my individuality has been far harder."
"Do you regret leaving the collective?"
"At first I wished to return, I found the silence in my mind disturbing, but that is no longer the case. I am anxious to learn more about what it means to be human. The greatest challenge is learning how to feel. I have found it hard to interpret my emotions and express my feelings. Did you experience similar problems when your emotion chip was first installed?"
"I suspect that it was easier for me. I had to learn the significance of the physical symptoms I was experiencing, but since my emotions are programmed rather than natural I experience each emotion in the same way each time that subroutine is triggered. It is my understanding that human emotion is considerably more complex."
"So I have found," said Annika ruefully. "I have found that emotions are not always appropriate to the situation that provokes them."
"I have observed that humans often react to situations in the same way as one or other of their parents. It seems that there is a genetic aspect to emotion that makes nature as well as nurture important when considering an individual's likely reaction to any set of circumstances. Certainly, when programming my emotion chip, my creator based my emotional response upon his own. Therefore I will react to events much as he would. Perhaps you should seek answers to some of your questions from members of your family."
"I will do so the next time I visit my Aunt."
"Do you visit her often?"
"I had not visited her at all until recently, but now that I have done so I hope to see her more frequently."
"Family is important to humans. I imagine that she was anxious to meet you. I am surprised that you did not visit her earlier. You have been on Earth for nearly ten months. Did you feel no desire to see her?"
"I am unsure how I felt. I was curious to meet her and learn more about my family and my childhood, but I was also afraid to do so."
"You were afraid of what you might learn from her?" Data turned an inquiring gaze on Annika.
"No, I think I was afraid of disappointing her. She knew me as a child, but I am a different person now, the Borg changed me and I may not have been what she expected. I was afraid that she would not like what she saw."
"Humans have a great capacity for understanding and forgiveness, especially towards their families. It is likely that she was happy just to have the chance to get to know you as are now. I believe that the expression that is used is ‘warts and all'."
"That is an extremely ugly expression."
"It is," Data agreed. "But I believe that is the point."
The communications console bleeped to indicate an incoming transmission. Looking up to find that she was alone in the laboratory, Annika crossed the room and opened the comm line. Her eyes widened in surprise as she recognised the face on the screen.
"Doctor, it has been a long time. How are you?"
"Seven? I was expecting to see Lieutenant Barclay." The Doctor's surprise was evident. "You look different! Wonderful!"
"Thank you Doctor, and please, call me Annika. I have ceased using my Borg designation."
"Well then, you must call me Joe!"
"Reg told me that you had decided to honour Joe Carey in your choice of name. It is an excellent choice, Lieutenant Carey was a very special man."
"He certainly was. I'm proud to carry his name."
The awkward silence was broken by Annika.
"I have been wanting to contact you, but I was unsure if you would wish to see me. I was insensitive in my behaviour toward you while we were on Voyager and during your trial. I hope you can forgive me."
"Of course I want to see you, Se-Annika. I have missed our friendship."
"As have I. I did not appreciate the value of friendship until my return to Earth. I have had much to learn and I have been fortunate to meet some wonderful people who have helped me understand more about the nature of friendship and love."
"That's marvellous, Annika. I'm glad you haven't been alone."
"They have taught me well and I am grateful for their friendship, but no one has cared for me in the way that you once did. You told me last year that you loved me and I ignored your feelings. That was cruel of me and I am sorry. You will always be my dearest and most trusted friend. I don't know if you still feel the same way, or if I will ever be able to return your love, but I want you to know that I do care for you deeply. Perhaps in time, if we were to resume out friendship, we could become closer."
The doctor's face was alight with pleasure.
"Just to have your friendship is enough for me. There's no need to rush into anything more."
"I have no intention of hurrying," Annika stated solemnly. "I have learned that if a relationship is meant to be it grows stronger with time. If we are meant to be more than friends then we will know when the moment is right."
"We have plenty of time to find out. Perhaps we could start by having dinner. Would you care to join me here tomorrow night?"
"I should like that."
"Wonderful," the Doctor beamed. "See you tomorrow!"
With one last farewell the Doctor ended the transmission, forgetting that he had failed in his original intent to speak with Reginald Barclay, leaving Annika to return to her work with a lighter heart and a happy smile.
The door to the lab slid open to reveal a nervous looking cadet. His gaze scanned the room until he found his target. With some trepidation he approached the tall blonde woman working at a console in the corner. Annika turned as he approached, smiling inwardly as she watched him struggle to speak.
"Can I help you, Cadet?"
"No, Ma'am. I mean yes, Ma'am. I have a message for you, Ma'am," he stuttered, holding out the padd he carried.
"Thank you, Cadet," she said, taking the padd. "Were you instructed to wait for a reply?"
"Then you may leave. Unless there was something else?"
"No, Ma'am. Thank you, Ma'am," he turned and hurried out of the room.
Annika watched him leave then turned her attention the padd in her hand. A frown creased her brow as she studied its contents. Her change of expression caught Reg Barclay's attention.
"Bad news?" he inquired.
"It's a request for assistance from the team working on turning Voyager into a museum. Lieutenant Anderson has been contacting the former crew members asking for personal accounts of Voyager's journey and for articles for the exhibition. He says that he apologises for the short notice, but I was inadvertently left off the original contact list." She frowned again. "I am unsure what he wants from me. All the information is in the ship's logs and I had no personal articles aboard Voyager."
"I think by accounts of the journey he means your memories and feelings relating to your time on board. And didn't you tell me that some people you encountered gave you a blanket? The Vartu?"
"The Ventu. Yes, they gave me a blanket, but I fail to see how a blanket would be of interest to anyone. In any case I would not wish to part with it."
"People are always intrigued by articles from other cultures, but you don't need to send the blanket, send in a replica."
"Very well, if you think that is what they require."
"And I'm sure that you have some stories to tell about your time on Voyager. You were in a unique situation, very likely your perspective differs from that of other crewmembers."
"Perhaps, but I am not the same person now that I was then and I am not sure that I wish to remember those days. Adjusting to life here on Earth was not easy for me and I need to look forward not back."
"I know it's been hard, but you've coped with it wonderfully. I could never have handled what you've been through, first to be assimilated and then to have to rediscover your individuality. Captain Picard struggled to recover from his time as Locutus and that was only a few days. To make the adjustment after so many years as a drone is an amazing achievement. You are a remarkable woman, Annika."
She turned to smile at him.
"Thank you, Reg, but you have helped me a great deal. It would have been much harder without your assistance and that of your friends."
"Our friends, Annika, they're your friends too now."
"Our friends then, but I have you to thank for that too," Annika placed a light kiss on the cheek of the blushing Lieutenant. "Thank you again, Reg"
Embarrassed, Reg hastened to change the subject.
"If you're going to contribute to the museum, don't you think you should start sorting through your belongings?"
"Very well, it's time to leave anyway. Would you help me decide what would make an appropriate exhibit?"
"I'd love to," Reg enthused, "I love to hear people reminisce about their time on Voyager."
As they left the lab and hurried off to complete their mission, Annika wondered for a moment whether Icheb had been equally fortunate since his arrival on Earth. She considered contacting him to find out, but dismissed the idea. She knew he had left Voyager with Naomi and Samantha Wildman. Sam was a wonderful woman and Naomi loved Icheb, he would have all the support he needed.
"Is that you, Annie? I'm in the kitchen."
Annika walked into the kitchen of her aunt's home and set down the box and bag she was carrying.
"This is a wonderful surprise, I wasn't expecting you until tomorrow," Irene exclaimed happily as she gave her niece a kiss.
"We had completed the reports we require for our meeting on Monday so we decided to start the weekend early," Annika explained. "I hope you don't mind, perhaps I should have called first."
"Nonsense, you're always welcome here, you know that," Irene chided. "Why don't you take your things upstairs and do whatever it is you have to do with that ugly alcove contraption you had me make room for, warm it up or plug it in." She waved her hand in distaste. "I'll fix us some lemonade and cookies."
"Very well," Annika picked up her bag, "but could I have a strawberry milkshake instead?" She turned a pleading gaze on her aunt.
"Annika Hansen! The amount of milkshake you drink, you're going to turn into a blimp!" Irene exclaimed in mock horror.
Annika grinned and left the room.
A short while later she joined her aunt on the porch, still carrying the box she had brought with her. Putting the box on the floor beside her she sat down, took a sip of milkshake, closed her eyes and sighed with satisfaction.
Annika opened her eyes to find her aunt glaring at her.
"Are you going to tell me what's in that box you've been lugging around with you, or do I have to guess?"
"I have been sorting through the belongings I brought from Voyager and I found the logs that Voyager recovered from the Raven. They contain my parents' field notes and accounts of our journey. I thought that you might wish to see them."
Irene's eyes filled with tears at the thought of catching a final glimpse of her brother and his wife.
"Thank you, Annie. You don't know how much that means to me. Bless you for thinking of me."
"I should like to be with you when you view them, if that would be acceptable."
"That would be more than acceptable, that would be wonderful!" Irene was delighted. She peered into the box. "It looks like it could take a while there are lots here!"
"They recorded every detail of the journey. It took me many hours to review the logs when Admiral Janeway first ordered me to do so and there is much that I have not yet seen."
Irene hesitated for a moment before deciding to say what was on her mind.
"Since it will take so long, I was wondering, would you consider coming to stay here for a while? More than a weekend, I mean. A couple of months maybe, even a year? I've been wanting to ask you but perhaps you'd rather stay in San Francisco?" she realised that she was babbling, stopped abruptly and looked hopefully at her niece.
"I should like to stay," Annika replied. "Thank you for asking me."
"For how long?" Irene was excited.
"For as long as you will have me."
Irene was stunned.
"You would consider staying here permanently?"
Annika nodded. "I enjoy being here with you, it feels..." she searched for the right words, "It feels like home."
Irene swept her into a warm embrace.
"Then that's what it is. Welcome home, Annika"
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