DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc and Viacom. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2001 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG.
Another Bad Night
It had been another bad night. Kathryn Janeway looked in the mirror and sighed heavily at the red and puffy eyes that greeted her. She'd never let herself cry on Voyager, fought every tear that threatened to fall. Now that she was home, it was as if she couldn't stop. She should be happy, triumphant, grateful. But she wasn't.
"Damn it," she swore as she picked up the small instrument the Doctor had given to her. It buzzed softly as she ran it over her closed eyelids. When she looked again, all traces of her crying were gone.
"Thank you, Doctor." She put the little tool back in the drawer, thought of when she had last seen the EMH. He had stopped in at Starfleet Command, after giving a lecture there. She had looked like death warmed over. It had been another bad night.
"Captain?" He had moved closer, studied her face. "Are you all right?"
She had nodded. Not sure what to tell him and unwilling to lie.
His voice had been so comfortingly familiar. She was missing that. "It's normal to feel this way after what you've been through. It could be a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. Perhaps you should see someone, talk to someone?"
"You mean a counselor?" She had shaken her head in exasperation. "I've seen one. I've seen three actually. They've put me through more sessions in the last six months than you could possibly believe. I'm fine, Doctor. Right as rain. They all agree."
He had shaken his head as he walked to the replicator. "You are also a very good actress, Captain." He had spoken to the machine, ordering something she had never heard of; when he had turned back to her, the tool was in his hand. "But I believe you are all right, Captain. And this will help. Models use it all the time after a late night out." He had shown her how to use it, then continued in a more serious tone, "But take some advice? Connect with someone. From Voyager, or not. Just find someone to let in. It's not good to be alone."
Not good to be alone. Oh, she knew that. Knew it too well. Some days, when she was in her darkest moods, she wished that she had been the one to go to the Queen. That she'd let the Admiral have Voyager and her crew. Because what had been the point of getting home if this is all that waited for her?
Or maybe she just wished that the Admiral had never found her. And that the ship had never, ever found its way home. She laughed out loud. It was a little too late to realize that everything that really mattered to her had been on Voyager. Everything. And everyone.
Everyone. She should stop hedging. It wasn't just anyone she was missing. It was him. Chakotay. Her angry warrior. Only not anymore. He was Seven's warrior now.
She had seen them leaving the ship together. As much as she had wanted to say her goodbyes to him alone, she was afraid of what she might say, might do. So she had made sure that there had been no opportunities for anything more personal than what could be said in front of a group of their crewmates. He had sought her out several times. She had evaded him. But she could not resist seeing the two of them off at the transporter room, giving him a tight hug, being afraid that she would not be able to let go. Knowing she had to.
Seven had looked at her intently. "Thank you. For everything you have given me."
Janeway shrugged. "I had to do it, Seven. For you, for us. And I'm glad I did. You've become an exceptional woman. The Commander is a lucky man." She had nearly choked on the words. Even though she had meant every one of them.
That had been six months ago. She had seen them off and on during the debriefings. Had heard about them from Admiral Paris. Chakotay had accepted a posting to Litenax, a world populated by a number of resettled peoples. Many of them had been supporters of the Maquis and still resented Starfleet for not protecting them. With his background, Chakotay seemed the perfect choice for Federation liaison. And from what she had heard, he was doing well, and enjoying himself.
Seven was with him when she wasn't consulting on the Borg at Starfleet Command. She had made several early attempts to see Janeway, to preserve the closeness they had once known. But it had been uncomfortable for both of them. They never discussed it, but the specter of Chakotay was a wedge pushing them apart.
Janeway took in her immaculate apartment. It was full of silence, of empty space. There had been few people here since she moved in. Her mother, her sister. The crew occasionally. But for the most part she had been alone. Too much alone.
The Doctor was right. She needed to connect with someone. She just didn't know whom.
"Start Program EMH Lab Prototype Gamma 5," the Doctor ordered as he entered the holodeck. For a moment the experimental laboratory shimmered around him, then it was replaced by a Vegas lounge. Several musicians were tuning up on a stage at the front of the room. "Oh, just great," the EMH muttered.
"Hey, Pally!" Another figure came out of a side room. "Did ya miss me?"
"You shouldn't be here. I'm trying to run diagnostics."
"Yeah, well me too, Doc, me too. Only of the emotional kind, if you get my drift." The man moved to the bar and poured out two glasses of Scotch.
Sighing heartily, the EMH followed him. "I never get your drift, Vic."
"Yeah. You say that but I know you capisce." Vic turned to the stage. "You're sounding flat, Carl. Try tuning it again."
The Doctor settled into one of the bar chairs. "I really don't know why I've been so lucky that you've taken this extreme interest in my life."
"Your love life, Pally. There's a difference."
"I'm a hologram. I don't have a love life."
"Baloney. I know from holograms. And you aren't just one of them," he pointed to his band. "You're like me, Doc. Special."
"Yes, well I won't be if anyone comes in and finds me running this program."
"You still miss her, don't you?" Vic's voice was all sympathy.
"I miss them all."
"Don't kid a kidder, Doc. You want the blonde bombshell that got away. I know how that goes."
"I'm sure you don't. Seven was unique. I doubt that you've met the like."
"Doc, every woman is unique. That's what makes them so wonderful." He poured out another glass. "You never told her did you? That you loved her?"
"Of course not. I'm a hologram. We were just good friends."
Vic smiled knowingly. "And she was in love with someone else."
The Doctor said nothing.
"Someone who was himself in love with someone else. It's just like a Shakespeare play, isn't it?" Vic shook his head. "I'd love to meet one of these characters."
The Doctor heard the door to the holodeck open. In his irritation at seeing Vic, he had forgotten to lock the room. "Get out," he hissed but it was too late.
Kathryn Janeway was walking their way.
"From my lips to God's ears," Vic whispered.
"Doctor, I wanted to talk to you about...my, quite the elaborate setting." Janeway took in the surroundings. " Is this what Starfleet has you doing? Designing holodeck programs?" She walked to the bar and smiled at Vic.
Vic gave her his best smile. "Hi, Doll. Where have you been all my life?"
She turned to the Doctor. "Oh, he's good. What's his name?"
"My name, and you can talk to me, sweetheart, is Vic Fontaine." He reached for her hand, held it a minute in both of his. "Charmed. Truly."
"Very, very good," she laughed.
Not another bartender, the Doctor cursed. "Ok, Vic. Time for you to go."
Vic ignored him.
Janeway laughed. "I've found that 'End program' generally works best."
"You don't know this program." He caught Vic's eye, saw the other hologram nod slightly. "End program," he said firmly. He was extremely relieved to see the lounge disappear." He turned to the captain. "So, what did you want to talk to me about?"
She suddenly seemed ill at ease.
He smiled slightly and ordered, "Begin EMH program Alpha."
The familiar sight of Voyager's sickbay seemed to please Janeway. "This is nice," she said wistfully.
"I come here often. It is, was home to me."
"How complete is it? Do you have holograms of us?"
When he didn't answer, she looked embarrassed. "I'm sorry, Doctor. That's none of my business." She looked around uncomfortably.
He wondered again what had brought her to him. "Unless you want to hop up on the table, Captain, I suggest we sit in my office."
She followed him into the small room, took the chair across from him, studied the walls. "I never spent much time here," she mused.
"No. You didn't."
"I'm sorry for that." She sighed. "I don't think I always treated you as well as I could have."
"You tolerated me, gave me freedom to explore the meaning of my own existence. And you let me have opera, and all my other passions of the moment," he smiled at her. "I have no complaints, Captain."
She just nodded, her head down, as she seemed lost in thought.
"Captain, why are you here?" His tone was gentle, but he couldn't keep the curiosity out of his voice.
"You said I should connect with someone." She looked up at him. "I'm trying to do that."
He tried to keep the surprise off his face. "With me?"
Her face flushed a bit, she started to get up. "This was a stupid idea."
"You don't have to go. I didn't mean to imply that I was refusing your suggestion of... ummm, what exactly are you suggesting?"
"Doctor! A friend. I need a friend."
He sighed. "Captain, I don't mean to be rude. But why me? Mr. Paris and Lt. Torres are still on Earth. They would be far better friends for you. Or Samantha Wildman and Naomi. Perhaps you could go to Vulcan to visit Tuvok." He began to punch the computer for Tuvok's comm number. The captain's next words stopped him cold.
"They won't understand. Not the way you will."
He looked at her uncomprehendingly.
She leaned forward. "I know that you miss her as much as I miss him."
He was quiet for a long time. Then he replied, "I would have thought more, actually."
She got the competitive look he remembered. "Impossible."
"Oh really," he said smugly as he rose and walked around the desk. "Well, why don't we go get you some lunch and we can compare notes."
"You're on, Doctor." She rose and followed him to the door. "And whoever is less miserable pays."
"Agreed," the EMH said, suddenly very glad that she and Barclay had insisted that Starfleet compensate him for his years in the Delta Quadrant. He had the feeling that this was a bet he was going to lose.
Seven of Nine sat by the viewport, ignoring the looks she was getting from the other passengers. She had been riding this shuttle from Earth to Starbase 6 for months now. And it was always the same. Stares, whispers. Some hostile. Some just curious. She looked up to see a human male staring at her chest. Others simply hungry. She fought the desire to cross her arms, cover her breasts.
I wish they weren't so big, she thought not for the first time. She remembered when she had first been removed from the collective. She had gone to the doctor in irritation.
"Ah, Seven of Nine. What can I do for you?"
"This body. You have erred. These round protuberances serve no purpose. They are inefficient and get in the way of activity. You will remove them."
He had smiled gently. "Your body is how it would have been if you had developed naturally, without Borg interference."
"I have assessed the female population on board Voyager. Those that have these mammary appendages do not look as I do."
He had sighed. "Yes, well, it's hardly my fault you would have grown up to be Miss Sweden." At her look of incomprehension, he had continued. "Seven of Nine, you are uncomfortable with much of your body right now. This is a period of great adjustment for you. Once you've settled in, if your breasts still bother you, I will reduce their size. For now I really don't think another surgery would be prudent, and there are reasons you might want to keep them the way they are. Why don't you just try to get used to being Human, hmmm? Then we can work on the purely cosmetic enhancements."
He had known he would get her with that last sentence. She had been Borg. She eschewed vanity. So she had left her breasts alone. And grown used to them. Except at times like these. She looked up to glare at the man who was staring at her, but he had left the area.
"Is this seat taken?" A petite woman, standing in the aisle, gave Seven a wry smile. "Actually, I ride this shuttle all the time. This seat is never taken."
Seven was surprised at her candor. "You may sit there."
"Thanks." The woman quickly stowed her bags and settled into the seat. "You're Seven of Nine, aren't you? The former Borg?"
"That is my designation." Seven knew she was reverting to her old patterns of speech, as she often did when uncomfortable.
"I'm Ezri Dax." The woman held out her hand.
Seven took it gingerly. She studied the brunette next to her. The open expression, full of intelligence and curiosity. The spots running down her face and neck. "You are Species 5732."
"If that's the Trill, then yes." Dax grinned. "I'm also a Starfleet officer. I thought you might like some company. You seem so alone."
"I am alone. That is the nature of being an individual, is it not?"
"It sure is." The Trill looked nostalgic for a moment. "But is it this way everywhere you go?"
Seven realized no one had ever asked her that before. "It is," she said thoughtfully. She wondered why Chakotay never seemed to notice. Perhaps it was because on Litenax the settlers had at least grown accustomed enough to her to say hello, act as if she fit in. And she saw the others from the ship so rarely, they barely had time to catch up, let alone ask her about her innermost feelings.
"You are lonely." Dax observed.
"That is an emotional assessment. I miss my former collective, yes."
"The Borg? You really want to return to them, Seven of Nine?"
"Seven," she replied quickly. "I go by Seven now. And not the Borg. Voyager. I miss that collective." The feelings that were surfacing surprised her. Loneliness was irrelevant.
"I'm sure you do. They were your family. They were all you knew after you were removed from the collective."
Seven mused for a second. They had helped her transition at a time when all she wanted to do was die. "You have no idea what it is like to be one way, and a moment later wake up to find that everything has changed."
Dax laughed. "Oh, you might be surprised just how much I understand that."
Seven looked at her carefully. "You are a joined Trill, then? So you are no longer an individual?"
"I guess not in the strictest sense. I share this body with the Dax symbiont. And with all the other hosts who have gone before."
"Their voices? You hear them?"
Dax nodded. "All the time. I try not to focus on them."
"That is a small measure of what it is like in the collective. Innumerable voices, talking, coordinating, working together seamlessly. Never ceasing. Always there. I am sure it was jarring to go from being alone to hearing the other hosts in your head. But can you envision what the opposite would feel like?"
Dax considered. "It would be horrible. I think I understand now." They were quiet for a second. "You have no one then? No one to share your time, your feelings with?"
Seven felt instantly guilty. "I have someone in my life."
"That's not exactly what I asked," Dax teased her gently. "Does this person understand the way you feel?"
She thought about it and realized she had never really discussed this with Chakotay. She assumed he understood. He had been connected, albeit briefly, with a small collective of former Borg. She had thought he would know how cut off she was without her having to say. But perhaps he did not. Seven sighed. "He is a good man. He would do anything in his power to make me happy."
"And again, that's not quite what I asked." Dax shook her head. "We aren't always as close to our lovers as we would like."
Seven realized she heard something in the other woman's voice. "You speak from experience?"
"Now who's the counselor?" Dax's look became unfocused for a minute. She seemed very far away. "I have a good thing going. Really. I'm happy. And I think he is. It's just that he was in love with someone else. Someone he couldn't have. There are occasions when I feel like a poor second choice."
Seven sat stunned. She did not as a rule assess her feelings. They were still new enough to her that she was uncomfortable delving into them with too much vigor. But this woman, this stranger, had just clarified something that had been bothering her unconsciously for some time. "Does he treat you in some way that you consider substandard."
Dax smiled. "Oh, no. He is a wonderful man. I love him. And he loves me too. But it's just always there, you know?"
Dax's look sobered. "Now, who's talking from experience?"
Seven looked away. She should not be entrusting her life stories with a person she had just met. Yet Ezri Dax inspired a confidence in her that no one had before. Is this what having a friend would be like, she wondered. "Yes. The man I am with was in love with someone else."
"Do you hate her?"
Seven thought of the captain. Remembered all the risks she had run for her, the guidance she had provided. Janeway had been closer to Seven than to anyone else on the ship, except for Chakotay and Tuvok. She had been role model, confessor, and surrogate mother. "She changed me. It is because of her that I live the life I do now. I find I cannot hate her."
"I feel the exact same way," Dax commiserated. "And it really stinks."
Seven looked at her in confusion.
"Hating them would be so much easier, wouldn't it?"
Seven felt herself smiling. "It would."
Dax grinned back. "You should do that more often. Smile. It looks good on you."
Seven looked away. "I have not had much to smile about these days. I am busy. My life is very serious."
Dax studied her. She seemed to be weighing something. Suddenly she rose and grabbed her things.
I have chased her away, Seven thought, surprised at her disappointment. Then she realized that Dax was handing her the small Voyager carryall. "What are you doing?"
"We. What are we doing? Come on."
"I am quite comfortable here."
Dax leaned in. "Seven, have you ever had a massage?"
"I have had medically indicated rub downs. And my friend is quite proficient with his hands."
Dax smirked slightly. "I bet. Well, I don't care how good he is. The holospa here is beyond anything you can imagine. And we have lots of time to take advantage of it. Come on."
Seven found the other woman's grin infectious. Her own lips turned up again. She took the bag that Dax held out to her and rose to follow her down the corridor. When they got to the door of the holospa, she reached out a hand, stopped Dax. "Why? You sought me out. Why?"
The Trill gave her a gentle smile. "I know what it is to feel like you'll never belong. And you looked like you could use a friend."
Seven considered the words carefully. Finally, she said solemnly, "I believe that a friend would be beneficial."
"Spoken like a true Borg. Former, I mean." Dax giggled as she pushed the entrance button. "There are so many things I've always wanted to know about the collective. Like well, intimate relations, for instance. I mean, it gives a whole new meaning to group sex."
Seven found herself chuckling as she followed her new friend into the spa.
Chakotay surveyed the fruits and vegetables he had planted in back of the residence. Everything was doing well, especially the tomatoes. Tomatoes. His mind was back on New Earth before he could stop the thoughts. He saw Kathryn kneeling in the dirt, face smudged, smile wide. Kathryn, smiling at him.
Stop it, he ordered. She's not yours. She's never going to be yours. You have Seven now. She's wonderful.
Wonderful. Chakotay sighed. Everything was wonderful. Except...
Before he could follow that thought too far, he heard a noise. Turning, he discovered his neighbor's children solemnly surveying his work. "Well hello."
They nodded, unsure of their large neighbor. They had just moved to the capital from the desert—a place where strangers were suspect.
He pointed to some berries that had ripened. "Do you want something to eat?"
They shook their heads.
He tried a different tack. "What are your names? I'm Chakotay."
The girl, braver than her brother, stepped forward. "You're the Federation person here, aren't you?"
The boy broke in. "But you're Maquis too. Our dad told us."
"I was Maquis. But now I'm Federation."
The girl looked at him suspiciously. "How come?"
"It's a very long story."
They both sat down.
"Ok." He sat down in front of them. Debated the most logical way to explain how he had been changed by his experiences. He thought again of New Earth. "Once upon a time, there was an angry warrior."
The girl looked annoyed. "Is this a make believe story?"
"Cuz if it is, we have padds full of them," the boy continued.
"No, it's not a made-up story. But it helps me to tell it that way."
They thought about this. The boy nodded finally. "Ok. You can tell us. Why was the warrior so angry?"
"He was angry because some very bad people had invaded his world and killed the people he loved. He was angry because his own people did nothing to help, except to try to move the few survivors that were left off their home world."
"Like on Dannivo. That happened to my parents." The girl looked at Chakotay earnestly. "What did the angry warrior do?"
"He decided to make the people that hurt him pay. He didn't care that his own people told him not to. So he began to fight. And he was very successful. At one point, both sides were trying to catch him."
The children leaned forward.
"One day, the warrior's people sent a great starship captain after him. And she almost caught him, even though he had led her into the Badlands, where before, he had always been able to lose his pursuers."
"But she didn't catch him?" the girl seemed worried.
He smiled. "Not exactly. They were both caught by something even more powerful than they were. And their ships were pulled across the galaxy till they came to rest in a place very far away from where they had started."
"Wow," the boy said. "It must have been a really powerful thing to do that."
"It was. And in the end, because the woman captain did the right thing, the machine that the power had used to bring them to that place was destroyed. And they had to find their way back to their part of the galaxy the hard way." He thought of Admiral Janeway, with her offer of a faster way home. "The woman captain and the angry warrior had to make peace and cooperate in order to survive in this new place. In time, they began friends, and so did all the people that they brought together. They became a family. And they forgot why they had hated each other in the first place."
"But the angry warrior? Was he happier then?" The girl seemed very concerned about this point.
"He was. He found peace."
"But did he fall in love?" She was relentless.
"He did. He found the great love of his life." Chakotay heard a noise; realized Seven had come home and was standing at the door. He wondered how long she had been listening. He turned toward her. "And here she is now. Seven, come meet our neighbors."
"This is the woman captain?" The girl's question was all innocence.
Seven looked at Chakotay, no humor evident in her face.
"No," he hurried to explain. "The woman captain and he were just friends. But the warrior met someone else on that ship. Someone very special." He turned to flash Seven a grin, was relieved to see her mouth quirk a little.
The children inspected Seven. "You look funny," the boy said.
"I was Borg."
The girl made a face. "Ick. All those machines and things they put in you. That must have hurt."
"Not as much as being human does." Seven gave Chakotay a strange look, then walked to the door.
"Seven?" he called in concern.
She turned around. Her face was expressionless for a moment, then she smiled thinly. "It is nothing. The shuttle ride was long and I am tired. Do not worry." When he started to follow her, she held up a hand. "I am going to regenerate. Stay out here and work on the garden. I know how you love it." She turned to go in.
"Not as much as I love you." He kept his tone light.
She did not reply as she let the door close behind her.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Janeway eyed the sign dubiously.
"It is supposed to be LA's finest." the Doctor joked. He pushed past her and opened the door to the Karaoke bar. "Well, come on. I believe that a friendship must have give and take. You got to pick the place the last two times. Now it's my turn."
"Are you saying you didn't enjoy sailing or the dog show?"
"Sailing was fine. As for the dog show. Well, how could someone not enjoy that?" he asked sarcastically. "Hundreds of canines, waste products in abundance, loud noises from both dogs and their owners, oh yes, it was paradise."
"You can't say you didn't think the puppies were cute."
"They were adorable. As most small mammals tend to be."
"Doctor, have you ever seen a baby opossum? They are not cute."
"I said most, not all." He clapped politely for a dour young human who had just finished a rather bad rendition of some song that involved a girl named Mandy. The doctor nodded toward the stage, "Come do a duet with me?"
"Not on your life."
He frowned and got up anyway. "Suit yourself." His choice of music surprised her. She expected opera, but instead he began to sing, "Come fly with me, come fly, come fly away."
He was actually quite good and the applause was energetic when he finished.
"I didn't know you liked those old standards."
"A friend got me back into them. I used to sing them a lot. But I gave them up for a while."
"That's right. You used to sing with Seven, didn't you?"
He looked away for a moment, when he looked back his eyes were sad. "Yes."
"I can't believe I never realized then that you were in love with her. It wasn't till we got home, and I began to think about how things were, paid attention too late to all that had happened to us, that I began to see how you felt about her."
He laughed. "What would you have done, ordered her to fall in love with me?"
The spirit of their new friendship gave her the courage to reply honestly. "Maybe, if I'd known then that it would stop me from losing Chakotay."
"Why don't you just tell him how you feel?"
"Why don't you just tell her?" she countered quickly.
"It's not the same. She never loved me the way he loved you." He studied her. "Why didn't you give him a chance?"
She sighed, shrugged heavily. "Too busy getting us home. Too afraid of what it would signify. Too stupid to see what was right in front of me. All of the above."
"I'll choose the last one," he teased. His voice was hesitant as he continued. "You know some people thought it was because you were in love with someone else."
She waved him off. "Mark? Sure I held on to that for some time. But eventually, I let him go."
He shook his head gently. "Not Mark."
"Well who then?" she asked, her voice pitched somewhere between curiosity and irritation.
"Seven?" Janeway looked at him, then burst out laughing. "Seven? She was like a daughter to me."
"Well, I didn't say I thought that..."
She interrupted him. "So they thought all the risks I took for her, the way I encouraged her to be human, were all because I was in love with her?"
He nodded. "Some did, yes."
She laughed bitterly. "Well they must have thought it pretty damn funny when my two paramours got together then."
"No," he said gently, "I imagine they thought it was rather sad."
She felt tears threaten, angrily shook herself, sought a target for her anger. The human was on stage again, this time mutilating a song about some nightclub. "Could you possibly make him shut up."
"I don't think so. It is the nature of the club to let everyone participate, no matter how poorly they do." He touched her hand for a moment. "Much like love, isn't it?"
She rolled her eyes. "Good point."
"You and I, Captain, are dismal at love."
"Yes, we are." She raised her glass to him.
He smiled at her honesty. "If you could do one thing differently, what would it be?"
She thought back to all the times when she had made it worse between Chakotay and her, all the times she had rebuffed him. There was one moment that stood out, that could have changed anything. "I wouldn't have turned away from him after you got us back from New Earth." She punched him in the arm. "Thanks a lot for that by the way. If it weren't for you and your damn cure, he and I would still be there, probably raising kids and chasing monkeys."
He laughed. "But if I hadn't been successful then I wouldn't have met Seven. So you see, no matter how much I regret ruining your little Eden, I'd still do it." He smiled wistfully. "I'd do it all again just to have known Seven." He rose again. "I'm going to do 'I'll Be Seeing You,' why don't you help me sing it?"
She raised an eyebrow.
"You can't be any worse than he is," the doctor cajoled as the man finally left the stage.
Sighing in defeat, she got up. "Doctor, I cannot stress how much you are going to regret this."
His tone was only mildly facetious. "Perhaps. But a friendship has to endure some discomfort in order to grow."
Friendship. It was a good word. She smiled, as she followed him up to the stage.
"So how are things going?" Dax asked as she climbed up onto the massage table.
"They are fine," Seven replied neutrally as she arranged herself on the adjacent table.
"I thought we'd gotten past that kind of answer." Dax looked disapprovingly at her.
Seven frowned. They were beyond such evasions. Since that first day on the shuttle, she and Dax had kept in touch. They had found that their schedules were often similar and took the same shuttle whenever they could. They talked the whole way from Earth to Starbase 6, where they would head in different directions. She owed her friend more than the stock reply. "I'm sorry. I am unsure how to answer."
"I keep forgetting this is your first real relationship."
A new voice chimed in. "Well I don't know that I'd say that."
Dax sat up suddenly, then had to make a quick grab for her towel. "Vic! What are you doing in here? Where are the attendants?"
"I told them to amscray. And is that any way to greet your old friend?" He leaned down and kissed her on the cheek.
She grinned. "I'll see you on the station in a few hours. So why are you here?"
He walked over to where Seven lay watching him. "For this one. Hello, doll, I'm Vic Fontaine."
She did not answer.
"He's a hologram," Dax explained. "We think."
Seven remained silent. Just studied the man in front of her.
"Does she talk?" Vic looked over at Dax.
Seven replied for her, "My vocal cords are fully functional."
"What did you mean? That this is not my first relationship?"
He shrugged. "Well, it's not like there wasn't someone who took an interest in you long before this Chakotay fellow came along."
Seven realized the hologram was annoying her. "If you mean Ensign Kim..."
Vic snorted, interrupting her. "No, I don't. And by the way, why is he still an ensign after all this time?"
Seven chose not to answer.
Dax seemed fascinated by the exchange. "So if not this Kim guy, then who, Vic?"
"Well, let's just say he was there for her whenever she needed someone. He taught her more than anyone else did on that ship. He guided her, corrected her."
"And loved her," Dax guessed.
"The EMH." Seven deliberately used the name that would dehumanize him as she argued firmly, "He is not in love with me."
"The Doctor," Vic corrected. "And he thinks you hang the moon. Or he did anyway."
"Did?" Seven was unsure of the reference but didn't like the sound of the past tense.
"Well, yeah. I mean, he was pretty sad there for a while. But that was before he started palling around with the captain."
"Captain Janeway?" Seven felt an all too familiar feeling threatening. It was irrational to be jealous of this relationship. She was fond of the doctor of course. If he found happiness with someone, then she should be happy for him. Was happy for him. For him and Captain Janeway. Janeway. A woman she respected.
Dax asked, "Isn't she the one that Chakotay...?"
"Yes," Seven cut her off. "She is."
"Oh," Vic repeated. "Now you see the problem. Bad enough to lose one man you love to this woman. But two?"
Dax shook her head. "Seven never said she loved the Doctor."
"No, she sure didn't. Well, gee, look at the time. I've got a gig in a few minutes." He held out his hand to Seven, then grinned good-naturedly when she didn't take it. "It's been a pleasure, doll. Ezri." He walked out of the room, singing something under his breath.
The attendants came in a moment later and began their massages. The women were silent for some time.
"Seven?" Dax finally asked.
"Do you love the Doctor?"
"The EMH is a hologram."
Dax thought about that. Finally she answered, "So?"
"He is not real."
"Maybe not. But is his love?" When Seven did not answer, Dax pressed on. "You're not happy the way you are right now, Seven. You won't admit it, or maybe you just don't know enough about what being happy is. But you just aren't there. Chakotay may be a really nice guy, but he's not the one for you. I know it. Vic knows it. And I bet Chakotay knows it too."
Seven turned her head. She didn't think Dax could hear her as she muttered, "Yes, everyone seems to know it but me."
Chakotay was finishing up some work in the office at the front of the residence when Seven walked in. He smiled to see her there, was enjoying that she had been with him for several weeks this time instead of just days. "This is a nice surprise."
She seemed nervous, avoided meeting his eyes. "I'm not sure you will think that once we are done talking."
He put down the padd. "What's wrong?"
She took a deep breath. "I do not believe this is working for me."
"Excuse me?" He got up and walked around the desk. His tone was teasing as he wrapped his arms around her. "You're always trying to break up with me for my own good, Seven. It's getting a little old."
"What is getting old is sharing you." She pulled out of his arms.
"Yes. With her."
He frowned. "You're the only woman I see here."
"Yes, well, she's a ghost."
"Oh. Ok." He really did not understand where this was coming from; even if he knew exactly which woman she was talking about.
"Do not patronize me!" Her shout startled them both.
"I'm sorry," he trailed off, unsure what to say.
"No. I am sorry. This emotion, it is unfamiliar and I do not like it. It hurts."
"I don't want you to hurt."
She nodded slowly. "I believe that. And I am not angry with you. You have taught me so much about many things. But it is time to realize that this must end."
"Why? You said you loved me. Just last night, you said it. Does that mean nothing? Was it a lie?"
She shook her head helplessly. "I do love you. But not enough to share you."
He was unsure what to say. Her tone held a finality he had never heard from her. He did not try to stop her from walking out of the room. He did not interfere when she packed up her belongings. When she stopped in front of her alcove, he asked her, "Where do you want this sent?"
"I am unsure," she whispered.
He moved behind her, put his hands on her shoulders. "Then stay. Don't do this."
She turned and melted into his arms. It took him a moment to realize she was crying.
"How do you stand it? This pain? It is relentless. I hate it."
"It's part of love."
She pulled away. "Hopefully a small part."
He smiled at her innocence. "Hopefully, but not always."
"Not when you love someone that doesn't love you?"
"I do love you, Seven."
She shook her head impatiently. "I don't mean me. I mean you and the captain. Is this how you felt all those years?"
"I don't know exactly what you are feeling. But I suppose they are a little bit similar."
She smiled, her expression one of resigned enlightenment. "No wonder you chose me."
"Seven, it was never..."
She put her finger over his lips. "Don't. Don't say anything more. I will let you know where to send the alcove as soon as I have figured out what to do with my life."
He reached for her but the look on her face stopped him. It was as firm as any that Kathryn had ever given him.
Seven picked up her bag and walked to the door. "I will never forget you, Chakotay. You were my first love." She squared her shoulders firmly, surprised him by continuing, "but I hope that you won't be my last. You taught me that love is something to be desired, to be cherished. This hurts now, but when I think about us, how we were, it won't be this pain I remember. It will be tenderness, and sweetness. And love. I know that you loved me...just not enough. Goodbye, Chakotay."
He felt his throat swell, could barely get the words out. "Goodbye, Seven."
And then she was gone. He wandered around the house for a bit, remembering the things they had done in each room. Meals eaten, love made, secrets shared. Not all secrets though. Not Kathryn. Yet Seven had known. Had she always known?
Chakotay sighed as he walked back to his office. He had reports to finish for Starfleet. And he had a meeting with the ruling council to prepare for. He couldn't afford to be distracted. He pushed the sadness, the grief, away. And as he did he realized that other emotions were already taking hold. Different emotions. Emotions that he would never admit to anyone but that he knew were true. He felt relief. And hope.
The Doctor had just finished with some modifications to the lab prototype when the buzzer rang on the holodeck. "Computer, who is at the door."
"Seven of Nine."
He stood in shock. She was here?
The buzzer rang again. "Open."
She walked in, looking the same as he remembered. Right down to the expression she wore. Neutral, emotionless. His hopes sank.
"Perhaps you need to have your hearing subroutine checked. I had to ring twice for admittance."
"I was in the middle of something. I didn't expect anyone."
"Oh." She wandered the lab. Then turned to him quickly. "It is good to see you again."
She wandered some more around the holodeck. He found himself getting irritated. "Is there a reason you are here? And can I expect the commander to come through that door any minute."
"Yes. And no."
It took him a minute to realize what she was saying. "You aren't with the commander anymore?"
"We have ended our relationship," she said evenly.
"I see." He hated the way his hopes came rushing back. If he could figure out what subroutine controlled them he would disable it.
"You don't sound very interested?" Her tone was casual.
"Well of course I am interested. In the sense of a friend, who cares what you are going through."
"Because you have no other reason to care?"
"I'm not sure what you mean?"
She turned to him. Her look was as open as any he had ever seen her wear. "I mean, that once you might have cared because you had feelings for me. Strong feelings."
"Feelings?" he repeated. He had played out this scenario in his mind, even on the holodeck countless times. Yet now he was barely able to respond.
She moved closer to him. Her voice sounded curiously irritated. "Perhaps you no longer care because you have found someone else to have strong feelings about?"
"Your communication subroutine needs adjustment too, apparently. Or are you stalling?" At his look, she continued, "I have learned a great deal during my time with the commander. One of those things is speaking my mind. So I will do that now. You were in love with me once. Are you still?"
Suddenly he was the one who was irritated. "Why?"
"Why do you care? I don't even exist for you as a man. Just as your teacher. Someone that could help you explore your humanity even though I didn't count as human. Someone you could use without ever really seeing."
"Is that what you think I did?"
"Isn't it?" He smiled. Two could play this game.
Her voice was very small. "I was ignorant of emotional relationships. I could barely feel, let alone assess those feelings. How was I to know that you were interested if you wouldn't tell me."
He began to pace. "I tried to tell you. You weren't listening."
"When we were practicing singing. I tried to tell you then." He could see her thinking back. Saw that she did not remember. "It doesn't matter."
She shook her head. "It does matter. Try again. Tell me again. The same way you did then."
He stood frozen for several seconds. Did he want to do this, open up these old feelings? What if she shot him down again? What if she still didn't see it?
"Please," she whispered.
He surrendered. Took a deep breath. Put everything he had ever felt, still felt, for her into his voice and his eyes as he started to sing. "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine."
For a moment she did not react. Then he saw her swallow as she began to see what she could not recognize all those years before. When he finished, she asked quietly, "You love me that much?"
"Yes," he said simply.
"I did not know. I do not think of you that way."
He turned away from her, unwilling to show her how much her words cut him.
"I am saying this badly. I am still new at this. I have not till this moment considered you a possible mate."
"Till this moment," he asked without turning around.
"Yes." Her voice was very close to him. "I will have to get used to the idea."
"But you're willing to do that."
"I am. If you are willing to court me?" Her tone was more playful than he had ever heard it.
He turned to her, nodded happily. "I believe the first step is for us to have a first date?"
"I need to know something first. Are you seeing Captain Janeway?"
"She is my friend. And I am hers. We are not lovers."
"Then a first date is acceptable."
"Excellent," the doctor said. He decided not to disable those subroutines after all.
Janeway stared at the travel pages, unsure what she was even looking for. She had asked for some time off but now she wasn't sure what to do with it. She didn't want to bother the Doctor, not when he finally had his chance with Seven. Her mother or sister always welcomed a visit, but she just didn't feel like she would be good company. She wondered what Chakotay was doing.
"Call him," the Doctor had said, when he told her of the breakup and Seven's visit. "Don't let this opportunity slip away."
But she hadn't called him. And he hadn't called her. And it would stay this way forever, neither willing to risk anything. Neither wanting to be hurt again.
She tried to decide between vacation spots. Found some places that she had always wanted to go, to explore. Booking them would be a simple matter.
She sat for several long minutes. Then she began to key in her request. Without thinking about what she was doing, she booked herself onto the late shuttle to Starbase 6 and the connecting shuttle to Litenax.
She hurried to pack a bag, dithering a bit over what to include before deciding it didn't matter. She rushed to the transporter station, made it just in time to the shuttle port. Tried to relax as the hours passed and she got closer to Litenax.
Finally she was there, and she realized she had no idea where Chakotay was on the planet. She asked at the booking desk for the location of the Federation representative, got the address with no problem and waited until it was her turn to transport.
His house appeared in front of her. She rang the chimes. Waited. But there was no answer.
Her heart sank. This was his office and his residence, according to the person she had asked. If he wasn't here, then he might be anywhere. With anyone.
"Are you looking for Chakotay?" a child's voice asked her.
She turned to see a boy and girl watching her from the yard next door. "I am. Do you know where he is?"
They both nodded. Then the girl asked, "Are you a captain?"
Janeway nodded, a bit confused.
The children looked at each other and giggled. The boy said, "He's in the back yard. In the garden." Then they ran off.
Janeway was suddenly overcome with doubt. This was not a good idea. Why had she come? She almost turned around but the thought of admitting defeat without even trying was more than she could bear.
She slowly walked around the house. As she came around the corner she saw him, crouched on the ground working on some plants. He was facing her but his head was down. She was surprised at the rush of emotion she felt just from seeing him. Chakotay, she thought. My god, I've missed you.
He slowly looked up. She saw his look change, the grin he couldn't hide as he saw her. He got up but stayed where he was.
She understood suddenly why he hadn't come to her on Earth. Why he wasn't coming to her now. This was up to her, had to be her choice. There could be no doubt.
"Hi," she said, as she began to move toward him.
"I heard about you and Seven."
He nodded, his face sobering. "She left me."
She was halfway there. "Why?"
"Said I was in love with someone else."
In a few more steps, she would be in front of him. "Are you?"
He shrugged nonchalantly and grinned at her. "You tell me, Captain."
"Kathryn," she corrected.
His grin widened. "Kathryn."
She stood in front of him. Close enough to touch him, if she wanted to. "Are you?" Her voice was intense, she found herself trembling a little.
"And if I was?"
"Just answer the question, Chakotay."
He complied instantly, probably as surprised as she was at her need for complete honesty. "Yes. I am."
She breathed a sigh of relief. Then was embarrassed when he heard it and laughed.
He moved closer. "Thought I'd had a change of heart?"
"It's been a long time. And you had someone else."
"I still love you, Kathryn."
She couldn't stand it any longer. Raised her hand to touch his cheek. She saw the tenderness in his eyes. The ache of loneliness she had felt ever since Voyager made it home eased. "I was a fool."
"You sure were," he agreed.
She grinned and realized that most of all she had missed his ability to make her smile. "I had my reasons."
"If you say so." He softened his words by covering her hand with his own.
"I've missed you."
"What did you miss?"
"You want a list?"
He nodded wickedly. "I do. A complete one, too. My ego needs some stroking after what you put it through."
She laughed. "Fair enough. I miss my friend, the man who was always at my back no matter what. I miss the first officer that never hesitated to tell me when he disagreed with something I planned." They both grinned at that. "I miss the dinners, and the jokes, and the sleepless nights when you met me on the holodeck. I miss the rush of getting away from some enemy and knowing we did it together."
"Those are all good things."
She reached up, touched the other side of his face. Pulled his mouth closer to hers. "I miss the man I love. The man who loved me no matter what. I miss kissing you and touching you."
He looked confused. "We never actually did those things."
She nodded. "I know but I miss them anyway." She pulled him down the rest of the way and their lips met. Oh god, so good, she thought as the feeling of him began to overwhelm her.
He pulled away, stared at her as if he couldn't get enough of the sight. "Kathryn. I've missed you so." His mouth found hers again, even as he picked her up and walked rapidly to the door and into the house. He stopped suddenly in front of the bedroom.
She saw his uncertainty, knew that he was wondering if she really wanted this. "You missed me? Really?"
"Then prove it. There," she whispered huskily as she pointed to the bed.
It was all the encouragement he needed.
Dax walked into the deserted lounge. "Vic?" she called out. There was no answer. Sighing she walked around the bar and poured herself a drink. She sipped it slowly.
"Ezri. I didn't expect you." His voice was close behind her.
"I know. I just felt like coming here."
"Bad night?" He reached around her and poured himself a drink too.
She resisted the urge to lean into him, to find out what his arms would feel like around her. "Yeah." She walked away from him. "But you knew Jadzia, Vic. You know how unforgettable she was."
"She was a nice person," he responded neutrally.
She whirled on him. "What? No colorful metaphors for what a looker she was? No waxing euphoric about how brilliant a scientist she could have been? No excuses for why my lover might call out her name in his dreams?"
He shook his head, didn't look away. "No."
She downed her drink. "Well good."
He walked around the bar, carrying his own glass and the bottle of Bourbon. "Here," he said as he refilled her glass. "How about a toast?"
"A toast?" She glared at him. "To what?"
"To matchmaking gone right. Your friend and my friend are even now on their way to a beautiful relationship."
Dax smiled despite her black mood. "I'm glad for them," she said, knocking her glass gently against Vic's.
"The other two look like they'll make it too. God knows they've been through hell, so they deserve some happiness."
"Yeah. They do."
She looked up at Vic. His eyes were so warm. She smiled at him.
"Everyone deserves to be happy, Ezri." His eyes became even warmer, offering her anything she needed. Everything she needed.
She felt regret as she pushed the possibility away.
He seemed to sense it. Didn't push her, just walked back to the bar. There was silence for too long.
"We need music," she said.
He turned to her, looked for something in her eyes, seemed to find it. "Music," he ordered.
The band appeared.
"Dance?" she asked him as she put her drink down on a nearby table.
He put down his own glass, walked back to her and opened his arms.
She went into them without hesitation. Something slow," she told the band. "Something sweet."
She and Vic began to sway slowly. His voice was soft in her ear. "When somebody loves you, it's no good unless he loves you, all the way. Happy to be near you, when you need someone to cheer you, all the way."
She felt the tears, didn't even try to stop them. "Friends?" she whispered as she tucked her head into his chest.
His arms tightened around her. "Always."