“I wrote this story to explore what I felt was a gross oversight in the series. The relationship that exists between Seven and Naomi Wildman is cute and fun to watch, but we almost never get to see Naomi’s mother. Why not show us Voyager‘s one true nuclear family? And just how does Sam Wildman feel about her daughter’s friendship with a former drone? And how would a romance with Harry Kim affect that friendship? I thought it might be fun to find out…” (Michael B)
Written by Michael B
Release 10 Jul 2000
Harry Kim stood under the relaxing waves of the sonic shower, while the gentle mists of vapor moisturized his skin. He could feel the tender aches and soreness from the previous night melt away. That was one of the great advantages of sonics over the old-fashioned water showers that you could still find in many quaint locations on Earth. Not only were you cleaned more effectively, but the ultrasonic pulses could also be set to provide a light all-over-body massage, if you so desired. Not to mention the added bonus of being able to stay under for as long as you liked without having to worry about pruning, a fact Harry delightfully discovered while he was involved with Libby.
A pleasure he was also able to share with Seven of Nine.
The young officer smiled as he thought about his Borg sweetheart. This morning had been special, as it had been one of the rare occasions when managed to wake up before her. Despite the fact that Seven had adapted to the need for regular sleep, she still required fewer hours of slumber than a normal human being. So invariably, Harry would wake up to find his lover had already washed and dressed herself, often sitting by the bed watching him as stirred awake. She would tell him how she found it pleasing to observe him while he was at rest. Some men might have found that creepy, but to Harry it was just Seven’s way of being sensual.
This time, however, it had been Harry’s turn to be the first to rise and shine. He thought about how beautiful she was as he pulled aside the covers, her naked body sleeping peaceful, immobile save for the soft, steady rhythm of her breathing. Her hair had been unpinned and spilled down to her shoulders like golden honey. Her face flawless, her lips full, her cheeks stilled flushed with warmth from the pleasures they had shared the night before.
Even when asleep, Harry thought with awe, she’s perfect.
So entranced was the young man in his memories, that he barely heard the door to the sonic shower slide open. No sooner did the sound register in his mind that he felt a warm, soft, and familiar shape press into his back.
"Good morning, Harry Kim," Seven spoke to him seductively. "I trust that you slept well."
Harry smiled as he looked over his shoulder to see his beloved squeezed tightly against him, her arms encircling around his body. He had pinned up her hair in her usual, efficient style. "Morning, beautiful," he greeted her. "Yes, I slept very well last night. Apparently, so did you."
"Indeed. It is unusual for you to rise before me," she answered him. "I did notice that the bed covers had been retracted upon my awakening. Were you observing me as I slept?"
He blushed as he turned around to face her in the tight space of the shower. The fine misty spray had already moistened her bare skin, as their bodies pressed against one another. "Well, maybe for just a little while," he admitted. "You just looked so beautiful this morning. I…I felt like I was the luckiest man in the entire universe."
Seven’s own cheeks became flushed in response. "I too feel that I am fortunate to be affiliated with one such as you. Just as I find that you are beautiful to gaze upon when I awaken."
Harry chuckled at her response. "Seven, we’ve talked about this before. Men are `handsome.’ Women are `beautiful.’ Didn’t the Doctor ever explain the difference to you?"
"Indeed he did. And I found it to be confusing that two separate expressions had to be devised in order to depict a similar concept simply because they are applied to different genders," she retorted matter-of-factly. She then smiled broadly as she continued. "What is more, the term `beautiful’ is often denoted when one refers to an item of artistic perfection. As the appearance of your body is pleasing to me in such a manner, one might describe you as an object of beauty. Hence, you are beautiful." She nodded her head in pleased satisfaction, considering the argument won.
Harry couldn’t help but laugh. "Okay, I won’t argue with you. Just don’t call me that in front of other people. It’ll be our little secret."
"I will comply," she smiled at him as she wrapped her arms around him tighter. He stared into her sky blue eyes, almost seeing his own reflection, pulling him in. Harry leaned in to his lover, to take her in a gentle embrace, their lips touching, tenderly at first, only to become hungrier with each passing moment. At the back of his mind, he thought about the many different ways their lives could have gone, how they might never have found each other and the joy they were now sharing.
But as Seven had taught him, such thoughts were irrelevant. Only what happened here and now, in this life, was what mattered.
As the young couple slowly came up for air, Seven glanced down at her companion, a wide grin spreading across her lovely features. "I had believed that last night’s activities would have satisfied any desires on your part, Harry. Yet you have clearly become stimulated again."
He returned her grin with one of his own. "Well, you seem to be quite stimulated yourself, my dear. Any suggestions on how we might resolve this problem?"
"The most logical, if not efficient, solution would be to copulate again. It would also be the most pleasurable option," she answered with a twinkle in her eye.
"Say, don’t we have a staff meeting to get ready for?" Harry remembered.
"My preliminary analysis of the collapsed- matter nebula was completed prior to dinner last night. I programmed the Astrometric sensors to upload any updated information directly to my PADD. Any revisions would take only a few moments for me to assimilate. There is nothing to prepare for," she assured him. "In fact, were we to eliminate having breakfast in the mess hall and use the replicator instead, I estimate we would have nearly thirty eight minutes to ourselves before having to dress and leave for the briefing."
"Hmmmm," he mused deviously. "You have given this a lot of thought."
"Indeed. Shall we now retire to the bedroom, Harry?"
"Hold on. I think I know how we can add on a few extra minutes for ourselves," he countered, his grin growing from ear-to-ear as he gripped her tighter. "Maybe, if we were to remain here…"
Seven cocked her head in puzzlement. "You wish to copulate in the sonic shower? I do not believe this position currently exists within my database. I would be most enthusiastic to explore it with you."
"You see? Pleasurable, efficient, AND educational. How can you beat a combination like that?" Harry’s faced beamed with delight.
"It appears I cannot," she answered, returning his happiness with her own, as she pulled him into her and locked her lips to his in a voracious embrace. They drank each other in, their tongues probing, hands exploring.
Harry felt like he could stay this way with her forever. But forever did not last long, as the door chimed over the hum of the sonic shower.
"Ignore it," she commanded, momentarily breaking the kiss, before diving into pleasure once again.
He complied with her demand, lost in desire. He tried to shut out the chirping refrain, even after it repeated itself, hoping that whomever it was would get the message and move on. Five times it rang, then six. The unwanted visitor would not go away. By the seventh repetition, Harry found it impossible to push the noise out of his consciousness.
"God, damn it!" he shouted at the universe, as he pulled away from his beloved and exited from the shower stall. He angrily snatched for his bathrobe, hanging on the wall outside the shower.
"Harry?" Seven called out to him as he struggled to slip on the robe, his frustration clearly in evidence.
"Whoever it is, I’m going to tear off their head and spit down their neck!" he shouted back, stomping out through the main room of his quarters towards the door, which continued to chime away.
"Harry, do not engage in any actions that you may regret later," she shouted out to him in concern, having seen before the consequences when his normally calm demeanor was disturbed.
Oh, they’re the ones who are going to regret it, Harry fumed silently, as he planned in his mind the slow, painful torture of the individual responsible for pulling him away from the gates of Heaven.
"Now, what the he…" he started to shout as he opened the door and saw for just a brief second that there was nobody there, at least not at eye level.
It was only when he panned down that he saw the innocent, smiling face of little Naomi Wildman staring up at him, completely oblivious to what she had just interrupted.
"Naomi, I…um…" he stammered, all thoughts of torture and brutality exiting his mind as he clutched his bathrobe tighter around him, making sure that nothing improper was exposed.
"Hi, Harry," she greeted him jubilantly. "Can I talk to Seven?"
"Seven? I, uh, what makes you think that Seven would be here?"
She giggled at him. "The computer told me so, silly."
"Oh, right…um," he answered awkwardly, tried to extract himself from this uncomfortable situation. The last thing he wanted was for Voyager‘s only child to get too much of an early education of what grown-ups do in the privacy of their own rooms.
"So, can I talk to her?" she asked, with all of the sweet impertinence of youth.
"Well, I, uh, that is…"
She took that as a yes, so she walked past Harry and entered his quarters. "Seven? Are you here? Seven of Nine?"
Harry looked back at the little girl nervously. "Naomi, I really don’t think…"
"Naomi Wildman," Seven announced herself, stepping from the bathroom, wearing only a short towel wrapped around her body. Harry Kim took in her appearance. Ordinarily, the sight of the lovely ex-Borg in such a state of undress would wag the tongues of any red-blooded male aboard Voyager. But the little half-K’tarian child seemed completely oblivious to her older friend’s appearance.
"Morning, Seven. The computer said you’d be here."
"Indeed. I am here."
"Yeah, well, Uncle Neelix is taking me and mom out for breakfast, on account of it being his day off and all. I just wanted to come by and invite you to join us." Naomi looked over her shoulder at an extremely uncomfortable Harry Kim, who had been all but forgotten in this conversation. "You can come too, Harry. If you want to, that is."
Harry could tell there wasn’t much enthusiasm in the child’s voice when she invited him.
"Your offer is appreciated, Naomi Wildman," Seven responded. "But I will be having breakfast here with Ensign Kim before attending today’s staff meeting. Perhaps another time would be acceptable?"
"Oh, sure…that’s OK," the young girl replied. Harry could see how crestfallen she was at the news. Poor kid, he thought. He knew it wasn’t easy for her, growing up as the only child on board a ship full of adults. Like everyone else, he tried to accommodate her and make her life easier. Besides, who could say no to a cute little face like that?
Seven also observed Naomi’s disappointment, and thought of a possible acceptable alternative. She did not wish to see her small friend saddened. "Perhaps we might meet this afternoon and go to Astrometrics? I could meet you at your quarters, if this is acceptable to you?"
The child’s eyes lit up at the suggestion. "Hey, that would be great!" It was then that Naomi looked narrowly at her friend and her relative state of undress. "Seven, were you using Harry’s shower?"
Before Harry could intervene, the young blond woman gave her standard direct answer. "That is correct. Ensign Kim and I spent the night together."
"You mean, you slept over?"
"In a manner of speaking. We were…"
"Working!" Harry blurted out nervously and somewhat louder than he had intended, cutting his lover off before she had the chance to elaborate further. Both females turned their attention to him. "We were…um…working late…last night, that is. And I…well, it was so late, I figured, Seven, she might as well sleep over…" he lamely tried to explain. "On the couch!" he hastened to add as he glanced in Seven’s direction, his eyes pleading with her to play along.
"Yes," she agreed, her eyes were narrowed, lips tight, apparently not pleased with the idea of deception. "On the couch."
"What were you working on?" Naomi asked innocently.
"Inventory!" Kim answered a little too quickly, without thinking.
The child looked puzzled as she considered Harry’s answer. "But didn’t you say that’s what you were working on two nights ago, when I invited Seven to watch cartoons with me?"
"And when I asked Uncle Neelix why you both left early from the Prixin party last week, he said you both had to do inventory then, too."
Harry was fresh out of answers as he looked over at Seven, hoping she would have some kind of intelligent response to give to the little girl. Seven answered in a low, even tone, her eyes keeping the same narrow glare from before. "Apparently there is a great deal of inventory aboard Voyager."
"Yeah, that’s what Tommy said," Naomi agreed.
The Ops officer perked up his head at the mention of Tom Paris’ name. "What exactly did Tommy say?"
"I asked him if you and Seven would be doing inventory every night. He just laughed and said you probably would be for the first couple of months, but that it would taper off real quick after that. Do you know what he meant?"
"Oh, uh, well…" Harry stammered. "He was just kidding around."
"Yeah, well, B’Elanna didn’t think it was funny. She got mad and said something to him about him `not getting any’ that night. I don’t understand. What was Tommy not gonna get? "
Harry tried to force a smile through his nervous laughter, wondering why it was that he always found himself in these awkward situations. "Oh, well, it was nothing really. I mean, you know how silly Uncle Tommy can be."
"Yeah," the child giggled. "But I like him that way." She then looked up at her older friend. "So, I guess I’ll see you later this afternoon, Seven?"
"You will indeed," the ex-Borg nodded. "Perhaps Ensign Kim might accompany us as well?"
Harry could see from the look on Naomi’s face that all of the enthusiasm had drained away. No, he realized, she definitely didn’t want him to come along. "Uh, that’s OK, Seven. Maybe the two of you should just go on ahead. I’ll probably be pretty busy working with Tom and B’Elanna."
"Very well," Seven accepted, somewhat puzzled. "I will see you at your quarters at 1200 hours, Naomi Wildman."
As soon as the girl left, pleased with having made her plans, Seven turned to look at her mate, her voice clearly distressed. "Why is it necessary to deceive Naomi Wildman regarding the intimate nature of our time together?"
A look of shock registered on Harry’s face. "For crying out loud, Seven! She’s just a little kid. She’s too young to understand about…stuff like that."
"I disagree. Naomi Wildman has a keen and inquisitive mind, and is capable of grasping subject matter many would consider beyond her years and maturity."
"Well, that may be…but I don’t think Sam would appreciate us telling her daughter about what we do when were…um…’doing inventory.’"
"Perhaps…but it does not please me to engage in casual deception, particularly with Naomi Wildman."
"I know. It’s just, well, it’s just one of those awkward things."
"I understand," she answered, although it was clear that she really did not understand entirely. For that matter, neither did Harry. But she allowed her perturbed expression to melt away, to be replaced by her earlier look of arousal and lust. "Shall we now return to the sonic shower and complete what we began?"
Harry gave a deflated sigh. "I don’t know, Seven. The moment’s passed. I just don’t think I’m in the mood anymore."
"Indeed?" she inquired mischievously as she stepped back. She then reached up with one quick gesture to fumble with the knot at the top of her towel. With just a few quick motions, the knot came undone and her towel fluttered to the floor. She stood there in all her nakedness, her hands on her hips, and thin curving smile at the corner of her lips.
Harry Kim took a deep breath. It never ceased to amaze him. In the four months they had been together as a couple, he had seen Seven of Nine unclothed dozens of times. He should have been used to it by now. But every time she appeared before him with her perfect body, it took his breath away.
Noticing his apparent interest, she arched an eyebrow as she spoke. "It has been my experience, Harry, that it takes minimal effort to get you `in the mood.’" And with that, she turned on her heel and made her way back towards the bathroom and the sonic shower. She made sure to give her hips a little extra wiggle as she walked, glancing over her shoulder, beckoning for him to follow her.
It took only a fraction of a second for Harry to recognize that Seven knew him and his bodily responses only too well. "Time to hit the showers," he called out as he tore off his robe as he went after her.
An hour later, after being dressed, fed, and satisfied, the young lovers were sitting in the briefing room for the day’s staff meeting.
"So, if we were to detonate a polaron discharge at 250 megacycles, the collapsed matter particles should emit a momentary burst of Chernekov radiation, allowing us to distinguish them from the surrounding normal matter in the nebula," Harry Kim, model Starfleet officer, concluded. Thus completed the results of his findings to the rest of the senior staff.
Captain Kathryn Janeway sat at the head of the table, nodding her head in approval. She had put the young officer in charge of the initial survey of the unusual stellar phenomenon they had discovered. So far, she was eminently pleased with the results, both in terms of the data returned and his performance. "Seven," she turned to the beautiful blonde sitting at Harry’s side, "have you had any luck in determining the origin of this nebula?"
"Astrometric sensors have not yet provided any information that would give a conclusive answer, Captain," she answered. "Preliminary analysis of the data accumulated thus far would tend to support our original hypothesis that this phenomenon is the result of a primordial collision between two neutron stars. We are still extending our sensor range in order to detect any possible remnants of the original cataclysm."
"I see," the captain acknowledged. "What about the progress on your front, Lieutenant?" she asked of the ship’s chief engineer, B’Elanna Torres, who was sitting across the table from Harry, next to her lover, Tom Paris.
"We’ve been successful in putting together a containment field able to maintain its integrity over an indefinite period of time," the half-Klingon woman answered. "Unfortunately, given the power limits we have to work with, we’ll only be able to hold less than half a kilo of collapsed matter, at the most."
"That should be acceptable," Seven of Nine spoke up. "According to the simulations Ensign Kim and I have run, no more than 10 grams of collapsed matter would be needed to catalyze the ship’s warp plasma."
Chakotay, who had been sitting silently at Janeway’s right during the technical briefing, seemed pleased by the reports he was hearing. "With half a kilogram, that should be more than enough to last us the rest of the trip back to the Alpha Quadrant."
"Of course, the catch is going to be collecting the stuff, not storing it," Tom Paris piped in.
Janeway nodded in silent agreement. Collapsed matter was not only incredibly dense and massive, but highly energetic and unstable. Unless the beaming was nearly instantaneous, a transporter beam could accidentally trigger a catastrophic energy discharge. In fact, Federation science had never observed stable collapsed matter before outside of the vicinity of a neutron star. Attempts to generate a synthetic substitute in high-energy laboratories back home had only managed to yield a handful of short-lived atoms at a horrendous cost in resources. Interesting for science, perhaps, but of no practical use.
That is, until Voyager‘s detection two days ago of a three-parsec-wide cloud of gas, dust, and collapsed matter particles, all in a stable configuration. The scientist in Kathryn Janeway was intrigued at the idea of exploring such an unusual stellar anomaly. But the part of her that was captain also saw the value of such a discovery. A tiny amount of energetic collapsed matter could be used to synthesize highly charged warp plasma from common hydrogen plasma collected from the interstellar depths.
Now, if only the collapsed-matter particles could be collected just as easily, she thought.
"We’re going to need a coordinated effort between Astrometrics and Engineering if we’re going to find a safe way of harvesting this nebula," Janeway announced after a brief moment of reflection. Her eyes then scanned the assembled faces at the briefing, before settling on Harry. "Ensign Kim, you seem to have developed a firm grasp of both the science and the mechanics involved. I’m putting you in charge of this project, assuming your other duties will allow it."
Harry nearly jolted upwards at the captain’s words. "Uh…yes, ma’am," he managed to speak. It felt a bit overwhelming for him. Sure, he was a department head and he had led away team missions before. But now he was being given control over a project that was critical to the well being of the ship, and would be giving orders to officers who technically outranked him. His first instinct would be to insist that he wasn’t ready for this kind of responsibility. But then he looked to his side to see Seven of Nine beside him. Her eyes were wide and lovely, her cheeks flushed with pride and her lips curled in a thin smile of satisfaction. It had been her personal project these past few weeks to bolster Harry’s confidence and perfect his abilities. It was clear that she felt her hard work was now starting to bear fruit.
So Harry puffed up his chest and settled into his chair. If Seven believed in him, he thought, then he must be up to the challenge. Janeway gave her own smile of satisfaction, confident she had made the right choice. "I think that will be all for now, people. If there’s no other business for today, I’ll expect a status report on the harvesting issue by 0900 tomorrow. Dissmissed."
As the meeting broke up, Harry felt a familiar hand reach over to touch his as he stood up. Seven was looking at him, obviously pleased for him. "The Captain has chosen to recognize your talents in an area of considerable responsibility. I am…happy… for you, Harry."
The young man blushed at Seven’s admission. It was rare for her to admit she was `happy’ about anything, even though she often let her feelings slip without expressing them in words. But before Harry could offer any words in response, he felt a familiar slap on his back.
"So, buddy. Looks like you got a gold star from the teacher. I think someone’s been polishing a few apples." Tom Paris quipped, as he and B’Elanna came around to stand behind the younger couple. Chakotay and Tuvok were already out the door, but both gave Harry a respectful nod as they left. The Doctor remained behind, and was having a conversation with the captain, well out of earshot of the rest of the staff.
"Don’t listen to him, Harry," the chief engineer added her own commentary. "This was long overdue for you. Maybe now she’ll put a new pip on that collar of yours…"
"B’Elanna…" Harry squirmed in his seat, hinting to her that maybe she was going a bit too far in her over-protectiveness.
"Okay, okay," she held up her hands in mock defeat. "But seriously, though. My team’s going to run another simulation of the containment field as soon as I get back. Care to tag along?"
"Sure," Harry answered as the four of them headed for the door. "The latest data dump from Astrometrics will be ready by then. Maybe we’ll be able to do some serious brainstorming…"
"Ah, Seven," they heard the captain’s voice call out to them, where she remained seated at the head of the conference table. "Would you please remain for a few minutes? There’s a matter that I need to discuss with you." The Doctor was still at her side, giving her a reassuring smile.
The former drone looked somewhat concerned at hearing the captain’s request, but Harry motioned for her to go on ahead. "I’ll catch up with you at lunch. You go on." Turning to face Tom and B’Elanna, he then gave Tom a hearty slap on the back as they exited the briefing room. "In meantime, Tom," he spoke casually, with just a hint of annoyance, "we can talk about a little conversation you had with Naomi last week…"
As the door slid behind the others, Seven cautiously approached where Janeway and the Doctor stood. "Captain, if this is regarding my inability to conclusively determine the origin of the nebula…"
Kathryn held up her hand and silenced the younger woman with a chuckle. "Seven, please. This is an unprecedented astronomical discovery. I’d hardly expect you to wrap it all up in just 48 hours. Believe me, I was hoping we could talk about something a little more personal."
"It’s about your use of the regeneration chair, Seven," the Doctor chimed in.
The blonde woman looked puzzled at her friend and mentor. "I do not understand. The regeneration chair has been operating flawlessly. I have been making regular use of it whenever my implants are in need of power."
"Yes, you have been making use of the chair," the hologram concurred, "but in Sickbay. For the past three weeks, I might add. Long after I signed off on its use."
Janeway then leaned in with her own input. "Seven, the whole point of the regeneration chair was to allow you to move out of Cargo Bay Two and get established in regular crew quarters," she added softly. "It’s been over three weeks since you’ve powered down your old alcove, and you still haven’t made a request for new living arrangements."
"It is not necessary, Captain."
"Now, Seven," the Doctor admonished in a paternal tone of voice, "I know how resistant you are to change. But believe me, this move will be good for you. Learning to live as the rest of the crew does will go a long way towards the growth of your humanity."
"Besides," Janeway added, "I can’t imagine it being too comfortable for you, sleeping on that old Starfleet-issue survival cot. I think you’ll find being in a regular bed much more enjoyable."
"But, Captain," Seven answered with some puzzlement, "I have only slept on the cot on five occasions since regaining my ability to sleep."
Now it was the Doctor’s turn to be confused. "Well, if you haven’t been sleeping on the cot, then where…?" Suddenly, the EMH’s eyes widened with shock, as it occurred to him what his pupil’s nocturnal activities truly were. "Oh, I see…" he stammered uncomfortably.
Janeway couldn’t resist a chuckle at the Doctor’s expense, especially after seeing the persnickety hologram nearly blush with embarrassment. It was enough to give even Seven an amused grin.
"Well, um, that’s all well and good, Seven," the Doctor spoke up after composing himself, "but you can’t very well spend every night with Ensign Kim."
"Why not? Harry and I take pleasure in each other’s company. Is there a particular reason why I cannot spend every night with him?"
"But Seven," he continued, "what about when he’s on an away mission, or has command of Gamma watch?"
"On those occasions, I have slept in his quarters by myself, where he eventually joins me. Although it is preferable to have him with me, I feel a strong sense of comfort and belonging, even when he is not there."
The captain immediately took notice of the young woman’s emotional admission. "Seven, believe me, I don’t want to interfere in your relationship with Harry. In fact, I’m quite pleased that the two of you have grown so…close. But the Doctor and I feel that it might be in your best interest for you to be able to be independent, to have a place you can call your own."
"Captain," the ex-Borg spoke, with a growing strain in her voice that became typical of their conversations, "for the two years prior to my romantic affiliation with Harry Kim, I have been independent and `on my own’ from the rest of the crew. Now that I have grown close to someone and no longer desire solitude, you say it is unacceptable?"
"I didn’t mean to imply that, Seven," Janeway answered defensively. "It’s just that you’re talking about you and Harry…living together. That’s a very serious step in a relationship."
"One that you feel I am unprepared for," Seven completed her thought.
"It isn’t that, Seven," the Doctor cautioned. "It’s just that you’ve had so little experience with romantic relationships, the Captain and I are concerned that you may be, well, rushing into things. Especially since you’ve yet to grasp the concept of love in its entirety."
"I believe that is a matter for Harry and I to determine on our own," she answered with uncharacteristic defiance towards the hologram, to whom she had always deferred to in the past. The Doctor showed alarm at the tone of her voice.
"Have the two of you even discussed this?" Janeway asked. "Seven, these emotions are very new to you. It would be too easy for you to get swept up in the excitement of a new relationship. I think that you’ll find that Harry may be able to provide a more balanced perspective on things."
"Captain, I have never been one to allow my emotional state to overwhelm my sense of reason. Furthermore, I do not believe you would choose to have this conversation with Lieutenant Torres or any other crewmember regarding their romantic affiliations."
"Now, Seven," the Doctor admonished. "You know perfectly well that you’re not like other members of the crew…"
But Janeway held up her hand to silence the paternalistic hologram. "You’re absolutely right," she admitted humbly. "I crossed the line on that one, Seven. I’m sorry. I guess it’s going to take a little getting used to, you having a personal life. I suppose if you and Harry want to move in together and it doesn’t affect your work, that’s between the two of you."
"But Captain!" the Emergency Medical Hologram protested.
"That’ll do, Doctor," the captain warned him with a harsh stare, before turning back to the young woman standing before her. "But I meant what I said before, Seven. You should talk to Harry about this and see how he feels before making any long-tern plans."
"I am certain he would concur with my own feelings, but I will discuss the matter with him formally. I will then make arrangements to have the regeneration chair removed from Sickbay and reinstalled in Harry’s quarters, as well as removing the remainder of my belongings out of Cargo Bay Two. If that will be all?"
Captain Janeway waved her hand, indicating she was dismissed. As the statuesque blond left the conference room, the Doctor turned to face his commanding officer. "I still think she’s making a big mistake! Living together after only four months…it’s much too soon for that!"
Kathryn chuckled lightly at the unusual nature of this conversation. The two of them squabbling…they sounded almost like…parents. She looked up at the harried-looking hologram and tried to placate him. "Now, Doctor. Our little drone has to grow up sometime, you know."
Seven of Nine made her way out of the turbolift and marched down the corridor of Deck 8, Section 4, towards the Wildman quarters. The words of Captain Janeway and the Doctor were still echoing in her mind. While she always valued their counsel to her in the past, she was beginning to find their advice to her increasingly chaffing.
Until now, she had never given the matter of her living arrangements much thought. Back when she had no choice but to live in Cargo Bay Two, her living conditions had been simple. She regenerated, made use of her custom workstation as needed, and that was it. Much of the rest of her time was taken up by her work, or the occasional social outlet that she had to be persuaded to take part in. She never thought of the Cargo Bay as a place to actually live, it was just a location that satisfied her needs.
But now her needs had changed.
Since beginning her relationship with Harry, she found herself spending an appreciable time in his living area. Unbeknownst to him, she focused much attention on his quarters, observing how he lived and how he organized his personal space. Seven wanted to understand Harry better, and had learned in her study of humanity that how an individual lived revealed much about that person’s nature and personality. She compared the comfortable, welcoming sensation of Harry’s quarters to the cold and Spartan atmosphere of the cargo bay. He had pictures of his family and friends on display, as well as a number of gifts and curios that had been acquired at Voyager‘s numerous ports-of-call. His walls were adorned with artwork from half-a-dozen planets, and his clarinet was kept clean and polished in a display case that Ensign Paris and Lieutenant Torres had given him as a birthday gift. And of course, he kept his compartment fastidiously neat, even though he didn’t organize his closet space quite as efficiently as she would have liked.
And of course, he kept a holo of the two of them together, prominently displayed by his bedside.
In short, she felt comfortable and contented in his quarters, much more so than in any living space that Captain Janeway would assign to her. So no sooner was the regeneration chair was declared fully operational and her old alcove was shut down, that she gradually began to move her few personal belongings into Harry’s place. He did not seem to mind, even when she downloaded her data files and personal replicator patterns to his database. And since they slept together so frequently anyway, wouldn’t it be more efficient if they were to formally reside together, instead of going through the pointless debates of where to copulate on which evening, as she frequently overheard other couples discussing?
Besides, she knew Harry loved her, so naturally it would please him for her to be with him every night anyway. All that remained was installing the regeneration chair into his living room, and the transition would be complete. Her insides warmed with delight as she thought of how happy he would be once she made her announcement to him.
Seven’s musings were cut short as she arrived at the Wildman residence and announced her arrival. The door slid open to reveal the harried expression of Ensign Samantha Wildman.
"Oh…hello, Seven," the female officer greeted her, albeit looking somewhat distracted.
"Ensign," the former-drone responded formally. "I have come to escort your daughter to Astrometrics."
"Is that so? Well, it’s the first that I’ve heard about it," she replied, her tone showing obvious displeasure. Whether it was with her or Naomi, Seven couldn’t tell. "Why don’t you come in. I’ll straighten this out with Naomi."
Seven of Nine sighed inwardly. One of the things she enjoyed about her friendship with Naomi Wildman was that it was the most open of all the relationships she had with the individuals that comprised the Voyager community. With Naomi, she could speak her mind freely, without any consequence of hierarchy, working conditions or emotional damage. And Naomi was just as free to speak with her.
But if her association with Naomi was among the most liberating, the relationship with the child’s mother was among the most frustrating.
Ensign Wildman was never overtly hostile to her. That wasn’t the problem. Hostility she could adapt to, as she had with Lieutenant Torres and other crewmembers that had difficulty working with her. But it was obvious in dealing with Samantha Wildman that there were emotions and opinions beneath the surface that she attempted to conceal during their conversations, and this Seven found uncomfortable.
Prior to establishing her mentoring relationship with Naomi, Seven had virtually no interaction with the junior science ensign at all. The only words the two women had ever shared were during the Prixin celebration two years earlier, when the Doctor was first trying to encourage her to interact at social events. Seven had failed at that earlier attempt, of course, but the ensign had been polite, and had not demonstrated any prejudice or distrust with her because of her Borg heritage.
But almost a year later, when Naomi first began her study sessions with the ex-drone, Seven had her first `parent-teacher’ meeting with Ensign Wildman. She could observe from the blood flow patterns beneath her skin and the exhibited vascular pressure that the child’s mother showed great apprehension at leaving her offspring in Seven’s care. She had asked an inordinate amount of questions regarding the drone’s daily routines and behavior patterns, as opposed to the proposed lesson plan. Seven suspected that the ensign was demonstrating signs of fear and distrust, traits that did not manifest when the two had dealt as individuals, but had come to the surface when the well-being of the child was involved.
At first, Seven found this reaction understandable. After all, she had begun her tutoring of Naomi Wildman shortly after recovering from the effects of contact with a damaged Borg vinculum, resulting in a form of multiple personality disorder. In fact, she had even `played’ with her while under the influence of one of those personalities. It was only natural that the mother be concerned about Seven’s susceptibility to aberrant behavior.
But as time went on, Samantha Wildman’s anxiety around Seven did not seem to go away. In fact, it seemed to grow stronger as the relationship between the child and the former-drone became less formal and one of friendship instead. Yet despite this, the mother did nothing to forbid their interaction, other than making Seven feel unwelcome whenever she came by their quarters. Relaying her concerns to Harry, he had assured her that Sam was, by everyone’s account, a benevolent and `nice’ person. She only needed time to get used to the idea of her daughter being best friends with a twenty-seven year-old cyborg who never laughed and slept in a cargo bay.
And so, more so than with any other crewmember, Seven of Nine was forced to employ with Ensign Wildman the skills of `small- talk’ and socialization that the Doctor had tried to instill within her. Needless to say, they only made their awkward relationship even more uncomfortable for her
The young blond woman looked up from her private thoughts to see the excited little girl bounce into the room. It always amazed Seven how much energy she seemed to possess, and how she could spontaneously generate it on command.
"Hold on a minute, Naomi," her mother cautioned her. "What’s this I hear about you going to Astrometrics with Seven? What did I tell you about wandering around the ship without telling me where you’re going?"
The half-K’tarian girl looked up imploringly at her mother, with sad, puppy-dog eyes. "But, Mooooom! It’ll only be for a little while. Seven said she was going to show me the nebula."
"And what about your promise to clean your room? You forgot to make your bed and pick up your toys this morning."
Naomi looked up at her friend standing at attention next to her mother, her hands behind her back. "Aw, Mom! A clean room is irrelevant!"
Samantha jolted upward in alarm at hearing her daughter’s words. "What did you say, young lady?!"
"I, uh, I…" Naomi knew she was in trouble, now. Anytime her mother called her `young lady,’ she knew she was going to get it.
Before the child could offer a response, her mother spun around to glare at the tall woman next to her. "Did you teach her to say that?" she accused harshly.
"Certainly not, Ensign," Seven answered, cool, yet defensive. She then fixed her gaze downward at the little one in front of her. "Naomi Wildman, your analysis is flawed. A clean living environment is essential to creating an organized mind-set, through which other projects can be properly structured. Remember that cleanliness leads to orderliness. Orderliness leads to efficiency. And efficiency leads to…"
"Perfection!" Naomi completed her sentence proudly.
"Precisely. Now comply with your mother’s instructions and tend to your living area."
"Okay…" the child grumbled as she slowly marched back towards her room. "Will you wait for me? I won’t be long."
"I will await you here," said Seven, before turning to look at the astonished ensign standing next to her. "Assuming that is acceptable?"
"Huh? Oh, yes. That would be fine," said the surprised other woman.
As soon as Naomi left the living room to complete her chores, her mother shook her head in disbelief. "I don’t get it. With me it’s like pulling teeth trying to get her to pick up after herself. But just one word from you, and she does whatever you ask!"
"Perhaps you have not used the proper incentives in order to elicit the desired response."
Samantha looked at the drone crossly. "I think I know how to raise my own daughter, thank you very much," she retorted, in a manner that Seven interpreted that was not truly thankful at all.
"Indeed," the young ex-Borg answered noncommittally, in order to suppress any further hostility. More irrelevant pleasantries, she sighed inwardly.
Sam took a moment to collect herself before continuing to address her guest. "Look, Seven. I…I didn’t mean to snap at you before. It’s been a real trying day, and on top of that, Naomi acting up…I guess I just took it out on you."
"There is no need for an apology. I am not offended."
"No, of course not. I…well, would you at least care to sit down? You don’t have to keep standing there like that."
"Thank you, Ensign." Seven gradually eased herself onto the main couch in the Wildman’s living room.
"Would you like a refreshment? Something to drink perhaps?"
"I require no refreshments at this time."
Samantha sat down across from her, anxiousness still evident to Seven’s optical sensors. The two spent a long awkward moment of silence together. Strange, Seven thought to herself. I have never been uncomfortable with silences before now.
"So…" the ensign spoke up gradually, "Naomi says you’re planning to take her to Astrometrics to observe the nebula."
"That is correct. I believe that a study of the phenomenon would add greatly to her education."
"Oh, well…good," she answered. Another long, uncomfortable silence, as the two women looked across from each other, without the slightest idea of what to say to one another.
Seven then figured it was her turn to offer some element of conversation. "I trust that your breakfast this morning with Mr. Neelix went without incident?"
"Oh, yes. Breakfast was fine. Naomi was a little disappointed that you weren’t there, though."
"Yes. Unfortunately, I was…otherwise occupied with Ensign Kim," she answered evasively, not wanting to reveal too much about what had happened earlier that morning. Harry had seemed to indicate that Ensign Wildman would not be pleased at hearing about how her daughter had stumbled upon them just as they were about to copulate.
"Of course," the other woman nodded, showing signs of a smile and a slight softening of her attitude, vaguely reading between the lines of Seven’s admission. "How did things go at the staff meeting this morning? Anything I should be aware of?"
"Captain Janeway has designated Harry to lead the collapsed-matter harvesting project," Seven announced, as she sat up proudly. "It is possible that your department may be called upon to render assistance, depending on whatever solution he and Lieutenant Torres propose."
Samantha leaned forward, her tone growing warmer. "You sound like you’re really happy for him."
"I am. It pleases me that the captain recognizes Harry for his talents."
The ensign let a smile pass by her lips, but her eyes betrayed a distant look of sadness. "Don’t ever let go of him, Seven." She seemed more relaxed and at ease in the tall blonde’s presence than she had ever been before, as she spoke to her. "A good man is hard to find."
"Indeed," she acknowledged.
With that, Samantha’s com-badge chirped, as a familiar voice came over the speaker. "Neelix to Wildman," the Talaxian’s cheerful voice spoke up.
"Wildman here," she answered. "What’s up, Neelix? Don’t tell me you’re bored already."
"Oh, no…it’s just…well, I was wondering if you had made any dinner plans for this evening."
"No, nothing special. I was just going to replicate some spaghetti and meatballs for Naomi and me. Why?"
"Well, perhaps…if it’s OK with you…you might want to get a sitter for Naomi and join me for dinner in the mess hall tonight?"
Sam perked her head at hearing Neelix’s invitation "Dinner? Well, I…" She gave the matter some thought, unsure as to how this might appear. But then she shrugged off her doubts. How often did she get the chance to go out as someone other than a mother? "I think dinner would be delightful."
"Wonderful! I’ll come by to pick you up around 1900. Is that OK with you?"
"1900 would be fine. I’ll see you then." Samantha cut the comlink, only to see Seven of Nine looking on with interest. "It’s not a date. It’s just dinner," she spoke out to the ex-Borg, feeling as if she had a need to justify herself to her.
"Of course, Ensign," Seven said without betraying a hint of emotion, one way or the other.
Harry sat across from Tom and B’Elanna in the mess hall for a late lunch that afternoon. They had spent much of the morning going over computer simulations on the behavior of collapsed matter particles. So far, every scenario they ran resulted in a spontaneous energy discharge. Frustrated by their lack of progress, they decided they needed a fresh perspective after grabbing a bite to eat. The young ensign could only toy with his food, however. He was far more involved with viewing the results of their efforts on his PADD, hoping to discover any mistakes in their calculations. But it was frustrating for him. His first assignment to head up a critical technical project and he was going nowhere fast.
"Hey, Harry. The food tastes a lot better if you actually put some in your mouth," Tom spoke up, interrupting his musings.
"What? Oh, sorry. I’m just focused on how we can augment the Bussard collectors to…"
"Harry, we went over that already in Engineering," said B’Elanna. "Look, don’t get so stressed out over this. We’ll come up with a solution. We always do."
"But what if there is no solution? The captain’s expecting us to make our report tomorrow morning. What if we don’t have anything to show her?"
"Harry, she asked for a status report, not necessarily a solution," Tom added. "Worse comes to worse, we just tell her we need more time."
"She won’t want to hear that. She gave me this responsibility because she thought I was up to the challenge. I don’t want to let her down."
"Oh, Harry," B’Elanna rolled her eyes in good-natured frustration. "You won’t let her down. You couldn’t even if you tried. You’re just too damned competent for that."
"Yeah, buddy," said Tom. "Seven may demand perfection from herself, but that doesn’t mean that you have to."
At the mention of Seven’s name, the doors to the mess hall opened up and revealed the joyous Talaxian face of Mr. Neelix. He was clad in a garish off-duty beach ensemble that made his regular attire seem subdued by comparison. Tom waved his hand for the ship’s Morale Officer to come over and join them.
"Neelix, you lazy bum!" the blond pilot jested with him as he arrived at their table. "Look at you…not even bothering to trim your whiskers today!"
"Well, it’s not often that I get a day off," the Talaxian replied.
Harry looked up and chuckled at Neelix’s good mood. The cheery little alien could often brighten up a room just by saying hello, if he wanted to.
"So, how have you been enjoying the life of leisure?" B’Elanna asked, not a little bit envious of his free time.
"Oh, a little bit of water polo on the Holodeck, a back massage at the resort, that sort of thing. But I wanted to swing over to mess hall and make some dinner arrangements for tonight."
"Really, now?" Tom perked up, grinning wide at the thought of hearing some potential gossip. "And will there be a dinner companion involved, pray tell?"
"Hmmmm…maybe," Neelix answered with a sly grin of his own.
"Well, tell us already. Don’t make us guess." B’Elanna insisted.
Neelix hesitated for a moment as he debated whether or not to share what he was feeling. "Well, if you must know…I asked Samantha Wildman to join me tonight."
"No way!" an astonished Tom Paris blurted out. "You and Sam?!"
"We had such a delightful breakfast this morning, and I figured, seeing as how we’re so close and everything, I thought why not take it to the next level?"
Harry looked askance at the overjoyed Talaxian. "Does she know you feel this way about her?"
"That’s sort of what tonight is all about. I figured I’d use the opportunity to `test the waters,’ so to speak."
Tom shrugged his shoulders in doubt. "I don’t know about this, Neelix. Are you sure you want to go there? You know, she’s technically a married woman."
"There’s nothing technical about it, Tom," B’Elanna said, with a considerably more disapproving tone before turning back to face the smitten man. "She is a married woman. You could be setting yourself up for a big disappointment, Neelix."
"You said the same thing about Harry and Seven, B’Elanna," Neelix countered. "and look at how well they turned out."
"Well, Neelix," Harry flustered, "I wouldn’t say it was exactly the same thing. For one thing, Seven didn’t have a husband somewhere out there."
"I’m well aware of that, but they’ve been apart for nearly six years!" he retorted sharply. "That’s not a marriage in my book. Besides, if only you knew what she was going through…she’s just so lonely, Harry."
"I know, Neelix," B’Elanna added sympathetically. "And I know you’re lonely, too. But do you really want to come between Naomi and her real father?"
"Not to mention potentially blowing your friendship with Sam if she doesn’t feel the same way," Tom said.
"I’ve been more of a father to Naomi than her natural father ever was," the Talaxian answered stubbornly. "You don’t understand," he went on, undaunted by his friends’ skepticism. "I haven’t felt this way about anyone since…well, since Kes. You should have been there this morning. The three of us all sitting down together, talking, laughing, enjoying ourselves. It was like…like we were a real family. That’s why I have to do this, guys. Deep down, I know this is the right thing to do."
All three sat silent at their hearing of their friend’s admission of passion. They felt great sorrow for this individual, who had given so much of himself to his friends and his crew. They all truly wanted him to be happy, there was no doubt about that. And under different circumstances, Samantha Wildman might have been a good match for him. But they all just couldn’t help but feeling he was about to get right between the eyes with reality.
Harry especially felt guilty for his pessimism. He knew how much Neelix had placed great faith in the outcome of his relationship with Seven. The two of them had also been considered a long shot. But in the real world, long shots were more likely to end in failures than successes.
Speaking of which, the mess hall doors opened again to reveal Seven of Nine and her small protégé. Naomi Wildman beamed as soon as she saw her godfather, and ran up to greet him. Neelix quickly turned to the others before she approached the table. "Uh, guys. Don’t tell anyone about…well, how I feel. Especially Naomi. I don’t want her to get too hopeful, before anything’s official.
"Uh, sure thing," Tom agreed hastily for all of them.
Naomi reached the table and jumped in excitement. "Uncle Neelix! Guess what? I was in Astrometrics with Seven of Nine."
"Why that’s wonderful, sweetie."
Seven finally approached the others, languishing behind the hyperactive child. Harry brightened as she stood alongside him. "Well, hey, beautiful," he greeted her as he looked up. "I was hoping you’d get here soon."
"As you can see, I did not tarry long," she answered playfully, as she bent over to give him a quick peck in front of everyone. Unaccustomed as they were to Seven giving public displays of affection, nobody noticed the look of distaste on Naomi’s face as she watched her older friend touch lips with her lover.
Tom quickly turned to face the little girl, who was standing right by him at the table. "So, Naomi. Astrometrics was a lot of fun?"
"Oh, yeah," she answered with joy, her earlier discomfort quickly vanished as only a child could. "She even let me do a spectral scan of the nebula!"
"Indeed," Seven answered proudly. "She made fewer errors in her analysis than Crewman Celes."
Harry rolled his eyes at Seven’s disparagement of the young sensor operator. Poor Celes, he thought. It couldn’t be easy working under a harsh taskmaster who demanded perfection like Seven of Nine did. "Ah, Seven. Don’t you think it’s time you eased up on Celes just a little?"
"Yeah, Seven," Tom joined in. "She might be a bit flaky, but she’s still good people."
"Unfortunately, Ensign, being `good people’ does not compensate for shoddy work habits," she responded harshly, before turning to Harry. "Nevertheless, for your sake, I will endeavor to be more…understanding…of Crewman Celes’s imperfections."
He smiled back in response, pleased that he could help make at least one person’s life aboard Voyager more tolerable. "Hey, that’s all that I ask." Suddenly, thinking about the enlisted ranked crewmembers caused an idea to form in his mind. "Say…why don’t we pick Herron’s brain on our collapsed matter problem. The guy’s a certified genius when it comes to particle physics. He might have a few insights that could be helpful."
"Oh, great," B’Elanna rolled her eyes. "We get to go hat in hand to see `Mr. Personality.’ We must truly be desperate."
"It’s worth a shot," the young ensign shrugged.
Neelix then bent over to look eye to eye with his young goddaughter, giving her a conspiratorial grin. "Say, sweetie. How about we go over to see Ensign Larsen behind the counter? I hear she’s baking fudge brownies today, and she might need someone to help lick the bowl."
"Yeah!" she answered with excitement. "Want to come too, Seven?"
"I do not require any additional calories at this time, Naomi Wildman. If you wish to ingest sweets with Mr. Neelix, you may do so. I will remain here with Ensign Kim for the time being."
"Oh, okay," she answered, sounding dejected, until Neelix rushed her over towards the buffet counter, off in the direction of the sweet smell of chocolate.
Harry Kim watched across the room with sadness as the light-hearted Talaxian offered a variety of sweets to his loving goddaughter. "Poor guy," he muttered. "I hope everything works out for him."
"Whatever do you mean, Harry?" Seven inquired of him.
"Oh, I’ll tell you later. Just not while Naomi’s around."
The mention of the little half-K’tarian girl caused Tom Paris to smile as he looked at Seven of Nine. "You know, you’re a good friend, Seven. Making time for Naomi the way you do."
"It is my pleasure to add value to her educational and personal development," the young blonde answered plainly. "She greatly enriches my own existence as well."
"Yeah, but still," he mused, "a lot of women in your position wouldn’t have made the effort. They get a new boyfriend, and before you know it they forget all about their old friends."
"Not that we ever did that with you, Harry," B’Elanna teased.
The young ensign moved his arms tightly around the waist of his beloved. "Hey, I wouldn’t let that happen with Seven. I know how rough Naomi has it. The last thing I’d want to do is be responsible for taking away her best friend."
The half-Klingon engineer could only shake her head sadly at the mention of the child’s name. "That poor kid. Life sure handed her a raw deal. She deserves a normal life."
Seven looked oddly at the dark-haired woman sitting across from her. "By what definition do you refer to as `normal,’ Lieutenant?"
"What I mean, Seven, is that she deserves to have friends her own age! To know who her father is! To not have hostile aliens shooting at her every other week! To not have to be told how her favorite babysitter got killed that day!" B’Elanna retorted vehemently. "Why just last month I was walking down the hall, and saw Neelix giving Naomi lessons on how to `duck and cover’ during a red alert. That’s no way for a child to grow up! I don’t care what the Starfleet psychologists say about the importance of keeping families together. Space is no place for a kid!"
Harry couldn’t entirely disagree with B’Elanna on that point. It had been easier when Naomi was younger. During her first two years, it had simply been a problem of finding adequate day-care while her mother was on duty, and there had been no lack of eager volunteers. The presence of a baby on board was a boost to the crew’s morale, and the precocious little tyke had quickly become Voyager‘s little princess, loved by everyone. There were times, though, when she would latch on to some of the crewmembers, trying to engage in mature conversation, showing off whatever knowledge she had gained about the ship or upcoming away missions. It was almost as if she were in a desperate hurry to grow up, to be accepted as a peer by the others.
And then there were moments when her need to be a normal child was so palpable, so intense, that it could just break your heart. Everyone tried to accommodate her. They all felt for her and her mother’s situation. Of all the stories on Voyager, Samantha and Naomi Wildman’s had to be the saddest.
"I am not certain I entirely agree with your assessment, Lieutenant." Seven said. "Naomi Wildman has had educational opportunities as a member of Voyager‘s crew that few children in the Alpha Quadrant could ever hope to achieve. Certainly she has had the emotional support and protection of the entire crew, in lieu of a conventional family, yet she has developed into an inquisitive and articulate individual with great potential."
"That may be, but whatever advantages Naomi may have, the price is too damned high!" B’Elanna answered back defiantly.
"That is a matter of opinion, Lieutenant Torres," Seven snapped back.
"Seven, I’d hardly call you the expert on what constitutes a normal, healthy childhood!" the engineer gave back as good as she received.
"Well, I don’t know," Tom reflected with a smile, "I think having a kid on board Voyager has helped civilize the place. Reminds us of what it is to be human. Besides, you’ve got to admit she’s absolutely precious." He turned to face his good friend as his smile grew wider. "Harry, remember when she was, oh, a year and a half old, that time with Tuvok in the hallway."
"Oh yeah," Harry smirked with delight, as he turned to Seven. "This happened before you came aboard."
"It was the funniest thing!" Tom chuckled as he attempted to relay the story to the blonde Borg woman. "Naomi was just learning how to speak in full sentences. She was always hyper, even back then. So one day, she gets away from Neelix and starts running wild down the corridor right into me, Harry and Tuvok. As soon as she gets to us, she looks right up at Tuvok, points at him and says…" The pilot then started to giggle as he recalled the moment, then contorted his voice to do a passing imitation of a little girl. ‘I see your epidermis!‘" Tom then burst out into a hearty laugh, as Harry joined in the mirth. "And all Tuvok could do is give her that Vulcan eyebrow thing. I swear, I thought we were going to pee in our pants, we laughed so hard!" B’Elanna, who had been so overwrought before, couldn’t help but snicker, even though she had heard the story many times before.
But Seven of Nine stared blankly at them all. "I do not understand the humor of the situation. Surely Commander Tuvok’s epidermal layer would have been clearly visible to any observer, regardless of their age. In what manner is that amusing?"
"Don’t you get it?!" Tom struggled to explain as he got his laughter under control. "The way she said it…it sounded like…well, what it was supposed to mean…" But his attempt to elaborate only resulted in a greater puzzled look on Seven’s face. Finally, he threw his hands up in frustration. "Aw, the hell with it! Tuvok never got the joke either."
Seven sighed inwardly again. Yet another irrelevant conversation with Ensign Paris, she thought. Wishing to turn to more pleasing matters, she turned to her mate beside her. "Harry, there is an issue of great importance that I wish to discuss with you."
"Nothing bad, I hope," he asked with concern. That was all he needed to hear right now. "Did it have anything to do with your conversation with the captain?"
"It did, but it is not unpleasant news. I believe that when I tell you, you will be most overjoyed."
"Really?" he asked with intense curiosity "Well, what is it?"
"I wish to tell you privately…when we are alone."
"Oooh, check please!" Tom quipped. He had a feeling that Harry and Seven were about to leave in a hurry.
"Uh, guys…I think Seven and I have something important to talk about…how about I meet you two later in Engineering? Say about 1500 hours?"
B’Elanna looked at the two quickly departing lovers with a long sardonic stare. "You sure you aren’t going to be otherwise occupied?"
"Well…" he grinned sheepishly, until his dimples started to show, "I could be a few minutes late…" and he and Seven make a quick dash out the mess hall doors.
Tom looked at his girlfriend next to him, a mischievous smirk on his face. "Remember when we used to be cute like them?"
"Paris, we couldn’t be cute like them if we tried."
No sooner were Harry and Seven gone than did Neelix and Naomi return from their sojourn to the land of fudge. As soon as Tom Paris saw them coming, he knew that the little one wasn’t going to be too happy at seeing her best friend leaving without saying goodbye.
And he was right. "Hey! Where did Seven go?" the child asked.
"Oh, I…uh…I think they had something important to do," B’Elanna tried to explain in the least painful way possible
"Inventory, again?" Naomi demanded, her face pouting and drawn. It was becoming obvious that she was catching on that Harry and Seven were engaged in more than just ship’s business. "But Uncle Neelix told me he and Mom were going out to dinner tonight. I wanted to invite Seven over for a sleep-over party!"
"Oh, don’t feel too bad, sweetie," Neelix tried to console her. "I’m sure we can find someone else to baby-sit for you tonight. You just have to get used to the idea that Seven is very busy these days, now that she and Harry are…well, such good friends."
Nobody could hear the words lonely little girl spoke softly with great sorrow. "She was my friend first…"
"Are you sure you don’t want to tell me now?" Harry asked impatiently.
"You will be informed soon enough," Seven answered him. "Wait until we arrive at your quarters, Harry. Then, all will be revealed."
Harry wasn’t sure what to make of Seven’s mysterious good news. She was usually much more straightforward whenever she had something to say, even when he was involved. She could be playful, in her own way, when she wanted to, but never this cryptic. He wondered what it was she had to say that would prompt such anomalous behavior from her.
Of course, as far as Seven was concerned, her mysterious actions were no mystery at all. She had wanted to tell Harry about her decision to co-habit with him privately because she was certain that upon hearing the news, he would be pleased enough to want to copulate immediately. And of course, who was she to disagree with his desires, she thought with uncharacteristic mischievousness.
Upon their arrival at Harry’s quarters, Seven led him to the bed. An excited gleam was in her eye as she motioned for him to sit down beside her. The young ensign looked on, partly with excitement, but also with some concern. "Seven, are you sure we should be doing this? I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’d never turn down a chance to be alone with you, but I do have a lot of work to do on this harvesting problem. I’m not sure I’d be setting a good example for others if I were to take time out for a quickie."
"Never mind," he chuckled. He then looked at her appreciatively, seeing the brightness of her face, the sparkle in her deep blue eyes. Despite his better judgement, he reached over to gently caress her firm, unitard-clad thigh, working his fingers slowly down the curve of her leg to her calves. She lifted her leg in response to his touch and a small sigh escaped past her lips. She hoped that this was leading up to what Harry had called a `foot-rub.’ It was a highly erotic ministration that he had demonstrated to her early in their relationship. It had never occurred to her that the gentle stroking of one’s feet could produce such a pleasurable sensation. For Seven, it was especially enjoyable, as her ankles and Achilles’ tendons were frequently under tension due to the biomechanical implants in her ligaments. Given the amount of time she spent standing, she enjoyed the attention Harry gave to her feet. It was a feeling almost as pleasurable as sexual intercourse.
Almost, but not quite.
"Okay," he asked her with a teasing smile of his own. "You think that maybe now you’ll tell me what the big secret is? Or do I have to massage the truth out of you?"
"As tempting as such a prospect may be, I feel compelled to be forthcoming with you," she responded, warmed by his touch. "I have decided…"
Unfortunately, the chirp of the ship’s communication system interrupted the young woman. "Vorik to Ensign Kim," a flat, even voice radiated from Harry’s combadge.
"Aw, man!" the Ops officer rolled his eyes in obvious frustration. First it was Naomi, now Vorik. What were the odds of being waylaid like this twice in one day? "Kim here," he grudgingly replied as he slapped his insignia to respond. "What is it, Vorik?"
"Forgive the interruption, Ensign, but Lieutenant Torres requested that I contact you regarding our situation in Engineering."
"What situation?" Harry asked with growing concern. "Is everything OK?"
"Unfortunately, we have come across a further difficulty with the collapsed-matter containment device. As per your suggestion, Lieutenant Torres requested that I consult with Crewman Herron on the harvesting problem."
Poor Vorik, Harry mused silently. First she sends him to deal with everyone’s least favorite enlisted crewman, and then has him interrupt him and Seven, rather than deal with the awkwardness herself. It didn’t surprise him at all, he thought. B’Elanna usually assigned unpleasant tasks like that to the hapless young engineer, figuring that him being a Vulcan, he’d be the least likely to complain. "So, what did Herron have to say?"
"After a few unnecessary remarks disparaging the scientific education of the engineering staff, he cited a paper written in the Federation Journal of Subatomic Physics eleven years ago by a Professor Jarim Re’el of Andor regarding…"
"Just get to the point, Vorik."
"Very well. In essence, Mr. Herron pointed out there might be a risk of the collapsed-matter being adversely affected by the resonance of the warp core. In theory, a weak subspace field could impart a sufficient amount of energy…"
"…to trigger a spontaneous discharge," Harry finished the young Vulcan’s statement for him, drawing the obvious conclusion. He stood up from the bed and started to pace frantically. "Damn it! As if we didn’t have enough problems to deal with!"
"Precisely Lieutenant Torres’s concern. She feels it would be prudent to move the containment device to another location outside of Engineering."
"But where else can we go? We need the constant power feed from the core if we’re going to maintain a continuous field. It can’t so much as flicker while its in operation or else we’d lose containment."
"If I might make a suggestion," Seven spoke up, after patiently sitting on the sidelines during Harry’s official conversation. "Cargo Bay Two has ample room for the containment device and draws its power directly from the ship’s batteries. Since my alcove is no longer active, it would be of minimal difficulty to establish the device there instead."
"Yes…" Vorik seemed to agree as he overheard Seven’s proposal. "It would be a simple matter to adjust the interface to accept a power feed through the Borg-enhanced coupling in the cargo bay."
Harry mulled over Seven’s suggestion in his head. "It could work…" He then looked down at his beloved sitting on edge of the bed, and a feeling of concern spread across his features. "But Seven, what about you? Won’t this put you out?"
"Not at all, Harry. I will not be inconvenienced in the slightest. I have not resided in Cargo Bay Two for the past three weeks."
Now it was Harry who was puzzled. "You haven’t? I don’t understand. Where have you been living all this time?"
The former drone cocked her head in confusion at him as she tried to assimilate his query. "Why, I have been residing with you, of course," she answered him as if it were the most obvious question in the universe.
Everything seemed to stand still for Harry Kim at that moment. He felt the blood throbbing in his temples and his limbs go slack as he heard Seven’s revelation. "W-with me?"
"Indeed. That is what I wished to inform you about. I have decided to relocate my regeneration chair from Sickbay and into your quarters, thus making our co-habitation complete. Given the frequency with which we spend our evenings together, this would be a most efficient arrangement. Do you not concur?"
Harry could swear he heard something thud to the floor. Quite possibly it was his own jaw.
"Ensign, perhaps it would be best if we were to continue this conversation another time?"
It was with a jolt that Harry realized that a very uncomfortable Vorik had overheard the entire exchange between him and Seven. He reached for his combadge, his eyes wide and never leaving Seven of Nine. "Uh, Vorik…I’ll, um, I’ll get back to you later, OK?" And with that he severed the connection and turned his full attention on the young blond sitting before him.
"Seven," he struggled to speak, "are you saying that for the last three weeks, you and I…that is, we…we’ve been living together?!"
"Why, of course, Harry. Surely you have been aware of this, have you not?"
For the first time in weeks, Harry looked around his living quarters. A good long look. It was then that he began to notice the changes that had been accumulating for the past three weeks, changes that he had been too preoccupied to notice at first, but that now had become glaringly obvious with the gift of hindsight.
There was the reconfiguration of his workstation, to accommodate Seven’s advanced data retrieval needs. Pasted on the wall were crayon sketches drawn by Naomi Wildman. A sundry of personal items were arranged neatly on his dresser top: the Vulcan Kal-Toh board that Seven practiced with in her gaming sessions with Tuvok, song sheets provided by the Doctor, a Velocity racket; an assortment of PADDs. And there was the almost inhumanly organized arrangement of his closet space and dresser drawers. Harry considered himself something of a neat-freak, but even he wasn’t this clean. There was no doubt that if he checked his replicator, he would find Seven’s clothing patterns and personal files relocated to his private directory. He then glanced over at his dresser top and saw what else he had been too stupid to notice before.
"Those aren’t my parents…" he mumbled weakly, as he noticed that his Academy graduation photos had been moved, their location replaced by a portrait of Seven and the Doctor.
"Indeed, Harry. That was taken at the most recent Talent Night competition. I thought it more efficient to move my own photos close to the workstation, while I placed yours on top of your personal effects."
The truth that he had been too content to see was now revealed to him. "Oh my god…" he wailed, "we are living together!"
A note of concern colored Seven’s normally steady to of voice. "I do not understand, Harry. Why has your face gone pale and your heart rate increased? Are you not pleased with the prospect of our sharing quarters?"
"I…" he struggled to speak. "I feel numb." His vision started to blur, his limbs tingled, and his legs were starting to give out. He staggered his way over to the bed and slowly sat down next to her, staring off into space, still too stunned to look at her.
"Harry, what is wrong?" Seven asked with alarm. This was not the reaction she had expected. "Do you require medical attention?"
"Seven, I…" He tried to find the words to explain what it was he was feeling, but he didn’t entirely know what it was he felt. Everything was happening so fast. Living together? Was he ready for that? Was she ready for that? Should he be happy? Terrified? He just didn’t know. This relationship they had with each other…there was just too many unknowns involved. Had she been just an ordinary woman, he might have been able to explain it too her. But she wasn’t any other woman. She was Seven of Nine. Who else would just move their stuff right in to their lover’s compartment without even telling him, just because it was more efficient?
So Harry Kim did what any other man would do given the circumstances, without a clue as to how to proceed. He panicked.
"Seven, this…this is a big step. Are you…I mean…we…oh, god…" he fumbled, shaking his head, trying to find the right words to say, to make everything right.
But it was becoming clear to the former drone just where this conversation was leading. "You…you do not wish for me to reside with you."
"Now, I didn’t say that!"
"You did not have to," she replied softly. The hurt in her voice was evident.
"It’s just that…I…I need to think this over. I mean, you can’t just rush into a decision like this. There are…well, factors that have to be considered. You understand that, don’t you?" Harry felt like smacking himself upside the head, imaging how pitiful he sounded right now.
"I…understand." Seven wasn’t even looking at him anymore. Her eyes were staring downward, taking in the sight of the quarters that she had believed had become hers as well.
"Look, I…" he reached over uncomfortably to touch her arm, trying to reassure her that he still cared. "I should be in Engineering right now. I’ll contact you later, OK? We can talk more about this then."
"As you wish," she answered listlessly.
He wanted to say something, anything, if only to remind her of how much he really did love her. But he had said enough already. How can you say anything, he thought, when you’ve so thoroughly lodged your own foot down your throat? And so with that, he shuffled his way out the door.
Seven of Nine let out a sigh of…what? She wasn’t sure if it was disappointment, confusion, or sadness. Perhaps all of the above. How had things gone so terribly wrong? She had been so certain that Harry would want her to be with him. It pleased him when she spent the night with him. Did he not say this very morning how much it had affected him to awaken and see her there besides him? Then how can he not want her to share his quarters? Was this once again another example of how she had failed to grasp another subtlety of romantic affiliations? Or did the fault lie with Harry instead? She just didn’t know.
All she knew was that she didn’t want to be alone anymore.
Ordinarily she would have gone to Captain Janeway or the Doctor for advice or comfort. But after her conversation with them this morning, it pained her to think that they had been correct all along, that she had rushed into her relationship with Harry. Seven had been so certain, so confident, dismissing their advice as irrelevant. The idea of going back to either one of them, humbly conceding their foresight from the beginning…she was just too proud for that. Not to mention that she couldn’t bear it if they were to offer false reassurances that everything would be `alright.’
"S-seven?" A child’s familiar voice intruded her thoughts of sorrow over the intercom. Seven had barely heard the chirp of the open communication circuit.
"Hey, Seven. I…I’m sorry if I’m bothering you. Are you alone right now?"
"I am…alone," she answered, her voice seeming to choke for just a moment.
"Well, I just wanted to ask you…Mom and Uncle Neelix are going out for dinner, so I thought it might be nice if we had a sleep-over party. If that’s OK with you."
The blond woman let out a sigh of discontent as she reflected upon her current situation. "I do not think I am in the proper frame of mind for a party."
"Oh, it’s not a real party. That’s just what they call it."
"How many will be in attendance at this…party?"
"Oh, just you and me. We could have fun together and then you can sleep over here. That is, if its OK with Harry." There was just the hint of annoyance at the end of the child’s sentence as she spoke.
But Seven responded with a tone of defiance of her own. "Ensign Kim does not possess me. I am an individual and I do as I wish. And I wish to attend your `sleep-over’ party."
"Great! Can you come by at 1950 hours tonight?"
"That would be acceptable to me. I shall see you at 1950 hours. Will anything be required of me for this evening?"
"No, just bring your stuff. And have fun."
"I will comply with your instructions, Naomi Wildman. Seven of Nine, out."
Seven of Nine wasn’t certain what to make of this new social situation she was about to embark upon. She still, she would proceed with it, if only to avoid the unpleasantness of what was to come.
And she knew she did not want to sleep alone that night.
When Harry Kim went to see his friends in Engineering and told them what had happened between him and Seven, he hoped that they would be comforting and supportive of him. He even considered the possibility that they might be disapproving of his reaction.
What he didn’t expect was for them to burst out laughing in his face.
"Hey, god damn it! It’s not funny!"
"Oh, on the contrary, Harry. It’s freaking hilarious!" Tom managed to speak after getting his laughter under control. "You’re telling us that Seven just moved right in to your quarters three weeks ago and you were too dense to even notice?" He then fell back into another pattern of chuckles.
"Well, yeah…" he answered weakly, realizing how foolish it all sounded. "But it wasn’t exactly like that…"
"Oh, please!" B’Elanna chortled, "how could you have not noticed? God, talk about sex making a man stupid!"
At that, Tom’s giggling stopped and he turned to look at his lady at his side, his face suddenly growing more serious. "Hey, wait a minute. That’s not funny."
Despite the intended good nature of their banter, Harry still didn’t appreciate being laughed at. "Thanks a lot, you guys," he snapped at them. "I thought you were my friends!"
"Oh, come off it, Harry. Of course, we’re your friends," Tom answered good-naturedly "What are friends for if not to rub a little salt in the wounds whenever it’s needed?"
Harry scowled at the pilot’s flippant attitude. That wasn’t what he needed to hear right now. "Yeah, well…but just what am I supposed to do about Seven?!"
"Look, what’s the big deal, Starfleet?" the half-Klingon engineer offered. "If you don’t want her moving in with you, just tell her."
"B’Elanna," he sputtered in horror at her suggestion. "I can’t do that!"
"Why not? Seven’s never been one to shy away from telling it like it is. If she can dish it out, I’m sure she can take it."
"You don’t understand! She…you don’t know how she can be sometimes. Deep down, she’s really very sensitive and vulnerable. I don’t want to hurt her."
Both B’Elanna and her lover looked on at the young officer with astonishment. "Wait a minute…sensitive?" she asked with bewilderment.
"Vulnerable?" Tom joined in, equally confused.
"Seven?!" they then both chimed in unison
But Harry was used to this reaction from people. They looked at Seven of Nine and only saw the cool and efficient former-drone she once was. They didn’t see the tender and innocent woman that he knew she kept hidden away. "Trust me on this, guys. She was so excited by the idea of us living together. She’ll be devastated if she thinks I don’t want the same thing!"
"I don’t know, Harry. I think the anxiety attack and the hysterical blindness are a pretty obvious clue that you’re not quite turned on by the idea," Tom retorted with an ironic smirk. "Look, what’s really holding you back on this, buddy? I know that the reason you’re this fidgety has nothing to do with fear of commitment, which is what would freak out most guys in your situation."
"Tom, I’d think it would be obvious!" B’Elanna chimed in. "Four months is way too soon before any couple should seriously consider moving in together."
"Hey, different strokes for different folks," he answered his girlfriend nonchalantly before turning back to his friend. "Besides, Harry, I’m sure you’re used to having girls sleep over. What about what’s-her-name back on Earth?"
"You mean Libby?" the younger man answered, somewhat annoyed by his friend’s reference to his old girlfriend. "Tom, we were together while I was still a cadet. What was I supposed to do? Have her move in to the Academy dorms with me?"
"Well, hey, I’m sure you’re roommate would have gotten a big kick out of that."
"Tom, I think Harry’s trying to be serious," B’Elanna looked at her mate with frustration at his antics.
"That’s right," Harry added, "Seven’s going through a very delicate time right now in her study of humanity. I…I don’t want to hurt her. But she’s doing this because she thinks it’s the next logical step. If she should rush into something before she’s ready…" He shook his head in confusion, as he felt himself becoming overwhelmed by the reality of his predicament. "It’s just all coming at me so fast."
The blond pilot came over to his perplexed friend and amiably put a hand on his shoulder. "Look, Harry. I know you’ll do what’s right by Seven. The questions is, are you going to do what’s right by you?"
Harry sighed as he considered his friend’s advice. He knew that B’Elanna had her problems with Seven and while outwardly seeming to approve of their relationship, it was obvious that she was expecting any day for the other shoe to drop, and she would be there to say `I told you so.’
"Maybe I am a sucker for putting up with Seven’s antics for as long as I have," he admitted, "but in the final analysis, it all comes down to one unavoidable, inescapable fact. I love her." He looked over at his friends and shrugged his shoulders, almost as though he were embarrassed. "Pretty crazy, huh?"
Tom gave his friend a smile as he moved over to his own girlfriend and put his arm around her appreciatively. "No, Harry. It’s not crazy at all."
At that moment, Ensign Vorik came over to the trio, his face ever calm and serious, betraying no appearance that he was aware of Ensign Kim’s romantic problems. "Forgive my intrusion, Lieutenant, Ensigns" he addressed them, "but we have received the most recent numbers from Astrometrics. We’re ready to begin another simulation."
Harry nodded, trying to cover up his earlier vulnerability and maintain a professional exterior, for the sake of the Engineering team working on their assignment. Despite his problems with Seven, he was still in charge of this project.
"Thanks, Vorik. We’ll be along to…"
"Seven of Nine to Ensign Kim," a sweet, familiar voice came through via Harry’s combadge.
Harry winced as he heard the tone of the woman he had just professed his love for. Although Seven was always professional when on duty, he had learned to detect the slight inflections in her voice, the emotions that slipped past her normally tight control. Even when she spoke to him in her stern, professional manner when they worked together, he was still able to sense the affections she felt for him, the feelings she no longer needed or wanted to hide from him.
But this time, when he heard her speak, he could sense nothing. Her voice was flat and harsh, Borg-like. This was the sound of the old Seven of Nine, the woman he had known before they became lovers. The one who had never let anything out of her control.
The one for whom love was irrelevant.
He turned to his companions as he looked at them imploringly. "I…I’ll just be a minute. I need to answer this privately. If that’s OK?"
"Sure, buddy. Not a problem," Tom answered him reassuringly.
Harry smiled at them and went over to an unused workstation well out of everyone’s hearing. He slapped his badge in response. "Kim here," he answered, trying not to let his voice break. "Seven, I…"
"Harry…" he heard the momentary wavering in her voice, before he detect the stern control reasserting itself over her emotions. "I have called to inform you that I will not be at your quarters this evening."
"Oh, I see…"
"Naomi Wildman has requested my presence at a sleepover party at her quarters. I have decided to attend."
"Oh, well, that’s fine. I mean, I’m glad you called to tell me…" God, what the hell is wrong with me, he chastised himself. He was struggling to find the words to say to her, as if he were the same green ensign he was when they first met, rather than as her lover of the past four months.
"Should you wish, we could discuss tomorrow the relocation of my personal effects from your residence," she continued on, her voice sounding as tight and controlled as he had ever heard.
Harry’s heart sank as he heard her words. This wasn’t what he wanted, not at all. "Seven, I…maybe we should talk before you do anything…"
"Perhaps," she responded, noncommittally. "I trust that my assistance will not be required in Engineering tonight?"
"Uh, no…we should be fine. Tell Naomi and Sam I say hi." What?! Did he actually say that, he castigated himself? Tell her you love her, you fool! But he said nothing.
"I will do so. Good night, Harry Kim," Once again, her voice lost control. He could her the sadness as she severed the connection. He bent his head over the console and held it for what seemed like forever.
"Idiot! Idiot, idiot, idiot!"
"I sure hope you’re not saying that to Seven," an amiable voice spoke from behind.
"Huh? Oh, not at all Tom,"
"Oh, sure. Everything’s fine." Harry stood up, showing a false mask of confidence and bravery. "Seven just told me that she’s going to be babysitting for Naomi tonight. Looks like I’ll have the whole night to try and tackle our nebula problem." Showing an almost unnatural perkiness, he slapped Tom on the arm. "So, let’s get to it, shall we?"
"Okay…" Tom looked at the younger man somewhat skeptically, no entirely believing his words. "But things are good with you and Seven?"
"Absolutely! Turns out it was all a big misunderstanding. One day we’ll all look back on this and laugh. Or at least as soon as Seven learns how…" Harry responded with a forced chuckle. He then strutted past his friend and called out enthusiastically to the team of engineers standing over the bulbous assembly of the collapsed-matter containment device. "Joe, Freddie, let’s get that baby fired up for another test run! We’ve got a report to make to the captain tomorrow!"
Tom, B’Elanna, and Vorik looked on with surprise as Harry walked away like a man on a mission. The chief engineer shook her head in sadness. "That is not a happy Harry."
"Tell me about it," her mate concurred. "If he were hiding his feelings any deeper, he’d be practically a Vulcan." He then looked over at the young assistant engineer standing next to him. "No offense, Vorik."
"I am not offended, Ensign. And while I would not describe his behavior as Vulcan-like, I do concur that Mr. Kim is clearly acting in a manner that belies his true emotional state."
"Oh really?" Tom countered, amused by the idea of a Vulcan perspective on human romantic foibles. "And what makes you such an expert on the emotional states of humans?"
"I have made it a point to observe human activities since beginning my tenure at the Academy," Vorik stated blandly. "I find them to be a fascinating contrast to the habits of my own people, especially in regards to mating rituals…"
"Uh, Vorik," B’Elanna shifted uncomfortably, "you don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to." She remembered all too well the embarrassing circumstances of Vorik’s pon farr from three years back, and of how deeply involved she herself had become.
"It is alright, Lieutenant," he reassured her. "Ordinarily I would refuse to discuss the circumstances of my…difficulties…with anyone else. However, given the role you and Mr. Paris played in its ultimate resolution, I feel there would be no logic in such reticence."
What B’Elanna didn’t want to say was that the circumstances of Vorik’s `difficulties’ had been just as embarrassing to her as it had been to him. His attempt to bond with her had accidentally triggered her own Klingon mating instincts, which she had been all too happy to try out with Tom Paris. In the end, the `resolution’ to both B’Elanna’s and Vorik’s chemical imbalance involved the two of them beating each other senseless in a Vulcan combat ritual. Although the young Vorik considered the matter resolved as soon as he had been released from Sickbay, it took her nearly two weeks to feel comfortable working with him again. It would have helped if the two of them could have laughed about it over drinks together. Unfortunately Vorik neither laughed nor drank.
"Well, I’m glad you can feel so…open with us, Vorik," Tom ventured nervously, trying to diffuse the uncomfortable conversation. He liked the young Vulcan well enough. Unlike Tuvok, who would often seem standoffish and disdainful of human foibles, Vorik made it a point to participate in activities with his fellow crewmates, even if he was often out of the loop on many of their jokes.
"Thank you, Mr. Paris," he nodded politely. "And in answer to your earlier query, when I was first taught about my own species `condition,’ I felt it to be a great logical conundrum, that a people so intellectual enlightened should be so uniquely and catastrophically afflicted."
"And then?" B’Elanna asked skeptically.
"As I started to live and work among humans, I soon observed that in its own way, the human mating process is just as degrading and humiliating as it is for Vulcans. Ensign Kim’s current predicament is an excellent case in point," he continued, "The primary difference being, of course, that instead of being experienced briefly and intensely once every seven years, the humiliation and degradation is spread evenly throughout the course of one’s life."
In spite of themselves, Tom and B’Elanna burst out laughing all over again. "Vorik…" Tom managed to speak between chuckles, "I’d say your perspective is probably…unique."
"Quite so, Mr. Paris. I find myself often wondering which species is indeed the less fortunate."
Seven of Nine sat across from Naomi in the Wildman’s quarters, her face focused in determination over the Kadis-Kot board. She tried to keep her focus on the game, but her mind periodically wandered to her conversation with Harry just a few hours ago. Did he truly want her to move out of his quarters? Was this a sign that he didn’t even want to remain her mate? They had been together over four months, yet it had taken far less time to master the game of Kadis-Kot, whereas she didn’t seem to be even close to comprehending the mind of her romantic partner at times.
"Kadis-Kot!" Naomi proudly proclaimed as she placed her game piece on the strategic spot on the board, signaling her victory. "I win!"
"It appears that your strategy has proven itself once again, Naomi Wildman," That was another thing Seven couldn’t believe. Her intellect was far superior to that of the child across from her, as was her experience with strategic planning and organization. Yet the girl still managed to defeat her in nearly 22.4% of their matches. Clearly there must have been some hidden element to success at this game that willpower alone could not equal.
The door began to chime its familiar trill. Sam Wildman called out from the back room. "Can you get that Naomi? That’s probably Uncle Neelix. Tell him I’ll be out in just a minute."
"Okay, Mom!" The younger Wildman bounced out of her seat and ran over to open the door. Sure enough, it was Neelix, dressed in what he considered to be his finest eveningwear. Seven took in the sight of the stout little Talaxian and his choice for apparel. While she did not consider herself an expert in fashion, her sense of balance was thrown off by Mr. Neelix’s choice, a clothing ensemble that was so garish in color that even a Ferengi tailor would find it distasteful.
"Uncle Neelix, you look so handsome!" she complemented him, obviously believing it.
"Why, thank you, sweetie. I bet you’re all excited to be having Seven babysit you tonight."
"Babysit!" Naomi exclaimed, her face mortified. "It’s not babysitting, it’s a sleep-over! Only babies get babysat!"
"Oops, my mistake," he blushed in amused embarrassment. "It’s easy for me to forget what a big girl you are, sometimes." He then glanced over at the older Borg woman still sitting across the room by the game board. "Hello, Seven. Sam and I really appreciate you coming over tonight to be with Naomi."
"It is my pleasure, Mr. Neelix."
"Neelix? Is that you?" Samantha’s voice called from the back. "I’ll be right out."
The morale officer chuckled softly to himself as he stroked Naomi’s hair. "That’s women for you. If there’s one constant among all humanoid species, it’s that ladies like to take their time to get ready."
"Perhaps it is because other females do not organize themselves efficiently," Seven inputted with all due righteousness. "I, for one, have never taken more than 15.7 minutes to prepare myself for evening activities."
Neelix seemed amused at Seven’s response. "Well, maybe you should put all of your organization tips down into writing. You know, serve as an example for others."
"Indeed. The Doctor once made a similar suggestion to me, only it was his suggestion that we collaborate on such a project. Lieutenant Torres overheard our conversation and commented that between the two of us, we would only produce a guidebook that would be too boring and long-winded for others to wish to read."
"Well, I’m sure she was just kidding around," he answered, always the peacemaker.
"Lieutenant Torres rarely `kids’ with me, Mr. Neelix."
At that moment, the door to the private bedroom slid open, and Sam Wildman stepped out, smiling nervously as she entered the living area. "Well, how do I look?" she offered nervously as she paraded her modest, floral print dress for everyone’s perusal. It had been quite a while since she had been out for dinner as anything other than as an officer or a mother.
"Ooooh, Mom! You look so pretty," said her daughter.
After a moment of being tongue-tied, Neelix concurred with his own opinion. "W-why, Sam! You look very lovely indeed. Wouldn’t you agree, Seven?"
The former-drone looked the other woman over and nodded her approval. "Indeed. Your appearance is quite optimal, Ensign."
"Uh, thank you. I think."
Neelix then offered up his elbow to his prospective date. "Well, are you ready to go?"
"I…I guess so," she smiled nervously. She then turned to her daughter and kneeled down to look her in the eye. "Now, you be good, sweetheart. Do everything that Seven tells you, okay?"
Naomi rolled her eyes. "Yes, Mom…"
"And remember. I probably won’t be back until after your bedtime, so no staying up late. Got it?"
"Okay, Mom. I promise."
"I know, sweetie" she answered as she gave her little girl a goodnight kiss. She then looked up with concern at the older woman, who was now standing at attention behind Naomi. "And Seven…you remember the list of instructions I gave to you in case something should happen."
"I have already assimilated the information you provided, Ensign. There is no need for concern. The evening will pass without incident."
Neelix leaned over to needle his dinner companion. "Sam, you don’t have to worry. Naomi will be just fine with Seven watching her."
"Of course…" she answered, calming herself down. "Well, good night then."
"Good night, Ensign, Mr. Neelix." The couple then exited from the room, leaving a pouting little girl behind.
"Naomi Wildman," Seven looked down with concern, "you are displeased?"
"It’s not fair!" the child fumed. "Mom and Neelix are acting like you’re my babysitter! I don’t need a babysitter anymore!"
"Clearly they feel you still require adult supervision. That it not an unreasonable supposition, given your age."
"But they’re treating me like a stupid little kid! Everyone on the ship does." She then looked up at her tall friend and her tone softened. "Everyone except you. You’re the only one who talks to me like I’m grown up."
"That is to be expected, Naomi Wildman," Seven answered, trying to offer some observation to the child’s perturbed state. "I am told that first impressions leave a lasting impact on all human observations."
"What has that got to do with anything?"
"Your mother, Mr. Neelix, and the rest of the crew consider you to be a child because their first impression of you is that of a helpless infant. It is only natural that they would continue to instinctually react to you in just such a manner. Whereas I did not come to be affiliated with you until you had already matured."
Naomi then looked at her friend with a renewed sense of understanding. "I guess it’s the same way with you, isn’t it? I mean, don’t people act funny around you because they first saw you as a Borg drone?"
Seven went silent as she thought about the child’s comment. "That observation …is not without merit." She also thought about the people in her life who were willing to look past her history with the Collective and give her a chance to prove herself as an individual: Captain Janeway, the Doctor, Ensign Paris, and… Harry Kim.
She stifled the pang of emotion that went through her as she thought about him.
"It’s still not fair," Naomi complained, in a manner befitting her age and her sense of what ought to be cosmic justice.
"Fairness is irrelevant. My own experience is a testimony to that fact."
Feeling that the atmosphere in the room had become much too serious for what she had hoped for the evening, Naomi switched moods and put her earlier funk aside. "Well, let’s not think about that. We’re here to have fun!" she smiled mercurially. "Let’s go get changed into our PJ’s."
Seven looked at her with confusion. "PJ’s? I am not familiar with that word."
"Pajamas, silly! It’s what you wear when you go to sleep."
Seven had not known that there were specific articles of clothing designated for one’s rest period. Granted, sometimes when Harry came to bed he would wear his undergarments or sweatpants, but they would not remain on his person for very long. "I have never worn pajamas, Naomi Wildman. I have no such attire on file."
Now it was Naomi’s turn to be confused. "You don’t have any pajamas? Well, what do wear when you go to bed? Do you sleep in your clothes like you did when you had to regenerate?"
"I sleep wearing nothing at all."
The child’s face was a mixture of both shock and fascination. "You mean, you sleep naked?"
"That is correct." Seven did not bother to mention that the reason for her lack of clothing at night was because her sleep period usually came after the act of copulating with her mate. What was the point of wearing clothing that would only be removed later on? But based on Harry’s concerns from this morning about the likely reaction of Ensign Wildman, she thought it wise not to elaborate on this information.
"Well, I don’t think Mom or Uncle Neelix would like it if you were to sleep naked over here, so we’d better find you some pajamas." Naomi then went over to the clothing replicator to call up her the file for her own pajamas. "You can use one of my patterns, and adjust it to fit you."
"Very well. I would not want to act in a manner not in accordance to the rules of the sleepover party." Seven then cross-referenced the clothing pattern Naomi had provided with the measurements on file for the outfits that the Doctor had designed for her. Once the new file had been created, she fed the instructions into the replicator, and a new set of pajamas materialized neatly folded on the dispenser pad. As per her instructions, she took her new garments into the lavatory.
Seven came out of the bathroom moments later, having changed into her snug-fitting `Flotter and Treavis’ feet-pajamas. It was an exact match for the pair Naomi was now wearing, the only difference being the way they clung to the curves of her body.
"Very nice, Seven," the child eyed her, giving her a nod of approval. "Now you look like you’re ready to have fun!"
"What activity will be next on the itinerary, Naomi Wildman? Shall we reset the board for another game of Kadis-Kot?"
"Naw, let’s do something REALLY fun. How about we make some hot fudge sundaes with lots of whipped cream," the half-K’tarian girl salivated with delight.
The blond woman looked down at Naomi, her eyebrow arched in disapproval. "That will not be possible. Your mother left strict instructions that you were not to consume any foods with a high-caloric content while she was away."
"Aw, come on, Seven. We don’t have to tell her."
"That would be deception, Naomi Wildman. However, if you desire something to eat, I will replicate nutritious sliced vegetables, all fortified with minerals and vitamins. Will this be acceptable?"
Naomi just rolled her eyes. "Boy, Seven," Naomi just smirked at the older woman with a patronizing tone, "for somebody so smart, you don’t know anything about the stuff that’s really important."
"Perhaps not," she responded, nonchalantly. "But you still may not have any hot fudge sundaes this evening. Your mother’s instructions were quite insistent that I not allow you to `con’ me."
The child sighed with resignation. She knew when she was licked. And using the puppy-dog face wasn’t going to do any good. That trick might work with Uncle Neelix, she thought, but with Seven of Nine it was all irrelevant. But thinking about her godfather made her consider more about what her mother was up to this evening.
"Seven," she asked, "what time do you think my Mom is going to get back from her date with Uncle Neelix?"
"She did not specify a time. And your mother informed me that her evening with Mr. Neelix was one of friendship, and not romantic in nature."
"Yeah, I know. But wouldn’t it be great if they got married?" Naomi’s face lit up with excitement at the prospect.
Seven looked puzzled at hearing the little one’s comment. "You desire a romantic affiliation between your mother and Mr. Neelix?"
"Sure! That way, he could be my Daddy!"
"But, Naomi Wildman," the ex-Borg continued, still puzzled by these answers, "you already possess a father in the Alpha Quadrant. Surely you have no need of another?"
Now it was Naomi’s turn to look perturbed. "You mean him? He’s just a guy my mom talks about, and that just makes her sad and all. I mean, I know that I’m supposed to love him and all, but when I think about him, I don’t feel anything. I don’t even know him. I’d rather have Uncle Neelix be my Daddy instead." Then the child looked up at her friend uncomfortably, as if she felt guilty about something and was seeking approval. "That isn’t wrong for me to say that, is it?"
"I do not believe so," Seven answered. "Even though I too have parents somewhere within the Borg Collective, I have come to regard the crew of Voyager as my true family."
"You mean, like the Captain and the Doctor?"
"Yes," Seven answered. "In fact, I would characterize my relationship with the Doctor as not unlike that which you have with Mr. Neelix."
"Maybe you should call him `Uncle Doctor,’ Naomi giggled.
Seven, however, said nothing in response. She could think only of how harshly she had behaved with the Doctor and how he had been right all along about how little she understood about emotional relationships.
"Seven, what’s wrong? You look so sad."
"It is…it is nothing."
"You can tell me, Seven. I want to help."
The statuesque blonde let out a faint sigh as she relayed to her small friend about her disagreement with the Doctor and Captain Janeway earlier that day, and about how her desire to move in with Harry Kim was clearly not shared by her mate.
"I don’t understand, Seven. Why do you want to move in with Harry, anyway?"
"Because I…" Seven tried to think of what her real reasons were. But there was only one inescapable conclusion that truly made sense to her. "I have feelings for Ensign Kim…Harry. It pleases me to be with him."
"Because he’s your boyfriend," concluded Naomi, the distaste in her voice becoming apparent.
Seven thought about that word, `boyfriend.’ It had been the same word Naomi had used that first day, when she had met up with the child for her lessons in Astrometrics. She and Harry had decided to begin their relationship the night before and rumors about the two of them were already spreading throughout the ship. Seven felt it was only right that she personally tell her young protégé about this new development in her life, rather then letting her overhear it through ship’s gossip. Even though Naomi herself was hardly a confidant to any of the adults on board, the child had become quite adept at picking up information through the ship’s rumor mill, even if she didn’t always understand what she was hearing.
"Naomi Wildman," she had said in her plain and direct tone of voice, "I feel I should inform you of a new development in the evolution of my humanity. I have begun a romantic affiliation with Ensign Kim."
The girl had been momentarily stunned by the revelation. "You mean…Harry’s your boyfriend?"
Boyfriend. It was an unusual word, and like most human expressions, grossly inaccurate. Harry was certainly not a boy, but a fully mature adult. And their relationship now was far more than just friendship.
But looking back, Seven could see that Naomi had not been entirely pleased by the news of her new relationship, and that displeasure, although never overt, seemed to be manifesting itself here, tonight. Perhaps this was something that needed to be dealt with, she thought.
"Naomi Wildman," the former drone now addressed the child, "I sense unhappiness in your voice regarding this matter. I must ask, do you dislike Ensign Kim?"
Naomi’s face flushed in embarrassment, unsure of what she wanted to say. "I…it’s not that, Seven. I like Harry. I really do. He’s always been very nice to me."
"Then what issue do you have with him?"
The girl looked down at the floor, almost as if she were ashamed to face her older friend. "It’s because…now that you have a boyfriend, everything’s different. You’re different."
Seven perked her head in surprise. She had not been aware that there were any differences in her state of being since she began to couple with Harry. While she acknowledged that the past few months had opened new avenues of emotional and social expression, she had believed these to be entirely internal perceptions. She had not been aware that these changes had been visible to others, except to those few that she confided in, like Harry.
"Explain," Seven insisted.
"Well, before you became Harry’s girlfriend, you were, well, kind of like a big kid. I mean, I know you’re a grown-up and part of the crew and really smart and everything, but in a way, you were still like somebody my age. I mean, you didn’t know anything about how to have fun, or what foods to eat, or how to act around people. And I kind of liked being able to teach you stuff like that."
Seven believed she understood where the child’s train of thought was heading. "And now that I am in a romantic partnership…"
"You’ve become a grown-up, just like everyone else," she answered sadly. "And I’m still just a dumb little kid."
"You are not a `dumb little kid,’ Naomi Wildman. You are an individual of extraordinary potential," Seven stated imperiously. "And you are my friend."
Samantha Wildman sat across from her dinner companion in the mess hall. It was between the primary meal shifts, Alpha watch having already finished their supper, while Beta watch was still on duty. At this hour, the mess hall was usually reserved for stragglers, snacks, and those who wanted a quiet meal for two away from the regular crowds.
As much as she wanted to enjoy her mealtime, it was difficult for her to let go of the daily grind. Although it had been easy for her to forget for a little while her responsibilities as an officer, her responsibilities as a mother were harder to shake.
"I just don’t know what to do, Neelix," she wailed. "I mean, I try to talk to her and it goes in one ear and right out the other. But with Seven of Nine, every word out of her mouth is like gold-pressed latinum. Now, just how am I supposed to compete with that?"
The Talaxian let us a lighthearted chuckle. "Well, who said you had to compete? Seven may be her friend, but you’re her mother. Nobody can take that away from you."
"Her friend…" she muttered. "I mean, a fully-grown ex-Borg being best friends with my five-year-old daughter? Doesn’t anyone else besides me find something wrong with that?"
"To be honest, Sam, it’s not as if Naomi has a lot of options. Besides, I think they’ve both really benefited from being friends."
"I know…" Samantha sighed in resignation. "It’s just that, well, I only want for Naomi to have as normal a life as possible. I don’t want to forbid her from being friends with Seven, but if only…well, it’s just that she’s so…odd. I’m just concerned about the kind of influence she might have on my daughter."
"Well, from where I see it, it’s a good influence. Naomi’s become a lot more serious about learning with Seven as her tutor. And the influence works both ways, you know."
"I’m sure it does. And don’t get me wrong, Neelix. I really do feel for Seven. I know she’s been through something that would be, well, unimaginable for most humans. The part of me that’s a Starfleet officer and a Federation citizen wants to give her the benefit of the doubt. But the part of me that’s Naomi’s mother…" She shook her head in confusion. "I just don’t know."
"You really should give Seven a chance. I know she can come across as pretty formidable, but she does have her vulnerable side." He then gave Sam a mischievous smile. "I’m sure Harry can attest to that."
"Harry and Seven," she mused. "I never would have figured it. But I’ll give her that much credit. He’s a good match for her."
"It’s pretty obvious how much her cares for her," Neelix hinted, trying not to be too obvious with the parallels he was drawing to him and Samantha. "I thinks it’s just so touching the way his eyes light up whenever she enters a room."
"Neelix, the eyes of every man on the ship light up whenever she enters a room," she responded sardonically.
"Not the way Harry’s does. And there’s definitely something in her heart when she’s around him."
"Well…" she grudgingly admitted. "Harry’s a good man. And I’ll admit, she’s been a lot more personable ever since the two of them paired off."
"It’s like I told you. She really is a decent person, once you get to know her," he smiled at her reassuringly. "But if you’re really worried, I can always try to put some pressure on Tom and B’Elanna to produce a baby or two."
The worried mother then gave a wry smile of her own. "A child with B’Elanna Torres’s temper and Tom Paris’ sense of humor? I think I’ll take my chances with Seven."
"There, now," he chuckled. "You’re smiling already. Aren’t you glad you got out tonight?"
"Very glad," she smiled back at him. "Thank you for being so patient with me, Neelix. I’m sure the last thing you wanted to hear tonight was me gripping about my insecurities."
"Oh, you have nothing to apologize for, Sam. Everyone knows how hard you work, both on and off-duty. Why, you probably have the toughest job of anyone on board, including the captain."
"I think the captain has more important things to worry about than whether or not Naomi picks up her toys after school," Sam grinned wider, to the point where her dimples began to show.
The sight of her smile warmed his heart. "I don’t know about that. Personally, I can’t think of any job more important than guiding and caring for a new life."
Instinctively, Samantha reached over to touch the Talaxian’s hand. She wasn’t sure what prompted her, only a distinct need to connect with this dear, sweet man. "I owe a lot of that to you, Neelix. These past few years, there have been moments when I felt like I was at my wits’ end. I don’t know how I would have gotten through those times without you."
"Oh, I’m only one man," he blushed humbly, almost to the point where his speckles began to change to a deep rosy color. "I’d say the entire crew has been there to support you when you needed it."
"Not the way you have," she answered him softly.
Neelix’s heart beat with excitement, but struggled not to let it show too much. For years, after he had fled Talaxia and left the unpleasant memories of the loss of his family at Rynnax behind, solitude had become a way of life for him. He didn’t dare let anyone get too close to him during his wanderings about the stars. He lived by his wits and through his own cunning, but never forgot the values by which he was raised. He had grown up in an environment full of love and generosity, and it was a tribute to those long gone that he kept that part of him alive. It would have been all too easy to let himself become cold and hardened, allowing his loneliness to get the better of him and view outsiders as only a potential source of pain.
And then there had been Kes.
From the moment he had first seen her in that Kazon encampment on Ocampa, his heart went out to her. Finally he had found someone just as lost, adrift, and vulnerable as he was.
Those first years when they were together on Voyager were happy ones. Neelix had someone to love and care for, as well as an entire community of friends to take part in and contribute to. It wasn’t quite Rynnax, but it was close enough.
But soon, he and Kes began to drift apart. She grew up too fast, changed so much from the person he had first met. He could have held on to her, if he had been willing to fight for her. But his fear got the better of him. It was that brief Ocampan lifespan that was at the root of it all.
Deep down there had always been that fear that one day, Kes would live out her nine year lifespan and grow old right before his eyes. Oh, they always repeated to each other that polite fiction about how it was the quality of the years they spent together, not the quantity. But Neelix never believed it, and he suspected that Kes sensed his fear as well. For a man who had watched his entire home wiped out, could he endure this as well? And what if they had created a child together? Would their children also share the short existence of their mother and die of old age too?
As Kes matured and grew apart from him, he let her go, with both of them knowing the real reason for it, but respecting the other and saying nothing of it. And on that day two years ago, when Kes finally departed from Voyager, he shed a tear at her transcendence, but shamefully relieved of the burden of watching his former love age before him. His old companion, loneliness, had now come back into his life.
Of course, he had other responsibilities to help fill in the void. His duties aboard ship and his friends kept him busy enough. And then there was his role as doting godfather to Voyager‘s only child, to which he devoted himself wholeheartedly.
Sam, meanwhile, was looking deep within herself, before gazing over at Neelix. It would be so easy, she thought, to let something happen between the two of them. He was a good man, she too was lonely, and Naomi needed a father. Wasn’t that enough? She wasn’t sure how she felt about him, though. Was kindness enough? Did love, or even lust, have to be factor?
Her thoughts then went across 30,000 light years to the man she left behind six years ago. Gres had been the love of her life, her soul mate. He too had been a good man, a sweet gentle spirit who had touched her heart. Attraction-wise, of course, there was no comparison. K’tarians were widely regarded as among the most physically beautiful of all the humanoid races of the Alpha Quadrant. Talaxians, by contrast, well, simply weren’t.
Right now, Sam couldn’t say for sure whether she even had a marriage anymore. Oh, she didn’t believe that he would find another lover. K’tarians mated for life. Even if he believed her dead, he would never stray from her memory. But what if he was the one who was lost? There had been no word from him when they managed to contact the Alpha Quadrant via the Hirogen array. She feared the worst when she learned of the Federation’s conflict with this mysterious `Dominion’ from the Gamma Quadrant. There had only been the letter from her mother, telling her of Gres’ terrible grief, despondency, and later his transfer to Advanced Tactical Training when the war broke out. His ship had been behind enemy lines during that first brief communication with home. Now with contact resumed by Starfleet via this new `Pathfinder’ technology, perhaps she would know soon of his fate. Until then, there was still that terrible uncertainty of whether or not she was a widow, or whether or not a family could be sustained across half a galaxy.
Should she just give up on her past, all for the prospect of comfort and contentment right her in the present, she wondered?
"I don’t know, Paris," Ensign Freddie Bristow looked at the pilot with a suspicious frown. "Another bar? Isn’t that idea just a bit played out?"
"Not a bar, Freddie," Tom insisted with an infectious grin, "A pub, an authentic Irish pub. And I’m talking about historical flavor here, the kind of local watering hole you’d expect to see James Joyce sitting in the corner, sipping a Porter ale. You know what I mean?" Looking past the skeptical young engineer, he spied the older, heartier Lieutenant Carey standing behind him. "Joe! You strike me as a man who enjoys his Guinness. Wouldn’t you like to spend the afternoon at an early 20th century Irish saloon?"
"Hey, I like my Guinness just fine, Tom," Carey agreed amiably. "But I have to go with Freddie on this one. If you want this program to go over as well as Sandrine’s, you’re going to have to up the ante. Give people a reason to want to spend the day dressing up."
"Surely the Sandrine’s program is an adequate environment if one simply wished to ingest the alcoholic beverages you mentioned," Vorik spoke up from behind Tom.
The tall pilot spun around with a feigned look of horror on his face. "Vorik! Why, that’s blasphemy! You can’t serve decent Guinness at a French bistro!"
The young Vulcan did not have much of a sense of humor, but he had been around humans long enough to recognize when he was being teased. "Forgive my ignorance in these matters, Mr. Paris. I do not imbibe."
"Well, you’re forgiven, Vorik," Paris laughed amiably. "And I’m one step ahead of you, Joe. I’m thinking of creating an entire village around this pub. Populate it with nice, friendly, colorful local characters. Very Old World. You know the type."
"Hmmm…" the older engineer thought. "Now, you’ve got my interest. What do you think, Chief?" he asked as he shifted his attention over to his boss, B’Elanna Torres.
"What are you asking me for?" she answered dryly from her position over the exposed guts of the containment mechanism. "Talk to Harry, instead. He spends more time with Tom on the Holodeck than I do, that’s for damn sure."
"Now that’s not fair, hon…er, B’Elanna," Tom responded, quickly correcting himself before making the mistake of calling her by a pet name in front of her engineering staff. He had learned the hard way a long time ago that there were serious penalties involved for making such a glaring faux pas. "The time we spend together is quality time."
"Let’s ask Harry what he thinks," she answered sharply, wishing to deflect the subject away from her and Tom’s `quality’ time. No need to give her people any cause to speculate on her personal life, she thought. There’s too much damn gossip on this ship as it is. "Hey, Starfleet," she called over to Harry Kim, who was hunkered down over a console, silently reviewing the numbers from Astrometric’s latest scan of the nebula. "What do you think? You agree that this whole Irish village program is a stupid idea?"
"What?" he looked up, barely aware of what was going on around him. "Oh, yeah. Whatever you say, B’Elanna."
"Oh, good," he looked at the distracted young ensign, still in full sarcastic mode. "Then you agree we should just cut loose the warp nacelles and fly the rest of the way home using canoe paddles."
"Never mind," she sighed as her eyes rolled up. Look at him, she thought. He’s pinning away like a schoolboy. B’Elanna had thought Harry had gotten long past this stage in his…whatever…with Seven.
"I think we’re all a bit brain-fried, don’t you think?" Tom offered helpfully to his mate. He was trying to clear out the room in order to get a chance to talk to Harry. But it wasn’t just a question of opportunity. Some of the engineering staff had been hammering away for the past ten hours on trying to solve the problem at hand. And while some headway had been made on how to re-configure the containment field to hold the collapsed-matter more safely, they were still no closer to figuring out how to bring the stuff aboard ship without making it explode. Fatigue was starting to set in.
"Yeah, we have been at it a while," she concurred quietly. "We have enough for a status report for tomorrow’s briefing." She then turned to Harry, who was technically in charge of the project, even though she ran the engine room staff. "How about it, Harry? Let’s say we call it a night. Let Gamma shift have a crack at it for a few hours."
"What? B’Elanna, we’re nowhere near ready! There’s still so much we have to do. I’m staying!"
Torres pulled Harry off to the side, so as not to undermine his authority in front of the rest of the engineering staff. "Harry," she whispered harshly, "these guys have been working a double shift as it is. We’ve already compiled enough data to design a more efficient container, and we know what not to do in how to extract energy. That’s plenty for any day’s work. Now, I’m not going to have my people falling on their faces during tomorrow’s shift just because you want to use Engineering as a refuge to hide from your problems!"
"I’m not…!" he started to retort angrily, but then the energy just seemed to drain out of him. "Some project leader I am," he sighed. "I can’t even get a grip on my personal life."
"Don’t be so surprised, buddy," he heard Tom Paris answer jovially as he came up from behind him. "It’s the personal stuff that usually nails us. Compared to that, our professional lives are a breeze."
"That’s easy for you to say," Harry complained. "You at least know you still have a girlfriend. Look at what I’ve done! Seven’s the best thing to happen to me since…well, since I was stranded out here in the Delta Quadrant. And I hurt her, Tom." He sighed heavily as his mind contemplated the worst thing that he possibly could have done to her. "I broke her heart!"
This was about as much as B’Elanna could take. "Oh, you think so? Is that what she told you?"
"Told me? Well, she didn’t come right out and say it. But you could tell from her voice…"
"You mean you could tell." she answered back, her frustration evident. "Christ, this is just so typical of you, Harry!"
"What do you mean?"
"She means this is where you usually get into trouble," Tom explained. "Your mind goes into over-think and you always imagine the worst possible scenario."
"Exactly!" B’Elanna rejoined. "And it’s not just with your relationship with Seven, either. It’s in everything you do. This whole project, for example. You’re so terrified of doing the wrong thing and letting people down that you don’t trust yourself. Believe me, you’ve got what it takes to get the job done."
Harry felt a bit overwhelmed at being double-teamed by his friends like this. But he couldn’t entirely disagree with them either.
"The same goes with Seven," Tom added. "This afternoon, when she laid that bombshell about moving in with you, you were more panicked about how she might feel, than in telling her what you were feeling."
"But…I don’t know what I feel."
"And neither does she. I’ll bet you anything that’s what has her so spooked. She hasn’t a clue as to what you’re feeling. She’s just as stumped as you are."
"So what am I supposed to do?" he inquired desperately of the couple.
The chief engineer smacked her ridged forehead in frustration. "Jesus, Starfleet. Didn’t you hear a word we said? Stop looking to other people for the right answer. You’re the one who knows what you’re feeling and you’re the only one who knows what to say to Seven. So go say it."
"Yeah…" the young ensign mused, before letting out a light chuckle. "Who would have believed it? You of all people giving me advice about Seven of Nine? I figured you’d be thrilled if she were out of my life."
"What, and have you mope around my engine room even more miserable and depressed? What do I need that for?" she answered with a smirk. "Besides, I think after four months, I’m big enough to admit that I may have been wrong about the two of you."
Harry’s eyes lit up. "You really mean that?"
"Now, don’t get me wrong. I still think Seven’s a major pain in the ass. But she’s the pain in the ass that you’re in love with. And it’s pretty obvious she feels…well, something for you."
"Thanks, B’Elanna," Harry said. "That means a lot coming from you. And I’m willing to admit that you and Tom may be right about me. I do over-think things sometimes. Seven’s noticed the same thing about me, saying that I `often fail to recognize my own excellence.’"
"Well, she’s right," Tom observed. "You should just learn to trust your gut."
"Instead of my head?"
"Absolutely," B’Elanna added jovially, "It’s a fine trait for a Romulan, but it makes for a piss-poor Klingon."
In spite of his earlier foul mood, Harry Kim let a smile pass by his lips. "Thanks, guys. I…guess I need to have a heart-to-heart with Seven, don’t I?"
"Well, don’t do it right away. It’s late already, and I’m sure she appreciates having time for a little `girl talk’ with Naomi."
"Girl talk?" Harry asked quizzically. "She’s just a little kid, Tom. How much do you think she and Seven could be talking about?"
"I dunno, buddy. But you never know when girls get together."
B’Elanna then leaned in to interrupt this moment between the two best friends. "Uh, boys. I hate to break up this episode of male bonding, but seeing as how Harry’s the overseeing this project, maybe he should get the honors of telling everyone to knock off for tonight."
"I think I’ll do just that."
"And get some sleep yourself, Har," Tom called out to him.
"I will. I just need to compile the data we collected for the captain."
As Harry walked off to speak with the rest of the engineering team, Tom looked on proudly as he put his arm around his own beloved. "So, what does your woman’s intuition say about how this is going to turn out? You think they’re gonna shack up or what?"
"I have no idea. I don’t exactly have the greatest track record in regards to those two. Remember, I was convinced they’d never last a month."
"Still, that was a good thing you did, helping out Harry in spite of how you feel about Seven," he said as he squeezed her tighter to his side.
"Yeah, well…" she mused, "She’s not all that bad these days. I mean, he really has helped her to loosen up."
"I really ought to compare techniques with him one of these days," Tom chuckled lightly at a private joke, before withering under the warning glare of his lover. "But seriously. Maybe the four of us could make it a couple’s night sometime soon."
B’Elanna eyed the brash pilot with a cold, dirty stare. "Don’t push it, flyboy."
It seemed as if they had moved on from all talk about Harry when Naomi suggested that she and Seven sit down to watch animated video presentations. Animation, or cartoons, as Seven understood it, was a form of entertainment that had been popular with young people in the 20 th and 21st centuries but had fallen into obscurity with the widespread use of virtual reality, and later, holosuites.
Ensign Paris, an aficionado of all things 20th Century, had introduced Naomi to this unusual art form. This collection, however, had all been carefully screened and pre-selected by Ensign Wildman from the ship’s libraries. Naomi’s mother was hyper-vigilant about what recordings her daughter was permitted to view ever since an incident with Ensign Paris last year involving a cartoon from the turn of the millenium that he had picked out for her while on babysitting detail. According to what she had heard from the Doctor, the choice was deemed highly inappropriate, something involving four small boys residing in a tiny mountain community on Earth who delighted in using abusive language.
Seven, however, failed to see how the feature they were watching now could be regarded as more appropriate. The main character, a rabbit possessing humanoid characteristics, was clearly mentally unbalanced, displayed a profound disrespect for authority, and habitually broke out into song at inappropriate moments. And it was obvious to her that if this `Bugs Bunny’ individual wanted to stop the predation of the homicidal Elmer Fudd, it would have been far more efficient to simply report him to the proper security personnel.
"Seven, what’s it like?"
The blonde woman looked across at the child as they both reclined on the living room couch. "To what are you referring, Naomi Wildman?"
"Kissing a boy. What’s it like?"
This was not the conversation that Seven was expecting to have with her small friend. "It is…" she tried to answer, unsure of how to verbalize the cauldron of emotions she felt whenever her lips touched Harry’s. "It generates a tingling sensation throughout my body, and causes my face to flush with greater vascularization."
The former drone wished that she had been asked a question about the variable particle flow off of the main deflector dish instead. It would have been a far simpler question to answer than why she enjoyed being kissed by Harry Kim.
"There are numerous reasons. For one, it is a form of connection between individuals. Furthermore, Harry…Ensign Kim…explained to me that simple actions can be a far more effective means of demonstrating one’s emotional state than through words alone." But Seven of Nine couldn’t hide the smile that crossed her delicate features as she thought about the most important explanation of all. "And I…I like it."
"And is that what you do with Harry all the time? Kissing?"
"We engage in other activities besides kissing."
"You mean, like hugging?"
"There is that," Seven said, "but we also participate in other pastimes. We take trips on the holodeck together and partake in social events aboard ship. We often find ourselves spending time just conversing."
The child shrugged her shoulders, obviously unimpressed. "I don’t see what the big deal is. Except for the kissing and the hugging, it doesn’t sound too different from the stuff that we do together."
"It is more than that, Naomi Wildman. Harry and I share…affection…for one another. We are…" she searched the right word to say, unsure of the proper terminology to use that a child would understand. "We are intimate with one another."
"Intimate? What does that mean?"
Seven sighed inwardly, knowing that she had no desire to deceive Naomi anymore, although she felt she was on uncertain ground at this point. "Harry and I…when we are alone…we give each other pleasure."
"It often begins with kissing," she admitted, realizing that she would have to explain to the half-K’tarian girl exactly what a mated couple did in the privacy of their own quarters, and why it had meant so much to Seven for her to share said quarters with Harry. "Naomi Wildman, have you been educated as to the means by which humanoids engage in reproduction?"
"Oh sure," he answered dismissively. "Mom took me to see the Doctor for a special lesson plan. He explained all about that stuff and…" Her eyes then went wide with shock as she made the connection between that awkward afternoon and what her friend was telling her now. "You mean, you and Harry do that together?!"
"That is correct. It is called copulation, or sexual intercourse, or lovemaking. There are a variety of other designations for the act, but I do not believe you have the necessary background or experience to fully understand them. Harry and I were about to engage in such an act when you came by his quarters this morning."
"Eeeeeeeeewwwww!" was the little girl’s only response. "That’s so gross!"
"You are repulsed?"
"Well, yeah!" she answered emotionally, then gradually losing her force of conviction. "Kind of…I mean…you and Harry…are you two trying to make a baby?"
Quite unexpectedly, Seven felt a stab of anguish spread through her body. She what had brought it on, but was not prepared to discuss it with Naomi. "No…" she answered painfully. "I…we are not…attempting to reproduce. But the physical act itself is regarded as highly pleasurable. Many couples indulge in this activity in order to share their affections with one another." Seven took a deep breath before proceeding. "Harry has indicated that my having this conversation with you might be seen as inappropriate. Nevertheless, I have always endeavored to provide knowledge with you freely and without prejudice. You may, however, wish to explore this topic further with your mother."
"But…" the child struggled to speak, still flabbergasted at what her older friend had just revealed to her. "Doesn’t it hurt?"
"There is some initial pain when one copulates for the first time, but it is more than compensated for later with pleasure."
"And you actually saw him naked?" she asked. When Seven nodded her head in the affirmative with a wide appreciative grin of delight, Naomi could only sit there in stunned silence. "This is just too weird!" She then looked up at the tall blonde woman next to her. "I guess you must really like Harry if you let him do that to you."
"I do like him," Seven answered sadly. "Unfortunately, I am uncertain as to what his feelings are for me."
"Why? I thought you said he loved you."
"If he loves me, then why does he not wish to cohabitate with me?" she sighed. "Perhaps he is frustrated that I have not told him that I love him in return."
"Well, don’t you? Love him, I mean."
"I…do not know," Seven complained. "That is my dilemma. I fear that I may have spent so much time in the Collective, my mind purged of all irrelevant thoughts and sensations, that I may no longer be capable of feeling what Harry requires of me."
"Well, it sound to me like you do. I mean, not that I know what it really feels like."
"Perhaps. I would have liked to discover that sensation for myself. Now, I fear it is too late."
Naomi could now see the depth of feeling that her friend had for Harry Kim. When the little girl had first seen the formidable ex-drone storming about the corridors, she had been both fascinated and terrified all at the same time. But she had never had any friends her own age before, and the imposing older woman had, for all of her brains and beauty, a childlike innocence that Naomi had recognized.
Previously, Naomi had only had two other occasions to deal with other children before. The first time, over a year ago, had been with the telepathic refugees that Voyager had offered sanctuary to while travelling through the D’Vor Imperium. The children had been nice enough and well meaning, but Naomi was inexperienced with the social rules and secret telepathic messages they had established and found it difficult to fit in. All in all, it had been a frustrating experience for her.
The second encounter with children had been even worse. Just two months ago, Voyager had found the cryo-preserved remains of the Vaa’duaar race, who had once been one of the great powers of the Delta Quadrant before being annihilated by their enemies. The survivors included the families of many of their greatest leaders and soldiers. Unfortunately, the Vaa’duaar were a chauvinistic and cruel culture, and this cruelty was most evident in their children, who lacked the experience to hide their prejudices behind social niceties the way their parents could. Naomi found the younger Vaa’duaar to be vicious and unkind, a shocking contrast to the caring community she had grown up with on Voyager. They mocked Neelix as being a member of an inferior race. The older boys made comments about Seven of Nine that Naomi didn’t understand at the time, comments about her body and what they would have liked to do with it. And they were absolutely merciless in picking out the weaker members of the group and playing games of dominance with them, herself included. It had been a truly horrible experience for herself, all the more reason for Naomi to want to leave childhood behind and be accepted as an equal among Voyager‘s crew.
Right now, that meant being an equal with her friend, Seven of Nine.
"You know what, Seven? I think you really do love Harry," she said, her voice trying to conceal a childish giggle.
"How can you be so certain, when I am not?"
"Well, that’s how it sounds to me. And you said yourself that you liked him."
"It…it is not the same thing. I cannot explain. You do not have the necessary experience."
"’Cause I’m just a dumb little kid?" Naomi responded angrily, her fears about being left behind by her older friend seeming to come true.
"It is not that, Naomi Wildman," Seven answered. "One must come into knowledge at a point when one is prepared to accept it. Shortly after I came aboard Voyager, there were many new concepts and ideas that I was exposed to, yet I was not prepared to assimilate them. Many of the crew wished to see me participate in social activities and experience human emotions, yet I regarded their suggestions as irrelevant. It was only later that I came to see the value of `recreation’ and `having fun.’" Seven then looked at her friend reassuringly, giving her a thin smile of encouragement that would have been unthinkable only six months before. "You were among those who helped me to come to understand those concepts. You, as well as Ensign Kim. I will not forget that."
Naomi felt genuinely touched by Seven’s generous comment. She was used to hearing the older woman being curt and abrasive, but it was really sweet when she spoke in a kindly fashion. "I guess you having Harry as a boyfriend is kind of a good thing. I mean, you do smile a lot more, now. You have a really pretty smile."
"Thank you. Harry has always believed so."
Seven could see that Naomi was still troubled from the expression on her small face. "You are still displeased, Naomi Wildman?"
The child just pouted with sadness. "I’m never gonna have a boyfriend, am I?"
"Why would you come to believe such a thing?"
"Well, isn’t it true? I mean, I’m the only one on the ship my age! Even if everybody else started to have babies right away, I still wouldn’t be the same age as anyone else. And by the time we get back to the Alpha Quadrant, I’ll be too old!"
"You will be precisely thirty-one years of age, given our current speed and position."
"That does not necessarily mean that you will fail to find a mate someday. When you are of the proper age, you may encounter an alien that would be a suitable match for you. And there is always the likelihood that Voyager will discover another means to cut more time off of our journey. It is quite possible that we may arrive at the Federation well before you are ready to choose a mate for yourself."
"Do you think so?"
"One cannot be certain of the future, Naomi Wildman. It is inherently unpredictable in its outcome. By any objective calculation of probability, Voyager would never have managed to survive this long in the Delta Quadrant, to say nothing of being able to travel as far as it has," she answered reassuringly. "Consider even my own situation. At one point, I had calculated with great confidence that no suitable mate existed for me aboard this vessel. As you can see, my calculations were premature."
"Seven," Naomi asked timidly, "do you think you and Harry are gonna get married one day?"
That caused Seven’s head to jerk upward in surprise. Marriage! "We…we have never discussed a permanent affiliation." She was familiar with the idea of marriage, but prior to her beginning her relationship with Harry, she had never considered it to be relevant to her. It seemed to be too limiting of one’s choices of romantic partners. But now, the idea of spending one’s life in a permanent bond sounded…intriguing.
"Well, if you do get married…would I be invited?"
Seven of Nine could not resist smiling at the child’s innocent comment. "You would most certainly be in attendance at such an event. As you yourself have remarked previously, we are family, are we not?"
"Yeah," Naomi said, mulling it over, returning Seven’s smile with a broad cherubic grin of her own. "And if Harry’s your boyfriend, then I guess that makes him family, too."
Sam and Neelix were walking back down the corridors on their way back to her quarters. It had been the first time in a long while where she had been able to forget about her responsibilities and her loss. If only for this one night, Samantha Wildman could be herself, and not what was required of her. After dinner the two of them had talked for hours, spent time looking out upon the stars form the observation deck, and just took pleasure in each other’s company. It had indeed been far too long since she had done anything like that. Not since…no, she tried not to think about it.
"I had a wonderful time tonight, Sam," Neelix said, hopeful for her response.
"So did I, Neelix. I really needed a night like this. Thank you." As they walked along the almost deserted hallways, Neelix cautiously allowed his hand to brush along hers, and slowly allowed their fingers to twine together. She didn’t seem to object.
Finally, they stood outside the door to the Wildman residence, their destination having been reached. Both seemed uncertain as to what to do next.
"W-would you like to come in for a while?" she asked nervously. It had also been a while since she had invited a man over for a nightcap. "I could replicate something to drink."
"Are you sure that’s alright? I mean, I wouldn’t want to wake up Naomi," he answered, equally uncertain. He didn’t want to appear too eager.
"Oh, she and Seven should be asleep by now."
"Well…sure. I’d like that."
Silently in the dark, the two of them crept into the apartment. Neelix expected everything to be still when they entered, but it was not. The apartment was dark, yet there was a light coming from Naomi’s room and a steady, male voice could be heard speaking. Were Seven and Naomi still awake? At this late hour? Sam had given strict instructions as to what time Naomi had to be in bed.
He saw the strident look on her face as she moved over to the open entranceway of the bedroom to see what was going on. Neelix moved quickly to follow. But as she came closer, the voice became more familiar to her. Her faced seemed to soften, her eyes looked almost stricken. The Talaxian peered over into the illuminated bedroom to see what Sam was seeing. Inside, he saw Seven of Nine wearing pajamas pajamas?! – sitting on the floor, looking up in rapt fascination at a video screen. Naomi was fast asleep, her head lying in the older woman’s lap. Seven was unconsciously stroking the little girl’s hair, while she listened attentively to the recording on the screen in front of her. The speaker was definitely a man, a K’tarian man. His head was smooth, except for a single thick braid of hair at the back of his skull. His features were soft and angelic, a contrast to the dense row of horns that went down the middle of his forehead. It was Greskrendrkt, Naomi’s father. His voice was soft and gentle, as the pre-recorded words flowed like silk from his expressive lips.
"…will bide the moments until you return to me. I know how important this assignment is to you, and I just want you to know that I’ll always support whatever decision you choose to make. As much as it hurts me not to have you with me, your happiness is what matters first and foremost. And who knows? Once you have a year or two of starship duty under your belt, we can put in for that transfer Earthside and start that family we’ve always wanted. It doesn’t matter if it’s tomorrow or next year, or even ten years. I love you, Sunshine, and I’ll wait for as long as it takes. You and I, we have an entire lifetime ahead of us…"
Neelix could see that Seven was completely unaware of his or Samantha’s presence outside of the door. He looked up cautiously from the sight of her fascination with this man’s declaration of love. He saw Sam standing next to him, slightly trembling, her eyes glued to the image on the viewscreen. And there was no mistaking the single tear that was trailing down her cheek.
No, he accepted solemnly. She was not his to love. Even though this message had been recorded almost six years ago and half a galaxy away, that was where Samantha Wildman’s heart remained.
"I…I should be going," he spoke softly, try to hide the disappointment.
"W-what?" she answered, momentarily shaken from her silent observation, unconsciously wiping away the tear. "Neelix, are you sure? Wouldn’t you like to stay for just a little while?"
"No, really. Thank you. It’s getting late and I need to be up early tomorrow. Back to work and all. You know how it is," he answered with false chirpiness, concealing his pain.
"Well, I…" she stammered, not sure how to answer him. They both knew what had almost happened here tonight, and that it could never be allowed to go that far again. But neither wanted to hurt the other. "I’m sorry you can’t stay."
"Me too," he answered bravely. "I’ll see you tomorrow, though."
"Of course," she spoke softly. "And Neelix…"
"Thank you…" she said, "for not letting happen…what almost happened here tonight."
"Gres is a very lucky man," he answered, finding the strength to smile.
"I know he’ll wait for me. If he’s alive, he’ll wait for both of us. I owe him at least the same," she responded with a heavy heart. "You’re a good man, Neelix. You deserve to be happy."
And with that, the Talaxian morale officer left with a sad but brave smile as he let himself out. Sam watched him go, letting out a confused sigh, partially from regret, but also with relief. She turned back to Naomi’s room, only to see Seven looking up at her.
"Ensign Wildman, I did not hear you enter."
"I know," she answered, her face impassive, until she let a small smile curl up at the corner of her mouth. She walked into the room and bent over to where the sleeping child lay at rest in the other woman’s lap. "Hey, funny face," she whispered. "That’s no place for you to sleep."
Naomi stirred groggily from her slumber, only half-aware of the world around her. "M-mommy?"
"Come on, sleepy head. It’s time we put you to bed." She then half carried the little girl out of her friend’s lap and guided her onto the mattress.
"Is Uncle Neelix here?" Naomi asked weakly.
"No, sweetie. He’s gone home. You go to sleep now." Sam then leaned over to kiss her daughter’s forehead.
"Can Seven kiss me goodnight too?"
"Well, I…" she started to answer with an instinctive nervousness, before she realized how foolish her anxiety really was. After all, didn’t she just witness the tenderness with which the former drone had cradled her daughter in her lap? "Of course she can, sweetheart. Seven?"
Seven got to her feet, slightly unsure of what to do. She then bent over to mimic Ensign Wildman’s actions, and gave a quick peck on one of the small horny growths that led down to the bridge of the child’s nose. "Sleep well, Naomi Wildman."
Naomi smiled innocently as her eyes weighed heavily, before closing to drift off into slumber. Sam made a silent motion to lead Seven out of the room, leaving her daughter to sleep in peace.
Once they were in the living room, Seven realized how the earlier scene might have appeared and did not wish to irk Naomi’s mother any further than she had in the past. "I did not intend to violate your privacy, Ensign."
"Believe me, it’s alright."
"It was Naomi’s desire to watch the recording of her father."
"Seven, I said…wait, Naomi? She wanted to see it?" Sam did a double take. The recorded message of Gres had been the only record of his voice that she had aboard ship. It had been a final farewell he had transmitted to Voyager as they were pulling out of dock at Deep Space Nine, just before leaving on their fateful mission. Other than a few holos, and Naomi herself, it was all she had to remind her of the love she had left behind. But Naomi had never shown much interest in seeing the images of her father in the past. He was just a man from far away to her. A man who made her mother cry.
"She was curious about seeing him after she and I spoke about my relationship with Harry Kim," Seven answered factually. She then began to look uncomfortable, unsure as to how she should proceed.
"Ensign…there is something of which you should be aware. Naomi had certain questions of me regarding my…interaction with Harry. I answered them. However, I believe she will have further inquiries about this subject for you tomorrow. I felt you should be prepared beforehand."
"Oh, I see…" Sam answered thoughtfully. "Well, I guess she is reaching that age where she’s starting to get curious. Maybe it’s time she and I had a follow-up conversation. Thank you for telling me, Seven." "I was concerned that you might be offended."
Sam sighed again, this time looking more embarrassed than anything else. "I guess I have left you with the impression that I offend easily. Seven, I…I know I haven’t been very nice to you in the past. I just want to say that, well, I’m sorry for that. I can see now that you care for Naomi very much."
"I do, Ensign Wildman."
"Please, Seven. Call me Samantha. I don’t think we should feel like we’re on pins and needles with each other anymore."
"Pins and needles?"
"It’s an expression, Seven. And I’m glad Naomi has you for a friend."
"She is an extraordinary individual, Ens…Samantha Wildman," she quickly corrected. "I should also inform you that she will most likely ask you about your evening with Mr. Neelix."
"You mean, she’ll want to know if we’re getting married?" Sam answered bemusedly.
Seven looked astonished at the other woman’s response. "You were aware of this desire on her part?"
"She hasn’t exactly been subtle about it, Seven. But in case you happen to be curious, Neelix and I… we’re just friends. There’s nothing going on between us. I guess that’s something else Naomi and I need to talk about."
"Because you still have affection for her father," Seven concluded.
"Yes, I do," she admitted, somehow feeling a freedom to share her innermost thoughts with this woman she had been so skeptical of earlier. "I love him and I always will. It’s just that, well, it’s been so long since we’ve been together, it’s been easier to try and forget about him. It hurts too much thinking about not having him with me."
Seven could see that Ensign Wildman was experiencing great anguish and tried to understand what it was like to feel something so intensely for someone else. She tried to compare it to her own feeling for Harry. Her fear of losing Harry tonight had seemed so strong, so palpable. Yet clearly such anxiety was nothing in comparison to the emotional pain that Samantha Wildman was feeling. To feel `love’ for someone, enough to want to form a permanent affiliation, only to be separated by innumerable light years and decades of travel time…Seven could not imagine how she would react to that. "I can understand why you would choose to be so protective of your daughter. She is all that remains of your mate."
"Believe me, Seven, it’s more than that. At first, when I found out I was expecting, I…I seriously considered… well, ending the pregnancy."
That caused Seven to jolt up with alarm. The thought of her small friend, who had come to mean so much to her, possibly never coming into existence…
But Samantha continued her train of thought. "I mean, I thought, what right did I have to bring a child into a life aboard a starship trapped on the other side of the galaxy? What kind of place would that be for a helpless child? And did I have the right to place that kind of burden on the rest of my crew? I hardly knew any of these people back then. Nearly half of them were Maquis, for god’s sake! For all I knew, I could have been murdered in my sleep."
"It would appear that by any rational analysis, it would have been a misguided decision to bring your pregnancy to full term. Yet you chose to do so."
"I just couldn’t do it, Seven. She was a part of me. A part of Gres. We had both always wanted to start a family together, and everyone told us a successful human-K’tarian mating would be difficult. And yet, here she was. This incredible miracle growing inside of me. All I could think about before were the burdens and the reasons to say `no,’ but what about the hope and all the reasons to say `yes’?"
Seven could see that tears were beginning to well up in Ensign Wildman’s eyes. She was uncomfortable as to how to respond to such an outpouring of emotion. "She’s the one thing that’s kept me going, the hope that one day she and I will be reunited with her father, and that we’ll all be a family, a real family."
"Then her birth provided…a pragmatic purpose?" the former drone inquired cautiously.
"Only if you can call happiness pragmatic, Seven," she said with a smile full of maternal pride and delight.
"Trust me when I tell you there’s no greater joy in the universe than giving birth to a new life. A child all your own. I can’t really begin to explain what a miracle it truly is."
"I believe I may have experienced something of what you have described," Seven countered. "with One."
"Oh, Seven…" Sam gasped as she touched her unenhanced hand sympathetically. "I didn’t mean to…oh, I’m so sorry. I never meant to bring up something so painful for you."
"I am not in pain, Samantha Wildman. I felt strong kinship for One, although I did not regard him as my offspring in the same manner that you regard Naomi. He was a being similar to myself in a way that no other member of the crew could be. I was comfortable with him and took great satisfaction in mentoring him in the ways of Voyager. I felt a…connection…with him, but I cannot say that it was reminiscent of a parent and child relationship. "
"Still, you must miss him terribly."
"I do. At first, I felt great regret that I was unable to convince him to survive and remain part of the Voyager collective. But as time progressed, I have come to accept that events unfolded as One would have wished them, and I am at peace with the choice he made. Still, I often find myself wondering how he might have progressed had he chosen to live, what role he might have played as part of the crew, and what he might have thought of my own personal growth."
"You mean, like your relationship with Harry? I’m sure he would have approved," Sam offered. "And who knows? Maybe you and Harry will find out what it’s like to have a little bundle of your own someday."
"That is unlikely," Seven answered somberly her face crestfallen. "When I was assimilated, the Borg removed my ovarian tissues in order to make space for my regenerative sub-processors. It is a common procedure performed on female drones. In other words, I am unable to reproduce naturally." It then began to occur to her. Why was she telling all of this to Ensign Wildman? She had never spoken of her inability to produce children to anyone else before, not even with Captain Janeway. It had never been relevant to her until now. Why did she now feel the need to be so open with someone that she had never been close to before?
"Oh my god…" the young mother commiserated. "I…I had no idea. Wasn’t there something the Doctor could have done?"
"When I was first severed from the Collective, the first priority was to restore my body to independent function, as well as restore my human appearance. The ability to bear children was naturally of secondary importance."
"But surely he could do something for you now, can’t he?"
"Not with the facilities available aboard Voyager. Sickbay is not equipped to synthesize complex biosynthetic transplants and my nanoprobes would quickly attack any foreign biological in my body, such as a clone graft. It is possible that an advanced Federation hospital might be able to restore my reproductive capacity, but that of course, is not relevant to my situation here in the Delta Quadrant."
"And those are your only options available?"
"In theory, the Doctor could clone a fetus from my DNA, and I could then bring the child to term in a synthetic womb. But as you are well aware, reproductive cloning is not permitted under Federation law." Sam nodded grimly, knowing well how the Genetic Standards Laws were even more strictly enforced than the Prime Directive. Cloning was a vital enabling technology for human genetic engineering and was thus strictly regulated. Centuries later, people still feared the potential emergence of a new generation of Genetic Supermen. While it was permitted for use by homosexual partnerships and occasionally used to allow infertile couples to bear children, the Federation Bureau of Genetic Standards granted cloning exemptions to heterosexual couples very sparingly. And nobody could contravene the authority of the BGS on this issue, not a starship captain, or even the Federation President. Even with Voyager halfway across the galaxy, Captain Janeway was as bound by those rules as surely as any citizen back home. "Seven, I’m so sorry. Who else knows about this?"
"The Doctor, of course, as does Captain Janeway. She is apprised of all matters regarding my health. Ensign Paris may be aware, but I cannot be certain of that. The Doctor is the one primarily responsible for my internal medical needs."
"What about Harry? Surely he must know."
"I already told him of my…condition. At first, I was concerned he might find me unacceptable as a mate, because of my imperfection. I know that family is of great importance to him. But he assured me that it does not matter to him, that his affection exists for me and not for any potential offspring I might produce for him. However, it is a moot issue. Our relationship seems unlikely to progress in that direction."
"How can you say that? I thought you two were so happy together."
Seven sighed with resignation as she related to the other woman about the disappointing results of her plans to move in with Harry. It was amazing for Samantha to see that the woman she had so long believed to be cold and stoic was proving to be so open and vulnerable.
As soon as Seven finished telling her tale, Sam took her hand again to commiserate with her. "Oh, Seven. I wouldn’t worry too much. Harry was just taken by surprise. He just needs a little time to think about it and get used to the idea. I’m sure this doesn’t mean the end of your relationship. It’s obvious that cares about you very much."
"I wish I could be as certain, Samantha," Seven replied. "Perhaps the Captain and the Doctor were correct. I was mistaken to believe that either of us were prepared for such a step at this point in our relationship."
"Seven, I have nothing but the greatest respect for Captain Janeway, and I know how close you are with the Doctor, but I have to say, speaking from my own experience, that it doesn’t mean a damn thing what they believe. You and Harry are the only ones who know what’s right for the two of you. You should learn not to be so afraid of what you’re feeling and just trust your heart."
"My…heart?" she answered skeptically. "Why do humans insist on using such an inaccurate metaphor for emotion? The heart is clearly nothing more than a pump for circulating blood throughout the body, yet your literature insists that it is the seat for all matters concerning romance."
"Well, the anatomy may be inaccurate, Seven, but the metaphor is still sound, even in the 24th Century," the ensign answered sweetly. "And I do understand what you’re going through. Gres and I had been going together for less than three months when he asked me to marry him."
"Three months?" Seven was now even more confused. That had been less time than she and Harry had been affiliated, and they had yet to discuss anything like a permanent bond. On the other hand, Lieutenant Torres and Ensign Paris had been a couple for over twenty-six months and they still maintained separate quarters.
"Is that a sufficient length of time to consider whether one should become one’s permanent mate?"
"My mother certainly didn’t think so," Sam laughed. "Here I was, barely out of the Academy, and I was already talking about marriage. She figured I should at least wait until I made lieutenant before thinking about settling down."
"Yet you disagreed with your mother’s advice?"
"Absolutely. You see, I knew that after my first date with Gres, that this was the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. He was the most wonderful man I ever met in my life, my soul mate."
"Because your…heart…informed you so," Seven offered.
"Exactly," Sam answered with a helpful smile. "And in spite of our being separated right now, I’ve never regretted my decision. All I’m saying is that you should trust what you feel. Believe in your feelings, Seven. You’ll know what’s right with Harry."
"Your words…they have much merit to them. With Harry, I have been experiencing many emotions for the first time. At times, I did not know what I was feeling, to say nothing of whether or not I could trust those feelings to guide my actions."
"You’ll know…when the time is right," the young mother responded sagely.
Harry Kim finally managed to fall asleep after two hours of fussing and perfecting his status report to the captain. At first, he fell into his old patterns, trying to make the most impressive presentation he could, but each draft left him unsatisfied. It was only in frustration that he gave in to Tom and B’Elanna’s advice and just went with what he felt. He had to admit that the final result wasn’t half bad.
He only hoped that things would go as easily with Seven the next day.
He never realized how lonely his bed had become without her next to him. In fact, it was more than just his bed. It was more than just sex. He had simply become used to having her in his life. For years, ever since Voyager became lost, he had become comfortable with feeling an ever-present loneliness in his life. It was a feeling that had become even more acute two and a half years ago, first when Lindsey Ballard had been killed on that away mission, and then with Tom and B’Elanna pairing off. But then, when he and Seven had finally found each other, all of that had changed. It was as if a breath of fresh air had swept its way into the dark, musty recesses of his life. No matter how confusing things got with his Borg sweetheart, he knew that at least the two of them were always by the other’s side. It had become such an enticing feeling that he had gotten used to it too quickly, and had been blind to what Seven had wanted.
It could be quite an epiphany when you realized how completely stupid you’ve been all along, Harry thought.
He wanted to rush to his Seven, tell her everything he was feeling, and not let happiness slip away from him. Unfortunately, he woke with this realization a few hours too early. It was only 0530 hours. Seven wouldn’t be awake for another ninety minutes, at least. What could he do? He felt like he was going to burst open with declarations.
Anxiously, he wandered the corridors of Voyager, trying to find something he could focus on. At some point, he found himself camped out in front of the Wildman quarters. He figured he couldn’t wait until after the morning staff meeting to speak with Seven. He’d catch her first thing in the morning, he figured. So gradually, he slumped down in the corridor just outside of Sam’s door. He checked the computer every five minutes, to see if his Borg sweetie was still asleep. Gradually, he slowly began to nod off himself when he sensed a familiar shadow fall over him.
"Mr. Kim," said the cool, even voice of the ship’s security officer.
"Tuvok!" Harry squawked, struggling to find a good explanation for why he was sitting outside somebody’s apartment in the middle of the hallway. "I, uh, that is…"
"Ensign, I trust you are aware of the hour."
"Uh, yes, sir!"
"Then is there any particularly urgent business that you have with Ensign Wildman that cannot wait until her duty period begins?"
"Well, uh, not with Sam. I…I wanted to talk to Seven. She’s sleeping over."
"Then if your business is of such importance, surely you can awaken her via the commlink."
"Tuvok, I can’t do that! I mean, I don’t want to wake her up. Or Naomi for that matter."
The Vulcan officer could only roll his eyes upward. Harry knew that had his species believed in a heaven, Tuvok would now be asking it for strength right about now. "Mr. Kim, am I to understand that it is your intention to remain camped outside of the Wildman residence until someone awakens, so that you may converse with Seven of Nine at the earliest opportunity?"
"Uh, that’s pretty much it, sir."
Tuvok then arched an eyebrow in a typical Vulcan fashion. "Ensign, you cannot simply sit in the middle the corridor, engaging in idle behavior. Surely you must realize that you are a Starfleet officer, not a vagrant."
"I know that, sir."
"However," Tuvok continued, "I have my rounds to make. I will be back at this intersection by…" he looked at his chronometer to check the time, "no earlier than 0700 hours. I trust that by then I will not find you wandering aimlessly through this section of the ship, one way or another."
"Uh, yes sir!"
"As you were, Ensign."
As Tuvok moved away down the corridor, Harry could have sworn he saw just the faintest hint of a softening in his normally harsh expression. Nothing as much as a smile, or even a twinkle in his eye, he acknowledged. Just…well, something different. Must have been a trick of the light.
After waiting around another twenty minutes or so, Harry found himself drifting off again. He was completely zoned out until he felt a tapping on his shoulder. He quickly jolted himself awake, fearing it would be Tuvok ready to chase him off. But he looked up to see it was Sam Wildman, wearing her bathrobe, her hair pinned up, and looking at him with great amusement.
"Hmmm…the computer said there was someone lurking out here. What’s the matter, Harry? Your quarters not comfortable enough for you?" she asked him with a wide, jovial grin.
"W-what? Oh, good morning, Sam. I…uh, that is…" Harry looked around to see that quite a few passers-by had stopped to watch this odd scene. It must have been close to 0700, Harry figured, as the hallway was a lot more active than when he had first arrived during the night.
"Let me guess, you’re here to speak to Seven?"
"Well, yeah…" he answered sheepishly.
She tousled his hair playfully as she led him into her quarters. "Come on in. She and Naomi are having breakfast right now. I could make some for you too, if you like."
"Oh, that’s very kind of you, Sam. But I don’t…" He stopped suddenly as he entered the living area and looked to see Seven and Naomi sitting at the breakfast table, both wearing identical child-like feet pajamas. Of course, Naomi didn’t fill them out quite the same way Seven of Nine did.
My god, he observed with awe. She can even make PJs look sexy.
"Harry?" Seven looked up with concern from her corn flakes. Her face appeared anxious and vulnerable, a direct contrast to her usual look of confidence and strength.
"Seven, I…" he tried to answer, but was distracted by the sound of giggling in the background. He looked down to see little Naomi Wildman staring up at him, but this time without any malice or jealousy. In fact, she was grinning ear-to-ear with a mischievous look in her eye, as if she were now suddenly privy to some new information that had been lacking before, information that obviously amused her to no end.
"Hiiii, Harreeeee," she addressed him in a child-like, teasing manner, long and drawn out.
"Um, good morning, Naomi," he greeted her back warily. "Did you and Seven have a fun sleepover?"
"Uh huh," she nodded. "We talked about all kinds of stuff." She then covered her mouth and started another fit of giggles as she looked at him and gave him an all-knowing wink.
Just what the hell did Seven tell her last night, he wondered?
"Say, kiddo," Sam spoke up from behind him. "Why don’t we let Seven and Harry talk privately for a little while? We can watch another cartoon in your room, if you like."
"Can we watch the one with Mr. Hankey?"
"No, you can’t. I told you that you’re too young to watch those cartoons."
Sam looked back towards the young couple and smiled knowingly as she gathered up her daughter. "You two take as much time as you need. We’ll stay out of your way."
"Thank you, Samantha Wildman," Seven said appreciatively.
The mother and daughter turned to leave the two lovers to their privacy, as Naomi could be heard to sing softly to herself while she moved to exit the room. "Seven and Harry, sittin’ in a tree. K-i-s-s-i-n-g. First comes love, then comes marriage…"
A soon as the door slid behind them, Harry turned to the young blond in surprise. "Samantha Wildman?"
"Yes. Ensign Wildman and I have changed the nature of our affiliation. We have decided to become…friends."
"Why, that’s wonderful. I’m glad to hear that. Sam would make a really good friend for you," Harry answered with delight at this breakthrough on Seven’s part. He had always been concerned that she lacked female friends her own age. Naomi was just a child, and Captain Janeway was more of an authority figure in Seven’s life, as opposed to being a peer.
Harry and Seven then looked at each other, each not knowing what to say. He motioned for her over to join my on the sofa. "It sounds like you and Naomi had a lot of fun last night," he commented anxiously.
"It was a most pleasant experience. Like Naomi Wildman, I too did not grow up with children of my own age group. I believe that by sharing an activity of her childhood, it allowed me to recapture an aspect of my own."
"Well, it sounds like you had a lot of positive experiences last night," he offered tentatively, reaching out to touch her arm.
"Not all of them were positive, Harry," she added, her voice turning sad.
"I can imagine…oh, Seven, I’m so sorry. I let you down."
"You did not let me down. If anything, it is I should apologize to you. I approached the issue of cohabitation in an entirely inappropriate manner. You reaction of surprise was entirely understandable."
"No. No, it wasn’t," he responded with determination. "I took you for granted, Seven, something I never should have done. You were willing to share so much of yourself with me and I was too much of a…well, too much of a pig to even notice. That was completely unacceptable on my part." He then looked deep into those lustrous blue eyes of hers. "You must know that I never wanted to hurt you."
"I know that was never your intention, Harry. Also know that I am not displeased with you. I wanted to share your quarters because it gratified me to be with you. My own fault lay in the fact that I did not share my feelings more freely than I did. Nevertheless, as the more experienced partner, if you feel we are unprepared to take such a step in our relationship, then I will arrange to remove my possessions from your quarters."
Then Harry leaned over to her and took her Borg-enhanced hand into his and stroked it affectionately. "Don’t you mean our quarters," he answered her with a fetching smile.
Her eyes widened with surprise as her face changed to an expression of pure delight. "Harry, are you certain this is what you wish?"
"Absolutely certain," he said as his face became a mirror for the joy Seven was feeling.
"You do not want this simply because it will please me?" she asked with concern.
"Pleasing you is always reason enough, but that’s not the only reason why."
"Then please explain."
"Seven, remember you telling me about the time when you first smiled at me, back when it looked like we’d be heading home on the Dauntless?"
"I recall that vividly."
"Well, you told me that when I said how much we’d miss you, that it caused you to feel something around me for the first time."
"That is correct. I was unfamiliar with emotions at the time and found them uncomfortable. I distanced myself from you as a result."
"Exactly. It was the same way that first time you approached me, wanting to copulate after we worked together on the Astrometrics lab. I didn’t know how to explain to you that I was attracted to you, that I wanted to get to know you better."
"But what has this to do with our decision to cohabitate?"
"It has everything to do with it, Seven!" He stood up boldly, pulling his beloved to her feet with him, as he held her close to him. "All of those months we spent apart, distancing ourselves, not knowing how we felt or what the other one was feeling. We wasted so much time! Time that we could have spent together, all because we didn’t know how to communicate with each other. And the same thing happened last night. I don’t want that to happen again between us, Seven. I don’t want us to waste anymore time. It pleases me to be with you too. I want to be with you always."
"In other words, our cohabitation would be pleasurable, efficient, AND educational," she answered, repeating his words from the sonic shower yesterday morning.
"Exactly!" he answered joyfully. "So, do you accept? Assuming that you could stand to share quarters with a dufus like myself."
"It would please me greatly to share quarters with a dufus such as yourself," she answered with the sweetest smile he had ever seen. "You may be imperfect, but you are a good man, Harry Kim. And I have it on excellent authority that a good man is hard to find."
"How can we beat a combination like that?"
"It appears we cannot."
They then leaned in to kiss. As their lips locked together, Harry heard a familiar giggle fading in from the background. "You see! I told you they’d be kissing!"
Harry’s quarters, or rather, Harry and Seven’s quarters, weren’t large enough to hold the housewarming party that everyone had planned for them. So the Captain heartily agreed to hold the rapidly growing celebration in the mess hall. By the day’s end, Neelix had already planned a desert buffet and a smorgasbord. Harry didn’t have the heart to discourage him. He suspected that the good-hearted Talaxian needed a project to distract him from his letdown of the other night.
Neither of them had wanted this much of a fuss. But when the two of them marched proudly into the briefing room that first morning and formally announced their plans to move in together, word quickly spread throughout the ship. On a starship as isolated as Voyager, it didn’t take much of an excuse to throw a party.
And so, by the next day, everyone on board was showing up to wish the happy couple their best. A few were even spending their spare replicator rations on gifts for the happy couple. Of course, the so-called gifts were mostly mere trinkets. But like anything else in life, it was the thought that counted.
"Man, will you look at this haul!" Tom Paris said in admiration as he stood behind his friend looking at the growing pile of housewarming gifts. "I’m telling you, if I knew we could rake in this much stuff, I’d have asked B’Elanna to shack up with me months ago."
"Yeah, what about that?" Harry asked jovially, a glass of Cimmerian Sunrise in his hand. "You’re always arguing over whose place you’re sleeping in whichever week. Why haven’t the two of you ever taken the plunge?"
"Are you kidding?" B’Elanna chimed in playfully as she came around from behind Tom and put her arm around him. "You’ve seen the way this man lives. When I call him `pig,’ it’s with good reason."
Seven of Nine then came up alongside her own mate, a glass of ginger ale in her left hand. "Perhaps, Ensign Paris, you would benefit from Harry’s example. He is most agreeably organized and efficient in the arrangement of his personal effects."
Before Tom could make a wisecrack of his own, Harry turned to his beloved and smiled sweetly at her. "Seven, since you’re now on a first name basis with Sam Wildman, maybe you could do the same with Tom and B’Elanna. They are my best friends, you know. There’s no reason why they couldn’t be your friends too."
The lovely young blond considered his words for a moment and looked at the other couple. "Would this be acceptable to you? I chose not to presume, as I was uncertain if you would be amenable."
"Amenable?" Tom responded with a smirk. "I’ve been waiting two years for you to loosen up around me. Besides, we’ve thought of you as a friend for a while, now."
"Indeed?" she asked curiously.
The three of them went quiet as all eyes turned to B’Elanna. She grew uncomfortable under their watchful gaze. Clearly it had been decided unconsciously among the group that she would be the one with the veto power over this decision.
"Well…uh…yeah…kind of," the dark-haired engineer finally managed to say. "When you’re not being such a…well, a Borg."
"Very well, B’Elanna Torres, Tom Paris, " Seven answered, surprising them all with the sound of their first names. "I shall endeavor to behave in a manner less Borg-like in nature." She then gave the half-Klingon woman a pointed look of seriousness. "Except when I find it necessary to point out inefficiencies."
B’Elanna Torres could not help but chuckle at her answer. Maybe it was just as well that some things remain constant. Too much change at once could give one a headache.
A familiar voice then interrupted their brief, albeit awkward moment of bonding. "Care for an Arcturian meatball, anyone?" Neelix piped up, carrying a snack tray with an arrangement of very unappetizing little meat patties.
"Uh, sure," Tom bravely offered, taking one of the small snacks and quickly stuffing it into his mouth before his taste buds had a chance to register.
"Neelix, thank you so much for everything," Harry gushed. "You really didn’t have to go to all of this trouble."
"Nonsense!" said the chef. "Why shouldn’t we take time out to celebrate something so wonderful?"
"And how are you holding up, buddy?" Tom asked good-naturedly, once the taste of the Arcturian meatball had passed.
Neelix let out a small sigh. "Well… I suppose you were all right to begin with. I was setting myself up for a disappointment. Better that I not ruin a friendship, I guess."
"Exactly," Harry added. "Look, Neelix. I know you probably feel discouraged right about now. But believe me, it will all work out in the end. Why, before Seven and I hooked up, I had one or two romantic letdowns…"
"Only one or two?" Tom quipped wickedly, before being silenced with an elbow jab to the ribs by B’Elanna.
"The point being," Harry continued, giving Tom a dirty look at the same time, "is that in the end, it all worked out for me. I’m sure the same thing will happen with you. You’ll find someone. Just don’t give up hope."
The Talaxian let out another, slightly longer sigh. "I suppose you’re right about that too, Harry. I guess that in the meantime, I’ll have to settle for being plain old `Uncle Neelix.’"
Seven looked at Neelix and raised her eyebrow curiously. "And given the quantity of affection that Naomi Wildman feels for you, in what way is that unacceptable?"
"Seven! Harry! Uncle Neelix!" a young, piping voice called out through the mess hall crowd. The two couples and the Talaxian turned to see Naomi Wildman leading her mother by the hand over to where the group was standing.
Neelix’s chest puffed out with pride as he gave a friendly wave to his goddaughter and her mother, his good friend. "Why, I don’t think there’s anything unacceptable about it at all," he answered with satisfaction. The response brought smiles out from everyone around him, even Seven of Nine. It looked like their morale officer was going to be all right after all.
"Hey, Naomi," Harry greeted the child as soon as she approached them, noticing the folded sheet of paper in her hand, "What have you got there?"
"Hi, Harry. It’s a present I made for you and Seven," she said as she held up the paper proudly. It was a cartoon sketch of two characters, clearly intended to be Harry and Seven of Nine holding hands. Harry’s yellow Ops uniform and Seven’s Borg implants were unmistakable. They stood under a rainbow with hearts and flowers floating overhead.
"Oh, this is so nice. We’ll be sure to hang it up someplace special. Thank you," said Harry.
"It’s also my way of saying sorry for being so mean to you before," she offered humbly.
"Well, that’s OK," Harry responded graciously. "As long as we’re all friends now."
Sam looked up from her daughter to Seven and gave her a friendly, yet conspiratorial grin. "You see. I told you a good man was hard to find."
"Yes, Samantha Wildman. I am indeed fortunate to have found one."
The mess hall doors slid open to admit more guests to the party. Among them were Captain Janeway, Commander Chakotay, Tuvok, and the Doctor. The Emergency Medical Hologram immediately spotted the two young lovers and made his way over to them.
"Ah, Seven, Mr. Kim," he addressed them grandly, "I just wanted to come by and wish the best for the two of you. I also wanted to give you this," he said as he handed Seven a small music chip. "It’s a recording I created containing some of the most romantic arias in all of Italian opera. I’m sure that you and Ensign Kim will take great pleasure from them," he explained as his expression gradually turned more humble. "Please consider it as a peace offering."
"A peace offering?" Seven looked at her mentor oddly. "I do not understand. The term `peace offering’ would imply that a state of hostility exists between us. Yet I am not aware of any such animosity."
"It’s my way of apologizing for my overbearing interference the other day," the hologram explained. "I had no right to butt my photons into your private life. I suppose we’ve all been so focused on your education as an individual, that we’ve forgotten that you’re also an adult."
"I accept your apology, Doctor," said the former drone graciously. "And I never bore you any ill will. I realized that your advice was intended with my best interests in mind."
"Well, it looks like the student has now become the teacher," Janeway spoke up playfully as she approached the crowd at the end of the room and stood between Harry and Seven. "I’m very pleased for the two of you. I know you’re going to be so happy in your new living arrangement."
"Thank you, captain. We most certainly will be," Seven answered proudly, with a mischievous cast to her voice.
Chakotay picked up on the young woman’s playful innuendo and smiled back a wicked grin of his own. "I have no doubt about that, Seven. Kathryn and I put together this little gift basket for the two of you. It’s not much, but it does come from the heart."
The first officer then presented the two of them a woven wicker basket complete with an assortment of spices, teas and even a few exotic coffee blends that Voyager had picked up on their various ports of call. "Seven has told me how much you like to cook for her, and we figured this could be something you’d find both practical and well as pleasing to the senses," Janeway explained to Harry.
"Captain," the young man responded, touched by his commanding officer’s generosity. "This is so kind of you. Thank you. Both of you."
"Now, it’s the least we could do, Harry," said Chakotay. "Especially after the outstanding work you’ve done on the collapsed-matter project."
"Well, sir," he answered, blushing from the high praise he was receiving as he glanced over to Tom and B’Elanna, "a lot of people deserved to recognized for that as well."
"That may be so, Ensign," Janeway said, smiling with pride of her own, "but it was you who suggested how to collect the collapsed-matter into a subspace pocket before beaming it into the containment device."
"I suppose so, ma’am," he answered, still embarrassed by the attention, but learning to get used to it. "Of course, it was Seven who realized it was actually possible for us to generate and transport a subspace pocket without disturbing what was inside. I just figured out how to apply the technique to our technology."
"Yes," Seven chimed in. "The technique was assimilated by the Borg Collective from Species 1275. I thought it might be applicable to our situation on Voyager."
"I guess it goes to show," said the captain, still beaming, "you two make a good team together."
"That we do, indeed," Seven concurred, looking demurely at her mate.
Chakotay then smiled broadly as he picked up a glass of champagne and, using a cocktail fork, began to clink the stem of the glass. The sound reverberated throughout the room, and soon others were joining in, until there was an all-pervasive echo of clinking all around the mess hall.
Seven looked around in confusion, before turning to Harry. "I do not understand. What is the purpose of this ritual?"
"I think people expect us to kiss, Seven."
"Indeed?" she replied with a lusty look in her eyes. "Then I believe we should not disappoint them."
Harry gave a quick look past his beloved and smirked at Tuvok, who was standing stoically next to the captain. "I don’t suppose I’d be violating ship’s protocol by doing this, would I?"
Tuvok merely lifted an eyebrow and sighed inwardly. "One could argue that you were ordered by a superior officer, Ensign. And even so, I doubt it would be within my power to stop you."
"You’re right about that," he answered with a grin as he then leaned over to kiss his mate fully on the lips. Seven responded to his touch by wrapping her arms around him and pulling his body in closer to her, as though she never wanted to let him go. The entire room broke out into applause.
"Easy there, you two," the Doctor admonished with some embarrassment. "There’s a child present, and I’m not talking about Mr. Paris."
Naomi Wildman then stood proudly alongside her older friend and saw the way she looked with pride at her mate. "That’s OK, Doctor. I hope that when I grow up, I meet a boy who loves me as much as Harry loves Seven…"
"Oh, isn’t that the sweetest thing," Neelix gushed at the innocent words of his little goddaughter.
Seeing that she had the attention of the crowd around her, she continued on. "So I can copulate with him in the sonic shower, just like Seven does!"
Harry turned pale as a sheet, and the captain nearly spat up her drink upon hearing the child’s words. In fact, so did nearly everyone within earshot.
"Aaaaack!" Neelix gasped, before keeling backwards in shock.
"Uncle Neelix!" Naomi cried out in alarm.
"Oh my goodness! Neelix!" Sam rushed over to catch him as he stumbled backwards, his eyes bulging, his face looking dazed.
"Stand back, everyone!" the Doctor commanded, as he knelt over to the stunned morale officer, "I believe he’s fainted!"
While chaos ensued around the fallen Talaxian, people were rushing to fetch smelling salts, while Harry was trying to hide his deeply reddened face, from having his personal life so publicly exposed in front of the entire room.
And during it all, Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres were sitting back, watching with amusement as all hell broke loose around them.
"And you though it was going to be a dull party," she commented wryly.
"Well, I guess it just goes to show," Tom answered, with a wide grin on his face. "Kids do say the darnedest things."
…and the adventure continues…