One Perfect Moment

Written by  on December 31, 2000 

“This tale follows up on the aftermath of the last story. No conflicts, no emotional trauma. Just good friends, good times, and good fun. It’s been called by some an ‘intermission story,’ but I use it as an opportunity to blend in romance and the social commentary and satire that Star Trek has long been famous for. Not to mention a little bit of American pop culture.” (Michael B)

Written by Michael B

Stardate Unknown
Release 31 Dec 2000

Harry Kim stood proudly as he looked out across the beach, feeling the sensation of sand between his toes. He luxuriated in the natural feel of the waves as they lapped at his bare feet, bringing with them the scent of the ocean. A gentle wind tickled his face and blew at the loose, blue tunic and white knit pants he wore in accordance with the wishes of his friend. He still thought it strange for him to be dressed so casually for a wedding, but then the bride and groom were both unusual people. And he wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Harry took in the exotic beauty of this new world they had discovered, as he watched the planet’s pale primary sun begin its journey below the horizon of the ocean. The second sun, a golden ball of flame, remained higher in the tinted blue sky, but it too would set in just a few hours. The planet had a third sun, but it appeared as only a bright red star in the darkening sky, moving in a distant orbit around the two larger suns. But as the second sun sank lower, it left a shimmering reflection across the crystalline waters. There was only one other color of blue that he had seen that sparkled so brightly, those being the endless depths of the eyes of the woman he loved.

"Harry, you are distracted," a soft throaty voice spoke to him from his side. "The ceremony will begin shortly."

"Huh?" he stuttered, before his attention came back towards the woman next to him. "Oh, sorry, Seven. I was just watching the sunset."

Seven of Nine nodded at his words as she followed his gaze out to sea. Other than on their interrupted vacation on Norcadia Prime two months back, she had never seen a real sunset before.

He looked at his lady love once again. She was stunning in appearance, as always. But today, she was even more perfect than usual. Sam Wildman and the Delaney sisters had helped her to pick out a loose pastel blue chemise, tied about her narrow waist with a golden sash that matched her hair. Her golden locks were let down and styled, which left them free to flutter in the wind. That was unusual in itself, as Seven rarely unpinned her hair, except when she and Harry were in the privacy of their quarters.

Of course, she was still Seven of Nine. Unlike most of the crew, who had agreed to attend the gathering on the beach barefoot, Seven had been uncomfortable with the idea of her feet coming into contact with natural sand. So, she had reluctantly conceded to wearing a pair of open-toed sandals that complemented her ensemble. That had been enough of a compromise for her, as she had initially wanted to wear her standard high-heeled boots to the party. An amused Harry had to point out to her how inefficient it would be for her to navigate the beach in high-heels.

Samantha had expertly applied Seven’s make-up, although not without some difficulty. According to the tale Harry had heard, while Sam and the Delaneys were sampling fabrics for Seven’s attire, little Naomi had taken it upon herself to do Seven’s makeup and make her look ‘super pretty.’ Seven had no way of knowing that the child was completely unsuited for the job, but she learned that fact quickly enough when the adults returned to show her their selections, and heard their gasps of horror. No man aboard Voyager, least of all Harry, was there to witness the results of Naomi’s experiment in beauty. But according to what he had overheard, it had taken a small army of women nearly an hour to undo the damage and keep his Seven from looking like, according to Megan, ‘a graduate from Clown College.’

Harry reached over to take his lover’s hand into his, squeezing it gently. "Have I told you how lovely you look today?" he said with a broad grin.

She returned his smile with one of her own. "You have complemented my appearance many times today, Harry. However, if you wish to do so again, you may. I do not tire of hearing it."

He laughed affectionately at her subtle joke. Despite what many believed about her, Seven did have a wicked sense of humor. Only someone as intelligent and with an eye for detail like Seven of Nine could find and poke holes in the irrationality of everyday life, even if she didn’t always get the joke herself.

Another warm breeze came off the ocean, filling Harry’s nostrils with the exotic scent of the salty sea air mixed with the heady aroma of Seven’s perfume. What a world they had discovered! Such a contrast to their last port of call, that dried husk of a world where they had found the wreckage of the Borg Cube and its precious cargo of transwarp coils which brought them here. He shuddered visibly as he remembered how he had almost lost his very humanity after that fateful away mission. But then he looked tenderly at the woman at his side, and remembered what he had also gained from the experience.

He had spent nearly a week in Sickbay after being almost assimilated by the stealth nanoprobes the Collective had slipped aboard Voyager. A long, uncomfortable week in which he had to endure continuous dermal regeneration and the stimulation of his hair follicles. His only solace had come from the visits from his friends and his beloved Seven, who had been forced by the experience of nearly losing Harry to discover her true capacity to feel love.

But as uncomfortable as that week had been, the days afterwards had made the transition all worth it. Feeling that Harry was fit to leave Sickbay, the Doctor had recommended that a few days rest might be appropriate before resuming his duties. And for reasons for which he would be eternally grateful, the Captain had felt that Seven was the most appropriate individual on board to provide for Harry the personal care he needed. He remembered vividly the sly grins on her and Commander Chakotay’s faces at the time.

And so, for three glorious days, Seven of Nine and Harry Kim remained holed up in their quarters, exploring together the myriad ways in which a man and woman can redefine the words ‘tender loving care.’

He had been lucky not to wind up back in Sickbay, he thought mischievously.

Their lovemaking had been definitely…different beforehand. Seven had always given of herself freely during sex. But since declaring her love for Harry, there was a change in how they related intimately. When they had first began their relationship, Seven had viewed sexual intercourse as a matter of performance, attempting to maximize the amount of pleasure experienced and delivered in the most direct way possible. Her infamous ‘sexual database’ had been the ultimate expression of this philosophy. Of course, Harry had been so head over heels that he hadn’t objected in the slightest.

Only gradually did she come to realize that sexual intimacy was all about sharing one’s affections, as opposed to mutual gratification. As her feelings for Harry deepened, Seven learned to rely less on technique, and simply trusted her body to move in sync with her mate’s. And now that she came to understand the nature of her love for Harry Kim, Seven of Nine truly knew the difference between copulation and making love. Of course, she was all too willing to show just how much she did love him. Hey, the girl knew what she wanted, Harry thought. Who was he to object?

Harry reminisced fondly about that moment two weeks ago, when he and Seven sat up in bed in each other’s arms, watching the ship make the transition to transwarp space. The crew had been active prepping the ship for the great leap home. The captain was determined not to overtax the transwarp coils in a mad dash back to the Alpha Quadrant. The first time they had acquired one, they had been eager to put as much distance between them and Borg territory. In their haste, they managed to shave fifteen years off of their journey, but had burnt out the coil in the process. This time, they had three coils in top condition, and a fourth one that had taken too much damage for B’Elanna to feel comfortable hooking up to the warp drive. Janeway was insistent that this time they have at least one functioning coil for Starfleet R&D to study upon their return. The Federation had been attempting to perfect transwarp travel since the 23rd Century, with no lasting success. So far, they managed only the most basic understanding of transwarp theory, and a piece of working Borg engineering technology would go a long way in helping Starfleet in any future conflicts with the Collective.

When he and Seven had finally come out of seclusion and resumed their regular duties, he had been overwhelmed by the buzz of excitement throughout the ship. Everyone was breathless with anticipation over the prospect of going home after being lost for so long. It had only made the joy he had felt in his heart that much stronger.

Then, one week into the transwarp journey, one of the two coils used to enhance the warp drive simply gave out. They fell out of transwarp space with an awful lurch and had nearly lost their navigational bearings before Tom managed to regain control of the helm.

There had been a brief panic, everyone concerned that the way home had been cut short. But B’Elanna quickly reassured everyone that Coil#2 was still working, and that they still had a third working coil as a backup. Nevertheless, Janeway remained cautious, and ordered the ship out of warp, until they could recalibrate the warp drive and ascertain the effect the shutdown had on their systems.

But the crews spirits were lifted when Seven determined Voyager‘s position, confirming that they were near the Delta/Beta Quadrant transition zone (stellar cartography was too imprecise to properly call it a ‘border’), and little more than a decade away from Federation Space at conventional warp velocities. The ship quickly located a nearby solar system where they could stop and make repairs before resuming the journey.

And then, they had found it. A beautiful jewel of a planet in a lonely orbit around a triple star. Apparently uninhabited and almost entirely covered with water, the Class M world had a scattering of large islands and archipelagoes. From orbit, the deep blue expanses had reminded Harry of the oceans of Earth.

But the effect on Tom and B’Elanna had been even more dramatic. During the preparations for the transwarp flight, the betrothed couple had debated endlessly about how they wanted to arrange their wedding. Their first thoughts were to just have a formal Starfleet ceremony, but the idea of getting married in uniforms had left them both unsatisfied. Tom suggested a North American traditional reception, but B’Elanna had cringed at the idea of wearing a frilly white wedding gown, even when her fiancée humorously pointed out that virginal white wouldn’t be appropriate in her case. And of course, they both quickly vetoed the Klingon Ritual of Pain. None of the options seemed to light them up. In lighthearted desperation, Tom tossed out the possibility of a Betazed-style wedding. At least they wouldn’t have to worry about deciding what to wear, he joked, and they could get started right away on the honeymoon. But B’Elanna didn’t take his suggestion with good humor, balking at the idea of marching down the aisle stark naked in front of her engineering staff.

But as soon as they saw that bright blue planet from the mess hall observation port, their minds were made up. That was where they wanted to get married!

After that, the ideas just seemed to flow. Upon convincing the captain of their intentions, they located an island suitably large enough for Voyager to set down upon. They agreed to a casual beach motif for their wedding. No formalities, no uniforms. Hell, Tom argued, no shoes if you want to. They insisted that their wedding be a joyous celebration, not an "official" ship’s function. They wanted to make the statement that the crew of U.S.S. Voyager was coming together not as officers, but as friends. Not as shipmates, but as family.

And so, as soon as the ship touched down, and while Engineering finished prepping the transwarp drive for the next leap home, Maintenance set up torches and a wedding trestle. Neelix went about preparing an elaborate Caribbean buffet. Harry and the Kim-Tones practiced their wedding tunes, experimenting ways to combine soft jazz and reggae. And Seven, well, she learned how to pick out a dress and get her hair done.

Harry smiled fondly at that reflection. Ever since Seven of Nine had come aboard Voyager, she had always had her clothes chosen by someone else. First it was the Doctor, who had designed her initial healing outfit and her tight-fitting unitards. (This might have bothered Harry, if he hadn’t found her trademark ‘uniforms’ so irresistibly sexy.) Then, when they began their relationship, Harry would suggest costumes to wear to their various holodeck outings. Even Naomi Wildman had helped to pick out clothes for her. But Seven had never had the opportunity, or the interest to be perfectly honest, in choosing her own attire. Not until Sam Wildman and the Delaney sisters suggested that the time was ripe for Seven to take a crash course in party fashions.

He looked on with appreciation at his beloved, clearly agreeing with her choice of garments. Of course, there was little about Seven of Nine that Harry found disagreeable.

Harry reached over and took Seven’s hand into his again. He looked around him to see his fellow crewmates assembled just as casually as he was. Many were milling about by the buffet table. Others were deeply drawn into conversations of their own. They were all dressed, like Harry, in what could best be described as "beach casual."

Even Tuvok had gotten into the spirit of the occasion. Sort of. With great reluctance, he had traded in his Starfleet uniform for a dark, Vulcan ceremonial robe. Of course, he had had the good sense to stay clear of the water’s edge. Ever loyal, he had chosen to stand by his captain’s side.

Harry had been surprised by the captain’s wholehearted willingness to go along with Tom and B’Elanna’s plans for a casual ceremony. But she had always had great affection for the couple, and wanted to accommodate them any in way she could. He could see how proudly she stood at the edge of the trestle, in her smart, earth-tone pantsuit. She had even gone barefoot with the rest of the crew. He looked past her to see the starship Voyager, its landing gear half buried in the sand, striking and unnaturally metallic against this verdant natural setting.

"Everything looks quite lovely, wouldn’t you agree, Ensign?" a familiar voice stirred Harry from his thoughts.

Harry turned around to see the Doctor, beaming proudly. He had reprogrammed his holographic matrix to provide him with casual beach attire in keeping with the style of the occasion. In this case, he had programmed in a stylish green and white tropical shirt and pale Bermuda shorts. But as Harry looked closer, he noticed that there was something…well, off about the Doctor’s program, something that visually didn’t sit quite right. Whatever it was, he couldn’t identify it.

Composing himself, he replied to the Doctor’s observation. "Uh, yes. Everything really does look great. Maintenance did a top-notch job in setting everything up."

Turning his attention to Seven, the EMH continued. "And speaking of lovely, I wanted to applaud you, Seven, on your choice of attire for this evening."

"Thank you, Doctor," she replied dutifully. "Might I also state that your own program has been acceptably refashioned in accordance with the festivities."

"Why, thank you, Seven."

"However," she commented, "it would appear that the redesign of your clothing options has adversely affected your program, specifically your color projection and tint control. Perhaps the coding of your matrix requires a more thorough validation?"

Harry looked closer to observe what it was Seven was talking about. And then he saw it! How had he missed it before?

"Holy sh…" Harry called in amused alarm before catching himself, knowing the Doctor’s disapproval of harsh language. "Doc, did you just give yourself…a suntan?!"

The Doctor smiled, acknowledging the ensign’s observation. "Guilty as charged, Mr. Kim. I thought given the setting of the celebration, it might be appropriate to adopt a more…colorful…appearance." His face then took on a more serious tone. "Of course, as a physician, I could never in good conscience endorse the use of cosmetic tanning, given the deleterious effect of ultraviolet rays on humanoid skin tissue. However, since that’s not an issue in my case…"

"You figured, what the hell?" Harry finished the Doctor’s thoughts, amused by the hologram’s vanity.

"In a manner of speaking, Ensign, although I wouldn’t have put it quite so crudely," the Doctor responded smartly. Harry bristled somewhat at the persnickety remark. Oh, he liked the Doc well enough and even considered him a friend, but there were times when he could be just a bit too full of himself.

"So, Seven," the Doctor continued, "did Ensign Kim assist you in selecting your ensemble?"

"He did not," the young woman replied. "I was assisted by Ensign Wildman and both Ensigns Delaney. It was, however, Harry’s suggestion that I seek out the counsel of other females in matters of appropriate attire."

"Well, it was the right call on Mr. Kim’s part," the Doctor observed. "And it certainly has been to your benefit to engage in a little feminine bonding."

"Yes, the ensigns were most helpful."

"Eventually!" Harry added slyly.

"What Harry means," she answered as she arched an eyebrow in her mate’s direction, "is that I did not initially see the relevance of proper fashion. The garments that were initially displayed for me seemed highly inefficient and possessed too many extraneous items."

"Well, you certainly don’t have to tell me," the Doctor observed dryly. "I remember the fuss you used to make with some of the dresses I made for you." The EMH noted Harry’s confusion and responded smartly. "Surely, Ensign, you didn’t my fashion skills were limited to catsuits and leotards?"

"I…I wasn’t sure. I mean…" Harry stammered in surprise. After all, the Doctor’s design of Seven’s body-hugging jumpsuits was a widespread, private joke among the crew.

"Let me assure you, Ensign," said the Doctor, "that as soon as Seven no longer needed the use of her healing suit, I designed for her an entire wardrobe of human fashions. But she rejected all of them except for the unitards."

"They were more efficient," she pointed out.

"Hmmmm" the Doctor fussed. "But at least you’ve had something of a change of heart on the subject."

"Samantha Wildman adequately explained to me the importance of one’s appearance and how they reflect upon one’s self and those that they care about," she responded.

The Doctor then smiled, his face suitable impressed. "Well, that’s a lesson that we can all take to heart. I’m very proud of you , Seven." He then looked right past Harry’s shoulder off into the distance. "Hmmm…I think that our groom-to- be is in need of a little bucking up."

Harry looked behind him to see his best friend standing there near the edge of the trestle. He chuckled at the sight of Tom pacing nervously, wearing blue florid Jamaican shirt and white knit beach pants similar to his own. Only Tom Paris, Harry smirked wryly, would wear something that loud on his own wedding day.

Harry turned back to Seven and the Doctor, grinning with amusement. "Uh, I’ll be right back. I think this is a job for the best man." He then went over to give the groom a hearty slap on the back.

"Hey, buddy!" Harry greeted Tom Paris. "So, how are you feeling? All excited, yet?"

"Oh, yeah, I’m definitely getting there," Tom answered, his breathing labored.

"Aw, what’s to be worried about, pal?" Harry teased, his grin stretching out maliciously. "Just because you’re about to take the most important step you’ve ever made in your entire life, which will change everything you do from here on out…"

"Okay, okay," he sneered raising his hands in annoyed surrender. "Get it all out of your system. But just so you know, it’s not too late for you to be replaced as best man. Neelix is just a heartbeat away."

"Aw, c’mon, Tom," Harry jested, "you know I’m only teasing." He then came up to his friend and looked him over. "Besides, I figured I’m about due for a little payback, considering all the jokes you made while Seven and I were, well, out of circulation."

"I know," said the pilot, his sneer replaced with his familiar friendly smile. "And I wasn’t really sore at you. They way I see it, after today, B’Elanna and I are going to be pretty much in seclusion ourselves for the next couple of days."

"A little bit of mutual assimilation of your own, eh?" Harry asked with a wink, but quickly covered it up as he noticed Seven coming over to join them.

"Harry, my boy," Tom responded, trying to weigh in heavy with mock authority, "there’s assimilation, there’s copulation, and then there’s lovemaking. But when I get my wife alone later tonight, I think you could best describe our actions as ‘jungle-fucking.’"

"I beg your pardon?" said the voice of Seven of Nine from behind Harry. He turned around to see the confused look on her face. "I do not understand your terminology, Tom Paris. There are no jungles on the island. Were you planning to recreate a tropical environment on the holodeck?"

"Uh…" Tom hemmed and hawed at the beautiful ex-Borg. "Maybe you should let Harry explain that one to you. Seeing as how I’m getting married today and all."

"Thanks a heap, buddy," Harry said. Leave it to Tom Paris to explain things so eloquently, he thought. The two shared a heartfelt chuckle together, enjoying this moment as friends. "C’mon, you," he added with laughter, "It’s time we got you married."

"Okay, just be sure you get Seven in a good position to catch the bouquet," Tom joked, as he looked up at the former drone and gave her a conspiratorial wink of his own.

As the groom moved over to his position near the trestle, Seven looked over at her mate oddly. "I do not understand, Harry. Why would Tom Paris wish for me to catch a bouquet of flowers? What purpose would such an act serve?"

"Uh, that’s…um, a little complicated," he answered nervously. "I’ll explain it to you later."

At that moment, Janeway called out with calm excitement to the gathered crew. "Places, everyone! The bride is ready to begin!"

Tom gulped audibly, his fair skin turning just a lighter shade of pale. Harry tried to hide his chuckle. He had seen his friend pilot his way through asteroid fields and ship-to-ship battles with the Kazon and Hirogen, all without breaking a sweat. But here he stood on the day of his wedding, and he looked unsteady enough to shake apart. Harry went over to put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "Relax. You’ll do great."

"Yeah…I know. This is supposed to be the most wonderful day of my life, right?"

They smiled together as Harry went back to his position with the rest of his band mates. In addition to his responsibilities as best man, he also was leading the Kim Tones as the official wedding band. He grinned at his fellow musicians: Sue Nicolletti on the keyboard, Walter Ashmore on the drums, and Siri Golwat on the base guitar. He picked up his clarinet and led the band in a soft slow wedding march. Seven stood alongside the band, watching both the beginning of the wedding procession as well as her mate performing.

The crowd stood off to the side from the designated bridal path. As the band played, a small figure came shuffling from around the back of a partition set up at the far side of the beach. It was Naomi Wildman, dressed in a light floral summer dress, a basket in her right hand, as she lay down imitation rose petals behind her as she walked. There was a light murmur of "aws" and "how cutes" from the crew, as she completed her silent march along the path to the wedding trestle. As soon as she reached the end, to the proud waiting embrace of her mother and her Uncle Neelix, Naomi looked up with an innocent glow at Tom Paris. She beamed at the groom, and, in an effort to congratulate him in a grownup manner, gave him a wink and a thumbs-up.

Tom had to hold back laughing himself, as he returned her thumbs-up with one of his own. He was grateful to her for providing a moment of lightness, to break up his anxiety.

Then, with the preliminaries dispensed with, the march began in earnest. Harry saw B’Elanna and Chakotay coming out from behind the partition. The former Maquis commander was wearing a beachcomber’s shirt under a light maroon jacket, with dark brown trousers. His face was one of pride and elation, as he walked along the path with the joy of devotion, As for B’Elanna…

She was an absolute vision.

She was loosely draped in a silky white shift that fluttered about her in the light winds. A sky-blue scarf provided a splash of color, almost giving the impression of a veil. But it was her face, the look of pure joy, which made all the difference. She was, well, in just so many words, glorious to behold.

The sight of B’Elanna inspired Harry to look over at his own sweetheart, watching how the glow of the setting sun illuminated her magnificent profile. How perfect she was, he thought with awe. And how lucky I am to have her in my life. And she loves me! Me! He was giddy with the very thought of it.

But then, as he watched B’Elanna gliding along the pathway towards her husband-to-be, a thought entered Harry’s mind. Actually, it was more of a series of images, a fantasy to be more precise. He imagined another wedding unfolding before him, his and Seven’s.

Back on Earth, years ago, he and Libby had playfully talked about one day getting married and starting a family. It was the kind of idle talk that young lovers frequently exchanged, when they were carefree and the entire universe seemed wide open with unlimited possibility. Neither of them had been serious.

But now, he was no longer that boy anymore. He had grown here in the Delta Quadrant, and had found a new love, a different, more mature love than the one he had known back home. And now, he was seeing the joy on the faces of his two best friends as they took that fateful step into permanent union.

In his mind, as the wedding march played, he pictured his own ‘perfect’ wedding. Naturally, it was traditional all the way. As much as he enjoyed Tom and B’Elanna’s efforts to be unconventional, a Caribbean beach party was not the kind of ceremony he could see for himself. Instead, he conjured up an ornately decorated reception hall, with everything in its proper place. He pictured all of his friends from Voyager there, Tom as his best man, B’Elanna and the Captain as part of Seven’s bridal party. His parents were standing by his side, looking so proud. His grandparents, aunts, uncles and assorted cousins were all assembled, there to share in the joy of this special day. And then…

Then he imagined that glorious moment, when Seven came marching down the aisle in her wedding gown. He chuckled as he pictured the Doctor giving her away, his chest puffed with pride in a holographic tuxedo. And Seven herself, she was a vision, in a billowing silvery-white wedding gown, her hair coifed and her skin flawless, offsetting her lovely eyes. She looked like an angel…

"Harry," Seven whispered to him. "The Captain is about to commence with the ceremony."

Harry snapped out of his trance at the sound of her voice. He wound down the wedding march as the bride approached her place at the foot of the trestle. After the music stopped, Harry looked on at B’Elanna as she approached Tom, his face rapt with amazement "Look at her," Harry whispered to his beloved. "I’ve never seen her like this. She’s practically glowing."

"She is happy," Seven observed breathlessly. "She is in love."

B’Elanna and Chakotay finished their march as they made it to the foot of the trestle, where the wedding party had assembled. As B’Elanna reached her position next to her husband to be, Chakotay lifted the scarf away from her face, and gave her an affectionate kiss on the cheek. He then handed her off to Tom, giving the pilot a friendly slap on the arm as he moved aside, which was the signal for the captain to begin.

Janeway cleared her throat as she began, looking out not just upon the couple before her, but to the gathered crowd who had assembled to share in their joy. "We’re gathered here today," she began, "not as Starfleet officers, but as friends and family, to celebrate the marriage of two of Voyager‘s own family." She then flashed a friendly grin as she continued. "B’Elanna has asked me to forego the rigors of Klingon pain sticks in favor of a more traditional ceremony." She then looked out at the expanse of the crew, clad in attire ranging from beach shirts to sarongs. "Tradition, of course, being entirely relative," she humorously added.

Naturally, Harry Kim could not resist the opportunity. "They’re saving the pain sticks for the honeymoon," he shouted. Laughter echoed from the assembled crowd, and even the bride and groom joined in.

Janeway, smiling, waited for silence. "As Captain, the honor of joining these two people has fallen to me. But before I declare them husband and wife, Tom and B’Elanna have prepared their own vows."

Tom turned toward B’Elanna as she turned towards him. All eyes focused on the two as they clasped hands.

Tom Paris went first. His voice was low and brimming with devotion, his blue-gray eyes moist with affection. His words came slowly, maddeningly slowly. But he would not be hurried. In this moment, the galaxy itself was contained wholly within B’Elanna’s eyes, and he took in the entirety of it. Time stopped for him. "I still don’t know what I’ve done to deserve you. But… whatever it is, I’ll try to keep doing it. And I promise to stand by you, to honor you, till death do us part."

Captain Janeway looked on with tender affection. "Ensign," she says softly. Harry, who was grinning like a puppy chasing a butterfly, grunted a semi-acknowledgement of the captain. "The ring," she whispers, a little louder. Harry woke up as the crew started to giggle. "Oh," he said, chortling, and handed the ring to Tom, who then slid the golden symbol of devotion onto the fourth finger of B’Elanna’s left hand.

Tom’s eyes gleamed. "May this ring be the symbol of our eternal love."

B’Elanna looked up, eyes unwavering. "You stood by me…when most people would have run for the nearest airlock." Tom smiled shyly. "You were willing to see past my shortcomings, and to take all the bumps and bruises that came along with it. You made me a better person. Even though I put up one hell of a fight."

Tom smiled again, a smile of unfettered affection. "I look forward to our journey together," she concluded.

"Commander," Janeway said to Chakotay, who unlike Harry Kim didn’t need to be told twice; B’Elanna took the ring and slid it onto Tom’s finger. "May this ring be a symbol of our eternal love."

Tom and B’Elanna stood, falling into the ecstatic abyss of each other’s eyes. Tom lunged at his bride; his hands clutching her shoulders, and his mouth opened wide enough to swallow her whole.

"Not so fast," Janeway said, holding up a warning hand. Tom and B’Elanna turned their heads toward the captain fast enough to blow out three candles. A feral growl escaped someone’s lips. B’Elanna’s eyes were twin bonfires.

Janeway wasted no time. "Ensign Thomas Eugene Paris. Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres. With the power vested in me by Starfleet Command, and the United Federation of Planets, I now pronounce you husband and wife." She looked on with a proud, maternal grin. "Now you may kiss the bride, Mr. Paris."

And so he did. And the crowd let out a roar of approval with a chorus of applause.

"Mazel Tov!" Neelix exclaimed with jubilation, leaping out to be the first to congratulate the couple, beating everyone to the punch as the crew gathered up behind him.

"Mazel Tov?" Tom and B’Elanna said in puzzled unison. Where did he ever learn these things? "Uh, Neelix, you did remember that the theme of the evening was Caribbean, not Jewish?" Tom quipped.

The Talaxian morale officer chuckled innocently. "Oh, that’s just a little expression I picked up from Ensign Kaplan." He then reached over and hugged the newly married couple in a spontaneous embrace of joy. "Oh, I’m feeling such…nachas right now!"

Both Tom and B’Elanna were wide-eyed as they tried to disentangle themselves from Neelix’s over-enthusiastic display of emotion, before he crushed them to death. Tom definitely didn’t want to go out like that, not before he had a chance to consummate the marriage, at least.

But Harry and the band, having picked up on Neelix’s newfound discovery of the Yiddish language, decided to have a little fun with it. And so with that, Harry picked up his clarinet and started to belt out a tune he hadn’t performed in years.

"What the hell are they playing?" B’Elanna turned to her new husband, having recovered from Neelix’s efforts to congratulate them, while nodding to the chorus of congratulations from their fellow crewmates.

"’Hava Nagila’?" Tom answered her, the confusion evident in his voice. He then laughed it off. "Oh well, consider yourself lucky. He could have played ‘Sunrise, Sunset’ during the wedding march."

Janeway then called out to the couple, her tone proud, but playful. "Excuse me, you two. Isn’t there another little tradition you’re supposed to do about now?"

"That’s right," Tom answered with a mischievous smile. "The honeymoon!"

"I think she means the bouquet, lover boy," B’Elanna teased. Tom then turned to the oncoming crowd around him. "OK, ladies! Get into position! The bride’s about ready to throw the bouquet!"

Seven looked on with confusion as she witnessed many of the female crew hustling into a group in preparation for another stage of the evening’s festivities. Seven had no idea what this entailed, but she recalled Tom Paris’ assertion that it was of importance for her to be prepared at the optimal time to catch said bouquet when tossed. And so she assembled alongside the other women, prepared to do just that.

With a hearty fling, B’Elanna let the flowers go airborne. Seven immediately observed its trajectory and mentally calculated its point of landing and speed of approach. She quickly discerned where she needed to stand in order to secure the prize. Unfortunately, Ensign Marin Jenkins, was already occupying that spot, standing ready. With only seconds to act, Seven listed her options. The most efficient solution would be to knock Ensign Jenkins aside and assume her position. But she knew such a course of action would not be looked upon favorably, and it seemed, based on what she had learned about human competition, unsporting. Given the time remaining, Seven considered a second option, revising the numbers in her head. She moved in to position immediately behind Ensign Jenkins and, as the bouquet made its way downward, Seven raised up her left arm and extended her fingers. With a quick mental command, her assimilation tubules shot out from the back of her hand, snagging the bouquet just beyond Ensign Jenkin’s imminent grasp, and reeling it back into her own.

"Hey," Jenkins turned around, ready to protest. "That’s not fair!"

Seven stood tall, her face flushed proud with victory, as she held the bouquet in her hands like a trophy. "I was not aware that there were rules to be acted upon, Ensign," she stated matter-of-factly. "Therefore, that which is not forbidden must therefore be considered permissible."

Jenkins scowled at the statuesque ex-Borg, clearly not amused by her smug response.

Then Megan Delaney came over and gave her friend a friendly poke. "Relax, Marin. All’s fair in love and war. Besides, just think about how relieved poor Pablo must be right now," she said with a laugh. Seven knew that she was referring to Ensign Pablo Baytart, who was Jenkins’ recently acquired mate. While Harry Kim was undergoing his recent assimilation crisis aboard Voyager, the two pilots had been isolated in one of Voyager‘s shuttles, and had managed to change the nature of their affiliation during that time.

Marin seemed to take Megan’s advice to heart, as her frown turned to a half-hearted smile. "No hard feelings, Seven. I guess you just wanted it more than I did. I just hope Harry realizes what he’s in for."

Seven blinked in puzzlement. She still didn’t know what it was that the catching of the bouquet signified. She turned to look after Harry, who was now part of the crowd that had formed around Tom and B’Elanna, offering them congratulations on their wedded bliss.

The former drone went over to where her mate was standing, carrying her prize. She quickly tuned into the conversation already in progress.

"So, how does it feel to be Mrs. Tom Paris?" he beamed at his wife, as a small crowd of well-wishers gathered around them.

"Excuse me?" she answered with an amused arch of her eyebrow. "Who said I was going to be changing my name?"

Tom’s face went pale, as he realized the minefield he had just stepped into. "Well, I…I just assumed…"

Then Seven joined in, looking at Harry as she spoke. "I do not understand. Why should it be required of B’Elanna Torres to change her designation because of her marriage to Tom Paris?"

"I…well, it’s traditional among humans," Harry tried to explain. "I mean, she’s now a part of Tom’s family."

"Yes, but Tom Paris is also a member of the Torres Collective as well. Yet he has not been requested to change his designation. Why is this? It is my understanding that contemporary human society believes in the complete equality of the sexes. This does not sound equitable to me."

"Yeah, Tom," B’Elanna eyed her new husband, obviously having fun with this. "Care to explain that?"

"I…um…" Tom stammered. "Well, it’s like Harry said. It’s tradition. I mean, the husband…he’s usually been the breadwinner…"

"Breadwinner?" B’Elanna rolled her eyes, clearly unimpressed. "Oh, that is just so Ferengi!"

Tom struggled to speak, before turning to his friend desperately. "Harry! Help me out here!"

"Oh, no," Harry laughed, holding up his hands in innocence. "You’re the married man, here. This is your problem, not mine."

Realizing that he wasn’t going to be getting any help from his friend, Tom turned to his wife and changed tactics. "I don’t see what you’re complaining about," he said. "I mean, the Klingon system is even more patriarchal than the human one. You could have ended up as the lady of the House of Paris, you know."

"What would be unacceptable with being the male of the House of Torres?" Seven countered.

"Relax, Seven," B’Elanna jested, holding up her hand. "From what my childhood was like, the House of Torres was no great shakes."

"Well, look at it this way, B’Elanna," Harry chimed in, feeling that Tom had finally had enough. "You managed to snag your way into Starfleet royalty. I mean, the Parises turned out seven generations of officers. Eight, if you count Tom. A lot of folks back home would say that’s quite a prize."

"Well, thanks Harry," Tom said, "but B’Elanna and I hadn’t planned on churning out the next generation."

"That’s right," B’Elanna added, as she but her arms around her man, signifying the roasting was now over. "If we should decide to have kids, they’ll be free to pick their own future, and not be pressured because of their lineage." She then turned to her husband, her face looking smitten. "Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s still not a prize catch."

"Well, this is all very fascinating, guys," Harry excused himself with a laugh, eager not to get drawn into another battle of the sexes, "but I’ve got to get back to the band."

"Hold it right there, mister," Tom held up a warning hand. "This is a party. Nobody’s working tonight, by order of the bride and groom. Everyone is mandated by law to enjoy themselves."

Walter Ashmore, who had been standing behind Harry with Sue and Golwat, holding a drink in his hand, let out a soft chuckle. "Hey, we appreciate the sentiment, Tom. But you can’t have a party without music."

But Tom let loose a wide grin as he reached into his pocket. "Relax, Walt. I’ve already got it covered." He extracted a small hand held remote control, as he turned to face the distant shape of the starship Voyager. Tom languidly pointed the remote in its direction and pushed a button.

At that moment, the air resonated with the pulsing beat of a 20th Century reggae melody.

Whoa… We’re jammin’ I want to jam it with you…

Harry recognized the music immediately, even if he couldn’t place the artist right away. His own interests tended towards classical composers and jazz, but Libby had been an avid reggae fan and had dragged him to a number of regular summer performances in Golden Gate Park.

Janeway immediately arched an eyebrow and folded her arms as she slowly came over and approached the groom, who was swaying to the music. "Mr. Paris, would you care to explain what you’ve done to my ship?"

Tom immediately stopped his shimmying and looked up to give his captain a mischievous smirk, trying to appear innocent as a lamb. "Well, ma’am… I figured that this being a party and all… we needed to hear some excellent tunes…"

"Get to the point, Tom," Chakotay cut him short, inwardly amused by his antics but trying hard not to show it.

The brash pilot gulped before continuing. "I…um… networked the ship’s external audio resonators with my personal music library," he answered briefly.

Janeway and Chakotay both raised their eyebrows, a mixture of surprise and amusement. Voyager‘s external speakers were a standard feature on all Starfleet vessels designed to make planetary landings. They were used to signal lost crewmen or to warn off potentially dangerous large fauna. But Janeway knew the system hadn’t been used since Voyager had left Utopia Planitia. At least someone had found a use for it, she mused. However, not everyone seemed to be as impressed.

"In other words, Ensign," Tuvok added curtly, "you thought to convert Voyager into your own private stereo system."

The groom then looked sheepishly at Voyager‘s commanding troika, trying to turn up his roguish charm an extra notch. "Well, we hardly ever use the external audio modules. And you’ve got to admit, they make one bitchin’ set of speakers!"

Tuvok seemed ready to offer his official reply, when Janeway held up her hand. "All right, Tom," she said, amused by the brash pilot’s audacity. "Since this is your special day, we can let this slide. Just be certain you undo your handiwork by the time we’re ready to take off."

"Uh, yes ma’am," he answered. "And thank you."

"Consider it my wedding present, Ensign." She then gave him a maternal smile as she gestured over to B’Elanna. "Now that the music is playing, I believe you owe your new bride the first dance."

"Right you are," he declared enthusiastically, before turning towards his lady. "Shall we?"

"Lead the way, Mr. Paris," B’Elanna replied with a smile as she took his hand into hers. Tom reached into his pocket for the remote, and issued a voice command into the speaker. "Computer. Spotlight,"

A singular beam of radiance shot out from the forward running lights, immediately focusing on the couple as they made their way towards the center of the crowd. Janeway gave Tom another mixed look, her arms folded authoritatively. "Another little modification, Ensign?" she called out.

"Uh, I can fix that back in just five minutes, captain," Tom insisted.

"What do you have planned for an encore, Tom?" Chakotay asked, his amusement becoming more visible. "Did you modify the deflector array into a disco ball?"

"What? You can’t be serious, Chakotay!" the pilot quipped, feigning a mock outrage. "Don’t you know that disco is dead?"

The first officer couldn’t hold back any longer and let out a soft laugh. Tom Paris could be handful sometimes, no question about it, but damn if he couldn’t just wear you down with charm if he kept at it long enough. "Oh, the hell with it," he said with a chuckle. "Go dance with your wife, already."

B’Elanna let Tom lead her into the center of the crowd, where everyone backed off into a wide circle, to give the couple space for their first dance as husband and wife.

"Play Paris Wedding selection Alpha One," he commanded into the remote.

The computer quickly responded to his request, changing the reggae beat to something slower, more haunting. Harry immediately picked up the sound of acoustic guitars playing in sync with a deep melodic singing voice. He knew the tune only from Tom and B’Elanna. It was a late twentieth century recording (what else!) that the two had slow-danced to together many times at parties on the Holodeck or in the mess hall.

Wise men say only fools rush in… but I can’t help falling in love with you…

Tom reached out to his new wife, as she slowly came into his arms. All earlier discord and banter were now erased as they circled around, in a slow hypnotic rhythm to the music around them.

Like a river flows surely to the sea… Darling so it goes… some things are meant to be…

Slowly, one by one, additional couples began to migrate out onto the dance floor. First Jenny Delaney dragged along Will Chapman. Then Marin Jenkins and Pablo Baytart. Megan Delaney had grabbed poor Gerron as her partner, as he haplessly tried to follow the unfamiliar dance steps of the other couples. Even Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay thought to trip the light fantastic with the rest of the crew.

And so finally, Harry Kim turned to his own sweetheart and requested her presence on the dance floor.

"That would be most acceptable," Seven answered with a tone of voice that made his heart melt away. The two glided among the others as though they were floating on a cloud, lost in each other’s eyes.

As more and more couples began to form, Neelix stood off to the side, looking on at the joy of everyone around him. He barely noticed the little form that had come up alongside of him.

"Uncle Neelix, did you see?" Naomi said excitedly. "Seven caught the bouquet! That means she and Harry are gonna get married!"

"Now, honey," Samantha Wildman said calmly to her daughter, as she came up behind her. "That’s only a superstition. If Harry and Seven are going to get married, I think that it’s their decision to make."

"I know, Mom," the child said eagerly, "but wouldn’t it be so cool if they did?"

"I suppose it would be," Sam answered, equally pleased with the idea. "Don’t you think so, Neelix?"

But Neelix was transfixed at the sight of so many happy couples gliding about the dance circle. But the talk of bouquets and weddings to come caused his attention to drift towards a beaming young ensign and a placid blond woman who sailed in his arms without a care in the world.

"Look at them," Neelix gushed. "I’m so happy, I could just plotz!"

The party soon broke up into clusters of mini-cliques, each engaged in their own private conversations, while others continued to step in and out of the dance circle. One of those couples consisted of Harry Kim, who was now dancing with his friend, the bride. Her husband was in deep discussion with other members of the crew, all crowded about him. Seven of Nine was meanwhile was standing off to the side, conversing with Samantha and Naomi Wildman.

"So, seriously," Harry said as he moved about the dance floor with B’Elanna, "have you really given any thought about your name?"

"Well," she mused, as her eyes drifted out to where Tom was bopping and shimmying about. "I’ve been thinking about maybe abbreviating it. You know, like Torres-Paris or something."

"That sounds like a good compromise," he said good-naturedly, before looking over at her with concern. "I hope you don’t think that Tom expects you to change your name for him."

"Oh, of course not. I just figure I’m starting a whole new life, so why not make a clean break of it? Being B’Elanna Torres wasn’t always a party on the beach, you know," she said.

"Why, I don’t see what’s so wrong about being B’Elanna Torres," he replied with a smile. "She seems pretty awesome to me."

B’Elanna blushed warmly as she leaned in to give Harry a kiss on the cheek. "I don’t know what we would have done without you, Starfleet. You helped make all this possible."

"Me? It was Maintenance that set up…"

"No, not the party. I mean, Tom and me. You helped bring us together, you know."

"I did? I…don’t remember playing Cupid or anything. All I did was try to be a friend to both of you."

"That was enough. He and I didn’t exactly socialize that much when we first got stranded out here."

"Didn’t socialize?" Harry smirked. "Hell, you hated his guts."

"I never hated his guts," she said defensively.

"Um, I believe your exact description for Tom back then was ‘a preening, cocky, know-it-all, irresponsible pig.’"

"Yeah, well…" she flushed, "it’s different now. I mean, he’s not nearly so irresponsible anymore."

The two of them shared a warm laughter, basking of the joy that was this moment. "So," said Harry, "I take it I’m forgiven for Tom’s bachelor party."

"Oh, there’s nothing to forgive," she answered sweetly. "I’d say the slate was wiped clean when I reprogrammed that girl you created to jump out of the cake."

Harry’s face went pale as he perked up in alarm. "How…how did you know about…wait a minute, that was you? You reprogrammed the girl? I thought it was one of the guys playing a prank on Tom!"

"Are you kidding? As soon as I found out you and your gang of reprobates were planning a bachelor party on the holodeck, I just knew I had to tap in," she said with a sly grin.

"Oh, man," he wailed. "I thought we had it under wraps."

"Harry," she looked at him with false pity, laughing, "between you and Neelix, the two of you couldn’t keep a secret to save your lives.

He remembered quite vividly the night before, when he and the men of Voyager had taken Tom to Holodeck Two for the traditional bachelor party at the Sandrine’s program. It had all gone quite well, until the giant cake was rolled out. The plan was to surprise Tom by having a beautiful redhead in a bikini jump out of the cake and into his lap, and plant a big wet kiss on his lips.

Well, the girl did pop out of the cake, and she was beautiful. Every man in the room had gotten quite excited at the sight of her. Of course, excitement quickly turned to shock when the girl morphed in mid-leap from a short, slender human woman into a two-meter tall hairy Nausiccan…whatever.

But still, she (it?) did land in Tom’s lap and kiss him on the lips, exactly as programmed. And he was surprised, no question about that.

"I can see that Tom’s not going to have it easy for the next fifty or sixty years," Harry laughed.

"Well, what’s a marriage if you can’t keep your man on his toes?" she laughed back.

The slow music died down as the couples ended their dancing. The tune switched over to something a bit faster in pace. Harry separated from B’Elanna and went to join his own beloved, while she went over to join the crowd around her husband.

Harry turned to Seven, who was listening in puzzlement to the words of the song now blaring from Voyager‘s speakers, and had every dancing couple gyrating like mad on the sand. It was a strange tune that Harry had heard Tom play a number of times at Neelix’s Talaxian resort program; something called ‘Louie, Louie.’

"Harry, I believe that the universal translator is malfunctioning," said Seven. "The words of this song are completely unintelligible."

"Uh, I think that’s how it’s supposed to go, Seven," said Harry with an amused tone.

"Then what precisely are the lyrics supposed to say?"

"You know, I don’t think anybody really knows anymore. It’s one of those great unsolved mysteries of the 20th Century, like the secret formula for Coca Cola," he joked.

Seven shook her head in puzzlement. "There is no logic in recording a song if the intended audience cannot discern the meaning of the words.

"Yeah, well, I think the musicians were supposed to be doped up on narcotics, or something. Most of the artists of the time period usually were."

As Harry scanned the crowd further, he could see everyone enjoying themselves. Even the Equinox crew seemed to be having a good time, although they didn’t appear to be mingling much with everyone else. He waved hello to them, and saw the friendly gesture reciprocated with smiles in return. Marla Gilmore, Noah Lessing, James Morrow, Brian Sofin, and Angelo Tassoni were still in their own private circle, as was usually the case at social events aboard ship on those few occasions when they were actually invited. Despite the fact that the crew had learned to tolerate the presence of the Equinox survivors while on duty, many had never been able to forgive them enough to extend that tolerance into the social arena. Like it or not, they had been partially responsible for the death of three of Voyager‘s crew, all because they had chosen to follow Captain Ransom’s lead in mutinying against Janeway and leaving the ship defenseless against an alien attack. And since joining the crew, the survivors had all come to realize a deep guilt over their actions, which made them too ashamed to extend themselves to others in return.

It would have been easier if he could bring himself to hate them, as a number of Voyager‘s crew still seemed to, especially after the way his Seven had been treated by them when she had been trapped aboard their ship. Yet in spite of that, Harry genuinely felt sorry for them. He found himself wondering that if he had been a crewmember aboard Equinox, experiencing the same tragedies and breakdowns that they had, if he too would have been willing to follow his captain so blindly. And as much as he stood for the ideals of Starfleet and the Federation, he wondered if he would have had the guts to say no to his commander, were Captain Janeway ever to commit an atrocity or violate basic decency as Rudy Ransom had.

Perhaps that had been part of the problem, Harry had surmised. By calling him by his first name, Ransom had ceased to be their captain, and instead had become ‘Rudy,’ their pal. A person could forgive a buddy of many more things than they could of someone who was merely a superior officer. He knew that Commander Chakotay and the captain were on a first name basis behind closed doors, and wondered if this made it any harder for the first officer to voice his disagreement with her on matters of ship’s policy. Harry resolved that if he ever made the rank of captain, he would fight against his own naturally friendly instincts and establish an open, but properly distant relationship with his own staff. A starship captain had too much power at his disposal, and it was all the more reason to have checks and balances on that authority. On Equinox, sadly, there had been none. A bad idea, born of desperation, had gone unopposed, and tragedy was the result.

And so, every so often, he would go over to one of them and extend a friendly hand during work or offer a few kind words in the Mess Hall. It cost him very little, and for five people as lonely and isolated as the ‘Equinox Five,’ it seemed to make all the difference in their day.

But at least the five of them had been included in the wedding festivities. Thankfully, Tom Paris was the forgiving sort, always willing to cut a break for someone who had lost their way, having been there himself.

Thinking about Tom, Harry scanned the crowd, looking for where the bride and groom had gotten. He then listened further, past the sounds of ‘Louie, Louie," until he heard some familiar voices echoing from the midst of another small crowd off to the side.

"And I’m telling you, Chakotay, that Earth has been a cultural dead zone for at least three hundred years!"

"I think you’re overstating the matter a little, Tom."

"Oh, I’d say I’m not overstating the matter enough! Listen to this music right now. It’s absolutely perfect in its simplicity. You’d never hear anything as joyous or as free-spirited as this produced on Earth today."

"Hmmmph! Perhaps that’s because modern people have evolved in their sensibilities beyond the sort of cacophonous drivel that people in the 20th Century called popular culture," said another easily-recognized voice. "You can actually call this…noise…perfect, Mr. Paris? Why, you can’t even understand the words!"

"Honestly, Doc. I think you’ve been listening to that weepy opera stuff for so long, you’ve forgotten that music is also supposed to lift you up and make you shake your groove thing."

"Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, Ensign, but my programmers neglected to include a ‘groove thing’ into my matrix, so it obviously couldn’t have been all that important."

Harry chuckled at the sounds of the debate and led Seven over to the source of the argument. As he approached the group, he saw that B’Elanna had joined Tom, and both were now sitting down, drinks in hand, surrounded by a small group of fellow debaters, which included Chakotay, Captain Janeway, Tuvok, and the Doctor.

"Chakotay, you fancy yourself an anthropologist," Tom spoke animatedly. "You know full well that different societies in different time periods excel in different areas. In the 19th Century, it was humanity’s Golden Age of literature and poetry. Today, it’s engineering and exploration." He looked to his wife and smiled as he said that. "But I’m saying that it was the 20th Century that stood as humanity’s greatest period of music. Everything else since then was either corporate hack-work, or revivals of past styles."

"Mr. Paris, I believe you presume too much of your 20th Century ancestors," Tuvok stated skeptically. "It strikes me as illogical that a single century in your race’s past could be regarded as creatively superior to an era which has benefited from the cross-cultural fertilization of hundreds of species."

"But that’s exactly what I’m saying, Tuvok!" Tom gestured frantically. "If it wasn’t for contact with new species, there wouldn’t be any cultural novelty on Earth at all. It’s all imported or rehashed from the past."

Tuvok turned towards B’Elanna, his eyebrow arched in consternation. "Lieutenant, I believe that your husband’s enthusiasm on this subject could well benefit from more restraint and a greater attention to logical argument."

"Hey, I don’t stick my nose in when he gets on his soapbox about music or the 20th Century, and he doesn’t get in my face when I go off about warp field tolerance or subspace manifolds," she answered with an amused shrug.

Janeway chuckled at the half-Klingon engineer’s answer. "It sounds like the recipe for a long and healthy marriage."

But then Seven of Nine spoke up from her silence. "What precisely is a soapbox?"

"That’s a whole other explanation, Seven," said Tom, who was still on a roll. "Now, where were we? Oh, yeah. Culture! Harry, you’re a student of fine music. Can you think of anything…oh, since the founding of the Federation, that you would honestly say belongs as a part of the classical canon?"

"Well," Harry thought on the question, "there’s ‘The Heart of the Star’ by Tizaak N’ress…"

"I’m talking about human music, Harry. And I mean original works, no remakes or deconstruction of alien artists."

The younger man stood there for a moment, pondering his friend’s request. "Hmmm…I guess…how about Tokugawa’s ‘Love, Exciting and New?’"

He was surprised by a all-knowing chuckle from his friend, as if he had just stumbled onto somebody’s private joke. "Sorry to disappoint you, buddy," said Tom. "But that’s not an original. It’s a remake of the theme song from an old TV show called ‘The Love Boat.’"

Harry nearly dropped his jaw in shock. "You’re kidding me! Are you saying that one of the greatest love ballads of the 23rd Century was actually written for one of those stupid 20th Century television programs?! You’re making this up, aren’t you?"

"I’m afraid he’s telling the truth, Harry," Janeway said with amusement. "The facts didn’t come out until almost a decade after Tokugawa’s death. It created quite a scandal in its day. But eventually it all died down and people just learned to enjoy the song, regardless of its origins."

"This sort of thing happens all the time," Tom added. "Remind to tell you sometime about the Cult of the Blue Suede Shoes on Kappa Iotia Five."

Tuvok rolled his eyes and let out a sigh. "One of the earliest and more unfortunate violations of the Prime Directive," he commented.

Tom simply shrugged his shoulders, "It only goes to prove my point. Earth’s greatest days of music are all behind her. Old Hollywood was a goldmine of leftover forgotten ideas. Why bother thinking of something new when the Americans spent millions of man-hours coming up with lyrics and tunes that nobody else remembers?"

"And just how do you account for this, Mr. Paris?" Tuvok asked with an arched eyebrow.

"My own theory? There’s too much comfort on Earth today. When they put the replicator economy into place, everyone said it was going to be a great boon to the arts. Finally, people weren’t going to have to waste their time in menial jobs anymore. They could devote their full attention to producing great works of art and culture, instead. So a couple of years pass, and what did people end up producing? Tons upon tons of useless, uninspired crap!"

"So it is your belief that the key to creativity is through deprivation and suffering?" the Vulcan inquired with greater skepticism.

"You’ve got to admit, it makes a lot of sense. After all, you know what they say. An artist has to suffer for his art. Well, nobody has to suffer for anything anymore on Earth. Everything is free, and everyone is safe. All of those great sources of art…misery, deprivation, alienation, disaffection… they’re all gone, now. The only original works of art coming out of Earth these days are insipid love songs."

"And what’s wrong with love songs, eh flyboy?" B’Elanna asked.

"Hey, there are memorable love songs, and there are the kind that are so cheap and sentimental that you just can’t keep down your lunch. And on that high note…" he said jubilantly, standing up, holding up his glass, "I propose a toast…to love!"

"To love!" the crowd said together in unison. Those who had drinks consumed theirs. Those who didn’t looked on, sharing in the sentiment.

Tom took a swig of his drink, and finished his words. "The last remaining source of misery on Planet Earth!" B’Elanna sneered at him and punched him in the arm, not really angry, but still, she had to keep her man in line after all. The assembled group broke out in pearls of laughter.

"You’ll all have to excuse my husband," B’Elanna said, still getting used to referring to Tom that way. "I don’t know what he’s going to do tomorrow when he’s no longer the center of attention."

"Well, I hope I’ll be the center of at least one woman’s attention tomorrow," he answered back with a twinkle in his eye.

"But of course," she smiled at him. "I just wouldn’t count on it later tonight!"

The music in the background shifted once again to a new tune, one that nearly drowned out conversation.

Well, shake it up baby now
Twist and shout
Come on, come on, come, come on baby now
Come on and work it on out

"Oh, yeah," Tom got up, excited, pulling B’Elanna to his side. "This one’s a classic."

Well work it on out
You know you look so good
You know you got me goin’ now
Just like I know you would

The Doctor listened on to the lyrics, clearly unimpressed by what he was hearing. "Hmph! A song about twisting and shouting. Yes, very meaningful, indeed, Mr. Paris. The artists must have stayed up all night thinking up the lyrics for this one," said the hologram, his tone dripping with bite. "Honestly, Mr. Paris. Was there ever a song written in the late 20th Century that didn’t involve screaming or gyrating one’s pelvis?"

"Oh, you just can’t stand the thought that music can actually be fun just for its own sake." Tom jibed.

"I must concur with the Doctor on this point, Mr. Paris," Tuvok added somberly. "On Vulcan, music is created with the intention of elevating the mind to higher plane of being. I hear nothing remotely elevating about a song the purports one to… ‘shake it up’. Such music strikes me as being the very essence of frivolity."

"Well, what’s wrong with being frivolous?" Tom exclaimed. "A classic doesn’t have to make a statement, you know. A song can be important and yet still be fun."

Actually, Harry thought, it wasn’t all that hard to imagine. The sum total of all of human culture and beyond was freely available on any public archive or database. The difficulty was in wading through the centuries of accumulated knowledge and finding something worthwhile, the way that Tom had. And despite his friend’s confident assertion that today’s music didn’t measure up to the past, public opinion was evenly divided as to whether anything produced in the 20th Century fit into contemporary standards of ‘high culture.’

Oh, there was some agreement on this issue. Much of what was produced between World War 2 and the 1970’s was regarded as much a part of the classical canon as the works of Beethoven or Mozart. And of course, various forms of jazz continued to proliferate and diversify into the modern age. But many forms of 20th Century music were considered inaccessible to today’s listeners. Musical subcultures known as ‘rap’ and ‘heavy metal’ were simply too angry for the sensibilities of the 24th Century, primarily being of interest to historical sociologists (although some metal and hard rock songs had proven to be quite popular among the Klingons. There had even been a brief movement to have Steppenwolf’s ‘Born To Be Wild’ adopted as the official anthem of the Empire).

"Yes, a very typical attitude of the time period, and of the culture that spawned it," the Doctor sniffed.

"Why? You got something against Americans?" Tom asked.

"Well, I certainly don’t share your obsessive love for 20th Century American popular culture, Mr. Paris. What can one say about a society that believed the cheeseburger to be one of the greatest contributions to mankind?" he said. "It’s just a well-known fact that for all of their power and influence, the United States of America was a society renowned for its short-term thinking and overall limited vision as a culture."

"Limited vision? How can you say that? The United States Constitution helped inspire the Martian Declaration of Principles and the Articles of Federation. I mean…they opened up space, the biggest frontier of them all!"

"Uh, Tom. The first human in space was a Russian," Harry pointed out.

"Oh you know what I mean, Harry. These were the guys who first landed on the moon! And they didn’t do it using wimpy little antigravity lifters, either. They strapped themselves onto what was essentially a giant firecracker! Now, that took some brass balls!"

"Yes, and after landing on the moon, they promptly abandoned it for nearly fifty years because there was no money in it!" the Doctor retorted.

"But they did eventually go back. And they spearheaded the way to Mars, too!" Even Chakotay nodded in agreement on that point.

Janeway came forward, her voice one of balance and calm. "Tom, speaking as one proud North American to another, I agree that the old United States made a tremendous mark on our planet’s history. But I think your praise may be a little one-sided. It wasn’t all malt shops and town meetings, you know. For all of America’s accomplishments, it was in many ways a deeply flawed and materialistic culture. Some might even say that those flaws made its downfall inevitable."

"Hey, I’m not saying they were perfect, Captain," Tom protested, "far from it. But I honestly think they had a vitality and creativity that we Federation types seem to be missing. Not to mention they had a much healthier sense of irony."

"It sounds to me like you’d rather the Federation was more like Old America, only without money," said Harry.

Somehow, Harry’s off-handed comment seemed to make Tom roar with laughter. "Harry, my boy, you should read your history more," he said with glee. "America without money? That’s like Christians without Christ!"

The crowd shared in the mirth of Tom Paris’ observations, Harry in particular, as he slapped his friend on the back. "Honestly, Tom, as much as you believe in the Federation, I think there are times you’d have preferred it if the Americans had gone to the stars by themselves instead of as part of a united humanity."

"God, what a horrifying prospect that would have been," Chakotay said with a visceral chill.

"Oh, I don’t know about that," Tom responded. "It would have been different, that’s for sure. I mean, if there hadn’t been a Third World War, it might well have turned out that way. Baseball might never have died out, and even rock and roll could have made a comeback."

"Yeah, and they probably would have turned the entire quadrant into some twisted version of the Ancient West," the first officer replied sourly. "Complete with advertising and shopping malls."

"Not to mention there’d be Coca-Cola and a McDougal’s on every planet," B’Elanna added with a chuckle.

"That’s McDonald’s, dear," Tom corrected her, as his thoughts suddenly drifted elsewhere. "You know," he mused, "I wonder how many billions they would have served by now if they were still around."

As the celebration continued on while the second sun sank below the horizon, Harry leaned over to whisper into Seven’s ear "What do you say we go somewhere a little more private?"

Her face warmed with anticipation as she thought about what privacy with her mate would entail. "That would be most acceptable. However, it will be necessary for you to return by 2000 hours to administer your duties as the best man of the wedding."

"2000 hours?"

"Yes, I believe you will be required to administer a ‘toast’ for the occasion."

"Well, I think that still leaves us plenty of time."

As he took her hand into his, the walked off from the main crowd of the party. Harry looked back to see that Tom had now changed the music coming from Voyager‘s speakers, and was now playfully lip-syncing along with a strange new tune, as he swayed his hips back and forth, as if he was serenading his new bride.

Some people call me the space cowboy, yeah,
Some call me the gangster of love,
Some people call me Maurice,
‘Cause I speak of the Pompatus of love…

Seven looked oddly at Harry. "Tom Paris’ taste in music is most…unusual."

"Yeah, you can definitely say that," he laughed. "Man, where does he find these songs?"

"Indeed," she concurred, as she continued to listen to the words as they played on. "Harry, what precisely is a…midnight toker?"

Harry laughed out loud. "It’s…well, that might take some explanation. I’m not entirely sure myself." He then shook his head in further amusement at his friend’s antics.

Leaving the bride and groom and their fellow well-wishers behind, Harry and Seven walked hand-in-hand along the shoreline, as the din of the celebration faded into the background. Harry looked out upon the waters, which had now grown calmer with the cooling of the approaching night. Seven followed his gaze outward, partially out of interest of what fascinated him, and partially out of her own curiosity. Harry saw the subtle look of wonder on her face. This was, after all, her first time standing this close to an ocean.

The closest she had ever been to a large body of water prior to this had been the time she and Harry went on vacation together on Norcadia. Due to a quirk of geology, Norcadia Prime’s coastlines were almost entirely rocky breaks. The few patches of sandy beaches had been quickly appropriated as private playgrounds to the upper classes, where the common people and offworlders were not welcome. So Harry and Seven had spent their first real vacation alongside the banks of the river Gashidda in beautiful Junnwavvi Province. He smiled as he remembered how anxious she became when he suggested they go wadding in the river together, quickly pointing out the dangers of immersing oneself in liquid without the proper safety equipment. Of course, Harry knew that Seven was much too proud to admit that she didn’t know to swim, but he didn’t force the issue. He figured he would coax her into the water before the week was out. Unfortunately, he never got the chance. Captain Janeway recalled all shore leave parties within two days, after the Norcadian government politely ‘asked’ Voyager to leave their system.

Perhaps, he thought to himself, after the wedding, he might have the chance to give Seven a little private swimming lesson.

As they moved further along the shore, Harry noticed a small outcropping of rocks leading up along the island to a small grove of squat gnarled trees, with wispy leaves fluttering in the faint sea breeze.

"Will you look at those," he spoke, his voice breathless. "Really sets a scene, wouldn’t you say?"

"Perhaps," Seven commented. "The Doctor relayed to me the results of the xenobiological survey report of the planet. The Science Department believes the foliage on this island to be quite ancient."

"Really?" said Harry "Just like Joshua trees from Earth."

"Indeed. The Doctor believes the local flora may be in excess of a thousand years old. The saplings alone could well be many centuries in age."

"Wow. Can you imagine the stories they’d have to tell?"

Seven looked at him oddly. "Harry, they are only vegetation. They are not capable of receiving or relaying sensory information in any fashion."

Harry chuckled at her literal-mindedness. "I mean metaphorically, Seven. I was just thinking about all of the things that might have happened on this planet while those trees have been alive."

Seven nodded, considering his words. "I would not imagine they would have much data to report, even presuming they possessed the power of speech. All indications have shown that this planet has remained undisturbed by the actions of intelligent life."

He took in a deep breath as he absorbed the stillness of nature around him. "Wait until we get home, Seven. There are redwoods near where I grew up that are almost as old as these trees. They’re the most majestic things you’ll ever see in your entire life. Trust me. I can’t wait to show them to you."

"I look forward to sharing the experience with you," she replied breathlessly.

He smiled at her in affection. "There, you see? You’re starting to become a nature lover already."

She returned his smile with an amused look of her own. "On the contrary, Harry. Nature is irrelevant. It is the fact that it is relevant to you that makes it worthwhile to me."

Harry’s face flushed warmly as their hands clasped tighter together. The waves picked up, their echoes mixing with the distant din of the wedding party and the warm island winds, creating a moment of pure calm.

"Harry," Seven spoke, interrupting his musings, "what did Tom Paris mean when he stated that ‘you would be next’?"

"Oh, that," he chuckled. "It’s just an old bit of folklore. It says that whoever catches the bouquet is the next one to get married. Don’t take it too literally."

"I see," she answered, as they walked on along the beach. The last of the planet’s suns had sunk below the horizon, turning to sky to a deep, wine red. On the opposite horizon, stars were beginning to appear. "Harry," she continued to ask, "Why do individuals choose to marry?"

Harry’s eyes widened in surprise, knowing that once again it had fallen upon his shoulders to explain the many foibles of the human condition to Seven. "Why? Well, I…it’s…I mean, people do it because they love each other."

"But what purpose does it serve?" she asked. "Marriage is not required for love. Two individuals are capable of loving one another without a formal bond of marriage." She then looked at him with a softened gaze. "You and I love each other, yet we are unmarried."

He tried to think of a logical answer that would satisfy her, but could only fall back on the one that he had grown up with. "Well, I guess because it’s… traditional."

"But tradition is irrelevant," she countered. "My studies of the institution of marriage have shown that it is a cultural artifact, required to confer religious and societal legitimacy to a romantic bond and sanction procreation. However, in contemporary human culture, individuals regard religion as either irrelevant or as a personal matter of no concern to society as a whole. Furthermore, the Federation permits individuals to procreate in any manner they see fit. Therefore, it would appear that marriage is an unnecessary ritual in a society that values the freedom of the individual. Yet it continues to survive in this era, and even thrive. Why is this?"

Harry blinked as he considered Seven’s questions. She did have this rather disconcerting habit of questioning the assumptions of day-to-day human existence; things that Harry had long learned to take for granted and not think too much about. "I…um…I guess because it makes people happy. I mean, people wouldn’t continue to get married if it didn’t provide some kind of positive benefit."

"I suppose so," she mused. "But what is that benefit? I wish to know."

Harry struggled to think of an answer to a question that he had never considered asking before. Marriage to him was simply a constant of human life, just like school or growing old. It was something that everyone did inevitably. Sure, he knew that it was not entirely mandatory, even if you wanted to have children. On Earth and other Federation planets, nobody gave it a second thought if an unmarried woman chose to have a child. It was a different story on other worlds, though. Among Klingons or Romulans, where social status was closely tied to one’s lineage, an unsanctioned wedding or an out-of-wedlock birth carried much social stigma with it. And the penalties were even worse among the Cardassians, who considered ‘bastardy’ a crime against the state and the family.

"Well, I suppose that by itself, it doesn’t make a huge difference," Harry finally said. "I mean, I figure Tom and B’Elanna’s lives will be pretty much the same now as before they were married. They’ll still love each other just as much. That won’t have changed."

"Then…marriage is irrelevant?" she asked.

"Well….no!" he reacted instinctively. "I guess what makes marriage so important is that…well, it’s a chance to share their happiness with the people that matter to them." He then struggled to find the words to complete his thoughts, as the ideas kept coming to him, helping him to make sense of why people throughout history undertook this most sacred ritual. "I suppose you can say that getting married is a way of publicly declaring that you love someone and that you want to spend the rest of your life with them, and you want everyone, all of society, to know about it." He then looked at his lover with concern. "I don’t know…did that make any sense?"

"I believe that it did," said Seven. "If I understand your meaning correctly, the true value of marriage is not for the individual bride and groom, but for the larger collective for whom they feel affection. It is a public declaration of the permanence of the relationship."

"Yes! That’s exactly it!" he answered excitedly. "It’s like, you love somebody so much that you just have to share that love with the entire universe!"

And then Seven looked at Harry for what seemed like several hours, her face flushed in a way that he had never seen before. It was as though she were engaged in deep thought and experiencing a powerful emotion at the same time. He instinctively reached out to touch Harry’s face, to feel its warmth, to establish a connection. At that moment, she breathed in deeply, and proceeded to speak aloud. "In that case, I too propose a permanent affiliation," she said directly, quickly, and almost, one might think, anxiously. "Do you accept?"

For a moment, the outside world had gone silent, as he allowed her words to fully sink in. Permanent affiliation? Did she mean…could she mean? "Seven," he whispered, "Are you…are you asking me to marry you?"

Now she definitely looked anxious as she answered him. "Yes," she answered breathlessly, looking for just a second like a vulnerable child. She quickly recovered her composure as she went on to speak. "But only, of course, if this is what you wish."

"Seven, I…" he tried to answer her, still overwhelmed by her proposal. She had asked him to marry her! It was still just so…amazing!

"If you are uncertain as to wisdom of this decision, I could cite reasons why our permanent bonding would make such logical sense. After all, we love each other, do we not?"

"Well, yes…"

But she continued on. "Then clearly, if we are to maximize our happiness, then…" She blurted on, almost to the point where she found it difficult to speak. But as the shock of her proclamation subsided, a realization of pure joy overcame the young man. Here he had been fantasizing just a short while ago about spending the rest of his life with this amazing woman, worried about whether or not she was prepared to take such a step, especially after just recently realizing her own capacity to feel love. And now she was making clear that she wanted the exact same thing from him. There was a time once when he would have panicked and back away, just as he had that first time he worked together with Seven, or more recently when she first expressed her desire to move in with him. But he had grown and matured since then. He now had confidence in his feelings. He knew what it was he wanted. He had but one answer to give her as he quickly cut short her attempt at explanation with a single word.

"Yes," he said with a smile wide enough to envelop the entire universe.

Now it was her turn to be momentarily taken aback. She had feared that Harry would fall prey to the same anxieties and uncertainties he had felt when she had wanted to share his quarters. She had mentally prepared a list of arguments to demonstrate the logic of why they should be permanently joined. But she had not considered the effect her acquiescence had upon her. She was in just as much disbelief as Harry had been.

"Yes?" she repeated uncertainly.

"Yes," Harry declared to her. "I want to marry you, Seven of Nine."

"I…" she struggled to speak, at a rare loss for words. "I…was not certain if you…"

"Oh, but I do, I do," he said, as he moved confidently into her personal space and took her into his arms. "I love you, Seven. And the thought of the two of us together, always and forever, it…it makes me the happiest man in the universe."

"I…I love you as well, Harry Kim," she answered with flushed cheeks, as she leaned in to kiss him. Their lips touched, locked together in a seal of passion, holding each other and never wanting to let go.

Finally, after an eternity had passed, they parted, still basking in the glow of their happiness. "I am…pleased," she said, her voice quivering with innocence, her eyes almost glowing.

"Just pleased?"

"I am…very pleased," she added with a smile.

"Then I guess this is a day for happiness all around," he said to her, still holding her.

"Yes," she replied decisively. "I shall inform Captain Janeway immediately of our decision, while the rest of the crew is still assembled. I see no reason why we may not…."

Harry then snapped out of his moment of bliss as he stopped his beloved before she slapped her combadge. "W-wait a minute, Seven. Are you saying you want to get married right now? Tonight?"

"Yes," she answered matter-of-factly. "Since we are both in agreement in our desire to be married, it would be most efficient for us to take advantage of the fact that the crew is already gathered together in celebration. This would limit the need for additional provisions and…"

"Hold on a second, Seven. We can’t get married tonight."

"We cannot?" she looked at him, her stance becoming somewhat unsteady. A part of her feared that Harry was already beginning to have second thoughts about their union. "Please explain."

"Well, for one thing, this is Tom and B’Elanna’s day. It wouldn’t be right for us to take the spotlight away from them. It’s their party. We should let them enjoy it."

"I see," she nodded, relieved that his explanation had turned out to be so logical.

"And besides," he added, "I don’t want to get married on this planet."

Now that did puzzle her. Ever since the wedding party had beamed down to the planet’s surface, Seven had noticed how captivated Harry had been with the aesthetics of this world. "I do not understand. Did you not say that you found this planet to be pleasing to the eye?"

"Oh, it is, don’t get me wrong. And if we were still going to be years or decades away from getting home, I’d marry you right away. But that’s not the case anymore, Seven. We’re on our way home, now!"

"I believe I understand," she answered. "You wish to be married on Earth."

"Exactly! It wouldn’t be right for us to get married without at least giving my parents a chance to meet you first."

Then Seven nodded solemnly, her face frozen in understanding. "I see. In other words, your parents must properly evaluate me if I am to be deemed an acceptable addition to the Kim Collective."

"W-what?" he said with alarm. "Seven, of course not! I’m a grown man. I don’t need my Mommy and Daddy’s permission to get married."

"Then why is it important that they meet with me prior to our marriage? Clearly Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres did not feel it to be necessary to meet with their respective families before choosing to wed. Why must we do otherwise?"

"Well, it’s not important in the way that you’re thinking," he answered sheepishly. "Tom and B’Elanna have very different relationships with their families than I do with mine. They weren’t sure what the future is going to hold for them when they get back, so they wanted to arrive back home as husband and wife, before anyone had a chance to object or say otherwise." He didn’t bother to elaborate on the fact that there was a very real possibility that both Tom and B’Elanna could find themselves thrown in prison upon their return to the Alpha Quadrant, their legal status of their Maquis past still uncertain at this point. He then continued, speaking more confidently as he went on. "I just feel that with us so close to home, it wouldn’t be right for me to just show up on my parent’s doorstep with a new bride, just like that. I’d like for them to be a part of our wedding. And not just my Mom and Dad. I mean everyone. My cousins, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles… "

"I understand. You feel that our wedding would be incomplete for you if the entire Kim Collective were not in attendance. You wish to ‘share our love’ with the rest of your family."

"Yeah, I guess I do. I mean, I know that you consider the crew of Voyager to be your family, but I still have a whole lot of people back home that I’d love to show you off to."

Seven then smiled again, her face showing evident relief. "Forgive my impatience, Harry. I realize that your family is of great relevance to you."

"They are. And they’ll be of great relevance to you too. Just you wait and see."

"Will it be necessary for me to change my designation if we are to be mated?" she inquired of him.

He furrowed his brow as he tried to think about that delicate question. "I…I don’t know. I guess we can always work that out later." He then chuckled as he continued on. "Maybe I can get used to being called Harry of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero One?"

She thought for a moment before speaking. "Perhaps, in this case, it would not be appropriate for you to change your designation to my own. The only manner in which one would become part of an adjunct of a Borg unimatrix is by assignment after assimilation. I would not want that for you."

"Me neither," he agreed. "I came close enough to joining the Borg Collective, and I don’t care to come any closer." He then looked at her affectionately as he spoke. "Although technically, Seven, that name doesn’t really apply to you either, does it? I mean, you aren’t part of any Borg adjuncts anymore."

"No, I am not. I will become a part of the Kim Collective now," she said, clearly trying to change the subject. The topic of her own Borg designation brought up issues that she was still not prepared to deal with. Such as the subtle hints she had started to receive lately from the Captain about becoming comfortable with her original human designation of Annika Hansen. That wasn’t something she was ready to accept quite yet, if ever. As far as she was concerned, she wasn’t Annika Hansen anymore. That individual had ceased to exist when she had been assimilated. She was Seven of Nine, a new individual, the individual that Harry Kim had fallen in love with. Anything else was something she was not prepared to adapt to at this point.

But then, hadn’t she felt the same way once about falling in love?

He chuckled lightly to himself, but Seven picked up on his mirth. "You find something amusing, Harry?"

"I’m just thinking about what we’re going to tell our kids about how we ended up together before we got married…" But he immediately ceased his laughter as he saw the look of sadness that came across Seven’s features, which dimmed the warmth that had lit her up just earlier.

"Harry, you are well aware that there will be no children from our union," she sighed.

He immediately went pale, realizing how deeply he had just stepped in it and cursing his insensitivity. "Oh, Seven," he said reassuringly. "Don’t think like that. I didn’t mean to bring up…I mean…oh, jeez." He then looked at her apologetically. "I really screwed up, didn’t I?"

"You did not err, Harry," she said. "I simply regret that I am unable to be…complete…for you. I know that you value family greatly, and that you would like to possess one of you own…"

"And who says we won’t?" he said firmly. "Seven, a lot of things could happen after we get back. There are probably all kinds of procedures and therapies we can follow up with. I mean, no offense to the Doctor’s skills, but he’s no match for the entire Federation medical establishment." He then gripped her by the shoulders firmly, to emphasize his point. "At one time, they didn’t think that my mother would ever be able to have kids. She and my dad tried for nearly six years without managing to conceive. Everyone thought it was a lost cause. But they found a way to help her while she was still young enough to have a baby. I wouldn’t be alive today if my parents had given up hope."

"A fact for which I am most grateful," she said warmly.

"The point is, Seven, I wouldn’t be so sure about us not being able to start a family someday. Anything could happen. And even if the doctors can’t undo what the Borg did to you, there are plenty of other options. We could always adopt, for instance."

"I suppose that is possible," she sighed in acceptance. "I simply wonder whether or not I am capable of the emotional bonding necessary to be an acceptable mother."

"Are you kidding? Seven, you’d make a great mother! Look at how giving you are with Naomi."

"I am a tutor and advisor to Naomi Wildman," she countered. "I am not a parent."

"Seven, I’ve seen the attention you give to her. You show a commitment to Naomi and her wellbeing as strong as though she were like family to you."

"She…she is like family to me," she admitted, her tone softening.

"Well, there you go," he said, pleased with getting her to recognize her own excellence. "Admit it, Seven. You love that little girl. And if you could love her, than you could surely feel the same thing for you own child."

"I suppose," she conceded. "You argument does have merit, Harry. Perhaps by the time Federation medical science has developed a treatment to restore my fertility, I will be properly prepared emotionally for reproduction and all that it entails."

"I’m sure you will, but we don’t have to work that out tonight. We have our whole lives to decide that. Just remember, it’s you that I love and want to marry, not what you can provide for me."

She gazed upon his beautiful symmetrical face, her voice slightly quivering with emotion. "How is it that you always know what to say? You make me believe when I am with you that anything can be made possible." She looked into his soft brown eyes with trepidation. "Harry," she asked anxiously, "do you feel that your parents will find me acceptable as a mate for you? Even though I am Borg?"

"Was Borg," he corrected her, as he smiled at her with broad reassurance. "And I just know my folks are going to love you! They’re absolutely the nicest people you’ll ever meet!"

"I trust that you have empirical evidence to support such a claim," she answered with all due seriousness.

"As a matter of fact, I do," he replied mischievously. "A galaxy-wide poll taken in 2370 declared John and Mora Kim to be the nicest people in the entire United Federation of Planets."

Seven arched an eyebrow in Vulcan fashion, which Harry knew meant a mixture of amusement and seriousness that only Seven of Nine could master. "I believe that you are teasing me, Harry," she said. "No such poll was ever taken."

"Aw, shucks. You always could see right through me."

She then looked at him with a familiar glow in her eyes that Harry knew meant only one thing — lust. "Perhaps I simply wish to see more of you, Harry Kim." Her hands then slipped inside of his shirt, feeling the expanse of his smooth chest. They both knew where this was going, and they wanted it.

In this paradise, how could it be otherwise?

Seven stirred lazily, her head resting on Harry Kim’s bare chest. She felt warm all over; her entire body flushed with pleasure, especially as his arms gently stroked her hair and back. She was…content, basking in the post-coital glow. Their clothes lay off in a pile nearby. They had been casually discarded without any thought of cleanliness or order. It was simply not relevant to her right now. What was relevant was that she was happy. All was right with the universe.

She felt safe when he held her, but she did not know why that was. There was no logic to it. After all, she did not require Harry’s protection. If anything, it was exactly the opposite. With her enhanced physical strength and superior endurance, it was she who was better equipped to protect Harry, rather than the other way around. And yet somehow, he made her feel safe, as though his affections were a force field that could keep at bay all forms of malevolence and harm.

Harry lay on his back in the sand, his right hand folded behind his head, his left stroking Seven tenderly. He stared upward into the night sky, which had now grown dark enough for the stars to emerge. And what stars they were!

"God, will you look at that view!" he gasped at the dense plethora of tiny lights that illuminated the sky, which had already come out in abundance so quickly after twilight. The planet had no moon to drown out the view of the heavens, revealing a display of constellations never before seen by human eyes. "I’ve never seen so many stars before. It’s brighter than a full moon back home."

"It stands to reason," she answered to him. "We are closer to the galactic core than any Starfleet vessel has been to date. The stellar formations are naturally far denser here than what you might expect to view from Earth."

"I know," he answer lazily, "but it still is a pretty sky. Don’t you think so?"

"I…" she tried to answer, before realizing that, in fact, she had no answer. Considering that almost all of her life had been spent in space, either as a child aboard the Raven or as a drone traveling on space-going Cubes or Unimatrices, Seven had never really looked at the stars before. Oh, she had scanned the heavens from Astrometrics hundreds of times. But until she had become involved with Harry, it had never occurred to her that one might look at the stars simply because they were…pretty. At one time, the idea would have been wholly irrelevant to her. But now…

"Yes, Harry. It is indeed a most pleasing sight," she answered him.

"The second most pleasing sight I know," he said lovingly, as he ran his fingers through her blond mane. She laid her head back, luxuriating in his touch.

Everything in this moment just seemed to be exactly as it should be. She was with her mate, a man for whom she now knew she felt love. And he loved her, more than ever now that they were about to be permanently mated. And what was more, he was happy, soon to be returned to world that he knew and the family and friends that had meant so much to him. Oh, they had both been happy together so many times before. But prior the discovery of the transwarp coils, there had always been that underlying feeling of loneliness within Harry, feelings that he tried not to show. But now the loneliness was gone. They were on their way to Earth. True, Seven thought, there will be much uncertainty ahead. She did not know what awaited her upon Voyager‘s arrival in the Alpha Quadrant. But there was so much possibility as well. And in possibility, there lied…perfection!

Yes! That was exactly it, Seven realized in a blinding flash of epiphany. Now she understood exactly what Captain Janeway and Harry had been trying tell her about hope. One did not hope in order to achieve a pre-desired result. One hoped in order to create a state in which anything could become possible. What better definition for perfection could there be? Perfection as possibility!

And then Seven thought of the Borg, of the years she spent as a drone, aiding the Collective in its centuries-long quest for perfection. But did they actually know what perfection truly was? In all of her time linked to the hive mind, she had never once accessed a definition of this so-called perfection they sought. It was merely assumed that such a state would be self-evident once it had been achieved. But how could possibility exist when there was no freedom to think? When all differing opinions were quashed under the singular directive of the hive, there could be no diversity of ideas. Every individual was a universe of infinite possibilities, Seven realized. And when those possibilities were harnessed together in a common purpose, as they had been among Voyager‘s crew, then it increased that possibility by a further infinite exponential. Was it any wonder that the open society of the Federation had emerged triumphant so many times against the depredations of its totalitarian neighbors?

But the Borg were blind to this power. They saw the individual only as a resource to be consumed. And in doing so, in their quest for so-called perfection, they were destroying the source of the very thing they were seeking. So many centuries wasted! So many cultures destroyed! And all for nothing! All for a lie. The Borg Collective, whom she had once seen as so omnipotent, was in fact, as Tom Paris might have described it, a house of cards.

The more she contemplated it, the more…absurd…it all seemed to be. It was all so illogical. The very thought of it created such a feeling of disequilibrium within her that it welled up from the pit of her stomach and burst forth past her lips like an exultation of breath. Strangely, however, the sensation was quite…joyous. She could not remember ever experiencing such a sensation before. Perhaps it was a malfunction in her implants or some kind of digestive reaction to Mr. Neelix’s Caribbean buffet. She turned to Harry, hoping he might have an answer, but was surprised to see a look of utter astonishment on his face.

"Harry?" she asked, puzzled by his expression. "What is wrong?"

His face was still for a moment, until the shock gradually melted away with a look that could best be described as…awe. "Seven…" gasped Harry, "you just…laughed."

Seven jolted her head upwards. "I did?!" she said, equally amazed. If there was once sensation that she did not believe she was capable of more than love, it had been laughter.

"Well, it wasn’t exactly a belly laugh," said Harry. "More like a light chuckle. But it was definitely laughter. What were you thinking about, anyway?"

"I…" she tried to speak, still surprised by this unexpected development in her humanity. "I was thinking about…the Borg Collective."

Harry’s face grimaced as he thought about that. "Oh yeah. Those guys make me crack up all the time. A million laughs, the Borg."

"My thoughts were not what one would call humorous," Seven tried to explain. "I was considering how misguided the Borg have been in their search for perfection. This moment that you and are sharing now, they would regard it as irrelevant. But to me, this time I spend with you…it is…perfect! And they cannot see that. It is so… incongruous…I could think of no other response." She then looked at him more pointedly. "Harry, explain this to me. How is it that I would laugh in response to such a realization? It was my understanding that laughter is a response to a riddle or a joke. It is inexplicable."

"Oh, I don’t know about that," Harry said, taking her hand into his. "Sometimes a sense of humor is the only defense we have against a universe that seems totally insane."

"Then perhaps," she said, her brow furrowed, "I have mastered the ability to comprehend humor." She then looked straight at Harry pointedly. "Tell me a joke."

"A joke?" he asked, puzzled by the request. "I…I can’t just think one up on command." Of course, he tried the best that he could, seeing as how this was important to Seven. So he figured he would start off with something simple. "OK…um…why did the chicken cross the road?"

Seven thought for a second, considering a response, before answering. "To avoid predation?"

"No, silly. To get to the other side." He then smiled, hoping she would share in the joy of a simple, childish bit of humor.

Instead, she just sat there uncomprehending. "Harry, that is not a joke. That is a logical truism."

"Yeah, but…" he tried to explain. "I mean…it’s about…" And realizing he couldn’t think of a single reason as to why the joke was funny, he threw up his hands in resignation. "Oh, never mind. It’s a stupid joke anyway."

"Yet I was unable to comprehend its humorous content," she sighed, letting her shoulders slump from her natural poise. "Clearly I have not mastered the art of laughter."

"Hey, don’t get yourself down, beautiful," he leaned over to caress her shoulders. "It’s just one joke. Besides I’ve always known that your sense of humor was a little, well, different, from everyone else’s. That’s just one of the things that makes you unique."

She looked at him warmly, her spirits lifted by his words of encouragement. "I have often pondered why you would choose for a mate one who diverges so far from the human norm. Others might think your attraction to me to be quite…deviant."

"Hey, if anybody says anything bad about my fiancée, they’re going to have to answer to me," he said with a determined grin.

"Fiancée?" she asked, intrigued by this new word.

"Well, yeah," he said. "I mean, that’s what you are now, my fiancée. Now that we’re engaged."

"Engaged," she said softly, allowing the words to form on her lips. She liked the sound of them. Yes, she thought. She could definitely adapt to this.

She then looked to her own…fiancée…with wide blue eyes. "What are we to tell the others, seeing as how we have decided not to distract from the festivities of Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres?"

"Well," he said, after some thought, "For tonight, I think we should keep this our secret, something special just between the two of us. We’ll tell everyone about our engagement first thing tomorrow morning."

"That will be acceptable," she concurred, and sealed the deal with a quick peck on the lips. "Although I believe Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres will be otherwise occupied for some time after this evening is completed."

"Yeah, well…they can always find out about it later," he snickered. "It’ll probably drive them nuts, finding out about our engagement after the rest of the crew."

She returned his smile before adopting a more serious tone. "We must dress now. We have been absent from the celebration for one hundred and two minutes. No doubt the others will be concerned for our whereabouts. And you are required to return in time to fulfill your duties as best man."

"Yes, ma’am," he said with mock submission.

"Then you have no objections?"

"I’ve learned never to argue with a naked woman," he said with a naughty twinkle in his eye.

"Indeed, you should not," she replied, her eyes lighting up sensually in return. She then got up to retrieve her clothes, providing Harry with an unimpeded view of her assets. He smiled in appreciation, especially as she looked back at him over her shoulder seductively.

As he was dressing, he thought about how wonderful the universe could be, to have someone like Seven of Nine in it. He wondered how he would be able to the exciting news all too himself. He felt excited enough to burst. But as he thought about what lay ahead for the two of them, he heard Seven call out to him. "Harry, come here! You must see this!"

He quickly pulled on his pants as he leapt to Seven’s side. She too was half-dressed, and was pointing towards one of the ancient, knotted trees that had sheltered them during their intimate time together. Harry followed her gaze along the trunk until he saw what had her attention. A series of carved markings had been made into the tree bark, arranged into curving script that clearly did not belong there.

"These patterns are most definitely artificial," Seven observed, her voice showing some concern. "I do not recognize the language, however."

"Wow," Harry remarked, obviously not as worried. "With these trees being as old as they are, this could have been carved here centuries ago."

"Perhaps," she said, mulling over the possibilities. "Could there conceivably be an indigenous civilization on this planet, one that we were not able to detect?"

"I doubt it," Harry replied. "We weren’t able to spot anything on any of the islands from orbit, and we even did a sensor sweep of the oceans, just to be sure there wasn’t anyone living underwater." It was an unlikely prospect. Ocean worlds rarely produced intelligent tool-using races, but the universe was a diverse enough place to make even the longest odds a likely event somewhere.

"Then how do you explain this?" she gestured at the carving on the tree.

Harry looked at for a moment, deep in thought, before he let a smile cross his features. "Kilroy Was Here," he answered enigmatically.

"Who?" she asked puzzled.

"Oh, it’s just something from Earth history," he said, moving in for a closer look as he kneeled down in front of the alien monogram. "I think whoever did this must have been a visitor to this planet, just like us. If a native had done this, we’d have found other ruins of them somewhere. No, this was definitely done by someone passing through."

"And the marking of the tree?" she asked Harry. "What purpose would it serve for an advanced spacefarers to leave a record that is so…primitive?"

He smiled as he contemplated the mystery of it. "Maybe it was a solitary traveler who just wanted to leave his signature behind, to let future visitors know he’d been here first. Or maybe it’s some kind of dedication or religious ritual." His grin grew wider as another idea came to mind. "Perhaps it might have been two people making a declaration of their love for each other."

"By marking into tree bark?"

"Sure. It’s an old Earth tradition for young lovers to mark their eternal love by carving their names into a tree in hearts." He then looked deep into Seven’s eyes as he held her hand. "Wouldn’t it be incredible if there had been another couple, centuries ago, standing on this very same spot, who had made the same decision to spend the rest of their lives together, just as we had?"

"I find such a confluence of events to be highly unlikely," she responded soberly, before allowing her features to soften and reconsider her words. "Yet there is a symmetry to such a scenario that I find…pleasing. Like marriage, it too is a form of public declaration of permanence."

"Well, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, that’s what I’m going to believe happened here," he said, as another thought came upon him. "In fact, why not let history repeat itself?"

"Harry, what do you have in mind?" she asked.

He then reached down for a sharp wedge-shaped rock, and brought it to bear against the grain of the bark, just above where the mysterious carved glyph had been etched in. After several minutes of scraping, he had completed his task. He sat back and allowed Seven to view his handiwork. He had carved in the phrase in block letters, surrounded by the outline of a cartoon heart.

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

"There," he exclaimed, "I guess this makes us immortal, sort of. I wonder what some future traveler would make of this someday?"

She smiled as she answered him. "They might well believe it to be a mathematical equation."

"Well, isn’t that what it is, in a way? One Harry plus one Seven equals love and happiness."

"A most agreeable formula," she concurred.

He then stood up, putting his arm around her, looking at the permanent symbol of their union, one that would outlast either of them by many, many centuries. "One day, Seven, we’re going to come back here. I don’t know how, and I don’t know when, but you and I, we’re going to come back to this place." He then looked at her with great tenderness and he held her closer to him. "Who knows? We may even bring along our kids."

"Perhaps we shall," she answered, this time with hope instead of dread.

They made their way back along the sand dunes, following the joyous sounds of celebration. Seven initially reacted in alarm to the distant sight of a large flame along the shoreline, but Harry reassured her that it was simply some of the crew setting up a bonfire. She nodded in interest, drawing upon the analogy between the instinctive human need for celebratory flames and their evolutionary origins among ancient hunter-gatherers on Earth, when they spied two figures in close proximity at the outskirts of the gathering.

"Well, there you two are!" exclaimed Ensign Jenny Delaney, who wavered over to them, leading her date by the hand. Harry and Seven recognized the man in question at once, Lieutenant William Chapman, who was Jenny’s regular steady for the past eight months, and had the dubious distinction of being Seven of Nine’s first date. Jenny was wearing a pink and black patterned bikini top, her bottoms concealed by a florid sarong draped around her hips, held in place with a netted hip-pouch. Chapman was more conservatively dressed in a pale blue T-shirt and cut-off shorts.

Seven observed the swaying motion of both Ensign Delaney and Lieutenant Chapman, and noticed in particular their unsteady gait and unfocused pupil dilation — an obvious sign that the two had consumed moderate levels of synthehol.

"Hey, Jen, Will," Harry greeted them casually. "How’s the party been going?"

"Everyone’s been looking for you two," Chapman said, his arm around Jenny’s waist, trying to steady her. It was clear which one of the two had been drinking the most. "Tuvok was going to send out a search party, but B’Elanna figured the two of you just wanted to be alone for a while."

"And just where did you both wander off to?" Jenny giggled, giving the two an impish, all-knowing wink.

"Um…we…uh…just walked along the beach," Harry answered evasively, although his wide smirk was speaking volumes. And Jenny clearly wasn’t buying any of it.

"Come on, you two. You both look like you’ve been rolling around in the sand. And look at your hair, Seven. Such a mess. All of me and Megan’s hard work for nothing." She strutted over to the disheveled ex-Borg, and proceeded to straighten out her hair and wipe the sand away. "There…at least you look more…presentable." Harry smiled at Jenny’s unselfish effort on Seven’s part. There was a time not so long ago when nobody, male or female, would have dared approach the formidable former drone in such an intimate manner. But now that others saw her in a more human light, people were finding her a lot more receptive to social contact. And while she was still in many ways ill-at-ease in social situations,

"Thank you, Ensign," said Seven.

"Oh, please! Don’t be so formal! You can call me Jenny, y’know. It’s supposed to be a party!" she gestured frantically. "And speaking of parties…" she said as she reached for two of the plastic cups she had stacked in her hand. Pulling out a small flask from her waist pouch, she quickly filled both cups and handed them off to Harry and Seven. "I think it’s time for you to toast the bride and groom."

Harry looked over at Seven, smiling inwardly at the private bit of news they shared secretly between them. Seven of course, was looking down with trepidation at the cup of liquid in her hand. She looked back at Ensign Delaney, her expression one of discomfort. "I regretfully cannot partake, Ensign. I do not consume synthehol."

Jenny giggled yet again before answering. "Don’t worry, Seven. You won’t be."

Harry’s eyes widened in surprise at the dark-haired woman’s remark. "Wait a minute…is this real alcohol?! Does the captain know about this?"

"Relax, Harry. You’re such a boy scout," she teased while grinning. She then tried to step back and stumbled a bit, but Will was there to hold her still. "Ah, my knight in shining armor," she sniggered.

"Uh, sorry about that," Will said to the two with a blush. "Freddie Bristow brought over some brandy he picked up on Norcadia. A bunch of us were partying farther up near the bonfire. It’s all right. Commander Chakotay knows all about it. He said it was OK as long as we took our sober-ups afterwards. The Doctor also said he’d keep an eye out in case anyone should get out of hand."

"Yeah…" Jenny laughed, "it’s not just a wedding party. It’s a going home party!"

"Indeed," Seven said as she studied the alcohol intently. She knew that her Borg systems had difficulty in assimilating synthehol, but she had never experimented with an authentic alcoholic beverage before. If anything, the effect on her body should be even more intense, but without a proper test, she could not be certain. But it had been quite a while since she had taken that first drink of champagne aboard Voyager. Her body had become more human in so many ways since then. Perhaps it was time for an updated controlled experiment.

And as Ensign Delaney indicated, it was a party. She did not wish to be, as Naomi Wildman would say, a party-pooper.

And so, she took a cautious sip of the brandy from her glass. After all, she was celebrating her own engagement; not just Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres’ happiness, but also her own as well.

"Seven!" Harry cried out as he witnessed her actions. "What are you doing?"

She turned to him, raising an eyebrow as Tuvok might. "I am, as they say, getting into the party mood."

"Atta girl, Seven!" Jenny cheered her on.

"Maybe you should get her some of those sober-ups right now," Harry suggested nervously to Chapman as he looked askance at the inebriated Stellar Cartography officer while showing concern for his own mate.

"Hey, hey," Jenny objected, holding up her arms. "I’m right in front of you guys. Don’t talk about me like I’m not here."

"Sorry, honey," said Chapman sincerely.

At that moment, the music blaring from Voyager‘s speakers changed to a louder, more rhythmic pattern. Upon hearing the new tune, Jenny perked her head up. "Oh, I love this song! C’mon, Willie! Dance with me!"

Harry looked at Chapman and smirked at him. "Willie?" he said with a chuckle.

"What can I say? She likes me," Chapman gushed. "Doesn’t Seven have any pet names for you? Or is that just not her thing?"

"Well, um…" Harry tried to say, but Seven cut him off.

"As a matter of fact, Lieutenant, there is a personal designation that I have for Harry, but it is private between the two of us." She then raised an eyebrow at the sight of Jenny Delaney snuggling up tight against Chapman’s body, cuddling him warmly. "It appears that the two of you seem optimally mated," Seven observed.

"I guess we are," he said with a warm blush.

"Come on, Willie" Jenny pouted. "Let’s go hit the dance floor. I’ll give you a great big kiss if you do."

"Ok, Ok," he said, "twist my arm…" he joked, before his face went pale and he looked up at Seven, whose eyes went wide at the reminder of the unfortunate manner that her first date had ended. "I…um…Seven. I didn’t mean…uh, that is…"

But Jenny broke at laughing at Will’s inadvertent witticism at Seven’s expense. "Oh, Willie! You’re such a clever boy!"

"I’m sure Will didn’t mean that the way it sounded, Seven," Harry cut in, trying to avert any harm. "He wasn’t mocking you."

But Seven surprised them all by not becoming upset. In fact, she nodded her head graciously. "I am not offended. I am aware that the remark was intended without malice." She then doubly surprised Will Chapman by giving a him a wide friendly smile, something most of the crew was still not quite used to seeing, even though Harry had been privileged to see her smile numerous times before. "What is more," she added, "your statement was quite humorous."

"Oh…well…thanks, Seven," said Chapman, his expression nonplussed by Seven’s graciousness. This was not the same exotic, strange, yet repressed woman who had ‘requested’ a date with him nearly two years ago. She had grown since hooking up with Harry, he observed. I guess he’s definitely the man she was meant to be with, he thought.

"Come on, Willie," Jenny yanked harder on his arm. "Let’s go before the song ends."

And I guess, Chapman thought on, I found my own special someone as well. Most people though Jenny was a bit of a handful, but to Will, she was a breath of fresh air to someone who had always lived his life cautiously and safe. She was aggressive where he was timid. She was vivacious, where he was reserved. She challenged him, and helped him to grow more in confidence. And damn if she wasn’t wild in bed, he grinned inwardly. Yes, he thought, Seven was right. Both couples were optimally mated.

Harry and Seven followed the other couple towards the rest of the assembled crew. He observed the all-female sub-group of Megan Delaney, Leslie Carlyle, Ana Ortega, Sue Nicolletti, Siri Golwat, and Donna Henley, all laughing and giggling amongst themselves. A few of them were giving him all-knowing winks of their own, as if it were obvious to them what he and Seven had been up to.

Of course, they weren’t the only ones. He winced as he saw Freddie Bristow and Rico Lang giving him the thumbs up. He supposed that one of the downsides of loving a woman as…unusual as Seven was that the two of them, more so than any other couple, were often the subject of shipboard gossip. It made him look forward even more to the prospect of going home, where he and Seven would merely be one couple among billions. He was grateful, of course, that today’s news services were not nearly as fame-obsessed as their ‘television’ predecessors of the 20th Century.

It didn’t take long for Tom and B’Elanna to see that Harry and Seven had now returned to the party, as they made their way towards where they were standing the desert table. "Well, well, well," B’Elanna said with a wide smirk, as she saw the young couple approaching. "If it isn’t the best man and his date. We were wondering what happened to you two."

Harry’s face blushed red as he smiled wide enough to show his dimples. "We…um…that is…Seven and I…we just decided to do some exploring, that’s all."

"Exploring, huh?" Tom said with a smirk of his own. "Is that what the kids are calling it these days?"

Harry’s face regained its composure as he returned Tom’s teasing with a confident grin of his own. "Well, I wouldn’t expect you old married types to understand…"

"Oho!" B’Elanna laughed back at him, feigning insult. "Harry, you don’t want to go there!"

"Now, now, everyone," Janeway cautioned playfully as she came up from behind, followed by Tuvok, Chakotay and the Doctor. Like always, she was amused by the antics of her junior officers, before turning to Harry and Seven. "Seriously though, Ensign, its not a good idea to go ‘exploring’ on a strange planet. You never know what you might encounter."

"That much is certain," Seven concurred cryptically. Harry hoped that the captain didn’t inquire much further about the subject of their ‘encounter.’ He would rather have kept their discovery of the tree carving as a private secret between him and Seven, but he certainly wasn’t about to lie about it to his commanding officer if asked directly.

"I trust that your wanderings were without incident," Tuvok inquired. Harry winced, knowing that he would now have to tell them about their discovery. Everyone would see — and gush — about his public declaration of love for Seven. But the answer was quickly deflected with an unexpected response from elsewhere.

"Only if you consider my ability to laugh to be an ‘incident,’ Commander," said Seven astutely.

The group all perked up in surprise at Seven’s answer. "You? Laugh?" B’Elanna sputtered in disbelief. "That’s…incredible."

"It’s more than just incredible, Lieutenant," said the Doctor, as he turned back to Seven with a proud glow on his suntanned face. "It’s absolutely wonderful."

"So, Harry," Tom quipped, still smirking, "you finally managed to find Seven’s ticklish spot."

Seven stared coolly at the seated bridegroom, her hands on her hips, still holding the now empty glass of brandy. "I assure you, Tom Paris, I do not possess a ticklish spot."

"And believe me," said Harry as he leaned over her shoulder, holding her tenderly, while he grinned a naughty smile of his own. "I’ve looked for it."

"That’s a little more information than we needed to know, Starfleet," B’Elanna said wryly.

"Oh, come now, honey," Tom said. "What’s wrong with Harry and Seven engaging in a little bit of mutual assimilation?"

"I would not regard my actions with Harry as assimilation, Tom Paris," Seven said as her hips began to sway somewhat and her smile grew wide enough to show teeth once again. "I believe that our activities could be best described as… ‘jungle-fucking.’"

Everyone’s eyes bulged at the sound of Seven’s answer. Somebody at the back of the crowd burst out laughing. The Doctor even managed to gasp. As for Harry, he was just as astonished as the rest of them. In all of the time he had known her, he had never once heard Seven utter a single obscenity until now.

In a way, it kind of turned him on.

Of course, not everyone seemed to be as amused as he was.

"Seven!" the Doctor sputtered in horror. "I would have expected that kind of gutter language from our bride and groom, but I thought you were more refined than that!"

"Yeah, Seven," Tom laughed, tickled pink by this newfound side of the former drone. "You actually kiss Harry with that mouth?"

Then Seven’s eyes twinkled with lust as she continued to grin uncharacteristically. "Indeed, I have done far more than kiss Harry with my mouth. I have…"

"Seven!" Harry quickly cut her short in a panic. "I…uh, I think that’s more than they need to know."

Janeway then looked over at Seven’s body motions, noticing the way her hips were wavering and her eyes seemed almost glassed over. She then glanced down at her hands, and saw the half-filled glass she was holding. "Seven, have you been drinking?"

"I have sampled a small quantity of alcohol, yes," she admitted. "But I assure you, I have adapted to it."

"Seven, I’m shocked!" the EMH exclaimed. "First profanity and now drunkenness? What’s next, gambling and chewing tobacco?!"

"Hey, Doc, take it easy!" Harry asserted. "Seven’s a grown woman. She doesn’t need to be talked to like that."

"Besides, she’s not drunk," B’Elanna said, rising up and inspecting the young blond woman. "She’s just a little buzzed, that’s all."

"Just buzzed?" the Doctor asked skeptically. "Seven, how much did you have?"

"Only three," she gestured with a smile, holding up three of her Borg-enhanced fingers to illustrate.

"You had three drinks?!" Janeway asked, alarmed that Seven would be so reckless as to consume so much alcohol at once.

"No, Captain. Three sips."

"Three sips?" Tom exclaimed in disbelief. "You got tanked on only three sips of booze? Jeez, talk about the ultimate cheap date!"

"Hey, watch what you say about my fi…my Seven!" he quickly corrected himself, speaking not in anger, but letting him know that he was close to crossing into an area of questionable taste.

"I think maybe we ought to cleanse her system," said the Doctor, as he came over, pulling out a hypospray from his belt pouch. "Come with me, Seven," he beckoned. "I think we need to sober you up before you make a mess of yourself."

"I think you’re being a little over-cautious, Doctor," Janeway broke in. "It’s only three sips. Her body just needs to get used to it, that’s all." Turning to the younger woman, she continued. "Come with me, Seven. We’ll get you something to eat at the buffet table. A little food in your stomach will go a long way in mitigating some of that light-headedness you’re feeling."

Seven glanced over at Harry, who nodded at her to let her know that everything was OK, as she went off with the captain and the Doctor, leaving the rest of the group to continue their discussion.

"Well, seeing as how this is a night for new vices, I thought we might all share in one more." Tom then reached into pocket to pull out half a dozen small cylindrical objects.

"Are those what I think they are?" Chakotay asked.

"What are they?" Harry asked.

"Cigars," said Tom proudly, holding them up like a prize. "Anyone care to indulge in a little celebratory puff?"

"Why, Tom, you deviant little devil," said B’Elanna. "Light me up one." He obliged, handing one off to his wife, watching with fascination as she inhaled a healthy dose of air, watching the end glow with the influx of air.

"Anyone else? Harry, how about you?" said Tom.

"Smoking? I…I don’t think so, Tom. You know that stuff’s bad for you."

"Hey, so is red meat. It’s just a once-in-a-while indulgence. C’mon, Harry. All the cool kids are doin’ it."

"Uh, no thanks, Tom." He then looked over to see the Doctor, the captain and Seven returning to the group. He went over to her, seeing how worse for wear she looked.

"Are you OK, beautiful?" he asked with concern, taking her hand.

The Doctor folded his arms smugly as he looked on at his young pupil. "It would seem that inebriation isn’t the only aspect of drinking that Borg nanoprobes accelerate."

"I believe," she spoke up, her voice strained, "the proper term would be a hang over."

"Oh, no," he commiserated with her, stroking her cheek. "You poor thing."

"I do not feel particularly beautiful at this moment, Harry," she said.

"Hey, you’re always beautiful to me," he smiled at her. And indeed, despite the dull ache in her head, seeing him smile at her, knowing that he would always be there for her, made her feel beautiful indeed.

"The after affects of Seven’s little experiment should pass quickly," the EMH stated officiously. "I made sure to give her…" His voice drifted off as his olfactory sensors detected a particular odor in the air. "What is that smell? Is something burning?"

"Just a bit of Tom’s celebration cigars," Chakotay chuckled.

The Doctor’s face twisted in horror as he looked over at Tom. "Mr. Paris, have you no shame at all?! Need I remind you about the deleterious effects of smoke inhalation on the human body?"

"Relax, Doc. We’ve all had our cancer shots," Tom replied smugly.

"Regardless, Mr. Paris, it’s a filthy disgusting habit that doesn’t do the body one bit of good! And I can see that Mr. Tuvok agrees with me on this."

Tom turned to face a disapproving-looking Mr. Tuvok. "I don’t suppose you want to try some, Tuvok?"

"Certainly not, Mr. Paris. I see no logic in deriving enjoyment from inhaling smoke into my lungs."

"Aw…what say you, Chakotay? I recall you smoking the peace pipe every so often."

The tattooed officer wrinkled his face at the groom’s flippancy. "Wrong tribe, Tom. You watch too many of those old American cowboy cinemas. And I think I’ll pass on that cigar. I’ve yet to come across a replicator that can conjure up a decent patch of tobacco."

"Who said anything about replicators? I hand rolled these myself!"

"You what?" Chakotay said incredulously. "Where did you get the tobacco from? I don’t recall any requests to grow a crop in the Airponics bay."

"No tobacco either," the pilot said smugly.

"No tobacco? What the hell is in these cigars?"

"Let’s just say I finally found a decent use for leola root," he said with a wide, toothy grin.

"You can’t be serious! Leola root?!"

"Hey, don’t knock it. The stuff may taste awful, but it burns real nice…" He offered a lit cigar to the former Maquis commander. "Here, have whiff of this."

Chakotay lifted his eyes in approval, as the heady aroma of smoke filled his nostrils and left a distinct taste on his tongue. "Mmmm…smooth. Maybe I will indulge…just one, of course."

"Of course." Tom laughed back.

"Well, don’t just stand there, Mr. Paris," Janeway’s voice came out of nowhere. "Light me up one."

Tom nearly did a double take, but he wasn’t fool enough to refuse his captain. "Yes, ma’am," he said enthusiastically, and with great amusement.

But the Doctor was aghast. "Captain! Surely not you, too! I would have expected this from Mr. Paris, but I thought you and Commander Chakotay were supposed to be the adults here."

"Come now, Doctor," she replied, tickled by his outrage, "this is supposed to be a celebration, after all."

"But cigars…it’s so…unfeminine!"

"Oh, don’t be such a prude, Doctor," she laughed as Tom handed her a lit stogie. "Women and cigars have had a long history together. Why, Queen Elizabeth herself was known to enjoy a smoke now and then with Sir Walter Raleigh." Janeway then took a deep, healthy puff from her cigar, and then let it out, releasing three evenly measured smoke rings in the Doctor’s direction. It was clear to all that their captain was no stranger to this particular vice.

"What say you, Seven?" Tom smiled at the Borg, who was now starting to recover from the fleeting impact of alcohol in her system. "Maybe you can talk Harry could share a smoke together."

"I think not, Tom Paris," she said. "I believe I have reached the extent of my willingness to experiment this evening. And as for Harry, I trust his judgment." She then looked over at her man, her gaze one of tenderness and affection. "And I prefer his body…unblemished."

"Suit yourself," he shrugged, as he sat back in his seat, taking another deep puff on his cigar. He felt B’Elanna leaning against his shoulder, as he tilted his head back to take in the fullness of the local night sky. "Ahhhhh…Harry, this is the life. A good woman, good friends, and a good smoke. It doesn’t get any better than this." He then looked up at his friend. "Of course, you’ll probably find out for yourself, someday."

"Maybe sooner than you think," B’Elanna smiled at them. Harry met her gaze and then it occurred to him. She knew. Somehow — maybe it was the look on his face, or woman’s intuition, or something in the way Seven seemed lighter at the party — but somehow, B’Elanna knew that something special had happened to them farther up the beach. And she was respecting their privacy and choice to tell everyone when they wanted to. He acknowledged her silently with his eyes. Some things just didn’t need to be said out loud.

It was then that a familiar jovial presence came up from behind them. "Oh, wonderful!" Neelix exclaimed. "Harry and Seven are back! Maybe I should start passing out the champagne glasses now?"

"Indeed," Seven stated, before turning to her mate. "Harry, the time is now 2000 hours."

"What’s so important about 2000 hours?" B’Elanna asked curiously. "Is that when you turn into a pumpkin or something?"

"If you are referring to the story of Cinderella, B’Elanna Torres, then your facts are in error. In that tale, the central character was required to return by midnight, not eight o’clock."

B’Elanna looked up in surprise at the tall blond woman. Seven noted the other woman’s response and was puzzled by it. "Is there something wrong, B’Elanna Torres? Have I said something to offend you?"

"Oh, no, it’s not that. It’s just…I didn’t expect you to know anything about Cinderella, that’s all. I was honestly waiting for you to tell me how it was ‘impossible for you to transmogrify into a vegetable’ or something."

"I am familiar with some of the classic fairy tales, B’Elanna Torres. I have read many with Naomi Wildman."

"Just goes to show," Tom added with a smile, as he glanced over at the Doctor. "Some things can be important and still be fun."

The Doctor nodded at the pilot’s bold repartee, graciously allowing him this one victory where Seven of Nine was concerned. "Touché, Mr. Paris," he said with a smile.

Seven turned to the crowd, still remembering the question that B’Elanna had asked. "It is at this time that the best man is required to toast the newly bonded couple, is it not?"

"You’re quite right," Janeway nodded, impressed by Seven’s newfound understanding of the components of human social gatherings.

As Neelix darted about the assembled crew, passing out cups and pouring champagne, Tom looked over at the blond ex-drone, equally jolly. "Since when did you become the big expert of party etiquette."

"My knowledge of social customs has expended considerably over the past three years," said Seven.

"And why not?" the Doctor added, flushed with pride. "I taught her everything I know. Not that I want to brag…"

"Since when?" B’Elanna called out, to the delight and amusement of everyone expect the Doctor. Even Seven cracked a smile.

Then Harry looked over at Seven, his face betraying an appearance of concern. "What a minute. What about you, Seven? I mean, do you really want to have another sip of alcohol after…"

"I will limit myself to a soft drink, Harry," she reassured him. "I am in no rush to consume alcohol tonight." She then glanced over at Tom and B’Elanna. "I trust that will be acceptable to you?"

"Oh sure, knock yourself out," Tom said. "Or not, as the case may be."

Seven then turned to the Doctor, as concerned as Harry was. "And what of you, Doctor. Since you do not consume liquids at all…"

The hologram smiled confidently as he held up his hand to allay her concerns. "Not to worry, Seven. I’ve already taken the necessary steps." He then slapped his combadge, as it responded with a chirp. "Computer, run Emergency Medical Hologram subroutine Delta Two Five."

And with that, the Doctor shimmered for a brief second, as Voyager‘s computer reloaded his program through the mobile emitter. Only this time there was the added feature of a crystal goblet of champagne in his right hand.

"Nice to see you getting into the spirit, Doc," Tom gestured approvingly.

"I believe in being prepared, Mr. Paris," said the EMH.

As the entire crew received their cup of champagne — except for Seven and the Doctor — all eyes turned to Harry.

"Well, Harry?" the Captain motioned towards him, beaming. He looked about at all of the assembled faces, seeing everyone there. And feeling a twinge of sadness at the thought of friends that they had lost along the way. Depending on how things went upon their arrival home, this could be the last time they might all be together.

He turned towards Tom and B’Elanna, watching, as they stood side by side, the love evident on their faces and in the way stood in each other’s space. But then, there was no separate space between them. They were one now.

"This isn’t just for Tom and B’Elanna," Harry said aloud, somewhat unsteady, as he hoisted his glass in their direction. "This moment is for all of us.

"When we started on this journey together, the two of them were separate. They didn’t know each other. They didn’t trust each other. Hell, they didn’t even particularly like each other." The crowd gave forth a collective chuckle. Even the bride and groom cuddled affectionately.

"But that changed over time. Circumstance became trust. Trust became respect. Respect became friendship. And friendship…" his voice trailed off as his gaze turned towards his beautiful Seven. "Friendship became love.

"Their journey was our journey. If anyone were to see them six years ago, they would have never believed the two of them stood a chance together. Just as no one would have believed we’d ever have made it across 70,000 light years to make it back home. But they made it. We made it. Together."

And his eyes looked out across the sea of 150-odd faces, the people who for the last six and a half years were not just his crew, but were his family. Even the five Equinox survivors were one with everyone else, and his eyes locked on with theirs, just to let them know that they too were a part of this family.

"They said it couldn’t be done," he continued, his voice gaining in power and confidence. "But it happened. They said it was impossible. They made it possible. We made it possible."

He then lifted his glass higher, and motioned for everyone else to do likewise. "This is to Tom Paris, B’Elanna Torres- Paris," he added with a sly grin, as Tom turned to his bride with a look of surprise and tenderness, "and to the crew of the U.S.S. Voyager." He then focused his attention to the one person who mattered more to him than anything in the universe did. He gazed upon her lovingly, and the rest of the party faded away. In that one perfect moment, there was only Harry and Seven.

"Here’s to making miracles come true," he concluded softly.

He barely heard the sounds of approval that came from around him. Only a familiar hand on his shoulder roused him from his lovestruck trance.

"Harry," Tom said, without a joke for once. He his face was…he looked genuinely…touched.

B’Elanna came over and embraced him in a warm sisterly hug. "That was beautiful, Harry."

"Yeah, well, it came from the heart," he replied sheepishly, his arms still around her.

Chakotay and the captain came over to him, their faces beaming with happiness. "Excellent toast, Harry," Chaoktay nodded with favor.

"Ensign, I’d say you’ve got down perfectly the most important part of being a commander," Janeway added sincerely. "The ability to impress people."

"T-thank you, ma’am," said Harry. But as great as this adulation was, there was one person he wanted to be with more than anyone right now. His eyes scanned the crowd and saw Seven moved towards him, her cheeks flushed with love and pride. She knew that his toast had not just been meant for Tom and B’Elanna. It had been meant for her.

"Well, in light of Harry’s toast, what say we dedicate this next dance to the entire crew of Voyager," said Tom.

"Excellent thinking, Tom," said the captain. "What did you have in mind?"

"Oh…how about this…" he answered slyly as he pulled out his remote and tapped in a command. The background music shifted to another tune.

First I was afraid
I was petrified
Kept thinking
I could never live without you by my side
But I spent so many nights thinking how you did me wrong
I grew strong
I learned how to carry on…

As the soulful words came out and filled the air, Harry had to admit he was at a loss to understand why Tom had picked this particular song to represent Voyager. But as he listened on, he heard the strength and independence that came forth from the lyrics. It was if the singer was issuing a challenge to the universe, daring it to stand against her. Now he understood, and from the look on her face, so did the captain.

…Oh no, not I
I will survive as long as I know how to love
I know I will stay alive
I’ve got all my life to live
I’ve got all my love to give and
I’ll survive
I will survive

"Mr. Paris," commented Janeway, obviously pleased, "I can’t think of any song more appropriate."

As the entire crew moved out onto the dance floor, Harry came over to his fiancée, and gazed upon her beauty. "May I have this next dance?"

"You may," she replied warmly. "But I must inform you, Harry, that I do not know how to dance to music such as this." She did have a point. Harry and Seven’s dancing lessons together were primarily for classical and slow dancing. In all honestly, he didn’t know how to dance to 20th Century music any more than she did. But judging from what he was seeing from the rest of the crew, it didn’t really matter much.

"I don’t think there’s much to know," he said. "It looks like you just go out there and…"

"Shake your ‘groove thing’?" she finished his sentence, arching her eyebrow mischievously as she did.

"I wasn’t aware that you had one of those, my dear," he giggled. "Or that you thought it was relevant."

"I did not initially," she said as they went out among the gyrating crowd. "But now I can certainly see it’s…possibilities."

Harry laughed a heartfelt exultation of joy. Was there no end to the surprises that this amazing woman held out for him? He certainly hoped not. Ever day with her was a new discovery for him, and like his time spent here in the Delta Quadrant, a new adventure. He didn’t know what the future held for him and Seven. And maybe that was the point.

No, loving a woman like Seven wasn’t easy and probably wouldn’t be any time soon. But it definitely was never dull.

With that, he and Seven moved out among the rest of the crew, trying their best to match their dance steps. Around them, they saw their friends, Tom with B’Elanna, Captain Janeway with Chakotay, Neelix with Sam Wildman, Will Chapman and Jenny, her sister and Freddie Bristow, Marin Jenkins and Pablo Baytart, and the Doctor stiffly trying to move to the music with little Naomi Wildman. They were all moving and dancing as though they had not a care in the world. Even Tuvok was there, albeit standing off to the side, pretending not to be interested. But Harry could swear that he saw the security officer’s foot tapping underneath his dark Vulcan robe.

And so they went on into the night doing what they did best. They laughed, they cried, they loved life.

And they survived.


…and the adventure continues…

Category : Delta FleetK/7Voyager


One Response

  1. Administrator says:

    Lesa (31 Dec 2000)
    Your story was wonderful. I zoomed through it this time (I have a lot to do to get ready for New Year’s Eve) but tomorrow I’ll read it again at my leisure and enjoy it all over again.

    BTW, your description of Tom and B’Elanna’s wedding made me a little “farklempt” <g>

    Thanks so much, for posting another lovely story.

    Summer (1 Jan 2001)
    “One Perfect Moment” is wonderful! It’s weird but reading it kinda made me sad cause in a way it’s like the ending of your series just like Voyager is gonna end this coming May. Your series…how you took Harry and Seven’s relationship…from how they first got together and taking them thru all of their differences and arguments and having Seven finally able to say that she loves Harry was awesome.

    I also have to say that besides the terrific K/7 in your stories…you also manage to do justice to each and every Voyager character you include in your fanfic.

    I loved the whole wedding thing of Tom and B’Elanna and Harry and Seven finding that little hideaway in the planet and carving out their names in it. Really romantic.

    And I love the whole Voyager vibe…warmth running throughout your story. I’m gonna miss this series already Michael.

    Hope you have more planned though.

    Michael Ben-Zvi (2 Jan 2001)
    Thanks for your feedback, everyone. It was all greatly appreciated. I was concerned people might be dissapointed by OPM’s relatively linear plotline, especially after the emotional roller-coaster of “Hope.” But I think that Harry and Seven deserved a much needed break after all that excitement.

    Furthermore, I wanted to show the Tom/B’Elanna wedding that we were denied in “Drive.” Actually, I first conceived of the storyline long before “Drive” was ever announced. I honestly didn’t think we would see a P/T wedding until the end of the series. Imagine my surprise when TPTB beat me to the punch.

    I also wanted to use this story as a chance to use some scenes that I had left over from other stories in the saga, i.e. Tom’s debates about rock and roll and the United States. I felt that they were not only funny scenes that deserved an opportunity to be read, but that they also afforded some social satire and commentary that Star Trek is well known for. I’m hoping that people feel they worked well with OPM’s more romantic sections.

    Not to worry, Summer. There’s still one more story until the saga is finished. Story #6, which I’m calling “The Way of All Things” will be a multi-part story like most of the others, and will probably be quite long, as there are plenty of loose ends and character issues for Voyager that need summing up. I’m looking to get Part 1 posted by the end of the month.

    And even then, Harry and Seven’s adventures won’t be entirely finished. K/7 will be revisited in my ‘Delta Fleet’ open universe that I plan to introduce this summer. Keep checking out my site for more details as they come.

    Unfortunately, the drawing I did in ASCII got mangled during the mailing. It was supposed to say HK + 7/9 in a heartshape. Ah, well. I’ll fix it when I post the story to my site.

    Anyway, thanks for your thoughts, gang. Hope you all had a great New Year’s eve.

    Tycho (2 Jan 2001)
    I just got back from a brief holiday to read OPM. As with the rest of the series, I loved it. It was indeed ‘one perfect moment’. I can’t wait for the finale.

    But at the same time I fear it. I can’t remember if it’s something I read somewhere or just something that jumped from my peculiar mind; but as I got to the end I heard two lines that went something like

    a perfect moment
    before the world ends.

    As much as I look forward to what comes next, I fear the end of the world; but hope it will not go ‘The Way of All Things.’

    Thomas Lee (31 Jan 2001)
    OPM is not merely a sideshow recounting the P/T marriage in Mike’s K/7 saga. As Mike intended, it not only touched upon the immediate aftermath of the harrowing ordeal Voyager‘s crew (especially Harry and Seven) had undergone in HOPE, but it was also an opportunity to see how Voyager‘s crew has changed since we first met them and to tie up the saga’s loose ends – not to mention taking the time for the social satire and commentary Trek is known for – and to witness Harry and Seven begin the final leg of their journey from “I” to “we.” Read full review

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