Welcome Home, Interrupted

Disclaimer: All things Star Trek belong to someone else. I am just playing with the characters. No infringement intended.

A/N: This was written for Elem as part of VAMB’s 2013 Secret Santa exchange. Her request: “A J/C story with a happy ending. I don’t mind angst, adventure or adversity – you can put them through the ringer if you like – as long as there’s a happy J/C together ending.” I knew at once my request HAD to be from elem. *wink*

Summary: A post-Endgame story from Seven of Nine’s perspective. It begins immediately after Voyager returns to the Federation (which, according to the Stardate, was in December) and ends six months later. Eventually, it has a happy J/C ending, as requested. And this story has a G rating only because there is no milder rating available.

Welcome Home, Interrupted

By mizvoy

Seven of Nine stood on the upper bridge and watched as Chakotay made his way to the helm and Captain Janeway took her seat on the command deck.

The plan had worked. Not only had Voyager arrived safely in the Alpha Quadrant, but it had destroyed the Borg’s system of subspace conduits and, against all odds, Admiral Janeway had brought down the Queen herself. As she watched the bridge crew work and sensed the crew’s bubbling excitement, Seven realized that she had nothing to do. She was no longer needed in astrometrics, for there were few unknowns in this well-travelled sector, and superfluous on the bridge. She supposed that she should share in the crew’s exhilaration and relief, but the sight of the rapidly approaching planet had the opposite effect on her. Panic bubbled up within her.

“Permission to leave the bridge,” she said, wondering where she should go.

Janeway twisted in her seat and gave her a close look, no doubt hearing her uncertain tone. Too distracted to inquire about here state of mind, the captain reluctantly gave her consent and returned to her duties.

Seven gazed for a moment at Chakotay’s back, willing him to turn and acknowledge her departure, but he was too busy with his duties to notice. Without another word, she turned and boarded the turbolift, surprising herself when she asked for deck five.

Sickbay’s lights were subdued. B’Elanna Torres and Tom Paris sat side-by-side in the surgical bay examining their new baby girl. Seven respected their privacy and made her way to the office where the Doctor sat at his desk.

“Seven! Come in! I thought you’d be celebrating on the bridge.”

“The festivities have not yet begun,” she replied. “And, in any event, I don’t feel much like celebrating.”

The Doctor studied her. “Were you damaged during our trip through the conduit?”

“I am not sure.”

He rose, grabbed a medical tricorder, and approached her, his eyes on the instrument’s readouts. “I’m finding elevated endorphins, probably a result of the surgery we did yesterday to remove the emotional dampener.” His head snapped up. “Perhaps you are experiencing emotions that are troubling you.”

“It is possible.”

He nodded, accessing his most sympathetic expression. “Of course, you will be feeling all emotions more deeply, both good and bad.”

She looked away. “I feel sorrow for the death of the Queen.”

“I see. Well, why wouldn’t you? She was part of your consciousness for eighteen years.”

“I heard her voice for every moment of that time.”

“Exactly. It is only normal for you to regret her demise.”

“And I am angry with Admiral Janeway.”

“I see.” He led her into the laboratory where they could speak privately. “Tell me why.”

“She had no business interfering in the past as she did. The captain should have thrown her in the brig and ignored her suggestions.”

“The captain found it impossible to put aside the help the admiral offered her. She has labored for seven years to bring about Voyager’s return to the Federation. I’m sure that her decision to use the admiral’s technology will come under close scrutiny, and she will be held accountable for her actions.”

“I find no comfort in that. What about the admiral? What about her accountability?”

“She sacrificed her life for us, Seven.”

“I am not appeased by that sacrifice.”

The EMH frowned, confused by her vindictiveness. “What did the admiral do to upset you?”

“She told me that in her future I would die and that my death would destroy those who cared for me.”

“But that future has been forever changed.”

“Even so.” She turned and pretended to study a wall panel. “She used her knowledge of our future as a weapon, as a tool to manipulate us into doing her bidding. She was trying to force me to disobey the captain’s orders and follow her orders instead.”

“I was unaware of this ploy.”

“She used her knowledge against others, as well, I have no doubt. That manipulation may be part of the reason that the captain acquiesced to the admiral’s plans.”

“The captain forced her to modify her plans, Seven. The admiral did not intend to destroy the corridors, and she intended to return to Earth with us. Her plans failed.”

“She was arrogant and unethical in her disregard of the temporal prime directive.”

He sighed. “Does it help to realize that her heart was in the right place? That she wanted the best for her crew?”

“We are not her crew. I am angry because she used my affection for others against me.” She turned to face him. “I am not sure that I am coping well with the influx of emotions that I have experienced since the dampener was removed. I thought love was a positive emotion, one to be desired.”

“So it is, but it comes with a price.” He stepped closer. “Do you remember how much it hurt when One died?”

Seven drew in a breath, remembering the unique 29th century drone that had briefly lived among them. “I remember it well. I can’t imagine how much more I would have suffered if I had to endure that loss now.”

“Would you have preferred to have never known him, just to avoid the pain of his loss?”

She thought a moment. “No. My experience with him changed me, helped me grow. I wouldn’t lose that to avoid the pain of his death.”

“That is the paradox of love.”

“I didn’t realize that loving someone brought with it such a deep emotional risk. I believe I might have been in error when I had you remove the dampener.”

“It’s too late, now, Seven. You know that I can’t reactivate it.”

She nodded, tears burning in her eyes. “I have made a terrible mistake.”

“I disagree. Now that we have returned to Earth, you will be able to continue your growth and development into a fully functional human being.”

She brushed her tears away. “I don’t want to be more human, and I don’t want to be here. I will be received with fear and disgust because I am a former drone.”

“The captain will protect you.”

Seven looked away and noticed that the new parents were walking in circles around sickbay in an effort to calm their fussy child. “You said yourself that the captain will be under great scrutiny. How can she help me if she is fighting for her own freedom?”

He followed her line of sight and sighed. In so many ways, even to a holographic doctor, Seven was an innocent child who needed to be gently taught about life. “She will find a way, don’t you worry.”

“I should have talked to her before I agreed to the surgery.”

“You might be right.”

“She has always been an excellent sounding board, making me face the difficult questions before making up my mind.”

“I thought telling her would be an invasion of your privacy.” When Seven failed to respond, he continued, “When you told me that you were no longer using your holographic simulation for your social experimentation, I admit that I was worried about you. There are no guarantees in matters of the heart. It takes time and often many unsuccessful relationships before one finds a compatible partner.”

“Truly?” Seven stared at him in surprise. “Many failed relationships?”

“It isn’t unusual for a human to have several before they ‘settle down.’ You are aware of Tom Paris’s reputation for dating many women before he and Lieutenant Torres married. And she has had previous relationships, as well. They were also friends for years before they decided to make a commitment to each other.” He watched as Seven considered this. “You thought otherwise?”

“I did not think it through. I thought love happened once and lasted forever.”

“That’s the exception, not the rule.” He frowned. “And sometimes things never work out at all. Like the captain and the commander, for example.”

Seven felt her heart skip a beat. “Are you speaking of Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay?”

“Yes, I am. Early in our journey, the attraction between them was palpable, so much so that Lieutenant Paris established a betting pool on when they would become a couple.”

Seven’s eyes widened. “Why didn’t they?”

“The ship and crew comes first with the captain, as you know. She wouldn’t let herself become involved with a member of her crew, and I can only assume that the commander agreed. For years, I expected them to work out an acceptable arrangement, but it never happened, at least not that I’m aware of.”

“I . . . I was unaware of this,” Seven stammered.

“Not surprising. By the time you joined the crew, they had managed to put the attraction aside. I don’t think either of them would have done a thing to stop the other from pursuing a relationship with someone else, even if doing so broke their hearts.”

Seven took a deep breath and felt her body relax. For some reason, this news made her feel better. “Was the captain made aware of the fact that I used the commander’s hologram in my recent holodeck experimentation?”

“I saw no reason to tell her.” He didn’t add that he feared that Seven would be punished for using a crewmember’s hologram in direct defiance of Starfleet protocol.

Seven nodded. The last thing she would ever want to do was hurt the woman who had been her mentor and protector for the last four years. “Thank you for respecting my privacy.”

“You’re welcome.”

Tom Paris appeared at the door. “They’re both asleep, Doc. I thought I’d head back up to the bridge and see what’s going on. Will you call me when they wake up?”

“Of course, Lieutenant.”

Seven stepped toward the door. “I will leave with you, Lieutenant. Thank you, Doctor, for your advice.”

“You’re welcome, Seven. Any time.”

Tom followed Seven into the passageway, his interest piqued.

“Congratulations on your new daughter, Lieutenant. Have you chosen a name?”

“Miral, after B’Elanna’s mother.”

“A fitting choice.”

Tom stopped in his tracks, and Seven turned to look at him. “Seven, is something wrong?”

“What could be wrong?”

“It looked to me like you and the Doc were having a pretty serious conversation in there. I know how ambivalent you’ve always felt about returning to the Federation. I’m wondering if you were asking for advice about what you should do now that we have arrived.”

She looked away. “I am somewhat apprehensive about my reception.”

Tom smiled. “Sure you are. But, don’t worry. The captain will protect you.”

“The captain—,” Seven paused, realizing that he was the second person to assure her of Janeway’s dedication. “Could I ask you a question, Tom, about something the Doctor said?”

“Anything.” He looked around at the deserted passageway. “But this isn’t the best place to talk. Let’s go to astrometrics where we can have some privacy.” They made their way to Seven’s “haven,” and then Tom gave her a reassuring smile. “So, what’s the question?”

“I recently decided to engage in intimate personal relations.”

Intimate relations?” Once Tom was over his initial shock, he managed to say, “Really?”

“I have had several dates with a member of the crew.”

Tom, much to his shame, wished briefly that he had been that man—or at least a fly on the wall to observe the interaction. “How did that go?”

“We had our first kiss just last night.”

“Your first kiss! When you said intimaaa—,” Tom caught himself, realizing that Seven had no idea what “intimate relations” would imply. He cleared his throat. “That’s quite a milestone.”

“Yes. I was wondering if you remember your first kiss.”

“Of course, I do.” He leaned back on the console and crossed his arms over his chest. “I was twelve. The girl was Mary Davenport, who lived next door. I thought it was true love.” He laughed. “It’s easy to confuse sexual attraction with love, you know.”

“I did not know this,” she answered. “Perhaps you could explain.”

“Well,” Tom thought out loud, “I guess it has a lot to do with motivation. My kissing Mary had more to do with curiosity than affection. I wondered what kissing a girl would be like, and she was available and willing to be kissed. Maybe she was just as curious as I was.”

“Where is this Mary Davenport now?”

“I have no idea. Our family moved just a few months later, and I never saw her again.”

“And you have kissed other women besides Mary Davenport?”

He blushed. “Seven, you know I have. Hardly anyone marries the first person they kiss.” He paused. “Are you serious about this crewman?”

“I . . . I don’t know. Perhaps I, too, was merely curious.”

“You probably were. It’s a natural step in exploring what it means to be with someone.”

“I am thinking that this relationship might not be a good idea at this time.”

“Oh, yeah. I see what you mean. Bad timing to get involved just when everything is changing.” Tom felt sorry for her and took a moment to think about what he should say next. “You know, I try to stay out of the advice business, Seven, because my track record isn’t the best. But here goes.

“Take your time. Date several people before you get serious. Have some fun. Get to know what different people are like. Sex creates powerful emotions and needs that can just cause confusion and pain when you realize that you need to move on.” He glanced up at the image of earth on the view screen. “Plus, the number of potential partners just grew exponentially. Look before you leap.”

Seven glanced at Earth and nodded. “I see your point.”

“I just don’t want you to get hurt.”

They stared at the blue orb in a comfortable silence, and then Seven decided to test the Doctor’s assertion about the command team’s failed relationship. “Maybe now the captain and commander can be together.”

“I hope so. I never thought they could resist that deep of an attraction for so long. But Janeway is a true Starfleet captain, all the way to the bone. She’s tried more than once to sacrifice herself to atone for stranding us in the Delta Quadrant, and, in a way, she did just that—as the admiral.” He sighed. “I have about decided that sacrificing her chance to be with Chakotay is one way she can punish herself.”

“Is their attraction based on curiosity?” Seven wondered. “Or love?”

“Love, although I’m sure there is curiosity involved, as well.” He smiled. “Attraction alone would never have lasted seven years.” He looked at her. “They are best friends, like B’Elanna and I are. They just need the opportunity to let their friendship deepen, and I hope they have that chance.” He straightened up and headed for the door, stopping to look back. “Take your time, Seven. Maybe someday, you can find a relationship like that to step into.”

“Thanks, Tom.”

He left, and she automatically keyed in some readings, discovering that the ship had entered a standard Earth orbit, and the warp core had been powered down.

“Chakotay to Seven of Nine.”

“Seven of Nine here.”

“The captain has invited the senior staff to the conference room for a toast. Please be here in fifteen minutes.”

She stiffened. “Understood, Commander.”

The link closed, yet Seven stayed where she was. She pulled up the sensor logs from their trip through the subspace conduit and studied the readouts from the sphere that had pursued them. She found herself fascinated by the data and able to detect the very moment that the queen’s control had faltered. She dug deeper into the logs, thinking that she might not have another opportunity to do so.

Fifteen minutes later, she arrived on the bridge to find most of the senior staff still on duty. Only the captain and commander were missing.

“Did I miss the toast?” she wondered.

Tuvok looked up his seat on the command deck. “No, you did not. Just after the commander notified you about the meeting, the captain received a message from Admiral Hayes, after which she and the commander retired to the ready room together.”

“I see.”

Paris swiveled in his seat to look at her, excited to fill her in on the details that Tuvok had left out. “Tuvok, you left out the best part. Hayes ordered her to beam the Maquis to a holding facility.”

Seven frowned. “A facility for holding what?”

“A facility for holding criminals. Like a jail,” Harry Kim explained. “The captain refused to comply.”

“She refused a direct order,” Tom repeated, shaking his head in disbelief. “Hayes turned six shades of red. When he threatened to beam the Maquis away himself, the captain raised shields and cut off communications.”

Harry chimed in. “That’s when the commander demanded that they talk in the ready room.”

Seven nodded. “How long have they been in there?”

“Eight minutes,” Tuvok replied as his communications panel chimed and he silenced it. “She ordered me to ignore their hails.”

“Can’t she get in trouble for this?” Seven wondered out loud.

“Indeed, she can.” Tuvok raised a brow. “She told the admiral that he should take her into custody if he was questioning her judgment on the Maquis.”

Seven stared at the ready room door, wondering what was going on inside. She was about to ask another question when the captain contacted her. “Seven of Nine, please report to the ready room.”

Looking at the curious faces surrounding her, she stepped to the ready room doors without a word and entered a darkened room.

“You wanted to see me, Captain?”

“I’m up here, Seven, on the sofa. Come sit with me.”

Seven made her way to the upper level and sat down. Janeway was twisted so that she could gaze at the planet, and Seven studied her profile in the earthlight. After a long moment, Janeway shifted her position and gave Seven a bemused look. “I thought that once this planet filled my view port, all my troubles would be over.”

“You’re speaking of the Maquis.”

“Among other things.” She took a deep breath and then shook her head. “The commander and I are having difficulty reaching a consensus on what will happen to the Maquis, but we’ll work through it. Don’t worry about him.”

Seven frowned, wondering why the captain would think that she would be overly concerned about the commander’s well-being. Immediately, the image of Admiral Janeway filled her mind, and she knew, without a doubt, that the admiral had told the captain about the budding relationship between her and the commander. She might have told the captain about Seven’s death, as well. A fresh wave of anger rushed through her before she realized that the captain was waiting for her to answer a question.

“I’m sorry, Captain, my mind wandered. What did you say?”

“I said I’m worried about you, Seven.” She leaned forward slightly and studied the former drone’s eyes. “Are you all right?”

“I’m struggling to adapt to our new location, but I am undamaged.”

A smile tugged at the corner of Janeway’s mouth. “Good. Starfleet medical wants to examine you. So does Starfleet Science, Intelligence, Cybernetics, and every other branch of service that can think of the remotest reason to do so. I want you to know that I have no intention of turning you over to any of them.”

“I understand,” Seven replied, although she really didn’t.

Janeway poured fresh coffee into her mug. “Can I get you something, Seven?”

“I have no need for refreshment at this time.”

The captain sipped the coffee and sighed. “Do you remember when the Reginald Barclay hologram was sent to the ship through our monthly communications link with the Federation?”

“Yes, of course. He tried to kidnap me.”

“Yes, he did. I never told you why that happened. Two very enterprising Ferengi wanted to harvest your nanoprobes and sell them for profit. They would have made billions.”

“But the transport would have killed me.”

“They knew that, and they didn’t care whether you lived or died. They just wanted the nanoprobes.” She set down the mug and then rubbed her temples with her fingertips for a moment before looking Seven in the eye. “You need protection from people like that, Seven, who see you as a commodity and refuse to respect your Federation citizenship. I hate to say it, there are even some Starfleet personnel who might try to take advantage of you. I would like to suggest that you be placed in the protective custody of the Vulcan ambassador until your rights are confirmed.”

“I want to stay on Voyager,” Seven protested. “I want to stay with you.”

Janeway’s face softened. “Do you trust me, Seven?”

“More than anyone.”

“Then you must understand that I am under siege here. Starfleet wants to place Chakotay and the Maquis under arrest. I can’t allow that to happen. It promises to be a protracted dispute, and I can’t take care of you properly if I’m also worrying about them.”

“What does the commander say?”

The captain looked away. “I’m afraid he’s no longer impartial where you’re concerned.”

Seven stiffened. “Meaning what?”

“It’s all right. I know that you and the commander are involved with each other. He thinks you would be better off with him, but I disagree, especially since he is in danger of being placed under arrest. He’s letting his emotions cloud his reasoning.”

“You are mistaken. The commander and I have had four dates over the last ten days. They were simply part of an exploration, on my part, of what a dating relationship might be like.”

Janeway’s eyes widened with surprise. “Admiral Janeway led me to believe that your interest in him was more serious.”

“In her timeline, perhaps, but her arrival has changed the future. I cannot see our courtship continuing in light of our arrival home.” She stopped, taking in how intently the captain was regarding her. “We will be separated by our different interests and needs, Captain.”

“I must say, this surprises me, Seven. The commander seems to think your relationship is a serious one.”

“Then I must disabuse him of this misconception.” Seven paused, thinking of her talk with Tom Paris. “After all, how many people marry the first person they kiss?”

The captain blinked in surprise before she stood and walked toward the replicator, murmuring something about wanting hot broth; Seven heard the emotion in her voice as she placed the order, an emotion that confirmed the suspicion Tom and the Doctor had mentioned. Janeway did care for the commander.

By the time Janeway resumed her seat, her emotions were under control and her voice sounded normal. “You should inform the commander of this.”

“I will, Captain. In fact, I tried to end our relationship yesterday, but he misunderstood me, thinking that my decision was influenced by the admiral’s manipulation. While there is some truth to that, I believe it is not a good time to begin dating someone. I don’t want to mislead him any longer.”

“Very well.” She paused a moment, sighed, and moved on. “I’ve spoken to the Vulcan ambassador, and she’s agreed to offer you and Icheb asylum until the issues regarding your citizenship are resolved. The Vulcans respect diversity above all else. They will not allow anyone to harm you, and they will not take advantage of you.” She put a hand on Seven’s arm. “I promise you that they can be trusted.”

“Then I shall trust them.”

“It will be a while before they can retrieve you from Voyager.” She closed her eyes and leaned back on the sofa. “I can’t lower shields until I’ve resolved a few issues with Starfleet.”

“About the Maquis?”

“Among other things.”

“What other things?”

Janeway gave her a sad smile. “Nothing that you need to worry about, Seven.”

“I do not want to leave if my absence will put you in danger, Captain.”

“How could your absence endanger me?”

“If I were here, I might be able to help you in some way, as I have in the past.”

“Seven, you have been a great help to me, in so many ways, but this is something that only I can rectify. Starfleet thinks I erred when I allowed Admiral Janeway to alter twenty-six years of history, and I must convince them that I took the proper course of action.”

“The admiral also destroyed the Borg threat.”

“For now, perhaps, and I have mentioned that, but Admiral Hayes was not impressed.” She laughed and gave Seven a wink. “They’re wondering just how wild I got out there on my own. They’re imagining how many other directives and protocols I might have tossed aside at my personal whim.”

“They are fools if they think that you and the admiral are the same person.”

“I told them that, too. I’ll work it out, Seven.” She stood. “Now, you should join the celebration in the mess hall.”

“I don’t feel like attending a party when I am about to be separated from my home.”

“It might be your last chance to see the entire crew.”

Seven felt her heart flutter in her chest in fear. “I will be alone.”

“No, you won’t be alone, Seven. Icheb will be with you.”

“That is a comfort.” She took a deep breath and forced herself to relax. “However, I should regenerate, in case I need to go to the Vulcan ambassador in a hurry.”

“That might be a good idea.”

Seven started for the door and then paused. “I should warn you that the commander may try to take matters into his own hands.”


“He thinks he should submit to Admiral Hayes’ demands, does he not?”

Janeway’s face fell. “He’s an honorable man, Seven, and a trusting one. He believes that the Federation will be fair, even though he joined the Maquis because they were unfair to his people.”

“He may disobey your orders and try to lower shields himself. To protect you.”

“I’ve encrypted the shields, just in case. I won’t let the Maquis turn themselves in.”

Seven nodded and headed for her regeneration chamber in Cargo Bay 2.

She was not surprised to find Chakotay waiting for her arrival.

“Seven, you must help me.”

“In what way, Commander?”

“Commander?” he scowled. “Are we playing this game again? The one where you pretend we aren’t more than just crewmates?”

“This is no game. I’m afraid I have no more time for my experiment, Commander.”

“Experiment?” His face clouded.

“I didn’t realize how seriously you would take this, and I apologize for misleading you. I merely intended to see what a dating relationship would be like.”

“You asked me out on our first date as part of an experiment?” When she nodded, he said, “I don’t believe you.”

“I have no reason to deceive you.”

He ran his hands through his hair. “You seemed sincere, Seven. I thought we had potential.”

“I’m sorry if I have hurt you. Please accept my apology.” She stepped toward her regeneration chamber. “I must regenerate so that I am ready to beam to the Vulcan ship.”

“She talked you into that, hm? Did she also talk you out of continuing to see me?”

“No, she did not.” She stepped into the regeneration alcove and turned to face him. “The captain has never misled me, Commander, and she has always had my best interests at heart. If she believes that I should spend time with the Vulcan ambassador, then I trust her judgment.”

“Don’t you trust me? Don’t you think you can be safe with me?”

“Not when you are under scrutiny yourself. The captain has always been my mentor and protector. For many years, you had little to do with me.”

“I didn’t know you.”

“And you didn’t want to know me.” She paused, thinking, and then plunged on. “I told the captain that we’ve had four dates and that I was simply exploring a new area of my humanity. It was wrong of me to mislead you.”

“What did the captain say?”

“She advised me to tell you the truth as soon as possible. And so I will.”

“You already have.”

“No, there is more I want to say. I understand that you and the captain care for each other.”

Chakotay’s eyes widened, “Seven—”

“No, don’t interrupt me. She cares for you enough to let you go.”

He narrowed his eyes. “She rejected me, Seven, more than once. She’s a friend, but nothing more.”

“You’re wrong.” She stepped down from the platform to stand in front of him, looking up at him with her typical defiance. “Giving you up is the way she punishes herself for stranding Voyager and disrupting the lives of the crew. Losing you is the price she thinks she should pay for what she’s done.”

He studied her face and then smiled. “Who told you all this?”

“It doesn’t matter. It’s true, isn’t it?”

“So what if it is? It’s too late for Kathryn and me.”

“It’s never too late when you truly care for someone.” She returned to the alcove and turned to face him. “Unless, of course, you are afraid.”

“Why would I be afraid?”

“Because you fear another rejection? Because you have delayed pursuing the relationship for so long? Because of all the conflicts you’ve experienced as captain and first officer?”

“I’m not afraid.”

“We’re home, Commander, and everything has changed. We must all look at our choices and make sure that what seemed proper in the Delta Quadrant are still relevant now that we are back in the Federation.” With that, Seven stepped back into the alcove and began her regeneration cycle.

Six hours later, Seven opened her eyes to find the Doctor watching her. “Sorry to wake you early, but the Vulcan ambassador awaits you. We’ll beam your alcove over separately.”

“And Icheb?”

“Already there.” He gestured at the door. “The crew has assembled to bid you farewell.”

Seven was unable to speak when she realized that every available member of the crew lined the passageways between Cargo Bay 2 and the transporter room. As she walked slowly along, each person said goodbye and wished her well. She moved as if in a dream and fought the tears that threatened to overwhelm her. By the time she met the senior staff outside the transporter room door, she was an emotional basket case.

Tom, B’Elanna, Harry, and even Tuvok gave her a hug, and she took a long moment to admire Miral, who looked up at her with solemn eyes. Samantha and Naomi Wildman were also there to give her a special farewell.

“Where is the captain?” Seven wondered. “And Commander Chakotay?”

Tuvok offered her a PADD. “They took a shuttle to Starfleet Command an hour ago. They asked me to give you this message.”

“Thank you,” she said, taking the PADD. Then she turned and looked down the passageway at all the faces that smiled at her. “Thank you all for this.”

A chorus of shouts answered her; “good luck” and “see you soon” echoed through the ship as she stepped on the transporter pad and beamed to the Vulcan vessel waiting nearby.

The Vulcans did not react when they saw the tears in her eyes.

For the next six months, Seven and Icheb lived with two human families on Vulcan and worked on projects set up for them by the Vulcan Science Academy. Together, they kept track of the ongoing Voyager controversy, often discussing articles from the Federation News Network or sharing information gleaned from their surreptitious visits to the Voyager message board. The only direct contact they had with anyone from Voyager was an occasional quick message from the captain.

At first, Seven was unhappy with her placement. Her human hosts, Rob and Joanne Reynolds, worked as private contractors for the Vulcan Agricultural Research Foundation, and their four children, ranging in age from four to seventeen, attended the local diplomatic school. For the first time, Seven was experiencing a normal family life and putting up with all the chaos and disruption that went along with it. The most difficult adaptation was conforming to the family’s circadian schedule, which meant that she retired soon after dark and resurfaced with the sunrise. While Seven did not sleep during the quiet hours, she had no choice but to settle into the family’s day and night routine.

Living with a “real” family had been educational. She had thought that Voyager’s crew qualified as a family until she’d had the chance to observe the Reynolds. Rob and Joanne’s interaction with their children and with each other had fascinated her. The children’s insubordination was tolerated without comment, and they voiced their opinions freely and without invitation. Rules seemed to exist to be ignored, and the parents seemed more than willing to compromise the rules to satisfy some whim of their progeny. Belongings were routinely used by others without permission; the dog was fed most of the vegetables served at dinner; homework was left to the last minute; household chores were ignored. The litany of infractions was remarkable. Yet, in spite of the daily disorder and frequent confrontation, the children left for school on time, fully clothed, in possession of their homework, and with smiles on their faces.

Just when Seven was sure that the family was going to come apart at the seams, she would find the children gathered around their parents playing a board game, reading a book, or singing along as Joanne played the piano. The affection that smoothed all disagreements and confrontations struck Seven as the biggest difference when compared to the crew. A child who was yelling in anger at the parents one minute might be cuddling with them moments later. Defiance could be followed by apology, forgiveness, and a sudden lopsided compromise. And the parents were obviously a well-matched pair who loved and respected each other in ways that Janeway and Chakotay had never displayed. Seven doubted that the crew of a Starfleet vessel would benefit from such indulgent leaders.

When she and Icheb beamed onto the U.S.S. Fontana for their journey back to Earth, Seven expected to be pleased with the change in her living arrangements. She imagined that she would enjoy the quiet, order, and protocol that had been the norm on Voyager.

She was wrong.

“I miss the Colgans,” Icheb admitted on the second day of the trip. “I keep wondering if Elise finished her mapping homework and if Marty got up the courage to ask the little red-haired girl out for a date.”

“I miss the Reynolds’ children, as well. Helen’s dance recital is this weekend, and Joe was going to be the starting goalie for his soccer team tonight.”

“It’s so quiet here. People come and go with just a nod hello, and they don’t seem very interested in each other’s work or lives.”

“Indeed.” Seven looked around the crew lounge, taking in the number of solitary people or small groups of two or three. “Were you surprised at how involved the parents were in the minutia of the children’s lives?”

Icheb laughed. “I was! Even to the point of following their bath routine and toileting practices.”

“Joanne used to check the dampness of the bath towels to insure that showers had been taken.” She shook her head. “I feel guilty for not telling her that they often dampened them from the sink in order to fool her.”

“Why are children so reluctant to bathe?”

“A mystery, to be sure. The littlest child, Bobby, seemed incapable of using the latrine without assistance, even though he was nearly five.”

“And the older girls. They spend hours in the bathroom . . . doing what?”

“I believe they are simply trying to irritate their siblings.”

“You might be right.” Icheb sighed. “I miss them.”

Their conversation was interrupted by an announcement from the first officer regarding a modification in shift assignments. His voice echoed through the ship, and each person in the lounge listened closely, taking care to check their PADDs to make note of the change. Several rose and left the room to comply with the reassignments.

“Amazing,” Seven grinned. “No one complained or whined about the interruption.”

“Because this isn’t a family—it’s a crew.”

“A distinction I’m beginning to appreciate. Neither of us has lived in a family setting for years.”

“I was an infant when the Borg assimilated me. I have no memories of living in a family.”

“I was barely five years old—and an only child with just my parents for company. However, I believe that this Vulcan exile has done a great deal to help us acclimate to normal family life on Earth.”

“I agree. I wish I had a family of my own, someone to be interested in my well-being, to ask if I am feeling all right or if my day had gone well.”

“We share this desire,” Seven stated. “Perhaps you and I could establish a family bond—as siblings.”

“I would like that.”

“Then it is done.”

He leaned forward and lowered his voice, “Have you had your vegetables today, sis?”

She laughed and then watched a male crew member stop to chat briefly with a young woman about swapping a shift. The woman agreed and made a note to her schedule without undue protest. “Do you think these people have families like the ones we lived with?”

“I would presume so, Seven. It is the common paradigm in most species to rear children in a nuclear family.”

“I have a hard time imagining Captain Janeway fussing about bathroom time or refusing to eat her vegetables.”

“You might be surprised.”

That evening, they had dinner with the ship’s senior staff, an unusual opportunity for non-Starfleet guests. Captain R’Nok hosted the meal with the same distant air that the former drones had seen in Kathryn Janeway at such occasions. His talk was polite and deferential, focusing on their experiences as former drones, their lives on Voyager, and what their future plans might be.

The first officer, however, took a different tack, asking about life on a Borg cube, the division of labor in maintaining the cube, and oblique questions about tactics. The rest of the staff spoke only when spoken to, and Seven realized that this crew had not evolved into the close community that she’d known on Voyager. Nor did she sense an underlying friendship between the command team, which had been obvious between Janeway and Chakotay in most situations.

She brought up the stiff formality of the meal as she and Icheb returned to their quarters. “Do you think this distance between the staff is the normal Starfleet way? If we’d been on Voyager, there would have been a lively discussion going on and a great deal of laughter and teasing.”

“I’m not sure. I think that our crew was together much longer than most crews, giving them enough time to create a community.” He frowned. “However, while Captain Janeway was never just one of us, she took the time to know us. I mean, she was always the captain, and we were always aware of that, yet she was more open and approachable.”

“Yes, I agree that she was more involved than Captain R’Nok seems to be. Tom Paris used to refer to the captain and commander as Voyager’s mommy and daddy, but I don’t think that is an accurate comparison now that I’ve lived with a real family.”

“Well, she never asked me about taking a shower, I’ll admit that,” Icheb joked. “She would relax with the crew on the bridge sometimes, but she kept to herself after hours. In fact, the only people she interacted with personally were you and Chakotay. Well, and Tuvok, now and then.”

“You might be right.” Seven grew thoughtful, remembering the many interactions that she’d had with the captain and realizing how they were mirrored in the way Rob and Joanne had dealt with their children, how patient and indulgent she’d been. “You know, the captain displayed the same tolerance toward my defiance as the Reynolds parents did with their offspring.”

“Are you saying that the captain acted as a mother toward you?”

“I am unsure. I will have to think about this, Icheb.”

“I just have one question: if you’re my sister, and she’s your ‘mom,’ does that make her my mom, too?”

Seven smiled and patted his arm. “I’d say so, Icheb.”

The week-long trip to Earth passed without incident and gave Seven and Icheb the time they needed to reconnect with members of Voyager’s crew via subspace communication. They read multiple accounts of the post-return trials and looked forward to the “hail and farewell” party that was scheduled for the first available weekend after their arrival on Earth.

But first, they had to undergo their own debriefings, during which time they would be sequestered in Starfleet quarters and under “protective custody.”

“They just want to have you to themselves for a while,” Captain Janeway assured them the day before their arrival. “It will give you a chance to acclimate yourselves to Earth and to gradually rejoin the Voyager community.”

Of course, Janeway was waiting for them when they materialized at Starfleet Headquarters, and Seven was aware of a change in her demeanor from the first moment. Gone was the reserve and underlying tension that the captain had always displayed on the ship. Instead, she was relaxed and open with her emotions, friendly and excited to greet them.

“There you are!” she said, beaming at them, but keeping a respectful distance. “You’re a sight for sore eyes.”

“We have missed you, as well,” Seven answered, recognizing in the captain the desire to make physical contact with them, as was common in the Reynolds’ family. She stepped forward and reached for the captain. “May I give you a hug?”

The words were barely out of her mouth before Janeway embraced her and then shifted slightly, opening one arm toward Icheb. “Group hug!” she ordered.

After a few moments, the three of them stepped back and regarded each other with affection.

Janeway nodded with approval. “You two look like you survived your stay on Vulcan without significant damage.”

Seven replied, “The experience was beneficial in every way, Captain. Icheb and I were afforded the opportunity to experience a human family in safe surroundings, and I believe that we have emerged better prepared for whatever the future holds.”

“I agree,” Icheb nodded. “We learned the difference between a real family and the community we lived in on Voyager.”

“A benefit I hadn’t anticipated, I assure you.” Janeway beckoned them to follow as she turned and led them toward their temporary quarters. “I just knew you needed time before seventeen departments started probing you for answers.”

“Your instincts were correct.” Seven took in their surroundings. “Are we in a holding facility?”

“No, these are simply quarters that have restricted access.” The captain stopped and shook her head. “The public, and especially the press, are relentless in wanting to interact with anyone from Voyager—but especially the ‘rescued’ drones. The rest of the crew lives in a single compound, also sequestered from the general public, and we will probably have to protect our privacy for the foreseeable future.”

Icheb glanced at Seven in relief. “We appreciate the way you look out for us, Captain.”

Janeway stopped and turned to them, tears glittering in her eyes. “You say you’ve learned the difference between family and crew relationship. It’s a good distinction to make, and, for the most part, I agree with you.” She took a calming breath and smiled. “But, where you two are concerned, I’m afraid my attachment is more of a familial one than a professional one. Whatever you do, wherever you go, I will always think of you as mine.”

“The feeling is reciprocated, Captain,” Seven replied, with Icheb nodding in agreement.

“Well, that can only mean one thing,” Janeway replied, opening her arms to them. “Another group hug!”

“I can’t believe you’re using some of Neelix’s recipes.” B’Elanna Torres said as she paced in the crew’s cafeteria with a bawling baby on her shoulder.

Seven of Nine stood inside the galley watching her and preparing for the next day’s meals.

The time was 3 a.m., and they had the room to themselves.

Seven gave her a measured look. “Several crew members have requested dishes that contain leola root.”

“That’s the other thing I have trouble believing. I can’t believe anyone misses leola root.”

“I think it has redeeming qualities. Except for the aroma.”

B’Elanna laughed and shook her head. “It can’t be just the smell, Seven. There is the moldy taste, too.”

Icheb and Seven’s briefings had taken less than a week, and the two soon found themselves moving into the private compound with the remaining members of the crew. In the two weeks that followed, Icheb had been absorbed into his circle of friends, but Seven struggled to fill her time.

She had requested that Starfleet assign her some duties, but they declined, explaining that her current duties included acclimating herself to life on a planet and coming to terms with the changes in her life.

The crew was housed in a compound designed for whole-ship debriefings. It consisted of three dormitory towers and an administrative building joined by a central lounge and cafeteria. The crew was required to be in residence during the week, available for meetings and counseling sessions, as well as visits from family members and friends. Starfleet knew that, after a seven year absence, the crew needed time to reconnect with people and to catch up with current events. Almost every weekend, a large portion of the crew would leave to spend time with family or have family members join them at the compound. Soon, however, they would be gradually released to pick up what was left of their lives and to begin the real work of fitting in.

Bored and a little out of sorts, Seven of Nine realized that this would be a perfect time to pick up one hobby she had enjoyed on Voyager—cooking. Many members of the crew were reminiscing about Neelix’s specialties-Feragoit goulash and Chadre’kab, among others—and so she surprised them one day by making a few for their enjoyment. The dishes were met with glee, especially when family members visited, and Seven found herself enjoying her time in the kitchen. While many of the ingredients had to be replicated, including the dreaded leola root, Seven was able to access Voyager’s computer and replicate a close proximity of most of the many rare spices and foods Neelix had used.

The room grew quiet when Miral found her thumb, so B’Elanna took a seat at the bar and watched Seven at work in a corner of the galley where Icheb and Naomi arrived early each day to assist with the chopping and other food preparation that most of the dishes required.

“Are you fixing a breakfast option today?” B’Elanna wondered.

“Of course. I’m preparing Jibalian seven-spice omelet,” Seven replied. “It is one of the most popular dishes I fix, not including the Jimbalian fudge cake and Tuvok’s terra nut soufflé.”

“The omelet sounds good. When will it be ready?” B’Elanna asked, a sheepish look on her face. “I love that stuff.”

Seven repressed a smile. “I can fix you a small dish now, if you’d like.”

“I would like. Thanks.”

“Coming right up.” Seven had forgotten how much she enjoyed cooking and how easy it was to connect with those who ate her food. In just a couple of weeks, she had spoken to nearly every member of the crew, shared stories with them of her stay on Vulcan, and settled into a routine that was both productive and appreciated. Captain Janeway had been thrilled with the progress she’d made in her social skills.

“So, you’ve been back for a while, now. How do you feel about being trapped here with the rest of us?”

“I am enjoying the chance to see everyone before we have to say goodbye. I find it bittersweet. We may never be together again—at least, not all of us.”

“I’m conflicted by it, too.”

“I wonder if we will keep in touch.”

B’Elanna nodded. “The captain is doing some things to make sure we do, including setting up a Voyager messaging system where we can post updates and events. She is also establishing a recurring time to meet at Sandrine’s, probably once a quarter. Whoever is on Earth or close enough to come is supposed to show up.”

“Good ideas. I will be sure to provide some Delta Quadrant cuisine when I am able to attend.”

The engineer studied Seven closely. “You’ve changed, you know?”

“I learned a great deal while living with the Reynolds family on Vulcan.”

“Maybe that’s it.” Miral had, at last, fallen asleep, so B’Elanna placed her in her portable seat and tucked a blanket around her. “Sleep at least six hours, Miral. That’s an order.”

“Good luck with that,” Seven said with a smile. She removed the omelet from the skillet with admirable skill and placed it in front of the engineer. “One Jibalian seven-spice Omelet. I’ve had to replicate the Nimian sea salt, but the taste is nearly the same.”

“It smells delicious.”

Seven watched her eat for a moment, debating with herself whether to broach a subject that had been on her mind since the day she’d left Voyager—the relationship between the command team. She decided this was as good a time as any and that B’Elanna was probably the best person to ask. “I imagine a lot of relationships have changed since our return six months ago.”

“Yeah. A lot of couples have acknowledged their involvement, if that’s what you mean.”

“From what I’ve seen since my return, there were a lot of hidden couples throughout the ship.”

“More than I expected, I admit.”

Seven paused, and then blurted out, “What about the captain and the commander?”

B’Elanna’s head snapped up and her eyes narrowed. A long, tense moment passed before she laid down her fork and sat back in the chair, crossing her arms over her chest and giving Seven a wry grin. “There are some things that are still too volatile to admit in public.”

“Too volatile?”

“With Starfleet. Oh, the debriefings are over and we are in the final stages of their interminable ‘acclimation’ period, but a command relationship still exists, for the most part.”


“Meaning that there is no public evidence of anything between the captain and the commander.” She picked up her fork again and toyed with the omelet. “At least not that I’ve seen.”

Seven frowned. “They are always together.”

“They always spent a lot of time together, on duty and off.”

“They arrive at breakfast at the seven o’clock every morning.”

“Because they have a briefing at eight.”

“She touches him often as they interact.”

“Seven, she touches everybody.”

Confused, Seven said, “Before I left for Vulcan, Lieutenant Paris implied that they were attracted to one another. Is that in error?”

B’Elanna said nothing for a long time before she sighed and picked up her glass of prune juice. “Back on Voyager, I was convinced that Tom was delusional about this alleged attraction, and Seska used to complain about Janeway luring Chakotay away from her, but she was the jealous type.” Her eyes grew thoughtful. “Even so, Tom was around them more than I was during those long hours on the bridge. The only time I saw them interacting was at meetings or formal functions.”

“This was early in the journey?”

“Pretty much, because he says they later learned how to keep it under wraps. Maybe he’s right about them. I guess time will tell.”

“Combustion is usually present when one smells smoke.”

B’Elanna smiled. “You mean, ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’?”

“Isn’t that what I said?”

“Close enough.” She used her fork to move the remnants of the omelet around her plate.

“Tom used to have a betting pool about the two of them.”

“You heard about that?” B’Elanna pushed her plate away with a happy sigh. “He was such a pig when I first met him.”

“And now? Is there a betting pool now?”

The half Klingon engineer leaned forward, talking softly and repressing a grin. “Absolutely. Did you want to join in?”

Seven glanced around and lowered her voice, repressing a smile. “I might. What does it entail? First night together? First kiss?”

“We’ve given up on verifying a relationship—and first kiss? Forget about it. The pool is about when they will acknowledge the relationship in public.”

“I would like to join the pool.”

“Well, I’m warning you that most of the good times are already taken, especially for the ‘hail and farewell party’ next weekend.”

“I can understand why that is a popular choice, because their command relationship will cease to exist at that time.”

“Right. You won’t get to pick during Janeway’s speech. Or during a celebratory dance. Or just before they leave at the end of the party. Most of those obvious moments are taken.”

“I see.” Seven repressed a smile. “I’ll have to look at my options the next time I see Tom.”

“Fine, just remember not to ask him about it in front of the command team. If they get wind of this, all bets are off.” She snorted, wiping her mouth with her napkin and glancing at her sleeping baby. “I wouldn’t put it past Chakotay to enter the poll under an alias so he can pick the time and walk off with the prize himself.”

“So you believe that they have become involved since our return?”

“Who can tell? You were the one observing mating behavior on Voyager,” B’Elanna teased. “Have you detected anything different about them since you returned?”

“I will have to be more observant.”

“Good luck with that.” Miral whimpered and squirmed, so B’Elanna stood up, lifting the baby seat with a sigh of resignation. “I’d better get some sleep now, before she wakes up again demanding to be nursed. Thanks for the omelet.”

“Any time.”

“Your recipe is better than Neelix’s, by the way.”

“Because I use only six spices,” the former drone said with a wink. She cleaned up B’Elanna’s plate and checked the time, realizing that she would have to hurry if she hoped to have enough omelets ready for breakfast. Her visit with the engineer had slowed down her usual preparation; Icheb and Naomi would have to work harder than usual to complete her pre-cooking duties.

Seven’s talk with B’Elanna reawakened her curiosity about the captain and the commander’s personal relationship. She remembered what the Doctor and Tom Paris had told her about their suspected unrequited love for each other, but Seven’s grasp of human bonding rituals had, at that time, been rudimentary, at best. She blushed at the thought of her naiveté, especially about the significance she thought the first kiss would indicate and the belief that a person would choose a life-long partner so quickly.

Her time living with the Reynolds’ family had also given her much needed insight on matters of the heart. Sixteen year old Mary Reynolds had been an interesting case study for courtship rituals and relationship angst, displaying dramatic reactions to imagined slights from the Edgerton boy who was the object of her affections. Tears and anguish had punctuated her nights and had necessitated long hours of discussion with girlfriends, who would endlessly speculate about who might be the girl Jonah desired, whether Mary might be that girl, and what Mary could do to maximize her potential of being that girl.

The debate never ended. Did he like Mary best or was he attracted to the new Vulcan girl, V’Set? Should Mary wear her red jumper to the dance or the new black tights and tunic that showed off her legs? Was he planning to attend the parrises squares tournament the next week? Should one of Mary’s friends casually ask him about it and report to her? Should she ask him for help with her quantum mechanics homework? Would it be worthwhile to befriend his younger sister?

Seven had been astounded at Mary’s calculated duplicity and indirect approach to expressing her interest in Jonah Edgerton. By contrast, Seven’s personal instinct was to simply proposition him and ask if there was a chance for a potential relationship, but this approach did not seem to fit the expected paradigm. Now Seven understood why Harry Kim had been startled when she had, years earlier, bluntly asked him if he desired to copulate. It was obvious that the courting ritual was more complex than she had imagined.

Against that teenaged angst was the stark contrast of the relationship between the Reynolds parents. There remained between Rob and Joanne Reynolds a simmering warmth that was muted and low-key. Seven suspected that they had long since smoothed out the rough spots between them and found a way to present to their children and the world a joint persona based on mutual respect and understanding. There were no games being played here, no calculated gambols or secret plans. They were settled and agreed, and their calm, established attitude set the tone for the family.

In the Delta Quadrant, Seven realized that there had been signs of teenaged angst among some members of Voyager’s crew, but she had never attributed that emotional drama to romance. She was not privy to the secluded agonies that might have taken place in their quarters, and so she had concluded that they were tired, unwell, or unhappy with a work assignment. The idea of an unrequited love affair never occurred to her.

Only the more obvious pairs had caught her attention, such as the courtship of Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres. While they did show similar signs of angst, especially during their loud arguments and even noisier reconciliations, she reasoned that their age and experience might have helped them handle the vicissitudes of courtship without the open spectacle that seemed to bubble over with Mary Reynolds and her friends. And it was significant that, eventually, that Tom and B’Elanna’s relationship had evolved into one that reminded her of Rob and Joanne Reynolds’.

When she thought about the command team, Seven found it impossible to imagine that the captain and commander would ever experience this sort of self-imposed torture over their relationship that Mary enjoyed. If they had experienced rough times, she imagined that they would have hidden it from the crew and would have resolved the issue long before Seven had arrived on the ship. It was possible that no one would ever know the truth of their early relationship, a fact that Seven found tantalizing.

She began her close surveillance of the command team. At first, Seven found nothing in their demeanor to indicate any personal problem or emotion, at all. She found this to be the case in every interaction she observed between them, whether it was during a meal, during an informal gathering in the compound, or during an official meeting or debriefing. There was in Janeway a quiet, unquestioned assumption of authority, and in Chakotay an equally understated subservience. She saw no evidence of a secret liaison, no dilation of pupils, no increase in heart rate or blood pressure, no blushing or shyness.

Even their deportment at the farewell “blowout” the following weekend revealed nothing out of the ordinary. There was no public profession of love, no physical evidence of involvement, and nothing to hint at a secret love affair. No one won Tom’s betting pool, and the crew dispersed to their homes or to their next assignments with everyone’s questions about the relationship unanswered.

It was late on the last day when Seven packed one small bag and beamed into San Francisco with Icheb. For the first time in their lives, the two were independent people who felt at ease in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city, and so they decided to explore the streets, find a quiet restaurant, and spend a few hours talking about their futures.

At midnight, when they finally said goodnight, Icheb traveled to the Wildman home, where they had a room for him. Seven, on the other hand, was at loose ends. She lingered outside the transport station trying to decide whether she should beam back to the orbital station where her regeneration chamber was located, find a local hotel, or make her way to the Janeway townhouse just a few blocks away.

She recalled how the captain had approached her the previous day with a generous offer of housing.

I hope you will stay with me while you decide what to do next,” Janeway had told her. “Although I’ll be traveling the first few weeks, I’ll be staying in San Francisco at a townhouse my family has used for years. I want you to use one of the extra bedrooms while you look for a place of your own.”

Seven had paused, unwilling to admit that she had nowhere to go, but then said, “Thank you, Captain. I will accept the offer.”

Janeway told her the address and the access code to bypass security at the townhouse. “Don’t stand on ceremony, Seven. Come whenever it suits you and make yourself at home if I’m gone. Your room will be in back on the second floor. I’ll have it set up for you to work or relax, as you wish.”

Looking around at the still busy streets and bustling crowd, Seven felt too unsure of herself to negotiate a hotel room. She had no need to regenerate for another twenty-four hours, and so she walked the few blocks to the townhouse and used the access code that Janeway had given her to enter the dark building. She glanced at the deserted living room and kitchen on the main floor, and then climbed the stairs to the second floor bedroom. She was delighted to find a working communications unit there and spent a few hours perusing her mail, looking for living arrangements, and reading employment proposals.

Until the sun began to rise, Seven was sure she was alone. The townhouse was quiet as a tomb, and she assumed that the captain was visiting her relatives. But then she became aware of movement on the third floor. She heard voices, male and female, and eventually, the sound of walking, water running, and footsteps on the stairs leading past her room to the first floor.

The captain was at home, and she wasn’t alone.

However, Seven guessed that they were unaware of her presence, because she’d arrived after midnight, and she found herself faced with a confounding social dilemma. What was the proper protocol in such a situation? Should she make loud noises in the room, perhaps knock over a chair, to allow the others to become aware of her presence? Burst from her room and clatter down the stairs? Shout “Hello!” from the landing? Hide in her room and sneak out later? Call for a beam-out and risk setting off the security alarms in the process?

After a few minutes of deliberation, she decided to leave the room quietly with her bag, open the front door, and pretend that she was just arriving. Her plan was foiled when she realized that the front foyer was visible from the kitchen, where Janeway and her guest were quietly talking. Any sort of movement would catch their eye and reveal her presence.

She stood at the bottom of the stairs, trying to decide what to do. To her right, she noticed a chair that was placed in a shadowed corner of the living room, out of their line of sight and hidden from the front door. It would be a good spot for her to occupy until she decide what to do.

She had just settled into the chair when her curiosity about the identity of the captain’s visitor was quickly solved. She heard Chakotay say, “I thought Seven would show up last night.”

Seven caught her breath and sat as still as possible as Janeway replied, “I’m a bit worried that she didn’t.”

Sitting back in the chair, Seven realized that even this shadowy spot was visible to part of the kitchen through a mirror over the fireplace that allowed her a perfect view of the couple as they sat across from each other at the kitchen table. Janeway had her feet in Chakotay’s lap as she relaxed and sipped from an enormous mug (no doubt containing coffee). Chakotay leaned on the table as he ran one hand up and down her legs.

“Maybe she and Icheb crashed at the Wildman’s.”

“Or maybe she’s regenerating.”

There was a moment’s silence. “Did she have any idea that I would be here?”

“No, Chakotay, but I don’t think your presence would have kept her from coming, do you?”

“I don’t know. I hope not.”

Seven wondered how long she could keep her presence from them. The sunlight was quickly filling the room; soon, even this corner would be flooded with light. If she could see them in the mirror, they could see her, as well. At the moment, they seemed intent on looking at each other.

“You know, Kathryn, I’m really sorry for becoming involved-.”

The captain raised a hand to stop him. “You aren’t going to apologize for dating Seven again, are you?” she chuckled, leaning forward and covering his hand with hers. “It made perfect sense for you to move on while we were still in the Delta Quadrant, and, anyway, that’s the past. I’m much more interested in the here and now.”

“And the future,” he agreed as he took her hand in both of his.

Seven closed her eyes and set her bag on the floor beside her. She could hear movement, the rustling of clothes, and then the unmistakable sounds of kissing. Prying one eye open, she saw that the captain was now sitting on the commander’s lap and his hands were inside her robe. Closing her eyes again, she smiled to herself, remembering times when the Reynolds parents would express affection for each other, and the children would roll their eyes and say, “They’re at it again.”

Laughter. Odd moans. Sighs. Muffled whispers. And then a moment of silence.

“I’m too old for kitchen table sex,” Janeway declared. “Let’s go back to bed.”

“Great idea.”

The couple passed through the foyer and up the stairs so quickly that they didn’t notice Seven. When the door closed at the top of the stairs, Seven picked up her bag, crossed the foyer, reentered the door code, and escaped into the morning fog.

The sunrise was glorious, its yellow beams suffusing the mist, and the birds serenaded her as she walked back to the transport station. She would begin her regeneration session early and return to the townhouse at a prearranged time, when the captain and commander would be ready to have company. There was no reason for them to be aware of her overnight visit.

She smiled to know that they were happy together and that her brief liaison with Chakotay had not become a stumbling block between them, also wondered how long they had been involved without anyone on the crew noticing a change in their relationship.

Mostly, however, she was glad to be home, and glad that Earth felt like home. While her time on Vulcan had interrupted her arrival, it had given her the experience and insight she’d needed to acclimate to her new surroundings with confidence and self-esteem. Once again, the captain had known what was best for her.

As the sun burned away the fog, Seven realized she was happy and anxious for her future to unfold.

The End