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Wearing Shrapnel In Our Skin

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When Jean-Luc Picard walks into the broad-beamed kitchen in the old house in County Galway, Seven stops at the threshold, her arms full of potted seedlings, and says: “I know you.”

Kathryn freezes. Seven merely pauses for a second before adding, “You are Captain Picard, of the Enterprise.” And it’s possible, of course, that Seven, always the voracious reader, has merely reached almost to the modern day in her review of the history of the Federation and consumed one of the many biographies on Captain Jean-Luc Picard, celebrated captain of the flagship. Or maybe she remembers him from one of the whirl of social events after Voyager returned home, when Kathryn gravitated towards him and Beverly Crusher and Commander Data and anyone else who had risen to the upper echelons of Starfleet more than seven years earlier. It's possible.

But looking at the way Picard’s eyes are steady on Seven, kind and a little knowing, Kathryn isn’t so sure about that.

She asks him if he wants tea and Seven, putting down her tray of plants and washing the soil out from behind her fingernails, offers to make it. And with the summer breeze filtering through the room some of the tension lifts and dissipates, so Picard can lean back in his chair and ask, “So what brought you here?”

“Voyager,” Seven says, deadpan, and Kathryn grins; she’s beginning to appreciate Seven’s sense of humour.

“My family came from Ireland once upon a time,” she says. “So long ago it hardly matters, in fact, though we've always held onto this house one way or another. But I went home to Indiana for a while, Jean-Luc. It was nice, until it wasn’t. And Seven…”

She doesn’t have to go on; she knows Picard will understand the curse of living where everyone knows everyone, when everyone knows who you are.

“People have been kind,” Seven pronounces, “if… ebullient.”

“That’s people everywhere, Seven,” Picard says gently. Kathryn follows his gaze to the window and reads his thoughts expertly: the view takes in rolling fields down to the river, fields bright with primroses and fresh growth, and not another living soul between here and the horizon. “But I suppose you keep yourselves to yourselves, here.”

“Yes.” Seven pours out the tea with a rock-steady hand and gives Picard the cup. From his expression, it meets with his satisfaction. He leans back in his chair and lets out a breath.

Kathryn says, with an ironic edge: "I guess you're staying for dinner."

And it's only after dinner, when the late summer nightfall has edged in across that rolling landscape, that it comes up again. Kathryn has put the plates back into the replicator – she still can't cook, but Seven is learning, and in the meantime asking the replicator for every item in the ancient house copy of Mrs Beeton seems to work quite well – and she's picking cutlery off the table, rinsing glasses in the sink, while Seven takes Jean-Luc out to show him the garden. Kathryn stands by the open window and lets the tap water run over her hands, listening to Seven's soft voice talk about mint and rosemary, sage and begonias, and what it means to have been Borg.

Picard stops by the lilacs Seven has planted by the doorway, pulls a flower close to get the scent of it, and Seven says, seemingly without thinking about it, "Locutus" – and then even in the evening shadows Kathryn can see how white her face is, and how quickly she brings a hand to her mouth.

"Seven," Jean-Luc says, gently as Kathryn has ever heard him, "you, of all people in this world, have earned the right to call me that" – and takes her other hand and walks with her back to the door. When they come into the kitchen they bring with them the scents of the night garden, and a rush of cooling air.

"Thank you both for a lovely evening," Jean-Luc says, all politeness, picking his jacket and hat off the back of a chair, and Kathryn says, abruptly:

"I'll walk you out."

She wants to say something to him, perhaps thanks for his kindness to Seven, then realises abruptly that there's nothing to say: that for Locutus and Seven of Nine, there will always be some shared space that she can't ever understand. That's a comfort, Kathryn decides; a relief, that Seven's world has begun to differ from her own, so they intersect like Venn diagrams rather than concentric circles. As they walk down the little path, Jean-Luc turns to look at the lighted kitchen window, at the shadow against the glass. "So this is Seven of Nine," he says. "What have you brought home to us, Kathryn?"

"A human girl who's been away from home for a long time," Kathryn says, steadily, and something in his expression sharpens. They've reached the garden gate, but he makes no move to open it.

"Quite," he says, after a moment. "But have you brought her home to Earth, Kathryn? Or have you brought her home with you, to your family's house, to your kitchen table?"

Kathryn inhales sharply, then lets it go. The man did not rise to command of a Galaxy-class starship through not being able to see what's right in front of him. "My mother asked the same thing."

"Well?" Picard looks over her shoulder again at the house, and pushes the gate open.

"Jean-Luc." Kathryn knows he'll understand this, if anyone will. "You've read the reports, I know. But if you'd seen her, when she came to us – you'd understand that the way back for her was a long one. You were – what you were, for six days. She was raised by the Borg. And I've tried to guide her home. Tried to show her human, for all that was worth."

"And now?"

"And now I will not constrain her choices. No matter my personal feelings, I will not make her feel" – she shudders – "obliged, or pressured, or…" She breaks off, suddenly feeling tired. "She's got a home with me as long she wants it. When she doesn't, any more – well. That's that."

Picard gives her a slight smile. "Understood, Captain. Thank you again for your hospitality." He nods, perhaps in some sort of recognition, lifts his hat to her, and then strides off into the night, hands in his pockets.

*

In the morning, the postman knocks. Seven has beamed over to San Francisco for a guest lecture the Doctor is delivering at the Academy, so Kathryn sets down her mug and book and goes to the door. The postman tells her that rain is expected, that the bakery in the village has a new kind of Andorian cake, that she has a package, hands her the package, wobbles slightly in getting back on his bicycle and trundles off before she can respond in any way.

Kathryn smiles to herself and opens the box, wondering who even knows her address here to send to. Inside, there's a couple of data chips, which she takes out and places on the house computer terminal before realising there's also a note in the box. In Picard’s neat, regular handwriting, it reads: I trust your discretion. There's no signature, but when unfolding it Kathryn finds another line, with a slight difference in the shade of the ink as though he added it upon reflection: It was at his own request.

She says, “Computer, read input.”

The computer takes a second to scan, and then Kathryn has a strange impression of many single-frame images flashing past too quickly for her brain to parse. When the image settles she’s surprised to see it’s nothing exotic: probably just a security feed, a little jumpy and unfocused. It shows main engineering on the Enterprise-D, although whether the lights are dimmed or it’s just the grainy cast to the footage, she can’t be certain. After a moment the camera appears to pull back on the field of view and Kathryn realises there are two people there, sitting on the floor, one with their knees pulled up and their head down, and the other kneeling at their side, one hand outstretched.

“Data,” says a voice. It’s Geordi La Forge, Kathryn realises. As the man moves forwards and backwards, hand still raised, she can make out enough of his features to be sure. "Data, it's me. Did something happen?"

There's no answer. Geordi reaches forwards and touches Data's shoulder; Data lifts his own hands above his head and to Kathryn’s startled eyes, looks in that moment, entirely human. He doesn’t say anything and Geordi makes a noise turned strange by the crackly audio, an inarticulate sound of frustration. “Data, please. I'm not trying to hurt you."

Data shifts slightly. To Kathryn, it seems for a moment that he looks directly into the camera, then shakes his head. The flash of emotion has retreated to be replaced by something like confusion. Kathryn thinks that if she knew him better, she would know.

“Data, please talk to me.” Geordi’s hand comes up to touch Data’s shoulder, then pulls back without making contact. For a second, he follows Data's gaze into the camera; Kathryn realises as Geordi realises that it's the presence of the surveillance that's making Data circumspect. "Data, if you talk to me, I'll wipe all record of it. I've got the clearance to do it. I mean, if that's why you're not talking."

A sudden flash, and then the image seems to have skipped forwards by a few frames, because Geordi has pulled back, balancing on his haunches, and Data’s hands have dropped by his sides. “Okay,” Geordi says, and it seems to Kathryn that it’s more to himself, than to Data. “Let’s try this again.”

Data’s hands lift again. The image flashes blank white, advances a few frames, then freezes, hanging.

The clearance to do it, Kathryn thinks, but doesn't look away from the screen. While she's still staring, poised on the edge of some indecision, Seven rematerialises in the kitchen. She takes only a second to reacclimatise – because this is her home, Kathryn thinks – before she turns to Kathryn and asks, "Is there something wrong?"

"What?" Kathryn blinks, then pulls herself together. "No. No, I'm fine. How was the Doctor's lecture?"

"Moderately engaging," Seven says, pulling another mug from the cupboard. She knows where everything is, Kathryn thinks. "For the first hour."

Her lip quirks in a half-smile as she says it, and Kathryn grins back, helplessly – and that's it, isn't it. That's Seven's tentative, beautiful sense of humour; her easy grace; her casual movement through this house, through Kathryn's house, as though she's always belonged here.

"Captain," Seven begins, but Kathryn holds up a hand.

"First-name terms, Seven, please. We've talked about this. I'm not your commanding officer any longer."

"Kathryn," Seven says, and Kathryn can hear her stumble over it slightly, as though it tastes unfamiliar. "Are you sure nothing is wrong?"

"I'm fine, Seven, really." She makes an abortive gesture, then stops, not sure what she was going to say next. Seven gives her a small smile and picks up the cup from Kathryn's side, rinses it out and starts pouring fresh ground coffee into a cafetiere. Kathryn had enough replicated coffee on Voyager to last a lifetime, and although Seven can't taste the difference, she humours her. While Seven is busy getting out a filter and some teaspoons, still with that small half-smile playing about her lips, Kathryn glances behind at her the computer terminal screen, at the frozen frame of Lieutenant Commander Data, a decorated Starfleet officer, holding his hands above his head against a world he doesn't understand.

*

"Data." The timestamp on this file is a little earlier than the other one. "Data, you don't feel pain, do you?"

It's three o'clock in the morning. Kathryn is hunched over the computer terminal again, eyes on the screen, knots of tension developing between her shoulders.

"Data." The details are clearer on screen. It looks like the Enterprise that Kathryn remembers from visits to the ship as a cadet and a callow ensign: slightly yellowish light, clean lines, vivid schematics. Commander Data is at his own engineering station. The stranger crosses the space with long, slow strides. There is no one else around.

"Commander." Data looks across; the image isn't clear enough for Kathryn to follow his gaze to the stranger's rank insignia. "May I be of assistance?"

"Even with the emotion chip," says the other, and the perspective has changed so Kathryn can now only make out the back of their head, and Data's amber eyes are two vivid sparks in the deep space of the room, as though she were seeing through the stranger's viewpoint. "Even with the chip, I can't see Noonian Soong deliberately programming the capacity to feel pain into a sentient being. Eccentric as he was, he wouldn't have done that. Or are you about to tell me I'm wrong?"

"We are still investigating the true capacities and limitations of the emotion chip," Data says, composedly, his hands moving over his control panels at human speed. "It was designed for me, then used and altered by Lore. It is no longer possible to accurately predict its – my – emotional reactions to a given stimulus."

"Some might say that was verisimilitude in action." The stranger takes a couple of steps forwards, and Data takes a step back. He moves his attention to the control panel on the far wall, and Kathryn looks at the schematic display above his head, but nothing changes in particular.

"Perhaps some might." Data is looking down at the panel, and Kathryn abruptly recognises something about the way he's standing, backed into a corner: something constrained, as though some instinct of flight is being carefully subdued.

"Data," the stranger says, "when Commander Riker made your defence before the Starfleet JAG officer, he was able to damage you without causing you any pain. Is that still true?"

"I wonder," Data says, eyes right on the camera, "if this is a legitimate focus for scientific enquiry, Commander" – and the man reaches in and takes off Data's hand from the elbow.

Kathryn watches the section of footage twice, thinking the first time Data's eyes widening must be an artefact of the damage to the file, then it goes abruptly blank. There is still audio for a few more seconds; the sound of breathing, and the creaking and cracking of mechanical components, and then silence.

*

"Kathryn," Seven says, over breakfast, "I have something I wish to discuss with you. If you are amenable?"

Kathryn can't blame Seven for checking. As Voyager's captain, it was mostly the constant adrenaline that got her out of bed in the morning, and in these quiet summer days she often finds herself sitting up far later into the night that she meant to, and then yawning into her coffee until lunchtime. And then there are nights like last night, when she didn't sleep at all.

Seven is still patiently poised, waiting for her answer. Kathryn takes her hand away from her mouth, takes a deep breath, and says, "Of course, Seven. What is it?"

Seven waits another moment, then gets up to deal with the breakfast things, tipping dishes into the replicator. Almost as though, Kathryn thinks, she would rather not maintain eye contact for this conversation. "When I was in San Francisco, for the guest lecture," Seven says, after a moment, "I met Commander Tuvok."

"Tuvok!" Kathryn grins. "If I know him, he was wearing a hat and scarf and three sweaters and very audibly not complaining about the weather in northern California. We should ask him to dinner."

"That is substantially correct, and I did so." Seven rescues an antique spoon before the replicator can destroy it. "He said he would be in contact about his availability. Captain…." – she pauses, coming back to sit at the table – "Commander Tuvok is on Earth to negotiate a long-term leave of absence from Starfleet. He intends to take on a position as an instructor at the Vulcan Science Academy."

Kathryn brings her hands together. "I can't say that surprises me. He'll want to be near his grandchildren. And God knows, his time on Voyager taught him to deal with anything mere graduate students could throw at him."

"He asked if I would like to come with him." Seven looks at Kathryn, then at the surface of the table.

Kathryn blinks. "Come with him?"

"I would have few teaching responsibilities," Seven says, "but there is a team of researchers at the Vulcan Science Academy currently working on the physics of Borg transwarp technology. Commander Tuvok believes I would have considerable expertise to offer."

"I don't doubt he's right about that, Seven, but do you want to?" Some of that starship captain adrenaline is making Kathryn's ears ring right now: she's thinking very calmly to herself that this conversation should, here and ever after, be about what Seven wants.

"I am unsure." Seven is leaning back in her chair with her hands clasped behind her head. She's further from the straight-backed former Borg drone than Kathryn could have imagined, back in the Delta Quadrant. "I had not… given the matter of my future a great deal of thought."

"Maybe it's time." Kathryn leans back in her own chair, echoing Seven's movements. "You could do anything, Seven. I mean that. There's Starfleet, of course, whether you'd like to be Cadet Seven or a civilian specialist. I'd vouch for you if you took that route. And there are other ways to pursue the sciences, of course, like Tuvok suggests. Like your parents did. And" – she hesitates, then goes on – "you don't have to do much of anything if you don't want. If you want to spend the rest of your life just living quietly on Earth, you certainly can. It just depends on what you want."

Seven considers. "I want to be useful."

Kathryn respects that. "That's a start. Anything else?"

"I would wish… a collective. A community."

Kathryn breathes out. "That… is something we all want, I think."

Seven nods. "I will think on this matter."

Suddenly moving efficiently, she gets up and finishes putting the dishes into the replicator, puts on another pot of coffee without asking or seemingly thinking about it, and then reaches for the shelf where she keeps the gardening tools and goes out through the kitchen door, pulling the door gently shut behind her. Kathryn rises and goes to the window, watching Seven meticulously define the parameters of today's planting, and wonders what this garden will look like without her.

*

"Computer," Kathryn says, "resume playback."

When the screen comes alive again, a flash of blue crosses the screen and a familiar voice says, "Geordi, what seems to be the trouble?"

That's Beverly Crusher. Kathryn knew her when they were both command track at the Academy. She's wondered, sometimes, what the Delta Quadrant would have been like if she had had a woman like Beverly on her senior staff: a woman who could have been for her what she had been for Seven and B'Elanna.

"Data," Geordi says, and Beverly appears to take in the scene; Kathryn still can't make out any detail, although she thinks the space around them has changed. They're no longer in main engineering – it could be crew quarters. "Thanks for coming up, I appreciate it."

"Two weeks of shore leave, I can afford a few hours." Beverly comes to a stop in the middle of the room, everything around her turning into blur. "Geordi, not that I don't want to help, but if something's wrong with Data, surely it's you…"

"Not like that." Geordi cuts her off and Kathryn can hear the strain in his voice. "Doctor – I need you to not tell anyone about this, if you can. Data, and me – and the thing, the emotion chip he got from Lore, I just, I don't know…"

"Data," Beverly says, turning away from him, "can you hear me? Squeeze my hand if you can. Good, that's it. Geordi, talk. And make it fast."

"Data and me" – Geordi looks like he's in real pain – "look, Doctor, I need to be sure you won't tell anyone. We had a thing. I mean, we have a thing. I don't know if that's related to this."

Kathryn thinks, a little sadly, that in her experience of command there are many worse crew confessions than some affectionate liaison with someone else on board the boat. On the screen, Beverly seems to be thinking something similar; she looks at Geordi and says, "Okay. What happened?"

Geordi looks pained again. "I don't know. But he won't talk." A pause. "I can hack the security feeds."

"Data," Beverly says, very gently, "it's okay." After a quick glance at Geordi, she says: "Do it."

Kathryn's expecting the screen to go blank, and then it does. Dispassionately, she wonders how Geordi accounted to the Enterprise senior staff for the gaps in the security footage in the day's records. When the light rises again, Geordi is on his knees, animated by a kind of visceral fury she could never have imagined in him, shouting, "No-one fucking touches you without your say-so" – and Kathryn jerks back and says,

"Computer, freeze playback."

Her mug has gone unappealingly chilly, but she's grateful for that. She's grateful for the ritual: while she puts fresh ground coffee into a cafetiere and lets it brew, she's thinking and thinking, thinking and thinking, about the box on her doorstep; about Jean-Luc Picard and Seven of Nine, and what they and she have in common; and about the sort of choices that starship captains have to make in universes as large and unknowable as this one. And not about Data – not really; not Noonian Soong's unique android creation, who appeared in Kathryn's basic engineering and exobiology textbooks – but about Jean-Luc's wry, capable second officer, who once brought her a drink at a Starfleet New Year's party, and toasted in the new year with Commander La Forge.

In the garden, Seven has paused work for a moment, stretching out like a cat under the summer sun.

*

Although it's a perfectly reasonably hour in San Francisco, Kathryn doesn't pull Picard out of meetings or lectures, just emphasises "earliest convenience" in her message and sits down with a book. When he appears on the viewscreen, finally, Kathryn is sipping her first coffee of the day and waiting for Seven to get back from her dawn run. "Good morning, Kathryn."

"Jean-Luc," she says, gesturing with the mug, knowing she's incoherent and not caring, "what is this?"

A flash of discomfort crosses his face. "You received it."

"Yes." Kathryn knows from long experience that glaring through a viewscreen is no good; she tries it anyway. "Jean-Luc. What" – she shivers a little – "was that? And" – this is not occurring to her for the first time – "should you have shown it to me?"

"I trust your discretion," he says, and she remembers his note. "Kathryn – sometimes I think I wouldn't have trusted Noonian Soong with a dog I liked. But Data wanted to try the damn thing he got from Lore, and who could blame him?"

Kathryn shakes her head. "Who…"

"An associate of Commander Maddox," Picard says, with considerable distaste, "whose own morbid fascination with Commander Data ought to be attracting the attention of more Federation psychologists than it does, I feel. I raised all the proper hell, Kathryn, like I would have done for any member of my crew. But as for them, so for Data: the harm had been done. And Commander La Forge…" Picard pauses. "The point of the exercise was for Data to know that there was something else. That there was something other than to submit, or run, or…"

"Fight back," Kathryn says. She's thinking of Seven, disconnected from the Collective, battling with that forcefield around the brig, with a silence in her mind perhaps deeper than Kathryn had understood at the time, and, later, with every single one of the myriad imperfections of humanity.

"Jean-Luc," she says, and this is it: this is the key to this whole affair. "What are you telling me about Commander Data, and what are you telling me about Seven of Nine?"

"Nothing," he says, fiercely. "I merely thought you should have more information available. It's a captain's privilege, to have all the information available." And when she still looks at him, waiting for an answer, he adds, "It was at his own request."

Another captain's privilege is not to be told what to do by other captains, Kathryn thinks. "Are Data and Commander La Forge…"

"You'd have to ask them." He gives her a tiny smile. "They're on Earth right now, in fact. Geordi is delivering one of the guest lecture series at the Academy and Data seems to be taking all the leave he's accumulated in the service at once."

Kathryn nods. "Jean-Luc," she says, "Seven of Nine."

"Yes," he says, and through the viewscreen, his expression gives nothing away.

*

She watches the final video file on the chip late that night, after Seven has gone to bed.

It's a holodeck, she's gathered. At least, she thinks so. It still looks like a blank space, with the yellow grid showing the lines of holoemitters, and a hollow space at the bottom of the feed, like there's depth to the blackness.

"It’s not like choosing a drink at the bar," says a voice. Geordi La Forge, again. Underneath the voice, she hears tinges of faint music and wonders what it is. Jazz, maybe, colony, not Earth-style. "Not that you…"

Data shakes his head, and in that movement Kathryn becomes aware of the shape of him, distinct in the dimness. He's leaning against a wall, knees drawn up. Geordi seems to be expecting him to say something; at least, he pauses in his movements. "I thought you were going to tell me that you don't taste, so choice of drinks…"

Data looks at him and says, "You have spoken of choice concerning the body. Is this not such a choice?"

Geordi seems to think about that. "Yes," he says, finally. "Let's say – you remember years ago, the polywater intoxication that got everyone acting weird? I reckon it would be possible to introduce that into your positronic net via your mouth. But if someone were to put it in a drink and give it to you without telling you what was in it – that would be illegal by Federation law."

"And Klingon, and Cardassian, and Bajoran law," Data says expressionlessly.

"Right, okay." Geordi puts his head in his hands, then looks up. "Okay, Data, it comes down to this. Sometimes, in the interests of social lubrication, or… you know. Not making a fuss, or whatever, we go along with stuff we don't like. But you… Data, if you want to say no, you say no. Whether it's Worf trying to make you drink prune juice, or someone coming in and wanting to take your hand off. If you want to say no, say it."

"Sometimes, there are orders," Data says, softly.

"Yeah." Geordi considers. "Orders – I can't promise you that someday you won't be ordered to do something at… cost to yourself. But – you took the bridge officer's test, didn't you? And – I guess, you've held your rank a long time, maybe you've even…"

"Yes," Data says, very softly indeed. "I have ordered an individual to their death."

"Well," Geordi says. "There it is."

They lapse into silence again, and this time Kathryn is more strongly aware of the music, muted over the holodeck's internal systems. Geordi lifts up a hand and moves it casually in rhythm, two, three, four. Kathryn wonders how long they've been sitting here, counting time to some new kind of becoming.

"There it is," Data repeats, and, after a moment: "Thank you."

Kathryn closes her eyes and thinks: she's met Commander Data. She's met him at diplomatic functions on the Enterprise and at that new year's party, noticed him sometimes at Picard's elbow, quiet, observant. In those moments he reminded her of how Tuvok often stood, on her bridge, at her right hand. In this moment he's as real to her as Tuvok is, as Seven is, Seven who is living in this house, sharing the space of Kathryn's life.

The feed skips a minute, the timestamp making it obvious. Then Kathryn blinks and then Data is on his knees, closer to the middle of the room. Geordi says, "Again, Data."

He's standing up, moving forwards, and Data doesn't lean back in response, although a human would. "No," he says, and something relaxes in Geordi's body; even in the stuttery image Kathryn can make out his exhalation and the uncurling of his fingers. "No," Data says, "no, no, no" – and Geordi stops still and says something too reverent and quiet to hear.

"Data," he says, still with that note of benediction in his voice, and steps towards Data with sincere joy in his eyes. Kathryn leans back and closes her eyes in her chair, just listening.

Geordi says, formally, "May I?"

Kathryn opens her eyes. Data nods, and Geordi kisses him, gently, on the top of his head, before letting him go. The file ends on the two of them standing a handsbreadth apart, hanging mid-frame.

"Computer, end playback." Kathryn's fingers are in her mouth and she's spoken slightly too loudly; but there's warm, summer silence in the house. Seven has taken to sleep like a natural. Kathryn breathes in, out, in out. When she gets up to stretch the complaining muscles in her back, she's careful to move silently through the space of the room, to let Seven sleep easy.

*

Seven takes her time, pushing in the seedlings and pressing down the soil firmly with the pads of her thumbs, like Captain Janeway has shown her. Then she looks up at the figure standing over her and says, "You must be Lieutenant Commander Data."

Data nods and sits down beside her, leaning against a garden wall. After a moment, he begins to methodically pull the weeds from the flowerbed next to him. “Shall I put these in the bucket?”

“That would be efficient,” Seven says, and pushes it closer to him. They work quietly for a few minutes, Seven considering the eventual geometric arrangement of the plants, and the potential for failure to thrive on the part of the seedlings. "What brings you here, Commander?" she says, after a while.

Data takes a moment to answer. "Curiosity," he says, finally, and Seven nods; she understands that. "I had hoped to meet you in San Francisco, but Commander Tuvok informed me I had missed you. I can return there if my presence inconveniences you."

Seven shakes her head. "You may stay."

Data nods, and a few minutes pass before he speaks again. Seven finds the silence restful. There are small purple flowers growing around the edges of the flowerbed; Seven appreciates the aesthetic qualities of their symmetry, but they will interfere with the eventual radial aspects of the pattern. She uproots them carefully and throws them in the bucket.

"There is also," Data says, not looking at her, "commonality."

"Commonality?" she repeats: that's a human technique, stalling for time to think. She looks down at him, sitting next to the wall, and considers. Data is wearing civvies but with his uniform jacket thrown roughly over his shoulders. Watching him unfold the collar, Seven is suddenly filled with a fierce envy for those rank pips. Not for the respect they command, but just the simple outward mark of belonging. "You were at the lecture. On sentient holographic life."

He glances at her. "Yes. It is a particular interest of mine."

"You believe," she says, understanding suddenly, "that you and I have a similar relationship to – to humanity."

"You are an astute individual," he says, with something approaching embarrassment, and then stops, as though not sure what to say next. "I had thought – to visit you, Seven of Nine. I will endeavour to be elsewhere if I am disturbing you."

She considers him. "Stay."

He nods. After a moment, he adds, "Am I addressing you correctly? I occasionally" – a pause – "experience difficulty with human social nuance."

Seven thinks about it. "I am Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix 01. But" – a small pause of her own, mirroring his – "I am called Seven." On visiting her father's family on the North American continent, she had considered restoring her original name: but even under the bright Indiana sky she had found that Annika Hansen seemed a distant being, a child. "I too – occasionally have difficulty with social nuance."

"Human social nuance," Data corrects. "I believe you would find less difficulty with the mores of other species."

That reminds her. "Commander Tuvok has asked me to join a team of Federation researchers on Vulcan," Seven confides, her hands full of purple flowers. "I find myself… greatly attracted by the idea." She has not been able to articulate this wholly, not yet. She finds it strange, this desire that is taking time to surface from her subconscious mind, but accounts for it as yet another new artefact of the humanity within herself. Perhaps, more than humanity: she melded with Tuvok more than once on Voyager and recalls the quiet, orange-lit serenity of his mind, and his memories of the sands of Vulcan, tilted towards the red spectrum in comparison with the light of Sol. "I have made no decision."

"I have found," Data says, "that the people of Vulcan are not concerned with remaking other forms of life in their own image."

Again, Seven has to take some time with that thought, rolling it around in her mind as though it were a glass marble, viewing it from every prismatic angle. "You are a kind man, Commander," she says, after a moment, unsure of how else to respond to that attribute other than to name it, and make it a real thing in the world.

Data quirks an eyebrow. "You have had very little opportunity to make that assessment."

"Yes," Seven says, "but…" – and stops.

Data throws a handful of weeds at the bucket and says, very gently, "You need not censor yourself. Not for me."

Seven looks at him and says, clearly, "I was a part of the collective when your captain was assimilated. Everything and everyone he knew became part of the collective consciousness. Including you."

"Kindness," Data says, with a slight touch of irony in his voice, "is irrelevant."

Seven shakes her head. "Others," she tells him, "find that it makes them uncomfortable, when I speak of having been Borg."

"But you were Borg." Data picks some mint and inclines his head at it. "Is this… superfluous?"

"Yes," Seven says. It breeds profligately and ruins the clean lines of the garden. "But Captain Janeway likes the scent."

"I see." Data leaves the rest of the mint alone. He throws another handful of leaves at the bucket and they all land neatly inside. Like Seven, he has perfect aim; another thing that makes humans uncomfortable.

"You had no designation," she tells him, after a moment, wanting obscurely to rattle his calm. Another artefact of humanity.

"I do not understand."

"For the Borg. You have no species number. You were designated unique."

She stares at him, willing him to flinch: as though the intensity of her gaze can transfer her thoughts into his mind, the image of him with Borg assimilation tubules working into his positronic net, his body broken for implants. He stares openly back, and although she knows he can feel fear, she sees no sign of it in his expression. "That is understandable."

"The Doctor on Voyager," Seven says, matching his irony, "used to say that most people also find it unpleasant when I speak of their potential for assimilation."

"I would find it a comfort," Data tells her, "that there is something within me that could be. And it remains that you were Borg."

"I was born among humans." Seven has stopped paying any attention to the garden, she realises belatedly; her small trowel has dropped noiselessly to the soil. She looks up to the sky, feeling suddenly full of restless energy, wanting to move.

"As was I." Data stands up after a moment, perhaps seized with the same desire. To Seven's eyes, he has a particular kind of grace – an easy technological fluidity that would be alien to the Borg. He helps her up and still hand-in-hand, they walk down to the garden gate, moving slowly, but falling naturally into step. "And yet."

"Before Commander Tuvok's offer," Seven confesses, "I had been considering choosing to terminate my association with Starfleet. And, perhaps, with the Federation. I have some skills as an engineer and astrocartographer. There are small vessels, designed for long-term research projects…"

"I have long since completed my required term of service," Data says, without emotion. "Without legal consequences, I could resign my commission." His hand goes to his rank pips, and his combadge, then back to his side. "I have valuable experience to bring to a scientific expedition."

They look at each other. Seven says, after a second, "Commander Data, if I chartered a vessel, and I asked you…"

She need not complete the sentence, but she works while she waits for his answer: the mint will quite overtake the garden if she does not at least remove a portion of the growth, and without her moderating influence, she is sure Captain Janeway would let it do so.

Data looks at her with steady eyes, a kindness in the way he lifts his palms to her, outspread, and in how he takes time over his response. "The value," he says, finally, "would be in the choice."

*

Kathryn, standing in the kitchen at the open window, knows then that Seven will go to Vulcan.

Seven comes to tell her about it later that same day, in their kitchen, as they eat a simple seafood linguine that Seven has made with a deftness of touch that Kathryn could never have emulated, breathing the air of the summer's long twilight.

"I will stay in Commander Tuvok's home, initially," she says, after she's spoken a little about the research post, and what the work will entail. "His family have been very kind. But I hope, after that, to find a residence of my own. A home."

"You wouldn't be," Kathryn says, her voice suffused with emotion, "the first human woman, to have found a home on Vulcan."

Seven nods. "There will be room for you there."

Kathryn looks up. "I'm sorry, Seven?"

"There will be room for you there," Seven repeats, with the same inflection. "From what I have known of you, I understand you will wish to return to Starfleet, in the fullness of time, and perhaps take another command. And if you do not wish that, perhaps you would prefer to remain on Earth among your own people. But if you should choose to come to Vulcan, there will be a home for you there."

"Oh," Kathryn says, and stands up and goes to the window, and returns to the table, looking into Seven's beautiful eyes and the seriousness with which she gives what she has.

"I have not forgotten," Seven goes on, and there's no tentativeness here: this is all the certainty of the Borg, "that you gave me the first home I had ever known, in my own body, and on your ship. I will not forget."

"Seven," Kathryn says, quickly, "there's no obligation, there, I mean, you don't need to think about reciprocity…"

"Kathryn," Seven says, and there's a smile in her voice, and no falter over that name, given, "this is only for you."

Kathryn understands that: that what she did for the former Borg child Seven of Nine was done for Starfleet, for Voyager, for the Federation. If she goes to Vulcan she will go as herself. A phrase rises out of her memory, from her own childhood in Indiana, under those enormous skies sparkling with starships. Not a religious childhood, and yet: whither thou goest, I will go.

She thinks she will go to Vulcan.