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Flesh and Bone

Chapter Text

There was a time when Captain Kathryn Janeway relished the thrill of exploration. Peeling back the layers of the unknown, finding the truth, discovering just that little bit more about how the universe works. And, perhaps, if she was lucky, those explorations that allowed her to find a deeper meaning, a purpose of self. The answers to all the questions that had ever been asked.

That was then. This was now, and Janeway, after five years in the Delta Quadrant, had learned - not to fear - but to be at least wary of that unknown.

Which was why she had holed herself up in her ready room, staring at reports of the nebula they were fast approaching, unable to decide what to do. Not too long ago, her own curiosity would have made the decision for her. Now she had doubts about whether it was worth it.

Not enough information. Not from this distance. Not without going into the damn thing itself.

Janeway took a sip of what had to be at least her fourth cup of coffee that morning and grimaced at the cold liquid that filled her mouth. Rarely did she leave her coffee undrunk long enough for it to cool, but her mind was distracted, her thoughts scattered and her body crying with exhaustion that not even the strongest replicated coffee could fix.

And I’ve got three departments snapping at my heels, begging for time to chart that nebula. The science department were requesting three weeks - three! - to conduct experiments. As if they had all the time in the galaxy. As if they weren’t lost and far from home, struggling to find their way back.

Then there was the lengthy and irate memo she had received from her CMO. It was hard not to read passive aggressive superiority in between every line. Given the fragility of the crew’s physiology… past encounters warrant thorough research into the side effects upon the crew’s mental capacity and possible cellular degradation… it is of the opinion of I, the ship’s Chief Medical Officer, that…

Janeway had read the Doctor’s so called memo four times and with each she found herself growing increasingly more frustrated. He wasn’t outright giving her an order, but it wasn’t difficult to see that he believed his opinion - as CMO, as resident hologram with a highly evolved artificial intelligence that had breached sentience? - far outweighed her own.

But he had a point, she conceded. The last time Voyager had traversed a nebula, daring so far as to actually fly through it from one end to the other in order to cut down years off their journey home, the crew had suffered for it. The radiation of that particular nebula had rendered almost the entire crew immobile. Devastating lesions breaking out on their skin, some so bad they resembled the burns of hot plasma. Impossible to breathe. Thirty minutes and the crew would be dead.

They had found a solution, though. Months of stasis for all while the Doctor and Seven of Nine, whose Borg implants protected her from the nebula’s effects, flew Voyager through to the other side, ensuring to keep all of the ship’s systems operational.

It was unlikely that this nebula - so many light years distant from that other - would have a similar effect.

Caution, the Doctor’s memo preached. Power, the engineering department promised, enough to make their warp drive work just that little bit faster. Scientific advancement, the good of the Federation, our duty - so said several of her science officers.

Danger, screamed Janeway. Unnecessary danger. Not enough known.

And when did you become such a coward, dear Kathryn? she wondered. When I lost my crew, my ship, to this place. When I made the decision to abandon us here.

She never used to see herself as a coward. Oh, she could be cautious when she had to be, but never was she afraid to make the hard decisions, not when it came to her ship and her crew, the lives of thousands of innocents.

Yet when matters came to her own life, her own wellbeing?

A coward and a fool, she decided and was glad when her desk console alerted her to a new message. It gave her mind something else to focus on, to stop it from spiraling back to that same place it had been all week. That memory, that moment, was a planet and she was forever the moon stuck in its orbit.

That damn kiss.

Janeway opened the message, batting the memory aside, pretending she didn’t still feel the lingering sensation on her lips.

It was from the Doctor. Long and winded, filled with statistics on crew health check ups and injuries suffered over the last five years. Bottom line: he was just one hologram and sickbay was overwhelmed.

The loss of Kes two years ago had been a shock, to the Doctor more than most. She had hoped he would adjust, but the truth was, he could fix all the physical symptoms, patch the crew up after every disastrous encounter, but he couldn’t take all the pain away. Could not make them forget the loneliness, the homesickness. The defeat.

Janeway sighed. The report was nothing new to her; this wasn’t the first time the Doctor had spoken to her about the lack of a ship’s counselor. He’d even tried to implement some psycho-analytics into his programming once, with ill effects that had made him reluctant to try again. He could learn an entire Italian operatic with ease and parrot it back perfectly, but when it came to this particular area of medicine, the photons and algorithms that made up his program just couldn’t seem to function.

For the good of his patients, he could admit he needed help. He was unpretentious enough to realise he wasn’t the most approachable program to ever be developed. When Kes had been around… Janeway could remember how easy the young woman had been to talk to, and despite her age, her relative inexperience, she had been smart, open, understanding. She had helped Janeway work through more than one problem over the years she had been a member of the crew. And she had learned eagerly from the Doctor, saw him as the person he could be, rather than the thing that he was. Not merely a hologram.

Kes had been a great loss, one that still hurt Janeway even though she still had hope Kes was alive and well somewhere out there.

And sickbay had coped, Tom Paris picking up the slack. Although his heart would forever remain at the helm.

Has our situation changed suddenly without me realising, she began to reply, hoping the words would read with the laced sarcasm she was feeling. Not that the Doctor would pick up on it. Not that she would ever send the message anyway and quickly deleted it and changed it to, Your concerns have been noted.

What more could she do? Without Starfleet to send them fresh officers, she had no one to spare. Everyone had their place, their duty.

We’ll just have to suck it up, she thought and the thought would have been easier to stomach a month ago, before Naomi Wildman’s kidnapping. For it was the young girl that had prompted the Doctor’s report. Rumour was, the girl hadn’t spoken a word since returning to Voyager.

Janeway rubbed at her temple, all her frustrations suddenly warping into a bitter anger. It burned in her stomach, bubbling away like hot acid, nearing ready to explode.

The ready room door chimed, the sound of it drilling into her brain. She let the hand at her temple fall to the desk with a dull thud. “Come.”

The door swished open, revealing her chief of security.

“Bad time?”

If anyone other than Tuvok had said that, she might have been liable to throw something.

“Oh, you know, just the usual,” she said. The bitterness crept into her voice without her realising. “Half the crew whining about their departments being neglected. But apart from that, it’s a perfect time.” She picked up one of the many PADDs on her desk, threw it back down. Tuvok raised one delicate Vulcan eyebrow. Not the first time he had seen her in this frustrated state. Usually his quiet way would be calming, but it didn’t seem to have an affect on her today. “They sound like entitled children,” she continued. “Some of them seem to have forgotten where they are and our situation. Last time I looked, we were still in the Delta Quadrant, weren’t we?”

“We are,” said Tuvok. He looked at her carefully. There was no judgement in that look, only logic and her oldest friend had a way of reading her that no one else could.

“Sorry,” she said quickly, staving off whatever conclusions he had come to with that look of his.

“Perhaps you need a break,” he suggested. “I’d be happy to give you my holodeck time. Perhaps we could take a visit to that spot in France.”

But mention of the holodeck sent her mind spinning.

The warm glow of the fire, casting shadows across the clutter. Confessions and heartache. A hand in hers, almost like a promise.

And her. So lost, so vulnerable.

Then that damn kiss. Over before it barely began. The maestro stumbling into his workshop, oblivious as he sung merrily, clutching a near empty bottle of wine. One woman flustered, filled with guilt and confusion (and fear), the other annoyingly calm. Janeway had fled the holodeck and hid herself away in her ready room for days. She hadn’t seen Seven since.

That damn kiss.

A mistake that should never have seen the light of day. Stupid and selfish and wrong because she was captain, she was supposed to be the mentor showing the way. Instead she was selfishly using her own loneliness to take advantage of a young, vulnerable and inexperienced woman who trusted her. Oh, Seven talked and acted like she was above everyone else, secure in the knowledge of thousands of assimilated species, but when it came to this, came to being human, came to living and loving, Seven was just a child. The fact that she looked like a stunningly beautiful young woman had nothing to do with it.

“Captain?”

Janeway groaned inwardly and pulled herself away from the spiraling thoughts. She needed a distraction. A big one.

“Another time, Tuvok,” she said, finally making a decision. “We’re going to be busy for the next few weeks. We’ve got a nebula to explore.”

France would just have to wait.

Chapter Text

Nevermind potential power sources and scientific curiosity, just a close up view of the nebula itself was worth the trip. Purple interstellar dust sparkled and shimmered, undulating with constant movement, like waves lapping on a beach. Or a curtain, floating in the breeze, teasing at what lies behind. In the mess hall, prime spots by the viewing windows were nearly always taken, crew members lingering to enjoy the once in a lifetime sight.

They were close to the outskirts now, only twelve hours after the captain had given the order to explore. A quiet hum of anticipation swept throughout the ship. This - this was what Starfleet was all about.

Even Seven of Nine could see the beauty of it, although she did not have time to gaze admiringly at the view. Both engineering and the various science teams were busy running preliminary tests, gathering as much data as they could without going into the nebula itself. While the heads of each department argued with Commander Chakotay to be given priority use of the ship’s few remaining working shuttles, Seven spent her time floating between the science labs and engineering, studying the data already gathered. There was concern over the nebula’s dust clogging up the warp drives in the shuttles and she was looking for a way to modify them to reduce the problem. The work was tedious, but it kept her busy, and busy was good these days.

After Kovarka Prison, rarely had her thoughts strayed far from all those lost children left behind. The guilt that she had done nothing to help gnawed away at her. Each waking minute aboard Voyager, where she had freedom and safety, was agony. I left them, each footstep she took told the world and each hidden glance from her crew mates seemed to say, How could you? How?

And then her dreams…

Her dreams were terrible and more frequent than they had ever been. Drones did not dream, and if they did, it was always the one voice of the many, we are the Borg, resistance is futile. Cut off from the Collective, no longer a drone, her dreams had grown in depth and detail, taking her back to that prison, back to Annika and the day she had been lost forever.

Not all of her dreams were bad, however. Confusing, yes, but each time she awoke in her alcove with the rapidly fading details of an Italian workshop, a roaring fire, a captain in her arms… disappointment always followed upon waking. And confusion. So much confusion. Why did it happen? What did it mean? And would it happen again?

That last question haunted her. And the thought of it - the hope - she tried hard to put out of her mind.

Seven hadn’t spoken to the captain since that night on the holodeck, hadn’t even seen her, in fact. For the best, she told herself, knowing the dreams would soon stop and then, after some time, things would be as they were, as they should be, and she wouldn’t have to dwell on and wonder what hidden meaning lay beneath those dreams, within the memory itself.

The usual hum and bustle of engineering was comforting. Seven had spent a lot of time in the bowels of the ship; a freedom she knew had filled more than most with ill ease. Eyes filled with mistrust, they would watch her carefully, peering suspiciously over her shoulder as she made repairs, modified the systems with Borg technology they did not understand, making the ship that little bit more efficient. No one could find fault in her work, although the mistrust always lingered.

For two years, Seven had accepted this way of life. Accepted the fact that her new collective would never be as the old, their voices would never be one and they were forever cursed not to understand one another. But, lately, since the prison, since bringing Naomi Wildman home, Seven noticed a difference. For one thing, the crew actually acknowledged her. She could be walking down a hallway, completely absorbed in a data PADD, and she would be stopped with a breathless “Hey, Seven” and several minutes of painful small talk. Painful for her, as she wasn’t very good at it, but the other person rarely seemed bothered anymore by her stoic ways. Her Borg ways.

To her horror, the small talk even descended into ship’s gossip. Who was with who at a midnight liaison, a falling out between so and so - all the information once overheard in passing that was easy for her to ignore. Now she was expected to listen eagerly, to contribute an opinion as if it mattered to her who was caught sneaking out of the first officer’s quarters at oh five hundred hours. It was everywhere, this gossip, surrounding her. It had gotten to the point that she could no longer leave the cargo bay without someone talking to her. They hadn’t gone so far as to invite themselves in - most seemed to respect that the cargo bay was her space and they left her to it, sending formal requests if they ever had to retrieve something from one of the many heavy duty storage cases that took up most of the bay. That she was glad about, that she still had her space, still had somewhere she could go where it was quiet, where she could be alone with her thoughts. The rest of it… It was tolerable for the first few days, but now it was just becoming an irritating inconvenience.

“Your making friends!” the Doctor had said when she told him some of this. He seemed pleased, even proud, then distraught when he realised Seven was making no effort to keep up these conversations. “Remember our lessons,” he had said and she deftly got out of him suggesting a refresher course by changing the subject over to his latest favourite musical piece.

At least she was getting better at returning a pleasant greeting, making nods of acknowledgment, although her own movements were stiff and the words often stuck in her throat. And despite the excitement brought on by the chance to explore the unique nebula, she still received those greetings.

“Seven, good. Hi,” said B’Elanna as soon as Seven walked into engineering. “I need you to take a look at this.” She handed Seven a PADD filled with calculations. “And can you recalibrate the shield modifiers? These bozos,” she raised her voice and glared at the nearby engineering staff, “seem to think I have all day.”

Seven raised an eyebrow, unfamiliar with the term, although it wasn’t hard to deduce its meaning. “I will have it done in twenty minutes,” she said confidently.

B’Elanna grinned. “See, people! That’s what I wanna hear.” Everyone else chose that moment to make themselves look busy, a stilted hush descending until their chief had disappeared.

Seven got to work. The task was simple, almost tedious, and her mind began to wander. This was not something she was used to, fighting for concentration. That it was happening a lot lately was concerning, yet her regular medical check-ups revealed nothing unusual within her Borg implants. They worked as efficiently as ever. It was the human side of her that was the problem. That part that seemed to have crept out of nowhere and took over. The part that was getting harder to fight. Easier to just accept it. But how to accept something you do not understand? The captain would be able to explain it. It and more. But she hadn’t seen or spoken to the captain since the holodeck, since her lips pressed against Seven’s and everything Seven thought she knew had changed. That too brief moment. Brief, yet time had seemed to stand still. The holodeck, the ship, everything had fell away, until only the two of them existed, until nothing else mattered.

Seven hadn’t known she could feel that way. Hadn’t known that a simple touch could both scare her and thrill her all at once. She did not know there could be comfort in such a thing.

For two years she had watched the more amorous of the crew, trying to understand their need, their pleasure, in pairing off with someone else. Romantic liaisons were irrelevant to the Borg and her memories - all those millions of lost souls - were lacking in regards to that. She had no insight to it beyond what she had read on the ship’s database, beyond watching the crew.

Before the holodeck, Seven had believed the whole process to be rather pointless. She had witnessed B’Elanna Torres and Tom Paris argue so many times it seemed impossible that they even truly liked each other. Yet, at other times, she had caught stolen glances between them, so caught up in each other that it was like no one else existed. No one else mattered.

It was baffling.

A collective of two, she realised. Yet this was no drone and queen. They were equals (although she thought B’Elanna might disagree with that somewhat).

Yet as puzzling as Seven found it all, that moment on the holodeck, that unexpected closeness, the feel of her captain… it had awakened something within Seven, something that felt right.

Motion to her left pulled Seven’s attention away from those wandering thoughts. So caught up in them she had been, that her simple task was taking far longer than it should. She glanced up, expecting to find an angry chief engineer, demanding to know what was taking so long. But Torres was nowhere in sight. Instead, it was Ensign Vorik at the console adjacent to her, muttering under his breath and tapping furiously at the console.

Ignoring her own task, Seven took a moment to study him and was shocked by what she saw.

A tightly clenched jaw, narrowed eyes, stiff shoulders, and an undeniable wave of anger that seemed to radiate from him. Seven had seen anger before, but never anger such as this from a Vulcan. There was no logic in anger. An emotion so suppressed it may as well not exist for them at all.

Yet here it was.

Hundreds of Vulcan had been assimilated during the battle of Wolf 359. Much of their culture was irrelevant to the Borg, but the Collective only grew stronger by ensuring they could not be defeated. Know thy enemy. She knew Vulcans. She had even discussed the merits of meditation at length with Commander Tuvok. What she was seeing, the anger swiftly overtaking Vorik, was not normal.

Possible explanations flooded her mind. The pon farr? Some sort of Vulcan illness? Her hand was halfway to her comm badge to call the Doctor when a shout from the other side of engineering distracted her.

By now, others had noticed the change in Vorik. His mutterings, although unintelligible, had grown louder. Yet it was the angry shout of the chief engineer that finally had every officer in engineering halting in their work, stations completely forgotten.

“You idiot!” Torres was rounding the warp core, moving so swift that in an instant she was in Vorik’s face. Despite being at least two feet shorter, B’Elanna and her ire seemed to tower over him. “Is that green Vulcan blood of yours not reaching your brain?”

“Are those Klingon ridges inhibiting yours?” Vorik fired back.

A deadly silence rippled through the room. No one moved, no one said a word. All eyes were stuck firmly to Torres and Vorik, like two welded plates of a hull, waiting to see what would happen next.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Torres wasn’t shouting now, but the quiet intensity with which she spoke was far more deadly. “What? Just because I’m half Klingon, I can’t tell the difference between a polarised coil and an ionised one?”

Vorik, completely unfazed, finally turned away from the console to face her. “Precisely.”

With what some would describe as eerie precognition, Seven sensed what was about to happen next. Vorik, on the other hand, did not.

B’Elanna was a blur of movement, her arm swinging back and letting go faster than an arrow leaving its bow. The punch landed on the centre of Vorik’s face. A crack that promised a broken nose.

“You little bitch,” he spat, as green blood streamed down his face.

“Fight, fight!” an ensign began to chant, holding a clenched fist up in the air. He cheered as Vorik launched himself at B’Elanna. At first, most of engineering stood in stunned silence, watching. Then some, like the ruly ensign, picked up the chant. Others chose sides, defending their chief or backing up Vorik. This led to more yelling, some shoving, and an unsuspecting ensign took an elbow to the gut.

Then all hell broke loose.

Vaguely, Seven was aware of calling for security, although she was unsure how to describe the developing situation. An argument? A fight? No… this was fast becoming a brawl.

There was no time to wait for security, she realised as the momentum of Vorik’s body sent both him and Torres crashing to the deck. Someone was going to end up seriously injured. Or worse.

With no regards to her own safety, she stepped between the heap that was B’Elanna and Vorik.

A wayward fist whizzed towards Seven’s head. She ducked, unsure as to who it belonged to, and, before either Torres or Vorik realised what was happening, Seven had grabbed a wrist, the scruff of a neck, and pulled them apart, fists still swinging and legs still kicking. That was how Tuvok found them a few moments later. Seven calm and composed, Vorik breathing heavily and dripping green blood, B’Elanna struggling to break free and growling in Vorik’s direction.

Other security officers swept into engineering, breaking up the other fights, bringing calm to the situation.

“Lieutenant Torres and Ensign Vorik, report to sickbay,” ordered Tuvok, whose gaze hadn’t left the pair and when B’Elanna began to struggle even more violently, he added to Seven, “Perhaps you could escort the lieutenant?”

Seven nodded just as Torres let out a barrage of Klingon, most of which was lost in the commotion that followed as Seven began to drag her out of engineering. One phrase was clear though, and it sounded terrifying, too much like a promise in the harsh Klingon language.

“I’ll kill him.”

Chapter Text

Should have listened to my instincts, thought Janeway, who had finally dragged herself out of her ready room at Tuvok’s behest. Should have just ignored the damn call. But she hadn't. Through her exhaustion, through the pounding in her head from too many long work days, the part of her that was forever a Starfleet officer had crawled its way to the surface and told him she was on her way.

The words “emergency" and “sickbay" were never good, let alone when they were put together in the same sentence. Yet the urgency with which she would normally make her way there just wouldn't come. Her feet dragged with resentment at having to leave the comfort her ready room.

The sickbay was chaos when she finally arrived. Each biobed taken up by officers in various states of dishevelment. Some covered in blood - perhaps not all their own - others cradling broken bones. At least three were being held in place by a forcefield while the Doctor ran around ragged, assessing injuries, passing out hyposprays. He had a tendency for the theatrics, a minor if inconvenient glitch in his programming, and Janeway could tell he was on the brink of hysteria, barely holding it back. He finally lost it when there was a shout, followed by a loud clatter as a tray of medical equipment went flying to the floor.

“Must you really?” he snapped at the culprit, storming towards them in a rage of photons. Janeway stepped further into the room and saw B’Elanna Torres, struggling on a biobed, determined to break free. And she would have succeeded if it were not for the strong and sure hand of Seven of Nine, who held her in place by the shoulder.

“Let me at him!” B’Elanna roared; although who “he” was, Janeway couldn’t be sure. B’Elanna didn’t seem to be yelling at anyone in particular and the sight of the Doctor looming towards her only incensed her further.

“This is ridiculous. Seven,” the Doctor called, and tossed her hypospray, which she deftly caught one handed.

Knowing what was about to happen, B’Elanna fought. Her free arm came up, hand bared like a claw that reached up towards her nearest target: Seven’s face. But Seven was too quick for her, bringing the device swiftly to the chief engineer’s neck. There was the familiar sickening hiss of a hyprospray, and the effect of the sedative was instant. B’Elanna’s eyes rolled to the back of her head, her body becoming limp, her hand falling harmlessly away from Seven, leaving nothing more than a thin pink line where the nail had caught skin, marring an otherwise perfect cheek.

Something inside Janeway snapped suddenly, like a twig stepped on in an otherwise silent forest. “What the hell is going on?”

At the sound of their captain, at the command and anger in her voice, a hush descended. It did not last long.

It was Tuvok who spoke, took charge. A careful eye swept the room, studying each patient, each officer, before landing back on the captain.

“There has been reports of incidents all over the ship.”

“What kind of incidents?” She gazed at the unconscious B’Elanna, the injured officers occupying the other biobeds struggling to break free of their restraints, heedless of their own injuries. She did not like what she saw.

“Arguments, fights,” Tuvok explained. “From our more volatile crew members,” he glanced at Torres, “to the more mild mannered.”

Janeway looked at him sharply, an order to explain.

“I found Neelix shouting at Naomi Wildman outside the holodecks.”

“Where are they now?” Janeway asked cautiously. She didn’t think she had ever seen Neelix raise his voice at anyone, let alone shout at Naomi.

“I confined them both to quarters.” Although Tuvok’s features remained impassive, his eyes darkened in a way that told Janeway he was troubled by something. “I believe the crew to be under the influence of-”

“Put all those unaffected on essential duties, the rest confined to quarters. Or the brig,” she added in after thought. She had doubts about some of her crew following that particular order to stay put and a little more force just might be needed.

“Captain,” the Doctor protested, his voice taking on the whine of a child denied a cookie before dinner. Another unfortunate glitch and one he seemed to take special care in refining over the years. “I think it’s obvious what the problem is. The variable that has changed in the last twelve hours.”

“The nebula,” said Seven.

“Exactly!” He stepped towards Seven as if to form a united front. “These heightened emotions, erratic behaviour - it all started when we neared the nebula.”

“You have no proof of that,” said Janeway, whose gaze had locked onto Seven the moment she had spoke. A flicker of annoyance when Seven didn’t even glance her way.

“Short tempers, increased libidos, lowered inhibitions… Shall I go on?” The Doctor was almost shouting now. “Something is causing it.”

“Indeed,” Tuvok agreed. If he weren’t Vulcan, Janeway knew he’d be blushing furiously now as he explained how he’d walked in on two of the bridge crew in a compromising position… on the bridge.

“Where the hell was everyone else?” Janeway asked, her patience growing thin.

“Late,” said Tuvok, “was the more popular excuse. For the three officers who eventually showed up.”

“See?” said the Doctor.

The three of them, standing in a row in front of her felt like an attack. She felt her temper rise because of it, something hot and irrational that she had no control over.

“Let me get this straight,” said Janeway carefully, not because she was worried they would misinterpret her, but because she wanted them to hear the anger in each of her words. Anger that bordered on contempt. My ship, my crew, my decision. If they didn’t like it, then there was plenty of room in the brig. “You’re suggesting we move Voyager away from the nebula?”

“Yes,” said the Doctor with relief that washed away some of the exasperation, but not all of it, that creased his features.

“No.”

“Captain-”

“Find a way to counter the effects,” she said, her voice lowered to its most threatening level. She wasn’t about to let this opportunity, this distraction, go to waste. Not with Seven standing there looking so composed, as if nothing at all had happened between them. “Do it, or I’ll find a new CMO who can.”

And with that, she turned on her heel and marched out of sickbay without giving any of them a second thought or glance.

My ship, my crew, my rules.

 

*

 

“Well,” said the Doctor, sniffing indignantly, “I see the captain is not immune either.”

Perhaps none of us are, thought Seven and a chill swept through her. Then a more worrying thought occurred to her. What if the Doctor was wrong? What if it wasn’t the nebula at all, but something else. Something unknown, alien, that had been on the ship for far longer. She thought back to a week ago, that moment in the holodeck. Had the captain been under the influence of something then, acting out with her own control?

She wasn’t sure what concerned her more, that once again something sinister was aboard the ship, or that the captain hadn’t meant what she had done. It is irrelevant, she told herself and put all her will into believing it, into ignoring the ache in her chest that the nagging thought hammered into her each time her focus slipped and allowed it to swim to the front of her mind.

“Nevertheless,” said Tuvok, who did not seem at all concerned by recent developments. But, of course, as a Vulcan he would never let something as trivial as feelings take over his composure. “I suggest you do as ordered, Doctor.”

At this, the Doctor glared at Tuvok. He had moved to the next biobed over, but he paused in his medical scans of the prone officer, held in place by a forcefield and going nowhere with the third degree burns that covered his face. The Doctor gestured around the busy sickbay, whose doors opened at that precise moment to reveal more security teams bringing in injured crew. “And when, precisely, should I do as ordered? In case you haven’t noticed, I have patients coming out of my ears!”

“Then I suggest you find Lieutenant Paris to assist you.”

“Hinder me, more like,” the Doctor muttered. “Where is that damn dermal regenerator? Ah,” he said when it suddenly materialised in front of his face. His gaze followed the hand that held it out to him, landing on the battered and bruised ensign on biobed three. “Thank you, Ensign Tal,” he said warmly and she smiled at him through a burst lip. Seven vaguely wondered how she had gotten it. The last time she had seen Ensign Tal she was leaving her in charge of astrometrics, charting what they could of the nebula from outside it. Seven dreaded to think what state her astrometrics lab had gotten into during her absence.

“Seven,” said Tuvok, in a lowered voice. “It seems prudent to do a sweep of the more sensitive areas of the ship.”

“You wish me to accompany you?”

“You do appear unaffected.”

The advantages of being Borg. She nodded and followed him out of sickbay.

They stopped at the nearest armory so Seven could be armed with a phaser, set on stun. A necessary precaution given what she had already witnessed between Torres and Vorik. Yet Voyager’s halls were oddly quiet, empty. She found it unsettling after so many days of being bombarded with crew friendliness. This, however, was not the impasse she had been longing for, and it was hard to predict just how much worse things could get. If the violence she had witnessed continued to escalate unchecked, would there even be a crew left at the end of it?

My collective is crumbling, she realised. And, not for the first time, she wished for the one voice. One voice where she could reach them all, one voice to halt this spread of disease, a dam in its path.

The nearest turbolift was also empty; but, even inside, as it whizzed them through the ship, Seven could not get rid of her unease. She glanced at Tuvok where he stood at her side. Usually his calm and quiet nature was pleasant. He had just about as much use for small talk as she did. They worked well together because of it, and she found she enjoyed his company. There was a comfort in the way he did not expect anymore from her than she was willing to give.

“You also seem unaffected,” she said. Stating the obvious just to fill the silence. Tuvok did not react, staring stoically ahead. Nevertheless, she continued. “Perhaps the nebula is not at fault.”

He barely moved as he answered her, yet she got the impression he was uncomfortable with the discussion. “As a Vulcan, I have superior control over my emotions and actions.”

“Vorik is also Vulcan,” she pointed out, and half an hour ago he’d had the rage of a Klingon at war.

“Vorik is young,” said Tuvok in a way that made it clear he did not see himself and Vorik as the same. “This is not the first time he has shown lack of discipline.”

“Perhaps,” said Seven thoughtfully. “Or the Doctor is wrong about the nebula and something else is affecting the crew.”

“That seems unlikely.”

“Which would mean the captain is wrong.”

The turbolift glided softly to a halt, the doors sliding open.

“It would not be the first time,” Tuvok said ominously and stepped out onto deck four and walked towards the torpedo banks, wary of infected crew up to no good.

For a moment, Seven only stood there. To hear Tuvok speak against the captain was unusual - there was no logic in undermining authority, the chain of command, after all - but if the captain was indeed wrong, and under the influence of something alien, then undermining her authority would be the only way to ensure the safety of the ship and crew. It is not my place. I am not Starfleet. Yet she was a member of the crew and this was her home, her collective and she would protect it. Even if it meant going against her captain. Again.

They did a sweep of the torpedo banks, determining they were empty and untampered with. Just to be safe and because they believed her to be protected by her Borg implants, Seven set up Borg force fields and encryption codes only she could get into. The crew would be kept out, kept safe.

They did the same to each armory, then it was back up to engineering when Tuvok’s security men failed to report in. There, they found no fighting crew, but the warp core was offline, and the only two engineers who had not abandoned their posts could tell them nothing of how it had happened.

“It should be simple enough to bring back online,” said Seven.

“I’d like to secure the bridge first.” We should inform the captain, he seemed to say and it was like a prayer, a hope, that the captain would see sense, a glimmer of the real Janeway shining through the cloud that was the nebula distorting all.

Their trip to the bridge was a lot less quiet and they had need of the phasers in their hands. Whatever the cause - the nebula or something else - the Doctor had been right. The effects were getting worse.

There was still arguments, still fights - easy to break up with words but far more efficient just to use the stun setting on their phasers. They were heading down deck eleven towards the turbolift when two officers came whizzing past them, stark naked, apparently in a race. It was a lot more of the human male anatomy than Seven wished to see, and two quick blasts of her phaser had them collapsing mid stride into a heap upon the deck.

“Should we move them somewhere less… exposed?” asked Tuvok, whose eyebrow quirked in a way that betrayed his amusement.

“I think not,” said Seven coldly. She was getting tired of the little progress they had made. They stopped one fight only for another to start somewhere else. There had to be a more efficient way of ensuring crew safety and preventing the unavoidable embarrassment that was sure to come when the effects wore off and the crew returned to themselves.

She was just about to suggest to Tuvok that she return to sickbay instead - perhaps the Doctor had made some progress - but before she could, the turbolift opened before them, revealing a rather unkempt looking Commander Chakotay. His hair stuck up wildly at contradicting angles, the jacket part of his uniform had been lost somewhere and the gray shirt underneath was untucked and covered in dark stains - a mixture of blood and sweat and possibly something else. He stumbled out of the turbolift and Seven noticed he had one shoe missing.

“Commander,” said Tuvok sternly, as if commanding one of his security officers and not addressing the first officer.

“You,” Chakotay spat, swaying slightly as he glared vaguely in Tuvok’s direction.

In what Seven regarded as a completely reasonable tone of voice, Tuvok said, “You should return to your quarters, Commander.”

“I don’t take orders from you.” One long finger stretched out. There was a moment of hesitation, as if Chakotay were daring Tuvok to stop him, before the finger prodded Tuvok in the chest.

“Remove your finger.” Now that was clearly an order. And there was a change to Tuvok’s tone, one Seven did not like. An iciness that did not belong in the carefully controlled starship environment.

“What are you going to do? Put me in the brig? I know you’ve been dying to do just that all these years.”

“The only suitable place for an agent of the Maquis.”

Chakotay sneered. “It just kills you that I’m XO, doesn’t it?”

“Commanders,” said Seven, although she needn’t have bothered speaking. Neither one of the two men were listening. She wasn’t sure they were even aware of her presence anymore.

Chakotay’s finger hadn’t moved, and now he took a step closer, his face barely an inch away from Tuvok’s. “You’re nothing but a lying snake. The Judas in waiting. I’ll tell you something, though,” said Chakotay with the glee of a man who knew he had the upper hand. “You would have made a good Maquis.”

Triumph sparked in the commander’s eyes. Under the influence of something toxic, something alien, but the words he spoke had a ring of truth to them. They were words he had wanted to say for a long time. Words that lingered in his subconscious until forgotten, left out in the wilderness amongst all those lost memories of childhood and better times. He had placed them there himself, out of respect for his new captain, for Tuvok, perhaps even for himself and his position. But now they were unconstrained, his sense of duty and respect was far gone, lost out there in the vastness of space.

We cannot stay here, she realised. The captain was wrong; staying near the nebula was far too dangerous even if the Doctor could counter its effects somehow. Words had been spoken and words were not always easy to forget. How many of the fights she had witnessed had started from an unpleasant exchange of words that should never have been spoken? At the end of this, how many relationships, how many friendships, would survive?

She didn’t know, couldn’t know, and she knew Voyager might never be the same again.

Tuvok’s hands clenched into fists at his sides. He’s not immune either. None of us are. How much time before the nebula’s effects worked its way through her implants? Without the human side of her to control it, how much of that Borg drone would take over?

Seven did not want to find out. Yet her imagination brought up images and scenarios of a Voyager fully assimilated, a crew of drones working their way back towards the Collective.

Dread filled her. It would quickly morph into fear if she did not get control of it.

“Commanders,” she said again. This time, Chakotay heard her. For barely a second his eyes left Tuvok, but it was enough for the Vulcan. Brute force, the anger of a century now unleashed. He would demolish Chakotay with his bare hands and Seven could not allow it.

There was a lot about Vulcan culture that Seven found fascinating. The foundation of logic - the efficiency that brought somewhat mirrored that of the Borg and she admired it, wished to learn more and Commander Tuvok had always been a willing and methodical teacher.

She knew Vulcans. They appeared emotionless, but that was only a shroud covering the truth that lay within. The emotions lingered, always, deep below the surface. Sometimes they rose up, threatened to flood the conscious mind. But a good Vulcan knew how to be aware of it, knew how to calm themselves.

All traces of the good Vulcan were gone from Tuvok. The nebula had taken it from him. It will not take his dignity, Seven vowed and with one hand reached out; that sweet spot between the neck and shoulder. The Vulcan nerve pinch. She pressed hard and Tuvok crumpled beneath her hand as if made of sand.

“I suggest you take some time to meditate, Commander,” she spoke to his prone form and suppressed a smile at her own quip. To Chakotay, who was on the deck, cradling a broken nose, she said, “If you behave, I will accompany you sickbay.”

And if I don’t? his dark eyes seemed to ask.

“I will not be carrying you,” she said and did not need a phaser to appear threatening. Her severe look was one she had learned from the captain and it had Chakotay obeying her every command.

Chapter Text

Sickbay was not as Seven had left it. The biobeds were empty - each of the injured officers either healed and sent back to their posts or quarters, or they had simply left the sickbay of their own accord. Seven feared the latter was more likely. Medical equipment and other debris lay strewn about the floor, evidence of further mishaps. Of the Doctor, there was no sign.

She quickly guided Commander Chakotay to the nearest biobed, where he promptly fell over on his front, face squashed into the cushioned surface. His breathing became deep and heavy, a rumble that put the most aggressive torpedo fire to shame. Seven tuned him out and began a more thorough search of the sickbay, trying to determine what had happened. She doubted the Doctor himself had removed the restraints and force fields keeping the most aggressively affected of the crew in check. So who had done it? And what had they done to the Doctor?

Something crunched beneath her feet as she ventured further in. Glancing down, she found the remains of a once functioning hyprospray. A common piece of medical equipment, but it wasn’t like Voyager was able to frequent a local Starbase for resupply. Their resources were limited, precious even, and Seven was reluctant to cause further damage. She kept her gaze down at the floor, carefully moving her feet into what clear space she could find, gently pushing anything delicate out of her way. Then she spotted it; beneath one of the empty biobeds. The one Seven had last seen B’Elanna Torres passed out on.

The Doctor’s mobile emitter.

As she bent to pick it up, Seven’s heart sank at the sight of a large crack down its middle. His programme wasn’t localised to the futuristic device and she felt confident that, once back to her usual self, Torres and her team would be able to retrieve the Doctor’s programme from Voyager’s memory banks. But if the emitter itself was irreparable? It would mean once again that the Doctor was confined to sickbay and the ship’s holodecks. He would be devastated. The emitter had provided the Doctor with an independence that had allowed him to more firmly establish himself as an individual. Without it… would he even be the same person? Seven did not like thinking about it. It made her wonder about her own life, the freedom and individuality she had gained once being freed from the Borg. To go back to that - to once again be a mindless drone, one of many - the thought filled her with restless horror.

Her grip tightened around the mobile emitter and she swept her gaze across the floor until she found one of the medical tricorders. It seemed to be undamaged so she used it to give the emitter a quick scan. Its readings were limited when it came to technological devices, but the fact that it detected the emitter at all gave Seven hope. The damage might not be that bad after all, and with Torres’ help, she was sure they could get it working for the Doctor again. If she knew where Torres had gotten to. For all she knew, Torres herself had been the one responsible for the broken emitter.

But that wasn’t a priority right now.

Seven stood up, once again sweeping her gaze across the mess that was sickbay. She needed to find somewhere safe to store the emitter for now. She headed for the Doctor’s office, the only part of sickbay that didn’t look as if it had been trashed. There was a locked container for when the Doctor needed to keep more sensitive samples aboard, including her own Borg nanoprobes. She knew the code for the container and was relieved to find it had not been changed, and safely stored the broken emitter inside. She doubted in their present state that any of the crew would be bothered with trying to break into it, but to be on the safe side she instructed the ship’s computer to alert her if anyone tried to tamper with the lock.

“Oh hey, Seven,” said a voice from behind her.

Startled, Seven swung around, a hand moving unconsciously towards the phaser strapped to her side. When she realised who had spoken, she let her arm drop to her side, but her muscles remained tense, wary of any sudden moves.

“Lieutenant Paris,” she greeted, watching as he sauntered over to one of the free biobeds and threw himself onto it. Ankles crossed, arms above his head; comfortable like he was resting on a sun lounger in his favourite holoprogram. He had replaced his uniform with garments she had only ever seen him wear once before, a dazzlingly bright flowery shirt and shorts. All that was missing was a garland of flowers around his neck. “Where is the Doctor?”

“Ohhh,” said Tom, the word falling out of his mouth with the slowness of someone lulled to sleep. “I deleted him. Man’s such a buzzkill. Wouldn’t quit whining about his mobile thingy.” He waved a hand dismissively, then reached over to the side where the tray of medical instruments should have been. Tom had replaced them with a plate of replicated pizza. She caught the scent of cheese and tomato and was annoyed to find her stomach rumbling eagerly in response. Tom lifted the plate and offered it to her. “Pizza?”

“No, thank you,” she said impatiently. “What about the Doctor’s work? He was looking into a way to counteract the nebula’s effects.”

“Ugh.” Tom rolled his head back petulantly. “Stop being so boring, Seven.” He took a large bite of pizza. With his mouth still full, he added, “Computer, play something… funky.”

‘Funky’ turned out to be something loud, with a lot of bass and drums. Presumably music, although it did not sound pleasant to Seven’s ears. Tom smiled happily, chewing on his food messily like a dog starved for weeks.

“Computer, stop,” Seven ordered and the music abruptly ceased. Her ears rang in the newfound silence.

On the biobed, Tom stiffened. The pizza slice slowly descended back towards the plate. There was a coldness gripping his gaze now, but Seven met it with one of her own. The image of a dog came back to her, but this time he was the scolded pup, submitting to her alpha authority.

“Where are Lieutenant Torres and the others?”

Tom shrugged. “They left.”

Before or after getting treatment? she wondered. She supposed it didn’t matter. None of it would matter if they didn’t move Voyager soon. She glanced towards the Doctor’s office and the container where she had stored his emitter. She would just have to find a solution without his help.

“Commander Chakotay is injured,” she informed Tom.

“Tell him to take a number,” said Tom, leaning back comfortably onto the biobed and shutting his eyes. “I’m busy.”

Pointless to argue. Seven rolled her eyes, took a last glance at the unconscious XO to check he was still breathing - he was, the snoring hadn’t stopped, merely lowered into a muffled, intermittent snort - and left sickbay. As the doors swished shut behind her, she felt the thrum of drum and bass. At least Lieutenant Paris was keeping himself busy in a way the did not involve his fists.

Seven hurriedly made her way through the ship.

She felt the sense of time running out, of chaos descending. It instilled itself within her Collective, this chaos. She could not predict it and it unnerved her, the lack of meaning, the way it would destroy all for no other purpose simply than because it could. She wanted to make it stop and to do that she had to ignore what she saw as she walked through Voyager’s decks. The arguments that would soon lead to a more physical confrontation, she forced herself to pass. She pretended not to see the intimate liaisons that would surely bring only embarrassment and regret to those involved once clarity returned. If clarity returned. It would, only if Seven kept her focus. She could not afford to waste time interfering in every act she bore witness.

That she told herself, that she vowed to stick to for the sake of the whole crew, until the turbolift on deck five opened to reveal Naomi Wildman huddled on the floor, crying in pathetic, desperate gasps.

And then they were back on Kovar and this was a cell and Naomi was that lost little girl, one of many with no hope.

I cannot leave her like I left them.

The pain of it, the guilt, made her throat tighten. This she could not ignore and walk away. It took a moment for her to regain her speech, and even then she could not relate the voice she heard to that of her own.

“Naomi Wildman.” She remembered how the command in her voice had once snapped the girl into action, how the role of an officer following orders had instilled calm and comprehension within her. Either Naomi was too far gone in the haze of the nebula’s influence, or Seven had let more of her concern slip through than she had intended, because the girl only continued to cry and ignore her.

Seven took a cautious step into the turbolift, allowing the doors to close behind her. The lift remained motionless without a command.

“Naomi,” she said, softly now and she was reminded so strongly of the girl that she had been that the years seemed to fall away, taking her breath with them. There were no drones, no Borg invading her home and there was Papa, waiting for her, as always, his arms outstretched.

She blinked and it was gone and the weight of her implants, the remnants of her life as a Borg, felt too heavy, too cold, where they touched the human flesh they had once assimilated.

“Are you alright?”

Seven shivered at her own voice. No, she answered herself, none of us are.

The girl, however, made no sound, did not even move and Seven recalled the morbid vow of silence Naomi was engaged in, ever since her return to Voyager. Even light years from Kovar, she could not shake the place. Part of it would always remain with her, just like the Borg would always remain with Seven, a drone adrift from its Collective, but always remembering, always aware.

“It is not safe for you to be wandering the ship,” said Seven. Nowhere is safe. Not for her. Not anymore. The thought chilled Seven. Perhaps Voyager had become the girl’s new prison, each member of the crew her unwitting captors. “I will take you back to your quarters.”

“No!”

Naomi’s reaction was so sudden, so violent, that Seven was stunned into motionlessness.

In a heartbeat, Naomi was on her feet. The crying had stopped, leaving her cheeks glistening, glowing sickly with the paleness beneath.

“I won’t go back there. I won’t.”

Then she lashed out. Tiny fists hurling towards Seven. Pebbles tossed into a pond, barely making a ripple, yet Seven made herself feel each one, wishing the impact she barely felt would leave its mark. One for each of the children she had left behind.

Each hit seemed to say what Naomi could not. A shout, a scream, a plea for help that went unheard. You let them take me, why didn’t you stop it?

(Why, Papa?)

Seven had no answers and each fist echoed the own thoughts in her head. Why why why? (Where were you, Papa?) The Borg came and Annika screamed. There had been no fists, no fight. Resistance is futile and Seven knew that all to well.

So she let each hit come, bore it like a punishment, a reminder. The fight that Annika, that all those lost children on Kovar could not win. Each hit was for them. Never forgotten, not anymore. She bore it until her flesh stung, until Naomi’s fists became slack with exhaustion, until she collapsed into Seven’s arms with silent tears and all Seven could do was hold her close, hold her tight, this small, fragile girl, and vow never to let go.

“I will not take you back,” she promised. Never, never.

But the ship was unsafe and Seven had to leave her although she wished she did not. She let out a command and the turbolift jolted beneath her feet. Her stance was firm, though, her grip on the girl sure even as her eyes burned and her heart felt like it was shattering within her chest. A glass shattering, fragments scattering, before repairing themselves only for it to break again and again.

The motion of the turbolift, thankfully, lulled Naomi into silence. Her tears had stopped, and her breathing once again became gentle and slow. At first, Seven did not notice the girl had fallen asleep in her arms. When she did, she was careful to make no sudden movements, each step she took slow and planned. She was glad to find no one when the turbolift swished open. The eerie emptiness of the ship’s decks might have unnerved her before, but all thoughts were insignificant compared to the burden held within her arms.

Cargo bay 2 was bright with the fluorescents, shining down on the rows of crates, on the Borg equipment that marked this place as Seven’s own. In a voice barely above a murmur, she ordered the computer to dim the lights into a soft, peaceful glow.

Naomi would be safe here and, just to be sure, Seven went through the rows, the stacks reaching high above her own head. Near the back and hidden from view, a darkened corner where the child would not be found. Seven lay Naomi gently onto the deck.

There was a system to Voyager’s cataloging and storage of equipment. Seven had memorised it her first day aboard, when she was still more drone than human, and when all information was an advantage. It left her with the unique knowledge of all the resources aboard. A few rows down from where she left Naomi, Seven found what she was looking for. A thick, shimmering blue material, picked up from some long forgotten alien world and stored away until it could be traded off for something of more use. The material was soft beneath Seven’s fingertips and oddly cool, in a way that brought a sense of calm and comfort to her. She lay it over Naomi, tucking it in at the edges until the girl was wrapped in a soft cocoon. Asleep, she looked calm, free of the memories of what had happened to her.

Dream well, Seven thought and hoped it would be true, that the girl’s dreams would be full of stars and wonder and cake and games and all those other things little girl’s were supposed to dream about. No prisons. No T’Var. Don’t let it haunt her, Seven pleaded, although in her own mind, from her own dreams, she knew it could never be true. Kovar would always be a part of the girl, just as the Borg would always be a part of the girl that was Annika.

With heavy steps, Seven left the girl to sleep.

Chapter Text

Not once in the last two years had Seven come upon the bridge to find it empty. Starfleet protocol, she knew, dictated that a ship of Voyager’s class and size should have its stations manned at all times, and even on those occasions that required a skeleton crew must have a senior officer on shift. Voyager was far from home, far from Starfleet Command and more than one occasion in the past had seen Voyager and her crew deviate from protocol. But something about it now, the emptiness of the bridge, was disturbing.

Even more disturbing, was the display on the forward viewscreen - the best view of the nebula yet. The brightness of the interstellar dust gave the bridge an unnatural purple glow. They were fully within the nebula now, no longer skirting its perimetre. It was beautiful, but terrifying.

The eye of the storm, thought Seven. There were secrets within the dust cloud that Voyager had not yet even begun to uncover.

She went to the helm, intending on flying the ship to safety. Far, far away from this interstellar phenomenon, where its radiation could not touch them. Far enough for sobriety, for much needed clarity, to return to the crew.

The helm did not respond to Seven’s touch. Not to her, not to anyone. The captain’s command codes had locked everyone out.

It wouldn’t be difficult for Seven to decrypt and regain control, but it would take time she felt she did not have, time that the crew did not have. She scanned the empty bridge, searching for something, a more efficient solution. Nothing was forthcoming from the empty and silent stations.

Then, out of the shadows, a voice admonished her.

“Seven, Seven, Seven.”

It came from beyond the bridge, from the shadowy recesses of the captain’s ready room. The door was wedged open with some piece of fallen equipment. As Seven stepped over it, her foot caught it, nudging it slightly. Enough for the door to slide shut with an ominous screech behind her.

Seven peered into the gloom, recognising the voice; a deep resonance so unlike the woman she had come to know.

“Captain?” said Seven warily.

The silence began to swarm her, the nebula’s glow unable to penetrate the dark. She began to wonder if she had imagined the voice. She doubted her implants could withstand the nebula’s radiation indefinitely and there was no way to predict how her unique Borg/human physiology would react. Hearing voices, sensing things in the dark that were not there… Or worse. That instinct to assimilate all, to seek out the Collective.

Movement straight ahead of her made Seven flinch, and not even the captain’s familiar features managed to still her now raging heartbeat. The purple light of the nebula lit up the captain’s face, a ghostly effect that made Kathryn Janeway appear more alien than anything Seven had ever come across so far in the Delta Quadrant. Shadows marred the captain’s face, making her look hard and angry. Seven took a deep breath, composing herself.

“We must move Voyager away from the nebula,” said Seven.

“‘We must’,” Janeway repeated, an unflattering mock.

Seven ignored it. There had to be some way of reaching the captain, of finding a part of her that would still respond to reason. “The nebula’s affect on the crew is-”

“I said no.”

“Captain-”

“Shut up,” Janeway snapped. “It’s always the same with you, isn’t it? No matter what I say, you always insist the opposite.”

Although she knew it was the nebula’s influence drawing the words from Janeway’s mouth, Seven could not help but acknowledge the truth of them. From day one, Seven had resisted Janeway’s authority. Sometimes even going so far as to jeopardize her position on the ship, set herself even further apart from the crew. Alien to their Starfleet ways. More Borg than human. Over her time, her arguments, while still forthcoming, were more rational and open to counter arguments. She liked to think she gave the captain a unique perspective on things and their resulting discussions always provided Seven with valuable lessons on human interactions and ways of thinking.

Yet it was hard for Seven not to point out the inefficiencies, the imperfections. Sometimes the Borg way was still the best way. That was the cost of humanity, Seven was slowly beginning to learn. No human was perfect. Not even one that was part Borg.

Janeway took another step out of the shadows, revealing more of herself. At some point, she had unzipped the jacket of her uniform, untucked the grey shirt underneath. A relaxed appearance only amplified by the glass in her hand. A dark amber liquid that Janeway lifted to her lips, taking a deep drink. The kind of drink one takes when the thirst is near overwhelming.

Seven wondered what it was. Something replicated, an old Earth favourite? Or something real, something carefully distilled over years long lost? One of the many illicit substances Neelix occasionally acquired when the captain put him in charge of trade negotiations. Usually, nothing more harmful than an exotic spice that burned the tongue like acid, but occasionally he found something the rest of the crew were falling over themselves to get their hands on. It would not surprise Seven if Janeway had confiscated more than one unregulated item over the years. It did not even surprise her that Janeway might keep some of it for herself.

“Everyone kept telling me it was too dangerous to bring a Borg aboard,” said Janeway with cold detachment. “‘We’ll all end up assimilated’, they said. So, Seven… did you come here to assimilate me? Is that how you intend to make me comply?”

“My only intention,” said Seven, “is to move Voyager and ensure the safety of this crew.”

“Bullshit,” Janeway sneered. She drained her glass and the sudden emptiness of it seemed to anger her. She threw it away, uncaring as it smashed against the wall, raining glass down onto the deck. “You may have gone out of your way to save the Wildman girl, but I don’t believe you give a crap about most of the crew.”

A protest dangled on the tip of her tongue and Seven paused just in time before it spilled out.

The captain’s words, although harsh, were true. How long has she wanted to confront this? Confront me ?” And so baldly.

The nebula’s strange radiation opened up something inside of them all, some inner truth, fear or grievance. And sometimes even desire. The captain wasn’t in her right mind, but Seven was also aware this was Kathryn Janeway, the woman not the Starfleet officer, laid out bare before her.

“You are right.” Seven wondered if her implants had finally begun to break down, no longer able to resist the nebula’s radiation, for now she could no longer control her words. “There are many aboard I have no care for and would not miss upon return to the Alpha Quadrant. Others…” Her eyes met Janeway’s cold grey ones. They pierced through her, seeking the truth, teasing it from Seven. “Others, I would-” Seven swallowed and, unwittingly, that evening on the holodeck rose up in her mind. So strong it was she could almost see the glow of the fire, feel the stimulating sensation of Janeway’s lips against her own.

“Others what?” said Janeway. All the malice and confrontation had gone from her tone, leaving a low husk that sent a shiver through Seven.

“I-” Seven’s gaze had dropped to Janeway’s lips without her realising. A thin, firm line whose commands must always be obeyed. “I should go,” said Seven although she hardly knew where or why, only that some instinct was telling her this room and her captain had suddenly become very dangerous. A danger that no Borg had ever been equipped for.

“Oh, you’re not going anywhere,” said Janeway with the confidence of someone who was used to getting her own way.

A smirk formed on the captain’s lips, bereft of amusement yet filled with the pleasure of what was to come. A look of a predator meeting its prey and knowing they had them trapped. Seven had seen that same look on the Hirogen. On Janeway, it did not look anywhere near as intimidating.

There was no instinct to reach for her phaser, nor any wish to. In that moment she knew Janeway could ask anything of her and Seven would not hesitate to comply. From the widening smile on the captain’s lips, she thought Janeway might know it too.

There was less space between them now. Seven could not remember having moved and her eyes had never left the captain, who she was sure had not moved either. Yet there they were, barely an inch apart. Seven felt her breath quicken in a way she was not used to outside of her exertions in the holodeck playing games of velocity.

Fear pounded through her. Not the sickening feeling she had cause to experience whenever she thought of the Collective, of the girl she had been, torn away from all that she knew by monotonous, uncaring drones. It was the fear of anticipation, of sensing what was to come and knowing she would more than likely do it all wrong. A misplaced word, a false step, and then it would all be over. It would never be at all.

Her heart pounded, her blood rushed, flowing fast like a river in a storm. The humanity of it outweighed all the parts of her that were Borg, until there was nothing left but the implants - empty shells to remind her of what she had been, all she had been through. She ceased to be a drone; no longer a left over, a lost anomaly amongst the stars. It all became stripped away underneath the intensity of Kathryn Janeway’s gaze, leaving only the woman behind and the steadily growing desire that pulsed within her.

So tense was she that Seven flinched as Janeway’s hands wrapped around her upper arms. All strength fled her, allowing Janeway to easily turn them around, push Seven towards the desk. Perched on the edge of it, Seven only remaining upright and still because Janeway’s firm grip made it so.

She saw her own desire mirrored in Janeway’s gaze. Saw the flicker of hesitation. The last remains of the captain within that had not yet succumbed. She could have resisted, broken through the haze that was the nebula’s influence. Seven was sure that if anyone was strong enough to fight it with sheer willpower alone, it was Captain Kathryn Janeway. Yet barely a heartbeat it took for the hesitation to cross Janeway’s face and in that moment, Seven felt her fear turn hot and sickly. She was no longer afraid of what could happen. She was terrified it wouldn’t happen at all. That the holodeck would be the first and the last, an experience so brief but never forgotten.

She would not allow it.

Her body - that treacherous, human body - had already decided for her before Seven’s cognitive processes had caught up. A moment perched on the captain’s desk, wondering how she had gotten into the situation, the next she was leaning forwards and her lips had grazed against Janeway’s.

The briefest of touches, almost ghostlike, but it was enough for Janeway; permission, motivation, the fuel for a desire already seething hot. Her lips moved greedly against Seven’s in response.

A tug in Seven’s lower gut, the uncomfortable but not unpleasant tension between her legs. That she had only ever read about, speculated on, tried to capture faint memories floating past on a current that was not her own. Seven had never thought she would experience this. She had deemed this part of humanity irrelevant to her a long time ago. Yet here it was, despite her hesitation and past reluctance. Terrifying, thrilling. And not enough. She wanted, needed, more. She wanted every part of Kathryn Janeway that she could reach.

And the captain yielded beneath her hands, willing to give it all.

Chapter Text

The kiss was unlike anything Seven had ever experienced, so different from the one they had shared on the holodeck, which now seemed chaste and childlike in her memories, a platonic act lacking any desire. But her memories were wrong, skewed by the sensations and feelings currently consuming her.

In the captain’s ready room, were so many life and death decisions had been made, the reality of it was more sharp than anything any holodeck could ever provide; even with the eerie, purplish hue of the nebula surrounding them as it leaked its light through the viewports.

This is what it feels like to be human, Seven realised; a thought in the back of her mind where the incoherence brought on by desire had not yet penetrated. Before the Borg, before her life was stolen and her individuality had been denied to her, Seven believed that was who her true human self was. Annika Hansen, the girl forever lost. Now she was Seven of Nine, Borg, human.

In every kiss she shared with her captain, something new and wondrous awoke within her. Something that could never be quietened again. It was a part of her now, this desire, and it clung to Janeway too, pulled her closer to Seven until they became one. A being of desire, a collective of two that could not be severed.

Every sensation firing through her body was overwhelming. Not just Janeway’s lips but her hands as well. They never seemed to stay still. First sliding slowly down Seven’s arms, dropping to grip her hips - a gentle squeeze that tugged Seven closer, ensured she was going nowhere. Then her hands roamed up Seven’s back, delicately caressing the Borg implants that lay hidden beneath Seven’s thin uniform. There was no hesitation in the captain’s touch as she moved on, up and up, determined to feel every part of Seven.

Hands in her hair, fingers teasing the strands away from the pristine tightness they were used to. Fingernails scraped along Seven’s scalp, a sensation that was oddly pleasant and startled a moan from her that rumbled deep in her throat. Seven had not been aware she was capable of making such sounds and when she froze in surprise, in burning humiliation, she felt the captain chuckle lightly against her lips, felt those fingernails dig a little deeper, determined to illicit the sound again. What other sounds could the captain tease out of her? And what, if any, could she compel from the captain’s lips in response?

The questions excited her. The anticipation was too much for her own body to handle, an ache in her core that demanded attention, release. But she hadn’t yet dared move her own hands. They felt stiff and useless where she gripped the desk, forcing all her strength into keeping herself prone, keeping her body from melting beneath Janeway’s hands.

Seven resisted the temptation for as long as she could, remembered the mantra that had controlled so many years of her life. Resistance is futile. She had no idea until now just how true that was.

Tentatively, Seven reached out until her hands were on her captain’s waist. Part of her was expecting the captain to recoil at her touch, to snap back into sense and shove Seven away from her, ending the moment, denying both their desire, leaving only an agony that would shatter Seven forever.

But the captain did none of those things, only shifted slightly to give Seven better access to pull down the zip of her jacket, push it away from her shoulders. It slipped easily down her arms and to the deck, coiling in on itself like a snake, leaving Janeway in only her gray undershirt. The four sparkling pips of her command shone brightly at her neck and Seven forced herself to ignore them, to deem them irrelevant and ignore the part of her that knew this was all wrong. Too fast and all wrong and on the brink of destroying them both. The desire, the want and need within her, was too strong. It easily destroyed any sense she still had.

She tugged at the thin gray material, seeking the flesh beneath, until it hung loosely around Janeway’s hips. Her fingertips grazed against skin so soft she hardly believe it was real, so unlike the harsh hardness of the Borg. She felt rather than heard the groan of pleasure in Janeway’s throat. The sound of it echoed in her ears, like the ring of tinnitus after heavy torpedo fire. A sound she would never forget. It would die with her, their own little secret.

So many new and remarkable things were happening to her that Seven did not hear the chime of her communicator and it took some time for the Doctor’s voice to penetrate through the haze that was now Seven’s mind, a fog so thick the brightest floodlight could not pierce its way through.

Finally, his impatience registered in some part of her mind and Seven pulled away, regretting it immediately as she watched Janeway’s lips form into a pout. She squashed the desire to kiss it away and forced herself to focus on the Doctor’s voice - which became increasingly more difficult as Janeway focused her attention on Seven’s neck, her lips sucking, teeth nibbling, tongue tasting.

“Seven!” snapped the impatient hologram. “Oh, where are you?”

Seven’s eyes fluttered closed, her body shivered. It took everything she had to find her voice and keep it steady. “Doctor? Are you alright?”

“Am I alright?” came incredulously through the comms. “Not that anyone bothered to care when Lieutenant Paris took me offline. Oh, and that was after our esteemed chief engineer decided to play Klingon rugby with my mobile emitter!” The Doctor cleared his throat - all for dramatic effect, of course, as a hologram was hardly likely to lose its voice - and Seven dreaded there was more of this rant to come. Instead, all he said, in a much calmer voice, was; “Yes, I’m alright. I think I’ve found a solution to our problem.”

Seven stiffened. The nebula. Some of the desire seeped away from her, leaving the thumping heart in her chest too loud, too fast.

“I need your help, Seven,” he continued. “I’m stuck on holodeck two. Oh, and Seven?”

She could barely breathe, her voice stuck in her throat. Janeway’s tongue was hot and moist where it circled her pulse in her neck, made it difficult to think. Janeway’s hands had given up teasing her hair some time ago and now tugged with futile frustration at the neck of Seven’s jumpsuit, desperate to free her from it. Seven gripped her wrists and gently pulled them away. The gesture immediately stilled Janeway’s ministrations, giving Seven the space to think.

“Doctor?”

“You’d better hurry, Seven.” The Doctor’s annoyance had vanished now, leaving behind the concerned CMO. “It’s getting bad out there.”

Seven could remember the violence she had witnessed all over the ship. She remembered Naomi Wildman on the floor of the turbolift, crying and helpless, and it gave Seven the strength she needed to push the captain away, gather herself on weakened legs.

“Going somewhere?” The coy smirk on her captain’s face almost made Seven stop, almost made her give in to whatever influence was flowing through them. The purple light of the nebula that cast shadows between them was a stark reminder that they were not themselves, that this would not have happened had they been only a few light years away from here.

“I will be back,” said Seven and only when she had Janeway pressed firmly against the wall did she dare let go of her wrists. Janeway let her arms fall lazily to her sides, becoming still. “Do not move.” A raised eyebrow was all her order received, but when Janeway did not move, Seven allowed herself to take a step back. Then another. Janeway’s gaze was a gravitational pull, but Seven was Borg and she resisted, she was strong. The ready room door slid open behind her and Seven slipped out quickly, relieved when it finally closed on her captain.

In the darkness of the bridge, Seven felt like she could breathe freely once again. Heavy gasps that made her chest heave. She could hardly believe what had just transpired and now that she was alone, without Janeway’s lips and eyes and voice and everything to entice her, distract her, her heart became heavy. What have I done? The holodeck, the briefness of it in the wake of Naomi Wildman’s rescue, they could easily have let it pass. Time would have erased the memory, the sensations, into transparency. But now…

Seven knew she would never forget this feeling inside of her, knew it would never let her go. Janeway had her, had captured the very essence of Seven of Nine, of Annika Hansen, the part the Borg could never take.

Seven swallowed thickly and pressed the call button for the turbolift, relieved when its doors opened at once. Inside, she tried her best to fix her hair, straighten her uniform. Let the motion of the turbolift calm her.

She could still taste Captain Janeway on her lips, could still see the dark look of desire that clouded her captain’s face, surely a mirror of her own. She felt her body tremble and closed her eyes, forced breath through her lungs, willing it to steady her.

Something flickered across her vision. Like a light beam suddenly directed at her face, nothing but a spark of white to her eyes beneath their lids.

Seven’s eyes flew open, fearing the turbolift was malfunctioning, about to ground to a halt that would strand her between decks, adding precious time to her journey that she and Voyager did not have.

But the turbolift remained resilient, chugging its way through the starship with its usual ease. Just a trick of the light, her thought filled and confused brain struggling to process recent events, the nebula’s radiation degrading her implants-

It wasn’t a flash of light this time.

A glow, soft at first, shimmering like a transporter beam, coming into focus slowly like the lens of a camera. She saw it in front of her, mere inches from her face. A soft, glowing… entity. Transparent and flat like a stingray, but barely larger than a hand. The appearance of it  reminded Seven of early hologram technology, before it was perfected into smooth lines and rich, living colours. For a moment, her rational mind believed that was all it was, a hologram. But how?

The entity flicked its whole body, like a fish tail in water, seeming to swim in the air, and Seven was sure it was watching her, studying her.

This was no hologram. And no trick of her mind. It seemed impossible, but something about the way it moved, the glow radiating from it... Alive. It was alive and unlike anything Seven had ever witnessed, neither as human nor Borg.

She longed for her tricorder, to scan this thing and prove she was not imagining it. Yet as quietly and abruptly as it had appeared, the entity vanished, taking its glow with it. Seven stood blinking in the turbolift until her vision adjusted, until her heart stilled its frantic beating.

*

“Took you long enough.”

Seven ignored the Doctor’s impudence. He had turned the holodeck into a pristine replica of sickbay and was busy at work in his lab.

“Just swaddled on down here, I see,” he went on. “Never mind me or that I’m stuck here for the foreseeable future.”

No doubt he had more to say, the Doctor always did when he felt he was being treated more machine than person, but Seven put up a hand to forestall whatever was coming next. Far too much had happened already today and she did not think her mind could take much more. Her patience was too thin.

“You found something? A cure?” Seven asked hopefully. No more fights, no more seeing things in turbolifts. No more trysts with her captain that she could not even begin to process and understand.

That last one was hard to swallow, but the safety of the crew was more important than her own confused feelings. She pushed it all aside with the ease of a drone.

“Not exactly.” The Doctor finished tapping at a console and picked up a PADD. “But I can buy us some time. Enough for you to get the engines online and move the ship.” He pressed on the PADD, pulling up the details of all he had discovered and held it out expectantly to Seven. “You’ll need to do all the work, of course. Since I can’t very well leave.”

“I… cannot.”

That vision from before, that fear that the drone within her would take over, assimilate the ship and the crew, seek out the Borg and rejoin the Collective… Her lack of control in the captain’s ready room was evidence enough of the nebula’s influence on her implants, that she could not be trusted with such an important task in such a crucial moment.

The Doctor frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” said Seven, “that it is not safe. Not with the nebula’s radiation. Not for me.”

“Nonsense.” The Doctor grabbed the nearest medical tricorder; a real one, evidently, as it began to beep disconcertingly while he scanned her. “This radiation has an intoxicating effect similar to that of alcohol, although it’s about fifty times more potent and increasing the longer we stay within the nebula. Your Borg implants, however, should have no problem filtering out the radiation for some time yet.”

Unless they do not want to, she thought uneasily. It would not be the first time that something Borg within her had taken over Seven, leaving her without control, only the call to the Collective guiding her actions.

The Doctor finished his scan with a reassuring smile. “They appear to be working at peak efficiency, as usual.”

“That is not-”

“Seven, what’s wrong?” The Doctor’s frown deepened. He tapped a command into his tricorder and scanned her again. “There’s nothing unusual. Heightened adrenaline, increased pulse and blood pressure, dilated blood vessels. All perfectly natural signs of human ar- Oh.” He coughed, looking suddenly embarrassed as he closed the medical tricorder and put it away. He would be blushing pink if his program had allowed it.

Seven found it difficult to look at him, even more difficult to comprehend that her actions in the captain’s ready room had nothing to do with any outside influence.

“May I ask who?”

“No, you may not,” she snapped and glared at him until the subject was changed. He only looked sheepishly down at his feet until she asked, “Did you detect any lifesigns within the nebula?”

“No. Why?”

Because I saw something I could not have, something impossible. Something she could not prove. Perhaps I just imagined it. It would not surprise after what had happened. Nothing would ever surprise her again.

“It is irrelevant,” she said at last. “What is your plan?”

“Sedating the crew. That should keep them out of trouble until the effects wear off. We can disperse it through Voyager’s environmental systems and it shouldn’t have any adverse effects with this radiation. The crew will be unconscious and dreaming sweetly within minutes.” He smiled serenely. “I’ve devised a dosage suitable for everyone’s physiology.” He held out the PADD again and this time Seven took it. “You’ll need to inject yourself with a stim inhibitor. Everything you need is in sickbay. I trust three hours - give or take a millisecond - should give you enough time to get the ship safely away before the crew regain consciousness?”

Seven scanned through the data on the PADD. “Three hours will be sufficient,” she agreed. “Give or take.”

Chapter Text

It took Seven less than two hours to get the warp core back online, unlock the helm, and fly Voyager a safe enough distance away from the nebula’s influence that its effects on the crew began to dissipate. That done, she began to restore the Doctor to sickbay. He would be needed once the crew began to wake. A scan of the ship told her none of the crew were in any immediate danger of fatality, but those with the more severe injuries she had transported to sickbay where the Doctor started treatment with his usual temperament.

Soon, the crew began to wake. Most groggy with confusion, disoriented and hoping it was all a dream. Sheepish looks and averted gazes were everywhere, making Seven wonder what had been said, how many lines had been crossed, how many relationships irreparably damaged.

Seven shielded her heart, refused to think of her captain, and began to put her collective back together.

*

There was a pounding in her head. All too reminiscent of the one that had been her constant companion the week after finals at the academy, before she and her fellow cadets had been shipped off with fresh orders to opposite ends of the quadrant. Her mouth was dry, stale with the lingering taste of alcohol, although she knew there wasn't near enough of the real stuff on board to get her in this state.

Captain Kathryn Janeway pushed herself up from her ready room floor with aching bones and screeching muscles.

Her untucked undershirt, the Starfleet jacket pooled carelessly on the floor and her swollen, still tingling lips were all the evidence she needed to know that what hovered in her memory had been real.

Seven… More than a kiss this time. More than a mistake easily laughed off and swept away. Janeway had pushed and Seven had given in so easily, clay to mold beneath her fingers. What have I done?

The shame rose up her throat like bile. She swallowed it down, retrieved her uniform jacket from the floor and slouched her shoulders into it. A swipe of her mouth, a quick brush through her hair with trembling fingers, was the best she could do to make herself feel presentable.

She was hoping to find the bridge empty, give herself a few more moments of solitude before she faced her crew. But there was Tom at the helm, his eyes sunken and droopy, an Hawaiian shirt and shorts where his uniform should be. She let the misdemeanor slide and asked him for a report as the turbolift swished open, unloading a group of her bridge crew in various states of dishevelment. At least she wasn't the only one, she thought ruefully.

“We're a safe five thousand kilometers from the nebula and counting, Captain. The Doctor reports only minor injuries and the radiation’s effects seem to be diminishing.”

That damn nebula. So much for a distraction. Everything was a thousand times worse and her crew… her crew were a mess. She took solace in knowing there were only minor injuries, but it tasted bitter, left her cold. She did not feel like a captain. She felt like a fraud, a failure.

But only minor injuries… that was a relief. It wouldn’t be long before more detailed reports came her way, but the paperwork could wait, as much as she would love to lose herself in it right now. She wasn’t sure how long she had been out cold on the ready room floor, but with the way her head was pounding she wanted nothing more than to flee to her quarters, strip herself bare and climb into bed. Think of nothing for hours, days. Wake up to a time before she didn’t know the taste and feel of Seven’s lips.

So much for loathing temporal anomalies. One would be perfect right about now.

More officers began to arrive on the bridge, including Harry Kim and Chakotay. Harry looked a little rough around the edges, although, Janeway supposed, they all did to some extent. It was Chakotay’s appearance that shocked her though. What was left of his uniform was covered in blood, some of it his, she deduced, given the dried blood smeared across his face and a bent out of shape, broken nose. There was a wheezing whistle of air out of it every time he exhaled.

“Rough shift?” she asked and was relieved when he replied with only a grimace. She decided she didn’t want to know what her crew had gotten up to in the last twenty four hours - she certainly wasn’t about to start sharing her own activities. But most of it would reach her ears eventually. It was a small ship with very few well kept secrets.

“I’ve just been in engineering. They’re slowly everything back together down there. No harm done. We should have full warp drive back within the hour.”

Janeway nodded absently, suppressing a yawn. Really, she should be asking for more details. For example: how, exactly, had the warp drive been taken off line in the first place? But she was too damn worn out at the moment to care. Her ship was mostly functioning. Her crew was safe. That was the most important thing. The details could wait.

“Get to sickbay as soon as you get the chance,” she told him.

“The doctor’s got more important things to deal with. I can wait.”

“Still,” she said, clasping him companionably on the shoulder and lowering her voice, “don’t wait too long. You look like crap.”

“You don’t look much better yourself,” he said hotly. Then his eyes widened with the realisation of what he had said, who he had said it to, and he added a hasty and contrite, “Captain.”

An awkward silence followed, broken by Tom swinging around on his chair at the helm. “Doc said there might be some lingering effects for a while. So, you know… don’t take things personally. But she’s right, you do look like crap.” Chakotay shot him a glare that Janeway was hard pressed not to snigger at. Tom coughed warily. “Sorry, Commander.”

“Let’s all just focus on keeping the ship running smoothly, shall we?” said Janeway placatingly. Both men nodded, but Tom didn’t turn back to his station.

“Imagine if we could harness that radiation, though. I know a guy on Risa who could move a recreational version of that stuff. We’d make a fortune.” At Janeway’s sharp look, he hastily added: “Not that I would ever make or sell drugs. No way, Captain. That would be completely reckless and illegal and-”

“Tom.” said Janeway impatiently.

“Yes, Captain?”

“Shut up and get back to work.”

“Aye, Captain.”

*

There was a sharp pain in Seven’s neck after spending three hours straight bent over the warp core. As yet, no one in the engineering department had been forthcoming with admitting responsibility for its dismantling and Seven doubted anyone ever would. It hardly mattered now anyway. The nebula was far behind them, her collective mending.

She was looking forward to her regeneration alcove and several hours of not having to think and fret and wonder.

Seven was in the cargo bay no more than a few seconds when the doors hissed open behind her and the source of Seven’s troubled mind let herself in.

A conversation with her captain, Seven had been expecting, although admittedly she was hoping it would come later, when time and distance had lent some clarity to the situation. Perhaps the captain just wanted to get it over with.

“Seven,” Captain Janeway greeted. She had taken the time to change into a fresh uniform, clean herself up. Seven could not help but wonder how many minutes were spent beneath the sonic shower as Janeway tried to wash the scent and feel of her away. “I hear we have you to thank for the crew’s return to normal.”

Seven blinked hesitantly at the captain’s formality. “The doctor helped.”

Well, whined indignantly the whole time, but better listening to his outrage than for there to be nothing left of his program at all.

“It’s a good thing neither of you were affected.” This the captain said so casually that Seven did not immediately catch her meaning. When she finally did, she stiffened noticeably.

The ready room and Seven’s desire. All of it her own. Nothing whatsoever to do with the nebula that had affected everyone else on board.

“Captain-”

“What happened today, what happened in the holodeck…” Janeway began stiffly, “it cannot - will not - happen again.”

Seven had foreseen these words, braced herself to hear them and yet still she felt her heart tighten, her breath stolen from her lungs.

“I need that to be clear,” Janeway continued and Seven noticed how far away she currently stood. A carefully maintained distance of space and words.

The sudden flash of anger within herself, however, was surprising. Although the rational part of her knew it did not contain any real bite, that she was merely trying to protect herself. Still, she felt it and she could not hide it from her features. Her eyes narrowed and her jaw tightened and the captain straightened her shoulders slightly in response.

“Because you are my captain, you believe you have crossed some invisible boundary between us?” she said, voice stiff with cold. “You see me as a naive child, someone you took advantage of?” Janeway pursed her lips tightly, the mask of severe and displeased captain. Yet the flicker of regret in her eyes only confirmed Seven’s words. “You are wrong.”

Janeway flinched. Whatever regret, whatever part of Kathryn Janeway, the woman and not the Starfleet officer, that had remained within her gaze quickly vanished. “I’ll be the judge of that.”

Of course, Seven thought, the captain always has the last word.

“Get some rest, Seven,” said the captain. There was none of her usual warmth, no hint of a small smile, no last lingering look before she turned her back and left Seven alone in the empty cargo bay.

Seven watched the doors slide shut in the captain’s wake, her vision blurred. The pain of her humanity tumbling over her relentlessly like a waterfall. How did they stand it? How did they not destroy everything in their pain?

Feelings are irrelevant, she told herself and so wanted to believe it, hold on to it. But without them, she would be nothing, she would be a mere drone, just one amongst millions lost and following the will of the mighty Borg.

The clatter she heard from deep within the cargo bay would have startled her then if she had not suddenly remembered her other emotional encounter of the day.

Seven sighed. “Naomi Wildman.”

There was another clatter, closer now, and then Naomi’s head popped sheepishly out from behind a packing crate. “I was trying to hide until you got into your alcove.”

“Your mother will be frantic with worry looking for you.”

Naomi shrugged guiltily. “Is everyone… okay? Back to normal?”

“Yes,” said Seven, although she herself felt far from normal, far beyond the version of herself she had become used to over the last two years.

“Is… Is Captain Janeway your girlfriend?” Naomi blurted and immediately clamped a hand over her own mouth in shock. Clearly, she had not meant to voice that particular question.

Seven could only stiffen in response. That the girl had been eavesdropping and heard everything did not surprise her. What did was the term that she had used. It wasn't until Seven heard it that she realised she wanted it. A partner. Someone to rely on. Someone to-

But no. It could never be. The captain would not allow it. Not with her, anyway.

“Naomi Wildman,” Seven said firmly, “you will disregard all you heard tonight.” She had visions of the girl confiding in her mother, in Neelix. How quickly the gossip would spread throughout the ship. How furious the captain would be. “You can tell no one.”

“I won’t. I promise.”

Seven considered the girl carefully for a moment. Then, satisfied that she was going to keep her word, Seven nodded.

“You are well?” she asked, relieved to find a change of subject.

Naomi shrugged, which was better than the lie a nod would have been. “I'm sorry for how I acted in the turbolift.”

“You were not yourself.”

“Yeah, but…” Naomi stared at her feet. “For a while there,” she went on, her voice nothing more than a whisper, “it was like I was back there. Trapped. Alone. I didn’t believe anyone was coming for me.”

They weren’t talking about the turbolift anymore.

Seven took a step closer to the girl. On impulse, she dropped to her knees, bringing their eyes level. “I will always come for you.”

Naomi nodded but the belief did not reach her eyes. “Do you ever get scared? Have nightmares that the Borg will take you again?”

Everyday, she thought. It was only mere months ago that they had tried, that Seven had stood in the lair of the Borg Queen, the Collective once again in her head, part of her. She hadn’t been expecting anyone to come for her either. Voyager, rid of their Borg hitchhiker, masquerading as human, at last.

And then Janeway had come for her. Walked right up to the Borg Queen and refused to leave without Seven by her side.

“Yes,” Seven finally admitted. “But on Voyager … this is my home. This is where I am safe.”

“It’s not so safe here,” Naomi murmured, her face growing pale with memories she would rather forget.

“Not always, no,” Seven agreed. “An unfortunate circumstance of life in space. But we are a part of this crew - this collective - and we do not give up on each other so easily.”

A small smile pierced through Naomi’s face and suddenly she was moving, her arms wrapping around Seven in an embrace that startled the breath out of her. The contact was a comfort she did not expect, a reassurance that all would be well. She thought of the captain and what it would feel like to hold her like this, tightly in her arms, to know that she was safe and wanted.

It cannot happen.

The disappointment loosened her grip and Naomi took a step back.

“I should go find my mom. Are you going to be okay?”

Seven was silent for a moment, her thoughts full of what she could not have, of wants and desires forever alien to her and unfulfilled. Of her captain, who had walked away and never looked back.

“I am Borg,” she said simply. “I will adapt.”