Speculation

by Kat Hughes

Feedback: Bishclone

Credits: Brighteyes, for understanding that evil is fun. And Brenda for beta reading despite her better judgement.

Voyager sailed easily through space. A little easier than it had done many a time before. Its hull showed no signs of the wounds it had endured, the torpedoes and alien weapons that had dented the proud hull or made the crisp shields falter. In fact, the ship itself did not show half the story of what the crew had endured.

That was the way the captain wanted it.

But through the silence of space a message was travelling. Three voices encoded in algorithms and sub-space.

The female captain nodded to her operations officer. The message was played out in the silent bridge.

It started with a voice lacking all emotion, words delivered precisely and evenly, the way he had been schooled, a race known as Vulcan.

"Mayday, Mayday. Delta Flyer to Voyager. We need assistance. Warp drive is off-line, impulse power is down. We're running on thrusters only. Heavy ion storms damaged our primary systems. Life support is failing. We're searching for an emergency landing site. We require immediate assistance."

A younger voice cut in, also male, but unlike the other, heated in emotion.

"I need more power to the thrusters if I'm going to outrun it,"

The female captain nodded in recognition but the message played on.

A female voice, controlled but wavering slightly.

"Transferring power from all unnecessary systems"

A deathly pause.

The young male voice again, his desperation evident.

"It's not enough!"

Static erupted over the comm system but it was not enough to obscure the voices.

"Brace for impact!"

And then the line went dead.

Faces on the Voyager bridge were pale. The captain took a short breath and stood.

"Set a course for the Delta Flyer's last known co-ordinates. Tom, Tuvok and Sam are still out there somewhere. And we're going to find them."

And no one was about to argue with that.

"Karen, Karen." It was a hushed whisper. "Take a look at this."

"What?" The question was asked too loudly.

"Shhh. She'll hear you."

"Who?" The woman leaned back on her chair to survey Astrometrics.

"Seven." The whisper continued.

"Yes, I see Seven. This is Astrometrics. It isn't unusual." Ensign Karen Jennings returned to her work.

"No," the whisper snapped, a little irritated now. "Look at Seven."

Karen leaned back again. "I see Seven. She's in Astrometrics and she's looking at a PADD, there are schematics for the Delta Flyer up on the view screen at the moment. Which isn't surprising…"

"Yeah I know, I know. But look at *her*…"

Karen strained her eyes. There was nothing unusual about the unofficial head of Astrometrics. Not a hair was out of place. Skin tight lycra, three inch heels, flawless complexion. Yup, same old Seven.

She rolled her eyes at her workmate. She didn't mind distractions, she just wished they weren't so cryptic. "Look, there's nothing different about her. But then I don't pay as much attention as you."

"Hey," Rollings protested.

Jennings shot him a disbelieving look. "Okay." He raised both his hands. "Maybe I pay more attention than say…you."

"I definitely hope so." She returned dryly.

"But just look at her. Pay attention." He insisted.

"Okay," and again she moved to study Seven. A pause and then, "This is stupid…I don't see anything…"

"Watch." He said through gritted teeth.

And then she noticed it. Much to her annoyance, Rollings was right, you really did have to watch. This wasn't something obvious. And you had to know the former drone pretty well, too, to work out the differences. Jennings had been assigned in Astrometrics since its inception as a fully functional navigational lab. She knew all of the idiosyncrasies Seven would never admit to having.

Rollings was right though. Small as it was, it was nonetheless extraordinary.

Seven's right hand held the PADD. Her left was in its customary position behind her back, but it was the fingers of that left hand that had caught Rollings' eye. The fore and index fingers were bent over each other. Jennings, a human who'd grown up on Mars, recognised it instantly. She was asking for luck.

Seven of Nine of Tertiary adjunct Uni-Matrix One had crossed her fingers for someone.

It didn't take a genius to work out who.

"I…I…" Karen narrowed her eyes at Rollings. "Why would she even…I mean…Seven doesn't believe in luck."

Rollings smiled ruefully. "I believe the exact terminology is… 'Luck is irrelevant.'"

"Hell, I don't believe in luck." She said, finally moving her eyes from Seven.

Rollings turned to look at her. "Karen, when was the last time your boyfriend was missing and quite possibly dead?"

"Oh come on. We don't know if they're…"

Rollings nodded, his eyes wide, grinning. Of course Karen knew; it was quite obvious, she just didn't like to speculate.

"Oh okay," Jennings smiled wearily. "It's really sweet if you think about it."

"Yeah," Rollings said. "Our Borg Drone is all grown up."

For that Jennings gave him a playful punch in the arm.

"The Delta Flyer has been located."

There was something quite amazing about the way the mood lifted from the officers seated around the briefing table. Harry Kim's breathing seemed to regulate, Neelix's eyebrow stopped twitching, Chakotay's cheeks regained a little colour, B'Elannna stopped biting her bottom lip, Seven's posture relaxed a little.

Janeway hated to do this to them. "Mr Ayala." She said.

He swallowed hard and seemed to meet every expectant pair of eyes before him. Nervously he reached for a PADD to occupy his hands. "The Delta Flyer is on the fourth moon of the 5th planet of the Tiery system."

They seemed to nod in unison, all eager to hear any news.

"It's not on the surface. We're getting faint signals coming from roughly 3.42 km beneath the surface but the local alloy is wreaking havoc with the systems and we can't be sure exactly where they are."

The senior officers shuffled back into their chairs, looking down. B'Elanna bit her bottom lip.

"By our estimates we have roughly 36 hours to find them and then…" Ayala stumbled over the last words. It wasn't that he had a problem accepting the news himself, he was having the problem accepting the reaction of the senior staff. Neelix even seemed disheartened. He expected them to be more professional, colder. Instead they seemed positively shell shocked, but then that may have had to do with recent events, events he only knew about in hearsay, but by the looks on their faces almost knew to be true.

Torres tried to look like she didn't care, failed miserably and looked sick to death with worry.

Kim looked panicked, like he was going to miss out on something, or this was just the wrong time for it, or that life was unfair in general, and his painfully so.

And Seven of Nine looked like she'd just stepped out of the collective. Her eyes held forward, her shoulders taut, her neck stiff.

"And then?" Chakotay prompted. Ayala shook himself; he hadn't realised he'd grown quiet.

"And then life support gives out and…" Ayala began.

"We know what happens then, Mr Ayala and we're not going to let it get that far," said Janeway. Ayala felt reassured by her words and the calm way in which she delivered them.

Torres seemed to blanch, but no doubt she'd heard them before, a hundred times over. They were no more comforting now than they had been then.

"Suggestions?" Janeway asked, standing at the head of the briefing room table, leaning on both arms, trying her damnedest to look in control, and succeeding.

"Search teams, Captain." Ayala volunteered. "We can get some heavy duty drilling equipment made up in Engineering easily. The closer you are the easier it is to get a pinpoint scan. Once located we should be able to beam the Flyer out."

Torres nodded. "Sounds feasible," she said. "I can get Carey and Vorik on it now." She looked dissatisfied although she now looked tired more than anything.

"Good." Janeway nodded. "Chakotay, you assign the away teams."

He nodded his agreement.

"Dismissed." Janeway said. Everyone stood. "Except you, Mr Neelix."

Neelix waited behind and the rest of the senior staff filed out of the room. Ayala still watching their every reaction.

"Seven," the Doctor greeted as he entered the turbolift.

"Doctor," she returned.

"Deck 4." The turbolift began to move.

The Doctor sighed. "Halt turbolift." It glided to an easy stop. He turned on his companion. "How are you, Seven?"

She did not look at him, instead keeping her gaze effortlessly forward. "If this is a social lesson Doctor I do not have the time." Her voice was emotionless, her eyes didn't move.

"No Seven," the doctor corrected calmly, "this is just a general, 'how are you'?"

"I am well." Seven said. Her arms perfectly still at her sides.

"You do not look well." The Doctor returned.

"Is this a medical enquiry?" Her eyes turned to him, but she was still cold, showing no sign of the slight annoyance that the irrelevance of this discussion should have caused her, and indeed was causing her. Instead she stared impassively at him, merely because he was there rather than because he could talk and respond. He guessed she barely saw him, which only added credence to his theory.

"No, as I said, just a general one," he said happily. Then he began to steer the conversation in the direction he wanted. "Is there anything you want to tell me? Anything interesting? Any little titbits of information?"

"Do you require 'gossip' again Doctor?" Seven asked, looking straight at him.

He took great delight in the way her eyebrow arched, showing at least some emotion towards him.

"No, not gossip Seven. I just wanted to provide us with an opportunity to talk. You haven't been around Sickbay recently." He tried in vain to keep the hurt from his voice.

"I have been busy in Astrometrics."

"In your off hours?" He asked, gently gliding her towards the answer he expected, the answer she would have to give. Seven did not lie, nor conceal anything. It was not in her nature. The Seven he knew anyway. The Seven who pretended to be so head-strong and knowledgeble when really inside she was very unsure of who, and really what, she was.

She did not give the expected answer. "I partake in holodeck activities occasionally. Eat. Regenerate." It was not a lie, neither was it the whole truth and she wondered why she did not want to tell the Doctor the entirety of her activities. But she knew, within herself, that he would not react well.

"Good to see you're getting out then." He smiled, covering the rejection.

"I am Doctor. Thank you for your concern."

"I was wondering if you'd met any of our targets, the ones we set at our last lesson. Well," he forced a smile, "the last one we both attended."

"Yes." Seven's eyes went to the floor. "I think I have succeeded."

"Going to share?" he prompted.

"The…experiences are of a personal nature, Doctor."

"I see," he nodded, "I will ask no more questions." And with that he turned back towards the doors.

"Computer resume." Seven said.

The rest of the journey passed without conversation.

"What happened?" The room was dark. Consoles flickered on and off, behind them the low hiss of a leaking conduit. Her eyes had fluttered open and she could see him running the tricorder over her, the lines highlighted in the darkness.

"We made it," Tom said, lightly, but something in his voice betrayed the gravity of the situation.

"Delta flyer's first landing," she tried to smile, shuffling to position herself better, so it wouldn't hurt as much. "Where are we?"

"About three kilometres below the surface. At least our primary hull's still in one piece," he replied, his words barely above a whisper.

"Wish I felt the same," Samantha Wildman said, wincing as she moved again.

"You'll be all right," he assured her. "Minor concussion, a few fractures-nothing I can't handle." He flashed her a grin for good measure. Not good to have the patient downcast.

"You're a great nurse, but you're a lousy liar," she said, trying to keep her voice level. "How bad?"

His smile dropped. "You've got a punctured kidney, you're bleeding internally and need surgery. We still can't contact Voyager."

"Life support?" She asked, clutching at her stomach to make the pain subside.

"Failing." Tuvok added. He was standing away from them both, his tricorder also in his hands.

"I've got to talk to Naomi; let her know we're okay," She said, and moved her body to stand, only to be stopped by a sharp pain running down her side.

"Sam," Tom's voice was soft. "Sit down. We've got a long wait ahead of us."

Megan picked up a piece of toast and held it in her hands, inspecting it.

"Interesting toast, Megan?"

She really couldn't believe she hadn't seen it. Rollings seemed to think it was obvious. Stewart had bets on them being together even before he split from Torres. But then no one with half a brain listened to Stewart.

Someone laughed. "Megan, I've got to agree with you. That toast is far more interesting than Parsons here."

"Hey…"

But Seven of Nine? Of all the people on the ship he chose her? She knew B'Elanna had never been an easy ride but that hadn't seemed so…unexpected? Tom had never shown an interest in Seven before. He'd smiled at her a couple of times, but then Tom had the habit of smiling at everybody. Unless...

"Did you see them though? I mean if that's the state of play in fluidic space then book me a ticket!"

"They were 47s, you know, they tried to kill us all and kicked the Borg's butt. They assumed human form so they could invade Earth. Ultimate evil, made a few nasty dents in our hull about six months ago, big ugly alien things with odd looking eyes and they didn't talk. Are you remembering now?"

"She was still hot though…ow!"

"You deserved that!"

She hadn't believed them at first. Jennings and Rollings were sure of it and listed Seven's new little habits for the delight of the Deck 9 poker game. Everyone had something to add to the list and it had all begun to make an odd kind of sense. But something still played on her mind. Why?

"Have they found the Flyer yet?" Parson's asked.

"Not to my knowledge. You should see the lab; it's a complete mess without Sam. She was the neat freak of the seven of us. As it is, Mulchaey keeps leaving his chem samples in my office," Kaufman affirmed, trying to smile to spite herself.

"They are coming back. I helped build that thing and nothing, and I repeat nothing, will have it mangled." Nicoletti nodded.

"You know, Security is a mess. I haven't seen it this bad…this bad…"

"Since the last time Ayala took over?" Kaufman joked.

"Oh, don't let him hear you say that," Parsons said, sounding just a little hurt.

It just didn't make any sense. They didn't have a thing in common. And how would Tom ever cope with Seven's perfection? How would Seven of Nine ever cope with Tom Paris? And all that came with him…All that baggage. And they didn't do anything together. They barely even saw each other…

"Captain Proton." Megan said.

Her group of friends broke into a small round of applause. "Welcome back to the living, Meg," said Nicoletti, "and the toast would appreciate it if you just ate it now, put it out of its misery."

"It's cold," was all Megan could manage.

"You said something about Captain Proton…" Parsons prodded.

"Oh umm yeah," she smiled. "I just worked out the big Paris and Seven dilemma."

Kaufman rubbed her hands together. "Do tell."

"Captain Proton," Megan said triumphantly. "I mean, I don't know why I didn't see it before."

"They got together over Captain Proton?" Kaufman asked, an eyebrow raised.

"What's so hard to understand?" Megan couldn't fathom Kaufman's scepticism. It was obvious, wasn't it?

"Meg, you're the only one here who's played Captain Proton," Parsons added wearily.

"Then you won't understand," Megan sighed, sitting far back in her chair and finally putting her toast back on its plate.

Parsons grinned. "You know I really need to play that program…"

He earned a harsh look from Kaufman for that.

"You're fine Seven." The Doctor smiled.

"Thank you Doctor." She hopped off the biobed.

The Doctor had turned and was humming something to himself as he tidied his hypospray rack. He stopped suddenly and then his neck stiffened. "Ah ha!" he said turning on her, smiling.

"Doctor?" Seven inquired. Before today the Doctor had shown signs of behaviour that could only be described as eccentric. Highly inefficient for a projection of light and matter, but she'd always found it endearing, if puzzling.

"This!"

"A hypospray?" She raised an eyebrow.

"He said I should 'try looking the last place I saw it' or something similar and equally useless, because, he said, it had nothing to do with him. But here, my dearest Seven, is all the evidence I need."

"I fail to see the…relevance." But she couldn't help the way her back stiffened.

"Oh, I'm sorry, what was I thinking? Of course you'd be on *his* side." The Doctor continued to tidy around her or rather, as Seven's eidetic memory told her, move objects randomly around the Sickbay in an effort to make it look as though he was busy. She was unsure as to why he was behaving so…erratically.

"I am on neither side Doctor."

The hologram locked eyes with her. "Trust me Seven, from now on you'll be on his side."

"I am unsure who it is you refer to," Seven stated. She had learned it was unwise to assume things when a person was acting unwell…or out of character, mostly because they did what you least expected them to.

But the physician didn't seem to hear her. "The whole ship is talking. Quite the scandal. Were you ever going to tell me Seven? Hmm?" He asked, forcing an amiable manner on her. Still, she couldn't help but detect the wavering in his voice pattern; the Doctor did, after all, re-adjust her auricular implant on a weekly basis.

She stood in the centre of the room and watched the Doctor move around her, still muttering something to himself. She recalled social skills lesson 12: tact. "Doctor, is there something you wish to discuss?"

He stopped dead and wagged his finger at her, more pre-occupied than she had ever seen him. "I want to know what, where, why and when. Sadly I already know who."

"Doctor?"

"Tom Paris, Seven! Do I have to spell it out to you?" he said, gesturing wildly at her as he continued to pace his Sickbay.

"That will not be necessary Doctor. What is it you wish to know?" She had expected this. The crew had shown ferocious interest in romantic pairings on Voyager before and she anticipated that her involvement with Tom would be no different. Still, she had not expected this reaction from the Doctor. He had once told her he was her friend. Should he not be happy for her new skill at social interaction? And most of all his behaviour was…unsettling.

"Why?" he said wearily, his brow creasing at her. "We hadn't got that far in your instruction yet…"

"I adapted to my new circumstances," she stated simply.

"Yes," he said, "you did, didn't you?"

Seven stiffened suddenly. She did not like feeling belittled. "Doctor, I do not wish to discuss this further. It is of a personal nature."

"Seven," he sighed, "nothing's just of a personal nature on this ship."

"I do not wish, at this time, to publicly express my feelings for the Lieutenant." To Seven, it seemed reasonable and completely logical.

But the Doctor only seemed to redden further. "Feelings? You have feelings for him? Seven, I doubt you even know what they are."

She felt her stomach roll and she blinked, her mouth tightening. "That was…" She didn't have the words.

"I'm sorry," he said without an ounce of compassion in his voice. "But you don't understand what you're doing. What you're entering into…"

"I have studied the database." She tried defiance but something in her voice cracked.

"It's not enough Seven!" He said, and resumed his pacing.

She stared at him blankly, unsure of what he was trying to say to her and greatly agitated by the methods he was using. He was rarely so confrontational.

"I…do not wish to continue this conversation."

"There! You see, you don't know how you feel about him," he pounced and Seven felt less vulnerable. His hypothesis was flawed, based on incomplete data and hampered by what seemed to be an…emotional attachment.

"You are wrong," she said, her eyes set low at him.

"So what line did he spin you, Seven? Was B'Elanna just a phase?" His tone had turned cold.

Seven paused and then decided to divulge her information.

"Lieutenant Paris is still in love with Lieutenant Torres."

"See…" and then he heard her words and did a double take. "Tom stills love B'Elanna?" His tone was softer and he'd stopped dead.

Seven's shoulders relaxed a little, her mouth softened. "I believe so, yes."

He narrowed his eyes at her, his mouth gaped. His eyes searching her face for some kind of reaction. "Well then what…?"

"An altercation had occurred between them that has damaged their relationship beyond repair. Although it is still a possibility that they may try to 'mend' their connection at this time I do not believe Mr Paris wishes to."

"And how do you know that?" the Doctor asked.

"Lieutenant Paris informed me that this was the case."

"And you believe him?" the Doctor asked, his eyes locked on hers, looking for the first sign of weakness.

"Yes. You do not?"

The Doctor considered this, which Seven regarded as progress considering his earlier outbursts.

"Yes and no."

"Yes and no?" she queried, surprised by the ambiguous nature of his comment. She had meant it as a non sequitor.

"You haven't known Tom as long as I have." He nodded to her, dismissing her earlier question.

"That is not a sufficient explanation. We both know him now."

"It's quite possible that Tom is feeling lonely after his break-up from Lieutenant Torres. He could be…" the Doctor searched for the right words, "using you."

Seven thought on this a moment. "Or I could be 'using' him?"

The Doctor smiled, taking her comment as naivete on a subject still painfully beyond her comprehension. "But you aren't." He smiled.

Her lips pursed. "You do not think I am capable of such a thing, Doctor? You think I misunderstand."

"No," he was quick to correct himself. "I just know you Seven. You wouldn't do something like that," he dismissed her.

"How are you sure?" She pressed further.

His mouth opened and no sound came out.

"You judge me on my past actions. Just like you judge Tom. You do not fully understand the situation yet you intervene in the name of 'helping' me. You urge me to do what you think is best and to be manipulated by your…arguments into what you consider to be a suitable course of action; the termination of my relationship with Lieutenant Paris. You have no right."

"I only have your best interests at heart," he said coldly.

"You have no way of knowing my 'best interests.' I am an individual am I not? Capable of making my own choices…"

"As long as…" The Doctor interjected.

"As long as they adhere to yours, Doctor, that is what you think. You seem to forget I am a member of this crew and not an automaton."

He seemed to flinch a little at her words. "Good day Doctor." She strolled easily towards the door.

"Okay," the Doctor said, his voice a little despondent. "Answer me this?"

She turned to face him and nodded.

"Do you love him?"

The question put her off-guard. She searched for an answer but she seemed unable to determine the strength of her feelings for Tom, hard as she tried. Such indecision was uncommon to Seven and unwelcome.

"He makes me…happy," she said at last.

The Doctor still gave her a disbelieving look but didn't comment, instead he pursued the train of thought. "Why?" he asked, and his voice faltered a little.

"Because he makes me feel like the individual I wish to become."

"As opposed to…?" The Doctor pushed, not knowing if he'd gone too far.

"Borg."

Before he could reply she had exited the Sick Bay.

The Doctor still held the hyprospray in his hand. He sighed. "Make it back Tom."

Putting the hypospray back in the rack, he patted it. "You need to convince Seven she's not in love with you."

Seven sat alone in the Mess, fully aware that three tables were watching her movements closely. No doubt they were also in on the 'list' and no doubt that was what Ensign Brooks had wished to discuss with her. It involved, she had ascertained, the observation of her movements and, on finding irregularities not consistent with her usual behaviour, said action would be misconstrued as 'love' for Lieutenant Paris and noted down.

So Seven sat very still. She had ordered her normal nutritional supplement and had sat at her normal table. As usual she had carried three work PADDS to read over her designated break, of which she would take 53 minutes leaving her enough time to return to Transporter Room 1 and beam to the surface. The Flyer had been found.

"You miss Tom."

Seven turned her head sharply to the sound of the voice. The whole Mess Hall seemed to have gone quiet.

"Naomi Wildman, sub-unit of Ensign Samantha Wildman, Xenobiologist."

Naomi looked up at Seven with a little fear in her eyes, but something pushed her forward.

"Do you mind if I sit down?"

"Please," Seven said, gesturing with her exo-skeletened hand towards the seat opposite her. She saw that it held Naomi's gaze and that she seemed to shiver slightly, all consistent with mild fear. "I will not harm you."

"I…I…didn't think you would." Naomi got out, moving up onto the seat.

Seven returned to her PADD and her supplement.

"You do miss Tom," Naomi said.

Seven did not reply but stared into the young half-Ktarians eyes waiting for an explanation. "You're acting like a Borg."

"I am Seven of Nine, a human who was once a Borg. I will not…assimilate you," Seven said dully, although she found Naomi Wildman a welcome diversion.

"I know that," Naomi replied, crossing her arms.

"But you appear frightened of me."

"That's because I was," Naomi smiled back but her shoulders were relaxed, "but I'm not anymore."

"Good," Seven said and went back to her PADD.

Naomi wriggled in her seat and also and tried to occupy herself by looking at the stars. But these stars at warp 2 were pretty much like any stars at warp 2 and Naomi had been ship bound all her life. Her mother had told her that in that respect she was much like Seven. Although it was hard to imagine at the time, now Naomi kind of understood what her mother had meant. Naomi was finding herself enjoying this chat, maybe because of what had happened in the holodeck with Flotter, but she preferred not to think about that and thought instead of what she'd say when her Mom got home.

"Seven?"

"Yes."

"When will the Delta Flyer get back? Neelix said it'd been delayed somewhere and he wasn't sure, but he knew it'd be soon."

Seven did not like to lie; it was a human custom that she was uncomfortable with. "The Delta Flyer will return shortly. I am sure."

"I didn't think so at first." Naomi's face paled a little.

"Think what?"

"That they were coming back," the young girl said, inspecting her hands, her mouth turning into a frown.

"They will return." This was not a lie. Seven believed every word.

"You think?" Naomi asked, looking up at Seven, her eyes asking for the truth.

"I am positive." Seven then did something she didn't expect to. Consciously she lifted the corners of her mouth and…smiled.

Naomi smiled back.

'Smiling at children' was added to the 'list.'

"Do you miss Tom as much as I miss my Mom?" Naomi asked.

Seven's smile faded. "I do not know."

"Do you miss him like you wouldn't care if he was with you every moment of the day?" Naomi said, her thoughts with her mother, not considering the impact of her words on Seven.

"That would be impractical." It had been an easy escape.

"But do you?" One that Naomi wouldn't allow.

"I do not know. I enjoy his company and 'miss' him, as you say, when we cannot spend time together. Is that acceptable?"

"Seven," Naomi smiled. "A simple yes or no would have done!"

"Then…yes," a truth Seven had not yet admitted to herself and was far from ready of telling to a child. Yet somehow it seemed to fit.

"Then you understand?" Naomi said, hopping down from her chair.

Seven nodded. "I do."

"I'm glad." Naomi smiled again. "Good bye Seven."

"Good bye Naomi Wildman."

She nodded to Seven and then walked towards the kitchen where Neelix was waiting to surprise her with a favourite pudding of hers.

Seven glanced at the chrono. 13:56. She'd missed her own deadline.

Tom sat hunched over the console. He spoke quietly but slowly. "Well this is interesting. The first time…no second…well anyway, the first time I get to actually make a 'farewell' message, it seems I don't really have too many people to say goodbye to. Well, those who'll listen anyway. There are probably a thousand other people who I should be sending my message to, but I only really want to send one to you. You see…"

"Warning: Life support has fallen to critical levels."

He grinned bitterly. "Obviously the computer wants to rain on my parade. I'm not sure what to say to you Seven. I really don't know. I've enjoyed these last few weeks and I look forward to seeing you, as irrelevant as that sounds. I don't know. I just think what I'm trying to say is that I like spending time with you…and that's it. My life's a mess right now but I do know that. I thought you needed to know. Keep Captain Proton for me."

He reached to turn off the recorder. Wondering why he hadn't recorded messages to B'Elanna, Harry, Janeway, his father and why instead he'd sent one to a former Borg drone…who he barely knew, only to tell her that he'd like to have known her better.

Paris, can't anything ever be simple?

He grinned and handed the small microphone over to Sam.

:::Regeneration cycle complete:::

The low hum ceased and Seven opened both eyes. Slowly she stepped away from the alcove.

"How's my favourite Borg today?"

"Doctor," Seven said coldly.

"I thought I'd come to see how you were. Maybe apologise…"

"You do not need to apologise." She passed him quickly and picked up a PADD.

"It wasn't my place to say anything," he tried, turning to her and hoping she'd look at him.

Her eyes stayed rooted to the PADD.

"No Doctor, it was not."

"You see I was just shocked that's all. It was very sudden…"

"After the termination of Lieutenant Paris' involvement with Lieutenant Torres?" she asked, at her workstation now, fingers running effortlessly over the controls.

"No," the Doctor said, "after you coming aboard Voyager."

"I have been living and working onboard Voyager for a year now. Is that insufficient preparation to commence a romantic involvement?"

"Far from it. Sometimes it can happen in only a few weeks…" His eyes grew distant.

"You refer to your attachment to Denara Pel, a Vidiian scientist of some merit."

"Did I ever tell you about her?" he asked, smiling to himself as he came to lean against the workstation.

"You did not."

"She was the most beautiful dancer…"

"I learned of it from the database, subsequent information is not required."

"Oh," the Doctor looked a little downhearted, "but you're making my point for me."

"I am not making any point," she looked up from her work. "I was simply stating…"

"You can't live your life by the database. You must know by now that the it's incomplete at best."

"It serves my needs."

"But you don't know what it is to have a romantic attachment to someone. You haven't been prepared for it."

"I believe you were not even designed for one Doctor."

He flinched a little and then continued. "What I mean to say is, if you have to pursue this thing with Mr Paris then take it slowly."

"It is not a thing." She looked at him, the turn of her mouth showing her displeasure.

"Then what is it then?"

"I am…unsure," she replied, and he could swear something was turning the corners of her mouth upwards before she looked down again.

"Well, it doesn't matter. Someone's just got to tell you a few home truths. For a start people will talk…"

"It has already been a subject of much discussion," Seven said absently as she called up yet another set of schematics on the station.

"Yes but they will continue to talk, throughout your relationship." The Doctor's brow knitted.

"I am aware that people think I 'stole' him from Lieutenant Torres. And that he is only with me because he is on something they refer to as the 'rebound.' I looked up its meaning in the cultural database." She reached for another PADD.

"Well, at least you know what you're letting yourself in for. It's just, three weeks is a very short space of time…"

"We have had six dates on the holodeck Doctor, we are not engaged." It was not meant flippantly.

"And Tom might not be aware of how…attached you have grown to him."

Her eyes fell down and she considered this. "You are right, I do not believe he is."

The Doctor smiled. "That says a lot Seven. To Tom it may just be a little bit of fun, some companionship and a way to pass the time. You are quite obviously more involved than that."

"You are mistaken. Many have misconstrued my anxiety for the safe return of the Delta Flyer as an indicator of some form of deep longing for Lieutenant Paris. It is quite ridiculous."

"But…true?"

She gave him a cold stare, her lips a flat line. "Perhaps." She moved from her work station and back towards her alcove. "Doctor, I am busy."

"I see that." He smiled again, still leaning back against the console.

"I work better alone."

"Oh," the Doctor remembered himself, "well that's a dismissal if ever I heard one."

He moved towards the door. "You will think about what I've said?"

"I will not reach your conclusions," she stated, crouching as she repaired a Borg nodule.

"But you'll think about it?" he coaxed, smiling at her.

"Very well." She nodded, continuing to press commands into the Borg interface. "I will consider your misgivings."

"That's all I ask, Seven," he said, as he strolled out of the Cargo Bay. "All I ask."

"I never thought it would come down to this…suffocating beneath kilotons of rock on some nameless planetoid." Tom sighed, running his hands through his hair.

"Did you envision a more heroic death?" Tuvok asked.

"I didn't envision dying at all," he began and then cracked a smile, "although at times I've felt like curling up and dying, I just wasn't planning on bringing you two with me. Still…gotta go sometime."

"In accepting the inevitable, one finds peace," Tuvok said.

"That settles it, there's a Vulcan proverb for everything.'" Tom smiled. "We just wait now…for the inevitable?"

"Yes Mr Paris." Tuvok nodded.

He wasn't sure if he'd heard it at first.

He shot Tuvok a look and the Vulcan nodded in reply. It was the wholly unmistakable, and at that very moment wonderful, low hum of a drill. And unless they'd happened upon some mining colony, that was a team from Voyager. They were being rescued.

Tom jumped up and began to hit the roof of the Flyer.

"We're here! We're here!" he called.

Never more glad to be alive in his whole entire life. There was so much he still had to resolve. So much he still had to do. And by some miracle he had the chance to do it.

Somebody up there liked him. Or he was the luckiest son-of-a-bitch in the known universe.

As she entered Sickbay she clinically surveyed it for his location and then headed for him, as subtly as she could, looking around her at Samantha Wildman, Tuvok, the doctor so as not to draw attention to where she was heading. Ensign Wildman lay on the surgical bed. Pale but very much alive. Her daughter clutched her hand.

Naomi caught her eye and smiled at Seven. Seven nodded her reply.

Tom was sitting on the biobed opposite the doctor's office. The doctor was injecting a hypospray.

"There you are Mr Paris, all better. You can now go off and do whatever it is you…do."

"And do it well I hope, Doc?"

"You always do, Mr Paris," the Doctor said, something cool in his voice. He moved away to check on Tuvok.

Tom looked at Seven and grinned broadly. "Seven."

"Lieutenant." She greeted him.

He raised an eyebrow. "So formal?"

"You are on-duty, are you not?" She said, standing further away from him than she wanted to.

"Technically I'm on medical leave, I've got my uniform on though…well, what's left of it."

"You are well I trust?" Trying to sound clinical.

"As well as I can be." He grinned again. "It got pretty desperate there for a while."

"I was informed of the conditions, Lieutenant," she said distantly

He wondered what was wrong with her, but he wasn't going to push her. This wasn't how it worked, he wasn't going to demand her attention even though he'd grown pleasantly accustomed to it. When Seven only looked at you, there was no one else in the room. It was something about her eyes, the way she stood, something…

Naomi Wildman said her goodbyes. Her mother reached over to kiss her forehead, skilfully avoiding the Ktarian ridges, and she clutched the young girl's hand one last time.

Passing by Seven, Naomi made sure she caught the woman's attention. And when sure that only Seven was watching she breathed the words, "Tell him."

Seven turned back to Tom.

Her mouth opening as she stumbled over the words. "I…missed you Tom."

He smiled at her warmly.

"I missed you too, Seven."

Fin~