The Eve of a New Life
The snow began falling gently against the window pane, the delicate flakes forming a pattern of infinite variety for the wide brown eyes that stared transfixed.
"Miral, come and help mummy with the decorations," interrupted B'Elanna, her own eyes tracking to the calming vista of white. "We have all week to watch the snow fall, but we have to make sure the decorations are up before Christmas day."
"Yes mummy." The child's voice was subdued until she caught sight of the boxes filled with coloured streamers and ribbons. "You've got red ones!" Racing across the room, Miral dived into the boxes, her little body submerged beneath the realms of colour.
With a smile on her lips B'Elanna proceeded to extract her child from the box, the little girl's enthusiasm rubbing off with each excited giggle. "Come on pumpkin, we need to get them all out so we can see which would go where."
Dark locks rose from inside the box, a look of hope etched on her chubby face. "Can I have red in my room?"
"You can have whatever colour you like." B'Elanna's words were met with a squeal of delight as Miral set about upending the box of decorations. "Careful, we don't want any to break."
"Sorry mummy." The words came automatically to the youngster's lips, the meaning behind them lost in the excitement of the moment. With a touch more caution the four year old proceeded to empty the contents onto the floor, her eyes widening with each sight of something red.
B'Elanna sat back and revelled in her daughter's fun. It had been a hard year for the little girl; first the divorce deprived her of a full time father, then Tom's new posting meant that she was denied even the twice weekly visits he had promised on his departure. At times B'Elanna felt like hitting her ex-husband for the grief he was causing his young daughter, but she knew better than anyone that given the chance Tom would have spent all his time with their child. It was just bad luck that their posts had placed them at opposite ends of the quadrant, their only possible communication through a video link. It was a predicament faced by many Federation families, as starfleet sent its people out further and further into space.
"Mummy!" Miral's squeal woke B'Elanna from her musings, the child's eager waving directing her eyes towards the front windows. "It's Seven! Mummy, it's Seven!"
B'Elanna squinted her eyes to stare out the frosted windows of their mountain cabin, the tall figure that met her scrutiny was indeed none other than Seven of Nine. Rushing to the door, B'Elanna threw it open and quickly ushered the young woman inside before she died of cold. "Kahless, Seven, what are you doing out there without a coat?"
The former borg looked down at her thin red sweater, a look of amusement crossing her face. "I transported directly to your door, the weather was not a noticeable factor in my choice of apparel." She smoothed down the ruffles of her jumper, her brow arching with a show of borg arrogance. "I have been told I look good in this outfit."
B'Elanna smiled, the tone she had once thought arrogant now warmed her with a sense of familiarity and friendship. "You'd look good in a sack Seven, it doesn't mean I'd recommend wearing one in the middle of a blizzard."
"I shall take that into consideration should I ever choose to visit the Alaskan wilderness again."
Anything else she might have been about to say was cut short by a tiny body crushing into her shins, as a miniature of the woman she'd just been talking to hugged her fiercely. "Seven!"
"Miral Torres-Paris." The flat tone of Seven's voice couldn't detract from the smile that was beginning to edge her full lips. The young girl had grown to be a favourite of the former borg, her childish exuberance and innate inquisitiveness had converged with an essence that came directly from her mother, to produce a child you couldn't help but love. "Is there a reason behind your attempt to suffocate my lower extremities?"
The girl took a step back, her face scrunched up in thought. "Legs don't breathe...so I couldn't suffi..suffo..cate them." Miral looked to her mother for confirmation, sure in the knowledge that there was nothing her beloved parent didn't know.
"She's right Seven," said B'Elanna, hands on hips and smile barely contained behind a supposed look of reproof. "You breathe through your mouth, not your legs...no matter how long they are."
An ocular implant rose in mock surprise, "It would appear I have been misinformed."
Tiring of the conversation, Miral grabbed hold of Seven's hand and began pulling her towards the recently discarded box of decorations. "Come on Seven, you're just in time for the decorating...you can hang the high ones."
B'Elanna watched the two reach and begin to devour the contents of the box, Seven seeming as fascinated with the brightly coloured decorations as her daughter. It was odd. Even though it had been years since she'd viewed the other woman as an emotionless drone, B'Elanna still found it somewhat disconcerting to be presented with the innocently gleeful Seven. More than anyone of her acquaintance, the tall blonde seemed able to retain her pleasure in the smaller things in life, without ever appearing foolish or simple. It was an innocence that B'Elanna had come to find very appealing and she was sure it must have been one of the reasons behind Chakotay's pursuit and eventual marriage to the young woman. Well that and a pretty face.
Thinking of her old Marquis friend, B'Elanna began to wonder where the man was. Although she and Seven had become good friends since Voyager returned to Earth four years previous, they had few opportunities to be alone together since the former drone's marriage. For some reason Chakotay seemed to feel it necessary to accompany his young bride practically everywhere. Causing more than one of his friends to wonder if he hadn't accidentally been snagged by one of Seven's implants and was powerless to go anywhere without her. B'Elanna would have never considered him the clingy type, but where Seven was concerned he had turned into a positive limpet. "So, where's Chakotay?"
Seven looked up, the cheerful smile draining from her face, "I believe he was planning a visit to his childhood home...to come to terms with...with what has happened."
"What's happened?" Miral voiced the question on her mother's lips.
Seven hesitated, not sure if she should be talking about it in front of the young girl. "Chakotay and I have chosen to live separately." The sad look in her eyes told B'Elanna there was a lot more to be said, she just had to wait until Miral was out of earshot before she could find out.
"Did he get rea...reassigned?" Despite her lack of years, Miral knew all about the heartache of having someone assigned to work a long way away. She missed her father tremendously now he was working on Deep Space 6, and she would miss Chakotay too, although not as much as she would have missed Seven, if it was the blonde who was forced to move. "You're not moving? Are you?"
"I am still assigned to Earth," Seven's gaze shifted to B'Elanna and her look of unease lifted for a moment, "although I have been reassigned to work for Research and Development, in St Petersburg."
"You're coming to St Pete's?" B'Elanna's smile was full of welcome, dispelling any lingering doubt Seven might have felt about taking the job at the same facility as her former sparing partner. "That's great! It's about time those idiots at the Federation got me someone decent to work with."
"You are not concerned about the possibility of disagreement?"
"No." B'Elanna shrugged, "we're bound to disagree about half the time, it doesn't mean we won't learn from each other and advance the research four times as much as we ever could separately."
"Agreed." Looking towards the floor a rare shyness entered Seven's voice. "It will also mean we could spend more time with one another...the three of us."
"Yah!" Jumping up and down, Miral let her excitement have full reign. "You can come see my school play...I'm a tea pot." With the speed of a young colt, Miral whipped around and ran for her bedroom, "I'll get the scrib."
The two women were suddenly alone and feeling as if they'd just been bypassed by a tornado. "What exactly is a scrib?" The blonde enquired, mostly to distract B'Elanna from questioning her more closely about her marriage.
"I think she meant script. Her vocabulary is great for a four year old, but the odd word still confuses her." B'Elanna looked towards the room in which her daughter had disappeared, calculating whether or not she had time to quiz Seven. "I know we can't really talk now, but are you okay, about Chakotay?"
"I am...I am functioning within acceptable parameters."
"That bad?" B'Elanna reached out, enfolding the younger woman in a healing embrace. She hadn't heard Seven display her borg tone for years and it worried her. "Didn't he give you any warning that he was leaving?"
Seven let her body relax ever so slightly, drawing in the warmth so freely offered by her friend. "He did not leave me...I left him." She waited for the retreat she was sure her words would produce, but B'Elanna merely tightened her hold.
"Oh Seven, it must have been awful for the both of you." B'Elanna's heart went out to Chakotay, but all she wanted to do was hold the young woman until the hurt went away. Seven was the kind of person who would suffer more for hurting others, than if she'd been hurt herself.
"It was...not pleasant." Hearing the approach of running footsteps, Seven reluctantly stepped back from B'Elanna's embrace. "Perhaps we could discuss it later...if you do not mind my staying for a while?"
"Of course not, stay as long as you like."
"Mum! Mum! Can Seven stay for Christmas?" Miral interrupted. "Please!"
"I would not wish to intrude on your celebration." Seven excused, even though the idea of spending more time with them was very appealing.
"Don't be silly, Christmas is a time for friends and family. We'd both love for you to stay." B'Elanna unconsciously held her breath, the desire to have Seven stay with them catching her off guard with its intensity.
"Then I shall stay. Thank you."
By the time night drew near, Seven had been made privy to the intricacies of portraying the inner feeling of a tea pot and participated in a riotous decorating experience. Traces of red, green and silver tinsel could be seen adorning the three figures, but none of them seemed to care. It had been a fun day for the blonde, something she hadn't experienced in a long while, not since agreeing to marry.
"Come on now pumpkin, time for bed." B'Elanna reminded her daughter for the fourth time.
The youngest member of the decorating troupe had managed to deflect all of her mother's previous commands by launching into stories for a rapt Seven, but she knew her time had run out. "Aww, do I have to?" Big brown eyes pleaded with B'Elanna, but to no avail. "Night Seven, night mum." Resigned to her fate, Miral placed a kiss on each woman's cheek before trundling off to bed.
"I see she is still reluctant to regenerate." Brushing down her sweater, Seven took a seat on the large and rather comfortable couch that dominated the room. "Which is strange, considering she is also reluctant to leave it once initiated."
"A typical kid then." B'Elanna smiled, "if I remember correctly Icheb was always reluctant to enter regeneration, unless pushed."
"Yes. He has always been a stubborn individual."
"I wonder who he could possibly take after?"
"Indeed, it is a mystery." Seven's smile lit up her face, despite the fact he was serving on a starship on the other side of the quadrant, she never tired of talking about her former charge. In so many ways he was the child she could never have. "I received word from him five days ago, stating his intention to apply for a posting on Earth once his current mission is complete. It would appear that during his last leave he formed a romantic alliance with a young lady, who happens to be an artist studying at the Claybourne Institute in Amsterdam."
"She wouldn't happen to be called Eliza?"
"Yes, do you know her?" Seven was anxious to find out all she could about the woman who had stolen Icheb's heart...just in case.
B'Elanna laughed, "No, but the last letter we got from Icheb had about three words on his mission and several pages devoted to a promising artist called Eliza. He seemed very smitten."
"Yes he is." Seven's tone wasn't exactly cold, but it wasn't warm either.
B'Elanna moved her hand to rest on top of Seven's, "Promise me you'll go easy on her. An overprotective ex-borg is enough to make anyone quake with fear."
"I did not have that effect on you." Seven pointed out.
"True." Fingers slowly tracing the imbedded metal in Seven's hand, B'Elanna was disconcerted to find a flirtatious edge enter her voice, "but would you really want Icheb to fall for someone like me?"
"He could do far worse." It was true, but if Seven was honest with herself she hated the thought of Icheb falling for the former chief engineer, if only for the small chance that she would return his feelings. "Although I doubt you would be compatible."
"Again that's true." Looking down at their joined hands B'Elanna tried desperately to remove her touch, but her body refused to obey. The feel of Seven's skin was so calming, yet at the same time it excited her beyond understanding. There had always been a spark of attraction between the two, but it had always been submerged beneath either antagonism, friendship or other commitments. Those restraints appeared to have melted away, at least for B'Elanna. "I guess I need someone whose passions mirror my own...otherwise it'll just fizzle away to nothing, like with Tom."
Seven paused for a moment, debating with herself whether or not to comment further on B'Elanna's failed marriage. It was a subject she would normally have been interested in dissecting, but on this particular occasion she worried that it would lead to an examination of her own failed relationship, and even though she knew that conversation was inevitable, she wanted to put it off for as long as possible. "On the surface Icheb and this girl appear to have little, if anything, in common. I fear he may have let his hormones override his better judgement."
"He won't have been the first one," B'Elanna let out a small chuckle, her mind wandering back to the earliest days on Voyager, and the number of doomed romances she had witnessed a young Harry Kim embark on. Of all the people on board, he had been the one most prone to falling for the unavailable, or unsuitable. "Hopefully with experience will come judgement."
An ocular implant rose, "Kathryn's recent behaviour would suggest the two things do not necessarily go together." A smile made its way onto Seven's face, laughter held back with the greatest of effort.
"Well let's just hope a pair of Ionian twins don't turn up to tempt Icheb into a tantric cult." The two shared a fond laugh, the exploits of their once proud captain both unexpected and fascinating. "I wonder how she's getting on."
"I received word from her several days ago. She appears to be enjoying her new found liberation, as she terms the experience." Seven's look was a cross between consternation and indulgence. Kathryn's behaviour had on the surface seemed so irrational and uncharacteristic that the former borg had suspected she was suffering from some form of psychosis. Yet when she'd had the time to really sit down and talk with her mentor, she had found that Kathryn had simply decided to let herself explore a new and exciting aspect of her personality, that she had denied existence during the troubled years aboard Voyager. Seven still found her actions humorous, but she was also secretly pleased that her friend was finally allowing herself to be joyous.
B'Elanna smiled, her thoughts running parallel to Seven's. "I'm glad she's happy. I just wish she wasn't halfway across the sector."
Seven noted the melancholy edge to B'Elanna's words. "Like Tom?" She guessed.
"I know it's not his fault," B'Elanna began, "and he's probably suffering even more than I am, but I can't help being angry with him for leaving Miral. She tries to hide it, but I know she misses him and it just breaks my heart to see it."
"Tom is not your father." Seven lay a soothing hand against B'Elanna's arm, silently asking her not to interrupt. "He will do everything in his power to save Miral heartache, and if possible arrange a reassignment to be closer to her. Even if it does mean jeopardising his chances of promotion." Seven's thoughts briefly touched on the image of her own father. Magnus Hansen had been a brilliant man, dedicated to his work and the pursuit of knowledge, and as far as his daughter was concerned, not fit to shine Tom Paris' shoes. "I might not know much about fathers, but I do know that Tom is an excellent example of the species."
B'Elanna smirked. "Why do I get the sudden mental picture of you studying Tom under a microscope?"
"Because you are a sick and twisted individual," Seven deadpanned.
"That must be it." B'Elanna let her head rest against the back of the couch, comforted by the warmth of Seven beside her. "I never knew you thought so highly of Tom."
"I didn't always," Seven admitted. "While we served together aboard Voyager I thought of him merely as another in a long line of annoyances. He was childish, illogical and insisted on including me in his holodeck pursuits, even though I repeatedly informed him that I thought it indulgent idiocy."
"When you say holodeck pursuits..?" B'Elanna's mind had flashed to images of some of the more risqué programs she and Tom had indulged in during their courtship. The thought of Seven being involved in something like that, with Tom, was enough to make her blood run cold.
"Cartoon heroes and villains," Seven explained, totally unaware of the murderous impulses coursing through her companion's veins. "Very childish."
"I could never understand why you married him," Seven continued, her tone rather subdued. "That is, until Miral was born. Watching him with her was almost like seeing a different man. He was attentive, to you both, thoughtful, charming and devoted. Or at least that is how it seemed to an outsider."
"No, you're right, he was all those things and more." B'Elanna sighed. "But despite all that, I didn't love him."
There was a slight pause, before Seven whispered, "I understand."
B'Elanna could detect the sorrow in Seven's voice and knew her friend was thinking of her own marriage and not B'Elanna's. "Are you ready yet? To tell me what happened."
Seven closed her eyes, a part of her wishing she could wake up a month from now and have all the pain and anguish of the break-up be behind her. "Nothing happened." She felt, rather than saw, B'Elanna's building protest. "Nothing specific anyway. I just got to a point where I knew I could no longer lie to myself or him."
"You don't love him." It was a statement not a question. B'Elanna had always known that Seven wasn't in love with Chakotay, but had somehow never quite worked up the nerve to discuss it with her.
A tear slipped out from beneath Seven's closed lids. "He cried when I told him. Begged me to give him a second chance."
B'Elanna shifted around in her seat and pulled Seven into her arms. "You did the right thing, Seven, and Chakotay will realise that one day."
"Then why...why do I feel so responsible?"
B'Elanna tightened her hold. "Because you're a good person and you hate to see a friend in distress." She placed a delicate kiss upon Seven's forehead. "I know it's a cliché, but in time you will feel better and so will he."
Seven didn't say anything else, but instead took comfort in the arms that held her tight. In her heart she knew she had done the right thing but she wasn't sure she'd ever be able to forgive herself for the hurt she had caused. But falling deeper into B'Elanna's embrace, she couldn't find it in herself to regret her actions, not if it meant she had the tiniest hope of finding real love and family.
What seemed like hours later, the two women parted to retreat to their own beds and prepare for the day and life ahead.
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