DISCLAIMER: Paramount, Viacom, whoever else these days, just borrowing, no harm intended...yaa dee dah...
AUTHOR'S NOTE: T/7, of course, graphic scenes somewhere in the middle, Borg children still on board, no canon episode referenced except for the one with the Science Fair, the Omega Particle episode and the Tsunkatse tournament ship episode.

Queen of Hearts
By DiNovia

Part Two

Captain Kathryn Janeway of the USS Voyager sat quietly in her command chair, only partially aware of her surroundings. It had been an uneventful morning on the bridge and such times often lent themselves to pensiveness and introspection. The topic today seemed to be Seven of Nine.

Having Seven be the Borg children's guardian had seemed like such a good idea originally. She had imagined companionship and mentoring, discipline and attentiveness. She had never once imagined that her Astrometrics officer might harbor tenacious feelings for the children.

Why didn't I see this coming? she wondered bleakly. She thought back to One, the drone who had been with them for so short a time. She realized now that One had been Seven's son, for all intents and purposes. And that his death must have been much more devastating to the young woman than she had ever realized.

Had she wanted to scream under all that analytic categorization of her feelings?

Kathryn thought about the 'philosophical discussions' inspired by One's death.

Had she wanted to cry and didn't know how?

She remembered the look on Seven's face when iCheb had made the final transport to the Brunali homeworld. Giving the order to make the transport had been one of the hardest things Janeway had ever done. Perhaps that's why she'd been so willing to take Seven at her word when she called her to Astrometrics at 0300 one night with the story that iCheb was in danger. Anything would have been better than to see Seven endure that silent pain for one more hour.

And now we've done it to her again...

Kathryn was the first to notice that Seven hadn't come to her after the final transport of the twins. She'd expected something. Anger at the very least. But no, Seven spared her nothing.

Would she just bury her feelings? she wondered. Or is there someone else she would go to now?

Kathryn frowned, not particularly liking the thought or the emotion it ignited within her.

"Captain." Tuvok's voice brought Janeway suddenly and sharply back to the bridge. She turned to look at him.

"Yes, Tuvok?"

The raise of a single eyebrow and a slight nod to his head indicated that there was something he thought she should take a look at. Curious, she looked down at her station...and promptly paled. She was up out of her chair before her first officer even had a chance to ask what was the matter.

"I'll take care of this," she barked. "Tuvok, you're with me. Chakotay, you have the bridge."

"I don't want to jump to any conclusions here, Tuvok," said Janeway, glancing at her security chief in the confines of the turbolift. "But if she's attempting to contact the Borg, I want options from you within the hour. Understood?"

"I do not believe she is attempting to contact the Borg. She possesses the necessary skills to send a direct message to an extrapolated location based upon their last known location and flight path. This transmission was a wide-band subspace broadcast."

"If not the Borg, then who? The Vacunai twins?"

The Vulcan declined to speculate. "Perhaps we should allow Mizati to explain for herself."

The doors to the auxiliary communications array opened to allow the two officers passage. Mizati stood quietly in the center of the room, her hands clasped behind her back in a very familiar fashion.

"Captain," she said, nodding politely. "Mr. Tuvok. I did not expect you to adapt so quickly."

Janeway nodded to Tuvok who approached the console and monitors. She then turned a laser-like gaze on the unruffled child still standing at attention.

"You have some explaining to do, young lady," said the captain darkly. "You know better than this." If it concerned Kathryn at all that she sounded exactly like her own mother, she didn't acknowledge it.

"I am aware of the consequences of my actions, Captain. I am prepared to endure them without complaint. Will Mr. Tuvok be escorting me to the brig?"

Kathryn blinked. It was one thing to talk sternly to a misbehaving child. It was quite another to send her to the brig.

"Captain." Tuvok stepped in and handed her a PADD, only somewhat cognizant that he had just saved the captain from a fairly embarrassing moment.

Mizati turned her unflappable gaze upon the Vulcan.

"Your size does not intimidate me," she said confidently as Janeway read the report.

Tuvok frowned. "I had not intended it to intimidate you."

"Enough," said Janeway. "Tuvok, wait for me outside, will you?"

"As you wish, Captain," said the Vulcan.

When the door had closed behind him, Janeway knelt in front of her eight-year-old passenger.

"Mizati, what's this all about?" She indicated the PADD in her hand.

"Voyager has been more successful at finding our parents and families than I had originally calculated. The probability that you will find my family has now reached 78%. That is unacceptable."

"Unacceptable? Don't you want to see your parents again?" Janeway was sincerely confused. She'd expected transitional problems when the children were actually faced with reuniting with their families. She hadn't, however, expected problems before a family member had been found.

"No. iCheb says we are Borg. We do not require parents."

"Well, like it or not—Borg or not—you have parents. Don't you think they want to find you?"

For the first time since their conversation had begun, Mizati lowered her eyes.

"There is a high probability that you are accurate. I do not wish them to come for me. That is why I sent the transmission."

Janeway looked at the PADD again and marveled at the brief message.

To all Norkadian vessels en route to Voyager: I regret to inform you that the young Norkadian female rescued from the Borg Collective has perished in an accident. There are no remains to return to you as the accident involved a large explosion. I am sorry for your loss. Captain K. Janeway of the USS Voyager

It was an efficient and well-executed deception. She realized she couldn't have done better herself.

"Don't you miss your parents, Mizati?"

The little girl shook her head, suddenly seeming more like a little girl and less like a Borg.

"I do not remember them. iCheb is chronologically older than I am, however, I was Borg for a longer time than he was. He only spent four years in his maturation chamber. I spent seven years in mine."

Voyager's captain reeled. That meant Mizati had been taken as an infant, that she had no prior knowledge of her family or her life. She gentled her tone and reached out to the child, putting her hand on the little girl's shoulder. If she couldn't appeal to Mizati's sense of family then perhaps she could appeal to her sense of curiosity.

"Don't you want a mother like other little girls? Like Naomi Wildman has?"

Nothing in the Universe could have prepared Kathryn Janeway for the feral and absolute conviction of Mizati's response.

"I have a mother like Naomi Wildman's," she said, narrowing her small, hazel eyes. "Her name is Seven of Nine."

B'Elanna Torres shifted the weight of her tool kit on her shoulder as she made her way to cargo bay 2. She walked the corridors slowly, knowing that she would probably finish the Bassinet today. And that would mean all that was left was the testing phase, something that required a limited amount of input from her.

B'Elanna steeled herself and quickened her pace.

I've dragged my feet on this long enough, she thought harshly. Seven and the baby need this to be finished.

And yet part of the young woman knew that once it was finished, she would have little reason to spend time with the children.

Or with Seven, added her inner voice snidely. She ignored it.

B'Elanna couldn't begin to explain what had happened, why the past few weeks had changed how she felt about Seven of Nine. All she knew was where she once saw callousness and ice, she now saw compassion and warmth. Where
she once saw arrogance and aloofness, she now saw curiosity and connection. Seven was no longer the epitome of everything she abhorred. Instead, she seemed remarkably like B'Elanna herself: a woman with dueling heritages, deeply guarded emotions, absent parents, and a past she was continually trying to atone for.

Kahless, she swore. Get a grip, Klingon. It's not like you're interested in her—

The thought stopped the young engineer in her tracks. Its implication rose in her mind like a blood-red Qo'noS dawn, revealing feelings that had only lived in shadows before. The explosive reaction to the touch of her skin, the dawdling on the project, the need to see Seven and the baby 'settled' before she left the cargo bay in the evenings...could these things indicate attraction? Desire?

"No!" she said firmly, gripping the tool kit and marching forward. Don't go there, B'Elanna. You've ruined perfectly good friendships with that kind of Targ dung! And friends are not something you can spare out here in the middle nowhere.

She reached the cargo bay doors and stood outside them for a moment, collecting her tumultuous thoughts. Besides, Klingon, she reproached herself, Seven is...well, Seven. She had no words to describe the young woman's lithe beauty. After a moment, she wrinkled her nose in disgust. And YOU are definitely not. Even if she could feel those things, she wouldn't feel them about you.

She took a deep breath and crammed all her inner chaos into a dark little box at the back of her brain. Finally ready to face the last day of her project, she stepped forward and let the doors open. Six heads all turned in her direction.

"B'Elanna!" Mizati bounded forward, grinning from ear to ear. She caught the engineer's hand in her own—by now a common mode of interaction—and pulled her further into the room. "We are going on a picnic! For our evening meal!"

"A picnic?" She looked quizzically at the group of revelers and then turned to Seven, who graced her with a small, bright smile. The little one, dressed in a lavender jumper, squirmed in her arms.

"Neelix suggested this activity. He is providing the meal and we will consume it on the holodeck. Naomi's programming assignment from last week will be the setting. Of course, she invited her mother."

"You have to come with us!" said Mizati excitedly. "Resistance is futile!"

B'Elanna laughed out loud. "Somehow," she said dryly, "I don't think picnics were what the Borg had in mind when they came up with that phrase."

"Which is why they are flawed," stated iCheb confidently. He, too, seemed excited by the prospect of a new activity.

"Will you come with us, B'Elanna? Please?" Mizati looked up at her friend beseechingly.

The young Klingon could feel what little resistance she had mustered fading with each passing second. She looked up at Seven and offered her last protest.

"What about the Bassinet? I could be done with it tonight."

"It will keep," said Seven. "As Mizati said, resistance is futile."

B'Elanna rolled her eyes, making the two little girls giggle. "Oh, all right. You win. Let's go assimilate some dinner."

She was suddenly glad she'd taken the time to change after her shift was over since her uniform would have been out of place with the others' more casual outfits. Except for Seven, of course, whose only capitulation to the casual dress of the event was to wear her plum-colored biosuit instead of her more formal blue/gray one.

The young Klingon wondered briefly what Seven would look like in something more civilian and was immediately rewarded with a vision of her in a black one-piece swimsuit, hair unpinned and wet, falling around bared shoulders...

Startled and embarrassed, she quickly shook the image from her head and focussed instead on the children, a much safer topic.

"So Scout," she said, using the pet name she had given Naomi when she was a tyke. "Tell me about your holoprogram. Your teacher practically gushed over it when she was telling me about it."

Seven smirked. "Borg do not 'gush'."

"I didn't say they did," retorted B'Elanna with an evil grin.

"It's nothing special, Lieutenant. Just an Earth meadow with apple trees and a small stream. It was easy to program."

"The simplicity of the setting is not the point, Naomi," said Seven. "The innovation of your programming theory is the impressive component."

Naomi beamed. "Thanks, Seven."

"Tell us about it!" urged Neelix as they walked along deck three. He and Samantha Wildman had the picnic basket between them and they wobbled a bit due to the difference in their heights.

Naomi all but rolled her eyes. "Do I have to talk about my homework now? I thought we were supposed to be having fun!"

Seven of Nine, ex-Borg drone and known for her appreciation of efficiency, surprised everyone when she agreed with Naomi.

"Naomi is correct. Let us refrain from discussing ship's business, departmental work, or schoolwork for the remainder of the evening. We could all use…'a break'."

She glanced at B'Elanna then quickly looked away, thinking that she herself could use 'a break' from the strange and confusing feelings she experienced when with the engineer. She had grown increasingly dependent on B'Elanna's evening visits and the conversations they inspired. She found herself looking forward to the end of her shifts, found herself curious on a variety of topics that before had lacked relevance. She had even begun to regret her regeneration cycle in the evenings, wishing, instead, that she could continue whatever conversation she and the Klingon had been engaged in. She did, however, find herself…pleased by B'Elanna's insistence on staying until she and the baby were settled in the cycle. In fact, the act never failed to fill her with a strange feeling of warmth that was more often than not followed by a clutch of her abdominal muscles.

It was all very confusing and Seven was still contemplating it when the group entered the holodeck. Naomi looked up at her expectantly and she returned her focus to the activity at hand. She nodded at the young Ktarian, feeling a sudden wash of pride for her student.

"Computer, run program Wildman Nu-1, please," said the little Ktarian in a clear voice.

The black and yellow grid walls dissolved, replaced by an idyllic scene.

"Great Bird!" said Neelix, nearly dropping his side of the basket. "Naomi, this is wonderful!"

They all stood in the center of a small meadow surrounded by apple trees in blossom, their delicate cream-colored petals dancing on a sweet-scented breeze. The sun shone overhead in a bright blue sky peppered with fluffy white clouds and the temperature was perfection, warm but not humid or uncomfortable. Birds sang from their treetop homes and the quiet burbling of a stream that ran gently through the meadow was more than soothing.

"Oh, Naomi," said Samantha, looking at her daughter warmly. "This is a beautiful place to have a picnic!" She started to lower her side of the basket, intending to get underway with their dinner.

"Not yet, Mom! I added some stuff today! Computer, add Picnic Accessories Package 1."

Instantly, several things materialized around the meadow. A huge, brilliantly colored picnic blanket dominated the foreground, while a small bridge appeared over the stream, leading to a badminton net and play area on the other side. A huge woven hammock swayed beneath two apple trees, with pillows and a lovely purple throw waiting patiently for an occupant or two. A small Bajoran swing cradle sat beneath a small sun canopy, ready for the baby's naptime.

"Wow," said B'Elanna, truly impressed. "Remind me to come to you the next time I want to program something, okay, Scout? You make those holoprogrammers from the Federation Art Society look like hacks!" She grinned and Naomi grinned back.

"Let's get this picnic underway!" said Neelix excitedly. "You children go play and explore while we grownups get everything ready, okay? Seven will call you when it is time."

"Come on!" said Naomi, grabbing Mizati by the hand and dragging her toward the bridge. "I programmed all sorts of games and stuff for us to play!"

iCheb hurried after them. "Wait for me!" he shouted at them. "I can teach you some Brunali athletic activities!"

Seven watched them go, taking her eyes off of them only when they reached the other side of the bridge safely. She turned back to Neelix and found him and Samantha busily unpacking the large basket.

"Can I be of assistance, Mr. Neelix?" she asked.

"Oh, no need to be so formal, Seven! Call me Neelix! And no, no assistance needed by you ladies. Samantha and I have everything under control." He turned a warm gaze toward them both. "Why don't you take that baby for a walk? Some fresh air will do you all some good."

The two women regarded each other warily for a moment, both of them eager and yet hesitant to comply.

"Are you sure, Neelix?" asked B'Elanna. "I mean, we…um…wouldn't want to be rude or—"

"Go, go, go!" said the little Talaxian, waving them away. "We'll be just fine. By the time you get back, we'll be ready to eat! Go, have fun! What is it you Borg always say? Resistance is futile?"

Seven very nearly rolled her eyes. "I am sure the Borg Queen would be pleased to know the Borg have so many admirers aboard this vessel. Especially ones who have mastered basic Borg communications."

B'Elanna and Samantha both laughed. Neelix simply gaped at Seven as if she'd sprouted wings.

"Come on, Seven," said B'Elanna, tugging the young blond away from the picnic area. "Let's go on that walk before Neelix throws something at us."

"Very well."

As they headed across the meadow toward a meandering path of stones that disappeared into the surrounding woods, B'Elanna quite clearly heard Samantha Wildman say, "Yes, Neelix, it was a joke. Now relax and hand me those sandwiches, please."

Seven smiled slightly and the Klingon realized she had heard Samantha's comment as well.

Sneak, she thought. There is a sense of humor under all that Borgness. However, she quickly stopped herself from wondering what else Seven was hiding beneath her armor of ice.

She just didn't want to go there.

B'Elanna was stuffed. She looked back at the kids, all of them sitting around Neelix waiting for their ice cream cones, wondering where they had room for dessert because she absolutely knew she would burst if she had one more bite.

"Ugh," she said, turning away. She couldn't decide which food was the main cause of her discomfort: the fried chicken or the potato salad. She'd eaten enough of both to feed a small assault team.

She wandered away from the blanket and ended up at the hammock, pushing it with her fingers and thinking how lovely it would be to lay in it and take a little nap. She stole a glance at Seven, sitting with Samantha and rocking the baby in the swing cradle, and tried not to imagine her in the hammock, too.


B'Elanna looked down at Mizati and her ice-cream-ringed mouth. The little girl apparently had an appreciation for the substance because she grinned widely between bites.

"Yeah, kiddo?" The Klingon was grateful for the interruption.

"Will you take a walk with me?"

"Sure." She grinned, knowing she couldn't deny the little girl anything. She also hoped a leisurely walk would help her feel less like an overloaded freight cruiser.

Mizati took B'Elanna's hand and they headed toward the bridge over the stream. They stopped in the middle and looked down at the water meandering by, cream-colored petals dappling the surface and sunshine glinting like diamonds in their eyes.

Shouts from across the meadow made them both look up and they saw Naomi laughing, chased by Neelix around the blanket while Samantha, iCheb, and Seven all looked on, smiling. B'Elanna's eyes rested on Seven's features for a long moment until she sensed she was being scrutinized.

She looked down at Mizati's curious face.

"Yeah?" she asked, a little embarrassed that she'd been caught…again.

The little girl cocked her head and frowned slightly, the look comical when coupled with the sticky ring around her mouth.

"What are your intentions toward Seven?" asked the little girl seriously.

B'Elanna felt her brain explode. She was sure of it. What else would explain her absolute inability to process the question?


"Your intentions, B'Elanna," repeated the little girl, slowly, as if talking to someone who was intellectually challenged. "As the eldest female in Seven's family unit, it is my duty to maintain vigilance over her welfare."

B'Elanna felt the defensiveness that was her usual reaction to emotional questions creep over her, making her bristle. But as she looked down at Mizati's earnest and sincere features, it left her in a wave.

Kahless, she's just a kid. She doesn't know what she's talking about.

She knelt next to the child and took her hand into her own.

"I don't think I understand what you're asking, kiddo. Seven and I are friends."

"I am aware of your current relationship," said Mizati. B'Elanna breathed a sigh of relief. "I am also aware that it is insufficient," she added suddenly.

"Insufficient?" squeaked the Klingon.

"Yes. Your behavior suggests you desire more from Seven."

B'Elanna swallowed carefully. "In what way?"

"While the amount of time you have spent working on the regeneration chamber has increased by a factor of two, the efficiency of your work has decreased by 57%. The project has already exceeded the proposed schedule by six days."

Before B'Elanna could come up with a suitable excuse, Mizati continued.

"And in the last week alone, you have spent 33.4 minutes watching Seven when she was not aware of the attention, you have smiled at her 56 times, and you have stayed until she and the infant entered their regeneration cycle 5 out of 7 nights. Is this behavior typical of your relationships with your other friends?"

The engineer blinked. Having it laid out before her in report fashion took the wind out of her denials. But she wasn't going to actually admit to anything. No way.

"It's not that simple, kiddo."

"I do not see the difficulty, B'Elanna. You prefer Seven's company to anyone else aboard Voyager. She prefers your company. The equation is simple," retorted the little girl. "However, you will note that any undue emotional stress Seven might experience while interacting with you will not be tolerated. Properly motivated, I can be a formidable opponent."

When the Klingon smiled indulgently at her, Mizati continued, her voice deadly calm.

"Do not be deceived by my size, B'Elanna. My implants provide me with sufficient strength to snap a Vulcan's neck. I suspect a Klingon's neck would be…less of a challenge."

The two of them stared at each other; Mizati completely serious and B'Elanna completely stunned. Then a scream of laughter caught the child's attention and she looked across the meadow, seeing Naomi and iCheb playing some sort of game. Her entire demeanor changed instantly from serious to playful and she grinned.

"I am going to play now, B'Elanna. Here." Mizati pushed the sticky, gooey remains of her unfinished ice cream cone into B'Elanna's hand and bounded away, waving at the other children as she ran to join them. B'Elanna blinked a few times then looked down at the cold, dripping mess in her hand. She stood up.

"Kids," she muttered, wondering how she managed to get herself into this kind of trouble all the time.

Dumb luck, she decided and she headed back to the blanket.

"Your protest has been noted, Mizati, however we are still leaving." Seven looked down at the 8-year-old sternly. "Other crewmembers have scheduled this holodeck for the coming hour."

Mizati's face darkened, a clear indication that Seven's pronouncement was not acceptable to her, but before she could speak, Naomi tugged on her mother's sleeve.

"Mizati could spend the night with me, couldn't she, Mom? You have off rotation tomorrow and Captain Janeway said she didn't need me until after lunch."

Sam glanced up at Seven briefly. "Well, I don't know Nay, honey. Doesn't Mizati have to regenerate?"

The little girl in question smiled her sweetest smile at Samantha Wildman. "I require six hours of regeneration, however, if supplemented with sleep, I might only require two hours. I would be able to regenerate after my morning meal."

The young mother hesitated and Naomi grabbed her hand. "Please, Mom? I've never had a sleepover before. It would be fun! We'll be good, I promise!"

Samantha rolled her eyes and ruffled Naomi's long red-blond hair, wondering how she'd ever become such a pushover. "All right, Spikes. If it's okay with Seven, then it's okay with me."

Mizati turned to her guardian with large, hopeful eyes. "May I, Seven? Please?"

Seven raised the optical implant over her left eye. "I am not certain. What does this 'sleepover' entail?"

B'Elanna, who was holding the baby in strong, careful arms, nudged Seven in the side. "You know, girl stuff!" She grinned at the little girls. "They'll have snacks and watch bad holovids and paint their nails and talk about boyfriends and girlfriends and shopping and stuff like that."

Six heads all turned toward B'Elanna, looking at her as if she had turned bright purple with green spots. Even Neelix and iCheb stopped cleaning up just to gape at the Klingon.

"What?" she said defensively, a frown crowding her brows as she looked from face to disbelieving face. "You don't think Klingons have sleepovers? Or do you think we're only interested in sharpening our bat'tleths?"

Unconsciously, Seven put her hand on B'Elanna's forearm, a silent gesture of support and camaraderie.

"I will allow you to 'sleepover' with Naomi Wildman, Mizati," said the young woman, ignoring the startled engineer's sudden silence, "provided you adhere to the following restrictions. In my absence, Samantha Wildman will be your guardian. You must listen to her and abide by her rules. If you misbehave, you will return to the cargo bay immediately. Do you understand?"

The laser-like gaze she leveled at the child did not invite opposition.

"I will comply," said Mizati meekly.

"Good." Seven favored the child with a small smile. "I will expect you in the cargo bay immediately after your morning meal. In the meantime, have…fun."

Sam ruffled Mizati's hair. "Now that that's settled, why don't you two go pick up something for Mizati to wear tomorrow? I'll meet you at our quarters."

"Okay!" said Naomi, grabbing Mizati by the hand and dragging her towards the door. "Come on!"

The young officer turned to follow the kids out, pausing at the exit to smile at the ex-Borg. "Don't worry, Seven," she said warmly. "We'll take good care of her." She waved her good-byes, then leaned down at Naomi's invitation, receiving a kiss of thanks for her trouble.

Mizati watched the interaction between mother and daughter with interest, then promptly turned around and marched right back to Seven.

"Your willingness to allow me to engage in extended social bonding with Naomi is appreciated," she said formally to Seven. Then she crooked a tiny finger at the impossibly tall woman, who knelt down, confusion plain on her narrow features. Mizati promptly leaned over and gave Seven a gentle kiss on the cheek.

"Thank you, Mama," she said softly. In the next second, she flitted away, taking Naomi's hand at the door and running with her down the corridor.

Total and utter silence followed in her wake.

Slowly, Seven touched her fingers to her cheek, her eyes round and wide. An instant later, she shot upright abruptly, eyes darting self-consciously from face to face.

"No," she said quietly, shaking her head. Tears welled in her pale eyes but did not spill over.

"Seven?" B'Elanna reached out to steady the shaken woman but she snatched her arm away, not wanting the touch.

"NO!" she cried.

She turned and fled the holodeck.

"Seven, wait!" B'Elanna watched the blonde disappear through the exit doors and cursed under her breath.

"Lieutenant, is Seven upset because Mizati referred to her as 'Mama'?" iCheb's look of earnest confusion was the only thing that saved him from a typically tart Klingon response.

"Good guess."

"I do not understand. A 'mother' is defined as a female parent who provides a child with his or her primary sources of sustenance, shelter, protection, education, and love. Is that not Seven's function with the three of us?" He indicated himself, the absent Mizati, and the baby, now playing with her toes while B'Elanna held her.

"You forgot the part where the mother actually gives birth to the child," said B'Elanna dryly, eyeing the teen narrowly.

"Now that is not always the case, Lieutenant," Neelix piped up, scurrying forward to take part in the conversation. "Some of the best mothers in the Universe are the ones entrusted with children who did not come from their wombs."

"Yes," agreed iCheb. "For example, my biological mother engineered me to be a weapon against the Borg and arranged for me to be assimilated not once, but twice. It was Seven who risked her life and this ship to ensure my safety and my individuality. It is Seven now who provides for my education and my physical and emotional well-being. Is she not more a mother to me than the woman who merely contributed genetic material for my creation?"

"Exactly!" said Neelix, grinning from ear to ear. It had been his personal mission since the day Seven was brought on board to help others see her for who she truly was. It simply tickled him to know that others were beginning see what he saw, a beautiful but insecure young woman who wanted nothing else in the Universe than to belong somewhere.

B'Elanna could only shake her head, partially in denial and partially in disbelief. She didn't want to hear this. She didn't want to know this. She was having a hard enough time keeping her thoughts about Seven corralled and orderly.

iCheb pinned B'Elanna with an intense gaze. "She may appear outwardly to be unfeeling but you must look beyond the Borg phrasing as we do, Lieutenant. Beneath the efficient exterior resides a Human female who loves deeply and purely, without prejudice or expectation. And her passion, though perhaps differently expressed, is comparable to your own." He paused for a moment, carefully considering his next words.

"It seems…inefficient and wasteful to allow such powerful emotions to go…unshared."

The engineer stared at the young man with big, owlish brown eyes. She looked torn between nailing him right between the eyes and hugging him. Eventually she decided on a different course of action.

"Here," she mumbled, pushing the baby into his arms. "You talk too much, kid." Then she, too, fled the holodeck.

iCheb and Neelix said nothing. The baby gurgled.

Finally, Neelix looked up at the teen.

"I'm surprised she wasn't more…angry," said the Talaxian delicately.

"Did you expect her to strike me, Neelix?"

The mottled morale officer gruffed, his spots turning a brighter orange as he blushed. "No, no, no," he said, dismissing the question with a wave of his hand. "B'Elanna's a wonderful person. She would never hit you, iCheb."

"I suspect you are correct," said the teen thoughtfully. "As my future second mother, that would be ill-advised." The boy walked out of the holodeck, making a variety of comical sounds at the baby and completely oblivious to the impact of his statement.

Neelix just slumped—slack-jawed—onto the picnic basket where Tom Paris and the Delaney twins found him moments later.

"Computer, locate Seven of Nine."

The compact chief engineer marched through the ship's corridors, her arms stiff at her sides, her fists clenched. The few crewmembers unlucky enough to be out and about quickly found other places to be, recognizing the utter folly of impeding a determined Klingon.

"Seven of Nine is in Astrometrics," came the computer's dispassionate reply.

"Fine." B'Elanna turned a corner and stepped into a waiting turbolift. "Deck nine," she snapped. The turbolift chirruped and began its journey.


The young woman had no idea what she would actually say to Seven or why she was even hunting her down. She only knew that there was absolutely nowhere else for her to be.

"Dammit!" she cursed again. "How did I get stuck being a Borg's counselor?" She leaned sullenly against the turbolift wall and pouted.

You care about her, Klingon, said a surprisingly calm inner voice. Now get a grip because this isn't about you. This is about her.

B'Elanna stood stock still for a moment then sighed, the tension draining quickly and easily from her body. She did care about Seven and the sooner she stopped fighting that fact, the sooner she could move past it. Seven needed her…or more precisely, needed someone right now. She would be damned to the deepest level of Gre'Thor before she consciously turned her back on a friend in need. Her personal honor demanded nothing less.

Had the door of the turbolift been sentient, it might have noticed B'Elanna's passage through it to deck nine with something akin to boredom or disregard. Now had the doors to Astrometrics been sentient, they might have been smart enough or prudent enough not have opened at all. Fortunately—or unfortunately—for B'Elanna, sentient doors just hadn't been invented yet.

Seven of Nine stood at her console, efficiently running what looked to be five different types of detailed sector scans…if B'Elanna was interpreting the data zipping almost chaotically across the large viewscreen correctly. The young Borg glanced over her shoulder when the doors opened, then looked away, the implant over her left eye raising slightly.

"I am otherwise engaged at the moment, Lieutenant," she said precisely, ignoring the Klingon's visible flinch at the cold use of her rank as a designation—something Seven hadn't done for over a month. "Please return at another time."


B'Elanna's voice did not rise or waver. Her demeanor never changed from that of simply another person in the room. However at that moment in time, she was the most immovable object in the Universe.

Stunned, Seven whirled and pinned B'Elanna with dark and angry eyes.

"Comply," she demanded, drawing herself to her full height, knowing in the way that only she could of this action's affect on others.

B'Elanna did not move a micrometer. She said nothing for a long moment, only returned Seven's burning gaze with one of her own. Then she shrugged and carefully leaned against one of the other consoles, crossing her feet at the ankles.

"No," she repeated, just as softly and just as calmly as before. In fact, she seemed completely relaxed…which only served to anger Seven further.

"You will leave. Now." The words cracked sharply and cleanly from her mouth like plates breaking against stone. B'Elanna sensed the will that kept the storm in Seven's eyes from raging and instead of defying it she said nothing. Only let her eyes, open and honest, stand silently between her and the gale. She knew instinctively that this was not the time for steel or battle. What did not bend to the raw power of Seven's anguish at this moment would surely break.

"No," she said finally. "I won't."

The tears that Seven had forbidden to fall earlier again flooded her flame-blue eyes. She took a halting step toward the Klingon as if to remove her from the room by force, but quickly found herself immobilized, obstructed by the wall she was attempting to erect around her rapidly crumbling emotional fortress. She shook with the effort of physically restraining a wail of frustration and devastation, the bound and obliterated emotions of loss and grief freed by fury from a prison believed to be invulnerable.

The ache of the twins, gone far away and forever with the family that was careless enough to lose them in the first place. The scarred wound of the first separation from iCheb, knowing the how but not the why, reviling the farce that was her status and keeping even among her own people. The irreparable, untreatable gash of One's sacrificial death, at once agonizing and heroic. Even the gritty, ashen slash and tear of the brutal assimilation of her parents, which the order of the Collective had only disguised, even after all these years.

All were laid open, bloodied anew, and they corroded, like acid, the stones of her cold and passionless Borg will.

"Seven, let it go," commanded B'Elanna gently.

"I…will…NOT…comply…" said Seven even as the first tears crested and broke, spilling down her cheeks in hot streams. Her bottom lip trembled. Her clenched fists shook.

B'Elanna stood upright and made a move towards her friend but stopped when the blonde began to shake her head.

"No," she said, fighting the catastrophic flood of emotion with the same relentless determination and the same futility of a child confronting an angry summer sea.


Seven backed away from B'Elanna, stumbled, then collapsed, falling at the base of one of the consoles. Silent sobs wracked her body, stealing her voice even as she continued to mouth the word 'no' over and over. Strands of her long, perfect hair pulled free from their bonds and framed her contorted face. She clung to the last atoms of pride and defiance within her, part of her still irate, still incredulous that this…this CHAOS was happening within her.

B'Elanna crouched hesitantly nearby. Her whole body, her every muscle and tendon, was a bow, taut and eager to spring forward, to act in defense of this wounded creature. Her senses were sharp, though, and directed her to be still and yet near. To be wary of the danger. To wait.


Seven's anguished cry split the silence of the room like lightning. It was a question with no answer and B'Elanna knew that, understood that. She had been carrying her own battered and worn version of it for years. Instead of offering words, empty and meaningless, the young Klingon simply sat cross-legged on the deck and folded her hands in her lap.

After a while, Seven's sobs receded, leaving a sodden and disheveled woman in their wake. She did not speak, made no sound beyond a shuddering pull of air into her laboring lungs, and did not raise her head.

When she had regained a certain stillness, she whispered, "I am…weak."

B'Elanna lifted her eyes to the crumpled Borg.

"You are the strongest person I know." In her voice was the tenderness of conviction.

Seven remained unmoved.

"As a Borg, I have faced all manner of obstacles and have overcome them. I have been assigned all manner of tasks and have completed them. I have encountered thousands of species and have conquered them. Yet a single word from a child has…damaged me."

"You are not Borg."

Seven's head snapped up, her eyes swollen and accusatory.

"I am not Human," she countered.

"You are both."

Seven again lowered her head.

"I am neither."

Confusion rippled across B'Elanna's features but Seven continued before she could argue the point.

"As a Borg, only the Collective mattered. All tasks maintained the Collective. All assimilation added to the Collective. All knowledge drew the Collective nearer to perfection." She said the words without inflection or emotion, once-again gripped by the suffocating order of her past. "When I regained my individuality and knew its…aloneness, I demanded to be returned to the Borg. Captain Janeway refused, stating that my new individuality added me to a much larger Collective than the Borg had ever known. One that could be of my own choosing. One that would combine individuality and the unity I craved. One that would be more rewarding and more challenging than simply existing as a tool, as a senseless machine."

She looked up finally, eyes pale blue.

"She was correct, however I did not accept this new collective easily. With the Borg, choices and decisions did not exist. Tasks were either completed or not. Actions were made by the Collective as a whole and therefore reflected on the Collective as a whole. In this collective," she said, gesturing to the ship at large, "I am expected to make choices, to make decisions as an individual. To direct my own actions. The consequences of my actions may affect only myself or they may affect the whole, however, they reflect solely on me, determining my place in this collective and my ability to function within it."

She took a small, steadying breath.

"I am...unaccustomed to consequences, B'Elanna," she continued sadly, her eyes becoming liquid again. "It seems that an emotional response accompanies every one and when I fail, the damage is sharp and painful. It does not…heal easily."

"When in Kahless' name have you ever failed at anything?" asked the engineer, honestly confused. One of the things that had irked her the most about Seven in the beginning was her absolute perfection. It seemed like success didn't just visit with her, but rather had moved in with her and had even commandeered her toothbrush.

Seven paused, the weight of her despair crushing her.

"Everyone I have ever...loved...has left me," she said desolately. "I have failed at love."

B'Elanna tried to say something—anything—but no words came, her coherence and ability to speak swallowed up by an ache that rushed over her and through her.

"But…the baby…Mizati…" she managed hoarsely.

"They have parents waiting to take them from me. I will lose them and the love I feel for them will become pain and grief."

"You don't know that, Seven!" countered the Klingon. "Their parents might be dead or—or Borg! They might never get the communiqués! They may never come for them."

"It does not matter," said Seven bleakly. "Even when there are no families waiting to take my children, I lose them." She looked at her hands, one bare and Human, the other fused with cold technology. "They slip through my fingers regardless of my superior physical strength or my will."

She trembled, her eyes fixed and vacant, remembering the first child…the private and deeply personal reason she had not wanted to bring iCheb and the others aboard Voyager.

Her son.

"One," said B'Elanna, the certainty of her realization striking her hard. "You saw One as your child."

"He was my child!" snarled Seven, her flashing eyes returning to the confines of Astrometrics and boring into B'Elanna. "Was he not created from an amalgamation of donated genetic and technological material, some of which he acquired from me? Was I not his primary guardian and instructor, providing him with guidance and knowledge? Did not my—"

The words died on her lips as her memories overcame her.

"Did not my heart…break," she continued quietly, haltingly, "when he terminated his existence to ensure our own?"

"Seven, I…I…" B'Elanna wanted to hold Seven, to gather her fiercely into her arms until the pain and sorrow left her forever. She felt tears well in her eyes and did nothing to stop them.

"I have failed at love," said Seven softly. "My heart is…broken and holds little of value…or worth."

Part Three

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