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 Eight

Mizati Nueves' reckless invasion of Sickbay came to a screeching halt as soon as she entered the room and saw the horror of the scene laid out before her.

Her mother lay unmoving on an operating platform while not one but TWO Emergency Medical Holograms hovered over her. The hands of one of the doctors were moving so fast in their task that even Mizati's Borg-enhanced eyesight couldn't follow them. Tom Paris worked independently of the two holograms, using a deep-tissue regenerator and skin-regenerative gel packs to repair some vicious slashes across Seven's torso.

But what terrorized the little girl, what burned through her tiny body, leaving her frozen with her back painfully arched and her eyes so wide that the whites showed all the way around her irises, was the blood. Blood on Tom's hands and surgical tunic. Blood staining the operating platform. Black blood drying on her mother's left hand.

So much blood.

B'Elanna Torres, fuelled more by maternal and spousal distress than by any latent Klingon trait, reached the Sickbay before anyone else. She bolted through the doors and skidded to a stop almost immediately as the scent of blood swamped her, overwhelming her enhanced olfactory senses. The knowledge that it was Seven's blood—and a lot of it—doubled her over with wave after wave of dizzying nausea.

Mizati, completely unaware of B'Elanna's presence behind her, chose that precise moment to come out of her shock-induced stupor, letting loose a piercing, terrified shriek.

Reacting on instinct alone, B'Elanna reached around the little girl, covering her eyes with one hand and lifting her off the ground with the other. She turned and fled the Sickbay, Mizati still shrieking uncontrollably. She ran a short distance down the corridor until she stumbled and fell against the bulkhead, sliding down it until she landed on the deck with a thump. She turned Mizati around to face her and cradled the eight-year-old in powerful arms.

"I've got you, honey! It's okay!" B'Elanna's voice was hoarse with unshed tears as she rocked her older daughter like she would a much younger child. "I'm here, sweetie! I'm here. I'm right here…"

Mizati flung her arms around B'Elanna's neck and held on for all she was worth, her shrieks becoming relentless sobs. Her face was contorted in pain and hot tears streaked down her ruddy cheeks. She released her fear in a howling cry of the only word she could formulate in her mind.


Kathryn Janeway and Samantha Wildman heard the desolate cry and broke into a run, rounding a corner of the corridor just as iCheb and Naomi rounded a corner from the opposite direction. Fearing the worst, the starship captain knelt down next to B'Elanna and her distraught charge.

"She ran in before I got there," explained the young Klingon. "There's…a lot of blood. So much blood, Kathryn." She closed her eyes against her daughter's chestnut hair for a moment, trying to block the memory from her own mind.

Mizati clutched at B'Elanna with a death-grip, crying hysterically, saying "SoSoy" over and over. B'Elanna stroked her hair and tried to shush her with whispered nonsense noises.

Kathryn put her hand on Mizati's back and rubbed it gently, her heart breaking to feel the rolling shudders of the little body beneath her. She looked up and caught Sam's eye.

"Sam, would you see if the Doctor could use an extra pair of hands in there?" she asked, indicating Sickbay. "I'm sure my captain's assistant and I can handle this."

Sam watched as Naomi snapped into parade attention at the mention of her 'rank' and nodded, feeling a wash of pride for her precocious daughter. "Of course, Captain." She lovingly ruffled Naomi's hair just once before hurrying through Sickbay's doors.

Kathryn waited until the doors shut behind her ensign before calmly taking a seat next to B'Elanna. "Now iCheb," she began, reaching over and pulling Mizati into her lap amidst the little girl's hiccupping protests, "Why don't you sit down next to your mother there and let her hold that beautiful baby girl for awhile, hmm? And Naomi and I will see what we can do to help dry Mizati's tears." She patted the carpet next to her and Naomi immediately took the offered seat, reaching out for one of Mizati's hands and holding it tightly.

B'Elanna watched all of this in a daze, slightly stunned by the scene before her, until she heard a quiet voice to her left.

"QanwI'," said iCheb as he leaned over to put B'Etal in her waiting arms. "I am relieved to see you are well."

B'Etal squirmed and fussed—obviously disoriented by all the commotion—until B'Elanna settled her in her customary place: cuddled against her sternum. B'Elanna waited until the little one quieted before she pulled iCheb into a fierce one-armed hug.

"I'm so sorry, iCheb," she whispered, tears welling again in her exhausted eyes. "I should have protected her. I should have done more…fought harder…"

iCheb pulled back just enough to shake his head. "No one could have done more, QanwI'. Was it not you who instructed cheghwI' in the way of the blade? Was it not you who first noticed that she was not functioning within accepted parameters?"

B'Elanna gasped slightly. "How do you know about that? You didn't— Sam didn't let you two watch the battle, did she?"

The young Brunali lowered his eyes. "No, QanwI'. I used my assimilation tubules to access and monitor Voyager's communications network without Ensign Wildman's knowledge. I know it was wrong to do so, however—"

He seemed at such a loss for words, caught between remorse for having deceived Sam and yet relief that he had done so, that B'Elanna couldn't find it in her hearts to rebuke him for the infraction. Instead, she hugged him harder.

Unaccustomed to so much emotion and so much physical closeness, iCheb gently extracted himself from his second-mother's strong embrace. Unwilling to let her go uncomforted, though, he shyly took her free hand in both of his, holding it as if it were an object made of the most delicate glass.

B'Elanna just grinned gratefully at her son and nuzzled the baby's now sleeping head, comforted more than she could say by her family's mere presence.

Mizati continued to sob half-heartedly while Kathryn rocked her gently.

"My goodness," she exclaimed, gazing into Mizati's watery hazel eyes. She cupped the little girl's face in her hands and wiped away a few tears with her thumbs. "So many tears for such a little girl!" She winked at Naomi, knowing the smart young Ktarian would catch the meaning behind the gesture. "Captain's Assistant Wildman, is this normal for a Norkadian of this age and size? Have you studied the lachrymal output of the Norkadian species?"

Naomi giggled for just an instant before she fastened her own version of the famed 'Janeway Command Mask' in place. "No ma'am," she answered seriously. "However, I would be happy to research the topic for you, if you wish. I could have a report to you by tomorrow morning."

Mizati regarded both the captain and her friend dubiously, her sobs all but forgotten.

"Of what <sniff> possible value <sniffle> would a report on <sniff> Norkadian lachrymal output be?"

"Oh, I don't know," said Kathryn brightly. "If it were a large amount, perhaps it could be collected and used to relieve drought conditions on afflicted planets? Or—"

"Or," interrupted Naomi, "what if the secretions had medicinal properties? The lachrymal output of Norkadians would be very important then."

"Medicinal…properties?" Mizati gazed blankly at Naomi for a moment before she turned to her SoSoy and gave her a look that clearly said Are these two serious??

B'Elanna chuckled in spite of herself.

"Medicinal properties! Good thinking, Captain's Assistant Wildman," complimented Kathryn, patting Naomi's leg. "Think of the good that could be done with an organic cure to the Onkaran Flu, for example."

"Or with an antidote for leeolaroot poisoning!" chimed in Naomi, giggling openly now.

"Or," said B'Elanna as she joined the silly conversation, leaning over to snuffle at Mizati like a wild beast. "How about as an elusive remedy for Targh dander allergies?"

It was all too much for the little girl. Faced with such absurdity in addition to being thoroughly tickled by her SoSoy, Mizati squealed with laughter. And once she did, so did everyone else, including iCheb.

B'Etal—who had been blissfully asleep—did not appreciate the sudden noise and she screwed up her tiny face and let out an earsplitting wail of disapproval. Which only made everyone laugh a little harder.

Until Chakotay ruined it for them all by contacting the captain.

"Bridge to Janeway."

Everyone sobered quickly as Kathryn tapped her communicator.

"Janeway here. What is it, Chakotay?"

"I've just finished speaking with the Lead Pair, Captain. They have conceded victory. Documents finalizing Voyager's custody of B'Etal will be transmitted to us within the hour."

Janeway glanced over at her chief engineer, who was now gazing dreamily at the baby in her arms. It wasn't hard to see that she was finally allowing herself to imagine B'Etal's future…and a bright one at that. The captain smiled indulgently.

"Thank you, Chakotay. I'm sure her family will be happy to hear that."

"There's more, Captain. It appears that the Raadamani champion, Wuqat, somehow introduced a neural toxin into Seven's blood stream." B'Elanna's head snapped up at the news, her ire instantly ignited. "Descriptions of the toxin's effects and the antidote have already been sent to Sickbay. The Lead Pair wished to convey their deep regret over their champion's actions. They wanted to meet with you personally—"

Kathryn shook her head. "They'll have to wait, Chakotay," she said, cutting him off. She looked down at Mizati who was still seated in her lap. "I'm needed here at the moment."

"Understood, Captain. Bridge out." No one needed to see it to know Chakotay was smiling.

Kathryn turned her gaze back to her lieutenant. "Congratulations, B'Elanna," she said softly. B'Elanna managed a watery little smile in return. Kathryn reached out and squeezed the young Klingon's hand once and then leaned her head against the bulkhead behind her. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, allowing her command mask to slip a little further as she finally released some of the tension and anguish of the last few days.

After a few moments of silence, she felt a small tug on her sleeve.

She opened storm-blue eyes. "Yes, Mizati?"

The eight-year-old looked up at the captain with curious features.

"Are you our grandmother now?" she asked matter-of-factly.

Before the startled captain could respond, Sickbay's doors whooshed open. All eyes in the corridor turned to the sound and one by one the motley crew assembled there all stood, waiting to see who would greet them.

The Doctor approached them quickly and stood directly in front of B'Elanna, who looked as if her knees would give out at any second. iCheb stood close by, as if anticipating that very eventuality. Quite unable to hide his relieved smile, the Doctor finally said, "She's going to be fine, Lieutenant."

B'Elanna Torres' face-splitting grin defied description. In fact, had the engineering team been able to convert it to energy, Voyager would have been able to return to the Alpha Quadrant in an instant, slipstream technology or not.

"Now her recovery isn't going to be an overnight thing," he counseled. "And she is going to have to spend some quality time in that alcove of hers to get her Borg systems back into peak condition, but she's going to be just fine." He reached out a photonic hand and placed it on B'Elanna's shoulder. "You may now visit the bride," he teased.

B'Elanna laughed before pulling the Doctor into a crushing hug. "Thank you," she whispered through tears of joy.

The Doctor returned the hug briefly then impatiently shooed her away. "Go, go! Before you warp my matrix or something!"

It was deep into night watch and Kathryn Janeway wearily approached the replicator in Sickbay.

"Coffee, hot," she ordered and the resultant hum and sparkle dutifully yielded her request. She took a sip of the welcome beverage and turned her gaze to the occupants of the room.

Various monitors beeped quietly as they kept vigil over Seven who still lay unmoving, her damaged body ensnared by a coma no doubt initiated by the Borg nanoprobes as they sought the most efficient means of facilitating their host's healing. Seven's features were peaceful, though, and her color was returning as her body began to replenish her blood supply. All in all, Kathryn thought she looked beautiful, particularly under the dimmed lights in the room.

B'Elanna Torres slept fitfully in the biobed nearest to Seven, thanks to a direct order Kathryn had had the foresight to issue only a few hours ago. B'Elanna had had even less rest than Seven had before the battle and yet she still insisted on being awake for when her wife came out of the coma, despite an almost crippling exhaustion. The auburn-haired woman smiled at the memory of the brief yet heated discussion on the matter. While Kathryn the starship captain could be most persuasive, the added advantage of Kathryn the surrogate mother could not be denied. B'Elanna finally capitulated and retreated into sleep.

Kathryn, herself, had escorted the children to Cargo Bay 2 shortly after they'd been allowed to see and visit with Seven. She happily oversaw them as they reluctantly but obediently entered regeneration in their alcoves and then she assigned Neelix to stay with them, not wanting them to find themselves alone when their cycles were complete.

She considered Mizati's earlier question and chuckled a little. Perhaps there was something to that designation of 'grandmother' after all, though Kathryn thought herself too young to be called by it. Not to mention the fact that neither Seven nor B'Elanna were her daughters.

A soft gasp shattered the stillness of the room and Kathryn instantly abandoned her cup of coffee and went to Seven's side. She reached for one of Seven's hands and took it between her own just as the young woman's eyelids fluttered open, revealing a pair of very blue, very confused eyes.

"Captain?" she rasped shakily, the dryness of her throat marring her usually melodic voice.

"Shhh…don't talk." The older woman reached for a container of water and helped Seven take a few small sips, supporting her as she tried to sit up a little.

"Lana?" gasped Seven when she was finished, falling heavily back onto the biobed. "B'Etal?" Her frantic eyes darted to and from Kathryn's.

"They're fine, darling," whispered Kathryn, a tender smile curling her mouth. "B'Etal is regenerating with iCheb and Mizati. And B'Elanna is right over there."

Seven followed her commanding officer's gaze to the slight form curled haphazardly across a nearby biobed, her brow ridges crinkling in mild frustration while she muttered something in her sleep.

A charmingly child-like smile transformed Seven's pale features in an instant.

"Is she not the most beautiful being you have ever seen, Captain?" she asked with all sincerity, her eyes merrily captivated by the sight of her wife.

"One of them," agreed Kathryn, gazing at the oblivious Seven of Nine. She leaned down and kissed the young woman on the forehead then closed her eyes for a moment, savoring the knowledge that Seven was safe. Afterwards, she stood and released Seven's hand. "And I think that regardless of the dream she might be having, B'Elanna would rather wake up and face reality."

She approached B'Elanna's bed from the opposite side and ran her fingers lightly over the young woman's faint brow-ridges.

"B'Elanna," she whispered, leaning down closer to the engineer. "B'Elanna, wake up, darling."

Sleepy chestnut eyes fluttered opened. "Wha—what is it?"

"Someone wants to see you," said Kathryn grinning.

A brief frown crossed B'Elanna's features. "Who?" she asked, wondering who could be so important that Kathryn would wake her—

Her head snapped to Seven's biobed.

"be'nalwI'?" B'Elanna seemed frozen in place by the smiling blue eyes that gazed back at her. But only for a moment.

She slipped off her bed like lightning and flew to Seven's side, caressing one alabaster cheek with aching tenderness.

"be'nalwI'?" she asked again, ignoring the single tear now making its way towards her jaw.

Seven nodded, smiling, and whispered simply, "I missed you, be'nalwI'IHqu'."

"Oh, Seven," breathed B'Elanna as she traced her lover's eyes and mouth with fluttering fingertips. "I missed you too, sweetheart."

She lowered her mouth to Seven's and kissed her.

Tenderly. Deeply. Endlessly.

And her blood sang with joy.

Kathryn Janeway stood by the viewport in her bedroom, watching the stars outside drift lazily past, smiling softly as she allowed herself to get lost in memory for a few precious and blissfully silent moments.

When the silence outlasted the memory, however, her smile faded a bit. She checked the chronometer on her wall and the smile disappeared completely, replaced by a slightly annoyed frown. She crossed to the small mirror near her closet and inspected her outfit for the fifth time, picking invisible pieces of lint from the emerald blouse and smoothing down her black cotton slacks.

Having spent all the time she reasonably could futzing with her appearance she sighed and marched over to her closed ensuite door.

"Seven? Is everything okay? You've been in there quite a while now."

"I am…adapting, Captain," came the muffled reply.

Janeway chuckled at Seven's uncertain tone.

"We're off duty, Seven. Call me 'Kathryn'."

There was a brief silence and Kathryn could almost imagine the blonde nodding in efficient assent.

"I appreciate your assistance with…this, Kathryn."

"You know I'm happy to help, but why didn't you just have B'Elanna take a look for you?" Kathryn had been more than surprised when Seven had approached her about this particular problem. She would have thought B'Elanna's input to be paramount in Seven's mind but the young woman had insisted on her help instead.

"I wanted to surprise her," said Seven softly and the tint of shyness in her declaration utterly charmed the captain. There was a long pause and then she added, "I'm coming out now."

Kathryn covered her mouth with one hand to stifle her amusement.

"All right."

The door of the captain's ensuite opened with a whoosh and Seven of Nine, ex-Borg drone, stepped hesitantly into her commanding officer's bedroom.

Kathryn Janeway gasped at the sight before her and Seven's pale eyes darted up from her averted gaze, filling with worry and embarrassment.

"Is it not appropriate?" she asked, coloring slightly. "Or is the garment not aesthetically pleasing?"

"It's perfect, Seven!" exclaimed Kathryn, grinning madly as she grasped Seven's shoulders and spun the young woman around in a slow circle, wanting to see the whole outfit. "It's gorgeous!"

Seven smiled with relief as she nervously ran her hands down the front of the dress. It was a sleeveless cotton sundress in navy with white piping down the side seams, a white tie to lace up the back, and delicate white pearl buttons down the front. The five bottom buttons were left unfastened to allow for ease of movement and the tasteful display of Seven's beautiful legs. A pair of white strappy sandals and the young woman's long, free-flowing blonde tresses completed the ensemble.

"You look beautiful, darling," Kathryn assured her. "B'Elanna won't be able to take her eyes off of you."

"I asked the computer to assist with choices," Seven admitted. "I was not sure what appropriate attire for a picnic would be as at the last one I attended I wore one of my…biosuits." She said the last word with such distaste that it startled the captain.

"You say that as if you don't like them very much," noted Janeway, concerned.

"At first, it was not a matter of liking them or disliking them. They were efficient. However, as my time aboard Voyager increased I noticed that the biosuits inspired a diverse range of responses from the crew, from prurient interest to disapproval to overt negativity. I ignored such responses because they seemed irrelevant."

She looked away for a moment as a wave of delicate anguish washed over her features. "However, now that I am a wife and mother, I find those responses to be highly relevant. I do not want the crew to associate me with designations like 'Barbie Borg' and 'slut', nor do I want my children to hear me labeled as such. I do not wish to have anyone…leer at me. It is disrespectful…to me, to B'Elanna, and to our children."

Kathryn Janeway wanted to smack herself upside the head with one of Neelix's frying pans…whichever one was the heaviest. It had never occurred to her—not even once—that Seven's biosuits were more of a habit from her early days of individuality rather than a personal style choice. It had never occurred to her that the crew might be making inappropriate comments about the biosuits, either, though she conceded she probably should have known. After all, how many of her crewmembers wore what amounted to a second-skin as a uniform?

Just the one, Katie. And you left her hanging in the wind, scolded her inner Phoebe.

Kathryn shook her head. "You and I are going to fix this tomorrow, Seven. Come to my ready room at 0900 and we'll discuss uniform options. In the meantime, have B'Elanna help you replicate a few items for off-duty. She'll know what to do." She paused for just a second before growling, "And recycle those damned suits. I never want to see you wearing one again. Am I understood?"

Seven blinked. Twice. "Yes, Captain."

"Good." Kathryn smiled and let her intensity relax a notch or two. "Shall we go to the picnic now?" She started out of her bedroom only to find herself gently restrained by Seven as the young blonde caught her elbow with one hand.

"Cap—Kathryn, I would like to speak with you for a moment."

Surprised but game, the auburn-haired woman gestured to the settee in the corner. "Would you like to sit down?" She found herself even more surprised when Seven sat without comment, her rigid back an unmistakable indication of her nervousness. She sat next to her cautiously, a frown stealing back onto her face.

"What is it, Seven?"

"Until recently, I have viewed certain emotionally-rich interpersonal relationships irrelevant, amongst them motherhood. It was B'Elanna who first taught me that regardless of my self-determined inability to be an adequate mother to any child, I was certainly exhibiting and enjoying that role with iCheb, Mizati, and B'Etal."

Seven took a small breath and looked straight ahead. "Since choosing a name for B'Etal, I have spent many hours contemplating my feelings about motherhood, including my deep insecurity surrounding my abilities in that regard. I had many reasons catalogued why I could not be a mother to my children, among them the fact that I did not bear them biologically and the fact that I had no practical, personal experience with motherhood due to the choices and failures of Erin Hansen."

Seven stopped there, trembling slightly, wondering whether or not she should continue. This conversation was new ground for her and as such, it was an emotional minefield she was unsure she could successfully navigate.

"Go on," encouraged Kathryn, laying a warm hand on a cool, pale arm.

"I now understand that I was wrong, Kathryn," Seven continued haltingly. "The accepted definition of a mother is a female parent who provides a child with his or her primary sources of sustenance, shelter, protection, education, and love. This definition itself challenges my beliefs regarding my lack of experience with motherhood. I do have that experience, but not because of Erin Hansen."

Seven sought Kathryn's gaze at that moment, turning sky-blue eyes towards the sea-blue ones of her mentor.

"My experience with motherhood comes from you, Kathryn, because it was you who gave me life…a life free of the Collective. You protected me when I was unable to protect myself, you gave me a home when I had none, you fed me, clothed me, taught me about Humanity and all that entails. And…I believe…I hope…you…loved me."

She timidly studied her hands resting in her lap and Kathryn reached out to brush a lock of hair from her eyes.

"Oh, Seven," said the older woman softly. "I still do!"

Seven's posture relaxed slightly. "Then may I have your permission—when we are off-duty—to call you…by a designation other than 'Kathryn'?"

Kathryn continued to stroke Seven's hair, looking at the young woman quizzically.

"What sort of designation, darling?"

Seven closed her eyes for just a moment and took a deep breath.

"I would like to call you…'Mother'."

With no response forthcoming, she anxiously looked up into Janeway's unreadable eyes, adding in a rush, "It is entirely your choice, of course, and it is not my intent to offend you or—"

A lightning quick and startlingly crushing embrace hushed Seven.

"Offend me? Darling, how could I possibly be offended—it would be an honor—any woman would be proud to—of course you may call me 'Mother'!"

Relieved beyond the ability of expression, Seven clung to Kathryn Janeway, feeling a warmth and calm in her heart that filled her with happiness. After a few moments, she finally pulled back to look into Kathryn's eyes, finding them rimmed with tears.

"I feel this would be the appropriate moment for a 'smartass remark' to relieve the tension, but I can think of nothing to say that meets that criteria," remarked Seven, raising her ocular implant thoughtfully.

Kathryn laughed and released Seven, reaching up to wipe the tears from her eyes.

"Well that was an acceptable substitute," she acknowledged, grinning.

"Even so, perhaps I should leave the 'smartass remarks' to B'Elanna," said Seven musingly. "She is quite proficient with them."

Kathryn laughed again and stood, reaching down to help Seven stand as well.

"She is that," she agreed, taking Seven's arm in her own and heading out of her bedroom towards her cabin's door.

"Perhaps she could give a class? I, for one, would attend."

Kathryn vigorously shook her head in the negative. "Oh no. No, no, no. I forbid it. I don't think my poor captain's heart could handle an entire crew spouting off like B'Elanna. You think she's bad now, you should have seen her in the beginning, when we first got stuck out here in the Delta Quadrant. Half the time I wondered if I should lock her in a class-4 probe casing and launch her into the nearest black hole."

At Seven's startled look, she added, "I could tell you some stories that would curl your hair."

Seven doubted the veracity of that statement but did not comment. Instead she said, "I look forward to hearing them, Mother."

Kathryn stopped and turned to Seven, her eyes misting up again. She gently cupped the young woman's face with one hand.

"It's going to take me a while to get used to that, you know," she said softly.

"You will adapt," replied Seven confidently, smiling.

Janeway stood there a moment longer and then patted Seven's cheek.

"We'd better get going to this picnic your wife put together or I have a feeling we'll both be getting an earful of B'Elanna's equally famous Klingon curses."

Seven nodded and led Kathryn into the hallway.

"She is proficient in those as well. However," she added, winking down at the older woman, "I am more so."

Kathryn laughed heartily all the way to the Holodeck.

Seven of Nine, former Tertiary Adjunct to the Unimatrix Zero One, had been told that she would be attending a 'small family picnic' to celebrate her imminent return to duty and the clean bill of health the Doctor had given her only two days ago. Based on that description she calculated that there would be ten or perhaps twelve attendees, duty shifts permitting. No more.

By the absolutely stunned look on her delicate features and her apparent inability to move, it was clear that she hadn't expected 48 of Voyager's finest to be occupying Wildman Park, the new name for Naomi Wildman's very popular Holodeck program. She watched—surprised down to her nanoprobes—as they all turned upon her arrival and began to applaud. And lest she suppose the applause was meant for someone else, several crewmembers shouted out greetings.

"Welcome back, Seven!"

"Way to go! Way to kick some Raadamani—er—rumpus!"


"We missed you!"

Seven honestly had no idea what to do.

"You can smile at them, you know," said an amused voice in her ear. "They aren't going to bite you."

She turned to look into the laughing chocolate-colored eyes of her wife, physically unable to keep a brilliant and beautiful smile from stealing onto her features. B'Elanna Torres was wearing a pair of caramel linen clamdiggers and an almond-colored cotton tunic. She had B'Etal on her hip and a devilish twinkle in her eyes.

"Surprised?" she asked in a whisper.

Seven nodded. "Very. You said this was going to be a family picnic. I did not expect—"

"They are your family, Älskling," interrupted the young Klingon woman. "You said so yourself in the arena that day. Don't you remember?"

Seven turned to gaze at all the smiling faces, open to her for the first time, accepting, welcoming. It was not an eventuality she had considered when she created that ritual…and yet…

She glanced at B'Elanna again, watching with tender eyes as her wife tugged on the tiny sea-green sunbonnet B'Etal wore and tickled the little girl's belly, making her giggle.

Why hadn't she expected this reaction from the crew of Voyager? Hadn't she hoped for the same reaction from B'Elanna individually when she'd asked her for her help all those nights ago? Seven hadn't needed B'Elanna's engineering expertise with the Bassinet as much as she had needed a friend. And so she had opened up to her, hoping the young Klingon would open up in return. And she had, in so many more ways than Seven had originally thought possible.

Kathryn Janeway disrupted Seven's reverie by pressing a glass of what appeared to be lemonade into her hand.

"You looked like you could use a drink, darling," she said to Seven's questioning look.

"A toast," said Chakotay, raising his own glass. He glanced around as those with drinks lifted their glasses in the air, then he turned and smiled at Seven, his eyes crinkling with genuine affection.

"Health and happiness to you, Seven!"

Seven felt B'Elanna's hand at the small of her back and she took a moment to truly look at the faces surrounding her, reveling in the connection she felt to them all in this moment.

"And to my extended family," she smiled, raising her glass in turn. She took a sip of the pleasantly tart liquid amidst a chorus of agreement from various crewmembers. When the toast was finished, the crowd broke into smaller clusters and the buzz of several dozen conversations filled the air.

"By the way," said B'Elanna softly, seizing the moment. She leaned into Seven's side so that the taller woman could feel the unique heat of her body even more strongly. "That dress looks absolutely stunning on you, bangwI'."

Seven shuddered slightly as a wave of desire rolled over her. "Thank you," she breathed, enjoying the warmth and nearness of her wife more than she thought was necessarily appropriate in such a public setting.

B'Elanna leaned in even more closely until her mouth was next to Seven's right ear. "It's going to look even better on the floor next to our bed tonight," she growled throatily. Then she flicked her hot tongue out for just a second, licking the starburst implant just below Seven's ear.

The sudden explosion of shattered glass and lemonade startled everyone within a five-meter radius.

B'Elanna blinked twice at Seven's Borg-enhanced hand where the young Astrometrics officer held the remains of what had once been a perfectly lovely glass of lemonade. Her café-au-lait skin darkened considerably and she cleared her throat self-consciously.

"Oooops," she said.

Knowing laughter rang out across the meadow.

Seven spent the next two and a half hours doing something she had never successfully done before. She mingled.

It had not been as difficult a task as she had always believed it to be, although she attributed the majority of her success to a newfound ease of interaction with crewmates she had once deemed unapproachable.

For example, she was currently engaged in a lively conversation regarding the childhood escapades of several crewmembers, among them the Delaney sisters and Susan Nicoletti. She was also learning how to laugh.

"So we're in this boat on the lake near our grandparents' summer house and this is the first time Jenny and I have been allowed to go rowing by ourselves, so of course we think we're all that and a bag of Bolian Whyssa Rounds, right? So we're rowing along, minding our own business, when this fish—outta NOWHERE—just jumps into the boat. I guess he was trying to eat a bug or something and he ended up in the boat, I don't know. But the next thing I know, Jenny is screaming hysterically. She is so shocked that she throws herself out of the boat. Literally just LEAPS out of the boat." Most of Megan's audience dissolved into gales of laughter imagining a young Jenny Delaney in such a state. Even Seven chuckled slightly.

"So I try to get her back in the boat, you know?" continued Megan, her hands giddily flailing about as they assisted with the story. "But she won't get IN unless the fish gets OUT and I'm like, NO WAY! It was a pretty good-sized Rainbow trout and we'd caught it without even trying. I wanted to take it back to show my dad. We argue for ten minutes about the fish but she won't budge and neither will I. So I end up towing Jenny back to the dock while the fish flops around in the bottom of the boat. And I walk back to the house pulling a dripping wet sister along with one hand and carrying a still-struggling trout with the other. Of course the whole family was sitting out in the yard, talking. You shoulda seen their faces when I walked over to my dad, all puffed up and proud, and handed him the trout…" Megan took a deep breath.

"And you know what my dad said? He looked at the fish and then at Jenny and said, 'Did you use your sister as bait?'"

Seven's unrestrained laughter was joyous and addictive to all who witnessed it. Even Mizati couldn't help but giggle as she listened to it. She leaned her head on her mother's shoulder, content to be in Seven's lap, a place which she claimed as her own nearly every time her mother sat down.

Seven ran a hand through Mizati's long hair as her laughter eventually died away.

"I had not thought to use children as a means to catch amphibious lifeforms," she noted, winking at Megan Delaney conspiratorially. "Perhaps I should experiment with that method. Tell me, Megan, is Mizati of sufficient size to be used as bait?"

"Mama!" squealed Mizati, outraged by the very suggestion. Another round of hilarity immediately swept through the group of friends.

"Ladies," said Chakotay as he approached the group. He grinned seeing Seven having such a good time. "May I join you?"

"Certainly, Commander," invited Susan, gesturing to a chair. Chakotay waved the offer away and instead went over to where Seven and Mizati were sitting.

"The Lead Pair of Pod Boi-Ovani gave me something that I think belongs to you, Seven. They said they found it on the arena floor after…" He glanced uncertainly at Mizati, unsure how much he should say.

"After my mother severed the spinal column of that ghuy'cha' and Voyager beamed her to Sickbay?" asked Mizati innocently.

Chakotay paled slightly. "Well, yes…in a manner of…"

"Mizati Nueves," said Seven sternly, her eyes flashing with maternal ire. "That designation is not appropriate for use by a child of your age. Do not use it again. Do you understand?"

Mizati gulped, eyes round. "Yes, Mama. I'm sorry, Mama." She looked at Chakotay and the women seated behind him. "I apologize for any offense I may have caused."

Chakotay cleared his throat. "Well, anyway, what I was saying was they found this, Seven." He handed her a small square of reinforced paper. "I had the Doc clean it up for you."

Seven looked down at the card in the palm of her hand. It was the Queen of Hearts, the one Mizati had carried with her everyday before giving it to Seven as a reminder of those who 'required' her presence. She smiled at it briefly, noting again with wonder the additions of silver implants on the card's face and the love that it represented. Then she raised her eyes to the commander's.

"You are in error, Commander," she said. "This card belongs to Mizati. I was borrowing it when I…misplaced it." She handed it to the little girl in her lap.

Mizati looked at it for a long moment, her face drawn and unreadable. Then finally she turned her hazel eyes upward to meet Seven's pale blue gaze.

"You keep it, Mama," she said, laying it gently in her mother's hand. "I no longer require its presence as I have a real mama now."

Seven of Nine looked out over Wildman Park from her vantage point on a small hill underneath some apple trees. The picnic was still going strong as those crewmembers whose duty shifts had just ended came to replace those now leaving to get some sleep. She smiled, listening to snippets of conversations here and there, watching quietly as a warm plum and tangerine twilight descended over the meadow.

Some enterprising young officer or another had strategically placed some lanterns around the picnic area and those now lit the meadow with a gentle amber glow. Seven could see Naomi and Mizati chasing holographic fireflies in the distance, the air filling with their delighted laughter. Sam Wildman, Neelix, and Tom Paris all looked on, laughing with the girls and chatting amongst themselves.

iCheb seemed to be deep in conversation with a small group of ensigns and she smiled when the young man received a friendly 'chuck' on the arm from Ensign Kim. Kathryn Janeway moved easily from one cluster of officers to the next, enjoying the chance to connect with her beloved crew in such an informal setting. The joyous peals of her laughter sounded like bells to Seven.

"A latinum bar for your thoughts, be'nal," said B'Elanna softly.

Seven turned, a tender smile lighting her eyes with love. B'Elanna was curled up in the hammock with B'Etal, lit only by a small lantern in the apple tree overhead. Her beloved Klingon wife was giving B'Etal her evening bottle and the little girl was looking up at her with sleepy, devoted eyes. Then she reached up with one tiny hand and laid it gently on B'Elanna's cheek.

"I am thinking how lucky I am, my love," whispered Seven as she padded barefoot over to the hammock and climbed in with her wife and daughter. After a bit of rearranging she finally had the two of them where she wanted them: cradled in her long arms. She reached for the purple throw and draped it around the baby and Lana to keep the cool evening air from chilling them.

"We're both lucky, sweetheart," corrected the young engineer. "Look at everything we have." She leaned in and kissed Seven softly on the cheek.

Seven gazed at her with lapis eyes. "I never thought I would…fully understand my Humanity, my…individuality. Perhaps I never will. But I know one thing, B'Elanna."

"What, Älskling?"

"I am happy."

B'Elanna gasped a little, her eyes filling with tears.

"Oh, Seven," she whispered, leaning in for a gentle kiss. "I'm happy, too. Happier than I've ever, ever been."

They shared another kiss and another before turning to gaze down at B'Etal, now sleeping contentedly in her mothers' arms.

A small breeze set the hammock swaying gently and the sounds of frogs and crickets waking to sing their evening songs now competed with the buzz of people laughing and talking below them in the meadow. Seven watched as B'Elanna leaned down to kiss B'Etal's head and the sight filled her with such a huge and aching love it made her tremble.

"B'Elanna," she began quietly. "May I ask you a question?"

"Of course, Seven. You can ask me anything. You know that," she chided, grinning.

"Will you marry me?"

B'Elanna gaped at Seven with wide, stunned eyes.

"But we are—"

Seven shushed her wife with two gentle fingers placed over berry-stained lips.

"We are married, in our hearts, in our souls, and before Kahless. I know that." She looked down to the people gathered in the park, the people who had come to celebrate her return to health, her victory against those that would take her daughter, her happiness and her love.

"Does it not seem…selfish to let our joy go unshared with our family?"

Seven turned sapphire eyes to Lana's deep chestnut ones shining in the warm halo of light from their small lantern. She let pale fingers drift down a caramel-colored cheek.

"I want to stand with you before our children and our friends and promise to love you and honor you with all that I am, Lana. I want everyone to know what we share, that we have claimed each other as mates for life and beyond. I do not understand why I feel so strongly about this, but I do." She kissed B'Elanna tenderly then pulled back to gaze again into her eyes. "I want to marry you with our family nearby, B'Elanna."

She averted her eyes then as shyness overcame her.

"If…if you'll have me, that is."

B'Elanna Torres reached up and gently grasped Seven's chin, turning her back to look into her eyes.

"It would be my honor and my privilege to marry you, Annika Hansen, my sweet, beautiful wife. Wherever and however you wish," she breathed, leaning in to capture a pair of pale pink lips with her own, kissing Seven deeply and endlessly. When they parted, she added, "I would stand naked in a Ytrian slime pit and marry you in front of every last one of Neelix's cousins if that's what you wanted, Seven."

When Seven's ocular implant rose slightly in consideration of that scenario, B'Elanna lightly swatted her on the cheek and leveled a Force 10 glare at her lover.

"That was a joke, Seven. A joke! Do you hear me?"

Enchanting laughter, ethereal and winsome like the song of an ancient emerald sea, was her only reply.

The End

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