Kathryn reclined on her chaise longue, twirling an empty wineglass in her hand. She was giving serious thought to refilling it. For the fourth time.
Kurt was heavy on her mind, though he wasn't the only one. Seven, Sam, Alexander … each occupied her thoughts, their tangents winding and unwinding around each other in an endless circular pattern.
There was a lot Alexander hadn't told her, she knew, about Themis and his life prior. She therefore been forced to extrapolate his story from the bits and pieces he had revealed. The overall picture was disconcerting. She knew their relationship would have to deepen considerably over time before she got the answers for which she was so desperate.
She had the sense, almost a foreboding, that Alexander Harris knew far more about this universe and its nature than any ten Doctors or Seven of Nines. He had difficulty rationalizing the mechanics of that universe, its physical properties, but the esoterica, the concepts and rationales in which individuals spent entire lifetimes trying to comprehend, gave him no such trouble.
She wasn't a religious person. She had spent too many years reading and studying the religious wars of Earth and the millions of lives they had claimed. She was, however, spiritual. She absolutely believed that there was more to life that what could be seen and felt with her own hands, though her absolute trust in the scientific method was unshakeable. It was what led her to becoming an explorer.
She was a dichotomy, she knew, an intensely rational person who yet understood that science could not and would never be able to provide all the answers to the meanings of life.
She understood that Seven of Nine was experiencing what was essentially an existential crisis. The Borg philosophy might have been indoctrinated within her, but she had come to respect and even revere it. Now she was asking herself questions for which there were no answers, ones which could only be discovered within herself.
Alexander Harris had no such internal quagmires. He consumed information like a computer, but then correlated it with what he knew to be true and discarded the rest. The odd thing was that he didn't reject out of hand information that conflicted with his views; instead he examined it thoroughly and then made critical assessments.
The interesting thing was that said assessments were usually correct, specifically in terms of psychosocial phenomena and predictors of behavior. He was a social creature, though he had few friends onboard. He was deeply devoted to those he called such and that devotion was thoroughly returned. His relationships with Sam and B'Elanna were prime examples.
Alexander's relationships with women were surprising. Humans had not evolved to the point where misogyny was a foreign concept; instead, social conditioning had merely made it distasteful. Alexander, however, had no qualms about taking orders from a female. In fact, from her observations, he preferred it. He would argue with Chakotay and Tuvok, but never with her. He would question her, yes, but the end result was that he viewed her as his commanding officer.
That was also confusing. He had no military training, yet he was familiar with the terminology and pecking order. He respected it, which had surprised her. Most civilians, after being installed in what was essentially a military operation, began to rebel against its constraints. Yet he never did.
He trusted her, she knew, but only so far. She didn't believe there was anyone he trusted absolutely, not even Sam, a fact which made her sad. His life, she gathered, was a lonely one.
He was also a dichotomy. He was a jokester, a lover of black comedy always ready with a dark quip, and never hesitated to point out the obvious, facts which often flew over the heads of others. He downplayed his intelligence and often second-guessed his own thoughts and behavior, but never those of anyone else.
He could also be stubborn, obstinate, and vulgar, though he often managed to temper those impulses. She believed he had made a concerted effort to master this.
He was perhaps the most humane person she had ever met. His compassion was limitless. There were no lengths to which he wouldn't go for a friend. He had placed his personal safety on the line more than once to ensure the life of another crewmember.
Yet he was also hard and unyielding on certain matters. He didn't necessarily believe in allowing people to prove themselves. He didn't often grant second chances. He believed violence should be met with extreme prejudice. He had no quarrel with taking lives for the greater good of the mission … as long as he believed in said mission.
He was a stalwart soldier with no military training or psychological conditioning.
That was dangerous, a fact she always considered before giving him assignments. He was highly adaptable, like the Borg, but he was also extremely unpredictable. His weak spot was Sam, as everyone onboard knew. He wouldn't hesitate to exterminate anyone or anything that threatened his brother. If it ever came to that, she knew he would experience no guilt or remorse.
"Computer," she said, "locate Counselor Harris."
"Counselor Harris is in the Mess Hall with Lieutenant Torres."
She pursed her lips and sighed. That relationship was somewhat troubling.
Alexander and B'Elanna were as thick as thieves, a fact no one understood and often found frightening. It was true that Alexander brought out the best in B'Elanna: her brilliance; her fierce loyalty; her devotion to her staff and crew. She was a better and more compassionate person for his presence, more thoughtful and deliberate. She didn't appear to understand the fundamental changes he had brought about within her.
And it went both ways. Those instances in which Alexander experienced any kind of emotional crisis, he went first to B'Elanna, a fact which rattled many of the senior staff. B'Elanna was an incomparable woman, but often emotionally volatile.
Then again …
B'Elanna was at her best when counseling the Counselor, kind and understanding, gentle and calm.
If, as she suspected, Alexander had cultivated that relationship for that express purpose, he was indeed as diabolical as Seven had suggested.
That wasn't necessarily a bad thing.
He had insight, profound insight, into not only the human condition, but of life.
Whatever he had gone through, whatever had brought him to this moment, she was both grateful and anxious. Her crew was better for having him onboard and his contributions were immeasurable, but she couldn't help but think he was a powder keg whose explosion was not only eventual but would be terrifying in its totality.
There would be challenges to come. Sam was an incredibly handsome boy on the cusp of manhood who was attracting more than his share of attention, particularly from Icheb. Alexander didn't appear too worried, perhaps owing to the fact that Icheb was awkward and insecure, as were most adolescent males.
Some female members of the crew, however, were more predatory and desired to attach themselves to a gorgeous, impressionable young man who they believed could be trained. Kathryn was betting B'Elanna would intercede on Alexander's behalf when such occasions occurred, and she honestly thought it was for the best.
Sam was aware of his beauty but unencumbered by it. His looks were a part of him, but didn't define him. He was much more concerned with his intelligence and proving it, mostly to himself. All in all, he was a bright, attractive, well-grounded young man. She believed this was predominantly due to Alexander, though she was sure the boys' parents had played a fundamental role.
She knew the boys weren't genetically related, but their utter devotion to each other rendered that fact irrelevant. They had become a family by choice and those bonds were often the most impossible to break. She pitied the person who ever dared try.
"Have you talked to Seven?"
Xander raised a brow. "I've spoken a handful of words to her since I boarded. When I try to approach her, it's as though I'm holding a phaser to her head."
B'Elanna rolled her eyes, sympathetic toward them both. She truly believed her friend could help Seven with her myriad questions about humanity, but she had about as much interest in speaking with a counselor as Seven. If she and Xander hadn't become so close so quickly, she suspected she, like Seven, would go out of her way to avoid him.
He sighed. "Seven will deal with this in her own way, as she does everything else. If she needs direction, I'm the last person she'll approach."
B'Elanna gave an absent nod. "So what's really going on? I know you, Xander. You're worried, and it's a lot more than your usual default state of worrying."
He frowned. "I don't have a default state."
"Your default state is to confront problems, make jokes about them, do your best to help, and then run away to avoid any emotional fallout."
He flushed. "You don't know me," he pouted.
She smirked. "Hey, I'm the same way, so I get it." Her face became grave. "That's why I know this is different, that something is worrying you in a way I've never seen." She laid her hands over his. "That makes me worry."
He ducked his head and sighed again, more deeply and forlornly. He was silent for several pregnant moments, obviously debating internally what to tell her. He knew she wouldn't let it go without a fight and, honestly, he had no desire to alienate his sole confidante. He nervously licked his lips and opened his mouth.
Tom Paris then stormed in and eyed with anger their joined hands.
Xander immediately clammed up as B'Elanna gritted her teeth.
"So this is why you blew me off?" Tom demanded, glaring at Xander before his eyes found those of B'Elanna. "We had a date."
She blinked, obviously having forgotten, which only enraged Tom all the more.
Xander cringed and drew in himself as Tom predictably ranted and raved about their close relationship and its exact nature. When the insinuations began, an aspect he had never before verbalized, Xander and B'Elanna looked at each other and broke out in hysterical laughter.
"You think I'm being unfaithful to you?" she shrieked in mirth, wiping tears from her eyes. "With Xander?"
Xander frowned. "It's not that funny."
She whinnied. "Oh, really? Declan might not think so!"
Tom's brow furrowed. "Who's Declan?"
B'Elanna gave him an incredulous look. "Declan Mulcahey."
"Mulcahey! He works in Engineering."
"Oh! The pretty boy!"
"What does he have to do with anything?"
Her countenance relaxed into Resting Bitch Face as she gave a snort of disbelief.
Xander cleared his throat, still blushing. "We're seeing each other."
Tom gave an exaggerated blink and slowly panned toward him.
Xander grinned. "He is the hottest guy on Voyager."
"But … but you were engaged to a woman. Anya, right?"
Xander suppressed the grimace of pain threatening to erupt. "I'm versatile."
Now Tom frowned for an entirely different reason. "He is not the hottest!"
B'Elanna looked up at the ceiling, shaking her head.
Xander waved a dismissive hand and then turned to wink at B'Elanna. "Icheb is much too young for me."
She roared with laughter.
Tom went so far as to stomp his foot. "I'm the hottest!"
Xander became coy. "Well, of course you are, but you were already happily taken. If you hadn't been, believe me, I'd have had you on your back screaming for every god you could name five minutes after I boarded."
Another slow blink and Tom beamed, plopping down next to Xander and throwing an arm around the other man's shoulders. "So you're dating Pretty Boy but recognize my magnificence," he said smugly. "Let's talk more about that. What's my best feature?"
Xander released a pained groan and put his head in his hands. "I wish I could say it was your brooding silence."
B'Elanna laughed again.
Over the course of the next forty-five minutes, Tom asked Xander increasingly personal questions about his relationship with Mulcahey, rousing B'Elanna's ire until she was shouting at him. Xander played along with scant interest. After being interrogated by Cordelia Chase, he could say without compunction that Tom Paris was a total amateur.
When Tom's questions began shifting toward Xander's life before Voyager, that's when Xander called it a night, insisting he had to return to his cabin and check on Sam. He figured B'Elanna would punish Tom appropriately.
He entered the turbolift and nodded at Seven of Nine. "Good evening."
"Good evening, Counselor Harris," she returned after a long pause.
He refrained from asking once again that she address him by his first name. He knew the thought of it distressed her. She conducted herself in a ritualized manner which was both familiar and soothing to her, and she was already more than wary of him.
He stood aside her, though a good three paces away, content with the silence. Seven had never initiated conversation before and he doubted she would now.
Which was why he was very surprised when she did.
She cleared her throat. "Are you retiring for the evening?"
He nodded. "I've just experienced a very long and drawn-out conversation with Tom Paris and now feel the need to crawl into bed and pull the covers up over my head."
He was so stunned by her quip that he stared at her in confusion before bursting out laughing, heartened when he saw one corner of her mouth lift ever so slightly. It was so slight he almost missed it, but he didn't. He did know, however, to keep his observation to himself.
"I missed Sam," he confessed.
She turned and regarded him for several seconds. "You have great affection for him. You … love … him very much."
"He's my brother."
"You are not subunits of the same progenitors."
"Irrelevant," he said, more sharply than he intended. "There are two kinds of families, Seven: the one into which you are born and the one you make for yourself. I couldn't love Sam more than if he were my genetic sibling. That he's not makes no difference to me."
"He is … your Collective?" she asked.
He realized she was trying to make a connection, not necessarily with him, but with his experience and how it related to her own, to her confusion regarding Kurt.
"I can't reply without prefacing my answer with a question of my own." He paused. "Is this acceptable?"
She appeared to think on it and at last nodded.
"Do you conflate the notion of family with that of the Collective?"
Her lips pursed. "I am unsure," she finally said. "I do not recall a sufficient amount of data from my time with the Hansens to correlate the concepts."
"Acceptable," he said, knowing she detested him less when he employed her speech patterns. "In my admittedly limited knowledge of the Collective, you were of one mind with billions of Borg, correct?"
She nodded, curiosity lighting her eyes.
"My experience with Sam is similar but not equivalent. I have the ability to read his mind, to know his thoughts, but I choose not to because I respect his privacy, his individuality. However, there are moments when we look at each other and are of one mind, not due to assimilation or telepathy, but because of shared experiences, opinions, and worldviews.
"These moments come down to a deep knowing, an understanding of each other on a fundamental level. It takes work to get there. It's not easy. It can be frustrating, intimidating, and, on occasion, terrifying, but it's worth it. To know there is someone in the world who knows you so well, who can intuit your thoughts and feeling without being told, is a rare and precious gift."
He looked down. "If the Collective is being of one mind, family is being of one heart. I know that's more of an abstract answer than a concrete one, but it's the only one I have for you."
She dwelled on his words for the rest of their shared ride. When they reached her deck, she exited, turned toward him, and nodded.
"Thank you for you candor."
He nodded in reply. "Good night, Seven."
She turned on her heel and stalked away when the doors began to close. When they were, he closed his eyes and released a gentle sigh.