TITLE: Dinner with Icheb
AUTHOR: Sally, late 2001
SUMMARY: Naomi worries over dinner with a friend
DISCLAIMER: These characters do not belong to me, rather to Paramount. Rats!

"It's just dinner with Icheb," Naomi tried telling herself. "Just Icheb."

She wasn't sure if she was succeeding in reassuring herself. Four hours earlier, when he had called and invited her out to celebrate her graduation, it had all been so simple. He'd asked and she'd accepted immediately. She had been looking forward to seeing her friend again.

But those four hours had brought with them new emotions and fresh nerves. Suddenly it was no longer a casual meal with a friend she'd known all her life, but instead was a dinner with ICHEB! His name screamed at her in her mind with capital letters, scaring her with the intensity of the feelings it brought on.

Now, here she was, an hour before she was due to meet him and she had absolutely no clue what to wear. Her mother had been no help whatsoever. "Honey, it's just Icheb," Samantha had told her. "And he hasn't seen you in two years. It won't matter what you wear."

Naomi sighed, exasperated. Of course it mattered what she wore. She was no longer little Naomi Wildman of Voyager, assistant to Captain Janeway. No, now she was Ensign Wildman, a Star Fleet officer in her own right. She wore a uniform now, instead of those silly overalls her mother had dressed her in. She could wear that uniform she supposed but quickly dismissed that idea. They were friends having dinner together, not fellow officers.

Okay, so she'd narrowed it down to two choices eventually. Either the blue jeans and the white shirt or the blue velvet dress. The dress would definitely turn her heads, but would it turn Icheb's? Time was running out. Eventually she decided that casual dress would be the best option. Icheb hadn't specified a particular code of dress so it was better to play it safe. She let the shirt hang out over the pants, fastened a clip in her hair and hoped she looked okay.

It turned out that she had made the right choice. Icheb was standing outside the restaurant, dressed in black jeans and a black shirt. And, Naomi realised with a jolt, the viewscreen earlier hadn't done him justice at all when he'd called. The man was gorgeous.

She approached him, smiling, taking in the way his face lit up when he saw her. "Hi," she said warmly. "How are you?"

"Good. Yourself?"

"Not bad. Except I'm hungry."

He grinned at her. "Well, in that case I suggest we join the crowd heading in. What do you say?"

"Sounds like a plan." She looked around. "So many people." A wicked thought entered her mind. "How many of them attempted to pick you up while you were waiting for me?"

"A few," he laughed. "But I told them I was waiting for a certain young lady." He leaned in closer to her, as the noise from the restaurant's bar grew louder. "I was wrong though," he said into her ear. "I should have told them I was waiting for a beautiful young woman."

She blushed as she muttered her thanks. Compliments from Icheb were rare, although the frequency of them had increased as he'd regained his individuality. In truth, he had "adapted" far more than Seven of Nine had, or ever would. That was thanks, in part, to his peers; first at the Academy and secondly, on the vessel on which he was now serving.

"Well?" He smiled at her. "Shall we find a table?" His hand pressed gently on her back, encouraging her forward. Her heart jumped a little at his action, her mind racing back all those years ago to Voyager. Back then she had thought it romantic whenever Commander Chakotay had done that to Captain Janeway. And now Icheb was doing that to her.

They found themselves a booth along the back wall and spent a pleasant dinner making small talk and swapping stories. Later, as they lingered over drinks Icheb changed the conversation to one of a slightly more personal nature. "You have no idea how much I missed you," he told her.

"I missed you too," she replied. "I still can't get used to you not always being around, even after all this time."

"I know the feeling." He paused. "Did you receive your orders yet?"

She shook her head. "I've been told I should get them sometime this week."

"It would be nice if you got the Decatur."

She grinned at him. "Icheb the chance of that happening is a million to one, at least."

"I know the captain," he retorted.

"Icheb," she said in mock exasperation. "You're a lieutenant commander. I'd stand a better chance if you were the first officer or the captain, even."

"I'm working on it," he protested. "Give me time."

"Very well, Captain Icheb," she winked, leaning back in her seat. "I'll await your orders."

That was when she noticed Icheb beginning to shift uncomfortably. "How about we get out of here?" She began to edge her way out of the booth.

"I'm home for two week," he told her as they walked along the oceanfront. "I'd like to spend most of that time with you." He paused briefly. "If that's okay with you?"

Naomi didn't need to be asked. "I'd love that," she said excitedly.

"Great," he commented, his enthusiasm appearing to match hers. "Its crazy," he said. "Two weeks to catch up on two years."

"We could spend every waking moment together and maybe not get through it all," she added.

"It's been far too long."

"Well, someone's not the galaxy's greatest letter writer," she admonished him.

"I'm sorry," he apologised. "I began so many but I found that what I needed to say would be better said in person."

They had reached the end of the pathway and now found themselves on a bluff, able to watch the waves crash against the rocks below. The sun had now set and the light from the half moon scattered across the water. Naomi had a feeling that life was changing, that something was on the verge of happening but Icheb was going to need some encouraging. "What did you want to say?" she asked quietly.

He didn't directly answer her. "I can't believe how much you've changed in all the time I've known you," he said.

"Yeah," she laughed. "I no longer have to wear those awful overalls and run just to keep up with you."

He laughed with her. "Do you know there are still pictures on Voyager of us, the way we looked as kids."

"I can believe it," she remarked. "But Icheb. You were never a kid. To me, you were one of the grownups."

"I was sixteen, Naomi. Hardly grown up."

"Well, you were to me," she replied.

He shook his head in wonderment. "You're the one that's all grown up now," he said quietly. "I told you. You really are beautiful." He raised a hand and gently ran it down her cheek. "You about took my breath away when I saw you earlier."

"Since when did you become the smooth talker, Icheb?" She tried to find refuge in humour.

It failed. "Do not mock me, Naomi Wildman," he rebuked her, pulling his hand back.

She was immediately contrite. "I'm sorry, Icheb," she murmured, casting her eyes to the ground.

He turned away, groaning aloud as he did so. "All these years spent regaining my individuality and I still feel as confused as I did when Voyager rescued me."

"As defensive too," Naomi wanted to tell him. But she bit it back, knowing that it wasn't the right thing to be said at this time when there were so many more important things to be said. "I don't think anyone can be particularly certain at times like this. I know I don't."

He swung back towards her. "You've changed, Naomi, but so have I. We've both changed. What's between us has changed. Do you feel it?"

She smiled shyly at him, amazed at his eloquence. "I feel it, Icheb," she told him. "I felt it the moment you asked me to dinner. Even if it took me a couple of hours to accept it."

"And now?" he asked, full of apprehension.

"I've accepted it, Icheb." She smiled brightly. "And I'm thinking that if we've only got two weeks then I want to spend every single moment of them with you."

"I'd like that."

"Icheb," she said, reaching out to take his hand. "I'm still trying to get used to this. Yesterday, I still thought of you as a friend and nothing more."

"I understand. I too am uncertain as to how to proceed from here."

"Bet you still wish you had that cortical implant. The knowledge might have helped."

He laughed. "I don't know. It might have got pretty confusing with all the cultural ideas of all the different species the Borg assimilated."

"Then why don't we take each moment as it comes and deal with it then," she suggested.

"I like that plan."

"Good," she stated. She looked down at their joined hands and then back up at his face. "I'd like to take one moment and deal with it right now."

"What moment is that?" he asked, confused.

"The first kiss."