Author's Note: (11/00) This is an ensemble story (mostly), set after the events of "Collective," but before "Imperfection," except for one canon addition that could have been happening prior to "Imperfection." This story provides resolution about the Borg infant Seven rescued in "Collective." For anyone who may be familiar, you may recognize several nods to the "Talking Stick/Circle" series. My friends, you haven't read Voyager fanfic until you've read these stories. He-d' ho! Written in September, 2000. Rated PG.

Thanks, as always, to DangerMom and to Brenda Shaffer-Shiring, Mighty Editor Goddess.

By and By
by DianeB

Seven named the baby Rose Erin.

Several crewmembers knew that Erin had been her mother's given name, but only the Doctor knew the deeper meaning behind Rose.

He had presented Seven (the real Seven, not the holographic one) with a bouquet of tight red buds after his humbling experience with the Qomarians and she presented him with her "fan mail." At the time, he was careful to keep his facial-feature subroutines from betraying his true feelings for her, the same as he had done when she gave him the upgraded medical tricorder.

Her response had been to dryly state the proper Latin name for the species of rose in the bouquet, lift them briefly to her nose, raise her vivid blue eyes to him and politely, if not a little stiffly, say, "Thank you, Doctor." It convinced him never to divulge his feelings to her.

That his gesture might have affected her more than he had originally thought was brought home when he heard through Tom Paris what she had done. Though it was against Starfleet regulations, he went ahead and entered the infant's name into the official ship's records, including the fact that it was Seven-of-Nine who had named her. He also gave her Seven's Human surname, Hansen, just because he could.

Like any of it would make much difference when Voyager sailed back into Federation space and Starfleet brass got hold of them.

oOo oOo oOo

Not surprisingly, it didn't take more than a few days for the crew to become thoroughly enamored of the baby. While Janeway had been working on identifying the races and home planets of all the Borg children, she had been unsuccessful so far with the twins and with Rose. With the chance that Rose might become a permanent member of the Voyager community, the crew stepped up their displays of affection and their plans for her future. People were seen entering Sickbay on a regular basis, bringing gifts or simply spending time visiting. Sam Wildman created a rotating baby-sitting schedule for the day when she would be healthy enough to leave Sickbay. Even Naomi was trying her hand at knitting, thanks to the captain's patient instruction.

Rose Erin was shaping up to be quite the ship's darling.

oOo oOo oOo

"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
You make me happy when skies are gray.
You'll never know, dear, how much I love you.
Please don't take my sunshine away."

Seven's sweet, perfect voice filled the empty room, enhanced now with the emotions the Doctor had taught her. The baby gurgled and smiled, waving her little arms in the air. Leaning over the biocrib, Seven gently brushed her thumb over the infant's forehead and ocular implant, amazed that something so fragile could continue against all odds to survive.

Her thoughts went briefly to One, and she immediately felt an uncomfortable ache in her throat. Tears filled her eyes and blurred her vision, but she refused to allow the tears to fall.

As uncharacteristic as it was for Seven to cry, what she did next was undoubtedly more so. She captured a tiny fist in her hand and tenderly pressed her lips to it.

oOo oOo oOo

As they stood next to the crib, watching the baby, Tom teased his lover. "So, whaddaya think? Should we have one of our own?" He placed his palm against B'Elanna's flat belly, and she immediately brushed it away in mock annoyance. It was obvious they had played this game before. In fact, they had been talking on and off for a number of weeks about maybe getting pregnant and had even gone so far as to mention it to Chakotay, but it had never gone beyond the talking stage. Tom was content to tease B'Elanna until she was ready to get serious, but what he did not know was that the presence of Rose Erin was raising potent desires within her. Desires she was ready to fulfill.

B'Elanna looked down at the baby and then back up into Tom's sky-blue eyes. With very careful precision, she took his hand and guided it back to her abdomen. "Yes, we should."

oOo oOo oOo

Chakotay never thought of himself as any kind of holy man – or even as much of an Indian at all, especially as the years in the Delta Quadrant continued to add up. But he was ambushed one afternoon by his animal guide, who had appeared quite literally out of the blue while he was studying a new plasma conduit design at one of the consoles in Engineering.

Sitting on the railing that surrounded the warp core, tail draped artfully over her front paws, looking for all the world like she belonged there even though she was way too big, she said without fanfare that the baby needed a blessing. Then she faded into the core without giving him a chance to sputter any kind of a response, much less a refusal. She was like that.

So here he was, sitting cross-legged on a biobed pushed up next to the crib, surrounded by all manner of toys and brightly-colored padds. The contents of his medicine bundle were spread out in front of him and he was chanting in low tones. The lighting was dim, and tribal drums and flutes played in the background. The spirits of his ancestors danced in costumed splendor between the heartbeat of the notes.

The she-wolf was present, but she did not reveal herself, satisfied this once to merely observe with approval.

oOo oOo oOo

Janeway came to Sickbay late one evening, about a week after her first encounter with the baby. The Doctor, instead of slipping into his office as he did when others came by, wisely deactivated himself. He figured she'd call if she needed him.

Janeway lifted Rose into her arms and began to stroll around Sickbay, bouncing her gently and reciting:

"There's a quaint little place they call Lullaby Town—
It's just back of those hills where the sunsets go down.
Its streets are of silver, its buildings of gold,
And its palaces dazzling things to behold;
There are dozens of spires, housing musical chimes;
Its people are folk from the nursery rhymes,
And at night it's alight, like a garden of gleams,
With fairies, who bring the most wonderful dreams."

Janeway stopped walking but continued to sway back and forth, her gray eyes glued to the baby, who had fallen asleep in her arms. She brought the child in close to her chest and held her there a moment, remembering the pathogen and very thankful she had not had to use it.

"Sweet dreams, little one."

oOo oOo oOo

Mezoti, Icheb, Azan, Rebi, and Naomi stood circling the crib. Icheb looked perturbed at having to be away from Astrometrics, but Naomi and Mezoti, who had fetched him from the lab, knew it was mostly an act. He might have been upset over leaving Astrometrics in the middle of the day, but he was just as pleased as they were at being given an opportunity to spend time with Rose. The twins never said much and weren't saying much now, but it was clear they wanted to see firsthand how the baby was doing.

Mezoti handed Icheb the bright yellow padd she had been holding. "Your turn." Icheb took the padd and began to read:

"I would not, could not, in a box.
I could not, would not, with a fox.
I will not eat them with a mouse.
I will not eat them in a house.
I will not eat them here or there.
I will not eat them anywhere.
I do not eat green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-Am."

He handed the padd to Naomi so she could continue the story. She took it from him but couldn't keep a straight face. Icheb had delivered the silly verse with deadly seriousness, and the incongruity of it was not lost on Naomi Wildman. She managed to get one line read before tossing the padd to Rebi and dissolving into a heap of giggles on the floor.

Mezoti tried her best to resist succumbing to the infectious laughter; she was Borg, after all. Of course, she could not, for she was no longer that Borg, and Naomi's unfettered laughter stirred a giddiness in her that her interrupted assimilation had not had time to eliminate. Icheb stood stoic, not quite getting the joke. Rebi and Azan managed small, identical smiles, but story-telling time had to be put on hold until the girls could get themselves together again.

They went through three Dr. Seuss books in this fashion, including the occasional giggle. Anyone watching would have wondered how they could stay so focused on this task yet still be unable to sit through even half of a talent show.

oOo oOo oOo

Lower decks crewmembers were also seen in Sickbay. Jenny and Megan Delaney, identically clad in one of their less-flamboyant Captain Proton getups, brought a huge bag of stuffed animals of all species, which they gleefully packed around the edges of the crib. They decorated the rest of Sickbay with the ones that wouldn't fit.

Celes, Gerron, and Tabor, all Bajoran, brought an earring Gerron had designed. It was made of a shimmering copper-colored metal Tabor had purchased during Voyager's stop at the Markonian outpost. Besides the ear cuff and the small ball earring itself, delicate chains held three discs. One was etched with a swirling galaxy, another with the image of the wormhole at Deep Space Nine, and on the third was the unmistakable outline of Voyager herself. It was beautiful. They did not put it on the baby, but hooked it carefully onto one corner of the biocrib, so that the shimmering chains could swing free. Celes read from a Bajoran book of the Prophets, a psalm for a growing child.

The Bolian, Chell, with his bright blue face, didn't have to do anything more than appear over the edge of Rose's crib for her to erupt into a full-throated baby belly laugh.

Carey and Ayala came separately, but what they did was exactly the same. They sat by the crib, humming tunelessly, every once in a while reaching in to cup a little head or rub a little tummy.

oOo oOo oOo

When Rose took a bad turn three weeks into her stay, it threw everyone for a loop. They were all so ready to accept this baby into their lives that the idea she might die was almost incomprehensible.

The Doctor had done his best, utilizing all the medical software at his disposal, but even after another week, he was still unable to do much more than ease Rose's respiratory distress. Aside from the fact that they did not know the infant's species, they were also hindered by the fact that they knew so little about how neo-natal drones came to be in the first place. The Doctor had several theories, all rather gruesome, and it was likely the Borg did not hesitate to assimilate newborns, but nothing was known for certain.

Seven not only dug through the information they had downloaded from Voyager's many encounters with the Borg, but also through her own faded memory of her time as Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero One. All to no avail. The cybernetic race kept this information well hidden, as well they would, all things considered. She searched for hours without a break, and still came up with nothing more than the Borg equivalent of an operating manual for the maturation chambers themselves. While that might have been a starting point if they had had a working chamber, it did them no good now. Defeated, Seven returned to Sickbay to see how Rose was doing.

oOo oOo oOo

Rose was not doing well. As the days continued to pass, the Doctor was less able to do anything for her. She became jaundiced and lethargic, and she developed sores around her implants that were resistant to any medical treatment the Doctor tried. He had long since cleared the toys from around her and they now sat piled on a cart in the corner, looking as forlorn as he felt. He stood over the crib, little yellow fingers curled over his index finger, stroking them gently with his thumb. He was alone in Sickbay, having decreed that Rose should have no more visitors.

"Doctor?" He started at the sound of Seven's voice. He had not heard her enter, and it upset him, but he deleted his annoyance. If anyone was allowed to disobey his decree, it was Seven-of-Nine.

She moved to stand beside him, looking into the crib. "She is dying." There were still a few on board who would have been appalled at Seven's apparent lack of feeling, but the Doctor knew otherwise. He also knew he did not have to mince words with Seven, a distinct relief.


Her eyes never left the baby. "There is…" and here her humanity ruthlessly manifested itself. She paused, not as if searching for the perfect word as she had done during the first year of her life aboard Voyager, but because her voice audibly cracked, a desolate sound that spiraled down into a whispered word, "…nothing…you can do." But that was as much as she would give her humanity. Her eyes remained dry.

"I'm sorry." In that moment, Rose Erin passed quietly into the ether, her tiny hand still wrapped around the Doctor's finger.

oOo oOo oOo

Absolutely no one could stand the thought of releasing the baby to the cold void of space, and neither could they stomach the idea of keeping her body in stasis in Sickbay for the next thirty years. So they fell back on an old-fashioned expression of mourning, borne of an aching need to lay a child to rest in peace.

At the very next advanced M-class planet they came upon, Captain Janeway made immediate arrangements with the local government to inter the baby. They were given a remote spot on a hill overlooking a sparkling blue-green ocean. There was no way to know, of course, if this planet in any way resembled Rose's home world. It was close enough, however, to stir fond memories in many of Voyager's mostly-Human crew. This was enough for the crew to decide as a whole that the planet was perfect.

Janeway did not take the uncomplicated route in carrying out this task. In her familiar, gravelly voice, she issued the command, "Blue Alert," and Tom Paris set the big ship down on the vast expanse of meadow beside the gravesite. They would do the rest without technology.

A tiny casket had already been replicated, and Rose was tenderly placed in it, wrapped in Naomi Wildman's knitted pink blanket. The Bajoran earring and a few of her toys were also included, but for the most part the toys and colored padds were returned to the replicator to be recycled into something with less painful connotations.

All in all, it was a very solemn event, brief and deeply heartfelt. Most of the crew managed to stay dry-eyed, not necessarily for the sake of the Borg children and Naomi, but because they had already cried enough. The breaking point came just at the close of the service. Even Tuvok and Vorik were seen to shift uncomfortably, as if struggling to prevent an external emotional display. Despite the profound shame it would have caused the two Vulcans, no one would have blamed them if they had shed a few tears.

Joe Carey brought out a guitar and began to softly pick the strings. Sue Nicoletti stood beside him, and in a unexpectedly clear, soprano voice, began to sing:

"Will the circle be unbroken,
By and by, Lord, by and by.
There's a better home awaiting,
In the sky, Lord, in the sky."

oOo oOo oOo

As the crew made its way slowly back to the ship, Tom and B'Elanna had time to reflect on an unbroken circle.

The circle of Voyager.

Tom again placed his hand on B'Elanna's abdomen. She covered it with her own and they continued walking, arm-in-arm now, tightly together, sharing a secret smile.

The day before they had arrived at this planet, Captain Janeway had given her consent: They would be allowed to purposely start a family on Voyager. With the Doctor's help, a bit of luck, and nine months or so, Sickbay would once again be filled with the sound of a baby's laughter and brightly-colored padds.