The sun tempts my irises and my lids peel back against their will, and once again I find myself alive. My eyes focus, the white hot needles of refulgence dissipating, and I gaze at the window, unwilling to move and face the other presence in the room. The dust particles drift to and fro, carried by the resplendent sunlight, forever captured in immortal drift, never landing, never ceasing. In sympathy, I blow gently, sending them scattering.

Something soft and plastic hits me in the head, and I immediately regret the resulting jerk of terror. Pain emanates up my spine, up my neck, and into my skull, and the dreadful warning of impending sickness resounds for only a moment, before I lean over and vomit. A stream of sticky orangeish yellow is all that comes out, for all that retching.

Once I regain a fracture of composure, I allow my eyes to slowly travel up. Her shoes are black and unscuffed, pants impeccable and elegantly creased, burgundy admirals jacket perfect in every sense of the word. She's staring at me, a brow peaked, eating half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

"Call me a traditionalist," she says, "But I'd have gone with a phaser to the head."

"I'm sorry, Kathryn," is all I can manage in a whisper cracked and frail.

The concurrent stir of emotions that it evoked in the other woman was utterly belied by her calm, impassive face. It was an impressive trait of trickery that she had learned from her best Vulcan friend, but was employed only in the most dire of circumstances, though had come into play more than she'd have liked in these last few weeks.

No words could be found to describe the pang in her chest, her heart pounding furiously against her ribcage, the dread that nearly consumed her whole when she first found Seven laying face down on the floor in a halo of blood. She had turned her over, her intestines spilling out of the gaping hole in her abdomen, and nearly vomited then.

But she held it in, like she held everything in. It was a miracle she had lived, probably fueled by the discomfort caused by Janeway's foot up Starfleet Medical's ass, but in the end, she had. It was a mixture of anger, hatred, relief, and love that mulled in her chest and she contemplated them, still unwilling to give in, still gazing at Seven.

The other half of the sandwich that had so rudely connected with my head is on the sheets beside me, and I unwrap it and take a bite, if only to get rid of the astringent taste of vomit. I chew it slowly, spreading the sweetness through every crevice of my mouth, before swallowing with difficulty.

Kathryn stands up and moves to the window, gazing out of it at the grounds below.

"You're an asshole, Seven," she says, blinking furiously, leaning down on the sill, her head in her hands. A strangled sound, muffled and uninvited, precedes shudders as she finally gives into the tears.

I feel terrible, but oddly elated at feeling something at all.

She moves from the window and sits on the edge of my bed, her eyes dark with tears.

"I had a dog, when I was a kid. He was a stray, and I forced my parents to take him in. I loved him so much, but he hated me. He'd bite me all the time, but I couldn't bear to get rid of him," she says in a strained husk, "And you're like that dog, Seven. You hurt me, but I can't stop loving you. You choose Chakotay, of all people, CHAKOTAY, and then you try to kill yourself in quite possibly the most gruesome way ever."

"Kathryn…"

"Shut up, Seven." she says, glaring at me but at the same time she lays down next to me, wrapping her arms around me and crying into my neck.

YEARS LATER...

The lush green leaves shudder in delight as the cool Indiana breeze licks at them; the air is sweet but tinged with the seemingly ever-present essence of cow pâté, and the hum of hovo-tractors off in the distance drearily drifts past my ears. It is the country –traditionalist fare. They grow food in gardens and fields, and there are throngs of ancient trees that thrust into the wide-open empty spaces, and it is utterly beautiful.

San-Francisco is an industrial hulking villain, vile and ugly, always alive with a malignant energy. It is everything that Indiana is not, and being here, at her mother's house, I wonder what was going through Kathryn's young mind when she decided to leave this veritable paradise and venture off into cold, unknown space.

This is the very essence of Earth.

And it is now, as I sit here and listen to my wife laughing with her mother, I am happy.

And it is now, with this fetus holding court in my gut, that I am happy.

And it is now that I am most grateful to be alive.