Disclaimer: Star Trek Voyager belongs to Paramount, not me, no infringement intended.

* * * * *

"Seven, could you love me?" A stupid question, having established that love was confusing to her. But he had to ask.

She looked at him a moment before speaking. Then came the honest reply.

* * * * *

"I do not know."

Well. There it was. She was confused, but she still meant no...didn't she? She usually said what she meant. But she certainly hadn't said yes. He did not know what to feel either. But really, did he expect it could turn out any differently? At least she had been kind. It could have been so very much worse. She could have said a flat out no, or his worst imaginings could have come true. And he had learned more about her and himself. He nodded, and tried to smile at her and think of something to say, but failed miserably. He turned and looked at the the ever-changing moonlight on the river, wondering what to do now. Without me, her world will go on turning...

Her voice interrupted his reflections. Apparently still pondering whether he could be a suitable mate, she began to list aloud his attributes as she walked in and out of the window light.

"You are a talented doctor. You are kind, gentle, loyal, and heroic. You seek to improve yourself. You give your best to everything you attempt. You can be witty. You are efficient..."

Was she really considering...? Amid a constricting anxiety, his hope flared up and burned brightly.

"...and your physical parameters are acceptable."

He started to smile. She didn't even mention his lack of hair!

Then she began to list his shortcomings.

"You are also, as you stated, pompous and paranoid. You can be overzealous, egotistical, and impatient. At times you are annoying, and you engage in irrelevant behaviors such as daydreaming. You crave attention. You..."

The Doctor interrupted, miffed. "Well excuse me, but might I point out that you can be bitter, arrogant, tactless, pushy, and anal-retentive," he asserted, giving her a chastising look.

She was unaffected, except for the amusement clearly playing on her face. "I left your honesty off the list, an attribute that is very important to me."

He smiled a crooked smile in spite of himself, and said, "That one belongs on your list, too."

Her voice grew softer, and she asked, "And you love me regardless of these flaws?"

"Yes, Seven," he said gently, moving closer to her and gazing in her eyes. "Love hides a multitude of sins, and you have so many more wonderful qualities. You are easy to love. To me you are..." What was the best compliment one could give an ex-Borg? "Perfection."

At that, vulnerability took over her expression, and her voice.

"Then I am willing to try."

Boing! went his holographic heart. He was not sure she meant what he wanted to believe she meant. He moved closer to her, and held her hands again. "You are willing to try...a romantic relationship with me?"

She seemed to be performing calculations in her head. "Yes," she concluded, holding his hands firmly, her voice low, but certain-sounding. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever heard; no music he had ever encountered had sounded so sweet. The Doctor felt light-headed, although he wasn't programmed to feel such things, and he smiled a genuine, happy, relieved smile. Seven's intense, lovely face told him that she was experiencing a myriad of new emotions.

Each gazed at the other for a quiet moment, contemplating the new understanding between them. A bittersweet melody drifted out from Sandrine's.

"I have been experiencing an unfamiliar emotion lately when I am near you," Seven confessed almost in a whisper. "It may be a form of love. I was reluctant to tell you before, but it seems appropriate now."

"I look forward to diagnosing it," the Doctor said softly.

"I do not believe it is a disease," Seven replied. "Although I have been suspicious."

The Doctor smiled from ear to ear. He was sure he must look goofy, but he couldn't stop. He told her in zealous happiness, "Seven, you'll see. It will be wonderful!"

"It should be quite an adventure," she said, somewhat drily.

"We will be good for each other," he continued. "Individuals, together...I want to make you happy, Seven. I..."

"I have changed my mind."

He blinked with surprise. He grasped her hands tighter. Something in him knotted, and his brows came together in worry. "Already!?" he choked out.

The corners of her mouth smiled their barely-there smile. "My social lessons, Doctor. I said I would not be needing more. I have changed my mind. I believe I will need more dancing lessons...more dating etiquette..." She cocked her head to one side. "Perhaps a lesson in kissing."

He smiled again, relieved he had misunderstood. "I'll teach you anything you want to know," he said breathlessly. He was sure she could teach him a few things. Her face in the window glow was serenely radiant. He looked at her lips. He had always thought they were an absolutely perfect shape, and that dimple under them in her chin somehow made them all the more sensual. And now his dream of kissing them was going to come true.

She looked expectant, but he was struck with nervousness. So instead he asked, "Seven, will you dance with me again?" She nodded. He turned to open his medkit, which was sitting on the bench. "Let's take care of you first, just in case." He took out the hypospray and gave her her injection. Then he took her by the hand and led her into Sandrine's.

"Ah, monseiur et mademoiselle, Bon Soir!" the bartender called out to them. "I zee zhou ave finally decided to come een, n'est-ce pas? We ave been watching zhou lovers out zee weendow for zome time now, ooh la la!" From a corner came giggles.

The Doctor rolled his eyes. "Computer, delete characters." If he ever wanted to be alone with Seven, it was now. They walked to the empty dance floor and he ordered the computer to play a waltz.

Seven assumed the dance position he had taught her, standing slightly away from him, one hand in his and one hand on his shoulder. They danced the waltz this way, as they had before, but it seemed to both as if they were doing it for the first time. Once the waltz ended, the Doctor ordered a very slow song. But this time he put the hand in his on his chest, put his arm tighter around her back, and drew her much closer to him. He felt her tremble as they made full contact. The fabric of her dress was as soft under his hands as he had imagined! He put his head against hers, closed his eyes, and started to move slowly. He reveled in the sensation of holding her: her back warm underneath the soft material, her breasts pressing gently into his chest, her thigh touching his as they danced. He hummed the song that was playing softly in her ear.

He had to draw back slightly before the song was over; he wanted to look at her, hoped she was enjoying this as much as he was. He was utterly delighted when he saw her expression, a new one of enchantment, and knew it was so.

They had never been so physically close to each other before, not even when he had comforted her in Sickbay. The dancing slowed to a stop as they hesitated, noses millimeters apart, wanting to breach the gap, both nervous. The Doctor touched her face with one hand, and then held it there as he let himself do what he had wanted to do for so long, and brought his lips down on hers, slowly.

I am kissing Seven of Nine, he thought incredulously. But he had known it would be just like this. Her lips were soft and sweet and expressive against his, and the moment magic and tremulous, as when he had imagined kissing her all those thousands of times.

It was just a gentle, nervous, experimental kiss. But the experiment worked. Bittersweet joy tore at them as each responded to the other with a kiss full of the pent-up passion of lonely individuals suddenly discovering one another, misguided emotions finally finding the right target, guarded hearts opening at the very beginning of love.

When they finally parted they studied each other for an endless moment, sorting out what they had been to each other over the years. Fellow crewmembers, doctor/patient, teacher/student, friends...lovers. Then Seven spoke in a whisper, going with the logic of the latest role.

"Do we engage in sexual activities now?"

The Doctor's first impulse was to scream yes, a resounding yes, and throw her on the piano while ripping off the dress. He wickedly wondered if his programming would allow him to multitask...he could just see himself playing a rousing tune and ravishing her at the same time.

But of course, it would have to wait. He knew she needed time, even if she didn't know. He had harbored secret fears for her, wondering if her first experiences would be gratifying, or if whoever she chose to be with would be in it only for themselves. The Doctor was sure the ship was crawling with shallow crewmen who would pay attention only to what pleasure they could derive from her voluptuous body, and having no clue about relating to the woman inside it. He was so very thankful she had chosen to be with him; again there was the irony of a hologram helping her be human, but he would make sure that this next step in regaining her humanity was all it should be. After all, he knew, no one loved her like he did.

So he answered her softly, "I do want to, but no, not yet, Seven. We should take it slowly. Like dancing...first we become comfortable with all the steps, and then we waltz."

She looked somewhat disappointed, but slowly nodded assent, looking at him still with a wonder in her blue eyes that he had never seen before. He gazed at her with intensity in his brown ones, hoping the memory of her face at this moment was never, ever erased from his program.

But then, something playful yet commanding came over her. She took a step away from him.

"Computer, delete the EMH's jacket."

His jacket disappeared.

"Seven, why did you do that?"

"I wish to undress you."

The Doctor's eyebrows flew up.

"Computer, delete EMH footwear."

The Doctor stood barefoot and jacketless. "Seven, if it weren't for my acute modesty I might be able to enjoy your game, but I really don't think I'm ready for this..."

"I do not intend to do anything, Doctor. I am merely curious. Computer, delete EMH shirt."

There was that curiousity again. He would have to tell her the one about killing the cat! He crossed his arms over his bare chest, getting flustered and embarrassed. "Seven...!"

"I promise I will stop after one more deletion. Computer, delete EMH pants."

This left him standing in nothing but a pair of boxer shorts. He knew she was going to see him like this eventually, but this wasn't how he had intended it to happen!

If this were anyone else, he would have lost it. But he couldn't really be angry at her. Especially since she actually looked as if she were enjoying herself. A little embarrassment on his part was worth that. Even when she looked at the boxers and smiled a small but genuine smile.

"I hope the physical parameters Lewis Zimmerman gave me are acceptable," he sighed.

She came back to him and kissed him. Well, I *must* still be acceptable, he thought happily. Watching Seven of Nine actually walking up to him and feeling her plant those petulant, full lips on his made him feel like his matrix might implode. She ran her hand over his chest, and he felt his modesty going out Sandrine's window. And why not? No one else was there, even holocharacters, and Seven obviously wanted to experiment. Again he felt the wild relief that she was doing this with him and not someone else. Another dream come true. As he before had to tell himself he was kissing Seven of Nine to believe it, it was now quite incomprehensible that he was half-naked while she was kissing him. He just wouldn't let the experimentation go too far, not yet. If he could help it, which at this moment was debatable.

She pressed herself into his now-exposed self again, every curve from legs to head, to feel the reaction. She got one. He kissed her deeply, held her tightly to him with one arm while running his fingers through her hair. She ran her hands over his body, learning what it was like to do so. He discovered that her hands, always agile on a console, were just as agile when giving caresses. He was overwhelmed with the sensations...her breath coming a little faster, that gold hair soft and flowy in his hand, her heart beating through her breast to his chest, her tongue beginning to gently flicker over his own. The Doctor wished it could be like this forever...forget medicine, music, everything. There was nothing, nothing but her, always.

Zzzt.

The noise intruded on the passionate moment. Seven jumped back.

Zzzt.

The Doctor looked down, seeing himself waver and then solidify again. Seven stated the obvious.

"Doctor, your program is destabilizing. We must have entered the last, and worst, of the radiation."

Damn, he was hoping he would last all the way through. He quickly gave Seven instructions as Sandrine's began to blip out, too. "I have to deactivate myself immediately. Get my medkit; there's another hypospray for you in it, but you'll have to inject yourself. It should last until we're through the nebula. You'll be on your own again, Seven -"

"I will be fine."

" - but remember..." he paused - "I love you." It was so wonderful to be able to tell her, even if she didn't respond in kind, even though at the words her face still showed confusion and a certain hesitation at the idea. It was just that so much had happened in so short a time; they had gone emotional light years in hours. But she would learn to sort out her feelings and to love him as he loved her, he was sure of it.

"Computer, deactivate EMH."

He disappeared, and Sandrine's went with him. Seven held out her hand and the Doctor's mobile emitter fell neatly into it.

She held it as if it were a rare jewel. Then, as she looked at it, it changed shape in her hand and became a silver heart.

"I am hallucinating," she said to the holodeck grid. But she continued to stare another moment in amazement at the first pleasant hallucination she had ever had. The amazement blended into an emotional kaleidescope. The affection...love...in the Doctor's words echoed in her head, and the feel of his kiss still lingered. To me you are...perfection.

Her hand closed over the heart protectively. She picked up the medkit and strode out of the holodeck to complete her mission, efficiently as always, fearlessly.

* * * * *

"How are you doing with getting the Doctor back online?"

Janeway asked B'Elanna the question between sips of coffee. How she ever survived a week without coffee, even in stasis, was beyond her. She took a larger sip, making up for lost time.

"Almost there, Captain."

The doors whooshed open, admitting Tom and Seven to the room. B'Elanna paused in her work long enough to smile at her flyboy, who asked her, "Is the Doc back yet?"

"I'm working on him."

Tom looked over B'Elanna's shoulder at her console. "I can't wait to hear what my Sickbay duties are this week," Tom snorted. "I'm sure while we were snoozing he was dreaming up a list for me a mile long."

"I came to see if you require my assistance," Seven informed B'Elanna and the Captain, ignoring Tom.

"Thank you, but I think B'Elanna has got it under control." Janeway smiled a warm, proud smile at Seven. "I want to commend you again, Seven, for your exemplary performance of duty. The ship and crew were in your care, entirely for the last day, and all came through once again with flying colors."

"Thank you, Captain."

"I'm bringing the Doctor back online," B'Elanna announced.

There was a brief flickering, but then he was there...in his boxer shorts, and nothing more.

Janeway's coffee mug froze halfway to her mouth. B'Elanna gaped. Tom outright guffawed. And Seven's eyes became very, very wide.

"Please state the nature of the medical emergency." The Doctor noticed the reactions in the room just as his memory subroutines kicked in. "Seven?" He said, looking at her, then quickly looked in horror down at himself, and emitted a startled yelp.

"AAAEEEKKK!!! DEACTIVATE EMH!" he yelled, and blipped out once more.

"I brought him back as he was when he was deactivated, Captain," B'Elanna managed to get out, starting to choke on her suppressed laughter.

As this sank in, all eyes turned slowly to Seven. She did not say anything, but began to resemble the old Earth device called a thermometer, her blood clearly showing through her pale skin as it crept up her neck to her face.

So much for no rumors.

"B'Elanna, Tom...I would like to speak with Seven alone, please."

"Yes, ma'am," Tom answered, and he and B'Elanna exited the room as fast as possible. They could be heard dissolving into fits of riotous giggling in the corridor before the doors had even closed.

Janeway was valiantly keeping her own laughter under control. "Seven, is there something you'd like to talk to me about?"

Seven was still red. She did not look at Janeway. "No."

The Captain tried to phrase it, carefully, another way. "I am not trying to pry, Seven, but as Captain I need to know what's going on with my crew." She paused. No response. She went for gentle bluntness. "Did something happen between you and the Doctor, Seven?"

Seven suddenly looked calm and in control again. She turned to Janeway, looked her in the eye, and boldly replied, "Not nearly enough, Captain."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Not nearly enough happened between me and the Doctor, Captain. But I trust there will be another opportunity."

There was silence as Janeway opened her mouth and shut it again, wordlessly. She turned away and rubbed her hand over her face, trying to wipe away the smile that threatened to break out.

When she regained a measure of captainlike decorum, she turned back around. "Well...since you are apparently responsible for his state of undress, I will leave you to the task of putting him back in his uniform." Seven nodded coolly.

Janeway made for the door, but turned around just before leaving. "Oh, and Seven...I trust you remember Michael Sullivan, from the Fair Haven program?" Seven nodded. Janeway continued, understandingly. "If you ever need to talk to someone about relationships with holograms, please don't hesitate to come to me."

"Thank you, Captain."

The doors closed behind Janeway and she leaned against the corridor wall, finally able to grin from ear to ear. Seven and the Doctor. Who would have imagined. She chuckled. The influence of that nebula must have been greater than they knew. And she had to sleep through it! What a shame. Ah, things should really get interesting on this ship now.

She thought of Michael. Maybe it was time to visit Fair Haven again.

Seven took a deep breath and began restoring the Doctor to his original appearance. Being of course efficient and productive, it did not take her long, and she soon brought him back online.

"Please state the nature of the..." The memory subroutines kicked in again, and the Doctor looked at himself and around the room all at once in a panic. He sighed in relief at seeing himself in his uniform and no one else but Seven.

He gave Seven a why do these things always happen to me? look. "Please tell me there is a problem with my memory subroutines, and I didn't just flash the Captain and B'Elanna and Tom!"

"Your memory subroutines are working perfectly."

He groaned. "Wonderful. I'm sure the tale is halfway across the ship by now." He suspected from her face that something had been said regarding the two of them as well. "Not to mention rumors about...us," he said gingerly.

She cut her eyes away from him. "I apologize, Doctor. It was my fault. I acted foolishly."

He stepped forward a bit and tried to correct her assessment of her behavior in his mentor voice. "You were being playful, Seven, and experimenting with sexuality. Such behavior is an important part of exploring your humanity." He gave her a half-smile. "I didn't mind it when we were alone. Maybe we could do it again sometime."

She did not respond. Her eyes still were turned away from his. He started to worry at her uncomfortableness. He had hoped she might come to him, but she remained behind the console, as if needing a barrier between them. The nebula experience had been out of the ordinary, the holodeck magical. Now that they were back to everyday life on Voyager, was she regretting everything that had happened? A fear of losing her, if he could even say he ever really had her, tightened around his matrix.

She finally looked at him, her jaw set. He felt as if someone had put his program on pause. He was sure she was about to say what she didn't on the holodeck, that it was a mistake, there was no possible way she could have a relationship with him, and why would he ever think she could? Maybe she had merely toyed with him as if he were a holographic doll. It always seemed to happen this way. Every time he thought he could have something meaningful with anyone, it turned out he was deluding himself. He felt the ache well up within him. She finally spoke.

"I have decided..." she paused. He set his mouth together in a thin line of disappointment and looked away. "I have decided that what others think is irrelevant," she stated. "The only relevancy is between you and I."

The Doctor looked back at her. Her cool blue eyes regarded him with determination, lips parted just slightly as she waited for his response. She would never cease to amaze him, and he loved her all the more for it. A deep, sweet joy wrapped itself around him, a feeling she gave him like a fan letter, a gift. "I think you're absolutely right, Seven."

She stepped out from behind the console and walked slowly towards him, opening her hand to reveal his mobile emitter. She looked at it strangely for a brief second before attaching it to his arm.

"I require nutritional supplements. Accompany me to the mess hall," she commanded.

"As you wish," he replied, thinking he would accompany her anywhere. "And then I will accompany you to the Cargo Bay. You need to regenerate; Doctor's orders." He wagged a finger at her.

"As you wish."

He offered her his arm and she took it. They left, for whatever other adventures might lie ahead, together.

END