Everyone:

Sorry it's taken me so long to post the end of this story! I'm reposting the next to last part along with the end. Hope you enjoy.

Traci

* * * * *

When I awoke, I wished I had not. The Doctor was injecting a local anesthetic near my wound. An ache in my joints had joined the list of symptoms, all of which were still present. I began to entertain the idea that deactivation was preferable to anguish.

I turned my head to view the procedure. I immediately regretted the action. The bright light shining on the area produced a burning in my retina. Everywhere else was dark. My side furthest from the light was cold. The side closest to the light was hot. Moving caused additional pain. In the midst of it I retained a dull, stupefied sensation. I was now too lethargic to deplore my extreme weakness. Or to fear.

The Doctor looked to me, when I moved. "I am going to open a part of the wound," he explained, "to drain fluid. I'm going to try several approaches, since I can't identify the pathogen." He did not resume immediately, but continued to look at me. His eyes moved over my face. "I did not leave you," he said. He spoke quietly.

It was difficult to talk. I attempted to nod, and to project my gratitude through my expression. It seemed inadequate.

I vaguely noticed that my hair had been brushed and pulled away from my face. He had cared for me while I slept.

"Please tell me more about us, about the things we've done," the Doctor said, without looking up.

It was so arduous to talk, to move. And to think. But I understood he was not seeking to hear of himself now; he wanted to distract me. I complied.

My thoughts came erratically. "Popcorn," I said, and paused. My voice emerged sounding somewhat deep, but also faint and small. "You explained popcorn. Family Poaceae. Genus zea, zea mays mays. You said it is like snowflakes. Each kernel is unique...like us."

I saw him smile.

"We played golf. I won."

I felt the odd pressure that is pain filtered through anesthesia.

"We observed paintings."

My heart beat as erratically as my thoughts. The pulsating went into every extremity under the numbness and pain and heat and cold.

"We analyzed nebulas...and asterisms...and binary stars."

"It sounds like we've had some good times together," the Doctor said.

"We..." I began.

The scalpel flashed in the light.

I heard the song he had sung in my head.

In the rain, the pavement shines like silver

All the lights are misty in the river

"We are..."

I thought of his words. He had stood in a circle of light. He was light...photons and light...And I've tried not to feel this way, but I just can't help it, Seven....I just can't..."

Let me be your shelter

Let me be your light

"We are good friends," he said, cutting me.

I remembered how the night had been...we had never been so physically close to each other before as we had been then, not even when he had comforted me in Sickbay. The dancing had slowed to a stop. We had hesitated, noses millimeters apart, wanting to breach the gap, both nervous.

"We are more than friends," I said.

I saw him stop. His eyes looked up from my wound. He was as still as if his program had been paused. His mouth was slightly open. His emotions may have been a surprised mixture of anticipation, disconcertment, many others. It was difficult to tell. The shadows fell across his face.

He looked back and resumed. The instrument wavered. I perceived he was struggling to pay attention to his task.

"Tell me," he said simply.

Breathing was difficult and speaking an affliction. Yet I related the events, slowly, one by one....the change in his behavior towards me, the journey through the nebula, the hallucinations, and the holodeck, up to the point of his declaration. He closed my wound.

"I am going to use localized heat to try and kill the pathogen," he said. He covered the injury gently with his hand and began to adjust his temperature.

"You wished to speak to me," I said. I felt the heat from his hand. "I knew you had...feelings for...someone."

The heat increased. My heart hammered in my ears. I began to sweat profusely. He looked at his hand, but his eyes appeared not to be focused on it.

"You stated you loved me," I whispered.

He looked towards me. Mortification and joy intermingled strangely on his face. His emotion seemed to channel through his hand into the heat on my wound.

When he spoke, his voice was full of hope. "Does that mean...that you...love me?" he asked.

I believe my heart ceased beating momentarily at this question. Had I not expected to hear it? I had dreaded it since it was first asked. Did I love him. Love. I contended with the question, then not wishing to contend with the question, I ceased. More pain. My clouded mind could not quite discern why. I would have fled, if only I could. I gave the answer I had given before.

"At that time, I said I did not know," I replied. "I still do not."

His expression changed to...disappointment, disillusion, embarrassment. "I see," he said. The heat intensified. Then he said stiffly, "No, you couldn't. I - I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked...it's ridiculous to think you would. I don't know why...why I thought..." his voice faltered. "I'm a hologram. I'm not real."

"That is irrelevant," I said. I looked to the ceiling. "I felt...I feel...a certain affection for you. I - I miss you when you are gone," I attempted to explain. The rate of my breathing increased.

"But you don't love me," he said, low and to himself.

My misery compounded. "I do not wish to continue this discussion," I said. I meant it to sound firm, but I almost whimpered the words. Weakness!

"Because love is irrelevant," he said bitterly.

My term, returned to me. It burned, as his hand burned my leg. What is love? Love is many things, but irrelevant was hardly accurate. A protest welled up within me. I forced it down.

"I simply do not - understand - love," I panted between breaths. "It is impossible to understand. It is unpredictable - illogical - ..." I began to tremble. My hand gripped the bed. I struggled to remain in control, to not allow my frailty to consume me.

"Hold on just a little longer, Seven," the Doctor said, anxiously soothing. He moved his hand slightly. "I know it hurts...it's almost over."

"...arbitrary - infuriating - those who - love are - they become - just as - other - emotions..." I bit the words. Forced myself not to continue. I was beginning to ramble in my pain and disorientation. To reveal too much. Too much I was certain I did not wish to hear. My head reeled.

The Doctor looked at me. His expression suddenly became the one he had worn when I asked him not to leave me. But it was different as well; he appeared as if he had witnessed a phenomenon he had never seen before. He asked, "Seven, are you afraid?"

"No!" I denied, as forcefully as I could manage. My voice cracked with the strain. "No!" The perspiration ran down my face. I shut my eyes. He was looking into them. I attempted to hide the truth. I knew my eyes would betray me. If only I could have escaped this grief.

But he was relentless. "Seven, are you are afraid to love?" he pressed. My eyes had already disclosed me. He spoke compassionately. "Are you afraid that loving is a kind of weakness? That it's fine for ordinary humans and holograms, but you must be above it?"

His gently probing words invaded me. His hand scalded my wound, his meaning sent white-hot fire to annihilate my heart. All the inner and outer pain, the sensation, the emotion, my need for him, all striving to break me, and yet I endured; but the finality was near, my weakness almost absolute.

"I do - not - wish - to - continue - !" I gasped in despair, battling for any chance at evasion.

The Doctor spoke to me, intense and unheeded. "Seven, it takes a strong person to love, to give of themselves!" he insisted. "I see that love is what is left lacking in your humanity. You can give it. In this short time, you have proven yourself to be the strongest individual I have ever known."

Tears welled in my eye. I compelled them not to fall, even as I trembled violently with the exertion of bearing fire and anguish. I turned my head away from him, towards the darkness, desperate that he not see.

"Oh, Seven..." the Doctor said. "I'm a hologram. You have no need to listen to my opinions on human emotions. But even if you can't love me, you must know that love is simply a gift, to be received and given. You don't need to understand it."

The heat reached its zenith. I was certain my leg was about to be cauterized from my body. That the pain would momentarily cause oblivion. The tears coursed downward against my will. I was rendered powerless to stop them. "I cannot adapt," I involuntarily wailed, loathing my shamed humanity and mocking weakness, loathing my imperfection, my inability, myself.

"I believe you can," he said calmly.

Then the searing heat suddenly left me. He had at last lifted his hand from my wound, and I felt a reprieve from agony of body if not of soul. The Doctor inspected and rebandaged my injury, muttering all the while his hopes that the procedure had been effective.

With the dissipation of the heat, I realized I was cold. I was no longer fluctuating between chill and over-warmth. I was steadily cold, and my trembling was shivering.

"Your fever has broken," the Doctor said with obvious relief.

He circled the bed, coming to the side I faced. He administered medication, including a sedative. I lay limp, exposed and angry, in exhaustion. He had driven me to this. I hated what he - what his love - had done to me.

In spite of my physically drained and damaged state, I roused the last of my energy to sit up and strike him. I flailed at him repeatedly, in a final show of meaningless strength. And he allowed it, once again proving that he is far more human, and knowing of love, than I.

When the last of my strength was depleted, I fell forward onto him. I was weary of fighting. I surrendered to the medication, to my need for the Doctor, and to my fear. He held me. I wept silently, my head turned away.

My eyes closed. Words that Lieutenant Torres had spoken returned to me. "Don't wait until it's too late, Seven. Everything is a gift. Not always wrapped as you'd like it to be, but still a gift. The measure of who we are - who we are as humans - is how we accept those gifts."

I heard the noise of an altercation before The Doctor said, "They've found us."

* * * * *

The rescue team recovered us from the Deleon encampment.

I awoke aboard Voyager. I felt a tremendous freedom from pain. I had been repaired. Captain Janeway and Lieutenants Paris and Torres were present.

"It's good to have you back, Seven," Captain Janeway said. She smiled at me.

"I must speak with the Doctor," I said. I removed myself from the biobed.

Captain Janeway deterred me. "Hold on," she said. "There will be plenty of time later."

"You're way overdue for a regeneration cycle," Lieutenant Paris said. "Medic's orders."

"Don't worry about the Doctor. B'Elanna is restoring his program now," the Captain said. "Tom, escort Seven to the Cargo Bay, please."

"Yes, ma'am," he replied.

We proceeded to the Sickbay exit. Lieutenant Torres spoke. I saw her beyond the Captain and Lieutenant Paris, working at a console.

"I'm bringing him back online," she said.

I looked back. The Doctor appeared. "Please state the nature of the..." he began, but stopped. His subroutines were processing. He was momentarily confused. Then he looked for me.

Our eyes contacted across the room. I could tell that his memory had been restored. The pain in his face was too genuine. "Seven ," he said.

Lieutenant Torres deactivated him.

"I wish to speak with the Doctor," I said, more forcefully than I had intended.

"Sorry, Seven," Lieutenant Torres said. "I need to run another diagnostic on him right now."

"Please regenerate," Captain Janeway said in a concerned manner. "I want to make sure that both of you recover completely from this ordeal. Then the two of you can have some time off. Captain's orders."

I wanted the Doctor to be thoroughly repaired as well. "Thank you, Captain," I replied. I allowed Lieutenant Paris to escort me to the Cargo Bay.

* * * * *

I waited until Lieutenant Paris left. Then I began recording this log.

I feel a great relief in being well again. But I must end this discourse and complete the process.

I believe I have come to certain terms with many of my...emotions.

I believe Lieutenant Torres was correct. Everything is a gift. My humanity was a gift that was stolen and then returned to me. I strive to unwrap a new part daily.

The Doctor's love is also a gift. My status as a human rests on my ability to accept such gifts of humanity. And I cannot completely regain my humanity unless I accept the gift of love...and return it regardless of fear.

Since being liberated from the Collective, learning to give has been the most difficult lesson. But it has also been the most rewarding. I trust this experience will prove likewise.

Resistance indeed has been futile.

End log.

Credits:

"Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" from Phantom of the Opera; lyrics by Charles Hart

"On My Own" from Les Miserables; lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer (original French lyrics by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg)

"All I Ask of You" from The Phantom of the Opera; lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart