Disclaimer: I am but a poor student and I'm not even studying writing so please don't sue me!

A.N. I shouldn't be starting this fic. I really shouldn't. I have deadlines. I have exams. I have three unfinished fanfictions just begging for my attention. But the holidays have offered me a brief reprieve in my studies so here I am! Enjoy!

Masks

Prologue

Seven of Nine, formerly tertiary adjunct of Unimatrix Zero-One, currently a member of Voyager's crew, felt that her self-restraint was not only admirable, but somewhat extraordinary. Only moments ago she had been sitting on one of the bio-beds is Voyager's Sickbay, acting like a model patient as the Doctor ran a tricorder over her one last time before she could be released. Normally this would be nothing worth mentioning- after all, she was possibly Sickbay's most frequent visitor, rivalled only by Harry Kim. Considering, however, that only twelve hours ago the very same Doctor who had just finished putting her back together had, at that point, been dissecting her, controlling her, torturing her, she thought that managing not to flinch away from his medical instruments was something of a triumph.

Although she hadn't specifically said that she didn't blame him, it was implied when she had offered to help him add security protocols to his program and then proceeded in an attempt at teasing his singing. And it had apparently been a successful attempt- she had witnessed his eyes light up, as they were partial to doing when a situation was infused with humour.

So no, she didn't blame him. But it was difficult to control her instinctive reactions to lash out at him as soon as her motor functions had been restored, to get him away from her, even though logic dictated that he was no longer the same person who had taken her apart in the first place. The incident aboard the Equinox had affected her more than she was willing to admit to anyone at this stage, especially as she considered her concerns to be so hypocritical.

For now, Seven decided, she would try and put it out of her mind and dwell upon other things. Once she had regenerated she would be asked to assist with the extensive list of repairs that needed to be carried out on Voyager. She would focus her energies on that, rather than on her meeting in Holodeck Two, tomorrow at sixteen hundred hours.


The Doctor's smile faded as the doors to Sickbay slid shut. He was lucky to consider Seven of Nine his friend, especially after this last incident. She had forgiven him without so much as a second thought for his actions on board the Equinox and written the whole thing off as an aberration that had been the result of tampering with his program.

But it still worried him, that he would willingly cause a friend so much pain, ethical subroutines or none. He felt. Not only that but he felt for Seven! His ethical and emotional subroutines interacted, obviously, but surely not to the extent that if one were deleted the other would become irrelevant to his functioning? Shouldn't his emotional subroutines have at least made him question why he would hurt someone he cared for?

He sighed as he fiddled with his tricorder absentmindedly. Repairs were being carried out on the ship and that meant that soon he'd have a steady trickle of patients to keep his mind from wandering to such dark places. Oh, unless something in Engineering went horribly wrong it wouldn't be anything serious, but without a doubt there would be an abrasion here, a laceration there and a plasma burn somewhere in the middle.

He wished fervently for the safety of the crew. He may have acted with the skill of a surgeon on the Equinox but he his work had been butchery. There was a fine line between the two disciplines and he'd feel a lot more comfortable performing the former when he knew he had the security protocols in place to prevent him deviating to the latter.


Chakotay threw his arm over his eyes as he collapsed on top of his bed in his quarters. Now reinstated as First Officer, he had just completed the longest double shift he could remember. It wasn't the manual labour that he found difficult- he was a fit man and while his expertise wasn't in engineering he was certainly capable of fixing many of the smaller systems aboard Voyager along with cleaning the debris off the decks. No, the reason this particular day had been so long was because of the emotional strain he had been put through.

After informing the remaining crew of the Equinox of their situation he had tentatively extended the hand of friendship to Kathryn, and she had accepted it, no questions asked. But like she had informed their new crewmembers, trust had to be earned, and his trust in her had certainly taken quite a dent. He was sure that she also thought the same of him.

When he had been relieved of duty he had confined himself to quarters, reluctant to involve himself further in what he saw as Captain Janeway's decent to madness. He had spent the time remembering the barbs that they had exchanged earlier in the conflict and deliberating on those where the attack had not been so blunt, wondering if he should have seen this coming and if a mutiny would be on the cards in the near future. He had prayed that she would see sense and it seemed now as though she had. But not before Ransom. He wondered now whether things would have played out differently if Ransom had not had an attack of conscience or whatever it was that had made him change his ways at the very end.

He hoped not.

But working with Janeway had been more difficult today than it had been since the time when their two crews were still two distinct crews- before they had merged cohesively. And then there was B'Elanna. He had dropped by Engineering before returning to his quarters to find her barking orders at her people who were already working feverishly, doing their best to avoid both her and her wrath.

She was furious. Furious with Max Burke, with Ransom and with herself for not seeing the change in her old lover before it had been revealed to the crew as a whole. But the anger would subside eventually and then, Chakotay knew, she'd be forced to deal with the feelings of betrayal that it was masking.

He'd keep an eye on here, he decided tiredly, though, these days it was more likely that she'd turn to Tom or maybe Harry if she needed someone to vent to, rather than him. But he'd offer her an ear if she needed it. He'd even give her a run on his boxing simulation on the Holodeck if the situation required it. But he hoped that she'd accept that the petaQ wasn't worth the wasted energy.

Exhaustedly, he raised himself off the bed in order to strip off his boots and uniform. Tomorrow he would start debriefing their five new crewmembers, he decided. The Captain would want to be involved. She wanted to know what had made Ransom repent during his last few minutes of life even more than he did.

As he crawled into bed for a well deserved sleep, he belatedly remembered that he should have checked in on the Doctor and Seven. He'd heard that the former Borg had been in quite a state when she had been returned to Voyager. He rolled over and put it out of his mind. No doubt he'd receive their reports tomorrow. There was nothing he could do until then. Besides, he mused, the Doctor and Seven were generally able to put each other back together when they had been through some trial or another, and when they weren't, the Captain usually succeeded. He doubted he'd need to intervene in that particular case.


Voyager was a mess. The damage was obvious. She was battered and beaten, but not beyond repair. Unfortunately the same could not be said of her crew. Each one of them was suffering. A few had walked away relatively unscathed but most had their share of scars. In the Mess Hall, many grieved over those they had lost during the battle. Some were working, trying to repair the ship that had become their home, all too aware that it wouldn't heal those who lived within her. A few had holed themselves in their quarters, unwilling to show their faces whilst plagued with guilt.

The rest were too proud to show their wounds. They were too proud to ask for help. Yet it was those few that had been hurt the worst. If only they would drop the masks that they were struggling to hold, for only a moment, a ship-full of friends would come to their aid.

But they wouldn't. Instead, they would suffer in silence until maybe, just maybe, someone realised that the person they were speaking with was not their comrade, not their friend. That, in their place, there was only a mask.

A.N. Gahhh... I'm not sure I like this. The last few paragraphs are weird. Ah well, let me know what you think and I'll try and keep this fic going in between the coursework and the exams!

~Sweetdeath04