DISCLAIMER: It's Paramount's galaxy. The story is mine.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Aurora (rare): an early part or stage; a beginning.Following Voyager's return to the Alpha Quadrant, Chakotay and Seven spend a winter evening on Earth. C/7. Follows "Endgame." Second in the Becoming Lightseries.
First Place, Astrogirl's Winter Magic Fanfic Contest, 2003.
Archive with permission.
She was standing alone at the console in Astrometrics, exactly where he'd expected to find her. She turned slightly at the sound of the doors, met his eyes, and smiled shyly, cautiously. Not the Seven he'd seen in his quarters a week ago—just before the Admiral's arrival from the future—the Seven bearing flowers and a radiant smile. But not the Seven he'd last seen in this lab either, she of the impenetrable shields. She'd backed away, pushed him away—or tried to. He'd held her in place. Stop, he said. Don't run. And although he hadn't much faith in his own words or in their ability to persuade her, against all odds, she listened.
But what had she been running from? Some glimpse of the future offered by the Admiral, he guessed, and it didn't sound like a pleasant one. Some harm came to Seven—and to him. Whatever it was, she felt responsible. That much he got, loud and clear.
And he knew it was likely to be all that he'd get. They wouldn't talk about it, couldn't, already under orders to be silent. A temporal incursion occurred: the mission was classified, would be permanently. He was certain of it.
Was it a moot issue now anyway? That future no longer existed. Everything was changed. They were here, on Earth—or orbiting Earth, at the moment. Twenty-four hours in the Alpha Quadrant and he barely recognized the ship. The crew members he'd passed in the corridors on his way to the lab were strangers—personnel from Starfleet Command assigned to allow Voyager's crew a night's shore leave for private reunions—for those lucky enough to have family and friends in the system. He'd scanned the duty roster before he called it a day, and was pleased to see that most of them had somewhere to go, someone to welcome them home.
Still, after seven years with the same crew, he knew every face; it was unnerving to see new ones. Seven's presence here was familiar, and it made the room feel more like a haven than a lab—a calm ordered eye in the center of chaos.
"I could have bet that you'd be here," he said, standing next to her at the console.
"Are the internal sensors malfunctioning?"
He frowned, confused. It wasn't the answer he expected. He wasn't sure what answer he did expect, but he knew that wasn't it.
"Why would you place a wager on my whereabouts?" she asked, clarifying a question with another question. It was so typically Seven, he almost laughed.
"An expression," he said.
"An idiom." She nodded understanding. "They provide color in verbal communication."
Was she teasing him? It was hard to tell. She could be deadly serious about the strangest things—as if she was noticing them for the first time. Which, now that he thought about it, she probably was. "Okay…" He grinned. "Then the precise question should be, 'what are you doing here?'"
She smirked. "Is that a rhetorical query, Commander? I think the answer should be obvious: I am working."
He chuckled. "Chakotay," he said and took her hand. "I'm off-duty. And you should be, too."
She looked down at their hands, and then at her console, flustered. "I have a report to complete for the Captain," she said quickly.
"And I'm sure it'll be a stellar report," he said.
She raised her eyebrow.
He smiled. "Bad pun intended."
She laughed. The sound surprised him, thrilled him—he'd never heard her laugh before. "A bad pun, indeed," she said.
"Seriously, now. Aren't you meeting your aunt?" Her father's sister, a woman Seven didn't remember, evidently her only surviving family. His own in no better shape—his sister and his uncles on his homeworld, a week's journey away. Everyone else dead.
Seven shook her head. "Irene is visiting friends outside the system," she said. "She made arrangements to return when she heard that we'd arrived. But she will not be on Earth for another few days." She looked at him earnestly, as if to reassure him, to tell him not to worry about her, not to feel sorry for her. "I received a number of invitations…"
"Let me guess," he said. "The Captain, Tom and B'Elanna, Harry…"
She raised her eyebrow again.
"Same invites I got," he said. "Why didn't you go?"
"It seemed… inappropriate. They have not seen their families in a long time. Their reunions should be private." She met his eyes. "You aren't visiting friends?"
"I am. A friend of my sister still lives in New York. We're meeting for drinks later." He squeezed her hand. "Come with me. I bet you've never been to New York."
She smiled. "I believe that wager is what Mr. Paris would call a 'sure thing.'"
He grinned acknowledgment of her joke. "Really. Come. New York is beautiful this time of year—all lit up for the winter holidays. We could do a little sightseeing, have dinner, and meet my friend later." He wasn't sure if she'd think the invitation born out of pity—or compassion—like the others. Wasn't sure about a lot of things, most of them not involving Seven. Some involving her.
He watched her closely as she considered his offer, her face calm, almost unreadable. Only her downcast eyes and the way her full lips slightly parted in thought gave away her vulnerability. He wanted to promise her… What? That nothing changed this. Them. They were still the same people they were yesterday, just in different circumstances. He wanted to promise her, but he couldn't. Not yet. And she wouldn't accept it, anyway, if he did. The simple fact of the matter was that neither one of them had the least bit of an idea as to what they'd do next. Or where they were going to do it.
He was about to push his case—the only case he had—and try to convince her to take it just one day, one minute at a time if they had to. Things would work out. But he stopped himself because he was afraid that it might just be wishful thinking on his part.
In the end, though, he didn't need to say anything. She met his eyes and smiled broadly, warmly, unguardedly. She nodded. "I would enjoy that," she said.
Seven examined her reflection in the polished metal side of a cargo container. She frowned. She tried to relax her shoulders. She adjusted her clothing—a pair of dark blue slacks and a lighter blue V-necked pullover that ended just at the curve of her hips. The sweater was a shade darker than her eyes. She pulled her hair back and fastened it with a clip at the nape of her neck. She inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly. She tried to smile.
She heard the doors to the cargo bay open, then Chakotay's voice calling for her. She took another deep breath and walked around the side of her regeneration alcove, into his line of view. He stared at her. He did not say a word. It wasn't the reaction that she expected. She wasn't certain what reaction she did expect, but she knew that wasn't it.
"Is my attire inappropriate?" she asked. She cringed at her tone of voice, unable to hide her uncertainty and dismay.
He shook his head and smiled broadly. "No," he said, and started toward her. "Not at all. Just the opposite, in fact. You look beautiful." He traced the blush flaming her cheeks with a finger, which made her blush more deeply.
"Thank you," she said softly, looking down. She could not meet his eyes. She was unaccustomed to this sort of attention, and although she enjoyed it, it unnerved her. "You look… handsome, as well." It startled her a little to see him out of uniform—in a pair of black trousers, a beige sweater with an intricate textured pattern and a collar that covered his throat, and a black overcoat, at present unbuttoned. "I prefer you in red, however."
He grinned. "Never off-duty."
"Familiarity breeds contempt?"
"Something like that," he said.
She nodded understanding, although she thought the expression curious: for her, familiarity was contentment. She gestured to her coat, which was draped over a console. "You said that it would be cold in New York. This garment will protect me to negative forty degrees Celsius."
"You'll be plenty warm," he said. "It's not nearly that cold." He picked up her coat and held it open for her.
She raised her eyebrow.
He smiled. "It's customary for the gentleman to help the lady with her coat."
"Curious tradition," she said, but she allowed him to assist her.
The corridors were bustling. Starfleet had already begun taking inventory of the ship and debriefing the crew. Seven knew that a dozen Starfleet scientists had invaded Astrometrics as soon as the ship's computer had notified them that she'd left. It didn't please her. They had been polite and efficient when they interviewed her earlier, but she didn't like the fact that they had taken over her lab. Twenty-four hours ago, once again her life had changed abruptly and irrevocably. She felt herself adrift and alone. She would no longer live on this ship; she would no longer share her days with this crew, this… family. The future that would have been would no longer be. But at what cost? She would never know—and that disturbed her, too. She looked for order, some sense of purpose, but it seemed that she was grasping at light: there was nothing to hold onto. Astrometrics was her refuge. She knew who she was there.
Chakotay put his hand against the middle of her back, and guided her around a group of junior officers in conference. An ensign noticed them and they snapped to attention.
"As you were," Chakotay said as they passed. Seven could feel their eyes on her back. She glanced over her shoulder. They hadn't returned to their discussion, but remained in position, watching them as they turned the corner. Against her will, she trembled.
Chakotay felt it. "You okay?" he asked.
"I am anxious," she admitted. "The attention is disconcerting."
"It's been an overwhelming day," he agreed.
"With many more to come."
He looked at her but said nothing, waiting for her to continue.
"I don't know how I will be received on Earth," she said at last. "I was Borg." She turned away from him slightly, as if she could hide the cybernetic implants plainly visible on her face.
He stopped, and stopped her. She tried to turn away again, but he held her chin in his hand. "I didn't realize," he said softly. He pursed his lips. "Take the clip out of your hair." She did, and her hair fell around her shoulders in loose waves. He ran his fingers lightly through it, rearranging it to cover the implant under her right cheekbone. He smiled, as if pleased with his handiwork. "Got a hat?"
She took a knit cloche from a coat pocket and put it on. He gently tugged it into place over the upper edge of her cortical array, then stepped back, examined her, and smiled again. "There," he said. "You're incognito." He pulled a knit cap from his own pocket and put it on, covering the distinctive tattoo on his forehead. "And so am I." He grinned. "Just in case there's someone down there still harboring a grudge against the Maquis."
In spite of her anxiety—or maybe because of it—Seven chuckled. He looked at her quizzically. "We comprise a unique pair," she said.
He smiled broadly. "Yes, we do." He offered his arm and she took it. "We'll be recognized," he said as they resumed walking. "Our faces have been plastered across every viewscreen in the Federation. Welcome the returning heroes." He put his left hand over hers and smiled gently. "I don't think you have anything to worry about. But if there's any trouble at all, we'll just beam back to the ship."
She nodded. He touched the panel to signal the turbolift. A part of her wanted to turn around right then, to return to her cargo bay, where everything was familiar. Safe. Where she could hold onto her old life for as long as possible.
She touched the implant under her right cheekbone. She looked at Chakotay. She could turn around. But the familiar came with a familiar price—loneliness. That existence was no longer acceptable.
He rested his hand against the small of her back, and she stepped slightly in front of him as they walked through the turbolift doors.
They beamed into a transporter room at Grand Central Terminal in the heart of Manhattan. A technician behind the console smiled as they stepped off the pad. "Welcome to New York," she said. "Happy New Year."
"That is the second person to wish us a happy new year," Seven said as they left the room—the first was an unfamiliar transporter officer on Voyager. "Is it the Terran New Year?"
"Apparently so," Chakotay said. He pointed the way to the grand concourse, then took her hand and smiled apologetically. "I didn't pay too much attention to the date."
"Nor did I," she said and shrugged. "We have had other things on our minds." She looked warily around the busy terminal. "Will there be a social gathering?"
"Yes," he said. "A million or so in Times Square." He cringed. Seven hated crowds—he hadn't thought of that. "They count down to midnight with a descending illuminated ball." He squeezed her hand and grinned. "We can steer clear. I've never seen too much point to standing in the cold to watch a light display anyway."
Seven stopped short as they entered the grand concourse and stared up at the enormous windows, her unease at the holiday apparently forgotten. "This is an ancient structure," she murmured.
"Almost five hundred years old," he said. "It was originally the terminus for the transcontinental railroad."
She scanned the room, taking in the soaring arches and barrel-vaulted ceiling, the contrast between the soft sheen of marble and mirror-polished brass. He followed her eyes up to the ceiling mural depicting the constellations of the ecliptic. "That's not original," he said. "The first two didn't stand the test of time. This is about a hundred years old. Painted by a Denobulan."
"The accuracy is impressive," she said. She looked around again, and then smiled at him appreciatively. "This is an exceptional edifice. And you are well-versed in its history. Icheb said you were a passionate teacher. His observation was accurate."
He laughed. "Stop me if I sound too much like a professor… or an annoying tour guide." He took her hand again as they started up the stairs to Vanderbilt Avenue.
And then they were through the doors and outside, and it was snowing—fat, heavy flakes that clung to their eyelashes and clothes. Seven stopped and looked around her, mesmerized. He was sure that his expression was equally stunned. They were here. On Earth. Had he ever really believed that they'd make it? He wanted to sink to his knees and kiss the snowy sidewalk, but he restrained himself. He was still—for the time being, anyway—a Starfleet officer. He tried for dignity, but he knew he was grinning like a fool.
He found his bearings quickly; the city was exactly as he remembered it. He took her hand, and started north and then east to Park Avenue, in order to avoid the crowds that he knew would already be gathering in the blocks around Times Square. Although it was midafternoon, the avenue was quiet—the sidewalks were uncrowded and the only traffic in the street consisted of a few people on skis and a hansom cab pulled by a dappled gray gelding.
Seven noticed the sleigh. "An interesting conveyance," she said.
"As I recall, they ban all contemporary transportation above ground in this part of town during the holidays. It helps keep the crowds under control, and gives the sense of being in Old New York."
"An unusual edict," she said. "The result is… quaint. But it is pleasant."
They walked north for a little while, then turned west along a residential block lined with old townhouses and ancient maples, whose bare snow-clad branches formed an icy arched tunnel the length of the street. He dropped her hand and crouched, grabbed a fistful of snow, then ran from her.
She started after him, but he told her to stop, then took aim and fired. The snowball exploded on her left arm.
She looked at him, obviously bewildered.
"Get me back," he said. "I dare you." He bent and collected another handful of snow, then packed it into a ball.
She crouched awkwardly, fashioned her own weapon, then fired it toward him with perfect accuracy, and although he tried to step out of the way, she'd anticipated his move. Her throw had a hook. She got him squarely on the chest. He laughed loudly and let loose with a shot of his own.
They exchanged a brief volley. Suddenly Seven stopped still, in a crouch, just as she was about to pack another missile. She stared at the snow in her hand.
"Seven?" He called to her but she didn't answer—just crouched in the street, staring at her hands, or at the snow. Or at nothing.
He jogged back to her, stood next to her, held his hand out for hers. "Are you all right?" he asked.
"I have performed this activity before," she said, her voice small and unsteady. She looked at the snow in her hands, then around her. She sunk to her knees. "I was small. This size." She sat back on her heels. "No. This size." She looked up at him. "And my father was a tall man, like you." She shook her head, finally took his offered hand, and stood. She brushed the snow from her slacks and blinked rapidly a few times. He wasn't sure if she was going to smile or cry.
"Is it a good memory?" he asked gently.
The question seemed to focus her. She looked at him and smiled, although it didn't go all the way to her eyes. Her human eye was bright with tears. "I think so," she said softly.
He put his arm around her shoulder and held her close as they continued down the street. He thought of memory. He had seen hers, fragmented as they were, when their minds were linked just before they severed her from the Collective. He remembered her father's face and the angle from which she'd viewed him, as she'd just described. He remembered her mother's hands, braiding Annika's hair. He remembered running through a meadow where the grass was almost as tall as she was. He remembered, too, the terror and the anger of the last agonizing moments before she was Borg.
"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked.
"I'm… I'm not certain," she said. Her eyes were huge, still stunned.
He held her closer. "When you're ready," he said.
She smiled at him gratefully, then nodded. They walked in silence for a while. It wasn't uncomfortable.
They stopped at a kiosk at the corner of Fifty-seventh Street and Fifth Avenue. Chakotay scanned the beverage menu, ordered two hot chocolates, and handed one to her. They stood close to a building out of the way of pedestrian traffic, holding their cups with both hands and inhaling the steam. Seven took a sip and looked at him with approval; she had a small daub of whipped cream on the tip of her nose.
"This is very good," she said. "Thank you."
He wiped the cream from her nose and grinned. "One of my people's contributions to Terran cuisine," he said. "Not as good as you'll get on Trebus—or in Chiapas—but it'll do."
He could feel the warmth of the cup through his gloves. He watched her face. Dear gods, she was gorgeous. She took a sip and got another daub of whipped cream on her nose. He reached out to wipe it away.
She smiled. "Perhaps I should have the Doctor adjust the length of my nose. It is apparently too long to gracefully drink this beverage."
He laughed, heartily. "Don't change a thing," he said. "Not even a micrometer."
He watched her face. She smiled, radiant. She was happy. Seven was fucking happy. Reserve gone, open, not a Borg shield in sight. Laughing. She was laughing. And so was he. Dear gods, he was happy. Ecstatic. He'd forgotten what it felt like.
He kissed her. He had to. Otherwise he knew he'd turn into a blithering fool. It startled her, she gasped softly. Then she kissed him back, long and sweet, on a winter corner in Manhattan, while the city rushed by.