Brightly shining stars offer their light to me as I sit quietly in the branches of an ancient willow. This tree is my escape: my place for fantasy, an escape from reality, and a place to dream and wish upon the stars. The rich aromas of farm land, freshly upturned earth, mixed with the usual spring smells: newly bloomed flowers and dew dipped grass. The plain glistened as the moon’s glow enchanted my home making it seem as though I was in a far off place, somewhere far from Earth where my father hadn’t died and my mother wasn’t alone and my sister left me alone. A realm where I was lavished with the love I dreamed for every time I sat in the willow. Where things were perfect and I wasn’t afraid and where I was strong and passionate about life and the things I wanted to do. This place wouldn’t include the many deaths of my years. It would exclude Justin’s death and my father’s. Mark would never have left me and he’d have waited until I came home from being so lost in the Delta Quadrant.
Right then, my world was less than perfect.
Daddy was gone. Justin with him in the black abyss I caused. Mark married someone else. Chakotay was gone. Tuvok sacrificed himself during the final leg. My best friends were gone. My lovers were gone. My mother offered words of comfort, but I shunned her. She didn’t know; she didn’t understand. And, Phoebe, what did she know? She knew a simple life: an artist’s life. She knew of the stars and the dangers that lie in between them, but she didn’t know what it was like to experience it all. She was ignorant to it all. Even B’Elanna and her baby were gone. Tom survived, somehow, and how their deaths didn’t kill him after the fact surprises me still. He’s stronger than I believed him to be. He’s a good man and I’m proud of what he’s become. But, he still hurts. And so do I.
More than half my crew perished in the return to this place. Earth. The Federation. Starfleet. Life. The Maquis crewmembers that did survive were locked away: I felt helpless during the proceedings and I truly was. They wouldn’t allow me to speak a word for them. My crew who had served me faithfully for almost nine years was either dead or shoved into a cell to die. I bet they wished they’d died before with the others. I felt that way, too. The Starfleet members were, of course, commended and given time off, like I. Some kept in touch with me. The ones I touched. The ones I’d really made an impression on. I felt for them. I needed them and their thanks and praise kept me alive and on these branches. Without them, I’d be like Chakotay: six feet under.
Even The Equinox crew was pardoned. Set free to do as they wished. They never told me how much they loved me. How much I’d helped them when I should have kept them in the brig. They had no thanks to offer me when we departed. They hated me. Maybe I should, too.
Neelix found his niche here. He settled down in South America and opened his own restaurant. I miss his whiskers for some reason: his animated smiles and his eagerness to please and do everything in his power to help the crew and myself. He contacts me from time to time, chitchat mostly. With dead eyes and pale skin, I ask him how things are. He’s happier than he’s ever been and says he’s breaking into a chain. I’m happy for him and feign interest to be nice, though, I really could care less whether or not his business went belly up in the next minutes. Not anymore. His success only shows me how much I’ve lost.
Seven is the only one who hasn’t said a word to me. Despite Starfleet’s diplomacy on our way home, they’d taken her away in something close to chains. I tried to save her. I even shot down a few admirals to do it among numerous security officers, but there were too many of them and so little of us left. As they dragged her from my reach, before they tranquilized her, she screamed for me. She screamed my name: Kathryn.
Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night hearing her cry and I cry with her. For my lost humanity and for the loyal crew who sacrificed their lives to get some of us home. For my father dead and buried. And, for the lost ideals of what the Federation and Starfleet used to stand for.
Nothing that had meant anything to me meant shit anymore. What was the point?
Looking down, I saw blackness. A void. I knew the ground was there, and the thick branches in between that could break and shatter my bones if I decided to accidentally fall. Death wasn’t an option. It was an easy out and I never took the easy way out. The question always came to mind, though. It was always the option on my pointer finger between moving on or going back to Starfleet.
Null and void. All three choices. I chose to sit and think about it all day after day drowning myself in sorrow and guilt and pity. The only reason I did get out of bed was to appease Phoebe. I didn’t want a repeat from when Daddy died.
I didn’t. Thinking of that, some hope sparked inside forcing me from the branches and safely to the grass. I even ran back to the house, up the porch steps and through the screen door. It flung so hard, it smacked loudly against the frame three times before settling back, slightly bent. My mother came from the kitchen with wide eyes wondering about the commotion. She simply stared at me while wiping her wet hands on a towel at her waist.
“What is it, Kathryn?” She said, quietly, calmly.
My eyes never blinked as I stared at her not focusing on anything in particular. I barely shook my head and it took me a few moments to realize she’d spoken again. “I what?”
“You have a visitor.”
Before she finished, I saw my caller step into view behind my mother and lean on the doorframe. My lower jaw trembled as I murmured the name. Her face was marred black, purple and blue. It was all the flesh I could see of her. Her implants were gone. Over it all, she wore a glorious smile. I’d never seen her smile before. Not that way.
Mother was smart to move out of my way when I finally jump started forward. I tackled Seven and bear hugged her, not wanting to let go. When I did, my hands moved involuntarily over her face to make sure the bruises weren’t too bad. I wanted to make sure she was real, too, not the figment of my imagination she had been for so long. “What have they done to you?” My voice wavered, sounded like it was in my dreams. I could have fallen from the tree and not realized it. I could be dead, meeting Seven in whatever afterlife there was.
She pulled me close, forcing my arms back around her waist, my face to her chest. She whispered, “I’m well now.” Feeling the tears well and fall, my knees gave in and I fell, though, Seven caught me and we slipped down to the kitchen floor. Cradling me, I barely heard her whispers or felt her hands working through my hair and caressing my back.
I opened my eyes to find dulled rays of light coming through the curtains in my room. They shot directionally at the end of my bed, illuminating my sock covered feet. Memories of the previous night flowed through my head. The willow tree, running home and then… I sat up abruptly in bed and threw what covers I still had on me off and ran downstairs to the kitchen. No one was there. The den was empty; the living room, too. The back and front porches were vacant. Running back inside, I tripped up the stairs momentarily then threw the guestroom door open. I sighed and closed the door quietly behind me.
A small smile played across my lips remembering how I used to watch her regenerate in her alcove on Voyager. Carefully, unknowing if she was a light sleeper, I laid down facing her. Fortunately, my movements didn’t wake her. Unlike when Seven regenerated, now she looked at peace where as before it seemed as if she was on guard all the time standing in place for hours on end. I’d sit there watching her throughout the night caring less about my own needs.
Seven of Nine: Tertiary Adjunct to the Unimatrix Zero One. The smile widened. “Annika,” I breathed; small feathered hairs moving slightly in my breaths wake. Her dream had finally come true. Seven was Human. She could feel again. Seeing her now, I still wondered what Starfleet had done to her and if they’d taken her implants out safely. Maybe they didn’t harm her like I’d thought. With the smile etched on my lips, I fell back to sleep.
When I woke again, feeling more rested than I had in months I was cold. Seven was gone when I turned over. The blankets and sheets were mussed, but she was gone, not under them sleeping like before. Knowing she hadn’t been a dream the night before calmed my senses now. If she’d left the house, I could find her. Somehow. I hoped.
The scents of breakfast wafted to my nose. As always, it smelled atrocious. Unappetizing. I didn’t want it. I had a feeling this morning I’d be forced to eat. Stepping down the stairs quietly, I could hear my mother and Seven talking quietly and as I peeked around the corner, I saw them both working on food at the counter. I’d forgotten Seven knew how to cook from scratch. My mouth watered, but I still wasn’t hungry.
“Good morning,” I heard Seven say. I stood upright and walked easily into the room wondering how she knew I’d been there. Nevertheless, she always knew. Always.
“That fact remains to be seen.” Trying to look over either of their shoulders was pointless. I felt like a little kid next to them anyway. Both of them were taller than I was, with or without shoes and heels. I hated being short. Sitting on a stool on the opposite side of the counter gave me a nice view and I didn’t feel short. Sort of.
“You are eating.”
Despite the sour mood I woke to, I had to make an effort to smile and conceal a laugh. “I see my mother’s been talking to you about my eating habits lately.” Seven continued preparing as my mother looked at me with a crooked grin. She knew something more than I did. Curious, I filed it away in my half working brain for later. There would be much to talk about, too.
Seven finally looked over at my mother, and they shared knowing glances, then back down at the cutting board. “She’s been very helpful this morning.”
I snatched a piece of the fruit she was cutting cunningly; though, the knife almost chopped my finger off. Seven did stop chopping to look at me with a frustrated expression. “Since when is being cryptic your style, Seven?” I held my hands up in mock surrender halting the beginning of my third degree. She was being odd, but I might be acting beside myself, too, if I’d been through whatever it was she’d been through. I swear I could taste her on the fruit. Perhaps it was that I hadn’t brushed my teeth yet.
She laughed, “What are you smiling about?”
I hadn’t even realized and when she said that, the smile dissipated. My mother, who also had been smiling, frowned once mine disappeared then returned to her own cutting board. I looked downward knowing that my resistance to being happy made her unhappy. How could I be happy with all that had happened? I couldn’t. “Nothing. How long are you staying?”
“How long do you wish me to stay, Kathryn?”
Was it a trick question? Quietly, I answered: “If I say forever, would you?” Heat swept across my face. I could see it in her eyes that she wanted to. I’d said was what she was wanting, even needing, to hear. “I’ve missed you. You’re part of my family, Seven. When I lost you this last time, I…” a tear slipped down my cheek. In response, my hand wiped it away. “Everyone I gave a damn about is gone. I don’t want that to happen to you. I have enough blood on my hands,” I finished quietly, shaking and tears still threatening. Uncertainty washed over her features; though, half understanding was there, too. I didn’t understand it myself.
My mother guided me from the stool and into a chair. I was too lost in thought to know she’d called me three times to move from the counter. I did consider Seven my family. A long time ago, a lot of the Voyager crew thought so, too, but it never felt as if I was her mother figure. It wasn’t maternal, paternal or sisterly. Hell, it wasn’t even neighborly. My subconscious knew what it was, but my conscious mind wouldn’t allow it.
I became aware that I’d been staring and not at Seven or my mother, just staring into space. My fork was held in the air, my elbow propped half on the table. Somehow, I’d eaten half of what was on my plate and more of the fruit in a bowl beside it. Seven and mother’s voices seemed overly loud. Thinking is dangerous when you’ve no control over what you were doing. I was glad to be in familiar company.
Looking over at Seven, my fork still hung, I sputtered: “I love you.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw mother stop dead. Her smile flattened. Watching me without turning her head, Seven still ate the forkful of fruit moving to her lips. “I do, and I am; I’m in love with you.” Did anything shock the woman? She continued chewing until she swallowed then she drank a sip of milk before dabbing at her mouth with the napkin in her lap.
I felt my eyebrows rise. Something so simple said to something so complicated. Was it so complicated? I felt that way and I told her. “You knew?”
“Star date five one nine zero six point two.” My mouth was agape. I didn’t even know back then. “Do you recall when I experimented in the holodeck?” She blushed ever so lightly. I doubt mother caught it as she was catching flies watching the two of us, listening. I nodded. “Chakotay was my logical choice, not the actual choice.”
It suddenly hit me. If my jaw could drop any more, it would have. She had lied to me during her experiments. It made sense now why she had. Something more occurred to me. “I-” Seven nodded before I got the question out of my mouth. My fork finally hit the plate. The noise woke my mother from her trance but she still didn’t speak. “Why didn’t you tell me?” She only cocked her head in sarcasm. “I think we have a lot to talk about.” Seven smiled faintly at me, her eyes bright with new thoughts of where the future would lead her. My own mind was racing with those thoughts, too, but I was happier that my mother had come out of her trance and was eating again. I’m not sure what shocked her more: our confessions or that I’d been so forward with something so personal.
After forcing down a few more bits of my breakfast, I thanked them both for it then excused myself for a bath. I was still in the same stinky clothes as I’d been since the morning before. Sitting deep under the bubbles in hot water felt good. My skin tingled from the warmth, but I had to admit, having Seven join me would make me tingle much more. Giggling, the water rippled sending some of the bubbles separating. A notion stopped mirth in its tracks. Would being romantically involved with Seven really make me happy? Neither she nor I could answer that question. Only time could and I was too impatient for that.
Of course, I know how to be happy on the surface. I also know that deep down those lingering dark thoughts swirled waiting for me to dip a fingernail in. It was easy to wholly lose yourself, but to stick a single fingernail in was impossible. It either swallowed you whole or you were nowhere near thinking that life was some sort of hell and that when you died the afterlife would be…
I didn’t know. I didn’t care. I had two ounces of hope in my life. I wasn’t a fool to let them escape. Keeping them tethered, as close to me as possible, was all I could do. Losing me again was not an option.
“I wished,” I started quietly, tentatively sitting on a small settee. The fireplace looked empty, dead without a fire in it. Seven sat at the other end, close but too far away. I wasn’t looking at her; somehow, I couldn’t even though I wanted to. To etch her face into my mind forever in case I did lose her again. Hope was such a depressing feeling and it left me feeling as empty as the fireplace. I wanted her closer, too. Just to feel, something. “-that you were safe every day. I always saw you in my mind, whether I was dreaming or awake. The wonder was there. I longed for more time, and sometimes, I even damned the fact that we got home. Underneath it all, I was miserable out there, but I was fulfilled at the same time.” My mother had gone out for a while, I don’t know where. I was glad for the peace, though. It might have been awkward for her to overhear some of the things I was saying and going to say. “I tried to live through oh so sacred lies and had to deny certain feelings in had inside. What I felt had to die, had to go away, and I died, too. Inside. No one knew, really. Sometimes, I’d show it more. There were times when I wasn’t even me. I wore painted smiles and I don’t know why I tried.
“To be coming home, to see my family and to simply be on Earth again where things were familiar, was nice. But, I can’t forget the lives lost on the last leg. I can’t help but to carry their deaths on my shoulders, their blood on my hands. I know, I shouldn’t, but how can I not? I lost everything that had become familiar to me: my family and my home and the security that brought. And,” finally, I managed to look at her. She wanted to be close; I could see it. “When I thought I’d lost you, the last thread keeping me together was severed.
“I’m tired of thinking, and I’m just,” I sighed, “tired.” As the tear slipped down my face, Seven leaned forward gently sweeping it away. “What’s happened?” I touched her face, the contusions, lightly, not wanting to cause her pain. “What did they do to you?” For a moment, the light in her eyes flickered and her fingers shook against my skin. My heart broke and went out to her. “I’m so sorry.” The need to cry in full force was growing. “If I could only have done something more…” placing a finger on my lips, Seven stopped me. I’d have rambled on about changing the past if she hadn’t.
“There was nothing you could have done, I…” the light flickered again and her eyes shifted downward. “I didn’t want you to know.” Confused, I sat back. The way she was acting made it seem there was something she didn’t want to tell me. Seven reached behind her back up her shirt confusing me even more. When she pulled out the familiar device, I gasped. She held the object up; pressing the necessary small buttons, the Doctor shimmered into existence.
He nodded at Seven and spoke her name in greeting then looked at me with a broad smile. “I…” I didn’t know what to say. After the last battle with the Fon before engaging the slipstream, I thought his program had been lost.
“It’s good to see you, too, Captain.”
I felt paralyzed when he called me that. I couldn’t see or feel a thing. “Don’t call me that.” I never wanted to hear that title directed at me again. With the name came memories, the good and bad that I didn’t want to deal with. The white light passed so I looked at Seven, not the Doctor. His uniform made me remember. “How?” He answered me instead.
“I knew I’d be deactivated despite my advances. Since the mobile emitter is a reverse anachronism, how could they know it wasn’t a mobile regeneration unit Lieutenant Torres created for Seven.” He sat in the wingback chair to Seven’s right, away from me.
“She has no implants. Why would she need it? Why would they let her keep it?” I still didn’t look at him and made a meek request. “Can we alter your program so you’re not wearing that?”
He sighed, “You didn’t tell her yet.”
His remark forced my head up and over to catch his eyes shortly before I turned back to Seven. “Tell me what?”
“Doctor,” her voice seemed regretful, full of sorrow, “please excuse us.”
The Doctor left the room via the front porch. I waited. I felt Seven’s eyes on me for a long while “Wh-what was he talking about?” I couldn’t take the silence anymore. I needed to know. There were tears in her eyes.
“In the communiqu馣146;s to Earth, even when we just started to receive them, I inquired to anyone in Starfleet and beyond for help. I wanted them removed,” Seven traced the place above her eye where one of the Borg implants has been last time I saw her. “My contact made me think I would be safe and that they would remove them without trouble. As I spoke more with the individual, I asked the Doctor to get involved, to see if what they were telling me was true. He started talking to them, too, learning what the advances they’d made and worked with them giving them what information they needed about my physiology to come up with the proper procedures. It could have been done before initializing the slipstream drive. I had the choice. I didn’t make it.
“I didn’t expect to be taken away as I was. I had the Doctor with me, but I couldn’t let them know. Before they went through with the procedures they… Everything I know, everything I’ve been through; they downloaded it and examined it to make sure I wasn’t a threat. For months, I was locked up and strapped down before they began removing my implants. When I was well enough to leave, I did. The Doctor assures me the bruises will fade.” The whole story came as a shock to me. I guess it showed. “I am fine, Kathryn.”
Essentially, Starfleet had raped her. Then, they peace offered with removing her implants. More than likely, they were going to use them to develop technology to combat the Borg, which would have been fine if they had gone about it ethically. “I do want you to stay with me.” I paused momentarily, then added, “Not here, I mean. I… Back in San Francisco; or, somewhere.”
“I like it here.” She said quickly. “It’s nice. Away from technology.” I wouldn’t think Seven would want to be away from something so familiar to her. “I’ve been with it for so long. Not having it all would be a change. Something new, yet old.” She was looking around the room taking in the traditional style.
It didn’t occur to me that she’d want to stay in Indiana. I
thought she might want to get back out into the stars. Getting back out there,
for me, would be strange; not having a title to go with it. Not being in
control of where I was. It was a frightening idea and I wasn’t sure if I liked
it. Staying Earthbound would be good for a while longer. “We could find
something like this here. Or elsewhere on Earth.” Being in my childhood home
was comforting, but I was beginning to miss having my own place to come home to,
empty as it may have been.
“Have you contacted any of your relatives yet?” Seven looked at me sharply.
“I’d forgotten. No, I have not.” Seven ducked her head stealing a glance at the dead fireplace. “I’m not sure if I want to. They don’t know me.”
Moving over, I kindly brushed aside the hair from her eyes. “You don’t know them either.” Her head slightly turned toward me. “It’s just an idea.” A few moments went by, the invisible fire crackling in my mind, before Seven bowed her head fully showing off the welling tears. I pulled her face to mine, tenderly pressing my lips to hers, “Oh,” I cried with her. “Seven, I’m so sorry.” Crying, my voice was hoarse. “The worst of it is over,” and I silently added, I hope.
The Doctor took our quiet moment to come rushing back through the door, slamming even the main door closed. I jumped up to see his eyes wide and filled with worry. “Doctor?” His damned uniform still bothered me. He nodded, looking at Seven.
Seven stood up in slow motion from the sofa then met the Doctor halfway across the room. She hit a few commands on the mobile emitter dematerializing him. At least the uniform was gone. Turning back to me, she input more commands then pulled her shirt up in the back replacing the emitter where it was previously. With arms outstretched, fingers moving like spider legs, Seven came at me.
“The Doctor does not exist.” It was a simple, yet severe, order. I nodded and followed her lead where we ended up snuggling on the sofa. Not a minute later, the door flung open without a knock interrupting us. Seven pulled away from me in faux shock while mine was very real. They surrounded us before she or I had any chance at moving very far away.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing barging into this house?” Automatically, I slipped into ‘command mode’, allowing my voice to take on a deep, icy edge. “Who are you?” The men’s faces, behind their shaded masks, were taught. “What are you doing here?” With no answers and phaser rifles aimed at my head, I finally jumped back up onto my feet. “I said what-are-you-doing-here? Are you deaf? Dumb? Answer me!” The burliest of the group stood upright, lowering his weapon. I cocked my head slightly, my eyebrow rising. “Well?” My arms crossed over my chest, old habit forcing them into position. I damned myself for it.
“Sorry ma’am,” he looked at his peers, nodding. They lowered their weapons, too. “I apologize for the intrusion.” I jumped at him when he turned to leave.
“I asked you some questions. I intend to get a few answers.” Invading people’s personal space was an old hobby I missed. Playing with the man was fun. He merely proceeded out the door, his posse following at this heel like a pack of obedient dogs. I shut the door behind them then locked it. “Seven,” I said, before spinning on my heels.
“They were here to steal the Doctor.” I made a gesture indicating that she should elaborate. “While I was ‘under lock and key’, I was interrogated about the Doctor. It’s why we had to hide him and why I must continue to hide him. If I don’t…”
She trailed off. “I know.” No one wanted him deactivated, studied or experimented on. A human wouldn’t want that. “They detected the emitter working?” Seven nodded slowly. “Is there a way around that? Can you create some sort of field to protect him?” How quickly I forget things. In my questions, I assumed Seven could do it herself using her Borg components. Even though she was standing there, right in front of me, less Borg implants, it slipped my mind that she was fully human now. “I’m sorry.”
“I know.” Seven took a few steps toward me. “Sometimes, as much of a burden as it used to be, I wish that I still had it for times like these. For the most part, I’m glad I’m no longer Borg. It wasn’t worth the trouble.”
She was still too far away for my liking. I took the necessary steps and held onto her as if my life depended on it. “Do you know how much I’ve missed you?” Her chin slid beside my head in agreement. “I feel more for you, for us, than I can even begin to express.” Tilting my head back, I looked at her, a smile touched her lips and a look of understanding was held in her eyes. I laughed suddenly, her expression turning slightly confused. “I don’t know why I didn’t tell you before. It’s nice not to have to keep everything inside.”
Something silly occurred to me. “Can the Doctor hear us?”
Seven thought it was silly, too, because she laughed aloud for a little while before answering me. “No,” she said, a smile still hinting at the corners of her mouth, “he cannot.”
“Ok, that’s a good thing, but what can we do for him? It’s not like he’s a dog to be walked once a day.”
“And, they will return for him. You saw how quickly they detected the signal.”
“Meanwhile,” I smiled, hugging her more, “how about you and I set back on the sofa and talk some more before my mother gets home?” She quirked an eyebrow at me catching a virtually nonexistent double meaning at my suggestion; though, I really didn’t mean what she thought the idea wasn’t lost on me. Grinning at myself, my long time stint as a nun seemed to be over. “You have another idea?”
She was quiet for a moment, attempting to guess at my thoughts. “You spoke earlier of finding a place for us.” Her eyes sparkled with the notion.
“In such a hurry to leave here?”
“No,” her answer was quick. “I want a place of our own. Here.”
It was odd, I guess. Up by my willow tree, I’d always wanted to build a house, a cottage, something of my own to come to when I visited. “We’d have to apply for permission to build; get all the necessary permits, but I think we could haggle it.”
“What’s that look for?”
My facial expression must have let her into my devious thinking of placing a house near the willow. “It’s not a bad thing, just an idea of where to build.”
“Would you like to see it?”
Seven, of course, agreed, so I wrote my mother a note as if I were still a child then slowly led Seven out to the tree. I took my sweet time because despite what she had shared with me, she still seemed hesitant to let out what she wanted to say.
In the mid-day spring heat, the new herbs popping up offered a strange scent of aromatherapy. Soothing, it was also energizing and it made me skip like a schoolgirl the age of five. Amused by my actions, Seven laughed in between sentences.
“It’s beautiful out here. It makes me wonder why you’d want to leave it behind for the city.” Seven gently picked up my hand as we walked. I suppose it was to stop me from skipping circles around her.
I thought about her statement for a moment, wondering why I’d leave Indiana for San Francisco. I did love the house I had out there and the city used to make me feel alive, important. “Being a member of Starfleet, it was convenient to live so close. I liked it, but now it seems dead to me.” Like many other things, I added silently. “Here reminds me of certain things I wish I could forget. There, I felt like someone else.
“Seven,” my legs stopped trolling me forward. She stopped, too, and turned, keeping my hand inside hers. “I can’t give you,” a sigh interrupted my words. I wasn’t sure how to express what it was that caught my mind’s attention.
“Can’t give me what, Kathryn?” She stepped forward, caressing my cheek with her free hand. I could only look at her, tears welling in my eyes again.
The clear blue in Seven’s eyes seemed to go on for an eternity. The intensity of emotion in them rocked me to my core and to the ground. I guess she didn’t see my fall coming. Neither did I. My knees just turned to jelly and I slipped down to the grass. She was with me instantly, though. I stared at her not knowing what to say or do.
She spoke to me softly, with worry. “I-I’m sorry, I don’t know…” I scrambled to get to my feet and fell again. “Seven…” I gave up on standing. “How can I give you a future when… When my life is more than half over all ready?”
Seven was puzzled. She held my face again, now with both hands as she knelt next to me. “We make our future, not just you or I alone; together.”
When had the tables turned between us? When was it that she
became my guide to reentering humanity? I merely smiled in agreement and took
her hand to rise.
By the time we got to the tree, it was dusk. The stars were starting to show and the air had begun to chill. We agreed the house shouldn’t face the willow. I didn’t have to tell her why; she knew it was my escape. It was my place to sit and mull things over. Seven said it needed a swing attached to the lower branches so she could have a place to sit as well. I suggested a porch swing, but she fought me for the tree. Resistant, I allowed it.
“Is there a reason you’re so adamant about the swing being hung from the tree?” I flung myself up into its branches with ease. Even in the darkening light, I knew every branch, every crevice of my old friend. Tuvok, the thought halted me and I sat straddling a branch. Determined not to let it beat me, I spoke silent words to him and his family then moved upward. Seven wasn’t too far behind me, still learning how to manipulate her way through the boughs. I was comfortable, leaning forward onto the strong limb, in my nook when she finally reached me.
“Yes, there is a reason I want the swing under this tree.” She climbed in behind me and pulled me to her. “It’s so if you fall, I can catch you.”
Thinking of all the times I wanted to jump off the highest extremity, I settled back into her knowing that the thought wouldn’t enter my mind, seriously, anymore. After, really, only one day, I seemed to be coming to my senses. Despite mother’s shock, she’d be happy with it, me. I still wonder what my sister would say. Chuckling, I thought it might have been fun to threaten her with assimilation. Seven poked my side wondering what I found so entertaining.
“You’ll see when you meet my sister.”
“Phoebe.” She sucked in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “I am not looking forward to that.”
I laughed aloud hearing her confession. “Why’s that?”
“Gretchen warned me about her this morning before you woke.”
I laughed harder. “She’s not that bad, but she can get a little… Obnoxious.”
“That was the word your mother used.” Seven laughed with me for a few moments. When the silence hit, we heard the crickets and frogs of the evening. “I can see why you come out here to think. It’s peaceful.”
“I can escape from everything out here. I think, but I don’t at the same time.”
Seven and I sat in easy silence for a long while. The stars offered me their full light again. I continue to wish upon them.
The old willow trees’ branches holding me up faithfully: holding us up faithfully. The familiar scents of herbs and corn and flowers and trees waft by working my senses. Leaning back again, I feel Seven’s warmth welcoming me instead of the rough bark I’m accustomed to, and her arms wrap around my body firmly, possessively. Smiling, I felt in perfect harmony with the universe. Though I don’t feel the need to escape from the harshness of my past now, the tree offers familiarity and comfort. When the overwhelming feeling returns, my nook will be waiting.
A renewed sense of faith and hope worked its way into my brain from the locked depths of my heart. I couldn’t remember when, or if, I’d ever felt so alive and wanted. How one person could make me feel so much baffled me. I still regretted not letting myself see those years ago how much she did want me and how much I wanted, needed her in return. Chakotay once told me that I had something with her, that there was some sort of bond between she and I that allowed me to get through the tough Borg exterior and into her human heart. Not in so many words, but the meaning was there and I remember seeing something more in his statement than what he meant. Perhaps he knew then what I was hiding and what I express now.
Remembering him, the rest of my former crew filtered into my thoughts and brought a tear to my eye. I closed them, settling more into Seven for comfort and security. Somehow, she understood and wrapped herself around me tighter.
“When the house is finished,” I started quietly, turning my head up slightly, “I want everyone there. Tom, Neelix, and everyone.” I felt her nod in agreement. “Let’s get back, hm?” Again, Seven nodded, so I leaned forward and jumped down to the lower branch.
I knew things would never come to the point of perfection, but walking the unbeaten path through the cornrows back to mother’s house, I felt as close to perfection as one could feel.
Past events could never be taken back, and I don’t know if I’d want them taken back. Sometimes I did. Other times, I knew what’s happened in my life made me stronger. I thrive on knowing that. My guilt is as strong as my bones and as eternal as my love. Accepting that is hard. It’ll never fade.