“You have no idea how difficult it’s been, hiding my true feelings all these years…averting my eyes during your regular maintenance exams.”
The Doctor dropped to his holographic knees and continued his desperate confession, as Seven’s eyes widened.
“I know you could never have the same feelings for me, but I want you to know the truth. I love you, Seven!”
The Doctor cringed and shut his eyes, wishing that a temporal rift could appear somehow and transport him back to the moment just before he uttered those words. The leisurely two hours he had spent chatting with Captain Janeway in a Buenos Aires sidewalk café on the holodeck had helped alleviate most of the discomfort he’d felt around his commanding officer, and in the time that had passed since his “deathbed confession”, he had managed to smooth things over with the other senior officers who’d been present. That left the object of his affection, whom he’d avoided ever since that incident, and who was now due to report to Sickbay for one of those routine maintenance exams.
0730. The Doctor knew that one could set the ship’s chronometer by Seven’s daily schedule, and indeed, just as he formed that thought, the Sickbay doors parted with a whoosh and Seven strode into the room, prompt as ever. Hologram or not, the Doctor experienced the distinct sensation of his stomach dropping to his knees as he made eye contact with the beautiful woman. He felt that he had made a fool of himself in front of her, and wondered briefly how she would react to him. The Doctor forced a smile to his face and greeted Seven with all the blustery cheerfulness he could muster.
“Good morning, Seven. How are you feeling today?”
“I am functioning within normal parameters.”
“Well, you know the drill. Let’s take a few brief scans to be certain, before I pronounce you fit for duty.”
Seven rolled her eyes, but sat patiently on the biobed as the Doctor passed the scanning device over her and studied the readouts on his medical tricorder. They were both silent for several moments. The Doctor appeared to be gathering his courage to say something else to her. Seven suspected his next words would have little to do with the status of her Borg implants.
“Seven…there is something I feel the need to discuss with you,” he began awkwardly.
Seven sighed almost imperceptibly and raised her ocular implant slightly as she regarded him.
“Regarding what I said to you when I thought my program was about to decompile…I want you to know that I realize you do not share the same feelings for me that I have for you. It was not my intention to make you feel uncomfortable in my presence, or to embarrass you in front of your colleagues.”
He lowered the medical instruments and turned away from her. He made no move to approach the data console in the center of the exam room or to consult his medical tricorder. He simply walked a few meters from her and stood, head lowered, unable to say anything further.
Seven’s brow furrowed as she observed him. It was very unusual to see the hologram at a loss for words. Seven’s sense of empathy was sufficiently developed at this point for her to realize that the Doctor was in extreme emotional distress. Slowly, she stood up from the biobed and walked toward him, concern etched on her face.
He did not turn around as she approached. She stopped short of invading his personal space and stood with her hands linked behind her back as he addressed her.
“Your implants are properly aligned and functioning perfectly. You may go.”
“There is something I must discuss with you first. My response to you was…inaccurate. I do not believe that your cognitive algorithms were malfunctioning.”
There was a hint of sarcasm in the Doctor’s tone. “Thank you, Seven, for clearing that up.”
“Your attraction toward me does not make me ‘uncomfortable’. Since my arrival on Voyager, you have assisted me in regaining my humanity, instructed me in social lessons and defended me in times of adversity. I consider you my closest friend. You possess sincerity, compassion and enthusiasm for life in greater quantities than most of the organic beings I have encountered. I find that I am…honored that you would have such feelings for me.”
The Doctor turned to face Seven with a mixture of surprise and hopefulness. Seven’s open, honest face indicated that she was being her usual direct self. Was it possible that she did, in fact, return his feelings? At the very least, she had said nothing to indicate otherwise. The Doctor quickly amended that thought. There was something she’d said that still bothered him.
“I know it must have been shocking to have me fall at your feet and reveal my innermost feelings to you, Seven, but if you feel as you say you do, why shrug it off as a malfunction? My existence was about to end…or at least I thought so at the time…and you would have let me fade into oblivion on those words? Frankly, it felt as though I meant no more to you than any other piece of technology on this ship.”
Seven took a deep breath and shifted her stance slightly. She did not answer immediately, and broke off her eye contact with the Doctor.
The Doctor slowly began to feel ashamed. Seven had hurt him deeply with her cold insistence that his love for her was the result of a malfunction, but he had blurted out his feelings in front of others and taken her completely by surprise. Here, in the privacy of Sickbay, she had revealed that she understood and respected his feelings. Even more importantly, she understood and respected him.
“She considers me her closest friend. If anything, I’m the one who should feel honored. And how have I shown her my appreciation? By attacking her,” the Doctor thought glumly.
“Seven, it isn’t necessary to answer that. I put you in the spot in front of everyone. It was unfair of me to ask you to justify your response under those circumstances. You’ve opened up and shared your true feelings, and I am deeply honored and grateful that you think of me as your closest friend. That means a great deal to me.”
Seven still did not meet his eyes. Concerned by her obvious discomfort, the Doctor took a step forward.
“After you disclosed your feelings for me, everyone looked at me, as if they were anticipating my reaction.”
“It’s only natural for you to feel self-conscious in that sort of situation, especially when I had…rather indiscreetly…revealed something that I should have discussed with you privately.”
Seven met his eyes once more.
“The fact that others witnessed the incident is irrelevant. However…I was aware of the captain observing me…awaiting my response. I felt…uncomfortable…as if my stomach were hollow…I cannot explain my reaction.”
“It’s alright, Seven. Captain Janeway has also served as a mentor for you and has expended every effort to help you become a valued and respected member of her crew. I’m not surprised that you would place a great deal of importance on her opinion of you.”
Seven seemed to accept that, and the Doctor thought it best to cease dwelling on the incident. Now that the ugly, embarrassing moment was behind them, perhaps he and Seven could move on from here with a minimum of awkwardness. He smiled cheerfully at her.
“I’m glad we had the chance to discuss this. I suppose it’s time for you to report for duty. I don’t want to be responsible for making you late.”
“Thank you, Doctor.” With a slight nod to him, Seven walked toward the Sickbay doors and exited, headed for Astrometrics.
As the doors whooshed shut behind her, the Doctor laid the scanner and medical tricorder in their respective places on the instrument tray, and entered his office. He sat at his desk and contemplated his interaction with Seven.
“It’s unlike Seven to feel so embarrassed that she would make intentionally false statements to deflect attention away from herself. The captain could not possibly have found fault with Seven for anything I had said. It’s not as if Seven has any control over my feelings for her. And she certainly hasn’t done anything to actively encourage or pursue a romantic relationship with me.”
The Doctor considered that line of thought.
“Was Seven afraid that it may have appeared that way to the captain? Was she worried the captain may have disapproved if Seven had encouraged me in any way? Captain Janeway knows all too well the loneliness and isolation that result from years with no companionship. I can’t imagine she would begrudge Seven the right to seek that companionship, especially since she seems just as eager as I am to help Seven explore all aspects of her humanity.”
“Hmmm,” he said aloud. He turned to his desktop monitor. “Computer, display all mission logs referencing both Captain Janeway and Seven of Nine. List in ascending chronological order.”
Only a few days after the Doctor’s heart-to-heart with Seven in Sickbay, Captain Janeway was in for her own medical exam. The Doctor seemed to be proceeding with the checkup without his usual nagging reminders to get more sleep, eat three solid meals a day, and reduce her workload, for which Janeway was grateful. She disliked having to interrupt her busy schedule for these routine visits to Sickbay, but in her heart, she knew that the Doctor’s insistence upon them was not only a matter of Starfleet regulations. They had become closer since that long chat in the little sidewalk cafe in the holodeck, and Janeway knew the Doctor truly cared for her, both as a friend and as his captain. He had admitted that he often worried about her not taking proper care of herself. Janeway reasoned that stopping by Sickbay every now and then was a small price to pay to ensure her chief medical officer’s peace of mind.
The Doctor smiled and addressed his commanding officer casually.
“You appear to be in perfect physical condition, Captain. Keep up the good work.”
“Thank you, Doctor. I’ll do my best.”
Janeway assumed the exam was over and was about to hop off the biobed when the Doctor turned to her again.
“And how about your emotional well-being? Interpersonal relationships, social life?”
Janeway sighed and remained seated for the moment.
“I believe my ‘social life’ is just fine. I make every effort to interact on a social level with the crew, when duty allows.”
“Yes, and may I say once again how much I enjoyed having the opportunity to sit down and have an informal talk with you on the holodeck. No rank, no Starfleet protocol, just two friends spending time together and ‘shooting the breeze’. I hope we can do that again sometime soon.”
“I’ll try to set some time aside when my schedule permits.”
Janeway smiled at the Doctor and once again made a move to leave, only to be stopped by another question.
“Captain...may I speak freely?”
“I spoke with Seven of Nine not long ago, when she was in for her routine maintenance exam. I believe she and I have moved past my confession of love for her, and have reached a point where we will be able to resume our friendship, as it was before.”
“That’s good to know,” Janeway replied carefully, not certain where this was heading.
“I’ve been thinking about the incident with Seven a lot lately. The entire situation helped me to realize that I haven’t always made the best decisions – or offered the best advice – when it comes to romance and love. I’ve been thinking about what I told you regarding...Michael Sullivan.”
Janeway waved her hand in a dismissive gesture.
“Doctor, I appreciate your concern, but I would rather not venture into that topic this morning. I decided months ago that my...relationship...with Michael had run its course. I’d prefer to leave it at that.”
“Please hear me out, Captain. At the time, you were reluctant to pursue a relationship with a hologram. I pointed out that you couldn’t engage in a relationship with any member of your crew, because they’re all your subordinates. I offered Michael as a viable alternative. In retrospect, I believe my advice was wrong.”
“I don’t regret the time I spent with him just because it didn’t work out in the long run.”
“I wasn’t referring to Michael Sullivan.”
Janeway blinked and looked at the Doctor as though he had two heads.
“You’re suggesting that I date a member of my crew? You can’t be serious.”
“Think about it, Captain. Starfleet protocol does suggest that relationships between superiors and subordinates can be problematic, but the regulations stop short of prohibiting such relationships outright. Certainly, there have been other captains and first officers who have dated, and even ended up marrying, members of their crew. The reality is that you may very well remain on Voyager for the rest of your life. I believe it may be beneficial for you to at least...keep your options open.”
The captain glared sharply at her chief medical officer, who took an involuntary step backward under her gaze. She stood up from the biobed, signaling that this medical exam had come to an end. Janeway tried to remind herself that the Doctor meant well, despite his aggravating tendency to pry into her personal life and carry discussions a step too far.
As she approached the Sickbay doors, Janeway turned back to face the Doctor for a moment, tongue firmly in cheek.
“Was there anyone particular you had in mind?”
The Doctor seemed rather relieved by the gentle teasing. He shook his head, smiling warmly at her.
“Just consider it a second opinion.”
The Doctor entered Cargo Bay Two and observed Seven of Nine at her data console in front of the Borg alcoves.
“Good evening, Seven. May I have a word with you?”
Seven glanced up from the console and turned toward the Doctor, linking her hands behind her back.
“I’ve been thinking about our recent discussion in Sickbay. I believe that your discomfort in the presence of the captain and senior officers may indicate something other than mere self-consciousness or embarrassment. It’s quite possible you did not wish to be perceived as returning my feelings for you.”
Seven’s brow creased in thought as she processed that information.
“Perhaps,” she allowed.
“It may have been a subconscious effort to indicate to the others present that you are not in love with me...that you are ‘unattached’, so to speak, and free to form other romantic relationships.”
The Doctor lowered his eyes to the deck and continued.
“I’ve done a lot of soul-searching over the past several days. I’m afraid I haven’t been completely honest with you regarding this aspect of your humanity.”
Seven locked eyes with him, her gaze steady and serious.
“When you began to express an interest in romantic and sexual matters, I assisted you in selecting a date and provided you with lessons in social interaction with a prospective partner.”
“Your lessons were informative, although I still do not fully understand the necessity for ‘small talk’ and consuming meals involving creatures with exoskeletons.”
The Doctor smiled at Seven’s earnestness.
“It was no coincidence that I encouraged you to select a compatible partner from such a narrow range of potential candidates. Did you ever wonder why I limited your choices to the men only, and defined one of your primary interests as music? Consciously or not, I was trying to stack the cards in my favor. I had hoped that perhaps...you might choose me.”
Seven’s eyes widened as she kept her gaze on the Doctor, who was now pacing the deck and gesturing animatedly as he spoke.
“I implied that compatible interests, hobbies and goals are the most relevant factors in selecting a partner. Those are important, Seven, but ultimately, one must possess some level of emotional and physical attraction toward the person one wishes to date. You don’t choose a partner by picking a name from a list. You listen to what your heart tells you.”
The Doctor stopped directly in front of Seven and faced her.
“Seven, I will always love you. And because of that love, I want to do all I can to ensure your happiness. I believe there is someone on this ship you are attracted to, quite possibly one of the officers present at the time of my confession. Consider approaching that individual and utilizing some of those social lessons I taught you. It would be a shame to let all that effort go to waste.”
Seven’s eyes glistened with unshed tears. She moved forward, extended her arms and placed them around the Doctor’s shoulders. The hug was awkward at first, but gradually Seven relaxed as the Doctor hugged her back. They stood, holding each other tightly, for several moments.
“Thank you, Doctor,” Seven whispered as she stepped back. She wiped at the tears that had run down her cheeks.
“You’re welcome, Seven,” he replied in a gentle voice. “Good night.” Then he turned and walked toward the cargo bay doors. As the doors slid shut behind him and he made his way back to Sickbay, he experienced a profound sense of peace and contentment. It felt as though he had finally set things right.
As the Doctor was returning to Sickbay, Captain Janeway poured another glass of wine for herself and Commander Chakotay. The captain and first officer had just finished their weekly dinner in Janeway’s quarters and had moved on from discussing ship’s business to more informal conversation.
Janeway, ordinarily rather reserved when it came to personal matters, had felt an overwhelming urge to share the Doctor’s surprising suggestion with the commander. She told herself that she was taking a risk in doing so, but she trusted Chakotay’s discretion and good sense. She also knew that he would give her a straightforward opinion.
“I had a most unusual conversation with the Doctor today. It seems that his “deathbed confession” has caused him to re-evaluate his feelings about love and romance.”
Chakotay grinned as he swirled the wine glass in his hand.
“I imagine it would. At the very least, he may have learned that there are more subtle ways of saying, ‘I love you’.”
Janeway returned the grin and took a small sip from her glass.
“He’s also had time to rethink advice he has given others on that subject. He told me that he was wrong when he suggested that a captain should never have a romantic relationship with a member of her crew. He recommended I keep my options open.”
“Seems like reasonable advice.”
“Do you really think so, Chakotay? How could such a relationship work, given the built-in power imbalance between superior officer and subordinate? And what about matters of discipline or away mission assignments? Surely other crewmembers would feel that the captain’s partner was receiving preferential treatment at some point, regardless of whether that was actually the case.”
“Perhaps they would. But consider the alternatives. We’re still a long way from Earth. You may be Voyager’s captain, but you also have basic human needs for love, intimacy and companionship. Continually denying yourself won’t make those needs disappear. With the exception of holograms and members of species we meet along the way, you don’t have much choice.”
Janeway appeared pensive as Chakotay sipped his wine. Over the years, their friendship had grown to the point where he could be perfectly frank with her during moments like these, and the commander appreciated her trust in him. The fact that she had broached the topic at all indicated that she was giving the Doctor’s advice serious consideration. The captain remained silent for the moment, and Chakotay went on.
“My own involvement with a subordinate was a complete disaster, but Seska was not exactly your typical crewmember.”
He flashed a quick smile at the captain, and one corner of her mouth edged upward in a lopsided grin.
“Kathryn, I don’t see anything wrong with pursuing such a relationship. You are just as deserving of happiness as anyone else aboard this ship. And I have a feeling the crew would throw their complete support behind you, as well.”
Janeway placed her wine glass on the table and regarded her first officer warmly.
“Thank you, Chakotay. I can always count on you to lay all the cards on the table.”
“Anytime,” he chuckled. “So, if you don’t mind my asking, do you have any prospects?”
The captain blushed slightly and averted her eyes. The effect was quite charming, and Chakotay couldn’t help but smile.
“There is someone I have grown very close to, whom I find myself deeply attracted to, but I’m not certain those feelings are mutual.”
The commander hesitated a moment, then replied, “She’d be crazy not to accept a date with you.”
Janeway looked up in surprise into the warm, sincere face of her first officer. Her eyes lit up and a wide smile broke out across her face as she reached out and squeezed Chakotay’s hand.
Captain Janeway felt more anxious than she had just prior to her first command assignment. She glanced at her reflection in the mirror once more, and readjusted her red and black tunic.
“Not much point in waiting any longer.”
She turned and walked purposefully toward the doors to her quarters. The doors slid open as she approached, to reveal a startled Seven of Nine on the other side. Seven’s hand was briefly frozen in mid-air, as though she’d been about to ring the door chime.
“Seven! I was just on my way to Cargo Bay Two to see you.”
The two women regarded one another in surprise for a moment. The captain quickly recovered her composure and gestured toward the interior of her quarters.
“Please come in.”
Seven entered the room and the captain followed, the doors sliding shut behind them. The former Borg drone took a deep breath and stopped in the middle of the room, keeping her hands at her sides.
“What did you wish to see me about, Captain?”
Janeway pursed her lips. She didn’t believe this would be the best time to reveal that information, especially since she was uncertain why Seven had come to her quarters. The captain noted that her astrometrics officer seemed rather unsettled and distracted. Janeway willed herself to remain calm and tried to focus on the need to assist Seven with whatever appeared to be troubling her.
“It’s nothing urgent. Is there something you wanted to speak to me about, Seven?”
“Yes.” Seven seemed to hesitate, took another deep breath, and linked her hands behind her back as she locked eyes with the captain. “If you are free tomorrow evening, I wish to invite you to dinner. I have reserved the mess hall for 2000 hours and will be preparing a meal for the two of us.”
Seven observed anxiously as the shocked expression on the captain’s face slowly gave way to a very lovely smile.
Seven was visibly flooded with relief, and a rare smile crept across her face. “I look forward to it.”
Both women continued to smile shyly at each another for a few moments. It felt almost as though they were meeting for the first time and getting to know one another again, in an entirely new way. Seven suddenly recalled that the captain had planned to see her about something.
“What were you intending to speak to me about in Cargo Bay Two?” Seven asked gently.
Janeway flashed her a lopsided grin. “Let’s just say you beat me to it.”
Seven dipped her head and blushed adorably. The captain moved directly in front of her and took Seven’s hands in her own. The tall blonde glanced up and met Janeway’s eyes.
“I was...apprehensive...about asking you to accompany me on a date. I worried that you would not wish to do so. Yet, now that you have accepted, I find that I continue to experience tension.”
Janeway smiled warmly. “I’m nervous, too, Seven. It’s been a very long time since I’ve dated anyone. But you and I have already developed a close bond over the years. We respect and care for each other. As long as we continue to trust in each other, I think we’ll be all right.”
The older woman rubbed her thumb gently over the metal components on Seven’s left hand. Seven became aware of her own heart beating wildly. Unable to bear the anticipation any longer, she leaned in toward the captain, close enough to feel Janeway’s breath against her lips.
“Perhaps this will alleviate any remaining anxiety,” she whispered, and pressed her lips to Janeway’s in a slow, tender kiss. Janeway stiffened momentarily in surprise, but quickly succumbed to the overwhelming emotions and physical sensations, allowing herself to be swept away. She slid her arms up and around Seven’s neck as Seven wrapped her arms tightly around the captain. The kiss deepened and continued for several moments until both women pulled back slightly, breathless and wanting more.
“The first kiss ordinarily doesn’t take place until the end of the first date,” Janeway informed her in a low, husky voice. “But I’m certainly willing to be flexible.”
“Was the kiss acceptable, Captain?”
Janeway could have sworn she saw the faint hint of a smirk pass across Seven’s face. The captain grinned broadly at the taller woman.
“Very. And I think it’s time you called me Kathryn.”
Janeway decided she rather liked the sound of her name falling from Seven’s lips.
“There are preparations for tomorrow evening I must attend to before I regenerate,” Seven remarked.
“I’d better let you go, then.”
Seven and Janeway shared another kiss before the captain walked her astrometrics officer to the doors.
“Until tomorrow,” Janeway said softly, a tremulous smile playing on her lips.
“Good night, Kathryn,” Seven replied, returning the smile as she exited the captain’s quarters.
The Doctor sat in his office compiling a report on his latest research, humming an aria as he did so. He turned abruptly as the Sickbay doors parted, and Seven entered. The Doctor stood and approached her, meeting her in the center of the room.
“Good evening, Seven!” he called out brightly. “I’m not accustomed to seeing you in Sickbay this late. Are you in need of medical attention?”
“No,” she replied, the corners of her lips upturned slightly. “I informed you that I would seek your guidance if I should ever encounter an individual with whom I wish to pursue a romantic relationship. I am requesting that guidance now. I have a date tomorrow evening.”
“Wonderful, Seven!” The Doctor smiled broadly. “What time are you and the captain planning to meet?”
Seven stared at him. “How did you know the captain will accompany me on the date?”
The hologram returned her gaze somewhat sheepishly. “Perhaps it’s just intuition.”
She did not let him off the hook so easily.
“After our previous conversation in Sickbay, I began considering the possibility that you might be attracted to Captain Janeway. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how logical it seemed. I began to wonder whether the attraction was mutual. It’s easy to see just how deeply the captain cares for you, Seven. I’ve studied the ship’s mission logs. She has risked herself, her crew, and Voyager itself, time and again, to ensure that no harm comes to you. You can’t ask for greater love than that. And the captain is equally fortunate to have you love her in return.”
Seven’s gaze softened. “Were it not for you, I may never have expressed those feelings to the captain. Captain Janeway and I owe you a great deal.”
“Not at all, Seven. That’s part of being a friend. And if I happened to give the captain a nudge in your direction, it was simply my duty as chief medical officer. After all, I have been entrusted with ensuring the health and well-being of every member of this crew, starting with the commanding officer.”
“Now,” the Doctor exclaimed, “what sort of guidance are you looking for?”
“I require assistance in determining the most appropriate attire, as well as your expertise in choosing musical selections for the evening.”
The Doctor approached the data console in the center of the room and tapped in a few commands.
As Seven began evaluating the different clothing selections the Doctor had provided, he glanced over at the beautiful young woman, whose face was aglow with happiness. He was reminded once again of his confession of love for her, and how not so long ago, he had wished for a temporal rift to appear and return him to the moment just before he uttered those words. He smiled to himself.
“I love you, Seven...enough to know that given the opportunity, I wouldn’t change a thing.”