Disclaimer: Yah ta ta Paramount, blather babble not mine, kvetch whine no money, bow scrape don't sue. With recognition and love also to Billy Wilder, who creates powerful women with black and white magic.
Author's Note: This is my second attempt at fanfic--my other one was O/K. What can I tell you? I dig weird couples. If you enjoy the story, please rent the ORIGINAL Sabrina, and see the dress. You'll know the one I mean.
Seven of Nine was uncertain as she stood outside the door to the captain's quarters. When she had first come aboard Voyager, the loss of that absolute certainty that had been her constant companion while she was part of the Collective had almost driven her to insanity. Now, the nagging low-level self-doubt she felt when interacting with Humans was just an annoyance, a presence in her mind she had learned to accept the way a beekeeper accepts the ceaseless noise of the insects that accompany him.
Not that she viewed the Humans as insects... well, not any more, at least. A crewman she recognized walked past her at that moment and she started guiltily, as if he might have read her thoughts. Seven checked her internal chrono. This was the time she had arranged to meet with Janeway; she must not be late. Why destroy a well-earned reputation for being an automaton? Taking a deep breath, she rang the chime and heard the captain's gravelly "Come" just before the door whooshed open.
"Good evening, Captain," Seven announced with confidence she for once did not feel. "Thank you again for agreeing to see me. I realize this week is especially busy for you--" the Borg woman trailed off as she saw Janeway was sitting on her couch with a plate of food on the coffee table and a dataPADD in her hands. Her confidence took another nosedive, and she found to her surprise that she was almost stammering. "I--am sorry. You are still eating. I should not interrupt--"
Janeway took no apparent notice of her discomfort, waving her welcomingly toward the padded chair in the small seating area. "Don't worry. I'm almost done. Frankly, I'm glad for an excuse not to finish it. It's Neelix's first attempt at a curry and it's not entirely successful." Her fingers flew over the PADD in a final burst of activity, then she set it down on the table, a little roughly for such delicate equipment, Seven thought. "There. The last report." She rubbed the back of her neck in an effort to get the kinks out. "Sometimes I wonder if I really need to do all of this paperwork, what with the unique situation this ship is in. But we all need routines to keep us sane."
"That is true," the younger woman acknowledged. She realized that even though she was off-duty she was sitting stiffly, her back ramrod straight, her hands folded neatly in her lap. But she did not know any other way to sit. Even the captain, her work finished, adopted a semi-recumbent posture as she turned to study her visitor.
"How can I help you, Seven?" Janeway asked. She had asked that question many times when the Borg had had trouble adjusting to the rules and regs of life on a starship, when Seven had come to her with professional concerns, small and large, but this time the other woman noticed a slight difference in the tone, an added warmth. Of all the Humans, Janeway had from the beginning been the most open and giving of herself, and not just because she was the captain or because it was in the best interests of Voyager for her to maintain good relations with the Borg. Somehow, Seven felt a special connection to this woman. Was it merely her programmed-in respect of authority that led her to see a friendship where none was offered? Well, if that were so, she would find out tonight.
"I--" she was stammering again! Some part of her neural net went to work running a diagnostic on her speech centre--"I wished to ask your advice."
Janeway nodded slowly, her face revealing nothing. When the occasion called for it, she was not one for cluttering up a room with useless chatter. Seven usually liked that about her. Usually.
"It concerns a personal matter. I know that we are not given to discussing such things, but--I am not given to discussing them with anyone."
"I'm flattered you decided to come to me."
Seven's gaze darted over the room before returning to the captain. She could feel her hands fidgeting in her lap, and clamped them together forcefully. "Several months ago, I became interested in the prospect of- socializing with the crew. The male members of the crew." There was still no change to Janeway's expression. Seven ploughed ahead, the words coming faster now.
"I spoke with the Doctor about it, and he appointed himself my instructor in the finer points of 'dating', as he called it. He taught me how to meet people, the value of 'small talk', singing--"
"Singing?" Janeway interjected, her curiosity finally getting the better of her.
"Yes. He told me I had a lovely voice--" she trailed off, momentarily lost in thought, then resumed. "Finally, I chose a likely candidate and we--I--arranged a date." Her voice became small. "It was an unmitigated disaster." When Janeway opened her mouth to protest, Seven forestalled her with a movement of her hand. "Medical treatment was involved." Janeway's mouth closed. The Borg woman took a deep breath. "I felt--I cannot recall ever having felt so much a failure. More than that, for I had never before paid any attention to my physical body, except when it felt pain or craved nourishment. For the first time, I was aware of my physical self, the way I imagined most of the Humans aboard this ship must see it. I felt clumsy, and awkward, and somehow" her voice dropped to a shaky whisper--"monstrous."
"Oh, Seven," Janeway soothed.
"I wanted to run, to retreat and never try anything so foolish again." The Borg shook her head and smiled wanly. "And then he asked me to dance." At Janeway's puzzled expression, she supplied, "The Doctor. He danced with me, talked with me, and the feeling faded. At the time, I did not think about the implications of this."
Janeway arched an eyebrow at her, waiting. After a moment, Seven continued.
"Soon afterward, we had a misunderstanding. I was angry, and--hurt. That surprised me, and as a result I decided to reduce our personal contact. I told him I was no longer in need of lessons, as I had found no one suitable. That was a lie." She looked to Janeway for some betrayal of shock, of surprise.
Janeway disappointed her. "I see," was her only reaction, delivered in the same gruff tone she used on the bridge. The involuntary twitch at the side of her mouth escaped the Borg.
"Forgive me, Captain, but you do not." Seven stared down at her lap and watched her hands resume their fidgeting. "I have been acting like a lovesick teenage Human for weeks. I turn up to every concert, every party, every social function in the hopes that he will be in attendance, and when he is I find myself too nervous to speak with him. I find excuses to visit sickbay when I am in perfect condition. Last Wednesday I escorted Ensign Lister there when he became injured on my watch."
"Very noble," approved Janeway, her effort to appear serious becoming strained.
"He was suffering from a hangnail."
It was then that Janeway barked. Seven's head jerked up in time to witness the captain of Voyager dissolve in helpless, boneless laughter. She remained stolidly silent as the other woman attempted to regain her composure, failed two or three times, then finally mastered herself, wiping at her eyes as she took in great gulps of air. "Seven, I'm not laughing at you, really I'm not. I just--think it's wonderful." She reached her hands out to clasp the Borg's warmly. "I'm happy for you."
"Happy that I am miserable?" Seven queried, confused.
"No, of course not. Happy that--oh, hell, Seven, I'm the last person who should be advising you to go for the gusto, to take a risk." The older woman sighed expressively. "What is that old Earth saying--'Do as I say, not as I do'? The only thing I can suggest is to find some way to spend a little quiet time with the Doctor, and find out just what there is between you. You don't have to leap right up and declare your undying love, but these things tend to resolve themselves very neatly given a bit of attention."
The Borg woman shook her head. "There is nothing to resolve. He does not feel that way about me. He sees me only as a friend."
Janeway smiled. "If he were a living, breathing heterosexual male, I'd say you were dead wrong. However, I don't know enough about the Doctor's programming to tell you for certain what he is or isn't capable of feeling." She paused as if deciding whether to reveal something, then went ahead. "There were rumours--not that I get a chance to hear many--that he was sweet on an assistant of his a while back. I don't suppose there's any harm in telling you; I know you won't repeat it." Seven nodded, knowing the captain was praising her character, not implying she had no friends she could gossip with, even though it was the truth. "At any rate, I know that he's shown a much greater capacity for emotion and compassion than I ever would have imagined he could when I first met him." The older woman gave Seven's hand a final squeeze before releasing it. "You might be pleasantly surprised this time."
The Borg nodded grimly. "You are correct. It is better than what I have been doing, this, this--" she gestured helplessly.
"I believe the word you're looking for is 'mooning'," Janeway supplied helpfully, and was rewarded with a look of genuine horror.
"But what should I do?" she asked when the look of distaste finally faded.
"The easiest thing would be to tell him you want to resume your lessons."
Seven stared at her for several seconds, then realization dawned. "Oh. Yes. I believe I am beginning to see the possibilities." Was that a temperature change her sensors were registering in her epidermal region? Was the source external... or internal....
Oh. Silently, Seven promised herself right there that she would resolve this situation as quickly as possible. The last thing she needed was to provide the gossip mongers with a blushing Borg.
The Doctor was uncertain as he stood outside the doors to Holodeck Two, where Seven of Nine waited for him. He had been shocked by her invitation, considering she had made a point of avoiding him for months, ever since that disastrous incident with Paris. Leave it to the insensitive clod to discuss their wager right in front of her, as though she had no feelings to hurt. In that sense he and the Borg woman had something in common. Even after centuries of living alongside technology, Humans were frequently unable to realize that same technology had progressed beyond the level of the toaster.
He often pondered, in the down times between medical emergencies, the question of exactly how far he had progressed. The Doctor was one of the most complex holoprograms ever constructed, equipped with all the ability, arrogance and compassion of a Human doctor. He had been programmed with a personality, hard-wired to be sympathetic to the life forms he treated so that they would feel less nervous about putting their lives in the hands of a cold, calculating computer. From a professional standpoint, his emotional algorithms were a raging success.
From a personal standpoint, they were a godawful mess. The very fact that he thought of himself as having a personal life was a development he was sure his creators had not envisioned. They had made something to serve humanity, a 24th century appliance.
"Well," he huffed quietly to himself, straightening his suit jacket as he stepped forward to enter, "this is one toaster who's tired of getting the crumbs." That earned him a backward glance from a passing PO, but he ignored it, for he was more interested in the fact that the door had not just parted before him.
He palmed the panel to the right of the door, and was rewarded by the curt voice of the ship's computer. "Password authorization required." That puzzled him; Paris' jazz club program was never restricted when he ran it. Holodecks were only locked down when the participants wanted complete privacy.
"Authorization--oh, never mind." In less than the time it would have taken him to speak it aloud, he accessed the main computer's password matrix and fed in his code. The doors promptly opened to reveal--
--a place that was definitely not Paris' club.
Seven had liked Audrey Hepburn best.
She had spent all of her off-duty time for the past two weeks researching the elements of what humans called romance. Janeway had steered her toward Renaissance poetry and painting, Classical sculpture, and music and films of the twentieth century. It was this last that had captured her imagination most thoroughly. The Borg woman absorbed hour after hour of light romantic comedies, musicals and three-hanky melodramas, trying to find role models for a role she did not know how to play.
The waif-like woman whom Seven lighted on seemed an unlikely choice, yet of all the long-gone shadows she was the one who seemed most real to the Borg. Some part of her--the lost child she had tried to bury deep inside her, perhaps--identified with the type of character that actress often played. She always began the story as an innocent, wide-eyed and vulnerable, and at first Seven felt her to be weak because of it. However, whatever improbable life experiences befell the heroine, she always emerged wiser for it, yet still somehow with that aura of innocence, that lack of fear strangely intact. She made Seven feel envious, and terribly old. Yet almost unconsciously, she found herself seeking to mimic the other woman's carriage and grace.
Then there had been days of practice in everything from dancing to walking. Seven had fed several of the films into the holodeck computer, where it recreated them in three solid dimensions. Unlike the more complex scenario programs, the holodeck could only run the movies as they had been filmed, though Seven was able to delete one of the characters and 'fill in.' Her eidetic memory was any actress' dream come true.
She sang light opera. She played the guitar. She dove off a barge into the Tiber River. She made entrances. She shoplifted from a five-and-dime store. She dressed up in diamond necklaces and tiaras. She dressed down in black leotards and flat Chinese slippers. She danced. And danced. And then she danced some more.
And she kissed several men--fair- and dark-haired ones, blue- and brown-eyed ones, tall, thin, compact, muscular--until their distinguishing features began to blur. She practiced the meaningful look, the beguiling grin, the mysterious air, the pealing laugh. She studied the art of being in love.
Her favourite 'love scene' was from the film called Roman Holiday. The hero and heroine, destined by the Fates of melodrama to have only a short time together, finally give in to their pent-up passion in a very tiny European-built ground conveyance. While Seven did not fully comprehend the social forces that would cruelly tear apart a princess and a newspaperman, she did understand the desperation and immediacy of the situation, and rather enjoyed throwing herself into the role. Several times. Until she got it right, of course.
And then there was the dress.
It had used up three months' replicator allowance, but then Seven never used her full ration. Another week's worth got her the shoes and jewelry. It was a copy of a dress in one of the movies, with certain modifications to fit the Borg's more generous proportions. At first Seven had felt too awkward to wear it, but putting it on had given her a whole new feeling, unfamiliar to her in this particular field of endeavour.
The Doctor walked into the night.
Slowly he took his bearings. It was a warm summer night, on an Earthlike planet somewhere in the temperate zone. The grass cushioned his steps as he traversed the manicured lawn, passing beautifully tended gardens on either side of him, their flowers and neatly trimmed shrubs edged in silver by the light of the full moon. A huge body of water, an ocean judging by the salt tang to the air, stretched before him in the middle distance. At the water's edge he could make out a boathouse and a dock with a large yacht tied alongside. Soft music filtered through the trees, of a period and style similar to that played at Paris' jazz dive, but infinitely more refined and obviously being played by at least a fifteen- piece band. He could make out lights and the movement of a dancing crowd past the stately pines to his left, and to his right an indoor tennis court, one side screened to take advantage of the summer heat. He debated over the correct direction to take, and finally decided to continue his path to the sea, until a flash of white registered at the periphery of his visual sensors.
She was on the tennis court. And she was dancing.
Slowly, as if he had given up his free will at the instant he had seen her, he approached the building. She was dancing alone, holding the skirt of her dress and spinning slowly and gracefully. It was then that he saw the flowing, billowing skirt was joined to the rest of the garment only at the waist, and that another, more form-fitting slit skirt enclosed her shapely legs, creating the impression of a peacock. The top left her shoulders bare, and he realized he had never before noticed how the length of her beautiful neck blended into her perfectly fashioned collarbone--
He mentally shook himself. The Doctor had been programmed with an appreciation of feminine beauty; he certainly appreciated other women in that way. When he had tried to teach Seven the socialization skills necessary for successful dating, he had plenty of time to observe that she was a striking woman. After all, he had been partly responsible for her external form, at least those not dictated by Nature or manufactured by the Borg collective. Perhaps that was the reason why even though he had definite feelings for her, he still tended to look upon her with a paternalistic eye.
The Doctor was no longer feeling very paternal.
"Oh." Her huge eyes were fixed on him and she had stopped her dancing. He thought he recognized trepidation in them before she seemed to collect herself, at which point the familiar determination supplanted it.
"I didn't mean to startle you."
"That's all right. I was just--enjoying the dress."
So was I, thought the Doctor. Aloud he attempted levity. "I didn't know this was such a formal affair, or I would have worn a tux."
At that, Seven smiled in a way he could only describe as mischievous. "You can change," she offered huskily, turning around. "Don't worry, I won't peek." She threw him a devilish glance over her shoulder and he felt the bottom of the universe drop out from under his feet. Seven of Nine was flirting with him.
In an instant, he had changed into a white tux; clothes were a simple matter for a hologram. What was not so simple was trying to figure out what in the hell was going on. His processor struggled to consider the possibilities, but had insufficient data to form any conclusions. In the end he decided to give up and just follow along, a hard choice since his doctor's instincts protested any loss of control. Unlike some doctors, however, he at least recognized this trait in himself. It was the same one that months ago had prevented him from telling her he was falling in love with her.
"All finished?" she queried. He hesitated a moment before answering, allowing his eyes to rake over her, taking in the way her golden hair shimmered in the moonlight. It was done in a softer style than usual, loose and curled at the nape, and he felt an urge to reach out and see if it was as soft as he remembered. He quickly dismissed the thought; after all, for a hologram with a perfect recall, the excuse was rather pathetic.
Seven turned around and her whole face lit up in a smile. Though he knew it was medically impossible, he thought that if he had been a human at that moment, his heart would have flip-flopped in his chest. She walked toward him until only a very small distance separated their bodies. "Much better," she told him appreciatively, one hand reaching out to take a lapel between index finger and thumb and gliding sensuously down the fabric. All he could do at this was stare at her, his 'wit' subroutine effectively knocked out of commission by her gesture.
Dimly he was aware the music had changed from a waltz to a slow foxtrot. He identified it as the twentieth-century standard Isn't It Romantic, and wondered at the irony. Seven had evidently noticed the song too, for her arms assumed the dance position. "Aren't you going to ask me to dance?" she pouted, and something in him snapped.
Without a word, he pulled her into a close embrace, suddenly determined to give as good as he was getting, though he was still unsure exactly why he was getting it. She did not fight him, instead relaxing bonelessly in his arms and leaning forward until her right cheek was touching his. Just as he was responding to this new assault, he noticed that her dancing was absolutely flawless. She followed him effortlessly, the strength in her evident wherever their bodies touched. And at this moment, that seemed to be just about everywhere.
"You dance divinely," he observed in what he hoped was a dry, confident tone.
"Thank you for noticing," she shot back, her breath warm against his ear. "I've tried to expand on what you taught me."
I'll say. "Have you been practicing on the Holodeck?" he asked nonchalantly. Surely he would have heard if she was dating someone; the gossip machine on this ship was legendary. He would have heard. There was no doubt.
"I've been practicing," she evaded neatly. Was that a giggle? She knew how to giggle?
"It's paid off." He hesitated, then decided to plunge in. "Am I more practice?"
"I wanted you to see how far I've come."
Another evasion. His hand ran possessively up her back, and he thought he felt her shiver slightly as it reached bare skin. Two could play at this. "I see. Now what?"
Seven rubbed her cheek against his, causing him to sharply draw in a breath. He had no need to breathe, but he had been programmed with some involuntary human reactions to make him seem more like the genuine article. At times like these, it was a decided inconvenience. "You're very cross tonight," she whispered. "Don't you enjoy dancing with me?"
"You know I do," he murmured. "Seven, please--" he managed, unable to stand her coyness any longer.
"You want to know why I asked you here tonight," she said, surprising him. Her tone of voice was more like her own than it had been all evening.
"Yes," stated the Doctor simply.
Seven broke the contact, stepping out of the circle of his arms. He let her go, but felt strangely bereft. She walked over to the net and held on to the post as if for support.
"I wanted to tell you I think I've fallen in love."
It was a full ten seconds before he could think of anything to say. Most of his processor capacity during that time seemed to be taken up with repeating the boolean value 'No no no no no' several thousand times. Finally he managed to croak, "How do you know?"
"That is just it. I do not know. I was hoping you could help me, as I am inexperienced in these matters."
He wanted to run from the holodeck, but found that he could not make himself move. "I--don't know how much help I can be--"
"You are the only one I can talk to about it," she told him, her gaze steady.
In contrast, he was finding it difficult to look at her. In the end he relented; if he protested too much it might raise questions he did not want to answer, not now. "Yes. All right. What are the 'symptoms'?" he demanded sarcastically.
"Well," she began, leaving the net to walk toward the large windows, "I enjoy his company."
"That could just be friendship."
"I know that. But I enjoy it so much that I find silly excuses to be near him. And when I am near him, I can think of nothing to say."
The Doctor merely grunted at that. She went on. "When I dance with him, I feel--beautiful. And graceful. And desirable. And--"
"Yes, well, we're definitely getting warmer on that one," he interrupted, unwilling to hear any more. "What else?"
"When I kiss him--" she trailed off, and he shifted uncomfortably, eyeing the nearest exit. "I imagine it will be wonderful."
"You--you haven't kissed him? Or--" Don't, I don't want to know--
"No." Seven had started to walk back to where he was standing. Her hair was backlit by the moonlight, making her appear to be crowned by a gossamer halo. He bit back a groan, another damned preprogrammed reaction. "The sad truth is that he does not even know I exist--not in that way. He thinks of me as a competent officer, and as a friend. But he is not interested in me romantically."
"May I examine him? He must be clinically dead." Seven arched an eyebrow but said nothing. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to insult him. I don't know anything about him." Some masochistic impulse forced him to ask, as nonchalantly as possible, "So, what's he like?"
"He is--difficult to describe. At first I found him arrogant, superior and overconfident."
"Sounds like a sterling specimen."
"Please do not interrupt. I grew to value him as a friend, a man who lacked the prejudices of others and evaluated me on his own terms. Soon, I came to appreciate his humour, his intelligence, his integrity. But when I realized he had the ability to hurt me, I was frightened." She stepped closer to him, close enough to touch, to hold. "You see, I had never felt that way--not as a Borg, at any rate--and I did not like the feeling. The captain has praised my bravery, but that is physical. Emotionally, I am a coward. Even now, I am afraid to tell this man how I feel." Her voice dropped to a near-whisper. "Tell me what to say to him, Doctor."
"I'm the last person to give advice on that subject," he commented darkly. Her gaze remained glued to him, and after a few seconds he sighed and added, "I suppose you could just walk up to him and tell him."
"You mean, just say to him, 'I love you'?" He watched her lips form the words. So this was torture. "But you have not yet told me if I am in love. What is your opinion?"
"Why are you asking me?" he demanded, and to his horror he could hear his voice shaking.
"I need you."
He shook his head, taking in her dress, her poise, her almost palpable strength. If this is the end, he reasoned to himself, make the most of it. "You don't need my help any more. I don't know who you've been doing all of this 'practicing' for, and frankly I don't want to know. If he's inspired you to wear feminine clothes or learn to flirt with the best of them, hooray for him. It doesn't make a damn bit of difference. You've always been a strong person. You've always been beautiful, inside and out. The only thing that's changed is that you know it now. Somehow, you've realized the thing I've known for months. You are astounding, Seven of Nine. You will never be more beautiful, more assured, more your own creation than you are right now. What could you possibly need from me?"
Seven closed the distance between them, and her hand reached up to caress his cheek. He wondered if it was possible for him to burst. She smiled warmly, her eyes searching his face as she spoke slowly, deliberately, as if to an idiot child. "I. Need. You."
And the Doctor stared at her. And continued to stare. And then he stared some more.
"Perhaps it is as the humans say," Seven drawled after some little time had elapsed. "Actions speak louder than words." And with that, she kissed him. It was not the desperate kiss of a princess, nor the sweet and innocent kiss of the girl-woman, nor the impossibly handsome and romantic kiss of two impossibly handsome and romantic people. But it did serve the purpose fairly well.
Fade to black.
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© 1999 by lamardeuse. All Rights Reserved. Reproduced on the Official Robert Picardo Home Page with permission of the author.