Summary: We sit there together in that cramped Jeffries tube, saying nothing, and I can’t remember the last time I was so content.
Characters: Harren, Seven, Paris
Codes: Harren/Dalby, Paris/Torres, Paris/Seven
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
Notes: This story starts just before Extreme Risk and goes through to a little after Someone To Watch Over Me. It’s also consistent with my ficlet Polarity.
This fic has an accompanying moodboard.
It pisses me off, the way they strut around with their polished smiles, pretending everything is a-okay. It’s not. Everything is fucked, and I’m not too fucking polite to call them on it.
They call me a malcontent, when what I am is honest. That’s why it suits them to stick me down here in the bowels of the ship where I can’t tarnish their perfect Starfleet image.
What a joke. Half the senior staff isn’t even Starfleet, but boy have they toed the line. The big bad Maquis turned lapdog, the jailbird, the tamed Klingon. The bitch queen of the Delta quadrant has even adopted her own pet Borg.
Lucky me; I get to babysit her today.
“Crewman Harren,” states the drone in her flat tone as she enters the junction room. She glances around at the pieces of plasma conduit casing I’ve been half-heartedly reassembling. “What are you doing?”
“Composing a symphony. What does it look like?”
“It looks inefficient.” She hands me a padd, which I promptly put aside. “Captain Janeway has ordered me to assist you in upgrading the power relays.”
“I don’t need any help.”
Seven of Nine crouches beside me, all long limbs and perfect skin, picking up a power flow converter in her metal-veined hand. “I don’t think Captain Janeway believes you need help, either. This exercise is for my benefit.”
She sounds disdainful, and it piques my interest. “Meaning?”
“The captain is of the opinion that I need to broaden both my knowledge of Voyager’s systems and my social skills.”
“So she sent you to me?” I give her a derisive look. “She’s even more out of touch than I thought. I couldn’t give a crap about this ship, and anyone will tell you I’m not exactly a people person.”
She shrugs one shoulder. “I conveyed a similar view to Captain Janeway, but she was not interested in my opinion.”
“And it’s in your nature to comply, huh?” I snort. “Maybe she sent you down here to learn independent thinking.”
“Perhaps,” she answers, unoffended.
“Fine. What relay does Queen Kathryn want us to start on?”
“Power junction 16-beta. I will commence modification of the flow regulator while you install the conduit.” She starts to turn away, then hesitates, adding, “Is that acceptable?”
“Makes no difference to me,” I shrug, casting only the briefest of longing glances at the padd containing my latest theorem.
There are only two things that make my life worth living out here: demolishing the known theories of the origins of the universe, and the thing that I’m about to do.
When I stroll into the cargo bay – who am I kidding, I’m just barely holding back from a flat-out sprint – he’s already waiting. From the way he leans against the wall, all coiled tension, and the knowing smirk on his cruel lips, I know it’s going to be less gentle than usual.
Not that it’s ever gentle with him.
“You took your time.” He drags his gaze over me, head to toe and back again, and pushes away from the wall, stripping off his jacket. “Get undressed. The drone’s supposed to be back to regenerate in an hour.”
My fingers obediently move to unfasten my uniform. “You think we might do this in a bed someday, Kenneth?”
Dalby grabs a handful of my turtleneck and yanks me toward him.
“Don’t call me Kenneth,” he growls, and pushes his tongue into my mouth as his hands make quick work of the rest of my uniform.
The brand new, souped-up shuttle has only been for its maiden flight and it’s already in pieces. Chief Torres is on unscheduled leave, and has apparently taken leave of her senses as well because she’s assigned me to the repair crew, along with two mousy Starfleet ensigns, a surly Maquis, and Seven of Nine.
It could be worse, I guess. I could’ve got stuck with Nicoletti, who can talk the hind leg off a Vulcan sehlat, or Carey, who’s more upbeat than anyone has a right to be. Instead it’s Vorik, Ashmore and Gerron, none of whom are inclined toward pointless conversation.
Trouble is, I’m at a critical point in my calculations and I’m pissed off at being dragged away for monkey work. I can’t keep my mind on the job. There’s something screwy in my Saltzburg equation, and I’m sure if I could just get away from here to puzzle it out –
“Crewman Harren.” Seven’s voice is strident. “Pay attention to your work, or you risk an injury.”
I switch off the phase decompiler, realising she’s right – any closer to that manifold and I could’ve blown out half the Delta Flyer’s systems along with my eyebrows. “Oops.”
“Perhaps you should limit yourself to less hazardous activities, such as replacing the damaged hull plating,” Seven suggests.
Maybe it’s not the Saltzburg equation, I ponder. All the formulae look right, but I can’t make the relativity variants match up.
“What are you doing?”
I turn to find Seven watching me from her crouched position by the Flyer, eyebrows arched, and realise I’ve been staring into space. This is really bugging me. I know I’m right, I just wish I had someone with half a brain to bounce this off –
Half a brain? I’m looking straight at a woman with the knowledge of a billion brains. Excited, I hunker down next to her.
“You know you and I are the most intelligent humans on this goddamned ship, right?”
“I am Borg.”
“Well, yeah, but you’re human, too. Either way, you and I are right up the top of the food chain here.”
She doesn’t even bother to look at me. “On what basis are you stating that hypothesis?”
I shrug. “Neumann-Schuyler Holistic Acuity grading. Federation Comparative Intellect Assessment. Old-school IQ. Take your pick.”
“Captain Janeway’s Neumann-Schuyler grade is in the fifth percentile. Lieutenant Paris ranks in the seventh. Your score places you in the eighth percentile.”
“Are you shitting me?”
Seven raises her impeccable eyebrow. “I fail to understand the relevance of excrement in this situation, Crewman.”
“You’re honestly trying to tell me that Tom fucking Paris is smarter than me?”
“Yes.” She pauses, turns to give me her full attention in that way she does when she realises she’s upset someone. “It may comfort you to know that you are the third most intelligent non-hybrid human on this vessel.”
“Oh, yeah,” I can’t help my sarcasm, “that makes me feel a lot better. Thanks, Seven.”
Tom Paris. Fuck. Sure hides it well.
Seven turns back to her work, and I forget my theory and my equations and the conversation I’d hoped to have with her, preoccupied with the startling information she’s just divulged.
I screwed him once.
It was back in those first weeks in the Delta quadrant. Half the ship hated the other half, nobody trusted anybody, and all of us knew that at any moment we could die and nobody back home would ever know what became of us. Traumatic stress syndrome, right? Makes you do things, and people, you never thought you’d do.
Although I’m pretty sure that doing people was a way of life for him back then. All I know is, he wasn’t picky. Otherwise – I’m under no illusions here – why the hell would he have picked me?
To be truthful, I don’t think he even remembers – he was pretty drunk. And the next time I saw him he just nodded politely and moved on. He’d been inside me not four days earlier, and he didn’t even recognise me.
It makes me squirm a bit to remember the way I felt about Tom back then. Oh, sure, it wasn’t real; you can’t trust something that starts when your emotions are on a knife-edge. But it felt real, and it hurt like hell when he never came back for more. Even I’m not completely immune to –
“Hey, Seven. Got my baby all patched up yet?”
At the sound of his voice – that easy, cocky drawl that fills my steamiest dreams – I jolt so hard I almost fall over. To my complete lack of surprise, though, he hasn’t even noticed me. He’s too busy leaning that long body against the outer hull of the Flyer, peering into the EPS conduit Seven’s repairing.
“Your ‘baby’ will not be ‘patched up’ for approximately thirty-one point seven hours at optimal efficiency, Lieutenant Paris.” Seven straightens. “However, if you are currently unoccupied, you may assist us in reducing that estimate.”
“You know what they say,” Tom grins at her as he shrugs off his jacket and rolls up his sleeves. “Many hands make light work.”
Their voices drop to a low murmur as they bend their heads together, passing tools back and forth. I watch them. Blond and beautiful, tall and lean; they’d make a spectacular-looking couple.
Even I get to overhear the gossip sometimes, despite my preference for silent solitude. So I know about Tom’s befriending of Seven when she first came aboard, the way he took the time to draw her out and show her that not everyone on board was scared of her. And everybody knows about the antipathy between Seven and B’Elanna.
Watching them, I wonder for the first time if their enmity has anything to do with Tom.
A spark shoots out of the conduit and Tom jumps back, shaking his burned fingers and swearing in Klingon.
“You are damaged,” Seven says, brow furrowed in concern.
“Nah, it’s nothing. The Flyer’s just keeping me on my toes.” He squeezes her briefly on the shoulder, the way I’ve seen Parrises Squares teammates do after scoring a point, and hunkers down again.
Seven remains stock-still, a slightly troubled look on her face, and as I watch she lifts a hand to stroke over the shoulder Tom touched. She frowns down at the back of his head for a moment, shakes herself, and resumes her customary expression of mild disdain.
We’ve been pushing our luck lately, so really, the only surprise is how long it takes for us to get caught.
I’m right on the knife-edge. Dalby’s breath is harsh and hot in my ear, one fist wrapped around my cock as his hips drive relentlessly into me. This is the moment I live for, that instant of utter possession when I feel him shudder and his teeth clamp down on my shoulder. And I’m almost there, I can feel that surge rising up inside me, when the cargo bay door opens.
“Crewman Harren. Crewman Dalby.”
Dalby swears, pulls out of me, yanks up his pants as I grapple for my own. My dick wilts like a pricked balloon.
Seven’s head is tilted to one side. “What are you doing?”
Dalby barks out a laugh. “Are you for real?”
For some reason his aggression toward her annoys me. As Seven blinks and raises her chin, uncertainty in her eyes, I step between them, still pulling on my turtleneck. “Seven, this isn’t what it looks like.”
Dalby shakes his head, growls something under his breath, pushes past us.
“It looked like you were engaging in sexual relations.” She meets my gaze as the cargo doors shut. “However, I’m willing to be corrected if I misinterpreted the situation.”
Is that a flicker of humour in those cool blue eyes?
“All right. No. You didn’t misinterpret anything.” I fasten my jacket. “Are you going to report us?”
She assesses me. “Are you or Crewman Dalby currently scheduled on duty?”
“Then it’s my understanding that you haven’t directly contravened any Starfleet regulations.” She turns smoothly to the console on her regeneration chamber. “Although from now on, it might be advisable to confine your … sexual activities to less public locations.”
“Right.” I’m past ready to get out of here. “Well, uh, I’ll see you around, then. And … thanks. For not ratting us out.”
Seven’s eyebrow lifts at me. “You’re welcome.”
As I hurry out of the cargo bay she’s already stepping up into her alcove.
The next time Seven and I are assigned to the same work detail, it’s a few days after a malfunctioning Borg vinculum turned her into a one-woman chaos theory.
She’s never been one for irrelevant conversation – obviously – but she seems even less communicative than usual. There’s a look in her eyes like she’s preoccupied with something, and I wonder what she’s thinking about.
“You okay?” I find myself asking her, my voice gruff so it won’t seem like I actually care.
As always, she considers the question carefully, giving me her full attention when she’s done. “I am physically recovered,” she answers, “but emotionally, I’m unsettled. Captain Janeway assures me it may take some time to process the experience.”
“All those voices in your head,” I can’t help musing. “Not knowing what the other personalities were doing in your body. Must’ve been disconcerting.”
Seven turns back to the EPS manifold we’re recalibrating. “It was.”
“Well,” I mumble, unable to believe what I’m about to say, “If you need to talk to someone about it, you can … you know. You can talk to me.”
I can feel her looking at me.
“Thank you, Crewman Harren,” she says eventually, and turns back to her work.
Things have been especially fucked around here for the past few weeks.
Chief Torres got attacked by some cytoplasmic lifeform, refused medical treatment for moralistic reasons that don’t mean shit out here in the ass-end of the galaxy, and stomped around glowering at everybody – especially Janeway and Paris – when they went against her wishes. Then Paris climbed up on his own moral high horse – maybe to make up for not supporting his girlfriend’s – and landed himself in the brig.
And just when all that seems to settle down and the mess hall chatter returns to who’s screwing whom on the lower decks, we barge into the Devore Imperium. Now Chakotay’s the one storming around like a bear with a sore paw, and the mess hall gossip is all about who’s screwing Janeway.
Seven and I are re-tuning the transporter pattern buffers – the imaging coils are out of alignment, and for some reason Torres decided repostulating the cosmological model of the universe is less important than scut work – and I’m preoccupied with puzzling through my most recent working theory on Bohm trajectories and dark matter intersections, so I startle a bit when Seven says out of the blue, “Curious.”
She puts down her coil spanner and turns to me. “The Doctor has encouraged me to observe the behaviour of the crew in order to help me understand humanoid interaction. I’ve noticed the crew’s tendency to speculate about romantic and sexual partnerships, and I am uncertain as to why this is of such fascination to them.”
“Why are you asking me?”
“You are perhaps the most solitary member of this crew – even Captain Janeway seeks social activity more than you do – and yet, it appears you have a longstanding romantic affiliation with Crewman Dalby. I would like to understand your reason for pursuing such a relationship.”
I almost choke. “I wouldn’t call it romantic, Seven.”
She cocks her head.
“Dalby and I –” I hesitate; how am I supposed to explain this to a Borg drone? “We’re … kindred spirits.”
“If I understand the term correctly, that would not seem to be true. You are cerebral, highly educated, self-contained and isolated by choice. Crewman Dalby is emotionally volatile, extroverted and disinterested in intellectual pursuits.”
“We have a lot in common beneath the surface.” I shrug. “In any case, we don’t have the kind of relationship I think you’re talking about, Seven. We get lonely, we fuck, we forget about our miserable lives for a while.”
Seven frowns. “Is that not the basis of any humanoid affiliation, romantic or otherwise? A need for the company of another person to alleviate loneliness?”
For some reason that depresses me.
“Individuality is purported to be the desired state of being,” she continues, “yet most of the individuals I know seek to form a lasting pair-bond. Even Captain Janeway does not appear immune to this desire.”
I snort. “You’re talking about Inspector Kashyk? Believe me, Seven, those two have a lot more in common with Dalby and me than, say, Paris and Torres.”
She flinches. “Explain your analogy.”
Interesting, that flinch. I think about the way her expression changes infinitesimally when Tom Paris speaks to her, the way she goes still when he touches her casually – a pat on the back, an arm around her shoulders – and I recognise myself in it. I think about the way it hurts, and I don’t want her to hurt like that.
“Those two,” I start carefully, “well, on the surface they don’t seem well-matched. But you can’t always explain why you fall in love with someone. Sometimes it just happens for no reason you can understand, and you just have to go with it.”
“Love is a fallacy,” she says flatly. “It is a chemical reaction instigated by pheromone production and nurtured by close association.”
“I … suppose you could think of it that way. Maybe romance is just a construct created to make us feel safe in the presence of another living, breathing person. Maybe love is a fallacy. But I like to think there’s more to it than that.”
Her voice is softer, thoughtful, as she looks at me. “I would like the chance to discover that for myself.”
“Ah, no offence, Seven, but you’re not my type.”
Her forehead wrinkles, then smooths out. “You are making a joke.”
“Yeah, I am.” For some reason, I reach out to touch her on the arm. “Maybe love is bullshit, but even I know friendship is for real.”
She gives me a small, restrained smile, and we get back to work.
Tuvok and the EMH, of course, are exactly the same when they return from the time-shifted gravity well. But Paris is different.
Chief Torres has never been the type to keep her feelings to herself, so it’s not long before Paris’ newfound reticence starts to piss her off and she, in turn, takes it out on the engineering crew. She’s too professional these days to break any noses, but all of a sudden double shifts are more common, reports are sent back covered in virtual red pen, and the late-night thumps and gasps from Deck Nine, Section 12 dwindle to the occasional shouting match.
I’m in the mess hall, squished into a corner halfway through gamma shift, lights low and half a pot of coffee beside me, when I hear them come in: Seven and Paris. She’s talking about the temporal differential ratio - a day on the ship equated to a month on the planet he was stuck on – and he’s clearly not listening.
“Lieutenant Paris,” she reproves when she finally cottons on. “I am trying to assist you with your mission report, and you do not appear to be paying attention.”
“Sorry, Seven.” He slides into a chair, and I notice he looks different, too. A bit thinner, a bit more tan, hair a little too long and streaked by the sun.
Seven sees me, dips her head to me as she sits opposite Tom. I raise my hand in silent acknowledgement and turn back to my padd, pretending not to listen.
“Are you fatigued?” she asks him.
“What? No, not really.” Paris draws patterns on the table with a fingertip and I watch Seven watching him. “It’s just … weird to be back. So much time passed down there and I thought I’d never see B’Elanna again, but she acts like I was on shore leave for a couple of days.”
“From Lieutenant Torres’ perspective, you were.”
“Maybe that’s what’s bugging me,” I hear him murmur. “Something big happened to me – I thought my whole life had changed forever – and she isn’t even trying to understand how it’s affected me.”
“I have recently come to appreciate the importance of friendship,” Seven says hesitantly, her eyes flickering briefly in my direction, “and it’s my understanding that a friend is somebody who will listen to your concerns without judgement. I would like to offer you that service, if you need somebody to talk to.”
Tom smiles, places his hand over hers on the table. “Thanks, Seven,” he says softly.
He keeps his hand on hers as he begins to talk.
Anyone who knows me now would laugh if they knew the reason I fell in love with mathematics. They’d probably think it’s because I can mould it and shape it the way I can’t with people, and in a way that’s true. But what I love about it, what I count on, is the structure, the infinitely complex predictability of it, its order.
I fell in love with mathematics because it’s beautiful.
You can write an equation that’s more elegant than a sonnet, more expressive than a concerto. You can build any world with it and then tear it down to its component elements. It changes like a living thing, but there’s an honesty to it, a certainty. Something you can believe in.
Maybe that’s why my experience within the bioplasmic lifeform wasn’t like anyone else’s. From what I hear, now that we’ve escaped, most people fantasised that they’d ended up on Earth with all their sins forgiven. Me … I dreamed I was in the Q continuum.
Everybody else wanted to be with the people they loved. I wanted to be where I knew every truth there was to know.
Funny thing is, I wasn’t pissed when it turned out to be an illusion. I was pissed that I wasn’t strong enough to resist it. I thought I was tougher than that – better than the rest of them – and it turns out Naomi Wildman was tougher than me.
Seven finds me holed up in Jeffries tube 12, scowling at my padd, and climbs in to sit silently next to me.
“Want something?” I grouch at her.
“No.” She folds her legs underneath her. “Since the bioplasmic organism deceived the crew into believing they were home, I have observed many of them seeking solace from each other. Friendship bonds appear to have become stronger as a result. As your friend, I came to see if you required my presence.”
“You want to give me a shoulder to cry on?”
“If that’s what you require.” She laces her fingers in her lap. “May I ask what hallucination you experienced?”
I sketch it out for her.
We sit staring directly ahead for a while, and then she says, choosing her words carefully, “You wished to experience perfection. I have shared this desire.”
“When you were Borg?”
“No. Another time.” She looks sad. “I was given the opportunity to observe first-hand a … phenomenon … that represented the purest example of infinite complexity in harmony. I would have given my life for the chance to study it, to understand it.”
I have no idea what she’s talking about, but it doesn’t matter. She gets it. She gets me.
We sit there together in that cramped Jeffries tube, saying nothing, and I can’t remember the last time I was so content.
A few weeks later, while I’m checking the shielding in the shuttle we’re going to use as Borg bait so we can steal a transwarp coil – another insane, patented Janeway scheme – I hear the shuttlebay doors slide open.
“… take care of Harry while you’re over on that sphere,” Tom Paris is saying. “I bet him a week’s rations he wouldn’t come back assimilated, and I intend to collect.”
“Seven? That was a joke.”
I hear her walking closer, and something makes me duck down behind the shuttle’s hull. They can’t see me, but I’ve got a pretty clear view of them through the front viewport.
“Hey. Seven.” Tom catches her arm. “What’s going on?”
I can see the tension in her shoulders as he turns her to face him.
“I am … apprehensive about this mission,” she says haltingly.
“It’s risky, sure,” Tom answers, “but we’ve been through worse and come out smiling.”
Seven’s head lowers and she shifts her feet.
“Hey.” Tom places a finger under her chin, tipping her face up. “I’ve never seen you this rattled. Is there something you’re not telling me?”
I watch Paris’ hand shift to her shoulder. Seven goes still.
“Seven, if there’s a reason this mission could fail that you’re not letting on, the captain needs to –”
Her Borg-latticed hand comes up to the back of his neck and she cuts him off, pressing her mouth to his.
I can see his start of surprise from here, but she’s not letting him go. Their eyes are open, closed lips pressed together, and I wonder if this is Seven’s first kiss, but just as it starts to get really awkward and I think he’s going to push her away, Paris tilts his head to the side and nudges at her, and she parts her lips.
I hear her make a small sound, and her eyes drift closed. He has his hands on her waist now, hers winding around his shoulders, and the kiss is deepening. They’re using tongue. Their bodies drift together, her metallic fingers sliding into his hair, and my body starts to tingle with the sense-memory of how it felt when he kissed me like that. Because Tom Paris - and half the crew can back me up here – knows how to kiss.
He starts backing her up against the bulkhead.
It’s when they stumble out of view that I stop daydreaming about kissing Tom Paris and remember all the reasons why this is wrong.
But the main reason is, she’s going to get hurt.
Deliberately, I drop my hyperspanner, and it hits the deck with a hollow clang. By the time I rise from my crouched position they’ve heeded my warning and are standing several metres apart. Tom runs a hand through his hair. He looks distressed.
He shoots a quick glance at me, mumbles something to Seven, and bolts.
Seven twitches back the lock of hair that’s fallen across her face and straightens to meet my gaze. I raise an eyebrow at her. A muscle jumps in her jaw.
“You know,” I tell her, “if Torres caught you making out with her man, assimilation would be a walk in the park compared to what she’d do to you.”
She swallows. “It won’t happen again.”
“Want to tell me what you were thinking?”
Her eyes go cold as she stares at me. “No. And I would appreciate you respecting my privacy in this matter, as I’ve respected yours in the past.”
“Hey, I’m not just some asshole you can –”
“As you were, Crewman,” she cuts me off, steel in her voice, and strides out of the bay.
Seven hasn’t spoken to me since that day in the shuttlebay.
I don’t know if she kissed Tom Paris to distract him from asking hard questions, or it was her way of grabbing hold of one last human experience before she gave herself up to the Borg Queen. In any case she escaped that fate, made it back to the ship, and the next gossip I heard about her was her abortive date with Bill Chapman on the holodeck.
As far as I can tell, she must have decided not to make another play for Paris. If they do have something going on the side, they’re discreet about it. Somehow I doubt it, though. Torres is no idiot; she’d have figured it out and killed them both.
Besides, much as I hate to admit it and all momentary lapses in judgement aside, Paris loves his girlfriend. The rest of us don’t stand a chance.
I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately, and about friendship. About the small, simple comfort you get from just being close to another human being. Funny, the way it took a former Borg drone to make me realise what I’ve been missing. Especially as I didn’t even know I was missing it.
Maybe it’s not too late to reach out and take a little comfort for my own, even if it’s only the next best thing to love.
At least, I hope it’s not too late.
Packing away my padds, I change out of my uniform and ride the turbolift to deck eight. I’ve got a slab of Betazoid chocolate and a bottle of wine, and I happen to know Dalby’s roommate is on gamma shift tonight.
Pressing the chime at his door, I arrange my face in my least supercilious smile.
“Hi, Kenneth,” I say when he answers. “Want to give this a try in a bed for once?”