Disclaimer: Star Trek Voyager and all of its characters are the property of Paramount. No copyright infringement is intended.

Note: Another story in the "Glory Days" Universe, taking place between "Glory Days" and "Hero." The complete chronology appears on my home page.

Acknowledgment: Many thanks to Seema for her usual excellent beta.

LIFE IN THE FAST LANE
By Rocky

The Betazoid receptionist smiled sympathetically and raised her voice so as to be heard over the classical music playing in the background. "I'm sorry, Ms. Hansen, but it looks like the doctor is running a little late."

Seven had reached the same conclusion twenty minutes ago. She shifted impatiently in her chair; despite its plush upholstery, it was less comfortable than she'd anticipated when she first sat down. "Do you know how much longer he'll be?"

The other woman's smile didn't waver. "He hasn't checked in--which he would have, if he were anticipating a lengthy delay." She hesitated, clearly aware of the patient's importance. "Would you like me to try and find out what's keeping him, or perhaps you would prefer to reschedule your appointment?"

Seven shook her head quickly. She had been fortunate this time slot had been available when she contacted the office earlier in the week; if she rescheduled, it could very well be several weeks until another opening occurred and would necessitate another trip from Boston. "No, that will not be necessary. I will continue to wait." With a slight shrug, the receptionist turned back to her computer monitor and resumed her work.

After a few more minutes, Seven rose and went to the replicator on the far wall of the room. She hesitated over the beverage choices and then made a selection. Sipping her mineral water slowly, she returned to her seat. A padd lay on the adjacent table, but she had already ascertained that the articles it contained were at least six months old. She had finished all of the work she had brought to keep herself occupied on the trip even before her commuter shuttle had landed in San Francisco. As a result, she was bored and restless, an unusual state of affairs for her.

She took a deep breath, striving to remain calm. So far, the delay had proved to be no more than a minor inconvenience, she reminded herself. She had nothing else planned for the rest of the day, and if she were completely honest, she was not especially eager to return to Boston and her responsibilities there.

She looked around the elegantly appointed waiting room, noting again details such as the thick mauve carpet and the framed pictures hanging on the wall. Instead of the holographs she'd expected, they were actually oil paintings on canvas. The one closest to her depicted a woman in medieval garb, oddly enough holding a naked infant on her lap. A small metal plate beneath the frame stated that it was a reproduction of Raphael's "Madonna and Child with a Book", but the names meant nothing to her.

Seven glanced at the painting again, curious as to why it had been selected to hang in this room. It was aesthetically pleasing, but she had long ago discovered that beauty was not the only reason artwork was valued. She moved closer to study the picture more carefully, noticing details she had missed on her earlier inspection. The pictured woman's expression was somewhat pensive as she gazed at the infant, whose face was turned up to its mother with a look of perfect trust. Seven frowned; for some reason she could not grasp, something about the scene was disturbingly familiar.

Seven abruptly turned away, just as the outer door opened and a familiar figure strode in, his immaculate white lab coat swirling behind him. "I'm so sorry to keep you waiting--Admiral Ficus was going on and on about the budget and next year's appropriations for Starfleet Medical." He gave Seven an apologetic smile. "Apparently, the research budget is being slashed sharply for the coming fiscal year, though how they expect us to keep developing new therapies with increasingly limited funds is beyond me...or them, I suspect." Without giving Seven a chance to respond, he turned to his receptionist. "Lynette, what does my afternoon look like?"

Lynette tapped a few keys at her console. "Just the two o'clock appointment with Ms. Hansen. The rest of your day is clear, Dr. Graham."

"Good. Please see to it that we're not disturbed," Dr. Graham said as he ushered Seven into the next room. He smiled winningly at her when the door closed behind them. "It's good to see you again, Seven, or should I say Professor Hansen?"

"I am known as Annika now," she corrected him. "I decided to revert to my former designation when I accepted the position at MIT." The words came out more harshly than she had intended. "However, you may continue to refer to me as Seven." She paused, remembering Chakotay's surprise when she had asked him to call her Annika, even though it had initially been his suggestion. "I am aware that it is not an easy transition after associating a person with a particular name for so long."

"I know all about the difficulties inherent in name changes," Voyager's former EMH answered. "But in my case my associates can still feel quite comfortable referring to me as 'Doctor.'" He gestured toward an exam table and waited until Seven was sitting--somewhat awkwardly--on its edge. "Are you here for a general checkup, or is there anything in particular you wanted me to look at?"

Seven tilted her head upward at an angle. "My optical node has been hurting recently."

The Doctor passed his mediwand over the implant. "I'm not surprised--there is considerable irritation at the medial interface." He picked up a small instrument and made a rapid series of adjustments to the node. "How's that?"

Seven could feel the difference right away. "It is a little better, thank you."

"It will take a while for the inflammation to subside." He pressed a hypospray to her neck. "This should help speed up the process, as well as take care of any residual pain." He proceeded to check the rest of her cranial implants. "Everything else looks quite good. How long has the node been bothering you?"

"It began recently, as I said." At the Doctor's sharp look, she amended, "I first noticed a problem four months ago."

"What?" the Doctor said indignantly. "Seven, why did you wait so long to do something about it?"

"I assumed the problem was due to my ill-acclimation to the arid climate of the planet where Chakotay's last archeological site was located," Seven said, shuddering slightly as she remembered the swirling sand storms on Vega V. She did not understand the Doctor's reaction; it almost seemed as if he were angry with her. "I anticipated that once I relocated to Boston the problem would resolve itself."

"You can't go around making assumptions like that about your health," he scolded. "As it turns out, you were fortunate that it was a minor complaint, but it could easily have developed into something more serious."

"I will endeavor to be more careful in the future," she said, realizing it would be futile to argue. Chakotay was very solicitous about her health as well and had admonished her on more than one occasion that she needed to take better care of herself. In fact, she suspected her poor health was one of the reasons Chakotay had urged her to take the position at MIT.

"See to it that you do. While we're on the subject, when was the last time you had a complete physical? No, don't tell me--I'm not sure I want to hear the answer."

Seven resigned herself to the inevitable. "Would this be an opportune time for you to perform such an exam, Doctor?"

"There's no time like the present," he shot back. Still grumbling to himself, he waited until she was lying down and then activated the biobed.

Seven exhaled slowly as the diagnostic arch rose up from the sides of the bed and enveloped her. She had always found the arch very constricting, though in reality it was approximately the same width as her regeneration cubicle. She wondered if she were developing a mild case of claustrophobia. As a drone she had paid little if any attention to matters of personal comfort. As a fully Human individual, she was more than a little relieved she had been able to cut down her use of the cubicle to a single 18 hour session once every ten days, and not simply because it afforded her the opportunity to sleep in a bed the rest of the time.

"Neural activity good, blood chemistry a little off--when did you last eat? Not since breakfast? Yes, well, that would explain some of these readings. Blood pressure, good, weight--I see you've put on a few kilos, which is good; you were much too thin before..."

Seven let the Doctor's monologue wash over her, not paying much attention to what he was saying. She was dimly aware that he had switched from her state of health to the latest 'juicy' rumors floating around HQ. None of the names he mentioned was familiar, and as such held no interest for her. The Doctor had always had a tendency to gossip, she recalled, much to the annoyance of the Voyager crew--though some of them had been just as bad as he in that respect. Perhaps it had been unrealistic to expect anything to remain secret in such a small and isolated community, but Seven had never understood the Human fascination with other people's activities or affairs and had resented becoming a topic of conversation on more than one occasion. It was precisely because of the ship's rumor mill that she had urged Chakotay to keep their budding relationship quiet as long as possible. He had agreed with alacrity, saying they would tell their friends when 'the time was right.'

The Doctor pressed a release and the arch receded. Seven sat up quickly and winced. Instinctively, she pressed a hand to her forehead.

"Easy does it," the Doctor said, moving to support her. "You may be experiencing some residual dizziness from the optical node, maybe even some double vision. It should clear up in a few minutes." He helped her to her feet and then turned away as Seven discreetly adjusted the conservative tailored gray suit she wore. She glanced at her reflection in the highly polished surface of a nearby console and automatically ran a hand over her hair to smooth it down.

She looked up to see the Doctor had finished transferring the results of her exam onto a data padd and was signing his name with a flourish.

"There you go--a clean bill of health!"

"Thank you." She took the proffered padd, her fingers brushing his. She felt a slight tingle when her skin made contact with the photonic field.

The Doctor cleared his throat. "You know, Seven, it's been a long time since we've seen each other--must be nearly four years. If you don't need to rush back to Boston right away, I'd like to do a little 'catching up.'"

"That would be agreeable," she said, suddenly reluctant to leave, and glad she had nowhere else she needed to be at the moment. They adjourned to his private office.

"Would you like something to drink or eat, Seven?" the Doctor asked, stepping back to allow her to enter ahead of him.

Seven shook her head. "I have no need of any refreshment at the moment." She glanced around the office, noting its similarity to the waiting room in terms of furnishings and decor. The paintings were different, of course. With a stab of surprise, she recognized the portrait of a woman with an enigmatic half-smile. It was by da Vinci; she remembered spending hours with Captain Janeway in the holoprogram simulating the master's workshop. She pushed the mental image away.

"You seem to be doing very well these days," she said, taking a seat on the leather couch. "I have been informed that you are doing high priority research in immunobioengineering. Doubtless it keeps you quite busy."

"'Life in the fast lane,'" the Doctor agreed as he sat down beside her. At her puzzled look he explained, "It's a phrase I once picked up from Tom Paris. 'The fast lane' refers to a hectic schedule, though there's also a connection to early model ground-cars, I believe. At any rate, yes, I do spend most of my time engaged in medical research, although I am also teaching some advanced courses at Starfleet's medical school." He smiled. "And I still find time to see a few high priority patients, either the cases which have stumped the regular medical establishment, or VIPs such as yourself."

When Seven had called two days earlier, the receptionist had initially said that Dr. Graham had no openings for a month. Surprisingly, an appointment had materialized as soon as Seven had identified herself. "Then I appreciate all the more your taking the time to see me on such short notice," she said.

The Doctor waved her words away. "But enough about me. What's this I've been hearing about you teaching?"

"I have an associate professorship and am teaching Introduction to Astrometrical Navigation and Computation as well as guiding some graduate students on projects dealing specifically with Delta Quadrant phenomena. My duties are relatively light, as the department head said he wished me to 'ease in gradually.'"

"Which means next semester will be a whole different story," said the Doctor with an air of experience. "Considering that MIT is on the cutting edge for astrometric computation these days, it sounds like you're in the 'fast lane' as well. How do you find the academic environment?"

"It is most pleasant. My colleagues are congenial and one or two have gone out of their way to be as helpful as possible."

"And Boston itself? Surely you haven't been spending all your time in a lab or classroom?"

"I have spent a great deal of my leisure time learning my way around the city. There are many areas of interest, including some well preserved historical sights." Seven was quiet for a moment, remembering how enthusiastic Chakotay had been about Old Boston when he first arrived two months ago.

"What do you mean you haven't been on the Freedom Trail yet? It's a lovely walk through historical Boston, passing by the graves of Samuel Adams and other founding fathers, as well as the Old Statehouse, the Old North Church--that's where Paul Revere hung the lanterns-- and right nearby is the site of the Boston Massacre..."

"I do not have quite the same enthusiasm for history as you do, Chakotay."

"Then it's a good thing you're the mathematician, and I'm the archaeologist." He laughed and pulled her into his arms. "I'll have to see what I can do to bring you around to my way of thinking."

"Considering that Boston is one of the oldest cities in North America, you'd expect to find much of historical interest. I'm glad you're enjoying yourself." The Doctor squeezed her hand briefly. Once again she felt a familiar tingle. "I'm not surprised it didn't take you long to become acclimated to your surroundings."

"No, it did not."

Silence fell. After an awkward moment or two, the Doctor said, "Was there something else you needed, Seven? Anything else I can do for you?"

"No, not really." Seven suspected this was her cue to leave; she was still not quite adept at reading others' body language. Reluctantly, she stood, reminding herself that the Doctor surely had other pressing matters to attend to and had spared her all the time he could already.

The Doctor had not moved, however. "I'm not trying to get rid of you, Seven!" he laughed.

"I don't want to keep you from your research--"

"Nonsense. You heard Lynette--I've got nothing on tap for the rest of the day. I can certainly spare some time to visit with an old friend."

She sat down again with alacrity, glad she didn't have to leave just yet. For his part, he seemed genuinely pleased that she was staying.

The Doctor continued, "You know I'm always happy to see you, of course, but I confess to being more than a little curious that you found it necessary to come all the way out to San Francisco for something so minor. A regular physician with a background in optic cybernetics would have done just as well, though of course I am the acknowledged expert on Borg implants and their proper maintenance." He gave her a sidelong glance. "Unless it's my scintillating wit that you really miss, and the medical problem is just an excuse to see me."

She forced a smile.

"Well, no need to be embarrassed, as you're not the only one who feels that way!" the Doctor said cheerfully. "Tom and B'Elanna bring the children by every now and then, and Admiral Janeway was here just the other day. You'd think I was the only physician in San Francisco from the way they all act--"

Seven started involuntarily. "Cap--the Admiral was here?"

"That's right. She was due to leave shortly for the Romulan Neutral Zone, I believe, some diplomatic mission. There are all sorts of rumors flying around HQ--" he paused abruptly, causing Seven to wonder if he had ceased speaking because he felt she wouldn't be interested in the specifics or because it was a matter of Federation security. "At any rate, the Admiral was due for her annual physical. She's made it clear on more than one occasion that she doesn't like medical staff and doctors, but if she's going to have anyone 'poking and prodding' her she prefers it to be me."

"Do you see her often?" For some reason the words seemed to stick in Seven's throat.

"Not that often, but we do run into each other every now and then at HQ. When the Admiral is Earthside, that is, which doesn't happen very much these days. But Admiral Janeway always makes a point of grabbing a few minutes at the end of a checkup as well." He tapped his fingers reflexively against his armrest. "Let me see, when was she last here? I think it was last Thursday. Yes, that's right, shortly before lunch. Her ship was leaving the next morning."

Seven said, "I haven't seen the Admiral since Voyager's return, if you don't count the few minutes at the one year anniversary reception." She tried to keep the bitterness out of her voice, remembering how Janeway had barely acknowledged her presence before turning to speak to someone else. "Even then, the Admiral was always surrounded by officials and reporters."

The Doctor attempted to hide his astonishment. "I agree that it was hard to get a word in at the reception, but surely afterwards you had the opportunity to spend some time together, at least talk for a bit?"

"No." A wave of anger swept over Seven, together with rising feelings of loneliness and abandonment, as she recalled the many times on board Voyager that Janeway had warmly assured her that her adjustment on Earth wouldn't be so bad, that she would be happy to personally help her get settled, even show her Indiana.

Seven had taken the words at face value, had always assumed that Janeway would be there to help her when the time came. But somehow, the two of them seemed to have drifted apart, even before the return home. Seven had thought the estrangement had begun around the same time as her relationship with Chakotay became public knowledge, but after further reflection realized there was already a distance between them by that point. That Janeway had started to pull away from her much earlier, as the captain become caught up more and more in the journey and its difficulties, single-minded in her obsession to see the ship and crew safely back in the Alpha Quadrant. Now, sitting in the Doctor's office in the Starfleet Medical Complex, Seven suddenly wondered if perhaps that was part of the reason she had moved closer to Chakotay in the first place, to fill the void left by Janeway's withdrawal.
Her reverie was interrupted when the Doctor said, "You've got to understand, Seven, that Admiral Janeway is very busy these days, they're all very busy now, and there was so much to deal with upon Voyager's return. The Maquis situation, Janeway's own review board hearings--"

"I am aware of all that," Seven said coldly. "But the Captain had promised to look out for me, help in any way possible when we returned to Earth. She did not."

The Doctor was quiet for a moment, as if he were considering what to say. "Possibly the Captain saw that you were in good hands and didn't need her."

I still needed her. But Seven did not say the words out loud. Instead, with an effort, she said, "You are correct--there was a lot going on at the time of our return, and everyone had a lot to deal with all at once." She swallowed and went on, "Chakotay was also very involved with the resolution of the Maquis situation. He then went to visit Dorvan to try to uncover any remnants of his home, gather whatever news he could about his family's whereabouts. Almost immediately afterwards, he undertook the first of many archeological expeditions." She felt a rush of warmth, remembering how Chakotay had always made room for her in his life, the way he'd assumed they would be together as a matter of course. Not like--

"Ah, yes, Chakotay's expeditions. And you always went along with him, regardless of where he was headed or what it was doing to you, " the Doctor said. From his tone, he was clearly drawing his own conclusions, and Seven dreaded what he would say next. But all he said was, "And now it's your turn--after all these years of traipsing along after him on alien worlds, you finally have the chance to further your own career, explore your own interests."

"It was not like that," Seven protested. "I did not mind accompanying Chakotay. It gave me the opportunity to adjust to the Alpha Quadrant at a more leisurely pace, to get used to being part of a community larger than Voyager without becoming overwhelmed. He never tried to hold me back. He was most supportive when MIT contacted me and urged me to accept their offer."

"I never thought otherwise, Seven," the Doctor said immediately. "I didn't mean to sound so critical of your and Chakotay's choices. What I meant was--" he paused. "Never mind. Tell me some more about your 'new life.' It must agree with you--I've never seen you look better."

Seven started to speak and then fell silent. She was thinking about how, since coming to Boston, for the first time in her life she had been on her own, with no Collective of any sort to fall back on. And how after the first shock had worn off, she found a solitary life rather pleasant. There was no one to impose their own ideas on her, or offer veiled criticisms of her choices. For the first time, she had been free to truly live as an individual.

The Doctor's voice broke into her thoughts once more. "I imagine it's been very difficult being apart from Chakotay, but I thought he recently finished his latest project. Is that right?" Seven was a little surprised at the extent of the Doctor's knowledge; it appeared that he had excellent sources of information. "In fact," the Doctor continued, "I'm a little surprised he's not here with you. It would have been nice to see him. But I suppose he had other errands to do in the Bay Area."

Seven shook her head. "No, he did not accompany me to San Francisco." She refrained from mentioning she hadn't told Chakotay where she was going. If she had, she knew he would have insisted on coming along on this visit. But for some reason she couldn't explain, she hadn't wanted him there.

"Chakotay remained in Boston?" A look of acute embarrassment passed over the Doctor's face. "I'm sorry, then I really shouldn't keep you, you must be eager to get back home."

"Chakotay is not expecting me until later this evening. If you have further matters to discuss, we can do so without inconveniencing him," Seven said. She forced down the wave of guilt she felt over how good it felt to be away from Boston--and from Chakotay--for a brief time.

The Doctor settled back in his seat, his relief obvious. It occurred to Seven for all his breezy manner, in many ways he must be just as lonely as she was, as baffled at finding a place where he truly belonged as much as they both had on Voyager.

The Doctor eagerly resumed the conversation, still curious to hear details of her life. "I don't mean to pry, but I had wondered if you and Chakotay have discussed starting a family yet."

Seven could feel her face tightening. "No," she said quietly. "We have not."

The Doctor hastily tried to cover his faux pas. "I had assumed that now you're both settled in the same place, that would be the logical next step. Unless you want to wait another year or two before taking a leave from the university--"

Seven surprised herself by saying, "I'm not sure how long Chakotay will be staying."

The Doctor opened his mouth and then closed it, one of the few times she had ever seen him at a loss for words.

"In Boston, I mean. This is just a temporary stop between expeditions. We had agreed from the outset that I would be here working, while he would be spending the majority of his time at various archeological sites off-world. It would be difficult to have a family under those circumstances."

"I see." The Doctor thrust his hands in the pockets of his coat. "Well, it sounds like you've got it all figured out."

Silence fell once more. Seven was suddenly reminded of other silent moments in the last two months since Chakotay's arrival. After the initial joy of their reunion, she realized she didn't have much to say to him. They weren't co-workers anymore, like they'd been on Voyager, or even at the archeological sites. He wasn't really part of her world anymore. But he was always so thoughtful, so polite, always helpful and willing to discuss any topic with her--except for what he was really feeling. Sometimes she felt like she was living with a stranger; at times there was an expression on his face that made her wonder what he saw when he looked at her.

"Seven," the Doctor said gently, "Are you happy?"

"What do you mean?"

"Just that--are you happy?"

"I am...content."

"That's not good enough, Seven," he said sadly. She looked at him sharply, suddenly wondering if he was referring to her or to himself.

She hadn't really thought about the Doctor much over the past few years, she realized. Or even the last two days, except for focusing on what he could do for her. She hadn't considered his needs, his feelings, in the slightest. Just like another time, a scant two weeks before Voyager's return...

"Don't tell me you never noticed, Seven!" Tom Paris said incredulously.

"Noticed what?"

"The Doctor's got a major thing for you." At her blank look, Tom added, "He's in love with you, Seven."

"You are mistaken," Seven said. "The Doctor and I are friends, nothing more."

"Maybe so, but I know he'd like to be a lot more than just a friend, if you'd only give him a chance."

She dismissed Tom's words with no further thought. The whole concept was ridiculous. The Doctor cared for her, she knew, but it was a pale shadow compared to what she and Chakotay had.

All at once Seven wondered if she was being selfish, if it would be fair to unburden herself to the Doctor, knowing how he had once felt about her.

As if reading her mind, the Doctor took her hand in his and said, "If you'd rather not talk about Chakotay with me, I understand. But I want you to understand, Seven, that you're my friend and I care about you very much. If there's anything I can do to help you, please let me."

She looked into his deep brown eyes, filled with his concern--and love--for her. An image of air and light, she thought, but no matter what his body was composed of, she could never think of him as anything less real, less human, than she herself was. She wouldn't hurt him for the world, but it would hurt him worse if she withdrew now. And she couldn't deny how good it felt to be with him and confide in him. Slowly, haltingly, she confessed some of her doubts and fears where Chakotay was concerned, and how she wondered where and how they would find a place together, where they could both be truly happy.

A number of emotions played across the Doctor's face as he listened to her recital, but when he spoke his voice was very calm. "The only words of wisdom I can offer you, Seven, is that you have to follow your own path, discover where it is that you belong. Not just something imposed on you by others, but where you truly feel comfortable." He reached out and gently wiped the tear streaking down her face. "And at the same time, you have to keep up the connections that make you feel 'grounded', not lose touch with the people you care about, who mean a lot to you."

Seven thought again of Captain--no, Admiral Janeway. That had been her mistake, withdrawing from those who loved her. Janeway had failed her, but she would not betray the faith the Admiral had shown in her.

"Thank you, Doctor. I appreciate what you've done for me today."

He forced a smile. "As I said, I'm the expert when it comes to Borg implants."

Seven leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. His arms went round her for a moment, then he released her and stepped back. "What is the time?" she asked.

"It's nearly seventeen hundred."

Where had the hours gone? "I must leave if I'm going to catch my shuttle back to Boston," she said, regretfully. "With the time zone difference, it will be close to 2200 hours before I get home and I have an early lecture tomorrow morning."

"Of course," he said. "It was good seeing you, Seven."

She picked up her bag, deposited the data padd inside, and started for the door. At the threshold she paused, and looked back to see his smile. "Seven?"

"Yes?"

"Don't wait too long until your next check-up."

FINIS

"Madonna and Child with Book" by Raphael
"Madonna and Child with a Book" by Raphael
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