by Myu

Disclaimer: Star Trek: Voyager and everything associated with it is owned by CBS/Paramount.
Notes: Set during Human Error, but it isn't necessary to have viewed the episode. Seven's story set in parallel to Janeway's.
Rating: Universal/G


Seven of Nine had always asserted that one of her goals was to attain perfection and, when she considered how her life as an individual had been going so far, she was making adequate progress. Her self-discipline was second perhaps only to Lieutenant Tuvok's, she performed any task she was given on Voyager efficiently to the highest standard and she had adopted a routine that allowed her to make the most of her time within the confines of a duty shift and pursue her other interests as well. The only area where she was slightly lacking was that of interpersonal skills, but up until now Seven had been willing to overlook this weakness, especially given that socialising proved hazardous to her routine and the time wasted didn't fit in with her desire to make the most efficient use of the day.
Up to a point.

She had observed the other crewmembers in passing during her time on Voyager, but over the past few months she had gradually become more interested in the way they acted towards one another and the nature of the relationships between a select few individuals. After a series of social lessons with the Doctor Seven had stated her disinclination to proceed with further exploration of this part of her humanity, but that wasn't entirely true – there was still an underlying curiosity that, for some reason, she felt she wanted to fulfil in private.

The solution was simple, and one that she should have spotted much earlier: the Holodeck. How many times had she had to endure crew gatherings with a cast of holographic characters programmed to Tom Paris' liking? If he could do it, so could she, and to a much better standard besides. 

In the interests of relevancy she had chosen to begin interacting with a member of the crew. She had called up the database of male crewmembers and an entry near the top of the chart caught her eye immediately, probably because the name was the shortest: Chakotay.
He fit the criteria she had mapped out in her head: intelligent (interested in archaeology), successful (the highest-ranking male crewmember), favourable features (at least according to her research), not especially well-known to her (an opportunity to practise the social skills she had learnt) and mature. They seemed to be a reasonably good match, Seven reflected, the facts clicking together in her mind like the components of an equation. This image pleasing her all the more, she added the character to her program database and set about arranging a first meeting.

Then the program began and the equation began to unravel slightly. Not everything added up the way she expected, things began to gradually slide out of control and the feeling was both unnerving and deliciously exciting at the same time.

Kathryn Janeway, on the other hand, felt like her life was more on the road to being perfect than ever these days. Even though her standards were somewhat lower than Seven's and based on entirely different principles, her optimism and careful appreciation of the positive aspects of her life gave her a satisfaction with her circumstances that certainly rivalled that of the former Borg's, even if neither was aware of it.

While Seven was losing track of time during a long night on the Holodeck, Kathryn was checking her chronometer as she got ready for a long day on the Bridge. Two smiles already and it wasn't even eight o'clock yet, she marvelled as she stood in front of the mirror. 'Must be love', her mother would have said of a mood like this. Maybe it was true, Kathryn thought, her eyes drifting to where her bed was reflected in the glass. The sight of the rumpled sheets and the sleeping body stretched across the mattress underneath them brought another smile to her lips.

She approached the bed quietly and leaned over to where the edge of a pillow was sticking out.
"You're going to be late..." Kathryn murmured, her fingertips rubbing the edge of an exposed shoulder.
"You're going to be late," A muffled voice shot back and she was pulled under the covers. Her cry of surprise was smothered by laughter and protests died before they reached her lips as she returned his kisses with a fervour that echoed the heady darkness of the previous night rather than the greyish morning that a starship captain was usually faced with.

Seven wasn't one for making mistakes and certainly wasn't for tolerating them, but she wished that that trait would somehow bypass the rest of the staff on Voyager when she found herself making careless slips of the kind she would have expected from an Academy cadet. She realised she hadn't experienced any degree of humiliation before on Voyager and sorely wished that she was still ignorant of the burning shame and clumsy second-guessing that accompanied the sensation. Captain Janeway confronted her about it, and she felt the heat rise in her again when the Commander entered the ready room. Seven made a hasty excuse and fled as soon as she was dismissed, hoping that a return to Astrometrics would be enough to nudge her back to the coolness that her usual level of composure added to her demeanour.

"She's beginning to worry me," Kathryn said softly, even though the doors had shut firmly behind Seven's retreating back. "These mistakes, this dip in her concentration...if it were anyone else I'd say they were having a bad day, but..."
Chakotay murmured his agreement.
"This just isn't like her," She concluded grimly, and looked to Chakotay for the opinion she knew he was about to give.
"Well...she is only human," He offered, shrugging his shoulders.
"'To err is human,'" Kathryn agreed, "Maybe I'm being too hard on her."
"I see where you're coming from. Maybe we should just wait before jumping to conclusions; give her a chance to work things out by herself."
She looked at him and nodded.

"Our shift's over," She pronounced absently, catching sight of the time on her computer display.
"Thank the stars for that." Chakotay's reply came swiftly. Kathryn glanced at him quizzically.
"You keep pouting across the Bridge at me," He explained slyly, "It's distracting."
"I do not," She replied, curling her lip, "You just want me to wipe that smirk off your face."
"I thought you'd never ask."
Kathryn kissed him lightly, caressing his face with a thumb and drew back before he'd barely had a chance to respond.
"I have to transfer command to the Beta shift," She said carelessly, turning away towards the door. She had taken perhaps three steps when she felt Chakotay catch her about the waist. He pulled her back and kissed her in the way that made her knees feel slightly weak, and she couldn't help smiling underneath his lips. He let her go and she made her way to the Bridge feeling pleasantly dizzy, hoping her cheeks wouldn't look too flushed.

Seven had arrived back on the Bridge to deliver an Astrometrics report not a second before it was due – normally she made a point of handing in her reports early, but on this occasion it hadn't been high on her list of priorities for the day. As she was handing the padd over the Captain came out of her ready room to hand over command to the next shift. Seven looked at her curiously – there was something different about the Captain lately. There wasn't any obvious change in her appearance, but there was something in her expression that made her look much happier. Much prettier, too, Seven observed dryly – she had spent a fair amount of time trying to arrange her own facial features into a nice smile, but hers always seemed to look rather forced and certainly didn't add anything positive to her appearance. Captain Janeway's cheeks were lightly touched with pink, but Seven had already found out with one experiment that any colour she tried to add to her cheeks either made her look cold or like she was suffering from some kind of medical complaint, so there wasn't much she could do on that front. It was something to do with her eyes, Seven decided - they looked brighter, somehow. More lively. It wasn't any new make-up or grooming; it seemed to be entirely natural.
Natural. The word plucked at something within her and she eyed the spidery Borg implants straining against her skin as she suddenly clenched her fist tightly.

That night Kathryn thought over the events of the day and bit her lip to keep from laughing out loud when her thoughts went back to the morning in her quarters. She rolled over and was confronted with the sight of Chakotay's back, the contours of which stood out under the thin fabric of his T-shirt. Too prominently.
"You're so tense..." She murmured, trailing a finger over the stiffened shoulder blades softly. One twitched. She shifted and leaned over him.
"Are you okay?" Almost as soon as her breath touched his ear he gave a start.
"It's nothing," Chakotay asserted after a slight pause. Kathryn knew him well enough to realise that he wasn't ready to discuss whatever was bothering him, and so she chose instead to squeeze his arm and arrange herself around his curled form, a silent reminder that she was there if he needed to talk.

Seven was eager to return to the Holodeck, too flush with anticipation to notice the startled look Commander Chakotay had given her as he was studying a padd on the Bridge at the end of the shift the previous day. The scenario she was running on the Holodeck had rapidly overtaken her interest in anything else and she was channelling all her energies into it.

It had taken more than a few attempts to perfect the holographic projections for her own appearance, but Seven had ample amounts of determination and capability to work at it until she was satisfied. Programming the finer aspects – such as the part to disguise her ocular implant without making that part of her face look entirely frozen – took so much time that the clothing projection was practically child's play by comparison. It was an apt phrase, she realised, as she was reminded of when she used to supervise the children during their recreation time. Naomi and Mezoti shared a keen liking for make-believe and would often draw pictures to embellish their inane, babbling stories, which amounted to little further than the girls assuming various fantastic identities for themselves. They would amuse themselves for hours if she let them, chattering endlessly about the intricacies of their imagined costumes and living circumstances.
"I want to be a grown-up!"
"I want to be an explorer!"
"I want to be a princess!"
She found their gleeful shouts echoed in her own, measured voice as she flipped through the clothing parameters, the perfectly-fitting templates a far cry from the wobbly lines of the fashions the girls drew for their characters, the paper dolls that cavorted and danced and kissed and giggled and fell.
I want to be normal. I want to be a woman. I want to be real. I want to be...
"That," she murmured breathlessly, as she spotted the red dress. Full-length, low-cut, high for a first kiss, high pride and a long fall.

That evening Kathryn had booked two hours on the Holodeck, determined to play a few rounds of Velocity with a computer opponent to work off some energy and give Chakotay some breathing space. She found the Holodeck doors sealed and waited outside for ten minutes before she checked whose program was running. She didn't recognise the filename and overrode the entrance lock.

"Hello? Seven? You've gone over into my holodeck time..." Captain Janeway called cautiously as she made her way through the doors to the Holodeck.
She looked around the room and couldn't see Seven anywhere. The environment was confusing at first glance – it was a completely ordinary set of Voyager quarters. Her eyes passed over an astrometric chart, a kitchenette with an array of neatly-stacked pots and pans, a shelf with a pile of sheet music and a metronome on it...and then all thoughts of looking for Seven flew out of her head when she caught sight of the bed – or, rather, the object hanging from the viewport above it.

It was an elaborate-looking object with wooden rings on a kind of hanging mobile with string crossed inside them like a spiderweb. Feathers and beads trailed from the rings. Kathryn didn't need to look at it too carefully, as she had an identical one hanging in her own room. Chakotay had given it to her after that first night...she put the thought from her mind and turned around with the aim of leaving, but then she was confronted with another sight that shook her to the core. There, draped over the edge of a chair, was a jumper she immediately recognised as one of Chakotay's. She stretched her hand out to turn it over and see if it was really his, but her hand began to shake uncontrollably and she clenched her fist. The veins stood out on the back of her hand, the carriers of the pulse that had made her heart sing in his presence suddenly looking ugly, the way they snaked under her skin. Her whole arm began to tense up and she left the Holodeck quickly, stumbling over her feet in her haste to get back to her own quarters and try and make sense of everything she had just seen.

You're so tense... Her own words came back to her as she was on her way to the turbolift and she blanched.
The room had been Seven's, no doubt about that. It had her personality written all over it. There seemed something odd about that very fact – as though the concept of Seven having a recognisable personality was foreign in itself, she thought with some coldness, and was then a little disgusted that such a spiteful thought had occurred to her so readily.

Kathryn stopped in the middle of the empty corridor suddenly. It was madness to think that Chakotay would ever conduct an affair behind her back. She knew him too well to believe he'd do something like that. But why would he have been there in the first place? She continued on her way to the turbolift and called for the deck where Chakotay's quarters were located, determined to get some answers.

When Kathryn burst into Chakotay's quarters he was sitting in his armchair looking grave, his chin resting on his clasped hands.
"Chakotay?" She asked tentatively, suddenly unsure as to whether she should stay or not.
He looked up and the muscles in his forehead relaxed visibly.
"What's wrong?" Her voice sounded too detached, but at that particular moment she didn't care.
"It's Seven," He mumbled. Kathryn felt her heart sink, and said nothing.
"She's been having a relationship with a holographic version of me." Chakotay said flatly.
His expression was so mixed and the words so completely unlike those she had expected that it took a moment for her to process them.

"She – what?" Kathryn breathed, a note of confusion in her voice.
"All that time she was spending on the Holodeck – she made up a boyfriend for herself using my image." His tone sounded hollow, as though he could hardly believe what he was saying. Kathryn took in this new information and approached the chair. She wanted to be near him.
"I went to the Holodeck after Seven fell ill. I thought –" She broke off uneasily. Chakotay looked up and she saw the realisation dawn on his face. He pulled her into his lap wordlessly.

"I don't know why she would do something like this," He murmured into her shoulder, "We hardly even speak to each other."
"You can't blame her for her choice of boyfriend," Kathryn answered softly, stroking his hair, "I think we forget that, for all the advanced knowledge she acquired with the collective, she's still relatively immature about things like emotions."
"She's acting like a child," Chakotay agreed bitterly, "She can't have my heart."
She frowned at him.
"She wants something that belongs to you," He continued, holding her gaze. She blinked and swallowed hard.
"She doesn't know it's not hers to have," Kathryn answered thickly, "Seven probably never intended for you to find out about that program."
"I suppose. I still don’t like it, though. I’ll ask the Doctor to remind her of the protocol regarding Holodeck characters, but he doesn’t have to say it was on my orders."
Kathryn nodded her agreement.

"Chakotay, I don't think we should tell her about us," She said after a pause, "Not yet. It would only upset her."
"Kathryn?" Chakotay tenderly wiped away a tear that had escaped down her cheek.
"She'd be heartbroken. I don't want to do that to her," Kathryn dabbed at her eyes hastily, "I'm not ashamed to be with you. You make me so, so happy." She planted light kisses on his cheek until she reached the edge of his face.
"Don't hold it against her," Kathryn breathed into his ear. He shivered slightly, but said nothing.
"Remember how we got together...?"
Chakotay looked her straight in the eye, recalling the day months ago when he'd followed her into the Holodeck.
"I remember," He said, fingering a lock of her hair.

*   *   *

Earlier that year Chakotay and Kathryn had been growing closer. It had probably started to happen after she confided in him about her letter from Mark; unexpectedly that seemed to have relaxed some unwritten rule between then and blurred the boundaries of their friendship. For some period of time they skirted around the issue and neither of them acted upon their feelings, but as a result they began to have increasingly heated arguments as a command team. There was so much tension between them that any minor disagreement was blown out of all proportion and they could end up locked in the ready room for an hour at the end of a shift snapping at each other. Kathryn was like a coiled spring and it even seemed to manifest itself physically, wherein she appeared drawn and her features at times seemed severe. Chakotay imagined it wasn't much different in his case – sometimes his skin felt as though it was stretched so tightly over his skull that he was sure he would see bone straining against it. He found it difficult to sleep for thinking about Kathryn and the constant conflict was wearing his patience thin.

At the end of one evening shift they had argued again and he regretted speaking sharply to Kathryn as soon as the words were out of his mouth. They were travelling through an area of space with little in the way of astronomical phenomena and he was well aware of how difficult she had found it when they passed through a similar region about a year and a half previously. But he had been feeling the strain as well and was so frustrated about the way their relationship had stalled before it had begun to gain momentum that he had directed his annoyance at her. Her gaze lingered on him for a moment and then she pushed past him abruptly and left the room.

He stormed off to the Holodeck to let off some steam, but was growing increasingly irritated with the twee characters of Fair Haven and was about to leave when he saw Kathryn marching across the village square. He moved out of sight behind a pillar and watched her back with some interest. She was dressed in period costume, which was a dress closely fitted at the waist that tied up the back. Her hair was up in a style that reminded him of uptight old schoolmistresses from books he had read, and it almost made him laugh to consider the whole situation. They were both packing away their true feelings under arguments and starched fabric, and at some point a seam was going to burst.

He stole after her into the pub and took a seat at the back on a bench with a high back so that he could avoid being seen. He sat and thought about what to do, and periodically looked up to find Kathryn's reflection in the large mirror that was at the back of the bar. There she was playing Rings and looking exceedingly uncomfortable, then later she was talking to the bartender – who, unless Chakotay was mistaken, looked distinctly taller and more clean-cut than the last time he had visited the program. He caught Kathryn looking up at the character with an expression that forced him to hide a smile, and he could see traces of the way she acted around him apparent in her manner around the hologram.

Later the music was getting a little too much for Chakotay and he wasn't sure what he should do, but then everything became clear when a dance came to a natural end and he could see Kathryn a short distance away. She had stopped suddenly in the middle of the room.
"Computer, delete all characters except Michael Sullivan," She ordered breathlessly. The crowds in the pub vanished.
"Computer, delete Michael Sullivan," Chakotay said quietly, striding across the empty floor.

Kathryn whirled around and gazed at him in horror. Her cheeks felt warm under his fingers as he took hold of her and kissed her firmly. He drew back, but she grabbed him by the front of his shirt and returned the kiss hungrily, not giving him the chance to pull away again. When they finally did disentangle themselves from each other Kathryn's tight bun had come undone and her hair fell around her face in tousled waves. Her chest heaved as she struggled to breathe deeply under the tight bodice of her dress and she turned smouldering eyes on him.
"Help me get out of this damned thing," She had whispered to him urgently, and from the moment those dress lacings were untied they had released each other from inhibitions and protocol and broken free from all that had been repressing their feelings for each other beforehand...

*   *   *

Down in Sickbay, Seven lay on her side on a biobed with her elbows bent and arms drawn tight together, looking at her hands resting near to her face. There was no one around and there were no other patients in the Sickbay besides her. The Doctor was offline and wasn't due to be reactivated for another hour or two, but whatever sedative he had given her had worn off. Until her nap on the Holodeck a few days ago she had never tried to sleep outside her alcove. There was no point – her implants wouldn't regenerate and it was a complete waste of time. She didn't even have a bed, she contemplated with a hint of bitterness, nor any other furniture for that matter. There wasn't a place for her on Voyager at all.

Seven tried to keep all of her human emotions under strict control, but there was something that nudged the cold exterior when that particular thought crossed her mind. There was space – plenty of in the vacant chairs that surrounded her when she sat in the Messhall, ample room to move around the empty cargo bay, strained space when her colleagues approached her and stood at a distance, gaping enough for her to know she was not wanted and that her exit route was unhindered...and yet there was nowhere to escape to; no place where she belonged or that she could truly call her own.

She thought back to the night with the Chakotay hologram and resolved to feel nothing.
His arm was draped across her waist, pleasantly heavy with sleep...
She let her own arm drift across her torso, trying to mimic the way it had felt. It was a poor substitute.
The warmth spread through her and she was weighed down with it, content to doze in this soft, comfortable world with blurred, liquid edges...

The biobed was too firm to offer any real comfort and the thin sheet rustled with her every move. The Sickbay was cool and there was no swimming drowsiness or mound of soft cushions, just the jagged outline of her arm – the one with the visible dull silver cybernetic implants that were too complex to remove and too prominent to disguise. She twitched her wrist and activated the defunct assimilation tubules, which waved uselessly in the air without a target or purpose. They were ugly, but not really in any pure aesthetic sense – they stood for the Borg and their objectives stained with murder, ruthlessness and brutality, expelled from a piece of metal under the skin of a girl who wore a skintight bodysuit and didn’t understand allure, who had been connected to millions and felt awkward in the presence of one other person, who had taken countless lives and then struggled to create one for herself. Learning about the safety device to suppress her emotions had brought on an incredible feeling of numbness, in stark contrast to the dizzying spirals of hot emotion she had experienced in the past few days. Seven lay frozen, gazing at her empty hands with all the unfeeling that the mechanical implement represented – half-human, half-machine, and yet fully imperfect.

*   *   *

They didn't speak again until a little later when they were ready to go to bed.
"Do you think that was why Seven's been acting differently lately?" Kathryn said, regarding Chakotay as he slipped under the covers next to her. She smoothed the pads of her fingers over his temples, where he tended to get tension headaches in times of stress.
"Maybe," Chakotay mused, "It would explain why she's been preoccupied." He relaxed into the pillows, comforted by her presence.
"I worry about what it will mean for her," Kathryn said sadly, " I don't want her to believe that to feel something for someone interferes with her work."
"Did you worry about that with us?"
"Maybe at the beginning," She said honestly, looking away, "But I think we found it was harder to stay apart."

Kathryn shifted closer to him, drawn to the security that his warmth and encircling arm afforded her. She lowered her voice.
"When I saw that Holodeck program I she'd done something to hurt me personally, and I was just about ready to renounce all the good I saw in her."
Chakotay gave her a sympathetic smile.
"But I've had enough experience to realise more or less straight away that I was being stupid, that I trust you and that she doesn't have a personal vendetta against either of us. She doesn't have that history of relationships to guide her judgement. She doesn't know that this probably isn't the last time she'll ever have feelings for someone, or that she'll find someone who can return them. We emphasise that we’re not perfect, but she’s so hellbent on attaining that Borg concept that I think we stopped trying to make her believe it as well. She hasn't really ever gotten anything wrong. Not like this. Maybe that was our flaw, to overlook that." Chakotay nodded, but nevertheless held her to him tightly.
"Thanks," He murmured sleepily.
"For being imperfect. For being you."

He felt a whispering kiss touch him as he drifted off, eyelids too heavy to give a response. Kathryn began to doze, warmed by his arms and his love and fell asleep with her fingers curled next to his chest, as though she were protecting the fullness of the warmth within.

- End -

Additional notes: This was the fifteenth Voyager fic I've completed and was written for the VAMB Secret Santa Exchange 2012. Many thanks to my match elem, whose request only specified a 'happy J/C ending'.
I think I'm slightly more sympathetic to Human Error as it is entirely Seven's fantasy, and I have virtually no objections to C/7 in the context of this episode because I find something desperately sad about the whole scenario. Setting Seven's narrative in parallel with my own rather twee J/C imagining is really just an extension of this concept, so I really owe the original screenwriters (Braga and Bormanis; story credited to Bormanis and Biller) for this. Thank you for reading!
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