Episode 9-24 - The Future of Us
By: Jenny McGovern (zippy_giggleheiney@hotmail.com)

Disclaimer: Star Trek: Voyager, its characters and related properties are Registered Trademarks of Paramount Pictures. No infringement of Paramount's copyrights is intended. Voyager Virtual Season 9 (VS9) is a non-profit endeavor. The unique characters and milieu of VS9 are the property of the VS9 producers and individual authors. This story is the property of the author. Please do not repost without permission.

The rounded shape of a small ship glided through the darkness of space on a trajectory towards another much larger ship. The vessel seemed to have an inherent dominance about it as its beautiful contours meshed with the green glow of Borg equipment and the dense blackness of Sernaix technology. The ship was well known in this quadrant and known even more intimately by those who approached.

She longed to reach out and touch the smooth hull, run her fingers along the bright nacelles, but she had to settle for looking at her ship with a mother's pride. Kathryn turned to Chakotay, feeling his eyes on her, and saw the grin on his face. She scowled playfully and let out a sigh as she fell back into the seat she had vacated.

"Docking bay is ready, Captain," said Harry Kim warmly over the comm. "Welcome back."

Kathryn smiled. "It's good to be back, Harry." She turned to Chakotay and smiled, sitting back and allowing him to guide the Captain's yacht back to its berth.

The small ship maneuvered and came to a stop under the larger one. A few moments passed before it began to ascend slowly into the gaping hole it had left. It met the edge of the cavity and slipped in easily, making the ship whole once again.

Kathryn watched silently as Chakotay ran through the shut down sequence, his concentration on ensuring the yacht was docked properly and powered down.

When he finished, he stood and offered her his hand. "Shall we see what kind of a mess the crew has made of our ship?"

She smiled up at him and allowed him to pull her up from her chair and lead her to the docking hatch.

Bridge to the Captain, came a voice over the comm before they reached it. It wasn't Harry this time.

"Janeway here."

Captain, there's a hail coming through for you.

"Put it through to the Yacht," Kathryn replied almost automatically.

She and Chakotay turned simultaneously and moved back to their seats. They were barely seated when the viewscreen came to life and a face appeared before them.

"Neelix!" Kathryn said warmly, smiling at her friend.

"Captain, Commander!" he said, smiling back at them with a knowing glint in his eye. "How was your shore leave?"

"It was wonderful, thank you Neelix," Kathryn replied happily. "It was nice to get a break. It's been a long year."

Neelix visibly shivered. "We didn't have too much trouble with the Sernaix but I've heard more than my share of stories."

"Not that it's not wonderful to see you Neelix, but was there something you wanted?" Janeway asked, curious as to why he had specifically wanted to speak to her.

Neelix took no offence at the Captain's abruptness. "I had wanted you to be the first to know, but I didn't want to interrupt your shore leave."

Kathryn glanced at Chakotay, then back at the viewscreen. "The first to know what?"

Neelix visibly beamed. "I'm delighted to announce the birth of my daughter, and invite you to the naming ceremony."

Kathryn and Chakotay sat in their respective chairs and looked at Neelix in stunned silence. After a few seconds, Captain Janeway recovered and smiled from ear to ear. "A baby, Neelix? You didn't say anything!"

"I haven't spoken much to the crew in the last months," he said somewhat regretfully. "I have spoken with some of them, including Tom and little Miral."

The names of the Paris family broke Kathryn's smile. "Oh, Neelix! Tom, B'Elanna and Miral are on shore leave in the Alpha quadrant! I don't know if they'll be able to make it in time for the ceremony."

"Not to worry, Captain! I've spoken to Admiral Paris and he's arranged for them and Naomi to be transported on one of the new transwarp ships. You should rendezvous with the U.S.S. Ashdown in about two hours," said Neelix excitedly. "And I'm sure with your full crew complement you can find someone to take command so you can stay the night."

"Stay the night?" Janeway repeated. "Neelix, I don't think...."

"Well of course Captain it's up to you, but I'm sure you have someone on your staff that you can trust your ship to for just one night," Neelix ventured somewhat teasingly.

She looked over at Chakotay who smiled at her, assuring her that he saw no problem with it. "Neelix, we'd be delighted to attend."

His smile lit up his face and appeared to be contagious as Janeway and Chakotay joined him, reveling in his happiness.


Seven of Nine strode down the corridor, lost in her own thoughts. She was startled out of her musings by someone calling her. She stopped and turned to investigate and saw the Doctor walking towards her with brisk strides, his expression animated. When he came to a stop in front of her she raised her metallic eyebrow at him and her lips curled up at the edges. "There was no need to rush, Doctor," she said in her usual cold tone that belied none of the humor she was expressing. "I would have waited for you."

"Yes, well, it took you long enough to notice me," he replied curtly. "I thought you'd get to the transporter room before you even heard me. Borg hearing, my holographic backside."

Seven chuckled at that. As they turned to resume their walk the Doctor continued happily: "You know, I've been doing some more research on your Borg implants during my spare time." He paused took a breath before announcing proudly: "I think I may have discovered a way to remove the cybernetic implant above your eye!" He looked up, expecting to see a look of sheer joy on Seven's face but to his disappointment she had stopped in the hallway a few feet behind him and was looking over her shoulder. "Seven?"

She turned back to look at him, her eyebrow raised. "Yes?"

He frowned. "What are you doing?"

"Waiting for Harry."

The Doctor glanced up and down the empty corridor. "Are you expecting him?"

Just then, Harry rounded the corner and began moving down the hallway towards them.

"Borg hearing, Doctor," quipped Seven with a mischievous grin.

The Doctor muttered something incomprehensible under his breath and waited impatiently as Harry greeted Seven with a kiss on the cheek.

"As I was saying," he said pointedly after a few seconds, "my research has enabled me to find a way to safely remove the cybernetic implant above your eye, Seven." His initial excitement had long since worn off but the smile that lit both Seven's face and then Harry's once he had gauged her reaction seemed to bring it all back to him.

"Thank you, Doctor," she said quietly. Her praise wasn't glowing, but he could tell by the tone of her voice how truly moved she was.

"You're welcome, Seven." He watched her for a moment then continued. "Actually," the Doctor paused for a moment before speaking again, his voice somewhat subdued as he continued. "I've chosen a name and I think I'd like it if you, Seven," pausing again he smiled at Harry as well, "and you, Harry, were to be the first people to know."

Harry grinned, he had a fair guess at what had brought this on and what the name would be, but held his peace. "Well, Doc, don't keep us in suspense..."

"Indeed," Seven considered the holographic physician intently, "I am most interested to hear what name you have finally settled on."

The Doctor smiled broadly, "Actually one of the first names I considered has turned out to be the most appropriate... Schmullus."

Harry clapped the Doctor on the back, "Great choice ... Schmullus and congratulations." It was obvious in Harry's expression that the congratulations were for more than just choosing a name.

Seven watched the Doctor as he beamed at Harry's approval. She was as happy for her friend as Harry was, but there was a fleeting emotion, not quite sadness but not easily identified, something she had never experienced before. "Species ..." She stopped herself before she finished the Borg designation, "The name is Vidiian in origin." She paused and considered the happiness in her friend's eyes then smiled broadly. "Very unique. I believe it suits you. Congratulations, Schmullus."

He blushed as he met Seven's gaze and quickly said, "We should probably be going. The others will be waiting."

Harry nodded and patted the overnight bag slung over his shoulder. "I think I've got everything."

Seven didn't miss a beat. "Do you have the gift?"

Harry's eyes widened. "Oh shoot, the gift!" He opened his bag and rummaged around a little before he sighed heavily. "I must have left it in my quarters."

Seven was unable to withhold a smile. "You gave it to me last night because you were afraid you would forget it, remember?"

Harry stared dumbly at her for several seconds before he laughed. "Oh, right."

As they started down the hallway, the Doctor leaned towards Harry and muttered under his breath, "I don't know about you, but sometimes I miss the days before she had a sense of humor."

Harry smiled. "Not for a second, Schmullus."


"I still can't get over it. Neelix, our Neelix, married and has a baby!" Janeway enthused as she and Chakotay walked towards the transporter room.

"Its certainly surprising, but just think how much things have changed for everyone on Voyager since we last saw him. It makes sense things would change for him too."

"I know, but a baby Chakotay." She smiled. "He'll make a wonder father if his experience with Naomi was any example."

Chakotay turned to her and smiled back as he gestured for her to precede him into the transporter room where the senior staff had congregated to transport to the asteroid.

"It's a good thing Vorik managed to work around the interference in the asteroid," continued Kathryn as she entered the transporter room. "I don't know how I'd feel about not being able to get back to the ship if I had to."

Chakotay chuckled as his hand rested on her lower back, guiding her towards the transporter pad. "You worry too much, Kathryn. Commander Thomas is more than capable of looking after a parked ship."

"Hmmm," was all she said before she stepped up onto the transporter pad. She glanced around and took a quick inventory. Assured that everyone was present and accounted for, she nodded to the ensign at the transporter controls. "Energize."


Neelix saw the figure of his one time captain forming before his eyes and he smiled with excited pleasure. As soon as she had solidified he reached out his arms to her and met her in a strong embrace

"It's good to see you, Neelix," she said softly.

"And you, Captain," he said with heartfelt warmth.

He shared a quick embrace with all present just as the second group appeared behind them. There was a loud hum of eager conversation, but that stopped as Neelix let out a small yelp as he came across Naomi.

His surprise didn't leave his features as he placed a hand on either side of her face and moved it so that her eyes met his, he looked at her for a few moments as everyone was silent, enthralled at the reunion. Naomi didn't flinch; she just looked back at him, the same look of inquisitiveness and amusement in her eyes. It was almost as if they were communicating telepathically. Finally, Neelix smiled and pulled Naomi to him in the strongest hug yet and she returned it just as fiercely. As she pulled away a small tear ran down her cheek, and he lifted his hand and used his thumb to wipe the tear from her face, leaving just a dazzling smile.

Eventually Neelix moved on and the conversation returned. When he reached Tuvok, he looked up at him and said, "Mr. Vulcan! It's good to see you!"

Tuvok had been waiting for Neelix to pounce on him and pull him into an uncomfortable hug and he had trouble keeping surprise from his features when Neelix merely stood before him and welcomed him to his home. Tuvok answered appropriately and Neelix walked away leaving a rather relieved yet bemused Vulcan in his wake.


As soon as he had made sure every one was comfortable in the rooms they had been assigned, Neelix hesitantly approached Tuvok's door. He lifted his hand and held it over the chime for a few seconds before finally finding the courage to push down on the button.

He had to wait a few seconds before he heard Tuvok's voice through the door. He waited for the door to open then stepped inside with all the confidence he could muster.

As he stepped in and surveyed the room, he realized just how Talaxian the it was. He could have kicked himself -- it really hadn't occurred to him to tone it down. He glanced at the colorful carpet and the beautifully contrasting curtains. He found the room to be expertly designed but he knew Tuvok well enough to know he wouldn't be comfortable here, which wouldn't make asking him what he wanted to any easier.

Tuvok noticed Neelix's apprehensive scrutiny of the dTcor. "The mix of pink, red, and orange in the carpeting is particularly... interesting," he observed.

Neelix sighed at what he took to be an indication of criticism. "Oh, Tuvok, I'm so sorry! I can have you a new room prepared in a few minutes." He turned to leave, relieved that he wouldn't have to ask Tuvok just yet...but he knew he couldn't put it off indefinitely.

He was stopped by a firm hand on his arm. "That will not be necessary, Mr. Neelix."

"But, but if you're not comfortable here I should arrange for somewhere else for you," insisted Neelix with a pleading anxiety in his eyes.

"I have not complained of being uncomfortable, therefore it is illogical to assume that I am."

"Oh," Neelix said softly.

Tuvok noticed his lack of persistence. "Was there something you wanted, Neelix?"

The attempt to break Neelix's unusual mood only served to make the Talaxian frown more deeply. He began to fidget nervously. "Well, actually...." He looked down at the pattern on the carpet as if it held the secret to eternal life. Finally, gathering his courage, he took a deep breath and looked up. "I'd like you to be my daughter's Carexa." When Tuvok merely raised an eyebrow, he added: "It's, uh, the Talaxian equivalent of a godparent." Tuvok remained passive, so he rambled on. "It's just that I thought you would be a wonderful role model and you've been such a good friend to me over the years --"

"I would be honored," Tuvok said in his unemotional Vulcan way.

His response seemed to fly right over Neelix's head. "And I know you have experience with your own children, so...." When he stopped to take a breath, what Tuvok had just said worked its way to the forefront of his mind. "What did you just say?" he asked in disbelief.

"I would be honored," repeated Tuvok.

"You would?" Neelix said, his disbelief increasing.


"Oh Tuvok, that's wonderful!" Neelix said enthusiastically a huge smile spread across his features. "I was hoping you would say yes." He then held out a padd. "You'll need this -- it's the details of the ceremony."

Tuvok took it from him without reading it. "Thank you."

"It's me who should be thanking you, Mr. Vulcan!" After a moment of silence, Neelix continued excitedly: "There's much to do for tonight's ceremony, so I should get going and help Dexa organize dinner!" He began to leave but before he reached the sensor on the door he stopped, hesitated for a moment, and then turned around and rushed at Tuvok pulling him into a crushing hug. As uncomfortable as he felt, Tuvok let the Talaxian hold on to him for a few long seconds knowing that Neelix could behave in no other way.

When Neelix finally let go, he looked up at Tuvok he was smiling again all the way to his eyes. "I'll see you at dinner!" He practically bounced out of the room with bubbling delight.

Tuvok looked after him and shook his head, but he wasn't sure who he was mentally chastising more: the excited Talaxian, or himself, the stoic Vulcan who thought he just felt something akin to affection.

He sighed and seated himself in a green and pink armchair before activating the pad and scrolling through it. When he came to the section on the role of the Carexa, he stopped and began to read. What he saw there caused him to raise an eyebrow well into the center of his forehead.


The room that the dinner was held in was elaborately decorated in what the visitors had quickly come to recognize as Talaxian design. The walls were painted a deep red and there were sashes of color along the walls. Some were different shades of blue, others various shades of green, and there was a little yellow draped here and there as well. The room wasn't very large but it wasn't too small either and even with more than twelve people seated around the table it was informal and intimate.

As the crew began entering the room, the disappointment was evident on their faces on finding that the baby wasn't already there. Neelix circled the room as everyone seating themselves, his tone just as excited as ever.

A few minutes later, once everyone had arrived, Dexa walked in holding a small bundle of blankets in her arms. Everyone in the room turned to look, but only Neelix jumped up from his seat and moved towards her. He smiled tenderly at her and took the baby into his arms. Dexa stood slightly behind him, feeling a little uncomfortable in such a large group of people that she barely remembered but smiling nonetheless. Neelix moved to the head of the table again and said proudly, "I would like to introduce you all to my daughter."

Captain Janeway, who was seated next to Chakotay near the head of the table, leaned over as Neelix approached and pulled back the small blanket hiding the baby's face. When she first saw the little girl staring back up at her, she smiled deeply. "Neelix, she's beautiful," she said softly as if it were a prayer.

"She is, Captain," replied the proud father.

As the captain looked into the infant's amber eyes, she was amazed by the inquisitive look she received. The child was actively exploring her face with her eyes just as Janeway was doing to her. She had a beautiful orange tint to her skin that she had always associated with Neelix, but the child had a babyish femininity that made her absolutely breathtaking. The child let out a small coo and reached up to grasp Kathryn's finger as it passed in front of her face. "Well, hello...." The captain paused and looked up at Neelix. "What's her name?"

Everyone looked up at Neelix expectantly. "It's a Talaxian tradition not to pronounce the name of the child until the ceremony. It's a very special moment."

Tom cleared his throat loudly from the other side of the table. "I don't think Captain's privilege extends to monopolizing the newest member or our family," he said with a smirk.

"You'd be surprised what rank will get you, Tom," she quipped, but she relinquished her attention and let Neelix move on to show his daughter to the rest of the crew.

Once everyone had had their chance to see the baby, Dexa carried her back to her room so she could rest before the ceremony.

"So what exactly is this ceremony, Neelix?" asked Harry

"Back on Rinax," Neelix said wistfully, "the entire community would gather for the naming ceremony of a child. Dexa and I have invited many of our friends. I would have invited everyone from Voyager but with my people being wary of strangers, I didn't think it was a great idea to have two hundred people coming here all at once. But," he continued, "as for tonight. The ceremony won't be very long. Traditionally it begins late and the child is name in the first few minutes of the day. The details of what each of you will need to do will be provided after dinner, which I think should be just about ready."

At that moment a young boy entered the room. "Ah! Brax!" Neelix said loudly. The boy smiled at him and a little more timidly at the rest of those seated around the table. "I think you've met most of these people before, haven't you?" The boy nodded shyly. "Brax helped his mother prepare dinner for you all tonight!" Neelix said as proudly as he had introduced his daughter.

"I'm sure it will be delicious," Janeway said kindly, smiling at the boy's shyness.

It seemed to be with a lot of courage that he replied, "Well, mother did most of the cooking but I prepared the leola root. Neelix says I make it wonderfully." He blushed a little under the self praise.

When the visitors heard the words leola root they gulped collectively, but being the diplomat she was Janeway interceded almost immediately. "I'm sure it will be wonderful. Will you be joining us, Brax?"

"No. I have an assignment I have to do for tomorrow, and I would like to finish it before the ceremony this evening," he said, gaining confidence as he became more at ease.

Dexa called him from out of the room, and he quickly excused himself, returning moments later laden down with dishes of all varieties and colors. Even with the thought of leola root in the forefront of their minds the group felt their mouths water at the sight of the food.

Dinner was completely informal; people laughed, joked and teased, and even Dexa came out of her shell a bit and talked quietly to those around her and laughed at various jokes and comments, especially those about Neelix's cooking. The crew were surprised to find that leola root was actually edible when properly prepared.

After dinner, Neelix and Dexa excused themselves to prepare for the ceremony. Neelix encouraged his friends to make themselves at home and told them that the coffee was on the way with a small wink at Janeway to which she replied with a smirk. Tuvok rose, saying he was going to meditate, and left with them.

Tuvok walked silently behind the couple. They were discussing something about the ceremony that Tuvok wasn't quite paying attention to. Eavesdropping was, after all, illogical and rude. When they finally seemed to have resolved the matter Dexa moved off and nodded to Tuvok as she passed him.

When Neelix noticed him standing there, Tuvok spoke, uncomfortable in his own Vulcan way. "Mr. Neelix... why did you not inform me of my role in the naming ceremony?"

"What role?" asked Neelix, trying to feign innocence. Tuvok's raised eyebrow informed him that he hadn't succeeded. He sighed. "I was afraid you would refuse. I can understand if you don't want to do it anymore. I can find someone else."

Upon hearing Neelix's disheartened and solemn tone, Tuvok couldn't find it within himself to back out now. He had followed Neelix with the express intention of extricating himself from the ceremony, but again that illogical tug of affection for the Talaxian held him back. "That will not be necessary, Neelix. I will perform my role in the ceremony, but I will ask that you help me prepare."

Neelix looked up at him and smiled a hearty smile full of good will. "Tuvok, I'll help you with anything you need!"

They started to move down the hallway, but Neelix reached up and put his hand on Tuvok's arm, stopping their progress. "Thank you," said Neelix softly. "This means a lot to me."

"Your gratitude may be premature, Mr. Neelix. I have yet to complete my role in the ceremony."

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that. You'll do wonderfully!" Neelix said excitedly, allowing the moment to pass. Tuvok only raised an eyebrow as they began to walk again.


Two coffees later, seven of the senior staff were still seated around the table. It was getting late but they were still talking, spending some time together like they had so rarely been able to in the last months. Even Seven seemed completely at ease, more so than she had ever been in a social situation.

Must be Harry's influence, Janeway thought to herself. They seemed completely relaxed with each other; they touched frequently and held hands every so often, laughing at the same things. Kathryn wondered if she and Chakotay looked like that.

"So Dad pulled in a few favors and here we are," Tom said, finishing his story.

"The ship was pretty amazing, but not half as good as Voyager... but then, I am a little biased," B'Elanna added.

"We weren't really paying a lot of attention to the ship," admitted Tom. "We spent most of the trip catching up with Sam and Naomi."

"Have you seen Naomi?" interjected B'Elanna, following her own train of though. "Kahless, she looks at least ten years older than she is!"

"It's hard not to notice," said Chakotay with a soft chuckle. "I had a pretty good shock myself when I saw her again after we got back from the Delta Quadrant."

"It's getting late," observed Harry after a brief silence. "We should probably go get ready."

"These padds," agreed B'Elanna, holding her own in the air, "could have anything in them. And it's about time we checked on Miral."

"Sounds like a good idea," said Janeway as Tom and B'Elanna left the table, bringing a little more authority into her tone again. They all stood and filed out the door, going their separate ways.


"One left, two right, and turn."

Tuvok fell to the ground with a crash.

Neelix scrunched his eyes closed and opened them slowly to see a rather annoyed Vulcan crumpled over on the floor, giving him what could only be described as the Vulcan equivalent of a death glare.

Neelix went to help him up but Tuvok stoically refused his aid and climbed to his feet on his own. He looked down on the smaller man, his eyes burning holes into the Talaxian's skull. Neelix put his head down and coughed into his hand.

"I'll show you again, Tuvok," Neelix said with a confidence he didn't feel. He stepped forward one step to the left, then two to the right and then he turned clockwise. He had had some years of practice so he managed to pull off the simple dance routine with ease, much to the Vulcan's chagrin.

Tuvok started again and all was going well; he got to the turn without difficulty and even that seemed to be working until the last minute when he stumbled.

Neelix sighed; he hadn't realized how hard it would be to teach a Vulcan to dance. What was it he had once heard one of the crew saying.... You can't teach... what was it? An animal...turkeys? You can't teach new turkeys old tricks. That sounded right, and was apparently rather apt for the situation he found himself in.

"We should take a break," he suggested, hoping it would do Tuvok some good.

"Agreed," replied Tuvok in the stoic way he so very often did.

Neelix offered Tuvok a glass of water and they sat down in chairs on one side of the room. "I fail to see the importance of this ritual," observed Tuvok after a brief silence.

"According to Talaxian tradition, it's the very basis of the relationship between a Carexa and their charge. The very first connection is made; one that will last for their entire life. And I do believe, Mr. Tuvok," Neelix said, quietly looking up at Tuvok with a light smile resting on his lips, "that you are the first non-Talaxian to ever to take on the role of Carexa."

"You did not believe that a member of your own race would be more appropriate?"

"Oh, the elders had their reservations...but I knew that you were the right person for the job."

Tuvok observed his companion in thoughtful silence before he rose. "It would be inappropriate for the first non-Talaxian Carexa to fail to complete the ceremony. We should continue our preparations."

Neelix laughed gently. "I never did believe them when they said you had no sense of humor, Tuvok."


B'Elanna sat on the edge of the bed in the quarters they had been assigned to by Neelix. It was a spacious room, more than enough space for their family of three. The dTcor left a lot to be desired, but other than that it wasn't bad at all. She saw Miral toddle out of their bathroom followed by her father and she felt the exhaustion she had been suppressing rearing its ugly head again.

Even without her powers, Miral was a real handful and looking after her was draining. She shivered at words her own mind had formed, but thankfully that was all behind them and Miral was normal... or at least as normal as a three quarters human, one quarter klingon girl could be, thought B'Elanna wryly.

As Tom walked over and sat on the ground with Miral, playing with some Talaxian toys, B'Elanna reclined on the bed and picked up the PADD they had received at dinner and activated it. She scrolled through the information absently, only looking up when she heard a crash from the other side of the room. When she saw nothing more disturbing than the collapse of a wall Miral and Tom had built out of some colorful blocks, she returned to the PADD with a shake of her head.

She came across the heading 'dress code.' It didn't occur to her to be wary of a Talaxian dress code until she came to the section on the male suit. She couldn't contain the chuckle that escaped her lips and she was soon laughing uncontrollably.

Both Tom and Miral noticed the change in B'Elanna. Tom stood and with a little effort so did Miral. Tom strode over to the bed and tried to pry the PADD from B'Elanna's fingers, but she was laughing too hard to let go.

When she had regained a little composure, she looked up at him with an unmistakably evil grin. "Look what you have to wear." She shoved the PADD into his hand. The look of shock and disgust on his face caused her to double over with laughter again. Miral, puzzled and amused by her parents' strange behavior, decided that something must be amusing, even if she didn't know what it was, and she started laughing along with her mother.

"You didn't think there would be a female version?"

B'Elanna's laughter evaporated instantly as Tom passed her back the PADD with a satisfied smirk. He barely managed to contain his snickering, and her only response was a restrained growl as she looked at the picture of Talaxian female formal wear.


"Left one, right two, turn, side, side, right three, left and tur...." Neelix's voice trailed off as the doors to the room they were practicing in swished open.

The Doctor poked his head in. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything," he said cheerily, the way people always do when they know they're interrupting something.

Tuvok had been mid-turn when the Doctor decided to grace them with his presence. He balanced precariously on his heel for a second before his Vulcan reflexes saved him from revealing too much... or so he hoped.

He brought the weight he had been carrying down to his chest and gripped it while trying to think of a decent excuse for the position he was found in. Before he could open his mouth to explain, Neelix made some excuse about Talaxian exercise to the Doctor.

The Doctor accepted Neelix's explanation at face value and Tuvok was unaccountably relieved.

"Was there something you wanted, Doctor?" Tuvok asked in his stoic way.

"Not at all. I was just exploring," he said with his usual enthusiasm.

"Have you been to the infirmary, Doctor?" Neelix asked amiably

"Schmullus, please Neelix," The hologram beamed, "but no, I haven't. Perhaps I'll pay them a visit."

"I'm sure they'd be delighted to show you around," encouraged Neelix.

The Doctor smiled, satisfied, and with a final glance around the room turned to leave. When the door closed behind the Doctor, Neelix let out a breath and slumped his shoulders, a visible sign of the release of tension he felt.

"I appreciate your discretion in this matter, Mr. Neelix."

"You're welcome. Shall we continue?"

Tuvok took up the first position and raised the weight to the correct point above his head. He was about to take the first step when the door swished open again. He pulled the weight down to his chest again, thankful he hadn't started moving yet but still slightly perturbed at this second interruption.

The Doctor re-entered the room, looking slightly embarrassed. "Neelix...where precisely is the infirmary?"

As Neelix happily gave the Doctor directions, Tuvok wondered again how he had possibly let himself be talked into this.


"This dress is... distasteful," said Seven as she scowled at her reflection in the mirror.

"It's the dress code, Seven," said Harry despondently. "We don't have a choice. Besides, you look absolutely gorgeous in anything."

She turned around to face him, arching one eyebrow. "I match the carpet."

Harry had to laugh at the look of disgust on her face. "The blues and purples really bring out the color of your eyes. I'm not so sure about the oranges, reds and yellows...."

Seven's lips turned up into a hint of a smile and she turned to look at him. "That's very sweet, Harry," she said, tracing his jawbone before leaning in for a quick peck on the lips, "but you're a terrible liar."

Seven turned back to the mirror. "Well," said Harry from behind her, "I know this would look great on you."

Seven looked at him in the mirror as he held something over her shoulder, expecting to see something making fun of her hideous outfit. What she saw instead brought tears to her eyes. From Harry's hand hung a silver necklace; as the light of the room hit the metal she could make out the shape of a heart dangling from the chain.

She gasped and reached out to run her fingers around the shape. She looked up into Harry's eyes with a deep, sincere smile which was mirrored on his face. "It's beautiful," she said softly, turning as he put it on for her.

"Not as beautiful as you." He closed the catch and leaned forward to place a soft kiss on the base of her neck before meeting her gaze in the mirror. "I love you, Seven."

The strength of feeling that came over Seven overwhelmed her. She was relatively new to all this and emotion still had the power to shake her to the core. The tears could no longer be held in and they began to run freely over her cheeks. She was about to turn away so he wouldn't see, but she was too late. Harry stepped in front of her and wiped the tears away with his thumbs. "What is it?"

She knew she could trust him, but she was still embarrassed that she was behaving this way. He put his arms around her, and she allowed the closeness, resting her hands on his shoulders. "I...I love you too. I don't know what I would do if anything ever happened to you."

Harry pulled her closer. "Nothing's going to happen to me Seven," he said softly in her ear. "You don't have to worry."

Seven squeezed him tighter as if she could keep him from harm by keeping him near her. She relaxed after a few seconds and just rested in Harry's arms, feeling safe, comfortable and loved.


"Groin strain."

"Groin strain?"

"Yes, groin strain," repeated the Doctor, rolling his eyes in Neelix's direction. He stood up beside the biobed and addressed Tuvok. "I have no idea what you were doing, Commander, but this is the first case I have seen of a Vulcan suffering from groin strain."

Tuvok's expression barely betrayed his discomfort; he wished that when he and Neelix had limped into the infirmary a few minutes ago they had remembered they had sent the Doctor there. "It would appear that Talaxian exercises are... not suited for Vulcans."

"So it would appear," agreed the Doctor somewhat suspiciously. He glanced at each of them in turn, his eyes narrowing as he attempted to determine the real reason behind Tuvok's injury.

Tuvok raised an eyebrow with a sigh. "Doctor?"

The EMH snapped out of his reverie. "Of course. I'll get a regenerator."


The only light in the large room came from a large flame flickering in its center. Around the flame stood a large crowd of well over a hundred people. Among those closest to the flame were the visitors from Voyager. Neelix and Dexa stood with their daughter opposite the flame, apart from the crowd.

The ceremony was being performed by one of the Talaxian elders, who began by welcoming them to the naming ceremony. He took the child from the arms of her mother and began to chant.

"Gods of Peace,
Gods of Truth,
Gods of Light,
Take this child into your arms tonight.
Join her to the chain,
Which her family has lain,
So she may never be alone again."

He lifted her to him and kissed her forehead. "I wish for you, child, the newest edition to our extended family, the gift of immense happiness. May you never know sorrow."

The elder passed the infant to Neelix. He looked down at her for a moment before he spoke. "For you, my first child, I wish you love." He grasped Dexa's hand as he continued hoarsely: "Greater than anyone has ever known."

Dexa took her daughter in her arms. "For you, my first daughter, I wish you all the knowledge that you may ever wish to seek."

She passed her on gently to Janeway. The child hadn't made a sound as the ceremony commenced and as the fragile creature lay in her arms Janeway couldn't think of what to say. She had known this part of the ceremony was coming, had even prepared what she would say, but now it seemed irrelevant and she suddenly realized that it was intended to be spontaneous. "I wish you friendship," she said softly. "It's the finest gift you will ever receive."

She passed the baby to Chakotay. "I wish you freedom," he pronounced.

Chakotay passed her on, and one by one the crew spoke their hopes for the young girl's future.

"I wish you passion," said B'Elanna.

"I wish you humor," offered Tom.

"I wish you adventure," said Harry.

"I wish you individuality," said Seven softly.

"I wish you respect," said the Doctor.

Tuvok was the only one who didn't participate and the baby was handed back to the elder.

"The wishes," said the elder reverently, "are a special gift given to the child so that she can be guided through her life. This child will know each of your individual gifts until the day she passes into the Great Forest."

There was a short silence as the gathered guests waited. After a few moments, Brax, performing his role in the ceremony, struck the chime to mark the beginning of the new day.

Neelix took a deep breath and held his daughter in full view of the audience. "Our child shall begin the journey of her life on this new day." He looked fondly at his infant daughter. "I give you the name... Alixia."

The crew from Voyager smiled. It was the perfect name for the new woman in Neelix's life, for he loved her namesake with a similar fervor.

Most people expected that the ceremony was about to draw to a close, but there was one more tradition that had yet to be completed. The crowd stared intently as Tuvok stepped forward into the center of the circle.

He studied the people before him for a moment, once again thankful for the emotional control characteristic of his species. Most non-Vulcans would likely be intensely embarrassed. He took Alixia from Neelix's arms and held her above him as a shrill yell filled the air and a drum began to beat.

Tuvok took a deep steadying breath and shook his head slightly before he began the practiced routine, his Vulcan mind organizing it logically so that the steps were almost a mathematical equation. He ignored the gaze of the crowd and concentrated on the child in his hands, who to his surprise hadn't started crying.

Those in the congregation who didn't know Tuvok watched the display and smiled appreciatively, but those who did stared at him incredulously with their jaws hanging open.

Kathryn had to cover her mouth with her hand and grind her teeth together so she wouldn't laugh out loud. She could feel Chakotay next to her shaking with laughter, which only made trying to stay quiet harder. When he let out a small sound that sounded a awful lot like a stifled snicker she elbowed him in his side, which only made him laugh harder and consequently didn't do much to help with her effort to stay quiet.

As Tuvok danced he had began to chant the traditional chant of the newborn; he felt the heat of the flame in the center warm his body as he moved around it, turning and stepping, feeling the beat of the drum that directed him towards the pinnacle, what the dance was meant to be, what it was aimed at, who it was for.

As the beat slowed he bought the child down to him and kissed her forehead gently saying "I wish for you, my young Carexa, the gift of life."

Janeway stopped laughing abruptly and most of those around her seemed to also, as if they all saw it at the same time. The dance that Tuvok was performing was incredibly passionate; there was raw emotion in his movements and it stunned Janeway beyond words -- she had never seen Tuvok so open. The rest of the front row stared in awe at the dance, its meaning seeming to seep into their subconscious minds.

As the music slowed he kissed the child before whispering something to her, and then raised his head to look at them as if realizing for the first time that they were even there. He stared at the crowd for a long moment before he seemed to regain his composure. He stood up straight and handed Alixia to her mother before returning to his position in the circle.

The rest of the ceremony passed in a blur for the Voyager crew, all of them left deeply affected by Tuvok's performance. When the ceremony ended and people began to move away, they did so slowly, lost in thought.


While B'Elanna cooed over Alixia and spoke with her beaming parents, Tom wandered through the crowd by himself. He was surprised to be stirred out of his musings by a hand on his shoulder. "Tom?" He turned, surprised to find himself looking into the blue eyes of Seven of Nine.

"Seven. What can I do for you?" he said slowly.

"I wish to ask your advice," explained the ex-Borg. Although her social awkwardness appeared rarely now, her discomfort was obvious. "If you would prefer, I could come back another time."

"No, no," he insisted. He took her by the elbow and led her over to the quiet side of the room. When they had relative privacy, he nodded for her to continue.

She took a deep breath. "I... have a friend who wishes to propose to her significant other. How would she go about this?"

Tom didn't know whether to be shocked or amused. Eventually amusement won out and he began to chuckle. Seven frowned, frustrated and hurt by his outburst. When he noticed her expression, he curbed his laughter. "I'm sorry, Seven, you just took me by surprise." He glanced around the room to make sure they wouldn't be overheard before he continued in a low voice: "So... you're going to propose to Harry?"

"No," said Seven, somewhat defensively. "I said I had a friend who wished to propose."

He raised his eyebrow. "A friend, huh? Does this friend have a name?"

Seven let out a frustrated sigh before she said softly, "The 'friend' is me."

Tom chuckled. "No kidding. Why didn't you just say so from the start?"

"I have often observed that when humans are uncomfortable asking for advice relative to their own situation they often use the pretense of asking for a friend." She appraised him for a few seconds in silence. "Can you help me?"

Tom crossed his arms. "I'm not sure that I'm the right person to help you with this, Seven."

She raised an eyebrow. "You and Harry have been friends for nearly nine years, and you presumably proposed to B'Elanna."

He chuckled. "I suppose, but B'Elanna and I aren't exactly the greatest example to follow."

"Perhaps," she smirked. "However, you are in a better position than most to advise me."

"All right," said Tom slowly, taking time to gather his thoughts. "Do you love Harry?" he asked after a few moments. "Do you want to spend the rest of your life with him?"

"Yes," said Seven firmly and without hesitation. "I don't want to go through life without him... I don't know what I would do if I lost him."

Tom smiled and glanced across the room. "Then I don't think you need my advice, Seven. If this is what you want... then it doesn't matter how you go about it."

She stared at him in silence before she followed his gaze. Her eyes fell on Harry, standing in the crowd near the center of the room, engaged in conversation with Captain Janeway.

Tom watched the expression on her face as she watched him and smiled. "Seven, the way you propose...." He waited until she looked back at him. "It's irrelevant," he finished with an impish grin.


The away team returned to Voyager the next morning with Neelix, Dexa, Brax and Alixia in tow. Captain Janeway took charge the instant she stepped off the transporter platform and back onto her ship where she belonged. "After you've all had a change to drop off your bags, I want everyone at their duty stations for a full systems check. Tuvok, show Neelix and Dexa to their quarters; we'll give you a tour of the ship later. Chakotay, we have a meeting with Commander Thomas in fifteen minutes, my ready room." She paused for breath nodded, smiled slightly and turned to walk out the door as she tapped her commbadge. "Janeway to Thomas."


The systems check in Astrometrics was proceeding smoothly and Seven gradually allowed her mind to wander, a new activity she had only recently become used to. She thought about Harry, their relationship, her proposal, the future....

For the first time in her rather short experience as an individual, Seven was thinking about her future. Before it had seemed irrelevant, but now it felt like it was all that mattered to her. Her future was uncertain... unless Harry was a part of that future. She needed some kind of assurance that he would be there, some kind of guarantee that she wouldn't lose him. Her strong feelings on the matter were unsettling.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the doors opening. She glanced behind her to see the captain entering before turning back to her work; it wasn't unusual for the captain to show up unexpectedly in Astrometrics. "Report."

Seven responded automatically. "I am in the process of running a systems diagnostic. So far there do not appear to be any problems."

"Good." Janeway paused for a second. "Seven... is everything all right?"

Seven replied without taking her eyes off the console in front of her. "The diagnostic --"

Janeway interrupted her with a chuckle. "I wasn't talking about the systems diagnostic." She appraised her former protTgT. "I know it's been a while since we've talked, but I think I still know you fairly well. Last night I got the sense that there was something on your mind." She leaned back against the console, facing Seven. The ex-drone's expression betrayed nothing. "Was I wrong?"

Seven froze for several seconds before she looked up and met the captain's gaze. "No."

Kathryn waited for her to elaborate; when Seven remained silent, she continued: "Do you want to talk about it?"

With her characteristic abruptness, Seven turned to the captain and announced: "I have decided to propose to Harry."

The captain blinked several times in succession as she absorbed the information. After a few moments she let out a deep breath. "I guess you really did have something on your mind," she chuckled before becoming serious. "Seven, are you sure you want to get married?"

Seven met the captain's gaze steadily. "I am quite certain," she replied, completely confident.

"Seven," Kathryn said tenderly, "you're young... you don't have to get married right now. I know you love Harry and that he loves you, but...." She trailed off, not really knowing what else to say.

Surprisingly, Seven remained unaffected by the captain's comments. "If our eventual intent is to get married, what difference does it make if we do so now or in five years time?"

"I suppose you could see it that way...." Kathryn smiled wryly. "I just don't see the rush."

"My experience has taught me that life can be unpredictable. I do not see the point of waiting."

Kathryn sighed and smiled up at Seven with a shake of her head. "Who am I to stand in the way of true love?"

"Thank you, Captain."

Kathryn smiled excitedly. "When are you going to tell Harry about his good fortune?"

"I... haven't decided the manner in which I'm going to propose. I asked Lieutenant Paris for his advice, but he... wasn't very helpful." She looked at the Captain with a raised eyebrow. "How do you think I should propose?"

She smiled. "Seven, you've spent the past five years trying to become an individual. You don't need me to tell you what to do."

"I have no experience in --"

"You don't need experience. Just follow your instincts."

Seven considered this for a moment, then nodded her thanks. Captain Janeway smiled and patted her on the shoulder before leaving Seven alone with her thoughts.


Neelix looked around the new mess hall, different from the one on Voyager yet still somewhat similar, and he smiled with satisfaction before beginning the arrangements for the party. It felt like old times, organizing a get-together for the crew. Captain Janeway, now with a larger crew complement than the original Voyager, had made all the arrangements for the party but Neelix couldn't resist the temptation to take part.

After a thorough inspection of the preparations, ignoring the annoyed glances of the crew trying to get everything ready, Neelix stood near the entrance to the mess hall observing the activity. He heard the doors open and when he turned around he came face to face with Ozymandias. He looked at the holographic Sernaix for a moment, trying to register him, and he smiled when he did. "You must be Oz." He stepped forward and offered his hand. "I'm Neelix."

Oz was a little taken aback that this man knew who he was, but he recalled that the shaking of hands was seen as a traditional greeting so he reciprocated, taking the hand of the man in front of him. "I see my reputation has preceded me."

"Is there something I can do for you, Oz?" Neelix asked cheerfully.

"Just stretching my legs," replied Oz ambiguously. "I'm still not entirely used to the idea of being able to do that."

"I hope you're coming to the party tonight."

"I assumed it was for your old friends."

Neelix beamed with his trademark grin. "My new friends are welcome too."

"Will there be ale?" Oz asked mischievously.

"Just a little," replied Neelix with a wink and a mischievous smile.

Oz laughed loudly and slapped Neelix on the back, jarring the small Talaxian. "Count me in!" said Oz loudly. He took another look around the room, then turned and started back towards the door.

"It starts in an hour!" Neelix called after him. Oz grunted in response. Neelix shook his head with a smile and returned to overseeing the preparations.


Seven surveyed the room before her and when she was satisfied went over the plan again in her mind. She was uncharacteristically nervous and she took a deep breath to calm herself.

Her door chimed her heart jumped into her throat. "Come," she managed to mumble. The door whooshed open to reveal Harry standing in his formal dress for the occasion. "I thought we could have a glass of champagne before we left for the party," said Seven uneasily, motioning for him to come in.

"Sure," replied Harry, noticing that she seemed a bit unsettled.

Seven moved to the sofa and poured them both a glass of champagne from a bottle she had replicated. She didn't usually drink alcohol -- her physiology didn't react well to it, to say the least -- but her research had suggested that it would be appropriate. She wasn't sure what purpose it would serve but she didn't want to beak with tradition.

"What's the occasion?"

Seven stared blankly at him for a few seconds before she was able to process his question. "The birth of Neelix's daughter," she said, amazed that she was able to think on her feet even when nervous.

Harry accepted that and took the glass from her. He surveyed it and then downed it in a few large sips. Seven followed his example and almost retched when she felt the sickly burning feeling at the back of the throat. She longed to breathe but had to swallow first. When she finally did, she began coughing quite violently.

Harry put his hand on her shoulder, concerned. "You all right?"

She nodded, taking the opportunity to gather her thoughts while she caught her breath. Captain Janeway had told her to follow her instincts. It felt a lot harder than it sounded.

She felt the liquor moving into her stomach, which already felt like it was being thrown around inside her body. She felt her heart rate pick up another notch and she could hear the pounding in her ears. She had to do this, get it over with and remove this uncomfortable feeling of nausea building up in her stomach. She took a deep breath, held it and released it. "Harry, will you marry me?"


The party started in earnest. The mess hall was full of people; even those who had only met Neelix today were in attendance and were smiling happily.

Commander Thomas was once again in command so Janeway could attend the party. She didn't object; she wanted to be at the party and wasn't too far away in the case of trouble.

The captain watched the party as she leaned against one of the windows of the mess hall. She had been circling the room for nearly half an hour, and now was taking a moment to just sit back and watch everyone mingle... her crew, her friends, her family.

Alixia had been presented, to the delight of the crew that hadn't yet had the opportunity to meet her. Miral, also a favorite, seemed to follow Alixia around the room, staying quietly beside whoever was holding her; she was fascinated and even smitten with the newcomer.

Seeing Chakotay across the room in conversation with Tom and B'Elanna, Kathryn left her station near the window and moved over to join them.

"... so it was sort of a belated baby gift and two birthday presents in one," B'Elanna was saying.

"You should have seen Miral's face when Neelix gave it to her," continued Tom as the captain joined them.

"Neelix explained that it was a blanket Dexa had made for her," picked up B'Elanna.

"So Miral," said Tom, enjoying every minute of the tale, "sort of looks at this blanket, in all its Talaxian colors, and then she suddenly gets that look on her face like when she's figured something out."

"And she blurts out, 'Blankie bright! No need lights!'" finished B'Elanna.

The group burst into laughter. "Speak of the devil," said Tom.

Miral ran up to them and tugged on her father's trouser leg to attract his attention. She smiled when he looked down to her and she raised her arms upward as a signal that she wanted to be lifted. Tom smiled down at her and whisked the heavy two year-old into his arms. "Want to go see what there is to eat without any leola root in it, Miral?"

"Wansome pie!" exclaimed Miral, clapping her hands.

"She's had enough, Tom," said B'Elanna, taking the toddler from him.

"Pie!" insisted Miral.

"Sorry, peanut," said her father, mussing her dark hair fondly with his hand.

Miral crossed her arms and sulked in B'Elanna's arms as Tom made his way across the room. "Pie," she muttered.

"Looks like she inherited Tom's sweet tooth," remarked Chakotay with a smirk.

B'Elanna rolled her eyes and was about to reply when she was interrupted over the comm. Vorik to Lieutenant Torres.

She sighed and hit her commbadge. "This had better be good, Vorik."

We have discovered a problem with the transwarp drive, said the Vulcan calmly, oblivious to the annoyance in the half-Klingon's voice.

"Why didn't the systems diagnostic pick it up?"

I am uncertain. We will need to take it offline to repair the problem.


There was an awkward pause before Vorik spoke again. Lieutenant, we're... rather short-handed at the moment.

B'Elanna sighed. "Right. I'm on my way."

She glanced around for Tom. When she didn't see him, she sighed and passed Miral to Captain Janeway, standing closest to her. "Can you keep an eye on her for a minute?"

"Of course -- but isn't there someone else who can help Vorik?"

B'Elanna smiled. "You take care of my daughter, Captain, and I'll take care of your ship."

"Fair enough," admitted the captain as B'Elanna headed for the door.

Miral watched her mother leave then turned to her godmother. "Now have some pie?"

"You heard what your mother said," admonished Kathryn.

The young girl sulked for a few more seconds, but then her eyes lit up when she saw Alixia being shown off to some of the crew nearby. "Licksia cute."

Kathryn chuckled. "Yes, she certainly is."

Miral turned back to Kathryn as something seemed to occurred to her. "You no have a baby?"

Chakotay looked up at Kathryn sharply, while they had discussed this on New Earth he was certain she wasn't ready to have this discussion in public.

Kathryn barely refrained from wincing. "No," she said slowly, "I don't."

Miral frowned. "Why not?"

"I... just don't." She forced a smile and tickled Miral's cheek. "Being a starship captain is a lot of work. I wouldn't have enough time for children."

The toddler considered this, her expression sad. "You make a nice mommy," she said finally.

Kathryn stood there with her mouth hanging slightly open, not knowing what to say.

"Daddy!" exclaimed Miral, interrupting the moment. Kathryn set her down as Tom approached, and the girl ran to greet her father, then dragged him over to Neelix and Dexa so she could have another look at Alixia.

Chakotay rested his hand on Kathryn's shoulder. "You all right?" he asked softly.

She nodded mutely, but her eyes remained locked on Miral and Alixia, lost in thought.


The silence in the room was deafening as Harry stared back at Seven. Had he heard right? Had she just asked him to marry her?

Seven misunderstood his silence and repeated her question. "Harry, will you marry me?"

There it is, he said to himself. She definitely asked you to marry her. Once he was sure he wasn't hearing things, he became even more confused. As far as he and Seven had come in the past year, he hadn't thought she was ready for marriage.

"Seven," he began slowly after a few minutes, "there's nothing I want more... but what made you decide this right now?"

"I didn't decide right now -- I decided approximately 23.4 hours ago," she said, slightly confused.

"What I mean is... I thought you didn't see the point of marriage?" said Harry uncertainly.

"I didn't, until I thought about spending the rest of my life with you."

Harry's heart contracted with love and compassion. He lifted his hand and gripped her chin, gently pulling it up from the position it was in, staring down at her lap. He lifted her head firmly so that her eyes met his. "Seven, I love you with all my heart... but we can't just get married because we're afraid to lose each other. There has to be more to it than that."

Seven began to draw away from him slightly, tears in her eyes, but he held her chin firmly.

"Don't pull away from me!" he pleaded. She stopped resisting. "Seven, I love you," he repeated, "and I would gladly marry you any day of the week... but there's no need to rush. No reason to just... jump into this headfirst. I promise you, I'm not going anywhere. We have the rest of our lives ahead of us to get married, have a family, to be together.... " He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it softly before allowing his cheek to rest on it.

Seven nodded her agreement. Harry was probably right; she was probably worrying about nothing. But she could neither explain nor control the growing unease inside her.


Written by: Jenny McGovern
Beta: Kira
Producers: SaRa, MaquisKat and Coral

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