The Heart of the Matter by Seema


Author's Note: This is part of the "Glory Days" series and follows directly on the heels of Rocky's "In A Thousand Miles." It's recommended that story be read first. My thanks to the 'Perpetual Chatters' for answering grammar and "what's the word again?" questions. My gratitude and a Purple Heart to Rocky for her excellent beta - she really, really deserves it <g>. (Ask Rocky what she was most concerned about, go ahead, ask <g>).

Takes place immediately after the events in "Act of War." Feedback welcomed at

Disclaimer: Characters and places belong to Paramount. Unfortunately.


Chakotay bent his head against the winter wind as he crossed Canal Street. He was running late for dinner but the sheer strength of the wind made it impossible for him to quicken his stride. It was snowing lightly, the flakes melting as they hit the pavement. The weather forecasters had predicted about 15 to 18 centimeters of accumulation beginning around ten o'clock that night. A weather advisory bulletin had been issued for the North Shore. Despite the presence of weather control systems, Bostonians insisted on authenticity in their weather; hence snow and sub-freezing temperatures. Gritting his teeth against the cold, Chakotay thought that the issue of accuracy in climate control needed to be readdressed.

The restaurant was on his right as he turned onto Hanover Street. He had promised to meet Seven for dinner at six-thirty. It was now just after seven o'clock. He imagined that Seven was already waiting for him and mentally, he began to rehearse excuses for his tardiness. The truth was, he was already over a day late in arriving, as B'Elanna Torres had invited him to stay the night to visit with Tom and their children; it was an invitation he felt he couldn't turn down. The next morning, he'd continued chatting with B'Elanna and had ended up missing the mid-morning San Francisco-Boston shuttle, and had been forced to take the crowded two o'clock shuttle, which had deposited him in Boston just after six. That had given him just enough time to have his bags sent to their brownstone in Cambridge and then taken the mag-lev train to North Station. As he hurried towards the restaurant - Familia Giorgio - he realized he should have called Seven before leaving San Francisco to let her know that he would be late for their dinner date.

He had been surprised when Seven had suggested last night that they meet at the restaurant - a favorite of theirs - that night, instead of at their home. In fact, he was rather disappointed. He'd been looking forward to a home-cooked meal; Seven's cooking was unparalleled. Not to mention, that they had been apart for the last six months - he on Betazed working on what was arguably one of the most intriguing digs of his career and Seven here in Boston, teaching classes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But then, Chakotay thought, Seven's behavior *had* been odd for the last month or so. When he'd first gone away, last April, her letters to him, faithfully posted every Friday, had been a detailed recital of her week's events and recent developments in her research. There had been little content of a personal nature included in her letters and Chakotay had found himself longing for more than just the new algorithms Seven had written; along with telling her of the latest news from the dig site, Chakotay tried to infuse a more personal touch in his notes, reiterating in each one how much he missed her. But more recently, Seven's letters had been more frequent and he sometimes would arrive in Rocma - the nearest town to his dig site, but still a good 90 or so kilometers away - to find two or three messages waiting for him. While these letters still included commentary on Seven's daily activities, the tone had become more emotional; she wanted him to come back to Boston.

Chakotay had been forced to call in many favors to get nearly three weeks of leave he felt necessary; after all, the trip from Betazed to Earth was nearly two days in itself. At first he had been reluctant to return. It wasn't that he didn't miss her or that he didn't want to see her - he had finally settled into a routine in the Great Betazed desert and his team was making great strides in their work. He couldn't figure out what was wrong with Seven - she'd handled their previous separation beautifully; she'd come ahead to Boston while he'd remained behind on Vega V to finish up the dig. Chakotay sensed that Seven was disappointed when he'd finally joined her in Boston last year, as she'd seemed to gain a true sense of self during their four months apart. In a way, he had imagined that she had welcomed his departure to Betazed as much as he had; they both had agreed that he was merely spinning his wheels in Boston and the dig on Betazed would give him the opportunity to put his skills and knowledge to use.

But returning to Earth had been the right decision, Chakotay knew. He quickened his pace as he saw the illuminated sign for the restaurant. It had been good to catch up with Tom and B'Elanna and to play with their children. He'd been reluctant to leave San Francisco in a way since he wasn't quite sure what Seven had in store for him.

Chakotay stomped his feet on the welcome mat as he entered the restaurant; mud fell off his boots. As he unwound his scarf and removed his gloves, he scanned the dining room for Seven. When he'd been in Boston, they'd eaten at this restaurant every Thursday, having fallen in love with the serene ambiance of the restaurant. As such, their consistency had earned them a 'reserved' table by the bay window which looked out onto Hanover Street. Another look around and Chakotay was concerned; Seven wasn't there. He frowned. Lateness and Seven were two things that simply didn't go together. Chakotay wondered if he had made a mistake, that perhaps he hadn't heard Seven clearly over the squeals of the Paris children.

"Mr. Chakotay!" the head waiter - Paolo - exclaimed as he scurried forward to greet Chakotay. "We have not seen you here for a long time!"

Chakotay managed a smile. "Hello, Paolo. It's good to see you."

"Professor Hansen called this morning," Paolo said, "and told me you would be having dinner here tonight. I took the liberty and have prepared your usual table for you."

Chakotay nodded, reassured that he had indeed been correct to come directly here and not go home. "Thank you. I appreciate that. We both do." Without waiting, Chakotay headed towards the indicated table. As he sat down, Paolo pouring water. "Has Professor Hansen called?"

"Not since she made the reservation this morning."

Chakotay nodded. According to his watch, it was now close to twenty past seven. He turned to look out the window. A couple passed by, hand in hand, their heads tipped towards each other. A few more passersby walked briskly in the bitter wind.

"Would you like the house Merlot, Mr. Chakotay?" Paolo, still hovering nearby, asked.

"That'll be fine, thank you." He resolved to wait another ten to fifteen minutes and then he'd call Seven at the university. Still looking out the window, Chakotay contemplated his visit with the Parises. The news of Harry's death had been an utter shock, as had been B'Elanna's physical condition. He'd been aghast to learn just how close to death Kathryn Janeway had come during the horrific 'skirmish' in the Neutral Zone. Moreover, he could not push away the guilt he felt, having had no idea of what had been going on. He had tried to explain to B'Elanna that his dig had been kilometers from the nearest town, that he had made trips every other Sunday to Rocma to pick up supplies and mail; his knowledge of current events, other than what Seven and his sister had shared with him, had been limited.

Now, sitting here, Chakotay wondered if Seven knew what had happened to their 'family.' After all, she and Harry had been good friends on Voyager, though after their return, she'd lost touch with him.

As they - as a couple - had lost touch with all of the people whom they'd held dear on Voyager.

It hadn't been on purpose; their careers had simply taken them in different directions and after so many years on Voyager, they had all found new opportunities. The last time Chakotay and Seven had spent time with their Voyager friends had been at the one year reunion of their return. After the gala event, at which Janeway had delivered a speech, he, Seven, Tom and B'Elanna, and Harry and Libby, had gone to a blues nightclub. It had been difficult to talk there and B'Elanna had seemed antsy about leaving Miral with a sitter for so long. Seven had been disturbed by the loud music and before long, they had all left the club, going their separate ways. Chakotay had never imagined that that night would be the last time he would ever see Harry Kim.

"I apologize for my lateness."

Chakotay looked up, startled. Seven stood there, a bit uncertainly, staring down at him.

"Seven," he said in relief. He rose. "I was worried-"

"I apologize," she said again. "I was delayed at school. One of my experiments-" she seemed flustered, in a very unSeven-like manner. He cut her off with a passionate kiss. For a moment, she was stiff in his arms, but then relaxed, her arms wrapping around his neck.

"I missed you," Chakotay said finally as he pulled away.

"And I missed you as well," Seven said, reluctantly releasing his hand. She unwrapped her scarf and unbuttoned her black wool coat, revealing gray pants and a red turtleneck top. In the last year she'd been in Boston, Seven had been growing increasingly more fashionable. Her hair, instead of being pulled back into a severe bun, was clipped into a barrette at the nape of her neck. He noticed, with some surprise, that she was wearing pearl studs in her ears.

"You look-" Chakotay stopped. He cleared his throat. He hadn't realized just how much he had missed her. "You look beautiful, Seven."

Her cheeks flushed pink - whether from the cold or from the compliment, Chakotay couldn't tell. "Thank you for coming," she said softly.

"How could I not?" Chakotay asked. He pulled Seven's chair out for her and then sat down opposite of her. "I was worried about you, Seven. One week you're talking about how well your research project is doing and the strides you're making and the next week all you can say is that you want me to come home."

Seven covered his hand with hers. He noticed that her nails were painted a light shade of pink.

"I did not realize that our separation would be so difficult," she said frankly. She paused to look up as Paolo placed a glass of red wine in front of Chakotay. "Hello, Paolo."

"Professor Hansen, it's good to see you here again. It has been too long."

"Thank you, Paolo. And-" she tipped her head slightly to the side - "I believe it has been six months and seven days since we last saw each other."

"You have a good memory," Paolo said admiringly.

Chakotay couldn't help but smile. A 'good' memory didn't even begin to cover it.

"I will have a glass of the house Merlot as well," Seven said, ordering her usual. "And-" she glanced briefly at Chakotay - "we will have the bruschetta as an appetizer."

"Very well." Paolo departed.

Chakotay leaned forward. "What's going on, Seven? You told me that you would be able to work more efficiently after I was gone as you would have no 'constraints' on your time. You even said that you would be so busy that you wouldn't even miss me." He tried to smile at this last comment. He failed miserably. Even though he knew that Seven had been trying to reassure him that she was fine with their separation, her comments *had* hurt. Especially since *he* had missed her. The days on the dig were hard and the conditions in their tents were uncomfortable. When Seven had been with him on previous digs, her presence had taken the edge off the long brutal days in the sun, not to mention given him companionship.

"I was mistaken," Seven said and Chakotay knew how much effort it must take for Seven to admit that she was wrong about *anything*. "These last few months without you have been a difficult adjustment. I was disappointed when you informed me you would be spending an extra day in San Francisco."

Chakotay felt a slight tinge of guilt. He'd assumed that Seven would be busy at work, wouldn't miss him, so when dinner with Tom and B'Elanna had run long, he'd felt no guilt over accepting their invitation to spend the night. "I'm sorry," he said sincerely.

"But you are here now. And I imagine you had a great deal to talk about with the Parises." Seven took a deep breath. "B'Elanna must have informed you of the death of Harry Kim."

"Yes, she did," Chakotay said softly. He stared at the pastoral mural behind Seven, trying to gather his thoughts. After all they had endured in the Delta Quadrant, all of their narrow escapes, had it been only to lose it all when they had finally come home?

Seven knit her hands together. "I did not find out until several weeks after the funeral. The Doctor informed me." Was it his imagination or were Seven's eyes actually watering? She tilted her head towards the window. "I was aware peripherally of the conflict in the Neutral Zone but I-" she paused. "It occurred when I was off-planet at that science conference." Chakotay nodded, recalling that Seven had presented her initial research findings for the first time at that conference. "I unfortunately did not pay attention to the Federation News while I was away as I was extremely busy." Seven looked at Chakotay. "I regret not attending Harry's funeral."

"I do too. You should have told me earlier, as soon as you found out," Chakotay said. "I would have come, right away."

Seven pressed her lips into a straight line. "I considered it but then felt it better to tell you in person. I was-" she paused -"concerned for you. You were without close friends. I felt it would be difficult for you to handle the news alone." He wondered then if this was why Seven had summoned him home, to tell him about Harry. At any rate, he appreciated her consideration.

He saw Seven biting her lip and wondered where she had picked up that particular mannerism up from. At any rate, it was obvious that she was grieving for her friend. "B'Elanna mentioned she hadn't heard from you," he said.

"I considered calling many times after I learned what had happened," Seven said. She took a sip of her wine. "But I was unsure of what to say. As time passed, it became even harder."

"You could call now," Chakotay said gently. "I know B'Elanna would appreciate it." He thought of the tongue-lashing B'Elanna had given him the previous day. "It's better late than never. And if you're still feeling uncomfortable, we can call together."

Seven looked relieved. "That is acceptable."

Chakotay shook his head as he once again tried to push away his regret and guilt. "I still can't believe that Harry is gone."

They sat in silence until Paolo brought the appetizer and Seven's wine. They both ordered their usual - ravioli for Seven and eggplant parmesan for Chakotay.

"Is that why you wanted me to come home, Seven? To tell me about Harry?" Chakotay asked.

"In part, but there is another reason as well. A colleague of mine has mentioned that there will be a opening on the Archaeology faculty at Amherst College next August," Seven said. "One of the professors will be leaving to pursue another position on Bajor then and the College is actively seeking a replacement."

"Hmmm," Chakotay said non-committedly, wondering why Seven was telling him this.

"Amherst College has an excellent liberal arts program," Seven went on. "And the caliber of the students is very high. It would be a pleasant academic environment."

"I've heard good things about the school," Chakotay admitted. He'd been in the Amherst area the previous January exploring an opportunity to teach at the University of Massachusetts. He had enjoyed the small New England feel of the town and if the offer of leading the expedition on Betazed hadn't come up, he would have certainly taken the University up on its offer of a position in their Anthropology & Archaeology department.

"Perhaps you would enjoy teaching at Amherst College?" Seven asked delicately, as she sipped her wine. She glanced at Chakotay. "By shuttle, the commute is very brief from Boston."

"Seven," Chakotay said, trying to conceal his surprise, "what are you saying? Do you *want* me to find a position here in Massachusetts?"

Seven bit her lip, another uncharacteristic gesture. It occurred to Chakotay that in the last six months, Seven's behavior had become less Borglike and more Human. "I believe that your taking this position would solve our problem. You would be able to pursue archeology-"

"But in a classroom, Seven, not in the field!" The words were out before Chakotay had thought them through. He sighed. "I'm sorry, Seven. I didn't mean to snap at you." He ran a hand through his hair. "I'm just tired, on edge." He sighed. "I'm sorry."

"I understand," she said. "Pursuing archaeology academically is not the same as practical application." She turned to look out the window, resting her chin on her hand. "It is similar to examining spatial phenomena in space itself versus in a research lab. My colleague, Ethan - Dr. McNeill - disagrees with me. But he has never been in space himself. I have attempted to convince him that direct observation is a thrill unlike any other." Seven turned her attention back to Chakotay. He smiled at her.

"It sounds as though you miss that sort of thing yourself."

"I would enjoy returning to a starship once again if the opportunity presented itself."

Chakotay didn't bother to point out that if Seven was assigned as a science officer to a Starfleet vessel, once again he'd be tagging along as nothing more than her trailing 'spouse.' But he pushed the thought away, reminding himself that for four years, Seven had dealt with desert conditions on Vega V so that he could fulfill his ambitions of digging up and cataloging the relics of ancient cultures. That lifestyle hadn't been easy for her then even though he understood that every relationship required some sort of sacrifice.

"It won't feel the same as Voyager," he said quietly. He sighed. Until his visit with B'Elanna, Chakotay hadn't realized just how much he missed Voyager and all of the people who had formed his 'family' in the Delta Quadrant. After taking his leave of Tom and B'Elanna, Chakotay had mentally resolved to renew his friendships with all of them again. He certainly didn't want a funeral to be the only reason that brought them together anymore.

Seven nodded. "I understand. Our experience on Voyager was unique. Captain Janeway provided extraordinary leadership in a difficult situation." She looked at Chakotay expectantly.

"Yes, she most certainly did," he admitted. He regretted not having time to stop and see Kathryn while he was in San Francisco, but B'Elanna had informed him that the Admiral was still in the hospital. Perhaps, he thought, he would call her later in the week; he was sure Seven would wish to speak to Janeway as well. "And now that I think about it, under the right conditions, I wouldn't mind spending some time on a starship again."

"However, such an opportunity does not exist at this moment." Seven eyed him speculatively. "But perhaps you will consider taking a position at Amherst College."

Chakotay took a deep breath. "So you want me to stay here, is that it?"

Paolo chose that moment to bring their entrees. Chakotay, however, didn't touch his immediately, choosing instead to focus his attention on Seven. It was obvious that she had something on her mind and Chakotay wished that she would simply be direct about what she wanted. But he also knew that when it came to the 'up close and personal' issues, she tended to shy away from what was really bothering her.

"I believe it would be better in the long term for us to avoid prolonged separations. It is only logical that people who have committed to a relationship should remain together."

"You will get no argument from me. If we could both find a project that would benefit both of us so that we could be together, I would jump at the chance. But that hasn't happened," Chakotay said. He paused. When they had first begun their relationship aboard Voyager, they hadn't really had an idea of what they would do when they came back to Earth. Chakotay had jokingly told Seven that he intended to be within transporter range of her. For four years, that had been in the case. It was only in the last year or so that their competing careers had come into play. "You do understand that I'm committed to the dig for at least another year? We discussed this before I took the job. At the time, you were fine with it."

Seven carefully sliced a piece of ravioli in half before answering. "As I previously mentioned, I was mistaken. My feelings have changed over the last six months. It is not efficient for us to maintain separate residences."

"You could come to Betazed. Professors are allowed to take sabbaticals for research purposes. I'm sure there would be plenty for you to do there, if you'd like," Chakotay said as he carefully cut his eggplant into little pieces. Even as he said the words, he knew it was a bad idea. The dust and sand that a dig invariably spawned were bad for Seven's implants. Seven, however, seemed to be giving the idea serious consideration.

"Perhaps in December, when the university closes for the winter holidays," Seven said. "I believe we have four weeks without classes or other student-related obligations. That would be ample time to make the trip and perhaps examine the opportunities available to me."

"Yes, that sounds good to me. Betazed has many universities and research facilities that are just as good as MIT if not better," Chakotay said. He mentally calculated. It was now late October; surely Seven could hold out for another two months? "I don't want to make any promises and I want to be realistic about the situation, Seven. I'm not sure I can get out of my contract. At the very least, I'd have to find a substitute to lead up the site survey and then train that individual in site specific procedures. That would take several months at least, if done properly."

"I understand," she said. She speared a piece of ravioli rather violently. "You must keep your obligations."

There was something in her voice that made Chakotay sit up. He carefully wiped his lips with a napkin. "Seven, is something else wrong? More than you simply wanting me here in Boston?"

She shook her head. "No, there is nothing wrong."

"Other than the fact you miss me?" he pressed. "Come on, Seven. It's me, you can tell me what's going on. If there's something wrong, we can work it out. You just have to tell me what's on your mind. I can't possibly guess."

Seven lifted her head, her eyes slightly misty as she met Chakotay's gaze. "I feel more secure when you are present."

Chakotay knew it was as close to an admission of loneliness Seven would ever make. In the past, they had discussed briefly their plans for the future and had mutually agreed to put off marriage and family until they had their careers set. He wondered now if this what Seven was getting at, that she finally wanted to settle down. He reached out, touching her cheek lightly with his fingers. Her skin was still cool to the touch.

Seven carefully folded her napkin. "When you are not present, I do not feel safe. It is disconcerting." She looked at him. "I do not feel this way when you are here." It was an emotional appeal and not one Chakotay could ignore. Not without a considering expenditure of guilt and lately, he'd been feeling enough of that. He'd already pushed away so many he cared about; he couldn't do that to Seven, not when she so obviously needed him.

"All right," he said quietly. "I will talk to the dig coordinators. I will ask them if there's anyway to release me from my contract if I am able to find someone else who is willing to supervise the site." Finding a replacement wouldn't be hard, Chakotay knew; the Betazed dig was a plum assignment and many qualified researchers would jump at the chance to work on it. "I'll talk to your friend at Amherst College and if it works out, I'll plan to come back permanently next August. I know it's ten months away, but that's the best I can do, Seven. How does that sound to you?"

"That is acceptable." Seven looked vastly relieved. "That's an acceptable solution."

Chakotay bit his lip and concentrated on his dinner, trying to swallow his disappointment. The dig on Betazed was crucial to his career but this woman was important to him as well. But the truth was, she had followed him, living his life for years, and now it was his turn to let her do what she wanted. And if she was willing to settle down, well, then he would have to make the decision to return to Boston.

Paolo stopped by. "How is it everything?"

"Excellent as always," Chakotay told the waiter. Paolo beamed. As he walked away, Chakotay leaned forward. "I missed this," Chakotay said, gesturing to the remains of his dinner. "It's very easy to get tired of field rations and freeze-dried food."

Seven grimaced, as if remembering some of the less palatable meals they'd had, both aboard Voyager and also on dig sites.

"I guess I was spoiled having you out there with me," Chakotay continued. Seven had often cooked elaborate dinners, no mean feat given the rustic conditions they had lived under. Seven had usually managed to rustle up some of the natural flora to supplement their meals. Only on one of their sites had they been given a small shelter that had included, among other things, a kitchen and running water. "I missed your cooking this time around."

Seven offered him a half-hearted smile.

They finished their dinners quickly and then headed out into the cold. The snow was falling more quickly now, the briefest traces of accumulation developing on the ground and the temperature had dropped a few degrees since earlier in the evening.

"I apologize. I had difficulty finding a spot for the flitter," Seven said. "It is at Government Center."

Chakotay nodded. About a fifteen minute walk but at least the wind had calmed down slightly.
As they walked arm in arm through the streets of Boston, Seven updated him on the status of her project and Chakotay described his latest find for her, putting it into its proper historical context.

"In a way this is Betazed's equivalent of the Rosetta stone-" he stopped as he noticed that Seven had slowed down and was looking curiously at the softly lit window of a jewelry store. "What is it, Seven?" He followed her gaze. "The gold chain with a pearl pendent?"

She didn't respond, but Chakotay knew he'd guessed correctly.

"Do you want to go inside and take a closer look?" Chakotay asked as he watched Seven eye the set. It didn't escape his notice how her gaze drifted towards the engagement rings. Seven glanced at him.

"It is a novelty item."

"But it is a pretty set," Chakotay said. He considered. "I think it'll look nice on you, Seven. And-" he touched her ear lobe gently - "it would match your earrings nicely."

Seven pulled away slightly. "I do not require jewelry."

"Jewelry isn't something you require," Chakotay said. "Jewelry can simply be appreciated for its aesthetic value, as personal adornment, like your earrings. You obviously agree with that idea or you wouldn't have bought them."

"I did not-" Seven stopped, mid-sentence.

He took a deep breath, his hand tightening around hers. "It's a way of remembering me," he said. He leaned closer to her. "And when you'd wear it, you would know that I was thinking of you when I bought it."

"You mean you wish to give me jewelry to remind me of you." Seven looked at him, her eyes unusually bright.

Chakotay nodded. "So? What do you say?"

But Seven remained in place. "Jewelry has a romantic purpose to it? It is not simply for decorative purposes?"

"Yes," Chakotay said. "But some cultures value the 'decorative' aspect as well, and in some ancient societies, decorations represented a degree of caring for an individual. And in other societies, such as ours-" he glanced at Seven - "it can be an expression of love and affection for another. It is customary, for instance, for a man to give his wife or girlfriend jewelry for birthdays or anniversaries. Or on other celebratory occasions. And sometimes, for absolutely no reason at all."

"I see." Seven glanced once more at the window. This time, Chakotay was unable to decipher her expression. It wasn't quite longing, but something else entirely. He didn't know why, but he suddenly felt uncomfortable. "It is an elegant and efficient design."

"Or you could just say it was 'beautiful'," Chakotay said gently. "And one, I think, that would suit you."

"Perhaps." Seven tugged impatiently at his arm.

"You don't want to look at it more closely?"

"It is not necessary."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes." There was an unusual edge to her voice.

Chakotay shrugged. Perhaps he would come back another day to purchase the set for Seven. It was obvious that she had taken a liking to it, but perhaps was too embarrassed to indulge in such frivolity. Seven linked her arm through his again as they continued through Quincy Market. This time, Seven seemed intent on not stopping. Chakotay increased his pace to keep up with her, finally catching Seven by the elbow.

"Hey!" he exclaimed.

"It is cold," she said by way of explanation.

With a pang, Chakotay remembered the temperate climate on Betazed. The average temperature was around twenty-six degrees Celsius, a great deal warmer than the -4 currently in Boston. And since the dig site was located in a valley, there was often a nice breeze cooling off the workers.

"Right," Chakotay said, resolutely pushing all thoughts of Betazed out of his mind. He quickened his step to match Seven's. Within minutes, they'd reached the parking garage where Seven had left the flitter. As they waited for the turbolift, Chakotay noted that it was getting progressively colder. He rubbed his hands together and then reached over to clasp Seven's leather-covered hands between his. She shivered, drawing closer to him. He couldn't help but say, "It never gets this cold at the dig site."

Seven looked pained at the remark. "Then you are happy there?"

Chakotay bit his lip. "Yes," he said finally. "I am."

"I see." The turbolift doors opened and Seven marched in ahead of him.

"And you? Is MIT turning out to be everything you want it to be?" Chakotay asked as he stood next to her.

"It was difficult at first adjusting," Seven said. Her lips turned up slightly. "As you know, I found some of their methods inefficient, but I have found Ethan - Dr. McNeill - to be particularly helpful in my research. He has been instrumental in helping me develop my thesis." Seven pressed the button that would take them to the seventh floor.

"I'm glad to hear that," Chakotay said. He had met Ethan McNeill once before and had found the man to be socially awkward, but extremely intelligent. And he had seemed very accepting of Seven and for this, Chakotay had been grateful; some of Seven's fellow faculty members had been unhappy with the prospect of a former Borg drone joining the prestigious staff at MIT. "And I'm happy to hear you've made good progress with it."

Seven nodded. "The university granted me all-night privileges at the lab which enabled me to accomplish more. However, I will not work late while you are here. I cleared my schedule in anticipation of your arrival."

Chakotay smiled. "Thank you." The turbolift doors opened and Seven linked her arm through his once again as they crossed the cement towards their flitter.

"Perhaps we can visit the lab tomorrow afternoon," she said. "I can demonstrate my experiment to you then."

Chakotay held back a grin. Seven's work had always sounded abstract to him and he had never quite gotten a handle on the subject she was researching - something about developing a sensor grid capable of detecting alpha particle emissions? A demonstration - while not exactly romantic - would definitely improve his understanding. "Sounds good to me."

As they approached the flitter, Seven gently disentangled herself from Chakotay.

"I'll drive," she told him firmly.

At home, Chakotay was relieved to see his bags had made it safely and that the doorman had placed them in the bedroom. He decided he would unpack in the morning; it was late and he was tired as it was.

"It's good to be back," he said sincerely as he took a look around, appreciating all of the little conveniences that were not available on the dig site. As always, the apartment was immaculate; Seven was a perfect housekeeper, with nothing out of place.

He noticed a picture of the two of them posing in front of the Paul Revere house was prominently displayed in the living room. His arm was around Seven and they were both smiling as they faced the photographer. He remembered the day they'd taken that picture; it had been shortly after his arrival in Boston over a year ago and Seven had been anxious to show him her newly adopted home. And she had wanted him to like it as much as she did and so she had been anxious to introduce him to the history of the city, knowing how much he would appreciate it, despite having little to no interest in it herself. They had ignored the ribbon of chill running through the air that day and had spent the entire day walking the Freedom Trail, hand in hand, ending it in the North End with a delicious dinner at the Familia Giorgio Restaurant.

"That's new," he said, indicating the portrait.

"Do you like it?" Seven asked a bit shyly as she approached him. "I had it framed approximately three weeks ago. I believe it has a certain aesthetic value that would be pleasing to you."

Chakotay cleared his throat. Sentimental gestures like this were completely unlike Seven.

"I love it," he said honestly. He drew Seven closer to him, his fingers caressing her smooth hair. Seven leaned against him, her cheek against his chest. It felt good to have her so close to him again. He held her for a minute before bending slightly to kiss the top of her head. "Have I mentioned that it feels good to be home?"

She tipped her head back as he bent to kiss her. After a second, she took him by the hand and led him into the bedroom. As she pulled him down onto the bed with her, he forgot everything - Betazed, Boston, Amherst College, Voyager, guilt, regret, everything; only the two of them existed in that moment.


Later, Seven sat on the edge of the bed, drawing on her robe. Her golden hair contrasted against the navy blue material.

"Come back to bed," Chakotay muttered, reaching to cup her hip with his palm. She leaned over and caressed his cheek.

"You require rest," she said quietly. "I will return shortly."

"I'll be waiting," he said teasingly. "Don't take too long." She smiled back, obviously understanding his meaning.

"I will return shortly."

Despite his good intentions of staying awake, Chakotay's eyes grew heavy and soon, he was gently snoring. He didn't feel Seven slip in next to him. Nor was he aware of her arm draped over him, her body spooned against his.

When he woke with a gasp, his chest was tight, the white sheets tangled around his legs. He took a deep breath, and knew, without turning, that Seven was awake as well.

"Did you experience a nightmare?" she asked in concern.

Chakotay tried to think. Nothing in particular came to mind, only a feeling of darkness and suffocation. "No, I don't think so." He turned his head to look at her. "Are you having trouble sleeping?" He considered. Was it her night to regenerate and she was only staying with him to be polite? Seven turned to face him, a concerned expression on her face.

"I have been reconsidering our situation," she said slowly.

"I thought it was decided." Chakotay propped himself up on one elbow. "I'm going to look into coming back to Boston for good." He tried not to sound impatient or irritated with her. "We've been over this, Seven."

"Perhaps it was unfair of me to ask you to stay."

Chakotay willed himself to remain calm. Her sudden shift was highly irritating.

"It is easier for me to come with you."

"You were unhappy when you were with me on previous expeditions. The conditions on the site are not good for your implants. That hasn't changed," Chakotay said quietly. "Would it be any different this time?" He rolled onto his back, staring up at the ceiling. "Would it be any easier for you to adjust?"

"I do not know."

The room was unusually quiet and Chakotay tried to think of something to say; Seven was looking at him expectantly.

"What do you prefer?" Seven asked. "It is your decision."

He glanced over his shoulder to stare at her. She looked lovely, her golden hair spread against her pale blue pillow.

"I don't know," he said. His throat felt tight. Seven's lips pressed together into a thin line but she said nothing. The quiet echoed loudly in his ears; never had the room felt this still before. He leaned over to kiss her, first on the cheek, then on the lips. "I wish I did, but I don't. Can we talk about it in the morning?"

She looked as if she wanted to discuss the issue now, but instead, she nodded.

"You should get some rest," Seven said softly. "You have had a long day."

He lay back down, curling around his body around hers, his hand resting lightly on her stomach. She slept, but he was unable to follow suit. He lay there until morning came, listening to the silence.

~ the end

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