AUTHOR: Bridget Cochran
TITLE: Collective of One © 1999
SERIES: Voyager
SUMMARY: The day after Night, Tom and Seven put in time together.
Disclaimer: I own the ideas, Paramount owns the rest. Archive at will,
ASC/EML, BLTs and SassCat‘s Home for Wayward P/7 Writers

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Karen Sorensen for the title. Karen, Mike and Monica for always being there for e-mail that reads ‚how about this one?‘. And for everybody who gives such nice feedback. Thank you.

Collective of One

"Only two more programs and we can call it a night." Tom sighed and called up the resort.

He was tired. Bone tired. For his whole shift and well into the next, Tom Paris and Seven of Nine had gone through every holodeck program, public and private, to install manually triggered overrides to the holographic exits to the programs.

They didn‘t want to be trapped again like they‘d been trapped in the Void—with the holodecks still tenable, but ancillary power impacted. Essentially, trapped with no way out. Tom flinched as he remembered the rush of energy jolting through him and melting half his face.

Seven looked up at the pilot from the access panel in the pillar. "You are ill?"

Tom shook himself, "Nah, just remembering the last time we were here."

Seven gazed at him another moment and bent once again to the access panel. The Lieutenant stood watching her work for a few minutes, snapping his gum.

"You require something?" Her eyes never left the panel.

Tom blinked. "Sorry, I was out of it."

Seven straightened and twisted her head toward Tom. "What are you out of?"

Tom smiled. "My brain was disengaged."

Seven frowned, then her lips softened. But to Tom, it was a revelation, and turned his smile up a notch.

"I am finished here."

Tom called out the final program: Sandrines.

She cocked her head. "You are tired," she observed, as the resort shimmered away and the intimacy of Sandrine‘s unfolded around them.

"I‘m okay," Tom said.

"I was not commenting on your mental state. I am observing your fatigue."

Tom sighed, and closed his eyes. He couldn‘t very well deny it. Stretching his neck, relieving imaginary cramps, he moved toward the bar. "Beer, Sandrine."

"And you, miss?" The older woman turned her warm smile to the tall woman standing beside Tom.

"I have no wish to ingest liquids."

"As you wish." Sandrine‘s smile never wavered, as she pulled the tap toward her filling a pilsner. "Will you introduce me, Tomas?" she asked as she set the glass on a napkin.

Tom frowned. "I‘m sorry," he said as he turned to the tall woman standing beside him. "Seven, this is one of my dearest friends, Sandrine. Sandrine, Seven."

The older woman held a graceful hand to Seven accepted the older woman‘s hand.

"You are a hologram," Seven said.

"And you are a Borg," Sandrine laughed in the good natured way of someone who‘d seen much. "I will not hold it against you if you do not hold it against me," she added.

"Agreed," Seven said, she turned once again to watch Tom skim foam off the top of the beer. He smiled at Sandrine, wondering what the look she gave him meant.

He eased onto the barstool, indicating Seven should do the same. Awkwardly, she complied. Tom took another sip of his beer. "Did I thank you for what you did yesterday?"

"Several times."

A smile grooved Tom‘s mouth. "Guess so." He turned his glass on its coaster.

"I‘m glad you were there."

Seven made no comment.

"If I‘d been by myself, I don‘t know how long I would have laid there. Heck, that alien might have killed me."

"It was not in his nature."

Tom frowned at Seven.

"He was only protecting himself. If he wanted to kill you, you would be dead."

"Oh. Well." Tom looked down. "That‘s good to know."

"They are not an aggressor race. They are defenders."

"Really?" Tom was not sure he wanted to discuss aggressor races with a former Borg. He picked up his beer.

"You wish to talk about something else?"

Tom blinked over at Seven, embarrassed at his rudeness. "I‘m sorry," he said.

Seven looked at him, gaging his sincerity. "I am aware that other—people—are uncomfortable talking with me about my past."

"I think that is understandable."

"Understandable," Seven agreed.

Tom frowned at her. "But?"

Seven‘s frown matched his. "I am encouraged to learn about those around me, yet no one is encouraged to learn about me."

Tom sagged. Her words were true—so true. Never once did he consider her position on Voyager. Not by choice was she plucked whole out of the collective and stuck right in the middle of this collective of individuals, self-righteous individuals.

But what could he say? What species was the most fun to assimilate? No.

Pretty darn inappropriate.

So, Tom asked the only question he felt **was** appropriate. "Did you ever play pool?"

She stared at him as if he had gone mad. Perhaps he had. "You are changing the subject."

Tom swallowed as color marched up his face. "I am," he admitted.

"You are squeamish about my past."

"Squeamish?" Tom rolled the world around in his brain. "No. Squeamish isn‘t the right word. Disturbed would be a better word."

"Each species assimilated contributed their uniqueness to the collective." It was a rote defense.

"And sacrificed their uniqueness."

Seven stared at Tom with assessment in her eyes. "What is this pool play?"

A crooked, sad smile appeared on Tom‘s mouth and leeched onto his whole face as, this time, Seven changed the subject. The words left unspoken said so much about the barriers that were still so high between this lone Borg and the rest of the free universe.

Tom set his beer glass down and stared into the depths of the blue eyes, looking for the soul that was in there somewhere. He stood.

"Well, pool is a game of skill and cunning," he began as he strolled to the table. He turned back to Seven who was close behind him. Her face could not hold more skepticism. "And a keen knowledge of plane geometry."

Now she was intrigued.

The End.

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