“Damn!” Kathryn said. She stared in dismay at the burnt pot roast. Before, she could blame it on Voyager’s replicators. Now, there was no excuse. She just couldn’t cook.
“What’s the matter?” Dani inquired, joining her mother at the replicator. Her question was answered when she saw the smoking pot of meat. “Oh. Well, we didn’t really need the pot roast, anyway. We’ve got plenty.”
The door chimed. Chakotay, who was setting the table, looked at the door and then at Dani and Kathryn.
“That’s Will,” Dani said. She looked at the pot roast. “Put that in the recycler.” She walked over to the door and pressed the button that would open it. The doors slid open to reveal Will Riker.
“Hi,” Dani said.
“Good evening,” Will said.
“Come in,” Dani said stepping to the side.
Will stepped into the apartment. The doors slid shut behind him. When he saw that Chakotay was still setting the table, he thought that he might’ve gotten the time wrong. “Am I early?” he asked.
“No,” Dani said. “Everything’s ready. Dad’s just finishing up the table. No, you’re right on time.” She spied the bottle in Will’s hands. “What’s this?”
“Well, I felt the need to bring something,” Will said. He handed the bottle to Dani. She studied the bottle and looked up at him. “Champagne?”
“Syntheholic champagne,” Will said. “Wouldn’t want anyone to feel left out.”
“Thanks for your consideration. I’ll go put it on some ice. Have a seat.”
Dani left for the kitchen. Will sat on the couch. Once Chakotay had finished setting the last of the silverware out, he decided to join Will in the living room.
“Hello,” Chakotay said, sinking into a nearby chair.
“Goodevening, Commander,” Will said. “Everything going okay?”
“All this formality isn’t called for,” Chakotay insisted. “We’re not on a starship, and we’re both the same rank. Call me Chakotay.”
“All right, Chakotay. You can call me Will.”
“So, Will,” Chakotay began, “How has everything been going for you?”
“Pretty well, actually,” was Will’s reply. “After this shore leave, I’m gong back to the Enterprise, and who knows from there.”
Chakotay nodded. “I must say, I was surprised after we returned to Earth and found that you didn’t have your own command.”
“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: As long as Jean-Luc Picard is in the captain’s chair, I intend to serve as his first officer.”
Dani, from the kitchen, watched Will and her father interact. “I thought you said that Dad didn’t like Will?” she said to her mother, being sure to keep her voice low to prevent it from carrying into the living room.
“No, he likes Will just fine,” Kathryn said. “He respects him as a person and as an officer. He just doesn’t like the idea of you and Will.”
“Me and Will?” Dani looked at Kathryn. “What does he mean by that?”
“You tell me? Is there any meaning to it?”
“No, not yet-” Dani caught herself.
“But there will be, I assume,” Kathryn surmised from her daughter’s unfinished statement.
Dani sighed. “I don’t know. I like him, and you know I’ve always had a little bit of a crush on him.”
“There’s a big difference between a crush and a relationship,” Kathryn pointed out.
“I know. You know what – right now, we’re just friends, and to tell you the truth, I’d be really surprised if anything other than that developed.”
“Well, you have no need to worry about any of that,” Kathryn said, smoothing her daughter’s hair. “Once you get to the Academy-”
“Mom, you’re going to jinx me. I haven’t even taken the first exam, yet.”
Ten minutes later, Dani, Will, Kathryn, and Chakotay were around the dining room table enjoying a dinner that featured a baked fish entree.
“You know who else we should’ve invited tonight?” Dani asked. Everyone shook his head.
“No,” Chakotay answered for everyone. He and Kathryn occupied the seats at the ends of the table, and Will and Dani sat across from each other. “Who?”
“Oh, yes,” Kathryn agreed. “And Seven.”
Will seemed a bit confused for a moment, but then his memory caught up with him. “Oh, you mean the liberated Borg,” he said.
“Yes,” Kathryn said.
“I still can’t grasp the concept of having a former Borg as a crewmember,” Will said. “I mean, just a few years ago, we were fighting them for our right to exist.”
“At Wolf 359,” Chakotay said. “Yes, I know.”
Actually, Will had been speaking of the First Contact incident, but he didn’t make any attempt to correct Chakotay. That mission was extremely classified because of its sensitive temporal nature.
“Just another one of those reminders of just how unpredictable life can be,” Chakotay continued.
“Most definitely,” Will agreed. “Especially if the life you lead is in Starfleet. But I guess you all should be the ones giving the lectures on this subject matter.”
“Perhaps,” Chakotay said. “Perhaps not. Everyone experiences changes in his or her life. Some are just more extraordinary than others. Take Icheb and Seven, for example. Two Borg who were liberated from the collective. Once that notion was thought totally impossible. It’d only been tried on two previous occasions: after Captain Picard was assimiliated and when a drone named Hugh was liberated. So, when we considered performing the procedure on Seven, we knew it could be done.”
“Dad, you have to admit that Seven’s case was somewhat different from Captain Picard’s,” Dani said joining the conversation. She’d been young when Captain Picard had been assimilated, but she was avid at keeping up with history. “I would’ve thought Seven’s process more difficult because she’d been a drone for almost her entire life. The Captain was only a drone for, what?” She looked at Will for confirmation, “A few days, a week maybe?”
“I knew it was something like that,” Dani said. “The same goes for Icheb; he was part of the collective for a little while before he was liberated.”
“How old is Icheb?” Will asked.
“He’s around my age,” Dani replied. “Maybe a few years older.”
“Any plans for the Academy?”
“Oh, yes,” Kathryn said. “He’s already completed a few courses via subspace transmissions. So he’s already got a bit of a head start.”
“He hasn’t been interviewed, yet,” Chakotay said, “but he passed the written exam with flying colors, and I’m sure he’ll have no trouble talking with a few Academy officials.”
“The first Borg in Starfleet,” Will chimed. “That’ll be something. I’d like to meet him.”
“That can be arranged,” Dani said. “He’s sharing an apartment with Seven, isn’t he?”
“Yes,” said Kathryn. “Until he goes away to the Academy.”
“I wouldn’t mind seeing everyone again before we went back to Indiana,” Chakotay said after taking a sip of his tea.
“Me either,” Kathryn said. She put her fork down. “We’ve got to have a dinner or a party or something.”
“I have an idea,” Will said. Everyone looked in his direction. “Dani’s birthday is in a few weeks. Why don’t you have some kind of function for that, and invite everyone to attend?”
Dani, Chakotay, and Kathryn all looked at one another.
“That sounds good to me,” Kathryn said. Chakotay nodded. Kathryn looked at the soon-to-be guest of honor. “Dani?”
“Yeah,” she said, beaming. “That’d be great.”
“So, this Icheb fellow,” Will began, “your parents seem very fond of him.” He and Dani were taking an evening stroll through San Francisco. They had offered to help Kathryn and Chakotay clear away the dishes, but the captain and commander had insisted that they could take care of it themselves.
“They are,” Dani said in reply to Will’s observation. “And rightly so. Icheb’s a good guy. He’s a real friend.”
“Really?” Will asked. There was something implied behind that ‘really.’
“And were you and Icheb ever more than just friends?”
A mock gasp of shock escaped Dani’s lips. “Commander – that is a question of an extremely personal nature.”
“Since when? You always pried into my love life. I’m just returning the favor,” Will defended. “It’s supposed to be a sign that I care.”
“We dated for a few weeks but decided that our relationship would best be served by simply being friends.”
“Ah. And how long ago was this?”
“What is this? Why the sudden interest in all the gritty details of my short love life?”
“I can’t care?”
Dani relented and decided to tell Will what he wanted. Maybe he’d leave the topic alone after this. “This was…let’s see…about three or four years ago.”
“Oh.” Will nodded, and Dani thought that was the end of it. “First boyfriend?” She’d thought wrong.
“Yes,” Dani replied with annoyance. ‘Maybe that was the last one,’ Dani thought hopefully.
“First kiss?” Will asked.
Dani sighed, displaying her annoyance with the current subject as if it weren’t already apparent by the tone of her voice. “Yes,” she said. ‘That has to be it,’ Dani thought. Will wouldn’t dare go any farther. He was a gentleman.
“Imzadi?” Will asked.
‘Or so I thought,’ Dani thought as she and Will stopped walking. Actually, she’d been hoping that Will wouldn’t ask her about sex, which he didn’t (not that there’d be anything to tell, anyway…). But what he had asked was just as personal. She didn’t mind telling him, though. They’d always been open with each other.
“No,” said Dani, replying to Will’s inquiry. She started walking again. Will joined her. “I haven’t found my Imzadi, yet,” Dani added.
“Maybe you have, and you just don’t know it,” Will suggested.
“I think I would know if Icheb was my Imzadi.”
“Who said I was talking about Icheb?”
Dani stopped dead in her tracks again and looked up at Will. Who was he talking about?
“I haven’t been involved with anyone else,” Dani said.
“Maybe it’s someone you haven’t been involved with – yet,” Will suggested again.
“What are you talking about?”
“No,” Will said, shaking his head. “Nothing. Just something to think about.”
Dani nodded slowly. She let the matter slip from her mind, but not completely. Just for the night, as she and Will continued their walk through the city.