When Dani walked into the mess hall, she saw that Icheb was sitting at a table by the window waiting for her. As Dani approached the table, the Borg-human looked up at her. His face seemed to brighten a little at the sight of her.
Dani walked over to the table and sat down across from Icheb.
"Hi," Dani said.
"Hello," Icheb said.
Chakotay and Kathryn walked into the mess hall. They stopped short when they saw Icheb and Dani at a table together.
"They sure have been spending a lot of time together lately," Kathryn observed.
"Yes," Chakotay agreed. "At least she's not on the holodeck." He and Kathryn looked at each other.
"True," Kathryn said. She watched Dani and thought back to a time when she would never have allowed her daughter to socialize with a Borg drone. They seemed to be getting along so well. "Maybe we should join them," Kathryn suggested, already starting to walk over to Icheb and Dani's table. Chakotay reached out and touched her arm.
"No," Chakotay said. Kathryn looked at him. "She just turned 18 a few days ago. Don't you remember when you were her age? You didn't want your parents hanging around your friends, did you?"
Kathryn felt as if she'd just been insulted. She squared her shoulders. "But I'm-"
"-her mother," Chakotay said, finishing her sentence for her. His ending differed from what hers would have been, however. "Come on."
Giving one last look to Dani and her companion, Kathryn abandoned her mission and followed Chakotay to a table on the other side of the room.
Icheb and Dani walked through the doors into her quarters. They sat down on the couch in the living room and looked at each other.
'The things he must know,' Dani thought, her eyes tracing over Icheb's face, from his dark hair to the cortical implant near his left eye to his nose ridges.
"What's it like?" she asked him.
"What is 'what' like?" Icheb asked.
"Being you," Dani asked. Then she realized how absurd this must've sounded to Icheb. "I mean, you used to be part of the Borg collective. What was it like?"
Icheb looked at the table in front of them for a moment, while he gathered his reply.
"It was...comforting," he finally said, looking back at Dani.
Dani was a little surprised. Comforting wasn't exactly the term she would use to describe the collective. Then again, she had never actually been apart of the collective.
"Comforting?" Dani asked.
"Yes." Icheb went on. "Every thought circulated throughout the collective. One was never alone. That is how it was comforting."
"Do you ever miss it?" Dani asked him.
Icheb thought for a few more moments before answering, "No. I do not."
"Were you happy there?"
"Emotion was irrelevant."
"It's not now," Dani said. Both she and Icheb thought about this for a moment. "Are you happy on Voyager?"
Icheb looked at Dani. There was an expression of revelation on his face. "Yes," he said.
Dani smiled. Icheb smiled also.
"I'm glad you're here, Icheb," Dani said.
"So am I," Icheb said. "I enjoy your company." He looked away from her, and his smile faded.
"What's the matter?" Dani asked, noticing the change that had taken place in him.
"I am unsure," Icheb said. "I am experiencing...feelings unfamiliar to me."
"Can you describe them?" Dani asked. Icheb didn't answer her. "Icheb?"
Icheb looked at Dani. He started to speak. "I..."
"Yes?" Dani encouraged.
Icheb looked at Dani. Then he unexpectedly leaned over and kissed her.
"I think they have lot in common," Chakotay said. He and Kathryn were on their way from the mess hall to their quarters. "They both had to learn how to accept tremendous changes in their lives. Icheb had to learn how to live away from the collective; Dani had to learn how to live away from Earth. I think they could have some very interesting conversations. They could become very good friends."
Kathryn and Chakotay stopped walking. They had reached their quarters.
"Do you think they could become more than friends?" Kathryn asked with a raised eyebrow.
"I don't know," was Chakotay's reply. "Do you?"
Kathryn smiled. "Nooo... Dani and Icheb?" She shook her head. "No."
"You never know," Chakotay said, smiling. "There have been stranger pairings. Tom and B'Elanna, Neelix and Kes...you and I." Kathryn looked at him before stepping up to the doors. They slid open and she and Chakotay walked in. They both stopped dead in their tracks. Dani and Icheb were on the couch engaged in a kiss. Before they could retreat back out the door, Icheb and Dani parted and looked up at them. Everyone remained frozen, not knowing how to proceed. Then Icheb stood.
"Captain," he said. "I...we..."
Chakotay held up his hand. Icheb had addressed Kathryn, but she was still too stunned to say anything. "There's no need to explain, Icheb. It's alright."
"We did not mean any harm," Icheb explained.
Dani stood beside Icheb. "Icheb, it's alright. We didn't do anything wrong." She looked at her parents. "Did we?"
All the color had drained from Kathryn's face. She looked as if she'd just seen a ghost.
"No," Chakotay said, answering Dani's question. "You didn't."
Dani turned to Icheb. "We'll talk a little later, Icheb."
"I must apologize for this incident," Icheb said.
"Don't worry about it."
Icheb walked over to Chakotay and Kathryn. Kathryn's expression had changed very little.
"I apologize sincerely," Icheb said.
"It's okay, Icheb," Chakotay said. "You didn't do anything wrong."
Icheb looked at Chakotay and then at Kathryn. He looked at Chakotay and nodded slightly before leaving.
Dani walked around the couch to Chakotay and Kathryn. Her father seemed to be okay, but her mother looked quite shell-shocked.
"Dad, could you give us a minute?" Dani asked.
"Sure," Chakotay said. He walked across the room and into his and Kathryn's bedroom.
Dani looked at Kathryn.
"Are you okay?"
Kathryn blinked a few times. "Uh-huh. Yes."
"Um...I don't know what to say," Dani said.
"Me neither," said Kathryn. "For a change."
Dani smiled. "Well, what are you thinking, then?"
It was Kathryn's turn to smile. "That you're not my little girl anymore." Dani smiled sheepishly at Kathryn.
"Are you mad?" Dani asked.
Kathryn shook her head. "No. Come on; let's sit." They both walked over and sat down on the couch. "I'm not mad at you, Dani. It's just that this is a little...surreal to me. The idea of you...you know, when I look at you, I still see that twelve year-old little girl who sneaked aboard five years ago. It's taken this to make me realize that you're becoming a young woman. I suppose I should start treating you as such."
Dani studied Kathryn's expression, as if trying to predict what she was going to say next.
Kathryn continued. "I'm sending an away team down to the planet's surface to collect dilithium. How would you like to go with them?" Voyager had recently arrived at an M-class planet that, the sensors had detected, contained vast deposits of dilithium.
"What?" Dani asked. Her mother had never let her go down to a planet surface without her before. And even when Kathryn had beamed down with her, it hadn't been on an away mission. It had just been shore leave.
"B'Elanna will be leading the away team. Tom and Seven will accompany her."
Now, Dani was really surprised. Her mother wasn't sending her father with them!
"You're not sending Dad?"
"No. Your father and I will remain on board."
Dani couldn't believe her own ears. "Are you serious?" she asked. "I mean, you're not kidding me, are you?"
Kathryn shook her head. "No. You're on your own on this one."
Dani looked at Kathryn. Kathryn nodded. Dani couldn't believe it; her mother was actually letting her leave the nest. She leaned over and put her arms around her mother.
"Oh, Mom..." Dani said. "Thank you."