DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc and Viacom. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2023 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.

Breaking the Ice

by Djinn



Shaw sat in his quarters, still on medical rest as his ship made her way home, nursing a glass of Malbec when his chime sounded. "Come."


Hansen walked in and stood, as she always did, with perfect "waiting for orders" posture and the look of being able to hold it for days if necessary.


Only he had no orders for her; she'd come to him, unbidden. Let her stand there forever or say whatever the fuck was on her mind.


He sipped his wine and waited.


"We should talk," she said, much sooner than he expected, and with a tone he'd never heard in her voice. Not friendliness, but...what? Understanding.


"Ah, my little outburst in the holodeck made the rounds all the way up to you, huh?"


"It did."


"Yeah, I was one of them once—crew, nowhere in the important chain, but knowing more than the top officers could ever imagine. I remember how news like that travels faster than a ship at warp. You were never one of them, Hansen, were you?" He knew he should tell her to sit and if she were anyone else, he would. But he didn't move to wave her to the couch or a chair.


"I believe I was one of them in some sense. My time on Voyager was as much a learning experience as you probably got on your various ships before the Titan."


"My various ships? I'm sure you've memorized them all—probably did it before you were assigned here. To impress me."


"You're not wrong. However, I quickly learned that impressing you would be impossible." She eyed his wine glass. "I have never had Malbec. Or rather, one that I liked."


"Well, grab yourself a glass from the bar and sit down. Prepare to be proven wrong. Unless, of course, you don't really like any wine and you're just fucking with me in yet another attempt to get us to bond."


"I do enjoy wine. I enjoy most spirits, to be honest. And I have learned that we are never going to bond just because I want us to." She handed him the glass and sat on the couch.


He poured her a minuscule amount.


She took it and lifted an eyebrow. "The bartender in this joint is stingy."


"If you like it, I'll pour more. But I'm damned if I'm going to waste my favorite wine on you if you don't."




"I can be. Engineering is nothing if not logical."


"And efficient, generally. Both things I value." She sipped and actually smiled. It changed her, made her seem...human. He could count on one hand the number of times he'd seen her smile at him. "So this is what Malbec is supposed to taste like?"


He nodded.


She held out her glass. "Then quit being stingy, sir."


He laughed before he could stop himself and poured her and himself more.


"You were damned efficient with a weapon. That something the Fenris Rangers taught you?"


She nodded and looked away, as if she did not wish to think of that part of her life. He imagined she'd seen the shit side of the quadrants with that craphole organization.


"Yeah, I guess you didn't need a weapon as a drone. Just the assimilation tube?"


"I understand your bitterness regarding the Borg, sir, but I cannot apologize for what they did to you or anyone else. I was taken as a child. I had no choice. As were most Borg drones. They never imagined the life they would live."


"I've read your file. Your parents were killed. You were kidnapped. Why hang on to the name then? Sounds like a case of Stockholm Syndrome."


"Capt—Admiral Janeway used to tell me that. When I had...reverted enough for my old name to seem appropriate. But I had been Seven of Nine most of my life. And no matter how long I am away from the collective—and eventually I was very grateful to be free of it—I remember the sense of belonging, of knowing exactly what I was expected to do. The connection. Effortless."


"Far from what you and I have."


She nodded and did not meet his eyes.


"Except in engineering today. We worked seamlessly, Hansen."


"I was not sure if you viewed it that way."


"I did. It was the first time that I felt as if I really had a first officer—a partner."


"Yes. I felt the same." She took another sip. "This really is good."


"Saying that might just be a way to continue the connection—build on what we had going on that job."


"It would be. However, if I did not like your wine—especially after you insulted Picard over his—I would not say it was good. In fact, I was hoping it would not be."


He could tell she was serious. And it was one reason he hadn't worked harder to find ways to get her off his ship. Because she was honest, and he valued that, even if he hadn't quite gotten to valuing the total package that was Annika Hansen just yet.


"For what it's worth, sir, I think your outburst explained a lot to the crew. About who you are."


"You mean about how I am, don't you?"


She conceded with a nod.


"Well, good. 'Cause I'm shit at sharing." He studied her. "Do you wish I'd call you Commander Seven—out of respect?"




"Do you know how many crew members on this ship lost someone at Wolf 359?




"A lot. I'm not the only one who has nightmares of that day. I get that LaForge is fine with you, but why wouldn't she be? Her father got his captain back. He knew Picard as Picard. I only knew him as Locutus."


"Names matter."


"They do. The ten of us who were picked for the emergency pod used to have nicknames we only used with each other. I was ten of ten. Last one picked of the lucky group. I grew to hate that fucking name."


"Would you have if you were one of ten—if the person choosing had chosen you first."


He thought about it. "Maybe not."


"Being picked last means it could have been anyone else. Might make you question...why you?"


"Yeah." He took a long swallow.


"I know you didn't pick me for this position. Did you have someone in mind?"


"Yeah. I did."


"Someone from your group of ten?"


"No, we fell away from each other over the years. It was someone I served with on my last ship."


"Are they still available?"


"Why? Are you going to request transfer if they are?" He held a hand up before she could answer. "They aren't, so it's a moot point." He poured them both more wine. "Besides, how would I explain it to Admiral fucking Janeway?"


She actually laughed. "She is rather a force of nature when she wants to be. I believe Picard went to her. I do not know if she would have done this for me on her own."


He realized she was giving him something, a weakness—a falling out with her old captain? "Is that so?"


"We have also fallen away from each other over the years."


He didn't rush to fill the silence, had learned that people would do it for you if you just let them.


"She was the first human of consequence to me. She believed in me. She championed me. If I am at all human, it is because of her."


"You miss her?"


'Yes. And no. It's..."




She nodded.


"This is the longest conversation we've ever had, Hansen, that hasn't been about work."


"Sir, it is the only conversation we've ever had that hasn't been about work." She took a deep breath. "And I appreciate it. I will give you this in return: I request transfer from the ship and you can fill it with someone you can build a rapport with. I will explain to Admiral Janeway—if she even cares."


"Isn't what we're doing here building rapport?"


"Not if you won't call me Seven."


"Give me time. I might."


"Or you might not."


"That too. How many of the crew call you Commander Seven?"


"Only LaForge."


"How many do you think want to?"


"I have no idea."


He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "You can tell them to call you either. Whatever they're comfortable with."


"Why is what I'm comfortable with not important?"


He reached for his padd, called something up, and handed it to her. Her expression changed as she read it. "Janeway told me I was getting Annika Hansen, not Seven of Nine. But then she probably did her homework. Knew what would work on me given my history. Neglected to tell me about your Borg hardware. I found out when I looked up your file."


She had gone very still. "I see." Something in her voice resonated with him, that small slip of betrayal realized.


"Give me time, Commander."


"Or I'll give you my request for transfer again. And I will go back to..." Her expression changed again: hopelessness.


He was intimately familiar with that particular emotion. "Request denied." He held up the nearly empty bottle. "Now, let's see how in sync we are. Do we open a new one or not?"


She met his eyes and slowly exhaled—he wondered what she was letting go of. "We do."


"And that is the right answer. Maybe this'll work out after all, Seven."


It took her a second to realize what he'd called her. "Maybe it will, Liam."


He grimaced.


"Too soon?"


"Too soon. I'm not saying never. But not yet."


"Fine, where do you keep your wine, sir?"


"Bottom drawer of the credenza."


She rose and got them a new bottle, handing it to him to open. "I have not apologized for my role in what transpired with Picard and all of this. He is—"


"A friend. I get it. I don't necessarily love it, or that you placed loyalty to him over duty to me and this crew, but I get it. And someday maybe you'll use that loyalty to get me out of a jam, and I'll finally appreciate it."


"Stranger things have happened."


"That's for damn sure." He opened the bottle and poured them both more wine. "Like ships flinging shit with a tractor beam. How the hell did Riker figure that move out so fast? I was working it out in my head while I was in sickbay and getting nowhere."


"He may be quicker than he appears."


"Maybe so. I was also on some very good drugs. Do you wish you'd been his first officer instead of mine?"


"Yes. And no. You will challenge me more than he would have, I think. I learned not to take anything at face value when I was a Fenris Ranger. I think you are the same. If I am to have your trust, I must earn it."


"See, we do understand each other." He held out his wineglass. "This is fine crystal. Tap lightly."


She clinked very, very gently. "You are quite particular."


"About some things, yes."


"I am as well. I do not understand people who do not use coasters."


"Thank you. Why ruin a nice piece of furniture? Or even a not-so-nice one? It still leaves all that liquid there."


"Exactly." She leaned back and closed her eyes. "I do not understand the crew's fascination with the space squids."


He laughed. "Jesus, me either. You'd think they'd never left Earth. Shit is weird in space, kids, get used to it."


She nodded and looked like she was going to nod off.


"Drop that glass and you're on report."


"I am not falling asleep. Just relaxing. I so rarely do that."


It was an exceptional thing to give him—or she was way too good at manipulating him and knew he'd love the idea that he was special. Although if she was good at it, wouldn't she have managed to win him over before now?


"Are you hungry?" he asked.




"You like deep dish?"


"Deep-dish what?"


"Pizza, you idiot."


"Idiot is preferable to dipshit, I guess. And I have no idea. I've never had it."


"Then you are in for a treat. Anything you can't eat? Otherwise I'm ordering it the way I like it."


"That is fine." And she sounded like she meant it. For once, his way was fine with her.


He waited for the replicator to deliver it and brought it over to the coffee table. She studied it for a moment, then followed his lead and took a piece.


"Mmm, heaven," he said between bites.


She looked transported.


And for a moment, he could let go of her Borg past and just enjoy the face of a person enjoying the best pizza in the world for the first time. "Good, right?"


She made a sort of happy moan as she polished off the first piece and went in for seconds. A moment later she asked, "Did you know LaForge's nickname was 'Crash' at the academy?"




"Was she another one you were saddled with?"


"Oh, hell no. I chose her. Great record and I like her energy."


"She's bubbly and supportive."


"Exactly. Everything I'm not." He lifted his piece of pizza to her in a mock toast. "Even I know where I'm weak. Other than you, I picked the entire bridge crew. Built them for a dynamic I've seen work over and over again."






She held up her piece. "To balance. But I'm not clinking food."


"Technically, clink is the sound, not the act."


"But in modern usage it has come to mean both."


"Yeah but clinking pizza makes no sense."


"You were the one who tried to toast with it."


"It was an ironic toast. Don't they have irony in the collective?"


She actually laughed. "They do not. It was one of the harder things to get used to, to be honest. That and sarcasm."


"Oh, sarcasm will kill you." He poured them both more wine. "Is Picard's wine any good?"


She got a funny look and he leapt on it. "It's not, is it? Oh, please, please, tell me it's not."


"It is not my favorite."


"There's that loyalty again. Is it swill? Just tell me it's swill."


"It is not swill. It has many fine qualities. But...it is not my favorite. Please do not tell Picard I said that. It would, I think, break his heart."


"His heart's synth, or haven't you heard?"


She did a shrug/nod combination that could mean anything. Probably knew confirming it would set him off on another rant. How many chances did that guy get? Destroy 11,000 people? No problem, here's your ship back. Have life restored by synthetic means? We'll turn a blind eye. Life was just not fucking fair sometimes.


He realized Hansen was saying something. "What?"


"I said we need to determine how the Changeling bypassed all our countermeasures to get on this ship."


"That we do. But can we finish our pizza before we tackle that?"


Her smile was very gentle. "We can."



Chapter 2


Seven heard Shaw's familiar cadence coming out of the lift and moved to her regular chair.


He sat down and stared out at the starstream for a moment. She tried to read him—she'd gotten better at that in the Rangers, but that was more for determining what a villain was going to do, if they were going to shoot or stab or try to get away. Shaw was sitting almost preternaturally still.


"We are so fucked," he said at a volume only she would hear.


"Yes, I believe we are. Perhaps some time-travel is in order?"


He actually laughed. Clearly in anexpected way because it was an explosion of sound and the crew turned to look at him. "It's okay, I'm not losing it. Seven just said something funny. I doubt it'll happen again."


LaForge looked from him to Seven and back again then turned back to her station.


"You called me Seven," she said under her breath, barely moving her lips.


"Well aware, Hansen. Examples start at the top and by God, I'm still the captain of this insane clown show." He leaned back. "Now, tell me, who the fuck was Ro?"


"I have no idea. And the information on her in the Starfleet database has clearly been scrubbed or it is a very confusing record." Although not unlike Tom Paris's, she supposed. Redemption for the fallen. Fortunately Tom was still alive and happy with B'Elanna and their kids.


"Picard was gutted by her death. That wasn't just any old officer. And I didn't get romance vibes? Did you get romance vibes?"


"I am often less than adept at analyzing emotionally laden situations."


"Well, fortunately for you, I'm not." He caught the face she made before she could stop it. "I see everything. I analyze every interaction. Does this crew seem unhappy to you despite me being no fun to play with personally?"




"That's because I figure out what will make them happy. And I give it to them. Well they don't know I give it to them, but I make sure it's available. You think Ten-Forward was my first choice for the default holodeck program? But the youngsters love it, so there it is, ready to give them that taste of home."


She knew she was staring at him with her mouth slightly open.


"Tell them that and I will put you in the brig. Given my reaction to Picard and Riker, they now probably think I don't know what the default is."


She started to laugh, a soft laugh that would not disturb the bridge crew. "You are a complicated man."


"Yeah, well, trauma does that to a person. I can't fix me, Hansen. But I can make their life better."


"Have you tried? Fixing what's broken in you?"


"Have you? How'd the counselors work out for you?"




He leaned back in his seat and rubbed his eyes. "Jack Crusher just took out four changelings. They were armed. He wasn't."


"Is this a logic question? Because I need more to go on."


"No, that's what happened."


"He killed four armed changelings?"


He turned to look at her. "Yes. Find me a reason for that. One that won't scare the shit out of me."


She frowned as she considered. "I would not have expected that. But he clearly has survived with his mother in a hostile environment with many enemies. Perhaps he has been trained by someone we do not know. Perhaps in exchange for medicine or treatment?"


"Thank you. Stop there before it gets scary again. But...keep an eye on him."


"Sir, there is another alternative."


"Fuck you, Hansen. It's a scary one, isn't it?"


"Yes. How do we know Crusher and he are really who they say?"


"You just hit on my worst nightmare." He lowered his voice even more. "And that's a scenario that Picard and Riker will not want to hear. She's got Ohk cowed, has practically taken over sickbay. She's deciding who gets read for what. Fuck me."


"I will talk to Ohk."


"Only she might be a changeling too. God damn, I hate this." He turned to her and whispered, "We need a secret sign. The thing they can't replicate is emotions and secrets, right?"


Seven nodded.


"Do this." He kept his hand tucked in so no one else would see it and put out his thumb and pinky, folding down the other fingers, then sort of waving his hand back and forth.


She turned to him and hid her hand as she did the same. "Why this?"


"It's from my past, surfing in Hawaii."


"You surf?"


"What? Don't I look like a surfer?" He turned back so he was facing forward.


"I am not actually sure what a surfer looks like."


"Well, to be fair, probably not me. So anyway, we do that and the other returns it and we know."


"What if our hands are restrained?"


"Okay, yeah, good point. You say Shaka—it means hang loose—when you do it. Any combo of those two things. The gesture or Shaka. And the beauty of it is the universal translators have too many other meaning for Shaka to ever get to 'hang loose.' I know because—well, never mind."


"It was a code word for some nefarious activity? And you give Picard shit for not following regs?"


"It was a long time ago."


"Ah, your group of ten?"


"Yeah. We went through a sort of risk-seeking phase. Counselor had a field day with that." He closed his eyes when she looked over at him. "Did not mean to say that."


"It's all right. Being a Fenris Ranger in the area I chose to operate was not exactly the decision of someone seeking a long life. Sometimes risk is the only way to feel alive."


"Yeah. This is a little bit more risk than I would have wanted even back then though." He seemed to be studying her so she let him, keeping her eyes on the crew and the screen. "You have someone you care about, don't you? You care about surviving?"


"I do. But it is a little complicated right now."


"Isn't it always?"


"Yes, in my experience. Alone is far simpler."




"But alone is not my norm. Not after the collective."


"Well, we may be forming our own collective of outlaws if we don't get caught. The Titan Gang." He sighed in a way that told her he was making a joke he did not find amusing.


"Shaka." She saw him smile as she murmured it. "Imagine whatever surfing gives you. That feeling of..what? Peace? Power over the waves?"


"Little bit of both. What do you imagine when you need to chill?"


"Green light, high humidity, and the lull of the other drones."


"Surfing's way better."


"In my coping mechanism, I will not get eaten by a shark."


"Technically, if you're taken as a Borg, haven't you already been eaten by a shark?"


"Interesting point."


"Yeah. I wish I had as much insight into wherever the hell we're going. I'm the captain here still. But I have no clue."


"Nor have I, if it's any consolation."


"Shit, we have to depend on those two yahoos."


"They have done all right so far."


"We've got the entire fleet after us. Is that what passes for 'All right' in the collective?"


"Perhaps not. Could we go back to analyzing Commander Ro?"


"Good idea. I think she was his first kid."


"I do not believe she was biologically related to him."


"Kids don't have to be. His first time caring enough about someone to consider them like a daughter."He glanced at her. "Janeway was sort of your mother, right?"


She could feel herself tensing the way she always did when she tried to figure out what she'd meant to Kathryn Janeway.




"Oh, what?"


"Oh, it was like that."


"Like what?"


"It's normal to fall for your mentor. Who knows, maybe there was a romance vibe between Picard and Ro?"


She realized he was letting her off the hook, taking the conversation away from her and her former captain after so deftly figuring out the truth. "If I had to guess, I would think no romance. He and the doctor clearly have something."


"Yeah, but they've got that on again/off again smell."


"You can smell that?"


"It's a figure of speech, dipshit. I had someone like that. When you're not with them, you want them. When you are with them, you just can't make it work."


"Perhaps when this is over, you could try again."


"They moved on. Wisely." His voice was different than she'd ever heard it.


"I'm sorry."


"Yeah, me too."


"For the record, Dipshit is not a term of respect."


"Write me up, then, Commander." He put his head back. "Should I be giving the bridge crew a rousing speech about how it's all going to be okay?"


She assessed the bridge crew. They all appeared to be deeply concentrating on their duties, no doubt trying to keep the Titan from being blown up by what would no doubt be deemed friendly fire. "Not yet."


"Good, because I suck at rousing speeches."


"As do I."


"Well, thank God we have a living legend here who loves to yammer on."


She laughed, this time loudly enough to make the bridge crew again turn. "You are acting as if the captain is never funny."


"In their defense, Hansen, I'm usually not. Go back to what you were doing. And...guys, I'm sorry. You had no choice in this. If anyone wants off, I will set you up with a fully stocked escape pod near a nice planet or starbase."


"I'm good here," LaForge said, turning back to her station.


"Same," echoed from around the bridge as the rest turned and got back to work.


"Are you tearing up?" Seven whispered.


"Little bit, yeah. Shut up. It's just moving to see my carefully chosen crew do exactly what I wanted them to do. Balance at work, Commander. Balance at work."



Chapter 3


Shaw watched as Hansen and Musiker stood by the turbolift having an intense, if quiet, conversation. He knew that dynamic. When you weren't sure where you stood as a couple but wanted the good parts back. Only the bad parts kept showing up too.


His former partners would probably say he was the bad part.


Finally Hansen backed up without hugging Musiker and stood with her arms crossed as Musiker got on the lift. After the doors closed, she didn't turn around for a long moment, and he looked down so when she finally did face him, she wouldn't have to know how much he had seen.


People never believed he was good at reading people. You couldn't be as big a dick as he was without knowing exactly how to get under people's skin, and that took some emotional intelligence. Lots of it, actually.


She sat down next to him and let out a long sigh.


"Still complicated?" he asked softly.


"So it would seem."


"Not that you asked, but it's been my experience that complicated almost always leads to doomed to fail."


"That has been my experience as well."


"Aren't we the cheery pair?" He got up, gave the conn to T'Veen, and motioned for Hansen to follow him into his ready room. "Okay, did I stutter?" he asked once the doors had shut. "With LaForge?"


"You also called him Mister instead of Commodore."


"Oh, fuck me."


"No, it was...adorable. LaForge clearly enjoyed the interaction."


"He's my hero."


"Yes that was clear."


"To everyone? Between this and my outburst in ten-forward..."


"Are you afraid they will see the chinks in your armor?"


He nodded as he ordered a coffee for himself and one for her—he knew how she liked it, had for a while now. More of that info he liked to collect. Even if he'd never brought her a mug of her favorite before.


She looked surprised as he handed it to her. "Thank you."


He nodded the way that meant "Don't make a big deal of it" and she seemed to get it, as she walked to the viewscreen and stared out. "I think it's good that they're seeing the chinks in your armor. For the crew, vulnerability isn't a weakness, but rather a welcome mat."


"Jesus, you've been hanging out way too long with Picard. The 'words of the sage' have rubbed off."


She laughed, her smile the most untroubled he thought he'd ever seen on her—he knew his own was just as easy. They were running for their goddamned lives and yet he finally felt safe on his own ship. He'd seen how effective his crew was, had found he could not just work with his first officer but enjoy it. And Geordi Fucking LaForge had complimented his ship. It was everything he'd ever wanted for his own command.


"Are you hungry, sir? I'm starving." She turned. "Will the replicator make single slices of your pizza?"


He nodded and walked over to it.


"But can it come with different toppings?"


"I know you're not telling me you didn't like the ones we had. You ate your share." He loved people who weren't shy about eating.


"I did like it. But...how much time do we have to try anything new? You or I or both of us may soon be dead."


"That sounded like me, not Picard."


"Yes, well, I am impressionable. Janeway always told me that."


He put in the pizza code and ordered two slices apiece because he knew he wanted more than just one and thought she probably did too. "Someday you'll have to tell me about her."


"If we survive this, maybe I will."


He pulled the pizza out of the replicator. "You should know that this combo almost got me banished from my family. Not approved for Chicago traditionalists." He handed her the plate with two square pieces, nicely dressed with ham and pineapple. "But I fell in love with it when I was in Hawaii. It's called Hawaiian Pizza, although it was invented in Canada, so go figure."


"Ah, you had this during your surfer days?" She made the Shaka symbol and looked cute doing it.


Shit, no, not cute. He did not think his first officer was cute.




He didn't think that, did he?


He realized his first officer, who wasn't just cute but also drop dead gorgeous, had put down her plate and pulled a phaser out. "You are not the captain."


"Fucking A, Hansen. Hang loose. Hang loose." And he made the symbol back frantically, looking, he thought, more desperate than appealing. "Shaka. All the codes. Fuck."


She put her phaser away with what looked like relief. "It is your secret code. You understand my alarm."


"I do. And good to know you'll do what's necessary." Certainly had taught him the dangers of overthinking how attractive he might or might not find her, Borg hardware and all. "Although you'd be captain if I wasn't me. Might be an attractive thought."


"You are growing on me."


"In a good way or like a fungus?"


"That remains to be seen." She picked up a piece and took a bite. "Mmmmm, I can see why this was worth banishment."


"Right?" He dug in now that he wasn't in imminent danger. "Should we bring some out for the crew?"


She nodded and kept eating. When she had finished, which was way before he was done—she could scarf down food with the best of them—she went to the replicator and asked, "Code for this one?"




She punched it in and then removed enough for the crew to have multiple pieces. "There is more than one variety of this?"


"Yeah there's one with garlic sour cream. To die for. But you're still a newbie so I went with the original. Maybe next time..." But she was right. There might not be a next time. "That one's code is LiamHawaiianGarlic. You know, just in case I don't make it."


"I have nothing memorable to give you in case I don't make it."


"Make me a list. Three things you think I do well, three things you think I suck at but don't know I suck at. That would be as good as pizza, Seven."


She smiled at what he'd called her—maybe at what he'd asked for too. Was he showing her too much of his sensitive side? "All right, sir."


"Liam's okay now. I mean if you still want to call me by my first name. We've run out of time for it to be too soon."


"I truly hope that isn't the case...Liam."


"So do I. I think we make a great team." He held up his last bite of pizza and she held up her coffee since her pizza was gone. "See, ironic toasting. I knew you'd get it."


"We should take this out to the crew." She met and held his eyes; he wasn't sure what the message was—if there even was one—but he didn't look away. Then she turned and he followed her. "Pizza is on the captain," she said, making the rounds to the various stations.


He suddenly realized T'Veen would not want the ham part of Hawaiian pizza, but Seven murmured, "Vegetarian version for you" as T'Veen relinquished the conn. She put the pizza back on his table and left the door open to the ready room, telling the bridge crew to: "Help yourself to more if you want."


"Well done," he said as she sat down next to him. "Too bad LaForge is missing this. Although I can't say I'm crying over Jack Crusher being off the bridge instead of here making googly eyes at her."


"I was not aware you had noticed that."


"When are you going to get that I notice everything?"


She leaned back and sipped from her mug. "I am beginning to get that."




She looked back at the table, a glint in her eye that he now knew meant she was still hungry.


"They don't know we already had some. Go get us more."


With a conspiratorial grin, she got up and was back a moment later with a slice for each of them.


"Danger makes me hungry," she said in between bites.


"Same." Or perhaps the waiting between danger did. He usually felt more nauseated than hungry during the really bad moments. It was how he gauged how dire a situation really was.


"You done or you want more?" he asked as she finished.


"I am done."


"Me too." He took her plate then pointed to her mug. "You want something different to drink too?"


"No. I think for now, I'll stick with the tried and true."


"Good call." He got them both refills and stood in his doorway for a moment, looking at his crew, the gorgeous ship he captained, the starstream on the viewscreen. 'Please let us all get through this," he whispered to God or the universe or whoever was willing to listen.


They had so many more adventures to go on. And he found himself wanting that. In a way he hadn't since Wolf 359. Picard had taken his zest for life away that day and now...now he just might have given it back.


Yeah, it really had been a seriously weird week.




Chapter 4


Seven stood, replaying all the things she could have—should have—done to prevent Vadic from taking the bridge. She glanced at Shaw as Vadic took his chair and sent her all-hands message, then turned the channel off before telling them whatever her secret was about Jack Crusher.


He met her eyes but she could not read the message. Was he disappointed in her? For not blowing the lift as he'd ordered?


A true Borg would have blown it in a nanosecond. One drone's life was not worth the safety of the collective. And she had not known that he was on the lift.


She had, however, guessed he was.


And that had stayed her hand. That and the panic of the people around her, people she wanted desperately to protect.


Again, a Borg would have followed orders. Individuals did not matter. If Shaw needed any further proof she was human, her failure today was it.


She tensed as Vadic walked over to her and ran her finger lightly against the Borg hardware over her eye. "You were once part of something approximating the great link. And you left it. Or were you torn from it the way I was torn from mine?"


She decided not to answer.


Vadic laughed softly. "Somedays, you wish you were back there. Be a good girl and help your captain up."


She did as instructed, easing him up but finding that he did most of the work himself but was hiding how strong he really was. Head wounds bled freely—they were deceptive. She could feel him tensing, as if to spring at Vadic, and whispered as she turned her head into him and readjusted her grip, "Do not."


He relaxed against her.


Vadic moved closer to them both. "I have it on good authority, Liam, that you and this former Borg aren't what anyone could call a good team. That you, in fact, dislike her intensely. It's why I'm going to make you two share a cell."


"Your mole tell you that?" he asked, anger clear in his voice.


Anger at Vadic or at her, for failing him?


"My mole who is no more." Vadic gestured for her guards to take them and the rest of the bridge crew away. "The brig for you now but know that I'd kill you if you might not be useful to me if I can't find that dear boy sooner rather than later." Then she looked at the guards. "After you put these ones in the brig, check deck by deck. Confine anyone you see that is not Crusher or his parents to quarters."


She stopped Seven from moving when she laid a palm against Shaw's chest. "Do you think that lovely boy will give himself up if I threaten to kill everyone on this ship?"


"I have no idea what he'll do." Disdain was in his voice—faux disdain, Seven thought. To make Vadic think that if he disliked Jack, Jack might return the favor? That threatening them would do nothing?


He needed to be careful. If they were not useful, they would be dead.


She was very glad Raffi was off the ship with Worf. That Vadic might not know of them or what they knew.


"Why did your forcefields fail to hold us?"


"This ship has been through hell," he said and Seven approved of not letting Vadic know that the Data/Lore synth was on the ship if she wasn't already aware of his presence. Because what he could screw up for the Titan crew, he could also screw up for Vadic.


"And nothing you'd like better than to go play with your poor battered engines instead of sitting on this bridge. I doubt you'll ever get to do either of those things again, Liam." She nodded to the guards."Get them out of here."


Shaw limped as they walked, making a big show of being badly hurt and since the guards did not try to hurry them, Seven thought they had no idea how a solid creature might or might not be injured. Once the forcefield was up in their cell and the guards gone, he eased away from her and went to the far side of the enclosure. "You had a gun on me? Why?"


"You know why. You were in the lift—only you I thought. And then they were there."


"I told you to blow the lift."


"I know. I..."She looked down.


"You froze?"


"Not precisely." She sat on the bench that also served as a bed. "I...I thought you might be in it."


He sat down too. "And I failed to double tap the changeling I shot. One shot and he was down and I walked on by as if that was enough. I'm a goddamned idiot."


"I am a scientist by nature. You are an engineer. We are perhaps not warriors?"


"I'd say that's a given." He studied her and then made the Shaka gesture very subtly.


She returned it just as subtly. "What exactly was I supposed to blow the lift with? In the seconds that I had between your order and its arrival at the bridge?"


"Okay, good point. This whole thing was a stupid fucking plan. Foolproof—yeah, sure, except for the synth that seems to have it out for us. I keep letting Picard tell us what to do and look what happens. My ship gets another ship thrown at it. Some portal weapon from hell boomerangs our own torpedos at us. Now we're boarded and in the brig. Fun fucking times." He grimaced and touched his forehead.


"Leave it alone. You will only make it start bleeding again."


He shrugged in a way she didn't like. As if maybe this was the final straw. "Any bright ideas for escape?"




"Yeah, me neither. What would Picard do?"


"Make a rousing speech to get your spirits back up?"


He laughed softly. "Fuck. That."


"I actually agree with you. The android should never have been brought back on line while we were conducting this operation."


"No shit." He put his head in his hand and then pulled away quickly. "Shit that hurts. Remind me not to get hurled face first into a turbo lift wall."


"If I had blown the lift, you would be dead. Ordering me to do it was actually very much a warrior's move."


"So I join the ranks of awesome starship captains? Not just the everyday ones that keep the Fleet moving?"


"It was brave."


"It was a hail fucking Mary play. And for the record, as it didn't blow up while I was on it, I also realized you didn't really have anything to blow it with."


"Still, you said it before you knew it would be an empty gesture of resistance. Brave."


"If you say so." He leaned back and closed his eyes. "Well, we are definitely off the field of play. Hopefully Picard can figure out a way to make the synth work for us and not against us."


"My hopes too." She leaned in to check his wounds. "You may have a concussion."


"My head is killing me. I mean the inside part as well as the outside."


"I let you fall." She had pulled her phaser, turned her back on the lift, in case he was a changeling. A ruse to get to the bridge. And behind her, the real changelings had formed.


"Hey. I'd have let me fall, too. I could have been one of them."


"So you would have let me fall if our roles were reversed?"


"No, probably not." He shrugged at her expression. "Injured crew rank high on my to intervene or not scale. Neither of us would have been right or wrong, just us. Let it go, Seven. This plan may have gone sideways, but that's not our fault."


"That will be comforting as we die."


"Jesus, you really do sound like me." He moved so he could sit against the wall and put his feet up, leaving her room to do the same on her side of the bench. "Might as well get comfortable."


"And do what?"


"I have no idea. Rest. Think. Be ready to move if they get us out."


She wanted to correct his if to when, but didn't have the energy for it. "You should sleep. I will wake you periodically to make sure your head wound is not more serious."


"Fat lot of good knowing that will do. Medical care for us is not high on Vadic's priorities."


"It will matter to me, Liam."


He gave her a half smile she found very appealing in how honest it was, how...sweet. "Thanks." He closed his eyes and was asleep in moments.


She watched him for a few minutes, then began to play back the scene on the bridge, trying to determine what she should have done differently.


So many things. But this went further than her or Shaw. She was seeing that Picard wasn't always right. That he lacked even Janeway's natural suspicion. They should have gotten better weapons from the arsenal. They should have had explosives—grenades or some other fast-acting countermeasure. They should not have been sitting on their asses assuming that this foolproof plan would work. They should have been prepared. Brought up more security—even if they were operating with a skeleton crew as it was.


Should have, should have, should have. Chakotay used to say should and ought were useless words. Words for looking back, not forward. She hadn't heard from him in so long.


She wondered if Janeway had. If she'd finally taken what she'd wanted.


Although Seven had always assumed what she wanted was her.


She glanced at Shaw. How had he seen so quickly what she had spent years hiding? What would he tell her about Raffi, if he spent any time with her? Of their future or lack thereof? Of basic compatibility, of shared goals. Of how trauma—of very different sorts—both bonded them and tore them apart?


"I miss you," she whispered across the silence to wherever Raffi was. "Stay safe."


Then she drifted into a meditation Tuvok had taught her—until worry for him knocked her out of it.


She felt panic filling her, a deep will to keep living warring with a feeling that they were not going to get out of this.


"You okay?" Shaw asked softly.


"You are supposed to be sleeping."


"I'm dozing. Who can sleep at a time like this?" He studied her. "Besides, maybe you don't want to be left alone at a time like this? Alone isn't your natural state, right?"


She nodded and looked down. "You need rest though."


"I'll rest when I'm dead." He shared a solemn look with her, and she knew he was where she was: wanting to live, resigned to death.


"Your ex. After all this, would you want them back? Would you try to get them back?"


He shook his head. "We weren't right for each other."


"Because you split up?"


"No, because we didn't, not for a long time. We just kept trying to make it work like it was assigned homework—an engineering problem we were damned well going to solve. Romance—love—it shouldn't be that hard."


"It has never been easy for me."


"Then maybe you haven't found the right person yet. Or maybe you did and never got to be with her. Is now the time to talk about Janeway?"


She shook her head.


"Are you thinking of getting back with Raffi? Or working harder if you haven't really split up. I'm a little unclear."


"You and I both. And yes, I am. I care for her."


"If you were Vulcan, I'd accept that. But 'care for' is a little weak for a human. Do you love her or not?"


"I love her. But I do not know if I love us together."


"Yeah, believe me, I get that." He was studying her in a way that didn't make her nervous. As if he just wanted to understand her better. Understanding was the key to successful coexistence. "You were really excited to be assigned to the Titan, weren't you?" At her nod, he sighed. "Until you met me."


"Yes. It was...sobering."


"I'm sorry. I'm not sure the man I was then would be, though. This whole experience—it's changed me."


"I think it will change us all. Especially if we survive it."


He laughed. "You want to give us odds on that?"


"I am abysmal at that."


"Or you're just saying that so you don't have to bum me out with the truth."


"Or that."


He leaned his foot out and pushed it against hers for a moment. 'Thanks."



Chapter 5


Shaw heard footsteps coming down the hall and roused, meeting Seven's eyes. "I don't know what's going to happen. This may be it. But Vadic seemed to get a real kick out of us not getting along. Let's play that out. I may be...harsh."


Her expression didn't change. "I will be harsh back."




"Okay," she murmured and for the first time he saw a crack in her take-no-prisoners exterior—she was afraid too.


"It'll be okay, Seven."


"We don't know that." But she smiled. "You're throwing me a bone using my name."


"Just getting used to it. Thought that was what you wanted." He tried to give her a devil-may-care smile but that really wasn't him. So he settled for a supportive one that he let slide away into grimness when the changelings dropped the forcefield and motioned them forward.


They led them to the bridge, lined them up. He knew what this was. A fucking firing squad. Or maybe some sick form of Russian roulette to get Jack Crusher up to the bridge.


It took all his strength not to leap at Vadic when she giggled in his face, to wipe that sick smile off her face even if she killed him for it. But he managed to hold himself back.


And had to do it again, when she sat in his chair, when she snorted like some demented child.


He took a deep breath, making sure Vadic was still watching when he glared at Seven.


She looked pissed. "Don't give me that look. I won't apologize."


"You should have blown the turbo lift." He tried to be harsh, but there was something else in his voice he didn't mean to be there.


Her voice was just as gentle. "But I didn't. And I'd make the same decision again." She seemed to realize they weren't really selling the whole "being at odds" shtick. Her voice was much harsher as she said, "I draw the line at trading lives."


"You are a Starfleet officer." He met her eyes, trying to make her see he meant that. When before he might not have. Might have been suspicious of where her true allegiance lay. "You don't have the luxury to only make choices that feel hunky-dory." He could not imagine her ever using the term "hunky-dory." He hoped the rest of the bridge crew realized what they were doing. That he was not taking possibly their last minutes to berate his first officer.


She turned away, making a scoffing noise. And also checking out the bridge, the positions of the changelings, what panels were in reach and if they were operational.


He knew she was doing it because he was doing it too and Seven and he were, he was finding, an awful lot alike. "Everything has consequences."


"Consequences like saving your life?"


"Commander Hansen—"


"My name is Seven of Nine." Her eyes, so much emotion in them that he almost reached out, wanted to but this was not the game they were playing.


"Consequences that haven't happened yet." He wasn't sure what he was trying to tell her. Except that maybe, just maybe, she had doomed them by being not Borg enough. Irony. Fucking goddamn irony. "Not just to you or me, but to the entire ship."


She looked away. He couldn't read her, couldn't tell if he'd been too harsh even though he'd warned her. Even though this message was also for his crew. They had to do what was right. Even if it meant he or Seven died while they did it. That was the message he was getting across to everyone—or hoping he was.


And Seven's message was just as clear. If they survived this, call her Hansen at your own risk.


Vadic started talking, making it clear to Crusher what he risked by not coming up.


Would he come up? Shaw had no idea. But now Vadic was—fuck, she was choosing which of them to kill. And playing it out like a cat with a dying mouse.


There were no words for how much he fucking hated this ugly-ass changeling.


She was walking up and down, studying them with a grin, when—what the fuck was Mura doing? Oh, it wasn't Mura it was Crusher inside him. Just when he thought they'd reached optimum weird, Crusher found another level to aspire to. What the everloving fuck?


Seven glanced at him and he didn't react. He did not want Vadic to know he cared as much about his first officer's life as he did anyone else on the bridge crew. It would keep her safe. For a while, anyway.


Until Vadic had her guards push Esmar down and she exploded, trying to get to them, saying, "Let them go. You want to do this? Take me."


"Hansen," he said, pulling her back. He was not protecting her this hard for her to give her life.


He also knew he should be the one saying what she was, the one stepping forward. She was braver than he was. More a warrior.


But then he'd always known that. You don't survive being a Fenris Rangers in the area she chose to work unless you are also very, very dangerous.


"Hansen," he whispered, wanting to call her Seven, wanting to tell her it was all right, that it was okay to stand by and—


When did it become okay to stand by and fucking watch, though? "There is nothing—nothing you can do."


"He's right," Vadic said as she began playing with them again, keeping Esmar on their knees, quizzing Mura on who might love him, then striding behind Esmar, her weapon at the back of their head, Esmar weeping.


But then Vadic turned and shot T'Veen, who vanished in front of them.


His friend. His hand-picked science officer. What the hell was he going to tell her parents? "I stood by while the daughter you and Starfleet entrusted to me was murdered"?


Or would there be anyone left to even tell them that? There was no way Picard and Doctor Crusher were letting their son come up to the bridge.


Until suddenly, just as Vadic decided to up the timetable on killing another of them, the lift opened and Crusher fucking strolled out. With some kind of...grenade? Shaw wasn't sure what it was. And he was trading his life for theirs.


He still didn't know how long their lives would be, but he nodded at Jack and followed the others into the ready room. He turned to see Seven turn back. "Hansen, what are you doing."


"Accepting the consequences," she said, meeting his eyes. Judgment in hers, but he wasn't sure if it was for him or for herself.


"Seven," he said silently, as the doors closed her away from him.


He stood for a moment, then turned to his crew. Expecting to see anger or disappointment on their faces. He was the captain. He should have died, not T'Veen.


But they just looked spent. Like they also suspected this was less a reprieve and more just a pause before dying.


"I'm sorry," was all he could think to say. For not acting to save them. For T'Veen. For letting Seven go back to the bridge.


For not being one of those heroic captains like Picard or James T. Kirk. For just being him. "I'm so fucking sorry."




He sat on the biobed, letting Ohk work on him. "Glad to have your sickbay back?"


She nodded.


"You're still my favorite doctor."


"And a bit of a humbler one, too. Sometimes...sometimes we rely too much on the instruments."


"I hear that."


"You need sleep, Liam."


"T'Veen... All the others. I'll just have nightmares. Again."


"I think we all will for a while. There's no shame in that." She looked at the entrance and said, "He's all yours, Commander Hansen."


"Seven," he said before Seven had to. "She goes by Commander Seven."


Ohk smiled. "Okay. But shouldn't it be Command Of Nine?" She turned and walked to another patient before Seven could answer.


He grimaced. "Now that's just stupid."


Seven nodded as she walked toward him, her smile...different. "You look better."


"I feel better. And I don't."


"I fully understand that." She did not look away. "How much of what we said did we mean?"


"I think it's clear that you're the warrior, not me."


"But I'm also Starfleet. Just like Mura. And..." She closed her eyes. "T'Veen. She didn't even see it coming. There was that minuscule turn; I registered it and if I'd had a weapon, I would have fired. But I had no weapon and now she's gone. I assimilated so many, and yet this death will haunt me, Liam."


"No. You tried to stop it. I was the one who didn't."


"You were pragmatic."


"I was a fucking coward."


"We will disagree on that, it seems." She moved closer. "Thank you for letting me give the order."


"That rage had to go somewhere."


"I do not like to let it out."


He touched her arm for a moment. "I get that. Believe me. Because if you do..."


"You might never get it back in." She touched his face. "She missed a spot."


"Oh, I asked her to. It's a good place for a scar. Very sexy."


She laughed softly.


"Even if I am a coward."


"I accomplished nothing by going back onto the bridge. Absolutely nothing. Except..." She moved closer. "Vadic said it was appropriate that it was I who was there when Jack's secret came out. What makes me unique?"


"Oh fuck me." He shook his head. "The goddamned Borg—he's one of them?"


"I don't understand how he could be. Except that his father was pulled from the collective. And then had a child. I'm not sure that's ever happened before."


"Drones are freed every now and then. Reintegrated. I'm sure some have had kids." But Picard wasn't just a drone. A drone doesn't get a name. "But not a Locutus-level Borg is what you're saying?"


"Yes. That is what I'm saying."


"I don't understand any of this. Please make it make sense. You're so fucking good at that."


She shrugged, the most helpless shrug she'd ever given him. "Picard and his...people have taken over your ready room."


He couldn't tell if she was more angry on his behalf or because she had thought she was one of Picard's people too. "I know. I'm getting used to having very little control of my things while he's aboard."


"It's not right to not include us. The Titan isn't a taxi service. And what we've lost on this—we deserve to be in there."


He realized she was about to cry; he would have laid odds before all this that she was incapable of that. "Hey." He took hold of her arms and shook her gently. "You're pissed as hell and I get that. And it's okay. When this is over and they're gone, we'll throw a fucking party." He frowned. Wrong tone given all that had gone wrong, all that had been lost. "Not a party. But you get it. The ship will be ours again."


She crossed her arms, laying her hands over his, squeezing hard. "When it's over. We start again."


"We start again."


A loud cough sounded at the door. He saw Raffi standing there.


She did not look happy. "Can I have a word?"


"Later," Seven said, letting go of him and walking quickly to the door and her. "One of us needs to be on the bridge. You and I will talk later." She looked back at him, gave him a strange smile, and then pretty much fled.


Raffi studied him for an uncomfortably long moment. "So, you're the dick who doesn't like ex-Borg."


"So, you're the ex-girlfriend."


She smiled in the way predators do before they fucking maul you to death. "I think things have changed for you two."


"Yeah, a crisis will do that." The way she was looking at him was pissing him off. Did he not have enough bullshit to deal with without attitude over the way he and Seven were actually forging a pretty nice working relationship? He let some of his raw Chicago dipshit out. "You got a problem with that?"


She walked closer, her arms over her chest. "I used to see it happen. That look you were giving her. Only it was strangers, just mostly checking her out. But I know what that look means."


"Well, fill me in because I was just talking to my first officer."


"I think it was a little more than that."


"Really? You know, it's easy to see why you broke up if you're always this suspicious."


"See, the old me would have run with that. Gotten mad. Told you off. But Worf is actually rubbing off on me. Think first, Raffaela. Notice the absence. And I did. You're deflecting, not answering my question. You have feelings for her." Then something changed in her face. The badass dropped away.


"Wait, you think she has feelings...for me back? Oh, no. She fucking hated me. I mean with good reason because I was pretty much a supreme asshole. But no, whatever we have now, it's just..."


"Yeah, I heard you the first time. The crisis."


"The crisis."


"If we get through this alive, I intend to get her back."


"Uh, okay." What the hell was he supposed to do with that? Challenge her to a duel or something. She'd clearly been hanging out with that Klingon for way too long.


"Don't get in my way."


"Don't threaten me on my own ship." He'd really had enough of this whole fucking week.


Raffi got in his face—wow she had interesting eyes. Amber? Hazel? He sort of felt he could get lost in them. "Wait—are you checking me out?"


"Just your eyes. Really awesome color."


"Yeah, I know." But she was clearly thrown. "I'm not into men. Well, except that I was married to one. And those other times I was with men—this is not where I wanted our conversation to go."


"For the record, I was not hitting on you. I just have weird eyes and I like to look at other people with rare colors."


She got closer. "Gray?"




"Arresting eyes, I won't deny it." She backed up suddenly. "We are getting so off track."


"Do you want to come up to the bridge and glare at me there? I'd invite you to my ready room for some coffee but Picard has taken it over with his people."


He saw the same look on her face that he had on Seven's.


"Why don't we get a coffee here, from Ohk's lovely replicators. We can bring Seven one."


"You know how she likes her coffee?" She sounded pissed again.


"I know how all my bridge crew take—took their coffee." Even T'Veen, who had loved the stuff even though Vulcans normally didn't.


"I'm sorry. So much goddamned death."


"Amen, sister." He pushed off the biobed and walked to the replicator. "And how do you take yours?"


"Wouldn't you like to know." When he started to say something, she held up her hand. "Uh uh. Don't try to charm me."


"I'm pretty sure I'm incapable of that. Ask your ex how charming I can be."


"I actually think I'd rather not."


She waited until he had gotten his and Seven's coffee before putting her order in, blocking the screen with her body.


He respected that. Knowledge was power.


They rode the lift in silence, but she followed him off it, didn't try to be the first off to his bridge on his ship. "Brought you some company, Commander."


Seven looked a little worried.


Raffi just stared at the closed ready room door. "Why the hell aren't we in there? Haven't we earned it?"


It was the right thing to say. Seven's face grew tight but not in an "I'm mad at my ex and the dipshit who thought it was a good idea to invite her onto the bridge" way. "I do not know. I guess, when the chips are down, we are not really his crew."


"Well, you're mine," he said, taking his chair. "Or one of you is anyway." He studied Raffi. "You like working intel?"


She nodded.




"But..." She actually smiled and shrugged, clearly getting that he was asking her if she'd consider coming back to a ship—to his ship. He'd taken a look at the casualty list while he was in sickbay. He was down people in every section, including security.


"But what?" Seven's voice was sharp.


Shit, what was he doing, getting in the middle of this?


You would think, after the shithole of a week they'd had, that he would know better. "But nothing, Commander. But nothing."



Chapter 6


Shaw mentally cursed himself for bringing Raffi up to the bridge as the tension between the two women ratcheted up silently but unrelentingly. "Would one of you like my chair so I don't feel like I'm getting in the way of a meaningful talk?"


Seven glared at him—in a manner way worse than she ever had before this little adventure—and stood. "I have something I need to do. Alone." And then, again, she fled.


"I'm not gonna ask," he muttered as the doors to the lift closed behind her.


"It's complicated," Raffi murmured but she actually relaxed in her chair finally. "I'm sure she said the same."


"Pretty much yeah."


"Were you serious? If I read your question right? About other opportunities? Here maybe?"


"I was. But..."


"Yeah. But." She looked at the lift. "I'd have to work for her and she won't even talk to me."


"Yeah. I kind of try to avoid awkward."


"And I kind of like working with Worf, to be honest. I'm...learning. A lot. Not just about intelligence, but about myself."


He nodded. Not just because he could see she believed what she was saying—not just giving him an out—but because he thought he was learning a lot about himself working with Seven.


All the light went out of her eyes. "But Seven doesn't see that. We...we can't seem to cross the bridge from exes to even friends." She met his eyes. "I do want her back. But I miss my friend as much as my girl, you know?"


"I do. I totally fucking do. Maybe I can help." He hit a switch on his chair. "Location of Commander Seven?"


"There is no Commander Seven on board."


"Fuck. I need to fix that."


Raffi gave a mocking little laugh. "HR has to do it. Which will take a long, long time."


He started to grin. "How long do you think that Data guy's reach is? All the way to HR?"


"Worth a shot."


"Yeah. I'll talk to him. Once he and rest are out of their super secret tree fort in my fucking office." He hit the button on his chair again. "Location of Commander Hansen."


"Commander Hansen is in Lieutenant T'Veen's quarters."


"Shit." He sighed and met Raffi's eyes.


"The person you lost up here? The one Vadic shot?"


He nodded. "She's drowning in guilt when it's me who should be. But she doesn't want to listen. She's also very pissed off. So, umm, watch yourself." He keyed in a code and gestured to the lift. "Deck six, quarters 45. I've keyed you access."


"Thank you. You're nicer than I expected."


"Don't spread it around." He studied her. "Do you think you could work efficiently here if she doesn't ever let you back in, even as a friend?"


"I want to say yes. But...I don't know. I think it might..."


"Destabilize her?"


"Her? No. But your ship, the way it functions, yes. Fun fact, when she turns her back on you, she doesn't turn it back."


"Don't underestimate her. She gets a certain look when she talks about you."


"She talked about me?"


"I'm not going to tell you what she said."


"Good. That's good. Both she and I value a loyal and discreet friend." She stood. "I'm going to have to implicate you though on how I knew where she was."


"That's fine." Maybe Seven was raw enough to either reach for what she'd had or finally end it. He thought Raffi had no idea how much of a half-world the woman she said was unavailable was living in emotionally. "Now go. Figure shit out."


"Thanks. I won't forget this. If you ever need anything."


"I'll let you know."




Seven stood in the middle of T'Veen's quarters. She had never been in them. She'd expected them to remind her of Tuvok's, but they didn't.


She could imagine what he would say. That it was illogical to project one Vulcan's preferences on all Vulcans.


Feeling a surge of panic, she sat down at the desk, breathing slowly, the way he had taught her when she was overwhelmed. Was he dead? Gone the way T'Veen went, a burst of disruptor fire and then sparks?


And what of Janeway? She swallowed hard. She'd lived all these years...wanting. Waiting for someone who she knew she could never have. She'd taken the next best thing. But she and Chakotay had lasted just slightly longer than she and Raffi had.


She closed her eyes and breathed in T'Veen's incense. What she did or did not have with Janeway was irrelevant. The woman she needed to give up might not even exist anymore. Surely the changelings had taken her too? They'd gone everywhere else.


The door opened, and she turned, seeing Raffi standing outside.


"Hi. Shaw told me where you were."


"Of course he did." She stood and took a last look around the room then joined Raffi in the corridor, letting the door close behind her. "We owe her better than to air our personal business in her private space."


"Look, we don't have to air anything. We don't have to fix anything, Seven. Or even try. Maybe what's past is past. But I just...I just hate this abyss between us. I reach but my hand doesn't get very far."


"I was not aware you wanted it to. Did you not tell me you were an all or nothing type of person?"


"Were you not already walking out the door when I said that?" She seemed to take the same kind of steadying breath that Seven had been doing. "I miss my friend."


Seven wasn't sure what to say. They'd barely known each other when they'd embarked on a relationship. So little common ground to build on. Then again, she'd been with a man who'd actually been part of a collective, if one cut off from the main Borg. A man she'd served with for years. And that had gone wrong too. If there was a secret formula to happiness, it would not seem to depend on length of association or common ground.


"Okay, sure. Just stand there. It's fine." Raffi turned.


"No." She grabbed her arm and pulled her in. "I am glad you're safe. I'm sorry things are as they are."


"But you're not going to change them, are you?"


"Not right now. We're in the middle of this and—"


"I don't mean right now. I mean ever."


"Why must you always push?"


"Why can't you ever pull? Even just a little. So I wasn't always the one making the steps into enemy territory?"


"You sound like Worf."


"Yeah, well he's pretty wise, so that's not a bad thing in my book."


"Well, perhaps he will pull, Raffaela."




Seven looked down. She had not meant to say that.


"Are you...jealous? Of Worf?" She sounded delighted instead of angry.


"Possibly. Should I be?"


Raffi smiled in a way Seven could not read, a way she hadn't smiled before this latest mission. "I'll let you figure that out. As Worf says, sometimes the wisest path is the one that leaves them wanting. Besides, you've got your slightly tarnished new plaything."


Seven raised an eyebrow.


"Shaw. Tall guy. Gorgeous eyes. Potentially charming person under the jerk exterior."


"I do not have him." She tried to see if Raffi was just striking out, picking the nearest target—the man Seven had detested but now...but now... She could fill her eyes tearing up—but why?


What was wrong with her? Why couldn't she blow the lift as he'd ordered? She should be in his quarters now, apologizing to the memory of him, but knowing she'd saved the rest of the crew.


And Raffi wouldn't be with her. No one would be on the bridge to tell her where Seven had been hiding from the fact that T'Veen and the rest were dead because she had wanted Shaw to live.


She took a long shuddering breath that turned into a sob.


"Baby, come here."


She didn't argue. She just let Raffi pull her in until she could lose herself in her, until she could close her eyes and inhale her scent and just be...safe. "I've...made...choices..." She quit trying to talk, nothing was going to come out right. She barely understood what she was feeling.


"Hey, shhhh. You're overwhelmed and with good reason. It's okay. I mean we may die soon, but you're going to be okay until then." She eased away and put her hands on either side of Seven's face. "And it's okay if you're moving on to him."


"I don't know that I am. But..."


"But there's something there. I know. I saw it when you two were talking in sickbay. I do want you to be happy. I'd rather it were with me but if you really are moving on, I'll deal with it. I'm learning how to do that. You could probably use a session or two with Worf too, to be honest."


Seven pulled her to her, kissing her, trying to erase the idea of moving on—of moving anywhere, especially to anything else that could hurt her. And for a moment, Raffi let her, and then she pushed her away, shaking her head.


"No. Not like this. Maybe, when this is done, we can figure this out. Right now, we need to be focused."


"Usually I am the one saying that."


"I know. Strange days."


"Very." She grabbed Raffi's hand. "Please stay safe." She knew there was a desperation in her voice she didn't normally let show.


She could tell Raffi heard it too. "You too. I'm going to go see if Worf is out of the super secret meeting. You should go back to the bridge." She patted the door to T'Veen's quarters. "Not back in here."


"Yes. You go first. I have run away from you enough times, I think. It should be your turn to leave me."


Raffi's smile was beautiful. "Thank you."


Seven waited until she was out of sight before heading for the lift and taking it back to the bridge. She didn't meet Shaw's eyes as she sat down next to him.


"You okay?" he murmured.


"Mmm hmmm." She could tell he was looking at her now.


"Look if you two, you know, made up with a quickie, that's great."


"There was no quickie."


"Oh. Okay. It's just your makeup's a little smeared."


He'd noticed that? He really did see everything. "I was crying. Briefly. A moment of weakness."


"It's okay to cry." He touched her arm softly and just for a moment.


She turned to him, pitched her voice to where only he could hear it. "All these people are dead because I didn't blow the lift. If it had been anyone else in it—"


"I know. I wouldn't have blown it if you'd been on it." He was not looking away, his gaze as relentless as Chakotay's had been but somehow different. Somehow less open, more damaged.


More like her. "Is that true? You're not just saying that to make me feel less guilty?"


"It's true."


"Could you have blown up any of the crew?"


"I don't know. But...maybe. To save the rest. My one goal as captain is to keep my crew safe." He sighed. "This isn't all on you. How many of our people were taken off when Ro came aboard? Do you think they're alive still? That's on me. I was so proud of myself for notifying Starfleet. So happy to see Picard and Riker and you get punished. Why?" His breathing changed and she recognized where he was going emotionally and reached over and let her hand rest on his for a moment. He didn't even flinch at the Borg hardware on her hand, just put his other hand over it.


She glanced around, making sure no one was able to hear them. T'Veen would have been, but now..."Liam, you didn't know."


"And you didn't know what would happen if you didn't blow that lift. At least you did what you did because you didn't want me dead. I was just being petty."


"You're not the same man that did that."


"Maybe not. But I still have to live with it. What about you? Have you changed?"


"I feel...I feel like I've found a home again. It's been so long since Voyager. Since I really belonged anywhere."


"Is that fair to Raffi? I think she really loves you."


"I was Borg. I need more, I think. I need..."


"A collective of your own."


She nodded. "I can't live for just one person."


"Yeah. That's what I had to tell my person too. That I was never going to be there the way they needed."


"Trauma defines us."


"That it does." He did something on the controls of his chair then stood. "I'm feeling pretty fucking defined right about now. Come on. Let's take back our goddamned ready room."


She followed him to the closed doors, had to bite back a laugh as he hit the access panel and the doors slid open.


Picard barely glanced at him. "Oh, Shaw, we're not finished in here."


"Yeah. Yeah, you are. I've booked you all a conference room on Deck Four." When they didn't move, he clapped his hands so loudly it made her jump. "Up and at 'em, people. Get the fuck out of my office."


And suddenly they were heading for the doors at the far end of the room, not even grumbling.


"God damn that felt good."


She couldn't help it. She started to laugh. "So much for your idol thinking you're nice."


"He'll get over it or he's not my idol. I guess. Or, yeah, he'll hate me." He took a deep breath and began to almost giggle. "Holy shit, did I just do that?"


"I guess we are having that party. Should I get the pizza?"


"Damn straight."


She walked to the replicator, ordered the Hawaiian they'd enjoyed before and handed him the platter, then followed him out to the bridge.


He stood where everyone could see him. "Okay, so, T'Veen really liked this pizza. The vegetarian version anyway, but she had multiple pieces so I know that this is a good way to honor her. And everyone else we've lost. I don't... I don't know what's going to happen. I'm shitty at giving rousing pep talks, as you all know. But I can promise you this: no captain has ever, ever been prouder of his crew than I am of you." He was tearing up.


She was too.


"So dig in and let's ride this out the way we rode in. As a team. As a family." He swallowed visibly. "If we survive this, drinks are on me in the holodeck."




"Yes, LaForge?"


"Could we have a different default on the holodeck?"


"For real? You don't want Ten-Forward."


Mura laughed and shook his head. "We thought you liked it, sir."


"God no. I hate that place. Well, yeah. We can do that." He smiled at her and began to pass out the pizza.


Seven went back to her chair, but he motioned her to follow him into the ready room.


"I'm going to get your records changed from Commander Hansen to Commander Seven. HR has to do it. Unless Data can. I plan to ask him if he will once this is over. I'd do it now but I don't want to spoil whatever Picard is planning by trying to make it right for you and alerting Starfleet when Section 31's prize possession hacks into it." He took a piece of pizza and held it up. "Okay?"


"Yes. And thank you. Also, that was a really good speech." She took a piece and toasted back.






He put his pizza down. "You want to try the garlic? We may not have another chance." His grin was one she'd never seen before.


One she could get very fond of. "Yes. I do."




Seven stood in the quarters that were now hers. She'd told the quartermaster to hold off clearing out Shaw's things because she wanted a moment alone with what was left of her captain.


As soon as she'd walked into his quarters, she'd heard a beeping start but was having trouble finding the source. Then she realized it was coming from where he kept his wine stash.


She opened the drawer and saw a small holo message disk sitting on top of the wine. When she picked it up and touched the activator button, Shaw appeared. He still had the wounds from the encounter with the changelings in the lift, so he must have made this before he'd gone to sickbay.


"So, I guess I didn't make it, huh?"


"No," she whispered.


"But it makes me really happy to think that you did. No one else could have gotten this to open. And if they'd forced it, it would have self-destructed. This is for us, Seven. No one else." His face was so gentle, so at peace. Like he'd known this would happen.


And like he really was happy that she'd survived.


"So the Malbec's yours. And I hope to God the ship is too. And opening this triggered a protocol that will send you all my replicator codes. I hope—I hope you'll think of me when you try the dishes. They're really fucking good. Other than Gram's Green Bean Casserole. That thing is heinous but it reminds me of holidays so I kept it in there. But you might want to avoid it."


Or she might not. A holiday with him sounded like it would have been nice.


"I uh...I really regret the time we lost. The time I made us lose. But it is what it is. I can't travel back in time to do it over. Even if I really fucking wish now that I could."


She brushed her eyes, blinking furiously.


"I'm Mister By the Book. You know that. Go to a dictionary and look up anal retentive and it says, 'See Liam Shaw.'"


She laughed.


"I never approved of relationships between captain and first officer. But—and I have no idea if you would even have wanted this so I'm glad I'm too dead to report to HR—I would have gone after you when this was all over. With all guns blazing. You would have seen a different side of me. What little charm I have would have been yours."


She sank to the floor and gently touched the hologram.


"This whole thing has made me feel like I had a future again, for the first time since Wolf 359. And I really would have liked if that future could have been with you."


"Me too." She was crying. She didn't try to stop it this time.


"Okay, so"—he wiped his eyes and threw back his head, the way he always did, as if he could throw off any strong emotion—"take care of my crew. And my ship. And enjoy the fuck out of the wine and food. And you'll be a really good captain. I know you will." He held up his hand, made their secret signal, and said, "Shaka, Seven. Maybe, if there's really an afterlife, I'll see you there someday."


"Shaka, Liam." She didn't think it was in her nature to believe in an afterlife.


But for him, she'd try.