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.

Cowboys and Bureaucrats

by Djinn



Seven sat in a bar in a less than savory part of LA, waiting for Commander Mercer, who was a half hour late. Considering he called this little tete-a-tete and picked the venue, she was annoyed.


She gave him five more minutes then rose, but heard, "Commander Hansen?"


The name grated on her. Why the hell had she let Picard convince her to go with her birth name when she was commissioned into Starfleet?


"You'll seem less Borg, Seven," he'd said.


She would never seem less Borg. It was written on her face: literally.


Why had Janeway backed him up when Seven had gone to her for a second opinion? "It's time to leave Seven of Nine behind. We probably should have done that in the Delta Quadrant and saved you this. Embrace who you were born to be. Annika Hansen."


She sat back down and Mercer slid into the opposite side of the booth. "You're late."


"Not by much. Jesus, you're as bad as Shaw."


"It is 'bad' to expect someone to be on time?"


"I'm doing you a solid, Hansen. How about shutting it and letting me get on with it."


She made the hand signal she had learned from watching Janeway—the one that meant: "Please, by all means continue to bury yourself" but Mercer, as she expected, missed the nuance.


"I saw you'd been appointed to the Titan. In my old job. I wanted to give you some info about your new boss."


"All right."


"He hates Borg."


"He chose me."


"Nyah, he had you pushed down his throat, and you'll pay for that."


"How do you know this? Who is your source?" Chakotay had taught her the necessity of determining sources—reliability and actual access.


"My source is I know him. And he's an asshole. I will probably never see captain because of him."


"You left your slot short of tour."


"Yeah, because he's an asshole. You wait and see. You'll be out of that seat fast too. Yamashita told me he was a stand-up guy when I replaced her, but she was fucking lying. I don't want that to happen to you."


She didn't think Mercer gave a rat's ass about her. She thought he was trying to get back at Captain Shaw. "I see." She stood. "Thank you for the information."


"You were a Fenris ranger, right?"


She lifted an eyebrow.


"The opposite of by the book."


"Not necessarily."


"Pfff." He patted the seat next to him. "Come on, sit down here, and let me tell you why he hates the Borg."


She sat, but across from him. "I'm listening."


"He's one of the survivors of Wolf 359."


She would not have suspected that of him. When he interviewed her, he was the picture of professionalism. "Are you sure he hates Borg? Perhaps he just did not like you, Commander." She'd dealt with enough like him, usually snitches, low level criminals who were as likely as not to get caught in the act of whatever scheme they had going.


She was tired of him already. Had been tired of his kind long before she'd quit the Rangers. She rose, paid for her drink at the bar, and left Mercer calling after her, "You'll be sorry, Annika Hansen."


She was sorry—that she'd agreed to meet him.




Seven walked into the temporary quarters she'd been given during OCS, and heard her terminal beeping. She hurried to it and saw it was Captain Yamashita. "Seven here," she said as she sat in the swivel chair.


"Did I catch you at a bad time?" Yamashita's smile was apologetic.


"I was just getting in. But it's fine."


"You want to know about Shaw, don't you?"


She nodded.


"Best captain I ever served under. Keeping people safe matters to him." She cocked her head. "Does it matter to you? I know you were on Voyager, but you didn't move to Starfleet until now?"


Seven tensed. Didn't move to? More like had the door slammed shut in her face and was finally allowed entrance. "You think that because I was a Ranger, I do not prioritize the safety of others?"


"Yes, I do wonder about that. That's not a team activity, is it?"


"Usually not." She leaned in. "You realize you're asking a former drone if she can play well with others, right?"


Yamashita laughed. "God, I am, aren't I? And you were a valued member of the crew of Voyager—I was on Admiral Paris's staff, just a lieutenant then, when you were debriefed."


"Then you know what we went through."


"What you went through, especially. As a former Borg."


"Will Captain Shaw hold that against me. What I was. What I still...am, to some extent."


"Why would he?" She was immediately on guard and Seven respected the loyalty and caution she was showing.


"Mercer has a big mouth."


Her lips tightened. "That wasn't his story to tell."


"I left before he told most of it."


"Thank you for that. Liam Shaw is a good man. He won't hold something you had no control over against you. But he's not, I think, what you're used to. Not a Rios. Not a Picard. Definitely not a Janeway."


"Well, who is?"


Yamashita laughed. "True. He values honesty. He values hard work. He values opinions and ideas. He values loyalty. And he values officers who look out for others."


"And the places I shouldn't step? Other than Wolf 359?"


"I think those might be different for everyone. You seem smart enough to figure that out on your own."


"I am intelligent. But sometimes I fail to read people correctly." Like Bjayzl, for life-shattering example. But she'd changed a lot since she'd lost Icheb. The last part of her that was...innocent had died the day she'd had to kill her son.


"He's a good man. Truly. He's also a challenging one. Find the places you gel, and ignore the places you don't. That's the best advice I can give you. And fuck Mercer."


"Yes, fuck him."




She was unaccountably nervous as she rode the lift to the bridge. When she exited, several people looked up and smiled.


"Welcome Commander Annika Hansen to our happy little family here." Shaw got up from the big chair and took her around, introducing her to each member of the bridge team. "That's enough names for now. I'll take you around to the department heads tomorrow. Yesterday was our staff meeting or you'd have met them that way."


"I'm sorry. Connections getting here were—"


"Shit. As they always seem to be these days. Don't worry about it. Command arranged them and did a piss poor job—not your fault." He pointed to one of the seats next to the big chair. "That's yours. When I give you the conn, you can sit in my chair if it gives you a happy but don't you dare adjust the settings."


She laughed. "I wasn't aware they had settings."


"No getting anything over on you. Smart cookie." He led her into his ready room. "The doors are normally open." He pointed to the replicator. "So long as the doors are open, anyone can come in here to use that. And we generally have food on the table."


"My mother sent those cookies," someone yelled and she heard Shaw murmur, "That was Mura."


"Thank you, Lieutenant." She looked at Shaw for guidance on the food—had always found that to be the best way to avoid something bad.


"Go for it. They're delicious." He walked to the replicator. "Coffee? I'm having some."


"Yes. Black with sugar." She took one of the cookies and bit into it. "Mmmm."


"I know. We love his mom's cooking. Any particular bean?" He laughed at her expression. "Oh, I forgot you've been operating in the hinterlands or following Picard around. We've got way too many options."


"I'd appreciate a suggestion. The options when I was a Ranger were often fresh or days old."


"I'd go with Costa Rican. Smooth but not boring."


"Sounds fine."


He put the cup down and sat across from her at the table with his. "You're going to have the conn quite a bit. I'm working with Engineering a lot on the continuing refits."


"All right."


"Are you nervous?"


"What sane person wouldn't be?"


"Good answer." He seemed to be studying her. "You did quite a bit of engineering work on Voyager, right?"


"I did. It's been some time, though, since I've had that opportunity."


"Still." He moved his coffee over and pulled up a schematic on the table.


It took her a moment to orient herself to what she was seeing, but then she got up and walked around to his side. She stopped at a node she was not sure the use for.


"Yeah, I know." He grinned. "Redundant system backups."


"Why there?" She traced the lines of the structure around it. "Oh, a pulse couldn't get through this. It's like a Faraday cage. But..."


He was grinning as she nudged him aside so she could see another section of the area. "Yeah, it's double enclosed. We may have some common ground, Commander."


"I think we may." She pointed at a junction box. "This is problematic."


"What makes you say that?" He sounded like he knew exactly why it was.


So she looked at the date on the schematic. "Because it's going to arc if the ship takes a hit to the port nacelle."


He laughed.


"You've updated this, I take it."


He did something and another schematic replaced the one she'd been looking at.


"Yes, this is better."


"Maybe we'll let Mura have the conn and we can go walk the schematic. Nothing like seeing it for real instead of on a table."


"I wouldn't say no to that."




Seven made her way to Shaw's dining room.


He looked up and waved her in. "So, first week done."


"Yes, and I have the weekly highlights, sir." Then she realized what he was eating and stared at his plate, trying not to salivate at the blue steak.


"That isn't a look of horror, Hansen." He pointed to the stasis tray. "There's another one in there if you want."


"I couldn't. It's for you."


"Actually, it's not. I'm not sure why the new cook sends two up. But he makes them so well I don't complain."


"And they taste just as good for breakfast."


"Indeed they do."


She grinned as she released the tray and took the plate. "I love this stuff."


"Ditto. Aren't many who aren't grossed out by it, though." He indicated she should take the chair on his right, so she did. He poured her some wine after asking, "You drink Malbec?" and she nodded.


"Sir, I was Borg. I have so many assimilated memories inside me—cravings that were never mine to begin with. I'm not sure I can be grossed out by food."


"Useful." He frowned. "What about gagh?"


"Not a favorite, but I can eat it without issue."


"Handy. You'll be on Klingon duty then, Hansen." He smiled and it was an easy expression.


It made her brave. "Sir, if it's not too much trouble, I prefer Seven of Nine."


He frowned. "Your file says Annika Hansen."


"I know. But it's not a name I use."


"Then why does your file say that? Starfleet goes by what you told them in the first place." He didn't sound mean, just curious.


She sighed and took a bite of steak to stave off having to answer. "Really good."


"I know. Answer the question."


"I was told that using my birth name would be easier on those who had issues with the Borg."


"Did the person telling you that not know you have Borg implants?" Again, he wasn't being mean, as far as she could tell, just curious.


"They said the implants were things done to me."


"Ah, but using the name is claiming the Borg for yourself?"




"But you don't like being called Annika Hansen. So that's pretty fucked up."


"So you agree. And you'll call me Seven of Nine?"






"No. Can't. See, your name, as it's registered, overrules any other name that you might have used. So even though Voyager knew who the hell Seven of Nine was and so did La Sirena and I assume the Stargazer, this ship won't."


"So, Seven of Nine is...wiped out of my record?"


"Not exactly." He stopped to drink and then said, "It's like if you're married and getting a divorce or engaged and then married. The name you come in with is your name until you change it." He held out a hand. "Padd?"


She dug hers out of her pocket and handed it to him. He seemed to be searching something, then pulled up a form of some kind and input some data, then signed it. Then he handed the padd back.


"Form 54/8a. Change of name. You fill it out and send it through your supervisor—you can skip that step since I'm your supervisor and I just signed it—then, God help you, it goes to Personnel where it will move from warp speed to geologic time. But eventually your name will get changed in the central databases and it'll migrate out to everything else." He took another sip of his wine. "Do you know anyone in Personnel who can speed it up?"


She shook her head.


"Yeah, me either. It's gonna take awhile."


"But in the meantime—"


"I call you Hansen. So others call you Hansen. So that someday, when we need to do something quick like oh, say, save your ass, someone doesn't ask the ship to beam up Commander Seven and the ship does the ship's version of 'Who dat?' Or, worse, you're trying to save someone and you put the wrong authorization name in and the system locks you out. My hands are tied here. Using the wrong name can fuck up my ship and hurt my people. So...no. But if you want me to call you Annika in private like this, I can."


She took a long swallow of wine. "I hate that name." Not least because Chakotay used it.


"Hansen it is, then." He poured her more wine and went back to eating while she finished the form and sent it on to Personnel. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry."


"I understand."


"You don't like it though. You're good at hiding some things, but contempt isn't one of them. You think less of me for saying no." He didn't seem to care though. Just studied her.


"I do. I think you, being an engineer, could figure out a workaround."


"For this ship, sure. But what about if another ship needs to find you. Or you're on a starbase. Or...or...or. I can spin you scenario after scenario that I can't make okay. You entered Starfleet with this name. We've taken steps to change that. But until then: deal with it."


"Yes, sir." She didn't look at him as she went back to her steak. It really was delicious. "And thank you. For the form and the explanation."


"Wondered if you were going to get around to the being grateful part. Like pulling fucking teeth." He grinned and she was struck by how handsome he was. "So when did you fall for the blue beef?"


"I had it the night I ended my first real relationship. He was vegetarian. We were arguing about everything at that point. Me ordering blue beef was the final nail in the coffin that was our relationship."


"Nice. Go out with a bang."


She laughed softly. "My last relationship went out with a whimper. Or something." Why was she telling him this?


"Yeah, mine too. Hate that. Couldn't even tell it ended until I heard she was dating someone else."


"I'm sorry."


"Same." He leaned back and studied her. "Did Mercer badmouth me?"


"Yes. But Yamashita didn't."


"She's going places. She'll make admiral before I do." He grinned in a way Seven really liked, like he was proud, not jealous. "Mercer on the other hand is—"


"An idiot. And an arrogant one."


"Wow, how much time did you spend with him?"


"Mere minutes."


"Good call." He finished his wine and sat studying her. "You like the ship so far?"


"I do. Everyone has been welcoming."


"Well, you're replacing an idiot so..."


She laughed and he grinned as if he'd been a little worried she might not get his sense of humor. "Are you liking your new first officer so far? Anything I should adjust in my approach to this job?"


"Nope. Well, okay, stop flinching when I call you Hansen."


"That will take time."


"I think we've got that, Commander."


"Yes, sir. We do."




This mission wasn't what Seven expected. She'd become accustomed to routine missions, to safety first, to quarantine rules being observed and decontamination being mandatory after certain kinds of missions.


She did not expect to follow her captain to a first contact where the entire party was carrying their most common endemic virus—a virus not on record as a potential issue or they'd have been vaccinated before contact. She did not expect a winter front to roll in, nor did her captain and he was pissed that T'Veen had missed both.


She'd defended the science officer. The planet had such strange weather patterns and interference that it was safer to use shuttlecraft than beam down. T'Veen had done what she could but they were all going from information gathered by the people who had first surveyed this world.


And filed piss poor reports. That they were now paying for.


Then their shuttle had come up on one of the eddies and they'd been forced to land in the middle of a bitter storm and wait it out.


She was running a scan and said, "Sir, I think we need to leave the shuttle."


"It's fucking freezing out there, Hansen."


"I know but look." She showed him the weird storm she was picking up. This world had weather she'd never seen before. "Tell me I'm wrong, that it won't turn the shuttle into a microwave."


"Fuck me, I can't. Okay gear up." He got up and seemed to lose his balance.


"Are you sick?"


"Yes, no, maybe. Grab a medkit. I'll get the emergency blankets." He followed her out into the cold and they both scanned the surrounding area. "Shit," he said.


She scanned quickly. "So much metal in these rocks." She pointed off to another sector. "I'm getting minimal metals over there."


"On the flip side it's basically sandstone. If this storm is bad, it may collapse on us. You want to get cooked to death or crushed."


"Neither preferably. But I think as long as we stay on a ledge rather than within a cave, we'll be in less danger from instability."


"Fine, pick one."


They trudged through the snow, and he was sniffling behind her.


"Why didn't you tell me you were sick?"


"What would you have done with that information? We're both exposed. We took no precautions because we didn't know about this stupid fucking planet. God I hate incompetents."


"Agreed." She climbed to a ledge that was more or less out of the wind but not under anything that looked like it might fall and kill them if the winds started whipping. Then she held out her hand and pulled him up. "You look terrible."


"Thanks. Makes a guy feel great." He laughed softly. "I feel even worse." He started to kick snow off the ledge and she followed suit.


"Permission to speak freely?"


"Since when do you ask me something that lame? Are you trying to tell me you haven't been speaking freely up to now?"


"Okay, permission to ask a question that I probably shouldn't ask but something Mercer said has eaten at me."


"Oh, man. Okay, shoot." He started to cough and she made him sit down, then she got the rest of the snow off, sat next to him and sighed in relief as he bundled the blankets around them.


"Did you pick me?"


"You're just now asking me that?"


She nodded and huddled in closer to him as an icy blast roared past their ledge.


"Do you think I'd let anyone else pick my first officer?"


"But maybe you had pressure. Admiral Janeway can be..."


"She recommended you. But it was my decision." He coughed again and she pulled off a glove to dig in her pack, finally finding the med kit.


"I don't need that."


"Your coughs say otherwise."


"Don't give me all of it. This thing hits like a freight train. One moment I was fine, then...fuck."


"You swear a lot."


"I know. It's a gift." He shook his head when he saw what she'd set it on. "Half for you. Not one quarter."


"I'm not sick."


"Yet. Hansen, just humor me and split the damn cough syrup."


"Fine." She unzipped his jacket and held the hypo to his neck, letting half of it go. It hissed and she eased away and zipped up his jacket, then stowed the hypo and hurriedly pulled her glove back on.


"We can't sit with our faces exposed." He turned to her. "The rest of us will be fine but this wind..." He looked like he was about to apologize, so she pulled him into her, burying her face in his neck as he did the same.


"Sorry." His voice was muffled in her hair but understandable.


"It's all right," she said, shifting so she was more comfortable. "This is logical."


"Here. This is better. I swear I'm not trying anything." He pulled her closer, wrapping his arm around her and she snaked her arm around his waist.


"I know you're not." She realized how cold his face wasn't against her neck. "You're burning up."


"What you gave me will help. I think." He pushed his cheek against hers for a minute. "You feel okay."


"I am so far but that is a completely non-scientific way to tell."


"Worked for my Mom." He laughed. "Could not fool her."


"Is she...?"


"Dead. Long dead. Flitter accident when I was twelve. My cousin and aunt were with her."


"I'm sorry."


"Yeah. My dad remarried. Like super fast. I hated her." He stopped and seemed to be pulling away so she held him to her. He could stop talking, but he needed to keep warm. "Why am I telling you this?"


"Because you can. I understand to some extent. My parents were assimilated. I have no idea if I passed them during my normal drone duties or not. If they died early on or later. If they knew I was all right. If they even cared." She sighed and pressed into him.


"I don't understand why they took you out there with them."


"They thought they were invincible. They ran every risk thinking they'd never be discovered. Until a storm ruined their shielding system and the Borg discovered us. I was...I was..." She remembered the hands dragging her out of her hiding place, the tube coming for her.


"You were terrified."




"I've been terrified a time or two. I don't recommend it."


She moved so her lips were closer to his ear. "Some of those times were from the Borg, right? Why don't you hate me?"


"Why would I hate you? You're a pain in the ass to manage, Hansen, but you're someone I don't mind having at my back."


"Or at your side." Or in his arms, in this case.


"I'm going to blame it on the fever later, Commander. But I think I was very wise to pick you. I like you."


"I like you too, sir."


"Titan to Shaw."


He hit his communicator. "Shaw here. I'm sick. Hansen may be too. We're holing up from a storm. We'll be up soon but have quarantine ready. No one wants to get this."


"Aye, sir. I'll let Doctor Ohk know. Titan out."


She eased away and met his eyes. "I'm starting to feel sick."


"I think it's the company." His grin was adorable and she laughed but it turned into a cough.


"It's not the company," she said. She reached for the pack but he said, "I'll do it."


He pulled his glove off, found the hypospray, and held it to her neck. She found the hiss of it comforting.


"Thank you for giving me a chance, sir."


"I believe in chances. I had a bunch at a time when I needed them."


She wondered if he meant after Wolf 359. She knew better than to ask. And talking meant coughing for both of them, so they just huddled together and Shaw fell asleep against her. She kept an eye on the sensor, waking him gently when it was finally clear for them to get back in the shuttle.


She took the helm and made him lie down but once they were aloft, he got up and sat in the copilot chair.




"I'm not that sick. You shouldn't have to do this yourself."


"I can land a shuttle."


"Of that I have no doubt."




She walked into the lounge for the party marking—well, she wasn't sure what. And she didn't care. It just felt good being out of quarantine. She'd been alone for two days in a bio-pressure room next to his. At least they could talk though a window screen.


He walked over to her, handing her a glass of something amber. "Writer's Tears."


"Not my favorite but all right." She took a healthy sip and smiled. "Mmm. Better than I remember."


"Do not disparage the liquor of my ancestors."


"The bar out of Scotch?" They had covered a lot of waterfront conversationally with nothing else to do but get over the virus and that had included favorite beverages. He'd made a face when she said she preferred rye and she'd made one when he said Irish Whiskey was his second choice after Scotch.


But they both agreed that Scotch was yummy.


"I was feeling nostalgic for my roots. And yeah, they're out of my favorite kind of Scotch."


She smiled and took another sip. "This is really good."


"It's good to be free. Not that the company wasn't aces." He grinned. "But man, I was going a little stir crazy in that small space."


"Engineers aren't usually claustrophobic."


"And I'm not. But there's a big difference between crawling through a Jeffries Tube on your way to fix something and sitting on your hands while other people run your ship."


She conceded that with a nod.


"You're good in a crisis, Hansen. I just wanted to say, thank you for that."


"It's not like you were losing your head. And you were very sick."


"Yeah, but having someone who had my back was great. I got used to Mercer—like leaning on a feather and expecting it to hold you." He shook his head. "I gave him way too many chances. He thinks I'm the devil incarnate but he has no idea how soon he could have been out of here—how hard I tried."


"I believe that."


"Well, we better go mingle separately or they're going to wonder why we're not sick of each other after two days with no one else to talk to."


"Right." She finished the whiskey and exchanged it for the rye she preferred, then saw Sidney approaching. "Ensign."


"Good to have you back, Commander Seven."


She smiled at the name. She had no idea why Sidney called her that but the girl had a very good network and a very kind heart. "Good to be back."


"Guess you got to know the boss, huh?"


"Two days isolated in sickbay will do that."


"Did you meet Mercer?"


"Unfortunately." She realized not everyone might hold her and Shaw's low opinion of the man. "I'm sorry—was he a friend?"


"Mercer? Mister 'Sit next to me and let me tell you the secrets of the universe'? Ewww."


Seven laughed. "Yes, he was repellent."


"Pfff, definitely. Anyway, I wanted to make sure if you had, and if he tried to badmouth the captain, that you heard another side of the story. Captain Shaw takes chances on people and then he builds really strong teams. And he doesn't care who your dad is or what your history is or how many fucking shuttles you've crashed."


"That was some time ago. Right?"


"Yes, I'm way better now."


"Good." She held up her glass to Sidney. "I like it here. I feel...welcome. Especially by you—the name..." She looked away, realized she was tearing up. Fuck, quarantine had done a number on her.


Sidney gracefully ignored the tears and clinked her glass back. "To feeling welcome."



Part 2


She was dropping a padd off at Shaw's quarters when she saw the knives. "Quite a collection."


"Come in and look at them if you appreciate the beauty of things bladed."


His knives were, indeed, things of beauty.


He was standing closer behind her than she expected. "Scrappy youth growing up in a shit part of town with a family who loved knives. Can't shoot for shit, but these things are in my blood, I'm afraid."


She'd met collectors before. They rarely had skills but always had expensive knives. She took in the rest of the room, trying to keep her expression neutral.


"You don't believe me? You think I'm just someone who gets a cool knife rack and fills it, not knowing what with."


She shrugged. "You do sleep with said knife rack on your bedside shelf. Next to a rather large rock."


"The rock is a salt crystal and it's from Orishu. Very calming when you're trying to sleep."


"Handy, so you can sleep through your knife rack falling on your head."


He walked over and jostled it and it didn't move. "Museum putty. Been holding shit down since there was stuff to be held down." Then he grabbed a knife from the rack, flipped it so the blade was between his finger, and let it fly, right past her, into the wall.


"You missed."


"On purpose. If you'd been Mercer though..."


She laughed. "Don't move." She leaned down and pulled out the knife she always carried in her boot. "I mean it."


"Do you see me moving?"


She didn't flip the knife, didn't feel the need to show off. Just turned it, took an extra second to make sure she wasn't going to skewer her new captain, and let it fly.


"Nice," he said as he pulled it out of the wall behind him. "Have you ever played Slice on the holodeck?"


"I've seen it on the list. I assumed it was a cooking thing."


"It is not. What are you doing right now?"


"Playing Slice?"


"Yes. Yes, you are. Come on."


She followed him to the holodeck and saw that one of the rooms was not in use but had "Reserved" on it.


He saw her looking at it and said, "I'm the one who reserved it. Don't worry that we're kicking some poor person out who waited all week for this."


Once inside, the room scanned them and asked her to deposit her knife in a bin, then it asked Shaw the same thing. She looked at him in shock as he placed a boot knife in the bin.


"You missed the Dominion War, Hansen. Became second nature to carry one, blood equaled not a changeling and we all got really good at knowing where to cut for minimum impact to performance."


"Dismaying. I'm glad I missed that. Although we had our share of not-so-fun things too in the Delta Quadrant."


"I've read some of the logs. I can't even imagine being on that ship." He led her into the room and said, "Engage Slice, Master Level."


"Shaw, Liam is approved for Master Level. Hansen, Annika will have to pass basic skills test."


She rolled her eyes and made short work of the various tasks and blades given to her.


"Hansen, Annika has top score for skills assessment."


"Well, fuck that." He grinned in a very competitive way.


"Who used to?" She knew but she had to poke.


"I did."


"Yeah, I thought so." She gave him the smile that always annoyed people when she was a ranger.


"Oh, it's on. Number of opponents down is what racks scores. Unrequested assists are neutral to both players. Requested assists take a point from the assisted player and give it to the one who assisted."




"If you die, the game's over. If I die, the game's over. So even though this is a competition, we have to look out for each other."


"Hence the unrequested assists. For when, say, you're sleeping under a knife rack and think museum putty will save your life."


"Not gonna let that go, are you?"


"No. Terrain for this?"


"Varies. Indoors, outdoors, flat, challenging. You have an unlimited number of blades but only one life. I assume you know the basic types."


She made a face at him.


"Okay, yeah, good assumption. So just call out the knife you want and it will replace the one you're using. Otherwise the game assumes you want to proceed with what you've got."


"If I throw a knife? Is there a refresh period?"


"Nope, a new one of the same type is available to you immediately."




"Pick your blade."


"Computer, use Jackal."


"Oh, show off. Computer, use Shaw Eleven." At her look, he said, "If you like the game, you can name your favs to make switching out faster."


"I imagine I will like this game."


"All right. Computer, start game."


"Level One, Master Level, begin."


She heard a sound behind her and stabbed back, turning to sweep behind as she yanked the blade out and swiped it across the assailant's throat.


"Fucking A, that's hot. Also vaguely terrifying."


She saw someone coming up behind him. "Your eight."


"Right." He had the knife out of his hand and straight into the heart, seemingly without looking.


"Nice throw."


"Also hot?" He grinned like a little boy. "Also vaguely terrifying?"


"Yes. Now quit wasting time and play. I intend to beat you."


"Oh, Hansen, we'll see about that."


And then they turned and began the game in earnest, moving like they'd been hunting bad guys together for half their lives rather than half a minute, and she enjoyed the quiet way he alerted her to threats, the way he took her warnings without question.


And the unrequested assists. Even trying to win, he was not going to let her get hurt—theoretically, of course; the safeties were on and no one but the holograms could get hurt.


The tallies kept rocketing upward but the lead shifted back and forth. When he was pinned down, he yelled, "Little help here?" And she switched to a throwing knife and launched it at his bad guy while throwing another at hers. She was in the lead now by two points.


But then she saw someone in the corner of her eye, coming too fast for her and she had the wrong knife to engage someone this big. "Shaw!"


"Computer, use Shaw3." He moved between them and sliced out with a wicked looking long curved blade she didn't recognize. "I designed it myself."


"Impressive." She was breathing hard and was sweating but she felt like she'd worked off so much energy—and a lot of old frustrations.


The computer sounded: "There is one opponent remaining. She is maximum skill. Your score is tied. Good luck."


"This one's a hunt. She won't just charge out."


"Shut up. I'm trying to listen for her."


There! She turned but so did Shaw and he was headed for the noise.


The noise that was not the opponent but something she had thrown deeper into the trees.


Seven had two choices: Engage with the opponent who'd just stepped out of the trees and was advancing on Shaw and win the game with a direct kill but risk him getting stabbed, which would be a loss for both of them.


Or kill her from here, which would be no doubt seen as an unrequested assist.


She really wanted to win but..."Fuck!" she yelled as she let her knife fly and it took out the opponent.


He whirled and saw the woman fall to the floor, then disappear. He seemed to be eyeing the distance between her and Seven. "You could have done it."


"I did do it. I killed her."


"But you could have killed her and won." He moved closer.


"I chose to save you instead. And myself, if I'd not gotten there."


"But you like to win, don't you? We both do. I'm sweating like a pig and I have never been so tired after a game of this." He took another step toward her.


"Same. On the sweating part. I obviously have no experience with this game to judge the level of exhaustion."


"But you saved me instead of trying to win."


She took a step toward him. "Yes."


"But it pissed you off that you were going to do the right thing."


She took another step toward him. "Yes."


"I love what that says about you." He reached out and pushed her hair out of her eyes. "Also so fucking hot."


And then she'd moved the last bit of distance and he was pulling her into his arms and they were kissing.


And it felt so damn good.


He pushed her back, until a tree stopped her progress and she ground against him and realized he really, really found it hot.


"Time is up. Another player is waiting. Please close out program and exit the room."


He pulled away from her, deep confusion on his face. "I am so sorry. I had no right to—"


"We both did it. Forget it. It's fine."


He backed away and ran his hands through his hair. "Oh, Jesus. This is not who I am."


"Sir, I know that. It's not who I am either." Although...she'd watched a captain and a first officer who were obviously into each other. Had stupidly gotten in the middle of that. What would it be like to be one of the ones who was in the thick of that kind of intensity? Someone who was truly wanted and wanted just as much in return?


No, she couldn't think that way. Not when he was so obviously upset.


"This was very enjoyable." She kept her voice as professional as she could.


"It really was."


"I will play it often."






The buzzer to the door sounded. Someone was getting impatient.


"Yeah, good call." He hurried to the bin, handed her boot knife over and stuck his back in its place. "Thank you. For the game. For...overlooking...the last part." He couldn't seem to meet her eyes. Then he said, "Arch," and the door opened and two angry crew members suddenly were all smiles. "Oh sorry, sirs."


"Slice was tied. You know how it is."


"Wow, Commander," one of them said, "He's perpetually high score and you tied him?"


She nodded and followed Shaw out. Once the holodeck door had closed, he said, "I'm gonna take the far lift."


"Of course, sir. Thank you for showing me the game."


He nodded and basically fled.




Shaw was living in his ready room. With the doors closed, which was impacting all of them since he was usually so free with the replicator access and the space to put food.


She finally said, "Mura you have the conn," and rang for access.


"Come." He saw her and closed his eyes. Then he waved her in and shut the doors behind her.


"Sir, your absence—the closed doors—they are sending a message I don't think you wish to send to the bridge crew. People are uncertain."


"Yeah, I'm kind of fucking uncertain too. That wasn't me. I don't do that."


"And you won't again. So please, open the doors. Let them come in. I promise I won't make this weird or whatever."


"I should not have done that."


"We both did it. We were full of adrenaline and dopamine and exhausted and had just had a wonderful time, and we did it. But we will not do it again."


"Okay. Sure."


She crossed her arms and stared at him.


"What? I said okay."


"Could you maybe sit in your seat some of the time?"


"Yeah, in a while. I'll open the doors now but...if they ask, I'm working on a special report for Command."


"Are you?"


He looked at her, his gaze helpless. "No. I'm replaying what happened in the holodeck instead of focusing on the department reports."


"In a shameful, how could I have done that way? Or in a wow that was nice way?"


He swallowed hard.


"Ah, the second."


He looked away and made a sound that was somewhere between a sigh and a groan.


"If it helps, I am also replaying it in the second way."


He got up and began to pace. "In what way would that help? Jesus fucking Christ, woman."


She moved so he had to stop or run into her. "I have proven in that game that I can look out for you—and by extension the crew and ship—while also focusing on winning, or my own desires. I believe if you had seen that player advancing on me, you would have done the same."


He nodded.


"So settle down. We felt something. We still do. It doesn't have to mean anything. We just don't try to pretend it doesn't exist. We know it exists, but we are choosing to let it lie." She took a step back. "All right, sir?"


It took him a long time to answer. "All right. But I'll only sit out there when you're not on the bridge."




"No, just till I wrap my head around this."


"Acceptable. May I handle this? Make it easier for you with them?"


"Yes, thank you."


She walked to the replicator and asked for Seven123. A berry cobbler and ice cream appeared. "It is blackberry. The pie is warm, the ice cream is not. Do you want some?"


He laughed, a puff of air rather than actual sound, but it was still a laugh. Then he nodded and accepted a bowl from her.


She served herself, then opened the doors—leaving them that way—and walked back out to the chair. "I convinced our beloved captain that just because he was crashing on a project for Command, we did not deserve being cut off from the replicator or the goodies table. I offer blackberry pie with ice cream. Get it while the pie's still warm and the ice cream unmelted."


Sidney went first and she smiled at her as she passed, then Seven glanced back at Shaw who grinned at Sidney, and then tipped his head to her.


She smiled and went back to sit down in her chair.




The planet was idyllic. Seven wished she could settle in, settle down, the way the rest of the crew was doing for shore leave. But she couldn't get what had happened at the end of the holodeck game out of her mind. Couldn't get Shaw out of her mind.


She knew he was having issues with this too—he still wasn't sitting next to her.


Her communicator chirped, a weird string of tones that meant the sender had marked the request for communication personal, and she walked off to where no one would hear her and said, "Seven here."


"We need to talk." His voice was huskier than normal.


She scanned the area—no sign of him. "Where are you?"


"Start walking, I'll get you here. Take the path to your left."


She could see she was hitting the part of town he'd specifically said for the crew to avoid. "You sure about this?"


"I am. If you're not, turn around."


She stopped and looked around. No one from the ship was nearby. "Is talking what we're really going to be doing?"


"You tell me."


"If this is about the knives..."


"Hansen, just get moving, one block down, one block left, yellow building, third floor, room 37."


She did what he said, and as she approached the room, he opened the door. "What are we doing, sir?"




"You going to call me Seven?"


He shook his head.


"Then fuck you. Sir."


"Okay then." He moved aside and gestured her in. The motion was just short of mocking. "Things have been happening. Between us. Even though we said we'd ignore them. Things we haven't talked about."


"Talking's overrated. For shore leave anyway." She moved closer. "I assume what happens on shore leave stays on shore leave?"


He nodded but he took a step back. "One night only. To work it out of our system."


"You've thought about this?" At his nod, she took another step closer and this time he didn't retreat. "And on the ship we...?"


"We'll have an excellent if slightly impersonal and at times antagonistic professional relationship. We'll move on and forget this ever happened. Eventually maybe we'll be really good friends." He reached out to pull her closer—but gently: she could get away easily if she wanted. "Unless you don't want this."


His pupils were dilated, so much so she could see very little of his grey eyes. She imagined hers were similarly blown. "I don't know that I want this, but I want you."


"This is the only way that happens. We can't have a relationship on the ship. It will endanger lives."


"Is that you or the regs talking."


"I'm not sure there's a difference in this case."


"I accept the terms." She pushed him back, then back again until he made contact with the wall. "And fuck you—I want to hear you calling me Seven during this."


"No. Maybe someday Personnel will get their act together. Change your name in the records. But if I start using Seven now, I'll slip up and use it on the ship. And then..."


"Yes, I remember the problem. Fine. Shut up." She reached up and pulled him down to her, his lips to hers, and he held her tightly, turning so she was against the wall, grinding against her.


She closed her eyes and he said, "No, look at me."


She did, and she was lost, in the heat of his gaze, the helplessness of it—and the darkness. Darkness that lived in her too. That she'd seen and rejoiced in as they'd stalked prey together in the holodeck. No lover had ever called to that side of her so strongly.


He hiked her up and she wrapped her legs around him, kissing him almost frantically, nipping and biting and he pulled her hair to get her off him long enough to say, "Play nice, Hansen. I don't have a regenerator."


"I have one in my quarters. From my Ranger days."


"Sadly irrelevant to our situation." He let her down and slowly took her clothing off until she was naked in front of him. "Fuck. So fucking beautiful."


She pulled his clothes off as slowly, enjoying the bulk of him, the strength in his arms, the muscles he had to work hours for at the gym. "Your uniform hides such a pleasing form."


"I'm glad you think so."


"This"—she grabbed him, holding tightly, moving her hand up and down—"is especially pleasing. I would like it inside me."


"I was hoping we could just cuddle." He laughed, a strange laugh—half giggle, half something darker—and it made her laugh too. Then he took her hand and led her to the bed, which was lovely and comfortable and not what he'd led them to expect from this part of town.


"You knew you wanted this when you gave the safety lecture."


"I did. I didn't, however, know if I was going to do anything about it. But I wanted the option. It's just so difficult—I thought getting it out of our systems would help."


She lay down and pulled him to her, kissing him more gently this time, moaning as he eased away and kissed down her body, from her neck to her breasts, to her navel and then—she arched violently as he worked her.


She was pretty sure this was not the kind of feeling one got out of one's system.


"Do you want to come? Tell me you want that. Nicely." He grinned at the quick addition of "Nicely," and she appreciated how he'd known what she might say.


"Yes, please, I want to come." She felt him add fingers to the mix and couldn't have stopped the sensations if she tried. She cried out, clutching the sheets, arching into his mouth and hand.


As she came back down from where he'd sent her, she murmured, "I need you inside me. Now."


"Yes, ma'am," and he was pushing inside, filling her in the best way, and he hiked her legs over his shoulders, saying, "Tell me if it's too much" as he let go, thrusting hard and deep and she just told him to, "Go, go, keep going," until he came violently inside her.


He eased her legs down and moved up to lie next to her. She turned so she was on her side and put her leg over him, pulling him closer.


Brushing her hair off her face, he kissed her, gently this time, tenderly. "I didn't do you justice in my fantasies."




"No." He pulled her on top of him, wrapping his arms and legs around her, letting her nestle into him, and she kissed his neck as she relaxed. "I have never done this. Not with someone who works for me. You make me want to break all the rules. I don't know if I like that."


"It's unsafe. And you're all about safety."


He laughed softly and said, "That's true. You get me."


"I do. But if I only get you here. I intend to make the most of that time. You will be tired and perhaps sore."


"I can only go so many times, sweetheart."


"Your mouth and hands are fully functional, are they not?" She laughed at the sound he made.


"So you think I'll give you tons of orgasms?"


"I do. And I think you'll enjoy doing that. No one is that good at it unless they enjoy making their partner happy."


"Partners. That's what a captain and first officer are supposed to be."


"I believe we are good at it on the ship, let's see how well we do with this...purge of desire."


He was creative and generous and she found him more responsive than he gave himself credit for.


But he was not, in any way, out of her system.


"Well this was a really stupid idea." He closed his eyes. "You could have warned me."


She nuzzled his neck. "Warned you of what?"


"That's you're not someone I can work out of my system."


"Sorry. Neither are you. I really love this. And I really like you. I don't like that many people."


He laughed and pulled her closer, kissing her so sweetly it made her feel safe and warm and like this was not a one-time thing. "I can give you shore leaves. Not on the ship but..."


"Off. But you won't ignore me anymore—won't hide? You'll sit beside me and make wiseass cracks that I will try not to laugh at and fail?"


He exhaled loudly and she knew he was letting go of something precious to him: his scruples.


"Or I can transfer. If I'm putting you in an impossible situation?"


"I don't want you to transfer. I just...I can't offer you much. This will grate over time."


"Well, we'll just add it to my complaints about my name." She didn't try to soften that with a smile or a kiss. Because he was no doubt right, but she would put up with it anyway. Because with him was where she wanted to be.


"What's your greatest fear?" he asked. "About us, I mean. Not like...clowns or spiders."


"Clowns are very creepy. But it would be falling in love with you."


"Yeah. Mine too."


"Then let's not."


He laughed softly and scratched her back so lightly it sent shivers all through her. "I don't think it's that easy."


"We'll have to make it that easy." She moved so his leg was under her just right and began to rub against him. "I need this."


"Then keep going. I'll always happily watch you come."


She rubbed harder and harder and then she felt his hands on her ass, kneading and pushing her into him and she slipped over the edge, calling out as she came.


But not his name. Not if he wasn't going to use hers.


He kissed her as she collapsed on him, then rolled so he was on top, concentrating on her breasts and when she tried to push him away, he grabbed her hands and said, "You're not going to be able to form words when I'm done with you." He trailed his hand down and down and— "You're going to come so many more times. Things may fall off." He made a very goofy face at the direness of that.


She just laughed. "Prove how many times."


So he did. Over and over, with plenty of times for himself too.


They didn't leave the room for a day and a half, ordering food and drink from the replicator and its limited menu. They beamed up to the ship separately.


She showered alone and grabbed some coffee in the mess and would have taken a Danish but they were out before heading to the bridge.


He was in his chair. And his smile was untroubled. He'd put them—what they were doing—in a box and stored it somewhere. Although the gleam in his eyes told her that the box was close to hand, not forgotten. "Good shore leave, Commander?"


"It was all right."


He rolled his eyes dramatically. "Well, maybe the next one will be better. Didn't realize you were such a hard grader." He got up and went to the table in his ready room and brought her back the Danish she liked best, the kind with the sweet cheese filling.


"Thank you," she whispered, her voice altogether too husky for a simple pastry, but she liked that he'd been looking after her—and that he knew her preferences.


His eyes never left hers. "You're welcome."




They fell into a rhythm. On the ship, he never touched her. They had dinner together once a week and went over the various issues. They sat next to each other on the bridge every day. His ready room doors stayed open.


She'd check her inbox to see if Personnel was ever going to get back to her on the name change.


The answer seemed to be a hard "No."


And then the ship would stop somewhere for leave or refits, and they'd eke out as much as they could from the time. They couldn't always get away for extended periods, not if there were crew events or meetings. But they made the most of what they had.


She knew he expected her to come to resent this. To want more. But she'd grown up expecting nothing when she was Borg. She'd learned to want more as a human but she was fully cognizant of how important Starfleet was to both of them. She would do nothing to jeopardize that for either of them.


And maybe she was as good as he was at putting them in a compartment that only made sense when they were off the ship. Maybe her detachment—the thing that had driven Raffi so crazy—was a benefit here.


Not that she and Shaw always got along on the ship. They seemed to feel freer to argue, to be sarcastic with each other. It was a kind of foreplay and she'd heard "Get a room" more than once on the bridge during one of their more heated disagreements.


The crew had no idea that they would indeed get a room. Eventually. Over and over again.


And that time had changed too. They weren't so frantic, were kinder to each other, sweeter. Talked of things neither shared usually.


They promised they weren't falling in love.


They lied.




The ballroom at Starbase Twenty-Four was full of crew in dress uniforms. It was the sector ball and Seven found it a waste of time.


Shaw had a friend who was on home leave but had given him access to his apartment. "In case you actually get lucky this year and want private time."


"Is this one of your fellow survivors?" she asked him when he told her about the place, that they could sneak away and use it.


"Yeah. He's not big with actual relationships—assumes the rest of us aren't either." His eyes were very gentle. "He's wrong about that."


But Shaw was nowhere near her now. He was across the room being hit on by women who were not her.


"And who are we looking at?" A male voice, familiar so she decided not to tell him to "Fuck off" and instead turned to see it was Tom Paris.


"What are you doing here? Is B'Elanna with you?"


"No, I drew the short straw so I had to come to this shindig. She said you'd be here and I'm allowed to dance with you."


She laughed. "She has you on a short leash."


"You have no idea." He gestured toward the dance floor. "Shall we?"


"Yeah. That'd be nice."


"We never see you anymore. The reunions still happen." He was holding her the way he always had, casually, like a friend, not a possible romantic partner. It felt like home to her.


"It's awkward. With..."


"Yeah. That was a weird relationship. He's with Janeway now."


"I wondered."


"I'm sorry, I just said that like you might not have a stake in that."


She pulled away so he could see her expression. "I seriously don't care."


He studied her and his expression cleared. "I believe you. You do care about the guy across the hall though. Tall, dashing, only also kind of mean looking. A dashing villain." He leaned in to whisper. "And your captain. Taking a page out of Kitty and Chuckle's playbook?"


She laughed at his old names for Janeway and Chakotay. "Stop it."


"That's an answer, whether you realize it or not. He's a good guy from what I've heard. Has a safety record that puts everyone else to shame. But then again that can mean he's super boring."


"He's not boring."


"Ooh, she defends him." He laughed and dipped her and she smiled and said, "Quit being a goof."


He let her up and resumed dancing.


"Are you happy, Tom?"


"I am. Things are good. Try to come back for the next reunion, okay? Or have you switched allegiance fully to Picard?"


"I can follow two admirals."


He grinned but then his expression changed. "Someone is not happy I'm dancing with you."


And then Shaw was there. "Commander, can I have a word?"


"You were having so many with all your admirers." She smiled as guilelessly as she could. "You know Captain Tom Paris?"


"Hi, Tom."


"Did you want to cut in?"


"No, I want a word with my first officer." He sounded downright dangerous.


Tom didn't appear to be intimidated. "Is there a crisis I don't know about, Shaw? Because this is a dance floor. You don't have a word with this vision of loveliness, you cut in and claim her for a dance. Or you fuck off."


She tensed but Tom's grip was unrelenting. Shaw looked at her with an expression she couldn't read, but he nodded and walked away.


"Why did you do that?"


"Because you two are not fooling me. And I'm sorry—are you not allowed to dance with anyone?"


"He may actually need to talk to me."


He made a disparaging sound. "You forget I was in Fleet prison. That was territorial, not professional. So, how serious is it?"


"I'm his first officer. Nothing more."


"Yeah, I bet that's how Chakotay got to sleep at night too."


He danced them through two more songs and then kissed her on the cheek. "Don't be a stranger, Seven. And good luck with the charm factory that is your captain."


"He can be charming."


He laughed at her, but gently. "Good luck, my friend." And then he turned and left her by the exit.


Shaw was to her in moments. "Let's go."


"What if I want to dance more?"


"Hansen, I swear to God..."


"Fine." She followed him out, acting as normal as she could, nodding as if he was actually saying something so those behind them would think they were leaving for professional reasons.


Not so he could work out whatever this was in a much more personal way.


He didn't say a word so she decided to. "You had a blonde, a redhead, and a brunette clustered around you at one point. Hanging on your every word, no doubt."


A sigh was her answer. She couldn't decide if it sounded more frustrated or angry.


"Tom is a friend. Nothing more."


"Mmm hmmm." He turned into a hallway, then another, then they took a lift and walked down more hallways.


"Do you actually know where you're going?"


He ignored her, finally stopped their death march and palmed open a door, holding it for her. Then he followed her in and said, "Computer lock door, maximum privacy on the windows."




"Take off your clothes. Now."


She smiled in a way she never had before, dangerous, daring. "Which one would have been to your taste? The blonde kind of looked like me."


"I don't want to talk about those women. Take off your clothes."


"Take off yours." She smiled again only this time it was because she was trying not to laugh. "Is the goal to have sex or to stand here debating who is more macho?"


"Oh, fuck you." And he was on her, pulling her to him, kissing her as he undid her uniform. "You're more macho, okay? Just get me out of this uniform."


"Well, so long as we're clear." She made short work of his clothes, being careful with his uniform just as he was with hers. They were going to have to walk back to the main base transporter.


But once they were naked, he hiked her up and took her against the sliding glass door, as if daring the world to try to see them through the privacy screening. And as he plunged into her, he said, "Mine," over and over.


"I should let Tom dip me more often."


"Shut up about Tom."


She laughed and then groaned as he changed his angle of attack, as she began to go.


"Who are you with? Huh?" He thrust harder and kissed her almost savagely.


"Who are you with?"


"The right answer to both questions is?"


"You," she clutched at him as she came and he didn't stop moving, going harder, harder than he'd ever gone but it wasn't frightening. She knew he'd never hurt her. It just felt so damn right to be like this. So primal.


He cried out as he came, burying his face in her neck. Then without putting her down, he carried her to what was clearly the guest room and settled her on the bed.


She held out her hand as he stood there, staring at her. "I'm yours. Are you mine?"


"Yeah," he said as he let her pull him down. "Yeah, I am."


He sighed and it was a sound of resignation as much as relief.


He was hers and she was his. Even if it was only for right now.


And the next right now. And the next. And the next.



Part 3


Seven ran with the security team, intent on catching the people who had taken Shaw. "Flank them," she said, and two officers peeled off of each side of the group while two others stayed with her.


God damn it. Another mission that should have been standard and boring and here they were, chasing after their captain who had a hood over his head and was being dragged by two of the natives.


She had no idea why.


Was it her? He'd had the best safety record in the Fleet by a parsec when she reported for duty. He still was in the lead but not by the huge margin. She could only think it was her.


She heard shots ahead, the whine of phasers, and put on speed, rushing into the field of battle without a plan. Shaw had the hood off and he knocked one of the men holding him over but the other took aim at her.


She fired at him at the same time he fired. Her phaser was set on stun and he went down immediately. His weapon tore her open across the abdomen and she clutched at her midsection and cried out in pain.


"No, fuck, no." Shaw caught her even though his hands were tied and eased her down. "She has a knife in her boot. Cut these," he yelled at whichever guard was closest—she couldn't tell. She could barely see.


She heard the ropes being sliced. "No, we have to get you up to the ship."


"I think it's you who needs the ship. I just need a shower,"


She laughed and immediately regretted it. "This really hurts." She tried to hit her comm badge and missed.


"Shhh, I've got this." Then he touched his comm badge, which was the only way they'd found him, and said, "Shaw to Titan, medical emergency. Beam me and Commander Hansen up first directly to medical, then six on second transport."


"Aye, sir. Stand by."


Her vision was fading, her heart was pounding and she reached out for him. "I can't see you."


"Baby, hang on." He was talking low but any of the security officers could have heard him. She tried to tell him to be careful. But instead she was sucked into darkness.


She woke in sickbay, and Ohk was to her immediately telling her to lie still. "What happened?"


"Well, you almost died, and you've been sleeping for about eighteen hours, but you're going to be okay now. So long as you don't move around too much. Those were wicked weapons they used down there. Even with regenerators and nu-skin, you're going to be here for a bit."


"I hate this place."


"I'm going to try to not be offended by that." Ohk looked over at the door. "Someone wanted to know the minute you woke up. Just lie still and let him come to you. Got it?"




Shaw pulled a stool over and sat next to her. "You need a better plan next time."


"Fuck you. They had you."


"I'm not worth your life."


"Yes, you are." She almost reached up to touch him, then realized she was really loopy from the pain meds. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that."


But he took her hand and held on tight. "Fuck it. I was so worried."


"We have to be careful."


"You're my first officer who was hurt rescuing me. If I want to comfort you, I can." He sounded worried and cranky and she wondered if he'd had any sleep. "Starfleet wants us to leave this place alone. What is it with the missions lately?"


"I think I'm bad luck."


"No. You're not. You were following proper protocol when I had to go inspect the gate mechanism and leave myself in the open alone."


"It was an interesting gate."


"Yeah, it was. But not worth this." He touched her abdomen, and she could barely feel any weight from his fingers. "I almost lost you."


"Why were they taking you?"


"Nobody's sure. Leverage, maybe? Ransom? Who knows. Just get me to a planet where all they need is a nice shipment of, well, anything. I'll happily play freighter if things just calm down."


She squeezed his hand.


"Your eyes are closing." He leaned down. "Sleep well. I'll be here for a while. Watching over you."


"You're a kind man, Liam Shaw."


"I wish that were true."


"I'm never wrong." Except the dozens of times she was. But she wasn't going to mention that. "You're kind if I say you are."




"Hansen, can I see you?" Shaw bellowed this at her, didn't use the communicator and she laughed because he was clearly deep into something.


She got up, saying, "Mura, you have the conn," and went into his ready room.


"First, how are you feeling on your first day back?"


"Like I took a blast in the torso for you."


"Have I said thank you?"


"Yes. Many times." Their eyes met and held and she found it impossible to look away. Something had changed between them, and she thought they both knew it. "I know you didn't call me in just to see if I was feeling okay."


"You aren't wrong." He passed her a padd. "What do you make of this?"


It was an efficiency report from the new chief engineer—the report was sloppily assembled and the figures looked dubious. "This is a mess."


He closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I'm going to quietly whine that I picked the wrong person for chief engineer."


"Well, it wasn't just you. You had two engineering admirals helping you, right?"


"That doesn't help. They still think Natou's stellar."


"Does he?" She lifted an eyebrow, making her face as stern as possible. Chakotay had been a dud for romance, but he'd taught her a lot about management—like how the first time you hear about a performance issue shouldn't be on an official evaluation. "Or more accurately, does he know he's not?"


"I'm not going to blindside him with a shitty eval. Jesus, Hansen." He lacked the energy he'd normally have when discussing poor performance. She'd never known him to hold back on giving feedback to a member of the crew. But now...


"Do you want me to talk to him?"


"Would you? I worked with him. He was one of the surv—" He shook his head. "Would you?"


"I will."


"Oh and since the ship will be in for quick refits and I have no meetings..." He passed her a piece of paper with what she assumed was a hotel name and room on it. "Look it up so you can see it. It's on a cay in Belize. Very private. Father of a former crewman—a crewman whose life I saved—owns the resort. He'd probably let me murder someone there and happily hide the body."


"Were you planning on murdering someone?"


"I actually was not. But play your cards right..." He laughed and she did too. "It's so lovely there. Huts over water, private pool on the deck in addition to stairs down to the sea. Diving on the second largest reef in the world if we haven't had enough of breathing artificial air. We'd have two days. We could be...free, free of dark rooms and replicators."


"But we get in tomorrow."


"I'm aware."


"Ohk hasn't cleared me for certain activities—in fact, she specifically told me not to do any of those activities for at least three days." She could feel herself blushing.


"Not a problem for me. But hey, if all you want is sex, don't come. I'll be there one way or the other."


"You want me there without the...sex?" She whispered the last part.


"I do, Hansen. But since that seems to shock you, maybe it's a stupid idea, huh?"


"No, it's not stupid. It's just surprising."


He glanced out and she knew it was to make sure no one was approaching. "Look, I'm well aware I'm unilaterally advancing this. If that's not what you want, I don't want you to feel that you have to ever do anything. Understood?"


"Will you call me Seven while we're there?"


"Jesus Fucking Christ, no, I will not. Give me that back." He held out his hand but she backed away.


"Fine. Just don't call me Annika."


"Wouldn't dream of it. So I'll see you there?"


"Yes, you'll see me there."


His smile was a beautiful thing.


She went and sat back down and had to spend the next few minutes trying to hide the smile that kept trying to break through. Fortunately, she was distracted by her padd, which kept pinging with examples of shitty work out of Natou.


She finally sent Shaw a message to stop, she had enough, and she worked everything up the way she needed then rose and headed down to engineering. She found Natou grating, and she knew he didn't like her. Which, ironically, should make this easier. In his mind, she was already a bad guy so who better to give this kind of feedback?


He didn't take it well. But with so many examples, it was hard to argue.


"You have two choices, Commander. You can improve and we'll forget about these or you can continue on this path and your lack of attention to detail will be noted in your file. Repeated infractions will result in being put on report. Repeat after that and I will put you in for disciplinary action, to include demotion."


"I'll take this to Liam."


It pissed her off more than he could know that he'd pull the first-name card. Especially when she'd chosen not to call him that as a tit for tat for his inability to ignore the regs and call her by her fucking preferred name when they were in goddamn private.


"Did you hear me, Commander? I'll take this to the fucking captain."


She gave him the look she'd perfected in the Rangers when she was calling a bluff, the one that she also used in bars to keep from getting hit on.


It basically said, "Do not fucking piss me off."


She counted to five, then pulled a Shaw and said in his weirdly happy yet ominous tone, "Or..."


Natou's face fell. "Shit, he sent you."


"I am first officer. He has other things to do." She wanted "other" to translate to "better."


And it clearly did. Natou looked away, mumbling something about getting better. As he tried to walk away, she said, "Wait."


She pulled up the form she'd prepared on the bridge. It detailed that they had discussed this and had a place for both of their signatures and the date. "This is for the file on Titan only. But you understand why I need to document this for later, for inclusion in your official file, if there's no improvement?"


He pressed his thumb to it and nodded tightly.


"Thank you. I'll let you get back to it."


She filed the form as she walked to the lift. When she got back to the bridge, she met Shaw's eyes across the room and nodded.


His smile was grateful—and sweet.


Tomorrow could not come quickly enough.




They'd arranged to meet at the Belize City transporter hub and then take a seaflitter to the cay. He helped her up into the thing and then held her hand as it took off and flew them out over gorgeous turquoise water to a small island that seemed to be mainly beach, lovely huts over water, and a main hub where the flitter set down.


He took both their bags, saying, "I really don't want you straining anything," and was promptly engulfed in a hug by a man wearing a white suit and hat. "Ramon, how long has it been?"


"Too long, my friend. And you brought someone with you."


"Discretion is appreciated."


"I offer nothing but." He held out his hand to Seven and said, "I am Ramon, your humble host."




"Interesting name." He had both she and Liam scan their eyes on the key coder, then he said, "Number Four today. One of my best rooms."


"They're all your best rooms."


"This is true." He snapped his finger and a young man hurried over and picked up the bags Liam had set down on the floor during registration. He led them down a long walkway over the water, to a group of huts, set so that they faced out instead of each other.


Seven stopped when they walked in; the view was gorgeous and the sound of the water lapping at their deck with the doors open between bedroom and open air relaxing. It was everything she'd never had as a child. Every beach vacation she'd dreamed about after watching a kid's vid.


Shaw put his arms around her and kissed her cheek. "I undersold it."


"You really did." She turned. "Ohk doesn't want me lifting things. I think diving is out."


"I don't really care, to be honest. I just want to be with you."


She walked out onto the deck. The other huts were arranged to be completely out of view and she marveled at that. She looked down at the clear water and saw fish. "Is it safe?"


"The pool is safer," the young man with their bags said, then he wished them a happy stay and left.


"Is the water safe?"


He laughed and nodded. "That kid probably doesn't like salt water."


"Normally we'd be ripping each other's clothes off about now."


"I know. This is different." He went to his bag and pulled out swim trunks. "You want your suit?"


"I brought several bikinis. You can get them."


He pulled them out and just laughed. They were so skimpy as to be ridiculous. "Tease a man, why don't you?"


"There's a one piece in there too."


He dug deeper and tossed her the black one piece, which also had its share of scandalous cut outs but was nowhere near as hazardous for the wearer's overall success in wearing the garment as the bikinis.


She followed Shaw into the pool, and he held out his hand and pulled her to him when she took hold. He drew her in close and laid his lips on her forehead, then her cheeks, then her lips. There was no pressure to escalate, no place he was taking them, so she just settled in and enjoyed the way he was touching her. And played a little, trying new ways to be close to him without actually having sex.


He did hike her up and she could feel how much he wanted her but he said, "Ignore that."


"But I love that."


"Not this trip, you don't." He pushed her hair back and studied her, really examining the implants on her face, but in the nicest way possible, as if they were engineering marvels he wanted to figure out. Then he kissed over every part of them, then her hand.


"Why doesn't that bother you? Mercer said—"


"Fuck what Mercer said. I'll tell you what happened. I want to—maybe I need to." He led her out of the pool and to the daybed, and they cuddled together under the sun shade and enjoyed the champagne Ramon had put on ice for them.


"You weren't at Wolf 359?" he asked.


"No, I was still in the Delta Quadrant."


"Could you feel it?"


"It's inefficient for a drone to feel other drones directly. Everything is cycled through the queen and she gives no context to what we feel. She can also dampen it, for example when many drones die, their death cries are cut off. I used to think that was a kindness when I was first out of the collective. Now I just see it as her being cautious of her own position, never letting us know how many of our siblings were lost for her avarice."


"What about Locutus? Could you hear him?"


She shook her head. "I heard of him, of course, from my Voyager crew mates. He wasn't Borg for long. And it would have been confusing to the rest of us to know that there was a Borg with a name. Our names were designations of our place in the group, our place in the hierarchy, and where we worked."


"Did the Queen have a name."


"She was the Queen. That was sufficient."


"So your name was...?"


"My designation was Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix 01. I can see you want more details but without explaining how the cube is organized, and that would take hours and you would be asleep before I finished, it is meaningless. Think of it as an identifier, the same way you would a circuit or a single computer in a network. It was not a name."


"And yet you use it as one." He held up his hands. "Not trying to pick a fight. It's just...interesting."


"You make a fair point." She touched his cheek. "But I looked once. The directory for Earth contains multiple Annika Hansens. It is not unique. My designation was." She cuddled in. "Finish your story. Wolf 359."


"It's hard for me—to talk about that day...the battle."


"Skip the battle. The Doctor had me study it. Figured I would get grilled about it by people I met who realized I was a former Borg. I know what happened in general, but I don't know your story."


"I was young. Really young. And just a general crewman."


"I have heard you say there's no such thing as a general crewman."


"And I truly believe that. But I was one. And I was on the Constance and she was torn up like so many other ships in that battle. And through it all, his voice just rang out, telling us it was over, it was futile, not to resist. I wanted to fucking kill him. But how the hell was I going to do that? He was on a Borg cube, and I was going down with my ship."


She didn't move, didn't want to break the silence he was talking into. "Ten of us got off. Ten on that whole fucking ship. And Natou was one of them."


"That's why..."


"Yeah, that's why. He's shaped up by the way. Guess you're scary."


"It's the Borg thing."


"No, it's this thing called 'command presence.' And you have it. Naturally."


She leaned in and kissed him. "What happened after you got off the ship?"


"I spent two years fucking up. Acting out. Not realizing that I had PTSD and survivor's guilt and anger issues and that I was fucking terrified of going back out." He took a ragged breath. "Fortunately I had a CO who recognized the signs. Got me help. Kept me...functional." He turned and buried his head in her hair. "Sometimes, with you, I feel like I'm more. Like I could be that man again."


"I like this man—the one you are now."


"And he likes you. But I wish I could give you something less..."




He nods.


"If you were less damaged, we wouldn't work."


He pulled her in and kissed her, hard but being careful not to strain anything in her core. "And we do work."


"We do. So knowing that Locutus wasn't killed..."


"I used to have nightmares about Picard. Being in an auditorium when they were honoring him or something. He'd go to shake hands and the assimilation tube would snake out, and I'd hear that voice again. It's burned into my psyche. I don't understand why he didn't have to pay."


"I didn't pay."


"Yeah, you did. Starfleet wouldn't let you in. Your fucking mentors told you not to use the name you want. You did pay. But him? He's scrubbed clean of parts and sent on his merry way. Same ship, same crew, no new life in his ranks ever. Stealing spots from people who could have moved up. Part of me wanted him drummed out. The rational part of me knows he didn't ask for what happened to him. But it's hard to be rational in the middle of a panic attack or waking up from a nightmare."


"I always thought it was unfair that he—and others I know who were briefly assimilated—were purged of all evidence. While I wear these." She touched the implant over her eye.


"You wear them really well if that's any consolation. Do you think it's because you were taken so young, that so much of your maturation was done by the Borg."


"That's what the Doctor thought. But..." She looked down, finally shrugged.


"Did you ever talk to anyone about it? I hate to sound like a public service announcement, but therapy does work."


"There were no counselors on Voyager."


"But there was an EMH. The Doctor, right?"


She looked down. "He had feelings for me. He also had shepherded me through my transition. He had so much of me—I didn't want to give him that last bit. I felt..." She looked down.


"You felt like there'd be nothing left that was just yours."


"Yes. And I was fine. But I should have sought help after I lost my son. Not a biological son but another freed Borg. I loved him, he was murdered horribly, and for way too many years all I sought was revenge."


"I'm sorry. Did you get it?"


"Yes. Working with Picard for the first time got me that fleeting moment of triumph. Picard..." She met his eyes, wanted him to really understand this. "I can empathize with what he means to you, but for me, he gave me a purpose when I was out of them. He gave me Raffi—my ex—when I was meeting all the wrong kind of people. He gave me a chance to see myself in a way I never had and never will again—experience the world as someone who was never Borg. I owe him."


"I get that. We can have different opinions on things. It's not like you invited him to the ship for a mixer, right?"


"Most assuredly not."


She snuggled into him, fighting back a yawn because she didn't want him to think she was tired of listening.


But then he yawned and said, "Did you know just reading the word 'yawn' repeatedly will make a human do it. I wonder if it works with hearing it? Yawn, yawn, yawn, yaw—"


She put her hand over his mouth. "Stop it. I'm so sleepy."


"God, me too. We can nap here. Ramon will ping us eventually to get our meal order. If you want to go to the restaurant, it's really good. Or we can order in."


"Are you sure you want to risk being seen in the restaurant?" Meals were always from replicators on past encounters.


"Meaning you'd like to go to the restaurant but don't want to hurt my reputation?"


She nodded.


"Restaurant it is." He lay back and drew her with him, smiling as the breeze played over them. "I like being here with you."


"I like being here with you, too."




"I don't want to leave." She sipped her coffee as a server put down tropical fruits and pastries for them to share.


"Me neither. So, no sex was surprisingly nice."


"Then we will never have sex again."


"I didn't say it was my preference."


She actually kind of giggled—had she ever made that sound before? "Sorry, my mistake." She took a croissant and rolled her eyes when he started to laugh. "There is no right way to eat one of these."


"And you like the layers."


She held out one of the flakiest parts and he took it delicately with his teeth. "So do you."


"Well, yeah when you feed me like I'm some kind of emperor. We'll have you peeling grapes in no time."


"Why would anyone want that? The whole point of a grape is the contrast between skin and flesh." She frowned. "Those words mean the same thing. But not when we talk about fruit."


"Language is weird."


"Yes. Fortunately I have bits of many floating around."


"Doesn't that get confusing? Is there context for everything?" He leaned in. "You have a sexily big brain if there is."


"You also have a sexy brain."




"I enjoy all of you."


He actually blushed. "I enjoy all of you too."


"Ah, my friends." Ramon came up and stood between them, a hand on each of their shoulders. "I trust you had a most enchanting time here?"


She smiled up at him and nodded.


He took a pink flower out of the arrangement on the table and broke it off so the stem was short. "How would you grade our friend here, my lovely? Tucking it behind your left ear means keep, right means throw him back and look for better fish."


She laughed. "I don't know that I'm ready to give him a grade yet. Overall, I mean." She saw Shaw's understanding, that this was all they had right now and maybe there could be more someday. That they never called each other by anything other than last names—but maybe that would change if Personnel ever woke up and fixed her official designation.


"Just grade him for the weekend then. Keep or throw back?"


She took the flower and pretended to be heading toward her right ear but at the last minute put it behind her left.


Ramon clapped his hands. "Oh, keep. You're doing something right, Liam. I hope to see you both again soon." With a sweet smile, he left them alone.


"Keep, huh?"


"I'm only grading the weekend. I would give it more than one flower if pressed. But only one fits so..."


"And it looks beautiful." He took her hand and sighed. "You make me want to break rules."


"And you make me want to follow some."


"Wow, we are such romantics." He laughed and his expression was truly amused and open and she wanted to stay here, in this lovely place, with him forever.




Seven glanced back at the ready room. Shaw was working—really working, deep into whatever he was doing. She studied the bridge crew. Nothing seemed amiss.


She had seen how people acted on other birthdays. The ready room door would be closed while people took breaks at strange times so they could set up the room for the individual who would be celebrated. Cake and streamers, festive and pretty.


It was her birthday. Was nothing going to happen for her?


She felt incredibly stupid for even thinking that. She'd refused to tell Raffi when her birthday was, told her every day with her was a celebration and it had been—until things had gone sideways.


But it was on her record. Had they received the notification she had received for other people's birthday and just ignored it?


This was ridiculous. Who cared if she was included or not?


But she remembered the cakes, how delicious they were, the happy smiles.


She sat her shift, barely speaking when asked a question even though she knew it was childish to be angry.


To be hurt.


She got up as soon as her replacement arrived and left the bridge, going to her quarters, pacing in a way she knew was not productive but unable to stop.


Belize had been so nice. Why would he do this to her?


"Shaw to Hansen."


She hit her comm badge way harder than necessary. "What?"


"Uh, okay, not really the way we answer a comm from the captain, Commander."


Would "Fuck you" be preferable? She took a deep breath and said, "I apologize."


"I thought you might like to join me for dinner. Ribeye blue."


That sounded delicious. "Yes. I'll be there momentarily."


"See ya. Shaw out."


She walked into the dining room and sat down next to him. "Ribeye? Am I going to have to get creative on the accounting?"


"Heaven forbid. I paid for it myself. I know we're not celebrating, but I wasn't going to let your birthday go completely." He took a bite of the steak and then seemed to realize she was staring at him angrily. "What?"


"Are we not celebrating because you don't know what fucking name to put on the cake? I can tell you. Seven of Nine."


He finished chewing before he answered. "Whoa, dial the rage back."


She turned the rage on her steak instead.


"Gotta admire the knife work. But how about you have a few bites and then put the knife down while you tell me what's got you so mad other than the whole name snafu. And by the way, your good buddy Admiral Janeway could accelerate Personnel in a nanosecond if you asked her."


"She wanted me to leave Seven of Nine behind. Called me Annika the last time she saw me." She was practically spitting the words at him.


"And now I know why I don't call you Annika during our quiet moments. Thanks for clearing that up." He frowned deeply and studied her, the way he often did, like she was the biggest puzzle of all. "Did you read anything you signed when you joined Starfleet?"


"The forms were interminable."


"Yes, that's why we take them home and do them at our leisure, not fill them out in the Personnel office."


"They did not give me that option."


"Or you didn't ask for it."


"What difference does it make?"


He gave the long-suffering sigh that made her want to whap him and pulled out his padd. "Personal preferences: Do you wish to have your birthday celebrated, if yes, indicate alternate date if official date is not preferred date. You checked 'No.'"


"These fucking regs."


"This is not a reg. It is a checkbox. With two possible answers. Yes or no. You check no, and the system will not send out the reminder that it is your birthday. It is a nonevent. That is a reg. It makes some crew members extremely uncomfortable to be the center of attention, some find candles and/or fire deeply unsettling, others consider blowing said candles out and scattering spit all over a joint piece of food to be horribly unhygienic, which it is. I have no idea why you checked no, but you did."


"Do I have to fill out a form to get that changed?"


He sighed.


"Fuck this." She started to get up and he startled her by how fast he had his hand on hers, was saying, "Sit down, please?"


"I'm never going to fit in."


"Radical conclusion to the actual series of events. This is a much easier thing to fix than your name, which is migrated all over the fleet. I'll fill the form out for you and you can just sign it. Consider it a birthday gift."


"I thought the steak was."


"It is. I guess I'm just a super generous boyfriend." He seemed to freeze. "I...that term..."


"Do you think I'm your girlfriend?" She shook his hand off and stood, leaning down, her lips on his ear. "The girlfriend you won't call by her fucking name?" Then she grabbed the plate, the cutlery, the fancy decanter and her wineglass which threatened to spill until she rested it against her chest, and left him sitting with a now empty wineglass. At the door, she turned. "I hope there wasn't cake."


"There wasn't. There was apple pie. La Forge said you really like it."


God damn it. She hated when he was nice and reasonable and actually was a really generous boyfriend—but one who would not call her "Seven." "Fuck you, Shaw."


"Happy birthday to you too, Hansen. Enjoy the wine. It's one of my favorite Malb—" The door shutting behind her cut him off.


She stood there a moment, then walked back in, put the wine in front of him, and said, "I won't take your favorite wine."


"Please sit down. Please?"


She held her hand out, it was shaking.


"Baby, please." He looked up at her. "This isn't me. I didn't do this to you. I just wanted to make your birthday nice."


She sat down and stared at the steak.


He poured himself more wine and held it up. "To a really fucked-up birthday. Next year will be better."


"You can't promise that."


"I can. Life may prove me a liar, but I will do everything in my power to make it come true."


"Quit being nice." She clinked his glass gently.


"No one would believe you if you told them I was."


"That's not true. Everyone loves you."


"Even you?"


"I'll love you when you call me Seven."


Another deeply sad sigh. "Do you want me to call Janeway?"


"I really don't."



Part 4


"Do you have a moment, sir?"


His smile was a muted one. "I do, but let me guess what this is about—maybe why your good buddy Picard and his sidekick, the ex captain of this ship, are coming aboard?" He gestured to a chair.


"I don't know why." She moved to sit. "I had nothing to do with this."


"Okay, you seem sincere. And I think I know the difference now." His eyes were very gentle. "So I believe that." His eyes hardened. "Just...let's be clear: this is your ship now."


"I am aware of that, Captain." She grinned at him to lessen the tension suddenly in the room.


"No, don't use that megawatt smile at me like you're James T. Kirk reincarnated."


She tried to hide her smile. "Fine."


"I want nothing to do with them. You handle it."


"Don't you think you might put some demons to rest if you handled this?"


"I really don't." He went back to his logs but when she didn't move said, "Goddamn it, Hansen. Come on."


"It would mean something."




She shrugged. "Just...something."


"Fine. Dinner, I'll do dinner. But you sit at my right. Like always. And I'm going to be an asshole."


She sighed, dramatically. "Please, I know the issues but Picard is a friend."


"Which is why they're even on this ship or I'd have told them to fuck the hell off. Command sure as shit didn't send them."


"You checked?"


"Unofficial sources. Nobody knows dick about a surprise inspection."


"Well, that's because it's a surprise inspection."


"Nothing in Starfleet is that big a surprise."


"Your confidence in your sources is inspiring." She sighed. "Fine, I'll handle it. Will you at least have blue steak?"


"Yep, but not for them. Just for us. They can see how united we are."


She rolled her eyes.


"Just for us because they probably don't like it anyway—and who wants to watch blue steak haters fake their way around a superb cut of beef?"


"Now that makes sense." With a gentle smile, she left him and went to meet Picard and Riker.




She knew to expect Shaw in asshole mode when she led Picard and Riker into the Captain's Dining Room, but she didn't expect him to be eating already. "Captain Shaw, sir. May I present Admiral Jean-Luc Picard and Captain William Riker."


He was at his most stiff. "Gentlemen, please. Come join. And, Hansen, there really is no need for intros."


Picard was clearly taken aback. "I apologize, Captain. Are we late?"


"Hardly. Just your reputation preceded you so far into the room that I started early."


Oh boy. Here they went. Right down the fucking rabbit hole of the Liam Shaw School of Assholery.


"Ah... Well, as a token of appreciation for your hospitality, please accept..."


"Oh, Château Picard. That is... That is terrific." His disdain could not have been more apparent. "I'm much more of a Malbec man myself. Captain Riker, I take you for somewhat of a bourbon-ista."


"I enjoy the occasional old-fashioned. What gave you that idea?"


"Well, the bebop that I had to purge from the system when I took the chair. Speaks to your freewheeling, loosey-goosey Kentucky-mash kind of style."


She resisted rolling her eyes. He drank bourbon when there was no Scotch or Irish Whiskey around. And why was he playing classical music? He liked rock—or sometimes country if he was feeling maudlin.


"Not a fan of jazz?"


"Mmm. No, I am not. I like structure. I like meter. I like keeping tempo and time, which is why you will probably find this inspection boring for the likes of you two."


"It's just all in advance of the fleet exercises for Frontier Day."


"Oh." He nodded, as if he was agreeable. She knew he was anything but. More like the spider setting the trap and she watched as her friend and his friend stepped into it.


"Ensuring the condition of our starships would be boring?" Picard asked.


"Well, we won't be blowing things up. Taking or engaging in fire. Crash-landing expectedly or unexpectedly. You know, the usual for you boys. Nope. You will find our engines pristine, our hull intact. And you run your finger on pretty much any given surface here, you're gonna find it dust-free."


Did he have to look at her when he said that? Like she was part of his ship? She took a bite of steak and decided to ignore him—if they'd just settle in to eating and let Shaw show a little charm, everything would be fine.


"No doubt. Indeed. Which is why Captain Riker and I would like to change course." Picard was not settling in to anything except pissing Shaw off.


"Where?" He actually sounded befuddled. Seven felt for him: Picard could do that with his stealth bullshit.


"The Ryton system."


"That's at the edge of Federation space in the opposite direction of our intended course. Twice the time."


"At half warp, double the speed, it's an even split."


"And why would we do that?"


"Bragging rights," Riker said with a bizarrely "Ferengi selling you used shit marked as new" expression.


Seven had to force herself not to make a face. What the fuck were these two doing?


Riker continued, "You'd show the efficiency of the new Titan. It's a great story for Frontier Day. It's the current, former captain, putting it through the paces. Run a little coal through the engines..."


"Yeah." Shaw actually sounded excited and everyone but her laughed, because she knew they all weren't laughing for the same reason. She could see that Shaw wasn't really amused at all.


"And then final engineering inspection at Deep Space 4," Picard said and she inwardly cringed.


"DS4 has been shut down for a year." If Shaw were a chess player, his look would say, "Checkmate."


Perhaps Picard could use some help, so she said, "I believe the admiral means DS11. Correct?"


"Mmm, ah... Yes, of course."


"No." Shaw didn't look at her, but she knew that "No." Had heard it a hundred times at least.


"No?" Picard looked thunderstruck.


"No. I have kept this train running for five years, thirty-six missions. You don't get where you're told to go by standing in front of it and then moving the track.


"Respectfully, Captain, I am an admiral..."


"Retired. Congrats on that." His tone said he was not in any way happy for Picard's retirement. But then she knew he'd have rather seen him drummed out for destroying so many lives, ships, and materiel.


"But I'm still a captain." Riker clearly had his hackles up and she wondered how he could possibly think that was a valid argument. He might be a captain, but he was not captain of this ship. Not any longer.


"Without a chair. Titan's mine now." And as Shaw said it, his foot touched hers. She knew what he was saying: "And so are you."


She pulled her foot away, not wanting to be part of this war.


He didn't look at her as he continued, "I'm really sorry, fellas. I love you. I do. I love reading about all your wildly exciting and equally irresponsible adventures, but I have orders that come down from actual officers whose pay grade are far above all of ours, so request denied."


She tried to find a voice somewhere between bed and briefings, trying to make him want to help her friend. "Sir, I'm sure if I spoke with La Forge, we could make up the time."


"Hansen. Your loyalty lies with this ship." His look again told her: "And to me."


She kept her expression as stony as any Vulcan's.


"Not to old friends, former ex-Borg." His voice shook on the final insult and she regretted asking him to get involved with this at all. What had she been thinking?


He was sitting across from the man who'd blown up his entire world. And she'd brought Picard into the room. She'd...vouched for him by introducing him.


But Picard was her friend. Why couldn't Shaw trust her on this? She'd seen Picard do the impossible. More than once.


Before she could say anything, Riker angrily said, "That's enough, Captain."


She closed her eyes. Bad move. Such a bad move.


Shaw chuckled. "Yeah. Thank you for the parting punctuation. I'm headed to my quarters. Hansen, you have the conn. Gentlemen, I hope you find your room accommodations suitable. They were the best we could do on such short notice." And he took his wineglass and left.


The rest of dinner was strained, and she had to listen to Picard and Riker tear Shaw apart. She stayed quiet, feeling torn in a way she hadn't since the earliest days on Voyager when she still felt the call of the collective but was also coming to care for her human family. She loved Picard like a grandfather. But she loved...


Fuck, she loved Shaw too.


It didn't have to be either/or though. She could help Picard just a little. Once she got to the bottom of whatever he was really doing here.


But first she had a captain to mollify. She watched Picard and Riker head to the very crappy quarters Shaw had assigned them and then went to his quarters.


She rang for admittance and heard his typical "Don't come."


She sat on the chime until he gave up and let her in.


The doors had barely closed before he had her up against the wall, arms over her head, and he was saying, "What in the everloving fuck was that?"


"I intend to find out."


"No, you intend to not find out." He let her arms go and she wrapped them around his neck. "You intend to go back to your quarters and let those two old men do whatever the fuck they're doing without us. Do you understand?"


"Say my name."


"Goddamn it. Not this."


"Liam, just say my name." She stroked his hair the way he liked and rubbed against him. "Please, just say it."


"Commander Hansen, you know what to do." And then he pulled her close and kissed her. For a very long time.


And she kissed him back desperately, with every emotion she felt for him.


Because she did know what she had to do.


And he was going to hate her for it.


He finally pulled away and stroked her face. "You're mine. You're mine and you're Titan's."


She put her hand over his and pressed in. "Go to sleep. Reaching that level of asshole must be exhausting."


He laughed. "I did overachieve, didn't I?" He smiled at her, the first real smile she'd seen on his face since Picard came aboard.


And, she was afraid, the last one she would see for a long, long time if things went as they often did when Picard was involved.


She would just have to make sure they didn't go that way.




But they had gone that way. They had gone worse than that way. Betrayal after betrayal and she'd seen every one of them on his face.


If she ever doubted he loved her, seeing how much she could hurt him would have put that to rest.


Seeing him injured, over and over, had nearly ruined her. Hearing him ordering her to blow the lift: she'd frozen. She couldn't.


And he'd been furious with her.


One more failure. Betrayal. Shitty choice.


She'd gone to his quarters after T'Veen. He'd told her to go back to her quarters or anywhere else but with him. His hurt radiated off him.


She was so tired. So dreadfully, dreadfully tired. She just wanted to take him and jump on a shuttle and pilot it for anywhere. Nowhere. Just somewhere they could be together.


But neither of them were made of the stuff that could do that. No matter how much he didn't want to be in the middle of this, he was. And he fought. He protected his crew as much as he could.


And now he lay dead on the cold floor, as she fought to keep the bridge, to fight the Borg, to do...everything.


But all she wanted to do was stay on the floor with him and let a turned crewman shoot her too.


She didn't want the only time she heard him say her name to be when he was dying.


"You with me, Seven?"


She looked at Raffi. Raffi, who seemed to understand completely what she was feeling. She shook her head and Raffi's face changed to one of utter sympathy but she said for the others, "I'm with you."


It was up to Picard now. What she'd done to Liam had to be worth it. Or she'd take a phaser to herself and save the Borg the trouble.


The door opened and Sidney led the others onto the bridge. With a numb heart, Seven led the defense. She was happy to go first. Maybe she and Liam could meet in the afterlife she wasn't sure either of them believed in?


But then the younger crew members stopped. Their faces cleared, all trace of Borg wiped away. As she hugged a clearly traumatized Sidney, she knew Picard had done it.


He'd saved so many.


She tried to send that to Liam. "I was right to help him. I was right. But maybe...maybe I did it wrong."


As she eased away from Sidney, she heard "Nurse Solen to Doctor Ohk."


Seven smiled. Solen was older, wouldn't have been turned. Another one saved.


"Ohk here. Solen where are you?"


"I was in a cargo bay. Hiding from... anyway, I've got him stabilized."


"Who?" Seven asked her voice like the crack of a whip.


"The captain, Commander. I put him on heart stim and it's very faint but he's stable only I don't know for how long."


Seven smiled at Ohk and nodded. "Go. Go, go, go."


Shaw would kill her if she abandoned her post for him.


A short while later Ohk hailed her. "I've got him stabilized and in a healing coma, and I'm beaming him to Starfleet Trauma Center in Fort Lauderdale. Bunch of gray hairs there. They had minimal disruption from this since youngsters are, well, rare."


"Understood. And Ohk, keep me posted on changes?"


"Commander, he's really hurt. It'll be a while."


"But...will he be okay?"


"I don't know. But at least he has a chance. Solen—"


"Solen's a fucking hero in my book. Tell her that for me."


"Will do."




She sat in front of Tuvok feeling more bone-weary than she ever had. She'd just read a note from Personnel in her inbox. "In consultation with Admiral Janeway, we feel it would be less confusing and more beneficial for you to continue under the name you entered Starfleet with."


Why? Why couldn't they just change her fucking name in the fucking database? She wanted to go out as Seven of Nine, not be courtmartialed or whatever they were going to do to Annika Hansen.


She turned her attention to Tuvok. "It's a relief to see you well."


"And you. These have been trying times."




"Captain Shaw?"


"Is still in a healing coma. Hearts heal slowly."


His eyebrow went up. "You healed Mister Neelix with—"


"Shaw wouldn't want Borg nanoprobes in him. Trust me on that. I know the man."


"As you say." He exhaled slowly as he studied her. "In light of their past and present service, the command crew of the USS Enterprise are receiving a full pardon for commandeering—better yet, hijacking—this very ship, with your help. You disobeyed a direct order from your captain. As a result, Starfleet Command has ordered me..."


She didn't want to let him do this to her. Didn't want to see his disappointment. "Let me make this easier for you. Clearly, my judgment, my instincts, don't fall in line. And that is why...I'm resigning from Starfleet."


He was silent for a moment, the way he often had been when she was young and had said something impulsive—and stupid. "This was sent to Command prior to you setting course for the Ryton System. Your officer review."


Seven scoffed. Shaw might have had complicated feelings for her, but he had to have seen this coming: how flawed she was, how much she would fuck up when it counted.


How she would fail to keep him safe when it mattered, would get him killed.


She hit the dial for the hologram and felt physical pain at seeing him again. Strong and healthy and not in a coma because of her.


He was clearly in the middle of evaluations because his face changed as he said, "That leads me to First Officer Hansen. More accurately, Seven of Nine."


She forgot how to breathe. Liam was basically giving Starfleet and Janeway and Picard and Personnel and everyone who told her to forget who she was a big "Fuck you" by using her preferred name.


"Hell, I'm a relic of an older time. By the book. By God, the book is boring. Hansen is reckless. She's unrelenting, doesn't give a damn about protocol or procedure." He sighed. "However... She's brave and loyal and the book that she writes is gonna be great. And the rules that she breaks...maybe they were broken to begin with. So, in light of that, I have a recommendation: promotion to captain when we return to port."


She knew she was crying, but didn't care. That he could say that about her. This was the man from shore leave, the man she'd spent time with in darkened rooms and on a gorgeous beach. The man who'd tried to make her birthday nice. The man who'd—


Who'd not just loved her—but believed in her.


"Resignation denied, Captain."


She met his eyes and smiled through her tears.





Seven was under a console trying to figure out what Alandra was doing to a circuit when she heard a familiar voice. "What are you two doing to my ship?"


She slid out and swallowed hard, taking in that Liam was in uniform, that he had commodore rank on, and that he was fucking alive and grinning at her.


"Unless you've gone back to Raffi, I think I deserve a kiss, Captain Seven of Nine."


"You're calling me that...why? Janeway nixed my request."


"Yeah, but I'm in charge of process improvements and system vulnerability identification for the whole damn fleet and have this truly bizarre series of authorities, so I nixed her nix. I double-nixed it. Fuck her. "


Seven heard Alandra snicker from under the console. "You have a comment, Ensign?"


"I think you should probably kiss him, ma'am. He's amazing."


"What she said." He walked toward her. "If, uh, if this isn't what you want, I get that. We were two people who happened to be on the same ship and things happened but maybe that's not what you want for—"


He shut up because she'd pulled him to her and was kissing him.


When she finally let him go, she said, "Please tell me you're not in my chain of command."


"I'm not in your chain of command. Instead of fleet ops, I'm some weird hybrid of engineering and support. And I'll be skipping around from ship to ship as I work. They asked me to pick a ship as my base of operations. Which one do you think I should go for?"


"Very funny. You're on mine." She kissed him again, for even longer. "Alandra you're on your own with whatever is wrong with that console."


"Figured that out when you two started kissing."


"The La Forge girls are just quick with the comebacks, aren't they?" He put his arm around her and said, "Let's walk down every single corridor on every single deck so that every single person here sees us."


"So you want to be open?"


"Yes, Seven, I want to be open."


"Well, I guess that'll work for me." She laughed when he took her hand and swung it as they walked. "I didn't even know you were out of the coma."


"I had to bribe Ohk not to tell you. I wanted to surprise you. And I wanted to fix your fucking name before I did. Goddamn Janeway."


"Yeah. That." She stopped him. "Are you going to have a staff?"


"Uh huh, two people. So I'll need some rooms for us."


"I understand you will need your own office but do you think you will need your own quarters?"


"Why, Captain, are you suggesting we cohabit?"


"I am, yeah. Are there regs that will get us a bigger bed?"


"If there aren't, I'll make one. I can do that now, too—and I can kill regs that have pissed me off for years if they are impeding process or creating bottlenecks, which is redundant and I know that, but I didn't write the charter for this project. I'm telling you, they don't know the monster they've created."


She laughed and then she saw him grin and said, "What?"


"You look so happy, Seven."


"I am happy. It's you and you're back and not dying in my arms." She swallowed hard. "And I really, really love you, Liam. And I'm really, really sorry I didn't tell you what I was doing." She brushed sudden tears away.


"Hey. I'm not sure what would have happened if you had. What happened was big and it was bad and it was pure dumb luck that Jean-Luc "here's some godawful wine" Picard got in the middle of it. I mean other than that the lynchpin of the big bad plan was his son, so maybe not pure dumb luck, but what I'm saying is, it's okay. Just, don't do it again. Talk to me. Please. Unless it's confidential. Although I have every clearance known to man for this gig. I am mad with power."


She laughed. "The power to improve efficiency and safety."


"Damned straight." He pulled her closer and she let him, not caring that he was holding her in the middle of a busy corridor. "The rumor mill will have this down to the lowest of the lower decks before lunchtime. So we should make it good." He kissed her slowly and she moaned and then pushed him into the wall.


"Good enough for you, Liam?"


"I like hearing my name from you, Seven."


"Yeah, me too."


"Let's walk the corridors later. My less evolved parts are saying we should be in a bed."


"Or against a wall."


"Or on a desk." He grinned. "God damn I love you."


"I love you too."


He tried to take her hand but she stopped him.


"I should break this to you now. Did you know Jack Crusher's been assigned to the ship."


"Yep. That's not nearly as bad as them renaming it though."


"I know. We're all sad. They should have asked us."


"They never do. But I will log it whenever it comes up. Just to be annoying."


"You? Annoying?"


He took her hand and got them moving again. "I know. It's a stretch to believe I could ever be annoying, but I have my moments." He tightened his grip on her. "And you have yours. But that's okay, we complement each other."


She rested her head on his shoulder as they walked. "That we do."